Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Visit (2015) Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: A brother and sister spend a week with their estranged grandparents as antics ensue.

Review: Is this the fabled return to form for M. Night Shyamalan as some critics have hailed? Hardly. But is this the best movie he's done since "The Village?" Definitely. In fact, this film had some genuinely scary moments, toyed with your expectations quite a bit, and successfully created a kind of fairy tale-esque scenario. Unfortunately, like most Shyamalan films, it all comes down to the twist, and this one is extremely predictable. We're talking so predictable that you actually think "it can't be that" and look for other possibilities. Don't listen to any of those reviews claiming the twist wasn't important to the plot either. The twist wasn't important to a movie like "Unbreakable," but it was the driving force of this entire story--I don't know how anyone could claim otherwise. Besides that, however, there were plenty of contrivances, a next level Jar Jar character, and painfully stupid decisions in the final act.

Going over what works first, I should address the mystery itself. The entire plot is focused on figuring out what is wrong with the grandparents by the two leads, Becca and Tyler. We are given a plethora of clues and red herrings that leave any avenue open at first--whether it be aliens or werewolves or whatever. Hell, the grandma runs around like this is "The Ring" and fixates on a well...maybe she's a grown up Samara. This intrigue is presented superbly and keeps you engaged regardless of the obvious implication. Connected to this were the legitimate scares that were easily the best since "Signs;" I even jumped once as I imagine many would. The actress playing the grandma, Deanna Dunagan, looks creepy as fuck and is probably the best portrayed of the bunch; the other actors turn in commendable performances as well. Another important item was the overarching idea of why "the visit" was happening at all (see what I did there? Whaaat? NO!): the kids were sort of reconciling the relationship on behalf of their single mother. Furthermore, Becca was trying to make a documentary about the event, bring closure and meaning to drama from their lives, and come to terms with her sense of abandonment. These plot lines added a layer of depth that was probably the only aspect I would consider a return to form for Shyamalan; he made the audience feel for his characters once again.

Now let's take a look at the flaws and missteps. Up first, the most annoying character to survive a movie since Jar Jar and possibly more annoying than Jar Jar! Tyler is a whiny little bitch/momma's-boy combo who looks like a girl, acts like a poser, speaks with some hybrid lisp, has a pointless germ phobia, thinks he's a ladies man and rapper, and is flat our retarded. Oh I'm sure the ADHD crowd will find him amusing, but I have never wanted to strangle someone with my bare hands so badly in my entire life! And then the end credits have the audacity to have him rapping about the movie's events?! Arrrrggghhhh! How dare you take a humorous '80s phenomenon--an end credit song about the movie--and bastardize it in this ludicrous way! SHYAMALAN!!! Okay...maybe I'm going a tad overboard.

As for the revelation as to what is wrong with the grandparents--it should become apparent by like the 15 minute mark or whenever that guy shows up from the mental institute or rehab place or whatever the hell. Surprise, they aren't actually the real grandparents! They are escaped mental patients who have killed the grandparents and assumed their identities. Honestly, it's hard for me to imagine someone not seeing this coming. I can't properly convey how obvious this twist is in writing, but its predictability is of such magnitude (pop pop!) I was hoping against hope I would be wrong. While I can forgive the contrived nature of why no one could figure this out for a week, it's impossible to ignore the contrived events that follow the twist's reveal. Instead of immediately running away or making up an excuse to escape, the kids idiotically try to play along when there were ample opportunities to leave. There are also wasted scares with the grandma that would have been downright awesome if they came earlier in the film when we didn't know what was happening. I mean, the grandma trying to be creepy loses its edge when you know she's nothing more than a crazy old lady. Plus, how was there a lock on the outside of the door to the grandma's room yet she kept running wild each night?

I mostly watched this movie to see if critics were right about Shyamalan making a good movie again. While I do think this was an above average film, and certainly better than shit like "The Happening," "Lady in the Water," and "Devil," it was nowhere near as good as Shyamalan's early work. However, if Shyamalan can at least turn out stories of this caliber, I may start to take him seriously again as this was a great attempt at a comeback. There are certainly cool aspects to the story, the mystery is awesome, and there were legitimate scares. If the ball wasn't dropped so hard during the third act, and with a twist seen coming a thousand miles away, I was leaning toward a 7/10 rating. I'd still recommend checking this film out but be mindful of the ending problems and overall contrived nature of the story.

Notable Moment: That one, particular jump scare. You'll know when you see it.

Final Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Updated Review #10: Sukob (aka The Wedding Curse)

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: The lives of two women cross paths when their weddings have been cursed by a malevolent force.

Review: I've said it before, and I'll say it again: this is the best Filipino horror movie. My first review hardly did this film the justice it deserved, and I've upped the rating as well (which is rare). Considering the tremendous success "Sukob" experienced, I'm surprised it is not regarded among the Asian horror classics. Because of this, I rank it in the underrated list alongside the likes of "Ju-on: The Grudge 2," and "Coming Soon." I've read many reviews refer to "Sukob" as nothing more than a ripoff, but, to this day, I'm still trying to figure out what it rips off other than the usual Asian horror cliches. If anything, this film has an outright original story coupled with one of the most unique ghosts in the entire genre. Finally, I am still trying to figure out how real this superstition is. I've read many people claiming this is a known superstition in the Philippines, but all of these people are writing after 2006 (the year the film released). I've discussed this superstition with a decent number of Filipinos and they've all said the only thing they ever heard about this was from the movie itself. Does anyone know the answer? Can I get a single instance pre-2006 of someone mentioning this alleged wedding curse?

So what the hell is the wedding curse? Apparently this is caused when you have a wedding the same year as a sibling or the same year a close relative died. If you violate this rule, you have a cursed marriage, misfortune and death will plague your life, and you and your loved ones are haunted by a ghostly flower girl. That's a pretty harsh fate for something so trivial but okay. I thoroughly enjoy the concept of the flower girl as she's more than a mere Asian ghost girl. She is a malevolent force that embodies the curse rather than an actual person. This abstract notion is unique to most Asian horror movies, and I applaud "Sukob" for thinking outside the box while still staying true to the formula. On top of that, the flower girl is creepy! She's always sprinkling dead leaves everywhere, wears an ominous outfit, and her presentation is near perfect. The lurking about in many scenes goes a long way for me in the same regard that Kayako is often just in the shadows. The only real drawback is the makeup effects were not sufficient when her face is finally revealed. Just some little girl covered in mud? Uhh, no thanks.

And this is why you don't get married...

The focus of the story follows Sandy and Diana who have been cursed, and they must figure out why and what is their connection to one another. Sandy is, of course, played by scream queen Kris Aquino who is still straddling that line between hot and not. The actors turn in respectable performances although there are still instances of over the top acting. They handle the intrigue and mystery quite well as we come to learn Sandy and Diana are actually half-sisters due to the cheating father. There is an ill-defined, and sometimes confusing, subplot with Sandy's neighbor who also suffered the curse, but that is meant to throw the audience off from the twist. The scares and appearances of the flower girl keep the stakes high as you know it's a matter of time before most of these characters bite the dust. All in all, the main story is presented interestingly and keeps you engaged and invested in what will happen next. My only concern is what did happen to all the victims? They supposedly disappear--off to Kayako-land I suppose--but this doesn't make a lot of sense. The ending was on the weak side, however, as it's essentially a pointless zinger that doesn't fit the film's context or make any sense. I'll just pretend that was a dream sequence.

