Sunday, April 25, 2010

"Fantastic Mr. Fox"

It’s an interesting thing seeing a movie during the middle of a work day. You can expect a much different environment during this time than any other. The staff is always either much friendlier or give off the impression that the previous night was a rough one. The popcorn tastes a little fresher and the bathrooms seem a little cleaner. Even the tickets are cheaper, reason enough to hit the mid-day showing whenever possible. But the real difference is the audience. If I see a movie on an average weekend evening, I can expect a large crowd of diverse people. If I see a mid-day movie on say, a Wednesday however, I know almost exactly what to expect.

The mid-day audience is made up of four standard groups:
a.) The Elders - I have found that no matter what the movie, there is almost ALWAYS an elderly couple in the theater;
b.) The Housewife - sometimes with kids, sometimes without, the mid-day movie is a big player for the housewife;
c.) The Student - sometimes it’s a college student who was smart enough to get all his/her classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, sometimes it’s the high school student who’s skipping class, but you can always count a student in the audience. These often comes in pairs;
d.) The Professional - you can always count on at least one “9-5er” showing up for the mid-day movie. Maybe he’s got the day off, maybe he doesn’t, but he’s there regardless. My attention today rests here.

“Fantastic Mr. Fox” is the latest film from director Wes Anderson, maker of such oddball comedies as “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “Rushmore.” Based on a story by famed children’s author Roald Dahl, “Mr. Fox” is the tale of a talking Fox, his fox family, and his animal friends. Mr. Fox is a thief by trade and a darn good one. He steals chickens, apple cider, and turkeys from human villains Boggis, Bunce, and Bean. After almost getting caught, he promises his wife he won’t steak again. However, as he enters the twilight of his life (he is seven fox years old, you know), he returns to his old ways and plots a great caper that throws his life and the life of all those around him into disarray.

As is the case with all Anderson films, “Fox” is an ensemble that is built on the strength of all characters involved. The voice work here is exquisite. Anderson assembled the usual suspects, such as Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, and added more A-list talent to the equation. George Clooney and Meryl Streep provide the voices for Mr. and Mrs. Fox and both bring the exact kind of quality you would expect. Clooney in particular makes you feel as if he is the only guy who could voice Mr. Fox, just as he does with every role he takes. The script is witty, intelligent, and original. It’s never “I nearly died laughing” with Anderson but “Mr. Fox” delivers fun and entertaining scenes throughout. The real attention grabber, however, is the use of stop motion animation. It was a daring move for Anderson to film this way and a huge departure from what he’s done in the past. The film is, for lack of a better term, fantastic to the eye. Each shot is as dynamic as the one before. The longer the movie ran, the more I found myself riveted to what played out on the screen. This was a daring move that paid off.

I’ve never been Wes Anderson’s biggest fan. I’ve found all of his films to be incredibly promising but ultimately incomplete. There have always been too many scenes that felt like they belonged only in a director’s cut that distracted from the overall point of his films. Unlike most others, I actually liked his latest release, “The Darjeeling Unlimited,” the most because I felt like it actually progressed from point A to point Z in the most direct route. It was a step forward from a filmmaking standpoint, even if the storyline wasn’t up to par. “Mr. Fox” takes that promise shown in “Tenenbaums” and “Rushmore” and adds the steps taken with “Darjeeling,” finally delivering a complete project.

But while I may not be Anderson’s biggest fan, the man has developed an amazing cult following. Which brings me back to The Professional. As I settled into my seat and the previews began to play, the last person into the theater was the day’s representation of The Professional. He snuck in wearing a suit and tie, bags under the eyes and a general attitude that said, “I kind of hate my life.” He came in nervous but when he sat down in the aisle in front of me, you could almost feel the tension rush out of the dude as the opening credits rolled. As the film progressed The Professional got more and more into the movie. At times we were the only two in the theater laughing at the witty banter between a fox and a badger. I figured him for an Anderson fan when he started chuckling over bits that only someone who’d seen his other films would appreciate, like he was in on a joke that the rest of us weren’t privy to. When “Mr. Fox” came to an end and the lights came on, The Professional was the first out of his seat. Back to the grind I assume. But there was a slight difference in him. A pep in the step, if you will.

I don’t know the guy’s story, though I could guess. I would bet he’s a twenty-something in a job he doesn’t like who feels like a sellout every time he looks in the mirror. He just had that air about him. On this day, however, he got to remember what life was like before we had to grow up. Maybe he got off early that day or maybe his boss thought he was on a sales call. Either way, he was there and the 87 minutes spent in Anderson-land were enough to get The Professional through the day. “Mr. Fox” was fun and bright throughout, a truly enjoyable work that served as a great distraction from the grown-up world. A-.

I still have Milk Duds stuck in my teeth,

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