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In the Beginning...
Although I've been a MoFo member for more than two years now, those of you who know me even a little bit shouldn't be the least bit surprised at the first film I've chosen to review (officially) on these message boards. I can't say I was waiting for it... but now that it's here, right now is as good a time as any to get started:

SUPERMAN RETURNS




A couple weeks ago, a co-worker of mine gave me a VHS tape of the old 1940's Max Fleischer Superman cartoons. She knew I was a fan of Superman, saw the tape in a store for a few dollars, and - thinking of me - picked it up. What she didn't know was that, as a kid, I watched those old Fleischer Superman cartoons like crazy. I mean, like crazy. I only had a handful of episodes back then, but I watched them all. Over and over. All the time. I didn't care that they were so old. It was Superman, and that was enough.

My co-worker gave me this tape. I took it home. I dug for over an hour in the basement for my old top-loading VCR, found it, dusted it off, prayed to God that it still worked, and plugged it in. It worked, and so did the tape. There were no previews. There were no credits. There were no commercials. The cartoon just started.

Faster than a speeding bullet!
More powerful than a locomotive!
Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!

I don't have to explain the quality of the tape. It was VHS, manufactured in 1989. It had probably sat on the store shelf for years before my co-worker finally bought it. And my top-loading, wood-panel VCR wasn't exactly helping. The picture was fuzzy, the sound was awful. But it didn't matter. I was starry-eyed and seven years old again.

***

I've been griping about Bryan Singer and Superman Returns for months. Those of you who read my posts, or who kept up with this thread and others, know that I've been griping. The suit. The actor. The storyline. To me, it all seemed very superficial and contrived, and I was afraid it would ruin Superman's return to the silver screen. I was already unimpressed with Bryan Singer's (in my opinion) mediocre film adaptations of X-Men, and I guess I expected him to draw from Superman the big-budget Hollywood flare that would sell tickets... but not the depth that would win hearts. Every trailer, every pre-production still, every piece of information told me that he would. And maybe he did.

As the title suggests, the film chronicles the return of Superman (Brandon Routh) after a 5-year absence from Earth. He flies out
Welcome Back
to Krypton, visits the ghostly remains, and then flies back. During that time, the world changes... though not as much as we might expect. Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) has been released from prison, and has inherited a fortune. Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth), now with a young son, has taken to dating/living with Perry White's son, Richard (James Marsden). Jimmy Olsen is now old enough to drink. Everything else is pretty much the same. Prior to seeing the film, I was somewhat interested in Lois' reaction to Superman's departure. In one of the early trailers, Lois fumes, "Where did you go?" To me, the real-world reaction of Superman's return would have likely mirrored hers, and that's the film I wanted to see. Superman can punch through walls, melt steel with his eyes, and break the sound barrier... but is Superman really super enough to win back the hearts of the billions of people he left behind? And yet, in Superman Returns, no one other than Lois is very upset (which got me thinking, did anyone really care that he left in the first place?).

Anyway, the acting is about what I expected. Brandon Routh was clearly cast because of his resemblance to the late Superman film star, Christopher Reeve. Routh does an admirable job at re-creating the essence of Reeve's Superman, but never makes the role his own. Kate Bosworth is somewhat formulaic as Lois Lane, and far less charming than Margot Kidder. Bosworth only begins to become Lois late in the film, but it seems the writing failed her (and not her capacity to act). Initially, I was somewhat apprehensive about Kevin Spaceyís Lex Luthor. His scenes shown in the trailer seemed over-the-top, but I was glad to see that he made the character memorable without spiraling into camp. Spacey sprinkles a bit of Gene Hackman onto his portrayal, but leaves much of Luthor for himself. There were some moments where Spacey even resembled Hackman in appearance (usually while he was being shot in dramatic light); and while I still enjoy what Hackman started, I very much prefer what Spacey has now perfected. The most surprising bit of acting to come out of the film, however, came courtesy of James Marsden as Richard White. The role was a fresh one to be sure, but having seen Marsden get screwed out of really playing Cyclops in the X-films, I was delighted to see him play a genuinely good man and deliver believable lines. The role might have been fairly two-dimensional, but there was no real depth to any of the characters in the film (and Marsden very nearly stole the show).

Now, I'm about to discuss the plot, so if you haven't seen the film and don't want anything spoiled, close your eyes right now.

***

This film can be broken down into two parts: the first half, and the second half. The first half is a confused, bumbling mess. The second half is a real treat.

Superman Returns, having spring-boarded off two existing films shot over twenty years ago, rushes to catch up with the times in the first hour while still identifying itself with its predecessors. It does this immediately with the opening credits, which are very close to the Donner film opener (admittedly, I found myself somewhat excited by this). There are also several blatant nods to the original film scattered throughout, most of them early on.

