Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Reviews Part Two

REVIEW: 42 ***

"42" is the story of how Jackie Robinson became the first African-American man to break the color-barrier in professional baseball. The film doesn't tell us anything new about the era of segregation in the United States, nor does it bring anything new to the sports genre in movies. Yet it does entertain, which is its main goal.

The cast includes newcomer Chadwick Boseman as Robinson. He is likable and dignified in the role. Accompanying him is veteran star Harrison Ford as Dodgers manager Branch Rickey, who chose to defy convention and hire Robinson for the team. Ford provides one of his best character portraits. Certainly it is one of the more interesting roles he has taken on in a long time.

Brian Helgeland (winner of the Oscar for co-writing "L.A. Confidential") focuses the film on how the legendary player overcame the initial backlash against his joining the league in 1947 and how the Brooklyn Dodgers team overcame their fears about integrating to eventually welcome him as a member. The script doesn't give us a lot of information on Mr. Robinson's life outside of these events, but it manages to be inspiring without revealing anything even the most casual sports observer wouldn't know.

Perhaps this is the main reason that "42" feels like safe entertainment, instead of aiming for greatness like some of the more popular baseball dramas of the past like "Pride of the Yankees" (1942) or "Field of Dreams" (1989). Having said that, "42" is worthwhile for the performances and its breezy telling of an inspirational story.

REVIEW:  A Good Day to Die Hard

John McClane (Bruce Willis) winds up traveling to Russia to help his estranged son (Jai Courtney), who is mixed up in a crazy plot that revolves around a secret file and assassination attempts and corruption. The son is reluctant to let John help, but eventually they find a way to reconnect.

The plot never really comes together as a cohesive action story, and just goes from one action set-piece to another without ever being particularly exciting. Worse, the father-son relationship never quite clicks, which makes it feel like the desperate plot device that it really is. If they make a sixth entry, I hope they find a better story to tell. What is surprising is how far from the quality of its predecessors, especially the original, this one is. It feels tired and uninspired.

REVIEW: Lovelace
**½

"Lovelace" is a biopic about an innocent young woman who is thrown into the porn business by an abusive husband. Linda Lovelace (Amanda Seyfried) comes from a strict religious home and is shy and trusting at first, but then she meets Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard). Traynor charms her into doing things she seems not so eager to do, including getting involved in the surprising hit porn flick Deep Throat, but then he turns into an all-out hustler and she goes through quite a lot of abuse before finally getting away.

Seyfried finds a way to make her innocence-to-maturity-to-survivor arc work despite the audiences' not-unreasonable question as to why she got so involved for so long. Some may find that some of Linda's past has gone unmentioned so this storyline can remain unbroken, but we come to like and believe her character. Sarsgaard has been good for a long time (see "Shattered Glass") and is convincing as the lousy husband gone greedy, using drugs and pimping his wife for money, while showing us why Linda found him so charming in the beginning. Lovelace's parents are well-played by Robert Patrick (forever remembered for his villain in "Terminator 2") and a nearly unrecognizable Sharon Stone (an Oscar-nominee for "Casino" and no stranger to controversy herself).

The film is flawed, as it occasionally feels like it could easily have been released to cable without any major changes. Still, it is an interesting true-life story of a woman who unwittingly becomes a porn star and national punchline, while surviving a nasty marriage.

REVIEW:  Olympus
Has Fallen **

Here is a film that might have felt right at home in the mid-90's. It features an all-out attack on a major American landmark, the White House, and features plenty of explosions. Then there is a flawed, but unstoppable hero (Gerard Butler) who is the one man who can save the president and the country once the White House is taken over by terrorists.

Some of this is fun, as Butler keeps in contact with the Speaker of the House (Morgan Freeman) who has been promoted to Acting-president while the real one (Aaron Eckhart) remains a hostage. The Speaker and the security team have to trust this guy, a former Secret Service agent, because he's the only one inside who can try to rescue the hostages being held in a bunker. So Butler out-smarts his enemies, while narrowly dodging bullets and engaging in fist fights. It's fun in a sort of mindless way.

