Superman II (Richard Donner cut)

  • Title: Superman II (Richard Donner cut)
  • Director: Richard Donner
  • Date: 1980, 2006 (Reconstruction / Donner edit)
  • Studio: Warner Brother’s
  • Genre: Action, Fantasy
  • Cast: Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman, Marlon Brando, Ned Beatty, Sarah Douglas, Jack O’Halloran, Terence Stamp, John Ratzenberger, Shane Rimmer

“Clark, once a girl’s seen Superman in action, Niagara Falls kinda’ leaves you cold. You know what I mean?” – Lois Lane

“It is you! I guess I’ve known this for the longest time.” – Lois
“You realize of course, if you’d been wrong, Clark Kent would have been killed.” – Clark/Superman
“With a blank? Gotcha!” – Lois

“This Super Man is nothing of the kind, I’ve discovered his weakness.” – Zod
“Yes?” – Ursa
“He cares. He actually cares for these Earth people.” – Zod
“Like pets?” – Ursa
“I suppose so.” – Zod

I never saw Superman II when it came out, and I’m unaware of the details of any controversy surrounding the film, or the director. Apparently, Donner was the original director and was replaced. However, what I watched was Donner’s cut of the film, and that is what I will be reviewing here.

Superman II starts with a repeat of Superman the Movie, with Jor-El carrying out the sentence of Krypton’s high Council to exile three Kryptonian villains to the Phantom Zone. Zod still threatens Jor-El and his heirs. The movie also includes a few clips of the previous film, setting the stage for the sequel. It also shows the missile Superman threw into space from the first film, hitting the phantom zone and at first splitting it apart, then cracking the parts open, releasing the villains.

At the Daily Planet, Perry, Lois, and Jimmy are discussing the story of Superman defeating Lex Luthor. Jimmy says that it’s too bad Clark missed the Big Story. And Lois casually responds, “Clark is never around when Superman is around.” Then she has a lightbulb moment. Perry calls Lois and Clark into his office.  He wants them to go undercover as newlywed’s to cover hotel swindles at Niagara Falls. In Perry’s office, Lois confronts Clark with the idea she thinks he’s Superman. She even goes so far as to throw herself out of Perry’s high rise window. Clark saves her subtly, and without “becoming” Superman.

Meanwhile – Luthor and Otis are working in the prison laundry. Luthor’s girlfriend rescues Luthor, but Otis is left behind.

Also, meanwhile, in Houston, two NASA controllers are talking to the Artemis 2 mission to the moon. The three Kyptonian criminals arrive on the moon. They kill the astronauts and cosmonaut.

Lois and Clark are at Niagara Falls, pretending to be a newlywed couple.

Lex Luthor and his girlfriend discover Superman’s fortress of solitude by using Lex’s alpha wave tracker. Lex places crystals (one by one) into Superman’s crystal computer. Luthor and his girlfriend listen to Jor-El explaining about the three super-villains from Krypton. Luthor, of course, wants to find them.  He starts making a speech – but his girlfriend has left to use the ladies.

At Niagara Falls, Clark’s glasses get steamed up and she cleans them for him. She’s also taking pictures with a Polaroid camera. A little boy plays on the wrong side of the rail, despite warnings from his mother.

Meanwhile, the three Kryptonian villains fly through the sky, and land in or near a swamp. Zod walks on water.

At Niagara Falls, there’s a beautiful rainbow in the mist from the falls, which no one really notices. However, the little boy loses his grip on the rail and falls. Superman rescues him.

Then Clark returns to Lois. Lois again wonders about this.

In their hotel room, Clark is in a black tux and Lois in a towel applying her make-up. She again talks to him about how it sure was strange that of all the places where a child might be in danger, Superman was here, today. And how she couldn’t find Clark when Superman arrived. Clark tries to talk to her about it. Lois takes out a gun and shoots him. Clark admits he’s Superman. As Superman he takes Lois flying – to his fortress of solitude.

There’s a few cuts showing the Kryptonian villains and what they are doing.

What’s more interesting is that Clark prepares a nice meal for Lois, gives her champagne, and they then sleep together. The next morning, Clark talks to the computer image of his father about being in love with Lois. He decides to expose himself to the radiation of Krypton’s red sun which will take away his super powers permanently and leave him mortal.

Zod and his fellow villains destroy the town of “East Huston, Idaho”. Zod announces he will be ruler. Later there’s a shot of the Washington Monument being destroyed.

