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Movie Poster for Zack Snyder's "Watchmen"

Movie Poster for Zack Snyder's "Watchmen"

Your humble host admits it : I’m a geek. A die-hard comic book, sci-fi nerd. Always have been. Always will be. But I flatter myself that I’m a geek with taste. While my friend and loved ones may debate that, I steadfastly believe it to be true. As such, while I love comics, I pride myself on the fact that I only like good comics, and only like good movies based on comics. And the reason I like good comics is down to one guy : Alan Moore. Before Alan Moore’s “Swamp Thing” blew my mind around age 12, I read garbage like “Spider-Man” and “Fantastic Four.” After “Swamp Thing” and, especially, “Watchmen,” I was more interested in Crumb, Clowes, Los Bros. Hernandez, Kurtzman, Krigstein, Deitch, Miller (back when he was good) and Wolverton than I was costumed heroes in tights. That’s because Moore and artist Dave Gibbons made the ultimate statement about the entire superhero genre with “Watchmen, ” and if there are any profound questions left to be asked about costumed adventurers, they’re just reiterations of questions already asked—and answered—by this absolutely seminal work. Nothing truly new is left to be touched on. The superhero archetype has been mined for all it’s worth. “Watchmen” was at the time, and remains to this day, the final word on the subject. Anything and everything since is an echo, an aftershock. “Watchmen” is the earthquake, and it’s a 10 on the Richter scale.

So yeah. The prevailing wisdom is that “Watchmen” is the “holy grail” of superhero “graphic novels” (God, how I hate that term), and for once the prevailing wisdom is absolutely correct. With that in mind, please understand that I can’t be impartial about this film because I love the book so much. I’ve dreamed about seeing this story adapted to the silver screen since I was an early teen. And only now that it’s come and gone, and I’ve seen it four times, do I actually feel like I’ve absorbed what this means to me sufficiently enough to be able to sit down and actually review it. Sometimes I still have to literally pinch myself to make sure that yes, it’s all real and I’m still here, living in a world where there has been a “Watchmen” movie.

The twists and turns this project went through over the years have already been documented to death elsewhere, suffice to say that Terry Gilliam couldn’t do it, Paul Greengrass couldn’t do it, at least two studios couldn’t do it, and no less an authority than Moore himself declared that it was probably unfilmable. I thought so, too. I’ll take the man’s word for anything.

Enter Zack Synder. The least promising name attached to this project over the years is the guy who got it done. The guy who made an absolute hashed-up mockery of George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead.” The guy who gave us “300,” the least-inspired adaptation of a comic ever committed to celluloid—and considering how dire most comic adaptations have been, that’s saying something. And now he toughest comic ever to adapt to the screen was in the hands of a guy who had produced nothing but drivel? Needless to say, I was underwhelmed at the prospect, but when he did what Gilliam and Greengrass couldn’t and actually finished the thing, I knew I’d see it anyway. On opening day. It’s not like I even had a choice. This was a seminal moment in my life, pathetic as that sounds (okay, and is).

I went that first night with my best friend, a fellow “Watchmen” geek and we sat there in silent awe for 2 hours and 45 minutes, just taking in the spectacle. Here it was, finally. In and of itself, that was enough. We were seeing “Watchmen” on the big screen and we weren’t dreaming.

Still photo of the Minutemen, the original 1940s superhero group in "Watchmen"

Still photo of the Minutemen, the original 1940s superhero group in "Watchmen"

Confession time : the first time around I was too awestruck at the very idea of seeing a “Watchmen” movie at long last to even form a concrete opinion about what I’d just witnessed. There were some vague impressions floating in my mind, though, not all of them terribly positive : it was perhaps too literal. Snyder fell back too often on the easy way out he took with “300” of just using the panels from the comic as storyboards and committing the pre-existing images to film. The performances were uneven. The whole thing felt like a condensed “Cliff’s Notes” version of the book on film. It felt too dense and impenetrable, I imagined, for someone who hadn’t read it to possibly enjoy it.

