If Batman taught me anything — besides an expert grasp of the Keysi fighting method — it’s that a movie franchise either dies a hero or lives long enough to see itself become the villain. The longer a successful series stretches on, the more likely it’s going to overstay its welcome, and not even hiring Jeremy Irons will save you. But as with all rules, there are exceptions, and they often show up in the last place any decent person would look. Such as …
Final Destination 5 Has A Genuinely Good Plot Twist
Confession time: I didn’t have to go back and watch the Final Destination sequels. I already knew them by heart. I love these movies. They’re like if Freddy Krueger passionately fucked a Rube Goldberg machine.
But before we get to spoilers, did you know that Final Destination was originally going to be an X-Files episode? Writer Jeffrey Reddick’s first draft was a spec script called “Flight 180,” which later evolved into the film directed by James Wong (who happened to be a producer and director for The X-Files). You can still see story elements in the film that would have gone into the episode, including that plane crash clearly serving as a cold open.
The main character in Final Destination has a premonition of the crash and escapes with a group of classmates before takeoff, thereby causing death to personally hunt them down one by one. Since then, every sequel has featured a group of people unwittingly caught in that hilarious ripple of Benny Hill deaths — including but not limited to elevator decapitations, tanning accidents, and FATAL GYMNASTICS.
New Line Cinema“Oooohhh, and the judges only give her a 7.8.”
That above masterpiece is from Final Destination 5, a film that begins with an oddly accurate bridge collapse. It’s after this disaster that death begins punking our heroes. And while Final Destination 5 could simply coast on the series’ grisly reputation, the writers gave themselves the added challenge of hiding a completely unnecessary plot twist.
You see, one of the B-plots of FD5 is that the protagonist wants to travel to Paris to be some kind of fancy French cook. And when the characters eventually break free of death’s pattern (or so they think), they celebrate by taking that trip … on the plane from the very first movie.
New Line Cinema
Yup, for no reason other than fun, Final Destination 5 is a secret prequel to the original film. It’s a twist that relies on hiding from audiences that a film made in 2011 takes place 11 years earlier, before everyone had flat screen TVs and smartphones. That’s kind of a tall order. And so it might not surprise you to know that the writer behind this film went on to do the screenplay for Arrival, a film more temporally confusing than Doc Brown’s family tree. Hey, and speaking of time travel …
Cinderella III Is A Badass Sci-Fi Thriller About Time Travel
It’s fair to say that most adults pay little attention to the direct-to-DVD Disney sequels. For parents, a movie like Cinderella III is a safe child distraction so they can cry in the pantry between meals. But perhaps it’s the assumed disposability of these movies that creates an opportunity to take insane chances, which is why while the second Cinderella sequel has a Rotten Tomatoes score in the teens and Cinderella III: A Twist In Time is surprisingly well-rated.
We open a year after the first film, with Cinders happily living life with her prince while her evil step-family are forced to do all the chores. One of the evil sisters (Anastasia) then learns about the Fairy Godmother, and in a fit of jealousy, steals her magic wand. And so, in the great tradition of Biff Tannen, Cinderella’s evil stepmother uses the same magic that screwed her to go back in time and sabotage the climax of the original film. After preventing Cinderella from trying on the glass slipper, she magically changes the size of Anastasia’s foot, using the Prince’s extraordinary face blindness / foot fetish against him. This is enough to throw everyone into an alternate timeline wherein Cinderella doesn’t live happily ever after and her evil stepsister gets hitched instead.
But before the rice is tossed, Mr. Prince gets cold feet, finding himself attracted to Cinderella despite her not fitting into the stupid shoe. What follows is a wonderful story about two people falling for each other in a way that doesn’t involve cursed gourd travel and crystalline footwear. Oh, and the rodent antics are replaced with Assassin Creed-style action jumps.
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney PicturesAnother movie this is better-reviewed than.
So yeah, the movie turns Cinderella into Katniss, and the Prince gets a real personality beyond being a pair of fertile balls strapped to a smile. Hell, even the evil stepsister Anastasia gets a character arc — she’s a hopeless romantic who gets dragged into her mother’s machinations because she likes the Prince’s affection, and ultimately learns that love isn’t worth having if it’s forced. (I’m not crying, you’re crying.)
The 14th Land Before Time Is One Big Callback To The Original
Don Bluth’s The Land Before Time taught a generation that dinosaurs were cool and life is a twisted carnival ride of torment and oblivion. Everyone you know will die, and you will be left alone to stare at your own slowly decaying countenance in a pool of your own tears.
Universal PicturesScrew you, Don Bluth.
Anyway, there are 14 Land Before Time sequels, most of which are garbage for the dumbest of children. And while I can’t say that watching Part 14 was an especially edifying, I was shocked by the film’s narrative competence. 2016’s Land Before Time: Journey Of The Brave mirrors the story of the first film. I have no damn clue if this was intentional, but it was enough to keep me riveted for the entire hour and 22 minute runtime. Here’s what happens:
At some point in the last 13 films, it’s revealed that Littlefoot has a father. And in this film, he goes missing. Everyone assumes the worst, and Littlefoot must once again mourn the loss of a parent the only way he knows how: puddle-sulking.
But wait! Littlefoot becomes determined to find his father. And what follows is basically a reverse telling of the first Land Before Time film. Our group of heroes leave the Great Valley to venture into the wasteland. In contrast to the first film, Littlefoot goes on tilt, tells his companions to eat a ripe bundle of veiny dicks, and runs off, because the void is inexorable and you might as well greet it with open arms. It’s like poetry, you guys. There’s even a brand-new version of Sharptooth in the mix.
