Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Incredible Shrinking Woman

Year 4, Day 105 - 4/14/12 - Movie #1,104

BEFORE: Mad Science week continues - I considered watching another animated film, "The Illusionist", but I think that one concerns magic more than science, so I'll skip that one and move it to the back of the list.  This one fits more with the theme, and anyway I can link from James Caan to Ned Beatty (last heard in "Toy Story 3") since they were both in the film "1941".  

I've got to get to our tax return today - I know the due date isn't until the 17th this year, but putting it off another two days isn't going to help.  I was going to file the extension, but I think I'll save time in the long run by just buckling down this afternoon and crunching the numbers.

THE PLOT: When an ordinary woman is exposed to a unique mix of chemicals, she begins to uncontrollably physically shrink.

AFTER: I suppose this was meant to be a sort of commentary on the role of advertising and the media in our society, but I didn't really see it as effective that way.  I don't work in advertising, but I have a job that's sort of advertising-adjacent, where I have to research who's doing what in the ad game.  So maybe I'm too close to that topic.  The whole game breaks down when you see one of those old print ads from the 1950's that talks about how healthy cigarettes are, or when you realize that the average company probably spends more on advertising than it does on making sure its products are 100% safe.

I think the film is slightly more effective as a commentary on the role of chemicals in our modern world.  Pick up any product and read the ingredients, and you probably won't understand half of the words - carrageenan and xanthan gum are some of my favorites.  I remember back in the 70's, and this was sometime after the banning of DDT but before the Tylenol tamperings, when it just seemed like every new product also carried some kind of risk.

Remember Tab, the diet soda?  It contained saccharin, so every can or bottle had to have that warning label about how that caused cancer in rats.  Gee, suddenly I'm not so thirsty, and the need to lose inches off my waist is less important.  What about that gum with the refreshing liquid center, that we all "knew" somehow gave you cancer?  Maybe because gum with a minty liquid inside just seemed too good to be true somehow. What else - Pop Rocks?  Did we really pour exploding candy into our mouths, even though people said it took the life of America's beloved cereal icon, Mikey.  (P.S. it didn't)  And of course once you learn what exactly goes into making Jell-O, you may reconsider your dessert options.

It seemed like for every new product that came on the market back then, there was some form of new risk.  Ranch dressing?  And it comes from a Hidden Valley?  What exactly are they hiding over there? Of course, today we've got the debates over high-fructose corn syrups, and we've learned that supermarket beef has been cut with "pink slime", or if you're in the beef industry, "lean finely textured beef".  But come on, it's the stuff that you see in dog food that we used to call "meat by-products".  Now, that's mad science.

But, back to the film.  Lily Tomlin (last heard in another shrinking-person film, "The Ant Bully") played at least three roles here, predating anything that Eddie Murphy later did in "The Nutty Professor" films - I suppose it would have been more effective if all three women didn't look just like Lily Tomlin, that sort of spoiled the illusion.  But the main character is the women who gets a certain does of specific household chemicals and perfumes, which shrinks her body down to doll-size.

After some media attention she's a hit on the talk-show circuit, but she also comes to the attention of an evil group of scientists who want to shrink everyone.  Which seems odd, because if you shrunk everyone in the world, who would benefit?  I guess there'd be more space for everyone, and world hunger would be eliminated, since food would stay the same size.  But aside from that, I don't see the point - wouldn't we then be at the mercy of medium and large-sized animals?

Speaking of animals, there's a gorilla character here, which was obviously a man in a gorilla suit - which reminds me of a time in the 1980's that I went to an arcade (look it up, kids) in suburban Massachusetts, and appearing there was the actor who played the gorilla in "Trading Places".  (Don McLeod, according to the IMDB) He showed up in full, realistic ape costume.  I remember walking around the arcade and catching an occasional glimpse of gorilla and being startled.  I knew it was just a man in a suit, but something told me not to get too comfortable - I didn't want to train my brain to relax in that situation, just in case I ever encountered a real gorilla walking around an arcade.

