Mt. Rainier from Mt. Si
My friend Ben and I hiked up Mt. Si today on one of the hotter days of the year in the Pac NW. I was looking for a good hike with a view that was less than 4500 feet, since that's where the snow line is right now, but maybe 8 miles roundtrip with 3,000 feet elevation gain isn't a good hike to inaugurate the year. I'm still feeling it. The top had swarms of dark black bugs that hurt when they bit. Anyone know what they are? Crowded trail, of course, with a few runners. One guy passed us going up (as we were going up), then passed us going down (as we were going up), then passed us going up again (as we were going down). That's commitment. Or something.
In the end, not bad for a couple of 50-somethings.
Rainier from Si.
Me on Si.
Movie Review: White House Down (2013)
“He’s last man standing. Everyone else that could possibly guard the White House, I mean every single motherfucking one of them, dies. Why? Because it has to be just one guy. We don’t know how to do it otherwise.”
-- Me, in my review of “Olympus Has Fallen,” March 25, 2013
And we still don’t.
If “Olympus Has Fallen” was “Die Hard in the White House,” then “White House Down” is … also “Die Hard in the White House.” It’s just not quite so offensive. It’s not patriotism porn.
But that doesn’t mean it’s any good.
Put the left one in
Once again, one man (John Cale, played by Channing Tatum) is in a closed-off location by accident (part of a tour group) when terrorists take over a building (the White House); and just as the terrorists systematically, almost immaculately, wipe out all of the buildings defenses (Secret Service, etc.), he, for the rest of the movie, wipes out the terrorists. There’s a rooftop battle in which the hero’s allies mistake him for the enemy and shoot. There’s a gum-chewing, scenery-chewing computer geek who’s annoying as all fuck out. (Presciently, he’s a hacker formerly with the NSA). There’s a loved one among the hostages (Cale’s daughter, Emily, played by Joey King), who is used by the terrorists as barter. The terrorists also mask their true intentions. In “Die Hard” they pretend to be political when they really want money. Here, they pretend to want money when they’re really political. Most of the outside people keep making the wrong moves but our guy keeps making the right ones to keep saving the day. Because the day must be saved. That’s why we paid our $12.
How does “White House Down” differ from “Olympus Has Fallen”? Hardly at all. Channing Tatum has a lighter touch than Gerard Butler, but then so does a gorilla. No, the biggest difference is who America’s enemies are and what this means politically.
In “Olympus,” the enemies are a North Korean terrorist group, which plans to blow up all of our nukes in their silos, and thus destroy the United States of America (and, one imagines, most of Canada and Mexico) for all time.
In “White House Down,” the enemies are a combination of mercenaries, warmongers, and right-wing racists who despise our African-American president, James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx), and who are brought together by the outgoing head of the Secret Service, Martin Walker (James Woods), whose son was killed during a special ops mission designed to uncover nukes in Iran. (No nukes were uncovered.) For most of the movie, even as Walker lays out his subterfuge to the Joint Chiefs about wanting money, we, who’ve had a ringside seat this entire time, assume he’s in it for revenge. But that’s wrong, too. Pres. Sawyer, you see, has made historic peace overtures to various countries in the Middle East, and plans to withdraw our troops from the region. Walker sees this as a betrayal, and, in conjunction, with … wait for it … Speaker of the House Rafelson (Richard Jenkins), who is secretly doing the bidding of the military-industrial complex, they, or more accurately he, Walker, gets set to launch nukes targeting key cities in the Middle East. Because he wants the war to end all wars. He wants the missiles to fly. Hallelujah, hallelujah.
So if “Olympus” is the White House takeover from the paranoid right-wing perspective, “Down” is the White House takeover from the paranoid left-wing perspective.
And only one man, and a little girl, can stop them.
Wake up, Maggie
I need a new word.
You know how sometimes you can laugh and throw up in your mouth at the same time? I felt something similar during “White House Down.” It was a button-pushing moment—I don’t remember which one—that was so absurd that, even as I felt emotion welling up in me, even as I felt tears in my eyes, I burst out laughing.
I think it might’ve been the moment when the Speaker, now President, orders an attack on the White House, and Emily, running from the half-destroyed Oval Office, makes big sweeping motions with the presidential flag to warn them to stand down; and they do. Because of this speck of a girl doing something with something.
Then again, this movie is nothing but absurd scenes. How about the moment when the President of the United States, riding shotgun in a presidential SUV, gets out an RPG and blows away the White House gate so he and Cale can get out? “That’s something you don’t see every day,” one character says—a wink from the filmmakers on the absurdity of their own film. Of course, the two men still don’t get outside. How could they? We need to keep them in the one place, the White House, so they wind up face down in the White House pool, wheels spinning.
How about the moment when super-baddie and former special ops yadda yadda Stenz (Jason Clarke) realizes his buddy is among the first of the terrorists killed by Cale and reacts as if death is unthinkable? That they were going to take over the White House, and nuke Iran, and no one would get their hair mussed except Pres. Sawyer and Iran. And various Secret Service and military officers. And whoever was in the U.S. Capitol. Which is blown up as a diversion.
How about any scene with Killick (Kevin Rankin), the right-wing racist, who sports a full moustache and sleeveless fatigues, and struts around almost bow-legged as he guards the hostages? I guess he’s supposed to be terrifying, or maddening, but he looks like somebody who’s wandered away from a Village People tribute band.
My favorite absurd moment, though, is a line reading from Maggie Gyllenhaal. Was she ever any good as an actress or were we just fooled into thinking she was good? Because she’s awful in this. Aw. Full.
She plays Finnerty, who apparently has a past with Cale (go figure), and who, that morning, interviews him for a Secret Service job. She turns him down, of course. He was a C student, he has trouble with authority, etc. You, basically. When the shit goes down, she’s outside, winds up with the Joint Chiefs and the Speaker, butting heads, and delivering lines like, “Your first act as president … is to blow up the White House?” She’s supposed to be the movie’s Sgt. Powell, the ally on the outside, but she’s too high-level, not working-class enough, and almost everything she says grates like nails on a chalkboard. But that’s not the worst of it. The worst of it is this: After John Cale single-handedly saves the country, and certainly the Middle East, and possibly even the world from massive death and destruction, she, Finnerty, meets him on the White House lawn, and, with all of the press buzzing around, and the White House still smoldering in the background, looks him squarely in the eye and says, “Thank you for everything you did today,” in a tone that my boss would use if I’d just done a pretty good PowerPoint presentation.
Thank you for everything you did today? In that officious tone? Maggie. Hon. Put a little love into it. Or at least a dollop of emotion.
On opening day, we fight back
You want to hear my idea for a paranoid action movie? Here it is.
It’s about a writer-director who makes big-budget action movies in which, even post-9/11, our most beloved landmarks and institutions are destroyed. Let’s make this guy, I don’t know, German. That’s an easy mark, right? Let’s call him … Franz Heimlich. No, too silly. How about … Roland Emmerich? That’s silly, too, but we’ll work on it.
So this German, Roland Emmerich, secretly hates America and the world, which is why, in his movies, he keeps destroying America and the world. His first big movie was an alien-invasion movie in which the money-shot was the White House getting blown up. He called it “Independence Day.” Then he goes on to destroy New York City (“Godzilla”), the world (“The Day After Tomorrow”), the world again (“2012”), and the reputation of William Shakespeare (“Anonymous”), before returning to destroy the U.S. Capitol and the White House (“White House Down”). In his wake, the world lies in ruins, smoldering. He is able to do what Hitler only dreamed of doing.
Best of all? He does it with our help. We pay to see these things happen. Over and over again. Even though none of them are any good. Even though all of them are eventually low-rated (< 7.0) on IMDb.com. But by then he deed is done. By then, he’s in his bunker somewhere, laughing, and covering himself with our money.
That’s the villain of my paranoid action movie.
And the hero? The hero is you. Because you stop going.
Ranking Every Freakin' Superhero Movie Ever Made By IMDb Score
I did it with the Academy Awards' best pictures. I did it with baseball movies. Isn't it about time I did it with superhero movies? Isn't that what you've been asking yourself lo these many months? Nay ... years! Well, face front, semi-true believers, because it's happening right now!
A few minor provisos about what's included. First, and most obviously, what's a superhero movie? Or better: What's a superhero? Sure, Batman, Spider-Man, Superman, rah. But do we count Meteor Man and Blank Man? I did. How about Steel or Barb Wire? Yes to the first, no to the second. I don't have Sheena, either, which seems like blatant sexism at this point, until you realize I didn't include Tarzan the Ape Man. And is it OK to parse Zorro andRobin Hood? I did. For me, Zorro is the ur-superhero: a masked avenger who is pretending in his secret identity be a weak man to the disgust of the Girl Who Matters. Robin Hood is simply a Middle Ages avenger stumping for the king. And no, no Scarlet Pimpernel, either. Sorry, Leslie Howard.
Because newer films tend to start with higher scores and drop—as longtime reader and IMDb-watcher Andrew Reed has said—I've ranked the ties in chronological order. Age before beauty, as it were. It's much more impressive, for example, that Tim Burton's “Batman” has a 7.6 rating than “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” does.
That said, when is IMDb going to add an extra decimal point already?
But enough of my yammering, Lundy Legions: It's clobberin' time!
|1||The Dark Knight||2008||9.0|
|2||The Dark Knight Rises||2012||8.6|
|4||Marvel's The Avengers||2012||8.3|
|7||Man of Steel||2013||7.9|
|9||X-Men: First Class||2011||7.8|
|10||Superman II: The Donner Cut||2006||7.7|
Well well well, if it isn't the Caped Crusader and his little Boy Wonder. OK, just barely the Boy Wonder. At the very end. Spoiler alert.
That's right. IMDb's top three superhero movies are the three Chris Nolan Batman movies. I don't think any of them make my top 10. Too much wrong with them. Butthey're dark and gritty and kids confuse that with meaningful. There's a lot of needless destruction in them, and some people just want to watch the world burn.
As for “The Avengers,” “Incredibles” and “Iron Man”? Yes yes yes, as Molly Bloom said. (Look it up.) But no no no (as Ringo Starr said) to “Kick Ass.” It wants its irony and wish-fulfillment, too. And the best “X-Men,” according to these kids, is the prequel rather than “X2”? Oh my stars and garters.
“Man of Steel” will plummet to Earth, surely, but will the Donner cut of “Superman II”? Right now it's ranked higher than even “Superman: The Movie,” which started all of this, and it's a rare movie that most people won't watch and thus vote on. Although I guess IMDbers do vote without havingseen. Just as, on election day, people vote without having thought.
Let's keep on. To the batpole, Robin.
|11||The Mark of Zorro||1940||7.6|
|13||X2: X-Men United||2003||7.6|
|15||Iron Man 3||2013||7.6|
|18||Superman: The Movie||1978||7.3|
Five movies with a 7.6 rating? Right away, we have an argument for that extra decimal point. And what a mixed bag these movies are! The Tyronne Power reboot of the “Zorro” franchise, which is good; Tim Burton's “Batman,” which is *meh*; the second Bryan Singer-directed “X-Men” movie, which is GREAT; Zack Snyder's “Watchmen,” which ruined one of the best songs ever written, Leonard Cohen's “Hallelujah,” like, forever; and “Iron Man 3,” which made more than a billion dollars worldwide but is still plummeting here.
Not much “Spider-Man” love, is there? The best Spidey is 17th? Below “Watchmen”? Whallopin' websnappers. Three of these films—“X2,” “Spider-Man 2” and “Superman: The Movie”—would be (and will be, semi-true believers) in my top 10. Maybe my top 5. Stay tuned.
|21||The Mark of Zorro||1920||7.2|
|22||Adventures of Captain Marvel||1941||7.2|
|24||Don Q: Son of Zorro||1925||7.1|
|25||Hellboy II: The Golden Army||2008||7.1|
|26||Iron Man 2||2010||7.1|
|27||The Amazing Spider-Man||2012||7.1|
|28||Zorro's Fighting Legion||1939||7.0|
|30||Atom Man vs. Superman||1950||7.0|
Now this is an interesting group: two silent films, four movie serials from the '30s, '40s and '50s, two sequels, a reboot and a turn-of-the-century original, “Unbreakable,” which also might be in my top 10.
The “Captain Marvel” serial, by the way, was probably the first true superhero movie, or serial, ever made, if you think of a superhero having powers and a cape and a secret identity. It doesn't look bad, considering. (That mannequin can fly!) Back then, the Big Red Cheese actually sold better than the Big Blue Boy Scout. Then litigation got in the way.
Interesting that both Kirk Alyn Superman serials are tied with each other, but it is tough to choose between them. Both have their pleasures, their absurdities, their long, boring faults. But both are way better than “Superman and the Mole Men.” (See #63. — Erudite Erik.)
|36||The Incredible Hulk||2008||6.9|
|39||X-Men: The Last Stand||2006||6.8|
|40||Captain America: The First Avenger||2011||6.8|
Look at the above 10 again. What reads wrong to you? A 7.0 rating for “Batman Returns,” perchance? The movie where Tim Burton flew his freak flag for the villain, the Penguin, rather than Batman? That's certainly part of it. But I also have trouble abiding a tie between “Captain America: The First Avenger,” which wasn't bad, and “X-Men: The Last Stand,” the movie where Brett Ratner gave us loutish dialogue, where Professor X tells Wolverine, “I don't have to explain myself—least of all to you,” and where, most important, Ratner kills off half the X-Men! Wotta revoltin' development.
We're only a third of the way there and it's already starting to feel a bit *blah*, though, isn't it? “Thor”? “Blade”? “Chronicle”? Too bad the second half of “The Incredible Hulk” (the Ed Norton version) wasn't as good as the first half. And not just because it lacked Débora Nascimento.
BTW, has anyone seen that “Shadow” serial?
Alright, let's keep going, kids. Who knows what evil lurks down there....
|43||The Mask of Zorro||1998||6.7|
|44||X-Men Origins: Wolverine||2009||6.7|
|50||Zorro Rides Again||1937||6.3|
I'm glad “Superman II” (Lester version) isn't as beloved as its catchphrase “Kneel before Zod!” “Mask of Zorro” (1998) is tied with “Wolverine” (2009), but I'd take the former over the latter any day. The Zorro reboot works; the Wolverine prequel was a major disappointment.
Oh, “Hancock,” you should've been better. Oh, Adam West “Batman,” you were better. But fanboys these days want their heroes glowering and growling. No poking fun at the entire genre—or the entire culture. Caped, costumed men must stand, grim-faced sentinels on tall gothic buildings, as rain pours down and fails to wash the scum from the streets. So many of these kids still kneel before Frank Miller.
|56||Batman and Robin||1949||6.2|
|59||Hero at Large||1980||6.0|
|60||Punisher: War Zone||2008||6.0|
By the hoary hosts of hogwash! I had my problems with “Superman Returns,” too, but IMDb voters would have it below “The Punisher” (with John Travolta as villain), “Flash Gordon” (with Queen on the soundtrack), and one of the worst movies ever made, “Spider-Man 3,” in which black goo from outer space turns Peter Parker into some combo of Tony Manero and Adolf Hitler??? Great Caesar's Ghost!
|62||The Green Hornet||2011||5.9|
|63||Superman and the Mole Men||1951||5.8|
|65||The Legend of Zorro||2005||5.8|
“Mystery Men” is way better than this, kids. But, as with the Adam West “Batman,” you need a sense of humor to get it.
Green movies (Lantern, Hornet, Hulk) don't make much green, do they? Did any movie here? “Fantastic Four,” kinda, but it's an embarrassing addition considering how instrumental the FF is in the Silver Age of Comics. Wotta revoltin' development.
|71||Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer||2007||5.6|
|74||The Return of Captain Invincible||1983||5.3|
|75||My Super Ex-Girlfriend||2006||5.2|
When you see movies like “Ghost Rider,” “Superman III,” “Daredevil” and “Elektra,” you know you've almost reached bottom. Just 14 rungs to go. Hang on ...
|82||The Meteor Man||1993||4.7|
|83||The Legend of the Lone Ranger||1981||4.5|
|85||Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance||2012||4.4|
|89||The Fantastic Four||1994||3.8|
|90||Superman IV: The Quest for Peace||1987||3.6|
|91||Batman & Robin||1997||3.6|
Hear that sound? That's the sound of hitting bottom. Thank God. Thank Odin. And his beard.
As we began with “The Dark Knight,” we end with “Steel,” starring Shaq. (Haven't seen it.) As we began with “The Avengers, we end with Matt Salinger's ”Captain America“ from 1990. (Haven't seen it.)
But I have seen the final Golan and Globus Superman and the George Clooney Batman and both deserve to be down here. Along with ”Supergirl“ and ”Legend of the Lone Ranger“ and Frank Miller's ”The Spirit,“ which is stab-out-your-eyeballs bad. Yes, and Nic Cage, Powerless Man, who sold his soul to the devil a long time ago.
So any I've missed, semi-true believers? Feel free to rap with Cap in the comments field below.
Final thought: I suppose it's a positive that there aren't many superhero movies worse than ”Batman & Robin.“ But I suppose it's a negative that there aren't any superhero movies better than ”The Dark Knight."
Ah, but there are. There are.
Quote of the Day
“Hello, who am I talking to? Oh, Barack Obama? I wanted to thank you. I think your coming out for us made such a difference throughout the country.”
-- Edith Windsor, the plaintiff in United States v. Windsor, the case which led to the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) yesterday. Windsor, with attorney Roberta Kaplan, sued the federal government because she was charged $363,000 in estate taxes following the death of her spouse, Thea Spyer, in 2009. If her spouse had been a man, the tax would have been nothing.
Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled the following: “DOMA's principal effect is to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal. The principal purpose is to impose inequality ... DOMA undermines both the public and private significance of state-sanctioned same-sex marriages; for it tells those couples, and all the world, that their otherwise valid marriages are unworthy of federal recognition. This places same-sex couples in an unstable position of being in a second-tier marriage. The differentiation demeans the couple, whose moral and sexual choices the Constitution protects, see Lawrence, 539 U. S. 558, and whose relationship the State has sought to dignify. And it humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples. The law in question makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.”
Recommended: Joe Muto's 'Atheist in a FOXhole'
Over the last week I've included a good half-dozen quotes from Joe Muto and his book, “An Atheist in the FOXhole: A Liberal's Eight-Year Odyssey Inside the Heart of the Right-Wing Media," which I recommend to anyone interested not only in the inner workings of FOX News but the inner workings of a cable news network.
Much of the book focuses on how things work regardless of ideology. There's also an example, just in time, on how to get a job. It's not bad advice. Basically: 1) Don't care too much about getting it; 2) Be witty. The second part is the hard part, but the first ... well, it's astonishing how often that happens. (See this Christopher Reeve quote.) The thing we fear the most meets us halfway while the thing we want the most ain't budging.
As for FOX-News? Much of what we see is what we get. Bill O'Reilly is a bully, Sarah Palin is unprepared, Glenn Beck is truly, truly paranoid. But there are surprises. Apparently, off camera, Ann Coulter is a nice person. Go figure.
Muto also does a good job of parsing the famous conservative faces. These homophobes are hardly homogenous. O'Reilly may be conservative but he's not an ideologue in the way of Sean Hannity or Roger Ailes. Ratings trump politics for O'Reilly. Money trumps politics for Rupert Murdoch. For Ailes and Hannity, politics trump all.
It's worth a read. It's also a breeze. Muto is funny and a good writer.
Boies on the Prop 8 Cross-Examination: 'Wouldn't America fit the American ideal better the day it allows gays and lesbians to marry?'
I linked to this in the past, never posted to it, but I thought that today, of all days, was a day worth revisiting it. It's from three years ago.
How does calm and rational win over emotional and combative? You enter a court of law with David Boies on your side:
I love the matter-of-fact logic he used to get the hostile witnesses to come around:
They were confronted with very simple questions, like “Do you think marriage is important?” Now what are they going to say? No? After all, they're trying to defend “traditonal marriage.” Of course they have to say marriage is important. “Do you think marriage helps children who are being raised? Do you think it hurts people not to be married, if they want to get married? Does that cause them disadvantages?”
They admitted, on the witness stand, each element of our case: that preventing gays and lesbians from marrying hurt them in serious social, psychological and economic ways; that preventing gays and lesbians from marrying hurt the children that they were raising--and hundreds of thousands of children are being raised today by gay and lesbian couples in the United States. And finally, there was simply no evidence that allowing gays and lesbians to marry could in any way harm heterosexual marriage ...
The key witness they had, a guy named Mr. Blankenhorn ... in the end, there was a question and answer that talked about, “Isn't American about equality? Don't we want equality for all of our citizens.” These are questions that it's hard to answer 'no' to. “Isn't it a lack of equality when we say gays and lesbians can't get married?” He had to agree to that. And finally, “Wouldn't America fit the American ideal better the day it allows gays and lesbians to marry?”
And he said yes.
And today the Supreme Court said yes. At least on a state-to-state basis.
Tweet of the Day: DOMA Dead
This is mine but there are many like it out there in reaction to the Supreme Court's ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA):
Andrew Sullivan, one of the first to push for gay marriage, is your one-stop shopping today:
- Live-Blogging the SCOTUS ruling. Sullivan quote: “We did it in part for those we left behind. And part of the reason I am crying right now is remembering them. I want them to come to the party. I want them to see they didn’t die in vain.” This link also includes Dan Savage's response to Huckabee's “Jesus wept” line.
- Tweet Reax, including church bells ringing in Minneapolis and the Seattle Gay Men's Chorus singing the National Anthem.
- Map of the Day: From legal ban and constitutional ban, to civil unions and gay marriage.
- I Believe. Sullivan: “Same-sex marriages have always existed because the human heart has always existed in complicated, beautiful and strange ways. But to have them recognized by the wider community, protected from vengeful relatives, preserved in times of illness and death, and elevated as a responsible, adult and equal contribution to our common good is a huge moment in human consciousness.”
Biking in Seattle More Dangerous than in New York City, Expert Says
This was on the front page of The Seattle Times today under the headline, “Worse than Manhattan? Bike expert rattled by ride through city.”
John Pucher, a Rutgers professor, bike-safety expert, and author of the book, “City Cycling,” visited Seattle and took a ride down 2nd Avenue, which I ride every day, and which has its own bike lane. Kinda sorta. Like all bike lanes, it's there for bikes until someone bigger and more impatient wants it. Which often happens on 2nd.
In the article, Times reporter Mike Lindbloom describes Pucher's trip down 2nd:
Close encounters of the wrong kind greeted him down the southbound slope: a woman texting while her SUV drifted toward him; a FedEx delivery truck blocking; cars headed toward Interstate 5 turning in front of him at intersections; a black sedan whose driver abruptly stopped to parallel park.
Then he quotes Pucher:
“I’d say it’s as bad as a major avenue on Manhattan,” Pucher said. “I think it’s maybe even worse, because I think here, there’s more left and right turns, there’s more doors that are being opened, more cars that are trying to park.”
For Seattle, Pucher recommends cycle tracks (bike lanes separated by curbs, parked cars, whatever), and greenways (being developed in neighborhoods). He doesn't think much of sharrows (the bike symbol painted on the street as a reminder to drivers to share the road, but which looks like a flattened cyclist). I agree on all counts. I've even written about 2nd Avenue and its lousy turns a few times myself.
Here's another key graf from Lindbloom that doesn't make the Emerald City in the Evergreen State look very green:
In 1990, about 1.5 percent of Seattleites bicycled to work or school, compared with 1.1 percent in Portland. By 2011, Seattle had climbed slowly to 3.7 percent, while Portland zoomed to a 6.8 percent commute share for cycling, census surveys show. “I hope this is a wake-up call to Seattle” to build safe routes now and not in a decade, he said.
Overall, the article made me feel two ways: 1) vindicated, since we have an outside source corroborating what I've long said; and 2) tough, since I bike that shit every day. OK, three ways: it made me sad, too, about my city. We were progressive once.
Movie Review: The Bling Ring (2013)
After watching Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring” at SIFF Uptown in lower Queen Anne in Seattle, my friend Vinny complained that the movie didn’t give us enough outside of the vacuous lives of its girl/gay protagonists, who are obsessed with celebrity and luxury items and combine the two fascinations by breaking into the homes of celebrities (Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan) and stealing shit (jewelry, shoes, panties, pills).
“That’s what’s brilliant about it,” I said. “It doesn’t give us anything else. Just that.”
Seriously, I can’t remember a recent movie where form and content matched so well. You could make the movie and the characters more interesting. You could use better actors. You could create better dialogue and give us a better soundtrack. But there’s a kind of brilliance in immersing us in the awful, dreamlike horror of these empty, empty lives. What is it these kids do? They steal, then they wear what they steal, then they dance and party, wearing what they’ve stolen, and take countless selfies and post them on Facebook and tell their friends where they’ve been. It’s the emptiest of lives but it’s the pinnacle of life for them. How sad is that? They are drawn to the celebrity light as if only that which is filmed is real. They want to be on the other side of the celebrity camera. They want to be the watched rather than the watcher.
They get their wish.
Can you afford me?
Marc (Israel Broussard) is the new kid in school in Calabasas, Calif., an affluent suburb of Los Angeles, and his arrival is greeted by the other kids with vague eyerolls, OMGs, and dismissive critiques of what he’s wearing. A girl in the hallway bumps into him and tells him to watch it. The sense of privilege here, particularly among the girls, is immediate and overwhelming. But Rebecca (Katie Chang) seems nice, if blank. She makes overtures. She invites him to the beach. Why is she so nice to him? Because she feels she can manipulate him? We never find out.
Soon they’re hanging regularly. They smoke pot. They go shopping. The actors aren’t particularly good and their dialogue isn’t particularly interesting because the characters have nothing really to say. “I was always self-conscious that I wasn’t as good-looking as other people,” Marc tells us in voiceover. That’s as deep as it gets. The whole thing feels inert and airless.
They begin to hang with a few others, including Nicki the princess (Emma Watson), her crazy half-sister Sam (Taissa Farmiga), and balls-out Chloe (Claire Julien, in one of the film’s better performances). They ride around town, listen to hip-hop, flash gang signs, and engage in girl talk:
Girl 1: Bitch, you’re just jealous.
Girl 2: Suck my dick.
They get into clubs even though they’re underage. Hey, there’s Kirsten Dunst. Hey, there’s Paris Hilton. Later, Marc reads that Paris is hosting a party in Vegas. That’s when Rebecca gets the idea. Where does Paris live? “I bet she’d leave her keys under the mat,” Rebecca says. CUT TO: Finding the keys under the mat. That was good. That made me laugh out loud.
