Maiden of Might

Supergirl is the first female lead superhero movie ever made. It’s also one of the worst. Which is why I didn’t even know the movie existed for a long time. It may technically exist in the 1978 Superman continuity, but literally no one ever talks about it. Believe it or not, I’ve actually never been a big fan of gender swapped counterparts. I still value them, but I just feel like there should be more originality. Supergirl was first created by DC comics in 1959. Appearing in Action Comics #252 with the initial purpose of being a female counterpart to her cousin Superman. But over the years she managed to develop her own separate voice.

So after the disaster of Superman III, a Supergirl spin-off was ordered instead. With Superman being off-world and appearing only on a poster. Since Christopher Reeve chose not to return, Marc McClure’s Jimmy Olsen is the only actor connecting the movies. While Lois Lane’s lesser known sister Lucy Lane fills her void. Several filmmaking decisions were copied as well. Like the hiring of an unknown in the title role. Beautiful blonde unknown Helen Slater plays Kryptonian Kara Zor-El. Like in the comics she and her family survive on Argo City.

For reasons I don’t care to remember, she ends up on Earth under the name Linda Lee. Simply wearing a brunette wig and attending an all-girl school. She also protects Midvale as Supergirl. Her costume also leaps off the page (red skirt and all). Luckily they didn’t go with the 1984 suit. Just like in Reeve’s movies, an A-list supporting cast is meant to balance things out. They somehow managed to nab Peter O’Toole, Mia Farrow, and Faye Dunaway. The latter plays yet another crappy original supervillain. A witch named Selena after who cares. Supergirl’s love interest is also not from the comics. Slater capture’s the Maiden of Might’s optimism, but Supergirl clearly didn’t care enough to let her soar.

6. Supergirl

Supergirl on a beach

Spin-off of: Superman: The Movie

Richard Pryor III

Superman III is the first insulting movie made about the Man of Steel, but sadly not the last. As the first two installments are really the only universally beloved Superman movies. My parents always told me how bad the latter Christopher Reeve Superman movies were. So I avoided seeing Superman III when I was younger. Years later I can understand why. Richard Pryor practically hijacks the movie with never ending failed stand up bits and wacky slapstick. I get that Pryor was huge in the 80’s, but this is a Superman movie for crying out loud. Then again the entire campy feel of Superman III can be blamed on Richard Lester’s direction. Without any kind of Richard Donner involvement, Lester was free to be as comedic as possible.

Right from the opening we see a ridiculous series of slapstick bits in Metropolis. The Daily Planet is only briefly seen. As are Perry White, Jimmy Olsen, and even Lois Lane get sidelined. Instead Clark Kent returns home to Smallville where he attends his class reunion. Making his childhood crush Lana Lang his new love interest. Along with Reeve, Annette O’Toole is one of a few bright spots in the movie. She’d later go on to play Ma Kent in Smallville. Despite a whole rogues gallery of DC supervillains to choose from, Superman III makes the terrible decision to create an original villain. Some guy named Ross Webster who’s clearly a stand in for Lex Luthor.

Pryor is Gus, a computer genius that inadvertently helps Webster take over the world with a supercomputer or something. Although it should have been Red Kryptonite, Superman turns evil as part of their master plan. His evil acts include straightening the Leaning Tower of Pisa, drinking, blowing out the Olympic torch, and refusing to save then sleeping with Webster’s busty girlfriend. While the fight between evil Superman and Clark is interesting, Superman III makes too many mistakes to make it work.

5. Superman III

Superman flies Gus around

Preceded by: Superman II & Followed by: Superman IV: The Quest for Peace

Kneel Before Zod!

Superman II is the first superhero movie sequel, but definitely not the last. Since like comic books, superheroes were made for long-term adventures. Superman: The Movie and Superman II were actually filmed simultaneously. A practise that wasn’t as common back then. Although it did cause many problems for the production. Specifically Richard Donner’s growing tensions with the producers. Superman survived unscathed, but Superman II was only 75% complete before Richard Donner called it quits. Instead lesser known director Richard Lester took over. Which meant the reworking of key moments that I never realized were meant to be any different.

