Quick-Thoughts: Saw IV (2007)

Saw Marathon • 2nd Viewing • Warning: Spoilers Ahead

Jigsaw and Company: taking your scavenger hunt adventure to the next level since 2007. 

So Saw II was annoying, Saw III was absurd, and Saw IV was… also absurd! The editing may have reached a new peak of excessive reliance, but thank goodness they at least are still putting that excessiveness to good use with their twists! Not only is Saw IV faster paced than its predecessor due to its concurring scavenger hunt as I mentioned before, but it somehow also topped the sheer insanity of its reveals too! Hoffman being the bad guy all along is pretty unsurprising, but finding out that this occurs during the same timeline as the already convoluted Saw III? HA! GOLDEN! Plus, the “you never open the door” memo that comes full circle for officer Riggs had me BALLING! THAT WAS THE STUPIDEST CONNECTIVE PIECE OF TISSUE IN THE HISTORY OF THESE VICTIMS’ LESSONS AND I ADORED IT! 

Although, when it comes to Jigsaw’s backstory side-plot, it does venture a little into some Solo: A Star Wars Story territory where Jigsaw’s backstory is kind of there so you can go, “aweee, so that’s how or why he came up with that insignificant little detail. Cool?” It’s surprisingly my least favorite part about this sequel, minus again, the editing. There’s like one insightful Jigsaw quote I got out of it and then it just went back to being yawn-worthy. The movie is a bit modest up until that ending too, for better or worse, diving into some grim melodrama when it comes to Riggs being trained to see Hoffman’s point of view as Strahm also becomes driven to a point of desperation from the casualties that the hunt brings them; luckily all of that pain though is kind of reliant on these characters making idiot decisions, and hey, the more this franchise strays away from practicality as it embraces comical complexity, the better in my book. Or, maybe we really are all that dumb in hindsight? Sheesh, you got us there, Jigsaw.

Verdict: C

The Saw Franchise Ranked

“Saw IV” is now available to stream on HBO Max.

Quick-Thoughts: Saw III (2006)

Saw Marathon • 2nd Viewing • Warning: Spoilers Ahead

“You’re not Jigsaw, bitch!” (x100) 

Now raise your hand if you think Donnie Wahlberg’s character would have any reason to say that. Nobody? Awe, smart crowd. 

I suppose everything I said in my Saw II review can easily be applied to Saw III minus two things: the terror-aspect here isn’t actually all too shabby and the characters are at least buyable, minus Amanda. There’s a consistent theme to the game and its pawns this time around, one that focuses on forgiveness as a man named Jeff must progressively endure a series of trials to pardon those who participated in the injustice that occurred during a trial for the accidental murder of his son. The petrifying traps here aren’t loosely associated like they were in two, and each one is based on the real life intimacy between the victim and the one who can save them, giving the film an interest and intensity that the second one lacked whenever it drove away from Wahlberg’s storyline for carelessly constructed “terror-porn”. It’s nice to see that the movie actually takes its time to set up the characters instead of just throwing all of them in a room and labeling them “criminals.” Back to Amanda, however, who’s expansion to the series is kind of wrongly wasted for some jealous hothead betrayal that establishes she kills for fun? Yet, didn’t she originally respect the idea of being saved from Jigsaw’s trap? The only basis for her betraying him is that she realized that some of Jigsaw’s traps weren’t really effective in rehabilitating their victims, but what does that have to do with her wanting to kill? It kind of blows also how often Saw III insists on connecting back to the first Saw to develop this bulls**t part of the narrative, producing unnecessary glut that bogs down the runtime. 

Now, I think at this point it’s fair to say that Jigsaw’s morality has certainly gotten even more inconsistent than before, but that heightening blur to me is kind of interesting cause it shows that even Jigsaw (who always acts so put together) is desperate for some overreaching level of justice considering he has such little time; people are hypocritical indeed. But hey, at least it led to a particular favorite scene of mine in this franchise where Dr. Lynn has to cut open Jigsaw’s skull, which is a really neat way of rejuvenating the whole concept of a trap because this one in particular boils down to just being a dangerous, DIY surgery procedure. The climax of this movie is awful but in the funniest way possible that makes this entry better than Saw II for me despite that movie having a fairly logical twist in its conclusion. Saw III, on the other hand, delegates itself to a FAR more improbable twist-a-thon that had me ROLLING with laughter. Jigsaw trolled Amanda and Jeff almost simultaneously with THREE REVEALS: Jeff and Dr. Lynn are married, Amanda was on trial this whole time, and Jigsaw locked Jeff’s daughter away somewhere where he can’t find her in case he tried to kill him. What a d**k! 

