Archive for February, 2015

With Zack Snyder becoming a comic movie “icon” after directing Man of Steel and soon-to-direct Batman vs. Superman, I decided to turn back the clock and cover his first notable comic movie adaptation. Remember this one? Sure ya do!

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I think that my original opinion of Watchmen was formed before even walking into the theater. And I don’t mean that in the usual sense, like I watched the trailers and read a little about it and decided if I would like it or not. What I mean is I read the source material, and been following all the build-up, and was fairly certain, based on the reaction of the “nerd community,” that this was going to be a big one. Like, lines around the corner and sold-out shows big. People dressed up like Rorschach big. All that does start to inform my opinion of a movie, whether I like it or not.

None of that really happened, though.  In fact, friend and fellow-podcaster Josh and I walked up, picked up our pre-ordered tickets, bought popcorn and soda, walked into a modestly-filled theater and sat down and watched the movie.  That was it.  No throngs.  No Rorschachs.  Nothing.  The damn thing wasn’t even sold out on opening night in Boston.  What happened?  Did they open it on too many screens?  It apparently earned $25.1 million in one day, so it may not break any records, but that’s more than a lot of films make in weeks.  Did everyone go at midnight?  For the first time in my life, I was disappointed not to see fanboys.

However, despite what I said earlier, I tried not to let that hamper my enjoyment.  Let me discuss the movie itself.  It centers around a group of former super-heroes called The Watchmen,  who had fought against the forces of evil decades before, but had now settled into retirement and (in the original comic book, anyway) gotten sort of flabby.

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When one of them, The Comedian, is murdered, do-gooding loony Rorscharch believes that someone is hunting down the ex-heroes.  He looks up his old buddy Nite Owl to ask for help, but Owl doesn’t seem interested in a reunion with his smelly former colleague (because he’s flabby, although Zack Snyder apparently doesn’t allow flabby heroes in his movies, even when it is part of the plot.)  He does become interested, however, in a reunion with Laurie Jupiter, who served in the Watchmen as Silk Spectre II (played by the decidedly not-flabby Malin Ackerman), following in the footsteps of her now-busted mother, the aptly-named Silk Spectre I.  Despite the fact that Laurie is now married to the all-powerful, all-naked, Dr. Manhattan, she seems unhappy with his growing detachment, and Owl pursues her vigorously.  Meanwhile, no one believes Rorscharch is anything but a kook.  Eventually, the poor guy is arrested and not one of his former friends seems to care.

At some point in there, Nite Owl tires of his boring life and he seeks out ladyfriend Laurie, who is now estranged from Dr. Manhattan, because he had a bit of a hippy freak-out over nuclear weapons. Even though Owl is clearly in the friend-zone, they inexplicably decide to don their costumes again and go stop some ne’er-do-wells. They quickly determine that super-hero-ing is a major turn-on, and they fornicate in costume (well, mostly) inside Owl’s weird “bat-wing” flying machine.  Post-coital and still half-naked, they decide, rather suddenly, to free old teammate Rorscharch from the asylum where he has been rotting for half the movie, even though they seemed to not care at all when he was arrested. Seriously, they literally say, “Let’s go bust out Rorschach.”  Sex changes everything, I guess, and apparently it does so in a matter of moments.

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The reunited Watchmen figure out that The Comedian’s murder was the work of Ozymodias, another former ally who has become a multi-millionaire jerk since leaving the group, and band together to go kick his ass.  Somewhere in there, Dr. Manhattan decides that the human race is worth saving even though we developed nuclear weapons, and comes back to help save the world.  Yeah, it gets messy from there.

I’ll say it right here, though: I enjoyed most of Watchmen.  I mean, sex, violence, super-heroes…  What’s not to love, really, other than Billy Crudup’s little blue Crudup every five seconds?  There were obviously some problems, and a lot of fans disliked the changes made for the film version.  Personally, I was not a gigantic fan of the comic anyway, so I didn’t really care that anything was changed.  In fact, I’m not quite sure I understood what was going on by the end of the movie, anyway, and I’m not sure I really cared all that much.  I just sat there with my popcorn and watched the pretty people have sex and beat on each other.  Not the best script certainly, and the acting was really stiff, but I’m trying to be better about these things, and it was certainly a technical marvel that will undoubtedly murder people on IMAX. The problem is, that can describe most movies nowadays, so I need something more. This movie, while there was nothing greatly wrong with it, needed to be more, since it is such a beloved story in the minds of comic fans. Watchmen didn’t have a lot wrong with it, but it didn’t have much right, either. It’s very much a movie not to care about.

