Movie Review: WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, 2009, Directed by Spike Jonze

Movie Reviews

Directed by Spike Jonze
Starring: Max Records, Catherine O’Hara, Forest Whitaker, Catherine Keener, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo, Paul Dano, Chris Cooper, Lauren Ambrose
Review by Matthew Toffolo


Young, mischievous Max is sent to bed without his supper, but when his bedroom turns in to a magical jungle landscape filled with strange creatures, he embarks on a wild imaginary adventure.

I walked into this film knowing nothing. All I knew was Spike Jonze directed it and they were using the Arcade Fire song to promote it in the trailer. I also heard right before that this was based on a children’s book, but I never read it as a kid or adult.

So I saw this film with virgin eyes. And what I saw I was impressed with. This is a movie almost all of us can relate with because we’ve all been that kid who would rather live inside of our imagination than real life. And we’ve also been that adult too.

Where The Wild Things Are is a movie for everyone because this is a film about FEAR. We all have it and we all react differently to it. Our hero Max (played by 11 year old Max Records) is a young boy who is scared about his new surroundings. He’s alone and doesn’t really like it so he runs away inside of his own world.

What makes him alone is that his teacher is not aware that what he says carries a lot of weight with the children. And saying that the sun is dying might not be the best thing to say to a group of 10 year olds. His father is also gone and his mother is moving on with another man and Max doesn’t like it. And his sister is a teenager and is now living in that teenage girl world that most of them do.

So Max goes off into his own world. And when I was 10 years old I did the same thing. My own parents had their own issues and I had two older teenage sisters who were going through that stage. So in my basement I created my own world and I was the only member because it was just my imagination. And I’m sure there are millions of kids doing the same thing now.

Where The Wild Things Are gives us characters in the wilderness who are purely Max’s creation. And all of these characters are dealing with their own inner fears and loneliness. It’s like the 7 animals are all versions of his own personality. And every character just wants to find peace in their world.

But life isn’t always about peace and fun. The characters decide to create a fort where all their dreams can come true, they can always be together forever and their is a shield that doesn’t let in any fears. The fort seems to be working at first but then conflict occurs because everyone has a different idea of what happiness is.

And that’s the point of Where The Wilds Things Are. We all want to be happy and not alone all the time but sometimes a little conflict is needed in order for perspective to occur. And as we grow from kids to adults our version of happiness changes year to year. We can’t just live in a fort all the time even when you’re 10 years old. And for Max he needs to learn when it’s time to leave that fort and come back home to reality.

The most interesting character from Max’s imagination is Carol (voiced by James Gandolfini). He just wants things to remain the same all the time and when it doesn’t he doesn’t know how to handle it. His friend KW has found new friends and Carol is threatened by that because they are not what he’s familiar with. Just like how Max’s mother has a new boyfriend. Carol reacts in anger by damaging things he loves. Just like Max damages his sister’s Valentine’s present when she decides to hang around with her friends instead of him.

This is a highly fascinating movie that really deserves a second viewing because there is more than meets the eye. Max learns from his imaginary world just like an adult would by going to a therapist or writing a journal. And it’s all about how we deal with our FEARS. Something that isn’t taught for some reason in school.

Where The Wild Things Are crosses generations. A film a 5 year old can get something out of and also a 90 year old. And they said only Pixar is capable of that.

Movie Review: ADAPTATION, 2002, Directed by Spike Jonze

Movie Reviews

Directed by Spike Jonze
Starring: Nicholas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, Brian Cox, Tilda Swinton, Maggie Gyllenhall
Review by Russell Wray


Charlie Kaufman writes the way he lives… With Great Difficulty. His Twin Brother Donald Lives the way he writes… with foolish abandon. Susan writes about life… But can’t live it. John’s life is a book… Waiting to be adapted. One story… Four Lives… A million ways it can end.


“Nothing happens in life. Life is boring.” writer Charlie Kaufman (Nicholas Cage) declares to screen writing wiz Robert Mckee (played by Brian Cox) whilst at one of his writing seminars. To this Robert Mckee fiercely replies “Nothing happens in life? Are you mad? People find love. People lose it. Everyday someone makes a conscious decision to destroy someone else”. With these two characters there is a strong summary of all of Charlie Kaufman’s work which is finding the interesting and extraordinary in everyday life. Adaptation is a great example of this because Kaufman tries to answer this question through his characters as oppose to his usual device of creating surreal scenarios to attempt to answer this question.

