REVIEW: HUGO

CAST

Asa Butterfield (Ender’s Game)
Chloe Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass)
Ben Kinglsey (Iron Man 3)
Sacha Baron Cohen (Alice Through The Looking Glass)
Ray Winstone (Elfie Hopkins)
Emily Mortimer (Lars and The Real Girl)
Helen McCrory (The Woman In Black 2)
Jude Law (Spy)
Michael Stuhlbarg (Men In Black 3)
Christopher Lee (The Hobbit)
Frances de la Tour (The Lady In The Van)
Richard Griffiths (Harry Potter)
Michael Pitt (Murder By Numbers)

In 1931, 12-year-old Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) lives in Paris with his father (Jude Law), a widowed, but kind clockmaker who also works at a museum. One day his father finds a broken automaton, a mechanical man designed to write with a pen, at the museum, and he and Hugo try to repair it, his father documenting the automaton in a notebook. When his father is killed by a fire at the museum, Hugo is forced to live with his resentful, alcoholic uncle Claude (Ray Winstone), and made to learn how to maintain the clocks at the railway station of Gare Montparnasse. When Claude goes missing for several days, Hugo continues to maintain the clocks, fearing that he would be sent away as an orphan by the vindictive Station Inspector Gustave (Sacha Baron Cohen) if Claude’s absence is discovered. Hugo attempts to repair the automaton with stolen parts, believing it contains a message from his father, but the machine still requires a heart-shaped key that his father could not find.Hugo is caught when stealing from the toy store owner Georges (Ben Kingsley), who looks through his father’s notebook and threatens to destroy it. Hugo encounters Georges’ goddaughter Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz) who offers to help get the notebook back. Hugo learns Georges has forbidden Isabelle from going to the cinema, and introduces the medium to her as his father had done for him. As their friendship grows, he shows her the automaton, and is surprised when Isabelle inadvertently reveals she wears the key as a necklace given to her by Georges. When started, the machine draws out a scene that Hugo recognizes from his father’s description of the film A Trip to the Moon. Isabelle identifies the signature, that of a “Georges Méliès”, as her godfather. She sneaks Hugo into her home, where they find a hidden cache of more imaginative drawings of Méliès, but are caught by Georges, who banishes Hugo from his home.Hugo and Isabelle go to the Film Academy Library and find a book about the history of cinema that praises Méliès’ contributions. They meet the book’s author, René Tabard (Michael Stuhlbarg), a film expert who is surprised to hear that Méliès may still be alive, as he had disappeared after World War I along with nearly all copies of his films. Excited at the chance to meet him, René agrees to meet Isabelle and Hugo at Georges’ home to show his copy of A Trip to the Moon, hoping it will invigorate Georges. On the scheduled night, Georges’ wife Jeanne (Helen McCrory) tries to turn them away, but René compliments Jeanne as Jeanne d’Alcy, an actress in many of Méliès’ films, and she allows them to continue. As the film plays, Georges wakes up at the sight, and Jeanne finally convinces him to cherish his accomplishments rather than regret his lost dream. Georges recounts that as a stage magician, he had been fascinated by motion pictures and used the medium to create imaginative works through his Star Film Company, but was forced into bankruptcy following the War, closing his studio and selling his films to be turned into raw materials. He laments that even an automaton he made that he donated to a museum was lost. Hugo recognizes this is the same automaton he has, and races to the station to retrieve it. He is caught by Gustave, who has learned that Claude’s body was found some time ago, and threatens to take Hugo to the orphanage. Georges arrives and tells Gustave that he will now see to Hugo, adopting him as his son.Some time later, Georges is named a professor at the Film Academy, and is paid tribute through a showcase of his films recovered by René. Hugo joins in with his new family as they celebrate, while Isabelle starts to write down Hugo’s story.Martin Scorcese’s Hugo is one of the best cinematic experience, I’ve had in years.  The visual effects, cinematography, art direction, just technically superb. Finally a smart, awe-aspiring family film, which are really rare nowadays. A definite surprise coming from legendary director, Martin Scorcese, who’s known for movies with a lot of swears, violence, drugs and other adult-themed subjects.

