Misery: A masterclass in suspense.

I’ve been reading Stephen King novels for many years, and even though I’ve read a good amount of them, some of them, like Misery, I haven’t got around to reading, yet. Which is a pity because, if the movie is any indication, we might be before one of his best books yet.

The movie is a heavily dialogue- driven movie and a fantastic character piece that delves into the psyche of one of the most horrific literary villains ever put on paper. I’m talking, of course, about Annie Wilkes, the psychotic former nurse with a murky past who takes care of writer Paul Sheldon, the famous romantic book writer after he suffers a car accident in a mountain road when he was on his way back from his secluded mountain lodge where he was finishing his latest Misery novel, which is the name of the protagonist of all his novels.

Annie happens to be, according to her, her number one fan and this is quite unfortunate, as Sheldon has decided, after many years on the top of the number one best-sellers list, to kill the titular character of his novels in his last book, and he has the misfortune of having Annie read his latest manuscript which he was carrying with him at the moment of the accident.

What ensues is a highly psychologically charged tale set basically in a solitary snow-bound cabin in the middle of the woods between the bedridden Paul, who has broken both legs in the accident, and Annie who is none too happy about Paul killing her favourite character. Of course, it isn’t too long before we find out that Annie is a highly unstable person, who at one moment in the past, was the Head Nurse in the Maternal Ward of a Hospital, where several babies died in mysterious circumstances whilst in her care. That compounded with her sickly obsession with the Misery books makes for a very taut and suspenseful movie that keeps you constantly on the edge of your seat.

The movie, occasionally, abandons this suffocating setting to venture out for the occasional parallel investigation conducted by the local sheriff at the request of Sheldon’s publisher and it also adds the much appreciated comic relief in the form of the constant bickering between the sheriff and his deputy, who also happens to be his wife.

So, all in all, we have all the usual trappings of a King novel with the Mid-Western town setting, the successful, but unhappy writer and an extraordinary circumstance, in this case a car accident (as was also the case in The Dead Zone), that will precipitate the appearance of a rather unstable character who will bring all kinds of physical and psychological discomfort to the protagonist.

Personal opinion

Whilst watching the movie, I couldn’t help but wonder what someone like Alfred Hitchcock could have done with this material. I think it would have been right up his alley and, in many respects, the movie homages the work of the Master of Suspense in several scenes of the movie, like all the tense exchanges between a helpless, bedridden Paul and Annie, where she loses her temper and manifests her anger in the way of violent physical outbursts that have Paul as the unfortunate recipient. The scene where he leaves the confines of his room by picking the door lock while Annie is out in Town shopping, falls out of his wheelchair by accident and has to get back on it, get back to his room and lock the door up again, before she gets back in the house, is brilliant. The pacing and suspense in that scene, with the intercutting actions, the editing and the tense musical cue by Marc Shaiman make it a masterpiece in its own right. That’s only one of several examples of brilliantly executed set pieces that are peppered throughout the movie. Of course, none of this mastery would be possible without the absolutely brilliant performances by both James Caan and especially, Kathy Bates. Her portrait of a bipolar former nurse with Homicidal tendencies is mesmerising. She practically carries the movie on her shoulders most of the time and for that alone, for her outstanding performance, is worth watching the movie. A very well written script by William Goldman, brilliant score by Marc Shaiman, a fittingly cold looking Cinematography by Barry Sonenfeld, and very solid direction by Rob Reiner, make this one of the best movies from the 90s and I’d venture to say, even though I’ve never read the book, one of the best adaptations of a Stephen King novel. I’ll just have to get around to reading this one now, won’t I?.

Thanks for reading.

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. A Cinematic debacle that begs to be revisited

Back in 1986, and after acquiring the rights to the comic book character Superman from Alexander & Ilya Salkind for a very respectable sum of money, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, from the Cannon Group Inc, proceeded to embark on the making of the next installment in the Superman saga that would bring the series to such an artistic, critical and financial low, that would taint the property for the big screen for almost two decades.

Inception

In 1986, and after having publicly declared had he’d never play the role of Superman ever again, after having been disappointed with the latest entry in the series, Superman III (1983), Christopher Reeve was offered a very substantial offer to put on the red boots and the Cape once more for, what it was said at the time, would be the last movie in the franchise.

Reeve was offered a salary of 4 million dollars and creative control, in addition to having a long pursued pet proyect of his; Street Smart ( 1987), financed and released by Cannon.

Even though Street Smart wasn’t all that well received financially, it did gain some critical recognition, and would further push Reeves’s credibility as a serious actor, who desperately wanted to distance himself from the Superman image he’d been so much associated with ever since the release of Superman: The Movie (1978).

It was actually Reeve who came up with the idea that would give birth to the Screenplay later on developed by Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal. His idea of Superman faced with the notion of actually stopping the arms race between the big nations and bringing about Worldwide peace, was something that appealed to him in that he wanted to bring the character to new dramatic heights and present him with a huge moral dilemma that would profoundly go against everything that his biological father, Jor-El, had taught him; ” It is strictly forbidden to interfere in Mankind’s History”.

First hurdles

Even though Reeve was fully involved with the creative process of the production and would even take on Second Unit work for the shooting of some key action set pieces, like the fight against Nuclear Man on the Moon, and after securing Gene Hackman’s participation to reprise the role of Lex Luthor and the return of all the other cast members like Margot Kidder, Marc McClure and Jackie Cooper, most of the rest of the technical crew who had worked on all the previous Superman movies when the Salkinds were still at the helm, were let go on the account of budgetary restrictions. And that was really the nail in the coffin for this production, since its calculated total budget was sliced in half and the other half siphoned out to the production of the upcoming Masters of the Universe (1987) adaptation movie.

Having had successive box office failures with their latest productions, and in dire need of money to recuperate at least part of their losses, the producers started to spread themselves too thin in the budget department in the hopes of having various box office hits instead of just one. The decision was made not to put all the eggs in the Superman IV basket, even though the franchise had proven to be a sure fire financial success over the years; coupled, of course, with strong production values. Golan and Globus were clearly in over their heads and because of this one monetary decision, the whole production would end up suffering in the long term.

