Famous Filmmakers’ Firsts: Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Ivan’s Childhood” (1962)

*This film came out in 1962, so obviously, spoilers will be involved in this review*

Written by Mikhail Papava and directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, “Ivan’s Childhood” is an adaption of Vladimir Bogomolov’s 1957 short story “Ivan” which follows an orphaned twelve year old Russian boy that scouts for the Russian Army on the front lines of the German invasion. This is the most straightforward narrative I’ve seen from Tarkovsky as I haphazardly serpentine through his filmography, it’s also one of his shorter films coming in at a brisk hour and thirty-four minutes. From the beginning dream sequence Tarkovsky is already playing with the surreal nature of dreams that would later become a pillar of his stylistic choices in his grander and more iconic films like “Stalker” and “The Mirror”. In it Ivan, ‘the carefree child’ (Nikolai Burlyaev), observes a spiderweb on a tree branch and a butterfly taking flight, after which he too soars through the air laughing, full of wonder. It doesn’t last long however and we’re soon introduced to Ivan ‘the soldier’ in a violent awakening. He’d been camped out in a dark and decaying windmill and soon wades through a murky swamp shrouded by trees and flares in the distance. The title credits begin to roll and the brooding bleak mood of the film sets in.


Tarkovsky’s first film steeps us in the director’s philosophy of nature being a respite from the burdens of reality, and his utter despise of war- which is why he pursued the idea of having a war film seen through the eyes of a child, as it was the furthest juxtaposition from war. Ivan makes his way into the Russian military encampment and demands to make contact with high ranking officials. The Lieutenant there, Galtsev (Evgeny Zharikov)- himself a young man no older than twenty-five, makes the call despite his suspicions. Lt. Col. Gryaznov (Nikolai Grinko) answers and corroborates Ivan’s story. The boy had been a scout for their military on an earlier mission across the river and behind enemy lines. From there the film follows Ivan’s determined quest for revenge, refusing to be shipped off to military school or a children’s home, making extra work for the officers taking care of him- though they do genuinely seem to admire the boy.


The story also follows a romantic side plot involving a love-triangle of sorts. Galtsev seems to have an unspoken admiration for one of the female military nurses, Masha (Valentina Malyavina). Captain Kholin (Valentin Zubkov) also takes a liking to the quietly defiant field nurse and aggressively pursues her in the birch-wood forest. I was wary of this scene as it was happening, fearing a rape scenario, but luckily it never goes that far. We get the infamous image of Capt. Kholin holding Masha over a trench and kissing her as she reluctantly goes along, but I believe this is simply a case where the scene at hand just hasn’t aged very well, though it doesn’t appear to have malevolent intent as initially assumed. It is, simply put, a product of it’s time.

la infancia de ivan3

The most fascinating aspects of the film for me though are Ivan’s dream sequences. There are four in the film, the opening scene with the butterfly being the first. The next dream sequence comes after Ivan has met Galtsev, been washed and fed, and finally when he can no longer stay conscious enough to keep up his tough guy bravado he falls into a slumber in which we get a brief look into his core philosophy of being. In it the camera flows freely, which is already a visual indicator that we’re in dream territory as the camera is always poised and precise when Ivan is awake. It floats along to a fire of white birch wood before panning back to a bucket near Ivan’s hand laying off the bed as water drips on it. This provokes the camera to tilt upward as if he were at the bottom of a well. Ivan then reappears with his mother, peering over the edge from above and Ivan’s mother tells him something along the lines of “The brightest stars shine best in the blackest of nights.” Ivan tries to reach into the water’s reflection to grab the star and then, after a cut, lies at the bottom of the well again. We quickly see a bucket fall down towards Ivan as he screams for his mother but before we see the bucket fall into the water we cut again to see his mother’s dead body next to the well being splashed with the water from the bottom of the well. This scene is the epitome of why I am fascinated with Tarkovsky’s films. How he uses space and dream logic is endlessly fascinating to me. Reality becomes distorted and spatial relationships are in a state of confusion. Yet all while we’re getting pertinent character information about Ivan and why he is so motivated get revenge.


