Where the Wild Things Are reviews

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Zahveed
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Postby Zahveed » Sat Oct 17, 2009 5:59 pm

That's probably where I made the connection then. I was raised by divorced parents.
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Postby Sabin » Sat Oct 17, 2009 4:27 pm

For fear of wearing out my welcome on sheer volume of posts re: WTWTA not twenty four hours after my viewing, I'd like to amend your statement Zahveed. I don't think the WTs are aspects of Max, per se. But aspects of divorce. I'm not a child of divorce but I've spoken to some friends who are and they say that WTWTA gets that frustration down to a T. The Wild Things are all unhappy families. The Catherine O'Hara WT Judith who is always passive aggressive with her mate and everyone. Even Carol has a best friend he's always carting around with no inner-life to speak of. They're all co-dependent and HW has decided to find something else for herself because it's not healthy. Max ultimately learns that he cannot be the one to fix their problems as all children of divorce must learn.

I still have problems with the third act but I was a little too harsh last night.
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Postby Zahveed » Sat Oct 17, 2009 12:06 pm

I found Where the Wild Things Are to be a touching, visually impressive, and emotionally troubling film. All of the Wild Things are fleshed out, distinguishable characters who speak to at least one facet of the audience's childhood. Controlling, shy, eager, ignored, jealous, and even being a kiss ass, every Wild Thing is part of Max, with the exception of the motherly KW, who plays "Doc" to the rest of the seven "dwarfs". I've read a lot of reviews complaining about the lack of narrative, but you have to look at it as the collective thought on childhood. There aren't convoluted plot devices or quests for our hero to partake in, just a kid trying to keep his new friends happy until things start going wrong. It's not complex, but it still keeps you engaged.
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Postby Sabin » Fri Oct 16, 2009 9:16 pm

The early scenes of WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE are so expertly calculated and note-perfect in their evocation of the impotence of childhood that when he runs away, it almost is a disappointment. I don't know if it was the same way for you on the board, but suburban childhood as portrayed on this film is exactly as I remember it - minus snow, divorce, and a dog. LOL. But I digress...

Awesomeness. Sheer unadulterated awesomeness. The rest of the movie might be sheer unadulterated awesomeness as well if not for two out-of-movie liabilities I had to deal with:

1) The ADD-monster that was running wild throughout the theater. Like, running. He was thankfully removed and hopefully put down moments later, but I shrugged it off because I'm sure Spike Jonze wouldn't have minded that reaction from a child in his movie.

2) I got an UNAVAILABLE cell call that I had to take b/c my work situation in Los Angeles is perilous. It could have been anybody...but it was the management company I was renting the house from who said my rent was late. My name wasn't officially rotated from my previous roommate as of yet so I became alarmed at the prospect of having to siphon funds from my existing roommates, turn them in, and put my name on the lease within hours for fear of my credit...now, I bring this up because THIS IS NOT THE THING YOU NEED TO BE THINKING ABOUT WHEN WATCHING WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE! This movie is the anti-thesis of management companies, and leases, and shitty, shitty roommates.

So my viewing experience was a bit skewed, understand. I'm going to say that at all times during WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, I was aware that I was watching something very special. Every frame of this movie individually is a work of art. Like, work. Of. Art. Expertly calculated and realized to the effect of spontanaety and magic. Meshed together, there is a slight whiff of tedium to the affair. I think one of the reasons for this is that the film feels a little directionless once he arrives on the island. The Wild Things are visual works of art but aside from one emotion-specific personalities, they seem to exist in a sense of chaos. Spike Jonze wants to show Max as a king over these overgrown children but that being a parent is more difficult than he can handle at this age. He tries to play with them and they end up getting their feelings hurt. This absolutely makes sense in theory and, I guess, in execution, but it feels like the feature-length narrative is its own reward. No doubt it's a difficult task expanding this book into a movie that would appeal to adults and children, but I want to say a slightly more adept job could have been done in the conceptual stage than this!

I blame Eggers. After the loathesome AWAY WE GO, I'm convinced that he should just stay the fuck away from anything movie-related. Spike Jonze though as a filmmaker has never done anything quite this transporting. The emotion of every frame of this movie is overpowering.