A few other things worth mentioning are great special effects for a Filipino movie. The flower girl coming through the window and the flower girl's shadow walking along with Diana are especially noteworthy as both cool and well done. This doesn't mean there aren't a few laughably bad moments like when Brian dies, that pathetic dead guy at the church, and when Tessie gets it. OH NO...not Boots! The lighting was surprisingly good and the cinematography in general was a step above the typical bullshit that fills Filipino horror. As I mentioned in other reviews, that shit quality to the film actually enhances the atmosphere as it creates a dingy look to everything; it may be unintentional, but it works.

The last thing I want to go over are a few spitball ideas for a possible "Sukob 2." Honestly, it shocks me this never got a sequel just as I was shocked it took a decade for a "Feng Shui 2." So this movie establishes a lot of material to work with, and there is endless potential to explore. One avenue that could be taken is toward Helen and her wedding. The flower girl has a strange fixation on Helen's home that should be addressed. Helen's father died and he was a doctor--could the flower girl be connected in that way? I know I mentioned that it was best to keep the flower girl as an abstract idea, rather than the ghost of a real person, but this is just a suggestion. Helen's husband was said to be a foreigner; that opens up even more possibilities to explore. You could set the plot in a different country for limitless potential; you could even go horror/romance similarly to "Ring 0: Birthday." Do I dare suggest a team up with Hollywood? One way or another, I really think they need to explain the flower girl's presence at Helen's home, in whatever shape or form, as somehow setting the wedding curse phenomenon into motion. Another direction we could go with is exploring Joya's characters. Let's face it, this character served as nothing more than a plot device when there was a lot that could have been done with her abilities. Maybe she tries to figure out what causes this curse or the origin of the flower girl. Hell, maybe the curse is still going, and Joya and crew are still trying to stop it. And the best addition I could imagine: make the curse grow stronger with the emergence of a ghostly bride. Imagine some Natre or Kayako level shit wrapped in a dirty wedding gown. That would be freaky! Just make sure we get better makeup effects for the flower girl or keep her face permanently obscured in the shadows.

Let me reiterate that this is the best Filipino horror movie despite some flaws and missteps. The originality to the premise, unique antagonist, and outright scares are all wonderful. The mystery can be a tad predictable, but the pacing keeps you engaged to the end. The flower girl herself is creepy and intimidating even if the makeup effects are sub-par and unworthy of such a cool ghost. The actors turn in decent performances, and I have to give a shout out to my girl Boots! Though the film does end on a lackluster note, this doesn't detract from the ride up to that point. Overall, this is a severely underrated entry into the Asian horror market that I believe many fans need to check out.

Notable Moment: When the flower girl gets to Dale. The windows merging and the ghost creeping into the room was reminiscent of "Ring" but creative in its own right.

Final Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Children of the Living Dead Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: Something about an intelligent zombie and waiting years to attack...I have no clue, dude.

Review: Now we come to the sixth torturous entry from the 8-pack with "Bloody Murder." For years I heard this particular film touted as one of the worst movies ever, but it was nowhere near the horrendous levels of garbage like "Howling 7" or "Asian School Girls." In fact, it's not even the worst movie from this set. Don't get me wrong, this is an absolute piece of shit from start to finish with one of the most incoherent plots I could fathom, but it had a few redeeming qualities that kept it out of the 2/10 and below categories. Hey...small victories, right?

I seriously have no fucking clue what was happening in this movie. They obviously wanted this ridiculous story to be in the Romero universe, but that was clearly not happening. What I think really happened was yet another instance where someone stole my friend's brother's story. You may be wondering why I always bring this idea up with terrible zombie movies. Well...that's because it's the only subject he would ever write about--him and his dumbass "friends" fighting zombies and saving the day...usually from me humorously. In one story he had, as he called it, a "head zombie" that would wander off and create more zombies. That's actually what happens here! The movie opens with a bunch of guys fighting off a second zombie outbreak; the first outbreak implied to be "Night of the Living Dead." Somehow this all started with a, seemingly, intelligent zombie named Abbott Hayes. Yeah, get used to hearing that name a hundred times. This Abbott guy magically has superhuman strength and plots to, I guess, take over the world. Believe me, this makes abso-fucking-lutely no sense. When Abbott is literally the last zombie alive(?) they just casually assume he died and never look for the body or anything. Love it.

For whatever reason, they introduce the notion that zombies won't eat kids. I think Abbott was supposed to be grooming a few kids or whatever. It's ill-defined, but a bunch of kids get rescued so that the title of the movie can exist. We then cut to 14 years later, for no particular reason, as those kids have grown up. Just when you think the movie is setting up its fodder characters, they are all inexplicably killed by Abbott in one of the most laughable car crash sequences put to film. Instead of burying the bodies they are left out to air in the wind. That's a good one. That night, some grave robbers show up just as Abbott turns the dead kids into zombies. Even though one of the grave robbers gets turned, the other one decides to never tell anyone about this. Oh...(sigh)...fuck. Then we cut to another year later! What the hell? This is the worst zombie army ever conceived and apparently it takes 15 years to recruit a handful of people. The only positive I can say is that the Abbott zombie does look cool, and the other zombies look acceptable.

Next thing you know there is a plot to move the graveyard in order to build a car dealership. Just go with it. There is a terrible romance subplot as well that made me want to blow my own brains out. Through far too much shenanigans, the zombies finally attack and there is a pitiful showdown. Of course Abbott escapes in a cornball, sequel-bait ending. Yeah...'cause that's happening. The casual nature to everything is really some kind of next level stupidity. I guess they were also trying to be cutting edge with half the dialogue horribly dubbed due to editing failures. There are amateurs in film school that could pull off better shit than this.

What the hell were they thinking with this abomination? The story is a complete mess, absurdly stupid, and feels like a script stolen from a 12 year old. The audio is more horrifying than the zombies with hilarious dubbing and shit sound quality. The hand-me-down cameras make everything look like it has been given a nice coating of grease, and the acting is on par with one of those elementary school plays you go to just because you're the kid's parent. The only saving graces are the competent makeup effects and a few respectable gore scenes and special effects. To sum it up: this movie is utter shit and a waste of anyone's time or, heaven forbid, money. However, and I hate to defend this trash, it doesn't live up to some critics' claim of being the worst movie in the world.

Notable Moment: When some jackass blows himself up. Love the nonchalant reaction to this as well.

Final Rating: 3/10

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Pulse (1988) Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: A boy, staying with his father and stepmom, is tormented by sentient electricity...or something.

