Infestation (2009)

Writer/director Kyle Rankin describes Infestation (2009) as a zombie movie using bugs. If you take your lesser zombie and/or bug movies seriously, note that this review contains SPOILERS. For example, the following sentences might spoil your sense of location in the movie: Rankin wanted to set the movie in Anywhere, U.S.A. However, at one point he was required to specify which state the license plates in the movie should represent. He chose Colorado because the office park they were using for the shoot reminded him of Colorado Springs. However, the movie was shot, start to finish, in Sofia, Bulgaria. If you know this going in, perhaps you will find yourself thinking, hmm, Americans in Bulgaria – hope they’re enjoying the foreign experience. Or your eye might stray from the foreground to the landscape, as your inner tourist takes control during some moment of overlong exposition. Someone told Rankin in advance that there would be bad food but beautiful women, which seemed like an ok tradeoff to him (he hooked up with a woman but also focused on the local gustatory delicacies, such as they were). He then checked Wikipedia to ascertain where Sofia, and in fact, Bulgaria, was. I myself know two Bulgarian women, offhand. One beautiful, the other a good mother.

Making movies in Bulgaria to save money may be tapering off, but I haven’t checked to confirm. Bulgaria joined the European Union at the start of 2007, but the Lev won’t be replaced by the Euro sooner than 2013, so the favorable Lev/Dollar exchange rate remains. As someone observed, however, your movie-making in Bulgaria should feature cheap, because everything in the country is cheap. I heard somewhere that many production teams are moving to South Africa now, another inexpensive place to film.

I know these things about Bulgaria and Rankin in Bulgaria because I elected to watch Infestation with his commentary turned on (which also means, with the dialog 99% inaudible). This is the first time, if my memory serves, that I’ve watched a movie with the commentary track turned on first, from the beginning. It’s a strange experience. You see but don’t hear the movie. Conflict between bug and human is manifest; the more important conflict between human and human is absent. Also, this is a horror comedy, with most of the humor in the dialog (assuming that it’s there at all). Thus, THIS IS NOT A REVIEW UNLESS I GO BACK AND LISTEN TO INFESTATION. Will I do that? Don’t know yet. First must finish watching the commentary. Rankin recorded it in 2008, so it’s not exactly au courant (the movie was shot summer of 2007 and went on the festival road). I’ve got to take this review thing a little seriously here, because more than one list maker has included Infestation as one of their top 10 horror films of 2009.

One bit of plot explanation, if you plan to watch the movie. The bugs wrap up the humans and then inject something into their jugulars. (How the bugs see through the cocoon to do that accurately, I don’t know.) But in the hero’s case, the bug is distracted at the crucial moment and injects the whatever through the hero’s cheek into his mouth instead of into the vein. Therefore the hero can bust out of the cocoon and run around busting others out. How come they can wake up too, if they’ve been jugulared? Wait… You can’t think about stuff like that in a  B- or C-level bug movie. Listening to the commentary, you realize how much of what you’re watching depends upon how the film was cut, how much time the crew had while shooting any given scene, the impact that a moose head falling off the wall accidentally can have, so forth. The movie is loaded with ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement or Additional Dialogue Recording, also known as dubbing or looping).

Movie notes:

– If you’re going to put boobs… nah, I’m not going to go there. Except to say that the one terrible mistake, for me, in the masterpiece that is Mulholland Drive (2001), is the bad boob job. Please don’t take me out of the movie just because Dr. Plastic Hollywood over there in Woodland Hills couldn’t do his job right.

– Linda Park is not Grace Park.

– Small bugs are scary, as in Splinter (2008). Big bugs are goofy.

– Rankin was the casting director for Reindeer Games. Since then, he has made eight movies (long and short), this one in association with Icon, which is Mel Gibson’s company. Do what you want with the bugs, but don’t bug Mel!

– It took them 7 weeks to build the bug nest. They blew up a miniature of it in Topanga, behind Rankin’s house.

– Screenplay called for a box of animal cookies on the shelf. The hero opens the cupboard and there they are, provided by the Bulgarian crew, biscuits for a cat.

Maybe that wasn’t such a good idea, listening to the commentary first. But no, it was fun.