UK based production

Shooting was mainly done in the UK on the Cannon Elstree Studios in London as had been done previously for the other movies on Pinewood Studios. From the very early days of the Superman movies, UK had been the place of choice to recreate most of the sets that would be shown on the movies, due to the sizes of the sets and the fact that filming in the UK was cheaper. But, this time, the money saving aspect of the movie would be taken to a whole new level.

Even though the previous entries had been shot in the UK to recreate some of the most challenging sets, the producers had also gone to the States to film in location to places like New York (mainly for aerial shots), and Canada, to name just a few. This Second Unit work is necessary to ground the movie setting in reality; something that, unfortunately, due to the movie being shot mainly in UK locations, the relatively small scale of the sets and some unfortunate camera placement choices, it would ultimately give out a cheap outlook to the production that was sadly never corrected in post-production. Something that could have been easily done with the addition of matte paintings to enlarge and hide the limits of the sets. This shows especially in the UN sequence where Superman gives his Speech. The setting of that particular sequence in such an iconic, well known setting as the UN Headquarters is something that, being shot as it was in a Train Station in an English Town, not having been enlarged afterwards with matte paintings or being set dressed properly, undermines the credibility of the whole scene. But that is just an example of many a blunder that can be seen throughout the movie. There is a very comprehensive documentary online by Youtuber Oliver Harper called Superman IV: The Man of Steel and Glass, where he goes into detail about the in-location shooting that took place in an English Town called Milton Keynes, in Buckinghamshire, and in the London based Cannon Elstree Studios. It’s a very insightful documentary that provides some very interesting tidbits of information about the filming in the UK. To learn more go to http://www.olivers-retrospectives.com.

Personal opinion

The movie is a mess. There’s no other way to put it. In the end, and in spite of all the enthusiasm that all the crew and cast put into it, they were ultimately short changed by the reduced budget. Some of the more visually interesting ideas written into the script had to be abandoned and cheaper alternatives came to the fore. On top of that, the movie is very bland looking, with really basic camera set ups and poorly choreographed action set pieces.

Overall the movie has a very cheap look to it, with laughably bad special and visual effects, bar a few exceptions ( the model Russian Space capsule at the beginning of the movie is quite nice and some miniature work shown in the first fight between Superman and Nuclear Man), a poor script with some really silly ideas, like Superman moving the moon to block the sun and some characters being able to breathe in outer space, ignoring the most basic laws of physics, clunky dialogue and some criminally underused performances (Gene Hackman comes to mind; after working so hard to bring him back, he only shows up in a handful of scenes throughout the movie). It is clear to me, after having read both the script and the comic book adaptation of the movie that a better version of the film than the one we finally got could have been had.

Another thing that I think hurt its box office performance was the heavily reduced final cut of the movie; it went from being 134 min to be shown in theaters with a roughly 90 min running time. This was all done after the initial workprint was shown to a test Audience, who apparently didn’t like it, and the movie was hastily recut.

This haphazardly put together cut removed some very important scenes for the development of the plot, like the creation of the first Nuclear Man by Lex Luthor and its subsequent confrontation with Superman, some set up scenes that further developed Lex’s scheme to make money from selling weapons of mass destruction to both sides, the explanation for Nuclear Man’s infatuation with Lacy Warfield….These were all scenes that really helped clarify some of the most murky or rushed elements of the plot. That all these scenes ended up in the cutting room floor was a tragedy in of itself, but some of the best and more juicy material with Gene Hackman would also suffer the same fate.

Fortunately, for us fans, these scenes came out in the 2006 DVD edition of the movie as Deleted Scenes in the Supplemental section. They roughly amount to 45 min of deleted material and the scenes weren’t even properly restored and edited. They appear to have been taken directly from the 35mm negative and most of them are rough looking and the visual effects aren’t finish in most of them. There’s only one copy from the movie in which, at least two of these deleted scenes are properly restored, and that is the Japanese Laserdisc copy of the movie that came out in 1987 and that, for the longest time, and until the DVD came out, was the only Widescreen available version of the movie.

These 2 scenes were the one were Niclear Man attempts to blow up the Russian High Command with one of their missiles during a military parade before Supes shows up to stop him and the other is when Superman saves a little girl in a Mid-West town from a Tornado created by Nuclear Man. Hopefully, Warner Archive will see fit to restore the longest version of the movie for Bluray in the near future, with restored special and visual effects, thus finally giving the fans a taste of what was originally intended, and perhaps, who knows, even mending the reputation of the movie in the eyes of those who refer to it as : ” The Worst ever made Superman movie”. Stranger things have happened and Warner has giving us some real nice surprises in the last few years, like the release of the controversial Superman II: Donner’s cut, the newly restored HD master for Supergirl (1984), and most surprisingly of all; the release of Superman: The Movie, the three-hour-long TV cut. In a Home Media world were George Lucas tweaks and changes things around every time a new master of Star Wars is released, everything is possible. Fingers crossed.

Thanks for reading.

Man of Steel: Hard edge Superman

In the Summer of 2013, and after a 7- year hiatus since the release of Superman Returns (2006), a new Superman movie came to the fore. This time, the decision was made to revamp the character in a brand new way and, all previous reference to the Richard Donner tentpole Superman film would be forgotten, and no ill advised trips down Memory Lane, as Superman Returns (2006) had basically been, would be taken. From the creative department it was decided that their cues for this Superman cinematic reboot would be taken from the 1980 line of Superman comics heralded by John Byrne.

This would be especially noticeable in the redesign of Krypton, giving it a more organic and Earth-like feel to it and of course, in the costume, ships and weapons design.

But more importantly, a new actor had to be cast for the titular role. They decided to go with a relatively unknown actor in the big screen, but who’d made a name for himself on the Showtime TV show The Tudors (2007-2010), British actor Henry Cavill.

The man chosen to helm the production was none other than Zack Snyder, who’d been relatively successful with the remake of Dawn of the Dead (2004) and 300 (2006) and especially Watchmen (2009), in what it’d turn out to be a very questionable decision, in my opinion. Even though Watchmen hadn’t been the Box Office success that was expected, it later on created a Cult following that would, somehow, lead Warner Bros to believe that Snyder would be the right man to sucessfully adapt a much beloved and universally known comic book character and bring him into the Modern Age.

