Tag Archives: Zack Snyder

The Return of The Return of Swamp Thing: An Interview with Jim Wynorski by Kent Hill

 

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Jim Wynorski is the man I want to be when I grow up. He is a sharp, prolific, terrific guy that doesn’t suffer fools and makes movies ’cause that’s what he loves – and that’s what he does best.

He has made over one hundred films, directed my beloved Deathstalker 2, and even written a foreword for my tribute/homage DS2 book Sword Dude 2 . He is a top bloke, as we say Down Under, and it had been a while since we last spoke ( for our chat on Deathstalker 2 click here: https://podcastingthemsoftly.com/2016/11/15/is-that-your-first-name-or-your-last-name-remembering-deathstalker-2-with-jim-wynorski-by-kent-hill/ ), so when I heard about the glorious reissue of Jim’s The Return of Swamp Thing I took a chance and phoned up this perpetually active filmmaker to see if he could spare the time to talk about the release.

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Thanks to my much improved recording setup, this time there is no transcription. This time you get to hear the man himself, and listen in as I touch base and hopefully convince a couple of you to check out the fantastic re-release of the awesomeness that is Wynorski’s  take on the comic that he loves.

The ever candid Jim always has surprises for me when we talk. Sadly some of the cool news he tells me I can’t share – it’s a for-my-ears-only kinda deal – but fear not, he does deliver many a splendid anecdote.

(GET THE DVD https://www.amazon.com/Return-Swamp-2-Disc-Special-Blu-ray/dp/B0791TR1S5 AND THE SOUNDTRACK https://www.amazon.com/Return-Original-Motion-Picture-Soundtrack/dp/B07FHLZZFQ/ref=sr_1_2?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1533815456&sr=8-2&keywords=RETURN+OF+SWAMP+THING+SOUNDTRACK&dpID=61ZcXsCkJ1L&preST=_SX342_QL70_&dpSrc=srch)

Long before Marvel and DC dominated the popular consciousness, Jim Wynorski was directing a DC movie. Before we see the proposed, rehashed series spearheaded by Aquaman’s Jamie Wan, take a trip back to the sweaty swamp and see Dick Durockthe original and still the best – rise from the murky depths and fight evil mutants, seduce Heather Locklear and give the thumbs up. The return of The Return of Swamp Thing

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https://www.amazon.com/Sword-Dude-2/dp/B07G4L9J3P

“God wants you on the floor.” : Remembering Hoosiers with Angelo Pizzo by Kent Hill

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It’s hard not to be romantic about the sports film. From classics like The Natural and Bull Durham to more modern efforts like The Blind Side and Moneyball. They range across all genres and all sports. Football (Rudy, Any Given Sunday), Golf (Tin Cup, The Legend of Bagger Vance), of course, Baseball (Field of Dreams, For Love of the Game) and in the case of Hoosiers, Basketball (Blue Chips, He Got Game). But Hoosiers, and I happen to share this sentiment, is one of the finer examples of the sports genre and is, for my money, the best basketball film ever made.

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Now, I use the term sports film very loosely. Yes all of the aforementioned contain the listed sports as part of their narratives. But, the games are not really what lies at the heart of these tales. The true centerpiece are themes like redemption, romance, the search for self, the search for acceptance – all these things within the characters either as player, coach, fan etc.

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So why do I think Hoosiers is the best example of this genre? Well, it’s simple. Hoosiers has all of these working within it. Comedy, romance, drama, redemption, the search for self, the search for acceptance. Okay, so it doesn’t have a crazed Bobby De Niro terrorizing any of the players to feed his grossly misguided obsession and distorted view of the world – but that doesn’t mean that it lacks thrilling, intense and impactful moments that keep you watching and ultimately cheering for the underdog, the little team that could. One could argue that this is a key ingredient in these kinds of films. A down-on-his-luck former golf pro, a disgruntled former player trying to manage a failing team, a boxer with all the odds stacked against him or a basketball team from a town in the middle on nowhere that couldn’t possibly take on the big schools and win.