Review: A few items up front: this is not to be confused with the Japanese film of the same name, the shitacular American remake of the Japanese film, or the ungodly sequels to that remake. Strangely enough, you could say this movie may have inspired the Japanese film, but the ideas are pretty broad. Setting that aside, this is a bizarre film in its own right. It comes off as a creature feature yet there is no monster, and it builds up similarly to a slasher yet no one dies. A horror movie with zero body count except some dude off screen? Hmm. But it's more than a genre-confused situation, they never explain what's going on and spend way too much time with this whole father/son drama. In a nutshell, this movie is a fucking mess. It's not all bad, however, as you will see.

After a bullshit montage of the electrical grid--thanks for that by the way--the film opens with its lone death. What the audience actually sees is the outline of a guy going apeshit before the cops find his dead body. We then cut to the main kid, David, played by Joey Lawrence, as he arrives to stay with his father for the summer. The parents are divorced and the dad has a new wife, played by Brenda from "Highlander." You might think that the drama will be cliched, but it's surprisingly not; the dad comes off as a nice guy and Brenda is a sweetheart. The main drama is more about the dad trying to, I guess, prove himself to David. Combine that with the idea that the dad is saddened by the fact that he hardly gets to see David who prefers to stay with the mother. I actually like this angle as it's not the one we usually see depicted. Also, Joey Lawrence was an infinitely better actor as a child than as an adult. WHOA!

For the second time this month, we see someone sleeping in a race car bed, and I'm jealous. One night, David is left alone when the killer electricity strikes. The best I can explain how this works is that the electricity has sentience and warps devices to receive its control or "pulse." The pulse somehow can see things and actively tries to screw with people. The movie isn't consistent with this at all either as we see it burst non-electrical pipes and magically shut and lock doors. Is it ghosts? Aliens? Some other supernatural force? Who the hell knows, because the movie never tries to explain it. Only one character even attempts to explain the pulse--in the vaguest of terms, of course--and he's a complete lunatic. In fact, I think we found crazy Ralph's West coast cousin; the crazy Ralph family certainly gets around. This crazy cousin somehow makes his appearance by jumping down from a ceiling like he's fucking Spider-Man too. 'Kaaay.

One of the best aspects is that Joey Lawrence's little brother, Matthew, plays a kid in the neighborhood. Besides looking like the most adorable '80s kid, this dude is playing with the goddamn Cobra Terror Drome! Let me repeat that: the fucking Terror Drome! You know, one of the absolute greatest toys of all time?! There are quite a few G.I. Joe figures and vehicles featured as well. I dare say, this is one of the best scenes in horror history. I never had the pleasure of owning a Terror Drome, but I want one sooo bad. The only thing that could have made the scene better was if he had the USS Flagg.

Lucky bastard. It's as big as the kid!

If you're not blown away by the Terror Drome incident, perhaps this will be of interest to you. The family rents a video tape at one point and it's distorted by the pulse. Brenda is forced to buy the tape from the rental store for--get this--60 fucking bucks in 1988 money! That's the equivalent of $121 today...for a VHS tape! They act like this is casual. I would be flipping tables and shit.

What is this movie about again? I'm getting so distracted. Right...the supernatural electricity finally decides it's time to off the family in the most drawn out manner. I do like how Brenda readily accepts all of this as real. Brenda is burned in the shower and hospitalized, the dad is later trapped in the basement, and David gets stuck in the house while it's on fire. The dad manages to rescue David, and the two escape the burning house. Then the dad goes all Jack Torrance on a utility pole which comes crashing into their home destroying the devices warped by the pulse. In the final shot we see that the pulse has now moved onto Matthew Lawrence's house. Oh no!

I don't know what to make of this movie. What was its goal really? The father/son drama was interesting but would have served better in a fully dramatic story. There is an apparent attempt at social commentary but that too is flimsy. The story didn't explain what was going on, and this is an instance where we need those answers. There was a point when the pulse was seemingly trying to brainwash David, but that never amounted to anything. The pulse struggles to kill people so this is a half-assed entity no matter where it came from. I do appreciate the originality and levels of shenanigans, but I don't know if I'd go as far as to recommend this; this movie is certainly an acquired taste. I think with better focus, and proper clarity in the writing, this could have been a memorable treat from the '80s, but it's bizarre and nonsensical story make it a forgettable mess.

Notable Moment: Just imagine this being under your Christmas tree in the '80s:

Final Rating: 5/10

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Stay Alive (2006) Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: A group of friends are killed one by one after playing a cursed video game.

Review: In an era of horror when everything can be haunted, whether it be a VHS tape, website, or even a video file, why not a video game? Similarly to "Grandma's Boy," it took me multiple viewings before the charm began to warm me up to the ridiculously contrived and asinine story. In fact, I really enjoy the video game depicted and wish it were real. Unfortunately, that is pretty much the only thing praiseworthy. The plot is moronic, the characters are stupid and annoying, the CGI looks pitiful, and the ending makes no sense. However, if you can set aside the mistakes, and somehow appreciate the core ideas, you may find yourself entertained...or you may think this is one of the dumbest movies ever. Whichever. One caveat to keep in mind: there is a theatrical and unrated version. Typically the unrated versions are a gimmick to sell DVDs, but, in this case, it adds a good 15 minutes of footage that does add to the story.

The film opens by killing Peter Petrelli. No! One thing you'll notice from the get-go, besides the characters having fake-sounding names, is that you die in reality the way you die in the game. Yes, it's cliche as hell, but it works in the context of the movie. Anyway, Peter was play-testing for a game called, you guessed it, Stay Alive. In light of his death, the game is passed to his sort-of brother and main character, Hutch. Another thing you'll notice is that all the characters have forced backstories that are never explored and serve no purpose whatsoever except as laughable character development. You know, this script reads a lot like a story written by a teenager. So one of Hutch's friends decides they should all play the game which a total of 6 characters do. By the way, how the hell are 6 people, including a guy across town, playing the same game on 6 different screens with only one game disc among them?!

To the film's credit, the game is innovative and imagined to be more advanced than what we have now. You have a voice-activated start, an open-world survival horror, drop in and drop out co-op of at least 6 players, decent character and weapon customization, and perma-death. I don't know about you, but this is just the kind of game I'd love to see. Sure, there are a handful of games that are kind of at this level, but they don't fully capture the gameplay portrayed in the film. As you might suspect, the characters start to get killed in the game and, thus, die in real life. They introduce a pointless detective subplot whereby Hutch is suspected of killing everyone in the movie, but that is just one of many missteps. Another bullshit aspect is when people who haven't died in the game start to die since, I suppose, real life and the game world cross paths.

They drop the ball quite a bit in the scares department. Besides having far, far too many jump scares--retarded jump scares at that--the film can't make up its mind if they want to use makeup effects or shitty CGI. Surprisingly, a few of the ghosts we see wearing makeup look awesome. The CGI ghosts, on the other hand, are on par with what the sci-fi channel is working with. The source of this bullshit ghost story is a nonsensical interpretation of the real life killer, Elizabeth Bathory. Even though Elizabeth Bathory, who lived in Hungary, was long since dead before the USA even existed, apparently she found her way to Louisiana in the 1800s or something. Psh...that's certainly a good one. There is also something about roses, a spell book, and fucking nails in the head or whatever. Riiiight. Suffice it to say, everyone gets killed except Hutch, the token love interest, and Malcolm in the middle. Hutch seemingly destroys Elizabeth Bathory's spirit yet the movie ends with Stay Alive being released to retail stores. Uhh...okay. Never mind that the creator of the game died and the only existing copy was presumably destroyed or in an evidence locker somewhere.

