"Of all the arts, movies are the most powerful aid to empathy, and good ones make us better people."
-- Roger Ebert, The Great Movies

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Hamlet (2009)

  • Title:  Hamlet
  • Director:  Gregory Doran
  • Date:  2009
  • Studio:  BBC / Royal Shakespeare Company
  • Genre:  Drama
  • Cast:  David Tennant, Patrick Stewart, Penny Downie, Mariah Gale
  • Format:  Color
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
The DVD is a filmed version of the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Hamlet, starring David Tennant as Hamlet, and Sir Patrick Stewart as Claudius, costumed in modern dress -- and it's brilliant!  Instead of merely filming the production straight-on, this is an actual film (and shown on BBC television per IMDB) - shot on location at an old abandoned seminary (according to the behind-the-scenes feature).  A few scenes do look like an older college building, rather than a castle - but for the most part the location really works.
The main location in the film, the court at Elsinore, has a jet black shiny floor that would make an Art Deco set designer from RKO Pictures proud.  Seriously, I thought this was a set when I watched the film, though a brilliantly designed one, for a play about deception and secrets. That the basic space really existed is amazing!
Anyway, David Tennant is so brilliant in this -- and I thought he was brill in Doctor Who.  He has a wonderful manic energy -- but, because this is film, and shot as film - not a mere theatre archive piece, he also has the ability to go very quiet and intense (such as in the famous "To Be or Not To Be" speech). Tennant also brings to Prince Hamlet the impression that he's really quite clever and crafty - he's faking being insane while trying to decide what to do with the information provided by his Dad's ghost.  OK, so maybe not totally sane -- but Hamlet doesn't come off at the whiny wimp he sometimes can.
Sir Patrick Stewart, meanwhile, is also brilliant as Claudius.  You can see how he manipulates everyone around him - Gertrude, and Laertes, especially.  But even courtiers like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern jump to do Claudius' will, immediately.
Both Gertrude and Ophelia were brilliantly played.  Gertrude is especially good in the "closet" (or bedroom) scene with Hamlet.  And Tennant is scary good in that - especially when he breaks the mirror! Mariah Gale as Ophelia does a great job with her mad scene, though it's a thankless role.
The only one I didn't like in the play was Polonius - whom I found annoying.  Now maybe he's supposed to be annoying, but his quoting of quaint proverbs sounds actually clich├ęd, and he underplays giving the lines too! (E.g. bits like giving his son the advice "neither a borrower or a lender be" when sending his son off to college or wherever Laertes is going at the start of the play).
I loved the use of highly polished surfaces throughout the play, such as the floor in the court, and also the mirrors.  The cracked mirror in Gertrude's room seems to symbolise Hamlet's cracking soul.  Brilliantly realised that!
The use of cctv footage (breaking to a view through a camera) I found less successful - it was distracting, and I even wondered if there was a fault in my DVD at first (like it was going to an alt-angle view or something for no reason).  According to the "Behind the Scenes" documentary on the DVD - this is meant to suggest the lack of privacy and the "all-knowing, all-watching" state that prevails at Elsinore.  It didn't quite work for me.
But I do highly recommend this - Tennant is brilliant, Stewart is brilliant, the rest of the cast is fantastic, the film is quite, quite good.
Running time was at least three and a half hours, though.  I watched it last night, and man - it did feel a bit long. But still well worth it.  There are two special features and a commentary.  There's a nice behind-the-scenes feature, which runs a bit over half-an-hour, and there's a quick advert for careers in the RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company), that's actually pretty cool.  Haven't listened to the commentary yet.
Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  5 of 5 Stars!

Justice League Gods and Monsters

  • Title:  Justice League Gods and Monsters
  • Director: Sam Liu
  • Date:  2015
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre: Fantasy, Action, Animation
  • Cast:  Benjamin Bratt, Michael C. Hall, Tamara Taylor, Jason Isaacs, Richard Chamberlain, Penny Johnson Jerald, Carl Lumbly
  • Format:  Widscreen, Color, Animation
  • DVD Format:  Blu-Ray
"At least fifty dead in the embassy massacre, and not just dead - dismembered, burnt alive, sucked of their blood, a virtual house of horrors. Granted the victims were part of a terrorist organization... but what about our terrorist organization? What about the Justice League? It's not like we haven't been warned." - Female Newscaster

"What the government has sanctioned is more than a Super-SWAT Team, it's a weapon of absolute power. We all know where that leads." - Lex Luthor
"We're being framed! Someone's actively trying to frame the Justice League? Who would have the balls?" - Superman
Gods and Monsters is an alternative universe story, DC calls these types of stories - "Elseworlds", and before that "Imaginary Stories" (to distinguish them from the main continuity) as pointed out on one of the special features that accompany the film. This tale gives us three very different versions of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. The film starts with Superman's new origin story. In Gods and Monsters Superman's father isn't Jor-El but Zod. This is shown in the opening scene where Zod pokes his finger into a genetic device that will develop into a baby in the spaceship that's sent to Earth. Once the ship lands, he's rescued by a migrant laborer couple rather than the Kents. This Superman is very different - he's brash, arrogant, and even rude. He also knows very little about his genetic parents or Krypton, because Luther stole his baby spaceship and everything inside.
In the film's present, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are on a US-sanctioned mission to destroy a terrorist cell. Steve Trevor is marginally in charge of the mission, but they neither listen to him nor do they wait for Trevor and his troops to arrive before totally trashing the cell and everyone in it. This shows the violence of this alternative Justice League, and their willingness to let the end justify the means.
However, before long, a series of scientists - many who were known as "Luther's Whiz Kids" are getting killed in horrible ways - and the crime scenes are designed to look like the Justice League is guilty. But since we see the robots committing the crimes from the beginning the audience knows that this Justice League, as twisted as the are, aren't responsible. Though, like all mysteries - who is responsible isn't revealed until the end.
While telling the mystery story we also see flashbacks explaining the origins of Batman and Wonder Woman. Batman is Kirk Langstrom, who attended university with Will Magnus, and Tina. Kirk was suffering from some form of cancer or blood disease (it isn't spelled out exactly what) and is experimenting with bats. He ends up becoming Batman, a vampire.
Wonder Woman isn't from Paradise Island, but New Genesis. Bekka was to marry the son of Darkseid, Orion, whom she had actually fallen for - despite the fact that the marriage was arranged and she was actually a bride-price to stop an eons-long war between New Genesis and Apokolips. Just after the wedding, however, her Grandfather, known as High Father (Richard Chamberlain), and his troops break up the wedding by killing everyone they can, including Bekka's very new husband. Angered at both the carnage and the death of her consort, Bekka turns her back on High Father, and New Genesis, and makes her way to Earth via Motherbox (boom tube - basically a type of very long distance teleport).
The rest of the story involves the attacks on the scientists, the Justice League finding out about the attacks - and various people calling for sanctions against the League, including Amanda Waller, who had been their government liaison and handler.
Superman decides to challenge Luther as well (Luther is still his arch enemy) - from Luther he finds out the truth of his origins. However, this Luther, though initially overly cautious (thus his refusal to share the information from Krypton with Superman), is won over by his use of Kryptonian technology to study the universe.
Gods and Monsters is a surprisingly violent story - fifty people are killed in close to the opening scene (after the background scenes on Krypton), the scientists - Victor Fries (now a climatologist), Silas Stone, Ray Palmer, etc. are first killed one by one, but then there's a bloodbath to kill any scientist who had opposed the Justice League. At times, it seems both Batman and Superman have real blind spots when it comes to protecting themselves when solidly framed. Batman, though a vampire and having a completely different back story, does have good investigation skills - but not good enough to see what's going on until it's almost too late. Superman, upon realizing they are being framed is incredulous, as in, "Who dare be dumb enough to frame us?" Still, as in all good mysteries - the League does figure it out and with some surprising help, is exonerated.
The Blu-Ray includes a documentary on DC's history of Alternative Universe, "imaginary stories, and "Elseworlds" stories, starting with the example of, Gotham by Gaslight. The Blu-Ray also includes a documentary on Jack Kirby, New Genesis and Apokolips. And finally there's a making-of documentary that's excellent. Just the comics history and information in the documentaries make the Blu-Ray worth having.
Overall, I enjoyed this film, though it was very dark. Still, it was a good, alternative take on the big three DC Heroes.
Recommendation: See it
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
Next Film: When Harry Met Sally

