Vern’s WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE review ‘monsterpiece’!!!!

tn_wherethewildthingsareFirst of all, this one is VERY different from the other WILD THINGS movies, and with virtually no nudity. But easily one of the best of the series. Second, I don’t usually go around reviewing movies made for kids, and I got a reputation to uphold and what not. But this is a movie of ferocious artistic purity. Whether you like it or not you’d have to be a numbnuts not to recognize it as a unique achievement.

This is the movie Spike Jonze has been working on for years, based on the famous Maurice Sendak picture book. You probly read about how Sendak asked him to do it, at first he turned it down, then he thought of an idea for it, they started making it, one studio dropped them, they moved to a different studio, continued making it, that studio freaked out when they started snooping around and found out there was no farting or Smash Mouth songs in it. Rumors circulated that they were gonna fire Jonze and start over or redo some of his scenes with CGI or who knows what. But he kept on going and they must’ve either got distracted by something on TV or decided he knew what he was doing. Somehow he got to the end and looked down and in his hands he was holding the movie he set out to make at the beginning. Except transferred into Imax. Nobody knows how it got there.

Where the Wild Things AreMr. Jonze deserves a Congressional Medal of Freedom for pulling this shit off. In a genre where movies are always shaped around Happy Meal and doll tie-ins I swear he’s made a movie without a single commercial compromise or concession to Hollywood formula. He’s not trying to bullshit you or your kids, he’s tapping straight into a kid mentality, which doesn’t mean poop jokes and Hannah Montana references, it’s more primal. At times in this movie I felt like it was making me regress to being a little kid, remembering the simple joy of throwing things, breaking things, building things, making up stories, and also the feeling of being hurt by small things like mom or big sister won’t pay attention to you exactly when you want, so you go hide in your room and feel sorry for yourself. Max has those feelings and then Carol, a wild thing portrayed brilliantly by the voice of James Gandolfini, amplifies them to giant size. He represents the needy side of a kid, the one that feels sorry for himself and gets angry too easily (which leads to the much hyped make-kids-cry part of the movie when he briefly chases Max claiming he’s gonna “eat him up.” But don’t worry kids, he’s full of shit. He’s got no follow through on shit like that.) Carol is a character like I’ve never seen before – a monster who’s only scary because he’s so emotionally fragile you gotta walk on egg shells around him. They should try that in a Godzilla movie some time.

All of the wild things seem to represent different sides of Max’s feelings or things in his life. For example there’s a little goat who thinks nobody listens to him or pays him enough attention, and a girl named K.W. who everybody thinks is cool and wants to impress (like he feels about his older sister). They’re basically huge, hairy kids building forts and getting confused about things. They even have snotty noses. Max (both the character and the kid who plays him, Max Records) seems like a smart and imaginative kid, but not in some phony HOME ALONE way where he has clever quips and talks like an adult. No, he talks like a kid. His stories and games don’t make alot of sense, and involve lots of force fields and lava and shit. Very authentic.

I can’t imagine anybody else in the world would’ve done a “Where the Wild Things Are” movie and approached it remotely similar. Even a good director. Most people see a drawing of monsters they’re gonna go the heavy handed art director route, create a stylized environment for them to live in, show offy camera moves and a Danny Elfman soundtrack. Jonze did none of those things. Most of it is filmed handheld on location in Australia, just fields, sand dunes, woods and stuff.

In order to avoid that “how do you act when there’s not a real dinosaur chasing you?” question at junkets they built giant suits of the wild things. Only the faces are (flawlessly) digital, and I didn’t even really think about them being special effects. Of course doing it that way looks more real, but more importantly it helps the acting. It’s a real kid running around playing with the things in person, not faking it. And it seems more dangerous, because they’re so big, they seem like they could accidentally crush him.

So that’s what the movie is, and I think it should also be mentioned what it isn’t. Sendak fuckin lucked out, man. He pulled it off. I’m pretty sure I can hear Dr. Seuss blowing around in his urn now that this has been proven possible. I mean think about that HORTON HEARS A WHO movie, for example. I believe that’s the first Dr. Seuss feature film to look halfway decent, in fact they did a good job of turning his artwork into a three-dimensional world. Otherwise it has nothing at all to do with the poor bastard. They take the 5-10 minutes of story in the book and bury it in a bunch of unrelated wacky sitcom shit. The timid, loyal elephant character is turned into a Jim Carrey goofball that dances around standing upright doing celebrity impressions and cartoon sight gags and shit. No respect at all for the tone or spirit of the original story. That’s how bad Hollywood is at reading, they can’t even do it when there’s pictures.

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE doesn’t have a single drop of that bullshit. It expands on the book organically, not trying to shove it into movie and Saturday morning cartoon formulas, but just letting it grow naturally, keeping the same tone, mood and simplicity. Jonze is looking deep into the simple story and interpreting it instead of looking outside for other subplots to pile on top of it.

How is it possible that this movie was made with the voices of James Gandolfini, Chris Cooper and Forest Whitaker instead of Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen and Snoop Dogg? Huh? Can we give Obama credit for this? It seems like a miracle to me. You know what the trailer would’ve been like: Starts out real dramatic, Harry Pottery orchestral score playing as the camera floats through a beautiful CGI ocean, onto an island, into a forest. The sound of giant feet plodding through dirt. The camera comes to the unmistakable shadow of a large, horned monster. Then…

“Wild thing. You make my heart sing. You make everything… groovy.” The computer-animated wild thing leaps weightlessly in the air doing air guitar. Then a wacky record scratch and Tone Loc’s “Wild Thing” comes on. And some sort of dated MATRIX reference maybe. Or American Idol. The wild things make little quips, puffs of smoke come out when they dart around waving their arms everywhere, and there’s jokes about cell phone minutes or 401Ks or something. Ha ha, because why would a wild thing have a 401K. Funny stuff.

The teaser poster: white background. A wild thing standing with his arms folded like a lost member of Run DMC, wearing Snoopy Joe Cool sunglasses. Max next to him, similar pose, backwards baseball cap, skateboard in hand. Below that it says “BORN TO BE WILD.”

