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Notes from the back row

Mr. Fox Fantastic



First off, let's raise a glass to Shauna Hardy Mishaw, Stacey Donen and the entire staff of the Whistler Film Festival for another year of incredible films from all over the world screening right here in Whistler. We're truly lucky to have such a kick-ass event in our quiet mountain town.

With things back to normal the Village 8 is opening Fantastic Mr. Fox this week and it's the best movie I've seen all year. Working in the tedious stop-motion genre for the first time, Wes Anderson (Life Aquatic, Royal Tenenbaums) mixes a clever family picture with a slick heist movie and the results are stupendous.

Anderson films always take place in a unique and stylized world and now, with total control over everything in the frame, his sense of exquisite detailing and sharp dialogue culminate in near perfection. George Clooney voices the ever-optimistic Mr. Fox who is out to plunder the estates of three grouchy farmers. Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman and Willem Dafoe round out the cast and everyone dances around the fantasy/reality line perfectly. There isn't much emotional resonance in Fantastic Mr. Fox but Roald Dahl's classic 1970s children's story couldn't have been adapted any better. Not everyone understands and appreciates Wes Anderson's humour but those who do are in for a treat. See this movie.

Also opening is Clint Eastwood's Invictus, the story of a historic black president attempting to unite and repair a tattered country - but hold on there Obama, the based-on-a-true-story film is about Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman). Freshly elected president after almost three decades in prison, Mandela enlists rugby player Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon) to lead his team to World Cup glory and inspire a divided South Africa along the way.

Clint Eastwood, 80 years old now, delivers a safe, classic-looking film that watches well but doesn't blow your mind. Freeman and Damon do good work (especially Freeman) but the script doesn't get as deep as it could and the racist character arcs are nothing we haven't seen before. The rugby-as-a-vehicle-for-cultural-unity concept elevates Invictus slightly above the standard clichéd sports film, as does the fact that things really went down like this. Eastwood doesn't force-feed the sentimentality like he has before (Million Dollar Baby.) All in all, a decent flick from a real journeyman director, but not exceptional.

Sticking with race issues, but back into the realm of animation, The Princess and the Frog is Disney's first film with a black princess. Good stuff, it only took them 80 years.

The flick is a hard-working tale of dreamer/waitress who kisses a frog prince, gets turned into a frog herself, then hops through the Bayou learning moral lessons from various talking animals. It's all pretty down-home and Disney will surely come under fire for flirting with cliché and relegating its black heroine into an amphibian for most of the picture but the truth is Disney movies are always full of cultural generalizations (Mermaids everywhere are still up in arms about Arial's apparent eating disorder) so leave your socio-cultural expectations at the door and enjoy The Princess and the Frog for what it is - a nice hand-drawn cartoon with a cute princess, an alligator playing the trumpet and a bouncy jazz-era feel.

The DVD of the week is The Cove, that sickeningly sad but fantastically made documentary about a bunch of idiots in Japan that trap and slaughter hundreds of dolphins in a specific cove year after year. It's a documentary told in espionage thriller style but the results are utterly shocking and shameful. Watch this and Sharkwater back to back and you'll be ready to go toss an extension cord over a tree branch and call it a day.