'Sucker Punch' Trailer & Tidbits

In Zack Snyder’s SUCKER PUNCH, a otherwise orphaned young woman called Baby Doll (Emily Browning) is committed to a mental institution by her stepfather. Using an dream world (or is it?) to deal with her situation, she enlists her fellow female inmates to plan an escape—before she’s lobotimized.
This involves them all entering her alternate reality. On the first level, Baby Doll and her allies Sweet Pea ( Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), and Amber (Jamie Chung) as all call girls in a theatrical brothel, coached  by Madam Gorski (Carla Gugino) and visited by by the High Roller (Jon Hamm).
However, there’s also a timeless battlefield which the Wiseman (Scott Glenn) tells them is the key to their escape, provided they can bring back five items for which they will have to battle everything from WWI soliders, robots and dragons to obtain.
An unusual project, written by Zack Synder and Steve Shibuya (largely known for 2nd Unit and FX work), the film includes popular songs and dance numbers by the cast, along with wild and fantastical combat scenes. 
Speaking to Coming Soon, Synder commented that on this film, where he is not adapting someone else’s graphic novel-based work, there was something of a different feeling.

“…It was a little bit more freeing, I gotta say it was a little bit of a vacation from these massive iconology films that I’ve been working on, although in a weird way, we still ended up doing this… in my mind when I started talking about the project, it was going to be this kind of straight-forward thing and then as you work on it, it has really evolved into, I gotta say, a pretty complicated and complex structural and a sort of psychological study that we ended up doing.

It was kind of like “300,” and we basically used the same production methodology as “300,” because you had real enemies that were just dressed like WWI guys and then we had the girls fighting them, and we had sets for the trenches and sets for No Man’s Land and that was the approach.
 In that way, it was kind of comforting to start with that early on because it was like we all got in on the groove and we understood how to shoot it.
Zack Synder also revealed that he expects to begin filming SUPERMAN (THE MAN OF STEEL) this August.

SUCKER PUNCH opens this Friday, March 25th in theaters and IMAX from Legendary Pictures and Warner Brothers.

Snyder & Cavill on Superman Role

CAvill_SuperM_EWEntertainment Weekly is featuring the first pic of Henry Cavill for the new Superman film.
He’s not in actual costume, but very much in character, with a S-Sheild t-shirt beneath a black leather jacket.
The latest issue will feature inteview with the British actor and director Zack Snyder (WATCHMEN).
Disscusing Henry  Cavill’s audition and screen test wearing a costume based on Christopher Reeve’s movie uniform,  Cavill claims he was neverous about the test, as it came during the period he had to  loose the musclar build he developed for THE IMMORTALS,  and slim down for THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY.

 “All I could think was: Oh, god. They’re going to look at me and go ‘He’s not Superman. Not a chance.’
The actor inside me was going: You’re not ready! You’re not ready!”

Fortunately, Zack Snyder Synder didn’t share his qualms.
“If you can put on that suit and pull it off, that’s an awesome achievement. He walked out, and no one laughed. Other actors put that suit on, and it’s a joke, even if they’re great actors.
Henry put it on, and he exuded this kind of crazy-calm confidence that just made me go ‘Wow.’ Okay: This was Superman.’ ”

Superman to Shoot in Vancouver?

superman-alexRossAccording to Canada’s The Globe And Mail, Superman may be flying off to Vancouver  for his film reboot. 
According to  Peter Leitch, President of North Shore Studios and Mammoth Studios, Zack Snyder’s next project is going to be filmed at the studio in British Columbia.
Snyder filmed WATCHMEN at the facility, where they built impressive New York streets for the comic book movie.  
While Peter Leitch would not say that the Superman film is Zack Synder’s project, apparently other sources confirmed to the newspaper that the Warner Brothers film was heading there next year. 
Promoting the local industry, Leitch said:

“I think it’s a great signal that we’re doing very well here and that we’ve got the quality technicians. … We’ve got a reputation now that we turn out quality product here and I think that’s made the difference.”

Might also be a way of keeping the project within a reasonable budget, something to bear in mind for a potentially FX-heavy movie.
No comment from director Synder or Warner Brothers Pictures as yet.

Could Mammoth's NY Backlot sub for Metropolis?
Could Mammoth's NY Backlot sub for Metropolis?

'Superman' Seeking Director?

