Archive for March, 2009


watchmen4   Back in October, I had the great pleasure of seeing a test screening of Watchmen. It was all very hush-hush; in fact, many people who had received invitations were not allowed in because they hadn’t filled out an online form. Security was tight, my friends. Going in, we didn’t know what movie we would be seeing. All we knew was that it was a “big budget superhero movie.” We might have been the exclusive first audience to the next Punisher movie. Fortunately, it was much better than that.

Since I had to sign a waiver, I’ve been tight-lipped about Watchmen. What I didn’t want was an elite team of Warner Brothers-trained ninjas killing me silently in the dead of night. But now that the release date approaches, I’m sure no one at “The Bros” would mind a lonely blogger speaking about their movie. Especially since it was totally awesome.

I wonder if I was the only cartoonist in the crowd that night. I have read the Watchmen graphic novel; I’m a fan. I have been severely let down by some comic book adaptations, but Hollywood has been getting better at it lately. I don’t know about you, but the original Superman was pretty bad. Sure, Christopher Reeve was undeniably awesome as both Clark Kent and Superman, but on the whole it felt too stately. Spider-Man was probably the first fun superhero movie, and since then you can’t walk into a video store without spotting a half dozen good-to-great adaptations. My expectations for Watchmen, then, were fairly high.watchmen3
Fortunately, Zack Snyder delivered. The movie follows the comic incredibly closely. There were even shots taken directly from panels in the book. Like most long-form fiction, much of the story was taken out for the movie. That didn’t bother me. It didn’t bother me that the ending was slightly altered. What matters most is, if you like the movie you’re more likely to pick up the book. Who wants to see the exact same story in two formats, anyway? What’s the point of spending 200 million dollars to copy what was done already? This is a good adaptation.

The actors are not superstars, but they were obviously chosen because they fit the look of the characters. And I must say, they all did a magnificent job. I’m glad there were no huge stars – it would have just detracted from the story. It does take most of your concentration to follow the story.

Some elements of the story: before the Watchmen, there was The Minutemen. You’ve got two generations of superheroes to keep track of. (It’s like a comic book One Hundred Years of Solitude.) Then you’ve got an alternate history where we won Vietnam and Richard Nixon is still President in 1985. You also have to be aware that the present in the movie is 1985, otherwise you won’t get why everybody is so freaked out about nuclear war.

Oddly enough, I found the “real people” (Nixon, Buchanan, Kissinger) to be more cartoony than the Watchmen. They had meetings in a Dr. Strangelove war room, they talked like they were in a 1950’s war movie. Comparatively, the Watchmen seemed almost everyday in their actions.

The special effects were unfinished. I could usually tell what they were getting at, though, as there was a rough animation as placeholder. They didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story. I kind of enjoyed seeing the filmmaker’s process. It also made me use my imagination, something I can’t say I do very much at movies nowadays. (I love sounding like I’m 93 in these posts.) Really, I prefer animation over live-action in general. Cartoonist bias.watchmen2

The soundtrack was unfinished as well but there was a fantastic cue for a scene involving a character called Dr. Manhattan. They used a Phillip Glass piece from the movie Mishima. It worked terrifically well, and I hope they keep it in or use something similar. The song selection was a mixed bag. The opening credits (one of the standout scenes) used Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changin’. Then they used a cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah in a hokey sex scene I hope gets cut. Worse still, it wasn’t Jeff Buckley’s version, or even Rufus Wainwright’s. Was there a rights issue?

On the whole, it seemed too much like a grab bag of well-known radio songs. It isn’t that I’m against Sound of Silence, or even Simon & Garfunkel in general. I’m a fan. It’s that I already associate that song with another, very famous, movie. Mr. Snyder needs to dig a little deeper than a Greatest Hits collection for his soundtrack. Hopefully that will be remedied. But keep the Dylan in.

There were some beautiful scenes of Dr. Manhattan on Mars. They really seemed to play up his Buddhist nature. How can you detach yourself from the illusory world yet remain connected to all things? There are a few hints of this philosophical conundrum. I also thought the love story was handled well for a movie with lots of explosions. It’s not often you can get the nuanced in with the fist fight.

I give my wholehearted recommendation to Watchmen. Go see it when it opens. It is definitely a Theater Movie, one that has as many ideas, as grand a story, as big a climax as anything you will see on a wall-sized screen.

And if Warner Brothers does send me to a Siberian labor camp for having blogged about Watchmen before it opens, please send me a bootlegged DVD so I can see the finished product.watchmen1

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Feline Farewell

SOCKSI am greatly saddened by the loss of the National Cat, Socks Clinton. He passed away at home on February 20, 2009.

The age of Socks is under some dispute. One article claimed he was 18 at the time of his passing, but the Wikipedia article on him says he was 19. Either way, he clearly lived a long and happy life, dying in the arms of his owner, former Clinton secretary Betty Currie.

