Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler Nov. 25-Dec. 1: How fantastic is Mr. Fox?

In theaters

Owing to the untimely demise (is there a timely demise?) of my computer yesterday morning, I fear this is going to be a Weekly Reeler that is somewhat limited in nature. As unfortunate of an occurrence as that may be in and of itself, it’s really far worse than you can imagine, because I can tell you that the quality of the writing of the original version—now a disintegrating bunch of bytes reposing on a dead hard drive—of this edition of Weekly Reeler was absolutely exemplary. I assure you that we’re talking real literature here—quite possibly the finest thing I’ve ever written, but you’ll have to take my word for that under the conditions that prevail. I won’t even attempt to duplicate it. The results would taste of wax fruit. So let’s muddle through as best we can.

Is there anything else opening this week besides Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox? Well, yes, there is, but who really cares? Certainly, I don’t. It’s been two years since Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited came out and that’s too long—even if this is actually a smaller gap than usual (three years seems to be the average). In any case, Mr. Anderson is back among us—and this time with something that’s both a little different (a stop-motion animated film) and yet appears very much the same to judge by the trailer. Yes, I’m a little bothered by the fact that it’s gotten better reviews than his previous movies, but this seems to be less because Anderson has in any way compromised his unique vision than more the result of his detractors feeling that the animated film is a better venue for that vision. The trailers certainly promise a film very much in the tone of what we expect from the filmmaker—and with the possible exception of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, I’m not sure there’s anything on the horizon that excites me nearly so much. I plan on being there on opening day—probably at the first show.

Otherwise, this week brings us Walt Becker’s Old Dogs with John Travolta, Robin Williams and Seth Green. It’s a pretty obvious attempt to duplicate the mystifying popularity of Becker’s Wild Hogs—as evidenced by Travolta’s presence, the rhyming title and the utterly unoriginal sitcom-infested plot that finds Williams and Travolta playing inept dads to a pair of 7-year-olds. The trailer is mind-boggling in its sheer awfulness. Seth Green being cuddled by a gorilla as one of the film’s big gags? Really? Bob Hope did this way back in 1952 in Road to Bali where it was simply a throwaway joke. I feel certain it will be a tremendous hit.

More interesting to me—but probably not destined to be a hit—is James McTeigue’s Ninja Assassin. McTeigue, after all, made V for Vendetta, which wasn’t bad. Once again the Wachowski Brothers are involved as producers. I’m ambivalent about the film starring Korean pop star Rain, but pleased to see the splendid Naomie Harris (28 Days Later …) in the cast. Early word is very mixed, but makes it clear that the film indulges its R rating in terms of blood and violence. That’s usually a plus in this kind of movie. Expect over-the-top action and a good deal of stylish camerawork—I have no quarrel with either one, especially since I’m not expecting high art here.

Also up—exclusive to the Carolina Asheville—is The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day. Early word is, well, not kind. Still, the original—which I’ve never seen—does have a cult following, so it’s likely that there may be some interest in this 10-years-on sequel, regardless of the reviews.

I’m happy to be able to report that Richard Curtis’ Pirate Radio has survived, especially since it was set for the chop at the Carmike 10 this week. That was before attendance for this film rose 47 percent this past weekend. So in its stead, The Fourth Kind met a well-deserved death. With one notable exception, I have yet to talk with anyone who did not love Pirate Radio, so now you have more time to find out for yourself—and I get to see it on the screen at least once more. It’s also hanging on at the Carolina.

Still around and very worth a look are both An Education and A Serious Man (the review of the latter is in this week’s Xpress) at the Fine Arts.

On DVD

One of the more obnoxious 2009 releases, Judd Apatow’s seemingly interminable comedy/drama Funny People is out on DVD this week. The film badly underperformed at the box office. You may find it of more interest as a rental at home. I will not be joining you. Once was more than enough. Surely Four Christmases was already out on DVD before, but this holiday stinker is listed as being a new release. I cannot imagine that it’s improved with the passage of time. Also up is Eddie Murphy in family-friendly mode with Imagine That and Robert Rodriguez’s Shorts. I’ve seen neither, though I might catch Shorts simply because I’ve never found Rodriguez to be devoid of interest.

There seem to be various incarnations of Ron Howard’s Angels & Demons—including one mysteriously identified as a “special 70th anniversary edition,” which gives new meaning to the concept of time flying. (I think some copy-pasting from the big release of Gone with the Wind sneaked in here.) It’s not a good movie, but it’s engaging nonsense. I simply can’t bring myself to dislike any movie with a parachuting priest, nor can I resist poor Ewan McGregor having to yell, “Illuminatus!”—which gets my vote for most unintentionally funny moment of 2009.

Notable TV screenings

Owing to time constraints this week (see dead computer remarks at the beginning of this column), I’m having to give this short shrift. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that TCM gives us no less than seven Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movies on Thanksgiving, starting with Flying Down to Rio (1933) at 4:30 in the morning. (Obviously, this is geared for the poor shnook who’s up early to start working on the holiday meal.) This is followed by Roberta (1935), The Gay Divorcee (1934), Swing Time (1936), Shall We Dance (1937), Carefree (1938) and Top Hat (1935). With the exception of Carefree (it’s really not very good), all of these come under the heading of pure pleasure and essential viewing.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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9 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler Nov. 25-Dec. 1: How fantastic is Mr. Fox?