Superman Returns

  • Title: Superman Returns
  • Director: Bryan Singer
  • Date: 2006
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers
  • Genre: Action, Fantasy
  • Cast: Brandon Routh, Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, James Marsden, Parker Posey, Frank Langella, Eva Marie Saint, Sam Huntington
  • Format: Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format: NTSC, Blu-Ray
"The son becomes the father, the father becomes the son." - Jor-El, voiceover
"Well, I hope this experience hasn't put any of you off flying. Statistically speaking it's still the safest way to travel." - Superman
"I hear everything. You wrote that the world doesn't need a Saviour, but every day I hear people crying for one." - Superman
Superman Returns is a sequel to Superman the Movie and Superman II. Superman has been missing for five years, and Lois Lane has moved on having a son and a long-term boyfriend, as well as winning a Pulitzer Prize for her editorial - "Why the World Doesn't Need a Superman". Superman crash lands at his mother's farm, then Clark returns to the Daily Planet. No sooner is he back than an EMP-generated blackout causes havoc on a 747 plane carrying a space shuttle into launch position. Lois is one of the reporters covering the new procedure on the plane. The shuttle is meant to decouple from the plane and then launch with rocket boosters - but the blackout means it cannot detach nor can it shut down the launch procedure. Superman gets the shuttle safely launched into orbit, then goes to rescue the plane. He eventually sets it down in the middle of a baseball stadium. He gets a standing ovation from the crowd.
But the blackout was no ordinary blackout - Lex Luthor had gone to Superman's fortress of solitude, listened to the crystal recordings, and taken a few of the crystal rods. He then goes to the mansion he's stolen from a little old lady, and puts a tiny sliver of the crystal in the middle of a pond of water in the midst of a train set. When the crystal grows - it destroys the model city, and causes the EMP that knocked out the power - including to computers, cell phones, etc.
Lois wants to cover the power outage story - but Perry wants her to cover the return of Superman.
Meanwhile, Clark is trying to adjust to the idea of Lois having a child and a serious boyfriend, Richard White, Perry's nephew.
Superman does what he does - stopping crime, rescuing people, world wide - not simply in Metropolis.
Lex Luthor steals Kryptonite from the Metropolis Museum of Natural History for the next stage in his plan.
Superman lands on the roof of the Daily Planet to talk to Lois, then takes her flying. Lois takes off her shoes before letting him fly with her. The flying sequence, rather than being romantic like in Superman the Movie or in Superman II - is sad. Lois, and Clark, act like old lovers who never quite got together - meeting again years later. Superman tries to explain to Lois that he hears all of the pain in the world - and he's simply there to help. Lois doesn't appear to buy it, but she writes an article called, "Superman Returns".
Superman returns to his fortress of solitude and discovers some crystal rods are missing.
Lois, who should be on her way to her Pulitzer Prize dinner, takes her son with her to continue to investigate the blackout story. She finds the mansion, and the yacht moored at a private slip in front of it. Lois sneaks aboard the yacht to investigate and runs into Luthor, who kidnaps her and her son.
Once on the yacht, Luthor explains his plan - he will place one of the crystal rods inside a hollowed-out tube of Kryptonite, and fire it into the ocean. This will create a massive new landmass for Luthor to sell - and kill billions of people on the East Coast of the US which will be swamped with the displaced water. Luthor carries out his plan. Kitty begins to have second thoughts.
Superman deals with the earthquake and disasters in Metropolis as a result, including saving Perry from the giant art-deco planet that falls off the top of the Daily Planet building and nearly lands on Perry.
Thanks to a distraction provided by her son, Lois is able to send a FAX with her location to the Daily Planet. Richard takes the sea plane to rescue her; and once things settle down a bit in Metropolis, Superman also flies to the rescue.
One of Luthor's goons, having noticed that Lois sent the FAX, attacks her. Lois's son throws a piano at him and kills him. Additional goons grab Lois and the boy and lock them in the galley. As the land-mass gets bigger, Luthor, Kitty, Kitty's very small dog, and Lex's goons escape by helicopter.
The massive crystal land mass continues to grow, and Jason (Lois's son) walks towards the door, which is opened by Richard. But just as he starts to rescue Lois and Jason, the shard of crystal stabs the bottom of the yacht causing chaos.
Superman arrives, pulls the yacht out of the water, he grabs Richard's arm, and when he's assured Richard has both Lois and Jason, he lets the yacht falls. Superman gets them to Richard's seaplane and gives them a hand in launching.
Superman then challenges Lex Luthor, but he's unaware he's surrounded by Kryptonite. Lex punches and kicks Superman, then his goons and minions also beat Superman. Finally, Lex stabs Superman in the back with a shard of pure Kryptonite. It breaks off in Superman's back and he falls into the Ocean.
Richard's seaplane lands. First Jason, then Lois and Richard spot Superman. Lois jumps in to save him, Richard helps. They fly back to shore. Lois removes the Kryptonite, But when Superman recovers he tells her he must go back. He jumps out of the seaplane and flies above the atmosphere to recharge in the sun - then flies straight back to strike at Luthor. Superman picks up the entire island and flies it into space, then crashes to Earth.
Lex and his minions try to escape by helicopter - only Lex, Kitty, and the dog escape - the rest are trapped. Kitty dumps the crystals overboard into the Ocean. Lex, Kitty, and the dog end-up stranded on a desert Island.
Emergency workers bring Superman into the E.R. No one knows if he will live or die. Lois and Jason visit him. Superman recovers and flies off into the upper atmosphere to recharge. When Lois later asks, "Will I see you? Around?" Superman responds, "I'll always be around."
Superman Returns picks up a few threads from the classic 1970s Christopher Reeve/Richard Donner Superman films, using clips of Marlon Brando's voice as Jor-El, the massive and gorgeous Fortress of solitude, and it's crystal computer. Brandon Routh is quite possibly the most human Superman to date, that I've seen, and I liked his portrayal a lot. The story line between Clark and Lois of missed opportunities is truly sad.
The action sequences in the film are what action sequences should be - they work and are meaningful not merely for being "good action sequences" but because characters we care about are always at the center of the action sequences.
I liked Brandon Routh's Superman and Clark Kent very much - his portrayal is very human. Kate Bosworth is a bit bland as Lois though. She doesn't have the romantic quality Margot Kidder had, nor does she have Teri Hatcher's humor and intelligence. She's not terrible but she's not great either. It's like in big budget movies, the directors are either unable to let Lois really shine or unwilling to do so, perhaps for fear of overshadowing Clark/Superman.
Kevin Spacey is brilliant as Lex Luthor. He is a far cry from the Gene Hackman's bumbling Lex of Superman the Movie and Superman II. This Lex is cold, calculating, and utterly ruthless. He will sacrifice anything and any one to get what he wants. And he has no moral scruples whatsoever. He cares for no one. Spacey's cold-edged performance is brilliant.
It's a real pity Superman Returns didn't do better at the box office, because it really is one of the best Superman movies. I recommend it.

