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The Weekly Listicle: Will Return In 10 Years


The Weekly Listicle: Will Return In 10 Years

Some franchises come out with a new installment every year (Saw). Others make us wait a bit longer before allowing us catch up with our favorite characters. This Listicle honors those sequels released at least a decade (give or take) since the last entry in the franchise. This does not include reboots, remakes, or re-imaginings- only those with a legitimate link to the previous work. This year, audience were treated to Scream 4, though many opted not to return after its 11-year hiatus. This week’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes may or may not be related to the 1968 classic or the reviled 2001 remake. Of course, a drug that enhances a monkey’s intelligence lacks the punch of Zira and Cornelius traveling back in time to the 1970s because of a nuclear device detonated by Charlton Heston beneath the planet (of the apes).

The Cast of Dallas 2012

The Cast of Dallas- 2012

Even television gets into the act. CW brought back Melrose Place (last original episode- 1998, first new episode- 2009) with appearances from characters of the first series. Although that only lasted one season, the network’s continuation of Beverly Hills, 90210 (last original episode- 2000, first new episode- 2008) entitled 90210 is about to enter its fourth season. Legendary prime time soap opera Dallas (last original episode- 1991 with TV movies in 96, 98, and 04; first new episode- 2012) will return to television next year with original J.R. (Larry Hagman), Sue Ellen (Linda Gray), and Bobby (Patrick Duffy).

Of course, the gold standard for the television return is Doctor Who. After 16 years off the air (not including the ill-received, although canonical 1996 TV movie), Russell T. Davies (and currently Steven Moffat) brought back the Time Lord to critical and commercial acclaim with Ninth Doctor Christopher Eccleston having recently regenerated from Paul McGann’s one-time Eighth. The series will enter its fifth decade in November 2013.

So see, occasionally this gambit works. But far too often it doesn’t.

Diane Keaton and Al Pacino in The Godfather, Part III

Sometimes a 16-year break is not for the best.

Alternatively, Why couldn’t they have not pulled him back in?

Let’s take a look at some examples.


Superman Returns (dir. Bryan Singer, 2006)

A lot has happened in Metropolis since 1980. A couple of reboots, several crises on infinite (give or take) Earths, a Daily Planet occupied by more people than Perry, Jimmy, Lois, and Clark. Lex Luthor transformed from a zany maniac to a genius businessman with enough public support to win the presidency. Superman fought more and more dangerous villains than Lex. Lois found out the secret. Superman began working with S.T.A.R. Labs, the Metropolis Special Crimes Unit hired a lesbian, different forms of Kryptonite caused different effects on the Man of Steel. A bunch of stuff.

But you’d know none of that if you just went by Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns. Although the world of Superman existed and continued in many forms since Christopher Reeve last donned the cape in 1987- Smallville, Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, comics, etc.- Superman Returns only lived in the narrow world Donner created.

Singer made his intentions clear from early on. His goal was to make a sequel to the first two Superman movies (Superman: The Movie (1978) and Superman II (1980)) while ignoring the second two, universally despised sequels (Superman III (1983) and Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (1987)).

Even Warner Brothers seemed to have faith in his plans, co-releasing the promotional documentary Look, Up In The Sky: The Amazing Story of Superman, detailing the troubled history in getting a new Superman movie off the ground (no pun intended). And, of course, Kevin Smith’s (more on him later) story about the mechanical spider is one of his most famous tales.

Then we saw the movie, and Tim Burton’s Goth Nicolas Cage Superman or J.J. Abrams’ Kryptonian Lex started to sound good.

Tim Burton's Superman Suit for Superman Lives

This was actually Burton’s Superman suit for his defunct Superman Lives

The biggest problem with Superman Returns, and that film had a lot of problems (e.g. super kid), was Singer’s obsession with those first two Donner films. His repetitive usage of lines, scenes, and music cues (Kryptonite from Addis Ababa, Lex’s imbecilic henchmen, Clark’s introductory line about flying being the safest way to fly, real estate schemes, Lex’s father’s deathbed line, the overuse of the Williams theme, etc.) went beyond homage to uncomfortable. We know about the tragedy and heroism of Christopher Reeve, but he should not be the be all-end all of live action Clark.

