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Saw IV (2007)
Do you Saw what I Saw?
Without a doubt, Saw has become an absolute phenomenon. I find it quite impressive how a small $1 million horror film garnered strong word of mouth and made it big, spawning a franchise which has become Lionsgate Films' yearly bread and butter. I've really enjoyed the Saw films and have been there since the beginning, viewing the first film on opening day in the UK. It was refreshing to see something original and to my surprise, the sequel, Saw II was just as good. However, the third instalment (still good) showed signs of clutching at straws.
SWAT Commander Rigg (Lyriq Bent) has become obsessed with finding Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), particularly since his fellow officers have died via his sadistic games. However, Jigsaw finds Rigg and has him play his own game. With two of his colleagues, Officer Matthews and Hoffman (Donnie Wahlberg, Costas Mandylor) held captive in one of Jigsaw's traps, Rigg has 90 minutes to try and find them. Meanwhile FBI Agents Strahm and Perez (Scott Patterson, Athena Karkanis) question Jigsaw's ex-wife Jill (Betsy Russell) in an effort to uncover Jigsaw's mysterious accomplice.
Saw IV is a sequel that is struggling to stay consistent with the numerous plot strands and filling up of plot holes. It almost feels like an extreme connect the dots puzzle as one tries to piece together all the characters and incidents from the previous instalments. Even when watching it, I could already imagine Internet forums swarming with hundreds of questions.
What made the first film so unique was that the victims are often people who essentially deserved to be punished, be they drug dealers or con artists frantically trying to save themselves from the macabre situation they were in. With Jigsaw as judge, jury and executioner, do we as an audience side with his objective, or do we sympathise with the wrongdoing victim during their last few seconds before they die a fantastic death? As the sequels have progressed, saving oneself appears to have been completely abandoned, for in the third instalment as well as this one, some victims simply have to wait to depend upon someone to help them. Also some supposedly innocent (?) people are dragged in (the guy with his eyes sewn shut is involved in the film's best trap, but who the hell was he?), while some injured victims are merely swept aside and we never know if they live or die.
In an effort to try and make a bigger sequel, games are no longer in one confined space, but set in different locations across the city, pushing 'suspension of disbelief' to the limit. For example, Rigg's apartment is turned upside-down within a matter of minutes, with blood on the walls, pictures hanging from the ceiling and how someone managed to get a scalping chair up there without anyone noticing is beyond me! Some may like the distancing from the previous movies, but for me this is a slight shift towards conventional slasher movies.
Acting wise, it's rather mediocre. Apart from Tobin Bell, quite a bankable name now because of the Saw franchise, a number of small stars litter the film and help keep the costs down. For me, the only other name that stands out is Donnie Wahlberg, and even he is somewhat wasted.
As expected, it's reliant on flashbacks, some of which made me feel like I was watching a soap opera rather than a horror. However director Darren Lynn Bousman does fulfil on account of gore, pushing Saw IV with 'in-your-face' violence and close ups that probably wouldn't have passed through the BBFC with an uncut 18 certificate five years ago.
If you've been following the franchise then you can't help but be roped along for the ride. I certainly was. For something that was written, shot, edited and practically gift-wrapped all inside one year, it still works. It's just a shame that what was once so original three years ago now feels stale with hardly anything new to offer. Hell, there aren't even any jumpy moments! Given the rush-job nature at dishing out sequels, maybe they'll have more fun at turning it into some kind of weekly/monthly TV series.
I really do hope that this is the last one, because really now, enough is enough. But as Jigsaw says, "the games have just begun."
Rating five out of ten.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
Slick Slick, Cool Cool
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is like a wildly expensive hooker who looks like she's worth millions yet is actually worth a hell of a lot less, but when the ride is so damn good you just can't complain and you'll be telling all your friends. Put another way, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang has a certain something which the murder mystery genre tends to lack - a sense of fun. So much so, that I was crying with laughter!
