Sunday, December 19, 2004
SAW: Horrifyingly Disturbing
By Reymundo Salao
Just Another FIlm Junkie
The Guardian, December 18-19, 2004
For those who want an appropriate "Christmas feel" of a movie, it would be an obvious and perfect choice to pick the movies "Christmas with the Kranks" and "Surviving Christmas". The titles of both films are pretty self-explanatory and promises give you such a yuletide of a treat. But for those who want to take time out from all the perkiness and the bright-colored jolly moods, and prefer to spend some time on the thrill of a shock-horror masterpiece, there's "SAW".
"SAW" may seem to have lacked that marketing hype from its producers and local distributors, that is why many of us never may not have heard about the movie till just now. So if you're hesitant over the film, thinking its just another small-time horror flick from a couple of "unknown" producers, be hesitant no more, because I would not lie when I say that "SAW" may be the year's most terrifying horror movie. Sure, "Dawn of the Dead" may have given us that post-apocalyptic fast-pulse shock, sure, "The Grudge" may have given us that hair-raising eeriness. But "SAW" makes you see, hear, and fear the horror, and makes you think about it later on, wishing that you would not be put on the same torturous situation as the characters of this movie.
Horror movies have lately focused on Ghost and/or Spirit activity; hauntings that kill with enigmatic effect. But "SAW" takes us back to the idea of sick serial killers; frighteningly realistic. Like any "serial killer" movie that has some quality, the killer always has a profound and sublime motive. Random, but ultimately sublime. For the killer on this movie, who is nicknamed JIGSAW, has one thought of mind that he tells his victims: The idea that many of us should be grateful just to be alive, yet everyday, we tend to make life wasteful or we never seem to stop bickering over the little insecurities of life. This strikes a chord on many of us, because it is the truth; many of us never seem to find contentment in our lives. It is being human, but it's not a human trait we should cultivate. On my column last Wednesday, I wrote a hysterical article about how I'm upset over life's complications and miseries, without even realizing the fact that I should be just glad to be alive. Each and every one of us tends to have the same feelings of contempt over how imperfect our lives are. And the sick beauty of the "SAW" storyline is that we, who are guilty of having the same natural feelings of discontent, could've been the victims of the serial killer on this movie. For the killer seeks for his victims to find that contentment, even if he has to drag them into torture to do it.
And how does he kill his victims? The victims usually die in a very gory, unbelievably shocking manner. Jigsaw does not technically "kill" his victims, he puts his victims in a situation, in a game, that they would end up killing themselves. A sort of a game of choice: Choose to die, or choose to torture yourself to get through that very thin chance of living through the game. An example is that of a victim trapped in an underground chamber. The only door that leads outside has a timer that is set to close at a particular deadline. If it shuts, that room will later be filled with lethal gas that would kill the victim inside. But in order to get through that door the victim must pass through a cage filled with barbed wires and hooks. And, by the way, the victim is naked. Do the math.
The film has a respectable cast, although their credits are not overblown (and seems to not even appear) in the posters. There's Cary Elwes, who has appeared in "The Crush" and has shined in comedies like "Robin Hood: Men In Tights" (he played Robin on that film), and "Liar Liar". But on this film he looks very different, this perhaps, attributing to the entire deadly mood of the storyline. There's also Monica Potter who was last seen in perky roles as well. And there's Danny Glover, who always is reliable on playing the "hardened cop" role. And there is Leigh Whannell, who played a very small role in Matrix Revolutions and is actually the brilliant screenwriter of this movie, plays Adam, who is one of the central roles in the movie. And along with him, everybody's acting is superbly scary. I have noticed a particular focus on the screaming in this movie. It is as if there is emphasis that lets you feel the screams, feel the fear in it. Like a howl of excruciating pain, the sound of the screams alone would give you the chills. There is also the entire mood of the film. The sets, the cinematography, the color tone of the film. Very gritty. Very dark. It reminds you of the music videos of Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson, which makes sense because the musical director of this movie, Charlie Clouser, is once a band member of Nine Inch Nails. (Thanks for the info, nervegasm)
The movie was directed by James Wan (also has some credit in the storyline) which has earned my respect on the horror and perhaps the psychological films genre, and I would certainly be awaiting what his next project would be. "SAW" is rated R for strong grisly violence. Nays and Tays would best keep their kids away from this movie. But to everybody else above 13, especially the horror aficionados, this film is a "never miss" screamfest.
