Saturday, March 28, 2009

12 Rounds

2006's The Marine, starring professional wrestler John Cena, was one of those movies that I drunkenly enjoyed in spite of nearly everything about it. Dumb as nails, full of explosions, shallow as a saucepan, and with a ludicrously thickly-muscled hero named JOHN TRITON, it oozed with the spirit of 80s action. And now Cena returns in 12 Rounds to similarly channel the 90s. Whereas the 80s thrived on rogue cops who didn't play by the rules, 90s action was all about lightning-paced nonstop locomotion, heroes who didn't and couldn't stand still such as in Speed and Die Hard: With a Vengeance, and 12 Rounds picks up right where they left off.

Basically, New Orleans cop Danny Fisher (sadly nowhere near as epic a protagonist name as JOHN TRITON) is involved in the accidental death of (equally uninspiringly-named) supervillain Miles Jackson's girlfriend, so Miles kidnaps Danny's wife and laces half of New Orleans with explosives in retaliation. Danny is forced to play twelve rounds of what Miles calls "the game" for the chance to save his wife, a scavenger hunt of clues spread throughout the city along with terrorist threats which Danny must thwart. As I said, very, very Die Hard: With a Vengeance, and bombs, explosions, snipers, car chases, plummeting elevators, derailing trains, crashing helicopters, and general mayhem ensue.

Directed by 90s action maestro Renny Harlin, of Die Hard 2: Die Harder, Cliffhanger, and The Long Kiss Goodnight fame, I'll confirm upfront that 12 Rounds is a bad movie. But I'll follow that up by admitting that, to hell with dignity, I had a good time watching it. Maybe I just saw it while in the perfect mood to turn my brain to 10%, let my eyes glaze over and my jaw droop and drool on my retard bib, but it hit the spot. Hell, I'm not alone: although it's technically a rotten tomato, its score is pretty impressive for a movie starring John Cena and literally produced by the fucking WWE. Cena lacks the charisma of The Rock or 80s-era Arnold or Stallone, but as far as dramatic talent he's no worse than Seagal or Chuck Norris and he runs and jumps and punches people just fine.

I will warn in advance that if you want to shudder with pleasure as you vicariously live your fascist fantasies through a film protagonist, you'll want to go see Taken again instead. Danny Fisher doesn't torture or even threaten a single person for information, he never once gripes about the courts being soft on crime, he kills less people than any action hero in recent memory, and he never even goes rogue from the police department. Literally the only time he breaks the law in the entire movie is crashing into several vehicles during a car chase, and he shouts apologies to the motorists as he does so! He and his partner even gripe about the government's slow response to Hurricane Katrina! Yes, this is a fucking left-leaning cop action movie! What's next, G-rated sex comedies?

Nevertheless, on a scale of microscopic explosion to nuclear explosion, this movie is at least an exploding car. I'm probably giving up any claim of ever being taken seriously again by saying so, but fuck it, go see 12 Rounds, your inner moron will thank you.

2 Stars out of 5

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

I Love You, Man

I Love You, Man signals the arrival of a great thing - Paul Rudd, leading man. Yes, there was Role Models, but he was sharing the load and splitting screentime with Seann William Scott in that one, here, it's all Rudd, all the time, he's the focus of virtually every scene and every moment. This is a great thing.

Paul Rudd is the ideal avatar for modern comedy, a nearly perfect average of every character type; droll and sarcastic but not an asshole, awkward and self-deprecating but not a loser, comfortably profane but without seeming like something's missing when he's not swearing, good looking but not insultingly so, and with a line delivery and comic timing that hits every bullseye a script offers him. I was waiting for Judd Apatow to center a project around him but it seems that John Hamburg, who has vindicated himself for the execrable Along Came Polly, has beaten him to the punch.

Paul Rudd is Peter (the most common protagonist name after Jack?), who is marrying Zooey. But Peter has no male friends and no best man, so he has to step outside his comfort zone of relationships with women and try to meet and befriend a dude. Enter the supernaturally easygoing Sydney, played by Jason Segel doing the exact opposite of his depressed, high-strung Forgetting Sarah Marshall character, and we watch their friendship bloom.

