Saturday, March 21, 2009

My Active Directors List

Some time ago, I commented on Entertainment Weekly's list of the 25 Greatest Active Directors. I think I disagreed with about half of the list, and several readers challenged me to make my own. I've been thinking about this list for a while. It's probably not very interesting. I didn't want to just make an esoteric favorites list, or a list of academic, film buff choices that try and line up with the "common wisdom." (And I realize it sounds like I'm apologizing for the following choices.) So I made a list just based on this first decade of the 21st Century: the directors I've been most excited about, who have thrilled me the most, who have consistently made me want to pull myself away from my big-screen TV and stereo speakers and go experience some good old-fashioned theatergoing.

These are just in alphabetical order, too. I'm not much of a ranker these days.

1. Woody Allen
I really thought he was missing from the EW list. He's a great writer, but I think there's so much focus on his writing (justifiable) that people miss out on what an interesting director he is, too. I hear people saying often that he rides on his cinematographers, and he does work with some great ones, but I don't agree with that criticism entirely.

2. Brad Bird
I tried not to base any entry on a single film, but The Incredibles alone almost justifies it. When The Iron Giant initially got lost in the theater, I was worried that was the end for Bird. It's nice to see he's become a major voice in animation. His talent justifies it.

3. George Clooney
He's directed three films now, and I liked each of them. He seems to be interested in tackling a variety of genres, even as his films all have something to say about the relationship between government and entertainment and how each can affect our understanding of the other. I'm actually excited to see what he does next.

4. Joel & Ethan Coen
I remember when people could not shut up about the Coen Brothers. I nearly always like their films, actually, but I got so damn sick of hearing about how amazing they were. Seems like I went through the entire nineties hearing about it. Now, for some reason, it seems the opinions have shifted. What happened? What film was it that suddenly made the internet noise turn 180 degrees and now I'm always hearing about how much they suck? I know that's a weird question to ask right now, since Burn After Reading has become pretty popular and well-regarded on the internet, but still... what is it? Are they just too accepted by the mainstream to be hip now?

5. Sofia Coppola
Sofia Coppola is making films that are oddly polarizing. I can't believe how often they inspire not indifference or dislike, but intense hatred. I find her movies fascinating. I give her a lot of credit for being brave enough to highlight complex emotions and not manufacturing Hollywood conclusions to the conflicts they cause. Marie Antoinette was my personal Best Film of 2006. Hate her if you will, but I find her to be the most daring and most interesting woman director working.

6. Alfonso Cuaron
I like his work so much that I almost don't want to talk about how much of his visual style is ripped from Terry Gilliam. But, you know, most film is ripped from Terry Gilliam now, so it's hard not to see it everywhere. I like Cuaron's films, though; I think the only one I've seen that I didn't like was Great Expectations, but everyone makes a bad movie sooner or later. At least he got his out of the way and went on to better and more provocative works. Even his Harry Potter movie feels grounded in a sense of trying to live in spite of the world's realities instead of being ground under them.

7. Guillermo del Toro
His films are amazing, but I think what I like about del Toro is just his sheer enthusiasm for film. It comes through in his most serious and dire moments, as if he's aware of every possibility that could occur in the course of telling a story.

8. Terry Gilliam
As long as he's alive, Terry Gilliam is always going to be the best active director. What never ceases to amaze me is how influential his work has really been. It's not surprising that Hollywood won't release The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, but it is pretty shitty considering how desperate they've been over the past decade or more to ape the look of his films. They get the look, but they don't always get the imagination, and it's one of the great crimes of cinema that someone with so singular and imaginative a vision isn't given whatever money he needs to do whatever he wants. (And I saw a lot of people hated Tideland, but I certainly wasn't one of them.)

9. Michel Gondry
You know, I haven't seen any of the films he's made without Charlie Kaufman. I just haven't got around to it. The odd thing is, I'm not really sure I like Charlie Kaufman--I loved Human Nature and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but I haven't liked any of his other films so far (that I've seen, anyway). I don't know. Either way, I love Gondry's visual style and I need to see The Science of Sleep. And Be Kind Rewind.

10. Mary Harron
I think it's a shame she has to do so much television in between eventual film projects. She makes some very interesting films about perception, reality, and personality. I wish people were willing to give her the money to do more than make episodes of Big Love, because she has so much to say about people and society, and I want to hear it.

11. Peter Jackson
Well, as I've said before, he has yet to make a film I haven't liked. In fact, he has yet to make a film I haven't loved. I'm sure there'll be something at some point, but so far he's never disappointed me and always hit the right tone.

12. Ang Lee
In 2011 I'm going to make my personal list of my 100 favorite movies of the 2000s. I kind of expect Brokeback Mountain to be in the top 5 (or perhaps number one). Every once in a while Lee makes a Ride with the Devil, but most of his other films are great. He's so interested in alienation and societal appearances that I'm just drawn to his films.

13. Hayao Miyazaki
Do I really need to justify this one? Get enveloped in nearly any of the man's films.

14. Michael Moore
I'm not surprised that he pisses off so many people, but I don't find him anywhere close to as smug as many people have complained about. Plus, I have to hand it to someone who pushes as many buttons as he does. And, since most of the complaints about him are about his weight or his tone and not actually about what he says, I have to consider that he hits his targets pretty close to home.

