Wednesday, April 1, 2009

What a Long, Strange, Green Trip It's Been

Back in February I wrote about Onward State getting nominated for Best Alternative Media Outlet by U.S. News and World Report. What I didn't mention is that I sweetened the pot for readers to vote in the poll by offering one "Mark Act of Shame."

A little under two months later, I'm running out of introductory economics courses in a green bodysuit as a direct result. Enjoy.

Friday, March 6, 2009

And I'll Look Down And Whisper..."No"

I saw Watchmen in IMAX about 7 hours ago, and have been conducting meta analysis ever since.

Shuffling out of the theater, I gave it at 8.5/10. I enjoyed the movie. The $15 ticket may have been a little much for the IMAX experience, but it was just under three hours of solid entertainment.

Since then, I've been reading reviews and talking to others who have seen the movie. My rating has now become a burden.

Let me say this first - If you are considering seeing Watchmen in theaters, READ THE GRAPHIC NOVEL first. And if you haven't done either, READ NO FURTHER.

I sincerely believe that those who have not read the celebrated comic will not enjoy the movie as it is supposed to be. Though it occasionally kowtows to the bourgeois moviegoer, director Zack Snyder fully intended on making a loving recreation of the story. And it is here where I think that Watchmen fails - it's brilliant in some aspects, yet curiously misguided.

I attribute this to trying to please everyone - the hype for this movie was huge. After the wild success of The Dark Knight, people are looking for the next gritty, somewhat-realistic superhero action flick. Though Watchmen certainly appears to be this movie in previews, it's the antithesis of what the story is at it's heart - a deconstruction of the popularized superhero archetype within an alternate history. Crowds will flock to this movie expecting an action-packed, R-rated Batman movie. They will be disappointed. Conversely, comic nerds wearing smiley-face buttons will flcok to this movie expecting a frame-for-frame recreation with little or no interference. They will also be disappointed.

The genius of Watchmen is that the drama's source is the Cold War - not a devious supervillain with a master plan. Adrian Veidt does play this role in some degree - but the source material's story is set up as a whodunit rather than traditional conflicts we've become so accustomed to in the recent spike in superhero films. The movie seems to confuse his role in the story - the revelation of his involvement near the film's climax is much less dramatic when he is portrayed as a condescending, cold tycoon earlier in the film. He's a symbol of perfection in the graphic novel - nobel and adored by the public - and his identification as a misguided harbinger of destruction is much more surprising in that manner. The comic-within-a-comic, The Black Freighter, mirrors his folly and ultimately explains why empirically what he did was right, he is not free from guilt. This part of the story was (rightfully, given the 2hr, 43 minute running time after cuts) cut from the movie, so the portrayal of the character earlier in the film is even more important. Instead, I feel his characterization was simplified to appeal to mainstream audiences - those not interested in the original work would probably have a problem sitting through 140 minutes without a personification of evil.

Oddly enough, the film seems to increase the violence unnecessarily. Instead of shooting his ill-fated right-hand man, Big Figure has his arms sawed off. Instead of Rorschach burning the kidnapper alive, we are treated to the sight of the masked vigilante repeatedly plunging a butcher's knife into the perpetrator's forehead. I'm no prude - but they clearly were taking opportunities to add "woah, did you see that?" moments. And they don't work as well.

On one hand, some of the scenes are wonderfully translated to film - the riot during the police strike, Rorschach's prison confrontations, and the death of the Comedian are all more entertaining when they aren't merely drawings. Seeing these scenes in live action is something the source material cannot offer itself. But there are other sequences that were clearly an attempt to keep the audience engaged with action - the Nite Owl and Silk Specter's apartment rescue, for example seemed cheesy and unnecessary.

On that level, some characters benefited from being brought to life, while others are frustratingly portrayed. The good news is that the movie is, for the most part, extremely well-cast. Jeffrey Dean Morgan blew me away as the Comedian - he made liking a despicable character much easier than it was on paper. Jackie Earle Hayley was meant to be Rorshach. Patrick Wilson makes an endearing, yet somehow bad-ass, Nite Owl. Billy Crudup does a commendable job Doctor Manhattan, a character I have struggled to sympathize with (and still do).