I realize this movie probably sounds like trash, but it has its moments. The video game itself is presented well and looks to be a lot of fun. The makeup effects, when utilized, are commendable, and there is an unspoken charm presented. If only the story didn't feel so fucking amateur it would be more appealing. The problems with the film, as a whole, are quite glaring and all the hate this film receives is justifiable. Undeniably, the characters are stupid and do idiotic things, there are too many jumps scares, and the Elizabeth Bathory plot element is botched and concludes nonsensically. Believe it or not though, I'd still recommend this film but in the same way I'd recommend "Grandma's Boy." You will either appreciate the charm or think it sucks--I don't imagine much grey area in between.

Notable Moment: When a Cajun-sounding Elmer Fudd is bullshitting the audience about Elizabeth Bathory. No wonder this scene was cut from the theatrical version!

Final Rating: 5.5/10

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Saw VII (aka Saw 3D) Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: The police close in on Hoffman as a man pretending to be a Jigsaw survivor is tested.

Review: At last, we come to the final entry in this franchise. Was it a worthy conclusion? Not really. It wasn't completely horrible either--it was more of a mixed bag with just enough fan service to be considered decent. I don't know what I was expecting at this point really since my interest was waning. I hoped there would be an epic revelation that would change the perspective of the entire franchise, but, instead, we got a final twist that fans speculated about since part 2 and was, pretty much, spoiled from the opening scene. Also, I can't speak toward the 3D aspect since I never watched this in theaters nor does my DVD have the capability (I have the 10th anniversary collection); it doesn't look as though you're missing out on much.

Right from the get-go we are shown the fate of Dr. Gordon. Why? This should have been saved for later. Likewise, showing Dr. Gordon later on in the story was moronic when you deliberately had him in the shadows. Seriously, what the fuck?! I know humanity has reach an unprecedented level of stupidity, but I think audiences can handle a Dr. Gordon revelation without it being spoon-fed all movie long. Whatever, dude. Anyway, we get an opening trap that is, maybe, the most unbelievable in the entire franchise. As many have pointed out over the years, how was this trap constructed right in the middle of an apparent shopping district? Besides being implausible, who made this trap? The timeline is so ill-defined that it makes the trap nothing more than a shock and awe kill rather than a significant piece of the plot. We are not off to a good start here! The only amusing aspect to the trap was that it had two guys agree to kill the chick who was cheating on both of them. Game over, bitch!

After Hoffman escapes from the reverse beartrap, he decides it is time to bail on this whole Jigsaw thing yet takes the time to begin YET ANOTHER fucking gauntlet of traps! Oh Rika, help me. Seriously, Jigsaw did not set up this many fucking traps before dying! And if Hoffman set this up, when did he have time? Even if Jigsaw supposedly set this shit up ahead of time, Hoffman still had to find the time to capture all of these people, right? How is anything in this movie happening?! They imply Hoffman wants out in part 5 yet it seems like he wants to continue this shit in this movie. The inconsistencies are killing me. Moving along...Jill goes to some detective about Hoffman being Jigsaw's accomplice and they begin hunting him down. I love how they shoehorn this relationship between Hoffman and this detective at the last minute.

While the cops are after Hoffman (whatever happened to the FBI by the way?), the gauntlet is being run by a guy who got famous for pretending to be a survivor of Jigsaw's traps. Now this was a move in the right direction. Besides being a creative concept, it allowed the plot to realistically introduce past characters for little cameos. This is where we see Dr. Gordon again which was stupid to reveal he was alive and well at this point; he should have been kept in the shadows or shown as a shadowy figure limping around. So the fake survivor's gauntlet is a play on the see, hear, and speak no evil concept as he must save those who covered up the truth. You'd think someone would finally beat Jigsaw at his own game or something, but the fake survivor fails to save anyone and that's sort of that. While I did like this scenario a great deal, and it's an awesome final gauntlet, it feels pointless nonetheless. It doesn't connect to the main story of catching Hoffman and serves as just background noise--a series of traps that came out of nowhere that Hoffman had no reason to execute other than to keep the cops busy.

Unrelated to the gauntlet, Hoffman set up--SURPRISE--another trap to distract police in order for him to sneak into the police station and finally kill Jill. The residual detectives and police are all killed too, for the lulz, and no one is left alive who knows that Hoffman is the last accomplice...or so we are led to believe. Shocking no one at this point, Dr. Gordon shows up at the last second to abduct Hoffman. Dr. Gordon has help which, allegedly, are the two goofballs from the first trap. I guess we could conclude that Jigsaw's method was working and that others wanted to help but come on, son. Regardless, Dr. Gordon takes Hoffman to the classic bathroom trap we keep coming back to throughout the series. Chaining Hoffman up, Dr. Gordon takes the saw away so that Hoffman is left to rot. The film ends with the final "game over" as Hoffman is left in the dark. This would have felt infinitely more satisfying if we didn't know Dr. Gordon was coming. Plus, the notion that Dr. Gordon was working with Jigsaw yet went back to his regular job is utterly preposterous! I can handle a lot of bullshit, but I can't believe that Jigsaw had Hoffman, Amanda, Jill, and Dr. Gordon all as his accomplices! Come the fuck on!

I'm rating this the same as part 1, but I think this entry is just a tad better. The fake survivor was a great idea, Dr. Gordon's reveal was still fun despite the squandering, the various cameos were cool, and I can appreciate the "all in" mentality. However, this nowhere near as satisfying of a conclusion as part 3 would have been, the idiocy in the plot is truly astounding, and the traps come off as background noise when they should have been pivotal to the story. But is this truly the end? There are still a few things left unresolved and Hoffman is still alive. The producers have talked about making another one or even a reboot so I guess we will just have to wait and see. In the meantime...GAME OVER!

Notable Moment: When we see the survivor group. It was a cool way to bring back old characters, but they certainly didn't capitalize on the idea either.

Final Rating: 5.5/10

Friday, September 11, 2015

Saw VI Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: Further implicating Strahm as a Jigsaw apprentice, Hoffman attempts to execute Jigsaw's last trap.

Review: This is the least successful entry in the franchise, but, as I mentioned, that is mostly due to the idiocy of part 5; and it was significant too--losing virtually half the business. Does the financial failure mean this entry marks the lowest point story wise? Of course not. Part 5 had simply burnt out a lot of the interest and momentum established in parts 3 and 4. I would still put this above part 1, but I cannot deny the shenanigans were getting out of hand at this point. The constant backtracking of the story was ridiculous, and the games were becoming increasingly unwinnable; this essentially defeats the premise of Jigsaw's beliefs. On the other hand, the story did keep you guessing regarding whether or not Hoffman would get caught, the traps were imaginative, and the buildup to the final trap was respectable.

