Happy Campers of the Third Reich

Shorpy dug up this Heinrich Hoffmann photo of Hitler Youth on a camping excursion from 1938. Smiles and swastikas are an uneasy mix at best.

Hoffmann, incidentally, was Adolf Hitler’s personal photographer and a fixture on the Obersalzberg. He was also the one-man jury for the annual Great German Art Exhibitions in Munich. One of his assistants, Eva Braun, would become Hitler’s secret mistress.

I’ll Let Someone Else Tell You For the 11,341st Time: The US is Not A Police State

Being a blogger quickly teaches you how poor a weapon blogging is for killing off zombie ideas. Still, try we must. A little bit ago, I addressed myself to Doctor Ben Carson’s ridiculous claim that the Twitter criticism he receives is evidence that the United States is like Nazi Germany, a claim that should disqualify him from having anyone take him seriously for at least the next 307 years. (It won’t, but it should.)

Then, this weekend, Mike Huckabee said this: ”I’m beginning to think there’s more freedom in North Korea sometimes than there is in the United States.”

I’d say there are millions of North Koreans who’d disagree with him, but the trouble is that if they did, their government would arrest them and their entire family for saying so.

But rather than go off on a rant again, I’ll leave the heavy lifting to Steve Shives, whose Youtube channel has been taking up a lot of my time lately. Watch and enjoy.

The Things I’ve Seen (in March)

My movie diet was a little thin in March, but there were still good titles in there, a couple of disappointments, and one film that caused DEEP HURTING.

The Good:

Taxi Driver: An iconic picture and one of Scorsese’s many towering achievements. See it.

Rififi: If you haven’t seen the Criterion Collection’s DVD or Blu-Ray of this classic French heist film, do yourself a favor and check it out. The centerpiece is the heist itself, 30 suspense packed minutes of stealing goodness without a line of dialog. And the end of the film is crushing. See it, live it, love it, be it.

A Soldier’s Story: Chris Rock had a line once that captures this movie: “Who’s more racist, black people or white people? Black people. Why? Because we hate black people too!” A Soldier’s Story is about the murder of an African-American sergeant on a Louisiana army base and the African-American officer (Howard Rollins, Jr.) assigned to investigate. The film takes us into the disturbing territory of the sergeant’s bigotry against the men of the African-American unit he commands, and how that ends up rebounding violently against him. Among a uniformly excellent cast, a young Denzel Washington stands out.

The Sessions: This picture, about the relationship between a devoutly Catholic man rendered helpless by polio and the sex surrogate who’s trying to help him find a way into sexuality, is a good one. The performances by Helen Hunt and John Hawkes were convincing. If I have a reservation about the film it is that I found myself more interested in seeing the story from the surrogate’s point of view than from her client’s. The film does explore her life a bit, but I wanted more of her and less of him. I realize that the script was based on the memoir of devout Catholic and polio victim Mark O’Brien. Still, I wanted what I wanted.


Superman II: The Donner Cut: I’ve already posted on this, so click here for detailed thoughts. Short version: nice to see the Brando scenes restored, but the rest of the changes make the story less, not more, coherent.

The Passion of the Christ: As an atheist, I don’t as much at stake in this movie as the believers who made it a hit did; but as someone who watched Gibson’s Apocalypto and Braveheart with pleasure, I wanted to like it. But The Passion‘s graphic treatment of the torture and execution of Jesus was so over the top it threw me light years out of the story. (It’s a bad sign when a scene of a man being flayed has you thinking, “Looks like Gibson really did his homework on the effects of a flagellum on human skin.”) The movie hammers home the point of Jesus’s enduring a bad weekend for our sins, but after an hour of watching Jesus get the crap kicked out of him and collapsing in a bloody heap over and over from exhaustion, I was at the Enough Already stage.