Saturday, December 18, 2004
THE GRUDGE: Making That Perfect Adaptation
By Reymundo Salao
The GRUDGE is absolutely chilling, it has that creepy sensibility that justifies the original version. I usually have that unfavorable opinion about the recent American/Hollywood remakes of foreign films such as the remake of "Taxi", which was originally a fun-filled-ride-of-a-film from France, and "The Ring", which was awfully copied from the Japanese horror classic "Ringu". The fatal mistake of the producers of "The Ring" which makes it a weak adaptation that does not satisfy the reputation of the original, was that they thought they could make a better movie out of the Ringu concept, completely rewriting the storyline, forcing their own Hollywood brains into the material. It is as if the producers were trying to take credit for what was originally NOT their concept. (Moving on, and enough talk about the Ring,) THE GRUDGE, on the other hand, triumphs and does justice with the original Japanese version (The Grudge / "JU-ON"), because it does not attempt to diminish the standing reputation of what has been established. It never fails to acknowledge the Japanese aspect of what originally is Japanese. I knew that watching it from Cinema 6 of the Robinson's Movieworld was such a treat since it's the one with the great surround speakers, that effectively translates the life-like audio of the film.
First of all, on the purely basic, the producers of the film did what was best: get the director of the original version. The director is the captain of the movie; he is the visionary that guides what or how the movie should look. He knows the entire feel of a movie. And attempting to create a perfect adaptation for a film, would be hiring the director of the original. That director is Takashi Shimizu. Whose style made this film an enhanced version of the original, it may even serve as a serious sequel to the timeline of the original "Grudge / Ju-on" series of films. The second wise step in making this adaptation was never to change the setting. Other adaptations prefer to rewrite and re-conceptualize the entire original work and fit it into an American setting. The sense of it may be in order to let the American audience have a better grasp of the movie without some cultural alienation. But then again, we Filipinos, among other cultures are also audiences to these movies, and there's nothing wrong with minor cultural differences. Ultimately, if they plan to re-conceptualize the original, what's the point of claiming such film as an ADAPTATION? THE GRUDGE respects the setting of the original and has taken on the same actors, actresses, and characters, even the same house used in the original.
The film is set in Japan, and Sarah Michelle Gellar plays Karen Davis, an American who was drawn to a house where she was temporarily assigned to be the caretaker, and discovers that there have been serious ghost hauntings, mysterious disappearances, and inexplicable deaths. While the original "JU-ON" seemed to be more of a collage of short stories revolving around those who have been affected by the curse, this adaptation does the same but provides a bit more chronological and cinematic sense to it. In this movie, there seems to be a bit more of finality and closure compared to how strange some Japanese horror movies would usually end; with a hanging question and sometimes without even a heartbeat of a climax. This version offers a pinch more gore. But not to the point of overdoing it that it strays from the simplicity of the original concept. Like any good horror movie, it observes the rule of 'less is more', meaning, no flashy special effects (except for just one prominent CGI scene), no full-scale stunts, no elaborate chase scenes. The horror either seeps in like a tortuous consumption of fear eating up your spine, or a quick cut of fear that slams you in your face and leaves you pondering about the after-effects later on. The brilliance of THE GRUDGE may be credited to the fact that it blends well with the series. Not re-jumbling the original concept, it was as if there is this additional episode told from the point of view of its American protagonist, Karen Davis (Gellar).
