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: Farewell, My Lovely (1975)

Release Date: August 8th, 1975
Directed by: Dick Richards
Written by: David Zelag Goodman
Based on: Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler
Music by: David Shire
Cast: Robert Mitchum, Charlotte Rampling, John Ireland, Sylvia Miles, Anthony Zerbe, Harry Dean Stanton, Jack O’Halloran, Joe Spinell, Sylvester Stallone

ITC Entertainment, Avco Embassy Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“[opening lines] This past spring was the first that I felt tired and realized I was growing old. Maybe it was the rotten weather we’d had in L.A. Maybe the rotten cases I’d had. Mostly chasing a few missing husbands and then chasing their wives once I found them, in order to get paid. Or maybe it was just the plain fact that I am tired and growing old.” – Philip Marlowe

Farewell, My Lovely is the first of two pictures where Robert Mitchum plays the famous literary private dick, Philip Marlowe. This is also a remake of 1944’s Murder, My Sweet, as both films were adaptations of the Farewell, My Lovely novel by Raymond Chandler.

Additionally, this came out during the 1970s, when neo-noir was starting to flourish, as a resurgence in the noir style began with the success of Roman Polanski’s 1974 masterpiece Chinatown. Plus, period gangster dramas were also gaining popularity for the first time since the 1930s and 1940s due to The Godfather films by Francis Ford Coppola.

Robert Mitchum, a man who was at the forefront of film-noir during its heyday, finally got his chance to play the genre’s most notable male character. He is also the only actor to get a chance to play Marlowe more than just once, as this film was followed up by 1978’s The Big Sleep, a remake of the iconic 1946 film with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

In regards to the narrative, there really isn’t all that much that is different from this picture and Murder, My Sweet. Sure, it is more violent and some details have changed but it is essentially the same story. It even has a weird drug trip sequence similar to what we got in the 1944 film.

There really isn’t much to sink your teeth into with this movie. It feels like a pointless and fairly soulless attempt at a reboot of the Marlowe character. The art direction and the cinematography are decent but the only real thing that holds this picture above water is Robert Mitchum, as well as some of the other actors.

Charlotte Rampling is decent but she doesn’t have much to do. Harry Dean Stanton appears but he doesn’t have enough meat to chew on. You also get to see a young Sylvester Stallone and Joe Spinell play some henchmen. The only real standout, other than Mitchum, is Jack O’Halloran as the Moose Malloy character.

I had high hopes for this movie but was pretty much let down once seeing it. I’ll still check out its sequel but this is not one of the better neo-noirs of the 1970s.

Rating: 6/10

Film Review: Dragnet (1987)

Release Date: June 26th, 1987
Directed by: Tom Mankiewicz
Written by: Dan Aykroyd, Alan Zweibel, Tom Mankiewicz
Based on: Dragnet by Jack Webb
Music by: Ira Newborn
Cast: Dan Aykroyd, Tom Hanks, Christopher Plummer, Harry Morgan, Alexandra Paul, Dabney Coleman, Elizabeth Ashley, Jack O’Halloran, Kathleen Freeman

Universal Pictures, 106 Minutes

Review:

“Now let me tell you something, Streebeck. There are two things that clearly differentiate the human species from animals. One, we use cutlery. Two, we’re capable of controlling our sexual urges. Now, you might be an exception, but don’t drag me down into your private Hell.” – Friday

Man, I used to really love this movie as a kid. But it is a totally different film when you watch it several years later without the mind of a nine year-old in the 1980s.

Sure, Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks are both great and when put together, they are still pretty great. Unfortunately, the overall humor and the gags in this just don’t work as well in a world thirty years after the film came out.

When this was written, it was supposed to be juvenile and goofy and it still is but I don’t understand what Aykroyd was trying to accomplish. As a kid, I knew what Dragnet was but I wasn’t too interested in old black and white shows that my mum would watch on Nick At Nite in the 80s. This was supposed to bring the franchise to the next generation but it could have just been a buddy cop comedy and didn’t need to carry the Dragnet banner. I can only assume that Aykroyd was a massive fan of the original show.

