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Jeffrey Dean Morgan

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Cowboy Junk-y.


I highly doubt any compadres and comadres out there need me to tell them at this late date that Jimmy Hayward’s loud, dumb, Hoobastank-ish adaptation of DC’s Jonah Hex is, all things considered, a lousy film. So, to be clear right up front: In no way am I recommending that anyone actually sit through the durned thing, especially if your own money is involved. But, I am forced to admit: While I may have just been in a summer-afternoon, World Cup-enhanced good mood at the time, I actually found Jonah Hex to be a pretty entertaining lousy film, if you set your brain to numb and roll with it.

For, however defiantly stupid Hex is for most of its run, and yes, Hex is extremely, flagrantly stupid — we know that from the horse-mounted howitzers in the first reel — at least the movie is aware enough of its drive-in badness just to let its Weird Western Tales freak flag fly. (Speaking of Hex’s comic book origins, the obligatory source material disclosures: I’ve been aware of the character since he popped up in the Crisis way back when, but never really followed him, even when he got sent into the far-flung future for some reason, and I couldn’t tell you much about Hex beforehand except the scar.)

So basically, I found Jonah Hex to be on the bizarrely-enjoyable, “TNT New Classic at two in the morning” side of terrible, as opposed to the just-plain-irritating-terrible of, say, 1999’s The Wild, Wild West. (Or, to take two recent examples, Alice in Wonderland or Clash of the Titans.) True, gun-for-hire John Malkovich seems really bored as this twisted tale’s Big Bad, Confederate general Quentin Turnbull. (Like Hugo Weaving in The Wolfman, another genre turn I thought would have to be fun no matter what, Malkovich is a letdown. Even in other easy paychecks like Con Air, I’ve never seen him so listless.) But the Malkatraz choosing to phone-it-in notwithstanding, there’s still a lot of goofy fun at the fringes of Jonah Hex.

I mean, we’ve got rising star Michael Fassbender (of Inglourious Basterds, Fish Tank and, soon X-Men: First Class — He’s the Magneto to James McAvoy’s Professor X) as a jolly, lilting Irish-immigrant henchman in a bowler hat. There’s Will “Gob Bluth” Arnett playing it straight as a McClellan-esque Union general, Jeffrey Dean Morgan (of Watchmen and The Losers) as a wordy and depressed zombie, Lance Reddick (nee Major Cedric Daniels) slumming it as Hex’s Q, American Beauty‘s since-AWOL Wes Bentley randomly popping up very briefly as Southern Gentleman #2…and that’s not even getting into the random Civil war-era gladiatorial bat-beasts and whatnot.

And then there’s Hex himself: Josh Brolin, who, not unlike Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley in Splice, carries the stoic deadpan — with a glint of laughter in the eyes — of a man who seems to be in on the joke. If nothing else, Brolin — after spending two decades not-really-making-it between 1985’s The Goonies and 2007’s No Country for Old Men — seems to be getting a real kick out of being an A-Lister carrying his own B-level comic book film. For her part, Megan Fox is not much to write home about here, but she’s easy on the eyes and acquits herself well enough. I know she’s often a target of many people’s weirdly vociferous wrath. But I’ll give Fox this: If Hex and Jennifer’s Body are any indication, she seems to have a pretty solid sense of her own limited range.

Now, you’ll notice I’ve gone several paragraphs in now without mentioning anything involving the actual story, and that should give you a sense of its quality. But, basically, Hex wants revenge on the aforementioned Gen. Turnbull, since he’s the man who disfigured him (good work, make-up people), murdered his family before his eyes, and inadvertently gave Hex the power to commune with the dead (although, apparently not with his family, which is where you’d think he’d then spend most of his time.) Turnbull, meanwhile, wants to level the Union on its 100th anniversary, as payback for that whole Civil War thing — you may have read about it. (The engine of his centennial-obliterating master plan are highly dangerous WMD, apparently once engineered by Eli Whitney — In practice, they’re glowing golden orbs not unlike the pinkish bombs Jar Jar et al were flinging around Naboo in The Phantom Menace. And, yes, the fact I just mentioned Episode 1 should again give you a sense of what you’re in for here.

So, yeah, the film is bad, no doubt. But I still definitely enjoyed myself through its schlocky-grisly awfulness. If you’ll allow me to explain by digression: Speaking of John Lee Hancock’s amiable but slightly dull adaptation of The Alamo in 2004, I finished up by saying of Billy Bob Thornton’s Davy Crockett that “Billy Bob is so good here that I spent most of the film contemplating who else I’d cast alongside Thornton for the definitive American History miniseries. Christopher Walken as 1850 Henry Clay? Fred Thompson as James Buchanan? Adrien Brody as Mexican War-era Lincoln? The possibilities are endless.

