338 words. That’s all author Maurice Sendak employed over 33 pages to create a literary classic of childhood imagination. 338 words. An amazing feat and one that doesn’t lend itself easily to a feature-length film adaptation. Director Spike Jonze has a wealth of intention and imagination for his 95-minute embellishment of Sendak’s work, but fantasyland jubilation is an element oddly pinched out of this sulking haze of monsters and tantrums. A visual knockout, “Where the Wild Things Are” is cold to the touch, trying to surf confidently on rolling waves of childhood nostalgia and teary poignancy, but remains improperly balanced to handle the bizarrely leaden execution.
The thriller “Law Abiding Citizen” has the stink of a great exploitation experience all over it. Sections of the film demand audience interaction -- the popcorn-throwing kind that greets cruel turns of fate or broad displays of injustice. When “Citizen” stays in that pocket of unsophisticated manipulation, it puts forth terrific genre energy guaranteed to get the adrenaline racing. However, leave it to the filmmakers to get in the way of a decent film, trying to outwit an audience that just might prefer the simplest ride available.
There’s a scale of weirdness to any film made by the Coen Brothers, and “A Serious Man” hits the red zone of idiosyncrasy immediately. An ode to Midwestern Judaism and the havoc of guilt, “Serious Man” is a tapestry of neuroses and personal damage, given a classic black comic strangling by the Coens, who leave no domestic discomfort behind. In fact, all this film contains is unease, making it a perfect itchy sweater film for those who enjoy their cinema on the suffocating side.
Sex, sin, and Catholic guilt. If there’s a better recipe for cinematic troublemaking, I don’t want to know about it. “Into Temptation” dives into the deep end of collar-tightening, rosary-fingering unrest, creating a riveting momentum as it looks to articulate the push and pull between the obligations of religion and the overwhelming sway of sexuality. Sharply constructed with a heavy spray of noirish aroma, “Into Temptation” is a uniquely accomplished indie film, wielding salacious material sensitively, building an intoxicating sense of intrigue and discomfort.
There have been several attempts to dramatize the life of fashion icon Coco Chanel, leaving “Coco Before Chanel” no choice but to travel deeper into history, not only to discover how she became a wizard of fabric, but to witness her struggles with abandonment and heartache. It’s juicy fodder for a period soap opera, but “Before” doesn’t squeeze hard enough. It’s a gorgeous picture, but one that rarely demands attention.
Sandra Bullock has been making movies like “The Proposal” for quite some time now. The romantic comedy is her Jedi power, and while the majority of her output has been either strained or downright intolerable (“Two Weeks Notice,” “While You Were Sleeping”), Bullock deserves some credit for her refusal to give up on the genre. “The Proposal” is harmless fluff, but it’s a dull routine, somehow lassoing the jumping bean charisma of co-star Ryan Reynolds to help liven up a confused screenplay. Regardless of the changes in setting and leading men, this is still Bullock running off the same old battery, and the fatigue is becoming increasingly difficult to cover up.
The Spooky Empire Ultimate Horror Convention has come to Orlando this weekend, bringing a mass of celebrities, uncomfortable beards, and smiles to town, thrilling horror fanatics who wait all year for this event. To kick off the festivities, there’s a Zombie Walk, encouraging undead fans to dress up as decrepitly as possible and march (or drag) a harrowing 1/2 mile to the front door of the host hotel. It’s a community of fun-loving, grotesque participants, and there’s a clear love for the macabre tradition.
I adore Dots. Those little gumdrop knobs of goodness have been a friend for a mighty long time, dating back to my moviegoing youth where it was the candy of choice. The tooth-melter above all tooth-melters. Amazingly, eating a lime-flavored Dot today provides a sense of time-travel back to those salad days of matinees and PG-13 classics. Actual movement from such a small button of sugar. Few confections can claim the same sensation.
One of the final shots of “Couples Retreat” is a toddler defecating into a display toilet at a home improvement store. This image perfectly sums up the filmmaking here. A classic Hollywood trainwreck, “Retreat” is without laughs or heart, with director Peter Billingsley taking a possibly experimental route by mounting a comedy without any identifiable humor. “Retreat” is dreadful, but to consider just how many gifted performers are here treading water makes the heart sick. Ralphie, how dare you.
Here’s a reaction sure to be popular at “Ong Bak 2: The Beginning” viewings near and far: huh? Clarity is in short supply here for this unexpected prequel, an abstract action bend that has no time for coherency. Appreciate the feature as more of a silent film adventure and it’s a blast, furthering the curious career of Tony Jaa, who steps behind the camera to co-direct this often exhilarating but supremely baffling martial arts picture.
One doesn’t have to be a slavish follower of English football to appreciate the nuances of “The Damned United.” More of an intimate drama than a sports film, director Tom Hooper has made sure the exclusionary details have been softened, allowing audiences near and far a shot at comprehending and enjoying this terrific film. As an evocative depiction of football industry mechanics, it’s one of the best features on the subject in a long time.
Watching “Bronson” is like being tickled with a razor blade. An unnerving, barking-mad black comedy surveying the fractured mind of “the most violent prisoner in Britain,” the picture is a divisive beast, shimmying between cracking wise and cracking skulls, often erratically so. Still, attention must be paid to star Tom Hardy, who consumes the controversial title role whole, spitting out the shrapnel with sniper-scope aim. It’s not a pleasant film to spend time with, but Hardy’s work is intoxicatingly smothering and electric, smoothing over the rough tonal edges left behind by director Nicolas Winding Refn.
It’s been five years since the release of “The Yes Men,” the Chris Smith/Sarah Price documentary that brought Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno (the titular devils) to the mainstream. In the intervening years, their prank efforts have been ingenious and dangerous, but they’ve failed to make a lasting impact. Growing frustrated, the Yes Men have returned to the big screen, armed with a new round of hoaxes and misdirection, hoping to achieve their ultimate goal: changing the world.
50 favorite animated films with some Terry Gilliam commentary (Time Out)
This Halloween, go as Jabba the Hutt (Star Wars Blog)
There’s a Chris Klein commentary on the “Street Fighter” DVD (AV Club)
Don’t ever think you can beat the gate (Fail Blog)
Adrien Brody and Topher Grace are seriously in “Predators” (Moviehole)
Brighten your day with a Yes Guy montage (YouTube)
Gonzo and Animal visit “Dancing with the Stars” (Muppet Newsflash)
No “Simpsons” sequel for now (Variety)
Fantastic “Star Wars” pumpkin carving designs (Sci-Fi Wire)
Adam Carolla talks to glorious kook Bai Ling (Adam Carolla Podcast)
Last year, I stumbled upon Sea World Orlando’s Halloween Spooktacular by accident. While making a routine visit to the park, I wasn’t immediatley aware that a holiday blow-out was in progress over by Shamu Stadium and Bayside Stadium, leading me to wonder why “pumpkin fish” signage and strange costumed characters were suddenly around every corner. Turns out Sea World has their own variation on a theme park Halloween celebration, and get this: it’s free with admission.