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Get Ken on the horn...it's time to watch every Superman 
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Post Re: Get Ken on the horn...it's time to watch every Superman
Superman II (1980) ***

I enjoyed this film quite a bit. Reading about its trouble production history was fascinating, but it doesn't feel like the work of two warring auteurs. In fact, it fit together quite well. I was certainly unable to tell who shot what until I read about the movie later. It does a good job with the Lois/Clark relationship (these were easily my favorite scenes) and the Metropolis battle near the end was fun, in a sort of preview of what the Avengers would do 30 years later. Having capable villains was nice too, as Hackman never really makes his character menacing so he's better in a supporting role. Plus, less Ned Beatty. All things considered, I might prefer this one to the first one. Maybe.

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Sun Nov 24, 2013 10:02 am
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Post Re: Get Ken on the horn...it's time to watch every Superman
Those differences between the two Dicks, particularly in their visual approaches, might become more illuminated once you get to Lester's fully solo effort. Compare the style of III to the style of the original and you get II's hybrid characteristics.

I'm not bagging on Lester, necessarily. He's not a bad filmmaker at all. But it's possible to make a relatively inexpensive movie look like an expensive one, and I just can't excuse how cheap his Superman stuff appears to be. I can't help thinking he did it on purpose, though I can't fathom the reasoning for it. Donner clearly wanted Superman to resemble one of the great classical epics of cinema. Lester seems like he was going for the TV movie look. His approach for this material just feels wrong to me, and that's not even getting into his penchant for undercutting strong moments with bad gags.

I've also heard that Richard Lester was a pretty decent guy, and a lot of Superman fans (and even some of the cast and crew) trash him pretty hard for what they perceive to be his role in firing Richard Donner and sinking these movies. I think that's pretty unfair. Lester was as much a tool of all the behind-the-scenes machinations as anybody else. I'm not even sure he wanted to do Superman II.

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Sun Nov 24, 2013 3:03 pm
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Post Re: Get Ken on the horn...it's time to watch every Superman
Ken wrote:
Those differences between the two Dicks, particularly in their visual approaches, might become more illuminated once you get to Lester's fully solo effort. Compare the style of III to the style of the original and you get II's hybrid characteristics.

I'm not bagging on Lester, necessarily. He's not a bad filmmaker at all. But it's possible to make a relatively inexpensive movie look like an expensive one, and I just can't excuse how cheap his Superman stuff appears to be. I can't help thinking he did it on purpose, though I can't fathom the reasoning for it. Donner clearly wanted Superman to resemble one of the great classical epics of cinema. Lester seems like he was going for the TV movie look. His approach for this material just feels wrong to me, and that's not even getting into his penchant for undercutting strong moments with bad gags.

I've also heard that Richard Lester was a pretty decent guy, and a lot of Superman fans (and even some of the cast and crew) trash him pretty hard for what they perceive to be his role in firing Richard Donner and sinking these movies. I think that's pretty unfair. Lester was as much a tool of all the behind-the-scenes machinations as anybody else. I'm not even sure he wanted to do Superman II.


I will agree that there's no scene in II that matches the Clark-and-his-mom-in-the-cornfield scene in the original that made me go "Damn...when did David Lean get here?"

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Post Re: Get Ken on the horn...it's time to watch every Superman
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I will agree that there's no scene in II that matches the Clark-and-his-mom-in-the-cornfield scene in the original that made me go "Damn...when did David Lean get here?"


I was just thinking the same thing about that scene. The Jeff East scenes give off that epic vibe, but Donner doesn't maintain that tone throughout.


Sun Nov 24, 2013 6:01 pm
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Post Re: Get Ken on the horn...it's time to watch every Superman
JamesKunz wrote:
I will agree that there's no scene in II that matches the Clark-and-his-mom-in-the-cornfield scene in the original that made me go "Damn...when did David Lean get here?"

Yeah, that's brilliant. One thing the producers did right was get on the phone with just about any talented person in the movie business who would take their calls. Some of their ideas were really out there, but hiring Geoffrey Unsworth on the strength of 2001: A Space Odyssey was an inspired choice.

