#88 - That's The Way It Is
1916 - 2009
Hello again and thanks for your continued patronage of Jahnke’s Electric Theatre! Before we dive in to this week’s flicker-shows, a programming note: there will be no new Electric Theatre next week as I am heading down San Diego way on Wednesday for the annual Geekapalooza known as Comic-Con. I don’t usually see a whole lot of movies down there, so I figured I’d might just as well take next week off. I know, I’ll miss you, too.
If you’re planning on being at Comic-Con, be sure to attend the Digital Bits’ DVD/Blu-ray Producers panel on Thursday, July 23. Bill Hunt moderates some of discworld’s best and brightest special-edition producers as they show off their latest projects. Meanwhile, Todd Doogan and yours truly sit quietly and toss in the occasional quip or well-phrased observation. It’s always tons o’ fun, so find a spot in Room 7AB at 2:30 on Thursday afternoon and say how d’ya do!
NOW IN THEATRES
Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince
As Harry Potter’s cinematic journey begins to wind down, it’s safe to say that most of us have made up our minds about the series. Either you’re invested in it and along for the ride until the end or you just don’t care. I wouldn’t consider myself a huge fan but I haven’t disliked any of the movies. They’re fairly entertaining and there have been at least a couple entries that I quite liked. This applies to the movies only, by the way. I’ve read only one of the books and, since this is a movie review column and not a book review column, whatever I think about the novels is irrelevant. I’d been looking forward to HP6, having enjoyed the previous installment and being impressed by what I’d seen in the trailers. And while this is by no means a bad movie, I came away from it with an overall feeling of disappointment.
Certainly the movie has a number of things working in its favor. It’s been a kick watching Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and the other kids mature into their roles. They’re all quite good and the scenes that focus on the kids alone show a natural, unforced camaraderie. In these moments, they simply are young people who have grown up together. Tom Felton is better than ever as Draco Malfoy, shading his inner turmoil nicely. His performance puts Hayden Christensen’s work as the man who would be Vader to shame. Jim Broadbent is a wonderful, inspired addition to Hogwarts’ revolving door of British acting legends. And any excuse to watch Alan Rickman bite into his dialogue as Snape is to be savored.
And yet, the movie feels meandering and inconsequential. This should be one of the most emotional Harry Potter movies to date. New relationships are forged. Existing relationships begin to deepen and evolve. The story is dark and laced with death, betrayal and an ominous tone of impending doom. But none of this carries much emotional weight. Revelations like the identity of the Half-Blood Prince are tossed off with an “oh, by the way” manner. Every time this happened, I wanted to shout at the screen, “OK…so?” Most disappointing of all is the way the death of a major character is handled. Nothing about it comes as a surprise and the loss appears to have little impact on those closest to him. By the end of the movie, nothing much has happened. Wheels have presumably been set in motion for events to come but overall, HP6 feels like an intermission. It seems ill-timed considering that Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix accelerated the story.
The earliest Harry Potter films quickly found a successful formula for distilling the essence of the books into movie form. The predictability of that formula almost led me to give up on the series. Later entries like The Prisoner Of Azkaban threw in enough surprises to keep me interested. For all its virtues, Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince is a step back into the routine. It is exactly what you expect it to be and for most, that may be more than enough. Personally, I’m hoping to be caught off guard once again. (* * ½)
TALES FROM THE QUEUE
Superhero movies are a dime a dozen these days and there’ll be a whole lot more of them before Hollywood moves on to something else. If you’re like me and a little tired of the same old origin story, check out Special, a low-budget indie twist on superhero stories from writer-directors Hal Haberman and Jeremy Passmore.
Michael Rapaport stars as Les, a quiet, introverted parking enforcement officer who volunteers for an experimental drug study. The pills bring out superhuman abilities and Les soon develops levitation, telepathy and other powers. Taking inspiration from the comic books he reads, he quits his job, fashions a crude costume and sets out on a new career as a crimefighter. This isn’t as easy as he hopes, since most of the lawbreaking he encounters is small potatoes. Still, he calls enough attention to himself to make the slick CEO of the pharmaceutical company want to get rid of him before he becomes a complete embarrassment. At least, that’s how Les sees what happens to him once he starts taking the pills. There’s another possible explanation…it could be that Les is simply losing his mind.
The premise of Special is simple but clever and I’m kind of surprised I haven’t seen something quite like it before. Michael Rapaport is an actor whose work I’ve admired in supporting roles for many years but when called upon to be the lead, as on the dreadful sitcom The War At Home, often seemed uncomfortable and stilted. Here, he’s excellent, making Les into a sympathetic sweetheart. Haberman and Passmore aren’t quite able to get their movie over the finish line. The final scene is abrupt and somewhat anticlimactic and I wish they’d blurred the line between fantasy and reality just a bit more. Still, it’s an original, refreshing story with some surprisingly profound and moving insights into ego and self-image.
Special is a far cry from your typical Hollywood superhero movie. There are no big special effects, no fancy costumes and no adrenaline-charged chase scenes. It’s a bittersweet movie with some laughs but an overall aura of sadness. Special probably won’t change the way you look at superheroes, but it will give you a reason to think about them again. (* * *)
Thanks to Todd Doogan (hey, I know that guy!) for this week’s Tales From The Queue recommendation! Remember, if you’d like to suggest a movie for TFTQ, you can meet me personally, cultivate a friendship over the course of many years, get to know my personality and tastes and casually mention something you think I might like in conversation one day. Or, if you don’t want to get that involved, just send me an email and let me know. Whatever’s easiest.