Horror Film Review: Final Destination 2 (dir by David R. Ellis)


After I rewatched Final Destination, I watched it’s sequel, 2003’s Final Destination 2.

Final Destination 2 is not only one of the best horror sequels ever made but it’s also the film that, even more than the first installment of the series, established what we consider to be a typical Final Destination film.  The characters are far more eccentric and the deaths are far more elaborate.  Death itself shows a sense of humor that wasn’t present in the first Final Destination film.  If you manage to escape Death the first time, Death isn’t just going to track you down.  It’s going to play without and have some fun before it finally fills its quota.

Final Destination 2 opens with Kimberly Corman (AJ Cook) having a vision of a crash on the interstate.  She’s so freaked out by her vision that she blocks the entrance ramp.  This may save the life of everyone stalled behind her but it also ends up killing all of her friends when a truck smashes into her SUV.  Fortunately, Kimberly survives because she had gotten out of the vehicle to talk to a policeman named Thomas Burke (Michael Landes).

So, the bad news is that all of Kimberly’s friends are dead.

The good news is that Kimberly has a whole new group of friends, all of the people who were supposed to die on that highway but who are now alive and on Death’s do-over list as a result of Kimberly’s actions.

Along with Kimberly and Thomas, Death now has to take care of lottery winner Evan Lewis (David Paetaku), stoner Rory (Jonathan Cherry), neurotic chainsmoker Kat (Keegan Tracy Connor), teacher Eugene Dix (T.C. Carson), and Nora (Lynda Boyd) and her son, Tim (James Kirk).  It turns out that Death is not only after them because they didn’t die on the highway but also because they all have a connection to the deaths that occurred in the first Final Destination.  It’s actually a pretty clever idea and it also provides an excuse for Clear Rivers (Ali Larter) to return from the first film and act as a sort of death guru.

Needless to say, the deaths are elaborate.  In fact, they’re so elaborate that Final Destination 2 occasionally feels like a satirical take on the first film.  It’s not just that Nora loses her head in an elevator accident.  It’s that there just happens to be an old man carrying a box full of claws on the elevator.  In another scene, Rory looks inside a closet and sees hundreds of things that could possibly kill him, my favorite being the bowling ball that just happens to be precariously balanced on the top shelf.  When Clear Rivers returns, she doesn’t just explain how death works.  She also gives them a list of safety precautions that make her sound like an overly protective parent, looking at her son or daughter’s apartment and freaking out over how many appliances have been plugged into one outlet.

Final Destination 2 is a clever film with an appropriately dark and macabre sense of humor.  On the one hand, all of the characters are well-written and the cast is so likable that you don’t want to see any of them die.  On the other hand, Death is so inventive that it’s hard not to want to see what it has up its sleeve.  And, like the first film, the sequel works because it gets at a universal truth.  You can avoid death but can never truly escape it.

Horror Film Review: Final Destination (dir by James Wong)


I was recently rewatching the 2000 film, Final Destination, and a few things occurred to me.

Number one, no one ever really thanks Devon Sawa for getting them off that plane before it explodes.  Final Destination opens with a group of high school students boarding a plane so that they can go on their senior class trip to Paris.  (I wish I had gone to their high school.  Our senior class trip was to …. well, we didn’t get one.)  When Alex Browning (Devon Sawa) has a vision of the plane exploding, he freaks out and he, his teacher, and a few other students are kicked off the plane.  Needless to say, everyone’s pretty upset with Alex but then, just a few minutes after taking off, the plane does explode.  Alex was right.  He saved everyone’s lives.

And yet, no one ever says, “Thank you, Alex!”  Instead, everyone is still like, “Hey, that’s the weirdo that ruined our trip to Paris!”  No, the plane exploding is what ruined your trip to Paris.  Alex saved your life!  Poor Alex.  And yet, it kind of makes sense.  In the face of inexplicable tragedy, people need someone to blame and Alex is a convenient scapegoat.

That scapegoating continues once the survivors of the flight start to mysteriously die.  No one wants Alex near them, even though Alex has managed to figure out that Death is stalking them because they messed up its plans by getting off of that plane.  Then again, Alex doesn’t always come across as if he’s the most stable person in the world.  Gaunt and hallow-eyed, Sawa portrays Alex as someone who haunted by survivor’s guilt even before it became obvious that he and his former friends were being targeted.  Sawa, it should be said, gives a remarkably good performance in Final Destination.

