Look What’s Happened to Rosemary’s Baby

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  • Year: 1976
  • Director: Sam O’Steen
  • Starring: Stephen McHattie, Ray Milland, Ruth Gordon

In 1968, Roman Polanski directed one of the greatest (if not the greatest) horror films of all time. Rosemary’s Baby doesn’t rely on cheap scares, but rather uses deep psychological torment and paranoia to make comments on social issues. Featuring fantastic performances by Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer, deeply unsettling music and imagery, and a terrifying whopper of an ending, why would anyone think they should follow it up?

In the film’s famous climax, Rosemary looks at her baby and is told it has Satan’s feet and eyes, and while she is obviously terrified, we never see its face. Producer William Castle, famous for his fun schlocky b-horror, wanted to show a terrifying image, but Polanski vetoed this. He knew that the audience’s imagination could make up something much more terrifying than any special effect. If you make a sequel focusing on her son, you have to show him.

So what’s he look like in his first scene?

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Oh great, just a normal kid. Maybe you could make the thin argument that Rosemary raising him has made him more “normal,” but it’s also clear that the cult still has an influence in his life. His eyes glow in one scene, and that’s even stupider than what you’re seeing here, but they could have at least gone all out with something.

Again, why would you make a sequel? It had been eight years since the original, and Ira Levin wouldn’t write a sequel himself until 1997 (and we do not talk about that one). It’s not like Roman Polanski had a new story to tell or Mia Farrow was dying to reprise her role. Well, you have to look at the air date of this television film—October 29, 1976. Just a few months earlier in July, The Omen was released. Staring Gregory Peck and Lee Remick, The Omen told the story of the Antichrist as young child named Damien Thorn. It was a smash hit, winning an Oscar for Best Original Score (in a fantastic movie year), and is considered a classic today. In a way, The Omen is a sort of spiritual successor to Rosemary’s Baby, so someone decided to quickly rush out a TV sequel to Rosemary’s Baby, regardless of what kind of integrity it went against.

Look What’s Happened is divided into three half-hour parts or “books,” making it kind of hard to sympathize or care about the new characters popping up. We start with “The Book of Rosemary,” picking up eight years after the first one left off. Rosemary is now played by Patty Duke, who auditioned for the role in the original film, and she does fine with what she’s given. Rosemary apparently still lives right next to the cult with her son Andrew (The cult insists on calling him Adrian after Roman Castevet’s father, so there’s a bit of a struggle).

For some reason, Rosemary decides that right now is the time to run away with Andrew. As to why she hasn’t done this before, we’re not given a reason. Anyway, the cult (who dress more modestly now because TV movie) try to locate her by placing her personal items on a board of mysticism (from Hasbro). The cult only locates her and Andrew by using his personal items, but at this point, the two have sought sanctuary in a synagogue.

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The next day, Guy Woodhouse (now played by George Maharis) gets a call from Roman Castevet (now played by Ray Milland). Guy is of course now a huge movie star, and although he’s still legally married to Rosemary, they live on different coasts. Even though the end of the first one made it seem like she would never speak to him again (and rightfully so), they’re still married? This completely goes against her character. Why couldn’t they have given her some agency and made her be divorced instead? The plot wouldn’t play out all that differently.

Ray Milland replaces Sidney Blackmer as Roman Castevet, and I’m really split on this casting. Milland is obviously a great actor (Dial M for MurderThe Lost Weekend), and he looks and sounds a good bit like Blackmer from the first. That said, there’s just something off. He’s playing it just a tad too over-the-top or cocky perhaps, but it’s hard to pin down. The writing doesn’t help either, as the original Roman didn’t show off his power, while this one kind of throws it around a bit. It makes him seem a bit less intelligent. Sure, this sounds like a minor thing, but it occurred to me every time he was on screen, so maybe it isn’t.

Rosemary has escaped on a bus, and Roman believes she will call Guy for help soon. Roman tells Guy he must do whatever she asks, which turns out to be sending $5,000 to 12 different cites, so no one is sure where she ends up. However, before Rosemary gets too far, Andrew/Adrian gets into a fight with some kids. Rosemary and Andrew quickly leave the scene, but a prostitute named Marjean (Tina Louise) claims that she saw the kids die. She promises to protect Rosemary and her son, and watches as Rosemary gets on a bus.

However, before Andrew/Adrian/Ambrose can get on the bus, the doors close and Rosemary is trapped. She starts hearing the cult chanting throughout, although there is no one on the bus and…NO DRIVER?

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OK, it’s not surprising at all that this evil bus has no driver. It just feels so out of place in a Rosemary’s Baby sequel. Let’s see how the characters died in the first Rosemary’s Baby:

  • Terry Gionoffrio: Corpse discovered after falling out of window. May have been suicide after discovering the cult’s plans, may have been murder.
  • Hutch: Dies from a coma brought about (presumably) by the cult putting a curse on him.

Now let’s see how some of the characters die in The Omen:

  • Damien’s Nanny: Hangs herself in front of a party crowd
  • Father Brennan: After running from a storm, gets impaled by a lightning rod.
  • Katherine Thorn: Pushed out of a top-floor hospital window, crashing through an ambulance.
  • Keith Jennings: Decapitated by a sheet of glass that falls off the back of a truck.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love both films. They both rank among my all-time favorite horror movies, as The Omen also has plenty of tense, subtly creepy moments. All I’m saying is which of these does a driver-less bus to hell bring to mind?

“The Book of Adrian” takes place twenty-ish years later in presumably the ’90s (that happen to resemble the ’70s quite a bit). Adrian (Stephen McHattie) is an adult who lives a pretty hedonistic lifestyle. He still lives at home with Marjean who now runs a casino and told him his parents died in a car accident, and Marjean and Adrian are awaiting his birthday where his Uncle Roman and Aunt Minnie will come visit.

In the opening scene of this portion, Adrian (now having dropped Andrew and any other names) is pulled over for speeding with his friend Peter Simon.

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PETER SIMON! Sorry, I need a moment.

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What have you done to it? What have you done to its subtlety?

What, did they cut the scenes where he is flown around by his pilot friend Pontius or goes on a date with Judy S. Cariot?

Anyway, Antichrist McAntichristyburg and his friend Peter Simon go to the bar where Adrian orders a Bloody Mary.

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WE GET IT!!

Minnie and Roman are planning to hold a ritual on Adrian’s birthday on which Satan will enter him and usher in his new era. However, they worry that Adrian hasn’t done enough evil to be ready. At one point, he gets in a fight with some bikers to show he’s becoming more evil, I guess.

Minnie and Roman knock Adrian out with a laced drink and prepare him for the ritual with what seems to be mime makeup.

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Guy is also there for some reason. Apparently Minnie and Roman want Adrian to learn who his real step-father was. It’s confusing.

At first, it seems like the ritual fails and Roman and Minnie encourage Guy to kill Adrian to harvest his organs or something… it’s really confusing now. However, Adrian soon rises up, apparently possessed by Satan. So how does he spread the Devil to the world? By dancing to rock music. Seriously.

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Who wrote this thing? JIMMY SWAGGART?

Guy gets stopped by Peter Simon on the way out, and they get into a fight. Peter cuts off his ear… OK no I’m kidding, but I was honestly expecting it at this point. In another death out of The Omen, Guy kills Peter with a power cord.

In “The Book of Andrew,” Adrian/Andrew/Whatever his name is now wakes up in a hospital, apparently believed to have killed his friend Peter Simon. In this scene we find out that he has been living under the name Adrian Dorn.

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How close can we get to Damien Thorn without being sued?

He’s apparently completely unpossessed now, and he falls for a nurse (Donna Mills) who helps him escape. Meanwhile, Guy worries that Andrew might want to kill him, and when he asks Minnie and Roman for help, they turn their backs on him and leave Hollywood. Apparently, Minnie wanted to meet Charlton Heston first, which is kind of bizarre knowing his own religious beliefs. Maybe she wanted to tell him that even Satan thought he was laying the NRA stuff on too thick.

The nurse gives Andrew a drink that knocks him out, because apparently he’s still trusting on this kind of thing. She too is a member of the cult, and she rapes him so she can create the new Antichrist. Roman and Minnie are really making this up as they go along, aren’t they? Even though every detail in the first was meticulously planned, they’re now like “Oh yeah that didn’t work. Moving on…” What, are they in league with Winterbolt now instead of Satan?

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This time, the mother and father will be a puppet?

I wish they were, because it would at least make this movie interesting. Guy gets drunk and chases down Andrew, but instead hits Ellen, causing Andrew to run off and leave the movie.

In the final scene, Roman and Minnie see that Ellen is giving birth to the new Antichrist, and Roman calls it a “resurrection,” putting us exactly back where we were, just with uninteresting characters and undoing everything that made the first great. Also, that’s not what a resurrection is, but that’s beside the point.

I really don’t understand why this movie is the way it is, barring the total cash-in on The Omen. Why does the cult suddenly have people of all ages and races? If the cult had young women, they wouldn’t have had problems finding a young woman to impregnate in the first! It was much creepier when it was a bunch of old people in an old apartment building (even if they were connected to a greater network).

It’s never as painfully boring as High Noon II, but it angers me way more. If you wanted to make an interesting sequel, you should never have shown the Antichrist at all, but rather Minnie and Roman trying to set things in place for his rise. You got Ruth Gordon back, and Ray Milland is in the movie. Make them worth it! Stephen McHattie is not good, and his character should have been left in the shadows anyway.

What’s with the exploitative title? Were they planning on calling it O-man, Look What’s Happened to Rosemary’s Baby? Why do characters age 20 years but look the exact same? How are Minnie and Roman still alive 20 years later? Why do they still think Guy needs to be a part of the happenings when he was just Adrian/Andrew’s step-father? Why do they refer to the year Adrian gets possessed as the Year One, when they called the year he was born (1966, because 66) that in the original? There is not one scary or tense moment, which is great for a follow-up to one of the scariest and tensest films ever made. Worst of all, it’s divided into three separate chapters, so even if something remotely interesting is about to happen, it ends and suddenly we’re on to the next one.

Story (6/30 Points)

The middle portion almost has a few interesting moments, but getting possessed by rock music ruins it.

Returning Characters (4/15 Points)

Ruth Gordon returns as Minnie, but she doesn’t add that much. I want to like Ray Milland as Roman, but there’s just something off, and the characterization of Guy Woodhouse is a bit weird. Patty Duke is perfectly fine as Rosemary in the opening third, but Stephen McHattie is just dull.

New Characters (3/15 Points)

PETER SIMON.

OK, moving on. There is not one memorable new character here. Broderick Crawford cameos. Why? I don’t know. He does for some reason. No one ruins it, I guess, because there’s so little to ruin.

Experience (4/20 Points)

It’s not scary. There are a few moments that border on atmospheric, perhaps because director Sam O’Steen was the editor of the original and other great films like Chinatown, but since it’s a TV movie, he’s really limited here.

Originality (5/20 Points)

Well it’s not Rosemary’s Baby again—it’s just The Omen instead. There’s even a moment where they use a knock-off version of Jerry Goldsmith’s score from the original.

FINAL SCORE: 22%

It’s two points better than High Noon II, because I wasn’t bored for every minute of the thing. The middle act could have been interesting if it was actually allowed to be scary, and it would have been interesting to see where Rosemary is a few years later if they actually wrote it believably. This was rushed out for Halloween and it shows.

