The Hills Have Eyes Part II Blu-ray Review: The Bigger, Badder, Less Finished Sequel

The Hills Have Eyes Part II was a gap I’ve long had in the Wes Craven filmography. Even Craven would admit he did it for the money after his divorce, and then he didn’t even get to finish it. So now that we’re all stuck inside, it might be a good time to discover the Hills Have Eyes sequel isn’t that bad. It’s still low in the Craven canon just because even his misses (Deadly Friend, Vampire in Brooklyn) are fun, but so too Hills II has good stuff. You can find it on Blu-ray from Arrow Video.The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 Blu-ray

Craven got Bobby (Robert Houston) and Ruby (Janus Blythe) back. The beginning feels rushed and strung together but once it gets there, they filmed some impressive motorcycle action in the rocks. There’s new Hills action with Pluto (Michael) Berryman and booby traps set in the desert.

The Hills Have Eyes Part II could’ve been the bigger badder sequel. They didn’t finish it but luckily they filmed all the good parts. It’s the beginning that feels incomplete. Okay, it does seem like there are far fewer surviving cannibals, but what are they going to do? The deaths in the first movie are canon. The narration concludes that the hills still have eyes which would have been a better title.

The film looks great. It may have been unfinished but what they shot is well preserved. There are scratches but it’s sharp with bright colors: the big red bus, blue sweaters and baseball jerseys, motorcycle outfits. The flashbacks are grainy as hell but look basically one generation removed from Blu-ray of Hills 1.

There is a 31 minute behind the scenes feature. A commentary track by The Hysteria Continues celebrates The Hills Have Eyes II down to its dog flashback. They’re reverent and very knowledgeable about obscure horror movies.

Franchise Fred’s Top 12 Franchise Installments of 2015

2015 was a great year to be Franchise Fred. There were an unprecedented amount of franchise installments. In one sense, it was simply a practical matter. There are now more franchises to service that have been created in the past 50 years of cinema. However, it does also speak to the interest in continuing stories. There wouldn’t have been the sheer number of franchises in the ‘80s, but it was also harder to convince people they should continue. With the banner year for franchises now behind us, Franchise Fred presents the 12 Best Franchise Installments of 2015.

John Boyega as Finn in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

John Boyega as Finn in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

12. Star Wars: The Force Awakens – I’m not here to bash The Force Awakens. I got a full review to articulate my misgivings, though spoiler free. It did the job of introducing new characters and bringing back the originals. It’s just low on this list because it didn’t do the best job actually forwarding the story of the franchise. The parallels with the original trilogy were too much even for me. I’d waited 32 years to find out what happens next, and it turns out the answer is: the exact same thing. Instead of a father turning to the dark side, it’s a son. Instead of Obi Wan getting struck down, it’s another beloved character. I mean, I know history repeats itself but you’ve still got to make it dramatically satisfying to see another big round planet killing death star. There may only seven plots in the world, but at least use one of the other six! But Rey, Finn and Poe are great. I can’t wait to see what Rian Johnson does with them in Episode VIII.

Left to right: Jai Courtney plays Kyle Reese and Byung-hun Lee plays T-1000 in TERMINATOR GENISYS from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions.

Left to right: Jai Courtney plays Kyle Reese and Byung-hun Lee plays T-1000 in TERMINATOR GENISYS from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions.

11. Terminator: Genisys – Yes, I’m putting Sega Genisys above Star Wars. I’ll take the plot holes in its time travel logic because at least it was trying to tell a different story. I enjoyed seeing a new 1984 play out, which seems organic to time travel. If they have time travel at their disposal they can keep trying and trying until they get it right. My biggest question is: While Pops was waiting in L.A. for Sarah and John to time travel into 2017, who was the governor of California from 2003-20011?

Marvel's Avengers: Age Of Ultron..L to R: Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Steve Rogers (Chris Evans)..Ph: Jay Maidment..?Marvel 2015

Marvel’s Avengers: Age Of Ultron..L to R: Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Steve Rogers (Chris Evans)..Ph: Jay Maidment..?Marvel 2015

10. Avengers: Age of Ultron – Sure, there were tons of expository set ups for future movies. That’s every Marvel movie. Too late to start complaining, and I think Joss Whedon handles those burdens better than any other Marvel director so far. He still made a movie about The Avengers being a group of superheroes. Where the first team-up had them reluctantly become a team, the sequel shows The Avengers as friends in quiet, playful moments. The danger of Ultron tears them apart philosophically, because you have the scientists in Tony Stark and Bruce Banner defending discovery and all the risks it entails, versus the plain old “don’t create monsters” team. It’s also Whedon’s version of the darker sequel so he riffs on that trope in some fun ways.

Matt Bomer in Magic Mike XXL

Matt Bomer in Magic Mike XXL

9. Magic Mike XXL/Pitch Perfect 2 – For two movies whose originals I didn’t like to have two sequels I did makes these two tie for most improved franchises of 2015. Actually, I hated Pitch Perfect more than Magic Mike so Pitch 2 has the edge, but both corrected problems well. XXL emphasized more dancing and dispensed with the pretense of a plot, although it would behoove them not to linger on seemingly improvised dialogue. Pitch Perfect 2 also had more music, which is what we’re there for, and more ridiculous absurd comedy so it wasn’t really important to invest in the underdog story anymore.

Ed Helms and Chevy Chase as Rusty and Clark Griswold

Ed Helms and Chevy Chase as Rusty and Clark Griswold

8. VacationVacation brought back the Griswolds for me and I hope it brought them back for a few more vacations, but I might be alone there. It did rely on too much grossout humor and violence, but other than that it really captured the Griswold spirit. There are endless opportunities for episodic encounters on the road wherever the Griswolds go, with Russ (Ed Helms) now overcompensating to show his family fun. It’s also a great example of delivering nostalgic references without relying on them too frequently.