You know this to be true. It’s much, much more likely that that would happen than what we got from Spike Jonze. It’s like that speech Dr. Nudity makes on Mars in WATCHMEN. Out of all the possibilites, for this to be the outcome is a miracle.

I know I’m saying more about what’s not in the movie than what is, but that’s the best way I know to describe it. Somehow it’s fantastical and naturalistic at the same time, a fantasy movie that seems to strip away all the artifice, all the bullshit. It throws away all the gimmicks and crutches you expect to see in a movie about this and replaces them with humanity, for good and bad. Through these monsters you have fun, you get scared, hurt, angry, you make friends, you forgive, you say goodbye. It’s funny, but not jokey. It’s weird, but not quirky. It’s gloomy, but not “dark.” It’s narratively simple, but emotionally complex. It’s a movie about big cool looking creatures but it’s more honest about life than movies that are supposed to be the real deal.

Let me cut to the chase: WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE is a masterpiece. There’s nothing like it and if there’s ever anything like it again it’ll be a long god damn time from now. The movie is like a place that you go, and I can’t wait to go back. But it’s basically an art movie, it has no interest in pleasing everybody. That’s not some elitist thing, it’s just the truth – this is a movie where there are more feelings than there are plot points. Jonze said somewhere his model for the dialogue was John Cassavetes movies, and I don’t think he was talking about THE DIRTY DOZEN. Obviously some people got no time for a challenging kid’s movie, and those people will find this boring as hell.

It’s like you and I know THE LIMEY is fucking badass, but we probly have friends who’d fall asleep during it. And you wouldn’t show it to your mom. Doesn’t mean your mom is stupid, doesn’t mean THE LIMEY isn’t great. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE is the same way. Probly won’t make much more money than that thing with the gun toting guinea pigs, but I believe when everyone involved with that movie is dead and buried and not one person has thought of it in nine years many kids and parents will still be passionate about WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. That’s the trade off.

I mean, I’m not sure what other kid’s movie to compare it to. I haven’t seen ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS (either the squeakquel or the nutriginal). I have seen GARFIELD though (part 1 only), and in my opinion this is a better movie than GARFIELD. Just my 2 cents.


Shit, maybe I should’ve said “monsterpiece.”

Originally posted at Ain’t-It-Cool-News: http://www.aintitcool.com/node/42677

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This entry was posted on Monday, October 12th, 2009 at 1:37 am and is filed under AICN, Family, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

85 Responses to “Vern’s WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE review ‘monsterpiece’!!!!”

  1. This doesn’t come out till Dec in Oz, so now I have to put up with reviews praising it for just under 2 months till I get the chance to see it. Why are the fates so cruel? Vern’s is the only one I’m going to read. Please hurry up December.

  2. And Germany gets it even two weeks later than Australia! (That’s Oz, right?) Although if it becomes a HUGE hit, they will probably drop it earlier overseas. It happened with “District 9”. But I still haven’t seen that and have to wait now till it comes out on DVD and I’m 99% sure I have to do the same with that movie, so why am I complaining? :'(

  3. Vern, this is one of the best reviews you’ve ever written. Excellence striven for and achieved, sir! Never before have I pictured Dr. Seuss (or anyone, for that matter) blowing around in an urn, but now I’m unable to forget it. Cheers!

  4. Dang, man. Your review makes it sound better than Speed Racer and at least half the Pixar flicks. Hype-o-meter just went up 400 points.

  5. This is true.

    I am honestly torn now, do I wait 2 months and take my boys to cinema…with 90% chance they cry as soon as monsters come out and we gotta leave…

    or do I download and watch at home with fastforward button ready and give the $50 cost to some random bum instead. kids appreciate the latter more..but this just might be the movie to get em started. fuck, from the description, might just be the movie to get me started. im cryin already. gj

  6. I know it makes you vaguely uncomfortable when people kiss your ass Vern, but that is possibly the best review I’ve ever read. So, erm, thanks man.

    Shit, now I feel uncomfortable.

  7. Patrick Stephenson

    October 12th, 2009 at 8:54 am

    That description you wrote of how Wild Things could’ve turned out is hilarious—because I can imagining it being exactly like that. I HATED Horton Hears a Who. I can’t wait to see this movie.

  8. Wow, this just jumped to head the must-see line. I don’t know how it happened that both you a Drew McWeeny posted reviews at roughly the same time, with both of you using the word masterpiece, something neither of you are prone to do. McWeeny, like all his best pieces, injected his own experiences into the piece to describe how the film affected him—but Vern, shit. Maybe you should just change “striving for excellence” to “maintaining excellence.” Your writing went from funny to downright scary during the Hollywood Dr. Seuss bit, and only progressed from there. Well done man.

    On second thought, keep striving. There’s an old Chinese saying: “When pointing at the moon it’s important to remember that moon’s your destination, not the finger.”

    Don’t let the finger become your destination Vern. Beware the finger!

  9. I liked Drew’s review. I was laughing that he called it a masterpiece too, although let’s face it, he didn’t have the balls to go “monsterpiece.” We hit on alot of the same points, but he went much deeper into the movie itself while I was kind of sidetracked on other movies. Sometimes it can feel self-indulgent when people bringing up their family life in reviews, but the part about his anger issues and what the movie made him realize about his relationship with his son was perfect and backs up my feeling that the people with the strongest reactions will see their personal experiences in the movie.

    Loudabagel, yes, I gotta say it’s better than SPEED RACER to me, although I sort of liked that one. The Pixar comparison is harder to make. UP is a special thing because it’s profoundly emotional but also just pitch-perfect audience-pleasing storytelling. WTWTA doesn’t go down as easy. So I guess my feeling is both are great and very different from each other.

  10. Uh oh… Feraci on Chud used the word “masterpiece” four times in his opening paragraph. I think an internet backlash is now guaranteed. It’s the same as saying Candyman too many times in front of a mirror.

  11. Vern, I gotta make a choice this weekend: Black Dynamite or Where the Wild Things Are? Now I know how Sophie felt.

  12. I loved that book when I was a kid, good to hear the film matches up.

  13. Mr. Majestyk, if I were you, I would pick Black Dynamite. Just because WTWTA will probably stay a little bit longer in theaters.

  14. That was most likely going to be the plan. I consider myself lucky to live in a city where BD is playing, and I’m not going to squander the opportunity.

