‘Everybody’s Fine,’ ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’

On the Aisle

By Tony Macklin

“Everybody’s Fine” is a nice picture about a dysfunctional family that keeps secrets. It should appeal to nice, dysfunctional, secretive people in the audience, which probably is the majority.

One wonders why Robert De Niro would star in a movie that is so conventional. There isn’t an ounce of Travis Bickle in De Niro’s character Frank. Nor Jake La Motta. Nor Vito Corleone. It’s not that De Niro isn’t capable in “Everybody’s Fine,” it’s just that Frank isn’t a challenging role.

De Niro plays Frank, a blue collar worker who spent his life working with telephone wire to give his children a better life. He is a recent widower and wants his four adult children to visit for a family reunion.

But one by one they send their regrets that they can’t come. None are comfortable with their father. They were close to their mother who kept their secrets from her husband, but they always were somewhat distant from their father. They still are.

Frank decides to visit each offspring and surprise them at their homes in New York, Chicago, Denver and Las Vegas. His lifelong job has effected his lungs, so he has to be careful about traveling. As he goes on his journey, Frank begins to realize how lacking in perception he was. His children still share a secret they don’t want him to know. Frank tries to bridge the distance between him and them.

Director/writer Britisher Kirk Jones (“Nanny McPhee,” “Waking Ned”) came to some fame for his ads for Absolut Vodka. Maybe they kept De Niro in vodka on the shoot.

The opening of the movie shows Jones’s sensibility. When the movie opens with Perry Como singing “Catch a Falling Star,” it’s apt. Frank is mowing his lawn. Then when Jones includes a peeing statue of a boy, we know we are not going to be in the hands of an artist.

At times Jones fumbles reality. There is no way that in a nearly empty railroad car, a woman would be riding backwards facing Frank. Little details such as that are careless. But Jones has some moments that ring true … Frank cursing strongly when he shanks a golf shot. A moment of Frank beside a roadside memorial is understated. And the picture a son painted is emotional for Frank and the audience.

The children are suitably played by Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale and Sam Rockwell, who stands out as the minimally successful son who plays in an orchestra.

De Niro tries to hold the dysfunctional movie together, but memories of his past intrude.

Beckinsale plays an advertising executive. In a “clever” moment of reference when she has Frank attend an ad presentation, a fish asks Frank, “You looking for me?”

Yes, Bob, where have you gone?

‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’

When one first reads the cast list of “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” he assumes it must be a serious heavyweight drama. The cast is a Who’s Who of formidable acting talent: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Willem Dafoe, Brian Cox, Michael Gambon, Adrien Brody, Bill Murray. What a dramatic cast.

However only the cast’s voices arrive on screen. “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is stop-motion animation. But don’t despair, the voices are terrific. Clooney invests Mr. Fox with vibrant personality. And imagine Willem Dafoe as a rat. All the voices have vitality.

The images are their equal. Animation director Mark Gustafson, director of cinematography Tristan Oliver and a crew of technical wizards have matched the voices to engaging images.

“Fantastic Mr. Fox” is based on the book by the late Roald Dahl, so it is whimsical, intelligent and offbeat. It’s the story of freewheeling Mr. Fox, his family and friends and their conflict with three hostile farmers. It is about evolving relationships and their value.

Director/writer Wes Anderson is the unlikely director. Anderson’s films (“Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums”) usually are esoteric. They often seem mannered and stilted, and at times are relegated to cult status.

But in “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” Anderson’s vision is more inclusion. He still is self-involved, but this time it doesn’t get in the way. The film is bustling with film references and catchy music. His eclectic musical score includes Burl Ives, The Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys. This all increases the depth and substance of the movie.

“Fantastic Mr. Fox” is a smart, droll animated film that may not be for everybody, but it has charm and panache.

Categories: Entertainment