Where the question of the movie’s antisemitism is concerned, the answer is yes. Gibson’s version of the Passion story is the antisemitic one, with the Sanhedrin pushing Pilate around until he acquiesces to the crucifixion. I understand Gibson doesn’t want to be branded as an anti-Semite, and I’m sure he doesn’t like to think of himself that way. Still, there are many versions of the Passion legend that Gibson had to choose from. The ones he picked, which lay blame mostly on Jews, have historically served as justification for two millennia of religious persecution. Gibson must have known that.

All in all, I liked The Last Temptation of Christ better.

Deep Hurting:

Amityville II: The Possession: The entire Amityville series is such a load of horse puckey that it shouldn’t surprise anyone that this one stinks. Still, this picture’s a special case. If your idea of a good time is watching incest, child and spousal abuse, and little kids getting mercilessly gunned down, this is the picture for you. (It’s like Joseph Kony fantasy camp.) It’s even more tasteless than the Ryan Reynolds Amityville picture where he beats the dog to death. I hate every pixel of this movie. Hate. Hate. Hate. Hate it.

Which is why I’ll be riffing it soon. Keep your eyes open for that.


Judging A Book By Its Cover

I don’t know too much about Lion and Leopard, the book I just received from Dactyl Review, but I do know this. The cover is damn handsome.

I’ll be reviewing this for them sometime in the next few weeks. You’ll hear about that in this space, I promise.

ANCILLARY MATTER: Dactyl decided that the review someone else wrote of my first book, Dismantle the Sun, didn’t meet their guidelines. (It didn’t really. The review was too short, and I’m not sure the guy who wrote it met their eligibility requirements.) Anyway, it’s open for review once again, so, if you’ve published a book-length work of literary fiction and want to review DTS–and in doing so make yourself eligible for a review of one of your books on Dactyl Reviewcontact them and they’ll arrange for a free copy. Or just let me know directly. I’ll arrange for the review copy, and you can submit your review to them this way. Whatever works for you.




We Riffed Putin

Put Vladimir on a boat with a couple of bikini babes and a martini and we’re in business.

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Was Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut An Improvement?

I’ve done a few posts on this blog about the possibility of rewriting certain bad movies into better movies. I’ve never bothered to try the same exercise on a movie I liked. Superman II was one of my favorite flicks when I was younger, and I can still pop it in the Blu-Ray player and watch it with pleasure. Yes, some of Richard Lester’s touches are campier than current blockbuster fashions endorse, and yes, the big cellophane S Superman tosses at Non in the Fortress of Solitude came out of nowhere. That said, the film was fast paced, with high stakes and a collection of outstanding performances from Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Terence Stamp, Gene Hackman, and company. The film made scads of money for everyone involved, and (along with its predecessor, Superman: the Movie) marks the Man of Steel’s zenith on celluloid even to this day.

So everyone walked away feeling good, right?


I understand that Richard Donner’s dismissal from the Superman II project remains a sore point for him. He’d invested years of his time and talent into these films, had enjoyed success, and certainly felt he’d earned the chance to finish what he’d started. His cast and crew were loyal to him, and they resented coming back to finish the picture with Richard Lester. (Gene Hackman refused outright.) No doubt, when Warner Brothers offered him the chance to restore his vision of the film and release it, it was a great temptation.

Based on the results, it’s one Donner should have resisted.

The main problem with Superman II: The Donner Cut is that it doesn’t fix anything that was ostensibly broken about the theatrical release. Instead, in its zeal to remove as many traces of Richard Lester’s work as it can, it creates whole new narrative problems.

The first issue, the Superman reveal. In the theatrical cut, Lois Lane figures out Clark Kent is the Man of Steel when he trips over a polyester bear and falls into the Flames of Love (trademarked, presumably), emerging unsinged. The Donner Cut chooses to go with the earlier draft reveal, which was used in screen test footage. In it, Lane points a gun at Kent, insisting she’s so sure he’s Superman that she’s willing to bet his life on it. She fires. Kent remains standing, but he says, “If you’d been wrong, Clark Kent would be dead now.” Lane replies that the gun was loaded with blanks.

