Final Destination

*Originally written in 2003

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Of the teen horror movies which appeared in the Nineties era, most were dumb gore-fests with cheap shocks and a sexy, young cast. However, there were two stand outs: Scream, of course, and Final Destination. Both are intelligent, both have involving story lines, good characters, genuine shocks, and grisly deaths. While Scream was full of parodies and self-referential stuff, Final Destination played on our fear of death – the one common denominator which we all cannot avoid. While it does make jokes about itself and its genre, they are fewer than Scream, and do not go as over the top as some other films. The director fills every scene with real tension and fear, and successfully combines this with excellent set pieces and stunts, as well as sustaining a brilliant story. There are few films that can do this so we should admire Final Destination.

128 students are planning to travel to France with their teachers for one last big school trip. The plane crashes, killing everyone on board. We then flashback and realise that it was the premonition of one of the students, Alex. He has been having a strange day, and when he sees that his premonition is coming true he tries to get everyone off the plane. Like a certain Twilight Zone episode he succeeds in only causing a minor panic and some embarrassment, but is fortuitously thrown off the plane together with a few others who got involved. As they wait in the airport Alex relates what he saw and of course no one believes him. Suddenly the plane explodes – his premonition came true. In the aftermath, some of the survivors mourn, others see it as a second chance, the cops become interested in how Alex knew what was going to happen, and Alex has further visions. Soon the survivors are killed in bizarre ways, and the cops believe it is Alex. Alex thinks that death is stalking them because they cheated it, and he works out the order that they will die in, believing that if they can understand the visions and prevent themselves from dying again, they will be safe. This will not be easy though, as death can, and does strike from everywhere.

The idea behind the story is excellent, and it is stylishly and effectively executed. It will appeal to the teen audience it is aimed at, but also older viewers as it is a very thought-provoking, existential film when stripped back. One character, Carter, believes he is in control of his own life, not some invisible force, and at one point tries to prove this by parking on train tracks in front of an approaching train. Alex becomes increasingly paranoid, hiding in a hut from death, safe-proofing it in every way he can. Clear tries to be strong, has learnt to be this way through a tough childhood and cannot believe that all life is is a series of days avoiding death. The other survivors all have their individuality, and are not pastiches of other characters from teen movies. The performances are each outstanding, even from Sean William Scott who proves he is better than just being Stiffler forever. The side plot of the cops believing Alex is behind the deaths adds a depth which most teen horror films do not have.

Wong’s direction is very stylish, and the deaths and set pieces are some of the most innovative ever, recalling the style of Argento. That everything is a potential killer is an idea ripe for exploitation. Wong also creates a massive amount of tension throughout, peaking with each death – the train and car scene will get the most flabby heart racing, the teacher in the kitchen is brilliantly staged within every fork and implement seeming deadly. The opening 15 minutes have to be among the most tense and exciting 15 minutes in horror movie history, confirming all those with a fear of flying to stay firmly on the ground. The film shows how we are not immortal, and without the humorous moments it might become too much.

There are many famous shock moments, the bus scene being the most notorious – many have complained about this being stupid and unrealistic, but if Death was stalking you, of course it would try to put the approaching bus under a veil of silence. The premise may seem too far-fetched for people, but this is primarily for a horror crowd who come baying for the blood, and we do appreciate it more when our intelligence isn’t insulted. Death here as a character does have a sense of humour, each death being ironic, gruesome or made to look like an accident, but this is all the more terrifying, that this force is coming after us for entertainment. Death wants immediate pay back for those who cheated it, but in the style of a Bond villain, likes to play with its victims first. Of course the deaths may seem impossible in the real world, but if it is Death stalking us, I think it has the power to bend a few rules. Most criticism I have read of this film is petty and unexplained, but I can understand why some would be put off by it. For clever, shocking, exciting teen horror movies, there are very few better than this.

What do you think of Final Destination and its many sequels – let us know in the comments!

El Mariachi

*Originally written in 2003

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The Nineties gave us a surge of impressive, stylish, innovative young film-makers from all around the globe, with Robert Rodriguez leading the way in his ability to make a low-budget film look like a Blockbuster. El Mariachi was filmed in a short time with a minuscule budget, but put him on the map. A solid story, good acting, great music and cinematography, confident and effective editing, and explosive action that many directors fail to achieve with a much larger budget – El Mariachi delivers thrills, laughs, good dialogue, and one of the coolest characters of the decade.