The third scene, which is possibly the most strange, depicts Ivan and his sister riding upon a cart filled with apples in a pouring thunderstorm. Here Ivan smiles, he only does this in his dreams, while being surrounded by an abundance of food and family. We see what feels like a camera pan past his sister’s face three times, but only she is moving from right to left within the frame, and she’s completely dry (even in the rain) the third time she passes by. The dream ends as the cart continues to ride off the path and onto a beach leaving a trail of apples. The camera slows and lets the cart fade away as we focus on wild horses feasting on the spilled fruit in the foreground. The final dream sequence connects all to the three previous ones all while poetically reinforcing the idea that Ivan never had a real childhood during his life, it only existed in his dreams. After the audience learns that Ivan’s final mission scouting across the river with Galtsev and Kohlin ended with his death, the dream sequence gives us an abstract and symbolic send off. I believe this scene begins from Galtsev’s perspective during his frantic retrieval of Ivan’s death documents when raiding a German stronghold in Berlin after the fall of the third Reich months later. After he discovers that Ivan had been captured and hung Galtsev runs to another room where he sees wire nooses hung from railings and the camera begins to spin out of control and we see Ivan’s, presumed, dead body rolling along the floor before a hard cut. From a low angle we see Ivan’s mother smiling down at him and he smiles back, now on the beach from the third dream. He rises, shirtless and drinking from the bucket in the second dream, as his mother picks up the bucket and walking back into the water as she waves goodbye to him. Ivan then goes and plays with other children on the beach, it looks like a game of hide-and-go-seek, and he goes to a lone burnt, dead, tree standing in the sand and counts as the other children leave the frame. Even the tree bookends the film visually from the opening dream sequence. When Ivan returns he only finds his sister, and the remainder of the scene is the two of them running wildly into the shallow waters of the ocean laughing heartily- before a hard cut to black ending the film.


This film was the beginning of Tarkovsky’s film career, and in it you can see the rumblings of a unique cinematic voice forming. While the plot and action of the film are thinner and slower than most, this movie is a good indicator for whether or not you will enjoy the infamous Russian filmmaker’s style. If the abstract sequences turned you off from the story the film was telling, then I must say, you probably won’t enjoy his later works. I approach Tarkovsky’s films with the same mentality that I bring into museums. His films seem to be more akin to seeing visually arresting artwork that plays with the fabric of reality and bends it to whichever way the story feels it should take. It is more about the mood that the images evoke from you than the initial meaning of each scene or the momentum of the story beats.

Final Score: 4 dreams and 1 war


Old School Review: The Battleship Potemkin (1925)

Written by Nina Agadzhanova and directed by Sergei M. Eisenstein “The Battleship Potemkin” is about a mutiny aboard the Russian battleship during the height of the Russian Revolution of 1905. It is also the first silent film I have reviewed on the blog thus far. This film is so infamous by this point that there is little I can add to the conversation other than regurgitating the film’s numerous technical achievements that so many others have touched upon. If you haven’t given the film a watch before and you’re invested in learning about the history of cinema then I encourage a viewing- especially since it’s only a brisk hour and fourteen minutes long. Otherwise most modern audiences will bore with the lack of dialogue and color, which can edge out one’s attention span, even I had to stay focused during my own viewing.


