Where the Wild Things Aren’t Wild

Posted in Movies by CulturalMining.com on October 24, 2009

where_the_wild_things_areWhere the Wild Things Are
Dir: Spike Jonze

Max (Max Records), a boy who lives with his mother (Catherine Keener) and sister, likes to run around in an animal suit, growling and burrowing. He runs away after he breaks some things, messes up his house and bites his mother. Max sails across the ocean to an island where the wild things are. The wild things are scary-looking Pufnstuf-sized animated monster-puppets who live in cool huts of woven twigs. They crown Max as their new king so he can solve all their problems. Their goal is to stop fighting and breaking things, and to join together in a warm and furry eternal group hug.

I really wanted to like this movie. It’s written by Dave Eggers, the experimental (though over-rated) creative novelist, directed by the interesting (though over-rated) video and movie director Spike Jonze, and based on the amazing children’s book by the fantastical (and under-rated) children’s illustrator and writer Maurice Sendak.wild things illustr

Unfortunately, the movie sucked. It was unbearably boring and slow, with a painfully obvious plot, and an inexplicably drawn-out pace designed to suck the life out of even the most dazzling scenes. Who can enjoy a movie like this? It can’t be made for kids, since there’s no suspense and almost nothing happens. It can’t be made for grown-ups, since the simplistic dialogue is like a whiney self-help power point presentation. The monsters, while initially scary, are quickly revealed to be a set of aging stoner hippie-monsters living in a failed commune with their ADD kids and drop-out emo teens.

This may be the first escapist movie that panders specifically to kids’ parents. Not to kids and not to adults, nor even to adults who remember loving Sendak’s lush jungle fantasy as a kid. It’s only aimed at parents of wild kids who just wish for some peace and quiet.

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Coco Chanel: the surly years

Posted in Movies by CulturalMining.com on October 20, 2009

Coco before Chanel (Coco avant Chanel)
Dir: Anne Fontaine

In an old house in France,
all covered with vines
Lived 12 little girls
in two straight lines.

Little Gabrielle Chanel, dressed in stern grey and white, grows up in a Catholic orphanage run by nuns wearing black and white habits. She spends the rest of the movie trying to make French women lose their flouncy, feathered hats and red dresses, and dress more simply, just like at the orphanage.
Coco before Chanel covers the early stages of the career of the successful, self-made French designer. Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel (Audrey Tautou) — nicknamed for a dancehall number about a little dog that she performs in a bar with her sister Adrienne — wants to rise up from her humble origins. She tries valiantly to launch her career by becoming the mistress of Count Balsan (Benoît Poelvoorde), a rich dilettante, and Boy Capel (Allesandro Nivola), a French-speaking, upper-class Englishman. She shows her independence by smoking cigarettes, riding horses in men’s breaches, and pouting and sulking amid her rich friends’ decadence. In between parties, she chops frilly lace off of gaudy dresses, flings whalebone corsets to the floor, and makes tiny black dresses to wear to the ball — paving the way for French women to be free from loud clothes.

But the movie is over by the time she’s made the transition from rags to riches, leaving out the really interesting parts of her life that followed. I would have liked to have seen the years she spent shacked up in the Ritz with her high-ranked Nazi lover in occupied Paris; or the aftermath, where she was forced to flee France in disgrace for her war crimes. Instead, the movie tiptoes gingerly from the rebellious young woman to the rehabilitated grande dame. See this movie if you enjoy looking at costumes, horses, stately mansions and old furniture. But if you’re looking for an exciting story, don’t look here.

“Enter the Void” is like dying in slow motion on DMT

Posted in Movies by CulturalMining.com on October 7, 2009

enterthevoidEnter the Void
Dir: Gaspar Noé

Psychonauts — DMT aficionados — say that one puff of that extreme, psychedelic drug is so powerful it can make you collapse before putting down the pipe. The reaction lasts just a few minutes but might seem like hours, or even days. They say the brain’s pineal gland excretes a large dose of dimethyltryptamine (DMT) right before you die. It makes your whole life pass before your eyes, just before you expire. That’s what they say.

