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Who Will Want to Watch “Watchmen”? (Part I)

2 Jun

I’m in general agreement with most of Mike’s observations about the Watchmen movie: that the source material is dangerously close to unfilmable and that it’ll be turned into a action film–albeit an action film uselessly layered with pseudo-political commentary and psychodrama window dressing. But contra Mike, after reading the wikipedia page (and having just finished rereading Watchmen), I think there are some signals that Zack Snyder might have a shot at translating the graphic for the screen. Let’s start with the bits that seem promising:

1. Synder has decided to keep the movie in alternate-1985 America: This seems like an important feature of not only the political environment the characters live in, but also in the look of the movie itself. This is a successful but inwardly empty America that has gotten much of what it wanted during the Cold War, thanks to Dr. Manhattan. America wins in Vietnam (and seemingly every other proxy war) and rides high on its sense of invincibility. Remove that stuff and you’ve got a different writer’s social commentary. If there’s going to be any sense of intelligent political musings, it’s best that it be in the context of Watchmen’s world rather than a botched gloss on current political events or turned into some generic screed against nuclear war.

2. Nite Owl looks kinda badass: Like Mike, this made me wince at first. Sure, spandex and bright colors look better on the page than on the screen (a not unwise choice, as Bryan Singer’s X-Men demonstrated), but the characters seem needlessly “sexed up”. But then I read this from Snyder:

The costumes, as they’re drawn, might not be accessible to many of today’s audiences. I also felt that audiences might not appreciate the naiveté of the original costumes. So, there has been some effort to give them a slightly more… I would say modern look — and not modern in the sense of 2007, but modern in terms of the superhero aesthetic. It was also important to me that they appealed to my own taste as a moviegoer. Lastly and possibly most important, I wanted to be sure that they comment directly on many of today’s modern masked vigilantes — who shall remain nameless…

If this is going to be a real movie–and not simply an action flick using the names and characters from an Alan Moore comic–then the movie has to be a commentary (or examination, or whatever) on superheros as they’re portrayed in the movies, just as Watchmen was, to some extent, an examination of heroes as they’d been written and drawn in comics up until 1985. These are two different media with their own tropes and cliches to be poked at and examined. This new Nite Owl seems pretty (movie) Batman inspired.

I also think Mike places too much emphasis on visual absurdity of the costumes: Continue reading

And Another Thing: Sting Isn’t Even Spanish!

11 Oct

After taking a shot a Baby Boomers in my last post, I’d like to spread the criticism around and go after my own generation. This Blender list of the 40 worst lyricists in rock is a case study in intellectually lazy criticism, as practiced by Generation Y¹: snark and sneer, with a useless dash of contrarianism thrown in to annoy.

I understand that lists of “the best of” and “the worst of” are both inherently subjective and presented as the empty-calorie diversion of popular magazines, but something more than “assertion with attitude!” is called for here. You want to try and set up some sort of vague criteria or at least choose the most egregious and generally recognized offenders (e.g. something goofy like 50 Cent’s “I love you like a fat kid loves cake”). At least go for broke on the meaningless and viscously subjective, which, even when your readers don’t agree, can be pretty funny; arbitrariness alleviates the burden of having to legitimately defend your choices. If you’re going to be irreverent, you need to sell it.

But when Blender claims Sting is the worst lyricist ever, this is the best they can muster:

Surveying the Cold War, he found the West “conditioned to respond to all the threats/In the rhetorical speeches of the Soviets.” His rage at Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was so heated, he castigated the scoundrel in Spanish. Holy frijoles, was Sting mad!

Oh noes! He was “mad” and singing in another language! Oh, snap? If you’re going to assert Sting’s lyrics represent “[m]ountainous pomposity, cloying spirituality, ham-handed metaphors,” it would help if you cited examples, unless we’re to understand that mentioning Nabokov or referencing Shakespeare for an adult-contemporary audience as pomposity–in which case I’d like to thank Blender in advance for adding to creeping anti-intellectualism, or outright disdain for anything resembling the influence of poetry² on lyrics.

For more on my Generation’s critical follies, check out this Slate article categorizing this sort of criticism as a symptom of “poptimism”.

¹ Or whatever the hell we’re calling people born after 1980 but before 2000.

² Hahahahaha. “Poetry.”

Yale English Dept. Not the Political Powerhouse Yale Law Is

22 Aug

The bizarre contrarian ramblings of Camille Paglia remind me of the old Larry King USA Today columns, if Larry King were on steroids, a powerful psychotropic, and had an English degree from Yale (for a point of reference, this old Onion parody of King is actually pretty close to the real thing). Belle Waring reads her latest column and identifies everything that is awry in just three paragraphs of Paglia’s musings:

How many things have gone wrong in this passage? From listening to Drudge’s radio show, to facile ecstasies about black people and how they’re so authentic and musical, to finding deep meaning in a Kelly Clarkson song, I can only say: damn, Camille, that was some pharmaceutical-grade sh#t right there.

