1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die - As seen in June 2013
1) Force of Evil (1948 - Abraham Polonsky) 4/10 - I actually had to stop and think what this was about. Quite forgettable.
2) Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948 - Max Ophuls) 5.5/10
3) Blue Velvet (1986 - David Lynch) 10/10 - Can't believe I didn't go the full monty on this initially. It's a blatant '10' if there ever was one.
4) Carrie (1976 - Brian De Palma) 5/10 - Book reigns supreme over this shoddy adaptation.
5) The Crying Game (1992 - Neil Jordan) 7/10 - Good, but not good enough to make any impact on the last TOP 20 list.
6) Happiness (1998 - Todd Solondz) 9/10
7) Taste of Cherry (1997 - Abbas Kiarostami) 7.5/10 - Looking back this was really good, but I actually struggled in my decision to include it as a "Ten Worth Mentioning" on my latest TOP 20. Good call me!
8) Airplane! (1980 - Abrahams, Zucker, Zucker) 3/10 - I took a beating from you commenters on this one, which is fine (I welcome differing opinions), but I stand by my words.
NON-1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die - As seen in June 2013
Little more DVD clean-up this month, along with my wife...
1) Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle (2004 - Danny Leiner) 6.5/10 - A perfect example of the Apatow style of comedy actually winning me over. "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle" is quite crude at times and certainly doesn't appeal to movie scholars, but on a lot of levels, it actually works quite well as a comedy-adventure story about a couple of guys craving food from their favorite burger chain. I brought this into the collection and can't say I'm too ashamed of my choice and I'll even go so far as to say that it earned it's spot on our DVD shelf and will be sticking around. Crude yes, but also hilarious, engaging and clever.
2) The Break-Up (2006 - Peyton Reed) 6/10 - Allright you savages, settle down!! I DID NOT bring this into the DVD collection, but feel a little guilty in saying that I also did not vote to send this one to the "sell" pile. The plot is pretty flat and this looks like a carbon copy of a lot of comedies that are still being churned out of the Hollywood machine, but I think with a some work this one could've been a hit. I like Vince Vaughn and think that the guy is a huge talent. Not only is he spot on with his comedic delivery, but he also has the chops to do some decent acting. Add to the mix Jon Favreau and Jason Bateman and you've got a few guys who can actually deliver comedically, as well as otherwise. Now, Jen Aniston is a different subject, as I can't stand her and that hurt the picture a lot for me. Basically, call this a win in that it totally shocked me at how well it kept my attention, as I didn't expect to like it one iota. Had they gotten a better female lead and buffed up the script a little bit, they'd have had something that may not have gotten massacred by the critics back in '06.
3) Swingers (1996 - Doug Liman) 8.5/10 - Of course, if you want a better Vince Vaughn flick, you can always go for the miles better "Swingers". Ten years prior to Vince Vaughn's nasty "break-up", he and Jon Favreau were together again, this time as wannabe actors and wannabe playboys living in Los Angeles, trying to bag themselves some "beautiful babies". Vaughn is even more stellar here and it's easy to see, by watching this, why Hollywood hooked a rocket launcher to his back and set it for the moon. Favreau is just as good and it makes you wish he'd do more mainstream acting, as opposed to directing atrocious Iron-Man movies and doing bit parts in Vince Vaughn's flicks. Just an all-around really good movie. Not JUST a comedy, but one that also tugs on the heart strings here and there, lightly. Keep your eyes peeled for Favreau's phone call that goes terribly awry.
So of the four movies from the DVD shelf we watched this month, there's three of them and they're all keepers. We also did some other movies this month, that weren't on our DVD shelf...