Superman - Doomsday

  • Title:  Superman - Doomsday
  • Director:  Bruce Timm, Lauren Montgomery, Brandon Vietti
  • Voice Director:  Andrea Romano
  • Date:  2007
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre: Action, Animation, Drama, Fantasy
  • Cast:  Adam Baldwin, Anne Heche, James Marsters, John Dimaggio, Tom Kenny, Swoosie Kurtz, Cree Summer
  • Format: Widescreen, color animation
  • DVD Format:  Blu-Ray 
"Just look at him, so sleek, so powerful, so beautiful, like some great golden god made flesh. Of course, any sensible god would demand absolute obidence in return for his favor. But no, our Man of Steel protects us and keeps us with no strings attached. And the people, hum, they practically worship him anyway. Enjoy your reign while you may, Superman, for as surely as night follows day, there comes a time when even gods must die." - Lex Luthor, prologue
"The subject in question was biologically engineered to be the ultimate soldier: precise, clinical, unstoppable. But its creators came to realize it could not distinguish between friend and foe, thus this Doomsday machine lives to extinguish any and all life forms. Because it must." Superman's robot in the Fortress of Solitude
Luthor has a group of scientists and miners digging to the Earth's core in search of a new energy source that Lexcorp can sell. However, they get more than they bargain for by freeing Doomsday, a biological killing machine. Luthor will later have his assistant Mercy eliminate all trace of Lexcorp's involvement in freeing Doomsday, and to cover his tracks further, Lex cold-heartedly murders Mercy.
Doomsday escapes and wrecks havoc. Lois and Superman had been having a romantic get away to Superman's Fortress of Solitude, when Superman's robot informs him of Doomsday's attacks on Metropolis. They return. Superman fights Doomsday, and they both cause havoc. Lois and Jimmy Olsen cover the story. The fight between Superman and Doomsday wrecks buildings, causes havoc, and ranges all over Metropolis - city streets, subway tunnels, city streets again. But in the end, Superman does the only thing he can - he grabs Doomsday from the back, flies straight up to the stratosphere, then crashes to Earth. He and Doomsday land in a huge impact crater. Doomsday is stopped, but Superman is also killed. Superman crawls out from beneath Doomsday's body, and dies in Lois's arms. Jimmy Olsen takes a picture of the dead Superman, and of Lois with tears streaming down her face.
Martha Kent, who had been watching the fight between Superman and Doomsday on TV, collapses off her chair, tears streaming down her cheeks. In the wake of Superman's death, Clark Kent is missing, though Perry White is convinced he's "fine" just incommunicato in Afghanistan (where Kent had gone as a war correspondent). Lois decides she has to talk to Clark's mother, and drives to Smallville to see her. At first, Martha is suspicious, but when Lois talks about being "in love with him" and "being loved by him" the two go inside to talk.
Lois returns to Metropolis and covers a story of Toyman threatening a schoolbus full of kids. She sneaks inside to rescue the kids, and all of them get out but one little girl. Lois and the girl are also threatened by a "Chuckie"-type living doll/toy with a big knife. Lois defeats the toy/doll, but Toyman pushes the bus off the building. Lois and the little girl are rescued by "Superman". At first, Lois is overjoyed to have Superman back - but then she notices things - like he doesn't know where her apartment is, and his attitude towards her is cold and clinical not romantic. Lois tries to figure out if it's a result of Superman's trauma, or if this Superman is perhaps not really Superman.
Lois becomes even more suspicious when Clark Kent still doesn't return or make contact, and Martha calls her and says that even though "Superman" has returned - Clark hasn't contacted her, he hasn't even called.
The new Superman goes to confront Luthor, but he's trapped in a room filled with red sunlight, and Luthor beats him up with Kryptonite brass knuckles. We then learn two things - this new Superman isn't Superman, he's a clone made by Luthor and under his control. And Luthor actually missed his enemy Superman so much after his death, he made the clone but a clone who would work for him. Luthor also has Superman's dead body in status.
Lois tries to get Jimmy to help her investigate, but Jimmy, feeling his mortality after the huge Superman - Doomsday fight in Metropolis, has quit the Daily Planet, and taken a well-paid job as a Paparazzi photographer for a tabloid. Jimmy refuses to help the first time Lois asks.
Meanwhile, Superman's robot steals Superman's real body from Lex Luthor. The robot takes the body to the Fortress of Solitude where it turns out Superman isn't dead - his pulse had slowed down to a rate of once every 17 days to allow him to heal. It had taken the robot 17 days to detect it, and another 17 days to pin-point the location. The robot tells the still injured Superman he retrieved him from LexCorp.
"Superman" takes on Toyman, and, after learning the villain had killed a young child at a day care center, takes him from police custody, flies up high with Toyman, then drops Toyman to his death on top of a police car. Jimmy takes a picture of the bloody and very dead Toyman. It becomes very apparent this this is not the Superman we know - he's cold, threatening, and scary. Plus he's still very, very powerful. When the police commissioner asks Superman to come in for questioning - Superman simply refuses because he has "better things to do", and there's nothing anyone can do to stop him.
At the Fortress of Solitude, the robot continues to treat Kal-El, the real Superman.
Back in Metropolis, "Superman" goes into a beauty shop and looks into a mirror. With his X-ray vision he finds a lead ball in his head containing Kryptonite. He uses his laser heat vision to remove it.
Lex Luthor hits on Lois when she confronts him. Lois lets Lex kiss her - and knocks him out with a hypo. She, and Jimmy search Lex's office.  Lois and Jimmy use Lex's unconscious body on a retinal scanner. They find Lex's bank of cloned Supermen.  Lex arrives to kill Lois and Jimmy, then Superman arrives. Superman destroys the clone bank. Superman locks Lex in the red room and takes the entire thing into the stratosphere then throws it to the ground.
Meanwhile at the Fortress of Solitude, Superman weight-lifts and exercises to tone his body. He hears the news reports of Lex Luthor's death. The army is mobilized in Metropolis to take out "Superman" for "killing" Lex Luthor.
The real Superman, in a solar suit, armed with a Kryptonite gun, flies to Metropolis to confront the clone "Rogue Superman". Superman tries to use the Kryptonite gun, but it goes flying. Superman and Rogue Superman fight. There is a lot of destruction during the fight. Lois grabs the Kryptonite gun, but when she fires at Rogue Superman - she misses. Rogue Superman beats up Superman. However, Superman is able to get the Kryptonite into Rogue Superman's chest and it explodes - destroying him. Superman is also weakened by the blast but survives. He kisses Lois Lane as proof that he's the "real" Superman. At the end he reveals himself to Lois as Clark Kent.
Luthor also is reveal to be not as dead as he appears.
This animated film adapts the Death of Superman storyline from the regular weekly Superman comic books. The blu-ray is accompanied by three excellent documentaries - especially the one on the public and press reaction to the Death of Superman (Superman #75), as well as trailers and sneak peeks for other films in the DC Animated Universe series of films. However, this film also has some changes and unique features that differ from the original printed story. First, Bruce Timm, who co-wrote, produced, and co-directed the film with others introduced Luthor both as a narrator for the story and as the cause of Doomsday's escape. I thought that made the film stronger - if someone's going to kill Superman - it should be his well-known enemy. Second, though, simply for time limitations, many of the vignettes of the one to two-year long story arc of the death of Superman and his return weren't used.
Also, this story, like many Superman stories, is a slug fest. Yes, it's a slug fest where Superman loses, and he has to sacrifice himself to stop the threat, but it's still a slug fest. The second half of the film -the world without a Superman, and Lois, Perry, Jimmy, and Martha all coping with there grief in their own ways, was better than the opening and closing fight scenes. However, I wanted to see more of that human story - especially Lois and Martha. Specifically, when Lois goes to see Martha at the Kent family farm, and Martha invites her in - I really wanted to see what happened next.
The animation in Superman- Doomsday was incredible. It was gorgeous and at times I forgot I was watching an animated film. It was that good. I haven't seen a DC Comics / Warner Brothers Animation film that looked this good since Batman: Under the Red Hood (which, yes, I realize chronologically came after this - but I saw it first.) The realistic animation style and the seriousness of the subject matter also reminded me strongly of Batman: Under the Red Hood.
I will say though that this animated film from several years ago handled Doomsday and the Death of Superman better in many ways that a certain live-action film that is probably still in theaters.
Recommendation:  See It - especially  if your a fan of Superman or good animation
Rating: 4 Stars

All-Star Superman

  • Title:  All-Star Superman
  • Director:  Sam Liu
  • Voice Director:  Andrea Romano
  • Date:  2011
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre:  Action, Fantasy, Drama, Animation
  • Cast:  James Denton, Christina Hendricks, Anthony La Pagulia, Edward Asner, Alexis Denisoff, John Dimaggio, Robin Atkins Downes
  • Format:  Widescreen, Color
  • DVD Format: R1, Blu-Ray
"Lex Luthor, you're under arrest for attempted murder and crimes against humanity!" - SWAT Captain
All-Star Superman opens with a group of scientists in a spaceship that's about to crash into the Sun, in no small part due to evil goings-on by Lex Luthor. Superman flies near the Sun and rescues the scientists but soon finds out that he suffered and overdose of solar radiation and he's dying. Essentially, the theme of the story is Superman with cancer. You would think that would be depressing, but this animated film has a wonderful tone to it. The story is very episodic, but in a very real sense we're seeing Superman actually fulfilling the items on his bucket list.
Superman, tells Lois Lane he's Clark Kent - something she barely believes, and brings her to his fortress of solitude. There he gives her a serum that gives her his powers for a day, and the two have a romantic day playing superheroes together. They even stop a fight between Samson and Atlas and intelligent dinosaurs from the center of the Earth. When Superman brings the creatures back where they belong, he's goaded into a fight with Samson and Atlas. However, he ends-up besting them with his intelligence solving the Riddle of the Ultra Sphinx. The riddle is what happens when "the irresistible force meets an immovable object", Superman answers, "They surrender", and rescues Lois. He then bests Samson and Atlas in arm wrestling.
Meanwhile, the Daily Planet has exposed Luthor's water crisis scheme, and Luthor's been charged by the International Court of Justice. Not only is Luthor found guilty he's sentenced to die in the electric chair even though it's been banned for years.
Clark goes to interview Luthor in prison, and Luthor states he likes Clark Kent but he hates Superman - and he's happy that even though he will die, Superman will die first. The Parasite escapes during Luthor and Kent's discussion and starts a riot in the prison, killing guards and prisoners alike. Luthor escapes.
Superman, in his fortress with her, tells Lois he's dying. Lois insists he will figure out an answer.
Superman takes the bottle city of Kandor to a planet that they can safely colonize. Two months later he returns to Earth.
Two Kryptonians show up and prove to be spoiled, superior, colonials bent on cultural imperialism. Superman discovers, however, they have been poisoned by Kryptonite. In the end, they are sent to the Phantom Zone.
Superman even goes to his father's grave, leaving a Kryptonian flower there. He says hi to his mother, Martha Kent, but doesn't stay long.
Lex Luthor is "executed" but he doesn't die - he's stolen some of Superman's serum to give himself super powers for 24 hours.
Superman records his final journal entry in the Fortress of Solitude.
Luthor's next stratagem arrives - Solaris a living, intelligent sun eater who will poison the sun and turn it blue. Luthor thinks he's gotten Solaris to turn the Earth's Sun red, which will leave Superman helpless - but Solaris betrays even Luthor and poisons the Sun to turn it blue.  There's a classic fight scene.  Superman has his pet sun-eater attack Solaris, but Solaris rips it to shreds. Superman then faces the super-powered Luthor, including firing a gravity gun at him. The gun eventually speeds up Luthor's personal time, so just as Luthor is beginning to see the real meaning of things, and that everything is connected, he collapses because he's burned through the serum.
But Superman is also dying. As his face cracks with light, he kisses Lois then flies off to the Sun to "fix it" and reverse the poisoning done by Solaris. The film ends with Lois sitting in a park. Jimmy Olsen drops by and asks her if she's "going to the memorial". Lois says no because she knows that Superman isn't dead, he's fixing the Sun and he will be back.
All-Star Superman has a wonderful 50s/early 60s quality to it. It has innocence and sweetness without being saccharin. The story is episodic, but underlining the individual bits is the very real threat that Superman is dying, essentially from cancer, and there's nothing that can be done about it. You'd think that would be depressing, but Superman takes the news in stride and does take the time to do the things he wants or needs to do. It's even Clark Kent who writes the "Superman Dead" newspaper story then collapses at his desk. The animation style also has a wonderful retro look to it that works wonderfully with the story.
There are some lovely special features as well, including interviews with Grant Morrison who wrote the original graphic novel. Overall, it's an enjoyable and feel-good Superman story that doesn't get bogged down in just fight sequences but shows the audience a human side to the Man of Steel.
Recommendation: See it, especially if you're a fan of Superman or Classic DC Comics
Rating: 4 Stars

