Posted by: ianstrope | April 15, 2010

Review: He’s Just Not That Into You

“He’s Just Not That Into You” 2009 director: Ken Kwapis (“The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” and TV) Written by: Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein (“Never Been Kissed”, etc.)

 The good thing about being ugly is that you don’t have to worry about the problems of beautiful people. You just need to figure out how to get food and shelter and whatever money you may need to satiate the meager vices of life. But boy howdy do these pretty white people with “relationship woes” just make for great comedy … I suppose. I mean they are in Baltimore in this movie and I keep waiting for Omar or Jimmy “Fuckin” McNulty to pop in for a second but that never happens so … maybe not.

I guess it would be an understatement to say that most RomComs (Romantic Comedies to some) are not my cup of Arizona Iced Tea. That said, human behavior can be funny and the contrivances of the movie are often not important to me when I’m looking for a good laurf … so I ended up seeing this movie.

I guess what could be interesting to me … is how characters behave in a movie like this and what their motivations end up being about. It’s like the people in this movie are living in the utopia that Agent Smith talked about in The Matrix. Things are fine for these people and they decide to be greedy or desperate and sad or whatever works to get them into the next point at which this series of vignettes, arranged around an ensemble of said pretty people interacting and screwing one another over, will do what exactly?

Well … the lesson at the end is that there is no lesson. Some people are doomed to be unhappy and others will luck out, while some are inexplicably devoted as tested by very little in terms of the plot. Wait no, maybe that’s not it (damn I should give this move a few stars for making me think). Okay … so some people cheat and it catches up with them and they lose “happiness” others never change and that works for them and they win back “happiness” and some struggle to find “happiness” and in the end … get it which is great but I guess I don’t get it. Okay fine. I’ll admit that this one is probably just over my head.

This movie does not romanticize love nor does it denigrate it, rather it takes a middle of the road type of cop out by setting up a handful of scenarios that allow for a handful of conclusions such that the audience for these RomComs can have their cake and eat it too. They get the happy ending they want along with the bitter and empowering conclusion that they no doubt also want. I guess this makes the movie a modern romantic comedy because it can be cynical and also sweet (as everybody knows the cynic is the most romantic of them all or something right?)

In the end I prefer more funny with my human interactions and also would like to see some death or something. I mean Whistler almost buys the farm but then he doesn’t and you know Cormac McCarthy certainly wouldn’t approve of that so I guess I shouldn’t either.

Rating: 2 stars out of 5 stars

Posted by: ianstrope | January 14, 2010

The Girlfriend Experience

The Girlfriend Experience 2009 director: Steven Soderberg (“Kafka”), writers: David Levien (“Rounders”), Brian Koppelmen (“Rounders”)

You like those Ocean’s movies? The eye behind those is also responsible for this movie though you might not notice. Director Soderberg has been around since the boom of “indie filmmakers” in the 90’s he had initial success with Sexs, Lies, and Videotapes which was a film I never quite understood or found all that interesting.

What is interesting is the way that Soderberg has been able to navigate his career in such a way that he makes successful Hollywood pictures some Oscar stuff and these tiny indie films that not too many people know about.

Though Ocean’s 13 came out awhile ago Soderberg has been busy and actually directed a handful of projects such as the epic (though I didn’t see it but it’s long so there you have it) Che.

But this review is about his most recent quick and dirty DV project The Girlfriend Experience. This movie is shot in such a way that most of the action is captured in long shots with long takes such that the watcher feels like a voyeur on the life of this aspiring professional level escort (re: whore) in NYC. Set right as the 2008 Presidential election is coming to an end and the turmoil of the economic collapse is being felt the worst on Wallstreet. GFX (as I’ll call it) seems to confuse the audience by making snyde references to the clients of the callgirl as they obsess over government bailouts and feak out about the idea of a socialist revolt or something. It’s all pretty superficial and serves little to ellucidate the narrative which is further convoluted by the editorial choice to assemble the scenes out of chronological order even splitting some scenes all to serve some notion or gimmick that is lost to me.

When Soderberg did this with The Limey I felt he created a stream of conscientiousness in the film that worked quite well but here I don’t think the narrative is strong or exciting enough to allow for such liberties from traditional storytelling. That said the movie is not without worthwhile performances by non-stars (at least not of the non-adult movie industry) IRL pornstar Sasha Grey plays the lead character with the sort of listless vapidity that seems quite authentic to that type of I don’t know Capitalist woman living off her looks with a dash of cunning and deceat.