Nothing further from the truth. His take on the character deviated so much from the way it had been portrayed on the big screen until then, that the end result wound up being quite jarring.

Personal views on the material

Given the wholesome nature of the character that had been presented to us over the years, his fight for Truth, Justice and the American Way, and his absolute, to a naive point, belief in the redeeming qualities of the Human race, it was quite shocking to see that Superman’s set of beliefs had changed to the point of mistrust and alienation. In his core, he was still being portrayed as being well meaning and fundamentally good, but also mistrustful and a tad resentful. This is highlighted in various instances throughout the movie; like his petty retribution on the bullying truck driver whose truck he smashes to pieces ( Superman would never do that), his talk with the priest where he debates whether to surrender himself to the Kryptonians and put his faith in the hands of Humanity or do nothing….All of this, plus his sense of not blending in, of being an outcast, gives out a very bleak outlook on the character.

But my biggest qualm with it all is that Zack Snyder turns him into a Supersonic, all powerful, weapon of Mass destruction. And even though this may work in some moments of the film, like when he rescues the workers from the burning Oil Rig, his first test flights, or his fight against the Arachnid-like World Engine; in other instances it works against it. I’m referring, of course, to the fight against the Kryptonians in Smallville, where they literally level out the entire town, or Superman’s final showdown with Zod, where they do the same in Metropolis. Rather than taking the fight to the outskirts of the city to minimise collateral damage, they have an all out Bar brawl in the city itself and, although we rarely see the direct consequences of such a massive punch up, there sure has to be a massive amount of Property and especially, Human loss, which Supes doesn’t even try to avoid. It comes to mind the scene when Zod throws Superman a Gasoline truck, and Supes, instead of trying to stop the truck to avoid further damage, just dodges it, resulting in it smashing against the building and causing a huge explosion. Compare that scene from the one from Superman II, where Ursa and Non throw a bus full of people to Superman, not before Superman pleads them not to do it and doing his darnest to stop it from crashing into a building afterwards.

So people always come up with the argument that Superman had only been Superman for one day, and that he did the best he could given the circumstances; but that is just a lame excuse to justify mass destruction and show off what the visual effects department could do. The thing about Superman breaking Zod’s neck to stop him from killing a family, is utterly unbelievable in the sense that he wouldn’t be able to physically do it, given that Zod’s superpowers are all intact and they’re both physically on a level playing field in that regard. Not the same thing that happened in Superman II, where Zod had already been deprived of his powers when Superman smashes his hand. Its not the same thing. It was just lazy writing and an easy way for the filmmakers to get out of the situation.

Now with the positives.

The good stuff

All that being, from a purely visual perspective, the film is a treat. Everything from the newly designed Krypton, with its flying and earthbound creatures, the buildings, the Sea creature-like Scouting spaceships, the Genesis chamber, the Black Zero and Phantom Zone portal, the bone-like design of the Kryptonian Space and Combat suits. All of these are top notch and elevate the movie to a whole new level. The color palette is too muted for my liking and even though I don’t have a major problem with the new suit, and it still doesn’t have the yellow S on the back of the Cape, is a major improvement over the suit design for Superman Returns(2006).

The first act of the movie is, by far, the most interesting. It’s the part of the movie where the creative department got the most out of. First off, we’re witness to the birth of Kal-El, which we later on learn, was the first natural birth on Krypton for Centuries. The idea of Krypton having a genetically engineered birth control system is a very interesting idea, and also the fact that the Kryptonians were once Intergalactic explorers and, that the abandonment of their colonization efforts and adherence to their old ways, leads to the harvesting and consequent depletion of their planet’s core and their ultimate destruction. The character of Zod (a brilliant Michael Shannon) is given a new spin.

His one dimensional way of thinking and non-stop endeavor to protect Krypton’s way of life, end up turning him into a power-crazed dictator, who will stop at nothing to protect Krypton’s legacy. Is a remarkable contrast to Jor-El (a solid Russell Crowe), the scientist and explorer, who sees his son as their only hope to protect their home world’s heritage, binding his son’s future to that of his adoptive home’s, by way of a coexistence between both cultures.

Therein lies the main conflict point, that will be further explored in the second, and especially, third acts of the film.

CGI fest

Unfortunately, due mostly to the way Snyder turns everything into an all-out, non-stop action movie, rather deflates all the previous and carefully laid out ground work, and what we mostly get is a CGI showcase with a lot of overblown and over the top action set pieces, with lots of shaky cam work and poor dialogue.

That’s another unfortunate weakness in this movie. Although the movie starts out with promise, even going back and forth in time; much in the same way Batman Begins did, and in spite of the all-round, solid performances from all the cast, Kevin Costner is surprisingly effective as Jonathan Kent; there’s only so much the actors can do with what they’re given. I’d say that the strongest dramatic moments from the movie come from the scenes shared between young and old Clark (Dylan Sprayberry as the young Clark) and Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner). The moment when Clark watches Jonathan die is heartbreaking from a dramatic point of view, but then again, stupid story-wise. Being as fast as he is, Clark could have easily saved him without everybody else seeing. The same death scene for Jonathan is far more effective in Superman: The Movie (1978). Again, another lazy piece of writing that could have easily been corrected.

I’d say that, all in all, most of the movie’s problems stem from a hastily and poorly written script, that even the greatest actor in the world wouldn’t be able to save, and the direction of a filmmaker who clearly doesn’t understand the character and what it represents.

Henry Cavill and Amy Adams

It was always on the casting of the two main characters of the story that the success or failure of this movie was going to hinge.

Unfortunately, and despite their best efforts, the desired chemistry between the two actors is never achieved and thus, their supposed on-screen love seems contrived and forced. This is to no fault of both actors. They do the best they can with what they’re given. Lois Lane, once again, as a sign of the times, is portrayed as a tough, street-wise, hard as nails, news reporter who, through Amy Adam’s performance, comes off as smug and unlikable.

