Final Destination 5

If the measure of a good horror movie is its ability to cling to you even as you leave the cinema, Final Destination 5 is somewhere at the high end of the chart. After the screening of this fifth filmic dance with death, this writer had to brave crushing central London crowds, plunging escalators and barrelling tube trains just to get home – and that horrible feeling of “What if?” haunted me all the way to the (supposed) safety of my front door.

What if the tube doors malfunctioned? What if the escalator started eating limbs? Final Destination 5, like its predecessors, excels at playing with that creeping paranoia, heightening our awareness of the lethal potential of so many everyday objects and places. Like, for instance, suspension bridges – which just so happens to be the scene of this movie’s central disaster.

It’s the series’ biggest and most ambitious yet, not only factoring in massive amounts of real and CGI carnage, but also 3D – here smartly engaged to amplify the in-yer-face horror. People plummet great heights, get impaled on spiky things and generally perish in horribly inventive ways – which, of course, is this franchise’s bread and butter.

Caught in the centre of the chaos is Sam (Nicholas D’Agosta), this entry’s resident premonition-haver. While he’s on his way to a team building weekend with his co-workers, Sam forsees their icky fates as a suspension bridge collapses and drags everybody to their deaths. Duly avoiding the catastrophe, Sam saves his on-off girlfriend Molly (Emma Bell) and a handful of their co-workers – only to find, as a creepy corner tells him, “death doesn’t like to be cheated.”

That premise sounds familiar because it is. We’ve had four movies before this that all played with the same concept. However, FD5 knows it can’t just tread water, and it’s to its credit that the film attempts to stir a few new ideas into the blender. Among them is the suggestion that taking a life could save your own – something that comes into play for FD5’s standout final 20 minutes.

While that new twist does freshen the franchise somewhat, FD5 is still constricted by the formula it’s expected to follow. Thankfully, that formula includes the requisite OTT death scenes, and the filmmakers aren’t wanting for new ideas here. The series of gooey, gory demises they create are as unpredictable and full-on as ever.

It’s essentially business as usual then, but FD5 should be commended as the fifth entry in a franchise that is still thinking on its toes. The film’s stunning opening credits are a masterpiece in themselves (they elicited a cheer at my screening), while an effortlessly creepy but under-used Tony Todd makes a welcome return after skipping episodes three (for which he merely provided a voiceover) and four.

Most impressive, though, is a jigsaw-piece ending that ties together some surprisingly subtle visual gags purpose built for franchise fans. It’s a climax that seriously boosts FD5’s IQ count, and proves there are just as many brains behind the scenes as balls. FD5, then, is a fun thrill-ride with its thinking cap on – but it’s hard not to consider this the perfect place to jump off. 3/5

The Story Behind Hobo With A Shotgun

Most movie trailers are created to advertise an amazing new film that’s about to hit cinemas. Not so Hobo With A Shotgun. One of the now infamous five ‘fake trailers’ crafted in honour of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s 2007 Grindhouse double bill, Hobo was a total fake-out.

“We were hanging out at a pizza joint where me and John [Davies, writer] would pitch movie ideas back and forth,” recalls director Jason Eisener. “We were there with my friend Joe who was wearing a scruffy shirt and he had just bought this Airsoft Shotgun that shoots plastic pellets.

“We were pitching ideas and he spoke up and said, ‘Why don’t you make a movie about me?’ John just looked him up and down and said, ‘What, a hobo with a shotgun?’ It was like a light bulb went off.”

The year was 2007. In a case of perfect timing, cult director Rodriguez had just launched a contest (co-sponsored by the SXSW Film Festival) that called upon film fans to make a Grindhouse-style movie trailer in the vein of his Planet Terror shlock-and-shock revival.

