Monday, March 29, 2010

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Me: I had wanted to see the Fantastic Mr. Fox in the theatres, but didn't have the chance. Actually, even if I didn't have a kid, I would have gone to check it out. I really dig Wes Anderson. Not in the "too cool for the room hipster" kind of way that seems to be the most popular way to appreciate his work right now, but more in the sense that I think that he is a very capable director and writer and I was most curious how he would handle a children's story.

Now, I never read the book when I was a kid, but it was written by the same guy who wrote "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", so I kind of assumed that it would be one of those stories where even though it is geared towards children, there was no hiding the fact that evil or darkness can always be lurking around the corner. Apparently I was right.

Usually, I watch and review a movie with Molly and I shit all over the flick, but this was a really good movie. I mean, exceptionally good. Visually, it was stunning. It is stop motion and it isn't as fluid as Nightmare Before Christmas, but the herky-jerky motion gives the movie so much more character. And what I found interesting is that despite being filmed with 3-D models, most of the movie took place on a 2-D plane. That is to say, there was no sweeping panning in or out, but rather most of the movie was side-scrolling as if up, down, left and right were the only options for movement. That isn't a flaw. It was character.

George Clooney was perfectly cast for the voice of Mr. Fox because, and I still stand by this statement that I made years ago and have been taunted for it, George Clooney is charming. Meryl Streep does the voice of his wife Felicity and really, she is always excellent. The rest of the cast is really just rounded out by the usual cadre of Wes Anderson's stable of actors.

Now, the thing about the movie is that it is deep in its simplicity. In such a way that Spike Jonze created a film about childhood that was misinterpreted as a movie for children with Where the Wild Things Are, similarly the Fantastic Mr. Fox is a movie that is deep enough for adults while still having cute foxes running around to occupy children.

The movie is about our nature and what we really are. Mr. Fox steals chickens with his wife for a living, then as they find themselves trapped in a cage with an irate farmer and a shotgun coming their way, his wife tells him that she is pregnant and if they survive, she wants him to give up this lifestyle for something less dangerous. Well, they escape by digging out and he becomes "respectable", but yearns for his old life.

His child now twelve, Mr. Fox wants one last caper and moves his family next to the three meanest farmers in the land and decides to steal from them. He has a disconnection with his son, perhaps because there is a subtle layer of blaming him for taking away his adventurous life. You see, Mr. Fox escaped one trap (the farmer's cage), but merely found himself in another trap: a domestic lifestyle with a respectable job.

He pulls off the thefts, but his wife is savvy enough to realize what he is up to, but Mr. Fox goes too far and the revenge obsessed farmers join forces to hunt down the fox responsible, which also endangers the other animals in the forest. But the movie really explores a lot. Now, with their lives endangered and everything looking bleak as the farmers refuse to give up, Mr. Fox's wife gets upset with her husband and the grief he has brought everyone. The excuse he gives her? That he is a wild animal and it is what wild animals do. He cannot deny that part of himself, even as he wants to be what his wife would like him to be. There is the wild animal in him and he cannot deny it. As thing get even bleaker from the repercussions of Mr. Fox's last caper, his wife says one of the most profound things I've ever heard in a children's movie. She tells him, "I love you, but I never should have married you."

Still, what made the movie for me is that throughout it, Mr. Fox mentions from time to time that he is not afraid of wolves, but he has a phobia of them. Then, after successfully rescuing his nephew and escaping the farmers and exacting a revenge upon them, he sees a wolf during his escape. All of the animals are bipedal in this movie and wear fancy clothing. All, but the wolf. He is the true spirit of a wild animal. He is the true metaphor for real freedom. Mr. Fox pauses as he sees the wolf in the distance who also sees him. The wolf cannot speak English (or at least does not), but they still communicate. They offer one another a salute of sorts, then go on their way. Mr. Fox, who always claimed that he was just a wild animal sees the true essence of what a wild animal is. And there is respect between them and the wolf goes on its way. The wild nature of this last great adventure leaves Mr. Fox, symbolized by the wolf heading off into the wilds. Mr. Fox is free to be a parent to his son and a husband to his wife now. The wild animal is free. This allows him to live out the rest of his life under a grocery, his wild nature free from him finally at last.

