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!

Disney Songs -Duh duh DUH!

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Greetings, Glancers! It’s time once more to undertake a gargantuan and pointless project by listening to all of the Disney songs. That’s right – ALL OF THEM. And by ALL, I don’t mean all – I won’t be covering the straight to DVD sequels or the non-animated work – only the central Disney Animated movies, starting with Snow White and the Fourteen Twats from way back in 1937 (and for fun I’ll throw in some of the Pixar ones too).

As there are literally (not) billions of songs, I’m going to post one movie at a time. I have my favourites and while driving with the kids I will occasionally blast a Disney Greatest Hits, but many of those songs are dreadfully annoying. There will be many songs I’m either not familiar with or haven’t heard outside of the film or have simply forgotten. For now, here is a handy list of every movie I will be covering (may be changed later as for a few of these I don’t even know if they feature songs). Let us know in the comments which Disney Movie you feel has the best songs, and which songs are your favourites!

Snow White And The Seven Dwarves                                             Pinocchio

Dumbo                                                                                                    Bambi

Saludos Amigos                                                                                    The Three Caballeros

Make Mine Music                                                                                 Fun And Fancy Free                                                                                                                                                                                 Melody Time

The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr Toad                                    Cinderella

Alice In Wonderland                                                                          Peter Pan

The Lady And The Tramp                                                                 Sleeping Beauty

101 Dalmations                                                                                    The Sword In The Stone

The Jungle Book                                                                                  Robin Hood

The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh                                 The Rescuers

The Fox And The Hound                                                                   The Black Cauldron

The Great Mouse Detective                                                             Oliver And Company

The Little Mermaid                                                                            The Rescuers Down Under

Beauty And The Beast                                                                       Aladdin

The Nightmare Before Christmas (not complete Disney I know I know)

The Lion King                                                                                       Pocahontas

Toy Story                                                                                               The Hunchback Of Notre Dame

Hercules                                                                                                Mulan

A Bug’s Life                                                                                           Tarzan

Toy Story 2                                                                                            Dinosaur

The Emperor’s New Groove                                                              Atlantis

Monster’s Inc                                                                                        Lilo And Stich

Treasure Planet                                                                                   Finding Nemo

Brother Bear                                                                                        Teacher’s Pet

Home On The Range                                                                          The Incredibles

Pooh’s Heffalump Movie                                                                  Chicken Little

Cars                                                                                                        Meet The Robinsons

Ratatouille                                                                                            Bolt

UP                                                                                                           The Princess And The Frog

Toy Story 3                                                                                           Tangled

Cars2                                                                                                     Winnie The Pooh

Brave                                                                                                     Frankenweenie

Wreck It Ralph                                                                                    Monsters University

Planes                                                                                                    Frozen

Planes: Fire And Rescue                                                                   Big Hero 6

Inside Out                                                                                            The Good Dinosaur

Zootopia                                                                                               Finding Dory

Moana

Depending on the time I get around to doing these, I may also include the following as yet unreleased movies and lesser known Disney pics: A Goofy Movie, Doug’s 1st Movie, The Tigger Movie, Recess, Return To Never Land, The Jungle Book 2, Piglet’s Big Movie, The Wild, Mars Needs Moms, Moana, Cars 3, Coco, Wreck It Ralph 2, Toy Story 4, Gigantic.

Stay tuned then for a rundown and half-arsed review of all of the songs. Bibiddi bobbidi arrghh!

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!

Rings

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A brief bit of history – Ringu is my second favourite horror movie of all time, and one which kicked off my love for J-Horror. Its sequel is problematic but a lot of fun, while its prequel is glorious and criminally underrated. I saw both the US remake and its sequel upon release – I hated The Ring at the time – a watered down, cheap jump-scare filled mess, while the sequel I thought was decent throwaway fun. There was no real need for another entry, but then again enough time has passed and enough new technology has arrived to allow for some interesting new spins to explore. Does Rings explore these?

Does it fuck. Rings is a mess. I can’t think of a single, remotely scary moment in the film – no tension, not even any jump scares, and Samara is again some ultra cheap CG mess who looks like she would slip and break her back sooner than crawl across the room to murder you. The film does offer interesting ideas, but either abandons them or messes them up in some convoluted fashion. The idea of being trapped on an airplane with someone about to succumb to the curse is sound – hell, that’s a movie in itself right there. This is messed up and rushed and filled with inexplicable moments – why do all the screens change, why does the plane crash etc? The idea of a group, almost cult set up surrounding the video – who both apparently worship and fear the video, while simultaneously creating a system for viewing and sharing the video to keep each other alive while not spreading the loop too wide – again a sound idea. This is abandoned fairly early and doesn’t get a lot of discussion – it’s basically a minor plot point irrelevant to everything else that comes afterwards. There may be other interesting ideas, but I can’t recall given that my mind is clouded by the other crap.

So the plot is that a guy is leaving his gal to go off to college. They’re very luvvy-duvvy. After a while the guy doesn’t return her calls so the gal goes looking for him. For some reason she has dreams which seems to involve Samara, before she knows anything about it. After some amateur sleuthing she realizes that people seem to be covering up her bloke’s recent whereabouts and there is a lot of talk about watching a video. The girl goes to a house with another girl who promises to find the guy if she watches ‘The Video’. The guys calls just in time to tell her not to watch so she hides and the other girl is killed. Soon we hear all about it, the girl watches the video anyway to save her man, then they both go to investigate the history of the video, which for some reason has decided to display new images.

