- How have I heard so little about Burn After Reading before now? My god, it's Brad Pitt and George Clooney (and Tilda Swinton! And Frances McDormand! And John Malkovich!) in a Coen Brothers crime comedy — that is a recipe for a movie I absolutely have to see. I've long been of the opinion that it should be law that Pitt and Clooney make one movie per year together, preferably a comedy. They're both pretty boys who don't take the pretty boy bullshit seriously, and they're both funny as hell when they want to be.
- Watched the first thirty minutes of Hitchcock's Notorious (1946) last night — too tired to watch the whole thing, though I'd like to go back and catch the rest of it some time. But man, I'd never really realized just how beautiful Ingrid Bergman was. And charismatic, and sexy, and talented, and so very watchable — I guess there was a reason she was once one of the biggest movie stars in the world, huh?
- Also, I had utterly forgotten that Isabella Rosellini was her daughter — I knew Rosellini was the daughter of director Roberto Rosellini and some world-renowned beauty, but I'd forgotten it was Bergman. Should've been obvious, really, once I got a good look at Bergman — mother and daughter look just alike, I swear.
- Movies I've seen recently and for which I hope to get around to writing reviews sometime soonish: The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (loved it), Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (liked it a good bit), The Darjeeling Limited (liked it). Next up from Netflix: Once.
Hoooooooooly cow is that movie ever going to suck.
(Cross-posted from Thunderdog, the site where I usually write about movies and comic books and such.)
If Batman Begins represented a step or several forward from the superhero movies that came before, so does The Dark Knight represent another leap. The Dark Knight retains all that I loved about its predecessor – note-perfect acting, solid writing, gorgeous cinematography and art direction – and adds several new flavors to its casserole of excellence, most notably a deepening complexity and thoughtfulness. The Dark Knight isn't a superhero action movie. It's an ethical treatise with punching.
(Perhaps very mild spoilers to follow, but likely spoilers only to those who've never paid any attention whatsoever to Batman and his rogues gallery.)
What does it mean to say someone is a “hero?” How far would you go to save the ones you love from danger? How about people you don't even know? How far can you be pushed without losing yourself to madness? The Dark Knight asks these questions and turns them over and over, examining them from numerous points of view, presenting several ideas but never providing answers – The Dark Knight is an action movie that wants to engage your brain as much as, if not more than, your adrenal glands. Most of the major characters faces down at least one of these ethical quandaries (except for the force-of-nature Joker, who clearly gave himself over to madness long before this story starts) and each makes choices true to character. That a movie about a man dressed as a flying rodent and a psychotic clown dares ask these questions at all is astonishing; that The Dark Knight does so with such force, daring and reflection is almost beyond belief.
Director Christoper Nolan and his co-screenwriter/brother Jonathan Nolan get what makes these characters so fascinating and so iconic. They understand what those of us who read comics have understood for decades: that there are depths to be plumbed there, that the easy identification of Batman as silly spandex hero isn't the true measure of the character. The Nolans understand the deep-seated near-schizophrenic split between Bruce Wayne and Batman, and they understand that while the Joker will always be Batman's most notable enemy, his truest mirror is Two-Face.
While I still have trouble imagining any superhero movie ever receiving a Best Picture nomination, I've never seen one that deserves it more than The Dark Knight – this movie's not so different thematically from 2006 Best Picture winner The Departed, which considered similar ethical questions. And those predictions that Heath Ledger will receive a posthumous Best Supporting Actor nomination could well likely prove to be spot on: Ledger really was that creepy, that riveting, that good as the Joker. Ledger's Joker should wipe all memories of Jack Nicholson's wacky clown from the cultural consciousness – his Joker now surely must be considered definitive. Ledger even manages to find the humor in this most decidedly unfunny clown. His gait, his voice, his manner all contribute to create one of the most engrossing and engaging movie villains in a long, long time. I never before considered myself a fan of Heath Ledger; I am now, and I wish I had more of his work to look forward to.
