Film Review: Space Travelers (1969)

Also known as: Marooned (original title), Abandonados en el espacio (Argentina)
Release Date: November 10th, 1969 (Washington D.C. premiere)
Directed by: John Sturges
Written by: Mayo Simon
Based on: Marooned by Martin Caidin
Cast: Gregory Peck, Richard Crenna, David Janssen, James Franciscus, Gene Hackman, George Gaynes

Columbia Pictures, 134 Minutes

Review:

“Okay Buzz you’re right. To hell with waiting for a bunch of slide-rule jockeys. We used to fix the airplanes we flew with paperclips. Lets get into our hard suits and fix this bird.” – Jim Pruett

This is probably the most critically acclaimed film ever to be featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, as it is the only picture out of the 200-plus that won an Academy Award. In the case of this movie, it won for visual effects.

That being said, this is still a movie worth riffing, as it is dreadfully boring, slow and despite being full of some good actors, none of the performances really hit their mark.

Originally titled Marooned in 1969, this movie was re-released on VHS around 1990 as Space Travelers. The VHS version is the one that I saw, as it’s the version that MST3K showcased.

I’m not sure if there’s much difference between the two versions of the film but MST3K didn’t have time to fit in a 134 minute picture, so what I did see was edited down. As boring and as slow as this was, I couldn’t imagine watching a version that would be 44 minutes longer than the roughly 90 minutes I saw. But maybe that extra time made the story more interesting.

Still, this is a real dud that wasn’t saved by its good effects, even for its time.

Maybe this was fairly original in the late ’60s and being that it came out during the height of the space race era, it could’ve connected with audiences that were still dreaming about space travel and exploration. But this did come out a year after 2001: A Space Odyssey and I find it hard to believe that even in 1969, that this film would even be in conversations with that one as far as being a top notch sci-fi adventure.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: other Space Race era movies about space travel.

Film Review: Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

Also known as: Superman IV, Superman 4
Release Date: July 23rd, 1987 (London premiere)
Directed by: Sidney J. Furie
Written by: Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal, Christopher Reeve
Based on: Superman by Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster
Music by: Alexander Courage, John Williams (themes)
Cast: Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, Jackie Cooper, Margot Kidder, Marc McClure, Jon Cryer, Sam Wanamaker, Mark Pillow, Mariel Hemingway

Cannon Group Inc., Golan-Globus Productions, London-Cannon Films, Warner Bros., 90 Minutes

Review:

“And there will be peace. There will be peace when the people of the world, want it so badly, that their governments will have no choice but to give it to them. I just wish you could all see the Earth the way that I see it. Because when you really look at it, it’s just one world.” – Superman

Most people hate this movie or at the very least, love trashing it for sport. It’s certainly a bad film but I really enjoy it because with it’s bizarre goofiness, it’s got charm and it was made by Cannon Films.

Unlike Superman III, another bad chapter in this franchise, this film got Gene Hackman back and didn’t limit Margot Kidder to just two scenes. But where the heck was Annette O’Toole, who I adored in Superman III? Well, Superman does get another alternate love interest in this one and it’s Mariel Hemingway. I was crushing on her hard when this came out and I was 8 years-old.

Anyway, this film also adds in Jon Cryer, just a year after he touched filmgoers hearts as Ducky in Pretty In Pink. He’s basically Ducky again but really dumbed down and with a weird surfer/stoner accent. He’s like Ducky had a baby with Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. But I did love Cryer in this, as Lenny Luthor, Lex’s idiot nephew and replacement for Ned Beatty’s Otis.

By the way, this isn’t the first time I’ve written about this film as I dedicated an entire Talking Pulp featured article to it: The Politics of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.

But speaking of my previous piece on this movie, it is a film that is politically heavy. It features a story that sees Superman take it upon himself to rid the entire world of nuclear weapons. Strangely, every nation at the UN cheers for this and none see it as an act of war for being forcibly disarmed.

This movie also introduces us to a cool villain, made from a strand of Superman’s hair and a nuclear missile thrown into the sun. He is Nuclear Man and he always looked badass. As a kid, I always wanted him to eventually get worked into the comics. He finally made an appearance this year in a Brian Michael Bendis Superman story but was just there to be quick fodder for another villain.

