Recalling this is Frank Langella’s Birthday and how much I’m enamored of his performances (particularly his DRACULA I think is hypnotic and astounding), I went looking for films courtesy of streaming/VOD and I came across SUPERMAN RETURNS.
Unlike the vocal few, I’ve always liked Bryan Singer’s SUPERMAN RETURNS. It is not perfect but its weaknesses are minor, and its strengths… deserving of praise.
Watching it today, over 10 years after its release, the film holds up. It is visually stunning to look at, gorgeously filmed and sumptuously framed, outright beautiful. Going for and achieving that feeling of awe, that particularly the first Richard Donner Superman was able to achieve, And it has that romanticized feel, and familial pacing, and doe-eyed optimism that both of the first two Donner Superman movies were able to achieve. But all of this lensed through Bryan Singers unique and ambitious take, his more otherworldly, take on the Man of Steel.
Where some people only saw ‘stalker’ Superman, those of us acquainted with reason, saw an obvious moral quandary tackled head-on. You want a being that can hear you when you call? The price and burden of this means he is always listening and always watching. So the film plays wonderfully with this idea of mensh unt Ubermensh. Of Man and Superman, and the burdens and trials of both.
The film does lose itself toward the end, but not enough to keep the journey from being rewarding, and memorable and fun.
This film falling in solid Bronze medal contention as one of the best Superman Movies of all time, beat out only by those two films that it is a natural sequel and follow-up to, Richard Donner’s SUPERMAN and SUPERMAN II.
MAN OF STEEL, as well as the other post Donner Christopher Reeves films are all left far in this films wake.
My grade after revisiting SUPERMAN RETURNS after 10+ years?
Well, Great Bryan Singer Direction, excellent visuals, stunning production design by Guy Hendrix Dyas, great performances by Brandon Routh and Kevin Spacey and Tristan Lake Leabu as Lois’s son. Also the flying scenes (all of them but particularly, That flight with Lois, a definite homage to the iconic scene in the first film, and I think it’s great),the plane scene, the yacht saving scene,the Daily Planet globe scene, the eye scene, the car scene that is a homage to a classic comic book cover, the mensh unt ubermensh overtones, and just the sheer fun of it, all of that is a solid A.
If you watch those scenes and don’t feel a sense of awe, possibly you shouldn’t be watching a film called SUPERMAN or there may be something fundamentally broken in you. 🙂
Now in the minus column you have that the Lois Lane performance sometimes grates and the general denouement/climatic battle/wrapup didn’t quite work for me (through I appreciate it more on re-watching then when I initially saw it in the theaters), those are a C- at best.
So averaged together the film as a whole is still a solid B+.
[possible spoilers]Too bad Bryan Singer didn’t get to follow this up, as I would have liked him exploring the dynamics of a SUPERMAN with a family, and a kryptonian impervious to kryptonite, and just some of the other ingenious ideas touched on in this film.[spoilers done]
Revisit it yourself on Netflix or better yet get the Blu-ray with Directors Commentary. The film will stand the test of time against the cynics, romance always does. STRONGLY RECOMMENDED.
THE HATEFUL EIGHT Soundtrack by Ennio Morricone – Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight Soundtrack
Quentin Tarantino’s eighth movie THE HATEFUL EIGHT, I saw just this previous December in its extended road show version. I saw it at a sumptuous venue, surrounded by real cinephiles, and quite liked the movie. I thought it had flaws, because while not a prude by any measure, I did think Quentin went a bit heavy on the profanity button.
Sometimes excess is not verisimilitude, being true to the framework of your film, sometimes it is just excess, and gets in the way of your film.
At some point it becomes like a kid who has just learned to curse, and says it all the time as if there is a maturity in that, when just the opposite is the truth. Over use of profanity is the mark of a juvenile aesthetic. I thought the movie was great, I loved the process and loved the ending and loved the visuals, the only detraction was… that juvenile aesthetic of Tarantino’s.
So it’s a movie I really liked, and want to call a great movie, but a great movie should also be re-watchable, and I’m uncertain how many times I would want to re-watch this. Portions of it sure. But to sit down and rewatch the whole thing? Revisit it, like I do with THE SEARCHERS or TOMBSTONE or ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST… Not so much. That’s where the juvenile aesthetic works against a film, and works against Tarantino. These slight misgivings aside, It is still a solid B+ of a movie.
However one thing that I was not not conflicted on was Ennio Morricone’s score. Upon hearing this in the theater, I new I loved it and wanted to purchase the soundtrack when available. And I’m not a soundtrack guy, I buy sporadically, and seldom consider buying the score while watching a movie. So that tells you what type of impression this score made on me.
