Monday, July 28, 2014

The Best (and Worst) Movie Sequels I Have Ever Seen - Part 2

Love them or hate them, Hollywood insists that sequels are here to stay. So what better way to celebrate (and scorn) them by creating a list in their 'honor'. As a follow up to my previous post, I have listed five of the most memorable and deplorable film sequels ever created below:

5.) The Best: The Rescuers Down Under 

The Rescuers Down Under is one of those few movies where the sequel is arguably better than the original. While the original Rescuers film is generally recognized as one of the better films to come out of Disney's dead period (i.e. shortly after Walt Disney died), its 1990 sequel is largely overlooked due to being released between The Little Mermaid and The Beauty and the Beast, as well as premiering during the opening week of Home Alone. It's a shame because The Rescuers Down Under is a truly fun, action-packed movie. It is arguably the closest Disney has come to releasing something in the vein of Indiana Jones or Crocodile Dundee

The storyline centers around a young, Australian boy named Cody. Cody befriends a large, endangered eagle (Marahute), but is held captive by a poacher when he refuses to tell him the eagle's location. Fortunately, the titular Rescuers, a pair two mice (Bianca and Bernard) are alerted and decide to embark on a dangerous mission in order to save Cody. At the same time, Bernard attempts to ask for Bianca's hand in marriage but is constantly interrupted by Jake, a charismatic kangaroo rat, and must over come his own incompetence. It should also be noted that The Rescuers Down Under was the first Disney film to be made using the digital CAPS system and the fantastic flight sequences of Marahute were animated by renowned animator Glen Keane. (Keane stated that the films of Hayao Miyazaki were a major influence on the film's flight scenes, specifically Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.)

5.) The Worst: The Blues Brothers 2000

Making a sequel between more than a decade is, more often than not, a recipe for disaster. Such is the case of Blues Brothers 2000 (which despite what it's name may suggest was released in 1998). 2000 takes place 18 years after the first film, when Elwood Blues is released from prison. He is told that his brother, Jake Blues has died and so has his surrogate father, Curtis. (This is the film's way to cover up for the deaths of the two actors that portrayed Jake and Curtis, John Belushi and Cab Calloway respectively.) Elwood also discoverers that he has second brother, Cabel Chamberlain. However, Cabel turns out be a member of the Illinois State Police. Thus Cabel is not that keen on Elwood's plan to reunite his band, after what happened the last time they played. 

2000 is basically a rehash of the first film, with almost the same plot and same jokes. The only difference is that this film constantly falls to be funny and tends to drag a lot of the time. Both critics and audiences responded negatively to the film. It only earned back a pitiful $14K its $28 million budget. The only good thing about Blues Brothers 2000 is its soundtrack and it still is not as good as the original film's music. If any thing, buy the CD. Avoid the movie.

4.) The Best: Star Wars V - The Empire Strikes Back

When most people are asked which Star Wars film is there favorite, they often answer, "The Empire Strikes Back," and for a good reason. It introduced to such iconic characters as Yoda, Boba Fett and the  Imperial Walkers. When adjusted for inflation, Episode V remains the 12th highest grossing film in North America. The main reason to this film's success its ability to keep its audience on edge. The Empire Strikes proved to be more emotionally investing and a bit darker what audiences initially expected. On top of the Rebel Alliance facing impending danger from the Galactic Empire, Han Solo is captured, Darth Vader reveals himself to be Luke's father…and then the film ends on a cliffhanger. (I would have avoided listing spoilers, but seriously who needs a warning for a movie that's over thirty years old?)

Of course, being a Star Wars film, not all of the movie is dead serious. For the adrenaline junkies there is a lot of action and sword (lightsaber?) play. The movie's ground breaking special effects and occasional cheesy humor (Admit it it's part of the series's charm.) also help lighten the mood a bit. The Empire Strikes back eventually went on to receive ten Academy Award Nominations and was added to the National Film Registry in 2010. If those new Star Wars films set to come out are even half as good as this we will be lucky indeed. (But at least they won't include Jar-Jar Binks right?)