Cavill, on the other hand, is the perfect physical representation of Superman and does a pretty good job considering the circumstances.

So, how does this movie fare against the previous incarnation of the character?.

Battle of the Supermans

Of the last two movies entirely dedicated to the character, I’d say that from a visual point of view, Man of Steel comes out on stop. Snyder is a far stronger visualist than Synger. His work, even if you may not like it, is most of the time, visually striking. His penchant for creating iconic imagery is undeniable and this one, especially on the first act, is a feast for the eyes.

On the storytelling front, though, I’d have to give the nod to Synger. Even though the script for Superman Returns wasn’t the strongest, and that it mostly relied on the nostalgic factor from Donner’s Superman: The Movie; it still has a much better understanding of what the character is all about and the end result is much more emotionally moving than what Snyder is trying to convey. Plus, Routh’s Superman, for me, is a much better physical and emotional representation of the character.

Synger’s movie also boasts a far better musical score than Snyder’s. John Ottman’s score for Superman Returns was the perfect compliment to John William’s iconic music, whereas with Zimmer we get another droned out electronic score that tries to sonically replicate what the composer did with The Dark Knight Trilogy and it doesn’t suit the character at all.

Neither of the movies is perfect, but at least with the first one we get the character as it was intended, barring misconceived Production and Costume Design choices and with Man of Steel we get all the glitz and modern day approach that should have been in Superman Returns, minus the penchant for levelling out entire cities. A cross breed between the two would have been nice.

Thanks for reading.

Superman Lives: The Superman movie that never was

Back in 1997, and after a decade without a Superman movie being released on the big screen, Jon Peters, producer of Batman (1989), acquired, by chance, the rights for the famous comic book character practically under Warner Bros’ noses, who didn’t even know that the rights were up for grabs, and still believed were legally theirs.

Peters was known to be quite an odd and difficult character in the industry, with a penchant for micromanaging everything and everyone around him. He had already commissioned the writing of a first draft for the movie and this draft would be the one that would later fall in the hands of writer and filmmaker Kevin Smith, after a meeting with a Warner Bros executive about the possibility of future screenwriting assignments for various projects that Warner had in the pipeline, among them, an upcoming Superman proyect. Smith, being a long time Superman fan, saw an opportunity to pen a script for his favourite childhood Superhero. After reading the script and disliking it, he was asked back a few weeks later to discuss it with other Warner Execs. This would go on for a few more weeks until he was told to write an outline for what would be his script by, at the time, one of the heads of Warner Bros, Lorenzo di Buonaventura. He would later be told that he’d caught the attention of Peters and that he’d be very interested in sitting down with Smith to discuss the script. The rest, as they say, is history.

I was vaguely aware of this failed proyect over the years via the rare snippet of information; like it was going to be directed by Tim Burton, the casting of Nicholas Cage as Superman, his costume fitting photos that had leaked online….But it wasn’t until the release of the extraordinarily comprehensive documentary about it by Jon Schnepp; The Death of Superman Lives : What happened? (2015), that we were given a chance to dig real deep into what it was like for those who worked on the proyect and the ins and outs of a movie production that, for various reasons, would never see the light of day.

Early drafts

Right off the bat, and even though Peters had publicly declared his admiration for Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman: The Movie, he wanted to explore the character in a radically different way than what had been done before. And it was clear, as was later reflected in the subsequent Kevin Smith interviews done for the documentary that, Peters’ overall knowledge of the character was grossly lacking and that some of his bizarre ” suggestions” to Smith about what he wanted in the script; like not having Superman in his iconic suit, no flying sequences and that the protagonist would have to face a giant Spider, of all things, in the third act, were utterly perplexing.

Smith tried to do the best he could with what he was given, even though his draft was finally rejected for being uninspired and, according to Peters, having little action in it. Another reason for his draft being rejected was the hiring of Tim Burton as a director, whose first order of business was to reject Smith’s draft in favour of one written by Wesley Strick, who’d previously collaborated with Burton doing some rewrites for Batman Returns (1992).

The screenwriting process would be another point of contention and throughout the early stages of pre-production the proyect would end up having three different writers attached to it.

Pre-production mayhem

The lack of a clear direction in which the producers wanted to go for the character would result, as I stated previously, in the writing of three different drafts for the movie penned by three different screenwriters.

They all were, in my opinion, weak screenplays that needed much more work on them to achieve a satisfying final result. Of all three, which are widely available online and which I’ve had the chance to read, the weakest one would be the second draft by Wesley Strick (someone who clearly didn’t have a clear grasp on the character), and the strongest one the third, written by Dan Gilroy, clearly the most refined, taking many ideas from the second one, but which also needed more rewrites for it to be more filmic. Kevin Smith’s script was clearly written by a fanboy, who tried to cram in as many of the characters and situations of the Superman lore as possible. These of course, has to be understood, were merely first attempts to get the story going and they would clearly need to be worked on more before shooting started. Of course, none of the previous two screenwriters would stay on long enough to improve upon their work.

Now with the similarities. Even though each writer would have a different approach to the material, all three scripts would have a common thread on which to build the story, namely:

● It would have three archenemies in it: Lex Luthor, Brainiac and Doomsday.

● Superman would be killed in the first half of the movie.

●Superman would come back to life, without his powers, but with the aid of a Kryptonian A.I, he’d still be able to fight crime.

● Lex Luthor and Brainiac would join forces and would also be physically joined and become Lexiac, one being with two separate personalities.

● Brainiac would arrive on Earth on a Skull ship, and would travel with a menagerie of Alien creatures he’d collected in his travels, chief among them Doomsday, who he’d use to destroy Superman.

These were the main plot points that each writer had to meet and would be the foundation on which all the Costume and Production Design would be based.

The involvement of Tim Burton would bring about the collaboration of many of his former colleagues in both the Art and Concept Design department, who would bring many interesting and outlandish ideas to the table when it came to the creation of Krypton, the Skull Ship and especially, Superman’s new suit.

