Friday, 28 August 2015

Batman & Robin
Dir: Joel Schumacher
Joel Schumacher made several mistakes with Batman Forever after being pressurised by Warner Bros. to 'lighten' the mood set by Tim Burton in the first two films and to make the film more family friendly. These mistakes were felt and noted by the audience but not by the studio it seems who made quite the profit. Confident they could do the same again, Schumacher was quickly given the green light for the next Batman film; Batman & Robin. It has been widely recognised as one of the worst films ever made. The visual changes in Batman Forever were bad, here they are just plain awful. Toy sales is a big part of any film based on a comic/superhero but the costumes and outfits in the film look more like toys than anything Kenner made. Chris O'Donnell, who reprized his role as Robin has since said that he complained about how cheap his new suit was and commented that he often felt that he was filming a kids Toy commercial rather than a feature film. Schumacher would often stand on a crane and shout "Remember people, this is a cartoon" to the cast, which tells you everything you need to know as to why this film failed. The direction was an attack on epileptics worldwide, the constant strobe lighting and sickly neon caused many a headache, I often wonder if they released the film because Warner Bros. had invested millions in Paracetamol (they hadn't to my knowledge) and had made money that way. In the right hands (a comic illustrator) a neon-Tokyo Batman would be great to see, in Batman & Robin however, it was verging on physical assault. George Clooney played Batman like he was an extra, the returning cast members looked tired and deflated. Alicia Silverstone's Batgirl left fans feeling cheated, Uma Thurman played it like it was a cartoon (as she was instructed) and don't get started on what they did to Bane's character. Arnold Schwarzenegger is the films only real pull. His performance and the quotable script written for him is so awful, it's impossible to look away from, making it painfully entertaining in a strange sort of way. Joel Schumacher killed something that should have been impossible to destroy, Burton's version of Batman could have gone on for several films, more than 4 at least. Somehow, Warner Bros. were totally impressed with what they were seeing during filming that they offered Schumacher a third Batman film to direct. Batman Triumphant was to film a year after Batman & Robin but was shelved soon after the negative reviews started. It would have seen Batman come up against The Scarecrow and Harley Quinn and the Joker would have returned by way of hallucination. It sounds amazing. Another thing to hate Joel Schumacher for. Bob Kane sadly died a year after the film came out. His death certificate said 'Natural causes' but I'm not so sure.

Batman Forever
Dir: Joel Schumacher
Initially, Joel Schumacher didn't seem like such a bad choice of replacement after Tim Burton made it clear he was done with the Batman franchise. He'd made some pretty good movies, including The Lost Boys, Flatliners, and Falling Down. All are entertaining thrillers with a darker side to them. The problem that became clear after the film's release is that he had absolutely no idea who or what Batman really is. Batman Returns was deemed too dark by the studio who received many complaints by angry parents. Schumacher's job was to make it a bit more family friendly and a little lass darker. It is fair to say that Warner Bros. are just as much to blame as him for the woeful end result. Schumacher thought he was making his version of Batman but the reality was that he was simply mixing Burton's Batman with Adam West's Batman. I'm not sure Bob Kane's Batman is anywhere to be seen. The story is nothing special but could have worked given the right treatment. It's certainly not one of the main problems with the film. Schumacher's visual changes are nothing short of awful. I'm not sure anything really needed changing, the company who made the Toys would disagree but there was still no need to give Batman nipples or mess with the Batmobile. If you have to change it then do it properly, H.R. Giger designed an amazing Batmobile but it was deemed 'too sinister' by the studio. One of many ridiculous mistakes. The other big mistakes were the cast. Keaton walked out of loyalty to Burton, only Michael Gough's Alfred linked the three films together, so in many respects we should all consider Schumacher's Batman films as separate films to Burton's. I dislike Jim Carry immensely, in 1995 he was at the height of his annoying success. Tommy Lee Jones was pretty good as Two-Face Harvey but again, I would have liked to have seen Billy Dee Williams in the role.Nicole Kidman's performance was forgettable and Chris O'Donnell's Robin was poorly written, making it feel quite unnecessary, just as Burton said it would. Val Kilmer was a great Bruce Wayne but was a far cry from Keaton's Batman. Keaton was never a Batman like Reeves was Superman but Kilmer was a poor replacement. Essentially, Batman was dumbed down for people it wasn't originally made for. It is regarded by most as a complete failure and it still angers Bat-fans but the sad truth is that it made a ton of money for the studio. It's a perfect example of what is so wrong with Hollywood.