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Shock Treatment

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  • Year: 1981
  • Director: Jim Sharman
  • Starring: Jessica Harper, Cliff De Young, Richard O’Brien

Most of the sequels I have chosen for this list are follow-ups to universally-loved films, films you will see near the top of almost every Greatest Movies list. I wanted to include the sequel to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, because while Rocky Horror is not a movie on the caliber of the others here, it’s unquestionably the biggest cult film of all time. I mean, there’s no competition. Rocky Horror has had midnight showings consistently since its release in 1975, meaning it technically has the longest-running theatrical release in history.

As for me personally, I’ve seen Rocky Horror and enjoyed it. I don’t plan on dedicating my whole life to it like so many fans do, but I completely get the appeal. It’s goofy, campy, overblown and has great music. So what would a sequel to the biggest cult film of all time look like? Would it pander excessively to its own base? Or it would it try to spread out and reach a wider audience?

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Writer and actor Richard O’Brien originally claimed that Shock Treatment was not a sequel or a prequel, but rather an “equal,” which I find a bit odd. It doesn’t feature all of the same characters, but since Brad and Janet are still the main characters, wouldn’t that make it a sequel? O’Brien seems to have mixed feelings about the thing today, though, since he has more recently referred to the film as an “abortion.”

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You make the joke this time.

The characters of Brad and Janet return, although they’re played by different actors, and actors Richard O’Brien, Patricia Quinn, Nell Campbell and Charles Gray return, although they’re playing different characters. Confused yet? Tim Curry sadly does not return, which some have said is due to him doubting whether he could do an American accent (Anyone who’s seen him try one will concede his doubts were fair). Meat Loaf is also absent, but this was probably just so he could show up in a third film and the audience could shout “Two out of three ain’t bad.”

A few years after the events of the first film, Brad Majors (Cliff De Young) and his wife Janet (Jessica Harper) are still living in the town of Denton, Ohio. However, Denton has now been converted entirely into an enormous television studio, run by the fast food mogul Farley Flavors (De Young in a double role). Everyone is either a character on a show, or is in the studio audience. The opening song “Denton USA” shows the sort of brainwashed, ’50s town this has turned into, and it sounds like a mix of a commercial for an amusement park and a game show theme.

A commercial shows a teacher going over the Five F’s of Denton with her students—Farley, Flavors, Fabulous, Fast and Food—revealing a logo that gave me a pretty good laugh.

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Brad and Janet are selected to be contestants on the game show Marriage Maze, hosted by the blind German Bert Schnick (Barry Humphries), who’s sort of like if Dr. Strangelove entered The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

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Brad and Janet have been having marriage issues, because he’s too boring and dorky (It’s played up a bit more than the original film), so the Marriage Maze decides he gets to live in the medical soap opera Dentonvale for a week, where he will receive psychiatric treatment. Janet thinks this might be a bit extreme, but Schnick insists it is the only way.

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When shown the prizes they can win on Marriage Maze, Brad and Janet start singing to them about how modern technology is ruining their lives in “Bitchin’ in the Kitchen.” Here’s the wonderful thing about a Rocky Horror sequel—You could literally put anything on the screen, and it won’t be too weird. Beyond the general weirdness, it’s just a great song. I applaud anyone who can sing “Oh toothpaste, don’t you put the squeeze on me” or refer to as an alarm clock as a “micro digital awaker” with a straight face, and Jessica Harper does it fabulously. She really has the perfect voice for the kind of pop rock music in this film, and even though this is probably going to get me killed, I far prefer her performance as Janet to Susan Sarandon’s in the original.

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Susan Sarandon is a great actress, but Brad and Janet in the original were just the normal people surrounded by all the weirdness. Here, they serve similar roles, but they are far more jaded than they were before. Her character is a bit more interesting on paper, but it’s really Jessica Harper’s performance that makes her the best character in the thing. She has a such a powerful presence, helped along by her equally powerful singing voice, and she completely steals the show.

Brad is checked into Dentonvale Hospital, run by brother-and-sister Cosmo McKinley (Richard O’Brien) and Nation McKinley (Patricia Quinn). They encourage Janet to sign a contract regarding his stay, and she says she’ll sign tomorrow.

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Janet then sings the touching ballad “In My Own Way,” which can easily be enjoyed outside the context of the film.

Meanwhile, Janet’s parents are quizzed about Brad’s family, where it’s revealed he was adopted. As a prize, they get to live in a dream house on Happy Homes for a week. While on the show, Janet’s father (Manning Redwood) sings an ode to his patriarchal views in “Thank God I’m a Man,” a Johnny Cash-esque growler that also samples the “Hallelujah Chorus” for over-dramatic effect.

Meanwhile, Janet is being groomed to be a model and the face of Farley’s upcoming show Faith Factory, on which he claims sanity will be restored. “Farley’s Song” is an overblown villain song, and while it’s obvious (painfully obvious) that it was written for Tim Curry, Cliff De Young does a good job with it. He definitely plays Flavors with just the right amount of smarminess.

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While Janet is preparing to become Miss Mental Health, we discover that Schnick is actually not blind at all, as he peeps at her in the shower. Unsurprisingly, Schnick and the McKinleys are in on Flavors’ evil plan to take over Denton and force them all to get his shock therapy.

Janet is fitted for a little black dress, and in a song appropriately titled “Little Black Dress,” Richard O’Brien tries to do the “Time Warp” again. Look, it bothered me for about half-a-second that they’re trying to basically do the same song, because once the song started, I was totally into it. It’s almost self-parody, seeing as how the song even has ridiculously simple instructional lyrics (“Well first you go rip rip rip/Then you go snip snip snip”), but even if I should care, I don’t. Jessica Harper has such a strong voice, and everyone is clearly having a blast in this scene.

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In a subplot, Judge Oliver Wright (Charles Gray) and Brad and Janet’s friend Betty (Ruby Wax) are investigating Farley Flavors and company. Betty was the one getting was married in the opening scene of the original, and her now ex-husband Ralph (Jeremy Newson) is the only returning character played by the same actor. Oliver and Betty soon discover that Cosmo and Nation McKinley are merely character actors and not doctors, and that Farley Flavors is actually Brad’s twin brother, separated at birth. He’s jealous that Brad has a good life while he’s had it tough, so he plans to bring down Brad, steal his wife, and corrupt the whole town as revenge.

This could have been really funny, since it’s playing with a ridiculously cliched twist, but the subplot to unveil it is just boring. Charles Gray and Ruby Wax really don’t add much at all to the film, and even though the place these scenes are headed is important, it feels like filler.

Meanwhile, Janet’s star is on the rise and she is growing increasingly vain. Her ode to vanity, “Me of Me” is the most ’80’s song in the film, but it is still quite good and fits in with the rest of the soundtrack. Brad is serenaded about the wonders of shock treatment in the irresistibly fun title song, which even features a lyric about being blinded by science a year before Thomas Dolby would sing about it.

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The hospital staff sings and dances to the enjoyable “Look What I Did to My Id,” even though it’s entirely irrelevant to the plot. As Faith Factorbegins, a live band plays the rocker “Breaking Out,” which, again, could have been a hit outside the context of the film.

Janet is promised a new car if she agrees to be the spokesperson for Flavors’ new wave of sanity, but Betty and Oliver break Brad out and bring him on stage. Janet sees the error of her ways, and since she never signed the hospital contract, Brad has to be let go. For a minute, everyone stars inexplicably speaking in rhyme, and while it comes out of nowhere, the forced rhymes are somewhat enjoyable (“choose her”/”you sir”). Brad confronts his own twin in “Duel Duet,” and I have to hand it to Cliff De Young here. Flavor and Frad have different appearances, mannerisms and singing styles, and it’s a very well done song.

due

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Although they both sing to the other that “The best thing you could ever do is die,” neither one actually kills the other. Flavors has Brad, Janet, Betty and Oliver held at gunpoint to be taken to prison, while he convinces the entire audience to get his shock treatment. However, Brad easily distracts the guard, who gleefully goes to get shock treatment himself. The four now have the studio to themselves and sing the ridiculously cheery closing number “Anyhow, Anyhow,” while dancing around the empty audience seats.

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During this song, we get a brief reprise of “Denton” from the crowd of patients awaiting their shock therapy, and it fits in wonderfully. It turns out the band from earlier had been hiding in the car the whole time, so they all pack in (and on) the car and drive away from Denton for good.

Ultimately, I’m pretty conflicted in regards to Shock Treatment. One one hand, the plot’s just boring. For being a sequel to a total mindscrew of a film, it’s pretty straightforward. It’s goofy, sure, but nowhere near as wacky as Rocky Horror. I kind of wish it had gone full-blown in its weird vision.

On the other hand, the music is fantastic. Every song is good, and many of them are great. The soundtrack is at least as good as the original, and I think I may like it better. Songs like “Bitchin’ in the Kitchen,” “Little Black Dress” and “Shock Treatment” are just so catchy, and Jessica Harper is a phenomenal singer. I have to admit it’s easy to zone out when songs aren’t being sung, so thankfully there’s a lot of them.

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BUT IT’S SATIRE!

Oh what’s that, internet commenter?

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It’s satire and you just don’t get it!

Of course it’s satire. It’s just not good satire.

Alright, soapbox time. Sometimes, movie fans will get up in arms when someone doesn’t like a movie that’s one of their favorites. Many seem to think that using the “This is satire” argument universally means it’s a good film that the reviewer just doesn’t understand. Satire is simply making a comedic statement on the current state of affairs, so it can be done well, and it can be done poorly. There are plenty of films that satirize our obsession with television, and some are good like Network and The Truman Show, while others are EdTV. Simply making satire doesn’t mean it will be great. Could you argue this film predicted the rise of reality television? Sure, but so did a lot of films. It’s not like this film was the only one to ever have that kind of idea. It’s not done terribly, but it’s just not done particularly well.

Let’s get to the final score.

Story (9/30 Points)

The sadistic game show is an interesting premise, and this plot could have worked. Sadly, it’s boring and far too sane to be a Rocky Horror follow-up.

Returning Characters (11/15 Points)

Jessica Harper is incredibly charismatic as Janet Majors, making her a far more interesting character than she was before. Brad is locked up most of the film, and while they make him a bit too stereotypically nerdy, he’s still somewhat likable. The returning characters of Betty and Ralph don’t stand out even a little bit.

New Characters (8/15 Points)

Barry Humphries goes all-in as bizarre game show host Bert Schnick, and Cliff De Young gives a convincing dual performance as Farley Flavors. Richard O’Brien is rightfully creepy as Dr. McKinley, and Patricia Quinn and Nell Campbell are having fun, but there are a lot of side characters who don’t add much. The lack of Tim Curry is felt.

Experience (16/20 Points)

I love the songs, all of them. After watching this once, they’ll be stuck in your head for a while, and that’s a good thing. Any time the story was getting boring, a great song would start up and I’d be invested again. However, the sets are pretty boring due to a small budget, and it shows.

Originality (9/20 Points)

Better television satires have been done, and it doesn’t even play with its own ridiculous “evil twin” plot. They really could have had some fun with that, but it’s basically played straight. However, it’s not just being Rocky Horror again, so I’ll give it that.

FINAL SCORE: 53%

As I said above, I’m not a die-hard Rocky Horror fan, but I had some fun with this film. The story is pretty dull, but the songs are so much fun that they somewhat make up for it. Unlike many sequels in this series, I am at least glad it exists, and while I may not feel the need to watch it again any time soon, I will definitely be listening to the soundtrack some more. With songs this good and a performance as good as the one Jessica Harper gives, this is by no means the “abortion” Richard O’Brien made it out to be (The only thing not carried to term is Charles Gray’s American accent). It will never have the following the original does, but it’s fairly enjoyable on its own terms. If you want to watch it, it will be worth your time. If not, please at least listen to the soundtrack.

