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Your August Unrandom Movie Club Results Are In!

Tagline: Shut up, crime!

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If you're a regular reader of this self-indulgent, pleonastic, and frequently way-too-long blog, you'll know that I'm not much for Super Hero movies. From the SPIDER-MAN 3 write-up: I've seen 7 BATMEN, 5 SUPERMEN, a DAREDEVIL, a CATWOMAN, a not-so-SUPERGIRL, a FANTASTICly bad 4 (both), 3 X MEN (WOLVERINE? Oh puh-lease...), two less than credible HULKs, ELEKTRA, WATCHMEN and the man in the iron suit. Only two of them (SUPERMAN, SUPERMAN II) have thrilled me. But you gotta give me this - I've really tried.

There's a lesser known sub-genre of Super Hero movies where the hero either thinks he has powers or knows he doesn't but doesn't care. In the last five years there was Michael Rapaport in SPECIAL (which was both sad and bad), Woody Harrelson in DEFENDOR (less sad, but still bad), and Justin Whalin, whose cohorts had powers but he didn't, in SUPER CAPERS (this one was silly, yet funny, featuring an Adam West cameo where he played Manbat!). But there were also a couple of good ones, both from 2010; the incredibly fun and refreshing KICK-ASS and tonight's presentation, SUPER. While the former is clearly set in a comic book world (it was based on a comic), with everyone's little sweetheart Hit Girl and her Big Daddy doing things that people without powers can't physically do, SUPER's two inexperienced real world crimefighting characters can (and do) get hurt.

Jacques and Frank (Kevin Bacon and Rainn Wilson
Rainn Wilson plays Frank, a weak (his self-analysis) and weird (he pretty much knows this too) loner, a cook at a roadside joint. Frank's only two great moments in life, according to him, were marrying Sarah (Liv Rundgren, I mean, Liv Tyler) and telling a cop which way an escaping criminal went, which sets the stage for his innate sense of justice and fairness. It doesn't take long for Frank's fragile life to start crumbling. He was losing Sarah, losing her to Jacques (don't all nerds lose the girl to a jock?), a guy who looks a lot like Kevin Bacon (or so I thought for the first third of the movie until it hit me: "Oh!! That is Kevin Bacon!"). Jacques and his goons hang out (or he owns?) a strip club where Sarah, a not-so-ex-alcoholic/horse addict, works. Frank sees Sarah's path - a nosedive. And you know what? He's right. And he's already a hero for trying to rescue her in the first place.

Tyler-Wilson by Random Movie Club
Frank and Sarah are two damaged souls, one who took the wild ride, the other the crawl-inside-yourself method. So even though it's clearly a mismatch, there is indeed a connection. And like Michael Douglas in FALLING DOWN, he's no longer going to put up with it. But how is this mad-as-hell-and-not-going-to-take-it-anymore milquetoast going to fight back when he doesn't really have the tools to do anything about it? Oh wait, a wrench is a tool, right? Sorry, I'm getting ahead of myself.

Crimson Bolt
On a visit to the local comic shop (and when I say local, I mean local to Random Movie Club, SmashComics on Ventura Blvd.), and with the help of excitable clerk Libby (Ellen Page-Nathanson), Frank selects a few superhero comics, ones where the heroes don't have real powers. Yep, Frank wants to suit up. This short order cook wants to trade in his apron for a cape to stop crime. Okay, when he becomes the Crimson Bolt, he doesn't have a cape, but it's my blog and I'll lie if I want to. Why does Frank want to do this, you ask? Well, let's just say he has visions (his flashback childhood ones are pretty funny). But his latest one, a trippy amalgam of things he saw on TV, is the game changer, and not-so-coincidentally, the act break.

wrench by Random Movie Club
His first problem comes when he is unable to locate crime. But soon, The Crimson Bolt finds some real criminals and takes them down using his weapon - a wrench. This is where SUPER turns on the dark. People sometimes (myself included) have problems with genre-jumping, but for some reason it didn't bother me in the least. I liked that SUPER was funny and bloody. And now that Frank's a famous (secret, shhh) superhero (he's made the news), the film itself becomes more comic-y, with BLAMs! and KA-POWs! superimposed and negative spaces painted in. Often, the movie itself looks painted, or I suppose a better word would be "inked," with robust and saturated colors. Sometimes, instead of a blackout, there's a red-out or a gold-out, which seem to be SUPER's color scheme, or image structure as they called it in archaic film school. It's in the art direction and wardrobe, too; gold bean bag chairs, throw pillows and shorts on Libby. Along with the colors, there's the stylized lighting, making some shots look like paintings. They went to some trouble, impressive, says me, for this low budget 24 day shoot.