Malin Akerman physically represents Laurie Jupiter well. She's incredibly gorgeous in the movie and looks like the character should. But she doesn't portray a sympathetic character - whether this is acting or the direction, I'm not sure. The character's dramatic moments aren't laughably bad in the movie, but are strangely more moving within the panel of a comic. It's not enough to jeopordize the tone of the film, but those of us who have read Watchmen know something's not quite right.

Matthew Goode as Adrian Veidt is the film's biggest mistake. He wasn't right for the part - which makes sense, considering that they had difficulty casting Veidt. But to be fair to Goode, as stated above, the film's script does a poor job fleshing out the character.

The movie's soundtrack has the most dramatic highs and lows. The credits sequence catching up the audience with the path of this alternate history set to "The Times They Are A-Changin'" is incredibly well done. The Comedian's riot-breaking set to "Boogeyman" is downright awesome. "The Sounds of Silence" provides an appropriate atmosphere to the Comedian's funeral. But at the same time, you have the bizarre inclusion of 99 Luft Balloons, and an incredibly lame Bob Dylan cover by My Chemical Romance for the closing credits. Wikipedia mentions that MCR are huge fans of the graphic novel. Guess what, so am I, and you don't have to suffer through my rendition of anything while filing out of the theater.

Of course, all of this is secondary to how the plot is handled. Watchmen is very much a series of vignettes leading up to a climactic (if puzzling) ending. For the most part, (read: with the exception of Veidt) we are familiarized with the main characters as the plot is slowly advanced. There are some tweaks to simplify some of the back stories, but they are still the same people. The only major difference is the blame of attacks on earth not from aliens, but Doctor Manhattan. I found the best way to describe my stand on this is to respond to IGN's:

Dropping the squid isn't the problem; it's that the logic of the new finale that Snyder and the writers came up with doesn't hold up under the least bit of scrutiny. On the surface level, making Doctor Manhattan the scapegoat sounds like a great alternative... until you realize that there is simply no way the countries of the world are going to set aside their differences and join hands in peace after America's ultimate super-weapon -- which he has been touted as for the whole film -- is to blame for the deaths of millions. The U.S. and U.S.S.R. are at the very brink of war, remember. Complete and total nuclear annihilation is at hand, with the rest of the world wondering if America might use the blue-skinned ace it has up its sleeve (as it did to win in Vietnam). So given that state of anxiety, if Doctor Manhattan took out the world's major cities, why would any foreign nation now want to work with America for a better future? If there was ever a time when they'd want to wipe us off the map, it'd be after such an attack. As silly as the squid was, it worked because it was an external threat that united these disparate human factions in a common cause against a more powerful outside force. Imagine if the world knew that the squid was an American creation, there would have been no Utopian outcome.

I am of the opinion that the squid was the worst part of the graphic novel. It seemed tacked on and flimsy. From my perspective, Alan Moore thought it would be cool to throw in some bullshit about a psychic's brain and genetic engineering to wow the reader. So the blame on Dr. Manhattan, while it was dumbed down, made a little more sense to me. I feel the attack on American cities would shake any suspicion that Manhattan was working for the U.S., and that he was a much more credible threat than random-ass giant squid aliens popping up in major cities. Manhattan can be considered external because he is NOT HUMAN, and I'm sure Earth's general population could buy that if banded together, they would stand a chance against the indestructible man. It was one of the few choices that made the movie more blockbuster-friendly that I actually agreed with.

Taking all of this into account, why is it so hard for me to assess how much I truly liked this movie? Do I like it because it's been in the back of my brain constantly? Do I like it because I paid an exorbitant amount of money, then drove 50 minutes to watch it on an insanely large screen? Do I like it because I bought a Rorschach poster for my room? No.

I like it because I love the source material. Because deep down, no matter how pissed off some of the fanboys got when anything was changed, when a line was delivered the wrong way, or when they had to see the film version of Adrian Veidt, they wanted this movie. They wanted to see some of their favorite moments jump off the page, and feel the same way they did the first time they read Watchmen. And in some parts of the movie, they did.

And that's why I've concluded that the movie works best as a companion piece - you take the good with the bad, because you know the bad doesn't cheapen the graphic novel. It just fails to live up to expectations. And for those of us who were disappointed, we likely have the source material sitting on our bookshelf, unchanged.