HALLOWEEN OF HORROR REVIEW: SLEEPY HOLLOW (1999)

CAST

Johnny Depp (From Hell)
Christina Ricci (Monster)
Miranda Richardson (The Hours)
Michael Gambon (Harry Potter)
Casper Van Dien (Starship Troopers)
Jeffrey Jones (Howard The Duck)
Richard Griffiths (Venus)
Ian McDiarmid (Star wars)
Michael Gough (Batman)
Christopher Walken (The Prophecy)
Lisa Marie (Ed Wood)
Christopher Lee (The Hobbit)
Peter Guinness (Alien 3)
Martin Landau (9)

In 1799, New York City police constable Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) is facing imprisonment for going against traditional methods and favoring forensic investigation techniques, such as autopsies, considered unorthodox and unimportant at the time. Ichabod submits to deployment with his bag of tools to the Westchester County hamlet of Sleepy Hollow, New York, which has been plagued by a series of brutal slayings in which the victims have been found decapitated: Peter Van Garrett (Martin Landau), a wealthy farmer and landowner; his son Dirk; and the widow Emily Winship. Arriving in Sleepy Hollow, Crane is informed by the town’s elders that the killer is not of flesh and blood, but rather an undead headless Hessian mercenary from the American Revolutionary War who rides at night on a massive black steed in search of his missing head.

Crane begins his investigation, remaining highly skeptical about the supernatural elements in the case until he actually encounters the Headless Horseman himself, who kills the town magistrate, Samuel Phillipse (Richard Griffiths), on sight. Boarding in a room at the home of the town’s richest family and the Van Garretts’ next of kin, the Van Tassels, Crane develops an attraction to their daughter Katrina (Christina Ricci), while he is plagued by nightmares of his mother’s horrific torture when he was a child. This attraction is deeply resented by Brom van Brunt (Casper Van Dien), a suitor to Katrina, who scares Crane in a prank by posing as the Headless Horseman. Riding into the Western Woods with the orphaned Young Masbath, son of the Horseman’s fifth victim Johnathan Masbath(before Magistrate Phillipse), Crane and Young Masbath come across the cave dwelling of a reclusive sorceress. She reveals the location of the gnarled Tree of the Dead, which marks the Horseman’s grave, as well as his portal into the natural world from the supernatural.
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Crane discovers that the ground is freshly disturbed and, digging through, discovers the Horseman’s skeleton and that the skull is missing. He realizes that whoever dug up and stole the skull is the person controlling the Horseman. Just then, the Horseman’s ghost bursts out of the tree and gallops towards Sleepy Hollow. Crane attempts to follow but winds up lost. The Killian family are taken by the Horseman and Brom is killed — cut in half — when trying to stop the Horseman.

Crane starts to believe that a conspiracy links all the deaths together, so he goes to the town notary James Hardenbrook (Michael Gough) to look into Van Garrett’s Last Will. Hardenbrook confesses Van Garrett had made a new will just before he died, leaving all his possessions to his new bride, Emily Winship, who Crane had learned from the late Magistrate Phillipse was pregnant at the time of her death (and thought that initially the father of the child might have killed Emily to keep the secret hidden). Crane deduces that all who knew about the new will were the victims of Horseman and that Katrina’s father Baltus Van Tassel (Michael Gambon), who would have inherited the fortune, is the person holding the skull. Katrina, finding out that Crane suspects her father, burns the evidence that Crane has accumulated and tells him that she doesn’t love him anymore.
In fear of the Horseman, Hardenbrook hangs himself and a town council is held in the town church. The Horseman seemingly kills Katrina’s stepmother, Lady Van Tassel, and heads off to the church to get Baltus, with the townspeople filing in just as the he arrives. With the men firing muskets as he circles the church, Crane realizes the Horseman can’t enter the church grounds due to it being consecrated and therefore holy. A massive fight breaks out in the church when Dr. Thomas Lancaster (Ian McDiarmid) suggests confessing for forgiveness, and is killed by Reverend Steenwyck (Jeffrey Jones), who is in turn shot by a frightened Baltus. The chaos ends only when the Horseman harpoons Baltus through a church window using a pointed church fence post attached to a rope, dragging him out and acquiring his head. The next day, Crane believes Katrina to be one who controls the Headless Horsemen and left while she was still unconscious.
As Crane is leaving Sleepy Hollow, he becomes suspicious when the hand of the corpse of Lady Van Tassel has a wound which shows signs of having been caused post-mortem. His suspicions are confirmed to be right when the real Lady Van Tassel (Miranda Richardson) emerges, alive, from the dark and shocks her step-daughter Katrina into a faint. Katrina awakens and eventually uncovers a plot revolving around revenge on the Van Garretts and land rights with the Horseman controlled by Lady Van Tassel, who sends the supernatural killer after Katrina now to solidify her hold on what she considers her property, a piece of land unjustly claimed by Baltus. She explains that the body believed to be her corpse actually belonged to the family’s servant, Sarah, whom she had murdered. She also reveals that she had just murdered the mysterious witch in the Western Woods, her own sister, for her role in helping Crane and Young Masbath.

