WWW: Weekend Wrental Wreviews 48

Let's see what I saw this week for Weekend Wrental Wreviews in my 48th WWW:

1) Where the Wild Things Are:
“Who is this for?” That's a question I asked myself over the course of Spike Jonze's trippy adaptation of Maurice Sendak's beloved classic story. The dialogue is very simple and direct, and the movie is almost entirely shown from the perspective of the boy Max. Jonze shows us the other side of the fantasy world for a bit, dwelling the problems any child might face, the stress that might turn a little boy into a little monster. His sister is outgrowing him, and running off with her friends, who pay attention to him long enough to destroy his snow fort. His mom is supportive and loving, but has a life of her own, and Max reacts poorly when she brings a date over. He runs away after a tantrum ends with him biting his mom, and a trip through a broken fence takes us much further, deep into the boy's imagination where monsters dwell. These are like puppets from hell(though dichotomously adorable), and the movie does a marvelous job bringing them to life, but a lot of their shifting emotions don't make sense because we're inside the mind of an 8-year-old. One might smash the homes of the others one minute, only to have them all appear to forget what happened a few minutes later. Around the time one monster ripped another monster's arm off, I realized this wasn't for kids. And yet, it was. It's for the kid in all of us, the kid we've long since forgotten, the kid we were when we read the Sendak book. It's a psychological journey into how a child might process certain things, and how aspects of relationships don't make sense because the boy doesn't understand them. Reconciling the relationships between the monsters in his mind will be the only way Max can journey home, sailing across the sea and back through that broken fence, to mend fences with his own family.

2) The Men Who Stare at Goats:
At the outset, we're warned via caption that more of this story will be true than we'd believe. Did the U.S. government successfully train psychic warriors? Do people exist who can kill with a thought, or remote view an event over thousands of miles? This is what a reporter played by Ewan McGregor(with a pretty decent American accent) sets out to find out. When his wife leaves him for his editor, his despair and desire to prove himself to her sends him to Iraq, where he has the good fortune to stumble upon a veteran of the very project he was investigating. George Clooney seems insane, but somehow gets McGregor's trust, or at the very least his curiosity, and the two set out on a journey behind enemy lines. McGregor learns of the origins of the psychic program, how Clooney and others were trained to be “Jedi warriors”. For some reason it made me chuckle whenever dialogue broached the possibility that McGregor could be a Jedi too. In flashbacks that occur as the two journey across the desert and Clooney's character tells his story, we learn that the program began when Jeff Bridges fell out of a helicopter and had an epiphany, and eventually got funding to explore alternative means of fighting. Clooney was the most gifted student he had, while Kevin Spacey portrayed a jealous rival. At its heart, this quirky piece is an anti-war metaphor, but does so by showing the absurdity of man in general, without taking sides. All nations have good guys and bad guys, those who seek peace and those who seek power. Clooney laments having to stare at a goat until it died, because that goat did nothing to him, but still used his powers when some primal instinct took over. The program also included heavy drug use, so the film ends on a high note that's a little ambiguous. Definitely rent this film if you enjoy any of these actors, find inspiration in the music of Boston, or especially if you want to believe in Jedi warriors.

3) Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian:
I enjoyed the original Night at the Museum, a rare family comedy that isn't corny or saccharine. The sequel offers more of the same, with a few new wrinkles, and ends up being an equally fun ride. Ben Stiller is back as Larry Daley, but he's no longer the night watchman at the Museum of Natural History. Thanks to inventions like a glow-in-the-dark flashlight, he's now a successful entrepreneur, selling his wares on late-night infomercials. He is long absent from visiting his friends, the museum exhibits themselves which come to life at sundown thanks to a mystical Egyptian tablet. So when he does finally pay them a visit, he learns the distressing news that most will be replaced by holographic displays, boxed up, and shipped to be stored beneath the Smithsonian, in a vast underground network of secure archives below Washington, D.C. Robin Williams reprises his role as the Smithsonian's Teddy Roosevelt,, and informs Larry of something that even the other historical figures and animals don't know: the tablet will be staying in New York. Without it, they've seen their last sunset. But when the capuchin monkey sneaks the tablet to D.C., it creates real trouble when it gives life to the other figures stored there. Larry must go to rescue his friends, and manages to sneak into one of the most secure storage facilities in the world, directly beneath our nation's capital. If you're considering raising the subject of suspension of disbelief at this point, you're probably reading about the wrong movie. The premise itself requires that you just go with it, and the fun is seeing various actors in costumes from different time periods, especially when more contemporary ones make it into the mix this time. We even get to see what the tablet does to paintings, and that opens the door to an even more surreal journey. Amy Adams is plucky and adorable as ever as Amelia Earhart, love interest and sidekick to Larry this time around. Hank Azaria shines as the evil pharaoh determined to unleash an army of hellish minions using the tablet, and overacts to the best of his ability. There's a great sequence in which he absolutely spits the phrase “I have come BACK to LIFE!” in increasingly absurd and overdramatic deliveries, while Stiller plays it straight, having seen all this before. Azaria also lends his voice talents to more than one of the statuesque secondary characters, most notably The Lincoln Memorial. The film managed a delicate balance between new characters and old friends, and everyone had their moment to shine. In the end, this was a fun, fun movie, no more perhaps, but certainly no less.

More reviews to follow next week after I've spun a few more discs!



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