LAST MINUTE NOTE WITH SPOILERS

Several hours after my initial viewing, I've decided that I should never be made to interact with Dave Eggers. Both this and AWAY WE GO extol the virtues of peacing and looking out for number one. AWAY WE GO's tiresome protags are given at least two places they could nest with a community only to realize that all they need is each other. This parallels WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. Max goes to this island to find a place that serves his wild needs and soon finds that they're needy children. He recommends a therapeutic game of war after which they all get hurt physically and emotionally. Max is advised to steer clear of Carol when he gets like this and requests a hiding place. This doesn't go over well at all, and before too long the WTs become an incredibly dsyfuctional bickering family...known in screenwriting books as the ALL IS LOST MOMENT. Max is stranded on an island with a bunch of dangerous monsters whom he cannot help and he must find a way home or correct his problems here, neither of which will be easy.

Well, actually it turns out to be quite easy. The WTs think it's best for Max to leave so they fix his ship and he takes off. Carol is too stubborn to see him off but at the last minute makes it to the sea where Max has sadly taken off into the water...
...
...but like, five seconds ago. So really getting out to Max wouldn't be much of a problem. I want to stress this: Max is maybe six feet out into the water, waist-deep for Carol, and getting out there to give him a hug would be incredibly easy. But instead they sadly cry as their king leaves. What a lousy sadness shield Max has got!

Max goes home after ruining his mother's date and he's given chocolate cake as she passes out.

WHAT THE FUCK?!?

How is this any kind of ending/message? If Eggers/Jonze is saying that you have to stick it out with your family, then shouldn't there be some form of struggle when he gets back? Where he finds that being with his family is going to take work too? That coming home from running away and fucking up your reasonably hot mom's shot at a date is not to be rewarded with a slice of chocolate cake? Shouldn't he be slapped the shit out of, locked in his room, and then when he tries to escape again, his mother talks him out of it?

If the message is that you can't help everyone, then shouldn't Max try a little harder? When his life is in danger, all signs point to bail. He doesn't even talk to Carol about his problems? He talks around them. There is no communication between Max and the WTs in this movie because Dave Eggers doesn't believe that human beings other than him are anything other than annoying.

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE is amazing until after the creature pile, after which in the book Max wakes up. In the film, it becomes dischordant and somewhat unpleasant, best case scenario. Worst case scenario, it becomes something between morally irresponsible and vacuous. What a heartbreaker!




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Postby Sabin » Thu Oct 15, 2009 12:48 pm

Armond White likes Spike Jonze so Armond White likes WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE.

Kids' Stuff
Spike Jonze turns Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book into an adult work of art
By Armond White


Directed by Spike Jonze

Runtime: 100 min.

A FREEZE-FRAME of lonely suburban kid Max dressed in wolf pajamas and scampering wildly, boyishly indoors with his puppy announces Spike Jonze’s innovation in Where the Wild Things Are. It’s a snapshot of youth in extremis—the unruly innocence that movies usually hide in saccharine artifice. Jonze, master of lo-fi surrealism, captures youth’s anarchic, destructive undercurrent in that single image. It makes his feature-length vision of Maurice Sendak’s 1963 children’s picture book immediately distinctive as the most daring kid’s-movie adaptation since Altman’s still-avant-garde Popeye from 1980.

Working at the height of his daring, Jonze turns Sendak’s childhood perennial into an adult work of art. The marketing motive that drives Hollywood’s family movies is missing here. Jonze refuses to make Max’s tantrum charming or soften his little boy’s loneliness. The scene where older teens destroy Max’s igloo in his snowy front yard is uniquely painful. Looking for attention, Max (Max Records) bites his mom (Catherine Keener) and runs off like a badtempered, disobedient pet—escaping into a fantasy world of towering creatures that is far stranger and scarier than any toy store display. Yet it’s also reassuringly familiar, evoking that timeless teddy bear in Spielberg’s A.I. (quick aside: there's nothing as aggravating as being backed up in approval of something than by someone you can't stand. Carry on:) This is startling proof that, like Altman in Popeye, Jonze takes his source material seriously—that is, personally.