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The Two Jakes

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  • Year: 1990
  • Director: Jack Nicholson
  • Starring: Jack Nicholson, Harvey Keitel, Meg Tilly

Oh 1990, the year when the two greatest films of 1974 both got sequels. However, while we are still talking about The Godfather Part III to this day (not usually for good reasons), The Two Jakes has fallen off the radar a bit. Many people’s reactions are along the lines of “There’s a sequel to Chinatown?” So why has it been somewhat forgotten?

Well, for one, it’s not called Chinatown II. Since the Los Angeles Chinatown isn’t relevant plot-wise or even thematically, calling it Chinatown II would be like Troll 2 (which features no trolls except the screenwriter) or Taken 3 (where nothing or no one gets taken, barring the audience’s suspension of disbelief). In addition to the artistic integrity in giving the film an entirely different title, we have Jack Nicholson reprising a role. He’s only done this twice, and not only was this his first time doing it, it remains the only time he’s reprised a leading role. J.J. “Jake” Gittes is obviously a character he cares about.

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Interestingly, screenwriter Robert Towne envisioned Chinatown as a trilogy viewed from the perspective of Gittes, but ultimately being about the development of Los Angeles. The first is about water, The Two Jakes is about oil, and the third which would have involved either land or transportation (reports vary). After a long and stressful development process, writer and director Robert Towne left production of The Two Jakes and Nicholson himself took over.

Because of this long production process, The Two Jakes is set in 1948, eleven years after the original, but was made sixteen years after the original. Los Angeles is enjoying the post-war boom, and Jake Gittes (Nicholson) is doing his best to enjoy his own personal success. He now runs Gittes Investigations, a two-story upgrade from his small office in the first. He has a membership at the local country club, he’s engaged, and he’s clearly put on some weight since the events of the first.

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Gittes has been hired by Julius “Jake” Berman (Harvey Keitel) to follow his wife to verify that she’s cheating on him. Gittes helps set Berman up for confronting his wife Kitty (Meg Tilly) in the middle of her afternoon tryst. Gittes listens and records from a neighboring hotel room as Berman confronts his wife and proceeds to murder her lover. He runs in, but it’s too late and Berman is taken in for the murder.

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Matters are complicated a bit, when it is revealed that the man Berman murdered was his own real estate business partner, Mark Bodine, who we learn had been blackmailing him. Gittes didn’t know this, but it doesn’t look good, as it appears he could have helped pre-meditate the murder. More complications come to light when Gittes listens to the wire recording and hears Bodine and Kitty discussing Katherine Mulwray, the daughter of Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway’s character in the original). Since the events of the first, Gittes obviously feels responsible for Katherine’s safety, although he is not sure where exactly she has gotten to. He knows she has escaped the clutches of her now-dead incestuous father/grandfather Noah Cross, but he’s lost track after that.

The ending of Chinatown is such a gut-punch that it could be very easy to do a sequel wrong. There’s obviously a temptation to show that Katherine got to a better place almost immediately, but that would undo the nihilism that the ending of the first brought about. Jake Gittes blames himself for the events of the first, and even as the years have gone by, his anger and disappointment have not gone away. Nothing really makes him happy, successful as he may be. Honestly, this is exactly where this character would be eleven years later. It’s a totally believable character development, which puts The Two Jakes off to a promising start.

Gittes comes across a huge cast of new characters including Berman’s lawyer Cotton Weinberger (Eli Wallach), his mob connection Michael “Mickey Nice” Weisskopf (Ruben Blades), Bodine’s widow Lillian (Madeline Stowe) and her lawyer Chuck Newty (Frederic Forest). Everyone wants the wire recording of the confrontation, and they all have their ways of trying to get it. Lillian seduces Gittes, and while he accepts her advances, he still doesn’t let her have the recording. It’s a bit of a shame to see such a standard femme fatale character here, while the original went to hell-and-back to deconstruct that archetype. Madeline Stowe is a fantastic actress, and she still manages to be memorable, but this is a bit of a misstep writing-wise.

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In addition, Gittes still has to deal with his past in the form of some returning characters. Perry Lopez reprises his role as police captain Lou Escobar, who lost a leg in the war and has a slightly better working relationship with Gittes than he did in the first, although they still don’t particularly care for each other. Also working with the police is the younger Detective Loach (David Keith), the son of Loach from the first film. The senior Loach didn’t exactly have a large role in Chinatown, but he was the one who shot the fatal bullet at Evelyn Mulwray. In a tense scene, Jake shoves his gun down Loach’s throat after he makes some incest jokes about Noah Cross. What’s interesting here is that Loach’s connection to the first film is his major role in this one, but someone who only saw Chinatown once in 1974 probably won’t remember the senior Loach. Since Chinatown is one of my favorite films of all time, I’ve seen it over-and-over and made the connection here, but I’m a little split on having the son of such a minor character being integral to Jake’s arc. On one hand, the film respects its audience by not explaining who Loach was. On the other, even someone who likes the film might not remember that was his name.

Gittes’ associate Lawrence Walsh (Joe Mantell) is still working for him as well, and we feel the close working relationship between the men in their scenes. Walsh was of course the one who uttered the famous “Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown” line at the end of the first. For some reason, there’s one other character who returns, and it’s the smug “This is not a lending library” guy (Allan Warnick) from the hall of records. Again, he only appears in one scene, now as a notary who’s had his teeth kicked in by Mickey Nice for giving out too much information. I suppose this is karmic punishment for him being a pain to Gittes in the first film? The only thing is he never is given a name in the first film, so instead of feeling like a role reprisal, it will probably just leave viewers wondering if this was supposed to be the same guy or not.

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You’ll note that most of my issues with this film are nitpicks, because there honestly aren’t any major problems with The Two Jakes. It occasionally drags, especially in the middle parts as it just feels like character-after-character wanting the wire recording, but we never lose interest. It’s not the perfect, tense and building slow burn of the first film, but it’s quite good.

Clues keep pointing to the oil business of Earl Rawley (Richard Farnsworth), who Gittes believes is drilling under the new homes that Jake Berman is building. Cigarette lighters have his business logo on them, and worst of all, Gittes suffered a head injury when he lit a cigarette at Berman’s housing community, which led to an explosion. This character obviously resembles Noah Cross (John Huston) in the first, but only in his business life. Rawley is in fact drilling under the homes, but we have no hints he is the depraved rapist that Cross was. It’s interesting that both Cross and Rawley refer to Gittes by a name no one else does. Cross constantly referred to him as “Mr. Gitts,” even when corrected, to assert dominance and make Gittes feel small and worthless. Rawley refers to him as John (Presumably what one of the J’s stands for), but it’s in hopes of creating a phony sense of friendship with him. Also, while he appears in a few other scenes, Rawley really only has the one big scene with Gittes. He’s dishonest with him about the drilling, Gittes sees right through it, and that’s all the more he needs to know.

The closest thing I have to a major issue with the film (and it’s still not a deal breaker) is the reveal of Katherine Mulwray. We know she has a part to play somehow, but the clues really aren’t that subtle. Here’s a reminder of what a young Katherine looked like in the first film.

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And here is our first real look at Jake Berman’s wife Kitty.

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Obviously, they want her to look like the actress from the original, because it’s the same character. Of course the look will be similar, but I wish it wasn’t so obvious that they were trying to hide her face in her early appearances, plus the fact that her name is Kitty, short for Katherine. Wouldn’t it be interesting if this wasn’t Katherine Mulwray, but Gittes kept seeing her in every case duet to his PTSD? I understand that would be an entirely different movie, but it would have been a unique way to go. However, if that’s my biggest issue with The Two Jakes, it’s on a good track. Meg Tilly is phenomenal in the role, playing someone who is both a child of incest and a victim herself. We do believe this is the same character, which is great once the “mystery” is revealed.

Bizarrely, the film also constantly hides the face of Gittes’ fiancee Linda until she breaks things off with him. I think the film is trying to tease the fact that maybe he’s engaged to Katherine Mulwray, but anyone who knows the character knows he would never do this. It’s a strange stylistic choice that wasn’t really necessary.

Up until the final scenes, The Two Jakes is a good film, but the final scenes really elevate it. Gittes discovers that Berman is dying of cancer and organized the whole scheme to protect Katherine after his death. Katherine knew nothing of the illness, a fact Gittes learns from their honest conversations. Having promised to always protect Katherine, Gittes alters the wire recording so it shows no evidence of murder or of the involvement of Katherine Mulwray, and the case is thrown out due to lack of evidence.

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It is here where we start to see that the titular two Jakes really are reflections of each other. Sure, there are comparisons made in the opening scenes, but we’re unsure if they are authentic, or it’s just Jake Berman trying to force a connection with Gittes. Now we know that both Jakes feel they have to protect Katherine Mulwray, even if they have different ways of going about it. Berman will do anything it takes, even murder, to make sure she is safe. Gittes tried to protect the Mulwrays legally in Chinatown, only to find out he couldn’t, so here he, at first reluctantly, tampers with evidence to make sure Katherine is protected. Again, I applaud the filmmakers for not calling this film Chinatown II, because The Two Jakes really is a perfect title.

The final scene between the two Jakes is not only the best scene in the film, but it’s the closest this film comes to the perfection of the first. Berman reveals that he hid the disease from his wife, even sleeping in a different bed, which drove her into the arms of his business associate, who was also unaware of the disease. Mark Bodine’s blackmailing was only ever about the identity of Katherine Mulwray. Murder was the only way Berman would have assured Katherine’s money and identity were protected. Harvey Keitel’s breakdown in this scene is truly something to behold, transforming the murderer into a layered, sympathetic character in a matter of minutes. It’s some of Keitel’s best work. However, we still see that Berman isn’t entirely sympathetic, when he reveals that he also was happy to kill Bodine for sleeping with his wife. He’s a complex and caring character, yes, but he is still a villain.

The oil starts flowing into the model home due to an earthquake, and Berman insists that Gittes and Mickey Nice (who now doesn’t seem all that threatening) leave. He says he’ll stay and “have a smoke,” knowing an autopsy would begin to uncover the whole plot. Mickey and Gittes get out, leaving Berman to blow up in the home and the scheme to stay under wraps.

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The film’s epilogue is uncomfortable, to say the least. At Gittes’ office, Katherine is played a recording of Berman explaining what happened. She asks Gittes if the past ever goes away, and he says she’ll have to work on it. She kisses him, but he stops her twice. On first viewing, I thought my discomfort with this scene was a sign of poor writing, but I was wrong. Katherine is a victim of years of incest, and we are supposed to be incredibly uncomfortable with her making this move on Gittes. If he had responded to it with any hint of wanting it, it would ruin the movie, but the fact that he tells her she doesn’t know what she wants, while still caring for her, makes it work. Both Chinatown films end on extreme feelings of discomfort, and in both cases, that’s the intended feeling. As Katherine leaves and tells Gittes to think of her “from time to time,” Jake tells her “It never goes away.” It perhaps is trying a bit too hard to replicate the punch of “Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown,” but it’s still a relatively poignant ending.

The Two Jakes has a convoluted plot, and I didn’t even get to all the side characters and minor subplots. It’s perhaps a little too convoluted, but with the conclusion it leads to, so be it. It’s not the flawless screenplay of the first, but if you can put that aside, there is a lot to glean from The Two Jakes. In addition to the fantastic performances and smart writing, the cinematography is absolutely gorgeous. Like the first film (and unlike most classic noirs), the gorgeous Californian scenery is conflicted with the dark and gritty subject matter. The music doesn’t stand out as much as Jerry Goldsmith’s classic score, but Van Dyke Parks does a good job at creating a mellow and moody score that complements the scenes nicely. If you like Chinatown, give The Two Jakes a watch, or even better, give it the two watches it deserves to truly get what it’s going for. Let’s check out the final score.