When my mom told us about Superman, she was sure to mention both the original and the sequel. It was lucky that I happened to find both movies at a flea market. So even though I understand the appreciation for The Richard Donner Cut, I’m still more attached to the theatrical cut for Superman II. Superman II is one of the best superhero sequels ever made. It’s apparent from the beginning of Superman that a sequel was coming. Since it features the banishment of DC comics supervillain General Zod and his followers Ursa & Non…

3. Superman II

Superman vs. General Zod

Superman II ups the action for a far more thoughtful look at Superman’s eternal struggle. Beginning with a hydrogen bomb defusal at the Eiffel tower. Which is being covered by the Daily Planet’s own Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane. When Superman comes to the rescue, he unknowingly causes a shockwave that frees Zod from the Phantom Zone. Represented by a giant piece of glass floating in space. Apart from Lex Luthor, General Zod is the only other comic book villain to appear in one of the original movies. Something that continues to be a minor problem to this day. Especially since Zod was never really a major Superman antagonist.

In the comics, Zod looks like a standard war general, but in the movie he rocks some kind of black robe. His followers: the seductive man-hater Ursa & mute brute Non were made specifically for the movie. Terence Stamp stands out with his confident unhinged performance. You will “Kneel before Zod!” Substantial screen time is given to Zod, Ursa, and Non simply discovering that they have powers beyond reason. First on the moon and then on Earth where they manage to topple the country with the help of Lex Luthor. Of course Superman would be incomplete without his archenemy. So Gene Hackman once again gets top billing as Lex. The bald Mr. Luthor and bumbling assistant Otis try to escape prison with Miss Tessmacher’s help. But Lex Luthor is too cold hearted to let even his loyal assistant get in the way of that.

His diabolical plot is to infiltrate the Fortress of Solitude and gain an advantage over Superman. It causes Lex Luthor and General Zod to team up, but Superman is nowhere to be found. Our hero has been experiencing his own existential crisis. Perry White sends Clark Kent and Lois Lane to the Niagara Falls posing as a newlywed couple. Margot Kidder is given a lot more time to flesh out Lois. Giving her more quirks and developing her love for Clark Kent. Whom she just now starts to suspect is Superman. We all know the joke about the glasses, but Christopher Reeve really was great at differentiating the two identities. Lois begins her suspicion after Superman happens to be at Niagara Falls in time to rescue an idiotic kid. Lois recklessly puts herself in danger, but it’s only after accidentally tripping into a fireplace that Clark’s secret is revealed.

An equally substantial amount of time is given to Lois & Clark trying to figure out their relationship in the Fortress. Culminating in Superman giving up his powers for the woman he loves. A common storyline for superheroes. But a superhero should never abandon their duty as a hero. Nothing beats Superman’s triumphant return to Metropolis. Where he’s given adversaries of equal power to battle. Being Kryptonian, Zod and company posses all the powers of Superman. Resulting in a fight that more greatly utilizes heat vision and superbreath. Although one of the primary criticisms of Richard Lester is his emphasis on comedy. So some scenes do feel a bit more over-the-top. I mean the final fight in the Fortress contains a whole bunch of bizarre superpowers. Like “S” symbol throwing, laser hands, teleportation, and duplication.

Superman may be overpowered, but these are just random. However, Superman tricking Zod and crushing his hand is very satisfying. Even if Clark’s amnesia kiss for Lois is just as covenant as turning back time. I prefer the theatrical cut, because The Richard Donner Cut doesn’t always add up for me. Lois comes across as too reckless at times and the revenge against the jerk at the diner isn’t as satisfying if time is once again turned back. I get tying into the first movie and Marlon Brando is always a plus, but the director’s cut is just not for me. With a more personal journey and high stakes action, Superman II is the Man of Steel at his best.

