Tag Archives: Billy Crudup

Ridley Scott’s ALIEN: COVENANT

Regardless as to how one felt about PROMETHEUS, they would be lying if they told you the film didn’t have anything to say. The idea behind that film is so grand, it removes the viewer from the world of the xenomorphs because that picture is much larger in scope. Fast forward all these years later to ALIEN COVENANT to where not much is at stake, we’re given one-dimensional characters, and there isn’t much, if any, there there.

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This time around our crew is built around a mopey Kathrine Waterston (a poor woman’s Ripley) who is in constant grief over the death of her husband played by James Franco in perhaps one of the most unnecessary cameos ever. An always solid Billy Crudup, Danny McBride in an admirable dramatic turn, and the saving grace of the picture is Michael Fassbender in dual roles as androids Walter and David.

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Regrettably, the film doesn’t have much to say. Sure, there is some closure to the epic ending of PROMETHEUS, but even that arc of the film feels forced. It seems rather obvious that Scott abandoned any focus he had for a straight sequel to PROMETHEUS and did a swift pivot back to a clear cut Alien story. The problem is that the story is neither good or interesting. You know that most of the cast is going to die the same way they always do in these films and that the xenomorph will live on to continue to kill people.

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What’s more, there’s no terror or suspense or horror built into the film. The overly CGI’d alien rips through people, viciously biting them and ripping them apart. Nothing is left off screen, the film is overly bloody and graphic in the most desensitized way. You can’t continuously beat the drum that movies use too much CGI and then embrace a film like ALIEN COVENANT. The film isn’t terrible, but it’s not good either. Upon the release of PROMETHEUS, Scott was asked about the future of the Alien franchise and his response was, “the beast is dead.” That may not be the case, but what’s for certain is that the franchise surely is on life support.

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What David did next…

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When we last saw David he was pulling a Gwyneth Paltrow. He and Noomi Rapace were off to find answers ’cause The Engineers didn’t want to chat much about their deadly ink or their venomous space cobras.

But before we get to that, let’s go back in time to when people enjoyed the benefits of minimal furnishings and Guy Pearce had no need of old man make-up. We learn little in this austere setting, except for the fact that David is well versed in art and music, and, he has been cursed with the same disease that brought about the demise of the cat. Namely . . . curiosity.

And it would seem, after some reflection in the wake of Alien Covenant,  that curiosity isn’t only lethal to cats, but indeed any and all who go in search of the origins of deep space signals  and derelict spaceships. You could very well make the case that curiosity is the driving force in the Alien franchise, or at least, the main reason the cast members of these movies frequently end up in the shit.

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After a little musical interlude featuring a familiar theme and an equally familiar main title sequence, just to remind us that Covenant is indeed and Alien picture, we quickly find ourselves with our most recent batch of disposable characters soon back up that famous creek, without a paddle.

We receive a brief audience with the dutiful brother of David, Walter, right before the solar sailor (on serious growth hormones) gets hit with a whammy; plunging our heroes into peril as James Franco is deep fried and committed to space before he even gets a chance to tread those sexy space corridors.

His wife and Ripley in residence, Katherine Waterston, is understandably pissed. They were set to build a log cabin by a lake on their new home world but . . . well . . . that aint what this movie is about. This movie is about the dangers of curiosity and how it bites you on the ass.

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Getting back into a familiar turn of events, the crew of the good ship Covenant intercept a message from the cosmos, or more specifically, Danny McBride does. This guy after all has to have something to do other than wear the funny hat and keep the rest of the cast awake by making them say his name, occasionally making them chuckle and eventually getting to be what LL Cool J was to Deep Blue Sea.

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So they follow the signal to its source, stop me if you’ve heard this one before, and instead of the hostile world upon which we all first got our face-hugger on, this planet is stormy but beautiful. So they hit the ground running and that’s when all the fun starts. Walter ditches the hood he saved from Assassin’s Creed and puts on another hat as the gang grab some guns and go a hunting.

