Tag: where the wild things are

Where the Wild Things Are Defended

Of all the movies I love the most controversial may be Spike Jonze’s adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book Where the Wild Things Are?

I can’t think of any movie where literally half of the party I was with thought it was dazzling and half hated it.

It’s very polarizing, so let me explain why I like it.

The movie starts off with a boy named Max who builds a series of forts.  The first is a snow fort and then another is in his room with blankets.

Max becomes angry when the snow fort is destroyed by his sister Claire’s friends and she won’t do anything to help (or even look at said fort at the beginning) and then again when his mother won’t pay attention to his fort at home.

Everyone seemingly is ignoring and destroying him and he can’t do a thing about it.  His emotions feel out of control (big point of the movie). The fort, snowballs, bullies, all of Max’s emotions are all foreshadowing to what you see later with the animals except for with them Max has control and in the beginning he has none.  He is all hurt, anger, and emotion.

Then he goes to school and his teacher tells him about environmental collapse and the death of the sun.  He then has to meet his mother’s new boyfriend and he has a tantrum and runs away to our magic land.  You can feel Max like a tea pot boiling up ready to burst at any moment.

where the wild things are

Why does this work for me?  Because I remember being a kid and feeling angry and scared.  I remember puzzling at the things I was taught that seemed to be beyond belief or so sad they made me sad.  I remember staring up into the ceiling late at night and wondering why people were so mean and difficult to understand.

I remember thinking that if only people would listen to me they would see what I was trying to say.  Especially when I was teenager I  felt frustrated at my complete inability to express what was inside my heart.

One time I literally stomped my feet and told my family that

‘you are the weird one’s. I’m the normal one and you don’t get it’. (see I was the wild one….)

Granted it was a completely ridiculous thing to say, if I wanted any good done, but it was a pent up explosion of emotions.  Isn’t it basically another way of saying and conveying what Max is feeling?  ‘You all don’t understand, don’t listen and it is making me angry and worried’.

So, Max runs and finds a boat that takes him across the ocean and to a land with 7 ‘wild things’.  In a brilliant touch these are not CGI creations but puppets from Jim Henson’s studio.  This makes them feel tactile like a kids stuffed animal.

where-the-wild-things-are-figuresThe first of the creatures he meets is Carol, who is in the middle of a tantrum, caused by the abandonment of a girl wild thing named KW.  At first Max is excited about the tantrum and joins in and then realizes the wild things want to eat him.

Using his quick thinking Max convinces them not to eat him and that he is actually a king that has come to rule them and help them be happy.   They get it and this is very exciting for Max.  They do what they are told!

They agree and his first order of business is to call a wild rumpus where they destroy trees and play.

Now I tell you what kid would not do just that when named King over wild monsters?  A wild rumpus is so brilliant in its chaos yet predictability.

At this point Max looks happy for the first time in the movie.  He is finally allowed to play and let all the misunderstanding and frustrations out.  He is also allowed to lead, taken seriously by someone, and this makes him happy.

I totally relate to this as the times in my life when I am given that reaction are typically the most gleeful.

I think of myself after finishing a swim and how great it feels to have conquered a wild thing, something people think is really hard.  I suspect there is something inside all of us that likes to conquer chaos.

So, the wild things pile up for the night and we get a better introduction to all 7 Carol, Ira, Judith, Alexander, Douglas, the Bull, and K.W.   Each represent a different part of Max’s life and personality.

Carol- is the tantrum, angry side that wants to be understood, Ira and Judith are a couple and Judith is loud and bossy, Douglas is a good friend and loyal to Carol, KW is lonely and on the outside of the group, Alexander is talked down to and mistreated (the victim of the group), The Bull is on the side and less developed.

There are also 2 owls that are introduced named Bob and Terry.  These are outsiders to the group who KW is friends with (much like Max’s mother’s boyfriend who comes in  as an outsider that only she likes) but the rest don’t like especially Judith who says they should not be allowed into the group’s fort.