4) Silver Linings Playbook (2012 - David O. Russell) 7/10 - Ya' know, despite the '7', I have to say that I was somewhat disappointed in this. It made me realize that is just doesn't take much anymore to get a "Best Picture" nod and made me notice how the landscape of the movie industry has changed. If this movie had been made twenty years ago, not everyone would be talking about it, but a group of more educated, well-read movie fans WOULD BE and it certainly wouldn't have been on the Academy's radar. It would've played to smaller houses, in a limited release and you'd have to wait until it came out on video before you finally got to get a peek at it and discover it's greatness, like a hidden gem. Today, it looks basically like any other movie coming down the pike and doesn't have that hole in the wall quality. Sure, it was good, for the most part, but it seems to me that it felt like a hundred other movies I've seen since the turn of the century. Same music; same characters; same independent feel, yet not an independent. Plus it was really predictable, so there's that. Based on what I've seen thus far, "Django Unchained" should've won Best Picture, yet I haven't seen "Argo" yet. Also have yet to see: "Amour", "Beasts of the Southern Wild", "Les Miserables", "Life of Pi", "Lincoln" (tried, couldn't make it through) and "Zero Dark Thirty".
For the following "Saw" reviews, instead of writing new thoughts, I'm posting notes that I took after the viewing of each movie. Prior to watching these seven films, I knew that I'd have trouble distinguishing between them come recap time, so I kept notes in a Word document and vowed to edit them up when recap time rolled around. Because I'm lazy and already tired of typing tonight, I'm just going to go ahead and post the notes. To be fair, they're not that bad and I actually probably could've posted them without even writing this and no one would have been the wiser, but I like to be upfront with my audience. Enjoy.
5) Saw (2004 - James Wan) 7/10 - (Another one from the DVD shelf) Cary Elwes was great! Leigh Whannell (Adam) WAS TERRIBLE! The movie works for the most part, even though it does employ a lot of contrivances to get it’s story across. If you can easily suspend your disbelief, however, you shouldn’t have any trouble enjoying this. Has a really gritty feel, which I liked. Wish we could’ve cut down more on the back stories and kept the majority of the film in the room with Lawrence and Adam. We could’ve done this easily with a little more dialogue added to the script and a few more intricacies added to the sorts of things that could’ve happened to Lawrence and Adam in the room. Really good thriller flick nonetheless. Mention the unpredictability and the fact that the surprise ending was really a surprise, with John rising from the middle of the floor.
6) Saw II (2005 - Darren Lynn Bousman) 6/10 - You know, the last time I saw this (which was only once, when it first was released on DVD) I absolutely hated it. However, after this viewing, I can honestly say that it wasn’t too bad a follow-up to the original “Saw” flick. Sure, it wasn’t AS good, it didn’t have that same gritty feel and the presence of less talented actors hurt it, but it wasn’t as awful as I once thought it to be. While I’m sure there are plot holes here, I honestly didn’t pick up on ANY. Of course, I wasn’t really watching this film as a movie critic, but rather as a husband to a wife who wanted to spend a Saturday night watching horror flicks. I will say that the film is super predictable, whether it was the revelation that the characters were all going to be people that Eric (Wahlberg) arrested or the revelation that the feed that the police had been watching the whole time was actually a tape, my wife and I guessed it all. The only thing that actually WAS a surprise was the revelation that Amanda was now working for Jigsaw. Speaking of Jigsaw a.k.a. John Kramer, his whole motive is actually a good one, the fact that the reason he’s doing all this is because 1) he’s dying of cancer and 2) after finding out he was dying of cancer, he tried to kill himself and failed. However, I wish they’d held off on that big reveal until later and this is coming from someone who has no knowledge of the final five “Saw” films and where they actually go with everything. Again, had they put a little more thought into what the characters in the house were doing, the ones who were actually playing the game and left Donnie Wahlberg out of it, I think it would’ve won me over better. More talented actors would’ve also helped.