SPMGRC2XAccording to Deadline.com , producers Christopher Nolan and Emma Thomas are still looking for the right director for the Warner Brothers / Legendary Pictures SUPERMAN reboot.
 Said to be on the short list:  Tony Scott (UNSTOPPABLE), Matt Reeves (LET ME IN),  Jonathan Liebesman (BATTLE: LOS ANGLES), Duncan Jones (MOON), and Zack Synder (WATCHMEN).
Liebesman seems to be a long shot, as he recently signed to direct Legendary’s CLASH OF THE TITANS 2, and there are some time constraints on both projects. 
Warner Brothers is rumored as wanting to be sure that a new Superman film is released by 2012, because in 2013 certain rights  will revert to the Jerry Siegel estate, per the court ruling. This would likely lead to intense and time-consuming negotiations over profit participation.
No word on Chris Nolan’s brother and collaborator Jonathan Nolan’s possible direction of the film. His name has been bandied about since his involvement in developing the David S. Goyer script.

2nd Annual Wonder Awards Winners

Zoe Saldana is the Wonder Awards choice for Best Actress, in the Best Pic winner, AVATAR.
Zoe Saldana is the Wonder Awards choice for Best Actress, in the Best Pic winner, AVATAR.

It’s Sunday, March 7, and everyone is wondering what the winners will be. Well, wonder no more, because here are the official winners of this year’s Cinefantastique Wonder Awards. Oh sure, other people are tuning into the Oscar telecast to see whether Sandra Bullock takes home an Academy Award, but for aficionados of horror, fantasy, and science fiction cinema, the Wonders are the awards that really matter, because they offer a chance to recognize great films that are often denied Academy Award nominations because of their genre affiliation.
Of course, this year is a bit of an exception, because the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has nominated two science fiction films for Best Picture, AVATAR and DISTRICT 9, along with one animated fantasy, UP. With several other Oscar nominations in technical categories, the genre has at least a fighting chance of winning some recognition from Academy voters.
Nevertheless, the Wonders are the true measure of achievement in the genre, voted on by experts with a life-long love of horror, fantasy, and science fiction – and more important, voted on by those imbued with that all-important Sense of Wonder.



  • James Cameron for AVATAR


  • Neil Blomkamp & Terri Tatchll for DISTRICT 9
  • Pete Docter, Bob Peterson (story by Docter, Peterson & Thomas McCarthy) for UP


