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November 30, 2009 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 2009-11-30

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Monday, November 30, 2009 - 5A

Miniseries mix-up

"I think there may be a mole in our ranks."

Fantastically foxy

iniseries are like small-screen
purgatory: They don't quite
have the heavenly aura of the
everyday TV show nor the demonic dullness
of most made-for-TV
movies. This puts them
in a generally awkward
position for viewers
and critics alike. If a
miniseries succeeds,
people complain there
wasn't enough content
created. If it fails, people JAMIE
complain it took up too BLOCK
much prime air time and
should havebeen a telefilm. Either way, the
miniseries leaves something to be desired.
This is no fault of the works themselves.
Rather, it's the fault of the misclassification
of miniseries into other genres for the pur-
poses of criticism.
Two of my favorite miniseries of the
moment are "The Lost Room," a then-SciFi
Channel original starring Peter Krause
("Six Feet Under") and the recent remake
of "The Prisoner" on AMC starring Ian
McKellen (the "Lord of the Rings" films)
and Jim Caviezel ("The Passion of the
Christ"). The latter is particularly fresh in
my mind, as Gandalf and Jesus shed those
former roles to duke it out in a power strug-
gle for a village that may or may not even
be real. "The Lost Room" concerns the
contents of a motel room, all of which have
gained supernatural powers after an unex-
plained universe-altering incident. Both
are strange head trips. Both are incredible.
But both were panned by most critics.
Now, my taste may not always be per-
fect. But disagree with me twice, shame on
you, critics. I know in my heart of hearts
that these miniseries are fantastic, artful,
original works. They are impressive in
their sheer scale, great production value,
excellent casts and innovative premises
that set them apart from most things on
TV. To put it simply, they're just plain good.
So something must be going on here. How
are some of the greatest critics, on which
this nation relies to maintain its cultural
fortitude, so very, very wrong? I say it's a
matter of background.
Regardless of whether or not Iam (some-
how, miraculously) incorrect about these
two miniseries in particular, criticism of
miniseries needs to be re-analyzed. Itis
unlikely that most TV critics are adequately
qualified to review movies (see my review
of"Up" to gauge for yourself) and equally
uncertain that film critics could review TV.
They are differentmedia, each withaspects-
that critics of the other aren't as likelyto

consider. But what is a miniseries if not a
hybrid of the two? A miniseries is, essential-
ly, too much of a film for the TV critics and
too much of a TV show for the film critics.
For instance, one of a TV critic's main
questions is thatof sustainability. The critic
must assess not only the show's quality on
an episode-by-episode basis, but its ability
to carry on smoothly through multiple epi-
sodes. With a miniseries, this isa mootpoint.
The film critic, on the other hand, is not
trained in such matters as the cliffhanger.
Also, cinematography is incredibly differ-
ent on a movie than it is on a TV show, and
miniseries here tend to again strike a mid-
dle ground. You have the grand panning
shots often reserved for film mixed with
the casual-feeling character chase shots of
a traditional sitcom or drama.
In recent history, the miniseries that
have garnered the most critical acclaim are
those on the more cinematic side. HBO in
its infinite infallibility has created some
of the most highly praised miniseries
of the past 20 years. "John Adams" and
Gandalf vs. Jesus in
television purgatory.
"Empire Falls" both come to mind as hype
machines. They were all over the Emmys,
and ads for the latter were plastered all
over my home town of Washington, D.C.
But we shouldn't just let HBO continue this
domination over miniseries. As HBO says,
"It's not TV. It's HBO." Well HBO, minise-
ries are at least partially TV, and should be
critically assessed as such.
It seems necessary to create some hybrid
critics, or perhaps some particularly spe-
cialized ones. It takes a combination of
both the TV and film disciplines to accu-
rately judgea miniseries. Or, we can sim-
ply have critics whose sole domain is the
elusive miniseries, but why anybody would
go for a career in reviewing one of the least
frequently produced art forms is a ques-
tion with nogood answer. I'm not saying
that a TV or film critic can't be right about
a miniseries -I think our review of "The
Prisoner" on the arts blog, The Filter, was
quite accurate - but to avoid any critical
mishaps, we should train a new generation
of miniseries critics for the future.
Block is tearing down old 'John Adams'
ads. To help hirmfight thegood fight,
e-mail him at jamblock@umich.edu.

