Superman II (1980, Richard Donner), the Richard Donner cut

Superman II might just be broken. Watching “The Richard Donner Cut,” it’s an easy conclusion to come to–the greatly anticipated Marlon Brando scenes feature a callow, selfish Superman–not one who’s bursting with love for Lois Lane, like in the theatrical version. Also problematic is the utter lack of super–it’s a Superman movie, but this version of Superman II doesn’t actually have any real Superman scenes besides the rescue of the kid at Niagara Falls and then the last act city fight (which isn’t any better). He’s not doing anything super… it’s tedious, because so much of the Lois and Clark romance is shredded. I remember a review for the Daredevil director’s cut pointing out, although Jennifer Garner has the same amount of screen time, the film’s so much less painful because of the additional scenes without her. Well, this cut of Superman II has less Superman–and even has less Kryptonian supervillains–but it seems like they’re in it a lot more… and it’s not a good thing. They were shallow characters to begin with and they aren’t any better here.

While it was nice to see the Daily Planet newsroom under Donner’s vision again–and the maligned ending actually works out fine (if you forgive the uselessness of taking away Lois’s memory of Superman, which makes no sense in any version and does a disservice to the romance), well even–the only really nice stuff in the Donner Cut is extra Gene Hackman scenes. There are only a couple, both with Valerie Perrine, and they’re both great. I was hoping Perrine would show up again, but alas, she did not and the film was coasting along–most of the scenes not working because there was nothing connecting them anymore, with all the cuts of Lester-filmed material–until Hackman shows up again.

There’s one scene created from a combination of screen tests and, while the differences are noticeable, it’s a well-acted scene–even if it isn’t better than what was in the theatrical version. There are new special effects, some of which are fine, some of which needed something as simple as a black level fix and didn’t get it. John Williams has sole composer credit now and it’s all music from the first film recycled and you can tell. This version of Superman II sounds all wrong.

It’s unfortunate, after all the hubbub, it didn’t turn out to be a major achievement or something. Like I said, maybe it just doesn’t work in any form.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Donner; written by Mario Puzo, David Newman and Leslie Newman, from a story by Puzo, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; creative consultant, Tom Mankiewicz; directors of cinematography, Robert Paynter and Geoffrey Unsworth; edited by Stuart Baird, Michael Thau and John Victor-Smith; music by John Williams; production designers, John Barry and Peter Murton; produced by Pierre Spengler and Thau; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Gene Hackman (Lex Luthor), Christopher Reeve (Clark Kent/Superman), Marlon Brando (Jor-El), Ned Beatty (Otis), Jackie Cooper (Perry White), Sarah Douglas (Ursa), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Jack O’Halloran (Non), Valerie Perrine (Ms. Teschmacher), E.G. Marshall (The President), Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen) and Terence Stamp (General Zod).


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Under Siege (1992, Andrew Davis)

I suppose, if there were a quiz or something and I thought about it real hard, I’d remember Under Siege brought Tommy Lee Jones… well, not back exactly, so I guess just brought Tommy Lee Jones. Looking at his filmography and the dates, someone could wrongly argue Oliver Stone tried championing him–but it didn’t work out. Under Siege kicked off the unending deluge of bad Tommy Lee Jones movies and signaled the end of Steven Seagal’s career in a way. Seagal ruined the success it gave him.

Watching the film, which I haven’t seen since in twelve years or so, I was surprised at how passable a job Seagal does acting in much of the time. He has absolutely no chemistry with female “actor” Erika Eleniak, but she’s so terrible, it might not be Seagal’s fault. The only reason I thought he might be contributing is how bad he is in certain scenes–like when he has to play the character in a verbal, not physical fashion. Seagal’s first few scenes in the film, when he’s hanging around with the familiar-looking 1990s action movie supporting cast–he’s good in those scenes, he’s visibly having some fun. When he’s alone, he’s fine too, but once he and Eleniak are going on adventures throughout the ship, it’s painful to watch her performance.

Under Siege also put Andrew Davis into the Hollywood mainstream and it’s a little perplexing. While Davis did cast a lot of his standard character actors, only some of them are good, and I’m sure the script had the structure–keep Seagal peripheral for the first act, letting Tommy Lee Jones run away with the movie and give it the pretense of some solid quality–but maybe that one was Davis’s idea. He sure didn’t coax a good performance out of Gary Busey, who’s so annoying the film loses a lot of credibility when the bad guys don’t just kill him so they don’t have to hear him talk anymore.