Another thing that occurred to me as I rewatched Final Destination is that, in this film, Death doesn’t have much of a sense of humor.  The Final Destination sequels are notorious for their elaborate and often ironic death scenes, the majority of which seem to indicate that Death might be a little bit too clever and precocious for its own good.  However, in the first Final Destination, Death is a lot more direct and, in some ways, a lot more sadistic.  Terry Chaney (Amanda Detmer) steps out in the street and gets run over by a bus.  Goofy Billy Hitchcock (Seann William Scott — why two n’s Seann!?) makes the mistake of standing too close to the railroad tracks and he loses the top half of his head.  Death really only get creative when it comes to taking out Todd Waggner (Chad E. Donella) and Ms. Lewton (Kristen Cloke) and, even then, it’s methods are nowhere near as elaborate as they would eventually become.

The final thing that I noticed is that Final Destination holds up really well.  It’s hard to remember now but, when Final Destination first came out, a lot of critics dismissed it as just being a slasher film with a slightly clever twist.  But actually, that twist is far more than just “slightly” clever and the film really does a lot more with the idea than it’s often given credit for.  Final Destination is a film full of thrills and chills — I still freak out at some of those death scenes — but it’s also a film that always makes me think about mortality.  Has our destiny already been written?  Can we defeat death?  Or are we just pawns with our fates predetermined?  In the end, that’s what makes Final Destination so effective.  We all know that we can’t escape death, both in real life and in the movies.  The one thing that everyone has in common is that death is eventually going to come for all of us.  It’s the one enemy that we can’t defeat or laugh away.  Instead, all we can do is try to hold it off for a while.  Final Destination taps into the fears that we all have.

The plot is clever.  The script is frequently witty.  I liked the fact the characters were all named after horror movie icons.  Plus, you got Tony Todd dominating the entire film with just a brief role.  Final Destination is a classic.

American Outlaws (2001, directed by Les Mayfield)


Returning to their hometown in Missouri in the days following the end of the Civil War, former Confederate guerrillas Jesse James (Colin Farrell) and Cole Younger (Scott Caan) are disgusted to discover that the railroad companies are trying to take over everyone’s land.  After Cole’s cousin and Jesse’s mother are killed by railway thugs, Jesse and Cole take revenge by forming the James/Younger Gang and robbing banks.  Soon, the members of the James/Younger Gang become folk heroes and the railroad company resorts to bringing in Alan Pinkerton (Timothy Dalton) to track the outlaws down.  However, even as they try to remain out of the clutches of Pinkerton’s men, there is growing dissension in the ranks of the James/Younger Gang.  Cole feels like Jesse doesn’t respect his opinions while Jesse is falling in love with Zee (Ali Larter) and it’s hard to court a girl when you’re constantly having to hide out from Alan Pinkertson.  Meanwhile, the other members of the gang wonder why their wanted posters never look as good as Jesse’s and Cole’s.

There have been many movies made about the James/Younger Gang and this is certainly one of them.  What sets this telling apart from other versions of this familiar tale is that American Outlaws is the feel-good version of the story.  Bob and Charley Ford are nowhere to be seen in American Outlaws and Jesse James doesn’t get shot in the back while straightening a picture.  This approach misses the point of what makes the legend of Jesse James so memorable in the first place.  Jesse James was the greatest outlaw in the west but he was ultimately taken down by a coward who shot him in the back.  Take out that part of the story and the story loses all of its power.  Jesse James just becomes another outlaw.

In real life, the James/Younger Gang were reportedly a rough group of outlaws who didn’t hesitate when it came to killing.  In American Outlaws, they come across more like a boy band with a side hustle robbing banks.  Jesse is the soulful leader, Cole is the rebel, and the other members of the gang are the interchangeable backup vocalists.  There’s been many good and even great films made about the James/Younger Game.  American Outlaws is not one of them.  For a good movie about the life and times of Jesse James and his associates, I would suggest checking out Walter Hill’s The Long Riders or Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

Horror Film Review: Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (dir by Paul W. S. Anderson)


Resident Evil: The Final Chapter?

