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Watchmen – the movie: Review

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Given its nature as a graphic novel, it is more than fitting that Watchmen is a similarly graphic film. Anybody familiar with Watchmen, the book, is most likely enamoured of it, and sure to have an idea of which elements of the richly layered text matter most to them.

The good news is that the characters are mostly well cast and recreated in a manner true to the novel. Promotional material is already out, spruiking the end of the superhero as we know it. But rather than ending anything, Watchmen – both as a book and as a new film – is about creating a necessarily new approach to the modern hero fable.

Rather than the appalling candy floss of Spiderman or Superman, and even less ‘moral’ than Hulk or the Dark Knight, Watchmen’s mostly well-drawn characters are multi-dimensional and as ambivalent as they have to be. Even with the elevation of some modern concerns like energy sources and the geopolitic of Afghanistan to a prominence they lacked in the graphic novel, Watchmen honours the original work of Alan Moore in a way that the Waukoski brothers’ molestation of V for Vendetta did not.

Matter-shifting Dr. Manhattan has all the power needed to save humanity from itself, but lacks the desire to use it. The Comedian is an alcoholic misogynist sociopath who wants to see the world burn, but shudders fatally when that possibility becomes certainty. Rorschach is almost as psychotic and unforgettable as on paper. In almost any other film, he could be the standalone supervillain.

Ozymandias/ Veidt lacks some of the impact he should have, simply because he is not portrayed in any sympathetic way, he looks more like a blonde Ken doll or Flash Gordon extra than the more rugged and wise comic book depiction of his character, and because the casting decision for this character who simultaneously achieves total heroic and villainous status is perhaps the worst in an otherwise well-played film. Other than Veidt, the Richard Nixon character is probably the closest to caricature in the film, contrasting pointedly with the far less thinly drawn characters driving the story.

And let’s face it, how few action movies of the last decade – whether transposed from comics or not – have offered anything substantial or challenging by way of character development, let alone done much more than sermonize Brady Bunch values thinly veiled in bloodshed?

Even at around 150 minutes and using the graphic novel quite faithfully as a storyboard, the filmmakers were never going to be able to transfer the entirety of such a complexly constructed book to screen. So the question really is one of what they left out and how they managed what was kept in.

A number of the vignettes and side stories not involving the Watchmen characters don’t make it into the movie and this is something of a shame. The directors and screenwriters likely made the decision that to do otherwise would crowd the work and add confusion to an already agile film which does – to its credit – faithfully use the soundtrack laid out in the novel, augmenting it with some clever pop culture inserts and beautifully constructed media montages and character backgrounds. Similarly, some of the book’s more extreme supernatural elements are excised, traded off instead for more ‘real world’ scenarios. Again, this is probably a choice based on what the film’s structure can solidly support and what audiences can comfortably absorb.

But the choice is also made to give the love and lust relationships of the novel greater prominence than they originally had. In a way – and like some of the costuming – this choice reaffirms the stereotype of the comic book fan as frustrated middle aged virgin. But the notion is fleeting, mostly offset by an avalanche of great ideas, explosive violence, and dark philosophical observation. Fans of the novel may scowl at the ending, but at least it offers a surprise for everyone.

The big question: is Watchmen a film release worth looking forward to?

Absolutely – catch it on the biggest screen and biggest sound system that you can. It’s really quite a movie experience which, despite some annoyances and absences, isn’t to be missed.

Unless you’d rather be watching Australia.

Watchmen gets 8.2 out of 10 (on a scale where V for Vendetta gets 6.5, X-Men 1.5 gets 8 and The Dark Knight gets 9)

Written by typingisnotactivism

February 25, 2009 at 9:58 am

film review: No Country for Old Men

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Although they may need to apologize for their Intolerable Cruelty, the Coen Brothers really don’t have anything left to prove to anybody. One of the most successful writer/director teams in the history of film, their latest film, No Country for Old Men manages to break the few rules they had perhaps missed along the way.

Just like O Brother, Where Art Thou, Fargo, and Raising Arizona, sinister humour meets perfect casting with great results. Tommy Lee Jones gives a superb performance which proves key to the ultimate impact of the film, but perhaps the biggest surprise is Spanish film star Javier Bardem.

Coming from a background of soft porn and gayploitation flicks, similar to Antonio Banderas, Bardem utterly dominates as the soft-spoken, brutally moral assassin pursuing a suitcase of money and a truckload of drugs across the harsh American Midwest.