The producers who were wise enough to responsibly create this adaptation are the team of Robert Tapert and director Sam Raimi. Before he was to become the famous director of "Spiderman", Sam Raimi who was the mastermind behind cult favorites as "Darkman" and "Army of Darkness (Evil Dead 3)", written and directed "EVIL DEAD" which was produced by Robert Tapert. "EVIL DEAD" has become one of the scariest horror movies of all time (one of my personal favorite films, in fact). Unfortunately, it was a cult-status fame that didn't last through time. And as cult masterminds in horror cinema, the team was a very appropriate team to launch such a project. It was no wonder that THE GRUDGE held a consistent spot on the blockbuster charts for such a long time. Its fear does not wither away with the Halloween; it's fear that can render you frozen in the December breeze.
THE GRUDGE is a never-miss for horror fans. It is never disappointing for those who love that creep-trip. But just like the curse of the Grudge that follows you home, you may find yourself later that night at home, paranoid of what you'll see around. There may be a stranger in the mirror or a sound of a cat in the other room. Don't worry; it'll wait for you to be alone before it appears.
Friday, December 10, 2004
AFTER THE SUNSET
by Reymundo Salao
Just as the chilling coldness of December has greeted us (especially with last week's sad news about the storm), there's the film AFTER THE SUNSET to warm us up. This movie directed by Bret Ratner (of "Rush Hour" and "Red Dragon") and stars Pierce Brosnan, Salma Hayek, and Woody Harrelson, is set on a sunny Caribbean holiday spot where a sly game of cat-and-mouse ensues between an FBI Agent a and Professional Thief.
The film follows the story of Max Burdett and Lola Cirillo, both master-thieves, partners-in-crime, and romantic protagonists, who have decided to "retire" from the life of crime, to a tropical-paradise-of an island. But their romance seems to be threatened when Lola suspects Max of cheating. Not with another woman, but with a priceless diamond that has caught Max's attention. Fully aware that Max cannot resist the temptation of stealing the diamond, FBI Agent Stanley P. Lloyd gets in a playful game of cat-and-mouse, to try and catch the retired thief on the act. While on the island, he teams up with a local police officer Sophie played by Naomi Harris, whose femme fetale has caught Stanley's eye. While Max secretly plots to steal the diamond, Lola has felt great disappointment on her lover and plans to leave him for good. Now Max must figure out if he'll just abandon his great heist for the love of her woman.
At first, I was quick to put my faith on other reviews of this film, among them, a BBC film review which thought of this film as not to have offered "anything new". Sure, we may have already seen the Mission: Impossible high-tech theft scene, or the suave Bond-like master-thief, since "The Thomas Crown Affair" remake (also with Brosnan). But what was magnificent about the movie was its energy. It was a film that is full of life. If I may describe with a bit more clarity, an adult person's Walt Disney film. And adults will truly feel alive with the entire look of the film. Tropical, radiant and colorful. Beaches all around, sunshine, scenes as lovely as a holiday postcard and a coffeehouse painting. Very exotic. And for the guys; there's Salma Hayek. There may be no breast exposure on this movie, but there is a lot of boobs-exposures (if you dig my language. Read: Melons)
Maybe it is hard to shake off that James Bond image to pursue other roles, but Pierce Brosnan easily shook off his Bond image with his role on this film as a thief who surely is monogamous, and if he ever does cheat, it's with a priceless Napoleonic Diamond. It also may be the rugged unshaved look he is sporting on this movie, but I believe it's his performance, reminding us that Brosnan has already had that respected reputation as an actor even before he stepped in the Bond shoes. Salma Hayek, who plays Lola, Max's girlfriend, is never belittled as mere babe-wallpaper for the guy audience to just ogle. She plays the character who yearns to just settle down and move on away from the life of crime, and into just a simple life with the man she loves. And she does it very well. After the first minutes of the film after reviving male eyes of all the ogling, her performance grabs you into seeing the sincerity in her character having that desire to never look back to the life of stealing and just being regular people from now on. The film also stars Don Cheadle who plays a villain on this movie, you may have seen him in varied roles on films such as Ocean's Eleven, Swordfish, and Traffic. And then there's Woody Harrelson, whose dignified film credits include the controversial movie The People versus Larry Flynt and Natural Born Killers. He provides almost 90 percent of the film's humor, for his character is defeatingly funny, in a very "Wily E. Coyote" manner. The "cop-vs-thief" theme of this movie can be a modernized comparison of the old Pink Panther movies that we used to watch in late 80's Channel 12. With the character of Harrelson having resemblances to Inspector Clueseau, and Brosnan's to the Pink Panther thief. But more than that, AFTER THE SUNSET is also a romantic comedy and has its share of hilarious scenes that had made me laugh out loud inside the theater.
