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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“Doctor Strange” movie review

drstrangeA perfect blend of stunning visual effects, character development, and even a hint of the avant-garde in this strange superhero film of East-meets-West. Unpredictable. That is definitely not a word typically associated with superhero genre movies. Not that the plot was entirely unpredictable, but Benedict Cumberbatch delivers a very Patrick Stewart-esque performance as the neurosurgeon turned mystic Dr. Strange in the film that bares his name. This is a superhero film that strikes a strategic balance between traditional superhero storytelling and social commentary. Not without the trademark explosions and dynamic action sequences, Doctor Strange is clearly concerned with and focusses on the character development of Dr. Strange. In a film that could have so easily rested its laurels upon the innovative, intriguing, and exquisite visual effects, it chose to place more emphasis on the drama between characters. Ordinarily, if you follow my blog, you know that I do not typically write positively about superhero films, with some exceptions such as: Batman ReturnsDeadpoolX-Men: Days of Future Past, or Guardians of the Galaxy; however, Marvel/Disney’s Doctor Strange was incredibly enjoyable as both a movie AND film (and yes, there is a difference). For those in the audience who perhaps struggle with being self-centered, the plot and character development in Doctor Strange will likely ring true and act as a mirror of how you may actually come across to people; and furthermore, how to break the cycle. Although this is clearly a typical blockbuster movie, there are trace-amounts of many elements often found in art house films in the stylistic way some of the sequences are shot. Doctor Strange, a truly multidimensional experience.

From Italian sports cars, European watches, and Armani suits to a rundown far eastern temple, famous neurosurgeon Dr. Stephen Strange’s life radically changes after a severe car accident leaves him without full use of his hands. As an expert in the field of bio-medical science, Dr. Strange seeks assistance from traditional western medicine. Convinced that no one except he alone can repair the nerve damage in his hands, Dr. Strange turns to eastern medicine following an encounter with someone who now walks who was paralyzed. Learning that the mysterious enclave of monk-like mystics is a front to a battle beyond the plains of normal existence, Dr. Strange is faced with the decision to use his newly acquired abilities to help fight against the evil seeking to rip the fabric-work of the earth from beneath the feet of millions of innocent citizens or use his powers to regain full use of his hands. With such a deep desire to go back to his successful life in western medicine and to repair a relationship he squandered (Rachel McAdams), he is faced with a monumental decision.

No slow wind up here. Doctor Strange‘s prologue is a breathtaking array of choreography and a dizzying spectacle of Inception-like folding of matter and energy visual effects. Instead of wondering why or who, the audience will be in sheer amazement at the beauty of it all. Opening with a prologue like this was critically important for this comic book icon that many had not heard of prior to the announcement of the movie (‘many’ as in those who are unfamiliar with the comics). Director Scott Derrickson (Exorcism of Emily Rose and Sinister) has clearly approached the Marvel universe from a different direction that most others, and it shows just how perfect a decision it was of Marvel/Disney to select him for the job. Although I was greatly impressed with the visual effects and fight choreography, I was worried that I was going to need to take a dramamine to make it through the majority of the movie. But then, it happened. A veritable bait-and-switch. From an action-packed Matrix-y sequence through a view of Manhattan as seen through a kaleidoscope of shapes and distortions to an operating table, I did not know the direction this film was going. Perfect. So often superhero movies are basic–fun–but basic. I also appreciated the humorous juxtaposition between the seriousness of surgery against the backdrop of late 1970’s rock music. Just within the first few minutes of this film, I was convince that this movie was going to be unconventional but strangely enjoyable.

Such a great cast! Part of the success of any movie is the cast and the respective roles they deliver. Not merely selected for their respective appearances, the main cast of Doctor Strange each brings a unique blend of talent into the mix. Cumberbatch plays an eccentric ego-maniacal self-centered high on himself doctor extremely well. So well that his development was quite convincing on his journey from selfishness to selflessness. Playing opposite him most of the movie is Tilda Swinton (Wes Anderson veteran actress seen in movies such as The Grand Budapest HotelMoonrise Kingdom, and more recently in the Cohen brothers’ Hail, Caesar!) as the Ancient One. She provides the ideal counterbalance to Strange’s over-inflated ego. Difficult to read, I was never quite sure which team she was on, and you’ll have to watch the movie to find out. Her performance was dynamic and convincing. Cast in the role of spurned lover Dr. Christine Palmer, Rachel McAdams does her McAdams thing so incredibly well. I also greatly appreciate how even when dressed in hospital scrubs she still graces the screen with her beauty. She may have bet spurned by Strange, but she gives it right back to him. Each and every member of the principle and supporting cast truly contributed to the success of the storytelling in this film.

At the core of this film is solid writing. The characters are multidimensional and the writing contains a bountiful buffet of bright, brisk entertainment that typically seems to do justice to the feel of the comics. Not saying the all the Marvel Movies (whether Disney or Fox) are better comic book adaptations than D.C. (Warner Bros), but they operate on a tried and true method of delivering a visually driven story that appeals to general audiences. Due to the fact that Doctor Strange and other Marvel movies DO rely upon tried and true methods of cinematic storytelling, there is little to no risk for the production and distribution companies. On that note, the D.C. movies are typically more edgy and riskier. Despite the rather dark plot of Doctor Strange, there is sufficient humor here and there to keep the audience from entering into a stagnate emotional state.

Whether you are familiar with the comic book series Doctor Strange or not, this is definitely a movie and film worth watching. Even if you have not seen the other Marvel movies (which is doubtful but possible), you can watch this one and not feel lost at all. That is likely due to the fact that Disney/Marvel knew that most people were unfamiliar with this character and needed to be introduced to him and his universe. If you’re into innovative visual effects, then you will be in awe at the effects and editing of Doctor Strange as well.