New Releases for the Week of August 31, 2012


LAWLESS

(Weinstein) Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain, Guy Pearce, Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, Mia Wasikowska, Dane DeHaan, Lew Temple. Directed by John Hillcoat

During Prohibition, a group of brothers in the Virginia hill country go from small town bootleggers to local legends to wanted men. They are the Bondurant brothers and they will take on the law while remaining true to each other and their own particular code of wrong and right. (Opened on Wednesday)

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Gangster

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence, language and some sexuality/nudity)

Celeste and Jesse Forever

(Sony Classics) Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, Elijah Wood, Emma Roberts. They were high school sweethearts who married young. Now Celeste and Jesse are in their 30s and she wants more from her relationship than he is giving her, so they divorce. They want to remain best friends but as they begin to see other people and Celeste begins to re-evaluate her decision, this proves to be not as easy as it sounds – and it doesn’t sound easy at all.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: R (for language, sexual content and drug use)

Joker

(UTV) Akshay Kumar, Sonakshi Sinha, Chitrangda Singh, Sanjay Mishra. A small village is misplaced when the boundaries between India and Pakistan are drawn up, ending up in neither country. Isolated and forgotten, it is overrun by the inmates at the region’s largest insane asylum who take over. It is here a NASA scientist comes to build his device that is meant to communicate with alien cultures but there can be no culture as alien as the one in this village!

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure

(Kenn Viselman Presents) Toni Braxton, Cloris Leachman, Christopher Lloyd, Cary Elwes. A movie in which kids are encouraged to stand up, dance, sing along and act out. Bad idea. (Opened on Wednesday)

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Family

Rating: G

The Possession

(Lionsgate) Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyra Sedgwick, Madison Davenport, Natasha Calis. A young girl becomes obsessed with a wooden box that she found at a yard sale. As her behavior becomes erratic and sinister her parents grow to realize that it wasn’t just any box that she had found – it had contained a dybbuk, a Jewish demon that consumes its victims from the inside. Can they stop it before their darling daughter is devoured?

See the trailer, a clip, a promo and a short film here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Supernatural Horror

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material involving violence and disturbing sequences)

Taking Woodstock


Demitri Martin, Eugene Levy has only three words for ya: Second City Television.

(Focus) Demetri Martin, Emile Hirsch, Imelda Staunton, Liev Schreiber, Eugene Levy, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Henry Goodman, Jonathan Groff, Mamie Gummer, Paul Dano, Kelli Garner, Adam Pally. Directed by Ang Lee

From August 15 through August 18, 1969 a festival billed as “three days of peace and music” took center stage in the universe of the counterculture. It remains the granddaddy of all rock festivals, the touchstone to which all other large-scale festivals are inevitably compared. My brother-in-law Jim Ivey was one of the half million in attendance and has the ticket stubs to prove it; if you went by the number of people who claimed they were there, millions of people were at Max Yasgur’s dairy farm that day. The festival is known simply as Woodstock.

Elliott Teichberg (Martin) is an interior designer in Greenwich Village whose parents Jake (Goodman) and Sonia (Staunton) own a dilapidated hotel in White Lake, New York near the bucolic town of Bethel. The hotel is gradually going broke, run to ground by his parents’ inability to run even basic maintenance and his mother’s abrasive personality and unbridled greed.

He doubles as the head of the Bethel Chamber of Commerce, authorizing permits for the city. He has a counterculture theatrical company, the Earthlight Players, taking up residency in his barn and is planning a music festival where he’ll essentially spin records to inert townspeople on the lawn of the hotel.

None of this is doing any good. The bank is about to foreclose; they have managed to finagle enough time to last the summer, but that’s it. His parents, Holocaust survivors, they’ve gone through quite a bit and as unpleasant as Sonia is, Elliott still worries.

