The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009)

2016 #170
Chris Weitz | 131 mins | download (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

The Twilight Saga: New MoonLast Halloween, I reviewed one of the most horrifying movies of all time: Twilight. This Halloween, at the risk of establishing a terrible tradition that could potentially run for another three years, I’m turning my attention to its first sequel, New Moon.*

If you watched the first movie and thought things couldn’t get any worse… well, you clearly didn’t watch New Moon. I don’t blame you. My original plan had been to watch all five and review them over the course of a week last Halloween, like I did for George A. Romero’s zombie movies in 2013 (plug!), but after the first I couldn’t stomach any more straightaway. Or for an entire year, apparently.

Anyway, the film. New Moon picks up more or less where Twilight left off, with human teen Bella (Kristen Stewart) and 109-year-old vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson) deeply in love. Their relationship is complicated by the slightest sign of Bella’s blood making members of Edward’s vampire pseudo-family want to kill her, but he refuses to turn her. Then Edward’s family have to leave the area and he decides it would be better if she didn’t come. Bella goes into extreme mourning — OK, teens over-feel break-ups, but Bella goes fucking mental, screaming in her sleep like a junkie going cold turkey. Her father confronts her: “It’s just not normal, this behaviour.” Bang on, daddy-o!

So, Bella discovers that doing crazy adrenaline-generating things — like riding on motorbikes with strangers — gives her visions of Edward. It’s unclear if she’s imagining these or if he’s actually manifesting to her. In most movies you’d know it was the former, but this is a supernatural flick about vampires and werewolves, for crying out loud — make yourself clear, moviemakers! Anyway, to replicate this rush Bella salvages some bikes from a tip or something and gets her chum Jacob (Taylor Lautner) to rebuild them. She still can think of nothing but Edward… until Jacob takes his top off. My face is up here, BellaAnd they accuse teenage guys of being shallowly obsessed with the opposite sex’s chests. But then Jacob starts acting aggressively, and hanging out with a gang, and there are stories about beasts in the woods killing people, and his tribe leader type guy looks shifty whenever all that’s mentioned, and… wait, could there be a connection between Jacob and his friends and the wolf-like attacks in the woods?! Gasp!

New Moon is a terribly slow, terribly mopey movie, which takes forever to get to really obvious ‘reveals’ — like, yes, Jacob and co are werewolves (after a fashion). That’s when it’s not trying to build a love triangle that we all know can only end one way. I mean, Bella tells Jacob “it will always be Edward”. Not subtextually — she tells him literally, with words. Those exact words. And when it’s not doing that, it’s slowly building up some form of mythology, presumably to use properly in future instalments. Then it ends with what I think is meant to be a cliffhanger and/or surprise ending, but it’s so ridiculously unsurprising or cliffhanger-y that it’s almost insulting. Bella’s forced Edward’s hand, making him agree to turn her into a vampire because they can’t bear to be apart and want to spend forever together, so why should it be such a surprise that he wants to marry her?!

Then there’s the pathetically hand-holding direction — a shot that shows the changing seasons conveys the passage of time perfectly decently, so why superimpose the names of the months on top as if we’re all 5 year olds who can’t understand it hasn’t literally turned from late summer to autumn to winter in 90 seconds? The CGI is uniformly terrible, We feel your pain, Bellaso that even bits that aren’t bad in isolation (the wolves, for instance) are poorly integrated into the live-action. And at one point the characters go to the cinema to see an action movie… called Face Punch. At this point New Moon slips from ineptitude into genius. It’s the best worst fake action movie title ever. The scene where they discuss it is so hilarious, I actually had to pause the movie to finish laughing.

Though it may contain the funniest thing I’ve seen in any movie this year, it’s not enough to save New Moon. It’s even worse than the first one, because it’s boring. Some bits and bobs may actually be improved (some of the direction is slicker; Bella’s terrible voice over is reduced), but goddamn, it’s so dull. So little actually happens. It feels like it’s probably setting things in place for whatever’s to come next for an entire movie.

On the bright side, that might mean the series improves from here. I can but hope.

1 out of 5

New Moon featured on my list of The Five Worst Films I Saw in 2016, which can be read in full here.