That scene really did give me chills. It was beautiful.

So much of the movie was beautiful, in story and in visuals. Despite the unusual nature of the film (herky-jerky stop motion), Wes Anderson made it a Wes Anderson movie. From the get go, it looked like a Wes Anderson film. His characters even dress like they are in a Wes Anderson film. The cross section 2-D plane of the 3-D figures looked like the 2-D cross-section of the submarine in Life Aquatic. This movie was a real treat and I wish I saw it in the theatre instead of the small screen just to really appreciate the beauty of it more.

Molly: (As usual, I will be transcribing as much as I can from what she says. Her review will be in a Q&A form, due to her age. This is a real transcript of our conversation and she's sitting next to me as I write. I'll format it afterward)

Chuckie: What did you think about the movie, "The Fantastic Mr. Fox"?
Molly: Um, I didn't like it.
Chuckie: Really? Why not?
Molly: 'Cause.
Chuckie: Because why?
Molly: Because the guy shoot the tail.
Chuckie: He shot the tail off of the fox?
Molly: Mm-hm. I didn't like that part. But I liked the rest.

Chuckie: What was the movie about?
Molly: They tried to save the other fox. Then they saved the other fox. And, Daddy, the rat was bad.

Chuckie: What was your favorite part of the movie, Pixie?
Molly: The ending.
Chuckie: What did you like about the ending?
Molly: The animals all danced. Then you and me danced. And you picked me up and danced me and I was really high.

Chuckie: So, you didn't like parts of it, but do you think that it was a good movie overall?
Molly: Mm-hm. And Daddy...
Chuckie: Yes, Pixie?
Molly: Abby hit me in the head with a bucket.
Chuckie: What?
Molly: At school. Abby hit me in the head with a bucket and she didn't say she was sorry.
Chuckie: Well that wasn't nice of her, Sweetie. But let's talk about the movie, okay?
Molly: Okay, Daddy. The rat was really bad.

Chuckie: Was it a good movie?
Molly: Mm-hm.
Chuckie: What was good about it?
Molly: Everything. The girl fox was my favorite.

Chuckie: Besides the tail getting shot, what didn't you like about the movie?
Molly: When the rat was fighting. And the wolf. Hey, Daddy?
Chuckie: Yes, Pixie?
Molly: She reaches up and pats my chin.You need to shave your beard.
Chuckie: I don't know, Sweetie. I like it.
Molly: But it's hurty.

Chuckie: So, Pixie, how would you rate the movie?
Molly: Huh? You mean stars?
Chuckie: Sure, if that's how you want to rate it.
Molly: Um, fifteen stars.
Chuckie: Out of how many?
Molly: I don't want to say how many.
Chuckie: Okay, why not?
Molly: So I can be mysterious.

Chuckie: Um, okay. Well, Pixie, is there anything else that you want to say about the movie?
Molly: It was a good one. Oh, and Daddy...
Chuckie: Yes, Sweetie?
Molly: I give it nine moons. What are you writing, Daddy?
Chuckie: I'm typing what you are saying so that our friends can read it and know what you said.
Molly: Oh. Well I said "Cha-la-la-la-la-la-la-la." You should write that.
Chuckie: Okay. Will do.

Chuckie: So, do you think people should see this movie?
Molly: Mm, yes. Everyone should. And Emily and Conner should . They would like it best.

So, there you go. I thought the movie was beautiful and had a lot to say despite its simplicity. It looks, feels and sounds like a Wes Anderson film. I didn't read the book as a child, but it still seems like a Roald Dahl story similar to "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", where there is still darkness and evil even if you are in a child's storybook world. Even if you don't have children, I would suggest that you check the movie out.

