Saturday, February 27, 2010

America's Ghosts

Major Spoilers Herein

Who but Martin Scorsese could take a text that, on the surface, reeks of genre tropes and turn it into an intensely personal work of art? Scorsese has given the ghost story a radical face lift - Shutter Island is less about things that go bump in the night than it is about the ghosts in our soul, the ones that don't ever go away, the ones that haunt us individually and as a society. No doubt some will look at the picture and see nothing but the labyrinth plot, myriad twists (including a third act revelation that most will probably see coming a mile away), and the period details and think that's all there is to it, but like the best of Scorsese's work this is a film with a dark, tortured soul. Though on the surface this is a radical departure from what we've come to expect from Martin Scorsese, it's perfectly consistent with themes the director has been presenting his entire career.

The film's protagonist, Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio, in another great performance under Scorsese) is a veteran of World War II and a Federal Marshal assigned to investigate a missing patient at the titular island, the home of a mental institution for the criminally insane, the kind of people that other hospitals won't take. We're introduced to Daniels in a claustrophobic close up as he battles a bout of seasickness en route to Shutter Island, and this unsettling image highlights immediately that this is going to be one of the Scorsese pictures that plunges us square within the psychological state of mind of its main character. Scorsese, who has at his heart always been an expressionist, is often at his best when dramatizing a wounded psyche and a tormented soul, and DiCaprio's Teddy Daniels is certainly not without his share of personal tragedy: in addition to fighting in World War II and being present at the liberation of Dachau, we learn that his wife (an ethereal Michelle Williams) died young.

While the use of World War II and Holocaust imagery could have easily been nothing more than dramatic placating, Scorsese so intimately relates that horrific imagery to his character's personal tragedy that it's not just a cheap narrative device. From his early short The Big Shave (initially titled Viet '67, which gives you a clearer idea of what Scorsese was going for) and Taxi Driver, Scorsese is an artist who has been able to dramatize what war does to the human condition, and the massive guilt and psychological transgression that results from witnessing and participating in such extreme violence. The Big Shave stands as a testament to the frame of mind of a nation dealing with war as well as the trauma of the individuals who fight it, as the main character shaves himself in front of a mirror, first shaving away all his facial hair and then eventually cutting himself; though he lays on the political sentiment a little thick, the film is nevertheless incredibly effective. In Taxi Driver Robert De Niro's Travis Bickle is also a veteran of Vietnam, and this is a key element of understanding Bickle's behavior throughout the film, as he sees the streets of New York as a jungle that only he can tame. I bring up these two early works because I feel they are both important to understanding the drama at the heart of Shutter Island, though instead of post-Vietnam anxiety Scorsese here is summing up post-World War II and Cold War dread.

Which is not to say that the film doesn't work on the level of film-noir mystery/thriller. The film is extraordinarily well constructed, and with the exception of a few short sequences that feel like tired exposition to throw the audience off balance with respect to the central mystery, nary a moment passes that doesn't fit into the tapestry of the film. Scorsese's intimate knowledge of film history helps bring the genre and period details alive; the film has an atmosphere that feels like big budget Val Lewton filmed by Hitchcock. The script is tightly constructed and captures the '50s without having to resort to hackneyed and cliched period shorthand. The plot feels fairly by the numbers - Daniels and his partner, a pitch perfect Mark Ruffalo (who captures the unique spoken tempo seen in film noirs of the 50s), are sent to the island to investigate an escaped prisoner who's crime was that she drowned her three children in a lake behind her house - or so we're told. As Daniels digs deeper and deeper into the investigation , he begins to suspect something is afoul at the mental institution, and attempts to uncover a massive conspiracy involving fun activities such as Nazi-esque experiments on the mind, funded by no less than the House of Un-American Activities.

Much has been made of the aforementioned third act revelation, some stating that they find the twist to be a cheap parlor trick beneath a master like Martin Scorsese. But I find it impossible to engage with how the picture is distinctly Scorsese, far more so than his other collaborations with DiCaprio, without acknowledging the way this twist plays into themes the director has been dealing with throughout his career. After DiCaprio's Teddy Daniels spends the duration of the film chasing lead after lead, it's revealed that Daniels, real name Andrew Laeddis, is actually a patient at the mental hospital and what we've been watching is a radical role-playing experiment, designed to help Laeddis come to terms with the heartbreaking tragedy of his past. Not merely the passing of his wife and the devastating sights he'd witnessed while fighting in World War II, though that is certainly no small part of it, but that it was his wife who was mentally unbalanced and drowned their three children in a lake, and he'd forged the Daniels identity and created the conspiracy in his own mind to avoid acknowledging his personal tragedy.

