‘Snakes on a Plane’ director David R. Ellis, 60, dies | Inside Movies | EW.com

‘Snakes on a Plane’ director David R. Ellis, 60, dies | Inside Movies | EW.com.

Sad news.

Plus, he directed one so-so Final Destination movie (#4)(though also very gory, mean-spirited, and in 3D- we saw a midnight showing and while no-one in the place was scared, we all howled and applauded through the whole thing, and we all sure got every cent of entertainment we could from the ticket price) and another great Final Destination entry (FD2).  RIP.

I need to dig up my “I’ve had it with these mothafucking snakes on this mothafucking plane!” T-shirt to wear (which has nice a crisp, giant font size that almost takes up the entire shirt front, so I can only find an appropriate social occasion to wear it in public once a year or so). That may sound like kind of an offensive tribute, but it seems fitting, and I don’t think he’d mind. From the audience reaction when we saw SOAP opening night, you would have thought Samuel L. Motherfucking Jackson had personally entered the theater to deliver that now-classic (if not classy) line. David Ellis and Samuel L. Jackson also were great together on the DVD commentary. Yes, I purchased a copy of Snakes On A Plane  on DVD at retail price !I admit it!  Proudly! It had a commentary with Sam Jackson and a really funny out-take reel, and I would still have bought it!   I was proud to say it back then and I’m proud to say it now!

Plenty of clever “commentators” on Facebook are carefully crafting Final Destination jokes about the cause of death to show how funny and cool they are. I must be getting old older older-ish…  since it would be nice if they waited a few days, till his loved ones finish making funeral/burial arrangements, you know, that kind of thing. Probably funny later (depending who comes up with the joke- Jeff Ross might fit it into his “Too Soon? portion of The Burn in the next couple weeks), not really funny now. Also it seems morbid to just pop right in Final Destination Two or The Final Destination.

Nope, I’ll listen to the SOAP commentary instead. There’s also a stunt director, the main snake wrangler, a script supervisor, and a small handful of others who introduce themselves at the beginning, (who all sound more than happy to let Ellis and Jackson do most of the talking, and sit back and be entertained). They both joke and laugh boisterously throughout the whole commentary (mostly laughing at Sam Jackson’s jokes, but that’s a guy who deserves to laugh at his own jokes, he’s earned it). They’d worked on four other projects together, but this was Ellis’ first chance to direct Samuel L. Jackson. He says when he got the offer after Ronnie Yu dropped out as director, he was thrilled to work with his friend (though he points out, “Well, you don’t really “direct” Sam, because he’s on and nails it first take, every time”). Also, when the studio marketing wanted to re-title it with the zesty, exciting title “Pacific Air,” SLJ had enough pull as an A-list star/actor to say he was only doing the movie if they used the title Snakes On A Plane:  “We’re gonna deliver what the fans want to see. From the beginning, when I heard the title… you know you in for an hour an a half of snakes attacking a plane! That’s it! I wanna be in that movie, ’cause I love that kind of movie.” Guess what title they ended up with…

Sample joke on commentary(about the straightforward title)-

SL.J: “Look, with this …either you wanna see the fuckin’ movie or you don’t. When I was a kid… Frankenstein meets the Wolfman.   Well, okay! That’s what you’re there for, that’s what you’re getting. You know, and… House on Haunted Hill.  You will see a haunted house on a hill. That’s it! That’s the movie, you’ll be entertained. No confusion there. Bam!”
Ellis: “Titanic should have been called Big Fucking Ship Hits Iceberg.”
(Uproarious laughter from everyone in the room)

David Ellis proudly points out his family members in cameos during the first act of the movie.  He also sounds completely genuine when he thanks the fans for the support, especially on the internet, that helped them make the fun popcorn movie–just a summer movie, entertainment, where you can escape and scream and have fun for 99 minutes– that they wanted to make.

Samuel L. Jackson

Samuel L. Jackson (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After the scene where the snake rises out of the toilet in the airplane bathroom stall and suddenly chomps down (fangs fully out) on some poor passenger’s dick, and they get a chance to take a breath after Sam Jackson stops yelling things and cheering and Ellis finishes laughing,  he jokes, “You know, I’d like to point out something… every director has a legacy. And this is what I’m leaving.”