Really, the first half is all about touching base on the major fronts, and getting things back to the ďway they were,Ē so that the film - which really isnít about Superman returning, ironically - can begin. I canít help but wonder why Singer and company didnít simply start fresh (a la Batman Begins), but whatever. We see Clark Kent return to the Daily Planet, which feels oddly like heís showing up for the first time. We see Lex Luthor bantering with Kitty Kowalski while heís scheming to take over the world (which again feels oddly like heís doing it for the first time). We see Superman take Lois Lane ďflying,Ē which - once again - feels oddly like... you get the idea. Having said all that, however, it was nice to re-visit what hasnít been glimpsed on film for more than two decades (which was, I think, Bryan Singerís whole reason for including them).

Before I discuss the second half of the film, which in many ways makes the whole experience worthwhile, I want to mention a few glaring problems I had with the plot:
*First, Clark Kent is reduced to virtually nothing, so much so that while Superman is pretty much incapacitated late in the story, no one even thinks to ask where Clark Kent has gone. Which resurrects, in my opinion, the most embarrassing aspect of Superman: the collective density of everyone around Clark Kent to never realize that heís NOT Superman. And in Singerís film, this is made dreadfully obvious on more than one occasion.

*Second, Bryan Singer has decided to translate Superman into Jesus Christ, which is such an obvious connection these days that when someone gives in and indulges it, we all roll our eyes in unison.

*And third, there is absolutely no chemistry between Routh and Bosworth. Not one ounce. Not even a spitís worth. Their scenes together are so utterly contrived, and it really felt like I was being carried through the motions. The only moment between them which really won me over came later, and it was hardly the result of the scenes they shared before coming to it. (There was one shot during the romantic flying sequence that caught me off-guard. It was simply a shot of Superman and Loisí hands clasped tightly, seemingly with conviction and resolve.)
***

The crux of the second half is Lex Luthor's plan to create a completely new island on Earth out of Kryptonian crystals he manages to swipe from the Fortress of Solitude. We see Luthor dabbling in some "mad scientist" kind of plot here and there early on, but we don't completely understand the gravity of it until Luthor himself explains what he's doing. And that, for me, was quite effective. Because while Luthor comes off as eccentric and
Flying Again
somewhat mad, you never expect that he's capable of killing billions of people until he tells you that he's going to do just that. And he doesn't care. That's the villain that makes you squirm in your seat. The subplot is Superman's history with Lois, and her young son who is quite obviously Superman's child before the film even presents the notion. The fact that Lois smokes while also having an asthmatic son notwithstanding, the film never really shows Lois being a mother - that is, until they get themselves trapped together on Luthor's houseboat. Suddenly, this traumatic ordeal brings them together, and it all feels strangely appropriate. Lois is in trouble, Luthor is behind it, and Superman is at work saving the city. This is where the real story begins.

I love to talk about scenes that "would-have-been" in films. You know, the ones that make you say, "oh, if they had just done this or this..." In Superman Returns, the closest Singer got to showing what Superman was really made of outside his super-strength and X-ray vision came when he, while depowered by Kryptonite, found himself getting the holy crap kicked out of him by three hired henchmen. Suddenly, Superman is made virtually human. He bleeds. He hurts. He's beatable. And he's fighting three guys. Well, I've always liked to think that Superman didn't get his name because he could fly and throw automobiles. He got the name because, stripped of his powers, he's still made of more than you and I could ever dream of having. What I would have given to see Superman, depowered and outnumbered, put those three henchmen on the ground...

Skip ahead to Superman falling out of the sky. He's rushed to the hospital, and we're force fed the imagery of the common people whom Superman saves now saving him. Superman is dying, and we see a newspaper with the heartbreaking headline, and I'm reminded of Superman's comic book death. Around the country, millions mourned him. They actually mourned him. People held silent vigil in the streets. Others observed moments of silence at sporting events, concerts, religious gatherings. Never has any fictional character's death received so much heartfelt attention.

Cut to Lois, Richard, and Jason in the car outside the hospital. Until now, the film didn't get me. It got me at the car. Lois wants to go in to see Superman. Jason (her son) wants to "go with mommy." It occurred to me, then, that this is Superman's family. Going to see him as he lay dying. It brought everything down to my level. I've done this. I know this life. And in some small way, Superman is just like me. It's that level of identification between viewer and film that makes the experience worthwhile, and I wasn't expecting to find it here.