Story (22/30 Points)

There are flaws along the way, but it leads to an amazing conclusion. It’s a film that cares about its plot points and its characters.

Returning Characters (13/15 Points)

Nicholson returns to the role of Gittes, and we believe we’re watching the same character eleven years later. He doesn’t ham it up or do a lot of the typical Nicholson-isms (love them as we may). There are occasional moments where he might be a bit too Jack, but again, these are nitpicks. Meg Tilly’s performance as Katherine Mulwray is brilliantly tragic, and it’s nice to see Walsh return. I also love seeing the Escobar character come back, as we’d wonder where the relationship between he and Gittes is now.

New Characters (9/15 Points)

Harvey Keitel is the stand-out as Jake Berman, but there are a few too many new characters that do too little. It’s a bummer to see such a standard femme fatale in the character of Lillian Bodine, but at least she doesn’t factor too much into the film. The film manages to mostly waste Madeline Stowe, Frederic Forest and Eli Wallach, which is a shame.

Experience (17/20 Points)

It’s a beautiful film to look at, in both the day and night scenes. It’s influenced by the first without trying to copy it. The music is fine, but it doesn’t leave the impression the original did.

Originality (18/20 Points)

It tells a new story, while keeping the themes of the original. The characters have developed to a believable place, and the film never feels like it’s trying to capitalize on the first one to make more money.

FINAL SCORE: 79%

Ultimately, I quite like The Two Jakes. However, if Chinatown isn’t a film you’ve watched and re-watched, it probably won’t be your thing. It has a fairly narrow target audience. It’s just one I happen to be in.

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Happily Ever After

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  • Year: 1990
  • Director: John Howley
  • Starring: Irene Cara, Malcolm McDowell, Ed Asner

Sometimes you come across a sequel so bizarre, the idea of which is so beyond the realm of comprehension, that the only thing you can think to ask is what were they thinking? Today’s film is one of those. That’s why it’s time to play the all-new game show…

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Today’s contestant is an animation studio that was born in 1962, famous for works such as Fat Albert and the Cosby KidsHe-Man and the Masters of the Universe, and so much more. Would you please welcome Filmation studios?

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Now, Filmation released their first theatrical film Journey Back to Oz (another Oz sequel, because public domain) in 1974, but today we will be talking exclusively about their 1990 sequel to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs entitled Happily Ever After. If Filmation can get through four rounds of questions regarding this film, they will get to play the bonus round where they can spin our wheel for some wonderful prizes! Let’s begin with ROUND 1 of What Were THEY Thinking? This round involves production.

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Three of Filmation’s theatrical releases were sequels to classic films, two of them Disney classics. Happily Ever After picks up right after Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, showing what happened after their happy ending… even though it’s not really a happy ending if there’s more conflict immediately. Filmation believed that Happily Ever After would be “one of the biggest hits of the year,” (yes that’s a direct quote) and that leads us to our first question. Sometimes, when films bomb at the box office, the marketing team decides that perhaps the title is to blame…

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Yes, seriously, three of these are alternate titles. It’s like K. Gordon Murray produced this film. The first one obviously was a real title, and I guess I can forgive the “Land of Doom” title, as I suppose there is technically a land of doom in this film However, it’s just the area surrounding the castle, even though no one had any issue coming or going in the first film. Believe it or not, this film at one point dared to call itself Snow White’s Greatest Adventure. It’s basically just shouting at the audience: THIS ONE IS BETTER! Even though the title would be accurate, the film never did call itself Snow White and the Prince Ride Again.

Who knows? Maybe this film will be original and entirely void of cliches. Yeah right.

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That’s right! It’s all of the above. This movie features Dom Deluise, Phyllis Diller, Carol Channing, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Ed Asner… and they’re all wasted. The Magic Mirror had a booming voice in the Disney film, but Dom Deluise makes him sound like a bored Alec Baldwin. The others all play memorable characters, but not in a good way, and trust me, we’ll get there.

In the first scene of the film, the Evil Queen’s minions are all celebrating because she’s dead, and their party involves throwing pies at each other.

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How little do you trust your own audience to stay invested? Oh we’re two minutes in, I bet those kids are falling asleep already. I think it’s time to throw a pie at someone!

Soon their party is interrupted by the most annoying sequel cliche of all—The brother of the villain from the first film is in town, and he wants revenge.

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Meet Lord Maliss, the Evil Queen’s even-more-obviously-evil brother. Seriously? A wispy mustache, a cape and a widow’s peak? He should just wear a shirt saying “Hello, I’m the villain.” Also, what’s with the spelling? Obviously his name sounds just like “malice,” but since we never see it in writing, what’s the point of having the official spelling be any different? Maliss just comes in and decides the castle is his, because royal lineage doesn’t really matter in a kids’ film. Most surprisingly of all, he’s voiced by Malcolm McDowell! That leads to our next question…

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Well he had just been through his divorce with Mary Steenburgen, so who knows? Nicolas Cage wasn’t doing his every-movie-offered-to-me-thing yet in 1990, so I hate to suggest that it might be the final option. We’ll leave this one open-ended, so everyone can make their own minds up. (Hint: I’m pretty sure it’s the fourth option. I mean, look at his full filmography sometime.)

That said, McDowell does manage to create a somewhat memorable performance. The guy must have broken his voice playing this character. He’s so over-the-top that I’m not sure if it’s technically a good performance, but it’s definitely enjoyable.

We’ve made it through round 1. Round 2 is called Phone-a-Friend… oh no we can’t do that? OK Round 2 is called Call-Up-A-Disgruntled-Co-Star.

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All of the questions in this round will involve the bizarre and ultimately-pretty-pointless character Scowl the Owl, voiced by Ed Asner.

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Scowl is an ineffective minion who is constantly obsessed with being bad, and his assistant Batso (Frank Welker) is constantly confused as to whether he wants to be good at being bad or bad at being bad. It’s really not funny.

Let’s get Ed on the line now.

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Alright, here comes the first question involving Scowl the Owl.

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Once Lord Maliss arrives, turns into a dragon and flies out of the castle, some music begins. It seems like just background music, and then a drum beat kicks in. I wondered what the point of this all was as Scowl choked on his cigar smoke, but then, out of nowhere, he started rapping. I was so flabbergasted that I couldn’t even laugh. It is just so random. Who thought this was a good idea? You’re making a sequel to one of the most timeless and beloved films ever, and you immediately date it by having a character rap! The song is also just about how bad he is and how it’s no fun to be good. Most of the lines are tepid and uninspired, but that leads me to the next question.

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Ugh does it even matter? The fact that any of these features in the lyrics means that the movie is over before it starts. We STILL haven’t met Snow White at this point, outside of hearing about her from the Magic Mirror. Apparently it’s more important to have a rap number about a minion “being bad” in the first ten minutes than it is to actually meet our main character. As much as I hate to say it, it’s the “Dirty Birdy” line. Yes, someone wrote that.

For the whole film, Scowl just fails over-and-over at being evil, until the very end where he begins working for the good guys, leading me to the final question of the round.

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After his cigar is taken away, Scowl is sad for a split-second, before celebrating the fact that he can now breathe fresh air and smell. Really Filmation? Really? An Anti-Smoking PSA in a Snow White film? Even worse, that’s all his scenes added up to.

Alright Filmation, you’ve painfully made it through two rounds, but we still have two to go before you can play the bonus. Let’s move onto Round 3.

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This round is the 50:50 round, where we talk about all the times the film’s budget was cut in half.

After the miserable rap number, we finally meet Snow White (Irene Cara) and the Prince (Michael Horton). The design of the returning characters in this film (there are only three) leads me to my first question.

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The Magic Mirror has gone from a full-body mirror to merely a wall-hanging, and the Prince now looks like He-Man (Filmation made He-Man and the Masters of the Universe as well, which is surely a coincidence). However, Snow White looks as close to her Disney counterpart as is legally possible. Since the character is described as having black hair and white skin in every version of the fairy tale (It kind of leads to the name and all), her described appearance is in the public domain. I’m just imagining a team of animators and lawyers sitting around seeing how close they could come to Disney’s version of the character without getting sued. Don’t you just love films made by committee?

Eventually, Lord Maliss kidnaps the Prince, seemingly killing him, and Snow White gets lost in the forest… again. There is also a jungle snake in the forest now for some reason.

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Even more surprisingly, their Jungle Book sequel was set to have dwarfs.

Beyond this one random scare, the forest scene mainly just consists of darkness and lightning strikes, even though there’s no rain. Snow White soon realizes she is right back at the cottage of the seven dwarfs, except something has changed.

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Instead of the seven dwarfs, Snow White meets the seven dwarfelles, who explain that their cousins the dwarfs moved to a different country. Again, this has to be a budget thing, as the Disney dwarfs are licensed characters, but featuring the dwarfs in any other fashion would just confuse kids. Instead, the film just hand-waves it and says that these are the cousins of the nameless-dwarfs. Also, why isn’t it dwarfettes? The Dwarfelles sounds more like a Phil Spector-produced girl group from the early ’60s.

The seven dwarfelles all have different powers given to them by their mother, Mother Nature. THE DWARFS WERE RELATED TO MOTHER NATURE? Do you realize the plot holes you’re creating? Alright, here comes your next question…

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For some reason, we go from dwarfs with definable characteristics like Sleepy and Dopey to “Controls the Whole Earth-y” and “Can Make the Sun Go Away with a Word-y.” Unfortunately, yes Thunderella is also a character, and before we even get her name, she breaks into a Cyndi Lauper-esque song about not being able to use her powers well. No, that will never date this movie. Sadly, this does mean that Lucifera is not a character in this film.

The dwarfelles take Snow White to Mother Nature (Phyllis Diller), who is about to take Thunderella’s powers away, right when Lord Maliss comes to threaten Snow White. He says that if she wants her prince back, she’ll have to cross the Land of Doom, which now lies immediately outside the castle (because magic and stuff).

The Land of Doom is made up of such vicious creatures as the same clip of wolves looped over-and-over.

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Yeah, that’s really about it. I mean, there are cliffs and rivers and stuff, but there isn’t really all that much doom beyond that. Along the way, they are assisted by the mysterious Shadow Man. Since you’re just dying to know, it’s time to ask…

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Why did Lord Maliss turn the Prince into this character? If he wants revenge, why doesn’t he just kill him? Why doesn’t he make him look actually evil so Snow White tries to kill him? Maliss can clearly do whatever he wants magically, so what’s the point here? Part of his evil plan is turning the prince into a weird looking creature and putting him the Land of Doom where everyone else will think he’s evil?

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With the help of this obvious prince, Snow White eventually makes it through the Land of Doom and to the castle. That means it’s time for our fourth round, Ask-the-Target-Audience.

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For every question in this round, we will be polling an audience of five-to-ten year-olds to see if Filmation really understands what kids want.

When Snow White finally arrives at the castle, she meets up with “the Prince,” who doesn’t even try to hide the fact that he’s Lord Maliss undercover. However, for some reason, Snow White just wonders why he’s acting funny and continues to follow him. It is then revealed that “the Prince” was Lord Maliss trying to lead Snow White to her death. Who would have guessed it? Let’s find out.

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I bet those 7% weren’t really paying attention anyway.

It turns out that Lord Maliss intends to turn Snow White and the Prince into stone, which he can do with his magic cape. Again, what’s the purpose of his revenge? The Queen, his sister, was killed after being knocked off a precipice that was struck by lightning. Snow White had nothing to do with it, and while he could perhaps have blamed the dwarfs who were chasing her, oh wait, they aren’t in this film.

