Film Review: Saw (2004)

Also known as: Jigsaw (working title)
Release Date: January 19th, 2004 (Sundance)
Directed by: James Wan
Written by: Leigh Whannell, James Wan
Based on: Saw by James Wan, Leigh Whannell
Music by: Charlie Clouser
Cast: Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, Monica Potter, Michael Emerson, Ken Leung, Tobin Bell, Leigh Whannell, Shawnee Smith, Dina Meyer, Makenzie Vega

Evolution Entertainment, Saw Productions Inc., Twisted Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Congratulations. You are still alive. Most people are so ungrateful to be alive. But not you. Not anymore.” – Jigsaw

I’ve said for nearly two decades that if they had left Saw alone and not pumped out sequels annually to capitalize off of this movie’s success, that it could’ve very easily been perceived as one of the greatest horror films ever made. I still stand by that statement.

Now I haven’t seen this in at least fifteen years. I gave up on the franchise after seeing the third film in theaters. At that point, I definitely felt like the film series had exhausted itself and run out of gas. But silly me, they made like half a dozen more! And shockingly, none of the sequels were straight-to-video. They all had theatrical releases.

Looking at this movie, as a single body of work, it’s really damn good. The concept was great and the story was well-crafted and made for one hell of a cinematic experience. I’d consider this James Wan’s magnum opus, even though the dude probably still has a lot of time to top it.

The best part about seeing this for the first time is that you didn’t know much about the plot or why these guys were locked in a room together. Everything slowly reveals itself and the movie knows how to build suspense and keep the viewer on the edge of their seat until the shocking end, which no one saw coming. Frankly, it’s an incredible reveal.

This is also the best acted film out of the three I’ve seen. In fact, the other movies don’t hold a candle to this one in the acting department, except for the scenes where Tobin Bell is front and center. Without Bell, this series probably couldn’t have lasted as long as it did. Even after his character was dead, his presence was still very much felt and a driving force behind the stories. Crazily enough, he’s barely in this movie, even though he’s the big bad.

Anyway, this movie is superb and it’s still effective, even though I know the ending and all the surprises. But since this is so well-crafted, it makes repeat viewings kind of cool, as you pick up on more of the clues that were planted throughout the movie.

The later films would get more gory. This one has some pretty good gross out moments but a lot of the gore is more implied and relies on your imagination to see things that aren’t actually onscreen. In a lot of ways it reminds me of how effective that approach was in the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

Saw has held up tremendously well in spite of it being the first chapter in a very long franchise. It’s definitely worth watching but once you’re finished you might want to stop and not let the sequels ruin it for you.

That being said, I’m going to work my way through all of the sequels and review them.

Rating: 8.75/10

Film Review: Sorceress (1982)

Also known as: The Barbarian Women (working title)
Release Date: October 1st, 1982 (Atlanta premiere)
Directed by: Jack Hill (as Brian Stuart)
Written by: Jack Hill (uncredited), Jim Wynorski
Music by: James Horner (reusing themes from Battle Beyond the Stars)
Cast: Leigh Harris, Lynette Harris, Bob Nelson, David Millbern, Bruno Rey, Ana De Sade, Roberto Ballesteros, Douglas Sanders, Tony Stevens, Martin LaSalle

CONACINE, New World Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

“I did not train you men in my arts so that you would hunt down and butcher women.” – Krona, “You never could understand the greater values!” – Traigon

This is an ’80s sword and sorcery film that I had never seen. Reading up on it before watching it, it looked like the critical and public consensus were trying to warn me away. For the most part, no one seemed to have a positive take on this movie but I also didn’t care, as I’ll watch anything once.

Considering that this was produced by Roger Corman, I kind of had an idea of its overall quality and style. However, it was directed by Jack Hill and even though he leans heavy into the schlocky side of things, he’s made a few films I kind of adore.

So this is, by academic standards, a bad movie. However, I liked it, as it’s the sort of bad that I enjoy and its wonderful level of cheese was the right flavor.

The costumes and sets are very basic and fairly hokey. The special effects are cheap but kind of cool. The acting is borderline atrocious. Yet, all these parts compliment each other, creating a smorgasbord of B-movie awesomeness.

