Monday, October 19, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

Spike Jonze has made a few standout films that refuse to follow Hollywood’s overly beaten track, peopled with unusual characters, which is doubtless why actors on top lists appear in his films. In addition to the wonderful work done by Jonze and his co-screenwriter Dave Eggers, Maurice Sendak’s world is brought to life by wonderful actors.

Naturally when I heard Where the Wild Things Are would be made into a film, I began to complain of its imminent ruin. Until Spike Jonze’s name came into the story. Now that could be interesting. I felt certain he would be faithful to the children’s book experience. That Maurice Sendak more than endorsed Jonze’s vision of his book is terrific, but then Sondheim endorsed the very odd film version of “Sweeney Todd,” so original authors aren’t always the best judges of a film. Happily, Sendak’s take on the script by Jonze and Eggers as well as Jonze’s overall vision was on the mark.

I had initially been concerned with the very young children waiting on line for the 7:20 showing I attended on Saturday night – this film was potentially pretty scary. But, as one woman on line with a toddler and a 5-year-old said, “Oh they’ve seen Lord of the Rings, they’ll be fine.” Oh, OK. Well she was right, they were. The kids at that showing were great, lively, fascinated, totally involved in the story. This cannot be said of some of the accompanying adults, one at least of whom answered his cellphone and had a conversation during the film!

Visually thrilling with depth of characters of humans and non-humans alike, this film is a delight start to finish (about 90 minutes later). Just take it for itself, then go home and revisit the book that inspired it.

Wild Things has heart and soul and life. It adores the child’s imagination that gets him into trouble as it helps him through difficult days in ways that adults may not emulate.

Max Records as Max is marvelous, a real joy. Yes, he’s a beautiful child, but more than that, he’s a real little boy. When he cries at the destruction of his igloo, his tears make us cry with him. I used to build igloos myself, in the front yard of the family home in south Queens. I love igloos. I was luckier than Max – I had friends to share it, and to fight at my side with whoever might destroy it. Alas, not so for poor Max. Trials and tribulations build to his breaking point. When he bites we are aghast, yet immediately on the defensive when a perfectly nice guy (a simple and very fine Mark Ruffalo as the boyfriend) objects to such behavior. Max is our sibling, our family, and we’ll chastise and fight him, but protect against any and all interlopers as well. Max is …. us.

The physical characters of the wild things are spectacular, moving, emotive, and as human as any human. First, though, the humans: Catherine Keener, clearly a Jonze favorite, is a working mom, tired, loving, angry, real. Pepita Emmerichs in her brief screen time makes an impression as Max’s sister Claire. She has just the right balance of self-involvement and the need to be one of the teenage group, then adds a vital moment of concern for her little brother, only to be overridden by her desire to be the same as the other teenagers. That her brother Max is not the same as anybody isn’t necessarily easy on her. Of course, all little brothers are torments and embarrassments to the elder sisters, as any elder sister will tell you. Again, Mark Ruffalo is quietly on target as mom’s boyfriend.

Let’s go where the wild things are, a remarkable, frightening, exhilarating place for Max’s adventure. And while we go there, you naysaying parents out there, let’s remember this is fantasy and not a blueprint for raising children.

In the other place, the creatures to which some wonderful actors have been transformed are enchanting.

James Gandolfini voices Carol, Max’s first wild friend who reflects Max’s own violent responses. Therefore the two bond almost immediately. The exaggerated echoes of Max’s behavior are clearest in Carol, to children as well as adults. Gandolfini is so expressive as Carol, he’s funny, delightful, warm, infuriating, angry, selfish, and terribly honest. Sounds like a child.

Paul Dano as Alexander the Goat is just heartbreaking, desperately trying to be part of the inner circle, any inner circle. It’s true, no one listens to him.

Judith is so very annoying, and perfectly played by Catherine O’Hara.

Ira is amazing creation, I hadn’t a clue it was Forest Whitaker. What a lovely, full characterization.

As for the quiet and shy bull voiced by Michael Berry Jr. – silence works. The few times that bull spoke, or didn’t speak, or sighed, he had our full attention. I wished for more of him.

Chris Cooper voicing Douglas, the steadfast friend of Carol even when – no, no spoilers here. Douglas is the friend we all want, and Chris Cooper is the actor we all want to play him.

Finally Lauren Ambrose: The golden girl can do no wrong. Voicing KW, whom Carol clearly adores, she feels like the heart of the film; she is mom, loving, understanding, and tough. Neither Carol nor Max can put anything past her. It is her presence that creates the extraordinary scene of the creatures sleeping together in a pile. She envelops the little community, and Max.

The only characters about whom I felt nothing in particular were Bob and Terry, the owl friends of KW’s that so alienate Carol. And we get that, don’t we. Neither Carol nor Max nor the audience can understand a ‘word’ the owls say, so we feel left out along with Carol and Max when all the other wild things seem to communicate with those interlopers.

