Rorschach

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

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CONCERT REVIEW: When Styles Collide (April 5 2013)

I’ve known one of these artists for 40 years, the other since she was born.  Rob Szabo is a childhood friend, and Kathryn Ladano got all the musical talent in my family!

563656_10152710710545468_886971882_nWhen Styles Collide:

MIX Music Series Concert #2


Musicians:

April 5, 2013, the Button Factory, Kitchener Ontario

Sponsored by NUMUS Concerts

Mix 2 posterA lot of rock fans can get into more cutting edge music, things a bit more challenging.  Many of us have ears already opened, by progressive rock giants such as Deep Purple, Dream Theater, and Frank Zappa.  When some of the region’s best musicians from various genres gather together to improvise live with an audience, it’s gonna be interesting.  The basic concept of When Styles Collide was to bring together players from different backgrounds, and see what happens.  Although some songs are pre-written pieces, all of the performances contained music made up entirely on the spot at one point or another.  Some are completely spontaneous.

Rob Szabo is a well known singer/songwriter and producer (his production helped bluesman Steve Strongman win a Juno award in 2013 for best Blues album).  Szabo is also a hell of a guitar soloist.  On another side of the musical spectrum is bass clarinetist Kathryn Ladano.  Even though the two have known each other for over 35 years (essentially all of Kathryn’s life since they were childhood neighbors), they’d never actually played together before.  Also present was Kathryn’s frequent collaborator and bandmate from the Digital Prowess days, Jason White.  The quintet was completed by Brandon Valdivia on the traps, and Brent Rowan with some smoove saxophone.

A cool spy drama from the early 60′s would make a great backdrop for the first performance (Rowan’s “By Chance”).  Mixing exotic rhythms with hypnotic patterns, sax and drums dominate.  Szabo rocked back and forth to the music before breaking out into a jazz-tinged solo.  Then it’s Ladano’s turn to lead, with some contrasting highs and lows.  The crowd broke into spontaneous applause — something rarely seen at an experimental music geek event such as this, at least in my experience! (I’m told this is more common with jazz crowds.)  They then rolled into an Ian Paice-style drum solo, before coming back to the main riff of the song.

The second piece, “A Side of Me” is one of Rob’s songs, led by a mournful riff, before Jason White joins him.  This is a vocal number, with Rob Szabo’s expressive vocals.  It sounds like it exists somewhere in early Radiohead, before they got too carried away with themselves.

Then it’s a slow jam (“Sketch 1″ from Valdivia), perhaps from that same 1960′s spy drama.  But this is the scene where our spy’s had too much to drink and he’s wandering around some dark alley after a heavy rain.  This is followed by “Rorschach” named for the classic vigilante from The Watchmen.  It’s a more chaotic jam, perhaps reflecting the character’s on-the-edge life.  Some seriously eerie sax and bass clarinet keep you on the edge, while the percussion is a distant thunderstorm.

Rob said “Incandescent” was written during a period of heavy touring.  It’s one of Rob’s best tunes, melodic and melancholy, but with an occasional glimmer to let you know he’ll be OK.  The band seemed to be having fun jamming behind him.  Brent Rowan’s sax solo was appropriate and stunning on its own, but then Jason white took the lead with some fluttering piano awesome-sauce.

The band closed their first set with an improvisation, a rhythmic jam.  It’s really cool to see and hear the music build, like waves.  You can catch glances back and forth, the musicians communicating by eye, but most of the time they seem well ensconced in their playing.  It’s also cool to know that the music never existed before this moment, and if it wasn’t for the recording equipment, it would also be lost forever just after that moment.

The second set began rhythmically, with a catchy instrumental jam (“Sketch 2″).  There were solos from the wind instruments, and a constant background of interesting and sometimes exotic rhythms.  Rob Szabo laid down a guitar part that looked really really hard; his eyes concentrating on a music stand in front of him, his hand making giant leaps up and down the frets!  A cool drum solo was also captivating.  Kathryn explains:

“The two Sketches do have some basic material that we are following.  That’s why you hear a lot of melodies repeat. It features a small amount of notes and a basic structure that tells you how often to repeat, and when to solo. That’s how we’re able to end together, because it tells us that too. Despite the structure, the two Sketches are still very free and allow us to each do our own thing a lot of the time.”

“Good Son” is from Rob Szabo’s Sore Loser, part of a double EP.  The band didn’t obstruct the quiet song, but instead accented it.  I enjoyed Jason White’s complimentary piano lines.

The jazz-funk of “Funk” (good title) rocked, like a sweaty version of “Pickin’ Up the Pieces”, saxophone taking center stage.  Then, surprisingly, a spoken word piece.  Szabo put down the guitar and exchanged it for the microphone; the words were Nietzsche.  Jason White wrote the music, which he called “Fierce Fighter”.

Kathryn wrote “I Told You So”, a tricky little number that employs some of her favourite bass clarinet tricks.  It also seems to dance around the main rhythm to “Sunshine of Your Love”.  It’s pretty lyrical and out there, very cool and weird.  The band ended with a final Szabo song, “Police Report” that evolved into an extended jam.  Rob’s echo-y guitar solo ended the show on a particularly noisy, rock n’ roll note.

4.5/5 stars

Set 1:
1. “By Chance” by Brent Rowan
2. “A Side of Me” by Rob Szabo
3. “Sketch 1” by Brandon Valdivia
4. Improvisation by Kathryn Ladano, Brent Rowan, and Brandon Valdivia
5. “Rorschach” by Jon Maheraj (arranged by Jason White)
6. “Incandescent” by Rob Szabo
7. Group Improvisation
Set 2:
1. “Sketch 2” by Brandon Valdivia
2. “Good Son” by Rob Szabo
3. “Funk” by Brent Rowan
4. “Fierce Fighter” by Jason White
5. “I Told You So” by Kathryn Ladano
6. “Police Report” by Rob Szabo (leads into a final group improvisation)
Some photos by Martin LePage