Max had previously stated that any outsiders will have their ‘brains automatically cut off”.  To try and solve the division Max starts a dirt clod fight that he thinks will separate the good from the bad.

Look how happy he is at the beginning of this scene, how free he feels.  It’s beautiful:

Unfortunately things do not go well and Alexander is hurt, KW leaves again.  Just as Max had done earlier in the movie, Carol becomes angry at Max for not doing a better job as king.  How could he allow people to get hurt?  He was supposed to help KW not leave and yet she did anyway? Max realizes that Carol is disappointed in him much like he is disappointed in his Mother.

Carol and Max talk about what worries them.  “How can guys like us worry about a tiny thing like the sun?”  but you know they are worried and worried about their friendships and lives and whether they will be happy.

I wrote in my journal once- ‘how do you turn the worry off?’  That is so beautifully expressed in this scene:

As Carol becomes more upset, Douglas finally tells him that Max is  “just a boy, pretending to be a wolf, pretending to be a king”.  Isn’t his mother pretending to be a queen?

At least it is that way to Max and she seemingly let’s him down over and over again.  She never seems to rescue him.  ‘You are out of control” he says to Carol just as his Mom had said to him. Your emotions are out of control!

Carol says, “You were supposed to take care of us.  You promised” (gut wrenching part.) all go back to Max’s home life and his mother. His Mother was supposed to make sure bad things didn’t happen to him but they do all the time.

Feeling betrayed Carol  says he is going to eat Max just like Max had done earlier to his Mom before he bit her.  He then throws his biggest tantrum yet (much similar to the tantrum thrown by Max before being sent to bed without any supper). In his rage Carol rips off Douglas’ arm and chases Max into the forest.   Max is then saved by KW who hides him in her stomach.  Max listens as Carol and KW have an argument about why she always leaves him.

Like Claire used to be Max’s friend KW has moved on from Carol and they both feel sad about it but it seems necessary for KW to explore new worlds and friendships

Then Max starts to realize how little control his mother has over him and Claire and it is not her fault that they are growing up, becoming more distant.  It is also not her fault that she can’t understand or deal with him all the time.  He can’t deal with Carol (who is basically Max) so how could his mother? She is also not to blame for his father leaving or all the other hurts in his life.

And just as Carol is hurt and KW runs away, so him and his Mom, experience the same emotions and conflict. He knows just as he couldn’t help Carol be free from pain and neither can his mother.  What a realization for a kid!  His Mother is fallible and weak but has a good heart.

I think Max see’s the unhappiness of Carol and KW and knows for the first time that his mother is unhappy.  He see’s her loneliness  All the time he thought she controlled that but it turns out she isn’t in control.

Max understands what it is like for a second to be a parent because he was a king and his his mother has become a real person, a full human being.  He decides it is time to go home.

His goodbye to the Wild Things is so touching.  He says goodbye to his childhood and the innocence he had when he got there and now must enter the world of adult problems to help his mother. In a way it is kind of like Peter saying goodbye to Neverland.

The ending when Max and his mother reunite is perfect.  A child and Mother truly understanding each other as people not simply Role 1- Mother and Role 2- Son.   I cry my eyes out for about the last 15 minutes of this movie.

I know its a heady picture and it asks you go along with its premise, to accept unlikable characters, and see them grow, and to not have every question answered  It’s the journey of childhood.  From angry, happy, sad, worry, confused child to a man or woman trying to rule their mini-worlds as best they can. 

We also learn that no matter how noble the intentions of the ruler hurt, anger, betrayal and sadness will happen.  That is life.  Even God cannot prevent sadness. Life is Where the Wild Things Are.