And though it seems more important or serious than it is I think that some moments of the film are meant to have legitimate humor, dark though it may be, and this is something I rather enjoyed. So I suppose that fact that the movie was less than 90 minutes (though it felt kind of long) and that it is something kind of different coaxed me into liking it a little more despite myself.

Rating: Three stars out of Five.

Posted by: znewkirk | December 14, 2009

Review: Brothers

2009 | Director: Jim Sheridan (“In the Name of the Father,” “My Left Foot,” “Get Rich or Die Tryin'”) | Writer: David Benioff (“The Kite Runner,” “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”)

Jim Sheridan’s “Brothers,” based on Susanne Bier’s Danish film of the same name (in Danish), is a disjointed oddity. On one hand it strives to present itself as a reworking of Homer’s “The Odyssey,” but then turns its Odysseus into a boiling antagonist of sorts. On the other hand, it wants to emphasize the Horror of War as a person-changing entity, and then it forces that plotline into the overarching story like jamming ill-fitting puzzle pieces together. On the third hand, for you three-handed mutants out there, it’s a slice-of-life tale of a bad boy who sees the light, then finds himself irrelevant once the chips fall. It’s at least two distinct movies–each somewhat moving, even if a little trite–in one, canceling each other out at every opportunity.

When golden boy Sam (Tobey Maguire) heads back to Afghanistan for a repeat tour, he does so under the loving gazes of wife Grace (Natalie Portman), ex-military father Hank (Sam Shepard), and fresh-out-of-prison brother Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal, in easily the best performance of the film), who finds it just as hard to adjust to life with his disapproving family as it is to fit back into society. When Sam’s chopper goes down and he is presumed dead, Tommy becomes the glue that holds Grace’s crumbling life together, and a new father figure to his brother’s two young daughters.

Only Sam isn’t dead; he’s been captured and stuck in a well with another soldier by Afghani rebels, and there he is tortured to breaking point, becoming gaunt, goggle-eyed, and morally negligent as a result. But when he returns to his overjoyed family, his traumatized heart, jaundiced by what he has seen and done, senses only betrayal around him, especially in the form of his reformed and newly-beloved brother.

Its storylines all carry considerable emotional heft, as do its understated performances, but “Brothers,” for all its slow-burning tension and palpable discord, feels as though it’s missing a good 20 or more minutes from its running time. Sheridan tries to say something about the soul’s irreparable change after war, but that’s lost in a plot that builds and builds to points that frustratingly never reach catharsis. Maybe it’s because it’s constructed on some pretty well-worn character archetypes, and maybe it’s that the characters’ bottled-up feelings are truncated in a script that seems to favor neither show nor tell. “Brothers” touches on major themes of loss and guilt, but it merely touches on them when it should have wallowed in their mire, and the sum of all the bluster is as disappointingly inconsequential as you can get.

Rating: Two of Five Stars

Posted by: znewkirk | December 9, 2009

Review: Ninja Assassin

2009 | Director: James McTeigue | Writers: Matthew Sand and J. Michael Straczynski (“Murder She Wrote,” “Babylon 5”)

It turns out that the title “Ninja Assassin” refers not to the protagonist being a rather redundant ninja who also happens to be an assassin, but, more accurately, to his occupation as an assassin of ninjas. Knowing that makes the otherwise-bland title more interesting, but my having been girded with that knowledge beforehand didn’t make the movie any less shockingly boring–due in part to the filmmakers’ dubious decision to cover the screen in CGI blood. Sadly, the fake gore took me out of the illusion that I was watching a documentary on the mass murder of hundreds of real-life ninjas. Call me a purist.

Here the fearsome ninja prepares to terrorize his prey

Asian megastar Rain–Korea’s version of, I don’t know, Morgan Freeman–stars as Raizu, an ex-ninja who seeks satisfaction from his own Ozunu clan for their honor-required execution of his forbidden love. Together with two of the most forgettable Europol agents of all time, Raizu quests to settle his differences with the clan, and in the most dignified and diplomatic of ways: by murdering them. Of course, there are pitfalls in his path–that old rascal Lord Ozunu himself won’t go gentle into that good night, and there are dozens of minutes’ worth of flashbacks waiting to trip up the stone-faced killer at every turn. Luckily, the scenes are so dark and shadowy that the audience can’t see Raizu at all, so how are his mortal enemies supposed to sniff him out?