Peter and Zooey's romance is a constant, not really focused on, with the movie as a whole being a twist on the generic romantic comedy, refocusing all the tropes of the genre - the cute initial meeting, the tentative bonding, the blissful montage, the tearful fight, the joyous reunion, and so on - from romance to platonic male friendship. It's simple but it works completely, thanks largely to the brilliant cast. Paul Rudd - the perfect awkward everyman. Jason Segel - hilarious. Rashida Jones as Zooey - hilarious and adorable. With the likes of J.K. Simmons, Andy Samberg, Jaime Pressly, Jon Favreau, and Rob Huebel filling out the edges and smaller characters, this is an A+ comedy role call.

It's definitely a post-Apatow comedy, meaning that it's R-rated, profane, raunchy, and stuffed with frank sexual dialogue, but it does it right, letting the comedy flow naturally from characters that happen to be profane rather than trying to replace humorous interactions with profanity and sex. I thought Zack & Miri Make a Porno was mildly funny, but it was trying so, so hard to be offensive that I actually cringed a couple times at how juvenile it seemed; in contrast I Love You, Man is mellow and easygoing and never has to force the issue that it's funny, particularly in one frank and hilarious conversation about masturbation between Rudd and Segel that impressed me with how perfectly it straddled the line between vulgar and eminently likable.

The movie is also impressive for all the cliché romantic comedy things it doesn't do: At no point is there a retarded misunderstanding that would be cleared up if only the characters would speak to one another. No one ever thinks someone is cheating on anyone else. Neither men or women are presented as smarter or dumber or prissier or lazier than the other. Sydney never even faces comeuppance for his brazen sexual hedonism! Sure, there's conflict and characters fight, but none of it is ever cheap or manipulative, the conflicts, while comic and heightened, actually resemble things that, get this, real people might fight about! It's like they made a big list of the things I hate about 97% of romantic comedies and carefully didn't do any of them.

I hate to sound like a gushing Paul Rudd fanboy, but I have embarrassingly little critique to offer to I Love You, Man. It's a very slight movie with a featherweight narrative, there's nothing deep or remotely innovative about the experience and it won't inspire any knockoffs because there's nothing identifiably unique about it to knock off, but it hits all the right notes, never lags, and has a superb cast that to a man (and woman) know their way around a punchline. It's extremely funny comedic comfort food and I recommend it to all non-buzzkills.

3 Stars out of 5

Saturday, March 21, 2009


I discussed Push a couple weeks back, commenting that "it's one of the most ambitious complete failures I've seen in years." But it seems that I spoke two weeks too soon, for the new Nicolas Cage sci-fi thriller Knowing has trumped it on both counts, attempting to ruminate on heady science fiction ideas and falling spectacularly on its face unlike anything I've seen in ages. There's nothing sadder than a profoundly bad movie that wants to be a masterpiece, it's like a four hundred pound woman wearing the latest designer fashions.

If you've seen the trailer you know the basic premise; Nicolas Cage's son gets a sheet of numbers from a time capsule that perfectly predicts every disaster with a body count between 1959 and 2009. The way Cage figures this out strains even my very liberal suspension of disbelief, but I accept that it's necessary for the movie to exist, so so be it. Cage then attempts to thwart fate and halt the remaining disasters (which leads to a few generic but acceptable disaster movie sequences, you know, crashing planes and derailing subway cars, whatever).

At this point, about two-thirds of the way in, the movie is mediocre but not awful, and it does seem to be trying to raise some questions about predestination and the nature of the universe, determinism versus chaos theory. The giant disaster scenes feel very studio-mandated, sure, but the film doesn't feel like a cash-in and it seems like the director is trying to explore something. I was willing to accept that it was heading towards an interesting ending that would justify the film's existence. If only I knew the horrors that awaited.

It's difficult to explain how much I hated this movie's climax and ending (and I'll have to with spoilers beyond a warning because this warrants further detail), but it's about as shockingly bizarre, random, and incongruous with everything that's led up to it as if Se7en had ended with Brad Pitt and Kevin Spacey growing gigantic ala Power Rangers and doing battle with flaming broadswords. Watching the final act of Knowing I was trapped halfway between choking back laughter and cringing in embarrassment; it's quite possibly the worst ending of the decade.


