Reviews of "Where the Wild Things Are" and "Law Abiding Citizen," in theaters now.


Where the Wild Things Are
Director: Spike Jonze
With: Max Records, Catherine Keener, Pepita Emmerichs.  Voices of: James Gandolfini, Lauren Ambrose, Paul Dano, Catherine O’Hara, Forest Whitaker, Michael Berry, Jr., Chris Cooper

Lovers of Maurice Sendak’s perfect little book will likely be disappointed at worst, unsatisfied at best.  I love the book, but I had to examine the movie as a separate entity, to judge whether it succeeds as a film.
Not sure I succeeded, because I found the story, by director Jonze and novelist Dave Eggers, no better than an After-School Special about a kid affected by divorce.  The book explains nothing about why Max dons his wolf suit and acts out.  (Chasing the dog with a fork!)  So, all of us can plug in our own reasons for behaving badly, and all of us can sigh with relief when Max is forgiven and finds his supper waiting for him back in his room.  And, when he leaves the island of the Wild Things, in the world that has grown in his room, they beg him not to go.
The movie invents up a mom (Keener) under stress, and an older sister (Emmerichs) whose teen-age friends have replaced Max in her life.  And a boyfriend for the mom.  Don’t ask.
When Max gets to the island of the Wild Things, he becomes not only their king, but their social worker and therapist.  He encounters a monster (Gandolfini) who is just as big a pain as he is, and a mom-like monster (Ambrose) who comforts him, and a sister-like monster (O’Hara) who betrays him.  The Wild Things are like a group therapy session, complete with conventional defiance.  I kept waiting for the one with Tony Soprano’s voice to call a hit on the kid.
And, the story begins to weigh down under its own “moral.”  Sheesh.
The monsters are actors in suits, with computer-animated faces.  They scream “theme park attraction” to me.
Okay, to be fair, this is Spike Jonze and there are beautiful shots and good ideas scattered in.  If you never read the book, I guess it might be entertaining, but nothing you haven’t seen before in story terms.  Go, but be warned.

Law Abiding Citizen
Director: F. Gary Gray
With: Jamie Foxx, Gerard Butler, Colm Meaney, Leslie Bibb

Back in the early 70s, the social glue that held American society was coming undone, and there was a drug-fueled crime wave in our cities.  The cops and the courts were overwhelmed, and movies, often starring Charles Bronson, began to reflect an atavistic vigilante revenge fantasy that was rampant among the “silent majority.”
The villain was “the system” that allowed liberal judges to free murderers and rapists just because of that pesky ol’ Constitution.  This was, and remains, a gross exaggeration encouraged by demagogues.  Bronson solved the problem by getting the biggest gun he could find (Paging Dr. Freud, Dr. Freud...) and blowing away the perps.
Comes now Clyde Shelton (Butler), whose wife and young daughter are brutally raped and killed.  A young DA (Foxx) makes a deal with one killer to get the other, thereby embittering Shelton.  Ten years later, Shelton starts his vengeance with the killers, one at his very execution, and then proceeds to the judge and the prosecutors.  Bodies are falling, and Shelton is caught, ‘fesses up, and lands in the pokey.  Then, he begins to manipulate the system and the DA who made the deal.
Now, I thought this was very clever at first.  Not the simple-minded Neanderthal violence of the Bronson era, but a vigilante for the digital age.  I almost rooted for Shelton.  Then, the explanations began, and the whole thing got sillier and sillier.  The final confrontation was as unsatisfying as the initial revenge was cool and fun.
So, maybe half a pretty-good movie.  Naturally, the film is very violent, so those whose tastes don’t run to vicious killings should avoid this in any case.



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