DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEWs of Batman Begins, (original Batman franchise),  The Dark Knight, Sky High, Nicholas Nickleby, Oliver Twist, Oliver!, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Hercules, (animated); Fantastic Four , Rise of the Silver Surfer, X-Men (3 films), Superman Returns (and original Superman movie franchise), Hollywoodland, Look, Up in the Sky: The Amazing Story of Superman, The Incredibles, Jumper, Iron Man , Watchmen, Hancock

Title:  Batman Begins

Release Date:  2005

Nationality and Language: USA/English

Running time:  140 min

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Distributor and Production Company: Warner Brothers, DC Comics

Director; Writer: Christopher Nolan



Technical: full widescreen

Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site:  heroes 

Batman Begins (2005, Warner Bros./DC Comics, dir. Christopher Nolan, 140 min, PG-13) was previewed with a ten-minute trailer the last night of the Smallville 2004-2005 season. I have long suggested that TheWB convert Smallville to a movie franchise for Clark’s college years, and we all know that Batman is a made-to-order franchise. There was Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992) from Tim Burton, as well as Batman Forever (1995) and Batman and Robin (1997), from Joel Schumacher, all the films belonging from Warner Brothers. But Batman is a fundamentally similar paradigm, with this film as a Star War-style prequel somewhat like the Smallville Season 1 Pilot. The first hour, that is, where Wayne Bruce (Christian Bale) watches his father get gunned down by a street robber as they come out of the opera (Arrigo Boito’s Mefistofole, the “Witches Sabbath” episode). Instead of hiding a secret origin or identity, the dramatic first hour of the movie (after the opening in the bat cave) deals mainly with Wayne’s desire to understand the evil that led to his “flesh and blood” ‘s demise. Bruce allows himself to be imprisoned, and is rescued by Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson), who will become his teacher, perhaps analogous to Clark’s father. But then the story varies. Wayne is supposed to kill someone and will not, and Ducard becomes an enemy. Wayne’s adult life, aided by the servant Alfred (Michael Caine), ensues, with his acquisition of the batman cape and fast car (the batmobile) and his fighting business conflict of interest and crime in Gotham (Chicago, with a lot of CGI programming and matte paintings, especially to set up the shantytown on Lake Michigan—as society has undergone another Great Depression, after too much George W. Bush, I presume). The last hour and a half moves in fast-paced Nolan fashion (there is one spectacular sequence where the Chicago L train runs off the tracks and crashes and burns below). The muscular Bale (he has filled out quickly since filming The Machinist, but he tends to look his 31 years) is not as appealing as a hero in his batman suit as he is as an “ordinary man,” and that is a problem with all movies like this.  Cillian Murphy (28 Days After) plays the young boy psychiatrist who puts on the ragged mask, and I wanted to get a more positive look at him. 

The Dark Knight (2008, Warner Bros. / Legendary / DC Comics, dir. Christopher Nolan, 152 min, PG-13) is a main-course sequel. Christian Bale, now ripened, is Wayne, and the late Heath Ledger is the playing card Joker, sometimes in drag, and Aaron Eckhardt as the two-face DA gets his face split, literally. The script rather compares the Joker's rants to those of Osama bin Laden.   Blogger review.

Sky High (2005, Touchstone/Walt Disney/Buena Vista, dir. Mike Mitchell, PG, 102 min) is a spectacular full widescreen fantasy about Super Kids, who are indeed becoming a kind of staple now. We live in a world where super parents, according to the laws of Mendelian genetics, have certain mathematical probabilities of having super kids. Well, the kids are bussed to a private school in the sky (the bus flies), where there is a kind of high-tech Hogarts school for the gifted. Well, there is social Darwinism at work right away, as the Kids are divided into Super Heroes and, get this, Hero Support (aka Sidekicks) depending on whether they have Powers. (Remember that Smallville episode where Clark has no powers and still rescues the journalist?) Well, it seems that Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano), a 14 year old freshman (the real actor is 17), only child of super cops (Kurt Russell and Kelly Preston) missed out on the genes, and is one of the 25% who are ordinary kids. He seems destined to become another bus driver, and have a humble assigned station in life.  (The class that he gets put in after failing the first gym practical seems like special education—maybe a snide satire of No Child Left Behind.) Well, luckily, in a cafeteria fight, his powers suddenly appear, and he gets Super Strength. Other kids’ powers have been seen before, like heat vision, self immolation, changing into a paramecium, changing into a tunnel rat, and stretching. The story bumps along towards a homecoming dance, where some villainous kids will turn other kids into babies. (Really! That’s original.) All’s well that ends well, as Will winds up with a girl friend, a bit precociously at 14.

