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Posts tagged “new line cinema

Seven (1995)

Back in my favorite year in film, 1995, David Fincher brought us a terribly disturbing and gripping crime film in Seven that changed the genre dramatically, and set Fincher forth on a very successful, high profile directorial career.  His previous film was Alien 3, and that was plagued with production difficulties and creative clashes.  It was not a success, but Seven showed what an unencumbered David Fincher was capable of.  Supported by a powerful cast and a brilliant screenplay, this didn’t just spark his career, it ignited it.

Lieutenant Detective William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) is a seasoned investigator who is on his final days before retirement.  Detective David Mills (Brad Pitt) is a young, impulsive cop looking to make a difference, and maybe even a name for himself, here on the grimy, ugly side of this nameless city.  They are put together on a series of murders that Somerset soon determines is the work of a serial killer who justifies his crimes as absolution for the world’s ignorance of the Seven Deadly Sins.  Each crime is more ghastly than the last as this sociopath “John Doe” uses them as a garish method of preaching.  While Mills is quickly convinced that this killer is a certified whack job, Somerset sees the calculating, educated rationale behind these crimes.  Both men slowly descend into this frightening and disturbing world that culminates in an unforgettable climax that tests the resolve of both men.

While there had been serial killer films before this, Seven really applied an original concept and environment to the subgenre.  Having the killer, John Doe, be motivated by the seven deadly sins opened up the film to social commentary, and that is handled exceptionally well.  Somerset is someone who you would like to know what kind of person he was before he was damaged by the apathy and amorality of the world.  He’s someone that appears to have once strongly believed in certain admirable principals, but has since lost his zeal for them.  He’s perhaps looked far too deep for too long into the grimy darkness of humanity, and Mills is someone who, likely, hasn’t looked deep enough.  He judges everything on surface appearances, and doesn’t entertain the possibilities of a deeper psychological analysis of their adversary.  Somerset slowly tries to educate Mills to be a more insightful and knowledgeable investigator, and while it brings them more into alignment with one another, it can’t wholly change who Mills is at his core.  The scenes of both Detectives discussing philosophies on Doe’s motives and how they reflect upon society are amazingly well written and perfectly acted by Freeman and Pitt.

With the film never stating what city this takes place in, it creates an enveloping environment in which one can never get quite comfortable, and you’re not supposed to.  The world of Seven is dangerous, seedy, disturbing, and filthy.  This feels like a city where decency of any kind is in the extreme minority.  The production design creates a world that is probably even more weathered than Somerset is.  There is deep texture put into every aspect of every setting to give it a worn down history.  There’s nothing new and shiny here.  It’s all old and deteriorated by time.  The grime seeps through in every frame of film, and the color timing adds to that further with a slightly de-saturated quality.  The near constant rain just adds to the miserable conditions that these characters have trudge through every day.  It was an excellent choice to have the entire climax take place outside of the bleak urban environment and put it into a sun-baked desolate open field.  The visuals in that sequence depict a dead landscape.

The cinematography of Darius Khondji enhances the production design further with a modern noir quality to it.  This is much different than a Michael Mann type of neo noir where things are glossy and colorful, but still offering a depth of darkness.  This is a style of noir that emphasizes the dreadful and macabre aspects of this world.  It’s meant to show off a gritty, unsettling realism that will horrify.  Khondji composes shots with a lot of dramatic weight, and makes use of dolly tracks very well in specific moments.  I love the tracking shot after the duel interrogation scene after the “lust” killing.  It’s just Somerset and Mills sitting in separate interrogation rooms quiet and still.  They are taking a long moment to recover from everything they’ve just witnessed and experienced.  The shot smoothly tracks from the one-way window of Somerset’s room to Mills’ room.  It’s a quiet downbeat moment for both the characters and the audience to soak it all in.  The main action sequence of the Detectives chasing after John Doe is exceptionally well shot maintaining a solid sense of geography with each character, and letting each shot count as the sequence moves from one location to another.  The scene constantly evolves adding in new obstacles and dangers along the way.  Every aspect of its execution is excellent.  Overall, the cinematography of Seven is superb and masterful.  It is definitely a result of a cohesive artistic vision.