It's a small moment that finally sets Frank off, putting him on the road to super heroism. A moment that you and I, and certainly Larry David, have encountered. It's when someone cuts in line at a theater. Sure, what Frank does is overkill (NPI), but it's also relatable. I think even the pacifistiest (I made that word up!) person among us has had visions of handling a situation this way. If not, then they have never been on the Cahuenga Pass during rush hour. Frank's a comical predator, his face becoming birdlike when he strikes. He's a doofus on a mission. When he tosses a homemade grappling hook over a gate, it returns to hit him in his face. That was my third biggest laugh (my fourth was when Libby pours alcohol on Frank's wound. My first and second are coming soon). Anyway, it doesn't take long for Libby to want in on the action. She transforms (oh my, it's a funny scene) to the Crimson Bolt's sidekick, Boltie. She's like tomboy Anybodys from WEST SIDE STORY but with the cutest psychopathic urges you ever did see. You can just eat her up in this movie, just don't bump her in a sporting goods store!

Besides the SWEENEY TODD plot of practicing on others while waiting to get the big cheese (Jacques), there's a lot of uncomfortably funny things going on in SUPER. For example, when Boltie beats the shit out of a guy who keyed her friend's car, we learn moments later that she wasn't even sure it was him. See, while he's a psychopath seeking justice, she's a psychopath getting off on the adrenalin of the violence. They would make an adorable couple...in fact, Libby's obsession with The Crimson Bolt eventually turns psychosexual. Of course, righteous Frank won't even kiss Libby because he's married and that's a sacred bond, despite the fact his wife left him. It's stuff like that that makes Frank human, perhaps even more than human - in a way, a super hero. Raise your hand if you wouldn't kiss someone who comes onto you long after your junkie spouse left you for another. I thought so. So you see, there's also a pathos in SUPER, bolstered by dialogue like "People look stupid when they cry," and "That's what happens in between the panels," referring to comic books.

As you may have guessed, the comedy in SUPER is there, but it's uneven. From small bits that can be easily missed, like when the lady in the wheelchair topples as The Crimson Bolt beats up a purse-snatcher, and you can hear her say "my neck!" Then there's the flash-sideways, you know, what a character thinks in his head. One particularly hilarious one is when Frank looks through his peephole to see Detective Felkner (Gregg Henry), and a whole elaborate (and utterly illogical) scenario plays out in his mind (That was the second funniest moment for me).

Director James Gunn's career began working for Lloyd Kaufman's Troma Films (Kaufman has a cameo in SUPER) as a co-writer on TROMEO AND JULIET. He also wrote the great screenplay for the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake. He's only directed two films so far, 2004's horror throwback SLITHER and this one. But he also wrote and directed an hysterical series of shorts called PG PORN, available on his site (they originally ran on Spike TV). It's "For people who love everything about porn...except the sex." Gunn does a really good job of making SUPER its own animal - black humor dressed up in a Hollywood movie costume.

Though Rainn Wilson's unusually tempered performance is just right as sad sack Frank, Ellen Page steals the show. And I'm not just saying that because I'm a guy and she dresses up in that way hot super hero costume, then tries to seduce Frank who is an average schlub like yours truly. I'm saying that because she fully commits to this role (doesn't she always do that?). That's the secret for actors. No matter how silly a premise, no matter how ridiculous a character, commit. That's your job, and Ellen Page knows her job well. And yeah, sure, all that stuff I said earlier doesn't hurt.

Holy Avenger (Nathan Fillion)
Also in the cast, the always-fun-to-see Gregg Henry, who went from BODY DOUBLE villain to rich GILMORE GIRLS daddy to HUNG, where he plays a character named Mike Hunt. Here, he's a detective trying to find out who The Crimson Bolt is so he can stop him. Nathan Fillion, who's worked with Gunn on SLITHER and PG PORN, plays The Holy Avenger, a religious TV super hero that Frank watches. There's cameos by Linda Cardellini and, get this, William Katt, you know, TV's GREATEST AMERICAN HERO (believe it or not, the aforementioned movie SUPER CAPERS uses GAH's cheesy yet famous theme song for its end credits). And here's some black comedy that went on behind the scenes; unless I'm wrong, director Gunn maimed (not for real, in the movie) both his brother and sister-in-law; he got his legs crushed, she her face wrenched.

One of the many fun things in SUPER is its opening credits, "Saturday Morning" and bloody, setting the tone for the movie to the power pop song CALLING ALL DESTROYERS by Tsar. But if that wasn't enough, it was what happens at the end of these credits that made me do the highest kind of laugh - saying "wow, that's funny." The cartoon characters are all dancing, as if on a variety show. When the song ends, in the dead spot where there'd be applause if an audience were present, they all freeze. That's when these cartoon characters stand there catching their breath, you know, like real dancers in that moment. I don't know if it was the choice of the company that did those titles or James Gunn's or what. All I know is this was my favorite laugh in the movie.

There have been other fake super hero movies in the past, like HERO AT LARGE with John Ritter, which I thought was charming. Even TV had the William Katt show, CAPTAIN NICE and MR. TERRIFIC. And more serious vigilante movies like THE BRAVE ONE, DEATH SENTENCE (Kevin Bacon's in that one too) and the grandfather of them all, DEATH WISH (Charles Bronson plays an architect of vigilantism). These movies, along with SUPER, take the ugly wish-we-didn't-have "revenge emotion" and makes us hold it up to a mirror. I don't think many of us are capable of violence. Me, I've never hit anyone in my life, nor do I plan on it. But you never know. Maybe one day, someone will cut in front of me on a line at just the right moment...and...KA-POW!

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