I swear I would have been OK with the last half of this movie being a dream - there's a point at which our heroine goes to sleep in a doll house, and it would have been a perfect place to start a dream sequence.  No such luck.

The main problem here was the low quality of the special effects.  It looks like their total FX budget was about 12 dollars, and they blew that on the gorilla suit.  So mostly they just built a super-large version of the furniture and figured that would look real enough.  Well, technically it was real, because this film seems to predate CGI or anything beyond the occasional split-screen, when Tomlin is playing two characters in the same scene.  Films like "Innerspace" and "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" really put this one to shame, effects-wise.

Also starring Charles Grodin (last seen in "The Lonely Guy"), Henry Gibson (last seen in "Wedding Crashers"), John Glover, Mark Blankfield, with a cameo from Mike Douglas (the talk-show host, not the actor).

RATING: 4 out of 10 grocery bags

Friday, April 13, 2012

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

Year 4, Day 104 - 4/13/12 - Movie #1,103

BEFORE: While I'm in the process of figuring out which foods I can now eat with impunity, and which make my colon do flip-flops, I've bought a bunch of those little frozen low-calorie meals to eat at the office, instead of eating take-out.  I suppose this was inevitable, with my office located between a great NY deli, a couple of gourmet burger shops, and a southern BBQ restaurant that's right in the same building, for chrissakes.  Add to that my love of Chinese buffets and the occasional beer/food festival, it's not hard to see how I got this way.  Perhaps I should document my new, less-evil low-calorie meals here as an incentive to stay on the righteous path - last night I had an under-200 calorie meal of lemon chicken, with some rice and broccoli, and I managed to avoid snacking on Easter candy.

Linking from "Despicable Me", Jason Segel was also in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall", which also featured Bill Hader (last seen in "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian"), who voices tonight's main character.  And I've kicked off what I'm calling "Mad Science" week, this will become somewhat self-explanatory.

THE PLOT: Inspired by the beloved children's book, the film focuses on a town where food falls from the sky like rain.

AFTER: Hmm, I never read the book this is based on - must have been after my time, which is why I didn't include this in my children's lit chain a month or so ago.  So I'm just going to treat this as a wildly inventive animated film. 

However, I did encounter the film's directors, Chris Miller and Phil Lord, about a decade ago when they were working for animation companies in New York - I think Chris had an internship at a studio I work for, and he and Phil had this crazy dream to move out to L.A. and make animated films.  Looks like they made it happen.

But as I stated yesterday - animation is the best medium for a story like this, because there really are no limits as to what you can put on the screen.  As long as someone can think of it, it can be drawn or pixellated into an animated film.  Here there's a lot of giant food falling from the sky, in quantities that would be impossible to recreate on a live-action set.  Then again, I've seen the craft tables for Hollywood films...

This film centers on an inventor who fails at nearly everything he tries (seems to be another running theme for this week) and whose inventions keep ruining the small island he lives on, which has a sardine-based economy.  But his machine that turns water into food manages to work, and it gets installed in the heavens over the island, where it starts to rain food - food that's much tastier than sardines, one assumes.

An aspiring young weather-girl (is that the PC term?) is sent to report on the story, and at first this just leads to a lot of on-air food-based puns (a rain of burgers is a "meatier" shower, nice) but as the requests for more interesting food-based precipitations get more outlandish, something goes haywire with the machine, and giant mutated food starts to overrun the island. 

While anyone can spot the romance-amid-disaster plotline coming a mile away, there are plenty of unpredictable events here as the scientist, along with a ragtag bunch of carelessly selected townspeople, has to find a way to get into the sky and shut down his out-of-control creation. 

I guess this works best if you don't think too much about it, like about how food falling like rain would be a pretty inefficient delivery system (they sort of point this out on giant-steak day) and most of it would probably fall on the ground (no mention of the 5-second rule?).  Something like this would solve world hunger, but of course could also lead to overeating, which they do point out in the film after some of the characters over-indulge.

The funny thing about the United States - we might be the only country where both childhood hunger and childhood obesity are constant problems.  You often see news stories about both - how can this be?  What we really have is not just a class struggle, it's a distribution problem.  Some people have too much food, and others have not enough.  What the government really should be doing is taking food away from the rich, fat people and giving it to the poor, skinny ones.  Just a thought.

