The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
Friday, October 16, 2009 - 5A
You know what they say about big horns.
'Tame 'Wild Things'
* Though visually stunning,
'Where the Wild Things
Are' can't reproduce the
magic of the book
By JENNIFER XU
Daily Arts Writer
At this point, you have probably seen the
"Where the Wild Things Are"
trailer taking up every other
commercial spot on TV, blar-
ing an earnest rendition of the WIhere
Arcade Fire's "Wake Up." You ffmWfd
have probably looked through
the windows of Urban Outfit- ThingS Are
ters, which peddles the film's At Quality 16
characteristic stuffed ani- and Showcase
mals, T-shirts and leggings -
maybe you have even bought Warner Bros.
yourself a shirt or two. The
"Wild Things" franchise has literally turned
into a hipster's nirvana, and most people haven't
even seen the movie yet. But let this review be a
warning: Don't expect too much, because you
will inevitably be disappointed.
Director Spike Jonze ("Being John Mal-
kovich") and co-screenwriter Dave Eggers
("Away We Go") have adapted Maurice Send-
ak's timeless children's picture book "Where
the Wild Things Are" into a full-length film,
extendinglo lines of plot into 94 minutes of cin-
ema. Max (newcomer Max Records) is a rebel-
lious kid trying to cope with the changes in his
life after his mom (Catherine Keener, "The 40
Year Old Virgin") brings her boyfriend (Mark
Ruffalo, "Zodiac") over. After being sent to his
room and biting his mom, Max angrily sails off
into the land of the Wild Things, where he sub-
sequently becomes their king.
"Where the Wild Things Are" is a film in
which things aren't wrapped up in nice, kid-
friendly boxes. The Wild Things are scary.
These huge-headed creatures do horrific things
like destroy trees, push whole boulders off cliffs
and eat the humans they don't like. But simul-
taneously, their destruction is beautiful. When
Carol, a Wild Thing voiced neurotically by
James Gandolfini (TV's "The Sopranos"), bal-
letically body slams his friends and annihilates
their nests, it's frightening, but also magical.
Directors often tend to romanticize childhood
as a time of painless bliss. "Wild Things," on
the other hand, is a perfect encapsulation of a
child's monstrous capabilities without appear-
ing too threatening.
The dialogue is delivered strictly in"kid speak"
- it's doubtful that any word in the screenplay
exceeds two syllables. In this way, Jonze stays
faithfully true to akid's world. Max is a kid act-
ing like a kid, akid who can't completely express
his thoughts in understandable sentences. While
this is at first charming, viewers will eventually
find themselves in a world they don't completely
understand. If the emotions evoked from the film
can't be described inwords,they need tobe made
up in some other kind of intangibility, and in that
regard, Jonze fails to deliver. When the Wild
Things pile up in a huge sleeping heap, it's cute
and everything, but there's also an overwhelm-
ing feeling of alienation. It's like Jonze tries so
badly to capture the spirit of childhood that he
doesn't consider that maybe the adults watching
can't keep up.
It's difficult to sift through the feelings
evoked from this movie at first because it looks
so damngorgeous. The casting is as close to per-
fect as it can get. Max's face could have been cut
out of a Renaissance painting. Sunlight liber-
ally bathes each camera shot, and it's as if some
minimalist Japanese designer dreamed up the
scenes where Carol and Max tread through a
land inundated with sand. In the film's sound-
track, Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs tenderly
vocalizes through conflict and resolution alike.
If emotions could be told purely through visu-
als and hipster music, Jonze has literally made
the most perfect film of the year. But while this
might well be the mostbeautiful movie of 2009,
it's also the most underwhelming.
The thing is, there is no way Jonze could
have executed the movie any better. The visu-
als stay true to Sendak's haunting, soulful
drawings - even adding a layer of depth to
them. It is undeniable that Jonze has captured
the voice of the book perfectly; however, that is
not enough to translate into a working movie.
Whereas the book focuses on one beautifully
illustrated scene, Jonze tries to turn that scene
into a long parable on life. Somehow it just
doesn't ring true.
