Superman Returns

  • Title: Superman Returns
  • Director: Bryan Singer
  • Date: 2006
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers
  • Genre: Action, Fantasy
  • Cast: Brandon Routh, Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, James Marsden, Parker Posey, Frank Langella, Eva Marie Saint, Sam Huntington
  • Format: Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format: NTSC, Blu-Ray

“The son becomes the father, the father becomes the son.” – Jor-El, voiceover

“Well, I hope this experience hasn’t put any of you off flying. Statistically speaking it’s still the safest way to travel.” – Superman

“I hear everything. You wrote that the world doesn’t need a Saviour, but every day I hear people crying for one.” – Superman

Superman Returns is a sequel to Superman the Movie and Superman II. Superman has been missing for five years, and Lois Lane has moved on having a son and a long-term boyfriend, as well as winning a Pulitzer Prize for her editorial – “Why the World Doesn’t Need a Superman”. Superman crash lands at his mother’s farm, then Clark returns to the Daily Planet. No sooner is he back than an EMP-generated blackout causes havoc on a 747 plane carrying a space shuttle into launch position. Lois is one of the reporters covering the new procedure on the plane. The shuttle is meant to decouple from the plane and then launch with rocket boosters – but the blackout means it cannot detach nor can it shut down the launch procedure. Superman gets the shuttle safely launched into orbit, then goes to rescue the plane. He eventually sets it down in the middle of a baseball stadium. He gets a standing ovation from the crowd.

But the blackout was no ordinary blackout – Lex Luthor had gone to Superman’s fortress of solitude, listened to the crystal recordings, and taken a few of the crystal rods. He then goes to the mansion he’s stolen from a little old lady, and puts a tiny sliver of the crystal in the middle of a pond of water in the midst of a train set. When the crystal grows – it destroys the model city, and causes the EMP that knocked out the power – including to computers, cell phones, etc.

Lois wants to cover the power outage story – but Perry wants her to cover the return of Superman.

Meanwhile, Clark is trying to adjust to the idea of Lois having a child and a serious boyfriend, Richard White, Perry’s nephew.

Superman does what he does – stopping crime, rescuing people, world wide – not simply in Metropolis.

Lex Luthor steals Kryptonite from the Metropolis Museum of Natural History for the next stage in his plan.

Superman lands on the roof of the Daily Planet to talk to Lois, then takes her flying. Lois takes off her shoes before letting him fly with her. The flying sequence, rather than being romantic like in Superman the Movie or in Superman II – is sad. Lois, and Clark, act like old lovers who never quite got together – meeting again years later. Superman tries to explain to Lois that he hears all of the pain in the world – and he’s simply there to help. Lois doesn’t appear to buy it, but she writes an article called, “Superman Returns”.

Superman returns to his fortress of solitude and discovers some crystal rods are missing.

Lois, who should be on her way to her Pulitzer Prize dinner, takes her son with her to continue to investigate the blackout story. She finds the mansion, and the yacht moored at a private slip in front of it. Lois sneaks aboard the yacht to investigate and runs into Luthor, who kidnaps her and her son.

Once on the yacht, Luthor explains his plan – he will place one of the crystal rods inside a hollowed-out tube of Kryptonite, and fire it into the ocean. This will create a massive new landmass for Luthor to sell – and kill billions of people on the East Coast of the US which will be swamped with the displaced water. Luthor carries out his plan. Kitty begins to have second thoughts.

Superman deals with the earthquake and disasters in Metropolis as a result, including saving Perry from the giant art-deco planet that falls off the top of the Daily Planet building and nearly lands on Perry.

Thanks to a distraction provided by her son, Lois is able to send a FAX with her location to the Daily Planet. Richard takes the sea plane to rescue her; and once things settle down a bit in Metropolis, Superman also flies to the rescue.