Also starring the voices of Anna Faris (last seen in "Yogi Bear"), James Caan (last seen in "Thief"), Andy Samberg (last seen in "I Love You, Man"), Bruce Campbell (last heard in "Cars 2"), Mr. T (last seen in "Freaked"), Neil Patrick Harris (last heard in "Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore"), with cameos from Benjamin Bratt, Al Roker, Lauren Graham and Will Forte (last seen in "MacGruber").

RATING: 7 out of 10 rat-birds

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Despicable Me

Year 4, Day 103 - 4/12/12 - Movie #1,102

BEFORE: This was sort of the "competing" film to "Megamind", released the same year, and also centered on an evil mastermind.  The obvious link is from Will Ferrell to Steve Carell (last seen in "Dinner for Schmucks"), by way of "Anchorman".

THE PLOT: When a criminal mastermind uses a trio of orphan girls as pawns for a grand scheme, he finds their love is profoundly changing him for the better.

AFTER: If I have to pick a horse, I think I'll side with "Megamind" on this one - but who says I have to choose one or the other?  They both came from an emotional place, they just sort of used different ways to "soften" the main characters, so even though they qualified as villains, the audience would still root for them.  In the case of "Megamind", they made the villain question his role, and turned him around and had him doing heroic things.  Here, they used a bit of a shortcut, and had the villain adopt three young girls (originally for a less-than-noble reason), and eventually he came to regard himself as a parent who cared about their well-being.

It's almost a cheat, because you could take any movie villain, give him a child or three, and you may come to regard him differently, assuming he's not a terrible parent.  Darth Vader, Dr. Evil, Blofeld - if you saw them in a nurturing way, it would put a new spin on things.

Another trick they use here is to have another villain who's more successful than the main character, therefore logically he's more evil, right?  So we can start to feel sympathetic for a villain if none of his schemes seem to work right, and he's somewhat depressed about that.  We've all had things go wrong, so this was another acceptable way of humanizing an evil central character.

This film made good use of the animation format - with evil geniuses inventing all kinds of rays and flying all kinds of spaceships, and pulling off schemes that would be impossible to film in the real world.  That's exactly what an animated feature should do, show you something that you wouldn't be able to see otherwise.

Oddly though, this film had the same problem as "Megamind", in that the music cues were extremely out of date.  It's a kids' film, but are today's kids supposed to recognize songs like "Copacabana" and "Boogie Fever"?  OK, maybe they're there for the parents, but why alienate half of your audience?

Steve Carell put on a thick Russian, or perhaps Eastern European, accent to play this role - and I can confirm, it's not easy to maintain something like that for a whole picture.  I've done voice-work in other accents - German, French, Southern - and if that's not your natural voice, it can be hard to maintain.  And god forbid if you have to do re-shoots a week or two later and find that voice again...

Also starring the voices of Jason Segel (last seen in "Gulliver's Travels"), Russell Brand (last seen in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall"), Will Arnett (last seen in "Jonah Hex"), Kristen Wiig (last heard in "How to Train Your Dragon"), Julie Andrews, Miranda Cosgrove, with vocal cameos from Jack McBrayer, Danny McBride (last seen in "Up in the Air"), Mindy Kaling, Rob Huebel, Ken Jeong (last seen in "Furry Vengeance").

RATING: 6 out of 10 bedtime stories

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Year 4, Day 102 - 4/11/12 - Movie #1,101

BEFORE: Today I offer a rare glimpse behind the scenes of the Movie Year Project - though, at the rate things are going, I may come to regret that name, as it turns into the Half-Decade Project.  I've had to put in some time visiting doctors lately to keep myself healthy, because, well, if I'm not feeling up to snuff the whole process just sort of collapses.  Anything that's been bothering me physically, I've tried to see someone about (preferably someone with a license and a white coat) - so in the last few weeks, I've been diagnosed with gastritis, a spastic colon, and a seriously ingrown toenail.  The colon thing is not as disgusting as it sounds, it's really just a twinge in my intestine, which felt like a repeated stitch in my side, but since it was constant I figured it was worth a look-see.  Now I'm on three meds (all of which seem to have the same side effect, dry mouth) and I really, really should not be operating any heavy machinery in the near future.