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Maliss believes he has turned the seven dwarfelles into stone, even bragging about his “seven new statues,” even though there are clearly only six. Thunderella instead has finally honed her powers at a plot-relevant time and uses a bolt of lightning to bring Maliss down. He turns into a dragon and begins to turn to stone, but for some reason his head turns back as his body remains animal.

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I guess it looks better for the statue. Mother Nature comes back now and turns the Shadow Man back into the Prince, and they promise to live happily ever after until the next shoehorned sequel.

Well, the target audience is getting restless, so we have just one more question for them.

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Ugh, there’s one in every crowd. Get those kids out of here. We get the point.

Well Filmation, you’ve survived four rounds of revealing and embarrassing questions, so it’s time for the Bonus Round.

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 Since you’ve made it to the bonus round, it’s time to bring out our Big Wheel!

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There are wonderful prizes, including the rights to make Peter Pan 2, Snow White 3 and much more, all the way up to the Grand Prize of ONE MILLION DOLLARS. However, the better prize on there might be “Destroy This Episode.” Filmation, you’ve earned it, go ahead and spin the wheel.

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Oh no, you’ve gone bankrupt. I’m sorry, but you’ve landed on bankrupt and by the rules of our game, your studio has to file Chapter 11.

Yes, that’s right, Happily Ever After was such a disaster that it forced Filmation to go bankrupt. I suppose it wasn’t “one of the biggest hits of the year” after all.

I’d say “Join us next time on What Were THEY Thinking,” but it looks like Disney is suing me for totally ripping off one of their properties.

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Maybe Filmation can give me some advice on what not to do next. Let’s just get to the final score.

Story (8/30 Points)

It’s a sequel to a very simple story, and it still manages to screw it up. The villain wants revenge by drawing the people he blames for the death of his sister to his castle to turn them into stone? Why would he want statues of them in his castle forever? Why doesn’t he just kill them? Why does the Ed Asner owl get a story entirely divorced from the rest of the thing?

Returning Characters (4/15 Points)

Snow White is utterly bland, which is a downgrade, and the Prince is boring, meaning nothing has changed. He still doesn’t even get a name! The Magic Mirror is voiced by an utterly wasted Dom Deluise, and the scene where he flirts with one of the dwarfelles is just awkward.

New Characters (6/15 Points)

Malcolm McDowell is actually memorable as a hilariously over-the-top villain, and I guess Phyllis Diller isn’t awful as Mother Nature.

Experience (7/20 Points)

The background animations aren’t terrible, and there is at least some creativity in them. (Director John Howley is a painter after all.) However, it’s obvious when stock footage is being repeated over and over, and then there are the musical numbers. Scowl the Owl, Thunderella, and Mother Nature all get random musical numbers out of nowhere, and the rap one in particular is hilariously painful.

Originality (8/20 Points)

Hey, it’s not just the plot of the first one again. Not everything original is good, but at least it’s not just a rehash.

FINAL SCORE: 35%

This is kind of a bizarre one to score, because this film is so hilarious that it almost has to be seen to be believed. Seriously, I recommend watching this film for its ridiculous plot, pointless songs, and forced message. At least it’s short.

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High Noon, Part II: The Return of Will Kane

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  • Year: 1980
  • Director: Jerry Jameson
  • Starring: Lee Majors, David Carradine, Pernell Roberts

Anyone who has seen the original High Noon has to do a double take at the title of this one. The Return of Will Kane? The dramatic crux of the original film was not Gary Cooper’s serious-minded hero gunning down his enemies (with the help of his new wife) but rather him throwing down his marshal’s star immediately after and leaving the town in disgust. Without careful care and attention, this one could fall apart before it even gets going.

High Noon is often considered one of the greatest westerns of all time, and while western is not a genre I usually find myself drawn to, I definitely get the appeal of this one. Instead of gunfights and light moments of comedy, High Noon focuses on Will Kane realizing he might be living the last minutes of his life. He can’t run away from the outlaw who wants him dead, and no one will back him up. We constantly see clocks counting down the minutes, and while we see the villains loading up their weapons, we see our hero writing his last will and testament. It’s arguably as much a psychological drama as it is a western, and Gary Cooper offers a stellar performance as the stoic but distressed hero.

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High Noon II (I’m not repeating that ridiculous title every time) came out in 1980, so unsurprisingly none of the original actors (or cast… or crew… or fans) returned. It’s also a TV movie, so they rounded up the best they could get, including Lee Majors, David Carradine, Katherine Cannon and Pernell Roberts. However, my hopes went up a bit when I saw the thing was written by Elmore Leonard, an actually well-known and competent writer. Maybe there was hope for this thing after all.

The film starts with Will Kane (Lee Majors) and his wife Amy (Katherine Cannon) returning to the town of Hadleyville, a year after the events of the original. Upon returning, Kane discovers that the town is now in the hands of a new corrupt and trigger-happy marshal J.D. Ward (Pernell Roberts).

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So he’s returning because there’s trouble right? NOPE. He just comes back to the town to run a horse ranch on a whim I suppose, and then he discovers that the town is corrupt.

The set-up for a believable plot is staring you in the face! What if an old acquaintance contacted Will and explained what was going on? At first he would have no interest in returning after what they did to him, but in time he would come around. Maybe he would find out later that the marshal had killed someone, and Amy would have to be the one to convince him to return. You’d have to keep the character a bit cynical after his development in the first, but I think you could make a believable (If not groundbreaking) sequel without sacrificing most of what made the first so great.

Instead, Will just rolls into town, and the ending of the first film is just waved off as old business. When he first gets to town, he meets up with his old buddy Virgil (Britt Leach).

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Why, you remember Virgil from the first film right? OK, you know where this joke is going. There was no Virgil in the first film, yet these two chat like old friends, and Virgil talks about how bad he and everyone else feel about abandoning Will the last time. There were a lot of characters in the original High Noon! Why couldn’t this just be Lloyd Bridges’ character, or at least somebody who was actually in the thing? Did they not have the rights to all the characters from the original?

Honestly, we’re at the 9 minute mark and this point, and I don’t care one iota about what’s going to happen in the rest of the movie. By bringing Will Kane back to the town for no reason, especially when a reason could easily have been written into the plot, they have effectively undone everything great about the original. Instead of continuing the bittersweet note the original film ended on, we are back to square one character-wise (not plot-wise, as there is still a new marshal).

I don’t care. Really, honestly, I don’t care what happens. This is a slap in the face to the original film. If the movie had something involving the above hypothetical plot, it would still not likely come near the moral complexities of the first, and that’s fine. It could still be competent, and it wouldn’t undo everything in a matter of minutes.

So is there an interesting plot that at least somewhat gets my mind off this insult? I think you know by the way I’m asking this question that there isn’t. In fact, it may very well be the most boring thing I have watched for this blog.

The new marshal J.D. Ward is a bounty hunter who will do anything to get his prey, including kill cattle. Ben Irons (David Carradine), a wanted criminal who’s actually innocent, comes into town and Ward tries to kill him, even though he knows the truth.

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After a shootout twenty minutes into the film (even though the original saved its only gunfight for the end), Ward pursues Irons out of town. Kane teams up with Irons after barely deliberating at all, but Ward shoots Irons, and he dies of the wound back in town.

Ward obviously has the same plans for Kane, but upon discovering that Ward knew Irons was innocent, the town’s court instead puts out a warrant for Ward’s arrest. Kane puts his marshal’s star back on, and in a final shootout (at like 8 AM because who cares at this point?), Kane kills Ward. It’s done under the ruse of pulling out a search warrant, but of course he knew that Ward was about to pull his gun, so he shoots first.

It’s a pretty run-of-the-mill western plot, but if the characters were more interesting, we wouldn’t have as big of an issue. There were times David Carradine or Pernell Roberts threaten to give an inspired performance, but they never follow through, and Lee Majors… ugh, Lee Majors is just boring. As I said above, Gary Cooper did try to remain calm, collected and stoic in the original, but we saw the struggle play out on his face, especially in his scenes where he was alone. Here, there’s no struggle and Majors just doesn’t care.

Not for one moment does this feel like it’s set any time other than 1980. Sure, it takes place just a year after the first, but no one here is even trying. I mean, Lee Majors has multiple shit buttons undone to display his chest hair… in the 19th century!

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Keeping with the whole laziness theme, I have a hard time believing Elmore Leonard wrote these lines. At one particularly low moment, David Carradine’s character tells his associate “You’re just gonna show what a booger you are all by yourself.” Blazing Saddles had more period-authentic dialogue!

There’s a whole subplot involving a black deputy working for the overtly-racist marshal. If this was handled subtly, it could be interesting, but instead the marshal just says the n-word over and over, and we wonder why the deputy doesn’t just quit right away.

The music switches from barely-there to hilariously overblown. There’s one scene where we get a whole suite of spy music, something out of a romantic drama, western standoff music, and a Wizard of Oz-sounding swell all in about 30 seconds. The original film overused “The Ballad of High Noon” a bit, but it was still poignant. This is just ridiculous.

Let’s check out the final score. This isn’t worth saying much more about.

Story (6/30 Points)

It has the bare-bones structure of a typical western. I’ll give it a few points for that, but it is absolutely insulting to the story and characters of the original classic.

Returning Characters (2/15 Points)

Will Kane shows absolutely no emotion throughout, and he loses any development he gained in the first. His wife Amy has gone from saving the day in the first to being simply a neutral character with no purpose. It seems like the hotel manager is supposed to be the same character as in the first, but that’s about it for returning characters.

New Characters (5/15 Points)

I think David Carradine and Pernell Roberts are trying, because there are moments where it feels like they are about to become interesting characters. However, they never really do and just remain bland ones who feel right out of 1980.

Experience (3/20 Points)

High Noon II boasts awful music, no atmosphere, and it never feels like it’s set in the Old West. At least the sets of the town kind of feel like the original… a bit.

Originality (4/20 Points)

It tells a different story than the original. I guess that’s something.

FINAL SCORE: 20%

It comes 28 years after the original, re-casts its hero terribly, and insults the legacy of the first. The best thing about it is that it made me appreciate the original more.

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Return to Oz

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  • Year: 1985
  • Director: Walter Murch
  • Starring: Fairuza Balk, Nicol Williamson, Jean Marsh

The existence of Return to Oz seems incredibly bizarre, yet still makes a lot of sense. Sure, 1939’s The Wizard of Oz is one of the greatest and most important films of all time, but L. Frank Baum wrote a whole bunch of sequels to The Wonderful Wizard of OzReturn to Oz is based on the second and third books in the series—The Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz.

Return to Oz is trying to at once be a more faithful adaptation of Baum’s work than the 1939 film (at least thematically), while still acting as a quasi-sequel to that film. This, needless to say (but heck I’ll say it anyway because pointing out issues is fun), causes some issues with the storytelling.

We start in Kansas, which apparently got a magical colorized makeover since the last film.

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Speaking of makeovers, Aunt Em and Uncle Henry look about 20 years younger than the previous film.

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Maybe the tornado swept years off of their lives. They aren’t the only ones though, as Dorothy is much younger than Judy Garland’s portrayal.

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I know these aren’t really issues that affect storytelling, but there are certain expectations when you call a film Return to Oz. While I’m glad that Fairuza Balk isn’t just doing a Judy Garland impression, it’s distracting how much younger her character is, even if it’s closer to the age of Dorothy in the book.

