Watchmen

0600005030QAr1.qxd:0600005030QAr1

Watchmen, Zack Snyder’s adaptation of the much-loved graphic novel of the same name, was released theatrically on Friday. Having not read the graphic novel, all I knew about the film going in was what I saw in the previews.

The opening credits sequence in Watchmen sucked me into the film, and I was hooked for the first thirty minutes. Through the historical montage, complete with living photographs and revisionist events, I felt like I had a decent grasp of the universe that Watchmen took place in. It’s a rare feat to accomplish this with such a sweeping story. That said, there were times when the multiple narratives felt disjointed and episodic. And while the film is largely about The Watchmen themselves, I would have liked to see more in regards to the societal look on things.

There was also a lot of pop music that was included in the film, ranging from Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are a-Changin’ to Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. The integration of the music with the visuals worked well for a while, but soon became more of a distraction than a complementation of the film.

Watchmen is an ensemble piece at heart, housing a horde of different characters, but the two that interested me the most were Rorschach, played perfectly by Jackie Earle Haley, and Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson), who comes across as Clark Kent with Batman’s toys. In some ways I would consider him to be the main character of the film, although there wasn’t much of a resolution for him at the end of the film.

Billy Crudup also made an appearance in the film as Dr. Manhattan, the God-like character in the film. His personal dilemmas and choices were a much-needed intellectual boost in the film, resulting in a cool ending. And while the character of Ozymandias (Matthew Goode) wasn’t in the film nearly enough, what glimpses we saw of him were intriguing to say the least. I would love to read Watchmen if only to learn more about him.

Sadly, however, director Zack Snyder tends to put more emphasis on “graphic” than “novel”. Starting out as a serious, gritty epic, I was surprised at the change in tone partway through the film and Snyder’s self-referential winks and personal fetishes. (At least there weren’t any drugs in the film)

I’m certainly not opposed to violence in film if the story calls for it and is used well. But to quote Alfred Hitchcock, “There is no terror in a bang, only in the anticipation of it.” And on a similar note, Roger Ebert wrote in his review of The Winslow Boy that, “Sixty seconds of wondering if someone is about to kiss you is more entertaining than 60 minutes of kissing.” Whatever happened to suspense, subtlety, and the imagination? There are better ways to show violence in a film. And in the case of Rorschach’s back-story, some well-placed shadows would have been far more effective, stylistically and emotionally, and would have fit with his film noir presence.

As an extra tidbit, I noticed a similarity between 300 (Also directed by Snyder) and Watchmen. The former ends with Dilios telling the story of the 300 Spartans in the oral tradition of story telling, while Watchmen ends in a similar way, but with the written tradition. Perhaps Snyder’s next film will end with a typewriter…or maybe I’ve just been a communications major too long.

In any case, Watchmen, while having some interesting characters, cool visuals, and a promising story, fails to tell that story well. Instead of getting a developed character-driven epic about humanity, we’re left with an adolescent storyteller infatuated with gratuitous sex and violence. And we’re left wanting more.

Advertisements

Final Oscar Predictions

hugh_jackman

Best Picture: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Best Actor: Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler)
Best Actress: Melissa Leo (Frozen River)
Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight)
Best Supporting Actress: Amy Adams (Doubt)
Best Director: David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
Best Original Screenplay: Martin McDonagh (In Bruges)
Best Adapted Screenplay: Eli Roth (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
Best Cinamatography: Anthony Dod Mantle (Slumdog Millionaire)
Best Art Direction: Donald Graham Burt / Victor J. Zolfo (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
Best Costume Design: Michael O’Connor (The Duchess)
Best Sound: Tom Myers / Michael Semanick / Ben Burtt (WALL-E)
Best Editing: Chris Dickens (Slumdog Millionaire)
Best Sound Editing: Ben Burtt / Matthew Wood (WALL-E)
Best Visual Effects: Eric Barba / Steve Preeg / Burt Dalton / Craig Barron (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
Best Makeup: Greg Cannom (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
Best Song: Peter Gabriel’s “Down to Earth” (WALL-E)
Best Music: Alexandre Desplat (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
Best Animated Short Film: La Maison en Petits Cubes
Best Live Action Short Film: The Pig
Best Short Documentary: The Conscience of Nhem En
Best Documentary: Man on Wire
Best Foreign Film: Waltz with Bashir
Best Animated Film: WALL-E

There you have it. Some pretty risky predictions there; it’s a mixture of personal opinion and what others have said. Guessing on the foreign films and short documentaries has become an annual tradition for me. 🙂

If I find a laptop, I will be updating during the ceremony via Twitter. Feel free to follow me and tweet your thoughts.