Eisener didn’t skip a heartbeat. He had an idea. He had a director (uh, himself). And he had a competition to win. The very same day that the contest was announced, he started shooting Hobo…

TF Review Of The Half-Year 2011

Best Movies

The King’s Speech
The Film:
Oscar-clutching history lesson starring Colin Firth as stuttering monarch King George VI.
TF Says: “The dialogue’s lightness of touch pervades the whole film, turning what could easily have been a stuffy slog of a period piece into well-oiled entertainment. Neither does it feel like a TV movie, thanks in no small part to high-class production values, from Danny Cohen’s lush cinematography to the suitably precise sound design.”

Black Swan
The Film:
Demented ballet horror movie following Natalie Portman’s increasingly hysterical dancer.
TF Says: “Set in a cloistered world full of pitter-patter feet and stomping egos, Darren Aronofsky’s fifth feature starts off hysterical and raises the barre from there, fusing genres (psychodrama, horror, backstage musical) and masterpieces (The Red Shoes, All About Eve, Suspiria, pretty much all of Polanski’s early work) with spirited, nay, reckless aplomb.”

Blue Valentine
The Film:
Emotionally-draining drama about the dissolution of Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling’s on-screen marriage.
TF Says: “Gosling may get to be the devoted romantic while Williams can appear distant and cold. But Blue Valentine doesn’t play the blame game: love and its loss are never rational. You might feel like averting your gaze at times, but don’t – performances this penetrating are a sight to see.”

Animal Kingdom
The Film:
Crafty and cool Australian crime thriller.
TF Says: “With his anthropological eye recalling early Scorsese, Michôd synchs the simmer of dread to character and setting, a suburban jungle of parched interiors and colourdrained exteriors where the strong prey in packs on the weak.”

True Grit
The Film:
Coen Brothers remake introducing newcomer Hailee Steinfeld as a young girl searching for the man who killed her father.
TF Says: “In the plum role of Rooster Cogburn, Jeff Bridges can’t totally resist the temptation to ham it up a bit (though a lot less than Wayne did). But given such a richly larger-than-life character, who could blame him? Bridges lends the Marshal a deep, throaty, mellowed-in-whiskey voice that gives full weight to his hard-bitten pronouncements.”

Super 8 (2011)

Fitting that Super 8 should begin with Amblin Entertainment’s iconic E.T. moon logo, this period sci-fi being the closest to Spielbergian magic that cinema’s gotten in a hell of a long time. With his ’70s-set throwback, director JJ Abrams has writ large a towering love letter to The Beard himself, holding his gilded back catalogue aloft like a cinematic holy text. But can Super 8 be more than just an anthem to a golden age of cinema?

Well, hell yes and not quite. In our CGI-saturated world of 3D movies and spectacle for spectacle’s sake, Super 8 comes as a breath of fresh air. Abrams’ intentions are clear – he wants to take blockbusters back to the basics and honour those qualities that turned E.T. and Close Encounters into such beloved classics. It’s telling that he chose to set his movie in the 1970s, Super 8 harking back to that time when movies were stories, not just excuses for epic explosions.

It’s an admirable endeavour, and it just about pays off. That’s thanks in part to the film’s young cast, a grubby gang of ragamuffins led by Joel Courtney’s likeable Joe. It’s 1979, and he’s just lost his mother in a freak accident – but he’s adamant that won’t stop he and his friends completing their latest low budget zombie movie. During a night of shooting, though, they’re caught up in a train disaster that will change their lives forever – not least because something has escaped one of the train’s containers.

There are epic explosions, of course, but Super 8’s bigger plot machinations always come secondary to the characters. It’s a whisker shy of being a two hour movie, but this is a sci-flick in the old style, blessed with nail-on-head casting and sensitive storytelling. Super 8 knows it has to earn its set-pieces, and it does so by punctuating a quiet story about loss and friendship with jolting snatches of action.

When Super 8 does take off, it’s a thing of wonder. That initial train crash is an earth-shaking, heart-in-mouth moment of awe-inspiring filmmaking, and it’s to Abrams’ credit that he doesn’t try to top it by creating ever-more ridiculous set-pieces over the film’s course. Each moment of peril brings its own surprises without relying on overcooked pyrotechnics.

