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You again? (l-r) Bosworth and Routh in Superman Returns.

Man of Mush

 

By Laura Leon

Superman Returns

Directed by Bryan Singer

I, for one, find it hard to imagine why we need a sequel of sorts to the 1978 Superman, which catapulted Christopher Reeve to stardom. It was a fun movie, and who could deny the thrilling sensation provoked whenever the stage-trained Reeve uttered a line? But Bryan Singer, for whatever reason, felt the need to resurrect the caped one and to pick up where Superman II left off. And so, One Life to Live’s Brandon Routh returns in a fiery meteorite to the Kansas farm of his Earth mother, Ma Kent (Eva Maria Saint), after having spent five years searching for traces of his former interplanetary home.

While Ma is just happy he made it back, with nary a mention of all those missed Christmases and birthdays, Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth), on the other hand, is mightily peeved, so much so that her essay “Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman” has caught the attention of the Pulitzer people. The years between her one-night stand with Superman and his return have brought not just career success, but motherhood and domestic bliss, in the form of fiancé Richard (James Marsden), the nephew of Daily Planet Chief Perry White (Frank Langella). Also making hay during Superman’s absence has been Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey), who is using his inherited bazillions to travel to the Fortress of Solitude, commune with Jor-El (Marlon Brando, in unused footage from an earlier Superman film), and steal away with some magic crystals, the purpose of which have something to do with taking over the world. (As usual with this kind of film, the bad guy’s ultimate goal is lost in a barrage of high-tech gimmickry.)

While Superman’s first reentry into society, which involves preventing a supersonic jet from nose-diving onto the infield of a Major League ballgame, is fun and spectacular, the rest of the movie lacks that Saturday-matinee thrill. Singer, and screenwriters Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris, seem much more focused on the inner workings of the Man in Tights, to the extent that many Christlike analogies are tossed about. Jor-El says something like, “I so love the world that I’m sending my only son to save it,” and Superman himself floats through space suspended in a pose evocative of the crucifixion. Superman counters Lois’ Pulitzer Prize-winning theory by informing her that he hears everything, all the suffering endured by mankind—suffering that he apparently purports to heal by thwarting random bank robberies and detouring a few errant vehicles from the paths of innocent bystanders. In this age of global warming, isn’t there an oncoming tidal wave or something that could let us see Superman do his stuff?

Singer’s Metropolis is a thing of beauty, a weird but enjoyable pastiche of the classic and identifiable, such as the sepia-toned, 1930s-ish offices of the Daily Planet and the main players’ His Girl Friday-type wardrobes. The look is right, which is why we feel all the more the lack of the other aspects of Superman Returns. Spacey is given nothing much to do other than snarl with relish on words like “kryptonite,” and Bosworth looks insignificant, not at all the picture of a successful working mother (although she’s much better than Katie Holmes was as a reporter in her last film).

The movie has one truly surprising scene, which is then largely forgotten. In fact, throughout Superman Returns, one can’t help but brainstorm “Oh, wouldn’t it be great if such and such happened,” only to have countless such opportunities fall by the wayside. Singer’s vision, such as it is, seems to be all about the veneration of a late-1970s pop film, so small matters like plot development and suspense building just aren’t the point. Sadly, the audience can’t feel the same way, making Superman Returns an oddly empty and depressing experience.

Evil Is Good

The Devil Wears Prada

Directed by David Frankel

Miranda Priestly is the kind of character you love to hate. Cruel, vain, imperious and able to terrify her minions with the most seemingly simple request, Miranda rules every facet of work at Runway, a fashion monthly, with the serene entitlement of a 16th-century monarch who has just sentenced some poor schmuck to be hanged, drawn and quartered. And, unlike Elizabeth I of England, you get the impression that the screams of the tortured, condemned soul would not distract the haughty Ms. Priestly from matching the appropriate belt with the appropriate Calvin Klein skirt. Meryl Streep has given us this movie monster, and it’s the comic performance—hell, performance—of the year (so far).

Based on the successful, based-on-the-real-thing novel of the same title, The Devil Wears Prada takes the audience into the dark soul of the multibillion-dollar fashion industry. And, as long as the action centers on fashionistas, the film is hugely entertaining; filled with outsized characters and cutthroat competition, Prada brings a level of genuine appreciation for such an apparently ridiculous world. (While, at the same time, crapping all over it. More about that in a minute.)

There’s another character in the film, too: Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway), a fresh-faced, young journalism-school graduate arrived in the big bad city of New York from the Midwest with quaint dreams of magazine-writing glory. Andy applies for an assistant’s job at Runway without having any idea of the rag’s importance—or who Miranda is. Hapless and, seemingly, hopeless, it’s a pleasure to watch Andy bloom in the job, and beat out her ruthless competition.

Aside from Streep and Hathaway, kudos also to Emily Blunt (as Andy’s desperate, coldhearted competition), Stanley Tucci (as the requisite gay editor who helps Andy with the whole “getting dressed” thing) and Simon Baker (as a successful journalist out to steal Andy from her boyfriend).

The film’s main flaw is the smugly sanctimonious way Andy’s non-fashion-world life is presented. Her “real” friends, including Entourage‘s Adrian Grenier as the too-nice, too-pretty boyfriend and Rent’s Tracie Thoms as a bohemian art-world pal, exist only to exude sincerity—and wag their fingers at Andy for being a sellout.

Please. Being poor and starting at the bottom in Manhattan does not breed sincerity. If anything, her friends would be jealous that Andy is excelling at the opportunity of a lifetime, and getting a lot of sweet freebies. The boyfriend (and company) are annoying because they’re not only around to make Andy feel bad, but, crucially, the audience feel good: “Yes, heartland America, your plain-Jane, unglamorous lives are more meaningful than those of these trivial fools for fashion.”

Please, again. This is the oldest, cheapest Hollywood flattery there is. It’s especially irritating because the fashion world is such an easy target, with its anti-heartland types—i.e., gays and supermodels—and “silly” clothes.

It’s not enough to spoil the fun, however. (Yep, Streep’s performance is that towering.) Andy may be feeling all pure and righteous and noble for eventually taking a low-pay reporter’s job at an alt-weekly newspaper a la The Village Voice, but that dazed, dazzled, worshipful look she gives Miranda in the film’s final scene speaks to the real truth at the heart of The Devil Wears Prada.

—Shawn Stone


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