Batman Returns
Dir: Tim Burton
Tim Burton has been quoted as saying that he prefers Batman Returns to the original movie because he learned from all the mistakes he made the first time round and corrected them. I'm not sure what those mistakes were but I would totally agree with him that his sequel is better than the first. The formula and existing style worked, so rightfully he didn't change it although I think the original story might have been better than Burton's re-write, we'll never know but I would have loved to have seen Billy Dee Williams' Two-face Harvey. In truth the only real challenge Burton had was to find a bad guy as good as Jack Nicholson's Joker. It's standard now but Burton's idea to have 2 villains in the sequel (bigger, better, stronger) was a bit of a masterstroke. Superman II had 2 villains (well, four technically) but it doesn't really count as Lex Luthor took somewhat of a backseat. Technically Batman Returns has three villains but one (the rather sinister Max Shreck played brilliantly by Christopher Walken) was brand new to the Batman universe. It worked but it is still puzzling why they'd come up with a new character when they had a plethora of bad guys to choose from. If it is one thing the world of Batman doesn't lack, it's bad guys. Again, why couldn't we have had Billy Dee Williams' Two-face Harvey? (I'm not going to let this go). The real success of the film is Penguin played by an unrecognisable (both in performance and look) Danny DeVito. Michelle Pfeiffer brought a sexiness to the franchise with her version of Catwoman but for me the film is all about the Penguin, whose origin story is by far the best of the whole series. It's bigger, darker and even a little more cartoon-like. It's a Burton film on steroids. I can see why he would want to leave on a high but I also see why some question what he did with the character. He was also quoted as saying his favorite Batman comic was Alan Moore's The Killing Joke and that it was hugely influential to his films. I can't see that at all to be honest, but I do love his Batman films, they're so unique in the cinematic superhero world and they have paved the way in some respect and have shown others how it should be done. Shame he hadn't remembered this later in his career really but for all his faults, there isn't another director out there like him, he is hugely talented and he did Bats proud.
Dir: Tim Burton
After the Superman franchise wilted with 1987's woeful Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, it's hard to believe anyone, studio or audience, had any enthusiasm for a comic book/superhero movie. However, Superman did shine in 1978 and in 1980 (and again in 1983 depending on who you talk to) and a benchmark had been made. Batman hadn't had his own proper movie yet, it was long overdue, and the camp 1960's Adam West Batman, as much as we all love it, had had it's day. Unlike The Man of Steel, Batman Comics had remained popular and had got a little darker. His personality had been explored and he was seen as a bit of an anti-hero, somewhat of a broken vigilante. Tim Burton's kookie Gothic style seemed suited to the character and indeed the fictional City of Gotham. He added plenty of Art Nouveau, used wide shots and filmed mostly at night, creating a classical yet modern scene, full of mystery and menace but not without a cartoon-like sense of humour. I don't think it works on paper but it certainly worked in reality, it's typical Tim Burton, he's a genre unto himself. Many couldn't get their head round a serious and dark version of Batman filmed by Burton and many more couldn't imagine Michael Keaton in the famous cowl (Beetlejuice still fresh in peoples minds) but as soon as the first stills were released and the promotional campaign was underway, the world went nuts for it. It was huge. It was the must see film of the year and it didn't disappoint. Michael Keaton silenced doubters and is still considered to be the Best Batman by many of the fans, myself included. Although casting a huge A-lister (just like they did with Superman in 1978) to take on the role of the villain, in this case Batman's most famous enemy, was a safe bet and integral to marketing, Jack Nicholson was absolutely brilliant as the Joker. The end result was a mix of new vision but with everything Bat-fans expected, an idea was polished, the structure slightly re-dressed and no expense spared. They made it look easy too, and still, many have failed to get the Superhero film right since. Batman raised the game going into the early 90's, I'm not sure a really good action film was made again until 2 years later with the release of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. It still remains one of the best superhero/comic book movies of all time and it will remain so for quite some time.