Jurassic_World7. Jurassic World – Resurrecting the Jurassic Park franchise over a decade after the last entry turned out to be as simple as fulfilling the promise of the original movie. What if they actually did open the park and Ian Malcolm’s warnings came true? It also gave the filmmakers a chance to comment on where theme parks have gone in the decades since Malcolm compared Jurassic Park to Pirate of the Caribbean. Indominus Rex may have unintentionally shown the flaws in the “bigger, better” mentality, but it also served to prove T-Rex is still the king.

Tow-in surfing is one of the many new additions to Point Break.

Tow-in surfing is one of the many new additions to Point Break.

6. Point Break – Based on the reactions to this remake, it may be another 24 years before I see another Point Break. To me, this is the best case scenario for a remake. Rumor has it the late Patrick Swayze actually wanted to do a sequel where Bodhi washed up on shore somewhere. Franchise Fred would have approved that, but now even if Keanu Reeves wanted to return to Johnny Utah, too much has changed. The evolution of the extreme sports world was the reason to apply Point Break to this world, and I really liked the new context for Bodhi (Edgar Ramirez) and Utah (Luke Bracey). In some ways it is a spiritual sequel where perhaps new characters took on the names Utah and Bodhi for independent, specific reasons. I would love to see this Utah pursue more extreme criminals, whether Bodhi or otherwise, but it looks like I’ll just have to be happy with Point Rebreak.

Furious75. Furious 7 – Everything I wanted in a Fast and the Furious movie, and more due to the circumstances surrounding it. Since Paul Walker wasn’t able to finish the film, it’s amazing Furious 7 works at all, let alone works as one of the best in the series. That’s thanks largely to James Wan’s fresh take with scenes like the opening hospital destruction. This movie just gets the bravado of beefcake tough guys and celebrates them being awesome. When Walker died, some who’d gotten to know him periodically felt the loss, but I wasn’t sure how much the general public would feel it. Maybe they would have anyway, but I think the tribute to Walker crafted by Furious 7 made everyone feel the emotional weight whether they were inclined to or not.

Bond (Daniel Craig) following Marco Sciarra through the Dia de los Muertos procession in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Columbia Pictures/EON Productions’ action adventure SPECTRE. Tolsa Square, Mexico City.

Bond (Daniel Craig) following Marco Sciarra through the Dia de los Muertos procession in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Columbia Pictures/EON Productions’ action adventure SPECTRE. Tolsa Square, Mexico City.

4. Spectre – Okay, so I criticize The Force Awakens for repetitive narrative, but I love Spectre for the homages it pays to Ian Fleming and past movies. Here’s the difference. Movies like Spectre and Creed can explore the formula in a modern context. Star Wars is not modern, so there’s no new context. It’s just repeating. The Bond films have been exploring what it means to have a license to kill, what it means to seduce for living, what it means to have gadgets. So seeing the Craig Bond discover SPECTRE, its evil lair, snow covered mountains, fighting on a train and wearing a Baron Samedi mask were relevant in new ways. It’s also fun to see Craig adding a bit of Harrison Ford into his mannerisms, with grimaces and incensed reactions to absurd phenomena.

Rebecca Ferguson plays Ilsa in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Production

Rebecca Ferguson plays Ilsa in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Production

3. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation – I must say an even more awesome spy movie than Spectre, but only slightly. Christopher McQuarrie’s gritty take on an Ethan Hunt adventure didn’t compromise any of the incredible spectacle. It did have some fun with Hunt suffering a bit of damage for all his wear and tear, but what really made Rogue Nation was Rebecca Ferguson. As much as this was supposed to be a franchise for a new director’s stamp every entry, in a way it makes sense that they took five tries to get it perfect and now McQuarrie and Ferguson are returning. A word of caution though, everyone wanted Sam Mendes back for another Bond film too and then they didn’t like his second one. Personally I’m a lot more curious what two McQuarries in a row will look like for Mission Impossible.

Even a still frame of this makes me want to work out.

Even a still frame of this makes me want to work out.

2. Creed – This is the best case Franchise Fred could ever have for turning over a very personal franchise to some new blood. Like Spectre, this is also a stronger case for repeating narrative elements in a modern context. True, Adonis Johnson-Creed (Michael B. Jordan) may be an underdog new boxer getting a last minute title shot at the champ, but the sports world has changed a lot in 40 years so there are many new ways to explore it. In the case of Creed, I think the themes have changed more dramatically than the superficial story. I still marvel at the film’s compassionate take on blended families. The fragility of secrecy in the media is a poignant new theme. The ego of Adonis is way different than Rocky’s humility. Plus, Rocky’s medical fight is a brand new subplot and gives him a fight he’s not interested in fighting. That’s some drama.

Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road

1. Mad Max Fury Road – World building doesn’t get any better than George Miller. While most people marvel at the action, my favorite things in the latest Mad Max are the new additions to the post-apocalyptic world. I love just looking around The Citadel to see how it runs, the neighboring societies, the War Boy culture and how genuinely happy they are to be dying, the Doof and his absurdly wonderful guitar hero antics, and the Vuvalini, my God the Vuvalini. This is just a world I want to revisit again and again. It could be a chamber piece, but that’s sort of what Thunderdome was already. I honestly didn’t think there’d be a faster, more furious movie than Furious 7 and I fought it for a month or so. Luckily I discovered this is the fastest, most Furiosa movie of the year!

Exclusive Interview: Isaac Florentine on Close Range and Boyka: Undisputed IV

I got to know Isaac Florentine two years ago when Ninja: Shadow of a Tear premiered at Fantastic Fest. I had been following his work with martial artist Scott Adkins in Ninja, Undisputed II and Undisputed III: Redemption, so I was excited to see another sequel and learn more about his career, getting into the business by directing episodes of Power Rangers and the film Desert Kickboxer for Menahem Golan, of Cannon Films fame.

