Steve J. Moore

Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

I Watched the Watchmen.

In Film, Graphic Novels, Science Fiction on March 16, 2009 at 10:55 am

Steve J. Moore

Starting where Alan Moore left off in his epilogue, I  began writing what became this post directly after coming home from the theater. I am glad that I saw the film on a beautiful Sunday afternoon because my leaving the theater provided a very natural sense of closure to the story, which I’ll get to later. Watchmen is a film whose plot I was only moderately aware of beforehand. Inkhead friends and the internet served as my own watchmen to what I eventually discovered is an incredible and powerful story on screen.

watchmen

Moore was inspired by George Orwell’s 1984 before he put pen to Watchmen‘s plot. While I did purchase the book before seeing the film, I did not have the time to read it entirely. What reading I did do showed me that nearly every scene in Zach Snyder’s film was ingeniously lifted from between the book’s covers. Just like 300 and Sin City, this film is an adaptation of note. NPR’s Kenneth Turan does not agree with me on this. He called the film “pedestrian,” and argues that it was no one’s fault,

“It never should have been turned into a film in the first place.”

Please Kenneth. Don’t tell me that you’re one of those movie critics. That kind of commentary is acid to both the book’s authors and to directors everywhere. I suppose no one was up to the challenge? No human could have done this “landmark” justice in your eyes? This reminds me of something my cousin once said. We were a bit younger and X-Men had just come out. Being the collectors of comic lore that we were, we ran out to see the movie we had been waiting for since our sandbox days. While we both loved it, he had a rather strong opinion about one tiny detail, Storm’s eyes.

He complained that they weren’t white the whole time like hers are in the TV show, comics, and everywhere else.

Please. That’s your problem with it!? (WP won’t print me an interrobang, oh well) My cousin was only half-kidding, but he asserted this several more times, whether joking or not, and it stuck with me. Comic book fans tend to pick, pick, pick at their favorite things (it’s just out of love, I know). I can only hope that’s what Turan was up to when he so unsagaciously scolded Snyder’s work.

What the movie does well is tell a story that could span three seasons in an hour long prime-time spot on TV, in about three hours. Hyperbole aside, when I left I realized I had digested a staggering amount of detailed back story as well as the foregrounded plot. It certainly didn’t tire me as such. Bob Mondello disagrees with me too, but then again… I wasn’t a “rabid” Watchmen fan coming into the theater. I have a healthy appreciation of comics and superheros; but as I said, I had just recently purchased the book, not even reading it before I came. Even my beloved David Edelstein calls the movie “embalmed” due to over-reverence to Moore’s detail. Somehow these critics have suffered some sort of reverse-fanboy effect where the graphic novel’s artful traversing of mediums has left them hanging. I invite you to decide for yourself on this issue.

I feel compelled as a writer and English teacher to comment on the Percy Bysshe Shelley (Husband to Mary W. Shelley, mother of Frankenstein) poem referenced in the movie by its title’s namesake, “Ozymandias.” First, here’s the text of the poem you read in school at some point (most likely).

Ozymandias

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock’d them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

This poem’s theme is, if I recall correctly from Introduction to Literature, man’s sense of hubris. The statue in Watchmen‘s pharaoh-obsessed billionaire’s fortress of solitude (pardon the possessive trainwreck) is more than legs of stone, but bears the same inscription. Maybe that’s what caught Turan, Mondello, and Edelstein off-guard, being weary at this point in the film (from looking on such works) they despaired…

Not I! This poem has always been a favorite of mine. It brings one’s humanity into the conversation. Even the greatest of superheroes in this alternate fiction are human (okay, please ignore the giant naked blue man, he used to be human). They all have faults, mortality, and an emotional attachment to life. The story deals with ultimate questions of life: what is right? How do we know good from evil, and when is evil or wrong necessary to do a larger good? The passage of time is introduced as the great equalizer (neither good nor evil); not even kings and their empires can withstand the hour hand.

This thing all things devours
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers

Gnaws iron, bites steel,
Grinds hard stones to meal,

Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down!

I won’t ruin any part of the plot for you, but the transitions between light and dark–between good and evil–play a significant role in Watchmen‘s deeply literate contemplations. Just as Gollum and Bilbo exchanged their own riddles in the dark, so do characters like Nite Owl and Rorschach go back and forth as close, but estranged, friends in battle against–well, you’ll see just what against. The message of the clock, of the metronymic timeline, and the bloody smiley face clockall help to mark time to the apocalypse. The iconography of time is at the heart of Watchmen; Dr. Manhattan (also called John) is the son of a watchmaker. His floating Martian fortress appears to be some sort of chronos-driven, gyroscopic monolith. In 1984, at the inception of this story, the Atomic Scientist’s Bulletin, had its symbolic “Doomsday Clock” reading at only 3 minutes to midnight, the closest it had been in thirty years. You can see that today the night a bit younger, but not by much (though I wouldn’t advise subscribing to a second-counting fear over the graphic gesture of the clock).

