Monday, March 29, 2010

Fantastic Mr. Fox??

This is hard for me to write because this movie, "Fantastic Mr. Fox", was recommended to me by some very dear friends. I had been looking forward to seeing it for weeks, especially since it was nominated along with "Up" as one of the best Animated Films of the year. When it finally arrived in the mail, I sat my whole family down for a movie night. Now, animated films have come a long way in the past 20 years. The stories are better, funnier, they have a new appeal that reaches across all ages, and the advancements made to the actual animation are astounding. So I was expecting something pretty special. I didn't get it.

"Fantastic Mr. Fox" is based on the Roald Dahl story of the same name. Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) is a fox who has a wild past but has now settled down to domestic life and is trying his best to be good. However, when he becomes dissatisfied with living in a hole, his wife (voiced by Meryl Streep) drolly points out that they are foxes, foxes live in holes, that's what they do. This does nothing to alleviate his dissatisfaction and he decides to move the family to a tree house. One of the funniest scenes in the movie actually happens right at the beginning when Mr. Fox is discussing his dissatisfaction with their hole with Mrs. Fox and their son, Ash (voiced by Jason Schwartzman) keeps appearing in the kitchen. The dialogue between the teenager and his parents is spot on (obviously the writers have teenagers at home.)

Mr. Fox takes the family to look at tree houses and another quite funny scene unfolds with the real estate agent and the buying of the house. This house happens to be right across from three of the meanest farmers in town, Boggis, Bunce and Bean. Mr. Fox can't help himself and he decides to pull a raid on the three farmers as his last escapade. From there the film disintegrates into a madcap, ridiculous adventure that, for me, lost all of it's humor and appeal. It was full of cliches, and while some of the dialogue and portrayals were clever, most of it was just silly. Another problem with this film was the style of the animation. It's a stop-action film that reminded me of the old Gumby cartoon at times and had an almost claustrophobic feel to it. I realize that most of the film was acted out underground, but even the scenes set on the farms or around the tree seemed dark and heavy. By the end of the film, I felt relieved to get out. I also felt relieved to stop listening to George Clooney. I admire George as an actor, but he does tend to do roles where he has to talk a lot ("Michael Clayton" "Up in the Air") and this was no exception. I kept drifting off during Mr. Fox's rants and getting confused as to what was happening in the film. His voice just became irritating.

I wish I had read the original story of "Fantastic Mr. Fox" before I saw this film. Maybe it would have helped, or maybe not. Animated films today are held to a higher standard than ever before so it may be that this just didn't live up to those standards for me. I expect a beautiful film, both in the way it looks and in the story, and this fell short in both regards. It's still fun at times and has a good message, but for me, I'm with Mr. Fox - I don't want to be in that hole again either.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Post-Oscar Doldrums

I'm afraid that since the Oscars I haven't been able to get back into my movie-watching. I've been searching for a theme of movies to follow and, well, I may have found my theme after sitting down to watch a classic. I've wanted to share this film with my daughter for months (Netflix must have been wondering what happened to it) and we finally found the time to view it tonight. The classic I'm referring to is:


This Ridley Scott masterpiece was still edge of your seat scary even 30 years later. Although it starts quietly with beautiful shots of space and the cargo ship where the body of the film takes place, as well as glimpses of each character, it then builds to the moment when they discover what seems to be an SOS signal from a nearby planet. The scenes of the planet and the ship in space look rudimentary compared to today's movies but the eerie feeling of foreboding certainly is not. The movie is filmed in darkness and shadows that bring so much tension and suspense that you don't miss or need the fancy special effects of today.

The crew of the Nostromo land on the planet where the SOS originated, send out a search team to explore, and the search team discovers an abandoned space vehicle that has apparently crashed on the planet. The team explores the vehicle and one of the members, Kane (John Hurt) discovers a pod of egg-like things one of which ruptures open and some kind of creature attaches itself to Kane's face. The team rushes Kane back to the Nostromo, whereupon all heck breaks loose. Kane actually seems to recover for a brief period, the creature falls off, and they sit down to dinner. What follows is one of the most horrific and memorable scenes ever filmed in the realm of Sci fi. As Kane is having his dinner, he becomes distressed, starts to convulse and ripping out of his stomach comes the "alien." It screams and scurries away leaving the rest of the crew staring in utter disbelief and horror. From there the film moves into a film about survival. Ultimately, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is left alone (with the ship's cat, Jonesy) to deal with the alien and figure out a way to kill it and live. Her calm determination, skill, intelligence and yes, a little bit of luck, make her one of the most powerful women characters in the history of the cinema. "Alien" is truly a wonderful piece of story-telling and is science fiction at it's best.

Next up: "Aliens" - which I saw in 1986 and couldn't sleep for a week after seeing. It was directed by someone we all know now - James Cameron of Titanic and Avatar fame. I'll let you know if I can sleep after seeing it the second time!