As Clark talks to his father, before deciding to take his radiation bath – Lois watches silently from a distance, but understands everything that is going on.

The three Kryptonian villains wreck havoc at the White House. Some advisor kneels before Zod, but Zod realizes immediately he’s not the president. The president agrees to kneel before Zod if everyone is spared. But he mentions that “one man” will never kneel.

Lois and Clark arrive at a diner. While Clark’s in the men’s room, the local bully starts to harass Lois. Clark arrives and instead of beating the guy up or defending Lois’s honor – he’s beaten-up by the guy. Clark is shocked to see his own blood. Lois attacks the bully then they are eventually left alone.

The waitress turns on the news and the president announces that he is “abdicating” all control to Gen. Zod, though in the midst of his speech he calls out to Superman for help.

Clark tells Lois he has to go back. Lois tells him it’s not his fault.

Meanwhile, Luthor meets the three villains. He offers in bargain the “son of Jor-El”, Superman. Lex wants “Australia”.

Clark struggles back to the fortress, alone. He sees the destroyed crystal computer.  He calls out to his father and admits his failure. Clark looks extremely sad and sympathetic and it’s some of Christopher Reeve’s best acting in the two films. Then he sees the glowing green crystal. He puts it in one of the few remaining glass tubes in the computer.

There’s an odd crystal mask, then the hologram of Jor-el appears. Jor-el gives his son his final message. There is a way for Clark (Kal-El) to regain his powers. But it will completely destroy the computer and Jor-El’s holographic image. Kal-El is flooded with his father’s essence, when the solid-appearing full-size hologram of Jor-El touches Kal-El he seizes, glows and becomes Superman.

Perry is at the Daily Planet talking to Lois and Jimmy about the three villains. Then they arrive and cause havoc. Non grabs Perry, and hits his head against the ceiling, knocking him out. Ursa breaks Lois’s hand. Zod destroys Jimmy’s camera.

Superman returns and confronts Zod and the others. There’s a major fight scene. When flying Non and Ursa have a vampire-like look. There’s a lot of destruction in “Metropolis” which is obviously New York. The fight continues.

Zod and Ursa throw a bus full of people. Superman is buried between the bus and a truck. Everyone is saying Superman is dead, and a mob even starts to confront the three villains – but they are blown away by super cold breath – that moves people, papers, and even cars.

Superman rises from where he was crushed, but he’s weak – he flies away.

The three villains return to the Daily Planet. Lex tells them he has “Superman’s address”. The three villains take Lex and Lois with them to the Fortress of Solitude. There, Zod threatens to let Ursa kills Lois if Superman doesn’t play ball. He also threatens Lex Luthor. Luthor goes to Superman’s side and Superman tells him they must trick the villains in to the molecular chamber. Luthor returns to the villains’ side and says he “wants Cuba”.

Superman agrees to go into the chamber. But when he comes out he kneels before Zod, then takes his hand and crushes it. Zod and Non are thrown into the pit of the Fortress. Lois hits Ursa in the jaw and knocks her in the pit. Superman had reversed the molecular chamber – so he was safe and the villains made vulnerable.

He, Lois, and Luthor leave the fortress and Superman destroys it with his heat vision. He then flies Lois home to her apartment. She’s crying and saying goodbye to him. She promises to keep his secret. Superman leaves.

Superman then does his time travel thing of flying around the planet and sees that his missile never hit and broke open the Phantom Zone. He then flies forward.

Next day – all seems normal at the Daily Planet, though Lois says she’s “super” and elbows Clark. Clark, also as Clark, finds the bully from the diner. The cook and waitress seem to recognize Clark, and the cook says he just “spent a fortune” to clean up the place. Clark beats-up the bully, says he’s been working out, and offers the cook money for the damages.

The film ends with Superman flying above the Earth in the sun.

I’ve seen this film twice now, and there are things I like and things I don’t about it, although overall I’d say it’s a good movie. When I first saw it, I was confused by the use of time travel, again. And confused by just what happened and what didn’t. Obviously, the Kyptonian villains never reached Earth. But did Lois and Clark never go to Niagara Falls? If they didn’t the little boy who fell into the falls is dead – because Superman wouldn’t know to save him. But if they did – then Clark also admitted who he was to Lois, and brought her to his fortress of solitude. Then it’s likely he became “mortal” – and without three villains from Krypton to fight – villains his family have history with – would he ever decide “the world needs a Superman”? Plus, in the first film, Superman time travels to save Lois’s life – in this film, he time travels, why? So she doesn’t know who he is? To protect the world from Zod and his cronies? What? There didn’t seem to be enough of a reason for it.