When he hears that the organizers of a large-scale music festival have been denied permits in Walkill, New York, he recognizes the golden opportunity to save the hotel. A festival with big name performers will draw people who will fill the hotel for the weekend but also serve as a headquarters for the festival. The festival’s organizers, Michael Lang (Groff) and Artie Kornfeld (Pally), come in with a bit of a flourish and the laid-back Lang instantly takes to Elliott. When the hotel property proves to be inadequate for the size of the crowds the organizers are expected, Elliott introduces Lang and Kornfeld to Max Yasgur (Levy), a dairy farmer who is sympathetic to the idea of a rock festival.

The rest of the town, not so much. The most vocal of these is Dan (Morgan), a man whose son Billy (Hirsch) came back from Vietnam shell-shocked and broken. He feels the hippies are disrespectful to the country that his son gave so much for. The tension between the townies and the hippies (including Max and Elliott in the eyes of the town) is palpable.

Against all odds, the festival comes together; even the weather conspired against them. In the process, Elliott comes to terms with his parents and makes the decision to follow his own heart.

Ang Lee is one of the most gifted directors in the world. One of my all-time favorite movies is the Taiwanese director’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. His other films – The Ice Storm, Brokeback Mountain, Eat Drink Man Woman among others – are always compelling, even the ones that are less successful. Here, he captures the essence of the festival nicely. He made the decision to put almost no emphasis on the music; the actual concert takes place off-screen and the only time music from the festival. Instead, he concentrates on the backstage elements behind the festival; after all, the music and the concert were already well-documented in Michael Wadleigh’s Woodstock which is paid homage to in several places during the course of the movie.

Martin is best-known as a stand-up comedian and he’s a very good one. Strangely, even though this is a comedy, his role is more or less as a straight man. His deadpan stand-up delivery is mirrored here; the role is very low-key but is nonetheless still compelling. Staunton and Goodman give high-powered performances and Levy is surprisingly solid in a straight dramatic role. Schreiber shows up about halfway through the film and nearly steals the movie as the transgendered security guard Vilma. He is working on a level most of the other actors don’t attain, at least in this movie.

Sadly, the movie is a bit of a jumble. The performances are fine but they seem to be all coming from different movies. There’s no cohesion, no sense of unity; there are times you feel like you’re channel surfing while watching a single movie. That’s not a good feeling.

The movie is based on the memoirs of Elliott Tiber (renamed Teichberg here for some reason) whose version of events has been disputed by the real Michael Lang. The movie is not meant to be a documentary-like representation of what really happened; I get the feeling that Lee was attempting to replicate the spirit of Woodstock and illustrate just what a miracle it was that it got staged at all.

Woodstock remains a cultural touchstone for us even now, more than forty years after the fact. It is not only a symbol of a time, place and a movement; it remains a beacon of hope that the ideals of a generation may someday be adopted by a nation. Woodstock means different things for different people but regardless of how it makes you feel, nearly every person in the Western world is aware of its significance. This isn’t the movie that properly honors the event and I couldn’t tell you (having not been at the real one) if this gives you a sense of being there yourself. Still, it was insightful enough – and visually compelling enough – to make it worth a mild recommendation.

WHY RENT THIS: Even in his worst movies, Lee has a marvelous visual sense that borders on the poetic. Martin makes for an intriguing lead.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie is a bit of a jumble; the performances, while well-acted aren’t really cohesive and feels like the movie is made up of a series of unrelated vignettes.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a whole lot of drug use and nudity (hey, it was the Sixties after all) and some rough language; may be a little too much for younger folk to handle.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: No actual footage from Woodstock was used; while many of the events depicted here actually happened, they were all re-enacted for the film.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: A featurette entitled “Peace, Love and Cinema” not only does the usual happy-handed behind-the-scenes lovefest there are also interviews with the real people being portrayed in the movie.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Rudo y Cursi

Jonah Hex


Jonah Hex

You have to wonder if Josh Brolin didn't just take a blowtorch to his career.