When I was in kindergarten, the teacher divided us into “brownies and elves.” I was a brownie, so I know the feeling of being in the subordinate part of the hierarchy. This kind of attitude goes back to the ideas of British philosopher Herbert Spencer (not just Charles Darwin). The Super Kids in the more “dramatic” shows (like Clark, Lana, Chloe, Ephram, Seth, Shawn, Justin, Bobby, Martin) seem more compelling to me.

Nicholas Nickleby: At the end of 2002, MGM-UA released a period piece of 19th Century Angleterre, Nicholas Nickleby, based on the Charles Dickens novel about a young man who makes his way into the world quickly after his father dies and his family’s speculative economic bubble bursts. Nicholas, who is 19 when the main story thread starts, is played by the tall and blond Charlie Hunnam, who presents the character as another kind of perfect role model, who can overcome almost any obstacle with unbelievable facility because of his quick intellectual wit and his kindly nature—again, another sort of Clark Kent teenage character. His first job is teaching at a boarding school run by the mean Cyclops Wackford Squeers (Jim Broadbent), where he rescues another teenage orphan Smike, played by Jamie Bell.

The tender bond between Nickleby and Smike as they go on their adventures becomes the locus of the story.,  Smike is partially crippled, and this may be due to his mistreatment by Squeers (who has almost worked him to death as “compensation” for taking care of him). The two characters get theater jobs acting in Romeo and Juliet, where Smike will play a sidekick and deliver a one-liner. But quickly Nicholas gets drawn back into family business and intrigues, which these 19th Century English novels are so good at conjuring up. Smike seems to get stronger and more self-confident with his new freedom and loving care from Nicholas, before a tragedy comes, and it seems as though he really wants to wear the comedy ring. Some critics are saying that Hunnam’s delivery is a bit bland and monochromatic, a foil for introducing all the other rich characters (many of them “bad” but still all too human), as Hunnam reinforces his own humanity by putting family first or at least creating a new one.  That is, the film would be more lively with a bit of “Bad Clark is back!” But I found him to be more a down-to-earth version of a young male character role model that we used to see only in the comics.  

Oliver Twist (2005, TriStar/Sony Classics/RP, dir. Roman Polanski, 140 min, PG-13) is a very artsy period rendition of Charles Dicken’s most famous novel. Filled with parallels to Dickens’s own life and other meanings, its most important performances are those of Barney Clark as the 10-year-old orphan Oliver Twist, and Ben Kingsley as Fagin, who runs the household of runaway boys as pickpockets (and as an unfortunate parody of the Jewish businessman). It’s a bit hard to get in to because the story and speech seem archaic, something English literature teachers love, or perhaps high school teachers who would hand out video work sheets for this movie (though it is too long for one class, even extended)—and there is a great deal of detail to pick up in this film. The most grotesque villain is Sykes (Jamie Foreman) who hangs himself accidentally at the end, with the help of his vicious white dog, who literally turns him in. The film contains rather flat-looking matte paintings of old London, but the black-and-white woodcut illustrations of the credits are fascinating. The Oliver Twist story does not give us the satisfaction of seeing its hero grow into manhood, as do many other stories of this type.

 Hero; House of Flying Daggers; Curse of the Golden Flower:  moved

Oliver! (1968, Columbia, dir. Carol Reed, 153 min, G) was the musical adaptation of Dickens’s novel that won best picture in 1968, with Ron Moody as Fagin and Mark Lester as Oliver Twist.