MGamesCook wrote:
I was just thinking the same thing about that scene. The Jeff East scenes give off that epic vibe, but Donner doesn't maintain that tone throughout.

In terms of visual style? Donner does. There might not be any rolling landscapes or crystal castles in the city scenes, but the vivid sense of composition is still there. Some of the stuff the second unit guys were turning in wasn't up to snuff--mainly shots that were composited into the special effects scenes--but that's what happens when you rush a shooting schedule. And there's a lot more of that stuff later in the movie, for obvious reasons.

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Sun Nov 24, 2013 6:07 pm
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Post Re: Get Ken on the horn...it's time to watch every Superman
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In terms of visual style? Donner does. There might not be any rolling landscapes or crystal castles in the city scenes, but the vivid sense of composition is still there. Some of the stuff the second unit guys were turning in wasn't up to snuff--mainly shots that were composited into the special effects scenes--but that's what happens when you rush a shooting schedule. And there's a lot more of that stuff later in the movie, for obvious reasons.


I think Unsworth is the one mostly responsible for all that, rather than Donner. The film's vivid sense of composition is uneven. It constantly cuts back and forth between good shots and pedestrian shots during almost every scene. That can't stand up to Wrath of Khan, for instance, where every single shot is composed with an eye toward coherence. Superman tends to look pretty good, but not in a consistent or holistic way. All the beautiful shots in the world are no good unless you can cut them together fluidly, and Superman is consistently choppy. You can definitely tell that both shooting and editing were rushed.


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Post Re: Get Ken on the horn...it's time to watch every Superman
Compare Unsworth's work on 2001 to his work on Superman. Both excellent, but two very different styles. Unsworth was a brilliant craftsman who did what his directors asked him to do. There's no doubt that he was one of the greatest talents of his generation, but he was hardly a Gordon Willis (for example) who bullheadedly stamped his own vision on everything he did.

As for alternating between striking shots and shots that are more straightforwardly functional, you can say that about any movie with striking cinematography. Those functional shots put gas in the tank and the striking shots burn the gas. You need a certain discrimination between which shots are going to stand out and which ones are not, or none of them will stand out. A beautiful shot only works for the movie if it's not jammed in with a bunch of other beautiful shots that are all shouting each other down.

Wrath of Khan is pretty workmanlike in its style. It does its job, which is a good thing, but its main value is its pragmatism. It's not a style that's ever going to be noted for producing aesthetic beauty, because it has other virtues that it must mind. I admire Nicholas Meyer for that--he's someone who might not show you wonders, but he'll spin a yarn with the best of them.

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Sun Nov 24, 2013 11:44 pm
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Post Re: Get Ken on the horn...it's time to watch every Superman
Okay, Skyfall then. Every shot is a beauty, and it incorporates its own sort of pragmatism. But with Superman, I can't quite reconcile the vast landscape shots with the cheesy close-ups of Zod's eyes and mouth at the beginning. I see this same problem in The Omen and The Goonies. Wide, relaxing vistas coupled with moments of extremely cheesy editing (the dog possessing the nanny in Omen). The Omen contains some great horror scenes (love the reverend's death) and some laughable scenes (the overdone zoo segment). This weird inconsistency defines the first half of Donner's career. He runs the range from ultimate gravitas to ultimate campiness. That scene in the cornfield doesn't belong in the same film with Superman turning back time.


Sun Nov 24, 2013 11:58 pm
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Post Re: Get Ken on the horn...it's time to watch every Superman
Superman turning back time wasn't supposed to be in this movie.

Ribbing aside, the editing of the Zod scene would certainly have been inappropriate in the cornfield scene, but it works in the scene that it's used for. It works up a palpable sense of rage, which subsequently extinguishes itself once we're out of the extreme closeup range. It's a quick and effective way of developing Zod from righteous indignation to abject defeat.

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Mon Nov 25, 2013 12:35 am
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Post Re: Get Ken on the horn...it's time to watch every Superman
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Superman turning back time wasn't supposed to be in this movie


But that's what the movie ultimately is. I don't see how you can judge a film on what it was intended to be. Even Orson Welles fans admit the limitations of that.