Hot Fuzz

  • Title: Hot Fuzz
  • Director: Edgar Wright
  • Date: 2007
  • Studio: Rogue Pictures, Working Title, Universal Pictures
  • Genre: Comedy, Action
  • Cast:  Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jim Broadbent, Timothy Dalton, Bill Nighty, Edward Woodward, Ron Cook, Martin Freeman, David Bradley
  • Format: Color, Widescreen
  • Video Format:  Blu-Ray
"But the fact is, you've been making us all look bad." - Met Chief Inspector
"I'm sorry, sir?" - Nicholas
" 'Course we all appreciate your efforts but you've been rather letting the side down." - Met Chief Inspector
"It's all about being a team player, Nicholas." - Inspector
"If we continue to let you run around town you'll continue to be exceptional and we can't have that. You'll out us all out of a job." Met Chief Inspector
"You can't switch off, Nicholas." - Janice
"I just feel like I'm missing out sometimes. I wanna do what you do." - Danny
"You do do what I do. Why on Earth do you think you're missing out?" - Nicholas
"Gun fights, car chases. Proper action and shit." - Danny
"Police work is not about proper action! Or shit! It you've paid attention to me in school you'd understand. It's not all about gun fights and car chases." - Nicholas
Nicholas Angel is an excellent police officer - excelling in training, as well as academically, and has an arrest record 400 percent better than his fellow officers in the London Met. He is completely dedicated to his job and extremely good at what he does. But that becomes his problem as well. His girlfriend tells him he "can't switch off", and his fellow officers find his talent for policing annoying because he "makes them look bad". So the Met comes to a decision - Nicholas is promoted to sergeant and transferred to the quaint English village of Sandford. Nicholas protests - but to no avail. So he and his Japanese Peace Lily plant head for Sandford.
In Sandford, Nicholas has trouble fitting in, though he gradually becomes friends with his new partner, Danny. But Nicholas also begins to suspect something strange is going on, as a series of fatal accidents occurs in the quiet village. Nicholas suspects these accidents are murders - but everyone from the villagers to the other police officers insist they are accidents. It's obvious the murders are murders, and Nicholas can't understand the reluctance the police have to investigate them as such. Slowly Nicholas even suspects the random acts of violence are linked.
Nicholas investigates, and also becomes acclimatized to the village and it's rather odd inhabitants. But soon his investigations turn up a vast conspiracy - of actions and silence, that even reaches into the police itself. Nicholas is forced to leave.
However, he soon returns, and with the help of his partner Danny, he cleans-up the town in a symphony of violence and action.
Trust me - it's funnier than it sounds. Hot Fuzz combines a satire of American action thriller films (such as Lethal WeaponPoint Break, and Die Hard), an English Village horror story (The Wicker Man, which starred a very young Edward Woodward, who also appears in this film), and a surprisingly sensitive story of a man's coming into his own. Simon Pegg is the main character, Nicholas Angel, but he plays the role as the Straight Man. It isn't Angel who's the comedian - what makes the film funny is how Angel reacts to the outrageousness around him. And Nicholas also grows, not simply learning "to switch off" but to embrace his inner nature, but to take the time to form friendships as well. The arc of the relationship between Nicholas and Danny is well told, and parallels many classic American buddy cop films.
Yet it isn't simply Nicholas' story that Hot Fuzz tells and tells extremely well. Danny's favorite passtime outside of work is watching the American action films that Hot Fuzz will ultimately parody, especially in the action-packed final sequences. A central scene in the film has Danny talking Nicholas into a real night out at the pub, with the two both drinking lagar, rather than Nicholas having his one cranberry juice then leaving. After several beers, the two head to Danny's for an action movie binge night. Danny however grows as well, learning self-confidence and ultimately stepping out of his police inspector father's shadow.
Yet this film, for all that it borrows and parodies from American action thrillers, is also quintessentially British, in that the actual plot that Nicholas discovers is that of the "perfect English village that gets it's perfection from weird cults and strange sacrifices or conspiracies". It's a story that's been around for awhile (the film The Wicker Man is a prime example, but I've seen versions of the story on Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) (2000), Torchwood, and even the Neil Gaiman novel American Gods, and I'm sure there are more examples.) But Hot Fuzz combines an insane amount of violence, lots of action, including a bit pulled from Lethal Weapon with Pegg and Frost firing two hand guns each while moving diagonally through the frame, car chases, confrontations, explosions, and just lots and lots of gunfire and sight gags. It's hard to describe how such over-the-top action scenes can be funny - but because they are so over-done they are. Yet the film never loses sight of it's characters or the characters unique points of view (even the villagers' conspiracy, as misguided as it is - makes sense to them). Throughout the story the characterization rings true - even when the action and violence hits the ludicrous level (which makes the film funny). Nicholas Angel isn't someone the audience will laugh at in this film. He's someone the audience will sympathize with, especially as some of the other police officers, especially at the beginning, bully him,  and ignore his knowledge.
In the end, Nicholas gets to the bottom of things, and not only is all well - but the trio of inspectors from the beginning of the film arrive in the village to ask Nicholas back to the Met. Nicholas declines, deciding he likes his little village.
Hot Fuzz is a great movie, full of wonderful bits, great acting, and a top-notch cast. The films blends genres effortlessly and showcases the talents of Nicholas Pegg, who really is the central character of the film.  I highly recommend it.
Recommendation: A must see!
Rating: 5 Stars

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Spy

  • Title: Spy
  • Director: Paul Feig
  • Date: 2015
  • Studio: 20th Century Fox
  • Genre: Action, Comedy
  • Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Miranda Hart, Allison Janney, Rose Byrne, Morena Baccarin, Jude Law, Jason Statham, Jessica Chaffin
  • Format: Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC
“I must have watched this fifteen times now, because What the fuck? I almost put it up on youTube.” – Elaine Crocker
“I must say I was uncomfortable with the event, but I’d also like to say – it was over ten years ago, the instructor was not harmed.” – Susan
“Fine was your mentor, right?” – Elaine
“Yes.” – Susan
“Why did you not become a field agent?” – Elaine
“We’re such a great fit and a great team… Fine made some great points, maybe I’d match better staying in his ear.” – Susan
“Yeah, he sniped you. All the top agents used to do that before I got here.” – Elaine

“I do not condone these sexy but reckless actions of yours, Susan!” – Nancy

Melissa McCarthy’s Spy is an empowering movie – but it is also laugh-out-loud funny, fast-paced, and quite the ride. The movie stars five very different women and a few men. At the core of the film is the friendship between Susan Cooper and Nancy, two analysts at the CIA. Their job is perfectly explained by the opening scene of the film where Bradley Fine, top CIA field agent, tracks down a man who’s made it known he’s willing to sell a small, portable nuclear weapon. Fine’s holding the man at gunpoint when he points out that he erased the men who helped him hide the nuke, then he erased the “erasers” so Bradley better not kill him. At that moment, Fine sneezes, the gun goes off, and the guy dies. Susan asks, “Why did you do that?” then calmly, and expertly guides Fine to his escape, even calling in a drone strike so Fine can get away. Susan and Nancy’s friendship is illustrated by a scene where they are in a bar talking. Nancy spots Carol Walker, the agency’s top female agent and quietly pokes fun at her for being so perfect. The scene is very real and illustrates how real women talk.

After Fine’s disastrous mission, Elaine Crocker, the head of the department at the CIA tells the agents that someone else must know about the nuke because it’s come up for sale on the black market. Susan had figured out it was Rayna, the seller’s daughter. Fine is sent to get Rayna – but he’s killed and Rayna reveals she knows the names of all the top agents. Thus Crocker needs to find an unknown for the mission. Susan Cooper volunteers. Susan, as a woman, is given a horrible cover story, and even worse and more embarrassing special equipment. When she arrives in Paris, her hotel is the type of dive that makes one want to take a shower just looking at it in the film. In Paris, she runs into Ford, another top agent who quit when Elaine choose Susan for the mission instead of him. Ford will continually show up – proving himself to be an incredible egotist, who constantly brags up his own abilities and insults Susan.

