Saw 3D


Saw 3D
Betsy Russell goes on the Saw workout with remarkable results.

(2010) Horror (Lionsgate) Tobin Bell, Cary Elwes, Costas Mandylor, Betsy Russell, Sean Patrick Flanery, Chad Donella, Gina Holden, Laurence Anthony, Dean Armstrong, Naomi Snieckus, Rebecca Marshall, James van Patten, Anne Greene. Directed by Kevin Greutert

This is a film that visibly demonstrates the virtues of leaving while you’re on top. But the question is, is this franchise doing that or going out with a whimper?

Again, because of the possibility of spoilers for previous films in the series that you may not have seen and might want to (trust me, the series goes down a bit better if you know the mythology front to back). The apprentice of Jigsaw (Bell) has escaped the trap of Jigsaw’s wife (Russell) who now goes to the police in the person of Detective Matt Gibson (Donella).

In the meantime the apprentice is setting his sights on Bobby Dagen (Flanery), a survivor from a previous Jigsaw trap who has written a self-help book on the subject and has become the flavor of the week more or less. In the meantime, the police once again think they’re closing in – but when the fur flies, the body count will rise and the end comes thanks to a surprise character from the first movie who turns out to be the most surprising twist of all.

Greutert, who had hoped to direct Paranormal Activity 2 but was forced to direct this due to a contractual obligation, continues the formula that has sustained this series through seven films and the wear and tear is beginning to show. There is nothing here that really differentiates it from the other films in the series.

Part of my issue with the film is that there was never much doubt about what the outcome was going to be with each individual trap. Greutert would ratchet up the suspense but then well, you get the picture. This happens with each and every trap without fail. It would have been nice if there had been at least a smidgeon of a possibility that someone would get away but by the last few traps it was just a matter of waiting for the damn thing to go off.

The cast here is solid as always, although as with all the Saw films after the third one, it sorely misses Jigsaw as a contemporary force. Like the last three movies, the seventh movie only shows Jigsaw in flashback and thus the movie is robbed of its most interesting character. Elwes, the best-known of the cast, reprises his role from the first film in what is essentially an extended cameo. He looks a little embarrassed to be there, to be honest. Hope the paycheck was good.

Props must be given to the producers for not going the cheap route and doing this in 3D conversion; it’s actually filmed in 3D and the effects for such are pretty amazing. However be aware that those 3D home video sets that use the darker glasses, the movie is pretty dimly lit to begin with and you might have trouble seeing some of the things going on.

I admit there is a vicarious thrill in watching people get offed in such fiendishly clever ways, and usually the victims deserve their fates although the two-timing wench from the movie’s prologue might have received a somewhat extreme punishment for her crime. Still, the franchise has undoubtedly run out of steam and while seeing the surviving victims from past movies come together in a support group session was one of the movie’s highlights, this is definitely a series that is ready to at the very least take a long break and regroup, if not sail off into the sunset altogether.

WHY RENT THIS: Lots of blasts from the past. This is supposed to conclude the franchise so if you followed it this far…

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Not a very satisfying conclusion and a bit of a letdown. The traps lack any kind of suspense.

FAMILY VALUES: There is violence and blood and torture and bad language but no sexuality to speak of.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Was the second straight film in the series to feature a winner of the “Scream Queens” reality television series in a featured role; Gabby West here, Tanedra Howard (who also appears here) in Saw VI.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The Blu-Ray edition has a featurette on every trap from every film in the series – all 52 of them.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $136.2M on a $20M production budget; the movie was a blockbuster.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Six Days of Darkness concludes!

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Saw IV


Saw IV

Betsy Russell finds out she's been cast in a Saw film.

(2007) Horror/Torture Porn (Lionsgate) Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor, Scott Patterson, Betsy Russell, Lyriq Bent, Athena Karkanis, Justin Louis, Simon Reynolds, Donnie Wahlberg, Angus Macfadyen, Shawnee Smith, Dina Meyer, Bahar Soomekh. Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman

There are storms in life that are particularly vicious, doing damage to property, life and limb. We can only hope to ride out those storms and hope to escape if not unscathed, at least mostly unscathed. There are storms however that when we think they’re over, we come to the sick realization that they may only be beginning.