This revelation, in addition to providing an ending that "keeps you guessing" (as the ads proudly proclaim, as though that's even much of an accomplishment), is an absolute kick in the gut from a dramatic standpoint. There is a reason that conspiracy theories - from Pearl Harbor to JFK to the moon landing to 9/11 - take on a life of their own. Though they imply a much darker, more sinister reality, they also imply an order to the world that simply does not exist - in their own, bizarre way, conspiracy theories are actually more comforting than the chaotic, anarchic world we inhabit (take this from a former tin-foil hat wearer): a world where bad things happen to good people, where the depth of tragedy knows no bounds, where the one good thing you have in the world can be suddenly and violently ripped away from you. The sequence that illustrates DiCaprio's character breaking through and acknowledging his own past - a vivid, haunting nightmare of a sequence where Laeddis comes home from work to find his wife soaking wet and his three children dead in the lake, pulls them out and lays them to rest in the yard, and then shoots his wife dead after he asks her to "set [her] free" - is so fully realized in the dramatic sense that it breaks your heart. Of all the tragic, horrible, fucked up things Martin Scorsese has put in front of a camera in his career as a director, this may stand as the most tragic, horrible, and fucked up yet. Considering the magnitude of Laeddis' personal tragedy, it's difficult to blame him for living in a fictional reality - in spite of his alternate reality's dark implications, it's still far easier to cope with than his personal tragedy. A large part of this sequence's effectiveness stems from DiCaprio's remarkably nuanced portrayal - though some will never be able to look past his heartthrob phase, he has shown much depth as an actor, and he has evolved considerably under the watchful eye of Martin Scorsese.

This is the point where the key Scorsese theme comes in to the film - penance. From that early short The Big Shave through Mean Streets and his great Paul Schrader collaborations Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ, and Bringing out the Dead has been atoning for one's sins - some would say that this is merely Catholic guilt manifested cinematically, but Scorsese relates the concept of shame to human experience richly enough that it's not expressly theological. After his breakthrough, Laeddis is informed that if he doesn't accept reality - that if he regresses back to thinking he's Teddy Daniels investigating the big-bad mental hospital - then they will be forced to lobotomize him so that he can no longer harm other patients or hospital workers (he is, after all, trained as a solider and Federal Marshal). Immediately after the sequence when Laeddis acknowledges the truth of who he is and what he's done, there is a short sequence of him talking to his 'partner' (who is revealed to be his psychiatrist), and he seems to have regressed back to the Daniels persona - he talks to his doctor like he's his partner, asking him what their next move is, and Laeddis' doctor makes a gesture to the medical staff that, tragically, their experiment did not work and a portion of his brain must be removed. But Scorsese throws in a line that complicates things that, from what I understand, is not in the novel - he says to his partner/doctor "This place makes me wonder which would be worse: to live as a monster, or to die as a good man", and he marches off, and his fate is implicit. The question, though, is whether he honestly regressed or if he knowingly baited them into thinking that he had regressed, so he no longer had to live within himself. It adds an incredibly moving element of complexity and ambiguity to the film, though either way the implications are both tragic and deeply disturbing.

While the film is viewed by some amongst the critical community as a slight genre effort from a renowned master after a string of Oscar-bait (though I don't feel either of these criticisms are accurate), this is the most distinctly Scorsese of all of his DiCaprio collaborations - Gangs of New York was a long gestating passion project, Aviator was more a DiCaprio project that Scorsese finessed, and The Departed was the slight genre effort Shutter Island is being written off as that retroactively became Ocar-bait by virtue of the fact that it won an Oscar. Though Shutter Island can indeed be appreciated as the thrill-a-minute-keep-you-guessing mystery film that it's being advertised as, Scorsese has managed to manifest his personal vision in a work that seems fairly atypical of its genre, and what may be the year's first truly great film is the result.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Fort Hollywood, My Home Town

This is my contribution to For The Love of Film: The Film Preservation Blogathon, hosted by Marilyn Ferdinand and Farran Nehme, a.k.a. The Siren. The Blogathon runs from February 14-21.