Another literary paradigm that is a bit parallel to Harry Potter is Lemony Snicket and the real-life author Daniel Handler (his “alter ego”). The movie is Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (Paramount/Nickelodeon/Dreamworks, PG, 97 min, dir. Brad Silberling). (The component books are “The Bad Beginning,” “The Reptile Room,” and “The Wide Window,” not to be confused with Secret Window. The screenplay adaptation was finished by Robert Gordon. First, the film evokes a parallel universe look of matte painting with steam trains and Nash-like sedans with tape decks, as well as genuine fantasyland (“Baltimore Is Missing” very much in this film)—so why isn’t it in full 2.3:1 Widescreen? Well, most kids’ movies aren’t, and when I saw it at a Regal Cinema (on the supersized screen) the holiday audience was filled with grade schoolers. But the tale of three orphaned children, the Baudelaires, escaping the evil guardian Count Olaf (Jim Carrey – “Hello! Hello! Hello!” – sorry, Jim Carrey doesn’t look like himself in this movie, and he doesn’t get to show his butt). Now Olaf is after their parents’ money, and he will even marry 14-year-old Violet Baudelaire (Emily Browning) in a play to get at it. (This, in these days of debating family values, whether a “marriage” like that stands up (and this is a straight marriage) is a good one for the lawyers.) Now, this whole fantasy works because 14-year-old actor Liam Aiken (no relation apparently to Clay Aiken) carries the whole story. He is like a miniature superman, without the gee-whiz stuff, and it seems to come out of ethical or moral power. We can only assume that Silberling has studied the WB Smallville episodes and realized how much better Clark (as in his homosocial hold over Lex) would be if there were no such thing as red kryptonite (aka cocaine) to corrupt him sometimes. Liam gave an interview (I think on MSNBC) in which he explained that child and teen actors go to school three hours a day with private tutors set up and paid for by the studio. He says he is ahead of contemporaries (ninth graders) because of the individual attention in all academic subjects. (Let’s hope that includes algebra.) As a substitute teacher, I have seen everything, from special education to advanced placement, and I have noticed (both in school and in personal contacts through the independent film business or even just personal life) that teen actors do seem to excel in everything and seem like adults, not kids. I think that this all gets down to what English teachers call “language skill level.” The ability of a student by about eight grade to talk about abstract ideas in complete sentences seems to predict how well he or she will do. On one teaching assignment, I saw an eight grader come up with a theory as to how the Apollo 13 accident could have been prevented. I don’t know whether he was right, but it is the originality and the ability to express original, abstract ideas in language that counts the most.

Everyman Jude Law plays Lemony Snicket (voice), reading; Meryl Streep is Aunt Josephine, and Dustin Hoffman is uncredited as the critic.

On May 16, 2005 NBC compressed its intended mini-series Hercules (Universal, dir. Roger Young) into a 3 hour feature. Imdb shows various other earlier films on this legend. The story, since Hercules is a kind of Clark Kent in Greek mythology, makes an interesting comparison here. First, in mythology humans and demi-gods mix, and the pagan gods can have kids of their own, apparently (not accepted with angels in Christian belief). Hercules does wrong early on (somewhat as Clark does when on red kryptonite at the beginning of Season 3), burning his wife and kids when Hera causes Hercules to become “insane.” (That’s a legal concept, though, and not a moral one.) So Hercules has to perform the Twelve Labors to atone for his sins (there is no salvation through Grace here). The film, staying within the ancient world, takes us through all kinds of monsters (the seven-headed hydra, various bizarre birds and man-animal combinations). At the end Hercules makes a trip to a volcano, somewhat as Frodo does in Lord of the Rings.  Paul Telfer plays Hercules and sounds like a Brit, as is Sean Astin as Linus (again, a loyal companion as in LOTR).  And, unlike Clark, Hercules is allowed to have a hairy chest! (Maybe that’s because Hercules is a grown-up.) The movie, however, seems lame compared to the competition. LOTR presents and ordinary “hobbit” rising to a great challenge to save his world, and Smallville presents an “alien” teenager trying to blend in an finding that he is totally human. Hercules, on the other hand, remains too otherworldly and artificial to matter. The Romans named the town of Herculaneum, destroyed in the Pompeii eruption, after the hero.

An animated version of Hercules (1998, Walt Disney, dir. Rom Clements and John Musker, 02 min) makes Hercules more like a Clark, dealing with why he is different (born of a God), has powers. He has to fight off a certain narcissism.