Moreover, we never got a clear understanding of what exactly Singer took from those first two movies in the first place. What year is it taking place in? How did technology advance that far in alternate-reality 1985? Superman Returns Earth didn’t even have Dr. Manhattan!

Though, to be fair, Singer did change the characters, albeit for the worse.

Brandon Routh as Clark, Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane, and James Marsden as Richard in Superman Returns

Jason Schwartzman is Clark Kent

Clark/Superman/Kal-El did not fare well at all. The most important thing about Clark/Superman/Kal-El’s character is his positivity. He’s a relentlessly optimistic guy even in the most cynical of times. Routh’s Superman was dourer than Batman, and Batman never stalked Rachel Dawes. One might argue that he was depressed because he was forced to encounter a world where Superman was no longer needed, but that wouldn’t bring Superman down. He’d prove to the world that even if Superman was no longer needed, he’s still good to have around. At the end, he finally seems to have re-found his place when he accepts that Jason (the stupid super kid) is his son, but Earth adopted him long ago. The people cheering in front of the hospital when he was injured after pushing a giant rock into the sky during the horrible climax (the first film had him stopping two nuclear missiles headed towards opposite coasts) should have shown Kal how much us puny mortals accepted him.

Additionally, one of the film’s biggest failings was not giving Clark a chance to shine. A major reason why people continue to herald Christopher Reeve’s performance is because he inhabited both Clark and Superman, which Singer never allowed Routh to do. Clark, in Superman Returns, seemed only to exist as perfunctory filler.

Brandon Routh as Superman and Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane in Superman Returns

He might not be able to handle green rocks, but he will date rape you.

Lois Lane, the spunky go-getting journalist able to win the love of the greatest being on Earth, became some Thorazine’d-out zombie, portrayed with as little energy as possible from Kate Bosworth. Of course, part of that might have been the PTSD from screwing Superman, waking up with no memory, and learning she’s pregnant a couple of weeks later. How no one could have recognized that plot development would be a problem is beyond me.

Cover of Lex Luthor Man Of Steel

The graphic novel Lex Luthor: Man of Steel, a way for Lex to work on the big screen

As I mentioned above, Lex has greatly improved since Donner made his first film. He’s no longer the one-dimensional mad scientist, he’s an anti-hero. The greatest opponent to the strongest being on Earth should be the smartest man on Earth with a dangerous cult of personality. He shouldn’t be a numbskull hiring turncoat ditzes with goofy New York accents that were hack in 1956. At least Hackman gave his Lex a joie de voir; he was smarter than everyone else and loved it. Spacey’s Lex just seemed like a thug with resources. Though Otisburg would have been an awesome place to vacation.

Christopher Reeve as Superman

Christopher Reeve as Superman

For as much as Singer ripped off Donner, he missed the most important thing: the tone. After more than three decades, people still respect Superman: The Movie as one of the best of the comic book genre even with its less-advanced effects and black and white simplicity because Donner understood Superman. He’s a happy guy, a good guy, a pleasant guy, a guy without much baggage. “Superman Horns” play to deaf ears when they toot for an emo prick.

The response to the movie caused Warner Brothers to reboot the franchise yet again, and this time actually reboot it with a brand new story unconnected to those original films. If Captain America: The First Avenger proved anything, it’s that it is still possible to create a genuinely decent person who can represent this ideal of optimism. Hopefully, director Zack Snyder, producer Christopher Nolan, and star Henry Cavill remember the core to the Blue Boy Scout in 2013.

Henry Cavill as Superman

Coincidentally, the studio released the first shot of Cavill in costume today.

Clerks II (dir. Kevin Smith, 2006)

Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke in Before Sunset

Before Sunset shows the benefits of revisiting years down the line.

In 2004, Richard Linklater released Before Sunset, a sequel to his 1995 piece Before Sunrise. The first film featured two young people (Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy)) having one magically romantic night in Vienna. At the end of the first film, they make a date to meet each other six months later. Unfortunately, they don’t reunite for another decade (not counting a brief, alternate-reality appearance in Waking Life). In Before Sunset, we see the characters nine years older. They’re more grown up, but their passion for one another remains, albeit in a deeper, more adult context. The second film earned Linklater (A Scanner Darkly, Dazed and Confused), along with Delpy, Hawke, and Kim Krizan, an Oscar nomination for best adapted screenplay.