John Kramer a.k.a. Jigsaw (Bell), the notorious serial killer, is dead. His reign of terror is at an end. At least, that’s what everybody thinks. During his autopsy, a micro-cassette player is found in his stomach, the contents of which are heard by Det. Mark Hoffman (Mandylor). You just know what’s on the tape isn’t going to be Perry Como. It’s just not going to be a very good thing at all.

When a missing detective (Meyer) is located, Hoffman cautions Lt. Rigg (Bent) from entering an unsecured door but he does anyway and the girl is killed. Rigg is hoping that he’d find information about his missing partner, Matthews (Wahlberg) whom Rigg is convinced is still alive. The murder brings FBI agents Strahm (Patterson) and Perez (Karkanis) into the picture. They quickly discover that the late Jigsaw and his apprentice (Smith) couldn’t have been responsible for the death of the detective since neither one of them was strong enough to load her into the machine she’d been left in. It becomes increasingly likely that Jigsaw has another apprentice.

It isn’t until Rigg is attacked at home that he discovers that Matthews is still alive, but held by the new apprentice of Jigsaw. Rigg has 90 minutes to find Matthews or he will die horribly. Rigg must make terrible decisions that will cost people their lives in order to save the innocent Matthews…but can he negotiate the tricky moral currents of a Jigsaw puzzle?

Bousman, who helmed the second and third installment of the series, was reportedly ready to turn down directing this film but the end twist really grabbed his attention. He brings to the table a solid understanding of who Jigsaw is and what the man is all about.

Which makes this movie all the more mystifying. Throughout the series to date, Jigsaw was about having people confront their own sins but there is much less of that here. We do get much more of Jigsaw’s backstory – what drove him to psychosis (the death of his unborn son at the hands of a junkie, leading to his wife divorcing him) and what kept him there.

Still, the series is written into a corner. With its most iconic and compelling character dead and available only in flashbacks, what we are left with are the lethal traps and while they are fun and interesting, they aren’t enough to carry a movie. For the most part, you know that nobody is going to escape – why would any competent Hollywood horror director give you that kind of building only to have nothing happen – and after awhile it becomes just torture porn. I don’t have a problem with that per se, but I’m finding myself getting more and more jaded when it comes to the genre.

That isn’t to say the movie is without its merits. The traps are clever and Jigsaw’s backstory does help fill in the blanks. The next movie in the cycle is set up nicely and while we know the series ended with a total of seven films in it (although I wouldn’t be surprised if the series got resurrected in a few years), the fourth one gave the series enough impetus to continue on course for awhile, both creatively and at the box office. This isn’t the best film in the series, but it isn’t the worst either – it’s just a solid horror movie to liven up your next Halloween.

WHY RENT THIS: If you like the first three films, you’re gonna adore this – much the same as the other three with a nice twist here and there.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: There really isn’t much here you won’t find in the first three movies. There’s only so many ways to be shocking. The plot is a bit convoluted and you’re going to have a hard time if you haven’t seen the first three films, particularly Saw III.

FAMILY VALUES: Ummm, its Saw IV…just what kind of family values are you expecting exactly?

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The first film in the series not to be written or co-written by franchise creator Leigh Whannell.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a music video and a video diary from director Bousman that’s pretty amusing.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $139.4M on a $10M production budget (unconfirmed); the movie was a blockbuster.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Letters to Juliet

New Releases for the Week of October 29, 2010


October 29, 2010
In Saw 3D the traps just grow more alluring.

SAW 3D

(Lionsgate) Tobin Bell, Cary Elwes, Costas Mandylor, Betsy Russell, Sean Patrick Flannery, Dean Armstrong, Tanedra Howard, Gabrielle D. West. Directed by Kevin Greutert

With Jigsaw finally laid to rest, a struggle breaks out over his legacy. A group of survivors of his fiendish traps gather to seek the support of a self-help guru who himself is a survivor of Jigsaw’s machinations, only to discover that the therapist has a dark agenda of his own that threatens to bring Jigsaw’s work to a massive culmination. State of the art technology was used to film this, the final film in the series and the first (and apparently, only) one to be featured in 3D.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: 3D

Genre: Horror/Torture Porn

Rating: R (for scenes of grisly bloody violence and torture, and language)