Uncle Henry and Aunt Em are worried that Dorothy is constantly caught up in her Oz fantasies and can’t focus on the real world. Fairuza Balk was ten at the time of filming, and we can assume the character is around the same age. If this is the case, why are they so concerned? A nine or ten-year-old having fantasies where she plays in a magical world isn’t all that odd, especially in a bland place like turn-of-the-century Kansas. If this was someone the age of Judy Garland’s character in the original film, I could see the concern. Instead, we get Aunt Em and Uncle Henry taking Dorothy to a doctor for a progressive new treatment—electroshock therapy. Not kidding.

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Well, I guess some people prefer the sequel.

After a quick meeting with the seemingly affable Dr. Worley (Nicol Williamson), Aunt Em just leaves Dorothy there for the night, and for a few minutes the movie becomes the kids version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I only call it the kids version, because it’s a children’s hospital—it’s no less horrifying. We even get a Nurse Ratched knock-off in the nurse played by Jean Marsh. In fact, the original choice for the part was Louise Fletcher, because why should a talented Oscar-winning actress ever do anything but rehash the part she is best known for?

Return to Oz is famous for being especially terrifying for a kids film, but most of the scary stuff has a reason for existing. Baum’s books did feature frightening imagery, although he often presented it in a fairly lighthearted manner. The Oz scenes here definitely have their scary moments, but this shock therapy stuff is easily the scariest thing in the movie, and I’d even argue it goes too far. Sure, Dorothy never gets the shock therapy, as a lightning storm causes her to escape the operating table, run out of the hospital and transport to Oz, but this was never even in the books. In Ozma of Oz, a storm hits Uncle Henry and Dorothy’s boat, causing her to be separated and end up somewhere near Oz. Here, it makes Dorothy’s Uncle and Aunt far too unsympathetic, and it just goes on a bit too long with its excessive darkness. If you want Oz to be darker this time around, I’m all for it, but the “real” world needs to be lighter to contrast this, right?

Perhaps the issue is simpler than I’m making it out to be. I mean, the original Oz had darkness too, not this much, but it was there. The difference was that the 1939 film had memorable songs to offset everything, while the songs here aren’t memorable at all… mainly because there aren’t any. Maybe that’s the only problem, this movie just needs some songs.

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Well alright, I’ll try my best.

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Somewhere over the ray bow, mem’ries fade

I’ll keep working on that. Anyway, Dorothy escapes the asylum with the help of another girl (Emma Ridley), gets on a crate rolling down the river and falls asleep. When she wakes up, she is accompanied by Billina, a chicken from her farm back in Kansas who had issues laying eggs.

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Now, Billina can suddenly talk, which leads Dorothy to believe they’re now in Oz. Huh? Yes, there were talking animals in Oz, but if animals can suddenly talk when they arrive in Oz, why couldn’t Toto talk? It’s not just a book vs. movie thing either—Toto didn’t talk in Baum’s novel or the 1939 film. Don’t give me the “It’s a dream” thing either, because even if it is, Dorothy believes it is real and is going off her previous experience.

Even worse, Billina has one of the most annoying voices in film history. She sounds like Jimmy Stewart doing an impression of Dustin Hoffman playing a woman in Tootsie. Trust me, that sounds funny on paper, but it’s annoying at first and truly grating by the end.

The special effects in this movie are mostly well-handled, but right when they arrive, Dorothy stares at this frozen painting for a solid five seconds.

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Shouldn’t there be some kind of wonder in seeing Oz again? Some of these set pieces are gorgeous, and even though Dorothy’s been there before, she’s been told over and over that Oz isn’t real. Where’s the awe in the performance?

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This could entertain for hours

If the acting was less dour

If this only had a heart.

Dorothy walks through the desert that surround Oz and soon arrives at Munchkinland, where she comes across her old house.

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She also realizes the Yellow-Brick Road has been unpaved, so she makes her way to the Emerald City IN A MATTER OF MINUTES. In both book and movie, it took days to get from one to the other, but now she just travels there in the same day. When she gets to the Emerald City, she realizes it isn’t green like she remembered. Now, in the book the Emerald City is only green when you wear special glasses, but nope, someone just stole the emeralds here. Is this movie a sequel to a Disney version of Oz that was never made? I’m starting to get really confused about the intelligence of this screenplay.

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These scenes could be engaging

Instead of just enraging

If they only had a brain

The Emerald City has changed in more than just color, though, as it’s almost completely desolate. The inhabitants (including the Tin Man and Cowardly Lion) have been turned into statues, with some people having even lost their heads, and the only living creatures are the Wheelers, evil creatures who have wheels for hands and feet.

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Oh alright, that’s actually a pretty creepy design.

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And they’re only masks. Now it’s just unsexy roller derby. Maybe this is the point of the Wheelers, as they ultimately turn out to do nothing besides snarl, and are easily defeated by Dorothy’s new companion Tik-Tok. A few also simply die just by walking onto the sand of the Deadly Desert. That said, it’s a cool design that’s ruined almost immediately.

Tik-Tok, however, is easily the best character in Return to Oz. Baum’s Tik-Tok was actually one of the very first robots in fiction, and he’s easily one of the most enjoyable in movie history.

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I just love everything about him, from his goofy walk and look to his offbeat line delivery. At first he does serve as an expository character, existing to explain the changes to Oz and how the Nome King has captured the Scarecrow, but he’s the example of one done right. Much like the rings in The Time Machine, we’re enjoying the scene so much that we don’t mind the exposition dump.

Dorothy, Tik-Tok and that annoying-as-all-get-out chicken visit Princess Mombi (Jean Marsh and other actresses) to see if she can help them get the Scarecrow free. However, it turns out she is an evil witch who has a room full of heads she wears, and she puts Dorothy in prison until she is old enough to take hers.

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In prison, Dorothy meets Jack Pumpkinhead, a jack-o-lantern brought to life by Mombi’s magic powder…

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And then uses that same powder to create the Gump, a sort of mix-and-match creature with a moose head, sofa body, and more, who ultimately helps them escape.

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Hey, at least the extras from George Harrison music videos didn’t get typecast.

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The Mombi scenes are visually gorgeous to look at, especially the lavish palace…

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But ultimately, what does the plot so far remind you of? Dorothy is taken from Kansas to a land entirely foreign to her, with an animal companion by her side. Along the way she meets a harvest-themed creature, a metallic man, and a talking animal. She is imprisoned in the castle of a wicked witch but eventually makes her escape.

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Follow the plot of the first

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Follow the plot of the first

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Follow, follow, follow, follow, follow the plot of the first

You’re off to be the wizard, the exact same Wizard of Oz

When they arrive at the Nome King’s mountain, the Nome King (Nicol Williamson) brings them to his underground palace.

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For once, it finally feels like we’re watching an original and engaging movie. The Nome King is the first villain in either Oz film who isn’t just blatantly evil from the get-go. He may have turned the Scarecrow into an ornament, sure, but he claims to have good reason for it. Also, he’s very soft spoken and even comforts a crying Dorothy, offering that she and her friends play a game to get Scarecrow back. If they can identify which of his ornaments he turned the Scarecrow into, they’ll win him back. However, if someone fails after three tries, they will also be turned into an ornament.

The Gump goes first, saying “I should have quit while I was a head,” which is easily the funniest line in the film. As he fails and is turned into an ornament, the Nome King becomes more human. He also reveals himself to be more malicious, as he threatens to throw the remaining guests into a furnace if they don’t continue to play the game.

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After both Jack Pumpkinhead and Tik-Tok fail, the Nome King begins to look more and more like Santa Claus (finally explaining why he wants all those ornaments).

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When only Dorothy remains, the Nome King reveals that he has the Ruby Slippers.

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It looks absolutely ridiculous that this evil giant is wearing the Ruby Slippers, and yet it’s somehow effective how he tempts Dorothy with the option to go home right now.

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With a ho ho ho and muahaha, he’s evil Santa Claus

And he brought his bizarre fashion sense to the merry old land of Oz

Of course, Dorothy decides to go in and figure out which of the ornaments is her old friend Scarecrow.

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She sees that Tik-Tok has tricked the Nome King, and has one guess left too. He volunteers to let Dorothy see what he’s turned into should he guess wrong. He fails and Dorothy cannot see what he turns into, smart plan as it may have been. She eventually deduces that Scarecrow is the green one, because emeralds I suppose. The Scarecrow is brought back to life…

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I’m glad he’s in this film minimally, because he keeps that stupid frozen look on his face the whole time. He’s no Ray Bolger.

Meanwhile, Mombi has arrived at the Nome King’s palace. When the Nome King realizes Dorothy is turning her friends back, he reveals his true form… or the only form he can take now that they’re restored… or something. Either way, it’s this monstrous rock creature that understandably frightened a lot of children.

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As he prepares to eat Dorothy and her friends whole, Billina lays an egg in him, and since of course eggs are fatal to Nomes, it kills the Nome King. Now, to be fair, this has been foreshadowed up until this point, since the writers knew it was just as big of a deus ex machina as the Wicked Witch being allergic to water, but it’s been very shoehorned into dialogue, so the death is still a bit frustrating. Still, it’s no dumber than the villain’s defeat in the classic film, so I guess I can’t be too upset.

It is revealed that Mombi has been holding the true heir of Oz, Princess Ozma (Emma Ridley) captive, so she is returned to power and the Emerald City is restored. A parade takes place through the streets of the capital, with Mombi held captive in a wagon.

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Dorothy still wants to go home for… some reason. Look, I get why in the first one she wanted to return home, because her family was actually made up of good people, but what is she going back to here? An uncle who’s just a bum and an aunt who thinks she needs electroshock therapy? Come on, stay in Oz.

When she gets back to Kansas, she finds that Dr. Worley has died trying to save his medical equipment, and the evil nurse has been arrested for some reason, mainly just because Mombi was in Oz. It’s kind of left ambiguous as to whether Oz is a real place as in Baum’s book or a dream as in the MGM film, but it leans towards the former, as Dorothy smiles at Ozma in her mirror at the end of the film.

It has a really slow start, but ultimately, Return to Oz has a lot going for it. Most of all, it’s a wonderful experience visually. The few bad shots and effects aside, the stop motion in the Nome King’s palace is really wonderful to look at, often beautiful, often haunting, and the sets are just breathtaking.

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The design of the Nome King especially is really effective, while still allowing for Nicol Williamson to give a truly commanding performance. I just really love the look of Oz in this film, especially after the Emerald City is restored. It actually makes me wish the creative team behind this had attacked the original story as well (with perhaps a different actress playing Dorothy), because I want to see more of this Oz. David Shire’s musical score is also quite grand, always lending the right music to the scenes. It’s big without being overbearing, and it blends in to the feel of the film perfectly.

I mocked the early scenes for not really having a heart or a brain, but the later scenes do at least have heart. It’s still not that smart of a screenplay, but everything else makes up for it. If nothing else, it sure has courage, unafraid to throw scary things on screen at every turn. Besides the whole shock therapy stuff, which goes on way too long, and is too realistically scary for a kids movie, it really works well. Let’s check out the final score.

Story (13/30 Points)

It’s the weakest factor in the whole film. The prologue in Kansas goes too long and too dark, and the early Oz scenes just feel like the first film. Once they get to the Nome King’s palace, it gets interesting, but it’s halfway through by that point.

Returning Characters (6/15 Points)

Fairuza Balk isn’t great as Dorothy, especially in comparison to Judy Garland, but she does carry the movie adequately. Aunt Em and Uncle Henry apparently became horrible people since the last film, and we see very little of any other character from the original.

New Characters (10/15 Points)

Tik-Tok is hilarious and entirely lovable, and the Nome King is coolly threatening, until becomingly terrifyingly threatening. Most of the others are just kinda meh from Jack Pumpkinhead to Mombi, but Billina the chicken is absolutely grating to listen to.