Verdict: C-

The Saw Franchise Ranked

“Saw III” is now available to stream on HBO Max.

Quick-Thoughts: Saw II (2005)

Saw Marathon • 2nd Viewing • Warning: Minor Spoilers Ahead

Shoutout to the Un Chien Andalou opening.

I feel like this sequel’s editing abuses the aesthetic of the original by excessively replicating the jumpy montaging and transitional swipe cuts of it to a point where the final product appears more so as if an amateur fan club of the original desperately wanted to tribute the nausea of its inspirer with a negligent “more is better” philosophy, and by then thinking that it would (dare I say?) ”top” it. The absence of James Wan’s passion-driven direction is so painfully apparent in Saw II that the charm of a controlled style isn’t there to compensate for the lack of strong writing like its predecessor. Instead we get lifeless, over-cut industry standard shot amalgamating/compositing, flagrantly try-hard terror-porn, and annoyingly braindead stereotype horror movie characters that come full equipped with some over-the-top, hotheaded dialogue (meant to be taken seriously) that’ll have any mindful viewer unconvinced. And, GOOD LORD is this movie hideously palleted. The art of lighting and coloring could cease forever from this inconsistently over-filtered movie’s existence alone. Don’t even get me started too on how laughably big-noggin this sequel must think it is for ending off on the same shot, line, and location as the original Saw. Like who gives a s**t? Thanks for reminding me of a SIGNIFICANTLY better movie that I could’ve been watching instead. 

Donnie Wahlberg and Tobin Bell’s dynamic is at least tolerable though, and the big twist at the end is pretty neat too, but not nearly enough so to make up for the sheer lack of merit that lurks in about every rotting corner leading up to the matter especially whenever it concerned itself with the unbearably written abandoned house group. I’m seriously debating now if I should even continue this Saw marathon. 

Update: I took a two day break… fine, I’ll continue it. :/

Verdict: D+

The Saw Franchise Ranked

“Saw II” is now available to stream on HBO Max.

Quick-Thoughts: James Wan’s Saw (2004)

Saw Marathon • 4th Viewing • Warning: Minor Spoilers Ahead

Rule of thumb: the smaller the budget, the better the James Wan film will be?

I’m currently watching this cult classic at 4am to get into the right mood! Saw 9 (I think that’s where we’re at now?) is coming out next week and I’ve decided to drain out my time by revisiting this gnarly franchise I haven’t watched since grade school.  

I think it’s a damn miracle that this movie works. For starters, virtually nothing in it makes any sense really; everything about its plot is kind of impractical if you put the merest of thought into it, but luckily we live in a majestic world of “DIY compensation” where the circumstances of story illegitimacy can be movie magic-ed by aesthetic and visionary perseverance. The movie’s schizophrenic selling point is helmed by some nasty editing that employs jarring fast-mo to curate anxiety, complemented also by James Wan’s signature 360* camera carousels and grimy underground confinements. Saw is surprisingly exceptional at escalating narrative through a pretty keen structure too that spews exposition in ways that never bores the watcher due to its many integrative plot-lines, characters, backstories, and consistently shocking reveals — as absurd as some of them are. Minus the god-awful acting at hand, I think Wan and Leigh Whannell effectively convey by the end a migraine-inducing feeling of how being left in the dark and only to imagine the worst can drive even the pettiest of spoiled men to resort to something as drastic as self-mutilation. There’s something partially original and disturbingly genuine about the premise that the two have devised here as a silly deconstruction on how desperate we are for life when put to a test, and it’s nice to see a film like that conclude as well in ambiguity to leave viewers to picture the possible aftermath horror themselves just like the main victim in the film was forced to do, until, of course, the sequels came and ruined all that… Even with this thought process in mind though, I’m still a tad lost on how a movie can be this f**king stupid yet this f**king effective, but I guess that’s Saw described in a nutshell.

I want it to go on the record though that if Jigsaw’s zenith of a plan had actually failed, an innocent mother and daughter would’ve died. Just… umm… an observation I made. 

Verdict: B

The Saw Franchise Ranked

“Saw” is now available to stream on HBO Max.

Quick-Thoughts, Again: Wong Kar-wai’s Chungking Express (1994)

Screened at The Frida • 2nd Viewing

Chungking Express is absolutely engulfed in Hong-Kong: consumed by the daily fast food, confined in unconformably tight apartment spaces, and populated by wishful thinkers that pray in patience with dreams of a glorified destination likely persuaded by the peachy frequencies of a California Dreamin’ or something of the American. A two-part tale on how we erratically use the material world in making up on-the-spot superstitions to momentarily confront, explain, or poetify love’s existentialist perplexion and control, as the absolute grief of transitioning back into loneliness often cries for. It seems that in times of tedious mundanity, the little off-kilter moments are what become eternal memories, whether meaningless in their origins they can nonetheless become gorgeously meaningful in their interpretations; rational logic dies gracefully in cases such as this. I can’t stress enough once again how alluring Doyle and Lau’s cinematography is too, distancing characters in ways that put the audience into secluded positions themselves or intruding them with buffering fragments that abandon the strict flow of time. There truly are very few simplistic mood-pieces out there that are able to make me feel this happy, wow.

Has to be mentioned too, but it was nice seeing a fully (under COVID guidelines) packed theater for Mr. Kar-wai. This level of quality just seems to live on for people. 

Verdict: A+

All-Time Favorite Movies, Wong Kar-wai Ranked

“Chungking Express” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Quick-Thoughts: The Mitchells vs. The Machines

I’ve got to hand it to Sony for pulling their smartest move yet by making the main character here someone who appeals directly to the cinephile lives of essentially every Letterboxd user…

…but what doesn’t make sense though is how a company who made the box-office and critical bomb The Emoji Movie after being fished for its misinformed/pandering perspective, decided to immerse itself once again into Gen-Z and Millennial culture with a rendition of what is almost like “The Meme Movie” with its extroverted style of hit or missing sticky-note references left and right. I mean I can let a classic “no more wifi”, human degradation, or Mark Zuckerberg joke go from time to time, but what I can’t let go is how traditionalist this movie can be with its central parent & child exploration or its wishy-washy outlook on imperfections. Michael Rianda isn’t afraid to slip in a gag about offensive stereotypes yet he paradoxically gives into so many of them within the personalities and story arcs that are poofed up; it reminds me of Edgar Wright’s comedic level of restrictive stereotyping in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World that any ordinary fool has thought up to themselves before — which is why it’s appealing to many in the first place — so if you’re a part of that movie’s crowd this may be your tea given its also avidly quirky visuals which I will admit I usually delighted over and wished for to be in a better movie (i.e. Spider-Verse). Sadly however, The Mitchells vs. The Machines’ very constant hinderance on emphasizing pathos is just too predictable and overripe for me to fall head over heels. 

But hey, who am I to hammer on a perfectly passable family bonding road trip movie? Don’t listen to this prude for whether or not you should watch this; your kids are probably not as picky as I am!

Verdict: C

2021 Ranked

“The Mitchells vs. The Machines” is now available to stream on Netflix.

Quick-Thoughts: Claire Denis’s Nenette and Boni (1996)

Nenette and Boni is a moderately effective mood piece that executes a classic “takes one person to fill another person’s purpose and vice versa” but in a clearly unconventional style knowing Claire Denis. Something that stood out to me the most is how she transitions between scenes, using glimpses of suggestive imagery to entice us into the aggressive and diverging minds of a young adult dealing with firsthand gropes of existentialism. The sound design here is resourceful, as well, to the point where you may find yourself sucked into the familiarity of noises rather than the often still and calming visuals.