The problem is that everything begins to feel like a kind of video game, rather than like real people are in real danger. It's also not as engaging as similar fare seen in films like Wolfgang Peterson's 1997 action classic "Air Force One," which starred a much more aggressive president than "Olympus Has Fallen" presents in Aaron Eckhart's portrayal. I never really felt invested in what happened to Gerard Butler's character, though he fills the bill as a sort of generic action hero type. And few lines from the movie stood out, until the end. The best exchange comes when someone complains about the destruction done to the White House, and another character shrugs and says "It's insured." That moment could also underline the basic feeling after viewing this movie: I enjoyed it on a basic level, but it doesn't carry any real impact with it.

REVIEW:  White House Down **½

U.S. Capitol police officer John Cale (Channing Tatum) wants to impress his young daughter (Joey King) by winning a job as a member of the president's Secret Service. He is unsuccessful, but he doesn't let her know the outcome and suggests they take a White House tour.

Turns out to be the wrong day for a stroll through the nation's most famous house, when a bomb explodes in the Capitol, creating chaos as the White House and President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) are soon under siege. But fear not, for our rejected would-be Secret Service man is on hand to rescue the president and help his defense team (led in part by frustrated high level agent Maggie Gyllenhaal) via the command center.

Just as preposterous as this spring's "Olympus Has Fallen," but somehow more fun. A lot of this has to do with the cast, including Tatum and Foxx who have fun with the film's lighter moments and the always dependable James Woods as a disillusioned villain orchestrating the attack on the White House.
The film never quite reaches the level of an "Air Force One" or director Roland Emmerich's own '90's classic, "Independence Day," but it does provide plenty of popcorn action entertainment.


Capsule Reviews 2013

REVIEW:  Blue Jasmine ****

A woman married to a wealthy business executive finds her life unraveling when she discovers his shady dealings and philandering. She sets out to rebuild her life, while staying with her working-class sister, but struggles to adjust. Superb performances by Cate Blanchett and Sally Hawkins help make this one of Woody Allen's best recent releases.

REVIEW:  Captain Phillips
****

Intense, suspense-building story of Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks) and his crew combating a take over of their cargo ship by Somali pirates in 2009. The film provides us with a battle of wits between Phillips and the pirate's captain Muse (played with an occasional flash of humor by Barkhad Abdi), who takes to calling his counterpart "Irish." Done with an almost documentary style, much like his "United 93," director Paul Greengrass again brings the audience along on a realistic yet incredible ride. Tom Hanks hasn't been this good in a very long time, probably not since at least "Road to Perdition" in 2002.

REVIEW:  Curse of Chucky
**

Chucky returns to take revenge on a family he has held a grudge against for many years. As far as Direct-to-DVD titles go, this is actually pretty decent. Director Don Mancini, the creator of the franchise, opts more for suspense before playing up the gore. Some developments are predictable, and there are a few one-liners thrown in that don't quite work (though one victim predicts fate by saying "see you in the morning... at the cemetery"), but fans of the series will likely be surprised that this isn't bargain-basement quality. You could do worse for your Halloween-season horror viewing than to rent/download/stream/ whatever this installment.

REVIEW:  Elysium **

Heavy-handed allegory where a future sees the haves enjoying their own space station away from the have-nots. The effects are good and Damon makes an easy-to-like hero. On the other hand, Foster's villainous Defense Secretary character is sort of a dead-end and the whole thing ends up feeling like countless other sci-fi action movies.

REVIEW:  Gravity ****

Involving, well-crafted story of the struggle of space engineers to survive after their work is interrupted by a catastrophic strike from debris. Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) finds herself basically alone in space, with only the reassuring presence of the more experienced astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) to guide her through the harrowing experience of trying to find a way back to Earth's surface. Once everything goes haywire, she must race time or face the real possibility of never getting back. Superb performance from Bullock, with Clooney likable as her guiding voice.

