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The Best Not Quite “To Be Continued” Endings of Franchise Films

One of my complaints about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was how much of the film was filled with shameless plugs for future DC Universe films.  I am all for connectivity between superhero films, thus establishing a shared universe of story-telling.  That is, in fact, one of the greatest triumphs of the Marvel cinematic universe!  The problem with Batman v Superman was how obvious and awkward and often confusing those connections-to-not-yet-made-future-films were.  The ending was a particular problem.  The film’s ending (which I won’t spoil) was clearly designed to be a cliffhanger that would make an audience excited for the next DCU adventure.  But I felt it landed with a thud.  Rather than being excited for the next film, I’m already dreading the time that will need to be wasted in Justice League to undo the events of the end of Batman v Superman.

This got me thinking about great endings to films in a series.  There’s something magical about a great ending to a film, particularly a film that is designed to be, not a stand-alone one-and-done entity, but rather an installment in a series.  There is a delicate art to being able to satisfactorily bring a film’s story to a close, while also teasing future adventures.  I adore that buzzy feeling of walking out of a movie absolutely desperate for the next installment, even if that next installment might be years away.

So what WERE some great endings to franchise films, endings that gave me that thrilled, excited feeling?  Well, I’m glad you asked, as I’ve decided to list some of my very favorites.

Now, before we begin, let me clarify that I’m not talking about a movie that ends on a out-and-out “to be continued” cliffhanger.  The best example of that would, of course, be:

Back to the Future Part II This film, gloriously, actually does end with the words “to be continued.”  (Well, actually the film ends with the words “to be concluded” which makes sense only when you know that the words “to be continued” were added on to the ending of the original Back to the Future for its home video release, so this ending of Part II now echoes/completes that ending of Part I.  Without that “to be continued” ending of Part I, you might expect the ending of Part II to read “to be continued” rather than “to be concluded.”  At least, I would!  Sadly, all DVD and blu-ray releases of the original Back to the Future restore the original ending and remove that “to be continued.”  But I dearly miss that “to be continued” ending, as that’s the ending I grew up with.  Why no branching option, Warner brothers, … [continued]

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Josh Enjoys the Rogue Cut of X-Men: Days of Future Past

I quite enjoyed the theatrical version of X-Men: Days of Future Past.  (Click here for my original review.)  Let me be clear, I lament how much of the classic comic-book story, by Chris Claremont & John Byrne, was jettisoned for the film.  I would so dearly love to some day see a more direct adaptation of that classic X-Men story for the big screen.  But I loved the idea of using the hook of that story-line as a way to merge the original cast of Bryan Singer’s X-Men films from a decade and a half ago with the new, younger First Class versions.  That’s a genius idea.  I thought the film worked well on its own — not spectacular, but very solid — as a super-hero adventure flick, and I absolutely adored the final few minutes which served as a tremendous course-correction on the mis-steps the franchise took with Brett Ratner’s misguided and flawed X-Men: The Last Stand. 

When the film was released, there was a lot written on-line about how Anna Paquin’s Rogue had been cut from the film.  Apparently, to keep the film’s run-time at a manageable level, an entire subplot featuring her character was cut from the film, and in the theatrical cut Ms. Paquin only appeared as Rogue for a brief instant in the final moments of the film.  That brief appearance was satisfactory for me, but of course I was curious to see what had been cut out.

X-Men-DaysofFuturePast.RogueCut.cropped

I am delighted to report that the extended “Rogue Cut” of Days of Future Past that has recently been released to blu-ray is a wonderful enhancement of the film.  The Rogue subplot has been restored to the film, but I was surprised by how many other great little bits and moments had also been edited into the film.  Pretty much all of these moments are great, and as such I feel pretty confident that this will be my preferred version of the film to watch from now on.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this “Rogue Cut” is not a radical alteration to the theatrical version.  The changes are far more subtle than some of the more famous directors cuts that are out there, such as the extended editions of the Lord of the Rings films, or, say, the directors cuts of James Cameron’s Aliens or The Abyss.  (By the way, if you’ve never seen those directors cuts, track them down immediately!!) The most dramatic change to the film is, no surprise, the sequences involving Rogue, which are nicely well-woven into the extended version.  The main element of this restored subplot is the mid-movie mission that the aged Magneto (Ian McKellan) leads to rescue Rogue … [continued]

