Review- Final Destination 5

Jacqueline MacInnes Wood and Nicholas D'Agosto in Final Destination 5 (Warner Bros./New Line)

Were I to be completely and totally hateful I’d start this review with something like: “Final Destination 5, how do I hate thee? Let me count the ways” and I would do so without any sort of qualifications. Instead I will qualify this review by stating the following:

I have gone to see each and every Final Destination film willingly and while two of them have been atrociously bad at the very least they had me come coming back. I absolutely love the first installment of the series without any reservation and I still think there are possibilities in the concept which keeps bringing me back but this…this is a train wreck and not the kind where you wanna stick around and watch either. It’s just nightmarishly bad almost from the word go. So what makes this one so much worse than the others? Now, I can say with far much less crassness than I would’ve otherwise, let me count the ways:

Firstly, I think all the sequels have struggled in terms of casting, there aren’t that many Devon Sawas around these day to plop into these kinds of films, however, I cannot recall the last time I was this appalled and offended by the ineptitude of the cast of a film. I will not name the names but you have the internet use the IMDb. The most prominent characters in the film are portrayed by those with the least chops or the least faith in the material. If you look at those top three there is at least one who has proven in the past she can act so part of it falls on the direction also.

However, your two leading males are made even worse by comparison when Tony Todd waltzes in for a few scenes and just blows everyone out of the water.

Now, there’s also the writing to blame. This is best evidenced by Agent Block, which I believe was likely shortened from Agent Blockhead in earlier drafts because rarely if ever have I seen a character this stupid, much less one that’s supposed to be in law enforcement. The last character I saw that was this dumb was in Satan’s Little Helper and he was a kid not a cop. Courtney B. Vance is a good actor but he cannot salvage dialogue so bad that anyone with half-a-brain who ever saw a police procedural show can punch holes in.

While one piece of the formula which was the persistence of visions (Oh, film jokes) is gone here (as there’s only one) and I’m fine with that but it’s as if they had to fill it with something and what they did fill it with is even more annoying because the paranoia they feel knowing death has a plan goes outward and it turns the movie into something it’s really not. You also have in this film fewer false alarms, near misses and chain reactions therefore while the kills might be more spectacular in execution they have less suspense leading up to them and you have here the flattest, least likable characters to date so all you’re left with is hoping for deaths that you know will happen.

It’s true I feel 80s slashers skewed the equation of the horror film where in certain cases you wanted death but even they knew better than to always kill everyone. Almost invariably there was a character you couldn’t stand that wouldn’t get it. Here it seems as if the effort has become less and less in terms of building characters that you’re at least interested in watching dodge death’s attempts.

What could possibly make bad acting, bad casting, bad writing, bad directing any worse? Oh, yeah there’s a twist too not only that but it changes the nature of this film and I really wish it hadn’t it’s as if what preceded the end of this film wasn’t bad enough it needed a little coup de grace.

All in all I can’t say I’ll give up on the franchise because there is something inherently scary about having escaped fate and then always looking over your shoulder and it takes a lot to squander that (and they did). So it’s a new low in the series that will hopefully take the next one (which there may or may not be) back to its roots.

1/10

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Review- Terri

Bridger Zadina, Jacob Wysocki and John C. Reilly in Terri (ATO Pictures)

Terri is a film, which tells a very low-key, stripped-down and honest account of teenage ostracism and the perils of adolescence which is refreshingly devoid of convention and condescension. In the film you get an honest portrayal of how facile ostracism is, how sudden it can be and an honest look at how it’s dealt with if it’s dealt with at all.

The film has a very deliberate and precise construction at the beginning of the film to illustrate the lack of variety and proclivity to be routine-bound, in Terri’s life. We see from the very start that breakdowns in communication are a major factor in the difficulties he’s facing. When an obsession he has boarders on sociopathy his uncle, played brilliantly by Creed Bratton, is at a loss for words to adequately express what his true disappointment is. Similarly, his homeroom teacher (Tara Karsian) can see he’s bullied and how it affects him but is too beaten down and burned out to do anything about it. It’s these kinds of subtle accurate portrayals that you get in Terri that make the story truly work.

It deals with adolescence not with histrionics or apologies but with understanding and sincerity. A lot of what happens in the movie just happens and there is little to no commentary about it by the characters through much of it so it avoids, by a wide margin, both sensationalism and pandering.

The acting in this film overall is quite brilliant. There is a healthy mix of new faces, tried and true character actors and one notable name in perhaps the most pivotal role. The latter, of course, would be John C. Reilly who plays the well-intentioned but imperfect assistant principal who takes it upon himself to have weekly meetings with the school’s more troubled students. His monologue about his imperfections is so truthful and beautiful it got me teary-eyed out of the blue and although it is a function of the movie to create drama, the fact that he is the one person in the school who does try does ring a little true and there are some wonderful surprises in store from his character.

