Film Review: Sisters (1972)

Also known as: Blood Sisters (Ireland)
Release Date: November 18th, 1972 (Filmex)
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: Brian De Palma, Louisa Rose
Music by: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: Margot Kidder, Jennifer Salt, William Finley, Charles Durning, Olympia Dukakis

American International Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“I saw a murder, and I’m going to prove it!” – Grace Collier

Brian De Palma is a very talented director. This early film from him has him tapping into Alfred Hitchcock territory. While De Palma is no Hitchcock, this is as good as Hitchcock’s ’70s films, after he moved on from his prime.

Funny enough, De Palma got Bernard Herrmann to do the score for this film. For those that don’t know, Herrmann was a regular collaborator with Hitchcock. He also did the scores for Citizen KaneThe Magnificent Ambersons, The Day the Earth Stood Still and a slew of other classic pictures.

Herrmann’s score here is incredible and this wouldn’t be the same movie without Herrmann’s melodic, enchanting and otherworldly music. Sometimes the score is slow and beautiful, other times it is pounding, a bit shrill but always interesting.

De Palma channels his inner Hitchcock in his style and narrative structure. This is like a Hitchcockian thriller turned up to 11. This is a murder mystery story but it has very dark and unusual twists. In fact, I had never seen this before and having now seen it, I can see where all these other films and novels I’ve enjoyed have taken cues from the story’s twist.

The visual style is also heavily borrowed from Hitchcock but De Palma does it so well that this is much more of a strong and respectful homage than the director simply emulating a master.

The dream/hallucination sequence towards the end is majestic and nightmarish.

De Palma also taps into Hitchcock’s cinematic obsession of voyeurism. There are elements of Rear Window and Psycho in this but De Palma pulls this all off without a hitch.

This was a really cool film, which makes me appreciate the early work of De Palma even more.

Plus, Margot Kidder was absolutely superb in this. Jennifer Salt was a lot of fun too.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other early De Palma films: Obsession, Dressed to Kill, Phantom of the Paradise and The Fury.

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 III (1983)

Also known as: Superman vs. Superman (original script title)
Release Date: June 17th, 1983
Directed by: Richard Lester
Written by: David Newman, Leslie Newman
Based on: Superman by Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster
Music by: Ken Thorne, John Williams (themes), Giorgio Moroder (songs)
Cast: Christopher Reeve, Richard Pryor, Robert Vaughn, Annette O’Toole, Annie Ross, Pamela Stephenson, Jackie Cooper, Margot Kidder, Marc McClure, Gavan O’Herlihy

Cantharus Productions N.V., Dovemead Films, Warner Bros., 125 Minutes

Review:

“I ask you to kill Superman, and you’re telling me you couldn’t even do that one, simple thing.” – Ross Webster

Out of the original four Superman movies, the first two were good, the last two were not so good. However, Superman III is still much better than Superman IV. And it does actually work as a film depending upon your perspective. But I’ll get into that.

The producers of this film series did some really bizarre stuff with this chapter.

First off, they had some issues with Gene Hackman and Margot Kidder. Hackman was completely written out of the film and replaced by Robert Vaughn as a very Lex Luthor type of character named Ross Webster. He had an evil sister and a girlfriend that was probably supposed to be Miss Tessmacher in the original version of the script.

As far as Margot Kidder went, she was limited to just two scenes and the producers brought in Annette O’Toole to play Lana Lang, a new love interest for Clark Kent. Oddly enough, O’Toole would go on to have a ten year run on Smallville where she played Clark Kent’s mother Martha Kent.

The strangest change of all was the inclusion of Richard Pryor. As great as the man was, this took Superman and turned it into a straight up comedy movie. The producers had heard that Pryor was a fan of the series though, so they threw a bunch of money at him and got him in this picture. Pryor later said that he didn’t like the script but he couldn’t say “no” to the money.

The big shift in tone works against the film series and it turned things into a joke.

However, if you just look at this as a Richard Pryor movie that just happens to have Superman in it, it works in that regard. Now it isn’t Pryor’s best and it is probably one of his worst, as his comedies are all pretty damn good, but as a comedy film this isn’t a complete waste. Frankly, this is how I have to perceive the movie in order to enjoy it.

In fairness, getting past all the weird creative choices, I did like the additions to the cast. I thought O’Toole was nice and sweet and I liked her. Her ex-boyfriend, played by Gavan O’Herlihy (Airk from Willow) was a fun character and a solid ’80s douche. It’s the villains that really stood out for me though. Robert Vaughn is fantastic in this cheese fest and is arguably better as a Luthor character than Gene Hackman. Annie Ross, who played his evil sister was a convincing witch of a lady and Pamela Stephenson was more than satisfactory as this film’s stand in for Miss Tessmacher.

I liked this movie a lot more as a kid but the two sequences I enjoyed most are still enjoyable for me today. Those are the two big battles: Superman vs. Superman and Superman vs. the super computer. I do have to point out that the scene where Annie Ross gets sucked into the computer and turned into a killer cyborg scared the crap out of me when I was four. Now it’s silly as hell but silly in the best way. I also feel like this was a real missed opportunity because the super computer possessing people could have been a good Brainiac story. Originally, Brainiac was supposed to be a villain in this, as was Supergirl.

A lot of people hate Superman III and I understand their frustration with it. But a lot of time has passed and if you just look at this as a Richard Pryor movie with Supes in it, it’s not so bad.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: The other films in the Superman series with Christopher Reeve. Also, the Richard Pryor films of the ’80s.

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: The Great Waldo Pepper (1975)

Release Date: March 13th, 1975
Directed by: George Roy Hill
Written by: George Roy Hill, William Goldman
Music by: Henry Mancini
Cast: Robert Redford, Bo Svenson, Margot Kidder, Bo Brundin, Susan Sarandon

Universal Pictures, 107 Minutes

Review:

This is one of those movies that seems to be somewhat forgotten.

Robert Redford stars as the title character and the film follows him, as he works as a stunt pilot while having a burning desire to go up against the great German ace Ernst Kessler.

The film also stars Bo Svenson, Bo Brundin, Susan Sarandon, Geoffrey Lewis and Margot Kidder. With such a strong lineup, this film offers up some seriously good performances from its cast.

The Great Waldo Pepper is directed by Academy Award winner George Roy Hill and this is in the upper echelon of his pictures. Granted, most of his films are pretty damned good.

The cinematography in this film is spectacular. The shots of the planes doing stunts and battle with one another are beyond stellar. This film has a timeless vibe to it and the shots that were captured on film, especially for the limited technology available at the time that this film was shot, goes to showcase the greatness of Hill’s filmmaking prowess.

This is an underrated, underappreciated and under recognized work of art. Redford is as charismatic as ever and as cool as he is, what’s cooler than a bi-plane stunt pilot?