Month: July 2011

Watchmen

2009
Warner Bros & Paramount Pictures

Directed by Zack Snyder
Produced by Lawrence Gordon, Lloyd Levin and Deborah Snyder
Screenplay by David Hayter and Alex Tse
Based on the comic book limited series and graphic novel created by Alan Moore (writer) and Dave Gibbons (artist)

If you were reading comic books back in 1986 then you probably read the twelve issue limited series WATCHMEN right from the beginning. You were in on the ground floor of a work of art that has come to be called ‘The Citizen Kane of graphic novels’. Actually that should be ‘The Citizen Kane of comic books’ but I’ve noticed how hard the advertising is stresses that WATCHMEN is based on a ‘graphic novel’. It’s as if Warner Bros. and Paramount are trying to hide the comic book roots of the material. They’ve got no reason to. Written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons, the comic book version of WATCHMEN was far more than men and women in brightly colored spandex beating the piss outta each other. It was a political thriller/satire, a murder mystery, a deconstruction of the superhero concept and an examination of the psychology of those people in the brightly colored spandex. And thankfully, the movie version of WATCHMEN is the same.

Thanks to a really cool credits sequence we’re introduced to an alternate world where superheroes came into prominence during the World War II era. Although costumed crimefighters such as Hooded Justice, Captain Metropolis, Silhouette and Dollar Bill are called superheroes they actually have no real superpowers. They’re ordinary men and women who put on masks, wear costumes and go out to fight crime. It isn’t until the 1950’s that the world gets its first real superbeing: Dr. Manhattan/Jon Osterman (Billy Crudup) who, like a lot of DC and Marvel characters gains superpowers due to a scientific accident. Ironically, its Dr. Manhattan’s creation that intensifies the Cold War between The United States and Russia. The Russians are kinda spooked that America has a glowing blue god who can reshape matter and energy at will. Thanks to Dr. Manhattan and The Comedian/Edward Blake (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) the Vietnam War is won in a week. Both Dr. Manhattan and The Comedian go to work for the U.S. government while other costumed heroes are forced into retirement due to legislation outlawing superheroes.

Things heat up rapidly when The Comedian is brutally killed and his murder is investigated by Rorschach/Walter Kovacs (Jackie Earle Haley) a vigilante who ignored the ban on masked heroes. Rorschach believes someone is out to kill all the retired heroes and goes to visit them one by one, hoping to persuade them to join him in his investigation. Silk Spectre/Laurie Jupiter (Malin Akerman) thinks he’s crazy. Dr. Manhattan doesn’t care. Nite Owl/Dan Dreiberg (Patrick Wilson) thinks he’s paranoid. And the richest, smartest man in the world, Ozymandias /Adrian Veidt (Matthew Goode) is too busy trying to create a new energy source to be bothered. But before long events will drive all these former heroes back into their costumes as it soon becomes apparent that the world is on the verge of a nuclear holocaust and they may be the only ones who can prevent it.

For years WATCHMEN has stumped some of the most creative directors working in the industry today. We’re talking about guys like Terry Gilliam and Darren Aronofsky, both of who thought the graphic novel was unfilmable. And then along comes Zack Snyder who does such a terrific job and is so faithful to the source material that you wonder what the fuss was about. All of the characters look as if they stepped right out of the graphic novel and Zack Snyder recreates scenes in such detail it’s scary. And there’s plenty of Easter Eggs all through the movie for those of us who have read our copies of WATCHMEN to death but that won’t prevent those of you who haven’t from enjoying it.

The acting in this movie is top notch. Jackie Earle Haley easily walks off with the honors in this one. Rorschach is an extremely disturbed and dangerous man and Haley plays him that way, with no sugarcoating. I remember first seeing Jackie Earle Haley way back in 1983 in a raunchy comedy called “Losin’ It” which also starred Tom Cruise and Shelly Long but Haley stole that movie from them easily. He’s got great people to work with in this one such as Patrick Wilson. He plays Dan Dreiberg in such a way that you at first have a hard time imagining this overweight, quiet guy was ever a superhero. But once he puts on that Nite Owl costume his transformation is remarkable to see. And Malin Akerman is nothing short of amazing. I just couldn’t take my eyes off her anytime she was on the screen. Her character occupies a unique place in the superhero history of this world and one of the most interesting aspects of this movie is to watch her complex relationships with the other characters.

So should you see WATCHMEN? Absolutely. It’s not just a great superhero movie. It’s a great movie, period. The characterizations and story aren’t just excuses to have golly-gee-whiz special effects and big fight scenes. Even though the movie is complex and there are flashbacks and flash forwards it’s never confusing. And it’s truly a pleasure to watch a director at work who knows how to film action/fight scenes and doesn’t take the lazy way out by resorting to shaky-cam. It’s a movie with intelligence and one sign of its intelligence is that the superheroes don’t fight supervillains. They’re fighting something even more deadly: social conditions and their own moral values. It’s an amazing piece of filmmaking indeed and between this and “300” Zack Snyder has a place in movie history.