Scot Adkins, Caitlin Keats and Madison Lawlor in Close Range

Scott Adkins, Caitlin Keats and Madison Lawlor in Close Range

This week there’s a new Florentine/Adkins film out. Close Range stars Adkins as soldier Colton MacReady, who rescues his niece from kidnappers but ends up with a flash drive full of valuable assets. When the criminal gang follow him to his sister’s ranch, MacReady has to fight them off and save his family. I got to speak with Florentine again by phone about his new film, and the upcoming Boyka: Undisputed IV. Close Range is available on VOD December 4, and Blu-ray and DVD January 5.

Nerd Report: How did Close Range come about? Were you looking for something else to develop with Scott or was it just an offer?

Isaac Florentine: Two of the above. I had a script that was not right for Nu Image. I went to the producer, Ehud Bleiberg, from Bleiberg Entertainment. I was told he was interested. It was a little bit of an, I don’t know, politically charged script so that’s why it was not right for Millennium. And he also wasn’t crazy about it and told me, “Look, this script, I’m not sure if I want to do it, if it’s stuck or not stuck.” And he sent me Close Range. I read it and the way he described it, it was like some kind of Straw Dogs. When I read it, it didn’t feel like Straw Dogs but I kind of sensed with a polish it could become like a contemporary spaghetti western. This is how it came about.

Nerd Report: I definitely sensed the spaghetti western. Was the music inspired by Morricone?

Scott Adkins and Jake La Botz in Close Range

Scott Adkins and Jake La Botz in Close Range

Isaac Florentine: Yes, Stephen Edwards has done so many movies and I like his work. He basically scored the movie. There is also some by Jake La Botz. I know Jake for many years. He’s an American guitar player and he also plays the husband in the movie. We used his music for the end title music.

Nerd Report: Was it an ideal scenario for a movie, in a contained out of the way location but with plenty of room for action?

Isaac Florentine: It was mainly like that and we would simplify it or modify it so that it would be simpler to shoot.

Nerd Report: But you use every room in the house and every rock in the mountain to your advantage. Was that from the location or was it already in the script?

Some of the action in Close Range

Some of the action in Close Range

Isaac Florentine: It wasn’t all the script but the trick was to find the right location that would be right for the script, because there was no set really on this one. It was really all shot on location. Really the trick was to find the right range. I was insistent to find something that I can shoot from the interior into the exterior and vice versa, and that the geography would be explained and be very clear.

Nerd Report: There are so many villains for Scott to take out, was it important to introduce each of them early?

Isaac Florentine: Yes, because what happened is there are not so many baddies, and he doesn’t kill them so fast. In the big shootout, everybody’s kind of safe. Everybody takes cover. Slowly and slowly, he starts to take them out.

Nerd Report: How many takes did you do of the opening fight that’s all one shot?

This fight happens all in one take.

This fight happens all in one take.

Isaac Florentine: [Laughs] I did about eight takes. I looked at locations and this movie was shot in L.A. after I haven’t shot a movie in L.A. for many, many years. It somehow got stuck in my mind that I wanted to do the opening in one shot, the fight, from the elevator, into the corridor, into the room. I was looking and looking and looking, and then I found that location. The producer, Ehud, told me, “Isaac, this is more like a hotel corridor, not really a courthouse.” I told him, “You know something, you’re right, but I want to do it in one shot.” Therefore I wanted something that really feels like from the elevator, into the corridor and then the big room. There’s another trick I’ve done before in a movie that him walking from the entrance hall into the elevator, the elevator was really on location, the doors didn’t open. So if you look, there is some kind of a shot, he beats one guy up and then goes to the door. Basically that door that opens that looks like it was in the entrance was also shot upstairs.

Nerd Report: And it’s still the same take when he goes into the suite?

Isaac Florentine: The minute the fight starts, it’s all one take. No cuts. Sometimes you do fake cuts that don’t look like a cut but you do a cut. No, this was all in one take straight. That was the second day of shooting. The challenge was to our cinematographer that was also the operator, it was the first time I worked with him. I didn’t use Ross Clarkson because Ross is in Australia and couldn’t work in America. I used Tal [Lazar] and he did a great job by the way. For him it was very challenging in the beginning. We did a rehearsal a day or two before with the stunt guys in the gym. Then we went and he knew more or less what he has to do, and the flow of the action.

Close quarters fighting in Close Range

Close quarters fighting in Close Range

Nerd Report: Some of the people Scott fights in the movie are great martial artists and they have very elaborate choreography, but others are just tough guys. Did you design each fight for the different actors of different abilities?

Isaac Florentine: The concept of this one, it’s not really a pure martial arts movie. It’s more of an action movie and we want the fights to be unlike Undisputed or Ninja. The fights are shorter, more military style and faster style. He’s using more Judo, not such fancy kicks. There are some jump kicks but it’s not the fancy martial arts that you see in the Ninja franchise or the Undisputed movies. Basically, the idea was that the thugs, some of them would be street fighters, some of them would have some martial arts backgrounds. He would use more military style martial arts.

Nerd Report: How did you shoot the very tight fight in the pantry?

Isaac Florentine: [Laughs] We just put the camera in and we shot it, you know. Usually I try not to cut but this one it’s going back and forth.

Nerd Report: Do you think this is a character Scott could play again and have another franchise?

Isaac Florentine: I would love to. I think it’s a great character actually for a TV series.

Nerd Report: Would Scott do it as a weekly TV series?

Isaac Florentine: Who knows? Let somebody run with it first. It’s a great character for a TV series.

Scott Adkins in Close Range

Scott Adkins in Close Range

Nerd Report: I agree, but I still want it to be Scott.

Isaac Florentine: Yeah, me too.

Nerd Report: Is Boyka finished?

Isaac Florentine: Boyka was shot. The picture is locked and right now we’re working on the sound and music. It’s again Stephen Edwards who’s writing the music. The movie is shot. The executives in Millennium love it. I think it’s a really good movie and it’s a great addition to number two and number three. It really elevates it. We all know that Scott is an amazing screen fighter but this movie, as an actor, he is incredible. He’s just incredible. He brings so many layers and so much into the character. The character in this one also has soft parts. He’s done so much within the character of Boyka.