A similarly polarizing movie is The Tree of Life which also seeks to talk about the human experience through art.  Tree of Life says that life is awe inspiring and beautiful.  Where the Wild Things Are seeks to talk about human emotions and growth.  Both are saying ‘this is how human beings really are…”

It is also a warning to Max of what the emotions can lead to if unchecked and unmolded.  All of us feel we could rule our lives the best and resent others telling us what to do. Then we occasionally realize we know nothing and don’t like the person we are turning into.  That’s when we need to look at ourselves, or meet our own Wild Things.  In the end, the movie is about realizing the humanity (wildness, quietness, fearfullness, all emotions) in others and in ourselves, and how weak we all really are.

Sometimes I think we are too scared of kids feeling these emotions, working through them organically, and temper them with drugs and entertainment?  Maybe reconciling them is the key to becoming fully human?

In the end it is a movie about a real person who comes into consciousness with himself.  That’s a powerful thing and I am forever moved by it.

So, that’s what I think.  Does my take on it make you see the movie even a bit differently?  If you dislike it, why?

Also, the music is gorgeous, sets dazzling, acting including child actor are all great, great voice cast.  I love it!

INSIDE ALL OF US IS A WILD THING!

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Underrated Movies

movie-clip-art11-287x300So a few weeks ago I wrote a story on movies I felt were overrated.  Now those were not necessarily bad movies I just didn’t think they were the amazing 5 stars everyone else seems to. The follow up naturally becomes what are underrated movies that deserve more playing time?

I actually struggled in coming up with a list because some of them seemed difficult to defend but I enjoyed them nonetheless.  Some might think how could I not be into the Godfather and like Sweet Home Alabama or The Blind Side? I can’t explain it.  I just do. So here are some underrated gems to check out by category:

Rom Coms that do the genre right- anyone knows I love a good romantic movie but they have been the scene of some truly horrific flops in the last 10 years.  Some that were unjustly ignored are:

IQ- a funny movie starring Meg Ryan, Tim Robbins and Walter Manthau about Einstein’s niece falling in love.  The banter between Einstein and his buddies is hilarious, the chemistry is right on.  Its available on netflix so check it out (many on this list are on netflix).

Sweet Home Alabama-  Predictable? yes.  do some of the jokes fall flat? yes, but I really enjoy this movie.  I LOVE Josh  Lucas.  He is super sexy and Patrick Demsey plays the other man with a lot of class.  They do not take the easy way out and make him a jerk.

Just Wright- A movie nobody saw with Queen Latifah and Common. The Queen is divine as a physical therapist tasked with helping an NBA player come back from an injury.  Yes, its predicable but you need some of that in this genre.  Its really a fairy tale with the prince charming a basketball player and Paula Patton as the somewhat evil stepsister (god-sister in this story . She’s a gold digger with a heart and boy is she pretty)

Return to Me- Similar to IQ this sweet love story of a girl who gets a heart transplant but then falls for the widower of the heart donor. Its sweet and how great to have a Hollywood romance where the character falls in love without the girl revealing a scar on her chest. A very clean simple movie with a great group of older actors playing the Irish/Italian family of the Minnie Driver character.

Better Off Dead- I can’t really defend this movie except to say that it makes me laugh every time.  A boy is infatuated with his girlfriend and then is dumped for the captain of the high school ski team. To get back he decides to ski the K-12.

Hijinks erupt with everything from Howard Cossell Japanese taxi drivers, animated burgers, a paper boy who wants his $2, a mother who boils bacon and makes goo for dinner and a brother who cuts out coupons from boxes before the cereal is eaten.  What can I say?  It just makes me laugh.

Drama’s that deserve  to be seen-

Marvin’s Room-  A gut wrenching drama with Meryl Streep, Dianne Keaton, Robert Deniro and Leonardo Dicaprio.  It reads like a good play. Two estranged sisters get back together when  one is diagnosed with cancer.  Dicaprio plays a teen with severe behavior and mental illness issues but it is done in a realistic way.   Every performance is good.  It felt like watching a real family.