15. Mira Nair
Her films aren't always perfect, but when she's really interested in examining themes like culture clash, social expectations, and a dutiful politeness that is almost crippling, she's fascinating. Monsoon Wedding is one of the best films I've seen in recent years, and it's her masterpiece.

16. Nick Park
I put him on the same tier as Miyazaki and Brad Bird as a modern master of animation. The Wallace & Gromit movies are some of the greatest things in existence, and it's all thanks to him.

17. Robert Rodriguez
He's been a favorite of mine for a long time now, and I nearly always love his films (though there are times, Bob, there are times). I love his handmade, sometimes half-assed approach to filmmaking. And I love that he's making movies for himself to enjoy instead of second-guessing his taste. You or I may not always like it, but at least he knows what he wants to do and does it.

18. Zack Snyder
Okay, now that I've seen Watchmen, I'm with EW on Snyder. (Funnily enough, they'd probably rethink this decision, given the critical reception of the film.) I thought it was a masterpiece; and, because sometimes it's my turn to be smug, I think so many people just not getting the tone makes the film's point pretty eloquently. But the simple fact is that 300 and Watchmen are unlike many other films being made, spectacles of a kind that haven't been done in so long that people don't really relate to them anymore. I still think his "visionary genius" has been heavily borrowed from real visionaries like Dave Gibbons and Frank Miller, but he does make those visuals sing.

19. Andrew Stanton
Stanton is one of the few directors--maybe the only one--who approaches his films from a Christian viewpoint and makes it work. He's not beating you over the head with his message; he's simply exploring ideas of connection and autonomy in a way that appeals to the heart. Finding Nemo and WALL-E were, in part, about loneliness and isolation in a world that seems at once so empty, so vast and so full, so teeming with life. It's a balance that I'm not sure any other director could strike so well more than once.

20. Quentin Tarantino
I kind of dismissed him before as a writer who happens to direct his own films. And I will say that he knows how to pick the right cinematographers (although he did his own in Death Proof). But taking a look at some of his films again--and he's a filmmaker I consider completely overrated, yet I've loved every movie he's directed, oddly enough--the visuals are much stronger than I remember. So you know what? I think he's one of the greatest active directors.

Obviously, I'm interested to hear what everyone else thinks. Which directors do you think I missed? Which ones am I giving too much credit to?

Saturday Playlist

1. Leonard Cohen: You Have Loved Enough
2. Amick Byram, Ralph Fiennes & Cast: The Plagues
3. T. Rex: Seagull Woman
4. Heart: Dog & Butterfly
5. T. Rex: Is It Love?
6. J.S. Bach: Cantata No. 140, “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme,” 4th Movement
7. Arthur Brown: Fire
8. Procol Harum: Toujours L’Amour
9. Greg Kihn Band: Jeopardy
10. Tori Amos: God

1. Again, my iTunes starts off with Cohen. I actually haven't listened to much Leonard Cohen in a long time, so it's nice that my shuffling keeps going there.
2. From The Prince of Egypt.
3. Incredibly pretty song from their self-titled album.
4. I love Heart, especially from the 1970s.
5. And my iTunes shuffle goes back to the T. Rex album. Some real feedback on this song; not as pretty as "Seagull Woman."
6. Growing up Lutheran, I remember hearing this in church a lot. At least the Lutherans have pretty music. I notice it shows up a lot on TV when people want to give the appearance of smart and kind of stuffy.
7. I love the idea of fading out with the pretty baroque music and then all of a sudden hearing Arthur Brown scream "I AM THE GOD OF HELLFIRE!" I love this song.
8. I've actually never heard this song before today, but I sure am glad I have. Lovely.
9. Lots of eighties music to choose from because I'm still making my long-awaited (by me, of course) 80s playlists. I dig this song, but wouldn't seek it out, I think.
10. Excellent way to close out.

I Love This T-Shirt Meme

It'll probably get run into the ground, like everything even mildly amusing in geekdom, but for now I totally want these three shirts.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Throwdown 3/20

Random thoughts, questions, and observations for the week.

1. I fell asleep trying to watch this movie a decade or so ago, so you tell me: is three sequels a little excessive, or is it justified in some way?

2. Courtney Cox’s latest post-Friends desperate attempt to show you she’s still sexy is an ABC series called Cougartown. It’s funny how the networks are trying so hard to show you they can do sophisticated, premium cable-style sex, but the shows always turn out like Swingtown or the shitty Coupling remake. At this rate, are we that far away from making MILF Island a reality? (Note to networks: I would totally watch MILF Island.)

3. I read this lame bit about how Miley Cyrus wanted to meet Radiohead backstage at the Grammys and they snubbed her. I didn’t really care so much until Thom Yorke came out and said “When Miley grows up, she’ll learn not to have such a sense of entitlement.” Wait, one professional musician wanting to meet a colleague in the same profession at an awards show is a sense of entitlement? That’s lame enough, but it’s also weird that Thom Yorke is grandstanding for refusing to meet one of his fans just because she’s famous and an easy target. Yeah, joining in the crowd dumping on Miley Cyrus, I can really see why people are still angrily pushing Radiohead at me as The Band What Automatically Makes You Smarter When You Like It. Well, if Miley hasn’t learned not to have such a sense of “entitlement” in the future, she’ll at least have had a good lesson in how to make yourself look hip by snubbing a mainstream artist with better sales. Because that’s edgy.