When I left the theater after a 3:50pm show, I had almost forgotten the time. My brain was expecting a parking lot illuminated by streetlights and a glowing marquee; what I saw was fluffy white puffs, a celadon sky, and a round yellow circle whose visage was covered not by a linear blood splatter, but by clouds.

sunset That’s how the film left me feeling too: in a surprisingly sunny place. In all of Watchmen’s nearly three hours, I was never bogged down by apocryphal details (though they were there for the discerning eye to see) or by chinsy action movie cliches. Sure Snyder loves his blood, but there was exponentially less than in 300. Being the queasy type that I am, I appreciated it too. There was a moderate amount of sex in some parts, but it didn’t pervade the entire plot as though a 13-year-old directed it. Rather, it was just enough to be steamy and R-rated. While movies like Fantastic 4 are filled with dumb one-liners, Watchmen takes its time before speaking. Several characters get the chance to narrate at different times, which is what I think makes its length so tolerable and productive. You get to see two generations of vigilantes and villans, as well as two different Americas, one real, and one alternate history.

Tyler Bates does the score, and well too. The soundtrack is filled with Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Nat King Cole, and (my favorite) Phillip Glass, but Bates’s orchestral tapestry makes the other works vibrant as placeholders for character emotion. The last track brings me easily back to my sunset sky. “I Love You Mom” is the Miles Davis-esque guitar tune that closes the film before the credits as Silk Spectre II and her ex-vigilante mom share a moment. It’s the same kind of song that made me buy the Finding Forrester soundtrack; (featuring Bill Frisell on guitar) it’s transcendental, spookily beautiful, and feels like warm sun on your face.

Just as Roger Ebert intends, I too want to see Watchmen again in theaters.

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Diana Saw Dr. Awkward Was an Aid.

In Comedy, Film, poem, poetry, Radio, The Web, TV on February 8, 2009 at 6:50 pm

So I’ve spent much of this weekend doing several things while my wife was out of town: finding new blogs and people to follow on twitter, watching TV, putting off writing assignments, and watching as much Demetri Martin as I could find on YouTube. If you are following me on Twitter (@stevejmoore), then you probably saw me sharing my excitement at Mr. Martin’s videos as I discovered them.

I had seen his work on Comedy Central, knew he wrote for Conan O’Brien for a while, and was a big fan of his flip-chart bit because of the part where he draws an empty circle and says, “this is a pie chart about procrastination.” That killed me.

I highly suggest that you check out his DVD, Demetri Martin, Person and his new show coming up this Wed. on Comedy Central as well. If Bill Gates was successful because he dropped out of Harvard, then Demetri is so because he dropped out of law school.

What stuck out to me most in his routine was the over 200-word palindrome

img_0310

Yes, I drew these all by myself

“Dammit I’m Mad”

by

Demetri Martin

Dammit I’m mad.
Evil is a deed as I live.
God, am I reviled? I rise, my bed on a sun, I melt.
To be not one man emanating is sad. I piss.
Alas, it is so late. Who stops to help?
Man, it is hot. I’m in it. I tell.
I am not a devil. I level “Mad Dog”.
Ah, say burning is, as a deified gulp,
In my halo of a mired rum tin.
I erase many men. Oh, to be man, a sin.
Is evil in a clam? In a trap?
No. It is open. On it I was stuck.
Rats peed on hope. Elsewhere dips a web.
Be still if I fill its ebb.
Ew, a spider… eh?
We sleep. Oh no!
Deep, stark cuts saw it in one position.
Part animal, can I live? Sin is a name.
Both, one… my names are in it.
Murder? I’m a fool.
A hymn I plug, deified as a sign in ruby ash,
A Goddam level I lived at.
On mail let it in. I’m it.
Oh, sit in ample hot spots. Oh wet!
A loss it is alas (sip). I’d assign it a name.
Name not one bottle minus an ode by me:
“Sir, I deliver. I’m a dog”
Evil is a deed as I live.
Dammit I’m mad.

Truly the work of a solitary genius. Off the top of my head, I only know a few palindromes beyond the title of this post (ah, did you catch it?), “madam, I’m adam,” and “racecar.” I certainly can’t imagine spending time trying to create an entire poem out of nothing but these reflexive devices; simply astonishing and awesome. I think his act, if you take a bit of time to watch it, says a lot about art. Martin was interviewed this week on NPR, which is what prompted me to find more of his material. He has a great narrative and is now an artist I respect very much. His stand-up explores more than jokes; he gets in so many digs about humanity, philosophy, and social idiosyncrasies, but does so with such loveable sophomoric snark, that you have to digest it all with a hearty chuckle.