Susan herself through luck and talent manages to do quiet well. She’s supposed to be on a track and report mission, but the building she’s supposed to watch, where Deluka, their lead is staying has burned down the night before. Susan runs into Ford, who leaves her, but she notices that a woman has switched backpacks with Ford. She chases after him, right into the middle of a German dance pop outdoor concert. Ford barely realizes what’s going on but manages to throw the bomb into the river. After the encounter, Susan asks to go to Rome to follow their next lead. Her new cover is even worse than her first one.

In Rome, Susan saves Rayna – the woman she’s after, from a poisoned drink. Rayna has the man who slipped it to her killed, then invites Susan  on her private jet to Budapest. On the jet, Susan is knocked out. When one of the men on the plane threatens Rayna (largely because she treats him badly – not even knowing his name), shoots up the plane, and kills the pilot and navigator. Susan lands the plane. Rayna concludes that Susan is CIA – Susan convinces her she’s Amber Valentine a bodyguard hired by Rayna’s father. Rayna accepts this but is wary. When they land, Susan runs into Nancy, and tells Rayna she’s another of her operatives. A car shoots at them, killing Anton, one of Rayna’s retainers – Susan gives chase on a scooter. She catches up to the car, and fires at it and it crashes – it’s the agent, Carol Walker. Susan’s apologizing, when Carol pulls a gun at her – then is killed by a sniper.

Rayna is to meet her buyer at a disco. The Ally from Rome, Aldo, shows up – as does Ford and Nancy. Ford causes trouble, Susan has Nancy cause a distraction, and Susan goes after the woman to prevent her from meeting Rayna. Susan gives chase and fights the woman in a kitchen, using things like cast iron pans and tupperware. She does pretty well, but ends-up cornered. Fine shows up and kills the girl, but he and Rayna who are working together take Susan hostage. She ends-up tied up with Aldo. Susan’s pretty demoralized by this but Aldo cheers her up and then helps untie her. They escape.

Susan goes to find Rayna, Fine, the broker, and the buyer. Rayna claims Susan is doing all this because she loves Fine. Fine had revealed himself to be a triple agent. Rayna takes the group to the nuke, and again all hell breaks loose as the broker kills everyone he can so he can take the nuke and the diamonds that were Rayna’s payment. Ford arrives and pratfalls into the room – becoming a liability. Susan and Fine handle things in the room, though the broker escapes with the diamonds and nuke. Susan runs to the helicopter to get him and jumps on the strut. Ford jumps on her. Susan lets Ford fall in the lake, knocks the nuke and diamonds in to the lake but gets caught at the wrong end of the broker’s gun. Nancy shows up in another helicopter and fires at the broker. The broker, not quite dead fights back and grabs Susan’s necklace – she loosens the adjustable toggle and the guy falls into the lake.

Now successful, Susan passes up a chance at a dinner date with Fine for a girls night with Nancy. Elaine promises to keep her on as an active agent.

Whereas the opening credits are a typical Bond-type montage of smoke and girls – the end credits show Susan’s missions, complete with secret identities and special weaponry and they are hilarious. The movie also has a terrific soundtrack of fun music. Spy is an empowering movie and I enjoy it every time I watch it. It pushes through the Bechel test like water. The main characters – Susan, Nancy, Elaine, and Rayna are all women. Even secondary characters – the traitor Carol, and the third analyst in the basement – are women. Moreover, the men aren’t particularly competent. Bradley Fine walks into the opening scene like he’s James Bond, but he sets-up the entire movie by killing Rayna’s father, accidentally, before finding out where the suitcase bomb is. Ford is an egotistical braggart who’s claims are so ridiculous he’s obviously making them up (and Susan calls him on it), and the reality of his “abilities” is considerably “less”.

Susan begins the film as an extremely competent CIA analyst – without her in his ear, Fine wouldn’t last 30 seconds. When Elaine, Susan’s boss, digs into Susan’s records at The Farm – the CIA’s training facility, she’s impressed and even asks why Susan didn’t apply for a field agent position – only to discover that Fine suggested that she should not. Susan and the other analysts have to endure horrible conditions in the CIA basement in Langley – with bats and mice in the room – yet all three analysts deal with it like it’s nothing. No women standing on chairs screaming at a mouse here. The scenes between Nancy and Susan, especially their first scene in the bar, are written the way women actually talk. And Nancy is also a strong woman who adds to the chemistry of the film.

Rayna, as the villain of the piece, is the type of woman it’s easy to dislike – she’s a spoiled, pampered brat. She always gets exactly what she wants, yet she cares little for other people. Even her underlings can’t stand her – and many try to kill her in the film. Rayna’s method of intimidation includes poking fun at Susan’s looks and her clothes. She also is a psychopath – she doesn’t even care about Fine, whom she’s sleeping with, even though he killed her father.

I highly, highly recommend this film. It’s empowering to watch. But it’s also very funny – and it’s a great action/adventure film.

Recommendation: A Must See
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film: Son of Batman

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Superman II (Richard Donner cut)


  • Title: Superman II (Richard Donner cut)
  • Director: Richard Donner
  • Date: 1980, 2006 (Reconstruction / Donner edit)
  • Studio: Warner Brother's
  • Genre: Action, Fantasy
  • Cast: Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman, Marlon Brando, Ned Beatty, Sarah Douglas, Jack O'Halloran, Terence Stamp, John Ratzenberger, Shane Rimmer
"Clark, once a girl's seen Superman in action, Niagara Falls kinda' leaves you cold. You know what I mean?" - Lois Lane

"It is you! I guess I've known this for the longest time." - Lois
"You realize of course, if you'd been wrong, Clark Kent would have been killed." - Clark/Superman
"With a blank? Gotcha!" - Lois

"This Super Man is nothing of the kind, I've discovered his weakness." - Zod
"Yes?" - Ursa
"He cares. He actually cares for these Earth people." - Zod
"Like pets?" - Ursa
"I suppose so." - Zod

I never saw Superman II when it came out, and I'm unaware of the details of any controversy surrounding the film, or the director. Apparently, Donner was the original director and was replaced. However, what I watched was Donner's cut of the film, and that is what I will be reviewing here.

Superman II starts with a repeat of Superman the Movie, with Jor-El carrying out the sentence of Krypton's high Council to exile three Kryptonian villains to the Phantom Zone. Zod still threatens Jor-El and his heirs. The movie also includes a few clips of the previous film, setting the stage for the sequel. It also shows the missile Superman threw into space from the first film, hitting the phantom zone and at first splitting it apart, then cracking the parts open, releasing the villains.

At the Daily Planet, Perry, Lois, and Jimmy are discussing the story of Superman defeating Lex Luthor. Jimmy says that it's too bad Clark missed the Big Story. And Lois casually responds, "Clark is never around when Superman is around." Then she has a lightbulb moment. Perry calls Lois and Clark into his office.  He wants them to go undercover as newlywed's to cover hotel swindles at Niagara Falls. In Perry's office, Lois confronts Clark with the idea she thinks he's Superman. She even goes so far as to throw herself out of Perry's high rise window. Clark saves her subtly, and without "becoming" Superman.

Meanwhile - Luthor and Otis are working in the prison laundry. Luthor's girlfriend rescues Luthor, but Otis is left behind.

Also, meanwhile, in Houston, two NASA controllers are talking to the Artemis 2 mission to the moon. The three Kyptonian criminals arrive on the moon. They kill the astronauts and cosmonaut.

Lois and Clark are at Niagara Falls, pretending to be a newlywed couple.

Lex Luthor and his girlfriend discover Superman's fortress of solitude by using Lex's alpha wave tracker. Lex places crystals (one by one) into Superman's crystal computer. Luthor and his girlfriend listen to Jor-El explaining about the three super-villains from Krypton. Luthor, of course, wants to find them.  He starts making a speech - but his girlfriend has left to use the ladies. 

At Niagara Falls, Clark's glasses get steamed up and she cleans them for him. She's also taking pictures with a Polaroid camera. A little boy plays on the wrong side of the rail, despite warnings from his mother.

Meanwhile, the three Kryptonian villains fly through the sky, and land in or near a swamp. Zod walks on water.

At Niagara Falls, there's a beautiful rainbow in the mist from the falls, which no one really notices. However, the little boy loses his grip on the rail and falls. Superman rescues him.

The Clark returns to Lois. Lois again wonders about this.

In their hotel room, Clark is in a black tux and Lois in a towel applying her make-up. She again talks to him about how it sure was strange that of all the places where a child might be in danger, Superman was here, today. And how she couldn't find Clark when Superman arrived. Clark tries to talk to her about it. Lois takes out a gun and shoots him. Clark admits he's Superman. As Superman he takes Lois flying - to his fortress of solitude.

