Fantastic Mr. Fox

Based on the popular children's book of the same name by Roald Dahl ("Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "James and the Giant Peach"), screenwriter/director Wes Anderson ("Rushmore") has used stop-action figures to create an affecting story with particular emphasis on family dynamics.

The husband/wife team, voiced by George Clooney ("Men Who Stare at Goats") and Meryl Streep ("Mamma Mia!"), are an affectionate but real- istic couple trying to deal with their rebellious teenage son. This poor kid is a pale copy of his over-achieving dad and it only gets worse when his paragon of a cousin shows up. This new kid turns out to be the epitome of the perfect adolescent: Scholarly, obedient, athletic, considerate and courteous; plus he's an expert in Eastern thought and martial arts. Aarghhh!

Of course, our hero Mr. Fox, is a (semi-) reformed chicken thief who is having trouble denying his inner beast, so he talks his best friend, an opossum, into joining him for one last spree. (Sound familiar?)

I got a kick out of:
  • the opossum going into a pinwheel-eyed state of semi- consciousness when agitated;
  • the excellent facial expressions on the anthropomorphized characters;
  • the macho grandstanding done by our eponymous hero.

I was disappointed in Meryl Streep's Mrs. Fox. The script didn't give her much to work with, so it makes sense that there was nothing noteworthy in her work. Other Anderson regulars, e.g., Bill Murray and Owen Wilson, work with him again, and I was pleased that this project wasn't as eso- teric as some of his others: "The Darjeeling Limited" and "The Royal Tenenbaums."

The children in the audience seemed to stay involved in the story and the screening audience laughed right on cue at the generous servings of humor, particularly those focused on Mr. Fox's egotism. Clooney got that just right.


Ninja Assassin

Great gushing gouts of gore!

Korean martial arts star Rain ("Speed Racer" and LOTS of TV) comes through with a long-promised Chop Socky hit. His director James McTeigue has been paying his dues as second unit director on things like the "Matrix" films and the aforementioned "Speed Racer," so he knows his way around slam-bang editing and non-stop action.

Of course, this being Asian martial arts, we were treated to throwing stars, swords, numchucks, daggers, amputations, beheadings and other gory macho stuff, but came out of there thinking that Rain just might have a future. He has a terrific body, moves extremely well and can deliver a comic line at least as well as Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Seagal, Van Damme, or Jackie Chan. Well, maybe not Chan....

There were few humorous moments but when they happened, our screening crowd clung to them; in fact I think maybe we overreacted just a tad. Of course most of the screening crowd fit the demographic of post-adolescent men who loved the fighting, the gore, the blowie uppie stuff and the suspense. Some of the rest of us got the giggles...sorry... When I saw arms being lopped off, I couldn't help but think, "It's only a flesh wound!" with due apology to Monty Python.

The Blind Side

Where do I begin? This delightful biography works on so many levels it's hard to decide. Let me explain: This movie is based on the book The Blind Side: The Evolution of the Game by Michael Lewis, about NFL tackle Michael Oher and his unlikely success story.

This desperately poor, over-sized, under-educated kid is accepted into a private Christian high school after a coach challenges the faculty to "act like Christians." This was done with no irony, just a straightforward statement that left no room for dissent. After that, the problem for the staff was to find a teaching method that would work for this gentle giant. At no time is the fact of religious conviction treated as a cause for derision. I found that refreshing.

Our youngster is spotted walking alone on a cold November night by Leigh Anne Tuohy and her husband Sean. This wealthy couple takes him home and offers him shelter for the night. He is quietly grateful and unfailingly polite. Leigh Anne is, both in real life and in this movie, a force of nature, beautifully played here by Sandra Bullock ("Crash" and "The Proposal"), who boasts a mild Tennessee sound, not one of those corny overdone twangs that makes us cringe. Country music superstar Tim McGraw ("Flicka" and "Friday Night Lights") has never been more appealing or natural as her loving, wryly supportive husband. Their daughter Collins is played by Lily Collins in this, her first movie role.

