Critical Praise for 'Crazy Like a Fox'
NEW YORK OBSERVER — MAY 3, 2006On the Town
By Rex Reed
In Crazy Like a Fox, the excellent British actor Roger Rees (Nicholas Nickleby) has a raucous and randy field day playing Nat Banks, a sensitive, intelligent country codger (he reads Chekhov for pleasure!) whose 700-acre Virginia farm has fallen to ruin after years of neglect. It's a pre-Revolution manse where George Washington once stopped on his way to the Delaware, but now seems more like a place Ma and Pa Kettle would call home. Still, since it's been in his family for seven generations, this old coot, oblivious to realities such as taxes, insurance premiums, polluted swamp water, crop failures and bankruptcy, refuses to acknowledge a cruel little fact called bank foreclosure.
Along comes a pair of crooked lawyers from Washington, D.C., whose promise to restore the house to its original splendor masks a secret plan to tear it down and develop a housing project. Mr. Rees reluctantly signs the deed of sale, and sure enough, the city slickers hand him an eviction notice. The rest of the movie is about what happens when Nat establishes squatters' rights and refuses to vacate. It's a movie that is more fun to watch than you might expect. Secretly overjoyed to get rid of the old albatross, his wife Amy (Mary McDonnell) moves their two children to town, while Nat drags down his ancestors' old Civil War uniforms from the attic and declares war. Skinny-dipping in his creek, cooking beans over a campfire, living in an abandoned cave, hunting squirrels with a bow and arrow, Nat attracts the attention of neighbors who long to get back to nature, and revives a loving relationship with his own son. Everyone is on his side–from the local cops to the loyal servants who are descendants of the property's original slaves—all upholding the values and traditions of the Old South.
How it all turns out is for you to discover, but I promise a hardy, zestful time. Bearded and bony, Roger Rees reminded me of the mad but harmless cousin charging down the stairs dressed like Teddy Roosevelt in Arsenic and Old Lace. It's nice to just sit back and enjoy a movie for a change, and there is enjoyment to spare in this pleasant story about where perseverance can lead a man with blinders on. From the sure-footed comic acting to the chlorophyll-green redolence of Virginia, there is much to savor here. Engagingly helmed by first-time director Richard Squires (a critic, no less!) Crazy Like a Fox is sure-fire stuff, guaranteed to generate good will and do no perceivable harm.
WASHINGTON TIMES — MAY 4, 2006
by Gary Arnold
Crazy Like a Fox (2005) (PG-13: Fleeting profanity) The belated theatrical release of one of the more creditable and diverting first features to emerge from a Washington-based filmmaker. Writer-director Richard Squires shot this comic valentine to a stubborn, improvident Virginia landowner called Nat Banks (Roger Rees) near Middleburg. Mortgaged to the hilt but proudly averse to selling his patrimony, Nat relents when a wealthy young couple offers a substantial price. But they turn into absentee landlords harboring a development scheme that alienates the clannish community, so Nat seizes a quixotic chance to recoup, becoming a furtive squatter and persistent nuisance.
The material is stronger in the first half, when Mr. Squires recognizes the incorrigible side of Nat, cleverly played by Roger Rees, and the need for him to face facts, if only to retain his sensible and patient spouse Amy (Mary McDonnell). The last half prefers to embrace Nat without reservation, but the partiality doesn't wreck much of the humorous characterization or the consistently lovely response to the countryside.
Movie Title: Crazy Like A Fox
Description: IN THEATERS MAY 5, 2006 The sort of small, picturesque production that has become more and more scarce with the Hollywood-ization of independent film, CRAZY LIKE A FOX is goodhearted, family-friendly entertainment with a distinctly Southern flavor. Veteran British actor Roger Rees is given ample opportunity to ham it up as Nat Banks, whose Virginia farm has been handed down through seven generations. After an accident involving his horses eating a large amount of corn, he finds himself in dire financial straits and must put the compound up for sale. Enter Will and Ellie Sherman, ruthless yuppie Northerners from Washington who buy the farm, promising they will not raze the decrepit antebellum mansion and will allow Nat to stay on as farm manager. When they unapologetically renege on the deal and announce their plans to build several new homes on the property, newly homeless Nat dons an old Confederate uniform and moves into a cave in the forest while the community plots a way to show the Shermans that a person's word carries great weight below the Mason-Dixon line. First-time director Richard Squires gives us beautiful Virginia scenery and an old-fashioned morality tale that enjoyably walks the line between screwball comedy and light drama. In a performance he appears to be relishing, Rees makes Nat sympathetic even when his actions border on the psychotic, and Mary McDonnell (DANCES WITH WOLVES) adds another soulful supporting role to her distinguished list of credits. Filmgoers looking for explosions and high-tech hijinks certainly aren't the audience for CRAZY LIKE A FOX, but those who yearn for the days when a small film could open gradually and do well based on positive word of mouth will find a quiet, appealing entertainment here.
