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: Red Dragon (2002)

Release Date: September 30th, 2002 (premiere)
Directed by: Brett Ratner
Written by: Ted Tally
Based on: Red Dragon by Thomas Harris
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Keitel, Emily Watson, Mary-Louise Parker, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Frankie Faison, Anthony Heald, Bill Duke, Ken Leung, Lalo Schifrin, Frank Langella (deleted scene), Ellen Burstyn (voice, uncredited), Frank Whaley (uncredited)

Dino De Laurentiis Company, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Universal Pictures, 124 Minutes

Review:

“Think to yourself that every day is your last. The hour to which you do not look forward will come as a welcome surprise. As for me, when you want a good laugh, you will find me in fine state, fat and sleek, a true hog of Epicurus’s herd.” – Hannibal Lecter

In my quest to revisit and review all of the Hannibal Lecter movies, I’ve finally reached Red Dragon, the last film with Anthony Hopkins in it as Dr. Hannibal Lecter. It’s also interesting in that it is a prequel to The Silence of the Lambs and a remake of 1986’s Manhunter, which was the first Hannibal Lecter movie that saw the famous character portrayed by Brian Cox in a chilling performance.

Having seen this again for the first time since theaters, I was pleasantly surprised by it. Especially, since it came out a year after the pretty mundane Hannibal.

Still, I think that Manhunter is the better film due to the visual style and pacing of its director, Michael Mann, as well as the performances of its cast. I thought that Tom Noonan’s version of the serial killer, Francis Dolarhyde, was a lot more intense and scary than Ralph Fiennes version in this movie. That’s not to take anything away from Fiennes, though, as he’s pretty damn good too.

As much as I like Edward Norton in everything, I also prefer William Peterson’s version of Will Graham.

Where Red Dragon does take the cake, though, is in the chemistry between Norton’s Graham and Hopkin’s Lecter. The scenes they shared together were really great. While it’s not on par with the exchanges between Jodie Foster’s Clarice and Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, it still propels the film and it’s the primary factor in this film redeeming the series after it’s severely underwhelming predecessor.

Also, this is just a good story, all around. I’m not sure which is the more accurate film to the source material between this and Manhunter but the plots are very much the same with a few details being different.

I’d also consider this Brett Ratner’s best movie. In recent years, his career has been derailed by sexual harassment allegations and with that, this will probably remain his best film, as he most likely will never work in Hollywood again.

All in all, this is pretty good and it didn’t let the Anthony Hopkins trio of movies end on a sour note.

Now there’s also the prequel film that came out after this but I’ve never seen it and it actually isn’t currently streaming anywhere. I want to watch it and review it as well but I’ll have to wait for it to pop up on a streaming service I already have, as I don’t think it’s worth buying based off of the things I’ve heard about it over the years.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Hannibal Lecter films.

Film Review: X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

Also known as: X-Men 3, X-Men 3: The Last Stand (working titles), X3, X III: The Last Stand (alternative titles)
Release Date: May 22nd, 2006 (Cannes)
Directed by: Brett Ratner
Written by: Simon Kinberg, Zak Penn
Based on: X-Men by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: John Powell
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, Kelsey Grammer, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn, Shawn Ashmore, Aaron Stanford, Vinnie Jones, Patrick Stewart, Ben Foster, Ellen Page, Dania Ramirez, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Bill Duke, Daniel Cudmore, Eric Dane, R. Lee Ermey, Ken Leung

The Donners’ Company, Marvel Enterprises, Twentieth Century Fox, 104 Minutes

Review:

“Charles Xavier did more for mutants than you will ever know. My single greatest regret is that he had to die for our dream to live.” – Magneto

From memory, this was the worst X-Men film of the lot. Well, after about a dozen movies with spinoffs and whatnot, this one still takes the cake in that regard.

This really killed the film franchise, at least for its time. It wouldn’t bounce back until First Class rolled around and gave the series a bit of a soft reboot.

Here, we see the original trilogy of films come to an end and unfortunately, that end is a very unsatisfactory one. Granted, none of these films have aged particularly well and they actually feel quite dated now.

That’s not to say that some of the performances aren’t great or iconic, a few of them are. Specifically, Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. This is probably also why they tried to find ways to include these guys in the X-Men films that followed during the reboot era.

The plot for this is pretty fucking atrocious and the film spends more time killing off beloved characters than trying to tell a good story. It’s like it went for shock and cheap emotional grabs but it failed in generating any real emotion because it all felt soulless and cheap.