So, if you wait long enough, youíll find a heart at the center of this gift-wrapped Hollywood press bag. I found myself left with a product that was, in many ways, flawed and unfinished - but that still managed to make me feel something. The biggest regret, I think, is rooting against Richard White. But then again, itís the writerís fault for penning the film into a social corner. What becomes of the child? What happens to Richard, the poor soul whoís about to find out that Jason really isnít his kid? And what responsibility, if any, will Superman take? Itís a sequel I donít really want to see.

***

What I ultimately take from Superman Returns is much what I've put into Superman over the years. Iíve read the comics. Iíve watched the cartoons and T.V. shows. Iíve eaten the cereal, worn the pajamas, played with the action figures. But Iíve also looked into the character. I know who Superman is. He's the ultimate moral symbol. Yes, he's super-strong, and he can fly, and all that stuff. But beyond that, he's a moral man. He has made a conscious decision to use his gifts to protect those who are not even his own people. In doing so, he inspires us to be better than who and what we are, to practice bravery in the face of adversity, to defend those who are different from us, to choose morality and selflessness over greed. To look inside oneself for strength, and to share that strength with the world. My life and my actions have, in many ways, been shaped by Superman. Iíve grown up with him, and he grounds my existence the way others are grounded by baseball, or Grease, or whatever piece of Americana from which they derive meaning and understanding.

The film, by itself, is decent. But itís my admiration of Superman that makes it special. That, I think, is the most impressive thing about Superman. That this Man of Steel is really made of dreams - the collective dreams of everyone whoís ever wanted to be like him - and that no matter how many times he changes, no matter how many interpretations are derived from him, Superman will always unite those of us who look to the sky.






I am Jack's sense of overused quote
Now that is writing with some feeling.

Awesome.
__________________
"What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present." - T.S. Eliot



good review tho u give the movie more credit than i would
anyway real through and in-depth



In the Beginning...
Thanks guys.

Now, before I review anything else, I should probably warn you all that my forthcoming reviews will probably contain more than a few spoilers (so if you ain't seen it yet, don't come in here until you have, lest you want to get it sullied for you).

There are armies of film critics out there who pen reviews which only contain necessary info, and which are designed to sway one into seeing or not seeing whatever film is on the menu. I, however, am not a film critic. My reviews do not assume that you will be listening to them for guidance, nor are they much interested in reading like every other film review out there. A refreshing part of the film-watching experience is talking about it afterwards - all the performances, plot stones, and whatnot - as I'm sure we are all wont to do.

And that's how I write these things...



In the Beginning...
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest


I'll be the first to tell you that I despise piggy-back sequels, and think they're some of the crappiest of the steaming crap studios want to cram down our throats these days. From the very beginning, I believed that Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl needed no sequel, and stood on its own almost too well for its own good (much like The Matrix). Simply put, the formula that Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer forged worked like a dream, and the story ended up feeling as classic and timeless as Peter Pan. So, prior to the release of Dead Man's Chest, I was perhaps "skeptically confident" that Verbinski and crew knew what they were doing.

And then, about two days from the release, I started to get worried...

***

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, which sounds like a B-movie title, isn't very bad... but it isn't very good either. It dives back into the world of Will Turner, Elizabeth Swann, and the exuberant Captain Jack Sparrow, presumably for another fresh, fun-filled adventure. While the first film had a somewhat-complicated-yet-dynamic-and-fulfilling plot, making sense of the plot in Dead Man's Chest isn't even worth your time. It doesn't make any sense, and it feels largely unnecessary and overwritten. But whether you want to see that fact as a glaring flaw or a minor blemish is up to you. I chose the latter, and I think I had a better time for it.

The Crew
The film works best, I think, when it's being the whimsical, adventurous summer flick that the first one was. The whole sequence with the cannibals (which came out of nowhere, but oh well), the tri-fight "Jerry Springer" moment on the beach+cathedral+forest, the barfight at Tortuga... it all felt like home. The rest wasn't devoid of enjoyment by any stetch of the imagination, but as PotC goes, it didn't feel quite right.

That said, I actually admire Verbinski and crew for not trying to milk the formula. I still think it would have been the best option - keeping it sharp and fun, a singular adventure that didn't sup too much on the successes of the original, but instead creating its own. But I think, given the style, Dead Man's Chest wants to be something deeper than what everyone expects of it. It's darker, there are WAY more redshirt deaths; and perhaps most disturbing, the main characters don't so much bicker charmingly as they do actually try to undercut one another. These are not old friends fighting the good fight, and having a helluva time. These are personalities clashing, and not always in a good way. Much less jokes, much more "what do I really want out of life, and what do I really care about" kind of stuff.

