Friday, March 20, 2009

Clerks 2 (2006)

Clerks 2 (2006)
Grade: 8.4

So I have finally seen Clerks 2. I was a little nervous about how it was going to be. I actually completely and utterly enjoyed this. I really felt that it retained the qualities of the old one while still letting it be updated with higher production values. Yes it is operating under much more contrived circumstances involving the plot but since the casting of Rosario Dawson was so essential to the whole plot working and because she brings such presence to the role and does such a good job, even though its contrived, its pulled off well. Randal and Dante feel like the characters we know and its very easy for us to believe this is where they would be in 10 years. Its scary how easy it is to get back into it. Now let's just clear up the fact that I hate Randal. Hate him. He is basically the epitome of everything I hate in a person. Yet I still found him to be really funny during parts like The LOTR vs. Star Wars conversation particularly his imitation of the films and his quest to "take back" the word porchmonkey. I also loved that the film takes place in one day again and that Kevin Smith takes the time away from the ridiculousness of it all at times to have long serious conversations such as the one with Becky and Dante in her office and particularly the jail scene between Dante and Randal. I also loved Becky's character. Yes a lot of it has to do with it being Rosario Dawson who I truly love but I really thought that even though she is still essentially playing "the girl" role, that Smith really took the time to make sure she was not a cardboard character, that she could be as gross as the guys, that she did have a personality and was someone you actually cared about. I respected that completely. I also loved Elias and the moments with Jay and Silent Bob had me cracking up. The two parts that literally had me in tears were: 1. Jay's reenactment of the "Silence of the Lambs" Buffalo Bill scene and 2. The Pillowpants conversation. The music there and Randal's face and just the concept of Pillowpants was comedic gold. Oh and Smith gets double props for using "(Nothing But) Flowers" by Talking Heads in the opening credits. This basically completely fulfilled everything I would want in a Clerks sequel and that's about all I could have asked for from this film. Its weird how completely satisfied with this film I was.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Review: "Watchmen" (2009): Grade: B+

Watchmen (2009): B+

Note: I'm giving this film a B+ as a film and not as an adaptation even though I've read the source material twice.

I've had a lot of time to mull over this film. I had been highly anticipating it but I did not go in expecting much to be honest because I did not want to hype myself up too much. Basically what we get here is a huge array of quality here. Some aspects are incredible, some good, some not so good and some atrocious. Overall though I really truly am of the opinion that this is way more than I ever would have expected for an adaptation of this source material. I think people are failing to understand how lucky they are to have as many elements of this film come together the way they do. What Zack Snyder got away with is incredible to me. He does so many things that are contradictory to what the studio most likely wanted and the film that we could have gotten would have been extremely awful had they followed the lengths that studios go to be accessible. So while others rip this film apart because they have nothing better to do with their lives let me say that is could have been a thousand other films; all bad. The Paul Greenrass version which was in preproduction at some point by the way would have had a film that takes place in the present day. The cast that they got together on this is better than anything I could have hoped for and normally an entirely a-list group of actors would have come together on this but instead we got a group of character actors who let us slip into the world more easily instead of us saying "oh look thats Jude Law playing Ozymandias". Then we get to keep the R Rating. We get to keep the alternate history. We get to keep the length time which is incredible to me that it gets to be this long. is word for word taken from the source material. Its insane. Some think this is a flaw and in some places it is but honestly just as a fan it is extremely satisfying to see something like this exist. Snyder gets so much right here. So much.

I'll say it right here and right now. "The Dark Knight" may be an altogether better film (although even I am not so sure) but I sure as hell enjoyed this film more than "The Dark Knight". The problems I have with this film are substantial in size but small in number.

The Bad:

I carry major issues with the ending. Not with the squid. Who gives a shit about the squid. I am happy they took it out. It would have been ridiculous. But by changing it to Dr. Manhattan it gives him a reason to leave instead of it being completely his choice at the end which is different. So his character motivations change drastically because of this. Also it does not make the attack completely anonymous. It makes it traceable and I feel that it makes the idea of the world uniting under a cause to be a bit flimsy.

While they kept the destruction of New York City intact that is basically all they keep. The fact that it happens. The tone of it is completely different though. You barely see the destruction. The heaviness and vastness of the event that takes place at the end of the graphic novel barely registers here. It feels like the equivalent of maybe a couple of hundred people dying and not New York City. It should have felt a lot heavier. Snyder not once cops out on the violence but here he actually does. I want to feel like I just lost that city. Even in a fictional story. I want to feel that in some way. I did not. I wanted him to move "Sounds of Silence" to this portion of the film and play the song in full with the visuals being the deaths of all of these people. That would have been incredible. In a film that takes inues for a sex scene you would think the elimination of New York City would get some screen time. But it does not. The studio does not want you to feel like it happened. That and Snyder fucked up big time. When Laurie and Dr. Manhattan observe the rubble its just rubble. No bodies. None of it held much weight for me and if I am watching a 3 hour film that is absurdly faithful to its source material and is mostly really great for the rest of it I expect it to not cop out for the pessimistic finish. But they do. I did not FEEL it. And that sucked. The film drops the ball on the end.