But Lord Ozunu has different ideas about the whole "kill Lord Ozunu" scheme

Though his lifeless story alone is enough to provoke drowsiness, the director of “Ninja Assassin,” James McTeigue (“V for Vendetta”), throws a little extra tryptophan into the mix with his inclusion of several dull talks between agents White Guy and Black Girl, the pair of Europol detectives who, for really stupid reasons that set most of the film in Germany, serve as audience surrogates. Together they knit brows and mull over every plot point, taking great care to continuously point out how ludicrous it is that they’re dealing with ninjas, of all people.

Two rival ninjas beat each other up in the climactic battle

But worse yet is the film’s action, which, though endlessly gory, is presented in a criminally repetitive and unwatchable sequence of pitch-black fights in which Raizu spins his special chain-with-a-knife-on-it-thing in circles and chops all the oncoming ninjas’ legs and heads off, causing thousands of gallons of neon red blood to explode from their wounds. (Apparently ninjas have extremely high blood pressure.) It’s a testament to the ineptitude of the cast and crew that any film with this high a death toll could end up so boring. Considering its underwhelming name as a jumping-off point, “Ninja Assassin” isn’t really a disappointment, but it’s about as far from entertaining as an action film can get.

Rating: One and a Half of Five Stars

Posted by: znewkirk | December 3, 2009

Review: New Moon

2009 | Director: Chris Weitz (“The Golden Compass”) | Writers: Mellisa Rosenberg (Screenplay, “Step Up”) and Stephenie Meyer (novel)

It’s no surprise: the second entry in the Twilight saga is a better film than its laughable predecessor. But that should have been expected; Catherine Hardwicke’s amateurish camp classic set the bar so low that “New Moon” could have been about three terrible, beautiful young actors who do nothing but blink, mutter and twitch at each other and it would have still dwarfed “Twilight.” It turns out that “New Moon” is exactly that which I just described, and though the horrendous acting and special ed-level dialogue do indeed make this a negative review, the film’s superior visuals and much-improved direction provide a huge step forward for this inexplicably popular franchise.

All's well for would-be lovers Iggy Pop and Bob Hope...

All's well for would-be lovers Iggy Pop and Bob Hope...

Picking up the school year following the glittery shenanigans of “Twilight,” “New Moon” finds bland, nervous downer Bella (Kristen Stewart) psyched to continue her abstinent love-fest with vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson). But when a paper cut fiasco occurs at a birthday party, as they do at most, Edward realizes his undead, undying love for Bella only serves to endanger her life. Thus he and his clan bail to paler pastures, leaving Bella to mope around with old buddy Jacob (Taylor Lautner), a newly six-packed secret werewolf replete with Lou Ferrigno-grade breasts.

..Until swarthy young wolfmen start loitering. Then it's anybody's game.

...Until swarthy young wolfmen start loitering. Then it's anybody's game.

However, her closeness with Team Jacob doesn’t diminish her unspeakable longing for Team Edward, and when she finds that reckless behavior induces hallucinatory images of her chiding boyfriend, she starts living an x-treme lifestyle. As always, dangers without prove to be more dangerous than the dangers within, and not even a third-act sojourn in Italy can ward off the dangerous dangers of living dangerously.

As the odd Native American lycanthrope out in the love triangle, Lautner proves to be a much better actor than jittery Stewart or marble-mouthed Pattinson, but that’s like calling Jeffrey Dahmer a much nicer serial killer than John Wayne Gacy or Ted Bundy. If anything, “New Moon” shatters the theory that bad acting is the result of bad directing–if that were the case, then Summit Entertainment was unfortunate enough to hire two of the worst directors on Earth in Hardwicke and this movie’s helmer, Chris Weitz (“American Pie”).

But we know that last part isn’t true, because “New Moon” stands head and shoulders above “Twilight” in terms of visuals, effects, and pacing. Heck, excise the many scenes where Bella and one of her male leads stammer at each other, and “New Moon” becomes a sleek, stylish mood piece, more like a music video than a lumbering, tween-aimed cash cow. In its best sequences–such as an ethereal chase scene in the woods set to music by Thom Yorke, and a surprisingly creepy climax in Italy–“New Moon” demonstrates how an effective director can turn lead to gold. At its worst, it’s a harrowing reminder that a pretty face in lieu of acting talent will always undermine a film’s potential.

