Note: The following discusses Superman Returns in detail and contains spoilers. There’s also one spoiler for the 1978 Superman, just in case you never got around to seeing that one.
Superman Returns is the George Lazenby of the Superman franchise – underappreciated, misunderstood, dismissed. But much like On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which eventually rose above its reputation as an also-ran and became quite respected among fans, Bryan Singer’s film is slowly starting to shake loose its flop status, especially now, as the release of Man of Steel has led some viewers to reevaluate Returns while the fans who always liked it are speaking more loudly than ever before. That’s not to say it’s everyone’s favorite; it remains a divisive film. But its defenders are gaining a little ground.
The Golden Child (1986) I hadn’t seen this Eddie Murphy adventure-comedy since its home video release twenty-five years ago. I can’t recall why I only watched it once; it seems now like the sort of thing I’d rewatch repeatedly in my youth, but The Golden Child missed the cut for reasons now lost to time. Also forgotten: pretty much everything about the movie, which meant it was like watching it new. I love getting these chances, these second first viewings, and for the most part, this one didn’t disappoint. It’s a weird companion piece to, of all things, Fletch, also directed by Michael Ritchie and also a basic action/mystery story with comedy grafted on in order to best make use of the star’s talents and sensibilities. The plot, a modern fantasy fueled by Asian mysticism, is strange enough, but then we get Murphy’s sarcasm slathered over every scene, a mix that would seem ill-fitting if it weren’t so funny. There are plenty of great one-liners and goofy moments throughout, at least until the third act, when the fantasy overtakes the comedy and it loses comic voice. But the fantasy is entertaining enough on its own, so while the movie never reaches the heights of Fletch (or, for that matter, Big Trouble in Little China, which has a similar tone), it works nicely enough. Continue reading
With their fourth studio LP, Lifes Rich Pageant, R.E.M. established themselves as a major artistic force capable of delivering somber, intelligent pieces like “Fall on Me” and “Swan Swan H” and full-on high energy alt-rock with “Just a Touch” and “I Believe.” The album is playful yet heady, a celebration of a wide array of Southern sounds that ranks among their finest career work.
The Living Daylights (1987) The Dalton Bonds are among those films I tend to revisit at least once a year, and it’s funny how when you spend so much time with a movie, you sometimes obsess over peculiar details. With this umpteenth viewing, I found myself more fascinated than usual in two mid-film scenes which, when placed directly back-to-back as they are, create a slight disorientation. I’m referring to the sequence where Bond ambushes General Pushkin, ready to kill him but anxious to hear his side of the story first. The scene ends with Pushkin saying “Then I must die,” and we assume Bond will pull the trigger; instead, we jump cut to a public event where Pushkin is very much alive. It doesn’t take us, the viewers, too long to catch up to what’s really happening (I’ll leave the specifics out of it in case of spoilers), but there are a few too many seconds that pass before we do, where we wonder if maybe a scene is missing. It’s a jarring edit, and this week I’ve found myself wondering if such an effect was intentional (a case of director John Glen hoping the sudden shift would add to the chaos of the latter scene) or accidental (the film infamously has one of the most cluttered plots in all of Bond, and there’s certainly the feeling in spots throughout where it feels like we’re watching a three hour movie cut down to two, and sometimes the cuts aren’t very smooth). Several threads are too loose and rushed (most notably the Joe Don Baker subplot), and maybe somewhere along the line, whether in scripting or editing, a much-needed buffer between these two scenes got dropped, and nobody realized it should’ve been picked up. Who knows? Maybe it’ll make more sense next year. Or maybe I’ll be too focused on some other little thing. Continue reading
