Sunday, March 15, 2009
I've been a fan of the comic for a long time, and am looking forward to seeing the movie on imax. I have read a lot of reviews, and what seem to see is that everyone who expected a hollywood kids movie was disappointed like the moral puritans they are. They wanted a confirmation of their values of good and evil. Instead they got nudity, violence, and a plot that requires you to pay attention and think. In other words, they got a heaping of real life covered in the dressing of the superhero genre. I look forward to evaluating the movie on my own, and I worry that the director emphasizes the violence and sex more than the philosophical and psychological musings. But I'm not going to base my judgment of the movie on the idea that movies should cater to 12 year olds. 12 year olds need to grow up and if the movie is anything like the comic, which I read when I was about 12, then this is the perfect movie for them to start wrestling with the questions and issues they will deal with their entire adult lives.
What a disappointment. I saw Watchmen the movie on imax with some friends. After years of reading the comic, and believing that this was something that they would never be able to get right on film, I should have had low expectations, but instead I believed the hype. Partly because the director, Zack Snyder kept talking about how close he followed the comic. Scene by scene, panel by panel. Well, it's true that he stuck to the comic, but it's also clear that he didn't realize what the comic was even about.
In short, it was a violent disneyland ride based on the book. It lacked the serious pondering in Alan Moore's masterpiece. The post-modern doubt of all 'grand narratives' was gone. Instead the movie only offered a critique of the ends that lefties would use to achieve their goals. The comic was a critical deconstruction of the superhero genre, exposing liberal elitists (Ozymandias), right wing vigilantes (Rorschach), god-like supermen (Dr. Manhattan), and government agents (The Comedian) as flawed characters that rhetorical pretensions aside, might do more harm than good for society.
The Watchmen movie, like Synder's 300, had a right wing tilt. In 300, Greek super-studs fight against “Asian Hordes” to defend “the only hope of reason” and western civilization. It could have been written by a George W. Bush speech writer in order to drum up support for an invasion of Iran. In the Watchmen movie, we have a new hero in Rorschach, a vicious vigilante who stops at nothing to exact crowd pleasing justice. An uncompromising masked hero who is tragically killed while trying to stop a villain's murderous plot. The villain is Ozymandias, an environmentalist vegetarian liberal snob who is willing to kill millions to achieve his goal of a 'hippie commune' pacifist utopia. Watchmen becomes the perfect propaganda for an anti-Obama right-wing reaction.
In the comic, Rorschach's character is developed not as a hero, but as a dark reflection of American Right-Wing Populism. I think one of the most telling parts of the comic is in Rorschach's pyschological profile in the linear notes of issue # 6. Rorschach's alter ego, Walter Kovacs writes,”I like President Trumen... He dropped the atom bomb on Japan and saved millions of lives because if he hadn't, then there would have been a lot more war that there was an more people would have been killed. I think it was a god thing to drop the atomic bomb on Japan.”
Wait a minute. Could it be? Rorschach is willing to kill millions, just like Ozymandias, to achieve his better world? This is the kind of moral doubt that exists in the comic that didn't make it into the moralistic movie.
Part of the problem, is that times change. While Rorschach chopping up child rapists with a meat cleaver would have seemed monstrous when the comic originally came out, now he's perceived by many to be a bad ass exacting just revenge.
I do have to credit Snyder for copying so much of the book, and I do look forward to the dvd which is supposed to have 2 more hours of footage. Perhaps more of the moral ambiguity will make it into the dvd. The movie felt rushed in it's execution though. Every line of dialogue felt like the actor said it in ¼ the time it actually needed for emotional impact.
While many reviews have commented on Malin Akerman's poor performance as Silk Spectre, I was more frustrated with Billy Crudup's blah inspiring performance as Dr. Manhattan. The scenes on Mars in particular are agonizing to watch as they seemed rushed and forced. What was an excellent meditation of responsibility and a fantastic dialogue about human worth, became a one minute long excuse to have Dr. Manhattan return to Earth. I felt like Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach was too animated, energetic, and angry in the movie. In the comic Rorschach was detached and calm in his sociological killing spree. I particularly detest Rorschach's appropriation of the Left's slogan in “an injury to one is an injury to all.”
I did enjoy Patrick Wilson's Nite Owl and Jeffery Dean Morgan as the Comedian was great, although the pressure to speed up the movie shows here. The Comedian's murder of a Vietnamese girl should have been in slow mo, to heighten the tension and drama, to illustrate the moral choice before the Comedian. Instead the movie blurred right by it and instead we got extra footage of comedian whuppin some hippies in the streets.
I have to comment on the ending. To Snyder's credit, he fought the studio to maintain Alan Moore's original ending. He lost. Many have commented on the ending, pointing out that it sort of made sense, tying together a couple of different plot threads and themes. I disagree. In the comic, the threat of extra-terrestrial invasion was one that would continue after the crises, thus keeping the USA and the USSR allied and at peace. Not so with the ending in the movie. There are two flaws with Ozymandias' plot in the movie. 1- Dr. Manhattan as the danger would only lead to a temporary alliance between the USA and the USSR, and would have actually raised questions about America's connections with Dr. Manhattan. 2- With Ozymandias doing energy projects with Dr. Manhattan, wouldn't he come under suspicion? Also, this is a critique of the comic, why does Dr. Manhattan even work for the US government to begin with? What's in it for him?