I think the biggest issue with the film was that Bryan Singer left to make that big bust, Superman Returns. While Brett Ratner probably wasn’t a bad choice, the final product makes me feel like he was sort of just inserted into a movie that was already well into production and found himself in over his head.

The film is also pretty short when compared to the two chapter before it. It makes me wonder if a lot was left out of the final movie. It certainly feels like it’s lacking story, context and depth.

In the end, this is okay if you want to spend a little more time with these characters and if you turn your brain off, it has some neat moments, but overall, it’s a sloppy misfire.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: the other films in the original X-Men trilogy.

TV Review: Inhumans (2017)

Original Run: September 29th, 2017 – November 10th, 2017
Created by: Scott Buck
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Inhumans by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: Sean Callery
Cast: Anson Mount, Serinda Swan, Ken Leung, Eme Ikwuakor, Isabelle Cornish, Ellen Woglom, Iwan Rheon

ABC Studios, Marvel, Devilina Productions, IMAX Entertainment, Walt Disney, 8 Episodes, 42 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Well, this show has been trashed by just about anyone and everyone who actually took the time to give it a watch. Being that I have seen everything within the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, I couldn’t just ignore this and knew that I’d have to give it an honest shot.

It’s pretty damn bad but it isn’t as horrendous as many have claimed. I saw that it was expiring soon on Hulu, so I figured I had better binge through this quickly before losing the opportunity.

To start, this should have really excited me. It stars Mr. Bohannon from Hell On Wheels a.k.a. Anson Mount. He also plays Black Bolt, a character I have loved in the comics for years. Sadly, Mount can’t speak in this part because his voice is like getting bitchslapped by God. He spends most of his time talking in sign language as Medusa translates for him. When Medusa isn’t around, he just gives very intense stares that make me think he is going to crack my television screen.

Medusa is pretty terrible and unlikable but then so are all the heroes. Crystal is damn cute but she always has this look on her face like she just sipped on a cup of tea and noticed a cat turd floating in it.

Speaking of Crystal, her story is the worst thing about the show. It is a little teenage love story that comes off like one of those Miley Cyrus Disney movies before she cut all her hair off and got her boobs out a lot. Crystal’s boyfriend is some Hawaiian surfer brah that tells her to “hang ten” all the time. In fact, Crystal is lost and trying to locate her family and surfer brah says, “Hang ten! Jump in the water with me! We’ll look for your family later!” Dude’s a total Disney Channel douche nugget and he probably calls his mom “brah”.

Iwan Rheon who was a big deal on Game of Thrones, a show I don’t like or care about, plays the bad guy but he’s just a human being. Actually, he’s a sour, jealous bitch that didn’t get magic powers like the other Inhumans and he somehow kicks them out of the kingdom and takes over the Moon. I loved Rheon on Misfits though and that was, by far, an infinitely better show than this or Game of Thrones.

I don’t know, the more I think about this show, maybe it is as bad as all the detractors are saying.

On a positive note, it was filmed in beautiful Hawaii. So all the scenery was breathtaking and amazing but I’d rather just watch LostHawaii Five-OMagnum P.I. or Saved by the Bell: Hawaiian Style.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: The other MCU TV stuff but this was so bad and short-lived that I’d imagine it will be ignored in the future and that Disney will revisit these characters in a completely different way, years from now.

Film Review: Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015)

*Since the second Disney Star Wars film comes out this week, I figured I’d post my review of last year’s The Force Awakens. This is taken from my previous blog.

Release Date: December 14th, 2015 (Los Angeles Premiere)
Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Written by: Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, Michael Arndt
Based on: characters created by George Lucas
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Max von Sydow, Gwendoline Christie, Greg Grunberg, Simon Pegg, Daniel Craig, Pip Torrens, Ken Leung, Frank Oz (archive recording)

Lucasfilm Ltd., Bad Robot Productions, Walt Disney, 136 Minutes

the-force-awakensReview:

“I got a bad feeling about this.” – Han Solo

And here we are! The seventh episode of the Star Wars saga has now arrived! I have seen it! You have probably seen it! And we now know whether or not it was worth the wait, the hype and unrelenting adoration for generations to come!

So did it live up to the hype? Short answer: no. But what could live up to hype that strong? So was it better than the prequels? Yes and no but I will describe why, as I write.

It isn’t as good as the Original Trilogy and that is okay. It is still a nice addition to the overall saga despite its flaws. But I guess you just can’t keep capturing lightning in a bottle.

