Horror Marathon: Saw VI (2009) #horror #Saw #SawVI #Franchise

Moving along with quite well with the Saw franchise and we are at the 6th movie. Its becoming wildly apparent that this is one long story that can’t be really reviewed by part however, we will try.

Lets go!

Saw VI (2009)

Saw VI

Director: Kevin Greutert

Cast: Costas Mandylor, Tobin Bell, Mark Rolston, Betsy Russell, Peter Outerbridge, Shawnee Smith, Athena Karkanis

Agent Strahm is dead, and FBI agent Erickson draws nearer to Hoffman. Meanwhile, a pair of insurance executives find themselves in another game set by Jigsaw.-IMDB

NOOO!!! Scott Patterson’s Agent Strahm is dead. He was my highlight in the last two movies. At least he died pretty epicly, sort of.

I never thought that I would say this at this point in the franchise but the sixth movie breathed some life back into the franchise. However, since the last two movies, I haven’t been able to watch any of the first victims/games because its just incredibly disgusting. Gore and torture porn doesn’t normal bother me a lot but its probably the watching back to back of them that has caused a decrease tolerance. So, I was pretty nauseous in that first part because the sound effects made me also imagine what was going on and I have one outrageous imagination. And actually because of that beginning, I went into this sixth one quite bitter and angry for this opening direction. Lets just say I’m fed up of the gore which doesn’t make sense because this is what I had originally thought Saw franchise was all about.

Saw VI

To be fair, Saw VI is quite good. In terms of the direction of the story, it starts lining up with Jigsaw’s last game in his will and reveals the answer as to other person or people involved. The question at this point (and before) is always how do these people caught in the game relate to Jigsaw? How did they meet and what bad things have these people done? Jigsaw’s captives are rarely people who have done nothing and here is where this film excels. The story itself highlights Jigsaw’s mentality in spades about the morality and ethics. The backstory of everyone’s involvement is what links all the movies together but this story really brings out the why for Jigsaw’s action especially when his mantra is cherish your life and yet the guy caught in the game is stuck in making decisions to essentially use his formula on the people he knows and make him question his choices. What I did like the best was actually the way Saw VI manages to keep its tension and momentum and really keep us guessing to the end which was quite a twist. Good job on the switch in director to Kevin Greutert who seems take the gore a little too seriously still manages to balance it well enough in the psychological department to make it work.

Saw VI

While I do praise this instalment and had a good bit of enjoyment from it, which is surprising considering I was angry at it when the movie started, there are still flaws. It mostly goes down to our character making predictable choices. However, it might just fall into how well we know Jigsaw’s puzzle concepts particularly under time crunch blended with the guy in the game who does a decent performance. Or maybe, its just my expectations are so low that it didn’t matter anymore so there was more enjoyment because of that.

Overall, Saw VI does a decent job here. It makes the The Final Chapter (which we know is a lie since theres a new movie out in a week or so) a little more promising. How will they end it?

Did you watch Saw VI? 

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Horror Marathon: Saw III (2006)

Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow Canadian friends! 🙂

We continue our horror marathon with the next Saw entry, Saw III. At this point of the franchise, I went into this not exactly sure where it will go. The second one was lackluster and the first was really good. However, this is still at the helms of the sequel’s director so lets just say expectations weren’t particularly high.  Let’s just jump right in!

Saw III (2006)

Saw III

Director: Darren Lynn Bousman

Cast: Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Angus Macfadyen, Bahar Soomekh, Dina Meyer, Lyriq Bent

Jigsaw kidnaps a doctor named Lynn denlon to keep him alive while he watches his new apprentice put an unlucky citizen named Jeff through a brutal test. Lynn has to keep jigsaw alive until Jeff completes the test or else Lynn will die – IMDB

Saw III takes a turn with a really different vibe. At this point, if you haven’t read the last two, this one is going to have certain spoilers relating to the flow of the story. In the previous one, we’ve learned that Jigsaw has an apprentice in the one girl that has escaped in the first one, Amanda Young. Jigsaw is on his death bed and both him and Amanda are trying to keep him alive in this last elaborate trap/redemption for a man who has lost his child and lives in mourning. However, Saw III takes a different approach as it has very much a more gory and disgusting choice in its scenes than the first two. There are some truly gut-wrenching scenes in particular one death scene. Saw III so far is the weakest of the three so far in the franchise and that comes with somewhat of a lackluster build-up even if its ending tries very hard to be clever to link back events and characters to make it find its worth.

