Friday, January 08, 2010

Fantastic Heroes & Fantastic Villains

My unofficial new year's resolution (i.e. don't hold me to it) is to simplify my blog posts. One of many reasons my post count was at its lowest since 2007 is that I have a tendency to start working on posts that inevitably escalate as I get caught up in researching new covers in addition to getting lost on bizarre tangents as I make more and more trivial discoveries along the way. A covers-post on Quentin Tarantino's filmography and one on comic book artist/musicians are two fairly recent additions to blogger draft hell. Today's post is another one I started a few weeks ago after I saw Fantastic Mr. Fox, which got stymied as I went off on a wild goose chase to track down one particular cover. Well, no more, I say! If I'm inspired to throw together a post, I'm just going to go ahead and try to do it without my neurotic tendency to attempt comprehensiveness on some narrow, random topic.

Today's topic: Films of 2009. That's right, I'm not done with 2009 quite yet. I'm going to take a cue from Ekko over at Berkeley Place and do a quick rundown of everything I saw last year. By my tally, I saw 39 new films in 2009, which seems like a lot on one hand and not enough on the other.

The bottom 3:

    3. New Moon (Ugh, don't ask)
    2. The International (Terribly boring. Took 5 sittings to get through it.)
    1. Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen (Don't even get me started.)
    G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra; X-Men Origins: Wolverine; Ninja Assassin; BrĂ¼no, Kamui Gaiden, The Time Traveler's Wife; Taken; Angels and Demons; Terminator: Salvation
Worth a Peek:

    District 9; A Perfect Getaway; The Box; Zombieland; Watchmen; Moon; Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince; 2012; The Princess & The Frog; I Love You, Man; Coraline; Sherlock Holmes; 9; The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus; The Hangover, It Might Get Loud (released wide in 2009, but technically I saw it in 2008)
On the never-ending, ever-growing to-do list:
    Ponyo; Drag Me to Hell; Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans; The Informant; The Road; The Cove; An Education; Crazy Heart; Nine; Public Enemies; Funny People; Thirst; Duplicity; Whatever Works; Humpday; In the Loop; Knowing; Adventureland; State of Play

See, I've already blown my new year's resolution by spending half an hour going through wikipedia's 2009 in film to formulate these lists...

Top Ten:
    10. The Hurt Locker
    9. Up in the Air
    8. Star Trek
    7. (500) Days of Summer
    6. Avatar
    5. A Serious Man
    4. Up
    3. Where the Wild Things Are
    2. Inglourious Basterds
    1. Fantastic Mr. Fox

Less than an hour after seeing Fantastic Mr. Fox, I turned to my friend and said "That was probably the best movie I saw all year" and he wholeheartedly agreed. Conflicting schedules led to us going about three weeks after it had already opened and even though I'd been steadfastly avoiding reviews to that point, I couldn't help but notice the complete lack of buzz before or after its release. To date, the film has grossed just over $19 million of its $40 million production budget. If Avatar is earning a CEO's salary, Fantastic Mr. Fox is like a teenage kid flipping burgers for minimum wage (or worse). Heck, even Paul Blart: Mall Cop earned more in one weekend than Fantastic Mr. Fox in almost two months. Right now, it ranks 107th domestically for 2009 films, sandwiched between Under the Sea 3D and The Jonas Brothers 3D concert. Even though it's pretty much a given that terrible movies make a lot of money and great ones don't, to me this seemed like a pretty egregious box office offense. Sure enough, the theatre was nearly empty when we went. Other than our group of four, there was maybe ten other filmgoers, which made the cackling and giggling all the more pronounced in such an empty theatre.

I went in with mild reservations (mainly based on the lacklustre trailer), which is odd considering I'm a big fan of Wes Anderson, a big fan of stop-motion animation, and a big fan of Roald Dahl. So there was a lot at stake here, but I loved every second of this movie beginning to end. Fantastic Mr. Fox opens quite literally with the opening of the title book by little clay hands and I beamed as I noticed it distinctly carried a library spine label. Then a couple minutes later Wes Anderson sunk his meathooks into me when he underscored Mr. and Mrs. Fox's daring raid on a chicken coop with Heroes and Villains, my all-time favourite Beach Boys song. Not long after that, he even slips in Love, the Oscar-nominated song from Disney's 1973 animated Robin Hood, my favourite Disney film. The movie was barely underway and it was already resonating on a deep molecular level. You can feel the care and artistry that went into the impeccably detailed set decorations, handmade costumes, and props. The ringer cast of Anderson regulars is bolstered by George Clooney as the fast-talking title character who is always quickly thinking up schemes but rarely dwelling on the potential consequences. As the nefarious Bean, Michael Gambon (who has one of my favourite phonebook reading voices) gets probably the best and most quotable line in the movie when he chastises Jarvis Cocker, "That's just weak songwriting. You wrote a bad song, Petey!" and flicks a cigarette at him. The movie is filled with little moments like that, which is part of what I love about the script. These little asides are written as if it's a live-action film with little regard to the fact that each one probably took weeks to animate. You should definitely run out and see it before it leaves theatres. It's Wes Anderson's best since The Royal Tenenbaums, another all-time favourite.

There's a bit of a story to how Heroes and Villains inexplicably became my favourite Beach Boys song. Years ago, my dad had borrowed some sort of Best of the Beach Boys CD from the library and recorded it onto cassette tape. Like most greatest hits compilations, this had the usual familiar hits like Good Vibrations, Sloop John B, Wouldn't It Be Nice, and 5 songs about surfing. But this one had one that I'd never heard before and it would be years before I was able to find out what it was. You see, my dad had recorded it in such a way that most of Heroes and Villains was cut off by the end of side one of the cassette tape and when you flipped it over it continued with the next track as if nothing had happened. So I fell in love with the first minute of Heroes and Villains. I still have a distinct memory of scavenging the house, the basement, the glove compartment, trying to dig up this abandoned cassette tape since I all of a sudden needed OCD-style to find that song. My dad didn't know what the song was called and he helpfully did not bother to write any tracklist for the tape. I resorted to borrowing various Beach Boys greatest hits CD from the library and going through track-by-track but even this proved difficult since Heroes and Villains is not on the majority of them. Apparently, my dad had borrowed the one compilation album that considered it a hit. Then one day, I had the latest candidate in my discman and was dutifully listening/skipping through each track when the elusive track kicked off: "I've been in this town so long that back in the city I've been taken for lost and gone and unknown for a long, long time". I immediately flipped the CD case over and read the back. Heroes and Villains. SUCCESS! And that same moment of revelation and elation filled my heart as I watched it grace the soundtrack of Fantastic Mr. Fox.

The Beach Boys - Heroes and Villains
There are numerous incarnations of this song which was originally intended for their legendary incomplete Smile album. It was eventually issued as a single and released on 1967's Smiley Smile album. Brian Wilson would eventually re-record the "complete" version when he resurrected Smile in 2004.

Geraint Watkins - Heroes and Villains [originally by The Beach Boys]
The Apples in Stereo - Heroes and Villains [originally by The Beach Boys]
The Rubinoos - Heroes and Villains [originally by The Beach Boys]
Malcolm Ross - Heroes and Villains [originally by The Beach Boys]

1 comment:

Dane said...

The Beach Boys' version of Heroes is one of my all time favorite songs. I was really excited about the Rubinoos' version, but ... eh.

Never heard of Geraint Watkins, but one listen and I've fallen in love.

It's never the ones you think it's going to be, is it?