After an incredibly stylish opening credits sequence, we discover that Harry Lockheart (Downey Jr.) is our narrator and also a criminal. After breaking into a toy store to get his nephew a Christmas present, the alarm brings the attention of the police. Harry escapes only to stumble into a film audition. He miraculously gets the part and is immediately whisked off to LA to receive detective lessons for his role from private detective 'Gay' Perry Van Shrike (Kilmer). While at a party, Harry meets struggling actress and childhood friend Harmony Faith Lane (Monaghan) and stupidly explains that he is a private detective. However, it's not long before Harmony soon asks for his help when her sister is found dead.
All the trademarks of a cheap pulp murder mystery novel are here - deaths (obviously), sex, trashy clubs, a beautiful blonde who ought to be advertising shampoo, wrapped up corpses, crazy clues and more twists than a pole dancer on cocaine. Can you believe it; the film even predictably has a bad guy fall through a glass table. Ooh, how exciting! What makes this stand out is the genius that is writer Shane Black, responsible for Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout and The Long Kiss Goodnight. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang makes for Black's directorial debut and he must have a PhD in wit (a word a lot of critics will be using when describing this).
Robert Downey Jr. looks rough and downright cool as Harry Lockheart, the quintessential loser hero whom the young male audience will aspire to be. Harry is a good-hearted criminal (they do exist) who stumbles amidst the superficial gloss of Hollywood movie making and the murders taking place in LA. You can't help but root for him as he constantly tries to stay alive and make sense of the crazy scenario he's landed himself. This is a role that's likely to push Downey's career into overdrive, making him the next best thing... again... for the third time. Just like classic film noir, Harry also narrates the story, but what makes this all the more comical is that unlike the overused hard-boiled detective, who gives the audience a dark and moody voice-over, Harry can't even narrate properly!
That Val Kilmer makes for one tough homosexual, a welcome change of stereotype. Delivering a memorable performance as 'Gay' Perry, Kilmer is at his best when doing just about anything with Downey. Every one of their conversations raises a smile if not a laugh. With the right material, as seen here, he can handle humorous roles and this would certainly rank as one of his funniest. Michelle Monaghan is seductively charming as Harmony Faith Lane (which is what every parent ought to name their daughter). Coincidentally playing an up and coming actress, she'll definitely be catapulted into more work after this, since that's usually what happens to up and coming actresses who undress in a mainstream film. She manages to hold her own amongst the male leads mainly due to her character's nature to go out of her way for just about anything, thinking little about the consequences.
Not only does the film show us Black's love for the trashy detective novels and the murder mysteries of film noir, but his love and hate relationship with movies is also apparent. Taking the usual workings of what goes into the makings of a film, Black adds a new spin and manipulates these formulaic conventions such as narration, flashbacks, extras and credits. Can you say "post-modern" boys and girls? Movie buffs are likely to get a kick out of these 'self-aware' moments.
The film works as a showcase for Black to present his razor sharp wit during a number of absurdly thrilling and comic set pieces, each one clinging onto what is essentially a routine murder story as dense as the American government during a natural disaster. Unfortunately the fast pace leaves you with little time to piece all the clues together as the film skims over plot details. So much so that the lead characters have to do some obligatory explanations just to hook in anyone who is completely lost.
The brilliantly written characters and scenarios is what keeps one watching, but if a little more hot loving was given to the frequent twists and findings that occur then this could have pushed itself further as an eccentric little masterpiece. Still, where else will you come across the sight of Robert Downey Jr. hanging above a freeway by grabbing onto a corpse's hand sticking out of a coffin, which is somehow miraculously suspended in mid-air... only in a Shane Black film ladies and gentlemen!
Neat touches such as Perry's mobile phone ringtone, Downey making a sly remark about his past narcotics habit and a 'too-clever-for-its-own-damn-good' closing scene (which does look like it's been tacked on at the last minute) simply adds further icing on the already overly sweet cake.
The film treats you with its diverse absurdity and Shane Black's creativity of snowballing situations pumped with his remarkable talent for outlandish one-liners. Its fusing of a killer script and cool characters makes Kiss Kiss Bang Bang this year's Hot Ticket and one of those rare examples as to why I go to the cinema.
Mission: Impossible II (2000)
Should've tasted better, but thankfully you can still digest it!
There have been so many TV Series' converted into movies. Though not many of the TV to cinema translations have been successful with the notable exception of Mission: Impossible. An exception because this one now has a sequel.
