I think many of us grew up on "Where The Wild Things Are". It's the fairly simple story of an annoying child, sent to bed without supper, whose bedroom turns into a magical world that he travels, eventually meeting the titular "wild things", monsters of various shapes and configurations. Eventually he gets lonely and returns "home", finding dinner awaiting him. Not very complex and exceptionally light on words. It lets the imagery do the talking and that's why Maurice Sendak gets so much credit, having created colorful imagery with an entirely singular design. When something mimics the style of "Where The Wild Things Are", it is immediately recognizable somehow. To an entire generation, this 40-page picture book is ingrained in their consciousness, along with images of "Sesame Street" and "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood".
You'd think that when it came to a movie adaptation, Spike Jonze might seem like an apt creative voice to translate the slim narrative into a colorful and exciting film. He has experience with whimsy, even if much of his adult film work is more dark and serious in nature. Surely he could take a good script from an accomplished writer and use his visual flair to bring the book's images to life...
No. Where The Wild Things Are is a dire abortion of a film. Many people seem to like it, but I have nothing but contempt for those people. It is humorless, joyless, colorless, overemotional, dull, screeching, pointless, monotonous, confused, misguided, bereft of character, a poor and pale imitation of the source material, making every moment and every character a figure only deserving of scorn. Both Jonze and his co-writer, Dave Eggers, should be held personally responsible for wasting my fucking time. They managed to take a storied and beloved children's favorite (that I don't even particularly care about) and make something so loathsome from it that it's hard to completely grasp.
Sure, it was a slim volume to begin with and definitely needed padding out, but - from the outset - the tone of the movie is completely wrong. This movie is the fever dream of some PTSD-damaged mind, awash in the deepest depression, helplessness, and hopelessness ever set to film. It felt like the work of someone trying to metaphorically express their personal abuse, not a movie ostensibly (and explicitly) for children.
I was sold on watching this movie by seeing the effects that they used to create the look of Sendak's monsters on film. And it is an often-successful technique. They used actors in mascot costumes to physically play the roles and then digitally added in their animated faces later, mostly seamlessly, though it's a nine-year-old film and you can often see "CGI face" in close-ups. From a distance, it works well and is the only reason this film gets anything above the lowest possible rating.
I can't remember the last time I so actively hated a film. I had to watch it in bits. Its hour and forty minute runtime feels substantially longer. I started it months ago and had to stop it multiple times during the initial viewing, finally leaving it with 20 or so minutes left until today. The only thing that got me to finish it at all was because of the fact that I could then write about it now.
This Wild Things begins with a much-older Max than the naughty, irritating child in the book. Can you imagine a sixth or seventh grader in a footy-pajamas wolf costume getting sent to his room without supper? Well, I guess not, so they just turned him into some sort of deranged, almost-autistic child with anger issues relating to his parents' divorce. His teenage sister doesn't pay attention to him, caring more about her friends - something both reasonable and expected, hard to even imagine an actual child of his age being such a whiny bitch about; his mother is busy trying to be a single parent, deal with her horrible child, and date a reasonably nice guy. (I mean, she's dating Mark Ruffalo. He could be playing a serial killer and you still couldn't hate him. Who is going to be jealous and intimidated by Ruffalo?) Max acts like a fucking insane person. He quickly goes from petty and childish to a destructive terror. I don't know if this is because the filmmakers don't have kids and, like most people with kids don't, they have no fucking clue what children are actually like at any particular age. Three, five, twelve? It's all the same, right? He wrecks the shit out of everything, acts worse than any child you've probably seen in reality (because he's sad and traumatized, you see), and if you walk away from the first 15 minutes of the movie not wanting to see him die, then you're the problem.
Now, miscreant Max in the book is sent to his room without supper and his imagination leads to an escape to another world where his behavior is acceptable, if not desirable. He is made king because of his monstrous nature. But eventually he realizes he doesn't want to live that way and misses his family, returning from his imaginary world.
Movie Max literally runs away from home (in his "crazy homeless person" wolf suit), running into the street, cutting down alleyways, eventually finds a rowboat, and heads out to sea, reaching a distant island full of monsters. Gone is the simple and elegant metaphor, all for this horseshit.