The film climaxes with the revelation that the girl who wrote out the numbers had the information planted in her mind by aliens who can read the future and have foretold the world is going to end on October 22nd, 2009. They have come to Earth with a fleet of crystalline spaceships to take one human boy and one human girl away in each to repopulate new planets, and Nicolas Cage's son is one of the "chosen." He flies off on the spaceship, a solar flare destroys Earth, and the movie ends with Cage's son and a girl being beamed down onto an ethereal far-off planet and running towards a giant tree. No, I am not fucking with you, this is actually how Knowing ends.

A good plot twist should do two things: be unexpected and enrich the experience that leads up to it. The revelation that Darth Vader is Luke's father is unexpected and enriches The Empire Strikes Back, the revelation that Bruce Willis is dead is unexpected and enriches is The Sixth Sense. The revelation that Knowing is a literal goddamn alien conspiracy is a shocking swerve, sure, but in the same way as a heart attack. Rather than enriching the two hours leading up to it it renders them moot; why did we need to watch Nicolas Cage try to save eighty people on a plane crash and a hundred people on a subway crash if six and a half billion people were just going to die two days later anyway? What was the goddamn point?

Beyond that, the movie has some awkward acting (especially from the kids) and wonky CGI, but those gripes are small fries compared to how grotesquely awful the third act is. This is definitely an early contender for my bottom ten movies of 2009, but although a barrage of shittiness at year's end may allow it to wriggle free, the ending is an absolute lock for my worst cinematic moments of 2009. Garbage movie. Skip it please.

1 Star out of 5

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li

If you're like me, you've become irritated with the recent stream of cinematic mediocrity - with the exception of Babylon A.D. and Aaron Seltzer & Jason Friedberg, we've been bereft of genuine, bona fide awfulness for months. In these turbulent times what America needs is sheer dogged incompetence from stem to stern, an appalling script delivered with third-rate direction filtered through barely sentient, mannequin-esque "actors." A true cinematic purging, a hideous pill to swallow so we can finally vomit up all the mediocrity we've been asked to stomach. Worry not, for Capcom and director Andrzej Bartkowiak are here to deliver all that and more, with Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li.

In the film's, uh, rather liberal interpretation of the source material, Chun-Li is a concert pianist (?!) who abandons her career to live in the slums of Bangkok and train in martial arts, while M. Bison has become a corrupt blond businessman. Bison has kidnapped Chun-Li's father (for reasons that are literally never explained) and plans to buy up all the slums in Bangkok, displace / kill all the poor people, raze the buildings, and build expensive properties in their place to sell at high profits. Detective work ensues, and some gunfights. What, you wanted to see a fighting tournament in the Street Fighter movie? Well, tough luck, shithead!

Needless to say, this film's plot, dialogue, and characters go above and beyond the call of duty and actually make the writing in the Street Fighter II video game look like it was lovingly wrought by Shakespeare himself.

Kristin Kreuk's Chun-Li is impressive solely for proving that her weekly performances as Lana Lang in Smallville could, in fact, be worse. Instantly the worst leading performance of 2009, sleepy, glassy-eyed, and yawn-inducing, she has all the fire and energy of the guy ringing up your groceries at the checkout counter. Her thighs are as slender as my wrists, I don't buy that she could kick down a Jenga tower, and she looks about as threatening and able to beat you up as any given first grader.

And then there's American Pie's Chris Klein as Charlie Nash, the cop investigating Bison's operation, this movie's pièce de résistance. For all of you who thought Jeremy Irons' overacting in Dungeons & Dragons was disappointingly subtle, Chris Klein is here to save the day, furiously acting every scene, every line, every facial expression with one and one motivation only: "FUCK. YOU." And how! He sneers. He leers. He spouts horrible catchphrases with enthusiastic gusto like he thinks they're future classic lines. He even eats his noodles with visceral intensity. It's a thing of beauty, an instant classic terrible performance that devours the entire movie and lifts it from forgettably horrible to hilariously awful.

