REVIEWS OF RENTED DVDs I GET IN THE MAIL

Posts Tagged ‘George Clooney’

FANTASTIC MR. FOX (2009)

In Adventure, Animation, Comedy, F, Family on August 8, 2010 at 8:37 pm

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STUDIO – 20th Century Fox

CASTGeorge Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Eric Chase Anderson, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson

DIRECTORWes Anderson

MPAA Rating: PG

When the nominees for the 81st Academy Awards were announced in January 2010, one of the Best Animated Feature picks was a movie I had not heard of. Directed by Wes Anderson, Fantastic Mr. Fox, released in November 2009, only managed to recoup about half of its reported $40 million budget in six months. Undaunted, I put it in my Queue, and waited for its arrival.

Based on the book by Roald Dahl (author of  “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”), Fantastic Mr. Fox is the story of (naturally) a fox (voice of George Clooney) known for his reputation as a notorious bird thief. One day, he and his newlywed bride, Felicity (voice of Meryl Streep), get caught while stealing squab. At that moment, she tells him she’s pregnant, and she makes him promise that if they get out of this alive, he will find a new job. Fast-forward 12 (fox) years later, and Mr. Fox, Felicity, and their son Ash (voice of Jason Schwartzman) live in a nice, yet humble, hole in the ground. Mr. Fox, now a newspaper columnist, spots a tree for sale in the morning paper. Later that day, while viewing the property, he sees three farms in the distance. He consults his attorney, Mr. Badger (Bill Murray), who advises against the purchase because the owners of those farms are very dangerous men. Feeling the urge to steal again, he buys the tree anyway, moves his family in, and plots one last job: steal from the three farms.

A typical morning in the Fox household

Visually, Fantastic Mr. Fox is fun and stimulating. Director Wes Anderson doesn’t try to do any new tricks. Rather, he employs the old ones with cleverness and flare. There is one sequence, for example, in which Ash’s cousin, Kristofferson (voice of Eric Chase Anderson – Wes Anderson’s brother) is introduced to whack-bat, a sport which somewhat resembles cricket. According to the coach (voice of Owen Wilson):

“Basically, there’s three grabbers, three taggers, five twig runners, and a player at whack-bat. Center tagger lights a pine cone and chucks it over the basket and the whack-batter tries to hit the cedar stick off the cross rock. Then the twig runners dash back and forth until the pine cone burns out and the umpire calls hotbox. Finally, you count up however many score-downs it adds up to and divide that by nine.”

Kinda makes cricket look easier to understand, huh?

Another clever device in this movie  is the insertion of the word “cuss” in place of profanities. Adults will, for the most part, get the true meaning behind the “cussing” (for lack of a better term), while still making this movie safe for kids’ ears. There is some violence in this movie, including a few (off-screen) bird kills, some gunplay by the farmers, and more than a few pine cone grenades.

There is a subplot involving Ash and Kristofferson, to which many kids should easily relate. Kristofferson is Ash’s cousin from out-of-town, and though Kristofferson is younger than Ash, he is also taller, more athletic, more mature, and more sociable than Ash. At first, Kristofferson’s presence make Ash envious, particularly when Fox becomes very impressed with him. As the movie progresses, Ash learns how embrace his differences, while both finding his own identity and gaining his father’s acceptance.

There are a lot of good things to say about Fantastic Mr. Fox, but it is not without its flaws. I have said this before, and I will say again: for the most part, the voice talent sounds like they’re phoning it in. What projects of this nature need is personalities, not stars. If someone is both, like Bill Murray, great! Bring ’em on. But, through most of the movie, Clooney and Streep lacked the energy to hold my attention to the dialogue. I said the same thing when I wrote about Coraline (another stop-motion Best Animated Feature nominee). And when you have big-name stars who (for lack of a better term) don’t have any “spark” when they speak in person, then how could they work as voice actors in an animated movie? True, Fox is a bad-boy type, and Clooney suits him well. But to me, George Clooney’s voice is about as interesting as the sound of noodles boiling in water.

Overall, it is refreshing to see animation making strides like this, and without the Disney, Pixar, or Dreamworks names hanging above them. Nothing against the work of those companies, but the more choices, the better the competition. Fantastic Mr. Fox is a good family film, suitable for children age 8 and up. It is visually inventive, and it includes an eclectic soundtrack which features (among others) Burl Ives, The Beach Boys, The Bobby Fuller Four, and The Rolling Stones. There are even two songs originally found in the Disney archives: “The Ballad of Davy Crockett”, and “Love”, which was first used in Disney’s animated Robin Hood (By the way, in that film, Robin was – you guessed it – a fox). It may lack some necessary energy, but Fantastic Mr. Fox both tells a good story and teaches a valuable lesson about embracing our differences.