4. Superman II

General Zod, Ursa, and Non

Preceded by: Superman: The Movie & Followed by: Superman III

You’ll Believe a Man Can Fly

Superman: The Movie is the superhero movie that started it all. Just as Superman is the superhero that started it all. Without Action Comics #1, modern superhero media simply wouldn’t exist. At least not as we know it today. If there’s one part of fiction I’ve consistently loved my entire life, it’s superheroes. I cannot stress enough how big of a fan I am (just look at my avatar). Throughout the years I’ve practically become an expert of all the major superheroes. Which is why I have the utmost respect for Superman. Although DC comics were always my second favorite superhero universe, I have my parents to thank for my introduction. Specifically my mom who told us all about Superman and why we needed to see the movie when I was about 7.

First created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Superman is as old as 1938. The image of him holding a car over his head made the Man of Steel an instant icon. Redefining comic books and pop culture in general. Sparking film & radio serials, a TV show, and it’s own independently made lesser known feature. So the idea to make a genuine movie adaptation was daunting to say the least. Superman was nearly a campy mess, but director Richard Donner knew the character needed to be taken seriously. You know it’s serious when Marlon Brando takes part. Although A-listers as big as Steve McQueen or Dustin Hoffman could have played Superman, it’s so much better that they went with an unknown actor that looks the part and has the acting chops. Christopher Reeve is the greatest actor to ever wear the cape…

1. Superman

Superman flies

Superman recounts the famous and very well-known origin of this “Strange visitor from another planet.” It all started on his home planet Krypton. The 1978 science fiction depiction was often imitated with its heavy crystal aesthetic. Although often mispronouncing the planet’s name, Marlon Brando portrays Jor-El with complete sincerity. Jor-El is a High council scientist that foretells Krypton’s inevitable demise. No one believes him and so Jor-El and his wife Lara send their only son to Earth in a spaceship. When a red sun destroys the planet, baby Kal-El becomes the Last Son of Krypton.

On his journey, Kal-El rapidly grows into a very naked toddler. He crash lands on Earth where he’s discovered by sweet older farm couple Ma & Pa Kent. They quickly realize that this is no mere child. For their adopted son that they name Clark Kent, while under the yellow sun has “Powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men.” We then see the old fashioned 50’s style upbringing of Clark Kent in his hometown of Smallville. It’s here he discovers he’s “Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.” Only Clark wasn’t powerful enough to save his adopted father. The hero’s journey begins with a trip to the Arctic, where all is revealed in the crystal Fortress of Solitude.

Where Christopher Reeve finally dons the iconic costume. With a bright red cape, boots, trunks, blue tights, yellow belt, and House of El symbol that leaps right off the page. It shouldn’t work, but Reeve pulls it off with his terrific honest to goodness performance. Although not dramatic by today’s standards, Reeve got into the best shape he could to play the Man of Steel. Equally important is his take on Clark as a “Mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper.” When the glasses go on, Reeve flawlessly sells his alter-ego. In Metropolis, Clark Kent/Superman makes a name for himself protecting the city and working at the Daily Planet. Where he meets his true love, reporter Lois Lane. Margot Kidder has just the right witty spunky attitude that more than captures Lois Lane. Marc McClure and Jackie Cooper also bring their respective roles to life as photographer pal Jimmy Olsen and Editor-in-chief Perry White.

Superman couldn’t really be labeled an action movie. As it’s more of a showcase for the superheroes best traits and many superpowers. Specifically strength, invulnerability, heat vision, x-ray vision, and flight. The latter of which was brought to astounding life with optical effects that truly make you believe a man can fly. Made even better with John Williams inspiring theme. The absolute greatest moment is of Superman’s heroic entrance that includes a symbol reveal, using a phone booth, and rescuing Lois. Other great moments include catching a mugger’s bullet, stopping crime on a busy night, and of course being interviewed by Lois. It’s a perfect back and forth with a beautiful romantic flying sequence. Of course this wouldn’t be Superman without his archenemy.