REVIEW:  Pacific Rim **½

Humans fight giant bug-like aliens while manning huge machine gear in this exciting, if a bit cliche, action story. Technically impressive, as it should be -- coming from "Pan's Labyrinth" and "Hellboy" director Guillermo Del Toro.

REVIEW:  Prisoners ***½

Intense, well-acted thriller stars Hugh Jackman as a man who becomes unhinged when his daughter is abducted and the law (represented here in the form of a detective played by Jake Gyllenhaal) seems slow in its investigation. In his frustration, Jackman takes the law into his own hands under the assumption that a particular suspect is guilty. If the third act, which reveals some answers to what happened, seems a bit too neat it is largely because of the escalating tension built through the rest of the film.

2013 Reviews Part One

REVIEW:  All is Lost ***

Worthwhile, if a bit too solitary, tale of survival at sea. Robert Redford gives a sturdy (and nearly-wordless) performance in a physically demanding role. Some of the visuals are striking, such as when we see schools of fish under the life raft Redford uses. Nevertheless, there is an element of emotion missing until late in the film, when the situation has finally led to a realization of doomed fate closing in. Still, it is an interesting time spent with one man fighting against the odds in an uncontrollable environment.

REVIEW:  Frozen ****

After a fairly disappointing year for animation, compared to recent times, we have a real winner in "Frozen." Taken from Hans Christian Anderson's fairy tale "The Snow Queen," it is centered on a pair of sisters torn apart when the elder sister Elsa (Idina Menzel) accidentally hurts the younger Anna (Kristen Bell) using her ice-manipulating magic ability while the two play.

Their parents are told by a wise wilderness troll that Elsa's powers must be kept under control, which leads to her nearly total isolation from everyone else for fear that her power would be destructive. Increasingly lonely and frustrated by these circumstances, made worse by the death of their parents, Anna sees an opportunity to try to make up for lost time when Elsa's coronation ceremony occurs.

Unfortunately, an argument over a young man's proposal sets off a chain of events, leading to Elsa fleeing to the mountains and leaving the kingdom under an icy eternal winter. Not one to give up Anna follows, determined to make things right. Along the way, she encounters a man named Kristof (Jonathan Groff), his sidekick reindeer Sven and a lovably goofy snowman called Olaf (Josh Gad). This delightful animated musical was directed by Chris Buck (1999's "Tarzan" and 2007's "Surf's Up") and Jennifer Lee (2012's "Wreck-It-Ralph"), with music by Christophe Beck and songs by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. Don't miss it!


REVIEW:  Still Mine ***½

Craig Morrison and his wife, Irene, have been married for 61 years. They live a comfortable life together, but Irene is increasingly ill from the onset of Alzheimer's Disease. After a series of events, Craig decides to build a new house on their 12-acre property that can accommodate his wife's needs. But there is a problem.

The local building authorities inform Morrison that he needs a permit to build on his own property. His initial reaction is incredulous, but he plays along and pays the $400 anyway. He continues to build. Before long, the regulators come back to tell him he is violating their code standards. He must submit blueprints for his plans. Again, he plays along, but doesn't stop creating his new home. There isn't time, the reasoning goes. His wife isn't getting better.

Eventually, Craig is brought into court for these violations. He has already pleaded with these people, showing them he has experience building, and even having the new place inspected. All to no avail. So now it is up to a court to send him to jail or allow him to keep the new home he has built.

James Cromwell, best known for his Oscar-nominated role as the kindly farmer in "Babe" (1995), gives an affecting performance as the aging husband trying to make sense of an awful situation. Genevieve Bujold also is lovely as his increasingly suffering wife. They both play their roles realistically, and without succumbing to the trap of sentimentalizing their circumstances.

The film, directed and written by Michael McGowan, reminds us that life doesn't necessarily get easier in old age, and that a true bond can remain strong through even the toughest trials. It is worth seeking out at your local cinema.
REVIEW:  Wadjda ****

Lovely film about one girl's gentle defiance of her country's traditional placement of women in society. Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) is a young school girl who longs for the seemingly simple joy of racing a bike with her male friend Abdullah (Abdullrahman Algohani).

