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 as 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 her car falls into a sinkhole. Superman gets very angry and upset and flies around the Earth backward, 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, an 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

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Justice League Gods and Monsters

  • Title:  Justice League Gods and Monsters
  • Director: Sam Liu
  • Date:  2015
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre: Fantasy, Action, Animation
  • Cast:  Benjamin Bratt, Michael C. Hall, Tamara Taylor, Jason Isaacs, Richard Chamberlain, Penny Johnson Jerald, Carl Lumbly
  • Format:  Widscreen, Color, Animation
  • DVD Format:  Blu-Ray

“At least fifty dead in the embassy massacre, and not just dead – dismembered, burnt alive, sucked of their blood, a virtual house of horrors. Granted the victims were part of a terrorist organization… but what about our terrorist organization? What about the Justice League? It’s not like we haven’t been warned.” – Female Newscaster
“What the government has sanctioned is more than a Super-SWAT Team, it’s a weapon of absolute power. We all know where that leads.” – Lex Luthor

“We’re being framed! Someone’s actively trying to frame the Justice League? Who would have the balls?” – Superman

Gods and Monsters is an alternative universe story, DC calls these types of stories – “Elseworlds”, and before that “Imaginary Stories” (to distinguish them from the main continuity) as pointed out on one of the special features that accompany the film. This tale gives us three very different versions of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. The film starts with Superman’s new origin story. In Gods and Monsters Superman’s father isn’t Jor-El but Zod. This is shown in the opening scene where Zod pokes his finger into a genetic device that will develop into a baby in the spaceship that’s sent to Earth. Once the ship lands, he’s rescued by a migrant laborer couple rather than the Kents. This Superman is very different – he’s brash, arrogant, and even rude. He also knows very little about his genetic parents or Krypton, because Luther stole his baby spaceship and everything inside.

In the film’s present, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are on a US-sanctioned mission to destroy a terrorist cell. Steve Trevor is marginally in charge of the mission, but they neither listen to him nor do they wait for Trevor and his troops to arrive before totally trashing the cell and everyone in it. This shows the violence of this alternative Justice League, and their willingness to let the end justify the means.

However, before long, a series of scientists – many who were known as “Luther’s Whiz Kids” are getting killed in horrible ways – and the crime scenes are designed to look like the Justice League is guilty. But since we see the robots committing the crimes from the beginning the audience knows that this Justice League, as twisted as the are, aren’t responsible. Though, like all mysteries – who is responsible isn’t revealed until the end.

While telling the mystery story we also see flashbacks explaining the origins of Batman and Wonder Woman. Batman is Kirk Langstrom, who attended university with Will Magnus, and Tina. Kirk was suffering from some form of cancer or blood disease (it isn’t spelled out exactly what) and is experimenting with bats. He ends up becoming Batman, a vampire.

Wonder Woman isn’t from Paradise Island, but New Genesis. Bekka was to marry the son of Darkseid, Orion, whom she had actually fallen for – despite the fact that the marriage was arranged and she was actually a bride-price to stop an eons-long war between New Genesis and Apokolips. Just after the wedding, however, her Grandfather, known as High Father (Richard Chamberlain), and his troops break up the wedding by killing everyone they can, including Bekka’s very new husband. Angered at both the carnage and the death of her consort, Bekka turns her back on High Father, and New Genesis, and makes her way to Earth via Motherbox (boom tube – basically a type of very long distance teleport).

The rest of the story involves the attacks on the scientists, the Justice League finding out about the attacks – and various people calling for sanctions against the League, including Amanda Waller, who had been their government liaison and handler.

Superman decides to challenge Luther as well (Luther is still his arch enemy) – from Luther he finds out the truth of his origins. However, this Luther, though initially overly cautious (thus his refusal to share the information from Krypton with Superman), is won over by his use of Kryptonian technology to study the universe.

Gods and Monsters is a surprisingly violent story – fifty people are killed in close to the opening scene (after the background scenes on Krypton), the scientists – Victor Fries (now a climatologist), Silas Stone, Ray Palmer, etc. are first killed one by one, but then there’s a bloodbath to kill any scientist who had opposed the Justice League. At times, it seems both Batman and Superman have real blind spots when it comes to protecting themselves when solidly framed. Batman, though a vampire and having a completely different back story, does have good investigation skills – but not good enough to see what’s going on until it’s almost too late. Superman, upon realizing they are being framed is incredulous, as in, “Who dare be dumb enough to frame us?” Still, as in all good mysteries – the League does figure it out and with some surprising help, is exonerated.

The Blu-Ray includes a documentary on DC’s history of Alternative Universe, “imaginary stories, and “Elseworlds” stories, starting with the example of, Gotham by Gaslight. The Blu-Ray also includes a documentary on Jack Kirby, New Genesis and Apokolips. And finally there’s a making-of documentary that’s excellent. Just the comics history and information in the documentaries make the Blu-Ray worth having.

Overall, I enjoyed this film, though it was very dark. Still, it was a good, alternative take on the big three DC Heroes.

Recommendation: See it
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
Next Film: When Harry Met Sally

Wayne’s World

  • Title:  Wayne’s World
  • Director:  Penelope Spheeris
  • Date:  1992
  • Studio:  Paramount
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Cast:  Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Rob Lowe, Tia Carrere
  • Format: Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“I’ve had plenty of ‘joe jobs’ – nothing I’d call a career. Let me put it this way – I have an extensive collection of name tags and hair nets.” – Wayne Campbell

“Sometimes, I wish I could boldly go where no man’s gone before, but I’ll probably stay in Aurora.” – Garth

“Aren’t we lucky we were there to get all that information? Seemed extraneous at the time.” – Wayne

Wayne’s World  felt very much like a 1980s movie to me when I re-watched it, so I was surprised to see the copyright date as actually 1992. The story is about two best friends, Wayne and Garth, who live in Aurora, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. The two have a local public access TV show that they film in Wayne’s basement called, “Wayne’s World”, and the film was developed from the Wayne’s World sketches on Saturday Night Live. However, in the film, the clips of Wayne and Garth doing their Wayne’s World show are the least successful parts of the film (they are very dated, and often fall flat).

The strength of the film, the part that shines, and still works, is that it’s a buddy film. But whereas most “buddy films” are cop films – Wayne’s World is about these two guys, good friends, who are into heavy metal music, and not taking life too seriously. The film also continuously breaks the fourth wall, as usually Wayne, addresses the audience directly. Garth, normally the quieter and shyer of the two – also, occasionally, addresses the audience. The film even features the occasional subtitle that comments on the action, such as “Oscar Clip”. The constant breaking of the fourth wall gives the film a surreal quality and an avant-garde edge. But that doesn’t mean the film is overly serious. Quite the opposite – it’s very, very funny. It’s also filled with clips of great music, and a lot of singing (almost exclusively cover versions of popular music).

The basic storyline is that Wayne and Garth have this cable access show, Wayne’s World, that they put together every week, more-or-less as a hobby, though Wayne, at least, would like to do Wayne’s World as a career. One night, Benjamin Oliver, an unsavory ad exec is flipping channels and he sees the show. He thinks it’s the perfect vehicle for his biggest client, the owner of a chain of video arcades called Noah’s Arcade. He wants to move the show to a cable network, have Noah’s Arcade sponsor it, and use it as a vehicle for, essentially, half an hour’s worth of advertising for the arcade. Benjamin’s plot works in that he gets Wayne and Garth to agree to his contract, though when Wayne gets on set he blows up and refuses to do product placement (in a hilarious scene in which at least half a dozen different products are prominently placed and used). Benjamin meanwhile sows discontent between Wayne and Garth, and gets Wayne to think his girlfriend is cheating on him. But it all works out in the end (well, in the third alternate ending).

But the film’s point isn’t really the plot. The characters, Wayne and Garth, and their close friendship – a friendship that is threatened but recovers – is at the heart of the film. Also, the idea of personal happiness being more important than money or what others call success is a subtext of the film. Yet, at it’s heart the film is just very funny – and enjoyable to watch. Wayne and Garth’s personal optimism and infectiously happy outlooks make the film enjoyable to watch. The frequent music, covers, and sing-alongs add to the fun.

Overall, one of the oddest things about the film might just be the frequent anachronisms. The entire set-up, the “Wayne’s World” cable access show is something that barely exists now. However, a real-life Wayne and Garth these days could easily do their own show on youTube, or create a regular podcast. Wayne and his new girlfriend, Cassandra talk on landline phones that include a cord. Benjamin’s client owns coin-operated video arcades. The famous, and awesome, sing-along to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” starts with Wayne putting a cassette tape into the car’s tape deck (though later Wayne, at least, upgrades to an external CD drive). The film doesn’t so much look dated as have moments of, “Oh, yeah, that’s how we used to do things.” Though, it’s Garth who mostly correctly describes how he will bounce the special “Wayne’s World” episode featuring Cassandra’s performance off several communications satellites (which Garth mentions by name/number) – today such dialogue would be simplified to “bounced off several satellites”) to Mr. Sharpe’s limo to get her a  record contract. Even the three endings reference older films, such as Clue. It felt at times, like a window into the past.

Overall, I found Wayne’s World to be enjoyable to re-watch, mostly because it was just so happy. Wayne and Garth’s attitude towards women notwithstanding (Garth continuously talks about women as “babes” but can’t get up the courage to talk to the pretty blonde he keeps spotting in their neighborhood.) It some ways the film was also like an updated American Graffiti in that it portrays a time and a place, though it’s less serious in content and tone. Still, it’s fun, just plain fun.