Carlos Gallardo stars as El Mariachi, a travelling musician who simply wants to carry on his family tradition. The next town he wanders into is run by crime-lord Moco. One of Moco’s former employees Azul has become a hit-man and is wiping out Moco’s men as Moco had turned against him. His trademark is his guitar case filled with weapons. When El Mariachi wanders into the town he is mistaken by Moco’s men and he finds himself in constant danger. He tries to find a way to prove his innocence, but when local woman Domino becomes involved the stakes grow. Soon a war erupts in the town.

This is constantly impressive when considering the $7000 budget. Rodriguez ensures that every scene seems like it drips with gold and style. The action is swift and exciting, the performances (mainly by total amateurs), particularly from Gallardo, Consuelo Gomez, and Peter Marquardt are very strong with each portrayal making sure each character sticks in the head. El Mariachi is an innocent forced into a deadly game which will transform his life and haunt him forever. Domino is also drawn into the seedy world, is feisty but vulnerable. Moco is a cigar smoking, white-suited menace who oozes villainy. Truly one of the best ultra low budget films ever.

Let us know what you thought of El Mariachi and any of the sequels and how you feel the director’s career has progressed over the years!

1971 Academy Awards – An Introduction

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The 44th Academy Awards had three films with runaway success – pity for everyone else. Fiddler On The Roof, The Last Picture Show, and The French Connection each received eight nominations with the latter taking the most wins with five. It was another sign of the film landscape leaning towards more gritty output – realism rather than fantasy, and real people struggling with genuine problems which viewers could relate to.

As usual the standard list of performers were called upon to present awards and sing – Frank Capra, Betty Grable, Tennesse Williams, Gene Hackman, and Liza Minelli all presented, while The Carpenters, Issac Hayes, and Henry Mancini were among those performing. Another notable moment was when Charlie Chaplin arrived to receive an Honourary Award, also picking up the longest standing ovation in Oscar’s history.

As for my thoughts on the films of 1971 – some of the major official players will feature heavily while a few under-represented, cult, and personal favourites will get some stealth nominations. Join me over the next few weeks and share your thoughts and picks in each category!

Visitor Q

*Review from 2004

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This must rank with Dead or Alive (1-3), and The Happiness of the Katakuris as one of Miike’s most weird, and along with Audition as one of his best. Thanks to the Tartan DVD distributors once again, as no-one else would have the bravery or intelligence to release such fantastic films as these.

The thinking behind Visitor Q involved a company called CineRocket who made 6 films with the COMBINED budget of under £400,000! Miike’s Visitor Q is the final part of the non-connecting series, and according to critic Chris Campion the only rules he had to follow were ‘that it had to be shot on digital video and deal with the theme of pure love’. It is probably true that most viewers of this film will find it sickening, insane, and depraved while having no involvement of love, pure or otherwise. However, it is the lactation of the mother which, in a way brings the family together in love for each other, while before there had only been coldness and isolation. Apparently the act of breast-feeding releases oxytocin in the body, an addictive hormone sometimes called the ‘hormone of love’ (Campion again). Therefore Miike shows love in its purest form.

The film, like so many other Miike features deals with the family, both looking at it as a whole, and looking at the individuals within it. The father is a reporter, shamed by one of his past pieces of work which saw him anally abused by a group of kids. He is searching for a way to boost ratings, to keep his mistress happy, and perhaps redeem himself. He decides to make a film about the youth of Japan and when he decides to get a young prostitute to interview he is surprised to find that it is his daughter who recently ran away from home. One thing leads to another, and almost the first 10 minutes of the film involves Kiyoshi and his daughter in a bed. Questions are asked- ‘Have you ever slept with your daughter? Have you ever been hit on the head? Have you ever hit your mother?’ Kiyoshi is struck on the head by a mysterious young man who then ends up in Kiyoshi’s house. We meet his wife, a heroine addict who is constantly physically abused by their son, who is constantly bullied by other kids. The mysterious Visitor begins to get involved with the family, and when Kiyoshi decides to make a film about the bullying of a son (his) from a father’s perspective, the visitor helps, doing some of the camera-work. He does not seem moved in any way by the violence around him, but he manages to teach each member a lesson which brings them together, apparently against the world. He shows the mother how to lactate which proves to her that she is a normal woman, which completely rejuvenates her. Kiyoshi continues to make his film – we see more violence, death, rape, drugs, necrophilia etc etc. It all becomes completely absurd and hilarious, but the narrative never falls apart and by the end we have been completely sucked in.