A 2005 film that seems to articulate “Smallville” concepts in the movies is the Marvel comics film Fantastic Four (Fantastic 4) (20th Century Fox, dir. Tim Story, story by Mark Frost and Michael France, 106 min, PG-13). The concept is simple. Four normal humans make a space shuttle voyage to measure a solar storm. It zaps them early on, and when they come back to earth they all have “powers.” Well, sort of. Let’s back up a minute. First of all, the four report to a mad scientist Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon), who wants to use the experiment to get powers himself. He partially “succeeds,” his body becoming “infected” and gradually become infiltrated by streaking metalloid tumors. (Folks, get out your chemistry texts.) Mr. McMahon was a law student who had always wanted to get into acting, and got a big chance with this move. In a sense, his career parallels that of my character “Tobey” in a couple of my screen plays. But actually, Reed Richards, the good scientist from MIT and nominally the informal technical team leader of the group is actually the “Tobey” character in the movie. Played by Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd, he looks at bit over-fashioned (Fab 5, maybe), but he has a dedicated girl friend Sue Storm (Jessica Alba). Now Reed will become Mr. Fantastic, as he can stretch any part of his body to infinity. In a couple scenes, the cinematography shows his light arm hair moving out with the stretch, as if his body still has finite mass and size. The stretching becomes an exercise in algebraic topology, and homology. Now Sue becomes the Invisible Woman, and is a bit like the character Sheila (Tobey’s girl friend in my screenplays), to the point that Reed will propose to her at the end. Then there is Michael Chiklis, a balding, hairy middle aged character whose body suddenly turns to stone, as The Thing. It is as if he suddenly had neurofibromatosis. Chris Evans (now 24, from Cellular) plays Sue’s brother Johnny. Chris, with youthful, perfect face but hairy chest and limbs (there is one particularly provocative pose where he is in his skivvies and looks like a “real” male model – yes, Chris looks HOT and very much a tongue-in-cheek standard to judge other men by!!), and this character may be the most human and the most tested by the experience of having “powers,” which for him consist of the ability to generate enormous heat with his body (becoming the Human Torch) without his body being affected (normally, fire burns skin to scar tissue, but not his). When flamed, he can fly (so his abilities combine Clark Kent’s “heat vision” with future flight). He seems self-centered and looks at his powers the way a kid would, until challenged to use them for good at the end. He has a couple of great lines, as when he says “having powers is not a sickness” (what does that sound like?? Similar lines occur in Smallville) – he doesn’t want to be “normal” again; he also makes a wisecrack about the extension of Reed’s “member” – barely within PG-13 territory. A lot of the situations in the story are a bit fluffy, pretty much the gee-whiz technical stuff that comes from the powers. But perhaps Johnny Storm does undergo the most character metamorphosis (not like an arthropod).

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007, 20th Century Fox, dir. Tim Story, 90 min, PG, Canada), that is, FF II, is a real movieated Marvel comic book. There is this galactic cloud monster (I personally like the idea of using a brown dwarf as the "monster") that can devour planets,  with a couple of apprentices, one who looks like Darth Vader, and then the Silver Surfer, who glides through space like a kid on a sidewalk surfboard. His body is surfaced "thmooth" with aluminum paint, it seems. The Human Torch has problems with accidental power exchanges with the other teammates. But Chris Evans keeps his disco-pretty face and hairy chest, totally impervious to fire. There's some pretty fantastic shots of the Thames area in London (it gets drained by one of the Surfer's sinkholes) and Shanghai.  In the end, Sue and Reed have a republican marriage, with the most abbreviated of "I do" ceremonies. The Torch will stay free and single.  This movie is not so much about heroes as it is about extreme sports. Shaun White ought to appear.

