Who’s watching The Watchmen? Just about everyone…I think.

•February 25, 2009 • Leave a Comment

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With the anticipation in the “geek” community reaching a fever pitch and early reviews overwhelmingly positive, the next two weeks couldn’t pass by fast enough. On March 6 “Watchmen” will be released nationwide, ending over twenty years of development hell and fanboy anticipation rivaled only by the build up leading towards the release of Star Wars Episode I and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

All this excitement is surely lost on those who greet the television ads, which are literally everywhere at this point, with a non-committal “huh?”, but there are alot of people who have been waiting years for the holy grail of comics to be adapted into a film.

Widely considered to be the greatest graphic novel of all time, it’s an epic twelve part tale spanning generations, dealing with the deconstruction of the superhero mythos set to the backdrop of an alternate 1985 where nuclear war is becoming an increasingly real scenario.

Writer Alan Moore wrote a complex, multilayered  story around six comic archetypes who come out of retirement when one of their colleagues is murdered. The murder mystery simply serves as a brilliant plot device to introduce us to each of the main characters. As the story gains steam you’ll realise that well into the book the “mystery” has barely found any new ground, yet if feels as if a world of change has occured.

That is because of how well written the characters are, and how detailed a world Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons created. Gibbons grouped nearly every page into a nine grid system, eliminating unnecesary splash pages in an attempt to highlight character interaction instead of action, a verb in which the book doesn’t rely on.

So how is this supposed to be turned into a blockbuster movie? Well theres a reason that it took so long to make. The version we are about to see is a perfect product of timing and talent, as director Zack Snyder’s previous film was the overwrought but highly succesful, and not to mention unrelentingly gory, adaption of Frank Miller’s 300. We also live in a time where a very dark Batman movie is one of the highest grossing films of all time; the studio thankfully has faith that audiences are willing for some “grown up” superheros.

And that is exactly what they are, this film will definately not be for children. Wanton violence, death tolls in the hundreds of thousands, rape, sex, impotence, family drama, funerals, and no easy endings. “Watchmen” is uncompromising in every aspect, but thats not to say it’s overly nihilistic or unnecesarily violent. It says what it needs to say, however it needs to say it.

Whether or not mass audiences are ready for a superhero flick not really about superheros at all, but six souls reaching for something that makes sense to them in a truly messed up world, remains to be seen.

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Drake-So Far Gone

•February 23, 2009 • Leave a Comment

so-far-gone-front-coverAubrey Drake Graham, better known by his stage name Drake, isn’t your typical rapper.

That tag seems to get thrown around a lot, with each new rising talent the hype machine starts churning out labels like “innovative” and “unique”; in the age of the internet hip-hop acts  thrive on pre-debut mixtape hype more than ever.

In the newest crop of potential superstars carving their name out through the internet, one name seems to stand out among the rest. Drake, a former actor on Degrassi: The Next Generation seems like an odd choice for that role, yet he exudes the confidence of a seasoned vet.

I haven’t seen the show personally, but some have a qualm with listening to a rapper who played a disabled character in a high school show. I suspect it has something to do with acting…

His newest release, a CD quality mixtape called So Far Gone, features the multi-talented entertainer rapping and singing (well, without autotone…) over a host of mostly original beats and a small crop of modern classics. It’s available for free download at his website http://octobersveryown.blogspot.com/.

It’s his talent that got him noticed by Interscope, which he is signed to, and Lil Wayne, whom he is now closely affiliated with. Weezy and other guests such as Santogold, Bun B, Trey Songz and Swedish rockers Peter Bjorn & John assist Drake in creating a fully realized album.

But among the high profile guest apperances and multiple Lil Wayne features there is never any question who the star of the show is. Drake not only holds his own, he sets the standard.

Take “Ignorant Shit”, as Drake and Wayne compliment eachother perfectly over the Jay-Z beat of the same name. His rapping style has been called a mixture of Lil Wayne and Kanye West, an extremely fair comparison, but he instantly sounds like one of their peers instead of an apprentice. Much like a few other rising talents such as B.O.B. and Kid Cudi, Drake can sing almost as well as he raps.

As his influences entertainingly shove their nuance and eccentrities through the autotone Drake lets his true range show. On So Far Gone he sings more than his equally great Comeback Season, but he divides his talents perfectly.