Picking up right after part 5, Hoffman uses what's left of one of Strahm's hands to implicate him in a new trap. By the way, this first trap included an amateur actress who won a role from a TV competition, called "Scream Queens," which was intended to hype interest in this entry. Anyway, the FBI isn't buying that Strahm was a Jigsaw apprentice...well, because it's preposterous. Strahm's partner, who we believed died after the events of part 4, appears once more as it's quite obvious they suspect Hoffman. The main clue has something to do with the knife used to cut out the jigsaw-shaped pieces of flesh. This was contrived since you'd think Hoffman would continue using Jigsaw's tools but okay...I guess we have to keep the story rolling somehow. I should also mention that this is the point when the continuity finally picks up after the opening scene of part 4.

Now for more backtracking as we learn Jill was always complicit to Jigsaw's crimes. This doesn't even fit the character realistically and doesn't quite jive with Jigsaw's relationship to Amanda. This is worsened by the idea that Amanda was with the guy that caused Jill and Jigsaw's baby to die. Hoffman somehow knows this fact but Jigsaw and Jill don't? Nevertheless, Jill has been tasked to help Hoffman finish yet another fucking gauntlet of traps. We get the idea that Hoffman just wants to end this, but the movie can't decide if Hoffman is a villain by choice or circumstance. Regardless, Hoffman oversees the next gauntlet which involves an insurance company that, while performing shady practices, rejected Jigsaw when he first developed cancer; the main character, specifically, was Jigsaw's agent. It was wise that they brought the connection back to Jigsaw, but most of the victims weren't allowed a chance to survive their traps. Speaking of which, the traps are creative and do set themselves apart from the previous entries. The most important trap is the final one that is built up the entire movie; we are shown a mother and son duo and a reporter in two different rooms with acid levers.

Eventually the main insurance guy has run the gauntlet's course only to realize his fate is left in the hands of the mother and son duo. It would appear the reporter is the insurance guy's sister, but we were led to believe the mother and son duo were his family; the insurance guy was their husband/father's agent and led to his death. The stupid son pulls the lever that kills the insurance guy in one of the most gory deaths in the series. While this was happening, Hoffman killed the FBI agents that realized he was Jigsaw's accomplice including Strahm's partner and boss. Hoffman burns their bodies and leaves prints to connect the deaths back to Strahm. However, when Hoffman goes to see the gauntlet's results, Jill incapacitates him and puts the reverse beartrap on his head. Apparently, that letter Hoffman wrote to Amanda interfered with Jigsaw's game and this upsets Jill or whatever. Likewise, Jigsaw wanted Hoffman to finally be tested or something. Honestly, this entire scenario makes no sense and is far-fetched as hell. It's not as though Jigsaw knew what Hoffman was up to, and Jill's commitment to doing what Jigsaw wants doesn't fit the character established in part 4. None of it matters since Hoffman manages to escape the reverse beartrap as the film ends.

I may sound harsh toward this entry, but it's not too bad. There are plenty of things to enjoy, and it was a vast improvement over part 5. They continued to up the ante with the traps and kill count, although, how was Hoffman able to capture that many people?! I liked the involvement of a sleazy insurance company, and the final twist was cool even if predictable. My main gripe is that the story was becoming convoluted with the incessant backtracking--making the franchise's plot beyond unrealistic. Yes, it's a horror film series, and the unbelievable is to be expected, but the suspension of disbelief needed was becoming challenging. Finally, with diminishing returns on the horizon, the producers decided it was time to wrap this series up once and for all with part 7.

Notable Moment: The carousel trap was a creative idea, but it felt cheap that you couldn't escape it.

Final Rating: 6/10

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Saw V Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: As Hoffman continues Jigsaw's work, Strahm tries to gather evidence that Hoffman is the last accomplice.

Review: This is, without a doubt, the worst entry in the franchise. I mean, the entire film is pretty much filler material we did not need to know. On top of that, we, as the audience, realize we're being strung along in order to milk the series to death. Keep this in mind: part 4 began by discussing a new game, from the cassette Jigsaw swallowed, and that didn't happen in part 4. Well, that new game still didn't happen in this movie either as the traps here were ready to roll immediately after the events of Saw 3 (and technically 4). This entry further tests the plausibility that Jigsaw would have this many traps in the work simultaneously; needless to say, this installment probably has the most contrivances outside of part 1. And, similarly to one of Jigsaw's traps, the incompetence of this entry started a chain reaction that led to part 6's failure and part 7 to be declared the end.

What do we really get with the movie? Essentially, this is the misadventures of Hoffman as Strahm fumbles about like a fool. Sometime after Jigsaw became known to the press, Hoffman killed his sister's murderer and tried to pass it off as the work of Jigsaw. For whatever reason, Jigsaw takes a liking to Hoffman and molds him into his first accomplice (this is before Amanda). This origin is annoying, because Hoffman and Jigsaw have no chemistry together and Hoffman never had a real test. You could argue part 6 and 7 were Hoffman's tests, but he had no initial test--Jigsaw simply trusted to work with him. Ehh, whatever. I'm okay with exploring Hoffman's backstory, but we didn't need to see him working on past traps throughout the series. Come on, that's outright padding! The flashback transitions aren't even implemented coherently half the time.

While Hoffman is taking us on a stroll down memory lane, Strahm is magically figuring out that Hoffman is the last accomplice. In fairness, it was dumb that Hoffman put Strahm in a trap at all considering he wanted him dead outright. Of course we have more time wasting with Strahm visiting old traps as well. Suddenly realizing that this is supposed to be "Saw V," we are introduced to 5 (get it...5...part 5...oh forget it) forgettable fodder characters. These characters are intended to run their own gauntlet of traps, but the caveat is that they're supposed to work together. Ehh...I'm okay with yet another gauntlet of sorts, but, fundamentally, these characters serve no purpose to the plot. You could say they were used to frame Strahm as the last Jigsaw accomplice, but Strahm was intended to die after part 4 and this trap was assembled long before. Honestly, who cares, am I right?

In the end, Hoffman has successfully placed suspicion on Strahm as the last accomplice...though, you'd think his whereabouts during the many killings could be accounted for what with him working for the FBI, but I guess not. The idiots in the traps betray each other and die since they were meant to work together. Strahm's boss finds this trap and plenty of planted evidence to link it to Strahm. Meanwhile, Hoffman has rigged a trap to kill Strahm. Strahm puts Hoffman into the trap after a struggle, which was beyond contrived, only for Strahm to realize the trap was the protection and that the room they're in is a compactor. And that's it! Strahm gets crushed--the end! Fuck over, bitch!

This is why it's best to play it safe and follow a normal narrative structure instead of whatever the hell this was. I can just picture the studio imagining 10+ sequels of this caliber of shit and all the money rolling in. Little did they know that this blatant attempt at fucking around would ruin their plans. The problem is nothing happened in this sequel. It's an entire film simply showing us Hoffman's backstory and Strahm dying. Nobody wanted that. But it wasn't just the absence of Jigsaw that hurt things--the point of the traps were predictable and had no connection to anything. We aren't even told how Jigsaw or whoever knew what those people had done. Overall, it felt like they were writing the script as they were filming and forgot to include the third act or something.