The visuals are achingly beautiful and occasionally terrifying – that tiny boat in a great sea, the storm, the landing, the initial viewing of those wild things. Ominous ‘monsters’ becoming children – and adults -- we recognize, and then the dark forest opening into clearings, sand dunes, and the sea. It’s a whole world, where the wild things are. Oh, and then the Fort, the tunnels, it’s all delicious. The creation of the where is glorious and gorgeous. I have no desire to see any “making of” for this film, I fear they’d be spoilers in themselves. I loved the magical mystery tour of Spike Jonze’s vision.

Since the book Where the Wild Things Are is not of my childhood, but rather a ‘classic’ introduced into my adult life, it’s easy to understand the comments that this film is for adults more than for children. Just wait, though, until you’re in an audience filled with children. This is their story. They get it, they love it. And, of course, it’s for children of all ages.

~ Molly Matera, turning off the computer, but not the light. I have reading to do.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Morning After

It is no way 6:44. It's so dark. Why does my hip hurt? Why are my slacks on the floor? And pantihose? At the same time? Why is everything on the floor?! Damn (2 syllable form), Maddy makes a fine Manhattan.

I hate the morning after.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Time is Relative

Each weekend is another proof that time is relative. I’d made a list and only achieved the easy ones. Again. Not on the list was watching movies on cable and DVD. The best laid plans….

Some time back, it came up in conversation that I had never seen The Departed in its entirety -- that I had seen scenes, and usually the same ones, as often happens when channel surfing. That I had never seen the entire film was appalling to my friends, and Matthew did something about it. The next time we met, he handed me his copy of the DVD. Saturday I finally sat down and committed to watch it. I had thought I’d iron – the stack is so high it’s toppling. Or clean the broccoli.

I watched the film. It was not possible to iron or clean broccoli or chop anything. That would have been foolhardy, and possibly as bloody as the film.

I tip my hat to Mr. Scorsese, to screenwriter William Monahan , and to the incredible cast. DiCaprio, Damon, Nicholson, Winstone, Wahlberg, Sheen, Baldwin, etc. etc. etc. It doesn’t just sound like a dream team, it is. I don’t generally care much for bloody films about guys playing gangsters. This film has gangsters, cops, robbers, feds, thieves, moles, killers, cheats, office politics, a shrink, and lots of bloody violence. Nonetheless, this film just doesn’t fall into the usual categories. We watch two young men living lives of similarities and contradictions, and follow their paths through the maze of the Irish mob. The points where their paths meet are obvious and not obvious, expected but still frightening, and involve older men who manipulate and shape them. To state the fine performances would be merely to list all the actors Scorsese cast, a much longer list than I've offered already. There’s nary an off moment in this film, not a point in any scene that allowed my mind to wander, to compare, to even question. Emotional involvement was total. And I had no idea how long the film ran until I read the box.

See? Time is relative.

~ Molly Matera, signing off. Thanks for stopping by.


The most valuable player per Molly Matera.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Random Thoughts on a Friday

I have been negligent. I had intended to write something in (on?) this blog on a more regular basis, at least several times a week. But there are gaps. Since I’ve no expectation to see another play until November, there would be an awfully large gap if all I wrote here were reviews, so…..Random Thoughts Day. Do any of us wish to be working our subsistence-to-have-health-insurance jobs? Of course not. What better day for jotting down random thoughts than a brisk autumn Friday. Molly muses….

I’m a late bloomer. I only just discovered Tim O’Brien. Good golly. In the Lake of the Woods is a horrific tale exceedingly well told. What is reality? What is truth? What is sanity? O’Brien questions me. I love it. Now I have to read all his works. He has an excellent essay in the Atlantic’s fiction issue:

The bartenders at “Still” (3rd at 17th) may be swell guys, but they’re not bartenders. I’m sure they can pull a bottle of beer out of a bucket of ice, but when one requests a Manhattan, bartenders should not head for the vodka. I was only there for a charity event and a friend’s stint at guest bartending. Luckily I had coached her on the ingredients. She recognized right away that, despite the professional’s directions, the ingredients I’d mentioned were brown, not white. So, “Still” for swill and Boston games, and that’s all.

I recall a moment from decades ago when I was visiting London. It was on a tour – not a tour in which I was working, a tourist’s “If It’s Tuesday This Must Be Belgium” kind of tour: bags outside the hotel room by 6 or 7 in the morning, and never knowing where you really were. My mother and I were the northerners on a tour bus with mostly alum of Duke University. Hoping to return back home with a British accent, I ended up with a southern one instead. One evening in a hotel bar – don’t ask me which hotel or which city, but I’m sure it was England, not Scotland or Wales. Definitely not York, they were friendly if incomprehensible there – I ordered a mixed drink. I was not much of a drinker then (don’t choke), and all I really knew was rye and ginger. Seemed simple enough. The bartender, whom I would now consider quite rude and perhaps incompetent, asked belligerently, “Do you see it?” I wondered what I had done. Was asking for rye whiskey an insult to his county, his country, his manhood? Rye is in England, honestly, in the south, it was one of the Cinque Ports once upon a time. Assuming I was, in some unknown way of the ugly American, in the wrong, I did not tell him where Rye was. I just accepted whatever he gave me. Which had no rye or ginger ale in it. I didn’t like it. Oddly worrisome is that, although this occurred almost thirty years ago, I remember the moment so clearly.

