Friday, March 27, 2009

Another Moment From Work...

Bryan and Michael take their desks at 8:00 am.

All right, you know what I don't get?


In Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, and in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Yoda is jumpin around, doin' all these back flips and what not.


Well, there's only like, 18 years between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. Yoda is eight hundred years old! He's agile in one movie, then on death's door the next.

Hey, hey, hey. Michael, the difference between eight hundred and eight hundred and eighteen years old, well, it's larger than the outer rim.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Question of the Day

Question of the Day is a feature in which one Dr. Bryan O'Tribble poses a question to Mr. Bahhaj Taherzadeh.

Question (Dr. O'): How many licks does it take to reach the center of a Tootsie Roll pop?

Answer (Bahhaj):

It’s hard for me to answer this with certainty as I honestly don’t know what a Tootsie Roll pop is, so, again, I will fall back on my keen powers of assumption.

Tootsie, a 1982 film in which Dustin Hoffman dresses as a woman in order to land an acting job, is clearly the first piece to this puzzle. It seems safe to assume that “Tootsie” within the context of your question can be defined as the act of dressing as a woman in order to get something desirable. A Tootsie Roll, then, must be an action that takes place when a man (you) dresses as a woman and rolls on the floor until he is rewarded with the object of his desire. Close examination of your sentence reveals that the word “pop” is not capitalized and therefore is not part of the phrase, Tootsie Roll. I can only assume then that “pop” is a name you are using to address me. This leads me to assume that you see me as some kind of father-figure.

Bryan, the warm feelings you set aglow in my heart by calling me “pop” fade quickly as I consider what it is you are asking of me. You wish me to lick you while you roll on the floor dressed as a woman. This is disgusting. I am humbled and repulsed by your request. For you to dress as a woman would be to break the dress code established by our National Assembly. For me to lick you would be to break my Fast—a Fast established by the Promised One of All Ages.

The answer to your question, Bryan, is zero. I will not lick you and I urge you not to dress as a woman.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Watchmen, My Review

I doubt the perception of a film could be more loaded than the way most of us will see Watchmen. Few comic books command as devoted a following or as high a reputation, and few filmmakers have what it takes to bring Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon's vision to life. Zack Snyder is not one of these filmmakers. Under no circumstances did I expect that Watchmen would be the cinematic equivalent of its source material.

But I didn't rule out the possibility, either. 

In retrospect, I wish I had. 

If I can say anything about Watchmen it's, "gosh, everyone sure did their best," which is about all anyone can hope for these days. Unfortunately, the best these people could do wasn't necessarily good enough to bring this story to its full potential. 

Sure, it's not bad, I'm not upset that I saw it, nor do I think anyone will find this movie to be terrible. The basic story and characters that populate this world are so utterly compelling that anyone who were to do even a cursory adaptation would have an okay film on their hands, which is just about what I think this is.

The inherent problem with doing a film like Watchmen is that the fierce demands of the fanboy audience cloud the priorities of the filmmakers and the result is a film that strives to appear to be the story it's supposed to be telling. 

Zack Snyder can talk a good game. Hell, after the countless clips I've seen of him talking about this movie I was convinced he was the right man for the job. After seeing the clumsy transitions, the poor performances, and countless moments of characters speaking their subtext, I was baffled as to why this man was allowed to direct anything more than the music video for My Chemical Romance's bastardization of "Desolation Row." 

The first thing that struck me about Watchmen was the questionable pacing and structure of the film. Moments that demand to be contemplative and poignant are briskly hurried along while fight sequences and sex scenes are expanded into gratuitous parodies of themselves. 

The flow of the story, while handled gracefully in the first act, dissolved into a clumsy mess entering the film's second hour, as Snyder and his team futilely tried to mash 12 separate and distinct chapters of a story into a single, streamlined narrative. 

Many of the performances were hallow and uninspired, making the characters limp from the vivid creations on Moore and Gibbons' pages into the one-note cardboard cut-outs that inhabit this film. It's not often that bringing literal life to a character makes them less real, but Snyder's cast found a way to do it. Only Jackie Earle Haley's performance as Rorschach approaches the promise of the character imagined in the comic's pages. 