And you know what? Three subsequent viewings later, I still think all those criticisms are valid. It is almost painfully  literal. There are tons of images lifted directly from page to screen. The performances are an incredibly   mixed bag, with Jackie Earle Haley as the psychopathic Rorschach and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the sadistic anti-hero The Comedian hitting the ball out of the park, Billy Crudup delivering the goods when the god-like Dr. Manhattan is delivering his lines in a detached and dispassionate monotone but struggling when his living blue deity has to show any sort of emotion, Patrick Wilson delivering an absolutely average performance as Night Owl (which may be the point since his “everyman” character is supposed to be the very definition of bland mid-life failure), and both the original (Carla Gugino) and new (Malin Akerman)  Silk Spectres, the only female characters of any significance in the film, giving absolutely stilted and wooden performances that do nothing to explore the richness of the material available to them that, at least on paper, explores the strained relationship between a washed-up ex-superhero mother who never got over leaving the limelight and forced her daughter into the same line of work to live vicariously through her even though she clearly wanted nothing to do with such a lifestyle, and Matthew Goode completely missing the boa tin his turn as Ozymandias, the world’s smartest man and wealthiest business tycoon who comes off as completely listless and uninterested in everything, even his “master plan” that the entire film hinges on . And yes,  I do think it’s probably well-nigh impossible for someone who doesn’t speak the language of the book to really understand, much less enjoy, the film.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian

Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian

And we can add more gripes to the list while we’re at it. Snyder’s selection of musical cues ranges from the inspired (“The Times They Are A-Changin'” during the film’s marvelous opening credits montage, one of Synder’s few truly original sequences and the best couple of  minutes in the film as we see the entire history of superheroes in the “Watchmen” universe  unfold in flashback from) to the overly-obvious (“The Sounds Of Silence” during The Comedian’s funeral sequence) to the what-the-fuck-was-he-thinking? (Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” during the poorly-staged and-shot softcore porn sequence that passes for a “love scene” between Night Owl and Silk Spectre).  The pacing that works so wonderfully in the comic as we go from flashbacks of past sequences of significance in all the characters’  lives to the action in their world-on-the-brink-of-nuclear-annihilation alternative 1985 is disjointed and jarring on the screen. The scenes of still-President (he’s in his fifth term after Dr. Manhattan wins the Viet Nam war for him) Richard Nixon and his cabinet, including Henry Kissinger, are both unnecessary and not terribly well-executed.

But the movie soars in points, too. The previously-mentioned credit sequence montage is a true thing of beauty, and between this and the other completely original piece of —ahem! —auteurship on Snyder’s part, the drastically-changed (and quite effective) ending, it’s obvious that he should have taken more creative initiative to really make this thing his own rather than try so hard to stay almost overly-true to the source material (another term I hate, but just used anyway). Visually, it’s a feast of riches. The bleak color palette Snyder and cinematographer Larry Fong use is absolutely perfect in conveying a society on the brink of apocalypse. The CGI effects, which I normally despise just on principle alone, are amazing, especially the sequences that take place on Mars in Dr. Manhattan’s constructed “crystal ship.”  The action sequences, particularly the fight scenes,  are incredibly well-staged and timed, with dramatic ultraviolence punctuated by slow-mo shots and freeze-frames seamlessly and with genuine panache. The costumes are inspired and absolutely believable both functionally and stylistically (Rorschach’s “floating ink-blot” mask, in particular, is just plain awesome). And while there are parts any lover the book will wish were in there but aren’t, everything that needs to be in there is. This is “Watchmen,” for the most part, as opposed to somebody’s take on “Watchmen,” and Snyder quite clearly shows with every frame that he knows this book, he gets it, he understand what makes it tick and why it’s so revered by so many. He understands it all too well, in fact, to the point where he blinks when given the opportunity to truly make this project his own and instead chooses to remain absolutely faithful to Moore and Gibbons’ story. So if there are things about “Watchmen” that don’t work on film, well—that’s because it was made to be a comic story, and in his quest to translate it as near-to-verbatim (visually speaking, as self-contradictory as that, I’m sure, sounds) as possible, Snyder has missed the opportunity to well and truly make a “Watchmen” movie and has made, instead, more a moving comic book (not to be confused with the “Watchmen Complete Motion Comic” DVD release, which is pretty damn cool but another subject for another time).

Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach

Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach

After three viewings on the theater, though, I must say that each time I liked it better than the last. Those parts that grated seemed smaller and of less significance. Those parts that stood out began to soar. My qualms never fully went away, but each time I was able to appreciate just what Synder was able to achieve here all the more. And flaws and all, this is still a remarkable work, and certainly one of the most visually arresting and accomplished films you’ll ever see. Sure, I wish Snyder had chosen—or been able, as such the case may be—to really bring this rich and complex work to full life in a new medium rather than just settle for translating it. But a partly-realized “Watchmen” is still so far superior to a fully-realized any-other-superhero story that I don’t want to quibble too much. Snyder gets it right on the surface, and hits and misses when he tries to probe beneath it. The hits outweigh the misses, though,  and while it’s maybe not exactly the “Watchmen” movie I would have wanted, it’s plenty close enough, and feels more and more “right” every time I see it.