* Here’s a thing: the film has two title cards: the first says New Moon, the second says Twilight Saga: New Moon — no “The”. But as all the posters and, y’know, everyone else uses the “the”, I am too. Fighting my urge to use the accurate on-screen nomenclature here, people. ^

The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again (2016)

2016 #165
Kenny Ortega | 88 mins | download (HD) | 16:9 | USA / English

The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let's Do the Time Warp AgainWhen this TV movie kicks off with Ivy Levan sashaying her way around a cinema while she mimes to a pre-recorded and over-produced backing track of Science Fiction/Double Feature, full of licks and runs and finding four notes to hit where there used to be one, like a desperate X Factor wannabe who has no concept of the meaning of the lyrics she’s warbling but is ever so desperate to show she can saaang (that’s like singing but with added Cool), you get a pretty fair idea of the terrible experience about to be unleashed upon you by the not-so-catchily titled The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again. That’s to say it’s been modernised, Americanised, and sanitised.

If you know the original then you know the plot, and if you don’t know the original then you have no business watching this so-called tribute version, which premiered on Fox in the US last week and makes its way to the UK on Sky Cinema from today. “Tribute” is the latest word someone has co-opted to avoid saying “remake”, a marketing strategy that was presumably settled upon after they realised they’d produced a witless, regressive clone of material that, though over 40 years old, is still more subversive and boundary-pushing than this plastic Disneyfied tosh.

Sweet transgender womanThe interpretation of the songs is appalling. The recordings are all overworked, full of needless warbles and added “oohs”. They’ve been modernised in such a way that, when current popular fads for over-singing things (“licks” or “runs” or whatever else they call them) have passed — as they surely will — these new versions will sound even more dated than the already-40-year-old originals, which have a certain timelessness. The lyrics are sung with the same amount of attention to what they mean as you get from a computer’s text-to-speech function, including or echoing parts of the original without understanding why they’re there or what function they perform; or if it does know the function, it doesn’t know how to replicate it.

To say its performances are like a bad am-dram production would be an insult to am-drammers everywhere. Almost everyone is miscast. It was, perhaps, a nice touch to include Tim Curry, but his limited scenes are uncomfortable to watch because it’s painfully obvious that the poor man is still labouring under the aftereffects of his stroke. As Brad, Ryan McCartan overacts as if he thinks that’s the whole point. Reeve Carney makes Riff Raff a leering creep, and his needless affected British accent is awful. As Magenta, Christina Miian’s is worse. As Frank, Laverne Cox’s imitative mid-Atlantic twang is even worse again. Why did they do it?! Presumably because, as I said, it’s all a thoughtless copy of the original.

The casting of a transgender woman as a transvestite is its own kettle of worms — either she’s a woman doing radical things like fancying men and being jealous of another woman stealing her guy, or you’re saying she’s not actually a woman but still a man and… well, like I say, it’s a mess. A commenter on the A.V. Club’s review summed up the cumulative effect quite succinctly: “Fox was actually able to pull off a pretty conservative casting choice while appearing uber progressive… By casting Cox, who identifies as female, in the role of Frank-N-Furter the seduction scenes actually became far less risqué”.

Well, it's certainly been warpedEverything is blunted further by Kenny Ortega’s ineffective direction. The camerawork is flat and uninteresting, the shot choices unimaginative. Some of the choreography looks interesting — it’s certainly more elaborate than in the original film — but the camerawork seems to be actively trying to obscure it. The editor must have struggled, unable to generate any additional excitement due to a shortage of options. At times it looks as if it was filmed live, under which circumstances its weaknesses might be understandable, if not excusable… but it wasn’t.

Occasionally there are cutaways to a cinema audience — not a real one, but a gaggle of extras, sat in a theatre watching what we’re watching. These moments are pathetic and pointless. I get that it’s meant to be a nod to the interactive midnight showings that have made Rocky Horror the phenomenon it is, but they demonstrate none of the wit or verve that make those screenings so popular. Plus the original film is good entertainment even without such intrusions; this isn’t. You might think that makes the asides necessary to liven it up, but there are so few of them, and they’re so lacking in imagination, or any discernible content whatsoever, that they just feel like they’re dragging the experience out even further.

