Review – Fantastic Mr. Fox

October 23, 2009

Fantastic Mr Fox

I must confess I’ve never been a massive fan of Wes Anderson. All of his previous films have missed the mark with me and I’ve never really been able to get on board with the way he seemingly sacrifices content for collections of episodic off beat scenes that never really give us a satisfactory view of characters or the situations they find themselves in.

It is with great humility then that I put my hands up and say that, if this film is anything to go by, Wes Anderson is a genius. If there ever was a form that his style was supposed to be captured in, it’s this. All the things that grind me about Anderson’s filming style; whether that be the construction of awkward characters, the pause riddled silent heavy beats or the off topic asides, simply work so well in an animated animal based environment.

Disregard the little you may have seen in trailers, this film looks incredible throughout in a way you can only really appreciate by seeing more than snippets. Anderson has managed to simultaneously create a beautiful natural environment whilst also conveying so much about the nature of the characters through their movement and interactions with their surroundings alone. Seeing how Mr. Fox gets around is a treat in itself – just one of the many visual delights lying in wait throughout the course of the film.

I do feel that having to prescribe to an (albeit modified) existing narrative perhaps kept Anderson in line more than usual – preventing the usual meander through proceedings I’ve lamented in previous efforts. If anything I feel that the added finale really serves to compliment the characters created by Dahl and by moulded by Anderson, as well as bringing the narrative to a satisfactory conclusion that doesn’t completely overrule the way that Dahl ended the novel.

It’s been a point of contention that the primary cast (i.e. the animals) don’t have English voice actors – what with the film being set in the English countryside and all. I myself made it quite clear way back in episode one that I wasn’t overly happy about Anderson’s choice to recast all of his previous collaborators in the lead roles. I felt it showed a certain lack of imagination on Anderson’s part and would only lead to another occasion in which familiarity of talent would lead to a dull cinematic experience.

Again (for the second time this review for those who are counting) I hold my hands up and say I was completely wrong. Clooney, Streep, Dafoe and Murray all turn in great performances in their respective roles, but the real star here is Schwartzman whose depiction of Ash (Mr. Fox’s insecure son) really steals the show.

Visuals, narrative and voice acting aside, it’s all the little things that really made the film for me. That may be somewhat of an indescript statement but there really are too many of them littered throughout the proceedings to properly explain what I mean, whether that be the Latin speaking, the cussing, the digging, the fighting, double pneumonia, the stunt expo ramp or the wolf encounter to name but a few. The rules of whack bat were a particular favourite of mine and I’m fairly confident in saying it’s the little bits you’ll love too.

So negatives then. Every review needs them right? And this is where I struggle. The only remotely negative thing I can say about this film is that it’s a little short weighing in around eighty minutes. I wanted it to go on and could have happily sat in Dahl/Anderson’s world for at least another half an hour.

More of an observation here than a negative – it did become evident quite quickly that this film wasn’t intended for children – something that wouldn’t be obvious from the makeup of the audience in the screening I attended. Whether this derives from parental misconception or heavy handed marketing I don’t know, but the fact of the matter is that the pacing, dialogue and complex character work simply aren’t going to be understood and appreciated by a younger audience. In saying that I’m not trying to imply that children should not see this film – it’s more that I worry that this film is going to become yet another casualty of the supposition that animated films are only for kids. This film is so much more than another animal-centric animated kiddy film churned out for a quick buck.

I absolutely cannot recommend this film enough, it’d be easy for me to throw a bunch of superlatives in here about how much better this film is than most of the trash I’ve seen this year, but that would be somewhat redundant. After all, if my preceding musings (particularly the opening statement of this paragraph) haven’t persuaded you to go and see this film, then nothing else I can write will.

To put it shortly there isn’t anything about this film that isn’t brilliant or, perhaps more to the point, fantastic.

Post review sidenote – as I was leaving the cinema I saw a group of about ten kids all dancing near the screen to the ending song, obviously having a great time. As I got on the escalator I heard two kids behind me chatting away about their favourite bits and what they thought was going to happen at the end. I’d like to retract my earlier comment about this film being mis-marketed and wide of the mark for kids. Certainly they’ll have a very different cinematic experience to any mature cinemagoer, but that’s not to say it isn’t just as valid. If you’ve got kids, take them to see this – they’ll probably have a better time than I think they will…


Episode 4 – Blast from the Cast

October 21, 2009

Blast from the Cast

Blast from the Cast

A cleverly titled return to form in which Christopher and Christopher curse their previous reviewing of everything, WAGE WAR over sequels vs. remakes, induct the first members into the Casta Club and try to avoid saying the name of a Hollywood favourite.

And swear. A lot.


