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Superman Returns (2006)
Good effects, but ultimately emotionally uninvolving
I was finally able to screen the newest adventure from Warner Bros. and DC Comics Films, "Superman Returns," starring relative unknown Brandon Routh in the role the late Christopher Reeve rode to stardom upon.
Now, some 28 years after Richard Donner's classic "Superman" hit the big screen, director Bryan Singer ("X-Men," "X-Men 2"), with a trillion dollar budget, tries his hand at helming the ultimate graphic novel adventure.
Sadly, Singer is no Donner.
While wonderful to look at, and sometimes interesting to ponder, this newest version of the saga of the Man of Steel leaves one with an impressive vapidity; a passive disinterest and an emotional detachment which overwhelms one with a cold, empty feeling.
In an effort to do what last year's "Batman Begins" did to the Caped Crusader franchise bring a new dark, brooding vitality to the series, "Superman Returns" succeeds only in making one wish for the deft hand of Donner, as well as the acting ability of Reeves, Margot Kidder (as Lois Lane), Ned Beatty (as a stupidly evil henchman, Otis) and especially Gene Hackman (as the best Lex Luthor ever).
The plot takes place supposedly five years after the action in Superman II (from 1981), when scientists discovered proof of such a world, Superman journeyed there (evidently without telling anyone of his plans) to find if it was possibly a living planet. It wasn't so now he's back but things have changed in his absence.
Mainly, that his love interest, Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth, "Win A Date With Tad Hamilton"), is involved with the nephew of Daily Planet editor-in-chief Perry White, Richard (James Marsden, who played Scott Summer/Cyclops in the "X-Men" films) and they now have a young son about five-years-old.
He won't let go, however, even flying to her mansion to spy on and stalk her in a very unSuperman-like scene.
Despite that last heartbreak, it's Lane's famous "Daily Planet" editorial, "Why The World Doesn't Need Superman," for which she will collect a Pulitzer Prize (huh?), that really stings Clark/Man of Steel.
That's one of the first problems I had with this version. In the first two films (nothing matters after part two), Superman saved Lane's life at least four times (from a helicopter plummeting of a skyscraper; from being buried alive in the desert; from a plunging elevator in the Eiffel Tower; and from going over the cliff at Niagara Falls. After all of that, she writes an article saying no one NEEDS him anymore?!
Then, in a nice bit of CGI work, the powerful hero rescues her again (from a plane plunging to earth), stopping the craft from crashing nose-first on the infield of a Major League baseball stadium. It's truly an awesome scene.
Meanwhile, in the frozen North, evil madman Luthor (Kevin Spacey, Academy Award winner for "The Usual Suspects" and "American Beauty") is out of prison and raiding Superman's Fortress of Solitude, making off which his collection of priceless crystals.
Routh is handsome all right, and looking close enough to Reeve (except his eyes are CGI'd blue from their natural brown) to keep us comfortable (his voice, though, is creepily similar to the late actor); so I have no real problem with him in the lead role.
Likewise, Sam Huntington as bumbling photographer Jimmy Olson, was adequately goofy in comic relief; while Frank Langella (as blustery Perry White) is good in just about any role he plays (see "Dracula" and "Dave" for proof of this).
The inclusion of Jack Larson (the original Jimmy Olson in the 1950s series), and Noel Neill (who played one of the Lois Lanes in that show) in cameo roles as a bartender and a rich, dying widow, respectively, was also a nice touch.
The other parts, however, do concern me. Bosworth is just too spineless and ineffective to be a hard-nosed reporter for a major newspaper, as well as the only real confidant our hero has in his life. To me, the spunky Parker Posey (who portrays Kitty Kowalski, Luthor's gun moll) would have made a much better Lois.
As for Spacey as Luthor, well, to me, he just is not evil enough. Gene Hackman had a deliciously devious demeanor, coupled with a madman's desire to rule the world with basically realistic plans to do so. Spacey seems more of an annoyance than a real threat.
