Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Isle of Dogs

"Rampage” and “Super Troopers 2” are also new to Blu-Ray this week.

My main problem with some—certainly not all, but some—“dog” movies is they have this notion that to be pro-dog is to be anti-cat. These movies portray cats as only villains and dogs as only heroes. I was a bit concerned about this direction being taken in “Isle of Dogs,” the latest stop-motion animation movie from quirky visionary director Wes Anderson. In the opening moments, we’re treated to a backstory about how in feudal Japan, the cat-loving Kobayashi clan sought to banish dogs. They would have succeeded, too, if it wasn’t for a pesky young boy who beheaded the clan leader and saved Japan’s feudal pooches. But that’s all we really hear about cats. They are not vilified but rather are just the preferred pet of the Kobayashi. “Isle of Dogs” manages to be about dogs without being at the expense of cats.

That concern out of the way, “Isle of Dogs” proceeds with history repeating itself. In the future Japanese city of Megasaki, Mayor Kobayashi (voice of Kunichi Nomura), descendant of the clan, still bears a grudge against dogs. After an outbreak of dog fever grips his city, he seizes the opportunity to banish all dogs—domesticated and stray—to a small island filled with garbage. The first dog to go is the dog belonging to Kobayashi’s nephew and ward, 12 year-old Atari (voice of Koyu Rankin). We see the dog, named Spots (voice of Liev Schreiber), get dropped off in a cage. The logical minded amongst us are left pondering how he will get out.

Six months after Spots arrives, garbage island is filled with dogs. We meet canines Rex (voice of Edward Norton), King (voice of Bob Balaban), Boss (voice of Bill Murray), and Duke (voice of Jeff Goldblum). They’re previously domesticated and not used to being stuck in the wild to fend for themselves. They learn quick though, as in one of the movie’s funniest early scenes, the contents of a sack of garbage are meticulously detailed then fought over, with Rex and his pals teaming up against a group of stray dogs led by Chief (voice of Bryan Cranston). The other strays go away, by Chief stays around and watches with Rex and co. as a plane with no wings makes a crash landing. This plane carries Atari, come to the island to look for his beloved Spots.

What proceeds is an adventure story told in chapters as Atari, Chief, Rex, and the rest make their way across garbage island to the mainland. Along the way they meet colorful characters, like the dog Oracle (voice of Tilda Swinton), who knows what is happening because she understands TV, and Gondo (Harvey Keitel), who leads a pack of suspected cannibal dogs. The movie has the distinct Wes Anderson fastidious flair, in that the details of each scene are presented in a clear and orderly way. Too much explaining can potentially slow a movie down, but Anderson makes it work for him with his unique style.

The stop motion itself is very ambitious, with a lot of action and movement all happening within the same shot, usually set against the back drop of some colorful and well-detailed scenery. This is a logistical challenge when doing stop motion because the movement of each character or object on screen must be carefully tracked. “Isle of Dogs” rises to the challenge, and the result is a sleek, well-crafted movie made with a lot of love and attention. Buy it.

Also New This Week


I have to give credit where it is due for creativity. “Rampage,” about a giant gorilla, giant lizard, and giant wolf attacking a city and bringing down buildings, is based on a video game of the same name. The video game is of the “old school” kind, before things like story and dialogue were so prevalent in games. The concept was simple: Choose which animal you want to be, climb buildings, punch, kick, eat people for health, and fight off the tanks and choppers trying to bring you down. Destroy a city and move on to the next one.

Based on just that, story creator and co-screenwriter Ryan Engle, alongside screenwriters Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal, and Adam Sztykiel, created a screenplay in which a scientific experiment from space falls to Earth, infects a wild wolf, a wild alligator, and a gorilla in the San Diego Wildlife Sanctuary named George (who is portrayed in a motion capture performance by Jason Liles). All three creatures grow to enormous size and become extremely aggressive, leading them to destroy the city of Chicago while tanks and choppers try to bring them down.

This is particularly bothersome to wildlife expert James Okoye (Dwayne Johnson). He has a friendship with George. The two communicate through sign language. He knows that George’s destructive behavior is abnormal and due to whatever infected him. Okoye teams up with Dr. Kate Caldwell (Noamie Harris), a scientist who worked on the experiments. Theirs is a race against time to stop the cold and evil mastermind behind the experimentation, Claire Wyden (Malin Akerman), and her weak, sniveling brother Brett (Jake Lacy), from getting a hold on samples that would allow them to produce more abominations.

“Rampage” is at its best for its first two-thirds. We learn the histories of Okoye, Caldwell, and George. The character building adds emotional weight to the story. There are exciting action scenes as the animals—particularly George and the wolf—make their way through the Midwest and to Chicago. Jeffrey Dean Morgan shows up as a federal agent, channels his character from “The Walking Dead,” and brings some much needed levity to the proceedings.

Then the final showdown happens as the action converges in Chicago. Perhaps it’s citywide destruction fatigue, having recently watched the latest “Pacific Rim” movie, not to mention the first “Pacific Rim, “Godzilla,” “Independence Day: Resurgence,” and a slew of overly bloated “Transformers” movies the past decade or so. What all of these movies have in common is big things causing mass destruction. Now we have “Rampage” doing the same thing. Of course, that is the whole idea behind “Rampage.” The problem is that it’s been done so many times, and if you’ve seen one building crumble because a giant monster/mech/robot has smacked into it, you’ve seen them all. It’s not as special anymore, and it’s to the point where if movie makers want to be original, then giant monsters will have to arrive in a city and not attack it. They should maybe plant some trees or something, I don’t know. Anything but tear it down. Rent it.

Super Troopers 2

The Broken Lizard crew is back with “Super Troopers 2,” a sequel to the 2001 cult hit “Super Troopers.” This time the Vermont-based squad members find themselves policing an area of Canada that, due to confusion on a map, rightfully belongs to the United States. Our neighbors to the north are not as friendly as we think, as the American cops are met with hostility by the natives, the local Mounties, and by the deceptively pleasant mayor of the formerly Canadian town (Rob Lowe). Though once the mayor says that he is personal friends with Justin Trudeau, Canada’s absolute joke of a prime minister, it’s a pretty big tip off that the guy is a scum bag.

“Super Troopers 2,” much like its predecessor, has a lot of silly and oftentimes scatological humor. Unlike the first one, it is less consistently funny, with jokes that either stick the landing or completely fall and crumble. While there is nothing as classic as the “Meow” scene that fans of the first movie know and love, there is one that comes close, involving what it sounds like when “Happiness in your household” is said with a thick French accent. This is a worthy sequel that Broken Lizard fans will, for the most part, enjoy. Rent it.

More New Releases: “You Were Never Really Here,” about a tormented war vet searching for a missing girl, starring Joaquin Phoenix; “Disobedience,” about a woman who returns to her Orthodox Jewish home after the death of her rabbi father and stirs up controversy when she shows an interest in an old childhood friend, starring Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams; and “Truth or Dare,” in which a college student is haunted by a supernatural presence after being tricked into playing a game of “Truth or Dare.”

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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