In 1994, Kevin Smith exploded onto the scene with Clerks, a still seminal independent film about 20s ennui. Gritty, dark, with endlessly quotable dialogue, what set Clerks apart from so many films was the genuine heart that constituted the main relationships of the film, along with being resoundingly funny. In 2006, Kevin Smith released Clerks II. We see the characters 12 years older, and he turned them into cartoons. And not even the funny cartoons from the short lived ABC animated series.

Clerks: The Animated Series

Though if Leonardo Leonardo made an appearance in the film, my dislike for it would have slackened quite a bit.

And yes, I know about their cameo appearance in 2001’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.

Clerks II was a major, disappointing departure from the original Clerks in tone, style, humor, and honesty. While one might not consider the first movie necessarily “realistic,” it nevertheless existed close enough to reality. After working at those crap jobs for so long, you could understand why Randal Graves (Jeff Anderson) and Dante Hicks (Brian O’Halloran) would see their customers through those lenses. Clerks emerged from the mind of someone who worked those jobs, knew the struggle, the monotony, the boredom, the feeling of being trapped. That was part of its appeal. With Clerks II, you know Smith hasn’t worked a day job since, well, Clerks. The movie did not connect to the life of a minimum wage wage slave.

Mooby’s (the McDonalds-esque place Dante and Randal worked at, based on a franchise that first appeared in Smith’s Dogma) lacked the personality of RST Video or Quick Stop. People do not generally hang out/regularly visit fast food places in the same way they do/did a video store or convenience store. If Smith’s point was to make fun of the dryness of the corporate environment, he did not go far enough. But, considering how Clerks II had a donkey show and a random dance sequence, that probably wasn’t his target.

The second film made occasional callbacks to the first film, but they felt hollow. Is there any contest between which is dirtier: snowballing or ass to mouth? The Star Wars v. Lord of the Rings conversation ended with Randal talking about Sam crapping in Frodo’s mouth (compare to the reasonable analysis of Death Star contractors in the first film) and a character vomiting at the image (not even Steve-Dave would do that). Dante’s again caught in a love triangle, except this time the girl of his dreams is Rosario Dawson (playing Becky). The first film’s Veronica and Caitlin had a realness to them lacking in Dante’s Clerks II girlfriends, and they were reasonable partners for a loser like him.

Worst of all, the film separated Dante and Randal. Their friendship was the key to the first film, from Randal arriving to work late to the baguette fight at the end. This time, it felt as though Smith preferred to isolate Randal with the one-note Christian kid and Dante with Becky. (Though, I guess, one could argue that it was meant to represent that the two were going in different directions with Dante growing up and Randal not.)

Jeff Anderson as Randal Graves

I know people liked the Porch Monkey scene, but Clerks Randal wouldn’t be that oblivious. He might do it to screw with people (see: Happy Scrappy Hero Pup), but he wouldn’t be that daft.

At the end, Jay (Jason Mewes) saves the day by buying RST Video and the Quick Stop thus allowing Dante and Randal to return to the happiest times of their lives. Except those weren’t the happiest times of their lives, and if they were, that’s pretty sad. Those jobs were placeholders for people who had not made/were too cowardly to make/didn’t care enough to make a decision of what to do with the rest of their lives. They weren’t the Mecca of employment opportunities.

While I appreciate the personal element of going back to that time for Smith and his long-time producer Scott Mosier, it defeated what made Clerks so identifiable. Not to mention the problem of trying to instill a humanity-lacking, slapstick movie with a nostalgic emotional ending.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps/em> (dir. Oliver Stone, 2010)

In 2007, when a sequel to Oliver Stone’s Oscar-winning Wall Street (1987) was first announced, it sounded like it was going to be one of those straight to video “sequels” that uses the name of the first film but nothing else. Then, many of the people from the first movie came on board-star Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko, director Oliver Stone, producer Edward R. Pressman- and hope was renewed. Then, Shia LaBeouf was cast as the co-lead, Jacob Moore. But, whatever, major directors find something appealing about him, might as well give him the benefit of the doubt. With our recent housing crisis and stock market crash, a return to this world sounded like it could work. In 2010, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps proved that if it could, they couldn’t figure out how.