One of Luthor’s goons, having noticed that Lois sent the FAX, attacks her. Lois’s son throws a piano at him and kills him. Additional goons grab Lois and the boy and lock them in the galley. As the land-mass gets bigger, Luthor, Kitty, Kitty’s very small dog, and Lex’s goons escape by helicopter.

The massive crystal land mass continues to grow, and Jason (Lois’s son) walks towards the door, which is opened by Richard. But just as he starts to rescue Lois and Jason, the shard of crystal stabs the bottom of the yacht causing chaos.

Superman arrives, pulls the yacht out of the water, he grabs Richard’s arm, and when he’s assured Richard has both Lois and Jason, he lets the yacht falls. Superman gets them to Richard’s seaplane and gives them a hand in launching.

Superman then challenges Lex Luthor, but he’s unaware he’s surrounded by Kryptonite. Lex punches and kicks Superman, then his goons and minions also beat Superman. Finally, Lex stabs Superman in the back with a shard of pure Kryptonite. It breaks off in Superman’s back and he falls into the Ocean.

Richard’s seaplane lands. First Jason, then Lois and Richard spot Superman. Lois jumps in to save him, Richard helps. They fly back to shore. Lois removes the Kryptonite, But when Superman recovers he tells her he must go back. He jumps out of the seaplane and flies above the atmosphere to recharge in the sun – then flies straight back to strike at Luthor. Superman picks up the entire island and flies it into space, then crashes to Earth.

Lex and his minions try to escape by helicopter – only Lex, Kitty, and the dog escape – the rest are trapped. Kitty dumps the crystals overboard into the Ocean. Lex, Kitty, and the dog end-up stranded on a desert Island.

Emergency workers bring Superman into the E.R. No one knows if he will live or die. Lois and Jason visit him. Superman recovers and flies off into the upper atmosphere to recharge. When Lois later asks, “Will I see you? Around?” Superman responds, “I’ll always be around.”

Superman Returns picks up a few threads from the classic 1970s Christopher Reeve/Richard Donner Superman films, using clips of Marlon Brando’s voice as Jor-El, the massive and gorgeous Fortress of solitude, and it’s crystal computer. Brandon Routh is quite possibly the most human Superman to date, that I’ve seen, and I liked his portrayal a lot. The story line between Clark and Lois of missed opportunities is truly sad.

The action sequences in the film are what action sequences should be – they work and are meaningful not merely for being “good action sequences” but because characters we care about are always at the center of the action sequences.

I liked Brandon Routh’s Superman and Clark Kent very much – his portrayal is very human. Kate Bosworth is a bit bland as Lois though. She doesn’t have the romantic quality Margot Kidder had, nor does she have Teri Hatcher’s humor and intelligence. She’s not terrible but she’s not great either. It’s like in big budget movies, the directors are either unable to let Lois really shine or unwilling to do so, perhaps for fear of overshadowing Clark/Superman.

Kevin Spacey is brilliant as Lex Luthor. He is a far cry from the Gene Hackman’s bumbling Lex of Superman the Movie and Superman II. This Lex is cold, calculating, and utterly ruthless. He will sacrifice anything and any one to get what he wants. And he has no moral scruples whatsoever. He cares for no one. Spacey’s cold-edged performance is brilliant.

It’s a real pity Superman Returns didn’t do better at the box office, because it really is one of the best Superman movies. I recommend it.

L.A. Confidential

  • Title: L.A. Confidential
  • Director: Curtis Hanson
  • Date: 1997
  • Studio: Warner Brothers, Regency Entertainment
  • Genre: Drama, Mystery, Film Noir
  • Cast: Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, David Straithairn, Simon Baker (Credited as Simon Baker Denny)
  • Format: Widescreen, color
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Come to Los Angeles… there are jobs a plenty and land is cheap…”— Sid Hudgens (Danny DeVito)

“I admire you as a policeman, particularly your adherance to violence as an adjunct to the job.” — Police Captain Dudley Smith to Lt. Bud White

