In Theaters: Next Stop, "The Final Destination"

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    Reviews of The Final Destination and Taking Woodstock

    The Final Destination
    Directed by David R. Ellis

    Starring Bobby Campo, Shantel VanSanten, Nick Zano
    *1/2

    Summarizing the plot to a Final Destination movie is always a pointless endeavor, so rather that waste time recounting the story of the fourth film in this franchise, I’ll just list some of the ways that Death goes about offing the latest group of people that manage to evade his icy grip courtesy of a conveniently timed vision.

    *A woman is decapitated by a flying tire following a horrible pile-up at an auto speedway.
    *A racist redneck is set on fire while being dragged by his pickup truck.
    *A womanizing dolt has his guts sucked out after his ass gets stuck in a swimming pool drain.
    *A giant explosion turns a movie theater into a ranging inferno-the second such catastrophe this summer after Inglorious Basterds
    *A nubile heroine is squished to a pulp by escalator gears…or is she?
    *A truck barrels through the window of a coffee shop, killing everyone in its path.

    Final Destination: Death Trip 3D

    And that’s it!  Fade out, roll credits, thanks for your $16.50-the total cost of seeing The Final Destination in 3D.  For that hefty price tag, the movie had better deliver plenty of thrills and chills, especially since it only runs an ultra-brief 82 minutes.  And with director David R. Ellis-who did a bang-up job on Final Destination II before moving on to make Snakes on a Plane-back in the director’s chair and the prospect of seeing the carnage in 3D, fans of the series had good reason to hope that fourth movie would be the best of the bunch.

    Well, I’m sorry to burst your bubble folks, but The Final Destination is lame, lame, lame.  And I say that as someone who was going into the theater looking forward to a mindless, gory romp.  But the problems start almost immediately with an opening set-piece that’s marred by awful CGI-enhanced effects, bland bloodshed, dull use of 3D and acting so terrible, it makes your brain hurt.  As with the Saw series, the hook of the Final Destination films has always been the elaborate death traps that the villain (in this case, the Grim Reaper rather than Jigsaw) designs for his victims.  The more creative the traps, the better the movie.

    fd4-03
    The biggest sin of The Final Destination is its general lack of imagination when it comes to the franchise’s raison d’etre.  Ellis does set-up a few potentially great traps–most notably one that involves a malfunctioning car wash, a burst water pipe and a jammed sun-roof–but frequently spoils the payoff.  He also deserves to be sentenced to a stint in movie jail for his excessive use of dream sequences, a fake-out device made all the more annoying by the fact that it undoes many of the film’s most effective deaths.  Because Final Destination films generally perform well at the box office, this probably isn’t the last stop for the franchise.  But if the series does continue, the next installment had better come up with some cooler ways to kill off its cast.

    Verdict: Skip It

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    Also in Theaters:

    Taking Woodstock
    Directed by Ang Lee
    Starring Demetri Martin, Leiv Schreiber, Imelda Staunton
    **1/2

    Ang Lee takes a break from all the heavy drama of recent efforts like Lust, Caution and Brokeback Mountain and revisits the kind of light comedies he made at the beginning of his career, such as The Wedding Banquet and Eat Drink Man Woman.  Unfortunately, in the years since those films, he seems to have lost his sense of humor.  Based on a memoir by Elliot Tiber, who helped the organizers of the legendary 1969 Woodstock music festival locate a site for their 3-day concert, Taking Woodstock teases audiences with the prospect of a backstage past to one of the 20th century’s most iconic events.  Really though, this is a low-key coming of age story, with Elliot (played in the movie by comedian Demetri Martin) learning how to stand up to his overbearing parents–and unlock his sexuality–thanks to his limited involvement in Woodstock.  Although the movie has a few gently funny moments, most of them courtesy of Leiv Schreiber who turns up briefly as a cross-dressing bodyguard, the pacing is slack and Lee allows too many of his performers to go over the top, particularly Dan Fogler as the leader of a hippie theater troupe and the usually reliable Imelda Staunton as Elliot’s domineering mother.  Lee’s heart appears to be in the right place with Taking Woodstock, but his head just isn’t in the game.
    Verdict: Rent It

    Big Fan
    Directed by Robert Siegel

    Starring Patton Oswalt, Kevin Corrigan, Michael Rappaport
    ***

    Stand-up comedian Patton Oswalt proves he has the chops to be a talented dramatic actor with his star turn in this low-budget character study from writer/director Robert Siegel, who previously penned the screenplay for Darren Aaronofsky’s acclaimed (if overrated) The Wrestler.  Oswalt plays Paul, a parking-garage attendant who still lives at home with his mother and devotes every off-duty moment to his beloved New York Giants, listening to games in the parking lot (he can’t afford tickets) and defending their honor on a local sports radio show.  His devotion is challenged when he meets the team’s star QB in a club and accidentally pisses him off.  The next thing he knows, he’s waking up in a hospital and the player is facing suspension and jail time.  As in The Wrestler, Siegel proves adept at getting into the mindset of obsessive individuals who live outside of mainstream society.  But he’s less successful at surrounding them with believable supporting characters, all too often falling back on easy cliches, like Marisa Tomei’s stripper with a heart of gold or the New Jersey caricatures that walk through this movie.  The third act is also problematic, turning Paul into a kind of Travis Bickle-like vigilante through a series of unlikely circumstances.  Still, the movie is worth seeking out for Oswalt’s fine, focused performance.
    Verdict: Rent It

    The September Issue
    Directed by R.J. Cutler
    ***1/2

    While it may be too inside baseball for general audiences, R.J. Cutler’s film about Vogue magazine’s annual fashion-forward September issue is addictive viewing for fashionistas. Filmed over a nine-month period in 2007, the film covers the production of that year’s September book-the biggest in the mag’s history-from the first line-up meeting to the last week of close.  Packed with juicy backstage drama and compelling profiles of staffers like EIC Anna Wintour and creative director Grace Coddington, this doc captures the high-end world of fashion publishing in all of its glorious excess.
    Verdict: See It

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