Year Released: 2009
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Starring: Billy Crudup, Malin Akerman, Jackie Earle Haley,
Production Company: Waner Bros.
Release Date: March 6, 2009

There’s a large group comic geeks and assorted nerds the world over. Many of those geeks have been enjoying Hollywood’s recent turn to comics for quick cash profit. And of those many geeks, they’ve been given such ham-fisted attempts such as Batman and Robin, and an even lower extend, the Fantastic Four Franchise. I am one of the many comic book geeks out there, watching, and pondering, waiting for that one glimmering moment where the entire world believes it’s cool to be a geek all over again. Well, imagine my surprise when I heard about Watchmen, Alan Moore’s to the point, spawning graphic novel that covered politics, greed, and immortality to name a few topics. It’s a richly detailed, mystifying ride that will teach you something new each time you read it, and it’s a wholesome adventure with an inconclusive ending that leaves you with the ending devices. And that’s just the book. The comic was meant to only live within the paneled realm which Dave Gibbons created; certain story telling elements could only be portrayed in a comic book format, and untranslatable to any other format. But, damned if you can keep a filmmaker down, someone really wanted to reach a wider audience other than kids who spent too much time at the comic shop.

For all the cogs, there is only one spoon.

From Stage right strides in Zack Snyder, a respectable director hailed for his faithful representation of comicdom’s Frank Miller’s 300. He was able to capture the grandeur and glory of a chest thumping battle-hardened king Leonidas. Could Snyder capture the ethos, pathos and multiple underlying story elements that made Watchmen a timeless masterpiece? Well, he comes pretty close.

Watchmen takes place in an alternate 1985 where costumed folk fight crime, pursue justice, and have deep psychological problems. President Nixon is running for a third term, and the doomsday clock (a huge symbol in the comic book) is set 5 minutes to zero hour. Cold war tensions have reached a tedious high with the Soviets invading Afghanistan, yet are reluctant to strike with America in possession of the living superman Dr.Manhattan. The chain of events starts with the murder of one Edward Blake; costumed vigilante Rorschach investigates only to find Blake is actually the superhero ‘The Comedian’. Rorschach believes he has discovered a plot to eliminate costumed adventurers and sets about warning his retired comrades: Dan Dreiberg/NiteOwl II, Dr. Manhattan and Laurie Jupiter (Juspeczyk as told in the comic). Dreiberg informs Adrian Veidt, the world’s smartest man and former costumed avenger Ozymandias with little success. This all of course the set up so far, and I don’t want to spoil it for those who have never read the book, so I’ll stop here, but I can at least elaborate on what I did, and didn’t like.

Didn’t I see you in ’27 Dresses’?

Zack Snyder was handed the role due to his success with merging special effects with live action, he does a fine job here; he seamlessly matches up a pre mega-scraper New York complete with Gunga Diner elephant float, conveys mood, theme and attitude all incredibly well. Dr. Manhattan’s ethereal blue glow is handled in practical way as I found out on his blog, it matches the character and it the blue is never a distraction, only a tool that never distracts from the bigger picture. The flashbacks are handled quite well, as he choose to cast the actors younger and let the rubber latex add the years on in the 1985 timeline. The sets are wonderfully dreary without letting on they were lifted quite literally from Dave Gibbon’s artwork, and he does a fantastic job of translating literal famous comic poses onto the silver screen (See Rorschach’s jump onto Comedian’s balcony, or Dreiberg in quiet contemplation after hearing the line ‘you quit’). There’s never a moment on screen that isn’t drenched in history or burgeoning with in-references and nods. Each place you look on screen there’s a visual queue, a tip of the hat to the comic fans, and for non comic fans there’s always something worth coming back to. The mythology painted from the visuals is a rich tapestry from which you can find something new in repeated viewings. The lighting lends a heavier context with certain characters and there’s a certain flux in the flow of any scene. I was thoroughly engulfed in this world; a mix of real sets and computer generated backgrounds gave it more depth and I praised Snyder’s attention to detail.