4.) The Worst: Son of the Mask

Just seeing an image from this film is enough to give me a headache. While the original Mask film was somewhat of an acquired taste, it proved to be unique experience due to its eccentric performance by Jim Carey and surreal, cartoony atmosphere. Not only does the sequel lack Carey, it also lacks any constancy with The Mask, save for stating that Loki created the cursed object. Instead, Son of the Mask chooses to focus on entirely new characters as almost none of the original cast returned to the sequel. This was likely due to the movie being in production hell for over eleven years. (Plans for a sequel actually date back to 1996.)

The plot of the this film revolves around a struggling cartoonist, Tim Avery (Get it?), who is reluctant about becoming a father. It just so happens that Tim's dog, Ottis, finds the Mask and Tim decides to wear it at a Halloween party. By wearing the Mask, Tim manages to make the party and success and gives his boss an idea for a new cartoon. Tim, while wearing the Mask, gets his wife pregnant that night…The result is a baby that is 'blessed' with the powers of the Mask, which he uses to torture his father when mommy isn't looking. In the meantime, Ottis gets jealous and wears the Mask and attempts (and fails) to kill the baby. You know for kids! But, to be fair at least this flyer gives its audience a fair warning for what they're in for by stating that this movie came 'from the creator of Cats and Dogs.' Yech. 

3.) The Best: Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade 

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is a shining example of what a sequel should be and proves that even a late edition to a popular film series can sometimes be an improvement. In fact, Steven Spielberg even admits that he regrets the mistakes he made in The Temple of Doom and made The Last Crusade to make up for it. (The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is another story, but I digress.) 

Spielberg wisely chose to return to the more lighthearted, adventurous tone of the original movie. In addition, he gave Jones a backstory and the story a bit more emotional weight. Seeing Sean Connery play Jones's father onscreen alongside Harrison Ford is simply delightful. It's both funny and relatable. (Spielberg often emphasizes the need to fix strained father/son relationships in his movies. Something he that he personally struggled with.) All in all, The Last Crusade is a solid movie. If you have been happening to be living under a rock for 25 years see it. 

3.) The Worst: The Neverending Story III

Just look at the poster. Look at it. Anybody who thought putting this thing together was good idea ought to be fired. The composition is hideous. The design of the puppets look like Muppet rejects. (Even though they were made at Jim Henson's Creature Shop. Seriously Jim, your studio went through some rough times after you passed away.) The first Neverending Story movie has its flaws, yes, but it proved to be an inspired children's fantasy that captured the hearts of an entire generation. Sadly, the next films in the trilogy proved to be rather lackluster, but at least the sequel was still based upon the book and made on more than a shoestring budget.

The Neverending Story III: Return to Fantasia is not just the usual sequel bad. It's just plain bad. In addition to having the usual cheap sequel problems (i.e. different actors, poorly tied in plot), several of the main characters are dumbed down or else completely missing. Continuity errors abound. And despite what the title of this film may suggest, most of the 'action' takes place outside of the world of Fantasia and in the more mundane human world. So Bastain, the protagonist, is left babysitting some of Fantasia's inhabitants while trying to fend off school yard bullies…Just what would be expected from a fantasy film series.

Also, why does a young Jack Black play the villain?

2.) The Best: The Godfather Part II 

The Godfather is one of the most renowned films ever created. It currently holds an impressive an impressive 9.1 on the Internet Movie Data Base making it the third highest rated movie on the site, only bested by its predecessor and The Shawshank Redemption. Despite Marlon Brando's refusal to take part in the sequel, the film manages to cleverly work around this problem by focusing on Vito Corleone's earlier life (were Vito is portrayed by Robert De Niro). The Godfather Part II's other main point of focus is on Vito's son, Michael, who struggles to keep his family's crime syndicate afloat at the expense of his relationship with his wife, and drifts farther apart from the idealized American life he once longed to live.

Before the movie premiered in theaters, many critics were actually skeptical about how smoothly Part II's intertwining plots would flow and predicted that the film would leave audiences confused. Part of their skepticism likely stemmed from the fact that, before this film was released, most major Hollywood films were not given sequels (and even if they manage to get one, they tended to be made with significantly lower budgets). As we now know, the critics' concerns fortunately proved to be wrong. The Godfather Part II became the first sequel to ever win the Academy Award for Best Picture (and remains the only sequel to do so outside of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King).