And, with that in mind, I think the point where Hex sorta sold me as Z-grade entertainment, despite its pretty unmitigated badness otherwise, is when Aidan Quinn (most recently playing a drunk-of-a-different-color in The Eclipse) shows up as President Ulysses S. Grant, a man who needs that outlaw and ex-Confederate rapscallion Jonah Hex on the side of God and country, his dirty deeds be damned, or else. If you’ve been coming ’round these parts and reading the movie reviews for any amount of time, you’ve probably noticed I have a weakness for both historical recreations and genre outings. Well, however much of a bomb in the end, Jonah Hex at least has the good sense to frolic happily at that crossroads for awhile.

Got No Secrets to Conceal.


Let’s get right down to brass tacks: Sylvain White’s The Losers is not very good. Both the second edgy comic adaptation (after Kick-Ass) and the second elite-ops-on-a-suicide-mission movie (after Clash of the Titans) in a summer full of them (The A-Team, The Expendables, arguably Salt), The Losers feels shoddily written, by-the-numbers, and altogether pedestrian. (In fact, notorious hackmeister Akiva Goldsman has a producer cred here – that’s a pretty good tip-off for what you’re in for.)

And yet, even though The Losers is one of those movies where you sit around dutifully ticking off the one-liners, action beats, and omg-‘splosions from the trailer as they happen, just so you can figure out when you get to go home, I’ll say this: The movie’s got charisma to spare. I mean, The Comedian, Stringer Bell, Johnny Storm, Uhura (or, if you liked Avatar more than I did, Neytiri)…all in a B-movie, rock-’em-sock-’em action flick? That should work, right? And that’s not even counting appealing presences like Columbus Short, Oscar Jaenada, and Holt McCallany along for the ride.

And so there’s a strange, vaguely entertaining tension playing out at the heart of The Losers, almost despite itself. Are the amiable actors on display here enough to compensate for a film that is so lazy and perfunctory in pretty much every other aspect of its production? And, the answer is…no, not really. With one notable exception, all the players here eventually check out and succumb to the lethargy of the proceedings. (Losers, indeed.) Still, unlike Clash or Alice in Wonderland, Losers is never an irritatingly, in-your-face terrible experience. It’s just a ho-hum 100-minutes of blah that I’m sure will end up feeling perfectly harmless when TNT runs it into the ground a few years hence.

Anyway…The Losers, you say? Based on a Vertigo comic by Andy Diggle and Jock (I haven’t read it. The only DC Losers I’m familiar with are the WWII tank outfit that died in the Crisis), The Losers are basically your standard-issue coterie of black-ops, get-any-job-done paramilitary badasses, as per most every other film in this genre. Oh, and, as you might expect, they’ve been betrayed and left for dead by their handler, the mysterious and very well-connected Max (Jason Patric, way over the top but it’s not really his fault. Whatcha gonna do when the part is, for all intent and purposes, Dr. Evil?)

So, yes, this is basically the exact same story as The A-Team, or, for that matter Machete (once of Grindhouse, now, somewhat depressingly, its own full-length flick, coming to a theater near you this fall.) Only this time, somebody’s “f**ked with the wrong Mexican” — that would be laconic, eagle-eyed sharpshooter Cougar (Jaenada) — and his four friends: Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), the hard-livin’ leader with woman troubles; Roque (Idris Elba), the grouchy #2 and knife specialist; Jensen (Chris Evans), the motor-mouthed hacker and comic relief; and Pooch (Short), the pilot and family man.

The X-Factor in this all-too-predictable tale is the lovely Aisha (Zoe Saldana), an alluring assassin who recruits the Losers in Bolivia, as they lick their wounds post-double-cross, and who makes the team a Godfather offer: She’ll get them back in the US if the Losers promise to take out Max for good. That sounds like a win-win for everybody…but what is Aisha’s game, exactly? Well, do you really want me to tell you? There aren’t too many surprises to be had here, so best keep that one quiet for now. (I will give away this: poor Saldana doesn’t get much to do but look great, drop some exposition now and again, and occasionally blow stuff up.)

Then again, she’s not alone in that regard. Anyone who’s ever watched The Wire knows that Elba is a charisma-bomb on most occasions. As Stringer Bell, he always commanded one’s full attention. But, here, he just seems bored and in a funk. Same goes for Morgan, who made a decent impression as the Comedian in Watchmen but, again, doesn’t have either the wherewithal or the ambition to spin gold from lead here. Somehow, someway (and just like Clash of the Titan‘s “power of Medusa”), this movie just seems to suck the life right out of people — It’s as if everyone realized at some point they were in a second-rate action movie and recalibrated their behavior accordingly.