Her mother (Reem Abdullah), knowing how society will frown on Wadjda for riding a bike, refuses to buy it. So the independent-spirted 11-year-old girl decides to raise the money herself through means that make her school's headmistress suspicious. Then she discovers a Qur'an recital competition and determines to win the prize money to pay for the bike.  Meanwhile, Mother is distracted by the looming possibility that her husband will take on a second wife and does not realize the situation.

"Wadjda" tells its story gently, and brings forth the political issues in a straightforward manner that allows us to focus on the innocent quest for a moment of childhood joy forbidden by a society with many contradictions.

Included in those contradictions is the fact that a society that doesn't allow women to drive and bans movies has produced a female director, Haifaa Al Mansour, whose film is the first from Saudi Arabia ever submitted for consideration for the Academy Award Foreign Language category.  [UPDATE:  'Wadjda' did not make it to the final ballot for the Oscars, whose nominations were announced January 16, 2014]

Saturday, August 10, 2013

REVIEW: The Conjuring (2013)

REVIEW:  The Conjuring  ****

"The Exorcist" meets "The Amityville Horror" in this film, based on real-life paranormal experts Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by the excellent Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson). We go into this movie thinking we've seen it all already. A family moves into a new home and begin to experience supernatural occurrences.

So the matriarch of the family Carolyn Perron (an affecting Lili Taylor) pleads with the famous investigators for help to save her family. What follows are a series of horrific events that include ghostly behavior and demonic possession. All the while, the film keeps us grounded in reality. The 'ghost-hunters' frequently tell the people who ask for their help that "there's usually a rational explanation" for these kinds of events, like a leaking pipe might lead someone to believe there's supernatural activity.

This kind of realistic approach makes the second half of the film, where most of the action takes place, more terrifying. Director James Wan also wisely chooses to eschew needless or excessive gore to tell the story. Acting in this film is above par for this genre, and particularly Farmiga and Taylor should be considered for year-end awards. If you like ghost stories, but have grown used to most films in this genre being stale and unconvincing, I'd recommend checking out "The Conjuring."

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

REVIEW: Man of Steel (2013)

REVIEW:  Man of Steel (2013) ***

"Man of Steel" is a mixture of the old and the new. Superman was born on Krypton as Kal-El to Jor-El and Lara, and he's still sent to safety on Earth when his planet was doomed to destruction. Yet, from the very first moments, we see that this is not exactly the same story we saw unfold in the classic 1978 adaptation. Krypton is not an ice planet melted by the sun, but rather a technologically advanced world undone by forces within.

There are also changes to Kal-El's childhood. He was born naturally in a world where whole generations are genetically engineered in pods. He grows up on Earth as an outsider, a slight alteration from his original screen persona. In the original Christopher Reeve film, he also held back his true identity for the sake of his family, but here we are given more specific experiences that show why it would be harmful if others know about his abilities. This is best exemplified in a scene involving a sinking bus filled with children and the reaction to Kal-El's, now Clark Kent's, efforts to help.

As he becomes a man, Clark Kent leaves a trail of anonymous helpful deeds that arouse the interest of a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist by the name of Lois Lane. By the time she discovers his identity, a new enemy has arrived in the form of Jor-El's Kryptonian nemesis General Zod.
Zod was a militant leader who staged a coup on their native planet, but was captured and sentenced to the Phantom Zone. He has now returned to take over and rebuild Krypton on Earth. Of course, Clark Kent decides he cannot let this happen and fights back on behalf of the people while trying to gain their trust at the same time.

Zack Snyder's "Man of Steel" works very well as a summer blockbuster, and presents an acceptable vision of the Superman legend as well. It includes a more futuristic, more action-packed and more robust story than the middling "Superman Returns." The cast is well-chosen, with a particular improvement being Amy Adams as Lois Lane. I never quite bought Kate Bosworth in the role, but Adams brings conviction as a tough reporter looking to get the story of the century. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane bring warmth and wisdom as our hero's adoptive parents Jonathan and Martha Kent. Russell Crowe is properly authoritative as Jor-El. Laurence Fishbourne is the wise-but-no-nonsense editor Perry White. And Michael Shannon brings his trademark intensity to the main villain General Zod. Then of course, there is Henry Cavill, who does a credible job in the title role. He is sturdy and powerful in right moments, while concerned and curious in others.

