Sunday, December 31, 2023

Great Moments In Fourth Wall Breakage: SUPERMAN Edition

In this latest entry in the ongoing series, Great Moments in Fourth Wall Breakage, that salutes those meta moments in movies when a character makes an aside to the audience, we’re going to look at the SUPERMAN series. That is, the one that began with SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE, continued, with diminishing returns, through II, III, and IV in the ‘80s then reviving in the 2000s with SUPERMAN RETURNS.

At the end of Richard Donner’s classic 1978 original (a personal vote for best superhero movie ever), Christopher Reeve’s Superman soars high above the earth, while John Williams’ triumphant score sweeps, after defeating Lex Luthor’s plan to nuke California, surveying the status of our big blue globe, then looks directly into the camera, and smiles. It’s a warm, ‘don’t worry, I got this,’ grin, and this footage, with slight variations from outtakes from the shoot (sometimes his right arm goes up when he flies off; sometimes not) is used to end the film’s three sequels.

Bryan Singer’s attempt to reboot the series in 2006 with SUPERMAN RETURNS also did its take on the ending flyby, but in this version, Brandon Routh (pretty much a Reeve clone) looks knowingly, with a slight, sly smile, at the camera but doesn’t show any teeth before he flies off.

This was the last time for the concluding fourth wall breakage in series, as Henry Cavill’s Superman in MAN OF STEEL, BATMAN V. SUPERMAN, and JUSTICE LEAGUE (all of which are awful) hasn’t been shown friendly acknowledging the audience, and it’s one of the many reasons this most recent version of the character has been embraced like Reeve’s was (and still is). I’m not saying that not having the final smiling flyby is like a James Bond movie without the gun barrel intro, but it’s close.

So Superman is such a mighty being that he even knows he’s a movie star, and his end of adventure smile for us always put an appealing cap on the caper. I wonder if we’ll see a Superman movie with that moment in it again.

Now here's a YouTube compilation of all of the flyby endings from SUPERMAN to SUPERMAN RETURNS:

More later...

Saturday, December 30, 2023

That Time Orson Welles Ended His Career (And Life) On An Episode of Moonlighting

Last October, the ‘80s comedy detective series, Moonlighting, began streaming for the first time ever. The ABC show was a huge must-see TV hit in the mid ‘80s, but because of its absence, it has been largely forgotten until this event. Now viewers can see Bruce Willis - now non-verbal, and retired due to dementia - at his most verbal as the wise-cracking gumshoe David Addison, trading quips with the softly-lit Cybill Shepherd as former model Maddie Hayes in all their 67-episode run on Hulu, and all of our pop culture worlds are better for it.

At least mine is, as I was a kid when it aired in the ‘80s, and it brought back a lot of memories, and one I was delighted to be reminded of was that Orson Welles made his last appearance on the program. The film-making legend, and personal favorite, passed away a week after shooting his introduction for the season 2 episode, “The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice,” (aired: Oct. 15, 1985) capping off his incredible career in a much better, way more classy way than his last film appearance, the voice of Unicron in the animated 1986 flop, TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE (I kid you not).


According to Moonlighting writer, Debra Frank, Welles shot his bit, an intro in which he warned viewers that much of the night’s episode would be in black and white, on October 4, 1985, remembering that because it was her mother’s birthday.

After Welles passed on October 10th, they added this to precede his intro:

From the same 2005 Moonlighting DVD bonus featurette that revealed that, “Inside the Blue Moon Detective Agency, the Story of Moonlighting, Part 2,” Moonlighting creator Glenn Gordon Caron told the story of how they got Welles for the gig:


“They (the network) felt that, like THE WIZARD OF OZ, which was a movie that was shown in this country every year, and every year they went to great lengths to explain to people that the first part is in black and white, the second part is in color – there’s nothing wrong with your television set, ABC thought it was important to offer that kind of assurance to the audience. 


So we thought, well, who should do this? I don’t know, again, it just cracked me up, Orson Welles. You know, here’s the man who probably made the most beautiful black and white film, you know, ever. So I wrote this thing, which he ultimately said, you know, about which he ultimately said, ‘a very special monochromatic, blah blah blah blah, Moonlighting, so get Grandma and the kids and lock them in the basement…” A pretty funny thing, so I called him up, and said, ‘Would you be interested in doing this thing, and to my amazement he said, ‘Well, send it over,’ so I sent it over, and he called back and said, ‘I think it’s funny.’”


Caron misquoted his own writing so here is Welles’ opening intro to “The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice” (and you can watch a YouTube clip of it below):


“Good evening, I’m Orson Welles. Tonight, broadcasting takes a giant leap backward. In this age of living color, and stereophonic sound, the television show, Moonlighting, is daring to be different, and share with you a monochromatic, monophonic hour of entertainment. Approximately 12 minutes into this evening’s episode, the picture on your television screen will change to black and white. Nothing is wrong with your set, I repeat, *nothing is wrong with your set*, tonight’s episode is an experiment, one we hope you’ll enjoy, so, gather the kids, the dog, grandma, and lock them in another room, and then sit back and enjoy this very special episode of Moonlighting.”

It’s quite something to think that this was the grand man’s last appearance before he shuffled off of this mortal coil. It’s not surprising after years of hard living, which his girth, and trademark cigar smoking (though it does look cool) in this short video does give ample evidence, that he died at age 70, but it’s a fitting testament that, a week before he died, he could put in such a witty, wise, and even warm cameo in what was then one of the hottest programs on, and go out on such a hip, and humorous final note.


It's also funny that there’s the Cybill Shepherd connection in that Welles used to stay in the guest room of her house with Peter Bogdanovich in the ‘70s, but that’s a whole ‘nuther blogpost.