(Warner Brothers) Josh Brolin, John Malkovich, Megan Fox, Michael Fassbender, Will Arnett, Michael Shannon, Tom Wopat, Aidan Quinn, Wes Bentley, John Gallagher Jr., Julia Jones, Luke James Fleischmann, Rio Hackford, Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Directed by Jimmy Hayward

We all have a reason to get up out of bed every morning. Be it love, career or cause, there is something that motivates us to keep going even when the going gets rough. For some that cause is vengeance.

Jonah Hex (Brolin) was an officer in the Confederate Army under the command of General Quentin Turnbull (Malkovich) but when the General ordered the burning of a hospital with innocent women and children inside it. Jonah balks at this and betrays Turnbull to the Union Army. As a result of this, Hex is forced to kill Jeb Turnbull (Morgan), the son of the General.

As you might guess, the General doesn’t cotton to this very well. He finds Jonah and ties him to a cross, then makes him watch as he burns Jonah’s wife and son to death. That General Turnbull, he sure has a thing for burning women and children alive. Just in case Jonah forgets who is responsible for the death of his family, General puts a branding iron on the side of Jonah’s face while the General’s Irish right hand man Burke (Fassbender) holds him down.

Jonah is left on the cross to die, but was rescued by members of the Crow nation whose medicine men were able to bring back Jonah to this side. Jonah came back hideously scarred but with the ability to converse with the dead. That comes in handy since the dead can see where those they trafficked with in life are.

Jonah becomes a bounty hunter but after killing a corrupt mayor and his sheriff in the lovely mining town (if you can really call it that) of Stunk Crick, he finds himself with a bounty on his own head. Naturally, he does what any self-respecting bounty hunter would do in a situation like that – go visit a prostitute with a heart of gold, namely the fetching Lilah (Fox) who carries a torch for Jonah. She also carries a derringer and a knife. She may have a heart of gold but she’s also practical.

Their rendezvous is interrupted by about a dozen Union soldiers (Jonah’s withering bon mot – “How many men are you seein’ today?”) who get Jonah’s co-operation by telling him three words; Quentin Turnbull’s alive.

You see, everybody had assumed that Turnbull had perished in a hotel fire but it turns out that he had faked his death. You’d think someone able to communicate with the dead would have better intel about who had passed on and who hadn’t. In any case, the U.S. Army had determined that Turnbull was assembling a superweapon designed by Eli Whitney, inventor of the Cotton Gin and was planning to use it against the United States on the occasion of its Centennial celebration. President Ulysses Grant (Quinn) thinks that Jonah Hex is the best bet at stopping that wacky General, who not only likes to burn women and children but sure can’t let go of a grudge. Can someone who has cheated death so often do so once again?

I really wanted to love this movie, and I had high hopes that I would. After all, Josh Brolin has been hot as of late, with terrific performances in No Country for Old Men, W. And Milk all increasing his bankability as an actor. This looked to create his genre profile and maybe put a franchise character under his belt.

Alas, it is not to be. While the script writers Neveldine and Taylor are some of the most innovative action film writers in the business (they wrote and directed both Crank films), they missed the mark here. Early on there’s a nifty animated sequence, and the dead guy interrogation sequences are pretty cool, but this feels slopped together. The heavy metal score gives it a kind of steampunk feel but the doomsday weapon, which features a kind of rotating cannon firing device that shoots big iron balls that are detonated by an orange glowing bocce ball, is nonsensical and not really impressive.

As kind of an aside, I think there’s a trend here that any movie that depicts Ulysses Grant as president turns into a major bomb – first there was The Legend of the Lone Ranger, then the misfire that was the remake of Wild, Wild West and now the box office receipts for this one were anemic. Screenwriters, take note.

Brolin does a credible enough job as Hex, mainly having to squint, snarl and drawl his lines in a Clint Eastwood-esque rasp. You get a sense of his pain and his violent nature, and while Neveldine and Taylor do try to give Hex a bit of backstory, Brolin’s narration gives us more insight into the character than we might have had otherwise.

