Superman Returns (2006, Bryan Singer)

My expectations for Superman Returns were incredibly high (especially since everything Bryan Singer’s done since The Usual Suspects with the exception of the “House” pilot has been dreck). Three stars. I don’t bother putting star ratings on The Stop Button, since whenever I see them in reviews, I look at them and then at not the review. Also, the New York Times doesn’t do it. Watching the previews for Superman Returns, I realized Singer wasn’t just making a sequel to the originals, he was structurally remaking the first Superman. That prediction proves true, but it’s not a bad thing. The first Superman film has a fine structure and it isn’t as though Returns was ever going to be as good as the first film. For moments during the film, it seemed like Superman Returns might get up to that three star level. The film runs two and a half hours, so there’s a lot of time for it to make up for early faults. During the first hour and a half, Singer cuts between Superman and company and Lex Luthor and company, which doesn’t work particularly well and there are major dips because of the pacing–and it takes a long time for Superman and Luthor to seem like they’re in the same film. The Luthor scenes have a comical, winking with the audience feel, while the rest doesn’t.

On an episode of “Boston Legal,” there was a line about winning a case in the closing testimony–going on and on and on until you’ve won the jury over. Singer implements that practice in Superman Returns. It doesn’t exactly have multiple endings–in fact, it doesn’t really have one–but he goes on and on until he’s gotten the film to where he can let it go. Singer obviously loves the film he’s made and there’s a lot to love about Superman Returns. While it never achieves the wonderment of the original film, the flying scenes in this film are breathtaking. Green screen special effects and computer compositing have finally gotten to good spot. But that ending trouble, it isn’t something inherent in the film, it’s all because of Singer’s structuring. Superman Returns has some great scenes, but whenever–with one exception I’ll get to–Singer deviates from that appropriated Superman structure, the film gets long.

As for the cast… Brandon Routh is fine. He’s good as Clark Kent and fine as Superman. Here’s the problem. Not enough Superman–and when there is Superman, Singer doesn’t let Routh do much. I wonder if there was a trust factor involved–I’m sure Singer wasn’t willing to let Routh end his career. Kate Bosworth is adequate as Lois Lane, but Superman Returns reconfigures her character so much, she’s not really Lois Lane anymore. She’s been domesticated. Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane never had long hair because she would have thought it too much of a fuss. Bosworth looks like she spends as much time combing hers as Marcia Brady. James Marsden plays Lois Lane’s fiancé, one of Superman Returns’s best innovations, and he’s actually really good. His action scenes are the exception I talked about before, where he shows human heroism, which nicely offsets the guy who can lift continents. I’d only seen Marsden in X-Men and thought he was the pits, but he gives the second best performance in Superman Returns. The first is Parker Posey. She’s great (she’s also been on “Boston Legal,” though not in the episode I was talking about). Kevin Spacey occasionally has fun as Lex Luthor, but he never embraces it like Gene Hackman did. I kept waiting for him to do it and it kept seeming like he would, but it never gets there. The rest of the supporting cast is fine, but not worth name-checking.

While my fiancée has no interest in ever seeing Superman Returns again–as she told me in no uncertain terms–I’m curious how a rewatch might affect the experience. I imagine it would have a positive effect, but I’m not sure how much (no matter how many times I watch it, for example, John Ottman’s score will never get better). For this entire post, I’ve been trying to figure out a way to lambaste Singer’s Ripley into the lava shot, which might have been all right, if the music weren’t so overbearing, but I’m having trouble–but now I think it’s the music’s fault. The music stops working at a certain point in the film. It stops relying on the John Williams score and it starts to sound cheap. Leaving the Williams score behind is a bad idea, given Superman Returns’s agreement with the audience is solely based on the images the score conjures and breaking that agreement is what gets Superman Returns into the most trouble. And the little kid. The little kid gets real annoying.

While the film didn’t earn the three I wanted, it did get two and a half, which isn’t bad–even with all the problems, it’s still Superman.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Bryan Singer; written by Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris, based on a story by Singer, Dougherty and Harris, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; director of photography, Newton Thomas Sigel; edited by Elliot Graham and John Ottman; music by Ottman; production designer, Guy Hendrix Dyas; produced by Singer, Jon Peters and Gilbert Adler; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Brandon Routh (Clark Kent/Superman), Kate Bosworth (Lois Lane), James Marsden (Richard White), Frank Langella (Perry White), Eva Marie Saint (Martha Kent), Parker Posey (Kitty Kowalski), Sam Huntington (Jimmy Olsen), Kal Penn (Stanford) and Kevin Spacey (Lex Luthor).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | SUPERMAN.