Now we come to S.J. (Sean Junior): The boy who plays him, Jae Head ("Hancock" and LOTS of TV) threatens to walk off with the movie by himself! There is never a moment that looks faked; he throws himself into every scene with conviction and verve. What a great, great little actor! Although the movie itself has a LOT of humor, S.J. adds even more. We're always happy to see that freckled face on the screen.

Quinton Aaron ("Be Kind Rewind" and "Mr. Brooklyn"), the young man who plays our hero in this heartwarming little gem, is perfectly cast. In fact, during the final credits, they intersperse photos of the real Tuohy family, which include their adopted son Michael, and it is remarkable how well each person was cast.

Kathy Bates ("Revolutionary Road") has a key role as a tutor, and you'll get a kick out of seeing all those college coaches play themselves during the recruiting frenzy.

No sweaty bodies, no car chases, no blowie uppie stuff (although there is one startling car wreck); just a movie that illustrates man's humanity to man. Yes, I enjoyed it and hope you do, too.


Need someone to root for? Try an unlikely heroine called "Precious." I'll bet you'll be in her corner in no time.

This prestigious film is one you will hear about come Academy Award time... and rightly so. Both of the central characters are particularly well acted, although ALL of the performances are noteworthy. This tells me the director, Lee Daniels ("Shadowboxer") has done commendable work. This unpredictable but ultimately upbeat story is based on the best-selling novel "Push" by Sapphire, and adapted for the screen by Geoffrey Fletcher.

Co-producers Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry are to be commended for putting their considerable clout behind this endeavor.

Among the noteworthy actors/actresses, we see:
  • Gabourey Sidibe (TV appearances) is "Precious," the overweight, illiterate, nameless face of poverty, ignorance, and child abuse.
  • Mo'Nique (LOTS of TV) is horrific as her mother, Mary. This role is a shoo-in for nomination in the Best Supporting Actress category.
  • Paula Patton ("Swing Vote") is luminous as Ms. Rain, the life- changing teacher at the alternative school.
  • Mariah Carey (legendary vocalist and LOTS of TV) is fearless as Mrs. Weiss, the case worker at the welfare office who tries to contrive a truce between Precious and her mom.
  • Lenny Kravitz (musician and composer) is super appealing as good-hearted Nurse John.
Other roles are played with zest and good humor, especially the class- mates who attend the alternative school with Precious. Some of the camera work is a little clumsy, e.g., abrupt focus changes, and there are scenes in this movie where we want to hide our eyes, but we are never subjected to gratuitous violence. If we just stick with it - like our eponymous heroine - it will be worth it.

NOTE: Mo'Nique won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress that year.


A Christmas Carol

This is the perfect collaboration: Charles Dickens ("Nicholas Nickleby"), who never used four words when ten would do (he was paid by the column inch); and Robert Zemeckis ("The Polar Express"), who never met a Computer Generated Image he didn't like. This means that children will see a fully developed version of Dickens' book but some of the scenes are too scary for the little 'uns.

Zemeckis' homage to Dickens includes the use of some of the actual dialogue from the original book and he clearly relishes the opportunity to simulate the special effects that Dickens described in this, his only classic ghost story.

Jim Carrey ("The Truman Show") has proven himself to be a highly capable voice artist in his depiction of Scrooge and some of the ghosts, but I was dismayed to realize that I have become a "microwave person." I found myself longing for the remote so I could zap through the endless flights over mid-1800s London and the overblown ghostly scenes; sorta like skimming over some of Dickens' more verbose passages. How embarrassing...

The artwork is brilliant; the CGI is awesome; and the ghost story is exactly that: a ghost story. So what did I think I was going to see? Despite the rave reviews, I'm afraid I found it tedious.

Good Hair

"Is that gal gonna be high maintenance?" This seemed to be a key question posed by the fellows in a lively barbershop when comedian Chris Rock ("Everybody Hates Chris") asked them for some candid observations about dating black women. They all agreed that their sex lives have been sorely impacted by the "Hands Off!" aspect of dating a woman with a weave; one went so far as to name the actual date (in 1987!) when he last had a worry-free date.