I think part of the appeal of superheroes is that they are double-invulnerable - they don't age like regular people, and they tend to never get sick.  You might see Peter Parker with a slight cold, but that's it.  And if one should die, you can be fairly confident the next writer will find a way to bring them back, or if all else fails, they just re-boot the series from Day One, as DC Comics recently did, to keep the characters young and healthy. By contrast, I'm now 43 and I'm falling apart, piece by piece.

Anyway, linking from "X-Men: First Class", Rose Byrne was also in "Get Him to the Greek" (it's on the list) with Jonah Hill (last seen in "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian"), who appears here.

THE PLOT: The supervillain Megamind finally defeats his nemesis, the superhero Metro Man. But without a hero, he loses all purpose and must find new meaning to his life.

AFTER: This is a clever spin on the superhero/super-villain dynamic, specifically it seems to reference Superman and a combination of Lex Luthor and Brainiac.  The set-up is that not one but TWO babies are sent rocketing to Earth from dying worlds, and one lands in a good place, the other one, not so much.

Metro Man and Megamind grow up with parallel lives, but one's on the hero track and the other, shunned by society and appearing less human, becomes his arch-nemesis.  Megamind finds that the only thing he's good at is failing, so he assumes that it's his destiny to be evil.  But just when you think you know where the story might be headed, they spin it around, in much the same way that "Shrek" up-ended the classic fairy tales.

How does a villain react when his hero rival is gone?  Who fills the vacuum left behind by a fallen hero?  What is Lex Luthor without Superman, what is the Joker without Batman?  Do the two archetypes define each other, can one survive without the other?  Seriously, how long before a villain looks at a superhero and says, "Wait, haven't we done this before?  How do we break this crazy cycle?"

Megamind's plan is to try and get things back to the way they were, creating a new hero to fill Metro Man's shoes, so he can get back to kidnapping the reporter, Roxanne Ritchie (the Lois Lane stand-in).  But then the movie turns things around again, in ways that are too good to reveal here.  Let's just say that Megamind fails upwards for once and gets to see what life is like on the other side of the equation.

This also works as a parody of over-bloated, self-important super-hero films, like, oh, let's say "Superman IV".  A lot of the humor similarly depends on mistaken identity - Megamind has a watch that allows him to holographically change his appearance, and this got a tiny bit over-used and confusing.  At one point Megamind was playing himself AND two other characters, making a lot of excuses about why he needed to leave the room, so he could come back in as someone else.

My only other complaint is about the music cues - there's not one here that hasn't been used in about 100 other films.  Plus it drew heavily from classic rock, which normally is a good thing, but I think they were trying to appeal to younger viewers, and most of the kids today don't know "Crazy Train" or "Mr. Blue Sky".  I wish I had a nickel for every time "Back in Black", "Highway to Hell" or "Welcome to the Jungle" were used in a film - really, they were used as shortcuts here, and that's just plain lazy.

Still, apart from the overused music, this was a whole lot of fun.  And a desperately needed parody of a genre that was in danger of becoming a parody of itself.  So kudos.

Also starring the voices of Will Ferrell (last seen in "The Other Guys"), Tina Fey (last seen in "The Invention of Lying"), Brad Pitt (last seen in "Babel"), David Cross, Ben Stiller ("Night at the Museum"), and J.K. Simmons (last seen in "Autumn in New York").

RATING: 8 out of 10 evil plans

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

X-Men: First Class

Year 4, Day 101 - 4/10/12 - Movie #1,100

BEFORE: My wife is joining me tonight for a rare joint screening - like me, she's been looking forward to this one, since she's seen all the other X-Men films with me.  I've been very curious about this take on the early days of the X-Men - hey, if your franchise is stuck and can't move forward, you can always go back to the past, right?  Linking from "Superman IV", Jim Broadbent had a small role there, and he was in "Arthur Christmas" with James McAvoy, last seen in "Wanted", I think.