Max’s tantrum and his imaginary selfexploration aren’t pandering family-film clichés; this is the anti-Harry Potter, anti-Pixar version of movie fantasy. And it’s not banally “dark”—in fact, the private world Max discovers has a vivid, fully realized topography, including a surf-lapping beachfront where Max survives a gorgeous shipwreck and a sun-bright desert where that frisky pup reappears. (“Don’t feed it; it will just follow you around.”) As conceived, this fantasyland is more than a dreamscape; it’s a psychic-scape—as if Max were inside his own movie. Jonze (with coscreenwriter David Eggers) interprets Sendak with generational specificity—not as a pre-schooler’s bedtime story but a daytime realization of childhood’s rages and complexes.

Instead of Shrek-style jokes that keep viewers in pop-consumerist idiocy, Jonze elevates youth fiction, subtly mashing Sendak together with rock- and skateboard-culture anxieties. Max encounters English-speaking, animal-like creatures who mimic the selfishness he can’t fathom in real-world adults but that he also feels in himself.These argumentative, neurotic beasts are a fabrication/projection of his mirror-stage maturing process where he first grasps his individuality and understands others’. (Eggers gifts the creatures with comic quarrels and frustrations as credible as those in Popeye.) Jonze’s symbolic/ironic world reveals youth culture’s solipsism—it’s a long-overdue response to the self-indulgence ushered in by Nirvana’s Nevermind.The children’s film genre provides a therapeutic context for Grunge’s gratuitous unease as expressed in Nirvana’s “Sliver” lyric: “Grandma take me home.”

Because Jonze is a genuine artist of the video age—one who helped craft the visual language of the music video era—he’s able to discard the conventions that have stifled children’s movies. Bo Welch’s Cat in the Hat was equally radical, but its F.A.O. Schwarz Absurdism was too consciously self-reflexive for critics (and parents) who wanted Dr. Seuss domesticated with unquestioned product-placement. (wtf?) But Jonze masters a lo-fi/high-art style that at least looks miles away from Pixar’s trite, costly artifice. (well, yeah, but...never mind) The wide-faced, friendly beasts often shift into horned, fanged animals of angsty, Boschlike freakiness.These oversized puppets and gargoyles bicker and opine like inhabitants of a kibbutz—a symbolic experiment in socialization. (Sendak admits modeling them after his own Jewish relatives.) They occupy a forest with huts constructed from rowed, pattern branches that suggest mad artschool Serialism.

This wildlife parallel to Max’s suburban world recalls the globe he treasures from his absent father. Its inscription: “To Max, Owner of this world. Love, Dad.” Jonze symbolizes Max’s egotism to convey the blessing/curse of childhood entitlement.Yet he avoids the regular pampering artifice of children’s movies that suspiciously imitate innocuous Broadway musicals. Instead, delicate rock accompanies Max’s New World capering; a dirt clod fight that disrupts the idyll has the same satirical panache of Jonze’s famous Beastie Boys’ music video “Sabotage.” He has developed an extraordinary sense of meaningful whimsy as in such music videos as Bjork’s “Triumph of a Heart,” Ludacris’ “Get Back,” Notorious B.I.G.’s “Sky’s the Limit,” P. Diddy’s “It’s All About the Benjamins” and Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice” where psychological tension is conveyed through original, iconoclastic scenography. Jonze’s sensibility is an authentic development of the music-video era’s generational split—which is also an aesthetic split. He doesn’t exploit pop rebellion but has a counter-intuitive slant on what’s funny, sad, universal.

Jonze’s debut feature, Being John Malkovich, was so wildly original it has had no serious imitators. It’s still indefinably fresh; and freshness also marks Where The Wild Things Are. It was necessary that Jonze get rid of the Charlie Kaufman influence (remember that awful Adaptation?). His ingenuity is better than braininess—as when Max’s mother’s voice emerges from the world’s biggest, wisest stuffed animal. Not just a spoof on celebrity voices in animated films (Lauren Ambrose uncannily duplicates Catherine Keener’s neurotic cadences), it’s also an uncanny evocation of maternal warmth.When Max steps into his make-believe world of larger-than-life beasts, these projections from his own imagination perfectly express Jonze’s art. Fittingly, Max/Jonze is told, “There’s a spark to your work that can’t be taught.”
"If you are marching with white nationalists, you are by definition not a very nice person. If Malala Yousafzai had taken part in that rally, you'd have to say 'Okay, I guess Malala sucks now.'" ~ John Oliver

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Postby Sabin » Wed Oct 14, 2009 6:54 pm

Ouch. Latest tweet from Mike "sourpuss" D'Angelo:

WHERE THE EMO THINGS ARE (S. JONZE): 53...'Nuff said.