Warrior- Not enough people saw this great sports/family movie.  The conceit is predictable.  We know the brothers will end up fighting against each other but the journey is so well done.  All the performances are great.  Tom Hardy is super hot and Nick Nolte is totally believable as the alcoholic father everyone has discounted.  The fight scenes are not overly long and the tension is built perfectly.  Great example of its genre.

Secret Life of Bees- Another movie with a strong ensemble cast that nobody saw.  Based on the bestselling novel by Su Monk Kidd tells the story of a little girl who runs away from home in 1964 South Carolina. She finds a new home with a family of black women that knew her mother and are beekeepers.  I loved the book and the movie.

Jane Eyre 1996- I have yet to dislike a version of this story (including the 2011 filming) but this one may be my favorite big screen adaptation.  Charlotte Ginsberg is the most plain Jane but that totally works for the character.  William Hurt is brooding and fun as Rochester even without a British accent.

The Blind Side- Obviously this film has its fans as it won an oscar for Sandra Bullock but amongst critics it is frequently chided as sentimental and even manipulative.  My answer to that is so what?  Hasn’t sentimentality always been an essential aspect to the movies? Even going back to Gone with the Wind or Mrs Minver.  If it is done well I enjoy a good hearted fable that helps encourage me to be a better person.

This story is of course about future super bowl winner Michael Oher and how he is adopted by the Tuohy family of Mississippi.  Its the kind of movie I want to watch when I’m having a bad day or feeling discouraged and I don’t think that is a bad thing.  Our society could use a little more hope and little less cynicism.

Children Movies You Might Have Missed

Winnie the Pooh Movie- Finally a movie designed for little, little kids.  Its short enough for them with a simple sweet story that I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic for.  I LOVE the music.  No winking humor for adults just an unabashed little kids movie (5 and under)

Holes- The first time I saw this movie I was blown away.  I called my family and said ‘you have to see it’.  They weren’t as impressed but I thought it was so creative.  Weaving a story of a kid sent to a desert camp to dig holes and an cowboy love story that ended badly leaving a curse on the entire family.  I still think it is brilliant.

Where the Wild Things Are- This movie has its fans and I admit it is one you either go with or don’t. I did.  When I saw it in the theater half of us thought it was amazing and half a big bore.  I loved its realistic depiction of a child, without any of the cloying sweetness of most Hollywood movies.  This is a real kid with tantrums and stubbornness.

Then he is given the chance to actually lead creatures, creatures that feature all of his good and bad traits and he realizes how hard it is. He gets a new empathy for his mother.  I loved the music, voice acting, the kid is a great actor (plus looks like my step-nephew).  Its different but I totally bought it.

Ponyo-  A weird but delightful animated movie from Hayao Miyazaki who made Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away.  Both of those are better movies but this one is more like My Friend Totoro and is designed for little kids. The story is simple but the images are so creative and the basic idea so dazzling that the kids have room to write some of their own story.  It is about a little boy that adopts a gold fish that is the daughter of the great sea wizard.  The ocean begins to search for the adorable Ponyo and everything begins.

Classics You Should See-

Talk of the Town- At its release this movie was nominated for Oscars but I doubt many have seen it.  Certainly Cary Grant’s other comedies such as Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday (both wonderful) are more popular but I love Talk of the Town . It has Jean Arthur who plays the high school crush of town good-for-nothing Grant who has been framed by a union for a fire that killed a man.

Knowing the jury is rigged Grant escapes from prison and seeks refuge at Arthur’s summer home which is soon to be occupied by a potential supreme court nominee played by Ronald Coleman.  Justice vs mercy is amazingly mixed in with some great slapstick.  I laugh my head off at this movie and think about philosophy at the same time.  A rare combination.

Brigadoon- The Gene Kelly musical most people haven’t seen.  Lerner and Loewe’s broadway musical comes to life about a town that ages only one day every hundred years.  Kelly and his friend stumble upon the town on a hunting trip and meet the lovely Cyd Charisse.   Some great songs such as Almost Like Being in Love, There but for you go I, Waitin for my Dearie and other great music and dancing.