However, upon re-watching it – it seems that Superman didn’t go quite so far back. Perry is wearing a different shirt that when he sent Lois and Clark to Niagara Falls. When Clark goes to the diner to beat-up the bully – he’s recognized. Lois even teases Clark that she’s “Super”. So it seems his little forward spin meant some things stayed the same. Lois is also working on a story called, “Superman’s Day Off”.

Speaking of Lois – in the first film, the running joke is that she can’t spell. Which is odd for a prize-winner reporter. In this film, Lois is always hungry. I wanted her to be treated better than that – because Margot Kidder does such a good job with the little she’s given.

Christopher Reeve though really shines in Superman II, the scene where he’s telling the hologram of his father (more like a ghost in these films) that he’s fallen in love with a human woman, and he doesn’t know what to do about it; and the scene where he talks about making a mistake, and losing all contact with his father to regain his power as Superman are powerful – and show Reeve’s acting ability. They were very impressive.

Overall, this reconstruction/director’s cut is a good film and I enjoyed it.

Recommendation:  See It!
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Superman Returns

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Collage of Superman the Movie, Lois and Superman, Superman, Logo

Superman the Movie

  • Title: Superman the Movie (aka Superman)
  • Director: Richard Donner
  • Date: 1978
  • Studio: Warner Brothers
  • Genre: Action, Fantasy, SF
  • Cast: Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Trevor Howard, Glenn Ford
  • Format: Widescreen, Color
  • DVD Format: Blu-Ray, NTSC

“There’s one thing I do know, son, and that is – you are here for a reason.” – Jonathon Kent

“Easy, miss, I’ve got you.” – Superman
“You’ve got me? Who’s got you?” – Lois Lane

Richard Donner’s original Superman film opens on Krypton, with Jor-El implementing the decision of the Council to banish three criminals to the Phantom Zone – a sort of limbo that looks like a glass trapezoid. The scenes on Krypton are grand and impressive and include lots of dramatic close-ups. However, if you haven’t seen Superman before the entire sequence would be very confusing – and we never see the villains again (yes, I know, wait for Superman II). However, it isn’t long before Jor-El is up before the council himself. Jor-El has discovered that Krypton’s red sun is expanding and will soon cause Krypton to explode. No one wants to believe this really bad news, and the council threatens Jor-El – if he speaks out about his findings, or if he and his wife attempt to leave Krypton, Jor-El will also be sentenced to the Phantom Zone. Jor-El agrees to stay silent. However, he and his wife place their infant son in a rocket ship, with all the knowledge of not only Krypton but the galaxy at large and send him to Earth.

The infant, Kal-El, crash lands on Earth, and he’s raised by John and Martha Kent. When Clark Kent, as he is now called, turns 18, his father dies from a heart attack, and Clark finds a glowing green crystal rod in the Kent barn – which creates for him his fortress of solitude in the Arctic. There Clark is instructed by the hologram of his father. He emerges seventeen years later and moves to Metropolis to take a job as a reporter at the Daily Planet. Clark meets Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, and Perry White.

Before long, Clark is also Superman – rescuing people, catching criminals, and just being Superman. From rescuing Lois Lane from a helicopter that’s crashed on the side of the Daily Planet to rescuing cats from trees and everything in between – he’s Superman.

But he’s also Clark – so when Perry demands more information on this new hero in their midst, he slips Lois a note – from “a friend” – the precise way he’d introduced himself to her when he rescued her from the helicopter. Superman arrives on Lois’s patio, and after a brief interview he takes her flying, even breaking the cloud layer. The flying sequence is soft, romantic, and alternates between close-ups of the actors’ faces and long and medium shots. It’s a very romantic scene.

But a in any film – there needs to be conflict, and the conflict comes in the form of Lex Luthor – who, with the help of his really stupid henchman, Otis, and his not much brighter Girl Friday, Eve Teschmacher – has a true super-villain plan, worthy of a Bond villain. He’s used his corporation to buy up all the “worthless” desert land just East of California, and plans to steal two missiles to drop essentially a large explosion on the San Andreas fault which will set off enough earthquakes to drop California into the Ocean. Lex also figures out – in quite a leap of logic – that because Superman is from Krypton a meteorite of Kryptonite will kill him.

