Screaming for Avengers: Two Confessions

I have a confession to make.

I never read comic books as a kid.

The earliest I remember was picking up an issue of Star Brand for 35 cents in junior high, trying to get into it, and failing. I always liked the Hulk, but that was from the TV show. Same with the Superman movies, and the Batman TV show. I came into it second hand. I’ve enjoyed many comics and graphic novels since, from The Dark Knight Returns, to the first Marshal Law books, to Kurt Busiek’s excellent Astro City, which remains my favorite superhero series. And if you don’t like superheroes, his standalone “The Tarnished Angel” is a great noir story.

But as someone who didn’t grow up with comics, or love them wholeheartedly later, I have some unpopular opinions. I think Zak Snyder’s ending to Watchmen was an improvement. I like Ang Lee’s Hulk movie better than the Ed Norton one. I find the X-Men annoying, because the mutie as race minority allegory is patronizing and doesn’t make sense when mutants can zap you to dust by forgetting to wear their sunglasses. We have reason to fear them. But that’s an argument for another day, maybe when the Wolverine movie comes out.

I was not sold on Marvel’s lead-ups to the Avengers. Iron Man, I loved that movie. The rest were all flawed in some way. Captain America probably the least, but it needed more action and less montage. And he should have punched out Hitler. Thor was good fun, but there was a lot of running and silliness and the Devastator was a boring villain. The Incredible Hulk had its moments, but I doubt I’d watch it again.

I was worried about the Avengers when the opening and villain introduction were rather tepid. Nick Fury and SHIELD were not sufficiently bad-ass. That is rectified by the end of the movie, thank goodness. My review will be short and sweet. Every character shines in this one. Much has been said of the fantastic interplay of the heroes, and that is a great strength. But even alone, they are the best incarnation on-screen, even Stark as Iron Man. Let’s face it, they all have issues and spending time with any of these guys gets tiresome. It’s a testament to Robert Downey Jr.’s characterization that we don’t want Rhodey to drop a deuce in every one of Stark’s suits by the end of an Iron Man movie. And that’s fine, he should be a flawed man.

But in the Avengers, they can be more annoying than ever, because the doses are smaller. Cap can be an out of touch goody-good. Banner can be aloof, condescending and always have “You won’t like me when I’m angry” unspoken, on the tip of his tongue, a passive-aggressive bully. Thor’s elevated speech and godliness can be more than a joke. The best scene is likely when the gang is all arguing due to trickster god Loki’s manipulations, aboard SHIELD’s hovercraft air carrier. And that includes the Hulk going apeshit, which should be my favorite scene.

Well played, Whedon. That’s confession two. Despite being a Firefly fan, I’ve always been very critical of Joss Whedon’s writing. It’s very good, but there was always fan service, which rubs me the wrong way. I find it condescending, especially when superhero movies have been blockbusters for a decade. But I will humbly say this is his best script yet. I forgot he was attached to it until an hour in. He’s very subtle, he is respectful to the material, but makes it his own. And he has given us iconic characterizations of superhero icons that will be the measuring stick for many years to come; they all come into their own. He makes Black Widow much more than sexy kick-ass window dressing, and damn, he knows how to use effects. This is the first movie in years where the CG effects haven’t required me to forcibly suspend disbelief.

And this is a comic book movie. It is not a movie with superheroes in it. The heroes clobber each other, change sides multiple times, begrudgingly become a team, just like they do in the comics. It’s like pro wrestling. They get a lot of things pitch perfect. The Hulk is played as terrifying to anyone who’s not a god or wearing armor. The bad guys, armored aliens, aren’t just ugly, violent and stupid, but they have a goofy menace to them like all good comic book cannon fodder does, laughing and shooting their laser guns right up until the Hulk pops their head like a grape. The dialogue is fantastic, and the back and forth banter in battle makes the long, repetitive slugfest remain exciting.

The film is full of nice touches, and I plan on watching it enough times to catch them all. Now if you don’t mind, I want to go get some shawarma.