In other news, I think we just found Lisa Schwarzbaum's favorite movie of the year.


Profoundly beautiful and affecting, Where the Wild Things Are is a breath-
taking act of artistic transubstantiation. From Maurice Sendak's beloved picture book about a rambunctious little boy named Max and the kingdom of untamed creatures who adopt him as their like-minded king, filmmaker Spike Jonze has made a movie that is true to Sendak's unique sensibilities and simultaneously true to Jonze's own colorful instincts for anarchy. This is, to quote the 1963 children's classic, ''the most wild thing of all.'' It's also personal movie-
making, with corporate backing, at its best. Whatever the (well-documented) struggles it took to create this gem, the result is worth every monster growl.

''Let the wild rumpus start!'' Max declares in Sendak's pages, and Jonze, working from 
 a just-right screenplay he co-wrote with 
 simpatico spirit Dave Eggers, begins the boy-centric hullabaloo from the very first frame. Max Records, a Botticelli-faced discovery, plays the fictional Max with a lovely purity of energy and freedom — he has a rare kid-aged talent for concentration in the midst of brouhaha. When we first meet him careening around the home he shares with his patient mom (huggable Catherine Keener), Max is a boy on a tear, all motor and no brakes. Whether roughhousing with his dog, devising snowball-warfare strategies, shrieking with a power surge of 
 energy, or collapsing in a child's heap of spent emotion, Max is a dervish of mixed instincts. And Jonze's astute longtime cinematographer, Lance Acord, captures the jumble naturally, chasing after the kid with the nimbleness of a monkey-cam.

It's when Max pushes Mom's tolerance to the limit — Mark Ruffalo has a sweet, small bit as a visiting boyfriend who wears the glazed smile of 
 ''Do I really need this crap?'' — that the hero's adventure really begins. In Sendak's spare book (fewer than 350 words in all!), Max, outfitted in a really cool wildcat costume with whiskers, travels to unknown territory without leaving his room. In Jonze's seamlessly expanded view, he runs outside, whiskers erect, then boards a boat and heads to sea, and on and on ''in and out of weeks and almost over a year'' (to quote the book) to the place where the Wild Things are. The dark colors of nightmares break into golden hues. The music, by Karen O and Carter Burwell, haunts.

Such a place — so playful and mysterious! So liberating and scary! (Yes, some littler kids might be frightened during this PG-rated film, but probably no more so than they already are in their dreams, the kind that come with no rating system to guide a parent; besides, to face one's demons is to tame them, right?) Jonze and Eggers make a smooth storytelling leap by giving each Wild Thing a name and a personality, joyously inspired by Sendak's own illustrations of the creatures' bodies, balloon-big heads, and little V-shaped shark teeth. (Jonze regular Casey Storm designed the ebullient costumes.) I'll leave the discussion of personality integration to shrinks and online discussion groups. Any kid — or adult, for that matter — can identify with the anxieties of Carol (James Gandolfini, more delightfully vulnerable than we've ever heard him); the peace brokering of Judith (Catherine O'Hara, funny to her marrow); and the squabbles, preferences, vanities, and insecurities of Ira (Forest Whitaker), Alexander (Paul Dano), and Douglas (Chris Cooper). I especially like the measured feminine wisdom of KW (Lauren Ambrose). In their gorgeous landscape of dunes, jungle, and enigmatic structures that are as graceful as Noguchi sculptures (the production designer is K.K. Barrett), Max's new friends show him the way home to a self he can live with. On the way, I found myself bowled over with emotion.

Sendak's great gift to readers, old as well as young, is the seriousness with which he presents even the wildest mayhem, the deepest contradictions in human (and Wild Thing) behavior; the author empathizes with fantasists but has no time for cuteness. In his transcendent movie adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are, Spike Jonze not only respects the original text but also honors movie lovers with the same clarity of vision. This is one of the year's best. To paraphrase the Wild Thing named KW, I could eat it up, I love it so.




