Wes Anderson

The French Dispatch

23/10/21

Cameo, Edinburgh

The word ‘quirky’ could almost have been invented for Wes Anderson. Since his breakthrough with Bottle Rocket in 1996, the director has relentlessly followed the path less travelled. Along the way, he’s dallied with stop-frame animation and, in his live-action features, has developed a visual style used by nobody else in the business. Take off a blindfold in a movie theatre and watch ten seconds of any one of his films and, chances are, you’ll recognise his style instantly.

Now here’s the much-delayed The French Dispatch, a portmanteau made up of three short films, linked by a framing device. It probably has a valid claim for being the most Wes Anderson-like film yet as it employs all of the tics and, yes, quirks we associate with him: those bizarre doll house vistas; jarring cuts from colour to monochrome; weird frozen tableaux of action scenes – and characters that are as eccentric as they are amusing. And, of course, there’s also the WA repertory company, a seemingly endless supply of big-name actors, who seem perfectly happy to put their famous mugs in front of the camera, even if they’ve not actually been given much to do.

We begin at the offices of the titular publication, a New Yorker-style literary magazine that is itself an offshoot off a newspaper in Kansas, yet somehow has its headquarters at the top of a ramshackle building in the sleepy French town of Ennui-Sur-Blasé. It’s from here that editor Arthur Howitzer Jnr (Bill Murray) sends his various critics around the country to seek out and document stories of interest – and we are subsequently treated to three of them, all set in the 1960s.

First up we have the tale of convicted murderer, Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio Del Toro), who, inspired by his love for prison warden – and sometime model – Simone (Lea Seydoux), decides to express his love, by creating works of modern art in tribute to her. He inadvertently becomes a cause celebre. Next there’s the story of journalist Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand) and her dalliance with dashing young revolutionary, Zefferelli (Timothée Chalamet), whose rebellion against authority is played out as a literal game of chess. Finally, there’s the story of writer Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright), assigned to write a piece about celebrated prison chef, Nescafier (Steve Park), only to find himself caught up in a kidnapping drama involving the adopted son of the prison’s Commisaire (Mathieu Almaric).

The stories are dazzlingly told and the main theme here seems to be one of affection for an age that’s largely gone – a yearning for old-school journalism, when editors cared more about the writing than the money it might generate. Anderson – who co-wrote the story – also has much scorn to heap on the world of art, mocking the ways in which commerce waits greedily in the wings to get its hooks into the next big thing, qualities evidenced by Adrien Brody’s ruthless art dealer, Julien Cadazio. There’s some evident homaging going on here too. The second piece eerily captures the look of French new wave cinema – and did I imagine that little salute to The Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling?

I have to say that I admire The French Dispatch enormously, rather than love it. There’s always an element of grandstanding about Anderson’s work, a celebration of his own uniqueness that can sometimes feel a little too arch – and the parade of characters unleashed here are essentially caricatures rather than people I can believe in. Perhaps that’s entirely the point, but it’s a quality that can polarise audiences.

Suffice to say, if you’re a fan of the director, you certainly won’t be disappointed by what’s on offer here. This is Wes Anderson turned up all the way up to 11. And, in the unlikely event that it’s the first of his films you’ve seen, then enjoy the trip.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

Isle of Dogs

25/03/18

The arrival of a new Wes Anderson movie is generally a cause for excitement and Isle of Dogs has the added frisson of seeing him return to work with the London-based 3 Mills animation team, whom he employed to such great effect on Fantastic Mr Fox. It must be said, however, that this is an altogether more ambitious project than his previous stop-motion foray.

The story is set twenty years into the future in the fictional Japanese city of Megasaki. After a recent dog-flu epidemic, Mayor Kobayashi (Komichi Nomura) orders all the city’s dogs to be rounded up and exiled to an offshore island, essentially a rat-infested repository for much of Japan’s unwanted garbage.

