Berlin - Day One (2018)

Greetings from the Berlin Film Festival, which for this week only is the best place to be in the world if you love movies, so I’m feeling very pleased with myself that I’m lucky enough to be here. That’s despite the cold, but don’t worry too much about me - I’m layering up (I’m currently wearing most of my wardrobe at the same time, which means an elaborate undressing ritual when I enter the warmth of a screening room).

Anyway, I’m halfway through my first winter living on a boat, so this is nothing: the outdoor temperature in Berlin right now is only a couple of degrees colder than my bathroom. Come on Berlin-in-February - is that all you’ve got?!

Here I’ll keep you up to date with one or two of the best films I see each day, and anything else that might come up.

Isle of Dogs

Last night Wes Anderson opened the Berlinale with Bill Murray, Greta Gerwig, Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum and other glitterati on the red carpet. I tried to sneak into a press screening of Isle of Dogs yesterday afternoon, but was unceremoniously rejected with German efficiency from the queue. Instead, I was lucky enough to get a ticket for today’s follow up public screening.

Thankfully Wes Anderson hasn’t focused his new movie on the dockland area of Tower Hamlets, East London, even if it’s a lame joke to compare the two locations. Set in Japan 20 years in the future, government-stoked hysteria and fear of “dog flu” and “snout fever” has led to the exile of all dogs to an island of human garbage away from the city.

A young boy, Atari, has stolen a plane to reach the island in search of his lost dog, Spots, or “dog zero” as he’s known in the canine world, as the first dog to be banished. Aided by a "pack of scary, indestructible alpha dogs" (insert loveable into that description), they set off across the ‘Middle Earth’ of Trash Island on a adventure to find Spots and unearth the darker conspiracy behind the authorities’ cynophobia (that’s dog phobia, by the way, thanks to Google).

Like my admission on this blog that I’m one of an unusual breed, a Guillermo del Toro denier, I also have to admit to the mild setting in of Wes Anderson fatigue, as undeniably talented and brilliant as he is. But this triumph of stop motion animation, this Fantastic Mr Mutt, is the perfect vehicle for his occasionally over-familiar style of dialogue and humour - and I loved it. It took me right back to the puppy love I felt for Rushmore. Jokes (visual and spoken) and the detailed splendour of the animation pour off the screen to such an extent that I can’t wait to see it again to pick up what I’ve missed. A much more grown-up experience than I expected too.

Out in the UK on 30 March 2018.

Assassination Nation

I felt a crackle of Sundance buzz as I sneaked into a screening of Sam Levinson’s Assassination Nation, which sold big in Park City last month. Variety referred to it as a “Molotov cocktail”, which is a perfect description of a raucously enjoyable mix of Heathers, Spring Breakers and It Follows.

A group of four sassy high school girls enjoy a lively but not atypical day-to-day of obsessive social media connectivity and interaction. But when a hacker spills the contents of people’s phones onto the internet, the small town atmosphere takes a dark and misogynistic turn, and the girls are forced to defend themselves in the most spectacular way.

Like the Twittersphere itself the film isn’t for everyone (it was for me!) and often feels out of control as it shifts tonally on its way to a dramatic climax. And the setting of a town called Salem (albeit not identified as Massachusetts) is a touch of genius, drawing on the infamous 17th century witch hunts and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible for influence: this is Salem had Instagram and sexting existed in 1692, and perfectly timed in support of the #MeToo climate, should people read it that way.

Jon Wood