The film begins with the Russian ship returning home through the Black Sea from the recent war with Japan. The crew inspect the meat to be used that day and stir the captains and officers to complain of its quality. The ship’s doctor is sought to inspect it and when the camera gets a closer inspection to show the meat squirming with maggots he labels the meat satisfactory. Mutinous boiling rage fills the crew and they refuse to eat. This act of defiance comes to a head as the captain and officers round up the crew asking who is dissatisfied with the food, when a portion stand their ground they are ordered to be shot dead. Vakulinchuk, the voice of the ship’s imminent revolution, shouts above the clamor as the officers raise their guns “Brothers! Who are you shooting at?” and thus the raucous mutiny begins. After the crew is victorious the battleship heads to the port of Odessa where the locals have heard of the uprising and feel connected to the hardships of the sailors as the lower classes of society were engaged in revolutionary war. This prompts a swift damnation by the Czar’s elite guard as they march down the steps of Odessa shooting into the crowd creating one of early film’s most infamous scenes.



After this the crew aboard the Potemkin engage in debate over what to do with the supportive citizenry. Eventually they decide to help and target several locations of importance to the Czar’s government and fire away. This calls the attention of a nearby fleet of unknown allegiance and the remainder of the film is brilliantly played for anxiety with the score and inter-cutting of scenes of preparation for battle on the Potemkin as they go to meet the fleet. In the end the Potemkin glides through the approaching ships’ guard unscathed as they realize that they too are revolutionaries in arms. In doing some light research on the film’s history and how it helped to shape cinema nearly a century ago I read Roger Ebert’s 1998 review and he was right. I had already seen the parody of the massacre on the Odessa Steps years before (ie The Untouchables) seeing the source material. In fact, I will post a link below to his review of the film, which is far more in depth and personal of a review than what I have experienced with Potemkin.


What is most impressive about the film in my opinion is the use of space in the film. Granted this may have simply been a side effect from having masses of people represent groups and ideals over individualized ‘characters’, but its still years ahead of its time and is even today a bit of a wonder as to how they accomplished this in 1925. This paired with the sheer choreography of hundreds of extras milling about the Odessa Steps and aboard the Potemkin makes for good eye-catching movement. Especially aboard the Potemkin, where the sailors can mill above and below where the main action is focalized- the staging makes for layered movement and gives the impression that the warship is gigantic in scope requiring a village of people for upkeep. The score was also incredibly important here, as the only sound in the film it helps to engage the viewer in the intended feelings of the characters onscreen. The brash and overbearing clash of orchestral audio waves crash as the Czar’s men advance with their rifles drawn, the inherent sadness and grief at the useless killing is portrayed in weeping stringed symphonies, and the finale assuages the audience’s anxieties with triumphant and victorious horns. Altogether “The Battleship Potemkin” is an important piece of cinema’s history while the film’s history itself is also quite fascinating given how many governments across the globe banned it fearing Potemkin‘s call to arms aimed at the masses. If you’re at all invested in cinema’s history, this is one you should see.


Final Score: a Mutiny and a Slaughter

Roger Ebert’s 1998 review of “The Battleship Potemkin”:


Review: Avengers 3 Infinity War

*WARNING* This review will be full of spoilers, you have been warned!

Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, “Avengers: Infinity War” is the third superhero event film under the Marvel banner and the culmination of ten years of interconnected storytelling across all eighteen previous films. If you’ve been following these Marvel movies and are up to date then you will gleam the most out of the two and a half hour epic that is Infinity War. However if, by some chance, you’re just now considering a Marvel movie marathon and are curious as to which movies are most necessary for this latest Avengers movie, I believe about half of them are required viewing (Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain America: Civil War, The Avengers, Avengers 2: Age of Ultron, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 1, Dr. Strange, Thor: Ragnarok, and Black Panther). The rest help to build upon the structure, and character development, of the cinematic universe, but that list will get you mostly acquainted with what’s going on.