Nicholas Cage

But no other aspect of the production peaked the interest of the audience as much as the casting of Nicholas Cage did. His casting was controversial, to say the least, as his would not be a name that would jump out at the audience when thinking about Superman. He’d been a long time fan of the character and immediately jumped at the idea of playing the part and especially, turn him on his head in a way that had never been done before. No other actor was ever considered for the part and his, along with the participation of Tim Burton as Director were the only constants in a production that had lots of ups and downs. The unfortunate leak online of his Costume fitting photos would be another nail in the coffin of this doomed proyect as it would portray a deceiving image of what his final outlook as Superman would be.

Cold feet

The sheer amount of Box Office failures that Warner Bros had suffered during the second half of 1998 coupled with the ballooned budget for the movie of up to 200 million dollars and the risk taking nature of the proyect, would cause the Studio to withdraw the funding for the movie and allocate the budget to other upcoming and, deemed probably more successful proyects. And so, it wouldn’t be until years later and the release of Jon Schnepps’ documentary about the subject that we would find out all the truth about it.

Personal opinion

Would I have liked it?. Given the direction in which they were going and the outlandish nature of the Concept Design, I don’t think I would have. I would have seen it, for sure. But for me, unless I’m mistaken, it would have either resulted in something campy, much in the vein of Batman & Robin (1997), or it would have been a complete aberration altogether. My biggest issue with it, is undoubtedly the casting of Nick Cage as Superman. In my opinion, he doesn’t have the physical presence or dramatic attributes to give the character a fair shake, and the ideas they were going with in the script were so bizarre and so far removed from what people associated the character with, that it would have been a very weird viewing experience indeed.

Other ideas though, like the casting of Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor, who would later go on to play the role in Superman Returns (2006), and Christopher Walken in the role of Brainiac, especially the two of them as Lexiac, would have been amazing. Strangely enough, four weeks before filming started, no official announcement had been made about who was going to play the role of Lois Lane, even though Chris Rock, of all people, had apparently been selected to play Jimmy Olsen.

Weird casting choices, bizarre Concept Design and an even weirder screenplay, would have made for one strange looking movie.

All this being said, many of the ideas for this movie would later be, in one way or the other, used for other iterations of the character like Man of Steel (2013) and Batman vs Superman (2016).

For those of you who like documentaries or are interested in all Superman related stuff, I cannot recommend this highly enough. The story of how this documentary was made is a story on its own, with Schnepp and his producer going broke in several occasions and having to re-launch the crowdfunding campaign to get the necessary money to finish the proyect. What we get is a thoroughly researched proyect with various interesting insights from people inside the industry like Jon Peters, Kevin Smith, Tim Burton, Lorenzo di Buonaventura, Collen Atwood…and the personal take of a Superman fan on a subject he’d always been fascinated about.

If you want to get a hold of it, go to www. TDOSLWH.com.

Had it ever been made, it would have been a strange experience. But, given what we get nowadays when we go to the movies, it wouldn’t have been stranger or worse.

Thanks for reading.

Superman Returns: A failed but worthy attempt.

This will be the first of my Superman related posts that I will write to illustrate the different incarnations of the popular comic book character in both the big and small screen. These will be done in no particular order, since I’m more inclined to do the more controversial or, shall we say, “maligned” ones first. This will be more my personal take on them and will not necessarily reflect the general public or high brow critics opinion on these movies/ TV shows.

First off, I wanted to comment on this particular movie that came out in the Summer of 2006 and opened to general good reviews and made very good money in the box office, especially overseas. It had been over 20 years since Superman’s last appearance on the silver screen in the much derided and often considered by many fans, worst Superman movie ever. Superman IV : The Quest for Peace ( 1987), had been both a critical and financial failure, due mostly to the way The Cannon Group Inc. handled the financial aspect of the movie. After Superman III (1983), the rights to the character were once again up for grabs and unfortunately, ended up in the hands of Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus who, even though had some of the best people working on it, and after securing the participation of Christopher Reeve for the titular role, decided to cut the budget for the movie in half, presenting a very poor final product to the public, that would taint the material for the next decade. Several attempts were made to bring the character to life again for the big screen, in the form of an aborted attempt that ,at one point, even had the likes of Tim Burton and Nicholas Cage attached to it. None of those attempts came to fruition, though, and after languishing in Development Hell for many years, Bryan Singer came on board with a pitch for a new Superman movie that, more than a reimagining of the character, would be a direct sequel to Superman II (1980), disregarding the 2 follow-up movies Superman III ( 1983) and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987). This, ultimately, would prove to be the movie’s downfall in the public’s perception after repeated viewings, as it awkwardly stood on an undefined middle ground, where it didn’t really know what it was, a prequel or a sequel. Had Singer and the producers wanted to make a direct sequel to the 1980 movie, they should have gone all in, and made it a period piece to match up with the original and not have it set on the modern era of computer graphics and cell phones. This incapacity to give the movie an identity of its own would bring about odd choices in both the Production and Costume design, giving a retro vibe to the whole production that didn’t sit very well with the era setting. But, for me, what really took me out of the picture and still to this day does, was the newly overly designed custome for Superman. The muted colors in the new suit, along with the overly designed boots with Ss everywhere and a brownish looking cape with no S on the back, is, in my opinion, the worst Superman suit ever seen onscreen. The muted and cold color palette of the Cinematography didn’t help matters either, and all those bold and vivid colors that one would expect to get from a Superhero movie, just weren’t there.

To make matters worse, we were presented with a poorly developed script, which didn’t have much meat to it, and the almost all round good cast were resigned to work with what they were given, and mostly making good use of it, given the circumstances. In that respect, Brandon Routh as the main character, ended up getting the raw end of the deal. A young and inexperienced actor, who I think, was cast mainly on the striking resemblance he bore to the late Christopher Reeve, and, who against all the odds wound up giving a very solid performance as both Clark Kent and Superman. I honestly believe that, had he been given the chance to reprise the role, he would have grown more comfortable into it and been a reference for future generations of actors attempting to play the same part. The same cannot be said unfortunately about Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane. She was terribly miscast. She was clearly too young to be credible as both a seasoned News reporter and a mom, she was stuck with the most horrible wig ( why she went with that instead of just dyeing her hair its something that buffles me) and was all round a less likable Lois Lane. The rest of the cast did an OK job, Frank Langella as a more subdued Perry White than Jackie Cooper’s and especially Kevin Spacey, who steals the show. His Lex Luther is basically the same as Gene Hackman’s, even repeating some of the lines and the humour, but he also brought a more sadistic and cruel nature to the character.