Some of my friends say “well, this is as good of an adaption as you could expect.” Well, I'll stick with the original. Maybe the medium is the message.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Yet, there are those bands and albums which, while great, never received the audience or the praise they deserved. Bands like Megadeth and Faith No More, which found fans in musicians and die hard fans, yet have not received the same attention as Metallica or Rage Against the Machine.
So what are some of these under appreciated albums? Below is a list of albums that I feel deserve some recognition. It is by no means a complete list, but I hope it will get the conversation started. I look forward to people's commentary. I put them in order of what I feel are the most deserving of recognition.
Album: The Shape of Punk to Come.
Hardcore Swedish punk, jazz fusion, techno, radical politics. This album truly should have been the shape of punk to come. Refused were visionaries with this album. Their previous albums, such as “Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent” were excellent hardcore punk albums, check out the song “Rather Be Dead” but it was with this album that they developed their own sound. They incorporated a number of elements into punk, making this album worth listening to over and over to catch to subtleties and depth of it's content.
Highlights include the opening track “Worms of the Sense/Faculties of the Skull,” the title track “the Shape of Punk to Come” and “Refused are Fucking Dead.” The song “New Noise” became a minor hit, and it's easy to see why, it's techno breakdowns with it's hardcore chorus. More than the music though, was the politics of this album. It wad more than just a political lecture, it was an emotional catharsis against the alienation of the capitalist system, pointing out many of the ways we are bought and sold and reaching for a world where we are free. This should have been one of the 10 best albums of the 1990's, but it was not meant to be. Refused broke up soon after the album was released. Singer Dennis Lyxen's band The (International) Noise Conspiracy is quite good as well.
Band: Darkest Hour
Darkest Hours other albums are great, but this is a true metal classic. Years after it came out, it's still a regular listen for me. It is heavy, dark, technical, yet emotional. There is an old joke, “What's the difference between a punk band and a metal band? Practice.” Darkest Hour started off as a hardcore punk group in Washington DC. They became fans of the Swedish Gothenburg sound of melodic death metal and began practicing. The guitars sound like detuned, pumped up thrash, with harmony lines on top, the drums pound away with some head banging double bass and singer John Henry delivers a guttural growl that emotes a fierce urgency, a foreboding dread and a nervous anxiety.
Their albums “Mark of the Judas” and “Hidden Hands of the Sadist Nation” show that work ethic in some pretty brutal, yet catchy, tracks. When they added lead guitarist Kris Norris to their lineup, the stage was set for their greatest album yet. Undoing Ruin begins with a feedback line that is oddly harmonious in “A Thousand Words to Say But One” before it breaks into some fast thrash and rips into an awesome shred solo. The dark mood is set with songs like “Convalescence,” and one of my favorites, “Sound of Surrender.” “Fevered Times” catches the zeitgeist of a society on the brink, with a solo that absolutely kills before moving into closing tracks “Paradise” and “Tranquil”, which sounds like an musical movement that lead to an emotional awakening, a transcendent crescendo of a moment, before plunging into the depths of turmoil and struggle. The two-handed tapping guitar back and forth at the end of “Tranquil” evoke a sadness of true depth, before fading away into the same feedback line that began the album.
Band: Atari teenage Riot
Album: 60 second Wipeout
This is without a doubt the heaviest techno album ever, and quite possibly one of the most brutal CD's ever released. Imagine if Slayer were an Anarchist techno band. Nic Endo's screams, Alec Empire's shouts, Carl Crack raps, the digital distortion is through the roof, the drum machine is set at the highest bpm and run through a distortion pedal and the revolutionary politics are real. ATR devised a genre for themselves: Digital Hardcore. Originally from Germany, ATR is really the brainchild of Alec Empire. Empire has released several good solo techno albums “Generation Star Wars”, “The Destroyer,” “Hyper-Modern Jazz,” “Alec Empire vs. Elvis,” and “Intelligence and Sacrifice.” It was with ATR that he found most success though. Their first US release was the low-fi but energetic “Burn Berlin Burn.” With “60 Second Wipe-Out,” ATR went High-Fi. Each track has multiple layers of sound, distortion and chaos occurring.
The album kicks into high gear right away with “Revolution Action” and “By Any Means Necessary” before slowing down with “Western Decay.” “Too Dead for Me” is a fist pumping punk song while Tracks like “Death of President DIY!” and “No Success” stretch out into multiple movements. "No Success" is a heart pounding anthem against the yuppie lifestyle, against the philosophy of 'get ahead at any cost' is ripped to shreds. “Your Uniform (Does Not Impress Me!)” easily rival's NWA's “Fuck the Police.” The closing track “Anarchy 999” sets the terms of the revolution, Alec Empire shouts, “A dividing conflict is about to come!” Guest vocalist “The Arsonists” spit rhymes like bullets at US imperialism.