Rob Bottin was a special make-up effects master starting with his amazing achievements in John Carpenter’s The Thing in 1982.  In Seven, his signature grotesque and stunningly detailed work is highly evident.  He knows how to bring out the garish realistic horror in his creations.  It fits Fincher’s visual style dead-on presenting the smallest details with great clarity to make you believe that everything your seeing is frighteningly real.  Bottin worked with great filmmakers like Joe Danté and Paul Verhoeven before joining with Fincher, and I could praise Bottin’s body of work to endless extent.  It has always had a particularly off-beat and strange approach which reflects Bottin’s personality very well.  While Seven went grossly under-appreciated at the Academy Awards with only a well deserved nomination for Best Editing, Rob Bottin won a Saturn Award for his work here, and it was also very well deserved.

It is a very taut and suspenseful story that Andrew Kevin Walker wrote and Fincher executed.  No time is really wasted getting our characters into the plot.  We learn about them along the way through the investigation instead of introducing them in a standard first act structure of seeing them go through their daily lives before something adverse occurs.  How they each approach the case tells us all we need to know about Mills and Somerset, as I stated earlier.  The case and plot unfold with a strong sense of mystery and intrigue as both Detectives uncover the chilling theme behind these murders.  Each homicide becomes increasingly more graphic and horrific, thus, heightening the twisted psychological state of the killer.  Meanwhile, there is Somerset getting to know David and his wife Tracy, portrayed by Gwyneth Paltrow, who tries to adjust to their new home, which she is not very fond of.  She confides in her husband’s new partner after getting to know his sensible and compassionate manner.  These scenes and character beats are nicely interwoven to continue developing these characters and their relationships.  This maintains an audience’s invested interest in how they deal with everything that’s going on, and the repercussions of what they encounter.

The film presents a definitely interesting psychological state of its killer.  How he gets into police custody is quite unexpected, and sets up a very compelling final act where John Doe is in control.  He might be in handcuffs, but he’s the one leading the Detectives towards a chilling conclusion.  A friend of mine believes that Brad Pitt over acts drastically in this climax.  I’ve never had a problem with it.  In that moment, David Mills is severely torn in an agonizing emotional state where he wants to lash out, but repeatedly tries to restrain the urge.  He’s already established as an impulsive and brash person, and attempting to not lash out in anger would be extremely difficult for a man like David Mills to do.  He’s fighting raw, instinctual emotion, and that would likely result in the reaction Pitt presents here.

Brad Pitt’s performance all around is rich with depth and emotion.  Mills is a guy who cares about what he does, and wants to make a difference.  He could easily become an ignorant jerk of a character with his brash attitude and closed mindedness, but Pitt gives him enough heart and humanity to make him likeable.  He takes the hard headedness, the intensity, the loving husband, the optimistic outlook on humanity, and the naivety and mixes them into a cohesive whole.  As do all the characters in this film, David Mills has his complexities, and Pitt makes it all work and make sense.  Pitt also visually inhabits the role well giving Mills a dirtier, more gritty look than Pitt had ever adopted before, and truly makes the character seamless with the world he inhabits.

The synergy between Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman is solid.  They counterbalance one another beautifully with their characters existing with polar opposite mentalities.  They hardly ever agree on anything, but are both motivated to see this investigation through to the end.  When they occasionally do get on the same page, it’s a great spark that quickly motivates the story forward.

Freeman, as always, is exceptional.  He embodies the dour philosophical mindset of William Somerset wholly.  Again, he’s a man worn out from the moral decay of society, and only reluctantly gets pulled towards this case.  At first, he wants to avoid it, but Somerset’s intuitive and educated mind drives him towards it.  Freeman greatly captures that reluctant attraction, and conveys the character’s psychological investigative approach with a great deal of skill and weight.  Somerset is very meticulous, never jumping to conclusions, and Freeman has the right seasoned quality and grasp on tone to sell those qualities well.  So much of the film’s tone is sold through him.  Prior to the appearance of John Doe, all of the religious ideology and deconstruction of motive is carried by Morgan Freeman, and I don’t think anyone else could’ve done it as well as he did.  While the screenplay explains it all very well, if handed over to the wrong actor, it might not sell remotely as well or as coherently.  Again, it’s all in the tone, which is pitch perfect through Morgan Freeman’s deeply talented abilities.