Rating: Two of Five Stars

Posted by: znewkirk | November 30, 2009

Review: A Serious Man

2009 | Directors and Writers: Joel and Ethan Coen (“Barton Fink,” “Raising Arizona”)

Joel and Ethan Coen possess many filmic attributes, but chief among these has to be their control over atmosphere; camera, music, line readings and the script all work in concert toward creating a nearly overwhelming mood that doubles as a time-specific setting in all their work. This effect goes a long way in making their latest effort, “A Serious Man,” as deep and layered a philosophical mystery as any of their films, and a darkly enjoyable treatise on their own coming-of-age experiences growing up Jewish in 1960s Minnesota.

Physics professor Larry Gopnik (a wonderful Michael Stuhlbarg) finds himself in a crisis of faith when his wife announces her intentions to divorce. Compounding Larry’s anxiety are myriad other problems that show up concurrently: his chance at tenure is being threatened by anonymous letters to the board; his pothead son, who is weeks away from his Bar Mitzvah, and his nagging daughter are at each others’ throats over stolen money; his deadbeat, possibly insane brother is living on his couch; a Korean student may be trying to bribe him into giving him a passing grade; and his goy neighbor is building a shed inches over the property line. He decides to turn to a series of increasingly vague and unhelpful rabbis to get answers about his crumbling existence, and all the while his mounting issues chip away at his checkbook, making the envelope full of hundred-dollar bills in his office desk drawer (the suspected bribe money) look better and better.

Many of the threads seem to go nowhere, but it’s in going nowhere that they become meaningful; though Larry takes his experiences as evidence of God testing him, Job-like, they look to an inhabitant of the 21st century as commonplace occurrences. Part of the dark humor lies in the fact that Larry’s problems are so very minuscule, but they wear on him like straws falling gently on a camel’s back. It’s only in his casual Judaism that they become magnified, as so many more faithful Jews cheerfully offer up answers that indicate their acceptance of the idea that God’s chosen people must bear an unequal burden, even if that burden is an average existence in drab suburban Hell on the way to the bosom of Abraham.

But the Coens are adept at turning such a normal set of difficulties into set pieces of dread. Every scene ramps up the ominous atmosphere to the point where the Jewish experience mirrors questions of faith in most religions. Larry’s constant complaint that he hasn’t “done anything” to deserve his fate is a familiar tune even to Canadian Lutherans, I’d imagine. What’s most telling, however, is the filmmakers’ recognition of man’s tendency, in any religion, to beg for God’s help when times are bad, yet slip comfortably back into evil when it’s assumed He’s not looking. The Coens seem happy to point out that man is much easier to blame for his own damnation.

Rating: Four of Five Stars

Posted by: znewkirk | November 30, 2009

Review: The Box

2009 | Director: Richard Kelly | Writers: Richard Kelly (screenplay) and Richard Matheson (short story)

Richard Matheson’s famed short story “Button, Button” is short and sharp, a freaky fable that ends up being as much about the horror of semantics as it is about any sci-fi scares. It’s understandable, then, that any film adaptation of the Hemingway-like work would need much expansion; it’s just strange that “Donnie Darko” director Richard Kelly, most recently found at the helm of the sprawling disaster “Southland Tales,” not only penned a short-enough script to get “The Box” made, but based the film more on the 1980’s episode of “The Twilight Zone” than Matheson’s slight work. What’s not strange is that Kelly’s movie goes off the rails in a big way while still managing to unnerve and provoke thought.

Cameron Diaz and James Marsden are Norma and Arthur, a couple of 1970s Virginians, who, despite working as a teacher and as a NASA engineer, respectively, still live paycheck to paycheck with their son Walter, who, we find early on, is about to lose his scholarship to the private school he attends. Norma awakens one day to find a box with a sealed button sitting at their doorstep, along with a curious note guaranteeing details that afternoon. When its promised owner, the disfigured and frightening Arlington Steward (Frank Langella, “Lolita”), arrives later, he gives her an offer she may or may not be able to refuse: one push of the button will net her family $1,000,000 cash, and will also result in the death of someone, somewhere in the world, who she does not know.

Kelly sticks to Matheson’s beats for the first act with great success, squeezing considerable tension out of mere conversations (aided by an effective score from members of the Arcade Fire) and weird people making strange faces, but “The Box” oddly becomes even more unsettling in the second half, when Kelly’s questionable love for sci-fi takes hold and the story zips off into Crazyland, while still hitting, somehow, every trite plot point in the book along the way. But–and this is a big “but“–the mess of genres and tones and philosophies (Sartre’s in particular) only serves to amplify the experience in equally skin-crawling and forehead-slapping ways, when it probably should have crashed it into a ditch.