I did watch the movie, finally. It was pretty good. Lively.  The bugs were ok, excepting the usual amount of pure nonsense so often present in these movies. Sure, it was Bulgaria, but a bug’s a bug. There were some excellent action effects. Rankin writes pretty good – writes better comic dialog than I ever could. Chris Marquette is a funny guy. I smiled a lot. Most importantly, I cared about the characters.

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You Can’t Take It with You (1938)

You know how directors film Tom Cruise and Pacino and other short guys so that they seem of normal height? Jimmy Stewart was 6′ 3″ and Jean Arthur was 5′ 3″ and in You Can’t Take It with You (1938), Stewart looks like he could dribble Arthur down the court if he wanted to. Did Capra shoot them that way, the tall and the short, on purpose, or  had he not learned how to do the framing trick that would make them seem more equal? Fast forward to something like The Stratton Story (1949) and I’ll bet you don’t see Stewart looming over June Allyson, who was 3″ shorter than Arthur. Something to look into.

YCTIwY is based on the Kaufman and Hart Pulitzer-winning play and it’s Capra at his life-and-America-are-grand best, and offhand, I can’t think of a sadder and more dispiriting movie to sit watching, if while listening to Barrymore’s speech about “isms” or his disinclination to pay any taxes since they’ll only be spent on battleships,  you happen at the same time to be pondering the fact that the movie was made in 1938. Like attending a wedding one day before the groom’s regiment leaves for the front.

But assuming that you’re not brooding about the past in that way while you watch, YCTIwY carries you along like the Rapids Ride at the Manhattan Water Park. Watching it at the same time as She’s Out of My League (2010), I realized how tightly it’s made. The two movies: one, knitting, the other, crochet. In the time that it takes Jay Baruchel and Alice Eve to consume their dinner outdoors in downtown Pittsburgh, YCTIwY has run down the rails from a xylophone number to a gunpowder accident, with Arthur’s visit to Stewart’s parents thrown in.

(Parenthetically, as indicated by the parentheses, there is a scene at the beginning of SOoML in which Alice Eve walks through the Pittsburgh airport, stopping all male traffic as she strides along in her red high heels, preceded by her cleavage and posterierceded by her flowing blond hair. We’re required to suspend our disbelief just a tiny bit because, although she is looking mighty fine in the scene, and is backed by a supportive musical soundtrack, maybe she’s not… quite… that fine. But we get the point. The thing is, I was reminded of my first job after college, wherein I sat at a desk in a very large room filled exclusively with men of all ages dressed in short-sleeve white shirts and dark ties. Every afternoon at two, the boss’ daughter pushed a mail cart through the room. We knew that she was coming because there was another room just like ours through the doorway to the south and we could hear the silence fall there at one fifty-five. This young innocent with her cart and Virgin-Mary blank stare and exaggerated secondary characteristics, dressed like a Burger-King hooker, was the prototype, the ur-babe, the apotheosis of show-stoppers. No one, including yours truly, could get enough of her. Then when she had passed on to the next room to the north and the cone of silence moved out with her, we all  slumped back in our chairs in unison, shaking our heads, rolling up our fingers in our ties, spent.)

Watching Barrymore also brought me down somewhat for another reason, as I was reminded of his brother’s downward spiral into terminal alcoholism, whereas I was drinking Pepsodent-flavored Mogen David out of the kids’ Donald Duck bathroom cup because there was nothing else in the house but the Everclear we use to cook pork-chops flambe.

But whatever else, the movie did jerk some tears, happy tears, in the end.

Movie notes:

– The best thing that ever happened to Capra was hooking up with Stewart.

– Back in ’38,”giving 110%” was already in the dialog.

– So was “arrested for selling dope.”

– I wonder if the saying-the-blessing-at-the-dinner-table scenes carried a different resonance in ’38 than they do today?

– Kaufman and Hart have the wise old Barrymore in the end sell his house, causing the whole neighborhood to be dispossessed without him saying boo about it. Odd? Or does all come right so quickly after that that the playwrights considered themselves off the hook?

– The best part of the movie for me was Edward Arnold demonstrating his powerful onscreen presence whilst throwing his weight around.