The similarities between Abrams’ movie, though, and the films he’s homaging are hard to ignore, and some of those nods do feel a little too on the nose. Composer Michael Giacchino mimics John Williams’ twinkly soundscapes almost too well, Joe’s town is the very definition of Spielbergia, and parent issues are ladled on like nobody’s business.

It’s also a shame that Abrams isn’t interested in pushing the envelope further. When the inhabitant of that crumpled train container is finally revealed in all its glory, it’s something of a letdown. Instead of dragging Spielberg’s formula into dangerous new directions, Abrams is happy to rest comfortable in the shadow of his forebear, tipping that hat a little too far.

Still, a film that merely matches its (30-year-old) peers rather than bettering them is something to be celebrated. It’s rare enough for a summer tentpole to contain this much heart and intelligence without us nit-picking its weaker points. Hopefully studio execs are pricking up their ears. As 3D fatigue sets in, they’d do worse than to use Super 8 as a model for how movies should really be made. 4/5


Bridesmaids (2011)

Weddings get a bad rep at the movies. Thankfully, any concerns that Bridesmaids would stumble down the same desolate aisle as the likes of Bride Wars and Runaway Bride are quickly dispelled in its opening moments. As Kristen Wiig thrashes around in bed with Mad Men’s Jon Hamm, then spars with roomie Matt Lucas before getting catty with her engaged BFF’s snooty new BFF, it’s clear that Bridesmaids is no Sex And The City 3.

For a start, it has Wiig. As Annie, she’s miserable in the wake of her business’ bankruptcy – but Annie’s life is further complicated when best friend Lillian (Maya Rudlph) gets engaged and asks her to be maid of honour. Making that nearly impossible is Lillian’s prissy new moneyed friend Helen (Rose Byrne), who competes with her for the bride’s attention/affection in the run up to the big day.

Unlike the glut of Hollywood comedies that rev out of the holding bay before quickly running low on fuel, Bridesmaids is the gasser that just keeps going, getting progressively funnier, wilder and more delightfully disgraceful as its journeys ever onward. It’s undeniably Wiig’s show, and the Saturday Night Live actress is more than up to the task, gluing together a string of increasingly hilarious set pieces that include a calamitous dress-fitting session and a riotous plane journey to Vegas. But the secondary characters are more than frosty cake bunting, eliciting big laughs courtesy of shrewd characterisation and some truly devilish gags.

Add to that an ending straight out of a John Hughes movie, replete with frilly frocks and nostalgia-laced pop anthem, and Bridesmaids is as near a perfect summer comedy as we’re ever likely to get. People will call it the female Hangover, but Bridesmaids is better than reductive comparisons. Messy, rude, warm and laugh-out-loud funny, it earns every one of your jubilant cackles. 4/5

Via Out In The City

Hanna (2011)

Why would the director of an impeccably polished period tragedy like Atonement choose to make an action movie? Well, why not? And if Hanna’s anything to go by, it’d be no crime against cinema for Joe Wright to spend the rest of his career crafting action movies. In fact, many might demand it of him.

Not that Hanna is just any old action picture. Brit director Wright takes what could easily have been a by rote, gunfire-stacked Hit Girl-like cash-in and executes the material with the same devil-in-the-details approach that made Atonement so wrenching. Wright isn’t just concerned with making a ball-cracking actioner (though he definitely succeeds there); he puts value in a surfeit of old school moviemaking rules that few take the time to acknowledge nowadays.

For example, the slow burn. When we’re introduced to Hanna (Saoirse Ronan), she’s clad in animal furs, hunting a reindeer in a desolate, frost-bitten landscape. In a seamless blend of style and substance, she’s treated to a fantastic title card moment of pure iconic clout – before Wright winds things down so we can get to know our strange little heroine.