Malin Akerman as Silk Spectre II

Malin Akerman as Silk Spectre II

In the months since “Watchmen” hit theaters to middling box office numbers (when a movie that takes in around $110 million domestically is said to have “underperformed,” that tells you it must have been pretty damn expensive) fan circles have been abuzz about just what would be included in the “director’s cut”  DVD/ Blu-Ray release. Well, I’m pleased to say I know.

When word got out that there was going to be an extremely limited theatrical release of Snyder’s director’s cut in just four cities and that Minneapolis was going to be one of them, I was pinching myself all over again. This just seemed too damn good to be true. But true it was. And despite an unfortunate change of venue from the downtown theater just a few blocks from my office to a lifeless, warehouse-style multiplex in the far-flung,  most distant and, frankly, depressing reaches of the south suburbs due to unspecified “scheduling conflicts,” I was still all over this like flies on—well, you get the idea.  So, what do we “Watchmen” geeks get in the director’s cut that wasn’t already there in the two hours and 45 minutes of the original? I’m glad you asked (or I asked for you, if you want to be technical).

Patrick Wilson as Night Owl

Patrick Wilson as Night Owl

First off, it’s longer. Not by a tremendous amount, but the 24 extra minutes make a big difference. Mostly it’s just an extra minute (or less) at the end of a scene, but it flows much more smoothly. The pace of the story feels more natural and less “choppy.” The scene-to-scene transitions flow more seamlessly and naturally. It nearly negates my criticism of how “disjointed” the original theatrical cut feels. There are some completely new scenes, too, but not too many. We get the younger Silk Spectre chaining her government handlers and going “on the run.” We get the shocking and brutal murder of Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl, in a tragic case of mistaken identity, and we get to see the inconsolable rage of his successor when he hears the news a few minutes later, followed by an explosive frenzy of brutality on his part (a shame this was ever cut because it’s Patrick Wilson’s finest minute or two of screen time).  We get a brief exchange between a newspaper vendor and a comic-book reading kid that formed a popular running subplot in the comic but was completely excised from the original film version (as well as a way-too-quick glimpse at the comic the kid is reading, “Tales Of The Black Freighter,” the full animated version of which has been released as a stand-alone DVD and will be woven into the main body of the film in the “Ultimate Edition” DVD/Blu-Ray due for December release).

Matthew Goode as Ozymandias

Matthew Goode as Ozymandias

In short, we get more. And in this case, at least, more makes it better. Sure, there’s still some stuff hard-core fans like myself will wish was in there that’s not there–yet. But rumor has it that Snyder shot something like six hours or so worth of material. With the director’s cut hopefully doing well when it hits the store shelves on Tuesday, and the “Ultimate Edition” hopefully being a popular Christmas-time purchase, maybe it’s not too much to hope that a “super-ultimate edition” will be in the offing someday. The theatrical cut runs two hours and 45 minutes. The director’s cut runs about three hours and eight minutes. The “ultimate edition,” rumor has it, is slated to run around three hours and 31 minutes. Much as I despise the multiple-purchases-of-the-same-movie scam the studios run known as “double-dipping,” in this case I’m more than prepared to do it if the success of these multiple releases means we might—just might—get four, or even six, hours of “Watchmen” somewhere down the line.

Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan

Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan

So is the “Watchmen” director’s cut perfect? No. Is it an improvement? Most definitely. The previously-cut material not only fleshes the film out, it breathes more life into it, creating a more fully-realized, and truly cinematic, adaptation. It feels more like an honest-to-goodness film and negates, or at least greatly lessens, some of my earlier criticism of the original cut’s  “comic-book-that-happens-to-be-moving” nature. It provides a more satisfying viewing experience while still leaving you hungry for more.  And it’ll be out on DVD and Blu-Ray on Tuesday. I’ll be first in line, with my wallet open. Because I’m a sucker for all things “Watchmen,” and it hasn’t disappointed me yet — even if the film took some warming up to at first.

I still can’t imagine what a newcomer to this story would think of Snyder’s film. I’d really love to know — I’d even be willing to have my memory erased for a day to see it with a fresh set of eyes for the first time (as long as I got it back the next day). But I can’t change what I am, and what I am is a guy who has loved “Watchmen” since he was 14 years old.  For someone like me, this movie is almost everything I could ever have hoped for. It may not have seemed that way at first, but the more I see it, the more certain of it I become. This magnificent director’s cut solidifies that view all the more.

"Hi! Thanks Fer Comin By My Good Friend Trash Film Gooroo's Blog!"

"Hi! Thanks Fer Comin By My Good Friend Trash Film Gooroo's Blog!"