Collected Dailies 3

Whiled away 6 hours at the metroplex. Inception (2010), Salt (2010), half of The Other Guys (2010), the start of The Expendables (2010), and my first look at 3D via part of the climax of Avatar (2009)  (didn’t like it – the 3D or Avatar). Empty theaters on a Friday afternoon playing hooky from work; time well spent.

The name Benjamin Button is odd, but the name that always bothered me a little was Brad Pitt. I would ask myself, why choose a name like Pitt for your screen name? This was before I realized that these days, lots of actors keep their own names, regardless, and that Thomas Bradley Pitt was one of them. It has never bothered me that the two Pitts were Prime Minister. Eartha Kitt is OK. Mitt is OK, though I don’t like his politics. I’ve got nothing against armpits, or fruit pits, or Pittsburgh. Just seemed like a strange name to choose. Now if he ever marries Angelina (whose real name is Angelina Jolie Voight), she can be Angelina Pitt.

There is a scene at the beginning of She’s Out of My League (2010) in which Alice Eve walks through the Pittsburgh airport, stopping all male traffic as she strides along in her red high heels, preceded by her cleavage and posterierceded by her flowing blond hair. We’re required to suspend our disbelief just a tiny bit because, although she is looking mighty fine in the scene, and is backed by a supportive musical soundtrack, maybe she’s not… quite… that fine. But we get the point. The thing is, I was reminded of my first job after college, wherein I sat at a desk in a very large room filled exclusively with men of all ages dressed in short-sleeve white shirts and dark ties. Every afternoon at two, the boss’ daughter pushed a mail cart through the room. We knew that she was coming because there was another room just like ours through the doorway to the south and we could hear the silence fall there at one fifty-five. This young innocent with her cart and Virgin-Mary blank stare and exaggerated secondary characteristics, dressed like a Burger-King hooker, was the prototype, the ur-babe, the apotheosis of show-stoppers. No one, including yours truly, could get enough of her. Then when she had passed on to the next room to the north and the cone of silence moved with her, we all  slumped back in our chairs in unison, shaking our heads, rolling up our fingers in our ties, spent.

Happy Endings (2005) – Someone recommended Short Bus to me as a movie in which many modes of sex are showcased with no ill effects, though other interpersonal behaviors do provide drama in the film. Don’t know if this is accurate, not having seen Short Bus, but it does describe Happy Endings, a movie with a sweet spirit, sex without feathers, and conflict out of bed, if not in.

Why was Charlie Chan more popular than Mr. Moto?

Yes, I too await the arrival of Sharktopus (2010). No more Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus (2090), which for me at least, had only one great moment, and that was in the Making Of short. Sharktopus: the head of a shark; the tail of eight tentacles, all presaged so brilliantly by SNL’s land shark.

The Drummer (2007) – “I’m a hoodlum. He’s a hoodlum in a suit.” I’ve got to ask one of my Taiwanese friends how prevalent the indigenous Taiwanese language still is, and who speaks it and who doesn’t, and how far Mandarin has spread on the island, and how many Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong residents, on fleeing to Taiwan, would be able to understand the language…  Aha, and the answer is, the indigenous Taiwanese language, Fukienese, was in disfavor for some years as Mandarin was imposed on the island, but now is acceptable again. Mandarin is more widespread on the island in the north, Fukienese in the south. And Fukienese is also the language of Fukien Province north of Hong Kong. Cantonese speakers can also often understand and speak Fukienese, as in the movie…  I hope Film Movement is doing well. Once when writing a review, I interviewed the head of the company. I’ve enjoyed so many of their films, it would be a shame if they went belly up…

Virtuality (2009) -The  opening titles kept appearing… one… by… one… for the longest time into a movie that I’ve ever seen… Presented as a Fox reality show. I don’t like reality shows. But it’s a nicely photographed science-fiction movie with a virtual-reality hook. Between my likes and dislikes, I’m watching the movie in bits and pieces, waiting for the payoff… Oops. No payoff. A pilot for a failed series. Didn’t do my homework on this one. No wonder I could never figure out what the f**k was going on. And even if the series eventually materializes, I’ll bet they never explain where the gravity on the ship is coming from.

Reno 911: Miami (2007) – My spouse liked it. Yay. Means I’ll probably get to watch all 5 seasons again.

I wish that in history class I had been shown a few movies like The Age of the Medici (1973). As much as I knew already, or thought I knew, on the subject, the movie added so much texture and color. A toast to Rossellini for doing the right thing late in life.