Yeah, right.

There’s a long tradition of venerable horror franchises claiming that their latest installment is “the final chapter.”  The Friday the 13th franchise declared that the fourth part would be the final chapter and then promptly announced that part five would be a new beginning.  As long as a franchise is still making a profit, nothing truly ends.  Resident Evil: The Final Chapter basically admits that at the end of its final chapter, when one of the surviving characters literally announces that the mission is not over.

Anyway, Resident Evil: The Not-So Final Chapter will probably seem totally incoherent to anyone who has not watched the previous film.  To be honest, even though I’ve seen the other Resident Evil films, I always have a hard time working my way through the franchise’s dense mythology.  There are times when I suspect that, much like the Underworld films, the Resident Evil films were specifically designed to mess with my ADD.  That said, the Resident Evil franchise has never made a secret about being more concerned with spectacle and action than with narrative coherence.  If you’re the type who obsesses of the lack of logic and plausibility in a horror-action film based on a video game, then you’re not the right audience for Resident Evil.

The Final Chapter finds Alice (Milla Jovovich) right where the previous Resident Evil film left her, in the ruins of the White House.  The world is still zombiefied and monsterfied, all as a result of the nefarious work of the Umbrella Corporation.  Alice is contacted by the Red Queen (Ever Gabo Anderson), who explains that Alice needs to return to Raccoon City and invade the Hive before Umbrella releases yet another virus.  Alice travels back the Hive, which leads to several of Resident Evil‘s trademark, over-the-top action sequences.  Along the way, a lot of familiar faces pop up.  Alice is reunited with Claire (Ali Larter).  Dr. Alexander Isaacs (Iain Glen) shows up, explaining that the Isaacs who Alice killed a few movies ago was actually just a clone.  (No one ever dies in Resident Evil.  Instead, they just get cloned.)

Of course, Albert Wesker returns as well.  Ever since Resident Evil: Afterlife, Wesker has been played by a Canadian actor named Shawn Roberts.  Watching The Final Chapter, it took me only a few seconds to realize that Shawn Roberts also played Dean the Rapist in five episodes of Degrassi: The Next Generation.  That storyline, in which Dean raped Paige and it then took two years (and two seasons) for the case to go to trial just to end with Dean getting acquitted and smirking at Paige as he left the courtroom, remains one of Degrassi‘s most powerful storylines.  Roberts uses that same smirk while playing Wesker.

Paul W. S. Anderson returns to direct The Final Chapter.  Though Anderson seems to be destined to be best known as “that other director named Paul Anderson,” he’s actually pretty good when it comes to directing nonstop action.  (For the record, I thought Anderson’s Pompeii was a sadly underrated film.)  The Final Chapter is fun and silly as long as you don’t waste any time to thinking about it and Anderson keeps the action coming so quickly that you literally don’t have time to worry about whether or not the movie makes any sense.  The film’s prologue, in which a boy gets zombiefied on a cable car, was actually pretty exciting and a reminder of the visceral horror that it is at the heart of all zombie films.

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter was released in January and, despite some decidedly mixed review, it became the highest grossing film in the franchise.  In other words, this is definitely not the final chapter…

Back to School #55: Varsity Blues (dir by Brian Robbins)


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“I don’t want your finger.”

Bleh!

The 1999 high school football film Varsity Blues has been showing up on cable fairly regularly lately and, seeing as how I’m currently in the process of reviewing 80 of the best, worst,  most memorable, and most forgettable high school films of all time, I decided that I might as well watch the whole thing.

Don’t get me wrong. I had seen bits and pieces of it over the years.  I knew that it was set in Texas.  I knew Jon Voight played a fanatical football coach.  I knew that James Van Der Beek played an idealistic quarterback who clashed with the coach.  I knew that there was a fat guy named Billy Bob, mostly because every time an out-of-state director makes a film about Texas, there’s a fat guy named Billy Bob.  I knew about as much as one could learn from that episode of The Office where Michael Scott shows the film during “Movie Monday.”

"I don't want your truck."

“I don’t want your truck.”

But I had never seen the whole film so I decided, why not?  After all, I had already decided to review several other Texas-set high school films — The Last Picture Show, Dazed and Confused, Dancer, Texas, and Rushmore.  And hey those films were all good so maybe Varsity Blues would be good too!

