Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), Bright Star (2009) & The Lovely Bones (2009)

Viewed on: 11/01/2010. Review by: Alex Lagerwey  

I have to admit, this may not be the most coherent, nor thought out post. However, seeing as I am slacking off in the trying-to-post-something-after-ever-film-aspect of this blog, I might as well give it a bash.  

Today was a day of utter heat exhaustion and craziness. To escape the 40+ degree weather, a few of us decided to head to Cinema Nova and take advantage of their air conditioning and their cheap $6 Monday tickets (before 4pm. After that they are $8. Oo-er!). Today it was a triple feature of Fantastic Mr. Fox, Bright Star and The Lovely Bones. A pretty well-rounded selection.  

Firstly, Fantastic Mr. Fox completely lives up to its name. I’ve read and heard things about director Wes Anderson and how he was a horror to work for/with and that he pretty much phoned-in his time on the film. You know what, I don’t care! Because the film rocked my world. All the things that might be seen as overly meticulous or too clever for their own good in his earlier films are still used here. But in the form of animation, they make for a glorious spectacle.  

The Foxes home is so nuanced and well put together, their world full of knickknacks and trinkets, even after several viewings the audience would be hard pressed to take in all the detail. The voice actors are recognisable yes, George Clooney as Mr. Fox, Meryl Streep as Mrs. Fox, Michael Gambon as one of the evil Farmers and a host of Anderson favourites including Bill Murray as lawyer Badger and Jason Schwartzman as ‘special’ son Ash, but once again, I don’t care. They all fit. I have heard it said that the film is like Wes Anderson just recycled his scripts and proceeded to animate them. However, it works well for me. I have always loved his kooky films and to have them full of blueberry drugged Beagles, lightening-phobic possums and yoga practicing snooty Fox cousins makes it even better.  

Additionally it’s not just a kids film. It fits in the same group for adult enjoyment akin to the Shrek films and pretty much anything Pixar is bashing out these days. There are family problems everywhere, a theme Wes Anderson thrives on – from marital issues to living up to your dad’s expectations – it deals with it all while still looking polished and just down right fun. If it wasn’t for all the crazy small children running around the theatre, it would have been perfect.  

He really IS fantastic

After Fantastic Mr. Fox we trooped off to Jane Campion’s latest offering, Bright Star. Perhaps it is just me, perhaps I’m not the target audience, but I haven’t really found the appeal in Campion’s films. Maybe it’s due to the fact that we had to study The Piano in first year uni, or perhaps I’ve never been fond of slow-moving plots such as this – her films just don’t click with me.  

Don’t get me wrong, there were elements of complete beauty within the film. Location shots in and around the gardens were particularly stunning, especially the purple flower scene shown in all the posters. I love both lead actors Abbie Cornish, who blew me away in Somersault, playing Fannie and Ben Whishaw, who I often rave about for his performance in Perfume: The Story of a Murderer playing Keats. Their love story, though tragic, seemed altogether too rushed. Perhaps because Keats love exists more in the ethereal world than in reality. When he can have her, he leaves all too often.  

Additionally, Fannie’s love for Keats is all-consuming and she becomes ill when he is not around. She weeps and rages and attempts to kill herself – though perhaps more a gesture than anything concrete. Throughout the film her character reminded me of another I have come to know over the past few months and felt nothing but utter scorn for – Bella Swan from The Twilight Saga. Both characters have striking similarities.  

They don’t seem to have any friends and alienate or are rude to the ones they do have, they don’t seem to have any ambition once they find the love of their lives and both attempt to off themselves when they are left as well as spending a considerable amount of screen time moping. Where we ridicule Bella for her behaviour we let it slide with Fannie due to the fact that Keats is a poet and thus more prone to eliciting such dramatic responses and the time period. Clearly in the 1800s it was perfectly acceptable for a relatively well-off young lady to spend her days feeling sorry for herself and wailing miserably.  

Ben Whishaw and Abbie Cornish. Not so Bright Star?

I don’t quite know what to make of the film as yet – decidedly on the fence, I think. To my eyes, the film seemed to be equal parts that were stunningly beautiful (the scene where Fannie lies on the bed and lets the wind enter her room took my breath away) and jarring ones (the Valentines letter – Huh??). Also for a much more thought-out review of Bright Star, do check out my cohort Jamie’s earlier post. He seems to have a much firmer grasp on the film than I do.  

And finally, feeling slightly weary but not nearly ready to brave the heat, there was The Lovely Bones. I am feeling quite fond of Peter Jackson at the present. After recently completing his biography and re-watching most of the behind-the-scenes features on the Lord of The Rings Trilogy I am convinced that he is not only a master filmmaker but an amazing human being.  

This was my second viewing of the film and I think I enjoyed it much more. I could put behind me the mechanics of the plot and focus on the little things, the details of set, editing and composition that Peter Jackson thrives on. Harking back to Jackson’s earlier work such as Heavenly Creatures, the film is based on Alice Seabold’s novel of the same name. It tells the story of the rape and murder of  fourteen-year-old Susie Salmon and the aftermath – her family trying to pick up the pieces and continue with their lives. As they do so, Susie watches from heaven and attempts to discover the details of her death and to move on herself.  

Everyone has been raving about the performance of Saoirse Ronan as the young Susie, but the stand-out performance for me was hands down, Susan Sarandon as Grandma Lyn. The montage scene where she is in charge lightens the tone of the piece and even though it could be taken from another film, it is never jarring – it still seems realistic. 

Susie and Grandma Lyn. Super spies.

Susie’s vision of heaven is beautifully brought to life by Weta Digital, who also had a part in bringing Avatar to the screen, proving to us that there really isn’t anything you can’t do in film anymore. The story, though sad, still seems uplifting at the conclusion. Saying that, when the lights came up, all of my companions were wiping the tears from their faces . Take your mum along, and steal her tissues because it really is a bit of an emotional roller-coaster. And see if you can spot Peter Jackson’s trade mark cameo, one that must have been very close to his heart if you know anything about his childhood beginnings in filmmaking.  

All in all, many highs and lows for such a day. I have a strong feeling I shall be doing it all again next week. In my opinion, the best place to see cheap films in Melbourne and the best way to spend a god-awful hot summers day.

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