Moscow, Belgium (2008) reminds me again, as so many European movies do, that if I want something with a soul and a heart, I shouldn’t count on Hollywood to provide it.

Susannah York is filmed with serious gauze or vaseline on the lens in The Silent Partner (1978). We get a closeup of Elliot Gould and then one of York, and the difference in apparent focus is hard to ignore. I assumed while watching the movie that she must have been playing younger than she was, to match up with Gould, but no, she’s a year younger than he is. Better a little gauze than having work done, though. By the time The Silent Partner was shot, she was well into her eclipse as a star, but she’s kept working since then, and she’s still at it… The Silent Partner: lazy plotting (makes you think about the plot while watching, but in a “no… wait…” way)  but a fun movie anyway – strictly a star vehicle for Gould in his heyday.

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee (2009) – If you’re in the mood to watch Robin Wright, Winona Ryder, and Maria Bello, with a little Julianne Moore and Monica Bellucci thrown in, acting in each other’s faces and occasionally up against a game Alan Arkin and Keanu Reeves as the men – men! whaddaya gonna do with them? – mother and daughter struggles through two generations – then settle down and enjoy. It’s Wright’s movie and she was still – but only just – Mrs. Penn when she made it; be good to hear her compare the contemporaneous divorces – the one in the movie and her own.

Repo Men (2010) – Forest Whitaker, Liev Schreiber, Jude Law. This is not chopped acting chicken liver we’re talking here. How I wish I could have been in the room when the three of them were pitched this movie.

O’Horten (2007) – Quietly reminds us how lousy the U.S. mass transit system is.

Creature of Darkness (2009)

Why did I bring home this particular movie, of all the Blockbuster horror flicks on the shelf? I brought this movie home because a critic watched it and liked it and wrote about it. I assume now that the critic had a close personal connection with someone in Creature of Darkness (2009). Perhaps one of the actors owed him money.

Having said that, I  will not waste my time or yours ragging on this film. Some guy took the trouble to write a screenplay and direct it. Eleven actors got a payday out of it, as well as a new line in their resumes.  Somebody invested money in the movie. Why should I be a churl about it?

This is one of those indies wherein the director transports his script and actors up to Santa Clarita for a week-long shoot in the hills, including nights in the cold (actually 23 days and 23 nights; I underestimated the work that went into this flick), lines up an effects guy for some undergraduate work on a Mac when they get back, and boom, press the disk and ship it! It’s sort of like watching your frat and sorority friends making a movie. Story makes no sense whatever (even though the hero tells us “it’s just like Einstein said”). No hint, no morsel, no single moment, no nanosecond of humor onscreen. 2010 and this the 9,999th movie of its kind and Mark Stouffer wouldn’t or couldn’t crack a smile.

I was hoping for a commentary track, but no. Why did Stouffer make this movie? He’s done some good National Geographic work, won two Emmys and a bunch of other stuff, made some real movies, and…wha?… Mark, where’s your Wiki page? This can’t be right! Marty gets a page and you don’t? To read about you, I’ve gotta go to Linked In? Jesus, you work all your life, you sacrifice, you slave, you bleed, you rack up the honors, and then when you try to put up your page, or your wife tries to put up your page, or your kids try to put up your page, those idiots at Wikipedia keep taking it down, and you put it up again, and they take it down again, the bastards… Fine. Who needs it? I could care less. To hell with them. Don’t ever, I mean EVER, DON’T EVER EVER EVER PUT UP MY WIKI PAGE AGAIN GODDAMMIT!!

There being five young men and five young women in the film, I thought I’d try and guess in advance the order in which the monster kills them off. I got the first one right. A guy  asks his girlfriend to flash him – which she does with the camera modestly focused above her collarbones – hey, the movie’s already got an R, what’s the problem here? Stouffer is an old prude? Hoisting up the tank top was  integral to the plot! Don’t let her hoist in vain. So anyway, counting that behavior as sex, the guy is immediately doomed and dispatched forthwith. As I recall, the script did not even demand a scream from him. Some of these guys hate to scream! That’s what the girls are for. The angry Latino guy went next. I didn’t see that coming. Surprising, as his IMDB resume seems one of the most solid. Maybe he was being paid by the hour, or would only sign up for one day’s work. And by the way, this movie would have been improved by just losing the monster and concentrating on the existing interpersonal conflicts between the young men and women provided as victims. I guessed the third one to buy it, the gay guy. Not to stereotype but yes, he was made to scream. At this point, I began to wonder if only the guys were going to get killed. With no gratuitous bosom shots, perhaps Stouffer was going for some kind of Caged Heat on us. But no, the second-most spunky woman went down next. With a shriek more than a scream.