Band: Fear Factory
This is the perfect Science Fiction album. Fear Factory took their Industrial Metal sound to new heights on this album. This concept album follows a rebel, the Edgecrusher, in a future police state society as he evades the securitron forces, fights oppressive religion and rails against nuclear war. The lyrics are political “I am the powersurge, I am the Insurgent, Shock to the System” Burton C. Bell sings in the opening track, while in another track, the band samples Mario Savio's famous speech about the machine. The linear notes to this album include a storyline that wraps around the lyrics, giving the album a real plot and message.
The sound of the album is brutal. Dino Cazares plays a crunchy detuned 7 string guitar in a rhythmic way while bassist Christian Olde Wolbers delivers some earth shaking bass lines, including on some tracks an acoustic double bass. Vocalist Burton C. Bell was a pioneer in the metal genre for mixing growling screams with clean singing in the same track. Drummer Raymond Herrera is known for his lighting fast double bass playing, and it shows on this album. One of the nice touches on this album is the keyboard sound effects by Rhys Fulber, from the Industrial group Front Line Assembly.
Band: Black Light Burns
Album: Cruel Melody
Remember Limp Bizkit? Remember how awful Fred Durst was? What was their reason for success? Many pointed to guitarist Wes Borland as the talent of the band. His avant garde eccentric guitar playing was the only redeeming factor of the band. Now, Borland has formed his own band, Black Light Burns, one where he plays guitar and sings, and it's actually pretty good. It's actually really good. It's more introspective and full of intelligence than Limp Bizkit's frat boy boasting. Check out tracks like “Lie” and “New Hunger”
Album: Kill a Celebrity
Have you ever watched one of those awards shows with all the celebrities, and just felt a revulsion towards these pretty faces slapping each other on the back while they act like spoiled brats? Have you ever been so outraged by the the massacres that the US government commits in Iraq and Palestine that you wished something gruesome would happen to the CEO's that sponsored such policies? So has White Trash Rob, the man behind Ramallah. Named after the city in Palestine this band is scary with how brutal it is. There are more revenge motivated threats (and I mean physical threats of violence) aimed at the rich and powerful in this album than in a suicide note from Che Guevarra. Crass? Cruel? Vicious? Yes, but awesomely heavy. Check out the title track, “Days of Revenge,” “Oscar Cotton,” and “Act of Faith.”
Band: The No WTO Combo
Album: Live From the Battle of Seattle
A group of punk and grunge luminaries combined forces to play a protest concert at the 1999 protest against the World Trade Organization in Seattle. On bass, Nirvana bassist Krist Novocelic, on Guitars Kim Thayil from Soundgarden and on vocals Dead Kennedy's frontman Jello Biafra. The album begins with an extended speech from Jello about the evils of corporate globalization and the WTO's role in that, while the band makes noise in the background, before kicking into tracks like “Electronic Plantation,” and “New Feudalism.”
Album: The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste and Live: In Case You Didn't Feel Like Showing Up
In between Al Jourgensen's break-out industrial album “The Land of Rape and Honey” and before he became a Lollapalooza star with the album “Psalm 69”, “The Mind is a Terrible thing to Taste” helped establish Ministry's sound of driving guitars, punk vocals, samples from movies and synthetic keyboards. This album delivered with cuts like the breakdown of “Thieves”, the punk rock of “Burning Inside,” the environmental protest of “Breathe,” and the extensive “So What.” “Test” introduced rap into the mix while “Faith Collapsing” portrayed a nightmare out of Fahrenheit 451. The album ends with the psychedelic “Dream Song.” The Live album is an excellent capturing of the band, as is the live video with it's psychedelic colors and the bands chain link fence separating itself from the crowd. The video also features a guest appearance by Jello Biafra of Dead Kennedy's fame.
Album: Around the Fur
Long thought to be the “thinking man's nu-metal” the Deftones make a heavy statement with this album. Singer Chino Moreno croons soft ballads, whispers secret agonies and screams anguished cries over Stephen Carpenter's sludgey guitars. The album starts off with the tension filled groove in “My Own Summer (Shove It)” and each track builds with intensity, building off the last. The title track builds into the nervously heavy “Rickets,” which bleeds into the harmonic “Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away).” “Lotion” taps into that sick feeling one gets when you are trapped in a social situation you can not escape.
Album: The Eye of Every Storm
Neurosis is one of those bands that you can really trip out to. Like Tool, but more rooted in hardcore punk and the underground, Neurosis has created an ambient yet brutal sound that evokes sadness, loss and anger. “The Eye of Every Storm” is a great showcase of this band in it's minimalistic fury. Vocalist Scott Kelly sounds like a punk rock Tom Waits while the band revels in Psychedelic Metal.
Another nu-metal band? On my list of under-appreciated albums? Yes. This album bounces with a heavy metal groove that is heavy, yet fun. Stand out tracks include “Mindtrip,” “Endure,” “Years,” and “Levels.”