There's a few cuts showing the Kryptonian villains and what they are doing.

What's more interesting is that Clark prepares a nice meal for Lois, gives her champagne, and they then sleep together. The next morning, Clark talks to the computer image of his father about being in love with Lois. He decides to expose himself to the radiation of Krypton's red sun which will take away his super powers permanently and leave him mortal.

Zod and his fellow villains destroy the town of "East Huston, Idaho". Zod announces he will be ruler. Later there's a shot of the Washington Monument being destroyed.

As Clark talks to his father, before deciding to take his radiation bath - Lois watches silently from a distance, but understands everything that is going on.

The three Kryptonian villains wreck havoc at the White House. Some advisor kneels before Zod, but Zod realizes immediately he's not the president. The president agrees to kneel before Zod if everyone is spared. But he mentions that "one man" will never kneel.

Lois and Clark arrive at a diner. While Clark's in the men's room, the local bully starts to harass Lois. Clark arrives and instead of beating the guy up or defending Lois's honor - he's beaten-up by the guy. Clark is shocked to see his own blood. Lois attacks the bully then they are eventually left alone.

The waitress turns on the news and the president announces that he is "abdicating" all control to Gen. Zod, though in the midst of his speech he calls out to Superman for help.

Clark tells Lois he has to go back. Lois tells him it's not his fault.

Meanwhile, Luthor meets the three villains. He offers in bargain the "son of Jor-El", Superman. Lex wants "Australia".

Clark struggles back to the fortress, alone. He sees the destroyed crystal computer.  He calls out to his father and admits his failure. Clark looks extremely sad and sympathetic and it's some of Christopher Reeve's best acting in the two films. Then he sees the glowing green crystal. He puts it in one of the few remaining glass tubes in the computer.

There's an odd crystal mask, then the hologram of Jor-el appears. Jor-el gives his son his final message. There is a way for Clark (Kal-El) to regain his powers. But it will completely destroy the computer and Jor-El's holographic image. Kal-El is flooded with his father's essence, when the solid-appearing full-size hologram of Jor-El touches Kal-El he seizes, glows and becomes Superman.

Perry is at the Daily Planet talking to Lois and Jimmy about the three villains. Then they arrive and cause havoc. Non grabs Perry, and hits his head against the ceiling, knocking him out. Ursa breaks Lois's hand. Zod destroys Jimmy's camera.

Superman returns and confronts Zod and the others. There's a major fight scene. When flying Non and Ursa have a vampire-like look. There's a lot of destruction in "Metropolis" which is obviously New York. The fight continues.

Zod and Ursa throw a bus full of people. Superman is buried between the bus and a truck. Everyone is saying Superman is dead, and a mob even starts to confront the three villains - but they are blown away by super cold breath - that moves people, papers, and even cars.

Superman rises from where he was crushed, but he's weak - he flies away.

The three villains return to the Daily Planet. Lex tells them he has "Superman's address". The three villains take Lex and Lois with them to the Fortress of Solitude. There, Zod threatens to let Ursa kills Lois if Superman doesn't play ball. He also threatens Lex Luthor. Luthor goes to Superman's side and Superman tells him they must trick the villains in to the molecular chamber. Luthor returns to the villains' side and says he "wants Cuba".

Superman agrees to go into the chamber. But when he comes out he kneels before Zod, then takes his hand and crushes it. Zod and Non are thrown into the pit of the Fortress. Lois hits Ursa in the jaw and knocks her in the pit. Superman had reversed the molecular chamber - so he was safe and the villains made vulnerable.

He, Lois, and Luthor leave the fortress and Superman destroys it with his heat vision. He then flies Lois home to her apartment. She's crying and saying goodbye to him. She promises to keep his secret. Superman leaves.

Superman then does his time travel thing of flying around the planet and sees that his missile never hit and broke open the Phantom Zone. He then flies forward.

Next day - all seems normal at the Daily Planet, though Lois says she's "super" and elbows Clark. Clark, also as Clark, finds the bully from the diner. The cook and waitress seem to recognize Clark, and the cook says he just "spent a fortune" to clean up the place. Clark beats-up the bully, says he's been working out, and offers the cook money for the damages.

The film ends with Superman flying above the Earth in the sun.

I've seen this film twice now, and there are things I like and things I don't about it, although overall I'd say it's a good movie. When I first saw it, I was confused by the use of time travel, again. And confused by just what happened and what didn't. Obviously, the Kyptonian villains never reached Earth. But did Lois and Clark never go to Niagara Falls? If they didn't the little boy who fell into the falls is dead - because Superman wouldn't know to save him. But if they did - then Clark also admitted who he was to Lois, and brought her to his fortress of solitude. Then it's likely he became "mortal" - and without three villains from Krypton to fight - villains his family have history with - would he ever decide "the world needs a Superman"? Plus, in the first film, Superman time travels to save Lois's life - in this film, he time travels, why? So she doesn't know who he is? To protect the world from Zod and his cronies? What? There didn't seem to be enough of a reason for it.

However, upon re-watching it - it seems that Superman didn't go quite so far back. Perry is wearing a different shirt that when he sent Lois and Clark to Niagara Falls. When Clark goes to the diner to beat-up the bully - he's recognized. Lois even teases Clark that she's "Super". So it seems his little forward spin meant some things stayed the same. Lois is also working on a story called, "Superman's Day Off".

Speaking of Lois - in the first film, the running joke is that she can't spell. Which is odd for a prize-winner reporter. In this film, Lois is always hungry. I wanted her to be treated better than that - because Margot Kidder does such a good job with the little she's given.

Christopher Reeve though really shines in Superman II, the scene where he's telling the hologram of his father (more like a ghost in these films) that he's fallen in love with a human woman, and he doesn't know what to do about it; and the scene where he talks about making a mistake, and losing all contact with his father to regain his power as Superman are powerful - and show Reeve's acting ability. They were very impressive.

Overall, this reconstruction/director's cut is a good film and I enjoyed it.

Recommendation:  See It!
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Superman Returns

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Superman the Movie


  • Title: Superman the Movie (aka Superman)
  • Director: Richard Donner
  • Date: 1978
  • Studio: Warner Brothers
  • Genre: Action, Fantasy, SF
  • Cast: Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Trevor Howard, Glenn Ford
  • Format: Widescreen, Color
  • DVD Format: Blu-Ray, NTSC
"There's one thing I do know, son, and that is - you are here for a reason." - Jonathon Kent

"Easy, miss, I've got you." - Superman
"You've got me? Who's got you?" - Lois Lane

Richard Donner's original Superman film opens on Krypton, with Jor-El implementing the decision of the Council to banish three criminals to the Phantom Zone - a sort of limbo that looks like a glass trapezoid. The scenes on Krypton are grand and impressive and include lots of dramatic close-ups. However, if you haven't seen Superman before the entire sequence would be very confusing - and we never see the villains again (yes, I know, wait for Superman II). However, it isn't long before Jor-El is up before the council himself. Jor-El has discovered that Krypton's red sun is expanding and will soon cause Krypton to explode. No one wants to believe this really bad news, and the council threatens Jor-El - if he speaks out about his findings, or if he and his wife attempt to leave Krypton, Jor-El will also be sentenced to the Phantom Zone. Jor-El agrees to stay silent. However, he and his wife place their infant son in a rocket ship, with all the knowledge of not only Krypton but the galaxy at large and send him to Earth.

The infant, Kal-El, crash lands on Earth, and he's raised by John and Martha Kent. When Clark Kent, as he is now called, turns 18, his father dies from a heart attack, and Clark finds a glowing green crystal rod in the Kent barn - which creates for him his fortress of solitude in the Arctic. There Clark is instructed by the hologram of his father. He emerges seventeen years later and moves to Metropolis to take a job as a reporter at the Daily Planet. Clark meets Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, and Perry White.

Before long, Clark is also Superman - rescuing people, catching criminals, and just being Superman. From rescuing Lois Lane from a helicopter that's crashed on the side of the Daily Planet to rescuing cats from trees and everything in between - he's Superman.

But he's also Clark - so when Perry demands more information on this new hero in their midst, he slips Lois a note - from "a friend" - the precise way he'd introduced himself to her when he rescued her from the helicopter. Superman arrives on Lois's patio, and after a brief interview he takes her flying, even breaking the cloud layer. The flying sequence is soft, romantic, and alternates between close-ups of the actors' faces and long and medium shots. It's a very romantic scene.

But a in any film - there needs to be conflict, and the conflict comes in the form of Lex Luther - who, with the help of his really stupid henchman, Otis, and his not much brighter Girl Friday, Eve Teschmacher - has a true super-villain plan, worthy of a Bond villain. He's used his corporation to buy up all the "worthless" desert land just East of California, and plans to steal two missiles to drop essentially a large explosion on the San Andreas fault which will set off enough earthquakes to drop California into the Ocean. Lex also figures out - in quite a leap of logic - that because Superman is from Krypton a meteorite of Kryptonite will kill him.