I like the characters, regardless of how bad their line delivery is. The hero ensemble of the hot twins, the Viking, the satyr and the barbarian was really neat. I especially liked the satyr character and frankly, there aren’t enough satyrs used in movies. Mr. Tumnus doesn’t count because technically he’s a faun.

Anyway, this features a cookie cutter, paint-by-numbers sword and sorcery plot. Being that it came out in 1982, though, it was ahead of the curve in the emerging genre. It certainly came out before the genre peaked and was then beaten to death by schlockmeisters around the world.

The finale of this movie is pretty great. Once the two gods show up in the night sky and have their strange deity battle, things truly turn up to eleven and it’s hard not to enjoy unless you’re a heartless snob that pisses on fun and thinks every movie should be akin to The English Patient.

I know, most normal people couldn’t sit through ten minutes of this flick. However, most normal people, these days, lack imagination and embrace lowest common denominator blockbusters.

Rating: 5.25/10

Film Review: The African Queen (1951)

Release Date: December 26th, 1951 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: John Huston
Written by: John Huston, James Agee, Peter Viertel, John Collier
Based on: The African Queen by C. S. Forester
Music by: Allan Gray
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Robert Morley

Romulus Films, Horizon Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“By the authority vested in me by Kaiser William the Second I pronounce you man and wife. Proceed with the execution.” – Captain of Louisa

Seeing two absolute legends like Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn come together in a motion picture is a pretty special occasion, if handled and managed correctly. Being that this was directed by another legend, John Huston, the task was achieved and what we got was one hell of a film.

This is a mix of really emotional drama, romance, war and adventure.

It’s a great mix and it’s executed exceptionally well with the bulk of the film relying on the performances of just two characters, stuck together, traveling down a perilous river, against impossible odds and two personalities that clash quite often.

However, with both characters being strong people and having to rely on each other, they bond. In fact, they fall in love. And while this is a story that’s probably been done to death by now, Bogart and Hepburn did it better than any other onscreen duo that I have ever seen. It’s this bond, above all the other great things, that makes this picture so damn good.

But speaking of the other great things, I thought that all the other actors were good as well. I especially liked Robert Morley in this. He was mostly a portly, often times comedic, British character actor. However, he brought some real gravitas to his role, here. Even though I’ve seen this movie at least a half dozen times, I’m still saddened by his death early on in the picture. Although, without it, the real story doesn’t start.

Additionally, Huston’s direction is perfection. He took the great script and really massaged it into something greater than a less capable director would’ve been able to do. He also pulled out great performances from everyone. Granted, when you have Bogart and Hepburn at your disposal, that might not be too hard.

I love that this was actually filmed in Africa. It gave the movie a real authenticity that it otherwise wouldn’t have had if it was primarily shot in a studio or somewhere like central Florida, which was used as a stand-in for lots of jungle/swamp pictures.

Allan Gray’s score is pretty iconic but it stands strong on its own despite being forever linked with this classic picture.

I only have one real gripe about the movie and that’s the ending. To be clear, I definitely wanted the two main characters to survive and live a happy life together. However, I thought that the way they were saved from their execution was way too convenient, even for 1950s Hollywood. Still, I’m pretty okay with it because these characters should definitely not have had a tragic ending.

For this type of movie, there really aren’t any greater than The African Queen. I’ve seen dozens, if not hundreds, of romantic adventure movies. Unfortunately, for those others, this one takes the cake and probably always will considering how shit the film industry has become.

Rating: 9.75/10

Comic Review: Nightwing, Vol. 6: To Serve and Protect

Published: July 18th, 2017
Written by: Chuck Dixon
Art by: Greg Land, Kieron Dwyer, Patch Zircher

DC Comics, 256 Pages

Review:

This chapter in the long Chuck Dixon run on Nightwing was a bit laid back compared to the previous installment but that one swung for the fences and after its ending, you kind of needed a bit of a breather.

Like the other volumes, this includes multiple story arcs while still progressing the larger arc of the series forward.

The highlight of this stretch of issues, at least for me, is that we get to see Dick Grayson go into the field as a beat cop for the first time. Seeing him have to balance that life and its responsibilities while also being Nightwing was really interesting.

