Thursday, October 22, 2009

"Where Where The Wild Things Are are." -- Detective Charles Shaw

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I, like many others here at Carroll College, used to enjoy having Where The Wild Things Are read to me when I was a kid. I liked how Max, the main character, went off on his “private boat” into adventure and wild rumpus-causing, but mostly I loved the rich drawings and beautiful art style. Now, here comes a movie that captures the best elements of the book to create an enjoyable, if not perfect, journey.

“Wild Things” is not a direct adaptation of the book, but then again, how on earth could it be? The original children’s book by Maurice Sendak was about nine sentences and 48 pages long, most of them filled with Sendak’s wonderful Caldicott-winning illustrations. Instead, it harnesses the imagery of the book to create a lush, imaginative world.

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This book got quite a bit of play back in the day.

Spike Jonze, whose previous credits include 1999’s “Being John Malkovich” and a whole slew of mid-90’s music videos from bands like Weezer and Fatboy Slim, directs the film with an even-handed patience rarely seen in movies today. Rather than cut between shots like a rapid-fire PowerPoint presentation, he takes his time and lets his characters develop and live onscreen.

Where “Wild Things” is most impressive is its art direction. The environments where the movie takes place are grand in scope and breathtaking to look at. From expansive deserts to a grove of falling cherry blossoms, the screen is constantly filled with gorgeous sights.

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The whole film is an absolute treat to just sit back and watch.

The actual Wild Things themselves are probably the most impressive pieces of work. Made from a combination of computers and live-action puppets (think Yoda, but much bigger), the titular Things are a sight to behold. They move, breathe, live, and become real to the viewer in ways I didn’t think were possible for enormous Muppets.

The Things all have distinct names, personalities, and voices. Overall, each Thing feels well-characterized and fleshed out, from the sleepy but good-natured Ira (Forest Whitaker), to the excitable but badly-tempered Carol (James Gandolfini), and the neurotic and overeager Alexander (Paul Dano). There is also Judith (Catherine O’Hara), who, while giving a good performance, acts as a “downer” for most of the movie (side note: I’m sure there’s a market out there who finds this sort of thing charming, but I thought it came off as annoying and forced).

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Each Wild Thing is unique, different, and about as real as Max is.

Which leads to one of my criticisms about the movie: its overall somberness and sad tone. Granted, this is a fresh change of pace from many other movies involving children, which over-romanticize childhood rambunctiousness without remembering the frustrations that come with actually being a kid.

"Wild Things", on the other hand, remembers what it’s like to feel like no one understands you, or when a game stops being fun because someone doesn’t want to play anymore. Too well, in fact. For every moment of joy and exuberance this movie musters, it has two moments where Max or the Things are unhappy or moody about something. Kids deal with being sad and unhappy all the time, but the difference is that kids are generally able to move past it instead of dwelling about what happened the way this movie does.

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For all of the wonder and splendor going on, these guys sure can take the mickey out of it.

Another complaint I will offer this movie is the pacing. When I first heard Wild Things was being adapted into a movie, my first thought was that there wasn’t enough content to spread out over 90 minutes of movie. The movie doesn’t overstay its welcome, but near the midpoint it slows to a crawl and seems to trudge along until it’s time for Max to go home.

Still, there is some fun to be had. A dirt clod fight between Max and the Wild Things provides an exhilarating moment that reminded me of my childhood activities (I grew up in a neighborhood that was still in-development, and dirt clod fights were a summer staple), and I particularly enjoyed some of the early scenes between Max and his single mom (Catherine Keener).

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Occasionally the movie takes timeout to have some fun. The film is at its best during these stretches.

Overall, I’m still recommending this movie, if only because of how visually rich and original it feels. It’s not the feel-good movie of this fall, but it has a lot of positive things to share with viewers. Here is a movie that invites you to discuss it with your friends, if you’re into that sort of thing.

B+

Friday, October 9, 2009

Paramore - "Brand New Eyes" (2009) — Aggro Is The New Orange!

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Paramore has been one of my favorite groups for quite some time now. A good deal of my enjoyment of them comes from their incredible boost to my rock-ego. I discovered them on teh interwebs back in 2005 and was quite enthusiastic about them then too; needless to say, the ability to snobbishly claim that I had "known them before they were popular" is a plum that has been been very sweet indeed. I also was able to see them during the 2007 Warped Tour, and their energy and stage presence blew me away, particularly that of front girl Hailey Williams (okay, she's cute too, so what?).

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Paramore circa 2005. This is me being hardcore and band-cred.

Pop-punk is my musical drug of choice, and Paramore has slung out some meaty hooks and soaring harmonies with the best of them the past few years, but their new album Brand New Eyes brings some additional focus to the musical stylings that helped make them popular. I wouldn't venture so far as to say they've gained some "maturity" in the general way that word is used ("they've grown up and stopped making songs for teenagers"), but rather they've tightened up their songwriting and honed their sound to a razor-fine point. Here is an album that, while not as hooky as previous efforts, is far more melodic and consistent throughout, and one I feel I can listen to more often than either All We Know Is Falling or Riot!.

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Warped Tour '07 in Salt Lake. They signed my Riot! artwork, but since it's covered with scribbles anyways, I wonder if that was such a hot idea...

Make no mistake: there are still moments of energetic handclaps and "woah-oh" singalongs (see singles "Ignorance" and "Brick By Boring Brick"), but they've taken the backseat to a newer, leaner sound. The word I've been using to describe it is "aggro:" their guitars punch more, the drums sling their weight around in staccato bursts, and their sound overall is quick and hard-hitting, for pop-punk (no track better personifies the changes than opener "Careful").

Williams, too, seems to have gained some teeth from Paramore's previous record. She snarls when appropriate and drives home every line of heartbreak and bitterness with the palpable conviction of a fistfight. These moments combine with Paramore's happier-sounding songs ("Looking Up;" "Playing God") and softer sections ("The Only Exception;" "Misguided Ghosts") to give Brand New Eyes robust sonic variety and, oddly, a sense of cohesion that has been missing from previous efforts.

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Two years and lots of media drama later, Paramore is back with one heck of an album.

Unfortunately, while I certainly am impressed with the package Paramore has put together, I can't quite give this one a top-shelf score. Perhaps I will be blessed with greater appreciation as time goes on, but I never really felt there was that extra oomph that pushed this album over the top; the album never hits any lows, but I feel like there could have been one or two high points that could have made it something extra special. This sort of criticism, however, is petty at best; when the whole product is this good, I'm not going to complain that one or two specific songs weren't outstanding.

While Brand New Eyes may be missing hooky, pop-punk gems like "Pressure" or "That's What You Get," it's Paramore's most solid, consistent album to date, and certainly my favorite of their so far. I can't wait to see what else they have up their sleeves in the coming years.

8/10
Download This: "Ignorance," "Brick By Boring Brick," "The Only Exception"