Saw VI (2009)


Starring: Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor, Betsy Russel
Director: Kevin Greutert
Screenwriter: Marcus Dunstan, Patrick Melton
Rating:
R for sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture, and language.

This year, the torture-friendly franchise will come to its conclusion, and in eye-gouging 3D no less. Not that they would mind milking it for more money until the end of times, but it’s obvious that the box-office response of the sixth entry was cold enough to put the producers on guard regarding the future of further Saw sequels. Which is actually ironic, since “Saw 6” is probably the best of the sequels, and, yes, that isn’t saying very much.

This time, Jigsaw is big on politics. He single-handedly (or, several-handedly, if you count the expanding number of apprentices) takes on the US’ troublesome healthcare issue. And yes, there will be blood (understatement). The grizzly game focuses on insurance executive William Easton (Peter Outerbridge), the typical corporate tool, who will have to pass a series of the late Jigsaw’s world-renowned-wicked-arm-or-leg-choice tests. Since William’s job was all about finding ways for the insurance company to NOT pay for people’s ultra-expensive and risky medical treatments, thus holding the choice of life or death in the flick of his pen, this time he will be faced with the ultimate moral judgement as he must make the same choices while dealing with the victims face-to-face as they are about to meet a horrible, gruesome death. There are still plenty of tie-ins with the rest of the franchise, complete with confusing flashbacks that will make no sense if you’ve missed all of the previous films, and of course the obligatory twist finale. If indeed you have missed all of the previous films and are trying to start with no. 6, then don’t. It’s the worst thing to do. Either start from the beginning, or thoroughly read the Wikipedia entries for all the films in the series and take notes.

Seemingly, not much has changed since the Saw-frenzy first started, so, you might wonder, why did I expand my score from the one-potato “Saw V” received to a full-blown, passing-grade, five potatoes ? “Saw V” was a self-indulgent mess, riddled with flashback sequences and terrible pacing. The series has forgotten all about cleverness after the first two-three films, so the only thing going for it is the entertainment provided by suspensful scenes where characters attempt to survive horrible traps by making equally horrible choices. Whilst “Saw V” dropped the ball in that regard, this one, while still sillly and low on credibility, amps up the tension. This time, the choices are harsh and the life-or-death situations are suspensful enough to make the film a pleasant affair (if you’re into this kind of sadistic stuff). Plus, having just one character facing the tests (William) puts us, the voyeurs, in the position to sympathize with him and be a part of the ride. Throw in Detective Hoffman’s attempts to keep his identity hidden while William runs the maze of horrors, the often surprisingly satirical social commentary, and the short running time and you have the makings of a fun thriller. The film is directed by the man who edited all the other Saws, which means someone else was assigned to handle the editing, and it feels like the editing on this one is less of a jumbled mess. Less prone to induce headaches anyway.

The acting is still rough around the edges, though it’s really not that big of an issue anymore. Everybody overacts or underacts, with the surprising exception of Peter Outerbridge’s simple, balanced performance, neither over nor under the top. Tobin Bell is still pitch-perfect as Jigsaw, even though he’s just there for flashbacks.

So, it’s better than II, III, IV, V and probably better than 3D will be. But it’s too little, too late. Even if they’re planning some sort of reboot or spin-off for next year, or the year after that, they’ve pretty much tortured this franchise to death.

The Crazies (2010)


Starring: Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Joe Anderson
Director: Breck Eisner
Screenwriter: Scott Kosar, Ray Wright
Rating: R for bloody violence and language

“The Crazies” is a remake of the George A. Romero horror classic of the same name. Wait, let me rephrase that to better suit the situation. “The Crazies” is yet another one of those remakes based on an already famous horror film. I can’t imagine how these remakes keep getting green-lit. I mean, the fanbase can’t be that tempting for producers to drool over the posibility of huge profits. And if it’s not the money, what is it about these ideas that drive them towards unoriginal rehashes ? Remake hate aside though, “The Crazies” isn’t all that bad aside from genre familiarity.

The overall story can be immediately and shortly summed up as follows: a small american town is plagued by an epidemic of madness, the army places the town and its inhabitants under lockdown, but a handful of survivors try to make their way out of the city after they realise the army has no intention to allow them to leave, since the virus causing all the mayhem is their doing. This adventure from hell is focused on the local sheriff (Timothy Olyphant) who is separated by the army from his pregnant wife (Radha Mitchell), and sneaks back into town to rescue her, picking up other survivors on the way and fighting their way out of town.

There’s a good side and a bad side to this movie. The good side is that it’s an effectivily chilling horror flick, well directed, decently written, tense and paranoid, violent to satisfy gore-hounds, but not enough to turn off casual audiences. The bad side is that there isn’t a single thing that hasn’t been done before, both better and worse. This is your tipical survival horror. I was surprised to find that the “crazies” don’t even make much of an impression. They’re basically zombies. They don’t eat flesh, but they kill in brutal, insane ways. The make-up is a little overdone and distracting. Something a little more subtle would have helped fuel a deeper sense of paranoia. The soldiers become the real villains of the story about half-way through. They are under orders to kill everyone, infected or not, so the survivors have to hide from both the infected and the soldiers, which is a nice touch (credit to the original film).

Much of the movie’s appeal comes from the paranoid vibe. Who is crazy and who isn’t. Are the infected any different from the “crazies” we already have among us. How can you tell if the person standing next to you carries the virus or is simply crazy. That, I guess, is part of the ‘70s paranoid thriller vibe that translates pretty well today, but somehow, it’s pretty clear the movie is more interested in the potential for carnage, allowing breaths of subliminal messages to appear only briefly. You simply go through the motions of a ride, nothing more.