The Player
Dir: Robert Altman
Robert Altman's The Player was a huge success when it came out in 1992 and is very much a film makers film. I think you'd have to be working in the film industry to actually catch all of the references, in that respect it can be quite tiresome at times. It's a very subtle satire, that is to say that the joke is understood, nothing is exaggerated but it isn't particularly funny either. I'm on the fence when it comes to Altman's films, I doth my hat to anyone who can pull off a 7.5 minute single take but I'd sooner hit them over the head with it when I can clearly see their reflection in more than one of the shots. Robert Altman has created some of the best cinema, he's also made some of the worst. In The Player he has combined every genre together, almost seamlessly. Comedy follows tragedy, tragedy follows romance, romance follows intrigue... and so on. The film plays out like the producers in the film say it should, although with a clever twist. It's very knowing and very clever and the classic film references were much appreciated. However, the editing is as lousy as ever in an Altman film and it's a bit all over the place. The cast and their performances are brilliant, a key to the films overall success but as much as I enjoyed seeing so many of my old favorites in cameo roles, I resent the likes of Jack Lemmon and Peter Falk being reduced to being merely film props. I don't care who you are, if you have Jack Lemmon in one of your films you give him a line at the very least. I can only guess that they were either all friends or everyone got paid well. I understand it was (and why it was) somewhat prestigious to star in a Robert Altman film but by the mid-nineties, when he made many of his hits, I don't believe he was the maverick he once was. The 'New' Hollywood was now the old Hollywood, I like his subversiveness but the whole production is a little slap-dash. The ideas are there but I don't think the film lives up to them, when I look at the film as a whole, it's the overall direction that I think lets it down and dates it somewhat.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon
Dir: Mike Myers, Beth Aala
Shep Gordon is essentially Mr A-list in the Music, film and celebrity chief business. Actually, it is probably more accurate to say that he wrote the list in the first place. You'd be forgiven in assuming he was quite an unsavory character given how successful he's been in not one but three of the most cut-throat industries going. That and the fact he wears a t-shirt saying "No Head, No Backstage Pass". Luckily for him, Mike Myers and many of his friends have decided to tell it how it really is; Shep Gordon is a great guy. So why should we care? No big reason really, he is indeed a nice guy but the real reason to watch is because he has so many amazing stories. He's met everybody. He managed Alice Cooper and Groucho Marx at the same time, the three of them used to watch TV in bed together. He cooks breakfast for the Dalai Lama. He met Janis Joplin on his first night in LA, she punched him in the face as he interrupted an intimate moment she was having with Jimi Hendrix at the time (he'd just dropped acid and thought they were fighting). Mike Myers is also a comedian, his job is to make people laugh and Gordon's got lots of jokes to tell, as have his friends. Indeed, it is one of the funniest documentaries I've ever seen. I can't help but think that this film came about because Gordon was somewhat left out of Alice Cooper's doc; Super Duper Alice Cooper. Interesting how they are both 'Super' films too. Super in name and super in content.
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Dir: Banksy
Banksy has become somewhat of a phenomenon when he's only doing what creatives have been doing for quite some time. It's unfortunate that the media have labeled him as some sort of trickster which is to completely misunderstand what he is doing, he's not a trickster, his work isn't a practical joke, he is playful and inventive in his art work and keeps his identity a secret because what he does is illegal and he doesn't want to be arrested. Sneaking his work into galleries was a logical progression of street art but he's not exactly the next Jeremy Beadle, or Chris Morris for that matter, although his work is pure satire. This documentary gets to the route of some of the misgivings the media have spun, although this is not really directed at Banksy himself but through a completely different artist. Thierry Guetta is one of many Frankenstein street artists out there and he's certainly not alone. Galleries are full of pretenders these days, many of them are getting recognition (and rather rich) as are the galleries that have them. Guetta presented the perfect opportunity in showing this, thanks to his tapes and his documented spiral into an egotistical funfair. Look at how he originally made money, buying old clothes cheap and then selling them for thousands of dollars by labeling them 'Vintage'. There is something very Warhol about him, he would see that as a complement, when if fact Warhol did something that was new and innovative but could only be done once. Guetta is a charlatan, a pretender and an egomaniac, a lovable one but still a fraud. Banksy can't exactly choose who influences but I like the way he sets the record straight, not just for himself either. I remember a couple of years ago, I was outside Waterloo station in London and a group of WI ladies came up to me and asked me where the nearest Banksy was, I was a little taken aback and a little upset, as I'm a fan of his work. I got over it fairly quickly, it doesn't bother me at all that he makes lots of money and has work in galleries, at least he is the real deal. People keep missing the point by asking the same stupid and subjective question that is; "Is it art?". "Does it matter?". There is an art to every craft, I see his work as satirical social satire, a very tricky thing to get right, and I would argue that yes, there is an art to it. Exit Through the Gift Shop is a fascinating case-study of what populist art in the early 21st Century is, very insightful and certainly a film I'd like to watch in another 20 or 30 years time.