Experience (18/20 Points)

It’s a gorgeous film to look at, with wonderful musical scores and unique effects that mostly all hold up. I love the Oz it creates.

Originality (12/20 Points)

In some ways, it’s a very original film in comparison to the classic. In others, it’s definitely trying to be the 1939 film over again. By the end, it’s become its own beast, but it takes time.

FINAL SCORE: 59%

Return to Oz is a major cult classic today, and I understand why. It trusts the children in the audience with darker material, and it has a lot of unique features while still feeling like an Oz story. I don’t love it, but if you don’t expect the first film again, there are things you’ll enjoy.

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Introduction: Sequels to Classics

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I’m fascinated by the idea that someone would make a sequel to a film considered one of the greatest of all time. It’s one thing if it’s a movie that came out just a few years before, as in the case of The Godfather II, but to make a sequel years later, often without a lot of the same cast and crew, seems weird.

In many cases, it’s just a cash grab, but is there perhaps artistic integrity in some of these? Well I’m going to find out. I’ll be skipping the better known sequels like Godfather II or any Star Wars sequels. Instead, I’ll be taking a look at more obscure ones like Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night and the Chinatown sequel The Two Jakes. I’ll be scoring them by this system:

Story (30 Points)

Returning Characters (15 Points)

New Characters (15 Points)

Experience (20 Points)

Originality (20 Points)

I’ll be starting in one week with my review of Return to Oz.

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Movie Match-Up: Sequels to Classics

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INTRODUCTION

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The existence of Return to Oz seems incredibly bizarre, yet still makes a lot of sense…. (More)

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Psycho II aka Psycho II: I Didn’t Know There Was a Psycho II was made in 1983, more than 20 years after Alfred Hitchcock’s original, and three years after his death… (More)

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Anyone who has seen the original High Noon has to do a double take at the title of this one… (More)

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Sometimes you come across a sequel so bizarre, the idea of which is so beyond the realm of comprehension… (More)

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Oh 1990, the year when the two greatest films of 1974 both got sequels… (More)

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Most of the sequels I have chosen for this list are follow-ups to universally-loved films, films you will see near the top… (More)

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In 1968, Roman Polanski directed one of the greatest (if not the greatest) horror films of all time… (More)

The Sopranos Finale: 10 Years Later

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It’s been ten years since The Sopranos aired “Made in America,” its final episode, and it remains one of the most talked about episodes in television history. While initial reactions were mixed, mainly due to a mix of shock and a general sadness that the show was ending, it has come to be regarded as one of the greatest finales of all time. Regardless of what viewers think the ending means, most (not all) agree it’s a great sendoff to an amazing show… but you want to know my thoughts or you wouldn’t be reading this.

Even without the final scene of “Made in America,” it’s hard to deny its greatness. The tension is gripping throughout, we finally see the love-to-hate Phil Leotardo get popped, and we get a beautifully poignant and tearjerking final scene between Tony and his Uncle Junior. Honestly, it’s probably the greatest episode of the series next to Season 5’s “Long Term Parking.”

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Featured in this episode: short term parking

However, it’s that final scene people keep talking about, so today I’ll be looking at a few of the theories surrounding it, concluding with my own personal theory which I’ve been kicking around for a few years now. First, let’s take a moment-by-moment look at the very final scene of The Sopranos.

After leaving the retirement home where Uncle Junior is now living, Tony enters Holsten’s , the restaurant where he will be meeting his family for dinner. Tony picks “Don’t Stop Believin'” on the jukebox, Carmela enters and sits down, and they discuss the recently-engaged Meadow going to the doctor to switch birth controls, as well as Tony’s soldier Carlo Gervasi agreeing to testify. AJ Soprano enters, right in front of a man wearing a Members Only jacket (We’ll call him MIMOJ for the rest of the post).

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Tony says he ordered onion rings for the table (“best in the state”), and Meadow arrives, having trouble parallel parking her car. MIMOJ looks over at Tony’s booth, AJ references his father’s quote from the first season finale to “remember the times that were good,” even though Tony forgets saying it, and MIMOJ walks into the bathroom. Meadow finally parks her car, Tony looks up, CUT TO BLACK.

Does the sudden cut to black mean Tony died, presumably at the hands of MIMOJ (his going into the bathroom a Godfather shout-out)? Or does this ending signify something different altogether? Although many fans look to creator David Chase for answers, it’s obvious he doesn’t intend to tell any more than what’s in the episode, giving clearly contradictory answers just to troll people. He’s the creator, writer and director of this episode—he’s given you everything he wants you to have, stop hounding him for more. Also, it’s clear that cast members have been given no definitive answer, as Michael Imperioli (Christopher Moltisanti) believes Tony to be dead, while Steve Schirripa (Bobby Baccalieri) has stated he believes Tony is alive.

The most common theory held is that Tony dies in this final scene, and there is a doctoral thesis-level argument for that laid out here. One of the major points made is how the camera constantly cuts between Tony looking up towards the door when the bell rings…

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Followed by a POV shot from Tony’s perspective, looking at the door.

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Since this happens multiple times in the scene, the writer goes on to argue that since the last shot we see is Tony looking up, the blackness that follows is what Tony is now seeing aka death. It’s quite a compelling argument, as this pattern of shots does seem to hold true throughout. From a director’s point of view, it makes a lot of sense, but as a writer, I need more.

Every death on The Sopranos had buildup and motivation, even the most shocking, and it would be entirely un-Sopranos to kill off the main character in its final moments without some kind of explanation, at least in subtext. I refuse to buy into theories suggesting that the scene merely represents Tony’s karma coming back to bite him, or that it’s a hit from one of the other five mafia families he had dealings with that we never saw. The Sopranos was never that kind of show.

Theory #1: Tony Dies at the Hands of the Lupertazzi Family

Within the “Tony dies” camp, this is perhaps the most popular theory. The Lupertazzis were the main antagonists of seasons 5 and 6, with it all coming to a head in the penultimate episode “The Blue Comet.” Current Lupertazzi don Phil Leotardo plans to take out Tony Soprano, Silvio Dante and Bobby Baccalieri, in retaliation for the Sopranos killing Billy Leotardo and Fat Dom Gamiello, beating Coco, and ignoring Vito Spatafore’s homosexuality. After Bobby is killed and Silvio is put in a coma, Tony agrees to have a sit-down with Phil’s right-hand men Butch DeConcini and Albie Cianflone. Accompanied by George, a member of one of New York’s Five Families (the only time we see a character from one of the others) to assure that promises will be kept, Butch gives Tony the go-ahead to kill the increasingly-erratic Phil.

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After Phil is located, he is taken out and things presumably go back to normal.

So why would the Lupertazzis kill Tony? When Phil was missing in action, Butch was the acting head of the family. Since he and Albie sat down at a meeting with George in attendance, they know the consequences if they were to hit Tony after a peace agreement was reached. Butchie and Albie have been shown throughout the show’s final episodes to be very level-headed, especially in comparison to Phil’s emotional behavior, so for them to put a hit out on Tony after this meeting would be the epitome of foolishness.

Some have argued that perhaps they could not track down MIMOJ, the supposed assassin they’ve hired, in time to call off the hit, but in previous episodes, hits have been called off at the very last second. Just look at Season 4’s “The Weight,” where John “Johnny Sack” Sacrimoni has his contact call off a hit on Ralph Cifaretto as the assassin is looking right at him. To suggest that the Lupertazzis could not reach the hit man in time is ridiculous, as days pass between the meeting with George and the final scene of the episode.

I suppose a thin argument could be made that Phil personally put out the hit while hiding out from everyone. He is very angry and losing it a bit at this point, however even he is not dumb enough to put out a hit that would cripple his own family that much. He obviously cares about the well-being of the Lupertazzis, and even if he were to die, he would not want them to be in straits that dire. I just can’t see a practical theory for the Lupertazzis being the ones who put out the hit.

Theory #2: Tony Dies at the Hands of One of His Own Men

Over the course of the show, Tony sure has wronged a lot of people, often in his own family, but would any of them go as far as to kill him? For the most part, I still argue that from a storytelling perspective, it’s a cheat to claim something like “Oh Furio Giunta hired a hit man to take out Tony,” when 1) Furio felt terrible guilt and blamed himself for ever considering this in Season 4 and 2) His story ended seasons ago. To end the show on an ambiguous note implying someone who has left the show is related to Tony’s death is too far. Sure, the Members Only jacket is a callback to the Season 6 premiere “Members Only” in which out-of-focus soldier Gene Pontecorvo hung himself after being denied early retirement. However, it is a stretch to suggest that MIMOJ is a relative of Gene’s, as Gene was really only a minor character outside of this episode. Ending the series on one of his actions would just leave viewers shrugging and trying to remember who he was.

The only member of the Soprano crew past or present that could possibly have a motivation and a plot-relevant reason to kill Tony is Pasquale “Patsy” Parisi. In season 2, Patsy’s twin brother Philly is killed on Tony’s orders by Gigi Cestone. In the premiere episode of season 3, a heavily inebriated Patsy comes this close to shooting Tony in revenge, opting instead to pee in his pool.

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Tony did say their kids could “go in the pool.”

Over the course of the next few seasons, he remains in the background, always being a presence but rarely doing much. He does get in a fight with Christopher at one point, and he coldly threatens Gloria Trillo, but for the most part, he’s out of focus. However, he seems to rise to prominence in the last few episodes of The Sopranos. Now this may be simply because the other main characters are no longer around due to death, illness or injury, but all of a sudden, Patsy is getting a promotion around the same time his son Patrick is engaged to Meadow.

Meadow seems concerned as she arrives at the restaurant. Something seems to be on her mind as she nervously parks her car and runs into the restaurant, a worried expression on her face.

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Has she just put the pieces together on the way over or is Meadow simply concerned because she’s late? Has Patsy’s son only shown interest in her so Patsy can have inside information on where Tony is? I’ll admit that this was the theory I held for a while, but there just isn’t enough evidence.

Patsy is obviously working his way up the ladder, so is he seizing his opportunity while things are hot with the Lupertazzis? If he is in fact climbing the ladder, what good would it do to take out Tony now? He might be able to frame the Lupertazzis, but as shown above, it would be hard to believe that they would have any interest in taking out Tony. The focus on Patsy in the final episodes probably exists to show just how many characters have fallen by the wayside, and this is the kind of character who has finally caught a break.

Theory #3: Life Just Goes On

So if Tony doesn’t die, he just lives life as normal right? Like the song says, “The movie never ends, it goes on and on and on and on.” Well I refuse to buy into this theory too (I’m difficult, I know). Watch the way the scene adds upon itself, with the pattern of cuts (as described above) and the building of the Journey song. If in fact this is a “Life Goes On” ending, why does it cut early?

I also refuse to buy into the more bizarre theories like 1) It’s all a dream (the episode or the whole series, either way) or 2) It’s all been a documentary and the cameraman gets whacked (OK that one makes me laugh). Instead, I believe there is one more interpretation of the ending…

My Theory: Tony Thinks He’s Dying

To properly understand this final scene, we need to take another look at the scene in The Godfather which inspires it. The obvious inspiration is one of the reasons I refuse to believe this ending is without meaning. In the final scene of The Sopranos, MIMOJ simply looks in Tony’s direction and walks into the bathroom. Viewers who think the final shot represents Tony’s death assume MIMOJ walks into the bathroom, picks up a gun and comes out shooting, killing Tony before he knows what hit him (perhaps a reference to “Soprano Home Movies” where Bobby talks about not hearing death when it comes.)