Malkovich is a capable villain, although this is probably not his best bad guy role (that would be In the Line of Fire) and Fox is easy enough on the eyes in her Victorian boudoir fashions that she wears throughout.

There are lots of explosions – most of the budget seems to have gone to pyro. It’s a shame we didn’t see more story here. The movie clocks in at a mere 81 minutes, so there was room for more exposition but I get the impression that story was sacrificed for pacing here.

Jonah Hex comes from the realm of DC Comics and I find it somewhat surprising that the powers-that-be at DC have elected to greenlight a film about what has to be characterized as one of their minor characters over better-known characters such as Wonder Woman, the Flash and the Teen Titans, none of which have had a chance to shine on the big screen as of yet. Given the talent both in front of and behind the camera, I would have expected a better movie than the one we got here, which does little to establish DC Comics as a player in Hollywood the way Marvel Comics is. It’s too bad; the story of Jonah Hex is a compelling one and with a little more focus, this could have been a really good movie instead of a mediocre one.

REASONS TO GO: The movie isn’t as bad as you heard it is.

REASONS TO STAY: It’s still a mess. Story seems to have been sacrificed at the altar of pacing.

FAMILY VALUES: A good deal of violence, a little bit of bad language and a little bit of sexual innuendo. Okay for teens but probably not for much younger than that.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Along with veteran film composer Marco Beltrami, heavy metal band Mastodon composed the film’s score.

HOME OR THEATER: Chances are this will be gone from theaters by next weekend but quite frankly it’ll look a lot better on the big screen than the small.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Burma VJ

The Losers


The Losers

Jeffrey Dean Morgan knows that two sub-machine guns are ALWAYS better than one.

(Warner Brothers) Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Zoe Saldana, Chris Evans, Jason Patric, Idris Elba, Columbus Short, Holt McCallany, Oscar Jaenada, Peter Macdissi, Ernesto Morales, Peter Francis James, Tanee McCall, Krissy Korn. Directed by Sylvain White

When you want to send in a fighting force, you send in the Marines. When you need a tougher job done, you send in the Navy Seals. When you need the impossible done, you send in the Losers.

The Losers are one of those elite fighting forces who can get just about any job done. They are commanded by Hannibal….err, Colonel Clay (Morgan) who is a cool customer except when it comes to the ladies. His right arm is Roque (Elba), a lethal weapon on two legs. Their technology expert is Jensen (Evans) who has a mouth that just won’t stop, while Cougar (Jaenada) is their quiet and intense sniper who is as deadly with a rifle as anyone you’re likely to find. The man who gets them from place to place is Pooch (Short) whose wife is about to give birth. He gets his name from the Chihuahua bobble-head he takes with him for good luck on the dashboard of every vehicle he drives or flies.

They’ve been sent to South America to paint the home of a drug dealer with a laser target so that it can be targeted with a missile. It all seems pretty routine, although Roque wonders why a team as elite as they are would be sent on a mission that nearly any reconnaissance team could do. Then, as the jet with the missile is approaching, a busload of school children arrives at the hacienda. Clay gets on the radio to abort the mission, but a mysterious voice identifying himself as Max (Patric) tells the pilot to deliver the payload as instructed, then blocks the communications of the Losers. The team goes down to save the day and does, but not before Clay kills the drug dealer (Morales) they were sent to take out. Unfortunately, when the helicopter comes that is meant to fly them to safety, there’s not enough room for all of them. Without hesitating, Clay puts the kids aboard. Then, before the horrified eyes of the team, the copter is shot down and everyone aboard is killed.

