Rewind Review- Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

As those who know me, and if such a person exists, cyberstalk me, know I created this blog after writing on another site, which shall remain nameless, for a while. The point is, I have material sitting around waiting to be re-used on occasion I will re-post them here. Some of those articles or reviews may have been extemporaneous at the time but are slightly random now, hence the new title and little intro, regardless enjoy!

Those who don’t like superlatives should stop reading this right now. Those of you who are still reading please believe that it is not for simplistic reasons alone that I am all but ready to anoint Where the Wild Things Are as the best film of the year. It is unquestionably a complete cinematic experience that, for the most part, paralyzed my pencil from note-taking and here are some reasons why.

It lives up to the old manic depressive statement of “I laughed, I cried” but goes so far beyond that. The beginning of the film sets up Max’s home life and imagination in simple, beautiful terms with nary a word wasted, which goes for the whole film. The dialogue was carefully chosen and all lines were simply set traps which if sprung would take you into the deeper meaning of the film.

This is the kind of film that does require multiple viewings for the inquiring mind, and it is the best kind of film because it works on multiple levels without any of those levels interfering with the other. Some argue that some parts of the film are too frightening for children. That is a parent’s decision, not a critic’s, and frankly the book has scared many children while others read it and remain unaffected. It has always been that kind of tale. So to think that Spike Jonze was cavalier or somehow remiss in his filmmaking is ridiculous. Two words of wisdom to keep in mind are first Maurice Sendak the writer of the tale wanted the film “not to condescend to children” as he stated in a featurette released about a month ago. Films have been known to scare kids but kids will watch them anyway. The first film I remember seeing at the theater was a re-release of Bambi and almost off the bat Bambi is orphaned. Is it terrible? Yes. Did everyone keep watching? Yes. Yet people haven’t shouted about Bambi’s inappropriateness as loudly as about this film. The other quote would be Sondheim’s as related by David Poland on his blog “Children will listen…”

Ultimately, that will be what they do – listen and watch as they see a boy be angry with his mother, run off find new friends, but ultimately find that home is the better place. He returns home and is welcomed back, again almost without words. Histrionics are not needed at that point either for dramatic or moralistic purposes. The lesson is learned by all, you have no reason to run from home and you can always go back there and be accepted. A little hard to misconstrue that, and perhaps you need to boil it down for them, but one angry incident or a little yelling and growling shouldn’t deprive a child of this experience. It’s PG for a reason…be a parent and guide your child through the film. Don’t expect it to do all the work for you.

Back to the aesthetics – while CG needed to be implemented on the Wild Things’ faces, you’d be hard pressed to tell. And amen to the practical suits which just add that much more realism. Also, adding tremendously to the mood and overall effect is the score/soundtrack, written by Karen O. and Carter Burwell, which always sets the tone with absolute precision. There is never any doubt as to the intention and correctness of the score and it is almost as wondrous as the film.

The refracted tale, of course, is that of a child trying to cope with the divorce of his parents. Pull the dialogue from some of those scenes and just read them and you heard homely and very parental type battles. In the Wild Things you see various interpretations of those relationships. Again the separation of these layers of the film must be stressed. It is not the kind of tale in which missing on such details would ruin it but perceiving it will only enhance it.

For as large or small as the part was, the cast both voice and actual couldn’t have been better-chosen. Whether it be Katherine Keener in her limited screen time as Max’s very endearing mother, Mark Ruffalo as the cause of Max’s ire, Max himself played by newcomer Max Records, a surprisingly sensitive and complex James Gandolfini as Carol, or Catherine O’Hara as Judith.

This film is proof that you don’t need a lot of pomp and circumstance to elicit emotion. With the imagination everything can expand like the lecture of a teacher. It is a tale sure to delight the child within us all and also profoundly move adults. A “must see,” and likely the best film of the year.


Review- The Forgiveness of Blood

The Forgiveness of Blood is a film that is about a modern day feud between two families in Albania. The film starts off with what is seemingly a small incident: there is a line of rocks on a road; a man Mark (Refet Abazi) needs access to it to make his bread route shorter. He moves the rocks and with that commences the argument that escalates into a feud, as the road isn’t public and the owner permits no one to use it. Exacerbating this issue is that the families have a history and that land used to be in Mark’s family.

That’s the set-up as the fighting starts, but the film refuses to be about the main combatants but rather about those caught in the crossfire and in a sense about feuding itself. The film has two young leads Nik (Tristan Halilaj) and Rudina (Sindi Lacej) that have to bear much of the brunt of the fallout from this incident.

Now, this is a film wherein there are some idiosyncrasies and details of feuding in this society are implied but are not specifically explained. For example, there is reference to a book (Kanun) wherein the rules of combat per se are laid out, and there is also a special permission to leave the house to attend school for those old enough to be targeted (Besa), however, while these things are not clear upon their initial introduction they are soon made to be clear.

Another thing that must be noted is that there are a few incidents that occur off-screen which is fitting with the theme of the film. The film is not about the combatants but the affected by the fighting. There is a way that the film does try to engage the audience, and that is by having Nik be a bit more idealistic. Such that he looks at things logically rather than relying on what tradition says. His protestations fall on deaf ears but it allows discussions that those who are unfamiliar with such situations to get acclimated as things are somewhat indirectly explained.

The handling of the feud causes a great deal of tension in a few ways: the opposing family whom we only meet sparingly don’t necessarily play by the rules and Mark, who has exiled himself, returns intermittently endangering his family further just to visit.

With all these stressors this creates many opportunities for drama and there are truly a number of very well acted scenes and compelling arguments. While Tristan Halilaj and Sindi Lacej exist in parallel storylines they each carry their own half of the film in very different ways. Halilaj is the brooding, rebellious teen who is seeking to affect change either in his family or in tradition or both if possible. Lacej is trying her best to learn to work and bring in extra money wherever and however possible, in a now very hostile world. Then there is Mark’s abandoned wife Bardha played very well by Zana Hasaj.

Yet the film does layer some and adds a few very important pieces to the equation to give a fuller view of the feud. The first being the younger son in the family Dren (Elsajed Tallilli) who has a fair bit of screen time and has good bonding scenes with his older brother but also struggles to adapt to things like home schooling. Then you also get a more middle-of-the-road angle from the opposing side in Mara (Servete Haxhija) who also illustrates how this is still a male-dominated society.

It’s always interesting to get a glimpse into a foreign culture in any form, especially one you are fairly unfamiliar with, however, I felt a bit of a disconnect at times simply because certain things were left to be assumed or surmised. It was something that the film overcomes but is a slightly shaky foundation. However, it is an engaging and interesting tale.