Monday, November 16, 2009

Capsule Reviews: Fantastic Mr. Fox, A Serious Man, More

Not that my little infographic down there isn't brilliant commentary enough, of course. But I saw a shitload of movies in the last week and a half, and here's where we get to discuss 'em, you and I.

Fantastic Mr. Fox
I had a smile on my face from beginning to end, which is generally the case with me and Wes Anderson. I have no idea how the growing horde of filmgoers disenchanted with Anderson will take this movie. A big part of me doesn't care. As someone who's been a fan of his all along, this movie was a real delight. Animation is a great fit for his ultra-structured, obsessively art-directed style. The way he uses stop-motion manages to make this feel idiosyncratic, even within the animation world. This is easily the best-looking movie he's done since The Royal Tenenbaums. The aspect of Anderson's movies that fits least with animation is the dialogue -- the kind of mumbly, melancholic, sly humor; there's a bit of a meeting in the middle here -- Anderson turns the volume up a bit, but it's still incredibly low-key for its genre. The story isn't breaking any new ground, but between the look, feel, sound, and sense of humor, it's pretty easily unlike any other movie right now. I really loved it. A-

A Serious Man
You know, I get what they were trying to do with this ice-cold look at a good man who bears the brunt of any number of inhumanties and whose anxieties all seem to be proved correct, all while repeatedly appealing to his Jewish faith for comfort and finding none. The ending seems like an especially bold and appropriate way to cap things. But by then, I had long since checked out. I am a HUGE fan of the Coens, and I appreciate how they keep their characters an arm's length away (or at the end of their nose down which the Coens look upon them), but this one felt so distant that I ended up getting pushed away too. As a result, it felt like a dull, dispassionately cruel movie peppered with a handful of funny moments and characters (I was partial to Fred Melamed as the touchy-feely cuckolder and Amy Landecker's stone-faced hot housewife). I can see where people would greatly admire such a disciplined movie, but it wasn't my thing. B-/C+

I saw this screened at IFC where I was once again within arm's length of a wicked hot actor, this time Joseph Gordon-Levitt. (I also saw Olivia Thirlby get introduced as "Olivia Wilde" by her own director, maybe the most awkward thing I have ever seen.) Anyway, the movie is this SUPER indie "two ways this story could go" affair. One set in Manhattan that morphs into this lovers-on-the-run thriller, the other set in Brooklyn that's your standard family slice-of-life. The Brooklyn one works okay, while the Manhattan one falls apart early and never really improves. But even in the inept thriller half, the chemistry between JGL and Lynn Collins (who played Silver Fox in the Wolverine movie) is intimate and . I totally want to see them reunited in a better movie. C

At this point, Von Trier's misogyny isn't even about hating women. It's about hating EVERYBODY. It can get tedious being in the presence of that kind of nihilism for almost two hours, but he manages to keep things compelling in ways that are thrilling (there is some deep, visceral terror here), stupid (can't decide whether the term "chaos reigns" is dumber or the fact that a fox says it), and transgressive (the scene everyone keeps spoiling). Anthony Dod Mantle's cinematography, however, is unambiguously brilliant. B

Observe and Report
I wanted it to be funny. I'll cop to being pre-annoyed by this movie's strident "anti-PC" backers, but ultimately I did want this to be funny. And it wasn't, unfortunately. Like, it was ridiculous. And I could see where it wanted to be funny, but everything sat too heavy. So without anything to laugh at, I was left with the story Jody Hill was trying to tell. And I don't have to tell you how much I love a story about white-male impotent rage. And in the end, it totally pusses out anyway. It's not a terrible movie, but it is really, really not as transgressively brilliant as it thinks it is. Also, something terrible has happened to Anna Faris's face, and it makes me sad. C



Kris McN said...

Hey Joe, I know this isn't really your thing, but how appropriate would you judge Fantastic Mr. Fox to be for kids? I'm always looking for movies that both my 5 year old and I will enjoy. It's rated PG for "action, smoking, and slang humor", all of which could be entirely manageable as a parent, depending.

Joe Reid said...

Hmm. Well, I don't think it would be inappropriate for kids. There's nothing objectionable. I had my doubts watching it as to how much kids would get out of that movie, in terms of the humor and such. But the kids in my theater seemed to be responding okay to it. I'd say take your kid but prepare for the possibility of boredom.

Kris McN said...

Boredom?!? I didn't expect that to be the thing to watch out for for kids with a movie based on a Roald Dahl book! It sounds like a good mix: grown-up humor for me, talking foxes for him. Don't underestimate how far a fox in pants will go towards entertaining a 5-year old. Good to know nothing struck you as inappropriate. Thanks for entertaining my question!

Kris McN said...

Just to follow up (I know you've been waiting to hear): We finally saw it and my 5-year old and I both loved it! His favorite part was when Ash got his own robber mask with the gold stars. That, and Whack Bat. Oh, and the knife fight with the sewer rat. One of my favorites of the year.

Joe Reid said...

Glad to hear it!