Rewatched KING KONG (1933) on DVD
with the commentary track on. Hilarious how Merian C. Cooper and Fay Wray get a handful of lines (extracted from God knows what old filmed interviews) while guest commentators Ray Harryhausen and Ken Ralston are allowed to babble endlessly from a fanatic's POV about stuff they don't have first-hand knowledge of. Since Ray has a considerable and respected body of work directly inspired by his experience of watching "King Kong" as a youngster though (unlike, for example, Roger Avary's 'why was he invited to talk about this?'
commentary for Romero's "Day of the Dead") you roll with it and I learned to appreciate the movie's influence and stature a little bit more than before. Fritz Lang's SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR (1948) on TCM-HD
for the first time. Fritz does the Hollywood melodrama/thriller mechanisms justice and twists them with just enough personal touches (cinematography, music and camera composition are all aces) that, despite the disappointing ending (the payoff doesn't match the slow burn of a build-up that is the entire narrative), I enjoyed the ride because it was fun to hang out with these troubled well-to-do characters. Joan Bennett's inner-monologue of self-doubt about the things she thinks may or may not anger the man he just met and married (Michael Redgrave, restrained until a decent tour-de-force final act), along with the latter revelations of Mark's obsessions with 'collecting rooms,' are both dated but revealing glimpses about the protagonists' damaged psyche. Barbara O'Neill and Paul Cavanagh give creepy little supporting performances but it's Lang's total control of sight/sound/emotion that is the movie's real star. Again though, crap ending (spoiled by "Dexter" I guess).
Rewatched SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE (1978/2000) on HD-DVD
with the Richard Donner/Tom Mankiewicz commentary track on. Even though it doesn't look leaps and bounds better than DVD (too many optical and second-pass shots on top of Geoffrey Unsworth's soft photography) the colors just pop out in high-def; Christopher Reeve's peepers have never looked bluer, or Supes' suit more yellow/red/blue pretty. And listening to Donner and Mankiewicz (R.I.P.) defend their version of events about what took place during the turbelent, lengthy and protracted shoot of the first (and most of the second) "Superman" movie remains one of my favorite 'go to' commentary tracks ever released. John Carpenter's THE FOG (1980) on DVD
with the commentary track on. This would be almost mandotary October 31st viewing if Carpenter and producer Debra Hill (R.I.P.) hadn't given the holiday its own self-titled horror classic. Gorgeously framed and dripping with atmosphere, "The Fog" perfectly captures the cinematic appeal of being scared by unexplained supernatural events that kept us at night when we were young and innocent (perfectly captured by John Houseman setting up the movie's premise at the start). Even though the low-key ghost tale of Antonio Bay's 100th anniversary coming back to haunt its residents had to be reshot to up the gore/violence quota (curse you "Scanners"!) Carpenter always keeps the mood firmly anchored in the realm of fantasy. And, by following adults instead of oversexed teenagers and making the descendants of the local residents the targets of the fog's deadly revenge, "The Fog" captures a 'sins of the father passed along to the heirs'
universality (a destiny of fate type-of vibe) that separates it from most early 80's horror flicks. And I don't know what's more scary: Jamie Lee Curtis' hairdo or that, back in '79, Tom Atkins would pick hitchhiking chicks that would actually sleep with him!
Rewatched SUPERMAN II: THE RICHARD DONNER CUT (1981/2006) on HD-DVD
twice, once by itself and second time with a second heaping of Donner/Mankiewicz commentary goodness. With the Lester cut of the movie fresh in my mind the many differences (big and small) in Donner's version stand out for doing a lot of things right (bringing Jor-El back into the narrative with restored never-before-seen Brando footage, making Zod more evil by showing the joy in his face as he shoots a rifle inside the White House, less campy performances, diminished slapstick, Supes and Lois Lane at their most romantic, etc.) while also needlessly complicating the narrative (butchering of the needed-because-they're-the-only-existing-version Lester-shot scenes, adding/removing slow-motion, altering music cues, removing the 'effect' from the Super Villains' voices, etc.). Also, brief scenes and/or extensions of existing scenes that would have probably ended in the cutting room floor if Donner had been allowed to finish "Superman II" (examples: Jimmy Olsen bringing Perry a drink and Lex Luthor snatching it for himself, Supes' 'freedom of the press' line outside the Daily Planet, etc.) have been used by Donner at the expense of not using the better footage/scenes shot by Lester because of the decades-long dispute between the director and the Salkinds. Shoot, there are even alternate takes from shots of the first "Superman" movie that don't seem to belong to any other previous version of any previously-released version.
It's a miracle a Donner version of "Superman II" even exists at all, but the final product would have benefited from an impartial third-party picking and choosing the best scenes from both Lester and Donner for a definite version of "Superman II" that, sadly, will never exist because it wasn't properly shot back in the late 70's. I'll take Lester's 'kiss' over Donner's 'world turning' ending for "Superman II" any day, but I also prefer to have Brando and not Susannah York hanging out at the Fortress of Solitude. Highlight of the Donner cut: Jor-El giving Lois Lane the 'evil eye' when Kal-El chooses to become human.
Reunited for another commentary track Dick Donner and Tom 'Creative Consultant' Mankiewicz are looser and more fun to listen to than in the first "Superman" commentary (even though they repeat a couple of the same stories); when Mankiewicz lets loose a 'yahoo' scream (you have to listen to the context to understand why) the laughter from these two old friends is as contageous as listening to a John Carpenter/Kurt Russell track. Also, considering its been stored in cannisters locked in warehouse over in the UK for decades, the restored footage looks surprisingly sharp and colorful in high-definition except in scenes with modern CG plates replacing backgrounds that were never shot (very prevalent in the big Metropolis fight between Supes and the Super Villains). Jeannot Szwarc's SUPERGIRL: INTERNATIONAL AND DIRECTOR'S CUT (1984) on DVD
for the first time. See a trend? Available a decade ago in an Anchor Bay two-disc set with the International Version (124 min.) that has since been released separately, the Director's Cut (138 min.) of "Supergirl" is no undiscovered masterpiece. The additional 14 minutes add a mix of unmissed-when-trimmed time cuts (Argo's educational system, Kara reading her bracelet, etc.), Marc McClure romancing Maureen Teefy (yes, more on-screen time for Jimmy Olsen and Lucy Lane!
) plus some extra time in the Phantom Zone with pretend-drunk Peter O'Toole (Zaltar). I watched this back-to-back with the International Version (commentary track on) and this is an instance in which the director's cut doesn't live up to its reputation. Then again, when your director is the man behind "Jaws 2" and half-a-dozen "Smallville" episodes it's not like there's a visionary mind behind the lens. As in previous viewings the glaring flaw in David Odell's screenplay is plain to see: Supergirl doesn't do anything heroic for crowds of people to gawk at and look in amazement
. A grand total of EIGHT
Earth characters in the movie see "Supergirl" in action (some of them never even make the connection she's also Linda Lee), and none of them show any amazement or incredulity at what they're seeing except for Hart Bochner (his quiet scenes with Helen Slater are a delight). Compared to how Donner introduced Superman to the world in the helicopter scene of the original "Superman" movie it's clear the decision to keep Kara's mission on Earth (recover the missing Omegaheadron) a stealth operation robbed the movie's anti-climactic action sequences from much needed cinematic punch. It doesn't help that Jerry Goldsmith contributes a shitty score that gently lifts from John Williams' "Superman" score.
The more I think about it though, "Supergirl" is the perfect Halloween movie (along with Carpenter's aforementioned "The Fog"). You've got the action template of a comic book movie adaptation (one that cost $35 million in 1984 dollars, and looks it) mixed with the fantasy elements of "Wizard of Oz" personified by human witches (Faye Dunaway in dialed-a-notch "Mommie Dearest" mode with Brenda Vaccaro tagging along as sidekick) and a warlock (Peter Cook, whose scene wearing an 80's leisure suit had me in stitches
) using the heroine's source of power to bring to life their twisted dark fantasies. It's a hoot-and-a-half in the right state of mind (i.e. the holiday where people dress-up as superheroes, witches and what-not), just not a good movie any way you care to look at it. The International Version DVD comes with SUPERGIRL: THE MAKING OF THE MOVIE (1984)
, a vintage 50 min. making-of featurette that makes it clear the Salkinds thought they had another "Superman"-sized hit on their hands. Highlights include a "Candid Camera"-like reveal to Helen Slater that she got the part, an old-fashioned training montage set to bad 80's synth music, the building of an American town set in Pinewood's giant backlot and Peter O'Toole's grinning comment (which was innocent but doesn't sounds like it given his womanizing reputation) that Slater has 'lots of stamina.'
Next on my live-action "Superman" viewing tour: Singer's "Superman Returns" and the unwatched-by-me "Superman IV: The Quest For Peace."Jackie Chan's MIRACLES (1989) on DVD
for the first time. An odd flick even by Chan's anything-goes Hong Kong period standards, one that emphasizes dated farce and slapstick (much of it coming across as mannered and stagey) over the handful of OK-but-not-great action sequences (which look and feel old-school even for '89). Set in the 1930's and 'inspired' by Capra's "Pocketful of Miracles," Jackie appears to be in over his head trying to patch together something barely-cohesive that's also entertaining. If I hadn't been given the DVD as a gift I wouldn't have watched it, but then again I don't own any Jackie Chan movies on DVD anyway. Worth a Netflix queue spot if you're bored silly. Tsui Hark's ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA (1991) on DVD
with the Ric Meyers' commentary track on. Even though you want to reach through the screen and strangle Meyers (his tone of voice inspires homicidal thoughts) he provides enough behind-the-scenes anecdotes and background on the actors backing-up Jet Li that the commentary qualifies, reluctantly, as a must-listen. More than the incredible display or martial arts artistry at work here (the ladder scene alone is worth owning this DVD for) the sight of Caucasian actors with limited (Jonathan Isgar) to very limited (Steve 'Tiger' Tartalia) to no acting range whatsoever (the British/American 'gaijin' soldiers that wreck havoc with mainland China's culture) is a constant source of unintentional amusement. I'd be curious to check out other Wong Fei-Hung movies besides this one because, until I do, Jet Li is the only actor I associate with this popular Asian character/personality.