As I watched “Isle of Dogs” (2018), I was reminded how much I used to enjoy “Samurai Jack.” There’s a zen-like inner calmness at the center of these two pieces of Japanese-flavored animation that I savored. This film is loaded with metaphors for all kinds of stuff I didn’t have time to try to discern (it’s a dark story about the potential for a doggie holocaust, and there’s heavy – perhaps too heavy – political symbolism). I was too busy either trying to make out the tiny writing on my normal-human-sized television or I was simply enjoying the calm, deliberate, confident storytelling.

Advertisements

With his fair hair, pale skin and faint voice, Truman Capote cast somewhat of a ghostly appearance. So does the stark winter countryside portrayed in “Capote,” the 2005 film that examines the creation of the novel “In Cold Blood.” The spectral nature makes sense, since the novel, and the film, deals with a quadruple homicide. As Capote becomes infatuated with the murderers, the rural Kansas setting, painted in long-distance shots and moments of ambient sound, harbors the ghosts of the murdered, so that we don’t become too infatuated ourselves. It’s a brilliant device, moments of art within a creepy story.

At one point during “You Were Never Really Here” (2018), Joaquin Phoenix appears to extract a tooth with a pair of pliers. Since he’s sooooo Joaquin Phoenix, I briefly wondered if he was really doing it. If there’s one actor who would, he would. It was a fascinating distraction and synopsizes this film about a seriously traumatized dude who rescues traumatized kids only to get caught up in a 1970s-style pervy political conspiracy. Between the flashbacks and hallucinations, there are a lot of fascinating distractions from the fact that the plot – and a lot of the dialogue – is completely incoherent.

The crash of the dot-com bubble in the early 2000s brought an era of lowered expectations that I don’t think we’ve ever fully gotten over. That small-ball sensibility seems to be what drives “In Good Company.” It’s got the architecture of a romantic comedy: middle-aged family man (Dennis Quaid) gets a new, young boss (Topher Grace) who falls for his daughter (Scarlett Johansson). But instead of hijinks, everyone takes turns receiving gut punches followed by small victories. The presumptive happy ending seems more relief than triumph. But that’s where we were in 2004, and now. Just relieved that we’re surviving.

Every good journalist knows when something is old news. “Shock and Awe,” the story of the good journalists who were skeptical about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, should get the Pulitzer Prize for irony. Not because the lonely crew of the Knight Ridder Washington Bureau was ultimately vindicated, but because it’s 2018, and every sane person has known for at least 10 years that the WMD excuse for invading Iraq was bullshit. Old news. And it’s not even that good a movie. There are a lot of speechifying moments that smell of made-for-TV fakeyness. Surprise! Rob Reiner directed and co-stars.

I finally sold my guitar on Craigslist the same day I finally saw “School of Rock” (2003). I don’t know if that’s ironic or just a coincidence. I also don’t know if “School of Rock” is good because of, or in spite of, Jack Black. His spazzy histrionics are a tiring distraction. However, his background as an actual musician provided authenticity in a way that a Chris Farley couldn’t have been able to 10 years earlier or a Zach Galifianakis wouldn’t be able to 10 years later. It’s the starring role Black was born to play. Probably the only one.

Fred Rogers passed away 15 years ago. His TV show began in the 1960s and most people’s recollections of it are through the fuzzy lens of their childhood. As a result, a personal metaphor of Mister Rogers (unruffled? nice? wimpy?) is clearer to most of us than the actual person or PBS program. The 2018 documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is a welcome reminder that there was a whole lot more depth to the man, and the show. Morgan Neville tells the story thoroughly and fairly, examining topics (race, sex, etc.) that would have sidetracked a less disciplined filmmaker.