Very few films present as many half-baked ideas as Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. The crazy super energy laser? Julie Steinhardt’s (Eli Wallach) stupid tweet tweet tweet thing? A possibly once-mentioned theme of “how much would it take for you to stop working?” How were the sales on Gekko’s book? Bretton James’ (Josh Brolin, the man really responsible for sending Gekko to prison at the end of the first film, despite never appearing in the first film) magic Locust Fund of illegality? The phrase “money never sleeps”? House flipping? Hell, the only impact the 2008 stock market crash seemed have on our characters was a motorbike race between James and Moore to determine who has a bigger dick, a question I wasn’t sure needed to be asked.

Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko, Josh Brolin as Bretton James, and Shia LaBeouf as Jacob Moore in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

This triangle could have been like Sgt. Barnes and Sgt. Elias with Taylor in Platoon. Or Gekko and Carl Fox with Bud Fox in Wall Street. Or…anything of substance.

The main plot involves young stockbroker Moore, who is dating Gekko’s daughter, the overly perfect do-gooder non-profit journalist Winnie (Carey Mulligan), with whom Gordon tries very hard to reconnect. In another subplot, Moore seeks vengeance on Bretton James because he blames James for causing his previous father figure Louis Zabel (Frank Langella, who played Perry White in the aforementioned Superman Returns) to commit suicide.

Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

His motivations might not make sense, but he will rape you…r bank account.

But why bother with him? Let’s talk Gekko; it’s all anyone cares about anyway. Starting from the embarrassingly hokey shot of his giant 1980s cell phone, the movie has no idea what to do with this epitome of 1980s greed. For the first 2/3 of the film, he fills an interesting role as a Zen-like mentor to Moore. This wasn’t a bad position for him, and Douglas did the best with it, but it did have the faint aroma of a shoehorn.

During the last third (and this is a 2-and-a-half hour plus movie), Gordon Gekko undergoes two out-of-character changes. Suddenly, he becomes “the villain” by stealing money from Winnie’s trust fund in a ridiculous heel turn. My original impression was that the screenwriters came to the realization that “the stupid audience knows that Gekko was a bad guy, and they want to see him in a three-piece suit and/or suspenders, so we need to turn him into a bad guy and allow him to wear a three-piece suits and/or suspenders.” For that matter, “evil” Gekko seemed based more on some vague idea of what Gekko was, rather than who he was. But, soon enough, the writers re-realized that Gekko was the only part of the first movie that most people remembered, and, knowing how much the stupid audience enjoys a happy ending, they made him good again.

Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko and Charlie Sheen as Bud Fox in Wall Street

Happier times from a much better movie

The first Wall Street was a tragedy. Gekko’s former protégé Bud Fox (who appears in a cameo in this film, and who, for some reason, turned into Charlie Sheen’s character from Two and a Half Men) was brought down along with Gekko due to ambition and greed. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps ends at a kid’s birthday party.

Seinfeld (dir. Andy Ackerman, 2009)

The cast of Seinfeld and Larry David

Television’s best foursome return, plus co-creator Larry David

After Seinfeld ended in 1998, co-creators Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld regularly made it clear that they had no intention of bringing the series back for a reunion show or a reunion special. So, one couldn’t have helped but been a little disappointed when they announced that they were going to film a special episode a couple years ago. Would what is arguably television’s best sitcom ever still have the same strength, or would a return cheapen our memories of the first nine seasons and be more despised than the finale?

Luckily, the show hadn’t lost a step. Although there were minor changes, (e.g. Jerry’s stereo replaced with iPod speakers), the main characters and their chemistry were strong, the jokes were funny, and it was remarkably easy to return to the universe. Jerry’s (Jerry Seinfeld) doing comedy, and he artificially impregnated Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). George (Jason Alexander, author of Acting Without Acting) became rich due to an iPhone App, but lost all his money in a divorce and Ponzi scheme. Oddly enough, George actually (and believably) cares for his ex-wife Amanda (Virginia) and spends the episode developing schemes to win her back. And Kramer (Michael Richards) is still Kramer, complete with a mea culpa for Richards’ infamous stand-up routine as he hangs out a black prostitute.

