Friday, October 30, 2009

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!

in the spirit of terror, The League shares the trailer for "The Shining".



Jesus, Stanley.

So... Marvel's on the iPhone

A couple of days ago I said something about comics on the iTablet (and thanks to TJeff for following up. I was traveling and failed to respond). Well, it seems that the next day, it was learned that Marvel has made its comics available via iPhone.

Read up here.

What's odd is that they have multiple distributors, each offering up something slightly different. I have to assume that Marvel is letting folks duke things out to see who will get this beyond the trial period, but I also am surprised that with the Disney merger happening (I guess), that Disney doesn't have a room full of software engineers who can handle things like building apps.

DITMTLOD (quasi-Halloween edition): Little Nell as Columbia in "The Rocky Horror Picture Show"

I swear I've been meaning to do this post for a couple of years, and always wanted to save it for Halloween.

Shortly after moving to Houston (just prior to the start of my sophomore year) I was renting a lot of movies. I hadn't really made friends yet, so my weekends had some time to fill, and I think my folks were just happy that I wasn't sitting around looking gloomy about having had moved if I was wearing out the heads on the VCR.

One fall weekend, I rented "The Rocky Horror Picture" show. I believe it had been an anniversary, and so there was a big to-do about the film's release on VHS.

I had been scheduled to see it at the Village with, I think, Carla G (Carla N, back then) before moving, but once KareBear caught wind of the shenanigans at the theater, I was informed I could wait until I could darn well drive myself.

It should also be noted that the theater at Northcross Mall in Austin (now gone) had been among the first in the country to have late-night screenings of Rocky Horror. So Austin was quite into the tradition back then.

I was already quite taken with the movie from the opening (featuring the lips of Patricia Quinn singing about "The Day the Earth Stood Still"), and was perfectly happy with the Time Warp prior to Columbia making her first appearance.



It was most likely Columbia's tap-dancing, glittered self that sparked my interest.

But I knew two things:
(a) Gold glittered hats now seemed like a much better idea and
(b) My folks must never, ever see this movie

The movie itself is a love letter to a kind of science fiction I'd only begun to discover via Mystery Science Theater 3000, and with which I was quickly becoming enamored. As a consumer of genre fiction, I got the set up, but a lot of the rest of the territory was not covered particularly well in other material I consumed. Omni-sexual mad scientists, fetishizing muscle men, and even Meatloaf were all fairly new to me...

But I was focusing a bit on the girl with the nasally voice and tap shoes.


As we all know, Columbia wasn't the only one who got one of these outfits

Unlike a lot of other DITMTLOD, Columbia is a supporting role in a single movie, so there isn't a whole truck load to say. Her character has a somewhat interesting arc in the movie, and she gets to fawn over a rockin' Meatloaf in the role of Eddie. And I guess I thought Eddie was pretty cool, too.

In many ways, I'm not entirely clear on why Columbia rather than Magenta or Janet.

Like a lot of other DITMTLOD, I really didn't have any analog for Columbia. Certainly none who tap-danced and sang. But, in general, she seemed like a neat idea. I also suspect that, at age 15, my developing brain was feverishly trying to cram ideas and firing synapses into into the correct spots in my psyche in something analogous to the the old board game, Perfection.




Anyway, whether it was her natural charm, her joie devivre, that she looked good in glitter and tap shoes, I've no idea, but I still have a warm place in my heart for Columbia.

You see a lot of Columbia costumes come Halloween time, at least for sale. Aside from wandering 6th street, you don't see all that many of them. I assume they're sold for use at performances of Rocky Horror, which, I might note, 20 years on, I still haven't seen.

Little Nell herself has been in a few movies, including the late 90's version of "Great Expectations" and the little-discussed sequel to Rocky Horror, 1981's "Shock Treatment", which I've never even seen on a shelf to rent. I have little understanding of her career or trajectory post-Rocky Horror, but she turns up in VH1 docs about the movie and that sort of thing, and I believe may work in clubs or restaurants.

But a Halloween salute to Columbia, in the movie which has become a Halloween favorite.


skip to around 2:12 to get right to Columbia

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Happy Halloween Eve


Not just content to be terrifyingly headless, he's also got to have a flaming Jack O' Lantern. That Headless guy really knows how to turn it up a notch.