Arguments can be made about which is worse: the kids’ celebrity obsession or the celebrity’s own celebrity obsession. Paris Hilton’s place, as portrayed here, is glitzy and filled with reminders of her own status: throw pillows with her picture on them; a wall of her magazine covers; a framed poster of herself wearing a T-shirt reading “CAN YOU AFFORD ME?” One secret room contains nothing but designer shoes. The kids, who return several times, try on clothes and jewelry as if they’re in a store. They fight over outfits. Rebecca tries to take Paris Hilton’s dog at one point. “You can’t take her dog,” Marc tells her.
Rebecca is the engine, Marc the brakes, but the brakes don’t work very well. The more often they get away with it, the more brazen they become. They go to Megan Fox’s home and Nicki practically undulates on the bed. They find a gun in Orlando Bloom’s home and Sam waves it around dangerously, enjoying the power. They find a stash of Rolexes under his bed and hock them with a bouncer at a club (Gavin Rossdale). I don’t know if Coppola intended this but the further they go, the more distant the celebrity names became to me. Eventually they steal from the home of someone named Audrina who was in something called “The Hills.”
As I sat in the theater, watching all this, I wondered whose home I would break into. Jackie Chan’s? E.L. Doctorow’s? And steal what? And why? I liked these people. Why would I take from them? That’s a few steps shy of Mark David Chapman territory, isn’t it? These kids rob whom they love. They want to be immersed in that. They want to be that.
Then they become that.
The lesson of the non-lesson
When the cops come—after the story finally hits the press—they come swiftly and smartly. They’re all rounded up. Of course the kids have been dumb. That’s part of the point.
For a time they get to experience life on the other side of the camera. A few (Marc) are uncomfortable there. A few (Nicki) have lawyers and managers and get interviewed by a reporter from Vanity Fair, who writes the article upon which the movie is based. We get Nicki and her awful mom (Leslie Mann), with her awful vaguely Eastern, me-first homilies, jockeying for position in the interview. “Mom, it’s my interview,” Nicki complains.
The harshest sentences go to the engine, Rebecca, and the brakes, Marc, who each get four years. We see Marc, wearing an orange jumpsuit, and chained to other hardened criminals, taking the bus to LA County Jail. That seems the lesson. You don’t want to be where Marc is at that moment. And the heavy steel door to the LA County Jail is clanged shut. It’s a classic ending.
But it’s not the ending because it’s not really the lesson. Nicki, with her lawyers and managers, gets only 30 days. She’s interviewed about her time in prison, about who she saw there (Lindsay Lohan), about what they were wearing (orange jumpsuits). She spins the whole adventure so it’s about her. “I’m a firm believer in Karma and I think this situation is a huge learning lesson for me,” she says, aping her mom’s me-first, Eastern homilies. “I want to run a non-profit. I want to lead a country one day for all I know.”
That’s the lesson. It’s the lesson of the non-lesson, of nothing learned. It’s all about how you get on the other side of the camera, where real life is.
CAN YOU AFFORD ME?
No, we can’t.
On FOX-News, the Sheriff Is Near
“I spoke to my dad a few days [after the 2008 election]. He was nominally a Republican, and had voted for McCain. He was a little annoyed that his guy lost but was interested in getting my reaction.
”'How do you think Fox will take it?' he asked.
“'I think they'll take it okay,' I said. 'You know, give him the benefit of the doubt.'
”'Are you sure?' My dad sounded skeptical. 'I think it's going to be like Blazing Saddles, when the black sherrif arrives and all the townspeople panic.'“
-- Joe Muto, “An Atheist in the FOXhole: A Liberal's Eight-Year Odyssey Inside the Heart of the Right-Wing Media,” pg. 264. One of the best parts? The chapter heading is called: ”I Think He Said the Sheriff Is Near.“
Cleavon Little, taking on Richard Pryor's role, in Mel Brooks' ”Blazing Saddles" (1974.
Movie Review: The Kings of Summer (2013)
In sixth grade I read “My Side of the Mountain,” a young adult novel about a kid who gets fed up with family life and carves out an existence in a huge tree in the woods and has all sorts of adventures. I loved it. I was never that brave, or that adept in the wilderness (Indian Guides rather than Boy Scouts), so the furthest I got was a deep shelf in the back of the family garage. I set up a little fortress there, which is where I fled during family squabbles.
Joe (Nick Robinson) is made of sturdier stuff, and, when his widowed father, Frank (Nick Offerman), lays down harsh laws at the beginning of another high school summer, Joe bolts for a clearing in the nearby woods, dragging along his best friend, Patrick (Gabriel Basso), and Biaggio (Moises Arias), the odd kid in school. Together, with tools they’ve stolen from their parents, and supplies they’ve stolen from around town—wood paneling, a slide, window panes and an outhouse door—they build a reasonable facsimile of a very leaky house. And that’s where they spend the summer, having adventures.
Usually these adventures are slow-mo montages backed by a song. They jump off a small cliff and into a river. They punch each other and we watch the muscles and skin ripple. At one point, with machetes, Joe and Biaggio go hunting. They climb a hill expecting to see animals on the other side; instead, it’s a freeway with a Boston Market. Wuh-wuhr. So they buy chicken and bring it back. For some reason, they pretend to Patrick that they caught it and cooked it. Wucka wucka.
For a time, I was thinking that writer Chris Galletta and director Jordan Vogt-Roberts had given us this wonderful gift: a summer movie without super-powered beings or high-tech gizmos. They’d given us a movie about kids who don’t want to watch TV. But TV is never far away because much of the movie has a sitcom feel. The parents are too loopy, the kids too mature—except with each other, when they revert to odd lies and behaviors. Joe, who starts out hapless (he brings a crappy birdhouse to the last day of school, a week late), quickly becomes a James Franco figure: full of empty blather and not much else. There’s a girl, Kelly (Erin Moriarity), a pretty blonde, who seems interested in him. But when he brings her to their hiding place, she goes for Patrick. We don’t blame her. It doesn’t help that at this point Joe is cultivating The Worst Teenage Moustache Ever.
Their adventures in the woods are never that interesting, and the music to back up these adventures is lousy. Honestly, it’s one of the worst indie soundtracks I’ve heard. It’s almost a relief to get out of the woods, which feel increasingly muggy and bug-ridden and claustrophobic, and back to the parents and their search for their kids. Nick Offerman (“Parks and Recreation”) gives us his usual droll line readings. (“It’s clearly a kidnapping,” he says to Patrick’s parents. “They took the kids, and the pasta and the canned goods.”) Patrick’s Mom, Megan Mullally (“Will & Grace”), delivers dingy non sequiturs. Is that the reason for the sitcomy feel? That most of the actors cut their teeth on sitcoms?
In the end, not halfway through the summer, the boys are home, lessons are learned, rifts are mended. “The Kings of Summer” was not filmed before a live studio audience but it might as well have been.
Quote of the Day
“What is at stake? According to the most recent data, between 30 and 40 percent of gun acquisitions take place without any background check. Many of these transactions happen online, at gun shows and in private homes. Each of those guns represents a potential danger to the public. Following the elementary-school massacre in Newtown, Conn., in December, there was overwhelming support to end unsupervised gun sales. The N.R.A. fought back and, as everyone knows, won.
”More tragedy will result. A mountain of research has proved this danger.“
-- Former Manhattan D.A. Robert Morgenthau in The New York Times Op-Ed, ”Let Shooting Victims Sue," June 24, 2013
Movie Review: Hollywoodland (2006)
“Hollywoodland” begins with a point-of-view shot of soaring through clouds, a la Superman, then quickly plummets to Earth and Hollywood, Calif., on June 16, 1959, the day George Reeves, TV’s most famous Superman, was found with a bullet in his head. Did he kill himself? Was he murdered? Was it an accident?
The movie suggests all three. It’s less detective story than character study. It’s the story of two men, neither of whom is super. Louis Simo (Adrien Brody) is a marginal private investigator scraping by in Los Angeles in 1959, and George Reeves (Ben Affleck) is a marginal actor scraping by in Los Angeles in the early 1950s. Neither is happy where they are. Both insinuate themselves into situations where they’re not wanted: Simo into the Reeves investigation, Reeves into the tabloid photos of more famous stars. Both men rely on the pocketbooks of older women. For Simo, it’s Reeves’ mother, Helen Bessolo (Lois Smith), who refuses to believe the official police report that her son killed himself. For Reeves, it’s Toni Mannix (Diane Lane), the wife of MGM executive Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins), with whom he has an affair throughout the ’50s.
Both men are looking for an opportunity, too: their chance, their shot. Only Reeves really gets it. He just doesn’t recognize it.
A never-ending battle
From 1939 to 1950, George Reeves appeared in more than 50 films, ranging from Pool Player #1 in a sex hygiene short to the male lead in the World War II-era “So Proudly We Hail!” He also had a bit part in the biggest movie of all time, “Gone with the Wind,” playing Brent Tarleton, one of Scarlett’s early suitors. It was all so close. But by 1950 he was 36, and grasping at what he could. One offer was a dual role in a TV show about a comic-book superhero in cape and tights. He went with it, assuming it wouldn’t be picked up. It was.
He found the “Adventures of Superman” ridiculous. Basically he got trapped by circumstances into playing a character he didn’t like and then got trapped by that character since no one could see him as anything else. There’s a great scene where he’s with friends at an early screening of “From Here to Eternity,” in which he has a supporting role. But this is a year into the six-year run of “Adventures of Superman,” and as soon as he appears onscreen, wearing a Hawaiian shirt and jawing with Burt Lancaster, the crowd buzzes, then titters, then various wags shout out Superman-related lines: “Faster than a speeding bullet!” etc. It breaks the mood, and Fred Zinnemann, the director, turns toward the projection booth and makes a scissors motion. Most of Reeves’ work winds up on the cutting-room floor.
You’re this, the world was telling Reeves, and only this. And then he wasn’t even that. The show wasn’t picked up for a seventh season, a directing deal fell through, and Reeves was left to scramble. Would he take a role in professional wrestling? We watch 8mm footage of him trying out moves but betrayed by body and age. He leaves Toni for a younger woman, Leonore Lemmon (Robin Tunney)—who, ironically, has the same “L.L.” initials as all of Superman’s girlfriends—and suffers recriminations from both women. Leonore thought he was a star but he’s fallen. Toni stomps on him there.
“Have you seen yourself, George?” Toni says to him. “Your face is going. Here. Your eyes, your hair, your stomach. You think no one notices?”
Then she gets mean:
Toni: You want publicity? You’ll get it. I’ll say you’re a red. And a faggot. A lush. Nobody can call that a lie.
Reeves (angry): You know what? You never helped me. You never helped me. You could’ve talked to Eddie. You could’ve gotten me something but you didn’t! Because you liked me where I was in a fucking red suit! You liked that! Well, that’s not who I am, you understand? Goddamn you.
Toni (sweetly): But George, that’s all you were good for. 10 year-olds and shut-ins. That was the best you were ever going to be. I knew that. Why didn’t you?
Sure, Diane Lane is stellar, but has Ben Affleck ever been this good? At this post-Bennifer point in his career he was coming off a string of laughable movies, including “Gigli,” “Surviving Christmas,” and his own turn as a superhero, “Daredevil.” He was trapped, all of which was good prep for playing Reeves, and he brings a matter-of-fact pathos to the character. The irony of Reeves’ existence weighs upon his mighty shoulders. Reeves plays the world’s most powerful man even though he has no power. The final irony, about the speeding bullet, comes too late.
If Superman is wish fulfillment for kids then George Reeves is identification for adults. Most of us never wind up where we want to be. Most of us assume roles (pharmacist, plumber, real estate agent) that define us and trap us. Then even that role, through age, circumstance, and technological advances, is taken away from us, too.
Not truth, not justice
The Reeves half of “Hollywoodland” is powerful and reverberates long after the movie is over. The other half, the fictional half, is boilerplate. Simo is not a nice man, but through his research into Reeves’ life and death he comes to an epiphany. He takes the lesson of Reeves’ life and applies it to his own. But what’s the lesson? Be happy where you are? Don’t lie so much? Don’t string your clients along? Don’t show up drunk at your kid’s school?
That’s part of the problem with the movie. Sure, Simo scrambles after his next best chance. But he scrambles because he has to make a living. So where does the epiphany leave him? Not scrambling? Going into a different line of work?
“Hollywoodland,” written by Paul Bernbaum and directed by Allen Coulter, was going to be called “Truth, Justice and the American Way” until Warner Bros., putting out their own Superman movie that year, intervened. But elements of the original title are still in the movie. To corral Reeves’ mother as a client, Simo taps the lurid headline about her son’s suicide and says, “You need a headline this big … only with the truth.” Except he doesn’t believe it’s the truth. When another client, who has long suspected his wife of adultery, kills her with three bullets to the head, heart and groin, he tells Simo, “I hope you’ve learned the meaning of justice.” Except it’s not justice.
So not truth and not justice. Just the American way.
Hollywood B.O.: Mark Harris vs. Superman in the Battle of the Century!!
This morning, Mark Harris, author of “Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood” (much recommended), tweeted the following:
So how do the “Screw the critics, the people have spoken!” defenders of Man of Steel explain a 71% drop?— Mark Harris (@MarkHarrisNYC) June 22, 2013
Apparently he got into some arguments last weekend about “Man of Steel” and is crowing this weekend. I tweeted this back:
@MarkHarrisNYC Box office is always the lamest argument--whether made by your opponents last weekend or by you this weekend.— Erik Lundegaard (@ErikLundegaard) June 24, 2013
The 71% drop is Friday-to-Friday, as he later tweeted, but the weekend drop for Supes isn’t much better: -64.7%.
How bad is that for a movie that opened this big? Let’s look at the 25 movies that have opened with more than $100 million domestic and sort by the second-weekend percentage drop. This is what you get:
|MOVIE||1st WKND||DROP||2nd WKND||THTRS||TOTAL BO|
|Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2||$169,189,427||-72.00%||$47,422,212||4,375||$381,011,219|
|The Twilight Saga: New Moon||$142,839,137||-70.00%||$42,870,031||4,042||$296,623,634|
|The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1||$138,122,261||-69.80%||$41,683,574||4,066||$281,287,133|
|The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2||$141,067,634||-69.10%||$43,641,448||4,070||$292,324,737|
|X-Men: The Last Stand||$102,750,665||-66.90%||$34,017,247||3,714||$234,362,462|
|Man of Steel||$116,619,362||-64.70%||$41,215,000||4,207||$210,006,000|
|The Hunger Games||$152,535,747||-61.60%||$58,551,063||4,137||$408,010,692|
|Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End||$114,732,820||-61.50%||$44,206,660||4,362||$309,420,425|
|The Dark Knight Rises||$160,887,295||-61.40%||$62,101,451||4,404||$448,139,099|
|Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen||$108,966,307||-61.20%||$42,320,877||4,234||$402,111,870|
|Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1||$125,017,372||-60.70%||$49,087,101||4,125||$295,983,305|
|Iron Man 2||$128,122,480||-59.40%||$52,041,005||4,380||$312,433,331|
|Iron Man 3||$174,144,585||-58.40%||$72,525,615||4,253||$403,120,000|
|Shrek the Third||$121,629,270||-56.40%||$53,039,992||4,122||$322,719,944|
|Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull||$100,137,835||-55.30%||$44,754,615||4,260||$317,101,119|
|Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest||$135,634,554||-54.00%||$62,345,264||4,133||$423,315,812|
|The Dark Knight||$158,411,483||-52.50%||$75,166,466||4,366||$533,345,358|
|Marvel's The Avengers||$207,438,708||-50.30%||$103,052,274||4,349||$623,357,910|
|Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith||$108,435,841||-49.10%||$55,205,972||3,663||$380,270,577|
|Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire||$102,685,961||-46.70%||$54,727,138||3,858||$290,013,036|
|Toy Story 3||$110,307,189||-46.20%||$59,337,669||4,028||$415,004,880|
|Alice in Wonderland (2010)||$116,101,023||-46.00%||$62,714,076||3,728||$334,191,110|
Numbers via Box Office Mojo
Sixth-worst. Not good. And the five above it are sequels, which have a tendency to start fast and fade fast.
On the other hand, we are talking about Superman here. It’s not like people needed much of an introduction. He’s one of the most famous characters in the world. It’s a reboot, but fans were primed for it as if it were a sequel.
At the same time, “Man of Steel” has been a divisive movie, among both critics and fans, and the numbers reflect that. My own review reflects my own divisive feelings. But if I had to do the Siskel-Ebert thing, my thumb would be pointing up. There are some clever updates on the Superman myth. Plus a lot of POW! BAM! if that’s your thing. (It isn’t mine. Nor, apparently, Harris’.)
“Man of Steel” did face some tough competition in its second weekend, too: a sequel to a hugely popular Pixar film; and the zombie pic to end all zombie pics. Compare “Man of Steel”’s performance to “The Hunger Games,” since both are “new movies” with vast name recognition. “Hunger Games” did better to open ($152 to $116) and dropped less steeply during its second weekend (-61.6% to -64.7%), but it also weaker competition that second go-round: “Wrath of Titans” and something called “Mirror Mirror” rather than “Monsters University” and “World War Z.” The joys of opening in March.
In non-Superman-related news, “Monsters University” won the weekend with $82 million, which is the second-highest opening weekend gross for a Pixar movie, after “Toy Story 3.” “World War Z” finished second with $66 million, which is the best open ever for a Brad Pitt movie.
Is “Man of Steel”'s moment in the sun over already?
SLIDESHOW Essay: An Open Letter to Clark Kent
SLIDESHOW: Dear Clark. Let’s start with a simple question: What do you call yourself when no one’s around? Kal? Clark? Superman? I can’t imagine you’d call yourself “Superman,” as in, “C’mon, Superman, get your head out of your ass.” You might have given yourself that immodest name in the beginning, back in June 1938 when you could only leap 1/8 of a mile, but you’re no longer that person. You’ve been corporatized and retconned and rebooted dozens of times since. Now others give you that name. The shield on your chest is Kryptonian—the family crest or the word “hope”—but it looks like our “S,” so they extrapolate and come up “Superman.” It might be a nickname you don’t even like—like Stinky. It might even embarrass you. So … who are you?Clark? Superman? Kal? Stinky?(Screenshot from “Atom Man vs. Superman,” 1950)
This wasn’t much of a question in your early years. We knew who you were because it was announced before every episode of the radio and TV series: “Superman! Who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way!” Get that? Disguised as Clark Kent. Who’s weak and cowardly and wears glasses. But all of that is part of the disguise. Because it’s not who you are.(Clark Kent in the opening of the Fleischer Studios “Superman” cartoons.)
Yet you started out as Clark. We all know what. That was John Byrne’s argument back in 1986 when he decided that, no, Clark was the real person and Superman the disguise. Just as Bruce Wayne was the real person and Batman the disguise. Except … Well, in many ways, Bruce, the frivolous playboy, isn’t who he is at all. That life has been given over to revenge, and the representation of that revenge wears a cape and a cowl. He’s been more Batman than Bruce since that night in the alley. (Clark (Jeffrey Silver) having a heart-to-heart with his mother (Frances Morris) in the first episode of the “Adventures of Superman” TV series, 1952)
Blame Don Diego de la Vega for the dilemma. No, further back. Blame Sir Percy Blakeney. Both Diego and Percy were new kids in town, NKOB, and so could alter their personalities to deflect attention away from their attempt to secure justice as, respectively, Zorro and The Scarlet Pimpernel. They could show up, pretend to be foppish and not at all courageous, and no one was there to say, “Dude, why are you suddenly acting so foppish? That’s not you.” (Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent in “Superman III,” 1983)
Is that how it happened with you? You grew up in Smallville, Kansas, the adopted son of Jonathan and Martha Kent, or Eben and Sarah Kent, and you just acted the way you acted. (Which was how exactly?) Then you went to Metropolis, where you could be whoever you wanted to be. Most of us use this opportunity to put on a better face but you did the opposite. You put on glasses, you acted the coward, you stumbled and bumbled. Me? Superman? Why, I can barely walk down the street. It was a conscious decision. (Clark stumbles on the pier in the Ruby-Spears “Superman” cartoon, 1988)
That’s what Christopher Reeve suggested. In 1978, in the hubub before “Superman: The Movie” was released, he told The New York Times, “I see Clark as a deliberate put-on by Superman. Clark’s a tongue-in-cheek impression of who we are. There’s some of him in all of us. I have a great deal of affection for him—it’s not just that he can’t get the girl, he can’t get the taxi.” (Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder as Clark and Lois in “Superman: The Movie,” 1978)
Or did it come about organically? Maybe you started acting mild-mannered way back in Smallville because you knew what would happen if didn't; if you blew your top. What disasters you would cause. Maybe you nearly caused such a disaster. Maybe you did cause one. I mean, who wouldn’t be mild-mannered if they could destroy the planet when they lost their temper? (George Reeves' Clark losing his temper in “Superman and the Mole Men,” 1951)
Maybe, too, in Metropolis, when you began to duck out to become Superman, others noticed and came to the wrong conclusion. As soon as trouble brewed, Clark retreated. What a coward! Reputations are established early and hard to shake, and maybe you decided you didn’t want to shake this one because it was ultimately beneficial. It made excuses for your absence so you wouldn’t have to. (Perry, Lois and Clark in “The New Adventures of Superman,” 1966)
Or does it go deeper? Maybe you began to realize that the cowardly persona was a great way to attract the bullies of the world. “The thing you fear the most will meet you halfway,” Victoria Williams once sang, and maybe you realized the truth of this, and feigned fear to attract the world’s predators. They smelled fear, licked their lips, and came out of the shadows to get you. And that’s when you got them. (Tom Welling as Clark in the premiere episode of “Smallville,” 2001)
That’s an explanation anyway. But the real explanation is much simpler and sadder. We need you to be mild mannered. We need you to be a coward. We need you to be like us so that when you turn into him, we can be thrilled. John Byrne got this wrong. So did George Reeves, who played you like Superman in a suit and fedora. The joy you give is in the idea that underneath the weak man, the plain man, is the super man. It allows every weak and plain man, which is most of us, to think, “Maybe ... Maybe ...” You are our ultimate wish-fulfillment fantasy. (Clark turns into Superman in “Last Son of Krypton,” 1996)
We still get a thrill out of it. In the new movie, when the dude in the bar starts messing with you, even though you’re bearded and butch and don’t exactly look like a pushover, it’s thrilling to watch. Unlike when someone messes with us, we get to think, as we sit there in the dark with our tub of popcorn, “You’re messing with the wrong motherfucker, motherfucker!” We get to pretend the opposite of what you pretend. We pretend we’re brave. (Henry Cavill as itinerant Clark in “Man of Steel,” 2013)
But … a reporter? For The Daily Planet? In this day and age? The rationale for the gig was always so you could be close to the news; so you could hear about fires breaking out and crimes being committed and rush to stop them. You use that excuse again in the new movie. But, dude, it’s 2013. You don’t need The Daily Planet, all you need is wi-fi. All you need is a smartphone. All you need is you. (Kirk Alyn as Clark Kent in “Superman,” the serial, 1948)
I keep going back to that scene in “Superman Returns” when you're floating over Metropolis with Lois and you ask her what she hears. She says “Nothing” and you say, “I hear everything.” Wow. Everything. Good line. It lets us know the burden of being you. But the follow-up is problematic. “So wait… if you hear everything … why ever be Clark Kent? Why wait for the story to break? Why not save the person crying for help right now? Why not save the people crying for help right now?” (Brandon Routh as Clark in “Superman Returns,” 2006)
In your very first stories, Jerry Siegel had you join the San Monte army to teach a war profiteer a lesson. You became a miner to teach a mine operator a lesson. You joined the circus to save the circus. You became a super-fugitive from a chain gang. You became part of the oppressed to champion them. So why not do this again? (A panel from Action Comics No. 1, June 1938)
Don't be Clark Kent, reporter. Disguise yourself as a member of an oppressed group, then emerge at an opportune moment as Superman. Word would spread: Don’t attack these guys because one of them is really Superman. Then you could move on to the next group. It would be like the scene in “Spartacus,” where, one by one, men stand and say: “I am Spartacus.” Except instead of the many pretending to be the one (to protect the one), you would be the one pretending to be the many (to protect the many). “I am Superman,“ you could say to the tyrants of the world. ”And I can do anything.” (Clark Kent after being beaten up in a diner in “Superman II,” 1981)
It's a thought anyway. It might not even be a good thought. To be honest, Clark, I wouldn’t want to lose you. In the end, you’re still the reason for the thrill. Superman would be a rather dull boy without you. (“The New Adventures of Superman,” 1966)
And Such Small Portions, Too
“A few months into her tenure, [Bill] O'Reilly exploded with frustration when he was told for the third time in a row that [Sarah] Palin wouldn't be available.
”'I don't know why this woman refuses to help us out,' he vented. 'And when she does come on, she doesn't say anything. It's just the same BS talking points every time.'"
-- Joe Muto, “An Atheist in the FOXhole: A Liberal's Eight-Year Odyssey Inside the Heart of the Right-Wing Media,” pg. 280.
An icy relationship between two right-wing icons. According to Muto, one is smart, the other not so much. Guesses?
Quote of the Day
“From what we know so far about these N.S.A. programs—and that is a caveat that should condition virtually every statement and judgment about them, including those you are now reading—they have been conducted lawfully. The threat that they pose to civil liberties, such as it is, is abstract, conjectural, unspecified. In the roughly seven years the programs have been in place in roughly their present form, no citizen’s freedom of speech, expression, or association has been abridged by them in any identifiable way. No political critic of the Administration has been harassed or blackmailed as a consequence of them. They have not put the lives of tens of millions of Americans under 'surveillance' as that word is commonly understood. ...
”The N.S.A. programs represent a troubling increase in state power, even if—so far, and so far as we know—they have not occasioned a troubling increase in state wrongdoing. ... Are the programs truly efficacious? Do they truly provide an extra margin of safety sufficient to justify the resources poured into them, to say nothing of the domestic and international anxieties they inevitably provoke? Is it wise to entrust so many of their activities to the employees of private companies, which are ultimately answerable not to the United States and its Constitution but to corporate stockholders? Did it make sense to construct an intelligence behemoth that apparently cannot operate without giving an enormous number of people—more than a million—top-secret security clearances? And in what ways, exactly, might an ill-intentioned yet formally law-abiding Administration use its powers for nefarious purposes?“
-- Hendrik Hertzberg, ”Snoop Scoops," in The New Yorker. Worth reading the entire thing.
Movie Review: This is the End (2013)
Is the Hollywood-hating, “Left Behind”-loving, conservative Christian crowd checking out “This is the End”? I think they’d dig it the most.