Clay realizes that they were meant to be on that chopper and that the world believes they’re dead. In order to avoid becoming that way for real, they need to let the rest of the world go on thinking that. Of the team, only Pooch and Jensen have families although in Jensen’s case its siblings and a niece whose soccer team he follows like he’s got money on them in Vegas. The team is working  menial jobs trying to get back home when Clay is approached by a mysterious but beautiful woman named Aisha (Saldana) with an offer he can’t refuse – she’ll get the team back to the States as long as they help her take out Max. Clay is more than willing to accept the offer, but he quickly realizes that Max has a more insidious agenda on his mind and Aisha’s own motivations are questionable. It will take a good deal of firepower and skill to get out of this situation alive but then again, they were dead to begin with.

This is based on a DC/Vertigo comic series of the same name and yes, there are more than a few similarities to the A-Team and other movies of that ilk; in fact, I can think of three like it coming out this year alone (besides the A-Team feature there’s also the all-star action flick The Expendables coming out later this summer) that have a similar plot. Frankly, I didn’t realize there were that many elite teams being sent to South America only to be betrayed and forced to fight powerful forces in order to clear their names. It would sure make me think twice before joining an elite fighting unit eh?

I really like Morgan in his role as Clay. He’s tough as nails but not without character flaws. His relationship with Roque and the triangle that is formed with Aisha is at the heart of the movie and with Elba, another excellent character actor the heart is beating nice and strong.

Evans is making a career out of the smart-talking team member (he plays Johnny Storm in the Fantastic Four movies) and will be Steve Rogers in the upcoming Captain America movie, which just means he’s comfortable with comic book adaptations. He is one of the highlights here.

I liked Patric as Max, although Da Queen disagrees with me strongly here – she felt Max was the weak link in the movie. I think the character is way over-the-top but let’s face it, the movie really needs someone like it, someone so obsessed and drunk with his own power and sense of rightness that he can casually shoot someone for stumbling while holding the umbrella that was shading him. Now that’s just evil, you know?

Director White has little experience with action movies, but showed himself to be more than capable here. The action sequences are well done, but most importantly paced so as not to give the audience a whole lot of time to catch their breath. There’s enough quirky humor to balance the testosterone-fueled action sequences and there’s a style that gives homage to the film’s comic book roots and makes it a little slicker than the average bear.

Clearly this is meant to be the starting point for a franchise but the opening weekend box office numbers were disappointing so there’s little chance of that happening, which is a crying shame but in some ways perhaps inevitable – as I mentioned earlier there are far too many movies with similar plot points in the pipeline and far more that have come out in theaters and on television over the past five or six years. Still, this is one of the better representatives of the genre and those of you who turned away from the movie last weekend would do well to reconsider, particularly if you’re out for a little mindless entertainment, because this so fits the bill on that score.

REASONS TO GO: It’s big, it’s dumb, and it’s a whole lot of fun. No real new ground is broken but the characters are well-drawn, the action is spiffy and the pacing is breakneck.

REASONS TO STAY: The plot is kind of old hat and while the characters themselves are well-thought out, they are nonetheless a bit on the cliché side as elite Special Forces teams go.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a lot of shooting, a good deal of things blowing up real good and one scene that’s on the sexy side. In other words, pretty much what you’d find in your standard broadcast TV show.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The story is somewhat loosely based on the arc published in the comic book series’ first six issues, collectively called “Ante Up.”

HOME OR THEATER: Sure, there are some big bangs and action films tend to work better on the big screen but quite frankly I think it would be just as swell on a good home theater system.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Shotgun Stories

New Releases for the Week of April 23, 2010


April 23, 2010

Don't be fooled; those fingers are loaded!!

THE LOSERS

(Warner Brothers) Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Zoe Saldana, Chris Evans, Idris Elba, Columbus Short, Holt McCallany, Oscar Jaenada, Jason Patric. Directed by Sylvain White

An elite Special Forces team that gets the job done when nobody else can is betrayed by a high-level government functionary and left for dead. Thought to be out of the picture, the Losers plot their revenge against a man they know only as Max. They are joined by Aisha, a lovely but deadly operative who may have her own agenda. Working as only they can, they must stop Max from dragging the world into a new kind of global high-tech war.