4. There’s some story going around that the White House is invoking state secrets on an anti-counterfeiting treaty, leading to speculation that they’re talking about sending people to prison now for copyright infringement. (Stories here and here.) Because of the shroud of national secrecy surrounding it, the public, advocates, even music artists are all forbidden from knowing what the treaty says. Does this terrify anyone else? It’s absolutely ridiculous that corporations keep making the technology that makes it possible for “piracy” to happen, openly supporting it, and then suing people for taking advantage of it. They’re getting close to deciding that making a back-up copy (legal) or loading music into your iPod (legal) is copyright infringement. They can’t even decide who owns what anymore. And putting it in the guise of recording artists not getting money doesn’t wash; the record industry has been screwing them over for decades in order to not share the profits. Do you realize that this piracy bullshit has created a sense that laws are something to be ignored? The recording industry and Hollywood have created a war that is mostly a fantasy, and enlisted politicians to help them screw over their customer base. This is about nine steps over the line.

5. Apparently Facebook has been banning users with made-up names. Or, more accurately, names that sound made-up but are in fact real. People with legitimate last names like Batman, Pancake, Six, College, Super, Blue, etc. have been banned by Facebook because their real last names sound invented to whomever decides people should be banned. Boy, couple this with that case a couple of weeks back where a journalist died and Facebook wouldn’t remove his Facebook page at his sister’s request. And then there was the User Agreement flap last month. These three things just add to my inability to understand the appeal of Facebook.

6. Kylie Minogue has been scientifically proven to have the best butt. Well, any excuse to post this picture. It’s one of the best I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot.

7. There’s some talk again that the solution to marriage equality is to end the idea of government-recognized marriage altogether and recognize only civil unions. Marriage would be something you do in a church if you wanted to, but not something officially recognized by the government. I’ve heard this before, and I actually think it’s the ideal solution—separate ceremonies meaning separate things for a separate Church and State—but I don’t see any state doing it.

8. The new Nazi Pope is proving to be as reliable an out of touch fool as the previous one. He says that condoms increase the spread of HIV, despite all medical and scientific evidence (and common sense) to the contrary. He argues—in a way that would be quaint and charmingly na├»ve if there weren’t so many people who took this dope seriously—that people need to be educated about healthy sexuality and “correct behavior.” Because if there’s one thing the Catholic Church has always reliably stood for, it’s a healthy attitude about sex.

9. Michigan just became the latest state to legalize medical marijuana, despite the old canard being raised that it’s a gateway drug. Meanwhile, the Arizona Attorney General argues that the recent violence in Mexico can be mostly attributed to the traffic in marijuana, and Ron Paul correctly points out that having a prohibition on marijuana keeps these cartels in business. How much longer, America? It only took, what, nine years for Americans to realize the prohibition on alcohol was keeping criminals in business, responsible for a rise in corruption, and did nothing to make alcohol disappear. Why is it taking so long when it comes to marijuana?

10. After some delays, the Space Shuttle Discovery launched on Sunday night, probably for the last time. The Space Shuttles will be retired permanently next year. The Shuttles have been outdated for years, and we need improved and updated ships…but still, it makes me sad and wistful to see one head into space for the final time. The era of the Space Shuttle is over.

11. Numbers from the Center for Responsible Lending show that Republican districts lead in home foreclosures and bailout need. Meanwhile, Sarah Palin turned down 30% of the offered bailout money to Alaska, including $170 million for education (and programs to help poor and special needs children go to school). In typical Palin lying for attention, she claimed she was turning down half. Checking out the Alaska school system's consistent ranking in the lower third for just about anything, you see where her priorities are. But look at her own family; education just obviously is not a priority.

12. President Obama’s plan to make veterans use private insurance for their medical bills was shot down after an uproar by veterans’ groups. He’s no longer considering the idea. Sometimes, they listen, so don’t ever be afraid to speak out.

13. Obviously, the big story this week was AIG. Where do I even start? Well, we knew they were getting bonuses. So did the government. They knew it for a long time and only reacted to a rising tide of populist outrage. Frankly, I’m not sure what people are paying attention to anymore. Lots of people (including myself) have been talking for months about AIG paying out “retention bonuses” to the employees who did such a shitty job of keeping their company from sinking into the muck. Remember, this is AIG, the company that had the corporate retreat everyone was outraged over, and then had another one when they got their first bailout. There are those of us who have been outraged about corporate overspending and corporate welfare for a lot longer than just the past week; it’s hard to believe it took corporate bonuses—which amount to less than a tenth of one percent of the bailout money AIG has taken—to finally get people to say they’ve had enough. (Or to pretend to; Republicans are finally smelling the change in the air and are going after the very bonuses they were fierce defenders of as recently as two weeks ago. Guess some of them would like to be re-elected next year.) President Obama vowed to block the bonuses—bonuses he knew about, he was well aware of Geithner’s plan, and Geithner has finally admitted that he threw the Wall Street-protecting loophole into the deal in the first place—and now there’s all sorts of finger-pointing going on as to who knew about these bonuses when and what they can do about them now. There’s even a bill that’s just passed in the House to tax 90% of those bonuses, which should be an effective warning to businesses receiving the neverending stream of corporate bailout/welfare money to spend a little more wisely. But I don’t know how getting 90% of that bonus money back is going to fix the economy. I understand the anger—I feel like we’re all being played for fools by companies like AIG—but Obama should seize on this chance to move up legislation on re-regulation. There’s justified anger out there which he can use to call for more accountability and transparency for everyone. Or there’s always nationalization, which still doesn’t seem like a bad (temporary) solution. But, given how it finally took enough populist anger to go after the guys who turned AIG into one of the nation’s biggest racketeers (some of the guys getting “retention bonuses” don’t even work for AIG anymore), I’m not sure there’s really a willingness in Washington to stop this sort of thing from happening. Certainly not on the part of Geithner, who has been demonstrating for a month now that he can’t do his job. I think President Obama and Congress have too much faith in the financial system as it is, and that pumping tons of no-strings-attached money will fix everything. Let’s get some action out of this, instead of another sideshow that takes away from the larger picture. The bonuses, although certainly incredible and unfair, aren’t what concern me. What concerns me more is the counterparties who got some of the AIG money: only 35% of those companies were American. That’s not going to help lending, nor is it good news with people raising fears of a global trading bubble about to burst. Still, as last week’s Jim Cramer interview showed, witch hunts are more fun than actually fixing our problems. And Barney Frank demanding the names of people who took bonuses from their employers—people who, from a legal standpoint, did not break the law in any way, however immoral receiving those bonuses is—sounds like a witch hunt to me.