An interesting footnote of American film history is that before there was Hollywood, California there was Fort Lee, New Jersey. It doesn't have quite the same ring to it (perhaps not where a young mechanic can be a panic), but for all intents and purposes it's the location of the birth of a large-scale motion picture industry, one of the first the world had ever seen. The fact that the industry was born here is fitting really, as Thomas Edison and his assistant W.K.L. Dickson invented the 'Kinetograph' (history has suggested that Dickson was the more instrumental of the two), a crude early version of the movie camera which was designed to shoot films for Edison's Kinetoscope (essentially an early version of the Nickelodeon) when located at Edison's lab in West Orange, New Jersey. Edison also built his famous "Black Maria" soundstage in Fort Lee, thought of as the first proper film studio. But Fort Lee was the artistic home of many legends of the early medium: D.W. Griffith (as actor and director), Douglas Fairbanks, Fatty Arbuckle, Buster Keaton, Theda Bara, Oscar Micheaux, Mary Pickford, W.C. Fields, The Marx Brothers, Raoul Walsh, Lionel, John and Ethel Barrymore are among the noteworthy artists and performers to have worked in the town. In addition to this, Fort Lee housed many early manifestations of some of the medium's most noteworthy studios: Metro Pictures Corporations, Fox, Biograph, Keystone, The Champion Film Company (a precursor of Universal Studios) and Selznick Picture Corporations are examples of some of the studios that operated directly across the river from New York City.

The proximity of Fort Lee and the New Jersey Palisades (the term 'cliffhanger' is said to refer to the area's distinctive cliffs) to New York was what initially attracted film makers to the area, as the large amount of undeveloped land created an ideal situation for location shooting as well as land to build studios on. One of the earliest films shot in Fort Lee was Rescued from an Eagle's Nest (pictured below), directed by Thomas Edison and staring a young actor named David Wark Griffith, who would later achieve some notoriety as a director. Griffith got his proverbial foot in the door on these hallowed grounds, and soon after his appearance in Edison's film he would begin a prosperous relationship with Biograph as actor and later as a director (probably most noteworthy is the fact that Griffith shot some exteriors for his seminal The Musketeers of Pig Alley in Fort Lee).

As more and more studios began to set up shop in Fort Lee, the area became more and more prosperous. Between businesses designed to help the movie companies and businesses catering to the tourism of the area, Fort Lee became the first great movie town in America.

Alas, as with all great American institutions - from the Colonies to Baseball - a Westward pilgrimage was imminent, taking the movies away from the East Coast and relocating them to sunny California. Nestor Studios, which operated out of Bayonne, New Jersey, was the pioneer of West Coast based film making, as they were looking to make use of California's vast open spaces and year round warm weather (Nestor Studios would eventually be swallowed by mega-conglomerate Universal). Other studios quickly followed suit. Some studios kept their labs located on the East Coast but by the early 1920s the movie industry had more or less completely relocated to Hollywoodland.

The tragic element of this story is that very few of the films shot in Fort Lee have survived to this day. Studio fires were fairly common, between ultra-flammable nitrate film stock and the fact that the studios were built with large windows that trapped heat in the studios like a greenhouse (example below), and one studio after another burned to the ground. For instance, The Marx Brothers first film Humor Risk was screened once in New York and is thought to be lost forever. The incredibly rich cinematic history of Fort Lee has been almost completely destroyed, which is a hole in my heart, as I would love to see what my hometown looked like a century ago. Who knows what early masterpieces will remain unseen for all time?

And this is, as they say, the hook. So many films - as valuable a cultural indicator as we have - run the risk of suffering the fate the films of Fort Lee did. But we know so much more about the art and science of preserving films now, the only thing that's missing (and it's a big thing) is monetary support. That's why two of the most wonderful writers on the internet joined forces for this blogathon: to raise awareness and money for this most noble cause. As film bloggers, we do something very valuable by sharing our views with the world and engaging with works of art, but this cause is extremely important. This is bigger than all of us. It's estimated that 75% of all silent films are lost forever, though this is impossible to accurately gauge as accurate records were not kept at that time. I'm sure that 75% contains more than a few duds, but isn't it possible that we've lost films on the level of Metropolis, The Passion of Joan of Arc, or The Last Laugh? Though the quality of the films saved is virtually irrelevant, at any rate - as Henry Langlois said, "One must save everything and buy everything. Never assume you know what's of value. " We need to preserve these films for future generations, and let them decide what's great and what is not. And that starts with us. Donate anything you can spare to The National Film Preservation Foundation. Let's give something back to the medium that has given us so much.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Big Blue

Avatar stands as a wildly uneven summation of director James Cameron's career, embodying every good, bad, awe-inspiring, and downright silly and embarrassing thing about the self proclaimed King of the World. While being touted as the next revolution in movie making, what's most striking about Avatar is how derivative just about every single thing in it is: second hand memories of every science fiction, fantasy, and colonialist tale ever told in every medium abound, and the lack of good storytelling makes the presence of these cliches pretty much inexcusable. The world that James Cameron's film inhabits may be fully realized, but the gateway into that world - actual thematic substance - is virtually nonexistent.

