The Phantom, 1996

PLL 00042Recently I found a copy of The Phantom (1996) when I was op-shopping, and, realising that I was remiss in never having seen it, I promptly added it to my pile of DVDs to buy. I watched it the same night I took it home, and completely fell in love.

PLL 00043Essentially, my enjoyment boils down to having a lot of fun while watching this movie. It’s not surprising, considering it has a very similar feel to one of my all-time favourites, The Shadow, another pulp/comic adaptation set in the 1930s. Sure, it’s cheesy and ridiculous but that’s why I loved it. It’s nearly all I could ever ask for from a film like this.

Billy Zane is quite stiff in his dual role as both The Phantom and Kit Walker but he’s not entirely without charm and he’s so pretty… so pretty. Even in the costume. Treat Williams as Xander Drax is fantastic – there’s definitely some scenery chewing going on in his performance.

PLL 00045PLL 00050I had no idea that both Kristy Swanson and Catherine Zeta-Jones were in this (rocking some awesome lady-adventurer/aviatrix style outfits) so I was super excited when they showed up. I think Swanson is really charming and adorable, largely because of my love of the 1992 Buffy film. She looked great with the short curled bob and Amelia Earheart-esque getup in this and I really liked her character.

PLL 00051phantom1I kind of got hung up thinking about Diana (Swanson) and Sala (Zeta-Jones) when writing this, which is probably evident from the screencaps.  I love that it basically ends with them flying off together. Sure, the narration tells us Diana is determined to come back for Kit/The Phantom, but I can just pretend that she soon realised she’d rather be with Sala, right? I’ve started to imagine a spinoff sequel of their adventures together. How cool would that have been? Maybe one day there’ll be more films like this with women as the central characters.

I loved the moment in the car when Diana turns to Sala and asks her why she’s so mean, if she cares about anyone but herself. There is a look of realisation on Sala’s face when she starts to think that she’s not on the right path after all. I love that Diana is the catalyst for her turnaround, rather than Kit or another man. (I also love that all of Sala’s pilots were women). I’m not saying that makes it a feminist film, or that the characters themselves are feminist, I just thought it was cool, a bit refreshing, and was something I could connect with.

zvQlfbVeZMMZecVfQypaJOX722cThere’s not necessarily a lot of substance – the plot is simple enough, which I like, and the characters aren’t necessarily that well rounded (which isn’t unusual), but it’s fun. I feel like I should write some more (I’ve barely touched on the plot, the baddies…anything really) but I’ve dithered over this long enough.

A friend of mine said he always tries to watch it with The Rocketeer and The Shadow, and I think I’m going to try to do that next time, too.

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Top 5 | Comic Book Movies

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a top 5 post so, keeping in theme with my last movie review, here’s my top 5 (live action) comic book movies! (Keeping in mind these are personal favourites, rather than necessarily the ‘best’ I’ve seen).

Barbarella directed by Roger Vadim, 1968

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An angel does not make love, an angel is love.

Like Barabarella would not be in my top 5. It’s nearly everything I could want in a film. The lush colour and dreamy soundtrack! The ridiculous number of costume changes! Jane Fonda’s magnificent hair! Kitschy and/or camp films are basically my favourites, and there’s something very appealing about ’60s science fiction costumes and sets, which all adds up to I love Barbarella. Plus there’s a lot to be said for Fonda’s comic timing/delivery.

Favourite moment: so hard to pick one! I do like the whole exchange with Barbarella and Dildano (David Hemmings) quite a lot.

Ghost World directed by Terry Zwigoff, 2001

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This is so bad it’s gone past good and back to bad again.

Ah, Ghost World. Does it make me a bit of a cliche to love this so much? Do I really care? I saw it at the cinema when I was 15 (with my one and only ever boyfriend). I had no idea what it was about before going in (I’m pretty certain I thought it was a paranormal film about actual ghosts) but I know 15 year old me fell in love with it straight away. A lot of people consider Enid to be a fairly awful person, now, but I still relate to her in a lot of ways. I think that’s not something I should admit as an adult, but I do. I could write a whole post on it (and I probably will, one day) but it made a huge impact on me. And with the sarcasm and deadpan humour, it still appeals. Plus, it lead to me reading Ghost World (which was one of the first graphic novels I ever went and bought for myself so yay for that.)

Favourite moment: Mirror, Father, Mirror.

Batman Returns directed by Tim Burton, 1992

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As I was saying, I’m a woman and can’t be taken for granted. Life’s a bitch, now so am I.

It was difficult to choose between this or the ’60s Batman movie but Tim Burton wins out by virtue of being the Batman of my childhood. Plus Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman?! She’s magnificent. Although Adam West is my favourite Batman, Batman Returns is my favourite Batman film, and I think it’s probably the best (live action, anyway). Burton’s unique visual style fits the characters of Batman and Gotham perfectly and Michael Keaton is so great, isn’t he?

Favourite moment: The scene where Bruce and Selina each realise who the other is? My god, it tears my heart out. And, of course, Catwoman’s simple, deadpan ‘meow?’ before the department store explodes. Ugh. Fantastic!

Flash Gordon directed by Mike Hodges, 1980

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I knew you were up to something, though I’ll confess I hadn’t thought of necrophilia?

One of the most visually appealing films I’ve seen in my life. The costumes and sets are gorgeous (and, well, Timothy Dalton in tights isn’t exactly difficult to look at). Plus, the score by Queen is hardly a detriment. The Orientalism is rather on the nose and is probably the only thing about the film I don’t like. Remember when I mentioned the lush colours in Barbarella? This definitely gives them a run for their money, so to speak.

Favourite moment: I’m kind of stuck on Timothy Dalton in tights.