Writer Charlie Kaufman is given the task of adapting a book about orchids into a movie. He struggles to find a story in the book. He has to make one up. He cleverly decides to make the movie about himself and his struggle to write the movie. With the help of his twin brother Donald (also played by Nicholas Cage) he follows the writer and the subject of the book to find out who these people really are. In the same way that Kaufman has become fascinated with his subjects, the writer of the book, Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep) has become obsessed with her subject John Laroche (Chris Cox). Susan lives a seemingly ordinary suburban life and seeks to escape this with flower thief Laroche. Laroche is no stranger to tragedy and leads a different life to Susan. He poaches orchids in Florida, runs an internet porn site, and is missing his front teeth.”

The most interesting area of this film is Kaufman’s struggle to write the movie. Kaufman uses the film as a tool to discuss writing conventions. Kaufman himself declares that he does not want to make a fantastical film about car chases, guns or characters faced by obstacles that they must overcome. He simply wants to make a film about flowers. As the film shows this is no easy task. The contrast between the neurotic Charlie Kaufman with twin brother Donald Kaufman works brilliantly. Donald Kaufman has followed his brother’s footsteps and begins to write a screenplay of his own. Donald attends regular screenwriting workshops and generally writes with conventions and stereotypes. Kaufman shows his cleverness here by showing the audience these conventions to enhance his more complex style of writing.

In Kaufman’s quest to find adventure in naturalism he still creates a line in the film where fact and fiction meet. The problem is trying to find where that line is. Even to the extent of his characters it is unclear how accurate they are. In this auto-biographical piece it is not clear what Kaufman has contrived to drive plot and what he has kept close to real life. Charlie Kaufman shows bravery in creating himself as a timid weak person and yet does not hint to the audience that his character is merely a representation and not his real persona. The heart pumping close of the film leaves the audience wondering about these small details. This is a different approach for Kaufman as the audience usually leaves the film wondering what the hell they just saw. This once again sticks to Kaufman’s new deconstructive approach to writing and it clear that Kaufman is attempting to master a much more subtle style of writing.

Spike Jonze’s direction doesn’t stand out but that is a good thing. It is obvious that the director has a great respect and love for Kaufman’s writing since they worked together on Being John Malkovich. Jonzes does not try anything too absurd. He works very much as a silent director and lets the characters live out the story. This is not to say that Jonze does not construct some brilliant pieces. When Laroche’s past story is revealed, Jonze’s works very simply but effectively to create a very cold but extremely naturalistic scene which will definitely shock any audience member.

Nicholas Cage puts in one of his best performances in recent memory. No offence meant to Mr. Cage but he does portray paranoia and insecurity brilliantly. He never goes over the top with his performance. He also shines as the brother Donald who is confident yet naïve. The chance to play two roles which show an actor’s range so strongly must have been a challenge for Cage but he fully leaps in and created one of his best pieces of work here. Chris Cooper won an Academy Award in 2003 for his performance in this film and rightly so. Laroche is an interesting character from a less privileged world to the other characters. Cooper plays the tragedy and emotions of the character on such a subtle level that the audience believe this character to be flesh and blood. Streep is excellent as always in portraying the naturalistic tone that Jonze creates. Some of the smaller roles in this film really stand out, especially Brian Cox as screenwriter Robert Mckee whose bite is not as bad as his bark but you would still not like to see his bite.

Adaptation is definitely not a film to be missed. It is another landmark in screenwriting from Charlie Kaufman. Even if it does not include the surreal and absurd moments that audiences loved in Being John Malkovich it works as a much more subtle and sensitive piece of cinema which drags all of the excitement out of ordinary life as best as it can.

Film Review: CARS 3 (USA 2017)

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cars 3Lightning McQueen sets out to prove to a new generation of racers that he’s still the best race car in the world.