Samuel L Jackson responds, “And we are DOWN with that!”

Screen shot 2013-01-08 at 2.13.00 AM

Mr. Ellis will be missed.

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Final Destination Fever!

I’ve always been a fan of the Final Destination series. Sure, FD4– which had the nerve to call itself THE Final Destination (without caps, but still) –was the weakest of the series. Short on scares, had pacing problems (uneven), I really didn’t care what happened to the characters (with the exception of the black security guard, at least they gave him a back-story and Mykelti Williamson made him likeable). Not only do they not try very hard to get us to care, but some of them–even the ones who were key because they escaped the disaster so they could get taken later by the Grim Reaper in some outrageous and/or creative set-piece (which, let’s face it, is what fans remember and usually see the movies in the series for) didn’t even get names, instead four survivors that get their classic FD ‘hand of death’ treatment are simply listed in the credits as “MILF”, “Mechanic”, “Racist” (OK, I can forgive that one),  and “Cowboy”.

Some characters don’t see it coming, and are in fact of the middle of a sentence when BOOM, out of nowhere, they’re decapitated or hit by a large vehicle, killing them instantly (but scaring the shit out of any other characters present at the time).

The leads don’t even have last names, so there’s no shout-outs to anyone in the genre. Furthermore, Tony Todd isn’t in it, and yeah, he was providing voice talent for Transformers at the time, but he had scheduling conflicts with FD3 and they still figured out a fairly easy and clever way to include him as the voice to set the mood and intimidate amusement part patrons fir The Devil’s Ride (“world’s scariest roller coaster”, think I’ll take a pass).  I will give it credit for buckets of gore (in 3D, which they take full use of from the first frame to the last) and a decent story. The two most rotten pricks in the survivor’s group get the worst deaths in the movie.

Which segues nicely into a poll I made up after a recent 2-day FD marathon (which also led me to tons of content when I write about the series again and again). Some characters don’t see it coming, and are in fact of the middle of a sentence when BOOM, out of nowhere, they’re decapitated or hit by a large vehicle, killing them instantly (but scaring the shit out of any other characters present at the time). What’s the least desirable death in the series? Which of these makes getting quickly crushed by a random heavy object sound like a cold beer on a hot summer day?

Remember, you can write your own answer… though I’m pretty sure I got all the really nasty ones. More content coming up!

*”…and you don’t even want to think about fucking with that mac daddy.” -Tony Todd as Mr. Bludworth in the original film.

Review: Wreckage (2010) I’d Say Don’t Expect Fireworks, But…

…but there are, in fact, a shitload of actual fireworks let off in two scenes from Wreckage: in place of a flare gun at one point, and in a scene at the end of the credits. They’re pretty cool fireworks*. I am sorry to report, however, that even Aaron Paul couldn’t save this movie.* If you haven’t figured it out yet (or never met me) I am a huge, HUGE Breaking Bad fan. and Paul does the absolute best he’s got with a mediocre, thankless (at best) script,  and unsurprisingly was the best, most talented actor in the cast. The acting in the movie isn’t as bad as most people say. There were two cast members, who I will keep anonymous, who were pretty bad, and I wanted the characters killed off just because I didn’t know how much longer I could stand them being onscreen.

So here’s the official plot synopsis:

Jared, Kate, Rick, and Jessica find themselves stranded in a wreckage yard after their car breaks down during a drag race. Meanwhile, the sheriff’s office receives notice that a convict escaped from a local state prison. As the teenagers mysteriously disappear one by one, the killer grows hungry and the thriller continues to unravel.

Well, I can get behind that last phrase, this thriller unravels pretty goddamned fast (though that happens by the end of the ‘drag race’, not after).

I got clued in to this movie when I saw a full-page ad in Fangoria, with Aaron Paul prominently featured in the cast, and jotted down the title so I could look into it. I didn’t see very good reviews, but I figured with Aaron Paul in it, and promises of “buckets of gore”, it should go in my Netflix queue.  Yeah, I can work with that for 90 minutes of my life!