While there are plenty of completely unnecessary characters, the film ended up feeling like a bigger world, I think (which is nicely fresh). Cutler Beckett, the "gateway" villain, for one. Tia Dalma, the Jamaican witch-doctress, for another. But the best attempt at a new character, hands down, is Davey Jones (played thanklessly well by Bill Nighy, unrecognizable). He's most definately the villain, and he's so much fun to watch. He's got the very same enthralling screen presence that Goeffrey Rush's Barbossa did in the first film. I was afraid that the "fishy" bad guys would ruin the movie (as the design is somewhat bizarre), but it all works really well. Jones and the Flying Dutchmen, in my opinion, are on their way to stealing the show.

On that same note, I'm pleasantly surprised that Dead Man's Chest didn't end up becoming "The Jack Sparrow Show," as I had been afraid it would. His popularity among the target
Sparrow
demographic is undeniable. The character has become legendary, and Johnny Depp a legend for playing him. Milking that popularity, therefore, would have been like murdering a unicorn: best to glimpse its brilliance in the forest, rather than kill and stuff it for all-day viewing. Too much of even a unicorn is bound to get stale eventually. Sparrow is still very much in color here, but since there are alot of things going on, he never has the chance to feel overused.

I really enjoyed the visual effects. There are more this time around, of course, but they are something to be seen. I have to echo the sentiments of whoever said that the magic of the visual effects isn't what's happening right in front of you (which is what we expect to look great), but what is happening in the background. I was always a big fan of the Interceptor sinking in the background as Barbossa grabbed Elizabeth on the Black Pearl deck in the original film; and thankfully, they've done more of that subtle visual ambience that gives the film visual depth. The best scene in that respect, I think, is the Kraken pulling down the merchant ship in the background as Will swims away, and the Flying Dutchman which comes into the shot before it cuts. Also, Davey Jones and crew look phenomenal. Stylish, but never overly dramatic or grotesque. And somehow, they still register like real beings on screen, and not computer generated placeholders.

My biggest problem with the film lies with the poor dialogue. It is nowhere near as sharp and quick-witted as the original, and in many cases, it relies on the original (blatantly) to get a laugh or two. *sigh* There's no excuse for poor dialogue in this film. You can't give us gold on the first run, and then expect that silver will do it on the second.

I have other gripes, but they're mostly minor and plot-related - the biggest of which being the damned monkey, which shouldn't still be undead, but somehow is. That's the kind of continuity error which is now screwing with the first film, and that's not cool at all.

***

Ultimately, Dead Man's Chest is a confused film, I think. It tries to be so many things: fun, poignant, silly, heartbreaking, edgy, artistic, epic... and much more. So it gets points for trying. But because it fails to really shine at any of them - or even remain consistent - it ends up being just messy and disorienting. That's not to say it isn't still enjoyable, however. While much of its entertainment value rests (regrettably) with the degree to which the viewer enjoyed the first film - and I enjoyed it quite a bit - the fact that it's still fun to watch Will and Elizabeth and Norrington and Gibbs and *Captain* Jack Sparrow getting themselves into trouble... well, that you just can't ignore.




Post script: While it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, seeing Captain Barbossa at the end was - I have to say - an incredible thrill. Like seeing an old friend again...



A system of cells interlinked
Great Supes review. I must hold off on the DMC review until I have seen it, Captain spoiler pants.
__________________
"Thereís absolutely no doubt you can be slightly better tomorrow than you are today." - JBP



A system of cells interlinked
Originally Posted by Sleezy
Thanks guys.

Now, before I review anything else, I should probably warn you all that my forthcoming reviews will probably contain more than a few spoilers (so if you ain't seen it yet, don't come in here until you have, lest you want to get it sullied for you).
You already put a disclaimer! I read that before heading on to the Pirates review. I didn't read a word!



2 great reviews Sleezy, loved the Superman one, very passionate
__________________
Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship.
Buddha



In the Beginning...

Grizzly Man


Warning: Potential spoilers!

This documentary seems to be as notorious as it is critically acclaimed, because everyone I know has come to me at some point over the past four months asking, "Hey, have you seen Grizzly Man?", adding a slightly mysterious and foreboding emphasis on the title as one would when speaking of ghosts or something. In fact, a friend of mine was so adamant about the film's potency that for three weeks straight, all he seemed to talk about was Grizzly Man and how strangely infectious and enthralling it was. As a result, I began to look into the film, what it was about, and what the critics were saying; and decided quickly that I needed to see it.

I saw it last Sunday, finally. I might have written a review then, but my brain needed time to digest the material, mull it over, and spit out some kind of thoughtful response. It's not every day that a guy like Timothy Treadwell steps into your television set, serenades you for two hours with his psyche, and then leaves you guessing after the meaning of it all.