She’s 16, we learn, and living in the wilds of Finland with her ex-CIA father Erik (Eric Bana). He’s trained her from birth to be strong, resourceful, smart. And when he feels that she’s ready, Erik will let her flip a switch that will alert their whereabouts to his ex-colleague Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett). Armed with that knowledge, Marissa will make it her mission to kill both Hanna and her father.

Ghostly and attentive, Hanna makes for a bewitchingly unconventional lead. Perfectly captured by Ronan (who worked with Wright on Atonement), she presents Hanna as a fascinating enigma; quirky and serious and one heck of a grappler. The joy and humanity in Wright’s film comes from seeing Hanna unceremoniously exposed to the outside world, adrift from everything she’s ever known, then watching as her cheeks gradually fill with the colour of life.

Though continually turning tricks, blending sly storytelling with some remarkable set pieces, Wright never lets things get too bogged down in plot. While the Bourne films are an intricate labyrinth of false turns and laundered lies (and that’s how we like them), Wright and screenwriters David Farr and Seth Lochlead keep Hanna simple. They understand that Hanna’s journey – both internally and externally – is the real story, not the MacGuffin of her origins or her supposed purpose in a CIA game plan (which any comic book fan could easily predict).

Further polishing Hanna is a killer soundtrack courtesy of the Chemical Brothers. In an era when movie scores are gaining much renewed acclaim thanks to big name authorship (Trent Reznor with The Social Network, Daft Punk and, uh, Tron: Legacy), the Chemical Brothers don’t miss a beat in their hollering, atmospheric soundscapes, adding heft and wallop to Wright’s already-stellar moving images.

Talking of images, Hanna’s packed with bold visual design. Blanchett, on fantastic form as the drawling Texan CIA agent, appears in Hanna’s most brilliantly orchestrated shot, emerging from the shadows inside the gaping, razor-fanged maw of a giant funhouse wolf. Meanwhile, Bana gets his own iconic moment in the form of an underground skirmish, while he convinces as an attentive father at the film’s opening.

Where Hanna stumbles is in its final act. As it seeks to find a satisfactory conclusion, it suddenly realises that its lightweight plotting hasn’t really set itself up for one. There’s no massively devastatingly twist (though there is a twist, to be sure), so instead we’re subjected to scene after scene of running and yelling, as confrontations turn into chases that lead to further confrontations and chases. Meanwhile, the film’s final line, while clearly linking up to its opening scene, feels horribly overcooked.

If Hanna succeeds in anything above all else, it’s in further establishing Saoirse Ronan as a young actress going places. Adeptly navigating both Hanna’s emotional and physical currents, she blows this starmaker of a role out of the water. Here, also, is proof that Wright can handle more than sumptuous costume dramas – his first foray into full-blown action territory results in a pacy, stylish revenge thriller. 4/5

My you’ve changed…

A couple of new images from the Fright Night reboot have just been released online, and what a sight they are. The first in particular (top right) shows a gothed-up David Tennant as Las Vegas stage magician Peter Vincent, who ends up helping Anton Yelchin’s teen battle Colin Farrell’s malicious neck-chewer.

It’s quite a wardrobe change from the Vincent we know and love from the original 1987 Fright Night. Whereas the ’87 version (top left) starred Roddy McDowall as a fuddy old vamp slaying horror icon, Tennant here sort of resembles Russell Brand meeting Sirius Black by way of The Crow.

Will it work? Tennant definitely has an ability to make larger than life characters sing (as any Dr Who fan will tell you), but this new Fright seems like such a massive departure from the ’80s film that you wonder why they even bothered using the same title. Apart from the fact that it’s a great title, of course.

The second new image shows off Toni Collette as Yelchin’s mum, with the Aussie native rounding out a seriously impressive cast (not forgetting Imogen Poots and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, of course). To be honest, the most this reboot seems to have going for it is the names involved, with that stellar cast reading from a script by Buffy screenwriter Marti Noxon. If anything, then, we should get some snappy lines read by a snappy cast – but who’d rather just watch the original film? I know I would.

