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5 reviews in total 
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Apocalypto (2006)
5 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
(Spoiler) Predictable, needlessly drawn out, 9 December 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Plot: Jaguar Paw gets captured. Jaguar Paw runs away. Spaniards land.

--and that's about it, except for the subplot with Jaguar Paw's pregnant wife and child, which goes like this: they're in a hole. They get out at the end.

Seriously, I did not find enough story in this movie to fill 90 minutes, much less the 2 hours plus that it consumes. People who complain about how violent it is are probably doing so because of how long and drawn out the bloodletting scenes are. I've seen worse gore, but the scene of human sacrifice takes up ten minutes, where all we learn is, a human sacrifice is taking place. Seeing someone cut their finger would be off-putting if I had to stare at it for that long.

That scene, and all the ones leading up to it, are so predictable that they could be compressed into ten or fifteen minutes total to get to the start of the story. The real story starts when Jaguar Paw is given a "Most Dangerous Game" chance at survival, but even then, there aren't really any plot twists. He gradually whittles down his pursuers as they chase him through his home forest. But even at this point, there are only so many frames I want to watch of the hero running away through trees and rivers.

Someone (can't remember who) once said that action isn't just motion, but it seems that Mr. Gibson and Mr. Safinia don't understand that. This movie offers plentiful motion, but little of the surprises, revelations, or character reversals that turn it into a captivating story.

10 out of 18 people found the following review useful:
"Inspired by a true story," but Facts Don't Matter?, 12 September 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This movie didn't suck, and the acting was great all around. That's about all the good I can say about it. I would have enjoyed it as a halfway-decent thriller or a courtroom drama more if it hadn't claimed to be based on a real story. But when Laura Linney says during trial that "this case is not about facts," that summed up about everything wrong with the religious apologists I've seen in the media lately, from George W. Bush to the Kansas Board of Education. This idea that facts don't matter has poisoned cultural discourse for the last decade or more: some people seem to think that, as long as we have Faith, our negligent fact-checking won't lead to any wrongdoing.

It would be one thing if writer/director Scott Derrickson and co-writer Paul Harris Boardman simply presented the "facts don't matter" tactic as part of the defense's legal strategy, but they add details to the story that try to shore this argument up. To its credit, the story concludes with the priest being found guilty of negligent manslaughter, which is apparently what happened in the real-life case in Germany. Weighing against this are the made-up story details about Linney's and Tom Wilkinson's characters being plagued by evil signs and visions, and the attending physician being killed just as he tells Linney that he sees the demons. Combined with Hollywood pop-psychology ("schizophrenics never know they're schizophrenic"), these would be workable, if clichéd, in a movie that admitted it was solely fiction, but here they serve only as a crutch to prop up the sagging drama and as evidence of the screenwriters' bias.

The acting was excellent, but, not having seen Hellraiser: Inferno, I can't say that this is due to the direction. I do know that Laura Linney has handled herself well before in Mystic River and You Can Count on Me, and Tom Wilkinson was great in In the Bedroom and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; here, they clearly pick up the slack left by the script. Wilkinson, in particular, plays the best Flawed Holy Avenger since Jason Miller. It is not an easy thing to come up with a convincing character when the story around you is thin, but they manage to do it. Relative newcomer Jennifer Carpenter did fine as Emily, although her role consisted mostly of contorting herself and screaming hysterically. I really felt for her at moments, thinking that, regardless of whether it was demons or psychosis that ailed her, it was horrifying to think what she must have been going through.

That emotional level got me through the movie. The storytelling shortcuts and the intellectual dishonesty grated against me, but I was able to cope with it for the two hours or so that I sat there. If only it hadn't claimed to be based on real events, it could have told a better story, and more honestly.

32 out of 35 people found the following review useful:
Creepy, funny, irregular, occasionally brilliant, 25 November 2004

At one point in this movie, Virginia (Jill Banner), the "Spider Baby" of the title, grabs a spider from the table and pops it into her mouth. Her sister Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn) quips, "Spiders don't eat spiders."

"Cannibal spiders do," retorts Virginia, and this scene sums up everything good about Spider Baby: twisted, funny, and possessing an internal logic that pretty much justifies anything it does, no matter how preposterous.

Originally funded by two real estate developers and locked away for years after a bankruptcy filing, Spider Baby hit the drive-in circuit, made its modest sum of money, and faded away--almost. Somewhere down the line, it developed a cult status despite only being available on low-quality, grainy video. It is now available on DVD in a restored cut that reveals strikingly beautiful black-and-white cinematography. Low-budget it may be, but it's gorgeous to look at.

Lon Chaney Jr. stars as a butler taking care of his deceased employer's children (Washburn, Banner and Sid Haig). The siblings suffer from a hereditary disease that leaves them intellectually childlike but also makes them casual murderers, a problem compounded when distant cousins (Quinn Redeker and the stunning Carol Ohmart) arrive with designs on taking over the estate. The plot is simple and the movie is short (only 81 minutes), but it wastes no time and delivers plenty of creepy thrills, among them cannibalism, implied necrophilia, and midnight chases through the woods.

