Janis Joplin

MOVIE REVIEW: The Ultimate Cut: Watchmen – The Complete Story (blu-ray)

Hot on the heels of my Man of Steel review, here’s…the Watchmen.

WATCHMEN : The Ultimate Cut – The Complete Story (2009 Warner 4 disc blu-ray set)

Directed by Zack Snyder, 216 minutes 

What’s the greatest comic book movie of all time?  I’ve seen a lot of them. There’s quite a few I haven’t seen as well, but it’s a great topic for discussion.  I always have to put Watchmen on the table when discussing great comic book adaptations.

Watchmen is a complex tale.  Its original comic was ambitious, containing page after page of dense backstory information in the form of documents and faux-magazine articles, all very relevant.  There’s even a parallel story taking place, a comic within a comic, which directly reflects one (or arguably more) of the characters in the main story.  Characters and their psychology are key.  In addition, neither the comic nor the movie are linear.  The story unfolds within different time periods, flashing back and forth, as we learn more about the characters, their motivations, and the world they inhabit.

It is the world they inhabit that was the hook for me.  I’m a sucker for alternate universe stories.  Here’s one that sets us on Earth, 1985, but things have unfolded very differently.  The influence of various superheroes/vigilantes has caused history to unfold very differently.  Specifically, it is the presence of Dr. Manhattan, who puts a swift and decisive end to the Vietnam war, who influences history the most.  In this 1985, Richard Nixon is still president, and masked vigilantes are now outlawed.

The Watchmen are a group of such vigilantes, originally known as the Minutemen.  Some, such as Dr. Manhattan truly are superhuman.  Others, such as Nite Owl and his successor Nite Owl II, are mere mortals with high-tech gadgetry and skill as their allies.  All have retired, some in fame and some in anonymity…all but one.  Rorschach.  He remains active, alone and wanted.

The movie begins as a murder mystery.  Someone has managed to identify and kill Edward Blake — The Comedian, once one of the most dangerous heroes alive.  To overpower and murder Blake would require an individual of tremendous resources.  Who?  And are other former vigilantes also at risk?  Rorschach seems to be the only one who wants to know.

Being a fan of the graphic novel, I was very happy with the way that Zack Snyder captured Watchmen. It was done with love and care. The things that are discarded, I didn’t miss so much. The things that he changed, I understand why it was done.  There’s one layer to the story/mystery that has been discarded, probably to keep this thing under 4 hours!  The things that are reverently exactly the same as the comic made my jaw drop in awe.  The acting performances are what they are, but I have to give special mention to Jackie Earl Haley as Rorschach.

WATCHMEN_0006The soundtrack is one of the best in recent memory. Outside of Wes Anderson, I haven’t loved a soundtrack this much in a long time.  It’s awesome from the stunning Bob Dylan classic “The Times They Are A’Changing”, to Nat King Cole, to Simon and Garfunkel, Hendrix and Philip Glass, and probably the weirdest use of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” in movie history.  The soundtrack is where it’s at.  The movie even contains a Village People sighting!  I’ll skip My Chemical Romance.

This Ultimate Cut weaves the comic-within-a-comic, Tales Of The Black Freighter, previously only available on its own, into the main body of Watchmen. These segments are narrated by Gerard Butler.  New live action linking sequences connect the movie to Black Freighter, much like it worked in the graphic novel. People who haven’t read the graphic novel might not understand what “Black Freighter” is doing there, but they should probably start with the less daunting theatrical cut to start with anyway.

WATCHMEN_0003The box set includes four discs, beautifully packaged. Hardly a complaint to be registered. The box is heavy and sturdy. Included is Watchmen: The Motion Comic, packed in its own case, 5 hours long on its own. One disc is the expired digital copy of the theatrical cut (whoop de do) and another disc is loaded with special features. Best of these is Under The Hood, which is based on the graphic novel segments covering Holis Mason.  Mason, the original Nite Owl I, wrote an autobiography called Under the Hood; this film is a faux-documentary on his story. It is presented as a television program from 1975 re-run in 1985, including commercials and scratchy footage. At 35 minutes, this is an absolute must. Other special features include brand new audio commentaries, for those who dare to keep going deeper. This set is just loaded.  Unfortunately I found the sound level inconsistent, I had to turn it up and down frequently.