Director: Brian Fee

Stars: Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Chris Cooper, Nathan Fillion, Armie Hammer

Review by Gilbert Seah

CARS 3 is the debut animated feature by Brian Fee, the storyboard artist of the other two CARS films and a few other Disney features. As this is a film that Fee has something to prove, the animation is as expected top-notch, as in all the Disney/Pixar films.

The trailer of CARS 3 which shows racing car Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) wiping out on a banked racetrack with a fade to black and voiceover promising that things will be different, many will be expecting a blacker sequel and one that would prove more interesting than the other two trivial CARS films. Not so. The terrible crash is just the catalyst for McQueen to want to race again to prove himself. So, there is the usual predictable stuff such as: “You have it in you.” You can prove yourself.” etc. etc. So, all hopes for a blacker CARS film are torn to bits.

The film features a next generation of race cars that includes Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer). The cars in the film begin questioning if the famous Lightning McQueen will throw in the towel after he endured a terrible crash. McQueen’s sponsor, Rust-eze, is bought by Sterling (Nathan Fillion), a car who thinks McQueen cannot maintain his image by racing. Lightning asks for a chance to race in the Florida 500 and begins to train with race technician Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), who’s always had her own racing dreams. That pretty sums up a plot that not many can get excited with.

The same problem of animation of cars till exists in all the CARS franchise. Cars are inanimate objects with no limbs nor faces. So it is more difficult to animate cars – to give them expressions and make them distinguishable one from another. A tactic is of course, as used by the animators, is to make the colours bright and different or have different car types on display such as tow trucks.

It is also difficult to get excited over one cartoon car wining a race against another cartoon car. Or for one cartoon car to fall in love with another or feel anything towards a jealous car.

CARS undoubtedly has good animation. The audience can feel the thunder of the race as the audience is given a drivers-look of a race. But the film lacks the humour (goofy or otherwise) and inventiveness that help films like the recent CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS and BOSS BABY become memorable.
THE CARS films have not made the Studios that much money compared to the other animated features. But more than a fair income comes from the share of the toy franchise. So, do not expect much from CARS 3. For it is he same old stuff. Unless one is interested in the animation process, CARS 3 is nothing more than one dull drag of a race.

But wait! There is a short animated feature called LOU preceding CARS. It involves a schoolyard bully who learns that being nice conquers all. The largely silent LOU is smart, well animated, inventive and funny. It subtly teaches kids that bullying is just not cool. Rating for LOU: ****



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Film Review: LIVE BY NIGHT (USA 2016)

live_by_night_movie_poster.jpgDirected by Ben Affleck

Starring: Ben Affleck, Elle Fanning, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Messina, Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana, Chris Cooper

Review by Gilbert Seah

Ben Afflecks’s fourth film (after ARGO, THE TOWN and GONE BABY GONE) is based on the 2012 novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane which like BURN,BABY, BURN is a novel that contains a lot of plot. But LIVE BY NIGHT contains too much plot dealing with as many issues as there are plot turns. Unfortunately, Affleck’s script is unable to cope and the film fails despite worthy efforts.

Set in the 1920s and 1930s, the story follows Joe Coughlin (Affleck), the prodigal son of a Boston police captain (Brendan Gleeson). Joe is a World War I veteran of Irish decent who is in love with Emma Gould (Sienna Miller), mistress of the notorious gangster Albert White (Robert Glenister), the boss of the Irish Gang of Boston. Joe’s father disapproves of Emma. Joe and Emma decide to move to California escaping the wrath of White, but to their misfortune the head of Albert’s rival Italian Mafia Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone) finds out about their affair and blackmails Joe to kill Albert. The story goes on, leading Joe to finally work for Maso and rising in the ranks. Success comes with a price with a lot of casualties in the process.

The best thing about LIVE BY NIGHT are its impeccable performances. Gleeson at his growling best, plays Joe’s chief of police, who unfortunately dies 20 minutes into the film. The gap, fortunately is filled by Chris Cooper as Irving Figgis, another chief of police, who is as pious as he is crazy. The other supporting cast members are uniformly good from Matthew Maher (as a creepy Ku Klax Klan member) and Anthony Michael Hall as an overconfident lackey for a crime boss.

