Beyond the metric ton of starpower attached to it, Rock of Ages presents itself as being from the director of Hairspray and, knowing full well that the poster in the theatre lobby meant Adam Shankman—who helmed the uninspiring 2007 adaptation of the musical based on the seminal John Waters comedy—I briefly entertained the vision of Waters taking on a schlocky musical about the sleazy Los Angeles strip in the late-1980s—its glam rock foundation crumbled under the crushing weight of egotism, drugs, venereal disease, and Nirvana—and came away really wanting to see that movie. Even shedding Waters, the period of time covered by Rock of Ages is one rife with potential, during which rap was gaining clout, heavy metal was allegedly driving children to ill deeds, and the titanic trio of Frank Zappa, Dee Snyder, and John Denver fought against Tipper Gore and the P.M.R.C. before a Senate hearing on “porn rock.” Read more
Wanderlust is nothing if not a comedy of its time, which bites both ways. Considering that we’re still struggling through the Great Recession, it makes sense that a well-to-do New York couple would find themselves cast out of their pricey West Village microloft, shunned by the baristas at their high-priced coffee shops, and cast out from their cramped, hectic corner of the American dream. It also makes sense that, with their backs against the wall, the two would leave the city, seeking employment (and enlightenment) elsewhere. When Wanderlust kicks, it’s because the weight of the world doesn’t merely bear down on George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston); it crushes them. Read more
To steal phrases from the ad-copy guys who write things on the back of DVD cases, Zach Snyder’s Watchmen is “a non-stop, action-packed, adrenaline-pumping thrill ride.” The fact that you could slap that phrase under your typical summer blockbuster, regardless of plot, setting, theme, or cast probably tells you a lot about what I thought of Snyder’s adaptation of Alan Moore and David Gibbon’s classic comic book. It was bland. It was cookie cutter. It was much too long for the movie to remain those two things forever.
There is some brilliance to Watchmen. The opening credits, as you’ve probably heard or seen for yourselves, are spectacular, the fight scenes are crisp and somehow were not shot in ShakyCam, and two characters, Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) and the Comedian (Jeffery Dean Morgan), are pretty well done. Otherwise, much of the comic book is lost in translation, and most of Snyder’s additions are either cosmetic, unnecessary, or outright miserable.
Much has been made of the use of David Gibbon’s pencils as the storyboard for the film, a process that went so far that the artist was called upon to draw up new pages that would go with Snyder’s modern, less Lovecraftian ending. The movie looks fantastic—every detail from the comic book is faithfully rendered, from the most part in the same perspective that Gibbons used. The only major alterations are the costumes worn by some of the characters. While some updates are necessary, Ozymandias looks like he grabbed his uniform from Batman & Robin’s wardrobe.
That’s fine. Forgivable even. After all, the suit does not make the man. However, the people filling the suits really aren’t up to task. Watchmen was a psychologically complex novel, relying as much on inner narration and outside observation to tell the story as dialog. Much of that is lost. Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman) and Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson) stumble through the movie like freshly lobotomized psychotics, remembering the routines they once preformed but not knowing the reason they’re playing cops and robbers for the fate of the world.
Rumor has it that Jessica Alba (boo) and Natalie Portman (yay) were considered for the role of Silk Spectre II, but Snyder turned them down because their names were too big to be attached to such a serious movie. Ackerman, whose roles to this point have been small and titillating, looks out of her league. Her responses to Dr. Manhattan’s nihilistic world view are robotic and unconvincing, and she only really seems to be into the sex scenes, one of which had to be added.
The added sex scene, aboard Nite Owl II’s airship, may be the most unintentionally hilarious thing ever filmed. Written description defies it, but I will try. Silk Spectre and Nite Owl rescue a crowd of people from a burning building and decide to spring Rorschach from jail. Before doing so, they decide to have sex. Cue Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” which, beautiful as it is, is the last thing I’d want to hear during sex. Silk Spectre strips and mounts Nite Owl, and the two engage in a fairly graphic scene, but Nite Owl has this look on his face like he’s realized he’s humping away at a pile of rotting meat. Then the two climax while the chorus sings “Hallelujah” and one of them pushes a button that sends a jet of flame forth from the airship. I laughed the whole time.
On the subject of adapting the comic book, Snyder has gotten either praise or derision for adding too much of the comic to his movie. The problem isn’t so much that Snyder keeps too much, but that he adds completely ridiculous facets to a serviceable story. The sex scene above? In the comic, it’s pared down to kissing and the flames coming from the airship. The comic also manages to add a subplot where Nite Owl can’t get off if he’s not in the suit. Snyder also makes every fight scene more brutal (as in the attempted rape of Silk Spectre I) or more like your typical action movie kung-fu (as opposed to the bone crunching brawls of the comic). While not boring, this stuff just misses the point.
That’s the movie’s main flaw. Zach Snyder, fan though he claims to be, doesn’t get the point of Moore’s comic. Its structure alone should have (and for 20 years did) raised concerns amongst the very people trying to adapt it (hence why the DVD will feature not one, but two extra movies depicting a pirate comic and a vigilante’s autobiography), but this isn’t a comic book about superheroes. Dr. Manhattan is a superman. Ozymandias is the world’s smartest man. The rest? Regular people, slightly twisted. That won’t be obvious to people who haven’t read the comic, but Silk Spectre punching a man so hard that he flies through the air is likely to be lost amongst questionably placed Bob Dylan songs and big, blue genitalia.
Worst is how Snyder manages to slip some homophobic content into a story by a guy who criticized Snyder for doing the same thing in 300, the main difference being that 300 came with the homophobia pre-installed. Ozymandias speaks flamboyantly, chills with the Village People at Studio 54, dresses, as mentioned, like a character from Batman & Robin and has a folder on his desktop that is simply and ominously labeled “boys,” though whether it’s a planned line of clothing for children or a folder full of pictures is left to people who actually noticed it in the first place. Elsewhere, Snyder mutes the dialog happening on the street while the main characters narrate things, except for one scene where a prostitute calls Rorschach “a fucking faggot” for not falling for her charms. At one point in the comic, Rorschach suspects that Ozymandias is homosexual and makes a note to investigate further, but nothing comes of it. Snyder takes that remark as far as he can in the limited screen time he gives Ozymandias. It’s as subtle as a sledgehammer.
I suspect that this review will do little for those who don’t agree with me. There seems to be a definite love it/hate it divide, with few critics or fans falling on the backslash. After seeing the first week’s box office receipts come in much lower than anticipated, the crowd that loved the movie speculated that this was the sort of thing one discovered on DVD. I imagine those people who had no interest in the movie in its truncated, theatrical form, browsing DVDs wherever they may get DVDs, seeing that “the whole story” has an estimated run time of five hours, and turning to a less clustered entertainment. And somewhere, in his “London flat,” Alan Moore is laughing.
Watchmen. Directed by Zack Snyder. With Malin Akerman (Silk Spectre II), Billy Crudup (Dr. Manhattan), Matthew Goode (Ozymandias), Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Comedian), Patrick Wilson (Nite Owl), and Carla Gugino (Silk Spectre I). Released March 6, 2009, by Warner Bros.