Astonishing Tales of Mass Consumption (2.15.09-3.9.09)


Some brief reviews and discussions about a few of the things I was putting in my ear holes, eye holes, nose holes and mouth hole over the weekend past few weeks. And yes, here be SPOILERS, so tread at your own risk. 

In This Installment Watchmen, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Frozen River and new albums by Aceyalone and Raphael Saadiq.

Matthew Goode (left, as Ozymandias) and Jeffery Dean Morgan (as the Comedian) are both guilty of letting the script own them instead of vice versa.

Matthew Goode (left, as Ozymandias) and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (as the Comedian) are both guilty of letting the script own them instead of vice versa.

Watchmen Given the recent spate of stories on my blog about the movie and the original graphic novel, I doubt anyone’s surprised that I’d be posting a review of the film. If there’s one thing I respect, it’s reliable follow-through. Before I get to the review proper, I want to preface everything by saying I’m a strident believer that any movie adaptation needs to be judged on its own merits and not on the merits of the source material. Contrary to conventional wisdom, adaptations are not inferior by their very nature. The world would be a poorer place without the cinematic contributions of The Third Man or The Shining. So as much as I’ve been whining about the graphic novel, my intent with this review is to examine the movie as a movie and not the offspring of a well-loved graphic novel.

Watchmen is nothing like I expected it to be. It’s an odd film that, by and large, doesn’t cling to action-film formulae and instead feels like a patchwork of acting styles and cinematic flourishes. That being said, Watchmen is not a successful movie. It was certainly better than I thought it would be, and it has increased my respect for Zack Snyder and his tenacity to bring as respectful a movie adaptation as a director can in the current Hollywood studio system. But Snyder’s faithfulness to the details of the book leaves the movie with nothing original — in fact, nothing at all — to say to the audience except that a world with costumed crimefighters would sure be one fucked up place. 

The opening 15 minutes is a snapshot of the film’s larger problems and overall uneveness. We begin with an extended alternate universe McLaughlin Group that unleashes a campy info dump dressed up like a young(er) Pat Buchanan and Eleanor Clift (and so begins the litany of famous faces of the 1980s, actors in bad makeup and distracting prosthetics trying too hard to mimic the celebrities they’re portraying). That scene gives way to vicious fisticuffs in Snyder’s pattened slo-mo style (in this parallel world, the laws of physics require all fight scenes to slow down for everyone to admire the carnage). Finally, the credits roll behind a brilliant and wonderously stylish montage that outlines the history of crimefighters in this world in the time it takes for Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changin’ to play. That’s just in the first 15 minutes; imagine what happens over 2½ hours that intermixes dramatic line readings from a community theater play (many of Carla Gugino’s scenes), music directing by Johnny Plothammer (the instrumental parts of Everybody Wants to Rule the World playing behind Adrian Veidt), segments that evoke an ’80s Batdance feel (the sex scene between Nite Owl and Silk Spectre) and astounding bits that almost reach the sublime (Billy Crudup’s performance as Dr. Manhattan).

The most fascinating and disturbing part of the movie is its inadvertent parallel to the book. In the graphic novel, the costumes are fetishes for the people who dress up in them. They’re ways for the characters to focus their sexual proclivities or psychotic tendencies. Of course, it’s also a way for writer Alan Moore to comment on the readership of superhero fare. Snyder does the same thing (though unintentionally, I’m assuming) with an action film trope: the glorification of ultra-violence. Each fight scene is slowed down to spotlight the carnage of bones popping from flesh, then sped up to adrenalize the shock of multiple cleaver hacks to the head.* The violence is almost always shown as might for right, and the protagonists use it as fetish for their own personal satisfaction and worth in their world. It justifies — for the audience and the characters — what in other contexts would be considered savage, abhorent behavior. 

• • •

You will believe that Aquaman can be an interesting and fun character.

You will believe that Aquaman can be an interesting and fun character.

Batman: The Brave and the Bold Since we’re on the subject of costumed crimefighters, let’s talk about ones with a little more panache. Those, of course, would be the heroes on Cartoon Network’s new Batman animated series. The concept behind this series isn’t just to spotlight the Dark Knight, but to have him team up with other superheroes of the DC Universe. In fact, the name is borrowed from DC’s old The Brave and the Bold comic series that worked much the same way. 

What makes this series such fun is the fact that it actually wants to be fun and not some brooding, pseudo-series toon. Don’t come here looking for a grim vigilante or any angst-ridden antics. The visual style is inspired by classic Batman artist Dick Sprang, and the stories are just plain inspired. The series embraces the fantastic and the odd, while mixing in equal parts whimsy and slyness. In fact, B:TBatB has done the impossible and made Aquaman a scene-stealer as a gregarious, slightly egotistical but affable King of the Seven Seas. Plus, how can you not like a Batman who defeats and shames an evil talking gorilla by turning him into a man?