NOTE:  I normally don’t mention DVD menus, but this one with the cable access opening is funny. Also, there are a number of hidden features on the menu (which looks like a cable TV on-screen guide).

Recommendation:  See it
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  When Harry Met Sally…

Van Helsing

  • Title: Van Helsing
  • Director:  Stephen Sommers
  • Date:  2004
  • Studio:  Universal
  • Genre: Horror, Action, Adventure
  • Cast:  Hugh Jackman, David Wenham, Kate Beckinsale, Richard Roxburgh
  • Format:  B/W prologue only, then Color/Widescreen (old)
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“You’ve never been out of the Abbey, how do you know about vampires?” – Van Helsing
“I read.” – Carl

“My life, my job, is to vanquish evil. I… I can sense evil. This thing, man, whatever it is, evil may have created it, may have left its mark on it, but evil doesn’t rule it. So I cannot kill it.” – Van Helsing (re: the Creature)

Van Helsing is much more about style than substance, though as the CGI-heavy film moves along, it does improve – and it has some great moments.

The film opens with a black and white prologue – Dr. Frankenstein is doing his famous experiment to create the Creature, but after it becomes alive, he is confronted by Count Dracula. Dracula kills Dr. Frankenstein, but the Creature escapes with Frankenstein’s body to the famous windmill. There, a crowd of local people confront the Creature with torches, quickly burning down the windmill, presumably killing both Dr. Frankenstein and his Creature.

One year later the film opens into full color, and shows Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) chasing Hyde of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde fame. Unfortunately, when Hyde falls off a roof he turns back into Jekyll – and dies. Van Helsing is blamed for the murder. However, he really doesn’t have much to worry about because he goes to a supernatural MI6, where the cardinal, like M, is the voice of exposition. M explains that Van Helsing must go to Transylvania to rescue the last members of the Valerious family by destroying Dracula. Due to some sort of curse, that Van Helsing’s Secret Order was also involved in, if Dracula isn’t destroyed before the last members of the Valerious family die – the entire family (including the dead members) will be cursed for eternity. Yeah, OK – it doesn’t make much sense, but plot is more of an excuse in this film, than something that’s well thought out. Have plenty of popcorn and enjoy the show. Anyway, while at his secret headquarters, the Cardinal, like M in a James Bond gives Van Helsing basic info, some clues, and a torn piece of a scroll bearing a mysterious signet – which is identical to the signet on Van Helsing’s ring. Conveniently, Van Helsing has also lost his memory. After getting information from M, I mean the Cardinal, Van Helsing goes to see Carl, a friar with more than a passing resemblance to Q in the James Bond films. Carl (David Wenham) kits out Van Helsing with special gear. However, Van Helsing surprises Carl by requesting he come along to Transylvania. As he is a bookish, scientist-type, Carl isn’t that happy about it.

Van Helsing and Carl travel to Transylvania where they meet Anna, the last member of the Valerious family (her brother had been recently transformed into a werewolf). Anna, Van Helsing, and Carl need to find and defeat Dracula.

There is a lot of CGI in the film, and the entire thing is digitally graded to make it look darker. The action scenes are good to excellent but lack depth because the characters are not that well drawn. This is probably why I haven’t watched the film since it originally came out and I originally purchased the DVD. Anna is strong, capable, and an excellent fighter – but still manages to get captured by Dracula and has to be rescued by Van Helsing. Carl is an excellent character, and his ability to put together information from libraries and stained glass windows is a valuable addition to Van Helsing’s quest. I also liked his character. Van Helsing is cool – especially his costume, and his weapons, but because he has no memory, and the audience for the most part only sees him when he’s fighting – he’s an enigma, so as a character he’s hard to like – despite a good performance by Hugh Jackman.

About halfway through the film, as Anna and Van Helsing are escaping through some water-logged tunnels, they encounter the Creature. However, the Creature speaks, and feels bad for himself because everyone hates him. He also knows Dracula’s secrets. Despite orders to the contrary – Van Helsing not only works with the Creature but in the end lets him go. The Creature shows surprising humanity, and is one of the better things in this film.

Overall, Van Helsing felt like a graphic novel adapted for the screen, though the credits list it as an original film (that is, written for the screen). The visuals were very typical CGI, but at times were impressive. They made have been more impressive in 2004. The entire cast, especially some of the smaller roles, also did a very good job – the acting can’t really be critiqued negatively. The director also at times did some great things. A scene with a mirror in what turns out to be Dracula’s Summer Palace is particularly memorable. Likewise, there’s a hidden door scene that’s far from the norm done seriously in so many films and parodied brilliantly in Young Frankenstein. However, the film also reminded me of The League of Extra-Ordinary Gentlemen.