The problem with this film is that it is very derivative. In fact, it is basically borrowing a bunch of plot points and elements from the same saga it is a part of. This film is a rehash of A New Hope with elements of Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, the Knights of the Old Republic video game series and the Expanded Universe nine part book series Legacy of the Force.

Now I knew that this film was going to look to stories in the EU for inspiration but I didn’t know that it was essentially going to be a remake of A New Hope – extended with new stuff thrown in.

So how is it a rehash of A New Hope?

Well, a hero puts a message in a droid that needs to be delivered to the Resistance (the modern Rebellion). That hero is captured by a black clad Sith lord (or Sith wannabe, I’m not sure). The droid roams a desert planet and meets a stranger that helps it go further on its quest. The hero captured by the Sith is then rescued from the First Order’s (the modern Empire) big Star Destroyer. A new hero meets the desert stranger and they escape the desert planet in the Millennium Falcon. There is an evil General that is a prettier version of Grand Moff Tarkin. Starkiller Base (a bigger, badder version of the Death Star) blows up several planets (not just one). Some half hour filler stuff happens in a cantina full of weird aliens. Sith dude talks to a dude that is pretty much the new version of the Emperor. The heroes then end up at the Resistance base that looks reminiscent of the Rebellion base planet from A New Hope. They decide to destroy Starkiller Base. There is some father/son stuff. Han Solo has to lower the planetary shields so Starkiller Base can be attacked. X-Wings attack the base and fly through its trenches. Big explosion. Ships fly away. People holding hands. No medals handed out though. And Luke Skywalker is hanging out in Ireland and probably doesn’t even have cable. Okay, the Ireland part is new.

Wow, there are actually a lot more similarities than I thought before writing that quick recap.

The best thing that this film has going for it, is that the actors were good and the returning heroes from the Original Trilogy made an impact in the scenes where they showed up. But truthfully, this movie relied too heavily on incorporating everything it could from the Original Trilogy while ignoring the Prequel Trilogy. Furthermore, it didn’t really offer up much of anything new.

Say what you will about the quality of the Prequel Trilogy but at least George Lucas gave us a different story in every chapter. Each film, good or bad, was still something new. There were new imaginative worlds, cool alien species, cool ships, all types of new stuff to look at and experience. This film just wasn’t new and exciting. It was an amalgamation of all the good stuff that came before while trying to make you forget about the bad stuff. That isn’t always a good formula though. It certainly doesn’t work here. Additionally, the rehash of the good stuff isn’t done as well as it was the first time. So what’s the point, then?

The worlds were too similar to worlds we’ve seen already. The ships and vehicles were about the same as the old ones but with new paint schemes. It’s just all been done before and done better.

This film suffers from lazy storytelling and it lacks the imagination of George Lucas. Yes, his imagination was questionable, at times, but again, each installment of his Star Wars was something fresh. And it was his imagination that drove all of us to love the franchise in the first place.

I’m disappointed in J.J. Abrams because he claims to be a huge Star Wars fan and credits it for his journey into filmmaking. He dropped the ball but I don’t really think he’s ever had it and ran with it anyway. His first Star Trek film was also a rehash of sorts of A New Hope. His second Star Trek was a rehash of the original second Star Trek. His kid/alien movie Super 8 was a rehash of E.T. Hell, Lost was the most original thing he did but the last few seasons were awful.

This movie is the antithesis of the Prequel Trilogy. While that might seem great, it is its antithesis in a bad way. It just repackages everything we know and barely gives us anything new to sink our teeth into. If I want the Original Trilogy, I will watch the Original Trilogy. But then again, there are some people that just want the same shit over and over again and if that is you, you will love this movie. It doesn’t try to expand on anything like the Prequels did and it keeps imagination in a safe, tight jar.

This is the least ambitious Star Wars film that has ever been made. It played it safe, it was completely predictable and it didn’t present anything of value to excite you for its upcoming sequels.

The most important thing that The Force Awakens lacked, was fun. It had humor here and there but the film wasn’t a joyous experience, overall.

You see, in the Original Trilogy, Luke was our eyes and ears into a new world. He was excited and dying for adventure. Rey, this film’s equivalent to Luke, was pretty much sad and just yearning to go back to her boring shitty life, not craving adventure and actually running from it until destiny forced her to confront it.

In fact, the film was too much like Rey in that it was dark, brooding and pretty bland tonally.