  • Saoirse Ronan in THE LOVELY BONES


  •  Robert Downey Jr in SHERLOCK HOLMES
  • Sam Rockwell in MOON


  • Vera Farmiga in ORPHAN


  • Jackie Earle Haley in WATCHMEN






  •  Henry Selick for CORALINE


  • Mauro Fiore for AVATAR


  • James Cameron, John Refoua, Stephen E. Rivki for AVATAR


  • Michael Giacchino for STAR TREK


  • MOON


Watchmen: Blu-ray Review

Who watches the WATCHMEN? Not nearly enough, if you ask Warner Bros or production partner Paramount. With just over $100 million in domestic grosses (a number that stopped being impressive ever since THE GOLDEN CHILD), the studio bean counters had to pour over the less than impressive foreign grosses and home video before they could begin to claim a profit. What this means is that hardcore fans – those who could recite the story chapter and verse – all went once or twice, but the marketing (and word of mouth) failed to convince the uninitiated to turn out. The March theatrical release was greeted by wildly mixed reviews, with even the book’s loyal fanbase split on the film’s virtues; director Zack Snyder used Dave Gibbons artwork as ultra-detailed storyboards that were followed with an unfailing devotion, and even though writer Alan Moore famously had nothing to do with this – or any other – film adaptation of his work, his labyrinthine plot machinations were left 90% intact (more on that infamous 10% later.) Some fans complained that the exercise felt like Snyder was simply holding out a copy of the comic in front of the audience, simply turning pages and transposing images by rote, while others less familiar with the story were shocked by some of the violent, sexually explicit imagery and left in the dark by the cross-decade, multiple generations-spanning storyline.
When WATCHMEN worked, it often did so thrillingly; after we’re gracefully introduced to the alternate reality of the 20th Century during the opening credits (memorably set to Bob Dylan’s “The Times they are a-Changin’”) with an original-to-the-film montage, we get to know the core group of heroes that still remain in 1985, as they react to the murder of one of their own, The Comedian. Jeffrey Dean Morgan makes a note-perfect Comedian (he’s dead but we get to know him through flashbacks), and is only outdone by the truly breathtaking work of former child star Jackie Earle Haley (go Cutters!) as Rorschach.
In the comic, both characters push the concept of an anti-hero right to the shatter point; neither have qualms about killing, though The Comedian kills with cold calculation (working at one point as a hitman for the government) while Rorschach’s sense of right and wrong is purely black and white, and typically views punishment along ‘an eye for an eye’ lines. The fact that WATCHMEN was able to bring these memorable characters to the screen without softening their hardest edges is remarkable.
Billy Crudup is also quite good as Dr. Manhattan, the only “Watchman” with actual superpowers; Crudup has a few brief scenes in human form before getting caught in a particle chamber that recombines his atoms into a bright blue image of perfect masculinity. Armed with only his voice and movements generated by a motion capture suit worn during production, Crudup sells the difficult concept and brings empathy to a supernatural being who no longer feels connected to the human race.
Not all actors fared as well, however. Matthew Goode never quite summons the physicality and movie star magnetism of Ozymandias/Adrian Veidt. Goode’s fey, distracted delivery is doubtlessly meant to suggest the world weariness of a man who is stronger and smarter than anyone else on the planet, but it’s transparent as an actor’s choice. Goode (and Snyder) also have trouble bringing the requisite charisma to Veidt, something that Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise (both of whom were approached before budget considerations came into play) would have been able to do in their sleep.
Other pivotal Watchmen, like Patrick Wilson’s Nite Owl and Malin Akerman’s Silk Spectre (each, to make it more confusing, representing the second permutation of the character) are less interesting, partly because they’re painted with narrower brush strokes, but also because Snyder’s mind appears to be geared solely to the visual. There are a few excellent supporting performances, including Matt Frewer’s Moloch, a golden age criminal mastermind now living out his cancer-ridden final days in a tenement, and a terrific performance from always underused Carla Gugino (who fights her character’s old age prosthetics valiantly) as the aging, alcoholic Silk Spectre (mother of the current incarnation of the hero), who sadly get lost in the shuffle.
This wouldn’t have been as tragic if Snyder didn’t feel compelled to emphasize the presence of 4th-term President Nixon (featuring some poor actor under enough prosthetics to stop a bullet) in numerous scenes – including several that take place in a replica of the DR. STRANGELOVE war room, seemingly for no better reason than for Snyder to remind all of us that he’s seen it – when he should have remained in the background.
Ironically, the biggest change to the source material works extremely well: omitting the comic’s giant squid (a visual that would likely have been laughable on the screen) as the villain’s agent of destruction and replacing it with something more practical that also manages to work on an entirely different level – and so well that I’m surprised that Moore didn’t think of it first.
It may sound like we liked WATCHMEN less than we did; on the whole we really enjoyed it, but also felt as if there were quite a few missed opportunities – opportunities that another filmmaker like Paul Greengrass (whose own version was deep into pre-production several years ago before Warner Bros pulled the plug) may have been better equipped to explore.
With a 162-minute theatrical length, it was common knowledge that Snyder had filmed numerous scenes that were cut for time and pacing purposes, including the beloved “Tales of the Black Freighter,” a comic within the original Watchmen that we see being read by a teenager at a newsstand throughout the story, and a bit of between-chapter filler called “Under the Hood,” featuring excerpts from the autobiography of Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl. Many fans seemed to be crushed by their deletion, but much like Peter Jackson’s decision to cut Tom Bombadil, a peripheral character from the film version of THE LORD OF THE RINGS, these missing bits have become the perfect embodiment of geek shorthand – a way of distancing oneself from mere laymen than didn’t spend their high school years learning to transcribe in perfect Elvish. In all honestly, neither “Black Freighter” nor “Under the Hood” are essential to the Watchmen story, and Snyder’s decision to film both but only make them available on separate video releases made good sense. People awaiting their inclusion will have to bide their time until Warner’s massive 5-disc set due out for Christmas – when the sequences will be (ill-advisedly, we think) edited back into the feature.
Over 20 minutes have been restored for Warner’s current director’s cut of WATCHMEN, bringing the running time up to 186min. Much of this amounts to minor scene extensions:

  • We now see The Comedian get struck by a can and yelled at during the 1970s street riot sequence; there are a few extra beats in The Comedian’s apartment when Rorschach takes out the cops left to guard it (plus an extra moment during the conversation with the current and former Nite Owls where this is referred to.)
  • We get another glimpse of an unmasked Rorschach walking by the Comedian’s funeral (a recurring image from the comics that was sorely missed in the theatrical cut.)
  • We get more mayhem during the Vietnam section with Comedian shooting at the Vietcong from a helicopter and an extra glimpse of the guy that Comedian cooks with the flame thrower revealing that his legs had been blown off.
  • We get additional cleaver hits when Rorschach kills the child murderer in flashback, along with a funny moment when he witnesses an attempted rape in an alley and is cheered at the thought of intervening.