So, we’re finally here. After hearing about and seeing several of the infinity stones throughout these films, and with a couple cameos from the mad titan himself, does the film live up to the monumental expectations that Marvel Studios has built? Yes. I can answer that wholeheartedly with a resounding yes. Infinity War is a monumental feat of crossover film-making and it makes the once grandiose events of the first Avengers seem minuscule in comparison. The film follows the wake of destruction left by Thanos and his black order as they seek out the six infinity stones and crisscross the cosmos to implement the will of the mad titan. The opening scene perfectly showcases who Thanos is and why we should be afraid for the fate of our superheroes. After laying waste to Thor and the Asgardian refugees’ ship Thanos quickly bests the Hulk in a fistfight, takes the Tesseract from Loki before killing him, and completely destroys their ship leaving Thor to drift unconsciously through space. Heimdall was able to send the Hulk off to Earth before being murdered by the Black Order and as the incredible hero smashes through Dr. Strange’s staircase in New York City, Bruce Banner comes with a dire warning, “Thanos is coming..”


Dr. Strange quickly grasps the magnitude of the problem at hand as he grabs Tony Stark from a morning run with Pepper Potts, but it isn’t long before Thanos Black Order arrive to make a power grab for the Time stone in the doctor’s possesion. Spider-Man also gets in the mix and we’re off to the races! The movie moves at break neck speeds jumping across space and back to service all of the various storylines in play but the Russo brothers have outdone themselves with this installment as everything flows naturally with the needs of the story. Now I won’t go beat by beat and describe the whole movie, but instead give a general sense of the scale and the threat that comes with Thanos seeking to wield his infinity gauntlet. Not to mention how the movie cleverly utilized it’s massive cast by breaking the characters off into various factions in different locations to best suit the needs of the story. For example, the Guardians of the Galaxy bump into Thor when responding to their distress signal and then separate into two teams, one consisting of Thor, Rocket, and Groot in order to seek out a “Thanos killing weapon” while the rest head to ‘Knowhere’ from their first movie as it’s the last known location of the reality stone. Iron Man and Spider-Man hitch a ride on the ship that the Black Order arrived in to save Dr. Strange from Ebony Maw on his way to Titan, while Captain America, Falcon, and Black Widow stave off an attack on Vision and the Scarlet Witch thanks to a heads up by Banner and eventually head to Wakanda as a last stand to keep Vision’s Mind stone in his head and not on the gauntlet of Thanos.


The central theme of the movie is that, when pressed by Thanos and his cosmic conquering, will you trade one life for another? Several characters have this grueling predicament pushed on them, some make choices out of love, others for the fate of the universe, but ultimately they fail when crossing that line. The moral center of the MCU, Steve Rogers (aka Captain America), never falters in his moral code. Several times throughout the movie he reiterates to others that, “We don’t trade lives”. He discards the math of the scenario in giving a life to save millions, nay billions. He saves lives, he doesn’t play that game. That right there, might be the absolute best aspect of this film. All of the characters are true to their nature as established in the previous films. There is a palpable consistency to their actions and reasoning. The Guardians all feel like themselves, still making jokes and acting on impulse. Black Panther and Captain America leap into battle first and have unwavering foundations. Thor feels the most evolved since the ramifications of ‘Ragnarok’ changed the game for his films and overall nature, a kingly warrior burdened with grief, yet still able to convey humor as a fish-out-of-water situation with the Guardians. Consistency paired with well thought out plot-points and a very clever villain, possibly the best the MCU has seen yet, add up to one hell of a Marvel movie.


With an ending as shocking as it is, I- and many other millions, cannot wait to see how these characters rebound and ultimately save the day. This is most definitely a part one, and with only two other films between now and (the still untitled) Avengers 4 that take place before the events of this movie, we’ll have to wait a year and see how this all unfolds. I cannot praise this movie enough, it was far more emotionally mature and full of dread than I expected. There were significant deaths, high stakes and excellent action, and on top of that the film still managed to be really funny at times. They did it. They really did it. The next challenge is to outdo themselves next year, which I have to say, is a tall order. I have faith in the Russo brothers though, their movies in the MCU have been some of the best entries in the superhero genre as a whole. Now all we have to do… is wait.



