By Ezra Stead
We’re used to movie franchises being victim to diminishing returns, with the sequels to classic films generally lackluster at best (Ghostbusters II, Halloween II), and at worst, utter travesties that threaten to tarnish the legacy of the original (the Matrix sequels, The Godfather: Part III). On rare occasions, though, the second film in a trilogy or franchise (which I consider to be any series with more than three movies) actually surpasses the original in some way. Here are ten sequels that are, in some circles at least, considered better than the films that spawned them, and my thoughts on each.
1. THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) – this is the one that got me thinking about the topic in the first place, and it’s also the oldest of the films discussed herein. James Whale’s follow-up to his 1931 hit, Frankenstein, ties up the loose end of Victor Frankenstein (Colin Clive) promising his monster (Boris Karloff) a bride to quell his loneliness. It also features most of the iconic images and dialogue associated with Universal Studios’ most famous monster, including Frank learning to smoke in the hut of the blind man he befriends (which was cemented in the public consciousness by Mel Brooks’ spoof of it in 1974’s Young Frankenstein). Bride’s expert blend of humor and pathos, as well as truly chilling moments such as Frank’s hollow, soulless intonation of the classic line, “I love dead,” make it not only better than the original Frankenstein, but also the best of all Universal monster movies. Read More
By Ezra Stead
Super 8, USA, 2011
Written and Directed by J.J. Abrams
Working part-time at IFC Center in the heart of Greenwich Village in New York City means, among other things, that it has been quite some time since I have been to a more mainstream, populist movie theater. It’s not that I’ve become a snob, it’s just that the allure of free movies at not only IFC, but also an extraordinary range of other indie and arthouse theaters here in the maggoty Big Apple, has kept me away from the kind of movies for which I might actually have to pay. It hasn’t really been that difficult, since pretty much everything I’ve actually wanted to see for the past six months has played at one of those less mainstream spots.
When a coworker asked me a few months ago if I was going to see Thor when it opened, I sort of shrugged, thought about it, and realized I didn’t really give much of a damn about any superhero movies coming out until next summer, when Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises and Joss Whedon’s The Avengers open; the former holds significant interest because The Dark Knight (2008) is probably the best superhero movie that will ever be made (prove me wrong, Nolan), and the latter only because of Whedon, whose television series Firefly (2002) and its subsequent cinematic follow-up, Serenity (2005), are among the best science fiction works since Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982). Seriously, I am no snob – under the right circumstances, I will watch literally anything that has ever been filmed – but I don’t really feel the need to seek out yet another remake, sequel, or superhero movie every time one is released. Read More
By Scott Martin
Frost/Nixon, USA / UK / France, 2008
Directed by Ron Howard
By now, we’re all familiar with the story. Some of us have been fortunate enough to see the original interviews that inspired the Broadway play by Peter Morgan, which in turn served to inspire Ron Howard’s film, which plays itself out like a boxing match, so much so that Nixon is shown jogging in place in a track suit before the final interview. The underdog of the match is David Frost, a once famed but at that time practically defunct English talk show host, relegated to the kind of fare you might see on E! on a Saturday morning, in Australia. Richard Nixon, the man, was out of office and essentially hiding in his home in San Clemente at the time; Richard Nixon, the President, was no more – resigned, pardoned, and reviled by the majority of the American public.
I’ve always been a big fan of films that pit two intelligent men against one another. Roger Michell’s Changing Lanes (2002) is a personal favorite, as is Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Five Minutes of Heaven (2009), a terribly underseen film starring Liam Neeson. Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige (2006) is worth a mention as well. You can’t technically call this a cat-and-mouse film, as there’s no physical chase, but the mentality of the film might suggest otherwise. Nixon is set up as a heavyweight taking down a featherweight, David Frost, for a $600,000 prize bag. Read More
By Scott Martin
The Prestige, USA / UK, 2006
Directed by Christopher Nolan
The prestige is only the third act. At least that’s what we’re told by Cutter (Michael Caine) in his opening monologue. It’s more a set of instructions for the film, we’ll discover, but that’s a later point. Every magic trick comes in three parts: one – the pledge, in which you give the audience something real to hold onto; two – the turn, in which you take that something and turn into something impossible, the part where the magic lies; three – the prestige, in which everything comes back to normal, and the audience (hopefully) cheers. Usually, magic is all about sleight of hand and misdirection. Christopher Nolan is great at that; recall the difficult but astonishing Memento (2000). There’s a pledge, a turn, and a prestige in that, but here, in The Prestige, we live in the turn, while the pledge is revealed to us in flashbacks, and then the prestige isn’t what it’s supposed to be, but rather something that cheats and gives an easy out.
Still, though, the pledge and the turn make the film exciting and the thriller it should be. Don’t be fooled – this film isn’t strictly about magicians. It’s a cat-and-mouse game about two men obsessed with one-upping each other, and who both end up destroying themselves in the process. Read More
By Ezra Stead
Since M. Night Shyamalan’s much-ballyhooed 1999 feature The Sixth Sense, twist endings have gotten something of a bad rap, and usually with good reason. After all, in many cases they are a cheap way to add excitement to the climax of an otherwise dull story; sometimes they are a cop-out, negating all emotional involvement that may have been invested in a film up until that point; others seem to be the sole reason for a story’s existence, without which the whole thing crumbles. On the other hand, when they work, twist endings can make a good film great, and they occasionally even reward repeat viewings by revealing previously unseen layers that can only be recognized once the conclusion of the story is known.
As rightly reviled as are many recent examples of the technique, especially many of Shyamalan’s subsequent efforts, there are also many laudable examples to be found among some of history’s greatest cinematic achievements, old and new. Widely respected filmmakers from Alfred Hitchcock to David Fincher and Christopher Nolan have successfully employed the well-placed twist to wonderful effect, and even Orson Welles’s immortal classic Citizen Kane, considered by many to be the greatest American film ever made, concludes with what can only be deemed an elegant, emotionally rich twist ending. Read More