In the same year that Kevin Spacey gave us his exceptional performance in The Usual Suspects, he also gave us this fascinating surprise performance as John Doe.  It’s a greatly subdued and conservative piece of work that makes Doe so much more unsettling.  Throughout his screentime, there’s that knowledge that Doe is not done, yet.  There is something more chilling and frightening still to come, and Spacey’s performance is very foreboding in the most subtle way possible.  He’s in control, and he is reveling in the impending completion of his masterpiece.  It’s all amazingly compelling.  Spacey won an Academy Award for his turn as Verbal Kint in The Usual Suspects, and this role is equally deserving of that accolade.

The supporting cast is very solid.  R. Lee Ermy is the tough Police Captain, but never falls into that Full Metal Jacket stereotype people like to shoehorn him into.  While he doesn’t have a great amount of screentime, his character is given enough character beats to make him feel fleshed out and genuine.  Gwyneth Paltrow is perfectly cast as Mills’ wife Tracy.  She’s a very compassionate and loving woman who is not pleased with their current situation moving into the city, but has no desire to cause David any stress or turbulence by voicing her worries.  She is an exceptionally decent young woman that definitely is out of place in this decaying urban setting, and Paltrow plays these emotional beats with depth and heart.  Everyone else filling out the cast holds their own strongly, and help to create a very full and dimensional world for this film.

Lastly, Howard Shore composed a strong score by bringing weight to the grim, horrifying atmosphere.  It truly emphasizes the drama, urgency, and intensity of the film.  It’s not a score that jumps out at you, and nor should it be.  It maintains and enhances dramatic tone throughout.  Shore has proven to be a widely diverse film composer, and he is able to complement David Fincher’s darker cinematic style so very well here.

Andrew Kevin Walker put together a deeply impressive and stunning screenplay here, and Fincher was the absolute perfect choice to realize it.  Much of what I write in these reviews is more than just saying if the film is good or bad.  In a case such as this, it’s about spotlighting the brilliant achievements in filmmaking, and analyzing what made it such an instant, powerful classic.  Seven is a landmark film for the genre, and especially for New Line Cinema.  It was really their first A-list type of film attracting high profile movie stars like Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Spacey, and securing an amazing director with incredible vision in David Fincher.  It’s entirely shot as a major studio film, and strongly moved New Line Cinema into contention as a serious, big budget studio.  Only six years later would they release The Lord of the Rings trilogy to massive commercial and critical success.  This was a pivotal film for both the studio and David Fincher.  It is an all around shocking and amazing piece of work that delivers an intelligent story with thematic and dimensional elements along with startling images of graphic horror.


Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)

This is an unusual horror franchise in that it never really took off.  The original is a bonafide classic of extreme, gritty frantic madness.  From there, it went in all kinds of sporadic directions never really settling into a consistent style.  The first sequel ventured off into quirkiness, and the later sequel disregarded continuity entirely creating what is considered one of the worst films you could ever fear to endure.  This entry was a little more stable in line with slashers of the era as it came from New Line Cinema.  They honestly had a good approach that would make the franchise accessible to the general horror masses, but not laying back on the blood letting.  However, this was the age where the MPAA was striking back at gory horror, and hacking and slashing the films down to extremely tame levels.  The volume and style of violence in this film is comparable to any gory horror film of the last decade., but in 1989, this was threatened with an X rating (prior to the introduction of the NC-17 rating).  Goes to show just how inconsistent the MPAA has been over the decades.

It has been several years since Leatherface last terrorized the Texan backwoods with his Sawyer family, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t continued his cannibalistic ways.  In fact, Leatherface has been “adopted” into a brand new family of crazed Texan cannibals.  The film begins with an effective scene of Bubba “Leatherface” Sawyer (R.A. Mihailoff) sewing together a fresh mask of flesh while one of his victims attempts to escape, but gets gutted with a chain saw instead.  From then on, we follow the eventful journey of siblings Ryan & Michelle (William Butler & Kate Hodge) as they drive from California to Florida to deliver a car to their father, but they’ve just entered into the desolate Texas landscape.  As they drive into the night, Texas state authorities are cleaning up a hazardous mess of bodies which have decomposed into toxic material – remnants of past Sawyer family massacres.  The brother and sister pairing drive into the next day and a gas station where they encounter a hitchhiking cowboy named Tex (Viggo Mortensen,  The Prophecy, The Lord of the Rings) and the wild-eyed store owner Alfredo (Tom Everett).  Tex gets friendly with Michelle and Ryan, to a lesser degree, but the cordial moment is cut short when Alfredo pulls a shotgun on the threesome, and the siblings haul ass out of there, watching Fredo blast away at them and Tex.  The two siblings quickly take off down a deserted road, but soon find themselves stalked by Leatherface and his new cannibalistic and homicidal family.  Ultimately, their only hope for escape is in Benny (Ken Foree), a survivalist who not only has the firepower, but also the training to take down the entire psychotic family.