Thankfully the blue smurf penis was petitioned out of this publicity snapshot

The characters themselves are visually stunning (Malin Akerman Anyone? Damn!), but just as Dr.Manhattan is detached from humanity, I too felt the actors were a little too disconnected. Patrick Wilson as Dan Dreiberg didn’t feel as intimated or as non-threatening in plain clothes; his physical demeanor and mere presence at times were staged as him being powerless, yet he always felt much more in command. Malin Akerman is as always a knockout, but she felt like she was going through the motions of her character, but I just wasn’t feeling it. Dr.Manhattan’s numbness to the world wasn’t really felt through Billy Crudup’s voice, but he does come close a few times. Matthew Goode as Adrian Veidt, the world’s smartest man certainly feels like he’s conveying the same detachment, although if his words carried the same impact as his punches he would have been fully realized. All this, and the one character that came shining through was the stark black and white characterization provided by Jackie Earle Hale in Rorschach. The raspy voice over’s, absoluteness of his morals and drive for the truth couldn’t have been played better.
Too bad there’s no such thing as a sequel in this universe, I know who Hollywood would happily create a spin-off for his character.

Damn you Bruce Wayne, damn you.

The logic behind someone putting on mask and doing dumb things at 3:00am isn’t explained easily; it takes someone that’s little bit off kilter and willing to bend rules to do something like that. The overall feel of the book is captured nicely through the music, tone, dialogue and pacing. There’s never a moment you feel left in the dark with anyone’s motives and I can’t say enough about the eye candy throughout the production. As a comic geek, I was thrilled to see this adaptation come to fruitition. Everything is a little bit larger than life, and the production crew really outdid themselves in this Alan Moore tale of politics and superheroes. There were many layers omitted for obvious timing reasons, but that’s the fate of a book to movie adaptation; there’s always going to be a few sacrificed plot devices to fit the entirety of a film.

If you want a film that’s beautiful to look at, has lots of history and a loyal fan base, check out Watchmen. You won’t be disappointed.

8.5 out of 10


Year Released: 2008
Directed by: Catherine Hardwicke
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Billy Burke, a great deal of pale looking vampires
Production Company: Summit Entertainment
Release Date: Nov 21, 2008

If I were a hopeless romantic, or a teenage girl with visions of men sweeping me off my feet, or someone who desperately wants to fall in love…. If I were any of those things I would have probably enjoyed Twilight. The fact of the matter is I’m nothing of those things mentioned. I’m the exact opposite of the target audience that Twilight aims for. I’m trying to place myself in a position to enjoy this film, because obviously, the box office indicates this thing is kicking ass. Try as I might I wasn’t particularly engaged nor was I impressed by Twilight.

Bella (Kirsten Stewart) moves from sunny Arizona to dreary over-cast Forks, Washington to stay with her completely lifeless father (Billy Burke). The filmmakers attempt to have her connect with the audience by making her an outcast fails miserably, as she somehow makes friends within the first few minutes. She meets the mysteriously alluring Edward (James Pattinson) who seems to act all huffy and weird around her, and she figures….in ignoring her he MUST like her. This wanton desire is reciprocated in the form of Bella really, really wanting to get it on with Edward, but it’s a forbidden fantasy as he’s a vampire.

So, you want to do some sucking after this?

I’ll stop there and spare the rest of the male audience the details. My biggest beef with Twilight was the vampire mythology. The whole point of one becoming a vampire is the utter consequences. Things like ‘the sunlight will destroy me’, or ‘garlic kills me’, or ‘I have this terrible fear of crosses or running water’. Nothing. In the world of Twilight there is no consequence of becoming a vampire because the damn movie glorifies it. Granted, I never read the series or any of the books by Stephanie Meyer, but her basis for the immortally damned seems a little too perfect, in that there’s really no flaws in any character (at least in the movies). And without flaws you have uninteresting characters, uninteresting conflicts and there’s really no set up for any kind of emotional impact because we don’t care. At the very end Bella wants to become a vampire like Edward, yet he denies her because she ‘doesn’t understand what she has to give up’. Seriously. What would she have to give up? Regular food in exchange for blood? Her skin is already pretty pale, she would just need some darker clothing and crappy special effects to make her run fast (more about that later). I wasn’t taken in by this version of vampire because it never properly develops the theme that immortality is a bitch, that being a vampire means you’re alive, but not human. I couldn’t get into the heads of these damn blood suckers; they’ve been living for hundreds of years yet prefer to all stay in high school. Being immortal would put a different spin on time, would you really want to repeat going to high school for the hundredth time just to stick to your cover?

