Month: November 2009

Biters Can’t Be Choosers: Review for “Where the Wild Things Are”

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I cannot think of a more disappointing film than Spike Jonze’s adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are. I hadn’t been expecting anything at all, really, since first seeing the trailer. But even those expectations were lowered. The beloved children’s book by Maurice Sendak is about 13 sentences, 330 words. How long is the film? Too long. I felt deeply betrayed when being told I was going to see this film a film that had been marketed as a kid’s film. “But kid’s movies can be adult movies too!” Yes, they can be, but do kid’s film have deep philosophical babble in the? “Well, no.”

The beginning of the film managed to portray Max (newcomer Max Records) as a whiny brat. In the book, Max is sent to his room for being rude to his mother. In the film, not only is he rude, he is completely obstinate. He yells “Feed me, woman!” dressed as some sort of monster. He then jumps onto the dining table and acts like the monster whose skin he inhabits. All while his mother is having a dinner with a “friend”. His mother, then giving up playing nice, picks him up and he actually bites her. What happens? She brings him to the floor and stares in shock and wonders as he begins to tear up and runs away from home to go off and wallow in self pity. This self pity started from the moment the film started, when his sister’s friend ruined his igloo and then he decided to vandalize her room. He just seems to be a rather selfish child. And I doubt any parents really want to watch that when they have to deal with it at home.

He gets on a boat and travels to an imaginary land where he lies to the creatures there and tells them he’s a king. He does so for odd power lust, something that I would be worried if my child had that. There, he meets Carol (voiced by James Gandolfini, The Sopranos), the anger management needing creature; Ira and Judith (Forest Whitaker and Catherine O’Hara), one who’s a pushover and one who’s a “downer” and described as this throughout the entire film; Alexander (Paul Dano), a seldom noticed creature; Douglas (Chris Cooper), Carol’s right and man; and KW (Lauren Ambrose, a seemingly quiet and sensitive creature, someone who may have had a “relationship” with Carol in the past.

The most fun and least annoying part of the film is when they’re having fun and neither being overly message pushing nor whiny. Oh, well, that lasted about 15 minutes, back to depressing and whiny characters.

The Wild Things seemed to be manifestations of Max’s feelings. It’s such a shame all these feelings were annoying, whiny, impatient, nosey, and in need of anger counseling. This portrayal pushed a message that Spike Jonze really wanted to show his audience. That message never appears explicitly or even subtlety. Lost in all the “fun” of the film was that message, whatever it was. He seemed so vehement as to show a message, shoving down the viewer’s throats, with all the philosophical symbolism and emotional plot lines, yet he never shows us what the actual message is, which loses the purpose of having a meaning to the film at all.

With all this “deep” content of the film, doesn’t that kind of ruin the mainstream demographic? Yes, it does, because it barely even lets the film become two stories that depend on the audience’s interpretation. It doesn’t even let it become a fun film. With Toy Story, for adults, you had a cheeky film about jealousy, and for kids you had a fun animated movie with cowboys, spacemen, and a message of friendship that was both coherent and not so annoying that you wanted to vomit. Subtle enough not to make parents sleep, yet wonderful enough to get the message across. This is exactly what Wild Things did not do.

The shaky camera movements are kind of a slip decision. If you don’t mind that sort of cinematography, it envelops you in the current scene (running, jumping, screaming, Rawr-ing, etc.) but if it makes you nauseous, be sure to close your eyes. The score, which featured songs Karen O and Carter Burwell, seemed to exemplify “wild rumpus”. Its main objective was to make it sound fun, no matter how inappropriate the music was for the given scene.

Another problem the film had was that it was far too scary for kids. Like Coraline before it, the film had an amazing amount of content that would deem it too violent for children. Seriously, who throws dirt clogs at each other for fun? I never did that. Am I simply a deprived child? Scenes where the Wild Things jump on each other look so realistic, mostly because of the camera work, and it makes one feel queasy and slightly violated. I cowered during the film. (SPOILER WARNING: Out of anger, Carol, rips off the right arm of Douglas. Sand seeps like blood from the wound. I think that’s a bit violent, don’t you?)

On a positive note, the costumes for the Wild Things are simply amazing. They look incredibly realistic and the facial movements, created by CGI (The only thing Jonze was willing to use it for), seem so emotional. Okay, done with that.

