Friday, March 27, 2009


Right... so... Watchmen? Now that you all have pretty much seen it, it seems like a good time to talk about it again, right? Right? Ugh.

As a reader of the book, I suppose I don't really have anything useful to say about the movie. It's an interesting experience to watch something that hews to its source material so closely (up until the last reel anyway), unlike most modern Hollywood adaptations. Nothing is surprising, but there's a kind of voyeuristic joy in seeing something you know well played out on the screen. It was fun to watch, but a somehow shallow experience.

Perhaps it's that some of the characterization is lost amongst all the superfluous slick action sequences that have been added to the film, or maybe it's just that a film of this scope doesn't really have time to let the characters breathe. Let's take Rorshach as an example. He's an uncompromising S.O.B., a bit of a cross between Travis Bickle and Batman (Christian Bale, not Adam West). Morally reprehensible, but someone who deserves your respect. In the movie though, he's our cool action hero. We love him, or at worst pity him. Maybe we aren't given enough time to actually stop and think about the things that he's doing. Maybe we're so desensitized to "heroes" doing criminal acts in pursuit of the greater good these days that it washes over us as no big deal.

I can't help but think that if this movie had actually been made right away back in the mid-80s that it would have a greater impact. Not only would the setting of an alternate Cold War America on the brink of nuclear annihilation have been more socially relevant, but the characters would have felt different, too. Think back to 1985 for a second. Superheroes were popularly portrayed as either dorky goody two-shoes, campy crusaders, or roid-raged green guys. A bunch of morally ambiguous anti-heroes dressed in spandex would have seemed a bit more novel.

In the end, while Watchmen is probably a great superhero movie, it's not a great movie. If you're into that sort of thing, then check it out. If you like the movie, then I recommend the book. If you're interested, I have a copy waiting for you on my shelf.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sometimes Planning Pays Off

I had just confessed to Tony the other day that I had been spending a bunch of time recently planning for my next few D&D sessions, but I feared it was all going to be for naught. You see, we're finally moving on to H2: Thunderspire Labyrinth after taking the better part of 19 sessions (wow!) to get through the first adventure and change. This means a new base town, set of NPCs, and quest hooks to establish and keep straight. It feels like I usually execute poorly no matter how much planning I've done. Either I mess something up in the delivery, don't have the knowledge I need at my fingertips, or make horrible errors in combat rendering them mostly meaningless. Even when things do go well, you can get sidetracked by a bored player who tries to pick the pocket (or worse) of every NPC in sight.

To my relief, I think this week went extremely well. I suppose the two party members who semi-regularly read this can bring me back to Earth in the comments section if I'm delusional. Everyone got a quick tour of the new "town", a number of quest proposals were delivered, I kept my characterizations straight, and we mostly kept bored party members in check despite not having a real combat in the first 3 hours. When we did get to the combat, my planned tactics worked well for once. Thoes pesky Bloodreavers ate up a pretty decent chunk of party resources for a level-1 encounter. It would have gone even better for me if I hadn't made a horrible error about 5 rounds in, but what are you gonna do?

Have no fear, I'm not about to turn this blog into a campaign journal or anything. Just wanted to toot my own horn for a second after the first non-frustrating session as DM in awhile. It's good motivation to keep putting the same level of thought and care into future sessions.

Speaking of motivation, apologies to those of you expecting a post-Watchmen entry by now. I have a bad habit of talking to readers in person about things I would post about and losing my motivation to actually put it out here. For those of you who I don't talk to as much, there is a post forthcoming. I just need to work it in between today's trip to the Electric Fetus and our planned evening of local music and a friend's St. Patty's Day celebration.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


I had every intention of getting up this morning and jotting down some thoughts about Watchmen. Instead, I've awoken to find that I can't hold my head straight without some pain in my upper back. Looking in the mirror, my neck is literally slanted at an angle without me even trying. What the heck? This coupled with wrenching my knee whilst slipping in the shower Saturday are all definite signs that my death gene has kicked in despite the new running regimen Meaghan and I started on Sunday.

That's right. Meaghan and I. Running.

I'll try to get to Watchmen later. Right now, I'm just trying to get through the work day without my neck locking up.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Watchmen Expectations

It's official. I just purchased tickets for tomorrow's 1:10 showing of Watchmen on the IMAX at the Minnesota Zoo. In preparation for the experience, I finally got around to reading the acclaimed Alan Moore (V for Vendetta, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, From Hell) comic that it's based on. It's every bit as good as all of the hype suggests. However, if you're going to see the movie and have only seen the various trailers and commercials, you're being misled.

Despite its appearances, Watchmen is not your typical slam-bang, action-packed superhero story. The movie is supposed to be pretty faithful to the source material, so let me issue some warnings now. At its heart, Watchmen is a whodunnit. You shouldn't know the who until sometime in the 2nd half, and you won't know the why until very close to the end. Most of the time the bad actors are well established going in (Look, it's Magneto! Hey, there's the Joker!), but that won't be the case here. Instead, you'll be presented with five heroes with very different world views. In the end, you'll have to decide which one you agree with most.

There are a lot of characters and an alternate timeline to deal with, so I thought I'd assist by giving a brief, spoiler-free primer. If you want to go in completely blind, feel free to skip this part. Needless to say, I'm looking forward to this movie.