Gene Hackman brings impressive range to Lex Luthor. Even if he’s only bald in one scene. Luthor plans to sink California by launching missiles in opposite directions. Along with Ned Beatty and Valerie Perrine as his bumbling assistant Otis and sexy accomplice Miss Tessmacher. Lex gets plenty of screen time considering Hackman’s status. The two rivals come to a head when the diseased maniac threatens him with Kryptonite. When freed, Superman stops the missle, but fails to save Lois. His pained scream always gives me chills. In a bizarre (semi-absurd) decision, Superman turns back time by flying around the Earth. Effectively saving Lois and restoring peace to his adopted home planet. Superman may be slower and less action-packed, but that’s not the point. Superman is a big blue boy scout who stands for truth, justice, and the American way. Even in a 70’s setting, Superman: The Movie perfectly delivers this message with a hero that inspires.

2. Superman

Lex Luthor reveals himself

Followed by: Superman II

Those Schoolgirl Days

To Sir, with Love places Sidney Poitier in another dignified profession. This time he’s a black teacher to a bunch of mostly white students. At this point I’d already seen Poitier’s Oscar winning role and his other two groundbreaking movies released in 1967. So my mom informed me that To Sir, with Love was the next one my brother and I should see. It’s one of the earliest movies to popularize the “teacher helps a group of troubled inner city youths” genre. Ironically placing Poitier in the teacher role, instead of the student role (like in Blackboard Jungle).

Mark Thackeray is an American stuck teaching cockney poorly behaved students in England. At first they think they can just walk all over him, but he’s much too proper for that. When he loses his temper, Mr. Thackeray realizes the only way to teach these students is to literally throw out the books. Now deciding it’s best to treat each of the blossoming adults as such. By helping them to respect themselves, teaching them to cook, how to find a spouse, and discussing any part of the adult world. Even enriching their minds with trips to the museum.

Teaching methods that modern education could benefit from. Of course there are always hold outs, but by the end everyone comes to respect Sir. The issue of race doesn’t even come up very often. Since a lot of the students are dealing with problems at home that help them relate with one another. Lulu plays a student and sings the successful titular song that inspires him to stay. To Sir, with Love demenstates why teaching and understanding go hand in hand.

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Sir teaches his class

Sex on the Beach

From Here to Eternity is the Best Picture winner that brought us the iconic moment of a man and woman kissing on a beach. Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! I thought I’d talk about one of the most recognized scenes in romantic movie history. Since the passionate water soaked kiss was very racy for the time. To the point that most people don’t even know what the rest of the movie is about. How surprised I was to learn that it’s a war picture. Not just that, it’s also a far more competently made movie about Pearl Harbor. The beach kiss is only a small piece of the puzzle.

From Here to Eternity actually follows a couple of World War II soldiers and their love lives. Burt Lancaster is Warden, a Sergeant who begins a scandalous affair with his commanding officer’s wife Karen played by Deborah Kerr. They fool around in secret (including kissing on a beach), but the Captain is a cheating jerk. He insistently torments Private Prewitt played by Montgomery Clift. He’s a former boogie woogie bugle boy that refuses to box in the Captain’s team.

The only thing keeping Prewitt happy is the love of beautiful club attendant Lorene and often drunk friend Angelo played by Donna Reed and Frank Sinatra respectively. Both of whom won Oscars for their performances. Ol’ Blue Eyes may or may not have gotten the role through mob connections. Along with those wins, the film was nominated in every acting category with 13 nominations overall (and 8 wins). Proving From Here to Eternity is more than just a steamy kiss on the beach.