And that’s more plot than needs to be known. The essence of Coen films seems to be a questioning of the very stuff of life. Is morality a fiction, or just a story usually told badly? What happens when we break ‘the rules’? Why don’t we break them more often? Has God left us completely to our own devices?

There is the trademark convergence of coincidence and retribution, usually fuelled by a simple accident. But there is also the deliciously dark and jarring humour which many attempt and few achieve, perhaps none to the level of accomplishment seen in No Country for Old Men.

Quite simply, the film is deservedly being hailed as a modern American masterpiece. While all movies are best seen without expectation, any that you may hold shall be shaken up in the most welcome way by this 2-hour slap-in-the-face. Utterly recommended.

Written by typingisnotactivism

January 13, 2008 at 5:48 pm

Posted in art, awesomeness, review

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The Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men: a movie to die in

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On the way to a preview of the new Coen Brothers’ film, No Country for Old Men, I actually heard from somebody that it is being widely praised as their best film to date. My reaction was mixed.

1. Holy crap, could any movie actually be that good?

2. What a f#$king stupid term of reference.

To announce that the Coen Brothers have made their best film is like saying that you only need to see one Wes Anderson film, or that if you’ve seen Boogie Nights, you should skip Magnolia. If you’ve heard It Takes a Nation of Millions… you’ll only get confused by Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet. Salma Hayek is only really worth seeing in Frida. Bill Hicks only did one truly awesome night of stand-up. Bjork’s best album is…. Do you get me?

To say that No Country for Old Men is possibly the best movie that the Coens have made is to suggest, insinuate – that Raising Arizona, Blood Simple, The Big Lebowski, Fargo, The Man Who Wasn’t There were somehow practice for a main event and can now somehow be discarded from The Library of Awesomeness. Speaking of The Library of Awesomeness, look under ‘B’ for Barton Fink because that can go too, and don’t forget O Brother, Where Art Thou?, although that may be under ‘O’ – as in ‘obviously The Coen Brothers Best Film is a f%$king stupid subject for the making of comparisons’.

If you’re concerned about the plot, look in Wikipedia because I’m not going to reach into your future and diminish its juiciness. Suffice to say that “written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen” is a far better guarantee of timeless quality than “Quentin Tarantino presents”. If you don’t believe me, watch Hostel again.

One of the Coen trademarks evident in No Country for Old Men is the navigation of that space where circumstantial coincidences create the possibility for retribution and brutal violence – so much so that there is an almost ethereality to the whole thing.

Improbability becomes inevitability, while certainty becomes jarring disorientation. It seems to me that the Coens consistently work with stories that far too many directors would twist into bombastic explodaganzas, string-heavy tragedies, or preachy morality plays. It is their deliciously dark and understated humour which tempers the choices they make, and the choices they make provide beautifully effective vehicles for their dark humour.

Perhaps one of the most distinct ways in which the Coens inject themselves into the films that they make is to protect the stories from which they arise. Thrir films project subtle meanings and the asymmetries of realistic life – two essential ingredients which almost all mainstream Western filmmakers filtrate as if removing blemishes – even, perhaps especially, into confounding scenarios that would otherwise teeter on the brink of implausibility.

Perfect casting, great dialogue, compelling stories, deeply flawed characters, lethal conflict, fantastic soundscapes – these are certainly welcome elements in any film; the Coens not only bring all of these elements to this movie, but unite them in a seamless whole which delights, disturbs, shocks, bewilders and, importantly, asks more questions than it answers.

There is no room for tokenistic emotional response. The character portrayed Javier Bardem – absolutely magnetic as the justice-dispensing/chance-enforcing assassin from his first moment on screen – could be drawn from some horrible fairytale told by mafiosi to scare their children. But he is no caricature. Wise, sinister, cold, other-worldly, insane, brutal, relentless, but not typical. It’s impossible to imagine No Country being what it is without Bardem. He plays the nemesis to Josh Brolin’s skilfully crafted protagonist. While Brolin may in fact be his own worst enemy, as indeed may we all, this would be one of those questions best left to film critics (clamouring to simultaneously exude spoilers, text-bytes, and sociology dissertations). Tommy Lee Jones is an absolute pleasure – however uncomfortable – and the inclusion of Woody Harrelson is just showing off although, again, it’s perfect casting.