***

Simply put, Werner Herzog presents us with a small selection of footage taken from 100+ hours filmed by Timothy Treadwell, a nature activist and amateur filmmaker who fashioned himself a freedom fighter for wild grizzly bears in the Alaskan wilderness. He spent the summer months there among the bears over a period of 13 years, documenting their habitat and living practices, and increasingly acclimating himself to the wildlife (thus separating himself from the rest of the world). As a result, Treadwell - along with his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard - was mauled to death and eaten by a grizzly bear in October of 2003.

Bears
What initially appears to be a documentary about a driven and courageous individual doing admirable work quickly fades. It doesn't take long to realize that Treadwell's psyche, which seems to unfold as the film does, is Herzog's real focus.

The man is quite obviously disturbed, confused, and nearly broken - but it's all hidden under a veil of confidence and security. In his archive footage, Treadwell - who had previously struggled with alcoholism, drug addiction, and lack of direction for many years - claims to have found purpose and solitude as "friend" and "protector" of the Alaskan grizzlies. To him, there existed an internal capacity for affection and understanding among the bears, and he sought to share something of a relationship with them. He saw purity and peace in the animals, and stated voraciously that wild bears were largely misunderstood and inappropriately taken for mongrels. Treadwell's mission, then, was to "increase bear awareness," as he put it - something which on some levels, whether he knew it or not, he achieved.

But beyond what Treadwell intended to do by his endeavors, he managed to capture a glimpse into himself. Herzog explains that for Treadwell, the camera became a "confessional" of sorts, and I would agree. The recorded footage as evidence notwithstanding, a camera itself is in many ways an audience, and it was his intention to make use of it all along. In the open wilderness, where no one was watching and there was nothing much to do, it seems that Treadwell couldn't help but unravel himself for reflection, and the camera was always rolling. And yet, it's quite obvious that the man - who often fancied himself as something of a public figure - was apt to turning himself into a character. The glimpse that we get to see of Treadwell on camera is sullied by his own insecurities (and his penchant for playing a role, as a result); so in the end, the true, honest-to-God Timothy Treadwell either doesn't exist, is hiding, or is gone forever.

Foxes
There are two moments when the real Treadwell, though briefly and in the heat of anger or exasperation, appears to poke through. The first is when he's playing with the foxes, and one of them swipes his ball cap and runs off. The camera is rolling, but Treadwell seems to forget that fact, and instead preoccupies himself with bumbling through the woods after a thief (and in the process, becomes irrationally frantic). The other is late in his life, after he's taken to paranoia and begun to believe that the grizzly bears - despite the fact that they live on a protected wildlife reserve - are in danger of poachers and indifferent politicians. Treadwell becomes livid, spouting F-bombs like they're confetti and generally losing composure over himself and even logic. But we all do that sometimes under the strain of an intense emotion.

***

What I'm getting at, ultimately, is that in Herzog's documentary, there seems to be an indictment that Treadwell was a certifiable loon, and that it got him killed. And I'm not here to dispute that. But what we're given in two hours is not Timothy Treadwell: The Complete Biography. Out of 100+ hours of footage, we're only given clips that make up just over one hour of footage, sprinkled with Herzog's commentary. His so-called friends provide testimonials to his character, but there is no evidence of a relationship shared besides the occasional, ďoh, I did this or that for him.Ē The ex-girlfriend/co-founder of Grizzly People was the only one that recounted a specific instance in which she interacted with Treadwell, and there was nothing suspect about it. In fact, I got the distinct impression that she was exploiting the attention by acting it up herself. She was much like Treadwell in the way she expressed herself - visibly putting on a show because she craves attention, no matter how silly or contrived she has to be. And Herzog wasnít helping: he asked her and others loaded questions like, ďDo you feel like his widow?Ē

Fight
And where were Treadwellís parents? Sure, Herzog included them, but it didnít seem like they were about to talk candidly about their son or his condition. They explained his childhood and early adulthood about like I expected: good kid, smart, great athlete - at some point, for some inexplicable reason, turns to drugs and alcohol abuse. These things donít just happen overnight. Iím betting his parents are responsible for more than a few of his problems, but the film canít help but pretend (because the information just isnít there) that Treadwellís instability was a product of his own demons.