ENTER: THE DERELICT SPACECRAFT.

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Yep, just when you thought they’d found a happy place to situate a new colony they find old faithful, (space-jockey cruiser) crash-landed and oozing dark secrets. Rapace is gone but for her dog tags and family photos which tells us that this is the spot that is marked with an X.  Soon a couple of the expendables get infected by stirring up some bad pixie dust and we get the first glimpse of our alien, albeit a little pale. He busts a move and starts killing people like it’s nobody’s business.

Then a hooded man appears. He’s not the guy who robbed from the rich and gave to the poor, but a guy who’s looking to breed a master race with himself fixed at the center as God/Creator. It’s David. He might need a haircut and a real job, still he remembers his Lawrence of Arabia and, turns out, he’s laid some eggs. Yes – those eggs!

 

So David has been awaiting this ride, and after successfully breeding the Alien we know and love, some synthetic on synthetic action, pretending to be the only other guy in the cast who looks exactly like him (but with a different accent), we round out the festivities with a little power-loader . . . I’m sorry, crane action, we get back on board the mother-ship, watch and see how our favorite star beast reacts to sex in the shower til again the poor bastard gets blown out of yet another goddamn airlock.

Phew . . . it’s over. Well, not quite. See David is a little like Chucky . . . he aint that easy to get rid of. The story ends with David listening to the Wagner he opted for in the beginning before vomiting up a couple of fresh eggs to share with those friendly sleeping colonists in the next movie.

Prometheus 2 is not a bad flick. It’s just not really the Alien flicks we cherish. I get what Sir Scott is up to, and David Giler along with Walter Hill will be happily sipping their brandy-wine for a few more years as Scott continues to expand this prequel universe til eventually a de-aged Sigourney Weaver shows up and tells some screaming queen to get away from something . . . you bitch!

DAVID WILL RETURN . . . ?

Still, as ever, happy viewing

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The Dude in the Audience

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Spotlight: A Review by Nate Hill

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Spotlight focuses on a devastating turn of events which were ripe for melodrama, and instead turns out to be a spare, minimalistic entry that knows how to keep things close to the chest and still be deeply affecting. Director Tom McCarthy takes a fly-on-the-wall approach to his technique, showing us an intimate glimpse at what it no doubt must have been like for these Boston reporters as they brought to light one of the most sickening and heinous atrocities of our time, the sexual abuse scandal of the Catholic Church, which rotted through many a priest, parish and law firm who insidiously kept their mouths shut about the whole deal. For the reporters, ignorance was just not on the table, no matter what the consequences. Rachel McAdams is tender and fearless as Sacha Pfeiffer, a keen operative who is first to smoke out a lead, bringing it to her boss, the legendary Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson, (Michael Keaton), and the executive in charge of the paper, Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery). The matter is brought to further attention by Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), who arrives from out of state. It’s Mike Rezendes though, played by a stunning Mark Ruffalo, who drives the point home, refusing to give up and shoving loads of empathy down the throats of those who would look the other way. Ruffalo is note perfect, his determind sentiment delivered with compassion and impact that lingers. He hounds diamond in the rough lawyer Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci hides the sympathy behind the sass) to allow him access to the victims, giving him something concrete to go on. The bitter side of the lawyer coin comes in the form of Eric McLeish (underrated Billy Crudup), a passively belligerent guy who is anything but cooperative until the hammer comes down. Richard Jenkins proves that he can turn in excellent work with nothing but his voice, playing a source who is heard only via phone calls. Keaton is brilliant, bringing the laid back nature and giving the character an easy listening style Boston accent. McAdams mirrors the hurt in those she interviews with eyes that echo years of suffering. Tucci comes the closest the film gets to comic relief, and then veers into dead serious mode as he realizes his character is in control of lives with the info he has, snapping to rigid attention. Watch for work from Jamey Sheridan, Len Cariou, Brian D’Arcy James and Paul Guilfoyle as well. The film arrives at its destination free from obvious emotional  fireworks, on screen text or sensationalism, elements which often permeate true life stories. It’s simple, to the point, grounded and diligent to story, character and truth. That approach makes it all the more shattering. 