© 2012 Thomas Pluck
I post on Twitter as TommySalami ~ My Facebook Page

Watchmen: New and Improved

As a fan of the comics, and of Zack Snyder’s previous 300 and Dawn of the Dead, I decided to go to a midnight showing of Watchmen last night. And let me get this out of the way- I’m no purist, and I think it is an excellent adaptation of some difficult material. Clocking in at 2 hours 45 minutes, Snyder and company have put Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ paragon of graphic novels into film format, and it is an incredible cinema experience.
From the opening scene, where an old washed-up attack dog for the government is assassinated- seen in the trailer so no spoilers- to the credit roll where we’re introduced to the story’s alternate 1985 where Richard Nixon is still President, superheroes helped us win Vietnam, and were eventually outlawed in the wake of public protest- makes the tale accessible to those unfamiliar with the graphic novel. From then on, we’re with Rorschach- the masked, trenchcoated vigilante who refuses to drop his mask and give up fighting crime. He begins investigating the murder- the victim turns out to be a supposedly retired hero named The Comedian- and unravels a plot that might culminate in World War 3.
Rorshach (Jackie Earle Haley, Little Children) warns his retired associates, because he thinks “someone is murdering masks.” They include the reclusive, nerdy tinkerer Dan (Patrick Wilson, Hard Candy), who was once a Batman-esque vigilante called Nite Owl, patrolling the city in a hovering ship; Sally Jupiter (Malin Akerman, 27 Dresses), a slinky martial artist who took up the mask after her mother retired as the Silk Spectre; Adrian Veidt, “the smartest man in the world,” a billionaire who seeks to elevate humanity, but once fought crime as Ozymandias. Then there’s the one who’s not like the others- Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), a nuclear scientist who after a tragic accident, became a blue-hued living god, able to see and control the world on the quantum level.
As Rorschach follows the clues, the Doomsday Clock is ticking. The world is on the brink of nuclear war, and the United States has been very cocky with Dr. Manhattan as its ally. He can disassemble nukes in flight, and survive a blast. He’s both not there, and everywhere at once. We see him and the Comedian in flashback, winning Vietnam, as a maniac with a flamethrower and a towering blue giant dissolving enemies into atoms. Sally and Dan bond over missing the old days, and we learn that they both wear the mantles of the first generation of superheroes. As Rorschach homes in, the plot is bigger than they first imagined, and soon they are all drawn in to fight as the world teeters on the brink of apocalypse- with its blue savior in self-imposed exile.
The movie, like the comics, deftly melds the dark brutality of Rorschach’s world as Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver in a mask and The Comedian with a shotgun, with the “good clean fun” of Nite Owl and Silk Spectre in form-fitting suits kicking criminal butt, and the otherworldly godlike powers of Dr. Manhattan. They are archetypes for superheroes we all know- Batman, Silver Surfer, the Punisher, The Question. Alan Moore’s story is as much about the history of comics as it is about its plot, and the bones are still there. Snyder perhaps lingers a bit too much on the sex and violence- there’s a hilarious yet kinky sex scene, as true to the comics as possible- but the film looks incredible, even without IMAX. And Dr. Manhattan’s blue dingus is there in every scene, wagging hypnotically and causing titters among the nerds.
The story is big, about whether it is necessary to destroy the world in order to save it; if humanity’s penchant for destruction can ever be tamed, or if our genetic destiny must lead us toward apocalypse. Dr. Manhattan’s musings on the nature of the universe, and what constitutes a miracle when he can turn air to gold if he so wishes, are poetic and transcend the material. This is a great story born to be sequential comic art, but translated to 24 frames per second with aplomb. The Dark Knight took the superhero story to epic thriller levels worthy of Michael Mann; Watchmen is an even bigger story, asking us why we think we need superheroes: To save us from ourselves.
The casting and acting is across the board excellent. I had many reservations with some of the choices, especially of Malin Akerman and Matthew Goode, but I as never brought of the spell the movie casts. Jackie Earle Haley, between this and his polar opposite playing a child molester in Little Children, will hopefully continue to rise as a late star. He is Rorschach, and when finally unmasked, is even better. Billy Crudup takes an incredible subtle, emotionless character and makes him enthralling. Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Comedian embodies the complex, vicious character to the core; you hate him, but you can’t stop watching him, and Carla Gugino (American Gangster) plays the older Silk Spectre with perfection, young and old- she’s a somewhat creepy aged starlet who demands a lot from her daughter and made some decisions she refuses to regret.
You’ll hear the usual nerd rage from the basements of America decrying the changes made to the story- one big one at the end- but honestly, I think it’s an improvement. Discussing it without spoilers, I think it was wise to change the villain, to remove humanity’s crutch. And even Alan Moore should agree it was an inspired choice, if he stops picking bones out of his beard between rants long enough. It lives up to the hype, and while it may demand complete attention from neophytes on first viewing, it is a rich tapestry that will reward future viewings.

5 Hrrms out of 5

more Watchmen footage

Watchmen Exclusive,t=1,mt=video,searchID=,primarycolor=,secondarycolor=

Zack Snyder discusses the film, we’re introduced to the characters, and most importantly, more footage

Watchmen Comicon 2008 preview

Some new footage here and it all looks good. Just sort of annoyed at Zack’s freeze-slow mo shots that he also used in 300, but the designs and shots look awesome. Can’t wait for March!

Watchmen trailer #2

This trailer kicks the ass of the teaser. Sure, it has a lot of the stop-mo stuff from 300, but let’s hope it’s a trailer thing and not in the film. This looks simply incredible, and following Rorschach for these brief moments was just thrilling. I just can’t wait until March.