14. The other interesting story this week is really a collective of several instances. Are Republicans finally starting to get it? As I mentioned in the previous item, Republicans seem to have moved away from fighting for executive bonus pay and are joining the Democrats in condemning it. Not only is it a good distraction from the recent Congressional pay increase (I haven’t forgotten that one, guys), but it’s just good populist politics right now. About 50% of House Republicans voted for that bonus reclamation tax, even Eric Cantor. I hear they’re also talking about replacing Michael Steele as head of the RNC (with Norm Coleman, one rumor says—man, I hope that’s true); fundraising has apparently dropped dramatically since Steele was put in charge. Right wing talk radio is also on the decline, and Ann Coulter is no longer going to write books because of increasing taxes on the rich by Obama (what she really means is that no one wants to publish them because her sales are dropping). The GOP isn’t going to miss any of these people; they want to be re-elected, and those pundits aren’t going to help them win this time around. For his part, Obama at least seems to be finally willing to reject the bipartisanship unicorn and just get shit done. So there’s some good coming out of this AIG spectacle right out of the gate. Maybe it’s been a reality check.

It's the First Day of Spring

Which, of course, means that today is colder than it's been all week long (it was in the 70's the other day). Still, as long as that nightmare winter is over, I'm pretty happy. Hell, I remember one Spring Break when it snowed the entire week. I'm glad it's finally springtime.

Smile, Man, It's Your Birthday

Looking for pictures of William Hurt, I noticed it's pretty darn hard to find red carpet or even posed pictures of the man where he doesn't look sheepish in some way. Embarrassed, uncomfortable... even apologetic that someone has to go the the trouble of taking his picture. Might be an interesting insight into the man.

Either way, William Hurt is one of my favorite actors of all time, and I don't think I've really spotlighted his birthday before. He turns 59 today. Happy Birthday.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Skinks Are Outstanding

Yep, I'm a Star Wars Fan Again

Rebecca and I were watching the Clone Wars episode "Downfall of a Droid," in which R2-D2 (my favorite Star Wars character) gets kidnapped by General Grievous and Ahsoka Tano (a character I really do like) temporarily replaces him with R3-S6.

ME: [to Becca] But, no one can replace R2-D2. I don't accept that.

AHSOKA: [to Anakin Skywalker] You know, Master, I hear the R3 units have even faster internal processors than the old R2 units.


Ah, Fanboy moments.


Another movie I can't wait for.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Natasha Richardson 1963-2009

I find Natasha Richardson's death incredibly sad. It's such a horrible way to die, and so tragic that she had to linger beforehand. I feel incredibly sorry for Liam Neeson and the Redgrave family, and especially her two sons. She always seemed so full of life and was incredibly talented. Such a shame.

Bad Script: Watchmen

Personally, I was blown away by the Watchmen movie. I thought it was one of the better science fiction epics I've seen in the past decade. Out of curiosity, I pulled out something I'd forgotten I had: a copy of Sam Hamm's screenplay for Watchmen. This is back when Fox was actively trying to make the movie (instead of lying in wait for a product to sue over) and is dated 9 September 1988. Hamm had already written a fairly praised script for Batman, so it makes sense that a studio would hire him to do another comic book film.

The actual script, however, is pretty awful.

Hamm's Watchmen opens with a teaser action sequence, the kind which opens a lot of action movies. It's a device to introduce the characters and give us a sense of the past heroic days that characters will always be referring to. It's meant to set the tone, and it does: it's as awkward, clumsy, and unconfident as the script that follows.

The teaser sequence sees a supervillain called the Ringleader holed up in the Statue of Liberty with a bunch of terrorists and 40 hostages. They threaten to blow up Lady Liberty. The SWAT team below is uncertain of what to do, but suddenly the Owlship swoops in. The SWAT Captain is angry, swearing and actually yelling "Christ almighty, it's the goddamned Watchmen!" (This is on the first half of page 2. The first time I ever tried to read the script, I stopped there and put it in a drawer for five years before finally reading the whole thing. True story.)

The Watchmen team here is led by Captain Metropolis, who actually uses a flashgun to disrupt the nervous systems of both terrorists and hostages, which seems like enough to piss people off. He's working here with Rorschach, Night Owl, Adrian Veidt (who seems kind of useless, like Hamm couldn't think of anything to do with him as an actual superhero--Veidt is also never referred to in the script as Ozymandias), the Comedian, Silk Spectre, and (eventually) Dr. Manhattan.