Lex sends Superman a message at an ultra-high frequency, and gets him to a rendezvous where he manipulates him into opening a lead box containing a kryptonite rock on a chain. Lex puts the chain around Superman’s neck and drops him in a swimming pool. However, before “disposing” of Superman Lex remarks that he has two missiles not just one – the larger one is being sent to California, and the smaller one to Hackensack, NJ. Ms. Teschmacher remarks – “But my mother lives in Hackensack!”

Teschmacher jumps into the pool to rescue Superman, and gets him to agree to stop the missile heading for New Jersey first. Superman promises this – but it will have dire consequences. He stops the first missile, then hears the second hit California. Superman dives into the Earth’s crust to stop the Earthquakes, then tries to mitigate as much of the damage as possible. Yet he isn’t fast enough to stop Lois from being buried alive when he car falls into a sinkhole. Superman gets very angry and upset and flies around the Earth backwards, turning back time, so he can rescue Lois.

Overall, Superman is a very feel-good movie. It doesn’t have the angst or paranoid atmosphere of Man of Steel. Reeve’s mild-mannered reporter, Clark Kent, is very “mild-mannered” – causing him and Lois to be attacked by a mugger (Lois rescues them both; though Clark catches a bullet aimed at himself). Clark is so “nice” it’s almost unbelievable. But he’s also someone that young people could really look up to. Lois, well, poor Lois – in this film, she seems solely there to be rescued – continuously. I remember really liking Lois Lane when I saw this movie when it came out but now – oh dear. She’s a reporter, a to be award-winning reporter, yet she can’t spell? The constant Lois asking everyone how to spell various words, or having her spelling corrected by her boss, was just… painful. And I really wanted to buy the girl a dictionary. Having said that though – the scene of Superman taking Lois flying is soft, and romantic, and wonderfully done.

The entire film looked gorgeous – just gorgeous. It was so nice to watch something done on film, rather than digital, and with models and in-camera effects (and some optics) because that was all they had. At no point does any of it look cheap – or like obvious model shots. But that helicopter that crashes – is solid. As is the plane Superman rescues in one scene.

Lex’s scheme, well – it’s a supervillain scheme all right. Dr. Evil would be impressed. And Lex seems to figure out that Superman is vulnerable to Kryptonite pretty easily and with no evidence (seriously – Why would knowing Superman is from Krypton make you think, immediately, with no evidence, that he’s vulnerable to Kryptonite?) Meanwhile, his Girl Friday/girlfriend/whatever is annoying. But the worse bit about the easily-manipulated girlfriend is the scene where she actually rescues Superman – wearing a white dress. The instant she hits the pool water, it becomes transparent. Nice.

The style of Superman has an unusual retro look. The opening bit has a kid watching a serial in a movie theater – setting the story in 1938, but the film looks more like the 1950s – 1960s, though Lois’s clothes are slightly more modern. I honestly couldn’t tell you what era it was supposed to be.

Still, overall, this is a classic super-hero film, and one that all other Superman films are often judged by.

Recommendation: See It!
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Superman II

The French Connection

  • Title:  The French Connection
  • Director:  William Friedkin
  • Date:  1971
  • Studio:  20th Century Fox
  • Genre:  Action, Drama
  • Cast:  Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

The French Connection was nominated for eight Academy Awards in 1972 (for the films of 1971) and won five. It’s on the AFI list of top 100 American films, and I bought it because it’s a well-known film I had never seen, and to be honest because Roy Scheider is in it, whom I really like as an actor.

I think the film really is a time capsule — it’s hard to tell how revolutionary the film would have been in the early 1970s, watching it for the first time in 2012. And it’s downright strange how this film seemed more odd to me than favorite classics of mine from the 1930s and 1940s. However, that doesn’t make it a bad film. It is a very good film, it’s just somewhat hard to relate to it. But it does explain a heck of a lot about 70s television — I can clearly see the connection between The French Connection and Starsky and Hutch, Streets of San Francisco or even The Professionals.

The film is based on a real case, one of the biggest Heroin busts in US history. That case inspired a true crime book called, The French Connection by Robin Moore. However, according to the various special features on the film, and the short/cut actor commentary most of the film was inspired by the technical advisers of the film, Eddie “Popeye” Egan and Sonny “Cloudy” Russo the two cops who made the case. Also, the director, Friedkin, and actors Scheider and Hackman spent considerable time doing research, preparing, and following Egan and Russo around on the streets of New York. That research combined with Friedkin’s background in shooting documentaries certainly added to the feel of the film.