Special Note:  I have the Ultimate Collector’s Edition, which not only includes the film Van Helsing but the original monster films Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Wolf Man from the 1930s – all of which are worth watching at least once. And the original Frankenstein can easily become a Halloween tradition to re-watch.

Recommendation: Some good elements, but a bit average
Rating: 3 out of 5
Next Film: Wayne’s World

UHF

  • Title:  UHF
  • Director:  Jay Levey
  • Date:  1989
  • Studio:  Orion Pictures (DVD released by MGM)
  • Genre:  Comedy
  • Cast:  “Weird Al” Yankovic (created as Al Yankovic), Victoria Jackson, Kevin Mccarthy, Michael Richards, David Bowe, Anthony Geary, Trinidad Silva, Gedde Watanabe, Billy Barty, Fran Drescher
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“This is even better than I imagined!” – George

“Sweetheart, take my advice, broads don’t belong in broadcasting.” – Fletcher’s thug to Pamela

“I never should have taken this job. I should have known it would turn out like all the others. You know, for a short time there, I really thought this was going to be different. I just don’t know anymore.” – George

UHF  is a underdog story about a UHF television station and the misfits who end-up working there. However, today many people might not even know what a UHF station is. Back in the days before cable when all television was local and not national, picture tube television sets had two dials – VHF (very high frequency) and UHF (ultra high frequency). The VHF dial consisted of numbers 2 – 13 and was where the locally-owned network affiliates were found. A locally-owned network affiliate was owned by a local business person or group and they bought network programming during prime time, but ran whatever they wanted otherwise (usually re-runs). The UHF dial (channels 14 – whatever) was home to all sorts of unusual channels that were also locally owned (and may even have a network affiliation) in my area we had a channel 35 which was an PBS affiliate and a channel 41 which was an ABC affiliate. But often the UHF band also supported various local channels that catered to a specific audience: news, sports, minority broadcasting, etc. In major cities the local VHF or UHF stations often were the first to jump to cable and become national “Superstations” (for example WWGN (Ch 9) in Chicago – famous for running Cubs baseball, WTBS in Atlanta, WWOR in New York, etc.).

UHF, the film, is about one of these small, independent stations – but more than that it’s about the people who end up there and how they actually care about what they are doing. George Newman (Weird Al) is an idealistic dreamer. He goes from job to job, constantly getting fired for daydreaming rather than concentrating on his boring work. Bob is his friend. After they are fired from their job at Burger World, George is suddenly given what he thinks will be his golden opportunity: his Uncle Harvey wins a television station in a high stakes poker game. George’s aunt convinces Harvey to let George run the station, Channel 62.

Channel 62 is a mess. Fran Drescher is Pamela Finkelstein, the secretary who was hired with the promise of a job in news. When George and Bob arrive no one else works at the station except the engineer, Philo, who seems very strange, even to George. But George, who is at heart, just a very nice guy, assembles a group of great people and gives them the opportunity to shine. This includes Billy Barty as Noodles the Cameraperson who works with Pamela, now the station’s news reporter, Stanley the Janitor – who was fired by the cross town network affiliate “Channel 8” president, JR Fletcher.

George sees that they are only running re-runs, and decides to launch new live shows. At first, this only goes so well. But then, after a particularly bad day, George puts Stanley in charge of the kiddie playhouse show. Stanley is a hit, and soon, “Stanley Spadowski’s Clubhouse” becomes a ratings blockbuster. George adds in other new shows, including “Wheel of Fish” hosted by his friend, Kani, who also runs a karate studio; and Raul’s Wild Kingdom, as well as various movies such as: “Conan the Librarian” and “Gandhi II”.

UHF moves quickly between George’s daydreams – such as the opening parody of Indiana Jones, or later George’s “Money for Nothing/Beverly Hillbillies” music video; unbelievable commercials, promos for various shows, and brief excerpts of the programs on U62, and it’s main story, which is an underdog story for George and his friends – where nice guys do finish first.

As George and Bob create more original programming, they get more and more attention, and when the ratings come out U62 is at the top in the local market, with five shows in the top five. George and Bob are stunned. But just as everything seems to be going perfectly, Uncle Harvey loses at the racetrack and needs $75,000 to pay his bookie.

Meanwhile, RJ Fletcher, the owner and manager of network affiliate channel 8, who has proved himself to be a nasty piece of work, with no redeeming features whatsoever (and who keeps, through his own arrogance and disregard for others – handing opportunities to George, who’s very niceness turns to his own advantage) is angry about channel 62 beating him in the ratings, which he takes as a personal affront. He offers to buy the station from Harvey so he can pay his bookie.