Immediately, you can tell that the characters have been simplified to their one trait. Rorschach is mysterious, Night Owl is a stolid, caring hero, Veidt is oddly preoccupied... the Comedian is supposed to be a movie-style badass, chomping a cigar and spouting one-liners like "The joke's on you."

The Statue of Liberty gets blown up with hostages, terrorists, and Captain Metropolis inside; Dr. Manhattan turns up too late to make a difference. (I guess he's already detached from his connection with humanity.) We then learn, via newscast, that New York has "revoked its contract with Adrian Veidt's super-team" and that the Keene Act (not referred to by name) has been introduced in Congress.

Then we cut to the cops in Eddie Blake's apartment in the present day (remembering this was written in '88). We never see or hear from the Comedian again, by the way. That opening was his only appearance in the entire script. Sally Jupiter doesn't appear, either. There's no mention of the Minutemen, no revelation about Laurie's real father, no revealing flashbacks about crowd control or Vietnam.

There's also no narration. While Rorschach investigates Blake's apartment, there is no voice-over. I suppose I could live without that because, really, narration can be a pretty overused device in a movie. But it wasn't overused in Zack Snyder's movie, I don't think, mostly because it wasn't as bad as, say, Blade Runner, where you're being shown a door and told it's a door. The narration is used as character insight, and it deepens our understanding of Rorschach (and, for that matter, Dr. Manhattan). But there's no narration here.

Rorschach goes on to warn Dan Dreiberg about a possible mask-killer--the scene is the same as in the comic--but then Dan calls Adrian and Adrian is the one to warn Dr. Manhattan and Laurie. Rorschach doesn't even come close. The change seems unnecessary, except to work in that Laurie craves human contact (though Adrian is dismissive). There is a nice bit, though, where it's sort of worked in that Dan basically lives off of the money Adrian makes on Watchmen merchandise.

(If you're curious, Hollis Mason is cut from the script entirely.)

A lot of the dialog between Dan and Laurie at dinner rings false. Dan is kind of a self-pitying jerk, a real blowhard who drinks too much. He's not Alan Moore's character, that weak-willed sort of coward that can't break himself to act. He angrily dismisses the Comedian, calling him a "psychotic pig" who "had it coming" because of his involvement with the CTU, "a fucking Gestapo." He then goes on to whine drunkenly, "And the pisser is, nobody ever remembers the good shit we did. I mean, we were heroes!"

The funeral scene is short; its close-up of the Vietnam Memorial Wall is the only mention of Vietnam in the entire film. Neither Dan or Adrian are in attendance; only Dr. Manhattan is.

When Laurie is tested for cancer, one government agent keeps pressing her for the real names of the other Watchmen. Not much is really made of it afterwards, though; we just know that Laurie has cancer. (Now, I remember her being tested, but I don't remember her actually having cancer in the comic book. Please tell me if I'm wrong, because I read the comic again a few months ago, and I don't remember it at all, but a friend of mine swears up and down it's there.) The scene only serves to establish that the government is worried that Dr. Manhattan is losing his connection to humanity.

There is some background on Dr. Manhattan during a pre-interview tape roll; Dr. Manhattan is interviewed by David Brinkley. Although some of the dialog is obvious and leads nowhere, they do establish the cancer subplot and that Janey Slater has cancer. The abrupt ending of the interview is the same as in the comic, including the scene where Dr. Manhattan goes back to talk to Laurie and, not finding her, teleports to Gila Flats, Arizona. Much of the flashback occurs while walking around Gila Flats; there is no narration, but we do see how Jon Osterman became Dr. Manhattan. I missed the photo, though.

I was pleased to see the scene where Walter Kovacs buys the New Frontiersman from the news vendor. I like that moment. The news vendor and the kid only have three scenes in the movie; this is the first.

Moloch doesn't appear for the first time until page 54. They never work in that he has cancer or is taking pain medication. When we see Moloch, he's bringing a woman back to his apartment. Rorschach humiliates Moloch in front of the woman, exposing his criminal past and beating him up. There's no depth to any of this; Hamm throughout writes Rorschach not as a twisted, psychopathic tragedy, but as a tough-talking badass who does things his own way. He misses the character entirely.

The reveal of President Nixon is cheesy, and I'm not sure whether the audience is supposed to be surprised or laugh (though it's much the same in the comic book, where I always thought it was meant to get a sardonic laugh). Without any of the Vietnam War stuff, there's no clear reason why Nixon would still be president in 1988.

Also, I noticed some futuristic touches, like bubble cars and, of course, Bubastis. Sam Hamm's script actually emphasizes the futurism more than the comic book. It's all background, though; none of this is really credited to Adrian Veidt or Dr. Manhattan.

When Rorschach bullies Moloch a second time, it's played for some sense of superior laughter. He has a lot of one-liners that pander to an audience imagined as complete imbeciles. Adrian Veidt's vanity is played as playful and flirtatious. I already mentioned the problems with Dan. Laurie, however, is written more strongly than she is in Zack Snyder's movie. She's not perfect, but the character is essentially the same as in the comic book.

I'm not mentioning every scene; a lot of it plays out like a simplified--and, frankly, simplistic--version of the comic book. Laurie is kicked out of her government quarters, she and Dan fall in love. Rorschach tries to talk to Adrian, then heads to talk to Moloch.