Saw III

Saw III, like the previous ones, takes us on two primary storylines. One is of Jeff and the other of the psychological battle of the doctor kidnapped to try to make sure Jigsaw survives. Since I enjoy these Jigsaw bits more and through his conversation, understanding his character a little more, this part is the stronger part, however, it does feel so pointless at parts because it focuses on Amanda Young who seems to have this toxic relationship with Jigsaw (but then, Jigsaw is a pretty toxic character with some warped sense of life), whereas she seems to be a very extreme character leading her to some of the tense moments while seeing how she is also weak. In fact, Shawnee Smith does a decent job at this character. The fault might be in the writing being slightly convoluted in showcasing her character as Amanda Young.

Saw III

On the other hand, Jeff’s storyline leads us to most of the gory parts as he needs to face one obstacle after the next. These obstacles are truly a psychological battle as Jigsaw tests his stubbornness of holding onto his grief and not letting go to continue to see what he has and be grateful for those things. It all seems like such an obstacle because in the first one, there is  a connection for the people he’s captured. This one, we wonder why he’s captured him. I mean, Jigsaw is a pretty intricate man. He picks his victims with purpose. Instead, here we see a lot of pieces lined together from the opening scenes and such to picking Jeff. Of course, Jeff is a character that is battling with his own emotions however, it feels so dull to keep watching him go through one person to the next that could have been responsible for his child’s death not having justice or treated correctly, etc.

To be fair, Saw III does pull the story together at the end. Just like the second one, the ending is its strength however, it hardly justifies the very lackluster beginning and middle sections that only try to make us wonder in dumb dialogue and gory and disgusting moments. Saw III is one that I didn’t enjoy a lot. It had a clever ending and for that, it did take me by surprise slightly although at a certain part, I had started piecing everything together. However, it is my least favorite till now.

That’s for for this review! Did you see Saw III?
Saw III makes worry about where the next one will go. At least there’s Scott Patterson, right?

Double Feature: Southpaw (2015) & Miss Sloane (2016)

Welcome to the next double feature. I rented Southpaw and Miss Sloane on discount on Play Store last month. Two very different films and two very different feelings about it however both heavily reliant on their main character.

Southpaw (2015)

Southpaw

Director: Antoine Fuqua

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker, Rachel McAdams, Oona Lawrence, 50 Cent, Naomie Harris

Boxer Billy Hope turns to trainer Tick Wills to help him get his life back on track after losing his wife in a tragic accident and his daughter to child protection services. – IMDB

If there is one word to describe Southpaw, it would be disappointing. It isn’t particularly a bad film as the performances were great. Rachel McAdams did great for what it was. Jake Gyllenhaal was fantastic and I absolutely love Forest Whitaker who is an underrated actor. The girl who played the daughter was Oona Lawrence and that arc was decent.

However, the flaw lies in the fact that Southpaw is pretty much another Rocky story in many instances and we already had Creed recently that was much more engaging. It didn’t help that Southpaw was a little too dramatic at parts but never made it feel very exciting to watch. Seeing the stellar cast being in this uninspired script truly was a lackluster experience.

Miss Sloane (2016)

miss sloane

Director: John Madden

Cast: Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Alison Pill, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Michael Stuhlbarg, John Lithgow, Jake Lacy

In the high-stakes world of political power-brokers, Elizabeth Sloane is the most sought after and formidable lobbyist in D.C. But when taking on the most powerful opponent of her career, she finds winning may come at too high a price. – IMDB

Miss Sloane was a movie that I went in with no idea of what the premise is. I have heard good things about it and I have enjoyed Jessica Chastain. Miss Sloane is such a vibrant character wrapped up in a tough and ruthless shell. She is strong and strategic in all her plans and for all the reasons, it makes us wonder on what she has under her sleeve even in the most desperate of situations but it is what makes her compelling to watch.

Miss Sloane, just as the title implies, is truly based on Jessica Chastain and how she takes on the role and she did an outstanding job. As we navigate through her way of life and the little things, while she isn’t exactly a character you would cheer for because of her lack of ethics and morals in some of her decisions, every part whether planned or not comes into play and that gives full credit for the screenwriters doing a fine job at giving it a good pacing that keeps everything moving and finding a balance to learn just enough about Miss Sloane and keeping enough to make everything make sense and surprise when it falls into place.