163 minutes:
Rated R:  This is most definitely a superhero movie for adults. There’s graphic violence, nudity and language.  Send the kidlets to bed before you watch this one, folks.

The Night Of The Hunter

1955
MGM/UA

Produced by Paul Gregory
Directed by Charles Laughton
Screenplay by James Agee and Charles Laughton (uncredited)
Based on the novel by David Grubb

My disdain for most so-called horror movies is by now well known. I can sit through most horror movies and never flinch or blink. The first time I saw “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” during it’s original theatrical run my friends had to tell me to shut up because I thought the movie was a spoof and I was laughing out loud. The “Friday The 13th” movies are just dumb. Except for the first one that actually was a nifty little slasher flick. I can watch the “Nightmare on Elm Street” and the “Phantasm” movies they same way I read comic books or watch animated movies. They’re fun to watch. But scary? Nah. “The Blair Witch Project”? Don’t make me laugh. I’ve been to Chinese take out places in Brooklyn that are scarier. “Open Water”? You must really be joking.

Movies that scare me are movies that might actually happen to me. Take the “Out-Of-Towners” which is supposedly a comedy. But you watch Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis who are stuck in New York during a horrendous garbage strike.   Everything goes wrong including their hotel losing their reservation, their luggage being lost and they get robbed and are forced to sleep in Central Park, searching for their dinner from garbage cans.  By the time you get to the end of the movie you may be wondering what the hell you were laughing at. Or how about “In Cold Blood” with Robert Blake and Scott Wilson who choose a family at random to murder.  Or “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” where Joan Crawford is an invalid in a wheelchair terrorized by her crazed, alcoholic sister played by Bette Davis. Or “Deliverance” where a group of city guys go canoeing down a river and end up in a life or death struggle with a gang of backwoods hillbillies. I think by now you get my point as to what I consider a real horror movie.

So that brings us to this movie: I’m always being asked: “Derrick, what’s the scariest, most frightening movie you’ve ever seen? What makes you scream like a pigtailed nine year old girl every time you watch it?”

My answer with no hesitation is THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER.

Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) is sharing a cell with a condemned man doomed to hang (Peter Graves) In a moment of weakness the doomed man confides to Harry that he’s hidden $10,000 dollars in his house. When Harry is released he takes the guise of a wandering preacher and makes his way to the man’s hometown. Harry quickly ingratiates himself into the community and even romances the man’s widow, Willa (Shelly Winters). Willa’s two children John (Billy Chapin) and Pearl (Sally Jane Bruce) don’t trust the preacher one little inch. The children know where the money is and they’re both determined not to let the preacher get his hands on it. They clearly see him for what he is.  Harry marries Willa and ruthlessly murders her in one of the most blood-freezing scenes I’ve ever seen in a movie that is all the more shocking in that Willa appears to be a willing participant in her own murder.

And if that wasn’t hair-raising enough, there’s a scene where it’s shown what Harry does with her body that I won’t dare spoil here. It’s a scene that truly has to be seen to be believed. John and Pearl go on the run down the river but Harry Powell relentlessly follows them, a nightmarish figure on a horse that is as patient as Death itself. The two children are eventually taken in by an old woman (Lillian Gish) whose faith in God and a loaded shotgun is unshakeable. The movie comes down to a battle in an isolated farmhouse between these avatars of Good and Evil not just for the money but also for the souls of the children.

Part of the reason why THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER is so frightening to me is the way it’s filmed. This was the only movie directed by Charles Laughton and he borrowed heavily from German Expressionism to create a dream-like world. Considering that the main characters are children, it’s an appropriate way to tell the story since it can be looked on as a child’s nightmare. It’s not a realistic movie as the sets actually do look like sets and the inside of houses are stylized with strange angles. But it works. It creates its own world that you buy into because it may remind you of your own dreams. It’s a wonderfully fascinating film just to look at with some truly frightening moments.

Robert Mitchum is not just a great actor. He’s a titanic actor and his role as Reverend Harry Powell is one of the finest he’s ever played. He’s got a classic scene where he explains why he has the words ‘Love’ and ‘Hate’ tattooed on his hands. The scene where he murders Willa is almost unbearable to watch. And when you get to the last half of the movie where he’s terrorizing the children and the old woman at their isolated farmhouse I defy you not to want to hide under the covers. And there’s a scene where John and Pearl are hiding in a dark basement and Harry is at the top of the stairs and calling down to them: “Chiiiiiilllllll….dren?” that has been copied thousands of times in inferior movies.