Most of the other actors have much more grounded, less showy parts to play (of course), but they do so with as much skill and grace as Ledger. Christian Bale one again proves to be an excellent Bruce Wayne; while these movies don't play up Batman's supposed role as “World's Greatest Detective,” we certainly do get a sense that Bale's Wayne/Batman (much like Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark in Iron Man) thinks about what he's doing and the weight he's chosen to carry on his shoulders. Gary Oldman's James Gordon, one of the only honest cops in Gotham, gets far more screen time than he did in Batman Begins, and Oldman nails Gordon's solid nobility in the face of chaos and madness. Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are, well, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman; neither's role is large, and more screen time for either would have been welcome. Maggie Gyllenhaal brings sass, charm and intelligence (three qualities which Katie Holmes entirely failed to bring to the same character in Batman Begins) to her Rachel Dawes, the only significant female character in the movie; more screen time for her also would have been a good thing. But The Dark Knight runs two-and-a-half-hours as is, and the movie devotes so much of its energies to dissecting the characters of its three leads that some of the minor characters had to stay pretty minor.
Strangely, Batman himself is almost a supporting character in The Dark Knight – perhaps one reason why the word “Batman” isn't in the title. There's even some ambiguity as to whom, exactly, the title of “dark knight” could be referring – Batman or the film's true protagonist, Gotham District Attorney Harvey Dent. (Yes, Batman is the “dark knight” as countered by Dent's “white knight,” but Dent ultimately goes to some pretty dark places.) The Dark Knight is Dent's story, the telling of his evolution from moral crusader in pursuit of justice to agent of chaos in pursuit of fairness, most certainly not the same thing. Eckhart's Harvey Dent exudes a fire and passion for his crusade, and the distorted reflection in the mirror he holds up to Batman provides the most gripping character exploration ever seen in a summer blockbuster superhero movie.
The Dark Knight is dark and disturbing and one of the tensest movies I've seen in a long while; it's also fantastically smart and daring and complex, and it ultimately suggests a fundamental belief in human nature's capacity for goodness. That dichotomy, as much as anything else in Christoper Nolan's masterpiece, represents the core appeal of Batman himself, and that appeal is why these characters endure. Nolan has just assured that his vision of them will endure a lot longer. Grade: A.
 The major exception to that “note-perfect” acting was from the mannequin-like Katie Holmes; her replacement by actual actress Maggie Gyllenhaal was a significant upgrade.
 Please note that I have plenty of love for silly spandex heroes, too, but that interpretation has long since proven not to work out so well in movie form (ref. Batman and Robin, 1997).
 I don't mean to damn with faint praise; I do realize that “gripping character exploration” isn't normally a hallmark of big-budget summer action flicks.
Pick 10 of your favorite movies.
Go to IMDb and find a quote from each movie.
Post them here for everyone to guess.
Strike it out when someone guesses correctly, and put who guessed it and the movie.
ETA: I'll add the names of the movies after
And, obviously, no fair looking them up and then guessing. :-)
1.- The Princess Bride
"Oh, well, thank you very much, very nice of you. Your vote of confidence is overwhelming."
2. - Field of Dreams
"You can't do that."
"There are rules here? No, there are no rules here." [advances with crowbar]
"You're a pacifist!"
3. - The Incredibles
"Normal? What do *you* know about normal? What does *anyone* in *this* family know about normal? "
4. - The Prestige
5. - Finding Nemo
"You believe that?"
"I do if you do."
"But it's absurd."
"So is our electoral process. But we still vote."
7. - O Brother, Where Art Thou?
8. - Fight Club
9. - Raising Arizona
"No, ma'am. We released ourselves on our own recognizance."
"What my brother here means to say is that we felt that the institution no longer had anything to offer us."
10. - The Shawshank Redemption
"You know what the Mexicans say about the Pacific?"
"They say it has no memory. That's where I want to live the rest of my life. A warm place with no memory."
I have decided that in a show of support for the striking members of the Writers Guild of America, I shall not be writing any material either for television productions or motion pictures for the duration of the strike, as much as it pains me not to do so. But I ain’t no scab.
Edward Norton has been cast as Bruce Banner in The Incredible Hulk, the quasi-sequel to 2003’s near-disastrous Hulk. (I say quasi-sequel in that I believe they’ll be skipping over all of the origin hoo-hah and such, acknowledging that we’ve already seen those bits without referencing the first movie at all.) Norton’s actually an excellent choice to play Banner — Banner’s supposed to be a world-class scientific intellect, and Norton, one of my favorite actors, is one of the best of his generation at playing smart.  Plus, scared and/or angry and/or conflicted Banner? Norton will be all over that.
