THE WEEKEND MARQUEE: Something ‘Wild’
How can a film possibly live up to years and years of hype and anticipation–especially when it’s based on a beloved children’s book? The quick answer is: it can’t. But can said film be judged on its own merits when you throw your expectations out the door? Absolutely. Such is the case with Spike Jonze‘s first movie since Adaptation in 2002, Where the Wild Things Are, which he adapted, along with novelist Dave Eggers (What is the What?), from the Maurice Sendak classic of the same name.
The book, published in 1963, tells the story a young boy who, after being punished for misbehaving, sails off to the land of the wild things. Wild Things contains minimal dialogue (ten sentences) and is composed mainly of illustrations. The book is particularly remembered for Sendak’s vivid depictions of the large, fearsome creatures that the young boy makes friends with.
Because of this, Jonze spent a lot of time (almost five years) trying to perfect the look of the film version, enlisting the help of Jim Henson‘s creature shop and CGI special effects. The result is what critics are calling a visionary epic, although rather slight in the plot department. Seeing as it will be playing on IMAX screens across the country, that may not be such a bad thing.
“The opening sequences of Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are are sensationally good,”
writes David Denby in the New Yorker.
“Non-stop momentum and a juggernaut impact…Then Wild Things runs into trouble…Jonze and Eggers have spoken of their desire to keep the film close to a child’s needs, but have they done that? Kids like danger, followed by a release from danger and a return to safety, yet the only danger posed by these creatures is that they will turn Max into someone as messed-up as they are…I have a vision of eight-year-olds leaving the movie in bewilderment. Why are the creatures so unhappy?”
Lisa Schwarzbaum, of Entertainment Weekly, disagrees, calling the film
“Profoundly beautiful and affecting…a breath- taking act of artistic transubstantiation.”
As if we weren’t already inundated with sterile remakes of an eighties movies, here comes The Stepfather, written by J.S. Cardone and directed by Nelson McCormick. It’s a slasher flick so tired that it makes Sorority Row look like a masterpiece. If you ask cast member Penn Badgley, however, it’s an entirely different story. He recently told PopStar.com:
“There are actually, I think, a surprising number of differences between The Stepfather and a lot of modern thrillers or horror films. First off, it is a thriller. It’s not straight-up horror. It’s not a slasher the way that I think maybe the original was in 1987. It’s a simpler, story-driven thriller. It isn’t full of twists and turns. I think for that reason, people might not be getting what they’re expecting going in, but they’ll be pleasantly surprised.”
Funny how promotional tours turn actors in professional bullshit artists. At least the producers at Screen Gems know how bad their product is. They made sure that The Stepfather remake was not screened for critics beforehand.
After torturing audiences with his gratingly over-the-top performances in The Ugly Truth and Gamer, the ever-busy Gerard Butler is at it again with the ridiculous thriller Law Abiding Citizen. He plays a dangerous outlaw who’s out for revenge and goes head-to-head with good guy Jamie Foxx.
Unlike The Stepfather, Overture Pictures did choose to screen this turkey for critics. I bet they’re regretting that decision. In one of the nicer reviews, John Anderson of Newsday writes,
“Not only is it a hapless crime drama about outrage and revenge, it provides the sad spectacle of a movie far less intelligent than the one its filmmakers thought they were making…Law Abiding Citizen (yes, it needs a hyphen, and a new script) has so many plot holes, preposterous procedures and impotent gestures that it would take till the sports section to list them.”
Perhaps screenwriter Kurt Wimmer (Street Kings) and director F. Gary Gray (The Italian Job remake) shoulder consider taking their name off the movie. Or move on to their next projects ASAP.
In 2006, Paris je t’aime, an entertaining yet uneven collection of vignettes about the city of love, enchanted audiences all over the world–well, I was enchanted, at least. It was fun to see so many different directors (including Alfonso Cuaron, Alexander Payne, Gus Van Sant and The Coen Brothers) taking a stab at a five minute short film where the city is the star. Not every story worked (or even half of them) but it was a clever idea. Now comes a sequel of sorts titled New York, I Love You.
I’m a little surprised that the city’s signature phrase I Love New York wasn’t used as the title. The literal translation of “je t’aime” doesn’t sound so smooth in the English version.
Now on to the actual movie. The directors this time around include the likes of Brett Ratner (the Rush Hour movies) and Natalie Portman (?). Hmm. No Woody Allen? No Marty Scorsese? Even Ed Burns would have been a decent choice. The critics have not been loving it.
In the New York Times, A.O. Scott writes,
“In spite of some attempts at human and neighborhood variety, the stories have a self-conscious sameness, as if they were classroom assignments in an undergraduate fiction-writing class. Which, in a way, they are. Each filmmaker seems to have staked out a different part of town…all of which might be tolerable in small doses, but somehow, once they are stitched together, the pieces of New York, I Love You make up a parallel city that no one would want to live in, much less visit. And this is in part because most of the New Yorkers on display here are confections, hothouse flowers planted in a soil of arch dialogue and watered with studied sprinklings of surprise.”