“November 18” creates the perfect soundtrack to 2 A.M. on a Saturday. A tribute to the Houston rap scene, it features a chopped and screwed chorus layed over relaxed keyboards and slow motion squeals. Elsewhere on “Say Whats Real” Drake borrows the beat from Kanye West’s newest LP opener “Say You Will” and raps reflective on the struggles of living up to potential nobody believed in besides himself.

Well now people are taking notice, in a big way. With a close working relationship with Lil Wayne, rapidly growing support and famous friends like LeBron James, Drizzy Drake isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. His debut album, Thank Me Later, is set for release later this year.

The Wrestler

•February 19, 2009 • Leave a Comment

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Decades of movie making and to the best of my, and Darren Aronofsky’s knowledge, a serious film on the subject of professional wrestling has never been done. Boxing has the heroic “Rocky” and the sad decline of “Raging Bull”, but wrestling has never been given the time of day. Is there not a story good enough? That can’t be it, wrestling in itself is one big story.

It’s entertainment. Scripted, yes, but isn’t it harder to take a punch when you know it’s coming? It’s a sport full of men, and woman (just not in this film), who sit in locker rooms and plan out the pain they will inflict on each other.

The credits that open “The Wrestler” pan across a decades worth of news clippings in a gaudy green font set to 80’s rock music. Its a stylish and appropriate way for Director Darren Aronofsky to present his newest film; which makes a radical departure from his previous work and a sad reminder of it’s central character’s past.

Mickey Rourke plays Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a wrestler twenty years past his prime who only knows how to do one thing. Ram, as he’s often called, returns to the ring every weekend to wrestle at independent events. His body is breaking down, held up by steroids and weightlifting. He lives alone and hasn’t talked to his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) in years, finding comfort only in the ring and in his occasional trips to the strip club where he has made a friend in Cassidy (Marissa Tomei).

The always dependable Tomei and young but extremely talented Wood deliver fantastic performances; providing the opportunity to observe the nuance of Rourke’s performance, as he clings to the only real connections he has to the real world. 

It remains to be seen if Rourke will take home the Oscar, but as far as I’m concerned he deserves to. It’s a shame that Aronofsky hasn’t been nominated, or the film for that matter, but i’ve voiced my opinion on this already. What can’t be praised enough is the chemistry  between a great actor getting a second chance and a great director hitting his prime. 

He needed an actor who could act with his entire body, including his eyes. Notice the numerous tracking shots used throughout the film, a trick Aronofsky is particularly fond of. Here he watches Rourke’s shoulders in long takes, letting us take in the weight they’ve held up all these years. Like the rapid editing drug sequences in “Requiem for a Dream” and the 180 degree camera flip panning through centuries in “The Fountain”, he is a director so confident in his technique that he doesn’t mind relying on it. 

Darren Aronofksy was confident in Rourke’s ability to perfect the performance of Randy “The Ram” Robinson. He lost investors who thought the casting would be too risky, he felt another actor would be even riskier. In his mind Rourke was the only actor fit for the role, and he may have been right. “Ram” isn’t an instant pop culture landmark like Heath Ledger’s take on the Joker, but the two men share company in crafting the two of the best roles in recent years. “The Wrestler” shares company with three other films by a great director on the rise.

Top 10: Film’s Based on a Comic Book

•February 11, 2009 • Leave a Comment

The release date to Zack Snyder’s highly anticipated adaptation of “Watchmen” is just over three weeks away. When the original graphic novel was released monthly for a full year starting in September of 1986 it shattered the preconceived notions of what “superheroes” were and raised expectations for comic writers and artists everywhere.

I will have a write up of the comic and subsequently the movie once it’s released, but until than admire “Watchmen” the film’s ten best predecessors.* As any fan of the comic knows, expectations could only be met if “Watchmen” sits at the top of this list come March 6….

10. X-Men 2: X-Men United- Pardon the clumsy title, but besides that minor misstep Bryan Singer’s sequel to his ho hum original attempt at the material was a vastly superior effort. The absence of “Beast” and “Gambit” still boggled many fans minds, but Alan Cumming’s “Nightcrawler” is such an excellent addition you forget about your other favorite mutants instantly. Also, if you noticed that the kill count for “Wolverine” throughout the original remained at a flacid zero, he ups the ante in the sequel considerably. So does the rest of the team, and the director. As it stands, the only truly great, or really even above average, X-Men movie to date.