What the film lacks is more charm and humor. I'm not suggesting that we need Richard Pryor, or an equivalent comedian of today, to provide comic relief. Yet this film is mostly concerned with the action set-pieces, leaving less room for the more human moments to shine through. One of the reasons the first two Christoper Reeve Superman movies have remained so popular is their focus on the characters' interactions.

We do sense the emotional ties in this film, but not as much of the charismatic nature of the Man of Steel. I realize that this is a deliberate choice on the part of the film makers. They wanted to get away from the Richard Donner/Richard Lester aesthetic as much as possible, but a bit more lightheartedness couldn't hurt. We need more moments and lines. Remember Lois' interview with Superman on the balcony in the original? Or Terence Stamp's memorable line "Kneel before Zod!" in the second movie? There are precious few of those moments in "Man of Steel," and yet it is entertaining on its own terms. Because it does enough, and just enough, I will look forward to the sequel.

Friday, June 7, 2013

FLASHBACK REVIEW: Superman Returns (2006)

FLASHBACK REVIEW:  Superman Returns (2006) ***

After years of on again, off again news of Warner Brothers trying to bring Superman back to the big screen, Brandon Routh was cast in the title role. Bryan Singer ("Jack the Giant Slayer," "X-Men," "The Usual Suspects") came in to direct. It's a difficult film to define in terms of its own entertainment value.

The plot concerns Superman's return (hence the title) after a five year absence to explore the possibility of the existence of Krypton remnants in space. This allows Lex Luthor to gain prominence again, and for Lois Lane to become resentful of his having abandoned her. Meanwhile, Luthor has developed a new plan to combat his arch -enemy and make him powerful. It all involves Kryptonite and real estate.

The plot elements of the film were deemed fairly dark (Superman is quite somber through a good deal of the film) and, to some, dull at the time of release. However, many reviews were actually positive and the film went on to gross nearly $400 million worldwide. Due to a combination of adherence to the film's connections, namely its indulgence of elements prominent in the Christopher Reeve films of the 1980's, some fans and critics felt that the film struggled to find its own reason for being. On the other hand, the visual effects, and individual performances were praised. Routh was seen as an earnest Superman and Spacey received good notices for his darker version of the Lex Luthor character. (Actually, his Luthor would have fit in fairly well with a continuation of the "Smallville" universe, had they hired Tom Welling in the lead role).

Overall, the film failed to win over enough fans, and the studio decided to scrap plans for a direct sequel starring Routh. A new reboot, directed by Zack Snyder ("300," "Watchmen"), starring Henry Cavill and featuring an all-star cast is to be released next week.

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW: Supergirl (1984)

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW:  Supergirl (1984) **½

"Supergirl" is something of a curiosity. It is neither as bad as its reputation would have you believe, nor as good as it could have been under the right circumstances.

Kara is a young woman from Krypton, in a place called the Argo City. When a special item that holds the power to the city is sent out into space accidentally, she follows it to Earth to save the city. Once there, she finds she has powers and begins a dual identity as Supergirl and Linda Lee. She discovers that she isn't alone in wanting the item she came for. A witch (an over-the-top Faye Dunaway) decides she can use it to gain great power. There's also a romantic subplot and some references to Superman.

By far the best thing about the film is Helen Slater's portrayal of the title character. She has an affecting, likable screen presence and handles the heroics pretty well. Aside from that, some of the scenes involving Faye Dunaway's witch and her sidekick (Brenda Vaccaro) are fun and Jerry Goldsmith provides a suitable music score.