X-Men (2000, dir. Bryan Singer); X2: X-Men United (2003, ditto) X-Men: The Last Stand (2006, all films 20th Century Fox, dir. Brett Ratner  (“X3”)  Franchise, based on Marvel Comics and characters. I saw the first two of these films when they came out and they all deal with new mutants coming to their Academy and with miscreant mutants, so it’s more productive to focus on the most recent film, with a similar story, to make the basic points. Patrick Stewart, the bald British actor whom I think could play me, is the good Professor Xavier, who may come to his demise in this movie; Ian McKellan plays Magneto, and reassures us that senior citizens can have super powers (he seems a bit like Teabring in Da Vinci Code). Hugh Jackman is the hirsute Wolverine, and James Marsden is Cyclops, who will come to another demise at the hand of Ororo (Halle Berry) at what looks like a lake in the Cascade Range that I may have visited (along US 2 in Washington) or it may be a similar location in British Columbia. But all of this skims across the obvious political point: the Mutants are “different” and they are perceived as threats to normal people. Read that, if you will, “homosexuals,” at least in the mentality of the 50s, and especially take into consideration arguments about homosexuality and biology. The pretext here offers another opportunity, for all the major mutants to have heterosexual love lives whenever they want to and propagate “their own kind.” So perhaps they are even a paradigm for the Jews in Europe before the Nazi takeover.

Of course, however, the mutants really are different, and have physical powers that normal people don’t have. The powers are extreme, but that is beside another political point: that Earth is very lucky that homo sapiens are so genetically coherent (and that is probably because of a few spectacular volcanic eruptions aeons ago).

All of this brings up still another point: this is a very safe kind of entertainment to budget and make, however much it costs. There is stylized violence and assassination, but it could not possibly be replicated. The action sequences, however entertaining, are totally meaningless in terms of anything that can really happen, so there is almost no possibility of anything is enticed. In my own screenwriting attempts, I stage scenarios, some of them dangerous and objectionable to some, that are frightening because, in general, they could really happen, although improbably. That’s a lot more interesting to me, and more dangerous.

A few of the younger kids, Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), flying angel Warren (Ben Foster) and John Allerdyce/Pyro (“Tadpole” Aaron Stanford) act their roles as convincing characters, reminding us more of the atmosphere created by programs like Smallville. (Although Foster and Stanford look a lot alike here,) There are discussions of the moral responsibilities of using one’s gifts (much like Clark’s ruminations in Smallville). The plot itself become necessarily silly. Magneto threatens war on the President (Josef Sommer), particularly to take over Worthington Industries, now conveniently located on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay—where “they” are developing the “cure” for mutants to make them normal. Politics again. Now Magneto will slice up the Oakland Bay Bridge, levitate it and drop it to Alcatraz, pretty neat stuff to film, and perhaps a predicate for a future earthquake. There are a couple of comic book effects that could have hidden erotic meanings: in one scene, a lab rat boy can depilate the wrist of Wolverine with just a stare; in the final battle, the US Army soldiers have their fatigue shirts opened up just before they are consumed, as does Wolverine at the end. But Magneto, as in the other two films, must deal with “Uncle Tom’s” within the ranks. In any military action there is always a need for good order and discipline.     

Superman Returns (2006, Warner Brothers/Bad Hat/Legendary/DC Comics, dir. Bryan Singer, 154 min, PG-13). Okay, I’m cheating by putting the entry on this file a bit early, and I’ll try to see in June 28.

Brandon Routh, who plays Clark, Kevin Spacey, who plays Lex Luthor (and shaved his head for the role), and Bryan Singer, who at 40 looks more like he is 20, appeared on CNN “Larry King Live” June 23. Brandon is every bit as tempting physically as Tom Welling, and to giftwrap him in a tight suit seems like a waste. We know he has made his field trip back to the remains of Krypton – an idea that I have thought that TheWB Smallville series would take up. What we don’t know yet is if the new movie will carry out the theme of being different or being special, of presenting yourself in public in a protected mode. When asked on the show about the speculations in the gay mag The Advocate Bryan Singer said that this is the most heterosexual movie he has ever made. (Actually it's pretty asexual.) Lois Lane is Clark's love. There is no Lana or Chloe, because there is no Better Half. Inasmuch as a lot is made of Iowan (like Ashton Kutcher) Brandon Routh as Clark/Superman, I think that Tyler Hoechlin (“Martin”) or Jared Padalecki (“Sam”) could have been considered, or perhaps Justin Timberlake (or maybe Bryan himself!) 

Again, it raises the question of what an indie Smallville movie would look like.

But let the blockbuster arrive.

