Watchmen was good

I saw the movie Watchmen last night and i have to say that i really liked it.  Here are some thought why.

The movie was….

  1. Merciless.  Some will say that the movie is too violent but i think that it actually ads to the character of the film. This is a world where superheros have grown disconnected from their human counterparts.  Showing the amazing painful battles they engage in and are subject to you can sympathize with their pespective but then to also show the other side of the coin – on how they have become cold-hearted, makes the movie quite interesting.    This applies especially to Rorschach who actually explains the exact moment he ceased being human and morphed into a full-time vigilante.
  2. Interesting.  The plot was really interesting.  Or, better yet it actually had a story that actually mattered to the characters which is unusual for a comic book movie.  I enjoyed for once watching a comic book movie where i cared whether missles were launched or not.
  3. Self-confident. The movie didn’t care about being too graphic, too violent, too campy, too strange, or too unconventional.  It put itself out there on the screen completely.  Bold choices in use of music (more below), in use of graphics (Rorschach’s face), and in use of story-telling.  All of which is completely refreshing.  I don’t see many movies like that and the unusualness makes it better.
  4. Sexually unusual. From a three-some with 2 cloned glowing super-humans to showing 40 minutes of shlong, the movie was so unusual, which again made it really interesting.  There was pretty much a comic book porn sex session in the movie which was surprising (and appreciated).
  5. Full of blue penis. i’ve never seen so much blue penis.  This is related to the last point, I like how they gradually introduced me to Dr. Manhattan’s penis.  First it was a nude shot of Dr. Manhattan but only above the waist.  Then, it was another naked shot of him, full profile but from afar and with only a glimpse of shlong.  10 minutes later it was an up-close shot of him staight-on with shlong and eveyrthing for a few seconds.  And finally, they would leave the camera on the shlong for minutes at a time.  I think the movie studio probably had a few meetings to determine how best to show it to the audience. I can just picture it now, a 11am meeting on the lot with people sitting around a conference table focusing on the unveiling of Billy Crudup‘s penis.  There are storyboards on the walls and one associate director wants to throw it right at the audience from the beginning for shock value while an older producer doesn’t want to show it at all and a fight ensues.  Ah, that’d be a fun meeting.
  6. Visually compelling.  The movie looks great.  Coming from the director of 300 (Zack Snyder), I was worried there’d be too much slow motion.  There was quite a bit but it worked. Even though it was 3 hours i’d even go back and watch it on IMAX

Some things i didn’t like:

  • The music was horrible. Songs like “The Sound of Silence,” at a funeral and “Me and Bobby McGee” were just so out of place and strange.  Why use such familiar tracks in an completely new fictional world?  Everyone i talked to after the movie noticed it and how weird it was.  I hate thinking about the music in the middle of a movie unless i’m thinking, “wow, this is great” which is a tought that definitely did not go through my head.  Each time a song began, i thought, “whoa this is strange.”  Maybe that was the point.
  • It was too long. While it was unbearable, it could have been 20 minutes shorter and my ass would have appreciated it.

All in all it was a good movie.  I give it an 8 out of 10.  What did you think?

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Coraline is great and 3D isn’t bad either

This Friday i went and saw the movie Coraline with some friends (trailer is here). While the movie sports an ordinary story – a cartoonish plot of evil lady trying to steal a young girls soul – it was extraordinary in the the way it looked in two ways.  First it was stop-motion, and second it was in 3D.

Stop motion is incredibe. I used to love claymation films of Wallace and Grommit and this is similar (although not clay). The details in Coraline are incredible and the attention to detail the creators take in making the film makes me enjoy watching it so much more than typical graphic effects.  I appreciate the effort and i can see the effort.   For example, each 9.5-inch-tall Coraline puppet has a composite skeleton, silicone flesh, and 20 ball-and-socket joints, which animators tweaked millimeter by millimeter.