The training montages (oh yeah, Chun-Li has a generic Asian martial arts mentor, the fact that he lives through the movie is probably the one plot element that surprised me) are bland and generic. The cop scenes are incredibly jarring and feel like they're from a different, equally shitty movie. The action scenes are all boring as fuck, the one vaguely Street Fighter-esque sequence being Chun-Li's duel with Vega, which lasts all of forty seconds. No female ever even shows much cleavage, for Christ's sake. And if you think that any other main characters, music, settings, or iconography from the video game will be featured, are you in for a nasty surprise!

All in all, on the horrible movie scale, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li gets seven Van Helsings out of ten Dreamcatchers.

1 Star out of 5

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Star Wars is the dominant myth of the 20th century, and no matter how you may feel about what it eventually became (trust me, I share many of the same sentiments), no other single piece of fiction has permeated popular culture to such a degree. From references as broad as minutes-long conversations about the trilogy in Clerks and wholesale comic recreations in Robot Chicken and Family Guy to offhand references to the "Wookiee prisoner trick" in Lost and John Williams' opening fanfare in Ferris Bueller's Day Off to more uses of the terms "Jedi" and "The Force" in film and television than could begin to be counted, the saga has produced a language, mythology, and culture unto itself that even The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and the combined superheroes of DC and Marvel bow in reverence to.

Fanboys is the ultimate distillation of this nerd culture, a ninety-minute orgy of Star Wars references (with lip service also paid to Indiana Jones, Star Trek, Willow, Terminator, Batman, James Bond, Internet culture, comic books, video games, and lots more I'm forgetting), oozing with love for George Lucas's creation and plenty of Star Wars actor cameos, making it probably the most purely geek-friendly theatrical release of the decade. What's the catch? Well, unfortunately, it's a big one: I just wish the damn thing were funnier.

It's 1998, and Linus, Eric, Hutch, and Windows are a formerly close-knit geek brigade of Star Wars hardcores, divided by time and work, who reunite when they find out that Linus has terminal cancer and six months to live - not enough time to live to the premiere of The Phantom Menace. So the boys embark on a cross-country road trip to break into Skywalker Ranch and steal an advance print of the film. It sounds potentially morbid, but the movie doesn't dwell too much on the cancer, instead giving way almost immediately to a cavalcade of geek references and a lot of standard road trip humor.

Therein lies part of the problem: in exchange for getting to use Star Wars iconography and sound & music clips and getting to film in Skywalker Ranch, George Lucas's condition was that the movie be rated PG-13, which kind of cannibalizes road trip humor. Sure, they visit a strip club and run into some hookers in Vegas and accidentally do some drugs, but it's a PG-13 strip club, and they're PG-13 hookers and PG-13 drugs. I'm not saying a movie has to be rated R to be funny, but it certainly helps with this particular genre. The movie's comedy just lacks the bite that has become increasingly standard in this Judd Apatow age, and while I let out at least a dozen chuckles and a handful of "Ha!"s, there wasn't a single explosion of gut laughter in the entire film.

In strict adherence with the conventions the genre (road trip, I mean, not geek), the main characters all have their personal crises they confront during the course of the adventure. Poor Linus's cancer makes his obvious, while Windows (played by Jay Baruchel, this movie's Apatow crew ambassador) has a crush on the girl who works at the comic book store (played by Kristen Bell), Eric confronts his decision to abandon his dream of writing comic books for a life of corporate monotony, and Hutch is the wacky fat guy (and thus doesn't need a subplot). It's all quite standard, and arguably a touch boring because it's pretty obvious how each story is going to resolve itself.

And I like Kristen Bell, but I thought it was more than a little bit of a cop-out that they had the George Lucas-loving comic book geek girl who can name every Bond villain and likes The Legend of Zelda be a toned, tanned, big-titted mega-hot uber-babe. I mean, I wish that all girls with those interests that looked like that too, that'd be real nice, and I understand that movies feature attractive women, but they could have found someone who looks at least a little more believable as a geek girl, at least someone a little mousy-looking or something. I mean I know it's a fantasy but come on. And yes, Kristen Bell does wear the Princess Leia gold bikini, but is actually seen wearing it in wide shots for no more than fifteen seconds of screen time, so it's not really grounds to watch the movie if you otherwise wouldn't.

