Wild Mood Swings

Wild Mood Swings (photo)

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Is the family-film crowd that flocked to “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” ready for the deep melancholy of Spike Jonze’s “Where the Wild Things Are”? At a recent preview screening in Seattle, the audience dutifully sported the studio’s gold paper crowns and acted giddy with anticipation as the film’s co-writer Dave Eggers invited viewers to howl like wild things whenever the mood struck. Unless this critic’s ears failed him, no one howled during the film — a compliment of sorts to its discomfiting subversion of the kiddie-flick holla-back formula. In Jonze’s admirably realist adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s book, the howl is no joyful whoop, but a plaintive recognition of loss, of pain, of the impermanence of things wild and ordinary — what most of us go to movies, particularly family movies, to avoid, probably at our peril.

As in Sendak’s book, the film’s lonely young Max flees to the seemingly far-off world of his imagination and eventually finds a reason to return. If anything, Jonze, expanding upon a slender source, enhances the book’s intimations of childhood anger and remorse. (Speaking as the father of a boy roughly Max’s age, I haven’t seen a film that’s truer to preteen male tantrum logic in many moons, maybe ever.)

Introduced first terrorizing the family dog and then his mom (Catherine Keener), Max (Max Records), grown slightly too large for his wolf suit, is the picture of boyhood aggression — although the kid’s not yet old enough to stifle his tears. Jonze’s courageous bid to get inside of Max’s fourth-grade head and stay there pays sharp dividends, not least when the boy’s beloved igloo gets crushed by the big kids of his neighborhood, the film’s wintry images appearing to melt away themselves.

As in real life, so it is in the fantasy realm. Briskly transported by private sailboat to the island of his dreams (no blossoming bedroom here), Max meets a half-dozen kindred spirits — gigantic, goofy, puppet-like creatures who favor petty one-upmanship, immature verbal sparring (yes, they talk) and the wanton destruction of nature and property. Max crowns himself “King of all Wild Things” and the beasts go along, in part because this pint-sized master claims to have a “sadness shield” and the power to “explode loneliness.” (Wild things are tempted to escape, too.) In the meantime, the king calls for a wild rumpus — which in Jonze’s (or Max’s?) imagination amounts to an everyday set of tree-scraping, hog-piling shenanigans, nothing the average American kid hasn’t done repeatedly in or out of costume.

This is Jonze’s great gift to kids of all ages — a movie that respects playtime, with all its mercurial swings, as only a slight exaggeration of life in the grown-up world. For Max, who returns home with a smidgen of the strength to face his fears, the excursion isn’t an evasion — and neither, provocatively, is the film an escape for its audience.

10142009_WheretheWildThingsAre2.jpgTo a large extent, reality reigns. Up close, the floppy-limbed wild things look like household pets with big, wet eyes and finely detailed fur. The forest and desert landscapes through which Max and the wild things romp are scarcely more spectacular to the kid than that awesome snow fort back home. That the fiercest of the wild things is voiced by Tony Soprano himself — James Gandolfini — might sound like a joke in bad taste, but it’s perfect for fearful Max’s surrogate dad. The scene where Max silently, sadly watches Gandolfini’s terrible-toothed Carol bickering with Lauren Ambrose’s KW is heartbreaking for the unmistakable sense it gives that Max has seen this kind of familial warfare before, and without a happy ending.

An intimate epic, Jonze’s film is nearly unique among modern kid fare for its total lack of condescension to the core audience. Given the chance to ask a pair of wise owls a question in seven words or less, Max gets to the wild heart of things in six: “How do I make everyone okay?” In a sense, the kid’s adventure — sans sadness shield — is a baby step toward understanding that making others “okay” is never gonna happen, not even in a dream. And that’s… okay. Howl if you want to.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.