When you read how the film was made, you get an even larger appreciation.  Some other interesting facts about the movie (found in Wired):

  • The character Mr. Bobinsky (shown above) is a ringmaster that lives upstairs from Coraline. His moustache is made from piano wire and nylon fishing line doubles as body hair.  Pretty cool DIY.
  • For the garden outside Coraline’s house, the animators pulled on cables and tubes to open flowers and make a blooming effect as well as using cosmetic sponges, wire, and Ping-Pong balls. Fiber optics within and black lights above give the petals their glow.
  • The garden is just incredible.  Just think 3 seconds of footage took 3 weeks to shoot.
  • Steam for a pot of tea is cotton spritzed with hair spray makes a nice puff of vapor. (see side image to right)
  • Coraline’s house is amazing too.  A crew of 70 carpenters and model makers hand-made every slat, post, and clapboard on the 6-foot-tall home, which was built in multiple configurations so that many scenes could be shot simultaneously. For the gravel, about 100 pounds of kitty litter was used to surface the 150-square-foot driveway and for the sky, dimmable fiber optics were glued into tiny holes poked in a black curtain. (see image below).  For the grass, it was 1,300 square feet of hand-dyed faux fur.  For the blossoms of the plants, the crew spent 800 hours painting 250,000 pieces of popcorn—pink on the outside, red on the kernel—to stand in as blossoms for the nearly 70 trees.
  • Caroline herself is quite a work of wires and details.  According to Wired, her hair is done up with wire, synthetic hair, blue paint, and drug-store styling goop, and arranged by hand, strand by strand.  Her wool gloves (where you can see each thread) were done using needles as tiny as 0.02 inch in diameter. To allow for more than 200,000 facial expressions, fabricators built 350 top plates (eyebrows and forehead) and 700 bottom plates (mouth).
  • Even the cats eyes are realistic.  To get that a coating of Scotchlite paint behind the plastic lens simulates the reflectivity of real feline eyes.
  • There’s a mouse circus in the movie.  To do this, designers created 550 hand-painted mice, each with nine separate parts. Animators spent four months reconfiguring and swapping them in and out to mimic motion.

The second reason i enjoyed the movie is because it was in 3D.  I read last year that the studios were going to ramp up 3D production as a way to boost ticket sales.  Apparently with home theaters, DVD’s and movies on-demand there is less and less reason to “go” to the movies and 3D is just the way to bring people back.

I read some other articles last year of studios really being behind 3D.  In an interview even George Lucas is looking at bringing Star Wars back in 3D format (interview here).  In fact, there was a press release last year about how ALL Pixar and Dreamwork films are going 3D:

Disney announced that all computer-animated features from Disney and Pixar will be released in digital 3-D starting with Bolt following in the footsteps of DreamWorks Animation, which announced last summer that starting in 2009 it would be releasing all of its computer-animated titles in 3-D.

Studios make a lot more money with 3D movies as they have higher ticket prices and now that the technology is much better than it was in the 70’s and 80’s, it’s only a matter of time before all movies come out this way. I saw My Bloody Valentine 3D this January and now with Coraline, i can safely say that i really enjoy the 3D experience. It’s more realistic and differentiated from watching at home.  It’s more of a show.

The only thing holding back 3D from being in more movies right now are the theaters.  3D requires digital screens and there are only about 4000 screens in the US that can show 3D.   There is a $700 million dollar plan to upgrade them and i have to imagine that once that happens, you’ll be seeing a lot more 3D films in the theater and i’m personally all for it.  I just wonder when the 3D experience will come to gaming and once it gets there, when will it come t the rest of the computer desktop?  And once it goes there, what’s keeping the entire world from looking like a bunch of total nerds? That’s a bigger problem.