Believe it or not, it’s not all bad. There’s one new gag in the dinner scene that’s actually pretty funny. It’s delivered by Faye Marsay lookalike Annaleigh Ashford, who makes a good fist of Columbia. Rounding out the leads, Victoria Justice has all the necessary charms to make a pretty fair Janet. Victoria Justice's omnipresent cleavage. May also be omnipotent.I refer partly to her omnipresent cleavage, but also her acting. It’s not great by any means, but she’s suitably sweet and twee at the start, then manages to sell Janet’s near-instantaneous transformation from uptight goody-two-shoes to sex-mad strumpet using just a handful of expressions and line deliveries in the slight gap her character has between Over at the Frankenstein Place and Touch-a Touch-a Touch Me. The latter is one of the film’s rare highlights, for various reasons. One of those is actually Staz Nair as Rocky — undoubtedly the least challenging role in the piece, but at least he gets it right, and his musclebound chest counterbalances Justice’s for those of the other persuasion. The only downside are his tattoos: he was supposedly just grown in a tank, how does he have tattoos?!

More than the ’75 film, Let’s Do the Time Warp Again brings to mind the 2010 episode of Glee that essayed the same musical. If you suffered through The Rocky Horror Glee Show, as I did, you’ll know it was a travesty. Is this even worse? Well, that’s a bit like someone forcing you to eat a dog shit and a cat shit before asking you which tasted nicer. That’s a little unfair: the Glee version was meritless; this one has a couple of minor plus points — so maybe it’s like someone making you eat a very small shit while occasionally showing you a picture of a sexy half-naked person. But unless someone forces you to choose between only this and Glee, there’s no earthly reason to do this particular Time Warp again.

1 out of 5

The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again is available on Sky Cinema from today, screening on Premiere at 12:25pm and 8pm.

It featured on my list of The Five Worst Films I Saw in 2016, which can be read in full here.

300: Rise of an Empire (2014)

2016 #78
Noam Murro | 98 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

Taking place before, during, and after the events of Zack Snyder’s surprise-hit graphic novel adaptation 300, belated follow-up Rise of an Empire tells the wider story of what was going on in the war between Greece and Persia. In particular, it follows Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) as he commands a series of sea battles against the Persian navy, led by Artemisia (Eva Green).

300 was known from the off as a case of style over substance, both in terms of its visuals (the ultra-heightened colour palette at a time when extreme digital grading still felt new; the slow-mo/fast-mo/etc editing) and its storytelling (taking an historical event and ramping it up to the level of legend; dialogue more concerned with being readily quotable than sounding plausible). But it committed so thoroughly to that methodology that it kind of worked, in its own ridiculous way. It helped that, as I said, it was all quite new — 300 was a visual revelation back in 2007, and that was enough. Now, plenty of films look like that, leaving 300 2 in search of a hook. It doesn’t find one.

It doesn’t help that the CGI this time is terrible, making the whole thing look like a computer game with real people occasionally dropped in. It’s not just the low quality of the graphics (calling them “effects” or “visuals” seems generous), but the way the camera moves and frames things. And the gore is gorno-level outrageous. In one shot early in the film, we see a horse rise up in fright, slow motion emphasising how its whole body is lifting into the air on its hind legs, its front hoof flailing, its eyes wild… before it comes crashing down, its hoof smashing into a grounded man’s head, the not-even-vaguely-plausible CGI blood exploding everywhere — in slow motion, of course.

It’s also terribly obvious that it was shot for 3D. I’m not normally one to criticise a film for that — I think when some critics know a film is being released in 3D they see that in its shot choices, even if they’re perfectly valid choices for 2D. But Rise of an Empire screams that it was made for 3D from the start, with all manner of things thrust towards the camera, usually in slow motion, and the constant explosions of blood (to call them squirts or sprays implies a more liquid-like quality than they actually possess) which go nowhere else but camerawards. Presumably the only reason it’s not an 18 for violence is because it’s all so bloody silly.

There is no point discussing or analysing any other aspects of the film. In every respect — from the clunky structure, to the leaden dialogue, to the poor performances, to the cheap visuals, to the fake CGI — this doesn’t feel like the $110 million blockbuster it is, but like a direct-to-Syfy TV movie.

1 out of 5

300: Rise of an Empire is available on Amazon Prime Instant Video UK as of yesterday.

It featured on my list of The Five Worst Films I Saw in 2016, which can be read in full here.

The Crying of Lot 49 (2007)

2015 #149a
Jeremy Sutheim | 7 mins | streaming | 4:3 | USA / English

After watching Inherent Vice back in August, I was inspired to re-read the only Thomas Pynchon novel I’d ever read, which I’d liked very much and been meaning to take another run at for years. That was, as you might guess, The Crying of Lot 49, a ’60s tale of possible conspiracy and definite paranoia. Reading about it afterwards, I came upon thomaspynchon.com — not an official site, despite the straightforward name — which linked to their series of Wikis on each of his novels; and right at the top of the Crying of Lot 49 one was a subsection entitled “And now… The Movie…”, complete with a YouTube link. So I watched that and now I’m reviewing it because, you know, that’s what I do.