Even though David left the production before filming, the special was terrific and made apparent that the hole left by Seinfeld still hasn’t filled by television.


Return To Oz (dir. Walter Murch, 1985)

Return To Oz (1985) - Poster

© 1985 Walt Disney Pictures

This infamous sequel to The Wizard Of Oz has been splitting fans of the legendary original into staunch factions for an entire generation. On the other hand, it is pointless to compare two films made over forty years apart too closely. The production methods and artistic trends of Hollywood in these two periods are so divergent that each must be judged on its own footing.

Whereas The Wizard Of Oz was elegant, uplifting and tidy, Return To Oz is relentlessly dark and disturbing. Imagine if The Neverending Story Part II had been directed by Terry Gilliam. Actually directed by Walter Murch, renowned editor of such films as American Graffitti and The Godfather, the film was a critical bust but has since gained a loyal cult following, mainly from people who admit it scared the hell out them as children.

The Wizard Of Oz (1939) - Emerald City

You might notice a few changes in the Emerald City…

Inheriting the mantle of Judy Garland is Fairuza Balk, now known for slinky sexpot roles in The Craft, The Waterboy, and Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans. She plays a much younger-looking Dorothy, though she is at least a few months older than Garland’s version of the character. Plagued by sleepless nights, she is convinced that all is not well in Oz since she left. Pushed to the limits of their poor farmer’s patience, Aunt Em and Uncle Henry decide to send her off for electroshock therapy (eesh… I know, right?), but like its windy sister in the first film, a huge rainstorm washes Dorothy to safety in a flood. Guess where she wakes up?

This is not my beautiful Oz!… Something has gone awfully wrong. The Emerald City is in ruins, and the Yellow Brick Road dug up. All the good guys have been turned to stone, and a gang of absolutely hideous creatures called “Wheelers” are patrolling the wreckage. From there, Dorothy and her talking chicken companion (yes, chicken) peel back layer after sordid layer of this ugly world. They meet some old friends, and some strange new ones, including a mechanical man named Tik-Tok and something called The Gump. They go in search of the missing Scarecrow to restore order to Oz. Standing in their way are the nasty witch Mombi, and a stone cold ogre called the Nome King. If this sounds insane, it is. But its cult status speaks for itself.

Return To Oz (1985) - Dorothy And Friends

Dorothy’s new gang is pretty freaky. And they’re the good guys.

Complaints against the film generally center on its downbeat tone and lack of resemblance to The Wizard Of Oz, but how close could a sequel made at such a different time be to the original? And would we want that? Film history would be no worse off if Return To Oz had never happened, but is it fair to hold anything to the standard of such an iconic predecessor? It’s a heck of a lot better than Scarlett, after all. And let us not forget how bad some much more anticipated sequels have been. Indiana Jones seems like a much harder franchise to screw up, but that did not stop two of Hollywood’s most revered filmmakers from doing just that. Up next to Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, Return To Oz might as well be Chinatown.

By the middle of the 1980s, Hollywood was not afraid to scare the daylights out of children. Storybook nightmares are a healthy way for young people to deal with fear, and Return To Oz is nothing a normal child cannot handle. However, its overriding tones are far different than what you might remember from the first trip to the Emerald City. The characters are a little clunky here and there, and it is not by any stretch what you would call a great film. But for a stormy day or a family Halloween, it is a perfectly delightful bit of fun.

The Color Of Money (dir. Martin Scorsese, 1986)

The Color Or Money (1986) - Poster

© 1986 Touchstone Pictures

Critical reactions to The Color Of Money were mixed, but it has remained popular over the years, and rightfully so. Martin Scorsese followed up a film from the early 1960s with a second chapter set in the 1980s, and the distinction is clear. Whereas the Hustler was subdued and agonizing in stark black and white, The Color Of Money is vivid and tawrdy. Paul Newman returns as brash, razor-sharp pool hustler “Fast” Eddie Felson. Following the hell he put himself and others through in The Hustler, it is understandable that he has been out of the game for a while. It is equally understandable that his temperament, drive and skill will not allow him to stay out.