To start off, this was a very troubled production.  I can’t even begin to list the ways, but let’s just say that the film was so excessively violent that the repeated runs through the MPAA forced the release date to be delayed from early November, 1989 to January, 1990.  At one time, director Jeff Burr was fired on Friday and re-hired on Monday.  The shooting schedule was rushed, and the budget was tight.  Also, I would have to say that calling this a “massacre” is false advertising as only two people outside of Leatherface’s adoptive family are killed in this film.  There’s a lot of violence, but not a lot of death.  Although, despite all this, Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III is quite a good film.

The cast is solid, very solid.  There are no amateurs here like in many slasher films.  R.A. Mihailoff was an experienced stuntman at the time, and did a great job as a slightly more evolved Leatherface that is more focused in his mayhem than before, but still remains very youthful in mind and impulsive in action.  He was also one strong dude having to lug that HUGE 80 lbs chain saw around almost everyday.  William Butler had some previous experience in slasher flicks, but this was his most featured role and he does well in it.  As Ryan, he’s a bit pensive and uneasy trying to deal with heavy situations.  Of course, Viggo Mortensen delivers an entertaining and intriguing performance as the crazed Tex with a bit of an odd cross-dressing undertone.  He pulls off the insanity and the charm very well, and proves to be a solid and impressive actor more than a decade before The Lord of the Rings made him a household name.  Viggo was a great actor that existed under the radar for a long time before that big break, and even this early on, you can see his quality and versatility.  Tom Everett really fits perfectly as the wild-eyed, fidgety, and probably schizophrenic Alfredo.  Definitely a classic character for these films.  Dawn of the Dead alumnus Ken Foree brings a lot of energy and a decent amount of humor to the role of Benny.  He truly endears himself as the hero of the film whereas there are usually only perilous heroines.  Benny gets to kick some ass, and really give our psychotic villains someone to tangle with.  Also, with the character being an armed survivalist, we get some nice action scenes and fiery moments.  Definitely a worthwhile and enjoyable character.  Finally, there’s the female lead in Kate Hodge.  She really rates high as Michelle among the other female leads of the series who go through maddening events and experiences, but this time, she doesn’t breakdown into a traumatized pile of emotional goo – so to speak.  Michelle comes out as a far tougher character, and proves that she might not only survive, but also endure in the aftermath of this Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

KNB EFX have been an industry leader in special make-up effects for a long time, and this is another excellent example of why.  The MPAA would not have so much an issue with the gore level if Kurtzman, Nicotero, and Berger weren’t so amazingly good at their jobs.  Everything has such detail and texture to really drive home the squirming realism of the graphic violence and trauma that characters are put through.  While the film itself might not be very highly regarded, the effects work here should be given high praise and special notoriety.

Cinematographer James L. Carter gives the film a very strong look.  Personally, I see a resemblance in the visual tone of this film and Jason Goes To Hell, despite having different cinematographers.  Both films have a very dark, dense landscape at night with a tinge of blue that makes these two films look very similar.  It adds a more grounded, hardened look to the filmed imagery.  The filmmakers wanted this to have a real horror feel, and maintained a gritty look throughout that really enhances the horror aspects entirely.

I believe Jeff Burr did a fine quality job despite the turbulence of production. He crafted a film that probably shouldn’t have turned out nearly as good as it did.  The screenplay was well-written by David J. Schow in his first break.  While he had been writing material for a long while, this was the first script of his to get produced.  Although, he hasn’t had a wondrous career with a couple of Critters films, an episode of The Outer Limits, and two episodes of Ridley & Tony Scott produced anthology series The Hunger under his belt, but he did deliver us the screenplay to the cult classic The Crow.  So, he is highly capable of delivering brilliant work, but hasn’t had the rich opportunities to demonstrate that much.  All in all, he did a good job here with probably the only consistently worthwhile TCM sequel.