Alphabet Meme

The Rules

1. Pick one film to represent each letter of the alphabet.

2. The letter “A” and the word “The” do not count as the beginning of a film’s title, unless the film is simply titled A or The, and I don’t know of any films with those titles.

3. Return of the Jedi belongs under “R,” not “S” as in Star Wars Episode IV: Return of the Jedi. This rule applies to all films in the original Star Wars trilogy; all that followed start with “S.” Similarly, Raiders of the Lost Ark belongs under “R,” not “I” as in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Conversely, all films in the LOTR series belong under “L” and all films in the Chronicles of Narnia series belong under “C,” as that’s what those filmmakers called their films from the start. In other words, movies are stuck with the titles their owners gave them at the time of their theatrical release. Use your better judgement to apply the above rule to any series/films not mentioned.

4. Films that start with a number are filed under the first letter of their number’s word. 12 Monkeys would be filed under “T.”

5. Link back to Blog Cabins in your post so that I can eventually type “alphabet meme” into Google and come up #1, then make a post where I declare that I am the King of Google.

6. If you’re selected, you have to then select 5 more people.

Mine was done free-form. Whatever film popped into my head first was the one I picked, provided that I have seen it before. I didn’t want to just plug in my favorite films, which would be boring.

Amelie
Barton Fink
Conversation
Departed
Elephant Man
Fargo
Gosford Park
Heat
Ikiru
Jurassic Park
Kate & Leopold
Little Miss Sunshine
Mystery Men
No Country for Old Men
October Sky
Pirates of Penzance
Queen
Road to Perdition
Shawshank Redemption
Taxi Driver
Unbreakble
V for Vendetta
War of the Buttons
X-Men
You Can’t Take It With You
Zulu

Instigators: Blog Cabins / Insight into Entertainment

Victims:
1. Super Movie Time
2. Impromptu Audience
3. Rants of a Diva
4. Is This Seat Taken?
5. Noirishcity

Horror Fest: Day 3

The Mummy
Directed By: Karl Freund
Starring: Boris Karloff / Edward Van Sloan
Rating:

The Wolf Man
Directed By: George Waggner
Starring: Lon Chaney Jr. / Claude Rains / Bela Lugosi
Rating:

House on Haunted Hill
Directed By: William Castle
Starring: Vincent Price
Rating:

Gates of Heaven

Gates of Heaven
Directed By: Errol Morris
Rating:

Errol Morris’ Gates of Heaven (1978) is a fascinating documentary. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from it, and it certainly kept my interest throughout. It’s more laid-back and objective than other documentaries that I have seen. There’s one scene in particular where a woman is talking about her life. The scene goes on for a while, and is seemingly irrelevant to the film. Looking back after seeing the film, however, it’s obvious to me that it was that scene that Morris used to transition into different themes and feelings in the film.

It’s interesting how the film starts with one story and ends with a completely different story as well. These two stories share many similarities and, at the same time, are very different. They’re not necessarily opposing views, but the different parties definitely go about doing the same thing different ways. The first pet cemetery, for example, is run by a man who is very much emotionally invested in the practice for various reasons. Conversely, people who are seemingly more pragmatic in nature run the second pet cemetery.

Gates of Heaven starts off with the story of a man, Floyd McClure, whose goal in life is to start and run a pet cemetery. Because of various problems that come up, McClure’s cemetery fails. The story then shifts and follows another pet cemetery, run by John Harberts, which is far more successful.

From what I’ve learned of documentary films, so far I would say that Gates of Haven is a good representation of a non-fictional documentary with some elements of cinéma-vérité as well. The filmmakers aren’t shown, yet it’s clear that they’ve been working. It’s also very real in the way the subjects don’t seem forced at all. It looks and sounds very natural and real, which is what I love the most about this film.

As I said earlier, there are clearly two different stories, but they share similarities. The way that these two stories are put together bookends the film nicely. Floyd’s pet cemetery was born and died in a sense, while the other is still in operation to this day.

At its core I would say that Gates of Heaven is about mortality, both with animals and, to a lesser extent, humankind as well. The woman I referred to earlier is an example of how widespread this theme is, having some prevalent things to say in regards to that particular subject.

