Stuffed and Moving
Do you feel your greatest talents are being squandered? Like there is no demand for your gifts and all you can do is struggle with jobs you should never have had to perform? At the end of the day, your real work lingers in a foggy distance, incomplete. Time passes quickly. You feel drained, stuck in a hole underground, looking out to make your mark and redeem yourself. This is how Mr. Fox feels. In this disarmingly charming (and quotable) film by Wes Anderson, as the fable goes, Mr. Fox risks the lives of others to use his talent for stealing chickens.
For a couple of years (twelve fox years), Mr. Fox has been married to the love of his life, Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) and father to their prepubescent son Ash (Jason Schwartzman). To do this, Mr. Fox swore never again to risk his life stealing food from the murderous farmers who rule the land. His modest income as an opinion columnist — another detail not of, yet worthy of Roald Dahl — doesn’t stop Mr. Fox’s ambitions of moving from his modest foxhole underground to live in a more upscale neighbourhood — a large, healthy tree. Because working for a newspaper lacks the thrill of chicken burglary, Mr. Fox jumps off the thieving wagon when he finds a new partner in crime in Kylie (Wally Wolodarsky), a soft-spoken, pudgy — but gutsy — little possum.
Cocksure Mr. Fox is forever young — cocky and sure of his invincibility — and takes everything for granted. While on a crime spree, he shows more interest in how the latest fox trap works than his own safety. Brimming with confidence, Mr. Fox tends to hog the spotlight. Watch him turn the attention back to him during a toast over a sumptuous banquet. Part of the fun is committing his forbidden theft under his wife’s nose and then watching her enjoy his catch.
He doesn’t give her powers of observation much credit as he stores his loot in plain sight — not to demean her on purpose, mind you — he’s just full of himself to the point of obliviousness. Mr. Fox shares a slyness — minus the malevolence — with Mr. Grinch. He’s so crooked that he could straighten a hill. Oh, and he loves calling his schemes “Master Plans”!
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Two weeks ago, Chicago-based film reviewer codenamed Quint (real name: Jim Fyfe) from Ain’t It Cool News challenged graphic designers and film fanatics alike to participate in a contest: Make An Insane Movie Poster of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. Quint being a great admirer of the new Werner Herzog film from this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) – not to mention Jaws (1975)! – has had mixed feelings toward what its distributors First Look Studios and Polsky Films have done in the way of movie posters. First, they made an edgy poster that the MPAA threw its gavel down hard on for showing its title character pointing a gun at someone. Harvey Keitel, the original 1992 Bad Lieutenant from the 1992 Abel Ferrara film, amongst thousands of other trigger-itchy characters can point their gun at us gazers, but according to the MPAA we can’t handle anyone inside the poster being promised some bullets. Finally, First Look settled on a poster that looks like your generic rogue cop-seeks-killer thriller complete with two famous giant heads suspended over a landscape of dread and action.
Just like these ones!
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Blossoming Out of Child Abuse
The odds are against Clarice “Precious” Jones (Gabourey Sidibe). How does she find the will to get up in the morning and go to school? It seems as though everyone is either punishing her or ignoring her. At 16, she is pregnant for the second time by her scumbag father. Her self-esteem is all but destroyed by her vicious mother (Mo’Nique). She is illiterate, but not stupid. As a poor African-American woman living in Harlem in 1987, her options are limited. If incest, racism, sexism and classism weren’t enough, Precious is also targeted for being obese. She can hardly bear to face anyone let alone speak in a guarded whisper. Her pain is so definite. Society and her parents have failed her, however, Precious is still holding on.
We never pity her because anyone would be devastated if struck with her afflictions. What fascinates me still is that Precious takes the time to brush her hair nicely and wears necklaces. She obviously has a fighting spirit. This is her rebuke to all who vilify her. It may be a small one, but it’s there. She is going to look her best, dammit. Her only other refuge is to fantasize. In a harrowing scene, she remembers how her father raped her in her bedroom one night. Her mother watches from behind the door frame with timidity and — oh dear God! — jealousy. It is so horrible that the ceiling cracks and in a faraway place, Precious walks up a red carpet to her own premiere looking gorgeous for the adulated crowd. Perhaps, I shouldn’t be so astonished to find Precious putting on such a brave front. People are notoriously stubborn to survive personal attacks.