The footage of Treadwell himself is enthralling, and I think thatís what initially drew Herzog into making the documentary. But at some point, as is human nature to do so, Herzog began to draw conclusions about what he saw on those tapes, and in doing so turn Timothy Treadwell into more a subject, and less a human being. His conclusions may not be unfounded, but given the fact that a viewer who knows nothing about Treadwell prior to seeing the film only gets to experience his life through two hours of footage and interviews (roughly 8% of the whole story, probably) and Herzogís critical lens, itís quite also not unfounded to say that Treadwell isnít being afforded a proper legacy. I find it ironic that despite Herzogís evaluation of the man (which as the filmmaker, gives him somewhat of a ďbully pulpitĒ on which to stand), Herzog still appeals to the tragedy of Treadwellís life and death. But while he seems to find more tragedy in Treadwellís unfortunate spiral into delusion and misdirection, I find more tragedy in the fact that for most people who know about and will remember Timothy Treadwell, their knowledge will have come solely from seeing Grizzly Man. Everyone I know who has seen the film remarks quite often about Treadwell in a ďoh-look-at-the-crazy-person-on-the-TV, man-is-he-a-riotĒ kind of way, and that bothers me. I canít fault Herzog for drawing his own conclusions on the material, because thatís just what we do - but at the same time, I also canít help but wonder what he meant to accomplish with this film. Does he want Treadwell to be an example to others? (ďDonít let yourself get like this!Ē) What does it matter what Werner Herzog thinks about Timothy Treadwell? Was there an injustice to be corrected here? Whatís the point or purpose in proving a dead man wrong? Is this the way Treadwell wanted to be remembered?

Filming
In one particular segment of the film, Herzog really hit something on the head. Just as Treadwell steps away from the camera without turning it off, it begins to record simply the plant life behind him blowing in the wind. At that moment, Herzog remarks that what Treadwell failed to notice - having been caught up in his own character - was the life and story that was already there in the wilderness, had he only taken himself out of the spotlight for a moment to see it. To me, that speaks volumes as well about Treadwellís inability to step out of himself and evaluate his well-being as an outsider would, which might have been the right step toward finally getting his head on straight. But it doesn't matter. Because while I wholeheartedly agree with Herzogís assessment, I also find the comment strangely ironic: perhaps the best Herzog could have done for Timothy Treadwell was release the 100+ hours of footage he shot, and let it speak for itself. It didnít need the testimonials, or the added emphasis of Herzog listening to Treadwellís death, or the macabre details of his demise, or the scathing commentary on the manís life and practices. He was most certainly misguided and anguished, itís true. But I say let the footage lead viewers to that conclusion, not Werner Herzog.

***

Donít let me fool you. While I differ with Herzog on many points, I still respect him as a filmmaker and intellectual. I enjoyed Grizzly Man, and Iím not about to claim that it was an attempt at exploitation or reproach. But I think perhaps it should not be forgotten that Timothy Treadwell was a real man with real problems. At times, Herzog (having the mind of a storyteller) unfairly conceptualized Treadwell, when in reality there was no logical design or meaning to him at all. He was the way he was, and thatís it. Itís easy to want to pick him apart, to try to understand him, and to ruminate about how he might have been saved. But Timothy Treadwell is deceased; and with respect to the dead, the proper legacy - I would argue - is not Herzogís evaluations, but Treadwellís footage itself, and the memories of those who knew him.



***




rhymes with Goebbels
hey,
really great review, well done
__________________
A devilish combination of slightly bored and quite hungry



Thanks for the interesting review Sleezy, I loved this movie, it was a recommendation from Pikey, I liked seeing into the mind of Timothy Treadwell, as that is my passion, looking into peoples psyche I would love also to see the rest of the footage so we could get a better picture of the man



In the Beginning...


WATCHMEN

Polygamy is weird.
I didn't want Watchmen to be made. I really didn't. I've followed the project since Terry Gilliam was attached to direct for Warner Bros. back in 2000, and have not-so-secretly hoped that the film would never get off the ground. The book is just too tightly woven to warrant even a shot. It's the purist in me, I guess. It's true, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons fashioned something special, something that pulled comic books out of the hands of youngsters and showed that it could tell the darker stories fans were hungry for.

That was 1986, a far cry from the violence and sex that saturate comic book shelves today... to the chagrin of vigilant parents. But Watchmen holds up, because its indulgence of the amoral is really only the doorway. What lies beyond is a deeply painful and unapologetic view of the nature of human beings.

The superhero was always a farce. We knew that. But it's nice to pretend a better world existed, that individuals capable of unbelievable marvels dealt out deserved justice to our evils thanklessly, and we liked to believe we could find a little bit of ourselves among the pages.

And yet, Watchmen refuses to believe. In this alternate history, real people choose to don costumes and take to the streets: angry, jaded, and wounded deeply in the soul. They're not righteous. And their world, to our horror, isn't unbelievable. It's not even improbable. Every bit of our slovenly and capricious behavior has carried over, and we've ended up in much the same place we're in now... only worse.