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In the classic restaurant scene of The Godfather, Michael Corleone is meeting with rival gangster Virgil “The Turk” Solozzo and corrupt police chief Mark McCluskey, who were both behind the attempted assassination of his father. Since Michael is frisked before dinner, Peter Clemenza has a gun planted in the bathroom inside the toilet tank. Although Clemenza has advised him to leave the bathroom and come out shooting, Michael instead sits back down, has one last think about it, murders McCluskey and Solozzo, and leaves the quiet restaurant.

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However, this scene is just not practical in a modern-day setting. Even while the Corleones are planning the murder in 1945, Salvatore Tessio says the special kind of toilet tank is “old fashioned.” By 2007, no restaurant would have that kind of toilet tank, especially not a modern eatery like Holsten’s. Second of all, why would the MIMOJ need to walk into the bathroom to get the gun at all? He came in by himself and was not frisked at any point. If he had come armed, no one would have known or cared.

Also, if the MIMOJ plans to kill Tony, he should have walked into the restaurant, shot him and left. Instead, he sits at the bar for a few minutes, drinks coffee and looks over at Tony’s table more than once.

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This is all in addition to the fact that AJ entered the restaurant right behind him. There are multiple people in the restaurant who could positively ID this man if he committed murder, and the bartender has heard his voice (even though we the audience have not). Even if he broke protocol and took out all four Sopranos, it is still unlikely he would get away with it. I suppose I could understand him not shooting right away just to be sure he has the right person, as a similar mix-up happened in the previous episode with Phil Leotardo. If MIMOJ is a hired assassin from Italy or something, maybe he is trying to verify that this is Tony Soprano, but sitting down just feet away from your intended gangster target and constantly without subtlety looking in his direction is the definition of idiocy.

Also, what happens if the hit is successful? It worked in The Godfather, because it was a quiet restaurant in the 1940s. People understood that the mob did dealings like this and it is best to just not get involved. However, Holsten’s is a busy restaurant, with people constantly entering. Heck, it’s implied that Meadow is entering right as the show ends, meaning MIMOJ has no easy way out. What if there’s someone in the restaurant with a gun? If the door is blocked, he could get tackled. It is anything but an ideal situation for a whacking.

In fact, we get a restaurant murder in “Stage 5,” where Gerry Torciano is taken down in front of Silvio Dante and their dates. It’s a quiet, fancy Italian restaurant and mass hysteria still ensues. Most of the guests run out of the large dining room, while a few hide under their tables, and the killer makes his escape by running through the kitchen.

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But… MIMOJ is constantly looking over at Tony right? If he’s not eyeing up his target, what is he doing? Well, Tony has been in the news a lot over the course of the show, especially the last season. Perhaps MIMOJ realizes he is sitting across from one of New Jersey’s biggest criminals. That answers half of it, but why does Tony constantly look over at MIMOJ? Because Tony Soprano believes he is about to get whacked.

It has been mentioned before that the restaurant scene is Tony’s favorite scene in The Godfather, and AJ mentions in “The Second Coming” that his father is ecstatic every time he watches Michael kill the two men. Of course a show that constantly subverted the tropes of mob movies wouldn’t end with a scene straight out of one, but a character in this kind of show thinking he’s in a mob movie? Does it get any more postmodern?

This theory even ties into the pattern of Tony looking up at the door followed by a POV shot from his perspective. The final shot of pure black doesn’t represent death, but rather Tony having a panic attack. In addition to the nerves Tony experiences due to thinking he’s about to die, AJ has started at a new job, Meadow is getting engaged and Carlo has agreed to testify.

The reason Tony’s panic attacks began in the very first episode were because of his family life changing. It is even established that the therapy sessions were really what helped keep the panic attacks under control, not just the medication. Even though Melfi has been a main character since episode 1 (Heck, she’s listed in the credits before Edie Falco), she is intentionally written off in the penultimate episode “The Blue Comet.”

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Without the benefit of therapy, Tony’s panic attacks are much more prone to make their return, especially at a moment like this. The scene and song selection might be a call back to Season 2’s “House Arrest,” when Tony has a panic attack to the tune of Boston’s “More Than a Feeling,” a classic rock song that builds similarly to “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

Ultimately, ending the series with the same panic attacks that began it create perhaps an even bigger downer ending than Tony’s death. If Tony was whacked in this scene, he died for something, and perhaps even in a way he would have liked (if he had to pick one). To put Tony right back where he started makes it seem like all the dead bodies that piled up over six seasons are completely for naught. Tony is as helpless as he was at the beginning of the show, but now almost all of his friends and associates are dead. Like his mother Livia said in “D-Girl”, life is “all a big nothing” … or as Steve Perry would say, “The movie never ends, it goes on and on and on and on.”

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The Return of K. Gordon Murray

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You remember K. Gordon Murray, right, the mastermind behind the American dub of the Mexican film Santa Claus (Spanish: Santa Claus)? Well it turns out he made more films. Alright, well he didn’t make films, but he did badly dub more films into English, and I’m going to be looking at one of them today—Little Red Riding Hood and the Monsters… or Tom Thumb and Little Red Riding Hood… or Little Red Riding Hood and Tom Thumb vs. the Monsters. PICK A TITLE!

Ugh. This lack of naming is why I’m unofficially calling this The Return of K. Gordon Murray.

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Alright, well let’s take a look at the poster and see what we’re in for

NOW… THE FAMOUS CHARACTERS OF THE FAIRY TALE WORLD… TOGETHER FOR THE FIRST TIME

So who do we have, K. Gordon?

LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD

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THE WOLF

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I mean, we’ve seen them together before, but whatever. Go on.

STINKY THE SKUNK

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Of course you remember Stinky the Skunk, right? His terrible odor awoke the whole kingdom in “Sleeping Beauty.” No? OK then, he was a rejected dwarf who was sent away for being too extreme. WHO IS THIS? I am not aware of one Grimm Fairy Tale featuring a skunk. A little research shows one South American folk tale called “The Jaguar and the Little Skunk,” but it’s more likely that K. Gordon saw that there was a skunk in the film and assumed it was a famous fairy tale character, when it was probably just a skunk. Plus, he speaks in an annoying high-pitched voice like Chip n’ Dale. Who else do we have?

TOM THUMB

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and THE FRIENDLY RED-HEADED OGRE

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Just go with it at this point. Oh, recognize him? That’s because he’s played by Jose Elias Moreno, the same guy who played Santa Claus in that other film.

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In fact, some more of the cast and crew of Santa Claus return as well, including both voice actors and, of course, the man, the myth, the legend, the over-expository narrator, KEN SMITH.

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Still the only picture I can find.

Unfortunately, old Kenny only returns to narrate the opening of the film, but it’s exactly what you’d expect. Since the movie starts on a spinning globe, he just starts narrating away about “the awe-inspiring act of creation” (his dub of Inherit the Wind is far less entertaining) and how some places on the earth still contain fantasy characters. Apparently, every evil fairy tale character lives in “The Devil’s Dominion,” where a courtroom decides the fate of the ones who stop doing evil.

The wolf and the ogre are standing trial for not eating Little Red Riding Hood and killing Tom Thumb, and at the trial we see an array of famous villains like Dracula…

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Not the Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee Dracula, but apparently the John Carradine Dracula of the later Universal films. That’s what the kids love.

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We also have The Kidnapper.

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I’m not sure who this is supposed to be, but he kidnaps children because they’re “tender and make good broth.” He could be any given giant, ogre or something. (He’s not The Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, as the Mexican film came out before the book was written.)

Following him, we have Carrot-Head.

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Too Easy.

Seriously, though, this guy is called Carrot-Head, but also says his head is full of water.

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Next to him is Frankenstein’s Monster. They call him Frankenstein, but I’m not opening that can of worms like the rest of the internet. Finally, we have Two-In-One.

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I think it’s supposed to be a man and monster attached at the hip, but it looks more like two guys who glued their butts together by mistake (Or on purpose maybe, whatever they’re into).

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Unfortunately they’re not all here to play the Family Feud. They are instead the jury of the trial, which is ruled over by the Evil Queen. The Queen is introduced by this guy blowing a bullhorn, even though it’s dubbed over with a bugle call.

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It’s jarring to say the least. Anyway, we meet the Queen from Disney’s Snow White.

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I mean, it’s a fairy tale in the public domain, but this look is so obviously copied from the Disney version of the character that I cannot believe they didn’t sue.

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Even weirder is the fact that none of the other villains resemble their most famous interpretations. Frankenstein’s monster has a goofy hairdo, the Big Bad Wolf wears a really cheesy costume that looks nothing like the Disney version, and as mentioned above, Dracula does not resemble Bela Lugosi at all.

They refer to the Queen as The Queen of Badness, which I’m sure was way catchier in Spanish, but K. Gordon just translated it literally. However, other times she is referred to as The Queen of Madness (and I think Sadness once), so it looks like the dubbers just forgot what they were calling this character after all.

Anyway, the jury declares them guilty and The Queen of __adness declares that they are to be executed by the circular saw. Um… am I still watching a kids movie? I wasn’t expecting something out of the Spanish Inquisition.

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Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition!

Yeah, yeah. However, in something right out of the Monty Python Spanish Inquisition, the prisoners are tortured by having their feet tickled with a feather.

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Nobody expects the Monty Python Spanish Inquisition in the middle of something out of the real Spanish Inquisition!

Yeah, that’s not as catchy, real life Spanish Inquisitor Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros.

Meanwhile, as the Wolf and Ogre await execution (they’re charged together for different crimes, but it’s not the worst representation of the legal system in a kids film), Little Red Riding Hood and Tom Thumb (clearly voiced by the same adult actress) are wandering through the world to save them.

They meet a fairy who originally says there’s no way she can help them, although she then promises they will go without hunger, thirst or cold. However, she also says “May God help you,” even though she’s a magical fairy who could have done more. Along the way, the town is poisoned by The Queen of __adness and her sister, who turn them into dead-eyed monkeys. Remember the sister from Snow White? Of course you don’t! Apparently she has one, and she kind of looks like Margaret Hamilton from The Wizard of Oz out of costume, but that’s probably a coincidence.

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The Queen of __adness often looks into her crystal ball because apparently a Magic Mirror cost too much for the props department. Instead of the iconic “Mirror mirror on the wall,” she opens with “Kachi Poochie Poochie Poochie” or some gibberish along those lines. It’s absolutely hysterical. She sends various monsters to stop Red Riding Hood and Tom Thumb along the road, but of course the children defeat them with the help of that totally-out-of-a-fairy-tale skunk.

At one point, the Queen of __adness even communicates with Satan himself, even though unlike K. Gordon’s other film, we don’t see Santa Claus shoot an arrow into his anus. Sadly, it’s just through her fireplace which apparently has a connection to hell.

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Strangely, a lot of time is spent with the wolf and ogre in prison, including Three Stooges antics where they hit each other with their prison ball and chain (although we hear a gong sound effect) and a poorly-overdubbed musical number.

Eventually the children free the wolf and ogre and confront all the villains in the kingdom. Red Riding Hood tricks the Queen of __adness into falling into her fireplace, sending her to Hell… or as Stinky the Skunk exclaims in his squeaky voice “The witch fell down to Hades.”

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Some skunks call it Hell, he calls it Hades.

This apparently destroys all of the evil in the entire world! Wow, K. Gordon, you’re really into epic tales of good and evil, aren’t you?

Did kids enjoy this? I just imagine they would have been confused and a bit horrified at points (the wolf and ogre are about to be sawed to death when they get saved). The dubbed songs are terrible and out of sync, the voice acting pretty lousy, and the plot nonsensical. It’s nowhere near as enjoyably bad as Santa Claus, but it’s worth it to revisit the truly awful and confusing world of K. Gordon Murray.

Next week, I’ll be back with my next Match-Up.

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