The original movie made a massive profit even though it caused massive headaches with its confusing story. But this time around things have cooled down a little with a plot that can just about be followed if you give it your full attention. The mission here is to find and destroy samples of a new and deadly virus. Sounds simple enough, but this is of course Mission: Impossible, with the impossible element being that a group of terrorists being led by a former IMF agent (Scott) are also after the virus and need it for their own schemes. Things do get a little mixed up along the way but I don't think anyone is really going to care much to notice.
Things start off quite nicely with a hijack heist and then an impressive rock-climbing stunt! But moving on we then see that this is easily comparable to a Bond movie with a romantic relationship between all the action. Newton plays the love interest. She plays her role quite well at first as skillful thief, brought in to be part of Ethan Hunt's IMF team. But later she ends up having to be rescued in true James Bond fashion and doesn't do very much (or even talk) towards the end of the movie.
It's always good to see characters returning in sequels and Rhames making a comeback in this was a welcome sight. But, even though they aren't characters, there aren't a lot of those unique gadgets from the original, the kind you wish you had in the school playground, such as the glasses with a tiny camera and the explosive chewing gum. But to replace that there is an excessive amount of "cool" in this film such as fast cars and bikes, explosions, an array of sunglasses (which Cruise wears with great skill as they hardly ever fall off from his face). And then there's probably Cruise himself, looking impossibly like the whole "cool" package, getting whatever he wants (after all, he is also the producer as well as the main star). Unlike in the original he gets to use a gun this time around actually make that two guns! With John Woo as director you've got all his trademarks thrown in such as his famous two-handed gunplay, innocent looking children, lots of slow motion shots and not forgetting the white doves! The action is there but things don't warmed up till half way through.
In the end we just have an action movie with a story that tastes like cereal with beer. It's pretty much style over substance but at least it's John Woo's style! It is quite a disappointment (you seem to expect much more from such a film) but it's still a watchable blockbuster, which is fun at times yet it's far from being great. Thankfully this is better then the first film though only just.
My rating - 7 out of 10
Rush Hour (1998)
After Brett Ratner's hit Money Talks (not sure by how much it's a hit) he again teams up with fast talker Chris Tucker for another buddy movie. This time with the stunt supremeo himself, Jackie Chan.
The film starts after the handing over of China and the story has some top rich Chinese bloke moving into America. Sorry, he's the Eastern city's US consul when he moves into America with his daughter. On his daughter's first day at school she gets kidnapped by Oriental gangsters who obviously seem to know how rich her father is as they ask for a ransom of $50million. The FBI come in to help but are told that one guy from China is already coming in to help (Chan). The Feds want him as far away from this case as possible because as they say they don't want this thing to get "international". They decide to assign the worst LAPD cop (Tucker) to baby-sit him. This is what connects Tucker to Chan. Although they're both told to keep away from this case they end up becoming heavily involved as they decide to take matters into their own hands. It's here where the excitement starts to kick in.
The plot really is below average. But that soon becomes forgettable. This is one very entertaining action comedy buddy movie which is just so good that it puts the Lethal Weapon series to shame. You're given just the kind of over the top entertainment that you demand. Comedy from the fast jive talking Tucker and action from the fast stunt fighter Chan. You will be laughing out loud and you will be wowed over the stunts. Though the stunts from Chan aren't up to scratch as his earlier films, which might be due to age. The buddy' element between these two is just highly unlikely which is probably what makes it work so well. We also see the two of them gain things from each other with Tucker learning a few martial arts and Chan learning to be a little more cool and relaxed. The combination is just excellent. The weak plot really is just a silly excuse to see these two actors doing what they do best. The film also moves at quite a pace from one scene to the next to ensure that you aren't bored for a minute.
It may not be a masterpiece in many ways but with two actors on fine form, some stupendous action sets, quick-fire comedy, a great soundtrack and the chance to hear Chan utter a rude word, then this comes highly recommended. Plus stick around at the end, as there's some out-takes at the credits.
My rating - 7 out of 10
This movie has spirit and guts!
Okay, I don't really know what the makers of this movie were thinking, but the unusual premise is so crazy that it actually works! And the even more crazy thing is that I really liked it!
