Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Who better to celebrate the day with than the scariest dude of them all, Mr. Christopher Walken? I find his spooky recitation of Poe's "The Raven" a pretty solid way to kick off All Hallow's Eve:

God bless us, every one!

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

One weird rumpus

I've generally enjoyed the two movies that I was most looking forward to seeing this year, Watchmen and Where the Wild Things Are, but as the credits for each rolled, I found myself wondering whether they really needed to be adapted from the beloved books on which they're based. It's still hard to believe that either film even got made, and I'm grateful to Warner Bros. that they did, but I can't help thinking of them more as worthy experiments than solid movies. Both were helmed by former music video and commercial directors who treated the material reverentially, and it's probably no coincidence that the stylish trailers for each turned out to be better than the movies themselves.

Nonetheless, both are truly unique pictures, with Wild Things the more deserving of that description. While many childhood staples are routinely, cinematically plundered by movie studios (I'm looking at you, Cat in the Hat), Warners seemed genuinely interested in effectively serving the material of Maurice Sendak's classic children's book, and kept him involved throughout the process. Sendak's choice of Spike Jonze as director—and Jonze's choice of Dave Eggers as co-screenwriter, as well as the Jim Henson Creature Shop as effects providers—all but ensured that this would be no typical kids' film.
The result turns out to be an engaging experience that, like its source material, refuses to talk down to its target audience of elementary school-age children. Wild Things captures the ferocity, imagination, and emotions of Sendak's story, and always feels a little dangerous. When picture-book Max chases his dog around with a fork, it's rascally; when movie Max (in a fantastic performance by newcomer Max Records) does the same in the opening scene, it's a little chaotic and violent.

Not surprising then, that—again, as with the book—some parents have lashed out against the film as being inappropriate for (little) kids. I suspect, though, that more stories exploring childhood's wide range of unpredictable emotions might be just what kids need. I saw Wild Things with my nine-year-old niece, who's probably the perfect age for it, and found it helpful to see the film through her eyes. It made me appreciate that the story of a boy who deals with a turbulent homelife by imagining elaborate worlds can serve as a discussion generator, allowing children to talk through complex feelings. Having said that, I'm not sure it makes for the most entertaining movie.

Some parents may be upset at the film's content, but just as many are bored by it. Which is likely due to the fact that, once Max reaches the island of the Wild Things... not much happens in the way of a plot. The strange story meanders, and is driven by emotions, rather than narrative—in much the same way that real-life make-believe goes. The fantasy segment (the bulk of the movie) is technically brilliant in terms of cinematography, tone, and the Wild Things themselves, but I found myself wanting the character to return to scenes of the real world, which provide strong bookends to the film.

I certainly didn't mind that Wild Things is unconventional, but I wish that it reflected more of the book's fun in the same way that it's able to effectively translate other elements of the story. Still, as an only child who grew up escaping to well-defined realms of make-believe, I felt closely connected to Max, and was emotionally affected by the movie in a rare, powerful way. I won't ruin the last scene, except to say that it's free of dialogue and pitch-perfect.

If Jonze's goal for Where the Wild Things Are was to enhance the book's ability to capture the experience of childhood in a way that isn't patronizing, he nailed it.

Grade: B+

Friday, October 23, 2009

This news pleases me

Bust out your Technodromes, gang, because the World's Most Fearsome Fighting Team is poised for a major reemergence. (Don't call it a comeback, of course, as they've been here for years.) Nickelodeon acquired the rights to the Ninja Turtles this week for $60 million, and have plans to develop a new CGI TV series - in the vein of 2007's decent TMNT - as well as a new, live action/CGI movie.

The replacement of
Jim Henson's Creature Shop's puppets, used in 1990's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie - still the gold standard among Turtle adaptations - with computer animation is regrettable, but The Hollywood Reporter's assertion that the planned film will "return to the franchise's roots" is encouraging. "In addition to the action and humor of the first film, it would have the darker tone of the original comics," reports THR. Cowabunga! (Vanilla Ice is reported not to be involved.)

In celebration, here's the dudes' not-hit song, "Pizza Power," from the Coming Out of Their Shells '90 live tour...I may or may not have been in attendance:



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Saturday, October 17, 2009

"Teargarden by Kaliedyscope"...

...is the name of the new "Smashing Pumpkins" (Billy + some studio musicians and a newly hired 19-year-old drummer) "album" (a 44-song series of EPs, to be released one track at a time online, for free). Corgan tells Rolling Stone that Warner Bros. Records "should have left this mystic free, because I am way more of a pied piper than they could ever fathom.”

I was going to make fun of all of this, but really, it's much too easy a target. That title sounds like something out of a story in The Onion that never was. Has the dude become a parody of himself - or is he, just maybe, a genius? If he revolutionizes the music industry, I guess the joke will be on all of us...

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

"I see (profitable) dead people"

Well, kids, it's that time of year again: when the impending debauchery of candy and costume parties is best complimented by good, ol' fashioned, horribly scary movies. Good thing, then, that Slamdance Film Fest hit Paranormal Activity, opening wide next weekend, has repeatedly been called the scariest film of the last ten years - with many viewers (including premiere horror site Bloody Disgusting) declaring it one of the most terrifying movies they've ever seen. Sounds good to me!

The $11,000-budgeted, handheld DV-shot ghost story is well poised to capitalize on the hype that made similar "found footage" horror pics (Blair Witch, Open Water) breakout successes. Snatched up by Paramount at Slamdance, Paranormal has been aided by an ingenious marketing campaign that's proven extremely effective, thus far: for its first couple weeks of release, it played only in select cities, exclusively at midnight screenings. Over the weekend, the film expanded to showings throughout the day, but still employs a feature on its website which allows viewers in areas where the movie hasn't yet been released to request it in their city, via an online "Demand It!" function. The result? It grossed $7 million this weekend - on just 159 screens.

Needless to say, the review is forthcoming...if I can find someone to go with me (my wife refuses, and I'm not seeing this one alone).

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