NYC Movie Guru
BASIC PREMISE: Nat (Rees), a Virginian farmer, fights for the re-possession of his precious family farm.
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: From the very beginning, the conflict is clear when two wealthy, insensitive lawyers from Washington, D.C. (Rouner and Fitzgerald) buy Nat’s farmhouse and evict him along with his wife Amy (McDonnell) and their two young children, but not before Nat realizes he has been cheated and wants his farmhouse back—after he signs the contract. After the eviction, Nat simply won’t go away by living in a cave near a creek not far away from the home. His actions while at this cave are quite strange, yet humorous. Meanwhile, the lawyers get treated with hostility when they try to interact with the townspeople. For example, one of the lawyers tries to buy beer at a pub, but gets refused. Much of Crazy Like a Fox plays out predictably without any surprises, but Roger Rees gives a charming performance as the odd, but likable Nat—unlike the two lawyers who come across, convincingly, as cold, mean and arrogant. In other words, it’s easy to hate the two lawyers while rooting for Nate and caring about his family up to the very end. Writer/director Richard Squires includes many breathtaking nature scenes which celebrate the genuine beauty of Virginian wildlife, which becomes an enchanting character of its own.
SPIRITUAL VALUE: Nat’s farmhouse means much more to him than just a bunch of material that provides safety and survival. To him, his home represents all the memories from the past which, inevitable, has always been a part of him. Taking it away from him would be like taking away his arm or his leg. It’s inspirational to watch him risk his marriage and life to defend his property in any way possible—but without resorting to violence. The way the townspeople end up supporting him is truly heartwarming and uplifting.
BrianOrndorf.com — June 11, 2010
Film Review--Crazy Like a Fox
There's a delicate environmental quality to "Crazy Like a Fox" that's often more inviting than the drama unfolding. A bristly story of heritage and community, the picture is a bizarre combination of broad comedy and stinging sentiment, helped along by a sharp cast and a wonderful view of the Virginian wilderness, which takes a much-deserved supporting role in this itchy, exasperating film.
An eighth-generation farm owner in rural Virginia, Nat Banks (Roger Rees) is facing the conclusion of genealogical dominance when mounting debt forces him to put his treasured family estate up for sale. Making a handsome offer are two L.A. real estate sharks (Cody Wisker and Chloe Squires), tentatively stepping around Nat and wife Amy (Mary McDonnell) as tempers flare over the future of the farm. Once the sale goes through, Nat snaps, reverting to the mentality of his Civil War ancestors, taking up residence inside a cave on the property and living off the land. Amy is stunned but tolerant with his actions, urging Nat to calm his scattered mind, while the new neighbors find their big city plans for the farm are met with a great deal of hostility from the locals.
Despite a lightly zany tone, "Crazy Like a Fox" has something interesting to say about the threat of gentrification and the breadth of family history. Writer/director Richard Squires clearly defines the dilemma at hand, offering Nat not just as a cantankerous, unshowered coot with severe money problems, but a guilt-ridden soul as well, ashamed to be the generation that torches hundreds of years of southern tradition. The pain eats away at the character, who holds tightly to the farming routine of his life, only to find the world changed around him. There's a certain poignancy to the film that Squires isolates well, communicating the frustrations and humiliations that come with a longstanding home sale -- a clench of terror made all the worse by the actual buyers, played with broad Aryan venom by Squires and Wisker.
While there's a discouraging reality to "Crazy Like a Fox," the cast keeps the material optimistic, especially Rees as the wild man Nat. A Welsh actor fitted for a Virginian accent and tattered clothes, Rees digs into the role with both hands, finding shades to Nat that keep the character away from tiresome cliché. It's an oddball, semi-feral pass at articulating domestic desperation, but the actor is game for what the filmmaker is trying to achieve. Balancing him well is McDonnell, who brings a soothing quality to her role as the beleaguered wife. The pair shares comfy chemistry, supplying a beating heart to the proceedings.