He arrives at the island, as you'd expect; it's night and shit is on fire, like you don't expect in a kid's film; he meets the monsters, who are just pointlessly wrecking shit, like he did, or being weird, neurotic surrogates for famous actors they got to voice the cast even though it's not really appropriate; he is genuinely menaced by the creatures before showing spine for some unknown reason and endlessly lying about what he can do and how important he is. Now the movie surrogate for your child to relate to isn't just a naughty kid that goes on an internal journey and comes back regretting his actions; now he's a hugely destructive shitheel who tries to ruin his mother's life, runs away from home, and lies continuously. Just so we can get ahead of this, I'll say that the movie ends with nothing being learned and the character not really changing in any meaningful way.
Max lies about being a king from another land and is made the king of the wild things. He's not just finding a society that physically represents how he feels, where they recognize his kinship with them and name him king. No, he lies and bluffs his way into it. This is followed by what feels like four hours of these monsters you recognize visually from your childhood talking like normal-ass boring people, constantly nagging and fighting with each other, and generally just killing any desire to see what happens next. The film has many accomplished actors in it, but they're not actors well-known for their voice work. And they definitely don't create any character for the monsters. The monsters are just the same types of people Max left behind, just more boring, argumentative, and, frankly, stupid.
Arriving at night and being lit by fires was already a bleak and more "horror movie" choice for the monster introductions, but it's just the beginning of the depressing, awful palette that Jonze is about to serve us from for the rest of the film. Sendak may have colored his monsters largely in brown and grays, but his background scenery was green, red, blue, yellow, and white. The wild things had touches of red, orange, and yellow in them. The island was a verdant jungle. This film is brown and gray. Almost exclusively. Everything is made of wood and sticks. Everything is covered in dirt, including the wild things. The scenery is barren forests and deserts. There is no color to be seen at all. It's the visual equivalent of a bad early-'00s shooter, an endless array of fecal shades, sepia tones, and ashen vistas. It is abhorrent to watch, no matter how much art was put into the look and the shots.
As much as it's colorless, it's humorless and un-fun. The characters mope and argue. Everyone is depressed. The music is fucking depressed. It's all twee indie bullshit; sad, sappy songs for sad, aging hipsters. And how did a man in his 50s become such a fucking hipster? This is the most bland, soulless, mopey hipster-ass fucking movie ever put to film. Add Zooy Deschanel and Bill Murray in a segment directed by Wes Anderson and it could only make the film less of a sad mess for disaffected beardy millenial scumbags. Eggers and Jonze have basically transcribed someone's group counseling meetings and passed it off as a children's film. All it's missing is Sal, the wild thing with a tearful monologue about how he cradled his dying squadmate Danny's body in Iraq, trying to hold together what little remained of the man's face with his bare hands as Danny croaked out his last breaths, and - oh, god - the blood, so much blood, why won't the bleeding stop, someone please help me, why won't anyone help...
Whatever they're trying to say about the self-centered trauma of childhood (particularly where it has to do with their mythical idea of divorce) is heavy-handed, stupid, and shitty. If their parents divorced and they think this is how anyone might have acted or is somehow analogous to their internalized feelings, it's not universal, it's not something most people can or should understand, and it's very much inappropriate for a movie adaptation of a book aimed mostly at four- to seven-year-olds.
I feel like I can barely remember the final part of the movie that I watched today. The movie just kind of collapses as Max convinces them to build a giant fort for him and he has grand plans for the many, absurd, and overly-childish uses he will put it to. Recrimination against Max grows, particularly with Carol, the (poorly-named) surrogate for Max's emotions on the island, who blames Max for his many problems, begins to question his obvious lies, and tries to hurt and eat Max. There are maimings. Max runs away and hides inside another monster, one representative of his fraught familial relationships. (Dear fucking Christ, how is any child supposed to understand a movie so heavily-invested in making everything a juvenile metaphorical exercise? It's not like those layers are there for further examination by adults. It's all the movie has going for it. Everything else is a fucking unwatchable atrocity that had my five-year-old turning to me every few minutes to question characters' emotions or actions because they were so unreasonable.)