After that the director threw me a  curve. Turns out that the monster is not killing and eating, he’s collecting and, for example, the gay guy was “a perfect redhead with freckles.” (I hadn’t noticed.) So, speculate the survivors, two of them now are in especial danger because they are “perfect blacks,” or “perfect African Americans,” or “perfect Negroes,” I forget which. Definitely not “perfect N-words.” Santa Clarita is not Gropple, Alabama, after all.  Although “perfect” in this case seems to mean “almost able to pass.” Up to their realization that the monster wanted a matched pair of people of color, I hadn’t noticed the couple’s ethnicity at all. Couldn’t tell by looking. The woman’s hair was straighter than any process could produce.  Going forward, the director threw in some Ebonic dialog, just to keep the monster clear on his targets. The dude goes street, but maybe he’s just some white dude with a tan, black curly hair, and a jones for acting hip. You dig?  Though he does refer to himself at one point as an ebony meatloaf. And whatever my thoughts, the monster didn’t seem to have any doubts!

The monster takes over in the second half of the movie. Guy in black coat (to protect against UV, though it’s nighttime). Then guy in monster latex after the coat burns off. Then animatronic. (I was wrong about the effort and $$ spent on effects; more than I thought. A couple of guys labored over this thing.) Then animatronic monster parts that had been hacked off the main monster. Then digital animated monster. Then monster shadows on the cave wall. Bobblehead monster. I tried the shadows myself, using a hanky draped over my flatscreen. VP of Sales held the flashlight. Spooky.

Movie notes:

– Five guys in the group, and the biggest shlub, Devon Sawa, is supposed to be the Alpha dog (sorry, Devon).

– This is a group of 30s playing 20 with one female 40 playing 30 playing 20. You go, Girl!

– At least 3 Johnny Dramas here. Provides context for Entourage.

– Men’s gel still helps.

– Hey. No cell phone reception.

– “Courage doesn’t need explaining.”

– Hard to describe but there’s some stock music at one point in the movie that means a fire is going to start and then stuff is going to start blowing up. The track is instantly recognizable on a gut level: boinggg…boinggg… ding ding…ding… fwoosh!

– At the start of the movie, a guy shoots a ground squirrel with a rifle. What was that all about?

– Stouffer throws the gore fans a bone, literally – in this case, a complete, articulated spine.

– All that nature footage he shot in the past, seems like he could have gone natural here a little more, if you know what I mean.

– Stouffer. Any connection with the frozen dinners?

Final thoughts: Mark, you are no spring chicken. Use your time more wisely. Do not waste the remaining years before you go senile on something like this, even if you want to involve family in the project like you did here. Mark, you made this movie sixty years too late. Take all that money you spent on the monster (sorry, monster-fabrication guys, you seem nice in the Making Of feature) and next time give it to refugees, or for research into some horrible disease,  or even to the guy who asked me for change at the gas station this morning.

Pitch the LAMB – Buddy Flicks

JOURNEY INTO THE CAVE

Scene 1

[Fixture, Iowa]

[Brad and Alvin, in their twenties, buddies from birth. Brad, the wild one, disappeared a year ago; now, he’s back. Alvin, the quiet one, married with kids, works at the Toaster Paper Company. “Paper you can wipe with.”]

[Alvin’s threadbare apartment in his grandparent’s basement. Alvin’s parents died in a paper accident when he was a child. Brad, already strapping and unpredictable at the age of four, pulled Alvin to safety just before the lavatory pulp could engulf him.]

[The two have been drinking. Empty bottles of foreign origin, Popopny Regurgany, litter the worn carpet, comingling with toys that appear to be the playthings of children either challenged or missing body parts. Brad’s well-traveled backpack gapes open on a love seat, a Nepalese bong thrusting rigidly out through its zipper, at least eleven inches in length.]

