Movie Diary: Watchmen/Rachel Getting Married.

I went to see Watchmen by myself on a Thursday night, because I needed an excuse to go check out the new first run movie theater that opened three weeks ago two blocks from my house, and because I needed to get out of my house due to my roommate having his most annoying friend over. This is, as far as I know, only the second time in my life that I've gone to a movie alone (the first being the time I went to the second-run place down the block from my work to see "Sicko," a decision motivated by loneliness more than any desire to see the movie itself). I figured I'd avail myself of the concession stand's rather deluxe menu, just to determine whether the surprisingly elaborate food items were worth the exhorbitant theater prices they were charging for them. Well, $13 will always be a bit much for chicken fingers, fries, and a humongous diet soda, but the food was pretty good and the drink lasted me the entire movie, so I can't complain but so much. The theater itself, constructed inside the hollowed-out shell of a former factory, is actually pretty swank, complete with stadium seating and everything. I'm kind of amazed that I can now go to a theater just as nice as the ones out in the edge cities by walking for two minutes, but I'm definitely glad of it.

But what about "Watchmen" itself? After all the expectations and the hype, could it possibly be anything other than a letdown? I knew some people for whom the answer would inevitably be "no," for whom any change from the original Alan Moore plotline would be reason enough to scrap the whole thing as a worthless pile of shit, but I liked to think that I was not one of those people. True, I didn't believe that any movie version of "Watchmen" could live up to the graphic novel, but I was prepared to judge the movie on its own merits, accept it as an independent work and not do the kneejerk comparisons to the graphic novel. Which is why I feel sort of bad saying now that "Watchmen" the movie succeeds or fails in almost direct proportion to its faithfulness to the source material. But I'm not saying that in a fanboy way, in a "I can't believe 'Tales of the Black Freighter' was cut out! It sucks for that reason alone!" sort of way. I'm saying that because it was really obvious throughout that, whenever the screenwriters and/or director tried to divert from the source material, it became really obvious that they weren't nearly as skillful as storytellers as Alan Moore is.

First of all, the violence in the movie was incredibly off-putting. As someone who enjoys gore in horror movies, I find it sort of weird complaining about blood shooting everywhere or bad guys getting their knees bent the wrong way by violent kicks from superheroes, but seriously--that kind of thing had no place in this story. It didn't fit with the atmosphere Moore created and the film, for the most part, captured. Every scene that featured violence in the original novel had 10 times as much violence in the film version, and all of it felt overly drawn out and belabored. It seemed like a pubescent boy with a love for popcorn action flicks stepped into the director's role every so often just to ensure that the TOTAL NONSTOP ACTION!!! quotient be kept above a certain minimum. Maybe this was a commercial consideration, to ensure that said pubescent demographic didn't nod off in their chairs during the quieter moments, such as the extended "Dr. Manhattan on Mars" sequence--which, I must admit, worked incredibly well--but I really don't think it was worth it.

Second, the love scene between Nite Owl and Silk Spectre, which needed to be in the movie for about 10 seconds or so, was horribly belabored and went on orders of magnitude too long. It was awkward, it was stupid, it was completely unsexy, and it served no purpose. I had gotten up to use the bathroom two scenes earlier, and kicked myself during this scene for not having been able to hold it for five minutes longer.

The ending, and specifically the changes made from the comic-book version, was something I had mixed feelings about. Sure, it's explained enough in the movie to make it plausible on a surface level. However, anyone examining the motivations that this ending ascribes to Dr. Manhattan is going to find him/herself suspicious. Instead of Rorschach's diary showing up in the New Frontiersman and being laughed off as the ravings of a crackpot, as seems inevitable by the end of Moore's original graphic novel, the less plausible "blame it on Dr. Manhattan" version of the ending seems held together loosely enough that the appearance of Rorschach's diary seems like enough to blow the whole thing wide open. Of course, then again, maybe it'd just end up being the Watchmen-verse's version of 9/11 truth-squadders, who knows? Either way, the new ending, despite the fact that it works and avoids some of the exposition the novel's version requires, leaves me feeling far less confident in Ozymandias's ability to pull this whole crazy stunt off.

The casting in this movie has caused a lot of people a lot of problems, but I for one actually felt like everyone was well cast. Sure, Silk Spectre is annoying and over-acted, but who didn't get that same impression of her in the comic book? I felt like she was an annoying character, not a character played by an annoying actress. That was enough to make her casting work for me. I was also particularly happy with Billy Crudup's Dr. Manhattan. I was afraid that Manhattan would be depicted in the film as some godlike being, with a "James Earl Jones as Darth Vader" voice and a pompous, regal air. Instead, he seemed, most of the time, apologetically disinterested in the people and events that surrounded him. He was quiet and mostly emotionless, which fit with my original impression of the character. It was very well done.

It's a shame that the well-done casting decisions couldn't be carried over to the movie as a whole. So many choices that the director made for this film seemed to me to be made in the spirit of "Anything worth doing is worth OVERdoing." Nothing brought this point home more forcefully than the incredibly ham-fisted soundtrack. On multiple occasions, I cracked up laughing at some musical cue or another, only to draw stares from the theater-goers seated around me. Perhaps the problem here is the transition of a rather subtle comic book into a film whose target demographic is used to being beaten over the head with anything moviemakers want to get across to them. Maybe my appreciation for subtlety over ham-fistedness pushes me out of the target demographic of this movie. Regardless--"The Times They Are A-Changin'" for a decades-encompassing montage sequence? "The Sounds Of Silence" for a funeral scene? "All Along The Watchtower"--the Hendrix version, no less--for a prelude to the climactic confrontation in the villain's lair? Seriously, is the director of this movie 12? I would have seen these choices as too obvious by the time I started high school.

I'm not saying I hated the movie, though, so don't get me wrong. It's pretty enjoyable, as Hollywood popcorn action-adventure films go, and it's still grounded to a great extent in a more multi-faceted sensibility than the typical popcorn action flick ever approaches. But anytime director Zack Snyder takes too much of his own initiative, he sends it over the top, "from the sublime to the ridiculous," to coin a phrase. My disappointment with this film is not because it's terrible, but because it's a halfway decent film that so obviously could have been a great film in the hands of someone more talented. It's an object lesson in betrayal of potential. And that's a damn shame.

Now for the film I saw last week that really knocked me on my ass: "Rachel Getting Married."

I've been waiting to see this movie since reading pre-release reviews of it on the internet last year, and I am kind of amazed that it took me until it was out on DVD to catch it. That said, I managed to get Netflix to mail it to me on the day it was released, so that at least felt like a coup. "Rachel Getting Married" looks like it's a movie about a wedding, but it's so much more than that. Kym (Anne Hathaway) is out of rehab, has been clean for most of a year, and seems really to be trying to turn her life around. Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) is her much more straight-laced sister, and the reason Kym has gotten out of rehab and returned to the family home is because Rachel is getting married. The weekend that encompasses the marriage and the events that surround it provides a plot framework for the events that occur in the film, but they're not what's really important here. What really matter are the relationships between Kym, Rachel, and the rest of their family, and how those relationships fuel their specific interactions over the course of this weekend, one that will have a lot of emotional resonance even if everything goes off without a hitch. And as most of us can understand, it's almost impossible for anything involving family to go off without a hitch.

I had this movie through Netflix, and I managed to watch it three times during the 5 days I held onto it. I might have watched it more if I kept it in the house. Instead, I decided to send it back, just to keep myself from structuring my entire life for the next however-long around watching it repeatedly. That said, I'm now seriously considering buying my own copy.

It's kind of hard for me to put the feelings I have about this movie into words, especially since I feel like I'm on shaky ground whenever I start relating events in my own life to those depicted in a movie. That said, I'm going to make an attempt. Most people are aware that I'm someone who made the choice when I was 15 to stop using drugs and alcohol, and that I've been completely sober ever since. This often makes people look at me like I'm fucking crazy when I mention that I relate strongly to recovering alcoholics and drug addicts. It's true, though. I feel like spending every day trying not to give into a constant temptation to use drugs is really similar to my own struggles with depression. Depression feels like it hangs over my head every day, and that I have to work really hard not to give into it, let it take over my life, and surrender myself to emotional oblivion as a form of escape from the life I find it so hard to cope with. In fact, this feeling contributed heavily to my decision to quit using drugs as a teenager. It seemed like something that could become very habit-forming, that I could easily turn to using as a crutch, and that scared me enough even then to make me think that I should just skip the whole process and commit to not using them before ever getting seriously into doing so in the first place.

So OK, maybe this is some of why Anne Hathaway's portrayal of Kym in "Rachel Getting Married" hit me right where I live. And maybe some of it is because I have a shitload of trouble dealing with my family too, because I feel like my family doesn't understand me and doesn't really try, because I feel like it's easier for them to hate me for the ways in which I didn't turn out like they wanted me to, rather than try to understand and appreciate me for who I am.

But I gotta figure that a lot of it is also just because this is a fucking great movie. Hathaway and DeWitt are both amazing actors who do outstanding jobs in their respective roles. I know that, for a lot of people, Anne Hathaway = "Princess Diaries," but this movie proves that, even if she is good as a cutesy star of feel-good chick filicks, she can do equally well playing roles that are the polar opposite of something like that. She made the character of Kym so completely believable for me that I imagine that if I ever met her at some movie awards ceremony, I'd expect her to be just like that character. She probably isn't, but that's even more of a tribute to her acting ability. Rosemarie DeWitt as Rachel is equally excellent, primarily because her character is one that it would be so easy to hate. After all, since we're seeing this entire story through Kym's eyes, and the two of them are so very different, it'd be easy for Rachel to come off as a snotty goody-two-shoes sort. She isn't, though--at many points in the movie, she seems just as sympathetic as Kym. Even as she's doing things that seemed horribly unjust from my perspective, she did a good job of making clear what Rachel's motivations were, and making the viewer sympathize with her even when they were feeling bad for Kym. And, um, without getting into spoilers, the truth is that no matter how sympathetic Kym is at the point in her life that's shown in this film, we learn before too long that she's got a lot to answer for in her past.

I've gotta say, though, there are a lot of amazing actors in this film besides Hathaway and DeWitt, though. Tunde Adebimpe of TV On The Radio, a guy I had no idea could act, plays Rachel's husband, Sidney, and gives an understated but impressive performance, managing to seem like something more than a placeholder even as he's surrounded by much more accomplished actors with much more intense, high-energy roles. Bill Irwin is also awesome as the girls' father, a guy who just wants everyone to be cool with everyone else, and for all of his family to be happy. Debra Winger, as their mother, is far different, and despite having relatively little screen time, makes a huge impression on the film as a whole. Again, I can't really get into specifics, as I don't want to ruin it for anyone, but one scene about halfway through the film between her and Anne Hathaway might be the most powerful thing in the entire movie. It certainly destroyed me.

But then, all of the family interaction in this movie pretty much destroyed me. The happy moments, the sad moments, and everything in between. It all just rang so true to me. It expressed a lot of things about my own family that I wish I could get across. It had that affect on me that really good art sometimes has, where I finally felt like maybe I wasn't the only one who feels the way I do about some of the things I go through. One of the most subtle details of this entire movie struck me as hard as anything else here did--the way that, at various points during the wedding reception and other moments of happiness and revelry, Kym would seemingly wake up from a reverie, going from content and enjoying herself to suddenly self-conscious, aware of what was going on around her and feeling suddenly separate from it, alone in a crowd of the people supposed to love her the most. There was no dialogue at these moments, and generally all I had to go on, to realize they were even there, were 15 second scenes here and there where the expression on Anne Hathaway's face suddenly changed. But I recognized that change. Even in a subtle, quiet, barely there moment, I caught a powerful emotional message from this movie, one that I recognized on the deepest levels. It's a rare work of art that can achieve this kind of effect, and those involved with "Rachel Getting Married" deserve commendation for pulling it off.

One last, lighter note: one of my favorite things about this movie was the way that Tunde Adebimpe's real-life status as a well-known musician was used in the movie. It's never overtly stated what it is that he does, but a lot of awesome musicians show up in this movie, as an implied result of Sidney's position in the music industry. Fab 5 Freddy gives a toast at the wedding rehearsal dinner, jazz saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr. plays a song for the couple during the wedding rehearsal, Robyn Hitchcock and reggae singer Sister Carol both perform during the wedding reception, and there's even a great moment during the wedding when, as part of his vows, Sidney sings "Unknown Legend" by Neil Young to Rachel. The role of music in the movie, even during incidental scenes when musicians were often playing in the next room as filming occurred, is prominent, and helps add another layer of realism to the movie, as, in lieu of a soundtrack, the music in the film is generally being performed live as the scenes are being filmed. From watching the commentary, I've gotten the impression that director Jonathan Demme's experience making documentaries was a big influence on the way this movie was filmed and put together, and I have to say that I'm glad he has that experience, because it seemed obvious to me by the third viewing that a lot of the things I liked about this movie were there because of the documentary influence. Maybe more feature-film directors should do documentary work--it seems like there might be some pretty important lessons to be learned there.



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