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"If you are marching with white nationalists, you are by definition not a very nice person. If Malala Yousafzai had taken part in that rally, you'd have to say 'Okay, I guess Malala sucks now.'" ~ John Oliver

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Postby anonymous1980 » Mon Oct 12, 2009 10:59 am

Ed "The Apostle" Gonzalez gives it 3 stars:

Where the Wild Things Are
by Ed Gonzalez
Posted: October 11, 2009


aurice Sendak might say that where the wild things are is a place where children go when there's too much sadness in their lives. In Spike Jonze's much-anticipated film adaptation of Sendak's classic children's book, we understand this world more than ever as a stirring projection of a nine-year-old boy's troubled psyche, a place of vast deserts and sinister forests and ginormous monsters who build homes and playgrounds seemingly designed by Richard Serra and whose behaviors parallel those of the humans in the tyke's life, and in the case of the particularly fearsome Carol (voiced by James Gandolfini), the father who is conspicuously missing from it.

The film's pleasures derive partly from its rich and realistic sense of psychological detail, the way Max (Max Records) nestles next to his mother's feet, like the cat he dresses as, pulling at her stockings while she speaks on the phone. He longs for intimacy, evident too in the way he cries when his sister doesn't stick up for him after a playful snow fight with her friends culminates in the destruction of his igloo, but works hard at precipitating his unhappiness, destroying in a fit of anger a memento he made for his big sis and antagonizing his mother (Catherine Keener) before dinner for smooching her boyfriend (Mark Ruffalo) on the couch.

Max, like Jonze, may rush to get to the island where the wild things are—the trip there is, for sure, cinematically and philosophically underthought, even if it does poignantly connect to an inscription on a globe given to Max by his father—but what the journey reveals about the nature of adolescence is haunting. Part of the group Armond White dubbed the American Eccentrics, Jonze, like Wes Anderson and Sofia Coppola, understands the paradoxes of growing up, obsessing over his youthful nostalgia in ways that attest both to his solipsism and sensitivity as a filmmaker. You watch Where the Wild Things Are like you do Anderson's brilliant The Royal Tenenbaums and Coppola's Marie Antoinette, knowing that their makers spent many moons, as children, cocooned by their insecurities and, as adults, working fearlessly to ensure that their art both reflects their unique torments and resonates with ours.

Jonze, the earthiest of the Eccentrics, accomplishes this here by getting elemental. Max's dilemma and emotions are distilled to their essence, so the way his real-life suffering informs his dreamscapes becomes unmistakable. This correlation between the real and the imagined, and the way human feeling is made animalistic, may be understood too obviously in the way the wild things live (in circular nests lined with twigs, reminiscent of Max's igloo and ball of rubberands), fight (like her sister's friends), and love (like the motherly way KW, voiced by Lauren Ambrose, protects Max from an angry Carol by swallowing the boy), but the story's flights of eccentric fancy keep the story feeling alive and surprising. By observing the whims, longings, pettiness, and suffering of the wild things, Max comes to realize that his title of king—like that of a father or creator—isn't just some braggart's badge of privilege but one of honor and responsibility.

I could have done without the songs by Karen O and the Kids, not because the tunes feel like appeals to the tastes of Pitchfork hipsters but because they interfere with the elegiac tone of Max's narrative on the island. (If they feel discordant with Jonze's images, it's because they never feel, like the wild things, as if they're projections of Max's troubles and interests; you could say he seems more like a Death Cab for Cutie kind of kid.) But it's impossible not to be moved by the nine-year-old's journey. In class, Max's teacher's alarmist ramblings about the sun dying—and the world with it—haunt him straight into dreams. This explains the desert of sand, but when Max wonders "what comes after dust" you can tell that Jonze is seriously fixated on Max's fearful yearnings. This is how Wild Things becomes more than just a visual feast; it's a blissful evocation of imagining as a process of spiritual maturation.

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Postby Mister Tee » Mon Oct 12, 2009 10:39 am

And Hollywood Reporter makes it a consensus.


Film Reviews
Where the Wild Things Are -- Film Review
By Kirk Honeycutt, October 11, 2009 09:00 ET


Bottom Line: A reverential but uninvolving adaptation of Maurice Sendak's classic illustrated book for children.
An illustrated children's book that consists of nine sentences and 20 pages does not immediately suggest a feature film adaptation. Nonetheless, Spike Jonze has fearlessly plunged ahead to weave whimsical movie magic to bring Maurice Sendak's 1963 "Where the Wild Things Are" to the screen.