• • •

Misty Upham (left) and Melissa Leo turn in two of the most underrated performances of 2008.

Misty Upham (left) and Melissa Leo turn in two of the most underrated performances of 2008.

Frozen River Melissa Leo received some buzz during Oscar season for her role in this film, but the movie itself didn’t get nearly the praise it deserved. This is one of those small, quiet movies that plays out large across the faces of the performers. In fact, Frozen River‘s cast acts, instead of emoting between lines of dialogue. Watch the movie and focus on Leo’s eyes or, better yet, the facial expressions of co-star Misty Upham. You’ll catch more there than in any scene-chewing monologue. Frozen River also contains one of the most beautiful and understated scenes of human compassion ever put to film. It’s a small sequence at the end. Leo’s son, who has committed identity theft against an elderly Native American woman, is confronted by the reservation’s sheriff about the crime. The sheriff, with the old woman in tow, forces the boy to apologize to the woman, then comforts the guilt-filled boy by telling him he knows he meant no harm and he won’t do it again. It’s a small scene, but the movie’s entire heart is caught right in the middle of it. 

• • •

"Aceyalone & the Lonely Ones," Aceyalone

"Aceyalone & the Lonely Ones," Aceyalone

"The Way I See It," Raphael Saadiq

"The Way I See It," Raphael Saadiq

New albums by Aceyalone and Raphael Saadiq I hadn’t planned on including these two albums, but after giving them a listen, I couldn’t not talk about them. Both are R&B infused (Aceyalone’s Aceyalone & the Lonely Ones leans more toward hip-hop than Raphael Saadiq’s The Way I See It), and both are impossible to stop playing. A friend of mine recently lent me the Stax 50th anniversary collection, and listening to Aceyalone and Raphael Saadiq is like listening to the label if it had survived another 50 years.

• • •

Other Things I Consumed and ENJOYED Burn Notice season finale, The Visitor, Jon Stewart’s jihad against CNBC

Other Things I Consumed and DIDN’T ENJOY Vicky Cristina Barcelona, It’s Not Me, It’s You by Lily Allen  

• • •

* Here’s my one geek critique about changes the movie made from the graphic novel. In the film, Rorschach is seen cleaving a child rapist repeatedly in the head after the man has confessed to the crime. In the book, Rorschach handcuffs the rapist to a stove, covers him in kerosene, gives him a hacksaw, then lights the place on fire. The rapist doesn’t confess like some thug from a Stephen J. Cannell TV series. Rorschach doesn’t growl and spasm like someone who is a capital-A actor. In the book, the character walks out the door as the conflagaration consumes the rapist and his shed. Even though it’s not as graphic as the movie, the scene is twice as savage. 

COLLAGE Warner Bros.; Warner Bros. Animation/Cartoon Network; Sony Pictures Classics; Project Blowed; Sony Records
PHOTO Warner Bros.
IMAGE Warner Bros. Animation/Cartoon Network
PHOTO Sony Pictures Classics 
ALBUMS Project Blowed; Sony Records 

3 thoughts on “Astonishing Tales of Mass Consumption (2.15.09-3.9.09)

  1. As the negative reviews pile up, I feel strangely compelled to defend Snyder and his Watchmen. Not sure why, really. I’m more than willing to admit its flaws. Maybe it’s because of all he did to make sure it didn’t become some awful, forgettable piece of PG-13 pablum. That said, I’d have to agree with just about everything you said, although I am probably more forgiving of the music of Johnny Plothammer. I liked that bit.

    Caught “Frozen River” last night. Terrific. It was unsentimental without being ridiculously tragic. I totally thought the trailer was going to catch on fire, but instead it just singed a little, propelling her to go on one more run. I was moved by how much the older brother cared for the kid, and the complicated relationship between him and his mom.

    As for Batman: The Brave and the Bold, allow me this shameless plug of an interview I did with Diedrich Bader, the voice of Batman:

  2. I agree about Frozen River and The Visitor (although the second was not really discussed here). Both were terrific but not Larger Than Life films that, besides best actor nods, were largely neglected. It makes me sad that explosions (and other such noisy methods) are required to grab attention.

  3. I’m seeing WATCHMEN on Monday. And while I loved the book, I don’t hold it nearly as high a regard as the rest of the universe. It’s definitely worth reading, and is quite good, but not something I’d get bent out of shape about seeing a movie of. Even a half-way good one.

    Now, when some ass-hat decides to make a “Cat’s Cradle” film, we’ll talk. Well, you’ll talk, and I’ll bitch.

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