I actually kind of wish they kept him as a cop. Although, I won’t go to deeply into where the Nightwing comics went in the last year or two but it did completely wreck the series and had me remove it from my pull list after being on there for nearly fifteen years.

Anyway, this also features some stories with some really cool new villains. It also features a good story with Catwoman.

The artists do change a few times over this stretch but like the last volume, I think I most enjoyed the issues that were done by Greg Land, which was a real step up from the art of the series before he got the gig.

The other artists are also pretty good in this and overall, it’s a better looking comic series than it was over its first four volumes.

Ultimately, this is still leading towards an eventual showdown between Nightwing and Blockbuster. I’d have to assume it’s coming soon, as they’ve been planting the seeds since way back in volume one.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: The Amityville Horror (1979)

Release Date: July 27th, 1979
Directed by: Stuart Rosenberg
Written by: Sandor Stern
Based on: The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson
Music by: Lalo Schifrin
Cast: James Brolin, Margot Kidder, Rod Steiger, Murray Hamilton, Don Stroud, James Tolkan

Cinema 77, Professional Films, American International Pictures, 117 Minutes

Review:

GET OUT!” – The House

The Amityville Horror was a fairly terrifying picture when I first saw it. I was probably seven years old, give or take. It’s always had an effect on me ever since and that’s probably because I saw it at such a young age.

While it’s not a movie I revisit often, I still always like it and get somewhat enchanted by it whenever I revisit it.

It’s a slow movie but the more serious horror films of this era were. It uses its time to build up both suspense and dread and this film does that exceptionally well. It’s a slow burn to a pretty terrifying and effective payoff.

This is also a movie that is enhanced greatly by its atmosphere. That atmosphere is really thick and brooding. The house has the right look, as does the area around it. But watching this and being immersed in it, it almost feels like it’d be hard to breathe in that house once the supernatural shit really kicks up.

The movie is also helped by the actors. All of the key players are immensely talented and they really threw themselves into this picture. James Brolin, Margot Kidder and Rod Steiger, especially, gave their all in this and because of that, this was elevated from just a simple, run-of-the-mill haunted house story to a film that’s become moderately iconic and is still sequelized and remade to this day.

I also think that Lalo Schifrin’s musical score helps with the atmosphere and the growing dread.

The Amityville Horror had a bigger impact than what the filmmakers probably could’ve predicted. That impact, still felt today, has helped shape horror and the haunted house subgenre of horror ever since this was released.

Modern franchises like The Conjuring and all its spinoffs, owe a lot to The Amityville Horror and its effect on filmgoers over forty years ago. 

Rating: 7.5/10

Documentary Review: Console Wars (2020)

Release Date: September 23rd, 2020
Directed by: Jonah Tulis, Blake J. Harris
Based on: Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle That Defined a Generation by Blake J. Harris
Music by: Jeff Beal
Cast: various

Circle of Confusion, CBS Television Studios, Legendary Television, Paramount+, 92 Minutes

Review:

“Whenever you’re at war, you always hit the guy in the mouth as hard as you can. If you can’t hit him hard, you might as well not even fight. That’s the attitude in real war and it’s the attitude in business. You’ve gotta be prepared to take on the competition and win.” – Paul Rioux

When I was a kid in the early ’90s, I was all about Sega Genesis. Sure, I liked some of the games on Super Nintendo when it came out but Genesis was just my cup of tea from the speed, the graphics, the sound and the game selection.

However, I was also growing up and by middle school age, I wasn’t into the kiddie games.

This documentary tells the story of how Sega emerged as a video game powerhouse in the United States in a time when Nintendo owned the vast majority of the market share. Sega didn’t care, though, and they went all in, creating a system that was much more impressive than the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System and honestly, better than Nintendo’s rebuttal, which was the Super Nintendo.

There’s no hate here, though. I truly loved both systems but Genesis had the edge for me.

Anyway, this was well put together, well researched and it features interviews with the majority of the key players in this story.

Rivalries in business are great and for preteen me, this was the greatest business rivalry I could ever care about. Video games were a huge part of my life.

So seeing all these key people talk about this rivalry now is pretty f’n cool. There’s so much I didn’t know about the behind the scenes stuff because I was a kid and all I cared about was being entertained by the games I loved.

Well, I was also pretty thoroughly entertained by this documentary.

Rating: 7/10