George convinces Harvey to at least let him match Fletcher’s offer. He and his friends then hold a telethon, raising money by selling stock in the station at $10.00/share. Despite difficulties, at the last minute they are up to $73,000 and change. Then a bum, who’s been seen collecting change throughout the movie, gives them the last $2000 they need. It seems the penny RJ had given him as an insult was an ultra-rare coin worth a fortune. RJ could have still gotten his station (which he then was going to destroy) but he first goes to gloat at and insult the assembled crowd. George sneaks over to the bookie’s car, gives him the money, gets the contract and Harvey signs it over.

Meanwhile, Philo had also installed cameras at RJ’s office and recorded him saying very insulting things about the local community. This footage is not only played on Channel 8’s own signal, over-writing his broadcast signal, but it’s the primary evidence when the FCC agent shows up and revokes Fletcher’s licence (we can assume, since the man shows up and rather than fining Fletcher for not re-applying for his broadcasting licence – he revokes it.) Philo walks off after saying goodbye to George and Teri (George’s girlfriend) and disappears in a beam of light. Pamela reports on the story of the end of Fletcher’s media career.

UHF  is really a simply underdog story. And it’s the story of a man finding his way in the universe. But it’s also a story about good people, and how just simply being nice, and kind, and considerate will bring good things. There’s also a lot of sight gags, some physical comedy, and even some wordplay. It’s an enjoyable family film.

This is a B film, however. Although there are some well-known names in the film (Fran Drescher, Victoria Jackson, Kevin McCarthy, Anthony Geary) it’s mostly “Weird Al”‘s movie – almost as if he and his friends got together to make a film. But even so, it’s enjoyable and fun.

Recommendation: If comedy’s your thing, See it.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film: Van Helsing

The Truman Show

  • Title:  The Truman Show
  • Director:  Peter Weir
  • Date:  1998
  • Studio:  Paramount Pictures
  • Genre:  Drama
  • Cast:  Jim Carrey, Ed Harris, Laura Linney, Natascha McElhone
  • Format:   Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Seahaven is the way the world should be.” – Christof

“Cue the sun.” – Christof

Imagine if your whole world – everyone you knew, every place you’d ever seen, every memory you had, was, in a sense – not real. Your very life had been manipulated from before your birth, and that all of this was completely unknown to you. That’s the theme of The Truman Show, one of the most innovative and unusual films ever made.

Truman Burbank has an almost perfect life, living in the small island community of Seahaven. His wife is a nurse, and he works selling insurance. Truman sometimes dreams of going off on an adventure, or of being an explorer, but his daily life is quite dull, though perfect.

Then one day, as he’s about to get into his car to drive to work, a studio light crashes to the ground, nearly hitting his car. Truman thinks it’s strange, until the radio explains a plane flying over Seahaven began shedding parts. Yet, slowly, but surely, more and more strange things begin happening. Truman remembers a girl he was interested in, Lauren, the girl with a red sweater and a button that said, “How is it going to end?” but before he could really pursue a relationship with her, another girl, a cute blonde is literally dropped in his lap. Truman meets Lauren again at the library – and they try to run off together, but she is picked up and dragged away by her “father”.

As we know from scenes in Truman’s present – he marries the blonde, Meryl. But in his present, another encounter is harder to explain – he sees his father on the street. His father had died years ago, falling overboard and drowning when their sailboat was caught in a storm. Truman is disturbed by the encounter, and doesn’t quite buy the explanations offered by his mother and his wife. He meets up with his best friend, Marlin, and they have a heart-to-heart. Yet we see the Director, Christof, feeding lines to Marlin over a hidden earpiece. As the conversation concludes, a man walks out of the fog and smoke. It’s Truman’s lost father. But we see this momentous event through the eyes of the Director and his technical aides – as he orders the fog machine to back off, orders the arrangement of shots and cameras, and even has the music fade up.

Then we see the title sequence of “The Truman Show” which explains that Truman was born on camera, he was legally adopted by a Corporation, that millions had watched his first step and his “stolen kiss” (with Lauren), etc. Next is a cut to a talk show, “Tru Talk”, and an interview with Christof, the Director. Truman’s entire life is a TV show – aired 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, without interruption or advertisements. It’s revenue comes from product placement – and everything on the show is for sale in “The Truman Catalog”. The rest of the cast are actors, paid to interact with Truman. The Director manipulates everything to create “good television”.

Yet, despite the return of his father, Truman continues to question, continues to push.

He walks into a travel agency – an agency with posters, not of beautiful island paradises, but of planes hit by lightening, and of dire warnings of other Bad Things that can happen to the unwary traveller. When Truman tries to buy a plane ticket, he’s told there’s nothing for two months.