But perhaps above all else it's precisely because Star Wars has become so ubiquitous in pop culture that the mere presence of hundreds of Star Wars references didn't really move me that much. Don't get me wrong, I love Star Wars - and if you didn't know that, hi, my name's Tim, and I love Star Wars, welcome to your first time reading my blog - and I appreciate references to it in movies and TV shows, but the underlying script has to be up to par. Star Wars opening story crawls have been parodied before, Luke-Leia incest jokes have been made before, Han Solo and Yoda and Darth Vader and R2-D2 have been referenced hundreds of times, and whole conversations about the trilogy are old hat in this post-Clerks age.

I have no doubt that I would've absolutely loved this movie if I'd seen it when I was eleven years old (and maybe it would've even seemed edgy and bawdy then), and to some extent I appreciate its existence because, hell, I'm a geek and I understand obsessing over Star Wars and holding entire conversations entirely in arcane references and movie quotes. And I'm sure some kids out there will love it as much as I would have (that is, assuming little kids these days like Star Wars, I'm old and I don't even fuckin' know anymore). But when it comes right down to it the comedy in this comedy is pretty lukewarm (Star Wars pun, someone execute me).

2 Stars out of 5

Monday, March 9, 2009


There are two types of bad movies. There's the bad movie that was clearly approved and constructed by greedy execs with dollar signs in their eyes, a work of pure dispassionate business, like Aaron Seltzer & Jason Friedberg's "spoofs" or College or Ghost Rider or something; the artistry of the craft irrelevant. Then there's the bad movie that seems like a passion project gone wrong, a work of frenzied yet misplaced enthusiasm by a filmmaker who lacks the proper filters for his creativity, a sort of half-developed cinematic fetus delivered months too early. See Lady in the Water, The Spirit, etc.

Push is the latter. No, it's not nearly as bad as Lady in the Water, but it's a brutally, fascinating ugly mess of a superhero movie. Presenting a fully-realized alternate sci-fi world of "Pushers" who can control your thoughts, "Movers" who have telekinesis, "Watchers" who can read the future, and many more paranormal humans brought into being by Nazi experimentation and fostered by world governments since then, it plays out like a bizarre, grayscale, fever-dream version of X-Men and it seems like this is a world the screenwriter has been lovingly constructing in his mind since he was a teenager.

The degree to which this movie's plot is incomprehensible cannot be overstated. Most shitty superhero movies suffer from insulting simplicity, basically saying "this is Good Guy, this is Bad Guy, watch Good Guy kill Bad Guy." This is not the plot of Push. I wish. Watching and understanding Push makes watching and understanding Syriana with a hangover seem easy, it makes The Big Sleep look as streamlined and easy-to-chart as Transporter 2.

In Push, things happen and characters on both sides do things and good luck if you can untangle the grotesque yarn ball of narrative threads to figure out why. It's one of the most ambitious complete failures I've seen in years. Characters lie to each other en masse, new motivations and subplots spring up like heads of the Hyrda wherever one seems resolved, neither the heroes or villains have identifiable goals, everything is manic chaos. I was reminded of Joker's explanation in The Dark Knight that "Do I really look like a guy with a plan? I just do things!"

Yeah, there's occasional action scenes to break up the lunacy (not monotony, though; this movie is brain-exploding and nonsensical, but it is not boring or monotonous), but they don't present anything you haven't seen in cinematic telekinesis battles before nor are they particularly well-photographed. As a matter of fact I was surprised to learn that this movie was all shot in Hong Kong where it purports to be set; it's all narrow alleyways and ramshack interiors and has so little Chinese urban flair I just as soon assumed it to all be shot in Los Angeles.

It's a shame because I'm an enthusiast for high-concept action premises written directly for the screen - honestly, how many big-budget movies these days aren't a sequel or based on a comic or novel or TV series? - and further a shame because Chris Evans is great and I wish he would get better roles (I liked Cellular and Sunshine, but his IMDb page is otherwise dire). But however much you may love superheroes or science fiction I can't recommend Push unless you feel you have the brains to rule Lylat to figure out the logic puzzle that is the plot. If you can do that, well, you deserve a cookie.

2 Stars out of 5

Saturday, March 7, 2009


(Note: Review is spoiler-free up to the marked point.)

