Sequels That Exceed Their Predecessors

catching fire

We saw Catching Fire last night, and let me say, it’s always a treat when, in those rare moments in time, you land on a cinematic sequel that’s better than its predecessor. Catching Fire is one such movie. Where Gary Ross’s adaptation was passable, I think we can all agree that it was a bit rushed at times (and dragged at some parts) and never really let the full impact of the story settle in on the audience.

But I Am Legend’s Francis Lawrence’s followup to the Hunger Games does not suffer from any of the above ailments. Instead, it is one of those sequels that knocks its predecessor out of the *ahem* arena. By the ten-minute mark me and the group I went with were already near tears. And let me just say: I will never look at Rafiki the monkey the same way again.

Here are some other movies that, in my opinion, are better than the originals that inspired them.

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Toy Story 3 – I may be biased, because this is one of my all time favorite movie franchises, and even though the original and the sequel are already pure 10’s, part 3 is an easy 15.  Sarabeth claims that she’s never seen me cry so hard as I did in the theaters for this movie (although I maintain it was when we watched My Dog Skip.) 

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Pirates of the Caribbean 4 – I’m sure most people skipped this movie because of the yawn-fest of the last two. Granted, this turned into a high-seas soap opera quicker than you can say “Buccaneer”. But On Stranger Tides really would have been a better immediate followup to the first movie.

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Ghost Protocol

Mission: Impossible III & Ghost Protocol – I can leave or take the first Mission Impossible, the second one is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. Heck, I can easily say that Mission Impossible III is the greatest action movie I’ve ever seen, and it’s followup, Brad Bird’s Ghost Protocol is close on its heels.

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Monsters University – This is a tough one because Monsters Inc. is pretty flawless on its own. And it’s not that Monsters University is better than its predecessor (nor is it worse), but it actually makes it better. Heck, Monsters University is pretty great on its own, and whenever I watch it, I end up feeling so sorry for anyone who doesn’t see it.

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Shrek 2 – I’m not sure why I like this better than the original. I will say that Shrek the Third was a complete embarrassment, but they made up for it with Part 4, believe it or not.

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The Dark Knight- ‘Nuff said. I have’t seen The Dark Knight Rises yet, but it’s pretty hard to believe that it could be better than The Dark Knight. 

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Return of the King- True, the Lord of the Rings trilogy is like one long movie, but it’s one long movie that just gets better and better and better. Tissue, please.

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The Rescuers Down Under – I wonder if many people know this is a sequel. Though Disney’s original Rescuers is pretty great, this one definitely ups the ante via visuals, emotion, music, and memorable characters. G’day mate!

Share with us some of your favorite sequels in the comments below. Did you see Catching Fire yet? What did you think?

Best Music Scores Part I

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John Williams. Hans Zimmer. Danny Elfman. James Horner.

Soundtrack composers have been elevated to the status of celebrities and rock stars in their own right. Though most people might not know what John Williams looks like,  everyone, whether they know it or not, knows his music. If you ask someone who their favorite composer is, you’re likely to get Hans Zimmer as an answer.

But let’s be honest, sometimes it’s difficult sitting through an entire movie soundtrack because of all the ominous music when you’re not feeling very ominous, or majestic music when you’re not feeling very accomplished.

Or you see a movie and you think, Wow, that music is beautiful. But when you look at the track titles on the soundtrack, you have know idea which one that piece of music falls under.

Music scores inspire me, and they help jog my imagination before I sit down to write. Scores challenge me to make my fictional worlds bigger and more lively. Here’s a few soundtrack pieces from movies you might not have ever considered adding to your collection. It’s okay if you haven’t seen the movies, just take a listen to the scores and share some of your favorite movie scores with us in the comments below.

Aaron Zigman, “Into the Forrest” from Bridge to Terabithia: 

If you can’t handle highly emotional movies, stay away from this Disney/Walden Media flick. But the music composed here that takes the viewers and its characters from reality to the land of Terabithia is magical in its own right. 

Basil Poledouris and Hans Zimmer, “Main Title” from White Fang:

When I was around eight years old my family and I took an Alaskan cruise. The theater onboard the ship played – appropriately – White Fang. And up until I found this score just a couple months ago, I remembered this haunting tune all those years, often humming it when I was alone or writing without music. 

Brian Tyler, “Main Title Overture” from The Greatest Game Ever Played:

This is from a lesser known Disney movie (I know, all of these happen to be from Disney  which is actually coincidental), staring the kid from those Transformers movies. I highly recommend it if you’re like me and prefer slower, historical movies. But the theme here practically tells the story on its own, about victory in the face of adversity and hardship. A great listen if you’re feeling defeated.

Christophe Beck, “Paperman” from “Paperman”:

“Paperman” is a short cartoon put out by Disney which featured before Wreck-it-Ralph. It’s hard to admit, but this short film is better than all of Pixar’s shorts (coming close to the one with the magician and his rabbit: “Presto”). Never has a short made me feel so much emotion and made me root so hard for its protagonist. If you haven’t seen it, just Youtube Paperman. The score here is fresh, and very original. 