How? The answer lies in ex-wunderkind Kelly, who, despite his decidedly insane ideas for dialogue and twists, is an utter whiz at imbuing every unwieldy line and every slow zoom with palpable foreboding and dread, to the point where those effects remain even after a cathartic, yet rather disappointing ending raises more questions than it answers. It’s not necessary to be a fan of either Matheson or Kelly to enjoy being creeped-out by “The Box,” but it helps to understand that you’re about to watch something very unlike any film you’ve seen before, even if you may not like where it takes you.

Rating: Three and a Half of Five Stars

Posted by: znewkirk | November 30, 2009

Review: Paranormal Activity

2009 | Director and Writer: Oren Peli

It can be said that apart from stylishness, acting, plotting, dialogue, and other essentially decorative trappings of story, any genre film’s level of success comes down to basic effectiveness. Was the comedy funny? Was the drama moving? If that kind of performance truly is the measure of filmic excellence, then “Paranormal Activity” might be one of the best horror films of all time, obvious flaws notwithstanding. And here’s how it was done: one camera, four actors, and a bunch of on-set sound effects. Sounds scary, right?

When day-trader Micah (Micah Sloat) brings home a digital video camera to document (“for posterity,” he says seriously) his student girlfriend Katie’s (played by Katie Featherston) continued haunting by unseen and mostly irritating forces, she responds with playful annoyance. After all, the titular activity has been pervasive since her childhood home mysteriously burned down 15 years ago, but it has never been more than a creepy nuisance, either.

That changes when Micah begins filming. His static nighttime setup shows immediate results in odd noises, slightly-moved doors and the like, but Katie grows unhinged–as much at Micah’s gung-ho attitude as anything–as the taping continues, leading to the hiring of psychic Dr. Fredrichs, who calmly tells the couple that they are not dealing with a human ghost, but a demon. From there the couple’s life quickly unravels–Micah’s machismo and Katie’s burgeoning terror become their defining characteristics as each night’s taping shows more and more frightening occurrences, provoked, seemingly, by Micah’s prideful missteps. The expert warns them that moving won’t change anything, as Katie is the one being haunted, and not the house (filmed at writer-director Oren Peli’s actual San Diego home).

As “The Blair Witch Project” demonstrated before, a big budget isn’t necessary to tap primal human fear; but “Paranormal” takes its $15,000 allocation and runs with it, surpassing its predecessor by far in the scares category, thanks to its recurring still shots of the bedroom at night and the horrors that unfold within. Even without actually showing anything, “Paranormal” reveals more than “Blair” did, providing that little extra push in the crap-your-pants direction thanks to incredibly skin-crawling sound work built into the fake documentary format. Nothing proves more disturbing than a static shot of a couple asleep in bed while, unaware to them, lumbering footsteps produced by an invisible source thunder slowly up the staircase toward them. Between the lines there’s little there, but unlike in other genres, nothing more than an examination of what scares us most is necessary.

Peli turns out to be a heck of a director, taking his understandably middling leads to planes of effectiveness that acquit them as film school thespians, or at least as actors above the levels of Keanu Reeves and Kristen Stewart. But most impressive has to be Peli’s quite correct–and lucrative–idea that the oldest horror tropes, when performed earnestly and economically, are absolutely the most bloodcurdling. Recommended for anyone who can stand it.

Rating: Four and a Half of Five Stars

Posted by: znewkirk | November 30, 2009

Review: The Men Who Stare at Goats

2009 | Director: Grant Hezlov | Writers: Jon Ronson (book) and Peter Straughan (screenplay, “How to Lose Friends & Alienate People”)

“The Men Who Stare at Goats” is one of those comedies that, despite having its funny moments, goes for long humorless stretches without batting an eye, as if the filmmakers mistook odd, quirky characterizations for Coens-esque deadpan. It’s a hit-or-miss approach weighted too heavily toward the latter part of the equation, unfortunately.

Based on Gonzo journalist Jon Ronson’s nonfiction tome, “Goats” follows Ewan McGregor (“Star Wars Episodes I-III”) as Ronson stand-in Bob Wilton, who, after being dumped by his wife, wastes away in Kuwait looking for an Iraq War story with which to prove himself–that is, until he bumps into former Special Forces operative and all-around nut job Lyn Cassidy (George Clooney, “The Peacekeeper”), who agrees to take Wilton along on his secret mission.

