Friday, February 8, 2013

A Good Day to Gab Hard

Wise: Hello, Werth.

Werth: Hello, Wisewait I'm getting this strong sense of déjà vu.

Wise: Because we do this every Friday?

Werth: Because I am yet again seeing Bruce Willis as NY detective John McClane running around shooting guns, dodging explosions and uttering variations of his famous "Yippe-ki-yay" catchphrase.

Wise: The fifth entry in the Die Hard franchise does open next week.

Werth: The day after Valentine's Day. 'Cause nothing says, "I love you" like a sequel.

Wise: Sequels are very often valentines to the original movies—attempting to rekindle audiences' passions by revisiting past cinematic loves—but other times a sequel transforms its predecessor, offering deeper shades to the characters and greater obstacles to overcome.  And few sequels succeed so brilliantly as Babe: Pig in the City (1998).  

Werth: My favorite pork-related sequel happens to be bacon.

Wise: The first Babe (1995), one of the rare kiddie flicks that became a critical darling as well as a worldwide blockbuster, follows the adventures of the titular pig who escapes his smokehouse destiny, overcomes his insecurities and, with the aid of the other farm animals, becomes a champion sheepdoger, pig. 
The second film makes a sly nod to its predecessor's success by showing Babe (E.G. Daily taking over for Christine Cavanaugh) so puffed up by triumph that he causes an accident endangering the life of Farmer Hoggett (James Cromwell) and driving the farm into bankruptcy.  

Werth: I'm still thinking about bacon...  

Wise: In an effort to raise money, Mrs. Hoggett (Magda Szubanski) journeys with our porcine hero to an unnamed metropolis where she hopes to capitalize on Babe's fame.  A series of mishaps lands the pair in a (literal) fleabag hotel where things go from bad to worse, and Mrs. Hoggett winds up in jail while Babe leads a breakout from an animal testing lab. 
The plot sounds grim (which is part of the reason why the film flopped at the box office), but the characterizations by the voice actors (particuarly Danny Mann's Ferdinand the Duck) and George Miller's deft direction and nimble screenplay (skills honed on the Mad Max franchise) focuses attention on the characters' heroics rather than their troubles. 
Plus, the film is packed with so many oddball delights like Dean Martin-obsessed mice; operatic cats; the doomed romance between a floozy poodle and a pitbull; a morose orangutang; as well as Mickey Rooney playing a mute clown.  

Werth: It must have been difficult for him to chew the scenery with his mouth shut.  

Wise: The film is definitely strange, but it's a gem, transcending its kiddie origins to make thoughtful arguments about morality and mortality without ever descending into the hammy.  

Werth: My favorite sequel belongs to a film franchise that has re-invented itself not once but twice. Now spanning 12 movies (if you count this summer's Into Darkness) the Star Trek film juggernaut just keeps living long and prospering. But with all the different captains, and timeline verisons of captains (don't ask) my favorite of the Trek series has always been Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Wise: And not just because of the fine Corinthian leather

Werth: Released after the TV series made its leap to the big screen in 1979 under the direction of Robert Wise, Khan continues the story of the crew of the starship Enterprise by re-visiting an old episode from the original series.
Khan (Ricardo Montalban) is a 21st Century genetically engineered super-criminal who was marooned on a planet by Captain Kirk (William Shatner) fifteen years ago, and he is pissed.
When he gets his chance to escape with a planet-destroying/creating weapon, he goes after Kirk and the Enterprise with a vengeance that can best be described as obsessive.

Wise:Eerily similar to the way Kirk obsesses over alien babes. 

Werth: What makes this movie so much more than Trekkie fodder is how director Nicholas Meyer creates a wonderful balance between special-effects-laden space battles and flesh and blood characters. Shatner's typical bravado gets a kick in the balls as he realizes he is getting old. 
His deep friendship with Spock (Leonard Nimoy) takes on a focus that is the apogee of a relationship we've watched grow for years. His scenes with Nimoy expose the scared and unsure man behind Shatner's posturing and campy line readings, giving depth to a character that was previously little more than an "overgrown Boy Scout." 
But in case this is all sounding too serious for you sci-fi fans, Montalban's Melville-quoting Khan outcamps Kirk with a glee that rivals the best Bond villains. Khan may be a Star Trek movie, but it is a sequel that transcends its own geeky predecessor... and reminds us of the dangers of earwigs.  

Wise: Just hearing about earwigs makes me shivver.  

Werth: Get some earplugs and make sure you're around for next week's Film Gab. 

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