Friday, December 21, 2007

Friday Night Videos

Nothing says Christmas in Fallujah quite like Billy Joel and Cass Dillon. Happy holidays everybody.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut

I finally saw the legendary Richard Donner cut of Superman II last night, via the magic of NetFlix. This is something you'd think I'd already have bought. Simply haven't gotten around to it, plain and simple.

The movie itself is interesting. Very raw and choppy, which is to be expected, but still better than Superman III: The Richard Pryor Debacle or Superman IV: The Quest for a Coherent Script. For those of you not hip to Superman history, about 75 percent of Superman II was filmed simultaneously with Superman: The Movie, only to have the Salkinds--the producers of the movies--fire Donner after the first movie came out because he wouldn't add more slapstick comedy to them. Richard Lester stepped in and re-shot most of the Superman II footage, with the exception of Gene Hackman's scenes, because Hackman wouldn't return to the set to work with Lester. Marlon Brando's Jor-El footage was left out of the Lester version as well, since Brando demanded a lot of $$ for his work to be used in the Lester film. Essentially, the actors rallied to the defense of Donner, even though it ultimately failed to bring the director back to the project.

The Donner version more closely marries the two films. That second missile Supes deflects out into space in the first movie, thereby saving Hackensack, NJ, explodes and frees the Phantom Zone criminals--there are no Eiffel Tower terrorists this go-round. Lois also figures out Clark Kent's secret identity early on in this one, and there's an amusing scene where she throws herself out of the Daily Planet (about 30 stories up) in an attempt to expose Clark as she forces him to save her. The Niagra Falls sequences are from the Lester version, as the dialogue makes it clear that the Daily Planet sequence didn't happen in this continuity. After Supes saves the boy falling into the falls, instead of Lois jumping into the raging river, we have a screen-test scene (snippets of which appear on the Superman: The Movie special edition bonus features) in which Lois pulls a gun and "shoots" Clark to prove he's Superman. This sequence, although flabby and drawn-out (it was a screen test, after all) works pretty well and is more convincing than Clark's clumsy tumble into the fireplace from the Lester version. In the Fortress of Solitude, there's a lot of Jor-El interaction, and there's a lot more finality and closure here, very much making Superman I and II two chapters in a single story arc. Much of the Kryptonian villain's scenes are similar or the same as what appeared in the Dent version, but there are interesting tweaks here and there. During the big fight in Metropolis, Superman is knocked into the Statue of Liberty's torch. That's pretty impressive and effective, even if it too firmly establishes New York as Metropolis (but that was already done in the first movie).

There are far fewer slapstick jokes in this version, which is good. The opening of the movie is somewhat ponderous, recapping the entire first movie in 10 or so minutes. This could stand for some serious trimming and restructuring, but even so it's worthwhile since it shows significant events from the first movie from different angles and perspectives. I'm particularly keen on young Kal-El opening his Kryptonian space ship after it crashes into the Kansas field.

Most fascinating is the ending, which almost certainly wouldn't have survived had Donner been able to complete the film. The magic kiss is gone. Originally, Superman flying around the Earth to reverse time was the climax of the second film, sending Zod & Co. back into the Phantom Zone and erasing Lois' memory of Clark Kent's secret identity. When Donner stopped production on Superman II to focus on the first movie, that ending sequence was moved to the first movie with the mindset that the Superman II ending would be reworked somehow at a later date. Lester solved the problem with the infamous magic kiss. How Donner would've handled things remains a mystery, since Donner doesn't offer any suggestions.

There's a documentary on the reconstruction of the film that's quite enlightening, and Donner is still understandably bitter about his firing nearly three decades later. There are a handful of incidental deleted scenes along with a few other extras. I haven't listened to Donner's commentary track yet, but that's obviously an intriguing future goodie.

I still wish Warner Brothers would release Mario Puzo's massive original treatment of the material, which, according to rumor, treats the Superman mythos with more drama and reverence than even Donner's final versions. It was supposedly much longer and more complex as well (what would you expect from the author of The Godfather?). Still, a qualified thumbs up for the Donner Cut. Fans of the Superman mythos definitely need to see, if not own, this film.

Now Playing: The Doctor Demento Show Oct. 13, 2001

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

My boss is sick

My boss is sick. Not so much anymore, but still enough to make a difference.

You may have noticed (or not) that postings here have been somewhat sparse since the beginning of November. The second week of November my boss came down with the flu, or perhaps a case of that mutant cold strain that's hospitalized a bunch of soldiers in San Antonio and killed a dozen people across the country. Either way, it hammered him hard (along with several other folks that work around us). Once it looked like he was recovering, some secondary complications with preexisting medical conditions set in, laying him out from then until... well, he's still out, but getting better.

The long and short of it is that I've been running the office in his absence. And when you're the only person left in a two-person office that is already woefully understaffed, "swamped" isn't the word to describe it. The end result is that I'm working longer hours, much more drained in the evenings and doing very little writing--bloggish, fictionalish or non-fictionalish.

The good news is that I've somehow managed to keep the ship afloat and highers-up in the university's admin have made approving noises. The bad news is that, well, I'm worn out. That's why I haven't posted any updates on my "Shoals of Cibola" progress--there isn't any. But the big holiday break is coming up for me, and my boss hopes to be back in the office come January. Fingers are crossed that I'll be able to get a bit of writing done between now and then.

Now Playing: Brian Wilson Imagination

Friday, December 14, 2007

Friday Night Videos

Most of the Christmas songs I've been listening to of late don't have videos to go with them. Heck, most of the artists don't even have currently available record company contracts. So we'll go with Trans-Siberian Orchestra for the season, and a seriously old school video that reminds me a lot of old ELO from the heyday of MTV. "Discovery" anyone?

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Squirrel Nut Zippers.

Now Playing: The Doctor Demento Show Dec. 9, 2000

The Wild Wild West (sans robot spiders)

My review of The Wild Wild West: The Third Season is now live over at RevolutionSF. If your only knowledge of The Wild Wild West comes from Will Smith gettin' jiggy with giant robot spiders, you owe it to yourself to give this thing a look-see. If only for the genius of Miguelito Quixote Loveless.

And remember, Will Smith fought that giant robot spider so Superman wouldn't have to.

Now Playing: Michael Kamen The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

Friday, December 07, 2007

Friday Night Videos

How is it possible that I haven't yet featured the Squirrel Nut Zippers? Consider that oversight hereby corrected:

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Billy Joel.

Now Playing: Vince Guaraldi Trio A Charlie Brown Christmas