Lili- A movie most people probably haven’t seen but a sweet fairy tale with amazing dancing.  Its the story of a girl named Lili played by Leslie Caron who stumbles upon a circus in a small town who agree to give her a job as a magicians assistant.  Young, she botches the first night and runs away in distress.  To her surprise she stumbles upon a puppet show and the puppets start to speak to her.

She agrees to be the MC for the puppet show but gets so lost in the illusion that she doesn’t remember who is behind the scenes. Could it be jaded carnival operator who is bitter about his career in dance going down the tubes because of an injury? You will have to see! The dancing is magnificent and like I said it is a gem.

Why I Like a Movie?

My regular readers will notice the similarity of this post to one I did a few weeks ago on reading entitled- Why I Like a Book?.  In it, I ask the question- Am I a soft reader?  I must say I thought it was one of my best posts and it inspired some interesting discussion; however, it did not completely put my mind at rest.

Perhaps mistakenly, I like to think of myself as a smart person- even as an intellectual.  Despite my fondness for television and fast food, I also aspire to higher, loftier places.  For example, rather than simply reading I get great pleasure from discussing literature with my friends and digging deeper into texts.

It is the same for other sources of entertainment- particularly movies.  My parents taught me to analyze everything.  To look at a movie and comment on the socio-economic conditions, values presented or implied, even the cinematography and acting.

I can recall many times getting into somewhat animated conversations especially with my brother about the virtues of one book or movie over another.  In my family I’ve always felt comfortable talking about anything and expressing my opinion about everything.

That said- Do you ever want to be a particular type of person but you just aren’t?  I think deep down inside I want to be a hipster intellectual who enjoys independent movies; however, I am learning every day that I am more of a blockbuster fan than I’d care to admit.

At BYU they had an international cinema which was free with films from all over the world.  Even then, it was the type of thing that I wanted to like.  I’m not really sure why but there seems something better about a person who likes international cinema- something brighter, more thoughtful?

I went over and over again and left each time bored out of my mind and disappointed.   I can’t think of a single one I enjoyed or felt emotional about, not one (and its not the subtitles that bothers me. I can’t even remember any titles- that’s how unimpressed I was).  Since graduation I have tried repeatedly to like other supposedly ‘thoughtful’ movies, and I very rarely do.  Another one that my brother loves which I thought was a snooze-fest is Days of Heaven.  I admit the photography is beautiful but the story is obvious and pedestrian.  After about an hour of watching wheat in the wind and listening to people complaining I was done…Sadly there was another hour left!

I suppose there are movies like Juno, Slumdog Millionaire and 500 Days of Summer (all films I adore)  that might be considered ‘independent’ but each still has a certain box office appeal.

The reason I started thinking about this is tonight I watched The Blind Side- an incredibly popular movie starring Sandra Bullock as Leigh Ann Tuohy, a Memphis mother who along with her husband and family, invite a homeless african-american boy into their home, and eventually adopt him.  The boy turns out to be Michael Oher, all-star offensive tackle in the NFL.

It is an inspiring movie about the ability of family and love to rescue souls.  Some have criticized the film as being racist, as another ‘white people saving the poor black boy movie’;  however, I’ve seen interviews with both Michael and Leigh Ann and they are clear that Michael’s race had nothing to do with their offer of love.  They saw an opportunity to rescue a needy soul and they took it.

Clearly The Blind Side has its fans- millions were made at the box office and Bullock won an oscar for her performance.  However, there is a whole crew of people who scoff at such a movie.  In fact, A.O Scott, film critic for the New York Times, said as a point of critique, that it sheds “nuance and complication in favor of maximum uplift.”  This is a bad thing? How is ‘maximum uplift’ a bad thing?

Am I stupid? Am I duped by the dramatic music and the ‘based on a true story’ tagline?  I don’t know?  Maybe? I wish I could help it, but no matter how ‘intelligent’ I try to be, I still respond positively to The Blind Side and negatively to those scores of international films that Mr.  Scott would probably think are brilliant. Recently I watched the supposed indie classic Dinner with Andre, and I about died of boredom.  It’s seriously two people talking about nothing for over two hours! Kill me now!