The one notable exception I mentioned earlier, tho’, is the future Captain America, Chris Evans. Perhaps, thanks to his quality turn as the Human Torch in the otherwise atrocious Fantastic Four films, Evans has already had some practice in how to be the best thing in a bad movie. (He’s also quite good in the promising but maddeningly uneven Sunshine.) Or perhaps it’s just because his character, Jensen, is given the meatiest stuff to work with. Nonetheless, Evans sells it — The Losers is a zippier, vervier film whenever he’s onscreen. Which I guess makes him the winner of The Losers [rimshot]…Mama didn’t raise no fool.

The Biggest Loser(s).

Ok, so there definitely is a Plan B. In the trailer bin this week, the Comedian, Stringer Bell, Johnny Storm, and Neytiri, among others, give The A-Team a run for their money in the trailer for Sylvain White’s The Losers, based on the DC comic and starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Idris Elba, Chris Evans, Oscar Jaenada, Columbus Short, Zoe Saldana, Jason Patric, and Holt McCallany.

And, speaking of big losers, Gordon Gekko has done his time and wants back in the big game — maybe with a new cellphone — in the teaser for Oliver Stone’s Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps, also with Shia LaBoeuf, Carey Mulligan, Josh Brolin, Eli Wallach, Susan Sarandon, Vanessa Ferlito, Frank Langella, and — word has it — Charlie Sheen. Might have to give the first one another whirl beforehand.

2009 in Film.

Merry Christmas, everyone. As we’re at the halfway point of the big decade list — Pt. 1, Pt. 2 — now seems like a good time to uncork the usual end-of-year movie list. Think of it as a new-stuff sorbet before we move to the final fifty.

I should say before we start that there are a few movies I’ll very likely see from 2009 — most notably The Lovely Bones, A Single Man, and The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus — that aren’t included due to their limited release schedule — most don’t arrive around these parts until 2010. The better-than-expected Sherlock Holmes, which I saw yesterday and have not yet reviewed in full, is also not here, although I did think of slotting it in at #20 before the Victorian-era tazer and remote-controlled cyanide bomb showed up. And there are still a few other stragglers I wouldn’t mind catching at some point, most notably Invictus and The Messenger. But if any of these are really, really great, they’ll either get backdated in or show up in next year’s list, as per usual. So don’t worry — credit will get paid where due.

In the meantime, as has been the standard — and although the decade list has been working differently — we start at #1 and proceed from there. And without further ado, the…

Top 20 Films of 2009
[2000/2001/2002/2003/2004/2005/2006/2007/2008]

1. In the Loop: “Tobes, I don’t want to have to read you the Riot Act, but I am going to have to read you some extracts from the Riot Act, like: Section 1, Paragraph 1: Don’t leave your boss twisting in the wind and then burst in late, smelling like a pissed seaside donkey.” Even if I hadn’t moved back to DC this year for a ringside seat to the clusterfrak, Armando Ianucci’s In the Loop would’ve been at the top of my list. I’m not normally a huge laugher at movies, but this flick had me rolling.

Basically, In the Loop is Office Space for people in politics, and it’s a smart, wickedly funny entertainment. And like Judge’s film and The Big Lebowski, I expect it will enjoy a long, happy, and very quotable renaissance on DVD. If you find The Daily Show or Colbert Report at all enjoyable, this is a must-see. And, even if you don’t, well the choice Scottish swearing should get you through.

2. Moon: While Michael Bay, McG and their ilk tried to top each other with gimongous explosions this summer, Duncan Jones’ moody, low-key Moon just aimed to blow our minds. A throwback to the seventies big-think sci-fi that has fallen out of favor in the post-Star Wars-era, Moon‘s big special effect, other than Sam Rockwell, of course, was its clever ideas. And in a year of hit-or-miss (mostly miss) blockbusters, Rockwell’s quiet two-man show turned out to be the sci-fi extravaganza of 2009.

3. A Serious Man: Oy vey. This existential disquisition into wandering dybbuks, sixties Judaica, quantum mechanics, and Old Testament justice was yet another triumph for those devilishly talented brothers from Minnesota. The Job-like travails of Larry Gopnik introduced us to several colorful, Coenesque personages (Sy Ableman, Rabbi Nachtner) and offered vignettes (the Goy’s Teeth) and quotable philosophy (“Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you“) that cinephiles will ponder for awhile to come. The Coens abide.

4. The Hurt Locker: Bombs away, and we’re not ok. Other than Modern Warfare 2 and Generation Kill, this immersive, nail-biting account of an IED team’s travails in the midst of the suck was the best pop culture simulator out there for feeling embedded in Iraq…and stuck at the wrong Baghdad street corner at just the wrong time. And with the tension ratcheting to uncomfortable levels in each of the ordnance disposal scenes, Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Lockersorry, King of the World — was the action movie of the year.