Filmed on digital, Miike proves to be a master of the format even with his first attempt. If you get past the first 15 or 20 minutes the film will become less revolting, but no less shocking, and you will find yourself laughing uncontrollably with everything happening. Every scene breaks a taboo or shows something new. The story is interesting throughout, each performance is excellent considering the amount of nudity and the content, the scenes of violence, drugs, and sex all look flawlessly real, and we cannot look away. Of course, most people in the West will never see this film, and many that do may switch off before getting to the end because it is extreme. If you cannot handle extreme films, then stay away. Also, Koji Endo provides another excellent score, the final song-‘Bubble of Water’ by Real Time is perfect for the conclusion ensuring that those final scenes will stick in your head for a long time. If you are a fan of Miike, Japanese film, or extreme movies in general, put this at the top of your list. Unmissable.

Let us know in the comments if you have seen Visitor Q or any other Miike films and what you thought!

The Gate

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The 80’s, horror movies, and kids go together like the noughties, The Daily Mail and pedophilia stories. As a younger audience began to take up a bigger slice of the market in the decade, horror movies starring and marketed towards kids and teens became the norm and we saw a number of now classic movies being released. The Gate is one of this group, and while it isn’t in the same league as something like The Lost Boys, it is a fun watch with a load of practical special effects, laughs, and scares.

We have a classic 80’s movie set up – kid boy and older teenage sister are being left alone in their house while their parents go away for a weekend of sexing. The boy is like any 80’s kid and has a geeky best friend, the sister is a bit of a bimbo wannabe and has a group of annoying friends. Due to a host of 80’s reasons – prophetic dreams, weird rocks, unintentional blood-letting, and heavy metal, the boy (Glen) causes a gateway to hell or something to open up in his garden, and a variety of demons, possessions, and little claymation freaks lay siege to the house. The three kids try to fend off the hordes and work out how to close The Gate, and we get some laughs, actions, soft scares, and snazzy effects along the way – it’s basically The Evil Dead for kids.

If I’d seen this regularly in the 80’s I probably would have enjoyed it more, but as such it remains an interesting artifact for newcomers. There will be nostalgic charm for many viewers of a certain age, but not a lot for modern audiences to get out of it. Steven Dorff is good in the lead role, showing a lot of skill at a young age while the rest of the cast are fine if unremarkable. The film takes a while to get out of first gear, but the last part of the movie emulates the likes of Poltergeist as it tries to pack in the thrills and the special effects. While the effects do not hold up, some of the model work is excellent and would have been impressive at the time of release, the scares are not going to have an impact on anyone but the youngest viewer, and the dialogue and laughs are likely only going to be enjoyed by the nostalgic viewer. Still, this makes a nice introduction to horror movies for the younger kid along with classics like Ghostbusters and Gremlins and would still provide some spooky fun during a Halloween party.

Have you seen The Gate? Let us know in the comments how you feel it ranks against other classics of the genre from the same time.

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

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British Televsion comedy can be excellent, unfortunately it’s usually the dregs like The Office or Little Britain which reach a wider audience, while classics such as People Like Us, Look Around You, The League Of Gentlemen, or Alan Partridge get overlooked. The character of Partridge has been a beloved figure here for decades now, but it’s only recently that he made his big screen debut. Does it succeed in translating to the movie format where so, so many have failed before?

Yeah, pretty much. Partridge as character is both strong and established enough to fit any medium – radio, TV, stage, and film. Coogan and Iannucci have been writing and performing this guy for decades and still find ways to keep things (my most hated word) fresh. Keeping things up to date is easy when you have someone like Partridge – he isn’t a product of a decade or a flash in the pan – he’s just some bloke who has lived and grown as all humans do – we just happen to have seen it happen. That’s the key factor in the movie being a success. On top of that, the writing is as sharp as ever, the performances are just as good as on the small screen, and the plot is cinematic and over the top without being overblown or reaching into silly excess. There is no need for globe-trotting or apocalyptic villains or endless celeb cameos. It’s just Partridge in an unusual, but not unexpected, hostage crisis.

As you would imagine, Partridge is the architect of some of what happens. His job at North Norfolk Digital is at risk after a buyout by some larger corporation so when he hears that it’s either him or fellow DJ Pat who will be axed, he does his best to save his own skin. Later, a disgruntled Pat enters the Station armed with a shotgun and demands his job back. Soon all manner of awkward Partridge antics ensue as Alan tries his hand at negotiating, surviving, scheming, DJing from within the hostage situation, and making sure he comes out on top.

