Thursday, March 26, 2009

Don't let the name fool you. This is immensely cool. Paging Adult Swim...Comedy Central...pick up the white courtesy phone.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Maurice LaMarche says: It's Talk Like Shatner day!

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

There is only one other

Identify these quotes. Tell me what they have in common.

1) I don't know why he saved my life. Maybe in those last moments he loved life more than he ever had before. Not just his life - anybody's life, my life. All he'd wanted were the same answers the rest of us want. Where did I come from? Where am I going? How long have I got? All I could do was sit there and watch him die.

2) I heard a joke once: Man goes to doctor. Says he's depressed. Says Life is harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world. Doctor says "Treatment is simple. The Great Clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go see him. That should pick you up." Man bursts into tears. Says, "But doctor... I am Pagliaci." Good joke. Everybody laugh. Roll On snare drum. Curtains.

The first quote, I expect many science fiction fans to get. The second, only recent movie viewers may get.

Their common factor is that, according to the biggest fans, both quotes are non-canonical. The first quote is the voiceover narration from Decker (Harrison Ford) in Blade Runner. That narration, in the original release of the film, has been discarded in the subsequent versions of the movie, especially the "Final Cut" edition. The second quote is from the insane vigilante Walter Kovacs a.k.a. Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) in Watchmen. That quote was made for the movie; it is not in the graphic novel written by Alan Moore.

I, for one, liked both quotes. I thought the narration placed Blade Runner solidly in the world of film noir, and made that future world comprehensible to people unfamiliar with science fiction and cyberpunk. (Like my girlfriend at the time, an English teacher with no imagination and little literacy.) And the quote from Rorschach nails down the philosophy of this movie, which is not the bitter cynicism of The Dark Knight nor the campiness of Batman and Robin.

What I'm saying in a roundabout way is this: Watchmen is in the same class as Blade Runner. It's not "as good as" or "like" or any simple comparison. But like Blade Runner, it takes time out of action sequences and histrionic emotion to think about ideas. That is rare in Hollywood movies of any kind, especially in this megacorporate world. (Warner Brothers and Paramount had to share "ownership" of this movie; very interesting in regards to the corporate villains shown in the movie.)

I don't have to tell you about the story of Watchmen. A thousand reviews are out there already. What I do have to say is that this movie spends a great deal of time inside the minds of the characters. They aren't simply reacting; they are thinking as they react. They are people you come to understand, even the ones you don't wish to sympathize with, even the ones who shock and disgust you.

I saw the film with two friends of mine, both very heavy science fiction fans, but with very little understanding of the comic. They were as mesmerized as I was. One, who leans towards Limbaugh, was absorbed by the most repellent character in the story, The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan,) who as he blasts a crowd of college protesters with a shotgun, says "God damn! I love working on American soil, Dan. Ain't had this much fun since Woodward and Bernstein." And yet...who ends up sobbing about his life and his bad choices to his worst enemy.

The other friend was mesmerized by the characters. She watched with awe as the latex-clad and sexy Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman) calmly shoved a knife into the neck of a murderous thug and did John Woo martial arts stunts, but still was a vulnerable, troubled woman. And amazingly, my friend never noticed that in many scenes the blue-glowing Dr. Manhattan (voice by Billy Crudup) had his penis unashamedly in view. "I was looking at his face," she insisted.

The film is as sobering as the graphic novel upon which it was based. Yes, many things were changed and simplified, but nothing essential was lost. Especially not the climax, and especially not the last scene, which gave the original story its impact.

Alan Moore has his reasons for not signing his name to this movie, or the other movies made about his creations. I just don't think they are good reasons. And for those who keep complaining about Moore not getting the credit, it's obvious he doesn't want it. He doesn't even seem to want the attention he has gotten for disavowing Watchmen. But then, you have to wonder what he's done since that could even hold a candle to it.

Just like Blade Runner, I don't expect Watchmen will get its due at the box office. Amazingly, Disney's pale, limp remake Race to Witch Mountain has surpassed the box office of Watchmen in its second weekend. Its success and its fame will belong to history. This is a film I expect to own and treasure when it comes out on DVD. There aren't five theatrical films in the last year about which I can say the same.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

What, you mean that the Watchmen movie isn't going to be like THIS???

And for the record, what I found disturbing about The Dark Knight had nothing to do with the action, it had everything to do with the political point of view (pro Bush, pro police-state tactics, etc...turning Batman into 24, you know the deal) being pushed in the movie. Knowing what I know about Alan Moore's work, and having read The Watchmen, I know precisely what to expect. Really, Tom, you ought to know me better, seeing as we've been working together for about 10 years now.

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Monday, March 02, 2009

The Watchmen Motion Comic: Nostalgia of a sort

Watchmen: The Motion Comic

Produced by Lawrence Gordon and Lloyd Devin

Directed by Jake S. Hughes

When writer Harlan Ellison wrote a book of dark, disturbing and violent short stories entitled Deathbird Stories, he warned in the preface that no one should read the stories all at once. He said that the effect would be devastating. Now, Ellison is an egotist, and a self-promoter, and he likes to get angry in public, so this warning seemed to be a cheap way to make his book notorious. But Ellison was right. Those stories, involving the Kitty Genovese murder, assisted suicide and an atheist discovering an afterlife without any kind of God, are enough to bring nightmares and to depress sensitive souls.