Bleh.

One of the big clichés about Texas is that the entire state is obsessed with football.  (The other big cliché, of course, is saying that “everything is bigger in Texas.”  As if being a tiny state like Vermont is somehow preferable…)  I’ve always found the whole “Texas worships football” thing to be amusing because I’m a Texas girl and I don’t know a thing about football.  People tend to talk about Texas and football as if there aren’t any fanatical football fans in New York or California.  Ultimately, of course, it has little do with football and everything to do with the fact that the rest of the country loves to hate my home state.  If Vermont was known for being obsessed with football, there’d probably be thousands of articles about the “proud history of Vermont football.”  But since it’s Texas, we end up with movies like Varsity Blues.

"I don't want your painfully obvious at social commentary."

“I don’t want your painfully obvious attempt at social commentary.”

Anyway, Varsity Blues tells the story of Mox (James Van Der Beek), who is a backup quarterback for the championship-winning West Caanan High School football team.  However, Mox isn’t just your average jock.  For one thing, he’s seen reading Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five.  (It’s indicative of this film’s approach to characterization that we never learn whether Mox actually understands or even likes Slaughterhouse Five.  We’re just supposed to be impressed by the fact that he owns a copy of the book.)  Mox wants to leave Texas to go to an Ivy League school.  He doesn’t want to play under the legendarily abusive Coach Kilmer (Jon Voight).  (How evil is Kilmer?  So evil that he poses for pictures like the one above.)   And Mox resents the pressure put on him by his football-crazed father.  (“You throw that fucking pigskin!” his dad shouts at one point.)  As Mox puts it, “I don’t want your life!” and the line is just hilarious because Van Der Beek’s attempt to sound like a Texan is hilarious.

(Tip for actors: If you can’t do the accent, don’t try.  Because I guarantee, if I ever meet James Van Der Beek, I’m going to tell him that his accent sucked and then I’m going to laugh and laugh.  It probably won’t do much for his self-image.  Sorry, James.)

"I don't want James Van Der Beek's career."

“Get me on Hawaii 5-0 because I don’t want James Van Der Beek’s career.”

Anyway, when star quarterback Lance (Paul Walker) is injured, Mox is suddenly the team’s starting quarterback.  And you know what?  Mox is going to play the game his way!  Soon, he is standing up the cartoonishly evil Coach Kilmer and challenging small town Texas’s obsession with high school football.

And here’s the thing: this is a film that wants to have it both ways.  It wants to challenge the philosophy of winning at all costs and it also pretends to be about the unfair pressure that high school athletes are put under.  But you better believe that the film ends with Mox leading his team to victory.  And it’s not so much that Mox wins as much as it’s the fact that you know the film would never have the courage to actually have Mox lose.  The film wants to be celebration of rebellion but, ultimately, it’s just a standard sports film.

And, even beyond that, it’s just not a very good film.  I was shocked, when I checked with the imdb, to discover that Varsity Blues was actually filmed in Texas because the film feels like it was made in California.  It has no authentic Texas flavor to it.  What it does have is some of the worst fake accents that I’ve ever heard in my life.

Mox may not want his father’s life but I don’t want this stupid film.

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“Well, we don’t want your review!”

Guilty Pleasure No. 7: Final Destination 2


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The Final Destination series started off as a nice little horror film with a pretty original take on the slasher genre. We don’t have a psycho maniac on the loose killing off teens and pretty young adults. No, this film had Death itself stalking the usual photogenic and stereotypical young people (and the token adult). The film didn’t just have Death stalking and killing them but doing so in the most complex Rube Goldberg-like death scenes ever on film.

As with any horror film that has any sort of success this one received a sequel and then more sequels until it has become an almost bi-yearly event. My favorite of the series will always be the second film in the franchise.

Final Destination 2 is not a good film by any stretch of the imagination, but what it lacked in the fresh originality of the first film it more than made up in the inventiveness of it’s kills. Final Destination 2 makes absolutely no sense whatsoever other than Death decides to kill off a bunch of new young people. The film’s plot doesn’t even follow the same rules brought up in the first film. But none of that matters because it’s all about the kills and deaths. From the eye-opening freeway pile-up in the beginning of the film to a large plate glass literally squashing a teenage boy straight into the pavement, the kills in this film could never truly be topped by any of the others later on in the series.

