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Friday, March 27, 2009

Smallville 8x17 - "Hex"


SUPERMAN! CHLOE SULLIVAN! LOIS LANE! (Two of her this week) JIMMY OLSEN! (sat this one out) TESS MERCER! (ditto) DOOMSDAY! (doomsditto) THE GREEN ARROW!
with special DC Universe guest star:
JOHN ZATARA (mentioned, silhouette shown)
and didn't appear in the flesh but had their pictures shown on monitors:
and finally, also mentioned by name:

As evidenced, this was a gigantic DCU geekout episode, the biggest since the Legion of Super Heroes visited Smallville.

Zatanna (Serinda Swan) is a hot stage magician in fishnets, as she should be, mourning the death of her father John Zatara (whom Oliver Queen referenced as the World's Greatest Magician.)

Zatanna wanted Green Arrow to steal a magic book the late Lex Luthor had acquired which would give her the means to speak spells backwards and raise her father from the dead, at the cost of her own life. There's some fun interaction between Green Arrow and Zatanna. I liked how easily she figured out Oliver was the Green Arrow (because it really is bloody obvious) and how Oliver was pissed at her for chaining him up and left him in an alley in costume but without his hoodie and shades. I also liked Zatanna volunteering her services to Oliver in the future if he ever required her special skills.

The A story, though, involved Chloe feeling blue because her marriage to Jimmy Olsen is kaput and Lois is living the high life Chloe gave up as the hotshot Daily Planet reporter. Zatanna was at her birthday party and offered her a wish, which turned out to be Chloe wishing for Lois's life, which actually turned out to be Chloe inhabiting Lois's body while the real Lois was on assignment in Mexico.

Erica Durance needs some props for being so very good at portraying other people inhabiting Lois's body. She did so earlier this season when Doomsday's Kryptonian mother possessed Lois' body, and now she does it again, playing Chloe in her body and doing so convincingly. There was some really fun Chloe/Lois and Clark moments as Clark was oblivious he wasn't talking to the real Lois Lane. Until Chloe finally told him to use his "Superspeed" and then further dropped bombs to finally get it through Clark's thick skull:

"Krypton! Fortress! Jor-El! Doomsday! Chloe!"

Zatanna gave Clark a wish where he didn't remember he has fabulous Krypton powers and thought he was an average joe. That didn't last long as Chloe reverted back to her hot little blonde self by encouraging Clark to resume his Supermanity. The mechanics of how the magic spells wore off were a little fuzzy, but who cares, this show has never been about the details.

Some really great Chloe and Clark moments and Lois and Clark moments that shifted the series back to where we were before Lana shanghaied the show for four episodes. Plus all that DC Universe stuff as Chloe goes to work for Oliver and becomes Oracle (not by name) to the Justice League.

.ellivllamS evol I.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Watching Watchmen

March 8, 2009

You really shouldn't read this unless you've seen Watchmen.

I thought I wrote a pretty decent Watchmen review. I tried to be fair and touch on what I felt were the strengths and weaknesses of the movie. Somewhere along the way I neglected to mention whether or not I liked Watchmen. Well, considering that Watchmen has dominated my thoughts and many of my conversations this past weekend, and considering I just got back from seeing it for a third time (I'm pretty sure I have one more IMAX viewing in me before I finally, mercifully put Watchmen aside -- until the director's cut in July), I think I can safely say I love Watchmen. It's hard to put into words why I had trouble coming to that conclusion after the first, non-IMAX viewing. 20 years of waiting for this movie, knowing that graphic novel so well, the dueling expectations and dread, made sorting through what's there, what's missing, what was changed, what was improved, surprisingly difficult.

I'm genuinely impressed with the way Zack Snyder handled the source material. I honestly don't know how else it could have been adapted. Could someone else have done it better, or worse? Who knows and who cares. What's there is a remarkable achievement for something that until three days ago I still felt shouldn't have been attempted. Snyder succeeded in filming "the unfilmmable." Fortune favored the bold. I can also say that I don't think Zack Snyder worsened anything about "Watchmen", which is an amazing feat in itself. "You never did anything wrong by me."