While Miss Sloane isn’t typically the movie that I would watch, I’m glad that I did because it was absolutely awesome. Gripping, compelling and full of twists and turns around every corner. This one is a must see.

Have you seen Southpaw and/or Miss Sloane?

Fantasia Festival 2017: Napping Princess (2017)

Going to Fantasia and not checking out at least one anime or other animated films would be a pity. While some great choices slipped through because of scheduling like Senior Class, I wasn’t going to let this one go.

Napping Princess (2017)

Napping Princess

Director and writer: Kenji Kamiyama

Cast: Mitsuki Takahata, Shinnosuke Mitsushima, Tomoya Maeno

In the car-clogged Eastopolis, capital of the kingdom of Heartland, Princess Ancien is confined to gilded cage of sorts. Gifted with remarkable powers, she can bring the inanimate to life using a magical digital device. But she also draws to the city the Terrible Colossus, placing her father’s realm at risk. Back in the real world, it’s three days before the Tokyo Olympics of 2020, and sleepyhead Kokone awakes again from her dreams of Heartland to the realities of life in small-town Okayama. All is not well, though, as her struggling widower father has become tangled up in some sort of corporate intrigue. Soon, the divide between her reveries and the real world will begin to crumble… – Fantasia Festival

Napping Princess, also called Ancien and the Magic Tablet, is a fun and magical adventure animated feature. Straddling between reality and the dream world, a different but linked story with all the same characters come to life in an endearing and a lot of times, humorous way. Cute characters and fantastic environments and the magical kingdom being so pretty, truly makes it something of an eye candy. Napping Princess however does seem to get lost in its length a little and the final act meshes together in a way that makes it hard to follow.

The concept of Napping Princess is outstanding and this anime takes its audience for a ride both literally and figuratively. Our main character is college bound Kokone who has an awkward but close relationship with his widower father who ends up being arrested by the police because he is accused of stealing something. This takes Kokone and her school friend, Morio on a journey as they tumble and roll through one scene after the next, funnily getting through it despite the danger. Napping Princess is definitely a family friendly feature and in many ways, remains innocent. Not only is Kokone and Morio colorful but even the more subtle characters also are. Between the reality and dream sequences, many characters are portrayed differently however also a joy to watch. Even the enemy may have a secret agenda that we soon learn about by the end, however he and his goons are comedic goofballs. What makes it funnier is the fact that the audience is the smarter person here and it becomes obvious that the scenes were written as in our seats we react accordingly with disbelief of the innocent acts of revealing where Kokone is for example in a situation where she may be too trusting.

Napping Princess is an anime that aims to keep its audience on its toes as Kokone escapes and learns about her parents. While the audience gets to see a bigger picture as we can see the villain’s schemes as well as the father’s interrogation, the journey is primarily with Kokone and her friends. While the kingdom of Heartland is a steampunk world filled with mesmerizing designs and a war that is incredible to watch. The real world is in a much more personal journey. Princess Ancien may know much more about her powers and her capabilities but on the contrary, Kokone is only learning about her background as she heads off on this escape and its an adventure that takes everyone quite the turn. Plus, everyone likes an adventure with a magical bear. In this case, he’s called Joy and an adorable little thing that is Princess Ancien’s companion in the kingdom of Heartland.

While Napping Princess is a rather long anime, it does create two fun worlds: the kingdom of Heartland and the future reality of Japan in 2020. In a world of corporate schemes and a dream world of impending war from giant creatures attracted by magic, both are in danger and its all on Kokone or Princess Ancien to hatch a plan that will fix it. Its fun, entertaining and filled with lots of laughter. Its never too serious or even too dangerous even if there is a little bit of violence. With cute and colorful characters, Napping Princess is a family friendly animated feature that is altogether a fun time.

Fantasia Festival 2017: Dead Shack (2017)

Dead Shack (2017)

Dead Shack

Director: Peter Ricq

Cast: Lizzie Boys, , Lauren Holly, Matthew Nelson-Mahood, Gabriel LaBelle, Donovan Stinson, Valerie Tian

While staying at a run-down cabin in the woods during the weekend, three children must save their parents from the neighbor who intends to feed them to her un-dead family. – IMDB

Described as The Goonies meets Night of the Living Dead, Dead Shack comes as a fun zombie romp with a  young cast fighting to save their drunk father on a camping trip when they accidentally discover their neighbor and her undead family. This femme fatale next door does everything to make sure to keep her family safe and fed. With a runtime of 85 minutes, Dead Shack knows how to pace its movie to be fast and filled with moments of tension, comedy and action.