  15. @ there was no farting or Smash Mouth songs in it.


    Nah just foolin. Can’t wait. I think the teaser trailer may be my favorite film of the year already.

  16. BTW, I know I’m the first and only member of this movie’s fanclub, but I love “Mystery Men”, which not just has farting (performed by Paul Reubens), but was also the first movie that had Smash Mouth’s “Allstar” in it.
    But it’s not animated, so I guess it’s okay.

  17. I’m not really a fan of Mystery Men, per se, but I will say that “I shovel well” is a pretty hilarious line.

  18. I think BLACK DYNAMITE can use your opening weekend support. I want a sequel, man. I’m hoping to see both again as soon as I can. I haven’t seen the new Coen Brothers, though.

  19. was a serious man the movie you intended to see but couldn’t because of the broken projector?

  20. Even Faraci brought up his past in the Chud review. This does sound like something really special.

  21. Damnit, is there at least a Lil Wayne remix on the end credits? If not, I predict some Juno level backlash. Possibly higher.

  22. Holy shit, vern, this is one of your best reviews in a long time. Not that they aren’t all of high quality but you know what I’m trying to say, this review is ranked higher on the list in my opinion. (That “BORN TO BE WILD” teaser poster, man, holy shit, you’re right — how the fuck did we avoid that?! We are truly blessed.) Anyway you succeeded in making me decide I will definitely see this film. I figured I was probably gonna see it anyway just because I have a soft spot for people trying weird things, but now I’m excited about it. Cool. Thanks bud.

  23. PS – Mr. Majestyk, I am right there with you on Mystery Men.

  24. I enjoyed Mystery Men too. Just wanted to put that out there.

  25. Man, I haven’t seen Mystery Men in years, not since I was a younger kid. I bet it plays much much better having seen and read tons of superhero stuff. I bet all the stuff with costumes and gadgets plays much better. On the other hand, I’m kind of worried that I would go back and watch it and it’s a huge piece of shit and I’m covering up its faults through nostalgia.
    But then again, Tom Waits. Has to have some good qualities.

  26. i really like mystery men! i’ve never understood why it’s so maligned. it was clever and had lots of good comic actors doing good comedy. i’m a big ben stiller fan; say what you will about many of his choices of projects in the last several years, no matter what he is in, he always gives a commited, well-observed, and in my opinion funny performance (even in his more dramatic roles). and then you have william h. macy, hank azaria, paul G.D. reubens, janeane garofalo, eddie izzard, tom waits, ricky jay, etc., all of whom have their moments. and though i don’t always like him, greg kinnear is note-perfect as the full-of-himself captain amazing (or whatever he’s called). i think a lot of the jokes are funny, but probably the ballsiest is when (SPOILER) the inept protagonists of the movie, whilst trying to save captain amazing (the greatest superhero in the world), instead accidentally and very suddenly INCINERATE HIM. as in he is fucking dead. and they’re like, “whoops!” then the movie just moves on and never mentions it again. i think that’s hilarious! and sort of unusual for a big studio movie like this. (END SPOILER) i think one of the reasons it’s considered to be such a bomb is because it was just way too expensive for a comedy. but it’s really a pretty funny movie, i swear. (and i was already a grown-ass adult when it came out, so the nostalgia factor doesn’t apply).

    i don’t know when WTWTA comes out in japan, but prob not anytime soon. i am definitely waiting to see it on the screen though. being john malkovich and adaptation are two of my very favoritest movies. so i was gonna go see it anyways, as i would any film by spike jonze. the beautiful trailer and gushing reviews are just superfluous incentive.

    incidentally, the japanese title for WTWTA (the book anyways) translates to “the place where the monsters are.” so it’s a pretty literal translation.

    also, loved the shout out to the Wild Things series. actually, vern’s review of one of the straight to dvd wild things movies (i think part 3) on ain’t it cool was the first time i noticed him. it was a typically hilarious review, and it immediately led me to his sight. and i’ve never looked back!

  27. well the new At The Movies guys liked it.

  28. Just want to share in the Mystery Men love going on, it makes me laugh. Also casting my vote to see Black Dynamite while you get the chance on the big screen. I have no doubt that WTWTA is probably a superior movie, but I got to see Black Dynamite at the movies at BIFF, and it was really good.
    Just saw Whip It as well, and much love to that film.

  29. Great review, Vern — I’m glad that you bring up poor Dr. Suess, too. If there is one auther whose work has been so horrifically transmogrified and demeaned in the transition to the screen that it ends up being almost the exact opposite of everything good about the original material — well, it’s gotta be Ted Geisel. Of course, as THE 5000 FINGERS OF DR T, and the Chuck Jones animated specials demonstrate, it certainly is possible to take Suess’s unique vision and apply it to film; it just takes sensetivity, understanding, and art. Which doesn’t usually align with the profit motive (which the people on TV patiently explained to me is the only legitimate reason for doing anything and the only reason anything is ever even remotely competant).

    Now I want Spike Jonze to make his version of “Oh, the Places You’ll Go”.

    Other notable films which seem to exist only to systematically do the opposite of everything that made the film good:

    THE SEEKER: An Evangelical Christian re-writes Susan Cooper’s great novel about Pagan
    and Aurthurian English folklore into a Christian story about an American kid. Nice.

    NARNIA: tLtWatW Now they have a book which is overtly Christian, and they try to play it down? Plus, we all know what a gentle allegorical children’s tale needs to be a successful movie: Epic Battle Scenes.

    THE SCARLET LETTER: in 1995 Roland Joffé, figured that the best way to make a movie about the oppressively chaste, symbolic novel about guilt and excuslion would be to make it really sexy.

    I, ROBOT: Well, duh. Asimov might just rival Suess in having his work horribly violated. He and Philip Dick are probably trading horror stories about adaptations of their work even now.

    VAN HELSING: Exact opposite in tone, characterization, story, and point EVERY piece of source material.

    POLAR EXPRESS: You’ve got a dreamlike, surreal, and atmospheric meditation carried by the haunting paintings of Chris Van Alsenberg and his minimalist, gentle prose. Why not make a frantic, padded computer game filled with dead-eyed zombies? That’s the spirit of Christmas.