Halloween is tough when I think upon that which I'd like to post.

I do not find vampires frightening. If decades of cartoons and cartoonish post-Lugosi Dracula imitators didn't drain the idea of blood suckers of menace, then surely the post Anne Rice world of foppish emo-boys and the Xerox of a Xerox that's sprung since then, culminating in the glittering Foley's catalog models of Twilight, emasculating the horror of Dracula while simultaneously rewriting the narrative to suggest that the eternal damnation of being one of the undead was nothing but the modern day "bit by a radioactive spider".

Frankenstein is a tragedy, not horror. The most frightening thing about "The Mummy" is how dull the original movie is after the first ten minutes. Its tough to be scared of "Creature from the Black Lagoon" when its a movie that takes place almost entirely on sunny days in a nifty looking swimming whole, and Julie Adams' production value completely distracts you from the story.

The story of the Wolfman, however, is one I find intriguing, even if the original film starring Lon Chaney Jr. isn't going to hold up terribly well (especially the FX). Like Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, the concept itself explores the horror of the beast living inside, whether we put it there, its madness, or the beast was there all along. It doesn't matter.



Similarly, if I liked Paranormal Activity, it wasn't because of fine acting, but because it reminded me of a small budget version of "The Haunting", a movie in which There Is Something Out There, And it Is Evil, and It Is Going to Keep Coming Until We Are Dead.

There's nothing comforting about either evil, disembodied spirits or restless souls of the dead.



At least not in the laughable, let's-cheer-for-the-killer manner that's made franchises out of masked psychos. In the unknowable way that led to animism when turnip-eating peasants walked down the road in the dark and told themselves that the fear could only exist if there was, in fact, something out there.

I find it sad that I have no ghost stories of my own to share, and no other-worldly experience to relate for you to read at your desk (and shouldn't you be working?) on the day before Halloween. No tale of driving off and finding that a hook was hanging from my door handle, or that Jamie and I barely dodged sure doom if we hadn't left Make Out Point that one, eerie evening.



All of the stories I know are either made up, or are real and nobody wound up laughing at old Ichabod Crane as he fled from the Headless Horseman.

Even the one ghost story we thought we had when we were kids turned out to be a raccoon that had somehow gotten into a house that was for sale.

Instead, all I can relate is how I'm traveling, as I meet people, I'm making sure they don't ever have anything to worry about ever, ever again...

Jesus, people can be cruel. If it's not my build, its my personality.

But, ah... I think I've gone on enough for one post.

Happy Halloween, every body!


I dare you not to watch to the end

Houston

You won't hear me say it often, but I love Houston. If Austin is my tried and true lady, then Houston is the girl who is going to get me into trouble. Young, more money than brains, tarted up just enough to hide the scars and disguise the fact that all the drinking and cigarettes are causing her to decay in odd ways...

And like that girl who is nothing but trouble, you kind of love her all the more for it, even if she's probably going to mean your doom one of these days.

I was happy to consider Houston as a destination when we plotted our escape from Phoenix, but I had stipulations. Not in the suburbs. Nowhere that, when the storms blew in, our house would go beneath water, and hopefully in a place that had some trees.

This town has a lot to offer, and the change from burnt-out, post-80's-era decay to a usable downtown with places to live, sports, theater, what-have-you... I can see the appeal. If not for the 90% humidity year-round.

I'm staying in a phenomenal hotel near MinuteMaid Park, The Inn at the Ballpark. I have some questions about why they have, apparently, no parking. But I'm dealing with that. Someone else is going to pay the damn valet charge.

The waitress even expressed interest in the Jack Kirby war comic reprints I was reading. "Oh, comics," she said. "It's been a long time. I used to love 'Johnny the Homicidal Maniac'." I think I beamed a little too much.

Anyway, its raining and a front is coming in, and I'm downtown, which was where I always liked Houston best (although I'm not enamored with the George R. Brown Convention Center, which is what I can see from my window).

To UofH to see Michele in the AM. And then returning to Austin.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Comics and the Promise of the iTablet

Randy sent this article along.