6/28/2006: Now for The Review:  The best sequence may be before the beginning credits. We see the surface of Krypton, which at first looks like it is built in blocks of ice, fashioned into Trump skyscrapers (that sort of organic construction that we saw in Alien) — and soon we realize they are more like chem lab salt crystals, and the whole surface turns Venusian. Something horrible has happened to this civilization (perhaps a runaway greenhouse effect and the "inconvenient truth") — and then the planet blows up, like at the end of Forbidden Planet.  The music sounds like a variation of Richard Strauss and Thus Spake Zarathustra here, climaxing on a tremendous staccato chord.

The film opens with Lex Luthor at his mother’s bedside, force-signing her will as she takes her last breath. (Lex will not allow a "John Knowles" "Reading of the Will.") Lex takes it all. Then we cover the ground quickly. We see a flashback reprise of teenage Clark (Stephan Bender), learning to fly in Australian (New South Wales) farms (with the beginnings of the Great Dividing Range in the distance). His adoptive mother Martha (Eva Marie Saint) appears briefly for gentle character guidance. In present tense, Clark returns and takes a job as a geeky journalist (rather resembling Peter Parker) whom we would like to know better, but we don’t get a chance. A NASA spacefight with tourists fails, and Superman yanks off his sport coat to fly up to the craft and rescue it, landing it in a baseball stadium, during a game, just after a batter parks a high inside fastball into the left field bleachers. Now here, Metropolis looks like New York City, rather than Vancouver or Kansas City, MO; but the stadium appears to be Dodger Stadium in Lost Angeles. We find out – you guessed it – that Lex caused the "Lake Erie Reverse Loop" power failure that led to the NASA failure. Now here there is a weird concept: Lex has executed his plan on a most interesting model railroad set – not Roadside America in PA, more like a 40’s industrial set from a David Lynch movie, a set that appeared in one of my dreams a few weeks ago even though I hadn’t seen the movie. (Yup, I dreamed I was in a high rise apartment in an unknown city, probably on another planet, with a gothic train set running in the living room.)

Soon we learn Lex’s real plan, it to grow another continent in the Atlantic Ocean – a New Lemuria, from kyrptonian crystals. His plan will wipe out the eastern half of the U.S. with a scene resembling the NBC mini-series 10.5.  There will be a purification. Land is the one thing they don’t keep making any more – that’s why we call it real estate. The continent grows, looking at first like Iceland (as does an early scene in the Fortress of Solitude), turning into a black-and-white world. New York City has a horrible New Madrid style earthquake, with plumes of fire shooting out of the street. Clark flies there to stop Lex.

Here is the place to mention the personal stuff. His beloved was Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth), who has a common law marriage with Richard White (James Marsden, who looks too much like Brandon Routh except for his hairy chest). That’s the one place where the movie hits the social issues a bit – the couple has a son, but she really sees Richard as a sub for Clark. They fly a seaplane to Lemuria to save Clark, and then Clark lifts the continent into the sky, becoming wounded by the green kryptonite again. He winds up in intensive care, which is the one time we see a little skin, with an (artificially) smooth chest. Lois visits him, and we don’t know exactly why he recovers. She leaves, and Clark disappears, just as he does after being killed in Season 5 of Smallville.  Does Jor-El save him? Or is it The Resurrection? Because, yet, on a certain level, this seems like a resurrection story as much as anything by C.S. Lewis (“The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe”).  Indeed, Lois Lane has, in the 6-year-interim (that’s how long Clark’s vacation to his originating solar system took – even at his speed), won a Pulitzer Prize for her article “Why the World Does Not Need Superman” Perry White (Frank Langella) tells her that Pulitzers are just like Oscars – they don’t matter.

That all brings us to the style of the movie, which is comic-book, of course, and “safe” socially. The first couple of seasons of “Smallville” often developed the dramatic possibilities of a developmentally advanced but still teenage Clark dealing with his own variation of “don’t ask, don’t tell” (that you’re an alien). That’s really more interesting than an extreme, flippant comic book style, which is what this film is—even with Bryan Singer having written the story.

