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Reel Critics:

‘Watchmen’ explores alternate U.S.

March 11, 2009|By SUSANNE PEREZ and JOHN DEPKO

I’m still trying to wrap my head around this visually stunning, nearly three-hour look at blurred history mixed with sci-fi — where Nixon is president in 1985, the war in Vietnam was a triumph, and we are on the brink of nuclear war with Russia.

Enter a very stylish group of superheroes who wear fabulous costumes and masks. I should say “wore,” as the President has put a ban on masked vigilantes and forced their retirement.

Some have kept their identities secret, others who were formerly known as the Comedian, Silk Spectre, and Nite Owl II now live relatively obscure lives using their real names.

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Dr. Manhattan (voiced by Billy Crudup) is the exception — a giant, physically perfect nuclear mishap who actually has genuine superpowers and is feared yet respected. And there’s Rorschach (an excellent Jackie Earle Haley), the moral conscience of the film who scurries the dark streets like a rat in a trenchcoat.

These superheroes are conflicted, flawed and seem to take a particular pleasure in brutal killings. It’s a retro-futuristic view of certain apocalypse and the character weaknesses inherent in every man (and superman).

“Watchmen” is slow, cryptic and a little cheesy. It’s not perfect, but it’s watchable. I’m now more determined to finish reading Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ graphic novel and see this movie again.

Love triangle plot takes a few extra turns

“Two Lovers” is a small film that explores complex emotional issues familiar to everyone.

Family ties and romantic delusions compete for the attentions of Leonard, a fragile man played with great empathy by Joaquin Phoenix. Gwyneth Paltrow and Vinessa Shaw are also excellent in this subtle character study.

They play two very different women who are at the center of Leonard’s quandary. They represent alternative futures that feed into his hopes and fears in equal measure. This uncomfortable dilemma touches a strange chord that will reverberate for many in the audience.

Offbeat and compassionate, the screenplay defies traditional formulas for a love triangle. Possible heartbreak always lurks in the shadows. But the players glide through their intricate roles, bringing humor and sincerity to their mutual longing for clarity. It’s the quality of their acting performances that takes this minor film to a level worthy of major respect.


SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a financial services company. JOHN DEPKO is a Costa Mesa resident and a senior investigator for the Orange County public defender’s office.

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