The story, as millions of children and grown children know, tells of a rambunctious boy, sent to bed without his supper, who then encounters fearsome-looking but surprisingly gentle creatures when his bedroom turns into a mysterious forest. The film does surmount one of its two difficult challenges: Through puppetry and computer animation, the filmmaking teams have successfully put a world of childhood imagination on the screen. Where the film falters is Jonze and novelist Dave Eggers' adaptation, which fails to invest this world with strong emotions.

Children might enjoy the goofy monsters and their fights and squabbles, but adults likely are to grow weary of the repetitiveness. In the end, the book probably was too slender to support a 102-minute movie. Without a quest to propel the story, such as Dorothy's journey in "The Wizard of Oz," the movie turns into an afternoon-special with an easily digested moral that fails to grab youngsters by the collar and shake them up with an exciting adventure.

A viewer is encouraged to see that Max's (Max Records) rough play with the family dog and his snowball fights with neighborhood kids are angry reactions to a home life that disturbs him. His single mom (Catherine Keener) must juggle demanding work assignments and a new boyfriend (Mark Ruffalo) while perhaps neglecting her impressionable son.

An older sister's self-absorption and a science teacher's declaration that one day the sun will die don't help matters. Nonetheless, the boy is too much of a brat to elicit much sympathy. And his adventures with the Wild Things never captivate a viewer.

Rather than being exiled to his room, the boy, clad in only a wolf costume, runs away into the night. He discovers a sailboat that transports him to the faraway land of Wild Things, creatures that nurture childlike ambitions and grudges.

It is not long before he declares himself a Viking king. Swallowing anything the wee lad says, the monsters nominate him to be their king, too. He readily accepts and promises to keep them happy and safe. Max is about to learn the first lesson of a politician: Be careful about what you promise a potential constituency.

The monsters carry on like children themselves. They wish to sleep in piles of furry bodies, think and behave with a child's self-righteousness and are swift to perceive any slight. The large costume suits, courtesy of Jim Henson Co.'s Creature Shop, achieve a remarkable semblance to the witty illustrations of Sendak (who as one of the film's producers was heavily involved in overseeing the page-to-screen transition).

The Wild Things are overgrown dolls with expressive, feral faces and often lighter-than-air bodies. (Sendak reportedly based his monsters on family members studied intently as a child.) They rather like to bash things but are quick to realize that little gets accomplished by such actions.

The voice actors couldn't be better. James Gandolfini plays the pack leader, Carol, who looks avidly for purpose in life and thinks Max might provide the key. Catherine O'Hara is the sardonic, pessimistic Judith, all mouth and one horn growing incongruously out of her nose; Forest Whitaker is her patient and possibly adoring companion, Ira; Paul Dano is a put-upon goat; Chris Cooper plays the birdlike, kinetic Douglas; and Lauren Ambrose is the aloof KW.

Virtually plotless escapades in monster land feature the building of a fort and a dirt-clod fight, all things that Max instigates without any thought about how these activities will fulfill his promises to the gang. They don't, causing him to realize that "it's hard to be a family."

The Australian production takes huge advantage of the hills, sand dunes and shores of the outer Melbourne area to create the changeable landscapes of this other world. Cinematographer Lance Acord, Jonze's collaborator on "Being John Malkovich" and "Adaptation," superbly integrates the imaginative with the real, and K.K. Barrett's design further enhances this "real" fantasy, a far cry from the studio-bound phantasms of old. A rock-pop score by Karen O and Carter Burwell tries too hard and at too loud a pitch.

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Postby Mister Tee » Mon Oct 12, 2009 10:36 am

Screen Daily, in the same vein. Apparently one's affection for the film will depend on how important one considers plot.


Where The Wild Things Are
11 October, 2009 | By Brent Simon


Dir: Spike Jonze. US. 2009. 101 mins.


With Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, Spike Jonze built up a reputation as a quirky auteur, so it’s hard to believe that Where the Wild Things Are is only his third film, and his first in seven years. A creative, melancholic adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s imaginative but slim children’s book, Jonze’s film is essentially a delicate portrait of a child restlessly coming to terms with growing up - a cry for attention from a generation with dwindling adult role models.