Today I received the Third Man Records stunning 2 LP Pressing of THE HATEFUL EIGHT. Wow! This may just be the collectible of the year!
It takes me back to the thrill I got of getting Records or Laser Discs, back in the day. That larger than life, elaborate and beautiful album cover, filled with extras, such as a booklet with liner notes, posters, photographs.
For around $30 while supplies last , it is a steal!
Morricone purportedly came out of retirement to do this score for Tarantino, and I’m glad he did, because he creates a score for the ages, to stand up to his decades of stunning, influential, and cinema shaping…. scores.
Now while the music is excellent, the pressing is also slightly hampered by Tarantino’s decision to add dialogue to the album. I would have preferred this album without Tarantino’s additions of dialog, and let this just be the music. However the dialogue tracks are easily skipped on CD. Not so easily skipped on the LP, but the 2 album LP, is a collector’s dream, sporting a beautiful fold out gate fold cover,, and enough extras to make it worth any purchasers time to own both the CD and the LP.
Pick up both at the links below while in stock:
“He was a personable looking man. First your eye said he’s not young anymore, he’s not a boy anymore. Then your eye said : he’s not old. There was something of youth hovering over and about him, and yet refusing to land in any one particular place… In short the impression was agelessness. Not young, not old, not callous, not mature – but ageless. Thirty Six looking fifty six, or fifty six looking thirty six, but which it was you could not say.”
FOR THE REST OF HER LIFE by Cornell Woolrich
Have you ever watched a film, and mere moments into it been so captured by its construction, its strangeness, and its audacity that it earns a spot in your pantheon, your metaphoric showcase of worthy things? I’m guessing the answer for some of us is yes. I say some, because the strange, by its very nature, will not be the cup of tea of everyone.
MARTHA based on a Cornell Woolrich story “FOR THE REST OF HER LIFE” was my first introduction to the world of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and what an introduction. I’ve been a huge devotee and fan of all things Cornell Woolrich since discovering his pulp fiction a few years ago. I own and have read a ton of Woolrich stories and novels. When I heard about this movie based (illegally it seems) on one of his stories, I had to try it.
And MARTHA finally seen, I was blown away by the strange, nearly alien craft and audacity of that film, and that led me by fits and starts to today’s review of Fassbinder’s WORLD ON A WIRE.
I’ve watched movies all my life, I consider myself well informed when it comes to cinema. I’ve seen all the great genres, and most of the great directors. I can speak to you about German Expressionism, Film Noir, French New Wave, Italian Neo-realism, the Pan-African and Post-Colonialism movements. I can talk to you about blockbusters and straight to VOD masterpieces. And when you have seen as many films as I have, to get me through a movie these days… you have to either a/tell the familiar in a captivating way, or b/create something vibrant and unfamiliar.
Most movies and all Blockbusters are the former, they are variations on types of movies and a thematic structure that we have seen time and time again, since the dawn of cinema; what makes them successful is the ability to do the ‘rescuing the girl from the train track’ in a fresh and innovative way.
Much rarer is the latter, films and filmmakers that fundamentally challenge and expand are definitions of the scope and pathways of cinema.
I’ve seen two of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s films all the way through, and both of them have struck me that way. Now admittedly they are from phase 1 of the three loosely defined phases of his career. Phase 2 being his Melodramatic phase, Phase 3 being that melodrama morphed into his identity films, dealing with themes of national, sexual, and familial identities in collusion and in conflict. (for more on this and for an overview on the films of Fassbinder please see the excellent Film.com article by Daniel Walber here!)
Phase 1 is arguably his most experimental and innovative films, here you’ll find the genre infused stuff, tinged with film-noir, horror and scifi trappings, the genres that I enjoy. Pro-active genres. I find myself generally not the audience for his phase 2 or 3 films, I’m not a fan of melodrama or just statement films. But with most of these later films not yet tried, I’m open to being pleasantly surprised.
But Phase 1, his cinema of statues and stylization, static but wonderfully composed frames, filled with actors who are at times more statues than men, and when they are animated it is often in very jerky, stilted ways. His women, leading ladies, are variations on a theme, big eyed, statuesque but often emaciated to the point of boniness, strawberry blonds, odd beauty bordering on the antithesis of beauty, mannequins and masks, and a wonderful use of angles and reflections.