Though Socks will always and forever be remembered as First Pet of the Clinton Administration, during his term in office he came under attack by a large and annoying dog the Clintons adopted in 1997. Buddy, likely a Cuban spy, took the White House by storm and nearly ended Socks’ reign three years early. Fortunately, Socks’s popularity and military acumen ensured his power would not be usurped by that slobbering canine.

The Clintons, for reasons unknown, decided to keep Buddy and ditch Socks after leaving the White House in 2000. As always, Socks landed on his feet. Mrs. Currie, a woman who should have a highway named after her, took Socks in his fruitful post-White House years. Like a popular former President, Socks continued his good work even after the national spotlight shone elsewhere. Unlike Bill Clinton’s checkered record after office, Socks stuck to his ideals. According to Mrs. Currie, Socks “love[d] to be in the sun and love[d] chicken.”

Socks, we will miss your catlike reflexes, your engaging Press Briefings, and your beautiful white whiskers. The world has lost one of the great cats of our time.

jaguar in tucson

I am greatly saddened by the second loss to the feline community in such a short span of time. It was not my original intention to report on the death of a jaguar, but nature has a way of doing whatever the heck it feels like.

A jaguar was captured near Tucson, Arizona yesterday. The big cat had been previously outfitted with a small, unobtrusive satellite-tracking collar:Collared Jaguar
Officials became concerned when the jaguar cut way back on his daily wanderings. Concerned, the officials transported jaguar to the Phoenix Zoo, where he was pronounced “alive” by a wildlife veterinarian.

Later yesterday the vet had to euthanize the jaguar. He was suffering from kidney failure, something his years of heavy drinking no doubt had a major factor in. I am positive it had nothing to do with the large metal collar clasped tightly around his neck. No age or living relatives were reported. This jaguar will be missed.

According to the Arizona Daily Star, the only news outlet brave enough to report on this elusive creature, jaguars generally live in South and Central America. They used to travel north, from Arizona and Colorado all the way up to the San Francisco Bay area. Those days ended when the United States government encouraged ranchers to shoot any and all jaguars. More recently it has been unheard of to spot a real, live jaguar in the States. Until now.

For an animal to travel from Mexico to Tucson undetected is quite a feat. Though details are not forthcoming, it is has been speculated that the jaguar was acting as “coyote”: running illegal immigrants into the United States. Either that or he was merely roaming his natural territory in search of food and a mate. It will never be known what the jaguar was thinking in the days before his untimely death.

Falling Rock applauds the courageous jaguar. We extend our sympathies to his family and to jaguars everywhere. If heroism is doing exactly what you want, when you want it, then jaguar is a true hero of our time. I hope his journey, from somewhere in Mexico to the Tucson mountains to the Phoenix Zoo, shines as a beacon of hope (or, Hope Beacon) to other jaguars. This land is your land, jaguars. Long may you run.

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fake presidents

mars_attacks_02  What does it take to pretend to be President? Performing the duties of the highest office in the land is one that requires self-sacrifice, patience, fortitude, and lots of cash. That’s the real office of the Presidency. Playing the President in a movie or TV show requires an entirely different skill set. But what are those skills?

west_wing_05You have to be old but not too old. You have to seem wise. You don’t actually have to be wise, you just have to act like you know a lot of stuff. It helps if you have a few character flaws. It makes you seem fallible and introduces the idea that even the President of the United States sometimes has to stand naked.american2

You have to sit at a desk a lot, so your legs don’t have to be all that good-looking. But make sure you know how to wear a suit. Also make sure you know how to look like you’re reading papers with a high level of understanding. You don’t actually have to understand these papers, just as you don’t have to understand the concepts real Presidents have to deal with every day. The papers you’ll be looking at just have gibberish printed on them, anyway.mars_attacks_03

You have to look deep in thought all the time. You have to be able to address people as though you respect their opinions but really they are below you, intellectually.dr_strangelove
You should be white. You can be black now, but only if you’re trying to make a “statement” about “race.” You cannot be Chinese or Russian or North Korean or Jewish. You cannot resemble the leader of a different country. That’s just confusing.jeff_bridges_the_contender_001

You can be a compassionate President or a vengeful President. You can try to mix those two ingredients, but try to favor one.

The future of the fake United States rests on every decision you pretend to make. Do not pretend to make decisions lightly. Fake people’s lives are in the balance.

Remember these rules and you will make a fine fake President. Real Presidents are judged harshly by historians, but fake Presidents get a free pass. Unfortunately, fake Presidents don’t get Presidential Libraries. If you want to go to a library, you’ll have to get a card just like everybody else.

Friday Robots

This week’s Friday Robot comes with a story. My documentarian friend, Andy, filmed the making of this robot.friday-robots-3-6-9
You can watch the video here, or here:

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