If they did, they’d get to watch that horrible den of liberal iniquity, Hollywood, Calif., turn into a literal hell on earth, while its pampered godless denizens realize not only that they’re pampered and godless but that they have been left behind by God.
They’d get to hear lines like these:
Seth: That means there’s a God. Who saw that shit coming?
Jay: Like 95 percent of the planet?
It’s the Book of Revelation with dick jokes.
On the down side, some of the heathens wind up in heaven anyway. Yes, even the Jews.
Almost everyone in “This is the End” plays themselves, or “plays themselves” in the Jerry Seinfeld/Larry David manner. Jay Baruchel (“She’s Out of My League”) shows up in L.A. to hang out with his longtime friend Seth Rogen (“The Green Hornet”). Apparently he just wants to hang, but after a day of pot-smoking and 3D video-game-playing Seth drags him to the housewarming party of James Franco (“Spider-Man 3”), Rogen’s co-star in the stoner comedy “Pineapple Express.” Everyone’s happy to see Seth, everyone’s awkward around Jay. Jay’s awkward with them, too, and he searches for a place at the party where he might fit in. He doesn’t find it. It’s a good scene, actually. As a perennial not-fitting-in-at-parties dude, I identified. Hell, I do it when I’m not further burdened by the presence of Emma Watson and Rihanna, who, poor girls, probably double the awkward quotient whenever they walk into a room.
At a local convenience store a few blocks away, where Jay is buying smokes, Seth is wary of the tough-talking cashier who demands a man buy something before his daughter uses the restroom. The two stars are riffing on this when the earth cracks open. It’s like an earthquake but bigger, people are screaming, and Jay sees blue beams of light lift half the people in the convenience store into the sky. The father/daughter: yes. The cashier: no. At first I thought UFOs. I didn’t yet know where we were going.
Outside it’s worse, there’s fire everywhere, and, in a panic, Seth and Jay run and stumble back to James Franco’s place … where the party’s still in full swing. In fact, no one believes their story. Then the earth rumbles again and everyone runs outside, where a giant sinkhole opens up on Franco’s front yard, swallowing, among others, Rihanna, Michael Cera (“Scott Pilgrim”), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (“Kick Ass”), and Paul Rudd (“I Love You, Man”). By the time they regroup inside, we’re down to our principles: Jay, Seth, Franco, Jonah Hill (“Moneyball” ) and Craig Robinson (“The Office”). Danny McBride (“Eastbound & Down”), sleeping it off in the bathtub upstairs, joins them the next morning. Emma Watson returns for a mid-movie cameo.
Franco tries to buoy everyone up. “Just because a bunch of people fell into a giant hole doesn’t mean we can’t have fun,” he says. Jay remains unbuoyed: “I don’t want to die in James Franco’s house,” he tells Seth, whining. Seth panics: “We’re actors! We’re not hard! We pretend to be hard but we’re not!”
The longer they hole up the worse it gets outside. Heads roll. Literally. Demons prowl. By the time Jonah Hill gets raped and possessed by Satan (yes), everyone has finally agreed that Jay is right, that they’re dealing with the Apocalypse from the Book of Revelations. But Craig shows them a way out. Sacrificing himself for the others, he ascends to heaven just before being eaten (or something) by a giant demon. Franco tries the same method, is en route, but makes the mistake of flipping off Danny McBride, now the leader of a band of cannibals, and tumbles back to earth to get eaten alive.
Eventually we find out heaven is a bit like (alley oop) James Franco’s party, except with the Backstreet Boys. Heaven gets the Backstreet Boys, hell Rihanna. Something wrong in that equation.
“This is the End” has a few funny moments (“Something so not chill happened last night,” Jonah confesses after being Devil-raped), but a lot of clunkers. There’s an attempt to make a shoe-string “Pineapple Express 2,” for example. We also get the usual push-the-envelope stuff—arguments about jizz on porno mags—and too much Danny McBride, whom I’ve never found funny. The movie, like the Christopher Guest comedies, is 50 percent improv. Unlike the Guest comedies, it’s not that funny. I can’t recommend it.
But I am curious if a movie with this many dick jokes, and with Satan himself portrayed with a big swinging dick, can appeal to the “Left Behind” crowd. Because beyond the jizz jokes, the movie gives them everything they want. God rewards the good and punishes Hollywood. Leaving the theater wasn’t like leaving a typical stoner comedy. It was more like leaving “Saving Private Ryan.” You do a kind of spiritual patdown. You wonder: “Have I been a good person?”
The Yankees Have a Negative Run Differential
This is the AL East standings after the New York Yankees lost to the Tampa Bay Rays 8-3 tonight:
Question: When was the last time the Yankees had a negative run differential this late in the season? I can't remember it.
As you can tell by the numbers, the team is actually lucky to be six games over .500. But over a long season, run differentials tend to play out correctly. Bad news for Yankee fans, good news for the rest of us.
Why FOX-News is Like a Hollywood Studio
“So who's the villain in the story? It was a question Bill asked a lot. He felt that any good outrage-stoking story needed a tangible target for said outrage, a name and preferably a photo that could be splashed onscreen for the host to point to and say, This is the bad guy. This is the guy hurting you. ...
”[Liberal] judges weren't the only game in town. Some other good villains:
- Liberal college professors
- Liberal journalists
- Liberal politicians
- Liberal Hollywood celebrities
- Anyone who resided in the state of Vermont (especially liberals)
“Of course, any good villain story needed a hero as a counterpoint. In most scenarios, the hero was naturally Bill himself, the only one brave or bold enough to call out the villain ...”
-- Joe Muto, “An Atheist in the FOXhole: A Liberal's Eight-Year Odyssey Inside the Heart of the Right-Wing Media,” pp. 192-193.
I've pointed this out before. FOX-News is selling wish-fulfillment fantasy as surely as a Hollywood studio of old, with Bill O'Reilly as a John Wayne type for the folks at home to cheer on, and others subbing in for that night's requisite villain. Back in the day, though, people knew that the stories eminating from the dream factory were dreams, while O'Reilly and company claim to be news of the fair and balanced kind. They claim to report, they claim that you decide. In reality, the only reason it's being reported is because you've already decided.
Dude even looks like the devil.
James Gandolfini: 1961-2013
The video below has been making the rounds since the news came of James Gandolfini's death in Rome, Italy, yesterday, at the age of 51. Patricia and I watched a bit of it last night. One of my favorite parts, for obvious reasons, comes at 19:20:
Lipton: When you're choosing film projects what are the most important factors for you, Jim? What comes first?
Gandoflini: The writing the writing the writing the writing the writing the writing the writing.
Even better is Gandolfini on why Tony Soprano is an everyman:
Lipton: How did you see Tony in the beginning? What did you see in Tony that you could identify with, that you felt you could play?
Gandolfini: It says a lot about a lot of people. It's man's struggle. He doesn't have a religion, he doesn't believe in the government, he doesn't believe in anything except his code of honor, and his code of honor is all going to shit. So he has nothing left. He's got nothing left. And he's looking around. And it was that searching that I think a lot of America does half the time. You know. You can go buy things, you can do whatever, but it's that he has no center left. I really identified with that.
I remember that lost look. I also remember the small, malicious smile that implied he was about to do harm to someone and enjoy it. Scared the shit out of me.
It's fascinating how uncomfortable he is onstage as himself. At the same time, as much as to Lipton, he talks to the students in the audience, telling them what they need to do to make it worth it.
- The New York Times: Mr. Chase, in a statement, called Mr. Gandolfini “one of the greatest actors of this or any time,” and said, “A great deal of that genius resided in those sad eyes.” He added: “I remember telling him many times: ‘You don’t get it. You’re like Mozart.’ There would be silence at the other end of the phone.”
- Jeffrey Wells: Gandolfini knew from anger. As one who has fed at the trough of my own anger for decades, I don’t believe he ever lost that basic fuel for his Tony arias. But he was mainly a sensitive X-factor guy, I felt. Rivers of sadness and aloneness within. He spoke with such elegance ... and seemed so perceptive and gentle and (from what I’ve been told by friends and colleagues) so gracious and kind.
- David Remnick: He played within a certain range. Like Jackie Gleason, he’ll be remembered for a particular role, and a particular kind of role, but there is no underestimating his devotion to the part of a lifetime that was given to him. In the dozens of hours he had on the screen, he made Tony Soprano—lovable, repulsive, cunning, ignorant, brutal—more ruthlessly alive than any character we’ve ever encountered in television.
Feel free to add links and thoughts below.
MPWW at FOX-News
“Ratings were actually pretty decent at this point, due to a resurgence in a type of story that we began referring to as 'MPWW'--Missing Pretty White Women. ...
”Fox has an entire department devoted to doing nothing but crunching the ratings data ... And what the ratings told us in early 2006 was that viewers were just not interested in any missing women who weren't young, pretty, and white.
“'It's racism, pure and simple,' Amy, one of the bookers, posited on a Wednesday morning as we all looked at the previous weekend's ratings. We'd done three segments on Natalee [Holloway], followed by one on a missing black girl, and the numbers had plumeted when we made the switch.”
-- Joe Muto, “An Atheist in the FOXhole: A Liberal's Eight-Year Odyssey Inside the Heart of the Right-Wing Media,” pp. 146-149.
Movie Review: Not Fade Away (2012)
There’s an early scene in “Not Fade Away,” written and directed by David Chase, the creator of “The Sopranos,” which encapsulates much of what we are about to see.
It begins with three teenagers on a summer night in 1964 hanging behind a curbside sewer grating and bemoaning their existence in general and lack of girls in particular. The smallest one, Douglas (John Magaro), says the following:
Nothing has ever worked for me. I got this skinny physique. I got this skuzzy complexion.
CUT TO: The Rolling Stones singing “I Just Want to Make Love to You” on Hollywood Palace.
Great transition. The Stones provide Doug with an answer not only on how to get girls, with his skinny physique and skuzzy complexion, but what to do with his life. He can become a musician. He can join a band. He can become … a rock star.
More, Chase keeps the camera rolling, as it were, so we see the cultural divide the music and the hair engender. Doug’s father, Pat (James Gandolfini), watching the show with his bowl of ice cream after a day of work, looks positively disgusted by the Stones, and his reaction is echoed by, of all people, the host of Hollywood Palace, Dean Martin, who says, “Rolling Stones! Aren’t they great?” and then rolls his eyes to laughter from the crowd. He adds:
They’re going to leave right after the show for London. They’re going to challenge the Beatles to a hair pulling contest.
More laughter from the crowd and a conspiratorial smile from Pat. But their world is about to change.
“Not Fade Away,” which became the Stones’ first hit stateside, is about a band, Doug’s, that not only faded away but barely formed in the first place. It’s a slice of life about the haphazard path life can take. It’s universal in this regard, but, because it’s culled from Chase’s past, it’s specific to place (New Jersey) and time: that moment when everything the greatest generation strived for was upended by their children, the boomer generation, for whom it was striven, and who had in them an unreal idealism and an overwhelming sense of privilege.
It starts out about a girl, Grace Dietz (Bella Heathcote, looking very Heather Graham circa 1998), who is always in Doug’s sites but out of his reach, not to mention out of his league. But time is on his side. Doug is asked to join the band of his friend, Gene (Jack Huston), who has a bit of a following, as its drummer; then he has to take over lead vocals when Gene, smoking pot, swallows a roach. Doug does well. In fact, he does better than Gene. A source of future conflict. His hair grows out and frizzes, he starts wearing Cuban-heel boots, he begins to look more and more like “Don’t Look Back”-era Bob Dylan. And he gets Grace.
Then he blows it, of course. She has a past? She sucked whose what? He gets into fights with his father, while his mother, Antoinette (Molly Price), an early version of Livia Soprano, is forever crossing herself. The Vietnam War is brought up, and each side takes the most inane position. It’s ill-informed pragmatism vs. lofty idealism. Is that part of the problem with the movie? We get inanity from both sides of the generation gap. Meanwhile, the best version of both sides is represented by the same family: Doug and his father. Everyone else can go to hell.
Pat is a sympathetic figure here: hair-trigger temper, sure, but hard-working, suffering cancer in silence, and sticking by his crazy wife. Doug takes the best of his father, his work ethic, and tries to push the band toward success; but his mates already have an idea of what they are and what they will be. Gene keeps wanting to do covers because that’s what “his fans” like, but he says it at his day job doing itinerant construction. Meanwhile, Wells (Will Brill) has the stages of the band’s success already worked out in his mind. He reminds me of members of the band Visiting Day from a first-season episode of “The Sopranos,” who talk about which of their lousy songs will be their first hit and which will be the second. They, and he, are about to go nowhere but in their minds.
As a slice of life, a slice of culture, and as cinematic memoir, “Not Fade Away” reminds me of a not-quite-as-resonant version of Olivier Assayas’ “Apres Mai.” Assayas’ counterpart, Gilles (ClémentMétayer), goes from would-be revolutionary and into film production, while Chase’s pursues rock ‘n’ roll dreams until he cuts out for California and film school. The movie is about why the first dream doesn’t happen from the perspective of the second dream, which happened.
It’s a good movie, evocative, with great music and production values. Why doesn’t it quite work? Do we get too much of Grace’s crazy sister, Joy, and their central-casting square and conservative parents (Christopher McDonald in plaid golf pants)? The bookending narration, provided by Doug’s sister Evelyn (Meg Guzulescu), feels unnecessary, too, and her final ‘60s-era dance, in the middle of the Sunset Strip, while fun, doesn’t exactly illuminate. Maybe we needed a greater focus on Doug and Pat. There are moments when Pat looks at his son, sprouting hair like a chia pet, and has no idea who he is. We feel the same.
FOX-News Producer: 'We're not here to be fair. We're here to give red meat to our viewers'
“Fair and Balanced. We Report, You Decide. Everyone knew it was bunk. A sham. Over the next eight years at Fox, I never met a single employee, not the truest of true believers, who wasn't cynical about what our main purpose was.
”'We all know the “Fair and Balanced” thing is bullshit,' a very conservative O'Reilly Factor producer told me once, late at night, after we'd had a few drinks. 'We're not here to be fair. We're here to give red meat to our viewers.'
“'To stir up the crazies, you mean,' I said.
”He laughed. 'Yeah, to stir up the crazies. Because outrage equals ratings.'"
-- — Joe Muto, “An Atheist in the FOXhole: A Liberal's Eight-Year Odyssey Inside the Heart of the Right-Wing Media,” pg. 119.
Running Reds in Noodge City
Yesterday, biking to work, I was stopped at a red light on 5th and Pine when I saw no more traffic coming down 5th and ran the light. Halfway across, a middle-aged pedestrian, on the other side, caught my eye and said the following, drawing out the word in an odd, admonishing fashion:
I burst out laughing.
It was partly the way he said it. If the dude had had a sense of humor, he would’ve meant it ironically, or with a wink, but there wasn’t a trace of humor in his voice or stance. There was just a tsk tsk.
Among strangers, this is the dominant form of communication in Seattle. Newcomers talk of “the Seattle chill,” and how no one talks to anyone; but Seattle is also Noodge City, full of those ready to shake an admonishing finger about things that have no real consequence. I get admonished for running reds half a dozen times a year.
To all of these people I say the following: Do you ever break the speed limit? Of course you do. Who doesn’t? You’d be a fool not to. In fact, it would be dangerous not to. Driving 50? Or 45? On the freeway? Are you crazy? You’re a hazard.
And the reasons we break the speed limit on the freeway are the same reasons cyclists, or at least this cyclist, runs reds in downtown Seattle: 1) it rarely results in a ticket, just as, driving 5 mph over the speed limit rarely results in a ticket; 2) it’s faster, and we all want to get where we’re going sooner; and 3) it's safer. On the freeway, you want to go at the same pace as most drivers. On a bicycle at a stoplight, you want to build some distance, and speed, between you and all of those impatient cars behind you.
In a sense, we do it for you. You're welcome.
Movie Review: Broken City (2013)
There’s a point in Allen Hughes’ “Broken City” when ex-cop, now private investigator, Billy Taggert (Mark Wahlberg), begins to investigate his own investigation.
Five days before a tight election, Billy is hired by New York City Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe), to follow his wife, Cathleen (Catherine Zeta Jones), whom he suspects of infidelity. Lo and behold, Billy finds her in a house on the far end of Long Island having a clandestine meeting with Paul Andrews (Kyle Chandler), the opposition candidate’s campaign manager. Then Andrews winds up dead. So Billy asks for, and receives, a clandestine meeting of his own meeting with Cathleen, on the far end of a deserted pier (really?), and she tells him he’s been played for a sap. She was never having an affair with Andrews. She was going to be his snitch, not his snatch. She hates her husband, he’s corrupt, etc., and she was going to bring him down. Now it’s too late. Because apparently she can’t reveal that information to anyone else.
What information? One of the big issues in the election is the Bolton Village housing project, which is where, seven years earlier, Billy, still a cop, shot and killed a young man, Mikey Tavarez, who had earlier been acquitted of the murder and rape of a young girl. The incident roiled the city—white cop, Hispanic kid—but Billy was found not guilty. He lost his job but he walked. Later we find out that Billy’s girlfriend, the budding actress and supreme hottie Natalie Barrow (Natalie Martinez), is actually Natalia Barea, the sister of the murdered girl. So was Billy her boyfriend then? Or did that happen later, as a kind of seven-year-long thank you? Either way: Ick.
Hostetler’s opponent, Jack Valiant (Barry Pepper), sporting a Prince-Valiantish haircut no serious contender for mayor would wear, claims Bolton Village won’t be saved by Hostetler but razed. He claims Hostetler is in the pockets of rich developers like Sam Lancaster (Griffin Dunne), whose company has a contract with the city to redevelop Bolton Village. Lancaster’s son, Todd (James Ransone of “The Wire” and “Generation Kill”), with whom the old man has very public fights, was actually going to meet Andrews before Andrews was killed. Which is why Billy stakes out the Lancaster development company.
It’s late at night but there’s tons of activity. Things are being tossed into overflowing garbage bins, and when Billy sneaks close, he uncovers a box and looks at three papers inside: the first two show the plans to raze Bolton Village; the last is a blueprint of the high-rise they plan to put in its place. Ah ha! These three pieces of paper Billy found could cost Hostetler the election!
Then Billy peeks inside the building, sees Sam and Todd fighting (again), and various men shredding documents.
My question: What the hell are these guys shredding if not the three pieces of paper Billy just found?
All of “Broken City” is like this. It’s a ridiculous, over-the-top movie where everyone has one degree of separation from everyone else, and where Mark Wahlberg, bless his heart, has two acting ranges: kinda blank and kinda angry. Is Billy supposed to be an alcoholic? Once he falls off the wagon, he seems to function fine. Can Wahlberg not do hangovers or regrets, or is that not part of his movie-star persona?
One keeps watching to see if the thing finally makes sense. It doesn’t. The Mayor isn’t just in the pockets of the developers, he is a developer. He has a 50 percent stake in Lancaster’s firm. So the $4 billion the city is paying Lancaster to redevelop (that is, raze) Bolton Village? He gets half. Where is the press in all this? And why doesn’t anyone who’s trying to reveal the information (Cathleen, Todd) reveal it to The New York Times? Why don’t they put it on WikiLeaks? Why don’t they post it on Facebook, or tweet it, or create a Tumblr site? I mean, c’mon. What year are we in?
But Hostetler gets his. When he tries to blackmail Billy with direct evidence that Billy shot and killed Mikey Tavarez in cold blood, which he did (that’s our hero, btw), Billy records the conversation with that shitty Voice Memo iPhone app, and turns it over to Police Chief Carl Fairbanks (Jeffrey Wright, wasted), even though it means he’ll go to jail, too. And as Fairbanks leads Hostetler away, the day before the election, he lets him know that his wife was having an affair after all. With him.
Watch “City of Hope.”
Quote of the Day
“Twenty-five years ago, you could apparently reference William Blake and Susan Sontag in a movie intended for a mainstream audience. The fusion of high and low culture is a well-established phenomenon, but 'high-low' now means smart guys talking about zombies: It doesn't mean baseball players talking about Walt Whitman. ...
”Of course, the main lesson of Bull Durham is that intelligence is vastly overrated anyway. That's the source of the pain behind the comedy: One of the worst things about knowing things is knowing that your knowledge doesn't really matter. It may help you get the record for most home runs in the minor leagues, but it won't keep you in the big leagues, and it won't help you get the girl, at least not at first. Wisdom doesn't matter nearly as much as the arm. The first lesson that Crash imparts to Nuke is 'Don't think. It can only hurt the ball club.' The last lesson he himself learns at the end is 'I don't wanna think about nothing. I just wanna be.'“
-- Stephen Marche, ”Why Bull Durham is the Greatest Sports Movie Ever Made,“ Esquire. Here are my thoughts on ”Bull Durham.“ And of course you can rank the baseball movies yourself at our handy-dandy Baseball Movies Rank-o-Meter.
”Don't try to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic."
Ranking Every Superman Movie Ever Made
I did it with the Batman movies so I figured I'd do it with the Superman movies, too. To be honest, I planned on doing it before “Man of Steel” opened last Friday but time got away from me, and unlike some folks, or at least one super folk, I can't turn back time.
So here it is: my ranking (worst to first) of every Superman movie ever made. Feel free to add yours in the comments field.
The principles (particularly Lois and Jimmy) look too old for their parts, while the subplots (aerobics classes and hostile takeovers) remind us of everything we hated about the '80s. The story? Awful. Spurred by an annoying kid, Superman unilaterally decides to rid the world of nuclear weapons, and does, but because Lex Luthor places a Superman hair and a gold suit in one of the rocket capsules, a villain, Nuclear Man, emerges, with whom he battles all over the heavily dropshadowed globe. But the chief villains in the movie are its producers, Monahem Golan and Yoram Globus, the cheap bastards who bought the rights to Superman but fearing bankruptcy slashed the budget from $40 million to $17 million, losing great technicians in the process. As a result, big scenes became small scenes. The global became local. A grand vision was replaced by the rinky-dink. It looked fake ... fake ... fake. Watching it, you won’t believe that you once believed that a man could fly.
Blue eyebeams are for repairing the Great Wall of China.
The theme of small-town intolerance is particularly fascinating here since Superman himself is rather intolerant. If Kirk Alyn played Superman with wide-eyed bombast, George Reeves takes it down a notch. Or 10. For decades, Reeves’ was considered the touchstone performance, the one and true Superman, but I was never a fan, and I’m even less of one now. Reeves’ indifference to the role permeates the character. His Clark Kent is strong and smug, his Superman vaguely disgusted and contempuous. He messes with both the first and second amendments: convincing Lois not to publish a story and (in a hilarious scene) disarming an entire Texas town. “You saved my life,” the movie's chief villain says in amazement at one point. “That’s more than you deserve,” Superman sneers back. It's a dry little movie filmed in a dry little backlot. Its main action consists of a midget in bald wig and furry suit being pursued over nondescript brush and hills. The whole thing makes me vaguely nauseous.
A half hour of this.
We get gags. We get evil Superman. We get an early ‘80s version of what computer programming is like. (Psst: Magic.) But most of all we get Richard Pryor doing unfunny bits. Here he does drunk, here he does “Patton,” here he does the bland white-guy voice. He plays at Superman, with a tablecloth as his cape, then skis off a high-rise and walks away, looking, not astonished at surviving a 40-story fall, but simply embarrassed. He looks embarrassed throughout. He should. Think of everything they could’ve done with this movie and look at what they did. Look at what they did to my boy.
I'm with Vaughn here.
“Atom Man vs. Superman” feels cheaper than “Superman” (1948), the previous Kirk Alyn serial. We get more stock footage: floods, fires, etc. We get redos from the first serial: Clark Kent ducking behind a file cabinet and emerging, a second later, to a triumphant blast of music, as Superman. One episode, about Superman's origins on Krypton, is essentially the entire first episode of the first serial retold. Meanwhile, the titular Atom Man, Luthor's secret identity, is a terrifying figure in a … Naw. It looks like they took a jug, cut in eyeholes and a mouthhole, sprinkled on glitter, and plunked it on Lyle Talbot’s poor head. You know the scene in “Duck Soup” where Groucho gets his head stuck in a pitcher and Harpo draws a Groucho face on it? Like that. On the plus side, in Chapters 14 and 15, Superman beats Slim Pickens to the punch by riding a nuclear missle out to sea. Yee ... ha?
Is that a nuclear missile between your legs or are you just happy to see me?
Remember “This is a job ... FOR SUPERMAN”? Well, this is a Superman who doesn't do his job. He strolls into The Daily Planet in the middle of the day, then spends most of the movie clumsily flirting with, revealing his secret identity to, and wining and dining Lois Lane. At the Fortress of Solitude, he actually gives up his superpowers for her and the two sleep together in a silver bed that seems stolen from Andy Gibb’s 1970s pad. Meanwhile people are dying and the President of the United States (in a bad toupee) is kneeling before Zod. How can we not hate him at this moment? The movie is set up so we hate Superman. Too late he remembers what his job is and begs for it back. “FATHERRRRRRRR!” he cries. But father is in litigation with the movie's producers, the Salkinds, who didn't want to pay him 11%. They also fired the first movie's great director, Richard Donner, for this movie's crappy director, Richard Lester. Apparently they didn't like a man doing his job.
Superman and Lois in Andy Gibbs' bed. He just wants to be her everything.
The plot is typical of the serial genre. The Spider Lady, who never once leaves her mountainside lair, tries to get the mysterious reducer ray, “a force more powerful even than the atomic bomb!” Basically it’s a big ray gun. First she tries to steal it. No go. Then she employs Dr. Hackett, “a brilliant scientist with a warped mind,” who invents a kind of kryptonite gun. That doesn’t work, either. Then she kidnaps Dr. Graham, the original inventor, and forces him to create a second reducer ray. He refuses. After he’s tortured, he complies. But he needs “mono chromite.” It takes a few chapters to get that, at which point he refuses again. So he’s hypnotized. But now he needs an “activator tube” from Metropolis U. Blah blah blah. By Chapter 14, the reducer ray finally works. Spider Lady’s first target? Her own men in jail. Her second target? The Daily Planet building. At 3:00. By then, though, everyone converges on her lair: Jimmy, Lois and eventually ... Superman, When the Spider Lady tries to run away, she’s electrocuted by her own spiderweb. Crime don’t pay, kids.
Superman watches the Spider Lady fry in 1948's “Superman” serial, with Lois and Jimmy behind him.