Then there are the characters – all looking for second chances. Hackman’s coach, Hopper’s alcoholic father, Hershey’s teacher. They all have something to prove, something to gain from the victories the home team are accumulating. And, they are all masterful turns by each of the three principals. Indeed from all concerned with the production. None more so than that of first-time screenwriter and my guest Angelo Pizzo.

The man who was headed for a career in politics eventually ended up going to film school. After graduating, and spending sometime working in the arena of television, Angelo felt the need, at last, to make a film about a subject he was passionate about – basketball. And, being unable to find writer for the project . . . well . . . he decided to have a crack at it himself.

This wonderful film, under marvelous direction, David Anspaugh, from a great script with a stellar cast and punctuated by a phenomenal Jerry Goldsmith score is a small miracle that has, not unlike the team portrayed in its story, taken on the giants and carved out its place in cinema history.

If you haven’t seen Hoosiers, I urge you to do so. Don’t get caught watchin’ the paint dry…

A Nice Day for Superman’s Return by Kent Hill (PART 2)

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In the early days of writing for PTS, I did a little piece on Superman Returns (which you’ll find here:https://podcastingthemsoftly.com/2016/08/31/a-nice-day-for-supermans-return-by-kent-hill/). It was, if you like, a hymn of praise to a glorious afternoon, when the exaltation of the moment, combined with the wave of nostalgia – and the fact it was my birthday – all blended together on the day of the premiere of the first Superman movie in a really long time.

Of course, as is the case with a lot of films, a second viewing broke the spell. What I was left with was something of a mixed bag of emotions that I still ponder to this day. How did it all go wrong? What happened to the Bryan Singer who had recently made X2 (which was great)? Were there too many cooks in the kitchen? Was the whole thing a multi-million dollar rush job? Should they have rolled the dice and made Superman Lives? (Hell, YES!!!)

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Since writing that initial piece I have had the good fortune to have a chat with a couple of the people who were there during filming. Composer/Editor John Ottman (our chat here:https://podcastingthemsoftly.com/2016/10/28/chopped-and-scored-an-interview-with-john-ottman-by-kent-hill/), produced a beautiful score (one of the last I remember directly leaving the theatre and purchasing), as well as doing a fine job in the cutting room. And Robert Meyer Burnett assembled an excellent and comprehensive set of behind the scenes features, successfully documenting the making of the movie here in Sydney, Tamworth and also early stages of pre-production in the US (our chat here:https://podcastingthemsoftly.com/2017/08/17/the-making-of-a-conversation-with-robert-meyer-burnett-by-kent-hill/).

Today I was sent another great behind the scenes glimpse from my friend, filmmaker and co-screenwriter Sean Ellis, who edited the footage (see here:https://vimeo.com/262035539/ea3164da85). There is even a moment when you can see Robert going about his stock-in-trade in documenting the making of the picture.

There has been more of Superman on the big screen since then. Admirable attempts, but, far from that iconic and wondrous unification of elements which saw the 1978 film explode onto screens, and into our hearts and minds for evermore. Now, I like Cavill in the role, and with the climax of Justice League there appeared a glimmer of hope. That maybe they buried the moody/brooding Superman, and with his resurrection would also be born a welcome return to form?

Only time will tell whether DC cinematic universe can recapture, in part, its days of honor. Lighting, as I once said, has already struck (circa 1978 with Donner’s film), now all we are left with is the thunder and its echoes. Do I hate Superman Returns? No. It was, in this man’s opinion, a valiant attempt to resurrect the Man of Steel after a long slumber – yet for all its magic, it didn’t cast a spell of significant longevity – though it wasn’t as silly as Superman’s CG shave in his most recent big screen outing.

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I have a dream, as it was once uttered, that one day the grey clouds will part, the blue yonder shall emerge in all its heavenly brilliance and, there in the stillness, a figure traveling faster than a speeding bullet will rip across the vast firmament and we’ll look up in the sky – and maybe, just maybe, another magical retelling of the adventures of the most romantic of the superhero cast will descend –  there we’ll find another great Superman movie?