Gaspar Noé’s new, spectacularly, overwhelmingly trippy movie Enter the Void, is a 2.5 hour hallucinogenic experience, seen directly through the eyes of a Canadian druggie living in Tokyo. Oscar rarely appears (except when looking in a mirror) but you see everything he thinks, remembers, sees, or imagines, as repeated loops of his life and death are projected on the screen.

Oscar (Nathaniel Brown), a low-level drug dealer, and his sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta), a stripper, live in a Tokyo entertainment district resembling Dogenzaka. They have been close since a childhood blood-oath, but are separated when a failed drug deal at a bar, The Void, tears Oscar free from his body. Like in the book The Tibetan Book of the Dead that he leaves in his apartment, Oscar is in limbo. He is now forced to perpetually view strobing neon, sordid sex, drugs and violence as he floats through solid walls and bends time and space. Stove burners morph into drains and psychedelic star bursts; aerial cityscapes turn seamlessly into handmade, day-glo models of Tokyo buildings and back again.

Enter the Void is like nothing I’ve ever seen. It is an extremely absorbing and mind-blowing — but looooong — work of art. Each time you prepare for the dream’s inevitable ending, it introduces a new tableau. French enfant terrible Gaspar Noé has surpassed his earlier, drastic films by moving beyond the simple, horrific violence and shocking scenes and flashbacks that fueled Seul contre tous (1998) and Irréversible (2002). Enter the Void is his best and most ambitious film to date.

Happy Families: Dogtooth

Posted in comedy, Cultural Mining, Family, Movies, Psychology, Sex by CulturalMining.com on October 2, 2009

Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos

Younger Brother is sitting. He is sitting on his bed. He is wearing his tennis clothes. Younger Brother likes to play. Father is bringing a stranger for Younger Brother to meet. She will teach him how to have sex. Younger brother may not tell this to Older Sister and Younger Sister. It is very unusual to have visitors come inside their fence. Father will bring her by car because no one can step on the ground outside the fence. Younger Brother must follow directions or Father will punish him. Mother is locked in her room. She is watching her secret TV tapes. Younger Sister and Older Sister are in the bathroom, learning new words today to improve their vocabulary…

Dogtooth is an unusual film from Greece, a fantasy about a control freak of a father who regards his three children as tabula rasa, to be filled with his ideas and no one else’s. And no one will ever contradict him since he keeps them isolated in a fenced-in compound with no outside contact of any kind. The twist is that the “kids” are adults now but still live as children, not realizing there is any other type of existence. The film shifts back and forth from the black humour of social satire to the pathos of a disturbing family drama. It leaves you with a strange, uneasy feeling.

lifeduringwartime_04Life During Wartime
Dir: Todd Solondz

Todd Solondz’s dark comedies alternate between two New Jersey families, the Weiners (Welcome to the Dollhouse, 1995; Palindromes, 2004) and the Jordans (Happiness, 1998, Life During Wartime, 2009). The characters continue their depressing lives, while the actors who play them come and go. In this movie we join the three new Jordan sisters, ten years later.
Weepy, hippy Joy (Shirley Henderson) loves helping the needy, but this has landed her an unbearable fiance. He asks for her forgiveness for his latest transgression, so Joy seeks out her family for advice. Her mother Mona in Miami is no help, so she moves on to suburban Trish (Allison Janney) who is dating again. But Trish discovers her pedophile husband has been released from prison and is also seeking forgiveness. Sister Helen (Ally Sheedy), a Hollywood star, is bossy and self absorbed and not much help either. Poor Joy resorts to asking advice from ex-boyfriends from her past, like Andy (Paul Reubens).

The cast is as uniformly excellent as the story is relentlessly, painfully sad. Solondz is an expert at inflicting the unvarnished cruelty of family dynamics on his moviegoers. While there is nothing earth-shattering or different in this movie, it still holds its own as a funnily sympathetic (and pathetic) black comedy in his distinctive, ongoing saga.

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