30 July 2006

help! superman! help superman!

it was raining yesterday for the first time in a while, and so we decided to go to the cinema (not the movies. the cinema. that's what they call it here. movies is something you watch on the tv at home.) much like good ol' Fredericksburg, we have one cinema in town, and it's kind of low-end in terms of its circa 1976 decor, the seats that haven't been upgraded since then, and the postage-size screens. plus it's inside one of those complexes they built in that late-70s/early-80s era that is 'for the kids'--it's got a bowling alley, an arcade alcove, a Toys-R-Us (yes, they're here too), a pizza place, and about two other things, scattered through this cavernous space that makes you feel like you're in the bowels of a huge stadium. only you're not. despite all of this, we thought it would be good to get out of the house, see a film with other people, and catch something relatively new.

also like F'burg in the summer, over 50% of the films showing are kids movies. three choices to us, then: Pirates of the Caribbean, roundly panned by critics and described as 'utterly lacking a plot' by a friend of ours. The Breakup, a possibility, but not hugely praised by the critics, although we like Jennifer Aniston and will probably see this sometime in the future. seems like one for dvd. and Superman Returns, which is what we saw. people liked it. they were impressed. critical praise. at least from the few sources we read.


someone must explain to me and us what is going on here. how can people say this film is good? we're not the type of people who are all: ooo, I won't see a film without subtitles. we're in support of a good summer blockbuster. Mission Impossible. Men in Black. Bourne Identity. T2. Lord of the Rings (the first one). but Superman? King Kong? these are films that love their own special effects so much that you almost see etched on the screen: look! it's digital! how cool is this! it's not impressive to me anymore. I can tell it's digital. of course it is. it's a bunch of crystals poking out of water. it's a huge moving ape. they've gotten all excited about 'what they can do' and forgotten that they actually need to 'do' something with the, oh, I don't know, story!??!

Here's superman's story. this may be a spoiler for those who haven't seen it. or it may not.

superman heart lois. lois tough reporter. jimmy make (not-so) funny. then add: airplane disaster movie! film of shuttle disaster! film of 9/11! earthquake disaster film! film of tsunami coverage! [insert gorgeous 1930s-contemporary sets for newsroom, fab boat Lex Luthor has, and a: look how cool we can make the fortress of solitude guys!] then continue with: boat sinking scene from Titanic! a barroom fight scene! add in: three references to Atlas lifting the world! a Christ/savior reference or two! a scene from ER! and close with the on-going teleological alert of the century: the paramount importance of blood and father-son bonding.

how is this a story? how is this in any way worth my time? I'm not looking for much--just a traditional blockbuster. something that isn't rehashing something I already know--like a superhero, comic book, sequel. something that assumes I have more of a brain in my head than a pea.

someone help me out. are we utterly off-base here? out of touch? old? fine. just let me know so I can start ignoring the positive reviews of these films. perhaps mark them with a new kind of warning: vapid story! effects only! something like that.


christian bale said...

just rent batman begins and watch it again.

tenaciousmcd said...

I'll take your word for it on Superman--can't say it looks that appealing. But King Kong was a blast, better than the reviews, I thought. And the best Lord of the Rings, easily, is #2.

Twin Towers has the tough task of being the middle chapter, but it has the most thematic heft, narrative complexity, and emotional honesty of any of the three films. Appropriately, for an intermediary, it takes "incompleteness" as its central idea. The community of multi-culti virtue has collapsed, and now we're plunged into the depths of identity crisis. Frodo is divided between Sam (memories of boyhood simplicity and the virtuous fellowship)and Gollum (the split personality of the corrupted soul); he errantly thinks that if he saves Gollum he can master his own temptations. Meanwhile, Aragorn gets torn with a little elf vs. warrior girl love triangle going, and we don't yet know that the duller of the two (elf girl) will win. Fellowship (#1) was the best of the books, the one with the most epic reach and the one with the most memorable visual landscapes, something the movie did a good job of capturing. Overall, however, #2 is the most interesting. Given all its postie themes about identity and fragmentation, I'm surprised you guys didn't like it.

Rebecca said...

I'm totally on board with the Two Towers thing. It's just that I liked it such that I didn't want to class it as a 'summer blockbuster' although I imagine it was. It's an excellent film. an event. but one that people didn't like. whereas King Kong? ohmigod. it dragged for the first two hours and then you realised: wait! we're not even off the island yet! they've got to do the climb-the-empire-state thing! sheesh. talk about waste of acting talent (could she scream more? I don't think so), lack of writing, and horrid racism not revised at all from the earlier version but instead played up. sorry. you'll never ever sell me on King Kong being a good movie. can't do it.

tenaciousmcd said...

What I liked about King Kong was its epic campiness, a difficult combination of qualities that Peter Jackson managed to not just balance but merge. Here's a silly premise (great big monkey love) that aspires for iconic greatness.

Jack Black, the personification of epic camp, was worth the price of admission all on his own. For me, at least, he captured that very American sense of carnival-barker ambition. He's a funny little fraud, but he's also a great man, the embodiment of desperate and creative striving that just might make it big. Just like Kong. Where else but America could a poor island ape grow up to sit astride the Empire State Building? But "the man" just wants to chain him up and then bring him down. It's hard to know whether to laugh or cry.

None of it makes any logical sense, of course, but that's beside the point. The representation is the key. That's also why I think I was less concerned with the "racism" in the depiction of the Skull Island natives. This isn't a movie about biological reality--the raging dinosaurs, mechanistic insects, and giant apes are proof enough of that. It's about myth, the myth of nature and the primitive origins from which our campy colossus has emerged.

I'd also dispute the idea that Naomi Watts spends most of her time screaming. She's a pretty plucky heroine, and the clear star of the show: smart, tough, resourceful, humane. Hell, she even made me understand why she'd care for that digital ape. Despite the throwback setting to 1930s gender roles, she's anything but a pitiful victim.

Did I mention that the action scenes kicked some ass too? Woo-hoo!

low expectations said...

After reading this posting, I was pleasantly suprised by Superman Returns. Glacial pacing, yes. Anemic plotting, yes. Character development, whatever. But not so bad I wanted to walk out.