In Snyder's recreation of the book, he tries to please too many people. Moviegoers uninitiated to the story will find it slowly paced and sometimes confusing. Uncompromising diehards will lose hair when Archie's flamethrower goes off at the point of climax for comedic effect. And ultimately, the movie will probably fizzle after a strong showing in the first weekend.

But that doesn't mean it's a bad movie. I loved some segments, and questioned others, and ultimately left with a good feeling. I could be giving it points because the book was so good in the first place, but that really just speaks to how remarkable the story is. I enjoyed the movie because I was prudent enough to appreciate the source material, but not obsessed with it to the point of hating any tweak.

I truly believe allowing myself to enjoy the book first was key. All the uninitiated will look up and ask "should I see this Watchmen? I haven't heard much about it." And I'll Look Down And Whisper "No."

Sunday, March 1, 2009


Is this the beginning of the end for my Facebook abstinence? I signed up on Twitter, which is basically the Facebook patch.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Happy Lent, Everybody!

I forgot it was Ash Wednesday yesterday, and I didn't give anything up this year. I might be going to hell.

[Source: Filmdrunk]

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Bo Burnham Doesn't Take Kindly to Latecomers

Somebody had the good sense to film Bo Burnham's show at Penn State last week (which I reviewed here), and included this little exchange between the rising stand-up and Brendan from Full Ammo Improv. The stuff Burnham says before is funny, but if you have no interest in his material, skip to the 1:20 mark, and watch what happens when he chooses to dart into his saved seat up front juuuuuusssst as Bo starts a song.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

24 Thoughts

I don't know how many people other than me are watching 24 this season (I know there are at least three of us), but it's returned to form. Sort of.

Season 6 turned a lot of people off by being completely incomprehensible, but it seems the writers' strike did some good for the show. But even with a focused story line, it seems that the series has been on TV long enough that it's becoming a parody of itself.

The clip above really jumped out at me. Since torture has been a hot topic in the news, 24 has taken it's duty to pro-torture pretty seriously - hell, I'm sure in the back of the minds of torture supporters, they think It has worked for Jack billions of times! And why not? Sometimes they set it up so torture seems like the best option.

But the involvement of a baby is a new one. I found this fucking hilarious - mostly because it seems like 24 is jumping the [torture] shark. Jack has tortured everyone under the sun - men, women, white people, black people, Asian people - this had to come up in a writer's meeting eventually. Though they were careful to portray Jack as having no intention of actually hurting the suspect's 11-month-old son, I kept imagining an intense interrogation scene with Jack and a baby.


"NO! He's an innocent child! He has nothing to do with the Sengalan conspiracy!"


Maybe that's just me.

Also maybe just me - are they trying to put a nicer (freckled) face on torture by having new character Renee Walker (the woman in the video) slowly accept the merits of it? She looks like she could be a kindergarten teacher. I want her to pop popcorn for me and start share time.

It's like Annie grew up, went through FBI training, and resists singing about her hard-knock life because she's got a motherfucking terrorist plot to foil.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Vote or Die

If you are one of the few people that reads this blog but NOT Onward State, you need to go vote for the other site that publishes the crap I churn out.

U.S. News and World Report nominated us for Best Alternative Media Outlet. It's awesome and took me by total surprise - but we're trailing to a couple competitors. Vote for us so people who go to Yale don't have yet another thing to hold over your head.

Go Vote!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Sixburgh, Baby

I could write a long-winded, ecstatic post in celebration of my Steelers winning a record-setting 6th franchise Super Bowl, but to be honest, it wouldn't measure up to what I felt circa 2.5 hours ago.

What I will say is that it was incredible game and I managed to have 8 people who were pulling for the Cardinals over at my apartment and not maim anyone. And the following links:

The best part of The Boss' Super Bowl half time show - the unexpected shoving of his package into the camera lens. It's no wardrobe malfunction, but hey, it gives us something to talk about.

Will Leitch, Editor Emeritus of Deadspin and noted Cardinals fan, wrote a nice piece summing up his feelings on the game. It puts a good spin on the franchises' continuing quest for a championship.

My post for Onward State - a petition for the Eagles fans to pull for the Stillers. I'm not sure if it swayed anyone, especially considering all my friends would have gleefully seen Pittsburgh fall at the very adept hands of Larry Fitzgerald.

Hopefully this will be a nice appetizer for the inevitable Collegian riot story tomorrow morning.