Another crime this movie commits, is that it goes on and on at least 20 minutes after it should have concluded.
Now there will be fans out there who will no doubt blast me for this opinion, claiming how I dare I compare the 1978 and '81 films to this one.
To those detractors, I simply say that this new picture invites comparisons, utilizing the same opening credits, the same theme song, archival footage of Marlon Brando (as Jor-El, speaking dialogue from the original film), even the same scene where Superman flies Lois around New York (the only thing missing is Kidder's corny voice-over).
Not the best Sandler vehicle; but quite enjoyable
In a nod to Jim Carrey's "Bruce Almighty" in which a regular Schmoe becomes almost omnipotent Adam Sandler stars as a loser who is offered a "universal remote" control device, which gives him power over time and space among other things.
The remote is given to him by the otherworldly Morty (Christopher Walken), who is tinkering in the bowels of a Bed, Bath & Beyond store. Actually, the plot is taken from the "Twilight Zone" episode, "A Kind Of Stopwatch," which originally aired on Oct. 18, 1963, but this contraption also allows Michael Newman (Sandler) to mute, pause, review his past and (especially) fast-forward things around him.
It's that latter feature, though, that causes the most havoc in his life, because as soon as he zips through one crisis (getting a cold, arguing with his wife, wishing for a promotion, having sex, etc.) after another, the machine programs itself, automatically forwarding through similar situations, and causing his existence to pass all too quickly before his eyes.
While he strives to climb the company ladder at his architect firm, he begins to use the thing to avoid the months and years of hard work it would take for him to succeed; soon, however, as in most films of this fantasy ilk, the bad side is revealed. While his brain is fast-forwarding through bits of unpleasantness, his body remains - with little or no reaction to the things actually going on around him in his family's reality.
Before he realizes it, his wife, Donna (Kate Beckinsale), is drifting away from him, and the relationship with his kids, Ben and Samantha (Joseph Castanon and Tatum McCann) is going to pot. Donna eventually divorces Michael and marries swim instructor, Bill (Sean Astin, "Lord of the Rings," "50 First Dates"), while the kids grow up estranged from their father. He's a big man at his company, sure, but no amount of success on the job can compensate for failure in the home.
The lesson here is to spend as much quality time with your loved ones ("Family comes first") and there are no quick fixes in life. A bit maudlin and sappy, at times (although there are some pretty funny moments), plus about 10 minutes too long for my taste; but nice supporting work from Walken (who steals the picture), Henry Winkler and Julie Kavner (as Michael's meshugana parents), as well as David Hasselhoff, as his weirded-out boss, make this one of Sandler's better vehicles.
Not his best - that was "The Wedding Singer" (so far) - but good enough to enjoy.
Riding with Death (1976)
Two bad episodes that go worse together
This "film" is nothing more than two episodes of the short-lived (actually, that's an understatement, considering the show lasted only from Sept. 23-Oct. 28, 1976) NBC series, "Gemini Man," which was itself simply a re-warmed version of David McCallum's "The Invisible Man," also a failure from the same network earlier that year.
In this program, Ben Murphy ("Being From Another Planet," "Alias Smith & Jones") plays "Sam Casey," an employee of Intersect (a government think-tank of some kind), who, because of an underwater explosion, and by using a special watch, has the power to become invisible -up to 15 minutes a day. This is based, very loosely, on something that H.G. (Homer Gump) Wells wrote-once.
Murphy's co-workers include Katherine Crawford as "Dr. Abby Lawrence," who serves no useful purpose other than to get in the way (or observe the proceedings on a large TV screen), and his boss, "Leonard Driscoll (played by William Sylvester, "Devil Doll," "Gorgo," "2001: A Space Odyssey)," who is also obsessed with the "elusive" Robert Denby.
First segment has an evil scientist (John Milford) trying to embezzle money for some reason by hiring the dimwitted Murphy to drive a semi full of explosive "tripaladene" (so named because it "triples vehicle mileage"), across the country.