All in all, the movie is way too long, the characters are underdeveloped, the script is weak, there are some very odd Costume and Production design choices, the Superman suit is horrendous, the Cinematography is too bleak and there’s very little action.

On the plus side, we get some very good action set pieces like the Shuttle rescue, Supes rescue scenes during the earthquake in Metropolis, Lois and Jason’s rescue from Luthor’s sinking ship, the final confrontation on New Krypton…There’s the odd shot with some iffy CGI, which Singer chose to use a lot of during the flying sequences, even after extensive training on wires and even underwater by Routh to achieve the necessary and natural fluidity of someone flying. These scenes are very noticeable and have dated the movie considerably. Other visual effects used in the Shuttle rescue scene, Superman lifting a broken ship from the bottom of the sea or lifting New Krypton into outer space are very well done. All in all, the Visual effects in the movie are a mixed bag.

The use of John Williams’ iconic Superman theme for the opening credits along with the use of Marlon Brando’s likeness for the Fortess of Solitude sequences is another plus. The score by long-time Singer’s collaborator John Ottman is a perfect match to Williams’ epic score and easily one of his best ever.

It’s a pity that they never got a better script to work with, but that being said, it’s got one of the most bizarre ideas for a Superman script ever put to screen concerning Lois’ child and that sadly never got to be further developed in a sequel.

In short, some very iconic imagery; Superman catching the Daily Planet’s globe before it crashes on the street, the Shuttle rescue sequence and the final confrontation on New Krypton would be the stand out set pieces in a movie that doesn’t have many of them. All the rest, like Lex’s visit to The Fortress of Solitude, his obsession about Land, Clark’s chidhood memories of discovering his powers…are all there for fan service purposes only and a clear callback to the 1978 movie. As if we needed reminding.

It was a highly anticipated movie back in the day and it still has, for my money, one of the best Teaser trailers ever made for cinema. No wonder we all got so excited.

A failed but worthy attempt that sadly we never got to see more of.

Thanks for reading

Eyes Wide Shut

A biting comment on today’s personal relationships and especially, those whitin the Marriage institution.

One of Kubrick’s most controversial movies

Back in 1999, when Kubrick’s posthumous movie came out, everyone was expecting something sensational. Unfortunately, even though it was sensational, it wasn’t in the way people were expecting it to be. Rumours of a rather stressfull shoot and, that the content of the movie would be highly sexualized, were only the box office bait that the audience needed to turn up in mass to see it. Granted, it’s got some sex scenes that without being overly pornographic, would easily fall in the category of soft porn. But what the movie is great at, is suggesting rather than showing. Everything about it is suggestive of sex, in one form or the other. But that is not really the most interesting narrative that the movie is trying to push. Its main narrative is about deception in personal relationships. From the very first sequence, when the married couple, protagonist of the story, are getting ready to go to a Christmas party, we can see in their respective routines and how they handle themselves that, this is not a happy marriage. The way Doctor Bill Hartford (Tom Cruise), doesn’t even look at his wife, Alice Hartford (Nicole Kidman), when she asks him how her hair looks, is quite revealing. Whether Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman were already having problems back then, is unknown ;but the dynamic of a broken couple, which has long since fallen into routine, is very well represented throughout the movie, especially Kidman, who comes out on top in the acting duel. At the party, organized by one of Bill’s patients, Victor Ziegler ( a superb Sydney Pollack), they both will be tempted by the opposite sex into cheating. Although nothing comes out of either attempt, this sole incident will be the trigger for what’s about to follow. It’s later, when they’re back home from the party and start having sex in front of a mirror, that we can see from the look on Alice’s face that, even though she’s receptive to Bill’s sexual attentions, she seems distracted and pensive.

After completing their respective routines the next day, they decide to wind down smoking some pot and that is when all Hell breaks loose. After acknowledging to each other their respective forays with the opposite sex the night before, Alice, quite angry at the suggestion from Bill that her attractiveness and desirability was the main reason for her being hit on, and after Bill’s assurances that he would never cheat on her and, that he’s completely sure of her faithfulness, decides to tell him about an encounter she had while staying at a hotel during their last vacation. Although she reassures him that, in the end, nothing really happened, she tells him about the encounter with a Naval officer, who was staying at the same hotel and with whom she had a sexual fantasy. From that moment on, everything that Bill had ever taken for granted, crumbles all around him. He’s no longer sure about his marriage and every thing that they’ve built together. Everything else that unravels afterwards is a direct consequence of Alice’s revelation. He receives a phone call from the daughter of a patient who’s just died and is struck by yet another revelation, when the daughter confesses to him that’s she’s been secretly in love with him all these years, even though she’s engaged to be married. Unable to cope with this, and still reeling from his recent conversation with Alice, he wanders around the city and winds up being picked up by a very attractive prostitute, Domino (Vinessa Shaw). While in her flat, he receives a call from Alice and, ashamed of what he was about to do, leaves and ends up in a bar, where a friend of his from medical school, Nick Nightingale (Todd Field), who is a pianist and who he ran into the night before at the Christmas party, tells him of a secret gig he’s been hired for later on that night. Needless to say, this circumstance will prompt a series of sexual related encounters that could end up having dire consequences for both him and his family’s safety. During the majority of the movie, Cruise’s character is shown at his most vulnerable and someone who’s clearly out of his depth. He’s unable to cope with his Wife’s revelation and even though he’s given every chance from then on, to cheat on her, nothing really ever happens. When he does decide to act, he’s taken aback by the intervention of Aids. We witness everything that happens to him as a consequence of his uncertainty and by the end, nothing is really resolved, and there’s just one thing that keeps both Alice and him together. And that is Sex.