Brad (pacing): Come on, man! You owe me! Remember that… I saved your life, dude!

Alvin (moaning): Ohhhh… I think the walls are moving…

Brad: Leslie. That’s your problem right there. What I should have done, I should have saved you from that bitch. She’s ten times worse than any damned runaway roll of toilet paper.

Fred (drunkenly): Ohhhh… Am  I standing up? Are we there yet? What are we doing? Did we forget something…?

Brad (shaking his head and pulling out the bong): Drinks. You could never handle ’em. Even as a little kid. And yeah, we forgot something. We forgot to give you a m****r-f*****g life.

[Door opens. Leslie enters with three young children.]

Brad: Well, look who just walked in…

Leslie (surveying the room, with special attention to the bong and the empty bottles): What the hell are you doing here?

Brad: And I’m glad to see you too. You haven’t changed. Still hot. Still the bitch.

Leslie: When you disappeared, I prayed you’d stay gone. No such luck. So what are you doing here? Besides losing that bong right now, I mean. Don’t make me ask you again.

[Her color rises, but it’s not the red flush of anger, which makes the cheeks glow hot – it’s that other flush, the royal flush, which causes the hidden cheeks to encarnate like self-heating pillows.]

Brad: I’m making a proposal to my buddy, that’s what I’m doing. To my oldest friend. A proposal that you’re interrupting, by the way.

[Leslie cocks an eyebrow.]

Brad: Road trip.

[His gaze begins racking up misdemeanor points on a road trip of its own, over and around the landscape of Leslie’s curves.]

Leslie (snorting, but with her eyes running up and down Brad’s body like mice with hot feet): That ain’t gonna happen.

Brad: Come  on, baby. It’s the chance of a lifetime here. Aztec gold. All we’ve got to do is go down there and grab it. But I can’t do it alone. Look at Alvin. He’s a f*****g mess. We’ve got to get him out of here, out of this apartment, out of his job, out of f*****g Fixture. We’ve got to give him something to live for, something Aztec besides Montezuma’s Revenge. We’ve got to f*****g save his life!

[Now Brad’s eyes are running like rodents, too, only more like rats than mice.]

Brad: You know I would do the same for you… Baby…

[His cellphone rings in his back pocket. He pulls it out and takes the call, turning away.]

Brad (in a low voice): Yeah. Yeah. Almost. Just me and my buddy. And maybe some baggage… Don’t worry about that, Shakespeare. Who’s going to know?

[He looks at Leslie over Alvin’s prone, sweating, twitching, hairy, pale, nerdy body, at Leslie, the three kids grouped around her trim ankles, down there in the shade cast by her high breasts way up under a tight white sweater, three little kids like toadstools growing out of the roots of her legs, which go all the way up, the two adults sliding into an eyeball-lock that causes the space between them to throb.]

Brad (into the phone): Yeah. Buddies on a road trip. That’s the plan. A little booze, a little blow, a little sharing. Yeah, especially the sharing. With a big fat climax right at the end.

[Scene]     (06/18/10)

Watchmen (2009)

After I watch a movie, I read some reviews about it to find out whether I liked it or not. A.O. Scott does a nice job on Watchmen (2009), but he tells me that I didn’t like it as much as I thought I did. The gist of his argument seems to be that Zack Snyder brought the 80s graphic novel faithfully to the screen and that this was not a good thing: that the ideas in the book are dated and jejune. Scott’s review is so well-written that I felt ashamed to be writing one of mine own, this one in fact, and I put it aside unfinished.

But wait a minute. Of course the ideas in the book are dated. The ideas in Pride and Prejudice are dated. So what? And of course the ideas are the sort that would appeal to a teen reader. Watchmen was born as a series of comic books. A.O., grow down.

But then, I liked 300, so what do I know?

A.O. also calls out the primary sex scene in the movie as the worst of the year. Evidently A.O. steers clear of 99% of the DVDs on Blockbuster’s shelves. At any rate, what I saw in that scene was an ineffective Snyder attempt to maintain Watchmen’s PG-13 rating, an attempt doomed from the gitgo by the movie’s blue penis.