I’m not giving this a great endorsement because it is almost perfectly formulaic for a Texas Chain Saw Massacre film, but it’s the characters where this movie holds strong.  The story is mostly a direct template from the first film, but the characters are more original than the story.  There’s also more suspenseful and intense action than before or since.  Also, I like this design of Leatherface the best, and who can resist the massive chain saw given to him with the phrase “The Saw is Family” engraved on the side?  Mihailoff’s representation of old Bubba Sawyer has a lot more aggression and coordination than before.  Kate Hodge brings a much stronger and tougher heroine to the series, and I can’t help but enjoy every role I see Viggo Mortensen in.  Plus, there is an entertainment factor here beyond the terror, but it never overwhelms or damages the integrity of the horror elements.  So, I do recommend this film to anyone looking for a hardcore slasher film with a healthy dose of gore and action.  The DVD that’s been available for a long while has both the theatrical R-rated and full unrated cut of the movie.  It’s always been nice how New Line Cinema was generally comprehensive about those things, but any true horror fan would likely never mind the censored version, anyway.  Considering the sporadic quality of this franchise, I feel this entry is among the most accessible, sensical, and satisfying of them all.  As for the remake and prequel?  I do have reviews for them, but I’m saving them up for the September / October Halloween season.  A long way to go, but I’m definitely saving the meatiest horror reviews for that part of the year.


Final Destination 5 (2011)

I joined the party a little late with Final Destination.  I didn’t see the first film in theatres as I was more interested in the then-ending of the Scream trilogy, but once I did see it, I became a fan of the franchise.  However, while I thoroughly enjoyed the first two films, the following sequels signaled an ill decline in quality and tone.  The third film felt like a direct carbon copy of the first, and the fourth was a big failure, in my eyes.  I even saw it in 3D, and that was the last 3D movie I will ever see.  So, that comes to the latest entry in this modern horror franchise.  I believe I was skeptical at first, but reviews for FD5 were quite positive.  A friend of mine even highly enjoyed it, but time was not my ally as I could not get to seeing it theatrically.  So, I had to wait a few months for the home video release.  An iTunes rental it was, and now, the DVD is part of my ever expanding collection.  So, what did Final Destination 5 do right that the last few sequels got wrong?  There are many answers to that inquiry.

Death is unleashed after Sam Lawton (Nicholas D’Agosto) has a premonition that saves himself and several of his coworkers from a disastrous suspension bridge collapse.  Now, they are marked by death to correct this wrinkle in its plan.  Federal Agent Jim Block (Courtney B. Vance) comes in to investigate this incident, and to probe into how and why these few survived.  The survivors are chilled by the haunting, foreboding words of coroner William Bludworth (Tony Todd) about how death doesn’t like to be cheated, and all he has to say comes to shape everyone’s fates in how they attempt to cheat it further.  Sam is joined by his uncertain girlfriend Molly (Emma Bell), his self-assured but soon grieving friend Peter (Miles Fisher) and his gymnast girlfriend Candice (Ellen Wroe), the attitude-heavy office assistant Olivia (Jacqueline MacInnes Wood), the not-so-slick Isaac (P.J. Byrnes), the young factory foreman Nathan (Arlen Escarpeta), and their boss Dennis (David Koechner).  They are all on the top of Death’s list, and time is not on their side as they frantically attempt to find a way to escape its sinister agenda.