But examining each of these criticisms reveals the true problem with Watchmen: the fanboy factor. 

Watchmen is a dense graphic novel populated by compelling characters in a richly textured world. The deceptively simple artwork by Gibbons demands repeated analysis so that every detail can be discovered. The story is woven beautifully by Alan Moore, who devotes almost entire issues to fleshing out the backstories of his most compelling characters, Dr. Manhattan and Rorschach, while also propelling his morally ambiguous and challenging deconstruction of super-hero mythology toward its conclusion. To include every layer and nuance of this story in a film of reasonable length would be folly, and rightly, the filmmakers don't attempt to.

Unfortunately, Zack Snyder and his writing team lack the vision and insight necessary to effectively adapt a beloved comic book into a film that works. Their feeling seems to be that the material content of the comic books is infallible, and that their audience will accept any word, idea or incident that is thrown at them, as long as these things find their origins in the pages of the comics. As a result, they lift and rearrange dialogue from the books, even when these words are unnecessary and redundant when combined with the performances of even the merely competent cast that Snyder assembled for his film. 

We don't need to hear three different characters telling us that Dr. Manhattan has "lost touch" with humanity when the behavior of the character overwhelmingly displays this idea. On the motionless, silent page of a comic book, the Comedian needs to say this, but not in a film. Not when there are other ways of communicating this idea. Comic books rely on the writer's words and the artist's illustrations to tell their stories, films use dialogue, performances, images, music, and editing to tell theirs. But Snyder assumes that fanboys are unwilling to hear anything but Alan Moore's dialogue, and are unwilling to see anything that isn't a frame from the book. This is not to say that Snyder shouldn't be concerned about remaining faithful to the material, but instead, that his definition of "faithful" is too literal for him to have any true confidence in his own creative sensibilities. 

When I first learned that Zack Snyder was directing Watchmen my first thought was one of terror. I wasn't terrified about the quality of the movie he was about to make, but instead about the pressure he had suddenly burdened himself with. In a climate where thousands upon thousands of parroting fanboy voices complain about Optimus Prime having "lips" or the omission of Tom Bombadil, I knew that this inexperienced director was about to be ripped to shreds before he conceived of a single frame. Or maybe, put another way, he would be ripped to shreds for conceiving of his own frames. 

Watchmen is a film overseen by a man without vision. Snyder's previous features are a remake and another comic book adaptation. The posters for Watchmen proclaim him a visionary for recreating the pages of Dave Gibbons and Frank Miller, but we have yet to see a film that is a true representation of his creative ability. Instead we find him slaving over the pages of Watchmen, cautiously trying to shape a single narrative out of twelve. 

Imagining myself on the set, I keep hearing people say, "the fans are gonna love this!" Why? Why are we going to love this? Because you added a gratuitous zoom out in the middle of a scene to show the "Gunga Diner" elephant flying above the city? Because you put Gibbon's signature as graffiti on a lamp post? Somewhere along the lines, Snyder and his team fell under the impression that constantly nodding at the comic book was enough to distract from a terrible, awkwardly paced script.

In Moore's original serial, the disjointed narrative and layered themes worked because the monthly installments allowed him and Gibbons to explore different ideas in different issues. When all of these things are compressed into a single experience their incongruities become apparent, the different ideas cloud each other out, and the story becomes a din of high-concept garbage left to rely on tricky motion effects, gratuitous blood, and the crappiest soundtrack ever compiled to tell its story. 

I doubt I have ever seen a movie more unsure of itself than Watchmen. It captures the material and content of the world portrayed by Gibbon's illustrations, but not the feel. It speaks the words of Alan Moore, but misses his point. It contains the same plot, but ignores the themes. It features the same characters and the same stories, but refuses to let them breathe. Snyder replaces subtlety with bones popping from flesh, blood spraying across rooms, and awkward sex scenes. He relies on high-tech special effects to create Dr. Manhattan where a dude in blue make-up surrounded by a light saber glow would have sufficed. He uses molded plastic muscles where flowing cloth would have been fine, and forgets that at its core, Watchmen is satire. 