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I'm certain: Doubt is great

I recently saw the movie Doubt with Philip Seymour and Meryl Streep.  Both of them are awesome (as usual) and the movie really delivers.  I was hesitant to go see it as who wants to see a movie about nuns creating drama – sounds really boring.  But, it is fast paced and captivating.  Some thoughts:

  • Meryl Streep is amazing.  Her character is a holy terror can’t smile and brings old school discipline to St. Nicholas.  She rules the halls through disapproval and suspicion oozes from every glance.  She’s terrifying and awesome to watch.
  • The direction of the movie is really good.  Rather than a quick action-paced direction you see in Slumdog Millionaire the movie instead rests on the actors and lets them fill the screen and act.  You see this in the first scene of the movie when Philip Seymour is giving a sermon on doubt.  The camera just sits on his face and stays there.  No movement.  You just see and hear him, nothing else. I like that.
  • There’s a 10 minute scene with Meryl Streep and the actress Viola Davis who plays the mother of a student that is under suspicion of being molested by Flynn (Philip Seymour).  This scene makes the movie.  It adds some complexity and weight to what could just be a he-said-she-said film.
  • I LOVE how the film takes an approach of not preaching the answer.  The movie is less about doubt and more about certainty.  Everyone (including myself) can relate to having a feeling of doing something that feels right but not being certain, yet unable to alter direction.
  • The film does a great job at showing the conflict between old and new, between status and change, between infallibility and uncertainty, gender roles, conservative versus progressive religious values, about rigidity versus openness and suspicion versus proof, about how far it’s appropriate to go when you are sure you are right. Timeless dilemmas that the Church is still trying to figure out
  • Apparenty the writer/director John Patrick Shanley only told Philip Seymour (who played Father Flynn) whether or not Flynn was guilty. None of the other actors knew.
  • The movie was great.  It took the best parts of a play and added in sweet scenery.   I just can’t believe it comes from the guy who gave us Joe Versus the Volcano.  Seriously, JP Shanley did that too.
  • Eight of out ten for me
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Slumdog Millionaire is the best of 2008

Last week i saw the movie Slumdog Millionaire and it was amazing.  Easily the best movie i’ve seen yet this year.  It’s a story about an orphan in the city of Mumbai, India who rises from the depths of poverty to become filthy rich on the strength of his intelligence.

Some thoughts:

  • A scene in the beginning of the film when the main character (Jamel) has to jump through a pool of crap/sewage to get an autograph from his idol is one of the best scenes i’ve seen in a long time. Not only does it immediately introduce the two main characters (Jamel and his brother) but also perfectly depicts their completely different personalities.  The picture above is from that scene
  • The music in the movie is incredible. The pace of the movie is frantic and the music does a great job to keep it going.  I specifically love the MIA song in the middle of the movie.
  • the cinematography is awesome.  You can see lots of shots that are similar to Trainspotting (another Daniel Boyle film) but used in a different way here.  Instead of depicting a drug addict, it’s used to show the insane Indian culture
  • At the very end of the movie they have the stars (Jamel and his girlfriend) do a Bollywood-type dance.  I think this dance does wonders for how people feel when leave the theater and their impression of the movie.  The movie ends on a positive note but very little of the movie is upbeat and happy.  But by having a light and fun scene playing at the end, I was able to let a sigh of relief out and smile.  I think that really matters
  • I’ve been reading two books: The Post-American World (Fareed Zakaria) and Hot, Flat and Crowded (Thomas Friedman) – and both tell the tale of India and what it means for our future as a planet.  India is as important as China because of the size of its population and its embrace of Democracy.  This movie is the first film where i’ve seen the India described in these books, an India that is a Democracy, that’s over crowded, that is both corrupt and opportunistic, that is changing from being very poor to being very industrial, that is become more and more American.
  • By naming it the best movie of 2008 (so far) made me realize how few great films there have been in 2008. With maybe the exception of The Dark Knight, nothing from the summer or fall were even contenders for Best Picture. Hopefully there will be a surprise in the next few weeks (Doubt, Benjamin Button, Revolutionary Road) that will totally redeem 2008, but it’s seeming like a pretty bad year
  • The movie also shows how multi-cultural movies are becoming.  A good review on NPR says this too, saying:

Ours is, after all, an age when cross-cultural impulses inflect everything from music to presidential elections. And Slumdog could hardly be more cross-cultural: a romantic adventure set in India, financed in Europe, made by English filmmakers, featuring Muslim characters speaking Hindi, with a climax hinging on the answer to a question about a French novel. And it’s a blast.