Universal Pictures“It’s Sharp … everything!”
Littlefoot isn’t going to lose another parent, not even when he finally finds Pop trapped in a farting sea of hot dirt.
Universal PicturesAnd millions of children vow to never heartlessly play “The Floor Is Lava” ever again.
This is exact type of circumstance that originally separated Littlefoot from his mother. Littlefoot’s most existential fears are in full gear, and this little giraffe-lizard saves his father from a searing death. They live happily ever after (or at least until the encroaching wasteland overtakes their grazing grounds and they all starve to death).
The Halloween Series Ended Perfectly With H20
So we’re getting another Halloween film that somehow fits into the already baffling franchise. Sure, why not? Like you, I’m excited to see Jamie Lee Curtis return to the series after all these years … the same way I was excited the first time it happened, in 1998’s Halloween: Water.
I get that there’s no stopping these films any more than you can scream at rain to turn back into clouds, but it always baffled me how anyone could think we needed more films after Halloween H20: 20 Years Later. It only took four years to get 2002’s Halloween Resurrection, in which Busta Rhymes does multiple comedy bits with Michael Myers. Anyway, H20 begins by showing exactly what the first two Halloweens did to Laurie Strode, who has since changed her name and developed a panic-reducing booze lust. Also, Michael Myers shows ups and pounds an ice skate into Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s skull.
Dimension Films“Where he stuck the other skate was way more painful.”
It’s dark and hilarious, like a puppeteer’s resume. This opening credits, which recap the earlier films, notably linger on the black, lifeless eyes of Michael Myers.
Dimension Films“Like a studio exec’s eyes …”
Why am I talking about this? Because the movie is setting up its final scene, which is absolutely the best ending Halloween could’ve asked for. If you don’t remember, Jamie Lee Curtis steals an ambulance containing her (presumed) dead brother. When he comes to, she drives off the road and down a hill, flinging both of them out of the vehicle and ultimately pinning Michael against a tree. With nowhere to go, Michael reaches out for his sister. And in a moment of empathy, Laurie reaches back.
Dimension FilmsThe look of “I’m going to betray you” or “I pooped myself.”
Laurie notices her brother’s eyes, and their familiar lack of expression or pain. So instead of helping him, she opts to ax-slap his stupid William Shatner head into next week.
Dimension Films“OK, now I pooped myself.”
The film ends right there and then, presumably triggering sexual climax for millions of fans. And by God, it should have stayed ended (I’m not even gonna explain how Resurrection got around this). Jamie Lee Curtis came back for a goddamn Halloween film in which her character overcomes her fears and slays her brother once and for all, and the studio had the goddamn audacity to continue the series after that? Shame, Dimension Films. Shame.
Universal Soldier: Day Of Reckoning Is A Masterpiece
Let me tell you about the first five minutes of 2012’s Universal Soldier: Day Of Reckoning. We begin with the POV of a man waking up next to his wife in the middle of the night. His daughter is up too. She tells him that there are “monsters” in the house, so he checks every room to assure the little idiot that it was all a bad dream. Then he walks into the kitchen …
What follows is a continuous POV shot of a man being beaten to near death by a group of ski-masked thugs, which culminates in the bad guys dragging his family into the room with him.
And right before we see them murder his daughter and wife, the main thug bends down in front of him and removes his mask.
It’s fucking Jean-Claude Van Damme, you guys. JCVD himself just murdered a woman and child. And this roller coaster is still only ticking up the hill.
I don’t know if you recall the first Universal Soldier, but all you need to know is that it was the film Roland Emmerich made right before blasting off with Stargate and Independence Day. Dolph Lundgren was the villain. It’s exactly the kind of movie that would exist in 1992. And no, Jean-Claude was not evil in that film, but the split-kicking hero, which is one of the many reasons this opening sequence is so incredibly jarring. The other reason is that Day Of Reckoning is surprisingly well-made.
In fact, the movie is downright surreal at times, with one review describing it as “a movie Werner Herzog, David Lynch, and Shivers-era David Cronenberg might make if they teamed up to shoot a Bourne knockoff in Louisiana on a shoestring budget.” And that’s one of two reviews that bring up Lynch as a comparison. Why? Because Universal Soldier: Day Of Reckoning is beautiful bananas. I would add that it evokes vibes of Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, with JCVD playing the role of Walter Kurtz.
Seriously, the majority of this film is about one man’s quest to find JCVD, and when he does, it looks like this:
I wish I could tell you why Van Damme is painted like a half-and-half cookie, but at this point in watching, my mind was far too blown by the macabre tubular-ness of this action spectacle to bother with the petty details.
So how did this happen? Well, for starters, Universal Soldier: Day Of Reckoning is directed by John Hyams, whose father directed Timecop and was therefore bestowed with the genetic gift of Van Damme whispering. Also, Dolph Lundgren comes back, and every performance is somehow wonderful. Without spoiling too much, the journey is paved with PTSD dreams about dead children, mind control hallucinations, and a sporting goods store grapple in which two men duel with baseball bats:
All of this is shot amazingly (no shaky cam or Bourne-style over-cutting), and leads to a solid plot twist and bizarre ending. All in a film shot for only eight million dollars. So step it up, David Lynch. There’s no longer an excuse for experimental indie films not to go hog wild with JCVD spin-kicks.
David will gladly talk to you about Universal Soldier: Day Of Reckoning on his Twitter account.
Get to writing your own great-but-unheard-of sequels with CeltX — here’s a handy guide to it for beginners.
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