  30. Well, boys and Twynk, it’s official: I am seeing Black Dynamite on Friday. However (this discussion will be lost on non-New Yorkers) I will not be seeing it at the famed Angelika, because the Angelika sucks. All the fucking theaters are so long and thin that you feel like you’re watching the movie through a Viewmaster. Sure, the place is all vintage and classy and you want to feel good about supporting it, but c’mon. I’d rather see it at soulless corporate multiplex that has decent sound and a screen bigger than an index card. It’s like that episode of South Park where everybody goes to the Starbucks instead of the local coffeeshop because Starbucks has better coffee. I feel bad about it, but hey, that’s capitalism. Maybe the Angelika should try a little thing called striving for excellence.

  31. Mr. S –

    DICK: Goddamn Isaac, did you see PAYCHECK?
    ISAAC: You dick, at least you got a few decent ones like BLADE RUNNER, TOTAL RECALL, and MINORITY REPORT before that ending. And even A SCANNER DARKLY wasn’t too bad.

    DICK: That’s right bitch! Now I think I said that exactly like how Will Smith would. Oh hey Robert out little fascist!
    HEINLEIN: What up dogs. Heard your chat, and you girls are so going to bust Matheson’s balls about Smith as soon as he realizes he died years ago.
    ISAAC: Or maybe bring up that Smith wants to do STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND?

    HEINLEIN: ….. That shit aint funny guys.

  32. Funny you should mention Heinlein, since I was thinking of putting STARSHIP TROOPERS on that list, inasmuch as it pretty much uses the book as a starting point to parody everything Heilein believed in. But eh, I guess the fact that it was an artistic choice and not greed or incompetance makes me feel generous enough to leave it off.

    I hope that Will Smith’s STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND plays opposite Mark Walberg’s proposed adaptation of Philip Jose Farmer’s FLESH. haha, just kidding. Or am I? Now you’re imdbing it just to be sure.

  33. Starship Troopers was Vernhoeven taking a straight out (terrific) military adventure of the future….and using it to mock the fucking shit out of that sort of thing.

    And you know, the movie was just ahead of its time. Really fit the Dubya Years like a glove.

  34. I was going to say that the reigning champ of bad adaptations has to be Stephen King, but then I realized that for every
    MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE there is a MISERY or DEAD ZONE, for every THE SHINING (1997) there is a THE SHINING (1980). So King comes out better than I thought.

    Vonnegut, on the other hand, has never been done well on film.

  35. Jareth — actually, there is one good Vonnegut film, in my opinion: Keith Gordon’s 1996 Nick Nolte-starting version of MOTHER NIGHT. It’s certainly one of Vonnegut’s more filmable books, but they actually do a really nice job of making it cinematic yet keeping that odd Vonnegut surreal touch (in fact, the man himself has a tiny cameo in it). I was toying with the idea of putting the film version of SLAPSTICK, BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS, or SLAUGHTERHOUSE V on here, but even though those efforts are fatally flawed, I think they at least get the original point of the material, unlike the adaptations I cite above.

    Likewise, King adaptations are all over the place, but even when they suck they at least seem to get the point of the original novel, they just adapt it badly. And let’s face it, King isn’t exactly batting a thousand anyway. The list of shame in my original post is reserved for adaptations which seem to miss the point of the source material all together, ending up with a lumbering zombie of plot fragments which completely ignore or alter everything which was originally good about the book. I think Verhoven got what STARSHIP TROOPERS was about, he just thought (correctly) he could use it to make his own points with only some mild tweaks, so he gets a pass. This time.

  36. I liked Breakfast of Champions, although it’s definitely more an adaptation of the spirit of the book, than the book itself.

  37. It would have been a lot better if they’d had Vonnegut’s drawing of an asshole in it. That was really the heart of the book. And also the anus.

  38. The asshole drawing was in it. In the opening credits, right over Alan Rudolph’s name!

  39. Oh, and Michael Jai White was in that movie too!

  40. I stand corrected. The movie was perfect. Or something. Did I have a point? I forget.

  41. I consider BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS and SLAUGHTERHOUSE V to both be enjoyable adaptations which clearly love their source material, but to me neither one really completely works as a movie. They’ve got their moments, though, and are definitely worth a watch for Vonnegut fans.

  42. Nothing is better then Speed Racer

  43. Mr Subtlety: I agree with you that all of the Vonnegut adaptations are interesting, even fascinating, and are generally better attuned to the intentions of the author than so many other adaptations. And, really, any director who wants to tackle Vonnegut is setting himself up for a near impossible task. Likewise with Douglas Adams. Frankly, I don’t know why they bother. But as far as I’m concerned it’s more honorable to fail trying to adapt a Vonnegut novel than it is to succeed at adapting a Grisham novel.

    Special note here should be made of Cronenberg: the guy has a gift for adapting stuff. Great success rate.

    My theory is that there is a higher chance of success if the source material is weak. No offense to his fans, but I think that FIGHT CLUB is a far better movie than it is a book.

  44. I hate to be a dick, but isn’t it Chareth Cutestory?

    I would love to see a Spike Jonze SIRENS OF TITAN.

  45. Jareth — heartily agreed on FIGHT CLUB. A decent book, a great movie (which takes everything that doesn’t work in the book and makes it more interesting, while keeping the fundamental strong points. Who cares about blowing up museums?) The real tragedy of the remake and adaption craze is that they keep adapting awesome things which are fine on their own, rather than mining mediocre things for awesome ideas.

    Have you seen MOTHER NIGHT? Sure, its an easier adaptation than, say, “Breakfast of Champions,” but they nail it. I’m a big fan of the film but it seems few people, even Vonnegut fans, even know it exists (possibly because its based on one of his lesser-known books). As for HITCHHIKER’s GUIDE, well, not a disaster on its own, but missing a lot of what makes the book classic. Most book adaptations end up as noble failures; that one ends up as an ignoble success.

  46. Honestly, I’m surprised nobody has adapted INVISIBLE MONSTERS.

    Lets just say out of the other Palahnuik books, CHOKE the weakest of that early phase of his (as he put it down) was far from the one I would figure to hit theatres next after FC.