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UP IN THE AIR (2009)

In Comedy, Drama, Motion Pictures, Romance, U on April 25, 2010 at 1:23 am

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STUDIO — Paramount

CAST — George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman, Amy Morton, Melanie Lynskey, Sam Elliot 

DIRECTOR — Jason Reitman 

MPAA Rating: R 

If you are reading this review, you have been fired from a job. Whether you were a top-level executive at a Fortune 500 company or flipping burgers at Dairy Queen, somewhere in your lifetime at least one employer handed you a pink slip. It’s never fun. Personally, I have been fired twice in the last ten years. The second time was probably for the best, as it really wasn’t a good fit. But the first time was at a job that I had loved. The hours were bad, the pay was worse, and it was the most fun I’d ever had in my life. We’ve all experienced that, haven’t we? You get called into the office, and in that office, your supervisor/manager/galactic overlord of a boss hands you an envelope and tells you that your services are no longer required. It’s one thing when you are the only one being terminated. But what about those major corporations who lay off thousands of people at a time? In the last couple of years, we haven’t been able to go a week without hearing that Company X is cutting thousands of jobs. Did you ever wonder how they do that?

Natalie Keener, Alex Goran, and Ryan Bingham (Anna Kendrick, Vera Farmiga, George Clooney) at the Miami Hilton

In Up in the Air, George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a corporate downsizing specialist based out of Omaha, Nebraska. Ryan spends over 300 days a year flying all over the country to do one thing: fire people. And he is very good at what he does. He walks into an office somewhere in Corporate America, and the employees already know they are on borrowed time. Occasionally, he also does the odd speaking engagement, in which he asks his audience to place everything they own into an imaginary backpack and realize how heavy it is (a metaphor on the burdens of life). One day, he is called back to the home office; big things are on the on the horizon. On the way there, he meets Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga), another business traveler, and they form a fast… friendship. Back in Omaha, he is introduced to Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), a hotshot young college graduate with a revolutionary new way to fire people, via the Internet. 

Seeing this as a threat to his very existence, Ryan convinces his boss (Jason Bateman) that Natalie needs a taste of what it’s like on the road before this new method of “introducing future possibilities” goes into effect. Soon, Natalie learns how hard it really is to fire a complete stranger, but she eventually finds her groove. Meanwhile, Alex reenters the picture and Ryan grows closer to her. 

To proceed further would spoil the movie, but I can say that Up in the Air is fine entertainment, and it has one of the best endings I have seen in recent memory. Clooney is perfect as Bingham, with his cocksure ways and his arrogance. It almost harkens back to his “heart throb” days when he was on “ER” (Wow, was that really 16 years ago?). I especially like the little moment (seen in the trailer) when Natalie is talking on the phone with her boyfriend, and Ryan overhears her saying “I don’t even think of him that way; he’s old”, prompting him to look in the nearest mirror! We all reach that age sooner or later, when we realize that we are no longer young (though we desperately try to keep thinking that way). Also, Farmiga and Kendrick (both Best Supporting Actress nominees) were great foils to Ryan’s personal and professional lives, respectively. 

There are plenty of messages in this movie: Never settle; The slower we move, the faster we die; Don’t be afraid to chase your dreams. I especially like that last one. It has given me pause to reevaluate my life (which admittedly is not that great) and made me think that I should try to get back on my career wagon again. It’s been a long time, but it’s what I was trained to do, and it’s what I love (and we all remember our true loves, right?). I am not at liberty to discuss this topic any further at this time, but I promise if anything comes of it, I will post it on my News page! Besides, I’m digressing (Gee, haven’t done that in a while). 

Up in the Air is a movie that I would dare say is a modern classic. The timing of its release, with the economic struggles of the last three years, could not have been more fortuitous. In fact, throughout the film, there are several cutaways depicting fired employees; these were real people who had recently lost their jobs (The actors, most notably J.K. Simmons, were the ones who interacted with Clooney and/or Kendrick). That dose of authenticity makes Up in the Air a wonderful time capsule of the turbulent first decade of the 21st Century. 

4 out of 5