Ah, another lost opportunity - I could have transitioned to more alien films after the Superman series.  It's easy to forget sometimes that Superman is an alien, because he's such an American symbol.  Like many Americans, he's also an immigrant...

THE PLOT: In 1962, the United States government enlists the help of Mutants with superhuman abilities to stop a malicious dictator who is determined to start World War III.

AFTER: I'm comfortable with the connections after all, since some of the plot deals with the threat of nuclear war.  Geez, it's almost like I planned it that way...

The first few scenes here were something of a repeat of the opening of the first "X-Men" film, with the young Erik Lehnsherr in a Nazi concentration camp.  But it then diverged from there, and showed new footage of him as a young man, learning to use his powers to hunt down various Nazis who survived the war.  The dialogue in these scenes was in German, French, and Spanish, with no subtitles.  Fortunately I understood most of the German and French, but why alienate the American movie-goers who don't speak those languages?

It's very shrewd to set the origins of the X-Men at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the shagadelic 1960's.  That's right about the time of the first X-Men comics, which I think were published in 1963.  I'm not sure that it works, however, if you expect the characters to age like normal humans.  If Magneto was 10 in 1945, he'd be 27 in 1962.  That works, but then he'd be 77 today.  Even if we assume that Prof. Xavier was a little younger, getting his masters degree in his early 20's, which is ambitious, he'd still be in his early 70's today.

Fortunately, comic-book characters don't age like normal humans do - they even state here that some of the characters with energy-based powers use this energy to stay young.  And Mystique (shape-shifting powers) and Wolverine (super-healing powers) could be as old as the story needs them to be.  But still, when you suddenly tag these characters to a specific year, it leads to potential story problems.  Used to be that Tony Stark supplied arms to the Vietnam War before becoming Iron Man, and the latest take places his origin in Afghanistan, I think. 

They borrowed from the so-far unused X-Men characters, past and present, for this film - which was quite creative, but also created a few continuity problems.  If Havok is Cyclops' big brother (not his little brother, as in the comics), then he must be quite a bit older.  And considering their shared origin, that's hard to reconcile.  The use of Banshee and Darwin jibes with the comic books, but the age of Hank McCoy/Beast just doesn't (plus he seems to be even more of a genius at age 18 or 20 than Prof. X was).

But, they did use this opportunity to suggest some interesting connections in the past between certain characters, like Prof. X and Mystique growing up together, romantic possibilities between Mystique & Beast, Mystique & Magneto, that sort of thing.  Some characters seem to be new, like Azazel, and I have my own theories about what purpose they'll ultimately serve in the story.  (Hint: he can teleport)

Ultimately, it's a very exciting, very entertaining film.  No real nitpick points tonight, except for the changes to comic-book continuity and the problematic references to specific dates.

Also starring Michael Fassbender (last seen in "Inglourious Basterds"), Jennifer Lawrence, Kevin Bacon (last seen in "Super"), Rose Byrne, January Jones (last seen in "Anger Management"), Nicholas Hoult (last seen in "Clash of the Titans"), Jason Flemyng (ditto), Zoe Kravitz, Oliver Platt (last seen in "2012"), Caleb Landry Jones, Lucas Till, with cameos from James Remar, Ray Wise, Michael Ironside, and a couple I don't want to spoil...

RATING: 9 out of 10 submarines

Monday, April 9, 2012

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace

Year 4, Day 100 - 4/9/12 - Movie #1,099

BEFORE: You know, yesterday was Easter Sunday, which doesn't mean much to me these days except an excuse to load up on egg-shaped chocolate candies, but I realize that it's meaningful to some people.  When I programmed this month, I meant to draw an analogy between Superman and Jesus, and then I forgot to do that on the right day.  And by this I mean the biblical Jesus, not the real Jesus that was walking around back in the day - and to me, there is a real difference, one being a fictional character and all that.  Anyway, here's what their stories have in common: both were conceived in the heavens, both were "born" on earth through unconventional means, raised by adoptive parent(s), both had powers beyond those of mortal men. Both had conversations with their father in the heavens (God/Jor-el), and both "died" and came back to life.  So I kind of lump them together in my mind sometimes.