I am not saying that every movie has to be roses and cupcakes or even end happily.  Some didn’t like 500 Days of Summer because of its ending, but I thought it was perfect.  As mentioned before, I love Slumdog Millionaire- a film where children are treated terribly, horrible poverty is exposed, and gang violence pervades.

Why did Slumdog work for me?  Because the characters at the heart of the story are good people who I wanted to see succeed.  I got caught up in their romance.  I wanted them to be happy.  In this case, the ending was triumphant enough for the grim beginning. In fact, it made the difficulties experienced all the more meaningful because of the greater triumph they add to the characters.  In Slumdog you really feel like you grow up with the two characters and become immersed in their struggles.  It’s a great movie. (Not to mention the script, cinematography, acting and music are all sumptuously wonderful)

I am even willing to like a movie that’s a little bit different such as Where the Wild Things Are- a very divisive movie.  You either love it or hate it.  I thought it was brilliant and captured the essence of childhood perfectly.  I can’t think of another film that portrays the way I thought as a child.  When you’re little you take everything for granted and yet you want everything changed- and you, want to do all the changing.  You also see the world through a unique lens that doesn’t make sense to the grown ups around you.  Have you ever seen a child throw their hands in the air in frustration trying to explain a problem or tell a story to an adult?  This movie gets that aspect of childhood just right.

Like the little boy in the movie, I also thought I could be queen of the world as a child- I wanted to do everything on my own, in my own way.  I’d like to think I’ve carried some of that spunk into adulthood? Where the Wild Things Are also captures a child’s ability to ask questions about everything.  The boy, Max, accepts his new world, but he constantly asksquestions of the wild things.   It’s a unique movie, but it is also one of my favorites. ( I have to add my nephew used to look and sound just like the little boy in the movie! He’s 14 now, so not so little.)

In the end, I believe people deep-down inside are good.  Of course, life and sin can tear away at their dreams and values, but I still feel people start out good, innocent and full of potential.  Modern skeptics would hold otherwise, and so movies that I respond to come off as sentimental or silly.  Oh well!  I tried for years to like their stuffed shirt flicks and it isn’t worth it. Give me a weepy biopic or a sentimental romance any day over a cynical portrayal of urban life. Btw, I spent time in urban areas on my mission, and saw a lot more good than evil and more things to feel hopeful about then despairing.

I also believe in the power of redemption.  No matter how bleak it may seem we all have the power to change our lives- no one is a lost cause. It can be as simple as a character that learns to love another person, which is why I’ve always loved Breakfast at Tiffany’s (and Audrey Hepburn is a goddess).  Its about two flawed characters who save themselves through the purity of their love.

It doesn’t have to be redemption through Christ (which I clearly believe is the most profound redemption).  It can be redemption through many noble things such as hard work, persistence, family, community, and love as in The Blind Side.  This theme of redemption is why I LOVE the story of A Christmas Carol.  It is also what attracts me to Jane Eyre.  The bitter Rochester finds himself and renews his life through loving Jane.  It doesn’t always have to be a drama.  Sometimes the funniest movies are ones that feature characters who learn their lesson- What About Bob? comes to mind as an example.

I do have to remind myself that these intellectuals I want to be like aren’t so great.  After all, they are the same people who think David Foster Wallace and David Sedaris are funny- a thought which is beyond me?  I think both of them are obnoxious, condescending, preachy and dripping with disdain for anyone who isn’t like them.  I didn’t laugh once while reading their supposedly insightful commentaries.  (Maybe because it is my traditional Christian life they are making fun of? On the other hand, I can laugh at myself and my culture?)  Who knows?

I guess I respond to what I respond to.  Can anyone help that?  Hmmm…I definitely will be curious for everyone’s thoughts on this one!