The scene where Laurie and Dan dance and kiss, juxtaposed with Rorschach's fight with the CTU, all while Fats Waller's "S'posin'" plays over it, is actually pretty effective.

The news vendor and the kid show up again on page 74, marveling that Walter Kovacs is one of the news vendor's customers. Too much of Walter's past is revealed by Dr. Long to his wife, a scene that's in the comic but has more detail here and doesn't really work. It makes the scenes where Dr. Long has Walter do the Rorschach tests less interesting (except as a highlight for how badass Rorschach is).

The scene where Adrian Veidt is nearly assassinated is much the same as the comic book.

We do get the flashback of how Rorschach became so detached from everything, but instead of setting the kidnapper's house on fire, he covers the guy in raw meat and sics his own dogs on him. The change doesn't work for me; it's meting out justice, balancing the scales (kidnapper feeds little girl to dogs, kidnapper dies at jaws of same dogs), when the point of the scene is that Rorschach has been thrown out of balance and now just murders criminals to remove them from society. I like the way Zack Snyder plays it the best, with Rorschach just snapping and lashing out at the kidnapper.

When Dan and Laurie finally go out in the Owlship in costume, Hamm has them showing up at a peace rally. Instead of the Comedian jumping into the crowd, it's CTU airships firing on them. The Owlship attacks and then flies off, leading the airships away on a wild goose chase to the delight of the crowd (who scream out "It's the Watchmen!" I shit you not.). Dan is cocky and lame in this scene. He and Laurie make love off camera.

Big Figure is renamed Little Bigger for some reason. More obvious? The prison break sequence is pretty much the same and, like in the Zack Snyder movie, happens immediately after the lovemaking. Laurie reveals her cancer to Dan and Rorschach just before Dr. Manhattan teleports her to Mars. Dan and Rorschach are heading to Adrian's Antarctic retreat to hide out from the coming war and whoever is killing superheroes. Rorschach calls Dan a coward for doing so, but they still go. It's not until they're actually face to face with Adrian that Rorschach suddenly figures out--through intuition, and the fact that Adrian wouldn't open the door to let them in from the freezing cold--that Adrian is really behind everything.

Meanwhile, on Mars, Dr. Manhattan cures Laurie's cancer.

And now, much like the Republic serial villain Adrian speaks disdainfully of in the comic book, he reveals his entire plan to Dan and Rorschach, who are pretty passive while Adrian gets wilder and more unhinged. He's seriously crazed as he shows them a bubble he calls a "tachyon chamber," which is generating "subatomic particles which flow backward in time." Through it, we're watching Jon Osterman just before he steps into the IF particle chamber and accidentally becomes Dr. Manhattan. He explains that "there are other timelines existing parallel to our own," and "in some of them--only a few--the human race survives. And it survives because Dr. Manhattan never existed." Yes, Dr. Manhattan's creation was, apparently, a "flashpoint in history" which "threw the world balance of power out of whack." Adrian reveals his plan, which is to change the past and stop Dr. Manhattan from ever existing. He's going to reach through his little time hole and shoot Osterman in the heart.

Rorschach's reaction? "And they call me a fucking nut."

A piece of me just died inside.

And then there's this little exchange:

DREIBERG: "And what if you're wrong?"

VEIDT: "Then I've been a very bad boy and you'll have to spank me. Christ! I'm doing what I have to do to save the godforsaken human race!"

I can barely hear the direlog for all of the thudding it's doing falling flat on the floor.

Dan and Rorschach, by the way, have still made no move to stop Adrian.

Meanwhile, on Mars... well, not much. There's some talk about the nature of time, but since Laurie's parentage is never revealed, Dr. Manhattan never has his faith in the wonder of the universe restored and never makes the decision that the human race is worth saving. Instead, he suddenly notices time is moving backwards at the South Pole and teleports there with Laurie to investigate.

Just as a 30-foot-high Dr. Manhattan enters, there's a scuffle. Dan tries to take Adrian's gun, Laurie nearly gets shot, and Dr. Manhattan simply vaporizes Adrian. Then, for no reason but a brief explanation by Dan, Dr. Manhattan suddenly realizes Adrian was right and crosses through the hole in time just as the particles are about to flood the chamber. Dr. Manhattan shields Jon Osterman in a way that completely annihilates Dr. Manhattan but saves Osterman's life. Dr. Manhattan never existed.

Now, because the past has been changed, Dan, Laurie, and Rorschach get enveloped by some kind of vortex. I can only quote the script here: "Dreiberg, Laurie and Rorschach spinning and tumbling through an otherdimensional funhouse of sound and color. If space and time could be compressed into a single extravagant E-ticket joyride, this would be it."

Sadly, all I can picture is this:

A dumb image for a dumb description, frankly.

The three reappear in modern day New York, our New York, because, apparently, the timeline has been repaired. The news vendor sees them, and the kid marvels that these are the Watchmen out of the Watchmen comic book he's reading. Panicked and ready for a fight, with a crowd gathered around unsure what to make of these people in costume, Laurie, Dan and Rorschach huddle together back-to-back. The script--all this time free of subtlety, depth, theme, or drama, ends on this bit of stupid:

LAURIE: Dan, what do we do now?

DREIBERG: Where we are, it's better than what we left. Backs together --

LAURIE: We'll tell them what's happened. They'll listen to reason, won't they?

RORSCHACH: They'd better.