Following a fight in the local windmill and a stagecoach chase through the woods, Crane eventually thwarts Lady Van Tassel by throwing the skull to the Horseman, breaking the curse. The Horseman, no longer under Lady Van Tassel’s control, simultaneously kisses and bites her, and he hoists her up on his horse, then rides to Hell taking her with him, fulfilling her end of the deal with the Devil. With the Headless Horseman menace eradicated, Crane returns home to New York with Katrina and Young Masbath, just in time for the new century.A triumph of design; sets that are spooky down to the last detail, and a cast of well-written characters to populate this creepy little town. There’s a few little things about “Sleepy Hollow” that didn’t work, but for the most part, I found this to be a great film

REVIEW: BEDTIME STORIES

CAST

Adam Sandler (Jack &Jill)
Keri Russell (Waitress)
Guy Pearce (Prometheus)
Russell Brand (Get Him to The Greek)
Richard Griffiths (Harry potter)
Teresa Palmer (Warm Bodies)
Lucy Lawless (Ash vs Evil Dead)
Courteney Cox (Scream)
Jonathan Pryce (Game of Thrones)
Aisha Tyler (The Babymakers)
Allen Covert (The Weding Singer)
Kathryn Joosten (Desperate Housewives)
Rob Schneider (The Hot Chick)
Nick Swardson (Bolt)
Carmen Electra (Scary Movie)
Sarah Buxton (Spread)
Debbie Lee Carrington (Total Recall)
Annalise Basso (Ouija 2)

Skeeter Bronson (Adam Sandler) is a hotel handyman who was promised by his father, Marty Bronson (Jonathan Pryce), to be the manager of the family hotel. A mysophobe named Barry Nottingham (Richard Griffiths) agreed to keep that promise when the Bronson family sold their hotel to him—then built a new hotel instead. Thirty years later, when the story begins, Skeeter is the hotel’s handyman while management is held by Kendall (Guy Pearce). Barry’s new hotel, the Sunny Vista Nottingham Hotel, is a hit, but he’s got plans to build an even more elaborate hotel, one designed around a theme that he’s keeping secret. Skeeter’s sister and principal of Webster Elementary School, Wendy (Courteney Cox), asks Skeeter to watch her kids, Bobbi (Laura Ann Kesling) and Patrick (Jonathan Morgan Heit), while she goes out of town. Skeeter does not know his niece and nephew very well, but agrees. Helping him during the day is Wendy’s friend, Jill Hastings (Keri Russell), a teacher who works at the same school as Wendy. That night, putting Bobbi and Patrick to bed, Skeeter tells them a story, one inspired by his own life as an “underappreciated” handyman: a downtrodden squire “Sir Fixalot” rivals the pompous “Sir Buttikiss” in competition for a new job. The kids add their own details such as the king giving Sir Fixalot a chance to prove himself, a mermaid based on Jill, and a downpour of gumballs when Fixalot prevails.

