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.