New Moon/Fantastic Mr. Fox

As a I move toward the end of the year, I’m also quickly approaching a milestone in my movie watching. My previous record for most different films seen in theatres in a single year was 70 set in 2004. I currently stand at 91, and I hope to hit 100 by the end of the year. That out of the way… the reviews.

A few mini reviews, then 2 full reviews.

The Blind Side – 3.5 stars – It’s a good enough film, it entertains and pulls the heartstrings. But really, how many times are they going to retread the “inspirational true sports story”? Tim McGraw is a surprisingly decent actor.

Planet 51 – 2 stars – It’s funny to the point of satirizing the alien invasion flicks of the 50s. But beyond that, it’s a one joke flick that fails to keep you interested to the end. Emphatic *shrug* ‘meh?’

Ninja Assassin – 1 star – It’s exactly what it says it is. A ninja assassin. Add in “boring.” It’s like watching a video game. Scratch that…. It’s like watching someone else play a crappy video game, that you have no interest in playing at all, and are only in the room because you have nothing better to do while you wait for your frozen pizza to bake. And you’re super high. Actually, that might have helped this flick. But the action’s fun.

Old Dogs – .5 star – I’m done with the broad, ‘gotta appeal to everyone,’ comedies that walk across the same old jokes time and time again. We get it, they’re old. We get it, this is an important business opportunity. We get it, the kids are a total buzzkill. Why do adults always have to learn? Why can’t kids ever learn a lesson? Like, sit down, shut up, and behave.

Coco avant Chanel – 3.5 stars – I like Audrey Tautou. I really do, I think she’s a terrific actress and gives an engaging performance as the late designer. But the movie never really made me care about the characters. I didn’t know why the story was told. Could be a cultural thing.

And now… the full reviews.

The Twilight Saga: New Moon – .5 star

The Twilight movies are pretty much critic proof. No matter what I say, the fans are going to eat it up and love it. That being said, they shouldn’t. It’s a terrible film, with arguably some of the worst acting. The leads couldn’t carry a film if their careers depended on it, and luckily they don’t have to. It’s the brand that’s filling the seats, not the stars. But you do get some engaging performances from the bit part adults.

New Moon is the second entry in the inexplicably popular Twilight franchise, and we pick up where the first one left off, with Bella (Kristen Stewart) dating vampire hunk Edward (Robert Pattinson, yet now the reality of her aging and him not is starting to dawn on her. To save her from being hurt, he leaves, which only hurts her more. And then her best friend is a werewolf.

I don’t know. I didn’t care much for seeing this going in. The fact that it plods along at a pace that even a snail would say “hurry up” only adds to my inability to effectively follow along with the plot.

I don’t know where it broke down, in the screen writing process, Chris Weitz’s directing, or in the editing room, but somewhere along the way, the film lost all narrative cohesiveness. The two and a half minute trailer tells a more engaging story than the two hour movie.

Looking at Melissa Rosenberg’s list of credits, you’d wonder how someone who writes for ‘Dexter,’ one of the most compelling shows on television, could write one of the blandest, most cliche riddled and melodramatic screenplays of our time, but scroll down her IMDb page a little more and you get your answer. She also wrote the first Twilight and the equally dreadful Step Up. Stick to TV, you’re clearly better there.

Now onto the acting… I got excited when I saw Dakota Fanning and Michael Sheen pop up in the trailer. I remember thinking, “Ok, this film has some street-cred now.” But that was ultimately disappointing, as they appear on screen for a total of 5 minutes, with about 10 lines between the two of them. Billy Burke is charming as Charlie Swan, Bella’s dad, but is severely underutilized.

And if Burke is underutilized, then the three leads, Pattinson, Stewart and Taylor Lautner are drastically OVERutilized. If I were teaching an acting class in high school or college, and I did a section on “What not to do,” I’d have my students study and analyze the three leads in New Moon. I’ve heard the saying “couldn’t act their way out of a paper bag” before, and if you were to combine the acting talents of Pattinson, Stewart and Lautner… paper bag would win, hands down.

I’ve long said that Stewart has but 2 acting modes, nervous and awkward. She can now add a third to her repertoire- annoying.

Twilight is in the same category as Transformers 2, G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra, Indiana Jones: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and the Star Wars prequels. The filmmakers aren’t really caring about putting out a quality product, they just know that the brand will fill theatres. And the audiences are eating it up. It’s disgusting really. It makes me glad that I don’t pay for films.

Fantastic Mr. Fox – 4 stars

Wes Anderson? Good. George Clooney and Meryl Streep? Great. Taking on a beloved children’s book? Wait, what? I know, that’s what I said, but it was great, loved every minute of it.

Mr. Fox (Clooney) lives a carefree life of stealing poultry from local farmers. Upon news of the impending birth of his son, he makes a vow to his wife (Streep) to get out of the chicken thief business, and go legit. That satisfies him just fine for 12 fox years, then he starts to get that itch. He needs to get back in the game, much to the chagrin of his family and friends (featuring the vocal talents of Anderson regulars Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray and Willem Dafoe) and especially the local farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean (Michael Gambon).

Anderson takes on stop motion, an animation style we see so rarely these days, but is always so engaging. It’s about finding the happy medium between live action and animation. More can be done and characters more richly drawn with the animation, yet there’s something tangible, something real about it. And it pulls you in.

He keeps the look and feel of his usual work. You can always tell a Wes Anderson film when you see it, and this is no different, and thankfully he’s left his signature in the realm of animation. And to his credit, he picked a story that had appeal to both kids and adults. Anderson fans could go see what they’ve come to expect, and younger filmgoers could not only get an entertaining story, but be introduced to the work of one of the most unique filmmakers of our era.

The only gripe is the vocal work. Sure it was, for the most part, good. Clooney brings his cocky charm to a role that almost seems tailor made for him. Streep has fun with her Mrs. Fox, and you can’t help but love Schwartzman’s Ash. But it all seemed just a bit lifeless. There were quite a few times where it felt like they were reading lines from a script, not acting. It just didn’t sit well with me.

But overall, I found the film entertaining and definitely worth a look in theatres.

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