Superman IV is incredibly short when compared to the other movies. If you own this on DVD though, you will notice that there are a ton of deleted scenes and really, this could’ve been longer. I’ve actually hoped for an extended edition release of this with all those scenes restored, especially the ones featuring the prototype of Nuclear Man, who was cut from the finished film entirely. He was very much like Bizarro, even if his scenes were terribly stupid.

This is the worst film in the Christopher Reeve string of movies. I still have a lot of love for it though because in spite of it’s awfulness, it was imaginative and a little nuts.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: The other films in the Superman series with Christopher Reeve.

Film Review: Superman II (1980)

Release Date: December 4th, 1980 (Australia)
Directed by: Richard Lester, Richard Donner (uncredited)
Written by: Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman
Based on: Superman by Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster
Music by: Ken Thorne
Cast: Gene Hackman, Christopher Reeve, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Margot Kidder, Valerie Perrine, Terence Stamp, Susannah York, Jack O’Halloran, Marc McClure, Sarah Douglas, Clifton James, Marlon Brando (appears only in the Richard Donner Cut)

Film Export A.G., Dovemead Limited, International Film Productions, Warner Bros., 127 Minutes (original cut), 116 Minutes (Richard Donner Cut)

Review:

“Come to me, son of Jor-El, kneel before Zod!” – General Zod

In all honesty, I like Superman and Superman II just about the same. II gets a bit of an edge though just because I like the story better and the threat in the film is a credible threat, as it pits Superman against an adversary that matches his power level.

While I love Lex Luthor, the character, and I also love the mind versus might rivalry, the Gene Hackman version of the character just doesn’t hit the right mark. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Hackman and his character in these movies but he doesn’t feel like the Lex of the comics I grew up with. He is to Luthor what Cesar Romero was to the Joker. He’s damn entertaining and enjoyable but he’s lacking the darkness that’s needed to truly be villainous.

General Zod, however, is an incredible opponent. He was created for this film series but he was so damn good that he would go on to be in the comics. Terence Stamp really brought some much needed testosterone to the table and his minions, played by Sarah Douglas and Jack O’Halloran, were pretty cool villains as well. Man, I was crushing hard on Sarah Douglas when I was a kid.

I also really liked the romance in this movie and usually I don’t care about that crap in these sort of films. I just like how Clark and Lois’ relationship blossomed and how it was really tested and pushed Superman into having to make an incredibly hard decision, which he then had to try and fix because saving the world is his destiny, even if that means he can’t love a human. Yeah, the story around this was actually weird and nonsensical but the point of it and the challenge made me accept it.

Getting back to Lex Luthor though, his role in this film seemed pretty pointless. Once again, he was the top billed star but it’s like they had nothing for him to do. He breaks out of prison, leaves poor Otis behind, breaks into Superman’s house and then aligns himself with Zod, who didn’t need Luthor’s help at all, let’s be honest. Luthor is just sort of wedged into the film just because they had to have a name as big as Gene Hackman’s, after Marlon Brando’s Jor-El was killed off in the first picture. I should note that Brando did film footage for the film but he wanted more money than the producers were willing to pay, so it was edited out of the final cut. He does appear in the Richard Donner cut of the film though.

This chapter in the Superman movie saga is a great extension of what the first movie was. Really, they just feel like two halves of a whole. The movies did a lot of their filming simultaneously because the producers knew there would be a sequel. Some of the filming on II got put on hold though, as it was holding up the production of I and the studio wanted to make sure it wasn’t going to miss its Christmas time release. There was a lot of conflict, behind the scenes, and Richard Donner was fired after directing most of II. He wasn’t given credit for his work and Richard Lester took over. Lester would also go on to direct the terrible Superman III, showing that he wasn’t as skilled as Donner. On a side note, the Richard Donner Cut was released years later, which most people seem to enjoy more.

Despite the backstage politics, this still ended up being my favorite film in the franchise.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Superman: The Movie, the 1980 Flash Gordon.