Final Score: Infinite Avengers

Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man

Chris Hemsworth as Thor

Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/Hulk

Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America

Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow

Don Cheadle as James Rhodes/War Machine

Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange

Tom Holland (II) as Peter Parker/Spider-Man

Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa/Black Panther

Zoe Saldana as Gamora

Karen Gillan as Nebula

Tom Hiddleston as Loki

Paul Bettany as Vision

Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch

Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson/Falcon

Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier

Idris Elba as Heimdall

Danai Gurira as Okoye

Benedict Wong as Wong

Pom Klementieff as Mantis

Dave Bautista as Drax

Vin Diesel as Groot

Bradley Cooper as Rocket

Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts

Benicio Del Toro as The Collector

Josh Brolin as Thanos

Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord

William Hurt as Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross

Letitia Wright as Shuri

Peter Dinklage as Eitri

Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury

Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill

and Ross Marquand as Red Skull


Review: Super Troopers 2

Written by Broken Lizard (Jay Chandrasekhar, Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter, and Erik Stolhanske) and directed by Jay Chandrasekhar, “Super Troopers 2” is the cop comedy sequel sixteen years in the making. Meow I, like a lot of fans of the original film, found “Super Troopers” after it had hit the video market when I was younger. The slapstick humor, ridiculous prank nature, and general sense of a bunch of friends doing whatever they could just to make each other laugh- it connected with me and my friends. This material worked for us, and it still does. So I’m more than happy to say that this sequel still had what it takes to produce instinctual and immediate laughter from us. This was an event film for us, and it was momentous fun!


Which was why I found the majority of reviews floating around the internet to be a surprising rejection of the film. Maybe the world is just too different of a place for a movie like this? A lot has happened since 2002 after all. Personally, I reject that notion. It’s more likely that this style of comedy is a bit more niche than it used to be, but hell, I’m okay with that. Screwball comedies and slapstick oddball humor can work for me in the right context- and it works splendidly here in “Super Troopers 2”. The Broken Lizard team played their hand exactly right in my mind. They cleverly played into some of the favorite old bits and jokes, but each with it’s own new spin- never simply regurgitating the same old thing. The plot itself played into some fun new territory, both figuratively and literally.


After being demoted due to the events of the first film to local street cops, and then fired from those jobs because of an incident involving Fred Savage, the five former state troopers work various jobs from construction to logging. Shortly after meeting up with the various members of the force they’re directed to an abandoned building by their old friend Captain O’Hagan (Brian Cox) for a supposed fishing trip in Canada. Once there O’Hagan reveals that the fishing trip was a ploy to get them together across the border. Their real purpose in Canada, as revealed by Governor Jessman (Lynda Carter), is to help the United States government transition the area over to US rules and regulations as the border was discovered to be incorrect after looking into the history of the boundary lines. Thus Arcot ‘Thorny’ Ramathorn (Jay Chandrasekhar), MacIntyre ‘Mac’ Womack (Steve Lemme), Robert ‘Rabbit’ Roto (Erik Stolhanske), Jeff Foster (Paul Soter), and Rod Farva (Kevin Heffernan) all don fresh uniforms and begin helping in the transition efforts.

The troupe of troopers go to a town hall where they meet Guy LeFranc (Rob Lowe), the mayor of the town and former Hockey player, Genevieve Aubois (Emmanuelle Chriqui) a French/Canadian cultural attaché focused on relations with the U.S. through the transition, and three Canadian Mounties in Podien (Hayes MacArthur) Archambault (Will Sasso) and Bellefuille (Tyler Labine) that will assist them before heading north to a different outpost. From there the gang gets into all kinds of debauchery, mischief, and mystery including outrunning a live bear, taste testing an assortment of drugs, and impersonating Mounties. This is a sequel that not only lived up to my expectations, but surpassed them several times. Meow get out to the theater and give it a watch! It might be your kind of comedy too!

Final Score:  5 Troopers and 10 liters of cola!