5. Coraline: In an auspicious year for both regular (see #10) and stop-motion (see #13) animation, Henry Selick’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline was the pick of the litter. It sorta got lost in the early-year shuffle, but Selick & Gaiman’s dark, twisted fairy tale delivered the goods, and hopefully it’ll find more life on DVD.

6. District 9: For those who find Moon a little too talky and slow, I direct you to Neil Blomkamp’s little (ok, $30 million) South African indie that could. Alien Nation meets Cry Freedom with healthy dollops of Cronenberg body horror and old-school Peter Jackson viscera-splatter, District 9 came out as more than the sum of its parts, and (with #8) was one of the most purely enjoyable films of the summer.

7. (500) Days of Summer: “This is a story of boy meets girl. The boy, Tom Hansen of Margate, New Jersey, grew up believing that he’d never truly be happy until the day he met The One. This belief stemmed from early exposure to sad British pop music and a total mis-reading of the movie ‘The Graduate’.” Speaking of said music, here’s a movie the early Elvis Costello would love. Sure, (500) Days is unabashedly for folks who’ve been on the wrong end of a break-up. But, even if it is ultimately Annie Hall-lite in a lot of ways, it had more truths to tell than most of the rom-coms out in any given year…combined.

8. Drag Me to Hell: Shaking off the Spidey 3 doldrums, Sam Raimi went back to his gross-out Evil Dead roots for this carnival concoction. Besides being easily the most explicitly anti-gypsy film since Borat, Drag Me to Hell was also, in its own way, as much of a Great Recession cautionary tale as Up in the Air. One hopes that when the Senate takes up financial services reform next year, our erstwhile reformers in that esteemed body will note what happened to Alison Lohman when she, against all better judgment, decided to do the bidding of the Banks.

9. Star Trek: There was admittedly a whole lotta stupid in J.J. Abrams’ Star Warsy revamp of the Star Trek franchise — Once exposed to the light, the movie’s basic premises completely fall apart. But, like the stomachache that accompanies eating too much candy, those regrets come later. In the moment, Star Trek was more fun than you can shake a stick at, and as solid and entertaining a franchise reboot as 2006’s Casino Royale. Let’s hope The Revenge of Khan or whatever it’s called turns out better than Quantum of Solace.

10. Up: If the movie were just the first ten-fifteen minutes, this might’ve been in the top five. But even more than WALL-E, the good stuff in Up is front-loaded. And, after the story of a lifetime ended a quarter hour in, I wasn’t much in the mood for talking dogs and big, funny birds (even birds named Kevin) anymore. Still, Pixar is Pixar, and Up carried their usual mark of quality.

11. The Damned United: Frost/Nixon for the futbol set, Tom Hooper’s ballad of Clough and Revie was a low-key character study that made up for an awkwardly-frontloaded bromance with another great performance by Michael Sheen and plenty of “Life in a Northern Town” local color to spare. You can practically smell the mud off the cleats in this one.

12. Duplicity: Perhaps I’m giving too many props to well-made breezy entertainments this year (see also Nos. 8 & 9). Nonetheless, Tony Gilroy’s Duplicity was a sleek espionage caper and a decently sexy love story that was all the more amusing because the stakes were so small. As it turns out, Clive Owen had just taken on evil corporations with a global reach a few weeks earlier in The International (a movie I caught on DVD, and which was most memorable for its Gunfight in the Guggenheim) — He’s more fun when he’s on the payroll.

13. The Fantastic Mr. Fox: If you see one clever stop-motion adaptation of a sardonic children’s novel this year…well, see Coraline. Nonetheless, The Fantastic Mr. Fox was also one of the better entrants in the 2009 line-up. It was ultimately a little too Wes Anderson saccharine for my tastes, but, of course, your mileage may vary. And at least Fox didn’t wallow in the emo like, you know.

14. Inglourious Basterds: After a decade of languishing in the shallows, Quentin Tarantino found a bit of his old magic in this sprawling alternate history of WWII. Yes, it needed a good and ruthless editor, and some rather longish scenes don’t really work at all (I’m thinking mainly of Shoshanna’s lunch with Goebbels and Linda.) But at certain times — the basement cafe snafu, for example, or the memorable finale — Basterds is the best thing QT has done since Jackie Brown. Let’s hope he stays in form.

15. Public Enemies: Michael Mann’s high-def retelling of The Last Days of Dillinger was a strange one, alright. Like Basterds, it was long and languid and sometimes seemed to move without purpose. But, like Mann’s last grainy-digital foray into tales of manly men and the women they love, Miami Vice, Public Enemies has stuck with me ever since. Say what you will about the hi-def video aesthetic, it somehow seems to match Mann’s haunted, Hemingwayesque sense of poetry.