This is where we enter the film, and I applaud Zack Snyder for setting the precedent for the kind
Sadly, the Comedian's bondage hood is left out.
of universe his viewers are about to visit. They might not be familiar with any of the characters, but they'll damned sure understand it's a world they don't want to live in.

For the most part, the film runs parallel to the graphic novel. As with any adaptation, there are varying degrees of additions, omissions, and edits. Some of them make sense in the context of the film, while others are obvious missteps. I could launch into a detailed breakdown on how these two monolithic versions stack up against each other, but I think it's fair to say that Snyder and crew have successfully distilled not only the core narrative of Watchmen, but have also retained a substantial amount of detail and packaged it into a stylish, vibrant product that genuinely feels like Watchmen come alive.

That's not to say they left no man behind. I found most of the alterations surprisingly bearable, but there were two general changes made that I'm still having trouble choking down:
  • Dialogue
    The film uses a pleasantly large portion of Moore's original language, which I had hoped would not be lost on even the most indifferent filmmaker they could have signed. But, much of the crucial dialogue in the film (occurring at the climax) was highly bastardized, and in some cases re-written altogether to serve the film's purposes. I can understand the practicality of that, but Watchmen was very carefully written by a master scribe, and to try to mirror the style out of context is just obscene. Much of it comes off sounding romanticized and false, and even the ramifications of the film's climax feels hammed over when it ought to have been uncompromising.
  • Backstory
    I understand a lot of fat trimming needs to happen in order to get a film down to a bearable running time, particularly in the case of Watchmen. But the two stand-alone biographies of Rorschach and Dr. Manhattan are, by far, the best material in the book. Not only are they heartbreaking, but they mark two very distinct points of the novel in which Moore chooses to say something a little bit more substantial about our history, our psychology, and our often misplaced understanding of the world
    They don't make police like they used to.
    around us. While Manhattan struggles with being a "watchmaker" in a nuclear world -- and all the figurative layers that suggests -- Rorschach struggles with a world without God, filled with people who point fingers to avoid taking responsibility.

    This stuff is easily the most potent writing in the book, and in both cases, neutered for the sake of following the primary plot. This might not have bothered me so much, but for the sake of putting these back in, I could have done with a few less minutes of naked humping and finger-breaking.

The action in the film is notably spectacular, and I found myself thinking that a lot of filmmakers (particularly one whose name begins with Christopher Nolan) might benefit from studying the slow-motion to fast motion fighting as its employed here. In 300, it was stylish masturbation; in Watchmen, it's downright brutal science.

That said, the action could have done with much less out-of-nowhere violence. I knew the film would be rough, and in some places gory, but wow... whatever justification Snyder and crew had in their minds when they chose some of this stuff, I'll never understand. There's definitely a point at which your film becomes indulgent in its own devices, and Snyder remains an all-too-bloodthirsty
Burn, filth!
visionary. Don't take your kids.

Performances range from pleasantly rewarding to awful, with Patrick Wilson (Dan Dreiberg) and Carla Gugino (Sally Jupiter) being the standouts on either side of the spectrum, respectively. Billy Crudup delivers a curiously misinterpreted take on Dr. Manhattan, which I struggled with for the entire film. The soft sadness in his voice is not even close to what I thought Manhattan would sound like.

The pacing of the film is surprisingly competent and restrained, and is allowed to unfold in much the same way the graphic novel does. However, that might be the film's greatest weakness to those who haven't read the book. I honestly can't recommend Watchmen to someone who doesn't already know the story. Perhaps they might be able to overcome the film's density and relative loyalty to the graphic novel, but if it wasn't for the brutal action, I doubt many would have stayed in the theater till the end. It's a lot to take in, and somewhere in the middle, things can get murky for the uninitiated.

Still, for all its flaws, Watchmen is an impressive translation that could doubtfully get better without venturing into an even more difficult marketing strategy than it already needed to solve. It feels like a production by fans for fans, and yet not so self-indulgent that it yields the book for the sake of taking over and re-imagining the whole thing. It lets the story tell itself, and in some cases -- for good or ill -- helps it along. And that's all I really wanted to see.



***




Awesome reviews, Sleezy, specifically regarding Superman Returns. I didn't read it in whole because I still have yet to see the movie, but of what I did read, it was very impressive (especially that concluding paragraph). I'm an admiring fan of Superman myself, so perhaps I'll be able to make that special connection to the film as you did.
__________________
"The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven."
John Milton, Paradise Lost

My Movie Review Thread | My Top 100



In the Beginning...