We’re glad to have all the extensions back, as they do add some needed character beats, but have mixed feelings on the two major restored sequences. The first occurs just after Dr. Manhattan leaves the protective custody of the feds and goes to Mars, when the agents are questioning Silk Spectre about the disappearance. Like the war room, this set is a near duplicate of a room in The Man Who Fell to Earth where David Bowie’s alien is kept under surveillance by government agents. The information presented is redundant, and we certainly didn’t need another action beat just to see how Silk Spectre escapes deferral custody. We sense that its inclusion is solely to show the viewer that Snyder and co have seen the Nicolas Roeg film.
The second major sequence is another important moment from the graphic novel that fans were rightly apoplectic to see excised from the theatrical cut. In that version, we only get to meet Hollis Mason (the first Nite Owl) through his chat with Dan, while those that read the Alan Moore original knew the dark fate that awaited the kindly old man. The director’s cut restores the sequence when the Knothead gang, enraged at the re-emergence of the Watchmen, barge into Hollis’ apartment and beat him to death. As originally drawn and written, the scene was savage and cruel but necessary to the story, and we couldn’t imagine what Snyder was thinking by cutting that while dreaming up new scenes with the melting candle wax figure of Richard Nixon. Now that we’ve finally seen it, we’re even more surprised that it was deleted, as it’s one of Snyder’s best moments as a filmmaker; beautifully intercutting Mason defending himself with sepia-drenched images of fighting villains from the golden era (including gas mask-wearing Nazis, bubble-helmeted spacemen with ray guns, and gangsters out of a Dick Tracy strip.)
Fans of the film might want to wait for the deluxe edition coming out at year’s end, but based on what we’ve seen of the “Tales of the Black Freighter,” we feel that the 186min cut will be our preferred length. Warner’s Blu-Ray is predictably reference quality; even with all the filters and digital chicanery it is noticeably cleaner and sharper than its standard def cousin, and the picture-in-picture track hosted by Snyder makes up for the lack of a commentary track (though the upcoming version will have that as well).

Laserblast: Watchmen, Coraline, Pushing Daisies Season 2

Tuesday July 21st’s DVD and Blu-ray releases offer something for cinefantastique fans of every stribe, whether your personal tastes run toward science fiction, fantasy, or horror. The top title of the week, at least in terms of sales figures, is WATCHMEN. The sprawling plotlines of Alan Moore’s well-regarded graphic novel did not translate well to the celluloid form, but the film’s muddled storytelling and slagging pace did not impede ticket sales, which turned WATCHMEN into a science fiction blockbuster. On disc, the film arrives in four iterations: a single-disc widescreen DVD of the theatrical cut, a single-disc full-screen DVD of the theatrical cut, a two-disc special edition DVD of the director’s cut, and a Blu-ray disc with the director’s cut, plus Amazon Digital Bundle, Digital Copy and BD-Live. Did I say four iterations? Well, there is a fifth one, sort of: you can purchase the Blu-ray version housed inside a miniature statue of Night Owl’s floating ship. It’s the perfect gift for the graphic-novel-loving maniac in your family!
Up next is CORALINE, Henry Selick’s darkly enchanting 3-D stop-motion film version of Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novel. A fairy tale that may be a touch scary for the little tykes, CORALINE is now available as a single-disc DVD, a two-disc Collector’s Edition DVD, and a Blu-ray/DVD Combo, plus Digital Copy. All three versions include the film in 3-D.
THE MESSENGERS hardly seemed good enough or successful enough to warrant a sequel, but that did not stop Ghost House Productions from unleashing THE MESSENGERS 2: SCARECROW on us. This time, Danish director Martin Barnewitz replaces the Pang Brothers. A prequel, rather than a sequel, MESSENGERS 2 hopes to undermine audience expectations by offering a few unexpected twists. We’ll see if Barnewitz (who helmed the excellent ROOM 205) can pull it off…
For television fans, theres the Complete Second Season of PUSHING DAISES, the vastly over-rated show that died a well-deserved death. If that’s not enough for you there’s also STARGATE SG-1: CHILDREN OF THE GODS, the ROBOT CHICKEN spoof of STAR WARS: EPISODE II, and an import titled SKELETON CREW, about a film crew that stumbles upon a mental institution where thirty years earlier the mad doctor running the place made a series of snuff films starring his patients.