The basic gist of the article is that some comic geek pondered how their iTunes and other iPhone apps work, thought about the page size of a comic, added a dash of kindle, and said "hey, this could be neat for comics!"

Yes. Indeed, it could be.

I like my iPod, but I'm not a full-blooded Apple Acolyte. In fact, I've become so bored with the "I'm a PC and I'm a Mac" ads, I now dread new ones, as it means the campaign will NOT DIE. And I'm writing this post on a MacBook somebody decided I needed somewhere along the way.

Part of why I've not been quick to run out and get an iPhone (aside from the fact that everyone I know with an iPhone gets terrible coverage and refuses to believe its their network and device, and not bad juju, evil forces at work, lead-lined walls, etc...), s that, really... I'm just not that interested in working on a tiny screen.

But a tablet. Yessir... a tablet.

On a tablet, I could be reading, watching video, and reading comics. Or, if Apple played its cards right... drawing them, too. I'm just saying.

We've seen the willingness of companies like Boom! to adapt to the digital format as Simon tried out Irredeemable last month for us. My guess is that with Marvel under Disney's ownership and DC having a new boss (put in place to expand DC's reach), they'll be following Boom! to the digital format. Marvel has put some of its product online, but there are no real report about how that's going (I assume not very wel, or they'd be talking about it a lot more), as well as releasing original online content.

In any case, what is not happening is the release of current comics via an online distribution format. If I have to guess as to a "why", it would be that the Big 2 are aware that this could severely injure the comic shops that are the only place carrying their product at the moment in the periodical format (collected editions actually do quite well at bookstores, etc...).

As a reader, I'd still like access to DC's backlog of comics, and can see myself paying for collected editions online, or numbered runs on a series of older comics. Perhaps more for recent or current comics. I can also see opportunity for indie comic creators, etc... to tie into the iTunes or iPhone App format to keep readers engaged and returning.

But mostly... big, glowing comic pages sounds like a darn good idea.

Galveston

I met with some good folks here at the UT Medical Branch Moody Library today, and it was interesting to see what their ideas, concerns, etc... are.

Digital Librarianship is different from the librarianship of the past, oh, 2000 years, and one can expect that by the time your grandkids are rolling their eyes at you over the Thanksgiving Protein-Turk-o-Form, they will wonder in amazement that people used to actually have to go to a big building with lots of books in it and not just think about whatever information they want to access. Also, bellbottoms will be in again.

Galveston itself was hit incredibly hard by Hurricane Ike last year, but being less populated and coming after the Katrina/ Rita one-two punch, and the press almost morbidly more interested in the 1900 storm, I am sort of wondering about the reconstruction of Texas's once prosperous gate to the southwest. Its clear that much of the city is not recovered, and while not exactly Omega-Man in effect, there just doesn't seem to be all that many people here at all.

In fact, I had lunch at a bistro in town, and before dinner this evening, I stopped at Target to pick a few things up, and ran into one of the waitresses in the aisle, four miles from the bistro (no, she didn't recognize me, but I wasn't wearing my tie and sport coat, either). And, truthfully, the Target felt sort of deserted anyway, before I started thinking maybe I'd seen everybody who lived in Galveston.

That said, there's still history in every corner of the place, with impressive Victorian houses on Broadway and large, old brick buildings which are likely 100 years old if they're a day, left over from Galveston's heyday as a port. But there's no doubt that the place is barely a whisper of the prosperity of 110 years ago.

I've suggested to Jamie that she and I take a few days and come back this spring. In addition to the beaches, there are museums, I'd like to take her on a tour of the Moody Mansion, and I think there's a place you can hire to take you up in a B-25, but I'd need to check the price on that. Oops. Just found the price. Never mind!

But there's still an airplane museum, and I know that Jamie would like nothing more than to spend a day looking at WWII vintage craft. Yessir.

Best Pet Costume Ever



sent by Randy

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Movie Trailers




Texas Coast Trip

I'm traveling this week for work, visiting some universities on the Texas coast who are members of the organization I work for. I actually really like this part of the job, if you don't include the "being away from Jamie for several days" bit.