The novelty of looking at the creatures never wears off, and Jonze uses an inquisitive handheld style that works.
In the way that Election was a film with teen characters but not a teen movie, Where the Wild Things Are is a movie about a child that isn’t a children’s film. Despite critical support and starry performances, neither of Jonze’s previous films cracked $25m domestically. This will need strong notices to attract adult film-goers as family audiences may find it too challenging; the international marketplace may be far more accepting.

The story revolves around Max (Max Records), a rambunctious but sensitive nine-year-old who feels neglected at home. His single mother (Catherine Keener) does the best she can, but Max’s older sister is understandably more into her own teenage friends, and Max acts out accordingly, seeking to be the center of some world.

After an argument with his mother, Max escapes to an island where he meets a motley group of seven towering, exotic creatures whose actions are also governed by impulse. These Wild Things, and in particular their de facto leader Carol (Gandolfini), long for a strong outside personality to guide them. Against the wishes of sarcastic, habitually negative Judith (Catherine O’Hara), Max is crowned king, promising fun for all, and a place where “only the things one wants to happen will happen.”

As the creatures’ relationships start to fray, though, and Max’s claims of superhuman powers fall into doubt, the frailty of his kingdom is revealed.

Any discussion of Where the Wild Things Are must begin with its highly imaginative look, which delightfully blends conventional puppetry with more modern techniques. The creatures are all portrayed by actors in six- to eight-foot tall costumes created by the Jim Henson Company, with some additional animatronics and computer-generated faces. Despite their outlandish appearances, the characters have recognizably human form and traits - they shift their weight, and slouch. These design choices help give the movie a tactile pleasure; it’s a fantasy that isn’t slick and polished, but feels “real”.

Adapting Sendak’s bestselling 1963 novel - the subject of several big screen outings throughout the years - Jonze and collaborator Dave Eggers (Away We Go) don’t impose a conventionally cathartic story on the film. Once Max settles on the island with the Wild Things, there follows a series of active, celebratory set pieces - cinematically imagined childplay, as it were. The exploration of character comes haltingly, in fits and starts.

Still, the film’s unique, handcrafted visual approach and genuine depth of feeling render this shortcoming relatively moot. The novelty of looking at the creatures never wears off, and Jonze uses an inquisitive handheld style that works. Similarly, the script is honest about both peril and aggrieved feelings — when there’s a dirt clod war, someone gets hurt, and when Carol feels spurned by crush KW (Lauren Ambrose), his hurt feelings linger.

Where the Wild Things Are can often – in a similar way to 1986’s Labryinth – be scary for younger audience members (a chase sequence when Carol becomes enraged, or when Max hides inside the stomach of one of the Wild Things). The film has a thematic similarity to Zathura and Home Alone, fanciful tales in which lonely or somewhat neglected kids place/find themselves at the center of a wild adventure, but Jonze’s approach gives it an undeniable arthouse spin.

Also worth noting is the score from Carter Burwell and Karen O (the frontwoman of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs). Whether trading in disconsolate howls or more soothing plaintive rhythms - the track Hideaway is a particular standout - the music connects emotionally, and may be singled out for awards consideration.

Mister Tee
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Postby Mister Tee » Mon Oct 12, 2009 10:32 am

Variety. In the vein of "Accomplished, but to what end?".


Where the Wild Things Are
By TODD MCCARTHY

A Warner Bros. release presented in association with Legendary Pictures and Village Roadshow Pictures and KLG Film Invest of a Playtone/Wild Things production. Produced by Tom Hanks, Gary Goetzman, John Carls, Maurice Sendak, Vincent Landay. Executive producers, Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni, Scott Mednick, Bruce Berman. Directed by Spike Jonze. Screenplay, Jonze, Dave Eggers, based on the book by Maurice Sendak.

Max - Max Records
Mom - Catherine Keener
Boyfriend - Mark Ruffalo
KW - Lauren Ambrose
Douglas - Chris Cooper
Carol - James Gandolfini
Judith - Catherine O'Hara
Ira - Forest Whitaker
Alexander - Paul Dano

Fleet of foot, emotionally attuned to its subject and instinctively faithful to its celebrated source, "Where the Wild Things Are" earns a lot of points for its hand-crafted look and unhomogenized, dare-one-say organic rendering of unrestrained youthful imagination. But director Spike Jonze's sharp instincts and vibrant visual style can't quite compensate for the lack of narrative eventfulness that increasingly bogs down this bright-minded picture. Widespread curiosity about the cinematic fate of Maurice Sendak's childhood perennial looks to spur sizable if not stellar commercial results in all markets, including on Imax screens.

