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Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Wes Anderson’s foray into animation culminated with the Fantastic Mr. Fox, based on the classic book by Roald Dahl. I was hesitant watching this movie from the trailer for it. I was iffy on the animation. This movie came out around Thanksgiving. By Christmas, it was out of theaters. I found the movie at the cheap theater right near me.

Mr. Fox (George Clooney) is a seasoned thief when it comes to swiping squabs, but in one particular caper, his wife (Meryl Streep) accompanies him to steal chickens for dinner. They are snared in a fox trap and Mrs. Fox announces that she’s pregnant. She wants him to promise if they make it out alive that he would have another profession.

Two years later, he does get out of the profession. He settles down, has a safe job as a columnist He tries to provide a normal life for his oddball son, Ash (Jason Schwartzman). Mr. Fox feels poor that he is living in a hole. He wants to live above ground in the fresh air. Fox’s real estate attorney, Badger (Bill Murray) advices Mr. Fox not to move the family to the new tree, because they cannot afford the tree on his salary.

Ignoring Badger’s advice Mr. Fox moves the family to the glorious tree that overlooks a trio of compounds out in the distance. A family cousin, Kristofferson (Eric Anderson) visits the family after his father has fallen ill with double pneumonia. The lanky fox that does yoga and has a certain lilt to his voice threaten Ash.

When Kristofferson settles in, Mr. Fox is getting that itch to pull off one last job. He enlists the help of his possum super, Kiley (Wally Wolodarsky) to be his associate as they try to implement “Mr. Fox’s Master Plan”.

His three phase plans goes as follows: Phase one: infiltrate Boggis’ (Robin Hurlstone) Chicken House, drug the beagles guarding the property with blueberries laced with sleeping powder, make out with the chicken bounty. Phase two: Bunce’s (Hugo Guinness) Refrigerated Smokehouse, repeat process of phase one.

After their heist, the Fox’s pantry is filled with meat. Mrs. Fox is becoming more suspicious about her husband’s nightly duties. When phrase three in put in place: gaining access to Bean’s Secret Cider Cellar. Kristofferson come along to act as that small Asian guy in Ocean’s Eleven. (The parallels between those movies were not lost on me). There is snag in Fox’s Master Plan when the trio meet a Rat (Willem Dafoe) that has watched West Side Story one too many times, guarding the of bottles. They get into a fight and are almost caught be Bean (Michael Gambon) himself getting into his infinite stash of alcoholic cider.

As the trio outsmarted Rat and get away, the three owners have an emergency meeting about Mr. Fox robbing their stocks. They want to kill him. When they fail to do so, they decided to dig them out. Fearing for their lives, the animals decided to dig deeper into the ground. The farmers want to kill the Fox by any means necessary. This threatens the other inhabitants of the land to band together for one common goal to stop the farmers before they destroy all of their homes.

In my opinion, the crude 70s stop motion capture threw me off a little bit. These lanky stick figure miniatures were distracting. The beginning of the movie got off to a rocky start where the characters were overtly quirky to be quirky. When the whole community bands together, that is when the movie was getting real good and I forgot everything about the weird brisk walking, pooling tears in the eyes for a moment. I had a good time with this movie.

Judgment: This movie might not work for kids, but is perfect for adults.

Rating: ****

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Up in the Air (2009)

The stars will wheel forth from their daytime hiding places; and one of those lights, slightly brighter than the rest, will be my wingtip passing over.

— Ryan Bingham

Jason Reitman’s latest film is getting considerable awards attention as of late. I was surprised that it was playing at my local theater. Going into the movie, I didn’t want to have too much expectation of it, because I might be disappointed with it. Ultimately, the movie is a wake-up call that people cannot live a solitary life.

Based on the book by Walter Kirn, Up in the Air tells the story of Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), an “executive efficiency expert”, which is a fancy term for a mediator that a company hires to fire their employees without doing the firing themselves. He is ultimately content in his life living from Hilton hotel to Hilton hotel, renting cars from Hertz and living out of one nicely packed carry-on. He travels 322 days out of the year and he wants to rack up many flier miles that he can so he could reach his ultimate goal of ten million miles that six people accomplished before.

His life takes a detour at a hotel bar when he meets the vivacious Alex (Vera Farmiga) who literally charms the pants off of him. She is on the same boat as Ryan. They both enjoy the allure of racking up frequent flyer miles and keeping up with multiple membership cards. They both have an understanding their relationship is strictly casual to where they intersect on their different travel schedules.