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9. Batman Returns- Tim Burton’s original was such a success that Warner Bros. pretty much gave him complete creative control. This meant a wonderfully depraved Danny De Vito as “The Penguin” and a beautifully explicit Michelle Pheifer as “Catwoman”; in them Burton had found two more characters even more interesting to him than Michael Keaton’s “Batman”. It also meant penguins with rocket launcher backpacks and a scene where De Vito breaks a reporters nose with his teeth. Take that for what you will, but Batman’s wonderful mythos hasn’t been met with such feverish imagination since.

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8. Spider-Man- Sam Raimi, director of such cult fare as”Evil Dead” and “Army of Darkness”, would seem like an odd choice to launch a new franchise based on one of the most popular comic characters of all time. Than again, Peter Parker would seem like an odd choice to be a superhero, and Tobey Maguire an even odder choice to play him. And what of Willem Dafoe and that awful “Power Ranger’s” attempt at a villains costume. Well the entire thing is pretty ridiculous, but so is Spider-Man.

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7. Dick Tracy- If Al Pacino hamming it up as a mob boss under heavy makeup and a Madonna-in-her-prime slinking around for Warren Betty doesn’t excite you than I don’t know if we would agree on a lot of things. All joking aside, Tracy was about ten years ahead of it’s time. What mistakes it makes in clumsy genre overkill it more thank makes up for with great performances aided in no small part by fantastic makeup work, and even better set design.

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6. Sin City- The Dick Tracy for the new century, complete with nihilism and over the top action! One of the rare genre films that deserves every bit of overzealous praise it first recieved, it provides excellent characters for Bruce Willis, Benecio Del Toro, a smoldering Jessica Alba and confidently sexy Carla Gugino, and Mickey Rourke’s “first” comeback role. The high contrast cinematography by Robert Rodriguez was handled suprisingly well, with best bud Quentin Tarantino reportedly directing a scene (it’s the one with Del Toro in the car) for a friend fee of $1. The extreme dashes of color and hyper attentiveness to the source material was a breath of fresh air before being beat into submission by 300 and The Spirit.

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5. Iron Man- Great for it’s unanticipated success and the icing on the cake for Robert Downey Jr.’s string of comeback roles, not to mention “The Dude” as the bad guy. Even better for it’s perfect special effects and perfect comic book tone, the sequel should be even better.

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4. Spider-Man 2- Topping the original in every conceivable way and creating a memorable movie villain out of “Doctor Octopus” is no mean feat, but Sam Raimi and Co. did just that with this sequel. Completely underrated in every aspect, and briming with personality from the credits onward, it was one of the best films of it’s year.

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3. The Dark Knight- Nearly a billion world wide doesn’t lie, and truth be told Christopher Nolan’s  crime saga is one of the few big budget extravaganza’s that exceeded the hype; a truth even more surprising considering the death of Heath Ledger only added fuel to the fire. By the time The Dark Knight was released everyone and their mother were going to see it. What they witnessed is one of the most mature and confident blockbuster in recent memory, with one of the darkest mainstream villains of all time and a surprisingly strong interpretation of the Bruce Wayne/Harvey Dent relationship, not to mention the risky choice of killing off the only real female character in the franchise. The only problem with this is that it has raised the bar for the (inevitable) sequel to a truly ridiculous height.

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2. Superman- Infamous for Christopher Reeves and Marlon Brando’s bit role for a large cost, the first big comic book movie got it near perfection the first time. Superman and Lois’s midnight stroll through the stars is the epitome of cheese, but somehow that, and a man dressed in red and blue tights, come off as sincere. The sequel is actually pretty decent as well, just don’t stray past that.

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1. Batman- Tim Burton’s original bat film (as entertainingly campy as the Adam West movie from the 60’s was, it’s best to try to forget about it, like Batman & Robin…) starring Michael Keaton as Batman and Jack Nicholson as The Joker is still the best. The performances and action are great, but it’s all secondary to the mood Burton was after. Modeling Gotham as a mix between avant-garde and film noir, he used a mixture of a Prince soundtrack and Danny Elfman’s greatest score to bring us to a world unlike anything we’ve ever seen or will again. Completely original and endlessly imaginative: from the credit sequence to the final shot, it’s pure cinematic excitement. And for my money no comic book adaption has a set piece that’s been able to match Vicky Vale’s rescue from her museum “date” with the Joker; ending with the greatest Batmobile ever created racing at full blast to the most evocative soundtrack in Batman’s history.  Inspired by the dark renaissance of the superhero genre that  Moore’s “Watchmen” and Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” spearheaded, “Batman” is an under appreciated classic.

