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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Superman II- The Donner Cut



A rather unusual, and dare I say historic event occurs on Tuesday when Richard Donner's cut of Superman 2 arrives on DVD.

Richard Donner, the director of the first Superman starring Christopher Reeve, was fired half way through the filming of the second Superman.

The reason was cited as creative differences.

He was replaced by Richard Lester who delivered an outstanding sequel.

I'll even go as far as saying that it's a superior film than the first Superman.

I'm sure I share that opinion with many others.

But for whatever reason there's been a demand to see the footage that Donner shot, some even claiming that his version was even better than Lester's.

Throughout the years a cult following developed.

It became a full fledge phenomenon when Bryan Singer, in preparation for his film Superman Returns, viewed footage from the Donner cut, and came away singing it's praises.

So Warner Brothers did the unprecedented, and decided to release a version of Superman 2 using the previously unseen footage shot by Donner, and filling in the holes with the footage shot by Lester.

Not only that, but paid for restoration, and according to the special features on the DVD, the creation of some 250 new special effects shots.

Some of the highlights of the new version is a new beginning, ending, and the presence of Marlon Brando.

But is it better than Lester's version?

Spoilers now follow.

First off the film has never looked better.

It's obvious the powers that be has put some money into this DVD.

This isn't some chessy director's cut that inserts storyboards, and cheap narration to fill in the holes.

The video, sound, and color have all been enhanced, and restored.

I threw on the special edition of Lester's version, which is being released at the same time, to compare the transfers, and the differences are obvious.

The Donner version looks, and sounds significantly better.

Which is disappointing for fans of the original version.

In terms of story, the Donner cut is shorter, tighter, and feels more like a sequel.

Events that transpired in the first film directly affect this version.

Specifically, the way General Zod and his crew escape from the phantom zone is from one of Lex Luthor's nuclear bombs in the first film that Superman intercepts on it's way to California.

Instead of the terrorist bomb from Lester's version, the bomb that releases Zod is a nuclear bomb that Superman throws into space.

The ending is also drastically different. Instead of the magic kiss to make Lois forget, Superman simply does what he did in the first film. Which is reverse time to the point where he throws the bomb into outer space.

Which means the whole movie never takes place.

Which makes no sense....whatsoever.

The best, and most refreshing change is having Marlon Brando in the film.

I'm not sure if it's nostalgia, or genuine enhancement of the story, but having Brando in the film seems to really elevate the film to another level

In terms of story, it definitely raises the stakes when Superman decides to become human.

Also seeing Brando pleading with his son to reconsider, enhances the themes of the Superman story. Issues of responsibilty, serving the greater good, and self sacrifice are addressed.

It also brings out a more dynamic performance from Christopher Reeve.

We witness a great moment when we see the little boy in Kal-el come out as he defies his father, and decides to become human. Than another great moment when we see his remorse, and regret when he begs for forgiveness, and pleads for a way to become Superman again. It adds a vulnerability to the character of Superman that we've never seen on film.

It's also tragic when we see that the only way that he can become Superman again, is by the destruction of his father's hologram. Which means he will never be able to interact with the image of his father again.

It provides a rather touching goodbye scene between the two.

The moment is especially poignant when one steps out of the film, and considers that relatively recently both Marlon Brando, and Christopher Reeve have passed away.

But besides those changes the movie is basically the same. The same themes, and plot-line remain relatively intact.

I guess if I had to choose though, I prefer Lester's version.

In terms of story logic, and through-line Lester's version just plays better. There's also more action sequences in his film.

But I'm grateful for this new version. If only to see Christopher Reeve and Marlon Brando's new footage.

After watching Superman Returns, one realizes how excellent Christopher Reeve's performance was, and it's always refreshing to see Brando perform, even in a performance that many consider stilted and distant.

The DVD is available on November 28th.



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Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Prestige



Swiftly jumping onto my top ten list for 2006 is Christopher Nolan's fascinating, and entertaining movie The Prestige.

The film is a multi-layered tale, which examines the destructive nature of man's inner demons.

It features some of the finest writing, and performances in the past year.

The story is a period piece about two ambitious up and coming magicians, played outstandingly by Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman, who after a tragic accident become fierce rivals, and eventually bitter enemies.

Jonathan and Christopher Nolan created a script that is impressive because the film's themes creep up on the viewer much like a magic trick.

The movie seems to play out like it's a mystery, or con game when in reality.....it's really not.

It's a character study.

A fascinating, complex study of man's dark side.

To be honest, the actual twist or mystery, in the film is not really that hard to figure out. When it is eventually revealed, it actually becomes an after thought to the real through-line of the film.

The twist is an illusion of what we think is the real story. Which is ironic because the film is about magicians.

It's a interesting, and enjoyable way to frame a story about deception, ambition, obsession and the lengths people will go for revenge.

At several points in the film the movie manipulates who we root for. We switch back and forth between the characters trying to decide who the protagonist is.