And then, I imagine, we cut quickly to credits and whatever shitty pop song was written for the movie.

Ouch. Just ouch.

I don't know. When I see people ripping on Zack Snyder for at least trying to do something artful with the movie, I think about how truly awful the movie could have been. This could've been it. Simplistic, dumb, and "cool."

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

It never really occurred to me until I was watching this movie that Walter Hill's best films are about being hunted in places where you consider yourself safe. This was probably the best motif of horror films in the late seventies and early eighties--The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Last House on the Left, and many, many others, including Hill's own production Alien, are about people who are hunted and terrorized and killed in places where they take their safety for granted. I always felt this came out of the Vietnam experience, which is hardly a new theory (though it made for a lot of interesting films). In a way, this film completes a thematic trilogy for Hill--1979's The Warriors, 1980's The Long Riders, and 1981's Southern Comfort--which tell stories about men who consider themselves outside the law, better than the people around them, and who pay for that assumption when confronted with extreme situations. This film is about National Guardsmen on maneuvers in 1973 in a Louisiana swamp. (The cast, by the way, is an 80s character actor trove--Powers Boothe, Keith Carradine, Fred Ward, Peter Coyote, Brion James, Lewis Smith, etc.) They borrow some boats from some Cajuns without asking, do it in a cavalier fashion and--just for fun--shoot at them with an M60 loaded with blanks. From then on, they find themselves pursued by an enemy they never see coming, one who knows the terrain better than they do and have spent their lives living in a hard environment. The parallels are obvious, but the story is effective and easy to get caught up in. I think a lot of people live with that fear of being helpless in strange surroundings, and Southern Comfort taps right into it and ratchets up the tension. The Guardsmen are being hunted, not chased. There is a sense that the Cajuns could pick them off at any time, but are enjoying toying with their fears. **** stars.

Yet another stupid movie about high school girls who have affairs with married adult men. In this one, they end up forming a neighborhood prostitution ring. It's amazing how many movies men will make about these wanton, manipulative young girls who destroy the marriages of the unsuspecting men whose libidos they take control of. The message of these movies is that the real victims of statutory rape are the men in their forties coerced into doing it. No stars.

Cecil B. DeMille's long, long, long-winded epic about a British aristocrat who goes West and marries an Indian girl. There was a lot to not like here--the ridiculous portrayal of natives, the hammy overacting, the ultra-serious-yet-romance-novel-sordid tone--but my least favorite aspect was the serious lack of screen time for Lupe Velez, who played the wife. As a movie it's merely bad, but as a Lupita delivery system, it's unforgivable. * star.

Feel the Love

Said during a channel-skimming that stopped on the film Fifty Pills, which does not have enough Kristen Bell in it.

ME: I don't know why, but I like watching Kristen Bell eat pizza. It's an antidote to the vegetarian thing, because vegetarianism doesn't make much sense to me. Not that vegetarians can't eat pizza. They're not insane like vegans. So, you know, even though K. Bell eats her pizza with a fork and a knife instead of like a person, it's oddly refreshing.

BECCA: I eat pizza with a fork and knife. Are you saying there's something wrong with me?

ME: No, I wasn't singling you out. I was disrespecting an entire group of people that you just happen to be a part of.

Observe and Report

Can't wait for this one.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Health Report, Year 3: Week 14


Alright, well, today is St. Patrick's Day, which means I've been pretty annoyed the entire day. St. Patrick's Day used to be stupid and irritating to me. Then, 8 years ago, I moved to a college town. Now it's a damn embarrassment to humankind. I can't help it, I'm easily annoyed by stupidity. America's condescending love of all things twee really shines today, and you have to hear crap like "Aye, on St. Paddy's Day, ayveryone's a wee bit Oirish, faith an' begorrah, hoi tee toi tee toi! Today ye kin cawll me Marty O'Plagowicz, and this's me mate Moses McWiesenschmertznitski!"

Oh, holy shit, if today were a day when we were all supposed to take to the streets and mock the Irish as hard as we could, then I could understand the inherent stupidity of the way Americans treat St. Patrick's Day. But this Catholic holiday has been hijacked to be a celebration of Irish-Americans and their influence on American history. And that's been hijacked, unlike any other similar day (like Martin Luther King Day or Columbus Day) to mean that college kids and a bunch of other career alcoholics rush out, emulate every over-the-top cultural cliche of the Irish to the point of parody, and sing the one Irish song they know at the top of their lungs. Hooray, what a celebration. Like people really need the excuse to get drunk and puke in the streets, especially here in college town.

This is why, every year when I see them dying the Chicago River greener (it's friggin' sewage emerald all year long, anyway), I start to get really fucking irritated. As irritated as I get seeing the guy in the George Washington wig trying to sell me mattresses every February.

Just a couple of other things I wanted to mention:

1. The Pepsi Natural is fantastic. This is what soda is supposed to taste like, and I hope this takes off (Chicago is a test area, so we get it at the Jewel out here in DeKalb). It's not an all-the-time thing (no soda is, at least not for me anymore), but it's delicious. I hope Coke responds with something similar, because I bet it would be even better.

2. I'm now writing a column every other Tuesday on HoboTrashcan called Positive Cynicism. It's one of my favorite column sites, so it's nice to be on board. I think they've made a terrible mistake, but it's too late for them to do anything about it now.

SF out.

Aliens vs. Predator

Fantastic ads for Sky.

Happy 30th Birthday, Stormy Daniels!