The action scenes are rather blah too–Seagal’s an unbeatable killing machine–he mows down fifteen guys in one part–and understanding his role as an unbeatable killing machine is part of watching Under Siege. But he doesn’t really kick any ass. I mean, the guy can kick ass, but instead he just shoots at people. It’s boring. The film never establishes itself as “real,” so Seagal’s feats are never particularly exciting.

Also, I’m not sure what the end is supposed to mean–it seems to suggest Seagal, while he doesn’t agree with it, understands why Hawaii needs to get nuked.

But it’s still mildly entertaining, if only because the first act is so incredibly well-done. I mean, the moment where I was wondering when the hostage-taking was going to start (thinking, it’s getting to be about as long as one can wait for it), it started. So it does do something significant right.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Andrew Davis; written by J.F. Lawton; director of photography, Frank Tidy; edited by Robert Ferretti; music by Gary Chang; production designer, Bill Kenney; produced by Arnon Milchan, Seagal, Steven Reuther, Jack B. Bernstein and Peter MacGregor-Scott; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Steven Seagal (Casey Ryback), Tommy Lee Jones (Strannix), Gary Busey (Commander Krill), Erika Eleniak (Jordan Tate), Patrick O’Neal (Captain Adams), Colm Meaney (Doumer) and Andy Romano (Admiral Bates).


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Shadow of a Doubt (1943, Alfred Hitchcock)

Shadow of a Doubt is a strange one–the presence of Teresa Wright and the small town atmosphere and the Gregg Toland-esque (but not Gregg Toland) cinematography make it feel like William Wyler, the presence of Joseph Cotten and the camera angles and intricate sound design make it feel like Welles (or at least an RKO picture Welles produced and did uncredited directing on), and some of the feeling in the shots… only some of them… make it feel like a later Hitchcock, like Psycho or Marnie, anything but one of his early American pictures. Shadow of a Doubt feels absolutely foreign from something Hitchcock did in the UK, The Lady Vanishes for easy comparison, but also unlike his more well-known American works of the 1940s. Artistically speaking, it’s the most exciting Hitchcock got after he gave up all the filmic experimentation with the move across the Atlantic and it’s some beautiful stuff in Shadow, because he hasn’t got a formula worked out, because Hitchcock’s successful formulas tend to rely on the intrigue, not on the lack of it. Shadow of a Doubt works in the end not because of Hitchcock’s efficiency as a suspense director, but because that Wyler-esque family drama (the contribution of Thornton Wilder?) works so well.

Two different things are going on, from the actors, in Shadow of a Doubt. Teresa Wright does her thing, essaying this conflicted, happy, sad, romantic young woman who’s petrified, but who’s also able to navigate an impossible situation with seeming success–falling in love during it as well. Then there’s Joseph Cotten, who’s playing a character much like one Joseph Cotten would play for the next ten years, both as good guys and bad guys–the guy who’s completely evil, but maybe not wrong about his motivations for being evil, also not so evil he can’t care about people. Cotten is not a Hitchcock actor, which makes Shadow an odd favorite for Hitchcock to pick from his oeuvre. There’s just something about Cotten–you can see he’s doing what he’s doing, Hitchcock’s direction be damned. It’s another reason Shadow of a Doubt is so different–all the excellent, excited performances. Hitchcock usually sucked the enthusiasm out of actors, even in good films, instead letting them be themselves with written dialogue, but in Shadow of a Doubt, it’s a much, much different situation. Patricia Collinge does some excellent work in the film, usually in scenes unlike any other Hitchcock scenes. The most Hitchcockian actor is Macdonald Carey and Carey is essential as Wright’s love interest and Cotten’s pursuer, but he’s got that blander Hitchcock acting style going. He’s good, but it’s not a textured, tortured performance, not like Wright, Cotten or Collinge.