Shelly Winters is very good in her role here in this movie. She always did do a good job of playing sexually repressed woman who seem just two steps away from exploding into orgasms. And it doesn’t hurt that back during the 50’s she truly was smokin’ hot. I think that many of today’s moviegoers are only familiar with her films from the 70’s and 80’s. Take a look at the movies she did in the 50’s and 60’s and you’ll see why Shelly Winters was considered a blond bombshell comparable to Marilyn Monroe and Jane Mansfield.

Lillian Gish does a terrific job as Rachel Cooper, the old woman who takes in John and Pearl. Despite her age she’s a formidable opponent and there’s a wonderful scene where Harry is sitting on his horse out in the field and Rachel is sitting on her porch in her rocking chair with her loaded shotgun across her lap. Both of them are quietly singing the same hymn. It’s a powerful scene.

So should you see THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER? Absolutely. Netflix, buy, borrow or steal the DVD or Blu-Ray.  I don’t care. THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER is a movie I’ve seen maybe a dozen times and every time it still scares me. And if you want to be truly scared outta your wits, turn out all the lights in your house or apartment and watch THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER.

By yourself.

Go on.  I dare you.

93 minutes

Cursed

2005
Dimension Films

Directed by Wes Craven
Produced and Written by Kevin Williamson

This is the shortest review I’ve ever written. Sit up straight and pay attention.

I had always believed that “The Blue Lagoon” was the worst movie I’ve ever seen in my life. Then I saw CURSED.

If you see stacks of CURSED DVDs in the $3 bargain bin at Wal-Mart, FYE or Target, trust me that they are there for a reason. CURSED is without a doubt one of the overall worst movies I have ever seen to date. That Wes Craven has his name on it totally baffles me because Wes Craven knows how to make a horror movie and this piece of utter trash barely qualifies. CURSED is not even worth seeing for Christina Ricci who looks absolutely gorgeous and she turns in the best acting job she can do along with Joshua Jackson. The both of them do the best they can with what they’ve got. The only reason why I can think they participated in CURSED is because of contractual obligations or they had mortgage payments due and needed the paycheck. I can respect them for that.

You’ve been warned. I take no responsibility if you decide to disregard my warning so it’s on you. I wasted an hour and 30 minutes of my life I’ll never get back so you don’t have to. Even if you get a chance to see it for free do not watch CURSED. It’s not even a good bad movie. Its total trash and a waste of your time.

I’m gonna say it one more time. Do not watch CURSED.

P.S.: Since watching this movie I have indeed found one worse than this, believe it or not

97 minutes

Rated R

In A Lonely Place

1950
Columbia Pictures

Directed by Nicholas Ray
Produced by Robert Lord
Screenplay by Andrew Solt
Based on the novel by Dorothy B. Hughes

Let’s face it; it’s not easy to make movies about writers. At the end of the day a writer’s job is to sit down at a desk for hours and hours and…well, write. That doesn’t make for a very exciting movie. It’s not like making a movie about a painter or an artist. They at least move around and do grand things when they’re being brilliant. But writers are at their most creative and brilliant when they’re apparently doing nothing or very little at all. Hardly the stuff of exciting motion pictures. Despite that there have been a surprising number of well made movies about writers and they usually focus not only on the writing process but how the writer affects those around him like in “Barton Fink” and “The Whole Wide World.” IN A LONELY PLACE is such a movie. It’s about a writer and it’s about how he affects the lives of people around him. But in a lot of ways it’s unlike any movie about a writer I’ve ever seen.

Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart) is a hotshot Hollywood screenwriter struggling to come back after a series of flops. While hanging out with his good pal, the alcoholic has-been film legend Charlie Waterman (Robert Warwick) at his favorite watering hole, Dix is thrown a promising job courtesy of his long suffering agent of 20 years, Mel Lippman (Art Smith) There’s a popular book that a top studio is dying to turn into a movie and they want Dix to write the screenplay. The problem is Dix doesn’t want the job and doesn’t even want to read the book.

However, the hat check girl Mildred (Martha Stewart) has read the book and loves it to death. She begs Dix to read it and write the screenplay. Dix asks her to come over to his place and outline the story for him. He figures that he can get enough from that so he can bullshit his way through the actual writing of the screenplay. Mildred is ecstatic to be part of the moviemaking process and agrees. They spend a sociable enough evening where Mildred does indeed tell Dix enough of the book’s story, plot and characters for his purposes and he sends her home with cab fare.

