March 11, 2010
In their most recent on-line issue out now, Film Comment has picked out two capsule reviews of films that I wrote in my posting about my favorite films of 2009. The complete feature can be viewed by clicking through here. It turns out they chose to publicize my views on two of the strongest kiddie films this year: Fantastic Mr. Fox and Ponyo (pictured). Now that I recall, I rated four children’s movies of 2009 in my top 20, which also included Up and Where the Wild Things Are. If I had not forgotten that Coraline came out that year, I would have included that movie as well.
Anyway, here is what they printed:
Fantastic Mr. Fox (#4)
No one does awkward as artistically as Wes Anderson, and his foray into stop-motion-generated storytelling raises his lovable, damaged characters to a new level. The challenge of appreciating Anderson’s work depends on how willing the audience is to acknowledge their own faults in the self-deprecating humor that drives his movies. With Fantastic Mr. Fox, he ingeniously disguises that premise behind fuzzy animals with human qualities. However, the film never sugarcoats their animal behavior with innocent cuteness. The sharp delivery of dialogue between the characters sometimes slips toward wild unpredictable primal behavior, which wittily treads the line of silliness and danger. Unlike so many movies for kids, this movie felt organic and authentic, and what do kids need most but true, heart-felt honesty, even if that truth might have its dark places?—Hans Morgenstern, Miami, FL
The revered Hayao Miyazaki returns with another animated fable that deals with man’s ecological impact on the planet couched within a love story at its most innocent. Miyazaki and his team at Ghibli Studios indulge in their talents of hand-drawn animation that eschews technology with just as much sincerity and pure love as that between the boy and the fish. The results are amazing and beyond what digital work can capture.—Hans Morgenstern, Miami, FL
I have been hooked on sharing yearly film recaps to Film Comment’s annual Reader’s Poll since 2006. At first, the chance to win free DVDs from the Criterion Collection drew me in to contribute. But then I found myself instantly inspired to justify my choices for whatever films I considered to be the 20 best of that year, and wouldn’t you know it? The editors decided to kick-off their 2005 reader’s poll feature with my observation of the potency behind David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence. They used a couple others from my list that year, too, and I have continued to contribute to their poll every year since.
Film Comment continues to pick out a handful of the capsule opinions I share with them on an annual basis (though, no, I have not won any free Criterion DVDs). Though I have never gathered the nerve to propose an article for them, despite my background in film studies, it has always been an honor to be selected by a group who publish some of the most thoughtful film criticism in the U.S. And seriously, if I can do it, you can too (I’m still trying to convince some fellow friends and film lovers to join in with the poll, you know who you are. Maybe next year…?).
November 26, 2009
His films have always seemed hyper-real, from art direction and design to the behaviors and banter of his characters. Having watched four of his films in theaters– some more than once– I consistently heard and watched the divisive quality of his heavily marketed, “quirky” films on the audience. Half the audience cracks up at the twisted looking-glass humor, while the others shift in their seats and grumble at the perceived failure of the jokes.
The challenge of appreciating Anderson’s work depends on how willing the audience is to acknowledge their own faults in the self-deprecating humor that drives his movies. What better way to disguise that premise than behind fuzzy animals with human qualities.
During a preview screening for Fantastic Mr. Fox, the room lit up with peels of guffaws from a variety of people, including the little ones. Everyone was getting the humor. This PG-rated film captivated the kids even with its primitive effects (the current CGI-reared generation of kids are far removed from the Gumby crowd). This accomplishment stems from Anderson’s adept use of pacing and his faithful use of his chosen medium. Even the explosions during the animals’ battles with the human farmers are of the stop-motion variety (painted cotton balls). No CGI cheats throughout!
The film also does not sugarcoat that animal behavior with innocent cuteness. The sharp delivery of dialogue between the characters sometimes slips toward wild unpredictable primal behavior, which wittily treads the line of silliness and danger. It inevitably leads to some cruel scenes with real consequences, which builds up to an ominous encounter with a wolf. The scene is laden with danger thanks to the simple, often humorous and sometimes emotional way the violence unfolds earlier in the film. It recalls the scene in the Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou when Zissou finally catches up with the jaguar shark but without the melodrama.
I had my trepidations when I first heard Anderson was working on an animated film. Then the trailer never did the film proper justice, as the characters are so much more laden with hang-ups than the sound bites used in the preview might have you think.
Watching the movie unfold felt like you were watching Anderson’s masterpiece. Unlike, so many movies for kids*, this movie felt organic and authentic, and what do kids need most put true, heart-felt honesty, even if that truth might have its dark places. As Fantastic Mr. Fox continually reminds us, “We’re wild animals.”
November 16, 2009
November 15, 2009
Well, since I set myself up for it, I had to follow it up, and my predictions turned out right! The end of the world did happen at the box office. Here’s a great systematic breakdown on how this schlock ranked in the history of blockbuster phenomena: Box Office Mojo.
So all the advertising and hype and preying the human lust for watching disasters paid off for the studios who made 2012 (Man, that trailer still cracks me up in its audacity. To think the public cried “sacrilege” when the trailer for United 93 started showing up in theaters four years after 9/11. Now that same public is gobbling up popcorn and candy while watching some “other” towers crashing into one another and firefighters perishing in the path of devastation). This movie will certainly make all its money back.
November 13, 2009
OK, so tonight 2012 hits theaters. I ain’t seeing it, but I’m fascinated by humanity’s arrogance that they might live to see the end of the world. I feel people have this deep-seeded self-interest in the apocalypse that fuels the conceited notion we might be around to see the end of the world.
Some perspective: The world is billions of years of years old. Dinosaurs roamed the earth as early as 290 million years ago and went extinct 65 million years ago. That means dinosaurs existed 225 million years (thank you to Prehistory.com for reminding me!). Despite what Hollywood might have you think, humans had not even appeared on earth until the last dinosaur went extinct, and western civilization goes by a calendar that dates back a little over 2000 years, which will supposedly mark the end of the world? Then the average lifespan of a human being is about 80 years (dumber people last even fewer years). If it’s not vanity that fuels this interest in taking part in the end of the world, I don’t know what it is.
Like Sony preying on the feelings of mourning Michael Jackson fanatics by hastily releasing a concert movie of rehearsal footage of what would have been is final live shows, Columbia Pictures has taken advantage of those who believe they might be around to try and run from an imploding Earth (check out their angle promoting the movie in their official site, linked above). They’ve released this movie (on Friday the 13th, no less) two years before the end point of the Mayan calendar in 2012, triggering this idea that the end of the world is around the corner. People believe this stuff, that’s while people are going to make this the number one film this weekend, despite the fact the film earned a 35% on Rottentomatoes.com as of this writing. Heck, even NASA has a scientist writing up a rebuttal to the crazies fueling this idea (read it here).
So, a nice little diversion like Fantastic Mr. Fox will suit me just fine, instead.