Very funny, and I hope his new show will be too.

Words for Music, A Sonnet for “The Management”

In Film, Music, Radio, TV, Writing on December 12, 2008 at 11:48 pm

One Strange Title to Another


“Oracular Spectacular” alone is a whopping four iambs,
but I hate counting syllables, hand to my throat
bumping into my chin awkwardly. I’m always left laughing
and I lose count. Better to stick with number of lines
as I listen to the Brooklyn breeding psych pop dancing
of The Management. The only rhyming happens between keys,
as the electric feel wages weekend wars with the youth
and the handshake kids decide “it’s time to pretend”
with pieces of what, I cannot tell. The speaker foam
hides a prision for Bob Dylan, condemned to jamming
with the Sex Pistols using only old church organs,
a hand-me-down strat and Barry Gibb’s larynx. Voices
transport me in a telephone booth to a discotech arcade
where pac-man does lines, trying to escape the ghosts.

.

.

The MGMT’s newest album, “Oracular Spectacular.”

oracular_spectacular_2008

If a Prat Falls in Space…

In Film, Writing on December 8, 2008 at 6:36 pm

On any Monday, I try to find as many tiny reasons to bring the corners of my mouth a little closer to my ears.

Personally, I’m a sucker for the exploitation of Star Wars in any case, especially video games (see KOTOR), but usually not anything containing the term “fan-produced.” Today, I found one exception though:

Gotta thank io9 for posting the goods where I saw them.

The silent film piano score really makes this bit feel the part. The images of Vader remind me of Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator as he plays on the likes of Nazi Germany.

the_great_dictator1

The Storm Toopers hussling back and forth are echoes of policemen running to and from a black and white bank heist scene in vain, or maybe they are just chasing after Laurel and Hardy. I suppose this very short film presents us with a question, if Darth Vader is Charlie Chaplin, what place would he come in if he entered an Anakin Skywalker look-alike contest?

Through the Glass

In Film, Music, TV on August 8, 2008 at 1:42 pm

While browsing through the overpriced movie section of Borders a few years ago, my friend Ed and I stopped on one particular shelf. He picked up The French Connection to emphatically remind me how badly I needed to see it as he reveled, wide-eyed, at its box. My eyes were searching the shelves as well for appealing movies I hadn’t seen. What I stopped on was Koyaanisqatsi. What on earth was this I thought. Being a filmhead, Ed could read my thoughts entirely and immediately began explaining why the film was titled after the Native American words for “life out of balance…”

$8 and an earful of explanation later, I was looking forward to watching this important work of cinematic and acoustic art. Ed had explained to me that the entire film was merely 88 minutes of instrumental overture lain upon a cinematic landscape of rural and urban themes. The music takes the viewer through by the hand through a journey from the order of nature to the chaos of the urban and human world. The movie is meant as a meditation on the connection between the natural and artificial worlds where people have become disconnected.

If you would have asked me then, I wouldn’t have been able to explain that because I only watched the first 20 minutes before I was bored out of my mind.

But wait! Steve! I thought you were into art?

Keep reading.

I did glean more than I had first thought from my brief initial encounter with this film. I learned who Phillip Glass was. It was his music that is the foundation of Koyaanisqatsi, the engine by which any message is ferried from screen and speaker to eyes and ears. Hauntingly simple strings of notes are repeated over and over building a melody as one builds a bridge from ten thousand toothpicks with no glue at all.

I immediately went searching for other works by this fantastic composer and artist ( I have a big soft spot for piano music in general) and found that he had a solo album called Metamorphosis, and that Glass’s work could be found in many movies already like The Hours and The Truman Show.

Writing about this has reminded me that music in movies always has a significant effect on me, both in terms of the emotional weight music can add and also of my opinion about a particular film or genre. Another instance of this happened just the year before.

I hadn’t yet left Augustana College in South Dakota for Missouri State (nor the field of chemistry for that of English), but my position as a Peer Advisor (RA, TA, SA, call us what you will) on a freshman floor allowed me ample free time to watch a lot of movies as I was waiting for people smuggle in booze and girls in the wee hours of the morning. Often, I watched movies with my residents ( I call them “residents” but we were all friendly, barring any Halo-influenced rage), and in some cases movies I may not have otherwise watched. This was particularly the case with Spirited Away.

Let me paint you a picture of Myself in 2004: I like a range of movies a bit wider than when I was in high school, but one genre I still don’t understand is Anime. Why not you ask?