Nerd Report: And this is the first one that’s not in prison, so what does that open up for you?

Isaac Florentine: You know, I don’t know if it’s opened something specific because every script that you get, it’s always about the script, the story and the character. It doesn’t matter where it is and where the setting is. If the story is going to work, it’s okay. It can be even a bare bones story and character like Close Range. It’s really bare bones.

Nerd Report: Are you doing a Christmas movie also?

Isaac Florentine: Not yet. That’s something that’s on the plate. The idea is to do crowdfunding. I got the idea from Frank DeMartini, the producer of Ninja. Frank gave me the script to read. I really liked the script. It was a really good script. It was like a classical Hollywood script. I like the story and I’m in, basically.

Nerd Report: Last year there was a documentary on Cannon films. If they had asked you, do you have some good memories of Menahem Golam to share?

Isaac Florentine: Absolutely. I didn’t see the documentary but I’ll tell you one thing. Menahem Golam is the person who gave me the chance to do my first feature, or my first American movie. So the man was a champion. He loved cinema and he was willing to give chances. People don’t do it today. Menahem Golam was a person who was willing to give chances. He was a person who loved, loved, loved cinema. You know, you learn from everybody. Something that I learned from Menahem, I remember after shooting my first name, sitting there watching dailies. He told me, with his accent thicker than mine, he says, “Florentine, let me tell you something. Cinema talks in POV.” I was thinking about it and I said wow, he’s absolutely right. He was genuine.

Freditorial: The Franchise Fred Filosophy

This is probably going to be the sequel that people don’t like as much as the original. I’ll have to redeem myself in part three, or maybe this will be the superior sequel and everyone will say I should stop, but I’ll still write more because I’m Franchise Fred.

Now that I have explained how I became Franchise Fred I wanted to delve deeper into the aesthetics of franchises. Although I always want to see more sequels, I am not indiscriminate. I dedicated myself to franchises to combat perceptions that sequels should be avoided, but I also don’t want to sound overbearing like I’m demanding more than the filmmakers feel they can give. In the interest of encouraging creativity, I present my “filosophy” for ideal ways and options for continuing franchises, indefinitely as the one thing I’ll never believe is that the story is “over.”

1. No Rush

furyroadThis might be the single factor that most intimidates fans and filmmakers. You don’t have to produce the next story immediately. You can wait until the right idea strikes you. With franchises like James Bond and The Fast and the Furious it should be easier to think of the next adventure within a few years, and there should have been a lot more Indiana Joneses than there are. Or, in the case of low budget horror like Saw, the pressure of one a year could fuel creativity. Most sequels do benefit from keeping the cast together before they go off in complicated directions and start to look vastly different than their characters, but there are great sequels that revisit after long periods of time to see what a new perspective brings. I certainly understand it’s exhausting to keep a franchise going, so I’m not insisting you burn yourself out. Just don’t rule them out. Always be waiting for that new inspiration to strike.

2. You Don’t Have To Top Yourself.

fastfiveThe sequel doesn’t have to be better than the original or previous sequels. It just needs to be also good. An obsession with “the best” can make you miss out on other stories worth telling along the way. If you made the best movie possible out of the gate, or even surpassed the original with one sequel, there are still many stories that are almost as good. Please tell those too. Even if one of those stories is significantly lesser, sometimes one subpar story allows the next one to surpass even the original. Look how The Fast and the Furious did it. Whether you agree Tokyo Drift or Fast & Furious was the weak link, they came back with everyone’s favorite.

3. Don’t Hold Back.

Setting up the sequel can be fun, but these days it’s gotten carried away. Filmmakers are actually withholding narrative so they can use it in the sequel. This is bad. Each sequel should be everything you can possibly think of at this point in the story. By the time you make the next one, you start brainstorming new ideas. This is the Christopher Nolan philosophy and I agree, but I probably violated this rule myself because I knew I had more to say after the first Freditorial. You don’t want the first one to be 4,000 words though.back_to_the_future_part_ii_ver3

The best sequel setups are teases, like the DeLorean flying off into the future in Back to the Future. It’s an open ending, one that gave them narrative challenges in the sequel. (Bob Gale always says he wishes he hadn’t put Jennifer in he car.) But they weren’t keeping anything out of Back to the Future.

4. Final Chapters Are Good.

You might think I would be against final chapters, since I want franchises to continue indefinitely. The beautiful thing is that historically, movies labeled “The Final Chapter” have never been the final chapters. Saw 8 is still in development. If it never happens, it would be the first one. The decision to make one last hurrah usually comes when they feel like they’ve done everything they could, so they might as well go out with a bang. This actually ends up jumpstarting their creativity.

friday_the_thirteenth_part_viAfter Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, Wes Craven gets the idea for New Nightmare. After Friday the 13th IV, maybe A New Beginning was a misstep but then Jason Lives is arguably the best one! And after Jason Goes to Hell, we got the absurdly fun Jason X. I think what happens goes back to #3. Saving things for the sequel actually stunts creativity because you’re stopping the flow of ideas. Approaching the next movie as if it’s your last chance to tell the story actually clears he slate for all new creative ideas to develop after. So go ahead and call your next sequel “Final.” I’ll still be here for the sequel to that.

5. No Two-Parters

harrypotter7That’s not a real sequel. That’s just two half movies. Finish the story in each movie, then start a new story in the next. Even Back to the Future III feels like a leftover from Part II. Lord of the Rings kind of got away with it because the books were structured that way, but this new practice of turning one book into two movies has got to go. And the next Avengers and Justice League movies decided to be two parters before they even finished the script. How do they know they’ll have a climax at the end of part one? I hope they do, but it should be Avengers 3 and 4, Justice League 1 and 2, not parts I and II.

6. Avoid Prequels.

star_wars_episode_two_attack_of_the_clones_ver2The reason I love sequels is because they’re based on history and telling us what happens next. Prequels, by definition, have no history because they are the history we already know from the original movie. In fact, they have even less history than the first movie because it’s all stuff that already happened.