16. The Informant!: The tragedy of The Insider retold as farce, The Informant!, like many of Steven Soderbergh’s films, was experimental in a lot of ways. Some things worked (the ADM-buttery sheen); Others didn’t (the distractingly peppy Hamlisch score); Others still were hit-or-miss (the in-head bipolar voiceover). Nonetheless, The Informant! is mostly a success, and it’s good to see Soderbergh out there trying new things — I wish I’d gotten around to catching The Girlfriend Experience. (Ahem, the movie, that is. Sheesh, some people.)

17. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans: I had definite doubts going in, but Werner Herzog’s Grand Theft Auto: New Orleans turned out to be a surprisingly fun gonzo trip. After years of hanging with the Kinski, good ole Werner sure knows his way around the crazy, and by pairing Nicholas Cage on a savage burn with hyperreal iguanas, voodoo breakdancers, and the like, he’s done Abel Ferrara’s Gloomy Gus version of this tale one better. There’s no Catholic angst for this Lieutenant — just reveling in sordidness…but then again, isn’t that the whole point of Carnival?

18. Watchmen: “At midnight, all the agents and the superhuman crews go and round up everyone who knows more than they do.” True, Zack Snyder’s attempt to recreate the Alan Moore graphic novel on film is flawed in a lot of ways. (The longer DVD version smooths out some of these issues while introducing others.) And I still wish the project had stayed in Paul Greengrass’ hands. But, give credit where it’s due — For all its many problems (most notably the fratboy-indulgences into “cool” violence), Snyder’s Watchmen got a lot of things right, from Dr. Manhattan sulking on Mars to Jackie Earle Haley’s turn as Rorschach. Snyder couldn’t match the degree of difficulty involved in the end, but Watchmen was still a worthy attempt.

19. The Road: In the Future, There Will Be Cannibals: John Hillcoat’s film version of Cormac McCarthy’s dabbling in the apocalyptic form definitely captured the resonances of the book. And this is a quality production through and through, with solid performances by Viggo, the kid, Charlize Theron, and all of the HBO All-Stars (with particularly big ups to Robert Duvall.) Unfortunately, I didn’t think much of the book either, and in its monochromatic grimness, The Road never seems as memorable as Hillcoat’s earlier film, The Proposition. All work and no play makes Hobo Viggo somethin’ somethin’.

20. The Men Who Stare at Goats: I’m sure a lot of lists would’ve found room for Avatar or Up in the Air in their top twenty, and both have their merits (even if Avatar‘s are almost completely technical.) But if Avatar was too flat and Air too glib, The Men Who Stare at Goats was a frothy excursion that delivered on basically the terms it promised at the onset. Ok, there’s not much there there, but sometimes a couple of likable actors having an extended goof will go farther than Big, Oscar-Worthy Messages and World-Beating Tech. Hmmm, if you think about it, the “sparkly eye” technique probably would’ve gone over better with the Na’vi than all those Aliens-loaned cargo-loaders anyway. Score one for the First Earth Battalion.

Most Disappointing: Where the Wild Things Are, Terminator: Salvation

Worth a Rental: An Education, Avatar, Cold Souls, Eden (2006), Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, The International, Paranormal Activity, Sherlock Holmes, A Single Man, Taken, Up in the Air, Zombieland

Don’t Bother: 2012, The Box, The Brothers Bloom, Extract, A Girl Cut in Two (2006), The Hangover, Invictus, Jennifer’s Body, State of Play, The Tiger’s Tail (2006), Whip It, World’s Greatest Dad

Best Actor: Sam Rockwell, Moon; Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

Best Actress: Carey Mulligan, An Education
Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds; Robert Duvall, The Road
Best Supporting Actress: Marion Cotillard, Public Enemies; Melanie Laurent, Inglourious Basterds

Unseen: 9, Nine, Adventureland, Angels & Demons, Amelia, Antichrist, Armored, Astro Boy, Black Dynamite, Blood: The Last Vampire, Bright Star, Brothers, Bruno, Capitalism: A Love Story, Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant, Crank: High Voltage, Crossing Over, Everybody’s Fine, Funny People, Gentlemen Broncos, GI Joe, The Girlfriend Experience, Good Hair, The Education of Charlie Banks, The Great Buck Howard, Hunger, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, The Invention of Lying, It’s Complicated, Julie & Julia, Land of the Lost, The Limits of Control, , The Lovely Bones, I Love You Man, Me and Orson Welles, The Messenger, New York I Love You, Notorious, Observe & Report, Orphan, Pandorum, Pirate Radio, Ponyo, Precious, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, The Proposal, Push, The Soloist, Surrogates, The Taking of Pelham1-2-3, Taking Woodstock, Thirst, The Time Traveler’s Wife, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, The Twilight Saga: New Moon, Two Lovers, The Ugly Truth, Whatever Works, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Year One