Editor’s Note : While we’re certainly pleased to have such a distinguished guest as our first celebrity columnist here at TFG, we cannot be held responsible for any unorthodox spelling, punctuation, or syntax on Governor Palin’s part. As she has proven since her arrival on the national stage, the governor has a very—-unique grammatical style, and she agreed to appear in our humble little corner of the internets (whoops, that was the other intellectually challenged Republican’s phrase) only under the condition that we agree to let her communicate directly with you, the American public, without any editing or “mainstream media filtering,” as she put it, on our part. Here, then, is the governor of Alaska —

Howdy friends, it sure is good ta be able to sit down and have a little chat with all a you good people even without the filter of the main stream media gettin in the way of me communicating my message directly with you, the people of our great country that I love so much and thank the troops for all their hard work and sacrifice for our freedom for.

Now, when my good friend Trash Film Gooroo first asked me ta maybe think about writin a column for his blog, I admit I was kinda nervous. Sure, I’ve spoken in front of thousands, and delivered speeches, and even kicked some butt in that VP’s debate last year that I don’t care what anybody in the main stream media says, you and I know I won. Big. But a movie review? That was new ta me. So I gues what I’m tryin to say here is, this may not be the kinda review you would expect to read or I may not talk as directly about one little topic as people might be thinkin, but I’m just gonna talk about this my own way, directly to the suck— err, voters, without the filter of the liberal main stream media.

So as ya all know, last Friday was a busy day for me and Todd and the kids, what with that little announcement that everybody’s makin such a big fuss about, but by Saturday things had calmed down a little bit, and it was the 4th of July and I just wanna thank our troops for all their hard work and sacrifice for God and country and our freedom. So while other people were out seein fireworks or watchin parades, I thought a myself—what would a maverick do on the 4th of July holiday? No politics as usual, somethin really different, because I’m just not wired that way to do the politics as usual stuff. I’m wired different. Like a maverick.

So we thought, hey, why not go ta the movies? We could take the whole family . Except Bristol, who was out speakin at a conference on teen abstinence. I don’t know what else was goin on at that conference, but they had a great lineup, including Keith Richards lecturing on the benefits of drug-free living, John Goodman talking about the importance of a healthy diet, and Pete Rose talking to our youth about the dangers of gambling. I think I heard something about maybe even Mike Tyson showin up to talk a little bit on how to treat women with respect. So it sounds like quite a lineup of experts on their various topics. I think it was called the annual conference of HA, which stands for Hypocrit—-err, I ferget the name.  But hey. The rest of us had the day off, though, so I thought, hey, what would a maver—sorry, I’m repeatin myself, we decided ta go ta the movies.

Now, in our household, we try ta decide things as a family, and when I said “hey, should I work hard to fight for all our children’s future from outside government after we go see a movie?,” the answers were four “yes”s and one “hell yeah!” And the “hell yeah!” sealed it.

So, what kinda movies do we like? Okay, yeah, sometimes I like a romance or a “chick flick,” and of course the kids love comedy, but Todd, the “first dude,” is an action guy, and ya know, I admit it, I love action too, and so when he suggested we see the new “Transformers” movie, I just couldn’t resist. All that tranformin and changin reminded me of how I fight every day to tranform and change our state and our country that I love so much. I knew I wouldn’t be doin my duty as a maverick if I didn’t see “Transformers,” since I’m in the business of transformin this county for all our children’s future.

"Transformers : Revenge Of The Fallen" Movie Poster

"Transformers : Revenge Of The Fallen" Movie Poster

Anyhoo — we took the whole family except Bristol, even my eldest grands—-err,youngest son, Trig, who’s a special needs child, not that I’d ever mention that just to score cheap political points by exploitin my family situation. That would be so politics as usual. And I’m just not wired that way. I’m a fighter and politics as usual just wouldn’t be what a good point guard does. A good point guard knows when ta pass the ball to secure her team a victory, like I just did the day before when I did what was best for my state and the country I love so much and celebrate our freedom this July 4th and I just want to thank God for our troops one more time, they all sacrifice so much for our freedom. They’re our real heroes.

So anyway, Trig is a special needs child, and the reason I mention that is not because I want ta sound grand and special or anything like that or use him like some political prop. The world needs more Trigs, not fewer. And Trig needs ta see more movies, not fewer.  So we took him ta see “Transformers” with us, not fewer.

So my family’s been through a lot, what with the liberal main stream media constantly investigatin these spurious ethics violations and unfounded allegations and just plain crazy rumors flyin around, so I figured we deserved ta go all out — large tubs a popcorn, hot dogs, Twizzlers, and large sodas for all of us. The total bill for our afternoon at the movies was $84.50 charged to the Alaska taxpa—-err, my Visa card.  And if anyone says I didn’t pay for this myself they’ll be hearin from my lawyer.