Next, he kidnaps his wife and spontaneously drives off. He gets her to drive from the passenger seat with one hand on the steering wheel of the car over a bridge over water to the “mainland”, something Truman himself is afraid to do. As they continue to drive, they hear sirens – and find an accident at a Nuclear Plant, with men in hazmat and fire-proof suits. A uniformed police officer tells them they can’t continue – but the cop makes a mistake when Truman agrees to turn around and says, “You’re welcome, Truman.” Truman tries again to escape, but he’s captured.

There’s a clip of Christof explaining that Meryl will leave Truman and a new “love interest” introduced. And that he’s “determined to have the first on-air conception” on the show.

But Truman has other ideas. He pretends to go back to his old self, continues to sell insurance, and “acts normal”. But one night, he sneaks in to his basement, creates a sleeping dummy with a recording of snores, and hides in a closet, then breaks out through a hole. This is discovered by the Director, who’s in his control room on the moon. First, Marlin is sent to find out if Truman is really sleeping (he discovers the deception). Then the entire cast and all extras are sent to search for Truman, they step in a long line, perfectly in time, arms linked, to a frightening sound reminiscent of goose-stepping. The group even has barking dogs. Having already ceased transmission, Christof is desperate to find his star. He uses the moon as a searchlight. Finally, even though it’s too early, he turns on the sun.

Christof realizes the one place he hasn’t searched is the sea. He finds Truman on a sailing boat, and begins transmitting pictures again. The audience begins to root for Truman’s escape, especially Lauren who leads some sort of protest group that wants Truman freed. As Truman tries to make his escape, Christof orders a storm. When his orders to stop Truman escalate to killing him by capsizing the boat – the other directors and technicians finally protest and refuse. Christof increases the storm and Truman falls off the boat and into the water. Christof turns off the storm and Truman, not drowned, coughs up the water and makes it back onto the boat. At this point, Christof says he wants to talk to Truman.

Christof’s voice appears to come from a break in the clouds.

“Who are you?” asks Truman.

“I am the creator of a television show that gives hope, and joy, and inspiration to millions,” replies Christof.

“Who am I?” asks Truman.

“You are the star,” replies Christof.

Christof then tells Truman he has watched him since he was born, saw him take his first step, watched him cut his first tooth. Truman still is determined to leave Christof’s giant television studio. He’s awakened when his boat hits the wall of the studio, and he walks, apparently on water, around the edge, until he finds a stair case. Finally, Truman climbs the stairs and exits the door. Christof orders “Cease Transmission”.

But the meta of the film is carried over into the credits which are listed in three parts: Truman’s World, Christof’s World, and the Viewers. Only the characters in Truman’s World have names – other than Christof and “Chloe” in Christof’s world characters are listed by their job description, “Control Room Director”, “Network Exceutive”, “Keyboard Artist”, etc. Similarly, the audience members are listed by descriptions, “bar waitress”, “Man in Bathtub”, “Japanese Family”, etc.

The Truman Show is a deep and fascinating film. Originally almost dismissed as a commentary on the “new” phenomena of Reality Television, it’s actually a deeply philosophical film. The Director is God – he’s created Truman’s entire world. He controls all of Truman’s encounters. If an actor becomes difficult or complains – they are removed from the show. New characters are introduced – giving the Director the show he wants – creating situations that Truman should respond to in predictable ways, such as dropping Meryl in his lap. Even what the actors say is at times scripted or suggested by Christof – such as Meryl insipid product placement lines (which she always delivers badly) or in a more serious scene, Christof feeding lines to Marlin to give to Truman. When the reality starts to break down, Truman’s search to find Lauren, to escape to Fiji, is really an attempt to understand his world and discover who he really is. It’s not accidental at all, that when Christof first speaks to Truman, it’s a voice, from the sun, peaking out from clouds, after a storm. That’s  a very Christian image. Though the entire story is of Truman’s fight to push the boundaries of his world and control his own fate, rather than stay safe, in a world created for him. Christof loses his battle, when Truman wins.

Besides the Christian implications, there’s another whole level to the film – the meta implications. Although the first half of the film stays in Truman’s world, but often with lens hazing or a curved perspective (like the really old shots in films that indicated a character was looking through binoculars or a telescope), once he meets his father, we are introduced to Christof’s World. We hear Christof defending his perspective. We hear Lauren, an actress named Sylvia, attack Christof on the “Tru Talk” call-in talk show program. And we see the audience watching the show and making comments – and eventually rooting for Truman’s escape. It’s a film, about a fictional television show, that shows us the director making that show, and the audience watching that show. It’s just so meta it practically defines the term.