So, we get a lot of unnecessary additional back story which doesn’t tell us anything new, and some sort of unexplained convoluted reasoning to explain how Samara wants to break free from the binds of the videotape, using the girl. How could she have foreknowledge of the girl? Did she smell her through the bathroom door and thought she was some sort of key? Why? What is special about this girl? It seems pretty obvious that one of the first things any viewer of the videotape in the last 10 years would do is upload it and send to their friends, yet that seems to be the big scheme and shock ending after all. Why? Why find the body, why find the man who got the mother pregnant, why anything? It’s just completely absurd.

Why make it another teen movie too? Ringu was powerful because it was about a mother, her son, her ex partner. There were kids in it too, but they were peripheral. I have no problem with teens being the focus, except when it is only there as a cynical cash grab. And yet with all this, I didn’t hate the movie. Maybe it’s because when I watched it I was dying with some stinking cold and was possibly hallucinating a better movie as I watched, or maybe I’m too lenient on movies, crap as they may be. Aside from Samara, it looked decent enough – standard bland stuff, and the performances were fine – nothing memorable, nothing bad. In the end it’s an entirely pointless exercise with zero scares, and a nonsensical story. I still say someone could make another good Ring movie, but I think it’s time we let it die.

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!

Death Sentence

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The forgotten James Wan movie. James Wan is rightly one of the biggest names in horror, and deserves to be seen as much more than simply a single genre director. He has since has success in other realms and will presumably continue in that vein, but his first foray outside of the genre is nonetheless a violent and grim story of revenge which has just as much in common with Saw as it does with the 70’s films it seeks to emulate.

Based upon the book by Brian Garfield (in name and barely anything else only) which is a sequel to his novel Death Wish, this film follows a Nick – a wealthy (I want to say lawyer) man with a perfect life heading to the wrong part of town with his son to get some gas. Unfortunately for all concerned, a local gang is initiating a new member in the area and they rob the gas station, killing Nick’s son. We get scenes about how legal justice never works – a la Death Wish et al – and Nick takes the issue into his own hands. Normally, the protagonist would get his revenge after leveling up his Schwarzenegger and ninja stats and the movie would end with a hard rock credits sequence. Where Death Sentence is more interesting, more honest, closer to the source material, and ultimately more brutal is where it plays revenge as an unending cycle – you hurt me, I’ll hurt you – you stab me, I’ll shoot your wife – you have oil, I’ll airstrike you into oblivion. It doesn’t end, and no-one wins.

This cycle of revenge is played out with increasing violence and spectacle – we end up learning just as much about the gang members as we do about Nick, and the general tone is one of helplessness – is revenge the only option when justice doesn’t work? Do these events come from nowhere and we can have no answer for or resolution to them? Kevin Bacon gives one of his best performances as Nick, John Goodman hams it up nicely in a small role, and Kelly Preston is still as hot as get out (whatever that means). Wan shows a measured hand in the early proceedings garnering enough of an emotional core for us to care about what happens, before allowing the film to spiral out of control in the second half. The action is fast, the violence is grueling, and overall the film offers entertainment and intelligence (if not insight) in a sub genre not known for much more than a vigilante killing faceless punks.

Have you seen Death Sentence? How does it rank alongside other vigilante justice movies? Let us know in the comments!

Hellions

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I clicked on this one after meandering through my newly added Amazon horror movies for a while. I hadn’t heard of it, and I wasn’t aware of the talent involved being the camera. In all honesty it was a case of ‘the cover looks cool, the idea sounds okay without being too taxing, and Robert Patrick is in it’. It wasn’t until after watching that I realised it was directed by Bruce McDonald, whose Pontypool I had thoroughly enjoyed. There is a clear visual style at work in Hellions, a style which ensures that you will likely only remember this film for its look and presentation rather than its plot, cast, or what it is trying to say.

Fun fact – I wrote the above intro several months after watching the movie – and I am writing the rest of the review at least 6 months after writing the intro. Surprise surprise, I don’t really remember many details of the plot but I can remember clearly certain moments and how they looked. It’s weird being right. After reminding myself on IMDB of what the plot is – Hellions follows an annoyingly ‘don’t give a fuck’ teenage girl called Dora who has found out that she is inexplicably pregnant on Halloween night. As she waits at home for her boyfriend to visit she is harangued by children in creepy costumes who become increasingly insistent and violent and soon reality and fantasy bleed into each other until no-one has any idea what is going on.

Normally I would love this sort of film – I certainly appreciate the experimental style and the drive to create something unique, but it never comes across as scary or innovative or interesting. It’s essentially a home invasion movie on acid, but everything feels pretentious and the deliberate incoherence is too distracting. Every experiment needs a point, otherwise you’re just blindly pouring chemicals into a bowl and wondering why no-one cares. Is the point to show through image and noise how terrifying it can be to be pregnant at a young age? If so, why not have a more sympathetic lead? Is it all a dream? Is there any point? I’ll leave it up to you but it’s a difficult one to recommend – if you like trying to unravel visual puzzles or films which abandon plot for non-linear storytelling and visual flair then give it a shot. I don’t think your typical horror fan will get much out of this.

Have you seen Hellions? Did you enjoy it more than I did? Let us know in the comments!