Firstly, everything starts with the tone.  The last two movies delved into dark humor, or more appropriately, bad humor.  The more serious, suspenseful tone of the first film had been forgotten.  FD5 revitalizes that approach to the franchise, and not just in direction or acting.   Cinematographer Brian Pearson filmed this movie with a lot of dramatic character.  The lighting alone has a great deal of weight and beauty.  Just because it’s a horror movie doesn’t mean it can’t have artistic integrity, and I feel Pearson gave the film plenty of that.  The visual style strongly compliments the direction of the movie.  While none of the actors will really win any awards here, they generally hold up well.  Those who need to be sympathized with are nicely cast.  Those that are meant to be reviled or disliked seemed to work right for me, but it’s hard to tell if P.J. Byrne’s Isaac was supposed to be a misogynistic ass to like or dislike.  I chose the former.  Nicholas D’Agosto is a decent lead handling the more vulnerable side of Sam well, but he doesn’t have quite as much to work with as previous leads in the series.  I feel Miles Fisher had the most to carry as the film went on with his grief morphing into something unforeseen.  Coincidentally, Fisher bares a resemblance to Tom Cruise, and I certainly read a lot into that facial similarity.  However, seeing beyond that, he confidently shoulders a lot of emotional weight by the film’s end, and he handles himself very well in both dramatic and action oriented scenes.  Courtney B. Vance certainly shows his worth handling Agent Block with the right amount of uncertainty and inquisitive sense about him.  He doesn’t buy into the supernatural explanations at first, but as things develop, he becomes willing to believe there is something more at work here than he can deduce.  It’s quite original from the other law enforcement figures the series has offered us before.

So, okay – the acting is good, the thing is shot well.  How good of a horror flick is it?  Very good!  As the end credits song from AC/DC says, “If you want blood, you’ve got it!”  Final Destination 5 has a hefty helping of blood and gore that will satisfy any fan’s splatter craving.  The deaths remain original and inventive.  They become more elaborate with misdirection by laying out elements that take a little longer to pay off.  While that is usual for the series, I feel this entry pushes it further towards more unique results.  Every little element that Death sets into place is simply part of a chain reaction of events that don’t lead you to the death you are anticipating.  This helps to enhance the suspense and tension throughout certain sequences by leaving you wondering how that loose screw the gymnast didn’t step on will factor into the scene later.  You think she avoided the imminent danger, but the actual danger has yet to fully show itself.  These scenarios slowly develop hooking your attention in more and more until the pay-off hits you like a punch in the teeth.  This also shows that the screenplay is smartly written.  That’s a good upswing from the screenwriter of the atrociously dim-witted A Nightmare on Elm Street remake.  The brilliance of this franchise has been using a force of nature as the killer itself.  There’s no personality to tap into, and no way to just turn around to see the maniac with the machete, butcher knife, chainsaw, or claws coming up behind you.  It forces the characters to be more intelligent and aware for them to survive, and it also forces the screenwriters to become more inventive in how to setup each death.  No longer can they rely on an off-screen kill or someone just getting stabbed in the blink of an eye.  So, I am glad that Eric Heisserer has stepped up his game with FD5.  Now, I won’t spoil anything for anyone, but I very much loved the turn in the film’s climax.  The story elements laid out by the returning Tony Todd’s William Bludworth are tied up into a very original and enjoyable departure for the franchise.  The climax twists things around a little bit creating a more physical confrontation than we’ve had before, but it doesn’t all end there.  As with all the Final Destination films, there’s an extra added punctuation after the climax just when the characters feel everything is fine.  For those not in the know, it is a hell of a turn that the film only lays extremely subtle clues at throughout the picture.

Now, director Steven Quale appears rather interesting.  He’s only had a sparse list of credits stemming back to 1988, and I seriously mean sparse.  This is the fourth film he’s directed in 23 years.  I don’t know why that is, but I would hope that success with Final Destination 5 would open doors to push his career forward with more velocity.  I say this because he displays a lot of great talent here in handling and balancing horror, drama, and action into a highly entertaining film.  Apparently, Quale has worked with James Cameron on The Abyss, Terminator 2, True Lies, Titanic, & Avatar.  So, it is no surprise that the apparent 3D effects shots look great even in 2D.  They still have visual and visceral impact without the three-dimensional effect.  Begrudgingly, if I had the choice to now see this in 3D, I’d take the opportunity.  In the past, the tech has not worked for me.  I have no optical impairments.  It’s mainly due to the fact that when images jumped out at me they became misaligned, like seeing double, and thus, ruined the illusion.  I saw My Bloody Valentine 3D as well earlier in 2009, and that offered no better results than The Final Destination.  So, I swore it off vowing I would never see another 3D film, but when things look this good in 2D, I’d have to concede that the proper three dimensional presentation would likely be quite impressive, to say the very least.