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Art Museum by the Zoo (1998, Lee Jeong-hyang)

The film’s title, Art Museum by the Zoo, suggests some geographic awareness–or at least, recognition of a geographic relationship–but there’s never an establishing shot of the art museum or the zoo. There are shots of the intersection leading to either location and there are shots in the museum and at the zoo, but never any to establish either in the viewer’s imagination. The title sounds pleasant and conjures up a lot of its own imagery, which works for the film, since the film lets the viewer conjure up a lot on his or her own too.

Art Museum by the Zoo is a romantic comedy, playing by romantic comedy rules. I place these rules’ inception in 1938, with H.C Potter’s The Cowboy and the Lady. Art Museum seems, at first, to be doing little with the rules. There are the two leads, the man and the woman who can’t stand each other and are forced into each other’s company, there are their two love interests, and the film seems like its going to predictably decouple, then reconnect. Around forty-five minutes in, I became aware Art Museum was doing something different. The supporting cast–the ostensible romantic interests of the leads–disappear. The actors don’t disappear–the two leads start writing a screenplay about a couple and the roles in the movie in the movie are played by their love interests–but the actors don’t appear again in the “real” roles. Art Museum becomes solely about the two leads, played by Shim Eun-ha and Lee Sung-jae, so much so, I think there’s only one new actor in the film–a guy on the street–in the last hour. Art Museum is the first Shim film I’ve seen and I think I’ve read she was South Korea’s most popular actress and retired at the height of her popularity. She’s an excellent lead, both as an actor and as a star. Art Museum is her film–it sets itself up as her film and it all revolves around her, so when the story asks the viewer to accept Lee guiding it, there’s a bit of a disconnect. His character changes drastically–he has an internal, blink-and-you-miss-it revelation–because it’s time for him to stop being a jerk and start being the good guy (just because Art Museum is a little different, doesn’t mean it isn’t going to go where romantic comedies go).

While the closed storytelling approach is interesting, too much emphasis is put on the movie in the movie. The characters’ script isn’t good and the scenes from it aren’t good. The female actor in their script comes off like a simpleton and the male lead is even more unlikable than the real male lead (because his big changeover). However, the direction is such it does more than just hold Art Museum together, it makes the experience a pleasurable one. Director Lee Jeong-hyang shoots the film through a high contrast, amber filter–but never manages to lose lush greenness–and the film’s look, coupled with her composition, makes Art Museum… well, I was going to say a visual feast, but that description’s going a little far. But only a little.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Lee Jeong-hyang; director of photography, Jo Yeong-gyu; edited by Kim Sang-beom; music by Kim Yang-hee; produced by Lee Choon-yeon; released by Cinema Service.

Starring Shim Eun-ha (Chun-Hi), Lee Sung-jae (Chul-su), Ahn Sung-kee (In-Gong) and Song Seon-mi (Da-Hye).


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The MacKintosh Man (1973, John Huston)

Imagine a spy thriller without any spying, without any thrills, without even any mystery, and whatever you come up with… it’s still probably more engaging than The MacKintosh Man. In the post-VHS era, MacKintosh is fairly difficult to find. TCM doesn’t run it, Warner hasn’t done a DVD yet. I only came across it on the HD movie channel (which shows it in a pan and scanned 1.77:1 versus the 2.35:1 original aspect ratio). Given it’s a Paul Newman movie, directed by John Huston, I can’t understand why it’s so hard to see. It isn’t because MacKintosh is a bad film–there are plenty of readily available, bad John Huston movies out on DVD and some Paul Newman ones too (though not many from MacKintosh’s era). So, its lack of visibility is a mystery and it’s the only interesting mystery related to The MacKintosh Man.

The film lacks characters. It has a couple great character actors–James Mason and Harry Andrews–and does nothing with either of them. The female lead, Dominique Sanda, has no chemistry with Newman and she’s a low talker too, so some scenes are unintelligible. Most of the first half–until Newman gets to drop his faux Australian accent–is told in summary. Lots of fades. There’s one point, just into the second act, once I’d realized how the film was playing out, when Newman makes a friend. Oh, it’s great. The friend is there for two scenes, then he disappears. It’s the best stuff in the film.

Besides being boring–and MacKintosh is boring not just because of the storytelling or Walter Hill’s script, but because Huston dilly-dallies. He doesn’t have to dilly-dally either. There’s a great car chase. His shot composition is good too, though it does remind a little of The Third Man in parts.