OK, they're not exactly tights but close enough!

OK, they’re not exactly tights but close enough!

Josie and the Pussycats directed by Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan, 2001

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Dujour means crash positions!

Words cannot express how much I love this film. I have watched it so many times. Not surprisingly, this was another film I connected with a lot as a teen. And I still find it very enjoyable as well as quite clever (if a little obvious in its satire). I’m actually planning on writing a post about satire in movies aimed at teen girls, one day, so I’ll leave most of my thoughts on this film for then. But this film is absurd and funny and heartwarming and I really enjoy the soundtrack. In fact, I am listening to it, as I type! It’s definitely one of my ‘comfort movies’. And any film with Parker Posey and Alan Cumming is ace in my book!

An honourable mention must go to The Shadow – I wasn’t sure whether to include it as The Shadow originated in pulp novels before migrating to other media. But if we count it as a comic book movie then my top 5 would be The Shadow five times because I love it so much. And the first version of this list had Superman II and Dick Tracy (that gorgeous pallette) but Josie and the Pussycats and Barbarella replaced them (originally it was Tank Girl and Barbarella, but then I remembered Josie and the Pussycats).

After I finished this I thought of a bunch more films that were based off of comic book characters so I made a more extensive list here.

Superman Returns (2006)

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I woke up to the awful news that FOX is remaking (or reimagining) The Rocky Horror Picture Show for TV so I’m going to publish this happy ramble about Superman Returns, which I finally watched last night, to distract myself.

Superman Returns (2006) was a film that I put off watching for a long time, because I’d assumed it wasn’t that good from what I’d heard from others. This was obviously a mistake because I don’t remember the last time I was filled with such pure glee watching a superhero film (and, okay, my movie viewing is a little thin in the superhero department but it still stands). To be a little cliched it made me feel like a child again, filled with wonder and awe and all that jazz. Not just at the visual qualities (though some of the CGI was on the nose even on my small analogue – yes, analogue! – TV so I’m not sure how it rated on the big screen) but the atmosphere of the film, in general, and also at the gentleness of Routh’s Superman.

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Let’s talk about that, before I go back to the aesthetics. It’s difficult, watching this now, not to compare it to Man of Steel; Routh’s Superman was refreshing after the disappointment I felt in MoS (though I do think Cavill could be a great Superman in other hands) but, of course, it’s a very different film and one that shows a more seasoned Superman. After all, it follows on from Reeve’s performance in Superman I & II, just as the plot follows on from those films. The calmness and, as I said, gentleness of Routh’s Superman was just lovely to watch. It was so upsetting to watch Luthor and his thugs beat a kryptonite sick Superman; I’m usually not that affected by violence in these types of films.

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I think Routh may be my new favourite superman? I’m not sure, yet. Could anyone really supplant Reeve in my heart? Perhaps they can hold equal billing, but I feel like Routh’s performance is slightly more relatable. As much as his performance – the whole film, obviously – owes so much to Superman I & II it’s less cartoony without resorting to being overly ‘realistic’. The scene with his son at the end made me a little misty-eyed, despite its corniness (I’m assuming, in the planned sequel, there would have been more exploration of that relationship – well, I’m hoping so, anyway, and that Superman didn’t just fly off and leave Lois and their son without trying to connect as a family).

superman-returns-movie-screencaps.com-9016Back to the aesthetics! The muted tones were gorgeous and made me think of sepia toned photographs (mostly the daylight scenes). The perfect blend of modern and retro styles in the sets and costumes also made me think of Burton’s Batman films. The scenes with Lois & Superman floating together (though I did wonder if Lois could breathe at that altitude), embracing, were breathtaking as was the scene of Superman, sick from kryptonite, falling back to Earth after jettisoning the black crystal mass into space. He doesn’t merely plummet inelegantly, but swoons back delicately, cape fluttering…it was honestly one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen. (Looking at the screencap, now, it’s quite a Christ-like pose, isn’t it?) This probably sounds either absurd or effusive (perhaps both) but I felt compelled to write about it and I tend to get a little cheesy.

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I really liked Bosworth as Lois. The glimpses of what she was like as a reporter (in the plane at the beginning and following up on the blackout story) were enough for me to get a sense of her determination. Plus, the scene where she dives straight into the ocean, without second thought, to save Superman was awesome. I love when women get to save men and not just because it reverses the damsel in distress trope, but because that’s just what you do when you love someone. (Or when you’re a decent human being and have the capacity to help, I guess.) It makes it more believable for me.

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The whole cast was great, really. Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor was genius. And Parker Posey as Kitty Kowalski was pretty fantastic. (But when do I not love Parker Posey?)

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I’ll try to wrap this up because this ramble has gone on too long (I tried to keep it short!). But I want to add that I loved that everything is resolved without too much destruction or death. It was something I really needed, right now. I’ll be the first to tell you I’m a huge cynic, but I’ll also admit it’s just nice to watch a movie that gives you hope, that lets you believe the bad guy (or gal) can be beaten without having to kill them, the world can be saved without destroying so much of it in the process, and so on. Perhaps it’s hokey, (or maybe not), but isn’t that nice sometimes?

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I’m sad I missed out on this film for so long, but now that I’ve seen it (and it’s become an instant favourite), I shall definitely be watching it many more times. If you enjoyed Superman I & II, I would recommend watching Superman Returns, if you’ve not already. It has its own unique qualities that makes it more than a copycat sequel or pure homage, but it embodies the feel of the Reeve Superman films. Or, even if you’ve not seen them, watch it, anyway. And you don’t have to be a hardcore comic book/Superman afficianado to enjoy it (because I’m not, and I did!)

Screencaps from here.