The jaw-dropping particulars I learned about what constitutes "Good Hair" and what it costs in time, money and social dues was only part of this entertaining and insightful documentary. For example, most of the hair used in weaves is from India. On average, each Indian woman has her head shaved three times in her lifetime. One "religion" encourages people to bargain their hair against some aspect of their lives. If things work out for them, they go to a "Tonsure" temple and pay off their debt with their hair! These temples, in turn, sell the hair to Europe and the United States. Revenues for that religion are second only to those of the Vatican!

There is never a moment when Chris Rock isn't engaged, curious and wryly entertaining. We are as incredulous as he when we learn of the billions of dollars spent each year on hair and hair products. He represents all of us as he reels from information about the toxic chemicals used by black people to "relax" their hair (some are toddlers of FOUR). He questions the economics of a $1,000+ hairdo when the rent is past due. He laughs at the absurdity of black hair being "Bad Hair," but acknowledges the power of marketing and peer pressure.

We were with him 100 percent when he went home to his two darling girls and kissed what he called, their "nappy little heads." He reassured them that he loved what was inside their heads and didn't really care what was on the outside.

I am encouraged to see clear-eyed and entertaining documentaries that question what constitutes "Beauty." Kudos to fellows like Chris Rock and Darryl Roberts ("America The Beautiful") who care enough to see the problems (please see the alphabetized link on my Home Page) and who try to shine some light on them.


The Men Who Stare at Goats

From its irresistible title to its unlikely ending, this quirky, unpredictable romp is basically a two-man show, ably assisted by a few great supporting characters.

Ewan McGregor ("Miss Potter" and "Angels and Demons") serves as our alter ego, incredulously observing the unlikely roles played by George Clooney ("Burn After Reading" and "Michael Clayton") and Jeff Bridges ("Iron Man" and "Seabiscuit"), who are former members of the U. S. Army's First Earth Battalion. As you might suspect, this battalion was created to use paranormal powers. That these powers might be augmented by judicious use of controlled substances, good old-fashioned 60s Flower Power, lots of chanting, a deep immersion in Eastern philosophies and a general disconnect from the real world, is something that McGregor's character slowly comes to understand. As to their effectiveness and veracity, only he (and therefore WE) can decide for sure...

The story takes place in current day Iraq, with McGregor's character determined to go where the action is, not just as a journalist, but as a man desperate to prove to his soon-to-be ex-wife that he is a "manly" man. When he meets Clooney, the "truth" slowly evolves, if only to be upended on a regular basis. It's clear that he really WANTS to believe in paranormal powers, it's just that he can't see any evidence...

This movie contains my favorite line in many a moon: "Don't eat the eggs..." And McGregor delivers it with a delicious, understated glee. I think you had to be there!

Oh yeah, there are some goats....


Running With Scissors

This 2006 biography of Augustin Burroughs' outrageous childhood boasts a stellar cast:
  • Joseph Cross ("Strangers With Candy) is our teenaged hero, struggling for an ordinary life "with Hamburger Helper...";
  • Annette Benning ("The Women") is spectacularly good as his unstable mother (she was nominated for a Golden Globe for this role);
  • Brian Cox ("Zodiac") is her Machiavellian therapist;
  • Jill Clayburgh (LOTS of TV) is his wife with no dreams of her own;
  • Alec Baldwin ("My Sister's Keeper") is Burroughs' alcoholic father;
  • Evan Rachel Wood ("Whatever Works") is one of his adopted siblings;
  • Joseph Fiennes ("Shakespeare in Love") is another adopted sibling;
  • Gwyneth Paltrow ("Iron Man") is yet another....

Suffice it to say, truth is far stranger than fiction and Burroughs was clearly delighted to find writer/director Ryan Murphy ("Nip/Tuck" and "Glee") to help bring his bizarre upbringing to the screen. The consistent quality of the performances tells me that Murphy is a fine, fine director.

My thanks to the Swedish branch of JayFlix for bringing this gem to my attention.