7) Saw III (2006 - Darren Lynn Bousman) 5.5/10 - NEARLY on par with the second “Saw” movie, but due to the fact that this time around the filmmaker’s went for more shock value, even when it meant abandoning the story, I have to say it’s the worst “Saw” yet, which means they’re getting progressively worse. Also, unlike “Saw” and “Saw II”, this time around we’re not really given the classic “two or more people in a room” storyline and instead are given two separate “games”. One involving Dr. Lynn Denlon, who is hooked to a shotgun loaded necklace which will go off if Jigsaw’s heart rate flat lines. The other involves a man named Jeff who has let his life slip through his fingers following the death of his young son to a drunk driver. The shock value here is looking at ridiculous in the rearview mirror. Obviously, by this point, the minds behind the “Saw” franchise have realized who their core audience is and thus have stopped producing clever stories. At this point, I’d say that it’s safe to say that the minds behind the “Saw” franchise had also already made the decision to continue these, whether we wanted them or not and therefore, I’m sure we’re in for some fairly abysmal follow-ups. As it pertains to “Saw III” call it a mild success, but barely. The ending was pretty well put together, as I dug the whole thing with the forgiveness of Jigsaw being Jeff’s final test. However, the “let’s see how many times we can make the audience gag” thing just didn’t appeal to me in the slightest. Fun, but not quality.
8) Saw IV (2007 - Darren Lynn Bousman) 4.5/10 - WOW, at this rate “Saw: The Final Chapter” is going to be getting an embarrassingly low rating, as I’ve watched these movies become progressively worse. Let me clarify, however, that I still am having a lot of fun watching them with my wife and I guess, sometimes, that’s all that really matters. Anyway, it’s 2007 now and the fourth installment of the “Saw” series and they’re really grasping at straws at this point to keep this whole thing churning along. At the end of “Saw III” we saw the death of the series main character, Jigsaw (Tobin Bell – one of the few good actors in the entire series), so you’d assume we’d be just about finished, but you’d assume wrong. The series takes a really confusing turn here and the writing here is as sloppy as ever. I’m almost 100% sure that this thing is just riddled with plot holes and nonsense, but they’re swerving around too much for me to stop and actually think about all the information they’re force feeding me. I do like how they continue to reference the other three movies, obviously not forgetting the history of the franchise and how they even add in little references, like in this installment, when the hooker comes up to John’s car window and asks him if he’s looking for a good time and we realize that it’s the same woman from “Saw II”. The shock value is maxed out again too and what’s with the absolutely STUPID way they sometimes cut from one scene to another, by having the previous scene overlap the upcoming scene…that is so annoying and dumb. At the end of “Saw IV”, Lt. Hoffman is revealed to be the new man behind Jigsaw’s games and while I’m sure we’ll get some sort of explanation as to why he is the chosen one, I’m also sure that it will be a nonsense explanation. Still fun, but getting way worse. The original “Saw” seems so far away now...quality wise.
9) Saw V (2008 - David Hackl) 6/10 - Color me surprised! I expected the trend to continue, with these things getting worse and worse until the last one actually made me want to spill my own blood. However, I’m here to tell you that “Saw V” is the best “Saw” film since the original! That’s right, this one was actually really good and all the problems that I’ve been mentioning were addressed. The shock value/gore factor was turned down substantially and the story element was boosted, with a game nearly comparable to that of the original film – with the five participants. And, get this, everything actually, seemingly made sense and I love how they continue to implement flashbacks to build on the entire story and cement the whole “Saw” franchise as a deep story. Oh and they actually got a few decent actors in there as well, with Julie Benz (of “Dexter” fame), Mark Rolston (Boggs from “The Shawshank Redemption”) and this guy Greg Bryk, whom I’d never heard of, but who really poured it all out. I’ll leave it at that, but now I’m actually somewhat excited to see how this thing turns out, as it’s been played out like one, long story. Also, if Cary Elwes doesn’t reappear at some point, I’m going to be uber pissed.