Old School Review: Pather Panchali “Song of the Road” (Apu trilogy 1/3) (1955)

Written and directed by world renown Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray, “Pather Panchali” is his first film and the initial story in the celebrated ‘Apu Trilogy’. I came upon “Pather Panchali” and the Apu trilogy after hearing that these films are prerequisites for Werner Herzog’s classes on film. If they’re held in such high esteem by one of the most prominent filmmakers over the last half century- well, that’s good enough for me. “Pather Panchali” is first and foremost Apu’s (Subir Banerji) story, it is of his beginnings and of the people and places that informed his childhood. We begin, however, with the young Durga (Runki Banerji), Apu’s older sister, traipsing about the local garden stealing fruits for herself and for her mischievous ‘auntie’ Indir Thakrun (Chunibala Devi). The elderly Indir lives with Durga and Apu’s family in their ancestral home in bengal, India. We see Durga’s mother Sarbojaya (Karuna Banerjee), pregnant with Apu, overhear other women from the village gossip and complain about Durga and her family as thieves- and poor thieves at that. Money is a constant anxiety for the family then as it is now, Sabojaya’s suffering has only begun though, as she is the foundation of the family and who keeps everyone together throughout the film. After Apu is born in the night, and his father Harihar (Kanu Banerji) proudly holds him, we fast forward several years.


The film is a mirror held up to the human experience, it reflects daily life in it’s cyclical rhythms, humble and lyrical in nature. We see life through the young Apu and pre-teen Durga’s (Umas Das Gupta) eyes, delighting in the small treasures of waiting for the sweets merchant and running through a field to see a train for the first time. We also see the quiet and lonely moments, one of great sadness in particular is of Indir Thakrun alone on the stoop at night in the rain as she sings, lamenting her dead family and friends, essentially coming to terms with the end of her life and wishing to die. Her unceremonious death later is at once horrifying as she is found by Apu and Durga, but also it has a sense of relief and release about it.


One of the larger arcs across the story is that of Harihar, the dreamer. He envisions great fortune from his writings, eventually leaving the home to obtain consistent work and pay through his writing and practice as a Brahman priest. With Harihar’s head in the clouds and scraping to get by the duties of day-to-day life and structure for Apu and Durga fall to Sabojaya, and thus we spend a lot of time with her through Apu and Durga’s experiences. We witness her shame at the accusation of Durga stealing from another young girl, we see her resentment of having to share her home with Indir, who never listens to the rules and undermines her authority with the children. She has a lot to deal with. Mostly though we follow Apu and Durga simply experiencing life through childish awe and ambition. It’s a film that asks a lot of it’s audience, but it gives a window into another world removed from technology and modernity.


After spending too much time out in the rain after a spat with Apu over trivial toys Durga becomes ill and bedridden. She worsens after a visit by the doctor and during a raucous storm in the night, she eventually passes away. Harihar returns home shortly after the destructive storm has wrecked their home to find Sabojaya distraught and broken. Once he discovers what has happened there is a feeling of helplessness achieved in the film that stayed with me well after the credits rolled. Once they salvage what they can from the rubble, the three take a caravan to Benares (Now known as Varanasi, the spiritual capitol of India) to start anew. Sometimes you have to accept change as it happens and evolve with it. As a Brahman priest, Harihar could provide for his family there as many make pilgrimages to wash in the cleansing waters of the Ganges river.


The film has been derided as slow, unfinished, unpolished, and raw. I would argue, as many have before me, that that rawness is what makes it so powerful. Satyajit Ray had never directed performances or blocked scenes on a film before this. Subrata Mitra, the cinematographer, had never previously shot a scene, or framed movement before. Even the (now legendary) sitarist Ravi Shankar, had never composed a film’s score before either. How they collected such natural and seemingly untouched performances from children will forever be amazing to me. “Pather Panchali” is a uniquely beautiful film because of how closely it reflects our own lives even though the setting of the film is near a century ago in a small village in Bengal, India. If time and place can become inconsequential to how relatable a story can be, then what you’ve got, dear reader, is something truly miraculous in cinematic form.