FDR: American Badass (2012) Proof it’s possible for a movie to simultaneously try too hard and not try hard enough. Here is a camp classic-wannabe that pushes its overly obvious mixture of snark and irony so heavily upon us, every joke – most of which fall within the saggy realm of “wouldn’t it be funny if Roosevelt was a foul-mouthed asshole?” – gets shoved over a cliff, landing with the dullest and heaviest of dull, heavy thuds. This is a style of comedy that demands to be played straight, yet director Garrett Brawith, screenwriter Ross Patterson, and their cast feel the urge to wink at us at every turn, underlining every moment with over-the-top sarcasm. (Oh, there’s also a recurring gag where Roosevelt lets loose with hip-hop slang, and a bit where his speech is accompanied by a record-scratching DJ, and an endless scene where FDR smokes weed with the ghost of Abe Lincoln, because ugh.) Worse, everyone involves assumes its mere premise and attitude will carry it through, leaving them to sleepwalk through the actual filmmaking process. The film’s cheapness (and wow, this is a cheap affair, its half-a-shoestring budget glaring in every shot, in a way its self-aware shoddiness likely doesn’t intend) wouldn’t chafe so much if the Adult Swim-inspired comic style didn’t irritate throughout, or, at the very least, generate a chuckle or two. No dice. American Badass is an unwatchable pile of self-satisfied smarm, a desperate internet video sketch spread out over an unbearable 93 minutes. I haven’t hated a movie this hard in a long, long time. Continue reading
Star Trek: Voyager “Emanations” (1995) (Netflix)
Arrested Development “My Mother, the Car” (2003) (Netflix)
Nothing Sacred (1937) (DVD)
Star Trek: Voyager “State of Flux” (1995) (Netflix) Continue reading
Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) Well, as Ebert used to say, it knows the notes but not the music. J.J. Abrams once again proves himself to be an ace filmmaker with the chops to handle the hell out of an action sequence, but he can’t bother to ask his writers to deliver a screenplay worth filming. Sure, the elements are all here, but there’s no connective tissue, just a series of story beats and adventure set pieces that earn neither their set-ups nor pay-offs. Actions here are driven not by character but by plot – scratch that, not even by plot, but by whatever brainstorming session led to the string of “things that happen” we get as this movie. The film’s big reveal exists not for the sake of story but for the sake of itself; Abrams plows ahead thinking fans will be grateful for the twist on its own, never bothering to wonder if it belongs. It doesn’t. Remove it (indeed, remove all fan service) and you get the same basic set of events, unmotivated by anything other than Orci and Kurtzman and Lindleof thinking it would be something cool to see happen. Worse, when we do get something resembling character motivation or growth, the script stops to spell it out in dialogue, rather than in the actions of its players. This is Trek dumbed down and mostly idea-free, and its attempts at fun action bits fail to make up the difference. Continue reading
Union Station (1950) William Holden stars as an iron-fisted railway cop on the trail of kidnappers whose plan features the titular train station, and the whole thing moves like a firecracker thanks to director Rudolph Maté, who brings a visual verve and a noirish toughness to the proceedings. The cat-and-mouse construction is tight, the tension tighter – Maté and screenwriter Sydney Boehm work wonders with minimal dialogue and just the hint of a threat. There’s great character work, too, especially from Barry Fitzgerald as a cranky but clever inspector and Lyle Bettger as the twisted kidnapper. Continue reading
The fourth best thing that can happen when you watch a great movie is you’re watching a great movie. This is fairly self-explanatory. Continue reading
A View to a Kill (1985) OK, so yes, Roger Moore is a smidge too old to be playing 007, and yes, the obvious use of stunt doubles reaches punchline status, and yes, a screeching Tanya Roberts is one of the franchise’s weakest links, and yes, the use of “California Girls” is unfortunate. But A View to a Kill also has a terrific sense of humor, a good number of expertly crafted action sequences, a brilliant John Barry score and an even brillianter Duran Duran theme song, and, best of all, a crackerjack performance from Christopher Walken, whose oddly casual psychopath ranks among the best in Bond villainy. There’s plenty of damn fine work on display throughout, hardly the disaster its reputation may suggest. I grew up watching this movie, I’ll grow old watching this movie, and I’ll never not thrill to an axe-wielding Zorin chasing Bond atop the Golden Gate, because it’ll never not be awesome. Continue reading