More later...

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

‘Tis The Season For Oscar Bait Biopics: MAESTRO, FERRARI, and NAPOLEON

Yes, it’s that time of year again when the studios drop the big prestige pictures, and this round of Oscar-bait biopics are for sure the most prestigious this season. As these three films, each big ass, lavish productions with big ass names behind, and in front of the camera, are going to be in theaters or available streaming over the holidays, I thought I’d give ‘em the ole Film Babble Blog appraisal, so here goes:

MAESTRO (Dir. Bradley Cooper, 2023)

Bradley Cooper’s follow-up to his acclaimed 2018 directorial debut, A STAR IS BORN, garnered criticism when early buzz revealed that the actor (also the film’s co-writer, and producer) wore a large prosthetic nose to enhance his resemblance to his subject Leonard Bernstein, but upon being incredibly charmed by Cooper's lush, loving tribute to the iconic composer/conductor, it is not a critique that holds much weight.

For the nose just fades convincingly into the face of Coopers Bernstein, or Lenny to his friends, fronting a lived-in, layered, and authentic-feeling performance that is sure to get plenty of accolade action in the weeks, months, and years to come. Coopers portrait has a predictable structure - the narrative is initially told in black and white flashbacks (the film switches to color as it moves into the modern era) structured as remembrances in interviews by the elder Bernstein shown in crisp color - but it transcends this convention with its fluid style, and poetic, tuneful tone.

In a portrayal that rivals Cooper’s, Carey Mulligan beautifully plays Bernstein’s wife of 26 years, Felicia Montealegre Bernstein. Their relationship is the crux of the story as we see that despite his homosexuality (i.e. affairs with men), Felicia loved Lenny, and put up with his infidelities, though we witness that taking its toll.

For the uninitiated, Cooper and Josh Singer’s screenplay serves up Leonard Bernstein 101, from his debut with the New York Philharmonic in 1943 to scoring such Broadway classics as On the Town, and West Side Story or classic motion pictures like ON THE WATERFRONT to his legendary conducting of Mahler's Resurrection Symphony at Ely Cathedral in 1973, among other career highlights sharply shot by cinematographer, Matther Libatique (PI, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM).

With superb supporting work by Sarah Silverman, Matt Bomer, and Maya Hawke, MAESTRO is Cooper’s moving love letter to Bernstein, and the evolving emotional languages of the times he lived in, and helped shape musically. It’s one to stream on up when it hits Netflix tomorrow (December 20).

FERRARI (Dir. Michael Mann, 2023)

Michael Mann makes sleek, streamlined, manly movies about powerful, conflicted men and his latest fancy flick about Italian car racing entrepreneur Enzo Ferrari is no exception. A coiffed, gray haired Adam Driver plays the motor mogul in a measured, stoic manner, which is offset by the tirades by his wife, Laura (Penélope Cruz), who, in an early scene shoots at him with a gun his mother scoffs at him for giving her.

“Your mother missed on purpose,” Enzo says as he visits the tomb of his dead son, Dino. “One day, she won’t, and I’ll be in here with you.” Such sets the tone as the movie veers from the love triangle between Enzo, Laura, and his secret mistress (a possibly miscast, but still affecting Shailene Woodley) and his race track excursions in 1957, when the tragedy of the Mille Miglia occurred killing nine spectators - a profoundly disturbing shot as Mann, via Director of Photography, Eric Messerschmidt, stunningly captures (with the help of some CGI, of course).

Driver and Mann’s approach may be cold, and overly slick, but FERRARI is a purposeful portrait with a lot of gusto and glorious oomph especially in its racing sequences. It doesn't reach the heights of previous Mann movies like HEAT or COLLATERAL, but it is far and above his last works, PUBLIC ENEMIES and BLACK HAT for certain. It's well worth getting out of the house for when it opens Christmas Day.

NAPOLEON (Dir. Ridley Scott, 2023)

Since its release at the end of last month, Ridley Scott’s long awaited historical epic about the infamous French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, has gotten mixed reviews, and underperformed at the box office - bad news for a movie that cost 137 million.

But does the film deserve that unimpressive reception? Well, yes and no, but mostly yes, as it suffers from horrible dialogue (“You think you're so great just because you have boats!” is an actual line), uninspired performances (actually Joaquin Phoenix does his best with a questionably written role, but no one else in the cast offers much energy) has lengthy sequences that drag, and overall left me with an empty feeling.

This is largely because Scott’s treatment, scripted by David Scarpa (a screenwriter whose previous work including THE LAST CASTLE, and the 2008 remake of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL is less than stellar), is all about how pathetic its subject is, despite having conquered most of Europe in the 19th century.

Napoleon calls his wife, Joséphine (Vanessa Kirby) a slut because while he’s off at war, she's taking lovers, which inspires ridicule in the press, and much of the narrative concerns their rocky relationship. This material is strained, and dull, with the more successful scenes being the battles. Scott, with the aid of cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, takes us convincingly into such major skirmishes as the Battle of Austerlitz, which, taking place on a frozen lake, visually pops more than anything else in the movie.

More than once, I was reminded of a moment in Woody Allen’s LOVE AND DEATH, a parody of War and Peace that also features Napolean, where Allen’s character observes that the battle he's in looks different to the generals up on the hill, and the film cuts to a flock of sheep instead of soldiers being driven forward.

So, yeah, NAPOLEAN is a very mixed bag that proves that the Joaquin Phoenix movie to see in 2023 is Ari Aster’s BEAU IS AFRAID.

So, two out of three ain’t bad when it comes to this season’s Oscar-bait biopics.

More later...