Speaking of, here’s why I love Fright Night ’87

Carnage! Beautiful carnage!

Acupuncture death-puncture. Fatal laser-eye surgery. The mother of all traffic tragedies. It can only be the trailer for the latest Final Destination deathfest – the fifth, to be precise. I’ll be honest, I’ve not seen any of the Final Destination movies past the second, but I loved the first two in my teen years and, let’s not kid ourselves, watching people die in sinisterly inventive ways is never going to get boring. Plus, just how cool is that new skull logo?

Of course, the only reason anybody really shows up for these films is to see the opening wreck-scene (check out a rundown of the first three over on YouTube). The first film’s airplane catastrophe still has me brimming with doom-filled thoughts of “What if?” every time I get near a plane. FD5’s cataclysmic (and, er, catalystic?) disaster takes place on a suspension bridge, and looks to be the equal of FD2’s highway pile-up – with added gravity/plunging-into-water issues to boot…

Amping up the hilarious/bloody antics is the promise that there’s a set of new rules at play here – and from what I can tell from the trailer, that includes a horror movie slasher who decides to off his fellow survivors in a bid to escape Death. Nice twist.

One last “Hmm, I may check this one out” musing: Tony Todd’s back! The series’ unsung hero, Todd (aka Candyman) returns as the creepy coroner who always seems to be around when teens get unexpectedly butchered. Wonder who that new serial killer could be. Sweets to the sweet…

Life’s a bitch…

…and then you die, so the saying goes. Talking of misery and pain, I can’t help but wonder if the new Straw Dogs movie – hitting screens this October – will have the guts to champion the same grubby, grainy aura that made Sam Peckinpah’s original ‘70s shocker such an uncomfortable watch.

That film was banned for nigh on 10 years here in the UK thanks to its controversy-courting rape scene and claret-soaked violence. But you certainly can’t tell from these new stills that Rod Lurie’s remake wrestles with the same issues of marital discord, sexual assault, and unimaginable violence. With James Marsden grinning away like a cheshire cat and Alexander Skarsgård looking seriously buff, you’d be forgiven for mistaking this as a new three-wheeler romantic comedy.

Of course, this is the PRs toying with us before more horror-inclined images are released. And hell, I’m game. The question remains, though: can director Lurie – who’s got a string of little-known thrillers to his name – really contend with Peckinpah’s notorious original? He’s not promising a masterpiece, but he’s smart enough to admit he can’t trump the ’70s version…

“It’s a fool’s errand to try to outdo Peckinpah on his turf… This is not a soft movie. People leave this movie saying they need a drink.”

Cheers to that. Images via EW.

Green Lanterns away

Briefly: there’s a new poster out for Green Lantern. And much like all the other promotional material for the film, it’s not exactly set my world aflame with nail-chomping anticipation. With news arriving this week that the film’s received a budget boost of $9m to fix its special effects (that’ll teach them for robbing Ryan Reynolds of a real super-suit), it looks like the debate over just how bad Lantern could be is going to rage on right up to its 17 June release date.

Admittedly, I have the same concerns for Lantern as I did for Thor (which, actually, I ended up really liking). Namely that all the crazy CGI and space-y stuff will feel too hokey when set down next to a modern-day Earth setting. That said, it does have some pluses going for it – Blake Lively impressed with The Town (tonally a million miles away from Lantern, true), Ryan Reynolds can be charismatic if he checks the goofy gurning at the door (see Buried), and director Martin Campbell is definitely no hack (he gave us Casino Royale and GoldenEye, but he also gave us the woeful Edge Of Darkness).

In short: jury’s still out concerning whether or not Warner Bros can turn Lantern into a massive money-maker while delivering something of franchise-birthing quality. But based on promo work like this, which is just too Photoshop-heavy for my taste, we’re still in for a very rough ride.