As I feel this rant getting away from me, let me share a final story. Unsure of my feelings toward this film after Thursday/Friday's initial viewing, I took one of my most insightful and trusted movie companions to see it on Sunday night, knowing that she was completely unfamiliar with the comic book. With lowered expectations, I found myself enjoying the movie more than I originally did, but she hated it. She was appalled by the violence. She found the characters dull and uninteresting. She thought the plot was a trite and simple, and the ending uninspired. 

What did I learn by bringing my mother to see Watchmen? I learned that the movie only really holds up if you like the comic. It only even seems passible if you already know what's going on, and who these people are supposed to be. After explaining countless things to my mother over dinner she was open to the idea of reading the comic, and could see where this film was a wimpy excuse for it. 

Ultimately, Watchmen is a crippled film using its source material as a wheelchair. It fails in the sense that it will never, ever separate itself from the books on which it draws its story. It is different from other comic book films in the sense that, while Superman, Spider-Man and other heroes have established, iconic mythologies, these characters exist only within the context of this single, finite story. 

Basically, if you want my opinion, they should have made a mini-series. 


Thursday, March 5, 2009

Kepler Hope

I read on the MSN news page yesterday that Detroit, my old stomping ground, is the fourth most depressing city in the U.S. More telling than this opinionated ranking is the reminder that the Motor City has an unemployment rate of %18. As Bryan pointed out, those are "developing country" numbers, and things are looking worse and worse by the day. Of course, Detroit isn't the only city in this country to be facing such a crisis, nor is the United States the only nation. The trial that we face belongs to everyone.

Tomorrow NASA will launch the Kepler Space Telescope. Its job is to search the heavens for Earth-like planets that would be suitable for life to flourish. In a climate where misery surrounds us all, mankind is standing on the brink of what could be the greatest discovery in our collective history.

For many of us, such a discovery has been portrayed and discussed in science fiction stories to the point of near meaninglessness. Fringe thinkers have shared their theories about Roswell and government cover-ups, while others claim to have been abducted by aliens. But through all of this, the grand question still remains unanswered, and for all we know, we are alone.

Tomorrow we are taking a giant step toward answering this question. We're not merely launching another satellite into space, we are uncovering another chapter in our collective existence and clarifying our unity on a galactic scale. Through this most powerful lense we will see into our past and our future. We will find our neighbors or our solitude. The answer, of course, is either yes or no, alone or not, and both circumstances will have a profound effect on our collective understanding of who we are.

It's been a long time since humanity embarked on a journey together. These ancient stories that spring from our collective being have been dormant for too long. Perhaps this story lacks the visible hero - the astronaut clad in his burdensome suit - but it only takes a gentle leap of the imagination to see that we are all on this mission of discovery together, and that the outcome belongs to us all.

So while we fear for our friends, our loved ones, and ourselves in this time of struggle, let's also be mindful of the fact that even now we are still moving forward. Even now we are still discovering, and even now, we are still one.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Another Moment From Work...

This says Watchmen is 2 hours and 43 minutes! I don't think I'll stay awake that long.

Don't worry, you'll have me and Gavin sitting beside you.

It also says that Dr. Manhatten is naked for most of the movie.

Yes, and you see the floppy dangle of his skyscraper the whole time.

Oh dear Lord.

You get long, lingering looks at the statue of liberty.

We get to see the wide expanse of his central park.

We can -

Really, there are just too many landmarks in New York, this could go on all day.


The graceful art-deco thrust of his Chrysler Building.

Cinco Boy!

I think this may be one of my favorite things that Tim and Eric have ever done.

Another Moment From Work (That I'll Never Get Back)

How do I get this out of my head?

The fish thing?

Yeah! It's all-consuming!

Just think about something else.

Bryan faces his computer.

Sing Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody."

Michael doesn't respond. A moment passes.

Because you know you wanna dance with somebody.

Michael continues his work, clicking away on his mouse.

You want to feel the heat with somebody.

Michael stops and slowly turns in his chair, discovering Bryan, who has been looking at him the whole time.

With somebody that loves you.