Like the best movies based off shows, this feels like an extended episode which both respects and expands the show’s mythology/universe. The humour will be familiar to fans of the show, as will most of the faces – most of the series regulars show up here, from long suffering Lynn and Geordie weirdo Michael, to Mid Morning Matters co star Simon. Plenty of gags in the script which will reveal themselves with multiple viewings, and plenty of laughs from the more physical side.The movie never tries to cater for a new audience my going to extremes of action or casting, and is more than comfortable in its own skin – if you like any of the Partridge or Coogan shows, then you will undoubtedly enjoy this. Newcomers should find an easy blend of comedy and action, but I have a feeling that the audience will continue to be mostly British – it’s not as immediately universal as something like Mr Bean, though once you understand the characters and his quirks it should sell anywhere.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Alpha Pappa and if you think it does a good job of both advertising and expanded on the series!

Nightman Defines – Viewer Categorization

So, something which has tickled my ass (interested me) recently is the notion of how to classify or categorize people who watch movies – mainly in reference to trying to decide what an essential movie is. Is Citizen Kane really an essential watch for someone who watches maybe ten movies a year? Is The Seven Samurai a must-see for people who only watch movies made in Hollywood? Conversely, is A New Hope an absolute watch for someone in Japan, or Iran, or India? I don’t know the answer to these things (even though the answer is yes) and I’m not going to offer any solutions here.

In reading other blogs and lists recently – fans’ favourite movies ever, critical lists of the best or most important or most essential movies ever, and also writing my Scoring System post has made me question if a better way to think about such things is by categorizing the viewer. The film is the film is the film, but opinions on the film obviously differ from person to person – it seems to me, without an ounce of research, that you can roughly guess the score of a film, or how someone feels about it, by categorizing the viewer – would the person who only watches the latest blockbusters think Citizen Kane was essential, or even good? Probably not. Categorizing people – it’s the way of the world, it’s tribal, it’s how we differentiate between who the good’uns are and who the ones who want to ravage our women and eat are babies are – you know, the ones who talk or look funny or live in that weird country five miles south behind an invisible, arbitrary border.

Yeah, I hate categorization under almost all circumstances – they serve only to de-humanize and make it easier to sleep at night after dropping bombs on them/not offering them a helping hand/refusing to pay them/telling them how they should live their lives. The individual is God. Yet, on the other hand, I love statistics and spreadsheets and lists and management sim games. It’s weird being me, in constant turmoil of hating and loving things even though those things are related.

We’re not trying to solve the world’s ills here though. All I’m doing is calling out a few loose categories of viewer and afterwards I might go back and look through my Oscars posts and say which films are ‘suitable’ for each group. Feel free to break my definitions apart and add your own – I don’t want a tonne of these so I’m hoping five will be a fair number, baring in mind that I’m thinking as I type with no fore planning. I will say that each category has a certain sliding scale and are malleable. Also, these could presumably translate to other media, such as music, games, books…. bird watching.

The Critic

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The Critic is at the head of the table. It is a critic’s job to watch everything, regardless of genre, country of origin, language, era etc. The Critic must also be knowledgeable about the history of film, technical processes, what is involved in the creation of a film, and be able to rattle off the most commonly thought of important and influential films of a particular genre, movement, actor, director etc. They will tend to have one or more individual specialist subjects, such as the life of FW Murnau or Spaghetti Westerns. They are more likely to be objective, more likely to be critical of what is popular, and more appreciative or originality, importance, and influence.

The Film Nerd

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The Film Nerd is more often a blogger or a Youtuber. Traditionally they will not have the same access to and knowledge of movies as the Critic, but those lines are being blurred both positively and negatively each year. Nowadays The Film Nerd may see a similar amount of movies as The Critic, but will likely have a tendency towards the popular or the cult rather than the artistic or important, especially when you stretch the boundaries of what is mainstream and what is recent. Genre and language should not be of significance to The Film Nerd when deciding to watch a movie. They should have knowledge of the filmmaking process, but that knowledge will be less on the technical side and more on the conversational side – it is less likely they have studied film in any capacity when compared with The Critic, and won’t have the same level of educational discipline. They will probably care less about certain critical details and be more appreciative of popular efforts than The Critic while also enjoying ‘nerdy continuity’ such as actors reappearing in works with same director. They will be more invested by personal enjoyment than importance or influence, yet they will seek out any movie deemed important or influential by critics. They will have their personal favourite genres, directors, performers etc, but should not let this cloud their judgment.

