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Jahnke's Electric Theatre

Jahnke's Electric Theatre #34
The Damned Don't Cry

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Hello, Superfriends. Welcome back to Ye Olde Electric Theatre. For some reason, I’m feeling particularly egalitarian this week. As a result, we’ll have no A-Picture and nothing in the Hell Plaza Octoplex. Instead, for this week’s spotlight feature, let’s use a term that’s somewhat more accurate...

The Big Picture - Superman Returns

First off, despite my life-long love affair with comics, I’ve never been a huge fan of Superman. Like just about everyone else in the world, I’ve read a few of his comics but apart from a short time in the 1980s, I never collected any Superman title. I’ve always liked the character more in theory than in practice and have found more to enjoy in the movies starring Christopher Reeve than anywhere else. The first one is swell but Superman II is still my favorite, no matter what anybody says about its muddled production, and I can even find good things to say about Superman III. However, I apologized to the friends I’d talked into going to see the truly horrible Superman IV with me, at least one of whom reads this column regularly (Chris, once again, I’m very, very sorry). So my expectations were reasonably high going into Superman Returns. More than anything else, I wanted this movie to give me a reason to like Superman again. And to some extent, I got just that. With state-of-the-art special effects and a reliance on John Williams’ great musical themes, Bryan Singer has made a Superman movie every bit as gigantic as its larger-than-life hero. It’s an eye-popping spectacle that rarely asks you to suspend your disbelief that a man can fly. It’s also a bit of an oddity, an attempt to relaunch a franchise for a new generation by being beholden to movies made over twenty years ago. Naturally, it is not a seamless join. Perhaps the biggest hurdle Singer has to jump is in his casting, asking his actors to create characters of their own while remaining true to the spirit, if not the letter, of the iconic performances of Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman, and pals. It’s a thankless task that shouldn’t be wished on any actor and it’s to these actors’ credit that they don’t fumble the ball entirely. Brandon Routh probably isn’t going to make anyone forget about Reeve. He has the authority and presence to carry off the role but he almost never looks like he’s having any fun. Even his smiles seem slightly tinged with sadness. A lot of this is inherent in the story Singer has chosen to tell. Even so, Reeve was able to pull off calling Lex Luthor a “diseased maniac” with a lot more flair than Routh probably could. Kate Bosworth is slightly more problematic as Lois Lane, doing everything right but still coming off as a lot more passive and characterless than Kidder. Having said that, I can’t think of another actress in her age group I’d have chosen instead. Maybe it’s just a generational difference that makes Bosworth’s Lois seem so much less interesting than Kidder’s. The rest of the cast is mostly terrific. Kevin Spacey makes for a great Luthor and Parker Posey is surprisingly fun as his moll du jour. So with all this going for it, why didn’t I love this movie without reservations? First off, there were a few too many references to Richard Donner’s original for my tastes. Some of them are inspired but when dialogue is repeated almost verbatim not once but repeatedly for no apparent reason, you begin to wonder if the screenwriters just couldn’t think of anything original to say. Worse still is the movie’s uneven pace which builds to a crescendo, then sputters and stalls, then rebuilds itself again. And, like most movies nowadays, this one takes an eternity to end. But the biggest flaw with the movie is that Singer and his team don’t seem all that interested in Clark Kent. It’s not simply that nobody notices that Clark and Superman have both been gone for exactly five years and both suddenly turn up out of nowhere on the exact same day. It’s that nobody at the Daily Planet seems to have even noticed or cared that Clark was gone at all. Clark Kent isn’t just a cloak of invisibility that Kal-El can shrug into whenever he doesn’t feel like being Superman anymore. It’s the face of the humanity he learned from his adoptive parents in Smallville. Without it, he’s exactly what Luthor accuses him of being: an alien god who thinks he’s better than the rest of us. It was the dichotomy between the two personas that made Reeve’s Superman so astonishing and there are enough glimpses of it here to make one hope that Routh can grow into the roles just as comfortably. I hope he does because as a foundation for a presumed series of films, Superman Returns feels like it’s painted itself into an uncomfortable corner. I don’t want to give anything away but the way things are left at film’s end seems to present fairly limited story options... or at least, limited interesting story options. You could make an infinite number of movies after this just following the status quo but I think they’d get tedious fairly quickly. Let’s hope Singer or whoever takes the reins next has some aces up their sleeve. But for now, Superman Returns is an enjoyable reintroduction to a character who needs no introduction. And maybe the fact that I didn’t enjoy it as much as I’d hoped simply proves what Kal-El learned during his five years away from Earth. You can’t go home again. (* * *)