"Crazy Like a Fox" is an approachable character piece with a strong sense of its surroundings, highlighting a wonderful aura of nature beyond all the bickering. Perhaps it's not the most urgent entertainment, and it leans toward the obvious whenever it can, but the overall peaceful yearn of the picture is welcoming, along with its superior, expressive thespian efforts.
The Orlando Film Examiner — 6/11/10
by Andrew Konietzky
Orlando Film Examiner Rating: ✯✯✯✯✯
Crazy Like a Fox
Being in Florida you may live in an area where the surrounding countryside is being eaten up by fast-growing townhouses and their accompanying super malls, and where most of the local legislators are too busy drinking the developers' Kool-aid to take any notice of the fast-fading beauty of nature.
Crazy Like a Fox shows what happens when neighbors unite to help one of their friends, played wonderfully by Roger Rees. He mistrusts everyone including his own wife, Mary McDonnell and his good friend the real estate agent. He fights back against the forced sale of his estate by moving to a cave on the property. Somehow, Rees manages to make that bizarre action seem like the only rational choice. Add to the mix Christina Rouner and Paul Fitzgerald, as the wealthy city lawyers who are clearly looking to make even bigger bucks in real estate investments, are terrific. Not only do they look the part, but they are both able to convey the subtle signs of "I'm-better-than-you-are" without forcing the issue.
The actors are so well cast that you will find it hard to believe they are acting. Roger Rees has the bedraggled look of a farmer, and you feel his pain with every scene. He cares about his home, his land, and his heritage with a love that is palpable. Right up there with the acting is the photography. It is achingly beautiful, capturing the countryside in all its glory. It was written and directed by Richard Squires, an actor, director and playwright with La Mama Amsterdam, and the Players Theatre of New England. The film was completed six years ago and shot over the course of 33 days in Virginia's famously beautiful horse country. It is both moving and heart-wrenching when you see so much of that land being paved over in the name of "progress". Nature is given a brilliant part and is a character unto itself in this film. With the recent economic downturn, the theme of a family losing their home will resonate with many families enduring such events. Even if your town or home is not threatened by developers, Crazy Like a Fox should still be on your list of "must see" films. This is a thoughtful, beautiful, and sometimes very funny movie you will think about long after the last credit has faded from view.
Read the Northern Virginia Magazine Article
The Call of the Old — March 20, 2006
Northern Virginia Magazine
Film Set in Loudoun County Sounds Call to Senses
By Bill Wine
The city has a face, somebody once said, but the country has a soul. That may or may not be the trumpeted theme of Richard Squires' first movie, but some aspect of that sentiment spills over into nearly every frame. So until his second movie emerges—and he's got one up his cinematic sleeve—forget this Richard stuff.
"My daughter was taught kindergarten by Robert E. Lee's great-granddaughter, one of her classmates is a direct descendant of Thomas Jefferson, and another lives in James Monroe's old home. The Old Virginians provide a direct link to the first days of this country, which were the last days of monarchic rule in the world." —Richard Squires, Director
He's Country Squires.
Oh, sure, Richard has lived in Virginia for fifty years, and knows and embraces its history, its beauty, and its values. But Country Squires has just surfaced as the debuting writer/director/executive producer/co-composer of Crazy Like a Fox, the labor-of-love project that he's, um, squiring to the marketplace. So he's aiming at our collective consciousness with the same kind of relentless, idiosyncratic passion and stubborn drive as the protagonist of his dramedy about history and values which, once lost, are difficult to get back.
"The film is a study of one particular member of those lost-in-time Virginians," says Squires, "whose simplicity, naivete, genteel poverty, and love of learning seem so out of place, indeed irrelevant, to the contemporary world. Nature and the natural order of life are under assault right now."
If, in other words, the film were to be location-shot in Oz instead of Virginia, the emerging catchphrase might be "lawyers and realtors and yuppies, oh, my." Crazy Like a Fox has already screened at the D.C. International, Wood's Hole, Savannah, California Independent, Santa Fe, D.C. Independent, and Newport Beach Film Festivals, and still isn't finished making the festival rounds. It's also headed for a commercial theatrical release, initially in Washington, D.C., in the spring.
Then we'll see what happens, and whether or not the film's title also applies to its creator.