PUBLIC ENEMIES – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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Public Enemies (2009) marked Michael Mann’s fourth foray into American history with The Last of the Mohicans (1992), The Insider (1999), and Ali (2001) being his previous efforts. The director got his start making documentaries and always been interested in achieving absolute authenticity in the depiction of the professions that his protagonists practice, be it safecracking in Thief (1981) or serial killer profiling in Manhunter (1986). Born and raised in Chicago, it is easy to see what drew Mann to the story of John Dillinger, a famous bank robber during the 1930s. He and his crew were the best of the best at the time and so, he certainly fits the kind of protagonist Mann is drawn to.

Public Enemies begins in 1933 during the golden age of bank robbery and Mann wastes no time getting into it as he opens the film with an exciting escape from an Ohio prison orchestrated by Dillinger (Johnny Depp) and his crew. Soon after, we meet FBI agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) in action as he takes down Pretty Boy Floyd (Channing Tatum) with a hunting rifle from an impressive distance. In no time at all, Mann has established the film’s protagonist and antagonist. They are smart, super efficient men of action that are single-minded in their respective goals.

Unable to get funding and criticized by his superiors, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup) needs high-profile busts and enlists Purvis to find and stop the country’s Public Enemy No. 1 – John Dillinger. The more notorious he becomes the more this angers not just the FBI but also the Chicago mob because his actions put extra heat on them. There is a nice scene where he meets with a mob representative who basically tells him that he is a dying breed. The money he makes knocking over one bank, they make in one day through illegal gambling.

Mann demonstrates that he is a master at orchestrating action sequences. They are cleanly photographed and edited so that there is no confusion. You can always tell what is going on and who everyone is instead of the kamikaze, headache-inducing editing and slapdash camerawork in films by the likes of Michael Bay and McG. The shoot-out at Dillinger’s hide-out in Little Bohemia is the film’s show-stopping action sequence much like the bank heist in Heat (1995) and the nightclub shoot-out in Collateral (2004). It is powerfully executed and full of tension and excitement as well as an impressive display of firepower with the deafening blasts of tommy guns and shotguns.

Public Enemies reunited Mann with key collaborators, chief among them cinematographer Dante Spinotti who has shot his most memorable films (including Manhunter, The Last of the Mohicans, Heat, and The Insider). Mann has come under considerable criticism for making the move to digital cameras and even more so with Public Enemies because it is a period film and audiences are used to seeing them done on traditional film stock. However, it looks great with crisp, clear images, especially at night where there is an impressive depth of field. Certain scenes have a graininess to them inherent with digital cameras but, in this case, it gives a tangible, gritty texture that works. There are some truly beautiful shots in this film, like one in which a car carrying Dillinger and his crew hurtle down a road surrounded by a vast forest of trees that tower over them.

Mann is also reunited with composer Elliot Goldenthal who worked on Heat. Since The Last of the Mohicans (1992), Mann has relied on soundtracks comprised mostly of disparate tracks from various sources. Being a period piece, obviously Public Enemies really doesn’t lend itself to that kind of a soundtrack and Goldenthal expertly augments the drama that unfolds in various scenes, creating one of the best scores in a Mann film to date.

The attention to period detail is fantastic with classic trains, cars, and classic gangster iconography like tommy guns, fedoras and trenchcoats permeating the film. Mann really immerses us in the time period but not in a way that calls undo attention to itself. It’s just there in the background of every scene with vintage period architecture. Ever the perfectionist, Mann shot on location, often at the actual locations that Dillinger and his gang frequented. Whether you are consciously aware of this or not, the film just oozes authenticity.