Verdict: B-

Claire Denis Ranked

“Nenette and Boni” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Quick-Thoughts: Claire Denis’s No Fear, No Die (1990)

Cocks and cocks; we aren’t so different after all? Often trained to compete, locked in cages until instructed otherwise, the only thing we’re taught to do, forced to love what’s around when given little in spite of contrasting physiques; it turns from the capitalist buffoonery of viewing, treating, and jeopardizing others as strictly “pets” or “pawns” in a resistant hierarchy complicated by historical and prejudice colonial ties. This is my first venture into Claire Denis’s earlier work, but it’s made clear to me at least with No Fear, No Die that she is obsessed with recreating lived-in environments at the expense of audience marketability or any mere remorse for an appealing pace. It’s recklessly morbid, slow, hopeless, and candid, trapping itself in the illegal cockfight scene to parallel the hitches of masculinity in profitable social squares or just in the nature of our born-given animal instincts.

Verdict: B

Claire Denis Ranked

“No Fear, No Die” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975): My New Favorite Musical

2nd Viewing

“So I’ll remove the cause, but not the symptom!”

Watch with its UK alternative black and white opening! You can’t have The Wizard of Oz: Wet Dream Edition any other way!

Rocky Horror Picture Show is the way more expressionistic, light-hearted, and dafter, free-willed musical version of David Cronenberg’s Shivers, where an entire movie’s sum has been dedicated to an untamed spiel of horny kinks, reckoned in the sexiest haunted house to ever exist of polygamous lust and affection. A warehouse where the brain has almost shut off with only room left to swallow in the frisky business of ticklish scenario and scheming. Like the construct of humans giving into their more animal side when the social boundaries of the world are stripped down, Rocky Horror Picture Show feels like a lawless Halloween party visit from “happy hell” that even the most vanilla of soon to be married couples can sinfully but delectably give into before they take their final leaps into marriage and parenthood’s existential death of lewd intimacy. This is the ultimate post-young-adult rebel rebel motion picture ever made and the greatest lyrical love letter to titillating experimentation in the bed. This movie even hatches sinners and demons on Earth’s soil by the end, so you know exactly how transformative such an experience may be for you as a viewer, therefore, proceed with caution and prepare for some serious honeymoon goals!

The Kenneth Anger energy in suggestive imagery and visual erotic symbolism camp never ceases to keep on pumping, rarely letting its science fiction genre leakage get the best of itself and using it collaboratively with the Texas Chainsaw horror elements of its indefinable entourage. There’s creativity in every set piece theme usually exclusively devoted to each track, allowing the trouble-making rollercoaster to feel consistently engaging despite some repetitions in musical styles. Tim Curry’s presence as Frank N. Furter may be the most crowd-pleasing performance in the history of film — even if you’re straight I guarantee watching this character quirk will make you temporarily curious for all of its 100 minute runtime. For the 70s, this really embraced queer culture into a sweet candyland assimilation of perfection that the era desperately needed. Plus, it’s so harddd for me to turn down a good death of innocence movie too, yessir-ey! This is my Singin’ in the Rain. “F**k you, Gene Kelly”, let’s go Tim Curry! 

Ooh, and the almost Kubrick-like use of handheld! Freaky! Also, have you heard the theory that this movie is about newly-wed Christians facing their hormones (i.e. the aliens and ghouls) through a classical fantasy tall-tale structure? Yeah… Cinema must’ve had a brain fart when they first tried to designate this movie a genre.  

Verdict: A-

“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is now available to rent on Amazon Prime.

Quick-Thoughts: Nicholas Ray’s They Live by Night (1948)

“Chickamaw!” 

They fear crime, yet they live in it; a couple must then escape to the innocent adrenaline of firsthand freedom, independence, and love for as long as they can. It’s a classic Romeo and Juliet ordeal set though right in noir-York territory. Sadly, this gist nor its counterpart of cringy on-the-nose execution ceased to impress me, but at least “They Live by Night” will always thrive on as one of the dopest movie titles I’ve ever heard of. It’s a pretty looking film too, but still a bottom-tier Nicholas Ray effort by a long-shot in whole. Here’s my daily dose of millennial fuel, readers: it’s all a-okay in the end because Edgar Wright would do the story better justice nearly 70 years later with the brighter and less melodramatic release Baby Driver

Verdict: C+

“They Live by Night” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.