Search This Blog

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Earth Hour 2009

After a week spent running around doing little personal errands from car servicing, to a long overdue vet check up (the creature has lost a miraculous 1.7lbs), I spent this Saturday cooking a Earth Hour dinner for a few friends. Ms. Crowded House is just about due and in fact, this may be the last time I see her in her full maternity glory.

I have to thank my sister for providing a few meal items: the goose foie gras (which I seared) and the duck con fit (which I grilled). This combined with a veggie pot stickers, apple curry chicken breast, green beans and beets completed our candlelight dinner for Earth Hour. Everything was well received including the mulled wine and there were scarcely any leftovers either. As we consumed the special "spring awakening" dessert prepared by Noelly, we talked and talked as old friends often do after a long absence (nearly two months) into the night long after the Earth Hour was done.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


I would have to thank A. Spauling for recommending Watchmen, the graphic novel, to me. It was wonderful discovery. The artwork of D. Gibbons and the narrative of A. Moore are simply genius. The chapter titled Fearful Symmetry (a node to Blake) was quite clever in its creation: the comic panel are aligned in symmetry.

The graphic novel is deserving of its title as the greatest ever written though. Its multi-layered non-linear narratives, rich character development/history, novel comic book panel layout and themes of deconstructing superheroes, policies of power and concept of "superman" in today's world were innovative in the early 1980s. It is a definitive literary reaction to the Regans and Thatchers of the Watchmen World of 1980s.

"Who Watches the Watchmen" is another theme resonating in the novel (and a quote from the Roman satirist Juvenal: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?). Alan Moore's (who is a bit of a kook) concept of demonstrating the reality of superheroes is pro tray them warts and all. This of course is very commonplace today in our movies and TV shows particularly (e.g Dark Knight, Heroes) which diminish the power of this graphic novel in this day and age.

Moore decided to create ambiguity in his world of heroes. Except for one exception, they do not really have any superpowers and there is no super-villians either in this story. Instead, these superheroes have to face moral and social concerns. The question of whether superheroes are even necessary was introduced. It is the basis of every postmodern superhero character thereafter from The Incredibles to Hancock. Moore is quite a genius too with his cultural references in the story and which is most evident in the names of our heroes: Ms. Jupiter, Ozymandias, Dr. Manhattan, Rorschach. He cites poets from Edward Blake to P. B. Shelly.

Although the plot is slightly complex (and slight convoluted), the graphic novel of the Watchmen triumphs in the depth of its characters (motivations, shortcomings, past history) and in its vivid description of the the bleak world of the Watchmen. Nearly every panel of each of the twelve issues of the Watchmen is stuffed with these references and symbolism. Most obvious is the smiley face with the blood stain. The Armageddon theme is quite prominent too e.g. the movie poster "The day the earth stood still" appears in a number of panels. Within the graphic novel too are little "faux" newspaper articles and advertisements related to the world of the Watchmen.

It all makes for a very clever read and speaks to the devotion to detail of Dave Gibbons the artist. The references and symbolism are so dense that with each re-reading, you could pick up another nuance of the Watchmen.

After reading the Watchmen graphic novel, watching the Warner Brothers' Watchmen Motion Comic series of all 12 comics, and watching the Zack Synder's DVD of "Tales of the Black Freighter" and "Under the Hood", Mr. Hippo and I went to see Zack Synder's film adaptation of "The Watchmen" last evening. We were an audience of four in the theatre which is hardly surprising for a three hour R-rated film is in its third week of release.

The long and the short of this film review: Mr. Hippo and I thoroughly enjoyed the film. It was faithful to the film without being too loyal. I have heard the criticism and conclude that these reviews have not read the graphic novel or would not have loved the original source of this film.

Bewarned, this is a film MADE for the fanboys/fangirls of the graphic novel. The non-linear plot and the length of the film are insufficient for the any newcomer to develop any sympathy for these characters or comprehend the plot. I can therefore understand if the newbie suffers from plot confusion or succumbs of the superficiality of criticizing the violence of the movie, full frontal nudity of Dr. Manhattan or erratic pacing.

The violence of the the film matches the graphic novel. This should not be a criticism of the film as it accurately represents the sombre tone of the graphic novel and the umbrella threat of global annihilation. Ironically and with uncharacteristically restraint by the director, the apocalyptic ending in the graphic novel was much more gruesome that what was in the film in fact.

The pacing of the film is erratic. I attribute this to the director's efforts to remain true to the novel. The story line of the graphic novel does bounce through the past and present which may work better for the novel where one can flip back and forth rather than in a film. Almost 70-80% of the dialogue is lifted from the novel although some lines are delivered by another character rather than in original character of the graphic novel.