I think the only thing that would make me enjoy a prequel is if it somehow was able to recontextualize the original, but no one has done that yet. The prequels we see are literally just retellings of the backstory established in the first movie. The only prequel that doesn’t is Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom because it was just another adventure that happened to take place before Raiders. It actually gave us new information about Indiana Jones, and for practical purposes it allowed a new love interest without telling us Indy and Marion didn’t make it. We’d have to wait for Last Crusade to learn that he was single again.

7. The Original Creator Is Not Always Best To Continue.

fast_and_furious_six_ver3_xlgWhen the original filmmaker wants to continue the series, by all means let them. How great is it that George Miller still wants to do Mad Max? Often the originator of the series is not the best choice for the sequel though. Sometimes they’ve already told all the story they have, but it’s up to another creator to think of the next story. Sometimes the original filmmaker simply burns out. Look again at the Fast and the Furious series which really got good when Chris Morgan and Justin Lin took over. Or look at the classic example of Irvin Kershner directing The Empire Strikes Back. We’ll see when the film is out, but Ryan Coogler doing Creed looks like a great way to continue Rocky with new energy.

As much as I want a Back to the Future IV, I’m pretty sure I don’t want to see Robert Zemeckis’s Back to the Future IV. He’s now the guy who puts technology over story in his motion capture animated movies, and I hope The Walk doesn’t sell its subject out, like Flight was afraid to really make Denzel Washington an antihero. Look at Dumb and Dumber To. In 20 years, the actors, and the Farrelly Brothers, completely forgot who those characters were. A different team might have done a more faithful job, although not the team that did Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd. That also had the double whammy of being a prequel.

8. If You Must Remake, Make It Ambiguous.

My favorite remakes are the ones that I can consider the next part of a sequel. A remake really means that the studio doesn’t have the vision to just make a sequel, so they just do the first story over again. If a remake happens when a franchise has faltered, sometimes the only way to keep it going is to start over. I weep for those franchises, but if Robocop had been managed right in the ‘80s we’d have Robocop 10 right now, but here we are.robocop

I actually consider the 2014 movie Robocop 4. Sure, it’s another guy named Alex Murphy. Quite the coincidence, but this is art, man. There can be two Alex Murphys who were both turned into Robocops, only by the second time, ED-209 worked! This year’s Poltergeist could so be Poltergeist IV because the family even has a different name. The poltergeist pull some of the same tricks on them for old time’s sake.  2010 Nightmare on Elm Street is Nightmare IX to me. Their origin story for Freddy doesn’t make it seem like it’s a different Freddy, just maybe some different people telling the story and getting some parts wrong, like the dates. I mean, it doesn’t bother me if the first 8 Nightmares are about a killer child killer who was killed some time in the ‘70s and the 2010 movie says it happened sometime in the ‘90s. The Simpsons has been on for 26 years and keeps doing flashback episodes set within 10 years before Bart was in 4th grade.

And yes, the James Bond franchise is all the same guy, who stays young over 50 years and changing political climates. We’re talking about fiction. Continuing the story is more important than maintaining linear chronology. Although series that address their characters in different stages of life, like Rocky, Rambo or Die Hard, are great too.

9. Reboots Are Uncharted Territory.

This is the newest concept in franchises, because it’s only now that enough franchises have made it more than four decades. I could understand James Bond, Star Trek or even Planet of the Apes needing to start over. They’d given us 20, 10 and five movies respectively, so that’s more than most franchises ever get, although I think The Next Generation still had another couple movies in them. With Bond it also made sense that they finally got the rights to Casino Royale, so that’s a factor that will never be repeated by any other franchise. With Apes, the original series ran its course with diminishing returns decades ago, and there was a nonsense remake that had to be undone at that point.

casino_royale_ver4_xlgI think reboot should be the last resort. It’s still giving up on moving forward and relying on origin stories. Batman Begins is almost exempt, because it’s a comic book. There was never any obligation to follow the previous four movies, any more than Tim Burton’s Batman was obligated to follow the Adam West/Burt Ward movie based on the TV show. Comic books tell multiple stories about the same characters. So the Franchise Fred verdict is still out. Casino Royale and Batman Begins set a very strong precedent, so if there’s ever a chance for a movie that good with a popular character I should entertain it. However, it still means ending a franchise chronology so it’s not to be taken lightly.

It is also heartwarming to see franchises like Texas Chainsaw and Halloween return to original chronology after some remakes. Outlaw Vern calls it an “unboot,” The Simpsons call it a “deboot,” but it means there’s always hope. There’s always hope Sean Connery might come out of retirement after Daniel Craig for one more James Bond!

10. Keep Making Originals.

Most importantly, none of this is to say I only want sequels. The more franchises there are, the more crowded it gets, but we still need originals to start new franchises.

11. I’ll Keep Thinking Of More.

This isn’t to say there are only 10 Franchise Fred Filosophies. I may eventually think of 12 and 13 so they can be the sequels to this.

Freditorial: How I Became Franchise Fred

If you have been reading my reviews and articles, or following me on Twitter, for a few years, you probably know that I am Franchise Fred. I truly believe there should always be sequels to everything, indefinitely, no exceptions. So I thought it was time to give the origin story of Franchise Fred. I have always been Franchise Fred, but I didn’t get my name until a few years ago.

Growing up as a movie fan, I liked sequels more than their predecessors for a simple reason. A sequel didn’t have to waste any time on setup or establishing the characters. It could just get right to it. Now that I’m a more sophisticated film viewer, I understand what those sequels were doing. They did still have setup, but it was building off the first movie. It was showing what happened to the characters between movies and letting them begin the sequel in an interesting place. And yes, bigger action and special effects than before.

