Superman II (1980)

Kneel Before Perfection

Due to the complex and troubled production behind Superman II it seems more likely for it to have been a disaster of a film, yet despite of this I consider Superman II to be the perfect Superman film. While I enjoy the first film, I find Superman II improves on it in so many ways, delivering a more emotionally satisfying film. A rare instance of the perfect combination of cast and crew coming together to create something wonderful. I do feel on the whole Richard Lester is a better director than Richard Donner and after seeing Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut I thought to myself “thank God Donner was fired from this production”. The romance between Lois and Clark is very forced and underdeveloped; there is a lack of humor, and no exaggeration, one of the absolute worst endings I’ve ever seen. I’ll stick with the Richard Lester version.

The actors of all the Christopher Reeve era Superman films have such a great dynamic together that even in a movie as poor as Superman IV I can still enjoy their interactions. Especially the scenes in the Daily Planet offices have such energy to them and even contains a bit of that His Girl Friday feeling to them with Christopher Reeve having a bit of that Cary Grant to his acting DNA; plus you know an actor is perfect for a role when I find myself accidentally referring to the actor as Clark Kent and not Christopher Reeve. But if there’s anyone who steals the show its Terrance Stamp as General Zod. One of those performances which bring me eternal levels of respect to an actor. Every one of his beautiful hammed up, menacing lines I could listen to all day.

The wonderfully kitsch special effects of Superman II just get better with age; give me these charmingly fake effects over eyesore CGI any day (ok I’ll try and avoid a CGI rant). Likewise the 3rd Rock From the Sun type humor such as Zod and his minions mistaking Earth’s name as planet Houston to the visual comedy (Zod walking on water) has some big laughs (as well as that humorous use of product placement during a fight scene for Marlboro Cigarettes and then Coca-Cola only a few seconds later amuses me).

Many people will say Superman is a boring superhero, what tosh! A guy who makes the world a better place for others who can’t enjoy his own life and has to work with the woman he’s madly in love with, but can’t profess it to her. If that’s that tragic then I don’t know what is. Speaking of romance, that is perhaps my favourite aspect of Superman II; the romance between Lois and Clark is perfect. I so badly wanted to see these two get together, two down to earth souls who are too perfect for each other. Margot Kidder’s voice is so emotive and she has that Margaret Sullavan like quality to her. At the film’s most intense romantic moments her tearful pleas kill me.

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Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

The Empire Strikes Back, With a Vengeance!

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

The Empire Strikes Back is my least favourite of the original trilogy, I guess I just prefer the more light-hearted nature of A New Hope and Return of the Jedi (plus when has darkness become a measure of quality?), as well as the sense of closure given by those films but calling it my least favourite is like saying this pizza with 19 slices of pepperoni is it not as good as this pizza with 20 slices of pepperoni. It’s appropriate that the second part of the three-act story is the dark entry so the more light-hearted third act can act as a release from the darkness and despair.

Imagine if Star Wars went in the direction of The Planet of the Apes franchise? It’s a miracle the studio had no input into the film, creating the movie sequel all movie sequels aspire to be. What if it was a rushed out sequel titled Star Wars II? If Jaws started the trend of blockbusters and Star Wars cemented it, then The Empire Strikes Back was the final step in the birth of the blockbusters, by cementing the rules behind the art of the movie sequel but could the film’s quality also due to Lucas not having any input into the writing or directing of the film?

Right from the start, you can tell the characters are much deeper than the first film. Han and Leia are simply one of the greatest romances in all of cinema. The classic tale of two who pretend of hate each other but are secretly in love, a trope as old as cinema, it’s no surprise the two are posed in the manner of Rhett Butler and Scarlet O’Hara on the film’s poster. The planets in Star Wars are like characters themselves and Degobah is the perfect example of this. There is such intimacy and poignancy to the scenes on Degobah. Yoda really is a perfect creation, like Obi-Wan, you do wonder if everything he says is full of crap when you break it down but it doesn’t matter. It’s just a shame the perception of the character has become bastardized because of the prequels. Plus what is it about stop-motion that is just endlessly appealing to look at? The way that is doesn’t have the full fluid motion of live action movement but not to the point that it looks choppy.

Although the darkest, The Empire Strikes Back is the funniest of the series.  C-3PO constantly telling people about the improbability of escaping the situation they’re getting themselves into never fails to get a laugh. Plus the movie keeps teasing you that you’re going to get to see that iconic jump to light speed shot from the first film, making it all the satisfying when you finally do get to see it.

“I am your Father”, the most well-known piece of pop culture knowledge. Is there anyone in the civilised world who doesn’t know Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father? Should we try and preserve the secrecy of these plot twists so future generations can enjoy the surprise.

The Blues Brothers (1980)

The Ultimate Comedy

To date, The Blues Brothers remain the only instance in which after watching a movie for the first time, I watched it again the very next day. Several viewings later I’ve come to the decision that The Blues Brothers is my favourite film comedy.

The Blues Brothers is some of the most fun you’ll ever have with a motion picture. Just one incredibly fun set piece after another whether a car chase, a musical number or comedic showcase. Choosing a favourite moment? Now that’s difficult. The portion of the film which has me in the most hysterical fit is the sequence at Bob’s Country Bunker. Having a blues band with two lead singers who are as urban as it gets at a redneck bar in which everyone thinks they’re the night’s country music act has me laughing just thinking about it, not to mention quite a stab at country music. In regards to the film’s musical numbers, let’s just say I bought the two-disc movie soundtrack very soon after watching the film, which gave me a solid twelve months of continuous music listening pleasure.

Does there exist a movie which has more reverence for its location? The only other movie which instantly pops into my mind is Rocky. For the best moment in the movie which captures the grit and grime of the city of Chicago is the scene on Maxwell street with John Lee Hooker playing cut to shots of stalls selling music and other artefacts; such a beautiful sequence.

Then there’s the film’s final car chase. I haven’t seen every famous movie car chase but I would happily place a wager that there is no other car chase in the history of cinema better than this. I believe a truly great action sequence is one in which there’s a sense of danger that someone can get hurt or even killed. Here I’m not only fearing for the fictional characters but also the real-life cast and crew. The number of cars involved and carnage that ensues is unprecedented; Grand Theft Auto years before Grant Theft Auto existed. With so many action movies featuring gargantuan levels destruction which means nothing and has no impact, they should take note from The Blues Brothers on how to make action sequences in which you can actually feel the weight and heft of everything from the screech of every tire to the sirens of every police car whizzing past the screen.

The lack of logic in The Blues Brothers only adds to its enjoyment. For example, the very obvious plot hole in which The Good Ole Boys arrive hours late at the country bar with no explanation would likely downgrade most movies; here it just enhances the surreal world inhabited by the Blues Brothers. My favourite illogical moment is the Illinois Nazi’s demise on the unfinished freeway; it makes no sense in the most wonderful way. The 80’s was pretty much the decade for epic, large-scale comedies such as The Blues Brothers. Only then could a film like this even get made.