The film does have a gritty, down and dirty, realism to it. Hackman’s Poyeye Doyle is not a nice guy — one of the issues I had watching the film was not just the swearing but the racist language used in the film. However, even with all his faults – Doyle is a good cop. He and Buddy “Cloudy” Russo have the highest number of convictions in the Narcotics department of the Brooklyn, New York, NY police department. Cloudy (Scheider in only his second film role) holds back Doyle, occasionally playing good cop to Doyle’s bad cop. But really, both are good cops — though realistically grim, gritty, tough, and nasty.

The plot involves trying to catch a French godfather who’s sending in multi-million dollar Heroin shipments into New York every six weeks or so. He uses a French actor to get a car in to the US, and the drugs are hidden in the rocker panels (floor boards under the car doors) of the car. But it takes a while for Doyle and Russo to put together what’s going on — and I had to watch the film twice to figure it out (though the second time I had one of the two commentaries on, so I wasn’t paying as close attention to what was going on, on the screen). The film shows the cops on long stakeouts and tails where not much happens until they spot one of the principals meeting a known drug kingpin. This gets them two wiretaps, which leads to the Frenchman calling to set-up a meeting. Before long, the case is coming together.

One of the best scenes in the film is a cat-and-mouse scene between Hackman and The Frenchman at the heart of the case on a subway. The two jump on and off and on and off a subway car – but in the end the Frenchman escapes. However, he puts a hit on Doyle.

This leads to the other big scene in the film, and the one it’s famous for — the car chase. The chase starts when a sniper shoots at Doyle, hitting an innocent woman, and causing havoc. Doyle finally gets to the roof, finds the guy’s rifle, then sees him fleeing the building, and gives chase on foot. When the sniper jumps a elevated train, Doyle commandeers a car and gives chase. The chase is pure chaos and incredibly done considering it was all practical. No computer-generated effects here, and no carefully plotted storyboards either. Just a gifted stunt driver, a car with a siren, and a few (though not enough) blocked streets. Most of the exciting parts of the chase were stunts, however, at one point a civilian car pulled out and hit Hackman while he was driving the car as fast as possible. Hackman was pushed into a metal support beam for the L. Fortunately, no one was hurt in the incident. However, the chase was put together in pieces:  a stunt driver named Hickman; Hackman actually driving with a camera car besides him; Hackman driving with a cameraman in the car. A stunt woman played the woman with the baby carriage that Doyle nearly hits. Meanwhile, on the train, the sniper is causing panic – taking over the train, shooting a train worker, and causing the driver of the train to have a heart attack, before crashing the train itself into another train. But the sequence is breath-taking. The chase ends with Doyle cornering the sniper on the stairs to the L station (which go sharply up because it’s an outdoor elevated train and station), and he shoots the now unarmed sniper in the back.

The film doesn’t have a lot of exposition explaining what’s going on — it trusts the audience to follow along for the ride. It’s also not a film filled with stunning visuals, or “movie moments”, rather it’s a grim, gritty, dirty, realistic-looking, almost documentary style of film. The film is so rough at times it’s almost uncomfortable to watch it. But it’s also stunningly compelling – and Hackman and Scheider are both brilliant.

Throughout the film there’s a huge, brown, Lincoln – by the end of  the film it’s almost menacing. Doyle and Russo manage to confiscate the car, get it stripped at a police garage, and finally when they’ve almost given up, locate the Heroin in the rocker panels (the floor boards under the front doors). When the French actor shows up to claim his car, they give it back, complete with the Heroin so they can make the bust. I honestly don’t know where they got a second, identical brown Lincoln, because the one they had was trashed.

The cops follow the Lincoln to an abandoned building, there’s a shootout and total chaos. But the brilliant bit is the ultimate end  — Doyle enters the building alone in search of the Frenchman. Russo, after aiding in the capture of the bad guys, goes in after his partner. Doyle’s so tense he nearly shoots Russo, but Russo warns him off with, “It’s me, it’s me!” FBI agent Mulderig isn’t so lucky — thinking he’s the Frenchman, Doyle shoots him. But the last shot, of Doyle walking though this dark, mucky, dirty, corridor-like building, walking into the distance, then there’s a gunshot, and the screen goes black, that’s brilliant, and makes the film worth watching and re-watching.

There is character in the film, and an interesting relationship between the two cops, but really I could have done with a lot more of that. Still, definitely worth the time to watch, and re-watch, and own.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4 Stars
Next Film:  Either Royal Wedding or Cabaret which I also recently bought