No, Zack Snyder's Watchmen isn't perfect, nor is it one iota as significant a work to the medium of film as its source material was to the medium of comics (only Citizen Kane, Star Wars, and The Godfather are), but it's a pleasingly ambitious, intermittently fascinating, and visually gorgeous enough movie that I give it a solid thumbs up. Snyder has more or less done well by the graphic novel.

The film's pacing may feel slow for some uninitiated precisely because it's so wholly adapted from the book, complete with all the elaborate character development and flashbacks, gradual unfolding of the mystery, and exposition on its alternate 1985's politics, nuclear tension, and superhero history. For the first couple acts there's no clear antagonist (save the ever-present specter of Russia and nuclear war, of course, but that's intangible) and for lack of a better term a very literary pacing. And I say fantastic; it declines to feed quick and easy answers and insists that you carefully watch, listen, and absorb, making for a rich experience that warrants rewatching and analysis. I eagerly await the three-and-a-half hour director's cut.

A majority of the characters leap off the page onto the screen startlingly whole, intact, and immediately recognizable (although a few superheroes have insignificant costume alterations). One unanimous opinion I can't disagree with for a second is that Jackie Earle Haley absolutely owns the movie as Rorschach; he's palpably dangerous, has an awesome voice, and is utterly compelling, impossible to take your eyes off of for a second. He's the most memorable character in the comic but he rules the movie to an even greater degree. It's still early in the year for awards talk, but Rorschach's final scene would make a pretty damn good clip if Jackie Earle Haley got a Best Supporting Actor nomination.

Beyond Haley, Patrick Wilson plays the thankless straight man role of Nite Owl well, Jeffrey Dean Morgan's Comedian is frighteningly sociopathic while remaining eminently human, and Dr. Manhattan is pretty much exactly off the page, big blue dick and all. Even minor characters like Janey Slater, Hollis Mason, Big Figure, and the prison psychologist are cast and performed with striking fidelity to the source material.

The two Silk Spectres are a little on the bland side, however. The role of Laurie just asks for a bit more fire and nuance than Malin Akerman can deliver. But Zack Snyder's real miscast (and for me the movie's biggest flaw) is Matthew Goode as Ozymandias. Adrian Veidt is supposed to be a chiseled, all-American, square-jawed, powerful, golden god Apollo-looking motherfucker radiating strength, confidence, and intellect, and Goode's lanky, bizarrely German-accented Veidt is so far removed from the novel's version he's basically a different character. It wasn't a big problem in the first two acts but it was mildly toxic to the film's climax. I'm not sure who else they should have cast (perhaps a blond-dyed Jon Hamm?), but Goode really wasn't goode (PUN MASTERSTROKE).

But Snyder's real strength lies not in directing actors but in painting gorgeous cinematic images (I wasn't crazy about 300, but even I can't deny for a second it had a true visual signature unique from any other movie in history). Watchmen is if nothing else a spectacular-looking movie, doing total justice to Dave Gibbons' original illustrations. The character and costume design, the richness of the alternate New York City, the moody lightning, the Dr. Strangelove visual homage in Nixon's war room, it's all great. His filmmaking is most powerful in the Dr. Manhattan origin story sequence, a truly sublime combination of elegant visuals, careful editing, haunting music, and solid narration from Billy Crudup that I found 100% as resonant as the novel's version.

And while Watchmen isn't really an action story - definitely nowhere close to the scale of The Dark Knight; I doubt there's more than fifteen to twenty minutes of Hollywood-style "action" in the entire two and a half hours - Snyder mostly did a great job with what there is. Yes, he occasionally goes a little overboard with the slow motion (shades of 300), but he clearly gives no fuck about the shakeycam and fast-cutting fads that shit over so many action movies these days, and I'll take his silky smooth cameras and traditional editing with a hair too much slow-mo over a Bourne Supremacy / Transporter 3 jittering mess any day. I especially loved the opening Comedian fight, and I liked how brutally gory so much of the violence was, not because I lust for gore but because thematically a movie about vigilantism should have ugly and uncomfortable violence.