Along those same lines, the question was raised at the end of the film about whether or not animals have souls, which is a fascinating subject to think about. Earlier on in the film, one couple talked about their dog and how, while not being able to communicate with them verbally, was seemingly expressive and cognizant of its surroundings. The man told a story of a previous Christmas in which their dog found and opened its presents all on its own. Is this a case of an animal having human-like qualities or smelling a dog treat? It’s something to think about at least. Near the end of the film, one woman said this about her dog:

There’s your dog. Your dog’s dead. But where’s the thing that made it move? It had to be something, didn’t it? There’s your spirit. There it is. [. . .] I think I’m right. In fact, I almost know I’m right. I haven’t thought about the idea that animals do in fact have souls very much before now. But in my mind that was one of the best cases that I’ve heard for it yet.

The people interviewed throughout the film were interesting to listen to and were very real, which is a credit to Errol Morris. It was great to see so many differing perspectives represented in the film. I especially liked the early interviews with Floyd McClure and the guy from the rendering facility. They’re both two entirely different people. Floyd is clearly a more sensitive person, especially when it comes to harming animals, while the other guy just doesn’t seem to get why people would care about animals that much. It’s a baffling concept to him. It was also cool how, at times, it almost seemed like they were talking together.

One interview, later on in the film, that I really enjoyed watching was the one with the older couple who have just lost their dog, York. They’re so eloquent in their simplicity. They cared about their pet deeply and, at the same time, aren’t focused on themselves. When talking about how York died, the woman says:

I’m telling you, if I never tell anything else again, please watch your dogs for heartworm. It’s carried by mosquitoes just like malaria. And you don’t know.

I also really enjoyed thinking about their relationship, and wonder if their dog’s death actually ended up strengthening it. The woman goes on to talk about her belief that they will see their dog in the afterlife: “Well I think we’ll all be together again. I think we’re going to live pretty much just like we do here”, to which the man responds, “She’s got me believing that now, I never believed in it before.” It’s nice to see how a tragic event like has the potential to do so much good for those involved. We can learn a lot from this couple…or at least hypothesize about them.

The actually filming of Gates of Heaven was quite good. For the most part it was very objective, not detracting from what the subjects had to say. As I mentioned before, I was amazed at how long the camera stayed on certain people. Some of what they were saying seemed unneeded, but there are so many gems to be found as well. Cutting it up and butchering it would have been a travesty in my opinion. On that same note, I don’t remember the camera ever moving when people were being interviewed; it was always static, which adds to the sense of objectiveness, which I think was a great choice on Morris’ part. The camera does move when illustrating what someone is talking about; a diagram of the pet cemetery, for example, and when scenes are shown that accentuate what’s going on. I also really liked how the pictures of certain pets were shown. They were usually in the center of a section of grass. Not only does it have an aesthetic quality to it, but if the pictures were shown by themselves it would have looked impersonal. And for the most part the film editing, done by Errol Morris himself, was noticeable, but not in a distracting way. It does feel odd to me, however, when documentarians cut back to a previous interview later on in their films. I understand why this is done, and I would probably end up doing the same thing myself if I were working on the project, but it just doesn’t seem right in a continuity sort of way. Everything else is progressive, but the actual interviews aren’t.

The production of Gates of Haven worked well. It was shot in color, which looked great. While I love a good B&W film, I don’t think that Gates of Heaven would have fared well in that medium; the grass needs to be green in this film. It was also shot in full screen as well. I also liked the locations that were used throughout the film. The latter interviews with Phil Harberts (the communications major in the family) when he’s shown in his office really help to describe his character. At one point he even talks about what his office means to him, with all of the awards and things that are there. He’s clearly proud of their accomplishments.

Aside from a few studio shots that were used for illustration purposes, everything seemed to be shot on location. There were some interviews done indoors, like the one I just mentioned, but they were the real deal, not in studio settings. The lighting seemed to be pretty natural, especially in the outdoors scenes.

There really wasn’t much music in the film, except for what Dan Harberts played, which sounded quite natural and belonged there. I think that the lack of music in Gates of Heaven greatly enhances the film. Rather than ramping up the emotional level with music, Morris has instead chosen to leave well enough alone and let the audience see what the subject is feeling and come to their own conclusions. While I do love a good film score, it just wouldn’t have been the same film with one.

The sound was also used well. There’s one scene in particular where I noticed it. Near the beginning of the film, a newspaper article is shown which reads, “They’re digging up dead pets, old griefs on Peninsula”. It’s a still image with no sound. It then cuts to the jarring sound of machinery digging up the graves. What a powerful jump.

I really liked Gates of Heaven, so I’ll be giving it a definite “A” grade. It’s fascinating documentary that focuses on something that I wouldn’t have bothered learning about otherwise. At the same time, Morris deals with many different themes and is very objective about the whole process; we’re given more questions than answers in this film.