In regards to the visual effects, right from the opening title sequence, in both visuals and music, this movie made me feel like I was in for something ready to kick my ass.  The credits sequence is awesome and original giving an audience some eye candy right up front to prepare them for the visual intensity of Final Destination 5.  Again, since the only time I saw the previous two films were in their original theatrical runs several years ago, I cannot compare improvements in CGI, but from many accounts, it is superior here.  The entire opening bridge collapse is massively successful, and CGI never entered into my thoughts while watching it.  All effects were seamless and convincing meshed with some amazing cinematography.  Quale clearly took a lot of time to construct this sequence to give it the visual scope and unnerving urgency it needed in every aspect.  Each film in the series does try to top the opening disaster sequence of the previous, and I would be very intrigued to see if a sixth film can keep up that trend because this is a very intricately plotted out sequence.  Much attention to detail was given.  Now, the CGI in the rest of the film is as perfectly seamless, but it is very good.  There is never any visual effects shot that takes you out of the motion picture.  The quality is quite consistent and nicely integrated into the live action surroundings.  It’s just how in your face they are that bring out any less than perfectly realistic qualities about them.

The make-up effects can sometimes be overlooked because of the CGI gore, but when I take a minute to think of them, they are immensely important to the strength of this film.  Most of the gore in the film appears as a combination of special make-up and visual effects elements, but scenes like the acupuncture mishap perfectly display the quality of the practical effects.  Of all types of films, it is the horror genre where I thoroughly enjoy seeing the behind the scenes look at how these things are done.  Being able to marry the computer generated and practical effects work impresses me, and a film like this makes me appreciate the hard work that goes into it all because the use of the effects is never subtle.

While the characters may try to cheat death, fans are certainly not cheated with this movie!  This is a winner!  Final Destination 5 hits all the right marks, and delivers some bloody good horror.  It’s possibly the best shot film of the franchise with a lot of high quality given to it in both large and quiet moments.  Steven Quale deserves a lot of credit for delivering something so solid, impressive, and entertaining.  I enjoyed this on many levels, and it gives fans what they basically desire as well.  The entire series comes full circle with a smartly written screenplay that brings the right story elements together and wraps them up and around the characters very nicely.  Everything flows easily without complicating the story.  I am very impressed by this entry in the franchise, and I would hope that another Final Destination movie could come along to maintain this level of quality.  Horror has taken many turns in the last decade that I haven’t cared for, and that has diminished my interest in the genre.  However, that could change if this movie is a sign of things to come, if only for the franchise.  Final Destination 5 receives a strong, positive recommendation from me!  It is a reassuring return to form for the franchise that gives you more than you ever expected.  Thoroughly satisfying is what this is!


Blade (1998)

An organized vampire underworld operating in league with key human figures in a covert plan to control the world.  All that opposes them is the Daywalker, Blade (Wesley Snipes).  He was born shortly after his own mother was bitten by a vampire, and thus, inherited all their powers with none of their weaknesses, except the thirst for blood.  The serum concocted by ally and fellow “suckhead” slayer Abraham Whistler (Kris Kristofferson) suppresses this thirst, but Blade is building up an immunity to it.  As Blade tears through the vampire underworld, he moves in closer and closer to Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff) who has major plans to cease control of the vampire nation from the “pure bloods.”  Caught in the middle of this bloody, unseen war is Dr. Karen Jenson (N’Bushe Wright).  As the film unfolds, Frost’s own plot is slowly uncovered as well as the origins of our heroes, and the potential for a cure to vampirism.

Wesley Snipes owns this entire film.  His expert martial arts skills are executed with machine-like precision making Blade into the ultimate vampire slaying bad ass.  Beyond that is the pain within.  Blade has a lot of obvious internal pain that keeps him distant from even Whistler, who is the closest thing to a friend and parent he ever had.  While Blade plays their relationship very coldly, in the end, there’s a lot of emotion there.  Blade owes Whistler everything.  In contrast, Kris Kristofferson plays Whistler like an cowboy.  He’s a real tough old bastard that doesn’t show any real sentimentality, but he’s exceptionally likable.  He’s a hard ass for sure, but with his past and allegiance with Blade, it’s difficult to be any other way.  He gives Blade the needed kick in the ass when he’s getting a bit too enveloped in his own agendas.