CLAF stars Royal Shakespeare Company veteran and Tony Award winner Roger Rees and two-time Oscar nominee Mary McDonnell as a married couple whose farm is manipulated out from under them by unscrupulous big-city speculators.
Rees plays genially eccentric Virginian and principled gentleman farmer Nathaniel Banks, who can no longer make a living working the farm, but cannot bring himself to lose or leave his ancestral home. So he resists aggressively when a couple of predatory land speculators from Washington employ letter-of-the-law maneuvers and unapologetic misrepresentation—otherwise known, in some parts of the universe, as lying—to take possession of the ramshackle mansion with the ultimate intent to develop and subdivide Nat's beloved property.
He is understandably enraged that he's been swindled by a couple of carpetbaggers, who have, in his eyes, left common decency behind, exploited local Virginians' long-standing belief that a handshake represents a binding commitment, and conducted a legal but hostile takeover of his home.
Now officially homeless, he leaves his family and, seeking underground shelter in fox-like fashion, sets up a new home in a cave on the creek that runs through the property he no longer owns.
McDonnell plays Nat's wife, Amy, who shares many of her husband's feelings, but also remains grounded in her need to live somewhere and provide for her two kids.
That means that she sees his anger as justified but the manifestation of it as completely bizarre. His idiosyncratic version of guerilla warfare seems proof that he has gone ape, especially when she notices that Nat has taken to dressing in his grandfather's Civil War uniform and starring in a one-man production of Shiverin' in the Rain. Without the music.
But the new owners, unaware of Nat's activities or proximity, head for Palm Springs for the winter, sounding a cue for Nat to reclaim the family home. Which he does and, with a little help from his old-guard-of-Virginia friends, triggers a community-wide rebellion and celebration.
Whoops, I've said too much. Rewind.
Initially called "Creek Man" (uh oh, sounds like a horror flick), then "Goose Creek Story" (too "soft" a marquee listing, said the Left Coast guys in suits), the movie got its ultimate title after the first complete post-production screening.
Crazy Like a Fox is a modestly proportioned movie, with a budget somewhere in the vicinity of $2-million. Theme-, plot-, and character-driven, it's blessedly free of empty pyrotechnics. Which makes its road to a wide audience, in today's movie landscape, an uphill battle.
Squires is aware of this, of course, which is why he is also the director of the Delphi Film Foundation, the only tax-exempt, non-profit, independent feature film production company in the United States. Private donors supplied half of the funding, loans the rest. The one-month-long shoot preceded a much longer editing effort, while the search for a distributor took four years.
"Film distribution is a difficult field to understand and master," says Squires, "but nothing is impossible if people honestly like your movie."
The more you come to know about Squires' unique attempt at an end-run around the Hollywood highway, the more he reminds you of Banks on the banks of Goose Creek.
"In city after city," he says, "some two-hundred screens show the same ten Hollywood marketing products, with two or three screens left over for the dozens of independent films that can't get a showing for lack of an audience. A revolution could be due, to be led by non-profit film producers, with a renaissance of culture in their sights."
Led, perhaps, by, the Nat Banks-like Richard Squires.
He sees the independent film movement as following the lead of the regional theater movement, which has struggled in recent decades to keep the artistic and cultural motives and components as vital and evident as the obvious commercial necessities of Broadway. The twin tendencies of entertainment and enlightenment, in other words, do not have to be estranged.
"No one doubts that film is an art form, certainly among the most powerful of all time," says the first-time producer-director. "If it ends up being bad art, producing bad culture, that's really the fault of the producers of the art and the motives behind their production."
The 57-year-old rookie hyphenate attended Columbia University, and studied philosophy at St. John's College Annapolis. His extensive theater background includes work not only as an actor, technician, and composer, but as a director and playwright for, among others, La Mama Amsterdam, The Bread and Puppet Theatre, The Players Theater of England, and Brecht West Theatre. He was also the co-creator of the environmental performance theater, Soft Gallery; the founding director of the Museum of Temporary Art; and a founding board member of District Curators. And he has had his share of essays, reviews, and interviews published in various arts publications.
So, did all of these impressive resume items help prepare him for the buck-stops-here, broad-shouldered undertaking of directing a movie? Yes and no.
"As a director, I was surprised, as all first-time directors must be, by the hundreds of people it takes to make a film, not to mention the incredible amount of work. As a novice, I relied on two adages: ÔCasting is eighty percent of directing' and 'Well-written scenes play themselves.'