Krzysztof Kieslowski: I´m so-so...
Dir: Krzysztof Kieslowski
I'm So-so is a very short but sweet documentary/Interview with/about the great director of some of Europes greatest films including; The Three Colours Trilogy, A Short Film About Love, A Short Film About Killing, Camera Buff, Blind Chance, The Double Life of Veronique.., Krzysztof Kieslowski. It's nothing out of the ordinary, there are no special effects, he's just a fascinating character and I could have listened to much more for hours and hours. I found this film, which is essentially a DVD extra, to be utterly fascinating and completely compelling. A must for fans of Kieslowski's films, and indeed fans of film in general. It is piratically poignant seeing as he sadly passed away soon after it was made.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Superman Returns
Dir: Bryan Singer
Bryan Singer made one of the best films of the 90's, his 1995 The Usual Suspects gave cinema the kick in the behind that it really needed around that time. He also opened a new chapter in the Superhero genre. Nothing of great value was happening in the world of superhero/comic adaptations and 2000's X-Men took everyone by surprise. The (late) 70's had Superman, the (late) 80's/ (early) 90's had Batman and now the (early) 00's had X-men. He raised the bar and showed the door to pretty much everything that has come since. Producers could finally see that there was profit to be had and this was the way to go. You can thank/damn Singer for the recent explosion of superhero films in many respects, depending on your tastes of course. After X2 Singer was offered Superman, many versions had been written and binned since Christopher Reeves last outing in 1987 and for a young director and huge fan, it was an offer he just couldn't refuse. I get that, there are many fans who have passed working on Superman films because they knew deep down they would never be able to do it justice, I respect their integrity but I also respect anyone who takes it on as it can be a make or break deal. Singer dropped his beloved X-Men franchise, passed the third movie over and worked on bringing the Man of Steal back to the big screen where he belonged. 
 After the collapse of McG's 'Flyby' and Tim Burton's infamous Nic Cage lead 'Superman Lives' (watch the brilliant The Death of "Superman Lives": What Happened? by Jon Schnepp to find out more), the steaks were very high. Singer needed to ground the myth and give the fans what they really wanted, or at least what he and the audience thought that was. 'Flyby' and 'Lives' may not have been green-lit, and maybe this was a good thing, but at least their scripts were fresh and original. Superman Returns relies heavily on the Reeves films, takes the bits it likes and filled in the gaps with imitation when they should have made the film their own. I loath this film. I think the audacity of asking (telling) the fans to simply forget Superman III and IV ever happened is extremely arrogant, not to mention lazy. I was thrilled when I heard John Williams' original theme tune only to be let down by what seemed like a cheap copy. Brandon Routh looked the part but he was never allowed to inject anything new into the character, which was very unfair for him. He's a great Superman but not a very good Christopher Reeve impersonator. The casting is pretty much wrong across the board, apart from Kevin Spacey who is one of the film's few saving graces. Interestingly, the casting of Spacey was the only idea that Singer kept from McG's failed Flyby. My biggest problem is the story. Singer wanted to explore the idea of an outsider, great but I think he totally fails to do so. In previous Superman films our hero is stopped by Kryptonite the size of a pebble, somehow now a whole continent of the stuff can't even stop him. Historically, Superman's real 'Kryptonite' is his ridiculous abilities. Flyby and Live knew this and had limited his power to strengthen the story. We know he's going to prevail but at least make it interesting, vaguely sensible or at least correct past mistakes. It's never very clear or convincing as to why Superman went back to Krypton either and don't even get me started on the whole Son of Superman/Superboy scene. More time seems to have been spent on fashionable Matrix-style effects rather than on story, these effects brought nothing to the film, which was overall pretty dull. The original 1978 Superman film had problems, as did the sequels, but Returns doesn't have the slightest ounce of passion or magic that those films had. I don't think I would have been in the least bit interested if I had seen it as a child and a childhood without Superman is unfathomable to me. Thankfully many fans agreed, it made money but the reviews were in. Back to the drawing board and thankfully Singer went back to X-Men. 2013's Man of Steel isn't a perfect film but thankfully it has moved the story on somewhat and has given us something new, something the franchise desperately needed. Singer asked the fans to forget Superman III & IV, but personally I'm more than comfortable to forget Superman Returns instead.