My biggest complaint is the pacing of the story.  By the time I got there early, sat through commercials, and previews, and the warnings to turn off my cellphone, then the little thing called the-reason-I-went-there-in-the-first-place, I was into this thing for well over three hours.  Anything you invest that kind of time in better be amazing, so that’s why my review is rather mixed.  Honestly, there are very few things I want to do for three hours straight, and sitting in a dark room is not one of them.  Even if you go to a baseball game that will probably last about the same amount of time, you get to get up and get a beer, talk to the person next to you, throw things at the players.  All of the sudden, it’s the 7th inning stretch.  Sitting through a three-hour epic comic book movie?  Not quite the same thing.  All of the sudden, I looked up and they were still developing Dr. Manhattan’s character.  I know that’s important and all, but there was about a 45-minute stretch there in the middle where Rorschach and Nite Owl weren’t even in the damn thing, and I kind of thought they were the main characters.  Don’t you think it would have been possible to get those “Dr. Manhattan on Mars” scenes over in about ten minutes and get on with the actual plot (and see less of his blue dick)?  My screenwriting profs always taught me to “Get in and get out” when it came to developing your story.  Why did we have to see him looking at a clock for all that time?  To further drive home the point that this a long-ass movie?

Don’t let me poop on the parade, though.  Overall, I think it was a decent movie.  My friend John may have put it best when he said it was “better than Indy 4 but not as good as Dark Knight.”  While that is a pretty wide open field, I think in the annals of comic book adaptations, if Watchmen is remembered at all, that is where it (and most movies) will end up.  I will also say, however, that IMAX (still new when it was released) probably helped this film immensely because IMAX platters needed films to be a shorter running time (about 150 minutes) to accommodate the projectors.  This necessitated some trimming, unless they just want to show the regular old movie on a really huge screen.  This trimming of the fat I’m sure helped the movie flow better, and probably gave crumb-bums like me less to complain about. I wouldn’t know because I never bothered to see it again. No need to, really.

In the end, it’s a comic book adaptation, and not to be poured over too much.  Still, unlike a Spider-Man or Batman movie, which is based on a character doing his or her thing, Watchmen is based on an actual story, more like a movie adapted from a novel. Like most movies based on previously-published novels and stories, it is not as riveting as the original work, nor as deep or as ground-breaking.  But, in the end, it is worth seeing.  My advice would be to get yourself a nice, big bag of popcorn and hunker down and watch the Watchmen do their thing, and when it’s over, move on with your life.  And if you’re looking to cut down the running time, simply skip the blue full-frontal.  It’s not necessary.  Ever.

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With the news that Spider-Man will now be swinging over to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I thought it would be a good time to dust off my review of Amazing Spider-man from a few years ago. I never did make it a point to see The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and after you read the review you’ll see why. See despite the fact that I am a comic-book/super-hero movie enthusiast, I can’t say I’m “all in,” because when a movie looks that bad, I can’t waste my money. But, as every movie must exist on its own, here was my take on The Amazing Spider-Man.

First off all, I may have gone in with the wrong attitude, because I was not impressed with the trailers, the preview footage, the leaked footage, the cast, the villain, or the very idea that this franchise needed to be re-booted in the first place. So, what does that leave me with? Probably not a lot, but with such low expectations, there’s a chance I could be surprised, right?

Well, that didn’t happen, unfortunately, but rather than turn this into another “bitching” post, I want to get into the whys and wherefores, because it took me a little while even to figure out why this movie was so unimpressive to me. Honestly, the changes to Spidey’s costume didn’t bother me, and in fact, it looked kind of cool. And the other changes from the Sam Raimi-Tobey Maguire version were fine as well. The fact that Peter was able to make his own mechanical web-shooters, complete with webbing, was a nicer touch than having the webs inexplicably shoot out of his wrists (and more like the actual comic book character.) As my friend, Jay, pointed out in 2002 when the original Spider-Man was released, “If they wanted to make it more realistic, shouldn’t the webs shoot out of his ass?”

And the change from Mary Jane to the much-beloved Gwen Stacy (played by the much-beloved though slightly-too-old-for-high-school Emma Stone) was an improvement as well. I always liked Mary Jane better in the comic, but Kirsten Dunst just never had any pizazz. Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield did have some chemistry, probably because they were dating in real life. And obviously, though it still has its faults, CGI has come a long way since 2002, so Spider-Man swinging through the city looks slightly better, especially that one POV shot where you could see his hands firing the webs and them catching on to buildings, so we get a sense of what it’s like. Ah, video games at work. Also, sometimes in those Raimi version of old, it looked like the webs were catching on to clouds, because he was way above the buildings in some of those shots.

That’s about where the praise ends. For me, that’s actually pretty good, but something about this movie made it more than just bad. It was somehow annoyingly bad. Maybe because I had such a love for the character. Maybe because I didn’t see the need for a re-boot after only a few years since Spider-Man 3, although that movie was pretty terrible, too, so the studio was probably just trying to help us forget that ever happened. But the real reason I found this movie annoying was because deep down I knew that Sony was only doing this one because if they sat on the property any longer, the rights would revert back to Marvel, meaning Disney would get their hands on this money-maker.