The Wannabe

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The Wannabe wants to be a critic. Or in the movie business. For my purposes we’ll say they are a critic in waiting. They will have their own blog or channel and will strive to watch everything, but may be more easily influenced by critical opinion – ‘I’m watching this because I’ve been told I have to, and even though I don’t really understand it I’m going to say I love it’. They may sacrifice what is current and popular in their quest to catch up on the critical lists and become narrow  – they should strive to watch everything. The Wannabe is likely a film student or graduate, or has studied some area of Humanities. They don’t have the objectivity or historical or technical knowledge of The Critic yet but must be willing to learn if they wish to become what they desire.  They will have a guilty pleasure which they will hold on to and proclaim as important or essential when it probably is not, giving them an added layer of arrogance as they belief it proves they watch what ‘the rest of us’ watch.

The Fan

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The Fan is a fan of movies in general – they will try to watch as many movies as time allows, but it won’t consume their life. The fan can branch out in many directions and become a specialist – The Horror Fan, The Spielberg Fan, The Audrey Hepburn Fan etc, but in most cases they will stick to what is popular. If they are presented with a list of most essential movies ever, they will have seen many of them, but likely those which are more mainstream, recent, or commercial. The Fan won’t have any burning desire to see every movie on that list, but they will seek out those ones they have heard about from friends who are also in The Fan category. They will enjoy movies by or starring certain people, but won’t necessarily hunt down those they have missed. They will enjoy watching trailers of upcoming movies, get excited by sequels, and the majority of their movie watching will cover films which earned the most money in any given year rather than the indie or foreign markets.

The Casual

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The Casual merely enjoys movies – if you take them on a date to the Cinema, it better be something simple like a comedy or action movie starring whoever was on the cover of Tiger Beat recently (that’s not a thing any more, is it?). The Casual watches only what is popular, what others are talking about in school, work, or on TV, and will likely see much fewer movies per year than The Fan. If it’s not in the charts, they won’t be interested. Black and White? Subtitles? Slightly unusual? No thanks. They know what they like and stick to it, and that is usually a narrow field. The Casual may find themselves surprised if they take a risk and discover they actually enjoy something forced upon them by a friend who is in The Fan or Film Nerd category. They more likely enjoy the clothes and red carpet information than The Oscars themselves, and might even care more about who is in a movie than who made it or what it is about. They probably ask a lot of questions while watching and look at their phone.

The Careless

The Careless could NOT care less. Yes, Americans, that is the correct way of saying that phrase. The Careless is probably your dad. Or your mum. Or a farmer. They will have no interest in the discussion of movies and will have no desire to go to the Cinema. They won’t care if they are forced to go by friends, significant other, or kids, but they will likely not may much attention to the movie. If they do, they will have likely forgotten about it the next day. A certain breed of The Careless may enjoy a particular genre or actor, likely due to a crush or some sort of formative experience – Westerns or David Soul or some such. They will channel surf and may stumble upon a movie that looks interesting and watch it, or fall asleep watching it. For The Careless, movies are a distraction from what they really care about, or a novelty that is experienced irregularly and disposed of.

The Twat 

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The Twat only watches a certain type of movie and nothing else – don’t be like The Twat. Like a hipster is to music, The Twat doesn’t really like movies, just watches or claims to watch them so that they can be part of a discussion which they can then turn around to serve their own selfish needs. Alternatively, The Twat may genuinely love their chosen movie but will absolutely, stubbornly refuse to hear any criticism of it or suggestion of an alternative.

So there you have it, some rough breakage (roughage?) of people into groups. You shouldn’t be ashamed of whichever one you fall into, that’s who you are after all, and who you are will influence what films you enjoy. You can of course aim to move into another category, or you may tow the line between two or three of them, but don’t be ashamed. Unless you’re The Twat, in which case I suggest you drastically re-evaluate your life.

Stage two of this needless endeavor will see me (well, it will see me thinking about, but probably not writing about because once I have something out of my system I tend to forget about it) looking at a bunch of movies and ranking them per the above types. Maybe I’ll go through my Oscar’s posts, maybe I’ll take some Critical list or poll and investigate. Or maybe I’ll get drunk. Yeah, that seems like the more plausible outcome.