Three Strikes: You’re In – Movie Trilogies Worth Sticking With

Today on Plans Mr. Orr posed this question:

Christopher Nolan, when asked if he would make a third Batman film, asked, “How many good third movies in a franchise can people name?

So I’m thinking: how many are there?

He listed a fair number of the most obvious:

  • Return of the Jedi
  • Return of the King
  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
  • Back to the Future III
  • The Bourne Ultimatum
  • Goldfinger
  • The Search for Spock

I agree with all his choices.  I did a fair amount of research before coming up with what I thought was a comprehensive list.  Here are the other films I decided to include:

  • Die Hard with a Vengeance
  • National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
  • The Muppets Take Manhattan
  • Chasing Amy
  • Monty Python’s Life of Brian

Then I came up with a few where the entire series is questionable, but the third movie is certainly no worse and probably better than many of the others:

  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III
  • Police Academy 3: Back in Training
  • Ernest Saves Christmas
  • King Kong vs. Godzilla

Am I missing anything?

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Needed more Short Round or Sallah

Just saw the new Indiana Jones.  It was so-so, definitely not the best movie of the series.  It started out pretty strong, if a little abruptly, and the action sequences early in the film were solid.  There was perhaps a little too much action.  It didn’t feel like Indiana Jones to me, it felt more like a cross between James Bond and National Treasure.

Of course, maybe that’s what Indy always was and I was just projecting a little too much mythos.  I suppose with lower expectations I might have liked it.  I did smile when they threw in some subtle (and not so subtlel) references to the other films.

If you’re not a picky filmgoer, you should definitely see it, but if you only like the cream of the crop, you can probably wait until it comes out on video.  They did have previews for Hancock and Wall-E though.  I am interested in those two.

The Top 12 Movie Themes NOT written by John Williams

Since I was a teenager, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed movie soundtracks. Listening to them can leave me in exactly the same mental and emotional state I was in when watching the movie. They are the classical music of our day.

Of course, everyone knows the famous scores of John Williams – Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Jaws, the list goes on and on. There are many great movie composers out there creating many great scores, so I thought I would highlight a few others I have fallen in love with.

12. Phenomenon – The Orchard – Thomas Newman

I like rollicking themes made up from simple components that don’t necessarily require a full orchestra, which describes this song very well. This is one of Newman’s less famous scores (he is best known, perhaps, for The Shawshank Redemption, American Beauty and Road to Perdition for which he received Academy Award nominations), but it captures the feel of the scene and the movie overall perfectly. Confusion is conveyed with sudden transitions, certainty is marked with a steady drumbeat, and it ends with an epiphany of sorts; an otherworldly and almost Lost-like string and choral diminuendo.

11. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country – Suite – Cliff Eidelman

Of course I had to include an entry from the Star Trek oeuvre in this list, and it was difficult to decide which one. Jerry Goldsmith, of course, wrote many of the great Star Trek themes, including the “Motion Picture” main title which went on to become the theme for television’s Star Trek: The Next Generation. Reserving Jerry for later in the list, I am going to go with the theme from my favorite Star Trek film – The Undiscovered Country. While it does not include the classic “Klingon theme,” it is the most dynamic of the Star Trek scores. With a strong beginning and an even stronger ending, it’s really the middle section that stands out. Intertwining echoing woodwind solos brings you into the wonder and awe of the vastness of the unknown and undiscovered.

10. Chocolat – Main Titles – Rachel Portman

This is the hardest theme on the list to write about. As it begins, it portrays such a deep sadness and slowness and careful reflection. Piano and strings convey these emotions very delicately. Finally, at the halfway point, hope and playfulness appear. These emotions are so obvious and intrinsic that it is almost unbelievable.

9. The Piano – The Sacrifice – Michael Nyman

I’ve actually never seen this movie, but if you’ve been reading you know I have a soft spot for beautiful piano pieces. I also think the music is actually being played, in the movie, on an actual piano, so that also counts for something.