Either way you look at it, the result is timeless storytelling rather than stilted performance. You know the kind. Like when you’re just waiting for Tom Cruise to turn away from Jack Nicholson and shriek “how awesome was I just then? Wasn’t I awesome? Wow. I am such an awesome actor.” That doesn’t happen. Even in the dusty, harsh, dirty reality of a feverish hermit’s cabin, the Coens and their cast pull you far away from your seat, transported to that special place where the danger and relief are real, even though the money and guns (probably) aren’t.

No Country for Old Men is literally breathtaking storytelling at its best. To miss it would be a shame; to dismiss it, a sin. In 2007, the Coen Brothers, this film, and its exceptionally stunning conclusion are among the few remaining good reasons to not nuke America.

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Coming to Australia soon, possibly as early as Boxing Day.

Written by typingisnotactivism

December 18, 2007 at 12:44 am

Drunken thugs brutalize whale

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Captain Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd has just posted this horrific recounting of a recent tortuous death inflicted by wannabe customary warriors:

(excerpt) The unsuspecting whale had no reason to fear the approach of the boat. After all, the whale had been in these waters for years without threat. People and boats were harmless. So when Parker drove the first harpoon into the whale’s back, the whale screamed in pained surprise and jerked on the line causing Wayne Johnson to drop the .50 caliber gun into the sea. In desperation the shocked amateur whalers sank three more harpoons into the whale and then they opened fire with a .460 Magnum rifle shooting 16 bullets into the whale’s body and failing to hit a vital organ.

It’s a tale that’s as disgusting and disturbing as it is aggravating and clarifying, but definitely worth taking the time to read.

The New Yorker, the prestigious journal known best to some through the fim Capote recently did a deeply dug profile on Watson & Sea Shepherd which you can check out here.

The Shepherds are in Australia at the moment preparing for this summer’s Operation Migaloo. Named after a white humpback whale (Migaloo is one tribe’s word for “white fella”) who seasonally travels the east coast of Australia, this Sea Shepherd operation has particular significance.

Under authority from… well…. from themselves, Japan have not only approved the slaughter of 950 minke and fin whales, but have added for the first time since their hunting was stopped 50 humpbacks. Still an endangered species, humpbacks have perhaps a greater emotional attachment and significance for mainstream Australians than any other whale. Furthermore, Migaloo follows on from last summer’s operation which saw Sea Shepherd prevent the deaths of around 500 whales by the Japanese, but also saw Greenpeace deliberately withold information about the whaling fleet from Sea Shepherd.

The Japanese whaling fleet was inconvenienced by fire and one human death aboard its all-important factory ship, the Nisshin Maru. More importantly, however, the pristine Antarctic ecosystem was threatened by the possibility of a massive industrial toxic spill.

This time around, Greenpeace are tracking the Japanese whalers with updates posted constantly – removing the p.r. need for them to block Sea Shepherd. Furthermore, before election the new Australian government made a commitment to use air and naval vessels to, at best, stop the slaughter. At lamest, they will monitor it.

Here’s hoping for a complete shutdown of the Maru crew this Summer. May their boats rust and their captains, owners and government minister f%&$ing starve.

Written by typingisnotactivism

November 26, 2007 at 1:03 am

Film Review: Into the Wild

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The film project which Sean Penn has pulled together – Into The Wild – is a labor of love with preparation and background efforts reputed to have lasted over a decade. For the audience, the production staff, actors, and the real people whose stories make this film what it is, Into The Wild is – on many levels – a fittingly personal experience. However hard the film companies may try to promote it as a feelgood adventure flick, it certainly isn’t anything so readily categorized. It is likely the most astonishing piece of storytelling on which Sean Penn has yet worked behind-the-scenes.

Adapted by Penn from the Jon Krakauer book of the same name, Into The Wild is the true story of Christopher McCandless: a young man with all the seeming benefits of a wealthy family, solid education, and straight-A opportunities. But rather than the road so obvious, he embarks on a road rarely so sincerely travelled – donating his entire college fund to OxFam, destroying all his i.d., and disappearing into the still wild frontiers that live in the midst of, and beyond, American civilization.

It’s the beginning of a two-year journey of utterly unpredictable adventure, and although the story is astounding it is not in the detail of the plot that this story’s magic lies. The plot, like the perfectly ordered structure of this film, is just a vehicle. Not by accident, the story is full of vehicles. Whether they’re mobile or stationary – worlds are moving within them as surely as they are taking part in this world. Reinventing himself as Alexander Supertramp McCandless rides the edge of chaos; crucially the clear structure of Into The Wild lets both audience and filmmakers right inside the characters – into the detail of their stories, into their insights, fears, conflicts, and most importantly their transformations.