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
Dir: Sidney J. Furie
The story of failed production company Cannon is the stuff of cinema legend. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, the first Superman film made without the involvement of the Salkinds, was ambitious for the company and pretty much ended up ruining them. After a series of box office flops, the budget for Superman IV was reduced to impossible levels. After buying the rights and persuading Reeves and Hackman (as well as other original actors in cameo performances) to return, you'd have thought that this would have been the studios key investment. For all of the films problems, poor old Sidney J. Furie took some unfair flack, the film failing in every way a film could before the cameras even started filming. Milton Keynes was used as a substitute for New York and the script was rushed out with any clear focus. I don't want to knock the City of Milton Keynes (I have family there and my Grandfather, a top architect, was responsible for much of its design) but it is no New York. Pretty far from it. The script is awful, the only redeeming feature is the idea of Superman ridding the world of its Nuclear Weapons, an idea by Reeves and included in the story as a deal maker for his return. Everything else is just plane awful. Nuclear Man represents the worst of 80's thinking. I'll always defend Superman III as being great because it's Superman in the 80's - like that's a cool thing, but I can't say the same for Quest for Peace. Reeves and Hackman are both on good form but are both fighting an impossible fight, like I've said before regarding the other films, sometimes an omission of logic can be forgivable but when the leading lady has no problem breathing in space, it's time to call it for what it is. A very sad ending to what was a beautiful franchise. Quest for Peace aside, Christopher Reeves will always be Superman.

Superman III
Dir: Richard Lester
No, it's not a mistake, I have indeed given Superman III a five star rating and have declared it one of my favorite films of all time. I agree that Superman III was somewhat of a departure from what made the first and second film great and it wasn't necessarily the best direction for the franchise but I love it anyway. Christopher Reeve's arm was twisted somewhat to return as the caped crusader, no one else did in protest to the way Richard Donner was treated and those that were vocal about it (Margot Kidder) had very little screen time as punishment. The producers had lost their way and wouldn't admit that the real success of the franchise wasn't all down to them. The public wasn't aware that most of Superman II was filmed by Richard Donner rather than credited Richard Lester, so the change in tone came as a bit of a surprise, an unwelcome at that. The producers and Lester lost sight of what they had and looked at what was popular at the time. It's true that the first film probably wouldn't have happened if it weren't for the fact they bagged Marlon Brando but by this point Reeves was all the star power they needed. That and an exciting bad guy. Given that Gene Hackman had sided with Donner and walked, they needed a new foe for the Man of Steel to wrestle. Superman's enemies aren't as exciting as Batman's but there are a few decent villains to choose from and fan favorites such as Bizarro, Brainiac, Jax-Ur and Mister Mxyzptlk were considered as was a villain who was in fact 2 of the existing villains combined (Mister Mxyzptlk & Brainiac), indeed this idea has been mooted ever since in all of the failed adaptations, of which there are many. Before Richard Pryor was cast, there was an idea floating around that Dudley Moore should play Brainiac, something I would have loved to have seen, although probably for all the wrong reasons. Richard Pryor was cast because he was box office gold at the time and it was a pointless decision that I'm eternally grateful for. Sure, everything he did was either silly, stupid or made no logical sense what so ever but then no one does silly quite like Pryor. The slap-stick opening sequence, the bizarre misunderstanding of what computers can actually do and the overall comedy overkill, I really don't mind any of it. It's a ridiculous 80's film, no more ridiculous than any other 80's film I can think of. Camp comedy was something the original films avoided but Donner was gone, it really could have been a lot worse (that was yet to come). I've heard people say that Robert Vaughn played a poor man's Lex Luther but I would argue that Robert Vaughn is a poor man's nothing, the man is just as credible as Hackman and is just as much a film legend. Pryor, Computers, Robots, they were all fashionable at the time, nothing at all to do with Superman but nostalgia has won me over on this one. It's Superman in the 80's. So the scene whereby Pryor falls from the top of a skyscraper and survives is a bit stupid but the scenes whereby Evil Superman runs riot and fights Clark Kent is awesome (Superman goes bad due to Tar being added as an ingredient to some home-made Kryptonite, Superman III is essentially an anti-smoking film for kids). The scene where Annie Ross turns into a cyborg is awesome too and was the thing of nightmares for every kid who saw it. It could be said that Superman III isn't as equal as the sum of its parts, and that might be true, and you could argue that the film is terrible until the cows come home and I will always repeat the words "Reeve, Pryor, Cyborg" and I will look at you like Evil Superman looked at Clark Kent and I will put you in a Car compactor, figuratively of course although I will actually win like Clark Kent did. So hopefully that has straightened everyone's Pisa tower and we can all agree, Superman III is actually a brilliant film. Like Pryor himself said; "For a piece of Sh*t, it smells great!".

Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut
Dir: Richard Donner
26 years after Superman II was released in cinemas and a million 'what if' arguments later, nerds of the world finally caught a glimpse of what Richard Donner's version of one of the most talked about sequels would have looked like. I don't think anyone was disappointed. However, I'm not sure anyone really disliked the version that was released in the first place. It had its problems, much like the original did, but most will argue that it is exactly what the fans wanted. It is hard to say if Donner's version would have been better when I, and many others, hold the original with such high regard. It's also fair to say that the bulk of the original is Donner's anyway. Seeing the extras and ideas I'd never heard before was an absolute thrill but seeing certain scenes omitted just felt strange. I'm really glad this was finally released though, to have just seen a script when so much footage was available was never going to be enough. It has probably raised more discussion (and started many an online argument) since it's release and I'm not sure we'll ever know which version would have been greater in the long run but it is a real treat for Superman obsessives like myself. My favorite new scene was one during the final fight scene whereby Superman replies to General Zod's insults with the line 'I'm not a coward Zod!'. It looks really naff and tickled me immensely, I can see why it was left out but I'm so grateful it has now seen the light of day. Now if only we could see the other various failed versions of Superman our nerdy little lives would be complete.

Superman II
Dir: Richard Lester
Superman II was actually filmed at the same time as Superman The Movie. This I believed helped the movie achieve a certain integrity in its continuity but it also damaged the franchise. The problem was that there were far too many egos behind the camera. Constant disagreements and backstabbing caused a rift between cast and crew and although Richard Donner had filmed the majority of Superman II, Richard Lester (who had been repeatedly wronged by the producers in this and other franchises) was brought in to finish and rework the finished cut of the film (and to halt a law suit). Richard Lester just wasn't as talented a director as Donner and as much as I love the finished film, it really isn't the film is should have been. It's hard now to see the film any other way but the fact that the majority of the cast and crew remained loyal to Donner, and subsequently walked, remains a sad truth and you can't help but wonder what could have become of the franchise. Much like the first film, there are questionable aspects of the story, Superman's magic kiss and using his 'S' motif as a weapon being the most contentious examples. Overall though, it's good old supes doing his thing. Dare I say it but this hardcore Superfan even believes that many of the Lester changes to script are better than the original ideas, for example, Donner wrote a scene whereby Lois shoots Clark with a gun to prove he's Superman. I personally much prefer what was filmed, Lois jumping into the Niagara Falls, hoping that Clark would save her. I love it all but I give credit to Donner over Lester. Again, everything can be taken with a pinch of salt, in many respects the character is flawed because he is so unstoppable, 2 supermen and 1 superwoman should have beaten Superman hands down but of course they don't, that's not what the audience wants and Superman II only gives the audience what they want. Superman The Movie gave us the origin story, Superman II gets on with the action. Lex Luther and General Zod team up and Clark and Lois's relationship blossoms, it's everything Superfans wanted from a sequel and it's a rare example of a follow up film being just as good as the original (although not quite as good in my opinion).