This conundrum leads to a larger question:
If something like this doesn't completely gel
with adults, will kids be more forgiving of, or
even feel, the film's emotional disconnect? The
viewer is expected to see the world through
Max's lens, and, for some, this may prove near-
ly impossible. Yet this is a film that necessi-
tates the absence of adult bias in order to truly
appreciate its subtleties. Perhaps Jonze made
a film targeted exclusively toward kids and
adults who act like kids, a kind of Rorschach
test that only the few sincerely connected to
their childhood could pass.
"Where the Wild Things Are" isn't a disaster
- there are some scenes that are truly sublime.
But a movie like this, for all its lush, slightly
unorthodox visuals and standoffish childlike
simplicity, builds itself up to be brilliant. And
it's just not brilliant.
By MIKE KUNTZ the record's cover by having a camel
Daily Arts Writer in a party hat front and center.
"All we had to go on was that we
Wilco's rise from alt-country to were in Milwaukee, we rented a
avant-pop and, camel and we had the Nudie suits,
more recently, and we just threw a lot of shit at the
"dad rock" has wall," Stirratt said, laughing. "We
been well chron- Tonight, tried to find an image that was as
icled. The band 7:30 p.m. close to being, in our minds, iconic
has undergone Hill Auditorium or something, and that was the one
a steady, if not Sold out ... (De Wilde) did a great job, and
unpredictable, that was the shot."
evolution appar- When asked how the new songs
ent with each album. With recent translate live, Stirratt sounded
press anointing Wilco as one of enthusiastic.
the great bands of the generation, "It was a pretty seamless transi-
it seems like the band has been tion to the stage. I think with Sky
brought to the forefront of Ameri- Blue Sky we kind of had to beef
can rock music, with some critics things up a little bit, but with this
going so far as to say that frontman record we didn't have to do that so
Jeff Tweedy sits among the ranks of much."
Bob Dylan and Neil Young. Tonight, The band is known for alter-
the celebrated outfit returns to Hill ing its set lists from night to night,
Auditorium. drawing from a wealth of material
John Stirratt, the disarmingly over the course of its 15-year career.
approachable bassist and backup Last year, Wilco recalled its entire
vocalist in the now six-man group, catalog over the course of a five-
has been with the band since it night residency at Chicago's Rivi-
started in 1994, surviving numer- era Theatre, and has been playing
ous lineup changes and shifts in the newly rehearsed deep cuts ever
the band's sound. Stirratt spoke since.
with the Daily via telephone from "It was funny how much muscle
Toronto, where the band is playing memory plays into the whole thing,"
two nights at the legendary Massey Stirratt said of the older songs. "I
Hall. was so impressed with how easily
"It's funny. Certain places (like everyone who hadn't been around
Massey) just kind of command during those years was able to pick-
respect," Stirratt said. "You go for up the tunes. (This lineup) really
soundcheck and you find yourself claimed a proprietorship of the old
kind of staring around a little bit ... material ... and it made me proud
there's appreciation for a venue like
this and people feel it."
The band has been playinglarger Chatting about
auditoriums for the majority of the
decade, selling out nearly every dad rock.
venueit has visited since 2005. The
release of this summer's Wilco (The
Album) saw the band's highest first of the band in every incarnation,
week sales to date, which is the you know, how much I admired Jay
fruit of years of touring and foster- Bennett's input to the band, and
ingone of the most loyal fanbases in admired even A.M."
music. When mentioning the "dad rock"
"It's encouraging given our his- label that has been mentioned
tory with labels" Stirratt said. "On with regards to the band's recent
the other hand, when you're follow- albums, Stirratt doesn't seem too
ing a bus in Chicago with the Wilco concerned.
album on the front of it, sort of star- "If it means sort oflazy, mid-tem-
ingyou in the face, it's strangely off- po rock, I don't really buy it at all ...
putting." We are 40-year-old guys, you know,
"I think some of it could be and 40-year-old guys tend to have
explained by the blogosphere, with children eventually. There was this
opinions and everythingbeingmore period where we really started to
at arm's length," Stirratt explained see a lot of kids at our shows ... and
when asked about their more recent I love that feeling that you're play-
chart success. "Datingback to (Yan- ing to people in your age group ... it
kee Hotel Foxtrot), our fans have seems natural to playto people your
always been sort of at the vanguard own age, and a lot of people our age
of the message board thing ... it's have kids. But I don't buy the lazy
always been a pretty positive com- connotation."
munity around the band." Despite ties to older crowds,
Wilco (The Album) put the band Stirratt still feels a connection
in a slightly less heavy-handed light with younger audiences, evident by
- refreshing, given its turbulent buzz-worthy openers like Grizzly
history. Bear and Fleet Foxes joining them
"Especially after A Ghost Is on recent tours.
