Episode 48: Darkman (1990, Sam Raimi) / Darkman II: The Return of Durant (1995, Bradford May) / Darkman III: Die Darkman Die (1996, Bradford May)

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There aren’t many original film superheroes. The few that were made between those DC epochs, 1978′s Superman and 1989′s Batman straddled every genre that didn’t require a cape – science fiction, pulp noir, horror – resulting in films whose protagonists tended to violently undergo disgusting transformations unchained to the demands of preselling McDonalds collector glasses to children already familiar with the characters. Between Superman and Batman, original superhero-ish action fantasy films could appeal to older audiences, or at least teenagers with cynical attitudes who read comics by Alan Moore or Frank Miller and were already enjoying a golden era of stylized ultra violence in 1980s cinema.

The apotheosis of these ideals was Robocop and since the Alan Smithee Podcast has already done that special we’re now moving to the next best example of this rare subgenre to ever be produced by a major studio: Darkman, the super-noir-anti-hero created by Sam Raimi years before his famously licensed official superhero movie when he couldn’t secure the gig directing Batman or The Shadow.

As a franchise, the Darkman series is informatively typical of Universal Studios business practices in the 1990s and Sam Raimi’s career in the future. The visually deft direction tells the comic book story as if we’re glancing over wordless panels on a page, seeing what happens through one striking image after another. Some of Raimi’s shots of Darkman can be seen elsewhere in the Spider-Man trilogy and then there’s the business of his swinging on a rope between skyscrapers during the action packed finale. While the cheesiness of parts II and III were predictable, Raimi’s executive producer credit on both also indicated a willingness to take the money for squeezing out numerated excrement below his own standards – as witnessed with Spider-Man 3 and a few lower profile cash-ins along the way in the 1990s under the Renaissance Pictures.

Universal’s production of Darkman II and III was done practically on autopilot in the same manner as their previous back-to-back part 2 and 3 franchise sequels had been handled before (i.e. Back to the Future, Problem Child and Child’s Play) and would continue to be handled with the Tremors sequels and TV franchise to come. Universal Television’s corporate synergy with the film department even generated a Darkman TV series pilot, and at times the two films nearly resemble sewn together plot ideas from some unmade first season.

As the subtitle heralds, Darkman II: The Return of Durant brings back Larry Drake as the first film’s memorable villain Robert G. Durant – the dorkiest frighteningly sadistic crime boss since Kurtwood Smith’s Clarence Boddicker in Robocop, natch. Aside from the painful Toronto production values of the film, the biggest problem is a story which barely acknowledges Darkman at all – it’s almost 30 minutes before he even realizes Durant has returned – and in this regard there’s an unfortunately coincidental resemblance to Robocop 2. Die Darkman Die isn’t nearly as bad, thanks in part to the awesome title. Perennial b-movie staple Jeff Fahey is a better villain than the warmed over Durant and the story is written by a different duo than Part II, who know enough to implicate Darkman as more than a cipher.

Darkman became a trilogy to resounding indifference. Until now! Darkman fans rejoice, for your hour has come. Julieeeeee!! Duraaaaaaaant!!! And tune in next time when Larry Drake returns yet again…

NEXT EPISODE: BLACKMAIL IS MY LIFE (1968, KINJI FUKASAKU) & DR. GIGGLES (1992, MANNY COTO)

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Episode 35: Robocop (1987, Paul Verhoeven) / Robocop 2 (1990, Irvin Kershner) / Robocop 3 (1993, Fred Dekker)

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Hey Lewis, it’s supercop! This week on a special An Alan Smithee Podcast we look back on the Robocop trilogy. Few other trilogies of films intended as ongoing franchises ever experienced such a precipitous, virtually calculated drop in quality from one of the greatest films ever made (even Criterion agrees) to a definitively cynical rehash with official comic book credentials – Frank Miller, whose film career somehow outlasted the kid oriented director of PG-13 Part 3, Fred Dekker. Old wounds are opened as old e-hate mail from Dekker himself is disclosed for the first time!

NEXT WEEK: THE STRANGER (1946, ORSON WELLES) & JAY & SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK (2001, KEVIN SMITH)

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Episode 32: Metropolitan (1990, Whit Stillman) / Of Unknown Origin (1983, George P. Cosmatos)

Manhattanites are prepared to go to great lengths to protect what’s theirs, whether the blue blood stock and their social standing or self-made yuppies and their hard earned real estate.

Whit Stillman’s amazing Metropolitan prefigured what would become the 1990s style of comedy rather inadvertently. Stillman’s background amongst preppies gives the non stop talking a high level of sophistication and sometimes hilarious snobbery that never drops or is contrasted with the lower echelons of society whose Kevin Smith verbiage is only pseudo-intellectual.

What’s more charming and surprising is the empathy Stillman has for these bubble dwellers. He’s perfectly aware that their wealth makes them naive, satire is not his focus. Instead he takes a literary approach to the saga of a new member to a particular casual preppie social circle, whose relative lack of, shall we say, monetary means is ultimately no trouble at all, old sport. He quickly takes to the budding talky romcommelodrama of the 90s….with class.

Elsewhere in town, actually Nova Scotia doubling for the same town, Peter “Robocop” Weller does battle with a rat from hell to save his home in a film from the director of Rambo: First Blood Part II. Sounds great, except every time …Of Unknown Origin dances near the edge of crazy fun it backs away. Which is a shame, since Cosmatos is a perfectly capable director and Weller does a lot with very little to do except scream in anger and go commando.

As the rat puppet scurries around the house there’s considerable suspense. As the rat draws near those in Weller’s life, they don’t get killed. As Weller grows more obsessed with killing the rat, his life seems about to fall apart, then everything works out. As his vacationing family wonders what’s going on back home, they eventually arrive home to find their husband alive and well. The rat loses the duel and Weller holds onto his soul. What was the point again?

NEXT WEEK: THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985, DAN O’BANNON) & THE LAST BOY SCOUT (1991, TONY SCOTT)

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Episode 26: Blowup (1966, Michaelangelo Antonioni)/ Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man (1990, Simon Wincer)

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BLOWUP

This week on An Alan Smithee Podcast, we witness Antonioni’s jaunt through hipster London of the swingin’ 60s for a day in the life of a man turning obsessive in Blowup. So much is seen and not heard in this film about photography that a roving car of mimes – easily the scariest image in any movie we’ve seen yet – bookends the story. Look for The Yardbirds amidst dolly birds like Vanessa Redgrave and you’ll have to bring your own meaning to this dreamlike tale of ennui and paranoia.

Then for a taste of bad we sup runoff from the 80s buddy comedy action movie boom, with a near-future chaser. Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man was in no way endorsed by either property, but nobody tells Harley Davidson and Marlboro what they name themselves! The homosexual chemistry is offset a bit by the encroaching political correctness of the 90s, fortunately the script is dumb enough to compensate. Besides, you’re watching a cowboy and a biker. Don Johnson stars as Marlboro and Mickey Rourke as Harley, in the role which kicked off his self-identified period of extreme self loathing!

HarleyDavidsonandtheMarlboroMan

NEXT WEEK: NIGHT OF THE DEMON (1957, JACQUES TOURNEUR) & A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET PART 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE (1985, JACK SHOLDER)