In the end, it’s just another remake. It’s slightly more clever than the average remake (especially the Michael Bay-produced ones), but it won’t make any more memorable. It looks and feels polished, and I can’t imagine a director doing a better job with this story. I think they could have done better by finding a different story than the original’s. I mean the foundation is there, why not build something different, instead of the same story with different props. And this is only one of the countless remakes still to come.

Trailer : Splice (2009/2010)


Produced by Guillermo del Toro, and directed by Vincenzo Natali (“Cube”), “Splice’, tells the tale of two scientists, played by Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley, who attempt a radical experiment, splicing together human and animal DNA. The result is a female hibryd, evolving rapidly, very intelligent, and, in the vein of all horror films, extremely dangerous. Boasting with a controversial sex scene between Brody and the hibryd creature, the movie attempts to explore the moral and human boundaries of science, as well as provide some good ol’ fashioned horror spectacle.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)


Starring: Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, Jude Law
Director: Terry Gilliam
Screenwriter: Terry Gilliam, Charles McKeown
Rating : PG-13 for violent images, some sensuality, language and smoking.

Terry Gilliam is an artist. And like any artist, he stays true to his vision, no matter how extravagant or bizzare. And, as is the case with any artist’s work, we the audience, reserve the right to love it, or hate it, just as the artist reserves the right to not really care what we think. That’s how I’ve always pictured Terry Gilliam’s affair with cinema. Some might call it arrogance or self-sufficiency, but I wouldn’t go that far. His vision is sometimes so outrageous, that a second viewing would be out of the question for almost any viewer. I particularly felt this way when I saw his “Tideland” (2005), a movie that to this day I can’t be sure if I hated or loved, just that despite its originality, before the rising of Del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth”, I don’t think I’ll be seeing it again. On the other hand, he can only submit his will to his vision, so what I, or anyone else, thought of that particular movie, whether loved or despise, is completely irrelevant.

So, I was more than a little suspicious as I started watching “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus”. I was, of course, aware this was Heath Ledger’s very last (incomplete even) movie, and that Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law accepted to complete Ledger’s part, with the help of some very clever rewrites, so the first time Ledger appears on-screen, it felt extremely eerie. A feeling that could only serve a film like this.

Though bizzare in a very Gilliam kind of way, the story is actually surprisingly straight-forward. Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) is an immortal monk, who travels in a horse-driven sideshow caravan along with his daughter, Valentina (Lily Cole) and his two aides, sharing the beauty of imagination to the world. He carries a terrible burden though, that of having gambled with the Devil (Tom Waits) and lost. The price is the soul of his daughter, which he must surrender to the prince of darkness on her 16th birthday. His luck seems to change when they encounter Tony (Heath Ledger), a charismatic swindler, just in time for a new wager with the Devil, which Parnassus hopes will save his daughter.

The gimmick of the story is the Imaginarium, a world which Parnassus can conjure, a world of dreams and imagination (with lots of help from a modern director’s best friend, CGI) tailored around the fabric of the person who enters it. The visual effects are a lot of fun, particularly because there’s a smart concept behind them. As a way to work around the fact that Ledger never finished his scenes, the script was altered so that whenever Tony enters the imaginarium, he appears as a different person each time (Depp, Farrell, Law), him being a swindler, thus a man of a thousand faces, none of them real. I would dare say the script works even better this way, though it is unfortunate that Ledger did not complete his work.

As far as Gilliam’s overall vision is concerned, I was expecting something wildly excentric, but as I mentioned before, the story, underneath the usual visual extravaganza and Oscar-nominated art direction, is quite pleasant and easy to sit through. It has the feel of a modern fairy tale and is a lot of fun to let yourelf carried away by it. The acting is top-notch, with Ledger apparently still bearing echoes of the Joker (little gestures and some line delivery). Plummer is particularly impressive, and after such a long carreer, it’s nice to see he’s still got it (he also nabbed an Oscar nom this year for The Last Station).

“The Imaginarium…” is great imaginative fun, full of everything that makes a movie a great thrilling ride. If from seeing the trailers you feel the movie is just too bizzare or just for kids, fear not, for this is Terry Gilliam’s most fun and easy movie, yet still creepy in a way that I don’t think children might enjoy.



Trailer : Predators (2010)


“Predators” is a direct sequel (not a reboot, as initially thought) to the the first Predator movie. Written and produced by Roberto Rodriguez (“Sin City”) and directed by Nimrod Antal (“Armored”, “Kontroll”), the movie removes itself from the failures of the awfull “Alien vs. Predator” flicks and pulls closer to the spirit of the original. A genuine fanboy feast !

Trailer : Robin Hood (2010)


Ridley Scott returns to what he does best : historical epics. Following in the history spin-off tradition of “Gladiator” and “Kingdom of Heaven”, “Robin Hood” will probably be another risky move for Scott. “Kingdom of Heaven” flopped at the box-office, under the pressure of studio quarrels and hightened expectations. The Director’s Cut (extended by aprox. 1 hour) for that one mended many of its shortcomings and proved it was a worthy cinematic achievement (and one of my personal favourites). I hope “Robin Hood” won’t end up with a corrective DVD extended version. It certainly looks promising, but I would rather they didn’t use the “story of the man behind the legend” marketing strategy. “King Arthur” used that same approach and it was a terrible underachievement.

Trailer : Iron Man 2 (2010)


Iron Man will be back on the big screen, in full gear, this summer, bringing along for the ride a new set of characters from the comic book. For the connoisseurs out there, they are Black Widow, Whiplash and Nick Fury. For the rest of use, they are Scarlett Johansson, Mickey Rourke and Samuel L. Jackson. Favreau returns to direct from a script penned by promising new talent Justin Theroux, who also co-wrote “Tropic Thunder”. Looking good on all accounts, promises the same mix of furious action and witty laughs. Will it deliver ? We shall see.