As a guilty pleasure this one is always a must-see for me. Though I make sure I’m not going out on a drive any time soon after seeing it.

Film Review: Resident Evil: Afterlife (Dir. by Paul W.S. Anderson)


Last Friday, I saw the latest Resident Evil film — Resident Evil: Afterlife.

What can I say about Resident Evil: Afterlife?  I’ve been trying to figure that out for two days now.  For obvious reasons, this movie — like the other Resident Evil films — is just a video game put up on screen.  The film is a collection of set pieces that are all built around various characters having to complete tasks in a certain amount of time.  You can almost imagine various instructions popping up on the screen: “Clear the roof so that Alice can land her plane.”  “Swim through the basement to get the weapons cache.”  “Reach The Underground Tunnel Before The Building Explodes.”    In the lead role of Alice, Mila Jovovich still can’t act and director Paul W. S. Anderson still seems to believe that any cinematic weaknesses can be covered up by slow motion.

(By the way, there’s a chance that you might see the name Paul W. S. Anderson in the opening credits and you might say something like, “I guess he has to make movies like this so he can make movies like There Will Be Blood.”  Do not say this out loud because, while it’s totally understandable that you might be hyperactive and therefore, you sometimes say the first thing that pops into your head or maybe  you just sometimes get in a kinda ditzy state of mind and you might just happen to forget that Paul W. S. Anderson is not Paul Thomas Anderson, the people you saw the movie with will still be making fun of you at least two days later.)

This is the type of movie that critics hate and that , all things considered, I should probably hate too.  After all, I’ve devoted a lot of time and energy to criticizing Avatar for having a predictable plot.  So, how can I not hate a film, like Resident Evil: Afterlife, that doesn’t even have a plot to begin with?

Well, I didn’t hate Resident Evil: Afterlife.  I certainly didn’t love it and I think that it’s a total failure of as a zombie film (but then again, we all know the Resident Evil films aren’t really zombie films to begin with) but the movie is really the epitome of stupid fun.  The movie doesn’t pretend to be anything other than that. 

Sometimes, you just have to stop worrying and go with the flow.

I have to admit that I’ve never actually played the Resident Evil games before and whenever I’ve seen any of the movies, I’ve had to take my good friend Jeff with me so that he could explain what was going on.  To be honest, I’ve made him explain it to me several times and I still don’t quite get it all but he’s so cute when he tries.  I did try to watch him play one of the Resident Evil games once.  At one point, he started talking back to the imaginary people on the TV screen, saying, “No, how about you go down there and find them!?”  So, to be honest, that’s what I think about when I think about Resident Evil

(And, to be honest, I kind of wish that — at one point during the movie — either Alice or her sidekick Claire — played by Ali Larter — had said something along those lines instead of just blindly agreeing to run off alone into hordes of zombies.  It’s what I would have said.  “You want me to go swim through the flooded basement to retrieve those weapons?  Hey, fuck you, Mr.  Man.  You go do it if you want those freaking guns so much…”)

Anyway, I’ve been told that the big deal in this film is that Wentworth Miller shows up playing Claire’s brother, Chris.  Apparently, Chris is a big deal in the game.  He doesn’t really do much in this film but that’s okay.  Jovovich and Larter kick more than enough ass on their own.  Since I’m always a fan of any movie that features women fighting back (as opposed to just waiting to be rescued), that was fine with me.

Anyway, the demonic dogs and all the usual zombies all show up but, to be honest, their presence is almost an afterthought.  They don’t have much to do.  If I did really have any huge complaint with this unambitious film, it’s that you never really believe that the zombie apocalypse would be that hard to survive.  The zombies, quite frankly, are way too metrosexual.

But as I said before, this is a fun film as long as you don’t think about it.  It’s a movie to see with a group of friends so you can all take turns making silly comments.  On the plus side, the film’s opening — in which Tokyo is destroyed — is very well done and the film has an excellent musical score.  This is a movie that was designed to be played loud.

Oh — and the 3-D effects?  Actually, the 3-D effects were surprisingly good and Anderson actually makes good use of them.  Admittedly, they made me feel car sick but that’s on me.  Don’t blame the movie.