Having said that, I’m not going to discard my Director’s Cut of Watchmen. Clocking in at almost four hours, watching this version is a commitment. I know that occasionally, I will want to watch the “shorter” version of the film. Since a digital copy of the theatrical (shortest) cut is included here, maybe you won’t feel the need to double-up on Watchmen editions.  For an enriched viewing experience, set aside the four hours one afternoon and enjoy.

4/5 stars

Malin Akerman … Laurie Jupiter / Silk Spectre II

Billy Crudup … Dr. Manhattan / Jon Osterman

Matthew Goode … Adrian Veidt / Ozymandias

Jackie Earle Haley … Rorschach

Jeffrey Dean Morgan … Edward Blake / Comedian

Patrick Wilson … Dan Dreiberg / Nite Owl

Carla Gugino … Sally Jupiter / Silk Spectre

Matt Frewer … Moloch

GUEST SHOT: 30 Albums that Uncle Meat Thinks You Should Visit (Or Re-Visit) Part 2

Missed part 1? Click here.

Here’s part 2 of 3 – 30 albums essential to Meat’s being, that should be essential to yours, too!  So, without anymore preamble, I’ll leave you with Uncle Meat, as he discusses 10 more albums, in alphabetical order by title, that you need to visit (or re-visit).

 

HIGH TENSION WIRES  –  STEVE MORSE (1989)

Simply put, Steve Morse is my favorite musician of all time.  I have had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Morse a total of 6 times when you combine The Dixie Dregs, Deep Purple and The Steve Morse Band.  Unlike the releases of some of his contemporaries, High Tension Wires is not your typical shredder album.  Oh it shreds alright, but Steve Morse is much more than a trickster.  There are beautiful compositions, unforgettable solos and some just plain ol’ rocking too.  Included is the link to a live version of a track perfectly named “Tumeni Notes”.  For more examples of the greatness of Steve Morse, introduce some Dixie Dregs into your collection.  You can thank me later.

 

HOT HOUSE  –  BRUCE HORNSBY (1995)

When Bruce Hornsby said goodbye to The Range, he immediately said hello with Harbor Lights, a heavily jazz-infused turn that completely changed the music world’s perception of him.  Hot House sees Hornsby taking that one step further.  The album’s cover speaks a thousand words.  It is a painting of an imagined band session between Bluegrass legend Bill Munroe and Jazz legend Charlie Parker. Nuff’ said there.  This recording contains many musical giants including Pat Metheny, Jerry Garcia, Bela Fleck and Chaka Khan.   Hot House is very addictive.  I know most of the words off by heart on this record.  Hopefully someday you will too.

JEFF BECK GROUP  –  JEFF BECK GROUP (1972)

This album definitely falls under the underappreciated category.  Sometimes known as  The Orange Album, Beck’s playing has never been better on this collection of original compositions and covers.  I would call this more of a Soul album than anything.  The incredible vocals of Bobby Tench seem to highlight this record at times, as you will see on the live performance of “Tonight, I’ll Be Staying Here With You” I have included for this entry.   Also worth noting, this album is one of the first recordings of the late Cozy Powell’s career.  The guitar work alone on “Definitely, Maybe” is enough reason itself to seek this record out.  Perhaps a rock n’ roll legend’s best work.

JOHN PRINE  –  JOHN PRINE (1971)

I actually discovered the music of John Prine while working at the same record store chain that Mr. Ladano speaks of in this blog.  There is no one quite like John Prine.  Some artists write great songs.  Some artists write great lyrics.  Only a select few truly do both this well.  There is no doubt that John Prine’s self-titled album contains some of the best lyrics ever written.  “There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes.  Jesus Christ died for nothin’ I suppose?”  That is just brilliant shit.  “You may see me tonight with an Illegal Smile.  It don’t cost very much, but it lasts a long while”.  I have said this many times and I am still saying it now.  John Prine is THE best lyric writer …. Ever.  Fuck Bob Dylan.  Yeah, I said it.

 

KRIS KRISTOFFERSON  –  KRIS KRISTOFFERSON (1970)

For the sake of alphabetical order by album, this Kristofferson follows the John Prine album on this list.  Really it should be the other way around.  While I stand by my earlier praise of Prine lyrics, I would certainly listen to the argument that there wouldn’t be a John Prine without Kris Kristofferson.  The songs on this album show a huge diversity and a sense of patience that just makes him so cool.  “Best Of All Possible Worlds” is just insanely-good storytelling and “Me and Bobby McGee” became a mega-smash for Janis Joplin.  Of all the great concerts I have seen, watching Kris Kristofferson and a guitar for two hours in 2006 will always be one of the best concerts I will ever see.  The true greats just need to show up.