In pieces the movies should not work, stilted, unnatural performances, what is generally considered signs of amateurish or bad acting. However in WORLD ON A WIRE (WELT AM DRAHT, 1973), that ugliness and unease, the uncomfortable pauses, the shots held too long, the awkward pacing, inappropriate and at times overbearing use of music, things we typically identify with bad films and bad filmmakers, in these two films of Fassbinder all these flaws are stylistic choices and become instead function, negating themselves and becoming calling cards of a fundamentally different definition of cinema.
WORLD ON A WIRE, which virtually nobody talks about, is this outrageous and ambitious and way long mini-series of a movie, equal parts science fiction, mystery, and avant-garde film, that has this incredibly intriguing and prophetic premise about a world in which they create not just an artificial intelligence, but an artificial world peopled with artificial intelligences.
The intelligences are programed to be perfect representations of people, and have a based in time and motion relation to each other, and capable of sex and love and procreation. So an AI universe that is self propagating, and more predictive, as the world is designed to be on a 20 year curve, so the shopping habits and economic changes and housing changes and conflicts that occur in the artificial world today, will be predictive of what happens in our world in 20 years.
It’s a brilliant, mind blowing concept, that you’ll find in better science fiction stories, but not in movies; particularly not in movies of the period, the early 1970s. On top of which the AI universe is viewable and interact-able by means of downloading someone into one of the AI inhabitants of the AI world. What??? That is mind blowingly brilliant and audacious premise for a film, even today in 2016 in an age of avatars, much less for a film made nearly 50 years ago.
And all of that, is not even what the movie is mostly about: it’s a film-noir movie. With a scientist trying to get to the bottom of his coworker’s disappearance. And then there is all the Fassbinder weirdness going on this movie, that just adds yet another level to the movie.
The doll like women who never seem to blink, random moments of strangeness, [a party scene, where people seem not to move, and the few who do, do the same movements over and over again. A scientist called into his bosses office for serious conversation which they have while not looking at each other and spinning in circles in their chair. a night club with mostly nude attractive Black Men and women dancing while the clothed patrons walk past feeling them up… it is just craziness that comes out of nowhere, but all of it leaves you gobsmaked and off-kilter and not knowing what is coming next.} And it’s not comedy, Fassbinder isn’t just taking the piss or going for laughs here, he is telling a straight story, but he is using a crooked path, fueled by dream logic, he wants the delivery not to be what you are expecting and in WORLD ON A WIRE he succeeds.
Fassbinder, very much the spiritual predecessor to later avant garde filmmakers such as David Lynch and Lars Von Trier, was a young maverick director who died way before his time at the age of 37, however in less than a score of years (before his untimely departure) he would make 44 films, 39 of those being feature films. It is a staggering body of work to have produced by the age of 37. How many of us will ever make one film, much less 44 of them. And to make such across the board unique films, love them or hate them, is a great testament to someone who obviously ate, drank and slept cinema.
I can see people not liking or dismissing Fassbinder’s 3+ hour Sci-Fi epic as just flawed. And it is flawed, like I said previously, Fassbinder likes the mistakes, the mistakes of time, mistakes of gender, mistakes of intention, mistakes of moment, and out of all these mistakes with WORLD ON A WIRE he makes, at least for me, something composed of the old, that feels endlessly new.
Grade: B+. It is definitely not for everybody, but if you like directors who are creative with cinematography (not just 360 degree shots but 540 degree shots), adventuresome in storytelling, and loyal to their actors (Fassbinder works with the same actors repeatedly, including actors of color, such as El Hedi ben Salem, rarely done for the period, and still too little done today) then this is a film for you. Recommended.
While Alex Garland’s debut film EX MACHINA was the AI film receiving all the acclaim in 2015, it was the relatively unseen film the UNCANNY by Matt Leutwyler that I found the superior film.
Now while visually it is the sexy and sleek and futuristic visuals of EX MACHINA that are poster memorable, it is The story of THE UNCANNY, that I find is the more compelling, haunting and ultimately daring and rewarding film.
While I liked EX MACHINA, particularly the great performance of the unrecognizable Oscar Isaac of STAR WARS fame, and enjoyed its beautiful visuals; it is the UNCANNY that I really enjoyed, and see myself coming back to. But both films are great additions to the genre, followers in the footsteps of ShellEy, and are wonderful cautionary takes on the ramifications of the unchecked hubris of science.
EX MACHINA – B- Ex Machina (Blu-ray + Digital HD)
UNCANNY – B+ Uncanny DVD on Sale!
Both films are available to try before you buy, EX MACHINA is on Amazon Prime and UNCANNY is on Netflix.
BONE TOMAHAWK– I’ve been looking forward to seeing this Horror Tinged Western starring Kurt Russell, since hearing about it way back in 2015 :). And finally seen courtesy of AMAZON PRIME I have to say, it does not dissapoint, it more than lives up to the hype, of being a great, gritty Western with some startling moments of horror.