Although details are fairly scarce on the film’s YouTube page, it appears to be a student short, possibly only made for some school project. It adapts the entire novel in just seven minutes, solely through meaningful images and music — there are no actors, no dialogue, no voiceover. A solid knowledge of the book is essential to understand what’s going on and why certain imagery has been chosen; without it, I think the film would come across as utterly meaningless. Even with it, you find yourself grasping back to memories of the novel to work out what you’re being shown and why.

Some images are lifted out of the text wholesale, like representing an approaching city as a circuitboard. In the novel, it’s a memorable visual simile; on screen, its effectiveness is bluntly underlined (you can, literally, see what Pynchon means), though in the context of the film it’s an odd item to just pop up. Most of the rest of the film is more literal, picking out locations and things to show that will (or may) trigger a memory of the appropriate part of the book. That’s where a viewer will get the narrative from — as a film in its own right, it’s unfollowable. As someone in the comments accurately describes it, “This feels like a version of [the novel] done by Microsoft’s Summarize Text feature. It’s all basically there but coherence and cohesion have been thrown out the Windows.”

It’s probably not fair to judge The Crying of Lot 49 by normal moviemaking standards. As a high school project to summarise a novel in a few minutes of video (which it may or may not be), it’s probably alright. Otherwise, though, it’s not worth the seven minutes; not even for die-hard fans of the author and/or novel. It is, you might say, a W.A.S.T.E. of time. #injoke

1 out of 5

The Crying of Lot 49 can be watched on YouTube.

Parabellum (2015)

2015 #150
Lukas Valenta Rinner | 75 mins | streaming | 2.35:1 | Argentina, Austria & Uruguay / Spanish

Screened at the London Film Festival earlier this month, then made available on MUBI in the UK (where you can, if you want, watch it until midnight on 11th November), the latter lured me in by describing it as “a meticulous and immersive portrait of the end of the world, where the apocalypse is out of frame. Who said sci-fi required big budgets? Clever, and chilling.” Intrigued? Don’t be.

Parabellum (which apparently translates as “Congratulation”, though that doesn’t seem to mean anything here) is the kind of movie where nothing much happens. Well, things do happen, but co-writer/director Lukas Valenta Rinner has chosen to tell the story in such a way that it feels like nothing happens. A bunch of people gather at a remote survivalist training camp in Argentina, where they’re taught things like camouflage, hand-to-hand combat, and shooting. We don’t see them talk to each other; we only see snippets of their lessons; no one explains why they’re there, what’s going on in the wider world to have inspired them to come, or anything else.

After over half an hour of this, we see what appears to be a comet, but may be a missile or something, fall in the background of a shot. Is this the end of the world, then? Suddenly, the instructors don’t seem to be around anymore, and half-a-dozen of the trainees set off by boat to… well, I’m not sure what their goal is, but they break into someone’s house and kill him, and later they migrate to a bigger boat and continue travelling; and then one of them commits suicide, and eventually the guy we’ve ‘followed’ from the start sets off in a small boat towards a distant city, where numerous comet-missiles are raining down non-stop.

That’s the whole movie, more or less. I haven’t spoiled it for you because you’re not going to watch it because why would you? There is no discernible story or meaning; there is no characterisation; there is nothing but imagery and snippets of moments that signify nothing. It is a movie that has deliberately left out any explanations. Apparently the director has said it’s all a criticism of global capitalism, or something. Even with that extra-filmic information, it’s still difficult to ascertain much meaning. This isn’t realism — this isn’t avoiding “hello, person who is my brother” dialogue — this is obtuseness for obtuseness’ sake.

Alfred Hitchcock once said said that “movies are real life with the boring parts cut out.” Valenta Rinner’s movie is the opposite of this in every respect: it isn’t real life, which is fine, but he only left the boring parts in, which isn’t.

1 out of 5

Parabellum is, as noted, part of MUBI’s UK selection until midnight on 11th November.

It featured on my list of The Five Worst Films I Saw in 2015, which can be read in full here.