The costume and art directions are in a word splendid. Many scenes virtually lifted from the comic panel themselves. The "smiley face" motive was well preserved in many frames: on the Comedian's badge, the landscape of Mars, the Comedian's belt buckle, the doomsday clock. The slow-motion and near freeze frame scenes are a tribute to the "frozen" comic book panels of the graphic novels.

The actor of the film who deserves recognition in this film is Jackie Earle Haley who plays the role of the much beloved uncompromising right wing lunatic Watchmen. Creepiness and socially awkwardness is taken to a new height. He chimes out Rorschach lines in a fittingly monotone banter.

The music choices accurately evoke the 1980s and most inspired choice here is Bob Dylan's The times they are a changing for the opening credits. Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah for the sex scene is used more for a comic effect and the "Flight of the Valkyrie's" in Dr. Manhattan's and The Comedian's war efforts in Vietnam is a nature homage to Apocalypse Now.

The ending was been changed (warning: spoiler coming) from the graphic novel but I would argue for the better. Instead of Veidt's clone faux "alien" being with psychic powers that is transported into NYC, the origin of the Armageddon destruction is a force with the signature of power of Dr. Manhattan. The film ending saves the audience from trying to figure out what this faux "alien" being is (which fans of the graphic novel are still unclear about) and is internally consistent. We now understand why the earth does not need to see or hear from Dr. Manhattan again.

I can't think of how this graphic novel could be better served by a film except for a more extensive development of the narrative. In fact, after the three hours of the film, I couldn't help thinking that perhaps a 12 part TV series of the graphic novel with each chapter of the novel compressed in a 30 minute episode who be the next step for Mr. Synder. But then again, I think the movie has succeed in doing what I hope all films do, to capture the emotions that the reader could get from the novel and to leave you yearning for more. In fact, I think I'll just go start another re-read of the Watchmen just now.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Nasca Lines

After leaving Paracas, we sent off on another short bus ride to Nazca. The town is renown internationally for the enigmatic geoglyps. Dating back to 500 BC, this collection of over 8000 linear drawings, 300 geometric figures and 70 biomorphs (plant and animal drawings) are remarkable for their size and their preservation. Concentrated in a 500 square km plain with an annual rainfall of virtually nil and scarcely any wind, these "lines" are barely identifiable from the ground. I took a six seater plane to gaze that this marvelous network of figures and channels.

The whale was the first to be discovered in 1927. Maria Reiche, a German astronomer and mathematician, devoted her life to studying the lines and concluded the collection represented a calendar. Other theories proposed include an alien landing strip, a ceremonial centre, a cult worship to water/fertility and a giant running track.

The creation of the lines was done by removing the dark sun baked rocks on either side of the lines to expose the lighter gypsum soil beneath. The Nazca Lines were declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1994.

The spider is identified a symbol of fertility and rain. It is also identified with soothsayers who used the creatures to predict future.

The hummingbird is the best know geoglyp and appears on many ceramics of the Nazca culture (as well as many souvenir items today). It measures 96 x 66m. The hummingbird were thought to be messengers between the heavens and this world.

The tree and druid with extended hands are one of a few figures visible from a viewing platform (middle bottom of the picture) off the Panamerican Highway (not the truck on the road for idea of the scale of these drawings). The Nazca are believed to have made the lines in their worship of Kon, a flying god of water. This would explain why the collection of lines were designed to be seen from above.
I did not puke on the flight which was a most pleasant surprise. As our pilot banked left and right to allow passengers on both sides of the planes to view the lines, there was only one casualty at the end of the 35 minute flight. We were returned safely to the earth and left to ponder the meaning of the Nazca lines, one of the world's great archaeological mysteries.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Little Galapagos

The end of our lovely day in the Paracas and Ballestas islands was capped off with lunch by the beach of fresh fried sole and chips/rice meal washed down with the beloved Peruvian fermented corn drink called chicha morada. Just delicious on a hot afternoon!
The red sand beaches of Paracas are a product of wind storms which carry iron oxide from the distance cliffs into the ocean which in turn washes the iron granules onto the seashore.

It just wouldn't be right leaving Peru without seen a maternity ward. In this case, the maternity beach of the sea lions which was both bustling with activity (several males were duking it out) and sang with the choir of mother sea lions and their cubs.

Mr. Hippo and I did not rest long in Lima after our tour of the Machu Picchu and Cuzco. We set off to see the Ballestas Islands and Paracas National Reserve which are located on the South Coast of Peru. This area has been called the Poor Man's Galapagos. It is not difficult to see why either. There are lots of birds which blanket the islands. In fact, the guano from these islands is mined every eight years and sold overseas as a farm fertilizer. Pelicans, comorants, the peruvian boobys and most surprisingly the Humbolt penguins co-exist on these tiny rock dwellings.