“How’s it going to look in your report?” — Det. Lt. Exley
“It’ll look like justice. That’s what the man got, justice.”— Lt. Bud White

LA Confidential is a brilliant modern film noir. The film weaves deep layered characters into a complex plot of police corruption, graft, drugs, and murder. All the actors give brilliant performances. Russell Crowe, in an very early role, is Lt. Bud White, police captain Smith’s “enforcer” with a soft spot for abused women. Watching his journey from tough guy and bruiser to someone who actually starts to figure out what’s going on and who stops just following orders and starts to think — even when solving the case leads right back to the police department — is a joy in this film. Guy Pearce is the college-educated “new cop” who isn’t afraid to testify against other dirty cops, as long as it allows him to get ahead. But he too has to make decisions — does he “do what he’s told, and reap his reward” or does he follow a more difficult path and expose the corruption he and Bud have uncovered? And brilliant as always Kevin Spacey as “Hollywood Jack” Vincennes, who’s a technical advisor on the TV cop drama “Badge of Honor” (think “Dragnet”) and partners with tabloid reporter Sid Hudgens (Danny Devito) accepting payments to pass along info about upcoming busts so the reporter can photograph them. Sid, a pioneer in bottom-feeding tabloid journalism, and publisher of the tabloid “Hush-Hush” regularly gives Vincennes gifts and bribes, as well as passing along information. In other words, their partnership is two-way.

The film weaves a complicated plot, starting with the beating, in the LA lock-up, of several Mexican-Americans, resulting in the expulsion of several bad cops and the meeting of our characters and seeing how they react. Vincennes is transferred between departments and temporarily taken off “Badge of Honor” as Technical Advisor. White refuses to roll on his partner, or become a snitch. Exley not only offers up info as a snitch, but gives advice on how to get to other cops, though this gets him a promotion – it doesn’t endear him to the other cops. After “Bloody Christmas” but before the trial even starts, there’s a mass shooting at the Nite Owl coffee shop, one of the victims is White’s disgraced partner. The hunt for the killers leads to three young black men, who are brought in, questioned, escape, and then are caught again and killed.

However, all three of our main characters soon realize that the three men, though guilty of kidnapping and raping a young Mexican girl, aren’t guilty of the Nite Owl killings. And, again, the investigation, though it also involves a millionaire who’s running a high-class call girl outfit of girls “cut to look like movie stars” and heroin, ultimately leads right back to the police department. I don’t want to spoil the ending for those of you reading this who haven’t seen this brilliant Noir film.

This film starts with a sarcastic voice-over, by Danny Devito, describing the bright, sunny, perfect California that’s being sold as an image — only to expose a dark, dirty, and very corrupt underbelly.  Irony underlies a lot of the picture (such as showing the ground-breaking ceremony for the Santa Monica freeway “LA to the beach in 20 minutes”). But the characters also present an opening image that changes throughout the film — Bud White starts as a tough, an enforcer, a brutal cop, albeit with a soft spot for battered women and kids, but he develops, putting together a lot of the clues leading to an explanation of what really is going on. Exley seems like the college-educated “new cop” who won’t be able to hack it in the field – yet, he also manages to prove his smarts and his investigative chops, as well as his ability to handle violence when needed. Vincennes, “Hollywood Jack” has somehow lost his way. Asked, “Why’d you become a cop?” He answers, “I can’t remember”. Jack is like the tough, hard-boiled, cynical protagonists of a lot of Classic Noir. Yet, like those protagonists, his journey in the film is to discover that he can’t turn a blind eye to the corruption around him any more, especially when he inadvertently causes a young male actor/hooker to get murdered. There’s more to Jack than the smoothness one first sees.

The film is set in the 1950s, but the historical detail, though there, is not at the forefront of the film. The score is fantastic from Jerry Goldsmith’s original instrument themes, to the use of period music by Johnny Mercer and Dean Martin. The film also gets physically darker, as the characters discover the true darkness around them.