That blue penis. Over and over before watching the movie I heard about the blue pee pee. I was expecting gratuitous closeups of the prosthesis. I was expecting an azure member of a size worthy of the movie’s only true superhero. What th… The little guy was as unobtrusive in the movie as it was in the book. U.S. society is messed up wrt the phallus. Judd Apatow ran a couple of focus groups while making Funny People, to discover how many dick jokes in the movie would be too many dick jokes. The answer: you can’t have too many. And what is a man’s member a member of anyway?

I read Watchmen just before watching it. I like to read a book and then see the movie. If the movie heads off in some wrongheaded direction, I might shake my head philosophically, but my bile is not wont to rise when it happens. A shrug is sufficient. For example, Kiera Knightly as Elizabeth Bennet did not do it for me, but I have moved on. I do not brood. Kiera, go back to POTC before Jane Austen comes back from the grave to haunt you. OK, maybe a little brooding eventuated, but hey, Elizabeth Garvie in the role will suffice for me until Pride and Prejudice is remade yet again, which it will be.

In the 60s, I went gaga over Fowles’ The Magus. But then the movie version became my biggest book-to-movie disappointment. On the other hand, I read Robert Parker’s Appaloosa a while back and believe me, Ed Harris is the perfect Virgil Cole in the movie version. Ditto Tom Selleck as Parker’s Jesse Stone. Perhaps a reader who found Watchmen magical in the 80s and then waited twenty years for the movie might have problems with it, though I’m willing to bet that most of those folks – I’ve got no data – loved the movie.

Anyway, I liked Watchmen the movie better than Watchmen the graphic novel. Snyder left out the pirates and other boring stuff and stuck to the main line, getting it all in, or so it seemed to me. Fresh faces in his casting choices, a big plus. I watched the movie in pieces, as if it were a mini-series, so it didn’t seem to run long. And for me, if not for A. O. Scott, adding a collection of 80s tunes to the soundtrack tweaked the experience in a way not possible in a silent book. Even if those tunes have been played to death, which they have been.

There has been conversation about the excessive violence in the movie. Sorry, I must have been distracted by Maggie Gyllenhaal getting blown up in the Dark Knight, and The Joker’s pencil to the eyeball, and Saws I, II, III, IV, and V, and folks checking into hostels never to check out again, whatever, so that I missed the fact that Rorschach in prison got a little extreme. He does splash hot oil in a dude’s face, but see, I just watched Trailer Park of Terror (2008), in which a victim is lowered whole into hot oil like a very large freedom fry. At any rate, Snyder had obviously given up on his PG-13 quest by the time he cut together the prison fight scenes.

Near the end of the book and movie, Dr. Manhattan tells Ozymandias that he’s leaving for a galaxy where things aren’t so complicated. The average galaxy contains 100 billion stars and there are about 100 billion galaxies in the visible universe. I’m guessing that one collection of 100 billion stars is pretty much the same as another. Stick to your own galaxy, blue guy! Remember, wherever you go, there you are. And about creating some humans of your own: who do you think you are, God? Fundamentalists are outraged! God is not blue! And if you saw His pee pee…!

For recent urban total destruction, the late scenes in Watchmen are ok (reimagined from the original), but I liked the devastation in Knowing (2009) better –  speaking of freedom fries.

Finally, for your consideration, the beginning and end of the Watchmen review found on “Christian Spotlight on Entertainment.” A reviewer with his feet in the mud and head in the clouds:

“For conservative Christian audiences, the prospect of seeing Zack Snyder’s “Watchmen” is a non-starter. There is male frontal nudity (albeit blue and animated); numerous instances of blasphemy; shots of women’s breasts; gory violence; and a nude love-making scene… Watchmen is a long viewing. It is sometimes ponderous, grisly, and confusing, but for those who have read the book and have reasonable expectations of what can be done in cinematic form, it is an instant classic — a tour de force which asks universal questions through comic book characters. For Christians, Dr. Manhattan represents the seeker who questions the existence of God and the meaning of life. His questions are in part answered in the realization that life is a miracle, “gold from air,” unexplained by the processes of nature. When the movie is over, the character that viewers will be most interested in is Dr. Manhattan and his journey to another galaxy, a journey he wouldn’t make if he were just interested in matter.”

