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Collar-ful characters defy the law

Isle of Dogs (Cert PG, 101 mins)

By Damon Smith

Since his critically acclaimed debut feature Bottle Rocket, writer-director Wes Anderson has skipped merrily down the path less travelled with offbeat ensemble comedies including the Oscar-winning magnum ludicrous, The Grand Budapest Hotel.

In 2009, he dipped his big toe into stop-motion animation with a quirky adaptation of Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr Fox.

The auteur returns to the painstaking art form for self-consciously offbeat buddy comedy, Isle Of Dogs.

Set on the Japanese Archipelago 20 years into the future,the film's chief villain is self-serving politician Mayor Kobayashi (voiced by Kunichi Nomura), who is responsible for overseeing the well-being of the gullible citizens of Megasaki.

As an ardent cat lover, Kobayashi decrees that the only way to eradicate an outbreak of virulent snout fever is to exile canines to a remote island, where Megasaki dumps its residential waste.

Voters comply and the Mayor's 12-year-old ward Atari (Koyu Rankin) is forced to bid farewell to his shaggy companion, Spots.

The resourceful tyke defies the Mayor and menacing henchman Major Domo (Akira Takayama) to steal a plane and fly to the island to be reunited with his pet.

Atari crash-lands and befriends a disparate pack of mangy mutts including Chief (Bryan Cranston), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray), Rex (Edward Norton) and Duke (Jeff Goldblum).

They embark on a daredevil mission to overturn the Mayor's edict.

Damon Smith

Big budget effort is a virtual turn-off

Set in the mid-21st century, Ready Player One is a dystopian big budget fantasy, which imagines a resource-depleted world that relies on virtual reality as an escape from the gloom of the everyday.

In the giant Imax format, Steven Spielberg's mastery of set pieces is jaw-dropping.

Unfortunately, the fast and furious smacking of gobs doesn't extend to a script adapted from Ernest Cline's celebrated 2011 novel by the author and Zak Penn.

In 2045, mankind unites in a virtual space called the Oasis.

In this fantastical realm, accessed via headsets and gloves, everyone can indulge their whims such as climbing Mount Everest in the company of Batman.

Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) is a teenager living in a rundown trailer park with his uncaring aunt Alice (Susan Lynch) and her brutish fella (Ralph Ineson).

The teenager sneaks off to his scrapyard hideaway where he journeys through the Oasis in the guise of his avatar Parzival and trades banter with fellow players Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), Aech (Lena Waithe), Daito (Win Morisaki) and Sho (Philip Zhao). They are hunting three fabled keys, which James Halliday (Mark Rylance), co-creator of the Oasis, concealed before his death.

The first person to solve the fiendish puzzles that protect these keys will be granted ownership of the game.

The quest to solve Halliday's riddles pits Wade and co against Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), Machiavellian chief executive of Innovative Online Industries, who intends to seize control of the Oasis by fair means or - preferably - foul.

Spielberg's film attempts to go the same route with us via a dizzying blitzkrieg of 1980s and 1990s nostalgia, but ultimately falls short.

Ready Player One (Cert 12A, 140 mins)

Three stars

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