 

The Rise of Etcetera: An Interview with Kent Hill

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I definitely subscribe to this line you’ll find in the bio offered up on Shawn “Etcetera” McClain’s official site http://www.iametcetera.com/index.html, that he is indeed a modern day renaissance man, and all around musical professional who is commanding not only an audience, but also the respect and acclaim of heavy hitting industry insiders. The embodiment of hard work, a Multi-Award winning musician, entrepreneur and entertainment industry professional whose career includes world-wide recognition and acclaim.  He’s definitely no stranger to the limelight, and has carefully crafted a powerhouse of musical talent and stylistics that have garnered him an award for best Rap/Hip Hop album as well as two best video awards. 

He has recently set his sights on film and television, becoming the music director and crafting monumental tracks for the highly anticipated martial arts comedy film “Paying Mr. McGetty,” and the test pilot TV series “Kelly’s Corner” His repertoire doesn’t include the standard checklist, instead he has found immense success as a fragrance designer, sports manager and actor.  His creative skills span the spectrum and have gained him a cult following and record stopping sales. 

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All of the above sounds very grand. But, what I discovered when I talked with the man was a down-to-earth family guy who has devoted his life to his pursuits. I read a great article recently, that talked primarily about whether or not one should give up on their dreams. There was no definitive answer, but there was one truth that I took away from that piece; that if your are out there giving it all that you have, in spite of the success you may or may not receive, then you are living the dream – and that is something not everyone can boast. Etcetera is such a man, and his labors have proven fruitful. I was surprised at his candour, awed by his passion and thought it brilliant that he is an enthusiastic comic book aficionado, who still may yet have a chance to have his music become a part of the DC Extended Universe.

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He is a really cool guy that I hope to hang out with some time. In the meantime, pull up a comfy chair, kick back and listen to the man of music, fragrance and comic book love. Ladies and Gentelmen . . . I give you, Etcetera.

HE IS NED: An Interview with Max Myint by Kent Hill

2015 was the year. I was in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia at our version of San Diego’s Comic Con: SuperNova. I was there peddling my books but, in the booth next to mine, something amazing was afoot.

A giant banner held the image of the famous, or perhaps infamous Australian bush-ranger Ned Kelly; transformed and repackaged as vigilante, looking battle-damaged and bad-ass holding the severed head of a zombie in one hand and a loaded pistol in the other.

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That image invoked more than history and cultural iconography. It spoke to me as a concept so simple, yet compellingly cinematic. He is one of our country’s most treasured pieces from the past in a fresh guise and pitted against a dark, futuristic dystopia where the undead have evolved and formed a society in which humanity is not only a minority, but is being systematically wiped out.

Max Myint leads the creative team, spearheading, if you will, the rise of this epic saga of the man called Ned. A talented writer, sculptor and world-builder, the gutsy, gritty dark realm that he has helped usher in is about to explode on November 10. In the midst of the stench of rotting flesh and the searing of metal is something that commands attention. I for one can’t wait to see Ned’s rise and rise continue, and Max and his talented team blast this thing out into the masses . . . and watch it catch fire.

The living have surrendered…

Except for one man…

They call him Ned!

https://www.facebook.com/Iamnedcomic/

https://podcastingthemsoftly.com/2016/08/04/not-yet-a-major-motion-picture-but-hopefully-one-day-an-interview-wit-the-creators-of-the-man-they-call-ned-by-kent-hill/

WRONG: DULL ISLAND

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He’s bigger, he’s better and he’s back. He’s King Kong, and this time he is not going to be dragged off Skull Island and taken back to civilization to be paraded around till he takes exception to being someone’s meal ticket, breaks loose his chains and starts a city smashing rampage which ends with a barrage of bullets and a long fall to the asphalt below.