Enter young Tom Cruise, every bit the cocky upstart that Newman was in his day. Newman takes him under wing, but even so the life they lead as hustlers guarantees that mentor will double-cross protegé at some point, and vice versa. When women and money are on the line – and in a movie like this they are, constantly – all is, as they say, fair. So to speak.

The Hustler (1961) - Paul Newman

The original Hustler could go all night. And did.

It is a good solid drama about the lure of sleaze, and the inherent fun of making a dishonest living. Pool halls, cigarette smoke, booze – everything that made The Hustler worth all the misery, suicide and broken thumbs, is back and better than ever in the neon light of the 1980s. George C. Scott is, unfortunately, no longer around, nor Jackie Gleason.

Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio takes over the female lead from the unhappy Piper Laurie, and that is a fairly even trade. The sexual tension of this film still takes a backseat to the hustler-on-hustler rivalry. This is, after all, when people were still taking Tom Cruise pretty darned seriously. Why he and Nicolas Cage did not team up for some Tango And Cash style action as young punks around this time is a tragic mystery.

The Color Or Money (1986) - Tom Cruise And Paul Newman

The Hustler’s Apprentice

Newman deserved an Oscar for The Hustler and got one for this instead. I guess that evens out in principle. And hey, it’s Paul Newman! They don’t give Oscars for spaghetti sauce, but perhaps they should. His arrabiata is nearly as good as his acting. He may have as many awards as he wishes, may he rest in peace.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (dir. Tobe Hooper, 1986)

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (1986) - Poster

© 1986 Cannon Films Inc

If you watch The Texas Chain Saw Massacre closely – I mean, really watch it – you may be surprised at how funny it is. Director Tobe Hooper strove to balance unspeakable horror and sly hilarity in his best films, including Eaten Alive and The Funhouse. However, the original 1974 TCM is his indisputable masterpiece. Along with Halloween and Carrie, it opened the door for everything that horror films from the 1980s on were about. Ever hear the one about a group of smart-mouthed kids on a vaguely defined road trip falling prey to deranged rustics? Like a million times over? Even if you’ve never actually seen Chain Saw, believe me, you’ve seen it somewhere before.

The satirical brilliance of the movie, in which economic depression and inbreeding lead inevitably to cannibalism, gives weight to the very real and very troubling action of innocent people being chased, meathooked, and chainsawed. Add to that some truly zany depictions of homicidal insanity, and you have a film which must be seen to be understood. You find yourself giggling at the most inappropriate times, because the humor of such a horrific situation is both shameless and sneaky, like someone poking you in the ribs at church.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) - Gunnar Hansen as Leatherface

Gunnar Hansen is the John Barrymore of chainsaw killers.

Unfortunately, disguising a complex set of ideas as a sickening exercise in the grotesque only works once, and hindsight suggests that the film’s coherence and cleverness was rather accidental. Virtually no other film remotely resembling it is half as watchable or entertaining, and Hooper’s biggest mistake was to try capturing that same lightning again. In The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2, it seems he tried to manufacture the barely perceptible comedy of the original in a deliberate and more overt manner. The result may be a cult classic, but it is also a categorical mess.

Years after the last survivor of the original massacre has disappeared into institutional obscurity, the grinning clan of meat-crazy freaks is back to terrorize another town. The difference between this movie and the one before it says a lot about the difference between 1974 and 1986. Part 2 is a ludicrous horror comedy throughout, instead of saving it for a surprise after an hour of suspense and dread. Once local lawman Dennis Hopper gets involved, things really go crazy.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (1986) - Dennis Hopper with a Chainsaw

Dennis Hopper is the Dennis Hopper of redneck lawmen.

Try to imagine a world in which the Texas Chainsaw legacy consisted of a single terrifying, legendary film. You cannot and neither can I. The first sequel started a trend in which each further installment got exponentially worse, eventually crossing over into remakes and remake-prequels which represent the very worst in major horror franchises. Part 2 is at least watchable, though the other films are arguably not. Like Halloween II, it earnestly but unsuccessfully tries to resurrect a perfect combination of elements that was to happen, sadly, one time only.