There are ample instances throughout the movie where we’re shown the fragile state of their marriage. The aforementioned scene with the hair, the way Alice picks up a glass of Champagne and drinks from it at the Party after leaving Bill to go speak with Nick, the way she flirts with the Hungarian Business man she dances with at the Party, the place where she hides the pot (inside the First Aid kit), when she tells him about the dream she has later on in the movie about having sex with multiple men wearing masks and is related to what happens to Bill at the Orgy, in the old stately House. That scene, the Orgy in the Mansion, where everyone is wearing a mask is quite revealing in that, what we suppose to be wealthy and powerful people who want to hide their true identities to be able to give free rein to their desires, are really revealing their true nature by just doing so. The Deception, the Subterfuge, ultimately, the Mask, is their true identity. Much in the same way as Alice’s dreams and desires and Billy’s failed sexual forays in the night are their true identities. The only difference being, that they’re not wearing masks. They’ve had them and will probably have them all their life.

Thanks for reading.

Barry Lyndon

The Underrated masterpiece

Much has been said over the years about Stanley Kubrick’s filmography, and though most people tend to go for his Hallmark movies like Dr Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange and especially, 2001: A Space Odyssey, most viewers or even followers of his body of work, tend to forget about his most underrated movie, and, quite possibly, one of the most beautiful films ever made. It’s not overselling it when I say that, along with 2001, this is quite possibly his most striking film from a purely visual perspective.

First steps.

Back in 1973, and after the release and political backlash of A Clockwork Orange, Kubrick had begun working on a film about Napoleon, which later had to be abandoned due to the release and consequent financial failure of a film with a very similar subject matter: Serguei Bondarchuck’s Waterloo. Given that Kubrick had done a massive amount of research on the 18th Century, he decided he might as well use it for another movie that took place in the same time period. Having read a lot of classical literature, he turned his attention to William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, but found after reading it, that the cinematographic format would be most unsuitable to adapt the material faithfully and that it might be more appropriate to do it like a serial. He then turned his attention to another one of Thackeray’s books, The Luck of Barry Lyndon, one of his most unknown novels and a book that had hardly been reprinted since the 18th Century. This book, Kubrick felt, would be the ideal material for his new movie. He then started looking for the best film crew members in the business to help him realize his vision. First off, he contacted Production Designer Ken Adam, with whom he had worked previously in Dr Strangelove, who after a very strenuous working relationship during the filming of that movie, was reluctant to come back in his employ. Ken Adam, at first, recommended a friend of his for the job, but after an unsuccessful attempt by Kubrick of employing the man, he asked Adam once again, who reluctantly accepted and was the main architect in convincing Kubrick that the movie had to be shot in location rather than in Studio, which would later prove to come with its own set of problems.

Location scouting and shooting in Ireland and first hiccups.

The decision was made really early on to go shoot in Ireland, as it would be the most picturesque of places in terms of landscapes to do it. The crew took over the entire top floor of the Ard Rí Hotel in Waterford and rented from the local Volkswagen dealership 8 minibuses, 8 cars, 8 vans and 4 saloon cars. Kubrick used his entire crew, as well as his daughter, to go scouting for locations. They were given a page each from the script each morning and sent separately on their various scouting assignments. They, most often than not, would get into difficulty, from a logistical point of view, due to the stubbornness of Kubrick of visiting or shooting in some places that, given the rough nature of the terrain were almost impossible to navigate through. The crew also drew from the local talent to assist in the costume design, hair dressing and to act as extras. Kubrick also recruited the services of the local militia to use them as soldiers in all the battle scenes. Some local musical talent was also recruited to provide folklore music for the dancing sequences. It was during this period, whilst scouting for locations and due to the ever changing decisions made by Kubrick about where to shoot, that Production Designer Ken Adam suffered a nervous breakdown that would cause him to retire from the production. His psychiatrist strongly advised him to abandon the production and that his working relationship with Kubrick was proving to be toxic for his mental health. After a few weeks, he got better; although the constant stream of phone calls from Kubrick inquiring after his health, did not help.

With the shooting back on schedule, the photography would prove to be one more bump on the road of what was becoming a fairly problematic shoot.

The photography of the movie would become the single most challenging aspect of the entire filmmaking process.

Lighting problems and IRA threats.

After the decision was made to shoot in location, Kubrick decided that he wanted to shoot the entire movie, interior and exterior shots, with natural light, without the aid of artificial light sources. This would prove to be quite challenging due to the very nature of shooting outdoors with the ever changing weather conditions and the limited capabilities of the Camera set ups available back in the day. In order to achieve this, the cameras were outfitted with a special Zeiss lens that had originally been designed for NASA for outer space photography. The retrofitting process was difficult and shots, especially for at night and indoor scenes, only lit by hundreds and hundreds of candles, would be the trickier ones. The Zeiss lens had an aperture system that, given the natural light provided at any given time of the day, would require the lens to be opened up or closed down accordingly. This and the use of 18th Century paintings by author William Hogarth, as a reference for framing, would give the movie its unique live painting quality. And it would be rewarded with an Oscar for Best Photography by John Alcott.

Shooting went as smoothly as it could, given the conditions and the character of who was behind the camera, when another problem arose that would force Kubrick and his production crew to abandon Ireland overnight. Trouble had been brewing for a while in Northern Ireland with the IRA, and some threats had been directed at the crew and especially Kubrick, who decided to move production to England and Germany,where the rest of the movie would be finished. And that would be the end of their Irish adventure.

Casting choices.

Casting choices had always been polemical, to say the least, when it came to Stanley Kubrick. None more so than when he elected Ryan O’Neal to portray the main character in Barry Lyndon. His apparently lack of on-screen charisma and limited dramatic range wouldn’t put him on the top of the list to portray a character with such a remarkable dramatic arc. The way Kubrick chose to tell his story, though, in such a detached manner as to not make you relate to any of the characters on an emotional level, made him, in my opinion, the actor best suited to play the part ,and a decision that Kubrick fiercely defended when asked about it. To play the part of Lady Lyndon, he chose Marisa Berenson, a former Vogue model and an actress with limited on -screen experience, that given her limited amount of dialogue scenes and her natural beauty, proved to be another smart decision on Kubrick’s part. But what really proved to be the breakthrough performance of the entire film was the selection of Leon Vitali, to play the troubled and emotionally dependant Lord Bullingdon, son of Charles and Lady Lyndon. He would later become Kubrick’s assistant and forego his acting career. The rest of the cast was completed with the appearance of most of Kubrick’s recurring cast members.