Box Office: Who watches the Watchman? Ticket-buyers.

WATCHMEN was definitely the film to watch this weekend. Making its debut on 3,611 North American screens, the Warner Brothers superhero tale earned an estimated $55.65-million – more than the rest of the weekend Top Ten combined. Strong advance sales, a big opening night on Friday, and sold-out IMAX screenings had led some to expect that the film would post a record-breaking opening weekend for March. That failed to materialize, but the $55-million-plus debut is still impressive, making it the sixth highest R-rated opening ever. (The leader is still 2003’s THE MATRIX RELOADED.)
The only other fantasy film in the Top Ten was CORALINE. Buena Vista’s stop-motion film, from director Henry Selick, stayed steady at #7 with a $3.3-million weekend, raising its five-week total to $65.7-million.

Read the complete Top Ten here.

Watchmen – Film Review

watchmen-imax-posterPonderous and dull, this filmic adaptation of the famous graphic novel proves that  great source material, a healthy budget, and technical competence are not enough to make a good movie. Some kind of cinematic vision is necessary; unfortunately, what passes for vision in the WATCHMEN film is a superficial sheen  of special effects, production design, and photography put in the service of bone-crunching, bloody violence that totally fails to engage the audience in the plot or characters on an intellectual or even an emotional level. Consequently, instead of a sophisticated deconstruction of superhero mythology, we end up with a movie about things that go splat.
The screenplay by David Hayter and Alex Tse  admirably retains big chunks of Alan Moore’s story, but that is less a blessing than a curse, and Moore is no doubt happy that his name appears nowhere on the credits (the film is officially based on the graphic novel “co-created by Dave Gibbons,” who provided the book’s art work). Moore’s tale was deliberately fragmented in a way that does not translate well to the screen. The plot thread of solving the murder of the Comedian served mostly as a excuse to tie together a series of  flashbacks and character scenes that provided a sort of meditation on the superhero genre. In essence, Watchmen asked: What would happen if, instead of taking the genre conventions for granted, you took them seriously?
Unfortunately for the WATCHMEN movie, THE DARK KNIGHT has already flown through this territory and claimed it thoroughly. There is little left to do in terms of grounding the story in reality or adopting an adult tone toward the material; instead WATCHMEN comes across like a hyped-up teen’s idea of adult entertainment – which is to say, it’s loaded with sex and violence, sometimes together, but it’s movie sex and violence, without any kind of emotional resonance. There is some attempt to tie the plot together more tightly (the ticking clock toward nuclear confrontation between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. is pushed into the foreground early and often), but the script still meanders down tangential roads for so long that the murder-mystery becomes almost forgotten.
Equally unfortunately, director Zach Snyder uses the material merely as an excuse to stage extended fight scenes featuring broken bones, slow-motion bullet hits, severed limbs, split skulls, and some bloody disintegrations just for spice. His interest in the drama is perfunctory at best, resulting in a ridiculously uneven pace: long, dull stretches of nothing interesting punctuated by sudden outbursts of action that no one cares about; the slam-bang-pow may jerk your eyelids open for a minute or two, but that’s not long enough to register why we should care which particular masked neurotic is winning/losing a fight with another masked neurotic.
This approach reaches its nadir near the end, when a series of nuclear blasts take out several major cities, and the film proves itself perfectly incapable of registering these events as a massive human tragedy; the explosions are merely another excuse for special effects spectacle of the most empty-headed variety.
Thematically, WATCHMEN is muddled. Set in an alternate reality where the U.S. won the Vietnam War and Richard Nixon is still president in 1985, it seems to be a satire on conservative nationalism, but the satire is mostly de-fanged as the film merely pokes fun at easy targets from the past. (The graphic novel, published as a series in 1986-87, was essentially contemporary.) One might charitably attempt to interpret the film’s presentation of 1985 as a mirror of our own contemporary world in general and the recently ended Bush presidency in particular, but the film does little to support this, apparently afraid of offending real-life conservative gasbags whose philosophy is – or at least was – mouthed by the characters.