STAR TREK



The tagline might be "to go where no one has gone before," but J.J. Abrams went where no one wanted to go without a reasonable fiscal return. The trans-generational sci-fi series Star Trek - fashioned by Gene Roddenberry as a promising vision of the future, in spite of the numerous death and damnation serials of the 1950s and 60s - broke barriers technological and social, and launched an entire empire of devoted followers.
Spock will tear you up!
You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone over 40 who didn't either grew up on the show, or who won't mind admitting that they've seen more than ten episodes.

Though the fictional Star Trek universe always seemed to thrive on the passage of time, time in the real world has weathered the popularity of the series in recent years, with trends as shifty as Starfleetís dress code. Paramount has suffered a significant decline in viewership as old fans pass on and potential fans are lost to reality television. In fact, only four years ago, fans found themselves without a Star Trek series on the air for the first time since 1987.

Enter J.J. Abrams, the small screen savior whose spindly King Midas fingers turn would-be prospects into gold. That's certainly been the case for his most recent projects, proving his aptitude as producer in the film world (Cloverfield) as well outside the television one (Lost, Alias). It is in this respect that, even with barely a directing background to speak of, Abrams must have seemed a capable wizard to ailing Paramount for resurrecting Star Trek, in whatever capacity they might have been able to afford.

Frankly, Iím surprised the film ever got financed, much less made. I thought Star Trek was all but finished. I guess thatís a testament to the franchiseís roots: that unlike Star Wars, it never sold out or neutered its mission statement to sell tickets; that it simply faded away like old technology. So itís nice to see this re-boot come to fruition. And it is a re-boot. The film employs a plot device to explain (or rather, apologize for) why the reset button has been punched, but aside from the fact that such apologies are unnecessary, it really doesnít matter anyway. Weíre in a new old era, and that's that.

Aww, what? Hoth?!
Mostly, the film hits its mark. Itís a dynamic, action-packed romp thatís part high school reunion, part college graduation. The effects are probably its greatest strength, and - like most have said Ė depict the dangers of space in a way no previous Trek ever did. You get the sense that these people are really flying by the seat of their pants, whether they're dodging giant space debris, beaming onto ships mid-warp, or simply finding themselves in danger of falling into large, bottomless chasms. Itís a deadly universe, it is.

The characters, with respect to their 1960s counterparts, are rendered well. Spock (Zachary Quinto) is the standout here, somehow managing to make a stone face intensely believable. Everyone else is likeable and amusing enough(this film has got some of the most well-delivered comedy Iíve seen in years), and while I think Chris Pine has got a long way to go before he can match the personality and bravado that we remember from Captain Kirk of yesteryear, heís well on his way.

The latest Trek villain, Nero (Eric Bana), is intense, scary, believable, and unfortunately, completely underused. I think a backstory such as his is easily the best kind, but the resulting conflict it causes within the viewer is not really conducive to films of the summer action variety. Suffice it to say, the moral questions that his involvement arises would have been exciting to answer, but alas, that might have cut into good explosion time. In this respect, heís largely absent from the film, obviously to keep the spotlight on the boys/girls in uniform, which is a real shame. In the few glimpses weíre afforded, we see an obligatory character taken seriously by an actor who does his best to make the role his own.

There are nods to the old series everywhere, and itís a shame many will never catch the references. Some of them are delivered poorly, though, which made me wonder if the writers had work sessions devoted entirely to these moments, and if so, which ones didn't make the cut. (Although, Iíd have given all of my nonessential body organs to science, and maybe some essential ones, just so I could be in those meetings.)

I have many complaints, most of them having to do with logic and undeveloped characterization. I wonít go into too much detail, lest I'd have to get all spoilery. But I will say that the biggest misstep was writing the film to a prescribed model, versus letting the story dictate
Can I borrow your barf bag?
what the model was going to be. I know that sounds vague, but with something as iconic as Star Trek, itís easy to let the mythos take precedence over a technical groundwork. This film operates on a few questionable platitudes, and although they can be explained circumstantially, itís the writerís job to leave no stone unturned.

Iím also torn over the filmís cacophony of smarminess. On the one hand, Iím happy that Star Trek is back, and that a new cast of hopefuls have enlivened these beloved characters. But on the other hand, the upbeat, Hallmark one-liners they speak at each other throughout the film are the kinds of things South Park has been lampooning for years. It just makes you want to roll your eyes. Are people really this sentimental in the future? There at the end, I could have sworn I was going to see a group hug. I just knew it.



All in all, Star Trek is a fun, impressive, hilarious, beautiful action flick thatís more thrill ride than feature film. If only Abrams and company had put the script through one more revision, perhaps by someone outside the scope of the project who could identify and iron out the kinks, then I think the film would have easily been one of the yearís best. Because even on a production like Star Trek, which for years has operated almost entirely on its viewersí ability to extend disbelief, the story still must read left-to-right, just like everything else.



***