Most of last night's cast carries over, as Superman works for world peace tonight.

THE PLOT: The Man of Steel crusades for nuclear disarmament and meets Lex Luthor's latest creation, Nuclear Man.

AFTER: Wow, and I thought "Superman III" was bad.  That one proved that it's writers and directors knew nothing about how computers work, and this film proves that someone doesn't understand how the arms race, nuclear power and cloning all work.

Let's start with the arms race - even if I cut them some slack and allow for the fact that the film was made during the height of the Cold War, it's still an over-simplification of nuclear disarmament.  It's the "Wargames" mentality, assuming that the best way to win is to not play.  Ah, but you can't un-invent the nuclear bomb, so even if you take away all the missiles, countries still need to build more, because their enemies are going to do the same.  Plus, even if you could take away the missiles and prevent all the countries from re-arming, you haven't done a thing to prevent conventional wars from being waged.  As illogical as it may seem, you have to treat nuclear war as its own deterrent - the superpowers have never launched a nuclear strike, because it would ultimately lead to their own destruction.

Now we come to nuclear power - and I'd sure take Lex Luthor more seriously if he didn't pronounce it "nuke-u-lar", like George W. Bush did.  It's treated in this film pretty much like microwaves, generally shown to be hot and melty.  Umm, no.  That's not how it works, at least I don't think so.  The sun is a nuclear furnace, yes - but its powers are not transitive.  Superman's body works like a solar energy battery - he is recharged by Earth's yellow sun.  But that doesn't make him, or another character with similar powers, nuclear.

Next up, cloning - Luthor takes a hair from Superman, uses its DNA to grow some protoplasm, and sends that into the sun.  Which, as we've already established, is a nuclear furnace and burns up everything.  But it doesn't burn up the protoplasm, it ejects it (somehow counteracting the sun's massive gravity well...) to form an embryo in space that instantly grows into an adult.  Is this seriously how someone thought you could make an adult supervillain?  I know it's a fantasy film, but give me a break!

I've got, like a hundred of these, but here are the most egregious:

NITPICK POINT: Once created in space, how did the Nuclear Man know to head toward Earth?  Did he visit Mercury and Venus first, finally deciding Earth was where he needed to be?  And how did he know to seek out his creator, Lex Luthor?  For that matter, how did he know how to speak English?

NITPICK POINT #2: Why does Superman feel the need to remind Lois Lane about his secret identity, only to give her some kind of super memory-stealing kiss and make her forget again?  I guess she found out Clark Kent is Superman in the 2nd film, but got her memory wiped - but for the rest of this film, she seems to know, but also not know.  Pick a horse and run with it, damn it.

NITPICK POINT #3: Superman/Clark Kent goes on a double date with Lois and another woman - is this really a good idea?  Clark has to keep pretending to lock himself out of the apartment, and Superman has to keep pretending he's got to go put out a fire or something.  This seems like a comic situation stolen from "Three's Company" or something, with Jack Tripper pretending to be his French cousin from out of town or something.  Is this even fair to either woman?

NITPICK POINT #4: Superman repairs the Great Wall of China by looking at it?  What, does he have special brick-building vision now?  That's not one of Superman's powers.

In the end, this whole film was corny, inconsistent, and just plain ill-conceived.  Superman could have saved everyone some time by just deciding not to interfere with man's desire to blow himself up.  In fact, it would have made more sense if the nuclear powers just disarmed themselves voluntarily once they knew Superman existed.

Starring Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Jackie Cooper (all carrying over from "Superman III"), Gene Hackman (last seen in "Crimson Tide"), Jon Cryer (last seen in "Hot Shots"), Mariel Hemingway (last seen in "Delirious"), with cameos from William Hootkins (Porkins!) and Jim Broadbent.