Don’t let the above points distract you.  This movie is AWESOME and you should go see it.  It’s my leading candidate for best movie of the year.

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Chinese Democracy exists and i'm happy about it

Guns n Roses album Chinese Democracy is released
Guns n' Roses album Chinese Democracy is finally released

I had this conversation in the office today with a colleague (let call him M-Bone) that went like this:

  • M-Bone: The new Chinese Democracy album totally sucks
  • Me: Really?!
  • M-Bone: Yeah – it’s totally horrible
  • Me: hmm
  • Me: Hey – did you like Use Your Illusion?
  • M-Bone: No – i hated that album too

And there you have it.  I keep hearing from lots of people who didn’t like Guns ‘N Roses to begin with that the new album Chinese Democracy is garbage.  Of course it is – you don’t like the Guns N’ Roses‘ music.   Me, on the other hand, happen to really like GnR and think that the new ablum is really interesting.  Of course the music isn’t as good as Appetite for Destruction – nothing will ever be.  But it is good.  And even more than that – it is nice just to have it exist. It’s a moment, an event, something worth listening to.

The Phantom Menace

I would argue the same for Star Wars Episode I or Rocky II.  Are they good as the originals? No, definitely not.  Am i happy they exist? Absolutely.  Whether you love them or hate them – it just makes the world a better place.

I don’t think i’ll know how good the music is until all the hoopla dies down.  Probably sometime in mid 2009 i’ll have a sense for how good the songs are.  Right now i really like them and really enjoy just experience more GnR.

There is also a good review by Chuck Kloseterman about the new album.  As a fellow fan and probably the most qualified man in America to review the album, he also appreciates the album but brings up some good questions that it raises.  I’ll leave you to the article. It’s here in the AV Section of the Onion: Chuck Klosterman’s review of Guns N’ Roses album Chinese Democracy

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Vicky Christina Barcelona Thoughts

Saw Vicky Christina Barcelona this week and thought it was great. There are certain things i love about Woody Allen movies (and certain things i hate). In general, the movie was a lot like one big dream sequence. The main character (Javier B.) walks and talks the way you only wish people would speak. What occurs is what you’d always want movies to happen and what you see is what you’d want to see. The movie was just pleasing on every level. It’s both surprising and satisfying. In short, a fun summer flick. Some more thoughts….

  • I love the way the characters talk. Many of the conversations are real conversations. Each character has tendencies that are real and recognizable. Scarlett J’s character has nervous little responses that sometime don’t make any sense and Vicky’s responses are always extremly honest.
  • I love the scenery. The background of the city makes the foreground even better. The characters are ridiculously attractive (especially Penelope Cruz – smoking!) and the Barca lifestyle of walking around in a gorgeous city, drinking wine and listening to Spanish music makes it even better.
  • Penelope Cruz is f’ing amazing. She was a godess in Vanilla Sky and she’s even better here. Sultry, destructive, passionate. Her precense brought the film to another level
  • (Spoiler Alert) There’s not a happy ending. I’ve said before that my favorite genre is film Noir and that’s because i like it when things don’t work out. I like it when all plans are ruined and the hero doesn’t get what he wants. Maybe because i think that’s just life. Maybe it’s becuase there are too many movies tha that have happy endings and i like the surprise. Or maybe i’m a machocist. Who knows. But there was not happiness at the end here. At the end of the movie the characters are older, wiser and have had a great summer but this is not a rom-com and i was very appreciative.
  • One thing i don’t like is when characters in the film starts complaining they sound like Woody Allen. i’m happy he’s not in the movie but when character neurosis come out, the language is his. They talk like him. It’s the same with Sorkin shows but still, i notice and i don’t like it.

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