Film Review: Superman: The Movie (1978)

Release Date: December 10th, 1978 (Washington D.C. premiere)
Directed by: Richard Donner
Written by: Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman, Robert Benton
Based on: Superman by Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Christopher Reeve, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Glenn Ford, Trevor Howard, Margot Kidder, Valerie Perrine, Maria Schell, Terence Stamp, Phyllis Thaxter, Susannah York, Jack O’Halloran, Marc McClure, Sarah Douglas, Harry Andrews, Rex Reed (cameo)

Film Export A.G., Dovemead Limited, International Film Productions, Warner Bros., 143 Minutes, 127 Minutes (1980 video release), 151 Minutes (2000 restoration), 188 Minutes (Extended version)

Review:

“Easy, miss. I’ve got you.” – Superman, “You – you’ve got me? Who’s got you?” – Lois Lane

Few films feel as vast and epic as the 1978 Superman film. This was also the first superhero movie where the comic book medium was actually taken seriously. Years before the Marvel Cinematic Universe, DC knocked it out of the park with this, the first real superhero movie.

It hasn’t aged too well and I’ve always had some issues with the story and the use of Superman’s powers in this film but this is still a true classic that opened a lot of doors for comic book films, even if it still took a long time for the genre to reach the level it has in the 2010s.

The thing that makes this film work is that it understands the spirit of Superman. It was made and written with great care, Christopher Reeve was fantastic in the role and for years, he was who I saw as the character, even when reading the comics. I know that some people had reservations about him and his portrayal of the character but he was wholesome and believable as far as creating the two personas: Superman and Clark Kent.

I was never crazy about Margot Kidder as Lois Lane but I see things differently now and I do like her take on the character. I like her attitude, her sass and her no nonsense persona. She feels like a tough New York girl (Metropolis in the movie) that can handle her own.

I was also never crazy about Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor, especially since he refused to shave his head. I also thought his scheme was goofy and bizarre but not completely outside of what classic comic books were. Looking at this in the context of the original source material, the scheme isn’t too far fetched.

As a fan of the character and the comics, I liked that Superman had his normal power set but the script was written in such a way that it invented powers just to solve problems in the movie. Like the scene where he flies so fast he changes the direction of Earth’s orbit to time travel back before Lois was swallowed into a fault was beyond stupid even for 1978. It created a lot of plot holes, not that some didn’t already exist. At this point it became pure fantasy nonsense, ignoring any sort of real science or staying grounded in the source material.

Richard Donner did a fine job as the director and this is also one of John Williams’ best scores of all-time. The music really set the tone and enhanced Donner’s visual style.

I loved the Krypton stuff in the beginning and Brando was great even if he wasn’t completely on his A game. However, the bit with General Zod and his crew feels unnecessary within this film, as they don’t have an effect on anything until the second movie. Sure, they contributed to Krypton’s problems, which led to its destruction, but they didn’t need to be on screen characters.

Despite my issues with the picture, it’s still damn good and a lot of fun. I also grew up watching this a lot and I can’t not feel nostalgic for it.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Superman II, the 1980 Flash Gordon.

Film Review: Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Release Date: August 13th, 1967
Directed by: Arthur Penn
Written by: David Newman, Robert Benton
Music by: Charles Strouse
Cast: Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Michael J. Pollard, Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons, Gene Wilder

Warner Bros., Seven Arts, 111 Minutes

Review:

“This here’s Miss Bonnie Parker. I’m Clyde Barrow. We rob banks.” – Clyde Barrow

For the 50th anniversary of Bonnie and Clyde, Fathom Events put it back on the big screen. I was glad that I got to see it in its original format, fifty years to the exact day it came out.

For those who haven’t seen the film or who don’t know about it, it follows the true story of Bonnie Parker (Dunaway) and Clyde Barrow (Beatty), two young lovers that became famous bank robbers in the Mid-South. It also showcases their gang: their driver C.W. Moss (Pollard), Clyde’s brother (Hackman) and his wife (Parsons), who is actually strung along and wants nothing to do with the crime and violence.

Bonnie and Clyde was an important motion picture in the history of filmmaking. It was actually a trendsetter that changed everything going forward, which makes its 50th anniversary quite significant for all of film history. It was the first picture to truly show violence and to push the bar higher in regards to its sexual content. It also experimented with its style visually and musically.

It is the oldest film I can think of that edits action packed music-filled scenes with cuts back to people talking. In some spots, it plays more like an early MTV music video. This, of course, existed a decade and a half before MTV and the musical choices reflect the 1930s, when this takes place, as opposed to the poppy 1980s new wave sounds. But it is easy to see how Bonnie and Clyde not only influenced movie filmmakers but also music video filmmakers and many other people in pop culture.

