Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Movie Review: Saw III

U.S. Release Date: 10/27/06
Running Time: 1:47
Rated: R (strong grisly violence and gore, sequences of terror and torture, nudity and language)
Cast: Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Angus Macfadyen, Bahar Soomekh, Dina Meyer, Donnie Wahlberg

Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Producer: Leigh Whannel, James Wan
Screenplay: Leigh Whannel & James Wan
Music: Charlie Clouser
Studio: Lions Gate Films

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One advertisement for Saw III declared, “If it’s Halloween, it has to be Saw!” This self-proclaimed statement from Lions Gate Films and Twisted Pictures is difficult to refute.

For the third time in three years, a film from the Saw series has been released to the public pre-All Souls Eve. With a taste for blood and bone during this scary season, horror fans have come to count on more and more graphic gore and clever twists. Considering this assumption, Saw III delivers in the vein of I and II and them some.

Saw III picks up right where Saw II left off. Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) is left for dead, and Amanda (Shawnee Smith) continues to serve John “Jigsaw” Kramer (Tobin Bell) as his apprentice. However, Jigsaw is on his deathbed. The brain tumor in his frontal lobe is expanding, and his time is limited.

To keep Jigsaw alive, Amanda kidnaps Dr. Lynn (Bahar Soomekh). Dr. Lynn must keep Jigsaw alive so he can watch the game of his latest victim, Jeff (Angus Macfadyen), unfold. Otherwise, the mechanical collar that Lynn wears will detonate when Jigsaw’s heart rate reaches zero beats per minute.

Given its hurried production time (from Halloween of ’05 to Halloween of ’06), Saw III results in a surprisingly well-played horror with pin-point precision and gruesome ingenuity. All of its pieces fit together like a challenging jigsaw; all of its vividly torturous acts make you writhe in your chair like a helpless victim.

From chains that rip flesh, to contortionist machinery that shatters bones, Saw III is, in a word, brutal. Not one single detail is left off-camera and for the imagination. Viewers are forced to watch bones crack, skin deteriorate, faces freeze, and bodies explode. In simpler terms, Saw fans will be pleased by its bloodshed; others will be squeamish and might lose their lunch. Though, the same could be rightfully said for the inverse as well.

All-in-all, Saw III lives up to the hype. James Wan and Leigh Whannel have written an all-encompassing treat that, yet again, initially tricks the mind. This third chapter is most praiseworthy for its intermingled flashbacks and its airtight interconnections. On the other hand, its faults are present in consistently jerky camera motions and a lengthy rehashing that overly forces the not-so-revelatory ending.

Nevertheless, Saw III achieves its goals of being a fitting third installment, a nail-biting suspense with more than one twist, and an exercise in edge-of-your-seat queasiness beyond all get-out. (*** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2006

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Movie Review: Eloise: Little Miss Christmas (DVD)

U.S. Release Date: 10/10/06 (DVD)
Running Time: 1:06
Rated: NR
Cast: Mary Matilyn Mouser, Tim Curry, Lynn Redgrave, Kathleen Gati, Rob Paulsen, Matthew Lilliard

Director: Wes Archer
Producers: Scott D. Greenberg, Sidney Clifton, Ted Green, Ken Lipman
Screenplay: Steven Goldman and Ken Lipman, based on Kay Thompson’s “Eloise”
Music: Megan Cavallari
Studio: Anchor Bay Entertainment

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Based on the 1950’s “Eloise at the Plaza” children’s book by Kay Thompson, the Eloise: Little Miss Christmas animated DVD attempts to outshine its 2003 live-action predecessor, entitled Eloise at Christmastime. With its slight variation in name, Eloise: Little Miss Christmas strives to appeal to a younger, more cartoon-oriented crowd. However, the film barely moves with its minimal holiday spirit, and similar to Me, Eloise, Little Miss Christmas still annoys more than it enthuses.

One week before Christmas, excitement begins to mount in the eyes of the children who reside at the Plaza Hotel on Fifth Avenue in New York City. Margarita, Tyler, Bruce, Bobby, Yuko, and most importantly Eloise (Mary Matilyn Mouser) all plot to partake in a Christmas Extravaganza. This Extravaganza will be performed by the kids and for the entertainment and cultural education of the adults.

However, Christmas is a busy time of year in the hotel industry. While Mr. Salamone (Tim Curry) barks orders to his bellhops and cooks, he informs them that on Christmas Eve, Mr. DuCat (Matthew Lilliard), a hotel inspector, will arrive to examine the Plaza down to the tiniest detail. For the children, this means: no Extravaganza in the main ballroom. Simultaneously, Salamone’s nephew Edwin plans to spoil the fun.

With names like Lynn Redgrave and Tim Curry, as opposed to Julie Andrews and Jeffrey Tambor (from the 2003 version), Little Miss Christmas cuts its budget and its quality. Furthermore, can’t Anchor Bay Entertainment find another voice besides Rob Paulsen? After Yakko, Eubie, and Bill, his voice is too recognizable and overused. Conversely, the quality of the voices is the least of the film’s flaws.