  1. Justin Souther

    I simply can’t bring myself to dislike any movie with a parachuting priest

    The instant I figured out what he was going to do with the helicopter was easily been my favorite movie-going moment of the year.

  2. I’d say you overlooked TCM running THE HORN BLOWS AT MIDNIGHT except with what seems to be a 3:30 am West Coast showtime (I don’t even get the channel so I can’t easily check) today (Wednesday), by the time this comment is cleared, it will have gone. I’m kind of partial to it, fluff though it is (certainly no TO BE OR NOT TO BE, or even as insanely wonderful as IT’S IN THE BAG) and not just to finally see what Jack Benny profited on as a running gag for at least twenty years or more: pluses include superlative foils like Franklin Pangborn, Margaret Dumont, and Mike Mazurki (and one or two radio alums, including John Brown, who was Digger O’Dell on the sitcom “Life of Riley” and a frequent supporting player on both Benny’s and Fred Allen’s shows, though one of his few film roles of note is that of the sloshed professor in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN). Also jokes about hot girdles, and the discovery that “fallen angels” suffer from DTs. Minuses include, for some, Alexis Smith (she’s not exactly terrible but doesn’t do much for me here) and the “it was all a dream” frame leading to a singularly anticlimatic ending.

    Disney’s own animated feature PRINCESS AND THE FROG theoretically enters “limited release” tomorrow, but that seems to be limited to the Ziegfield in New York and “Walt Disney Studios Main Theatre (Burbank,CA)” and not much else. It opens everywhere on December 11, and that’s rather telling actually: Disney has long had a tradition of trying to bury any competing animated features by opening head to head, but they seem to be a) still unsure about the return to fairytales *and* drawn animation simultaneously and b) wary of facing “Mr. Fox,” which certainly has more adult/teen appeal but, with the soft look of the characters and the popularity of the Dahl book and the general subject matter, will probably do reasonably well with families, at least at first (word of mouth and reviews will affect the rest, as far as whether juvenile audiences can sit through it). I’m champing at the bit to see it, since it’s visually striking, utilizes stop-motion (which has fascinated me since childhood), I loved Anderson’s LIFE AQUATIC, and I’m simultaneously intrigued and unnerved by the critters (from trailers and stills, I vacillate between finding them cute, quirky caricatures, or too realistic/taxidermyish) so seeing the actual film will help settle that. Of course, I’m an animation historian, but bottom line is simply that it looks *interesting* and *individual*, which are always two strong reasons to check out any movie.

    By the way, Ken, moons ago now, but months after the rest of the country, El Paso actually *did* get BROTHERS BLOOM, which I’d also put in that class. I’m glad I saw it on a big screen and could really appreciate the cinematography and the little details, the background action or touches like the yawning lion, but I definitely will need to get the DVD when I can afford to (and now that Netflix has it on streaming, check out BRICK as well at a subsequent juncture).

  3. Dread P. Roberts

    …and with the possible exception of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, I’m not sure there’s anything on the horizon that excites me nearly so much.

    I can jump on board with that; but in second place I would add the potential for The Lovely Bones and (fingers still crossed) The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Yes, I know it’s slated for a ‘limited’ Christmas release, and in for some weird reason there isn’t any attention being given to it, but I’m still really hoping that Asheville gets it. The only problem is that, for me, this is about equal with Sherlock Holmes. If it does play here I guess I’m going to have to go with a double feature.

  4. Ken Hanke

    I’d say you overlooked TCM running THE HORN BLOWS AT MIDNIGHT

    I’ve tried to like that movie for about 35 years, but it has yet to happen. It was on TCM a few weeks ago, too. I tried it again. No. Still didn’t work for me.

    I definitely will need to get the DVD when I can afford to

    The Brothers Bloom is one of those movies that gets better everytime you see it. It definitely deserves a purchase.

  5. Ken Hanke

    I can jump on board with that; but in second place I would add the potential for The Lovely Bones and (fingers still crossed) The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Yes, I know it’s slated for a ‘limited’ Christmas release, and in for some weird reason there isn’t any attention being given to it, but I’m still really hoping that Asheville gets it.

    I’m at least curious about both. There’s something that doesn’t quite work for me about the trailer for The Lovely Bones, but we’ll see. At least the distributor is bring it in for a press screening. Not so Sony Classics with Dr. Parnassus, who say they can’t afford to do screenings and aren’t sending out screeners — for either it or Almodovar’s Broken Embraces.

  6. Ken Hanke

    And by the way, I saw Fantastic Mr. Fox last night. If it’s maybe not quite everything I hoped, it’s awfully close.

  7. Me

    Went to see Fantastic Mr. Fox last night and it was all kinds of fun. I know that Rankin/Bass was the inspiration here but it really reminded me of those Penny bits from Pee Wees Playhouse.

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