This week in film brings us barreling toward the end of summer blockbuster season and with the studios’ respective wads already shot, we’re left with the stinky after-drip of mediocre comedy and thoroughly unnecessary horror sequels.
However, the impending fall awards race season is also nearing into view and an excellent documentary with eyes on the Oscar prize is also slipping into theaters. To make things even better, it’s a Formula 1 racing movie, so you don’t even have to put on your smartypants-movie-watching-hat to enjoy it (though that wouldn’t hurt).
Overall, not a bad week at the movies, but definitely the first sign that Hollywood’s big money blockbuster season is drawing to a close. That’s not to say that shitty genre movies and romantic comedies won’t be coming out regularly anymore. It just means that there will finally be some healthy alternatives to cinematic fast food. You don’t have to order them, but it’s reassuring to know that the option is there.
The Good: Senna
A documentary about a Formula 1 racing driver might sound like the type of movie that would at best occupy an off-season Wednesday afternoon slot on a sports cable network, but there’s something rather special about Senna that transcends any conventional genre expectations.
Ayrton Senna was one of those rare figures like Michael Jordan or Babe Ruth who brought something so special to his sport that he transcended the core fanbase. Senna was something of an artist on the track and felt as though his talents had been delivered by God. The unrivaled skill he possessed behind the wheel made fans believe it. He had a very entertaining racing team partnership/bitter rivalry with Alain Prost that led to near accidents and endless contention.
Their relationship provides a classic “butting heads” sports rivalry structure to the documentary around and guides it towards a sadly tragic ending that caused massive changes in F1 safety regulations (sorry for the spoiler, but it has been public record for 17 years). Director Asif Kapadia constructed the movie entirely out of archival footage, including some remarkable in-car footage of Senna’s most famous races (yep, even his final and fatal trip around the track).
The choice lends the film an immediacy that you don’t normally get in documentaries released years after the death of their subjects. Senna is so compelling and entertaining that you absolutely do not have to be a fan of F1 racing to appreciate it. However, if you are a fan, I’d imagine this might quickly become one of your favorite movies of all time. It’s certainly leaps and bounds ahead of Sylvester Stallone’s Driven even if that’s not saying much.
The Bad: 30 Minutes Or Less
First off, yes, it was in incredibly bad taste for the writers of 30 Minutes Or Less to base a comedy on a real life tragedy involving a man who was strapped with a bomb and forced to rob a bank. However, the most heinous thing that first-time screenwriters Michael Diliberti and Matthew Sullivan did over the course of making the film was write a painfully unfunny comedy.
Blame also needs to be placed on Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer for stumbling on an intriguing dark comedy concept, assembling a talented comedy cast (Jesse Eisenberg, Aziz Ansari, Danny McBride, and Nick Swardson), and yet somehow ending up with a boring, bland movie.
The cast clearly improvise a few extra laughs, but not nearly enough. The limp script features characters so indistinguishable that you honestly wouldn’t be able to tell them apart without such distinct personalities in the cast. 30 Minutes Or Less certainly isn’t without its moments of comedic inspiration, but they come so few and far between that it’s hard to ever care. In the end, the film is more of a wasted opportunity than anything else. If this concept had been handled by filmmakers capable of juggling dark comedy with legitimate crime movie thrills like the Coen brothers, this could have been something special or at least interesting.
In the hands of the perpetually bland Ruben Fleischer (we can finally admit that Zombieland wasn’t particularly good now, right?), it’s mildly amusing and forgettable.
The Redundant: Final Destination 5
It’s hard to get excited about any horror movie that comes five movies into a franchise and hits the reset button every time out. Certainly if you were to focus entirely on the fact that the movie uses the exact same storyline found in the last four movies or just how terrible all of the young actors are, you’d probably be disgusted by Final Destination 5. However, the fact of the matter is that the Final Destination series isn’t about deep storylines or rich characterization. The movies are all about the elaborate fate-driven Rube Goldberg-esque death sequences.
That’s what you plunk down your money for and this five-quel does deliver the goods on that level. Directed by Steven Quale (James Cameron’s second unit director of choice who helped piece together the iconic special effect sequences from Titanic and Avatar), the death sequences are so creatively staged with lovingly drawn out suspense that they take up about half of the running time.
Quale also shoots using Cameron’s 3D cameras and while the world is justifiably tiring of tacked-on 3D, the technique still feels right at home as a jump scare-enhancing horror movie gimmick. If you want to see a head explode all over the camera in glorious 3D, this is the movie that will give you your fix. The world absolutely didn’t need a fifth Final Destination movie and it will inevitably vanish into obscurity by the end of August. However, if you’re looking for big budget gory thrills and some unintentional laughs at the expense of the cast’s “acting,” Final Destination 5 is a perfectly serviceable scare factory.
Also opening this week: The Help (the only place to see Emma Stone in a wig this week), Glee: The 3D Concert Movie (ugh ), and Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow (your guess is as good as mine).