My own screenplay and novel experiments play with the borderline sci-fi idea. I liked to have a few “good” characters (all characters are my own), with one or two of them having potentially supernatural abilities, against a background of social and political issues brewing. In one case, I have the theme of fighting terrorism and rebuilding the WTC as events unfold; in another I have my own idea of “close encounters” where one character may have the opportunity to become an angel or to marry and have a “normal family life,” with a background political crisis created by an epidemic that might have an extraterrestrial origin.  But rather than a lot of fast-motion activity, I like to probe the dramatic (and sometimes political, social and moral) possibilities, and put characters together in various combinations in a train of scenes, almost as in a stage play. That’s more like the indie market than a film like this. (As I say, the original Smallville concept, if a movie, would fit the “Warner Independent Pictures” concept well.)  

I don’t have “villains” like Lex, though. Instead I have non-competitive people who stumble into trouble by self-indulgence while refusing conventional socialization when adaptive living must come before creativity. Pay your dues!  Networks report that the new Superman series has to leave out “American values” in its “truth and justice” platitudes and epigrams, to sell around the world. I’d like to see the majors be able to give this kind of story real substance. Nevertheless, WB proudly displays its Casablanca musical trademark as the film begins.   

The original Superman movie franchise comprised:

Superman (1978, Warner Bros., dir. Richard Donner) starts with Christopher Reeve as the adult Man of Steel and Jeff East as the teenage Clark (which means that the “Smallville” concept had been tried here). I saw this film in the Irving, TX in January 1979 right after moving to Dallas, in a General Cinema theater that had not yet installed Dolby Stereo, a big thing at the time. Phyllis Thaxter was adoptive mother Martha, and Marlon Brando was Jor-El.

Superman II (1980, Warner Bros., dir. Richard Lester) continues the saga as three villains come back from the remnants of Krypton.

Superman III (1983, Warner Bros., dir. Richard Lester) has kryptonite splitting Clark into two people: Good Clark and Bad Clark.


Superman IV (1987, Warner Bros. Sidney J. Furie) has Lex Luthor invention, a Terminator-like “gray” called Nuclear Man

There was also a UK TV syndication Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993, ABC).

 Hollywoodland (2006, Focus/Miramax, dir. Allen Coulter, wr. Paul Berbaum, 126 min, R). Or call it Tinseltown. Disney’s restructured Miramax was a production company for this noir period piece mystery; shot flat with a lot of close-ups, it has the air of Hitchcock. And there is murder.  In the 1950s, TV’s Superman actor George Reeves (Ben Affleck) died in his bedroom of a single gunshot room. The LAPD closed the case quickly. Reeves’s mother hires agile private detective Louis Simo (Adrien Brody) at $50 a day to investigate the death. The movie is layered, and unfolds in time slices, with many retrospects and some replays of the shooting under different theories. In that sense, the movie is a film noir- like Rashomon. There are the usual suspects, with one of the most compelling being mistress Toni Mannix (Diane Lane), wife of an MGM mogul Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins) who in this film is shown as running the studio like a mobster. The more dirt overburden Louis scrapes away, the more nervous others get about “the truth,” to the point that Eddie is not above shaking him down. Yet Louis has his own skeletons, a broken marriage and a son who worships superman. In the end, the question is, can he afford the truth. It can be tantalizing to expose the truth about a scandal even if you can go do yourself in the fallout.

Brody is at once ascetic and sumptuous, a lean little man that you admire. His surface animal “manliness” is back to some extent, compared to how he was made up for King Kong. Affleck, on the other hand, looks like an over-the-hill star, his face cracking, his hairline starting to widow, his body mushy in the middle, looking thick even when he puts on the Superman suit for black-and-white TV. (A Tom Welling or Brandon Routh, he is not in this film.) He gets a shot of the S in color, before the show is canceled, and he wants to become a director in New York. Why isn’t playing a comic book hero enough for a life, even in the late innings? Because now he is no hero. There are interesting replays of the 50s TV series, and even a preview of From Here to Eternity, with Affleck dubbed in. 

Look, Up in the Sky: The Amazing Story of Superman (2006, Warner Independent Pictures/TheWB/DC Comics/Bad Hat Harry, dir. Kevin Burns, 120 min, sug. PG) is a documentary of the Superman franchise, starting with the comic book series invented by two young men in Cleveland in the 30s, through the movies and TV series in the 50s with George Reeves, to the main four-film franchise (and also Superboy), eventually leading to the remake Superman Returns in 2006. The main movie sequence in the 70s depicted Krypton as a kind of Triton, but Smallville and Metropolis were always the places on earth. The Smallville series was a tremendous hit as it came out after 9/11, and presented Clark without the cape, as a teen trying to be “normal” and developing his moral powers. The various musical signatures are played.  