I'm still awed by how well the musical choices fit into Watchmen. I've read the inevitable complaints online, that some found the pop songs distracting or off-putting. To each his own. I'm still surprised by how right it felt to me, and how savvy the song choices were. I already mentioned how much I liked "99 Luftballons" and "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" in my review. Those were the two songs that really sold the 1985 time period. Both songs address nuclear war and the Cold War. "99 Luftballons" lead into the first Laurie/Dan dinner, where Dan told the Captain Carnage story, which was the first time in the movie anyone genuinely smiled, laughed, and had a moment of levity. Then Laurie brings up the impending nuclear war, which was foreshadowed by the song. If you look at the lyrics of "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" it's such an ideal song to describe Adrian Veidt. And yet the lyrics are never heard; a muzak version is what's playing as Veidt narrates his life story to Lee Iacocca. It's funny too how strongly I reacted to both songs when they're actually used so fleetingly in the movie. "The Times They Are A-Changin'", "The Sound of Silence" and "All Along the Watchtower" were used much more prevalently.

In my review, I seem to have gone out of my way not to overpraise Jackie Earle Haley's performance as Rorschach. Not to say Haley wasn't excellent -- he arguably gave the best performance of the actors -- but I felt (correctly, it turned out) that most fanboys would fixate on him and it would be like the X-Men movies all over again where 95% of the adulation went to Wolverine. Unlike the three X-Men movies, Rorschach (thankfully) does not dominate Watchmen. Now, if I were still a teenager and I watched Watchmen, I'm sure I'd be all about Rorschach as well. The first couple of times I read "Watchmen" as a teenager, it was all about Rorschach for me. Rorschach Rorschach Rorschach. "Hurm." "Never compromise, never surrender. Even in the face of Armageddon." "Hurm" again. I'm glad that enough time has passed where I no longer regard the angry, ultraviolent, sociopathic vigilante as particularly cool. I sure don't idealize him. I see Rorschach for what he is, and what he is ain't "cool". (Still, tell that to the disenfranchised teenage boys, and the 40 year old men who never grew up, applauding Rorschach's every word and deed in the theater.)

It's Dan Dreiberg who spoke to me the most in Watchmen. It's funny because all the times I've read the graphic novel, Nite-Owl never particularly registered for me. But the way Patrick Wilson plays him, and the way he's presented in the movie, I see Nite-Owl in a new light. Dan Dreiberg is my new hero, my favorite Watchman. He's the best guy in the movie. A guy in his mid-30's, a good guy, smart, tries to do the right thing, loves gadgets, had dreams but put them aside, then rediscovers how much he needs those dreams to self-actualize. And he gets the girl in the end. Dan Dreiberg is the shit. I fucking love Nite-Owl. I also really liked the subtext in the final scene with Dan and Laurie, after Sally leaves the room.

Laurie: "How are things down there?"
Dan: "I think I got everything working."

Then he goes on about the Owlship's systems but that's not what Laurie was referring to. Dan Dreiberg needs Nite-Owl to be a man, but he is a man again.

Adrian Veidt also seems to be getting a bit of the shaft, so to speak. I really like what Matthew Goode did with the character. Veidt held together the final act and the work Goode did to present him was rather excellent. When you think about it, Goode's job was so thankless. He basically spends the entire movie, specifically the Antarctic sequences, doling out exposition. And yet, he really sells Veidt, both as a physical threat to Rorschach, Nite-Owl and Silk Spectre, and as a highly intelligent, warped world savior. The movie didn't quite explain how it was Veidt was so physically superior in fighting the other Watchmen. He was always just referred to as the World's Smartest Man, whereas the comic also explained that Ozymandias was the best fighter in the world. All the audience had to go by to explain Veidt's fighting prowess was the way he murdered the Comedian and the form and style with which he fought the other Watchmen. The German accent (which I believe is meant to be Veidt's natural accent that he suppresses when talking to the press or Lee Iacocca) got some complaints, but it was a particular choice that added a very interesting element to Veidt.

Also interesting was how the movie tackled the subject of Veidt's sexuality, which was never really brought up in the graphic novel to my knowledge. First, he's wearing the Batman Forever analog suit with nipples. In our first glimpse of Ozymandias we see him standing outside Studio 54 with the Village People. Then he tells Iacocca the only person he ever felt kinship with was Alexander the Great. When Nite-Owl and Rorschach break into his office, Rorschach has a line about why Veidt is missing and what "proclivities" he would have that would keep him from home at 3am (although Rorschach thinks everyone's a homo). Finally, when Nite-Owl opens his computer files, there's a folder labeled "Boys." Hmm, I think I understand what Snyder is getting at.