I give it four and a half out of five stars.
Despite being distracted while watching the movie at home and being a little put off by the symbolic castrating of Mr. Fox by shooting off his tail, Molly gave it fifteen stars. However, it is a mystery as to what the higher end of that rating may be. She also gave it nine moons and thinks that I should shave off my goatee.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland

Me: I didn't really have too high of expectations for Alice in Wonderland going into it. I wanted to like it, but didn't think that I would. You see, here's a dirty little secret that I've come to realize only somewhat recently. Tim Burton is a shit director. Let's break it down and think about that for a moment.

I loved Nightmare Before Christmas, however, that wasn't directed by Burton. It was based on characters he created, but he produced it. That's it. Now for every decent movie Burton really directed, I can name a bunch of other ones that were shit.

What good movies did he direct and what shit movies off-set those you ask?
Pee-wee's Big Adventure was good and fun. However, if you think Burton can do a fun, light movie geared for kids, you need to consider Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which was utter crap and a terrible remake of a great movie.
Batman does not stand up very well, but I will give it a passing grade because it at least made Gotham City seem like a comic book city. However, Batman Returns shits on that legacy and off-sets any positive in the vision in the first movie by the sheer crap of the second. And if you think that Batman Returns really wasn't that bad, you haven't seen it in a while. Watch it again. It stinks. So they cancel one another out and Burton cannot do good, dark comic book movies.
Beetle Juice shows that he can make a fun, off-kilterly dark movie. Well, Mars Attacks proves that he can wreck that theme just as well.
• Well, surely he can tell a touching tale that is fantastic and heartfelt and Big Fish is proof of that. Well, the fantastic attempt at being heartfelt in Corpse Bride was just awful. In fact, I think he wanted to direct it only because people keep assuming he directed Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach. But he didn't. People who are better directors than him did.
• What about gothic suspense tales? Surely he must be good at them? Well, we just assume he is because he's Tim Burton. In reality, Sleepy Hollow was boring and stumbled through a supposed plot and Sweeney Todd was a mediocre rehash of a story, music and theatre presentation that already existed in a far superior vision.
• And while I think that Ed Wood is a truly fun and excellent movie, Tim Burton introduced us to the Planet of the Apes remake. For that alone he should not be forgiven.
Edward Scissorhands is a unique vision of suburbia and while it is disjointed, I will have to say that overall, it isn't a bad movie. However, he made the Planet of the Apes remake. Yes, I mentioned that in regards to the last movie, but it really was shitty enough to cancel out 3-4 good movies he may have made.

So anyhow, after scientifically proving that Tim Burton is crap by using the above formula of cancellation, I didn't go into Alice in Wonderland expecting much.

Anyhow, Alice in Wonderland falls into an annoying habit that too many retreads of the Wonderland stories do. They don't follow through with Lewis Carroll's books (yes, there were two), but rather lazily just assume that the Disney version was accurate. It wasn't. First of all, most post Disney versions mesh the Queens from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Queen of Hearts) and the Queen from Through the Looking Glass (the Red Queen who is a chess reference and the counterpart to the White Queen).

Also, I've always wondered why the Hatter has become such an icon of the Wonderland stories. He is never represented correctly in other media. Do you know why they had a continual tea party in the book? Because the Hatter was sentenced to death for "murdering time" by singing horribly to the Queen of Hearts. However, because Time was upset at the attempted murder, he froze the Hatter and company eternally at 6:00 for a forever tea. Still, we always get the wacky and zany Disney version of the Hatter. In the movie Depp lisps a little and tries to be silly and goofy, but it just doesn't work.

Anyhow, Burton's movie is predictable and bland and the entire third act dissolves into an action flick. And a poorly directed one to boot. There is little depth or interest here, but it is a pretty world visually that Burton has created. Still, too many things were done simply because they could be done and not because they were good choices. Depp's eyes were increased in size by 20% or so digitally to give him that look. There was no need for it, however. His overall look was very distracting, in my opinion. And the Red Queen's head was enlarged. This was unnecessary as well and was rather distracting. If it was done to "be true to the illustrations", that would be fine. But if that was the case, then you would think that Burton would have kept the Hatter closer to the illustrations. Also, the movie wasn't made to be 3-D, but that was something that they added after the fact because of Avatar, so that's another visual effect that was completely unnecessary in the film.