Dillinger certainly enjoys the fruits of his labor but is always planning his next job. He follows his own personal code: he doesn’t kill unless absolutely necessary and doesn’t think about the future, living only in the present because he could easily end up in jail or dead. He is also very conscious of how he’s perceived by the public, enjoying the notoriety his exploits create. Johnny Depp portrays him as a very confident guy who is always in control. There is often this mischievous glint in his eye like he’s in on a private joke. Depp plays Dillinger with a lot of charm, like when he addresses the media while being booked in an Indiana jail. He knows how to work the crowd and the charismatic actor is excellent in this scene. However, Public Enemies is not afraid to point out that Dillinger is no hero. The man has no problem with killing someone if they got in his way but the film goes to great lengths to point out that he did so only when there was no other option. Dillinger was clearly a man who didn’t believe in wasting time, much like Frank, the safecracker in Thief. Depp inhabits the role with his customary dedication, adopting a specific voice, accent and effortless delivery of period lingo that sounds natural and genuine.

Christian Bale is quite good as the very determined Purvis. While Mann doesn’t create the balance of cop vs. robber as he did in Heat, Bale has a significant amount of screen-time in the film. Like other law enforcement figures in Mann’s films, Purvis uses state-of-the-art technology, for the time, to track Dillinger and his crew. As determined as Purvis is, Mann allows some humanity to seep in, like when he stops the brutal interrogation of Dillinger’s girlfriend Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard) and personally helps her get cleaned up. It is this small moment that adds a welcome layer to his character.

There are all kinds of parallels between Public Enemies and Heat. In both films we are meant to sympathize with the bank robber. Also, the two leads only meet face-to-face in one scene. There is a climactic gun-battle where both sides take on significant casualties that alter the conclusion of the story. And, like McCauley in Heat, there is an inevitability to Dillinger’s life; that he will run out of time and luck; that Purvis and the FBI will close the net around him. That being said, Public Enemies is not a carbon copy of Heat. Personality-wise, Dillinger and McCauley are very different people with the former being a risk-taker and the latter being overly cautious. The same goes for the lawmen. Purvis is not the larger-than-life extrovert that Hanna is, but rather a no-nonsense man who gets the job done and that’s it. There’s even a loose cannon in the form of Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham) who is to Public Enemies what Waingro was to Heat. A psychopath that the bank robbers initially ally themselves with but end up cutting loose when he proves to be too unstable. Structurally, both films couldn’t be different as Mann continues to experiment with narrative structure in a fascinating way. This isn’t your typical, cookie-cutter A to B to C plotting, which may frustrate some (see Ali or Miami Vice) but if you the patience and can get into it, watching Public Enemies is a very rewarding experience.

Barry Levinson’s Sleepers: A Review by Nate Hill

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Barry Levinson’s Sleepers is a deliberately paced, downbeat look at revenge, and is one of the most brilliant yet seemingly overlooked dramas of the 90’s. Part of it could have been marketing; The cover suggests blistering violence, confrontation and courtroom intrigue. While there are such moments within the narrative, they live to serve the story, which Levinson and his dream cast are doggedly intent on telling. It’s a sombre affair to be sure, slow and methodical as well, but never to be confused with boring. It’s just such a great story, one that unfolds exactly as it needs to. It starts in the 1950’s, where four young rapscallions run wild on the streets of Manhatten. It kicks the story off with a sort of urban Stand By Me vibe, and if you thought that film went to some heavy placed, stick around through Sleepers. When an innocent prank ends in tragedy, the four are sent to an austere children’s correctional facility, where they run afoul of some sadistic and abusive guards, led by Kevin Bacon, who is scummier than scum itself. They endure months of ritual abuse at the hands of these sickos, until their eventual release. Life goes on, as it must, the four boys grow up and follow very different paths from one another. Michael (Brad Pitt) becomes an esteemed lawyer. Shakes (Jason Patric) lives a quiet life, while Tommy (Billy Crudup, wonderfully cast against type) and John (Ron Eldard) take a darker road to drugs and crime. Eventually their past rears it’s head, and they are presented with an opportunity for much delayed revenge. It doesn’t all play out the way you may think though, and half the fun of this one is being surprised by geniunly lifelike plot turns and characters who behave as real humans would. Pitt is the highlight in a performance of quiet torment. Dustin Hoffman is fun as a washed up lawyer who gets involved, Minnie Driver shows up as a tough NYC gal who gets involved with Patric, Robert De Niro has a nice bit as a kindly priest who counsels the boys even until adulthood, and there’s further supporting work from Jonathan Tucker, Bruno Kirby, Frank Medrano, Brad Renfro, Terry Kinney and more. Levinson usually takes on bright, chipper comedies and razor sharp political satire. With Sleepers he deviates into tragic dramatic material, and shows his versitility excellently. This one gets grim, no doubt about it. However, it’s a story not only worth the telling, but worth the watching for us.

