"The Fantastic Mr. Fox"
**** (out of four)
Between Spike Jonze's "Where the Wild Things Are," Hayao Miyazaki's "Ponyo," Pixar's "Up" and now Wes Anderson's animated adaptation of "The Fantastic Mr. Fox" (not to mention Disney's 3-D re-release of the "Toy Story" films, and their Digital Age updating of "A Christmas Carol"), this should unquestionably be regarded as the best period for family entertainment in decades. It's not the start of a "revolution," per se, as we've benefited from what are likely one-shot anomalies from the traditionally adult-oriented auteurs Jonze and Anderson, but this is certainly an encouraging trend for viewers who treasure family fare when it's done right.
"Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire"
Just hearing a plot description, one may assume that "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' By Sapphire," is your average, dime-a-dozen example of ham-fisted, manipulative Oscar bait: Meet Cherish Precious Jones (she goes by her middle name), a morbidly obese 16-year-old black girl who is struggling to blossom under the most dire of circumstances. At school, the borderline illiterate teen is incessantly harassed and assaulted by her peers. Her home life is significantly worse, with a sexually abusive, drug-addicted father, and an equally abusive mother who blames her daughter for all her problems in life and simmers with anger over the fact that Precious has "stolen her man." Yet, under the loving tutelage of the dedicated staff of an alternative school where Precious is eventually sent, she is able to overcome these challenges and discover her own self-worth as a human being. Can't you just hear that music swelling?
The end-of-the-world free-for-all "2012," there are flashes — brief, blink-and-you'll-miss-'em flashes — of a director who may at long last be learning something about how to stage a scene. There are a few sequences in the film — perhaps 10 minutes in sum, in a movie that approaches the three-hour mark — that work very well and effectively place the audience in the emotional center of a crumbling world. The first action set piece, for instance (which, regrettably, comes after an hour of the worst expository scenes I've ever seen in a traditionally structured disaster flick), depicts a limousine attempting to flee the streets of Los Angeles as the city literally falls apart. The situation is absurd and the effects are iffy (more on that in a minute), but Emmerich infuses the sequence with a tremendously creepy sense of uncanny that makes the whole thing a lot more exciting and accessible. He also impresses briefly with a farewell speech delivered by the President of the United States mere moments before Washington, D.C. is leveled (think of it as the scary, sad antithesis of Bill Pullman's inspirational speech from "Independence Day"), and some short, eerie scenes of major landmarks being decimated.
"Disney's A Christmas Carol"
Between his adaptations of "The Polar Express" and "Beowulf," Robert Zemeckis (the technology-driven filmmaker behind such visually sophisticated films as "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" and "Forrest Gump") has enthusiastically led the push behind motion-capture animation. As the name implies, it's a process that allows animators to capture the movements of actors and apply those movements to a digital model, and Zemeckis isn't entirely off-base when he claims that this technology will gain in popularity and change moviemaking forever. It's an amazing process rife with further potential, but the fact remains that there are still some kinks to be worked out.