Or maybe because Andrew Garfield kind of sucks. (Note: He has apparently spun his last brooding, grumpy web, as the Marvel suits will be replacing him.) For one, he’s too good-looking to play nerdy Peter Parker, and any comic book fan knows that the real judge of an actor playing a super-hero is that you have to be able to play the alter ego (see: Stark, Tony). But not only was he just not right for this part, I have never been impressed with his work, period. Between The Social Network and The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, and now this, the guy is 0 for 3 in my book. Not that he had a lot to work with here, but he just wasn’t nerdy enough or cool enough to make me believe in him, as Spider-Man or Peter Parker. He seemed to just be saying the lines of dialogue fed to him like he was in some high school play and he was getting extra credit or something. I never got that he mourned his uncle, or that he cared for his aunt, or that he felt any obligation to be a hero. As I said, the only decent scenes were between him and Stone, and I don’t know if that’s because they are dating, because she’s actually pretty decent (and hot!), or because director Marc Webb (whose previous credit was (500) Days Of Summer, which was a brilliant rom-com) has some experience with on-screen chemistry.

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Beyond Garfield’s performance, the movie itself lacked a lot of the drama inherent in even the comic book. For example, in the comic book, Peter has already become the Amazing Spider-Man, and is putting on regular TV appearances when he allows the criminal who eventually kills his uncle to escape, so the guilt is more obvious because Peter was using his powers for profit. That’s where the whole ‘Great power, great responsibility” line, which is in just about every Spider-Man comic ever written, comes from. Why take out that whole dilemma and replace it with a fight with a convenience store clerk over chocolate milk, which leads to his uncle’s murder? Not to mention that the scene in the Sam Raimi version where Peter is wrestling is one of the best in the whole franchise, featuring not only the great Bruce Campbell, but the dearly-departed Randy “Macho Man” Savage.

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(Incidentally, not to spoil the movie for anyone, but did he ever catch his uncle’s killer? Did we ever get that “Aha!” moment when he discovers his blunder and decides to become a crime-fighter?)

When they do bring some drama into the movie, it’s too ham-fisted to matter, like the scene near the climax where several crane operators are called in to give Spidey (who has saved exactly one kid in the movie at this point) something to web onto as he rushes to fight The Lizard and save the city. I’m still not sure how those crane operators knew he needed that boost, but whatever. And why weren’t they all, “Why’s that dude wearing red-and-blue underwear?”

I realize that this is just one bad movie among hundreds, but this one instills a fear in me. Tobey Maguire, who, despite his faults, was a great Peter Parker, was replaced after three movies because they wanted a younger guy to appeal to the Twilight audience. Will Tony Stark receive the same treatment in a couple years, despite the fact that Robert Downey, Jr, is Tony Stark? Will Thor get re-cast as some young meathead in a few years time? Will The Avengers simply get re-booted every few years with different people just to attract the next generation?

In the era of re-boots, re-makes and re-imagings, I fear the answer is yes.

Recently, I watched 9, the Tim Burton-produced vehicle about odd-looking burlap dolls saving the planet from… whatever the Hell it was that had taken over the planet.  It’s only been a few days, but I can barely remember the thing at all.  All I seem to remember is that the main character (Doll #9) was attempting to save his fellow dolls’ souls that were trapped in this machine, and at the end, the dolls were still dead.  I guess I thought saving them would involve actually saving them.  That’s why I’m a soulless bastard.

More than the movie itself, which was obviously not memorable at all, I remember the conversation I had with my fellow 9-ers after the movie. I saw it with some friends of mine, and one of these friends (who is much more optimistic and jolly than I) said that he likes movies because life is just too darn hard not to. He loved the live-action Transformersmovies for the simple reason that he wanted to see stuff blow up (and Michael Bay movies occasionally feature such things.) Honestly, I cannot fault his logic.  Movies are supposed to be an escape from the drudgery of everyday life.  However, must we sacrifice quality for explosions?

I pointed out to my friend that J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek re-make/re-boot/re-imagining had plenty of action, and a few explosions, and was an excellent movie.  Far better, in fact, than anything Michael Bay has ever directed.  He concurred, yet was not swayed from enjoying Transformers.  Which is good, because for whatever reason, I have a tendency to try and convince people that they are wrong and whatever movie they like and I despise is, in fact, terrible, so I applaud him for sticking to his giant, pointless guns.