The Incredible Hulk will be directed by Louis Leterrier, director of the Transporter movies, so we know we’ll be getting far more of Angry Action Hulk than Angsty Emo Hulk, which suits me just fine. As much as I respect Ang Lee and what he wanted to do with Hulk, it just didn’t work well. Knowing that the next movie will have Edward Norton and much more in the way of “Hulk smash?” Oh yeah, I’m there.
Unfortunately, this new configuration means I’m doubting we’ll get any Jennifer Connelly in the next movie, and that saddens me, but it’s a tradeoff I can live with.
 Jessica Alba as a genetic engineer in Fantastic Four? Not so much. Now if they’d cast Leelee Sobieski… her I could’ve bought as a big-brain scientist.
- I’m willing to grant everyone involved with the production of the kinda stinky Ocean’s 12 an Official Do-Over and pretend like Ocean’s 13 is the direct sequel to Ocean’s 11. The trailer for O13 sure makes it look like it’s going to have all of the same qualities which made the first one so much fun — qualities which Soderbergh, et al. apparently left in their other pants when making O12. This one’s now gone toward the top of my Most Anticipated Movies of Summer 2007. (Hmm, what’s that smell? *snf snf* Oh, yeah, I think that’s the smell of another blog post coming up!)
- Hey, fans of Firefly: Yahoo! TV has a four-minute video preview of Drive, the new show from Nathan Fillion and Tim Minear. (The video’s on the right-hand side of the page.) I was planning on watching this anyway just because of the presence of Fillion and Minear, but after watching the preview I’m actually interested in seeing Drive on its own merits. OK, yeah, what little bit we saw of the battered wife was pretty cliche, but the scene with Fillion was intriguing. Time to TiVo up!
- Lee Iacocca has had enough from the current administration. Yes, legendary industrialist Lee Iacocca expresses his outrage at the Republican White House — kinda says something, doesn’t it? Iacocca rightly points out that the guys in office right now might be in charge, but they’re not showing a damn bit of leadership. Big difference there.
- At long, long last, the final issue of The Ultimates 2 has gone to the printer, and Marvel was kind enough to celebrate by offering a preview of Bryan Hitch’s stunning eight-page foldout spread from that issue. I’m not sure that any comic has ever needed an interior eight-page foldout spread in it before, but I’d imagine this one does, and that Hitch artwork is simply jaw-dropping. Personally, I’m just glad this comic’s finally coming out since that gets us that much closer to a hardcover collection, which means I can get that to go with my hardcover of the first Ultimates series.
- The Inbox of Nardo Pace, The Empire’s Worst Engineer.
Time now to play a fun little game I call “Going Through My Referrer Logs To See Which Search Engine Phrases Brought Users To My Site In The Last Week.” Honestly, though? I think I need to come up with a better name for the game than that. I like to feel that I’m doing a public service here, providing answers to those questions that Google seems to think I’m uniquely capable of answering. It’s a responsibility I take very seriously, and I’ll do my best to help soothe the mental anguish and sleepless nights these answerless questions must be causing to the questioners.
opening band for adrenalize tour
This one came to me in several different forms, all from former metalheads like myself desperately yearning to know which band or bands opened up for Def Leppard on their Adrenalize tour in 1992. Well, Google led you people to the right place. I’m gonna give you the answer right now. You ready, my fellow headbangers? Here goes:
No one. That’s why you’re having such trouble finding the answer. Def Leppard didn’t have an opening act that time out…they played a three-plus hour set without any supporting bands on the bill. You shelled out all of that money hard-earned by busing tables and selling pot for a 100%-all-damn-Lep set, bay-bee. Did you wanna get rocked, the Lep asked you? Oh yes, you answered. You wanted your asses rocked into near cataonia by a three-hour syringe full of pure grade-A Leppard.
(This was the case for the American portions of their tour, anyway; it’s possible the answer’s different in other parts of the world.)
A Love Song for Bobby Long spoiler
You want a spoiler for the mostly-wretched movie A Love Song for Bobby Long? OK, here goes: John Travolta sucked mightily in it. How’s that do you? OK, fine, here’s a bonus spoiler for you: yes, it’s true — you do get a nice side-shot of Scarlett Johansson’s boob.
give me a warm enema daddy
Um. Sorry, can’t help you there.