  47. Turn Charlie Kaufman loose on something like Breakfast of Champions and watch as half the audience’s brains explode within their skulls, while the other half laugh hysterically, and the reviewer from EW goes and writes a four sentence blurb about how bullshit and pretentious everybody is for liking it. And Kaufman can direct his own stuff now so he doesn’t need to wait five years for Spike to finish whatever his next project is.

  48. “from EW goes and writes a four sentence blurb about how bullshit and pretentious everybody is for liking it.”

    Brendan – For a post full of win, that line was victory.

  49. Mr. S.: I’ll be renting MOTHER NIGHT this weekend. I saw it years ago and have no memory of it whatsoever, which is quite the accomplishment considering it features Nick Nolte as a fake nazi, the always reliable John Goodman and Sheryl “Laura Palmer” Lee.

    I think the awfulness of Nolte’s other film that year – MULHOLLAND FALLS –
    created some sort of mental block on the year 1996.

    M. Casey – you’re not being a dick, it’s the 101 variations of Chareth Cutestory who used up all the yahoo email names who are being dicks.

    In fairness, some people do spell the name with a “J”, but it’s hard to argue for its relevance when Wikipedia itself uses the “CH” spelling in their episode summary from which the name is taken.

    Someone will have to show me the script for the “Justice is Blind” episode in order to put the controversy to bed.

  50. Mr. S – You know, now that I think about it, that recent HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE
    adaptation had a lot going for it: the cast was exceptional, especially Mos Def and Rickman, the effects were fine, they even captured a bit of Adams’ absurd wit. I don’t even mind the abrupt, tacked-on ending that so many fanboys had convulsions over.

    So what went wrong? Was it just too much story to ever satisfy a feature-length film? It’s not like the script didn’t try to shoehorn the meandering plot into an action vehicle. I really think the production “got” Adams. Yet the film is unsatisfying. Any thoughts?

  51. Mr. Cutestory intended to write: “it’s not as if the script tried to shoehorn the (admirably) meandering plot into a (stupid) action vehicle. Mr. Cutestory applauds the film-makers, but can’t type for shit.

  52. I like the Hitchhiker’s movie a lot. I find myself rewatching it once a year or so, and I like it a little more every time. I think a lot of the changes stem from them wanting to tell a more complete story, since they rightly figured the odds of them getting to make a sequel were not good, and also that Adams had gotten a bit more romantic in his later years, so boosting the emotional quotient of the story wasn’t as big of a betrayal as I think some people made it out to be. The movie’s sweeter, less sardonic tone is more in keeping with where the series was going than where it started. Also, it must be said that Trillion had zero personality or purpose in the novel (although she became more developed in later books) so they had to give her something to do.

  53. HITCHHIKER felt sorta’ right but something didn’t… isn’t there a bit at the start where they’re in the pub and out of nowhere Arthur Dent starts talking about ‘this girl he met at a party’ ages back, and it feels weirdly, distractingly forced, just so they could set-up the arc between them. I didn’t mind the romance, but it’s introduction was so hamfisted that it left a sour taste, RIGHT AT THE START.

    And although I like Mos Def, he didn’t work at all for me.

    I should really get back to work.

  54. Good point, Mr. M. Not only was Adams more romantic than given credit for, but I seem to remember those flying scenes with Arthur and his girlfriend (I forget her name or even which book they were in) were quite beautiful and moving.

    Of course, this girlfriend is disposed with rather abruptly in the following book. So it’s not like he went all mush-headed.

    Did you ever read those detective novels that Adams wrote? I’ve always wondered if they were worth the time.

  55. If you like Adams, there’s no reason not to check out the two Dirk Gently novels. There’s a bit with a physics-defying couch that I will cherish forever.

  56. The HITCHHIKER movie wasn’t bad, it just…

    Lets put it this way: The book is remembered more than the book. What does that say?

  57. well, the HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE movie was definitely a better adaptation than the book than that other adaptation, HITCH. They changed almost the whole plot!

    Seriously, though. I think we all liked HITCHHIKER pretty well. They definitely put a lot of thought into trying to capture the essence of the Adams, keeping a lot of weirdness but not ending up so married to the material that it just ends up feeling like a walkthrough. They cast it fantasically (except Mos Def, more on that later) and managed to keep a plethora of dynamic and inventive visuals from overwhelming the plot. Adams himself wrote most of the screenplay, so there’s plenty of his inimitable wit in there. The movie packs a lot of plot in, but never feels rushed or frantic. And yet, as much as I enjoyed watching it at the time it just never stuck with me. I think in some ways its because as much fun as Adam’s charactes and stories are, its his prose itself which makes his books classic. There’s nothing wrong with HITCHHIKER, but it just doesn’t have quite enough of that last element to make it feel as perfect and timeless as the book. Honestly, that’s the only thing I can think of, and I’ve given it quite a bit of thought. Its possible, too, that the movie –even as long as it is– can’t quite give us enough downtime with the characters to really allow us to feel like we’re friends with them. A big part of the books is that after awhile, you can simply coast on how much you enjoy hanging around with the characters you’ve come to love, which the plotty movie can’t quite recreate (but the BBC series could).

    Still, there is one part of the film which is easily as classic as anything Adams ever wrote. See it here:


    As for Mos Def, I’m of the decided opinion that Hollywood does not know what to do with this guy. Like all white people, I like Mos, but on-screen he tends to play things very low-key. Which can be fine, and in fact is a nice change of pace, but is not the right way, in my opinion, to play Ford Prefect. With all the craziness around him, Mos just seems to kind of fade into the scenery most of the time. To me, his best role was in 16 BLOCKS, where he actually gets to play kind of a nebbish. In things like HITCHHIKER or BE KIND, REWIND, where presumably he’s supposed to be charismatic, he just ends up looking dull (and, in the latter role, possibly mentally handicapped. Seriously, watch him in that and try to tell me he’s not supposed to be a little slow). I haven’t seen CADDILAC RECORDS yet, but casting him as Chuck Berry is a bizarre move. Berry’s an idol of mine so I really hope he was able to crank up the energy and charm to the god-like heights Berry consistently hit, butgiven his previous screen appearances, I’m nervous to watch the thing. Anybody know how that deal turned out?