See the trailer, featurettes and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of intense action and violence, a scene of sensuality and language)

The Back-Up Plan

(CBS) Jennifer Lopez, Alex O’Laughlin, Eric Christian Olsen, Michaela Watkins. Zoe is a veteran of the dating wars and has yet to find the right guy. Still, her biological clock is ticking and the noise is getting louder. She decides to go to Plan B, artificial insemination and it looks like the procedure is a success. Of course, life being what it is, that’s the time when Mr. Right shows up. Can the relationship grow properly with a baby on the way, one that’s not even his?

See the trailer, featurette and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content including references, some crude material and language)

Kenny Chesney: Summer in 3D

(Hot Ticket/Sony) Kenny Chesney. 3D footage shot from the country singer’s Sun City Carnival tour last summer will give viewers a unique concert film experience, experiencing more closely than ever what it’s like to be there.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: 3D Special Engagement

Rating: Unrated but suitable for general audiences

Mother

(Magnolia) Hye-ja Kim, Bin Won, Goo Jin, Yoon Jae-Moon. When a feckless young man is convicted of the vicious murder of a young girl, his mother sets out to prove her son’s innocence and is instead drawn into something far darker than she ever expected to be. From the award-winning director of The Host.  

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: R (for language, some sexual content, violence and drug use)

Oceans

(DisneyNature) Pierce Brosnan. From the filmmakers who brought you Earth comes the second in the new Disney nature documentary series. Opening on Earth Day, the film will take us below the waves to see, for the first time, some of the wonderful and strange creatures that live there.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: G

A Prophet

(Sony Classics) Tahar Rahim, Niels Arestrup, Adel Bencherif, Hichem Yacoubi. A young illiterate Frenchmen of Arabic descent is imprisoned and attracts the attention of a powerful Corsican crime lord who gives the young man an ultimatum; kill a fellow inmate or be killed himself. This turns young Malik down a path that will change him forever. This film swept the Cesar awards (the French Oscars) and has won acclaim everywhere it has been shown.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: R (for strong violence, sexual content, nudity, language and drug material)

Watchmen


The Nite Owl stands before Archimedes, his high-tech flying machine.

The Nite Owl stands before Archimedes, his high-tech flying machine.

(Warner Brothers) Malin Ackerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Carla Gugino, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson, Matt Frewer, Stephen McHattie, Laura Mennell, Rob LaBelle, Robert Wisden. Directed by Zack Snyder

Watchmen is perhaps the most honored and revered graphic novel of all time. Originally written by Alan Moore (who has refused to let his name be associated with the film version, although don’t let that fool you), in many ways it changed the way graphic novels – and superhero-based ones in particular – are perceived.

The year is 1985, although not the one we remember. Richard Nixon is still president, having been elected for an unprecedented fifth term. The Soviets invasion of Afghanistan has brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. And the American superhero squad known as the Watchmen has been forced to disband due to a government ban on masked vigilantes.

The film opens with one of the former Watchmen, a super-conservative psychopath called the Comedian (Morgan) being murdered. He won’t be missed much – he was a wretched human being. However, Rorschach (Haley), a strange and possibly deranged man whose mask constantly changes into a series of inkblot-like patterns, thinks there’s more to the crime than the attempted robbery story the police say is what happened. He thinks that there might be a killer going after the ex-Watchmen, so he visits his former partners – the second Nite Owl (Wilson), who visits the first Nite Owl (McHattie) and commiserates over the life of a retired masked crimefighter. The second Silk Spectre (Ackerman), who lives with the god-like Doctor Manhattan (Crudup) and whose mother, the first Silk Spectre (Gugino), was once assaulted by the Comedian.  Finally, there is Ozymandias (Goode), the world’s smartest man, who has gone public with his secret identity and has become a very wealthy industrialist.