WATCHMEN – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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To say the Watchmen film (2009) had a long and checkered production history is a massive understatement. Originally a 12-issue mini-series written by Alan Moore and drawn by Dave Gibbons that was released in 1986, it was a revisionist superhero story about a mysterious assassin killing off costumed superheroes but this is merely a springboard for a brilliant dissection of the genre and comics in general by manipulating symbols and icons. It also addressed the fear of nuclear annihilation that was so prevalent in the 1980’s. The series was a critical and commercial success despite Moore and Gibbons’ intentions for it to act as an epitaph to the superhero genre and ended up revitalizing superhero comics and spawned numerous rip-offs. It wouldn’t take long for Hollywood to come calling.

In 1989, just after he finished making The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Terry Gilliam was approached to direct a film version of Watchmen by producer Joel Silver. Sam Hamm (Batman) wrote the screenplay, which by all accounts was awful. So, Gilliam discarded this draft and wrote his own with Charles McKeown (his screenwriting partner on Munchausen). Gilliam felt that the mini-series was unfilmable as a traditional two-hour film. The biggest problem lay in the financing. According to Gilliam, Silver said that he had secured a $40 million budget but in actuality he only had about $24-25 million. In 1996, after the success of 12 Monkeys, Gilliam was asked again and turned it down.

Nothing happened with the project for many years until it was announced that screenwriter David Hayter (X-Men) had signed a seven figure deal to adapt Watchmen for the big screen and possibly even direct it for Universal. Larry Gordon, who had long held the rights to Watchmen was going to produce the film. Originally, Hayter pitched Watchmen as a mini-series for HBO but the cost would have been an estimated $100 million. His way to condense the mini-series into a two-hour film was to break down the story points into their main components.

Filming was to being in Prague sometime in 2004; however, the option was picked up in April 2004 with Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) being named as the director for Revolution Studios. By July, the project had moved over to Paramount when the deal fell through with Revolution. However, by early November 2004, Aronofsky was off the project due to scheduling conflicts with pre-production on The Fountain (2006). Paramount’s insistence on getting Watchmen out in theaters by summer of 2006 forced them to find another director fast. In late November of 2004, they picked Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy) to direct using Hayter’s script. It did not take long for problems to arise when in April 2005 Paramount was looking to cut the film’s budget by 20% while Greengrass was immersed in pre-production at Pinewood Studios in London, England. One of the reasons cited was the exchange rate of the U.S. dollar to the British pound. However, the studio put the project in the dreaded turnaround (i.e. development hell) in June of the same year because of change of studio heads and the new one felt that the budget for such a risky project was too high.