The film was released in 1984, after the disappointing "Superman III" had failed the previous year. Christopher Reeve was actually supposed to have a cameo in this film, but he dropped out before filming. Who knows what impact his appearance would have had on the success of the film? There were also extensive cuts to the film when it was shown in the United States. Apparently many scenes were restored for a Director's Cut DVD a few years ago. As far as superhero movies go, this one is not terrible but the story was a bit goofy and doesn't make good use of its one hold-over from the Reeve series. That would be Marc McClure as Jimmy Olsen, who seems to be in the movie just to serve as a link to the more successful "Superman" features. In a way it is too bad that "Supergirl"doesn't quite work, because it's easy to picture Helen Slater reprising the role in a sequel or two with better stories.

Friday, May 31, 2013

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW: Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW:  Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

I can remember clearly when this movie came out. Summer, 1987. My sister had a birthday and I convinced her it would be fun to see this movie. I was wrong.

I was just a kid then, so what did I know right? Nope.

What happened? The film starts off okay, with Superman saving some people and then heading to the old Smallville home briefly, which brings back memories. But then we get a confusing number of subplots.
Superman pledges to end nuclear arms. Okay. Noble. Then there is a love subplot between Mariel Hemingway, as Perry White's daughter Lacy, and Clark Kent. Okay, Clark is often ignored. On top of that we have Lenny Luthor, an annoying nephew character played by Jon Cryer (yes, that Jon Cryer), who breaks Lex (the welcome return of Gene Hackman) out of prison. Once out, Luthor uses Superman's strand of hair to combine with the nuclear blast when it is thrown into the Sun to create a super-being that will destroy Superman.

None of these plots are developed particularly well, and the special effects in this film are dime-store quality. The reason given over the years is that the Salkinds had sold the rights to a company called Cannon films. They were apparently spending too much money on other projects, and cut too many corners. The result is a mess of a film, which ultimately ended the Christopher Reeve Superman series. The one bright spot in the movie are the efforts of the cast to bring some life to it. Unfortunately, this isn't enough to save it. Fans would have to wait until 2006, nearly 20 years later, to see their favorite superhero on the big-screen again.

Friday, May 24, 2013

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW: Superman III (1983)

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW: Superman III (1983) **½

Compared to the first two entries in the series, this feels far inferior. Yet it is not a bad film. There are plenty of things to be entertained by, from Pryor's likable computer hacking minor criminal to Superman's dual-personality fight in the middle of the film.

A number of things happened to create the circumstances for a lesser sequel this time around. Due to the bad feelings some cast members felt toward producers Ilya and Alexander Salkind for firing Richard Donner from "Superman II," casting was shifted around. Therefore, we get no Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) and virtually no Lois Lane (Margot Kidder). Because the Lois Lane/Superman love story had evolved so much in the previous film, it is disappointing to have all of it dropped without any further thought. However, there is a very nice subplot involving Clark Kent's return to his hometown of Smallville, where he re-connects with an old friend named Lana Lang (played by Annette O'Toole, who later played Clark Kent's mom in the TV show "Smallville").

One of the biggest complaints people have about "Superman III" is the unusual casting of comedian Richard Pryor in the role of bumbling computer genius Gus. Well, it isn't so much that Pryor is bad, or that his character is unlikable. But he just doesn't really fit into the Superman world that well.

There are some great sequences for the Superman character, though. Some fun is had with his various abilities, including a scene where he puts out a massive fire by freezing a lake with his super-breath, and a more comic one where he plays a practical joke and straightens the Leaning Tower of Pisa. All leading up to that terrific fantasy scene that pits Superman's good and bad personalities against one another, after encountering restructured Kryptonite.

So with all these elements, "Superman III" comes across sort of like the kinds of adventures the old serials of the 1940's used to show. It showcases some good special effects, has a sense of humor and is light fun. Unfortunately, after the first two efforts, we've kind of moved beyond such fare. Even worse for fans, things would not improve with the next feature.