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*Only live action releases we’re counted.

Paging the Academy: Where’s Darren Aronofsky?

•February 4, 2009 • 1 Comment
Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight

Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight

“The Wrestler” is one of the years best films, with quite possibly the years best performance, helmed by one of the most interesting directors working today. The Academy Awards took notice of Mickey Rourke’s career defining performance of Randy “The Ram” Robinson and I have a good feeling he’ll take home the award for best actor. With that said, I would like to see the man who made this all possible get a little recognition as well.

At first “The Wrestler” feels like a total departure for director Darren Aronofsky. His first film, the arty “Pi” established him as an original and confident director, but it wasn’t until his 2000 film “Requiem for a Dream” that he started to gain attention.

“Dream” showed the director as a master of visual styles, using repeating motifs, rapid editing and elegant tracking shots to create the quickly draining world of a drug user. His talent was noticed in Hollywood, in a big way. For a brief period he was getting very close to helming the reboot of the “Batman” franchise and/or bring the acclaimed graphic novel “Watchmen”, which had been in development hell since the 80’s, to the big screen. On a side note, “Watchmen” will finally be released on March 6, directed by Zack Snyder. I’m not alone when I say I have extremely high expectations for this film, but that is another conversation altogether.

With his take on the vigilante never coming to fruition, Aronofsky set his sights on a script he had been working on for years: “The Fountain”. An epic love story dealing with the Tree of Life in three distinct time periods, the picture was set to star Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, with a budget of $70 million. When Pitt dropped out due to time constraints the budget was slashed in half and the film was recast with Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz.

Hugh Jackman in "The Fountain", Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Hugh Jackman in “The Fountain”, Courtesy of Warner Bros.

It was around the time that he was filming “The Fountain” that he came across the script for “The Wrestler”. At this time Nicholas Cage was signed up to star, but Aronofsky had Mickey Rourke in mind since he read the script. He was insistent that the film star Rourke, and being old friends, Cage opted out, leaving the role open.

Aronofsky’s dedication to bringing Rourke back in the limelight, which subsequently has garnered him numerous awards and nominations, is just one of the reasons why I believe he should have been nominated for Best Director. Nevermind that the film should be nominated for Best Picture.

“The Wrestler” is a departure for the director, yet it’s not suprising. Even at his most chaotic, you could always sense restraint: in lesser hands all three of his previous films would be embarassing.

Like his other films, there is a visual motif. Tracking shots following Rourke’s upper back are a repeating theme, he tells more with his back than most actors can with an entire film. His visual flourishes are toned way down for the film, though a tracking shot of The Ram through a grocery store to the sound of an audience cheering was a nice touch.

What Darren Aronofsky has made with “The Wrestler” is another testament to his abilities. It’s a showcase for Mickey Rourke’s great performance, but it’s also proof that Aronofsky is one of the most versatile and talented directors working today.

Next up he’s working on a reboot of the “Robo Cop” franchise and a film called “The Fighter” starring Brad Pitt and Mark Whalberg.

“And my final answer is A: Slumdog Millionaire”

•February 4, 2009 • Leave a Comment
Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight

Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight

I’ve never seen anything like Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire”; that it happens to be my favorite film of 2008 has a little bit to do with that, but it has a lot more to do with it’s palpable sense of excitement. That energy has spilled out into awards season, as the film has already picked up numerous awards and is heading towards Oscars with the intensity of it’s scripts finest moments in hopes of securing an award for it’s Best Picture nomination.

The big man on campus this year appears to be David Fincher’s irritatingly overrated “Benjamin Button”. Along with “Slumdog Millinoare”, the nominees are rounded out with “Frost/Nixon”, “Milk”, and “The Reader”.

The possible inclusion of the record breaking “The Dark Knight” was thought to be a surprise choice; now that everyone’s favorite movie is safely out of the way the race is very obviously between David and Goliath. All five films will garner numerous awards I’m sure, but pitting the low budget left field hit “Slumdog Millionaire” against the big budget attempted tearjerker “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is too tempting to pass up.

My disdain for “Button” isn’t severe, but it’s more than enough for me to even nominate it for Best Picture of the year, let alone want it to win. The Academy seems eager to shove Oscars into Fincher’s hands, where were they when he released “Zodiac”?

It would be far from shocking if “Button” won, but I don’t think I’m alone when I say I would much rather see the cast and creators of “Millionaire” up on that stage.