The history of the original movie gives any sequel a more interesting foundation than if it had just started from that point. We are now watching something that means something in the context of what we’ve already experienced for 90 minutes or more with these characters. Their actions have more motivation because we know what decisions they made before and what their consequences were. So every sequel I watch is loaded with the history of all that came before it. Sure, every movie has backstory, but backstory is exposition. History is something we experienced with the films.back_to_the_future_part_ii_ver3

When this all started for me though, it was simply the joy of seeing characters I loved again. It was admittedly more rare, so it was a special occasion when Marty McFly, Robocop, John McClane, Rocky or The Terminator got another movie. I knew Die Hard 2 wasn’t as good as Die Hard but it wasn’t about qualitative comparisons. It was just about having more than one Die Hard movie to choose from. It never even occurred to me that people didn’t like Ghostbusters II. It was the ghostbusters solving another slimy mystery, why wouldn’t I want to see that? And Bill Murray still had hilarious lines in it. I didn’t learn that sequels in general were actually frowned upon until much later.

The World Is Not Enough teaser posterOne joy of sequels growing up is now lost to me. In the ‘80s and early ‘90s, if a big sequel was coming out, it gave me a reason to experience the original. I caught up on the Rocky trilogy when Rocky IV came out, as well as the Nightmare on Elm Streets and Friday the 13ths. I only saw Raiders of the Lost Ark after The Last Crusade! God, I remember when I got to discover 15 James Bond movies for the first time. And I was only introduced to Highlander and F/X by the 1991 sequels.

Now that I’m an adult, I’ll never have the experience of seeing a sequel I like and going back to discover the original. I’ve already seen any original that’s ever going to get a sequel, at least Hollywood movies. I can still find some foreign franchises that are new to me, but it gives me joy to think that this generation might watch The Terminator, The Road Warrior, National Lampoon’s Vacation, or even The Fast and the Furious just because there’s a new one coming out.

Even if there’s a movie I don’t like, a sequel to it automatically makes it more interesting. Now they’re doing something with the history of this which may make the foundation pay off. Blair Witch 2 actually used the fraudulent documentary minimalism of the original to satirize the phenomenon it became, so that’s a way more interesting story to me. The Paranormal Activity franchise developed the mythology of the possessed family and made it way more interesting than the original, which featured long takes of Katie Featherston standing over a bed. And the original Step Up was a bore, but the sequels were awesome. That’s thanks mostly to way cooler dancing, but Channing Tatum passing the torch and Moose sticking around gets a little credit.

indy3So I’ve never had a film where I said, “I don’t want to see any more of this.” Wherever one movie leaves a character off, more stuff still happens to them later. Even if one of the sequels is bad, keep trying. Make the next one better. Hell, if I didn’t like the movie, a sequel makes me like it more, so imagine what it does for movies I already like! This goes for books and TV series too, any storytelling medium really, and I’m getting my wish with the return of shows like 24, Arrested Development, Coach and Full House. It’s a great time to be Franchise Fred.

The one movie I thought should not have a sequel out of respect and good taste was The Crow. Not for story reasons, but when your lead actor dies due to negligence on the set, maybe don’t continue to profit off it. But they made three sequels anyway, and now it’s been over 20 years and I’m actually emotionally ready to revisit The Crow. It can be remade by and for a new generation and the Brandon Lee movie will always exist as a memorial to him. So there you have it. The one exception I would have made was invalidated.

The Extreme Manifesto

The conventional wisdom I later found myself up against was, “Sequels usually suck so they should stop making them.” That’s a pretty extreme position to take. “It might not work so let’s not do it at all.” Imagine how many discoveries would not have been made if the visionary thought, “This might not work, so let’s not try.” It’s also suspect reasoning. We can name as many bad originals as bad sequels, but no one says, “This movie might not be good, so let’s not make it at all.” Artists deserve the freedom to fail, because through failure comes even greater success.

ghostbusters-2-posterSo I thought there should be at least one person taking the extreme opposite position: There should always be more sequels to everything, no exceptions. Since I truly believe this it’s an easy position to champion, besides the fact that there is literally no downside to making a sequel. It employs a lot of people for a year or more, and if it turns out badly you never ever have to watch it. Even if it loses money for the studio, the grips and technicians all fed their families for a year. Maybe an executive gets fired, but they’ll bounce back.

If you’re worried that every sequel takes a production slot away from an original, I hate to break this to you but it’s not between a sequel or an original. It’s between a sequel and not making anything at all. Studios make the movies they want to make. If they think something can make money, they’ll make it. More likely it’s a choice between one sequel or another. No executive ever said, “We’d love to make this spec script, but we don’t have the money because we’re putting it all into the sequel to this other franchise.” Well, they may have said it but they were lying. They didn’t really want to make the spec script. They’ve already decided they want to be in the franchise business.  We still need originals to create new franchises so I’m not worried about that. I expect to see another Spy, Home and maybe even Pixels (although that was based on a short) after this summer, and we’re already getting more John Wick, Neighbors and Lucy from last year.

toy_story_3_teaser_poster_002I’m more surprised by narrative resistance to sequels. “There can’t be a sequel. The story ended definitively.” As if anything is definitive in fiction. Characters can die and come back, so even death isn’t the end. But the main point is one story ends and another begins. So yes, the movie you saw does have a definitive ending (one hopes, if it’s a good narrative). That’s why the sequel will begin a new story with those characters. Toy Story 3 ends with Andy giving all his toys to a little girl who will grow up with them having an entirely different female experience. I’m already envisioning Toy Story 4 before the credits role, so how could they not make that movie?

How to continue a story is every bit as creative a question as how to begin a story. In fact, given how many standalone films are derivative of the same plot, I’d say a sequel has a better shot of being more original. In most cases, you can’t just do the same story again (although sometimes it’s fun when they do). They say there are only seven original plots anyway. Chances are the first film was one of those seven. Another original is probably also going to be one of those seven, but a sequel has to push forward.