On the island, a group of dogs are struggling for survival, led by Chief (Bryan Cranston), a battle-scarred stray who sees himself very much as the alpha male of the pack. His followers  are voiced by a whole menagerie of A-List talent (Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, to name but three). The sudden arrival of Kobayashi’s twelve year old ward, Atari (Koyu Rankin), changes everything. Atari is in search of his beloved lost pet, Spot, who the mayor has insisted must follow the example of all the other four-legged offenders and be sent into quarantine off-shore. This sets Chief and his pack off on a quest to help Atari by locating the missing canine and, of course, they uncover some startling truths in the process. Meanwhile, a pro-dog student group led by the intrepid Tracy (Greta Gerwig) are leading an insurrection against Kobayashi, who, it seems, has not been as honest as he might have been…

Some critics of the film have accused it of cultural appropriation, but I can’t help hoping they are barking up the wrong tree. The love and respect for Japan and its traditions are evident in just about every frame of this delightful movie, from the Taisho drumming sequences to the visual references to veteran directors, Akira Kurosawa and Hayao Mizazaki. What’s more, the animation is so detailed and so brilliantly realised, it’s hard to suppress my gasps of admiration as the story scampers along at high speed from revelation to revelation. All the usual Anderson qualities are in evidence – witty one-liners, a steadfast refusal to get too sentimental about the characters and a delicious vein of dark humour that ties the whole package neatly together.

On the same day we viewed this, The Cameo Cinema hosted a dog-friendly screening, but, as we chose to attend the humans-only show, I cannot really comment on how it went down with its four-legged viewers.

But in my humble opinion, at least, this film is a howling success.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

Rushmore

12/01/18

Wes Anderson is one of contemporary cinema’s most original talents. Although his subjects are diffuse and far-ranging, his movies are always shot through with an idiosyncratic sensibility that marks him out as a true auteur. With his new release, Isle of Dogs, looming on the horizon, this is clearly a great time for a retrospective of his work and Edinburgh’s Cameo Cinema have seized the moment by devoting Monday evenings to showings of all his full length films in chronological order. It also gives me the welcome opportunity to see the one Anderson film that has thus far eluded me.

After the incendiary calling card of Bottle Rocket, 1998’s Rushmore is the film that cemented Anderson’s reputation as a force to be reckoned with but, for a whole variety of reasons, I have never managed to catch up with it until now. It’s the story of Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) a fifteen-year-old student at the titular preparatory school who has an obsessive genius for organising clubs and societies, even if this means that his actual school work consistently falls short of its potential. He also writes and directs hilariously over-ambitious school plays – his adaptation of Serpico needs to be seen to be believed.

Max chances upon what he feels is a kindred spirit in Herman Blume (Bill Murray), a dispirited businessman who, despite considerable wealth, has become disillusioned with his loveless marriage and the antics of his two oafish sons. He is quite happy to fund some of Max’s madcap enterprises. Max’s acquisitive eye also falls on a new teacher, Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams), whom he starts to pursue in reckless fashion, even attempting, as a declaration of his love for her, to build a massive aquarium on the school sports field, without even bothering to seek permission. When Rosemary and Herman start an affair, Max is devastated – and takes out his anger in ways that will have disastrous consequences for his future…

Rushmore is an unqualified delight from start to finish and Schwartzman’s performance in the lead role is an extraordinary tour de force. Max is an inspired creation, a charming maverick who, despite a surfeit of confidence, still has an appealing vulnerability. Bill Murray puts in a sanguine and understated effort as the jaded businessman and, as the film progresses, I find myself wondering why we haven’t seen a lot more of Olivia Williams on the big screen, because she offers a beguiling presence as Rosemary.

For me this is up there with Anderson’s finest work (and that’s praise indeed). The completist side of me is very happy to have finally had the chance to tick this off my ‘to see’ agenda. Any other Anderson fans who fancy catching up (or reconnecting) with his work on the big screen should keep their eyes peeled for subsequent showings. Even his slighter efforts are never less than interesting.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney