Thursday, 8 October 2015

Film: 'Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut' (2006)

I should begin with two things: One, I never particularly liked the theatrical version of 'Superman II' (the Lester version), and two, this alternate version is an unprecedented occurrence. Let's begin with the background. 'Superman: The Movie' was produced by the Salkinds (a father and son team?) and directed by Richard Donner, with a script extensively rewritten by his friend Tom Mankiewicz. The movie was made simultaneously with 'Superman II' (SII) until financial and studio pressure forced them to put the approximate seventy-per-cent of 'Superman II' completed into a drawer and finish off 'Superman: The Movie' (STM). The relationship between the Salkinds and Donner and Mankiewicz had deteriorated to such a condition during STM, however that the producers didn't bring back the super-hit-making duo to finish SII and put their own crony Richard Lester (who directed 'The Three Musketeers' and 'The Four Musketeers' for them) in the director's chair, remove the Marlon Brando sequences, and reshoot some pivotal scenes in addition to finishing the film, and proceeded to ruin the charm and spirit of that original first film. Many years later, after the discovery of the lost footage, and after popular demand to see the 'Donner version', an editor called Michael Thau made an alliance with Donner to recreate as closely as possible that version of SII. It was released in 2006, and is apparently the canonical direct prequel to that year's 'Superman Returns'. Oh, yes, point number three: I did like 'Superman Returns', and I really don't understand the hatred for it. Why do people hate things so?

'Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut' (RDC) is a much better film than the theatrical SII. It's dramatically stronger, funnier, more stylish, and feels more of a piece with STM than SII. However, it does repeat the time travel sequence that climaxed STM, as that was originally supposed to end SII and not STM, and it does have material from the Lester version as well a crucial scene built from screen test footage, in order to make the story whole. Does that jar? To be honest, I would love it if there was a matching version of STM to go with RDC, one with its own original planned ending of the super villains being released from the Phantom Zone, and Superman simply saving Lois instead of bringing her back to life with badly planned time travel. I would absolutely adore it, since the ending to STM doesn't make any sense whatsoever and the cliffhanger would be a far better way to go. RDC works as its own movie, and the 'world turning' time travel is incredibly beautiful and far more interesting than the cheap looking version in STM. The scene built from the screen test is a very good and powerful scene, so you buy it, and the movie benefits so much from the reinstatement of the Brando footage that it blows SII out of the water with sheer gravitas. The Lester/Donner disparity does jar, though, with the other disadvantages being that it does require a bit of explanation to anyone you might want to show the movie, and that it does weaken STM's end. The latter point is really more the fault of the first film than the Donner cut, to be brutal, which I say while still loving 'Superman: The Movie'.

The Donner cut of 'Superman II' is lively, entertaining, has some brilliant moments, and some scenes you would literally not believe would ever be cut out of a film. It's amazing the theatrical version was a hit when you consider what was lost! To be very clear, I rather like it.


Tuesday, 6 October 2015

What Is The Secret Of Life?

What is the secret of life? Would finding the answer be a good thing, or an utter anti-climax? Would knowing that ultimate philosophical truth negate the need to explore the rest of the universe?

As I sit here, listening to 'The Last Starfighter' commentary, and being generally lackadaisical, it seems fitting to consider such grand questions. What would it mean to actually answer that most primal question? Captain Kirk said it best when he said we needed our pain, and we do, but we also need our doubts and open questions to give us something to work towards. Could answering the Question be damaging or simply lead to bigger Questions? What bigger question could there be?

It seems like madness to talk about working towards a philosophical goal when the world is mired in the dirtiest of political eras, where no-one takes reponsibility for anything, and the environment is being driven into the ground zero of global warming while the ocean acidifies and we all face a slow armageddon. Will we ever reach enlightenment? Hopefully, one day, yes. What does all of this have to do with custard and how the revisions to the 'joined up' version of 'Wordspace' are going? I have no idea.

Thankfully, the utterly unanswerable nature of the question makes the whole topic academic at best. What kind of answer would be satisfying, anyway? Would it be better to know that life in this universe is the result of someone on a higher plane accidentally knocking over their test tube, or that we were supposed to grow peanuts as part of some intergalacting trading plan? Were we plunged into consciousness so that one day the aliens of Zeta Zeta II would have 'Star Trek' to watch on Friday nights? The largest questions have the most profoundly dull answers, and it's the journey to reach them that is more important.

What would be an even bigger question than the secret of life? That's an interesting idea to mull over. Leave suggestions at the bottom of the page, and we'll turn them into apple crumbles as a gesture of the madness of the cosmos.

My, 'The Last Starfighter' is a great example of pre-blockbuster film making. I'll have to write about that one day. It's got to be more interesting than existentialism, and how best to rewrite the rapidly inflating 'Wordspace'. Yes, an already lengthy set of episodes is becoming lengthier in the merging. Welcome to the Quirky Muffin, where concise things get longer, and longer, and longer...


Sunday, 4 October 2015

Story: 'Diary of a Laundry Robot', Week II

( Week I , Week III )


My maintenance engineer and therapist, BoomBoom, has suggested that I continue this journal in the hopes of becoming a more enlightened and efficient laundry robot. Given the choice between this and competitive shirt folding, which I have loathed ever since the Laundry Olympics of the year 2622, I choose this. The maintenance period has been wonderful, but now I feel the pull of work. Celia just came in and started moaning about the new robot, Fred's replacement. I will have to wait until tomorrow to see if the ever-exaggerating Celia has been accurate.


Celia wasn't accurate about our new workmate Bobbie at all. In fact, Bobbie is a complete wacko! Just this morning, when faced with Professor Bramble's mustard coloured trench coat, she doused it with gin and tried to set it on fire! Yes, she functioned well most of the rest of the time, but at closing time she started doing comedy routines by twenty second century robot comedienne LoobyLoo and tried to shred the contents of Fred's tie closet. Oddly, the manager Rocktop Beta, is reluctant to get rid of Bobbie. I suspect a conspiracy...


Celia has returned from maintenance, and for once her twittering is a great relief. Not only has it been a day free of the erratic Bobbie, off on her first maintenance period, but Mrs Wilberforce has regained her status as the laundry's nemesis. Having exhausted the global supply of handkerchiefs last week, she has now tapped in to the wacky world of novelty jumpers. The note says that they're required for the upcoming Buddy Awards, the prizes for the most ludicrously costumed politicians, being part of the prizes. Does the woman never sleep?


Professor Bramble has sent in his coat again, with instructions to treat it more kindly. Thankfully Bobbie is still off on break, so Celia and I will give it special treatment over lunchtime. Whatever could that eccentric loon have been thinking with the gin? Bramble is reputed to be one of the leading scientific geniuses of the day, which is evidenced by his ridiculous choice in clothing! Celia is at this moment checking it for forgotten fragile items.


Calamity. Madness. Lunacy. Professor Bramble, mad genius, left some items in his coat which caused mayhem! Let it be merely said that an ion-powered egg whisk was compounded by some powdered water and a strangely coloured cloud of gas. Then, inside one of the pockets, we discovered a strange written treatise on the nature of the galaxy as compared to a gigantic cosmic washing machine. A small blue being with a red hat then appeared as if by magic, declared the whole laundry a space-time crisis event horizon, and everything went white. Before we knew what was happening, it was today, and Thursday had gone by without a trace! Rocktop Beta said he would review the video records, but never came back from his office. Thank goodness that my maintenance period is over the weekend!

To be continued...

Friday, 2 October 2015

A New Project

I'm listening to a radio play, the legendary 'Mercury Theatre on the Air' adaptation of Gillette's 'Sherlock Holmes'. It's very much an adaptation week, in fact, as Blish's 'Star Trek' prose adaptations sit not too far away. For some time, I thought that perhaps the Blishes were only good in my memory, but no they are good in reality. So is the 'Sherlock Holmes'. Apparently, this week's inclination in blog writing is the phrase 'in fact', which has been pushed to the brink of actualization four more times than it actually appears on the screen so far. Presumably, I picked it up at some point in the day, while struggling with a new proofreading project.

Proofreading or copyediting projects are very difficult jobs to begin, as they require a transition to a different mental mode. Yes, it really is that difficult to dig in, with the first few days only seeing a few minutes of work each, before things begin in earnest (blast, 'in earnest' is clearly a stand-in for today's 'go to' phrase!). The size of the project makes no difference, as it is merely a question of getting the brain into the right frame for rewriting. Rewriting is difficult, worse than editing your own stories, as you have to make far more involved informed and thoughtful choices about what to change and what to leave untoucned. With your own writing, you're free to just throw your replacements and edits around in glee, with other people's work it needs to be justified, and all in the context of understanding just what is being written to begin with. Similar to translation, but different, very different.

As 'The Immortal Sherlock Holmes' rolls on, and 'The Cocoanuts' moves through the postal system to this secret lair deep in Carmarthenshire, you might expect to enter a mini-Groucho season in coming days. It's really too early to say, with seasonal blues creeping in as they always do, and job hunting being the soporific that beats all others. However, Groucho might win out, along with Chico, Harpo and Zeppo. Harpo's weirdness could fill a series all on its own, after all... Yes, the Marx Brothers remain untouched in the Quirky Muffin so far, which is remarkable when it is revealed that they, along with Buster Keaton and a little of Abbott and Costello made almost all of the 'purebred' comedies that I can accept and appreciate. Yes, there are many other funny films, but they all live in the overlaps with other kinds of films. We're talking about 'straight down the line' comedian-led comedies here! Go, Groucho, go!

Oh, and for those curious, Moriarty didn't win out. Thank goodness.


Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Film: 'Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein' (1948)

Budd Abbott and Lou Costello trod a very thin line. When they missed that line, one of two things happened: Either Abbott veered off from his anti-comedic straight man persona to plain abusiveness, or Costello went from wise-cracking idiot to helpless loon, and the whole confection collapsed in either case. However, when they found that line they had few peers.

In 'Meet Frankenstein' they tread that line well for the most part. Yes, Budd starts off being overly nasty but it evens out pretty quickly once the parade of Universal Monsters starts pouring through the film, with Lon Chaney jr reprising the Wolfman, Bela Lugosi as Dracula, and Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's monster. It seems ridiculous to think about it now, but Universal had the Sherlock Holmes pictures, its iconic monster movies, and Abbott and Costello all in the 1940s! Three sets of hits in one decade, and probably more I don't know! In all likelihood they tried to get Rathbone and Bruce to pair off again Budd and Lou too. What a movie that would have been: Nigel Bruce trading barminess with Lou Costello as Budd and Basil traded sarcasms over their heads!

'Meet Frankenstein' is pretty funny. I prefer 'Pardon My Sarong' from the few Abbott and Costello movies that I've seen, but this is pretty good fun. Yes, it degenerates into an overly long panic session at the end, but there's amusement to be had at the expense of Dracula trying to get out of his coffin while Lou reads his legend, or the Wolfman suffering more consecutive full moon nights than you could reasonably expect to see in any given month (oddly reminiscent of the 'Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea' werewolf episodes). It's strange to see this and realise how urbane Dracula was as a screen character at the time, more of a Blofeld than a rampaging beast monster, and one who commanded mad and beautiful scientists to do his bidding and solve his problems. There's never a beautiful mad scientist around when you need one in real life.

This film does fall partly into one trap, though not as badly as 'Who Done It', my least favourite so far, which is that of trying to make profoundly grim ideas funny. In 'Who Done It', it was almost impossible to be consistently amused as our titular duo pretended to be police detectives, investigated a murder and were frequently endangered by the murderer himself. In this case, as one of the original squeamish ninnies, it's a bit hard to be amused at the notion of Lou Costello's brain being transplanted to make a newer and more docile monster of Frankenstein for Dracula to control. Monsters are just too inherently sad to be funny, at least to the overly thoughtful.  'Pardon My Sarong' was far better in this respect, and it also had an underwater bus sequence as well as the lie detecting tree! On the flip side of the coin, the sequence with Lou and the Wolfman in his hotel room is pretty cute.

'Meet Frankenstein' doesn't have an underwater bus sequence, but it does have Budd and Lou, Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney jr, a spooky castle, animated special effects, electric sparks, a row boat, some fire, and a wobbly bat flying around on strings. Yes, that's right, the wobbly Dracula bat is back!


Monday, 28 September 2015

Words a.k.a. Idealism Runs Wild

Editing time is here again, as calculations whir on the other computer, and this time 'Wordspace' is getting the conversion to 'coherent whole' status. It's actually rather embarrassing to read through the original episodes, as they're full of contradictions. Full of them! The pronouns are in flux from 'he' or 'she' to 'it' on a sentence by sentence basis, there are sections which don't lead anywhere and have to be rewritten for consistency, and some spots of dead text to be excised. At the same time, there are some funny lines, and it will be great to see that first chapter in one piece.

Yes, 'Wordspace' is fascinating, and maybe the only story I've done so far to be legitimately proud of in concept. Yes, a world full of words as characters is still quite the leap, and one which in refinement gives more and more. Aren't hobbies wonderful for keeping the mind away from the sometimes terrible meanders of existence? Aren't words great in their pockets of the vocabulary, and in all their many translations in other languages? Isn't it fascinating that words have genders in different languages? Isn't it difficult that in Japanese and Greek so much gets built onto verb stems instead of forming sentences as we know them? Isn't it all wonderful, and sometimes maddening?

Some day we'll use words to bring peace to the world. It will take work, but it can happen. People will look at the differences imposed by the codification and ossification of long-dead ideologies and gently push them to one side to emphasize the similarities that unite us all instead. It will happen, facilitated by the Internet and the modern world of telecommunications, until the enclaves of censorship and media indoctrination collapse in upon themselves. Words will save the day. It's a nice dream, isn't it? Until then, I'll plug away at these stories, and debunk whatever nonsenses pop onto the windscreen of life.

Enough, enough, bring on the house elves!


Saturday, 26 September 2015

Story: The Ninja of Health, IV

( Part III , V )

The marble wobbled, and cracked, revealing an utter absence of content. The Man and the Woman stared confusedly at the empty marble fragments.

"I was convinced something hideous or misunderstood would erupt out of that thing, prompting an adventure of uncertainty and some danger." The Man observed finally.

His companion took his arm and led him away as the emergency services approached. "I know what you mean. It's a positive anti-climax, but at least the Pattern is..." The Woman swayed and sagged into her companion for a moment.

"What is it? What's wrong?" He asked of her, alarmed.

"I don't know. We have to get out of here."

They hurried as invisibly as they could away from the allotments, the Man looking carefully after his charge, who recovered quickly. Reaching a bench in the park, they settled down in a mild drizzle and pondered for a few moments.

The Woman looked up at the sky, and pushed out her senses. "There is something else."

"Yes, I know. That ball did contain something, didn't it?"


"We are going to have a drama again, aren't we?" The Man asked apprehensively

"Yes. Blast it."

To be continued...