Finally, in 2005, the film’s producers took the project to Warner Bros. and approached Zack Snyder to direct as they were impressed with his work on 300 (2007), a stylish adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel of the same name. Screenwriter Alex Tse was hired and he took elements from Hayter’s drafts while maintaining the Cold War setting of the comic book. The resulting film polarized critics and was a modest commercial success. Taking his cue from Robert Rodriguez’s adaptation of Sin City (2005), Snyder set out to make a visually faithful adaptation, often recreating certain panels exactly as they were presented in the comic book but ran into trouble when he deviated with his own preoccupations and stylistic flourishes. The end result is a film that is at times brilliantly faithful and also deeply flawed – a mixed bag but also an admirable attempt at an impossible task. The Ultimate Edition version, which fused the director’s cut with the animated short film, Tales of the Black Freighter (a comic book that runs throughout Watchmen, often commenting on the action), is the most complete version of Snyder’s take on the material.

Set during the mid-‘80s amid the nuclear arms race between Russia and the United States, Watchmen begins with two police detectives investigating the mysterious murder of Edward Blake (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) whose alter ego is the costumed superhero known as the Comedian, an amoral mixture of Nick Fury and G. Gordon Liddy. Another costumed vigilante by the name of Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) – imagine Travis Bickle mixed with Sam Spade – decides to conduct his own investigation and realizes that the Comedian’s death is only a small fragment of a much larger puzzle. He proceeds to notify the surviving members of the superhero team he belonged to: Dan Dreiberg (Patrick Wlison) a.k.a. Nite Owl, a Batman-esque crusader now retired; Laurie Jupiter (Malin Akerman) a.k.a. Silk Spectre, a beautiful woman pushed into the business by her famous mother, Sally (Carla Gugino), the original Silk Spectre; Adrian Veidt (Matthew Goode) a.k.a. Ozymandias, a billionaire businessman and considered by many to be the smartest man on the planet; and Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), an omnipotent being capable of manipulating matter on a cellular level. As Rorschach’s investigation progresses it appears that someone is trying to eliminate all of his former team members but to what end?

The first indication that director Zach Snyder imposes his trademark style occurs in the prologue when the Comedian is killed by a mysterious assailant. Not only does he drag out the fight, but he also unnecessarily employs his slow motion/speed up technique. However, Snyder makes up for it with a superbly executed opening credits sequence that introduces this world and its alternate history timeline (i.e. the Comedian assassinates President Kennedy on the grassy knoll) while also including all kinds of visual Easter eggs for fans of the comic book (like showing how minor character Dollar Bill died). As a result, there is something for newbies and fans alike.

For everything Snyder gets right – the look and feel of the film, which features some truly astounding production design that completely immerses you in this world – he maddeningly gets other things wrong when he adds bits to scenes that have no purpose except to add a little more action for our ADD culture, like in the scene where Rorschach is discovered by two police officers as he’s searching the Comedian’s apartment. The masked vigilante subdues one of them and disappears before the other can collar him. Why? To show what a badass he is? This is unnecessary as actor Jackie Earle Haley’s excellent performance does that for him.

Another nice addition is the integration of an animated rendition of The Tales of the Black Freighter, a comic book within the graphic novel about the sole survivor (voiced by Gerard Butler) of a shipwreck who desperately tries to make it back home to his family before the pirate ship of book’s title does. Snyder nails the nightmarish Tales from the Crypt vibe of the comic while also restoring the newsstand scenes between the vendor and the kid reading the book, which fleshes out this alternate world.

Snyder makes some blunders with a few of the musical cues, like using “Ride of the Valkyries” in the sequence where Dr. Manhattan slaughters Viet Cong soldiers during the Vietnam War. The director is obviously paying homage to the famous use of the song in Apocalypse Now (1979) but it is unnecessary and too on the nose. However, the most glaring miscue is using “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen instead of “You’re My Thrill” as it was in the graphic novel. Do we really need this song played yet again in a film? This song and all versions of it need to be retired from cinema indefinitely.