Max finally leaves to go home not because he's lonely and has grown tired of being a monster; instead, he leaves because things have gotten intolerably awful with the contempt and disillusionment of the wild things and their relationships become untenably awful. He's depressed right back into reality by the anger of his emotional representative, who sort of hates him. You could say there's meaning in that, but you didn't watch the movie, did you? Nothing is well-thought out. Everything is bad. The fact that we haven't risen up as a people and strung up Jonze and Eggers shows our weakness as a species.
So, our dickhead main character heads home. He wanders back to his house, where it's still night. If you assume that he didn't really go to an island full of monsters, because you're not an idiot, then he ran away from the house for some indeterminate amount of time. Since we're assuming he did actually run away from home for some while, the fact that his mother doesn't appear worried, hasn't called the police, isn't looking for him, and is just sitting around the kitchen, sort of glad to see him when he walks in, is fucking anomalous, to say the least. Your child acts like a lunatic in front of your date to be an asshole, physically fights you to not go to their room, and bites you, and you just shrug and give an "aw, shucks, we'll be okay" half-smile, a hug, and serve up a hunk of cake big enough for four kids when he walks in? Are you fucking crazy? Fuck you. All these characters belong in hell.
And as jangly twee indie crooning moans over child and mother staring at each other in contented bemusement, it fades to black.
Fuck this movie. Fuck Spike Jonze. Fuck Dave Eggers. Fuck you if you like this garbage.
If you want to see a decent adaptation of "Where The Wild Things Are" that isn't just the cartoon of the book, watch the "Arthur" movie D.W. And The Beastly Birthday. There. I saved you and hour and forty minutes.
During the '90s, we went through a long period where many good, well-made independent films were completely overlooked because their posters or - more importantly - their VHS box art and, later, their DVD covers were garbage. Still, we have plenty of classic films with beautiful period movie posters that use some Photoshopped garbage as the cover, instead. But independent films of the past 5 to 10 years have gone hard in the other direction. It's apparently so easy now to find a cheap, creative graphic designer or artist to kick out a great movie poster that even the most low-grade, unwatchable homemade shit is able to fool you into giving it a look. Compared to the other costs associated with making a film, that poster that's going to be seen on any number of streaming sites is worth far more for the money than any actor or cinematographer or set or prop. You can fool people into watching a few minutes of garbage to push up your viewer metrics with a good poster.
Now, I won't say that 2019's Wolf is complete garbage. It does work hard to try to look better than it actually is. And looking at co-writer/director/actor Stuart Brennan's list of credits gives you the impression that he enjoys making films and is trying to get maximum bang for his minimal buck. But the artistry just isn't quite there.
A quick run-down: Wolf is ostensibly about a group of ten Roman soldiers in ancient Britain, sent out to look for four missing scouts, who were apparently sent to the king of the Picts to make peace. This peace was possible because the Picts were struck with some mysterious illness and Rome thought it would be a good time to talk with them and try to bring them into the fold. The soldiers traipse around the forests and are attacked by some sort of beast or some sort of men or... you know, werewolves. If you are a Neil Marshall fan, you're probably thinking "Oh, so they crammed together Centurion with Dog Soldiers?" and I wouldn't say you're entirely wrong, but it isn't even in the same league as either of those films.
I also won't say that the film is ugly. It often looks better than it probably deserves to and you can tell effort was put into the tone and feel of the movie, even if they couldn't quite get it all the way there. They made every effort they seemingly could to visually appeal to the viewer. Well, perhaps with exception of the camera work. On the more nitpicky end of things, there is an overabundance of drone footage. Drone footage is definitely a great tool for filmmakers these days to amp up a low-budget film with some shots that give it more scope. But, for whatever reason, these are the most drone-footage-y drone shots I've ever seen droned. Something about them completely took me out of the movie. Perhaps it was how often they occur early on and fact that they all feel the same; I would have gladly taken a completely still drone shot from directly overhead for once, but it was always just that overly-fast pan across the wilderness from above. But, like I said, that's one of the smallest problems. The real problem for me was poor camera choices, the overuse of shaky handheld shots, the same boring angles over and over instead of showing any inventiveness in filming scenes, and the repetitive shots (or lack thereof) to give the impression of werewolf attacks, but without showing anything. I think that last point becomes the most annoying: again and again you see the naked torso of some man blurrily run by in front of the camera as the soldiers stand in the background, huddled in a circle with their shields raised. By the end, you're getting dozens and dozens of those moments in the course of a couple of minutes. I wasn't even sure anymore if they actually filmed people running in front of the camera or just had a few FX shots of bodies moving by and composited them in front of shots of the soldiers over and over.