RATING: 2 out of 10 moon rocks

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Superman III

Year 4, Day 99 - 4/8/12 - Movie #1,098

BEFORE: Well, I've avoided this one long enough.  Time to see if I was write in the 1980's when I bailed on the Superman series after the 2nd film.  I just didn't think Richard Pryor had any right being put in a superhero film, and everything else I saw about this film just seemed equally silly.  Linking from "Green Lantern", Ryan Reynolds was in "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle" with Fred Willard, who was also in "Silver Streak" with Richard Pryor (last seen in "Another You")

THE PLOT: Synthetic kryptonite laced with tobacco tar splits Superman in two: good Clark Kent and bad Man of Steel.

AFTER: Man, but this is a hot mess of a movie.  I hardly know where to begin.

For starters, they should never have let the director of "A Hard Day's Night" and "The Three Musketeers" anywhere near a superhero film.  Slapstick and superpowers do not go well together.  It's like how my BFF Andy complains every year (and rightfully so) about the Oscars, when they present an award to the director of an animated short about an orphan during wartime, and play him off with the theme from "Looney Tunes".  Yes, Superman came from the same medium as cartoon characters, but you're NOT making a cartoon, are you?  Superhero films should be more serious business.

Now, about what passes for a plot - an unemployed man takes one computer course and realizes he's a master programmer.  Because that could be an actual inherent skill - you don't study for years for that sort of thing.  It's also clear that the director didn't understand computers at all, either (more on that later).  He gets an entry-level computer job, and after just one paycheck, he starts wondering about those half-cent deductions from his check, and what happens to the other half-cent, and before you know it, he's reprogrammed the payroll computers to give him all the fractions in a large check.  Turns out all computers can talk to each other, even before the internet was, I think I've seen that fraction of a cent thing in other movies, right?  "Hackers" for one, plus "Office Space", which referenced this film.

This brings him to the attention of the company CEO, who, instead of firing him on the spot, puts him to work re-programming all the computers in the world (wait, what?) to help him rip-off the world on a larger scale.  Because if he can get all the oil tankers in the world to the middle of the Atlantic, and he can get all of those tankers' captains to follow ONLY the orders from their navigational computers, and not respond to verbal commands or their own common sense, then he will profit somehow.  There should be a lesson in supply-and-demand economics in there, but there kinda isn't.  Instead we just see all the citizens of Metropolis fighting over one gas pump.

It gets worse - the team of villains use their computing power to create fake kryptonite - because that's what computers are really good at, making synthetic rocks (?) - and instead of killing Superman, it turns him evil, then makes him have a nervous breakdown, then splits him into two beings so he can have a fight with himself in a junkyard.  This could be seen as a symbolic crisis of conscience, but the duality is wrong.  Superman's struggle is not good vs. evil, it's Superman vs. Clark Kent, man vs. Superman, and neither one is evil. 

Then there's a final showdown with the super-computer, which takes up a giant cave in the Grand Canyon, but has a tiny viewscreen with the same graphics as a Commodore 64.  And as we all know from the 1980's, if you put too many pieces of computer hardware together, the resulting machine will become self-aware and start turning people into cyborgs to protect itself.  It was a weird decade, just look it up, kids.  And the "Man of Steel" is really no match for a bunch of wires, as anyone who ever tried to hook up a stereo system can confirm.

It turns out that without a good villain like Lex Luthor, the whole thing tends to unravel.  You'd think that with 50 years of Superman comics you could just pick another villain and drop him in there - Bizarro, Brainiac, Metallo, Parasite, just to name a few.  So why didn't they?  It's easy to see why they pretended like this film never happened when they re-booted the franchise - oh, how I wish I could do the same.

NITPICK POINT:  Superman rescues a man from a car that ran over a hydrant and is filling up with water by ripping off the top of the car.  Couldn't the guy have just rolled down his window?

Also starring Christopher Reeve (last seen in "Noises Off"), Robert Vaughn (last seen in "The Towering Inferno"), Annette O'Toole (last seen in "It"), Margot Kidder, Jackie Cooper, Pamela Stephenson, Annie Ross.

RATING: 3 out of 10 MX missiles