Though, admittedly this is an arthouse film. That may be a scary and insurmountable term for some, and a well known comfort for others, but if you have a love for cinema and storytelling you owe it to yourself to see this film and others like it at some point. This form of film isn’t necessarily the most profitable and consumable for the masses, and not everyone will sit through a subtitled black and white foreign film, but I’d suggest giving it your time if you love cinema. It has earned that much of you.

Final Score: 1 small family, 1 ancestral family home, and a lot of boiled milk

*Below is a video on the work the Academy did with the Criterion Collection to save the film stock of the Apu trilogy after a fire burned down the warehouse in London. Give it a watch to see the work and diligence put into restoring this piece of film history.




Review: Rampage!

Written by Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan Condal, and Adam Sztykiel and directed by Brad Peyton, “Rampage!” is an adaption of the arcade video game of the same name in which three giant monsters wreck a bunch of buildings. This movie is a giant monster B-movie with a budget that is as stupid as it’s concept. By now you’re probably sure whether or not this type of movie will work for you. While I enjoyed some of the action in the later half of the movie, most of it is mired by incredibly cringe-worthy dialogue and gigantic leaps in logic when it comes to the main characters’ problem solving abilities. Well, let’s dive in shall we?

The only relationship this story is concerned with is that of primatologist Davis Okoye (Dwayne, The Rock, Johnson) and George, a large albino Gorilla at the Santa Monica Zoo. So, it’s good that this relationship actually works in the movie because almost everything else is either acted far too cartoonishly, or with a transformers level of ignorance. However, the third act is a good time- even if there is absolutely no regard for human life whatsoever. So the (very) basic premise is that an evil company, whose generic name you’ll never remember anyways, was funding science experiments on a space station that blew up due to the volatility of said experiments (their purpose? who knows) which resulted in three vials cascading down to North America and landing in Wyoming, Florida, and Southern California. These vials mutated the animals that interacted with them first and therefore we have three giant mutated animals running around causing all sorts of havoc. As you can imagine, one of those animals happens to be George the albino gorilla. There’s also a wolf, and an alligator. Eventually the Cartoonishly evil villains in Chicago, Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy as the Wyden siblings, decide to activate a low frequency beacon to draw the beasts to downtown Chicago so the military can kill them and they can salvage some of the mutated DNA for future evil-doings. Davis Okoye travels with the unnamed government agency that took George for study, he also brings along Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), a genetic editing scientist that used to work for the evil company. There’s also a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo by Joe Manganiello as a gruff military badass who’s only there to be eaten by a giant wolf. What a waste.

12-rampage.w710.h473 I have to admit, Jeffrey Dean Morgan seems to have been having a great time portraying Harvey Russell, the agent leading the unnamed government agency. His southern drawl is comically amusing throughout his time onscreen and he seems to be the most self aware character in acknowledging this very, very, dumb movie he’s in. However, dumb can be fun, and if that’s what you’re looking for, you’ll get it in “Rampage!” One such example that caught me off guard completely was when the chaos is unfolding in downtown Chicago (a city I’ve lived in) and the military is picking up movement in the Chicago river as the leading personnel seriously says, “That’s odd, we don’t have any submarines in the area..” I mean, really? You don’t say? No submarines in Lake Michigan huh? Well isn’t that just the oddest thi- OH MY GAWD IT’S A GIANT CROCODILE!


If the film wanted to add even an iota of depth to the story they could have chosen to actually follow the source material’s only nugget of storytelling by having the origins of the three monsters be humans that are mutated into the destructive threats instead of animals. That might be asking too much of this movie though. “Rampage!” can be fun at times, but it’s also incredibly dumb, the script is one of the worst I’ve seen in years. There’s lots of brazen assumptions, low brow humor, and aggressively stupid character decisions that go hand-in-hand with their cardboard thin characterization. However, if you’re willing to completely shut your brain off for a big dumb monster movie, this might work for you.