During this silliness, he (and, unfortunately, the audience, as well) meets up with one-time minor league pop and country star, Jim Stafford ("Spiders And Snakes," "My Girl Bill," "Wildwood Weed"), typecast perfectly as a braid-dead, redneck trucker named "Buffalo Bill.
His introductory shouts of "Ah'm on t'hair! Ah'm on t'hair!" over his citizen's band radio bring back all of the horrible memories we thought had vanished with C.W. McCall, Cletus Maggard and all of the other idiots who populated the high point of the C.B. craze.
Later on, Richard Dysart (a decent actor who starred in "L.A. Law," and "Being There") makes a cameo appearance, but it doesn't do any good, although the conclusion of that part, when Milford is taken away and Sylvester's hair looks like Bill Murray's at the end of "Kingpin," is drop-dead (unintentionally) hilarious.
Part two features Murphy, posing as a pit crewman for the ever-annoying Stafford, who has miraculously become a stock car racer. Both work for Denby, who finally shows up in the form of Ed Nelson ("Teenage Caveman," "Night of the Blood Beast"), and is a villain who invents a radio that can blow things up, or something to that effect.
This half is lamely tied to the first by Murphy saying to Sylvester, "I understand you grew a mustache while I was away," and proves, if nothing else, that stock car racing was just as boring in 1976 as it is today.
Highlight comes as Stafford, attempting to perform during "Amatuer Night" at the Pit Stop Saloon, gets into a fight with a Robert Shaw look-a-like and a Margo Gortner clone. He later lets out an embarrassing series of whoops in a public restroom because he's allowed to drive a car that eventually explodes.
While all of this takes place, Crawford is watching, unemotionally, on a big TV screen from Intersect headquarters. There is NO explanation for this, and no practical demonstration on HOW there can be cameras at the various locations, but thinking about this too much can be mind-boggling, so I'll leave it at that.
The end has Stafford "singing" a "thank you for saving my life" song to Murphy, while Crawford continues to watch - this time in SLOW MOTION! This garbage should have been left in NBC's dumpster where it belonged, and only serves as an interesting episode for the smartly satirical cable program, "Mystery Science Theatre 3000."
Graphics make 'Puma Man' look state-of-the-art
Film was produced by WNET in New York, with post-production work done in Canada (it figures). In the undetermined future, Aram Fingal (the late Raul Julia-"The Addams Family," "Kiss of the Spider Woman," "The Burning Season") is a data processor for the gigantic Novicorp Corporation, who, after being caught watching a much better movie -"Casablanca" - on company time, is forced to submit to a mental rehabilitation (called "doppling" here).
At the Nirvana Center (a large mall), he meets rehab programmer, Apollonia James (Linda Griffiths), who eventually becomes his tepid love interest. As he is "doppled" into the brain of a baboon (a series of stock footage with Julia's lame voice overs adds to the unintentional hilarity), a stupid kid on a tour switches his identification tag with a corpse. Why a group of unruly moppets are allowed to run free in an operating roam is never answered, by the way.
Meanwhile, Fingal, with the assistance of plot holes that Dom DeLuise could fit through, creates his own fantasy world based upon the classic, Academy-Award-winning 1942 film starring himself as Rick as played by Humphrey Bogart, Griffiths as Elsa (portrayed 350 million light years better by Ingrid Bergman), and Louis Negin as a prissy and annoying Peter Lorre knock-off.
The Chairman of Novicorp, "The Chairman" (Donald C. Moore) also joins in the fun as "The Fat Man," as if anyone cares. A confusing series of events is not left well enough alone as the ending clears up nothing, as the plot of "Berlin Alexanderplotz" was more coherent.
And what was the point of the whole cube thing; the "I've Interfaced!" baloney, the poorly-conceived masturbation scene; as well as the spinning electron Julias, anyway?
As bad as the writing and acting (Julia is twice as bad in a dual role and Griffith spends most of the time staring at a computer screen), however, it's the not-so-special effects that drop this turkey a few feet below sewer level.
