Best of the Decade #7: Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

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The #7 film on Film Junk’s list is a recent favorite, and as such is probably at a higher ranking than it would be had it come out years before. Regardless, I am very pleased that despite the gang’s split votes regarding the decade’s animation, Fantastic Mr. Fox has emerged as a consensus pick, allowing us one more chance to pimp this thing out while it is still in theaters.

As the decade began, Wes Anderson was King Shit of Indie Mountain, coming off of the modest success of Bottle Rocket and the breakout of Rushmore. While The Royal Tenenbaums was still well loved, for others it opened the door to the criticisms that continued to dog the new auteur throughout the decade: a reliance on the same themes of rich kids with daddy issues, Futura, old LPs, and senseless character quirks. To make things worse, Wes was ripped off in every which way imaginable, leaving him with an increasingly shrinking audience while those he inspired capitalized off of a more populist approach.

By the time it was released, Fantastic Mr. Fox was a bigger risk than when it had begun production. The Darjeeling Limited had further cemented his reputation among his critics, and even worries among many of his continued supporters. Was Mr. Fox going to be more of the same, just animated? Wes Anderson took his style to a new medium, adapting another person’s material rather than entirely developing his own, so the answer turned out to be both Yes and No. Somehow though, simply embracing his inner Charles Schultz and making the full blown cartoon he kept hinting at in his live-action films has breathed new life and new hope as Wes enters the new decade. Every second of this film is rich in color and texture, lovingly crafted in a way that both reminds of the old Rankin/Bass Christmas toons even as it pushes its animators forward with new and unique challenges. The story is sweet and as sly as its titular character, voiced wonderfully by George Clooney.

While the box office receipts have been sadly disappointing (no 3d = no kids?), Anderson has also delivered the only film in a very strong year for animation with a real chance of unseating the behemoth that is Pixar for Best Animated Feature. Okay, maybe that still won’t happen, but if it is any consolation, Anderson is on our consensus list, and (spoiler alert!) Up is not.

Check out previous entries from our Top 20 Films of the ’00s.

Best of the Decade #11: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

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If you told me as I left the theater from the first entry in The Lord of the Rings trilogy that I’d eventually be writing up an explanation of it as one of the best films of the decade, I’d have said you were crazy. Yes, I initially was not on board with the first of this now beloved set of films. Several revisits of the extended edition have turned me into a believer, even as I continue to make lame jokes about Sam and Frodo’s relationship, walking, and why they should have taken the stupid eagles to Mordor instead. Although it is still the second and third films that I personally prefer, it is The Fellowship of the Ring that sets the table, and thus represents the trilogy on our top 20 list.

Without the passion and dedication of Peter Jackson, I don’t see how this “impossible to film” project could have pulled through. Thanks to the ridiculously detailed extended edition DVDs, we see his fingers helping shape everything from the casting, location scouting and effects, to the restructuring of the book for film. Jackson works as if his entire life depended on it (it probably did), but also with the humor and giddiness of the ultimate fanboy.

The casting spurred the careers of several on board, particularly Viggo Mortensen, while perhaps stunting the careers of several others the way only a Star Wars-level iconic franchise can do. What is more impressive as the series begins is how some of the most important characters are not human at all – and I don’t mean the CGI creations. The One Ring itself takes hold with a diabolical strength beyond any of the orcs hunting the fellowship down, and the sweeping scenery of New Zealand brings Middle Earth to life.

Approaching ten years later, The Lord of the Rings’ achievements seem taken for granted, as if pulling off an adaptation of this magnitude was easy, inevitable and thus owed to us. As we near that anniversary it seems we’ve almost come full circle, as we now sit, wait and worry about what big bad Hollywood will do to The Hobbit.

Check out previous entries from our Top 20 Films of the ’00s.

