Free-Talking on Cinema, Movies, and Film (5)


Free-Talking Series: Next Post



Vote now for the best films of 2008 and 2009.

The reader favorites for 2006 and 2007 were Letters from Iwo Jima and No Country for Old Men. The former won by a small margin, the latter by a healthy one. Voter turnout was down by about half from the polls for 2004 and 2005.



The multiplexes I go to are all AMCs, so I was pleased to be given a card at my last visit advertising a “see five movies, get a $10 AMC gift card” promotion. That would be five movies “on the following list,” which turned out to be kind of a random assortment. When I saw the lobby poster I assumed they would be all coming attractions, or maybe smaller films they wanted to push, but it proved to be a mix of coming soon, already released films, guaranteed blockbusters, and a few titles that need all the advertising help they can get.

What will you see on this list?

Harry Potter and the Death Hallows: Part I
The Tourist
Yogi Bear
The Company Men
The Next Three Days
Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
TRON: Legacy
Gulliver’s Travels
Little Fockers
Morning Glory
Fair Game
For Colored Girls

I’ll likely end up seeing 6 or 7 of these (I’ve already seen Skyline, more’s the pity, and Faster). There’re also a few they’d have to pay me to see. Come to that, I’m not sure I’d be willing to watch another Tyler Perry movie even if they paid me.



My lament started me thinking about recent releases I wanted to see in the theater but couldn’t because they bypassed Indianapolis, and that are now out on DVD.

A few films that came to mind, listed in no particular order:
Flame and Citron
Red Riding Trilogy
35 Shots of Rum
The Baader Meinhof Complex
The Good, the Bad, the Weird

Have you seen any of these? Is there one I should move to the front of the queue?



Consider that an existential lament.

In point of fact, I know exactly why I watch so few movies (or should I say, so many fewer than before?- more on that next). It’s because there are so many other things that I must or choose to devote my time to. Like my job and my house, the movie club I co-run with a friend, the three book groups I’ve joined (really, what was I thinking?!), and taking long walks along the canal, not to mention this blog.

And no, most people would not say that I’m not watching a lot of movies these days. I once read a statistic that the average American sees five movies a year in the theater. Considering I see more than that in a month, I’m seriously bringing up the average.

Nevertheless, it’s incontrovertible that I don’t watch anywhere near as many movies as I used to. There was a time when I devoured DVDs; I was a dedicated Netflix subscriber and borrowed gobs of DVDs from the library. There was an earlier time, before I started paying my own bills and decided against getting cable- i.e., when I was a teenager and my parents’ cable package included TCM- that I scoured the programming schedule to find dozens of movies every month. Yet, the last couple of years I feel like I’ve hardly watched anything on DVD, and I’ve quite literally watched no movies at all on TV.

Put aside all the important movies I haven’t seen yet. (Of course, I need to stop putting them aside. That’s why I haven’t seen them yet!)

When I was in my classic movie phase and again when I was in my Hong Kong movie phase, I would watch practically anything. As you might imagine, that means I watched a lot of indifferent films and more than enough outright bad ones besides. These days I’m far more discriminating, and I can’t help feeling that I’m missing out because of it.

Illogical, yes? Maybe. Proportionally and in absolute terms, the movies I’m watching now are higher quality and generally more satisfying and enjoyable. So where’s the downside?

I’m rarely surprised. You know how it is when you take a chance on a movie that you don’t know anything about, or that you don’t expect much from, and it turns out to be something really special? I hardly ever experience that anymore, and I miss the feeling.

And then there’re the bad movies, and the unsuccessful movies, that have some good thing in them. A memorable performance or clever idea or striking imagery. Something you remember with pleasure long after you’ve forgotten the rest of the film. Plus failures can be interesting, and even when they aren’t they provide context; there’s a lot of value to being able to put good films in context.



Here’s a fun parlor game: Name a sequel that’s better than the original.

Sequels get a bad rap. Yes, the law of diminishing returns usually applies to sequels, and yes, many of them are outright dreadful. And yes, Hollywood uses sequels as a crutch. But there are also lots (yes, lots!) of sequels that are good movies, and even some that are better than the movie they’re a sequel to.

Because I like to categorize, I’ve broken better-than-the-original sequels out into three groups:

1) One story told over several films. That means series that were envisioned as multi-part stories when the first film was made. Star Wars qualifies; Pirates of the Caribbean doesn’t. Why does this group produce superior sequels? One reason is that series often attain greater emotional richness as they develop their characters and storylines.

2) Sequels in name only. Great idea for a movie, indifferent execution. Recipe for a superior sequel: Keep the idea, jettison the rest. This is an approach taken occasionally by Hollywood and frequently in some of the foreign cinemas. Hong Kong is- depending on your tolerance for blatant attempts to capitalize on last year’s big hit by putting a “2” after its title- either legendary or notorious for the practice. Sometimes they even jettison the idea.