No folks, this time round Kong, now the size of a mountain, is hanging out and keeping the peace on his island. That is until and group of curious humans, led by an alleged Bear Grylls, Tom Hiddleston, Oscar winner Brie Larson who shifts between looking wide-eyed at things and taking photos, John Goodman who knows the truth is out there and Samuel L. Jackson. When you absolutely, positively have to kill every monkey in the room – accept no substitute. This group headlines a cast of who-gives-a-shit characters on a trip to Skull Island where everything is big. Even the ants apparently, but that’s a set piece too far.

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The journey to the island is mandatory – montage and music stuff. Then we break through the perpetual storm clouds and have ourselves a bit of an Avatar moment as the crew marvel at the grandeur and beauty of this lost wilderness. Then Kong shows up and goes apeshit. He smashes up the Apocalypse Now homage and then walks off to enjoy a little calamari, ’cause they just don’t make bananas that big. So,  with the cast all over the place, Tom and snap-happy Brie and their group are headed from the rendezvous point, Sam and John and that guy who played Private Wilson in Tigerland, plus the other soldiers are off to get some more guns to aid in Sam’s desire to turn the King into fried funky monkey meat.

There’s a giant spider that should make Jon Peters happy. There’s the Watcher in the Water moment. The Soldier who writes to his son bites it, or gets bitten by something unusual, but we don’t get the exposition till we meet up with John C. Reilly looking like his character Gershon Gruen from The Extra Man, minus the collection of souvenirs and the no-testicle high voice. This guy though gives the film a pulse. Oh, and he was the pilot from the beginning, SPOILER! He’s been hanging out on the island with the tribe that speech forgot, waiting to come in and add some much needed comic relief. Turns out there are huge nasties that you can call whatever you want under the ground that Kong has kept from emerging to prominence and getting there own spin-off movie.

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This task used to be in the hands of more Kongs, but there is a ‘big one’ of these things that lay waste to them. Now Kong is the only one left who can keep cool, sit tight and keep the creatures in there holes. Of course this film falls into the cash-cow category. They brought back Godzilla, now they make a Kong that’s to scale, in order for the pair to have a decent scrap. But sadly it is a joyless ride. Predictable, laughable, with (and I’m quoting a prior review I’ve read) cardboard cut-out characters that are simply there to fill in the time between Kong and his monster-bashing bits. Heck my son started talking at least 45 minutes out from the end. This tells me that he is board out of his mind and I was with him. But I tried to hang on. I did not fall asleep like I did after the first fifteen minutes of the Conan remake. I have since completely avoided the try-again versions of Clash of the Titans, RoboCop, Ben Hur, Point Break, Total Recall as so on and so forth.

There is a line from James Ivory’s Surviving Picasso in which Anthony Hopkins, as the title character, refers to the methods of artists who have found fame and fortune. He says they make themselves little cake-molds and bake cakes, one after the other, all the same. He then  stresses to Natascha McElhone’s Francoise, not to become your own connoisseur. This is extremely relevant and typical of the modern Hollywood. There is little to no attempt at originality, and if there is, it takes place within a film that fits into the friendly confines of a pre-branded property.

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But the big ape lives and walks off into the center of his jungle home. He survives his encounter with dim-witted humanity, only to go off and fortify himself for the coming sequels and, quick note on cinematography, Larry Fong gets to send a love letter to his buddy Zack Snyder with a little samurai sword in green smoke action. We have reached that point in the history of the movies dear readers, in which the dead horse has been flogged so often that they have been whipping the bones. Soon all that will be left is the dust of said bones under foot. What are we to expect then? I’m reminded of one of Kevin Costner’s lines from his summation speech in JFK, “perhaps it will become a generational thing.” Ten years goes by  and it’ll be, “Well, time to drag a King Kong movie out again.”

Sam Jackson buys the farm much like he does in Deep Blue Sea, swiftly and unexpected, at least for him. I’m starting to believe Hollywood is looking at us the same way. Here we stand, full of confidence, about to witness triumph in whatever form it may appear. Then it becomes like the lead up to the first ever screening of the Phantom Menace. The audience was cheering, poised, ready for the planets to align in complete and utter harmony. The Fox logo. The Lucasfilm logo. A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away. Star Wars. If you watch the documentary The People Vs. George Lucas, one interviewees describes this as perhaps one the greatest moments in cinema history, then, then the film started.

