Bob and Justin's Mad Movie Blog

My name is Bob. My friend Justin and I are aspiring filmmakers and we have pretty similar tastes in movies. This will include our take on what's going on in film and television today as well as updating you on the status of our own work.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Fantastic Mr. Fox

As any regular reader of my reviews knows I am a Wes Anderson superfan. I've thoroughly enjoyed all five of his previous films, particularly "Rushmore" and "The Royal Tenenbaums," both of which rate quite high on my list of all-time favorite movies. In his newest film he does something he's never done before, but it's still patently Wes Anderson.
"Fantastic Mr. Fox" is Anderson's first venture into animation. Stop-motion animation to be exact. Based on the children's book by Roald Dahl, it tells us the story of one Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney), a successful bird thief whose wife (Meryl Streep) asks him to give up his chosen profession when she learns their first child is on the way. Two years later (or "Twelve Fox Years") Mr. Fox is a newspaper columnist with a happy wife and a very typical twelve-year old son, Ash (Jason Schwartzman). But Fox feels unsatisfied with his life. "Honey," he tells Mrs. Fox, "I am seven fox years old. My father died at seven and a half. I don't want to live in a hole anymore, and I'm going to do something about it."
What he's not telling her is that he's going to pull one last heist. A three part heist really, that involves swiping chickens from the three meanest farmers known to fox-kind, the humans Boggis, Bunce, and Bean. His lawyer, Badger (Bill Murray) from the law firm Badger, Beaver, and Beaver, is decidedly against this idea. In a response very typical of an Anderson character, human or otherwise, Fox dryly responds, "I understand what you're saying, and your comments are valuable, but I'm gonna ignore your advice."
With the loyal Kylie (Wallace Wolodarsky) and overachieving nephew Kristofferson (Eric Chase Anderson) by his side, Fox dons his bandit cap and embarks on the "triple header." Things go relatively smoothly for Fox and his co-horts and along the way we learn that "beagles love blueberries." But when Bean (Michael Gambon) realizes who's been behind the recent thefts he leads Boggis and Bunce on a crusade to kill Fox, his family, and any other wild animal that gets in their way. Fox must get himself and everyone else out of the mess he's created.
"Fantastic Mr. Fox" is Wes Anderson through and through. From the very dry, very subtle comedy to the set and costume design, use of music, and theme of strained familial relationships. Like so many of Anderson's characters, Ash is an outsider, constantly trying to prove himself to Fox, who seems much more impressed with Kristofferson.
One month after "Where the Wild Things Are" are generally fell short as a full length adaptation of a very short story, Anderson shows us how it's done with "Fantastic Mr. Fox." It does my heart good to know that we're in a time where films are being made for children (thanks mostly to Pixar) that don't talk down to them and give them credit for having a brain. It's not perfection and only occasionally laugh out loud, but "Fantastic Mr. Fox" is highly enjoyable and a must for fans not only of Wes Anderson, but fans of genuinely entertaining films. I have the feeling I'll enjoy it even more the second time around. For now I give it 8.5/10. Enjoy this featurette.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"Pirate Radio," "Boondock Saints II," and "The Men Who Stare At Goats"

Pirate Radio - In 1966 rock music could not be heard on "legitimate" British radio. But in the golden age of rock'n'roll (particularly out of Britain) a few passionate music listeners took to the seas and broadcast the Kinks, the Who, and the Rolling Stones from ships. "Pirate Radio" (or "The Boat That Rocked" as it was titled in Britain) is the story of one such boat.
We are introduced to the crew through the eyes of young Carl (Tom Sturridge). For some reason his mother thought sending him to a ship peopled with fun loving DJs with virtually no morals or responsibility will put Carl on the straight and narrow path he's been veering from. That was her first mistake.
The head of this crew is an American known as The Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman). His crew includes DJs Dave (Nick Frost, "Hot Fuzz"), Bob (Ralph Brown, "Withnail and I"), Angus (Rhys Darby, "Flight of the Conchords"), and Simon (Chris O'Dowd, "The IT Crowd"), amongst others. Carl's godfather Quentin (Bill Nighy, "Love Actually") seems to be the closest thing the ship has to a voice of reason and Carl believes that Quentin may in fact be his father. Carl and the crew have an awful lot of fun rocking "all day and all of the night" but the good times are in danger due to the bitter rock hating government man, Alistair Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh).
Sadly the fun these characters are having rarely spreads amongst the audience. Writer-director Richard Curtis, who so wonderfully balanced several characters and storylines with "Love Actually" (one of my go-to Christmas movies), just never gets into a real rhythm with "Pirate Radio." The performances, save an overly villainous Kenneth Branagh, are uniformly good. Hoffman makes the Count a more fascinating character than the script seems to allow. The real standout here is O'Dowd. He's done hilarious work as the cantankerous, unlikeable Roy on "The IT Crowd" so it's great to see he can be just as funny playing the nice guy. Also, late in the film there is an appearance by Emma Thompson as Carl's mother and as a rule, everything's better with Emma Thompson.
Still, "Pirate Radio" just doesn't capture the spirit of the legendary music of the mid-sixties or of these characters who love it so much. It's a shame because Curtis knows how to be great. He just isn't here. 5/10.

