2018 Summer Box Office Predictions

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Of all the yearly traditions on this blog, this might be the most futile. This is the one in which I try (and invariably fail) to predict which movies will end up as the top ten hits of the U.S. box office. To be fair, I didn’t do too badly last year. I predicted nine out of the ten movies that ended up in the top ten, even if I predicted them all in the wrong order. I had this hunch that Wonder Woman might be the biggest hit of the summer, but foolish me chickened out and went the “safe” route, thinking Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was a sure-bet for the top spot. Twelve months later, I don’t need to tell you Wonder Woman was the movie of the summer, though I might have to remind you that a Guardians sequel did in fact play in theaters last year. Being wrong! It’s fun!

Blow are my predictions for which will be the ten most “successful” movies at the box office this summer, with a big caveat. Some of these franchise movies are so impossible expensive to make that ending up in the top ten, and making hundreds of millions of dollars, doesn’t guarantee they will make a profit. There are a lot of those this summer. Just take a look at my list below, and realize that absolutely none of the movies I’m predicting are an original property. They are all part of an established franchise. I mean, a couple of them look good, and there’s also other smaller movies being released in the following months; but it will be a long summer for big Hollywood movies.

Before we get into it, however, let me inform you I recorded a podcast on this very topic with my good friend Rachel Wagner. This is the second year in which we try to predict the summer box office, so give it a listen if you want to listen to me make a fool of myself instead of merely reading it. I’ve linked to the podcast at the end of this post. It is also available both on Soundcloud and as a Youtube video.

1. The Incredibles 2 
Release Date: June 15
Studio: Disney
Predicted Box Office: 500 Million
I might phoning it in a little bit with this choice for number one, but I just can’t predict another Marvel movie to be at the top of the summer box office! For three in years in a row, I’ve predicted Marvel to come out on top, and for three years I’ve been wrong. This year, Marvel is bringing out the big guns, but I just can’t predict them again. I just can’t. So I’ve decided to go with The Incredibles 2, thinking that the movie could pull-off a run similar to Finding Dory, which dominated the summer two years ago.

2. Avengers: Infinity War
Release Date: April 27
Studio: Disney
Predicted Box Office: 450 Million
This is Marvel’s big play of the summer, the movie that will bring a thousand characters together and (presumably) pay off with the big battle the superhero franchise has been building up to for ten years. Early ticket sales for the movie have been huge, and Marvel is coming off the gigantic success of Black Panther, which can’t help. This movie, by all counts, has everything it needs to be the biggest hit of the summer and I’m probably a dumb idiot for not putting it at number one. Maybe the superhero fatigue will finally set in? Maybe the movie will disappoint fans in a big way? Or maybe I’m just being too personal, thinking audiences getting as tired of the Marvel movies as I am.

3. Solo: A Star Wars Story
Release Date: May 25
Studio: Disney
Predicted Box Office: 350 Million
Number three is nothing to sneeze at, but number three of the year (let alone the summer!) for a Star Wars movie is kind of a disaster. The franchise has ended at the top of the yearly box office for three years in a row now, so how could a movie that centers on one of its most beloved characters not be the biggest hit of the year? Well, the whole “young Han Solo” thing has met a lot of skepticism, pair that with the fact that we just got a (pretty divisive) Star Wars movie a mere five months ago and you are left with less enthusiasm than usual. Every Star Wars movie can’t be gigantic in a world in which we get a new one every year… can it?

4. Deadpool 2
Release Date: May 8
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Predicted Box Office: 290 Million
The first Deadpool was a surprise hit, earning 336 million dollars in the U.S. and coming embarrassingly close of a Best Picture nomination. But that movie came out in the (still but every year less so) doldrums of February. This time, the most obnoxious superhero of them all is playing in the big leagues of summer. People seem to like the rancid first movie, so I expect the sequel to make decent business (though not as well as its predecesor) despite being sandwiched between Avengers and Star Wars. 

5. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom 
Release Date: June 22
Studio: Universal
Predicted Box Office: 225 Million
Jurassic World dominated the box office back in 2015, becoming the third highest grossing movie in U.S. history (at the time), but is there anyone who actually likes that movie? Or that remembers it fondly? I might be in too deep into the world of Film Twitter, but I get the feeling that nobody is excited about this movie, which looks like it’s going to be about dinosaurs fighting a volcano? 225 Million is a fortune, but would be a huge disappointment for a sequel to a movie that made 652.