"I was also very surprised by the way that the experience transformed the inner compass of my life, which I think is comparable in some way to mountaineering triumphs.
"Finally, I remain surprised that directing—independent directing, at least—is considered a young man's game It's sometimes compared to professions like field general, orchestra conductor, or supervising architect, that no one would get a shot at until they were at least forty. That's an age when multi-million-dollar budgets, sensitive artists, Teamsters, deadlines, rain, and loneliness don't seem as daunt- ing as they might to a younger person."
Said like someone who has just been put through the directorial ringer. And so he has.
The completion of Crazy Like a Fox was, in Squires' words, "marked by continual crisis and chaos in the production office, and a kind of euphoric enthusiasm on the set."
For openers, the IRS froze the funding a week before production was scheduled to begin. Next, the Teamsters descended from New York to explain the need for "protection" from vandalism that only they could provide. Then the 2001 start date had to be pushed back from September to October because of casting and production problems, and the 9/11 tragedy.
Once they did get underway, however—the shoot called for twelve-hour days five days a week for six weeks—they worked under brilliant sunshine in Virginia's famously beautiful horse country from first day to "We began filming with the creek scenes," recalls Squires, "in perfect fall weather. It was as though we'd been spirited away to paradise while the rest of the world was in flames."
"Virginia's past isn't just in danger of being forgotten, but obliterated."
All the creek scenes—and there are more than a few—and most of the nature scenes were shot at Francis Mill, a farm that Squires owns in Middleburg. Many of the other scenes were shot at a well-known, nearby 520-acre horse farm and Bed-and-Breakfast called Welbourne.
"I felt from the beginning," he says, "that having control of the locations would give us a key logistical advantage to help balance out our relative inexperience." Welbourne's owner, Nat Morison, is a member of the sixth generation of his family, and is a friend of the writer-director. He not only inspired the story but provided the model for protagonist Nat Banks.
Squires knew of Morison's struggle to maintain Welbourne, with its decaying plantation house, roomful after roomful of family heirlooms, and its "shabby genteel" ambiance, all of which has long enchanted Squires and informs the film's look and feel.
"Houses like Welbourne," says Squires, "which have remained in the same family hands for hundreds of years, through many significant people and events, have an obvious life to them that cannot be found in the history books or in the unfortunate family-houses-turned-into museums that seems to be the ruling trend with living history these days."
The film's take on living history offers two gifted leads—Rees gets to play lots and lots of notes in his showy role, and Mc-Donnell is Rock-of-Gibraltar steady and genuine--and a varied ensemble in sup- port. They include experienced cast and crew members from Washington, D.C.— the nation's third largest film production market—and several first-timers, including Squires' real-life daughter, Chloe, who plays Nat's daughter, Claudia.
And cinematographer Gary Grieg delivers a strikingly handsome and lush visual feast, with shots of rolling Virginia farmland and countryside holding the eye regardless of where the narrative might be strolling.
For Squires, his movie stands as an entertainment, yes, but also as a reminder that Virginia's past isn't just in danger of being forgotten, but obliterated by run- away suburbanization; that what's legal doesn't always jive with what's right; that perhaps the times are changing a bit too fast in the cradle of American democracy; that it sometimes feels as if the two civilizations—let's call them city folk and country folk—fear each other and remain in counter-productive conflict; and that, yes, Santa Claus, there is a Virginia.
"My daughter was taught kindergarten by Robert E. Lee's great-granddaughter, one of her classmates is a direct descendant of Thomas Jefferson, and another lives in James Monroe's old home," explains Squires. "The Old Virginians provide a direct link to the first days of this country, which were the last days of monarchic rule in the world. Many of them remain on their family farms after hundreds of years. It seems to me that what they stand for has come to be so different from the country that they founded, that it makes sense to show the two forces together before the new one completely devours the other."
Whatever dramatic limitations the movie might have for some viewers, there's no denying the man-with-a-story-to-tell mission that fuels it. So what are the auteur's ultimate hopes for his first film? "If we think of culture as a library, I just hope that this movie can be one of its books."
Next up for Richard Squires, if things go swimmingly with this enterprise, is a movie from his script, The Big Dreamer. He describes it as being about a man in the midst of a film production who loses the ability to tell the difference between his dreams and his life.
Hmmm, I wonder whom that's about.
"Cinematographer Gary Grieg delivers a strikingly handsome and lush visual feast."