Brutal super hero the Comedian guns down an innocent victim.
Brutal super "hero" the Comedian guns down an innocent victim.

In the graphic novel, some of the Watchmen expressed McCarthyesque and/or Nixonian sentiments, blaming America’s problems on homosexuals, liberals, promiscuity, drugs, and campus unrest. In the film, although the Comedian remains an irredeemably brutish thug, little of the ultra-patriotic paranoia remains, except for some disparaging remarks about liberals from Rorschach. Moore at least wanted his readers to question whether they really would want masked vigilantes patrolling the streets, unfettered by concerns for due process; Snyder, Hater, and Tse are more than happy to absolve the Watchmen for any trespasses, apparently working on the theory that, when things get really bad, you just have to turn the mad dogs loose.
This involves presenting a view of the world that is cynical, bordering on hopeless. Superheroes make sense only in a universe where conventional law and order have failed to turn back the tide of criminality. At least in THE DARK KNIGHT, Batman hopes to bring Gotham to a point where the official lawmen can resume control; in WATCHMEN, you get the feeling that the filmmakers embrace the concept of Hell on Earth because it justifies the existence of the characters.
The problem is that, from the vantage point of 2009, it is hard to take seriously the idea that human nature is so fundamentally self-destructive that – if not for the intervention of some costumed adventurers – the world would inevitably ignite in a nuclear confrontation between the US. and the U.S.S.R. And outside of the nuclear threat, there is little in the world of WATCHMEN that can be taken to justify the Travis Bickle-like attitude that society is nothing but a giant human cesspool.
Without a proper context, the Watchmen really don’t belong in this world – which could have been an interesting point to make if the film had dared to go there, but it doesn’t. Instead, it lumbers on, oblivious, indulging in the now de rigeur (and somewhat passe) post-9/11 get-tough attitude (e.g., if you want information from a reluctant witness, torture it out of them, because we all know that people tell the truth when they’re being tortured).
Revealingly, one of the few portions of the film that actually works occurs when Rorshach is framed for murder and sent to prison. Trapped in a world of cut-throat murderers eager to kill him (many of whom he sent to prison), Rorschach is at last in an environment that totally justifies his brutal methods, allowing the audience to identify with and root for him in a way they otherwise cannot.
The prison sequence also contains a nicely staged fight scene with Nite Owl and Silk Spectre battling rioting inmates. For once, Snyder resists the urge to focus on brutality, opting instead of a balletic approach that seeks to recreate the impressive feel of Bruce Lee battle with the guards in ENTER THE DRAGON.
Silk Spectre and Dr. Manhattan
Silk Spectre and Dr. Manhattan

The film also deserves some credit for faithfully translating Dave Gibbons artwork into three-dimensions: the realization of Dr. Manhattan is particularly impressive, and you have to admire the nerve it took to stick to the concept in the comic books, which often and unapologetically presented the character in the nude. (We have often heard complaints about the ratio of male-to-female nudity on screen; this is one film that seeks to set the balance straight.)
Other than that, WATCHMEN is a dreary, lifeless affair. It falls prey to the worst strain of fascism underlying superhero mythology: the idea of the public at large as a great unwashed mass of looters, rioters, and criminals who need to be kept in line by their superiors – by superheroes who resent that their efforts are not appreciated by the people they bully. These characters think of themselves as moral guardians and righteous crusaders, but some of them are clearly no better – in fact, may be much worse – than the criminals they hunt.
That some of these superheroes are bitter, violent thugs is presented with an admirably brutal honesty – but to no real point. Their less extreme colleagues, elevating esprit de corps over other considerations, will overlook their excesses; ultimately, their failings will be swept under the cape, as if raping a colleague and murdering a woman pregnant with your child is nothing but a minor indiscretion of youth, something to be vaguely regretted or more likely forgotten. In a way, it seems sadly appropriate that WATCHMEN would come out two days after Republican lawyer David Rifkin testified before the senate regarding the Bush administration’s conduct of the War on Terror:

“Yes, mistakes were made. Yes, some bad things happened. But compared with the historical baseline of past wars, the conduct of the United States in the past eight years…has been exemplary.”