The Pale, brooding, gothic Avengers, plus that kid from Panic Room

Speaking of teens and high school, if it weren’t for teen angst this movie would fail miserably. For each scene of teenage awkwardness and yearning I’m sure there’s a thousand fifteen year old girls getting their crushes on and blogging it later, then, hating themselves for it. Teens have their emotions running high, what with the hormones and ideals of love and now some author decides to toss fucking vampires into the mix and calls it love? Talk about pure fantasy. Having an older guy, (and not just ANY older guy: the ULTIMATE older guy) fall totally head over heels for you because your scent is intoxicating, and protects you because he can’t stand to be away from you? Actually that sounds a lot like a stalker. In fact, that’s exactly what a stalker sounds like. But as long as he’s hot and has to restrain himself and keep it in his pants, it’s all cool. Right?

How surprised was I to see ‘Industrial Light and Magic’ listed as one of the effects companies? Pretty damn surprised. It must have been the pre-teen division. All those scenes of Edward being impossibly fast looked like they were right out of the seventies, and that shitty blur effect of the other vampires looked like it could have been achieved with much more moxie if the team in charge of ‘Smallville’ did the same thing on a smaller budget. The only visual effect that looked somewhat believable was Pattinson’s gravity defying, perfectly sculpted hair.

“Listen, this thing between me and Cho Chang was completely platonic…”

This film simply did not connect with me; emotionally or visually. I thought the pale overcast and tungsten gradient of the shots were boring and depressing. The special effects were bad, the close ups of the young pretty actors were uncomfortable, and the dialog was terrible. Other websites point out the forced relationship and lack of chemistry between Edward and Bella. Personally, I want to point out how ridiculous vampire baseball is.

As much as I enjoy bashing this teen-love-vampire-movie, all indications show it’s a massive hit. This will easily hit the $200 million high water mark and sequels are already planned and being filmed as we speak. This genre wasn’t for me, but if you’re that hopeless romantic, desperately yearning for someone to love you based on outward appearances, or, perhaps scent, than let’s say, something meaningful such as your personality, then go right ahead and enjoy Twilight.

If you want to the proper portrayal of torment and consequences of being a vampire, watch ‘Interview with the Vampire’.

2.0 out of 10

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Year Released: 2008
Directed by: David Fincher
Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Taraji P. Henson, Julia Ormond, Jason Flemyng
Production Company: Paramount Pictures
Release Date: December 25, 2008

For all the commercials and teaser trailers Benjamin Button has, it almost lives up to the hype. Now, I’m a big fan of director David Fincher. He’s teamed again with Brad Pitt, who was in Se7en and truly underrated Fight Club. The effects are dazzling, the sets are superb, the actors are on target and the story is old, but the methods are new. So it was a fresh reminder that Hollywood can still pump out some good flicks once in a while.

The film is based on a F. Scott Fitzgerald short story by the same name. The story centers on the title character, born with the physical appearance and mannerisms of a seventy year old man, who ages in reverse. The story is meant as more of a humorous article (well, my interpretation) yet is able to touch on some key items: the main one being that the best years of one’s life is at the beginning and the last years are arduous and painful. Living them in reverse motion seems poetic, or at least in the mechanics of plot, it becomes intriguing and mysterious.

Hang on Ma, I’m getting the Hershey Squirts…

The movie is a different beast. Rather than take a comedic stance it’s firmly planted as a drama. Even the trailer tagline spells it out: “The wisdom of age, the innocence of youth”. Both however are unattainable by our Benjamin Button played by Brad Pitt. Set in New Orleans 2005, right before the devastation of hurricane Katrina, an dying woman, Daisy (a very old Cate Blanchett) sits with her comforting daughter Caroline (Julia Ormond). Daisy asks Caroline to read back to her a diary of one Benjamin Button, complete with pictures and postcards from all different times of American history. Before the story begins, there’s a necessary plot device, and we’ve found one in the backwards clock created by the blind Mr. Gateau at the end of WWI. Having lost his son, he hopes that he can turn back time in an effort to bring back all the fallen sons the war has taken from all of them.

Hey, it’s a nice little touch.

Remember when we were in Babel? Man, that was awesome.

