Where the Wild Things Are (2009) – Film Review

Although its themes and ideas may go over many younger viewer’s heads, ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ feels like a film that reflects what many felt whilst being a child themselves. As writer/director Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Her) creates a moving, thoughtful and occasionally even dark experience that dramatically elevates its original source material, with a charming soundtrack compiled by musician ‘Karen O’ and plenty of wonderful creature designs and locations. ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ is truly a unique yet uncompromising film that sends its audience back to the innocent days of childhood.

Following a fight with his mother and yearning for adventure, a young boy (Max) runs away from home and sails to a mysterious island filled with creatures who take him in as their king after ‘Max’ makes a promise to solve all their problems.

As previously mentioned, the film adaption of: ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ is a large step-up from the original children’s book it’s based-on by Maurice Sendak. As while the classic story of a young boy visiting a land of fantastical creatures in order to escape reality has always been a staple of children’s literature, Jonze manages to deepen the overall narrative with his adaptation. Having themes of maturity, imagination and balancing ones own emotions (all of which are presented in a mature and subtle way). In fact, the film’s production company, Warner Brothers, were initially so unhappy with the final product (as it was far-less family-friendly than they imagined) that they wanted Jonze to reshoot the entire film, instead, the two agreed to satisfy both parties by giving the film more time in production.

Max Records leads the cast as the excitable and resentful: ‘Max’, who gives a genuinely brilliant performance considering the actor’s young age at the time of filming. Alongside him of course, is the group of creatures portrayed by the voice cast of Lauren Ambrose, Chris Cooper, Catherine O’Hara, Forest Whitaker and Paul Dano. Whose voices all match their respective characters flawlessly. Its the late James Gandolfini as ‘Carol’ who really shines within the film however, having the most memorable design of the all the creatures within the original book, ‘Carol’ serves as a reflection of: ‘Max’s childish attributes, from his tantrums to his jealously and sadness, all of which is given such life through Gandolfini’s performance.

While the film’s colour palette remains fairly vibrant throughout despite featuring a large amount of beiges and browns, the cinematography by Lance Acord is sadly the weakest aspect of the film. As ignoring the large array of stunning sunrise/sunset shots, ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ utilises hand-held camera for the majority of its runtime, which when combined with the film’s occasionally chaotic editing can make some scenes feel a little impetuous. Yet despite not having an overly large-budget, the film’s CG effects do still hold-up remarkably well, with all of the facial expressions of the creatures and extensions to many of the island’s locations not seeming even remotely out-of-place.

The film’s soundtrack complied by musician ‘Karen O’ really benefits to the film’s already calming and mature presentation. From the opening track: ‘Igloo’ through to the more upbeat tracks: ‘Rumpus’ and ‘Sailing Home’, to even the film’s more lyric-based tracks with ‘All is Love’ and ‘Hideaway’. The soundtrack for: ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ doesn’t feel like a traditional film score in the best possible sense, giving more of an impression of a slow-paced yet beautiful acoustic guitar album, which just like the film itself, is immensely underappreciated.

However, one of my personal favourite elements of the film and certainly the most visually-striking has to be the many different designs of the creatures who live on the island. As not only do the designs fit each character’s personality, but every design is also a perfect live-action recreation of the creature’s original appearances within the pages of the book, with all of the creatures being brought-to-life using enormous and heavily-detailed suits from the Jim Henson Company rather than simply just using CGI.

‘Where the Wild Things Are’ is to me, an incredibly underrated modern classic. Despite its few flaws, the film surpasses its source material and then some, creating a genuinely gut-wrenching experience at points. Whilst the film has been criticised by some since its release mostly as a result of being seen as too mature and possibly even a little frighting for younger viewers. I believe the film gets across a number of important messages for children, and I appreciate the film’s more in-depth approach to crafting an imaginative family adventure. Overall, a low 8/10. Even though Spike Jonze may not have an extensive catalogue of films as a director, his work never ceases to impress me, and ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ is just another piece of the puzzle.

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Adventureland (2009) – Film Review

This comedy/drama from 2009 is an underrated classic in my opinion, as director Greg Mottola (Superbad, Paul, Keeping Up with the Joneses) brings us a simple yet effective story of two young people from different worlds meeting over one memorable summer, and while it may not be as hilarious as some of his other films. I do feel Mottola has brought-us a much more emotional story this time around, with the comedy not too far behind.

In the summer of 1987, a young college graduate (James Brennan) takes a ‘nowhere’ job at his local amusement park as he awaits to leave his home town. Only for him to soon find it’s the perfect course to get him prepared for the real-world, meeting new friends and sending him down a different life path.

For a film like this, it’s crucial that the characters are likeable and are given plenty of development, as in my opinion, drama really only works within film if the characters are developed enough to be invested-in. Luckily, the film does succeed here, crafting some very funny and (mostly) realistic characters within only a short amount of time. As the film doesn’t waste screen-time setting up it’s narrative and characters, but always does so in a way that doesn’t feel too fast-paced.

All of the cast are also pretty great here, as Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Kristen Wiig and Ryan Reynolds all have decent chemistry with each other, and don’t simply treat their characters as joke machines. Despite Bill Hader as the park manager: ‘Bobby’ definitely being my personal favourite however, purely through his hilarious dialogue leading to many brilliant moments throughout the runtime.

Being set in an amusement park local to the home of the protagonist, this is where the cinematography by Terry Stacey really shines. As the film really uses the different rides, games and attractions as well as the colourful lighting as a beautiful backdrop for many great scenes, as the film is always very inventive with the different locations of the park, exploring new areas in each scene, with some locations even being used to reflect a character’s personality. The film also uses a bright orange, yellow and blue colour palette throughout the story, which really helps to enhance the film’s visuals, and meshes perfectly with the film’s more light-hearted tone.

The original score by Yo La Tengo also helps add to the 1980s atmosphere, being mostly subtle yet still effective in many scenes in spite of its lack of memorability overall. Various songs from the 80s are also used throughout the film, everything from iconic classics to more unknown songs get a short appearance, with all of it eventually adding-up to a pretty fantastic soundtrack, as well as another link back to the time-period.

The main issue with the film for me is it’s comedy, as already mentioned, as although the film does have plenty of comedic moments throughout. I simply feel the film has far more in regards to drama than comedy, as the majority of it’s memorable moments are for more emotional purposes. There was also a subplot between two characters which I personally felt was a little rushed over, but as this was near the ending of the film, this may have been done to avoid a lack of focus and conclusion.

Although ‘Adventureland’ is nothing incredible in regards to its filmmaking, I personally really enjoy the film. As I’ll always find myself turning back to it when in need of a more upbeat comedy/drama, as with a unique location and a great cast of characters, there isn’t really much to dislike here. As although some of the film’s comedy could be improved, I wouldn’t say this drags the entire film down, and overall, I’d say this one is an 8/10. Definitely check this one out if you can, I feel it really deserves more attention from audiences.

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