Let’s hope this is cinema’s last gasp apology for a discredited political philosophy in which moral relativism masquerades as moral absolutism, in which the moral standards vary according to who is on our side, and in which loyalty to your tribe supersedes equality under the law. Do we really need films to tell us that certain people are better than the rest and that, therefore, they deserve preferential consideration of their actions?
Political undertones aside, WATCHMEN fails because it loses the battle in its effort to present superheroes in a unique, original way. Attempting to render its characters in human terms, it gives us superheroes who are not particularly super or heroic, neither believably human nor enjoyably larger than life. Consequently, WATCHMEN is neither entertaining escapism nor moving drama, neither a successful genre piece nor a clever revisionist take. It truly is the worst of all possible worlds.

A nuclear accident turns Jon Osterman into Dr. Manhattan
A nuclear accident turns Jon Osterman into Dr. Manhattan

WATCHMEN (2009). Directed by Zach Snyder.  Screenplay by David Hayter and Alex Tse, based on the graphic novel byAlan Moore (uncredited) and Dave Gibbons. Cast: Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson, Carla Guigino, Matt Frewer, Stephen McHattie, Laura Mennel.

Laserblast: Silence of the Lambs, Wonder Woman, Watchmen & More

So, what’s cooking with this week’s DVD and Blu-ray releases?
The Silence of the Lambs (MGM/UA Blu-Ray)
In 1992, Silence of the Lambs was became one of the few films with heavy horror elements to not just win an Oscar, but to sweep the top 5 categories (Picture, Actor, Actress, Director, and Sceenplay) for only the 3rd time in history. Based on Thomas Harris’ second novel dealing with the brilliant and only occasionally imprisoned serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter, director Jonathan Demme dug back to his exploitation roots and crafted a fiercely intelligent, truly frightening, and almost unbearably suspenseful film. The Blu-Ray release replicates most of the extras that appeared on MGM’s previous DVD editions, though the excellent commentary track done by the principals for the Criterion disc is still MIA. And though we haven’t had the opportunity to check the quality first hand, MGM has opted to use an older MPEG-2 encode for the Blu-Ray – a surprisingly cheap decision for a valuable property.
Wonder Woman (Warner Bros DVD & Blu-Ray)
In recent years, Warner Bros’ animation department has been turning out superb feature length stories based on the better-known DC characters (including Justice League: New Frontiers, one of the very best that we’ve ever seen) and this week they add Wonder Woman to the list with a (somewhat) new take on her origin story. While we will admit to both a schoolboy bias against girl superheroes – we would have bought She-Hulk before Wonder Woman, and we never bought She-Hulk – and the awkward attempts to “macho” them up with Xena-style posturing. But given Warner’s recent track record, we’ll be pleased to give it a shot. Both the 2 disc and Blu-Ray set come with the expected extras, including 4 episodes from the animated series.
Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic (Warner Bros DVD & Blu-Ray)
For once, the advertising ballyhoo for a major motion picture is telling the truth – Watchmen actually is the Greatest Graphic Novel of our time, and the early word on Zack Snyder’s adaptation is very encouraging. Watchmen is a densely packed, multilayered epic, and the fact that Snyder was able to get a studio to sign off on a nearly 3 hour, R-rated comic adaptation based on source material that few outside of rabid fans had ever heard of, has him deserving of high praise by our estimation. Warner Bros is going to be anxious to begin getting a return on its large cash outlay, and the first tie-in release arrives this week – Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic – though it’s far less revolutionary than it sounds. Essentially, this 6 hour, 12 episode serial uses the original artwork to create a slick version of the old Power Records LPs where you would read along with a large format comic while the record played in the background. As the camera slowly pans around each frame, there is minor movement in the backgrounds and characters drift rigidly into and out of the frame (no attempt at animating or syncing lip movements). The major downside is the presence of only a single male narrator (Tom Stechschulte, who does about as well with the material as is possible under the circumstances) which makes certain passages rather awkward, but this is unlikely to bother anyone with a few hours of audio book experience under their belt. The good news is that the presentation is complete, whereas the necessities of a feature film have dictated the removal of certain material (including the Tales of the Black Freighter comic within-a-comic) and the alterations of others (the cataclysmic event that ended the book has been altered significantly), adding value to this project.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Sony DVD)