The acting is a pleasant surprise as well. The entire cast does a convincing job of bringing these oddball characters to life. There are a few missteps here and there: a couple of moments, for instance, when Redeker addresses the audience directly, and it's hard to know if the humor is intentional or not. Overall, however, the quality of each performance is pretty high. Especially touching is a scene where Chaney's character realizes there will be no good end to the situation, and his obvious affection for these mad but dangerous children actually brings a tear to the eye.

Well worth checking out if you're into horror, grim humor, or very, very odd movies.

Saw (2004)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Started out great, plunged at the end (WARNING: Spoilers), 14 November 2004

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Two men, Lawrence and Adam, a physician and a photographer respectively, awake to find themselves chained to the opposite ends of an abandoned restroom. Between them, out of reach, is a dead body, and scattered about the room are clues as to their abductor's identity; the doctor (played by Cary Elwes) figures out that it must be the "Jigsaw Killer", who places his victims in traps where they must kill or risk death in order to escape. The woman from the movie's publicity posters is the best example of this: her head has been placed in a "reverse bear trap" that will crash through her skull unless she can cut the key out from another victim's stomach in time.

I got the same feeling watching Saw as I did watching Jeepers Creepers. Started out great, and fifteen minutes into it, I thought I was watching the Next Great Horror Movie. Then the whole thing plummeted rapidly and never got turned around again. Admittedly, Saw started its decline later than Jeepers Creepers did. For most of the movie I felt the rising tension that a horror movie is supposed to evoke. But when the story neared its conclusion and we see how it all got started, I couldn't see how this movie got off the ground without a major re-write. The following is a list of spoilers, so if you still want to see it, read no further. But in order to explain why the movie was such a disappointment, spoilers are necessary.

SPOILER 1: The villain "Jigsaw" is really a cancer patient--yes, a CANCER PATIENT--who looks like he's been on chemo for about six months. And he's supposed to be able to overpower everyone in the movie, including a much younger and fitter Adam (Leigh Wannell). Huh? If someone looked as bad as he did in his early hospital bed scene, I can't imagine him getting up and walking without assistance, but here he is enacting his evil schemes on people who should be able to beat him up with one arm tied behind their backs.

SPOILER 2: "Jigsaw" is also the 'corpse' in the middle of the room, lying between the two men. He plays dead. For seven hours. Next to a medical doctor who has examined him before, for heaven's sake. It strains credulity that the ruse could go on for that long, no matter how panicked Elwes is supposed to be. In seven hours he never notices the man breathing or moving, even when Jigsaw responds to his actions. (At one point, Adam gets electroshocked to see if he is faking his own death.) And Adam at first doesn't seem to recognize the doctor, even though we later find out he has been tailing him and photographing him for some time. If they were blindfolded, it would make sense. They aren't, and it doesn't.

SPOILER 3: The plot hinges on too many people doing too many stupid things. Wannell's character thinks there's someone in his apartment; he doesn't get out and call the police or anything, but tries some ripped-off-from-Rear-Window trick with his photo flash. Well, in Rear Window, Jimmy Stewart only tried that trick because he was a paraplegic and had no other options; in this movie it's just plain dumb. And the cops don't act like cops, they act like Nancy Drew and let the villain get away, getting one of themselves killed in the process and the other (played by Danny Glover, who must have some blackmail photos hanging over him to be in this movie) seriously injured.

All in all a great, horrific premise that got mangled because Wan and Wannell (who wrote and co-starred) wanted a 'dark' and surprising ending, but couldn't or wouldn't think up an ending that lived up to the initial premise.

2 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Bad, yes, but still campy fun, 12 September 2004

A man boards an early dirigible-like machine and travels into the Arctic to find his lost son. There he finds an island heated by volcanic fissures, and a long-lost viking colony who have claimed the island as their home--one they defend against all outsiders, which causes our heroes some distress.

I call it bad, but it isn't, really. It's just too close to being good without actually being good. This was one of my favorite movies as a kid, which I guess shows how easily I was entertained then. I just saw it on a 30th anniversary DVD, and parts of it hold up well. Some of the visuals are striking, and Maurice Jarre has a nice soundtrack. Parts of it don't, like the racist portrayal of the cowardly Eskimo ("Inuit" not being part of the vocabulary back then). And some of the costumes look like they're one step up from a high school theater production.

The chief problem is the flatness of the plot, though. They spend over a half hour just getting to the Island, and almost no time interacting with the vikings before they're chased through a series of mountain trails, caverns, volcanoes and lakes. I know it was made for kids with a thirty-second attention span, but even so, I wish they'd spent more time in the viking village before being chased off.

Still, it kept me entertained, even now. Some of the aerial photography is strikingly beautiful, as the airship flies over parts of Greenland and catches some amazing views of polar bears and what look to be some kind of elk. And, while the plot is pretty scatterbrained, the filmmakers at least took care to cut out the boring parts once the protagonists reach the island.