January 09, 2004

Big Fish

Half Magic

Big Fish, big guy Big Fish

with: Ewan McGregor (young Edward Bloom), Albert Finney (older Edward Bloom), Billy Crudup (Will Bloom), Jessica Lange (older Sandra Bloom), Alison Lohman (younger Sandra Bloom), Matthew McGrory (a very tall man), and Helena Bonham Carter, Robert Guillaume, Steve Buscemi, Danny DeVito, Marion Cotillard, and cats of various professions.
Running time: 125 minutes

My last night in NY, what else could I do but go back to the same theatre that impressed me before. On a Friday night its elegant charm is transformed into a bit of a Grand Central Station atmosphere, but it still gets high marks. Big Fish played in a larger theatre than the one where I saw Calendar Girls (no doubt supplanting Return of the King, which is now showing on only two of the cinema's fifteen screens, woe betide). The maze of passageways it took to reach theatre ten (the individual screens are staggered in unusual ways to make the most of the space) made it an adventure getting into the room, and I was surprised that we ultimately reached a theatre of fairly decent size rather than a little box tucked in an out-of-the-way place. About seven rows of twenty-four seats in the "orchestra," a row of 15 accessible seats, then 14 rows of 20 to 24 stadium seats. The audience didn't exactly fill the room.

To see or not to see

Pretty to look at, ultimately weak, but powered by Ewan McGregor's litle-kid smile and Albert Finney's depths. Low-key and predictable, but interesting. Slide along with it for a couple of hours. It is referential to several others of director Tim Burton's movies, but don't get distracted by that sort of thing, and try not to worry about the obviousness of every turn or the "in case you didn't get it we'll show it again or narrate it or both" moments studded throughout (and at the very end).

Billy Crudup as the son trying to convince his father in an eleventh-hour reconciliation to abandon his tall-tales and reveal "the real you" is a little bland, but he is an adequate conduit for the viewer. All the actors do solid work. Jessica Lange is stunningly beautiful without much else to do than be concerned and loving and accepting. Helena Bonham Carter is as weird as always. There are perhaps one-and-a-half magic moments where tall tale and Will's stolid devotion to reality threaten to overlap (Wait a moment—what was that in the water?) and out of the superficiality a finger taps you on the back and dares you to believe. And the lesson on how to handle a werewolf may be the film's funniest quirkiness. Unfortunately, these moments are fleeting. The one tall tale with a truly sharp edge might have been played as a vindictive swipe at an old enemy by giving him a particularly undignified demise, and might have added more humanity to the older version of the father. Though repeated three times it is each time is presented with as light a touch and as much for gentle laughter as the tale about going courting with daffodils.

The story may have played better in the source material—tall tales in a book (the film is based on the novel by Daniel Wallace)—than in a movie, where one is faced with the visuals of a mysteriously integrated 1950s Alabama town. If anyone can handle the transition of such a concept to film it should have been Tim Burton. Perhaps one of the tricks about tall tales is that they are so much better when allowed to grow, implanted in the imagination, than when shown in fixed details on a screen.

Outside Food: Swedish Fish and the Gummi Worms to hook them, which, it turns out, were the wrong bait. I was going to bring Goldfish crackers, but I am disturbed by a snack that smiles back until you bite their heads off.


Commercials for Final Fantasy games and movietickets.com, which is apparently how idiots buy their movie tickets. Not a great advertising concept, at least not for this crowd. Comment heard from more than one direction: "Say, can't you do that with Fandango?" The usual Pepsi commercial! Eeek! "Pepsi loves hot dogs; hot dogs love Pepsi." I hate hot dogs; does it follow I should hate Pepsi? Zombies love Pepsi, too, but I've already mentioned this. Mercifully, only three adverts before the "no talking, turn off your cel phones" reels and the previews.

Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!: Not sure what we are meant to care about here—I suppose the fantasy of winning a date with Orlando Bloom—I mean, the character Tad Hamilton!—and then hoping the nice guy will win the gal in the end and the movie star will learn the meaning of sincerity! Other than that, it's a movie about a gorgeous chick who wins a date with a handsome actor guy, presumably transforming her life from gloom to glam, while the "nerdy" guy who really isn't all that hard on the eyes as he is a handsome actor guy himself, fears he has lost her! With Topher Grace, Kate Bosworth, Jeff Duhamel, and an exclamation point.

That remake I discussed in the last review: Southern con artist played by Tom Hanks with imperfect teeth, and sassy gospel-music woman and google-eyed hiphop guy, not played by Tom Hanks. I suppose Hanks can pull this off, even if it is filled with those comical black people.

That Owen Wilson flick I discussed in the last review: Due in theatres January 30, if you must. The chick lead seems to be doing a creditable Owen Wilson impersonation. I still flinched when she stretched and her ribcage leapt out through her skin.

The Stepford Wives are back: I briefly thought this might have been a rethought trailer for the I, Robot movie. Pans of high-end, slick Gucci type products with techno-font titles: This is your life. Everything you own is beautiful. For the man who has everything: Nicole Kidman. Everyone else is in it, so I suppose I'll go see it. Also, the hint they may be doing it camp-in-cheek is promising.

Secret Window: Johnny Depp, an author, toils away in solitude in an abandoned cabin (as we authors are wont to do), his very own Panic Room at the lake, only to discover that he has inexplicably rewritten someone else's manuscript. Said someone appears, with those words every author hates to hear, "You stole my story," which mutates into those words authors hear in Stephen King novels and at most conventions and book signings, "Fix the ending." Is the mysterious visitor a nutcase? A serial killer? A stereotypical hick character from Deliverance? I heart Johnny Depp, so I will no doubt eventually learn the truth.

50 First Dates: More rocky beaches. More skinny women—in fact, Drew Barrymore is airbrushed in the posters into a size -2. She has a Soldier in the Mist problem: no short-term memory due to an accident, leaving her unable to remember what has happened from day to day. It's Groundhog Day with neurological damage, plus Dan Akroyd. Love-interest Adam Sandler plays a veterinarian, but maybe he finds the secret to healing her through his research on walrus tusks. Opens on Valentine's Day, as if that will help. Posted by OutsideFood at January 9, 2004 12:00 PM

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