THE FRENCH DISPATCH film review

A quirky, stylistic motion picture in which the production design is the real star. Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch delivers everything you expect from his authorship of cinema, but not much else; it’s a bountiful buffet of Andersonisms, in an anthology commenting on the dying print media industry; but while you’ll chuckle here and there, the stories themselves mostly fall flat. No doubt about it, that this film is overflowing with talent on and off screen; it’s not often that we get a single motion picture with such a prolific all-star cast. But even the whimsical production design and dry humor, that we automatically expect from an Anderson film, isn’t enough to compensate for the lackluster “short films” within the larger anthology cataloging the final printing of The French Dispatch magazine. No mistaking it, every visual element of the mise-en-scene is crafted with immense care! But the weakness in this film is the lack of ability for the vast majority of audiences (from cinephiles to those whom simply want to be entertained–and there’s nothing wrong with that, lest we forget) to connect with an of the individual characters, let alone the stories themselves. Perhaps that’s it: lack of relatability; that is the fly in the ointment.

A love letter to journalists set in an outpost of an American newspaper in a fictional 20th-century French city that brings to life a collection of stories published in “The French Dispatch.”

If you were hoping for another Grand Budapest Hotel or Rushmore, then I’m afraid that you may be disappointed. That said, if you go in with a desire to appreciate a masterful visual storytelling methodology, then you will be impressed and even delighted. While I find the characters themselves lacking in their ability to connect with the audience, this motion picture delivers abundantly in a beautifully eclectic blend of cinematic and stage craft that draws audiences into a stylistic world as can only be dreamt by Wes Anderson.

Before I talk about what didn’t work for me in this film, I want to highlight what was brilliantly executed. And that’s the imaginative visual design as can only be conceived by Wes Anderson. Even the most scholarly Anderson aficionados will be surprised by the diversity in visual expression of the immersive world on screen. Not only do we get the hybrid film/stage craft in production design, but we even have moments that the story is being told though the medium of a graphic novel. What Anderson can do that few filmmakers can is create massive depth in the world on screen. Furthermore, there is this absolute beauty in the deceptively simple approach. There is more love in the production design in a single frame of this film (and his films in general) than in most films in their entirety. From the very first frame of the film, it is clear that you are about to watch a Wes Anderson film! Few directors have achieved the degree of cinematic authorship that he has. In my classroom, I talk about him with the likes of Hitchcock and Burton (80s-90s), two filmmakers who’s stylistic approach to cinematic storytelling was so incredibly well-defined that they transformed into brands themselves.

I am often picky when I observe grayscale imagery in a film. Why? Because, most of the time, the filmmaker simply desaturates the color image to give it that old school grayscale (commonly referred to as black and white) look and feel. Not having seen any behind the scenes featurettes, I cannot confirm this, but the segments of the film that are grayscale appear to have been lit for grayscale. This is HUGE. The way a filmmaker lights for grayscale is NOT the same as it is for color. That is why, when a filmmaker simply removes the color from the image, that there is something that doesn’t look quite right or authentic in the image. In true grayscale filmmaking, the shades of gray go from a dark charcoal to almost white–that is the rage of shades of gray. So I greatly appreciate these moments in the film because I could observe the care that Anderson put into the filming of these scenes.

The French Dispatch is a collection of short stories (films) that are the visual extension of their written counterparts. Not written as in the screenplay, but written as in they are they represent the last stories for the final issue of The French Dispatch. So what we have here is a self-reflexive motion picture about the dying print media industry. If you need a reference, think LIFE magazine. We are watching the final issue of a legacy travel magazine come together as the narrator guides us through every story in the issue. It’s very much a love letter to print media, which is increasingly becoming extinct. If you are a print journalist working for a legacy publication, then this story will likely resonate with you. For everyone else, it won’t likely pack the same comedic punch.

This film is overflowing with characters! But what’s ironic, is that with all those characters, there aren’t really any that will likely connect with the audience. There is this wall there, a sort of separation between these characters and the audience. And this separation is felt all through the stories that fall flat, albeit, you’ll chuckle here and there. There is a great disconnect between the characters & story and the audience. They’re all generally likable–which is a problem. Films are comprised of characters we love and love to hate. When you generally (again, not fervently) like all the characters, the stakes are never high. The journalists writing the stories and the characters therein are incredibly one-dimensional with little to no growth arc. Neither the audience nor the characters are taken on a journey. And the short story that is the most blase´ and perfunctory of all is the one featuring Timotee´ Chalamet as the one-dimensional, self-centered student socio-political activist that has been consistently highlighted in the advertising (newsflash: kids and teens are rarely more enlightened than adults; don’t live your life by what’s on Tik Tok or presently being sensationalized).

If you are in the mood for a quirky out-of-this-world diversion into a whimsical world, then this film may fit the bill. If you’re looking for a substantive story, you won’t find that here. Go into it with an eager attitude to appreciate the art of the cinematic image, and that is the best approach to enjoying Anderson’s newest feature. If your favorite Anderson feature has been Grand Budapest or Rushmore prior to watching The French Dispatch, then you may find yourself wanting to go back and rewatch those for a better story.