In Jean Luc Godard's In Praise of Love, two characters discuss the massive success of the ex-biggest movie of all time Titanic in a restaurant, and one character states "Why bother saying or writing that Titanic is a global success? Talk about its contents. Talk about things, but don't talk around things. Let's talk on the basis of things." Substitute the word Avatar and Godard's observation is relevant all these years later. It has become virtually impossible to discuss the movie on its own terms, as almost any criticism of the movie can quickly be met with "2 Billion dollars worldwide doesn't lie" or "The numbers speak for themselves" and, yes, both of these observations are correct, but they don't necessarily speak to the actual quality of the movie, merely to the power of the media in creating an 'event'. Anything becomes an event if you say so for long enough, and Cameron was touting that he was looking to redefine movies before a single camera had begun rolling. All the controversy and speculation surrounding Avatar has only assisted in advertising it even more.

But the so-called revolutionary elements have been done before, and done better. The main selling point of Avatar is that it creates its own unique world and submerges the viewer into it via 3D technology, and even people critical of Avatar have cited that the world is immersive; I have seen very few criticisms of the creature and ecological design of the film's setting, Pandora. This is what really makes-or-breaks the film, subjectively speaking - if the viewer finds the cinematic world convincing and enjoys being in it, then it naturally follows that they will enjoy the movie (I have read reports that some people actually "experienced depression and suicidal thoughts after seeing the film because they long to enjoy the beauty of the alien world Pandora", a notion that, if true, makes me depressed and suicidal). Speaking for myself, I never forgot that I was looking at a computerized forest populated by computerized creatures. Though one can't help but marvel at the scope of Avatar's planet, it reflects a stunning lack of imagination on Cameron's part, as it's ultimately nothing more than a cartoon forest. The creature design leaves much to be desired, as well, because all of the animals look like their earthly counterpart with a skewed color palette and odd flailing limbs.

The obtrusive 3D doesn't help matters much; Cameron filmed the live-action portions with two 3D cameras in an attempt to mimic peripheral vision and, while this idea sounds intriguing on paper, it simply does not work. It makes characters look like cardboard cut outs (which is fitting, really), any implication of depth of field flies out the metaphorical window, and it can occasionally be disorienting, as Cameron will occasionally use a rack focus and the foreground, the pane that is popping out from the screen, will go out of focus. The animated portions don't fare much better, though they're at least watchable, as I don't recall any bone-headed directorial decisions on the level of the rack focus catastrophe. Cameron actually managed to make me physically uncomfortable while watching a movie, and at certain intervals I had to take off the 3D glasses in order rest my eyes. I've seen Avatar twice, once in skullfucking IMAX 3D, the other in my decidedly non-skullfucking home in 2D, and I must say it played much better in traditional 2D; though the inherent silliness is still present, it goes down much smoother, even though it's plain as day that Cameron composed many shots strictly for the purpose of throwing stuff at you, cheapening many of the moments designed for emotional impact. It's always about the spectacle in Avatar.

