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Sunday, January 07, 2007


Did I like Superman Returns?

First, a little background... so the other night Nicole and I watched Superman Returns with her sister and her boyfriend, a pretty normal event, for most, I guess. So why is it stirring me out of my blogging slumber?

Well, um, I was asked if I liked the movie. It’s always hard for me to answer this kind of question immediately; I really prefer not just saying “it was good” or “it was terrible” or “pretty OK.” I wrote for the newspaper in college and I really grew into the role of a critic, using a few hundred words to appraise the merits of this or that, with the advantage of being able to collect one’s thoughts and form an overall impression, potentially including relevant details and supportive quotations. I guess I like to explain why I react in certain ways to art and things... I try to appreciate the multiple levels on which movies, music, etc. at their very best, are able to work... historical, realistic, fantastical, emotional... but that’s just weird old me I suppose.

Also, I have some approval-seeking issues – I never want to start arguments or make my girlfriend feel criticized if we have disagreements. But a bit more on this later.

Back to Supes. I had planned to see it when it opened in late June earlier this year with Paul and the college crew, but the opening night midnight screening sold out, so I saw it on my own (a late show, of course, a few nights after it opened if I remember correctly.) And I saw it again with family the night before I saw it with my girlfriend and friends (which is why I had my book out; no offense meant, it’s just hard for me to sit for the same thing two nights in a row and I never want to complain about getting to watch a DVD with friends – “it’s all good”).

(I’m getting to the movie in a moment... keep your cape and tights on ;-)

Believe it or not, I’ve written a sort-of review of the movie already, but anyone who’s reading this knows what a terrible procrastinator/habitual abandoner I can be. In 2004 I made a list of my top 10 films – never posted it. I did the same in 2005, but that also never saw the light of day beyond my hard drive. I resolved earlier to keep track of the films I see and write a few words on the subject. Since this fall brought a somewhat more demanding schedule, I’ve failed to keep up with my project even when I’ve had the chance to catch a flick... but that’s really no excuse for my lack of movie blogging in the first half of the year (the words are typed). As a blogger, I suffer from extreme opinion anxiety – every time I write something, I question whether it’s worth posting at all (I’m even doing it right now – “who wants to read eight paragraphs of digression and meta-commentary?”)

Let me just post what I wrote back in June/July. Tell me if this makes any sense:

Superman Returns
***1/2 out of four
Rarely does the cinema see a true homage – not parody, not allusion, and not even mere imitation, but an actual tribute – and here is a prime example of the form. Not since the heyday of DePalma’s Hitchcock channelings, I would think, has someone so blatantly revered another filmmaker in such a manner as Bryan Singer memorializes Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman (and to some extent, the Donner/Lester Superman II of two years later). As to the movie itself, regardless of Singer’s retro-fetishism, it hits pretty much all the right notes. It’s strikingly old-fashioned and even romantic in tone, with surprisingly little action for a “blockbuster” of this type. Brandon Routh slips into Christopher Reeve’s superboots uncannily well, and Kevin Spacey I think injects just the right amount of eccentricity into his line readings. Kate Bosworth is a fine Lois Lane and I liked the fact that her boyfriend Richard White (played by erstwhile Cyclops, James Marsden) wasn’t an abusive thug for her to be saved from, but was actually a decent guy, a heroic dad (“dad”?) himself. It’s true that villain Lex Luthor’s evil plot is fairly stupid and the title character himself is rather uninteresting compared to just about any other screen hero (which is necessarily true of any Superman venture – Super Boy Scout doesn’t have much in the way of psychological complexity). But for all its slow pacing, it really does have some beautiful visuals, complemented by a fine John Ottman score which features John Williams iconic themes carried over from the original. If a super-sequel is in the cards, I’d hope they work to tighten up the plot, add some real thrills and tension (the jet/space shuttle scene in Returns filled the bill, but it came very early in the movie, making the real climax toward the end sort of sag), and work to derive some passion from the usually reserved Clark Kent (conflict is key to drama, no?)

Asked of a movie I didn’t like tonight, I drew a blank. The reasons I have for wanting to see a movie generally are that I like the previous work of the director and/or the reviews are positive, or at least that the premise is intriguing. Meaning, I tend not to see movies I have no interest in, so the ones I do see I am more likely to enjoy. Sometimes they do disappoint, however, as in this case, another comic book superhero story:

X-Men: The Last Stand
What a weak follow-up. Even going in with diminished expectations, this puerile sequel’s sheer shabbiness is hard to excuse. It feels like a rush job of the first order, with a script that substitutes crudity for wit, and direction that never exceeds gaudy spectacle grasping for grandeur. So many scenes in this movie are just head-smackingly oafish: does know one really care that Scott/Cyclops is missing, until Logan/Wolverine nearly has the life sucked out of him, at least three scenes that seemed to exist for no other purpose than to have various factions pummel away at each other (logic be damned)... the list goes on and on, *cringe*. Maybe Bryan Singer, who left this franchise before development on X3 began, will give us a comic-book (sorta-)sequel that lives up to its birthright in Superman Returns [ed. note: this review was written in May of 2006, before the SR review above]. I still consider X-Men 2 my favorite superhero film, while X3 isn’t even in the same league, little more than a cheap set-up for X4 or single-character X-flix (kind of hard to call it cheap when the budget is in the $200m range, eh?). Mostly watchable, but thoroughly inessential.

Finally, a more general note on movies.

Ask someone who knows me what my interests are, and certainly books will be one of the top responses. Music, definitely, too. I don’t know if I give this impression to many people, even those who know me fairly well, but I love film. I love DVDs, for their convenience, quality, and the special features they often bring, but I really love going to the movie theater: nowhere else can I get caught up in a story. Sometimes I go to forget about reality and just enjoy a fantastic story; other times the movies provide insight into real life, whether addressing actual events or symbolizing the struggles we all face at some point in our lives. There isn’t a kind of movie I dislike – it really depends on how well all the components of a film come together (writing, directing, acting, cinematography, music scoring, etc.) Watching DVDs with Nicole, I really have come to appreciate things I never would have otherwise had much contact with – Spongebob really can be as funny as some of the all-time greats; I recently rated every single Disney animated feature and I though I relish some more than others, there really isn’t one that I dislike (the best of them rank with my favorite films of any kind – maybe I’ll post the Disney list soon). I just adore variety, honestly, and there’s no lack of that among the thousands of stories that have been committed to film over the past 110 years (TV has its treasures, too, but for me it’s usually a secondary pleasure).

I must confess that I’m really quiet about this, seeing what movies I can and following the news on the web, but I just felt that I should be a little more open. In school I imagined that I could host a classic movie club, where film fans could watch and discuss their favorite films and such... I still think it would be so cool to own a little theater and show whatever I wanted, a mix of old and new. Maybe someday I will... or at least a nice little home theater with room for some friends who just want to watch something good. Maybe some day. Until then, I’ll just be an amateur film-lover. Hope that doesn’t bother anybody.



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