“Button’s” mistakes and my seemingly never ending praise for “Millionaire” are summed up in my original reviews, I was highly anticipating “Button” and mildly interested in “Millionaire”, those viewing experiences didn’t turn out the way I thought they would, but I’m fine with that. I tend to get excited about something fresh and new. Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” just grabbed me from the beginning. What I thought would bug me about the film, the “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” framing device for example, only piqued my interest to the things I had no knowledge about whatsoever.

I wasn’t prepared for how harsh this film could be, but subsequently I was amazed at how much of a rush it was; there are scenes shot in the streets of Mumbai that Boyle supposedly shot on the fly. Set against A. R. Rahman’s livid score (highlights include DFA remix of M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes, the gentle “Lakita’s Theme”, the pulsating “O…Saya” and the filthy dirge of “Gangsta Blues”) these races through city streets carry the intensity of a great action film.

Nearly ever other scene, whether bearing intensity or a moment of reflection, feels like a part of a great film. I don’t know if “Slumdog Millionaire” will win Best Picture. To be honest I haven’t’ seen “Synedoche, New York” or “Gran Torino” among a few others so I’m not even sure if it deserves to win. But I do know, that set against this years “Curious” juggernaut, that it’s the right choice to take home the Oscar.

Not just because it would make a good underdog story, though it would be fitting: coming from the slums of Bollywood to the million dollar stage of the Academy Awards.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

•February 4, 2009 • 1 Comment


If it’s not obvious by the 150 million price tag, leading cast, source material and acclaimed director, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is supposed to be a pretty big deal. Uniformaly great in most categories, it deserves to win mulitple technical awards, but the lazy script weighs the whole picture down. The resulting film is far from a complete tragedy, but for the talent involved it comes nowhere near reaching it’s potential. Based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s breezy short story of the same name, screenwriter Eric Roth (Forrest Gump, Munich) and director David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac) have made a misguided epic centered around a pretty great idea.

The premise is simple: Brad Pitt plays Benjamin Button; a man “born under unusual circumstances”. I believe this is the first line of the book as well, Fitzgerald had an affinity for great openers-“In my younger and more vulnerable years”-, epic yet to the point. The film, not so much. After a couple minutes of muddled and unnecessary exposition informing us of these “unusual circumstances” we get to the meat of a story.

A newborn with the body of a dying man, who will later grow down to become the unabashedly handsome Pitt, meeting his childhood/weird old-little guy sweetheart at the halfway point and seeing what happens from there. The scenes where Pitt and Blanchett are around the same age seem to be handled with masterful understanding, what went wrong with the rest?

The early scenes are surely a marvel of special effects, watching Pitt’s famous features slowly becoming more defined is exciting to watch, if only our enthusiasm was shared with the rest of the cast. The young Benjamin shuffles through his early life, regarded by the people around him as if there’s not a damn thing “curious” about him. His mother, played wonderfully by Tarai P. Henson, is the only substantial character in his odd youth. The others are limited to insipid one liners and forced resonance.

Take for example, a glazed over old man who is relegated to telling Benjamin a new story about how he got “struck by lightning seven times” every time he shows up. This is literally his only purpose in the film, yet at the end we are expected to care about his death and take meaning from his “life lesson”. His character is the majority of the movie in a microcosm: pandering, and for all it’s earnest attempts at greatness, forced.

“Button’s” multiple missteps rarely ever stick out as one glaring mistake, but taken as a whole they heavily detracts form the experience. Maybe screenwriter Eric Roth, most famous for “Forrest Gump” is resting on his laurels here. There is a framing device, that unlike “Gump”, does no help to the story, and where is the imagination here? We are watching a character with the years and knowledge of a grandfather in a young mans body, yet he has less to say about his experiences than a mildly retarded man.

But I think this review sounds harsher than “Button” deserves. It’s hard to fault a film for having too much ambition, and it certainly looks pretty enough. When it gets going you can start to sense something great happening; Pitt and Tilda Swinton’s mid-pic affair is the kind of indulgence the rest of the story could have leaned on.

The film seems to be constantly striving for greatness, I would of preferred an unusual man in a quaint story than a blank slate in an empty epic; and it’s not like director David Fincher can’t handle a 2 1/2 hour plus running time. His previous film, “Zodiac”, was a masterpiece that spanned decades.

“The Curious Case of Banjamin Button” very often looks like a masterpiece. It, unfortunately, rarely sounds or feels like one.