I find myself being ‘friended’ on Facebook by old friends and acquaintances from Queens, people I have not seen, or thought of, in decades. Nor, I regret to say, have I missed any of them. Do I want to revisit those times? Not particularly. Well then, you may well ask, what am I doing on Facebook at all? Ach, all this self reflection, can it be good for the soul? For the harmonies of body and mind? I think not.

I tell you, I feel light as air since I finished that long dreaded ‘capsule endoscopy’ on Tuesday. I’ve no results yet, it’s just over, so I feel better already. Recipe for a stressful day: Walking through the danger zone of federal and city cops in lower Manhattan while wearing testing paraphernalia that could pass for a bomb. I wonder if those monitors taped to my belly could sense that as the capsule wended its way through my GI tract. It really didn’t matter that I had a letter from the doctor that said, and I quote, “To Whom It May Concern, Today, Mr(s). ______ is undergowing [sic] a diagnostic capsule endoscopy. For this reason equipment is attached to the patient’s body and should not be removed before the study is over.” I must have an honest face, because my body looked pretty strange, yet I didn’t have to hand that letter to anyone. No law enforcement professional or amateur stopped me despite the blinking black box (the size of two original SONY Walkman glued together) strapped to my waist. No one in the streets around the Municipal Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, or City Hall so much as took a second look. What a weird city.

Finally, and apropos of nothing, there’s a not new movie opening this weekend in NY, Chicago, and probably LA: “Trucker.” I saw it a year and a half ago at Tribeca Film Festival and loved it. Michele Monaghan actually learned to drive that truck and has a trucker’s license. If she continues to give performances like this one, she shouldn’t ever need it. And Nathan Fillion – will the world please see him as the film star he so clearly is? Check your local movie schedules for a gutsy movie. And have a great weekend.

~­ Molly Matera signing off. Thanks for stopping by.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

“Decreation” —BAM Opera House, 7 October 2009

What have I to say about dance? I cannot dance. I’m a klutz. I do not have dance training. My function in Darlene Casanova’s dance class was comic relief. So what dare I say about The Forsythe Company’s “Decreation” at the BAM Opera House?

William Forsythe’s “Decreation” is a quarter hour too long, too loud, and too much.

After its alleged 65 but more like 75 minutes played upon the nearly bare black stage, a woman, a stranger, turned to my friend Rob and said, “So, not so much.” That’s it.

My friend Matthew compared it to a hilarious song from “Evil Dead: The Musical” called “What the Fuck Was That?!” Yup. That’s it.

The stage, as previously stated, black and bare, contains a podium, several microphones, and chairs. On a large table way up left covered in white paper, several glasses and a wine bottle are at the ready. Right center a woman positions herself behind a camera. One might think the camera’s view was projecting onto the front of the podium. One would be incorrect. It is an illusion. Sound interesting? I beg pardon for misleading.

People sit in the wings. People move about the stage. A small blonde woman stands behind the podium and argues with a man. The man responds. The argument is taken up by multiple men saying the same non-things. Meanwhile another man here, a woman there pervert their bodies awkwardly, ugly forms making grotesque sounds. The similar-looking men talk to the blonde woman and each other, and dance with one another. Other men and women manipulate each other into painful and grotesque postures. Sounds come from them as if they’d suddenly developed Tourette’s.

Meanwhile the blonde woman continues to argue with the specific man who is voiced by several men. The man and a woman and a man and another man and another man continue the same argument between the broken bodies, inchoate sounds continuing and repeating. All of it repeating. And repeating. And twisting, and then repeating again. In English. And German. “Fuck” is the same in both languages. It gets a laugh.

Pina Bausch used repetition in movement and choreographed sequences over and over and over, until those of us lucky enough to be in her audience were so tense we wanted to scream STOP; then just before we did, Bausch changed it up. It was exciting. Exhilarating. Three and a half hours of Pina Bausch’s creations flew by.

Mr. Forsythe did not achieve that tension. I’m afraid “Decreation” was … tedious. Not bland, and for many moments not dull. I sometimes wondered if this was going to take me down a path, almost felt an inkling of comprehension – then it was gone. No flight, no emotional trail to follow. In the last ten minutes or so, the dancers removed the white paper covering from the upstage table, then carried the dull round table downstage. They gathered around it, and a woman appeared on top of it. Different dancers slithered onto the table with her, chanting, shouting, whispering, in English and in French. If this was what it was all leading to, it came about 20 minutes too late. And what was that guy doing under the table, lighting matches? The dancers are highly skilled artists, their control and physical discipline remarkable. The “script” may wish to be innovatively repetitive, but it felt almost sophomoric, rather like college theatrics of the late 1960s and 1970s.

I’m told Mr. Forsythe usually choreographs ballet, and I’ve no idea why he was driven to this anti-ballet he calls “Decreation.” Well, wait. Perhaps that was it.

~ Thanks for stopping by. Molly Matera signing off, shutting down the computer, but not the light. I MUST finish Tim O'Brien's "In the Lake of the Woods" before I sleep tonight.