Rambo (dir. Sylvester Stallone, 2008)

Rambo (2008) - Poster

© 2008 Millenium Films/Lionsgate

Even if it had not been so good, Rambo represents a noble gesture by director Sylvester Stallone. Nor is it the first time he attempted something of the kind. With Rocky Balboa, he washed away some of the bad taste left by Rocky V, reining in the story and concluding the fighter’s legend on a bittersweet and satisfying note. With Rambo, he went in a completely different direction for very similar reasons. The over-the-top crazniess of the second and third John Rambo films have completely eclipsed the heartfelt drama of the original First Blood. Part 4 brings everything back to the brooding drifter that small-minded lawmen originally crossed, only to unleash a fearsome killing machine.

In a sort of Incredible Hulk tale, John Rambo has finally decided that any contact with civilization ends badly for him. Whether slighted by ordinary citizens, or made the tool of sinister government forces, he inevitably slips into ultimate soldier mode and ends up killing lots of people. He exiles himself to the Thai jungle where he and the world can leave each other alone. Unfortunately, the increasingly violent world situation begins to encroach upon him, whether he likes it or not.

Rambo III (1988) - Sylvester Stallone

Time flies when you’re lost to history as a textbook case of outrageous excess in filmmaking.

He relents to the appeals of some naïve American missionaries, who need an English speaking guide up the river into Burma, where innocent citizens live under cruel military rule. When an early encounter with brutal reality fails to dissuade them, Rambo leaves them to their fate, knowing that they will not survive long. When they inevitably go missing, their pastor urges the reluctant Rambo to help recover them. And so he finds himself taking on the Tatmadaw. And… ouch.

The underlying theme of this film is more bleak and disturbing than even the original First Blood. Alone in the jungle, with no personal stake except a lingering shred of humanity, he is still compelled to fight wars in which he never believed to begin with. His only weapon is an extraordinary capacity for violence, and thirty years has not dulled his edge one bit, try as he might to hide it. With a team of mercenaries, he embarks on a massacre in the name of the downtrodden and victimized. Or perhaps he simply realizes that his highest function is to kill. The end of the film provides an answer that might stick, but by now we know that there is always room for doubt.

 Rambo (2008) - Sylvester Stallone with machine gun

Ever wonder what 21st-century Peckinpah would look like?

Make no mistake. Rambo is one of the most violent films ever made. It is certainly the most violent I have ever seen, and that is no small feat. On the other hand, Rambo’s violence is the only conceivable answer to the senseless brutality against which he fights. Noble as the real-world principle might be, the best intentions of the nonviolent are laughable in the face of this film’s antagonists. The horrifying truth is that this kind of evil is real in many parts of the world. Rambo is a well-crafted and cathartic response to that reality, and brings the thoughtful aspects of First Blood back for a second look in the 21st century. You may not like admitting that to yourself, but just give it a try. Well done, Sly. Well done.


Toy Story 3 (dir. John Lasseter, 2010)

Toy Story 3 still

Sunnyside: not all it’s cracked up to be.

Kids of the ’80s and ’90s (some of whom, ahem, are now drawing perilously close to 30 for their youthful tastes) actually grew up on Toy Story. It was the first Pixar film, one of the first movies our parents watched with us and truly enjoyed. It was 1995, in that heyday of flannel and grunge and “My So-Called Life.” It was when MTV actually played music. (I don’t want to sound all “Get offa my damn lawn!” but it’s sad that future generations won’t associate MTV with anything but crappy reality shows.) Kurt Cobain had only died eighteen months before the movie came out. The President of the United States of America was a goofy-looking white man from Arkansas, and in the very month Toy Story released, he began an illicit affair with a pretty intern named Monica Lewinsky. In other words, it was a different world. Woody, Buzz, Slinky Dog, and Rex brought joy to the hearts of adults and kiddies alike, and we ate it up.

Toy Story 2, which was not as good as the first, though still totally lovable, released in 1999. Sequels are a dangerous endeavor under any circumstances – although it’s all Hollywood thinks we want these days. The second, third, or umpteenth (I’m looking at you, Land Before Time: Invasion of the Tinysauruses) are just never as good as the originals. Except when it’s Toy Story 3. In 2010, eleven years after the second one, Pixar released a third Toy Story movie with a new director, Lee Unkrich, and a select few new cast members (rest in peace, Jim Varney).

