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6 stars

Saw III

dir: Darren Lynn Bousman
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Saw III, which is currently dominating the US box office, might actually be an okay movie. It might even be better a better movie than Saw II, which goes against the Law of Sequels that states as more sequels get made, the quality declines exponentially.

Even if that is the case, it still does not make this a good horror movie.

If horror movies are meant to scare audiences, to instil fear in them, by that standard Saw III is a failure. Because as uncomfortable as it is to watch people being torn apart or tormented by complicated machines, and as disgusting as some of the scenes in this movie are, they are not actually scary. We are not afraid about what is going to happen to most of the people who are introduced into the story only to die a few minutes later. Because they’re not characters, on the most part, they’re just props whose usefulness is soon to end.

In that sense, identifying with any of the characters in these flicks is virtually impossible, which means their ultimate fates are only of mild interest to the audience.

Saw III also goes to extraordinary lengths to tie up loose ends from the earlier movies, even to the extent that a major plot hole identified by many audience members after enduring the first instalment is not only referenced but dealt with.

Rating:

Slither

dir: James Gunn
[img_assist|nid=877|title=You really do need to start using a decent moisturiser|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=300]
Sure, some horror flicks are dumb. And some are derivative. Sometimes they’re dumb and derivative at the same time. But they can be entertaining.

There’s not a single original idea in this flick, not for a second of it. And the story is the laziest amalgam of generic genre horror television and movies ideas and clichés from X-Files episodes, The Blob, Tremors, Cronenberg’s Shivers, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and probably dozens of other crapfests. There is also a cheap feel to the proceedings, the CGI work is lame, and the flick is so predictable I felt like I’d watched the flick before I’d actually watched it.

But, and this is a big but, I still found it sporadically entertaining. I got a few laughs out of it, and there are only two real reasons why the movie works, if in fact it does at all.

One is that the script has obviously been compiled by horror film geeks with an ear for the genre. So some of the quips and lines are amusing. They won’t result in legions of viewers being admitted to hospital in need of stiches for their ruptured sides, but they don’t do too badly.

Rating:

Hills Have Eyes, The

dir: Alexandre Aja
[img_assist|nid=889|title=Boy and his dog, very touching|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=375]
Ah, the art of the pointless remake. Why not endlessly repeat the actions of others? Maybe I should invent the light bulb again, or write, direct and star in a film called Citizen Kane. Tell me you don’t get a tingle in a bad place over the idea.

Since everything else is being remade and redone, why not remake Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes from the 70s? Craven also produced this remake, meaning he couldn’t be bothered directing it himself (how many directors remake their own films anyway?), but is more than happy to collect the fat pay-check from this renovated cinema nasty.

They hired French horror director Alexandre Aja to helm this little slice of viciousness, whose previous work Haute Tension proved, if nothing else, that he can construct a very nasty death scene. Sure, so High Tension, as us non-Francophones would know it, had the laziest plot twist imaginable, and little going for it except extreme gore, but it certainly delivered as a macabre horror film should. It also looked a treat as well.

Rating:

Everything is Illuminated

dir: Liev Schreiber
[img_assist|nid=1222|title=Not as quirky as it looks|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=320|height=500]
A film can be crafted with care, and attention. It can be visually arresting, thematically complex, and cover intense, powerful events. It can have decent acting performances, and a literate script with a non-conventional narrative and a story that is anything but formulaic. And it can still do nothing for me.

I’ve heard tell that Jonathan Safran Foer is a good writer, and I have no real reason to dispute that until I read at least a few of his books. There are already plenty of books on my to-be-read list, so it might be a while before I get to him. All I can say is that the screenplay, based on his book of the same name, is interesting.

The film, directed by Liev Schreiber, just doesn’t grab me. I’ve watched it twice now, and it just doesn’t grab me at all. I watch it at a cold remove, distanced from what happens even as I contemplate what is going on.

The protagonist, played by Elijah Wood, is a deliberately ambiguous character. He is a pretty repressed kind of guy, with one suit of clothing, slicked down hair and a pair of glasses whose lenses magnify his eyes to the point of enormity. He may be the protagonist, but he doesn’t do or say too much.

The narrator and the protagonist are not the same person. The narrator, ever-present with his little explanations and elaborations, comes into it down the track.

Rating:

Colour Me Kubrick

dir: Brian W. Cook
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Don’t, whatever you do, mistake this flick for a biography of the great Colossus of the cinema that was Stanley ‘Grumpy Pants’ Kubrick.

No, John Malkovich plays the unbelievable role of a crazy conman who used to tell people he was Stanley Kubrick, despite the fact that he looked nothing like him, didn’t try to sound like him, and didn’t even know what films Kubrick directed.

He is so bad at impersonating him that it becomes more a reflection on the people who get sucked in rather than an example of his skills as a charlatan. It is both their gullibility and their simplemindedness in the face of potential celebrity that renders them ripe for the picking.