What we have is some kind of Twilight Zone episode given the movie treatment. Some nice colouful looking solar activity allows a mourning cop (Caviezel) to be able to speak to his dead father (Quaid), via an old ham radio that links the years 1999 and 1969. This out of the ordinary opportunity gives the son a chance to save his fathers life, who died in a fire fighting accident, by telling him how to avoid his death. But changing the past has its consequences for the future something, which nether are prepared for.
After an explosive opening sequence the film has a nice mix of family bonding with father and son (all that baseball and bike riding), science fiction spookiness all to do with the unusual "time" element, plus there's the added bonus of a crime story to do with a serial killer. It does put the film at a bit of a loss though, as it can't seem to decide what category it wants to fit into. But still, I think it all fits perfectly!
There are reasonable performances from everyone, some lush special effects and some "edge of your seat" fire fighting scenes! But it is the unique yet absurd story that I think keeps this movie going. Unfortunately this has one of those feel good endings full of sentiment designed to leave you smiling when you leave the cinema but it does seem to let the whole thing down.
It's very clever with its time warp story and doesn't give in to many noticeable goofs. It's emotional family bonding and scary serial killer scenes also show that this film does have a little of everything to cater for everyone.
I highly recommend it and it could become one of this years surprise hits! I really liked it!
My rating - 8 out of 10
American Psycho (2000)
Good enough to take a painkiller over!
American Psycho is based on Bret Easton Ellis' novel and I haven't even read it. But from they people that did not many really liked it, as it was highly controversial. When news came out that a movie was being made the controversy started again with groups wanting to boycott this film!
Do I care? Do you? Seeing a guy running down a corridor wearing nothing but trainers and waving a chainsaw is something you'll probably only see in this movie and that's what matters the most here! Well. maybe!
The film basically is set in the 80's and tells us about the character Patrick Bateman, a guy who seems to be losing control of himself and is killing lots of people! Moving away from the basic premise. no wait, that's pretty much it! So the plot is very thin, but there's more to this then you might think.
Patrick Batemen is a Wall Street broker who never really seems to be busy. He has a girlfriend Evelyn (Witherspoon), a very classy apartment, takes frequent trips to exclusive restaurants, and has an average business card. Bateman also has another side to him, this being killing people when he has the time, and he has a lot of it! Christian Bales performance is outstanding as we're invited to look into Patrick Batemens life, someone who is out of control with his life and losing himself, yet he still manages to get away with it by showing himself as the guy you see going to work. Also the films portrayal of the 80's gives you a lot to laugh about! The clothes, the music, the people, the technology. How just about everything in the 80's was quite crap really. Batemen going on endlessly about his knowledge of music being one point!
I'm sure most people out there will see this as one of those violent movies with no point at all. How very wrong they are. There isn't as much violence as you might think, with the camera panning away from extreme shots, yet this still might be likely to offend. As for being classed as a slasher or horror movie, this is more in fact a comedy then anything else with the movie making fun of the setting and it's characters, mainly Patrick Batemen. But really the situations and dialogue all raise a laugh somewhere as well as a shock. Its use of mistaken identity seems to be the films point as to how everyone is someone, but no one fully knows anyone at all with people easily being mistaken for others. The ending is a little perplexing and it makes the whole thing feel unfinished as to whether Batemen did these murders or were they just something he made up? Checking the Internet Movie Database message for this film will show a range of topics with most deciding the "did he" or "didn't he" argument. On the whole other cast members put in a worthy performance but they don't match up to that of Christian Bale!
The film is great, sharply funny and a little hard on the head after leaving the cinema. But still I can't help feeling that there should have been more.
My rating - 7 out of 10
It's like a drug...!
This is real children's stuff! The normal person (if one exists) isn't really going to know what the hell Pokémon is. You've got all these cute looking monsters with special powers and abilities and for some reason they're fighting each other. You see chances are that the normal person isn't really going to care. The film is based on the ever so popular TV series
and that TV series is based on the ever so popular video game! And that usually means 'adults beware'!