Stephen Dorff plays a wonderfully despicable villain in Frost.  He’s defiant, sadistic, and completely vile.  He has a lot of fun with the role, playing it up with a sick enthusiasm.  Frost is also very frustrated with the arrogant and aristocratic attitudes of the pure bloods, thinking they have the right to run everything, and tell him what to do.  His ultimate scheme intends to wipe them off the face of the planet, and bestow god-like powers upon himself.  Dorff has so much charisma that makes him deliciously evil, if even a bit annoying to some.  His henchman Quinn, played by comedian Donal Logue, is a energetic and hilarious delight.  In a film handled with so much weight, levity is so valued.  Snipes and Kristofferson also have tinges of humor in their performances, but it is easily the villains here that offer up the most.  This allows the film to not be cheesy, but instead delightfully villainous at times.

The other notable villain here is Dragonetti portrayed by the eccentric and distinctly European actor Udo Kier.  He’s an amazing genre actor with a perfect German accent and look to fit into the classic vampire motif.   He has over 170 acting credits on his filmography, and has worked with Peter Hyams, Dario Argento, and even John Carpenter on an episode for Masters of Horror.  Udo plays Dragonetti as greatly as he does in any other role, and adding a real air of sophistication to the vampire elders.

Stephen Norrington directs this film with much style, but also a lot of weight.  The source material is updated, cleaned up, and given a lot of seriousness.  Still, as stated, there’s humor and an excellent sense of fun.  Never does anything get to feeling so serious that you lose interest.  The dramatic and emotional moments are handled well, and the action sequences are shot with a lot of fun and top-notch composition.  This was easily before every action director was shooting their films with the infamous shaky-cam style.  The end duel between Blade & Frost has such speed and ferocity that you’ll be hard pressed to find a more intense one-on-one fight with this great of choreography.

Director of photography Theo Van De Sande gave the film an amazing look.  The coldness of the blues and grays goes a long way to establishing the feel of this underground world of vampires, but it doesn’t dominate the film.  There’s plenty of daytime and certain indoor scenes with a warmer color palette.  This is a needed counterbalance to avoid making the film too dreary.  Films like Underworld failed to offer such a visual counterbalance as well as a sense of levity that hurt its entertainment and enjoyment value.  Norrington and Theo Van De Sande got it right the first time out the gate.

Eight years later, I do have to say that the visual effects here don’t hold up well at all.  They look very low budget by today’s higher end standards.  Even the visual effects in Blade: The Series looked better than they do in this feature film, but for the time of its theatrical release, they were pretty good, but no great.  I can’t help but hold 1993’s Jurassic Park as a CGI standard bearer since so many films these days still fail to live up to that level of quality and realism.  Though, the makeup effects here are great with much gory texture and detail.

Mark Isham’s score coupled with a pulsating soundtrack gives this film great power and vibrancy.  It hits all the right marks, and flows with the moments to keep the film coherent in style and mood.

Now, I’ve seen mixed results with David S. Goyer’s screenwriting. Blade: Trinity was an awful mess with bad dialogue and poor plotting.  What I’ve come to believe is that the influence and vision of the directors he has worked with have geared his scripts into far higher quality territory.  In any case, this adaptation of a lower tier Marvel Comics character turned out greatly!  The final shooting script was obviously very strong, and created an excellent film.

Overall, I would call Blade a definite classic that combines elements of horror, action, and martial arts in a very fresh and intelligent way.  Remember, this predated The Matrix by several months, and honestly, any martial arts sequence in this film kicks the crap out of all of The Matrix trilogy.  Who needs ten tons of wire work and a thousand Kung Fu blocks when you’ve got some full-on vampire martial arts and swordplay ass-kicking?  Wesley Snipes definitely solidified himself as a certified bad ass with this film.  Stephen Norrington also displayed a great artistic eye and killer talent for making genre-blending films.  It’s all too bad that after his exceptionally difficult experience making The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, he vowed never to direct another film.  But in regards to Blade, I give it a 9.5/10.  The CGI is certainly dated, and the final duel could’ve been extended for greater dramatic effect.  Still, it’s a stellar film with fantastic action and a definite dramatic weight overall.