Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Impression:  This is one of those movies I have been meaning to see for a while (10 years I guess, since it was released). Finally, it was playing for free in a cute little event space above a bar 5 minutes walk from my house on a weekend when I had nothing better to do. I love Wes Anderson’s aesthetic. The aesthetic along with the slightly weird way his characters act also means that all his movies have the same feel, and you could be dropped into a random film theater and within seconds recognize it as a Wes Anderson flick. This one is slightly different because it is stop motion, but it still manages to have that same feel.

As I learned from my 8 year old, Fantastic Mr. Fox is a Roald Dahl book, but since neither of us had read it, we weren’t sure how much liberty Anderson took with it. I assume quite a bit, but am not sure. George Clooney is the perfect voice for Mr. Fox, giving it just the right amount of slyness and oversized sense of self importance to make his character’s decisions believable.  Jason Schwartzman has been an Anderson regular for over 20 years now, and has the right amount of whininess for Ash, the loser son who wants to prove himself to his dad.

The story centers on Mr. Fox who always feels he is missing something in life and is always looking for a better house, one last job, and is never satisfied. His careless attitude ends up getting himself and all his neighbors into trouble when he angers the farmers he has been stealing from, and they will stop at nothing to get him, not caring who else gets hurt in the process. There is a side story of a cousin coming to stay with the family, who is better at everything than Ash. I feel like this must be a total Andersonism, and was probably not in the original book. The purpose of the cousin character seems to be just to annoy Ash and make him seem even more whiney then he is just in relation to his father.  The film ends with a fantastic escape plot with flying motorcycles and rabid dogs.  In general it’s a very fun, well paced film, and my 8 year old had a blast watching it.

Facts:  An anthropomorphic fox causes all kinds of havoc through his restlessness and dissatisfaction with life, bringing danger to his family and neighbors.

My Buddhist reading:  well there is the obvious literal thing here in that the annoying cousin, Kristofferson, meditates. But, there is a lot of neuroses in the two main characters of Mr. Fox and Ash that could probably be taken care of in some way with a bit of self reflection and meditation. There is this whole concept of self- cherishing which is strong in both of them, they are so wrapped up in their view of the world and how right it is to even notice that it hurts other people.

Knives Out (2019)

Impression: This film is basically a slightly new twist on the old fashioned whodunit. What makes the movie work are purposefully over the top performances, and relying on the many times the audiences would have seen a movie of this genre, and possibly all the times they have played Clue :). Or Cluedo (as I discovered recently it was called originally in the UK).

Jamie Lee Curtis’s quivering upper lip (as far as I know last seen all the way back in A Fish Called Wanda) is back, and she is fantastic as the eldest sister, self made businesswoman, who just happened to get a lot of money from daddy in order to “make herself”.  Toni Collette, another one of my favorites, is perfect as a clueless hippy/golddigger daughter in law, who uses her own daughter as an excuse to keep mooching off the family.  And Michael Shannon hits all the right notes as a virtue signaler. He wants everyone to know he is so supportive of immigrants, and very politically correct, but when it comes down to it, he doesn’t really believe any of it, it’s just what you are supposed to say in polite society.

The not so subtle political commentary walks the line well for my taste, never becoming too preachy, and taking digs at all the characters equally. Harlan Thrombley was a wealthy mystery novelist, and all of his heirs are possible suspects in his death. It’s a perfect setting to reveal the basest instincts of human nature, as all of the family members turn on each other in order to get their hands on the family fortune.

Outside the family, there are the two detectives sent in to investigate the scene, Benoit Blanc (a private detective purposefully over-played by Daniel Craig for laughs), a housekeeper and a nurse. The film is very entertaining, and well paced, but it’s not until quite close to the end that it really picks up speed full steam.  The dialogue and the editing are quite snappy and fun.

One thing that I couldn’t help wondering the whole movie is why does Benoit Blanc have a french name and a southern accent, and how come no one asked him about it?

Facts: A wealthy mystery writer is found dead the day after his birthday party. Who killed him?

My Buddhist reading: I guess one of the kinder readings of the greedy Thormbley’s could be that it’s really difficult to do the right thing and be kind when faced with temptation. Even Meg (Harlan’s granddaughter) who seemed friendly and hip and real, shows her dark side when she sides with the family in order not to lose her own privileges.

Disobedience (2017)

Impression: Although I have seen quite a few movies set in orthodox Jewish communities (not sure why I have seen so many?) usually in Israel or New York, I feel none of them have felt so close up and intimate with the different religious rituals than Disobedience. In this film, set among London’s orthodox community, you actually feel like you are in the synagogue listening to rabbi Krushka speak in the first scene, or later that you are in Dovid’s house with all the mourners. The camera is tight on everyone’s faces and the rooms are small, and you get a sense of how close and tight knit the community is, but also how suffocating it can feel. Enter Ronit, the prodigal daughter living in New York, working as a photographer, living a much different life than she left behind. She returns for her father’s funeral and is faced with her past. The way those scenes are shot is amazing, and you almost feel in her skin. Uncomfortable. Familiar, but judged. The story unveils slowly, she left without saying goodbye, some years ago. Her best male and female friends (Dovid and Esti) have since married each other, and he is being trained to take over for her father.  At first, Esti seems much more guarded towards Ronit then Dovid, and as if she is only tolerating Ronit staying with them because her husband invited her.  Ronit is a loudmouth and even though she eventually gets herself invited to family functions, she has a hard time keeping quiet about her opinions and all the things she disapproves of in the community she has left behind. Slowly, even more details of the past are revealed, and things between Ronit, Dovid and Esti are not quite what they seemed in the beginning. I enjoyed the way this film was shot very much and the slow way in which the past is revealed. The only part of the movie I really disliked was the central sex scene, which I felt was cheap and exploitative. Why shoot a sex scene as a montage? To show it was long? To be able to show the sequence of a all it entailed?  But why does that even matter? I don’t know why, but it really rubbed me the wrong way.  In all other ways I thought the film was beautiful and well done. And I very much enjoyed the ending.
Facts:  Extreme close-up of the life inside an orthodox Jewish community in London, as a rabbi’s prodigal daughter’s return for his funeral causes waves
Extra: I saw this film at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival.

A Fish out of Water (2017)

Impression: In the festival program this movie was compared to something Edward Yang would have done. It’s not just because it is also from Taiwan, but because it’s very intimately focused on family dynamics and slow moving, but beautifully shot. I loved Yi Yi by Yang, so I figured I should give this one a try.  The center of  the story is a family with a very young boy, and an aging, sick father they take care of.  The stresses of dealing with family and work, eventually lead to fights which lead the man and woman to temporarily separating with the woman taking care of the boy and the man taking care of his father. The additional stress is that the boy constantly keeps thinking about and mentioning and drawing his “other family.” We eventually learn the other family was a family he remembers from a previous life. He has very clear memories of this other family, and his parents want to be helpful, but it is stressful to deal with his teachers, other family, who they are afraid are judging them. The boy also, keeps wanting to go visit his “other family” and can’t be left alone, because he wanders off.  Although this strange detail in the plot is central to the film, the film is actually still about family dynamics, and how families deal with problems that life throws at them.  At the end they finally take him to visit the small town by the sea where he claims his “other family” lives.  While the movie is mostly hardcore realism, I particularly liked the last scene, which during the Q & A, the director admitted was his favorite also. It depicts the central couple struggles up a sand dune in wind in their wedding attire, being followed by photographers. Certainly a metaphor of sorts for family life.
Facts:  Taiwanese movie about a young boy who constantly thinks and remembers his “other family.”
Extra: I saw this film at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival.