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The Top 10 Movies of 2009 — Part One!

Despite the horrendous batch of summer “blockbusters” that we had to suffer through, 2009 was actually a pretty darned good year for movies!  I’d been feeling otherwise, but when I looked back through my notes about all the great films that I saw this past year, I had a hard time narrowing down my Top Ten list!

As I did before beginning last year’s list, I should mention that, despite the rather large number of new movies that I saw in 2009, there were plenty of heard-they-were-great films (or films that otherwise seemed interesting to me) that I wanted to see but just didn’t get to.  These include The Hurt Locker, Moon, Pirate Radio, Broken Embraces, A Single Man, An Education, Me and Orson Welles, Invictus, The Road, and The Lovely Bones.  Might one or more of those films have wound up on this list, had I seen them?  Who can say!

So, without further ado, let’s dive into my List of my Ten Favorite Movies from 2009!

Honorable Mention: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus — I was just tickled by every moment of this wonderfully weird trip into the mind of Terry Gilliam.  Heath Ledger’s final performance is delightful and enigmatic, and the trio of actors who stepped in to complete his role after his tragic death (Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell) are all absolutely wonderful, as is the great Christopher Plummer in the title role.  Read my full review here.

10.  Coraline — I’ve got three animated films on this list, but they could not possibly be more different from one another.   Each is a magnificently unique creation.  In Coraline, Neil Gaiman’s fantasy story is brought to breathtaking life by gorgeous stop-motion animation.  Coraline is an intelligent but lonely little girl whose world is uprooted when her parents move into a strange new house.  When she discovers a small, secret door that leads into an alternate world where she meets far happier and more doting alternate versions of her parents, Coraline is delighted and entranced.  But all is not as it seems, and the young girl will need all of her wits to escape from the web into which she has fallen.  Dangerous and dark, this haunting tale is sweet and scary in equal parts.  I can’t wait to see it again.  Read my full review here.

9.  Watchmen — I’ve seen this film so many times already (in a variety of different cuts) that it’s hard to believe it came out this year!  Zach Snyder’s gloriously ambitious attempt at adapting Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ magnum opus Watchmen has its flaws, but even after many repeated viewings I remain dazzled … [continued]

 

Let the Best of 2009 lists continue!  I hope you all enjoyed my list of the Top 10 TV Episodes of 2009.

Now let’s dive into my list of the Top 10 DVDs (or Blu-Rays) released in 2009!

First, I’d like to give Honorable Mentions to the complete series sets of three amazing TV shows that I had just about given up all hope of ever seeing on DVD: It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, Andy Richter Controls the Universe, and Andy Barker, P.I. So why aren’t these shows on my list?  Because I can’t put anything on this list that I haven’t actually watched, and I’ve been way, way too busy to get through any of these sets.  Of the three, the only one I own is Andy Richter Controls the Universe.  (That one came out first, and I’m not going to purchase the other two sets until I actually have time to watch them.)  But I take great delight in knowing that these three DVD sets exist here on planet Earth, and I know that I’ll get to them all in good time.

10. Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut (Blu-ray) — I’ve seen Watchmen quite a few times since it was released early in 2009, and while the film certainly has some weaknesses, I remain overwhelmed by the enormity of its successes.  It’s hard to believe that Zach Snyder brought this seminal graphic novel by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons, which long had been considered unadaptable, to life.  It thrills me to see such a faithful take on the material and that the filmmakers had the confidence to craft a super-hero film that was aimed squarely at adults.  The Ultimate Cut of the film is Zach Snyder’s longest version, stitching together his Director’s Cut with the animated Tales of the Black Freighter sequences.  It’s pretty astounding.  This Blu-Ray set would be much higher on this list were it not for the paltry special features.  Not only are the special features lame (this is a movie that cries out for a full-fledged making-of documentary), but this set just reproduces the special features that were already released on the Director’s Cut set.  (I guess I’ve been spoiled by the amazing extended editions of the Lord of the Rings films, which came not just with phenomenal extended versions of the films but with extraordinarily elaborate making-of documentaries that didn’t duplicate the special features on the theatrical version DVDs.)  (Read my review of the theatrical version of Watchmen here, and of the Director’s Cut here.)

9. Contact (Blu-Ray) — A beautiful film that manages to combine a serious, cerebral sci-fi tale with an effecting story of the personal journey … [continued]

 

Josh Reviews the new Director’s Cut of Watchmen

September 7th, 2009
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Even before Watchmen was released in theatres, director Zach Snyder made clear, in interviews, that we’d be seeing his longer Director’s Cut released on DVD/Blu-Ray before too terribly long.  

Well, Watchmen: The Director’s Cut is indeed now available for all to see, and I am happy to report that it’s quite excellent.

This Director’s Cut isn’t a total reinvention of the film.  The film unfolds as it did in its theatrical form.  There are no revelatory story-lines or spectacular action sequences added back in.  This Director’s Cut isn’t going to change anyone’s mind about Mr. Snyder’s adaptation of the comic book masterpiece by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.  If the film didn’t grab you in the theatres (and if you’re reading this while thinking to yourself, “twenty-four extra minutes added on to a film that was already two and a half hours??  No thanks!!”) then nothing I’m going to write here will cause you to think any differently.  But if you were as taken with the theatrical version as I was (check out my original review here), then this new extended version is a delight.

As I wrote above, the film hasn’t been dramatically re-edited (the way, for example, the first half-hour of The Fellowship of the Ring was entirely re-worked in Peter Jackson’s magnificent extended edition), and there’s no “Wow!  What a cool sequence that they’ve restored to the film!” moment (such as the astounding revised ending of James Cameron’s Director’s Cut of The Abyss).  No, what has been added back into the film are a lot of little moments, little bits of texture to the story from the original comic book.  Scenes now start a few moments earlier, or end a few moments later.  Many of the characters now get a few extra moments.  Bits of background detail are added.  These accumulate to result in a film that is a bit more leisurely paced than the theatrical version, but where the world of the story has been a little more fleshed out.  

One of the very first changes is also the most perplexing one, and really the only change I objected to.  There’s a little button added on to the scene where Rorschach investigates the Comedian’s apartment, after his murder.  Now, as Rorschach is leaving, a cop finds him in the apartment, and tries to shoot him.  For some reason, the bullets don’t seem to connect with Rorschach, and when the cop looks back at him, he is gone.  Whereas most of the rest of the additions in this new cut result in the re-incorporation of small moments or details from the original graphic novel, this addition is a complete invention of the filmmakers, and it … [continued]

 

“Amongst Horrors Must I Dwell” — Josh Reviews the Tales of the Black Freighter!

March 30th, 2009
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“Delirious, I saw that hell-bound ship’s black sails against the yellow Indies sky, and knew again the stench of powder, and men’s brains, and war.”

So begins the Tales of the Black Freighter, the famed “comic within a comic” from Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons.  It’s one of my favorite elements of the graphic novel, and also one of the most bizarre (which might be why I like it so much!).  Starting in the very first panel of Watchmen‘s third chapter, and then recurring periodically throughout the remainder of the story, the horrific narrative of this pirate comic (being read by a young boy hanging out by a street-corner news-stand) weaves in and out of the larger story being told.

In the Black Freighter story, we follow the ordeal of the lone survivor of a sailing ship that has been ambushed and destroyed by the pirates of the Black Freighter.  Fearing that the pirates’ next target is his home of Davidstown, where his wife and children live, the survivor (whose name is never given) goes to desperate efforts to make his way home before the Black Freighter arrives.  Needless to say, things don’t go well.

In my review of the Zack Snyder’s movie adaptation of Watchmen, I wrote how I found it hard to believe that I was actually watching a Watchmen movie.  Who’d have believed that this brilliant, violent, weird graphic novel had ever been made into a film — and, even more incredibly, one so faithfully translated from the source material??  Well, as much as I had doubted that a Watchmen movie would ever come to be, it was positively inconceivable to me that Tales of the Black Freighter would EVER be included in such an adaptation.  In bringing such a large and complex work as Watchmen to the screen, surely the first thing to be done would be to determine what elements could be jettisoned, and surely the Black Freighter digressions would be at the top of that list!

And, indeed, the version of Watchmen released to theatres last month did not, in fact, include the Tales of the Black Freighter.  But, bless their hearts, Snyder and his team did actually adapt the Tales of the Black Freighter.  In order to capture the “comic within a comic” and differentiate it from the rest of the movie, they made the savvy choice to create it using animation.  And so the twenty minute Tales of the Black Freighter short film came to be.  It was released to DVD this past week, and it will be edited back into the Watchmen movie for a super-duper special edition DVD to come.  

So how is … [continued]

 

“I did it thirty-five minutes ago” — Josh Reviews Watchmen!

March 9th, 2009
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It’s a bit hard to fathom that I live in a world in which there actually exists a film version of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s magnificent epic Watchmen.

Long considered completely unadaptable, Watchmen (originally published as a 12-issue limited-series by DC Comics back in 1985-86, and re-printed countless times in the subsequent two decades in collected “graphic novel” form) is a staggeringly intricate, layered work that is at once a ripping super-hero yarn and, at the same time, a complete deconstruction of the entire idea of the super-hero adventure comic.

What is fascinating is that the film version of Watchmen arrives at a unique time.  Over the past almost-decade (since the release of Bryan Singer’s X-Men in 2000), we have seen a flood of super-hero movies (a great many of them dreck, and a great many of them of pretty high quality).  This past summer alone saw the release of The Dark Knight, Iron Man, and Hellboy II, among others — three very different films, yet all examples of super-hero movies that were quite extraordinarily well executed.  We’re at a point now when the general public has become very familiar with a lot of the tropes of the super-hero movie genre — and so are perfectly primed to see those familiar characters and themes and story structures completely up-ended by the movie of Watchmen, the same way that the comic book audience had all of their familiar super-hero comic ideas up-ended by the original Watchmen comic.  This movie, I think, is being released at just the right time.

And it is magnificent.

It’s hard for me to imagine what someone who has never read Watchmen would think of this film, because I have read the comic so many times that it is impossible to imagine not knowing (and revering) the story beat-by-beat.  But it seems to me that director Zack Snyder has done an extraordinary job of maintaining a great deal of the depth and complexity of the comic, while also making it very accessible to a first-timer.  That is no easy feat.

Those of you who, like me, worship the source material, can rest easy.  Snyder’s film is a breathtakingly faithful adaptation of the comic.  The structure and story-line of the comic is replicated in great detail; almost all of the dialogue and narration has been lifted right out of the comic; and most importantly, the tone and atmosphere of the world that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons created has been brought to life in a powerfully real, visceral way.

To begin with, the film is a marvel of casting.  Thinking about Watchmen in the months leading up to the release, there were a lot of elements … [continued]

 

News Around the Net

Haven’t done one of these in a while…

Here’s some of the fun stuff floating around the interwebs these days:

The Simpsons has moved to HD!  This has apparently necessitated a change in the show’s iconic opening credits sequence, which has remained constant for 19 years.  (Can you believe it’s been that long??)  Fear not, fans, the new credits sequence is quite spectacular.  It follows the general pattern of the old opening, bringing us through Springfield — from Bart writing on the blackboard to Homer working in the plant to Lisa in band class to Marge shopping with Maggie, etc etc.  But there are a LOT of great new gags, and new appearances by many of the popular characters who weren’t around when the show originally launched (Groundskeeper Willie, Otto, Ralph Wiggum, Pattie & Selma, Sideshow Bob, Apu and his Octuplets, and many more).  And the new animation is terrific.  If you missed yesterday’s episode, check out the new opening by clicking here.  Note that the couch gag is, of course, just this week’s version — that ending joke will continue to change every week.  By the way, after watching this clip, do you find yourself missing Bleeding Gums Murphy?  (He’s one of the characters Bart used to skateboard past, who has now been removed.)  Don’t worry, he’s still there!  Check out the pictures on the wall behind the kids in Lisa’s band class…

Just like the year when there were two asteroid-hitting-the-earth movies (Deep Impact and Armageddon) or the year when there were two volcano movies (Dante’s Peak and Volcano), this year there are two Mall Cop flicks coming out.  Perhaps you, like me, chose to pass on Paul Blart: Mall Cop, starring Kevin James.  But you might still be interested in Seth Rogen’s much, much darker take on the idea.  Click here to see a trailer for Observe and Report.

Speaking of trailers, Quentin Tarantino’s let’s-go-kill-some-Nazis flick Inglourious Basterds (yes, that is how the title is spelled) has a teaser trailer that was just released.  Click here to check it out.

Is Joaquin Phoenix melting down before our eyes, or is this all some kind of hoax for the documentary that Casey Affleck is apparently filming about Phoenix’s attempt at a rap career?  I have no idea, but click here to watch his truly bizarre appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman, and judge for yourself.

If you’re a Watchmen fan who is chomping at the bit for the movie to be released (Match 6th is coming!!), then you definitely need to click here to watch the teaser for the Tales of the Black Freighter direct-to-DVD release. 

Finally, I … [continued]

 

Quantum of Solace, Watchmen, and Star Trek!

November 17th, 2008
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So Steph and I caught Quantum of Solace on Friday — What a fun time in a theatre!

The showing started off with several exciting trailers for some of the big blockbusters that will be arriving in the spring.  Quite a few of them didn’t interest me, such as Angels & Demons, the Da Vinci Code sequel (or is it a prequel?).  But there were two that sure as heck did.

 

That was the new trailer for Watchmen.  (See a larger version here.)  Watchmen is the beloved graphic novel (called by Time Magazine one of the 100 greatest novels of all time) that was published by DC Comics in 1986.  The first trailer was just imagery, whereas in this trailer we get to see some plot and a goodly amount of dialogue, giving us a slightly better idea about how these characters are being brought to life.  And so far, so good.  The trailer sells the movie on its simplest level — that of a murder mystery.  (Costumed “heroes” are being picked off, one by one — but by whom??)  That’s probably a wise choice, but I do hope that there winds up being a lot more to the movie than just that — I want the film to capture some of the complexity of the graphic novel.  

(Much more than just a whodunnit, Watchmen is a fascinating deconstruction of our modern superhero myths, asking how the modern world would be changed if superheroes really existed, and what would the people who chose to put on garish costumes and go out and fight crime really be like?  The plot is intricate, and the character arcs consist of brutal psychological realism.  Visually it is a tour-de-force, utilizing symbolism, recurring visual motifs & parallel structure to connect disparate scenes and ideas.  I could go on and on about Watchmen…. and I’m sure I will in a future post as the movie approaches!  Suffice to say, I am a bit nervous and VERY excited to see the finished film in March.)

Then there was this:

[UPDATED -- Click HERE to view a crystal clear official version of the trailer that just became available, or check out the shaky bootleg below.]

First of all, props to the Paramount marketing department because they totally fooled me.  I had read on-line that the first full trailer (there was a teaser released last Spring) would be shown with Quantum of Solace, and so I was watching carefully for it.  But when this trailer came up, starting with a kid racing a car through a desert, I thought “oh well, that’s not it, maybe the next one.”  It wasn’t until the kid said … [continued]

 

Second Chances…

October 23rd, 2008
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A trailer for the fifth and penultimate season of Lost has made its way onto the internet.  Check it out here.  Nothing earth-shattering, but its enough to get my anticipation building for the return of the show in ’09.

Speaking of building anticipation, some new footage from Watchmen aired recently on Spike TV and is now, of course, up on YouTube.  Check it out here.  The first half is mostly familiar to those of us who pored over the amazing first trailer, but the second half is mostly new stuff.  Visually, this footage is incredible — Zack Snyder has really nailed a number of iconic moments from the acclaimed Graphic Novel.  Will the film live up to our hopes?  We’ll find out on March 6th…

Finally, due to nothing more than my own incompetence, yesterday’s cartoon (recapping Pirates of the Caribbean 2) went up pretty late in the day, so if you missed it just click on Comic Archive to check it out.… [continued]

 

News Around The Net

LOTS of fun stuff continuing to hit the interweb in this past week, after the San Diego Comic Con.  Check out these links:

Creepy new trailer for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince can be found here!

Is the new Terminator movie going to be any good?  I doubt it.  But is this poster pretty cool?  Why it surely is.

Speaking of posters, some gorgeous new posters for the Watchmen movie can be seen here.

The entire hour-long Battlestar Galactica panel from Comic-Con (hosted by KEVIN SMITH!) is on-line here.

If you’re going to go see the next X-Files movie, this somewhat humorous recap of the final two rather lame seasons of the show can be found here.  Of course, the movie doesn’t deal with any of that stuff.  But its a fun trip down memory lane, as well as a reminder of why I haven’t rewatched any of the episodes from those final years of the show recently!

And finally, who better to sum up the entire Comic Con experience for those of us who couldn’t attend than Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.  He is merciless.

OK, that should keep you all off the streets for the next little while…… [continued]

 

Who Watches the Watchmen Trailer?

July 24th, 2008

Seeing as how The Dark Knight has already made two kajillion dollars, I guess most of you reading this have probably already caught the flick.  If so, you quite likely also beheld the magnificent Watchmen trailer.  For those of you who haven’t had the opportunity, behold!

“Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?”… [continued]