His boss, Craig Gregory (Jason Bateman), calls Ryan back to home base at the Career Transition Corporation, where he lets the other experts knows that their face-to-face methodology is obsolete. A young Cornell grad student named Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) shows the experts that a better way to be more efficient is to fire people via e-conference.

This does not sit well with Ryan, whose whole livelihood is built around not being grounded in one place for too long. Craig thought that it would be best for Ryan is bring Natalie along on his firing runs so she could better prepare the technology before Ryan becomes irrelevant.

For a man that doesn’t want to have anybody is his life, these two women, Alex and Natalie start to become a chink in his armor. He slowly begins to realize that his life is all that is it cracked up to be. He needs to face reality and have a human reconnection with somebody.

The movie is like a plane taking off. Sorry for the metaphor, but go with me on this. When it gets off the ground, it’s a little bumpy. It steadily gets better as it progresses toward the end. I did have a problem with the motivations of Alex. I can’t explain it here. Watch for it in the spoiler section.

The performances were solid across the board. Clooney was basically playing himself expect he was more cold and distant about how he doesn’t care about the countless lives that he change. Farmiga showed subtle exuberance in her approach of the love interest that tickles Ryan’s fancy. Kendrick was a small fish going into a ocean full of piranhas, but she is a scrappy girl that is not afraid to tell it like it is.

Judgment: This movie is a relevant take on if bad things happen, good things come around the corner.

Rating: ****1/2

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Ocean’s Thirteen (2007)

You know, you’re half smart, Ocean.

— Willy Bank

Soderbergh and company wanted to conclude the Ocean’s saga with Ocean’s Thirteen. This installment is a return of form with the gang returning to their roots in Las Vegas. I am glad that everyone returned to the slick caper story like the first movie.

During their absences between capers, the gang is reunited when Reuben suffers a cardiac infarction when a deal with an egomaniacal property owner, Willy Bank (Al Pacino) goes south. When one of the Twelve is wronged, a price needs to be paid. Danny pays Willy a visit when he was at the construction of his place, The Bank Casino.

The Bank Casino is an extravagant showplace with no expense spared with its marble floors and golden silverware. Willy wants to win another “Five Diamond” necklace for the best hotel in terms of customer service and overall cleanliness. Willy’s right-hand woman, Abigail (Ellen Barkin) is his eyes and ears to see if anybody would do anything during their soft opening.

Danny and Rusty seek the advice of Roman to find a way to seek revenge on Willy before the official opening of The Bank Casino on July 3rd. After some brainstorming, the team decides to destroy Willy from the inside out. First, they have to get inside of the building by bribing the lead concierge, Debbie (Olga Sosnovska), rig all of the games so the gamblers win, create a seismic event and distract a “Five Diamond” critic (David Paymer).

If they pull off this feat, they could get away with over $500 million dollars and at the same time bankrupt Willy Bank in the process. As their plan goes along, they realized that they bit off more than they can chew. Begrudgingly, they seek the help of Terry Benedict to help them carry out the mission.

First, what was up with Al Pacino’s skin? He was fluorescent orange. He was tanoxeric. It distracted me. I’m glad that they recaptured some of the magic from the first movie. I have a problem with some of the lighting. The shadowy scenes muddled everything. Nothing popped out of the screen. Soderbergh ended the series of a good note.

Judgment: If you want to see a return to form, watch this movie.

Rating: ***1/2

Ocean’s Twelve (2004)

Terry, I can’t predict the future. I pay professionals to do that, and even they get it wrong sometimes.

— Reuben

After the massive success of the first movie, Soderburgh and company came back together for Ocean’s Twelve. This setting and story are dramatically different from the glitz and glamour from the first incarnation. Instead of the bright lights of the Las Vegas, the Eleven are focused their attention on Europe. I think that this was a mistake, because it hurt the caper aspect of the story.

When the Eleven successful pilfered Terry Benedict out of his $150 million dollars at the ending of the first movie, (spoiler alert) the beginning show how the gang was doing during the three and a half since the heist. Most of them spent some or all of their $13 million dollars cut.

They get a rude awakening when Benedict tracks them all down wherever they were hiding. He offers them a chance to correct their mistakes by stealing his money. Benedict gives them two weeks to return the money with interest, which is roughly $200 million dollars, or he will kill them.

The gang has a pow-wow to discuss how they could get the money is that short amount of time. They decide to go to Amsterdam to meet up with Matsui (Robbie Coltrane), who gives them an assignment to steal the world’s oldest stock certificate from 1602 worth $2.5 million Euros.