Okay. On the surface, this is a neat scene, but a few questions arise. Everybody knows Superman is impervious to bullets, but there’s never been any suggestion that he doesn’t notice when they hit him. In the first film, he’s able to track a bullet in flight and catch it before it hits Lois, so he surely would have seen that no bullet came from her gun. (Also, because he has X-Ray vision, he could have glanced at the gun and seen that it was loaded with blanks before she even fired.) He could have played things out by wetting his pants and shouting “Geez, Lois, WHAT THE HELL!” The theatrical cut’s reveal may not be ideal–though given Clark Kent’s established clumsiness and Lois Lane’s suggestion that Superman actually wanted Lois to find him out–it works better than Donner’s offering.

And there’s the ending. Superman II ends with Lois suffering because her love for Superman must go unrequited and because she’ll never find someone else to measure up. So Superman gives her a kiss that magically makes her forget that Clark and Superman are the same person. I understand that Superman’s Kiss of Forgetfulness does have some comic book precedence. Still, as with the cellophane S, there is a bit of Superman can do THAT!?! in the moment.

Does Superman II: The Donner Cut fix this problem? Yes and no. The kiss is gone. Instead, Superman erases Lois’s memory by flying around the world really fast again, reversing time until the world is repaired, Zod and Friends are back in the Phantom Zone, and everything’s status quo ante bellum.

The problems with doing this are legion. Not only does it feel repetitive, but viewer has to wonder why, if Superman could just fix this whole Zod situation by reversing time, he didn’t just do that in the first place. What were the Metropolis fight and the confrontation in the Fortress of Solitude for?  His reversal of time in the first movie felt like an understandable lapse, born of passion and grief. Now it feels like Superman’s mucking with the space-time continuum so that he doesn’t have to feel sorry for Lois. Will he edit time every time he arrives too late to handle a disaster, or every time he feels bad that he’s hurt someone’s feelings? Aren’t the dangers inherent in the overuse of these kinds of powers exactly why the Kryptonians forbade him from using them in the first place?

Leaving grander concerns aside for a minute, the time-editing sequence also leaves The Donner Cut with a final glaring howler. After Superman edits time, he returns to the restaurant where a bullying truck driver beat the snot out of then-fully-human Clark Kent. He mentions that the truck driver is sitting in Clark’s favorite seat, and the driver, who apparently recognizes Clark even though, after history’s edit, their meeting should never have taken place. The driver invites Kent over for Round 2, hits him, breaks his hand, and Superman is free to wreak his vengeance.

This scene is in the theatrical cut too, but it works because Superman did suffer his first physical defeat, a humiliating one, at this man’s hands. Letting Clark Kent have a bit of payback seems only fair. But in the Donner Cut‘s version, the truck driver is, must be, a man who never did Superman or Clark Kent any harm. The Donner Cut concludes with our hero, the most powerful being on Earth, thrashing an innocent trucker for kicks. Not exactly an occasion for John Williams’s music to swell, is it?

The Donner Cut did contain some interesting footage, particularly of Marlon Brando in the fortress of solitude. Brando’s scene where he restores the wayward Superman’s powers, which required a kind of second death for him, was touching. But overall, the game wasn’t worth the candle. There have been director’s cuts that have improved on the original: Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Lethal WeaponBlade Runnerand (arguably) The ExorcistSuperman II: The Donner Cut is not one of these.

What Are My Ten Favorite Film Comedies?

Over at Mother Jones, Kevin Drum listed his top movie comedies, prefacing the list by saying, “They say you can tell more about a person by what he laughs at than by what he cries at.” I’m not sure who “they” are, or if “they” are right, but I’ll list my top ten, in no particular order. Make of it what you will.

Top Secret!

Real Genius

Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

A Shot In the Dark

Tropic Thunder

Life of Brian

Arsenic and Old Lace

Blazing Saddles

Trading Places

Bedazzled (Stanley Donen version)

It saddens me a bit that only one of these movies was made in the past twenty years. In that time, comedy has become mostly a creature of television. I’m sure that’s true for comedy fans in other countries as well.

Oh, well.

So now you know what makes me laugh. What makes you laugh?