  58. ill always be disappointed that the movie never caught on enough to warrant sequels.I think that was the best adaptation of that book we could have hoped for on the big screen and it still didn’t take with a wide audience.I don’t suppose we’ll ever get another done so well or with as much of the spirit of the books coming out in every scene.Even all the extra stuff with John Malcovich(not in any of the books) went over well with me cause Adams wit was still there. There is more than enough uniqueness and absurdity in every one of those books to make interesting movies.
    As for Mos Def I think he really nailed Ford Prefect, way more than the Brit did back in the BBC series. And yes i agree with you Mr.S, Mos Def def comes off as being slow in Be Kind,almost distractingly so, but maybe that was his direction?

  59. You’ve got a point about the characterization in HITCHHIKER’S, Mr. S – really, Marvin the robot was the only character that I felt any real familiarity with by the end of the film, and I’m sure much of that was residual from the books. The genius of the casting, though, was that so many of the actors have earned such goodwill, like Freeman and Rockwell, that the audience is willing to meet them half way and invest into even their less fleshed out aspects.

    As for Mos Def – no complaints from me. I only knew “Black on Both Sides” when the GUIDE was released, and maybe the difference between the character he was playing on film and his persona as a musician was sufficiently different to impress me. But you’re right that no one has tapped his full potential yet.

    As for CADDILAC RECORDS – man, where do you want me to begin? I really didn’t like the film, and I think that the performances are all pretty much subservient to the quaint, antiseptic script. It’s like they’re trying to turn some of the most rough and tumble folks who ever staggered into a studio (and were subsequently stabbed in the back by the owners) into BEDKNOBS & BROOMSTICKS. It’s less a movie than it is a series of poorly constructed tableaux meant to represent an era the makers have no understanding of.

    I don’t want to go off on a long tirade, but I really disagree with what the film was trying to accomplish. I’m not saying that there isn’t room in the world for a fairy tale version of Chess Records, but man, this ain’t that film. And it’s such a shame because if they had any guts they could have made a hilarious film based on some of the harrowing stories that have come out of those years.

    And I won’t even talk about the most awful performance by Beyonce Knowles as Etta James. Total Oscar bait.

    Here’s when you know your film has problems: you’re setting up a story about how exceptional and historically significant Chess Records was, yet you re-record all those classic records in the blandest possible way with a bunch of anonymous pop stars.

    Mos Def was fine, but, come on, it’s fucking Chuck Berry. The guy could have a series of movies made about him and barely scratch the surface. Mos Def was underutilized, to put it politely.

  60. Also, I didn’t know that the HITCHHIKER’S script had Adams’ input. That actually explains a lot. When they announced that some new dude would continue writing HITCHHIKER’S books with the approval of the Adams estate, I thought to myself that the guy would do good if his work is at the level of the film’s screenplay.

  61. Mos Def – Maybe I’m just getting old, but I honestly can’t hear what he’s saying most of the time. Either he’s a mumbler or I’ve experienced some serious sensorineural hearing loss.

    Starship Troopers – I thought Verhoeven and Edward Neumeier were absolutely right to satirize the novel (which, to me, read like “All Quiet on the Western Front” with a narrator who had no awareness of what he was actually going through.)

    Where the Wild Things Are – Really good movie. I’d stop short of calling it a masterpiece; there’s something extremely disconcerting about a kid’s fantasy film (and this IS a movie for kids) that turns into a group therapy session. A more appropriate title might be “Where the Sad, Neurotic Monsters Live”. It’s still really fucking good…and here’s something that surprised me: the kids in the theater I saw it in all seemed to really dig the movie. They were quiet, thoughtfully attentive – no shuffling around, little to no talking; at one point, about halfway through, I heard a kid behind me whisper “This is the best movie ever!”

  62. Holy shit.

    I just saw this movie.


  63. Jareth / deiselboy — Just to clarify, I don’t mean to be overly negative about HITCHHIKER, or even Mos Def in it. I’ve just been trying to figure out why a very smart adaptation of a classic text just ended up being fun, rather than classic. I’d still love a sequel, though. Didn’t it end up with a decent box office?

    damn, thats pretty much exactly what I was afraid of hearing about CADDILAC RECORDS. What a shame.

    ws — no, he’s definitely a mumbler. Which is cool, because there aren’t many guys out there who can play an introverted, shy guy like him. But it seems like Hollywood doesn’t understand that not all black people should be automatically cast as soliders, cops, and badasses. Mos ought to look for some roles that play to his strength as a mumbler, rather than taking these charimsa-monster roles which are ill-suited to capitalize on his unique persona. He’d be money in BAGHEAD 2.

  64. @ He’d be money in BAGHEAD 2.

    ew. Low blow, man.

    Also, I saw WTWTA and loved it.

  65. Something I’ve been noticing about Where the Wild Things Are-

    The majority of reviews are saying how it’s NOT a kids movie, how children should not watch it because it will make them cry, ruin their childhood, or make them contemplate suicide, but when I saw it Friday night, the theater was full of kids and they all seemed to love it. Sure, they probably laughed more during the previews for all the shitty digital cartoons, but they were all really attentive to the movie and they were re-enacting parts in the lobby. They all seemed really glad that their parents took them.

  66. Loudabegel — Yup, that’s the sense I got too. Kids, like the American public in general, consume so much crap that people assume that’s just what they want to see. Spike Jonze is smart enough to know that Sendak didn’t talk down to kids, and so the movie shouldn’t either. Guess what? Kids have a lot of capacity for depth, given the opportunity. They WANT something that makes them think and feel – and they have an incredibly deep ability to do it, albeit along somewhat simple lines. But that’s the whole point of the movie — its about feeling simple things so much more deeply than adults can. Lots of people picked up on this, and then inexplicably claimed it would be over the kids’ heads. Duh, they’re the ones who will get it MOST. It’s truly a great depiction of actual childhood, without any meta-level crap that the kids genuinely wouldn’t get.

    Fortunately, I think a few people are catching on — Guillermo del Toro is going to be making those “Family Horror” films for disney, Spike Jonze got this thing made, guys like Gil Kenan keep finding work, Pixar is consistently making bank. I’d love nothing more than to have these guys teach a new generation what falling in love with a movie is all about.