It's easy to see why they'd try to hide the "werewolves", as they are. You know pretty early in the film that they're not going to have the effects to back anything up. You can sense it from the unnecessary opening scene of a boy and his dog being attacked by the "wolf", mostly just being the actor running and repeatedly falling down while very mediocre wolf snarl sounds from some cheap audio library are mixed in too loud over the action. That's another trend that will repeat as the film goes on. When the "werewolves" appear, they all look like (and may actually be) the same guy with sort of lank brownish hair and stubble, with some fake claws and some hand make-up, wearing the fakest-looking plastic "fangs" you've seen since a child's vampire costume, plastic tusks sticking out of his face, lopsided, as he pretends to howl. It's really for the best that they show it as little as possible, but the shots they use to cover it up are... well, one shot. There's one trick to hide the monster and it's a bad one.
On the upside, the makeup effects budget was spent on costumes, which look pretty good. Lots of Roman armor and weapons which, though too shiny and clean, lift the quality of the film early on when you're first introduced to the soldiers. That is, until you start to hear the dialogue and plot and quickly lose your optimism.
Now, I'm not going to say that the acting is bad; most of the cast is good enough for the type of film they're in. They're not the most skilled actors in the world, but they're doing something they enjoy, they're not unbelievable, they're not poorly delivering lines, they're not wooden. At worst, you can accuse them of being boring, as they don't have too much to work with. I honestly couldn't tell most of the male characters apart, which is fine because all the nondescript ones die off quickly, leaving the ones that you can at least differentiate - mostly the writers and their buddies. (Maybe that's a flaw of the screenwriting, as they only made the characters that were going to be there for most of the run... well, characters.) Also, you could perhaps complain about the accents a bit too. But, like I said, they're trying their best, they're getting paid, they're doing what I assume they love, and they don't look too bad doing it.
The real problem here is the writing. The writers act in the film as well (and, as I said, one of them also directed it), so they obviously are passionate about their little low-budget films. There's nothing wrong with churning out some fun, not-necessarily-great movies to make with your friends. But if I have to watch it, I'm going to treat it like every other thing I see. And the script is sloppy. You're told later on that all these men volunteered out of honor, duty, and the goodness of their hearts to track down their missing brethren. And, yet, the opening scenes are spent with them arguing and acting like annoyed pricks who can't believe they're stuck doing the thing they volunteered to do. Also, they don't really act like soldiers, particularly well-trained ones in the Roman army, considered to be one of the best-trained fighting forces in history. I won't delve too much into the historicity of a movie about werewolves or debate whether the multi-ethnic array of Roman soldiers and slaves would be grouped up, as well as mixing genders. But it does seem stupid, on its face, that the Roman soldiers are so dumb, so alternatively cowardly then hellbent on killing themselves and everyone around them to save people that are obviously already lost, so quick to argue and ignore orders from their leader, so obsessed with constant infighting and blame, so incapable of attempting any tactic to defend themselves from attack. Except for standing in a loose circle with their shields pointed outward and waiting to be attacked, they don't show any semblance of military training. When they realize they're being followed and, by nightfall, they'll be attacked again, they don't spend the day finding a good location to stand their ground and fortifying it. They just attempt to run back to Hadrian's Wall as quickly as possible, while being pursued, picked off, and allowing members of the group to wander off without ever stopping to wonder what happened to them with any more interest than "They're on their own now."
It's all a sloppy excuse to have the whole group slowly picked off until the women are left and... they escape, I guess? It implies that they're safe (as there was apparently only two werewolves tracking them) and they'll take knowledge that silver can kill the creatures back to the legions, who will be ready for the eventual confrontation. (I won't even comment on the dumb bullshit ending for poor Ima, ignominiously booted from the movie in its final moments in a confusing manner. The shortest of shrift for her.) It obviously doesn't really work, overall.