The only place where Snyder dropped the ball a little bit was in the final act, although I can't go into details sans spoilers. Throughout the rest of the film I understood why things were trimmed for time (and there are certain elements like Hollis Mason that I know will be greatly expanded in the director's cut), but the climax uncomfortably excised a few scenes and beats I found thematically essential, and it didn't help that Matthew Goode's Ozymandias has to deliver the most important (and what should have been emotional) exposition. It holds the movie back from potentially great to merely very good.


And no, I'm not talking about the removal of the graphic novel's infamous psychic alien squid. I thought Snyder's new climactic event of the nuclear destruction of New York, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, and Moscow and framing of Dr. Manhattan actually tied the story together perfectly (and similarly, I thought Rorschach's retrieval of his mask at the prison makes the chapter he spends retrieving it in the comic now look like bloated filler). I had no problem with that whatsoever.

What I DID have a problem with was the removal of the blood, corpses, and mayhem when Dr. Manhattan and Laurie warp into New York City. Those panels are shocking and among the novel's most iconic images and without them the true horror of what Adrian has done is lost. We only see a handful of people get cleanly vaporized and it fails to really hit you in the gut - at risk of quoting Stalin, the deaths become a statistic, not a tragedy. Following that, I wasn't crazy about the depiction of Veidt's bullet-catching, and I really missed the multitude of news stations announcing the end of war and dawn of a new peace, all leading up to Veidt's climactic cry of "I DID IT!", instead replaced with an understated speech by Nixon.

Rorschach's death was handled well (again, truly enormous kudos to Jackie Earle Haley for this scene), but following that was the movie's worst excision, the only one that really bummed me out: the quiet scene between Veidt and Dr. Manhattan in Veidt's office where Veidt asks if he's done the right thing in the end and Manhattan merely tells him that nothing never ends before leaving the galaxy. It was a sublime scene, especially for the character of Veidt in revealing his uncertainty, and I was stunned that they axed it, instead having Manhattan warp out almost immediately after killing Rorschach. Wagging finger of shame to Snyder and the screenwriters for that.

But beyond my gripes about the climax, the first two acts are superb outside of a couple of shady performances, and I do think that this is about as good a Watchmen movie as we ever could have hoped for. Honestly, in 2009, an era when big-budget movies are nearly always dumbed down to PG-13, I'm a little awed a studio actually gambled on a dense, hard R, nearly three-hour long superhero movie with graphic violence, sex, nudity, and relatively little action. Props to whoever convinced them to make the gamble and props to Snyder for a fine adaptation.

4 Stars out of 5

Monday, March 2, 2009

Shitty Movie Posters, Vol. 1

I couldn't be any further from a Trekkie (I've never even seen any of of the old Captain Kirk movies, although I plan on getting around to it soon), but I'm tentatively looking forward to J.J. Abrams's May reinvention of Star Trek if only because the trailer was glossy and I'm generally a fan of his work. It could still easily go one way or another - I was a huge fan of Bryan Singer's X-Men films but he dropped the ball with an even more iconic license and even bigger budget in Superman Returns, and similarly, Star Trek could be anything from one of the year's best genre pictures to a bloated mess; I have no idea what to expect.

But what I do know is that it has arguably the worst poster of the decade, a genuine debacle, a perfect storm of horrible ideas and ghastly execution that I can't imagine could appeal to any human being on earth from sci-fi hater to diehard Trekkie. Every time I walk through the theater lobby I cringe as this five-foot monstrosity leers at me from a place of honor:

Dear lord, where do I start? It's awful, everything about it is awful, and one can only hope J.J. Abrams had nothing to do with it. The only way I can even begin to tackle this motherfucker is to divide my critique into concept and execution and then further break it down from there:


Someone in Paramount's marketing department evidently decided that the best way to advertise their epic, massively-budgeted science fiction saga of starships, aliens, and space battles would be with an extreme close-up of of a man's face, with nothing remotely related to science fiction appearing anywhere in the frame. Let's begin a slow fucking clap for this mad genius.