Her survey of the current political landscape, however, is pure up-is-downism:

The thick-headed Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld triad may have grotesquely bungled the Iraq incursion, but Republicans (barring a breakaway third party) will still comfortably retake the White House next year if my fellow Democrats don’t get their act together on the cardinal issue of geopolitics. Terrorism isn’t going to go away if and when we withdraw from Iraq.

They will “comfortably” retake the White House? After two close presidential elections, a fundraising lead for Democrats for the first time in years, and the Democratic takeover of Congress in 2006, what exactly leads Paglia to believe that a victory would be a comfortable one? Gotta love political insight from a woman who’s sure the Democrats are going down but voted for Nader in 2000.

Harry Potter is the Chosen One (But I’m Still Not Reading)

14 Aug

Though I’ve never read any of the Harry Potter books, this Jane Espenson essay in TNR¹ does a good job explaining why thebooks-of-magic.jpg story of a boy wizard is so captivating–he’s the Chosen One:

The Chosen One paradigm is the most positive, most comforting, most affirming metaphorical version of change, of growing up, that I can imagine.

And as Espenson argues, it’s also why Luke Skywalker and Buffy Summers have greater appeal than Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica; intricate worlds have their niche followings, but the Chosen One is a universal archetype.  Keep that in mind during your next pitch meeting.

For my part, I’ve never been much interested in reading Harry Potter because I found the strikingly similar Books of Magic before Harry Potter was published (and I was a little old to get caught up in the first wave of Pottermania, though it’s pretty common for adults to read the books now).  Besides, The Books of Magic also features everyone’s favorite trench coat wearing, chain smoking, itinerant magician.  Honestly, who’s a cooler mentor: Dumbledore or John Constantine?

¹  A BtVS writer!  In TNR! I nearly geeked-out.

Ghost of John Kenneth Galbraith Writes for AMC

3 Aug

One of the things that struck me watching AMC’s orginal series Mad Men (about the workings of a Madison Avenue ad agency in 1960) was the deeply cynical view of advertising–one that closely follows the view Ken Galbraith put forth in The Affluent Society.

Or does it? Galbraith saw advertising, in part, as a way of manipulating consumers, inducing them to buy things that they didn’t really need, or at least convincing them that they needed it. This is a distortion of competition, but a reality of the big firms and technostructure Galbraith saw dominating American business. While microeconomics allows for this less than ideal picture of competition (rather than lowering prices to increase demand, firms can spend money on advertsing to attract consumers) Galbraith’s thesis always bothered me because, taken to it’s extreme, we get AdBusters type nonsense.  It assumes a model of the consumer as easily duped, or someone so taken by affluent spectacle and advertising spin that they’ll purchase almost anything, given the right ad campaign.

In some ways, though, both views are consistent.  As John Quiggin summarized shortly after Galbraith’s death last year,  the Becker/Murphy model of advertising (a fairly “mathed up” economic study) views ads as complements to the consumption of what’s advertised:

An obvious case of the Becker-Murphy story arises when the ads tell a story that enhances the subjective value of consuming the good in question. A pair of shoes that make you feel like a basketball star is better (for the target market) than a pair of shoes that just covers your feet.

Ads are informational insofar as they tell you that there is a new product, but their primary function is to attach some intangible good (or “aura,” as Tyler Cowen likes to say about cultural products) to the product that you would like to buy along with it.  In this view, Galbraith’s observation is still generally correct, but instead of duping us we have to admit to buying things along with the products that we might not want to admit we’re buying.

So yes, they are selling you “cool” when you buy cigarettes.  But only because you feel like a loser.

That’s Enterntainment

21 Jul

A little while ago, Entertainment Weekly did an interview with House‘s Robert Sean Leonard.  Besides the fact that both House and Leonard are great, the interview was a nice window into the world of a serious actor who loves his work, but has neither the inclination nor the ambition to be über-famous.  I found this story especially enlightening:

I once did a movie with Kiefer Sutherland called Ground Control, about air traffic controllers. We had like four directors. At one point, I walked in, and he was directing. I said, ”What are you doing?” He said, ”Richard quit, I don’t know.” I remember Kiefer saying, ”Man, this is like one of those movies where you go home to your hotel and you’re exhausted, it’s three in the morning, you turn on the TV and the movie you’re shooting is actually on Showtime.” You think, ”I’m still shooting this! And they sold it to Showtime!”

Poetry has some uniquely lame trade-offs, but it’s still nice to see that even actors who have “made it,” still have to put up with this sort of crap.