Back when movie theaters showed a slideshow before movies, I used to see a quote from Steven Spielberg that said, “Stories don’t have a middle or an end. They just have a beginning that never stops beginning.” Looking up that quote again, I’ve learned it was a misquote. Spielberg was criticizing movies that don’t know story structure. He actually said, “Stories don’t have a middle or an end anymore.”  Too late. I already agreed that stories just keep beginning and beginning and beginning. terminator-genisys-poster-arnold-schwarzenegger

I started championing this position very intensely on Outlaw Vern‘s site when there was talk of a Terminator 5, that Arnold Schwarzenegger would star and they would somehow explain how the now 67-year-old star could still play a robot built 30 years ago. Many said they should leave it alone. I said I want to see the reason they come up with to allow Arnold Schwarzenegger to keep playing The Terminator. This position led Outlaw Vern to jokingly name me Franchise Fred. I appreciated the celebratory nickname though and ran with it. I hope I’m doing Vern proud.

Quit While You’re Ahead?

There is the sentiment that good stories have endings. That’s true, they do. That’s why the sequel starts a new story, and that story has its own ending too. And then the next one starts a new story. Stories have endings, but there are no limits to the amount of stories one can tell. I’m not a fan of the Part 1 and Part 2 model franchises have taken to split one story into two halves, but that’s another Freditorial. Each sequel should feel complete, but there’s no limit to how many I want to see.

I know some people feel that if a story has a perfect ending, that should be preserved. I can’t relate to that, because I’m always thinking, “But what happens after that ending?” What is a perfect ending anyway? You believe this is the ideal resolution for these characters, and they go on as you last saw them with nothing else ever getting in their way? I know it’s not as simple as happily ever after. It could even be tragically ever after, but it still doesn’t mean their lives are over. They will still do more stuff.

Few filmmakers rule out sequels. The diplomatic position is “if we can think of another story worth telling.” However, Laika Animation CEO Travis Knight takes a hard line.

“We don’t want to repeat ourselves if we’ve told the story,” Knight told me at Comic-Con in 2014 while promoting The Boxtrolls. ”There won’t be a Coraline 2, there won’t be Paranorman 2, there won’t be a Boxtrolls 2. It’s because we want to tell new stories. Once we’ve told the story, and the story should be the pivotal moment of your character’s life, what’s part two? The other pivotal moment? The second most pivotal moment of the character’s life? Unless it’s a saga like Lord of the Rings or Hunger Games where it is a bigger story, I really think there’s few reasons to make a sequel other than to line your pocket. For us it’s really about making beautiful works of art.”

This is where Knight and I differ. There’s no one most pivotal moment in a person’s life. And the pivotal moments are not the only interesting stories to tell. Sometimes larks are worth exploring and sometimes other pivotal moments only reveal themselves when you start thinking about them. But his heart isn’t in it so he’s not the one who should be pursuing sequels.

freddysdeadIf you do value a certain end point, you always have the choice to stop right there. The viewer can end a story at whichever point they choose to. If they make a bunch more sequels you don’t like, you only need to recognize the ones that mater to you. Or never even watch the sequels after the point you believe the story ends. We’re talking about fiction here. It’s not documented history that has to be recognized. There’s canon, but that’s flexible too. Subsequent filmmakers may pick and choose from canon. So if you prefer to believe Jesse and Celine never saw each other again after Vienna, you can if that makes it a better story for you.

If a franchise manages to create that ever elusive sequel that’s superior to the original, some might say quit while you’re ahead. But there’s no “ahead” in storytelling. It’s not like gambling or investing, where bad decisions can set you back. For the audience, we only have to decide to watch a sequel or not, and if we do, the worst that can happen is we don’t like it. Studios may experience diminishing returns with sequels, but it’s up to them to figure out the finances. I’m talking about why we should welcome sequels as an audience.

I understand some people feel a lesser sequel sullies the predecessor, but it doesn’t to me.If you prefer trilogies or single stories, you have the advantage. No mater how many sequels they make, you can always choose to ignore them. But for people who like sequels, they have to make the sequels. We can’t enjoy the sequels that are never made, but you can always ignore the ones that are.

Conclusion (Not the Ending)

Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone in Creed

Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone in Creed

The good news is, I’ll never have to worry about franchises continuing. There will always be a studio looking into their vaults to see what they can bring back. Stallone brought back Rocky and Rambo long after he’d sworn them off. Even after Stallone was done, Ryan Coogler had the idea for Creed.

There are only a few I’ll really have to say goodbye to. The creators of Back to the Future are dead set against continuing that series in film. Stage musicals, sure, but no more movies. And the perfect opportunity with the real year 2015 has come and will soon be gone, so okay.

The world of franchises has fascinating nuances to explore. It’s getting further complicated by the existence of reboots and the phenomenon of debooting or unbooting (another Vern word!) after a remake. I’m happy to continue exploring the wonderful world of franchises in my writing and interviews. Now look out for part two of this Freditorial, because of course there’s a sequel. I’m Franchise Fred.

Franchise Fred Interview: David Spade on Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser

When I introduced David Spade and writer/director Fred Wolf to Franchise Fred, they weren’t quite sure what to make of me. I get it. The creators of Joe Dirt probably took a lot of heat over the years. When I got further into my sincere defense of sequels, Spade got it. “Now I know you weren’t being sarcastic,” he said.

Spade has been talking about Joe Dirt 2 for some time, but it became a reality now that Crackle, the streaming service of Sony Pictures, the producers of Joe Dirt, is airing the sequel. Joe Dirt 2 is available July 16 on Crackle. Find out what’s new for Joe Dirt in my exclusive interview with David Spade.

Franchise Fred: I mean it, I love sequels. I think there’s always more story to tell. How do you feel about the prospect?

David Spade: I like most sequels. You might like them more, but if I like something, I want it to keep going because it’s more fun. I want to see where they’re going to go with it. I think it was nice we had some time, because we did have a rough script a few years after the first one. We didn’t really know what to do. We were just like, “We should put something down.” Then the more feedback you get, the more time goes on, you sort of have to adjust it so nothing feels dated. Then we have new ideas, so once it got real, then we sat down, and we said this has to be thought out and not thrown together and crummy. It would be a disservice. So the people that like it, we want to do it for them.