More than the tale of a twenty-something boy with eyes as big as the sky and burning questions similarly fed and answered by a swag of literary heavyweights, making his way from Dakota to Mexico, from fringe-dweller commune to snowy solitude – it is transformation that drives the movie and pulls us deeper inside its sometimes harsh embrace.

There is a deliberate naivety in the movie’s beginning. There is an understatedness that lies somewhere between the feeling of documentary and an awareness that the actors are acting, without quite being either. There is almost a feeling of a rawness that has been overdone.

The role that this early approach plays in the total effect of the film is undeniable. Penn and his cast initially play with us; there is room to play back. There is the kind of light and easy idealism one might expect from an adventurer who has just burnt his last pocketful of dollar bills. This is as much to put as in the moment as it is to leave us unprepared, no doubt in much the same way true adventurers are.

Ultimately the film blossoms and explodes in unexpected directions. As a viewer, I found myself asking questions of the character and his development which would soon be more than answered. Insights from McCandless’ sister throughout play a large part in enriching our understanding of who he was but, in a manner so atypical of American cinema, we are never bludgeoned into a viewpoint, understanding or conclusion. As with the first news reports surrounding the discovery of McCandless’ body one cold Alaskan day and, later, the critical response to his story as retold by Krakauer, there will be mixed responses to his story in film.

And that is a beautiful thing. If anything, in that achievement Penn and his obviously committed cast have brought a truth to the screen which is too frequently lacking.

The style in which we are fluidly immersed in tales of greatness, the literature of Leo Tolstoy, Jack London, and others carried by McCandless, stories no doubt restored by people who became part of his journey and were in turn transformed by the short time they had with him, his back-story, and the internal dialogue building inside as he discovers that beauty and horror live much closer to each other than we let ourselves believe; this style is essential to the film’s impact, its multilayered texture, and it seamless richness.

The soundtrack, worked on largely by Eddie Vedder, plays no small part in helping this film work its seemingly easygoing magic. Hard Sun has to be the song of the year but more importantly the musical feel is organic, subtle, and happy to be taken or left. There is no sonic cheapening of the moment with obvious emotional or responsive cues. The story is so beautifully told that Vedder only has to add to what is already a great accomplishment, rather than accomplish what hasn’t been done. Similarly the cinematography is subtly stunning but never overbearing. While the camera captures and conveys zen-like moments of motion and stillness, its ultimate achievement is delivering an almost objective truth that allows the viewer to respond in their own personal way.

In an age of bombastic film anthems, mega-million-dollar actors, far-out plot twists and massive special effects capture but do not ultimately satisfy ‘the consumer’ – for that is the target of many such productions – Into The Wild feels like a film that will endure as a classic of both American and global cinema for years to come, in much the same way that films such as To Kill A Mockingbird, The Deer Hunter, and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest have before it.

It is a film of characters, not actors. It could not be that way were it not for an accomplished, credible, and adventurously selected cast. Special mention should be made of the additional layers of intrigue added to the movie by cameos of characters from McCandless’ actual journey, and Emile Hirsch who plays McCandless/ Supertramp. Given that Supertramp went through periods of starvation in his great Alaskan solitude, Hirsch actually lost over 40 pounds – apparently getting down to 115 pound, or a near-anorexic 51 kilos for the role. To mention any more would mean to mention all.

Apparently this film has been rated ‘R’ in the U.S. for reasons of language and nudity. This is preposterous and hopefully it will not be similarly misrepresented in Australia.

There are harsh realities in this movie, but there is nothing lascivious or gratuitous. It is a wonder that people of all ages can be exposed at any time to the consumer-porn which McCandless was in part railing against, yet be denied the near-unique wonderment of this film until they are of an age where they themselves are already going through personal dilemmas similar to McCandless, or are too far gone in the land of suits and C.V.s to wake up as he so forcefully seemed to.

Into the Wild is a richly beautiful, well-humoured and at times literally stunning piece of cinema. It has the feel of a film certain to still be delivering unexpected gems of insight on a third or fourth sitting. And although it necessarily invalidates this review to say so, it is a beautifully told tale as much experiential as it is transformative. However it moves you, Into the Wild will surely move you.