Nice ascot, indeed.

With a decade’s gap between movies, it’s tough to pick up the slack – and especially between 1999 and 2010. This was a decade in which the internet took over the world, cell phones became ubiquitous, and we started to keep our computers in our pockets. Luckily, the ridiculously witty and competent writers managed to carry the series straight into the new millenium. Andy, who was just a kid in the first, is now headed off to college, and the toys are struggling to find a place in his life. When Andy’s mom donates them to charity they end up at a day care center with a very bitter old bear and a whole cast of creepy new characters. The Farmer Says and the Chatter Telephone slide right in with the cell phones, computers (Rex and Trixie play online games), and hyrbid cars. It’s a beautiful mashup of the innocence of childhood and the new technologies that are taking over our world. When I mention Toy Story 3 to someone, he or she always says, in a half-whisper, “I totally cried.” And I have to say, “Oh yeah, me too!” Only Pixar can do it right.

Scream 4 (dir. Wes Craven, 2011)

Scream 4 Gale still

Gale Weathers got a much better wardrobe and haircut, much to Courteney Cox’s relief I’m sure.

I’ll admit it: I absolutely, 100% adore the first Scream. It brought the slasher film back with a vengeance, and had wit, gore, and seriously spooky moments to spare. Wes Craven knows whereof he speaks, and the man has a talent for touching on exactly the things that scare us…and then stabbing them. So to speak. “Dawson’s Creek” writer Kevin Williamson – who’s at his best portraying film geeks – wrote the story, which is fast-paced and smart, filled with tiny details and references to horror film studies that only true nerds will get. In the movie Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) watched her friends die gruesome, horrid deaths in the quaint little town of Woodsboro, California. It was 1996, and as video store movie geek Randy (with whom I identify completely, having done five years’ time at Movie Gallery and Blockbuster) says,”It’s the millenium. Motives are incidental.”

Scream 4 Emma Roberts

Really, you ought to know by now that Ghostface is always sneaking up behind you.

In 1997, Craven made a sequel that just wasn’t great – although the opening death scene, one of the series’ trademarks, is totally memorable and really fun for horror geeks. In 2000, he tried again with Scream 3, and that was the death knell for the series. It displaced our characters to Los Angeles, where Ghostface goes on a killing spree during the filming of the movie based on the book about the original murders written by character Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox). The series is nothing if not meta. For the flop that was 3, I blame that hack Ehren Kruger, who took the reins from Williamson for the third film. So when fans of the original heard that Williamson and Craven were teaming up again for a sequel in 2011, we rejoiced. The core cast returned for a fourth foray into hacking, slashing, and dicing, and although the film enters into a little too much self-referential banter, it’s still immensely satisfying. We even get a lady movie geek in the form of Hayden Panettiere’s Kirby. Though it lacks some of the in-your-face wit of the first one, Williamson and Craven deserve a pat on the back (or in the wallet – it didn’t do too badly in box offices) for bringing it.

Honorable Mention That Doesn’t Quite Fit the Criteria: Freddy vs. Jason (dir. Ronny Yu, 2003)

Freddy vs Jason poster

So good, and so bad.

I really just wanted an excuse to write about Freddy vs. Jason. What a completely ingenius idea! The two most frightening horror villains of the 1980s, Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees, brought together for a clash of knives and machetes. Since Freddy kills people in their sleep, and Jason is unstoppable when his victims are awake, it was a lovely, dismal outlook for our characters. It could’ve been beautiful – and it still is, provided you’re slightly intoxicated when you watch it. It’s one of those movies that’s so bad it almost comes full circle to being good. Almost. The last movie Robert Englund did as Freddy was 1996’s Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, and the last Jason movie was the regrettable Jason X in 2001. Prior to Jason X, though, it was 1993 when Jason made his “final” appearance in Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. (Filmmakers should really just quit with trying to end a franchise in the title, it’s dumb.) Anyway, this movie doesn’t quite fit the standards of this Listicle; I just wanted to include this clip.


p class=”caption”>Beware: gore galore.

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