Nacho Libre

I like Jack Black. I like Mexican wrestling. Therefore, I reasoned, I should like Nacho Libre, the new comedy with Jack Black as a priest with a secret life as a luchador. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out that way. I haven’t seen Napoleon Dynamite, director Jared Hess’ previous claim to fame, and if this is any indication of what I’m in for, I’m not going to be sticking it at the top of my Netflix queue any time soon. This is a sloppy, half-finished movie that feels more like a rough cut than a finished feature. It’s as if they hadn’t figured out the timing of the jokes yet and couldn’t be bothered to finish the job. Hess displays a fondness for farts and little else. Not fart jokes, as that would imply some comedic point to them. No, this movie just includes random farts for no reason at all. Black is an engaging personality and what little energy the movie has rests entirely on his shoulders. But he’s not such a magnetic screen presence that he can keep this mess from collapsing around him. (* *)

“So if you hated this movie so much, Jahnke,” I hear you ask, “why isn’t it in the Octoplex?” One reason, my friend. I saw it at the Vineland Drive-In here in the beautiful Southland of California which is the perfect venue to see such a shambolic half-movie unspool. If you’ve never been to a drive-in (and part of me can’t quite believe that some of you probably haven’t), you’re missing out. Projected beneath the stars, with trains barreling past, kids running around and in the company of good friends, a movie’s flaws all seem highly forgivable. If I’d seen Nacho Libre in a movie theatre, I’d have been pissed off at myself for wasting my time and money. At the drive-in, I just shrugged it off and still had a good time. If you live near one, or even if you don’t, I encourage you to load up the car and support your local drive-in. Rumors of their death have been slightly exaggerated.

Over the Hedge

This was the co-feature with Nacho Libre at the Vineland, otherwise I probably never would have seen it (and if we’d turned around to look at the screen behind us a little earlier, I’d have been writing about The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift right now instead). Kind of an odd choice for a drive-in but I’m glad I saw it. Bruce Willis voices RJ, a raccoon who cons a group of docile foragers into helping him steal a bunch of food from a newly-built housing development to replace what he lost stealing from a hibernating bear. Like too many recent animated movies, Over the Hedge has more than enough pop culture references that are supposedly supposed to entertain both parents and kids. I think both are more likely to enjoy the moments that are clearly influenced by classic Looney Tunes cartoons, including the Bugs-and-Daffy like byplay between Willis and Garry Shandling as Verne the turtle and Stella the skunk (voiced by Wanda Sykes, as usual rising above her material) disguising herself as a cat to distract a lovestruck house pet. Over the Hedge is no classic but it’s a cute and often funny cartoon with some impressive animation that is probably better seen anywhere other than on a repainted, patched-up drive-in screen. (* * ½)

Now on DVD...


I’ve been getting into the films of Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-Wai lately but the charms of his latest eluded me somewhat. In fact, it took me two attempts to make it through this semi-sequel to In The Mood for Love. Tony Leung is a writer who works for the paper and spends his night writing science fiction stories that are in fact allegories for his own past relationships. Like every other Wong Kar-Wai film I’ve seen, 2046 is absolutely gorgeous to look at. But this time the amazing visuals were working in service of a story that goes nowhere slowly. The film’s champions will no doubt tell me it’s all very poetic and atmospheric. It may well be and like most poetry, what you get out of it is purely subjective. For me, 2046 was a not particularly original rumination on love and loss that told me nothing I hadn’t already heard from earlier, better movies, stories and poems. (* * ½)

Running Scared

On the other end of the scale of movies I just didn’t get, you’ll find this bizarro action movie starring Paul Walker as a mobster on a frantic all-night chase to retrieve a stolen gun that was used to kill some dirty cops. I’ll give it this much. Running Scared is anything but routine. The movie takes more uncontrolled left turns than a soapbox derby racer. And I’m all for that. But even on its own terms, this thing makes precious little sense. It lost me entirely about a third of the way in when Walker’s son actually gets the gun back from his friend and stupidly decides to hide it in a toilet tank for reasons known only to the screenwriter. Mix in a third-act twist that contradicts just about everything we’ve seen so far and the worst tacked-on happy ending since the non-director’s cut of Blade Runner and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a love-it-or-hate-it cult movie that will either dazzle you with its kinetic style (which admittedly it has in spades) or leave you cold. Guess which side of the fence I’m on. (* ½)

All right, folks. Clear the area. Nothing more to see here. See you back here in two weeks, at which point it’ll be a pirate’s life for me.

Adam Jahnke

Dedicated to Vincent Sherman

"Electric Theatre - Where You See All the Latest Life Size Moving Pictures, Moral and Refined, Pleasing to Ladies, Gentlemen and Children!"

- Legend on a traveling moving picture show tent, c.1900

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