Ultra-cheap graphics conjure up images of Pong, Wang Computers, the video by The Buggles, and the season they videotaped episodes of "The Twilight Zone." State-of-the-art technology it's not, and today, high school kids can design better looking graphics on the Macs. These not-so special effects make the juvenile work in 1980's "Puma Man" seem like Pixar animation.
Film also tries to tell us that ridiculous names such as Aram, Apollonia, Crull Spier, Emmaline Ozmondo and Geddy Arbeid, will be commonplace. An unforgivably bad motion picture on every level.
Time Chasers (1994)
Only good as MST3K fodder
As putrid a piece of slop ever released, this Edgewood Entertainment crapper (aslo known as "Time Chasers") was filmed entirely in the state of Vermont, the least-visited and cared-about of all 50, and tells the ridiculous tale of Nick Miller (Matthew Bruch-one of the single ugliest leading men in cinematic history, in fact, he makes Rowsdower from "The Final Sacrifice," look like Brad Pitt), who invents a time-traveling device that is powered by a Wang computer and a Piper Cub.
He jumps (or flies) ahead to 2041, sees some "futuristic" stuff, then comes back and sells the invention to a huge corporation. Later, after a lame trip to the "1950s," he goes back to the future, where a cheap matte painting shows that a war took place and the (unnamed) city is in ruins.
He fights off a bunch of rejects from 2041, comes back to the present, hijacks his own plane, crashes it and kills his girlfriend, Lisa (Bonnie Pritchard), and then travels to the Revolutionary War, where he dies, but his double and his girlfriend's doppelganger are still alive, so they go back to the present just before he was to sell the invention, and stops himself from doing it.
Wow. Not only confusing, but boring and ridiculous (although it's a much better time-travel film than "The Lake House").
Here are some more specific "highlights" of just how amazingly bad this movie is: During a chase scene where Nick is trying to escape on a ten-speed bicycle, the bad guys actually get out of a truck they were in and pursue him - on BIKES.
Scenes in the future depict "actors" walking around in loud, garish, baggy clothing and talking on cell phones, much like they do today. There is also a sign that reads, "This building is constructed of recycled material, 2021." The voyage to the 1950s shows a few classic cars and a malt shop. The bad guys were not counting on being outwitted by an airport hangar custodian.
As bad as the two leads are, the corporate clowns (Peter Harrington and George Woodard-J.K. Robertson) are just plain awful. The Revolutionary War scenes are included for no other reason than to show off a bunch of fat re-en-actors, and during these sequences, the single dumbest lines ever written for a "Mystery Science Theatre 3000" episode is uttered: Speaking of some fleeing American colonists, running from machine gun fire, Nick says, "I don't think they've ever seen an Uzi before." Duh! No kidding.
Terrible from every vantage point, the movie is nonetheless perfect fodder for the satirical minds at "MST3K," if nothing else.
Devil Doll (1964)
There are much better movies of this genre available
Movie is an Associated Film Dist. Corp. release of a Galaworld Ldfilm-Gordon Films production, directed by Lindsey Shonteff, and tells the story of a ventriloquist who is outwitted by his dummy. This plot has been done better many times before including the "Twilight Zone's" version, "The Dummy," The Great Gabbo (1929)," and "Michael Redgrave's segment in the chilling, "Dead Of Night" from 1949.
You know it's going to be bad, though, because picture takes place in England, and the headliner is the pale, gaunt, pock-mocked loser from "The Projected Man," Bryant Haliday, the poor man's Anthony Cardoza. Also on the menu is the pudgy, laconic William Sylvester, who has appeared "Riding With Death" and "Gorgo," as well as "2001: A Space Odyssey."
Haliday plays "The Great Vorelli," a ventriloquist with a tacky beard and a dummy named Hugo that can perform amazing routines, such as walk towards the audience and eat ham. The act basically consists of Vorelli berating the dummy and arguing with it like a second-grader (saying things like "The sawdust in your stomach will explode," and "You're ugly.").