On a more interesting note, I read that Gates of Heaven was the result of a bet between German director Werner Herzog and Errol Morris. Herzog bet that if Morris directed a documentary about pet cemeteries that he would eat his own shoe. He did, and the event is documented in Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, directed by Les Blank.

(Written for my documentary of film class)

Attack of the Meme

You can blame this on MovieMan0283 at The Dancing Image for starting this up and T.S. at Screen Savour for tagging me. 😉 So before we get to the goodies, here are the rules for the latest Internet fad:

1. You must not have seen any of the films on your list, either in theatres or on video.

2. The films on your list should not be available on Netflix (this will be the criteria for “availability” since it’s too hard to track down what’s available where, to who, etc.)

3. You can organize the list however you want, in themed couplets like Piper’s original list, or just as twelve semi-random films.

4. You must credit and link to my blog, Piper’s blog for getting the original ball rolling, and for good measure, the guys at Out 1 for planting the seed.

5. Tag five people to keep the meme going.

6. If you’re too lazy to follow all of these rules, but still want to participate, you have my blessing (the more the merrier). Except for the rule about linking to my blog. That you still have to obey.

This time around I decided to break the films up into pairs of two, mostly by director. At first I thought that this would be too hard to accomplish (while abiding by the rules, that is), but then I remembered that there were quite a few Italian films that I couldn’t find on NetFlix. So doing some backtracking, and aided by a few bouts of genius, let’s get this party started:

Theme: Vittorio De Sica (Director)
Films: Shoe Shine / The Gold of Naples

Theme: Roberto Rossellini (Director) / Ingrid Bergman (Actor)
Films: Stromboli / Journey to Italy

Theme: Luchino Visconti (Director)
Films: Senso / Days of Glory

Theme: Abel Gance (Director)
Films: Napoleon / I Accuse

Theme: Miscellaneous
Films: Chaplin / Sleuth (1972)

***BONUS FEATURES***

Theme: Hitchcock Films that NEED to Be More Available
Films: Notorious / Rebecca

Honorable Mention:
War of the Buttons (Why is this gem not on DVD yet?)


Obligatory Tags:

Movie Reviews By CaptainD

The Kinetoscope Parlor

YDKS Movies

Celluloid Fire

/Film

(EDIT: Just found out that this is my 100th post. Yay)

Unseen DVD: Cutthroat Island

Cutthroat Island
Directed By: Renny Harlin
Starring: Genna Davis / Matthew Modine / Frank Langella
Film Rating:
Experience Rating:

This is my entry to the Unseen DVD Blog-a-Thon. I was introduced to John Debney’s score by Phillip a while ago, and really liked. Shortly afterwards, I started seeing the DVD in the WalMart $5 bin all the time, so I’ve been interested in seeing this for quite some time. I’d always heard that it wasn’t that great, so I never took the plunge until now. After I announced the Blog-a-Thon, I was perusing the local library’s DVD selection and happened upon Cutthroat Island, which I was planning on picking up at WalMart shortly after. So not only do I find the perfect film to watch / review, but I get to save money as well. Life can’t get much better than that for a film fan. 🙂

As you can see, I’ve rated Cutthroat Island two ways: Film and experience. Objectively, as a film, it really wasn’t that great of a film. But as a subjective experience, I was unknowlingly in the mood for a campy swashbuclking explosion-filled piratical film. I really had a lot of fun watching this, especially at the expense of the film itself. The dialogue was corny, the special effects weren’t, and the cast itself: Lots of fun. 🙂

It was a weird experience. As the film started I remember thinking that the music was awesome, cool intro credits, and then it just wasn’t connecting with me. But about 15-20 minutes into the film, I just started…having fun. I mean, how is it possible to take Genna Davis as a pirate seriously? (Especially after watching Thelma & Louise recently, with Davis playing the former) And if Matthew Modine wasn’t trying to channel Cary Elwes, that would be a surprise to me.

And I have to take a moment to say that Frank Langella was great as Dawg, the badder pirate. (‘Cause they’re all bad, really) One look at him and I thought that he would make a good Dracula. Huh. Unlike other similar villians, he actually made some smart decisions. He still suffered from the monologue of death, but you can’t have everything.

I’ve never seen to many explosions in a pirate film before…nor so much innuendo. I wouldn’t be surprised if Michael Bay cast Megan Fox in the lead role and did a remake of this. I’d watch…maybe,

One thing that I ADORE about Cutthroat Island: When they’re following the map near the end of the film they actually counted their paces out loud! How cool is that??

I guess I never got around to typing a synopsis of the story. Here goes: There are lots of people (pirates included) that want to find the treasure on Cutthroat Island.