The best part of the Donner cut is how they open the movie. In Lester’s version, Clark Kent strolls into The Daily Planet office at midday and you wind up wondering why Clark isn’t at work, why he doesn’t know about the terrorists, and why he keeps detonating nukes in space when his mother has already warned him against it in those Kryptonian lesson plans. Here’s what Donner does. Lois sees Clark across the room, and draws a suit, glasses, and a fedora on a photo of Superman. Wah-lah! She ain't dumb. And what does she do with her suspicions? She teases him. Perry calls Lois and Clark into his office and gives them an assignment to pose as a honeymoon couple at Niagra Falls. She’s game, he’s worried. She talks about flying up there and pokes him in the ribs. “You know, fly?” she says, then flaps her hands like a bird, like Jack Nicholson’s Joker would do eight years later. Then she opens a window and falls out. “You won’t let me die, Superman!” she cries. He doesn’t. But he doesn't reveal his identity, either. It’s fun. It’s clever. It’s sexy. It’s got pizzazz. It’s better than any scene in Lester’s version. And it wound up on his cutting-room floor. You watch it and want to call Superman. Because we wuz robbed.
Supercute. And on the cutting room floor in the Lester version.
Too young. Brandon Routh is actually several years older than Christopher Reeve was when he put on the cape; he just looks younger. But the Lois Lane casting is worse. Kate Bosworth was 22 when they filmed this. And she has a 5-year-old? From a consummation six years earlier? That’s some awkward math. Kidder and Reeve were adults in a gritty adult world—New York in the 1970s—but these two look like kids and act like kids. Why the world doesn’t need Superman? Really, Lois? She assumes her pain is the world’s, her resentments ours. And he can’t get past the fact that she wrote the article? That she was angry that he left for five years without a word? What is he—a Vulcan? Even so, the movie has some poignant moments. It brings cohesion to the whole Donner/Singer enterprise. Superman travels to Krypton to discover he's its last son, then travels back to Earth to find out he isn’t. He goes searching for Krypton but finds it in his own backyard.
This headline says it all. Other Daily Planet headlines available here.
Divide this movie into changes that are good and changes that are bad. For me, the good changes to the Superman mythos include: 1) wanderlust, bearded Clark; 2) people freaking when Supes first shows up; and 3) Lois Lane figuring out his secret identity before anyone else knows he even exists. The bad changes include: 1) the adventures of Jor-El, free-thinking scientist; 2) the codex; 3) the whole Kryptonian natural childbirth movement. And the ending? Which everyone is debating? Yes, but not for the reasons others say. I'm just bummed Superman couldn't figure out a smarter way to defeat Zod. “Mind over muscle, Superman?” Lex Luthor said in the first Chris Reeve movie. Here, it's muscle over mind. Again.
Henry Cavill's Superman: Not exactly greeted with cheers from the U.S. military.
Director Richard Donner’s watchword during production was “verisimilitude,” which begins and ends with Christopher Reeve. He’s the greatest superhero casting ever. He’s not only comic-book handsome, he’s an actor. He makes the worst secret identity ever—I’ll put on these glasses and no one will tell—believable. Here’s creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz on what happened when Reeve finally got his screen test:
He hopped off the balcony and said, “Good evening, Miss Lane.” And [cinematographer] Geoffrey Unsworth looked over at me and went [makes impressed face]. Because the tone was just right. He went through the test and we just knew we had him.
The movie was years ahead of its time. It was Kryptonian in its advancement. It took another 11 years before we got Tim Burton’s “Batman” and another 11 years after that to get to Bryan Singer’s “X-Men.” Twenty-two years: an entire generation. Back in the mid-1970s, Hollywood, enamored of disaster and devil movies, didn’t think much of superhero movies. But it only lacked the light to show it the way.
Quote of the Day
“In the 1970s, a psychologist and neuroendocrinologist named Kim Wallen noticed that the sexual behavior of rhesus monkeys was affected by the size of their cages. In close quarters the monkeys went at it like mad, and the male seemed to initiate sexual activity, which in turn seemed to confirm the prevailing idea that female monkeys were entirely sexually passive.
”But in larger cages, as in the wild, the females were the ones who chose their partners and initiated sex by following the males around and touching them demonstratively. The small cages, with their forced proximity, reduced monkey sex life to intercourse, obviating all the mating rituals in which female lust was the essential factor that set sex in motion. After Wallen’s observations, primatologists started seeing evidence that many kinds of female primates initiated sex, while their male counterparts pretty much sat around waiting for the ladies to take an interest in their erections.
“Are we that kind of primate?”
-- Elaine Blair, reviewing Daniel Bergner's “What Do Women Want?” in The New York Times Book Review. This piece should win awards for its headline (“I'll Have What She's Having”) and its two illustrations: the eye-catching cover illustration by Malike Favre and the supersmart inside illustration by Luci Gutiérrez.
75 Years After Superman's Debut, 'Man of Steel' Sets June Box-Office Record
It will be the biggest June opening ever but only the 18th-biggest opening weekend ever. Currently, seven films have grossed more than $150 million on opening weekend, and five of those feature superheroes: “The Avengers” ($207), “Iron Man 3” ($174), “The Dark Knight Rises” ($160), “The Dark Knight” ($158), and “Spider-Man 3” ($151). And the non-superheroes are still superpowered: “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2” ($169) and “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” ($152).
Reactions to “Man of Steel,” among both critics and fanboys, have been mixed, so it'll be interesting to see how its number hold next weekend. Either way, up or down, the movie is destined to blow away the biggest-grossing Superman movie ever, Bryan Singer's “Superman Returns,” which grossed $200 million in 2006. Adjust for inflation, though, and “Man of Steel” has some ground to make up: “Superman: The Movie,” starring Christopher Reeve, grossed $134 million, or $450 million adjusted, in 1978. It was the second-highest grossing film of the year, after “Grease.”
Meanwhile, Seth Rogen's apocalyptic comedy, “This is the End,” performed well, if not superheroic, grossing $20 million after a Wednesday/Thursday tally of $12 million.
I suppose a Happy Anniversary is in order. It's been exactly 75 years since Superman debuted, in June 1938, in Action Comics #1.
Superman: a moment in the sun.
And the Last Shall Have a 5-Game Win Streak
Here's an oddity in Major League Baseball that probably won't repeat itself soon: Any team with a winning streak longer than one game has a negative run differential (indicating they're bad), while the two teams with the longest losing streaks, the Texas Rangers and the New York Yankees, have positive run differentials (indicating they're good).
Click on the image for a bigger version:
Goes to show how much things even out in baseball over the long months.
If I were a Yankees fan, by the way, I wouldn't be worried that my team is only six games over .500. I'd be worried that it barely has a positive run differential. It indicates they've been lucky so far. +3? The 2013 Yankees are basically a .500 team.
SLIDESHOW: A History of Superman Onscreen
SLIDESHOW INTRO: As of June 14, 2013, according to IMDb, there have been 175 various incarnations of the Man of Steel. But these include Uljas Kandolin in “Kiinni on ja pysyy” (1955), Ronald Wong in “97 goo waak jai: Jin mo bat sing” (1997), all of that HISHE stuff, but not, believe it or not, Henry Cavill (above). In “Man of Steel” (2013), his character is simply called Clark Kent/Kal-El, so IMDb's algorithms fail to make the connection. Oh, IMDb. When will you learn? (BTW: What are the IMDb parameters for web-specific inclusion? A certain number of YouTube hits? A certain place in the cultural firmament? Or do you just have to ask?) What follows is a slideshow of 17 of the better-known cinematic incarnations of the Man of Steel, including Cavill, but not Kandolin and Wong. They'll have to wait. Admittedly, though, the dude on the next slide wasn't exactly cinematic ...
1940: At the 1939-40 New York World's Fair (for which, yes, read Doctorow's novel), actor Ray Middleton was hired to play the Man of Tomrrow at a special Superman Day. This was the first time a man had ever played Superman and he doesn't look bad for a first go. My favorite part of the costume is the written-out explanation above the “S” symbol. Image that. A time when you had to explain the name of the man in cape and strong-man undies with an “S” on his chest. Middleton would never play the Man of Steel on screen but he did play a founding father in the screen version of “1776,” as well as various roles on “M*A*S*H,” “Charlie's Angels” and “Too Close for Comfort,” before his death in 1984.
1941: A year later, the Fleischer Studios, which had created Betty Boop and Popeye cartoons in the 1930s, put together 17 Superman shorts that still hold up. The animation is much better than the low-budget, sketchy stuff of the 1960s, '70s, and '80s, for example. Plus Lois is tough, and almost every job is a job ... (drop an octave) ... FOR SUPERMAN. As in the radio series, Superman is voiced by Bud Collyer.
1948-1950: Finally! After 10 years, a live-action version of Superman appeared onscreen. Kirk Alyn has a dancer’s lightness to him and a perpetual gee-whiz expression on his face, as if he too is amazed by the amazing things he can do. He also has an early version of the spitcurl. Yes, at times, particularly employing his x-ray vision, he looks slightly crazed. Plus he’s undone, certainly to modern eyes, by the lack of special effects. But to me Alyn's enthusiasm makes up for these other deficits.
1951-1958: George Reeves was the second actor to play Superman on screen, and he lost both the spitcurl and the enthusiasm. Reeves’ indifference to the role permeates the character. Plus he makes very little distinction between Clark and Superman. Basically he's less deus ex machina than admonishing father, but he does provide one of my favorite moments in the Superman oeuvre: When the defender of truth, justice and the American way tells a Texas mob, “Obviously none of you can be trusted with guns. So I’m going to take them away from you.” Then he does just that. Play the scene, from “Superman and the Mole Men,” for your favorite NRA member.
1966-69: In the intro to Filmations' “The New Adventures of Superman,” Superman fights for “Truth, justice and freedom” (so no “American way”), but make no miskae: by now he's as muscle-bound as his adopted country. He also seems to forget he's adopted. At one point in the first episode, “The Force Phantom,” he says, “It looks like we have visitors from space. OK, I’ll be a one-man welcome committee!” Psst. Dude. YOU'RE a visitor from space. A few villains from the comics show up, including Lex Luthor and Brainiac, but mostly Supes battles aliens from space, aliens underwater, and various giant monsters. The voice was once again provided by Bud Collyer.
1966: That's Bob Holliday on the Broadway stage in “It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman!” which ran for 129 performances in 1966. But despite the success of a campy Batman that year, a campy Superman didn't really take off. Jack Cassidy, father of David and Shaun, starred as the villainouse Max Mencken, a fellow reporter who wants to bed Lois and unmask Superman.
1973-74: My main memory of “Superfriends” is the work Superman went through to stop a train in the first episode. In the comic books, which I was reading regularly at this point (I was 10), there was a scene in which a subway is about to run over a commuter and Superman stops it. “One foot!” an admiring observor declares. “Did you see that? He stopped the train with one foot!” That was my Superman. This guy who has to struggle to stop a train? What's the point? As was true of many superserious early 1970s cartoons, each episode revolved around an issue of the day: the energy crisis, pollution, etc. “Marvin,” Batman says, “don't forget not everyone has super-strength. But everyone has a brain.” Yes, Batman. Yes, they do.
1975: Poor David Wilson. You know that Seinfeld bit where Jerry talks up the lousy Superman outfit he wore for Halloween? How it hangs off his body in unflattering ways? It looks like Wilson's wearing it for the Feb. 1975 TV adaptation of “It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It' Superman!” Even Kirk Alyn 30 years earlier was better outfitted. But no matter. We were about to get the greatest Superman ever ...
1978-87: Look at that. You couldn't draw a better Superman. One imagines the disaster if one of the producer’s original choices—Robert Redford or James Caan—had gotten the role. Instead Superman came to us, as he should, fresh-faced and innocent. Christopher Reeve is shockingly handsome, with a jawline straight out of the comic books, and yet he’s actor enough to make us believe in the worst secret-identity subterfuge ever. He’s also actor enough to say lines like “I’m here to fight for truth, justice and the American way,” make them work, and, at the same time, through this boy-scout persona, flirt with Lois Lane.
1988: The Ruby-Spears Superman Saturday morning cartoons, which died a quick death, take their cue from the “Superman” movies so much they even make Superman look a little like Christopher Reeve, who had become the standard.
1993: For some reason, Dean Cain's Superman lost the spitcurl in “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.” It's Clark who's now the hottie, so it's Clark whose hair dangles like a man of action. Odder still: Clark shows up in Metropolis without having conceived of the notion of Superman, let alone the maskless costume, yet Clark is already wearing glasses. Why? He's wearing his disguise even though he doesn't have anything to be disguised from.
1996-2000: In 1986, John Byrne rebooted the Superman franchise in DC Comics. Ten years later, Warner Bros. Animation produced a cartoon version of the reboot, with Tim Daly as the Man of Steel and Dana Dulaney as Lois Lane. Superman's powers have been clipped a bit (he can't toss around planets like medicine balls), his Clark Kent is no meek, mild-mannered man, and Lex Luthor is a billionaire industrialist rather than an evil scientist. Oh, and Jimmy Olsen rides a skateboard. Kowabunga, dude.
1999: Superman's No. 1 fan Jerry Seinfeld appeared in several ads in which he palled around with Supes as if the Man of Steel were a gentler, and gentiler, version of Larry David. They weren't bad.
2001-2011: In 1989, a meteor shower struck Smallville, USA, bringing with it Kryptonite, a rocket ship, and a small baby. That baby grew into Tom Welling in one of the more imaginative reboots of the Superman franchise. Here, Supes develops his powers gradually, in adolescence. Here, he learns of his true origins gradually. Everything is gradual. We're interested in the becoming, not the become. The theme song was called “Somebody Save Me,” but it always felt like the cry was issuing from Clark himself, who needed saving from all of that adolescent angst.
2006: You have to admire the attempt. We live in a throwaway culture but in 2006 director Bryan Singer became involved in the greatest recycling project in movie history: a continuation of the Christopher Reeve/Superman movies that jettisons the awful ’83 Richard Pryor vehicle and the ’87 Golan and Globus abomination, and adds intrigue and depth to where we left off in 1981. It didn't quite work, the Jesus metaphor was overdone, and Brandon Routh looked too young to play Superman; but he wasn't bad. Plans for a sequel were scuttled when the movie did only so-so at the box office.
2010: These days there are so many one-offs in the comic books, and direct-to-video Warner Bros. cartoons, that it's tough to keep up with them all. The above image is from “Superman/Batman: Apocalypse,” which involves the rebooted introduction of Kara, Superman's cousin, AKA Supergirl. Here's a line from the Wiki explanation of the plot: “Superman encounters Darkseid, who sets the brainwashed Kara on him. Kara pummels Superman while Darkseid watches, until Batman confronts Darkseid and informs him that he has activated the Hell Spores, all of which will destroy Apokolips.” Makes one long for the simplicity of Mr. Mxyzptlk.
2013: He's got no spitcurl, he's British, but Henry Cavill makes a helluva Superman in David S. Goyer's and Zack Snyder's reboot, “Man of Steel,” which opened this weekend. Reactions about the movie have been mixed, from both non-fans and fanboys alike, but Cavill is mostly getting praise. He exudes a lonely decency as Clark and a steely determination as Superman. My review.
EXIT MUSIC (FOR A SLIDESHOW): Up up and away.
Movie Review: Man of Steel (2013)
How do you begin?
That’s what I wondered as I sat in my seat at the Cinerama in downtown Seattle and the lights dimmed. I already knew something of the story from the numerous trailers and TV spots that had been released, teased out, particularly in the last six months. I also obviously knew the story of Superman. We all do. So where do you begin? With Jor-El arguing before the Kryptonian Council, as it’s traditionally done? In Smallville, with the rocket ship approaching and about to change everything, as “Smallville” did it? With Clark on the road, bearded and alone, and the rest of the story coming via flashbacks and a holographic Jor-El explaining the Kryptonian past?
Then I heard a cry and saw a face, Lara (Ayelet Zurer), in the midst of childbirth, the first natural childbirth on Krypton in hundreds of years, and had my answer.
They began as he begins.
People would freak
I liked “Man of Steel.” I’ll say that up front. But a lot of what I liked I knew going in.
I knew, for example, that Superman (Henry Cavill) would be greeted, not with cheers (as he was in 1978 during the helicopter rescue), but with shock and horror. He’d be handcuffed by the U.S. Army and led into interrogation rooms. That’s smart. If such a superpowered being did appear, particularly in a post-9/11 world, people would freak and weapons would be trained on him. Thank God the interrogation rooms we sent him to weren’t enhanced. He might’ve changed his mind about us.
I knew Clark wouldn’t be a journalist with The Daily Planet. We see him hitchhiking on the road. We see him on a fishing boat. We see him doing good deeds, costumeless, bare-chested. That’s smart, too. A mild-mannered reporter for a major metropolitan newspaper? Do such things exist anymore? Might as well make him a photographer at the Chicago Sun-Times. Might as well get him a summer job at Borders Books.
I also figured Lois Lane (Amy Adams) would figure out his secret identity, since, in one trailer, we see her greeting Martha Kent (Diane Lane) at the family farm. And since Clark isn’t at the Planet … This is good, too. In a traditional Superman story, Lois is a bit of a sap. She ignores the man who loves her (Clark) to pursue the man she loves (Superman), without realizing they’re the same man. Hell, Superman was concocted in the first place by a Clark Kent (Jerry Siegel) to stick it to the Lois Lanes of the world. That’s part of its DNA. But here Lois knows his identity before most people know he exists. She’s a true reporter. She tracks down the stories of a superpowered good samaritan all the way to Smallville and the Kent family farm. She gets her story and then doesn’t print it.
I liked all of these elements in theory and in practice. I wanted more of them, to be honest. I wanted more of Clark on the road. I wanted more of Lois’ detective work.
What surprised me, in fact, was how many familiar Superman story elements are still in the movie:
- Kal-El is sent to Earth because Krypton explodes. (Yep, I was wrong about that.)
- Zod and his associates are sent to the Phantom Zone before Krypton explodes. (Although the order is reversed: Kal-El leaves before Zod is imprisoned.)
- Clark grows up on the Kent family farm, perplexed by why he is different, until his father, Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner), shows him the rocket in a silo in the family barn when he’s 12.
- While Jonathan cautions against using his powers (because people will freak), he says, in almost the exact same words Pa Kent (Glenn Ford) used in 1978, “I have to believe that you … were sent here for a reason.”
- After his father’s death, Clark heads north to search for that reason and to discover who he is.
- He finds out who he is via a holographic image of his Kryptonian father, Jor-El (Russell Crowe), who tells him the story.
Then aliens invade. Which is also the answer to how you get the mass of humanity to trust such a superpowered being. You present, at the same time, his opposite: those who wish to destroy humanity rather than save it.
The New Adventures of Jor-El
A few things about Krypton.
First, H.R. Giger should sue. Krypton may be alien, but that doesn’t give anyone the right to steal the look of “Alien” as much as this movie does.
Second, we spend way too much time there. The first half hour could be titled “The Adventures of Jor-El, Free-Thinking Scientist of Krypton.” Not only do we get Jor-El warning the Kryptonian Council about the planet’s core and going mano-a-mano with Gen. Zod (Michael Shannon), who stages a coup, but we also get him: 1) under arrest; 2) escaping arrest on the back of a giant dragonfly; 3) buzzing all over Krypton; 4) diving into the baby incubation chamber and stealing the “codex,” onto which the Kryptonian genetic code is imprinted. This last bit is way too dull and science-fictiony for me. It’s introduced, I suppose, as the reason Zod needs to pursue Kal-El across the galaxy. Zod is the keeper of the code and Jor-El hides that code aboard the spaceship sent to Earth and yadda yadda. But I’m not a fan.
I’m not a fan of the whole natural childbirth thing. Krypton is a programmed society, where everyone knows, at birth, what they are meant to do. Zod is programmed to be a warrior, Jor-El is programmed to be a scientist, etc. So why did this one couple, Jor-El and Lara, break free from these constraints to have a natural baby? I do like Zod’s reaction, though, when Jor-El explains all this to him. He screws up his face in moral disgust, as only Michael Shannon can, and shouts, “Heresy!”
Zod himself is a more interesting character here. He’s been programmed to protect Krypton at all costs. That’s why he stages the coup in the first place—because the Kryptonian Council is full of dithering idiots. That’s why he searches for a planet the remaining Kryptonians, warriors all, can inhabit, and lands on Earth. If anything, he reminds me of Michael Corleone. He’s just trying to save the family. But in doing so he destroys it.
Unfortunately, they gave Ayelet Zurer the most thankless task any actress can perform: urging us away from the story we’ve all come to see. “I can’t do it,” she says, about sending Kal-El to Earth to become Superman. “Lara, Krypton is doomed,” Jor-El tells her. “It’s his only chance.” She makes arguments. She keeps stalling. In the audience, I’m less-than-sympathetic. “Let go of the baby, lady,” I thought. “We’re due on Earth already.”
But the cutaway is smart. Kal-El’s rocket zips into our solar system, past the moon, over Smallville … and we cut to Clark in his bearded drifter stage. He’s on a fishing boat, the Debbie Sue, and the first person we see being saved is him. Nice touch. But then an oil rigger goes up and we get a bearded, shirtless Clark saving everybody. Like Hercules, the original Superman.
His childhood we get in flashback.
I know, Captain, a thousand questions…
In a October 2010 post, reacting to an Atlantic magazine article on “Five Ways to Revive the Superman franchise,” I wrote:
We're interested in him because he's all-powerful but being all-powerful is dramatically uninteresting. So we need to either push toward or pull away from his power: weaken him to create a feasible drama, or keep him as is and make his all-powerfulness the drama. I'm inclined toward the latter.
They did the latter. I knew this going in, too. One of the many good flashbacks involves Clark in school, suddenly hearing, and seeing through, everything. He looks around and sees skulls. He sees his teacher’s heart beating inside her body. He hears girls talking: “What a weirdo.” It’s up to his mom to get him to focus. “Think of my voice as an island,” she says. He does. It helps. But they don’t do enough with this. It becomes a plot point when he battles Zod, since Zod suffers the same thing—seeing and hearing everything—so it should’ve given Kal-El a tactical advantage. But he doesn’t take advantage. He just stands there and tells Zod (and us, I suppose) what’s going on.
Does Clark ever wonder why tragedy seems to follow him as Clark? A school bus he’s riding in at 12 goes off a bridge and into a deep river. A highway he’s riding on as a young man is the pathway for a tornado, which takes his father away. I’m 50 and nothing like this has ever happened to me. He gets both of these before he’s 20. Plus, since he grows up in Kansas, he becomes a fan of the Royals. We see him wearing their T-shirt. I nearly cheered. Then I did the math. If he’s 33 at the end, that means he landed in 1980 and probably became a fan around 1990, which means he’s been cheering for a sucky team his whole life. Is that why he’s champion of the oppressed? Imagine if he'd landed in New York and rooted for the Yankees. He might have chosen Zod’s side.
I like wondering about these things. That’s part of the fun. How did Clark land the gig with the U.S. Army in the Arctic outpost? With a falsified record? Way to background-check, guys. Why does the Army invite Lois Lane there? Isn’t that like inviting Seymour Hersch into Area 51? And did Clark know the thing they’d found in the ice, the 18,000-year-old alien spaceship, was related to him, or was it just a nice coincidence? You also wonder how Jor-El’s S-symbol zipdrive is still compatible with 18,000-year-old Kryptonian hardware. Microsoft doesn’t support 10-year old stuff but Krypton’s computers work through eons? And they’re the ones that died off?
Why the supersuit? Jor-El offering it makes more sense than Ma Kent sewing it together but … it still doesn’t make much sense.
Clark had never tried flying before? Man, Jonathan really held him back. That’s a poignant moment, by the way, when the tornado bears down on Jonathan and he shakes his head at Clark—no, don’t save me—and is swept away. At the same time, doesn’t it recall another poignant superhero moment? Just before this, the two are arguing in the car. “You’re not my dad,” Clark says, “you’re just some guy who found me in a field.” The superhero, in late adolescence, arguing with the father who’s not the father, just before the father dies. Where have we seen this?
Uncle Ben: I don’t mean to preach. And I know I’m not your father …
Peter Parker: Then stop pretending to be!
Why did Zod demand the presence of both Kal-El and Lois Lane? What did he hope to glean from the latter? Instead, she simply becomes the instrument of Superman’s escape.
I admit I sighed sadly when Zod first contacted everyone on Earth. I knew, for me, most of the fun stuff was over. I knew the rest would be roller-coaster ride. But I didn’t realize just how many buildings would be wrecked, either by the “world engine,” the Kryptonian device that would “terra-form” Earth into Krypton, or by Superman and Zod as they battled in Smallville and Metropolis. How many times did we need to see these two battling through CGI skyscrapers and parking garages? How much is enough for the dopey fanboys who get off on this stuff?
Even so, throughout all the battles, I was intrigued by one thing: How does one man, Superman, battle a dozen superpowered beings who are his equal? Who may be more powerful since they are trained warriors? What’s the secret to his ultimate success? How do screenwriter David S. Goyer and director Zack Snyder answer that?
Know what? I still don’t know the answer. The Kryptonian spaceship ultimately goes down because Dr. Emil Hamilton (Richard Schiff) turns the doohickey so the whatchamajig can absorb the idontknow … and boom. But why do the Kryptonians die? Aren’t they invulnerable? Or are they on the ship, which is like Krypton, where they can be killed? And how does Superman finally destroy the world engine and save the planet? He appears to just, you know, try really hard.
Is it that simple? Muscle over mind, Superman?
The ultimate question
I should add that everyone, from the Els to the Kents, are expertly cast. Among supporting roles, I particularly liked Schiff, who was always my favorite on “West Wing,” Christopher Meloni as Col. Nathan Hardy, who tackles head on what he doesn’t understand, and Larry Fishburne as Perry White, who, in a great moment, first forbids Lois to work on her “super alien” story because it’s absurd, and, on a dime, changes his mind because she gives up too quickly, and he knows that’s not Lois. I also liked the vulnerability in Dylan Sprayberry, 12-year-old Clark.
Both Shannon and Adams are good in everything, and, at the center of the story, Cavill exudes a lonely decency as Clark and a steely determination as Superman. My one caveat about casting? Lois is the love interest, which means we’re supposed to be attracted to her, and I’m not attracted to Adams. At all. Sorry. Maybe that’s just me.
Other caveats: “Man of Steel” raises interesting questions only to abandon them to spectacle. “You’re the answer, son,” Jonathan tells Clark when he’s 12. “You’re the answer to ‘Are we alone in the universe?’” This is similar to what Goyer has said: “If the world found out [Superman] existed, it would be the biggest thing that ever happened in human history.” As is, you know, the near destruction of human history.