3) The continuing-adventures-of. The talent behind and in front of the camera changes; so does the setting, and the conceptualization of the hero. Which film in a series is the best one very often has little, if any connection to the order they were made when it comes to this group. Think James Bond, or his forebear Bulldog Drummond. The Zatoichi movies fluctuated in quality over the course of three decades (although the first film did remain the series’ best). The Thin Man series improved, crested, and diminished.

What sequels do you think are better than the originals?


Free-talking Series: Prior Post

11 responses to “Free-Talking on Cinema, Movies, and Film (5)

  1. Two sequels, in the third category, that come to mind are obvious ones: Spider-Man 2, the single greatest film about being a superhero and The Dark Knight, the single greatest film based on comic books (or graphic novels, for those thinking that they’re being PC).

    I can only hope that Robert Rodriguez takes control over the second and third Sin City films because his original film is the single greatest comic book adaptation. :O)

  2. The Road Warrior is superior to the original Mad Max.

    Even numbered Star Trek films are generally superior to the odd numbered ones that precede them.

    • Absolutely spot on correct 100%! But there’s an exception to Star Trek: Nemesis (which sucks) and the latest Star Trek film is odd-numbered so that’s probably why I greatly disliked it. :O)

  3. Toy Story 2 is the best of the series (but they’re all great films).

    The Empire Strikes Back is better than Star Wars because of Brackett and Kasdan’s script. People tell me the prequels got better as they went along, but I wouldn’t know since I refused to go back after Phantom Menace.

    For a less familiar category 1 series: Johnnie To’s Election 2 is an even finer film than Election (aka Triad Election), which was a tough act to follow.

    • Actually, Election 2 is known as Triad Election because own both of the films and Helen’s right, the first film is fantastic and the second being is even better.

      As for Toy Story, I hadn’t watched the first or second films since they came out and so I sat down a few months back, just before I watched the 3rd film in the theatres, and watched the first and second films back to back. I like the first one the most because even though Toy Story is the first good trilogy in… ever! the first is still my fave because of the realization of being toy that Buzz goes through. I think that it’s more powerful a story than Woody leaving the pack to become a collector’s item. But that’s just me.

      And again, spot on on “Empire Strikes Back”!!

      • Oh, is that how they did the English naming on the To films? I just threw that in there because whenever I start telling people what an amazing movie Election is, they think I’m talking about the Alexander Payne film, and that creates _serious_ cognitive dissonance. ^_^

  4. That’s a good list! I haven’t seen any either but I’m on the list for the Red Riding movies from my library. I have a stack of things to be watched at home but I’ve learned the perils of waiting too long on new releases. I tried to find the Japanese film After Life (not that old) recently and discovered it’s out of print and selling for prohibitive prices online. Hmmm, probably a good idea to check the library’s catalogue for a few of the other titles on that list!

    • The Red Riding trilogy, The Good, the Bad, and the Weird, and Revanche were great. I even watched Revanche a couple of years back. And it’s awesome that it’s been picked up by Criterion. :O)

      Stanley Kubrick’s “Paths of Glory”, Terrence Malick’s “The Thin Red Line”, and Guillermo del Toro’s “Cronos” were also picked up by Criterion. :OD

  5. Talking about these films has only made me want to see them all the more. I see some serious cinema in my future after I get home from my Thanksgiving travels- and also The Good, the Bad and the Weird. ;) Actually that’s probably the one I’ll watch first, precisely it just looks like so much fun!

    I loved The Thin Red Line (though not quite as much as I loved The New World). Haven’t seen Paths of Glory yet. Classics I need to catch up on is another list entirely…

  6. Don’t think I’m going to earn a gift card from that list. I plan to see Tron and I’ll probably see The Tourist. If you tell me that Faster was entertaining I’ll add it to the list. Company Men sounds like something I saw a trailer for but I can’t remember it.

    Seeing The Next Three Days on this list gives me a chance to say something about a minor pet peeve of mine. When commenting about its box office failure, a reviewer called it a Russell Crowe bomb and questioned Crowe’s star status. I didn’t go to see it although I really admire Crowe’s work and see many of his films. But I won’t go to see Paul Haggis films which are tedious and pretentious. Movies are a collaborative product and it’s pointless to try to fix single ‘blame’ for failures.

    • I passed on The Next Three Days for the same reason.

      Faster was okay. Sadly my ticket stub doesn’t count toward my total as I saw it out of town (can you believe a matinee movie ticket in Massachusetts is only $5.25!?).

      I’m going to see Gulliver’s Travels because the trailer made me laugh. Dawn Treader I’ll see to review it and because that was my favorite book of the series as a child; I’m just hoping the filmmakers do better by it than they did by Prince Caspian.


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