“inflated boy” superhero
My best guess here is that someone was trying to find out some more information about Chuck “Bouncing Boy” Taine, storied member of the Legion of Super-Heroes (and nowadays featured on the cartoon about said futuristic teens) and role model for fat kids the world over. Well, unknown person, now that you know his actual name (though I honestly don’t think “Inflated Boy” is any less ridiculous than “Bouncing Boy”), you can read up on his heroic legacy at the Wikipedia. Always remember: Chuck might have been the fat kid in the Legion, but he still ended up with a smokin’ hot wife…two of ‘em, technically.
layer cake+what is his name
Another one which came to me in a number of permutations, all of which wanted to know the name of Daniel Craig’s character in the excellent film Layer Cake. I don’t think this is a spoiler, so I’m going to give you the answer: we don’t know. And not only don’t we know, we’re not supposed to know. The character himself said as much: “If you knew my name, you’d be as clever as me.” Whatever the character’s real name was (he’s referred to in the credits only as “XXXX”), it wasn’t revealed within the movie itself or the novel on which the movie was based. Any site which tries to tell you his name, unless it comes directly from J.J. Connelly, the novel’s author, is lying to you. This particular bit of information is one you’re going to have to get used to not knowing.
fuzzy storytelling guy
Yup, that’s me! (Though I hope the “fuzzy” refers more to my propensity for hirsuteness than to my storytelling techniques, else I’ve got a problem.)
actress who did not wear panties to the oscar
Can’t help you there, either, though I must admit I’m more than a little curious to know the answer myself.
im into fuzzy rabbits. kind of smart i have a big
Ladies and gentlemen, this week’s winner for the Search Keyword Which Causes Me The Most Mental Discomfort Award!
I known I’ve been away for awhile — I’ve been drowning in work and too tired to write when I get home, so the poor site here has been suffering. And it’s been killing me: I totally missed writing about the Oscar nominations (I didn’t even know they were happening until after they’d happened, and that never happens), totally missed writing about the Grammys (hooray Dixie Chicks, though psst, Natalie: a little humility never hurts), totally missed writing about whatever the hell is happening to Britney Spears (is there anyone who cares about this girl enough to help get her shit together?). But the Oscars are Sunday night, and I couldn’t let them pass without offering My Official Predictions for this year’s awards.
My regular Oscar-predicting disclaimer applies: what follows are not the movies or performances I think should win, but rather those I think will win. As with every year since I became a parent, I’ve seen very few of the nominated films. This year in particular it seems like there’s a lot of smaller independent films nominated for major awards, and those usually prove even harder for me to see. Maybe I’ll write up my own awards soon based on the, what, 20 movies I saw from 2006, but for now, this is what you get. (I’ll say this as a preview of my awards: you’ll see a whole lot of The Prestige in there.)
Away we go:
Best Picture: Babel. I don’t want this movie to win it because I’ve heard it’s such a prime example of The Theatre of Look How Much Life Sucks, and I don’t have much desire to see that kind of thing rewarded, well done or not. None of this year’s nominees scream Best Picture to me, honestly, but I suppose something’s gotta win. My preference would be Little Miss Sunshine (the anti-Babel — life may suck, but you have to find the joy and beauty in it anyway), if only to see a comedy win Best Picture, which almost never happens; I really enjoyed The Departed, but I have trouble seeing what’s essentially a high-class crime thriller winning the top prize. Babel’s the kind of Important Film which is constructed to win Oscars (ref. Crash, 2006), so I’d imagine it will, depressing a thought as it may be.
Best Actor: Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland. Every year, there’s a shocking upset! in one of the major categories, and this year Best Actor feels like it’s got the best shot at seeing a surprise winner. For all of the talk about Whitaker’s performance as Idi Amin in Scotland, it seems like the movie itself wasn’t particularly well regarded; while I think he’s still clearly the front-runner, I want to say right here that I won’t be even a tiny bit shocked if Leonardo DiCaprio walks away with it. While technically the award would be for Blood Diamond, DiCaprio’s work in The Departed was also Oscar-worthy, so I can see Academy voters going the two-for-the-price-of-one route and giving the nod to Leo.
Best Actress: Helen Mirren, The Queen. If this award goes to anyone else, it’d go down as one of the greatest upsets in Oscar history.