I think it is a frequent occurrence today. There is so much pomp and pageantry surrounding these tent-pole movies that more often than not bad, because to achieve the same level as the hype generated is near impossible. Mind you, there are a few that defy this convention but they are few and far between.

So my favorite Kong is still the one I grew up with, the John Guillermin 1976 version.

People tell me they hate that one too. But to each his own. Kong will most likely be back in a decade after this lot. He’ll be half the size of the planet, ripped and ready to rumble against the Independence Day giant aliens when they decide to return to the best place in the universe, Planet Earth: home and the re-imagination of the adaptation of the sequel of the remake.

He’ll take a huge crap in his mighty hand and fling it at them. Oh if only…

The Dude in the Audience

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BATMAN V SUPERMAN DAWN OF JUSTICE – A Review by Frank Mengarelli

“That’s how it starts. The fever, the rage, the feeling of powerlessness that turns good men cruel.”

Zack Snyder’s BATMAN V SUPERMAN DAWN OF JUSTICE is unlike any superhero film we’ve seen before. It is brazen and it is bold, it is disjointed and over packed with setting up the new DC Universe. When I say that this film is a complete mess, I mean it in the way of how APOCALYPSE NOW is a complete mess. BvS cannot be compared to any existing, non-universe, DC film that came prior, and it certainly cannot be compared to anything that Marvel has done. Marvel likes to follow a template. They know what works and what doesn’t, and they certainly do not take many risks at all. BvS takes risk after risk after risk, and by doing so Snyder has made a remarkable film.

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The casting of Ben Affleck as the fifty year old Bruce Wayne/Batman was a brilliant move by Snyder and Warner Brothers. We know who Batman is. We’ve seen Batman’s story countless times. There’s nothing more that can be said about him. Michael Keaton was perfect, Val Kilmer was admirable; George Clooney fully admits his turn almost killed Batman, and the Bale/Nolan trilogy was a godsend to the Batman’s onscreen presence. Now, we get to see the version of the Batman that some of us have always wanted, and a lot of people didn’t even know they wanted. We see what comes after everything we have seen prior. The Batman is older; he’s even more cynical and jaded. He’s given up on hope and resorted to his anger, his vengeance. He has become a killer.

Affleck’s take on Batman may just be the best one yet. He has resorted to his primal brutish instincts with one goal in mind. He doesn’t want to make Superman submit; he doesn’t want Superman to stand trial and have society serve justice for the atrocity he’s brought to the world. He wants to kill him, and if he can’t, he will die trying. Affleck transforms the Batman into a battle worn warrior. He is a man who doesn’t care about peace and justice, he is a man who has a blatant disregard for hope.

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Zack Snyder is the epitome of a polarizing filmmaker. He has a solid fanbase who are passionate about his films. Snyder has an equally loud echo chamber made up of people who strongly dislike him. Who refuse to give him credit for anything positive. There is not another filmmaker alive who could have made a Batman/Superman film that sets up not only the Justice League, but also an entire new universe to be explored. Zack Snyder, takes everything that was thrown at him: a follow up to MAN OF STEEL, introducing a new Batman without spending a film giving him an origin, introducing Wonder Woman, Cyborg, the Flash, and Aquaman. Snyder not only did all these things, but excelled in a remarkable way.

Yes, it’s another superhero film. Yes it’s another big budget blockbuster. Yes, it’s going to set up multiple franchises that we’ve already seen. But it has never been done in such a magnificent way. Affleck, along with Jeremy Irons as the new Alfred, and Jesse Eisenberg as the smoke screen for the real Lex Luthor, all bring pre-existing gravitas with them. Immediately adding validity to characters so we don’t need to spend a movie a piece building up backstory for them

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Film critics, whether professional or Facebookers/bloggers, who don’t like this film, who are relishing in the critical shitstorm this film received, already made their minds up that they were going to hate this film. Much like IndieWire and a few other websites tried their absolute hardest to sink TRUE DETECTIVE season 2 before it even aired, the way some critics approached the new Star Wars film in a highbrow, disregarding way – DAWN OF JUSTICE suffered much of the same fate, but none of that matters. The film is going to and already has broken box office records, and the dark and dreary foundation of the new DC Universe is set.