The movie was too deep for children to appreciate. When I walked out of the theater, I watched as ten children complained about how much they disliked the film. It was pretentious with neither support for its pretentiousness nor any real reason to be that way. The characters were whiny. And the violence was a bit ridiculous for a kid’s film. Kids complain that it’s boring and scary. I would advise you not to see this mess of a film.

Grade: D

Music to Our Ears: Would It Work?

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I heard this song on the radio today (Sirius XM on Broadway) and it was a cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game”. It had me very intrigued and I began thinking of great faous Broadway music that could have potentially been released as stand alone singles. And here begins my picks of what I listened to:


“All that Jazz” from Chicago

Fosse’s musical on sin being in features one of the most prominent showtunes in usical history, thanks to its jazzy tempo and its stellar rendition by Catherine zeta-Jones. However, th way that Kander and Ebb tended to write music was mainly for the stage. There were plays, of course, where it was directly intended to sound as if it could work outside the theater, but this veers too closely towards showtune-ism.

Verdict: It could work for those of whom who like jazz. From the 1920s. Grade (as stand alone song): B-

“Till There Was You” from The Music Man

For those of whom who like the Beatles, you know I’m kind of cheating. This extremely romantic song from Meradith Wilson’s con man story did work when it was released on the Beatles’ second studio albm, With the Beatles. A sweet melody, voices that could handle being so cheesy would sing it and succeed. Kristin Chenoweth is  a notable cover artist when she co-starred with Matthew Broderick in the TV version of The Music Man.

Verdict: It worked before for the Beatles, so why not. It all depends on the arrangement. Grade: A

“Cabaret” from Cabaret

If we’re going to be talking about Liza Minelli’s tremendous rendition from the Oscar-winning Bob Fosse film, then, yes, it could be a stand alone song. Jill Hayworth’s verion, however, should be left to die. She was ravaged in reviews, and rightly so. He voice wasn’t strong enough. Wth the pounding jazz at the beginning of the song and its unforgettable lyrics, yeah, it could survive even today. Because the song was written to be performaed in a cabaret, the osng could easily take off in the jazz genre from the likes of Diana Krall.

Verdict: With little doubt, this old standby could knnowck the audience off their feet. Grade: A-

“Memory” from Cats

It’s trembling vocals and difficult arrangement, the beautiful rendition from Betty Buckley, the wonderful lyrics taken fro the T.S. Elliot poem. What could make this son more heart wrenching?? Nothing. Because its style, a heavy, heavy balld, had been arranged especially for the stage, the song would not work in a mainstream market at all. Sure, artists like Barbara Streisand have done cover versions of the song, but they all lead to people thinking, “Oh, that was really nice, what show is it from?”

Verdict: No, it would barely survive. Too heavy and its performance tend to be done by singers of old Broadway. Grade: D+

“Just One of Those Things” from Jubilee

Cole Porter is one of the greatest song writers of all time. Not only can he do those kitchy love songs for his shows like Paris, but he can actually make a jazz standard called “Just One of Those Things”. The light piano and bass help to lighten the mood, as it calmly and almost jubilantly talks of a brief fling. The song made an appearance in Porter’s biopic De-Lovely where it was covered by Diana Krall. If she relased her version, I’m sure it would do better than fine.

Verdict: An almost perfect fit for a jazz single. Grade: A

“That’s How You Know” from Enchanted

No, I’m sorry, this is even worse than “Memory”. This one is as cheesy and up beat and annoying as a song could be. I loved it for that film and Amy Adams’s performance was excellent, but it’s obvious rhythym and need to have people dancing while doing it makes this a no-no in terms of music.

Verdict: No, it would be terrible. Grade: F

“Those Magic Changes” from Grease

Because the film takes place in the 1950s and because the music is supposed to sound like it’s a creative pop song and because Sha-Na-Na had already been covering pop standards throughout the film and their career, this song would indeed work had it been distributed in the ‘50s. It’s cute melody and heartbreaking lyrics make it an obvious and fun choice for someone to sing back then. The “pounding strings” jut makes it more emotional and heart felt.

Verdict: As a song in the ‘50s, it sure would work. Grade: A-


If you have any clips of sons that would either be great as songs or terrible, please comment!

Sister, Sister: Review for “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?”

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Have you ever been manipulated by a completely crazy person? Are they related to you? Thought so. But was it so bad that they crippled you with their car? Thought that would get you. In the classic thriller What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Starring Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, Davis shows us child stars were bratty and manipulative even in 1917. This chilling film had problems during production, mainly doubt that the film would even be released. The director, Robert Aldrich, kept hearing “I wouldn’t pay a dime to see those two old broads on the screen.”