6. Mission Impossible: Fallout 
Release Date: July 27
Studio: Paramount
Predicted Box Office: 190 Million
Not unlike the Fast and Furious saga (but with less gigantic grosses), the Mission: Impossible movies found a winning formula well into the series. It all changed when Tom Cruise climbed up the tallest building in the world. Suddenly, we had found the perfect way to capitalize on the actor’s crazy star persona. The trailer for this latest entry devotes its last few seconds to a medley of Cruise stunts in which he falls out of many high-speeding vehicles. I don’t see a reason why people won’t show up for this. I know I will.

7. Ant-Man and the Wasp 
Release Date: July 6
Studio: Disney
Predicted Box Office: 185 Million
A miniature adventure such as this one (pun fully intended) might feel anti-climatic after the bloat of the Infinity Wars, but one would have to be truly foolish to bet on a Marvel movie not making money. Still, I wouldn’t expect this one to break any records. Falling somewhere along the lines of the first Ant-Man movie (180 million) seems most likely.

8. Ocean’s Eight 
Release Date: June 8
Studio: Warner Bros.
Predicted Box Office: 150 Million
This is movie on this list that I’m most excited to see. Actually, it’s the only movie that I’m truly excited to see (I’m being cautious about getting too excited for Incredibles 2 given Pixar’s recent track record). Anyway, a female version of Ocean’s Eleven? With this cast? Bullock. Blanchett. Paulson. Rihanna! I’m hoping general audiences are as excited for this movie as I am, because I will take all-female versions of beloved movies over exploding franchises all year long.

9. Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation
Release Date: July 13
Studio: Sony
Predicted Box Office: 145 Million
How many Hotel Transylvania movies will we have to endure until animator Genndy Tartakovsky finally gets to make an original movie of his own. The franchise does reliably well for Sony Pictures Animation in the Fall, so there’s the question of whether it will survive in the big leagues of summer. This isn’t a super crowded year in the animation front, so I expect this to do perfectly fine.

10. Disney’s Christopher Robin 
Release Date: August 3
Studio: Disney
Predicted Box Office: 130 Million
This one’s a bit of a question mark for me. The Disney remakes make a hell of a lot of money. The latest entry, Beauty and the Beast, was the second highest movie of last year with a 504 million haul. But this isn’t strictly a remake, and Winnie the Pooh isn’t hit the Millennial nostalgia sweet-spot quite as hard (or quite as precisely) as Beauty and the Beast. I don’t think there’s a world in which this movie is an outright flop, but how far can it actually go? I’m genuinely curious to know.

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Cannes 2018 Preview

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Nothing gets me excited for the upcoming year in film than the Announcement of which movies will be competing at the Cannes Film Festival. It’s hard to judge a line-up without having seen all of the movies, but the one announced this morning strikes me as particularly interesting in quite a few ways.

Let’s get the disappointing news out of the way first: only three female directors in the competition (same number as last year), and not a single Latin American movie in the lineup. Now, one or two films are usually added to the lineup in the weeks between the announcement and the festival (which starts May 8), so those statistics could change. But for now, I am a little disappointed.

I say a little because this year’s lineup is otherwise quite diverse (for Cannes standards). Cannes is known as a bit of a “old boys club”, in which the same respected directors get invited over and over again. But this year, the selection committee has left out a number of heavy-hitters who most insiders predicted would be part of the competition (including past Palme D’Or winners such as Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Mike Leigh, Terence Malick, Lars von Trier and Jacques Audiard, as well as Olivier Assayas and Paolo Sorrentino).

Instead, we get a line-up with only two American and four French films (which are the two nationalities that usually dominate the lineups), six filmmakers who haven’t been in the “competition” lineup before, and a heavy doze of East Asian and Middle Eastern movies. Here are some thoughts on this year’s Official Competition:

Everybody Knows (directed by Asghar Farhadi)
The opening night film sees Iranian director Asghar Farhadi (winner of two Oscars for Foreign Language Film for A Separation and The Salesman) travel to Spain (courtesy of Pedro Almodóvar’s production company). There, he has crafted a tense family drama about a teenage girl who goes missing in a small town starring Penélope Cruz, Javier Bardem, and Ricardo Darín. A Cannes “insider” described this movie as “Farhadi’s version of Sean Penn’s The Last Face”, which makes it sound like a disaster, but those might just be rumors. We’ll have to wait and see.