Best of the Decade #15: Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)

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Of all the movies that will appear on this list, I have to believe this choice will be the most controversial, as comedy is perhaps the most subjective of all genres. There are dozens of other similarly styled comedies from the ’00s which also succeeded at the box office, and our individual lists may actually rank some of them higher. However, for a consensus list, it is Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy that stands tall.

Will Ferrell has to be one of the main reason Anchorman sticks out when choosing a comedy to represent the ’00s. While he (and many others) eventually went through a backlash, there is no question in my mind that Will’s legacy will be as the actor most associated with comedy in the 00s, and Anchorman is his calling card.

Of note is the endless roster of ’00s comedy bigwigs in front of and behind the camera. Judd Apatow as producer. Adam McKay as director. A cast including Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Vince Vaughn, with cameos from SNL and Mr. Show alumni as well as veterans such as Fred Willard and Christina Applegate.

There was so much material left over that they compiled it into a direct-to-DVD “sequel”, which for all its own inherent flaws still manages to be more entertaining than some of Will Ferrell’s own features. If you measure a comedy’s success by the number of genuine laughs and its rewatch value, it’s easy to see why Film Junk considers Anchorman one of its favorite pics of the decade.

Check out previous entries from our Top 20 Films of the ’00s.

Best of the Decade #16: Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (2004)

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The 2000s rehashed a lot of iconic 1980s entertainment, examining the lives of washed up pro wrestlers in film and countless biographies, building blockbuster franchises out of cartoons that existed only to sell toys, and weaving its kitschy style into ironic hipster clothing and music. Emo band members look increasingly like Bret Michaels and C.C. DeVille, synths came back in a big way, and of course the late ’00s resurgence of thrash.

In 2004 though, thrash kingpins Metallica were out of touch with their fans on both a musical and personal level, to the extent of suing them during the advent of the Napster era. They were lucky to have survived the ’90s alternative boom at all, and didn’t appreciate it. They were divas, and even treating each other like shit to the point that longtime bassist Jason Newsted couldn’t take it anymore, and bailed. In order to save the band, Metallica take on a “performance coach”, and what results is alternately hilarious, awkward, and embarrassing. It’s amazing Metallica allowed this to be released, as it was for many the final nail in the coffin regarding their fandom.

But for others it was also the moment of forgiveness for a long span of extremely bad PR. What makes Metallica: Some Kind of Monster so different from Anvil! The Story of Anvil – the other metal documentary on our list – is that this is not an underdog story, and it’s not a Rocky III return to championship form either (the album being made during this doc is easily their worst). These people are not lovable; they are simply fascinating, very different personalities. Paradise Lost directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky loom over their subjects as if they are witnessing a marriage on the brink of divorce, a family unsure why they stay together, questioning their commitment to each other, themselves, and their craft.

It is a testament to the filmmakers that when the film finally shifts to the making of the album, it remains gripping, and you actually hope these assholes will right the ship and have learned their lesson. Judging by where Metallica are now as the decade closes, it would seem their controversial decision to get on the couch was well worth the risk.

Check out previous entries from our Top 20 Films of the ’00s.

Interview: Kenny Hotz, Star of Kenny vs. Spenny

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Kenny Hotz is a writer, director, actor and producer, best known as the co-creator and star of Kenny vs. Spenny, the Canadian comedy/reality series which is currently airing new episodes on Showcase. The show, in which Kenny and his friend Spencer Rice battle each other in a serious of gross-out competitions, has inspired several replicas of its format internationally, and reached US audiences after being discovered by South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker. The cocky Hotz, who assures victory at the start of every episode and is most often correct, recently spoke to Goon about subjects including the current state of the show, accusations of scripting, his other ongoing projects, and the state of Canadian television.

If you would like to see more interviews on Film Junk, please leave a comment or email us your suggestions.

Season 6 is just starting to air – are there any particular episodes coming up that you are especially proud of?

Sure, there are always some diamonds in each season. Who’s a bigger idiot, 69, blacks, mom, better commercial…just to name a few. I’m proud of every one, really our show is great. I fucking love it!