If a device calls too much obvious attention to itself, I have a hard time thinking about its function in the story. I already understand the point of the scene. For me, the cutting between Zod's eyes and mouth calls too much attention to itself and takes me out of the story. It's a bit egregious, not necessary in the way that the cutting of the Psycho shower scene is necessary.

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Those functional shots put gas in the tank and the striking shots burn the gas. You need a certain discrimination between which shots are going to stand out and which ones are not, or none of them will stand out. A beautiful shot only works for the movie if it's not jammed in with a bunch of other beautiful shots that are all shouting each other down.


There exist plenty of movies, hundreds, where every single shot is done with a particular style, and all shots are pretty much equally beautiful and visually coagulant. The bold is the whole point: holism. The whole movie is supposed to stand out, not single images.


Mon Nov 25, 2013 3:31 am
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Post Re: Get Ken on the horn...it's time to watch every Superman
MGamesCook wrote:
But that's what the movie ultimately is. I don't see how you can judge a film on what it was intended to be.

I know. I was joking. See, you said it doesn't belong in the movie, whereupon I pointed out that it literally doesn't, whereupon we all laugh and marvel at how much of a good joke-making-guy I am. At least, that's how it played out in my head.

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There exist plenty of movies, hundreds, where every single shot is done with a particular style, and all shots are pretty much equally beautiful and visually coagulant. The bold is the whole point: holism. The whole movie is supposed to stand out, not single images.

Holism isn't about everything being equal at doing the same stuff. Remember the Spielberg maxim: three great scenes, no bad ones. This is a maxim that can be principally applied to anything, not just scenes, and he's very specifically suggesting that there be a limit on the number of standout scenes in a movie. Or, really, the number of standout whatevers in anything. Holism is purely about considering the piece as a whole rather than as a set of parts--and a set of parts that are all trying to shout each other down isn't going to make for as good a whole as a set of parts that know when to stand out and when to stand back.

I don't begrudge you your opinion that maybe some shots in Superman that you wanted to be wowed by ultimately didn't wow you, but, hell, everything being beautiful is functionally the same as nothing being beautiful.

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Tue Nov 26, 2013 3:42 am
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Post Re: Get Ken on the horn...it's time to watch every Superman
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everything being beautiful is functionally the same as nothing being beautiful.


Perhaps that was Altman's interpretation. In some of his movies (that aren't McCabe), there really are zero beautiful shots. But the holistic, functional results of that were sometimes exhilarating (Long Goodbye, for me).

But the opposite of Altman's approach has also been embraced by filmmakers who knew well the risk of it. What you're describing is probably what makes Kubrick and Walter Hill feel cold to some viewers. I see what you're saying. That's part of the reason why Hill and Kubrick were never as successful as Spielberg. At the end of the day, the Long Goodbye approach probably beats the Warriors approach. An intentional lack of beauty provides a more visceral punch for me, but only when done right (purely functional movies are often holy grails imo).

Another instance where too much beauty could arguably be a problem is A.I. I think functionality is the key there. Some directors probably don't know how to compose a beauty-less shot. Just the way their brain works maybe. I guess it also depends on the definition of beauty. I can see where the approach of the cornfield scene wouldn't have worked the whole time.

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Remember the Spielberg maxim: three great scenes, no bad ones.


Hawks said it first :D. Just saying.


Tue Nov 26, 2013 4:38 am
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Post Re: Get Ken on the horn...it's time to watch every Superman
Yeah, well, Kubrick's the guy I got "If everything is beautiful, nothing is beautiful" from, so I'm doubly not-original. Take that, me.

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Tue Nov 26, 2013 4:46 am
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Post Re: Get Ken on the horn...it's time to watch every Superman
Superman III (1983) **

This was the worst Superman movie I've seen since Waiting for Superman. In fact, it might be worse. Just barely. We've got Richard Vaughn as a Lex Luthor clone in every regard but without Hackman's amusement in the role, Lois Lane is nowhere to be found, Superman spends half the damn running length at his high school reunion (before becoming Emo Superman a la Spider-man 3) the "comedic" parts are bad, bad, bad and Richard Pryor is never funny or really there for a reason.

The worst part is that people say IV is far worse. That should be something...