And as I noted earlier, the spectacle isn't even particularly well done. The action sequences are loud and incoherent - visual noise that, in many instances, isn't even context appropriate. Cameron's big finale is one of the most hypocritical and ideologically confused sequences of the last few years, one that includes the gleeful and wanton slaughter of the SFWM (stupid fucking white man) in his third act epic battle extravaganza. Cameron falls into the trap that Terrence Malick so wonderfully avoided in his masterpiece The New World: Cameron demonizes the SFWM imperialists in cartoonish broad strokes and fetishizes the natives in a manner that is simplistic, disturbing, and kinda perverted - Cameron stated in a Playboy interview that he told his special effects crew that the female Na'vi "got to have tits, even though that makes no sense because [their] race, the Na’vi, aren’t placental mammals". In Cameron's world, the natives are pure, wise and uncorrupted - so much so that an early scene details the female Na'vi, Neytiri, in mourning over some wolf-like creatures that she killed to save the life of the protagonist, Jake Sully, who is foolish enough to thank her for saving his life. "Don't thank! You don't thank for this. This is sad. Very sad only", says Neytiri, proving her love of the planet and respect for all forms of life, though as far as I could tell not a single tear was shed nor a single moment of silence observed for all the SFWM that are killed in Cameron's big finale. In spite of Cameron's blatant anti-American baiting (no small part of its worldwide success, I would wager), he is little more than a cinematic equivalent of George W. Bush, using an act of terrorism - the raping and pillaging of Pandora, including the destruction of a sacred tree, which is a blatant hijacking of 9/11 imagery - to justify further acts of terrorism, slaughter, and destruction.

Cameron has never been known as a wordsmith - even his previous works, many of which I like very much, are sorely lacking in this department - but Avatar's spoken word is about as poorly written as anything I've ever heard in a Hollywood blockbuster; the script is stuffed to the brim with movie trailer style one-liners and scene punctuations. I wouldn't mind such awful writing if I could find other things to admire but the story, visuals, and acting don't exactly pick up the slack. Many have excused the banal writing because they find the visuals so dazzling, but I was never particularly dazzled; when on Pandora, Cameron's camera is constantly moving (so as to impress us with things flying out of the screen), and we never get a particularly good look at the planet because Cameron doesn't believe in static shots anymore, I guess (so 20th Century). What we're left with is a poorly written and badly acted cinematic light show - flashing fluorescents and whooshing sound effects, but no technique or substance behind them.

Avatar is an ingeniously marketed but ultimately empty piece of exhibitionist technology. It is expressly designed to be seen and disposed; the film doesn't linger on a single image, emotion, or idea long enough for anything to register. Like the 3D process Cameron employs, Avatar is just about throwing things out at you, attempting to delight and wow you with its sights and sounds, but its effect is ultimately numbing. James Cameron has shown himself to be in roughly the same film making class as George Lucas: a man who has always been on the forefront of pushing cinematic technology further, but in the CGI-era when anything that can be imagined can be put on a screen, they have allowed technology to override the human interest in their movies. In spite of the fact that Cameron waited 10 years for technology to catch up with his grandiose vision, he was probably better off when a lack of technology forced him to imaginatively make a movie.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Human Touch: Fantastic Mr. Fox

Wes Anderson has always had something of a storybook aesthetic and with his latest, the consistently delightful Fantastic Mr. Fox, the Prince of the American Eccentrics has succeeded in doing something far greater - and much more meaningful - than merely adapting a story to the screen; he has brought a picture book, the kind we all grew up, to vibrant, spirited life. Adapting Roald Dahl's picture book to the screen (the first book he ever owned), Anderson has clearly made a deeply personal work, one you can sense he's wanted to make since he was a child. But Anderson is much too sophisticated an artist to make a film for the child inside him - he fleshes out Roald Dahl's story with a distinctly mature and adult sensibility, and that makes the film more rewarding than the typical family fare that pollutes multiplexes year after year. In a time when movies, especially animated movies, merely cater to their target audience to distract them for a few hours in exchange for a 10 dollar ticket, Wes Anderson has dared to bring a personal vision to the family movie.

Wes Anderson is a film maker who finds beauty in flaws, and in Fantastic Mr. Fox Anderson manifests human foibles - quirks, if you will - in the form of animals: examinations of masculinity, femininity, family, adolescence, and class are all put at the forefront of the movie, and that in itself elevates it above the diversionary family entertainment that the form of animation is unfortunately confined to. Anderson paints the portrait of an animal society where every creature has a well defined role in the animal community; be it a real estate agent, a super, a chef, a lawyer, a musician, a painter, or the author of newspaper editorials - and this is an extremely meaningful linking of a capitalistic society to that of the natural order of the animal kingdom. This examination of a civilization where each person (animal) has a different but equally meaningful place in it is perhaps Anderson's most well pronounced rumination on the true meaning of a community, a theme that has always permeated his work.