Of course, the other element that favoured Alan Conway’s deceptions was the fact that Kubrick himself was a bit of a recluse, and there weren’t many photos of him in common circulation. Looking at the extravagant lengths to which Conway virtually begs to be caught out makes you wonder just how gullible people are out there.

This little film is directed by someone who actually knew and had worked with Kubrick in the past, which means he is eminently unqualified to make a film about a flimflammer he never met. But at least he can ensure Malkovich looks and acts nothing like Kubrick to make the illusion complete.

Rating:

Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The

dir: Andrew Adamson
[img_assist|nid=896|title=Just like Lord of the Rings, except blander|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=297]
I don’t usually get to watch G or PG rated flicks at the cinema. And it’s not due to the result of any court proceedings or angry parent’s groups with pitchforks and flaming torches. Rarely does a thusly rated movie justify my scant money and precious time. It’s not only smutty hellish violence and lewdness that inspires me to venture forth. Usually, if it doesn’t have at least ‘adult themes’, I’m not always interested in what one of these sappy movies has to say.

It’s a definite, unfortunate bias on my part. It means I miss out on seeing some admirable flicks on the big, unfocused screen. It means I miss out on being annoyed by legions of hyper-animated munchkins in the seats around my position in the cinema.

It means a lot of things. But I decided to breach the conditions of my self-imposed restraining order and make the long journey into a theatre to watch this here epic.

I have fond memories of reading the Narnia books as a child. I read them at around the time where I was in my Enid Blyton-reading prime. So the activities of well-scrubbed, full of pluck, British boys and girls around the time of the second War with the Germans engaging in acts of derring-do and crime solving are part of my upbringing.

Rating:

Saw II

dir: Darren Lynn Bousman
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The question was never “Will it be as good as Saw?” It was more along the lines of “Can they come up with a ending even dumber and more insulting that the first one?”

What Saw had going for it a macabre sense of humour, a diseased looking mise en scene and ‘scary’ dark cinematography, and a sense of menace and cruel irony. It had against it some truly terrible acting and an ending which did the equivalent of throwing up in the audience’s lap when the issue regarding the villain was revealed as having less to do with his identity, and more to do with his location.

Saw II has against it the fact that it is a sequel to a flick that really didn’t deserve to become such a hit in the first place, and one that wasn’t really crying out for a sequel anyway. When a flick is as cheap as Saw was, the overheads are so low that the company picking it up for distribution can afford to promote the hell out of it because they’ve only paid a piddling amount for it in the first place.

Rating:

Robots

dir: Chris Wedge & Carlos Saldanha
[img_assist|nid=917|title=Wow, so life-like, so real|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=345]
For every great idea, person, creation, there is not just its probable opposite, but also its poor cousin. The lame pretender to the throne, the wannabe, the also-ran. It incorporates enough elements of the quality version to be recognisable, but leaves out the essentials that make the great one great.

For every Kubrik there is a Spielberg. For every Tilda Swinton there is a Cate Blanchett. Each Russell Crowe spawns multiple Colin Farrells. And, in the animated feature stakes, Pixar has its pretenders in the form of the companies that make their magic for the likes of Fox and Dreamworks SKG.

Rating:

Election (Hak Se Wui)

dir: Johnny To
[img_assist|nid=915|title=Only slightly less corrupt than our own elections|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=588]
First off, this isn’t a review of the Alexander Payne flick of the same name from 1999. Reese Witherspoon does not star in this as an annoying overachiever who gets involved in a titanic struggle with Matthew Broderick.

This is not exactly a rare entry in Hong Kong cinema. More than half of the films made in Hong Kong since at least the 70s have been about the triads and their wicked ways. Election wants to go a little further than the usual, and tries to depict a story where the political machinations of the behind the scenes power struggles are more important than the machete fights and the slapping around of prostitutes. It also delves into the history and customs of the triads, making them seem as wholesome and long-standing as your local Rotary club or Masonic Hall.

Rating:

Factotum

dir: Bent Hamer
[img_assist|nid=920|title=When will people learn: being a drunk doesn't make you Bukowski. Hating women and occasionally writing turns you into Bukowski|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=316|height=463]
Getting to watch a flick based on a Charles Bukowski novel appeals to a pretty narrow crowd of people. Anyone familiar with his work and his life knows that the story is going to follow a narrow path: it’ll deal with drinking, women and writing, and little else. Maybe a few fights. Bit of throwing up and examples of scuzzy living, some poetry, and that’s it.

But they’re already sold on the idea anyway. The difficulty is in selling it to anyone else.

This movie, produced by a Norwegian director and film crew, is an adaptation of the Bukowski novel Factotum. Factotum (the book) is about an alcoholic based on Bukowksi who drinks constantly, works shitty jobs, and writes. He also takes up with some women, lives like a bum, and writes some more.

Factotum (the movie) stars Matt Dillon as Hank Chinaski, who drinks constantly, works (and gets fired from) shitty jobs, writes, takes up with women, lives like an unrepentant bum, and writes some more. It is virtually plot-free, like an episode of a reality television show devoted to the Biggest Loser that has nothing to do with weight.

Rating:

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