Spent yesterday driving to Corpus Christi, today presenting at Texas A&M Corpus Christi, then driving across the Gulf Plains to Galveston by way of GPS. I'm now in Galveston, where I'll be for two days meeting with UT Medical Branch and Texas A&M Galveston. Friday, I'll be visiting Univ. of Houston, and then home.

Texas is a big place, and I love that its geography and flora change every 30 minutes when you're driving at a good clip. I'd not driven up the coast, crossing bridges over bays, driving through towns with no seeming point in existing, watching the flat of the coast turn into the East Texas swamps of Brazoria and Angleton, and back into the coastal flats outside of Galveston.

I'm hoping UT El Paso joins up so I can do that drive again (there's a lot of changes between Austin and El Paso).

But I also like getting out and seeing people where they work and live. Its great when they come to conferences, etc... but I find they're a lot more relaxed and talkative in their own offices. Its kind of nice.

Anyway, it's going to be a good couple of days, pending any technical difficulties.

I'm also reading "Moby Dick" in spurts, and listening to "Dracula" as an audio book. This is my first reading, which i decided to do to get it checked off the list and do it in time for Halloween. I'll be honest, that's a pretty scary book, thus far. I'm finally beginning to see the appeal, and why its been imitated so often. But, man, have people screwed that thing up in all the plays, movies, adaptations that we've seen.

I can say I finally understand why adapatations seem to reverse the roles of Lucy and Mina now that I'm fairly far into the book. I always found that decision baffling.

Anyhow, its great to get out and about, but I also know I wasn't exactly cut out for the Willie Loman lifestyle.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Book(s) That Changed Your Life

(editor's note: I started this post a week ago, prior to my announcement about wrapping up LoM. I am not entirely satisfied with the post, and considered dumping it. But, heck... Here it is.)


Recently "This American Life" ran an hour on "The Book That Changed Your Life". The stories went in directions I wouldn't have expected, but for those of us who grew up in houses littered with books (and that includes most Leaguers as near as I can tell), and who cherish the object of a book as well as the content within, I think its worth a listen.

Here.

The criteria I'm using is not "These are the best books I've ever read", or "these books will make me look real smart-like". Instead, the list reflects books which I managed to read at some critical juncture, at just the right time, and which wound up affecting my worldview, my habits, my vision of how things are or ought to be. Books that, quite literally, changed my life in some way.

This list is not complete. I am trying to be specific, and will discuss other books in a later post before we wrap things up. I also do not want to be driving down the road a week from now and realize I left something off of the list, so why not make leave it open ended?

Again, send in your own books, or link to your own posts written elsewhere. That can be a post as well at some point.


Some Books that Changed my Life:


1) Go, Dog, Go!
Dogs. In cars. Going to a party in a tree.
My earliest memory of reading. Quite literally remember reading this to my grandmother while sitting on her lap, which had to have been a fairly awful experience for the woman.

"Go, Dog, Go!" doesn't get the press of Dr. Seuss, it hasn't been adapted into a major motion picture, it's devoid of themes beyond dogs driving, partying and rejecting one another upon their choice of hats. But it is THE book I read over and over as a kid.

2) Fahrenheit 451
Some weird-o teacher I had in fifth grade decided this made for fine assigned reading. A book my honors English class in high school found puzzling, presenting a future which every generation that reads it must feel is coming quite literally to pass. Probably, though, the first time an adult asked that we discuss a book in any actual real terms.

Whether it was my introduction to the concept that "ideas are dangerous" or not, I do not recall, but it absolutely crystallized the notion in my mind. Both in how far we'll go to keep a comfort and status quo (even in the face of Armageddon), and that ideas, words and what's contained in the expression of ink on paper is something to die for and with.

I've re-read the book at least a half-dozen times. Honestly, of all the dystopian future-stuff on this list, this is the one that seems like its the one we're going to slip into most easily, if we aren't already there.

3) The Dark Knight Returns
For a 12 year old who was cluing in pretty quickly that the world outside our neighborhood was a big, spooky place, who felt Ronald Reagan was a cartoon more than a human, and watched the F4's flying endlessly overhead when Mueller was an Air Force Base rather than an airport, the world of Dark Knight Returns seemed logical.