I’d only seen Shadow of a Doubt once before, maybe ten years ago, and for the majority of the film, I was upset, remembering it being much better than it unfolded. But once the end came around and especially the neat coda, I had bought into it entirely. Hitchcock’s visual style, while incredibly fun to watch, is nothing compared to the film’s unlikely emotional impact.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock; screenplay by Thorton Wilder, Sally Benson and Alma Reville, from a story by Gordon McDonell; director of photography, Joseph A. Valentine; edited by Milton Carruth; music by Dimitri Tiomkin; produced by Jack H. Skirball; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Teresa Wright (Young Charlie), Joseph Cotten (Uncle Charlie), Macdonald Carey (Jack), Henry Travers (Joe Newton), Patricia Collinge (Emma Newton), Hume Cronyn (Herbie Hawkins), Wallace Ford (Det. Saunders) and Edna May Wonacott (Ann Newton).


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The Monster Squad (1987, Fred Dekker)

Fred Dekker can definitely compose a shot. For whatever its faults, The Monster Squad is one good looking film. Some of that credit belongs to the production designer and the cinematographer and the special effects people, but most of it belongs to Dekker. Dekker composes beautiful Panavision shots and he directs actors really well too–well, some of them, but more on that aspect later.

The Monster Squad is a mix between The Goonies and Ghostbusters and maybe even a little E.T. It’s developed a cult following for whatever reasons a film develops cult followings, but it’s a dramatic train wreck. There’s an infamous missing thirteen minutes (the film’s producers told Dekker to cut it to under ninety), but unless those thirteen minutes are all bridging scenes… The film takes place over three days and the leaps in logic are astounding (my favorite was the kids all being out at midnight with parents completely unaware) and it’s so smug, it’s not even well-meaning in its “message.” Still, there’s a lot of good stuff in Monster Squad.

First, there’s Stephen Macht. The guy’s fantastic–and not all of Monster Squad‘s script is bad. The family stuff is all excellent–it might be stereotypical cop too busy for his family, but it’s being performed by good actors–and some of the humorous stuff with the kids, the one-liners, are good. There’s a cute dog. It’s just so unbelievable… Anyway, besides Macht’s wonderful performance, there’s Duncan Regehr as Dracula. Regehr doesn’t actually have much to do, but he does a great job. The kids are… well, they’re all the kids who guest-starred on 1980s TV shows, pretty much. Only Robby Kiger is good in the scenes with the other kids and with the ludicrous elements, Andre Gower is good at the family stuff with Macht, but not the other stuff. Brent Chalem is terrible.

Even though its special effects are still excellent, The Monster Squad is incredibly dated by its dialogue. Watching it–as I near thirty (and I was vindicated by this widescreen copy, since it clearly shows something I’ve been saying for twenty years was in the film was simply pan and scanned out)–I can’t imagine ever showing it to one of my (prospective) children. The conversation about the rampant homophobic slurs coming out of the kids’ mouths weighed against the film’s content just isn’t worth it–and Monster Squad gets nasty, using terms I didn’t even understand until now. Just really mean-hearted stuff. It might be a fairly accurate representation of how boys talk, but it’s not a documentary about kids being stupid shitheads and its presence is somewhat odd (though, maybe not, given how fanatically Dekker defended it in a recent interview). There’s also a really weird aspect about the two main kids, Gower and Kiger, hugging all the time….

The film definitely suffers from a lack of wonderment or even a comprehension of it. When these kids, who are obsessed with monsters, discover this pretend passion is actual, there’s no moment of recognition. It’s an absurd fantasy and it doesn’t recognize that condition and it suffers greatly for it. However, I can’t believe, how good-looking a film it is in its original aspect ratio. Whatever its significant faults, Monster Squad is a beautifully produced film. It’s like the Olympia of kids movies. No, that one’s a little far, but Dekker’s interview really pissed me off (I mean, seriously, I don’t know if he’d mind the comparison of ideologies).

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Fred Dekker; written by Dekker and Shane Black; director of photography, Bradford May; edited by James Mitchell; music by Bruce Broughton; production designer, Albert Brenner; produced by Jonathan A. Zimbert; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Andre Gower (Sean), Robby Kiger (Patrick), Stephen Macht (Del), Duncan Regehr (Count Dracula), Tom Noonan (Frankenstein), Brent Chalem (Horace), Ryan Lambert (Rudy), Ashley Bank (Phoebe), Michael Faustino (Eugene), Mary Ellen Trainor (Emily), Carl Thibault (Wolfman), Tom Woodruff Jr. (Gill-Man), Michael MacKay (Mummy), Leonard Cimino (Scary German Guy), Jon Gries (Desperate Man), Stan Shaw (Detective Sapir) and Jason Hervey (E.J.).


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