It’s funny how art can imitate life. At the time, both Crawford and David were hard up for roles in film and the two were rivals in their glory days. The film begins with baby Jane Hudson, a young and precocious child star on vaudeville in 1917 with her own porcelain doll (“For only $3.25!). Her standby is a song called “A Letter to Daddy”, an eerie song recounting a young daughter’s wish for her father back from heaven. When the show is over, she acts up in front of a crowd, embarrassing her ring master father and helpless mother. Her sister, Blanche, watches by, jealous yet patient. Her mother consoles her, assuring her that she would be famous and pleads not to treat them the same way they treat her.

Jump 20 years and Blanche is on the silver screen making epic romance films and hilarious crowd pleasing comedies, both gaining the attention of critics. Though, a part of her contract is to allow her younger sister Jane in on the money as well and get her some jobs. Jane’s films don’t even sell. The executives won’t release many of her films, almost deeming her box office poison (which is ironic, because by this time, Crawford had gained that nick name).

Jump 30 years and Blanche (Crawford) is living in a wheelchair after an accident caused by her psychotic sister Jane (Davis). Blanche is almost happy-go-lucky and totally giddy when a television station starts playing her old films. She loves her sister and feels a need to pay her back, even though Jane is delusional and mean and completely crazy.

This psychology between the two is the main spectacle of the film. Blanche seems to be completely deluding herself that Jane is a healthy and sane person, when in reality; she goes completely nutters on several occasions. This Jane character completely manipulates her older sister, almost driving her mad, stuffing dead birds and rats in her lunch and murdering maids.

The performances are amazing, some of the best for either actress. The two grace the silver screen like the icons they had once been, both in the film and in real life. The creepiness that surrounds the characters and their state of mind is almost overwhelming. It gives a complete sense of evil that has only been replicated on screen a handful of times. The score by Frank DeVol adds to the aura of mystique and the even scarier version of “A Letter for Daddy” done by a grown up crazy Jane makes shivers go down the viewer’s spine. It is a fantastic film and a stand by for all time scary films!

Grade: A

From Bruges with Blood: Review of “In Bruges”

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Dark comedy is not easy to do, since comedy itself is hard enough. With dark comedy, you have to have the right amount of bleakness or terribleness and then a mix of comedy for it to work. The Coen Brothers have perfected this art in such films as Fargo. Martin Macdonagh’s new dark comedy/thriller/action/shoot ‘em up film is called In Bruges. Think of it as Fargo with thicker accents, less niceness, and more cursing. Collin Farrell plays a gun for hire named Ray. He has a mentor named Ken (Brendan Gleeson). And they have a guy after them named Harry Waters (Ralph Fiennes). Oh and there’s a “dwarf” named Jimmy (Jordan Prentice, from American Pie Presents the Naked Mile) Why, yes, this all ties together, but I shan’t give the plot away.

The beginning of the film is so wrought with darkness and sadness, you’re ultimately shocked that towards the second half it actually becomes…quite hilarious. Brendan Gleeson, who has done a lot of British television and stage work, makes an old fart like Ken seem cool. The cinematography, done by Eigil Bryld, can be annoyingly shaky sometimes, but in certain shots, very beautiful. Never has a climb up the stairs been so moving, but I will get to that scene a little later in this review.

What makes this film so good? It’s rather flawless humor and drama, how one never overshadowed the other and how each element was actually used appropriately. Swift changes between the elements actually can enhance a film’s emotional plotline, or bring it down. But it is indeed possible to go from thinking of committing suicide to kicking a dwarf in the crotch.

The score by Carter Burwell was another thing that made the film. It was a very moving score when need be and then it could go to a pulse pounding chase scene and make the score turn that way too. One of the best uses of scores I’ve ever seen on screen is when en is climbing up the stairs with a shot in his neck and knee and it plays this old Celtic song that is so moving a beautiful. He then proceeds to jump off of the building and you can almost feel the rush of the wind on your face. A superb, if very morbid scene.

The film as a whole has a very good sense of what it is and doesn’t take advantage of that knowledge. It manages to be a well written, dramatic, and funny film. Ralph Fiennes is excellent and the cursing throughout the film is outrageous. “F***ing Bruges” is said about a hundred times in the film, if not more.


Grade: A-