  67. People always coddle their kids. So what if it scares them? Kids should be scared sometimes. It’s a scary world, and kids know that better than anyone. No matter how much a movie scares them, they’ll get over it and then they’ll treasure that memory for the rest of their lives.

  68. Nothing in my whole childhood scarred me more than seeing the ROUS scene from PRINCESS
    BRIDE, which remains on of my favorite films. Seeing BEWARE! THE BLOB with my older cousin when I must have been, what, 3? 4? May well be my earliest memory of a movie, and it scared the fucking hell out of me in a wonderful, wonderful way.

  69. I just saw this and damn if it won’t end up being my favorite movie this year. I was disappointed by Pixar’s UP during the summer and I had no trouble putting my finger on my problems with it, but seeing the brilliance of WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE just further illustrates my problems with UP.

    This was the movie I wanted UP to be. A movie about discovering yourself through journeys, exploration, group activities, and witnessing wonders. I hated that UP turned into another movie about beatings things and killing a bad guy. I think WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE may not be a movie that people see as appealing to children, but I think it holds a really good message for kids who see it and get it.

    I loved this movie! Amazing!

  70. I thought this movie was going to be good but JESUS CHRIST I didn’t think it would be THAT good. This movie is fucking amazing. How that kid managed to avoid being crushed to death is beyond me. I’m not sure how Spike was able to create that feeling of being a goofy little 8 year old, but God damn, watching this movie put me right back to being an angry little fourth-grader who used fantasy and stuff to get away from the real world.

  71. Hey folks, got a chance to watch this again this weekend. Still loved the film but I was struck by one detail which I can’t seem to quite figure out. Most of the Wild Things have fairly clear issues but I can’t quite figure out what Jonze and Eggers are trying to tell us in this business with KW and the owls. Obviously the fact that she has other friends threatens Carol, but I can’t quite figure out what it tells us about her that they’re owls she knocks out of the sky. Can she understand them, or is everyone just pretending? For most of the film she seems to be one of the more reasonable and sympathetic Wild Things but she insists on bringing home her own friends even when its obvious to everyone that this was a big part of their problems in the first place (and the film makes it pretty clear she knows it will be a problem again). Is there some dynamic I missed here? Its the one section of the movie which I think feels a little muddled or incomplete (especially since the owls don’t show up again). Maybe I need to see it one more time to figure it out. Any thoughts on what Jonze and Eggers were trying to tell us?

  72. Isn’t that a metaphor for how the sister doesn’t play with Max anymore and instead hangs out with her new, older friends who beat up Max in the first scene? The whole Owl thing (and all of the experiences in Wildthingland) is Max’s abstraction of his inner turmoil and rage.

  73. Maybe the fact that they’re inscrutable links to Max’s confusion as to why his sister would rather hang out with those teenagers than him. He doesn’t understand what they have that he doesn’t.

  74. As for why KW brings the owls around even though she knows they’ll be a problem, I think it’s because she’s the teenager of the bunch and she’s trying to assert her independence and individuality by doing something that she knows her family won’t be able to accept. “See? I’m different,” she’s saying. “You don’t understand me but these owls do.”

    I don’t get why she has to knock them out of the sky, though. I don’t think there’s a 1:1 ratio for symbolism. I think some of it is just weird shit, like that giant dog in the desert. It makes the movie a little more realistic (not quite the right word, but it’s the best I have) as a story if everything doesn’t fit neatly into its allegorical counterpart.

  75. Good points Majestyk, but to me (and maybe just me) there was some linkage between her knocking down the owl with the rock and Max throwing snowballs to get attention in the first scene.

  76. Interesting point about linking the snowball throwing and the owl knocking down. Hadn’t thought of that.

    I first assumed the owls represented his mother’s guy friend, he and Carol didn’t understand what the adults/owls were talking about. Which is why he and Carol acted out, they feel left out and can’t understand.

    Though thinking about it that issue could easily be transfered to his sister and her new friends as well. Like Majestyk said it’s not really meant to be a 1:1 metaphor so it works for both.

  77. Interesting thoughts, guys. I guess I had sort of imagined that all the Wild Things represented something about Max, so imagining that they represent other things in his life actually opens up a world of possibilities I hadn’t considered. I still don’t know why they’re owls (other than simple weirdness) although white owls / white snow? Throwing snowballs or dirtballs as a means of interaction and social building figures heavily into the plot, though I couldn’t quite explain what it means.

    Actually, thinking about the Wild Things as possibly representative o Max’s life, rather than him personally, got me thinking about something interesting. I sort of wonder if we might be able to infer something negative about Max’s conspicuously absent father from Carol. At first I thought Carol was supposed to be representative of Max’s wild side, the one that got him in trouble in the first place, but in some ways Carol also seems like he could represent an unstable father-figure. Note the way he carries Max (“I didn’t want to wake you”) and his complex, unstable relationship with an apparently romanctic partner (KW) which doesn’t resonate with Max’s character the way a more familial relationship might. Finally, Carol’s descent into violence at the end has frighteningly adult consequences (his altercation wth Douglas could be seen as a parallel to the adults in the family fighting) and Max ends up having to hide inside his sister or — more likely in this interpretation– mother-figure (literally, in this case) for protection, even though he understands the sitution in some ways better than she does (after all, she is a key part of the problem). His anguished seperation from Carol at the end reads more like his acceptance that his Father will be an incomplete part of his life than it reads like a distancing from a part of himself. You might be able to argue that Carol’s need for Max to be “King” might suggest that his father somehow hoped that his children would somehow fix the problems in the family and let them be a fuctional whole. This also adds another dimension to Max’s reaction to Mom’s Boyfriend — does he feel some torn loyalty between his parents, particularly if his father, like Carol, is such a needy figure? (I imagine this conflict with the “boyfriend” was more fleshed out in the original cut; I don’t know why they’d hire Ruffalo otherwise, given he’s in the thing less than 30 seconds total — in fact, his whole performance except for his one mumbled line is in the trailer).

    Or, maybe I’m trying to read specific symbolism into something which is more a general reflection on Max’s life. Anyway, its a fantastic film, and there’s a lot to think about in it.

