Volume 2, Number 11
This Week's Reviews: Final Destination, Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr., Tumbleweeds.
This Week's Omissions: Beyond the Mat, The Third Miracle.
(Dir: James Wong, Starring Devon Sawa, Ali Larter, Kerr Smith, Amanda Detmer, Seann William Scott, Daniel Roebuck, Kristen Cloke, Chad Donella, Brendan Fehr, and Tony Todd)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Final Destination is another one of those ultra-gory teen slasher flicks, with buxom babes prancing around as people are stabbed and decapitated. What makes this little genre film different from the others is that it does not rely on everything that its genre has written in stone. Hell, those buxom babes blow up in the film first thirty minutes!
If I was to look at James Wong's film from a decidedly different point of view, that of the well-meaning public, I might be utterly disgusted by the film's gore and lack of a truly likable character, but none of that really bothers me as a film critic. Desensitization comes with the territory.
But there is nothing to keep me from ranting as to the film's misguided gore factor; much of it could have been easily excised. Ironically, the film's finest moment, most shocking death is its least gory one. Yes, the gore is implied, but the audience does not really see everything like with the other deaths. For film that struggles to get beyond the teen slasher demons, keeping the deaths in the same low-gore, high surprise vein would have helped.
What if there was a fully planned out map to everyone's death. So beautifully written, so intricately laced that the slightest deviation can throw the entire balance off of the running tract. A man gets a cold sweat before the take-off of a plane, causes a commotion, gets carried off along with other passengers. That little moment saved the lives of all of those taken off, the plane would crash within moments of take-off. But death's mad now, and these people cannot really consider themselves saved.
Such is the case with Final Destination. The dream that protagonist Alex Browning (Sawa) has on the plane involving a mid-air explosion is enough to convince him to get off the plane, but he does not know the living hell he about to go through. Something has ticked in Alex, he has direct link with the masterplan, the death list. He knows who's next and must struggle to save whomever is next in line.
As humble as the film may be to its genre, there is nothing here to really say that it stands as an otherwise respectable film. Much of the film seems convoluted like the way Alex only worries about who's next on the plan, even though he very well knows who's after that, and after that, and after that... The film is big step up from last experiment in film from an The X-Files crewmember, the horrid James Marsden-Katie Holmes vehicle Disturbing Behavior, at least this one has some enjoyable moments. I actually was finding pleasure with the film until it gets lost in an excruciating overlong death sequence near the end; some people are resilient, but those in this film are like Michael Myers taking eight shots in the chest and walking away. The ending itself had potential, but predictability is too easy to catch in this genre; we know all about the difference between a happy and a sad ending.
I know that I gave Devon Sawa films this exact rating twice last year (Idle Hands and S.L.C. Punk!), but both of those films were helped by Sawa, here Sawa seems out of place, he works much better as a comedic actor. What really shines in the film is its atmosphere. The art direction, cinematography, and original music all make the film work better than it probably should. The actors and the mere premise pushed script take back seat to the real stars.
No, Final Destination is not a horrible film --
I actually respect it for its genre -- but it is far from a great horror film.
|Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.
(Dir: Errol Morris, Appearances by Fred A. Leuchter, Jr., Robert Jan van Pelt, Ernst Zündel, David Irving, James Roth, Shelly Shapiro, and Suzanne Tabasky)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. is the type of man that you would easily live your life without hearing of. He is a small, rather funny looking man, who's real claim-to-fame is that he perfected the designs of electric chairs, scaffolds, gas chambers, and lethal injection systems. He's humble, never really does anything to call attention to himself, yet he remains an intriguing character throughout a ninety-minute documentary on the rise and fall of his career.
The first half of Errol Morris' ingenious work is a more tongue-in-cheek film about a man submerged in engineering machines for the death penalty to meet his own humanity driven code; none of those machines that he creates cause prolonged pain to the individual. For heaven's sake, he wants pictures or television in the lethal injection room so that the prisoner will not have to stare at the wall. All of this forty-five minute juncture in his life is amusing, thanks most of all by the way Morris films it. Morris uses some of the least steady steadicam operators ever as he follows Leuchter around his work.