    A Good Year For:

  • The Apocalypse (2012, Zombieland, The Road)
  • Demons (A Serious Man, Drag Me to Hell, Jennifer’s Body, Paranormal Activity)
  • George Clooney (The Men Who Stare at Goats, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Up in the Air)
  • Going Undercover to Play Both Sides (Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, Duplicity, The Informant!)
  • Guy Pearce Cameos (The Road, The Hurt Locker)
  • Hipsters with Unresolved Childhood Issues (The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Where the Wild Things Are)
  • “The Jews” (Inglourious Basterds, A Serious Man)
  • Matthew Goode (Watchmen, A Single Man)
  • Melanie Lynskey (Up in the Air, The Informant!)
  • Stop-Motion (Coraline, The Fantastic Mr. Fox)

    A Bad Year For:

  • Goats (Drag Me to Hell, The Men Who Stare at Goats)
  • Robots from the Future (Transformers 2, Terminator: Salvation)
  • Pithy Movie Titles: (Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, X-Men Origins: Wolverine)
  • Summer blockbusters: (GI Joe, Terminator: Salvation, Transformers 2, Wolverine)

2010: Alice in Wonderland, All Good Things, The American, The A-Team, The Book of Eli, Brooklyn’s Finest, Clash of the Titans, A Couple of Dicks, Daybreakers, The Expendables, Greenberg, The Green Hornet, Green Zone, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1, I Love You Phillip Morris, Inception, Iron Man 2, Jonah Hex, Kick-Ass, Knight & Day, The Last Airbender, Legion, The Losers, Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief, Morning Glory, Predators, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Red, Robin Hood, Salt, Season of the Witch, Shanghai, Shutter Island, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Toy Story 3, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps, The Wolf Man, Youth in Revolt, more needless ’80s remakes than you can shake a stick at. (Footloose, The Karate Kid, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Red Dawn), and…

TRON 2. 2010, y’all. It’s the future, and no mistake.

The Gods Must Be Crazy.

“Come writers and critics who prophesize with your pen, and keep your eyes wide —
the chance won’t come again.”
As in the original comic, two Dylan songs bookend Zack Snyder’s ambitious, admirable, and flawed adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, the critically-acclaimed tale of the rise and fall of Cold War superheroes (which I’ve now seen twice.) The first, “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” comes direct from Dylan himself, and scores the impressive, easter egg-filled opening credit montage that is one of the highlights of the film. Here, Snyder has taken the world of Watchmen, fused it with some quality Bob, and made something transporting and uniquely filmic. (Fanboys and fangirls, note the original Nite Owl saving the Waynes. By the way, Dylan, US History, and superheroes — yes, this sequence is easy for me to love.)

On the other hand, over the end credits, we get a a truly terrible version of “Desolation Row” by My Chemical Romance, whom I’m not particularly familar with but who, on the basis of this cover, would seem to be derivative, talentless hacks. Now, I’m not averse to Dylan played fast and loud. To hear it done right, check out Rage Against the Machine excavating the angry heart of “Maggie’s Farm”, or the White Stripes’ live takes on “Isis” or “Lovesick”, or, of course, Jimi’s “All Along the Watchtower” (also in the movie, right where it is in the book.) But MCR have completely missed both the power and the poetry of “Desolation Row,” and just play it fast, sloppy, and nu-punk like the faux-Green Day cover band (which makes them faux-faux-Pistols) they seem to be.

If I’ve spent a lot of time here talking about these two Dylan songs at the onset instead of Watchmen, it’s because they mirror the dichotomy present in the film. In certain sequences like the opening credits, Snyder manages to catch lightning in a bottle and really bring elements of the graphic novel to life, albeit in truncated form. There are moments in the movie, usually involving Rorschach or Dr. Manhattan, where I was struck by the sheer sensation of seeing the book leap off the page. (Short plot summary for the uninitiated: In an alternate-America 1985, on the eve of what appears to be nuclear Armageddon, one of a dwindling band of ex-superheroes is murdered in (and then out of) his New York City apartment. Rorschach, a borderline-psychotic right-wing vigilante who dresses like Philip Marlowe and rasps like Christian Bale, wants to know why. It’s a dangerous question.) The altered ending notwithstanding, it’s somewhat amazing to me that we got a Watchmen movie this close to the source material, and, by all accounts, Snyder had to fight tooth and nail with the studio suits for every cynical, resolutely uncommercial facet of it.

