Monday, January 7, 2008

who's watching?

Today, I finished reading the iconic graphic novel Watchmen. I knew it had characters named Rorschach and Dr. Manhattan, so I was expecting a pretty straightforward superhero tale. Having just finished V for Vendetta by the same author, Alan Moore, I don't know how I could have been so naive. The story itself, about hasbeen vigilantes reassessing their self-worth on the eve of possible nuclear holocaust, is one of the most suspenseful and captivating I've ever read.

Dave Gibbons' artwork is spectacular, providing more details and hidden messages than I'm sure I caught this first time around. At times painterly, beautifully artistic, and other times gritty and comic book specific, Gibbons' art perfectly told Moore's story. When the characters are dealing with questions of psychological intricacies or the big pictures issues of the meaning of life and mutually assured destruction, the artwork is a triumph of visual associations and graphic matches. I was thoroughly intrigued by the historical fiction aspects of the story, and the comic-book-within-a-comic-book that wove throughout.

Not only am I excited to reread this excellent novel, but I am curious to see how the movie will turn out. Jackie Earle Haley is cast as Rorschach, which I find incredibly promising, as he was the highlight of 2006's Little Children adaptation.

This is the poster I received by attending a panel with Zack Snyder at Comic Con!

this time, no elrond

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about Comic Con. Attending last year's was a totally enlightening experience, and though I can't attend in 2008 due to a friend's wedding, I can't wait until I'm in the San Diego Convention Center once again, with all the other nerds. Considering how much I appreciated the event as a movie and TV fan, I wondered how much I was missing out on by not having any personal experience with comic books. I'd always written them off as the picture books that barely literate boys read, and now I am so ashamed for having made such an unfair generalization.

I recently finished V for Vendetta, which I think was an appropriate introduction to the graphic novel ouvre. It took me awhile to get used to reading the text in all the right order without overlooking the artwork, but once I started thinking of it as movie storyboards, the reading came a lot more smoothly. I think the excellent surprises in Alan Moore's story were ruined for me by having seen the movie a few times already, but the story was still captivating, and masterfully more complicated than the adaptation. David Lloyd's artwork was incredibly impressive throughout, with beautiful watercolor detail.

At Comic Con 2007 I attended a panel where Zack Snyder, director of graphic novel adaptation 300, fielded questions regarding his 2009 adaptation of Watchmen. Considering the outstanding casting choices, the fan enthusiasm surrounding the book, and its place on Time Magazine's list of the 100 Best Novels, I knew I wanted to read it before seeing the film. Review coming up in my next post.

can't stop the beat

The other summer hit that I finally had a chance to see on the plane was Hairspray, which I'd been apprehensive about ever since the fiasco that was 2005's The Producers rehash. With Hairspray, I have only the previous experience of John Waters' 1988 film starring Ricki Lake, and no experience with the Broadway musical. Now, having been surprised by the enjoyability of the recent film, I would like to see the stage version of the musical, as I'm sure any version not involving John Travolta would be incredibly entertaining.

The 2007 film lacks almost any shred of John Waters' masterful campy grotesqueness, but instead of making a failed attempt to capture the spirit of the original, the new take moves forward into the bouncy kitsch of movie musicals, with winking social commentary sprinkled throughout. Though I missed the Reefer Madness -style sendup of beatniks, the new music created for the musical is very well-written, and enhanced the experience quite a bit.

Nikki Blonsky was well-cast, filling Ricki Lake's pumps nicely, and even Amanda "All That" Bynes was enjoyable. Given too much room to amuse herself, she's just irritating, but as the repressed Checkerboard Chick she complements Blonsky well. Even though his nose looks like a cat, Zac Efron (to borrow a line from 30 Rock's Liz Lemon, "that's a thing, right?") was all too charming as Link Larkin. I'm pretty much the only person under 21 who's never watched a High School Musical, but I can see why preteen girls and questioning boys tune in for a piece of the Efron action.

Christopher Walken was amusing as ever in Jerry Stiller's old role, who had a much appreciated cameo as Mr. Pinky. I just wish Walken had had room to put on his dancing shoes. Queen Latifah and Brittany Snow turned in serviceable performances, and Michelle Pfieffer is turning out to be an excellent villainess (see Stardust).

Now, on to the troubling presence of Travolta as Edna Turnblad. While I appreciate the one-two punch of including him and Pfieffer as alumni of both installments of the Grease franchise, I am baffled as to why he would be cast in the role made famous by Divine. Travolta's voice is high-pitched and unnerving as it is, and when he affects a low-rent Baltimore drag queen, the result is like Chief Wiggum impersonating Johnny Carson after a helium binge. I think I actually grimaces every time he was onscreen. The point of Divine playing Edna was not that she was in drag, but that she was Divine. I don't know who would have been a better casting choice, but Travolta was an unwanted blemish on an otherwise enjoyable film.

Finally, the song "You Can't Stop the Beat: was an excellent set piece, and a great one for musical fans to hum after the movie is over.

m0r3 th4n m33t5 th3 3y3

One of the movies I finally got a chance to catch up with on the airplane was Transformers, starring Shia LaBeouf. Never much a viewer of the Disney Channel myself, I missed out on LaBeouf's turn as the less attractive of the Even Stevens, but I thought he was pretty charming in The Greatest Game in the World. I finally see what all the fuss is about, as he was incredibly likable (and surprisingly convincing) opposite Megan Fox in Transformers. Then again, she regularly macks on David Silver, so what do I know?

The technology of the transformers themselves was new to me, and fans of the cartoon can let me know if it was new to the film, but I was really impressed that the premise of alien life forces inhabiting earthly technology could be carried out so entertainingly. I had just thought that somebody created the cars to be able to turn into 'bots, but the alien thing is so much cooler.

There was an interesting contrast between the "forces in the U.S. Government are conspiring towards evil ends!" shtick, and the "soldiers are hunky and awesome" sentiment. The final decision of Optimus Prime regarding mere humans as important if sometimes misguided creatures, was pretty unexpected, as it refrained from judging everyone too much, which I suspect filmmakers are often wont to do.
  • Superficial sidenote: Tad Hamilton... er, I mean Josh Duhamel, is very good looking in a white-bread sort of way (despite the fivehead). He's also been dating the Duchess of Questionable Gender, Fergie, for quite some time now. Fergie has irked me for an unknown reason ever since Wild Orchid, but I must say that her latest single "Clumsy" is very catchy. The doo-wop vibe makes it sound like something Amy Winehouse might make if she were happy (and had a competent producer by her side). Give it a listen and try to keep it out of your head!