The following day, while fixing Barry’s television, Skeeter learns that the new hotel’s surprise theme will be rock and roll. He shocks Barry by telling him of the Hard Rock Hotel. Barry offers Skeeter a chance to compete with Kendall for a better theme. While driving, Skeeter is suddenly greeted with a shower of gumballs caused by a crashed candy delivery truck he doesn’t see, so he concludes that the story had come true and quickly develops a plan. His next story, a Western in which he is given a horse named “Ferrari” by a Native American horse trader (Rob Schneider). The children have him save a damsel in distress and, deserving a reward kiss, gets kicked by a dwarf instead. That night, out in search of his Ferrari, he meets a man (also played by Rob Schneider), who steals his wallet. He rescues Barry’s daughter, Violet Nottingham (Teresa Palmer), from the paparazzi, and, just as he is about to kiss her, he is kicked by a dwarf. At this point, with no Ferrari to be found, he determines that only the children’s story changes come true.

The following night’s story is about a Greek gladiator, Skeeticus, who, after impressing the emperor and a stadium of onlookers, attracts the attention of the most beautiful maiden. After a meal in which all the girls who used to pick on him in high school were so impressed by the beautiful maiden he is with, they start randomly singing the “Hokey Pokey.” After Skeeticus saves a man’s life, a rainstorm sends him and the maiden into a magical cave which has Abraham Lincoln in it. Skeeter loses his patience with the story and upsets the children, telling them that their stories have nothing to do with real life. Unable to get them to continue, the story ends. The next day, Skeeter learns Violet will not be meeting with him per the story design, but unexpectedly runs into Jill at the beach who invites him to lunch. Recognizing girls at the restaurant from his high school days, Skeeter asks Jill to pretend to be his girlfriend. The girls are plainly impressed and then inexplicably break into the “Hokey Pokey.” Walking on the beach with Jill, Skeeter casually saves the life of a man before a sudden rainstorm sends them under the dock. Skeeter realizes that the girl in the stories is Jill, not Violet, and that he is falling in love with her. As they are about to kiss, Skeeter remembers that Abe Lincoln is supposed to appear and moves away. Instead, an American penny (with Lincoln’s face on it) falls from through the cracks of the dock, completing the story.

For Skeeter and the kids’ final night together, a space-themed story begins with Skeeter’s character who battles Kendall’s character in anti-gravity. Skeeter’s character, who speaks in alien gibberish, wins and Skeeter quickly ends the story. Patrick interjects that the story is too predictable and—remembering Skeeter’s argument against whimsically happy endings—pointless. Instead, Skeeter’s character is incinerated by a fireball and there ends the story.

Panicking, Skeeter sees/hears signs of fire everywhere. At Barry’s luau-themed birthday party, while dodging many fiery hazards, Skeeter’s tongue is stung by a bee, making him as hard to understand as his character was in the last of the stories. Luckily, Skeeter’s best friend, Mickey (Russell Brand), can still understand him and offers to translate for him. Kendall’s idea is for a hotel with a theme celebrating Broadway musicals—an idea that impresses no one. Barry much prefers Skeeter’s approach—simply reminding them of how much fun children have when staying at a classy hotel. After winning the competition, Skeeter thinks he’s found his happy ending. Instead, Kendall reveals to Skeeter that the new hotel is replacing Jill, Patrick and Bobbi’s school, which is to be demolished the next day. Stunned at that, Skeeter then panics when he sees Barry’s oversized birthday cake. Skeeter douses the candle and Barry with a fire extinguisher. Barry immediately tells Skeeter that he’s fired.

