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big fish
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Big Fish

Starring Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Helena Bonham-Carter, Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange
Screenplay by John August
Directed by Tim Burton

IN SHORT: By its end, there was nary a dry eye in the house. [Rated PG-13. 120 minutes]

And as affecting as that teaser line would truthfully tell it, this is the first Tim Burton film that we've been disappointed in, when we look at the overall thing, in a very long time.

The ever popular "fish tale" is always about the big one that got away which is half a step away from any of the whoppers told by Ed Bloom (Albert Finney) to any and all persons who cross his path. That's a lot of people as Ed was a traveling salesman for most of his life, but we're getting ahead of our self. Director Tim Burton's work, if you look at it as one big whole, has always been one tall tale after another and said director's visual imagination has always made his work something we look forward to. It makes him a kind of visual big fish in the pond of big screen fantasy. As Burton recreates all the big tales told by an elderly Bloom, we get to experience a fantasy of wondrous adventures allegedly experienced by his world traveling younger self (Ewan McGregor). The Younger Bloom's adventures, both during war and peacetime, include encounters with humans both giant and small and conjoined sex sirens living in places on earth that aren't necessarily on earth -- you'll understand when you see 'em -- stories long discounted by the son Will (Billy Crudup) who has made a living by "writing" and publishing those stories.

Somewhere, Big Fish is supposed to be a story of an estranged father and son coming to terms with each other, with one coming to understand that the tall tales of the other are not so tall. The fantasy far outweighs the reality, which is why Big Fish, on some level, fails.

The stories told by father to son begin with the "true" and most extraordinary growth spurt young Bloom experienced as a boy. At age eight, his body sprouted unnaturally, confining him to bed until bodily muscle and tissue growth caught up to the abnormal bone growth. While confined to bed, Ed read the World Book Encyclopedia, specifically memorizing an article about goldfish which informed all that, if a goldfish raised in a confining bowl,he will not grow. But if the owl increases in size, the fish too can grow to three or four sizes beyond normal. Ed applies that knowledge to his own life and determines to set out to explore the world. Only by doing so can he grow exponentially, and so the title and metaphorical tilt of the film.

As young man Ed and his friends will encounter a witch in the woods. Looking into the witch's glass eye will reveal the manner of a man's death, so it is said, and so it proves to be. Knowing the means of his demise will empower Ed and, one future day standing in the midst of a crowd at a traveling circus, he will see the woman he knows is destined to become his wife (Alison Lohman) -- and indentures himself to a circus ringmaster (Danny DeVito) to gather all the info he can to find and then win the lovely lass. Among the circus folk, Ed will form a fast friendship with Karl (Matthew McGrory), a giant whose own story will form a small part of the legend yet to come. As Karl and young Ed take to wandering the country, they will come to a fork in the road. Karl will take the modern road. Ed will wander the old path and find himself in the town of Spectre, where the townsfolk wear no shoes and a legendary and long missing poet (Steve Buscemi) has settled to work on his life's masterpiece. There are two more tales to tell, involving death defying volunteer missions undertaken during the War and some extraordinary encounters with country folk, these discovered by son Will as he attempts to sort fiction from reality as dad lies on a presumed death bed.

The only bend in the road is the fact that, as lovely to look at (and as incredulous) as these stories are, sooner or later you'll reach a point, as we did, and wonder exactly where this story is going? Luckily, a ten spot of minutes or so after your mind starts to wonder, if your mind behaves like our mind, Big Fish finds its footing and everything makes sense. Keeping its A-list footing is a supporting cast featuring Jessica Lange as the elder Bloom's wife Sandra, and Helena Bonham Carter in a couple of roles including the witch that sets everything in gear and the woman who explains the meaning of it all to Will.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Big Fish, he would have paid . . .


As lovely and as fantastic as Big Fish's look"is and buried stories are, this is the first Tim Burton flick in a long time that didn't have our jaws dropping and/or that little voice in the back of our head going "ooo. Maybe we walked in expecting too much - after all, "fantastic" by Tim Burton standards is quite a different animal than for any other director.

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