Vorelli then ingratiates himself into a rich family with an above-average-looking daughter (for Britain), Marianne (Yvonne Romain). He hypnotizes her to fall in love with him, which makes her "boyfriend," reporter Sylvester, pout like a little baby.
Here's my gripe with that. It seems in a lot of these films, the hero is someone who doesn't deserve it. Like the reporter is "Teenagers From Outer Space," among others. They get the girl with no effort, while the villain, or alien, in some cases, in much more interesting.
Here, Vorelli is homely, deeply disturbed and psychotic, but he's light years more intriguing than the dullard Sylvester - which makes me wonder what a normal-looking woman would see in him in the first place. And as much pawing and groping as Vorelli does to his assistant, the brief make out scene between Sylvester and Romain is nauseating beyond description.
Anyway, Sylvester, with the help of several pug-ugly Brits, discovers that Hugo is embodied with the spirit of a murder victim from Berlin. However, Sylvester's obsession with Hugo borders on the perverted and makes you want to slap him around, especially during the scene where he sneaks in a room to fondle it.
A lame fight at the end (not unlike the one that concludes "Santa Claus Conquers The Martians"), however, causes Hugo to become "alive" and take Vorelli's place, while the audience is left feeling sad and empty, not unlike Vorelli's sex life or Hugo's cranium.
The Projected Man (1966)
It's bad - and it's British
The film, a Universal release of a Protelco-MLC production, is a boring retelling of the theory of breaking down the molecular structure of an object, capturing it in a cell as "pure energy," and then sending it back complete to a "target area." There is no explanation WHY this is necessary, but Professor Paul Steiner (played by pock-mocked actor Bryant Haliday, "Devil Doll") thinks it's something to dedicate his, and his assistants', Pat Hill (Mary Peach) and Chris Mitchell (Ronald Allen), lives to.
During an experiment before noted Dutch scientist "Lembach" (Gordon Heinz), his machine fails due to sabotage, so he has himself "projected" by his secretary, Sheila (Tracey Crisp) to seek revenge. Of course, she screws up and he comes out looking like a "pork roast" with the power to electrocute people.
With this new-found power, he manages to zap some Cockney idiots, a security guy named Latham (Derrick de Marney) and his lab boss, Dr. Blanchard (Norman Woodland). He also is able to break into a pharmacy and steal a pair of rubber gloves and a black coat, as well.
In the end, though, despite Hill and Mitchell's attempt to help him, the clown destroys his equipment and himself. On the whole, a completely pointless movie with no message at all.
Also one of the most depressing color films you will ever see.
Frightening and terrifying - only for its inclusion of Joe Estevez
This film, written, produced and directed by Tony Zarindast (the poor man's Cy Roth), is one of the worst post-1990's movies since "Hobgoblins." Plot goes something like this: A human skeleton with a dog's skull is unearthed on an archaeological dig in the Arizona desert. This event causes two idiots to get into a fight, where one of them is scratched by a bone, and turns into "the least successful werewolf of all-time."
Actually, it wouldn't be fair to use the term "wolf," or any other member of the wolf family, since it resembles more of a bear, a bat, a cat, or a monkey in various incarnations.
During those crucial scenes, Martin Sheen's dumpier, homelier brother, Joe Estevez, make a few cameo appearances, and just like Emilio's career, disappears quickly and mercifully.
While villains Noel (Richard Lynch) and Yuri (George Rivero) take the bones and explains the legend of the Yomiguchi, or "the man who walks around on all fours" to a disinterested audience, dim-witted Natalie (Adrianna Miles-who conjures up vivid memories of Angelika Jager, the bizarrely-accented chick from Season One's "Robot Holocaust"), stands around, dull-eyed with mouth agape, uttering lines like, "This is fascinating," and "You and Paul is a weer-wilf."