While it may have been a fun project for them, it isn't a fun watch for us. It's not good, it's very dumb, the actors can't do much with it (unless what you want them to do is vomit baby food out of their mouth over and over as they begin to "turn into werewolves"), it's poorly-written and compares badly to the things it feels like it lifted ideas from, it's not well-shot, the effects aren't good, the editing needs work... I could go on like this for a while. But, importantly, at least it's short.
I'm not sure I'd call myself a Terry Gilliam fan. I think I've seen all but two of the films he's directed, but I don't have strong feelings about most of them. I'm somewhere between being indifferent to his work and enjoying his films but mostly forgetting they exist. I don't list him as a beloved filmmaker or think about his movies often. I think the film of his that I've been the most attached to is 12 Monkeys and I'm not sure I've watched that in 20 years. That said, I at least feel well-versed enough with his traits and foibles to compare the experience when watching one of his new films. And I've been putting off The Zero Theorem for about 6 years, so I decided to finally rectify that.
Based on my experience, I feel like the closest analog to The Zero Theorem is Brazil. Another film about a dystopian future society awash in bureaucracy and consumerism, a lead character whose reality and dreams come into stark opposition, a growing obsession with a strange woman, events spiraling and leading to a confrontation with those in power, and dark endings for the protagonist, who ends up mentally locked-away. Though Gilliam didn't write the film (though he did rewrite the ending from happy to dark, in a nice reverse of the Brazil situation), it still carries many of the earmarks of his previous work.
It has a different feel than his '80s films. Brazil has a certain grain to the look that ties it to Time Bandits and Jabberwocky and The Meaning Of Life. This film is clean; pure Gilliam but smoothed out and modern. It may be one of the most mature things he's made. He may not have crafted it from the beginning like most of his films, but that may have actually improved his vision.
The cast he chose obviously did a lot of the heavy lifting. Christoph Waltz has shown an incredible aptitude for compelling characters and was the best possible choice for the role. His sad-sack character, devoid of pleasure or meaning in life, could have been an annoyance if played badly. He feels understandable and believable. I had only seen Melanie Thierry in Babylon A.D., where she was good, though not overly likable. She shows range here in a way I didn't expect. If Billy Bob Thornton and Jessica Biel has been cast, which almost happened years before, it would have been a disaster. The movie is pretty much grounded in the actors making it work.
It's hard to say too much without just explaining the movie or talking about the ending. There is a bit of interpretation to the finale, but it's not really worth discussing. But this is a film absolutely worthy of your examination. I'm sure, like other Gilliam films, it'll drift away from my mind soon enough, but there's something here worth holding onto.
I think I first heard of Nekromantik in the '90s, mentioned in whispers in the same breath as Salo or any number of other rare and forbidden films. I didn't think much about the film again until I heard director Jörg Buttgereit was doing some sort of effects for Skinny Puppy's live reunion at a festival two decades ago. I was left to wonder what he really had to contribute and what he was really capable of in the first place. I was more interested in watching documentaries about the West German underground scene from the '80s instead of this, but figured it might behoove me to actually see the movie before hearing others talk about or with Buttgereit. It probably wasn't worth the trouble.
Many go to great lengths to try to paint this film as satirical and transgressive art, making a social commentary about German society, but that seems like a combination of self-delusion and working backwards from the answer to find the problem. Nekromantik feels neither transgressive or as shocking as those that banned it or spoke about it in hushed whispers ever implied. It's a tawdry, weak, poorly-made, badly-edited student film writ large. One of the main reasons I watched the movie was because I needed to go to bed, so looked at the shortest films I had available to watch. At a paltry hour and a quarter, you can barely even call Nekromantik a movie. And, yet, every one of those 75 minutes felt like three. I could have watched Branaugh's Hamlet or Wyatt Earp or the entire fucking MCU catalog gladly in what felt like less time, but watching this "film" was an absolute chore. By the end of the movie, the beginning felt so distant and disconnected that I felt like I had watched it on a different day. How could the sub-Manos opening driving scene and absurd crime scene cleanup have taken place in the same timeline as the endless scenes of nothing, birds flying, people sitting, terrible movies-within-movies, dream sequences, the camera never cutting for 30 seconds after any reasonable editor would have moved on?