10) Saw VI (2009 - Kevin Greutert) 5.5/10 - Good, but slipping a little from the quality of “Saw V”. This one only really feels like it’s filling in a few of the grey areas and almost feels like it would be skippable in the grand scheme of things. Sure, they’re still utilizing their entire history to delve deeper into the story of Jigsaw, however, we’re dealing with a lot of fresh characters here, mainly revolving around a corrupt insurance agent who once had a verbal altercation with John over his policy. There’s still plenty of gore, but in my opinion it’s still toned down quite heavily from “Saw III” and “Saw IV”, so I really can’t complain. Believe it or not, I’m actually quite interested to see how this whole thing ends and based on the depth that this story has gone and the number of characters we encountered, it shouldn’t be that difficult to put together a pretty decent finale. It occurred to me while watching this that perhaps “Saw” would’ve worked better as weekly episodic television show. We have so many characters to deal with and we’re delving SO deep that I think if you toned down the gore A LOT, this would’ve worked really well as a TV series. Just a random thought.
11) Saw 3D: The Final Chapter (2010 - Kevin Greutert) 2/10 - Granted, I never really expected much out of any of the “Saw” films past “Saw” (the original), but even the ‘5.5’ and ‘6’ ratings I was giving out to the select few, were still ratings that I considered really good considering the material. Like I said, I thought they had ample material leftover to make a pretty good ninety minute finale to the whole “Saw” franchise. Instead, the final installment of “Saw” sees the gore ratcheted back to the max, new characters introduced (we had plenty of old, surviving characters that we didn’t need to introduce this many new ones, this late in the game) and almost a total abandonment of the history that was established. Sure, they still tie up a few loose ends, but this “Saw” is embracing the history the least of all the movies. Did we ever get a real, full explanation as to why Hoffman was even chosen as Jigsaw’s replacement? I mean, maybe we did, but they threw a lot of information at you over the course of the seven films and I don’t ever really remember getting a full blown explanation. It just seems that John Kramer was way too meticulous and careful to include such a loose cannon as Hoffman. And speaking of Hoffman, the one thing that really irked me about the whole thing was the fact that, in the finale it becomes obvious that not only has he completely abandoned John’s original motto (“cherish life”), due to the fact that by the end of the movie he’s basically killing everyone in sight and at the end trying to get away with a bag full of money. However, he also, for some reason, continued to embrace John’s motto – continuing the games, punishing those who deserved to be punished. Which is it Hoffman? Are you a bad guy trying to squeeze a little justice out of life and teach your victims a lesson or are you just a bad guy who kills? Even the beginning was nonsense. In EVERY other “Saw” film the game that opens the movie somehow becomes relevant later in the picture, even when it seems as though we’ve forgotten about it. In the final “Saw”, the opening game is put in place simply as shock value, as far as I can tell and the characters never reappear (except in one tiny scene, during a group meeting between Jigsaw survivors) and their game is never revealed to be anything more than just killing screen time. I am glad that Cary Elwes showed up, but his reemergence didn’t really make that much sense and it seemed as though he was only brought back to get a reaction from the audience and to see how many “OMG’s” the filmmaker’s could illicit. It was really nothing more than a glorified cameo anyway and surely with a little more effort, they could’ve thought of something more relevant for the Elwes character to do. In a perfect world, the final “Saw” would’ve seen a final game between all of the “Saw” survivors, to ensure that they’ve learned their lessons. The final game would’ve consisted of: Dr. Gordon (Cary Elwes), Daniel Matthews (Erik Knudsen), Brit Stevenson (Julie Benz), Scott Malick (Greg Bryk), Emily (Larissa Gomes), Shelby (Karen Cliché) and Simone (Tanedra Howard). That’s seven, so if one of the minor ones (Emily, Shelby or Simone) can’t be recast, then you just cut one and six is plenty too. In my mind, Jill is the perpetrator: perhaps she was left final instructions in the box by John to retest the surviving subjects, to see if they have learned how to pass his tests and make the right decisions. Anyway, it’s just wishful thinking. It surely COULD HAVE happened my way and the entire series was definitely on some sort of right track. It was sloppy writing and the apparent need to use shock and awe tactics instead of good storytelling tactics that ultimately lost me and disappointed me.