Chiller Theater Expo

I won’t deny that I’m a geek. I’m a cranky sysadmin. Have been for over a decade. The Weezer song “In the Garage” could be my high school anthem. I believe I’m past that to a degree. Other than blogging and an occasional die-rolling escapade. I don’t even play computer games anymore. So why the fuck was I at the Chiller Expo? It’s a horror con held twice a year, the big one being in October, since Halloween is the holiday for all things horror. Well, I wanted to meet Ace Frehley. And my friends Darth Milk and The World’s Tallest Man (Dross) were engaging in what they call Costumed Aggression.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 9: Hrrrm

Milky put together a great Rorschach costume, and Dross had become a perfect representation of Darth Revan. They both looked great. The first step in any nerd costume is not being fat (one reason why I don’t do it). Because then they wouldn’t be Rorschach and Darth Revan, they’d be Fat Rorschach and Lardbutt Revan. You’ve seen such things on the interwebs, I’m sure. Fat Tron Guy. Fattie Darth Maul kid. To my everlasting horror I’ve seen fat guys dressed as Sailor Moon, female coyotes, Fat Mad Max, Indiana Fats and the Beer Gut of Doom, and so on. Just don’t do it. If you can spend $800 on a fucking Stormtrooper costume, you can spend $300 on Nutrisystem for 6 months before the science fiction convention your life revolves around. But on the other hand, without you fanboys devoid of that human trait we like to call dignity, the internet would be a far less funny place. So don’t let me tinkle in your Count Chocula; have a ball. And please, keep LARPing (more on that in a future post).

Hail to the King baby

Chiller Expo is run by a bunch of idiots who keep getting kicked out of hotels. This was my first one, and having to wait 2 hours in the rain to get in, I would not have done it if Milky wasn’t depending on me for a ride home in the Blue Meeny, and he hadn’t promised a hotel room party afterward. That party was not to be, due to a Nerd Wedding happening somewhere at the hotel; we met some cool folks but Old Man Tommy was not about to endure a fucking wedding at a horror convention. I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe, and one of them was a “hand fasting” of people dressed up like Inigo Montoya in Seinfeld’s Frilly Shirt. My retinas have enough scars without seeing a vampire wedding, or a zombie wedding, or whatever horrors lay in store for us that night.

Snake Plissken? I thought you were dead.

The wait was worth it, however, because like Dross said- nothing makes you feel better about yourself than going to a convention like this. If you ever sit on your couch and wonder if you’re living a good life, do yourself a favor and do to a Comicon, or a Chiller Expo. If you are contemplating suicide because you feel like a complete waste of flesh, go to a Furry Convention. Then again, that might drive you to suicide, like a Lovecraftian beastie too terrible to behold, because those people fuck plush animals and dress up like fuzzy bunnies. Chiller is several magnitudes better in the Geek Hierarchy, and these people look like they have lives. Of a sort. There’s large biker contingent, a subset of guys with 6 inch or longer goatees, and a smaller Gwar! fan faction.

Zombie Attack!

The first thing you hit is the dealer room. Here if there’s any sort of horror movie DVD, movie poster, or expensive, delicate figurine you can imagine, you will find it. Obscure horror movie you and 3 friends on myspace have seen? They have a t-shirt. I myself wore my Evil Dead: The Musical! t-shirt, so I could rise above the unwashed masses (and how true that phrase was) with a Broadway show t-shirt. I could have bought a huge diorama of Bruce Campbell as Ash the chainsaw-wielding slayer of the undead, but I’d have to sell some of my collection of scary pointy weapons to make room for it. And no, I don’t have any of those cheap Made-in-China Renn Fest weapons littering my man-cave. My tastes run toward the custom-made Bowie knives by American Bladesmith Society Master Smiths. If a burglar trips in my home, I won’t need to call the police. He’ll be a pincushion.

Emperor Popetine

Rorschach was a huge hit at the convention. The Watchmen movie is coming out next spring, and there’s a lot of hype for it. Perhaps you saw the trailer before Dark Knight. Every Nerd, Dick and Harry wanted a photo with ‘Shack, so I was a busy man with the camera. Another thing about conventions is that every has-been of movies, music and televisions goes there to sell photos and autographs for beer money. $20 or $30 worth of beer money. I had a few names on my list- Ace Frehley, formerly of KISS; Linda Hamilton of Terminator fame, but known to nerds for that ’80s TV show “Beauty and the Beast”; George Kennedy, from Cool Hand Luke, but more importantly the Naked Gun Trilogy; and Ernest Borgnine, who’s…. Ernest fucking Borgnine, dammit!