As did the last scene with Dan and Laurie and Sally. Oh everyone is so happy. And I'm sorry but penis problems do not just disappear like that especially when you add on the destruction of New York City and the fact that they know who really did it. Apparently that gives them a great sex life. Well whoop de do. Lame as hell. And the reconciliation with Sally and Laurie made me feel like I was watching a soap opera.

Also the 2 seconds of the MCR "Desolation Row" in the film. Its much less than I expected but it still meant I was forced to listen to it as I attempted to crush peoples' heads in an effort to get out of the building so my brain would not fry from musical abomination.

Also I had an issue with Laurie and Dan so violently defending themselves when they get mugged. They kill everyone. Its ridiculous because it makes Rorschach's violence completely acceptable by comparison and you are not supposed to feel that way. There is also a scene with Dr. Manhattan killing people at a club who pull guns on him. And first of all who would be that stupid? Second of all he explodes them when he does not have to. So while the Comedian's actions remain appropriately horrific, Rorschach's become so much more commonplace because of the violence that Dan, Laurie and Dr. Manhattan needlessly employ. You are supposed to get the feeling Rorschach goes too far and you do to an extent but not enough.

Those are the major issues. My minor ones are that I felt that Carla Gugino's makeup as an older Sally was awful. I hated the Richard Nixon they got and the makeup they put on him. This is a problem I have with the graphic novel as well but Laurie's character just does not hold up to the rest of them. Its like Alan Moore decided because he apparently does not know how to write a woman character that "I'll just give her mommy issues".

Also the "Hallelujah" sex scene was hilariously awful. Oh my God. Poor Leonard Cohen. Poor me. As a huge Leonard Cohen fan it was tragic to see what Snyder did to the song. The scene was shot well but the music choice could have been better because it was the worst scene I have seen in a movie since "The Happening". Yeah; I went there. But Snyder gets huge props for using the original Cohen version instead of going with the much more widely used Jeff Buckley version or even the Rufus Wainwright version. He showed a much appreciated faithfulness to the Cohen even though it was completely misguided.

The Good and the Beautiful and Perfect:

Pretty much the rest of it I loved. Even though a lot of the impact is lost on the amount of time that has gone by since the book was written, the alternate history held up pretty well. I think the film could have had a more consistent energy to it and I saw the potential for greatness in a lot of places where I saw goodness but getting to see this adaptation made me so happy and was generally so satisfying.

The attention paid to faithful detail in this is remarkable and I cannot get over how impressed I am with what Zack Snyder accomplished. I thought he captured the feel of the source material in a lot of places. I thought the lok of it was perfect. I loved the effects. Keeping the dialogue so exact was astonishing to watch. He touched upon the themes of the book and definitely addressed the issues.

I was unsure how to feel about Malin Akerman and Matthew Goode after seeing it. I definitely do not think Akerman is as bad as everyone seems to think she is. I think she has a stylized way of delivering lines that is more reminscent of Classical Hollywood acting and does not neccesarily match with today's more naturalistic style of acting. And she is the weak link but she has a lot of presence and I thought that made up for a lot of what people seem to percieve as bad acting instead of what I percieve which is an adequate performance surrounded by much better performances. Matthew Goode I thought brought a different quality to Ozymandias than it did on the book. I did not see him as quite so effeminate. In the film an issue is that I did not believe he was the smartest man in the world. He came off as a schmuck who likes to think he is the smartest man in the world. But he again carried the presence and had an interesting and fascinating line delivery at times. His face when Nite Owl was beating the shit out of him at the end basically made for my favorite moment in the performance.

The rest of the performances completely nailed it in my opinion. Patrick Wilson has been one of my favorite actors for a while now ever since seeing him in "Angels in America". I have a massive crush on this man. I've pretty much seen the majority of his film work at this point. His Dan was appropriately dweeby and mundane. His mannerisms were perfect and my favorite moment with him was right when Rorschach leaves after the first time he visits and Dan sits down and takes his glasses off right next to the suit. This was one of those moments of everything coming together perfectly to capture the feel of a panel. The music, shot, body language, everything. I liked the way he played his friendship with Rorschach as well. Because its one of my favorite aspects of the source material.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Another person I'm already a huge fan of. His work on "Supernatural" was fantastic. This man carries an immense presence with him. He brings that presence to this film. He is appropriately despicable but I still love him strictly on a character basis and his scene with Moloch brings a weird slight sense of momentary empathy to him. This is one of three perfect performances the film has.