But this film is also an examination on the manner in which a civilized society neuters our animal instincts. When we're first introduced to Mr. Fox, he is a wise cracking, arrogant, and untamed wild beast; sneaking onto farms and stealing himself some dinner. Needless to say, this is a dangerous line of work, what with angry farmers who don't like having their property raided by a hungry fox. In the opening scene, Mr. Fox and his wife get caught in a fox trap on a squab farm, and his wife drops the bombshell: she's pregnant, and should they escape the farmer's clutches, she demands that he find another, less dangerous, line of work. Flash forward to 2 years (12 fox years) later, and Mr. Fox is distinctly middle class; a domesticated father, husband, and working man, writing newspaper editorials for the local rag newspaper. He wants to move out of their little hole in the ground (literally) because it 'makes [him] feel poor', and he brazenly ignores the advice of his wife and lawyer (Bill Murray, here manifested in badger form, of the law firm Badger, Beaver & Beaver) and buys himself a house a stone's throw away from the farmers Boggis, Bunce, and Bean: "three of the nastiest, meanest, ugliest farmers in the history of this valley". He does this despite the fact that, as his voice of reason wife points out, foxes live in holes for a reason.

The three neighboring farms light Fox's instincts afire. Fox hatches a Master Plan with the help of his loyal opossum super and friend Kylie to raid each of the local farms over the course of three nights. As he and Kylie sneak onto the farms and steal the farmer's squabs, apples, and alcoholic cider, Fox's Master Plan quickly reveals itself to be more about territoriality than survival, more about hubris than instincts. Fox is simply getting a kick out of 'cussing with their heads'. With this, Anderson reduces masculinity to its animalistic essence, as the back and forth between the animals and the farmers becomes a literal pissing contest. The farmers first attempt to simply shoot the fox, so he runs into his house. The farmers tear the tree down, the foxes dig underground. The farmers rent tractors, the foxes dig further underground. Survival, not social status, becomes the priority of Fox and his family.

However, Fox's antics create something of a crisis in the film's animal society. The farmers' attempts to dig out the Fox family displaces the other animals within his community, and this leads to the typical Andersonian third act where the lovable scamp patriarch convinces everyone to give him another chance and join up with him in an attempt to correct his wrongs. In spite of the fact that this is typical thematic material for Anderson, it feels fresh, mostly because the cast of animal puppets recontextualizes motifs that have come to define Anderson as an artist.

And yet this film is more than an animated Life Aquatic - it is a technical marvel, the most incredible technical achievement of 2009, in spite of the crock of shit James Cameron and his partisans are trying to sell. Every frame is packed with detail; I've seen the film several times and still haven't even come close to absorbing all the nuances that adorn each and every one of Anderson's delicate compositions. And the plethora of detail isn't superfluous eye candy - art design has always been a vital element of his films, saying as much as about his characters and the world they inhabit as their words and actions do. The level of detail both in the puppets and the sets are simply eye popping, and the use of animal fur is one of the many little touches that makes the world feel organic. The animals look so real that you want to reach out and touch them.

The voice acting is also some of the best I have ever heard in an animated movie. Generally in American animated films, the 'name' casting feels utterly tacked on; take the animated films of Dreamworks, for instance, where the character and the voice that emanates from it don't seem to match at all. For Fantastic Mr. Fox Anderson abandoned the usual process of recording in a studio and instead did location recording; in attics, cellars, and in the woods, and that brings a certain ease and spontaneity to the voice performances. There is such a relaxed, almost naturalistic delivery by the voice actors here that you almost completely forget that you're watching puppets synced up to a recorded soundtrack. George Clooney's smooth baritone is a perfect fit for the titular sly fox, Meryl Streep drops the theatrics and is instead soothing as Mrs. Fox, and Jason Schwartzman captures adolescence in all its awkward glory as poignantly as he did in Rushmore over 10 years ago. The supporting players are Anderson's usual cast of characters, merely manifested as animal puppets, so that lends a tone of familiarity to those of us who are familiar with his previous work.

Anderson acolytes and detractors alike will notice how perfectly he has transposed his aesthetic - perhaps the most singular vision in modern American movies - to animation, and some writers have used the fact that he seems to work more comfortably within the realm of animated movies to backhandedly diss his earlier work, specifically his last two, wildly misunderstood movies; as though making idiosyncratic pictures is the worst thing a person could do (perhaps these people live in a fantasy world where too many people are making movies on their own terms). Yes, animation affords Anderson the opportunity to fashion an even more distinct world then he usually does, but Anderson's cinematic universe is and always has been intimately connected to the world we live in, and this connection has never been more evident than in the stop motion puppetry of Fantastic Mr. Fox.