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In one of my earliest posts on the site, I wrote my own follow-up to the famous Comics Journal article “Martin Wagner Owes Me Fifty Bucks,” in which I listed several comic book series that remained tragically never-completed by their authors.  At the top of the list was David Lapham’s magnificent series Stray Bullets.  This independently published, black-and-white comic book blew me away as a teenager.  I still think it stands as a magnificent achievement, which makes the fact that the series stopped publication in the middle of a story tragically painful.  Mr. Lapham is still working in the comic book industry, and for years and years I have been hoping that he would some-day return to this series and complete his story.  It looks like that day has finally arrived, as Image Comics has listed Stray Bullets on their publication schedule for March, 2014.  I hope this is real!!!

Devin Faraci at badassdigest.com has listed his Ten Most Disappointing Films of 2013, and at the top of his list is Star Trek Into Darkness.  What Mr. Faraci wrote about the film so perfectly sums up my feelings that I don’t think I ever need to write another word about that terribly disappointing film.  Here is Mr. Faraci:

This isn’t technically a ranked list, but I saved this for last on purpose. There were many months leading up to Star Trek Into Darkness that allowed me to roll with the movie’s punch, but even still this broiling heap of nonsense left me deeply despondant. JJ Abrams had totally proven me wrong with Star Trek 2009, a movie that while not great was filled with heart and adventure and managed to work despite extraordinary script flaws. Star Trek Into Darkness brought back both the cast who made the first film live and the script flaws that almost sank it, except this time the script flaws were not going to get upstaged. Into Darkness is dumb, it’s complicated for no reason, it features reveals that are meaningless to the plot and it pisses away Star Trek‘s most name-brand villain in a plotline that disrespects hardcore fans while being meaningless to the coveted new audience. Star Trek Into Darkness is a movie so bad that it fails on almost every conceivable level, including mewling fan service. This isn’t the worst film of the year… but it’s without a doubt the film that squanders the most talent, money and good will. 

Amen.  (If you’re interested, here’s my review of Star Trek Into Darkness.)

Love this trailer for Christopher Nolan’s new film, Interstellar.  I don’t have a clue what the film is about, and that’s just the way I want … [continued]

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In response to this summer’s lousy Spider-Man reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man (click here for my review), comes this great article on 10 Remakes that Got it Right.  There are some really intriguing films on this list that I have never seen, but have been immediately placed on my “to-watch” list…

It’s old news by now, but I haven’t yet waxed poetic on this site about how excited I am that Peter Jackson has expanded his adaptation of The Hobbit from two films to a trilogy!  Very exciting.  The hints of obscure bits of story from the Lord of the Rings appendices that Mr. Jackson is going to be filming in order to flesh out the story are even more exciting still.  The battle of Dol Goldur??  Awesome!!

The new X-Men film is going to be Days of Future Past??? That’s hugely exciting, but also very worrisome.  Days of Future Past is one of the greatest X-Men stories (heck, one of the greatest comic book stories) of all time.  The idea of that being adapted into a film is extraordinary!!  Bravo to Bryan Singer and xx on taking on this iconic story.  But the thought of a BAD version of Days of Future Past would be horrifying.  I was burned by X3′s brutalization of the Dark Phoenix Saga (probably THE greatest X-Men story of all time), and that’s a pain not easily forgotten… I am crossing my fingers and toes about this one…

Speaking of Bryan Singer, why the heck is he still developing a Battlestar Galactica movie?  Do we really need another version of Galactica, after Ron Moore’s fabulous TV series…?  The only place to go is down…

I am excited to see DC’s upcoming animated adaptation of Frank Miller’s seminal “Last Batman Story” The Dark Knight Returns. (DKR was a strong source of material for Christopher Nolan’s final Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises, as I noted in my review.)  However, this first trailer leaves me underwhelmed in the extreme.  This trailer should have been slow, spooky, and reverent, selling us on a world that had moved on without Batman.  Instead, it seems to be selling a zippy animated adventure.  I hope this doesn’t reflect the tone of the finished product.