For the most part the casting is spot on. Patrick Wilson put on weight to portray the slightly out of shape Dan Dreiberg and with his retro haircut and defeated posture certainly looks the part. Wilson gives Dreiberg a slightly sad, pathetic vibe, which suits the character. Billy Crudup nails the eerie detachment of Dr. Manhattan, a god-like being bored with humanity. The actor adopts a neutral tone akin to that of HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Perhaps the best realized and most faithfully recreated portion of the graphic novel is Dr. Manhattan’s tragic backstory, which also attempts to present his worldview: he perceives the past, present and future simultaneously. Crudup does a nice job of showing the transition of Manhattan from a mild-mannered scientist to omnipotent super being with some eerily uncanny recreations of panels from the graphic novel. We see how Manhattan’s ability to manipulate matter on a cellular level radically changes the course of world history (for example, the U.S. wins the Vietnam War with his help). According to Moore, his aim with Manhattan was to show that he “does not perceive time the same way we do. We have a character who’s post-Einsteinian, who seems to accept that all time is happening at once. Past, present and future. And to him, the past is still there, and the future is there, right now.”

Thankfully, the flashbacks depicting the Comedian’s backstory don’t shy away from his amoral behavior: trying to rape the original Silk Spectre and killing a Vietnamese woman pregnant with his child. Jeffrey Dean Morgan does a fantastic job conveying his character’s skewed worldview: how everything is part of a big, dark joke that only the Comedian gets. In his own way, he realizes that what costumed superheroes do – fighting crime – is ultimately meaningless in the face of nuclear annihilation. The darker and more chaotic things get the more he likes it. Morgan is also able to dig deeper during his tearful late night visitation with an old foe, giving us tantalizing hints at a much, darker and larger scheme at work – the knowledge of which got him killed in the first place.

Easily the strongest performance comes courtesy of Jackie Earle Haley as the sociopathic Rorschach. The most important thing he does is get the voice right. Everyone has their own idea of what he should sound like and Haley got it. Not only does he look great in the costume but also out of it during the portion of the film where he’s unmasked and in prison. The actor is even more chilling as he recounts to a psychiatrist how he became Rorschach and the incident that transformed him permanently into his costumed alter ego. This section of Watchmen offers a glimpse into his disturbing worldview in what is easily the darkest, most bleak part of the film, much like the graphic novel. But again, Snyder imposes his style unnecessarily, adding his own gory flourishes to Rorschach’s showdown with a kidnapper. It is excessive and clumsily executed like something out of a cheap B-horror film whereas the graphic novel was much more horrifying because it left the criminal’s fate to your imagination. Snyder is too busy making Rorschach look cool and failing to realize that in the graphic novel Moore and Gibbons were deconstructing the romantic costumed superhero myth and exploring what motivates someone to dress up and fight crime and how this might warp them. Rorschach wasn’t meant to be a cool character but a depressing, frightening one. His backstory was where, according to Moore, “we actually go for the heart of darkness, we go to the very center of this black, depressing sort of pre-nuclear worldview.”

The most significant miscasting of the film is actress Malin Akerman as Laurie Jupiter. While the attractive actress looks the part, she lacks the acting chops required for the role. Known mostly for romantic comedies, Akerman looks lost in the role, which is unfortunate as it’s the most pivotal part and arguably the most complicated character in the book. Laurie’s relationship with Dan is the emotional center of the story and this is diluted in the film by the casting of Akerman. Carla Gugino, who ironically plays her mother in the film, would’ve actually been better in the role – or, maybe Jennifer Garner who demonstrated a capacity for action and drama in the J.J. Abrams television show Alias.

Another glaring miscast role is that of Matthew Goode as Adrian Veidt. The actor doesn’t look like the character or really act like him either. He’s a little too smug and too over-confident in his portrayal whereas in the graphic novel Veidt was subtly condescending to those around him, coming across as almost distracted, the reasons for which become apparent later on. Snyder has said that he didn’t want to cast recognizable movie stars in the major roles but for Veidt, a celebrity in his own right and by his own making, this would’ve been a wise move. I always thought that Jude Law would’ve been a good choice as he looks the part and showed the capacity to play unlikable characters in films like The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999). Plus, while doing press for Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004), Law admitted to being a huge fan of the graphic novel and probably would’ve been willing to take a pay cut.