LEGALIZE IT  –  PETER TOSH (1976)

After being a key member of Bob Marley & The Wailers for years, Peter Tosh embarked on a solo career.   On his first solo release, Legalize It, I personally believe Tosh recorded the greatest Reggae album of all time.  Fuck Bob Marley.  Yeah, I said it. (Wait why am I so hostile? Ha.)  Remember that one of Marley’s biggest hits “Get Up Stand Up” was co-written with Peter Tosh.  I love this album from beginning to end, and the album’s cover remains a visual anthem for Marijuana activists everywhere.  Sadly, Peter Tosh was taken from us when he was shot in the head during a home robbery.  Rastafarian music at its finest.

LITTLE EARTHQUAKES  –  TORI AMOS (1992)

There is only one way to put it.  During the spring of 1994 I became a literal disciple of Tori Amos.  By the end of 1996 I had seen her live 7 times.  Several of them in 2nd or 3rd row center seats, since this was back when you could actually wait all night for tickets and be rewarded for it.  This album spoke to me in a way no other album has, or really could.  Frustration with women, with Christianity and with life, I didn’t want to hear about hope in the horizon.  I obviously needed to experience the frustration of someone who understood.  I still have a red-head obsession because of Tori.  This is in my ten favorite albums of all time and always will be.  Little Earthquakes is full of intense and pretty compositions. The humor of “Happy Phantom” contrasts the pain of “Me and a Gun”.  And the included track here is “Precious Things”, which sees Tori Amos exposing herself as the angry and sexual piano player she truly is. Myra Ellen Amos is quite simply a beast.

 

MELISSA  –  MERCYFUL FATE (1983)

Mercyful Fate’s first two albums are among the best Metal albums of all time.  When you realize that this album came out a full year before Kill ‘Em All did you can start to see just how important this band truly were.  Mercyful Fate are the High Priestesses of underappreciation.  Yes King Diamond looks kinda ridiculous. And yes their lyrics are nothing short of evil incarnate.  Lines such as “Drinking the blood of a new born child” and “I’ll be the first to watch your funeral, and I’ll be the last to leave” sometimes are  so over the top that I guess it is understandable how an album this good could be ignored.  If Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden had a baby, and that baby grew up listening to nothing but Black Sabbath, the end result would have to look and sound something like Mercyful Fate.  It’s no coincidence that the best thing Metallica has recorded since …And Justice For All is their medley-cover simply-titled “Mercyful Fate”.  One of the greatest Metal albums of all time hands down.  Click on the YouTube link and hear the start of “Curse of the Pharaohs”.  If you don’t immediately recognize “2 Minutes to Midnight” you are lying to yourself.

 

NEVER, NEVERLAND  –  ANNIHILATOR (1990)

After Annihilator’s first album, Alice in Hell, it was time for a new lead singer.  Out was the awful singing of the ridiculously-named Randy Rampage, and in was ex-Omen singer Coburn Pharr.  The second album of this Ottawa, Ontario band was a vast improvement  over the first album in every way.   Without question the guitar playing of Jeff Waters alone makes this an absolute must-have recording for fans of thrash guitar or just guitar in general.  If you can think of a better Metal album to  come out of Canada then I would love to hear it.  If you have never heard this album, and you consider yourself a “Metal guy” then you are missing out huge.  I am having a hard time trying to pick a song to post here for listening purposes.  That is how truly great this record is from beginning to end.

 

OPUS EPONYMOUS  –  GHOST (2011)

I know, I cannot believe it either.   Only the second of twenty (so far) albums to be released after 1999 that appear on this list.  This album by Swedish band Ghost is nothing but special.  Before I heard this album I was told that it sounded like a cross between thrash metal and Blue Oyster Cult.  As it turned out that description really was right on the money.  Melodic background vocals nestled in between heavy riffing.  I have to say that this album is my favorite Metal album in probably the last twenty years.  The PERFECT blend of melody and heaviness.  This is the only album that since I have got my iPod, every time I switch the music on it I leave this whole album on there.  Every minute of this album is pure genius and I am super-stoked for their upcoming 2nd album titled Infestissumam that will be released this spring.  Hail Satan!!!!

 

That’s it for now, stay tuned for part 3, coming soon…