Blitz (2011)

2015 #58
Elliott Lester | 93 mins | TV | 16:9 | UK, France & USA / English | 18 / R

BlitzJason Statham plays the kind of copper who wakes up on his sofa in the middle of the night, immediately pours himself a whiskey in a mug, then goes out and beats up three youths who were trying to nick a car, in this godawful crime novel adaptation.

The plot is something to do with someone killing police officers, seemingly at random, but don’t worry about that because there are multitudinous reasons not to bother watching it. It feels like it was made for TV in the ’70s — the quality of the dialogue, the attitudes, the performances, the visuals… Not just the ’70s, even, just any cheap “for blokes” production from before the millennium. Throwback entertainment can work — though we tend to call it “retro” and play it tongue-in-cheek — but Blitz just feels dated.

The writing is, unsurprisingly, awful. It’s adapted from the fourth novel in a series, which apparently explains why some of the supporting characters (Zawe Ashton’s in particular) engage in pointless subplots barely connected to the main narrative — in the novels, it’s an ongoing thread spanning multiple books. Why did it get left in? Presumably because writer Nathan Parker doesn’t know what he’s doing. He did also write the acclaimed Moon though, so who knows.

The running manAt least it has some so-bad-they’re-good one-liners — “Aren’t you going to take any notes?” “Do I look like I carry a pencil?” Unfortunately, their presence meant the thing Blitz most reminded me of was A Touch of Cloth, Charlie Brooker’s Naked Gun-esque police procedural spoof. After that notion embeds itself, the whole film feels like a straight-faced spoof, where nothing that occurs can possibly have been meant to be taken seriously.

Surprisingly, the cast is filled out with some really good (and/or recognisable) actors slumming it: David Morrissey, Paddy Considine, Aidan Gillen, Luke Evans, Mark Rylance. Yes, Mark Rylance. Mark “Wolf Hall” Rylance. Mark “greatest theatre actor of his generation” Rylance. Mark bleeding Rylance! Why, Mark? Why?!

The cast might make you think this is an above-average Jason Statham movie. It isn’t. In fact, even by the standards of Statham’s usual work, this is bad. Avoid it.

1 out of 5

Blitz featured on my list of The Five Worst Films I Saw in 2015, which can be read in full here.

Chicken Little (2005)

2014 #16
Mark Dindal | 77 mins | streaming (HD) | 1.85:1 | USA / English | U / G

Chicken LittleThe director of Disney’s woeful The Emperor’s New Groove re-tells the well-known centuries-old folk take about a chicken who became a middle school baseball champ before foiling an alien invasion.

This was Disney’s first foray into computer animation in their main movie canon, in the wake of Home on the Range’s failure and Pixar and DreamWork’s CG success. It merely proves the fault was not with their traditional animation, but with their storytellers.

Occasional bright spots of humour are the only relief in this cheap-looking childish ‘adventure’, only notable as the “first film released in Real D’s digital 3D format”.

1 out of 5

The UK network TV premiere of Chicken Little is on Channel 5 at 3:25pm.

It featured on my list of The Five Worst Films I Saw in 2014, which can be read in full here.

In the interests of completing my ever-growing backlog, I decided to post ‘drabble reviews’ of some films. For those unfamiliar with the concept, a drabble is a complete piece of writing exactly 100 words long.

Sharknado (2013)

2013 #66
Anthony C. Ferrante | 84 mins | TV | 16:9 | USA / English | 15

SharknadoSharknado is a defining film of 2013. The volume of conversation it generated, which achieved the near-impossibility of higher viewing figures for its repeats, is exceptional. So I was determined to give it its due in a full-length review. But I can’t be bothered — it doesn’t merit such attention.

Rather than attempt something with genuine ambition that failed, the makers undertook the cynical manufacture of a film “so bad it’s good”. Not as funny as it thinks, with awful CGI, worse acting, nonsensical plotting, and that brazen “look how bad a film we made!” attitude, it’s a pathetically dull mess.

1 out of 5

In the interests of completing my ever-growing backlog, I decided to post ‘drabble reviews’ of some films. For those unfamiliar with the concept, a drabble is a complete piece of writing exactly 100 words long.

This review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2013. Read more here.

Sharknado featured on my list of The Five Worst Films I Saw in 2013, which can be read in full here.

The Final Destination (2009)

2012 #61
David R. Ellis | 82 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

The Final DestinationThe best thing about The Final Destination is its title, because turning the series’ familiar name into a definitive article for the final entry is really quite a neat move. Sadly, it was a hit and they’ve made more. Why it was a hit… God only knows.