  78. Fantastic review. I need to see this. I used the WILD THINGS reference on my ex-wife and she laughed.

    Me: Wanna see the new WILD THINGS sequel?
    Me: Yeah, I hope there’s another lesbian sex scene in the pool. Catherine Keener! Mmmmmmmm I’d pay to see that.
    Her: Huh?? Oh you dork it’s not a sequel to WILD THINGS. She is ugly and has hair all over her.
    Me: Oh god so they went the butch dike route, like Charlize Theron in MONSTER. Why must they ruin everything that’s good in my life?
    Her: She’s not a lesbian! She’s a monster! Ugh forget it. Why do I even talk to you?

    Oh BTW Frank Herbert gets an honorable mention for worst screen adaptation of a classic sci fi novel. Vern, review DUNE!! Directed by David Lynch so it’s gotta be good right?? I apologize in advance.

    I thought HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY was horrible. I actually gave up trying to like it halfway through and fast forwarded through parts of it the first and only time I watched it. Mos Def was horribly miscast as Ford Prefect, they should have got a Hugh Grant type. Of course I just don’t like Mos Def, never have. Actually now that I think about it Hugh Grant would have been perfect! And this movie pretty much ruined Sam Rockwell for me. God was he annoying and the two head thing was just weird and stupid. I don’t know how you’d do it properly (nightmares of Johnny Knoxville in MIB:2) but that wasn’t the right way, at all. I want to see MOON but I might have the constant urge to punch Rockwell in the face. The dude who played Arthur Dent was okay but kind of a sad sack (like Arthur I guess) and not funny at all (which is bad). Simon Pegg would have been 10x better. I’m just trying to think of why the movie didn’t work and I’ve got to blame it on casting.

  79. Subtlety: I like you’re thinking. What fascinates me about this movie is the just how neatly it fits insides Spike Jonze’s directorial filmography. All of his movies are about putting you into the head of a different character, of the thought-by-thought stream of conscious way they process the world around him. In the case of Malkovich it was incredibly literal (that last chase scene between Keener and Diaz) but with Charlie in Adaptation and Max in this, Spike takes an extremely introverted person and literalizes the inside of their heads. With Adaptation, you could make the case that nothing we see is actually real, that the entire film is in fact taking place inside Charlie’s stressed out noggin, hence the fracturing of his personality, the way characters change personality at the drop of a hat. Hence, when Spike shwos us Charlie desperately talking into his tape recorder, he’s actually showing a mental recreation inside a mental recreation.

    In the case of Wild Things, I think it is safe to say that the stuff he experiences isn’t real. Him getting on the boat, going on all those adventures, it’s a dream. He’s so overwhelmed with everything that is happening in his life, with his Mom, sister and his fears about the sun (I had the exact same reaction of horror when I read that little factiod in a book when I was eight or something) it is crushing to him. He needs to have time to go nowhere and just sort of sift though his emotions and his life. Thus, the Wild Things and everything that happens with them are all multi-layered abstractions of his inner thoughts.

    Also it was funny when they were smashing stuff, that was neat.

  80. Brendan — good point about Spike’s emerging body of work. It’s neat that this film follows that theme, since I wasn’t at all sure the genius in his first few films wasn’t primarily in the Charlie Kaufman scripts. Looks like Spike has plenty of good ideas of his own (including hiring Dave Eggers). In fact, I think I’d say this WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE may be his best film to date. I really hope the DVD has some detail on where he and Sony differed, because I’m very curious what his original plan was (as I said above, I’m betting on more emphasis on the “real world” situation with the boyfriend and sister, which remain pretty peripheral in the final cut).

    Rainman – can’t say I’d really want Hugh Grant in my HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE movie, but I agree that Mos just didn’t quite get the job done (and I like the guy, so it wasn’t that). I do like Rockwell, though. I thought he nailed Zaphod.

  81. Well I can’t speak for the process him and Kaufman figured out, but having read the original draft of Adaptation, there are huge differences (in particular the third act) that I have to believe Spike had a hand in. Same thing with the third act of Malkovich which originally ended with Cusack having a puppet duel with the Devil (seriously). In the cases of both movies it seems like it was Spike who A) found the visual energy to communicate the crazy ideas and B) toned down some of that crazy and kept the emotional cores of the projects in front, making sure there was a beating heart besides “Dude it’s like a movie within a movie, fucking crazy” like I think a lot of less focused filmmakers would have done.

  82. okay, so i finally saw this movie last night (it just came out a couple weeks ago over here). i thought it was pretty goddamn amazing. the character of carol is one of the most fascinating, complex, touching and in a way disturbing (i am not using disturbing as a negative at all here) characters i have seen in a movie in a while. also, weirdly realistic. i think all the monster characters in general, and carol in specific, show a truth of human emotion and behavior that is rare in movies, even while being giant monsters that don’t behave at all like real people actually do. it’s a neat trick the movie plays. also it doesn’t hurt that gandolfini’s performance was absolutely impeccable. and the whole ending bit with SPOILERS? carol finding max’s present then breaking down then running to see him off really hit me in the gut. it was painful to watch but in the best possible way. the sweetest kind of pain. i felt on the verge of joing carol in his sobbing, but i held it together (tears rolling down my cheeks, though). it really just cut right to the bone and right to the heart of the matter of what it feels like to say goodbye or to lose someone you care about, and it certainly brought back specific, difficult memories to me. but it was cathartic. END SPOILERS?

    also, seeing the movie gave me a good excuse to go back and re-read vern’s fantastic review. the frighteningly accurate part about how a studio-produced version of WTWTA should have been had me laughing out loud (literally LOLling), so that my girlfriend asked me what i was laughing about. but she doesn’t speak any english, so i found it virtually impossible to explain to her about the poster vern described and why it was funny. i am smiling again now just thinking about it. but it’s also scary in the same way that carol’s anger, violence, jealousy, and grief are scary because they describe something that, while made up, you just know in your heart to be true. THERE WERE SPOILERS MAYBE IN THE PARAGRAPH BEFORE THIS ONE.

  83. Are these random horribly worded posts the work of foreigners who genuinely aren’t great with English or some kind of weird complimentary spam-bot?

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