And in many ways, this seventeen-year-old film predicts in a non-specific way, our world of constant Social Media interaction. The give-and-take and interaction between viewers and makers of film and television via websites, social media, Live Tweet Events, etc. The creating of profiles to emphasize what we want others to know about us and de-emphasize or even hide what we don’t want others to know about us. The putting on a friendly face, that can be an act as much as Truman’s wife and best friend act a certain way towards him. Though, to it’s credit, Truman’s world isn’t a totally paranoid or scary one. And in our world, Social Media does much good – giving voice to the voiceless, and in times of crisis turning us all into citizen journalists.

The Truman Show is an underrated classic and it is a film that really must be seen. I highly, highly, highly recommend this movie.

Recommendation: See it!
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film: UHF

Top Hat

  • Title:  Top Hat
  • Director:  Mark Sandrich
  • Date:  1935
  • Studio:  RKO Radio Pictures
  • Genre:  Musical, Comedy, Romance
  • Cast:  Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Edward Everett Horton, Erik Rhodes, Eric Blore, Helen Broderick
  • Words and Music:  Irving Berlin
  • Format:  Standard, Black and White
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Oh, that call wasn’t for me, it was for you. Somebody has registered a complaint.” – Horace Hardwicke (Edward Everett Horton)
“I know! I’ve just seen the complaint and she’s lovely, she’s delightful, she’s charming, and she wants to sleep.” – Jerry Travers (Fred Astaire)

“May I rescue you?” – Jerry
“No thank you. I prefer to be in distress.” – Dale Tremont (Ginger Rogers)

“You want this show to last two nights? Get me a plane, now!” – Jerry
“What kind of plane?” – Horace
“One with wings!” – Jerry

Top Hat is a romantic comedy filled with mistaken identities, misunderstandings, and music! Like any farce, it’s the type of plot that would be resolved in five minutes if anyone in the cast actually talked to each other for five minutes, rather than making assumptions. But that’s not really a negative – because it’s light, frothy romance with no harsh realities at all. The sets are marvelously art deco and beautiful – especially the Venice hotel with its waterways and boats.

The story begins in London, with Jerry Travers waiting in a very quiet English gentleman’s club for his friend Horace. The club is one where Silence Must Be Observed at all times, and everyone stares at Jerry when he drops something or turns the page of his newspaper. Horace finds Jerry, starts to talk to him, then realizes where he is, and urges Jerry to leave so they can talk. Just as he’s leaving, Jerry does a quick tap dance on the floor simply to annoy everyone – and as a joke.

Horace takes Jerry to his hotel, Jerry – excited about seeing Horace, and their new show; begins tapping in his hotel room (“No Strings (I’m Fancy Free)”) – waking up the young woman in the hotel suite below. She calls to complain to the manager. Horace takes the call, gets confused, and goes down to the hotel desk to tell the manager he doesn’t want a young woman in his hotel room because it wouldn’t be proper. Meanwhile, Dale goes to the hotel suite and complains. Dale doesn’t introduce herself – and Jerry’s so taken with her, he doesn’t introduce himself either. This proves to actually be a very important part of the plot.

The next day, Jerry goes to the hotel flower shop and orders that all the flowers be sent to Ms. Tremont’s room (by room number) – then charges the very expensive bill to Horace by his room number.

Horace, afraid that Dale might be a “designing woman” sets his valet, Bates, to follow her. This is another part of the plot that’s considerably more important than it seems. Horace also warns Jerry off, telling him about a woman he met called Violet who took advantage of him.

Meanwhile, we learn Dale is a social model. A dress designer named Alberto Beddini pays her to wear his dresses, so her friends will see them, ask about them, and he will get more contracts to design dresses and sell more of his designs. But, since he’s financially supporting her – this is something not good for Horace to find out as he’d get the wrong idea. Dale is also close friends with his wife, Madge.

Jerry tries to meet Dale again, she rebuffs him – mentioning she’s going for a ride in the park. Jerry gives her a ride to her lesson in the park and again tries to get her interested in him without luck. During her ride, Dale gets caught in the rain. She shelters in a gazebo. Jerry arrives and tries to calm her down by telling her a story about clouds. He then sings “Isn’t it a Lovely Day? (To get Caught in the Rain)” to her, and the two dance in partner tap. Ginger is wearing jodhpur-pants. Fred and Ginger also mirror each other beautifully when dancing. At the end of their dance, the two sit down on the edge of the raised gazebo platform – and shake hands. It’s a gesture between partners.

Later at the hotel, Ginger asks the concierge to point out Horace. The concierge points to “the man with the briefcase and cane” on the walkway. But Horace runs into Jerry and hands him his briefcase and cane – thus making Dale think he’s her friend Madge’s husband. This type of thing continuously happens – Dale keeps thinking that Jerry is Horace, and thus her friend’s husband and a terrible cad to boot.

