I got my hands on The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? this weekend because I’m a fan of the behind the scenes stories of film-making as well as what gets on screen. The behind the scenes stories of Hollywood are fascinating because they lend themselves an opening into the creative process. Writing a song, a movie or a novel has a lot of similarities and with more cooks in the oven to shape it the wilder the direction it can go in. Hollywood’s failed projects and flops perhaps lend themselves best to dissection because of this, I think.
Looking at how lots of creative, successful people fail at things, sometimes spectacularly so, gives us perspective on just how difficult it is to make a film. Even a good one is a difficult and sometimes extremely costly venture at the highest of levels. Thus when a studio spends an inordinate amount of money on a project that it winds up walking away from, especially one with incredible names attached to it, I believe that merits some level of dissection. Hence why I got interested in this film.
How do you spend a ton of cash and wind up needing to clear close to a billion dollars to get into profitability? You try to make a Superman reboot with Nicolas Cage and Tim Burton, apparently, before spending well over $200 million with Bryan Singer in production costs alone.
Part of why people always wondered about the project is because of Kevin Smith, I think. It was a huge part of his speaking tour for years, his story of being one of the first to write a take on the subject, and part of me thinks the reason why this film came into existence is because there were other sides to the story other than Smith’s. With so many people connected to the film, as well as those who wound up making Superman Returns and allowing Zack Snyder to get a crack at it once it lost ungodly amounts of money, the story behind Superman Lives is a really insightful one into the creative process.
It also gives an interesting perspective on how we evaluate the man who was slated to star in it: Nicolas Cage.
When this film was brought into existence in 1995 Cage was an eccentric pick, perhaps, but it was the right time as an actor to pick him. He was just coming off of Leaving Las Vegas, where he won an Oscar, and 20 years ago he was the obvious pick to become the next great dramatic leading man. He was someone who Roger Ebert called a “real movie actor” at the time, as well, and the words ‘brave’ and ‘daring’ were casually thrown around about his acting ability and style.
So at the time his selection as Superman was an interesting one. It wasn’t quite Michael Keaton as Batman, of course, but Cage was new and interesting. He also had a string of great performances in films of various quality, as well, but the thing that was noticeable about Cage was that he had that air of greatness to him. It’s weird to think of it now, of course, but there was a moment when Nicolas Cage was on the cusp of being in that rare place where guys like Sean Penn occupy territory for decades.
We wanted to see, at least back then, what one of the most gifted actors of his generation on the cusp of an extended series of greatness had to give in role for what was a fluff role in a fluff film. To be fair we still view comic book films as popcorn, and nothing but, but 20 years ago to be a summer movie staple you weren’t wearing spandex. You were either wearing a shirt one size too small for your massive biceps … or you were an everyman thrust into the wrong scenario at the wrong place. Your name mattered more than your character on the movie poster; now it’s the opposite it seems.
Now … now we would want to see a Nic Cage as Superman film for wildly different reasons. Cage’s career has spiraled in a wildly different direction, as he’s the sort of actor that’s kind of a joke now. He still makes a ton of films … but 20 years has given us a wildly different Cage than you could’ve expected after Leaving Las Vegas. He’s become a staple of bad direct to DVD action movies and more known for being used in memes, and some wild over the top sequences from films years ago, than he is for being a tremendous actor.
It’s the one thing about The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? that stands out most about the film. It’s odd to see Nicolas Cage in archival footage when he was still an actor you could give a crap about, not just openly mock the bad choices he’s made ever since his bad financial decisions dictated the choices he makes for films he makes.
Now we mock Cage for not giving a damn in films he’s clearly taking because the money is too good to pass up. It’s sad, really.
If you want to pimp anything email it to me with a good reason why. It helps to bribe me with stuff, just saying ….
A Movie A Week – The Challenge
This week’s DVD Netflix View – The Search for General Tso
The one thing that I can never get enough of is Chinese food. When I still lived at home, oh so many years ago, my father and I would have Chinese food on Wednesdays because my mother would see a movie with a neighbor that night. When I lived a block from the city of Chicago part of the reason why I chose the apartment I did was because it had the best Chinese food place in the county right behind the apartment complex. Chinese food on Christmas day has been a staple for a long period of time … only after a couple movies, of course.
Thus when this popped up in my queue I thought it would make for an interesting viewing.
Simple premise. General Tso’s chicken is a staple of every Chinese restaurant in America. Yet there isn’t an easy, verifiable story about the dish and how it came to be. Ian Cheney decided to explore the dish, and the relationship between Chinese food and small town America, in this film. It’s an exploration of how Chinese food explored the local culture, and how Chinese immigrants and their descendants wound up assimilating into American culture.
It also focuses on the nature of the relations between American and Chinese international relations, including Nixon breaking the Bamboo curtain, and how Chinese food was kind of the way that Chinese-Americans found their way into the American lexicon. That’s the bulk of the film, exploring this sort of weird cultural dynamic as every area in America has at least one Chinese restaurant in it as well. It’s amazing to see how some restaurants have adapted to their local fare; Chinese gumbo in Louisiana stands as a highlight of the amusing fusion between Chinese food and American tastes.
Cheney takes a really engaging and intriguing look into this relationship between food and cultural acceptance. While he never really finds the backstory of who exactly crafted General Tso’s chicken he does really explore how this ethnic food has become like pizza, et al, in that we’ve kind of assimilated it into the American food palette. I’m not sure if we ever will know who originally crafted it. It’s one of those things that’s changed and crafted to suit its audience, and it’s maker.
What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 tall boys of Red Fox and community college co-eds with low standards at the Fox and Hound
Paper Towns – A teenager helps his high school crush prank people. She then leaves their small town and he goes out to find her via a series of elaborate clues.
Skip it – It’s from the same people who did the cancer film with the Divirgent chick, thus you know it’s going to suck. If you do see the film the people watching will be worth it though; you can wager on how many teenage boys are there because they think it’ll help them get lucky on a Friday night.
Pixels – Aliens invade … and they’re 80s video game characters. So of course we need some old dorks to beat them.
See it – It’s an Adam Sandler film, so you can’t expect much, but if you grew up in arcades with Pac-Man, et al, then this’ll at least be worth a nostalgia trip.
Southpaw – Jake Gyllenhaal is a boxer fighting for his family or something.
Skip it – You can’t trust a film named after a particular boxing stance when they have the star in the opposite stance on the poster and advertising material.
Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .