#60 - You Had Me At Doppelganger

Dedicated To
Gillian Davis

Added 8/20/07

OK, simmer down class. This is Electric Theatre 101. My name is Mr. Jahnke and I just want to rap with you kids about some movies. How many of you have seen a movie? Let’s see a show of hands. Wow, almost all of you. Outta sight. OK, let me ask you this. Have you seen these?


The A-Picture - Superbad

I’m not part of the Judd Apatow circle of friends, unfortunately, so I can’t say exactly how his productions operate. But from an outsider’s view, it seems as though Apatow is exactly the kind of producer you’d like to think Hollywood has in spades but is actually as rare as the endangered condor. He seems to have a keen eye for talent, is fiercely loyal to said talent, and is smart enough to realize that he doesn’t have to be the driving force behind every project. Witness Superbad, a movie that by all rights I shouldn’t like but found not only extremely funny but also very endearing. First written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg when they were teenagers, any description of Superbad sounds exactly like a movie written by teenagers. Seth and Evan (played by Michael Cera and Jonah Hill, since the real Seth and Evan don’t exactly look like teenagers anymore) are two awkward, unpopular high school seniors facing graduation and a life in college without each other to rely on. They find themselves inexplicably invited to a house party and, since their friend Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is about to take possession of a fake ID, they volunteer to provide the booze. End of plot. In time-honored teen sex romp tradition, things get complicated in inconsequential but very funny ways. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Superbad is that even when the trio gets split up into different subplots, you don’t find yourself wishing you could get back to one or the other. The balance is dead-on between Seth and Evan’s attempts to get booze and get laid and Fogell’s adventures with two couldn’t-care-less cops (Rogen and Bill Hader). Not every gag hits home and I didn’t really laugh hard until about fifteen minutes into the movie. I certainly wasn’t laughing so hard that I hard to stomp the floor with my foot, as the gentleman sitting behind me was inspired to do. But once it finds its bearings, Superbad delivers the goods, bringing back the good old days of R-rated teen comedies like Fast Times At Ridgemont High and Revenge of the Nerds. Now if you found nothing good about those days, you’re likely to have a miserable time at Superbad. Too bad for you. The rest of us are having a mighty good time. (* * *)

Rocket Science

For whatever reason, the last few years have seen a glut of independent, annoyingly quirky coming-of-age films about outsider teens in the suburbs. Rushmore, Thumbsucker, The Chumscrubber…the list could go on and on. At first glance, Rocket Science appears to be of that ilk and indeed it is, with one all-important exception. It isn’t annoying. Reece Thompson stars as Hal Hefner, a stuttering kid whose parents have just split up who finds himself ferreted out by Ginny (Anna Kendrick), an ambitious debate squad member in need of a new protégé. At this point, you may be thinking the same thing I did when I first heard about this movie. Kid with a stutter, debate team…he finds his voice thanks to the girl and the debate squad, right? Not exactly. This is a subtler, more interesting movie than that. Sure, the characters are a little more “character”-like than they would be in the real world but writer/director Jeffrey Blitz (who previously helmed the top-notch documentary Spellbound) makes them distinct and amusing, if not wholly believable. What I admired most about Rocket Science were the quiet moments. This isn’t a coming-of-age movie where the protagonist discovers his true calling by the end credits. Instead, it’s a movie of small victories and incremental steps. Blitz keeps his sights set low, realizing that a life isn’t won or lost by one incident. He’s helped enormously by Thompson, delivering a funny, touching and believable performance. Rocket Science isn’t nearly as complex or profound as life itself but on its own terms, it’s a sweet, often very funny movie about the bizarre shapes life and love can twist us into. (* * *)


The Leopard Man

I’m a big fan of both producer Val Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur. If you are even remotely interested in horror movies but haven’t seen either the original version of The Cat People or I Walked With A Zombie, you should take it upon yourself to get acquainted with both of these movies as soon as possible. The Leopard Man is mildly disappointing coming after both of those classics but it’s still worth checking out. Based on a Cornel Woolrich novel, The Leopard Man takes place in a small New Mexico town terrorized by a leopard that’s escaped after a publicity stunt gone wrong. However, PR man Dennis O’Keefe isn’t convinced that the cat is responsible for all the deaths. The Leopard Man boasts several key sequences that can hold their own against any horror movie, past or present, but in the end isn’t really a horror movie. And it fails as a compelling mystery, since the identity of the real killer should be pretty obvious to anybody watching as soon as that character turns up. Still, Tourneur and Lewton knew their way around a camera and the best moments of The Leopard Man hold up even today. Surprisingly, some of the best scenes are tangential to the plot, with sad, existential dialogue that’ll make you sit up and take notice even if the story is putting you to sleep. (* * ½)

Inducted into the Hell Plaza Octoplex Hall of Shame - Night of the Lepus

There are plenty of bad movies that have good ideas that are poorly executed. There may be even more movies with bad ideas that are done well. Night of the Lepus is a perfect storm of a bad movie…an intensely bad idea executed poorly. Rory Calhoun (and yes, he’s adorably walking on his two hind legs) plays a rancher whose livelihood is threatened by a plague of rabbits. Scientists Stuart Whitman and Janet Leigh try to find a solution by administering an experimental hormone but their daughter thinks the bunnies are cute and accidentally releases one of them back into the wild. The inevitable endgame of such a catastrophe is gigantic, man-eating mutant bunnies rampaging across Arizona! It’s difficult to imagine just how anybody ever thought Night of the Lepus would be an effective horror movie, especially when you consider that the rabbit-monsters are in fact just real bunnies shot against haphazardly designed miniature sets. The best moment is easily when the authorities call upon the locals to help out and inform them that a horde of killer rabbits is headed their way…and every single person reacts with concern and fear instead of the scorn and ridicule such an announcement would actually provoke. Oh, and did I mention that DeForest “Bones” Kelley co-stars as the mayor of the town, sporting a 70s ‘stache that would drive all the chicks wild? Needless to say, there is no way to assign a star rating to Night of the Lepus. It is hereby inducted into the Hell Plaza Octoplex Hall of Shame

Your pal,