Here We Go Steelers, Here We Go.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

So Crosby Is Feeling Better

Check out this quick clip from the Pens' 6-2 victory over the Rangers last night. Unfortunately I couldn't catch the game, but through the magic of Youtube I finally got to see the no-look backhand score by Crosby in the third period.

Even if you don't like hockey (or Crosby, and I know that applies to a good amount of people) it's worth watching.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Just In Case You're Not Convinced Scientology Screws People Up

Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart Simpson and noted Scientology follower (she donates more than even John Travolta and Tom Cruise), left voice messages promoting a Scientology event on people's voicemail.

This in itself is pretty bad, but if you listen to the message, she keeps going in an out of character. For some reason, that's more disturbing to me.

Also, as WWTDD pointed out, uh...really, you think a cartoon 10-year old is the key to recruiting?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

You're So Money And You Don't Even Know It

I finally got around to seeing Swingers, and I have to say I can see why it has its devoted following. It's a great movie. It's not a Comedy that makes you hurt laughing, but it is engaging and smart. It's got that "let's go out and make shit happen" momentum that makes me wish I watched it Friday night instead of Sunday. It's funny how movies have that effect on me from time to time.

Apparently it took only Jon Favreau 2 weeks to write and all the key characters were modeled after his friends, who would go on to play them. Also, it introduced the dating context of the term "Wingman" to the social lexicon. Pretty cool shit.

Note: Be careful to specify more than just "Swingers" when you do a Google Search for the Image above.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Quantum Jujit-sucked

Last semester, my friend Brian and I happened to notice a flier on one of the bulletin boards in the White Building. It was an advertisement for Quantum Jujitsu, a Martial Arts class that met three times a week and welcomed beginners. Brian suggested that we attend not only for the extra fitness, but get improve our self defense. The latter was particularly attractive to me, as my current self defense strategy is as follows:

1) Be approached by belligerent stranger
2) Soil myself
3) Sue someone

Flipping someone in a controlled throw onto the cold asphalt of Calder alley was a much more pleasing outcome to my psyche.

So, we both concluded that come Spring Semester, we supplement our current exercise regimen with thrice-weekly sessions of Jujitsu. But it's always much easier when you're PLANNING to exercise in the future than to actually go do it.

Leading up to the first class, I became more and more reticent. It sure as shit didn't help that I had a meeting for Onward State and that LOST was premiering. But I reassured myself that I don't stray from my comfort zone often, and it may be good to be open to something new for once.

Once we got to the IM building, the hallway was lined with somewhere between 60 to 80 other students. Not a great first sign. Eventually the Akido class that was using the wrestling room before us ended, and all of us moseyed on in.

We were all instructed to take off our socks and shoes to protect the mats, and eventually circled up to warm up. The next bad sign: I had a cramp during stretching. I knew I was out of shape, but we're talking 2 minutes into the class here. Jogging ensued, and with it, more cramps.

Ok, this is unpleasant, but this is something that will become more enjoyable as I get in shape, I thought as I rested on my hands and knees while the rest of the class did push ups from their fingertips. Just don't stand out as a slacker and you'll be fine.

Eventually, the Sensei has us all line up against the back wall to start the class. You know you're in trouble when you aren't even capable of doing the proper sitting position. I wisely didn't speak up to ask for instructions on sitting on my feet.

It certainly didn't help that the Sensei - whose name I didn't catch - looked remarkably like Derrick Comedy's Dominic Dierkes. So when I was supposed to be hearing "pull your partners left arm across your body to restrict his movement," I was hearing this:

Sadly, "pull out your gun" was never part of what we practiced.

When we started the first technique, which was essentially to have our partner break an invisible plane twice, grab them by the neck to headbutt them, and put another hand on their neck to bend their torso over our knee, I had already garnered the attention of one of the more experienced students. He saw that I was completely hapless. In their defense, they were very patient and kind considering my ineptitude, but it was an instant flashback to my first experiences with all other sports:

Sensei /Basketball Coach/Soccer Coach/ Baseball Coach/ Rugby Coach/ Snowboard Instructor/ Ski Instructor: OK, so you need to position your body like this.

Me: Like this?

Sensei /Basketball Coach/Soccer Coach/ Baseball Coach/ Rugby Coach/ Snowboard Instructor/ Ski Instructor: No, put your hand here.