Final Score: 1 Kong, 1 Zilla, & 1 Werewolf


Review: Isle of Dogs

Written and directed by Wes Anderson, “Isle of Dogs” is a stop-motion animated film set in Megasaki City, a fictional Japanese city in the not so distant future, where a virus known as ‘Dog Flu‘ has devastated the pet populace and threatens to transfer to humans soon. In the face of this threat Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) declares an emergency order, exile all dogs to trash island. He begins with the public exile of his young nephew Atari’s (Koyu Rankin) dog/bodyguard Spots (Liev Schreiber). Six months later the decrepit isle is populated by every dog from Megasaki City and we focus on five particular pooches looking for food amongst the scraps, Chief (Bryan Cranston), Rex (Edward Norton), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), Boss (Bill Murray), and King (Bob Balaban). After a quick scrap over the available morsels with another gang of roving dogs they spot an incoming small plane that’s about to crash land. After they drag Atari from the wreckage and dub him, the little pilot, they figure out that he’s looking for his lost dog, Spots.


This little film was a joy to watch. I already have a proclivity towards stop-motion animation, so the film had already piqued my interest- but I really did enjoy the story of “Isle of Dogs” as well. At the heart of the film the story is about friendship and doing the right thing, but there were darker shades of conspiracy and a more realized threat for all of the four-legged companions than I was expecting. I won’t get into spoiler territory, but the film was more clever than I had expected and that was a nice surprise. The stellar voice cast cannot be ignored either as each dog had a major name behind their voice and their stylized performances, written for each celebrity, fit their larger than life personas which only added depth to their characterization. There’s also the visual treat of the film as a whole, the blocking and movement was tight and tactile while maintaining Anderson’s well worn Symmetry (with a capital S!) in all frames. This film might fall more on the niche side of his works than say “The Grand Budapest Hotel” but it won me over and I’ll definitely be adding it to my collection once the physical copy is released.



Now, to discuss the elephant in the room; the fact that Wes Anderson made a creative choice to have all human characters speak in their native tongues and deciding against subtitles. There are also translations through interpreters at events or machines that perform the same function. The untranslated Japanese speakers didn’t bother me in this film’s context, it felt more like a quirky choice that was an example of the difficulties with translation as a whole as used in the dogs versus humans, but yes this was clearly made for an English speaking audience. Personally, I’m of the mind that ‘cultural appropriation’ and those who like to throw the term about wildly, aren’t nearly as bad or mean-spirited as people might immediately assume. Obviously context matters here, ‘blackface‘ for example was not okay and we all understand that. However, today’s outrage culture seems poised to sniff out any little tidbit of possible offense and use it to lambaste those who might simply be fascinated by other cultures and their traditions. Just so long as the Japanese voice actors’ speech wasn’t derogatory or insensitive to the culture, which after doing some mild research- it seems to be a fairly innocent tactic, the filmmaker seemed invested in playing with a motif of Japanese culture while also attempting to do so respectfully.


I just don’t understand the effort that goes into being that upset consistently. I don’t want to get too far into the weeds about this here as this is just a review for “Isle of Dogs”, but its relevant to the film. Injustice is important to seek and stamp out in society if possible, but if you’re so narrowly focused that you’re actively protesting a Wes Anderson film- well, there are more productive ways you could be helping society as it relates to injustice. As an example, I don’t get that incensed when I see a white person wearing dreads, however, I am upset by government agencies destroying the environment and further ruining the last patches of land and water left to our Native American peoples. Anyway, that’s the end of my miniature lecture.

Final Score: 5 guide dogs and 1 determined boy

*Below are two articles that further discuss the translations, and lack thereof in “Isle of Dogs”, and I encourage you to give them a read if you’re invested in the topic.