Friday, August 19, 2011

Worth Mentioning - Death, Evolution... and Orson Welles

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

This week, Cody talks Final Destination 5 and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, while Jay recommends the documentary Prodigal Sons.


We meet a group of characters on a normal day, going about their lives and doing things that are not out of the ordinary, travelling by plane or down the highway, having fun at an amusement park or the racetrack. Suddenly the day goes to hell with a disastrous event that results in a massive loss of lives, our characters being killed one-by-one in gruesome and horrifying ways... Turns out this disaster has been seen as a premonition by the lead character, who manages to save some of the others before the disaster actually occurs. Little do they know that gruesome and horrifying deaths still await this group of survivors.

That's the standard Final Destination set-up, and part 5 does not break from formula. This time the group of characters are employees of a paper company (a nod to The Office/Dunder Mifflin?) riding in a bus on their way to a weekend retreat. Their route of travel requires them to cross a large suspension bridge, an everyday occurance for many and also an unnerving event for many. I had a grandmother who was very scared of crossing bridges, and FD5 shows us grandma's nightmare come true when the bridge begins to collapse with lots of people on it. Our hero's premonition saves lives that weren't meant to be saved, but Death doesn't like to be cheated and always collects what's due.

I love the first three Final Destination movies, though my opinion that part 3 is just as great as its predecessors is seemingly shared with few, and I think the fourth film is enjoyable but a bit lacking. To that point each movie had been directed by one of two directors and had similarly re-used writers, so 4 sort of felt like they were just going through the motions. Rumored behind-the-scenes issues may have played a part in that as well, but regardless, my thought when 5 was announced was that they should bring in some new creative blood... And they did.

Bringing fresh eyes to the series, writer Eric Heisserer and director Steven Quale manage to revitalize the franchise a bit, treading some of the same ground as the other films but adding to it with some cool twists and turns. 5 is definitely back up on the level with the first 3, the first 2 if you're one who thinks less of the third.

Final Destination is my favorite horror franchise to start post-'80s. It's a slasher-esque series despite not having an actual weapon-wielding villain. Here the villain is simply mortality and the cruelty of fate, with small things going wrong in innocuous, everyday situations and building up in a twisted Rube Goldberg manner to fatal freak accidents. I'm totally into it, just like I'm into the '80s slasher franchises. These movies are a lot of fun and are awesome to watch with a screaming, ewwing, gasping, laughing audience.

People die in terrible ways, groups are torn apart, and there's never a happy ending because there's no way to escape death... And that's life. Final Destination films let us laugh along with Death itself for a couple hours, and then when we leave the theatre we can't help but be extra aware of the dangers that are always all around us.


The trailers for this simply promised me super-smart apes running amok in San Francisco, and that was enough to get me into the theatre. But once I was in there, it turned out to be more, and much better, than I expected.

For the most part, Rise is a heartstring-tugging dramatic character study of one intelligent chimpanzee in particular, Caesar, whose smarts are the byproduct of the testing of an experimental drug created in hopes of curing Alzheimers. Caesar is as intelligent as a human child, can talk through sign language, and lives at home with the creator of the drug, who has a personal stake in the search for an Alzheimers cure: his own father has the disease.

It's kind of amazing how much the filmmakers are able to make you feel for Caesar, a chimp rendered entirely with excellent but not quite real-looking CG, and a lot of credit has to go to the actor who did the motion capture performance, mo-cap pro Andy Serkis.

Caesar finds that the world can be a complicated, dangerous place when you're an animal, and ends up housed with many other apes. It's surpisingly fascinating to watch the interaction among these non-speaking CG creatures.

And of course, in the last reel or two, the apes do end up causing some damage in San Francisco, and that's cool.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is sort of a prequel to the original Planet of the Apes film, which there are several nods to, and is essentially a remake of the fourth film in the original series, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, but takes an entirely different approach to the idea.

Jay's mention:


Filmmaker Kimberly Reed goes home for her high school reunion as a completely different person-- quite literally, as all her old classmates knew her as Paul McKerrow, co-captain of the football team. Paul always felt he should have been born a girl, and finally had a sex change and started life over as Kimberly. Her classmates know about this change, but the reunion is the first time being around them.

The documentary Prodigal Sons is Kimberly's journey back home, not only for the reunion, but with her family and estranged brother Marc (who was adopted). The sex change is not the only reason that Marc and Kimberly haven't had the best relationship, and at its core Marc is extremely jealous of Kimberly for how he perceived their lives together as kids.

This was an extremely emotional and hard-hitting documentary that closely examines the personal lives of those involved. There are some very hard-to-watch moments between Marc and Kimberly, and also some extremely odd ones as Marc finds out about his biological parents-- and that he is the grandson of Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles. It's available on Netflix Instant Streaming, so check it out!

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