The Incredibles (2004, Walt Disney/Pixar, dir. Brad Bird, 115 min, PG). This movie was the subject of a recent sermon, “do we need saviors?” In animation, even with the lifelike Pixar style and Cinemascope, the characters are not as convincing as they are in some of the movies above or in some similar television series discussed. Yet, the movie raises a surprising list of issues as it traverses its plot, in however stylized a fashion. Bob and Helen Parr get moved around in witness protection programs after saving the world. Bob tries to live a normal suburban family life as an insurance claims adjuster (I think loss prevention specialist would have been more interesting). His three kids are sky-high, like above, even the youngest, who isn’t even potty trained yet. (Hope he’s not in extended day at school.)  But he gets drawn into one more assignment, in which he will be outed. Should be people have to live covert lives in order to protect others? That’s one disturbing question. (The controversy today raises questions about amateurs drawing global attention to themselves.)  There is one line to the effect if everyone were a hero, then no one would be. At the end, the old nemesis comes back into the city in graphic fashion.

Jumper (2008, 20th Century Fox / Regency, dir. Doug Liman, 90 min, PG-13, Canada) Here is another comic book style hero, although I didn't see any mention of comics. Hayden Christiansen plays David Rice, a "Jumper" who has the gift of instant teleportation (not even Clark Kent does that). He first uses it after falling into a frozen pond in Michigan to retrieve a toy that a kid had thrown away. We learn only later that his mother (Diane Lane) had known he was "one of them" at age 5. It seems as though Jumpers are chased by "paladins," of which Roland (Samuel L. Jackson, hair dyed) is one.  David is charming and charismatic enough, but he gets started with untraceable bank robbery (but Clark robbed ATM's at the start of Smallville's Season 3); but unlike Clark, Jake 2.0, or Kyle XY or similar heroes (including those in the NBC series), he doesn't seem to care about helping people. Max Thieriot plays David at 15, but one wonders if Hayden really could have played that age; the change is not that great. The movie turns into an exercise in showing off special effects.   I suspect there will be a franchise of these movies.

Remeber the 1981 saying "she's a looker"? Now it's "He's a jumper."

Iron Man (2008, Paramount / Marvel / Lionsgate, dir. Jon Favreau, 126 min, PG-13). Well, Iron Man (along with slightly older actor Robert Dowbey Jr.) has to relinquish his chest hair to exist as a character. That's because some sort of magnetizer and pacemaker is drilled right on to the chakra of his chest, after his body is riddled with shrapnel after an explosion in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban. He we have a curious mixture of comic book and modern politics. Tony Stark (Downey) has inherited and built a defense fortune with the air force, but when he is trapped in an Al Qaeda cave, he has to use a real Mossolov iron foundry to blow himself out into the desert. He soon gets disenchanted with the fact that his weapons can kill our own troops, and concentrates on his man-can-fly armor, that combines Superman with Fantastic 4 firefly.  There is a comment that no one can be found in the Tora Bora mountains. I don't believe it.  From the postlude after the closing credits, we know there will be Iron Man II soon. Terrence Howard ("Hustle & Flow") is effective as the high-pitched Air Force liaison at parties, and Jeff Bridges is done up baldy as Obadiah. Did anyone notice that Stark is also the name of the alter-ego in Stephen King's "The Dark Half"? 

Watchmen (2009, Warner Brothers / Paramount / Legendary, dir. Zack Snyder, 160 min) is a parallel universe view of the Cold War with unusual superheroes like Dr. Manhattan. Blogger

Hancock (2008, Columbia, dir. Peter Berg, 94 min, PG-13).  Here Will Smith plays a 3000 year old superman who files, with powers, and a companion (Charlize Theron), rather like vampires. Blogger.


Related:  Harry Potter movies  The Dark Half

TV series    Looker

(Smallville, One Tree Hill, The Days, Everwood, Jack and Bobby, Seventh Heaven, The O.C., The 4400, Queer as Folk, Jake 2.0, Blue’s Clues

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