We live in curious times as far as our entertainment goes. We may forget that movies, as we know them, have not been around all that long, and yet there are so many of them that the audience takes good movies for granted and now just wants to be mildly amused for a couple hours. Plots, themes, being amazed by the special effects, these are all lost amid giant, fighting, CGI-robots who are mostly indiscernible from each other, and super-heroes who seemingly have to suffer emotional strife, yet always manage to defeat the villain and get the girl at the end. Of course, people like my friend will try to convince me that, sure, the story sucked, but those CGI effects in Transformers were really awesome. Well, of course they were. They were all done by computer programs that anyone can purchase on the internet.  To me, knowing that, if I had the time and money, I could do the same thing takes a little of the magic away.

This is why Jurassic Park is still one of my all-time favorite movies.18jyfksl1kks0jpgThere was still an element of “How did they do that?” when it came to the dinosaurs.  The special effects wizards behind the Raptors and T-Rexes combined elements of CGI and animtronics to create creatures that actually looked real because they were. And this is 1993-CGI, so basically, the computers they used to make it were probably a few steps behind today’s smartphones. The techno-dinosaurs in the movie had weight and dimension, things that no Transformer has.  That logic, to me, also applies to the story.  A man is breeding his own dinosaurs, opening up a big can of worms (the morality, the idea that they are selling this scientific boon that could probably used for more noble means.  Or as Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm adequately puts it, “What you call discovery, I call the rape of the natural world.”) Jurassic Park takes the first half-hour introducing the premise and developing the human characters before we even see a dinosaur.  That is why the story has as much weight as the dinosaurs. Transformers didn’t waste a whole lot of time developing Shia LeBouf or Megan Fox (not that she needs much developing). As I recall, the robots landed and the chaos ensued. It’s similar to Spielberg’s other scary-creature epic, Jaws. We don’t see the shark, mostly because of the technological limitations, but we know he’s there eating people, and it gives us time to see how Roy Schieder and Richard Dreyfuss, and thankfully, Robert Shaw, deal with it.

With Jurassic World possibly set to ignite the franchise again this year, I thought it would be a good time to remember the original. I’m sure everyone remembers the story. Stereotypical Eccentric- Rich-Old-Dude John Hammond wants to create a theme park/zoo hybrid when he buys the technology to engineer his very own dinosaurs and market them to the public. Unfortunately, his investors require a couple of top notch brains to sign off on the park to make it a reality. He brings in two paleontologists, played by Laura Dern and Sam Neill, and whacky “chao-tician” Ian Malcolm, played by Jeff Goldblum. During their tour of the island, scummy bad guy Dennis Nadry (Wayne Knight) tries to steal the park’s secrets and dino- DNA, and his evil machinations send the park into disarray, releasing the dinosaurs and creating what amount some really cool action scenes involving dinosaurs attacking people.

When thinking back on this movie, I try to forget about the disappointing sequels. I find it best to remember my excitement back in 1993 with the idea that there would be dinosaurs on the big screen (I was a big fan!) Back then, we had seen a lot of stuff in movies, but seeing real-looking dinosaurs was about as rare as seeing a real dinosaur. It didn’t matter that Goldblum was the biggest name actor in the cast, because the dinosaurs were the real stars.

And they delivered. But while all the dinos were amazing technological marvels, it was the Velociraptors that stole the show. Sure that T-Rex scene was cool, and eating the lawyer off the toilet was just awesome, the raptors , a dinosaur I had never even heard of before that, were the baddies that really gave me chills. They can smell fear. They can hunt in tandem. They can open doors! No Great White can do that. It was all the humans could do to simply not die (although a bunch of them did, which did help raise the stakes a little.)

Speaking of which, I have always felt a little cheated when movies end with the main characters attaining victory by surviving, as opposed to actually defeating the bad guy. I never cared for those disaster flicks because the entire premise is simply not to die by the time the credits roll. Jurassic Park is the exception that proves the rule, because there is simply no way those lame humans, and especially those kids, were going to kill all those dinosaurs. However, the finale is no-less satisfying because just when you think that the raptors are going to devour our heroes, the big, bad T-Rex returns, attacking the raptors to claim the title of Dinosaur World Heavyweight Champion. This action only serves to underscore the earlier assertions that not only are dinosaurs and humans not meant to live together in harmony, but dinosaurs aren’t even meant to live together. They cannot be controlled, and the T-Rex makes sure everyone knows that, throwing a raptor’s carcass through the man-made T-Rex skeleton to complete the awesome imagery. Plus, if they killed all the dinos, there would have been no sequels. Although that may not have been so bad…

However, this is about the original film, a ground-breaking achievement for its time. I still assert that the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park look more realistic than any alien in the Star Wars prequels, or anything in any Transformers movie, mostly because they mostly were real, or at least tangible. We shall see how tangible the dinosaurs of Jurassic World are 22-years later, but my memories of the original are as tangible as ever.

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