Best Supporting Actor: Jackie Earle Haley, Little Children. This one’s my actual upset pick. I know Eddie Murphy is considered the favorite here, but Hollywood loves comeback stories even more than it does wait-but-I-didn’t-know-he-could-do-that stories. Haley’s out-of-nowhere performance was, so I’ve heard, devastating. Plus, A) I can see voters not wanting to give the same movie both supporting actor awards (see the next paragraph) and B) I can’t help but think all of those ads for Norbit can’t be helping Murphy’s Oscar caché (we’re going to give him an Oscar? Oh, nuh uh). Sorry, Eddie; maybe now it’ll be time to learn how to pick your roles better.
Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls. From all I’ve heard, the only crime if Hudson were to win this award would be that she didn’t win Best Actress, instead. I’m not necessarily big on musicals, but I want to see this movie because of all I’ve heard about Hudson’s (and Murphy’s) performance. Upset potential exists for Babel’s Rinko Kikuchi — never underestimate the awards-garnering power of portraying the handicapped.
Best Director: Martin Scorcese, The Departed. Ironically, Marty will finally win the award for the movie he probably least deserves it for. That’s not a knock on The Departed, which is a fantastic movie — it’s just not Scorcese’s best directorial job, especially given some of the movies for which he hasn’t won. This win will classify as much for a lifetime achievement award as a win for this particular movie — the Academy will finally be able to rectify the fact that they’ve given Clint Eastwood two of these and never even given Scorcese one. (If, for some reason, Eastwood somehow pulls out a win here for Letters From Iwo Jima, I think Marty will be fully justified in jumping Clint on the way to the podium and pulling a Departed of his own on him.)
Best Original Screenplay: Michael Arndt, Little Miss Sunshine. I believe this will be the only major award Sunshine gets; it seems like when the Academy falls in love with a little indie of this sort and lavishes it with bunches of nominations, they usually wind up giving it one award as a pat on the head, and frequently that award is for its screenplay. (Lost In Translation, anyone?) So this award will just have to do. (I’d like to say here that I wish the Oscars would follow the pattern of the Screen Actors Guild awards and issue a Best Ensemble Acting award; I think it’s quite likely Little Miss Sunshine, a movie in which there really isn’t a lead actor, would have taken that one.)
Best Adapted Screenplay: William Monahan, The Departed. Eh, just a gut feeling, really. None of the nominees jumps out at me as an obvious winner; I’m thinking it comes down to this or Little Children by Todd Field and Tom Perrotta. I’ll tell you this right now: while you’re watching the awards telecast, if you see The Departed win this award and Scorcese wins for Best Director and you’ve got money riding on it winning Best Picture — go change your bets fast if you still can. No way does it win all three.
Best Animated Feature: Cars. I’m really torn here. I thought Happy Feet was a better picture overall than Cars, but I’d imagine Cars is going to win — it’s Pixar, and no Pixar movie released since they began this award has failed to win it. (OK, yes, that’s only two movies, but still). [EDIT: Nope, I’m wrong here. As my friend Tim P. pointed out, Monsters Inc. lost to Shrek the first year this award was given out. Pixar’s not quite as infallible as I thought. That’ll learn me to rely on my memory instead of doing research.] Plus, Cars has Paul Newman, so. Either way, I’m not going to complain — both movies are certainly deserving.
As I had hoped when the Disney-Pixar deal went down, Pixar’s John Lasseter is reintroducing traditional hand-drawn animated features in his new role as Chief Creative Officer at Disney. First up: The Frog Princess, to be directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, the guys who directed The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and Treasure Planet (well, two outta three ain’t bad). Alan Menken will be in charge of the music for the movie, which will be a return to the Broadway-esque Disney hits of the early 90’s (think, for example, Beauty and the Beast (which Menken worked on) and The Lion King). This announcement seems to me to be something worth celebrating — the driving talents behind The Little Mermaid making a new cartoon feature with John Lasseter in charge of the whole thing? Oh, yeah, man, good stuff.
But according to the news brief on the IMDb, the Hollywood Reporter doesn’t think Disney’s bringing 2D animation back is such a hot idea: the traditional animation “no longer draws the crowd,” the Reporter says. Um, hello, Hollywood Reporter? Yeah, the thing is that bad hand-drawn animated flicks, movies that seem excessively lame, insult the audience’s intelligence or seem to exist only as launching pads for Happy Meal toys… those are the movies that don’t bring audiences anymore.
Let’s go back to 2002, the year the death knell for cel animation was rung, for just a moment, shall we?