I’ve learned that many genre movies claim a well-liked, popular actor with a big fan base to be one of the leads; their name gets the biggest, most prominent billing. Then the actor makes it maybe 1/2 of the way through (sometimes much less) and is then killed off, meaning that actor was in the supporting cast and NOT the lead. I’ve seen genre actors get top billing when they just had ten minutes (or less) worth of screen time before they get decapitated or hit by a huge truck that came out of nowhere without any warning (or explanation).  Fortunately, this was not the case here. He got less screen time than the lead, but just barely, and part of his missing screen time was necessary to the plot, and the reveal …or  what the writers thought was a reveal. It’s not a good plot and I saw the “shocking” reveal coming less than a third into the movie. I was hoping they’d  pull a kind of switcheroo leading to the reveal  and surprise me, but …no. He’s…SPOILER ALERT…  alive in/at the last five minutes, so at least you won’t get screwed on the screen time of the “lead” this time around.

This subject will later be a piece (or three) of its own: I’m a gorehound. I only started verbally admitting it five years ago. However, not every kind of gore is my thing. I’d rather the gore be caused by a giant monster attacking  and eating people in unexpected ways, or some virus that causes people to melt or morph into a monster (a lá The Thing, the original, but I have to give the remake points for…okay, that’s another article too) or a wish made to a demon that comes true in a horribly ironic way, or a Final Destination mishap*** that you don’t see coming , or Freddy Krueger really on his A-game and getting creative. I also prefer my gore in the form of bunch of over the top zombie attacks (Dead Alive, Return of the Living Dead 3, though I think most of us can agree Dead Alive RULES in that department …and many other departments) or hundreds of blood-thirsty piranhas attacking and massacring a bunch of drunk spring break douchebags and bimbos. Oh, and especially when Nicotero-Berger is in charge or the gore, then I’m sold. I really prefer that to some guy in a mask with a butcher knife. If the guy turns out not to be human, then I’m usually in.  This is just a general rule, there’s some amazing slasher movies out there (most from the 80s), ones that had clever plot twists or a new spin, ones that are well-written or surprise me in some way (a good way).

Classy.

OK, back to the review I was supposed to be focusing on. God I hate when a clumsy, predictable horror movie comes out and some people say, “hey, it’s not supposed to be great art or rocket science, just turn off your brain and have fun!” First of all, I know how and when to turn off my brain and have fun. I have decades of practice and have gotten very good at it, thank you. Sometimes, though, there’s not that much fun to be had.

I think most people can overlook “goofs” in a movie, if said movie is entertaining and they don’t pull you out of the story. Hell, sometimes even after I’ve seen the movie a couple times I was having such a blast I don’t even notice the goof until it is pointed out to me. In no way does it lower my opinion of the movie or entertainment value. If you look up The Dark Knight on the IMDB, there are literally over a hundred “goofs” listed. I didn’t notice them the first time I saw it, nor the fifteenth time I watched it on Blu-ray.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t having fun watching Wreckage.  If Aaron Paul hadn’t been in the movie, I  would have turned it off right after a scene I’ll explain after the jump, about ten minutes in–excuse me, there’s two pre-credit scenes that are both shot in wildly varying styles, 15 years apart, than ran an actual ten minutes before the opening credits. The first looked terrible, but at least it made sense (more or less) when replayed later in the film, with what passes for a reveal in Wreckage. So make that about twenty minutes in, after the male lead and his girlfriend decide to (I think) hop in his car and go party for the weekend. I can’t tell if they’re supposed to be in high school (probably not, since they easily obtained alcohol) college age, or mid-twenties, but it really doesn’t matter. I figured it was only about 80 minutes long, and Aaron Paul Aaron Paul’s character was still alive, and there was supposed to be a scene where someone was killed by a truck being dropped on them, with over-the-top gory results, and a character was also supposed to die by having their head split in half vertically with a weapon.

OK, back to the scene where I re-calibrated my already-low expectations. The male lead (supposed to be a gear head) is driving his …whatever model that was… car down a country road in the afternoon. Some dick in a flashier car pulls up next to him. They make eye contact  …and start racing!

whoop de doo.

Ooooo! The “drag race” is ON! OK, not really.