The second would be Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan. Holy shit. Incredible. What he does with the character goes way beyond what I could have expected. The decision to make him soft spoken is beautiful and it is his voice that made me officially decide on Jon being my favorite character from this story. Instead of giving him a lame loud booming voice, Crudup gives him a gentle distant monotonous one. Because its the same voice he had when he was human which makes sense. Then he makes the voice distant sounding which completely goes along with Jon's distance from humanity and disconnect from it. You feel it in his voice. It gave Jon a poetic and hypnotic quality to him that I found endlessly fascinating. I am obsessed with this performance.

And of course the performance everyone is obsessed with and rightfully so; Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach. The only way I describe it is perfection. I read a quote from a review that summed it up perfectly and I will let her words speak for me: "It's one of those wonderful collisions of actor and part where God seemingly set a man's atoms in motion so he could tumble through life and land in front of this camera in this costume." Its so true. This performance is ridiculous(in a good way obviously). I have never or very rarely seen a character go from book to screen with the kind of perfection this one did. I have loved Jackie Earle Haley since I saw him in "Little Children" (which also starred Patrick Wilson coincidentally and Kate Winslet for that matter where Patrick and Kate have a much more effective sex scene than the one in this movie). Haley was nominated for an Oscar for his perforamance in this film, had a major shot at winning and lost to the infinitely inferior performance of Alan Arkin in "Little Miss Sunshine". I am convinced he lost because Oscar voters did not feel comfortable putting the checking a performance off of someone who is playing a paedophile. His performance in that film is in my opinion one of the top 5 greatest performances of the decade. The hardest and most uncomfortable performance I've seen this decade as well. He makes the film physically hard to get through. So when I heard he was cast as Rorschach I immediately was ecstatic. Oh my God I am also obsessed with this performance. His prison scenes could not have been better. The scene where he injures a fellow inmate in the lunch line and then says "I'm not locked in here with you. You're locked in here with me" was explosive. Seriously I almost exploded with glee. His death scene was perfect as well. I cannot say enough about how incredible and surreal it was to see this performance come out of this movie.

All of the secondary people were great too; Hollis Mason, Moloch, the psychiartrist, etc. My personal favorite of the secondary people was Laura Mennell who played Janey Slater. Everything just came together with her for me.

I was happy to see that Zack Snyder's obsessive need to stay faithful meant that he did not cop out on any of the male nudity. Yes it was only for a need to stay faithful but it showed me the potential every film has to treat nudity with fairness and graciousness and it was a refreshing change to the unbalanced bullshit implanted because 99.9% of media is filtered through the male gaze. And while it still is here, its a balanced gaze and not the shit that takes place everywhere else you look

The other thing I love about the film was the soundtrack both score wise and song wise. Tyler Bates has the perfect amount of 80's feel to the score without going overboard with it. And it has an atmospheric quality at times that I loved.

The songs used in the film outside of "Hallelujah" and "Desolation Row" were superb and weird and great. I know people are complaining about some of them and a few were questionable but while I was watching the film I was thinking this is way more interesting than typical instrumental tracks. It broke things up a bit and I liked that. "I'm Your Boogie Man" was so awesome. So awesome. "The Sounds of Silence" is my favorite song of all time so hearing that was basically like my dream. I would have paid the 10 dollars just for that minute and a half scene. Nat King Cole's "Unforgettable" gave the Comedian's death a haunting and actually beautiful quality to it as choreograph based and violent as it was. It was the best action based scene in the film. But there are obviously two song usages that stand out for me. One is the best opening credits sequence that again I've seen in years and the other was the best part of the film and one of my all time favorite sequences in a film ever ever ever. If I see a better scene in 2009 I'll be surprised.

Using "The Times They Are A Changin" may have been a bit obvious but it turns out that these opening credits give a feel for how grand the scope of the film is and it manages to perfectly and I mean perfectly and brilliantly fit in the history of the Minutemen and of history in general in a series of semi still moments set to the Dylan song. Its my favorite Dylan song so this scene was already a mindblow to me as it was. The scene could have been a black screen with the credits set to the song and I would have been in heaven. But my god what Zack Snyder accomplishes here is nothing short of miraculous. His opening credits scene in "Dawn of the Dead" using "The Man Comes Around" by Johnny Cash was already one for the books but this one tops it. My favorite semi still in the scene is the one with Sally's retirement party and she is pregnant and the way her and the Comedian are looking at each other was subtle and great. This scene is a tour de force.