Afterwards, Jill, Patrick, and Bobbi discover that the school where they all work and attend is to be knocked down to make way for the new hotel, and they are all upset with Skeeter, refusing to believe that he didn’t know about the location. Wendy believes him, but is upset because he taught her children not to believe in happy endings. She confesses that she had always been jealous of his and their father’s ability to believe in made up stories and have fun the way she never did and had secretly hoped that, by leaving her children with him, his fun loving nature would rub off on them. When they attend the demolition to protest, Skeeter is inspired to prevent the school from being demolished—Donna Hynde (Aisha Tyler), one of the girls from his high school days, is a zoning commissioner, and helps find Barry Nottingham an alternative location on the beach in Santa Monica. Skeeter takes Jill on a wild motorcycle ride (during which Skeeter steals back his wallet from the thief (Rob Schneider) who stole it) which ends at the school and manages to stop the countdown of the demolition. As a reward, Skeeter asks Jill for a kiss and she gladly complies.

Sometime later, Skeeter opens Marty’s Motel (named after his late father) while Kendall and his scheming partner, Aspen (Lucy Lawless), are demoted to Skeeter’s motel wait staff. In the film’s conclusion, Marty Bronson narrates that Barry Nottingham overcame his fear of germs to the degree that he left the hotel business to become a school nurse at Webster Elementary School. His daughter, Violet Nottingham, became the new owner of her father’s hotel business and married Mickey, while Skeeter and Jill got married as well and live happily ever after.The idea of the film is hilarious, and Disney have managed to pull it off very well.Overall a great family sci-fi / comedy for children and adults.

REVIEW: THE HITCHHIKERS GUIDE TO THE GALAXY (2005)

CAST

Martin Freeman (The Hobbit)
Sam Rockwell (Iron Man 2)
Mos Def (Monster’s Ball)
Zooey Deschanel (New Girl)
Warwick Davis (Leprechaun)
Bill Nighy (Underworld)
Anna Chancellor (The Vice)
John Malkovich (Red)
Kelly Macdonald (Boardwalk Empire)
Jason Schwartzman (Bewitched)
Edgar Wright (Shaun of The Dead)
Stephen Fry (V For Vendetta)
Richard Griffiths (Harry Potter)
Thomas Lennon (17 Again)
Ian McNeice (Dune)
Helen Mirren (Red)
Alan Rickman (Dogma)