"The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day" - Ten years ago a little movie that didn't even get an American theatrical release made a big splash on DVD. "The Boondock Saints" became a cult smash amongst college kids and twentysomethings, many of whom know the dialogue by heart. While I don't have that level of devotion for Troy Duffy's 1999 debut, I definitely think it's a whole lot of fun.
The first film told the story of the MacManus brothers, Connor (Sean Patrick Flanery) and Murphy (Norman Reedus), Boston guys and Irishmen to the core. In the face of all the crime that runs rampant on the streets, they believe themselves to be called by God to find every mobster and drug dealer they can find, and send them to face the judgement of the Lord. They win over many citizens and even end up being aided by the cop who started hot on their trail, Paul Smecker (a hilarious Willem Dafoe).
The follow-up sees the MacManus brothers hiding out in Ireland, living in a modest house with fellow "Saint" Il Duce (Billy Connolly), when the local priest alerts them to the fact that a good Boston priest has just been murdered by a man who wanted to make it look like the Saints had returned. Connor and Murphy know they're being called out but this hardly deters them.
"The Boondock Saints II" is an entertaining enough film but it suffers from too often being a watered down retread of the original. It doesn't help that Dafoe has been replaced by Julie Benz who seems to have prepared for her role by watching an entire season of Kyra Sedgwick on "The Closer." Much of the early part of the film entails developing her character while pitting her against the very same detectives Smecker ran intellectual circles around in the first film. It just reminds us how much better the first movie was.
Duffy almost seems disinterested in Connor and Murphy which is a shame because aside from neglecting the movie's central characters, he never builds on what he created ten years ago. The mindset of Connor and Murphy that fuelled their mission at the start seems to have been forgotten. That aspect feels all but gone this time. Flanery and Reedus haven't missed a beat though and do the most with what they are given. Their chemistry as the MacManus brothers comes across as strongly as ever. There is also a brief appearance by the late Rocco (David Della Rocco) when the boys need him the most.
Duffy also gives us too little Billy Connolly, but there is a terrific backstory detailing just how a quiet young man became Il Duce. It's the film's best touch.
"The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day" is a watchable if unremarkable follow-up to a very entertaining movie that became a cult hit against the odds. Recommended for fans of the original, but it's nothing special. 6.5/10.

The Men Who Stare At Goats - "More of this is true than you would believe," a title card tells us at the beginning of Grant Heslov's film. Which parts are true and which are not never seem quite clear, but when a film is as light on its feet and entertaining as this one, what difference does it make really?
Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor, trotting out his American accent) is a Michigan reporter whose wife has left him for another man on the eve of America's 2003 invasion of Iraq. In an ill-advised attempt to show her what he's made of, Bob decides he wants to put himself in harm's way as a war reporter. He doesn't end up embedded but he does find the story of a lifetime.
Soon after Bob's arrival in the Middle East he meets a man he's heard about, Lyn Cassady (George Clooney). What he's heard about Lyn is that he was once a part of a very secret, very elite unit in the United States Army. A unit of men who call themselves remote viewers. "We're Jedi," Lyn explains without a hint of irony. "We don't use guns, we fight with our minds." When they end up kidnapped inside the Iraqi border Bob sees for himself just what Lyn is talking about. These aren't superpowers Lyn's using, they're simply the techniques taught to him by Colonel Bill Django (Jeff Bridges at his hippie-dippy finest) over the course of the 1980s. Along with a touch of psychic powers and the unexplained.
Bob's rational side remains convinced Lyn's crazy but he cannot tear himself away. Who could blame him? Lyn's belief and conviction in his own abilities are so strong that we cannot help but admire him even if he is a bit bonkers.
Bob and Lyn's Middle Eastern journey is intercut with the story of how the remote viewers came to be and just what led to their downfall. Django and Lyn's rival, Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey) has a rather large hand in both.
"The Men Who Stare At Goats" is light as a feather. Peter Straughan's script and Heslov's direction keep things bouncing along and the fun the cast is having is infectious. Clooney gives possibly his best performance since "O Brother, Where Art Thou." He infuses Cassady with a mixture of loopiness and integrity and makes it look easy. Meanwhile, Bridges and Spacey seem to be having the time of their lives. McGregor grounds the film as the straight man for all of this wackiness to swirl around. His understated work will likely go unsung but it's essential to making this film work.
It's not a classic but it sure is fun. 7.5/10.