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Sun Dec 15, 2013 11:28 pm
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Post Re: Get Ken on the horn...it's time to watch every Superman
What is the point of putting Richard Pryor in an ostensibly comedic role, in a movie that is intended as family entertainment? Hooray for producers whose understanding of filmmaking amounts to "Step 1: hire famous people. Step 2: ??? Step 3: profit."

The thing I dislike most about Superman III is that there aren't even really any strong ideas underneath it. What are the themes of this movie? There might be a few half-baked ones struggling to come together here and there, but there's no real definition to the whole thing. It's not really about anything. I don't know if anyone involved really understands what this movie was supposed to be, and it shows.

Dog bless Christopher Reeve for somehow managing to treat this mess with the same dedication as he treated his other appearances as the character.

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Sun Dec 15, 2013 11:49 pm
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Post Re: Get Ken on the horn...it's time to watch every Superman
Ken wrote:


The thing I dislike most about Superman III is that there aren't even really any strong ideas underneath it. What are the themes of this movie? There might be a few half-baked ones struggling to come together here and there, but there's no real definition to the whole thing. It's not really about anything. I don't know if anyone involved really understands what this movie was supposed to be, and it shows.

.


You know that's a really good point. It's thematically rudderless

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Mon Dec 16, 2013 12:08 am
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Post Re: Get Ken on the horn...it's time to watch every Superman
Personally I like IV better then III, at least IV didn't is kind of amusing because it dosen't have all the cringe-inducing comedy that III has. I did like Pryor though, he was the main reason I stuck through to the end.


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Post Re: Get Ken on the horn...it's time to watch every Superman
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987) **

You know what, I'm going to go on record and say this one wasn't as bad as everyone said it would be. Now that's certainly damning a movie with faint praise, and faint praise is indeed all I will give it. Many of the aspects of the movie that people warned me about are indeed terrible: most notably, it does look extremely cheap. The flying sequences are indeed terrible. But you see, once 30 years have passed, most special effects look dated regardless of how good they were originally. So while IV does look worse than I, the gulf between their effects is smaller now than it was when this one was released.

With that said, there are issues here that are not SFX related. Jon Cryer's character is pretty stupid, as is the film's conception of Nuclear Man, as brought to life by the legendary Mark Pillow. But I liked having Lois and Lex back in the picture, I liked the film's idea of taking all the world's nuclear missiles and putting them in in a giant space bag (admittedly, probably not for the reasons the filmmakers intended) and so while there are a million things wrong with this one, I legitimately prefer it to III.

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Sun Jan 05, 2014 10:43 am
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Post Re: Get Ken on the horn...it's time to watch every Superman
JamesKunz wrote:
Nuclear Man, as brought to life by the legendary Mark Pillow

One of the great screen performances of our time.


...


[Reveal] Spoiler:
Image

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Sun Jan 05, 2014 3:05 pm
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Post Re: Get Ken on the horn...it's time to watch every Superman
Superman Returns (2006) **1/2

A strange movie, born just before Hollywood took the idea of "reboots" and ran with them. Today there's no way a sequel would be made to a popular franchise 20 years later -- it would be rebooted with a new chronology. Hell, Spider-Man did that like 4 years after the last film in the old trilogy.

Now for the movie itself. It's been kind of forgotten by history already, with disappointing box office (when compared to its huge budget) leading to the new Zac Snyder/Henry Cavill version that I'll check out shortly, and to a certain degree I understand people's problems. Brandon Routh just does not possess Christopher Reeve's charms. He's pretty wooden and hard to like, and it robs the movie of a lot of the original series' appeal. In addition, the special effects are super CGI-y in a way that looks very dated now and frankly probably looked very dated in the far ago year of 2006. Langella's Perry White is no fun at all, and the actor who plays Lois's kid is fucking terrible. He looks demonic. He acts demonic. He seems ported in from another movie...a horror movie.

On the other hand, though, Kate Bosworth is likable as Lois, the action sequence with the plane is a winner, bad CGI and all, the movie moves pretty quickly, Spacey is very good as Luthor and they've thankfully ditched the terrible comedy of III and the ill-advised message-making of IV. So while it had flaws, it wasn't a bad movie really. It fits easily after I/II and before III/IV

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