What was lost by the comic industry was that Miller, Varley and Janson were telling a story with a moral core, about pushing back against the ever expanding apathy and cruelty, and resignation that our elected officials seemed like showmen rather than leaders.

Miller would expand on the idea in Martha Washington, but for today's kids to turn to DKR, just as UK kids might turn to "V for Vendetta", to understand the 1980's in the US a bit more.

It also marked the time when I realized I was reading a comic that was blowing the doors off convention, not just in regards to format, layout, style, etc... but was using the medium and characters to comment upon the world I was living in, beyond using it as a setting for backdrop for super-powered struggles. Where X-Men was an earnest allegory that often felt clunky and repetitive, Dark Knight was electric shock satire.

If the comic industry never recovered, I guess never did my twelve-year-old brain. I am sure I am not alone in saying that I'm still chasing the rush that was the first time I read this comic, cover to cover.

4) Frankenstein
I am fairly certain that, at some point, I would have cracked this book with or without the help of Gwendolyn Fort's 9th grade English class. I knew the movie, and had watched a production of a play of Frankenstein on PBS in its entirety, which absolutely chilled me as a middle-schooler.

Obviously The League's grades meant he was unlikely to head into a life of science. However, I can attribute both the book and Ms. Fort's guiding hand, and what is probably no small dose of Kennedy-era idealism, in how I wound up reading Frankenstein as a story of hubris, failed responsibility, and really awful parenting.

There's no doubt that Frankenstein's creation performs horrendous acts by book's end, but as always, its in understanding the motives and causal relations that the book locked into my 15-year-old brain and lodged itself there.

I am not a fan of ideas like "a perfect book", and Frankenstein is far from that. Its a product of its time and seems to often drag on at length in some odd places, but its a book I would most certainly hand my own 15-year-old.


5) Kingdom Come
Most high school geeks give up on superheroes at some point, even if they keep buying comics. I had been fortunate enough to become tried of superheroes (in no small part due to the fact that I wasn't on-board with the 90's-era, Image-explosion, Rob Liefield influenced Chromium Age). At that time, I was picking up the books that were setting the stage for what became "Vertigo" comics. Sandman comics, Swamp Thing, Shade...

Alex Ross's art got me to try out "Marvels", and I'd thoroughly enjoyed that book, and so selling me on "Kingdom Come" wasn't all that hard, despite what I perceived to be a high sticker price.

The truth is, I'd been a fan of the DCU and Superman somewhat prior to the series, but Mark Waid and Ross's book managed to say an enormous amount not just about what I felt I was seeing in comic shops, and not just in entertainment, but reflected some of my own disillusionment that every undergrad experiences when you look a bit at the world you've inherited. While I was no aging preacher, Norman McCay's disappointment, Superman's grappling with the world he'd turned his back on, Wonder Woman's fury, all resonated.

Anyway, its a hell of a book, and if 80's-era Batman, JLI and GL and scattered other DC books were what got me interested, Kingdom Come's unblinking reflection upon the attempt at goodness in a world where such notions are considered juvenile, naive and even suicidal is a message worth returning to on a regular basis.

Kingdom Come, more than any other book, was why I came back to superheroes, and its influence on the next 15 years at DC is why I've wound up falling in with the DC partisan camp, why I fell in love with superheroes again as I entered adulthood, one of the reasons I became intrigued with Superman again, and why I came to expect more of "heroes" in all kinds of stories. And it had much to do with the how's and why's of how an adolescent hobby became a preoccupation that I'm still happy to entertain.

6) Superman: Peace on Earth
By Alex Ross and Paul Dini, this book is always the one I'd put in the hands of friends who start asking the hard questions about Superman. Why hasn't he made life perfect for everyone? What's holding him back?

It's brief, and I re-read it every Christmas, finding time between watching some version of "A Christmas Carol", "It's a Wonderful Life" and other required Holiday media. But its also not a story frozen into the Christmas season.

The book is in the format of a picture book more than a comic, and its a beautiful piece of art, with or without the story. But it does ask the questions that come into focus about anyone, but which are thrown into sharp relief when you apply The Man of Steel.