What kind of processes do you go through in editing a show like this? Is it ever difficult to piece the footage together to create a storyline for each episode?

No, the show always cuts itself. Sometimes we have a soft episode but not one of them has sucked. We have some great editors, great music and my funny shit of course. It’s cut like any reality show; it’s pretty linear. You shoot around 30 hours and cut 20 minutes. I don’t know why other reality shows suck so bad.

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Good Hair Review

Good Hair
Directed by: Jeff Stilson
Starring: Chris Rock, Nia Long, Ice-T, Al Sharpton, Maya Angelou, Eve, Tracie Thoms

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I have more rap albums than I have black friends on Facebook, and I don’t have that many rap albums. There is and has always been a lot of black culture that I can only understand so much, but I never really thought about hair’s role. It seems so simple – you grow it, you dye it, you straighten it, you comb it – hair just happens, and I had never bothered to think about dreadlocks or cornrows or even afros beyond the stylistic choice. With this in mind, I was confused about who Good Hair is targeted to. Is it an expose of controversial issues to spur change within the black community, or is it just opening the door into a world someone like me knows nothing about?

The premise of this documentary involves Chris Rock investigating a question from his daughter: “Why don’t I have good (read: Farrah Fawcett-ish, flowing, not nappy) hair?”. This leads him on a Michael Moore-ish journey through the $9 billion black hair industry, from relaxers to weaves to the doc’s stability device: a ridiculous hair expo stage event in Atlanta that puts pageantry and pomp over pure skill. A better reference than Moore may be Chris Bell’s 2008 steroid culture documentary Bigger Stronger Faster*, where the issues of vanity are also relevant beyond its specific subjects. While Stilson’s film doesn’t have (or need) the same personal punch, the light-hearted yet serious tone and editing style will seem familiar. Chris Rock as the catalyst for discovery makes for a very entertaining and amusing watch. Rock’s quips and reactions serve as a gateway for pasty white Canadians like me who without a guide may have no idea what the fuck they’re watching, and could not fathom why people would subject themselves to the activities involved in achieving “good hair”.

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A Serious Man Review

A Serious Man
Written and Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring: Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Fred Melamed, Aaron Wolff

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In an age of high profile franchise blockbusters, months in advance it becomes very apparent via very expensive marketing campaigns what the year’s event films are going to be. For me though, it is instead a handful of directors’ names that predetermine who is getting my money and attention. It should be obvious by the fact that I’d even write this that the Coen Brothers are on this list, and it’s wonderful to have such a list when it means you can walk into one of their films relatively cold. It also brings an entirely different set of expectations than you’d give something that has spent months doing everything it can to impress you.

My expectations from the Coens have become numerous — I now demand a higher level of quality. I look forward to a certain kind of dialogue, where side characters repeat each others’ names with condescending derision and yes, may even have catchphrases. They are realistic but ridiculous, lovable but also worthy of being shit upon by each other at any given moment for my entertainment. I expect that the plot will have moments where doing the right thing is punished worse than doing something underhanded. And of course, if Roger Deakins is on board, it will look fantastic. The Coens tick off all these marks with ease here, in a film I would argue is a Coen film for Coen fanboys. Do the Coens have a formula? Sort of, but to use a catchphrase from A Serious Man, they’re also Fuckers. This is their true trademark, and I am happy to say I was fucked with more than enough times in A Serious Man to get more than I expected.

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The Invention of Lying Review

The Invention of Lying
Written and Directed by: Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson
Starring: Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner, Rob Lowe, Louis CK, Jonah Hill

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You have to wonder what kind of person has it within them these days to conceive of a fantasy-based comedy and believe in it enough to see it through. Movies like this simply haven’t been very good or funny lately, and despite a promising trailer, The Invention of Lying seemed destined to contain a zillion unexplainable and/or nonsensical holes, and would at best resemble a mediocre SNL skit stretched to 90 minutes. Most people opined that it looked like another take on Jim Carrey’s Liar Liar. But of all things I worried that the brilliant creator of The Office, Ricky Gervais, would turn out a high concept comedy as torturous to sit through as Year One or Click. While it turns out that while some of these fears were well-founded, I’m also pleased to say that I was wrong to underestimate Gervais when he has more to deliver than just laughs.