So anyway, we sat down and the movie was a lotta fun, there was good old Optimus Prime and those two fun-lovin, abstinence-practicin teenagers and it was just so nice ta see a movie as a family because family is the most important gift God gives us in this life and I just thank God every day for my family and of course for this great country and all our troops who sacrifice so much ta keep us safe and free.

Now, I don’t wanna give away too darn much about the plot, that’s no fun! You wanna see all the suprises fer yerself, don’cha? And not have some crazy no-fun reviewer give it all away. But I gotta say two things that bothered me —

1. The movie seemed ta imply that the Transformers had been on Earth many thousands a years ago. Now, I get it. They need a neat plot twist ta make things interesting. But anyone who’s read the Bible knows the Earth is only about 6,000 years old. And man and dinosaurs were here at the same time. So this movies seems ta contradict the Bible by sayin the Earth is older than it really is. So we kinda had a little conflict there.

2. A lotta people are makin a big stink about these sapposedly black “hip-hop” kinda Trasformers with gold teeth who can’t read. All I gotta say is, lighten up, people. I got in touch with the black voters who love America who voted for me and John McCain last year, just a little kinda informal chit-chat, and  ya know what? They both said it was a lotta brew-ha-ha about nothin. We got a little laugh and little chuckle outta it I gotta admit, all this politically correct main stream media bias. It all seems so silly. And anyone who’s read the GOP platform knows that white people are the victims of alla the world’s racism and discrimination, not black people. Even today our President is black but we won’t talk about who he beat because we don’t like ta dwell on the past in my household. It’s all about our future. And our children’s future. And fighting for all our children’s future from outside government.

So anyway. We had fun. How did it all end up in the end? Well, I couldn’t tell ya. I did the maverick thing to do—I left the movie with 30 minutes to go. Sticking around to find out how things end? That would be easy. That’s the quitter’s way out. This way I can fight for the best ending possible from outside of the movie.

Anyway, thanks so much for readin what I had to say and for carin about this country. I’ll just take this opportunity ta say how much I love this country and all our children and love ya all even more from outside government than I did when I was in there and it’s just so great to be a point uard on this winning team fightin for all our children and our troops who I’m so thankful for who sacrifice so much and are our real heroes. Never forget that, no matter what the main stream media tells ya, I’m here every day to fight for God, county, all our children’s future, our troops, and our sacred American way of life.

This is Sarah Palin signin off from Alaska, be sure  ta catch me on my book tour when I come through your town, it sure would be a heck of a thrill ta see ya.

"Star Trek" Movie Poster

"Star Trek" Movie Poster

Suffice to say this will be a quick post in my semi-regular “Hollywood Sidebar” series, since “Star Trek” is a monolithic Hollywood summer blockbuster that doesn’t need any free promotional help from some little blog that seven or eight people read, any my recommendation is hardly going to make any difference as to whether any of that seven or eight of you see this thing or not.

I will, however, say this about this movie—I was not expecting to like it. I’m a sci-fi fan, sure, but have never been much for “Trek.” Fans of the franchise tend to work my nerves. I’m not particularly enamored with J.J. Abrams (I have a sneaky suspicion that “Lost” is one big scam,  I thought “Cloverfield” sucked, and I could frankly care less about “Alias” or “Mission:Impossible 3”). I’m hard-wired to dislike summer juggernaut releases just as a matter of principle. And yet, even with all that going against it—I liked this movie. A lot.

Why? Well, the performances were spot-on, the story was involving without being unnecessarily convoluted, it was accessible to non-“Trek” fans while not insulting the intelligence of long-time aficionados, the effects were good, the pacing was swift without feeling rushed, and it had a nice balance of nostalgia and newness. In short, it was everything you’re looking for in a blockbuster, and more than you’ve come to expect.

I would imagine the massive continuity changes will piss off some overly-obsessive fans, but let me just say, without giving anything away, that the plot device by which this film sets itself up as both a relaunch and a sequel was, in my view, pretty ingenious.  You needn’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of all things “Trek” to understand how it works, and to be impressed with it. One more feather in this film’s cap.

I saw this with my dad, who’s been a big fan of the show since it first aired in the 60s(in fact, I took him to see it for his birthday). He enjoyed it quite a bit and left the theater with a smile on his face — that probably says more for it than any amount of praise and raving on my part could.

If you only see one summer blockbuster this year—a course of action I would fully support—make it this one. You won’t be disappointed.