Saturday, January 8, 2011

Watch Out (Steven Balderson, 2008)

What do you get when you mix Chuck Palahniuk and Carlton Mellick III, then subtract a bit of the dystopia? Well, if it is a story about extreme narcissism, it would probably look a lot like Watch Out, based on the novel by Joseph Suglia.

I invoke the names of
Palahniuk and Mellick primarily to let you know that there is quite a degree of absurdism to the story. We see everything through the mind of Jonathan Barrows, the lead character. He is neither protagonist nor antagonist exclusively. In his mind the world is against him, but in ours he is against the world. He is rather like Howard Roark from The Fountainhead, in that to himself he is the hero, where to many of us he is kind of a dick.

Director Steven Balderson wrote the screen adaptation along with novelist Suglia, and the film contains a few of the actors those who have seen Stuck! will recognize, notably Starina Johnson and Bettie O. Matt Riddlehoover, who is more often credited behind the camera, stars as Jonathan Barrows.

I don't want to spoil the film, so I won't go into the climax. The build to Barrows' true self is somewhat obvious, or perhaps expected, but the film does a nice job of making it a shock. I have only read the first chapter of the book, so I do not know how Suglia handles it alone, but with Balderson at least there is a sense of, pardon the cooking analogy, a slow boil that you turn away from, an when you turn back it is spilling all over the stove. It has that same sense of immediate panic, though it does not beat you over the head with it for the remainder of the film.

I must tell you that if you are adverse to seeing cocks in your movies, steer clear. You see a lot of "Riddlehoover Jr." in this one. Also, in a fashion, it comes off as a little camp. This is likely do to the combination of the absurd and gay elements. Barrows comes off as extremely gay, but that is a) part of the story (though he is not), and b) perhaps Riddlehoover's personality coming through? There are moments of true camp, but not as much as it may seem. If camp is not your thing but the story interests you you will need to ride it out a bit, it is worth the effort. I liked this one a great deal.

Watch it on Netflix Instant


Lisa K. said...

I absolutely loathe Palahnuik... nearly stopped reading after his name dropped ;)

The film sounds promising. I had to grin reading the last part of the blog, because you warn viewers about penis & gay characters. That is very kind of you :D
So, there are still many people who are afraid of / uncomfortable with (seemingly) gay characters, I guess?

Darius Whiteplume said...

As far as Chuck P goes, I liked Fight Club and Invisible Monsters, but have not warmed up to much else.

As for the penis/gay warning, I would like to think it is less necessary, but so many people (not here, necessarily) complained about all the CGI penis in The Watchmen, and even naked Vigo in Easter Promises (the inclusion of which I thought was 100% appropriate for the scene). I do try to warn if there is a lot of nudity, regardless of gender; although in a way it is a back-handed warning. While my wife won't watch a movie strictly because there is a penis or two shown, she does think it is appropriate with the amount of female nudity in film. This way, if nude men is your thing, you know you'll see some ;-)

The gay mention was more of a camp warning. Some people just do not like camp, whether it is strictly gay-themed or not.

BTW, you likely would not like Carlton Mellick III either. He is a little too similar to Palahnuik.

Darius Whiteplume said...

I meant above, after the wife read my comment, that inclusion of a penis in a film "neither helps no hinders" her decision to see a film. That is what I meant, but stated it poorly. :-)

Lisa K. said...

Ah well, I thought so (you warning about nudity in general).
I rather would see a naked woman than a naked man, but only because I find women to be physically more attractive (nearly every female says so, I think). So it is only a question of aesthetics for me :D

Most men (would) watch lesbian porn, but never watch gay porn. Most women are okay with both. I think this can be applied to the more mainstream film, too.
Which I always thought to be disturbing, yet understandable. Male sexuality works different than female (this is turning into a study).

I thought that Fight Club was okay and I think he still gets a lot of hype out of this single book (including the film). I also read 'Haunted' and 'Diary' ... I think his characters are too flat and well... he still gets all the hype from Fight Club. Just my humble opinion ^^

PS: CGI penis is never acceptable. ;)

Darius Whiteplume said...

Men are more afraid of expanding their sexual horizons, in general. The CGI penis was a bit too "squirmy" - I guess you have to go CGI for superheroes? Either that or hire stunt dicks from the porn industry. Superman can't pack a cocktail weenie :-)

I do think Chuck gets too much credit for Fight Club. After I read "Choke" I completely swore off his books. "Lullaby" was fair... I like some of his ideas, but not always his execution. Maybe he should try short stories?

Lisa K. said...

Oh, Superheros need a super dick I suppose.
Is there something like a casting agency for stunt cocks? :D There sure is one for boobs and booties.

"Haunted" is a composition of short stories, packaged in a background story. A lot of splatter without any real meaning behind it. And stupid characters and an even more stupid predictable twist.
I don't really need that in a book.

Darius Whiteplume said...

I'm sure there is a casting agency for everything :-)

I had not heard of Haunted, which might go to how little attention I pay to him these days. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Whiteplume,

I thank you for your judicious and thoughtful review of Steve Balderson's WATCH OUT (2008), a cinematic interpretation of my novel of the same name.

I have a slight correction to make: I despise Chuck Palahniuk -- indeed, my hatred of Palahniuk is nearly legendary -- and never read what is called "bizarro fiction." My writing has never been self-consciously "strange" or "strange" in a stylized or programmatic manner. Indeed, my books do not seem "strange" to me at all.

I write these words merely for the purpose of clarification. It is important that I not be confused with the Moron Fiction of Palahniuk -- nor with the "bizarro movement," which is an infantile unlettered form of absurdism. I repudiate all such associations.

Again, I thank you for your excellent review.

Yours most sincerely,

Dr. Joseph Suglia

Darius Whiteplume said...

Dr. Suglia,

I am glad that you otherwise appreciated the review. I enjoy Balderson's work a great deal. I will have to add "Watch Out" to my growing pile of books; well, eBooks as luckily it is available on the Kindle.

I try not to give too much of a story away when I do a review, but comments are a different story ;-) I did enjoy the way every character is madly in love with Barrows, but as a first person narrative, we do not know if this is really happening or if we are merely going through his filter. You don't get many true representations of narcissism in film, and often characters who would be extreme narcissists are not portrayed as such.

I did not mean the reference to Palahniuk as a slight.

Best regards, and thank you for stopping by my little corner of the ether.

Post a Comment