Lex sends Superman a message at an ultra-high frequency, and gets him to a rendezvous where he manipulates him into opening a lead box containing a kryptonite rock on a chain. Lex puts the chain around Superman's neck and drops him in a swimming pool. However, before "disposing" of Superman Lex remarks that he has two missiles not just one - the larger one is being sent to California, and the smaller one to Hackensack, NJ. Ms. Teschmacher remarks - "But my mother lives in Hackensack!"

Teschmacher jumps into the pool to rescue Superman, and gets him to agree to stop the missile heading for New Jersey first. Superman promises this - but it will have dire consequences. He stops the first missile, then hears the second hit California. Superman dives into the Earth's crust to stop the Earthquakes, then tries to mitigate as much of the damage as possible. Yet he isn't fast enough to stop Lois from being buried alive when he car falls into a sinkhole. Superman gets very angry and upset and flies around the Earth backwards, turning back time, so he can rescue Lois.

Overall, Superman is a very feel-good movie. It doesn't have the angst or paranoid atmosphere of Man of Steel. Reeve's mild-mannered reporter, Clark Kent, is very "mild-mannered" - causing him and Lois to be attacked by a mugger (Lois rescues them both; though Clark catches a bullet aimed at himself). Clark is so "nice" it's almost unbelievable. But he's also someone that young people could really look up to. Lois, well, poor Lois - in this film, she seems solely there to be rescued - continuously. I remember really liking Lois Lane when I saw this movie when it came out but now - oh dear. She's a reporter, a to be award-winning reporter, yet she can't spell? The constant Lois asking everyone how to spell various words, or having her spelling corrected by her boss, was just... painful. And I really wanted to buy the girl a dictionary. Having said that though - the scene of Superman taking Lois flying is soft, and romantic, and wonderfully done.

The entire film looked gorgeous - just gorgeous. It was so nice to watch something done on film, rather than digital, and with models and in-camera effects (and some optics) because that was all they had. At no point does any of it look cheap - or like obvious model shots. But that helicopter that crashes - is solid. As is the plane Superman rescues in one scene.

Lex's scheme, well - it's a supervillain scheme all right. Dr. Evil would be impressed. And Lex seems to figure out that Superman is vulnerable to Kryptonite pretty easily and with no evidence (seriously - Why would knowing Superman is from Krypton make you think, immediately, with no evidence, that he's vulnerable to Kryptonite?) Meanwhile, his Girl Friday/girlfriend/whatever is annoying. But the worse bit about the easily-manipulated girlfriend is the scene where she actually rescues Superman - wearing a white dress. The instant she hits the pool water, it becomes transparent. Nice.

The style of Superman had an unusual retro look. The opening bit has a kid watching a serial in a movie theater - setting the story in 1938, but the film looks more like the 1950s - 1960s, though Lois's clothes are slightly more modern. I honestly could tell you what era it was supposed to be.

Still, overall, this is a classic super-hero film, and one that all other Superman films are often judged by.

Recommendation: See It!
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Superman II

Friday, December 18, 2015

Wayne's World


  • Title:  Wayne's World
  • Director:  Penelope Spheeris
  • Date:  1992
  • Studio:  Paramount
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Cast:  Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Rob Lowe, Tia Carrere
  • Format: Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
"I've had plenty of 'joe jobs' - nothing I'd call a career. Let me put it this way - I have and extensive collection of name tags and hair nets." - Wayne Campbell

"Sometimes, I wish I could boldly go where no man's gone before, but I'll probably stay in Aurora." - Garth

"Aren't we lucky we were there to get all that information? Seemed extraneous at the time." - Wayne

Wayne's World  felt very much like a 1980s movie to me when I re-watched it, so I was surprised to see the copyright date as actually 1992. The story is about two best friends, Wayne and Garth, who live in Aurora, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. The two have a local public access TV show that they film in Wayne's basement called, "Wayne's World", and the film was developed from the Wayne's World sketches on Saturday Night Live. However, in the film, the clips of Wayne and Garth doing their Wayne's World show are the least successful parts of the film (they are very dated, and often fall flat).

The strength of the film, the part that shines, and still works, is that it's a buddy film. But whereas most "buddy films" are cop films - Wayne's World is about these two guys, good friends, who are into heavy metal music, and not taking life too seriously. The film also continuously breaks the fourth wall, as usually Wayne, addresses the audience directly. Garth, normally the quieter and shyer of the two - also, occasionally, addresses the audience. The constant breaking of the fourth wall gives the film a surreal quality and an avant-garde edge. But that doesn't mean the film is overly serious. Quite the opposite - it's very, very funny. It's also filled with clips of great music, and a lot of singing (almost exclusively cover versions of popular music).

The basic storyline is that Wayne and Garth have this cable access show, Wayne's World, that they put together every week, more-or-less as a hobby, though Wayne, at least, would like to do Wayne's World as a career. One night, Benjamin Oliver, an unsavory ad exec is flipping channels and he sees the show. He thinks it's the perfect vehicle for his biggest client, the owner of a chain of video arcades called Noah's Arcade. He wants to move the show to a cable network, have Noah's Arcade sponsor it, and use it as a vehicle for, essentially, half an hour's worth of advertising for the arcade. Benjamin's plot works in that he gets Wayne and Garth to agree to his contract, though when Wayne gets on set he blows up and refuses to do product placement (in a hilarious scene in which at least half a dozen different products are prominently placed and used). Benjamin meanwhile sows discontent between Wayne and Garth, and gets Wayne to think his girlfriend is cheating on him. But it all works out in the end (well, in the third alternate ending).

But the film's point isn't really the plot. The characters, Wayne and Garth, and their close friendship - a friendship that is threatened but recovers - is at the heart of the film. Also, the idea of personal happiness being more important than money or what others call success is a subtext of the film. Yet, at it's heart the film is just very funny - and enjoyable to watch. Wayne and Garth's personal optimism and infectiously happy outlooks make the film enjoyable to watch. The frequent music, covers, and sing-alongs add to the fun.

Overall, one of the oddest things about the film might just be the frequent anachronisms. The entire set-up, the "Wayne's World" cable access show is something that barely exists now. However, a real-life Wayne and Garth these days could easily do their own show on youTube, or create a regular podcast. Wayne and his new girlfriend, Cassandra talk on landline phones that include a cord. Benjamin's client owns coin-operated video arcades. The famous, and awesome, sing-along to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" starts with Wayne putting a cassette tape into the car's tape deck (though later Wayne, at least, upgrades to an external CD drive). The film doesn't so much look dated as have moments of, "Oh, yeah, that's how we used to do things." Though, it's Garth who mostly correctly describes how he will bounce the special "Wayne's World" episode featuring Cassandra's performance off several communications satellites (which Garth mentions by name/number) - today such dialogue would be simplified to "bounced off several satellites") to Mr. Sharpe's limo to get her a  record contract. Even the three endings reference older films, such as Clue. It felt at times, like a window into the past.

Overall, I found Wayne's World to be enjoyable to re-watch, mostly because it was just so happy. Wayne and Garth's attitude towards women notwithstanding (Garth continuously talks about women as "babes" but can't get up the courage to talk to the pretty blonde he keeps spotting in their neighborhood.) It some ways the film was also like an updated American Graffiti in that it portrays a time and a place, though it's less serious in content and tone. Still, it's fun, just plain fun.

NOTE:  I normally don't mention DVD menus, but this one with the cable access opening is funny. Also, there are a number of hidden features on the menu (which looks like a cable TV on-screen guide).

Recommendation:  See it
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  When Harry Met Sally...

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Van Helsing


  • Title: Van Helsing
  • Director:  Stephen Sommers
  • Date:  2004
  • Studio:  Universal
  • Genre: Horror, Action, Adventure
  • Cast:  Hugh Jackman, David Wenham, Kate Beckinsale, Richard Roxburgh
  • Format:  B/W prologue only, then Color/Widescreen (old)
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
"You've never been out of the Abbey, how do you know about vampires?" - Van Helsing
"I read." - Carl

"My life, my job, is to vanquish evil. I... I can sense evil. This thing, man, whatever it is, evil may have created it, may have left its mark on it, but evil doesn't rule it. So I cannot kill it." - Van Helsing (re: the Creature)

Van Helsing is much more about style than substance, though as the CGI-heavy film moves along, it does improve - and it has some great moments.

The film opens with a black and white prologue - Dr. Frankenstein is doing his famous experiment to create the Creature, but after it becomes alive, he is confronted by Count Dracula. Dracula kills Dr. Frankenstein, but the Creature escapes with his body to the famous windmill. There a crowd of local people confront the Creature with torches, quickly burning down the windmill, presumably killing both Dr. Frankenstein and his Creature.