When they do, they realize that a famous cat burglar named “The Night Fox” (Vincent Cassel) got the stock first. Not only that, but the team realizes that The Night Fox made the call to Benedict that ratted them out.

The Night Fox issues a challenge to the Ocean’s Eleven to steal a Coronation Faberge Egg from exhibit in Paris. They want to beat The Night Fox at their own game. Eleven becomes Twelve when they enlist the help of Roman (Eddie Izzard) to help pull off the switch-a-roo.

This movie as a whole is not well executed. The dialogue was not up to par. The scenes dragged on way too long. I was bored to tears. The movie looks grainy. The interaction with the members felt clunky and stagy. There wasn’t the synergy from the first outing. I was disappointed with this movie, especially the last thirty that fell off the tracks.

Judgment: This is one of the instances that the sequel is not better than the original.

Rating: **1/2

Ocean’s Eleven (2001)

You guys are pros. The best. I’m sure you can make it out of the casino. Of course, lest we forget, once you’re out the front door, you’re still in the middle of the fucking desert!

— Reuben

Breaking away from his trademark quirky sensibility, Steven Soderbergh remade the 1960s Rat Pack classic heist film, Ocean’s Eleven. Instead of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammie Davis, Jr., the main leads are George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon. Quite a departure. Soderbergh has some success with mainstream movies; I think that his subsequent Ocean’s trilogy exposed himself more to the mainstream consciousness.

Re-channeling his Out of Sight persona, George Clooney plays the titular Danny Ocean that is recently paroled after four years. When he is released, he goes to old stomping grounds to reconnect with his former crewmembers, travel across the country to reconnect with the poker teacher to the stars, Rusty (Pitt).

Ocean’s plan is to steal “x” amount dollars from three casinos, the Bellagio, the Mirage and the MGM Grand all of them owned Las Vegas casino owner, Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia). He would need a large crew at least a dozen to pull off the multiple cons needed to pull off the heist.

Seeing that they need a way inside the way, Danny and Rusty pay a visit to a former casino owner that was wronged by Benedict and knows the ins and outs of the security system, Reuben (Elliott Gould). After he is in, the rest of the crew is assembled like Frank (Bernie Mac), two drivers the twins, Virgil and Turk (Casey Affleck, Scott Caan), electronic expert Livingston (Eddie Jemison), explosives Basher Tarr (Don Cheadle), a “grease man” Yen (Shaobo Qin), Saul (Carl Reiner) and last but not least, master of disguise, Linus (Damon).

They have pow-wow to lay out the foundation of this impossible feat. If they succeed, they stand to get 150 million dollars when the casinos are distracted from an upcoming fight between Lennox Lewis and Wladimir Klitschko that same day. In order to let the heist run slowly, they have to lay the groundwork like plant a device on the casino’s closed circuit camera, recreating the vault to practice, the daily routine of their mark.

While relaying the routine of Benedict, Linus thought it would be a good idea to enlist the help of Benedict’s main squeeze, Tess (Julia Roberts) who was also Danny’s ex-wife. Danny’s ulterior motive becomes clear that steals the money is not his only motivation. He wants to get Tess back.

The movie is slick and a little too polished. I had the same problem with this movie as I did with Spike Lee’s Inside Man. I don’t like it when a filmmaker talks down the audience. We don’t need to know every single detail that needed to be explained. When the heist was taking place, I didn’t believe that these people would be able to pull that off. The only person that I liked was Andy Garcia. He has a permanent stoic look on his face that works well with his dickish Terry Benedict.

Judgment: Have a good time with Ocean and the gang in this solid remake.

Rating: ****

Burn After Reading (2008)


After I was cheering and screaming at the television when I heard the Golden Globe nominations, I wanted to try to see the a good portion of the movies that are nominated before the ceremony on January 11th. This movie, Burn After Reading, was nominated for Best Actress, Frances McDormand and Best Picture Comedy/Musical.

I saw the film and I was disappointed with it. After the masterpiece, No Country for Old Men, I was expecting alot more from the Coen Brothers. You have Oscars falling out of their asses with Clooney, Swinton, Pitt, McDormand, Jenkins, and Malkovich. I was bored.

I did not care about these characters. The situations were ridiculous. I was underwhelmed. The Coens are not good with straight comedy. Anybody heard of The Ladykillers? Intolerable Cruelty ?

I thought that this movie would be like O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Raising Arizona and The Big Lebowski. It’s not. Not by a longshot.

Avoid this movie. It will not win the Golden Globe.

My rating: * star.

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