At War (directed by Stéphane Brizé)
One of four French films in competition, this one sees Brizé reunite with actor Vincent Lindon, who won the Best Actor Award a couple years ago for The Measure of a Man, in which he played an unemployed man desperate to provide for his family. This time, he works for a German-owned factory that is about to go out of business. Expect the very European realism and social critiques of their previous collaboration.

Dogman (directed by Matteo Garrone)
After a couple of more fanciful features, Garrone returns to the dour realism of his breakthrough Gomorra, with the story of a lonely dog stylist who gets involved with local criminals and goes on a quest for revenge. The movie has been described as an “urban western”, whatever that might mean.

Le Livre d’image (directed by Jean-Luc Godard)
The official description of this film reads: “Nothing but silence. Nothing but a revolutionary song. A story told in five chapters like the fingers of a hand”. Which is exactly the kind of experimental artistry (or bullshit) you’d expect from good old Jean-Luc Godard.

Netemo Sametemo (Asako I & II) (directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi)
Based on a novel by Tomoka Shibasaki, the movie spans a decade and focuses on two romantic relationships on the life of a woman named Asako: one at 22, the other at 31. Hamaguchi was one of the surprise selections this year and this will be his first Cannes. I’m not surprised, since I’ve heard nothing but raves for his previous movie Happy Hourwhich I only haven’t seen because it’s five hours long.

Sorry Angel (directed by Christophe Honoré)
Another of the few French films in this year’s lineup, this one is a gay love story between a 40 year-old writer and a young student. I am not familiar with the movies of Christophe Honoré, but I just learned he has directed a number of musicals and am now quite intrigued to catch up with his work.

Girls of the Sun (directed by Eva Husson)
The last French film of the bunch (and one of the three directed by a woman) stars Emmanuelle Bercot as a French journalist who gets involved with a Kurdish female batallion. Golshifteh Farahani (from About Elly and Paterson) also stars as the leader of said batallion.

Ash is Purest White (directed by Jia Zhang-ke)
Jia Zhang-ke’s most frequent collaborator Zhao Tao stars in this epic story about a woman in love, who commits a crime to protect her lover, and what happens when she gets out of prison many years later. Jia is one of the most celebrated Chinese directors working today, and this sounds like it could be the movie that finally wins him the Palme.

Shoplifters (directed by Hirokazu Koreeda)
Japanese auteur Hirokazu Koreeda is well known for his low-key explorations of everyday life and family relationships. The trailer makes this movie look like it fits perfectly within his brand of extraordinary emotion coming out of ordinary circumstances. The cast is made up of many of his frequent actors, including the wonderful Kirin Kiki, a veteran actress of Japanese cinema.

Capernaum (directed by Nadine Labaki)
Not a lot is known about this movie, except that Capernaum is the name of an old fishing village in Israel, and that the story centers on a group of immigrants. Presumably, they would be Palestinian or Syrian immigrants in Lebanon. Labaki is a Lebanese actress and filmmaker, known for Where Do We Go Now?which won the audience award at the Toronto Film Festival back in 2011.

Burning (directed by Lee Chang-dong)
With Secret Sunshine and PoetryLee Chang-dong established himself as the meditative master of South Korean cinema. He works very sporadically, which makes this return to the directing chair one of the most anticipated movies at the festival. From what we know, the movie is a mysterious drama based on a story by Haruki Murakami (and inspired by William Faulkner).

BlacKkKlansman (directed by Spike Lee)
One of the two American films in competition sees the return of Spike Lee to the festival that was shaken almost thirty years ago with the premiere of Do the Right ThingLee’s films have been hit and miss lately (and that’s being generous), but this true story about a black FBI officer who infiltrated a chapter of the KKK could very well be a triumphant return to form. Here’s hoping!

Under the Silver Lake (directed by David Robert Mitchell)
Already set for release this summer by A24, the second American movie in this line-up stars Andrew Garfield as a guy looking for a missing woman in the hipster neighborhoods of Los Angeles. The movie looks like a colorful neo-noir comedy, and will definitely be an interesting watch. Director David Robert Mitchell has been to Cannes with his horror movie It Followsbut this is his debut in the Competition line-up.

Three Faces (directed by Jafar Panahi)
This is the first time that veteran Iranian director Panahi has a movie in the Main Competition, and it remains to be seen if he will be able to attend the festival. He is currently serving a 20-year filmmaking ban imposed by the Iranian government that has ironically made him more prolific than ever.

Cold War (directed by Pawel Pawlikowski)
The latest film by Polish director Pawel Pawliskowski is a love story set during the cold war. That’s not much to go off, until you remember Pawlikowski was the man behind that wonderful post-holocaust drama Idawhich was a critical success and a surprise box office hit.