I'm sure there's cretins out there whose gorehound nostalgia or devil's advocate art pretensions will fight for the honor of this shitty, lame, boring little movie. I'm sure there are plenty of those who are still raising their skirts and jumping onto chairs as the mention of this horrifying ordeal. This is a world where people find Megan Is Missing to be life-altering and compelling, after all. There are plenty of dull, fragile white-bread individuals whose psyche can't stand up to the very notion of necrophilia, much less any attempted visualization of it. There's plenty of people freaking out about the actual footage of the killing, skinning, and dressing of a rabbit in this film. (Don't ever think about where you food comes from, you first world pussies.) Meanwhile, there's probably many that give this movie credence exactly because it causes those reactions. It is unworthy of them all.
It is ugly. It is boring. It is exceptionally poorly-written, badly-filmed, mindlessly-edited, and painful to watch for all the same reasons that someone's unabbreviated vacation footage is. You have to be unbelievably dim or relentlessly censorious to have a reaction for this sub-movie. There are homemade movies filmed on VHS with no lighting, bad sound, and no professional (or amateur) actors floating around on Amazon right now that you should be more entertained by. And if you really need to see a movie that deals specifically with necrophilia in a more mature, less incompetent way, watch Deadgirl or something. Just don't bother adding to the legend of this waste of everyone's time.
I can't begin to imagine how many times and in how many versions I've watched "Hamlet" performed. I was probably shown the Mel Gibson version in school. Eventually, I saw Branaugh's Hamlet in the theater and have watched it probably a dozen time since, along with a variety of other versions of the play. Depending on how abridged the play may be, it can range any amount of time upwards of five hours. Last night, I got through a more modern "adaptation" in a mere hour and a half.
Hamlet Goes Business is a 1987 black & white Finnish adaptation of the play, like a dull noir film filtered through David Lynch, but without any charm. I've seen it referred to as "surreal" or a "black comedy". I don't think either is accurate. You really have to question the Finnish sense of humor if anything in the film was supposed to come across as humorous. The lead was apparently best known for years of sketch comedy work, but he was completely devoid of personality in this particular movie. I'm not sure if something is lost in translation, but there's absolutely nothing interesting about the film.
Most of it is a somewhat faithful adaptation of the play, severely excising details and moving it to the '80s. Hamlet comes from a rich dynasty of sawmill owners and everything in the film revolves around the business. His father's business associate Klaus is the poisoner who marries his mother. Polonius is a company manager whose conniving daughter Ophilia denies sex to Hamlet in hopes of forcing him into marriage. Most of the movie is a tedious, slightly skewed retelling of the play while supposedly young men that look like they're in their forties deal with their parents and elders who appear to be in their fifties. Everyone is ugly. Everything is dull. Nothing is meaningful.
I constantly awaited some major revelation for why the film existed. The changes were vaguely odd but completely unfunny in every way. I assume humor was their intention, but who can be sure? The sawmills and shipyard will be sold to some would-be Fortinbras who will, in exchange, give them a rubber duck manufacturing business. Is that supposed to be comedy? I didn't even realize it was considered a comedy until reading about it later. I could perhaps see some very slim '80s social satire, particularly regarding class structure, but the whole thing is very thin.
In a very weird departure, the ending is totally rewritten. Ultimately, Hamlet kills Polonius' son and Klaus, framing them for killing each other. He walks away, scot-free, to run the business. He calls in his butler/chauffeur to unburden himself about the events of the movie, admitting that he's the one who killed his father, not Klaus. He's going one step farther than Klaus, selling everything to a competitor and walking away with the money. His butler, working for the union to prevent the loss of the shipyard, poisons Hamlet and leaves with the cook to start a new life. So that was certainly... something.
This was really just a waste of time. The director has nothing but contempt for the source material, only reading it a few days before writing the script and starting filming. The only people that seem to like it are moronic, navel-gazing dickheads that think the movie is "funny" or transgressive because it bastardizes Shakespeare . It's a dire indictment of the Finns, at very least. But this is definitely a litmus test as to how much of a snobby, garbage, cinephile shitheel you are.