Michael Gore, “Theme” from Terms of Endearment:

This movie made me fall in love with Shirley McLain’s acting. But the theme here is just as good as her performance. If you look for it on iTunes, punch in “Theme from Terms of Endearment by Cincinnati Pops Orchestra” – it’s a much better version than what Youtube has here.

Post your favorite scores below, even new takes on familiar scores are welcome!

 

Movies I Still Can’t Help but Love Part II

As promised, here’s the rest of the list of movies I still can’t help but love. Like last week, I tried to steer clear of the obvious choices like HookE.T., Dumb and Dumber, etc. Hopefully you’ve never seen a few of these and decide to give them a chance. You can check out Part I of this list here.

Lethal Weapon

Lethal Weapon series (1987-1998) – Sgt. Murtaugh and Sgt. Riggs, played by Danny Glover and Mel Gibson are both vet-turned cops who keep getting themselves into high-stakes trouble. It’s one of the series where I really can’t choose one as my favorite, though they do get funnier as they progress. Typical for early-90’s buddy/cop films there’s lots of cursing and shooting throughout. Not at all recommended for kids (though the third and fourth ones could be PG-13 if not for the constant use of the F-word). Why watch it? Mel Gibson plays a suicidal maniac cop. What’s not to like about that?? Next to Ransom, it’s his best acting.

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Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995) – Sarabeth hates this movie because Richard Dreyfuss’s character is flirting with one of his students throughout the third act. But in the end, he makes the right decision, so I think it’s redemptive. Why watch it? For the groovy soundtrack, man!

My Life

My Life (1993) – Last week I mentioned the movie The Cure, and how it’s one of the most emotional movies ever. Here’s the runner-up. Michael Keaton plays a young husband and soon-to-be father who is battling cancer and decides to make a home movie to leave behind for his unborn kid. Why watch it? If you feel you need to let the floodgates open. This’ll certainly do it.

Radio Flyer

Radio Flyer (1992) – The story about two brothers whose mom marries an abusive alcoholic who targets the youngest of the brothers (the kid from Jurassic Park). The older brother (a very young Elijah Wood), vows to get him out of that situation any way he can. His means of doing so? The little red wagon – the Radio Flyer! Why watch it? 1) Tom Hanks makes a cameo, and 2) there’s a giant buffalo that sticks his head in the kid’s room and talks to him. And (spoiler alert) the wagon flies!

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The River Wild (1994) – They seriously don’t make movies like this anymore. Kevin Bacon plays a complete creep who’s obsessed with tackling the most dangerous part of the river just for bragging rights. There’s guns, there’s white water rafting, there’s dogs, there’s white-knuckle suspense. There’s just a lot of fun waiting for you in this movie. Think Speed, but in the mountains. On a river. In a raft. Why watch it? To see John C. Reilly play a bad guy. And because it really is a thousand times better than Speed 2. 

Rocketeer

The Rocketeer (1991) – Want to know the weird thing about this movie? Cliff only puts the rocket on twice in the entire film. And I never noticed (or cared) as a kid that this movie is based on kicking the Nazi’s butts. That makes me appreciate it even more as an adult. Why watch it? It’s 90’s Disney at its finest.

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RocketMan (1997) – Like Good Burger, which I mentioned last week, this movie is just as stupid and corny, but there’s no way in the world anyone can not laugh at it. It’s a genuinely funny movie, but keep in mind, I warned you that it’s really corny. Why watch it? You can learn the song “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” in many different languages.

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Swing Kids (1993) – Set in Nazi Germany, these kids are like the Dead Poet’s Society, except instead of read poetry, they listen to Jazz music – and they love it. But obviously their Nazi-influenced parents and neighbors have a problem with it. So each kid has to decide if he’s going to continue rebelling against the growing Nazi movement or give in. There’s a young Christian Bale in it, and I won’t tell you what he decides. Why watch it? Two words: Swing Heil!

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That Thing You Do (1996) – Tom Hanks stars and directs this groovy, feel-good movie, that you just can’t help but sing along to. It’s funny, it’s catchy, and it’s based on a real band (the Oneders), who just didn’t quite make it to the status of The Beatles (personally, I think they could have). Lots of laughs and great songs. Be careful though, there’s an unrated or PG-13 rated version floating around out there – get the PG one and you can watch it with all the kids. Why watch it? Tom Hanks as star. Tom Hanks as director. (But he doesn’t sing.)

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White Fang (1991) – I’m sure you’ve seen this as a kid, or read the book. But you’d be surprised how well it holds up even now. It’s just as intense, just as emotional, and just as Disney-esk as you’d hope it would be. Probably the best sled-dog movie I’ve ever seen. And definitely in my top 20 favorite movies. Why watch it? Just the music and the scenery alone is stunning. (Have I mentioned Balto in this list? Hmmm…. I should.)

White Squall

White Squall (1996) – Ridley Scott directs this film where Jeff Bridges is at his best. It’s the true story of a group of boys who are chosen to continue their schooling abroad aboard (see what I did there?) the Albatross under the command of Captain Christopher “Skipper” Sheldon (Bridges). Think Dead Poet’s Society on a boat. And if you happen to really love dolphins, I would strongly suggest you keep far away from this movie. Why watch it? If you can’t stand everything leading up to the sinking in Titanic, this can be your replacement.

What Will You Be Watching This Fall?

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It’s that time of year where everyone’s favorite shows premier and new ones take off in hopes of flying. Sarabeth and I usually only follow a couple shows at a time, but lose interest most of the time (or it just gets too inappropriate and we have to make an executive decision to stop while we’re ahead). The only shows we’ve followed religiously are The Office (yes, even through the last two seasons – but the finale was way worth the trouble), and Downton Abbey. But we don’t get to see the new season till January. (Thanks, BBC.) 

But there is one other show that I think stands above the rest, and of which I’ve never felt such a strong connection to the characters. The great Ron Howard produces the spinoff to his 1989 film, Parenthood. NBC puts it out, and its fifth season starts in just one week from today (September 26th).

It’s a show that focusses on the family unit. Adam Braverman, the lead character, is a role model for many husbands and dads. Mind you, he has his many slip-ups, but his actions aren’t followed by a laugh-track or a blooper reel.

Like all of the characters, the consequences of his actions follow him many many episodes into the season. It is a realistic show in that nothing is easily solved, or brushed under the rug. The family must learn to deal with their problems, and in many episodes it gets very ugly and may even hit close to home for many viewers, thus a little difficult to watch, as it is most of the time for Sarabeth.

There is a family unit for everyone to relate to. You have the grandparents who are trying not to interfere with their grown-children’s lives, and dealing with years of marital problems of their own. There’s the faithful middle-class couple with three kids: a college-bound young lady, an autistic adolescent, and a newborn. There’s the couple who can’t have a kid of their own, so they are struggling through the trials of adoption. There’s the wayward daughter who feels like she can’t raise her kids without a man in her life. And there’s the wayward son who’s learning how to be a father to his little boy whose entire life he missed out on.

I can’t recommend this show highly enough, though I strongly recommend watching it when the kids are in bed due to some intense scenes, and some sensuality. It will remind you that you’re not alone in your struggles, but you also can’t ignore them, either. It’s the only show I’m really anticipating this fall, and well worth the time to invest in.

Have you seen Parenthood? Share your thoughts! Are you pumped for season five?

What I Learned From Michael Scott

969352_559944844057684_817672203_nOn March 25, 2005, Jerry Seinfeld, Tim Allen, and the cast of Friends stepped out of sight of adoring fans to make room for the newest addition of what would become a multi-Emmy-winning sitcom, unlike any the United States had ever seen before. And it would continue for nine years, taking its final bow on May 15, 2013.

Admittedly, NBC’s The Office has been lagging for the past two years, but being diehard fans of the show, the Toy household is still sad to bid farewell. With the season finale airing tonight, I thought it would be appropriate to tip our hats to this prime time phenomenon.

I’d like to point out that with Michael Scott being the heartbeat of the show, I think it’s fair to say the show died the night he left us with the words, “Let me know if this ever airs.” The last two years have been merely a memorial service, trying to recapture the life that once existed, like harnessing the ghost of a once-lively person – but couldn’t. Some jokes given by the cast of eulogists were good, and many were bad. But tonight, we gather for the long-awaited burial.

I hope and expect to use up every hankie in the house.

I’m not ashamed that I think Michael Scott is one of the most depth-filled, widely developed, funniest TV characters of all time. (Okay, truth be told, if Sarabeth would let me, I would have a poster of him hanging up in our bedroom.) But just because you’re funny doesn’t mean you’re bright. And so, in honor of the show’s ending, I thought it would be fun to take a look back and remember some good times with the world’s best boss.

(Forgive me if this seems out of place on my blog, but I just can’t help paying homage to my favorite show. Office fans, read,  remember, and laugh.)

WHAT I LEARNED FROM MICHAEL SCOTTMichael1

Don’t promise an entire class of kids that you’ll pay their college tuition until you have the funds to do so.

Don’t write an age-sensitive joke in a woman’s “bird-day” card.

Don’t conduct a meeting on obesity dressed in a fat suit.

If you’re going to fake-fire someone, make sure you have the punch-line right. (“You’ve been X’d, punk!”)

You can’t declare bankruptcy by yelling it.

Giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a dead bird does nothing.

Clear it with your boss before you announce in front of the whole company what branch is closing down.

Don’t invite your friends/colleagues over to a dinner party if you’re forced to sleep at the end of the bed in your own house.

Don’t hold a roast in honor of yourself. It actually might hurt your feelings.

It is, in fact, a “dog-eat-dog” world, not a “doggie-dog” world.

Abraham Lincoln never said, “I will attack you with the north.” (Though it has long been our favorite Lincolnian saying in our house.)

If the building is presumptuously on fire, and you’re a man, and the manager, don’t be the first one to run outside like a frightened little girl.

If you’re going to a job fair to represent a paper company, you might want to have some paper with you.

Don’t hold the pizza delivery guy hostage just so you can get your discount.

Watch out for indoor ponds.

Goodbye Office. We will miss you and forever continue to watch your DVD’s.

Feel free to add your own favorite Office moments.

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