Notable Moment: The pendulum trap...I guess. There really wasn't anything worth remembering from this entry.

Final Rating: 4.5/10

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Saw IV Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: With Jigsaw's apparent death, FBI agents investigate whether or not he had one last accomplice.

Review: This entry marked the turning point for the franchise whereby they had to figure out a way to carry on without Jigsaw. I'll admit, at the time, I was incredibly skeptical that they could continue on the story in a realistic manner, but they added a masterful twist--the best twist in the franchise. Likewise, they put a lot of effort into crafting the story similarly to the excellent part 3. I do think part 3 is just a pinch better than this installment, but it is definitely a close call. Unfortunately, I think the idea that Jigsaw was dead became too cemented in the minds of audiences which is why the series began a downward trend financially. This film was still incredibly successful, don't get me wrong, but the series undeniably lost a bit of momentum with the apparent loss of its villain. However, I think it was the nonsense of part 5, coupled with the obvious milking, that forced the series to end at part 7.

For whatever reason, they thought the best way to open the film was to show us Jigsaw's junk from multiple angles. Why do I get the sneaking suspicion this was Tobin Bell's idea? Anyway, during Jigsaw's autopsy they discover the tape he swallowed in the last movie. Hoffman, now becoming a central character, listens to the tape that discusses a new game that is only just beginning. Next thing you know we have a trap playing out that includes, as we will learn later, Jigsaw's lawyer and former business partner. We then cut to Rigg who has taken the role of main character for this entry. We are shown a better glimpse into the hotheaded nature of Rigg, and the foreshadowing is pretty damn obvious. Rigg, Hoffman, and the FBI discover Kerry's dead body and realize that her trap was unwinnable. They discuss Amanda as Jigsaw's accomplice, but one of the agents, Strahm, believes that there had to be a brawny player in Jigsaw's schemes. This is yet another attempt to fill in the plot holes of part 1. It doesn't stop there, however, as even more of Jigsaw's past is explored. Jigsaw was, at a time, a successful civil engineer, entrepreneur, and, seemingly, quite wealthy. So now we know how Jigsaw was able to do everything he does and have private locations no one ever finds.

While the FBI try to figure out who else could have helped Jigsaw, Rigg becomes sucked into a new game. In order to rescue Mathews (still alive somehow) and Hoffman, Rigg must unravel various clues and choose whether or not to help criminals stuck in traps. This concept is reminiscent of the gauntlet in part 3, but they changed it up enough to differentiate itself; there is also the sense that Rigg is doing a kind of scavenger hunt rather than gauntlet. Realizing that a new game is afoot, and somewhat suspecting Rigg, the FBI agents interrogate Jill: the girl from the flashbacks and Jigsaw's old girlfriend from when he was normal. Jigsaw's motivation is altered to include a period in which he was happy, but his son was killed in the womb by a junkie. There is something else about his kid planned to be year of the pig or whatever, but I have no idea what the hell that is about. This is meant to explain the pig fixation, but I don't know enough about the more nuanced details of the Chinese zodiac to understand what the connection is supposed to mean. Regardless, we get a nice insight into Jigsaw's life, but I stand by my explanation in part 2 that that was Jigsaw's own interpretation of his morality compared to Jill's interpretation here.

Where this film truly shines is with it's awesome final twist and revelation. The movie wants you to believe it's Jigsaw's lawyer that was another accomplice, but, come on, we know better. Rigg screws up and fails his test which results in the death of Mathews, the lawyer, and Rigg himself. It is then revealed that Hoffman was actually the brawn in Jigsaw's operation, but this isn't the cool part of the twist. Agent Strahm appears to be one step behind Rigg, but he is actually in the gauntlet from part 3 and is following Jeff. The audience then realizes that all of part 4 has actually been taking place before part 3! Oh shit! Once the events of part 3 conclude, Strahm shoots Jeff who is still waving around the gun he used to shoot Amanda. Hoffman shuts the door on Strahm before walking off as we cut back to Jigsaw's body from the opening scene. That final tape was intended specifically for Hoffman all along, and we are left wondering how Jigsaw ended up in the morgue to begin with, what happened with Strahm, and what was Hoffman's role all this time. I should mention Hoffman was the one who wrote the letter to Amanda in part 3 as well.

This movie wasn't quite as intriguing as part 3, nor are the traps as memorable, but it is comparable in all the other aspects while having the best ending in the franchise. You have to admit, this film toyed with audience's expectations better than any other entry. The manner in which they get around Jigsaw's death is amazing--allowing part 3 and 4 to complement each other perfectly. The curiosity as to where the series would go next was unmatched by any other installment. While I do understand this is where a lot of fans dropped out of the series, they are missing out; I'd recommend going back and watching the whole series before drawing any conclusions. Sadly, the high hopes for the direction part 4 was taking would be dashed by the pointless filler that is part 5.

Notable Moment: When Jill is trying to explain to Strahm about Jigsaw's motives and mentions the Chinese zodiac. Strahm's reaction is priceless, and, I'm sure, what the audience was thinking too.

Final Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Saw III Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: As Jigsaw lays on his deathbed, the father of a slain son must decide whether or not to save those he feels were responsible.

Review: Originally intended to be the final film and concluding chapter of a trilogy, they went all in with the production of "Saw III." The gore is increased, the traps are more elaborate, and the story is given a needed layer of depth while focusing on the relationships between all the characters. As such, this entry possesses the longest running time in order to expand those ideas. Rightfully so, this was also the most successful installment and my personal favorite; although, it is a close call with part 4.

In order to go balls to walls, the design of the game had the main character, Jeff, run a gauntlet of traps. Jeff's son was killed in a car accident, and Jeff has imagined seeking revenge on the various people involved. Jigsaw has set these individuals into traps that force Jeff to intervene or to let them die. I liked this moral dilemma, and it is an original concept unique to this installment. While Jeff makes his way through the gauntlet, Amanda has abducted a surgeon, named Lynn, to help a dying Jigsaw. We come to learn that all of these people, including Jigsaw and Amanda, are pieces in one final game to test everyone involved. More importantly, despite Amanda taking over Jigsaw's role, she is creating unfair traps whereby the participant dies regardless of their ability to escape the situation; one such victim of Amanda's trap is Kerry who had a good three film run.

The story focuses heavily on Amanda and Jigsaw's relationship of apprentice and, I guess, Sith lord. I suppose you could say Amanda was in love or was obsessed, but Jigsaw saw her more as a hopeful protege--someone that he had hoped understood his bizarre morality. It doesn't stop there as we get a better insight into the victims like Jeff and Lynn's personal lives and their loss. These additions certainly made the story feel more engaging and interesting compared to the previous and subsequent entries. A few more of the gaps are filled in regarding the shenanigans of the first "Saw." We see that Jigsaw used a kind of sedative to appear dead in part 1, Amanda was the one to shut the door behind him, and that she was the one getting him medical supplies to stay alive with the cancer. Believe me, part 1 introduced so many contrivances and plot holes that they were still explaining them away even into part 4.

As the film reaches its climax, we learn that Jeff and Lynn are actually husband and wife. The main goal of the game was to see if Amanda was worthy to take over for Jigsaw, but she failed her test. Amanda shoots Lynn, Jeff kills Amanda, and Jeff kills Jigsaw not realizing that Jigsaw's life was connected to Lynn's trap. With Lynn dead too, Jeff realizes that he also failed his test in which we discover Jeff's daughter has been captured by Jigsaw. It would have been nice to see Jigsaw beaten at his own game, but you could kind of tell they wanted to leave the door open for more sequels if the fan's demanded them. Coming as a shock to no one, they did continue to make more films. As for the details left open...we have Mathews' fate left uncertain after Amanda struggles to kill him. Dr. Gordon is further teased, Amanda is given a strange letter, Jigsaw swallows a tape before dying, and we are shown a brief flashback to the Jill character as Jigsaw hallucinates. Similarly to Jill, we are introduced to Hoffman for a few minutes--both becoming pivotal characters for the rest of the series.

In some ways, I do wish that they had ended the series here, but part 4 does complement this entry quite well. This serves as a better conclusion than part 7 managed to display, and the majority of the franchise's plot threads were closed. Likewise, the way in which the story comes full circle is rather poetic. The characters and their individual plights are compelling, and the traps are among the most graphic and memorable in the series (especially the pig grinder and rack). I especially enjoy the gauntlet idea since it represents the progression of intensity between each movie. We get a great insight into Jigsaw's ideas and tactics while exploring his backward and hypocritical morality. Regardless of whether it was the right move or not, the franchise would continue for four more entries despite Jigsaw being dead.

Notable Moment: When the guy is killed on "the rack." This might be the most painful and torturous of all the deaths in the franchise.

Final Rating: 7/10

Monday, September 7, 2015

Saw II Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: A detective and his son become caught up in one of Jigsaw's twisted games.

Review: They definitely stepped up their game for this sequel which came out only one year later (a trend that would continue for the rest of the series). There are more deaths, traps, and, as the tagline boasted, more blood. This entry also set the tone for the rest of the franchise by establishing the core story structure that each sequel would employ. Whether or not you prefer this direction the sequels took, it's hard to deny that virtually every aspect was improved upon compared to the original "Saw." It's also important to note the tightening of the continuity from here on out. Each sequel was well aware of the previous events and tried to incorporate them in a meaningful way to the overall plot. This is hindsight of course, but that's why I said part 3 was what got me invested in the franchise.

The story this time around is that, sometime after the events of "Saw," Jigsaw allows himself to be caught by the police. Tobin Bell, who plays Jigsaw, is finally given a chance to bring the character to life in a way "Saw" didn't have time to explore. Although subsequent entries would alter Jigsaw's origin slightly, I consider this to be Jigsaw's perspective of why he does what he does. As a cancer patient, he sunk into despair, tried to commit suicide by crashing his car, miraculously found the will to survive, and gained a newfound stance on life. Realizing how unappreciative others were of their lives, Jigsaw decided to remind people of life's value with his twisted sense of morality. I'm not saying Jigsaw's logic is sound, but he is a deranged serial killer after all. I do want to mention that Jigsaw fixated on people in his surrounding social circle while other entries struggled to create a connection back to Jigsaw (or his accomplices) if they even bothered to try at all.

We are introduced to new, reoccurring characters like Mathews and Rigg while only a handful returned from part 1; those being Jigsaw, obviously, Amanda, and Kerry. The setup is that Jigsaw has thrown a number of people into a trapped house whereby they are exposed to a nerve gas, seemingly, liquefying their organs. We come to learn that they were all people put in prison by Mathews planting evidence on them with the exception of his own son who is used as leverage by Jigsaw. Now, I'm not going to lie, there are a ton of contrivances regarding many characters' deaths, but not on par with the first movie. As such, the deaths are not too gruesome compared to the later entries, and I liked the idea that the people died before they could even fully explore all the traps; this goes toward realism considering it's highly unlikely all of Jigsaw's traps would go according to plan.

The ending continues the trend of having a final twist with the game's true intention being revealed. However, "Saw II" introduces the series to a trend of toying with the audience's perception of time. The police watch the majority of the film's events from a monitor only to realize it was never live. This is important in revealing that the main goal of the game was to trap Mathews all along. We learn that Amanda became intrigued by Jigsaw and joined up with him rather than actually being another unwitting victim. It is kind of implied that Jigsaw is dead with Amanda continuing his work, but part 3 provided clarity in that respect. They tried to explain away Jigsaw's ability to abduct grown men, when he's busy dying of cancer, by introducing the accomplices; this was the first gap to be filled in that most ignore about part 1. Finally, the fate of Dr. Gordon would become an ongoing mystery for the remainder of the franchise--a deliberate ploy to keep fans speculating.

I can understand fans seeing part 2 as a departure from what "Saw" was about, but I think they simply fine-tuned the material into what they wanted; and of course financial reasons were at play. The scope is widened, the Jigsaw character is fleshed out, the experience and deaths are more visceral, and the ending twist makes more sense and is genuinely surprising. Though the intrigue was better in "Saw," the mystery in this installment is more thought out and keeps you engaged until the credits unlike the first movie which loses its muster. In essence, this sequel did what all sequels should strive toward: outdoing the previous installment. Not only did they succeed in this respect, but they introduced their own mythology and lore that would continue to expand as the series continued.

Notable Moment: There are some cool scenes this time around, but the most memorable is when Amanda is thrown into the pit of syringes. It's pretty bad when a horrific death might be the preferable option.

Final Rating: 6.5/10

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Saw Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: Two men awaken to find themselves trapped in a room with their feet chained to pipes. How will they ever escape?!

Review: Ahh, it's times like this I wish I did video reviews, because I've probably said "GAME OVER!" like fifty or more times while writing this. Although, I'd imagine that would get annoying extremely quickly. we come to the infamous "Saw" franchise--many love it, many hate it, but none can deny its influence and success. My feelings on the franchise are mixed to say the least. It's hard to discuss this franchise without critics mentioning "torture porn," but the series didn't always start out that way. Another thing that I often hear is "part one was good, but the rest sucked." I have to humbly disagree, and I would question whether or not anyone making that claim ever even watched the sequels. I think part 1 is probably the second weakest entry, 2-4 are the highlights, 5 is the worst, and 6 and 7 are merely meh. I understand I'm of the minority opinion, but a lot of people talking the most trash appear delusional or confused about a great many aspects of the franchise; the sequels certainly receive far more hatred than they deserve. I will explore why I feel this way as I go along, so, without further ado, let's get into this.

