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What to Watch: 'Fantastic Mr. Fox,' 'Darkman' and more

John Beifuss, The Commercial Appeal, Memphis • Dec 17, 2015 at 5:59 PM

(MCT) – This week, the return of a saucy fox, a scarred superhero and a spoiled movie star.

"Fantastic Mr. Fox" (PG, 87 min.)  "How can a fox ever be happy without a chicken in its teeth?" That profound question of identity and purpose, asked by a raffish red predator with the voice of George Clooney, haunts this 2009 work of stop-motion wit and wonder from director Wes Anderson, a celebration of "wild animals with true natures and pure talents" (artists and children?) adapted from a 1970 book by Roald Dahl. The handcrafted, old-fashioned, seemingly magical process of stop-motion animation is perfectly suited to the eccentric Anderson, who here delivers a so-called children's movie with a message, in which the increasingly destructive battle between well-financed farmers and clever woodland creatures becomes a commentary on the cost of war in our real world. Bonus: The closing scene resurrects one of the all-time great 1960s rock-pop numbers, "Let Her Dance" by the Bobby Fuller Four. "Fantastic Mr. Fox" remains one of Anderson's most enjoyable films (a rival would be Anderson's next movie, "Moonrise Kingdom"); it's been available on disc for years, but this week it gets the full-blown Blu-ray/DVD treatment from The Criterion Collection, in a bonus-loaded "director's approved" edition that offers an extensive behind-the-scenes look at the painstaking stop-motion-puppet process.

Darkman (R, 96 min.)  In retrospect, Sam Raimi's spooky 1990 semi-superhero saga looks like the link between his wildly imaginative 1980s low-budget horror-splatter exercises ("The Evil Dead") and the mainstream Marvel Comics Spider-Man trilogy he delivered in the 2000s. A pre-A-list Liam Neeson is the title character, a scientist working on a synthetic skin (see also: 1932's "Doctor X") who is disfigured in a lab explosion, transforming him into a vengeful crimefighter, part Batman, part Phantom of the Opera; Frances McDormand is the scientist's unfortunate girlfriend. As with most of Raimi's early work, the second-hand premise is just an excuse for the director's movie-mad visual invention: crazy camera angles, exuberant crane shots, Freud-meets-Cryptkeeper montages. The movie arrives this week in a bonus-loaded Blu-ray from the Scream Factory imprint of the Shout! Factory label, which has established itself as The Criterion Collection of genre films.

Somewhere (R, 97 min.)  New to Netflix this week is this 2010 portrait of a few days in the ennui-ridden Sunset Boulevard life of a young movie star named Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff); in other words, this is another of writer-director Sofia Coppola's examinations of the isolation and dislocation ("Lost in Translation," indeed) of privileged public people – people surrounded by both the exposing fishbowl of celebrity and the protective bubble of entitlement. Stripped of the distractions of a dramatic plot and a conventional character arc, this is very much an American version of a European art film, with long takes of static shots and contemplative pacing that may be mistaken for a lack of energy; as a result, moviegoers will be as happy as the movie's hero when Johnny's 11-year-old daughter (beautifully played by Elle Fanning) arrives, all enthusiasm and ice skater's elbows. The daughter's regal name is Cleo, which reminds us that Coppola herself is Hollywood royalty (and that her previous film was "Marie Antoinette"). The movie is refreshingly un-tragic, even if a crying Johnny worries that he's "not a person" – an idea conveyed more powerfully without words, when the actor's face is obliterated by a mound of goo during a scene at a special makeup effects studio.

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