[2004 simulated explanation]

“Well besides the fact that it sucks, Anime is mostly centered around retardedly underclad and over-breasted (yes, over-breasted) ladies who also happen to be computer hackers and ninja masters who do karaoke while riding motorcycles into store windows, out of space ship airlocks, and on top of buildings. There is also a lot of blood-spurting and limb-removing going on so the animators, who are all tasteless old Japanese perverts, have something to draw besides breasts. Also, none of it makes sense and I think they all involve some kind of rehashing of Robot Jox

Yes, for those of you wondering, the “jocks” are people who ride inside of giant robot warriors and fight each other.

All of that aside, my conception of the genre was completely reversed when I saw Hayao Miyazaki‘s masterpiece. My heart melted and ran down my leg into a puddle on the floor–ok they were tears, but who doesn’t like a good metaphor? The point is that I was emotionally moved by this film and my eyes were opened to a wonderful new world I was unaware of before.

The music did play a major role in easing me into the unfamiliar (non-Disney) animated landscape and I eventually bought the incredible score by Joe Hisaishi. After being so blown away, I wondered what exactly I had been missing out on. Before watching the movie with my friend and dorm-mate Alex, we would often play chess together in his room while listening to various soundtracks and scores. One I was attracted to in particular was the work of Yoko Kanno for the Cowboy Bebop TV series. It’s basically the best jazz fusion mix I’ve ever heard and so I decided to give the series a chance based solely on the music.

But discussion of that series and its music deserves its own post on another day entirely. Until then, I’ll advise everyone to take a step out of their comfort zone and check out something new in film, music, or both!

Au Revoir, a teut a l’heure

Goodbye, until next time.

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More Westerns? Yes, Please.

In Film on August 6, 2008 at 11:55 am

I’m not sure at what point in my childhood that I decided Westerns were not for me. Perhaps it was somewhere between my taped-off-of-local-TV VHS copy of Back to the Future III and my friend’s mom watching Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman when I was over, but one can only be so sure of such obscure childhood details. What I do know is when I decided that Westers were amazing.

How could I have overlooked this genre of film for so long! Gunslingers were not just dueling, robbing banks, and flirting with lady bartenders for nothing. These epic, and sometimes tragic, heroes were a part of the American literary narrative in film and I’d let them go by the wayside because why? They had no spaceships? They had strange music? I can’t explain what I thought back then, but I can recount the movie that changed my mind:

That’s right.

Clint Eastwood had always represented the genre I didn’t understand and didn’t care for. When I saw him in Million Dollar Baby I thought, “wow this guy is good” and “why haven’t I seen more of him?” I set out on a mission to find Eastwood. Naturally, I have a slew of film buff friends to bother, so I sought out Ed who has a particularly sensitive sweet tooth for Westerns.

I was given the Über Deluxe Magnifico Director’s Cut Limited Collectors Edition (case pictured above) which I think contained some of Sergio Leone’s blood or something as well. With all the begrudging hope of a gold panning 49er, I jumped feet first into the saucy spaghetti western world.

Drunk on Ennio Morricone’s warped and wonderful scores, I arose from my state of shock as the tumbleweeds blew between my ears. My jaw was dropped and I clapped at the end of the movie even though I was watching it alone on my copmuter. How… how… can a Western be so incredible? How did I live before I’d seen this? It was a major revelation for me akin to… well there aren’t many revelations I’ve had as great as this (in terms of art and culture) but I can draw comparison to:

Beautiful. No one quite says it like xkcd. Now I can continue on knowing that you understand the true weight of my revelation.

Yes, Westerns had arrived, in the brain of Steve at least, and life was good. Next I watched Jeremiah Johnson , Unforgiven, and Once Upon a Time in the West. JJ was a suggestion from my father-in-law, and not technically a western per se, but certainly in a similar vein. Robert Redford plays a loner mountain man who catches bears and drifts, not my favorite movie, but an entertaining and manly frontier piece for sure.

Given my new Westernophile status, when I saw the preview for James Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma starring Ben Foster, Russell Crow,  Christian Bale, and the great Peter Fonda, I simply could not refuse. I called up my movie fanatic cousin Kiel and said, we’re going to see this right now. It did not disappoint. I won’t ruin any of it for you, but let’s just say that Foster was sorely overlooked for Academy recognition in 2007 for his role as the insane villain, Charlie Prince. I highly, highly suggest that you see this film.

And now, we have Ed Harris directing the remake of Appaloosa starring the gruff-voiced Viggo Mortenson, the gruffer-looking Jeremy Irons, and the epiphetless Renée Zellweger. They’re even pulling the androidish Lance Henrikson out of storage for this one (were there flamethrowers in the Old West?). I think movie makers have been prodding the public timidly for the past few years to find what they want in new films. What hasn’t been done in this new generation? Westerns.

My hope is that, as I’ve seen the comic book film industry boom, we don’t see a few fantastic Westerb remakes of old classics and then thirty drag-me-behind-the-horse failed attempts hoping to break the bank and beat the Sherrif out of town.

That being said, do yourself a favor and go rent a Western.

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