The young cast here creates a nice balance in characters. Matthew Nelson-Mahood playing the son’s best friend, Jason who is socially awkward as he tries to impress his best friend’s sister, Summer (played by Lizzie Boys) every chance that he has. He captures the role very well and in turn, with his awkwardness, brings in quite a bit of comedic relief along with the banter in moments of panic with the young trio. The three here create a balance of intelligence, common sense and spontaneous reflex and this leads them to really pull up a lot of strength and courage. Its also impressive to see that the story quickly shifts these teens, particularly Jason that starts the movie being told to toughen up and quickly does.

While the young cast is the focus here, the rest of the characters are well-used also. The father, played by Donovan Stinson is the most hilarious part of this movie. He starts off the movie with a lot of funny moments. However, even the supporting roles are there in their oddly disposable way but still have their value, mostly for comedy as well. Its realizes how to capture the humor in spite of the horror tension they want to create here. It also helps make the teens more useful and responsible than their parents.

The setting of the movie is in the middle of nowhere however fits perfectly. While Dead Shack feels like it is riddled with cliches, it uses them to their advantage whether by making some smart comeback in the dialogue or turning it into a comedic moment or adding some common sense that most horror movies don’t have. The music builds the moments really well also whether it is to create tension or the soundtrack that compliments some of the scenes. Along with some clever camera work capturing close-ups and angles, it works wonders for Dead Shack as a whole.

It is a shame that it feels that the enemy is largely underused. While it works because it helps create tension as to wondering when the undead or the Blonde will show up. This movie is definitely more a comedy in a horror setting. While there are more undead as the movie moves along and it never feels like we’re really invested into any of the characters, it still finds a way to make this into a fun romp that surprisingly works really well.

Fantasia Festival 2017: Vampire Cleanup Department (2017)

Vampire Cleanup Department (2017)

vampire cleanup department

Director: Pak-Wing Yan, Sin-Hang Chiu

Cast: Babyjohn Choi, Min-Chen Lin, Richard Ng, Siu-ho Chin, Susan Shaw

Tim Cheung joins the Vampire Cleanup Department which is a secret task force for dealing Chinese vampire Goeng Si. He is instructed by his uncle Chau and he saves a female Goeng Si, Summer from her evil lord Goeng Si who buried alive her. – IMDB

For those familiar with the Mr. Vampire series decades ago and their introduction to the hopping Chinese vampires, the recent years has seen a resurgence to seemingly revive or perhaps catch Hong Kong’s own wave of the vampire popularity. In 2013, Rigor Mortis saw the debut directing work of Juno Mak get the cast of the originals and create a serious horror full of gore and symbolism. However, Vampire Cleanup Department this year aims to do the same thing but uses more of the horror action comedy angle, in turns more in vein with the original series while still taking the familiar actors. It feels like a true revival or remaster or perhaps modernized reboot of this Chinese cult favorite and not only appeal to the fans of the franchise but also grab a new generation and educate them about these hopping vampires. Screened in Cantonese, the English subtitles were done well enough to still carry the humor it wanted for the most part. We always like to make sure that the jokes will still carry well to an international audience.

Vampire Cleanup Department does many things right. It is hard to say that anymore in terms of comedy or horror. Two things the Hong Kong industry in general seems to have hit a snag as it settles for ineffective and trope-y horror or dumb and nonsensical humor. However, this movie is littered with clever jokes and puns and most of all, actors that deliver them seamlessly and perfectly. It also uses the CGI that they have access to in order to make these vampires and other action/horror effects feel more authentic and less campy. Its a re-skin and one that is done tastefully. For those who were too young when this released or never quite had access to it before or simply the new generation, Vampire Cleanup Department never forgets to educate its audience as it educates and trains its long awaited new blood. Using this story line works in this situation because we as the audience will also learn about how hopping vampires came to be, how to get rid of them as well as how this secret department originated as a new vengeful vampire is unleashed into the city accidentally.