Alan Moore, the writer of the original Watchmen miniseries, is not self-promoting and rarely appears in public at all. He has had his name taken off everything he's ever done, including the Watchmen movie. But he was an egotist, and perhaps even greater than the legendary Ellison. At least Ellison knew there were sensitive souls who might not be able to tolerate his works. Alan Moore never put a disclaimer on Watchmen.

The new movie is going to be disturbing to a lot of people. It's been "tamed" from the graphic novel a bit, but not much. And I'm afraid a lot of people are going to be traumatized by the film, especially those who never read the graphic novel - or who never read anything, not even the labels on the food they eat.

While the movie is still a week away, DC Comics managed to do something on the cheap. They took the panels from the Watchman graphic novel and animated it. This is "nostalgic" in several ways.

Nostalgia for Cheap Kid TV

In the early 1960's. Marvel got a cheap animation outfit named Grantray Lawrence Animation to produce "animated" episodes of Marvel heroes for local TV stations. Even their own Spider-Man series had more animation than these. They were still panels of Jack Kirby's drawings of Thor, the Hulk, the Avengers, Iron Man and the Sub-Mariner, where the camera panned into the panels, minimal mouth movement was done, and the sound effect balloons of "Zap!" and "Pow!" were the only real animation.

The Watchman animation does this. It's done far better, of course. Watchmen is honored among comic fans, and a Clutch Cargo treatment would bring instant hatred. So, they tried to make it as attractive as their budget allowed. Dave Gibbons, the artist for the graphic novel, was involved in this production. (Moore, of course, refused to do anything.)

Some examples of the pseudo-animation; In the apocalypse that ends the story, pieces of trash in the foreground were detached and made to “blow around.” Word balloons, taken from the original, are animated. (In one sequence the little pointer on a dialog balloon moves along with the character. Cute.) They didn’t censor anything; Dr. Manhattan still displays full-frontal male nudity. It is what it is, but I give them credit for trying to put as much animation into this as possible.

Nostalgia: Ripping off the creators

Moore wasn’t paid for this. He signed a "work made for hire" contract with DC for the original book, meaning DC owns everything about Watchmen, including derivative works like movies or this project. Moore could probably sue to get money for this, but he wants to forget and "move beyond Watchmen,” even though it’s his best known work. It is the copyright owners ripping off the creators, a tradition in comics as old as dialog balloons. AOL Time Warner, which owns DC Comics, is fully within their rights to do this. But legal doesn't automatically mean moral.

Nostalgia: It Doesn’t Improve a Thing

The pseudo-animation doesn't add anything to the original graphic novel. Moore was known for telling his artists what to do. His legendary script for Watchmen detailed everything in every panel. His visual transitions from panel to panel, page to page, made the book famous for art lovers. On a TV screen, with panning and scanning of panels (what Apple calls "Ken Burns transitions" in its iMovie program) this is lost.

Nostalgia: Making You Pay For Extras

DC has also made a separate animated production of "Tales of the Black Freighter." This was a "comic book within the comic book." Moore decided that in a world where superheroes were real, comic books would be about pirates. So as part of Watchmen, he included stories of a pirate ship from Hell, in which ordinary people would try to fight the evil of the ship, and find themselves turned evil, and finally join the damned crew of the Black Freighter. It was a story about the inevitability of evil, and the futility of fighting for good. Which (surprise, surprise) is the main theme of Watchmen.

The graphic novel contained many other extras. At the end of all the chapters except the last, there were “inserts.” Conrad Veidt/Oyzmandius, the main villain of the story and a wealthy magnate, describes his ad campaign for a new perfume, noting that its gender-blending visual look should help sell the stuff to gays and lesbians. The psychiatrist that interviews Rorschach hand-writes a report (this is before Rorschach’s madness starts affecting the shrink). This would be hard to put into animated form, so they didn’t try; they want you to buy the graphic novel, too.

A Caution: This Can Be Upsetting.

Some people, including Michelle, were troubled by the live-action movie The Dark Knight. Although it’s been altered, the live-action Watchmen movie will make it look like the Care Bears by comparison, if the preview reports are true.

I will give the warning that Alan Moore and AOL Time Warner won't give you. And I say this as a person who has his own psychological sensitivies, who knows how certain kinds of entertainment can hurt you.

If you are a sensitive soul, do not see the live-action Watchman movie unless you feel you can tolerate the content of the graphic novel, or this “motion comic” version.

Borrow the novel from a friend or sneak a look at it in a bookstore. Rent the animated version when it comes to video stores; don't buy it, even if you're an animation fan.

Do not spend money on it unless you are sure of yourselves; to buy it and hate it means you've given the bad guys money. See if you can watch or read one of these products in the privacy of your home, before you try the full sense immersion of the motion picture.

Before anyone accuses me of being an "Alan Moore hater," let me say I recognize the artistry of the original work. But art is not automatically entertainment. Art is like philosophy; it describes the world as viewed by the artist.

Moore was a very depressed, cynical soul, working in the ugliness of Margaret Thatcher's England. Moore was one with Sid Vicious and the other destructive punks. His disdain of Watchmen in its present form is partially due to his realization that he brought overwhelming darkness and anger to comics. (Some would also say he brought sexism; his female hero, Silk Specter, has no self-esteem and falls in love with a man who attempted to rape her.)

I will watch the live-action Watchmen. It is the geek event of the summer. But I’ll be watching it to sniff the winds of geekdom (awkward metaphor, but there it is) to see what happens. And as for Watchmen: The Action Comic, thanks, but I have the paper version and it's just fine.