I’ve seen Newman’s other spy movie–Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain–and I don’t remember much about it, except it wasn’t good. I was just discovering Newman at that time and I was excited to see him in a Hitchcock picture, then… well… then I watched Torn Curtain. It’s possible he just doesn’t work in the spy role. Newman’s performances tend to require the viewer to examine him–I’m thinking of the great H-films, Hud, The Hustler, and Hombre. Spy movies, good and bad, do not work in that manner. Still, even with Newman’s miscasting and Huston’s lolly-gagging, it didn’t have to be so bad….

Oh, and Maurice Jarre’s score. Near as I can tell, he composed two short pieces of music for it, then used the second one over and over and over again.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Huston; screenplay by Walter Hill, based on a novel by Desmond Bagley; director of photography, Oswald Morris; edited by Russell Lloyd; music by Maurice Jarre; produced by John Foreman; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Paul Newman (Joseph Rearden), Dominique Sanda (Mrs. Smith), James Mason (Sir George Wheeler), Harry Andrews (Mackintosh), Ian Bannen (Slade), Michael Hordern (Brown), Nigel Patrick (Soames-Trevelyan) and Peter Vaughan (Brunskill).


Jumpin' Jack Flash (1986, Penny Marshall)

I was just reading–today or yesterday–Ken Levine talk about how there are no “balls-out R-rated” comedies with female leads. (His post is here). Jumpin’ Jack Flash is, obviously, a balls-out R-rated comedy starring a woman. Things have obviously changed in the last twenty years, both in film and television–female stand-ups don’t get TV shows and they don’t become movie stars. I missed Whoopi Goldberg’s career when it happened. My mother didn’t like all her swearing. I did see Ghost however, against my will. Goldberg is definitely a comedy star in Jumpin’ Jack Flash because comedy stars rarely have to act and Goldberg does not act in Jack Flash. She’s appealing enough and occasionally funny, but the film’s so dishonest, it’s hard to see past it. Jumpin’ Jack Flash doesn’t set Goldberg up as a sexual being–as in, a person who has had or ever will have, sex. The same thing happens in most of Denzel Washington’s films between 1989 and 2001, maybe later. These actors are starring with mostly white casts and mostly white “romantic” interests and interracial romance doesn’t play well for most white people. Not if conservatives wanted ABC fined extra for having the Desperate Housewife come on to a black football player. So, while she’s spayed and the racial element is ignored, Goldberg still does an all right job… she’s not responsible for the film’s biggest problems.

The premise of Jumpin’ Jack Flash is a bank worker who communicates with a spy over her computer–this film is from 1986, so just imagine the computers–and gets involved in espionage. They communicate by typing. During the second half of the film, once Goldberg’s heard the spy’s voice, his lines are spoken as they pop up on the computer screen. There’s one great scene when Goldberg isn’t looking at her screen and she still knows he’s typing, because she can hear his voice. Oh… maybe that scene’s not great. It’s a good example, however, of Jumpin’ Jack Flash’s direction. It’s directed by Penny Marshall and I’m using directed in the nicest way possible. Marshall had only had sitcom experience at this point in her… career and it shows. The film lacks any visual interest and, during the most action-orientated scenes, Jumpin’ Jack Flash becomes the antonym for exciting.

So, while Marshall did the film no good, whoever casted it did wonders. John Wood has some great scenes, so does Stephen Collins. The supporting cast features no standout performances, but it’s a laundry list of famous people-to-be: Phil Hartman, Jon Lovitz, Jeroen Krabbé, Jim Belushi, Tracey Ullman and Jamey Sheridan. Very few scenes went by without me recognizing someone. So, however casted it, that person did a good job. Probably the best job in the movie… Because whoever decided to conclude the romance between Goldberg and her (white) spy without a) a kiss or b) hand-holding… Well, that person didn’t do a good job.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Penny Marshall; screenplay by David Franzoni, J.W. Melville, Patricia Irving and Chris Thompson, based on a story by Franzoni; director of photography, Matthew F. Leonetti; edited by Mark Goldblatt; music by Thomas Newman; production designer, Robert F. Boyle; produced by Lawrence Gordon and Joel Silver; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Whoopi Goldberg (Terry Dolittle), Stephen Collins (Marty Phillips), John Wood (Jeremy Talbott), Carol Kane (Cynthia), Annie Potts (Liz Carlson), Peter Michael Goetz (James Page), Roscoe Lee Browne (Archer Lincoln), Sara Botsford (Lady Sarah Billings), Jeroen Krabbé (Mark Van Meter), Vyto Ruginis (Carl), Jonathan Pryce (Jack), Tony Hendra (Hunter), Jon Lovitz (Doug) and Phil Hartman (Fred).

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