Watchmen perfectly summarizes Snyder’s limitations as a filmmaker. He slavishly recreates panels and sequences from the graphic novel without demonstrating any understanding of what they mean. For example, the climactic scene where Laurie convinces Dr. Manhattan to come back to Earth, that there is more to the universe than random molecules colliding with one another is handled all wrong. In the graphic novel, we find out that Sally loved the Comedian, even after he tried to rape her. The fact that she could feel for a person who committed such a horrible act goes against all logic and that Laurie was the product of their act of love is what convinces the Manhattan to renew his interest in humanity. The film waters this down completely and Sally says that she made a mistake being with the Comedian that one time but that she loves Laurie anyway. Whereas, the graphic novel is a thought-provoking look at human nature and our fascination with costumed superheroes, the film dilutes and tries to make it palatable for a mainstream audience while still trying to appeal to fans of the source material. This schizophrenic attitude is arguably one of the biggest flaws of the film.

Watchmen is a flawed mess of a film – one that gets many things right but also gets a lot of things wrong – but a fascinating one nonetheless. If I’m being overly critical on Snyder it’s only because I love the source material so much that seeing it brought to life in a film was at once exhilarating and depressing. One has to give Snyder credit for making it at all, for using his clout to make sure it was R rated and keeping it set during the ‘80s – two things he went to the mat for with the studio. He made the best possible film one could with the limitations of a feature film format. Ideally, the graphic novel could only truly be done justice in a mini-series format aired on a cable channel like HBO, which would free the filmmakers of the constraints of network television. Watchmen asks many questions but perhaps as Dave Gibbons points out, it really asks the big question: “Who makes the world? Who is responsible for the way the world is? And a lot of it is planned, but a lot of it is just sheer chance. There are patterns, the pattern that we perceive, but there are patterns going on underneath it. And that’s what we tried to show. With these sub, almost subliminal patterns that go through things, echoes, repeating shapes, motifs turning up in unexpected places.” Is the world made of patterns or is it sheer coincidence? The graphic novel expertly examines these questions and offers an entertaining story as well. The film? Not so much.

STEPHEN FREARS’ THE HI-LO COUNTRY — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

2The Hi-Lo Country is a very unique film, totally under the radar (where’s the Blu-ray?!), made with supreme skill and confidence by an eclectic group of collaborators, and anchored by two fantastic performances by Woody Harrelson and the eternally undervalued Billy Crudup. Set in post-WWII New Mexico, it’s a cowboy film, it’s a Western, it’s a family drama, it’s a romance, and there are more than a few grace notes contained in Walon Green’s poetic screenplay (based on the novel by Max Evans) which provides a lyrical sense of love and sweep for the time period and dusty locations. Directed with a classical sense of proportion and clear-eyed dramatics by the gifted British director Stephen Frears, the film also boasts Martin Scorsese as a “Presenter,” further adding to the name-brand quality of the filmmaking team. The stellar supporting cast includes Patricia Arquette as the woman who falls in love with both of the leads, a crusty Sam Elliot as the chief antagonist who feels right at home in this material, a baby-faced Penelope Cruz in one of her first English-language feature films, and the distinctive actor Cole Hauser in an early (and possibly best) performance as a sketchy acquaintance of both Harrelson and Crudup. Carter Burwell’s familiar orchestral notes lend an interesting aural texture to the film, with Oliver Stapleton’s honeyed and golden widescreen cinematography made excellent use of the vistas and endless desert and open-plain landscape. The film was barely released back in late 1998 (it grossed $166,000!), and curiously, critical reception was more mixed than might have been expected. But over the years, it’s been a film that’s always enticed me back for revisits; there’s just something so different and offbeat about this movie, which while trading off of expected conventions (both visually and narratively), feels like few other modern genre pieces that I can think of. This film is the very definition of a small gem, a work that’s begging to be re-discovered by a more appreciative audience.

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