For starters, the story (such as it is) is a complete and utter rehash of the plot of every other film in the series. The only thing on its side is efficiency: it races through ‘plot’ scenes in a quest to find the next set piece. For example, the Rules are explained to this all-new cast because they Google “premonitions” and find out what happened in the previous movies. The overriding sense of familiarity makes for kind of depressing viewing. Previous films tried to find new twists on the rules, ways the cycle might genuinely be broken, etc, whereas this seems content to merely move from one death to the next. Aside from creative ways to kill people, literally the only new idea is that the premonition-haver sees two people die at almost exactly the same time and can’t remember who was first, meaning instead of traipsing to warn the next person they have to find two people. And that’s it.

Production values are low too, featuring very cheap CGI and very poor acting. I’d say both are below the standard of US network TV filler, so for the fourth entry in a fairly successful big-screen franchise that seems even more woeful. I know it’s only Final Destination, but still… The cast aren’t helped by the woeful screenplay, but I don’t think they could’ve enlivened a better one either. They’ve clearly been cast just for being Young and Pretty, but surely there are some Young, Pretty people who can act?

How this film will make you feel, 1The focus is clearly on the deaths — at 11 it has the highest of the series, and with its short running time that means there’s a fatality every seven minutes. They’re also very gory, more so than in previous films I’d say, but they’re not commensurately more inventive. There’s a very thorough line in misdirection at times, but the whole enterprise feels painfully lacking in creativity. I’m not sure some of them even make sense. But then do they need to? Similarly, there’s some customary low-rent-horror-movie completely-gratuitous nudity too, which I’m sure delighted teenage boys even more in 3D.

None of the deaths matter because nothing is done to make us care about these characters, or even be broadly interested in them, unlike the best of the earlier entries. So there’s zero tension, zero emotion, just elaborate death after elaborate death. It’s one of the most hollow films I can think of. It may even have been better if they’d ditched the attempts at a plot and gone for a series of vignettes in which, unbeknownst to one another, the survivors were bumped off in order. That’s basically what this film wants to be anyway. At least it would’ve been something different. And shorter. And when you want an under-80-minutes (before credits) film to be shorter… oh dear.

The 3D factor was a large part of the film’s promotion, and it makes full use of stereo visuals in exactly the way you’d expect a schlocky horror to. Problem is, it’s so designed for 3D that some of it doesn’t work in 2D. It’s not just the usual array of stuff flying at the camera for no reason — Woah-oh-oh your steps are on firethat’s a sure sign it was meant for cheap 3D thrills, but otherwise fine — here, stuff pokes straight out. That means in 2D you see, say, the flat end of a pole, with absolutely zero sense of depth. This happened with one trap in Saw 3D, but in The Final Destination it keeps coming up. It might not sound like a serious problem, but again and again it jars as you try to work out exactly what’s where in the very flat straight-on 2D rendering. Maybe it’s good that 3D films are so thoroughly designed for their intended medium, but I’m not convinced.

As mentioned, this was sold as the final Final Destination — hence the definitive-article title — but it was a surprise hit (thanks in no small part to the 3D, back in the Avatar-hype era when it guaranteed anything a significant boost) and so the series has continued. What’s perhaps most odd, however, is that it makes no serious attempt to bring the whole series to a close. Sure, #3 ditched any links to the first two with a brand-new cast as well, but you’d think, knowing this was The Last One, they’d try to bring it full circle somehow. But clearly not.

Then again, I’m not sure anyone involved could have if they wanted too. The evidence for that is on screen: some of it is unbelievably boneheaded. “Where’s Lori?” “I dunno, I’ve been calling and texting all afternoon, she won’t pick up her phone.” Oh, maybe she’s, I dunno, in the film she told you she was going to see in the scene before last! Dear God.

How this film will make you feel, 2Elsewhere, one character starts talking about déjà vu before getting killed in the same way as the first film’s most famous death. I suppose it’s meant to be Meta and Funny, and maybe it kinda is, but again the CG is so cheap that the half-trained eye will spot an effect is about to happen, and the manner of death once again doesn’t really make sense. Later, we learn that shopping mall sprinklers can instantly extinguish all fires — handy!

I could go on. I have half a dozen more examples in my notes. But no. It’s so woeful that it’s kind of frustratingly bad — you want someone with half a brain to come along and make the film work.