We haven’t seen this television adaptation of Victor Hugo’s tragic masterpiece, which aired in 1982 under the Hallmark Hall of Fame banner, but a superior British cast virtually guarantees a better-than-average level of competence in the acting department. Anthony Hopkins plays the title role, with Lesley-Anne Down as Esmeralda and E ticket support by John Gielgud, Derek Jacobi, Robert Powell, and a rare appearance by Kenny Baker outside of an R2-D2 canister. RADA-trained talent notwithstanding, the show takes the same liberties with Hugo’s novel as most adaptations have, particularly with the author’s beautiful, heartbreaking ending.
The Wild Man of the Navidad
One of the nicest surprises at last year’s Texas Frightmare convention was catching a screening of the low budget The Wild Man of the Navidad, a smart, spry independent with talent that reaches far beyond its meager budget. Written and directed by Texans Justin Meeks and Duane Graves, the show is an obvious labor of love, with help from original Texas Chainsaw Massacre scribe Kim Henkel, who met the pair as students in his screenwriting class. The purportedly true story is based on the local legend of a Bigfoot-type creature that terrorizes an area of Texas near the Navidad River, culled from the journals of one Dale S. Rogers. The storyline is nothing new; Charles B. Pierce – Arkansas’ answer to Roger Corman – examined similar territory in The Legend of Boggy Creek, a ’70s drive-in staple that was nothing more than a southern-fried take on the Bigfoot legend. Pierce’s masterstroke was presenting the material as fact and filming the movie like a documentary, a tactic which christened an entirely new genre in American film that looms large in the hearts of anyone who spent their formative years glued to their TV sets, scanning the channels on weekend afternoons for a cryptodocu© throughout the 70s (the genre’s apex was, of course, The Mysterious Monsters, a 1976 show hosted by Peter Graves, who supplied more than the requisite gravitas).
After several hours were spent being bludgeoned by a succession of wretched, homemade gore-porn (we remember a particularly vile show entitled Slaughter House that practically gave itself a hernia in trying to be “extreme” but was little more than 90min of videotaped misogyny), Wild Man really felt like a breath of fresh air. Directors Meeks and Graves tip their hand in the opening moments which feature credits done in that classic vintage font playing over burnt, sepia tone photography that brings to mind a feature film version of In Search of… If the filmmakers had stuck to the docudrama format, the show might have been a minor classic; unfortunately, too much time is spent getting involved in the various character subplots, which lead to extended sequences that are beyond the the capabilities of the largely non-professional cast, and a screenplay that strains to include unnecessary information. What does last through the running time, however, is the best sort of “hey, gang, let’s make a movie!” ethic that goes a long way in encouraging the viewer to overlook certain faults. The creature design would be impressive even in a much larger-budgeted show, particularly in moments where the ‘wild man’ costume and makeup is exposed in harsh daylight conditions – a challenge that most films of this variety scrupulously avoid. And while we understand the need from a marketing standpoint for a certain level of violence in a low-budget horror film, Wild Man would be well served by toning down the onscreen bloodshed – moments of which reach Herschel Gordon Lewis proportions – and taking a page from the G-rated Boggy Creek.
Since seeing the film a year ago in Dallas, it moved on to the Tribeca Film Festival, and a round of re-editing by the directors. I can’t say what changes have been made to the film, but with a few trims here and there (particularly a subplot that culminates in an ugly moment involving the molestation of a wheelchair bound woman that truly felt out of place) Wild Man of the Navidad could make for a splendid little film. We recently received an email from Justin Meeks informing us that the film was now available for On-Demand rental from numerous cable providers, including Time Warner, or from stations like IFC On Demand. As of this writing, the film is unavailable on DVD, so at present this is the only way to see it. It’s a good chance to support actual independent filmmakers that went a good deal against the current grain of horror cinema and went for something different.
Also out this week:

  • Fans of Wong Kar Wai will want to rush out and purchase the DVD or Blu-ray disc of ASHES OF TIME REDUX, his 2008 re-edit of his 1994 release. Bonus features include a trailer, a short making-of documentary, and an extended Q&A session with Wai, who discusses the reasons for re-fashioning the movie.
  • There is a double bill release of STARGATE: THE ARK OF TRUTH and STARGATE: CONTINUUM on DVD and Blu-ray.
  • A half-dozen old DR. WHO titles from the Tom Baker era (1974-1981) hit stores in new DVD editions (many of them having been previously released).