But the movie cleans all this up quickly. Too quickly. Afterwards, everyone just goes about their business. They go back to work at the Planet, they try to take pretty girls to basketball games with ringside seats, and Perry White actually hires a new reporter, Clark Kent, who, I assume, doesn’t have a journalism degree. So why hire him? Because that’s what’s supposed to happen? And why does Clark want the job in the first place? I was hoping he wanted to be near Lois but it’s the same explanation he’s always given—so he can hear about emergencies as they happen—when, no, in the digital age there are other means. And the secret identity thing? With the glasses? Really? When half of Smallville already knows? It’s as if Goyer broke up elements of the Superman myth only to put them together neatly at the end.
But Goyer did this with “Batman Begins,” too, ending with the bat signal, etc., and then breaking it all up again, including the bat signal, in “The Dark Knight.” So maybe he’ll do the same in a Superman sequel. One can hope.
One can hope, in the next movie, it’s not business as usual in Metropolis, that there are people still freaked by what happened, and that, even as some view Superman as a god-like figure, others blame him for bringing near destruction to the planet, for bringing the Kryptonian warriors here in the first place, and search for ways to destroy him or control him. There should be a vocal element again him. The more decent he is, the more vocal they should become. He should be perplexed by this. He should always look at us and wonder whether we’re worth saving. Nothing, in the end, would make him more human.
Trailer: The Salinger Documentary
This seems interesting but so far none of it is exactly news. I knew Salinger quit publishing in 1965, I knew he'd been in World War II and suffered a nervous breakdown, I knew The Catcher in the Rye had a huge affect on generations of kids, including me. I also have my own theories about why Salinger stopped publishing. But I'll still be there opening weekend. September.
Superman Screenshot of the Day
I'll be going tomorrow morning. I know. Thank God, right? A few folks have complained about how deep up Superman's ass I've been during the last few months. A few more think because I've invested this much time on the subject I have a stake in whether “Man of Steel” works. I don't. I want it to be good, of course, but I invested the time for the historical interest more than anything. If it works, it works. If it doesn't, well, why did they get Zack Snyder to direct? That's my thought.
June 14th. Tomorrow for the Man of Tomorrow.
FOX-News Flash: No Dudes Kissing (or Flashing) on FOX-News
“Fox had some other less obvious rules about what we couldn't show on air.
”'You can't use tape of the Twin Towers going down,' Marybeth told me. 'The bosses think it upsets people.' ...
“Another rule: If we were producing tape of same-sex weddings to illustrate a gay marriage segment, we had to cut away before the couple kissed.
”'We showed two guys kissing once and people at home completely freaked out,' Marybeth explained. 'Hundreds of calls to the switchboard, thousands of angry e-mails.'"
-- Joe Muto, “An Atheist in the FOXhole: A Liberal's Eight-Year Odyssey Inside the Heart of the Right-Wing Media,” pg. 89.
SLIDESHOW: Lex Luthor, The Badness and the Baldness
SLIDESHOW: For the greatest villain of the Superman universe, Lex Luthor had the worst reason for turning evil. It's all about hair follicles. But who else can Superman turn to for a good battle? Brainiac? Bizarro? Mr. Mxyzptlk? The Japateurs? Superman has always had a supervillain problem and the default winner was Luthor.
1950: He first appeared onscreen in “Atom Man vs. Superman” (1950), played by veteran actor Lyle Talbot, who had recently finished a stint as Commissioner Gordon in 1949's “Batman and Robin” serial, and was about to appear in one of the worst movies ever made: Ed Wood's “Plan 9 From Outer Space.” Apparently in the 1930s, Talbot was also instrumental in starting the Screen Actors Guild. His Luthor is even-keeled, never raises his voice. But for much of the movie he appears ...
... like this. That's the titular Atom Man on the right, which, to producers at the beginning of the atomic age, must have sounded cooler than “Lex Luthor.” Besides, the plot involves Luthor pretending to go straight by buying a TV studio, so he needs a secret identity. But that's the best he can do? A glitter tub with transmitter ears?
1966: Jackson Beck, the voice of Bluto in the classic “Popeye” cartoons, and narrator of both “Adventures of Superman” on the radio and Woody Allen's great mocumentary “Take the Money and Run,” became the second actor to take on Lex, in Fimation's “The New Adventures of Superman” in 1966.
1978: Ah, what a joy! Gene Hackman took the role because Brando was involved, but Hackman got all the good lines. “It's amazing that brain can generate enough power to keep those legs moving.” “Otis, it isn't that I don't trust you …. I don't trust you, Otis.” “That's krytponite, Superman. Little souvenir from the old hometown?” At the same time, Hackman refused to do what Brando had done in “Apocalypse Now”: shave his head. So they styled his hair as if he were wearing many different toupees.
But he does show off his pate at the end. When he's serving notice. To you. That these walls ...
1988: In 1986, John Byrne rebooted Lex Luthor as less evil scientist than normal CEO. A brilliant commentary on our culture. The Lex Luthor of Ruby-Spears' Superman (above) was the first screen adaptation to follow this conceit. Voiced by Michael Bell, who was also the voice of the Parkay margarine tub in commercials, this Lex also has a fondess for milkshakes.
1993: John Shea's Lex Luthor, in “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,” was also a CEO, who battled Superman for control of Metropolis and the affection of Teri Hatcher's Lois Lane. In the premiere episode above, Luthor is enjoying a cigar by the fireplace when he stops to stare down a rattlesnake.
1996: The first episode of “Lois & Clark” ended with a tete-a-tete between Superman and Luthor outside Luthor's office and “Superman: The Last Son of Krypton” does the same. Luthor here is voiced by Clancy Brown, a good actor doomed to be forever known as Capt. Hadley, the sadistic prison guard of “Shawshank Redemption.”
2001: “Smallville”'s Lex, Michael Rosenbaum, loses his hair in the kryptonian meteor shower that pummels Smallville but becomes friends with Clark Kent, who saves his life in the first episode. This is a Lex with Daddy issues. Rosenbaum, by the way, was the best actor on the series.
2006: “Superman Returns” was less reboot than grand recycling effort—a continuation of the great Christopher Reeve movies. But Kevin Spacey is more terrifying, and much less funny, than Hackman's Lex ever was. He reveled in the badness and the baldness. Oh, and between them? Hackman and Spacey have four Academy Awards. That's: Luthor 4, Superman 0.
1950 Henchman: “Why is the most brilliantly diabolitical leader of our time surrounding himself with total nincompoops?” If Luthor's evil genius has always been recognized, his choice of henchmen has generally been suspect—although the first, Carl (Rusty Westcoatt), was at least efficient. Westcoatt also played a henchman in the “Batman and Robin” serial in 1949.
1966 Henchman: In Filmations' Saturday morning cartoon, Lex's henchman is Blinky, whose strongest trait is cackling.
1978 Henchman: Most people go their entire lives without having the kind of chemistry with another person that Gene Hackman had with Ned Beatty in “Superman: The Movie.” What more could anyone ask?
1987 Henchman: Unfortunately, by 1987 Beatty's Otis is gone, replaced by Lex's nephew, Lenny (Jon Cryer, hot off playing Ducky in “Pretty in Pink”). Everyone looks horrified here. They should. Check out “Honest Trailers” version of “Superman IV.”
1988 Henchwoman: Here's Lex's henchwoman in the Ruby-Spears cartoon. She's sweet, a bit of a dingbat, and serves milkshakes. Consider her a dumber, sweeter, less booby version of...
1978 Henchwoman: Miss TessMACHAAAAAAH! I'm surprised they didn't rate the movie “R” for Valerie Perrine alone. But she was Superman's first kiss. Do we ever find out what happens to Miss Teschmacher? In “Superman II,” she's in the Arctic with Lex, heading south, and ... that's it. Eve, we hardly knew ye.
2015: A hue and cry went up when Jesse Eisenberg was cast as the latest incarnation. But: 1) he's a good actor, who 2) plays smart well. He is a bit young for Lex but then so are most of our digital age CEOs. It fits the times. The real question, though, is this: Is he smart enough to outwit the dumbing down of the Man of Steel by director Zack Snyder?
2015: Well, so far, so good. Or bad? FIN.
Who Wants to Play Superman? Anyone? Bueller?
“The whole idea embarrassed me.”
--Clayton “Bud” Collyer, on playing Superman on the radio in 1940.
“Well, babe, this is it: the bottom of the barrel.”
-- George Reeves, toasting Phyllis Coates, after the two have been cast as Superman/Clark Kent and Lois Lane in the TV show “Adventures of Superman” in 1951.
“Sometimes ... when you're not even really sure that you want [the part], that's when you get it.”
-- Christopher Reeve, on trying out for, and getting, the role of Superman/Clark Kent in “Superman: The Movie.”
Dumb Politics, Smart Business
“[In 1996], Fox launched just a few months after MSNBC, which--due to the backing of Microsoft and NBC News--was deemed by media critics as a more credible competitor to CNN. But Murdoch had given Ailes a mandate: Do whatever you can to beat CNN. And Ailes thought he had a solid strategy to do so, reasoning that the conservative hordes who flocked to talk radio were being underserved by CNN, which had a perceived liberal bias. Give those conservatives a home on cable TV, Aisles' reasoning went, one that serves up both openly conservative opinion and conservative-slanted reporting that is thinly veiled as ”straight“ news, and they'll become habitual watchers.”
-- Joe Muto, “An Atheist in the FOXhole: A Liberal's Eight-Year Odyssey Inside the Heart of the Right-Wing Media,” pg. 57. (Yes, I'm reading this book at lunch every day.)
SLIDESHOW: Extra Extra! A History of Daily Planet Headlines!
SLIDESHOW: Updating Superman in the new movie, “Man of Steel,” shouldn't just be about getting rid of the 19th-century strongman undies. What do you do about his job? The medium that employed Clark Kent for most of the 20th century is in more peril than Lois Lane ever was. It's also the medium that often informed us about the story we were watching. What follows is a compendium of headlines, mostly Daily Planet headlines but rival pubs as well, that appeared in various Superman incarnations over the years. Consider it an extra. Read all about it.
FIRST SIGHTINGS: We first got Superman's origin on the big screen in the 1948 serial, Superman, starring Kirk Alyn, and these are the first headlines about the caped figured who saved people, then left before we had a chance to thank him. He was like the Lone Ranger, but, you know, super.
1948: Oddly, none of these early headlines are Daily Planet headlines. Those would come later.
1948: I love this period before Superman is named and everyone is struggling to figure it all out. “Mystery Bird Man.” “Man from Sky.” What do we call this thing? Once it's named, and known, it becomes a little less exciting.
1953: As here. This is from the George Reeves reboot in the “Adventures of Superman” TV show. Not only is he already named but the feat itself, —his first, saving a man hanging from a dirigible—was redone, to much better effect, in the '78 blockbuster. Dirigible simply became helicopter and airport mechanic morphed into Lois Lane.
1978: By the '70s, the heyday of journalism, we knew the story wasn't that she was saved; the story was that he existed.
1978: Love this. Biggest story of the century but they keep their sense of humor.
1978: Here, too. As Kevin Costner's Jonathan Kent says in “Man of Steel,” “You're the answer, son. You're the answer to 'Are we alone in the universe?'” That should've the hed in '78. But nothing sells like sex.
SUPERMAN'S EXPLOITS: Besides telling us Superman's origins, the headlines also detailed the Man of Steel's exploits. They provided a coda to the story we'd just seen. This is from one of the early 1940s Max Fleischer cartoons.
1941: Someone at the Planet needs to work on their subheds. Check out the previous slide. How often can Superman save the city from destruction—total or not? Work with me here, Jimmy.
1966: Another favorite, from the 1966 Filmation cartoon, “The New Adventures of Superman.”
1996: For some reason, the 1996 cartoon, “Last Son of Krypton,” used quotes in its headlines. Not sure why. To make it all seem ironic?
1948: That's Perry White reading his own paper. Feel free to forward to anyone you know named Ray.
FURTHERING THE PLOT: Many of the newspaper headlines furthered the plot. Lex Luthor looks at this headline and sees all of his schemes coming true. “Bye-bye, California. Hello, new west coast, my west coast.”
1950: From “Atom Man vs. Superman.” Two exclamation points, Perry??
1988: Because you can never have enough real estate.
2011: Hardly see why this is a headline. Although it's nice to see in this day and age when many media sources tend to prevaricate about the misdeeds of the rich and powerful.
1981: A rather bland headline to the biggest story ever.
2006: This one, from “Superman Returns,” also worked in the trailers and TV spots. It announced the movie.
1987: The best part of a bad movie: “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.” It's a parody of the Daily News' famous hed regarding Pres. Ford's refusal to bail out New York City in 1975.
1988: The headlines also feed us misinformation. Because he doesn't really.
2006: And he isn't, really.
2011: And he still isn't, really.
1948: “Man of Tomorrow” will never replace “Man of Steel” as a Superman monicker because it's a little too yesterday. It's from a period when the future was full of whiz-bang excitement. But it's also the perfect nickname for Superman. Because in 1938, we were tomorrow. And where's Superman? Still with us.
SLIDESHOW: Got it Bad for Little Miss Lois Lane
SLIDESHOW: The above panel details the first meeting between Lois and Superman way back in Action Comics #1. From then on, in what unofficial Superman biographer Glen Weldon calls the most toxic relationship in history, it's about 50 years of stagnation. She wants marriage with Superman; he wants her to like him as Clark, which is odd, since it's his pose rather than his true personality. (Until John Byrne switched the order in 1986.) But if you're a fan of superheroes, make sure you thank Miss Lane. Superman only sprang to life in the imagination of Jerry Siegel because he couldn't get the Lois Lanes of the world. He was a Clark Kent wondering what it would be like to be a Superman. Which is why he invented Superman, whose success led to Batman, Spider-Man, et al. Without Lois Lane, you wouldn't have any of them.
1941: The Max Fleischer cartoons made the most of Lois' gumption and her gams. She was always going the extra mile for a story, getting in trouble as a result, and needing rescue from the Man of Tomorrow. One wonders how she managed before he came along. One wonders if she ever wonders it. Does she take greater risks now? Knowing that Superman is there to catch her if she falls?
1941: She isn't even averse to wielding a machine gun now and again. Fleischer's Lois was voiced by Joan Alexander, of St. Paul, Minn., who also voiced Lois in the long-running and influential “Adventures of Superman” radio series (1940-51). Trivia: In 2008, the year before she died, Alexander would be bilked out of most of her fortune by Ponzi schemer Kenneth Starr, who is currently serving a 7 1/2-year sentence in a federal correctional facility in Otisville, NY. Too bad it's not Otisberg.
1948: In the 1948 serial, “Superman,” another Minnesotan, Noel Neill of Minneapolis, became the first actress to portray Lois Lane on screen. A few years later, Neill played the third-year girl who gripes Gene Kelly’s liver in “An American in Paris,” and, unfortunately, she's a bit of that here: pouty and unclever, without a hint of sex. She’s like a Shirley Temple character who grew into her late 20s less cute, less smart, and more annoying. She barely even smiles. Which is why two years later ...
1950: ... yes, in “Atom Man vs. Superman,” she smiles as often as a Miss America contestant. Neill would go on to play Lois throughout most of the 1950s in the second through sixth seasons of “Adventures of Superman.” Later in life, she played Lois' mom in the extended cut of “Superman: The Movie” (1978), and even turns up as Gertrude Vanderworth, the wealthy widow bilked of her money by Kevin Spacey’s Lex Luthor in “Superman Returns” (2006). Too bad Joan Alexander wasn't paying attention.
1951: Phyllis Coates of Wichita Falls, Texas, finally breaks the Minnesota monopoly on everyone's favorite girl reporter. In the short film, “Superman and the Mole Men,” as well as the first season of TV's “Adventures of Superman,” she plays Lois opposite George Reeves. She would eventually play Lois' mom, Ellen this time, in an episode of “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” in 1994. Apparently old Loises never fade away; they just play Lois' mom.
1966: Filmation's Saturday morning cartoon, “The New Adventures of Superman,” brought back a lot of the radio actors for the voices, including Joan Alexander for Lois Lane. This, to me, is the classic Lois. Maybe because she was drawn like the Lois Lane in the 1950s and '60s comic books. Or maybe because it's the first Lois Lane I encountered. Oddly, we don't even see her until the third episode. She gets upstaged by Jimmy Olsen and his Superman signal watch. Every boy wanted one of those before they realized they really wanted Lois Lane.
1975: Case in point. Lesley Ann Warren ratcheted up the sex quotient, as she is wont to do, in a godawful version of the so-so Broadway musical, “It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman!,” which was broadcast on February 1, 1975. I was 12. I remember staying up late to watch it. I remember “Scoop! Scoop! Stop the presses!” I remember waiting and waiting for Superman to appear. When he did, well, I kinda wanted him to disappear. Warren was in the running to portray Lois again in “Superman: The Movie,” but lost the part to ...
1978: ... Margot Kidder. Why does Kidder's Lois Lane in “Superman: The Movie” still define the role? Because there's a difficulty dichotomy to thread in portraying Lois. She's supposed to scoop Clark and get rescued by Superman, but often within this dynamic they make her either too tough (and unlikeable) or too agreeable (and thus hardly a scoop-worthy reporter). Margot was able to inhabit both aspects of Lois. She held the two opposing ideas of Lois in her mind and was still able to function. Her toughness (at work) was never annoying, her vulnerability (around Superman) was always endearing. Plus I just like the way she says “Peter Pan.” Not to mention, “Blaghhh.”
1981: And in “Superman II” Lois finally gets her man. Unfortunately he had to lose his powers first. Did she waver then? Say, “Hey, wait a minute, that's not part of the deal,” or are we to assume that Lois was never that shallow, that she liked the Man of Steel for himself and not his powers? But if she liked him without his powers, why didn't she just go for Clark? Right, right, the milksop persona. OK, but how about in those incarnations, such as the '50s TV show, where he's not a milksop? Something to ponder anyway.
1987: But it can get tiring playing Lois. This is Kidder only nine years later in the godawful, Golan & Globus “Superman IV.” In a movie full of bad scenes, one of the worst, surely, is where Clark reveals himself to be Superman by jumping off the roof with Lois, then flies the two around the U.S. (via horrible special effects), then drops her, ha ha, only to rescue her. Afterwards, back on his terrace, he asks her advice. When she gives it, he does what he did in “Superman II”: He kisses her to make her forget. Did he do this all the time? Have fun with her, then make her forget? No wonder poor Lois looks so old. A sad last hurrah for our great '78 team.
1988: The Ruby-Spears Superman cartoon, which appeared in 1988, couldn't get past the Reeve/Kidder movies. It's got the same John Williams theme music, Clark flies Lois around Metropolis, and Clark even looks like Reeve. Then there's the helicopter rescue in an early episode. Right out of “Superman: The Movie.”
1993: Top billing! Finally! In “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,” Teri Hatcher, everyone's favorite “Seinfeld” guest, gets to play everyone's favorite girl reporter; and while one look at Hatcher makes you think she would bring the sex, what she really brought was the funny. How underrated is Hatcher as a comedic actress? I admit I never watched the show much but I did recently see the 90-minute premiere and was pleasantly surprised at Hatcher's light-comedic skills. She would've been great in a romantic comedy. Why did she not get the chance? Her funny bone is real and it's fabulous.
1996: For “Last Son of Krypton” and “Superman: The Animated Series,” the Supes/Lois relationship gets a reboot and winds up recalling ... the Max Fleisher cartoons. Meaning we've traveled 55 years, through a world war, a cold war, and a feminist revolution, only to wind up back where we started. Voiced by Dana Delany.
2004: What's wrong with this picture? Seeing it now? Right? Since when was Lois ever a dirty blonde? I'm talking hair here, not the pole-dancing thing. But sure, that, too. The woman in the patriotic bikini is Erica Durance, of TV's “Smallville,” which never shied from selling the bodies of its young stars to attract viewers. Hell, the first time Lois and Clark meet on the show, he's butt naked. We scoff, and shake our heads at the cynicism, but it worked. The show lasted 10 years.
2006: Sorry, honey. Kate Bosworth was 22 when they filmed “Superman Returns” and ... it just didn't work. Lois looks 22 and she has a 5-year-old? From a consummation six years earlier? That’s some awkward math. Plus that dichotomy Lois is supposed to thread between tough and vulnerable? Bosworth doesn't thread it. Plus there's the hair again. Does everyone in the 21st century have something against brunettes except me?
2011: This Lois, from “All-Star Superman,” is like Lois reimagined as Jenanine Garofalo. At one point, after Clark reveals he's Superman, and flies her to his Fortress of Solitude, and confesses his love, she gets out her laptop and types up how pissed she still is. It's Carrie Bradshaw stuff. I dont know how many of these direct-to-video or Cartoon Network Superman stories there are, but the 21st century is crawling with them. I only made it halfway through this one.
2013: Oh, Lois. Will you ever be a brunette again? And is that an i-Pad? And you're how much older than the Man of Steel? Eight years? I guess that's not so bad. At least you're an adult this time around. See you Friday.
Future Breaking News on Fox: RIP Dick Cheney, Lincoln and Churchill Rolled into One
“That was my first brush with a not-so-well-kept dirty little secret of the news industry: Fox had hundreds of slick, pre-produced four-minute obituary videos filed away and read to go at a moment's notice for almost every prominent celebrity and politician over the age of sixty. Every once in a while if a shift was particularly slow, I'd give myself a morbid thrill pulling the obit compilation from the tape library and watching a few of the pieces. Fox was hardly alone in this practice--my understanding is that all the networks and cable channels have similar compilations. But Fox stood out with the unique spin it gave certain figures. My favorite was Bill Clinton's, whose obit is hilariously Foxified, spending almost half the running time on Lewinsky and other bimbo eruptions. Meanwhile, the Dick Cheney obit makes him out to be a heroic freedom fighter, practically Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill rolled into one.”
-- Joe Muto, “An Atheist in the Foxhole: A Liberal's Eight-Year Odyssey Inside the Heart of the Right-Wing Media,” pg. 51
SLIDESHOW: LOOK, UP IN THE SKY! A History of Superman Flying Onscreen
SLIDESHOW: Look, Up in the Sky! Near the end of his life, Christopher Reeve said, “The appeal of flight. I mean … Batman’s got a cool car. But flight is what really captures people’s imaginations. To take two or three running steps and soar into the air. That’s everybody’s dream.” On the screen, of course, it took a while for that dream to take hold. In the beginning, which is to say June 1938, with the publication of Action Comics #1, Superman couldn't fly; he could only leap 1/8 of a mile. It took adventures in other media for the dream of flight to take hold.
1941: In the early Max Fleischer cartoons, Superman is merely, as they say, “able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.” But all that bouncing from spot to spot made him look a bit like a Mexican jumping bean, and it just became easier, and cooler, to show him, you know, flying. The Fleischer cartoons immediately subbed out that “tall buildings” line for “Able to soar higher than any plane!” but it didn't stick. As late as 1988, the opening intro (to Ruby-Spears Superman) nonsensically trumpeted Superman as a dude “able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!”
1948: Kirk Alyn was the first live-action, onscreen Superman, and this was the moment he finally took flight. Did kids in theaters in 1948 hold their breath? If so...
1948 (cont.)... they were probably disappointed since as soon as he lifted off he turned into a cartoon. This was true in all 15 chapters of the '48 serial. On the other hand ...
1948 (cont.) ... there's something to be said for the cartoon. It ain't bad. Dude could move. When they switched to flying of the live-action variety, it had the same effect on Superman that sound had on early talkies: a tendency toward stiffness. It would take half a century before Superman, in flight, could move as well as he could above.
1950: Here we go. This is the first time we see Superman, as a man, in the air. It's Kirk Alyn again from the 1950 serial, “Atom Man vs. Superman.” Most of the flying, though, is still done with animation.
1953: In the 1950s TV show “Adventures of Superman,” George Reeves' flight has a kind of lying-on-a-table effect. In episode after episode: 1) Clark Kent went into the Daily Planet storeroom; 2) Superman bounced out a window to whooshing wind effects; and 3) we saw Supes, against a cloud backdrop, flying rather straight. But then it was an era of flying straight.
1975: But it beat this. It's a screenshot from the TV adaptation of the short-lived 1966 Broadway musical, “It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman,” starring David Wilson as Superman and Lesley Ann Warren (rahr) as Lois Lane, which aired On Feb. 1, 1975 at, I think, 11:30 PM. Why so late? I guess they didn't want little kids to see it. I was 12 but wasn’t going to let that stop me. I stayed up late. Unfortunately, I kept nodding off. I kept thinking, “This is painful,” without realizing why. Even Ms. Warren didn't help. Much.
1978: So when “Superman: The Movie” was released in 1978, and Christopher Reeve takes to the air to save Lois Lane dangling from the Daily Planet helicopter, it looked breathtakingly real. Because it was. It wasn’t a cartoon, it wasn’t a man against a blue screen, it wasn’t CGI (yet). It was a man, in a bright blue suit, with big red boots, flying. We never believed, as the tagline counseled, that a man could in fact fly. But we knew it looked real. It had … what’s that word? Verisimilitude. Guess what? Still does.
1987: Nine years later, we'd taken a big step backward. Blame Sylvester Stallone. His film, “Over the Top,” produced by Golan and Globus, who were leasing the rights to make a Superman movie, did poorly at the box office, and as a result the “Superman: IV” budget was slashed from $40 million to below $20 million. It shows in every sad frame—including this one, where Superman returns the Statue of Liberty to its proper station. Irony? Stallone was one of the few big-name Hollywood actors in 1976 who wanted to play Superman. Mostly, though, blame Golan and Globus. They made you believe that a man really couldn't fly after all.
1993: Even in the title, “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,” the Man of Steel gets third billing. And in terms of screentime, he was probably further down than that. But some flying scenes, like this, from the premiere episode in the Daily Planet offices, aren't bad.
2001: The creators of “Smallville” promised “No flights and no tights” and pretty much adhered to that principle through its 10-season run. Unfortunately, the closer it go to the birth of Superman, the worse it became. I mean, the red-and-blue blur? Somebody save me.
2006: “Superman Returns” is the first big-deal, CGI-infected Superman movie, but it’s still disappointing, probably because it has one foot and three toes in the past. It can’t get over Christopher Reeve. But who can?
2013: Well, David S. Goyer and Zack Snyder, that's who. Their new movie, “Man of Steel,” promises mind-bending flying effects and special effects. Let's just hope it's smart. Let's just hope we haven't been sucker-punched.