The film begins with a Broadway-style number “So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish”, sung by the dolphins of the world, who are aware of the Earth’s impending doom. At the end, they all jump out of the oceans and into space, leaving Earth for good. One Thursday morning, Arthur Dent discovers that his house is to be immediately demolished to make way for a bypass. He tries delaying the bulldozers by lying down in front of them. Ford Prefect, a friend of Arthur’s, convinces him to go to the pub with him. Over a pint of beer (as “muscle relaxant”), Ford explains that he is an alien from a planet in the vicinity of Betelgeuse, and a journalist working on the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a universal guide book, and that the Earth is to be demolished later that day by a race called Vogons, to make way for a hyperspace bypass. Suddenly, a Vogon Constructor Fleet appears in the sky and destroys the planet. Ford saves himself and Arthur by hitching a ride on a Vogon ship. The two are found and forced to listen to poetry. They are then thrown out of an airlock, but are picked up by the starship Heart of Gold. They find Ford’s “semi-cousin” Zaphod Beeblebrox, the President of the Galaxy. He has stolen the ship along with Tricia “Trillian” McMillan, an Earth woman whom Arthur had met previously, and Marvin the Paranoid Android, a clinically depressed robot that constantly complains about life.
Zaphod explains that he is seeking the planet Magrathea, where he believes he can discover the Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything to match with the answer “42” given by the supercomputer Deep Thought. Zaphod stole the Heart of Gold to use its improbability drive to get to Magrathea through trial and error. During one of these attempts, they end up on the planet Viltvodle VI. Zaphod decides to visit Humma Kavula, his opponent from the election. Upon learning of Zaphod’s plan, Kavula announces that he has the coordinates to Magrathea. He takes one of Zaphod’s two heads hostage and demands they bring him the Point-of-view gun created by Deep Thought, which allows the target to understand the shooter’s point of view. As they are leaving the planet, Trillian is captured by Vogons. The others travel to rescue her from the Vogon home world bureaucracy, facing long lines and frustrating form processing. Trillian is outraged to learn that Zaphod signed the authorisation for the destruction of Earth thinking it was a request for an autograph.
The Heart of Gold is chased by the Vogons, led by Galactic Vice-President Questular Rontok, who is attempting to rescue Zaphod from himself, after an incident in which Zaphod kidnapped himself in order to forgo presidential duties. As the Heart of Gold arrives in orbit above Magrathea, Arthur triggers the improbability drive to avoid the automated missile defence systems. The missiles transform into a bowl of petunias and a sperm whale.
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On the planet, Zaphod, Ford, and Trillian take a portal to Deep Thought. When they ask the computer whether it has calculated the ultimate question, it reveals that it designed another supercomputer to do so—Earth. When the trio finds the Point-of-View gun, Trillian shoots Zaphod, making him understand how she feels about the destruction of Earth. She also finds out how much she loves Arthur. Arthur and Marvin miss the portal and encounter a Magrathean called Slartibartfast, who takes Arthur on a tour of the construction floor where Earth Mark II is being built. Slartibartfast takes Arthur home, where the others are enjoying a feast provided by pan-dimensional beings who resemble a pair of mice. Arthur realises he has fallen into a trap. The mice, who constructed Deep Thought, used the supercomputer to build an even larger supercomputer, the planet Earth, to determine the Ultimate Question. Believing Arthur, the last remaining supercomputer component, may hold the Ultimate Question, the mice attempt to remove his brain. Arthur kills the mice.
As the crew regroup outside the house they are surrounded by Vogons and take shelter in a caravan as the Vogons open fire. Marvin is left outside and shot in the back of the head, and uses the Point-of-View gun on the Vogons, causing them to become depressed and unable to fight. As the Vogons are taken away and Questular rejoins with Zaphod, Arthur chooses to explore the galaxy with Trillian and lets Slartibartfast finalise the new Earth without him. The Heart of Gold crew decide to visit the Restaurant at the End of the Universe while Marvin points out they are going the wrong way.
 This film is fantastic – but one must have a warped sense of humour to appreciate it. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve watched it & I still laugh out loud. (I was almost crying with laughter in the cinema). The casting is great – I love Marvin voiced by the wonderful Alan Rickman. And the Vogons are great – just how I imagined them. Stephen Fry as the narrator is an inspiration.

REVIEW: VENUS

CAST

Peter O’ Toole (Lawrence of Arabia)
Jodie Whittaker (Broadchurch)
Leslie Phillips (The Jackal)
Vanessa Redgrave (Nip/Tuck)
Richard Griffiths (Harry Potter)
Cathryn Bradshaw (Like Minds)
Tom Mison (Sleepy Hollow)