Like many other comedies with outlandish premises, this film has a tough challenge of finding a balance between fleshing out the world with effective satire while at the same time delivering believable characters and an actual story. Groundhog Day succeeds by being somewhat of a “time travel” movie, with real people who are merely living each day anew. Idiocracy falters (although I’ve come to like it a lot more on rewatches) by having so much to say about an idiotic future that it has no time to breathe, and thus its main cast of characters are uninteresting, and the supporting players are actually overplaying their part to a cartoonish end that ironically undermines the premise for the sake of humor. The Invention of Lying lies (ugh, no pun intended) somewhere in the middle, meaning we end up with a likable, occasionally charming movie with something to say that at the same time is missing several opportunities for comedic exploration that makes the previously mentioned films so unique.

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The Class Review

The Class (Entre les murs)
Directed by: Laurent Cantet
Written by: François Bégaudeau, Robin Campillo, Laurent Cantet
Starring: François Bégaudeau, Nassim Amrabt, Laura Baquela, Cherif Bounaïdja Rachedi

Despite winning the Palme D’Or this past year, The Class completely went under my radar until just about a week before it opened, when seemingly every Toronto critic all of a sudden had a 5 star review and was retroactively insisting it to be one of the best films of last year. I went to see The Class pretty much blind, and perhaps this was a good decision. I doubt a trailer for a film like this would exactly pop or get asses in seats.

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Global Metal Review

Global Metal
Directed by: Sam Dunn and Scot McFayden

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Sam Dunn is a Toronto anthropologist, bassist for death metal band Burn to Black, and the co-director and face of the successful 2005 Metal 101 documentary Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey. The success of that film, largely due to DVD, has brought Sam a large amount of respect from his peers, and letters from all around the world letting him know that simply covering North America and Europe’s biggest and most controversial bands meant his job wasn’t finished. With this, Global Metal was born, a travelogue to many of the worlds hot spots to see how these varying cultures have made this style of music their own, as well as how they’ve had to deal with oppressive governments and limited freedom. Call it an ‘advanced study’, a passion project that like Wordplay or Helvetica, hooks you in through the passion of the obsessive fans and filmmakers rather than a specific controversy or accidental plot.

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Gone Baby Gone

Gone Baby Gone
Directed by Ben Affleck
Written By Dennis Lehane
Starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Ed Harris, Morgan Freeman, Amy Ryan

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Once in a while a film comes along that leaves you confused about what you think about it after its over, struggling to weigh the many highs of it vs some staggering lows. Such is the case with “Gone Baby Gone”, Ben Affleck’s directorial debut starring his younger brother Casey.

GBG tells the story of a 31 year old private detective named Patrick Kenzie, hired by a frantic grandmother to augment the police investigation of a missing girl. Monaghan, as his partner Angie, immediately refers the case to another investigator, perhaps realizing before Kenzie that this piece of work might be a little much to deal with. She would turn out to be correct, as the case goes deeper and deeper to a nearly insane, morally ambiguous degree that could possibly ruin Kenzie’s career and personal life. Read the rest of this entry »

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Audio Review)

I Will Not Break RulesGoon here, checking in after a long time from actual reviewing. I remembered why I had took so long between uploading items when I went to post this quick audio review. I was horrified to find out I had thrown away the final product with a musical intro and outro, and only had this worse audio version of it left behind. Well I figured I would put it up anyways and hope my second go around goes better than the first. I hope you can suffer your way through this not-so-clean sounding 10 minute review of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

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