Which, in the end has us questioning whether the two characters are different at all.

Along with the excellent script, the film is also backed up with fantastic performances.

In addition to the aforementioned lead performers, the supporting actors Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson, Andy Serkis and a haunting, elegant David Bowie all shine in complex multi-dimensional performances.

It is sophisticated material that really can't fully be appreciated until some time afterwards.

When the film actually ended, I briefly contemplated whether I even liked it.

The journey 0f the film is so thought provoking, and demanding that the film requires a moment of consideration to fully absorb the story.

So after some thought, and analysis I realized that it's haunting, and powerful themes stayed with me like no other movie this year.

The film is mystifying, haunting, and strangely provoking .

It almost demands a second viewing.

In retrospect, I believe much of the film can't really be fully appreciated until it's watched again. Which I look forward to soon.

It's complex, intelligent, and satisfying like no other commercial movie so far this year.

Easily one of the finest films this year, and confirms to me, what I've suspected after watching Batman Begins, that Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale are the next great cinematic duo, much like DiCaprio and Scorsese, or Spielberg and Hanks.

It's exciting, inspiring stuff, and I can't wait to watch their future collaborations.



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Sunday, November 05, 2006

Borat: Cultural learnings of America......



The funniest movie.......ever?

A great case can be made.

I don't think there's a way to describe the giddy laughter, and joy I experienced while watching this film.

To be honest it's been a long time since I felt and shared that kind of experience in a movie theatre. I have to think way back to the time I first saw the movie Airplane with a full house. I was pretty young at the time, but the laughter and joy I remember the audience experiencing had a profound, almost traumatic affect on me.

It was laughter that hurt. Rolling laughter that had people gasping for air.

Literally people were in pain from laughing so much.

Walking away from the theatre, I remember people wiping their eyes from the tears of laughter.

To be honest I never thought I'd experience that again.

Until now.

Borat: The Cultural learnings of America for make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan will probably go down as one of the five funniest movies...... of all time.

I feel silly writing a synopsis of the film. The concept of the film is pretty simple.

Borat, a wildly racist, crude, and simple minded reporter from a fictional backwards Kazakhstan is making a documentary about people he encounters...along the way he becomes obsessed with Pamela Anderson.

That's it.

It's amazing how many laughs he's able to illicit with such a simple premise.

I laughed.....hard about every 30 seconds during the film.

Literally.

I wasn't the only one.

At one point during my screening people started to applaud wildly when a hilarious scene concluded, I even saw some people standing up.

For a movie.

We're talking flashing lights here.

A standing ovation for a projected image.

From the moment that the credits started rolling the laughter began. There was never a moment that I felt the audience felt bored or distracted, we were all glued to the screen.

I'm pretty sure that if a fire started in the theatre nobody would have noticed.

No joke.

Besides the genius of Cohen, I think a lot of credit has to go to Larry Charles for his fine direction.

Rather than trying to re-invent the wheel, Charles sticks closely to the format that worked so well on Da Ali G Show.

Borat interacts with unsuspecting subjects who unknowingly share their dark sides in the presence of a seemingly naive Borat.

People think they are informing, and educating the simple minded Borat. When in reality he's uncovering all of American society's dirty laundry.

It's subversive, profound, thought provoking, and just plain funny stuff.

But that's not where all the laughs are, one surprise about the film is how much scripted material is in the film.

I think about 70% of the film is scripted.

The stuff in fictional Kazakhstan is some of the funniest parts in the film. There's also plenty of humorous bits involving Borat and his producer Azmat brilliantly played by Ken Davitian.
They come off as a sort of twisted, racist, crude Laurel and Hardy.

Since Cohen is more of a comedian than an actor one would think this would be one of the weaker elements of the film. But under Larry Charles, who has some experience dealing with this type of free form lightly structured improv material from working on Curb your Enthusiasm, it becomes one of the strongest elements of the film.

Indeed one of the funniest, and raunchiest bits come from the staged material. I won't ruin it here with a description. But trust me, people will know what scene I'm referring to when they watch the film.

It's shocking, crude, perverse stuff. It's also material that'll be talked about for years.

Make sure to check it out before the buzz becomes unavoidable.

Ironically, some genius at Fox, using some stupid fuzzy mathematics, and survey response forms, decided to scale back the number of theatres showing the film. Imagine how they feel now that despite the limited screenings the film still opened at Number one. Imagine how many people were turned away this weekend. I almost missed out when I was initially turned away at one theatre. Luckily I was persistent and found it playing somewhere else.

It shouldn't have been that hard though. I'm know some people who weren't as persistent.

THAT guy is going to get fired.

Anyways by next week the rest of the world will get to see it. Borat will probably be a household name.

Which brings about a depressing note. With so much exposure it'll be impossible for Cohen to play the character again.

At least he's going out with a bang.

A glorious, fun filled, hilarious bang.



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