Most of the timeline changes will be covered in a montage during the opening credits, but here are a couple high points:
- Masked heroes first appeared on the streets in the 1940s
- The US won the Vietnam War
- Masked heroes were outlawed by the Keene Act in 1977
- The year is 1985, it's the height of the Cold War, and Richard Nixon is still President

The story is likely to jump back in forth in time from present-day (1985) to various points in the past, but the main heroes fall into two main waves: the Minutemen from the 1940s and the Crime Busters (Watchmen in the movie) from the 1960s.

- Hooded Justice: Identity unknown. The original masked vigilante, disappeared under mysterious circumstances during the McCarthy era.
- The Comedian: Identity unknown. Active employee of the US government; went to Vietnam.
- Nite Owl: Hollis Mason. Retired, owns a car repair shop. Wrote a memoir about life as a superhero.
- Silk Spectre: Sally Jupiter. Typical sexpot superheroine, very commercial.
- Captain Metropolis, Silhouette, Dollar Bill, Mothman - not important.

- Dr. Manhattan: Dr. Jon Osterman. The one true superhero with powers. Due to an accident at a US government lab, he gained the ability to manipulate time and space at the subatomic level. Works for the US government; is the reason Vietnam was won and is a one-man nuclear deterrent in the Cold War.
- Ozymandias: Adrian Veidt. "Smartest Man Alive", he retired from the hero business before the Keene Act. Is now a successful businessman.
- Nite Owl: Dan Dreiberg. Inspired by the original Nite Owl, was forced into retirement by the Keene Act.
- Silk Spectre: Laurel Juspeczyk. Daughter of the original Silk Spectre, trained for the job at a very young age, forced into retirement by the Keene Act. Works for the government as Dr. Manhattan's "companion".
- Rorshach: Identity unknown. Still active despite the Keene Act, known for his brutal methods, former partner of Nite Owl.

I'll try to post again tomorrow after I've seen it with a brief review.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


One band that often finds its way into my CD player is Pulp. One of the biggest bands in Britain in the 90s (along with Radiohead, Blur, and Oasis), Pulp never quite hit it big over here in the States the way the others did. Quite possibly too raunchy for radio here, they have a way of tickling my funny bone that not many other bands have. Rather than spend a lot of time talking about the music, I'll let you just listen to various selections from throughout their existence instead.

*I apologize in advance for the videos that aren't official music videos or live performances, but I wanted you to hear as much as possible.

Early Years: Pulp had a lot of different lineups and sounds in their first few years, some good, some bad. These are two of their better songs from that era.
Little Girl (with Blue Eyes)
They Suffocate At Night

His 'n Hers: Pulp emerged for good in 1994 with this pop album.
Do You Remember the First Time

Different Class: Their 1995 follow-up is one of the greatest albums of all time: 12 tracks, all single-worthy.
Pencil Skirt
Common People
Live Bed Show
Bar Italia

This is Hardcore: 1998's turn into darkness, my personal favorite.
The Fear
Help the Aged
This is Hardcore
A Little Soul
Like a Friend

In recent years, frontman Jarvis Cocker (yes, that's his real name) has gone solo with a successful 2006 album. It features Running the World from the closing credits of Children of Men, one of the best anti-politician anthems ever.


It Was All Personal

Meaghan and I were back in the Roch for an extended weekend and decided to cash in some free movie passes at one of our old haunts, the Chateau Theatres. Being smack in the middle of the annual winter dead zone of bad movies, we opted for a good old-fashioned action flick, Taken. If it doesn't involve a DC superhero of some kind, we typically don't see this sort of thing on the big screen. It was getting an 8.0 on IMDB and hey, it was free so it seemed worth the risk.

Before I get into the movie itself, it just wouldn't be a post here at the Amber Tower without me rambling on for a bit about something first. If I had done some research first, I would have realized that we had nothing to worry about because Taken has a good pedigree. Co-written by Luc Besson (Leon: The Professional - which if you haven't seen is a must. Natalie Portman in her first feature film; she's always better in edgy roles [see Closer, Garden State]) and Robert Mark Kamen (they co-wrote The Fifth Element which features this sublimely silly action sequence among others), it was bound to be entertaining. Throw in Liam Neeson, who is almost always good, and you're guaranteed a success.

On its face, Taken is a run-of-the-mill action flick. Neeson is a former government agent whose teenage daughter is kidnapped while on vacation in Paris. His mission, should he choose to accept it, is to go to France and get her back. There's a little bit of a "ripped from the headlines" feel to the story as it turns out that the culprits have nabbed her for the sex slave trade. Unfortunately, if this movie was made to raise awareness of the issue I'm afraid it gets a bit lost amongst all the action.

It rises a bit above the run-of-the-mill in its staging of the action sequences. In your typical film, our invincible hero blasts his way through the movie on little more than his sheer badassery. In Taken, the filmmakers have taken care to show how and why Neeson is such a badass. When infiltrating the bad guys' HQ you can see him taking note of how many men are lurking about and how they're armed. When he goes to jump on to a moving boat, he literally pauses for a few seconds to look before he leaps. Our man of action is cautious and studied, but incredibly lethal.

The fight scenes are quick and to the point. No need to waste time with endless choreography (like any Hong Kong action flick) or thousands of bullets (Rambo), our man can disable a room full of baddies in under 30 seconds. He even has time to deliver some clever (but not snarky) one-liners in the process. I don't think it would be spoiling anything to tell you that our antihero saves his daughter and leaves a trail of bodies in his wake.

In the end, it's enough to make you wonder what the world would be like if everybody in law enforcement took such a personal interest in all of the victims of crime. Would the world be a safer place? Would human rights be violated in the process, or does making an omelette require the breaking of a few eggs? Taken offers no answers, but it is good fun.