In the era when we're continually told Superman is outdated for our times, that the character is "broken", that wanting to do right out of a sense of right, social justice, etc... is quaint and old fashioned, and isn't as hip as wanting vengeance, etc... This is the book that I felt solidified for me not just the conflict of the character which most critics don't ever bother to get at, but that while Superman is often portrayed as the Ace of Action, the character is, and always has been, about trying to make a better world.

I suppose if anyone doubts my interest in 'ol Superman, which was influenced in no small part because of this book, which I believe gets at and explains the core of the character, I welcome you to come visit League HQ sometime.



Honorable Mention:

Caves of Steel
I, Robot
Something Wicked This Way Comes
Henry Reed, Inc.




Again, this list is nowhere near complete. And even with my clearly stated criteria, its tough to point to a book and say "Yes! It was while reading this book that I had a revelation! That I developed a new obsession!"

I earned a degree in history in part because of the reading I was doing, but it was the flood of reading at the time, and not any one book. The people in the NPR story made interesting and somewhat profound choices because of certain books. I did not go to Africa because I was reading Hemingway short stories. I didn't open a detective agency because I was reading Chandler and Hammett. I didn't run for President or turn to "the strenuous life" after reading up on TR.

So the list is tougher than you think it'd be.

I may do a list of League's Final Recommended reading before all is said and done. That might be fun.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The League Watches: Where the Wild Things Are

Is "Where the Wild Things Are" truly that strange of a movie?

The discussion, confusion and posturing over "Where the Wild Things Are" should suggest that this is a movie that, love it or hate it, is going to be remembered for a very long time. Long after some producer has decided to remake "Cloudy with a Chance for Meatballs" for the Nth time, the audience of today for "Where the Wild Things Are" is going to look upon all comers looking to re-make with a crooked eye-brow, in much the same way as many of us are still not fully accepting of Burton's rendition of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory".

Reviewers and social critics like to state frequently how sophisticated children are as an audience compared to when "we" were kids, but I've always found that claim debatable. Children are new. They are a transitory audience that becomes "us" in short order. The concept of children as an audience "growing" and becoming more sophisticated is a bit misleading. Instead, what we are willing to believe children can understand via our current storytelling tastes is what changes. And we all know that the stories we enjoyed as children were never as simple as the ones we think are "safe" for our own kids.



And, yes, all signs point to the fact that their malleable little noggins can adapt to whatever we throw at them, but in many ways that's "us", not "they" who are taking the narrative chances.

Is "Where the Wild Things Are" safe for kids?

I'll assume you've got an understanding and appreciation for Sendak's book upon which the movie is based. What you may not recall is that the book is razor thin, with something around 12 sentences of copy, and relying upon imagery to tell the story. So the fact that Max is a wee bit out of control should come as no surprise.

At this point you've no doubt heard that the Max of the film comes from a home with an absent father, a sister going off on her own path as a teenager, and a struggling single mother who would like to be on the dating scene again. All this is intended to contextualize Max's wild behavior. The movie presents us with these facts in an understated manner, giving us what we can understand as the turmoil in Max's life via his own perspective. The exposition is clear, but does not beat itself out in obvious dialog. And I am not sure what it says that some reviewers seem to take this slice-of-life approach as being "scary" to kids, or "not-for-kids", when we more or less know that this is exactly what a large portion of kids see in their own homes.

Eggers' and Jonze's approach to the actual Wild Things is only occasionally menacing, and there's never any doubt that a terrible fate could, in fact, await Max. Its that uneasiness and lack of comfort that parents may find worrisome. If the viewer's goal is to spend two hours watching dancing, wise cracking celebrity voices in anthropomorphic animal form scroll past the screen, then, no... this may not be the movie for you, and I'd argue that you may have wished to review the book before buying your ticket.



Max and his companions are caught in the frustrating, confusing throes of late childhood, where actions have consequences, and your own inability to express or resolve your own needs can be the basis for a perfect storm. And there's a suggestion that neither child or adult really ever moves past that. It's, of course, not so much a heart warming message that we normally count on in kiddie entertainment (being yourself here is only tangentially a moral lesson), but an acknowledgment to its younger audience and a reminder to its older audience, who may be laboring under the illusion that things change all that much when it comes to how we deal with disappointment, loneliness and quarrels within the family.