Another great aspect of Vampire Cleanup Department is its veteran actors. Siu-ho Chin and Richard Ng are the main characters in this as they take a supporting role that links to the past. They are fun and entertaining. Siu-ho Chin contributes to a lot of the action as he is the younger of the original crew. Richard Ng brings a lot of the humor. Its truly hard to not feel nostalgic when watching them on screen as they have both been part of memorable films aside from the Mr. Vampire movies. They are the anchor of this film and despite the younger actors seeming to be a focus of the film. The scenes they are in keep the movie grounded as their opposite personalities in their characters also create a nice friction.

The one downfall of this flick truly goes to the young romance, Tim and Summer, played respectively by Babyjohn Choi and Min-Chen Lin. This factor is less to do with their performance but more with the more than familiar romance. Its sappy and redundant. In fact, the humor elements added into their budding romance makes it fun and cute however never lets us feel too invested either, at least not enough to feel emotional about their outcome. Sadly, the romance does take up a decent portion of the movie. While still successfully entertaining us for the most parts, it falls short from what the rest of the movie creates and could of been done a little more concisely.

Vampire Cleanup Department is a treat. Despite its rinse and repeat romance that doesn’t have the connection with the audience it is meant to have, everything else is done very well. It creates a beautiful balance of action, comedy and horror. It revives and reboots this Geong Si, aka hopping vampires, from the late 80s to 90s from the Mr. Vampire series. It also brings in some new blood to possibly (and hopefully) continue the franchise in a modern way. This film has found a way to keep itself self-contained while remembering to honor its predecessors by creating a link of the world the earlier movies created. It brings back the atmosphere those movies had while giving it a fresh look successfully.

Fantasia 2017: Tilt (2017)

Tilt (2017)

Tilt poster

Director & co-writer: Kasra Farahani

Cast: Joseph Cross, Alexia Rasmussen, Jessy Hodges, Kelvin Yu

An unemployed documentary filmmaker’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic in the months after his wife becomes pregnant. – IMDB

A mind’s control over a chaos. Tilt is a movie about exactly that. Also, it stems from possibly the main character, Joe’s first documentary called Tilt and its tagline about control and chaos and skill in regards to pinball which could easily be carried forward to how we watch him slowly spiral towards his urge of becoming someone that he doesn’t recognize. The best way to describe Tilt would be a slow-burn character study of a person who slowly changes as perhaps their subconscious desires take a path they try to resist.

Tilt is an interesting one. We love horror thrillers and slow-burn movies and honestly, those types of movies are possibly the hardest to get right. Tilt does a decent job at setting up the stage. The technicalities from sound design to production set to the cast were done very well. It was captivating in parts and intriguing in others. Tilt’s first and third act were all of these things, wrapped up in a lot of questions and slowly gives the audience pieces to put together and wonder whether our main character Joe, played by Joseph Cross, will eventually spiral to. Where the film may fall a little short is in the incredibly dragged out second act that we can understand the purpose of watching our character, his observations and his resistance come into full force however, it also was a grinding experience to get through falling into the tedious territory for a few brief moments. What does redeem this movie is the unknown and the unsaid. Things happen and we can only wonder and link and imagine some, (at times) disturbing ideas.

It is hard to do a film like Tilt where it combines the thriller genre with a character study. For all its intrigued and ideas executed well most of the time, perhaps one of the harder things to invest into would be the characters themselves. The cast did incredibly well with how these characters are scripted, particularly our main couple, Joe and Joanne. We see the stress and the sacrifices and the tears that the pregnancy and upcoming addition to their family has caused. Perhaps this is what causes these issues to arise subtly in Joe’s personality as he spends many hours by himself.  However, as impressive as Joseph Cross and Alexia Rasmussen portrayed their characters, it is hard to be rooting for any one of them in particular. Perhaps that isn’t the point because it does feel like these characters were created to not truly be likable as they struggle with this new stress that has entered their lives as they have to face a new reality.

With that said, Tilt does a lot of technical aspects right. The scenes, moods, atmosphere are done incredibly well. They help create that sense of fear and dread as well as danger and intrigue. The script itself tells just enough to make us wonder and link things but never truly know if our guess is correct or not. That is what makes a thriller fun as the finale pulls together masterfully. It has some disturbing scenes and ideas and all this is thanks to a great performance by Joseph Cross. However, the downfall of this film lies in characters we can’t seem to get behind and that make sit harder to truly feel invested into their outcome and also a second act that could’ve been perhaps executed a little better in various parts. Not a perfect thriller, however one that executes many things well enough to deserve a watch.