REVIEWS OF RENTED DVDs I GET IN THE MAIL

Posts Tagged ‘owen wilson’

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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WEDDING CRASHERS (2005)

In Comedy, Motion Pictures, Romance, W on March 11, 2010 at 5:00 pm

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STUDIO — New Line Cinema

CAST — Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, Christopher Walken, Rachel McAdams, Isla Fisher, Jane Seymour, Henry Gibson

DIRECTOR —  David Dobkin

MPAA RATING —  
(Uncut version Unrated)

Before I get into this review, let me preface it by saying that when this move came out, I rolled my eyes and thought “Great! Yet another movie about guys trying to bed every woman they can!” And yes, Wedding Crashers is just that; fortunately, it also has a moral lesson in the end (delivered in the goofy way that only Owen Wilson knows how, but it’s there). So, why did I watch this movie? Simple. It was a request from a co-worker.

So, with that caveat in mind, Wedding Crashers is the story of a pair of Washington, D.C., divorce mediators named John Beckwith (Owen Wilson) and Jeremy Grey (Vince Vaughn) who have been friends for years. Every spring, they engage in the practice of (wait for it…) crashing weddings for the sole purpose of taking advantage of the single ladies present at each ceremony. But these guys are pros at what they do. Their skill at crashing weddings was handed down to them by legendary wedding crasher Chazz Reinhold; they have absorbed, memorized, and digested these rules. They enter each ceremony with aliases and backstories. They are masters at their game.

Then comes the so-called “Kentucky Derby” of weddings: The oldest daughter of Treasury Secretary William Cleary (Christopher Walken) will be tying the knot, and it is expected to be the social event of the year. Our heroes, of course, only care about one thing: the 200 or so single women who will be in attendance. Interestingly enough, of all the women at the wedding, John and Jeremy have their eyes on the Secretary’s two other daughters, Claire (Rachel McAdams) and Gloria (Isla Fisher). So, naturally, the story progresses from the reception to a weekend getaway at the Cleary family compound. Naturally, of course.

John Beckwith (Owen Wilson) and Jeremy Grey (Vince Vaughn) at the Cleary wedding

Okay, so I had to suspend my disbelief a bit here, but overall, this movie was surprisingly enjoyable to watch. I particularly liked Ron Canada’s portrayal of Randolph, the Cleary’s butler. He was low-key, discreet, and probably the coolest butler since Alfred Pennyworthy. Rachel McAdams’ Claire was pretty, as always, and she seemed to be the only sane member of the family, which included a foul-mouthed grandmother (Ellen Albertini Dow), a tormented gay brother (Keir O’Donnell), a prowling cougar for a mother (Jane Seymour, against type), and Gloria, her just-this-side-of-completely-nuts sister. All was moving along just fine, until… HE came along.

I am talking about Will Ferrell. Surprise! He has a cameo as the legend himself, Chazz Reinhold. In the opinion of this writer, anything Will Ferrell did after “Saturday Night Live” is little more than lowbrow schlock. I have seen exactly one movie of his, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, and what I liked about that movie was Steve Carell. Anyway, in Wedding Crashers, we see Chazz as either a pathetic loser who still lives with his mother, or as an insane genius because he now crashes funerals(!) and takes his conquests home to his (mother’s) place. Either way, seeing Will Ferrell brought it down a notch for me.

On the up side, there are other cameos of note. In the beginning of the movie, our heroes are negotiating a divorce settlement between Rebecca De Mornay and country singer Dwight Yoakam, and the Cleary wedding guests included Senator John McCain and CNN political analyst James Carville (Kind of levels the political playing field, if you ask me).

Overall, I enjoyed Wedding Crashers, which I found surprisingly funny. Maybe I should expand my movie viewing habits beyond Sci-Fi and award winners a bit more…