Friday, July 16, 2010

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Fantastic Mr. Fox was the second big stop-motion movie of 2009, and while I didn't like it as much as Coraline, it was still really enjoyable.

As the poster says, it's based off a book by Roald Dahl, one of the great children's authors of all time.  I didn't actually love the book when I read it, and if it was going to be adaptated into an exact movie form the film would only be about 30 to 40 minutes long.  But director Wes Anderson, who by the way isn't known for any other movies rated PG or less, manages to create a working, cohesive storyline.

Mr. and Mrs. Fox are in a bit of a financial dilemma.  Struggling to pay the bills and feed his family, Mr. Fox begins to take his possum friend on night raids into the neighboring farmers' estates, bringing back chickens and cider.  Boggis, Bunce, and Bean are fat and short and lean respectively, but, looks aside, they are nonetheless equally mean.  Enraged by Mr. Fox and his infamous burglaries, they come after the animals set on revenge.  They start using a few simple shovels, but when the foxes dig for their lives, they bring in the big guns, forcing the rest of the forest critters to dig too...

Other main characters in the story include Mr. Fox's son, Ash, who considers himself a great athlete and is jealous of his cousin, Kristofferson, who does pretty much everything better than him.  In Ash's eyes, Kristofferson is the misfit or country boy, and Ash hates him for drawing all his dad's praise and attention and for somehow getting all the girls.  Kristofferson doesn't understand his cousin's wrath towards him.  Eventually they minimize their differences and learn to respect each other.  A classic relationship, but the characters are written very cleverly.

The voice acting is top notch.  George Clooney plays a "fantastic" Mr. Fox, and the rest of the cast do just as good a job with their characters.  Admittedly, other lesser-known actors probably could have played the animated characters just as well as this film's superstars, but then the producers couldn't stamp George CLOONEY or Meryl STREEP all over the poster, not to mention the TV commercials and books (now a major motion picture starring __)

The actors were given a lot with which to work.  The script is very clever.  Kids will laugh at the antics and mischief of Mr. Fox, and many of the jokes will crack up adults.  A good family movie should appeal to kids and adults.  Unlike Toy Story, Wall-e, or 80% of 2009's animated films, Fantastic Mr. Fox seems to appeal more to adults and older children, but can still be enjoyed by some kiddies.

The stop-motion animation is fine, but not the film's strong point.  Don't get me wrong.  Stop-motion is without a doubt my favorite form of animation, but I think Coraline's animation was much more magical than Fox's.  It's interesting that this film uses hardly any special effects.  Water splashes and streams seem to be made out of a sort of clay.  Fire effects look like orange and yellow cardboard pieces.  The dust trails the animals make when they run look like cotton balls... it adds a very simple, but distinctive art flavor to the film.  The movie's score is one of its strongest points, with tunes ranging from cheery during the night raids on the farmer's properties to eerie amidst the sewers beneath the farms.

So it's definitely not a big-screen movie, and anybody who paid to see it there honestly burned 10 bucks.    But for $15 or so you can watch this little gem over and over again on dvd.  In my opinion, it's the 3rd best animated film of 2009 behind Coraline and Up.

Grade: A-

Other quickie notes: I saw Monsters vs. Aliens not too long ago.  I'm not even going to italicize it.  It told about 2 more funny jokes than the trailer did.  i.e., it told about 2 funny jokes.
I also saw G-Force.  The trailer was funny because it was stupid.  The movie itself was not funny, and stupid.
I saw the trailer for HP7.  Can't wait!!!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

An experiment in film.

This is a little CGI animation I put together of the computer.  If you don't know what that is yet, you probably haven't been looking at my blog lately.  Enjoy.  And yes, he's waving at you in that last scene.

If you want technical details, I put the movie together in about 2 hours and spent another trying to save it in a format that didn't take up too much disk space.  I used 15 fps in the fastest scenes, and 10 in all the other places.  I took the pictures in Lego Digital Designer, and put the movie together in iMovie (a program I don't recommend for presence of better tools, like MonkeyJam and Corel VideoStudio).

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Alice In Wonderland

Lately, I saw the umpteenth movie version of Alice in Wonderland.  Which also happens to be the umpteenth movie on which Tim Burton and Johnny Depp have collaborated.  Which also happens to be the umpteenth movie in which Johnny Depp plays the crazy, eccentric, and "mad" character.