Lazzaro Felice (directed by Alice Rohrwacher)
This is the latest from Italian actress-turned-director Alice Rohrwacher, who won the Grand Prix a couple years ago with The WondersThis might be the perfect time to catch up with her previous work, which has been described as delicate and unusual. Not much is known about her latest film, which seems to focus on a man who can travel through time.

Yomeddine (directed by A.B. Shawky)
This is Shawky’s first feature film, which makes it one of the most curious inclusions in the line-up. It is usually very hard for first-time filmmakers to make it into the Main Competition, but this Egyptian drama about a duo of young lepers searching for their family seems to have peaked the interest of the selection committee. This is the only African movie in this year’s line-up.

Leto (Summer) (directed by Kirill Serebrenikov)
A few weeks ago I started hearing a lot about this movie, as many on Twitter started predicting it as a possibility for Cannes and said they were very excited about it. I hadn’t even heard about the director, which I found out has been sentenced to house arrest by the authorities of his native Russia. The movie is set in the rock scene of early eighties Leningrad, and will surely be one of the most talked about movies of the festival.

Predictions? It’s hard to predict anything that will happen at Cannes (unpredictability is part of the appeal of following the festival), but if I had to guess at which directors seem most likely to be favored by this year’s jury (which is led by Cate Blanchett), I’d put my money on Jafar Panahi, Kirill Serebrenikov, or Jia Zhang-ke. And as far as disasters (there is always at least one horrible film in competition each year), I’d say either Everybody Knows and Girls of the Sun sound like they have the makings of a typical Cannes bomb.

Good Boy, Bad Boy: A Survey of Wes Anderson’s Career and his ‘Isle of Dogs’

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It’s always fascinating to see how a director decides to follow-up a huge success. The popularity of Wes Anderson’s meticulously designed doll house narratives, has allowed him to become the kind of director that generates a following big and loyal enough to be considered both a well-respected auteur and a commercially valuable filmmaker. Fittingly for a director obsessed with stylish surfaces, the Wes Anderson name has become a brand. He had the biggest success of his career a couple years ago with The Grand Budapest Hotel, which did incredibly well financially (making almost 150 million dollars worldwide – by far his biggest commercial hit), won a bunch of prizes including five Oscars, and earned Anderson the first Best Director nomination of his career. The success of Grand Budapest solidified him as one of the “biggest” directors in the world. How do you follow that?

According to Wes Anderson, you follow it up by returning to the world of stop-motion animation. His first foray into the format, a delightful adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, was the movie that lifted him out of the most divisive period of his career and pushed him into his current status as a celebrated artist. He retreated to animation at the lowest point in his career, and has decided to return at the highest. His newest movie is Isle of Dogsa canine romp set in a futuristic Japan in which a corrupt government spins a conspiracy against dogs – exiling them to an island full of trash called, appropriately, “trash island”. Narratively, it’s the story of a young boy looking for his dog. Thematically, it’s a tale about the darkness of authoritarian governments and fear-mongering.

Isle of Dogs comes at a crucial point in Anderson’s career, and could be remembered as a turning point for a hermetic director who has slowly been forced to come out of his shel and engage with the world around him. As a piece of animation, Isle of Dogs shows a master operating at the top of his game. As a movie about politics, it shows an author willing to go into new and fascinating territory. As a movie about Japan, however, it presents a man whose unique aesthetic blinds him toward the potential problems that arise out of the way he has decided to portray Japanese culture.

With those three points in mind, and being the massive Wes Anderson fan that I am, it becomes clear that the best way to try and decipher Isle of Dogs is through the prism of three of Anderson’s previous movies, each of which relates to an integral aspect of this latest movie’s DNA. Two of them have already been mentioned: The Grand Budapest Hotel and Fantastic Mr. Fox. The third is one of Anderson’s least successful ditties: the Indian travelogue The Darjeeling Limited

Let’s start by thinking of Anderson’s career in animation. Back in 2009, Anderson was coming off of releasing the two biggest flops of his career in a row. Safe for a couple loyalists, the critical consensus around the filmmaker was that he had grown too enamored of his signature aesthetic and abandoned any interest in compelling story-telling. Watching those flops now one realizes they are much more touching and interesting than initially decided, but back then, Anderson seemed to be in a rut. So he decided to fight these “style over substance” accusations by diving into animation, a medium that is literally built around the belief that style is substance.