But there is another scene in "Watchmen" which was honestly the best solid chunk of 10 minutes I've seen in a movie since.....I do not even know when. Speaking from a subjective point of view I actually enjoyed Dr. Manhattan's origin story sequence more than I enjoyed any 10 minute chunk of a film from 2008. Yeah, I said it. First of all when they used Philip Glass' score from "Koyanissqatsi" in the trailer I flipped my lid. This score is a stunning. So then Snyder uses it in the film. For Jon's backstory. This is a masterpiece of the scene. The way he skips around time just like in the comic. Billy Crudup's voice when he speaks combined with this music is unlike anything I could have ever hoped for from this film. It is the only sequence in the film that adds something to the source material. It actually elevates the panels. I felt like I was floating when I watched this. I have not gotten this feeling from anything since I watched "Mulholland Drive". That is a film that has changed my perception of what film can and should strive towards doing. It taught me to emphasize my admiration for a film much less on the story as an but on what a director can achieve with pure feeling and atmosphere. This scene captured all of that for me. And I applaude Zack Snyder and Billy Crudup and Philip Glass for his score in the first place. Snyder showed me a light touch of genius by using "Pruit Igoe" and "Prophecies" from Philip Glass' "Koyannisqatsi" score. This scene took me and put me into an almost literal 10 minute trance. His line reading of "They are shaping me into something gaudy" is haunting me right now. The despair and passivity carried in the voice is beautiful.

Another moment that stood out for me was Dan's dream which I felt was really well done and I am impressed Snyder had the guts to tackle it.

When I think of the problems I had with the film I get a little concerned. But I get more concerned because they got so much of the film right so it had the potential to carry more power. But when I think of all of the abominable things this film could have been I start to think of the end product as a minor miracle. Its not the source material, it never as going to be, I knew that from the start. It does not hold the significance or emotional power. The urgency of it is lost. But so much of it is there. You know what? This is actually a pretty damn impressive work for the most part.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Review: Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About his Father

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About his Father (2008) (Documentary)
Grade: A-

This is the most depressing and gut wrenching documentary I have ever seen. Never in my life have I sobbed like this during a documentary. The pure emotion that is contained in this film is something to behold. The film has flaws. Its totally biased and makes no effort to even be in the slightest objective. But for me in this case it does not matter. The film was made by the very good friend of Andrew Bagby who had been shot to death 5 times by his ex girlfriend Shirley Turner. She has a son Zachary that is Andrew's. Kate and David are Andrew's parents and they want to raise the kid themselves instead of letting their son's murderer raise him who fled the country and is now walking free in Canada her home country. The film follows Kate and David's experience trying to gain custody of Zachary as well as interviews with tons of people who knew Anthony. Kurt the filmmaker has pure rage and wants to give you as much high voltage emotion as possible so you can feel what everyone in the film feels. You feel like you know ANthony as a person by the end and you hate it that he is dead. Absolutely hate it. It breaks you. You want to hug Kate and David who go through so much in the course of this film and who are truly incredible people. And then something happens as Kurt is making this film. Something horrible that cuts you to pieces and I'm still trying to put myself back together.

I liked the fast way it was edited together because I felt that it served the purposes of Kurt very well. He's not looking for a slow experience. He wants to overflow you with the emotions and try to put the unaware viewer as closely aligned with what these people are feeling as possible. He want us to feel the passion and love that everyone had for Anthony. And to see the scope of how many people loved him because so many people did. Its a film about emotion and anger and sadness and because the filmmaker is first hand strongly connected to the subject matter, with other films this might cause some problems objectively but here it helps the film and gives it a life that most documentaries do not have because they are too busy trying to be unbiased. The iflm makes no attempt to excuse Turner for her actions, frankly nor should it. I would have liked to learn more about her and her problems and it sucked learning that she has kids at the end of the film and seeing that they were not interviewed about what she was like. Why? Because Kurt, Kate, David and anyone watching the film who knew Anthony do not give a shit about Shirley and her issues. They hate her. And considering what happens later in the film....jesus.

So in conclusion another documentary from 2008 that is better than "Man on Wire". One that is not perfect from an objective point of view but in a way if they had fixed these errors, the film would be more flawed. So in a way its perfect. It is the rare case in which a documentary that relies on pure emotion and subjectiveness is all the better for it. Bring a couple of boxes of tissues to this film.....Seriously. You will sob. And if you don't cry than you are inhuman as another reviewer wrote of the people watching this film.