Good thing there were no curves coming up, since the male lead was in the oncoming lane. They go faster…and faster… KA-BROOF!  Something blows under the male lead’s hood, smoke starts pouring out, and his engine dies. The guy swears, pulls over, gets out for a look…

like sooooo…

…and he and the three other ” road trip” characters –his  fresh-faced girlfriend, Aaron Paul, and his skanky-dressed girlfriend (I actually was concerned for the actress, as she was wearing one of those white trash ultra-short skirts that look like a denim belt, and she had to walk carefully around dirt roads and later, a junkyard, in heels and that skirt and heels. I hope the wardrobe department sewed some hidden shorts in) appear out of the fucking blue to look under the hood, wincing and cursing at the damage.

Uh… where the fuck did you come from?

What the…

Which would be fine, if he hadn’t been clearly shown completely alone in the fucking car during every single shot, from every single angle. I guess the three of them were hunched down on the floor of the back seat the whole goddamned time. Almost before I can finish the sentence OK, now you’re not even fucking trying, one of them suggests walking to a junkyard “like. less than a mile down the road” to get spare parts. At this point it’s late afternoon, in summer. We then cut to a shot of them approaching the gate to the yard–pitch black out, stars in the sky. SIGH.

That was one long-ass mile.

If Aaron Paul wasn’t in the movie (or they’d killed him off) I would have just stopped the DVD (Strike Three for any other movie, Strike One here since I was trying to keep an open mind) and put it back in the Netflix envelope and sealed it up to put with outgoing  mail. However, Aaron Paul might not be killed off just yet, and there’s all that gore to look forward to! I still had to force myself not to pick up a book or my Kindle Fire or my laptop while watching this one, but kept telling myself the movie was only about 80 minutes long,

Characters get picked off, not in especially interesting, emotional, creative, or surprising ways. I guessed the killer almost as soon as things started to go awry. Strike Two! Probably, everyone else who’d seen more than ten horror movies similar to this did, too. Nothing close to a head-splitting happens, and if a car suddenly got dropped on someone, it was  either presented with no showmanship at all or I missed it.  I was surprised at the fact …SPOILER ALERT (sort of, because really, you’re not going to see the movie after you read this, are you? Please don’t) that Aaron Paul’s character made it through the whole movie, but so did two other characters who were much less interesting. One was badly wounded in the junkyard and when she woke up in the hospital, didn’t appear to have an IV, much less a morphine drip. She looked about the same even though she’d been shot in the stomach (in an earlier scene that made no logical sense, and probably violated the laws of physics) and had gone more or less all night without any medical care other than someone covering up her midsection with their coat.  I’ll give the movie credit for a couple things (after I bitch a little more). I  honestly didn’t have an agenda going in to watch it, other than seeing Aaron Paul and what was supposed to be some OTT gore, though I only got one of those. I’ve seen WAY more gruesome movies that got away with an R-Rating, so releasing it as UNRATED!!!  was clearly just a marketing tactic. I think someone probably went in to the IMDB and spiced up the Parent’s Guide a little, too. Strike 3!

Speaking of shameless marketing ploys, the re-done artwork for the DVD (I never saw it until I had already started to watch the DVD, got a bad feeling,  and decided I should read reviews other than those on the IMDB), gives it a torture porn-y spin that shows a hot half-naked blonde wrapped up with rope and some kind of shrink-wrap and blindfolded, though neither the character nor the scene appears in the movie. Well, at least the freaks who rented it based on that image alone didn’t get off by seeing it in the movie (somehow that doesn’t make me feel better, though).  While I’m bashing the cover art,  prominently displaying  the three lead names along with the TV show/movie you’d recognize them from lost any impact when it boasts Cameron Richardson in the top billing (Harper’s Island)  next to Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad). Hmm, never knew a TV show called Breaking Bad existed, but they got someone who was on HARPER’S ISLAND? Now that I recognize and can totally get behind!

OK, the aforementioned credit for  a couple of elements. The actors (minus those two I mentioned) all did the best with what they had (which wasn’t much). Uh, next element …there was a scene where a victim got knocked out, someone (offscreen,  pushing/pulling it with a stick) putting a noose made of some kind of heavy wire to loop around his neck  then was pulled up with a junkyard mechanical hook and pulley  to strangle/bleed to death. His friends/co-workers rushed to cut him down, and two of them tried to giver him CPR as they were weeping and swearing. As a rule, you don’t see characters going to so much effort to try to save someone in a slasher/horror pic. His feet also stopped kicking before they could get him down, but they still tried. Usually in this type of horror movie, they’ll just freak out/scream and take off (often right into the killer), or some trap set by him (that say, triggers a spear to run them through).  If there’s more than one character, the female will scream a variation of  “No! They can’t die!” and flailing towards the body while another character holds them back and tries to comfort them by saying something like, “It’s too late. They’re gone. We need to get out of here and get help!” Also, it looked to me like they used practical effects.  If there is CGI, it wasn’t shitty or obviously in front of a green screen.