INTERMISSION! – Cast from the Past

October 16, 2009

Cast from the Past

Cast from the Past

We are pleased to present with a distinct lack of editing, theme music or even shotgun noises, the glorious return to regular audio Casta.

What we have here is what was supposed to be a twenty minute catchup of what we’ve seen in the break, which instead turned into a forty minute rant of recent films both good and bad.

We hope you enjoy – be sure to stick around for next week’s very exciting return episode proper.


Double Review – Adventureland & Zombieland

October 13, 2009


Two Days, two films, two lands, two performances from Jesse Eisenberg, one review. “TWO FILMS IN ONE REVIEW! YOU MUST BE MAD!” I hear you shout.

Not Mad. Madden.

Somewhat coincidentally I happened to watch Adventureland on Saturday, then Zombieland Sunday and, although unconventional, there doesn’t really seem any harm in reviewing them both at once considering the fact that the lead role in both instances is essentially the same.

That’s not really a massive dig at Jesse Eisenberg – after all the writers obviously have a lot to do with how a character is constructed, then there’s casting and directorial intent and whatever – but it is quite impressive how he managed to pick two roles which demand the exact same qualities and delivery from him. Saying that though Michael Cera must be slightly concerned now that he has competition for his awkward teenage virgin crown.

I digress! Adhering to the laws of chronology and bowing to the ever omnipotent power of the alphabet, let’s start with Adventureland.

Adventureland is a perfectly acceptable teen comedy/coming of age love story but the thing that stops it being anything more is the fact that it can’t really make up its mind which of the aforementioned genres it wants to belong to. And the fact that it’s pretty boring.

Like the Neapolitan ice cream of the film world, it tries to do a bit too much but doesn’t really excel in any one area. Sure there are some jokes in there, but they’re not really that funny. There’s some drama, but it’s not really that dramatic. There are some characters too, but I was hard pushed to really care about them.

With no real notable standout positives to drag it through the critique, it’s the little things that start to niggle. The eighties setting is largely inspired by director Mottola’s own time working at a theme park in his youth, but short of directorial indulgence, the setting doesn’t really seem to add anything. Sure the soundtrack is full of eighties hits and the costume department got to go crazy with stupid clothes and massive hair but it feels more of a stylistic choice than anything else – it really adds nothing to the content of the film, and that disappointed me.

And what was that other niggle… oh yeah, it’s pretty boring.

Don’t get me wrong here, Adventureland is perfectly watchable; it just doesn’t do anything we haven’t seen before. And seen better. And somewhat disappointingly, that’s about all I have to say for it.

Happily then, Zombieland fares a little better.

What we have here is a zombie movie which for the most part foregoes the regular focus of zombie movies (i.e. zombies, the peril associated with zombies, zombies trying to chew your face off) choosing instead to focus on the thoughts and feelings of its principle cast, particularly Jesse Eisenberg’s lead (an unusually whiny, emotionally driven character). Whilst this emotional focus might get a little tedious/unrealistic at times (it does seem strange to say a Zombie film isn’t realistic but what I really mean here is having the main character so focused on his feelings and pursuing a love interest, instead of worrying about not having his face chewed off) the different approach to an already pretty tired genre at the very least helps keep it feeling fresh throughout. This is compounded by the film’s use of flashbacks, which help to add depth to characters by showing them in situations they would have been more likely to have found themselves in before the Zombiepocalype.

And it’s lucky it has that freshness to rely on as the limited cast never really feels to be in danger at all – a strange stylistic choice for a zombie film, even a comedy focused one like this…

There’s been a lot of talk around this film about its big cameo appearance.  I want to be careful to avoid any spoilers here but just wanted to note that although the cameo does garner some of the biggest laughs of the film, it doesn’t really fit with the rest of the narrative and I found it to be really jarring. Shame then that the most inadequate part of the film seems to be the bit that everyone else loves the most.

I’d be remiss if I missed the opportunity before closing to tip my hat to the excellent opening slow motion sequence, which is set to For Whom the Bell Tolls by Metallica. It does a good job of establishing the movie’s universe whilst simultaneously kicking a whole lot of ass. I’m sure we’re going to see it replicated a whole lot, but it’s already set the bar pretty high for its imitators.

Finally, a quick nod to Woody Harrelson – who is just pretty awesome throughout.

All in then, two entirely watchable films. Although I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch Adventure Land, I certainly wouldn’t object if someone else wanted to watch it. Zombie Land is a lot of fun and a more than decent effort into adding something slightly different in the Zombie genre – I was pleasantly surprised considering I had no desire to watch it at all. There’s already talk of a sequel and if this opening effort can be learned from and built upon, we’re in for a treat.