There’s a somewhat amusing way to judge the Final Destination series: its posters and/or DVD covers; and, specifically, what they tell us about the decreasing importance of character to the franchise. You see, the first prominently features head shots of the central cast (albeit half turned into skulls). The second offers either blurry head shots or full body shots, reducing their recognisability. In the third, the cast are still there, but reduced to near-facelessness seated on a roller coaster, often upside down. And by the fourth, they’re not even there at all. It’s true that Final Destination has never really been about the characters — it’s about how they die — but it’s also true that the more attached you are to them, however superficially, the better (as it were) their deaths are. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that the characters, deaths and films get weaker at about the same rate, or perhaps each really is connected to the others.

This picture is a metaphorThere’s potential in the concept of the Final Destination films, but clearly it’s either limited or the people in charge don’t know how to exploit it, because after making two quite-good films they’ve turned it into a repetitive, stale, uncreative, formulaic disaster. And there’s now a fifth too, and a sixth hasn’t been ruled out — surely it/they can’t be any worse than this? Based on form, maybe they can…

1 out of 5

The Final Destination is on Film4 and Film4 HD tonight at 11:05pm, and again on Friday 21st at 11:10pm. Because I’m sure you really want to see it now.

This review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2012. Read more here.

The Final Destination featured on my list of The Five Worst Films I Saw in 2012, which can be read in full here.

The Last Airbender (2010)

2012 #31
M. Night Shyamalan | 99 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | USA / English | PG / PG

The Last AirbenderConsensus holds that the work of once-acclaimed director M. Night Shyamalan has managed a near-perfect trajectory of decreasing returns. I’m not talking about box office — I have no idea (or much interest) in how that’s gone for him — but quality, starting with supernatural chiller The Sixth Sense and sliding gradually to the nadir of The Happening. I’m not as convinced (I quite liked some of his efforts along the way), but it’s fair to say The Happening was pretty awful and certainly his worst… until this.

Adapted from a US animated series (but having to drop the series’ Avatar prefix thanks to a certain other 3D blockbuster), Shyamalan’s live-action rendition condenses the storyline of the first season into a 90-something-minute movie. You can immediately see some problems are going to arise just from the maths involved. I should say, I’ve never seen the original series, so I have no idea how Shyamalan succeeds in translating it. There was plenty of controversy in his casting, which included Caucasians in the roles of apparently-Asian characters in the original, but happily using them for the villains. I don’t know that that bothers me so much, but it seemed to be a watershed moment for some.

Even ignoring the inevitable prejudice of an adaptation not living up to fans’ expectations, however, The Last Airbender is a mess. You don’t even need to see it in the notoriously too-dark post-production 3D to find yourself confused about what’s going on. The plot pings back and forth between locations and characters, basing itself in a heavy mythology that isn’t adequately explained. The Glow-in-the-Dark AirbenderChunks of it seem to be missing, conveyed through clunky voiceover rather than on-screen action. The first rule of screenwriting — literally, the first — is Show Don’t Tell, but Shyamalan does exactly the opposite.

In fairness to him, there’s some defence to be found in the trivia section of IMDb: “Almost 30 minutes of footage was cut from the theatrical release because Paramount Pictures wanted the film converted to 3D as quickly as possible, in an effort to save money.” That certainly might explain some of the awkward jumps in plot, and at times we can see a conversation taking place but only get to hear a narrated summary. Still, I don’t think these edits cover all of the film’s flaws — not even close — but it explains some of them.

About the only good thing I can recall is the CGI, which is fine. But you get good CGI everywhere these days, so it’s far from a reason to watch. The action sequences it’s employed for are largely uninspiring, their style stolen from 300 or other equally familiar sources. The acting is routinely appalling too — Dev Patel, for instance, is more like his lacklustre first role in Skins than his BAFTA-nominated, worldwide-attention-grabbing turn in Slumdog Millionaire.

Dev Patel, not on fireI wouldn’t call myself a Shyamalan apologist, but I think he has at times suffered harshly at the hands of critics and audiences disappointed that he’s never re-reached the heights of The Sixth Sense (though, personally, I prefer Unbreakable anyway). Unfortunately, The Last Airbender is more fuel to the fire. It’s not only Shyamalan’s worst film, it’s a plain bad film by any reasonable measure. Laughably awful, even.

1 out of 5

This review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2012. Read more here.

The Last Airbender featured on my list of The Five Worst Films I Saw in 2012, which can be read in full here.