However, if you were looking for a dark and gothic vision of Wonderland through more adult eyes, American McGee's Alice (a computer game) has surprisingly done a much, much better job. American McGee's later stuff really sucked though, but Alice caught my attention not because of the (poor) game play, but because the story kept me wanting to find out more, so I would play to clear a level to keep the story going.

Molly: (I will be transcribing as much as I can from what she says. Her review will be given in Q&A form, primarily due to her age. And this is a real transcript of our conversation. She's sitting next to me at my pooter right now. I'll format it afterward.)

Chuckie: What did you think of the movie, Alice in Wonderland?
Molly: Um, I didn't think anything of the movie. I just sleeped.

Chuckie: Okay, fair enough. But you didn't fall asleep until the ending. But what did you think about the parts you were awake for?
Molly: Hm. For the bunny rabbit chasing. He was running. Like this. Runs around the room and ends up over by the teevee. I'm over here now, Daddy.
Chuckie: Okay, Pixie.
Molly: Oh, and the cat, Daddy. He turned his head all around like this. She spins. And he took the man's hat. And they were all like this. Purses her lips and pats them with her fingertip and goes "hmm".

Chuckie: What was the movie about?
Molly: Alice.
Chuckie: What about Alice?
Molly: She was running to get the bunny and she fell. Then the bear monster fighted her and scratched her.

Chuckie: What was your favorite part of the movie?
Molly: Alice.

Chuckie: Was it a good movie?
Molly: Yes.

Chuckie:What was good about it?
Molly: The ending.
Chuckie: I thought you were asleep for the ending.
Molly: Nope. She is lying. She was dead asleep and was awake right up until the actiony fight with the Jabberwocky.

Chuckie:What happened in the movie?
Molly: Look, Daddy, I have ghost hands. Sticks her hands under her white dress that she has been inexplicably wearing over her shoulders this entire time and lifts her hands under the dress and goes "woooooooo" like a ghost.
Chuckie: Ah, yeah. Okay. Um, How would you rate the movie?
Molly: Nothing.
Chuckie: What do you mean?
Molly: Nothing at the end.

Chuckie: How many stars would you give the movie?
Molly: Um, five.

Chuckie: Out of how many?
Molly: Counts to herself for a few moments. Out of fourteen. I want to do the moons

Chuckie: Okay, how many moons would you give the movie?
Molly: Ten.
Chuckie: Out of how many?
Molly: Out of Arctica.
Chuckie: What is it with you and Arctica?
Molly: Chronalonda. That's a new word I just made up for window. We need to do the suns now.

Chuckie: Uh, okay. How many suns would you give the movie?
Molly: Thirteen. Suddenly frantic and waving her hands under her white dress on her shoulders. Wait! I mean fifteen!
Chuckie: Out of how many?
Molly: Out of fourteen.
Chuckie: You know that you gave it more suns than you said it could have, right.
Molly: Mm-hm.
Chuckie: Okay, just checking.

Chuckie: Do you think people should see this movie?
Molly: Yes.

Chuckie: Who do you think would like this movie?
Molly: Molly.

Chuckie: No, no, Pixie. I mean what kinds of people would like this movie.
Molly: Just Molly. And not the other Mollys. Just this Molly.

So there you go. I thought that the movie was dull and predictable. It was visually interesting, but at the same time went overboard with some of the visuals for the sake of doing them. The story was supposed to be a tale of empowerment, but really it just went through the motions of developing Alice as a character and didn't give any real meaning to her empowering. Just as she fought the Jabberwocky because the scroll told her she had to, the character merely became empowered just because the obviousness of the plot dictates that she had to. The epilogue wrapping up the empowerment at the end was also rather silly and forced and was there in lieu of actual character development showing it truly.

I give it a generous two stars out of five.
Molly gave it five out of fourteen stars with ten moons out of Arctica. However, she also gave it fifteen out of fourteen suns, which I imagine must be very good as far as suns goes. However, ultimately this movie is only for Molly. And if your name just happens to be Molly, it doesn't matter. It's for this Molly specifically.