The result was Fantastic Mr. Fox, which many would argue remains the artistic pinnacle of Anderson’s career. The movie, as mentioned above, is an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book, about a sly Fox who leads a ragtag group of woodland critters against a trio of gruesome farmers. The movie is energetic, almost manic, in a way that Anderson’s cinema hadn’t been before. He usually balances hectic chases with melancholy pauses, but this was non-stop. Watching Fantastic Mr. Fox is like being on the fastest train in the world. It whooshes past so fast it looks dangerous, but the tracks are so secure and the train so well designed there is no chance of an accident.

The movie didn’t do much at the box office (it was probably too idiosyncratic for family audiences), but it was a critical hit. Even Anderson’s detractors liked the film. Some of them suggested stop-motion was the director’s natural environment and that he should work exclusively as an animator. And stop-motion animation in particular is the perfect medium for an artist as obsessed with detailed beauty as Anderson. In case you don’t know, stop-motion is the process in which you move miniature models one frame at a time in order to create the illusion of movement. Thus, with Fantastic Mr. Fox, the dollhouse director played with a literal dollhouse. The result then was delightful, and Isle of Dogs is an even more impressive piece of animation.

One when talks about stop-motion animation one must understand how exhausting a a form of animation it can be, and how the medium caters to controlling artists. In a stop-motion piece, every single bit of movement no matter how tiny is the result of time consuming effort. With this in mind, jaws are bound to drop during Isle of Dogs, when you see the seamless way in which the dogs’ hair ruffles in the wind, or the forceful choreography of the Taiko drumming trio that opens the film. Anderson, along with the unbelievably talented animators who worked on the film have, quite literally, crafted one of the most beautiful movies of the year.

This attention to detail extends to the better parts of the movie, narratively speaking. A lot of the comedy comes from seeing stereotypes about dogs rendered through Anderson’s signature cocktail of dry humor and affectless melancholy. There is, for example, a little pug called Oracle (voiced by Tilda Swinton) who is believed to be psychic because she can understand human t.v. And an even more delightful Husky (Jeff Goldblum), who seems to know all the rumors that go around the dog island. But there’s more to this movie than silly dog humor (for better and worse). In order to get into it, let me give you some more plot details.

In future Japan, mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) has decided that the best way to get rid of the “snout fever” that is affecting the dogs and is bound to spread to humans is to quarantine the city’s canine population in an isolated island. What Kobayashi doesn’t know is that his ward, Atari (Koyu Rankin), is determined to find his exiled dog Spots and bring him back. So, Atari flies (and crashes) a plane into the trash island and joins a pack of alpha dogs in order to reunite with his lost pet.

The emotion comes not only out of Atari’s relationship with Spots (and later with a self-proclaimed stray voiced by Bryan Cranston), but from seeing the hardship endured by the exiled dogs. Using dogs as a metaphor for refugees (or any oppressed minority) is quite effective -at least emotionally. After all, people tend to extend a greater amount of empathy to dogs on-screen than they do any human character. Anderson is famous for killing animal characters in his movies, so he doesn’t shy away from the darkness of his premise, even though he shows unexpected overwhelming warmth toward the dogs on his island.

This balance between dark themes and earnest emotion seems to be the core ideal of the current part of Anderson’s career. He has realized that the repressed emotions he usually gives his characters work best when surrounded with the darkest possible situations. This might sound like a disastrous recipe for a director who works mostly in comedy, but the juxtaposition of colorful comedy, deeply existential drama, and gigantic socio-political ramifications works surprisingly well.

This was most apparent in The Grand Budapest Hotel, a masterpiece in which Anderson imagined a luxurious pink hotel (another dollhouse of sorts) and dropped it into a fictitious version of Europe on the eve of the Second World War. It shouldn’t have worked, but the way Anderson frames the movie through the memories a man whose melancholy for a time of delicate beauty that simply slipped through his fingers and was flattened by history is immensely affecting. It’s a story about the things that seem frivolous and meaningless, until they are lost to humanity’s darkest impulses.

There are similar layers to Isle of Dogs‘s approach to darkness. First, are the “suffering” that the dogs must endure. The dogs on “trash island” are all struggling to survive, scavenging for anything edible, and with some of them having been victims of cruel scientific testing. The second layer is the reason for the dogs’ suffering. It’s the demagogy of Mayor Kobayashi, the politics that surround him, and the attitudes of the city of Megasaki. It’s in this second layer that houses virtually all of the movie’s weakest elements.