Friday, May 17, 2013

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW: Superman II (1980)

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW: Superman II (1980) ****

After the success of "Superman: the Movie" in the winter of 1978, "Superman II" saw a release in the summer of 1981 (US release date). In actuality the two films were largely filmed simultaneously, but budget concerns and other issues caused the firing of original director Richard Donner over the objections of several cast and crew members.

Richard Lester, of 1973's "The Three Musketeers" and the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night," was his replacement. By all accounts, Lester added more humor into the film. All of Marlon Brando's scenes were replaced with footage of Susanna York as Superman's mother, due to Brando's protesting the use of his time for two films and only being paid for one. Luckily for viewers, Brando's scenes were later reworked into Donner's Director's Cut of the film, as well as Bryan Singer's 2006 reboot, "Superman Returns."

In this entry, we get a more involved romantic story-line between Superman/Clark Kent and Lois Lane. Lex Luthor is still looking for revenge on Superman for defeating him in the first film, but he'll have to wait in line as we meet three Super-Villains from Krypton who have escaped their Phantom Zone prison and are looking for revenge on Superman's father Jor-el. This leads to a lot of fun, as the villians eventually do battle with their prisoner's son, Kal-el (Superman, for those who didn't follow the first film). We also have real drama, as Superman makes a major sacrifice to show his love for Lois and unknowingly leaves the world temporarily vulnerable to his new enemies.

Overall, this film is about as good as the original. This comes as more of surprise when you learn all about its tortured route to the screen. The combination of Donner and Lester footage actually works to the film's advantage in some ways, particularly in the melding of serious versus comic sensibilities. Despite the long-held bad feelings between the makers, this is one of maybe a handful of sequels that manages to live up to its predecessor in many ways.

Friday, May 10, 2013

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW: Superman: The Movie (1978)

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW:  Superman: The Movie ****

As time goes by, it is becoming increasingly clear that the 1978 big-screen version of the Superman story was a one-of-a kind event. Very few comic-book movies have been up to its level of story-telling and film-making expertise on display.

Director Richard Donner (who also made "The Omen," "Lethal Weapon" and "Ladyhawke") fought to keep the story from becoming too comical, as it would in later sequels, which helped to create a mythology around the character still in use today. While many of the character's traits were there from the first comic books, details of the Planet Krypton and other aspects of Superman's existence came from this film. The screenwriters included Mario Puzo (of "The Godfather" fame), David Newman and Robert Benton (they wrote "Bonnie & Clyde") and David's wife Leslie Newman.

The cast is filled with character actors like Gene Hackman (as Lex Luthor) Jackie Cooper (as Perry White) and Ned Beatty (as Otis), legendary Oscar-winner Marlon Brando (as Jor-el) and then-newcomer Christopher Reeve in the title role. Reeve's earnest portrayal of Superman and his off-beat charm as his mild-mannered alter-ego Clark Kent remains the most popular version of this character. Margot Kidder (then a relative newcomer from the Brian DePalma thriller "Sisters" and the Bob Clark-directed horror "Black Christmas") brings the right balance of reporter smarts and romantic vulnerability to the role of Lois Lane. "Superman: The Movie" was followed by three sequels, inspired numerous TV series including "Superboy" (1988-92), "Lois and Clark" (1993-97) and "Smallville" (2001-2011).

Some consider the 2006 reboot starring Brandon Routh ("Dylan Dog: Dead of Night") as a sequel, due to its creative influence and design from the first two Reeve-led stories, though none of the original actors or makers are connected to the film. Another reboot was to be released in 2013, with Henry Cavill ("Immortals") in the lead.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Criddic's Winners 2012

BEST PICTURE

Argo
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Moonrise Kingdom
Silver Linings Playbook


BEST DIRECTOR

Ben Affleck, Argo
Wes Anderson, Moonrise Kingdom
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln

Affleck gets his 6th nomination (if you include best pic.), and first for directing. He had 3 screenplay nods, winning for Good Will Hunting in '98, and one for acting (Hollywoodland, supp. actor, in '07). Anderson is on his first for directing. Lee won twice here: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) and Brokeback Mountain (2005). Spielberg won twice: Schindler's List (1993) and A.I.: Artficial Intelligence (2001). Russell takes a rare win for a "dramedy" on his first nomination.