FOX-News Fan Fiction
“The point is, for a show to display viewer-made art wasn't unusual in and of itself, but the piece mounted next to the door in the Sean/Greta headquarters stood out; it was enormous, and clearly done by someone who knew how to wield a paintbrush. The giant oil-on-canvas showed Sean Hannity's massive grinning head on a TV screen with a Fox News logo, with confetti flying through the air behind him. The artist, in an inspired bit of wishful thinking, had added an on-screen graphic that read OBAMA DEFEATED IN HISTORIC LANDSLIDE.
”At least if they fire my ass, I thought as a I passed the thing, I'll never have to see this fucking asinine painting again.“
-- Joe Muto: ”An Athiest in the FOXHole: A Liberal's Eight-Year Odyssey Inside the Heart of the Right-Wing Media," pg. 32
Movie Review: Superman Returns (2006)
This is one ballsy movie. No pun intended.
In 2006, Bryan Singer, with nothing but success behind him (“The Usual Suspects,” the “X-Men” movies), directed the Superman movie he always wanted to see: a continuation of the Christopher Reeve version that jettisons the awful ’83 Richard Pryor vehicle and the ’87 Golan and Globus abomination, and adds intrigue and depth to where we left off in ’81.
He picks up on the storyline. In “Superman II,” Superman beds Lois. Now, six or so years later, she has a child. Hey, could it…? It could.
He returns Jor-El (Marlon Brando) to us. The Salkinds taketh, Singer giveth back.
He picks up on the Jesus metaphor. Superman dies, is reborn, and ascends. Well, he flies anyway. “I am with you always,” Jesus said at the end. “I’m always around,” Superman says at the end.
We get some of the great lines from the first movie—“Statistically speaking, of course, it’s still the safest way to travel”—as well as the resounding John Williams score in all its iterations. For a moment, as Superman and Lois flew around town, I thought, “OK, so everything but ‘Can You Read My Mind.’” But then they pass Lois’ house, and the camera focuses on their hands, holding in flight, and we get a strain, a suggestion; then suddenly the whole thing wells up again as her love for him wells up again. Because you don’t get the love theme until you get the love.
All of this is ballsy for obvious reasons. We live in a throwaway culture and Singer was involved in the greatest recycling project in movie history. Hollywood gears its product toward 12-to-14-year-olds and Singer was determined to make a sequel to a movie released 25 years earlier. He ignored the original’s third and fourth iterations as if he could rewrite movie history. “You can’t repeat the past,” Nick told Gatsby, to which Gatsby responded “Why, of course you can!” Singer is Gatsby in this regard.
And, like Gatsby, his project was doomed.
Start with the casting. Brandon Routh makes a good Clark Kent/Superman but he has the misfortune of following the greatest superhero casting ever. Routh is actually several years older than Christopher Reeve was when Reeve was cast as the Man of Steel, but he looks younger. Except it’s supposed to be six years later. Is Superman aging backwards? Like Benjamin Button?
The casting of Lois Lane is worse. Kate Bosworth was 22 when they filmed this. And she has a 5-year-old? From a consummation six years earlier? That’s some awkward math. She should’ve been in high school instead of, you know, reporting for The Daily Planet and shacking up with Supes in the Fortress of Solitude. We have laws, dude.
Kidder and Reeve were adults in a gritty adult world—New York in the 1970s—but these two look like kids and act like kids. Why the world doesn’t need Superman? Really, Lois? She can’t even let go of her anger to be the star reporter she is. The biggest scoop of the year—Superman returns—shows up on the Daily Planet rooftop and she frowns her way through the interview. Her first question is about where he’s been all this time. He says there was a chance Krypton was still there. “I had to see for myself,” he says.
Imagine you’re a reporter. What’s your follow-up?
- “So was it still there?”
- “What about kryptonite? Were you in danger?”
- “Why didn’t you tell anyone you were leaving?”
This is Lois’ follow-up: “Well, you’re back. And everyone seems to be pretty happy about it.”
That’s not even a question. Then we get this awful dialogue:
Superman: I read the article, Lois.
Lois: So did a lot of people.
Superman: Why did you write it?
Lois [upset]: How could you leave us like that? [Throws up hands.] I moved on. So did the rest of us. That’s why I wrote it. The world doesn’t need a savior. And neither do I.
I’m not sure who’s being more childish here. Lois assumes her pain is the world’s, her resentments ours. And him. He can’t get past the fact that she wrote the article? That she was angry that he left for five years without a word? What is he—a Vulcan?
It gets worse when they’re about to fly together:
Lois: You know my… Richard. He’s a pilot. He takes me up all the time.
Superman: Not like this.
Who knew Superman was so insecure? You can feel his insecurity throughout the movie. He basks in the applause from the baseball crowd and listens to news reports about himself with a smile. He’s the mightiest being on the planet, the savior of the world, and he’s checking press clippings. Does he Google himself? Read the comments below YouTube clips? “SuperDORK more like! Go back to Krypton, Creepton. LOL.”
He spends so much time worrying about what Lois is thinking and feeling, and with whom she’s thinking and feeling it, he doesn’t put together the fairly obvious pieces of the plot. Let’s see…
- Lex Luthor is out of jail.
- Kryptonian crystals from the Fortress of Solitude are missing.
- The east coast has suffered a massive blackout that includes cellphones.
It’s even Clark’s job to be covering the blackout story. It’s the story Lois wants, it’s the one Clark gets, but it’s still Lois who uncovers it. She finds its epicenter, finds the boat, “The Gertrude,” anchored there, slips aboard with her son, then comes across Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) brushing his teeth. “Lois Lane?” he says with a mouthful of toothpaste. It’s one of the few times Luthor makes us laugh in the movie.
No obvious metaphor here. Keep moving.
I hate carping like this. I actually think “Superman Returns” is one of the better cinematic incarnations of the Man of Steel, so I want to say the positive. But I keep returning to the things that bug me.
I love it when Lois tells Superman “I forgot how warm you are.” That’s so evocative. This notion that the Man of Steel, instead of being cold like steel, is warmer than us. As if he absorbs more of the sun than we do. Then this:
Superman: What do you hear?
Superman: I hear everything.
You’re immediately struck by the burden of that. But it backfires. You think: Wait. If he can hear everything, why spend so much time being Clark Kent? Why is he hanging at a bar with Jimmy Olsen (Sam Huntington) and Bo the Bartender (Jack Larson, the Jimmy Olsen of the 1950s)? Why isn’t he out saving all of the people he can hear being beaten, murdered, and raped? Why save some dingbat in a car or bother to stop that bank robber—a guy so stupid he: 1) robs a bank; 2) in Metropolis; 3) the day after Superman returns? And if you’re going to stop the dude, why walk up to him and allow him to keep firing? Bryan Singer wants to show us that even Superman’s eyes are invulnerable but he could’ve done it without making Superman seem like an ass.
There’s a nice scene when Supes lands with a sonic boom—boom!—on the new Krypton continent in the Atlantic Ocean, and fissures develop. And yet … I mean, if he can hear everything, surely he knows where Luthor and his men are. He can hear them breathing. They’re there, there and there. Pick them off. Instead he lands dramatically, with the fissures, and lets his enemies gather.
And how does he not feel all of his powers draining away? If I landed somewhere, and lost 99% of my power in two steps, I think I’d know it. Don’t even get me started on the horror of watching Superman get his ass kicked. There are a lot of painful moments in these movies—the post-reveal dialogue with Lois in “II,” being upstaged by an unfunny Richard Pryor in “III,” all of “IV”—but, for me, the beating of Superman in “Superman Returns” might be the most painful. It’s so brutal, I wouldn’t be surprised if it killed the movie at the box office. Who wants to re-watch a helpless Superman getting his ass kicked by Luthor and his men? Nobody. Superman returned but we didn’t.
OK, then how about the airplane rescue scene? Wow, right? And an homage to the helicopter scene in “I.” Yet why does the original work and the homage not? Is it that the helicopter scene is about revelation (the first appearance of Superman) while this is about return? Is the original rooted in the everyday, the gritty, while this feels like so much CGI? And did the landing have to be in the middle of a baseball stadium? The length of the scene doesn’t help. In “Superman,” from the moment he turns into Superman to “Statistically speaking… ” takes about one and a half minutes of screentime. In “Superman Returns,” it takes five and a half minutes of screentime. It just keeps going.
Second-to-last son of Krypton
I like him lifting the kryptonite-laden continent on his shoulders, like Atlas, pushing it into space, then falling back to Earth. The scenes at the hospital are good, too. But it still takes Lois forever to tell him Jason is his son. She should’ve told him as soon as she entered the room. Hell, she should’ve told him as soon as he returned from Krypton. Seriously, what kind of woman withholds that information? From both men? And that’s your heroine? It’s not a bad idea, certainly, having Lois marry Richard White (James Marsden), but it ruins the greatest love triangle in superherodom. Lois loves Superman and ignores Clark because she doesn’t see what’s super in him. It’s the story every man tells himself about every unrequited love. It’s poignant in that way. Here, Lois kinda loves, or certainly appreciates, Richard White, to whom she’s married, but really loves Superman, who’s always around. Sometimes he’s just outside their house, listening in. Right. That’s a little less poignant.
So let me end with two scenes I appreciate without qualification.
The first is the scene outside the hospital, where Ma Kent (Eva Marie Saint) stands with the crowd, unable to visit her dying son because no one knows he’s her son. That’s heartbreaking. It’s also reminiscent of what gay men went through in the age of AIDS. No way Bryan Singer didn’t make that connection.
The second is the moment Superman tells a sleeping Jason something Jor-El told him as a baby—as Kal-El slept on Krypton for the last time:
You will be different. Sometimes you'll feel like an outcast. But you'll never be alone. You will make my strength your own. You will see my life through your eyes, as your life will be seen through mine. The son becomes the father and the father the son.
It brings cohesion to the whole Donner/Singer enterprise, and to this movie in particular. Superman traveled to Krypton to discover he was its last son. Then he traveled back to Earth to find out he wasn’t. He went searching for Krypton but found it in his own backyard.
The son becomes the father.
Great Caesar's Ghost! It's the Perry White Slideshow!
We won't call him “Chief” in this slideshow, but we will call out the changes to Perry White in his various cinematic and TV incarnations over the years. Shall we begin, Chief? I mean, Sugar? I mean, Paris? Enough. Let's get started ...
1941: In the Max Fleischer cartoons, he's an unnamed “Chief Editor,” but we all know who that is: George Taylor. Sorry, Paris White. Sorry, Perry White. George was the original comic book incarnation, Paris was the original radio incarnation, but they quickly changed “Paris” to “Perry.” Because Paris? I mean, c'mon.
1948: The first live-action actor to portray Perry White was Pierre Watkin in the 1948 serial “Superman.” White is gruff, impatient, and the man everyone in Metropolis turns to when trouble brews. When Superman captures a crook, he brings him to Perry rather than the cops. When the villainous Spider-Lady contacts the cops, it's so they can forward a message to Perry White. He's BMOC: Big Man of Metropolis.
1950: Two years later, it was the reverse. Perry White got everything wrong in “Atom Man vs. Superman.” He thinks Lex Luthor has gone legit, accuses both Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane of being hypnotized, pressures Lois into writing a “Is Clark Kent Superman?” story without evidence, and can't even find a match with which to light his cigar.
1953: For the 1950s TV show, the role was taken over by another no-nonsense, gruff persona: John Hamilton.
1966: Here's how Perry was portrayed in the 1966 Filmation cartoon, “The New Adventures of Superman.” The cigar is still in place.
1978: As here. 1930s icon Jackie Cooper was tapped to play Perry White in the 1978 movie “Superman” after Keenan Wynn, the original choice, developed heart trouble. He rocked the role.
1987: By the last, sad chapter of the Christopher Reeve movies, “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace,” Jimmy Olsen's going bald, Lois Lane looks like Superman's mother, and Perry White has shrunk and lost his cigar.
1988: A year later, for the Ruby-Sears Superman Saturday-morning cartoon, he's gained the weight back. In fact, he looks more like a villain than the avuncular city editor. He's like Edward G. Robinson here, see? Hey, Robby would've made a good Perry, wouldn't he?
1993: In 1948, Perry White had Abraham Lincoln on his wall; in 1993, he has Elvis Presley. Veteran actor Lane Smith is both gruff and comic-relief in the “Lois & Clark” television series.
2006: Frank Langella, a towering presence, played Perry White a bit softer in “Superman Returns.” His one “Great Caesar's Ghost!” was spoken sotto voce, in amazement, as Superman catches and places gently on the ground, as if he were Atlas, the Daily Planet icon from the roof of the building.
2015: Larry Fishburne steps into the role in “Man of Steel,” out this week. The question remains whether he'll say “Great Caesar's Ghost!” (doubtful) or smoke a cigar (even more doubtful). Hell, it remains to be seen whether The Daily Planet will survive the digital age. Now that's a job for Superman. *FIN*
Movie Review: The Trials of Muhammad Ali (2013)
Bill Siegel’s “The Trials of Muhammad Ali” starts out with a helluva one-two punch.
The first image we see is archival footage of Ali in 1968 on a British talk show, speaking remotely from the U.S., and it’s all very polite and dull … until it isn’t. American talk show host and producer David Susskind, of whom I knew vaguely and tend to associate with intellectualism and left-wing causes (his was the first nationally broadcast show to feature Americans against the Vietnam War, for example), excoriates the dethroned heavyweight champion. He says he finds nothing interesting or tolerable about Ali at all. “He has been found guilty,” he says. “He is a simplistic fool and a pawn,” he says. He says nastier things about Muhammad Ali than I’ve said about anyone in my life. And Ali? He just sits there, looking uncomfortable. That’s the first punch.
Before Ali responds—if he responds—and how could the Louisville Lip not have responded?—Siegel cuts to November 2005, the White House, where Pres. George W. Bush presents the Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor, to Ali, then lauds the Parkinson’s-debilitated, three-time heavyweight champion with words nicer than I’ve used about anyone in my life. That’s the second punch.
The obvious question is how Ali went from pariah in 1968 to hero in 2005.
A third punch, immediately following these two, doesn’t quite land. It’s Minister Louis Farrakhan, one of the doc’s talking heads, telling us about meeting Ali after the Medal of Freedom ceremony. When Farrakhan congratulates him, Ali leans in and says, “Still a nigger.” Farrakhan professes shock at this so Ali has to say it again: “Still a nigger.” Then Farrakhan asks the camera, “What did my brother mean?”
It doesn’t quite land because I don’t quite buy Farrakhan’s story. Not what Ali said but that it needed repeating to Farrakhan of all people. Besides, it’s a dull sentiment these days—Malcolm X was saying the same thing 50 years ago (What do you call a black man with a Ph.D.?)—and it raises an unasked question: still a nigger … to whom? Pres. Bush? The white establishment? All white people? There will always be people who view other groups reductively and pejoratively. So … what did Farrakhan’s brother mean?
But that first punch? That one buckles the knees.
Full disclosure: Bill Siegel, a researcher on “Hoop Dreams,” and the co-director of the Academy-Award-nominated doc “The Weather Underground,” is a good friend of good friends. Ten years ago I gave a mixed-review to “Weather Underground” for The Seattle Times, and I’ve felt bad about it ever since. Some part of me thinks I was reacting to the content in the doc—the left’s radicalism that led to the ascendancy of the right, whose crappy world I was living in—rather than the doc itself. But during “Trials” I felt a similar sense of umbrage rising in me. It’s the umbrage of the partially told story.
Fuller disclosure: I’m not a fan of the Nation of Islam. Its origin myth, of the evil scientist Yakub, 6,600 years ago, bleaching the natural black races to create the white race, who was the devil on Earth, was a myth of hatred, but that myth itself has been bleached out of the Nation’s history. No one talks about it anymore. It’s not brought up here, for example. More, the Nation came to prominence in great part because of the eloquence of Malcolm X, who is generally lauded by the Nation … until he breaks with Elijah Muhammad in 1963, leaves the Nation behind, and is then assassinated by Nation members—even if, here and elsewhere, the U.S. government, often the FBI, gets the blame. I get the appeal of the group: clean, upstanding, bow ties. I just have no interest in an organization that has always viewed me, not to mention most of the people I love, as the devil.
At one point in “Trials,” we see an interviewer on ’60s television asking Ali about this: does the champ see him, the interviewer, as the devil? Ali owns up to it. Then he makes owning up to it the point. He says he’s not going to pretend he believes something he doesn’t. He goes on and on about this, but it’s a classic case of misdirection. You want to say: It’s not that you believe or that you own up to believing it; it’s what you believe.
But Ali was good at such misdirection. I suppose a boxer has to be. Plus he was a showman—one of the best. It’s just hard sometimes to parse the showmanship—the bullshit—from the sincerely believed.
Ali, no doubt, believed in the Nation and in Islam. Siegel sheds light on the moment, in February 1964, after Ali beats Sonny Liston for the heavyweight championship. “I shook up the world!” Ali says. Then he adds, and Siegel underlines the point but including subtitles, “I know the real God!” I’d never heard that part of it before. I’d heard “Shook up the world!” and “Eat your words!” to the press, but not “I know the real God!” One wonders how much this belief helped him win the title. Or whether winning the title helped him believe.
Unlike most docs about Ali, “Trials” focuses less on the ring and more on Ali’s relationship with the Nation and his refusal to serve in Vietnam.
As the Vietnam War escalated in the mid-1960s, draft standards were lowered, and Ali, heavyweight champion of the world, was reclassified 1-A. What had he been classified before? And why? We don’t find out. But his reaction is famous. “I ain’t got nothing against those Viet Cong,” he said.
The authorities circled. The previous generation’s famous black athletes—Joe Louis and Jackie Robinson—were trotted out to condemn him. Ali’s Louisville Sponsoring Group, the 11 white men who had bankrolled him since his gold medal in Rome, worked to get him into the National Guard; but to Ali’s credit he refused the Dan Quayle/George W. Bush route. As a result, the consortium dropped him. Again, to his credit, he called every member of the group to thank them for their help. But now he was isolated except for the Nation. He probably would’ve been eventually anyway. That’s the direction he was heading.
Siegel presents various moments from his years in the wilderness: speaking at college campuses; debating William F. Buckley on “Firing Line”; appearing on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in beard and afro wig and singing a song from his starring role in the Broadway musical, “Buck White,” which he was only doing because he was not allowed to fight. “Your greatest trial,” he’s told, “isn’t in the ring but with the American people.”
I suppose the hatred Ali’s draft resistance caused, and which is apparent in Susskind’s reaction, is not really that hard to understand. Ali was a professional fighter and a braggart. His religion was considered a hate group. Yet he refused to join the Army because he was too peaceful? Who was he kidding?
Yet he won that trial with the American people and with the courts. “Once Ali took the stand [against the Vietnam War],” Siegel has said in interviews, “he didn’t waver. What changed was everything else.”
The doc reminds us he barely won it. He had, as a talking head says, one foot and three toes in prison. The U.S. Supreme Court was going to rule against him, 5-3 (Thurgood Marshall, recusing), in Clay v. United States, and that would be it. But Justice John Marshall Harlan, writing the majority opinion, began to waver. What’s fascinating—and worthy of its own doc—was the politicking behind what should have been a strictly legal decision. Was Ali sincere in his religious beliefs? Was there precedent? What would the result be if they ruled broadly in his favor? So the Court wound up ruling narrowly in his favor. He got off on a technicality: the state’s inconsistent argument regarding the sincerity of Ali’s beliefs.
Watching, one can’t help but wonder what Ali’s legacy would be if he had gone to prison for five years. How would he be regarded today? Would he be awarded the Medal of Freedom at the White House? Would docs like this be made? Or would Muhammad Ali, Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Century, be a mere footnote in history?
“The Trials of Muhammad Ali” is a well-made doc, with, again, eye-opening archival footage. (Another example: Jerry Lewis hosting “The Tonight Show” before the Liston fight and telling the future champ to shut up. “I think you’re a big bag of wind,” Lewis says.)
Siegel also gathers an impressive group of talking heads from the period: Khalilah Camacho-Ali, Ali’s second wife, who, early on, tore up a “Cassius Clay” autograph in his face because that was his slave name; Gordon B. Davidson, the last surviving member of the Louisville group, who is still sharp and dignified; Robert Lipsyte, the great New York Times sports reporter; and various members of the Nation, including Captain Sam, the Miami minister who recruited Clay to the cause. Siegel allows each the space they need to shed what light they have.
At times it’s enough light to illuminate the past. At other times, it’s merely enough to feel our way toward further discussion.
Superman Screenshot of the Day
As TV seasons progress, budgets shrink, and you wind up with characters like the above, the Iron Eater, a well-meaning .... um ... whatever ... from the first season of “The New Adventures of Superman” in 1966.
The Iron Eater is actually a meteorite that comes to life and has the added ability to transform itself into a perfect replica of anything: bridge, cop, signage. Superman winds up defeating it (of course) and flying it to an asteroid of iron, where it'll live happily ever after ... until it runs out of asteroid, I guess. Then maybe the cycle repeats itself.
I love the above for its absurdity. Who knew meteorites who come to life as monsters could read English?
Superman Screenshot of the Day
The Ruby-Spears' Superman, which premiered in 1988, a year after “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” died at the box office ($15 million, U.S.), is closely tied to the Christopher Reeve movies. We get the John Williams' score and Lois hanging from a helicopter. Clark is clumsy. The first time we see Superman and Lois, they're flying through the air a la “Can you read my mind?” Plus Clark/Superman even looks a bit like Christopher Reeve.
As for the above screenshot? It's Superman's reaction to one of my least-favorite and most laughable conceits in entertainment.
In the show's first episode, Lex Luthor, the CEO of LexCorp, creates the Defendroids to stop crime. There's some indication that he creates both the crime and the crime-stoppers, but he creates the latter so Metropolis will turn on Superman. Which is totally what happens. The Defendroids stop some “Mad Max”-type yahoos in the park and Luthor appears to hail them and dismiss Superman:
Lex: What has Superman done? Oh sure, he arrests a few jaywalkers and muggers. But do you feel safe at night?
Then an apartment building erupts in flames and the Defendroids save some children in the white-hot spotlight of the press, while Superman saves an elderly couple around the corner, unnoticed. When he's spotted by a TV reporter, she, and the crowd, surge upon him:
TV reporter: Well, Superman, how does it feel, knowing that with THEM around you’re no longer needed?
CUT TO: Angry faces of crowd.
Man in crowd: Ha! We’ve got the Defendroids to help us now!
Woman in crowd: Yeah! We don’t NEED you anymore!
CUT TO: The above screenshot.
Oh, how sharper than a serpent's tooth to have a fickle populace.
The whole thing is so absurd. Angry? “Ha!”? “We don't NEED you anymore”?
Sure, you can make arguments for why everyone in Metropolis turns on Superman so suddenly and viciously. Maybe they feel guilty because they've relied on him for so long. Maybe they're sick of relying on him and now, now that they don't have to, they can finally vent their frustration. No one likes to owe anyone anything, particularly unpayable debts, and humanity owes nothing but unpayable debts to Superman. So the knives come out.
But what is this conceit really about?
It's Hollywood's view of us, the movie-going, TV-watching population. We flit from show to show, movie to movie, star to star. What's revered today is a joke tomorrow. We don't NEED you anymore, David Cassidy, Fonzie, ALF. We don't NEED you anymore Mel Gibson, Winona Ryder, Kevin Costner, Arnold Schwarzenegger. We don't need you anymore, “Friends.” CUT TO: David Schwimmer, looking like the above.
The point: This conceit is almost never true in the context where Hollywood places it (as above). But it's always true in the context of Hollywood entertainment. Because in Hollywood, you're only as good as the last crime you stop.
Movie Review: Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (1981/2006)
In every detail, “Superman II” directed by Richard Donner is better than “Superman II,” directed by Richard Lester. Particularly one.
Alright, so the ending still sucks. Turning back time again? But this is understandable. “I” was supposed to end with Lex Luthor’s nuke setting free the Krytponian supervillains Zod, Ursa and Non from the Phantom Zone (“FREEEE!”), with the title graphic announcing, “Superman will return in SUPERMAN II!” or some such. But they decided—rightly, if you ask me—that they needed a real end to “I,” and so Supes turns back time to save Lois’ life. Although even as a 15-year-old I wondered: Just how farback did he go? To before the nukes launched? To before the kryptonite and the dunk in the pool and the rescue by Miss Tessmacher? Before the kiss from Miss Tessmacher? Do you give up Miss Tessmacher or allow half of California to sink into the ocean? A true dilemma.
In the Richard Donner cut, pieced together by editor Michael Thau in 2005-06 after years of fanboy demand, they return to the original ending. Now Superman turns back time so Lois won’t be unduly burdened with the knowledge that Clark is Superman. But there are still problems:
- It resurrects our three supervillains, who had died an icy death beneath the Fortress of Solitude. Meaning they could come back anytime and take over the world. Nice.
- It makes the comeuppance of Rocky, the diner bully, nonsensical. Now Rocky never attacked Clark and thus deserves no comeuppance.
- It makes the entire movie pointless. What we just watched never really happened.
Of course you can say this about the movies in general. What we watch never really happens. Yet we keep doing it.
If only we could turn back time.
Are you familiar with the backstory to the two versions? Donner was nearly superhuman in helping create “Superman: The Movie.” He cared about verisimilitude. That was his watchword on set. The cast loved him: Brando, Hackman, Reeve, Kidder. Producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind? Not so much. They liked spending money to make a splash—$3 million for Brando!—but turned off the spigot everywhere else. Their m.o. was to find a brand-name product, hopefully in the public domain, hire some big-name stars, and make a crappy movie out of it. Witness “Bluebeard” with Richard Burton in 1972; “Santa Claus” with Dudley Moore in 1985; and “Christopher Columbus: The Discovery” with Marlon Brando in 1992. Witness “Supergirl” with Faye Dunaway and Peter O’Toole in 1984. On second thought, don’t witness it.
The Salkinds also made the “Musketeers” movies in ’73 and ’74, directed by Richard Lester, and those were popular and came in under budget. And when Donner went over-budget while filming the first two “Superman” movies simultaneously—although he says he never had a budget—the Salkinds brought in Lester as advisor, most likely with the idea of having him replace Donner. Which is what happened after “Superman: The Movie” became a big hit. The Salkinds switched Dicks.
Apparently Donner finished 80 percent of principle photography on “II” but Lester, a Brit, who knew little of the Superman legend, and whose ouevre tended toward comedy (“A Hard Day’s Night”), camp (“The Three Musketeers”), and crap (“Butch and Sundance: The Early Days”), remade it in his image. Put it this way: “Verisimilitude” was not his watchword.
Lester gave Superman and the Kryptonian villains powers they never had in the comic books. They point at people and lift them in the air. Superman shrinkwraps Non with a plastic “S” symbol. He kisses Lois and makes her forget he’s Superman. In the Donner version, we lose all of this crap.