The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)

I like to go to plays. Not Broadway extravaganzas, but community and university theater productions. Unfortunately, my spouse doesn’t share this interest, which cuts back on my dramatical attendance, except when our daughter comes home for a visit. Fortunately, stage plays find their way onto the silver screen, and found their way to it even more in the 30s and 40s than today. Modern examples of the play-on-film would be Bug (2006) and Doubt: a Parable (2008), which I have reviewed. Unfortunately, we are not living in the age of Eugene O’Neill, Thornton Wilder, and Tennessee Williams, except insofar as revivals and remakes allow us to do so. With all due respect, John Patrick Shanley, Tony or no Tony, is no Kaufman or Hart, the two who wrote the play from which  The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942) derives, via the Epstein twins’ screenplay(the Epsteins of Casablanca fame).

TMWCTD is a comedy of great verbal energy, many fun cogs and wheels and conversational gizmos, jokes, gags, all done on the level of a New Yorker parlor drama. They don’t make them like this anymore – so dense, so many moving parts. As I watched Married Life (2007) the other night, I detected faint echoes from those lost days. Do I subscribe to the theory that civilization is headed downhill because of this and other portents? Nope, and besides, weighing and judging civilization and its components is far beyond my capacity to grok, at least in 1,000 words or less. (Do I believe the planet and the human race are headed downhill? Ulp!) But just because I don’t expect another TMWCTD to roll off the assembly line in 2010 doesn’t mean that I’ll have no chance to laugh at a movie. I watched Reno 911:Miami (2007)  again the other night with my spouse, and because she liked it, perhaps I’ll get to watch all 5 seasons again. Yay! In my defense, I think that the Marx brothers would like it too. And She’s Out of Your League (2010)? Not in TMWCTD’s league, but still, life is still good on the couch.

Most of  the topical content in TMWCTD has aged out, evaporated, leaving behind in the dialog a foundation of basic comic ideas: gone for most of us are an appreciation of Lucius Beebe’s penguins and octopus, Lana Turner’s sweater, Zazu Pitts, Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence, and the larger-than-life Alexander Woolcott, who spent a weekend with Moss Hart, prompting Hart to wonder out loud, My God, what if he never left? and the play’s premise was born.

In TMWCTD, Jimmy Durante is funnier than I remember. Younger, too. Who fills the Durante niche in comedy today?  There’s bound to be someone. Early Jim Carey? It’s got to be someone who mugs outrageously and with unflagging energy. Vintage Robin Williams? Durante, suddenly seeming more  modern to me, makes me doubt the trope that some classic aspect of  screwball stage comedy is gone and isn’t coming back; perhaps it’s all just cycles and cycles and only a matter of time before we’ve gone in retrospect from Touch of Mink to Mash to Airplane to Knocked Up and back to Coconuts again. An extra four billion folks have arrived on the planet since TMWCTD was written. Even if they simply act like monkeys with typewriters, lost or missing dialogic brilliance ought to crop up now and again, out of the chaotic randomosity of crowds. Or will we just keep getting more video games instead? Great Britain bans EA’s Medal of Honor because it allows you to play on the side of the Taliban. That’s comedy, isn’t it?

Glenda the good witch works in TMWCTD without her wand.

Anne Sheridan plays the whole movie overdressed, but shows up 30s style for one scene in a thin silk blouse, confronting the camera face-to-face, so to speak, and proving without a doubt that she’s a mammal.

I’ve noticed more than once that watching two movies at the same time, interleaved as it were, or one after the other, offers perspectives that might otherwise go unnoticed. For example, I saw Ameracord (1973) one Friday night in San Diego, followed by The Godfather (1972) on Saturday. Fellini’s artistry made The Godfather, seen so soon after, seem rather amateurish to me. Now that The Godfather has entered the pantheon of great films, any crudeness in its fabrication goes largely unnoticed. Every so often, when I stop to think about this, I feel privy to a cinematical secret, just because of that Friday and Saturday a long time ago. In the present instance, the two overlapping movies are TMWCTD and Repo Men (2010). Sure, there are chuckles in both, but in this example we learn that just talking at each other real fast can pack a punch greater than that felt by  cutting the other guy open, reaching inside him, and hauling out his mechanical stomach while wise-cracking about it. Just sayin.