Review: Where the Wild Things Are

October 18, 2009

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FROM JASON’S MOVIE TICKET — I don’t want to be this guy, but I have to say it: The movie wasn’t really much like the book.

I mean, how could it be? The hard-copy version of Where the Wild Things Are is a whopping 10 sentences long. Let’s be honest: Author Maurice Sendak spoke more to us in pictures than words. But where the 1963 short children’s tale shows a young boy reveling in his imagination to “master his feelings,” the 2009 Spike Jonze adaptation is a ponderous ode to broken homes, loneliness, and the suburban blues. There’s no joyful escapism here — even the monsters have traded in their pure rumpus ways and toothy grins for emotional demons.

There are no answers, either. The troubling realities of Max’s anger and frustration, his fractured relationship with his sister, and his mother’s looming unemployment are all still waiting for him, no matter what personal discoveries he’s made by the end of Jonze’s retelling. We see our young Max wrestle to come to terms with his “growth, survival, change, and fury,” as Sendak puts it. But Jonze has no solution, no happy ending except for warm soup waiting at the dinner table.

This is heavy stuff — too heavy for the children who were packed into the theater when I saw the matinee Sunday. It was the first PG film I’ve seen in a while, and that rating didn’t help send signals to Grandma and Grandpa Midwestern America that this was no Pixar song-and-joke gig. The four- and five-year-olds expected My Pet Monster, not Being John Malkovich.

Misplaced marketing doesn’t mean the film was a failure. It just wasn’t the bedtime story we thought it was, full of color and comfort and joy.

Don’t let me sound like the flick’s a waste. It shines in many departments, not the least of which is the setting. Timing is just as important as location — and 90 percent of Where the Wild Things Are seems to take place in those waning moments during the last sun-drenched minutes of the day and dusk, just when the sun is losing its life. That’s when my imagination was always strongest as a boy, after all.

It’s clear that Jonze is attuned to that primal way kids think. He just gets childhood, or at least the kind I had — the version experienced by an outcast trying to understand the very adult situations all around him, and struggling to analyze context with no experience.

Let’s not overlook the acting. Eleven-year-old Max Records seemed like he’s had 20 years of acting experience and was able to show us a depth I didn’t expect from a child actor. James Gandolfini, Forest Whitaker, and the criminally-underrated Chris Cooper were so convincing as Wild Things that I forgot they were celebrities and simply accepted them as characters.

And then there’s the costuming. While it’s obvious the Wild Things are people in suits, what is dazzling is the range of emotions that the Jim Henson wizards manage to get from their faces (there is some CG overlay, too, but it all looks completely lifelike). They might as well be real creatures, raised in the East Village and coached by Shakespearean actors.

The dream-like soundtrack is what tied everything together, though. Without it, I might have tuned out early.

A couple of quick notes: To date, Where the Wild Things Are is ranked at 68 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and 8.5/10 on IMDB. It also grossed $32.5 million in the opening weekend, in part due to the two $4 tickets I purchased.

To close, let me just address the “debate” about whether the island of the monsters is real. In Sendak’s book, the forest grew out of Max’s imagination. In the movie, though, Max runs away. We never see him bump his head. There is a seamless transition through the nightmare city streets and backyards to the sailboat that carries Max away. We see him leave and return with no obvious trauma. I choose to think it’s real, in much the same way I choose to think Douglas Quaid really went to Mars.

That is all.

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Wallpaper of the Week: Wolverine vs. Hulk

October 8, 2009

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FROM JASON’S DESKTOP — Well, that was a nice break.

I didn’t mean to take off the entire month of September. Sorry ’bout that. It’s not my fault — the siren lure of Netflix¬† is entirely to blame. I joined up in late July and, well, you’ve seen the posts slip.

There was also a slight obsession with Team Fortress 2. Expect another absence in November when Left 4 Dead 2 drops.

Netflix, though, has allowed me to catch up on a backlog of movies that I had wanted to see. Because I have been working nights, getting to the video rental store wasn’t an option. With streaming movies and delivery to my mailbox, that’s no longer a problem.

A few weeks ago, the mail brought me Hulk Vs., a double-feature released in January by Marvel. One flick shows Wolverine taking on Hulk while his old Department K enemies interfere. The other story on the disc has Loki possessing the Hulk in a plot to overthrow Asgard during the Odinsleep.

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The animation of neither is stellar; however, the action is something of a fanboy wet dream. The Wolverine tale is a throwback to the characters’ first run-in back in 1974 and features Lady Deathstrike, Deadpool (whose dialog was spot-on), Sabretooth, and Omega Red. Thor’s story is full of rainbows (oh, I hate the Asgard designs), and features the Enchantress, Sif, and even a trip to the underworld to visit Hela.

I was surprised to see a 7.1 rating for Hulk Vs. on IMDB. Personally, it was a guilty pleasure — a callback to my infantile love for the old Hulk television show. I would have rated the double-feature at about five out of 10. Maybe the Marvel fanboys have skewed the data. But I’d say that if you enjoyed some other direct-to-video comic adapatations (Ultimate Avengers, The Invincible Iron Man, Dr. Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme), then you’ll probably get a kick out of this one, too.

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Now, it took me a while to find some decent Hulk vs. Wolverine wallpapers, so enjoy these ones, aight? As always, click the thumbnail to enbiggen.

Part of the problem getting higher-quality desktops involved the demise of a certain chan aggregator — you might remember I was a fan — called 4scrape (RIP). Since it went belly-up, some brilliant netizens have delved into the source code and compiled their own 4scrape clones. The one I’ve latched onto is 4walled, which does the job pretty well despite some load time and formatting issues.