In happier news — Larry David, Dave Mandel, Alec Berg, Jeff Schaffer (key players on Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm) and Greg Mottola (Superbad, Adventureland, Paul) are working together on a new movie for HBO?  Can’t wait!!… [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, and Valkyrie

I know some people who can’t stand to see a movie a second time — they think “been there, done that, I’d rather see something new.”  I certainly don’t have anything against seeing something new, but I’m also someone who loves seeing movies for a second time — and, if it’s a good movie, seeing it many more times after that!  (I’m the same way with books, comic books, etc. — I love re-reading stories that I enjoyed multiple times.)

I find that my feelings upon watching a film for a second time often vary wildly from the experience of seeing it originally.  I can absorb the film without all the baggage of hype, my anticipation, etc.  I can also more accurately judge the movie for what it is, rather than what I had hoped it would be or was expecting it would be.

During September I had a chance to take a second look at three films that I really enjoyed during last year’s Oscar rush of films (in late December 2008).  Did my feelings about them change, for better or for worse, upon a second viewing?  Read on!

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button — read my original review here.  Benjamin Button was one of my very favorite movies from last year (it ranked as no. 6 on my list of my favorite films from 2008) and, if anything, I was even more in awe of it the second time around.  The film is magnificent.  It is one of those special collaborations where every single element works just perfectly, from the gorgeous sets and costumes, to the jaw-dropping visual effects (that create fully-realized environments from France to Russia to a tug-boat in the middle of the Pacific, not to mention the completely convincing creation and de-aging of Benjamin Button himself that is as wonderful a combination of makeup, prosthetics, and incredible CGI as I have ever seen), to the wonderful performances by Brad Pitt (who proves in every film he’s in why he is so deserving of his movie-star fame), Cate Blanchett, and a wonderful array of other talented actors.  Director David Fincher (Fight Club, Zodiac) knows how to incorporate cutting-edge visual effects into a film without ever letting those effects overpower the film, and he knows how to tell a deeply emotional tale without ever veering into schmaltz.  As I said: magnificent.  (I also had the fun of watching this film on Blu-Ray, and let me say that my jaw was on the floor at the clarity of the images, the colors, everything.  As the enclosed booklet notes, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was created in the digital realm without ever … [continued]

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Valkyrie

Bryan Singer’s film Valkyrie has been getting a bit hammered in the press lately.  (Actually, I feel like I’ve been reading bad things about this movie for over a year, mostly in connection to the multiple shifts in its release date, which usually indicates a studio’s having lost faith in the film.)  I think a lot of people felt that the do-no-wrong wunderkind who made The Usual Suspects and the first two enormously successful X-Men films had stumbled a bit with Superman Returns, and they smelled blood in the water.  That pile-on attitude also extended to the film’s star, Tom Cruise, who as I’m sure you all know has had a rough time of it over the past year or two in the press.

Well, I’d advise you to leave those pre-conceived negative notions at the door, because Bryan Singer, Tom Cruise, and a phenomenal ensemble of British actors have made a fine film for you to enjoy.

Valkyrie re-tells the true story of the group of German officers who, in 1944, attempted to kill Hitler and wrest control of Germany from the SS.  I don’t think I have to tell you that the plan failed.

Much of the criticism of the film has centered on the casting of Tom Cruise as the central figure in the story, Claus von Stauffenberg.  Since one would be hard pressed to name an actor who seems more strongly associated with modern-day America (maybe Will Smith??), he seemed a bizarre choice to play the German main character.  Furthermore, he is surrounded by a cadre of other familiar, mostly British faces as his German co-conspirators.  If you closed your eyes while watching this film it would be difficult to guess that you’re watching a movie about Germans.

But everyone should just relax about this.  The film makes clear early on that everything is meant to be taking place in German (by fading from the German dialogue of the opening moments into English).  Far from a hindrance, I actually think casting the main group of Germans with American and British actors is a smart idea — it makes it easier for the audience to connect with and sympathize with these characters, which is important for our engagement with the story being told.  Would this film be a stronger movie if it was all told in German with English subtitles?  I don’t think it would.

Frankly, the biggest thing that Valkyrie has going against it is it’s release date.  By coming out at this time of year, surrounded by so many other SERIOUS-with-capital-letters Oscar-hopeful films, it becomes easy to dismiss.  Because, while this film does have something to say, and an important story to tell, this … [continued]