In November of ‘02, Treasure Planet, by most accounts a not-very-good movie, brings in a pitiful $38 million in the United States. Planet’s monumental failure pretty much single-handedly decimates Disney’s cel-drawn animation department, resulting in thousands of layoffs and the shutdown of Disney’s Florida animation facility. It was at this point that the “hand-drawn animation is dead” movement began in earnest.
Yet only five months earlier, Lilo and Stitch, a great movie with plenty of heart designed to appeal to both adults and children, pulled in $145 million domestic, plus launched a spinoff series and several direct-to-DVD sequels. Lilo and Stitch grossed almost as much in its opening weekend ($35 million) as Treasure Planet made during its entire theatrical run. By any metric used, Lilo and Stitch was a solid hit. (For some reason, every article I’ve read of the “no one wants to watch 2D animation” variety ignores this fact — doing so would dispute the foregone conclusion the writers were trying to assert, I suppose.)
Even 2003’s Brother Bear, which was released with relatively little promotion as a result of the huge stinking disaster which was Treasure Planet, managed to earn a healthy $85 million at the box office. (And 2004’s lame Home on the Range, also released with almost no promotion, still managed to out-gross Treasure Planet with a $50 million haul.)
So because of one massive stinkbomb, all of a sudden no one wants to watch hand-drawn animated features anymore?
Audiences do like hand-drawn animation when done well. (Have you noticed the huge surge in popularity of anime over the last decade?) Computer animation isn’t inherently superior, and doesn’t automatically ensure that people will show up. You’ll notice that in the glut of computer-animated movies that have come out over the last few years since 2D animation went into its coma, there have been some pretty big duds in that list, too (The Wild and it’s $36 million take, anyone?). Would The Iron Giant or The Lion King have been better movies if they had been done in 3D rather than 2D? No, I don’t believe it would have. What makes these movies work are the characters, the story, the songs (where applicable), the heart and soul that comes through — not whether the animation is flat or three-dimensional.
If John Lasseter’s going to be overseeing these new features, I have every expectation that the new breed of 2D movies will be more Lilo-like than Planet-esque. Lasseter might be most associated with computer animation, but the man knows storytelling and character and detail, and it’s those qualities which I hope will make these new hand-drawn features every bit as excellent as the Pixar films.
There’s a scene early on in Superman Returns which beautifully establishes director Bryan Singer’s priorities for his latest superhero epic: the Kryptonian rocket which Superman has apparently been using during his mysterious time off Earth crashes in a cornfield near his mother’s farm in Kansas. We don’t see the ship land, however, not directly; we see Martha Kent’s face and reaction as she watches the crash and explosion through the window in her kitchen. We see what she sees only as a reflection in a windowpane. From the outset of the movie, Singer tells us he’s more interested in the characters and the emotions of his story than he is in the special effects; he’s ultimately more concerned with the man than with the super.
Speaking of that man: as difficult as it was, I tried very hard not to hold the fact that he’s not Christopher Reeve against new Superman Brandon Routh.  I thought Routh was just fine, but clearly Routh was no Reeve, a man I’m firmly convinced was genetically engineered to play Superman. Routh mostly aped Reeve’s performances, especially his bumbling Clark Kent, and he made a decent go of it. And I certainly don’t blame Routh for mimicking Reeve here; I’m sure he was instructed to do so by Singer. Since this movie was lifting the aesthetic of the first two Superman movies whole-cloth, Routh’s performance actually would have been out of place had he not tried to copy Reeve. And while Routh might not have the screen presence that Reeve did, his Superman still captures the easy grace and charm of the character.
Even if I didn’t like Routh’s Superman as much as I did Reeve’s (and to be truthful, that’s not even a fair fight), I far preferred Kate Bosworth’s Lois Lane to Margot Kidder’s. I never liked Kidder’s Lois as I didn’t find her at all attractive, appealing or charming — I couldn’t understand why Superman would fall so heavily in love with this woman who was more annoying than anything else. Bosworth, on the other hand, has plenty of the appeal and charm Kidder lacked. Her Lois, while still being younger than I might have liked, also had enough of the flinty edge underneath I expect from Lois Lane. Bosworth did a wonderful job of conveying the heartache and confusion Lois felt when Superman disappeared and the internal fight when he returns. (As much as I liked Bosworth, though, I will have to admit to a few quibbles with some of Lois’ parenting choices: the intrepid journalist endangering herself is one thing; putting her five-year-old son in harm’s way certainly wasn’t her brightest move.)