I really liked the choice to have Dreiberg go to Veidt's office to warn him about the mask killer. Rorschach does it in the graphic novel ("I have business with a better class of person") but having Dreiberg speak to Veidt opened up an avenue to show that Veidt and Dreiberg were friends. They're the two Watchmen who would have the most in common. Veidt was genuinely touched that Dan warned him his life "is in danger". It also makes a great deal of sense that the Watchmen have been sharing technology for years. Veidt and Manhattan are shown working together, which lead to Veidt's plot to save the world, but where did the Owlship come from? Sure, Dan has money he inherited and it's likely he designed his suit and ship, but it's highly unlikely he built it himself in his basement like the graphic novel implies. It only makes sense that Veidt must have provided the means for Dreiberg to have his wonderful toys.

During the scene when Laurie broke up with Dr. Manhattan, it's amusing to see Veidt on the monitor screen watching the whole thing unfold. Such a subtle thing that doesn't even register when you're first watching the scene because of the characters in the foreground, but there Adrian is, observing his plan to disconnect Dr. Manhattan with his last link to humanity unfold right on schedule. The movie is filled with little nuances like that. Upon the first viewing, during the scene when the Comedian walks out of the Watchmen's meeting and burns Ozymandias's map, I didn't notice that Comedian's zippo lighter had Sally Jupiter emblazoned on it. Many of his personal items are Silk Spectre I merchandise.

Of little nitpicks I missed in the movie that were in the graphic novel, there's one particular panel I always loved: When the SWAT team goes after Rorschach in Moloch's apartment, there's a full middle panel of him shooting his grappling gun into a cop's chest. It's a brutal image that's surprisingly missing from the wanton brutality in the movie. Rorschach still does it to a cop in the movie but it happens so fast it barely registered. Strange, because if there was a moment tailor-made for a Zack Snyder super-slo-mo, freeze frame act of ultraviolence, I would have thought that shot was a gimme. Another random little thing I missed was after Silk Spectre shot Ozymandias. Right after he shows he caught the bullet and then kicks her in the gut, Laurie says "Shit!" in the comic. She said nothing in the movie, just took the foot right to the babymaker.

Speaking of beating up a Silk Spectre, the attemped rape scene by the Comedian in 1940 is so much more jarring to see in the movie. I thought it was graphic enough in the novel, but it's so much more vicious and disturbing the way Snyder presents it. I do question how come Sally Jupiter didn't resist after Comedian bent her over the table. Certainly, she was badly beaten and probably had a concussion, but still, she was not resisting. Did Sally somehow think she deserved to be raped? Did she secretly want it from him? Was the violence done to her a turn on for her?  Maybe.  The subtext of "Watchmen" always spoke of the kinkiness of its superheroes. Certainly, Sally Jupiter is very complicated, torn, and guilt-ridden, which the movie and Carla Gugino only had so much time to show.

And then there's all the Nixon in the movie. In between all the Watchmen, I found time to watch the latest Futurama DVD, and of course, Nixon has long been President of Earth in the series. Then I remembered that Frost/Nixon was out just a few months ago. How strange that in 2009, there is so much media out there where Richard M. Nixon is still our President. Even with Barack Obama in the White House, somehow Nixon is President in our dreams.

I think that's about it, finally. More than enough hardcore nerding out for one weekend. I can't think of anything else about Watchmen I want to talk about.

It's been a hell of super nerdy weekend, living under the shadow of Manhattan.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Watchmen: The IMAX Experience (***1/2)

At the conclusion of Watchmen, the two Silk Spectres have a moment where old family secrets are bared and a loving understanding is reached between mother and daughter. Long-suffering Laurie Jupiter tells her guilt-ridden mother Sally Jupiter, "You didn't do anything wrong by me." The same can be said for director Zack Snyder and the graphic novel "Watchmen". The unfilmmable, unadaptable comic book has finally reached movie theaters after 20 years of development. The Watchmen movie is here, and lo and behold, it's good. 

Watchmen's deliberate, painstaking adherence to the graphic novel turns out to be a virtue and a flaw. Placing absolute 100% faith in the celebrated, canonized source material by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Snyder makes every effort and uses every technique in modern movie-making to create a cinematic simulation of the graphic novel. On the IMAX especially, picking out the minute details in every frame, like the photographs and newsclippings hanging on walls, is extra rewarding for fans familiar with the comic. Watchmen is a movie clearly designed for repeat Blu-ray viewings on the largest HDTV screen you can park in front of. The dialogue is mostly the words of Alan Moore lifted directly from the page.