Tim Burton's Alice loosely based off Lewis Carroll's novel shows us a grown-up Alice who has somehow forgotten her first incredible trip to Wonderland.  Played by People Magazine covergirl (kidding) Mia Wasikowska, Alice is at her wedding when she runs after the White Rabbit and stumbles down the rabbit hole.  Enter slightly goofy 3D images that look just plain awkward when you're watching the 2D version of the film.  At the bottom of the hole, she does a bit of growing and shrinking before she can open the door into Wonderland.  There she meets Tweedledee and Tweedledum before being chased by the Red Queen's minions and the Knave of hearts.  The Red Queen wants to cut off Alice's head because she is prophesied to slay the Jabberwock, a favorite pet of the Queen's.  Any of this sound familiar from the novel?  Or even its sequel, Through the Looking Glass?  Tim Burton basically takes Carroll's poem Jabberwocky, and makes a story about it, casting Alice as the hero.

Although Johnny Depp's name is on the cover of the dvd box, he doesn't actually steal the show.  He plays his part very well, but I think the less-famous Helena Bonham Carter does an even better job of portraying her character as the Red Queen.  My parents think she will be nominated for an Oscar next year.  I wish I could say she will be, but the chances of that happening are next to none.  How deep was the Red Queen's character in this movie?  Did the actress really have to work hard exploring the Queen's emotions to understand her completely?  No.  The Red Queen, at least in this movie, is not a very complex or challenging character, especially when 33% of her lines is "Off with their heads!!!"  Embodying the Red Queen is not as great an achievement as, say, becoming Julia Child.  Or the Emperor...

Visually, the movie is fascinating.  The CG scenery is very pretty, and the many creatures range from cute to weird to intimidating.  My dad said it was more visually detailed than Avatar.  On that debate, we are living on different planets.  Alice is wonderful in detail, but it can't compare to the 12, count 'em, 12 years of drawing, building, filming, developing and animating the amazing world of Pandora.

Overall, Alice makes a very nice 99 cent Dish pay-per-view experience.  It's a fun family adventure full of adventure and fun for the whole family.

Grade: B

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Eight reasons why not to read Herodotus' Histories or Plutarch's Lives.

1. The length.  Why read 40,000 words about a dead guy who did nothing to influence our country's government or culture?  How about 700,000 something words describing the Persian War and the events that led up to it?

2. The amount of detail.  Herodotus, do your readers really want to know about every single pit stop the Persians made on their trek to Greece?  Do you really need to lay out the every position of the forces of each army and describe to us the tactical advantage of each position?  Plutarch, do you really have to tell us every single detail about Cimon's (who?) education, childhood, goverment...

3. These books are BORING.  And they don't try to hide it.  Who enjoys reading about a primitive civilization that bickers constantly about a field or spot of land (Herodotus makes sure his readers know exactly which land they're fighting over every single time).

4. Lack of life lessons (my CW poetry teacher would be awed by my awesome alliteration).  About every 55,000 words in the Histories, there is a good one-liner or thought-provoking moment.  55,0000 words is more than half my book.

5. Presence of better resources.  There are hundreds of history books out there that will take the 700,000 words in the Histories and condense it into a nice, 10,000 word summary.  And still gives you all the good one-liners.

6. You can just watch the movie, which gives all the graphic representation and powerful dialogue which the book DOESN'T.  300 is rated R for "rescue" to Great Books students slugging through Herodotus.

7. It's summer.

8. The new Twilight movie is out, and judging by the commercials, the special effects and sound mixing are dazzling.

July 2 update: 9.  Herodotus and Plutarch were pagan writers but never in the Histories or Lives did I really see them describe their religion and why they follow it.  There was  a brief moment when Herodotus tried to describe the origin of the Greek gods (he said they were based off the Egyptian deities...weirdo), but never do they pay much regard to matters of philosophy or religion.  The Histories and Lives are solely about the history of two civilizations and their people of influence (Greece&Rome in Lives, Greece&Persia in Histories).  Very few times do either classical writers endeavour to provide commentary on their subjects.  They just "lay out the facts".  I would rather read a thought-provoking book on philosophy or religion than try to fill my head with knowledge of all the squabbles and wars a long extinct civilization had.