One of my favorite touches is the film's opening with flashing, gothic visuals and sound as we see Leuchter rise in some weird iron dome. The opening reminded me so much of Gods and Monsters that I was ready to make room on my top ten list. There was also a touch in Leuchter that I found interesting that I doubt very few would ever notice -- when working with the Tennessee state electric chair, Leuchter refrains from calling it the somewhat inhumane sounding nickname "Old Sparky" which the chair has been called for years to the best of my knowledge.
Of course, there is more to the hilarity here than Morris' filming, Leuchter, alone, is a rather weird man that can strike a smile from anyone (I especially enjoyed his rant on loving coffee). Then there is a certain piece silent footage credited to Thomas A. Edison that shows early testing on the electric chair on an elephant. I know that it is probably horrible, but I couldn't help but laugh at the reel's placement in the film.
Then everything changes in the film once Morris passes the half-way mark. We have now come to know the rise of Fred A. Leuchter as the official name in execution equipment, he is at a nice career high. So there is no where to go but down. A German national in Canada named Ernst Zündel is put on trial for a book he wrote that questions the existence of the Holocaust. The defense attorneys, in dire need of good evidence to prove Zündel's remarks, call on Leuchter to excavate the supposed gas chambers in Auschwitz and find conclusive evidence that no one was executed there. Leuchter is a great name in the line of gas chambers, his ability to look at a site and tell if there was really a gas chamber there seems unparalleled. The only problem is that there is no real way to disprove the Holocaust in Auschwitz, evidence pointing to its existence can be found in millions of testimonials, something that forensic testing can never disprove.
Still Leuchter takes the trip to Poland on his honeymoon
to chisel dust off the walls of Auschwitz and test for various gases. And when he
comes back and testifies that "in his expert opinion" there was no Holocaust gas
executions at Auschwitz and other various mainstays, he becomes the center of major
ridicule. He is called an anti-Semite, he loses many clients, his life falls
apart. Yet this small, little man is still just as engaging. To tell the
truth, Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. is the most likable spin on the Woody Allen persona since Bananas.
(Dir: Gavin O'Connor, Starring Janet McTeer, Kimberly Brown, Gavin O'Connor, Jay O. Sanders, Laurel Holloman, Michael J. Pollard, Lois Smith, Ashley Buccile, Cody McMains, and Noah Emmerich)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Coming off of Wayne Wang's Anywhere But Here, Tumbleweeds certainly has a been-there-done-that feel. Not that the film is horrible, but that I did not feel that any of it was new. I'm sure that both films were written at the same time, and that their filming schedule probably coincided, but there was much more freshness in Anywhere But Here as compared to Tumbleweeds, though neither could be called revolutionary films.
Both films are about mothers that take their daughters from their homes for a new life in California. The daughter must learn life and the growing sexual awakening of age while keeping her mother straight, especially from relationships with men that look bad from the get-go.
Anywhere But Here was a much better written and directed film than Tumbleweeds, hence the reason that sparks a stronger dramatic edge, but no one in the cast of Anywhere, including the scenery-chewing Susan Sarandon, compares to the two female leads in Tumbleweeds. Where the film may seem old-hat, the acting is something new to look at. Neither of the two are equipt to filmmaking -- McTeer is a London stage actress and Brown is on her first role -- but they give the type of performances that other female friendly films would die for.
I know that McTeer has the Golden Globe Award and the Academy Award nomination, but I see much more in Brown, who reminded me of every young girl I've ever known. There was a sense of senseless innocence in her performance trying to keep here screw-loose mother straight. This exact same role was played by Natalie Portman in Anywhere But Here, where she too overshadowed her shower costar, but Brown does it better. I hope to see a grand future for Brown in films. And, of course, there is no reason to discount McTeer, she really does give one of the best lead female performances this year (though top five... I'd rather see Annette Bening for American Beauty, Élodie Bouchez for The Dreamlife of Angels [ineligable, by the way], Cecilia Roth for All About My Mother, Hilary Swank for Boys Don't Cry, and Reese Witherspoon for Election nominated this year)
The film itself it just so-so, rarely does it even leave the audience caring. I liked the characters, but so much of the dialogue is flat that one can only wonder what the film would be like with lesser actors. I can safely say that little of this film's likability falls in the hand of Gavin O'Connor who directed (by the book), wrote (with a more knowledged woman), and acted (very poorly). Much of Tumbleweeds feels like a regional film performed by two actresses from the Royal Shakespearean Acting Troupe.
There is much to like and much to dislike about Tumbleweeds,
but all is caried by its two strong leads.