One year later the film opens into full color, and shows Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) chasing Hyde of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde fame. Unfortunately, when Hyde falls off a roof he turns back into Jekyll - and dies. Van Helsing is blamed for the murder. However, he really doesn't have much to worry about because he goes to a supernatural MI6, where the cardinal, like M, is the voice of exposition. M explains that Van Helsing must go to Transylvania to rescue the last members of the Valerious family by destroying Dracula. Due to some sort of curse, that Van Helsing's Secret Order was also involved in, if Dracula isn't destroyed before the last members of the Valerious family die - the entire family (including the dead members) will be cursed for eternity. Yeah, OK - it doesn't make much sense, but plot is more of an excuse in this film, than something that's well thought out. Have plenty of popcorn and enjoy the show. Anyway, while at his secret headquarters, the Cardinal, like M in a James Bond gives Van Helsing basic info, some clues, and a torn piece of a scroll bearing a mysterious signet - which is identical to the signet on Van Helsing's ring. Conveniently, Van Helsing has also lost his memory. After getting information from M, I mean the Cardinal, Van Helsing goes to see Carl, a friar with more than a passing resemblance to Q in the James Bond films. Carl (David Wenham) kits out Van Helsing with special gear. However, Van Helsing surprises Carl by requesting he come along to Transylvania. The bookish, scientist-type, Carl isn't that happy about it.

Van Helsing and Carl travel to Transylvania where they meet Anna, the last member of the Valerious family (her brother had been recently transformed into a werewolf). Anna, Van Helsing, and Carl need to find and defeat Dracula.

There is a lot of CGI in the film, and the entire thing is digitally graded to make it look darker. The action scenes are good to excellent but lack depth because the characters are not that well drawn. This is probably why I haven't watched the film since it originally came out and I originally purchased the DVD. Anna is strong, capable, and an excellent fighter - but still manages to get captured by Dracula and has to be rescued by Van Helsing. Carl is an excellent character, and his ability to put together information from libraries and stained glass windows is a valuable addition to Van Helsing's quest. I also liked his character. Van Helsing is cool - especially his costume, and his weapons, but because he has no memory, and the audience for the most part only sees him when he's fighting - he's an enigma, so as a character he's hard to like - despite a good performance by Hugh Jackman.

About halfway through the film, as Anna and Van Helsing are escaping through some water-logged tunnels, they encounter the Creature. However, the Creature speaks, and feels bad for himself because everyone hates him. He also knows Dracula's secrets. Despite orders to the contrary - Van Helsing not only works with the Creature but in the end lets him go. The Creature shows surprising humanity, and is one of the better things in this film.

Overall, Van Helsing felt like a graphic novel adapted for the screen, though the credits list it as an original film (that is, written for the screen). The visuals were very typical CGI, but at times were impressive. They made have been more impressive in 2004. The entire cast, especially some of the smaller roles, also did a very good job - the acting can't really be critiqued negatively. The director also at times did some great things. A scene with a mirror in what turns out to be Dracula's Summer Palace is particularly memorable. Likewise, there's a hidden door scene that's far from the norm done seriously in so many films and parodied brilliantly in Young Frankenstein. However, the film also reminded me of The League of Extra-Ordinary Gentlemen.

Special Note:  I have the Ultimate Collector's Edition, which not only includes the film Van Helsing but the original monster films Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Wolf Man from the 1930s - all of which are worth watching at least once. And the original Frankenstein can easily become a Halloween tradition to re-watch.

Recommendation: Some good elements, but a bit average
Rating: 3 out of 5
Next Film: Wayne's World

Saturday, October 24, 2015

UHF


  • Title:  UHF
  • Director:  Jay Levey
  • Date:  1989
  • Studio:  Orion Pictures (DVD released by MGM)
  • Genre:  Comedy
  • Cast:  "Weird Al" Yankovic (created as Al Yankovic), Victoria Jackson, Kevin Mccarthy, Michael Richards, David Bowe, Anthony Geary, Trinidad Silva, Gedde Watanabe, Billy Barty, Fran Drescher
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC


"This is even better than I imagined!" - George

"Sweetheart, take my advice, broads don't belong in broadcasting." - Fletcher's thug to Pamela

"I never should have taken this job. I should have known it would turn out like all the others. You know, for a short time there, I really thought this was going to be different. I just don't know anymore." - George

UHF  is a underdog story about a UHF television station and the misfits who end-up working there. However, today many people might not even know what a UHF station is. Back in the days before cable when all television was local and not national, picture tube television sets had two dials - VHF (very high frequency) and UHF (ultra high frequency). The VHF dial consisted of numbers 2 - 13 and was where the locally-owned network affiliates were found. A locally-owned network affiliate was owned by a local business person or group and they bought network programming during prime time, but ran whatever they wanted otherwise (usually re-runs). The UHF dial (channels 14 - whatever) was home to all sorts of unusual channels that were also locally owned (and may even have a network affiliation) in my area we had a channel 35 which was an PBS affiliate and a channel 41 which was an ABC affiliate. But often the UHF band also supported various local channels that catered to a specific audience: news, sports, minority broadcasting, etc. In major cities the local VHF or UHF stations often were the first to jump to cable and become national "Superstations" (for example WWGN (Ch 9) in Chicago - famous for running Cubs baseball, WTBS in Atlanta, WWOR in New York, etc.).

UHF, the film, is about one of these small, independent stations - but more than that it's about the people who end up there and how they actually care about what they are doing. George Newman (Weird Al) is an idealistic dreamer. He goes from job to job, constantly getting fired for daydreaming rather than concentrating on his boring work. Bob is his friend. After they are fired from their job at Burger World, George is suddenly given what he thinks will be his golden opportunity: his Uncle Harvey wins a television station in a high stakes poker game. George's aunt convinces Harvey to let George run the station, Channel 62.

Channel 62 is a mess. Fran Drescher is Pamela Finkelstein, the secretary who was hired with the promise of a job in news. When George and Bob arrive no one else works at the station except the engineer, Philo, who seems very strange, even to George. But George, who is at heart, just a very nice guy, assembles a group of great people and gives them the opportunity to shine. This includes Billy Barty as Noodles the Cameraperson who works with Pamela, now the station's news reporter, Stanley the Janitor - who was fired by the cross town network affiliate "Channel 8" president, JR Fletcher.

George sees that they are only running re-runs, and decides to launch new live shows. At first, this only goes so well. But then, after a particularly bad day, George puts Stanley in charge of the kiddie playhouse show. Stanley is a hit, and soon, "Stanley Spadowski's Clubhouse" becomes a ratings blockbuster. George adds in other new shows, including "Wheel of Fish" hosted by his friend, Kani, who also runs a karate studio; and Raul's Wild Kingdom, as well as various movies such as: "Conan the Librarian" and "Gandhi II".

UHF moves quickly between George's daydreams - such as the opening parody of Indiana Jones, or later George's "Money for Nothing/Beverly Hillbillies" music video; unbelievable commercials, promos for various shows, and brief excerpts of the programs on U62, and it's main story, which is an underdog story for George and his friends - where nice guys do finish first.

As George and Bob create more original programming, they get more and more attention, and when the ratings come out U62 is at the top in the local market, with five shows in the top five. George and Bob and stunned. But just as everything seems to be going perfectly, Uncle Harvey loses at the racetrack and needs $75,000 to pay his bookie.

Meanwhile, RJ Fletcher, the owner and manager of network affiliate channel 8, who has proved himself to be a nasty piece of work, with no redeeming features whatsoever (and who keeps, through his own arrogance and disregard for others - handing opportunities to George, who's very niceness turns to his own advantage) is angry about channel 62 beating him in the ratings, which he takes as a personal affront. He offers to buy the station from Harvey so he can pay his bookie.

George convinces Harvey to at least let him match Fletcher's offer. He and his friends then hold a telethon, raising money by selling stock in the station at $10.00/share. Despite difficulties, at the last minute they are up to $73,000 and change. Then a bum, who's been seen collecting change throughout the movie, gives them the last $2000 they need. It seems the penny RJ had given him as an insult was an ultra-rare coin worth a fortune. RJ could have still gotten his station (which he then was going to destroy) but he first goes to gloat at and insult the assembled crowd. George sneaks over to the bookie's car, gives him the money, gets the contract and Harvey signs it over.

Meanwhile, Philo had also installed cameras at RJ's office and recorded him saying very insulting things about the local community. This footage is not only played on Channel 8's own signal, over-writing his broadcast signal, but it's the primary evidence when the FCC agent shows up and revokes Fletcher's licence (we can assume, since the man shows up and rather than fining Fletcher for not re-applying for his broadcasting licence - he revokes it.) Philo walks off after saying goodbye to George and Teri (George's girlfriend) and disappears in a beam of light. Pamela reports on the story of the end of Fletcher's media career.

UHF  is really a simply underdog story. And it's the story of a man finding his way in the universe. But it's also a story about good people, and how just simply being nice, and kind, and considerate will bring good things. There's also a lot of sight gags, some physical comedy, and even some wordplay. It's an enjoyable family film.

This is a B film, however. Although there are some well-known names in the film (Fran Drescher, Victoria Jackson, Kevin McCarthy, Anthony Geary) it's mostly "Weird Al"'s movie - almost as if he and his friends got together to make a film. But even so, it's enjoyable and fun.

Recommendation: If comedy's your thing, See it.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film: Van Helsing