The plot concerns Maurice (Peter O’Toole), an elderly actor who finds himself increasingly attracted to his friend Ian’s great-niece Jessie (Jodie Whittaker) while simultaneously finding himself in deteriorating health due to prostate cancer. Maurice’s friend describes the great-niece as a trouble maker and a nuisance, but Maurice discovers that Jessie warms up to him when he starts interacting with her. He takes her to the National Gallery in London to view his favourite painting, the Rokeby Venus, by the Spanish artist Diego Velázquez.
Peter O'Toole, Richard Griffiths, and Leslie Phillips in Venus (2006)
Jessie had expressed interest in modelling (Maurice initially mis-hears this as “yodelling”) and Maurice arranges for Jessie to model nude for an art class. As a result of Jessie posing for the art class, and inspired by his favourite painting, Maurice decides to give Jessie the nickname “Venus”. Maurice and Jessie develop a passive/aggressive relationship over the course of the film. Maurice is forward in terms of his attraction towards Jessie while Jessie occasionally indulges his whims to a limited extent, such as touching her hand and smelling her neck, but also retracts the indulgences when she feels that he has gone too far. The plot of the film revolves around the evolving friendship or relationship between the two characters. For Maurice, this appears to be the last attempt at something approaching a love life, as his prostate operation has left him impotent. For Jessie, it is less clear what she sees in Maurice. During the course of the film we see her do everything from exploiting him (trying to get him to buy her presents, trying to use his flat to have sex with a boy), taking care of him, flirting with him, and rejecting him sexually to engaging with him as a friend. During the course of the film we learn that she has been rejected by her mother and great-uncle for her promiscuous life style; it is implied that she is drawn to Maurice because he does not judge her as harshly as her family members have.
The plot comes to a head when Jessie becomes involved with a boy. The two young lovers convince Maurice to take a walk so that they can have sex. Maurice initially obliges, but returns to kick them out of his flat. A scuffle ensues and the boy knocks down Maurice, injuring him. Jessie leaves with the boy but she later returns to check on Maurice. When the paramedics arrive, Maurice claims he cannot remember who attacked him, much to Jessie’s surprise. Then Maurice calls for “Venus” to take care of him. Jessie, remorseful, agrees to look after Maurice. Some time later, after Maurice has at least partly recovered, he takes Jessie to the seaside at Whitstable in Kent.[2] As they sit down by the water Maurice says to Jessie “Now, we can really talk”, and dies, leaning on her. At the memorial services, Jessie meets Maurice’s ex-wife Valerie (Vanessa Redgrave), who could not find satisfaction in Maurice’s love life either. The last scene shows Jessie and others posing as models for the Venus character.
This film is amazing. The acting is superb and story very moving. It manages to be happy, sad, funny and uplifting all at once. The ‘disturbing’ moments work and are integral to the story.

REVIEW: SUPERMAN II

CAST

Christopher Reeve (Rear Window)
Margot Kidder (The Amityville Horror)
Gene Hackman (Heartbreakers)
Ned Beatty (Rango)
Jackie Cooper (The Champ)
Terence Stamp (Yes Man)
Marc McClure (Back To The Future)
Sarah Douglas (Puppet Master III)
Jack O’Halloran (King Kong 1976)
Valerie Perrine (What Women Want)
Susannah York (They Shoot Horsesm Don’t They?)
Clifton James (Live and Let Die)
Richard Griffiths (Harry Potter)
E.G. Marshall (Nixon)
John Ratzenberger (Cheers)
Eugene Lipinski (Highlander: The Series)

Superman II opens with a visual recap of the first movie during the opening credits. This is intended to refresh the memories of those who saw Superman, not to provide a primer for those who did not. Almost all of the surviving characters from Superman are back, some for cameos and some for more substantive screen time. The comically villainous Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) once again provides a thorn in Superman’s side; his henchman, Otis (Ned Beatty), appears in a few scenes, as does the scatterbrained Miss Teschmacher (Valerie Perrine). The three villains from Krypton – General Zod (Terence Stamp), Ursa (Sarah Douglas), and Non (Jack O’Halloran) – have greatly expanded roles. Everyone on the Daily Planet staff has returned: Perry White (Jackie Cooper), Jimmy Olsen (Marc McClure), and, of course, Lois Lane (Margo Kidder). Even Superman’s dead mother, Lara (Susannah York), makes a fleeting appearance. Absent is Marlon Brando, who refused to allow his work from Superman to be used in flashbacks or otherwise. Fortunately, Jor-El’s absence isn’t an issue.