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Best of Electronic Cerebrectomy, Vol. 5

I haven't done one of these in a long time, but since I'm swamped with stuff, I thought I'd throw up this bit of self-aggrandizement. My favorite posts from the fifth six months I was online, January through June 2007.

What Is This Orlando Bloom Stupid Fucking Nonsense?
Never have I angered so many people so satisfyingly as I did here. That's it, take it too seriously. You just proved my point.

Why a Groundhog?
A little historical background on one of our many non-holidays.

Royal Chitwan National Park
A place I'd really like to go.

Popular Myths Repudiated
Just what the title says.

Jim Corbett
The tiger hunter, not the boxer. They should make a movie about this guy.

Four Sexual Poems
The kind of juvenile stuff I love to write because people hate.

Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton
One of my heroes.

A Mature Discussion Regarding Terminology
Becca invents some new words that all have "fuck" in them.

Funeral Rites
More history.

Another of the poems you hate.

2008 Election: The Early Republican and Democratic Contenders
Interesting to go back now with the benefit of hindsight and see what I said then.

Ewoks: A Hunter's Guide
Self-explanatory; a guide to hunting Ewoks.

Men Who Step Up
What two reality shows have to say about being a man.

Charles R. Knight
One of my favorite artists.

The Founding Fathers on Democracy
Some quotes about how the Founding Fathers feared mob rule.

First Contact
Some of the bigger cases of extinction and how they came about.

We've Destroyed Britney Spears
I still stand by what I said, honestly. This pissed a lot of people off, too.

You Are Not the Person of the Year
You're just a customer.

What happens when a word is given too much power.

The Many Moods of the Silver Surfer
A classic action figure layout.

Hayden & Stanley: A Romantic Interlude
The photos were there. What was she doing with the Stanley Cup, exactly?

The Dead Hand of Religion Strikes Again
Religion is so powerful and dumb, it can also ruin friendships.

This Is the Reason I Peruse Used Book Stores
God is for real, man.

From Bushspeak to Plain English, This Guy Is a Dick
A photocomic of a Bush press conference.

Trapped in a World He Never Made
In praise of Howard the Duck.

Get It Right
When you're insulting me, make sure you're insulting the right behavior.

Norman Lindsay Art
Some paintings by my favorite artist.

David Copperfield Cons You and Threatens to Kill You
The weirdest forwarded email I've ever gotten.

The End of Lost
How the wildly confusing series should end.

Josh Holloway and Island Parasites
Another thing Lost should do.

Why Is There a Debate About Hate?
How is it even a question that hate crimes are bad?

Butt Paste
A whole lot of silliness.

Another poem.

Spider-Man 3: A Deleted Scene
It would've made that movie so much better.

Just Trying to Help
Another long post about how religion has done more harm than good.

25 Frazetta Favorites
When it comes to Frazetta, it's hard to pick just 25.

Star Wars Ruminations: From Father to Son, Etc.
The realization that started me back on the road to being a Star Wars fan.

SamuraiFrog Is a Man of Many Hats
And I hope it comes back in style, baby.

How Much Longer Do I Have to Listen to White People Whine About Entitlement?
Seriously, how long?

Classic Photoshoot #4
Bebe Buell, one of my faves. Still one of my highest-traffic-drawing posts.

Masters of Animation: Studio Ghibli
Of all my posts on animation, this one drew the most excitement and the most comment.

The Future of Energy Isn't Green
I think a lot of the opinions out there on the future of energy are idealistic. I stand by this one, too. Nuclear power is an option that shouldn't be dismissed out of hand.

Hands Off
Why is it okay to invade a woman's space just because she's pregnant?


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Song of the Week: "Ben"

Thanks, Bubs, for posting Crispin Hellion Glover's "Clowny Clown Clown." That inspired me to put up one of my favorite things ever, this music video for "Ben," a cover of the Michael Jackson song Glover recorded for his remake of Willard. The Willard remake is a favorite of mine. Glover also directed the music video; R. Lee Ermy plays three roles. Enjoy.

TV Report: Lazily Wasting Time

You know what's a fun way to waste an hour on a Saturday afternoon? Watch an episode of Daktari and make up dialog for all of the animals. Stupid, but fun.

T-Shirt Idea #7

BECCA: (wearing a samurai t-shirt) People at work thought it was lame of me to buy a samurai shirt, but screw them, samurai are awesome.

ME: Samurai are awesome. What do they think is better? Ninjas?

BECCA: Oh, yeah.

ME: Ninjas are lame. They're so boring. Thanks to the internet, I'm bored as hell with ninjas. They're as boring and lame as Chuck Norris facts. Samurai are the cool ones. Samurai are knights.

BECCA: Samurai are Jedi.

ME: Yeah, samurai are Jedi. Ninjas are for those people who think bounty hunters are the best part of Star Wars because the only stuff in Star Wars they can stand is stuff that happens offscreen in their minds. There's something else I'm sick of: Boba Fett.

BECCA: Boba Fett looks cool.

ME: He does, but he doesn't do anything and he dies like a punk.

BECCA: But he captures Han Solo.

ME: Bullshit. Darth Vader captures Han Solo and eventually gives him to Boba Fett when he's done with him. Boba Fett dies like a punk. You know who doesn't die like a punk? Qui-Gon Jinn. Obi-Wan Kenobi. Mace Windu. Darth effing Vader, that's who.

BECCA: You should put that up as a t-shirt idea.