The debut film of S. Craig Zahler is a tremendously engrossing, exciting, and brutal film. Highly Recommended. This is one I would love to purchase on DVD or Blu-Ray if it had a director’s or cast commentary. Unfortunately it doesn’t which means while a highly recommended viewing, I can’t recommend purchasing until theY release a better Blu-Ray. Grade: B+/A-.
WAY OF THE DRAGON is arguably Bruce Lee’s best film, in that it was the film he had the most control over; wearing hat of writer, director, and star. A circumstance which is not always a good thing, actors not always being the best gauge of their own interests or image. However Bruce Lee from the start was more than an actor, he was the message not merely the messenger, and as such was uniquely suited to define himself for others; and he does that expertly in this film.
The opening of WAY OF THE DRAGON (also sometimes referred to as RETURN OF THE DRAGON, confusing in that this came before ENTER THE DRAGON, not after) is pure Charlie Chaplin, Lee showing his penchant for physical comedy, and his pure charisma. And seeing Bruce Lee against the backdrop of the West that he always found both tantalizing and duplicitous, is a joy.
What surprises, revisiting this film after some absence, is how young he is.
You forget that these icons like Hendricks, and Ali, and Bruce Lee that shaped so much of the American consciousness and whose shadows continue to dominate so much of what we consider best of our cultural zeitgeist and worth aspiring to, at the height of their power… were basically just kids who believed the world could be changed… and changed it.
Is WAY OF THE DRAGON the greatest martial arts movie of all time? Probably not, but it is a great movie, and watching a Bruce Lee untouched by age or death, with his whole life ahead of him, in a sumptuously photographed, and largely fun film, is a little like visiting one last time… with a good friend.
There is something bitter and sweet about it.
And the final fight with Chuck Norris is justifiably classic. And like the film itself it is more in the nuances around the fight, the essential touches Lee brought to it, the philosophy of Chinese Boxing, the stretching, the inter-cutting of the kitten, all deliver something more than the spectacle of violence, but a way through violence… to find some peace on the other side of it.
A film that not just every Martial Arts fan should have in their collection, but a film any fan of cinema should proudly have on their curio shelf, as the work of 1970s art that it is.
And also the Blu-Ray is a must have for the audio commentaries, documentaries and pristine picture.
I like streaming for the chance to be exposed to a wealth of movies, but quality (when it is coming from a middle man such as a streaming or cable service) is always subject to bandwidth and signal concerns of the moment. The Bluray, failing damage, will give you the best picture in all moments… consistently.
So for movies like WAY OF THE DRAGON, that you intend to come back to again and again… Blu-Ray is the way to go.
Here’s the link:
Highly Recommended! And if a fan of this film I would direct you to the 1970s comic book series it inspired, Marvel Comic’s MASTER OF KUNG FU. Specifically issues 38 and 39 that form an excellent and not to be missed two part story, that any fan of Bruce Lee should check out.
And a book covering the career of one of the influential artists of the 70s and Bruce Lee fan, Paul Gulacy:
If you like this blog, and specifically this post, show your support by using the links above. You get great items, and this blog gets a few pennies. A win all the way around. 🙂 Thanks for looking and till next time… make someone smile today.
If, like me, you’ve been interested on Chuck Norris’ take on Bruce Lee well here’s a Norris quote about meeting Lee in New York in 1965, when Lee was working on the GREEN HORNET series. The quote is courtesy of the site BRUCE LEE DAILY:
“I said that I was really tired and that I should get to the hotel because I had an early flight the next day at nine o’clock. Bruce said he was staying at the same hotel so we decided to go over together. So we were taking a cab to the hotel, and now we are really getting involved in our conversation. We get to the hotel and are going up in the lift to the floor that Bruce’s room is on.
We both step out into the hallway – it was about twelve o’clock by now – the next thing I know I’ve got my jacket off and we are working out in the hallway.
I swear to you that the next time I looked at my watch it was seven o’clock the next morning. I looked at my watch again, I could not believe it, I had a flight in two hours back to Los Angeles and Bruce said that when we got back we should work out together, which we did for three years.
Then Bruce left for Hong Kong to pursue his movie career. I didn’t hear anything from him for about two years, then one day I got a call from Hong Kong; it was Bruce, he said: “I’ve just finished two movies over here, they were really successful”. He said he wanted to do a fight scene that everyone would remember and he said I want you to be my opponent and he was going to call the film Way of the Dragon.”
Read the full article Here!