Yet by following the format of the graphic novel, dutifully checking off every major event, and squeezing in as many subplots as possible, Watchmen's narrative as a motion picture becomes vulnerable to the wild tonal shifts of the comic. The hardboiled, noir-ish murder investigation by Rorschach that opens Watchmen gives way to a series of flashbacks, filling in the origin details of the Comedian, Dr. Manhattan, and Rorschach. Even Adrian Veidt gets in on the action, deciding to monologue his own origin story to Lee Iacocca of all people. While this is the way the story flows in the graphic novel, as a movie, Watchmen feels like a series of fitful starts and stops in its first two acts. The final act is the most straightforward and action-packed as Watchmen marches confidently towards its tragic conclusion, with the fate of the world in the hands of a handful of people wearing funny looking suits (and the blue man of the group wearing nothing at all.) 

Watchmen greatly benefits from a soundtrack of inspired popular musical choices balancing its orchestral score, something even the graphic novel can't offer. The opening credits set to Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin'" was a brilliant piece of work summarizing the complex history of Watchmen, from the formation of their costumed predecessors the Minutemen in the late-1930's all the way to the turbulent late-1970's, through a series of super slow motion shots. (Adding novelties not found in the graphic novel like Andy Warhol painting the Watchmen's portraits and the Comedian revealed as the man who shot JFK was clever stuff.) I especially enjoyed "99 Luftballoons" during Dan Dreiberg and Laurie Jupiter's first dinner together, the subtle strains of Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" in the moments before the assassination attempt on Adrian Veidt, and Jimi Hendrix's "All Along the Watchtower" when Nite-Owl and Rorschach made their final approach to Veidt's Antarctic fortress. Throughout Watchmen, music and imagery seamlessly meld together to create a persuasive, immersive, cracked-mirror image of our world.

Zack Snyder may be the most gifted translator of comic page-to-movie frame in Hollywood today, but he's no great orchestrator of human drama. (Though to his credit, Snyder seems to be the only director in Hollywood who can get the R rating and heroically insert sex and nudity into his comic book movies.) The performance by Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach is the crowd-pleasing standout.  Early is appropriately fearsome in the prison sequences and sadly moving when his refusal to compromise when his cherished thirst for justice forces him to face his demise. Patrick Wilson's Nite-Owl strikes just the right notes of hopeful longing and self-realization in his romance with Malin Akerman's Silk Spectre. Billy Crudup manages to act through the CGI and the frequent glimpses of (sometimes multiple) blue penises on screen to find Dr. Manhattan's lost humanity during the pivotal moment on Mars. Still, there are many points when the characters seem to behave and relate to each other not because they're fully alive on the screen but because it's what's depicted in the comic book. The deficiencies in the movie's interpersonal dramatic moments are generally overwhelmed, however, by the sheer, awesome spectacle of the IMAX experience.

While certain aspects of the source material are excised, such as the running commentary of world events from the newsstand vendor which is so prominent in the graphic novel, Snyder manages to significantly improve upon other aspects found on the page. Silk Spectre II, for example, is a wonderful redesign of probably the most uninteresting character in the graphic novel. As embodied by Malin Akerman and Carla Gugino, the two cinematic Silk Spectres are a massive improvement to their ink and paint counterparts. The costumes worn by the Watchmen are clever commentaries on costumes worn in past comic book movies: Silk Spectre II's drop-dead sexy skintight yellow and black vinyl invokes the costumes worn by heroines of Aeon Flux and Underworld, while Nite-Owl and Ozymandias's suits are mock-ups of Batman's costumes from Christopher Nolan and Joel Schumacher's films.

The action is better and far more brutal than expected. While perhaps pandering excessively to the expectations of the fans of 300, Watchmen gleefully revels in bloody, slow motion, freeze-framed, bone-crunching ultra violence. The graphic fight sequences involving Rorschach, Nite-Owl, Ozymandias and Silk Spectre are outstanding and seem to be Watchmen's response to the jump-cutting, see-nothing action found in Batman Begins. Is the fighting realistic? Not so much, but it's pointless to rail against a lack of realism when the story hinges on an omnipotent naked blue man standing on a crystal castle that's flying across Mars.

The chief improvement made by Snyder is to the ending of the story. Adrian Veidt's plan in the graphic novel involves genetically engineering a squid-like monster and teleporting it into New York City to simulate an alien attack that would unite the US and USSR against a fabricated alien invasion, saving the world from nuclear armageddon. Changing this to a series of attacks on major world cities "by Dr. Manhattan" was a canny choice that makes a lot more sense. It's also a direct lift from the ending of The Dark Knight just last summer: Batman/Dr. Manhatttan voluntarily accepts being framed for the villainy in the movie as a means to trick the populace of Gotham City/the world into accepting a tenuous, manufactured peace. But hey, if you're gonna steal, steal from the best.