Jason Reviews a Movie!

Posted by JJJason (November 1, 2006, 4:46AM)

We're going to try something different here at the mighty TOAWBAH.  We'll see how you like it.

If there is one enthusiasm I have more passion for than action figures, it is film.  Before I was a Would've-Been Action Hero, I was a Would've-Been Screenwriter.  I wrote a short film back in 1995 or so that won some awards from a film school I didn't even attend.  That's about as far as my screenwriting career got, although I did visit the United States Coast Guard Academy and tour the USCGC Gallatin, a 378-foot High Endurance Cutter, as research for a screenplay that never got past page 15.

It would have been better than The Guardian though, I can tell you that.

I'm intruducing two new features to the blog, they will turn up whenever it suits me.  One will be Jason Reviews a Movie, of which this is the premiere.  The other will be Jason Recommends a Movie, wherein I will suggest and describe a movie I think deserves a wider audience.

The reviews will go as follows.  First, I'll describe the plot and review the film free of SPOILERS.  That will conclude with a star rating, from * to ****.  Then I'll give you ample SPOILER SPACE and get into the hows and whys of my opinion, so if you want to get more in depth, you can.

Sound good?  It does to me.

For my first review, I will tackle the current, reigning, and defending box office champion of the United States...

I am not at all a fan of modern horror movies, but the Saw films are a guility pleasure of mine.  There has been little released after Universal's Monster heyday that I can say I like.  I know current entries like Wolf Creek and the ghastly House of 1,000 Corpses have their fans, but their appeal is completely lost on me.  The Saw franchise is different, largely because the scripts actually try to tell a story.

Or at least play a good trick.

The third installment in the franchise finds the game-playing, morality-judging, cancer-ridden Jigsaw (Tobin Bell, never over the top) confined to a hideaway hospital bed with his victim-turned-apprentice Amanda (Shawnee Smith) dutifully by his side.  The end is nigh for Jigsaw, however, and so Amanda kidnaps him a doctor (Bahar Soomekh) to delay the inevitable until one last game can play out.  That game involves Jeff (Angus MacFadyen, looking here like a cross between Russell Crowe after thirty odd pint of ale and Peter Lorre shortly before he died), who must navigate a series of Jigsaw's challenges in a quest to confront the man who killed his young son in a drunk driving accident.

Will Dr. Lynn keep Jigsaw, and herself, alive long enough to see Jeff through to the endgame?  That's why you buys your tickets, kids.

That's also the problem.

Like the first sequel, Saw III is two movies running concurrently.  Unlike Saw II, the stories here are sharply partitioned and one of them, Jeff's anguished trip down the Black Linoleum Road, is a tedious, uninteresting trek filled with unremitting, brutal gore.  One of the things I like most about the first Saw was, although gory, horrible things happen, much of it takes place off-screen or is suggested with quick shots and cuts.  The first sequel added to the gore factor, as all horror sequels do, but this new one splatters the previous two under the table inside of the first 20 minutes.  If I cared at all about Jeff or MacFadyden's puffy, sleepy performance, I might have stomached the bloody, bony mayhem better.  But I didn't, so I didn't.

The Jigsaw/Lynn/Amanda storyline (love triangle?) is more compelling, and less gory, but it isn't up to even the confrontation between Jigsaw and Donnie Wahlberg's corrupt police detective in Saw II

Where Saw III excels, surprisingly, is in flashbacks that fill in the timeframe before and after the events of the first Saw.  You don't know the whole story surrounding that bathroom, folks.  This movie makes the first one a better, tighter film.  I'm not sure I've ever encountered that in a film franchise.

This is purported to be the last Saw film, and I think that's a good thing.  The franchise, like so many others, has played to diminishing returns.  The scripts and casting have declined with each film, though Bell and Smith have done yeoman's work in all three.  I'd hate to see what started as a clever, well-made, pulpy thriller degrade any further into the realm of Roth-inspired torture and gore for the sake of tittering excess. 

Jigsaw is a poor man's Hannibal Lecter.  Let's let him go before he becomes a clever man's Jason Vorhees.

Rating: **

and, for reference...

Saw: ***

Saw II: **1/2

And there you have it.  Thanks for joining me for the inaugural edition of Jason Reviews a Movie.  Let me know what you think and I'll see you next time.

-JJJ

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One of the things that bothered me most, and really set the tone for how I'd feel about the whole film, was the unceremonious, savage dispatching of series veteren Dina Meyer's Kerry in the first ten minutes of the movie.  It felt very much like the writers capriciously closing a plothole they didn't want to address, namely the complete non-involvement of the police in the story.

Plus, Dina Meyer's hot.  She, and Kerry, deserved much better.

Two other series alumni appear in Saw III, one from the first movie and one from the second.  That's all I'll say.

One of the questions posed throughout the story is whether or not Amanda is as fit an apprentice to Jigsaw as either of them would like.  Specifically, is she the right person to carry on Jigsaw's work after he dies?  The answer to this question is fairly obvious from the start, especially to those paying attention to the first two murders.  However, The Big Reveal acts as though the answer is a surprise.

Speaking of The Big Reveal, there certainly is one, as has been tradition in the series.  This one is actually a rapid series of little Big Reveals, the biggest of which ties the two storylines together, but none of them add up to much. 

The story and character motivations in general get increasingly murky as the movie sprints to the finish.  By the end, it's just words and violence flying around.  The Jeff storyline, in particular, gets more uninvolving and foolish (and gory) as it goes.

I went in hoping to be told what in Jigsaw's background enabled him to create all the traps and devices used on his victims.  Sadly, all we get is him painting the puppet.

We do, however, get a small glimpse into the life Jigsaw may have had before even his cancer, but it's not enough to provide any real insight into the character.