We lose the candy-cane villainy of Zod, Ursa and Non on Krypton. Seriously, that was their crime? Breaking a candy cane in two? Man, that Kryptonian Council was uptight.
We lose Clark strolling into The Daily Planet in the middle of the day like he’s a slacker. We lose the awful, super-sensitive dialogue between Supes and Lois in the honeymoon suite at Niagra Falls. Ditto Superman flying around the world to pick flowers and groceries. And now he beds Lois before he loses his powers. For which, I’m sure, she’s grateful.
How about the worst contradiction in the movie? In the Lester version, when Supes loses his powers in the crystal chamber, he grimaces in pain and comes out exhausted. Yet when he reverses things so Zod, Ursa and Non lose their powers, they feel nothing until Superman crushes Zod’s hand. Which makes no sense. Even as an 18-year-old in 1981, my mind balked at the disconnect. In the Donner version, Supes losing his superpowers isn’t so painful, so it’s less of a disconnect when Zod feels nothing.
That’s what we lose. What do we gain? The greatest actor of all time.
The best lost scene ever
That was another thing with the Salkinds: they got sued a lot. And they were in litigation with Marlon Brando at the time “Superman II” was being filmed, or refilmed, and so, because of that, and because Brando was promised 11 percent of the profits from the sequel if he was in it, they simply excised him from the story. The Kryptonian Council stands alone without Jor-El. Kal-El now gets advice from his mother, Lara (Susannah York), who was silent throughout most of “I.” No wonder he screams “Fatherrrrrrrrrr!” the way he does. Daddy’s missing.
Seeing Brando restored in the Donner cut, you get the feeling that the filmmakers planned on extending the Christ metaphor. Superman wasn’t meant to be merely a superpowered being sent via star to a childless couple to show humans the light; there’s also death (losing his powers) and resurrection (regaining them by becoming one with the father). Shouting “Fatherrrrrrrrrr!” with arms spread wide is his version of “Father, why hast thou forsaken me?”
But this isn’t the best part of the Donner cut. The best part of the Donner cut is how they open the movie.
In Lester’s version, Clark Kent strolls into The Daily Planet office at midday while others are working, then hears about the terrorists taking over the Eifel Tower, with Lois on the scene; so he runs and changes into Superman and saves the day, and sends the nuke into space (again), and yadda yadda. None of it is tight. None of it is funny. You wonder why Clark isn’t at work, why he doesn’t know about the terrorists, and why he keeps detonating nukes in space when his mother has already warned him against it in those Kryptonian lesson plans.
Here’s what Donner does. Clark strolls into The Daily Planet office, yes, but he doesn’t try to say “Hi” to busy people. Instead, while he talks to Jimmy, Lois, back from her adventures in California, looks at him, looks at the photo of Superman in the newspaper, and begins to draw a suit, glasses, and a fedora on it. Wah-lah! She ain’t dumb. She probably thought, “Hey, they’re both tall, arrived in Metropolis around the same time, and they’re the only dudes in the late 1970s who still use Brylcreem, so…” Here, with her doodle, she makes the connection. Here, now, she’s sure.
And what does she do with this information? She toys with him and teases him. It’s pretty cute. Perry calls both into his office and gives them an assignment to pose as a honeymoon couple at Niagra Falls to blow the lid off some scam there. She’s game. He’s worried. She talks about flying up there and pokes him in the ribs. “You know, fly?” she says after Perry’s left, then flaps her hands like a bird, like Jack Nicholson’s Joker would do in imitation of the Batman 11 years later. Then she opens a window and allows herself to fall out. “You won’t let me die, Superman!” she cries. He doesn’t. With superspeed, he races through the Planet office, papers and skirts flying, and onto the sidewalk below, slows her descent with his superbreath, unfurls an awning with his heat vision, and allows her to bounce, plop, from the awning into a nearby vegetable stand. The he races back and looks worriedly out the window. “Lois, what are you doing?” he cries. She faints.
It’s fun. It’s clever. It’s sexy. It’s got pizzazz. It’s like finding a great lost scene from “Casablanca.” It’s better than any scene in Lester’s version.
And it wound up on his cutting-room floor.
You want to call Superman. Because we wuz robbed.
What might’ve been
Who knows what might have happened if the Salkinds had stuck with Richard Donner for the second movie. Who knows how he and creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz might have shaped the movie and the ending. Maybe they would’ve realized, as Hollywood eventually realized, that you can have the secret identity revealed, and stay revealed, as it was in “Batman,” and “Batman Returns, and “Batman Begins,” and “Spider-Man 2,” and “Iron Man.” That it’s OK to deviate from the restrictive continuity of the comic book. That you’re in the movies now and it’s time to have a little fun.
Maybe they would have done all that.
But we can’t turn back time to find out.
Supercute: Lois and Clark in the best lost scene ever.
Superman Screenshot of the Day
Don't say Superman cartoons never had any subtext.
This is a screenshot from Filmations' 1966 “New Adventures of Superman,” episode 18, “The Deadly Dish.” Lex Luthor invents a “Kryptonic Wave” that weakens Superman, but, as he tells his assistant, Blinky, “It takes 15 minutes for the transmittor to attain full power! And the waves are effective only within one square mile!” So how to get Superman close enough? Why, hypnotize his friends to do dangerous things, of course.
At The Daily Planet, Luthor shows up (sans Blinky) disguised as a professor to give Perry White and company an award for ”best newspaper," then releases the mind-control gas from the award. Ha ha! Then he gives them orders. Perry White is supposed to stand in the middle of the street. And Lois Lane? With Luthor's finger dangling just inches away from her open, hypnotized mouth, Luthor tells her:
Tomorrow at 12:10, you will enter Apt. 2A at 37 Pine Street. At exactly 12:13 PM, you will climb out on the window ledge!
Oh, Lex. So little imagination. Unlike, apparently, the animators at Filmation Studios.
Movie Review: Superman and the Mole-Men (1951)
“Superman and the Mole-Men” is less movie than intro to the TV series “Adventures of Superman,” starring George Reeves. It only last 60 minutes, I mean. It just seems to last as long as a movie.
It’s an odd intro for the series. We’re never in Metropolis, we never see the Daily Planet, we never meet Perry White or Jimmy Olsen. It’s just Clark and Lois visiting the town of Silsby, Texas, population 1430, to write about the deepest oil well ever drilled: six miles deep. Except, as they get there, the well is being shut down. Why? I would’ve guessed because they drilled six miles deep and never struck oil but apparently there’s another, more sinister reason for the shutdown. Hideous things are emerging, mole men, who cause old men to have heart attacks and young women to scream, and who bring out the vigilante in the small-minded and intolerant. That’s what the movie’s really about. If the villains in the first two “Superman” serials were megalomaniacs bent on world domination (Spider Lady and Lex Luthor, respectively), the villains of “Superman and the Mole-Men” are your next-door neighbors, preaching intolerance and vigilante justice.
Preventing this, standing in the doorway of injustice, as it were—in a move which prefigures other doorway stands (see: Atticus Finch)—is the Man of Steel, Superman, who, as the opening intro tells us, is “a valiant defender of truth, justice and the American way.”
Interesting sidenote. For most of his career, Superman had just been about truth and justice. That’s it. Only briefly, during a few years of the radio series in World War II, did he also fight for “the American way.” Why did the phrase return here and now? I’d always assumed a Cold War scenario, the American way vs. the Russian way, but according to Glen Weldon in his book, “Superman: An Unauthorized Biography,” it was a defensive salvo against another kind of intolerance. By this point, comic books and superheroes were seen as gateway drugs to juvenile delinquency and homosexuality and everything post-war America didn’t want to know about. Public bonfires were even held to burn the things: Batman, Superman, Action Comics, Captain America. That's why, here, Superman fights for the American way. What are you going to do? Burn the American way? It’s patriotism as the last refuge of the witch-hunted.
Superman vs. the Second Amendment
The theme of small-town intolerance is particularly fascinating, since, in this movie, Superman himself is rather intolerant. If Kirk Alyn played Superman with wide-eyed bombast, amazed at the amazing things he can do, Reeves takes it down a notch. Or two. Or 10. Growing up in the mid-1970s, Reeves’ was considered the touchstone performance, the one and true Superman (until Christopher Reeve came along), but I was never a fan, and I’m even less of a fan now. Reeves’ indifference to the role permeates the character. His Clark Kent is strong and smug, his Superman vaguely disgusted and contempuous. Maybe that’s the American way.
This is never truer than in the movie’s key scene, its climax, which involves the aformentioned standing in the doorway.
Two Mole Men—midgets with low-budget furry costumes and bald wigs—have emerged from the well to creep around the small town of Silsby. To what end? I guess they’re just exploring. But they cause a heart attack and a scream, and they’re trailing radium, so rabble-rouser Luke Benson (veteran character actor Jeff Corey, doing good work) gathers a mob to capture them and string ‘em up. One is shot atop a bridge, but Superman, or at least a shitty animated version of Superman, catches him and carries him to the hospital, then seems to forget all about the other one, who is pursued by bloodhounds into a shack. The shack is then lit on fire. What to do? He worries for a bit and then crawls to safety. I’m sure someone probably wanted him to dig his way out—mole man: hello?—but there was probably no budget for it. So he crawls.
Back in town, Benson and the mob hear that the first mole man didn’t die after all, some nut in a cape saved him, and so Benson incites the mob with a speech that sounds straight out of the Sarah Palin/Tea Party canon:
Now them two reporters from back east … they’ll try to stop us, like as not, but we ain’t gonna be stopped. This is our town. We don’t need any strangers telling us what to do.
And off they go to the hospital to lynch the little guy. Who’s there to stand in their way? Not Atticus Finch reading a book and using words to deflect the anger of the mob. No, it’s Superman, purveyor of a truer version of the American way. It’s right through might.
The mob doesn’t know who they’re dealing with yet.
Mob guy: We’re running this town. Maybe we want to string you up, too!
Superman: I’m going to give you one last chance to stop acting like Nazi stormtroopers!
They blow that chance. A gun goes off and Superman has to shield Lois Lane (Phyllis Coates) from the bullet; then he urges her inside and away from the door, and says the following to the mob:
Whoever fired that shot nearly hit Miss Lane. Obviously none of you can be trusted with guns. So I’m going to take them away from you.
Which he does. He beats up a bunch of Texans and takes the guns from their cold, not-so-dead hands. How delicious is that? From the perspective of 21st-century political debates, in which the Second Amendment is viewed as sacrosanct, and nutjobs everywhere are worried that Pres. Obama is “coming for their guns,” this is a laugh-out-loud moment. What used to be entertainment is now a nightmare scenario for the paranoid. Who knows? Maybe Superman put the fear in them in the first place.
Defender of truth, justice and sensible gun control laws.
Superman vs. the First Amendment
That's how this Superman deals with the Second Amendment. He's not much better with the First Amendment.
When the presence of the Mole Men becomes known, we get this exchange between Lois and Superman:
Lois: I’ve got to get to phone. Why this is the biggest story of the century!
Superman: I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Miss Lane.
Lois: And why not?
Superman: You know what’ll happen. Screaming headlines. Monsters Invade Western Town.
Lois: I’m a newspaperwoman and I have an obligation to report the facts.
Superman: That’s true. But these facts would start a nationwide wave of hysteria. You saw what happened here tonight. No. If we’re going to stop this thing, it has to be stoppped here and now.
PR dude: He’s right, Miss Lane.
Lois (deflated): I guess so.
Oh, Lois. Where’s our feisty girl from the Fleischer cartoons or the Kirk Alyn serials? Or the comic book or comic strip? This is part of the tamping down of Lois Lane in the 1950s. She can’t hear the scoop for the wedding bells in her head. She promises to love, honor and obey even though there ain’t no ring on that finger.
So what happens after Superman dispenses with Luke and the mob? The escaped mole man returns with two others and a big ray gun, which they train on Luke, who screams in pain until Superman steps between him and the gun.
Luke: You saved my life.
Superman (sneering): That’s more than you deserve.
Eventually the mole men return underground and blow up the well. “It’s almost as if they were saying, ‘You live your life and we’ll live ours,’” Lois says, amazed. Superman nods.
Believe it or not, that’s the end.
“Superman and the Mole Men” is a dry, little black-and-white movie filmed in a dry, little backlot somewhere. Its main action consists of a midget in bald wig and furry suit being pursued over nondescript brush and hills. The whole thing makes me vaguely nauseous. It’s like something you’d only watch when you were sick in bed; and it would only make you sicker.
But it’s worth it for the gun scene.
Ferocious mole man cornered. Was Stan Lee thinking of this guy when he started writing FF #1?
Hollywood to Remake Audiard's 'Un Prophete'
Columbia Pictures and parent company Sony Pictures Entertainment have optioned the English language rights to remake “Rust and Bone” director Jacques Audiard's much-celebrated 2009 French crime thriller “A Prophet”...
Be prepared for a mainstream Hollywood remake, because the English-language version of this super-gritty piece of cinema realism will be produced by producers Neal H. Moritz and Toby Jaffe through Moritz's Original Film, whose filmography includes this year's “Fast and Furious 6” and “Jack the Giant Slayer.”
It's worse than that. Among Moritz's production credits, these films:
- Total Recall (2012)
- The Change-Up
- Battle Los Angeles
- The Green Hornet
- Vantage Point
- Gridiron Gang
Plus all of the Fast und Furious movies. And he's remaking my favorite film of 2010.
At one point in “Un Prophete,” a fellow inmate tells Malik (Tahir Rahim), “The idea is to leave here a little smarter." I don't think that'll be possible in the Hollywood version.
Malik (Tahar Rahim) and Cesar (Neils Arestrup) contemplate the American remake of their Cesar-winning film.
Superman, Fat Ass
Here's an unfortunate screenshot from “Superman and the Mole Man” (1951). I'm not sure if it's Reeves or a stuntman. Either way, it's hardly buns of steel. No wonder Superman wears a cape.
Movie Review: Atom Man vs. Superman (1950)
At some point I began to feel less antipathy toward, and more sympathy for, the people who made “Atom Man vs. Superman.”
Tough gig. With a miniscule budget and B actors and little time, you have to create a 15-chapter story about a super-powered being, Superman (Kirk Alyn), battling an evil scientist, Lex Luthor (Lyle Talbot), where, at the end of each chapter, the hero, or the hero’s friends, are in grave danger. You have to figure out the trap and you have to figure a way out of the trap that—most important—maintains the status quo. Everything has to stay the same but there has to be tension, conflict, and peril throughout. The rhythm of the series is thus: clash, separate, regroup; clash, separate, regroup. Until the final chapter when the hero captures the villain and we get to see the loveliest of words onscreen: The End.
How do you do this? How do you offer constant conflict and resolution while maintaining the status quo?
You make your characters pretty dumb.
The dumbest character
The characters in “Atom Man vs. Superman” are pretty dumb. No thug of Luthor can ever shoot Jimmy Olsen or Lois Lane. They have to leave them unconscious in a van that gets blown up or in a warehouse filling with gas or in a barn filling with exhaust.
Superman, meanwhile, can use his amazing powers to get out of predicaments but never to capture anyone important. At the end of Chapter 4, for example, “Superman Meets Atom Man!,” Superman is forced into “the Main Arc,” which teleports its occupants into “the Empy Doom,” a kind of proto-Negative Zone, where one’s “lost atoms will roam forever.” At the same time, Lois is placed unconscious in a car hurtling toward a cliff. How will she be saved? By Superman, of course! But, wait, wasn’t he transported into the Empty Doom? A little too pleased with himself, Superman explains:
His machine didn’t affect me! My atomic structure is different than that of human beings. … I just moved so rapidly I became invisible to the naked eye!
Every kid in the audience: “So why didn’t you just grab Atom Man while you were at it? Or why don’t you go back to his hideout now? You know where it is, dude. You just left it.”
Instead, he gets in the car and drives Lois back. You read that right. Plus he forgets all about the hideout. Until he needs to find it again. But he can’t find it because it’s lead-lined. Which would seem to be a giveaway even if he hadn’t been there before.
Lex Luthor? Brilliant scientist, etc. Here, he actually invents the transporter beam 16 years before “Star Trek.” “This apparatus,” he says, “can accomplish the transmission of matter over short distances. Its secret ray breaks down the component atoms and reassembles them here.” He’s got ray guns that start fires and cause earthquakes, and he’s got the main arc, and he’s got a spaceship, a fucking spaceship in 19-fucking-50; and yet after he’s successfully transported Superman into the Empty Doom, and Superman’s image appears on TV, he buys into the scam that the image is live rather than taped, and he sends a lacky into the Empty Doom to make sure Superman is still there. Guess what? He is! And Superman uses the open channel to return to return to Earth! D’oh!
Even so, there’s no contest about who the dumbest character in “Atom Man vs. Superman” is. Perry White (Pierre Watkin) gets everything wrong:
- When Luthor demands money or he’ll destroy Metropolis River Bridge, Perry is sure nothing will happen.
- When Jimmy reports on one of Luthor’s men disappearing into thin air, Perry complains, “You can’t even cover a routine fire without getting hallucinations. … It’s a plain case of hysteria or hypnotism!”
- When Lois tells Perry about Superman’s secret messages from the Empty Doom, Perry says, “You were probably hypnotized!”
- When Jimmy himself is transported to Luther’s hideout, and even has the coin with which they did it, Perry refuses to print the first-person account, saying they can’t print it if they can’t prove it. But when Clark Kent disappears along with Superman, and both Perry and Lois wonder if they were the same man, Perry tells her to write that story. “If I don’t publish the story someone else will!” he says.
- When Luthor hires men to frame them and divert attention from himself, and Clark suggests as such, Perry says, “Sounds like the plot of a cheap detective story!”
- When Clark suggests that there’s a connection between Luthor and the villainous Atom Man, Perry responds, “Luthor is running a legitimate television station. I’m sure he’s on the level!”
Great Caesar’s Ghost, dude.
Does Perry White get anything right in this series?
The frightful, pointless Atom Man
According to Glen Weldon in his book “Superman: The Unauthorized Biography,” the movie is actually based on a storyline from the Superman radio series. What’s the story? I guess Luthor wants money and power, and I guess Superman does what he can to foil him, and I guess the Planet reporters are after a scoop.
In many ways “Atom Man vs. Superman” feels cheaper than the previous Kirk Alyn serial, “Superman” (1948). We get more stock footage (floods, fires). We get redos from the first serial: Clark Kent ducking behind a file cabinet and emerging, a second later, with a dancer’s lightness and a triumphant blast of music, as Superman. An entire episode is devoted to Lex Luthor telling his assistant, Carl (Rusty Wescoatt, who also played a henchman in “Batman and Robin”), the story of Superman’s origins on Krypton, which lets the producers re-use that footage.
Sure, for the first time, we get close-up shots of Kirk Alyn as Superman flying, steadying his arms, looking down with concern; but when he flies Superman is still mostly a cartoon. As is the flying saucer. That’s right. Luthor also has a flying saucer. Forgot to mention that. He winds up shooting it at the Daily Planet airplane to blow it up. You’d think flying saucers grew on trees.
Luthor has a secret identity in this one, too: the titular Atom Man, a frightful being in a … Naw. He’s just wearing a mask that looks like a totem-pole head. It looks like they took a jug, cut in eyeholes and a mouthhole, sprinkled on glitter, and plunked it on Lyle Talbot’s poor head. You know the scene in “Duck Soup” where Groucho gets his head stuck in a pitcher and Harpo draws a Groucho face on it? Like that.
So what’s the point of Atom Man? Why ever be Atom Man when you’re Lex Luthor? I’m not sure. Maybe they needed the character for the title. Maybe the atom bomb was all the rage in 1950, the year after the Soviet Union detonated theirs, and that’s why exploding atom bombs dominate the opening credit sequence. Was this the first use of A-bombs as entertainment? Is this how we reduce what’s fearful to us? By letting Hollywood producers have a go?
Atom Man is also necessary because, for much of the serial, Luthor pretends to go straight. He’s caught in Chapter 1 and paroled in Chapter 3, where, outside the prison, he tells the waiting press, “I’ve invested in a television studio. My inventive genius will revolutionize the business!” He then uses the TV truck as a means of spying on the city. He even hires Lois Lane as a woman-on-the-street reporter, asking passersby questions such as, “Is city life more exciting than country life?” I.e., revolutionizing the business.
Luthor’s investment, by the way, makes total sense given the genre and the year. “Atom Man” was the 43rd Columbia serial. They would make 57 of them, the last in 1956. What killed the serial star? TV, of course. Superman may fight Luthor here but the serial’s producers knew who the real enemy was.
For some reason, Lex Luthor (top) turns himself into the jug-headed Atom Man (middle). Superman (bottom) can't figure it out, either.
Is that a missile between your legs or are you just happy to see me?
Other changes? Noel Neill’s Lois is less of a grump. She smiles so much, particularly when Superman is around, that my cheeks hurt just watching. Jimmy (Tommy Bond) is the same, Perry is dumber. Alyn’s Clark feels subtler this time around—he plays the nerd and the coward more often—but his Superman is a bit stiffer, his voice more stentorian. He says everything with an exlamation point! Like a comic book character!
For all its cheapness and stupidity, though, “Atom Man vs. Superman” presages many things in the Superman cinematic ouevre:
- The shot of the dam breaking and about to flood the town is a forerunner to the Hoover dam sequence in “Superman” (1978).
- Lois draws glasses on a picture of Superman to see if he’s Clark Kent, as in the opening to the Donner cut of “Superman II.”
- Lex Luthor creates synthetic kryptonite here; Gus Gorman (Richard Pryor) does it in “Superman III.”
- Superman gets trapped in The Empty Doom (or Phantom Zone) here, as does Supergirl in 1984’s “Supergirl.”
Even this headline, from when Supes fights his way back from the Empty Doom, presages things to come:
The serial also presages the ending of one of the darkest comedies ever made: Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” We all know that ending even if we haven’t seen the movie: Maj. ‘King’ Kong (Slim Pickens) riding the a-bomb out of the bay-doors of the plane and into the Russian night, wa-hooing it up, Texas-style, as the world moves inexorably toward its doom.
Here, Lex Luthor shoots a nuclear missile at Metropolis. Instead of forcing it into space, a la Chris Reeve in “Superman” (or “Superman II,” or “Superman IV”), Alyn rides it out to sea, where it explodes harmlessly. Or “harmlessly.” It is a nuke, after all:
What to make of a man with a nuclear-powered missile between his legs? This looks like a job for Freud.
Superman Screenshot of the Day
By the time of “Superman and the Mole-Men” (1951), the animated flying of the Kirk Alyn serials was a thing of the past. Instead, they did take-offs with wires (until George Reeves injured himself), a few POV shots with whooshing sound effects, and close-ups of Reeves as Superman steadying himself in mid-air.
But they did rely on animation for the above scene. Two of the mole men, who have emerged from the world's deepest (and driest) well, are exploring the neighborhood, which is unfortunately in Texas, and they rile up the locals. One MM is shot off the top of this bridge and falls to his death. But wait! Up in the sky! Look! Then we get this.
As bad as it looks as a screenshot? It's worse when played.
Embracing the Tetchy
Did you hear that The Chicago Sun-Times fired its photographers and is training its remaining journalists in iPhone photography? I know. Sad. A friend alerted me to the story but I wasn't a fan of the “Mac Rumors” piece he sent me to. It reads like: 1) Here's this awful thing that's happening for myriad reasons including this product; 2) Hey, this product is GREAT!
But he waved me off. No, he said, read the Comments field. Really? I asked. Generally checking the Comments field is like looking into all the toilets in a public restroom. They might be clean but the odds are against it. Most here weren't bad. One, though, was definitely clogged:
Photographers are pissed! lol
Gotta embrace the tech fellas. Reminds me of how audio engineers hated the move from analog to digital and then talked down about mp3's.
It's a new world we live in. Roll with it or get rolled over.
Apparently this troll (I'm learning the lingo finally) is 36 but still uses LOL. Apparently he has an empathy problem, too.
But he's right. It's a new world we live in. And it's getting newer all the time. And someday, in 10 years, in 20 years, it'll get new all over him, too.
Movie Review: Superman (1948)
The 1948 movie serial, “Superman,” the first live-action cinematic recreation of the Man of Steel, becomes, in the latter stages of its 15 chapters, a battle between two groups intent on avoiding the cops. The first group is led by the villainous Spider Lady (Carol Forman), queen of the underworld, who circumnavigates the law for obvious reasons. The second group is led by Perry White (Pierre Watkin), editor of The Daily Planet, who, along with his reporters, Lois Lane (Noel Neill), Jimmy Olsen (Tommy Bond) and Clark Kent (Kirk Alyn), just wants a scoop.
In Chapter 11, for example, “Superman’s Dilemma,” the Spider Lady needs “mono chromite” to complete her work on “the reducer ray,” so she sends several tough guys over to Frederick Larkin, chemical engineer. Larkin tells them it’ll take awhile to get the stuff ready. Then he goes to his card files and reads the following under “mono chromite”:
DEVELOPED BY DR. ARNOLD GRAHAM
IF ASKED FOR WITHOUT CREDENTIALS,
NOTIFY PROPER AUTHORITIES
So he calls the cops. Actually, no. He calls Perry White. And he calls the cops. Actually, no. He sends Clark Kent over to get the story. Except Lois tricks Clark into being arrested so she can get the scoop. But that doesn’t happen, either. Instead, Lois nearly suffocates in a safe, Jimmy Olsen is nearly shot to death in a crate, and, in the end, Perry White, the man who never called the cops, chastises them all for not getting the scoop. Meanwhile, the fate of the world hangs in the balance.
Do the police get any respect here? In Chapter 13, Superman captures one of the Spider Lady’s goons, Anton (Jack Ingram), and flies him to the police station. Actually, no. He flies him to The Daily Planet and delivers him to Perry White. In Chapter 14, the Spider Lady sends her minion, Dr. Hackett, into the Metropolis streets to be arrested so he can communicate with Anton in prison. Who captures him? Lois. Who convinces the cops to put Hackett in Anton’s cell? Lois. It isn’t until the final chapter, “The Payoff,” that the Spider Lady finally, finally, contacts the police via shortwave radio. What does she say? “I want you to send a message to Perry White.”
They do her bidding. Apparently they know who the proper authorities are, too.
I know, I know. A cheap shot for a cheap, 65-year-old Columbia serial.
