Wes Anderson and the Coen Brothers. Three of Americaâ€™s very Coolest filmmakersÂ have traded in their hip cachet for projects so unhip they might just be coolerÂ than cool. The Coen Brothers go-go back to the desperately unchic seventiesÂ with a cast of unknowns, and Wes Anderson plays beautiful havoc withÂ stop-motion furries voiced by unseen, tippy-top-of-their-game megastars ClooneyÂ and Streep. And everybody wins.
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In This Corner
â€œA Serious Manâ€ (2009) Forsaking their coolness (Who, Us? Jewish? CohenÂ without the H, and that missing H stands for Hebe!) and embracing or perhapsÂ attacking/strangling their (until now, well-hidden) suburban Minnesotan JewboyÂ roots, the Â Coen Brothers dip into some pretty personal mythology, with heapingÂ helpings of Lot-fueled Biblical metaphor and heavy duty (if hilariouslyÂ accurate) ethnic stereotyping, coming up with a laugh-out- oud examination ofÂ faith and morality and filial obligation and suffering and human frailty and aÂ whole Lot of other Big Ideas usually left to scholars and pedants, notÂ mainstream artsy American filmmakers.Â And it is good. (Only after an Academy Award win would theÂ powers that be consent to this risky little ventureâ€¦and only after that winÂ would the Brothers dare ask for that consent.)
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In That Corner
I think Fantastic Mr. FoxÂ might just be my favorite Wes Anderson film. Andersonâ€™s always been a charmer,Â and his visuals are dizzifyingly swell, all the tiniest details chosen with theÂ eye of a cutting- edge artist with a sense of history laced with theÂ effortlessly hip veneer of whatâ€™s about to come. (Who didnâ€™t lust after the DarjeelingÂ Limited Luis VuittonÂ luggage?) His films feature gorgeously distinct color palettes, simultaneouslyÂ timeless and of-the-moment set dÃ©cor and design, iconic costuming andÂ hairstyling â€“ itâ€™s all a Vanity Fair spread in glorious too-cool-for-schoolÂ motion. But Fantastic Mr. FoxÂ takes the Anderson aesthetic a few steps further, animation allowing for theÂ kind of visual creative control a film director usually only dreams ofÂ achieving. The entire world is literally built from scratch; even theÂ characters, every stitch they wear, every hair and claw. The stellar characterÂ animation is equalled by the remarkable voice acting; the cast featuresÂ gigantic and familiar players (Clooney and Streep), Anderson regulars BillÂ Murray and Jason Schwartzman, alongside virtual unknowns just as impeccablyÂ right.
Mr. Foxâ€™s eyes areÂ more expressive than Sandra Bullockâ€™s. Nothing against the Divine Miss B, butÂ her human optic organs are gleaming black buttons while Mr. Foxâ€™s tell youÂ everything you need to know, and his mole cohort Kylieâ€™s pinwheel eyes are theÂ source of several well-earned bursts of out-loud laughter. The stop-motionÂ animation is a glory, a revelation. Beautifully breakthrough, captivatinglyÂ cinematic, the furry (and the fleshy) creatures heldÂ me in a little ring of enchantment from the first frame tillÂ the last.
I thoroughly enjoyed both films. Frankly though, I donâ€™t know who these moviesÂ are for. I hesitate toÂ recommend them to everyone I know; both seem to require a more peculiar and particular palate than most. Unlike the laser-beam-accurately aimed Twilight franchise, these films have no real clearÂ target audience. Marketing people (and critics) have their hands full withÂ both; while Fox seemsÂ likely family fare given its Roald Dahl genesis and animation genre, itâ€™s anÂ instant hipster classic, unlikely to draw exactly the right people in itsÂ initial run. If your child loves it, I salute you. Clearly, youâ€™re doingÂ something terrific as a parent. I donâ€™t want to be the one to let you in onÂ this secret, but your child is super cool already, a baby hipster destined toÂ live in the Village and appreciate classic foreign films in high school. GetÂ him or her started early; he or she is probably way cooler than you were orÂ ever will be. I hesitate to overpraise the film, wanting any audience I canÂ propel into the theaters to be happily surprised by the wonders there waiting,Â not disappointed.
I canâ€™t imagineÂ non-Jews trooping into their local yokel multiplex to watch unknowns (when RichardÂ Kind is your marquee name,Â youâ€™re barking up a very rareified and different tree indeed) in an unabashedlyÂ Jewish movie. So many previous films have used the rites (and wrongs) of theÂ Catholic church to explore similar themes; given how many Jews pursue aÂ lucrative living in show business, particularly the movie business, itâ€™sÂ telling how few films dare to venture into the rabbiâ€™s study or even the JewishÂ family home. Well, the Coen brothers went there.
Iâ€™m sure a fewÂ sensitive souls will take offense, imagining slights and insults. Iâ€™d adviseÂ any anti- efamation types to steer clear or bring along your little-used senseÂ of humor â€“ itâ€™s probably right where you left it, on that high shelf in theÂ back of your closet along with your other mementos of when you used to haveÂ fun. Go rummaging.
Eeny meeny miny mo. I take the Fox.