Jerry is in the middle of his show, changing between acts when Horace reads his wife’s telegram and finds out she and Dale are heading off to Venice. Jerry insists they hire a charter plane and go to Venice as well.

The production number, part of Jerry’s show, is “Top Hat, White Tie, and Tails” which has Astaire dancing with a chorus of men in formal wear. During the dance, he “shoots” the men with his cane. His short tap dancing routine gets a standing ovation from the audience.

In Venice, Dale meets up with Madge, and they meet the seaplane – but Dale isn’t there when Madge says hello to Jerry – whom Madge actually wants to set-up with Jerry. The hotel is full – so Horace and Jerry end up sharing the bridal suite, while Madge and Dale share their own suite.

Bellani, thinking that Horace has designs on Dale confronts him, but Horace has no idea what’s going on.

Dale talks to Madge about her husband’s flirting. Madge says she knows he flirts, but it doesn’t mean anything. Dale decides to “teach him a lesson” and goes to his room to throw herself at him – and again runs into Jerry. Jerry turns the tables and flirts back.

Later, at dinner, Madge, Jerry, and Dale meet – but no introductions are made, as Dale insists she knows who Jerry is (she still thinks he’s Madge’s husband Horace). Fred and Ginger dance to “Cheek to Cheek”, with Ginger in the beautiful, floaty, feather dress. It’s ballroom dance that begins with the two in the midst of a crowded dance floor and moves to the two dancing on a patio that resembles an even bigger version of the gazebo from earlier. There is also some side by side and partner tap, with the two mirroring each other beautifully. But when Jerry proposes – Dale thinks he’s Madge’s husband and slaps him.

Alberto Belleni flirts with Dale and proposes to her. She accepts him but insists they must be married immediately.

Jerry, in a last-ditch effort to get Dale to listen to him, has Horace distract Beddini and goes to talk to Dale. He takes her on a boat ride on the water – and finally explains who he is.

Meanwhile, Bates reports to Horace that Dale and Jerry are drifting out to sea. Horace, Madge, and Belleni go off in a boat to “rescue” Dale and Jerry.

Dale and Jerry return, happy at last but concerned about her quick marriage and how to dissolve it. Dale rushes off. Bates tells Jerry that Madge, Horace, and Beddini went off in a boat from which he’d “removed the gasoline” while disguised as a gondolier. The local police arrest Bates for his impersonation.

There is a production number instrumental of “The Piccolino”, which starts with Bugby Berkeley-styled dancers. Then the camera changes to a much happier Dale singing “The Piccolino” to Jerry. Then the perspective switches back to the elaborate production number.

Fred and Ginger dance – tap and ballroom, mirroring each other in tap. Their dance is full frame and uncut. Ginger’s dress is sparkly with a trumpet skirt. They dance back to their table, saluting each other with champagne glasses.

Horace, Madge, and Belddini return. That Horace is Madge’s husband is confirmed, as is the blossoming romance between Dale and Jerry. Just as everyone is wondering what they will do, Bates arrives and states he had been following Dale everywhere, and he had earlier disguised himself as a clergyman by turning his collar around. Beddini states, “But you were the one who married us!” Dale responds, “Then we were never really married!” And she rushes off in Jerry’s arms!

List of Musical Numbers

  • No Strings (I’m Fancy Free)
  • Isn’t This a Lovely Day (To be Caught in the Rain)?
  • Top Hat, White Tie and Tails
  • Cheek to Cheek
  • The Piccolino

Top Hat is a simple, romantic comedy – fueled by mistaken identities, coincidences, and misunderstandings, where, of course, in the end – everything works out. But it features some of Irving Berlin’s best songs and Fred Astaire and Ginger Roger’s best dances. The sets, especially the boats in the waterway, are wonderful – and the Art Deco just shines. The dances are filmed full-frame and often without cuts. Certainly, there are no cuts to faces and feet – which means one can follow the dance and focus on Fred and Ginger’s artistry. There are two ensemble production numbers – Fred’s tap dance with a male chorus, which is part of the show he’s been hired for as a professional dancer; and “The Piccolino”. “The Piccolino” is a wonderful production number – but it seems out of place in Top Hat. It starts as an elaborate production number, switches to show Ginger singing, switches back to a production number, then switches a fourth time to Fred and Ginger dancing. The production part is full of fast cuts, and elaborate patterns, using ribbons. In short, it looks like a Bugsy Berkeley musical. But when “The Piccolino” focuses on Fred and Ginger dancing together, it becomes one of their signature-style dances – shown full frame, in a single shot without cuts, with Fred and Ginger both tap dancing (briefly) and ballroom dancing. So overall, though very elaborate, it works. Top Hat is one of my favorite Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers films, along with Swing Time and Shall We Dance. For many, it is the quintessential film for the pair.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Truman Show