Thematically, comparisons to everything from "The Wizard of Oz" to "Coraline" are not out of order for this flight of fancy on the part of an emotionally neglected 9-year-old boy; the driving impulse to escape an oppressive real life through creative fantasy is the same in all these books-to-films, as is their success in speaking simultaneously to children and adults. At the same time, contrasting "Wild Things" to two such superlative works in the same vein sharply shows up the new film's lack of density and complexity.

Granted, Jonze had a lot less to work with going in, as Sendak's 1963 volume, consisting of just 18 picture panels and 338 words of text, can be digested in less than five minutes. It's a simple but powerfully evocative tale of a mischievous boy who, sent to bed without supper, finds his room transformed into a dense forest and, after a long sea voyage, lands on an island populated by several fearsome-looking beasts, whom he tricks into believing he's "the most wild thing of all."

The most bracing section of the film is the first 15 minutes. Using a spot-on handheld camera and deft edits ruthlessly timed to when you need an air intake, Jonze pins the action on the aggressive energy of Max (Max Records) as he terrorizes his dog, bombards neighbor kids with snowballs and disrupts cozy time his mother (Catherine Keener) tries to have with a boyfriend (Mark Ruffalo, barely present). A great-looking kid, Records behaves with credible abandon and, without any child-actor mannerisms, provides the film with a solid center throughout.

Perhaps the greatest liberty Jonze and screenwriting cohort Dave Eggers take with Sendak's little yarn is their dispensing with the flowering of Max's bedroom, instead having him run off into some woods in his white wolf costume and find a sailboat that takes him through turbulent seas to a distant shore.

Upon arrival, Max finds six large and potentially dangerous creatures variously outfitted with scary horns, sharp claws, pointy teeth and large stomachs that need filling. Taking advantage of the beasts' general forlornness and evident need of an authority figure, Max introduces himself and is quickly accepted as their king. As in the book, Max's immediate command is, "Let the wild rumpus start!," whereupon one and all engage in mad behavior worthy of kids of all ages. By the time everyone calms down, however, it dawns that these big wild things are just like people -- in fact, rather too much so.

Free to have the wild things speak however they wanted, Jonze and Eggers surprisingly give them the voices and attitudes of middle-aged urban kibitzers; vaguely complainy and neurotic, the creatures are dominated by their sense of isolation and sadness. On the face of it, this is a choice with some wit behind it. But it also defangs the beasts from the outset -- one never fears that any of them would dream of making a meal out of Max -- and in the long run makes them far too ordinary.

Absent any sense of jeopardy or dramatic complications, the 70-odd minutes of screen time Max spends on the island (beautifully represented by rugged locations on the southern Australian coast near Melbourne) becomes a blur of rambunctious shenanigans, fort building, pretend warfare and confided feelings, particularly on the part of the imposing Carol (James Gandolfini), the most developed wild thing and the one to whom Max becomes closest.

There are fine creative inventions along the way, notably the large birds' nest-style structures the island inhabitants build and two funny squawking owls that aren't in the book. But nothing much is ever at stake, causing a story that begins in dynamic fashion to slowly devolve to the level of fleeting whimsy.

Most of the attention the film received during its prolonged production centered on the difficulty of seamlessly combining the large creature costumes with CGI facial expressions. The wild things move around pretty well and interact with Max in a credible way that fully justifies the no doubt difficult decision not to use CGI all the way. All the more ironic, then, that the film's biggest problem is not the look of the creatures but the manner in which they speak.

That said, the thesps provide low-key, nuanced readings, with Gandolfini and Lauren Ambrose particularly distinguishing themselves with dialogue that often seems odd coming from the toothsome mouths seen onscreen.

Excellent production values stress the relative realness of what's on view compared to the digital worlds of most kidpics these days. The alt-rock tenor of the music scoring is refreshing at first, but the predictability of the music cues proves increasingly wearisome.


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