But, at other times, Snyder’s bad habits sadly leak through and undeniably taint the end product, most notably in the gratuitous violence present here. In interviews, Snyder can sometimes come off as a geekier version of the white fratboys in Harold and Kumar. (“Dude, that’s so extreme!“) And that better-harder-faster mentality results in some serious whiffs along the way in Watchmen, when Snyder ratchets up the gore and bone-breaking at the expense of the story. However close the movie gets to gorgeously capturing Manhattan’s reveries on Mars (although I wish the Doc’s living in an endless now was better emphasized.), it basically drops the ball completely on Rorschach’s “origin” (which I quoted in my pre-movie post), mainly because Snyder sidesteps the existential horror of Kovacs’ story to amp up the violence of it. In the comic, Kovacs has pierced the veil of the sheltering sky and discovered all is blackness. In the movie, he just seems to be on a torture-porn killing spree. Same goes for a scene involving Dan (Nite-Owl) and Laurie (Silk Spectre) getting jumped by the Top Knots gang in a dark alley. It’s bone-crushingly brutal when it doesn’t need to be, actually has these two kiling people Rorschach-style, and seriously detracts from the more interesting scene it’s intercut with, that of Dr. Manhattan inadvertently exposing his disinterest in humanity in an interview with Ted Koppel.

Now, as with loud, angry Dylan covers, I’m not averse to gore or over-the-top violence when it serves the narrative. To take an example, there’s a scene involving human entrails stuck to the ceiling (don’t you want to see this now?) which is also overly Snyderish, but I think works in context. (The voiceover is making Hollis Mason’s point that, with the arrival of Dr. Manhattan (i.e. the advent of atomic weaponry), the superhero game has forever changed — it’s no longer gallantly nabbing bankrobbers and pursesnatchers with a few “Wham! Pow!” four-color blows, but something much darker and more lethal.) But Snyder’s Watchmen is unnecessarily violent at the wrong times (see also Big Figure’s henchmen), and then inexplicably goes soft at the moments when gore is virtually required. I’m referring here to the consequences of the Big Plan, which feel strangely weightless in the movie, partly because (in this cut) no characters we’ve been following are anywhere close to Ground Zero and partly because, unlike every other action sequence in the movie, it’s all very PG-13 all of a sudden. (Contrast this with the opening of Chapter 12 in the comic, which is basically several pages of horrific imagery, unlike anything we’ve yet seen in the story.) Now, I’m willing to bet dollars-to-donuts that 9/11-squeamish studio types were unyielding about the soft-pedaling of the climax here (which, by the way, is elegant in its own way even without the squid.) Still, it’s hard to escape the feeling that, while Moore and Gibbons used violence in their tale to comment on its awfulness (and the awfulness of The Plan), Snyder often just uses it because it’s like, totally extreme.

Don’t get me wrong: I have no idea how it plays to people unfamiliar with the comic, but for the rest of us, there’s a lot to like here. Even notwithstanding some godawful, cringe-inducing age and Nixon make-up (I guess everyone was busy on Benjamin Button) and one of the worst movie sex scenes in recent memory (I’m offended on behalf of Leonard Cohen), Watchmen is a better film than some of the critical pans make it out to be. Jackie Earle Haley’s Rorschach is especially dead-on, and is rightfully drawing most of the acting kudos right now — This should be a career-defining role for him. But Billy Crudup’s Dr. Manhattan and, surprisingly, Patrick Wilson’s Nite-Owl are also pretty close to note-perfect. (So too is Matt Frewer’s Moloch, who absolutely nails his big moment — “You know that kind of cancer that you get better from eventually? Well, that ain’t the kind of cancer I got.”) And Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Comedian and Matthew Goode’s Ozymandias grow on you, even if Ozy seems a bit charisma-starved compared to his comic counterpart. (As for Malin Ackerman’s Silk Spectre…uh, well, let’s just say she’s in it too.)

So, in short, I liked the movie, would recommend it to readers and non-readers alike, and thought even more of it the second time around when I was less burdened by expectations. (Yes, it’s wayyyy better than 300, and I’m looking forward to the 30-minute longer cut, which is rumored to spend more time with Rorschach’s shrink and the two Bernards.) Still, it’s hard to shake the nagging sense that the things I really liked about Watchmen would’ve made it into any reasonably faithful movie version, and that a different director than Snyder might’ve brought about a better, richer film in the end.

Still, as my old boss was wont to say: We don’t need people who get the ball to the twenty-yard line; we need people who can bring it over the goal line. And, for better or worse, Snyder got this ball over the goal line where Terry Gilliam, Darren Aronofsky, and Paul Greengrass couldn’t. Let’s give credit where it’s due: After twenty years of trying, they actually made a Watchmen movie, and it ended up being surprisingly close to the source material and not at all an embarrassment or cash grab. I presume the Rorschach types probably loathe this end result, compromised as it is in certain places. But for the rest of us, I’d say this new Utopia, however flawed at times, is close enough for government work.