Kevin Spacey brought much more menace to the role of Lex Luthor than Gene Hackman did, and I appreciated this more evil Lex: to me, Lex Luthor’s not supposed to be the buffoon Hackman portrayed him to be. I was afraid from the previews that Spacey was going to camp up the part, but luckily all of the campiest bits were used in the trailers; past that, Luthor was the hyper-intellectual follicularly-challenged menace he’s supposed to be. Roger Ebert said he didn’t think Spacey was having any fun with his role, and I can see thinking that if one is using Hackman’s Luthor as the measuring stick — Hackman clearly looked like he was having a better time with his Luthor, but that doesn’t make his a better performance. I don’t believe Luthor is supposed to be a fun character. This is a man willing to kill billions of people; what should be fun about that?
You might be asking yourself at this point: “Hey, all of this stuff about the characters is cool and all, but what about the action, man?” Yes, the action sequences were every bit what I expected them to be. Every penny of that rumored $200 million budget was on that screen. Singer’s Superman does the sorts of things you expect Superman to be doing, and the special effects have advanced to the point where not only can he do the impossible, but he can look damn good doing it. The plane/shuttle rescue in particular was breathtaking to behold, exactly the kind of thing done regularly in the comic books but formerly impossible to pull off in the movies, and the Superman Saves Metropolis sequence made me wish Metropolis would be in such peril more often. My only problem with the action sequences was that there weren’t enough of them, but as noted above, Singer was emphasizing the man over the super, so the action took something of a backseat to the characters.
My one major complaint with Superman Returns — and it’s a complaint serious enough to knock my overall grade for the movie down a half a notch — was with the Beatdown of Superman sequence. (I don’t feel it’s a spoiler to mention that this scene occurs since it’s featured prominently in the most recent trailers, but you might want to skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want to know what happens.) A depowered Superman gets thoroughly whipped by Luthor’s goons. That much I can deal with, even if I don’t like it — the problem I had was with the fact that Superman doesn’t fight back at all, save for a feeble grab at Luthor’s legs. He didn’t as much as take a swing at his attackers, and that’s not true to the spirit of the character. Superman does not crawl away from a fight on his hands and knees, even if he’s in pain and has lost his powers — it’s not his powers that make him Superman, but rather his willingness to fight for, as Daily Planet editor Perry White says in this movie, “truth, justice, all that stuff.” Superman’s mission is traditionally called the “never-ending battle,” not the “as long as I have super-strength and invulnerability battle.” Seeing a battered Superman crawl through the mud in pain and humiliaton struck a very wrong chord with me; I don’t see why the scene would have lost any power or resonance had he fought back against his attackers yet still been overwhelmed by their greater numbers.
Still, Superman Returns was a glorious “welcome home” to a character who hasn’t graced the big screen in far too long. Superman is the iconic superhero, and it’s good to see him finally get the super treatment he deserves.
 I normally don’t advocate writing reviews by comparing different movies or different intrepreations of a character, but Singer invited us to do exactly that by so closely following the vision Richard Donner put forth in 1978. Not comparing the two would both feel dishonest and like the review was incomplete. Singer took the exact opposite tack with Superman Returns from the one Christopher Nolan took with his masterful reimagination Batman Begins: while Begins completely repudiated the four previous films in the series, Returns is slavishly faithful to Superman and Superman II. Nearly every memorable moment from the first movie was either recycled, updated or knowingly echoed with a wink in the new movie. I certainly appreciate wanting to ground the audience who grew up with the originals to feel like this newest entry in the franchise was still part of the same universe, but it almost felt like too much on occasion.
I might not have the love for Spider-Man that I do for Superman, but I’d be seriously remiss in my geeky duties if I didn’t let you people know that the first teaser trailer for Spider-Man 3 was released today. And while I’ve never been a fan of Venom, what they show of the alien symbiote does actually look pretty sweet… as does the black costume. And the Sandman.
It’s certainly not enough to distract much of my attention from the fact that I’ll be watching Superman Returns in <checks watch> 28 hours and seven minutes, but it’s nice to know that I’ve got what looks to be a kickin’ superhero epic to look forward to next summer.
Unlike, say, 2008’s Iron Man, which I have a feeling is going to suck hard enough to pull my stomach lining out through my mouth.