FHTE

Warden and Karen kiss on a beach

The Best Acting I’ve Ever Seen in My Whole Life

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is Quentin Tarantino’s most mature film. And I don’t mean in terms of its R rating. Rather the film keeps Tarantino’s penchant for shocking often controversial material to a minimum. It’s also when the director finally ditched the Weinstein Company. That and its full embrace of Hollywood, are most likely why its received more awards attention than any other Tarantino flick. Including a nomination for Best Picture. It was at this point I realized I couldn’t keep ignoring his films. Now all I have left is his self-proclaimed 10th retirement film. Since Tarantino loves bygone eras, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood puts all of its focus into recreating every detail of classic 1969 Hollywood. Really it’s a modern fairy tale that follows the respective fading careers of Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth.

Rick was once known for a 50’s western TV show (and cheesy WWII picture), but now he barely gets by on one-off villain parts. Leonardo DiCaprio shouldn’t be overlooked as Rick struggles to get through scenes and beats himself up. Although brief, a child actress steals the show as well. However, all the major awards were focused on Brad Pitt. He’s certainly great as a laid back stuntman, but Best Supporting Actor is probably a legacy win. While these fictional events take place, next door lives the very real Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski. Margot Robbie beautifully recaptures Tate’s youthful optimism. Best seen when she goes to see her own movie The Wrecking Crew.

Where she learned martial arts from Bruce Lee himself. Lee plays a memorable part when Cliff picks a fight with him. The casting is uncanny, but I agree the boastful portrayal is iffy. Although Once Upon a Time in Hollywood can generate plenty of laughs, there’s nothing funny about the Manson Family murders. Cliff is unknowingly taken to Spahn ranch where bare feet are plentiful. Since this is Tarantino, do I even need to say SPOILER ALERT! Of course history is altered. Only this time the Manson family chooses to murder Cliff, Rick, and his wife. Instead the evil hippie followers of Charles Manson are deservedly killed in the most violent over-the-top Tarantino way possible. With an A-list cast of hundreds, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood gave classic cinema the respect it deserved.

9. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Rick Dalton vents to stuntman Cliff Booth

Starting to See Pictures, Ain’t Ya?

The Hateful Eight is the longest Quentin Tarantino movie ever made. I know he has trouble cutting a film, but there’s just no way he can top an extended runtime of 3 hours & 30 minutes. I’ll be the first to admit it wasn’t high on my list of Tarantino flicks I most wanted to watch. Every movie Tarantino directed has had a highly positive reception, but The Hateful Eight has the lowest with a 74% on Rotten Tomatoes. Although intended as a sequel to Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight is vastly different. Both are spaghetti westerns focusing on bounty hunters, but the primary difference is era.

The Hateful Eight takes place in post-Civil War America after slavery was abolished. Major Marquis Warren is a black bounty hunter played by (you guessed it) Samuel L. Jackson. People continue saying the n-word, but Warren earns respect with a letter from Abraham Lincoln. With a blizzard on the way, Warren seeks shelter in a stagecoach accompanied by fellow bounty hunter John Ruth played by Kurt Russell. Ruth keeps his bounties alive long enough to be hanged. Jennifer Jason Leigh steals the screen (and an Oscar nomination) as Ruth’s rough prisoner Daisy Domergue. She gets beat up a lot, but again it’s historically accurate. They also pick up Walton Goggins as a racist claiming to be a new sheriff.

The Hateful Eight really plays out more like a stage play. That’s why most of its excessively long runtime is dedicated to one location. A stagecoach lodge already occupied by four other strange characters played by Demián Bichir, Bruce Dern, Tim Roth, and Michael Madsen. They become increasingly hateful when discussing war, race, and uncovering a web of deceit that keeps you guessing till the end. The film was almost cancelled after script leaks, but The Hateful Eight was practically made for the screen. Since it probably tries the hardest to recapture its era of filmmaking. It even earned composer Ennio Morricone his first Oscar. While not entirely noteworthy, The Hateful Eight still gave Tarantino a chance to do what he does best.