Once Caroline starts reading, it’s all told from Buttons point of view. Button as you know is born an old man, taken in by the kindly Queenie and Tizzy (Taraji P. Henson Tizzy Mahershalalhashbaz Ali); both workers at an old folks home. Since Benjamin is already born an old man, he fits right in at the old folk’s home. This is where he becomes accustomed to death, and feels somewhat unfazed by its cruelty. As time goes on, his body becomes more and rejuvenated, while his mind is the only thing seemingly able to age forwards. He meets his first true love, Daisy (the aforementioned dying lady in the hospital). Its love at first sight, however they don’t ever hook up until their ages are almost in line. Thus, the line in the film ‘we’re almost the same age; we’re meeting in the middle’.

I’ll spare you the details of each adventure Button gets into, so let’s just say he’s been in war, travelled the world, got into Tilda Swinton’s goodies, and oh yeah…ran off to leave his kid with Daisy.

That last point made sense when you’re sitting in a darkened theatre because the choice is purely ‘thematic’. His reasons for leaving his daughter who they reveal to be Caroline, the girl reading the diary to her mother, is that he doesn’t want Daisy to be burdened with having to raise two children. Granted, but Button would have gotten some good mileage, at least 25 – 30 years of seeing his daughter grow up. Instead he runs off to India and other exotic places, sending post cards on every birthday. Now that I’m here writing it out, it seems pretty stupid. I’d like to think most parents would be happy to be there for their kids regardless.

Hey, that’s Hollywood for you.

Can I move this white piece to a black square?

The special effects are incredible; you really believe that Pitt is a gray haired, stooped old man, even a geezer in his 50’s and 60’s. What really amazed me was the amount of work done on the sets of New Orleans, the tiny little details that made every little bit believable. The transitions from decade to decade is subtle yet noticeable, even making Cate Blanchett go from young to old was pretty cool. My only doubt was with the story, penned by the same guy who wrote Forrest Gump. It’s pretty clear he took a lot of the same story structure and planted into Benjamin Button because there’s a central love plot, a recurring object (trading a feather for a humming bird) and replaces the whole mild-retardation thing with a backwards aging character. Regarding the events in the story, Button is merely there to observe, but doesn’t much participate. Trade that off for Forrest Gump who actually got to meet some presidents, play on the American ping pong team, and well, start a whole franchise from one scrimping boat. I can’t really say the same for Benjamin Button, who scowls when he’s old, rides a motor bike when he’s young and tramps around town when he’s younger. Heck, this might be an autobiography. In a nutshell, Button is Forrest Gump, with better cinematography and special effects, but minus all the US presidents.

For some reason, I was spellbound to continue watching even after I had those curious thoughts. Moreover, I think it’s the ability to capture my imagination and hold it for more than 2 1/2 hours, and keep me well entertained. Even if it was a little predictable.

7.0 out of 10

Movie Review: No Country for Old Men

No Country for Old Men
Year Released: 2007
Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring: Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem
Distributed by: Paramount Vantage

Simply put, No Country for Old Men is a bloody good movie. I wouldn’t go so far as to say ‘masterpiece’ or monument, it’s good, but it’s not exactly fantastic. Brothers Joel and Ethan have kind of built their film careers off some pretty unique, quirky and always charismatic characters. Given the material, I think they did a commendable job, but really they lose points because they didn’t really take any risks.

No Country smartly starts off on a slow and steady foot, with all narration done by the aged Sheriff Ed Tom Bell played by Tommy Lee Jones. Each scene reluctantly leads to the next, and each one seems to grip you tighter and tighter into this world full of violence, hitmen and choices from everyday people. As the narration serves, you slowly learn the guilt and moral aptitude of Jones’ weathered sheriff is meant to counterbalance the ultra violence of professional hitman Anton Chigurh (Scary-as-shit Javier Bardem). And while we’re on that topic, let’s illuminate a little on Bardem. Seriously: he creeped the hell out of me, I’m sure if a one time meeting with Chigurh doesn’t kill you, it’ll put you in the trauma ward. It’s that quiet intensity, that broiling, seething, almost soft spoken killer that lurks underneath that really gets you. Even the poster for the movie shows Bardem’s eyes, warily watching you, seeing you, figuring out how to get you, should you become locked in his crosshairs. And isn’t that the scariest part? Not knowing?

Anyhow, the Coen’s head back to the Texas landscape in their newest story of a hunter, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) stumbling across a satchel of drug money, becomes pursued by the homicidal and ultimate badass Chigurh, all the while Sheriff Bell tries to make sense of it all before someone else ends up dead. That’s really the crux of the story, but the genius in the story telling is how they made each character interact with each other.