While the film was nominated for ten Academy Awards. It won for cinematography, which was quite deserved. Also, Estelle Parsons won for Best Supporting Actress, as Clyde’s sister-in-law Blanche. It was cool seeing Parsons in this, as I really only knew her as Roseanne’s mother on Roseanne, when I was a kid. I always loved her on that show, she was actually one of my favorite characters and seeing her here, much younger but in some respects, the same, was a really cool experience.

This wasn’t the first time I saw Bonnie and Clyde, I first watched it in my early twenties but I hadn’t seen it since then. I was glad I got to revisit it, as it is still a solid film, through and through. It has had a tremendous impact on film, television and music. It would inspire countless films and was a template for the Quentin Tarantino written Natural Born Killers and the Ice Cube and Yo-Yo song “The Bonnie and Clyde Theme”.

Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were magnificent in this. And really, what’s hotter than Faye Dunaway firing a tommy gun?

Also, Michael J. Pollard was dynamite as the bumbling but kindhearted C.W. while Gene Hackman was boisterous and entertaining as Clyde’s crazy ex-con brother. The film is also the debut of Gene Wilder, who comes off like a solid veteran.

Bonnie and Clyde is a classic American film that deserves its recognition. It is also great that such a trendsetting and groundbreaking picture was actually quite good.

Film Review: Young Frankenstein (1974)

Release Date: December 15th, 1974
Directed by: Mel Brooks
Written by: Mel Brooks, Gene Wilder
Based on: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Music by: John Morris
Cast: Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Marty Feldman, Cloris Leachman, Teri Garr, Kenneth Mars, Madeline Kahn, Gene Hackman

20th Century Fox, 105 Minutes 

Review:

I was fortunate enough to see Young Frankenstein on the big screen this past weekend thanks to one of my local theaters being awesome and featuring films offered by Flashback Cinema. Being that I am a pretty big Mel Brooks fan, it was certainly a treat. Also, the only Brooks film I had ever seen in the theater before this was Dracula: Dead and Loving It. That was a tragedy that needed to be rectified.

I am also a bigger fan of the Universal Monsters franchise. While this isn’t a film put out by Universal, parodying itself, it still is a wonderful comedic homage to those films and it’s pretty cool that 20th Century Fox put up the cash to make it.

Written by Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks, from a humor standpoint, it seems to have a bit more Wilder in the script. The great thing about the man, is he knew how to write comedy for himself. Brooks, on the other hand, was very good at making things work well for an ensemble of hilarious characters. He also makes completely absurd situations work. Together, these two men had a perfect marriage with the script for Young Frankenstein.

The film is as close to perfect as a parody movie can get. To be honest, I’m not a big fan of parody films, except for those put out by Mel Brooks because he just has the ability to capture the spirit and magic of the films he pokes fun at. Brooks’ parodies are more like an old school classic Dean Martin Roast of movies he loves, where the modern parodies done be filmmakers (with less than a tenth of Brooks’ talent) are just an atrocious string of racist, dick, fart and fat jokes that could be better executed by first graders on a playground. Needless to say, Brooks has mastered an art and no one else has even come close to his level. Young Frankenstein is one of the Brooks films where this is completely apparent.

Young Frankenstein is magic. It recaptures the look and feel of the James Whale Frankenstein pictures of the 1930s almost flawlessly. It is impressive how authentic the sets and props feel. The cinematography is a near match of those films, especially the lighting and the tone. The use of contrast creates a great sense of depth that makes it feel like those old classic horror pictures. It is also worth mentioning that the great score really adds a lot of character to the film’s presentation and helps to enhance the visual side of things.

This is one of the absolute best roles that Gene Wilder has ever played. The same can be said for Teri Garr and Marty Feldman. Peter Boyle has had a weird mix of fantastic and different roles over the years but he’s perfect in this as the Creature. Madeline Kahn is also stupendous and utterly hilarious. The one character I have always loved though, is the Inspector played by Kenneth Mars.

Young Frankenstein is a great movie and certainly a classic that deserves its fanfare. I think its biggest strength is its story. While it parodies the many Frankenstein pictures put out by Universal in their horror heyday, it is its own unique tale backed by complete hilarity and a talented cast and director.