Watch Fragments.

It is twenty-two years ago, and I am reading the final issue of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen. It is three weeks from now, and I am watching the midnight show of Zack Snyder’s film of the graphic novel. It is ten minutes ago, and I am watching these five exclusive clips from the movie and thinking, “Hrm. These don’t actually seem very good…” (True, clips taken out of context can always seem strange. Still, Veidt muttering his lines and all that Snyderian sloooo-moooo — Silk Spectre at the fire, the Comedian off of Archie — gives me pause.)

Rorschach/Nixon.

Strangelove much? The Japanese trailer for Zack Snyder’s Watchmen is now on the tubes, which contains some spoilery-type new footage if you haven’t read the graphic novel. (Note also the new Minutemen featurette on the official site.) Interesting that this trailer foregoes all the Dr. Manhattan-exemplifying-American-might stuff in favor of more emphasis on the alternate history and Cold War doomsday clock.

Midnight Agents, Superhuman Crews.

Among the bountiful harvest that is the Quantum of Solace trailer crop…

  • Trailer rights to use Philip Glass and Muse? Several thousand dollars. Lawyers to haggle out an armistice among warring studios? Millions. Finally getting a Watchmen film up and made? Priceless. Costumed heroes (the Voice-of-Mastercard among them) investigate the death of a Comedian in the story-heavy second trailer for Zack Snyder’s Watchmen.

    I’m all over the place on this one. There are some real red flags here — all the Snydery slo-mo shots of Malin Ackerman’s hair, for example — and some of the dialogue feels as stiff and expository as the ponderous take-a-meeting scenes in 300. Then again, as with the first trailer, I’m still having trouble just wrapping my mind around the fact that they finally made a Watchmen movie. So I’m inclined to be charitable, and the little flourishes throughout (Rorschach’s mask moves!) appeal to my inner fanboy regardless. (Also, while Jackie Earle Hale’s Bale-Batman-growl may be a tad distracting, it’s hard to imagine Rorschach with any other kind of voice.) For now, I’ll call it a push.

  • Bad Boy Kirk! Angry Spock(?)! Alluring Uhura! Villain with Ridges on Face! J.J. Abrams introduces his new-and-improved Enterprise babies in the crowd-pleasing trailer for the Star Trek reboot. I can’t say I’m expecting all that much from this venture, and this clip, particularly in its 2 Fast 2 Furious opener, doesn’t shy away from bringing the summer movie dumb. Still, I’m forced to admit this looks more fun than I’d earlier envisioned, and I’m looking forward to more of Simon Pegg’s Scott and Karl Urban’s Bones. (And Bruce Greenwood (Pike) and Eric Bana (Big Bad) are generally a welcome touch of class in any event.)

    Also out of late:

  • A stiff, robotic alien promises to destroy life on Earth in order to save it…oh yeah, and he brought Gort along too. Keanu Reeves get threatening in the new action-centric trailer for next month’s The Day the Earth Stood Still, also with Jennifer Connelly and Jon Hamm.

  • Speaking of threatening, Harrison Ford looks to uncork the finger of doom for the cause of immigration reform in the trailer for Wayne Kramer’s Crash-like Crossing Over. (I hope his wife and family are ok, at least.) Joining Indy on this border-crossing adventure: Summer Bishil, Alice Braga, Cliff Curtis, Alice Eve, Ashley Judd, Ray Liotta, and Jim Sturgess.

  • Immigration, Schmimmigration. According to the teaser for Roland Emmerich’s next forgettable summer jaunt, 2012, we’ve only got four years left anyway…and it’s all Dubya’s fault. Strangely enough, John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Danny Glover, Thandie Newton, Oliver Platt, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Woody Harrelson are all along to surf this improbable Himalayan-swamping wave, but I wouldn’t expect much of a splash at the box office.

  • Finally, the revolution may not be televised, but it’ll soon be hitting at least a few screens here in America anyway: Witness the a international teaser for Steven Soderbergh’s Che (or, more to the point, Ches — I believe this project is still two films.) Word of mouth on this one has been highly variable, but I remain curious to see what Soderbergh and Benicio del Toro have come up with. Still, this strangely disjointed teaser — Ken Burns by way of Oliver Stone — doesn’t really get the job done.

  • Masters of a Nothing Place.

    In anticipation of the second trailer (one of the many coming to theaters with this weekend’s Quantum of Solace), six new character posters for Zack Snyder’s Watchmen are released. That’s right-wing freakshows The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) up top. See also Ozymandias (Matthew Goode) with Bubastis, Silk Spectre II (Malin Ackerman), Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson), and Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup).

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