While I did still enjoy the experience of this movie, it is probably because of nostalgia. It doesn’t come close to being anywhere near the level of Aykroyd’s Ghostbusters or The Blues Brothers and it also doesn’t come close to Hanks’ Big or Splash. It sort of just exists as this film where we got to see Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks come together with a little Dabney Coleman thrown in for extra laughs.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not an awful film it is just a pretty basic one albeit amusing and endearing for fans of 80s comedies.

I did like the villain group P.A.G.A.N., even if my really religious mum thought it was Satanic and bizarre. The whole scene with the big P.A.G.A.N. ritual was really cool and one of the highlights of the movie.

Another highlight was the inclusion of Harry Morgan in this, as I did grown to become a fan of the original Dragnet, which he was a big part of.

I don’t think that Dragnet is going to be a film that will live on for generations. In fact, most people have forgotten about it or don’t know it exists. It really only works if you are a fan of the people in it and can watch a mostly mindless 80s comedy and enjoy it for what it is.

Film Review: King Kong (1976)

Release Date: December 17th, 1976
Directed by: John Guillermin
Written by: Lorenzo Semple Jr.
Based on: King Kong by James Creelman, Ruth Rose, Merian C. Cooper, Edgar Wallace
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin, Jessica Lange, John Randolph, René Auberjonois, Ed Lauter, Peter Cullen, Julius Harris, Jack O’Halloran

Dino De Laurentiis Corporation, Paramount Pictures, 134 Minutes

king_kong_1976Review:

This was the King Kong film I grew up with. When I was a young kid in the early 1980s, this thing was on television almost daily. I also haven’t seen it since I was a young kid. But I have been watching through all the King Kong films in an effort to review them before the newest one, Kong: Skull Island comes out in March.

This was the first of a duo of films, kind of like the two previous King Kong series before it – the original 1930s RKO Radio Pictures films and the 1960s Toho kaiju movies. For the record, the Peter Jackson King Kong film that came out in 2005 was the first not to spawn a sequel.

1976’s King Kong is a better film than its bad reviews and low scores dictate. It stars a young Jeff Bridges, who looks like a twenty-something version of the Dude. He is likable and the highlight of the film, from an acting standpoint.

The film also stars Jessica Lange, who has always been beautiful but this is her at her stunningly best. She wasn’t a great actress here, although she would be in later projects. Lange was still passable, however. Her emotion, towards the end of the movie, once she grew to love Kong, was a much better version of the beauty and the beast tale than the original 1933 film.

Charles Grodin played the slimy stand-in for Denham of the 1933 version. Instead of being a showman and promoter, Grodin’s character was a sort of greedy oil baron. Like Denham, his desires for money, fame and power turn against him, as he is brutally stepped on by a rampaging King Kong when the film reaches its big climax.

King Kong also has René Auberjonois in it. He’s a guy that I have loved from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine to Benson to Where the Buffalo Roam to Police Academy 5: Assignment: Miami Beach to all his television and voice work.

This film, like the original, spends most of its time on the island. It only goes to New York City at the very end of the picture, to show Kong on display and then breaking free, only to rampage until his death at the hands of man.

The special effects of the movie are a mixed bag.

Kong looks great. The ape suit and the animatronics work really well and they have aged fairly nicely. Also, the miniatures, most notably, the elevated train scene, don’t look half bad for 1976. Some of the other effects aren’t great, however.

The green screen work looks too obvious and is distracting. One scene in particular, you can tell that something is about to happen with a window in the shot because it is highlighted and stands out like a wall about to break in an old cartoon. Also, any scene of a character falling to their death, whether humans or Kong himself, looks really bad.

The finale of the film is brutal. It takes place atop the World Trade Center and Kong meets his most violent death to date. This violence became a pattern over the two De Laurentiis Kong films. He is shot by three helicopters with miniguns. Bloody chunks literally fly off of Kong as he screams in horror. At least he takes out two of the helicopters in the process. Kong then falls off of the World Trade Center in dramatic fashion.

This is a better than decent film for its day. I find it to be more entertaining than the slew of disaster pictures from the 1970s. Also, I really liked the dynamic between Bridges, Lange and Kong. It isn’t as epic as the 1933 original and despite being more modern, feels much smaller and confined. Regardless, I did enjoy the film.