2.) The Worst: The Godfather Part III

Unfortunately, one can not mention The Godfather Part II without noting that it is considerably better than Part III. While perhaps put a bit high on this list, the first two films are so highly esteemed that this movie seemed bound to disappoint from the start. As with several of the other 'dishonorable' sequels mentioned here, The Godfather Part III was made several years after its precursor (16 to be exact) and has a notorious production history. Initially, director Francis Ford Coppola didn't want to make a third film, as he felt that the first two completed the saga. However, he gave into Paramount's offer after the failure of his musical, One from the Heart. While several of the actors returned, Robert Duvall dropped out due to wanting a higher salary, forcing Coppola to write his character out of the script. To make matters worse, Coppola was unable to find anybody who could portray Michael Corleone's daughter, Mary. Several actresses were considered, including Julia Roberts, Rebecca Schaeffer, Winona Ryder and even Madonna (!).  Coppola eventually settled with giving the role to his daughter, Sofia.

When The Godfather Part III was finally released in 1990, it was met with rather lackluster reception. The film's main issue lies with Coppola's unwise decision of casting his daughter in a major role when she had little acting experience. Her portrayal of Mary simply feels stale and forced. (Sofia Coppola seems to have taken note of this however, and now rarely acts and instead focuses on directing.)  Part III is also very hard to follow if you are unfamiliar with the first two films. It is overly thought out and convoluted. At times it does manage to much to match splendor of the first two films, but mostly just rides on their coattails.

1.) The Best: Toy Story 3 

The Toy Story films are an unusual exception. As opposed to getting worse with each subsequent film they have gotten better. The first two films, already iconic in their own right, follow the various adventures (and misadventures) of Andy's toys. However by the time the time the third film takes place, Andy has grown and is ready to leave for college. After a series of events, the toys eventually wind up at Sunnyside Day Care, which seems like the ideal new home at first. However, they soon discover that  the Day Care's ringleader, Lots-O '-Huggin'-Bear, has other plans for them due to a grudge he holds against his past owner.

What makes the Toy Story movies so great is their focus on character development and believable relationships. Even though the characters are merely plastic objects, we feel for Woody, Buzz and the others do to their dedication to one another and the ordeals they face. The fact that Andy is growing older and that both he and his toys must move on to a new stage in their lives is also relatable. Toy Story 3 was released 15 years after the first film, meaning that its original audience are all too familiar with Andy's ordeal. Both audiences and critics alike responded positively to the film. Toy Story 3 went on to become Pixar's highest grossing film and currently holds a 99% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

1.) The Worst: Vuk II (Kis Vuk)

Chances are that you have never seen the original Vuk movie. It's a charming little Hungarian film about a fox cub who is raised by his uncle after his parents are killed by a hunter, very much in vein of Disney's The Fox and the Hound. God help you if you saw the sequel first. It's easily one of the worst animated features ever produced. It even gives Titanic: The Animated Movie and Foodfight a run for their money. The first fatale flaw of Kis Vuk is its absolutely atrocious CGI animation. The characters have no weight to them and often seem to float across the screen or move like pieces of lead. This may have be acceptable if Kis Vuk was made by a small company in the early '90s, but there is no way to excuse the sloppy animation since this film came out in 2008. To make matters worse, the film tends to focus on many unnecessary, obnoxious side characters, most of which are human (unlike the original movie which outside of the hunter focused solely on forest and barnyard animals). Thus, the film tends to fall into the uncanny valley a lot.

But the Vuk 2's art style is just one of its problems. The editing is horrible, each scene awkwardly cutting to the next. The characters are mere shadows of those in the original film, and are so stupid they can't figure out how to escape a circus without fences. The plot is equally stupid. It involves forest animals who must escape a ringmaster who controls them by hypnotizing them, forcing them to perform in his shows. Plus, there is a rapping crow. You heard that right, a rapping crow. This film is universally appalled by all who have seen it.  Kis Vuk currently holds an 'impressive' 2.3 rating on the Internet Movie Data Base, making it one of the lowest rated films on the site only bested by the likes of Birdemic: Shock and Terror and Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2. Amazingly this movie actually managed to get an English dub, featuring the talents of British actors Miranda Richardson and Bill Nighy. I'm guessing that's where a lot of the $6,700,000 budget went.

Animation from the original 1981 film…

…vs the sequel. Good luck sleeping tonight!