Tag Archives: 5 potatoes

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.

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Street Kings (2008)


2008_street_kings_001

5

Starring : Keanu Reeves, Forest Whitaker, Chris Evans, Cedric the Entertainer, Hugh Laurie, Jay Mohr, Amaury Nolasco, Common.
Director : David Ayer.
Screenplay: James Ellroy, Kurt Wimmer.
Rating : R for strong violence and pervasive language
.

David Ayer, the screenwriter of „Training Day” and James Ellroy, the author of „LA Confidential” join forces to project the ultimate urban nightmare on the big screen. The outcome of this endeavour : lots of screaming, swearing, shooting, and a jolly good time with Keanu Reeves. „What more could you want” you ask ? The answer unfortunately is : ”a good movie that doesn’t insult your intelligence”.

Detective Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves) is part of a specia Vice squad that deals with fighting crime in a less than procedural manner, under the supervision and protection of captain Jack Wander (Forest Whitacker). When Ludlow’s partner is killed during an armed robbery, right in front of him, he embarks on a crusade to find the killers and deal his own kind of justice. Complications start to arise as his private investigation brings out the corruption from within the police, though, let’s face it, he isn’t exactly squeaky clean either. Ludlow is considered a suspect in his partener’s murder since he was about to squeal on Ludlow to Internal Affairs’ captain James Biggs (Hugh Laurie). The entire film is conceived as a moral showdown between the bad and the not so bad. There are plenty of grey areas covered in this film.

The main problem with this film is that Ludlow is a character who the screenwriters endowed with a sum of negative traits, anti-hero stuff, with a dash of  „Oh, he might have been a nice guy in the past, but something happened to him and now he’s changed” kind of thing, only to show up in the end as a new and improved Ludlow, who fights back at corruption and can’t stand to see innocents getting hurt. I’m not so sure his moral transformation is believable, yet the whole movie is built around it. From the beginning of the movie we see Ludlow sleeping with clothes from the day before, with a gun tucked in between the sheets, dragging himself to the bathroom where he throws up, probably from all that vodka he ingests throughout this film. Now that’s classic anti-hero behaviour. His favourite day-time activities include planting evidence and brutally interrogating suspects. You could hardly even believe it’s Keanu there on the screen being all badass. But as soon as he opens his mouth or tries to emulate emotion, you instantly recognize him. It’s not actually that bad. He plays Ludlow with a minimum of resources and pretty much no overacting. Kind of reminded me of Clint Eastwood, back in the day when he was doing Dirty Harry. Forest Whitacker on the other hand loves chewing the scenery. He trows in everything but the kitchen sink in a grotesque display of loud, obnoxious overacting. It’s like he think he’s doing the sequel to „The Last King of Scotland”. The rest of the cast just blends in.

The script is just trying too hard to be a tense thriller with moral implications. Unfortunately, the content is rarely focused, and just skips around without concentrating on the detail, throwing in way too many underdeveloped characters. As it is, the story becomes boring and uninvolving. The twists do not obtain the expected effect, because we don’t really connect to the characters, and the so-called urban realism is just too self-sufficient. There aren’t even any solid action scenes to replace the lack of any kind of police drama. There’s just a lot of pointless talking. When the shooting does start, they just amp up the violence with slow motion blood and guts. Appealing if you’re in it for the gore, but useless if it’s not backed up by any form of narrative drive. The violence ends up being as gratuitous as that in a „Saw” film. A lot of people die, there’s a lot of screaming, and even though it’s all neatly shot, it isn’t any fun. It’s all highly stylized and expertly staged, but too inconsistent to matter. And the score is just too intrusive at times, the mix of synth beats and cheesy orchestral writing just doesn’t fit the mood well.

I never thought Ayer and Ellroy could ruin a film like this. Maybe they had a good idea, but the end result is a confused mess. There attempt at a police drama lacks the drama part. The thriller they had in mind lacks the thrills and tension. It certainly wasn’t meant to be a comedy, but in truth, it’s worth seeing with friends just to get a good laugh out of it.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008)


zack-miri-make-porno

5

Starring: Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Traci Lords, Jason Mewes, Ricky Mabe,
Craig Robinson, Katie Morgan, Jeff Anderson
Director: Kevin Smith
Screenplay: Kevin Smith

There are a lot to be said about “Zach and Miri Make a Porno”, and still it leaves no impression as it sulks into the background of Kevin Smith’s body of work: “Clerks”, “Clerks II”, “Chasing Amy”, even behind his cameo in “Die Hard 4: Live Free or Die Hard”; and when you fail to shine compared to the great grandson of the “Die Hard” franchise you know you’ve failed. Smith’s strange brand of humor is always a hit or miss shot, and critics say that here he didn’t even seem to try.

Well, I don’t know if I agree with the lack of trying, I think this is a perfect example of executing a project that has a shaky premise and then overstuffing it with what should be “in depth analysis” but ends up being “abnormal lines coming from the mouths of very bored people”, and a string of slap stick humor that is too raunchy to be appreciated by the people who were expecting a romantic comedy, and not raunchy enough to be liked by true Kevin Smith fans.

The story is a “making of” a low budget porno flick, which is supposed to get Zack and Miri, childhood friends and roommates, out of debt. They are joined by a diverse fauna of odd friends and, by the time they get to their actual on-camera sex scene, they start to develop feelings for each other. There are glimpses of romances that seem real in detail, but they lack credibility when you look at the big picture. Also, I was not very amused by the supporting cast, who seemed caricatures or props, but never people, and their lines were clearly forced and thus unfunny. The “Knocked Up” routine where beautiful women fall for fat annoying perpetually weeded men is very hard to watch the 24243th time, and so many movies still do not make it believable. Also, they’ve lived together for years and suddenly it hits them how made for each other they really are (a problem that also “The Proposal” does not fully address). There is not one joke that made me laugh in that whole script, and knowing that this is the work of the director of “Chasing Amy” made it even harder to digest. The weed habits, the slacker jobs, the crazy group of friends, it’s all been done before and the lack of novelty makes it easier to spot the big holes in the plot, the uneven pacing and the akward exposition.

The good part is that the two main characters are very likeable. Of course, Seth Rogen plays the same type of lazy slob that Judd Apatow has had a crush on for so long; there is nothing new about his performance, and although 2008 was the year of Ben Stone clones, usually played by Rogen himself, sometimes by Jason Segel, I still enjoyed him, as I was not oversaturated yet at the time that I saw this movie. I am now. Elizabeth Banks is very pretty, and she brings a bit of light into the tired script, but not the kind of light that would eventually save this movie, but the kind that cemented the nausea of “Clerks” fans that were probably not expecting a romantic comedy. She is great in the duo, but very inappropriately wedged into a production of a director that made a point out of not relying on female beauty of finesse. They would’ve worked some other place, with another script, and while not making a porno. Here, they are cartoonishly displayed, but I sort of found their new found love for each other endearing, especially after I’ve blocked out the setup.

I did not find any of the things that were shown to me to be excessively porno or outrageous. There was the girl with fake breasts, and some shots for the film-within-film, nothing over the top, and very strangely out of place for a movie with the word “porno” in the title. My opinion is that either the director had a vision that was not supported by the script that he himself wrote or that he just took some cash and didn’t care further than that point. Either way, this is clearly a miss.