Conviction

(Fox Searchlight) Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell, Minnie Driver, Melissa Leo. The amazing true story of Betty Ann Waters, who determined to see her brother freed after being unjustly convicted of murder. Despairing that she could not find a lawyer to adequately represent him, she got her GED, graduated college, got a law degree and passed the bar in order to take on his case and get him the fair trial he never received.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True-Life Drama

Rating: R (for language and some violent images)

Nowhere Boy

(Weinstein) Aaron Johnson, Kristin Scott Thomas, Thomas Sangster, Anne-Marie Duff. Before he was a Beatle, John Lennon was a troubled kid living on the mean streets of Liverpool, being raised by his aunt. This is an account of his adolescence that would influence the man he would become, a man who would change the world through his music.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Biopic

Rating: R (for language and a scene of sexuality)

New Releases for the Week of October 1, 2010


The creators of Facebook can’t believe they’re already getting spammed.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK

(Columbia) Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake, Andrew Garfield, Rashida Jones, Rooney Mara, Joseph Mazzello, Max Minghella, Armie Hammer. Directed by David Fincher

Facebook has become the social outlet of the 21st century for most young people, but someone had to invent it. That someone was Mark Zuckerberg, a young Harvard student who came up with the brilliant idea to take the college experience and replicate it online. This would lead him to become the youngest billionaire in history, as well as personal and legal problems that would plague him once Facebook became the massive hit it is. The movie debuted at the New York Film Festival a few weeks ago and is already being considered a frontrunner in the Oscar race.

See the trailer and promos here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Biographical Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content, drug and alcohol use and language)

 

Case 39

(Paramount Vantage) Renee Zellweger, Jodelle Ferland, Ian McShane, Bradley Cooper. A family services worker takes on an unusual case where cruel and dangerous parents try to murder their only daughter. The social worker takes the young girl in while she tries to find a good home for her. She also enlists the help of a detective to help protect the girl, and a psychiatrist to help her get over the trauma. Unfortunately, this leads to the discovery of dark forces at work in the girl’s life. This has been sitting on the studio shelf for over a year until they decided to release it suddenly and almost without any publicity.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Supernatural Horror

Rating: R (for violence and terror, including disturbing images)

 

Chain Letter

 (New Films International) Nikki Reed, Noah Segan, Keith David, Betsy Russell. A group of high school seniors receive an electronic chain letter. When they break the chain, one by one they begin to get picked off by a maniacal serial killer. Freddie Kreuger and Jason Voorhees, move over.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Slasher Horror

Rating: R (for strong, bloody, sadistic violence throughout, language and brief nudity)

Enthiran

(Fusion Edge) Rajnikanth, Aishwarya Rai, Danny Denzongpa, Santhanam. A brilliant scientist builds a robot that looks human, has human strength and intelligence but is completely a machine. The results are unexpected to say the least.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Sci-Fi Action

Rating: NR

Exit through the Gift Shop

(Producer’s Distribution Agency) Rhys Ifans, Thierry Guetta, Banksy, Shepard Fairey. One of the world’s most notorious graffiti artists makes his film debut about a documentarian who is ostensibly making a documentary about the underground street art movement who becomes the subject of the documentary himself. I saw this at the Florida Film Festival earlier this year; the complete review can be found here.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: R (for some language)

Jack Goes Boating

(Overture/Relativity) Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Ryan, John Ortiz, Daphne Rubin-Vega. Two shy people find each other in the mean streets of New York City and through each other, find the strength they never knew they had even as those around them begin to fall apart. This marks Hoffman’s directorial debut.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: R (for language, drug use and some sexual content)

Hatchet II

(Dark Sky) Danielle Harris, Kane Hodder, Tony Todd, A.J. Bowen. The sequel to the surprise 2007 indie slasher hit finds one of the survivors heading back into the New Orleans swamp that she escaped from to put an end to the curse of Victor Crowley once and for all.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Slasher Horror

Rating: PG (for brief mild language and rude behavior)

Let Me In

(Overture/Relativity) Chloe Moretz, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Richard Jenkins, Elias Koteas. A lonely young boy who is viciously bullied at school makes a strange new friend who comes out only at night and is seemingly always barefoot despite the bitter winter elements. Soon, her true nature emerges and the violence really begins. This is based on the acclaimed Swedish film Let the Right One In and is directed by Matt Reeves, who also did Cloverfield.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Vampire Horror

Rating: R (for strong bloody horror violence, language and a brief sexual situation)