Superman (It’s Not Easy)

The credits had scarcely begun to roll when Kurt asked me, “So whaddya think?”

Listen, the guy may be one of three reasons (along with Cameron Crowe and Chris Connelly) that I do what I do, but he clearly didn’t get the memo my Top Five Rules For Movie Screenings:

1) Never go to an open screening
2) Always sit in the absolute center of the theater
3) Remain seated through the credits
4) Do not discuss the film
5) Walk all the way home

Getting into the Warner Bros. Screening Room was challenge enough. First, there was leaving the office at 6:15. Not easy. Then there was dodging tourists and traffic through Times Square while trying to make arrangements for another reporter to screen another film. Then there was the line. Which is when Kurt showed up.

Once inside, I found the audio and visual center. Goldner was on my left. Loder was on my right. We had a half hour to kill.

Now, I love Kurt Loder, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say he makes me a little nervous. For starters, he’s pretty darned bright, and wicked experienced. He’s something of a legend amongst music journalists. For another, he speaks softly and has bone-dry wit. His humor is intelligent, and sardonic. Mine? Not so much.

Still, I like the guy, and am always eager to talk with him (frankly, I think all of us are — he possesses some kind of quiet paternal thing). So I started in on him. First I mentioned an oral history of The Pixies I’m reading. Then we joked about “The Lake House” (“Seems like ‘Griffin & Sabine’ meets H.G. Wells,” I said. “If only Keanu would just climb into the mailbox…”). Then he asked me if I’d seen “Strangers With Candy” (I have, at Sundance ’05 — hated it). We hit pay dirt, I think, with Leonard Cohen. He’d just seen “Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man,” which I’d seen and at Sundance ’06, where I spok with the director, Rufus Wainwright, and The Edge.

Leonard Cohen opened a wonderful set of associations for both of us. We both liked the film (though I’d have liked more interview with Cohen himself, and less performance from his various admirers). But more importantly, we are all musicians, Leonard, Kurt, and me. And we are all writers. Cohen spends years on a single song. Kurt has spent years on a single book (“I, Tina” and “Bat Chain Puller”). Me? I write, record and release a song in a single day. And blog. So we had a brief conversation on the value of revision. “The first draft is nothing,” Kurt said. “Throw that one away.”

Somehow, then, I mentioned that Chris and I were commencing principle photography on our documentary, “Mr. Rogers & Me,” this weekend. (Have you seen my new blog on the making of the film, “Making ‘Mr. Rogers & Me”? Check it out!) It wasn’t as egregious a transition as it sounds. It flowed, I promise. But after my four-minute set up (in which I acknowledged that our day jobs, while rewarding, were neither rocket science, nor all that substantive), it was apparent to Kurt, I’m sure, just how serious and excited I am by the project. Fortunately for him (presumably), the theater went dark, the curtains opened, and “Superman Returns” began…

I am a huge fan of Warner Bros. They usually get their adaptations right (they brought us the original “Batman,” all of the “Harry Potter” films, plus “Batman Begins,” and now “Superman Returns”). Moreover, I’m a fan of Bryan Singer, who directed “The Usual Suspects” and “X-Men” before inheriting America’s most beloved and iconic superheroes. My hopes have been high for this film for well over a year. I’ve poured over various spoiler-laden blog entries, and voraciously consumed Singer’s own video blogs from the set. I pitched Warner on an in-depth Singer interview months ago, before the hype was in full swing. You get the idea: I’m not a full-fledged fan boy, but I am a fan.

“Superman Returns” is, as expected, well realized. The scenery is gorgeous, the sets are detailed, the action is major. Brandon Routh manages to play Clark Kent with a fair dose of Christopher Reeves’ bumbling affection. Kate Bosworth’s Lois Lane isn’t nearly as crass as Margo Kidder’s; she play more of a Katherine Hepburn stuck in a CGI world. Kevin Spacey is a scene chewer as Lex Luthor.; you love to hate him.

It’s a good film. It’s fun. I liked it.

Not surprisingly, though, I like my spoonful of blockbuster with a dose of medicine. Not enough to taint the flavor of the film. I still want a Technicolor explosion followed by a soft-lit embrace. But I’m always grateful when a film that is fundamentally designed to get ten-year-old kids into theaters has something else a little deeper for me. “Batman Begins” nailed it. The comic book ending notwithstanding, Chris Nolan’s Black Knight plumbed the shadows of his psyche to find courage. Singer’s own “X-Men” considered alienation and culture’s exclusionary nature.

“Superman Returns,” in fact, flirts with numerous big themes: alienation, the hero in all of us, and the role of the father. But somehow, the film, and — I suspect — the hero himself, lacks real depth. He’s the Man of Steel. He’s bulletproof. Any questions?

My review remains nearly as unformed now as when Kurt asked me what I thought just a few hours ago. I think it’s difficult to meet a year’s worth of high expectations. It’s difficult to be everything to everyone. And it’s difficult to manage the 20th Century’s most epic of heros.

“I love a movie that makes the floor shake,” I told him.

“Clearly,” he deadpanned.

“But now, as I do after all major screenings, I’m going to walk all the way home, and think about it the whole way.”

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