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Saturday, October 17, 2009

"Where the Wild Things Are"

In "Where the Wild Things Are" Spike Jonze has created a dreamscape so vivid and expansive that you wish you could visit. That's not to say that everything is peaceful in this land. There are some scenes that mildly frightened me, so I would advise caution when bringing little ones. (It seems that if a ruler of the Wild Things displeases his subjects, their next meal is served -ahem- ala King.)

Other critics have referenced recent live-action Seuss adaptations, "The Grinch" and "Cat in the Hat," usually with the prefix, "much better than", but then they proceed to say that the expansion to feature-length has still served to undercut the power of the source material. It is true that "Cat in the Hat" was nothing short of a desecration, and "Grinch" was mediocre and what's worse, completely unnecessary given the enormous shadow of Chuck Jones' animated classic. Still, to mention "Wild Things" in the company of those films seems a bit like comparing "Citizen Kane" to "Harold & Kumar go to White Castle." I believe that "Wild Things" is not only the antithesis of the Seuss films, it may well be the antidote. If an adaptation can not match the imagination and reverent care of this film, then the project should be scrapped.

The casting is ingenious, it is wonderfully disconcerting to hear the voice of Tony Soprano emanating from something that is almost cuddly despite his destructive rage. Max is played by Portlander Max Records, who imbues his character with surprisingly deep anger. The Wild Things themselves are brought to life by Jim Henson's Creature Shop, and I predict an Oscar win.

"Where the Wild Things Are" is beautifully photographed. Honestly, if the characters had done nothing but continue their Wild Rumpus throughout the length of the film I would have been satisfied, but they do much more. It is a film that encourages introspection, and one of the few that gives younger audiences the credit they deserve.

Note: I saw this film in the IMAX at Bridgeport and that it is the way it should be seen. Make the trip from wherever you are, you will not be disappointed.

You May Also Like:

"Adaptation" (Also directed by Jonze)

"Animal Farm" (1999 version also featuring the work of Jim Henson's Creature Shop)

"Being John Malkovich" (Also directed by Jonze)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

"Paranormal Activity"

The buzz that preceded "Paranormal Activity" was deafening. There were tales of unexplained happenings, such as Steven Speilberg's door locking on its own after a screening. Does "Paranormal Activity" live up to the hype? Yes, it does. That being said, you do have to go in with the right mindset. There is virtually no violence or gore here, "Paranormal Activity" provides its scares with a masterful use of sound effects. Is it the scariest movie ever made as some have declared? Well, I guess that depends on what scares you the most. If your worst fear is to be haunted by malevolent spirits, then this film is a vivid realization of your nightmares. For the rest of us whose fears are a different sort, "Paranormal Activity" still has the ability to burrow deep beneath your skin if you let it.

At first I felt kind of cheated that I was not able to attend a midnight screening and had to settle for one with a sparse audience on a weekday afternoon, I had read that being with a large group of spectators enhanced the experience. I think it is actually better seen with fewer people, because the film is not about sharing a scream with the auditorium, it is about the gradually increasing sense of dread, and that is a solitary experience localized entirely within your own brain.

For those who haven't seen it, I can think of no better way to spend Halloween night....

Sunday, October 4, 2009

'Capitalism: A Love Story'

I’ve read a handful of reviews of ‘Capitalism: A Love Story,’ and regardless of whether the critic in question enjoyed Moore’s film, many of them call it unfocused. I, on the other hand believe that Moore has finally made the film he has always wanted to make. This seems to be his summation, the cinematic equivalent of an emphatic ’I told you so.’ Yes, Moore takes aim at a plethora of targets, but they are all in support of his thesis that there has been a catastrophic failure, that it is indeed time to write our beloved capitalist system a ‘Dear John’ letter with a vitriolic pen. Does that always make for a film with laser-like precision? Perhaps not. Yet, I am perplexed beyond words to read critics extolling ‘Bowling for Columbine’ as Moore’s most focused work. In ‘Bowling’ Moore explored everything from white flight to this country’s gentle treatment of corporate criminals, even going so far as recycling his Corporate Cops skit from one of his T.V. shows. ‘Bowling’ was so scattershot that it nearly lost sight of its titular tragedy. ‘Capitalism’ finally gives Moore a canvas big enough to paint in broad strokes.

Sure, Moore falls prey to some of the same pitfalls that have plagued his previous efforts. Perhaps the most irritating of these is Moore’s habit of making fun of Americans, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he is one as well. After a brilliant montage that juxtaposes the fall of Rome with prominent American figures, Moore falls into his argument-weakening condescension. ‘How will future generations remember us? ’ For this? He then shows a goofy internet video of cats flushing toilets. Or for this? as he shows his first victim of foreclosure. Is the brief giggle elicited by the flushing felines really worth poking fun at the country he proportedly wishes to help rescue? Though this is nothing compared to his assertion in ‘Bowling’ that the only safe weapon is one in the hands of a Happy Canadian. When will Moore realize that when he does these things he plays right into the hands of those who say he hates America? Wouldn’t his point be better articulated if rather than featuring the potty-trained pets, he had instead highlighted a uniquely American triumph, and then set that against the same scenes of foreclosure, because this country is unfortunately capable of both?

Moore’s most persuasive point in favor of sweeping change comes when he shows a clip of Franklin Roosevelt proposing a second Bill of Rights. (Call me biased if you must, but I think it’s no coincidence that this country’s first handicapped president was the first to realize the need for programs to help the common man and the disadvantaged.)

I enjoyed ‘Capitalism A Love Story’ and I actually consider the fact that Moore goes beyond the current crisis the film’s greatest strength, for it is merely a symptom of an ill whole, the inevitable collapse of an unsound structure.