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Review: Watchmen, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, The Secret Life of Bees, Gonzo- The Life & Work of Hunter S. Thompson, Crazy Love and The Wackness

By March 14, 2009December 31st, 20132 Comments

Watchmen posterIt’s all about the adapt­a­tions this week and con­tender num­ber one is a film that deserves all the atten­tion it has been receiv­ing, even though it falls well short of its esteemed source mater­i­al. Zack Snyder’s Watchmen is based on the greatest graph­ic nov­el of all time, Moore and Gibbons 1986 pre-apocalyptic mas­ter­piece which is one of the darkest por­traits of the mod­ern human con­di­tion ever rendered in the bold, flat col­ours of a com­ic book.

In a par­al­lel USA in which cos­tumed vigil­antes are real but out­lawed, the spectre of nuc­le­ar anni­hil­a­tion looms over a sup­posedly free soci­ety that is com­ing apart at the seams. One by one, some­body is dis­pos­ing of the retired her­oes and only masked sociopath Rorschach (who nev­er turned in his mask, revealed his iden­tity or stopped beat­ing up bad guys) deems it worthy of investigation.

Snyder takes the same rev­er­ent approach that he used in adapt­ing Frank Miller’s 300 a couple of years ago, treat­ing the com­ic book art as a vir­tu­al story­board for his visu­als. And, des­pite the many riches the approach offers, that’s really the prob­lem with Watchmen the film: Snyder is like the fan­boy who wants to read you the book word for word but he isn’t able to use the source mater­i­al to cre­ate a great new work of art. The film’s strengths are straight out of the book but it’s ulti­mately uncon­vin­cing. Which is a strange thing to say about a film full of cos­tumes and capes.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas posterIf Watchmen’s pro­foundly cyn­ic­al view of humanity’s base and viol­ent tend­en­cies isn’t per­suas­ive enough, watch­ing The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas will ham­mer that nail home. In WWII Germany an eight-year-old boy named Bruno moves with his fam­ily to the coun­try where his dad (David Thewlis) has an import­ant new job. On an unau­thor­ised explore around the coun­tryside he dis­cov­ers a barbed wire fence with a lonely child on the oth­er side and he decides to make friends.

Aimed at young­er audi­ences (I guess), the film is an excel­lent per­son­al­isa­tion of one of the import­ant stor­ies of the mod­ern age and it deftly handles a tone that could eas­ily go awry.

The Secret Life of Bees posterThe Secret Life of Bees is also an adapt­a­tion, and a fine one at that. The excel­lent Dakota Fanning plays South Carolina teen­ager Lily, escap­ing her abus­ive fath­er (Paul Bettany) and find­ing a home with a fam­ily of black women led by Queen Latifah. It sounds sac­char­ine but in fact it’s honey-sweetened – lit­er­ally. The Boatwright sis­ters (fea­tur­ing Alicia Keys and Sophie Okenedo) make the best honey in the south and their home is, at first, a peace­ful oas­is from the tumul­tu­ous Civil Rights battle raging out­side. But they can’t keep it out forever. Recommended.

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson posterThe pre­view DVD of Gonzo: The Life & Work of Hunter S. Thompson died with 40 minutes to go (nobody’s fault, these things hap­pen) which was incred­ibly annoy­ing as I was really enjoy­ing myself. I love Thompson’s writ­ing and there’s plenty of it in the film (read by Thompson him­self or by Johnny Depp) and the exhaust­ive archive foot­age really brings the great man to life. If only we had someone now who could make sense of the mal­aise we find ourselves in – with the help of Chivas and phar­ma­ceut­ic­als, of course.

Crazy Love posterAnother fine doc­u­ment­ary, return­ing from last year’s fest­iv­al is Crazy Love. The amazing-but-true tale of a tem­pes­tu­ous New York romance bene­fits from not know­ing too much in advance, although I should point out that it prob­ably isn’t a great first date movie.

The Wackness poster1994 feels like only yes­ter­day to me but, evid­ently, it’s now a focus for nos­tal­gia. Next week I’ll be review­ing Notorious about the king-sized rap­per Biggie Smalls, and I’m sure it is only coin­cid­ence that his music plays a major role in The Wackness, a mod­est coming-of-age indie that recre­ates a long hot New York sum­mer. Luke Shapiro is a mildly ali­en­ated teen­age drug deal­er who trades pot for ses­sions with his equally mesed-up shrink (Ben Kingsley). His mad crush on Kingsley’s step-daughter (Olivia Thirlby) threatens to wreck the friend­ship but in the end the two mis­fits have too much in com­mon. Riddled with clichés, The Wackness is saved by its sense of place and time, and dir­ect­or Jonathan Levine has a really good eye.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 11 March, 2009.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: The staff at the Lighthouse in Petone aler­ted me in advance to the dread­ful state of the Secret Life of Bees print (like watch­ing through fluor­es­cent ver­tic­al blinds) and were offer­ing refunds to any­one in the audi­ence who wanted. It’s the sign of a good film that by half way through I did­n’t really notice the print prob­lems. So, full marks to the Lighthouse.


  • dfmamea says:

    finally saw “Watchmen” and was sim­il­arly dis­ap­poin­ted. i yearned for some per­son­al­ity in the film­mak­ing rather than the rev­er­ent and lit­er­al adapt­a­tion i got. at least the abom­in­a­tion that is “LXG” had some oomph.

  • coffee says:

    Watchmen is a visu­al and psy­cho­lo­gic­al cor­nu­copia – def­in­itely worth watching