8. Vertigo – Prelude and Rooftop – Bernard Herrmann

Ah, the old school! Yes, movies had scores in the 1950’s and 1960’s, and there were excellent composers creating them. Herrmann is one of those well-respected members of the old school, winning the academy award in 1941. Having scored many of Hitchcock’s masterpieces, Vertigo’s winding and dizzying theme stands out as an example of the most suspenseful and powerful pieces of that time.

7. Backdraft – Fighting 17th – Hans Zimmer

When Iron Chef chooses to use your theme song as ITS theme song, you know you’ve done something right. I don’t know how many people actually saw this movie, but the theme lives on whenever Chairman Kaga bites into his pepper in Kitchen Stadium.

6. Amélie – LaValse Des Monstres – Yann Tiersen

So whimsical! A simple accordion piece which is at the same time like and unlike all the other waltzes you’ve ever heard. It fits the whimsical and fun yet sometimes sad feeling of the movie so perfectly. Also, friends were listening to this full blast in their car when they arrived at my wedding, so it will always have a special place in my heart.

5. The Terminator – The Terminator Theme – Brad Fiedel

I don’t think Terminator was supposed to be the hit it ended up. I assume this score was at least part of why it did end up that way. Two sequels and a television show later, this theme and its powerful percussion has echoed back at us from the screen many times, and it inspires us to imagine that terrible post-apocalyptic future and its undoing all at the same time.

4. The Truman Show – Truman Sleeps – Philip Glass

I linked a video version of this song a few weeks ago. Philip Glass, the avante garde composer, scored this movie so gently, this song with just a synthesizer. The scene in the movie where it plays shows the “Truman Show” composer composing the piece on the spot as the camera slowly zooms into a sleeping Jim Carrey’s face. I can listen to this piece over and over.

3. Unbreakable – Visions – James Newton Howard

The movie, I think, is underrated, as is the theme. This song builds and builds, the same melody again and again, each time more and more intense. If you listen with headphones, you can’t help but be inspired as the drums kick in and the songs nears its conclusion. I wish this song could go on forever, getting more and more intense, the emotions building and never stopping. When it comes to completion, the theme is repeated once more, gently. So powerful.

2. Requiem For a Dream – Lux Aeterna – Clint Mansell

A million teenagers have used this song to score a million youtube videos. I’ve never seen the movie, though I absolutely would like to. This is another song, like the previous one, that just builds and builds. Slowly more and more instrumentation is added until the song is blasting full-bore. Then, the overarching string part appears. Strings are often the most powerful piece of movie themes and this is no exception. This song is a portrait of despair.

1. Rudy – Tryouts – Jerry Goldsmith

They use this song at the Olympics, and in every third movie trailer. It’s used especially in sports movies, I suppose because it is truly inspiring. The thing is that it builds to that inspirational piece, and then it only lasts for about 10 to 15 seconds. That’s the 10 to 15 seconds that appears in the trailers, and that elevates this song to its place of greatness among movie themes not written by John Williams.

I really wanted to actually link these songs here so you could listen, and I think it would be a fair use, but the internet stymied me. I can burn a CD for anyone who is interested.

Netflux “No Country for Old Men”

Every year, when they do the Oscars, I have to add a few of the top films to the Netflix queue.  Last year it was The Departed, this year, No Country was among those so chosen.  These have a bit in common, as they are among the most violent of the Best Picture winners out there.

One of the main themes of the film seems to be that the times are getting more violent.  All throughout the film I was wondering how often real crimes of these types are committed, essentially killing sprees.  I don’t think it’s quite so many as the movies would have you believe.  I’ve always bristled at the notion that things are not as safe as they used to be, and that notion was used throughout to help anchor the story.  As the movie progresses, though, some of the characters do mention that it was always this way in the West, so that redeemed this problem for me a little bit.

As a western, the story strangely fits.  I think the basic story itself could have been constructed in such a way that it would have fit in any locale, but all the elements of the classic western genre made it more poignant, especially the vast vistas early in the film.