Then, of course, you have the lead Jacob Wysocki as Terri. Whenever you have an eponymous character you need that character and that performance to connect and for there to be some kind of universal resonance and there most certainly is here. In this film a lot of Terri’s maladjustment on the surface is something many can relate to. The root cause is that he feels like an outsider or freak due to his weight but the symptoms socially and otherwise are ones many can relate to: having difficulty making friends, talking to girls, academics and so on. There’s a timidity and amiableness to both the character and the performance that makes him connect even when he’s making a mistake.

There are also two very strong turns from classmates of Terri’s Bridger Zadina as Chad and Olivia Crocicchia as Heather. The former perhaps runs a larger emotional gamut and has a character whose strangeness and backstory is never defined so the fact that he arrives in place where his performance always feels organic and never contrived is quite a feat in and of itself. Zadina always finds himself in a place where he’s rebelling against the status quo yet there’s a depth and sensitivity to his portrayal that makes Chad equally compelling to the other characters. Crocicchia as Heather also has a lot to do and not much time to do it in and is natural and convincing in all stages from popular girl, to depressed and marginalized to just another student who blends into the background.

It’s the building of these characters which allows for the film to bifurcate yet do it so successfully. One part of the film is very much a cloistered, private confessional between Terri and Mr. Fizgerald (Reilly) and then towards the end there’s a long sequence that’s reminiscent of a modern, private, more exclusive Breakfast Club wherein these characters exorcise their demons over the course of a night and similarly bare their souls.

Perhaps, what’s most intelligent about the film is that it offers no easy answers. There’s no real resolution to it just as there’s no real resolution to adolescent angst. They just all reach a point from which they can move on to a new and hopefully better chapter in their life and that might be what sticks with you most about the film. It’s that fact upon reflection I connected with most and I feel that adolescents who see it would too.

9/10

Review- Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Andy Serkis as Caesar and James Fanco in Rise of the Planet of the Apes (20th Century Fox)

So here we are again it’s time for another prequel, however, unlike most that have come along since it became a popular trend this one is quite good and valid at the same time. However, this is not one where I’d suggest you watch the prequel first. Therefore, if you, like many of those I watched this film with apparently, have not seen the original Planet of the Apes please do so before venturing to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes. As good as it is and it is pretty good it will ruin the experience of the first film for you because it is a classic that is spoiled entirely by the conception of this film.

Having said that if one has the knowledge of what occurs in the first series of films it is fascinating to watch this film and see how the blanks get filled in and they’re not done so in a thoughtless haphazard way but rather intelligently and interestingly as well.

What is also good to see is that the scope of the film is not too large. It is a rather focused story that seeks to tell only the very beginning, the rise as it were. Therefore, it’s not too sweeping and that focusing of the narrative allows for a greater identification with the plight of the characters involved and for us to watch in close quarters the world-changing events that will take place.

This is the kind of plot that is intriguing and detailed enough such that it doesn’t really hinge on the performances of its cast. Film is a strange medium in as much as a well-crafted, well told story need not have the most powerful acting to succeed whereas in a play that’s next to impossible. A prime example would be James Franco’s character, he’s not given much in the way of a character and doesn’t add a tremendous amount to it either. Where he brings me into the story is in the moral/ethical dilemmas of the testing in the lab and the moments with his father, played by John Lithgow. His interaction in scenes opposite motion-capture creations are less compelling. Freida Pinto similarly just seems to be there as a plot device and of significance to the protagonist but not truly present in the tale. Tom Felton’s first post-Harry Potter performance is a bit inconsistent and uncomfortable sadly, though it is a perfectly despicable villain hearkening back to the beginning of Malfoy’s arc where he was more vile and less ambivalent.

Then, of course, there’s the performance all are talking about which is that of Andy Serkis as Caesar. Having seen Serkis recently in Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll I was most impressed with his performance there. Here I was impressed by the combination of factors: how he in turn aided the CG artists to render a humanoid ape. I appreciate and admire the contribution he makes to this film and consider a success but any Oscar talk pre-Fall is always premature and for the time being any and all motion capture discussions of that nature are far-fetched.

As intimated prior the effects work is rather impressive throughout, however, as is the case in most films that use them so regularly some sequences are far stronger than others and the rendition is by no means perfect.

The climax of the film is truly great stuff and is the kind of sequence you head out to the movies for but don’t find nearly often enough. It’s a pretty huge and well-choreographed battle that the whole movie has been working towards.

While Rise of the Planet of the Apes does have a few failings it is a very solid piece of entertainment. Those who were, or still are, skeptical can rest easy: it’s a well done and worthy installment in the series.

8/10