I highly, highly recommend this film. It has brilliant acting, brilliant writing, a dense, complex plot, and the feel of a true Noir film, but made in a modern style. The film is very intelligent — both the writing and dialogue and the plot. And, though violent and bloody at times, it’s still quite, quite worth seeing.

Recommendation: See it!
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars

The Ref

  • Title:  The Ref
  • Director:  Ted Demme
  • Date:  1994
  • Studio:  Touchstone
  • Genre:  Comedy
  • Cast:  Denis Leary, Kevin Spacey, Judy Davis, Christine Barenski
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Great, I hijack my f…ing parents!” — Gus (Leary)

“From now on the only person who gets to yell is me, Why? Because I have a gun, OK? People with guns can do whatever they want. Married people without guns, for instance, you — Do not get to YELL! Why? No guns! No guns, no yelling.” — Gus

“Eat, don’t annoy me, it’s Christmas.”  — Connie

“I’m in hell. Connecticut is the fifth ring of hell!”  — Gus

The Ref opens with a series of shots of Christmas in a Connecticut suburb. Everything looks perfect, there’s even snow and children looking into shop window displays. But then we meet Caroline and Lloyd Cheshire, who are seeing a marriage counselor. Their squabbling and put downs of each other are so bad they annoy their marriage counselor. We also see a cat burglar who is trying to break into a safe in one of the huge homes in the small town/suburb. The break-in goes wrong — first he’s sprayed with cat urine, then he sets off the alarm, and the cops are alerted.

Gus, as we later learn, is stranded without an getaway car, since his partner was frightened by the alarms and ran off, so he takes a woman hostage in a convenience store, looking for a ride. He, and the Cheshires never expected what would result.

Like all good screwball comedies, from a simple plot – a criminal trying to escape, events just snowball and the film is extremely funny. Most of the film takes place in the Cheshires’ house, with a few cutaways to the incompetent police manhunt for the criminal. (For example, the police chief, who is competent, finds a surveillance videotape of Gus from the robbery. He shows it to his men once, but is interrupted by a phone call. When he returns, they’ve recorded a James Stewart movie over the surveillance footage.) The Cheshires, with their bickering, arguing, and put downs, drive Gus nuts. When their extended family arrive for Christmas dinner – the family politics get even worse. Yet, in the midst of the chaos – Gus’ presence allows everyone to get things off their chest. When Lloyd, who seems to be the calmest one in the group, finally explodes – it’s great. And the honesty, not to mention Gus’ prodding, might have, oddly enough, saved their marriage. One can see Caroline and Gus giving up their “safe and comfortable” life, moving to California, and opening another restaurant (closing their restaurant several years earlier had started a series of events that was now bringing them to brink of divorce). Meanwhile, their son, a budding criminal himself, may have been scared straight by Gus – who honestly tells him he doesn’t want that type of  life.

The film is laugh out loud funny. The characters seem very real, if a little over the top. The sarcastic dialogue is underscored by the sarcastic and ironic nature of the entire film:  this little Connecticut suburb may look perfect, but everyone is hiding secrets, everyone is nasty and mean, and no one treats anyone else with any respect whatsoever. There is a lot of swearing and bad language, and some adult concepts as well. However, the film is brilliant. Denis Leary is incredibly funny, and brings out the best of everyone around him. I have seen The Ref more than twice, usually with many years between seeing it, and every time the film surprises me with it’s fresh humor. Also, The Ref has some heart to it, that’s extremely unexpected. Caroline and Lloyd are already in marriage counseling – yet Gus, as raw as he may be, is a better marriage counselor for the couple than Dr. Wong, the counselor they see at the beginning of the film. Gus also manages to get everyone in the family to honestly confront the issues they have with each other, rather than quietly ignoring them and pretending to be nice. This truly is a brilliant comedy!

Recommendation:  See it! (Not for young children)
Rating:  4 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Roberta