Me: OK, so now what?

Sensei /Basketball Coach/Soccer Coach/ Baseball Coach/ Rugby Coach/ Snowboard Instructor/ Ski Instructor: Now you're doing [insert appropriate motion for sport] wrong.

Me: Is this right?

Sensei /Basketball Coach/Soccer Coach/ Baseball Coach/ Rugby Coach/ Snowboard Instructor/ Ski Instructor: No.

Me: I know that there is a different end result...but I'm not quite clear what I'm doing differently in the process.

Sensei /Basketball Coach/Soccer Coach/ Baseball Coach/ Rugby Coach/ Snowboard Instructor/ Ski Instructor: Alright, keep practicing with your partner.

I now know what Dyslexic kids feel in reading class.

As if my unintentional exposure as a Martial Arts special needs student within the first 15 minutes wasn't enough, the excessive contact with partners did the trick.

Now I may be being incredibly immature, but pretty much every technique seemed a little too much like a big ol' man hug. Even when we practiced a choke, it ended in us leaning our head forward to rest it next to theirs. This lead to thoughts like, You know, if the only way to overpower an enemy is to straddle him like this, maybe throwing the fight isn't so bad.

Every single partner I worked with (including Brian) was very nice about my disability (I can't say the same thing for former teammates, but I many first practices of sports as a child are blocked out), but honestly, I really didn't feel like putting my body against theirs that much.

I had run into a guy I had freshman seminar with - whose face I had all but forgotten - and the awkward moment of him saying he knew me after I introduced myself was enhanced by the bath house soundtrack of groans and grunts as we walked through a hold technique.

By the end of the 2+ hour session (almost 3 when considering the dressing/undressing and drive over), It was clear that I wasn't cut out for Jujitsu. It was also clear why I rarely tend to leave my comfort zone - especially for matters involving physical fitness.

Brian has already said he's planning on returning to the class. Me - I'll save the $100 in dues and watch how things turn out with the Oceanic Six next week.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

'Snuff' Review

A little awhile ago, Jared/Murtaza introduced me to Goodreads, a site all about books. Being an avid reader, I have come to really enjoy this site, and am starting to log my impressions of every book I read right after it's end. Here's a quick review I wrote on Chuck Palahniuk's 'Snuff':

Snuff Snuff by Chuck Palahniuk

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars
So far, it's my least favorite Palahniuk book. But really, that's not to say that it's a complete waste of time. A waste of the hefty $24.99 cover price? Well, that's another story.

First off, the good: Palahniuk does many of the things he does well in this book. He does a great job with expository dialogue, mainly because his style isn't really dialogue at all. As in previous books, we learn about our protagonist(s) through anecdotal soliloquies to the reader: sermon-like rants that keep us reading his literature. They're well-described, straightforward, and engaging. That's all here.

The bizarre, hard to believe myths, legends, and little-known facts presented in nearly every Palahniuk book are all here. He doesn't get enough credit for the research that it takes to yield this information.

Porn titles like "Twat on a Hot Tin Roof" make the book worth at least borrowing.

Also is the crazy premise any Palahniuk book is almost guaranteed - the idea of a porn star sleeping with 600 men is provocative by itself, but the possibility of one of those 600 being her long-lost son takes us into Palahniuk territory.

The bad: It doesn't really seem to get past the premise. I would call the end anticlimactic, but looking back, it doesn't really even build suspense. The relatively short book (just under 200 pages, which took me somewhere around 5 hours to read), doesn't take the reader anywhere but a seemingly inevitable snafu. At the end of the book, I found myself asking why I care? The characters aren't very remarkable. Neither are their revelations.

It's just a remarkable premise carrying the book, which is, unfortunately, not enough to reach the high standard faithful readers have set for the subversive mind behind "Fight Club" and "Choke."

View all my reviews.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Here We Go, Here We Go. Pittsburgh's Going To The Super Bowl.

[Photo via ESPN]

Thursday, January 15, 2009

There's Just Something About Tim Meadows

...That makes me find him absolutely hilarious. It's a shame this guy's career didn't take off after a long stint on SNL.

Here he is on the Colbert Report as P.K. Winsome, a recurring character that pops up from time to time so the Report isn't all Stephen.