Wes Anderson's Dahl
adaptation will charm
adults, befuddle kids
By TIMOTHY RABB
Daily Arts Writer
Wes Anderson's "Fantastic Mr. Fox"
is a triumph in auteurism that can be
attributed to the imagi-
native quirkiness of
its creator. Seasoned
Anderson veterans can Fantastic
expect a familiar the- Mr. FOX
matic emphasis on the
inportance of family, At Quality 16
diversity, honesty and and Showcase
community, all pre- 20th Century Fox
sented with the aid
of an unconventional
animated medium that lends value and
originality to the "Rushmore" director's
repertoire.
"Fantastic Mr. Fox" is an adaptation
of the classic children's novel by Roald
Dahl (famed author of "James and the
Giant Peach," "Charlie and the Chocolate
Factory" and "Matilda") that details the
misadventures of the aptly named Mr.
Fox (George Clooney, "Burn After Read-
ing") and his wife Felicity (Meryl Streep,
"Doubt"). The catalyst that moves the
story forward is Mr. Fox's kleptomania,

which that drives him from his house in a
tree to steal poultry and hard cider. Farm-
ers Boggis (newcomer Robin Hurlstone),
Bunce (newcomer Hugo Guinness) and
Bean (Michael Gambon, "Harry Potter
and the Half-Blood Prince") get wise to
his schemes and embark on an obsessive
quest to kill Fox and his cohorts.
The movie is fascinating in the way it
applies the moststaple elements of Amer-
ican culture and modern science to the
life of a fox with such absurd humor. This
facet of Anderson's style is often applied
to his characterizations of Fox and his
peers. For example, Mr. Fox is always
demanding that his possum friend Kylie
(Wallace Wolodarsky, "The Simpsons")
use hand signals to indicate he's pay-
ing attention because his vacant pos-
sum eyes show no emotional reaction to
Fox's earnest diatribes. The use of stop-
motion animation in "Fox" - though by
no means unprecedented in the world of
filmmaking - is executed in a particu-
larly wonderful way that has never really
been done before. The dialogue is a witty
hodgepodge of highbrow discourse and
vulgar euphemisms. In short, it's a quint-
essential Anderson film with the wel-
come addition of stop-motion animation
and children's themes.
On that note, one prominent criticism
of "Fantastic Mr. Fox" is its complete fail-
ure to pitch its inherently adult humor
to the proper demographic. Though the

auteur's childish, lighthumor is designed
to win over even the coldest and most
cynical of intellectuals, the context in
which it's presented will only befuddle
the young audience for which the movie
was intended. For example, the literal
use of the word "cuss" as a stand-in for
any and all swearing in the dialogue
betrays the innocence of a child, but
what child will understand Fox's refer-
ring to his dilemma as a "complete clus-
tercuss?" Furthermore, the grotesque
nature of the stop-motion animation and
the unflattering close-ups of the char-
acters seems to be deliberately tailored
to incite a child to scream rather than
laugh. One could almost assume this is
Anderson's way of biting his thumb at
the conventional expectations of chil-
dren's book adaptations.
Misdirected marketing aside, this film
is familiar Wes Anderson fare: a movie
about the perils of the young genius,
intended for the young genius. It's not
afraid to deal with the restlessness and
machismo of the American husband while
also exploring the unbridled (yet inno-
cent and well-intentioned) motivations of
youth. "Fox" is a relevant, timeless com-
bination of 20th century values and 21st
century quirkiness
that's guaranteed [r
to please. That is, so
long as you leave your
kids at home.

W"HAT'S NEW
ON THE DAILY'S
ARTS BLOG:
* It's the same old song, or
fuck Ingrid Michaelson: Fine
Arts editor David Riva lists his
picks for the best singer/songwrit-
ers of the past three years.
* 'Jon & Kate plus 8' equals
over: TV/New Media editor Caro-
lyn Klarecki says goodbye to the
twins and sextuplets that made up
TLC's primetime guilty pleasure.
* President Obama gets his
game on: Senior arts editor Jamie
Block wishes he were a library so
he could get a free PlayStation 3
and a copy of 'LittleBigPlanet.' Oh,
and you could win lots ot money.
Check it all out at
http://michigandaily.
com/blogs/the%20filter
SMALL SCREEN,
BIG HEART.
WRITE FOR
DAILY TV/NEW
MEDIA
E-mail join.arts clumich.edu
for information on applying.

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