There is a striking moment in the film that was shown in the first trailer. The second Robins suit is displayed in the Batcave with spray paint on it: “The joke is on you, Batman!” Not only does this tell us, in part, of why the Batman is so angry and rage filled, but I can’t help but think that is also a way of Snyder saying that to his haters, those who rallied hard against this film: the joke is most certainly on you.

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.

ZACK SNYDER’S WATCHMEN — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Watchmen is as bold, risk-taking, and ambitious as a major studio event movie starring actors in spandex suits is going to get. Without the runaway success that 300 became, divisive but undoubtedly gifted director Zack Snyder was never going to be allowed to make a $150 million hard-R comic book movie. Throughout the years, a diverse group of filmmakers including Joel Silver, Darren Aronofsky, Terry Gilliam, Paul Greengrass, and many others all tried – and failed – to bring Alan Moore’s wildly revered graphic novel to the big screen. The big-wigs calling the shots at Warner Brothers at the time of Watchmen’s production (the Alan Horn-era?) deserve some serious accolades, as this project could have been turned into a PG-13, watered-down version of its incredibly nihilistic source material. And it wasn’t. I’m not judging the film version against the graphic novel. They are two totally different mediums, and what works in one doesn’t necessarily translate to the other. The big changes were A-OK by me, and quietly frankly, made a lot of sense from a cinematic point of view. I’ve read the Watchmen source material, and I never thought for a moment that what Moore put on the page would be exactly copied and transferred to the screen; this was not going to be 300 all over again, with a film that literally feels TORN from the pages of its original inspiration. Back on opening weekend in 2009, I saw the film in the IMAX format and it was an overwhelmingly powerful visual experience. It was honestly too much to fully process on initial viewing, even with the benefit of having read the graphic novel beforehand. But over the course of multiple viewings and endless online discussions, I’ve been able to boil down all of the plot lines and key thematic discussions, with the visuals and action and special effects never losing their dynamic impact. Billy Crudup’s scenes as Dr. Manhattan are easily my favorite; the Mars interlude has an elegance to it that’s hard to describe.

I’m stunned by the overall sense of design and visual sophistication of the film, especially the opening credit sequence, which dispenses with backstory and motivation in such an economical and purely visual fashion that it’s nearly impossible not to become immediately engrossed. Set to Bob Dylan’s classic tune “The Times They Are A Changin’,” Watchmen opens up with a glimpse of our society that’s just a tad skewed from what we’re familiar with, all done in glorious Snyder-vision, showing the formation of the Minutemen, their eventual collapse, and the birth of the Watchmen, while providing a political timeline that expands upon this alternate universe – it’s visceral poetry in motion and one of the most startling openings to any film. Snyder seems to love the ability to literally turn a graphic novel into a living, breathing piece of moving celluloid, and Watchmen has a fantastic, surreal quality because much of it was done on practical sets and real locations, but also utilizing CGI environments and backdrops, giving the film a rough yet slick and totally heightened quality. With Watchmen, he took a supposedly “unfilmable” graphic novel and made it – at least to my eye – into one of the most uncompromising, demanding, and insanely brutal superhero films that’s ever been attempted. There’s so much to sift through – the alternate political timeline, the subversion of the superhero genre, the blending of film noir with science fiction – Watchmen feels like an uncanny amalgam of 2001, A Clockwork Orange, Blade Runner, Dark City, Sin City, The Dark Knight, and the works of Raymond Chandler. It’s a very heady brew, trippy and surreal at times, ironically campy in a few instances, always nasty, frequently kinky, and always interesting to experience. This is a one of a kind film that really stands alone within the space of the comic book film, and even though it’s not perfect, it’s so ambitious and at times downright hypnotic to watch that I find myself under its spell in no time whenever I put on the Blu-ray.

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