The thing is, I may be coming off as harsh, but I wanted to like this movie. I have been a die hard Star Wars fan since the time of the Original Trilogy. I do like this film enough to watch it again and it is more enjoyable than the Prequels, even if it is less original, but I can’t honestly say that I like it. But I also don’t dislike it. I just happen to find myself in some weird state of limbo since leaving the theater an hour ago.

Assorted notes:

-The cinematography was weird in places and didn’t match up with the style of the previous six films.

-Abrams also talked about how he was going with more practical effects but there was still an overabundance of CGI.

-After all the hype about how bad ass and cool Captain Phasma was supposed to be, she was a non-event in this movie. She wasn’t even necessary to the plot in any way. But Abrams also needed his Boba Fett. But if he is digging up all the old actors and old plots for nostalgia sake, he could’ve just thrown Boba Fett in the movie.

-Abrams also borrows from the character of Yoda in making a tiny orange female alien that is a thousand years old. She knows the Force but is no Jedi but that doesn’t stop her from mentoring Rey, the Jedi to be. I bet in a future film, it is revealed that she had an association with Yoda.

-Snoke is this film’s Palpatine. For some reason his hologram is a giant sitting on a giant throne. Maybe he will be that big in the flesh but it just came off as weird and that throne room was a bit too much for a place he doesn’t actually sit in. I also suspect that he may be Darth Plagueis.

-I know that the Empire (now First Order) were based off of the Nazis but General Hux’s Hitler-like speech was a bit much.

-Starkiller Base (the new Death Star) is really irritating. It is technically impossible to build something like that in a planet’s surface without having an insane amount of volcanic activity. Also, it sucks power from its sun until it drains out. If that actually happened, the environment on the planet would freeze over, it wouldn’t just turn dark and snow more. And if the base can travel like the Death Star, the environment would alter so much that nothing could live on the planet. Also, the solar energy sucking thing was taken from the Star Forge superweapon in the original Knights of the Old Republic game. Plus, pulling energy like that into a planet’s atmosphere would incinerate everything.

-Finn is clumsy as hell but somehow can hold his ground against a force trained baddie. Also, it wasn’t established that he was a Jedi and therefore it bothers me that he even uses a lightsaber, not to mention that I doubt his Stormtrooper training came with fencing lessons. Also, he left the First Order because he didn’t want to kill strangers (admirable) but he had no qualms blasting his Stormtrooper brothers to bits when escaping with Poe. They are just brainwashed people like he was.

-What’s with the Stormtrooper with the anti-lightsaber weapon? Do they all have those and if so, why? There is only one Jedi in the galaxy. That’s like every cop on the street carrying a bazooka because you never know when a tank may roll into town.

-C-3PO and R2-D2 are barely in the film which misses the whole point of their characters. They are to be the observers of everything and the chroniclers of the Skywalker family saga. R2-D2 was asleep for the first two hours and ten minutes of this movie. And why did Luke leave R2-D2 behind? That was cruel.

-Han’s death was the best scene in the film. Not because I wanted to see Han die but the exchange between him and Kylo Ren was great. For only seeing these two share one scene, you could feel their love and their pain.

-Speaking of Ren, he has certain powers that seem to be greater than Darth Vader but yet he can’t build a lightsaber that isn’t crap? And yes, it still looks stupid. But it isn’t as stupid as Starkiller Base. Plus, he is a total emo bitch and nowhere near as menacing or threatening as any Sith lord before him. But his shuttle is pretty damn cool.

-Rey can’t take off in the Millennium Falcon without trashing everything in sight but she can fly it through a crashed Star Destroyer two minutes later.

-Why couldn’t Chewie drop Rey off at the top of the mountain?

-Even though the Force is what makes destiny happen, things in this film just seem too convenient. Even more convenient than all the other films. This goes back to my earlier point about lazy storytelling.

-Seeing an old planet from a previous film would’ve been nice. Jakku could’ve just been Tatooine, really.

-There should’ve been more of Poe Dameron.

-There was a complete lack of emotion and no feeling of devastation after Starkiller Base’s attack of mass destruction. It was soulless, cheap and irritating like the end of Man of Steel.

-I liked most of these new characters but I’m not completely sold on Ren.

-Rey and Finn’s relationship was a million times less painful to watch than Anakin and Padme’s.

-Leia is fucking great.

-I hope the galaxy expands out more in the next film.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: The Disney Star Wars movies.