1A. Why an extreme close-up? If the shot had been wider, wide enough to see Kirk, in, say, the bridge of the USS Enterprise, or standing beneath the under-construction USS Enterprise, or even just wide enough to see him in a Starfleet uniform, or fucking something related to Star Trek, the crisis would be averted. But nope, it's a chin-to-forehead extreme-as-fuck closeup. This is retarded, and does not work because:

1B. Captain Kirk's face is not iconic. This isn't a slam on Star Trek; James Bond is my favorite character and an extreme close-up of Bond's face with nothing else in the frame would be an ass-horrible poster too, as would an extreme close-up of Robert Downey Jr.'s face for the Iron Man 2 poster. Same goes for Kirk.

The USS Enterprise is iconic. The Starfleet insignia is iconic (and thankfully it makes a tiny appearance in the corner, the one defensible thing on this poster). Even Spock's goddamn ears are at least slightly iconic. But Kirk's face is not iconic. Darth Vader, the Terminator, and Jack Sparrow are, because they are unique-looking enough to identify their franchises, but Kirk is not.

1C. Chris Pine as Captain Kirk is definitely not yet iconic. Even if we callously ignore everything I've just written and assume that Captain Kirk's face is, in fact, iconic, we run into the further problem that William Shatner as Captain Kirk is iconic. Chris Pine as Captain Kirk is not. This isn't Chris Pine's fault, as I haven't seen the movie and have no idea if he's any good in it or not, but that's the problem: I haven't seen the goddamn movie, and neither has anyone else, so how can they attempt to position him as the only thing on the poster, the iconic face of James T. Kirk? No one knows who the fuck it's supposed to be unless they studiously follow film casting on the goddamn internet!

That doesn't mean he shouldn't be on the poster, but they should have used props, costumes, and settings to make him look like fucking Kirk! Take a look at the Casino Royale poster - no one had yet seen Daniel Craig as Bond, no one knew if he would be good or not, but he's wearing a tuxedo, holding a gun, and in a casino, so at least he looks like James Bond! Poor Chris Pine has no such luck.

1D. Chris Pine is not yet a famous celebrity. Even ignoring all of that, sometimes a studio just slaps a close-up of the lead's face on their poster and calls it a day, because millions of slack-jawed Americans will reliably wipe the drool from their bibs for just long enough to flock to see celebrities. It's lazy and I don't particularly like it, but it's done (see the we-don't-give-a-fuck Seven Pounds poster for a prime recent example). But they intentionally cast an unknown as Kirk, whose biggest role up to that point was as the romantic interest in The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement. No one knows who the fuck he is. So what gives?


Let's say you're a graphic designer, a photographer, whatever. The Paramount marketing department tells you that no matter what you think of it, the Star Trek poster is going to be an extreme close-up of Chris Pine's face in a black void with no Star Trek imagery or indication who the character is whatsoever. You just have to make the best you can of it, right? Evidently, WRONG.

2A. Black and white? Why? Why black and white? The movie isn't in black and white, why is the poster black and white? What purpose does it serve?

2B. He is leering like a rapist / serial murderer. I'm sure Chris Pine is a handsome fellow, as uggos don't usually get cast as leads in major summer tentpole motion pictures, but it's kind of hard to tell in this poster because he looks like he's getting ready to stick a shiv in my side, fish my wallet, then go viciously rape someone at knifepoint. As a general rule, someone with their head down, leering up towards the camera, looks creepy. That's pretty much Photography 101. Especially if they have narrowed eyes and a villainous smile. Never a good look.

It's creepier than the poster for fucking Dexter, and that's a TV series about a literal serial killer. Ladies and gentleman, Captain Kirk, our brave hero. Yes, the one glowering like Jeffrey Dahmer. Congratulations, poster designers, kudos, photographer. Nice work.


Honestly, it would be easier to list what wouldn't be an improved alternative to this poster. Off the top of my head, an extreme close-up of a flaccid dick is the only thing I can think of that would be poorer at shoring up hype and eventual revenue for the May release of Star Trek.

But, just to rattle off a few ideas: The USS Enterprise. Kirk without a rape face, in color, wearing the Starfleet uniform. Better yet, Kirk and Spock together. Why not the whole crew? Just a giant Starfleet insignia. Anything else. This fan did a mockup poster that's notable for (cheesy tagline aside) being approximately one-hundred million times better than the official one distributed by Paramount to theater chains across the country.

Christ, what a shitty poster.