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July 03, 2006 - Image 10

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Michigan Daily Summer Weekly, 2006-07-03

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a

Monday
July 3, 2006
arts.michigandaily.com
artspage@michigandaily.com

ARTS

10'

'Superman Returns'
in light, odd fashion

By Jeffrey Bloomer
Managing Editor
It just doesn't make sense.
That Bryan Singer's elegant, inof-
fensive "Superman Returns" is among
the finest of the
studios' annual
summer cash-in Superman
is not a surprise, Returns
less because of At the Showcase
the director's and Quality 16
suddenly illustri- Warner Bros.
ous pedigree than
because, well,
we've all seen the year's selection. It's
been a rough season for all involved,
so upon the arrival of a film of such
care, such obvious passion, we can
have only open arms.
But the movie, for all its reso-
lute grace and narrative confidence,
derives from a bewildering and curi-
ously archaic template. As an action
film, it's terrific. As a vehicle for
special effects, it's serviceable, if
unremarkable. As a romance, what-
ever. But as a movie made in the
summer of 2006, in the midst of the
most expansive FX packages and
serious-minded comic-book movies
the industry has ever seen?
Well, like I say: It just doesn't
make sense.
As the self-consciously retro cred-
its roll to the classic John Williams
score, we pass it off as the good-
natured old-school homage. When
"Marlon Brando, the most recogniz-
able voice of old Hollywood, nar-

rates the opening moments, the goose
bumps shake off the sense of ddja
vu. But when The Grand Scheme is
something out of the goofiest exploi-
tation movie, when the mood is light
and cheerful but vulnerable to bouts
of ghastly seriousness, when the lead
actor gets by on gentlemanly intona-
tion and a supremely attractive smile
- it's all too much. It's not a bird,
it might be a plane (at least in this
movie) and it is, for the most part,
a happy success. But what inspired
Singer to go back to the decades-
old B-movie renaissance to revive
a franchise that's been in limbo for
almost as many years?
It may be enough to know that
Singer, a solid filmmaker who has pro-
vided for genre fans before, was able
to shake the movie free of its long-
term creative stunt. But what he has
delivered - an exquisitely crafted,
modest, safe and altogether agree-
able superhero movie - is indicative
of exactly the opposite of the sort of
big-budget film Hollywood has been
inching toward. In the dense shadow
of the deadpan grit and grime of "Bat-
man Begins" and other recent adap-
tations, distinctive in tone and style,
stroke and intensity, Singer goes back
squarely to page one, to make a movie
of considerable delights but very little,
if any, innovation.
Luckily for us, he's very good at
what he does, and so the movie, as
out of place as it seems, is mostly a
breeze. The plot, all 154 minutes of
it, whisks past effortlessly: After five
long years away at his home planet,
Clark Kent (former TV guest spot-

"I still can't believe they didn't pick me for 'Brokeback.' "

ter Brandon Routh) returns to earth
to find Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth,
"Blue Crush") engaged with a son
and winning a Pulitzer for her col-
umn "Why the World Doesn't Need
Superman." Meanwhile, Lex Luther
(Kevin Spacey, "Beyond the Sea")
has been paroled because Super-
man missed the court date. Ouch.
A malevolent plot of the usual order
unfolds, Lane and her son get in
the way and, of course, kryptonite
makes an appearance.
Routh's infamous casting as the
franchise's latest well-proportioned
poster boy, meanwhile, turns out to

be much ado about nothing. Even if he
doesn't fit the charming awkwardness
of Clark Kent as well as he might, even
if he doesn't have the booming pres-
ence of Christopher Reeve, his upbeat
stride as Superman fills out the role
nicely. The same cannot be said, nota-
bly, for the villains, a key element in
a film of such narrative flamboyance,
which here seem little more than moot
afterthoughts. As Lex Luther, Spacey
shoots stale looks and the occasional
hot-tempered barks with requisite
conviction but the distinct impres-
sion he would rather be elsewhere.
As his dim-witted trophy sidekick,

Parker Posey, an actress whose pres-
ence alone will draw a small arsenal
of camp enthusiasts, is given a crimi-
nal lack of artistic legroom, reduced
mostly to shrieks and tears as the
screenplay so requires.
Her subdued role is chief among
the film's many puzzlements, most
of which fade away to its fresh-faced,
temperate charisma. But as much as
it works, as much as it's nice to have
the franchise back in the running, the
lingering aftertaste is too strong to
ignore. Old-fashioned never felt so
remote, or, more to the point, like such
creative resignation.

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SHORT
TAKES

BLACK HEART PROCESSION
THE SPELL
COLUMBIA
A piano sparks up. It's caressed by
a relaxing organ. Violins and drums
engulf the gorgeous couple. This is
the beginning of "Tangled," the first
track of The Black Heart Procession's
- the San Diego-based indie art-rock
band - latest album, The Spell.
The band's enchanting arrange-
ments revolve around and cushion
the reflective, soothing vocals of Pall
Jenkins. "Tangled," along with several
other tracks on The Spell, is composed
of verses that begin calm and relaxed,
then crescendo until their end.
While the lyrics on The Spell are
shadowy and dim much of the time,
the LP does manage to finish off on a

somewhat brighter note.
The instrumentation on "Places"
carries a positive tone, in contrast to
the depressing vocals. "The Fix" has a
similar dichotomy.
In comparison with some of Black
Heart Procession's earlieralbums, such
as One and Three, The Spell seems to
be more dependent on sound effects.
Although this ran the risk of mak-
ing the album sound over-produced,
abandoning their signature sound, it
created an entirely new aspect for the
group to explore.
And even though The Spell takes a
slightly optimistic turn in a downtrod-
den group's catalog, it's still much of The
Black Heart Procession's dreary sound.

Elyssa Pearlstein

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