Ryan teaches American and World Cinema at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

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“The Jungle Book” (2016) movie review

JungleBookDisney Nature meets beloved animated classic! Disney’s newest live-action remake of an animated classic surprisingly plays out very well. Unlike last year’s CinderellaThe Jungle Book strikes a perfect balance between creating a new more visceral experience of a familiar story and paying homage to the best of what the animated version had to offer–the essence of what made it “Disney.” As I was sitting in the theatre, I was amazed at how much the film truly felt like a classic Disney masterpiece that just happened to include beautiful cinematography, incredibly well engineered CG animals, and a plot; albeit, not a dynamic, thrilling, or deep plot, but a coherent plot nevertheless. That’s more than I can say about the original. Even though, I too like the classic. After the Cinderella cinematic schlock, I was not expecting much out of this film. But, I stand (or sit, rather) corrected. The Jungle Book is encouraging in that it proved to me that Disney can still tell a good story that is great for a wide audience and includes the core of the magic of an animated classic but successfully translates the narrative into a live-action movie.

Deep in the Indian jungles, an orphan human infant is found by a wise and caring panther named Bagheera (Ben Kingsley). Knowing he would die alone, Bagheera took him to a pack of wolves to be raised as one of their own. Being given the name Mowgli (Neel Sethi) spend his childhood as a wolf. When Shere Kahn (Idris Elba), a vengeful bengal tiger, threatens the wolf pack and the rest of the jungle, Mowgli decides to leave the pack and head for the man village–the jungle is no longer a place for a man cub. Guided and guarded by Bagheera, Mowgli must begin to adapt to his soon to be new life, but is having the most difficult of time. Throughout his journey through the misty jungles, Mowgli will encounter animals and beats he has never seen and even make some new friends along the way, including the lovable Baloo (Bill Murray). All the while, he must avoid an encounter with Shere Kahn while pressing on his journey of self-discovery and wild adventure.

Writer Justin Marks and director Jon Favreau demonstrate that a live-action remake of an animated Disney classic can be the best that a modern cinematic general audience movie can be and still hold onto the magic that has made it a story to stand the test of time. As I have not read the Rudyard Kipling work of literature upon which The Jungle Book is based, I’d like to imagine that this version of Mowgli, Bagheera, and Baloo’s adventures does the words of the English journalist and author justice. Unlike the original beloved movie devoid of any real coherent or conventionally structured plot, this remake tells a visual story supported by a simple but effective narrative complete with proper turning points, twists, and events. The pacing is also well-engineered, which creates a pleasant journey for the mind as well as the eyes. Using mostly on location jungle shots, supported with subtle sound stage sets gives this film a natural beauty that feels like something right out of a Disney Nature documentary. Contrary to how some CG animals can look, these creations were fantastically real–like you could reach out and stroke Bagheera’s ebony hair. Newcomer Neel Sethi is impressive to watch as Mowgli. He embodied the lovable characteristics of the animated version whilst adding in a modern twist. One of my favorite ways to evaluate an actor, in a genre such as this, is if he or she looks like they are having fun. And, Sethi definitely showed that he was having fun bringing this story to live-action cinema.

One of the reasons I was disappointed with the remake of Cinderella is that I missed the magic of the timeless music. Realizing that this was the first attempt to remake an animated classic (not a reimagination as is the case with Maleficent), it is entirely possible that Disney decided to make sure the next remake included the core of what made the animated version so beloved. And you will definitely find echoes of the original Jungle Book in this live action film. Most of the characters you remember from the original are also reprising their respective roles. Some of the roles are modified to either be more or less prominent, but it’s all very effective in building the story. One of the characters that is not as prominent in this version is the bola constrictor Kaa (Scarlet Johansson). But, in the relatively short amount of screen time, she delivers an exceptional performance, inclusive of the hypnotism, and through her interaction with Mowgli, Kaa reveals his backstory that adds to why Shere Kahn has vowed vengeance on his life. Just like in the original, King Luis (Christopher Walken) want to be just like Mowgli and possess the red flower.

There are certain elements of the original that are not included in the live-action version, but they are elements that did not fit in the world Favreau created for this film. Suffice it to say, I do not think that you will greatly miss those parts of the original because this Jungle Book holds onto the original magic and brings it into 21st century cinema. What about the talking animals??? Like with many movies, I did not read up on this one too much because I wanted to be surprised. Needless to say, I did not look up the voice actors so I was not prepared for the animals to speak. When Bagheera first began to speak, I was definitely caught off guard. However, I quickly accepted that the articulating mouths on the animals speaking perfectly good English in the jungles of India were as natural as the luscious green trees and crystal clear water or as natural as Mowgli’s ability to communicate with nearly every creature. The UN must have implanted Mowgli and his friends with those instant translator devices. But, because of the quality of the production, the adherence to the Disney magic that made the original memorable, and the solid writing, I was more than willing to engage in the suspension of disbelief in order to enjoy the movie to its fullest extent.

If you enjoyed the music, characters, and story in the original, then you are definitely going to enjoy this live-action remake. I am excited to see that the essence of the original animated classic is alive and well in this film. I hope this is what we are to expect from the next live-action adaptation of a Disney animated classic.