A quick overview of the plot is in order I believe. Essentially, Jigsaw is a semi-serial killer who abducts people and puts them in traps to test their desire to survive. While the idea is that the victim betters themselves from the experience, or fails to survive, the franchise plays fast and loose with this concept. In the first entry, you have Dr. Gordon and Adam chained to pipes while other pawns are in play for the "game." As the film unfolds, you have many twists and turns regarding who is the true Jigsaw. Eventually, Dr. Gordon decides to cut off his foot to free himself of the shackle as he believes it's the only feasible way to escape. The film ends with the revelation that the real Jigsaw killer was in the room all along, playing dead, and he leaves Adam to die. Game over, bitch! That really should have been the tagline.

Like usual, I'll go over what works first. Obviously, the originality at the time was commendable. They take the urban legend of waking up in a bathtub to another level while adding a layer of mystery that is genuinely intriguing. As such, the mystery has numerous twists, both large and small, as we discover what led to the characters' predicament. For the most part, they present these plot elements well enough; the pacing certainly helps in this regard. The core concept behind Jigsaw as a killer is creative, and the use of traps creates endless potential. More so, Jigsaw is an interesting character when compared to the hordes of forgettable slasher villains. I will mention, however, the whole "he's technically never killed anyone" is utter bullshit. So if I throw you in water handcuffed, what, it was the pool that killed you? Come the fuck on. Anyway, I've always appreciated the lighting and cinematography in this franchise, and this film set that dingy tone perfectly. Billy and the pig costume are both creepy, and the designs are memorable and help to embody the franchise. Finally, the chick playing Dr. Gordon's mistress, Alexandra Chun, is exceptionally cute, but, unfortunately she never had another acting role of significance nor came back in the sequels; that was definitely a missed opportunity.

7.8/10  Too much Asian -IGN

As for this film's faults...they are aplenty. The first "Saw" is easily one of the most contrived movies in existence. And before you think it, the sequels are nowhere near as contrived. Sure, they are far-fetched as fuck, but they have about the usual number of contrivances I'd expect. What's the difference? Jigsaw plotting more kills after his death is far-fetched. Adam losing his key (that Jigsaw had no reason to give him) in the tub is a contrivance. Jigsaw relying on Adam to reach the tape player to keep the story rolling is a contrivance. Adam finding the clue on the photo in Dr. Gordon's wallet is a contrivance. See the difference? Believe me, I could list the contrivances all day--that's only a small taste. There are full blown plot holes as well like Jigsaw taking a little nap on the ground for hours on end yet he's dying of cancer. Yes, I know, the sequels explain this away, but this movie needs to stand on its story, does it not? This ending is undeniably preposterous, in every manner of the word, without the context of the sequels. Something that I can't stand throughout the franchise as a whole are those ADHD, seizure-inducing quick edits. Please, for the love of Rika, stop. That's like a half point off of every movie right there. The acting is shoddy at times especially when Cary Elwes starts to overact and ham it up by the end. Come on, man, I know you can do better than this! I mean, he's playing a damn surgeon--you'd think he'd know a thing about remaining calm and how idiotic it would be to cut off his foot. Plus, I hate how he does that whole fake-sounding voice when talking to his wife. You know what I'm talking about, right? Like, one minute a guy is talking normal but then gets this soft, "hello, I'm whipped" bitch-boy voice when talking to his girlfriend or spouse or whatever. Oh, come on, I know you know what I'm talking about! I don't hold that against the film...just wanted to point it out.

Am I being overly critical? Perhaps, but I never really liked this movie. It was, more or less, a combination of part 2 and 3 that finally got me excited about the franchise. There are way too many flaws, contrivances, and amateur errors for me to give bonus points simply for being part 1. Does that mean this movie sucks? Of course not. There are plenty of positives to appreciate especially in regards to the creativity in the plot and killer. Also, considering the film's budget, the technical fronts are downright admirable. I just feel as though the sequels' attempts to fill in the gaps are the reason why people look back more favorably on the first installment--ignoring many of the glaring flaws. I, on the other hand, still view the film's problems from the perspective as if it were a standalone entry. The film is decent, but it's not quite good.

Notable Moment: When Adam is abducted. This is probably the only legitimate scare in the entire franchise.

Final Rating: 5.5/10

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Grandma's Boy (2006) Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: A video game tester is forced to move in with his grandmother as zany antics ensue.

Review: This is yet another guilty pleasure for me, and one of those movies that grow on you over time. My initial reaction to seeing this film was, "What a piece of a shit," and I imagine many will feel similarly. However, I re-watched it a few times, since there was a time period where it played, seemingly, 24/7, and I began to appreciate the cornball nature to the experience. I'm sure a large portion of the audience will simply enjoy the stoner mentality to the characters, but I prefer the whole video game aspect as well as the random instances of shenanigans. I mean, come on, one of the characters sleeps in a race car, I want one. This doesn't mean this film is objectively good, and it certainly tanked when it came out, but you'd be surprised by how amusing it can be.

Right out the gate, this is a Happy Madison film so that means lots of Adam Sandler's friends. This set of actors do, admittedly, annoy me, but they dialed back their performances with Mr. Sandler absent from the film. The story focuses on a video game tester, named Alex, who is evicted from his house, because his roommate was spending their rent money on Filipino hookers (good choice). After trying to live with a few different friends, including his pot dealer, Alex moves in with his grandma who rents out rooms to other old ladies. At this point, the levels of shenanigans should make it apparent whether or not you're going to like this movie. I do want to also note Shirley Jones playing a slutty goodness.

The real heart of the story picks up once we see what life is like at the game developer Alex works for. There is a comradery that appeals to me with the guys versing each other in old games along with the incessant banter that follows. A lot of this has become dated already, but it's still fun nonetheless. Anyway, Alex's love interest is an overseer that comes to finish their game, named Samanth, with the "villain" being an alleged gaming genius who thinks he's a robot; he often talks to himself in a manner similar to Gollum. The story doesn't really follow a strict narrative structure as we mostly see more instances of shenanigans including a pot-fueled party. The climax, if you will, is when the robot guy, JP, steals a game Alex has been working on for years and tries to pass it off as his own. Humorously, the grandma challenges JP to a match in order to prove the game really belongs to Alex. Big shock, she wins. So Alex gets the girl, his game is a success, and everything works out for this stoner guy. The film ends with a credit theme song directly about the film. Now, that I love!

I won't pretend this film is for everyone, but it has a charm that is commendable. I think the aimless nature of the plot, coupled with the random and inexplicable events, is what makes this offbeat tale work better than it should. I always have a soft spot for movies about video games, for whatever reason, and JP's weirdness does seem plausible in today's bizarre world. Another thing that worked was the lighthearted nature of the video game industry compared to the overt greed and manipulation worn like a badge of honor nowaday (this wasn't even 10 years ago!). For example, one of the main plot points is making sure a game ships bug free. That's considered unusual in today's world with day one patches and game-breaking glitches that ship regardless. Pitiful. Overall, this is an amusing tale that has garnered a cult following. It's not as good as some potheads will make it out to be, but it's probably significantly better than you'd imagine at a glance.

Notable Moment: When the grandma beats JP at Alex's game. Those graphics...

Final Rating: 6/10