Soundtrack

For the soundtrack of the movie, Kubrick decided to use pieces of classical music by Handel and Schubert and all this was arranged by composer Leonard Rosenman, who won an Oscar for his efforts. The explanation by Kubrick of deciding not to use an original soundtrack was that, for him, having all these wonderful compositions available to him and which so well represented what he musically wanted to convey in the movie, he couldn’t possibly envision himself using other material than this. That was a commonplace practice throughout his career and the use of an original soundtrack was mostly a rare occurrence.

Financial and critical reception

The movie was, unfortunately, not the financial success Warner Bros was hoping for in the United States, but it faired much better in the Europen market.

From a critical point of view, the movie was received coldly in most critical circles; critics at the time failing to see through the undisputable technical merits of the movie and brushing it off as another glacial exercise on style by Kubrick with no emotional warmth to it. Most of the same critics who would later, over the years, come to appreciate the film for its artistic and, not only technical achievements, and regard it as one of the most important movies ever made in their list of best movies in Cinema History.

Personal opinion

Granted the movie is not something that is for everyone. Its slow pace and duration probably put off a lot of people back in the day. This is not to say that it’s a film in which nothing much happens. Quite the contrary. Over a running time of over 3 hours we are witness to all the changes experienced by its main character ,but, as good or bad as these experiences may be, and with the aid of an improbable third person narration coupled with the cold and detached manner in which Kubrick chose to tell the story, we watch those changes rather than feel them along with Barry. And it’s a storytelling tool that Kubrick had every intention of using. We’re not supposed to feel any sympathy for a character in whose dramatic development Chance plays a main role. This is something that is summed up perfectly on the film’s poster art work; what we understand to be the lower half of Barry’s body holding a pistol in his hand and stepping on a Rose with his left foot. All of this conveys precisely the main narrative of the film; the pistol signifying the three Duels throughout his life that will determine his destiny, and the Rose that signifies the beauty in his life that will inevitably be destroyed by his own hand. It’s a tale of Chance and its consequences. Examples of this are peppered throughout the movie; in various scenes during the movie we see our main protagonist playing cards, each of which are there to show us a particular development in the character; from naivety and love at the very beginning of the movie, to unscrupulous behaviour halfway through the story, to utter resignation and defeat at the very end. The movie is filled with “what ifs”in the development of the story. Had the character not been orphaned as such a young age, had he not fallen in love with the wrong woman….And in all of this, the PISTOL, signifying the Three Duels in the movie, that will play a significant part in his story. The painting- like framing in the movie with its constant zoom out shots, are there to, not only establish the character’s surroundings, but to also show us that he’s just part, and sometimes a tiny part, of his surroundings. He’s just a cog in the machinery of his own life. He, ultimately, has no control over it. Everything has been left to chance and his fruitless attempts to belong to a High Society, in which, due to his low social stature by birth, has no chance of being a part of, are doomed to failure. The movie begs repeated viewing to catch all the nuances, but it’s well worth your time.

What we’re left with it’s one of the most beautiful looking movies ever made with gorgeous Production and Costume Design, superb Photography, marvellous soundtrack and the expert guiding hand of one the best directors who ever lived.

Home media

The movie has gone through several home media iterations over the years; from VHS to Laserdisc, DVD and, ultimately Bluray. Given the love and care with which the Kubrick Estate has treated the different remastering processes over the years, it’s no surprise that the movie has always looked the best it possibly could. The biggest change to the home media presentation of the movie came about in the early 2000s with the new remaster for DVD in both picture and especially sound. The movie was given a brand new Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround sound mix that would later be upgraded to a DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 for the Bluray. Despite what many purist might say, this new sound mix proves to be a massive improvement over the original Monoaural Sound for both the VHS and later on, the Laserdisc. Dialogues are clearer and the music is rendered beautifully in all channels. It’s predominantly a front heavy mix, being as it is a dialogue heavy movie. There’s not much surround activity for the battle scenes, though the existence of a LFE channel gives these more oomph in the bass department. A clear improvement and the best the movie has ever sounded. As for picture quality, the way to go is the Bluray. Contrary to the Laserdisc and DVD, the colours in this transfer pop out more, there’s definitly more detail in close up shots and mid to wide range shots, more nuances in clothing and faces; although this movie having been shot the way it was, with the predominant use of natural light, the image is always going to look a tad soft, but this is definitively the best way to watch it.

So that concludes my comment on Barry Lyndon. If you’re familiar with Kubrick’s filmography, but haven’t checked this one out yet, definitively do. And even if you’re not into Kubrick movies, you owe it to yourself to watch it at least once.

Until next time and thanks for reading.

Hi there, film geeks

I’ve been enjoying movies from a very early age and my intention with this blog is to talk about my favourite movies and also share in a like minded forum my thoughts about the current status of cinema in the digital era, where everything is readily available, and going to a Movie Theater to see a movie is becoming increasingly rare and the norm is to stay home and download or watch movies from any of the various streaming services available to us nowadays.

I’d also like to talk about old tech, especially Laserdiscs, which is something that I got into at the tail end of its existence, when the technology was being rapidly replaced by the newest and more affordable DVD. It’s a rarity that’s becoming increasingly popular lately in many online forums, where the collection of Laserdiscs has become almost a trend. I don’t know of anyone in my personal circle who even knew about the technology before I showed them my personal collection.

And finally, I’ll be reviewing movies, both all time favourites and new releases that catch my eye. These will be my personal take on a particular movie, and will not necessarily represent the opinion of the general public. It’s important to point this out, I think, since some people get upset about this sort of thing.

Anyhow, those are my ideas for this blog and I’ll be dropping my first fully fledged post very soon…

See you around….