The film is about Pokémon (of course), which translates as 'Pocket Monsters'. The main character is a Pokémon trainer by the name of Ash. He and his friends Brock, Misty and his loveably cute Pikachu accept a challenge to face off a rare evil Pokémon by the name of Mewtwo. Mewtwo is an experimental Pokémon that was genetically created by scientists. But just like Frankenstein, the experiment went berserk. So you see it's up to Ash and his friends to stop him. Now if none of this makes any sense to you then you might as well stop reading and forget about the film. It'll be probably be as complicated than an Alfred Hitchcock film!
Now to be honest, I actually quite like the TV series. It's enjoyable and funny. But the film is a very poor effort. There is a nice link between the TV series and the film that sheds some light on a few things, but it's only worth watching for that reason. Oh, and for the 'blink and you'll miss it scene' when a Tentacruel hugs Team Rocket! Also the animation isn't really anything ground breaking. There are a few noticeable touches but it isn't really that different from the TV show.
One great thing though was the villain Mewtwo! Now he was a proper bad guy. But this being a children's cartoon means you've got one of those violence is wrong messages and unfortunately there's also one of those dreamy endings. It's all highly predictable, simple and to put it straight, not very good.
Before the film there is the horrifically cute short titled 'Pikachu's Vacation'. It shows all of Ash's Pokémon basically having fun and are talking in their own way (as most Pokémon can only say their name). Subtitles might have been a benefit for the parents that were dragged to watch this. Why this precedes the film is quite a mystery, though I can only suggest that it's because the film itself is too short.
It may be awful but it's going to do very well and make a stack load of money mainly due to the incredible hype and a clever marketing campaign about collecting rare trading cards. In fact because of the success of this film, two sequels are on the way.
Kids are going to love it! Parents aren't going to understand it! The wise one is going to stay away from it!
My Rating - 4 out of 10
The Matrix (1999)
I have a headache now and so I think I'll go sleep for sometime.
Exactly a year ago to the day, two things happened on March 20th. One I guess I shouldn't talk about (because she'd probably kill me!). But the other is that I got my first look at 'The Matrix'! All I saw was the one-minute teaser trailer. It looked mysterious! I knew instantly that this was something very different and I just had to see this film. I wanted to know what the 'Matrix' was. And when I found out
! Don't be fooled into thinking that this film is just going to blow you away
it's going to cause your head to explode!
The film has a story that has been described as difficult to explain and hard to understand when watching, but thankfully it wasn't like having to watch Mission Impossible! Without giving the whole thing away this is what's happening. You have Reeves playing Thomas 'Neo' Anderson, a computer programmer for a big company who is also a computer hacker in his spare time and sells the illegal stuff to the ones who want it. But right now Mr Anderson has been having some very bad dreams, dreams that seem so real. He keeps getting told about this 'Matrix' in these strange dreams. I mean just what is this 'Matrix'? Some suspicious black suited men also want him for something. He doesn't want to stick around to find out! Soon someone known as Morpheus (Fishburne) contacts him and explains to him that he also is looking for him, plus he'll tell him about his vivid dreams and he'll explain to him just what the 'Matrix' is. We begin to find out that reality isn't what it seems.
Well what the hell is the 'Matrix'!? Finding out wasn't going to be an easy task. As the tagline said 'Unfortunately no one can be told what the 'Matrix' is.' So I could see that I was going to have to pay my £5 and go find out just like everyone else!
The story is original and very unique, taking a truckload of ideas, thoughts, effects, action and fitting them nicely into something just over 2 hours long. What makes this movie work so well is the strong story element. It's also one of those really rare sci-fi action films that actually makes you think. It raises some questions and it has its own answers. But besides being an education lesson it is extremely entertaining. So entertaining that it's almost unbelievable that such a film can be exposed to the public! It manages to make itself so incredibly cool. Take 'Men in Black' and double it and you're not even half way there. But think a futuristic John Woo film and you're pretty close! Most of the action takes place in the second half of the film where all hell breaks loose. The action is very stylish, very over the top and also well thought out. You don't see someone run up a wall, dodge bullets at high speed and park a helicopter spectacularly in the side of a building in your traditional boring 'let's go shoot some bad guys' action film. This is something very different.
The Matrix will do for special effects what Terminator 2 did for well, um special effects! This is ground breaking stuff. Used to a major extent in the film are the Flo-Mo effects where the camera circles around the action. It's unlike anything else and it just looks outstanding! The shootout between Reeves and Weaving as they freeze in mid air, the camera goes 360 degrees around them. It's just unbelievable!