Again, the difficult aspect is accepting Eloise as a legitimate six-year-old protagonist. Eloise is smart enough to place the words “Holiday Show” in hand quotes to be politically correct, yet smug enough to believe that toys overshadow peace on Earth and goodwill at Christmastime. She is apparently responsible enough to walk herself and her dog around downtown New York City to purchase to her own gifts, yet reckless enough to have a balanced naughty and nice list. Moreover, age six is no age to allow children to perform magic tricks with a box and a real saw!

Most annoyingly, Eloise: Little Miss Christmas makes cheap attempts to rhyme in its narrations. By no means, is Little Miss Christmas on par with The Night before Christmas or any other classic Christmas story for that matter.

In addition, with a mother who shows up late to her daughter’s prized play just to stop by, supply a hug, and say hello, Little Miss Christmas does a poor job of depicting its characters as model, providing family members. What’s more, although they do find a hint of hope come the closing, the kids fall victim to envy, jealousy, and greed faster than you can say, “I absolutely love the Plaza.”

Even though the film’s inspector, Mr. Ducat, was duped by the holiday spirit to graciously hand out a “five out of five” hotel star rating, to do the same for this DVD would be a grave injustice. Underneath its ooey gooey Christmas overtone, Eloise is still largely rotten. Sadly, it’s the same old façade, just dressed up for the season. (** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2006

Monday, October 16, 2006

Movie Review: Me, Eloise (DVD)

U.S. Release Date: 10/10/06 (DVD)
Running Time: 0:45
Rated: NR
Cast: Mary Matilyn Mouser, Tim Curry, Curtis Armstrong, Lynn Redgrave, Kathleen Gati

Director: Wes Archer
Producers: Stephen Brown, Morris Berger, John W. Hyde, Patrick Meehan, Thomas D. Adelman, Ken Lipman
Screenplay: Steven Goldman and Ken Lipman, based on Kay Thompson’s “Eloise”
Music: Megan Cavallari
Studio: Anchor Bay Entertainment

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Combine the animated expression of Amelia Bedelia and the juvenile silliness of Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, and you arrive at the Kay Thompson-inspired effort entitled Me, Eloise. Bearing an especially striking resemblance to the Home Alone sequel, Me, Eloise possesses a main character who resides in the Plaza Hotel. What’s more, is that Me, Eloise’s hotel manager is voiced by Tim Curry—the very same man who condoned Kevin McAllister for committing credit card fraud. After viewing Me, Eloise, one can naturally suppose that the Tim Curry actually mans the Plaza Hotel. Additionally, it is entirely logical to assume that a film like Me, Eloise is a leading example of what is primarily wrong with the upbringings of the youth of America.

Eloise (Mary Matilyn Mouser) is, simply put, a brat who lacks parental guidance. She is an adolescent aristocrat and a self-defined “city child,” who soaks up every ounce of attention like a dehydrated sponge. Her mother frequents Paris on business, and more often than not, her “Nanny (Lynn Redgrave)” is her lone guardian. Much to her Nanny’s dismay, Eloise is a basket-case adventurer and a snooty youngster. As one young male points out, “Eloise thinks she’s the most ‘specialest’ girl in the hotel.” The average viewer will repeat this phrase and most likely replace the last word with “universe.”

On the day before her sixth birthday, Eloise hands out invitations to her birthday bash. As Eloise’s excitement mounts, an eight-year-old named Yuko arrives at the Plaza and steals Eloise’s thunder. Yuko is a Japanese violin prodigy, who is constantly under the strict control of her rich parents and her “grouchy butt” aid named Mr. Zanger (Curtis Armstrong – better known as...Booger from Revenge of the Nerds). Zanger forces Yuko to practice, practice, and practice— leaving it up to the soon-to-be six-year-old to liberate Yuko and show her what the word “fun” really means.

With a main character that is loud, disrespectful, and overly selfish, Me, Eloise presents its lead as far from the role model she should be. Likewise, the screenplay has enough spurts of entertainment to count on less than one half of one hand.

The most irritating aspect of Me, Eloise is the stuck-up temperament of Eloise’s sophisticated word choice. With phrases like, “absolutely exquisite,” “rather unusual,” “quite fabulous,” “amazingly huge,” and “very enormously well,” Eloise goes above and beyond the typical six-year-old girl’s vocabulary and crosses the line of excessive adverb usage. In addition, when she asks the question, “Whatever are we waiting for?” and describes a bird as being “grisly,” the audience balks at the idea of accepting her as a cute and genuine young protagonist. Furthermore, with notions of spoiling family dinners, pulling fire alarms, crashing weddings, and causing innocent people to fall, Eloise borders on bully – not sweetheart – stature.

If you are a parent seeking to buy an educational and inspiring DVD for your child, Me, Eloise will not fulfill your wishes. Unless you want your daughter to add a side of snob to her personality, beg for lavish gifts, and strive to be the center of attention, avoid Me, Eloise. It’s basically devoid of a lasting lesson and a much-needed sense of familial love. While the DVD case for Me, Eloise may look bright, attractive, and fitting for a young princess, its insides are spoiled. (*1/2 out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2006