#67 - We're Gonna Need A Bigger Boat

Added 2/12/08

How do, Electric Theatre-goers. Deepest apologies for the lack of reviews lately, although it isn’t totally my fault. I mean, did you really expect me to waste both my time and yours reviewing the likes of Fool’s Gold, Meet The Spartans or Hannah Montana? Didn’t think so. However, 2008 has already had an unfortunately high number of notable passings that I couldn’t let drift past unobserved. Since there have been no new columns to dedicate to these folks, I thought I’d pay tribute to a few of them now.

Plenty has already been said about Heath Ledger and obviously it’s deeply saddening whenever anyone dies at such a young age. It’s all the worse when that individual is so full of potential that was only just beginning to manifest itself. I first became aware of Ledger with 10 Things I Hate About You and A Knight’s Tale, two movies my ex-wife was particularly fond of. I never quite shared her enthusiasm for them but I didn’t mind them exactly. The movie that made me sit up and take notice was Monster’s Ball. Ledger had only a supporting role as Billy Bob Thornton’s son but he disappeared into it so thoroughly, I had to remind myself it was the same actor I’d seen in A Knight’s Tale.

Ledger’s subsequent film work was a mixed bag at best, including some truly dreadful movies like The Order and Terry Gilliam’s worst movie, The Brothers Grimm. But at his best, as in the sublime Brokeback Mountain and his bizarrely entertaining work in Lords of Dogtown, Ledger continued to prove that he had the makings of an A-list actor, not merely an impossibly attractive movie star.

Fortunately, we have at least one and hopefully two more Heath Ledger movies to look forward to. Everything I’ve seen from this summer’s The Dark Knight looks downright amazing. I haven’t been this excited about a superhero movie in I don’t know how long. Potentially even better is The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, the movie that would have reunited Ledger and Terry Gilliam. The Brothers Grimm was a colossal failure but assuming Gilliam is being allowed to make his movie without studio interference, I have faith that Parnassus could be breathtaking. I certainly hope Gilliam is able to finish it. I can’t think of a better final tribute to Heath Ledger.

Heath Ledger
1979 - 2008

Roy Scheider, who passed away on February 10 at the age of 75, was a more seasoned actor than Ledger and if anything, even more underrated. A few years back, I put together lists of my favorite movies from the 1970s, 80s and 90s. I was surprised at how many of those Roy Scheider appeared in, including The French Connection and Sorcerer for director William Friedkin and David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch. Scheider also elevated two fun popcorn movies from the 80s, Blue Thunder and 2010, making both movies far more memorable than they would have otherwise been.

The two movies that best capture Roy Scheider rank high on my list of all-time favorites. One of those, of course, is Jaws. Scheider has innumerable memorable moments in Jaws, although one of my favorites is also the quietest, when an exhausted Brody sits at the dining room table and slowly realizes his son is mimicking his every move. Scheider’s other classic performance is in Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz, a brilliant, borderline surreal musical. Scheider’s work here probably should have won him the Academy Award that year. High praise indeed when his competition included Dustin Hoffman in Kramer Vs. Kramer, Jack Lemmon in The China Syndrome and Peter Sellers in Being There.

Roy Scheider
1932 - 2008

Finally, if you aren’t a comic book reader, you probably won’t recognize the name Steve Gerber. If you are and you grew up reading Marvel Comics in the 70s and 80s like I did, you’ll understand why his passing is such a loss. Gerber wrote some of my favorite comics growing up, titles like Omega The Unknown, The Defenders and Man-Thing (is there a comics fan in existence who hasn’t giggled over the title Giant-Size Man-Thing?). He also wrote the KISS comic that was printed with real KISS blood. I snapped this baby off the newsstand about 0.02 seconds after I saw it.

However, he’ll always be best remembered for creating Howard the Duck, one of the very best comic books of the 1970s and arguably the first “grown-up” comic I ever read. I’ve revisited Gerber’s run on Howard the Duck a few times and I’m constantly surprised at how smart, clever and funny it is. Satire may well be what closes on Saturday night, which would explain why Gerber’s various runs with the character have been relatively short-lived. But in terms of quality over quantity, Steve Gerber’s Howard the Duck remains one of the finest comic book titles ever published.

Steve Gerber
1947 - 2008

This week's column is dedicated with respect and gratitude to Heath Ledger, Roy Scheider and Steve Gerber, along with my deepest condolences to their families and friends. All three will be missed. That’s all for now. Next week, a special Oscar-fever edition of Jahnke’s Electric Theatre. Don’t miss it.

Your pal,