While "Fantastic Mr. Fox" may be a stop-action animation film, it's all Wes Anderson.
Adapted from the Roald Dahl kids book, it features the voices of Meryl Streep and Bill Murray, along with George Clooney in the title role.
Like Dahl, Anderson possesses an off-kilter, sly sensibility. We're introduced to dapper Mr. Fox as he leans against a tree, "The Ballad of Davy Crockett" on the soundtrack. A family man, he's trying to go straight, keeping a promise to his wife (Streep) to stop stealing chickens.
That's not going to last - instincts, you know. This will get him and his family in trouble with the powerful landowners around. But like other Anderson films - "The Darjeeling Limited" and "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" - "Mr. Fox" has a theme of fathers and sons. Mr. Fox's son, Ash (Jason Schwartzman), is sullen and never feels he can measure up. The visit from a cousin named Kristofferson (Eric Anderson), seemingly perfect, only makes matters worse.
And while adults pick up on the subtext, everyone will enjoy the zaniness of the film. "Mr. Fox," written by Anderson and Noah Baumbach, is filled with clever lines, which are delightfully delivered by the cast. It's also colorful and despite having an almost quaint quality in the this CGI age, looks fresh and vibrant.
It's a fun and refreshing quirky entertainment for all ages.
"The Blind Side," from a book by Michael Lewis, is a feel-good movie that not everybody feels good about. It's the true story of a poor black teenager, Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), who is taken in by a wealthy white evangelical family in Memphis and becomes a football star in high school and then at the University of Mississippi.
Oscar winner Sandra Bullock plays Leigh Anne Tuohy, a successful decorator. Her husband, Sean (nicely played by Tim McGraw), knows how to get out of the way of his strong-willed wife. The couple has a pretty teen daughter named Collins (Lily Collins) and a rambunctious son, S.J. (Jae Head), enrolled at a Christian school.
The school's coach spots Michael's athletic ability and uses his pull to get him in the school. One night the Tuohys spot the 300-pound-plus 16-year-old Michael walking alone. Finding he has no home, Leigh Anne invites him into the family's home.
As the Tuohys accept Michael into the family, the film, directed by John Lee Hancock ("The Rookie," "The Alamo"), pretty much glosses over the bleak side of the teen's past, concentrating on positive aspects of the story. Michael needed academic help to play sports, and had he not had it, might have ended up back on the streets. And in a wealthy white community, a black teen was seen with suspicion - or at least as an oddity.
The film pretty much sticks to a feel-good formula. There are scenes of Michael's inevitable success, moments of laughter and moments to pull the heartstrings. The sourness of some critics stems from how "saintly white people do the saving," as one review put it, believing that the Tuohys were only attracted to Michael because he had football potential.
It's easy to be cynical; it's rare for people to actually take action. So give the Tuohys credit. The film addresses the issue but not too deeply. But the results for the real Oher speak for themselves. Last fall, as a No. 1 draft-choice rookie, he started all the games for the Baltimore Ravens, a playoff team.
On one level, the title "The Blind Side" refers to the way an offensive lineman protects his quarterback from a hit; on another it's about looking beyond racial and economic lines to see something more. That's not a bad thing, even if the film overplays its hand.
And while Bullock's performance may not have been Academy Award-winning in other years, it's fun and disarming as she tells a drug dealer who threatens Michael, "I'm in a prayer group with the D.A. I'm a member of the NRA and I'm always packing."
Bizarre tale, well-told
"The Men Who Stare at Goats" is a crazy tale of how the Army tried to create super soldiers after the Vietnam War. It's a comedy.
The film, directed by George Clooney's producing partner, Grant Heslov, is a fictionalization of the story based on the nonfiction book by Jon Ronson. Clooney plays Lyn Cassady, who appears to be a burned-out vet to journalist Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) when the two meet in Iraq during the first Gulf war.
Eventually, Lyn tells Bob about how he had been part of a secret group that tried all kinds of New Age ways to kill the enemy, including a death stare, which is where the title comes from. They also tried to walk through walls.
What this bizarre film adds up to is anybody's guess, but it's weirdly amusing, and the loosey-goosey performances by Clooney, McGregor, Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges as a hippie vet are a trip.
Keep in mind
How can anyone not love "The African Queen"? The Humphrey Bogart-Katharine Hepburn pairing was inspired. With a screenplay by James Agee and John Huston and directed by Huston, the 1951 film is a classic in every sense. Paramount has come out with a new commemorative edition - first time on Blu-ray - that includes a new documentary and collectibles.
"The Prisoner," the AMC miniseries that is a reimagining of the cult series from the 1960s, boasts a stylish performance by Ian McKellen as No. 2. But the story of a former intelligence worker (Jim Caviezel as No. 6) kidnapped to a mysterious isolated colony where the people are only known as numbers rambles too much. Not bad, but not compelling enough.
And Season Three of the award-winning "Mad Men" has top ad executive Don Draper (Jon Hamm) trying to extricate himself from his problems, with the last two episodes signaling a changing world with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.