The world has become a mean place, and gangs rule the streets of New York. Most people believe that nuclear annihilation is inevitable and act accordingly. The former superheroes are depressed, fatalistic and have issues of their own. The kindest is Nite Owl, who has grown a bit timid over the years, although basically a decent man. Rorschach is nearly psychotic, narrating a series of journal entries that make plain his belief that humanity is essentially a genetic cesspool that has more in common with vermin than with higher life forms.

Dr. Manhattan, a former nuclear physicist who became able to manipulate matter at will in a horrifying accident, is becoming less and less connected with the world and its inhabitants. His affection for Silk Spectre is almost all that keeps any sort of caring for humanity in his nature, but that all changes when he discovers that he may have caused cancer in those closest to him. Shocked and horrified, Manhattan exiles himself to Mars. With America’s most powerful nuclear deterrent out of the way, the path is cleared for the Russians to begin building to the inevitable climax of assured mutual mass destruction. Can the costumed heroes, once hated and reviled, pick up their masks and save the day one more time?

The original graphic novel was cerebral on the one hand and visceral on the other. There is brutal violence and explicit situation, all elements preserved in the movie. Director Snyder and writers David Hayter and Alex Tse have done a magnificent job of translating a work thought unfilmable to the big screen. The subtleties of the original graphic novel are for the most part, retained here. The movie is rated “R” and there is a good reason for it; impressionable kids shouldn’t be seeing this. There is graphic sex, realistic violence and adult themes. This is no Super Friends to say the least.

The cast is excellent, mostly comprised of character actors who have started to develop a reputation for solid work. Haley, who was nominated for an Oscar last year, might bag another nomination this year for his work as the tormented Rorschach. Dogged, cynical, bitter and brutal, he is constantly underestimated by those who oppose him but winds up on the brink of solving the crime at the heart of the story.

The world presented here is gritty and nasty. You feel like you’ve stepped into a sewer, and the film is darkly lit to go along with its dark tone. Special effects abound – in fact Dr. Manhattan is mostly a special effect himself. Far above the need to wear clothes, the bright blue Billy Crudup spends most of the movie with his package dangling for all to see. The fight sequences are pretty nifty as well.

However, this is a fairly long movie as action films go and there is a lot going on in terms of plot. Snyder tries to follow the storytelling methods employed by the original comic (which started life as a 12-issue maxi-series) by showing the various backgrounds and viewpoints of the main characters, which can sometimes be confusing. An excellent opening titles sequence really tells you all you need to know about the world of the Watchmen. Familiarity with the source material is a plus but not a requirement in order for you to follow the story.

I was hoping for something along the lines of The Dark Knight in terms of quality and it isn’t quite there, although it is very good. I wanted to like it more, but I still liked it plenty. In that sense, Watchmen is a victim of its own excellence. I doubt somewhat that any motion picture could truly equal the scope and the complexity of the source material, as hard as Watchmen tries. It must be said, however, that I think it captures those elements about as well as any movie could.

In that sense, I can easily recommend Watchmen for general audiences without any qualms, just in terms of overall quality. Parents should be aware that some of the scenes are extremely rough when it comes to language, violence and sexuality, which I believe I have harped on sufficiently here. For my money, I think that lovers of action movies, superhero fanboys and aficionados of complex, compelling cinema are all among those who should be watching the Watchmen.

WHY RENT THIS: Hey, it’s the ever-lovin’ Watchmen! Compelling performances by strong character actors make well-written characters seem real and vital. Terrific (although not groundbreaking) special effects keep the wow factor high.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Some of the course language, extreme violence and graphic sexuality can be off-putting.

FAMILY VALUES: Not for children. Adult themes, graphic violence, nudity and explicit sexuality may be too much for even some adults.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Watchmen has been in development for almost 20 years at various studios. Among the directors at one time or another attatched to the project: Terry Gilliam, Paul Greengrass and Darren Aronofsky.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The director’s cut edition includes 24 minutes of additional footage, mostly revolving around Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl who compared to his involvement in the original graphic novel gets little more than a cameo appearance in the theatrical release;

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Henry Poole is Here