Born and Sky Blue Sky I remember "We're in college towns a lot,
lamenting the fact that we couldn't and we all listen to a lot of music...
express a sense of humor a little I think we're a young 40," Stirratt
bit better," Stirratt continued. "I adds, joking on the band's youth-
mean, Jeff has had it forever, but I fulness. "All we do is kind of prowl
think the heavier tone has always record stores and coffee shops in
outweighed the humor. And (with) college towns, and I don't feel dis-
this record we were definitely connected fromthe culture at all...
enjoying ourselves quite a bit, and it keeps you young."
now was the time to express that. Wilco will be finishing its North
I think the cover was a good way American tour with a show in Ann
to do it." Arbor and two in Chicago. The
Enlistingthe talents of renowned band will be playing to a sold out
photographer Autumn deWilde,the Hill Auditorium tonight, with Liam
band opted for a lighter approach to Finn opening.
Join our Fine Arts staff.
E-mail email@example.com for an application
"'I'Alv'shows no signs of life
For a show about near-death
experiences where every moment
should hold a
mortality; "I'm I'mAlive
ly dull. No other Sundays at
network on 9p.m.
earth could turn Animal Planet
the screams of a
fatal spider bite victim into sleep-
inducing lullabies as effectively
as Animal Planet.
"I'm Alive" focuses on indi-
viduals who have had extreme,
dangerous and life-threatening
experiences with creatures like
black widows, charging elephants
and sharks. The survivors give
interviews along with family or
friends who were present at the
Scattered through these inter-
ments of how painful, scary and
worrying the whole affair was,
are dreadfully shot reenactments
using doubles so unrecognizable
to their real-life counterparts that
even if they were wearing match-
ing shirts, it would still be diffi-
cult to tell who is supposed to be
whom. Nametags would remedy
ole problem, and in truth, on screen for what seems like
't possibly take away from five minutes. No one reads that
ality of the show. slowly. Clearly these are devices
od portion of these reen- used to soak up a little bit of the
scenes are close-ups of show's extra time and remove
nt actors' eyes as well as any chance of the show building
e shaking shots of bath- suspense.
walls, elbows and up-close The ending is perhaps the
of individual's faces. worst portion of "I'm Alive."
imes close-ups of inter- Shots of a hand brushing through
's eyes jump to close-ups grass (please don't be confused,
r double's eyes before the this is not a review of "Gladia-
a moves on to someone tor") as the victim nears death
forehead (it is difficult to are followed soon after by scenes
ose). of the victim's life afterward
Alive" has a definite case (presumably to show how much
wandering cameraman. he had to live for). Home videos
of him playing the trumpet in a
high school band room and dye-
ing eggs for Easter are moments
near-death of his life no one cares to see. If
he's not at least struggling for life,
XperienCes there is absolutely no incentive to
watch the show.
have never All in all, the show simply lacks
any sort of flow. Each sentence
een so dull. spoken is interrupted at least
three or four times by fact cards,
reenactments and even sound
effects. Television is naturally
en the bad acting of the always broken up by commercial
y doubles and the ter- breaks, which means the TV pro-
nematography of both cut ducers' main challenge is helping
and interviews, it's excep- viewers forget that the commer-
y tricky to tell what's going cials ever interrupted. Instead,
ded to this whole mess are "I'm Alive" breaks up the show
e fact cards that linger to the extent that viewers feel the
need for a recap after returning
fully dull and poorly executed,
capturing little if any of viewers'
attention, and it offers none of the
potential excitement an elephant
attack should provide.
ii - I
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