Although thoroughly different – not just in that it is a story which has already happened – it has the capacity to move audiences as profoundly as recent European films like Pan’s Labyrinth, Dancer in the Dark, and Children Of Men. Their preference for a very real and chaotic mixture of light and dark over Hollywood sensationalism is perhaps the most immediately apparent thread that binds such a group of works.

Into The Wild has an aura of ‘essential viewing’ which I think has become incredibly rare in Western film. It is a breathtaking achievement.

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Written by typingisnotactivism

October 20, 2007 at 2:52 pm

Coming soon: Sean Penn & PETA….

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That’s right – it’s all been a bit dire and heavy here lately, what with Johnny Howard’s master plan grinding into effect and huge chunks of biodiversity literally due to be flushed down the toilet. BLAAAAARGH!!!!!!

So just letting you know – if you’re interested, of course – to check back in here in the next day or so.

You’ll find a review of the brand spanking new film Into The Wild. Personally, I don’t much care for hype like “oooh, Oscars” – BUT, as a way to easily convey meaning, this is an Oscar+ movie. Really mindblowing film of rich depth, insight atypical of American cinema, and a durability likely to ensure its status as a future classic. Do come back and read more Friday.

Also coming up – an interview with Dan Mathews, Vice President of PETA and author of the freshly released (and compulsively readable) Committed: a rabble-rouser’s memoir. For animal-lovers, activists, queens, readers, writers, popstars, supporters & all people easily pissed by perspectives that don’t fit their world view there’ll be plenty of juicy goodness in the 40-minute transcript when it goes online by early next week.

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October 18, 2007 at 6:31 pm

A Sneak Peak at 11th Hour: a.k.a. An Inconvenient Truth Leonardo DiCaprio Style.

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Thank God!! Another stud-starring Global Warming flick for everybody who either hasn’t worked it out yet or wants to relive the thrills of first grasping basic science. The most necessary sequel since When Harry Left Sally, Honey, I Punk’d The Kids, or Rocky VII – Balboa v Oatmeal.

I am so excited about Inconvenient Truth II: The Encarboning, and so certain that it will bring all of industrialized humanity to the tipping point of a complete social revolution that I HAD to review it even though I’m yet to miss it.

11th Hour, the DiCaprimentary: a sizzling romance between Leo and the lens, a tempestuous relationship between wealthy white people and every single thing in the living universe. DiCaprio goes undercover, deep cover, working his way to the top of the carbon emission pyramid. After 6 months posing as Exxon CEO Wayne Kerr, DiCaprio uncovers an evil plot to cash in on climate change related fear, ignorance and apathy, without actually changing anything.

There’s a wonderful scene where Leo dons angel wings in an effort to convince Richard Branson that there’s a better way to fly. But he realizes that he’s been duped when Branson swaps him 100 carbon credits for his chain mail armor, leaving him exposed to sniping from an opportunistic nuclear lobby still bitter over the public relations disaster that happens when an earthquake does the nasty with a Japanese waste storage facility.

He spends half an hour playing basketball and shooting dope with scientists who convince him that climate change is an evil conspiracy by a Weather Channel desperate to make money. DiCaprio realizes that they’re just ex-tobacco lobbyists in white coats and taking huge amounts of cash and Aboriginal land from masochistic wildlife and friends of John Howard when he spies the Terry Irwin Crocodile Hunter little khaki shirts and shorts with swastikas sewn on the back underneath their Alcoa-sponsored lab coats.

I particularly love the bit at the end where Leonardo and the stratosphere plummet from the bow of the ship as it tips upright in the tropical North Atlantic. At the end, as he’s floating toward the horizon atop a refrigerator casing with the last tree in the
world, a polar bear that is famished from swimming thousands of miles looking for a cameraman beats him about the face with a Coca Cola sponsorship before eating his guts and drying out his hide to form a canoe. The whole cinema cheered when Marky Mark busted a cap in his ass before celebrating by making hardcore porn with Burt Reynolds, Dick Chain Knees, and George Double Your Bush. Boogie!

Edge of the seat stuff. And with a compere supremely qualified to discuss climatology. Far moreso than those stupid scientists. If celebrities had made more movies about climate change 3 decades ago when it was first thought to be happening, instead of leaving it to these ditzy scientists… well, I just think somebody could have made a whole lot more money out of doing nothing about it way before now.

Makes me want to change a light bulb and buy a Prius. Questioning consumerism as a raison d’etre is so passe.

And remember kids, Consumption: it’s old school for T.B.!!

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August 22, 2007 at 1:15 am