BEST ACTOR

Jack Black, Bernie
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Richard Gere, Arbitrage
Denzel Washington, Flight

Black was a wonderful surprise in Bernie. Cooper was a nice surprise in his movie. Gere continues to get better with age. Washington lands back in the nominee circle. Day-Lewis nabs his second win, after There Will Be Blood (2007).

BEST ACTRESS

Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Nina Hoss, Barbara
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Rachel Mwanza, War Witch
Emmanuel Riva, Amour

I believe this is the most foreign-language acting nominees in one category ever for me. Chastain was nominated in support last year for her role in Take Shelter. Lawrence was nominated the previous year for her work in Winter's Bone. Everyone else is a first-timer. Lawrence wins.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Ezra Miller, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Bruce Willis, Moonrise Kingdom

Couldn't decide on which Django Unchained actor to place here, so they canceled each other out, though all 3 had been cited before (DiCaprio would have reached number 7 this year). Hoffman was nominated for Capote (2005) and Doubt (2008). Jones was nominated here for The Fugitive (1993) and No Country for Old Men (2007). Willis was nominated in lead for The Sixth Sense (1999). Miller is debuting. De Niro, who last appeared on Criddic's list for Casino (1995), makes his third attempt, and triumphs.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Judi Dench, Skyfall
Ann Dowd, Compliance
Sally Field, Lincoln
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Emma Watson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Dench is on her 5th nomination, and won in lead for Mrs. Brown. Hathaway was up for lead in Rachel Getting Married (2008). Dowd, Field and Watson are here for the first time. Field's impressive work as Mary Todd Lincoln beats the competition.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Cabin in the Woods
Django Unchained
Looper
Moonrise Kingdom
Zero Dark Thirty


Having lost for Inglorious Basterds a few years ago, Quentin Tarantino claims the writing category.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Argo
Life of Pi
Lincoln
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Silver Linings Playbook


BEST ANIMATED FILM

Brave
Frankenweenie
ParaNorman
Rise of the Guardians
Wreck-It-Ralph


Tim Burton wins after a narrow loss in this category 8 years ago to Hayao Miyazaki.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FILM

The Imposter
Side by Side
Searching for Sugar Man


BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

Amour (Austria)
Barbara (Germany)
The Intouchables (France)
Sister (Switzerland)
War Witch (Canada)

BEST ART DIRECTION/PRODUCTION DESIGN

Anna Karenina
Cloud Atlas
The Hobbit
Lincoln
Moonrise Kingdom


BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Django Unchained
Life of Pi
Lincoln
The Master
Skyfall


This is Deakins' fourth win.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Anna Karenina
Django Unchained
Lincoln
Mirror, Mirror
Les Miserables


BEST FILM EDITING

Argo
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook
Skyfall


BEST MAKEUP

Cloud Atlas
Hitchcock
The Hobbit
Lincoln
Men in Black 3


BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Anna Karenina
Argo
Frankenweenie
Life of Pi
Lincoln


This John Williams' 6th score victory, out of many nods. Danny Elfman is up for his 6th nom. Marianelli his 3rd. Danna his first. Desplat his 6th, as well.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

"For You" from Act of Valor
"Ancora qui" from Django Unchained
"Pi's Lullaby" from Life of Pi
"Skyfall" from Skyfall
"Everybody Needs a Best Friend" from Ted

BEST SOUND EDITING

Argo
Django Unchained
Life of Pi
Skyfall
Zero Dark Thirty

BEST SOUND MIXING


Argo
The Dark Knight Rises
Life of Pi
Les Miserables
Skyfall


BEST VISUAL EFFECTS


The Avengers
Cloud Atlas
The Hobbit
Life of Pi
Looper


___
TALLY:

Lincoln: 12n/5w
Life of Pi: 10n/3w
Argo: 7n/1w
Silver Linings Playbook: 7n/5w
Moonrise Kingdom: 5n/1w