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Anderson’s willingness to explore the nature of political oppression and mob mentality is admirable and prescient for a moment in which the world is trending toward totalitarian authorities. But the reasons for choosing Japan as the setting for this movie seem dubious. The plot machinations (and there are many) that go into explaining the extend to which Kobayashi’s plan is a conspiracy are numerous, complicated, and never truly satisfying. It is suggested, but never truly understood why the Mayor hates dogs, and the psychology of the citizens that side with him. It’s frustrating, though perhaps that’s what makes this kind of evil so scary- it doesn’t need an explanation.

But a messy plot isn’t the biggest problem with this movie’s Japanese angle. Its depiction of Japanese culture is bound to raise some eyebrows. It’s easy to see that Anderson isn’t really interested in depicting any sort of “real” Japan, but rather a fantastical version of the country made up of everything the director associates with Japanese culture. It’s an approach he has used in depictions of other places (and cultures), and it has mostly worked. The Japan of Isle of Dogs isn’t any further from reality than the New York of The Royal Tenenbaums or the European nations of The Grand Budapest Hotel, but Anderson’s cultural pastiche doesn’t have the same ring when applied to a country, culture, and people who have a history of misrepresentation on American screens.

It’s fair to say that virtually every culture (even parts of American culture) has been misrepresented by Hollywood, but the extend to which mainstream American media has mistreated Asia and Japan in particular is particularly bad. From World War II propaganda to Long Duk Dong, Hollywood has been consistently insensitive, and thus, no matter how heartfelt the intention, Anderson’s free-association version of Japan doesn’t sit well. Everything in the movie’s Japan is a reference -sumo wrestling, kabuki, haikus, godzilla- and some work much better than others.

Film critic Peter Labuza points toward a sushi-making scene as an example of the movie’s interest in playing with points of view, and I agree with him. The sequence not only shows Anderson’s knack for composition, as well as beautiful animation, but turns a detour into a funny reveal and then a crucial plot point. Then there are moments like when a plane explodes and forms a mushroom cloud that may or may not be intended as a reference to the A-Bomb, but is undoubtedly an unfortunate choice for a movie set in a city called Megasaki.

Another dubious element is Anderson’s decision to have the (human) Japanese characters speak in their native tongue without subtitles. It’s a strange decision on many levels. First, because most of the dialogue is translated anyway by a translator character voiced by Frances McDormand. Second, because it creates a layer of distance between the audience and the Japanese characters that doesn’t work as intended. The moments that lack translation require the characters to over-express dialogue and movement in ways that make them seem unusually big and cartoonish for an Anderson movie in which characters are always reserving their emotions.

If the idea was to embrace the dogs’ point of view and have the humans at a remove, then a better choice would’ve been to have the dogs speak English and the humans communicate in barks (as suggested on Twitter by Griffin Newman). An even more dubious elements is the character of exchange student Tracy (Greta Gerwig), an American girl who leads the resistance against Mayor Kobayashi in  asub-plot that comes off as yet another white-savior narrative. The ways in which one can wrestle with this movie’s Japan are numerous and have been better explored by a number of Asian American film critics such as Justin Chang, Jen Yamato, and Ingoo Kang.

But even then, there is something outside of specific choices that makes the human parts of Isle of Dogs not work as well as they should. It makes me think of another Wes Anderson movie set in Asia. The Darjeeling Limited, in which three white brothers work out their grief by making their way through India. There are undoubtedly problematic elements in the movie, but they are balanced by a couple of crucial choices. Yes, the protagonists are white Americans, but the movie’s focus is reflective of the characters’ own self-absorption. It is ultimately a movie about westerners using Asian culture to relief their own neuroses.

Second, and perhaps most crucial, is the fact that Darjeeling is a live action movie. The Indian actors are there, and the white protagonist must meet their humanity face to face. Moreover, the movie is not only set but filmed in India, a country that cannot be tamed by Anderson’s will, no matter how obsessive. He can put up as many layers of design as he can, but at the end of the day, India is still India.

Anderson’s stop-motion Japan, on the other hand, was virtually created by his own hands. The same absolute control that makes Isle of Dogs such an impressive piece of animation makes Anderson’s version of Japan so hermetic it becomes airless and problematic. The half of the movie that focuses on the dogs is quite moving and highly effective, but the half that focuses on Japan doesn’t quite work. It’s those parts of Isle of Dogs that make me, a devoted Wes Anderson fan, understand what people mean when they say that he director’s meticulous style makes them feel like they’re never invited to play in his sandbox.