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Nov 30, 2009

Fletch's Film Review Blitz: The Men Who Stare at Goats, The Messenger, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Precious

The Men Who Stare at Goats
Lyn Cassady is a man on a mission, the only problem being that he doesn't quite know what that mission is. Bob Wilton is a man looking for a mission - a purpose for putting himself in Iraq. Lucky for Bob, he meets Lyn, and the two form an unlikely kinship that just might end up serving both their needs.

George Clooney shines as usual playing Lyn - the goofiest of goofballs, a self-proclaimed "Jedi warrior" - with a straight face. Goats parallels Three Kings along multiple lines (Clooney, an Iraq war, dramedy), but Grant Heslov's film doesn't quite match the intensity or comedy of David O. Russell's Kuwaiti heist flick. The plot and tone zig and zag all over the map, and while veterans such as Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges are around to keep it somewhat grounded, the pacing and frenetic quality of the story (multiple flashbacks, lots of characters) are too far ahead for the less-than-stellar writing to catch up.

Fletch's Film Rating:
"You seem a decent fellow. I hate to kill you."
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The Messenger
On the other side of the spectrum is Oren Moverman's is-but-it-isn't Iraq War drama The Messenger, a tough to watch but worth it film focusing on a profession I can't recall seeing portrayed much in film. As expected, it's an acting clinic, with award-worthy performances from leads Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster (compiling an awesome resume) and supporter Samantha Morton.

Foster's an injured "hero" just returned from Iraq who's having a hard time adjusting to that tag, along with life back in the states. Harrelson is the commanding officer he's assigned to, working as the next of kin notifiers of deceased soldiers.

Messenger treads some familiar ground, from post-traumatic stress disorder to the loss of loved ones, but little thought is usually given to the emotions and treatment the casualty notification officers are forced to endure. Additionally, the handful of scenes where they deliver the bad news are fresh and unpredictable spontaneous, something few films can offer these days. If the Best Supporting Actor category had ballooned to ten nominees as well, I wouldn't be shocked to see a nod to Steve Buscemi as a distraught father; as is, his role (and this film) is too small.

Fletch's Film Rating:
"It's in the hole!"
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Fantastic Mr. Fox
I'm gonna go ahead and ignore that terrible tagline for now...(click image to enlarge)

Wes Anderson's last film, The Darjeeling Limited, seemed to be a no-win situation for him. It was another worthy addition to his canon, but felt like too much of the same to too many of his fans. The threat of caricature loomed: take disjointed family, add hyper-specific attention to detail, throw in a dash of 60s and 70s pop/rock and a penchant for slow-motion sequences, and blend. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Funny how a simple change of scenery can make such a vast difference. Anderson's delving into stop-motion seems nothing short of revolutionary in his first time out, giving Fantastic a feel like no other film, with a perfect blend of Anderson regulars (Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray) and you'd-never-know-they-were newcomers (Clooney, Meryl Streep) on board as vocal talent. The usual doom-and-gloom of paternal issues is gone (mostly), replaced by a pair of clicks, some whistling, and loads of exuberance.

One of the year's best - though don't let the animation and animals fool you; this ain't for the little kiddies but for adults (minus the psychoanalysis of that other children's book adaptation from last month).

Fletch's Film Rating:
"You're the best...around"
Shaky Cam Rating (details):LAMBScore:
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Precious answers that long-asked question of "What if we remade Lean on Me, but instead of focusing on Joe Clark, we focused on Sams and made him a girl?"

Outside of the central character being a student (and a female at that), Precious felt much like Morgan Freeman's high school drama, just as it evokes feelings of Stand and Deliver, Dangerous Minds, and even last year's Paris-set The Class. Kind of makes you wonder where all the buzz is coming from (or why), considering how familiar we are with this kind of story.

What does make this film stand out from the crowd are the out-of-nowhere acting jobs on display (covered ad nauseum) and the (500) Days of Summer-like touches by director Lee Daniels where we delve into Precious' mind, giving the actors a chance to play dress-up for some imaginative dream sequences.

I've yet to decide where I come down on the movie's message, if only because it is so mixed. It's not as though that's a bad thing, however; with such complicated issues, there ought not to be a simple solution or a single finger in which to assign blame.

Fletch's Film Rating:
"Darn tootin!"
Shaky Cam Rating (details):LAMBScore:
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12 people have chosen wisely: on "Fletch's Film Review Blitz: The Men Who Stare at Goats, The Messenger, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Precious"

Colin Biggs said...

Big fan of Fantastic Mr. Fox as well. Might pose a challenge to UP.

Completely unrelated but hilarious.
Patton Oswalt parodies The Room


Film Gal said...

At least George picked one good one! He lends his voice well. I have no need to see the Goats after having seen the Foxes.

Nick said...

Well then... I adored "Goats," as you know from my review. But I was never interested in "Fox."

I wanna see Messenger, but it wasn't released here.

Steve said...

You're an editing machine, Fletch. I don't think any of these merit a first run screening, but I think I now know which one gets first pick for watching on DVD. Make mine Mr. Fox!

Fletch said...

Fitz - I wish it could challenge Up, but the Pixar pic once again has an emotional advantage over its sure-to-be- competitor(s) in the Animated Film category.

AWESOME Oswalt video - I hadn't seen that. Thanks.

Film Gal - as you can see from Nick's comment below, I wasn't exactly the nicest to Goats. It's not a bad film by any stretch; it's pretty funny at times, I just felt like the mood was a bit scattered and the actors were better than the material itself.

Nick - I still don't get what/why you loved it so much, but to each their own.

Yea, look out for The Messenger. Foster is rivaling Gosling and Gordon-Levitt as my favorite "younger" actor, if not outright favorite.

Steve - Well, I see most current flicks in the theater if I'm gonna see them, so if it's of remote interest, I'll likely give it a go, and I maintain that I review every theatrical viewing here on da blog, so sometimes I get backed up. Like I was until now. *sigh of relief*

Nick said...

Fletch: Right now, go to Netflix and put "Bang Bang You're Dead" on your queue. It's Foster's best movie, hands down, and the reason I started keeping an eye on the guy in the first place. He's phenomenal in it.

JacksSmirkingRevenge said...

Ironic. I have a netflix copy of "Bang Bang Your Dead" at my house right now.

Nick said...

Jacks: I own the DVD... It's nearly impossible to find these days (I think they stopped producing the DVDs), but it's a brilliant movie.

Fletch said...

Nick - I ain't gots no Netflix. But if and when I go to Blockbuster, I'll look for it. Maybe you'll have to loan me your copy. :P

Nick said...

Gets you some Netflix, boi!

r4i software said...

There were only a few things about this movie that made me believe that it was based on true facts. One is the fact that I did hear about the government putting people in a room and playing I LOVE YOU "BARNEY" music. Years ago. And the other would be I think that the government financed the making of this movie to take our hard earned money. Because although we love George we wanted to leave 1/4 of the way through the movie. Tickets, Popcorn, sodas $60.00. That is a days pay...........We felt like the goats and wanted to die.

Reel Whore said...

I only read the animal movies, Goats & Fox, since I haven't seen the others, but kudos on two excellent recaps.

Maybe this'll finally inspire me to write my review of both of those.