8. The Hateful Eight

John Ruth (left) confronts Major Marquis Warren (right)

The D is Silent

Django Unchained gave Quentin Tarantino a good excuse to kill slave owners. I’m starting to sense a pattern here. Much like Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino once again deals in historical fiction. Only Django Unchained was a lot more controversial. You simply couldn’t avoid hearing about the movie. Making it the third Tarantino flick I wanted to see the most. The director finally got the chance to make a genuine spaghetti western. With the added twist of taking place in the deep south before the Civil War. I knew this would be an especially tough watch considering Tarantino never holds back on anything. That’s why Django Unchained has a record 116 uses of the n-word. Controversial yes, but that’s exactly what the deep south would have been like. Jamie Foxx goes from quiet slave to confident free man as Django Freeman.

Although they appear different on the outside, Django is freed by a German dentist by the name of Dr. King Schultz. Christoph Waltz proves lightning strikes twice with another charming Tarantino performance that earned him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Only Schultz is a far more likeable bounty hunter who takes Django under his wing. He first needs his help in finding the evil band of Brittle Brothers. In exchange, Schultz promises to help him find his oddly named wife Broomhilda von Shaft played by Kerry Washington. Their travels take them across plantations until they discover the brothers whereabouts. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t satisfying to see a former slave give slavers a taste of their own medicine.

That’s followed by a darkly hilarious group of incompetent Klansman unable to see through their hoods. Hildi is finally discovered at the Candyland Plantation. Where Leonardo DiCaprio portrays the disgustingly evil slave owner “Monsieur” Calvin J. Candie. Leo’s acting is so good that he doesn’t even stop when he cuts his hand. What’s unexpected, is Samuel L. Jackson as an old slave who loves his “master.” After a few shocking deaths, Django paints almost all of Candyland with their blood. It’s only after a distracting Tarantino cameo that he finally rescues his wife and finishes the hate filled plantation off for good. Despite its edgy material (and anachronistic music), the film rightfully earned a Best Picture nomination. Django Unchained gave one of the ugliest times in American history a hero worth rooting for.

7. Django Unchained

Django and Dr. King Schultz practise shooting

I Want My Scalps

Inglourious Basterds gave Quentin Tarantino a good excuse to kill nazis. With what became his most critically acclaimed film since Pulp Fiction. At least in terms of awards attention. After the more experimental Death Proof, the next Tarantino flick was something so aesthetically different then anything he’s done up to this point. I was certainly thrown off by Inglourious Basterds being a period war picture. Half the time it feels like a foreign film. But all the classic Tarantinoisms are there. From lengthy casual conversations to era appropriate pop culture references. Even a few foot shots make it in.

The profane (possibly misspelled) Inglourious Basterds refers to a group of manly Jewish-American nazi hunting soldiers. Brad Pitt plays their leader Lt. Aldo Raine, who wants nothing more than to brutalise every last nazi and take their scalps. Horror director Eli Roth is one of his top soldiers. On the English side is Michael Fassbender as an undercover Lt, Diane Kruger as undercover German actress Bridget von Hammersmark, and an out of nowhere Mike Myers cameo. But the real star of the film is Christoph Waltz as the charming yet despicable SS Colonel Hans Landa. Waltz was so magnetic that he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Landa is a “Jew hunter” capable of seeing through deception, but his biggest mistake was sparing one of their lives after a disturbing house raid. That lone survivor is French Jewish theater owner Shosanna Dreyfus. She’s not the biggest name, but Mélanie Laurent is still the person you want to follow the most. With all the pieces in place, the Basterds and Dreyfus both simultaneously plot to end World War II. After nazis plan to premiere a propaganda film at Shosanna’s theater. History skews completely when the theater is burned to the ground and all the top nazis, including Hitler himself, are viciously killed in a sea of blood & fire. I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t satisfying. There’s still plenty of black comedy, but a Best Picture nomination proved Inglourious Basterds was a more sophisticated step in the right direction for Tarantino.

6. Inglorious Basterds

Colonel Hans Landa negotiates