Halfway through the film, two more inane characters appear, Paul (Fred Cavalli), who looks like Andy Kaufman's "foreign guy," and a goofy, bearded clown named "Sam the Keeper," who is a cross between Fidel Castro and Santa.
At a party, Paul humiliates Yuri, so, in revenge, the latter gets a security guard drunk and turns him into a lycanthrope, who crashes his car into a pile of oil drums. Later, Paul proves his ultimate effeminacy by being beat up by Yuri, hit with the canine cranium, and transforming into the second-least successful werewolf of all-time.
In the meantime, Rivero is going through multiple hairstyle and color changes, until the final scenes where he looks like Joe Pesci in "JFK." So, basically, this picture is nothing but bad hair, bad accents and worse acting.
Stick to the original "Wolf Man," or even "Teen Wolf," if you want genuine thrills. Watch this one (especially the "Mystery Science Theatre 3000" version) if you want some unintentional laughs.
L'uomo puma (1980)
Worst action hero film of all-time
Below sewer-level movie, directed by Alberto De Martino and starring once-decent thespian, Donald Pleasence ("Fantastic Journey," "Halloween," "The Changing Of The Guard" installment of "The Twilight Zone") as the villain, and non-talents Walter George Alton (a person not worthy of one name, let alone THREE), Miguelangel Fuentes and Sydne Rome, among others, is so bad it's great (if that's conceivable).
Minuscule plot has Alton as paleontologist, Tony Farm, who finds an ancient Aztec mask, and thanks to a huge, square-headed mongoloid (Fuentes, with a Moe Howard haircut) - who keeps following him - he reluctantly becomes Puma Man, one of the lamest super heroes since William Katt.
Pleasence, playing another bad guy role, is just as lisping an inept as he was in all of his other movies. Needless to say, he and his moronic henchmen are out to retrieve said mask because it has the power to make people fly at odd angles and rip through cardboard sets.
To say that this film is bad would be an insult to the term. Horrible, beyond ludicrous "special" effects, insipid acting, unbelievably stupid dialogue and cheesy 1970's TV soundtrack music make the entire enterprise unintentionally hilarious.
And Alton's turn as the lead consists of an hour of wooden sleepwalking followed by an idiotic ten-second outburst. Ultimately, however, it's the block-headed Aztec who turns out to be the hero, and the concluding "battle" is the silliest since the end of "Santa Claus Conquers The Martians," or "Rocky V."
No matter how you film a worm, it just isn't scary
"Squirm," is a repulsive piece of compost written and directed by Jeff Lieberman (come back, Ed Wood, all is forgiven!), which relates "the most bizarre freak of nature ever recorded (unless you count Al Gore)."
Film "stars" Don Scardino as Mick, a most unappealing nerd from the city (it never says WHICH city, but, then again, it doesn't really matter, does it?), who comes to Fly Creek, Georgia, to visit the pathetically pale, thin and most uncommonly unattractive Patricia Percy.
There's a minor summer storm which causes the electric wires to fall to earth sending worms (or, in this case, slugs and millipedes), to appear in strange places, like Mick's "egg cream."
Supporting characters, including an effeminate sheriff (Peter Mac Lean), a demented worm farmer (R.A. Dow), a wacky antebellum mom (Jean Sullivan) and a slutty, undernourished little sister in laughably-huge platform shoes (Fran Higgins), among others, who go way over the top with their phony Southern accents; as the worms (looking like slimy piles of slowly moving ground round) kill a few crackers and inbred rednecks.
And that's the problem with this movie. Let's face it, friends, worms, no matter how electrically-charged they are, or how ferociously close-up they are filmed, just aren't scary. Plus, there's really no new ideas here that haven't been used in countless horror pictures.
Case in point, not only do the worms devour the flesh of their victims, but they also seem to have an incredible knack for hiding the bones so that local law enforcement can't find them, thereby casting doubts on those reporting the incidents and allowing even more hicks to be eaten.
Hey, it's a cycle I can certainly live with.