Everyone is cast perfectly in their roles with Reeves and Anne-Moss looking amazingly cool throughout the film. Fishburne looks cool too, and is helped with the fact that his character is highly knowledgeable. But the best performances have to go to those black suited men known as 'Agents', led by Hugo Weaving. They seem so simple and smart, the way they talk with their monotone voices! They are very, very nasty and I like it!
The speedy fight scenes and use of wire frames all work really well, adding more to the effect of believing the unbelievable! There are so many unforgettable little touches, which make this movie stand out amongst others. The way those bullets slowly fly out and make crisp sounds as they hit the floor, the lush watery effects, even the spoon and of course the woman in red! She's unforgettable! There's also the nice touch of adding in a few hidden features which may make the real enthusiast want to watch the film a couple more times to find everything out. Some will watch it again because they didn't understand it at all (Though it's usually these people that hate the film). But I'm sure most will watch it again for the reason that it's just so damn good!
Those Wachowski brothers have created a masterpiece of a movie. And I'd just like to say well done to them! I knew that if I was only going to see one movie in 1999 (just in case I ended up poor or something!) then it was going to be this!
My Rating - I'm afraid I can give it no more then the 10 out of 10 it deserves!
Lost in Space (1998)
Danger humans...it came from TV land!
Most TV adaptations, with the exception of Mission Impossible', haven't really had much of a big impact at the box office. Take for example Sgt Bilko, The Beverly Hillbillies and The Saint. The 60's TV series Lost In Space was given a quite a huge multi-million makeover. The end result is something that should have made the film get chucked in the bin with the rest of the TV adaptations but it seemed obvious enough that it'd be a success mainly due to the two words `special effects'. Matt LeBlanc might also have had an affect!!!
So what's the excuse for thousands of special effects now? Well the film is set in the year 2058 and the future doesn't look too good. You see experts predict that 20 years from now the planet will be plummeted with pollution if things keep going on the way they are now. So the Robinson family decide to take a ten-year expedition into space so that they can try and save Earth. The Robinson's bring along Major Don West (LeBlanc) as their pilot and accidentally bring along Dr Smith (Oldman) who was on board the ship to sabotage the mission except he gets trapped himself after take off. And it's Oldman's tampering with big toys that causes the ship to steer way off course and that's how the family end up lost in space.
The film starts off with a highly impressive opening sequence involving a dogfight in space with bubble crafts. I was beginning to hope that the rest of the movie would be this good but unfortunately the opening is the best part of the film. The film then flies through a slightly complicated storyline and almost becomes increasingly confusing in the last half-hour where probabilities about time travel are unleashed. The film ends up leaving you more lost then the family!
Fans of the TV series (if any still exist) are obviously going to enjoy this but may find the difference to the TV series and film a little getting used to. I sure in hell remember the TV series but wasn't a big fan of that in the first place. Anyone who has never seen or even heard of the TV series will find this a stunning special effects adventure with a silly storyline as an excuse.
Disappointing, but still, not bad. Plus that Apollo Four Forty revamp of the TV theme tune must get a mention as a seriously top track!
My rating - 6 out of 10
Alice in Wonderland (1951)
Nobody does it better than Disney!
If there's one thing that most people remember about Alice In Wonderland then it must be this version of the film!
Alice In Wonderland is just great, and this Disney version is the one thing that sticks in my mind. The animation may not be a landmark and it isn't very true to the original story (it's a shame that not everything is included) but it's been given that certain Disney magic which just grips you! It's the kind of story that can only really be shown by animation.
So strong is the Disney version of the film that one day I told a friend that I was getting something for my sister to do with Alice In Wonderland. She replied 'Is your sister really into Disney?'.
The one thing I really love though is how someone can just write a whole load of complete and utter rubbish, mix it together by calling it 'wonderland', turn up the curiosity and have it enjoyed my millions of people around the world! I still watch it at times as it's so enjoyable seeing this complete fantasy world where anything could happen! It's just a shame that Alice's adventure ends so quickly!
My rating - 7 out of 10