Nerds like the obscure ones

We worked our way through the maze of hotel hallways leading to the Space Ace, and it felt like the Copacabana scene in Goodfellas, except with the dregs of nerd-dom surrounding us instead of New York glitterati. At the end of our long journey, we were greeted by an empty room full of police tape making a makeshift set of velvet ropes leading to the rock ‘n roll star. An unhelpful goon proffered post-KISS Ace wares, since the make-up is now owned and trademarked by KISS entrepreneurs Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, who will sell you a KISS coffin if you like; and they’ll let someone else play the Space Ace on stage now, too. They’ve become The Phantom of the Park, while Ace has stuck to principles.

I look high because the goon didn’t say ‘smile’

Ace looks like Keith Richards’ younger brother; years of rocking hard have taken their toll, but he is a friendly and happy guy. Some stars get surly, but he was all smiles. Of course, we just paid $30 to get a picture taken with him, by a fat bodyguard who takes a shitty photo. I’d be smiling too. I wish he had copies of his solo album there; I had dreams of finding a 180 gram vinyl limited-edition and getting it signed in a flourish of silver paint marker. But the reality is that KISS is long behind him. He had the best of the solo albums, and his cover of “Back in the New York Groove” made the song a U.S. hit. I never liked KISS much once he left, but that’s another story. It was great getting a photo with him.

Boba Fett and Darth Kabuki

After seeing has-been star power drain my wallet, I decided to forgo dropping any more money to pose next to the likes of Angie Dickinson, or even my teenage crush Linda Hamilton. I’d rather remember her as Sarah Connor. In the lobby we met more followers of Costumed Aggression, including a kick-ass Boba Fett costume and another Sith Lord named Darth Childmower or something. Others included a nurse from the games/movie Silent Hill; a guy dressed as the Burger King with the creepy mask, who engorged the loins of every nerd in the house by bringing his girlfriend dressed as Princess Leia in slave gear from Return of the Jedi. There were plenty of Jabbas to slobber over her.

Fredwina Krueger and waif

Some of my faves were more obscure, being the snooty sort of ex-nerd that I am. A couple dressed as Frank (Dennis Hopper) and Dorothy (Isabella Rosellini) from Blue Velvet; a great Snake Plissken costume from the Escape from New York/L.A. movies, who actually looked like young Kurt Russell; the gorilla with a space helmet from Robot Monster; and a kid wearing a giant milk carton with her face sticking out under the “missing child” logo.

Silent Hill

The costume contest had plenty of more typical, but excellent ideas- a guy dressed as a zombie cop attacking a woman, complete with his guts falling out and throwing a severed head at her. That won “scariest costume” and looked professional. There were a trio of Ghostbusters, with proton packs; a decent Godzilla costume, missing the tail. Maybe he’ll have a tail next year, but he could stomp Tokyo and get away with it. The funniest one, which won “most creative,” was Emperor Popetine. Pope Joe Ratzenberger just kinda looks like the evil Emperor from Star Wars.

Who you gonna call? Three nerds!

Unfortunately for Milky, there was also another Rorschach. Milky’s costume was better, and he better resembled the scrappy vigilante in size too. They got a photo together for another fan. We spent the rest of the night photographing the nerdiest people we could find; I’ll end with them here, so you can feel better about yourself. Now, I’ve got to review 9 more horror movies before Halloween, so I’m going to watch stuff like The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?, which isn’t nerdy at all. Nope nope.

Fat Star Wars guy
Robot Monster

Heineken? Fuck that shit!

Where losers win!

Dueling Rorschachs

Not sure if he just likes kilts or if he’s in a costume.

Godzilla and his terrible grimace

And finally, a guy dressed as Batman with underoos.
Wow, I feel GREAT about myself now.

Watchmen embroiled in legal battle

From the BBC:

Legal battle over Watchmen movie

Jeffrey Dean Morgan in the Watchmen

The film had been due to be released in March
Film studio Twentieth Century Fox has applied to a Los Angeles court to block the release of Watchmen, based on the comic books written by Alan Moore.

Fox, which says it bought film rights to the series in the 1980s, has been given the go-ahead to launch an injunction against rival Warner Bros.
“We respectfully disagree with Fox’s position and do not believe they have any rights,” a Warners spokesman said.
Fox said it “will be asking the court to enforce our copyright interests”.

‘Copyright interests’
The movie, about flawed superheroes, has already been filmed and was due for release 6 March. It stars Patrick Wilson and Jeffrey Dean Morgan and is directed by Zack Snyder, who made hit movie 300. Last week US District Court Judge Gary Feess said Fox could hold some of the rights to the material, even if it did not hold all rights.
Fox spokesman Gregg Brilliant said it planned to stop the release of the movie and “any related Watchmen media that violate our copyright interests in that property”.
His Warner Bros counterpart, Scott Rowe, said: “The judge did not opine at all on the merits, other than to conclude that Fox satisfied the pending requirements.”

Hopefully this won’t delay the movie too much; Fox probably wants a bite. Otherwise why wouldn’t they get them to stop filming?