That mission’s purpose remains cloudy to Wilton, but along the way he learns of Cassidy’s Army past, which recounts the history of the New Age-centered New Earth Army headed by Bill Django (Jeff Daniels, playing out of character as a shaggy, laid-back hippie), and Cassidy’s antagonistic relationship with fellow “American Jedi” Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey, “K-Pax”), a man prone to embracing the holistic unit’s Dark Side.

Actor-director Grant Hezlov has a good eye for Clooney’s wacky portrayal, but he doesn’t seem to know how to handle the heavier stuff. As a result, the real-world punch line at the end of the film is treated with kid gloves. Or maybe it’s just that the constant, goofy Looney Tunes-like music over every scene made me take it the wrong way.

The choice to have McGregor narrate every waking moment, however, may have been the worst Hezlov and company made; the Scot, an ex-Jedi himself, is the least funny cast member in “Goats,” and the most pervasive (while the usually stiff Spacey, in comparison, turns out to be something of a comic revelation in little screen time). In a way, that miscasting represents the film as a whole–some of the right parts built around the wrong idea to begin with. It’s a shame that Ronson’s real-life story was brushed aside so easily; it has to be just as disappointing to him that the true story is just as buried here, and beneath such a hodgepodge of ill-fitting comedic styles.

Rating: Two of Five Stars

Posted by: znewkirk | October 25, 2009

Review: Where the Wild Things Are

2009 | Director: Spike Jonze (“Being John Malkovich”) | Writers: Jonze and Dave Eggers (“Away We Go”)

Maurice Sendak’s beloved children’s book “Where the Wild Things Are” is a sparse, quick read, but it’s also so unusual a tale of childhood anger and so lushly detailed in its illustrations that it becomes ripe with allegorical potential upon repeat reading. It’s really no wonder, then, that Spike Jonze’s film version is the rare adaptation that significantly expands upon its source, presenting a surprisingly mature examination of Sendak’s loose themes within an even looser framework than the author used. But even if it were stripped of its considerable analytical depth, Jonze’s “Wild Things” would flat-out impress with its sheer visual inventiveness.


The story follows Max (played by future music label executive Max Records), a child whose one-parent family (led by working mom Catherine Keener) quickly fails to satiate the imaginative youth’s somewhat-angry need for attention. He runs off in a rage–and in a wolf costume–one night, soon finding himself on an island inhabited by the titular monsters (those voiced by Forrest Whitaker and Chris Cooper among them), who are standing by nervously as their de facto leader, Carol (voiced wonderfully by James Gandolfini) smashes their forest homes in his own rather calculated fury. Max joins in, impressing Carol and the others, who make him their king, an act that brings the dysfunctional group of creatures together for a while as Max leads them in grand schemes and games that promise much more than he can fulfill.

The most brilliant aspect of “Wild Things” is the way in which each monster represents a different part of Max’s psyche, from the unbridled aggression and irritating neediness of Carol, to the repressed and lonely Alexander (voiced by Paul Dano), both of whom are in need of a father figure as much as Max himself, though there is a passive-aggressive mother figure of sorts in Judith (Catherine O’Hara) and a sisterly monster named KW (Lauren Ambrose) whose yearning to move on and find new friends causes division within the family (mirroring Max’s real-life sibling). There isn’t much of a plot once Max reaches the island, but one could watch this film a dozen times and still not yet catch every tumbling, complicated interaction between Max and monster.

wild-things 2

In this way “Wild Things” succeeds famously, because every stunning visual, every simple line of dialogue, is filtered through the eyes of a kid Max’s age, colored with wonder, judgment-clouding excitement, and, overwhelmingly, sadness–and all that without writer Dave Eggers spelling any trite morals or placing overt plot points to signify character change. It’s an exemplary screenplay to say the least.

That said, I almost feel that it’s not a movie for kids–not because of any content issues, but because Max’s angry loneliness is pervasive and infectious, pushed along by a jarring score by Karen O. and Carter Burwell, and now and again tinged by frightening moments, such as when Carol and the others nonchalantly try to conceal the child-sized bones of past kings from an almost-oblivious Max. It’s a little much for the pre-high school set, but as a sort of Freudian retrospective, it’s one of the more moving and unsettling films in recent years, and undoubtedly the year’s best at this point in time. Highly recommended.

Rating: Four and a Half of Five Stars

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