Given the three main characters, they were destined to meet. However, it never happens – which is a good thing. Not once do the characters share any sort of screen time, and that in turn builds all the tension necessary. While Chigurh is walking around with is silenced ultimate bad ass shotgun, aiming for Llewelyn’s head, it’s done with clever shadows, plus it probably helped that it the scene happened in the dead of the night.

Tommy Lee Jones’ performance can’t really be called main actor type stuff, mainly because I saw him as more of a supporting character to the struggle of the hunter and psycho hitman. His narration does serve a greater purpose in putting all the screen executions and good, well,.. Intentions in perspective. I’m just a little more upset he didn’t really do anything, other than be the lazy sheriff and let the FBI figure out the hard stuff. Hey, that’s just me – the way the role was written, he was acting exactly in character. So sue me for making a few comments.

Plus, I realize that all the Coen’s characters, in any Coen movie, can simply be labelled things like ‘psycho guy’, ‘dude’ and or if possible ‘guy with crazy accent’. And from the looks of things, some characters can have more than one trait to their name. No Country might not be as quotable as the super-fun Big Lebowski, or as quirky as…let’s face it; all their movies are damn quirky. But the seriousness level gets taken up a notch from Fargo, and the screen time isn’t wasted – not a bit. It’s certainly good, but it’s not must-see material.

6.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Gone Baby Gone

Gone Baby Gone
Year Released: 2007
Directed by: Ben Affleck
Starring: Morgan Freeman, Casey Affleck, Ed Harris
Production Company: LivePlanet
Review done: 11:56 AM 5/20/2008

Gone Baby Gone proves that Ben Affleck is more effective behind the camera than in front of it. Considering this is perhaps his first movie directorial since his Indy roots, he does a fantastic job of putting the whole story together.

Really, Ben Affleck’s last good movie was changing lanes with the too-cool Samuel L. Jackson. Come to think of it, just seeing Jackson explode like a mushroom cloud laying mofo is worth the admission alone. And that was back in 2002! Well, back to the review…

Gone Baby Gone is the adaption of the novel (of the same name) by crime writer Dennis Lehane. It’s basically two missing persons detectives looking for a missing kid in suburban Boston – or, as the southies say ‘Bahstan’. Pretty straight forward formula right? Wrong! That’s where things get interesting.

Patrick Kenzie (played by the could-he-be-any-younger-looking) Casey Affleck is out to find a missing child, brought to his attention by the kid’s aunt and uncle. Said aunt and uncle are seemingly much more concerned about getting the kid back, as their actions speak much louder than the mother, played by Amy Ryan who does a stunning job of being the white-trash druggie mother, who – could have easily swindled her kid for a fix. Add the mother’s apathy, the aunt and uncle’s empathy, and the additionally empathy of Police Chief Jack Doyle (Excellent as always Morgan Freeman) and a quick, plot turning movie and it becomes great.

What was great about this flick, it kept everything on one track: no distracting side stories, no film wasted. Just when you think you’re being pulled in one direction, you realize its part of the bigger picture. And that’s why this is such a great flick. Plus, everyone seems to have a hidden agenda, except for our man, Casey Affleck. Who does a star performance as well, hell, he’s probably trumping his big brother who’s more content sitting behind the camera – and there’s no complaints from me. Given that lil’ Affleck has starred in a slew of Indy hits, big box office draws like the Ocean’s series, he’s primed for an Oscar nod soon.

Setting for Gone Baby Gone is near perfect: Big Affleck paints a picture of a Boston working-class neighbourhood full of neverdowells, up and coming kids, and street drugs: the kinds of imagery brought to the screen can only come from childhood memories, and we’re that much more thankful that he did that faithfully. Every little nook and cranny of Boston brought to us from street level, and every character a savoury one. Take for instance beat cops Remy Bressant and Nick Poole (Ed Harris and John Aston, respectively) – those guys just remind me of the type of suited cop that would rather lounge around all day in a coffee diner. Of course, that’s just me.

Deeper and deeper we get, and the more entangled we find ourselves in a world full of cops, drugs, red herrings and the search for justice. I’ll leave it at that. Just be warned, nothing is as it seems and there are always a few twists around the corner, the last one had me questioning my own judgment should the situation ever happen.

Thought provoking and fine – you should check it out.

7 out of 10