The cast is definitely star-studded, and excellent.  Even minor roles were played like they were major.  A few characters who only had a few scenes were as compelling as was humanly possible.  I had a “Hey! It’s that guy!” moment with Garret Dillahunt, except I didn’t know what he had been in (I found out later that it was Deadwood and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles).

The ending of the movie I did not find compelling.  I think maybe I just didn’t understand it or go deep enough into the subtext to understand it.  Even though I didn’t get it, I felt like I wanted to get it.  When Tommy Lee Jones talks, you listen.

All in all it was pretty good.  If you don’t mind violence in your movies, I would recommend it, because there are so few movies out there worth watching.

What could have been…

Hollywood: I would watch these movies.

Netflux “The Aristocrats”

I’d been meaning to see this one for a while, but I could never really let it drift to the top of the queue because the premise seemed questionable.

A whole movie about one joke seems like it might be a little much. That this particular joke is a classic among comedians and can be told in a myriad of different ways is helpful, especially when you have top notch comedians telling it, but it still seems like the subject matter might be light.

That being said, the movie, only about an hour and a half, didn’t drag. This is mainly by sheer force of personality of the participants and interviewees. Comedians are some of the funniest, strangest, most out there people around, and they were not afraid to show it on camera

This movie was produced by Penn Jillette, the famous magician and libertarian. That’s another reason I was interested in seeing it, as I think he is one of the most fervent and impressive advocates for free speech that is out there. The movie certainly takes advantage of the idea of free speech.

Here’s a hint: if you are easily offended, don’t watch The Aristocrats. Much of the charm of the joke revolves around how dirty you can make it, and some of these comics can make it pretty dirty. Bob Saget, for example, probably gives the dirtiest rendition.

I only laughed twice during the film. Once was at Kevin Pollak’s very funny impersonation of Christopher Walken telling the joke. The other was at another version that is simply too vulgar for me to describe to you, though if you watch the movie I’ll be happy to point out which scene I’m talking about.

One thing I wasn’t sure I liked about the movie was, unlike most documentaries, they didn’t explain who each of the interviewees were as you were moving along. I didn’t know who about 40% of them were, and I would have liked to. During the credits they did end up pointing out everyone’s names, but I still would have liked to know more about these comics.  Tim Conway also did an excellent job in the credits sequence with his “rendition” of the joke.

It’s almost as if the movie was made for comics in order to appreciate each others’ art, and we normal mortals are just along for the ride. Often that makes for a good movie, one where they’re not hitting you over the head all the time. There was definitely some aspect of that here.

The movie was very good at doing what it meant to do, so I think I will give it four stars. I recommend this film, though again, if you’re easily offended, you might want to go watch The Aristocats instead!

Netflux: “Happy Endings”

This is the first in what I hope will be a series of posts about noteworthy films that I got from Netflix and watched on a laptop propped up onto my chest!

“Happy Endings” is a movie about people. “People, you say?” I hear you thinking, “who would make a movie about that?” It’s about what happens when people collide, and specifically what touched me about it is that it is about what happens when people collide and it creates more people.

People in the movie have a tendency to get pregnant. Well, just the women, mostly, but the guys (sometimes) play their role. The circumstances surrounding these various and sundry activities are unusual, and the outcomes even moreso. This is not the best thing about the film, though. The best thing about the film is Tom Arnold.

Really.

Well, not really really. I’m a big fan of the work of Maggie Gyllenhaal (I always spell it right on the first try) and Lisa Kudrow is not too shabby, either. But the best part of the film, for me, came when two of the movies unique aspects came together: an earnest Tom Arnold, and words on the screen explaining the past, present, and future situations of the characters.

“You mean I have to read?” you say? Stop interrupting! Yes, there are slides that come onto the screen and they are often funny, insightful, or sweet. They are one of the many touches that give the movie a charm that is rarely found.

I would recommend you queue it up!