Dir: Richard Donner
I talk about film all the time. I bored my friends talking about cinema long ago and revel in talking about the silver screen to new people I meet, especially when they sound like they know their stuff. When talking to fellow Cinefiles the question 'What is your favorite film of all time?' will always be asked. An almost impossible question, one that is often broken down into genres, time-frames and what mood I may or may not be in. It also depends on whom I'm taking to. I'm guilty of declaring my top ten favorite films of all time consist of the likes of Kurosawa, Tarkovsky, Eisenstein, Kubrick etc only, with a wildcard director/ film thrown in for good measure that I'll second guess they haven't heard of. I can be quite the film snob sometimes but I'm getting better. Suffice to say, my top ten favorite list of films is not entirely accurate when talking to other film snobs. There is one film however that is on both my showy list and my honest list, any film snob who declares that Richard Donner's 1978 Superman isn't such a great film generally gets his or her ear well and truly bent by me to the point they bitterly regret even mentioning it. I think I've changed a few minds too but actually many agree with me. Superman The Movie is one of the greatest films of all time. How the film came about makes for fascinating reading, I suggest anyone with even the slightest interest in the Man of Steel should read Jake Rossen's brilliant book; Superman vs. Hollywood. At the time the real coup was bagging a big name writer, The Godfather author Mario Puzo. Puzo wrote the structure of the film but most of his script was re-written but his name remained for legal reasons and because of his status. The other huge coup was in casting Marlon Brando, a surprising bit of casting at the time and the real reason other big names such as Gene Hackman and Terence Stamp joined the cast. The biggest real success though was in casting Christopher Reeves, the now quintessential Superman and the large majority of people's favorite and only the third billed actor in the film. It's really thanks to Richard Donner that the film works. He fought for what he knew was right, there were times when ideas such as Brando voicing a Green Suitcase instead of appearing in person and Superman saving Kojack (who would have thanked the hero by uttering his famous line; 'Who loves' ya Baby?' in gratitude) were actually considered. In treating the much loved Superhero right, Donner actually made what is essentially three films. The first act is a sci-fi extravaganza, the second a 1950's drama and the last a full on comic book action movie. The idea of a comic book/superhero movie being some sort of epic was unthinkable but that is exactly what it is. It has its problems, that ending for one, but it has never bothered me. I know every scene and know every line, the opening credits and the narration in the first scene makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up every time I watch it and I watch it quite regularly. If film is a drug, Superman The Movie is my heroin and I don't want to give up the habit. I adore this film. Every single actor is perfectly cast. The feel of the film, the balance of seriousness and humor, the hue, the amazing soundtrack from John Williams, the effects, the costumes, the script, it is all perfection. The tagline for the film was 'You'll believe a man can fly' and it was absolutely correct, I did and still do. There are few films that date that well too, especially comic adaptations/superhero films. There are some superhero films that were made over twenty years after this film that have dated terribly, the quality really is timeless. The best Superhero film made after Superman (apart from its sequels) was Christopher Nolan's 2008 The Dark Knight. A great film but still no where near as magical. It's my warm blanket, my childhood Christmases, my favorite form of escapism and so much more.
The Rise (AKA Wasteland)
Dir: Rowan Athale
Rowan Athale's 2012 heist drama The Rise is a refreshing little film for many different reasons. Firstly, it's a crime drama set in the North of England, rather than the East end of London. Comparisons to Lock Stock are lazy, it's nothing like it, it's a bit more intelligent for starters and has far fewer annoying characters. It also doesn't play for an American audience. Tough luck if you can't understand the accents I'm afraid, The Rise stays true to its surroundings and is only for the thinking film fan, those who like to be spoon fed should look elsewhere. The narrative is very sharp, the story has a few holes, the heist itself is very clever but I have a few misgivings on the conclusion. It is subjective though, uncompromisingly so and for that I applaud it. The four lead actors are all brilliant and deserve success. Timothy Spall gives the film some gravitas, a seal of approval if you will but it is the four young actors and Athale's great story and capable direction that make this something special. Finally, a British film that cuts out the cliches and hits the mark.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

The Core
Dir: Jon Amiel
It seems that most people either see Jon Amiel's 2003 sci-fi action film The Core as a complete disaster or as a guilty pleasure. I'm leaning towards guilty pleasure but then again, why should I feel guilty? First and foremost, this is a science-fiction film. It may have some scientific truth to it here and there but by and large, it is complete fantasy. To take it seriously would be silly. Large scale disaster films are silly anyway, what's not to love about a Space Shuttle landing in Los Angeles' famous storm drain, seeing the Golden Gate Bridge melt, watching Rome's famous Colosseum explode or witnessing every pigeon in London fall dead from the sky. That's my kind of nonsense. Sadly, the CGI is pretty damn poor, shocking that it isn't as good as that featured in films made 10 years prior. However, many of those films didn't quite have the seriousness that The Core has. There is no whooping and cheering, the stunts are ridiculous and somehow aren't unbelievable. There are no obvious villains, the sudo-science doesn't seem that far fetched (well, not until they go to the Core anyway) and when when someone dies they don't forget about it within seconds, they remain sad and bereft. The character development isn't amazing but it is way above average for a film in this genre. The ensemble cast is pretty impressive too, each character is beneficial too and not just there to add to the body count. The silly science and the dodgy effects are a little distracting I admit, particularly towards the end of the film but as colour by numbers sci-fi action 'Let's save the World' adventures go, it's really not that bad.