David Spade as Joe Dirt in Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser on Crackle

David Spade as Joe Dirt in Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser on Crackle

If we catch trouble, because I made fun of Boyhood on Twitter. They’re like, “Oh, Joe Dirt’s so much better than Boyhood.” Well, no one’s saying that. Let’s not just state the obvious. 8 Heads in a Dufflebag isn’t The Godfather. You don’t have to list all my credits. I’m just making fun of the name Boyhood. I called it Borehood because it sounds long and boring. But the people that do like it, anything I do on Twitter or Instagram that’s relating to Joe Dirt gets more than anything else by three times. The first day at the shoot I put a picture up and I got picked up by The Daily Mail. We didn’t put it out. I just put it on my Instagram. I go, “Hey, day one, mullet, let’s go.” It was on Us Magazine, Daily Mail, all these blogs. It’s nice that they recognize it’s a little cult thing. I think [Joe Dirt 2]’s funnier but we have to edit it. That’s tricky too.

Franchise Fred: Wasn’t the original Joe Dirt a huge seller at Walmart?

David Spade: Yeah, Walmart and we were writing it because Walmart came to us a long time ago and said, “We would help finance it.” It all started with someone from Walmart saying to Sony, “Three years later it’s supposed to go down but we sell the same every month.” Usually a movie comes out and the next month [sales] go down but he said everyone just throws it in.

Franchise Fred: People are wearing out their Joe Dirt DVDs?

David Spade: Yeah, so that was really the first time we were like, “Oh, maybe we should do a sequel.” That was the first time we were like, “Wait, for real?” They said yeah and then they get the DVD sales and they go, “Oh my God, it’s killing and we might need another one of these.” We were going to go in with them. Then it got very complicated but I thought it was flattering.

Franchise Fred: Did Walmart end up not going in on Joe Dirt 2?

David Spade: No, because Sony I don’t think does that. Then Kid Rock offered to chip in. He goes, “If this was an album, you’d be making another one. I don’t know why you guys are so stupid, you’re not making another one.” I go, “It’s not up to me.” So it would percolate around and then I would do my show. Fred was writing the movies, so when Steve Mosko said it, I was like, “Okay, let’s make this real. Let’s focus and let’s actually do it.” That’s hard to get everyone rallied around.

Franchise Fred: In the time since Joe Dirt, has the sort of “redneck culture” exploded with Duck Dynasty and all the trucker shows?

David Spade: Oh yeah. It’s hard to make fun of it in the right way because we want to be respectful to that huge area of the south. When the movie came out, we were in third place and I came across the country. When I hit the south, it switched to first place. So they were like, “Oh my God, we’re first now.” Because it hit that pocket and everyone showed up. I’m the good guy, so it’s not all making fun of white trash guys. I mean, they do in the movie, but I’m proud of it. That’s why I think it’s nice because you get that audience that goes, “Yeah, you’ve got to be happy to have a Hemi and all the cool things.” Some of these other shows like Party Down South or Honey Boo-Boo, there’s a million of them. I think they just act like they’re all idiots, but I’m representing and trying to say, “No, we’re good guys.”

Franchise Fred: They’re popular though, so could that increase the appeal of Joe Dirt 2?

David Spade: I don’t know if it helps or it hurts. We’re trying not to do any jokes [at their expense]. That’s harder too because we did it 10 years ago. Then you could do any jokes about trucks or big tires. Now everything’s been covered so you have to think of new ways to keep it interesting and funny.

David Spade, Brittany Daniel and Mark McGrath in Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser on Crackle

David Spade, Brittany Daniel and Mark McGrath in Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser on Crackle

Franchise Fred: You’ve been thinking about it for a long time, but what did it actually feel like to see yourself in the Joe Dirt wig and costume again?

David Spade: It was actually really exciting. I had the guy that did the first one. We hired him, from the first movie. He didn’t make as much but he goes, “I’ve got to be part of Joe Dirt.” Even Dennis Miller, he goes, “You got a part for me? Because it’s the only reason my kids still talk to me. If I do this part, I can go to school” and they all love him for it. It’s a certain type of people see it and they don’t see him on the O’Reilly show. So that was nice and we made something for Dennis because of that.

Franchise Fred: Is he playing a different character?

David Spade: He’s playing Xander again from the first one. It was hard to figure that out because this movie is so different, so we have to figure ways. He’s part of sort of a Greek chorus that comments on the movie as it’s going. He’s great, so he came out. To get everyone to come to Louisiana is hard. When you’re in L.A. you get celebrity cameos. You get everyone to just go, “Oh, I’ll come in for the day.” You’ve got to fly them to the Holiday Inn Select in the outskirts of New Orleans. It’s not quite as appealing.

Franchise Fred: I enjoyed The Showbiz Show for two seasons. Why did that stop?

David Spade: I loved it. Part of it was I was getting frustrated with doing 12 episodes a year. It just wasn’t enough. You have to wait and do it again the year after. So I signed onto Rules of Engagement and was going to do both, and then it just got too complicated. I wanted a full time job. It’s too hard. We work March, April, May and that was it. Then you’ve got nine months off and I don’t want nine months off. I’m getting too old. So we switched to Rules of Engagement. I love Showbiz Show though. It’s hard to do now because Chelsea [Handler] came on The Showbiz Show and then she did a show like it. Not that she stole, there are just so many ways to do a show like that. She had a great show, but I don’t know what I would do. Just the same thing? I still think of all those jokes, believe me.

Franchise Fred: Would something like that work on Crackle or a streaming service?

David Spade: Yeah, that is very true. I can’t even X that out. I like and I hear nice things about The Showbiz Show so I appreciate that and I think it would work still.

Franchise Fred: It just makes sense to do a Daily Show type show just about entertainment, and you were already doing The Hollywood Minute. 

David Spade: Yeah, yeah, yeah. At least I have that market cornered a little bit.