About the only other thing I can credit them for is somehow landing Aaron Paul (based on the filming dates and his haircut, between seasons 2 and 3 of Breaking Bad). This movie came after his role as a vile sexual predator in the Last House on the Left remake**** was shot, too –what the hell happened to his agent? He was great in LHOTL, an interesting casting choice, and even though I’d gotten so attached to him as Jesse, (who didn’t even want to step on a beetle in the BrBa episode “Peek-A-Boo) he was still NOT someone I would have let in our home when he and his three sketchy-looking friends showed during a pouring rainstorm claiming car trouble and wanting to use my phone. He got the worst/most satisfying death in the movie, too, remember?**** He’s a nice guy, easygoing and in demand, it’s possible he was doing a favor to a friend. Breaking Bad had DEFINITELY taken off before he agreed to film it.  Sadly, however, I stand by my opener: even Aaron Paul couldn’t save Wreckage.  Neither could the fireworks.

Here’s the trailer, save your 85 minutes (that will seem more like 185 minutes by the end of the first act).

*pretty long scene, for a post-credits one. I can’t tell if it was done tongue-in-cheek or not. It’d be nice to know, since it would completely change a character that was mainly in the movie for comic relief from a harmless sane one to a total psycho. Oh well, we’re just horror fans, your target demographic. Why gear it towards us?

**Maybe if he stayed in character as Jesse Pinkman. “Hey bitch, you really messed up your fan belt, yo!” “Can you fix it?” “No, but my chemistry teacher from high school has, like, mad skills, yo.” (pulls out his cell phone) “Swear to god, yo, he’s smart enough to like, build us a robot or something, dude. Just chill.” That might have  partially saved the movie for the most part, then if Heisenberg shows up, it would turn into a 10-out-of-10 star entertaining movie. But shockingly, that does not happen.  Late September 2012 Update: Congratulations out to Aaron Paul on his second Emmy win playing Jesse Pinkman! Magnets, bitch!

***mishap is just a tad of an understatement, actually.  Oh, the series of events where the LASIK machine she was already scared of malfunctioned, burned through and destroyed her eye and her hand as she screamed at the top of her lungs, then she got free from the machine, slipped on the teddy bear she had been holding, stumbled and crashed through a plate-glass window and fell 10 stories to her death, and when she hit the top of the car she landed on, her one good eyeball flew out, landed on the pavement then got run over by the front AND back wheels of a car? Yes. Unfortunate mishap, that.

**** Remember THAT shit? That was probably the best scene in the movie. He got a wine bottle smashed on his head by the wife, then she stabbed him with the biggest, sharpest knife in the house, Then got another heavy object broken over his head,  THEN he  got his  broken nose viciously twisted, smashed around again, THEN they shoved his head in the filled sink, in the middle of him drowning they jammed halfway down the garbage disposal, which then got turned on, he started screaming like a woman, and the running sink got clogged with blood, then they hit him again and both of them held his head under the water, THEN the husband took a gigantic claw hammer and buried the claw end in his skull,  finally ending him. I loved the moment when the husband and wife, while holding the monster’s head in the sink, make wordless eye contact. An agreement that they are doing the exact right thing:  no mercy. This motherfucker dies.  They killed the SHIT out of him. I love payoff scenes when an antagonist is so vile and has done so much damage to the protagonists that several family members/victims all kill him/it three different ways in quick succession, because just one person doing it and one method of death is not enough payback. See the impressive, brutal Mother’s Day  remake (2010)  for another satisfying example.

Oh fuck it, here’s the scene-and it’s even uglier than I remember. Plus, Aaron Paul must have been exhausted  by the time they wrapped. At the very least, his throat was probably killing him …that was a lot of screaming to do.