Because the roster of characters is loaded with returning faces, there isn’t much room for new players. E.G. Marshall plays the United States President in a few scenes, and Clifton James has a cameo as the Sheriff of East Houston.  Other than those two and a few other minor characters (such as the bully in the diner who has a couple of run-ins with Clark Kent), Superman II is stocked from the same pool as Superman. (Almost everyone except Brando signed for two movies at the outset.) Rectifying one of Superman’s flaws, Superman II offers not just one, but three, effective villains. Each of the criminals from Krypton is as strong as the Man of Steel, and their amorality makes them far more dangerous. They have come to Earth for conquest and revenge (upon the son of their former jailer), and are surprised to learn that Kal-El is not lording it over the inferior human beings. Upon realizing this, a bemused Zod remarks, “This ‘Superman’ is nothing of the kind. I have discovered his weakness. He cares about these creatures.” Ursa, groping for a response, ventures, “Like pets?” The prominence of the three supervillains allows Lex Luthor to fill the role of comic relief – a part that fits Hackman to a “T”. And, in addition to playing an important part in the way things eventually turn out, Luthor has nearly all of the best lines.Superman-II-645x370The film opens with Superman flying to Paris to stop a group of terrorists from blowing up the Eiffel Tower with a hydrogen bomb. Hurling the device deep into space before it can explode, Superman saves the planet from nuclear devastation. Unbeknownst to him, however, he creates a bigger problem. Shock waves from the bomb rip open the “Phantom Zone” in which Jor-El had imprisoned Zod and his two cronies. Free, they make their way to the Moon, then to Earth, intent upon conquest. Meanwhile, Clark and Lois end up in Niagara Falls doing a piece of investigative journalism. While there, things heat up between the two of them as Lois finally realizes that Clark and Superman are one and the same. Once she has confessed her love for him, and he for her, they fly to his Fortress of Solitude, where he uses a supposedly irreversible process to strip away his superpowers so he can share his life with a mortal. Unfortunately, after returning to the real world and getting a rude awakening about his new physical limitations, Clark learns that, without Superman, the world is doomed to be ruled by Zod, Ursa, Non, and perhaps Luthor (who only wants Australia). So, leaving Lois to return to Metropolis by herself, he heads back to the Fortress, hoping to find some way to resurrect his powers.
Sarah Douglas, Margot Kidder, and Jack O'Halloran in Superman II (1980)
Obviously, the centerpiece of the film is the epic battle between Superman and the supervillains, which takes place high above Metropolis. Pyrotechnics abound, and, while the flying sequences still suffer from the same problems as those in the original Superman, their deficiencies are not distracting enough to diminish the high adrenaline aspects of the struggle. However, while this may be the most ambitious part of the movie, it’s not my favorite – that honor goes to the Clark/Lois scenes at Niagara Falls, which are, by turns, humorous, gentle, and suffused with a quiet sense of joy. Both Kidder and Reeve shine during these moments, and they display the kind of chemistry that has us rooting for them to defy the odds and remain together. It’s the freshness of these scenes that makes the denouement unexpectedly touching.

As with the original Superman, Superman II is a comic book come to life. It is a fantasy, and, as a result, the more deeply you apply rational thought to what’s transpiring on screen, the more quickly everything will unravel. Fortunately, the rapid pacing and strong character identification makes suspension of disbelief a relatively easy task, even during the most preposterous of moments (Luthor’s escape from prison, Clark’s return to the Fortress, and the final “twist” that results in Zod and his fellows getting their comeuppance). In fact, one of the key elements that differentiates the first two Supermans from the later pair of sequels (and the tangentially related Supergirl, for that matter) is our ability to suspend disbelief. Superman III and Superman IV are so patently idiotic that no amount of goodwill on the viewer’s part will allow him or her to get past the bad writing.MV5BOTI1NDE3NDAzOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTk5NTUyNw@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1524,1000_AL_Visually, the look and feel of Superman has been replicated in the sequel. Unlike Batman, which staked its credibility on style, Superman was never as concerned with the visual dynamic. The Fortress of Solitude is the exception, but there is no attempt to hide the fact that Metropolis is actually New York City. Musically, the decision was made to retain John Williams’ signature themes from the original Superman, as re-worked by Ken Thorne. The result is effective, allowing the two Supermans to be as much musical twins as they are visual ones. Most importantly, Superman II delivers on the promise hinted at in Superman. Which is the better film? That’s a hard choice to make, since both succeed in different ways. Superman acquaints us with the characters and sets up the scenario; Superman II takes the plot threads introduced in the original and resolves them. In my review of Superman, I noted that it is possible to watch and enjoy that film without having seen the sequel. A similar comment can be made regarding Superman II – having viewed its predecessor is not a necessary prerequisite to appreciating the second installment. Nevertheless, it should be obvious that the best approach is to see both movies (back-to-back, if possible).


As promised at the end of Superman II, there was a Superman III.