Affleck’s script is all over the place and tries to handles too many issues like father/son relationship; romance; crime; good vs. evil; racism and loss of innocence just to name a few. The dialogue also includes a fair amount of ‘f’ words including the ‘mother f” words that are out of place in a film set in the roaring twenties.

The handsome mounted production from the vintage cars (in the robbery car chase) to the wardrobe, music and props make the film a memorable period piece. Affleck dresses himself very sharply, always in pressed white suits and hat.

As the story deals with war between crime families, LIVE BY NIGHT will inevitably be compared to Francis Ford Coppola’s GODFATHER films. Joe keeps his criminal activities from his wife, Gracilea (Zoe Saldana) reminiscent of how Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) hid his crime duties from his wife played by Diane Keaton. This is when one can detect the inferiority of of LIVE BY NIGHT. The power and bite are just not there.
LIVE BY NIGHT is well paced with a good speed in the first third of the film. The varying pace from the highly edited car chase to the slow paced meeting a a tea shop between Joe and Loretta Figgis (Elle Fannng)
The film also contains dialogue with heavy Irish accent (from Gleesona nd Miller) which is occasionally hard to understand.

The film could have done with some script doctoring. Affleck taking the co-producing, writing, directing and lead acting duties has obviously got his plate full in this $65 million production.



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Happy Birthday: Chris Cooper

chriscooper.jpgHappy Birthday actor Chris Cooper

Born: July 9, 1951 in Kansas City, Missouri, USA

Married to: Marianne Leone (1983 – present) (1 child)

Said he was afraid of taking the role in American Beauty (1999); his wife convinced him to take the role of the repressed soldier.

His parents were from Texas. His mother, Mary Ann (Walton), was a homemaker, and his father, Charles Sherwood Cooper, was an internist who served as a doctor in the US Air Force, and a cattleman.

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Max Records
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DEMOLITION, Movie Review

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demolitionDEMOLITION (USA 2015) ***1/2
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee

Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Heather Lind, Chris Cooper

Review by Gilbert Seah

I had a conversation with a friend about houses a month ago. He claims that modern houses have no character unlike those like the old buildings in the French countryside. It is remarkable that in Jean-Marc Vallee’s latest film about life and what matters, the film hits the nail on the head of our conversation when the lead character, Davis says of his ultra-modern expensive home: “I hate this house. It’s just shiny stuff!” (Dvid demolishes it later on in the film.)

DEMOLITION tells the tale of a finance executive, trying to make sense of his life after the passing away of his wife. It totally makes sense as the accident occurs suddenly out of the blue, just as Vallee shocks the audience with the shock tactic of a car ramming into the couple’s, in the midst of conversation followed by a blank screen and news of the wife’s (Heather Lind) death. Davis Mitchell’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) father-in-law and head of the finance firm, Phil (Chris Cooper) tells him that in order to repair something, one has to take it apart and put it all together again to understand how it works. The trouble with Davis is that he can take things part but not put in back together. So, he takes it upon himself to tear down the leaking fridge or plumbing in the office washroom but not able to re-assemble he parts. And so his life is the same – he takes it apart, driving everyone, particularly Phil bonkers, but he cannot piece it all back together.

Vallee has created a very thoughtful film here – made more profound in that he leaves the audience to figure out what his film or hero is all about. He helps with a voiceover, provided by Davis himself as he writes to the vending company venting on one of the machines that is unable to put out an M&M’s peanuts package. The Public Relations of the company (Naomi Watts) is drawn into the story, with her son Chris (Judah Davis) helping him to make sense out of life.

Many other issues like coming-out (Chris’s) and gay bashing are tied into the story.
One conversation piece also brilliantly ties in to the message of what matters most in life. Chris swears constantly to which Davis says, “If you swear so much, the swearing loses its effect and you only look stupid.” Here, Davis has surprisingly hit the nail on the head as to what’s important and it then takes the kid to show him the way.

There are two too commonly used tactics in films that spoil the originality of DEMOLITION One is the shock tactic of the accident out of nowhere and the other is the hero running off into the sunset (as in Truffaut’s 400 BLOWS).

Still DEMOLITION is an interesting film, for sure as I have seen the film a second time (the first at the Toronto International Film Festival) and Vallee’s film still feels fresh in its storytelling and execution.

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