The case of Precious is really about how deadly living in a toxic family is. It is also about how body image can ruin self-worth, which is a grave factor all by itself. However, the worst thing happening to Precious is the abuse she receives from her parents. An overweight and mentally-struggling person can still be happy with the support of loved ones. Precious is unloved and can only go so far alone.
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No Free Passes
One of the many things Lone Scherfig’s An Education gets right is show how wisdom comes suddenly. Take Jenny (Carey Mulligan, who is simply wonderful), a schoolgirl who at 16 is the brightest in her class, and fancies herself mature, sophisticated and wise. She actually does know a great deal and sometimes she is right on the money. Feeling restless and stuck in the straitlaced, lushly coloured town of Twickenham, London circa 1961, Jenny yearns for novelty and passion. This is two years before four guys from Liverpool would have turned her disillusionment on its head. For now, she sings along with her Juliette Greco LP (Sous Le Ciel De Paris) amongst other French singers in her bedroom. Those reminded of the Mario Lanza craze of Pauline (Melanie Lynskey) from Heavenly Creatures (1994) should take comfort that they are not alone. When she decides to allow herself to be courted by a 35-year-old named David (Peter Sarsgaard), know that David isn’t the only one with ulterior motives beneath the designs to woo. But she still has so much more to learn. For starters, to stay away from baddies like David.
Jenny studies vigorously in hope of going to Oxford where she can escape the mundanity of her middle class upbringing, “I’m going to talk to people who know lots and lots.” One rainy afternoon, she comes across David, who looks smart, is exceedingly charming, and drives a burgundy Bristol sports car. He offers her a ride. Eventually, she accepts. He looks harmless enough. What does David do for a living? “Property. A little art dealing. Selling this and that.” Where did he study? “I went to the University of Life. I didn’t get a good degree there.” Plus he’s Jewish, an exotic find as rare as well… Bristols! From there, Jenny is instantly smitten with this well-to-do gentleman and renegade. Jenny is so indifferent to her country and wants very much to enjoy France. To such a bored Brit, Jenny thrives to consume the cool French delights of cigarettes, Jazz and the French New Wave — Resnais, Goddard, Truffaut and Varda.
Her father Jack (Alfred Molina), a middle-class immigrant, has little sympathy for her appetites. He goes on about financial realities, forever dwelling on practicalities and studying. When Jenny considers taking a year off from school after graduating, her father asks, “What for?” This is a time where a woman’s education meant finding a suitor, not a career. Jenny is good at playing the cello, however, Jack dismisses that strength as something she’ll put aside in the working world. He is even more tough on the boys she brings home. Softening the blow is her mother Majorie (Cara Seymour) who has different ways of being both knowing and clueless as her husband. Understand that they are truly proud of their daughter and love her so. They just make the mistake of making her future sound like work when it ought to be celebrated. No wonder Jenny is attracted to David, he can open high end doors and afford her expensive things like idealism.
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One of the many upsides to living in a beautiful city like Vancouver (besides the freshest tap water this side of the Pacific Ocean) is that it holds one of the five biggest film festivals in North America. The Vancouver International Film Festival opens today. About 640 screenings of the 360 films to come from eighty countries will be shown over the next sixteen days (October 1 – October 16). That means we Vancouverites and visiting film buffs can see movies as far as award-winners at Cannes, Telluride (TIFF), et al. to those that will never get distribution here. Without the interference of a ratings board, anything goes. Along Granville Street, and from Seymore to Howe, the cinemas are our roller coasters, our bumper cars, our Tilt-A-Whirls. It’s a good comparison seeing as how the line-ups won’t be any different.
I am still disheartened that Todd Solondz’s Life During Wartime (2009), a semi-sequel to his wonderful Happiness (1998), is not playing in the festival. After it played last month at Telluride to a very warm reception, Life During Wartime didn’t get distribution like so many others. Unless Solondz distributes it himself or keeps selling to those willing to take a risk (Hello Lions Gate Films!), it might be a long while to view. On the bright side, the Coen Brothers’ new film A Serious Man will have a Sunday morning sneak preview at the Park Theatre on October 11 before opening nationwide on October 16. The Coen film, unlike Telluride, will not be part of the VIFF. I am catching the Sunday screening so for me, it is part of the festival.
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