Except “Superman” wasn’t cheap. According to Glen Weldon in his book, “Superman: The Unauthorized Biography,” it was the most expensive serial ever made, with a budget of $350,000. It just looks cheap, even for the time. Six years earlier, in the 12-chapter serial “Adventures of Captain Marvel,” Republic Pictures did a pretty good job of making Tom Tyler, the star, appear to be flying (with a mannequin, a stuntman, etc.), but Columbia couldn’t be bothered. So they rely on animation. Superman takes a step, a feint into the air, and turns into a cartoon. Think of it as early CGI.
The first chapter, “Superman Comes to Earth,” is probably the most interesting. For the first time we get to see Krypton, which, in outdoor shots, looks like the parts of southern California where they shot the Gorn episode of “Star Trek,” and whose cityscape could be a 1920s “Amazing Stories” magazine cover. As always, the Kryptonian Science Council is full of assholes, who, in their resistance to scientific reasoning, resemble nothing so much as the modern GOP; but Jor-El (Nelson Leigh), a caped scientist, hardly helps his cause when he’s asked to provide facts. “We must be guided by my knowledge,” he responds, finger in the air, “which this august body has always respected.” Dude, a pie chart might’ve helped.
Who names Clark Superman? Pa Kent (Ed Cassidy). “Your unique abilities make you … a kind of super man,” he says.Who designs his costume? Ma Kent (Virginia Carroll). “Here’s a uniform I made for you out of the blankets you were wrapped in when we found you,” she says. How does Kal-El learn about Krypton? From a Prof. Leeds, who shows him “a fragment from the planet Krypton, which exploded many years ago.” How does Leeds know about Krypton? How does he know it was called Krypton? Silence. When the fragment causes Clark to faint, Leeds immediately makes the connection between Clark and Superman. Actually, no. But Clark tells him anyway:
For years I suspected that I came to Earth from the planet Krypton. And now this meteorite seems to prove that. It takes away all my powers that make me superior to Earth men.
In truth, this is why you watch 65-year-old serials like “Superman.” For the historic record. To see how we interpreted the Man of Steel back then. To see what we valued.
The modern Superman would never call himself superior to anyone, let alone “Earth men,” but this Superman, only 10 years removed from Action Comics #1, was still a bit of a roughneck, and he still acquires his powers, not from the yellow sun, but from a civilization so far advanced it “boasted a race of super men and women.”
In this way the serial is an odd mix of pre- and post-WWII attitudes. A genetically superior race? Sounds like Nazi-era eugenics. At the same time, the lessons of the gas chambers are apparent in the peptalk Pa Kent gives young Clark about what he must do with his great powers. He must use them, he says, to fight for “truth, tolerance, and justice.”
Interestingly, all of the above attitudes, both pre- and post-WWII, would soon be gone from the Superman mythos. Yellow-sun mythology replaced genetic superiority, while “tolerance” never again turned up as something Superman fought for. It was replaced, famously, or infamously, by “the American way,” for the TV series, “The Adventures of Superman,” which debuted in 1952: the coldest part of the Cold War. We were a less-tolerant society by then. Tolerance had a small window.
The mysterious reducer ray
The plot is typical of the serial genre. The Spider Lady, who never once leaves her mountainside lair with its electrified spider-web in the background, wants the mysterious reducer ray, “a force more powerful even than the atomic bomb.” Basically it’s a big ray gun. You feed it coordinates and it can destroy a target thousands of miles away. Why does the Spider Lady want it? Probably to rule the world. How is she going to get past Superman to get it? She has a chunk of kryptonite. Why is it called the reducer ray when it doesn’t reduce anything? Uh…
First she tries to steal it. No go. Then she employs Dr. Hackett, “a brilliant scientist with a warped mind,” who invents a kind of kryptonite gun. That doesn’t work, either. Then she kidnaps Dr. Graham, the original inventor of the reducer ray, and forces him to create a second reducer ray. He refuses. After he’s tortured, he complies. But he needs mono chromite. It takes a few chapters to get that. At which point he refuses again. So he’s hypnotized into complying. But now he needs an “activator tube” from Metropolis U. That takes a while. By Chapter 14, the reducer ray finally works. The Spider Lady’s first target? Her own men in jail. Her second target? The Daily Planet building. At 3:00. By then, though, everyone converges on her lair: Jimmy, Lois and eventually Superman, weakened by kryptonite. But not! Up he pops with a big smile.
Spider Lady: Superman, you didn’t succumb to the kryptonite!
Superman: I expected you to have it handy so I’m wearing a protective lining of lead under my uniform. What you thought was my weakness turned out to be your undoing! Spider Lady, you’re finished!
And she is. When she tries to run away, she’s electrocuted by her own spiderweb. Crime don’t pay, kids.
As for Clark? Why, he’s asleep at the Daily Planet.
Clark: Oh, I was just having a wonderful dream.
Lois: You weren’t dreaming by any chance that you were Superman?
Clark: That’s exactly right, Lois. And I was flying through the air.
Lois: That wasn’t a dream, Kent. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a nightmare.
And everyone laughs. The end.
In truth, this is why you watch 65-year-old serials like “Superman.” To see what passed for entertainment back then.
Superman, Lois and Jimmy watching the Spider Lady fry.
I have to admit, I liked, well enough, Alyn’s performance. He’s got a dancer’s lightness to him and a perpetual gee-whiz expression on his face, as if he too is amazed by the things he can do. He also has an early version of the spitcurl. Yes, at times, particularly employing his x-ray vision, he looks slightly crazed. Plus he’s undone, certainly to modern eyes, by the lack of special effects. His big stunt is taking two crooks and bonking their heads together. He can never win a fight as Clark Kent, either, and it hardly seems a matter of protecting his secret identity. No, he just can’t fight. He gets knocked down and has to shake the cobwebs from his head. It’s as if he’s not super until he removes his suit and tie.
Another positive: In the 1940s Batman serials, the cliffhangers tend to involve the heroes caught in some predicament, which means they have to get in some predicament, which means, in almost every episode, they have to lose a fight. Some dynamic duo. In “Superman,” most of the cliffhangers involve Superman’s friends: Lois, Jimmy, Perry. Each cliffhanger is less about Superman than a job for Superman. Alyn says the line throughout the serial, too, following the Bud Collyer model from the radio show by deepening his voice on the final words: “This looks like a job … FOR SUPERMAN!” It’s a conceit that continued into the 1960s.
Lois? Forever involved in machinations to prevent Clark from scooping her, even though these machinations invariably imperil herself, Jimmy, Clark, and, since we’re talking the reducer ray, the entire planet. This is not a good Lois. She’s pouty and unclever and sexless. She’s like a Shirley Temple character who grew into her late 20s less cute than she used to be, less clever than she used to be, more annoying than she used to be. And could you give us a smile? Apparently this was obvious even back then. Two years later, for the 1950 sequel, “Atom Man vs. Superman,” Neill’s Lois smiles so much she seems like a Miss America contestant.
Jimmy? Unfunny comic relief. The Jughead of the crew. Perry? Never leaves his office. He’s like the Spider Lady in this regard. The entire serial could be seen as a battle between these two stationary entities who send their forces into the world to do battle.
That world is Metropolis but it seems more small town than big city. The local jail is like Andy Griffith’s, and they’re never too far away from a mine or a cave. When we finally see a map of Metropolis, hanging in the Daily Planet office, it’s an upside-down dog. That’s a clue, by the way.
Superman (Kirk Alyn) using his x-ray vision
So whatever happened to…?
The Spider Lady, meanwhile, has no spiders, wears a long black dress, and for a time, and for no discernible reason, a mask. What’s the source of her power? Who knows? She’s not strong, she’s not smart, she doesn’t use sex as a weapon. Her henchmen are lugs from central casting.
Basically she’s a ripoff of another Forman villainess, Sombra, the Black Widow, from the 1947 Republic serial “The Black Widow.” Was she typecast? A year after “Superman,” Forman played Nila, an Abistahnian criminal going up against Inspector David Worth (Alyn again), in “Federal Agents vs. Underworld, Inc.” Two years after that, in the Columbia serial “Blackhawk,” she played Laska, leader of an underground gang, who is foiled by … wait for it … Kirk Alyn. If TV hadn’t killed serials, these two might have kept going in perpetuity.
As it was, Forman was basically done by ’52, Alyn didn’t last much longer, and Tommy Bond moved over into the prop department for TV shows like “Laugh-In” and “Sonny and Cher.” Neill, meanwhile, who played the third-year girl who gripes Gene Kelly’s liver in “An American in Paris,” essentially made a career out of the Superman franchise. She played Lois for most of TV’s “The Adventures of Superman,” had a bit part as Lois’ mom, Ella, in the extended cut of “Superman: The Movie” (1978), shows up in “The Adventures of Superboy,” and even played Gertrude Vanderworth, the wealthy widow bilked of her money by Kevin Spacey’s Lex Luthor in “Superman Returns” (2006).
Might as well. Movie serials may have been dying but superhero films were just beginning to fly.
The opening credits. Serials were about to die; superhero movies were not.
Superman Screenshot of the Day
There's something about a Superman outfit hanging in a closet.
The above screenshot is from Season 1, episode 13 of “Adventures of Superman” with George Reeves. It's called “The Stolen Costume” and it's justifiably famous. Or infamous. It's an indication of what you could get away with in a world before brand managers.
Johnny Sims (Norman Budd), AKA “T-Ball,” AKA “The Rope Burglar,” is on the run from the cops when he stumbles into an empty apartment that just so happens to belong to Clark Kent. He also stumbles upon a button that just so happens to open a secret closet that reveals .... well, you know. Getting away with the uniform, he's shot in the back by the cops (he should've put it on first) but makes it to the apartment of a gangster, Ace (Dan Seymour), and his hard-talking moll, Connie (Veda Ann Borg). He gasps out the address before expiring.
There's some mistaken-identity stuff. Connie and Ace think Clark Kent's friend, Candy Meyers (Frank Jenks), is Clark Kent, but he's actually investigating the case for Clark Kent, which is totally odd. Superman needs a private detective?
Eventually Ace and Connie try to blackmail Superman about his secret identity but instead he takes them for a ride. Literally. He tells them to put on warm clothes, then flies them to a high mountaintop where they'll stay until he can decide what to do with them. He warns them not to try to get down, either. But they do. And they slip and fall and die. The end.
I know. I burst out laughing.
Question: Is Superman guilty of kidnapping here ... or kidnapping and involuntary manslaughter? Either way, I doubt the show would be approved by the Comics Code Authority.
I've written about Dan Seymour before. Veda Ann Borg died young, 58, from cancer, in 1973, though her last screen credit is from 1963. And Norman Budd? The man in the above shot? He was born in Liverpool in 1914 and died in Studio City, Cal., in 2006, though his last film credit was from 1953: an uncredited role in Marlon Brando's “The Wild One.” He played one of Chino's boys.
Quote of the Day
“We have been taught that meritocratic institutions and societies are fair. Putting aside the reality that no system, including our own, is really entirely meritocratic, meritocracies may be fairer and more efficient than some alternatives. But fair in an absolute sense?
”Think about it. A meritocracy is a system in which the people who are the luckiest in their health and genetic endowment; luckiest in terms of family support, encouragement, and, probably, income; luckiest in their educational and career opportunities; and luckiest in so many other ways difficult to enumerate--these are the folks who reap the largest rewards. The only way for even a putative meritocracy to hope to pass ethical muster, to be considered fair, is if those who are the luckiest in all of those respects also have the greatest responsibility to work hard, to contribute to the betterment of the world, and to share their luck with others. As the Gospel of Luke says (and I am sure my rabbi will forgive me for quoting the New Testament in a good cause): 'From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded' (Luke 12:48, New Revised Standard Version Bible). Kind of grading on the curve, you might say."
-- Ben Bernake in a talk at Princeton University this weekend.
Movie Review: Go Grandriders (2012)
The most interesting aspect of “Go Grandriders” for me is less the tour of the coast of Taiwan—as 17 geriatrics, averaging 81 years old, ride motorbikes from Taichung, south along the west coast, and north along the east coast—than the stories they tell. Particularly the World War II-era stories.
Taiwan has a fascinating history in this regard. From 1895 to 1945, it was a Japanese colony, and during the war many Taiwanese actually fought for the Japanese, whose rule on the island was less problematic (read: genocidal) than it was on the mainland. Many Taiwanese actually liked Japanese rule. But the war ended, Taiwan reverted back to Chinese rule, and two years later Communist forces pushed Nationalist forces, the Kuomintang (KMT) led by Chiang Kai-shek, off the mainland and onto Taiwan, where the KMT stayed in power for decades. Thus, on this small island, you had native folks who spoke mostly Taiwanese and didn’t mind the Japanese, rubbing elbows with mainland folks who spoke mostly Mandarin and hated the Japanese. The 228 Incident, in which the KMT massacred Taiwanese citizens protesting government policies, didn’t help.
So I’m glad Hua Tien-hao made his documentary now rather than 10 years from now. In 10 years, most of these stories will be gone, but here, in “Go Grandriders,” a not-bad, mostly cute, sometimes too cute portrayal of 80-year-olds and their dreams, which became the highest-grossing documentary in Taiwan’s history, we have, among the 17, a man who trained Kamikaze pilots for the Japanese, as well as a former Nationalist soldier who came over in ’48. At one point, this is discussed: how, during World War II, one might have tried to kill the other. But quickly, too quickly, it’s swept aside, amid effusive smiles and declaration and handshakes. Inwei, shr bu hao yisi.
Too bad it wasn’t delved into deeper. That history won’t be around much longer.
The trip is not without its comedy. “If you are currently on medication,” the riders are told at the beginning, “please bring it with you.” One man shakes his head because his wife packs 17 suits for him. Another injures himself because he falls asleep during the first leg.
The gung-ho, ja-yo captain of the trip, 87 years old, a former policeman, can’t make it past the first leg. He has a stomach ulcer, and the shaking of the motorbike causes internal bleeding. He’s hospitalized, then meets up with the participants a few days later. But he’s hospitalized again, and feels shame as they all visit him in his room. Even though he recovers in time to greet the riders at the finish line, the whole enterprise must have been bittersweet for him at best.
Another man, on the perilous eastern leg of the trip, with the highway reduced to two lanes, winds up hospitalized after what we assume is a collision with a truck. (I thought: Right, Taiwan traffic. Maybe two minutes on that phenomenon would’ve been good for international audiences.) Others are greeted as heroes at a local nursing home.
You get ordinary scenes. One man hides from the others with an ice-cream cone, another checks out how his stocks are doing in the local paper. You get touching scenes: One man makes the journey with a framed portrait of his deceased wife in his wire basket. Whenever they arrive in a new town and are greeted with flowers (wrapped in plastic, of course), he puts the flowers in the basket for his wife.
Is it all too ordinary? There’s some talk of death. “If no one died,” one man says, “it would be a crowded world.” I like that. But it’s as deep as the documentary gets.
Hollywood B.O.: 'After Earth' is Real; Attending is a Choice
When was the last time a Will Smith movie opened in more than 3,000 theaters and grossed less on its opening weeked than the $27 million “After Earth” grossed this weekend?
Never. It's never happened.
Eleven Will-I-Am movies have opened in more than 3,000 theaters in the U.S., and the previous low was $27.6 for “Wild Wild West” back in 1999, when $27.6 wasn't a bad open. The rest grossed between $43 and $77.
Meaning what? People still have a bad taste in their mouth from “MIB 3”? They're not interested in the Smith clan making movies together? They see the film primarily as a Jaden Smith movie? They're aware of the shitty reviews and bad word-of-mouth? On Rotten Tomatoes, it's got a 12% overall rating. That's worse than Tyler Perry's “Temptation” (16%). Ouch.
Whatever the reason, “After Earth” finished third in the weekend box office, behind the second weekend of “Fast & Furious 6” (72% — really???) and “Now You See Me” (43%).
In other news, “The Hangover Part III” (21%) continued to do great business for a comedy, earning another $16 million for a two-weekend total of $88 million. Which is absolutely shitty business for the sequel to “The Hangover Part II,” which by its second weekend was at $185 million, on its way to a $254 million domestic gross and $332 milion international gross for a total of $586 million.
Everything in more than 2,000 theaters fell off badly: 51% for “Epic,” 53% for “Gatsby,” 56% for “Star Trek Into Darkness,” 58% for “Iron Man 3,” 62% for “The Hangover Part III,” 64% for “Fast & Furious 6.”
Apparently the movies need a savior. Hey, look! Up in the sky!
'Man of Steel' Featurette
This, by the way, is the current IMDb synopsis of “Man of Steel”:
A young journalist is forced to confront his secret extraterrestrial heritage when Earth is invaded by members of his race.
A young journalist? Please, no. I know Goyer and Synder and company are changing aspects of the Superman mythos in this movie. So in an age when journalism jobs are drying up, shouldn't that be changed? A journalist? For what? A great metropolitan website?
Not to mention the fact that Clark seems not to have gone to J-School.
The Kents Go for a Sunday Drive
1948: Martha and Eben (Virginia Carroll and Ed Cassidy)
1952: Sarah and Eben (Francis Morris and Tom Fadden)
1978: Martha and Jonathan (Phyllis Thaxter and Glenn Ford)
1996: Martha and Jonathan (Shelly Fabares and Mike Farrell)
2001: Martha and Jonathan (Annette O'Toole and John Schneider)
2013: Jonathan and Martha (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane)
Movie Review: Kapringen (A Hijacking) (2012)
Tobias Lindholm’s “Kapringen” (“A Hijacking”) is such a straightforward, tense, felt rendition of the contemporary hijacking of a Danish cargo ship by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean that afterwards you feel as if you’ve been held hostage, too. In a way you have. For two hours. Which makes you wonder whether or not you actually liked the movie. Is it as good as you think? Or is your reaction some cinematic version of the Stockholm Syndrome?
Named best Danish film at the 2013 Bodil Awards, “Kapringen” opens with the three-beep sound of a ship-to-shore phone, as Mikkel Hartmann (Pilou Asbæk), the cook of the MV Rozen, talks to his wife. He’s got some bad news. Instead of being home on the 15th he won’t arrive until the 17th. She’s upset until he sweet-talks her, charms her. Then he charms us by talking with his daughter. Afterwards we see Mikkel making food for, and joking around with, the men. He’s gregarious but has his solitary moments, too. There’s a nice scene of him on deck, watching the ocean during magic hour with coffee and cigarette.
Meanwhile, in Copenhagen, we see the CEO of the company, Peter C. Ludvigsen (Søren Malling), do his thing. A subordinate, Lars Vestergaard (Dar Salim), is having trouble negotiating with the Japanese. They won’t bring down their price. Stuck at $19 million, Ludvigsen wants them under $15, and when he begins negotiations he offers $10. They look shocked, laugh. They reiterate 19. He thanks them and stands to leave. At the door, they say 17. Progress. He turns around. In the end, he gets what he wants.
Both men, by the end, will irrevocably changed.
Mikkel and Peter
We never see the Somalis board the ship. They’re just there, making demands, sticking their semi-automatics in the faces of the men. The captain goes down quickly with a sickness (ulcer), so it’s up to Mikkel—who, as cook, still has to work—to negotiate with the pirates for, say, bathroom privileges. Three of the seven men are holed up in a small cabin. They are forced to pee on the floor. They talk of the stink. We smell it. It’s that kind of movie. Eventually they get a bucket. After weeks, they are allowed bathroom privileges.
The chief negotiator for the pirates is a man named Omar (Abdihakin Asgar), who claims not to be a pirate, who takes umbrage at the suggestion. He’s a businessman, same as Peter. The pirates wants $15 million, Peter initially offers $250K, and the rest of the movie, and the hostage crisis, revolves around which side will move, and who will live and who will die.
It would be easy to make Peter the villain in all this. He’s a businessman, a CEO, a negotiator with little apparent emotion in his face. Malling’s eyes are so wide-spread he almost looks reptilian. Plus he never gives in. He keeps negotiating. One could say it’s not in his nature. But he too is held hostage. Throughout the movie, throughout the various negotiations, we never see him leave his temperature-controlled gray offices of Copenhagen. He’s stuck.
An Irish expert in hostage situations, Connor Julian (Gary Skjoldmose Porter), gives him advice, including hiring an actual negotiator to deal with the pirates. But Peter says it’s his company; he will negotiate. Connor is wary of this—emotions don’t help—but he allows it. And the days pass. Day 7, Day 25, Day 39. Each number seems impossibly large. How long could it go on? Where’s Ted Koppel? Where’s the Danish government? Where’s Interpol? We’re also waiting for Peter to either rise to the situation or for his hubris to get the better of him.
To be fair, the situation gets the better of him. Months in, Omar allows Mikkel what he’s always wanted—to talk to his wife—then betrays and uses him. The barrel of a gun is put to his head and his head is forced onto the table and he’s ordered to say the following: “You call the company and tell them to pay or they are going to kill us all!” She does this. She talks to Peter. At which point Peter stops taking Connor’s advice. He gets emotional. He raises his offer even though the Somalis haven’t countered yet. He gets angry and shouts. Omar shouts back. Then gunshots are heard. Then nothing.
In the shock afterwards, director Lindholm does a very smart thing: he keeps us in the room with Peter. He keeps us in the building with Peter. Everything’s silent. Peter’s thinking, brooding, wearing the heaviness of the situation on his face and in his posture. Has he caused the death of a man? He stays in his office through the night, and in the morning his wife arrives, buoyant, with coffee, and pastry, and a smile. He lashes out at her. The truly brilliant thing is we want to do the same. Her buoyancy in that moment is repugnant. She’s from another world. Her presence in the midst of this excruciating, slow-drip horror is an insult. We know what he does is wrong but it’s our impulse, too.
On the cargo ship, a few of the men get closer to a few of the pirates. It’s an unequal relationship, of course. One side is always this close to being humiliated, or this close to being killed. They run out of food, catch a fish, sing “Happy Birthday.” The one song everyone knows. But as the days grind on things get bad. Mikkel isn’t shot but he is psychologically abused. A skinny pirate follows him around, keeps placing the barrel of a gun on his neck, keeps pulling the trigger. Click. Remember the “Mao mao” guy from “The Deer Hunter”? Like that. We want to kill the guy. Mikkel goes the other way. He breaks. Pilou Asbæk gives a stunning performance. In the beginning, in his gregarious stage, he reminded me of a scruffy, bearded Joshua Jackson. By the end, with his thousand-yard stare, I kept thinking of Michael Shannon. Either nobody’s home or the person that’s home is curled up in a corner in the basement. And be careful about ringing the doorbell.
Celebrating a robbery
It ends well and not. There’s a payment ($3.3 million) and a death. The deal is only struck because Lars, the subordinate, offers the solution that Peter, the CEO, can’t think of. The student has become the master. But at least Peter is not responsible for a death. In a way, Mikkel is.
When the cheers go up that the deal is made, I thought, “They just paid $.3.3 million to not have men killed.” That’s part of the point, I’m sure. By the end, we’re celebrating a robbery. We don’t even need that final death to make it awful. It’s already awful.
You can’t help but compare the movie to the Hollywood version. Since Mikkel is a cook, I thought of “Under Siege,” the wish-fulfillment fantasy in which terrorists take control of a US Navy battleship, but the cook (Steven Seagal), a former SEAL, takes it back. I also thought of “Captain Phillips,” the true-life, Tom Hanks Somali-pirate movie, which will be released this October. Directed by Paul Greengrass, it looks to have some verisimilitude—it’s not superhero stuff—but it’s still wish fulfillment. It still has its happy ending.
From “A Hijacking”’s IMDb message board, American version:
Hard to believe the Dane's [sic] didn't prep/train for pirates. They were Vikings, at one time. The take away [sic] seems to be, hope for best, prep for worst, keep a Seal Team on retainer.
All Americans are cowboys in their heads but the world is brutal in ways we can’t imagine. It’s also poignant in ways we don’t portray. The faces of Hollywood heroes hide everything but amidst the inhumanity of “Kapringen” there is great humanity.
Mikkel (Pilou Asbæk), near the end.
Obama Isn't Coming for Your Guns; Superman Is
We watch old movies not only for what they say about their times but what they say about ours.
“Superman and the Mole Men,” the hour-long debut of George Reeves as the Man of Steel, which became forerunner to the hugely successful “Adventures of Superman” TV series, offers such an instruction.
This Superman is the one who fought for “truth, justice and the American way,” when, previously, Superman merely fought for truth and justice, and sometimes tolerance. Tolerance is big in “Mole Men,” too. Previous cinematic Superman villains include the Spider Lady and Lex Luthor, both of whom were out to take over the world, but the villain here is really small-town intolerance.
In Texas, the world's deepest well is drilled, six miles down, until it reaches a community of “mole men” (midgets with bald wigs and furry costumes), who rise to the surface, in pairs, and run into trouble. Old men have heart attacks, women scream, vigilante mobs form. At one point, in a forerunner to the courthouse steps scene of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the mob descends upon a hospital, where an injured mole man lies, intent on lynching him. But it's met by Superman.
Precursor to Atticus Finch: Stopping the lynch mob on the hospital steps.
On the way there, lead rabble-rouser Luke Benson (veteran character actor Jeff Corey), incites the people with a speech that wouldn't be out of place at a Tea Party convention:
Now them two reporters from back east … they’ll try to stop us, like as not, but we ain’t gonna be stopped. This is our town. We don’t need any strangers telling us what to do!
He even decks the Sheriff. This doesn't sit well with Superman, who's more no-nonsense than previous incarnations. He compares the mob to Nazi stormstroopers. When a gun goes off and Lois is nearly killed, Superman says the following:
Whoever fired that shot nearly hit Miss Lane. Obviously none of you can be trusted with guns. So I’m going to take them away from you.
Which he does.
Gun control from Krypton.
I laughed out loud. Think of it. An illegal alien confiscating the guns of Texas citizens under the guise of “the American way.” The GOP was right. The 1950s were the good old days.
Superman Screenshot of the Day
Nick: You can't repeat the past.
Gatsby: Why, of course you can!
-- The Great Gatsby
In a way, Gatsby's right here. You can repeat the past. It just doesn't measure up. Think of the lobster scene in “Annie Hall.” Or think of the whole of “Superman IV.” The magic ride around Metropolis with Superman and Lois in “Superman: The Movie” is here reduced to a farce. The special effects suck, the rationale for the trip is meaningless, and at the end, in a nod to one of the worst moments in the “Superman” ouevre, Supes kisses Lois and makes her forget it all. One wonders how often he's used this trick. And does he do it with women other than Lois? How many? Maybe he's done it with you!
“Superman IV” grossed $15 million in 1987 or 11% of what “Superman: The Movie” grossed in 1978. Unadjusted. Superman didn't need kryptonite to finally fall to earth. He just needed Golan and Globus.