I do want to mention that I saw at least one review who took the "rumpussing" as a sign of Jonze making an anti-war stance. Had I not read that particular comment, the idea wouldn't have ever popped into mind while I watched the movie, and its my opinion that Eggers and Jonze didn't intend for that to be the case, at least directly (although you could draw out that conclusion if you stretched out the greater meaning of doing harm to one another). My comments above are how I read Eggers and Jonze's movie, but to my eyes, the movie has an open-endedness you rarely see. The movie provides an ending and closure, without a clearly stated "and here's what we learned today, kids" to wrap up the movie, and it may be the lack of such a concise message that reviewers and audiences have felt discomfort with the movie.

I'd also read reviews that seemed to, quite, literally, not understand the movie at all (I read one review in which the reviewer firmly believed the island was disintegrating around the Wild Things, I guess because the movie showed different types of terrain...?). So, yeah, this is a different one.

Technically, the movie is stunning. The Wild Things are absolutely believable, and would make Jim Henson a very happy man were he alive today. The puppeteers and CGi artists manage to achieve the result of all great FX characters: you are likely to forget that the characters are an effect and look upon them as characters, first.

There's a late-afternoon quality to the light, like maybe just before you'd get called home to dinner or homework, giving the movie a glow throughout. What sets are built seemed mostly practical, and were terrifically structured. While not always as lush as Sendak's pages, the design is stunning in virtually every shot of the movie.

The kid who plays Max feels 100% more like any actual kid you've dealt with than the usual Disney-Channel approved child actors. He's allowed to be selfish and ridiculous, silly and scared and brave, and pulls off vulnerable without being twee.

Voice actors are a surprising all-star cast, with stand outs from James Gandolfini, Catherine O'Hara and Forest Whitaker. By not playing cartoons, the actors give depth to their characters that's never too broad and feels firmly rooted (it doesn't hurt that the Wil Things have names like Alexander and Ira).

And, of course, Catherine Keener plays Max's mother, and she is great, because that's what Keener does. (That, and continually find herself a little higher on the DITMTLOD list).



The movie is a bit harrowing, with large emotional arcs for most of the characters. And to that end, I'd like to see the movie again fairly soon to make a bit more sense of KW's relationship with "Terry and Bob", which I was just starting to feel like I could patch into some sort of analogy when the storyline went elsewhere.

Carter Burwell (Fargo, Miller's Crossing, etc...) and Karen O (The Yeah, Yeah, Yeah's) put together what may become one of the best scores/ sound tracks in a long time. Enough so that you almost forget the beautifully cut trailer featuring Arcade Fire's "Wake Up".

So is it too scary? Is uncertainty in how your child will react such a bad thing?


Final Verdict:
"Where the Wild Things Are" is a true all-ages film which pulls few punches in examining how people who should be close together, be it family or friends, can pull from one another's orbit, and refuses to give its characters neat solutions. Your mileage will certainly vary, and what you feel your kids are ready to watch is something you're going to judge better than I.

But in the end, there's no objectionable material. And if we're considering seeing kids almost get hurt in a movie as objectionable... It may be time to remove the rubber padding from underneath the playscapes and not insist on elbow pads when the kids get on a bicycle. Putting a helmet on to protect from a momentary emotional bruise from the movie may be less a good idea than talking it through with your kid.



Few will be able to dispute the technical achievement of the movie, and so love it or hate it, its got that going for it.

The movie respects the audience, perhaps giving too much credit at times, and refuses to oversimplify or gloss over the complications presented, while still returning Max to his mother, who has dinner waiting for him when he returns home.

I'd see it before it leaves theaters, if you can.



(editor's note/ update: Jason has put up his own notes on the movie, and I am interested to see that, despite the fact that we didn't talk all that much about the movie, we had very similar impressions. I'd particularly point to the metaphor/ stand-in comments, as I began to go down that road, and was unable to adequately express the idea. I think Jason does so wonderfully.)

REMINDER: There is a Halloween Party


When: 8:30ish on Saturday, October 31
Where: Jamie and Ryan's house
Who is invited: You
Costumes are required