But the following morning Dix is awakened by an old Army buddy of his, Brub Nicholai (Frank Lovejoy) who is now a police detective. And Brub is investigating a murder in which Dixon Steele is the main suspect: Mildred was horribly and brutally killed the night before.  Brub’s superior Captain Lochner (Carl Benton Reid) wants Brub to use his friendship to get close to Dix and prove he killed Mildred. Brub doesn’t believe Dix did it. But Dix has a long history of violent behavior. Lochner believes Dix killed Mildred due to his odd lack of emotional response upon hearing of her death. Brub has known Dix ever since the war and says that Dix has always been like that. Brub plainly admires Dix, calling him a genius, claiming that Dix has ‘a superior mind’ Brub resents his own wife Sylvia (Jeff Donnell) calling Dix ‘sick’. Sylvia makes no secret of the fact she’s uneasy around Dix and tells Brub; “if that’s what a genius is like I’m glad you’re average”

Dix gets a temporary break due to the testimony of his neighbor Laurel Grey (Gloria Grahame) who swears to Lochner that Mildred left Dix’s house alive and well. But even that is called into doubt when Dix and Laurel begin a torrid love affair that jumpstarts Dix’s creative juices. He works on the new screenplay with an energy he hasn’t had in years, fueled by Laurel’s affectionate help. Everybody sees a change in Dix but Laurel is seeing a side of Dix she doesn’t like. Dix has a paranoid streak a yard wide and no control on his temper at all. This is a guy who goes way past nuclear and into supernova when he gets his mad on. And Laurel comes to gradually realize that even if Dix didn’t kill that hat check girl, he may be totally capable of killing her if he lets his anger and paranoia have its way.

IN A LONELY PLACE is one of those movies that was considered campy melodrama when it was first released but now is regarded as a classic of film noir and I’m one of those who agree. It’s a fascinating movie about a talented man with flaws as large as his talent and the most interesting thing about the movie is how his friends deal with him, his talent and his flaws. Humphrey Bogart is a Film Icon due to his tough guy roles but he’s just as good if not better when he plays against type and his Dixon Steele is a guy who I actually believed was a writer. There were a lot of little touches that Bogart gave the character that I’m convinced he must have gotten from writers he knew because they rang true. Dixon Steele is a man who’s intelligent, charming, charismatic and frightfully insightful. But at the same time, he’s a man capable of sudden psychotic rages and near hysterical paranoid fits that terrify even those who love him best. It’s a totally wonderful performance from Bogart.

Gloria Grahame is just as wonderful as Bogart as she matches him line for line in that delightful Old School Hollywood Dialog that the just don’t write anymore. There’s something about her eyes and the way she looks that leads me to think she’s just as psychologically damaged as Dixon but she at least has an awareness of her flaws that Dix’s ego won’t allow him to acknowledge.

The direction by Nicholas Ray is wonderful and if you’re not familiar with him then IN A LONELY PLACE is a great place to start. Some of his other films include the deranged “Bigger Than Life” where James Mason goes totally apeshit thanks to his addiction to Cortisone and tries to murder his family. There’s the excellent noir detective film “On Dangerous Ground” where Robert Ryan plays a burned out homicide cop. He’s sent to a frozen wasteland north of a nameless crime ridden city to investigate the murder of a young girl and ends up falling in love with the blind sister of the chief suspect.

If you’re a fan of film noir, Humphrey Bogart or Nicholas Ray then you definitely should put IN A LONELY PLACE on your list of movies to Netflix or buy. It’s also a popular movie on Turner Classic Movies as they show it on a pretty regular basis. Watch and enjoy.

94 minutes

Better In The Dark #111

 

Episode 111: TOM AND DERRICK VERSUS THE MERMAID, THE TEEN FILMMAKERS, THE MAGNETIC SPY, THE SPEEDY THIEF, AND THE GOD OF PASSIVE AGGRESSIVENESS

It’s time for The Guys Outta Brooklyn to sit down for another full-to-bursting Review Episode! Join Tom and Derrick as they discuss such films as Fast Five, Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, Scream 4, and the first two super-hero films in a summer packed with them–Thor and X-Men First Class! All this plus the latest round of Listener Mail, a discussion of what to do with the X-Men franchise and–for the first and last time–Tom explains some of the problems he has with Star Wars! If you don’t want Kevin Bacon to trigger World War Three, get to clicking!

BETTER IN THE DARK
Two Guys Outta Brooklyn Talk Movies
DJ COMICS CAVALCADE
Silver Age Comics Through Modern Eyes
Join us now at www.earth-2.net!

Better In The Dark #110

Episode 110: DIRECTOR’S COURT–THE CASE OF MEL BROOKS

After a long hiatus, court is back in session–and The Guys Outta Brooklyn puts the man who single-handedly created the modern movie spoof in the docket. Join Tom and Derrick as they explore their conflicted feelings about this Great, Great Man…a man whose early work is as groundbreaking and amazing as his later work is sad and unpleasant…and how his sense of humor remains timeless when many of the people who followed in his footsteps date within minutes of their films’ release. And if that’s not enough….tremble as your hosts go on a rampage against the DCnU reboot, and the state of comics in general! You know it’s a French Mistake…so get to clicking!

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BETTER IN THE DARK
Two Guys Outta Brooklyn Talk Movies
Join us now at www.earth-2.net!