AFTER THE SUNSET is very enjoyable and full of bursting colors. It may be a great date movie and also a barkada movie. If you wanna take that short break from the chill of December, this is one film that feels like a cool trip to paradise.
Friday, December 03, 2004
by Reymundo Salao
The Guardian, December 3, 2004
When I got to the third level of Robinson’s last Wednesday, I was aghast in pleasant fever to find that almost all of the films being shown this week are must-sees. There’s the long awaited cold war-era novel-adaptation “The Manchurian Candidate” and the sequel of probably the best romantic movie I’ve ever seen (Before Sunrise) “Before Sunset”. Not to mention the Pinoy horror “Pa-Siyam” which has drawn me with a bit of intrigue. And there’s that temptation to watch “The Incredibles” AGAIN. But it has been a while since I watched a good “treasure-hunt-movie” a la Indiana Jones. So I decided to take a trip in search of “National Treasure”.
The story follows the lifelong devotion and obsession of our protagonist Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicholas Cage) in search of a treasure kept secret for centuries by the founding (patriot) fathers of the United States of America and the few of their descendants who have kept that secret, but to unlock that secret and to seek for that treasure that has remained hidden for centuries, is an arduous, seemingly-futile quest. It is a quest that was actually shared by Ben's father and grandfathers as well, but they all failed and gave up, dismissing the existence of the treasure to be a myth, saying that it just leads to clues and more clues, that it leads to nowhere. But Ben firmly believes in the secret and has broken ground making one step ahead by discovering one very important clue. The clue revealing that the map of the treasure is hidden, engraved with invisible ink at the back of the historical Declaration of Independence document. But on his tail after the treasure is his rival ex-partner Ian Howe (Sean Bean). Left without a choice and with a desperate decision, Ben takes that daring step to steal the Declaration of Independence and from that point, his adventure towards finding the Hidden Treasure steams up with action, mystery and intrigue.
The character of Nicholas Cage in this film is his typical "thinking-hero" character, sort of refurbishing the same character he did in his previous film "The Rock". He takes that character one step ahead in a pinch of comedic tone, as his character Ben is believed by many to be a delusional "treasure-myth" geek who hastily and ineffectively tries to convince people of believing his concepts. He does it quite well and is so fit for such performance since Nick Cage really doesn’t shine in macho mouth-shut-action hero roles. More of the clean adventurer-action-hero-type, this kind of hero is best for this kind of wholesome all-out adventure kind of movie. Sean Bean's villain role carries a bit more serious tone than his previous villain roles. The depth of his being a feared villain is done well with his acting even without the aid of violence. The appearance of Christopher Plummer plays well in the storytelling narration of what the treasure myth is all about. Plummer has a voice and a way of speaking that exudes a serious mythical tone; you'd either believe it as fact or dismiss it as fiction. A tone that makes you think twice on the question "Does this treasure really exist?” Diane Kruger as the lovely Abigail Chase, is seen this time with a better acting role than her role as Helen in "Troy" And there's Justin Bartha playing Riley Poole, the hero's sidekick, gives a great addition of humor and life to the story. Jon Voight plays Ben's father who gave up on the myth of the treasure and has lost faith that it ever existed. Film nerds may make a comparison of his role to that of Sean Connery's in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade". It was interesting to see Voight play a typical father figure injecting that slight typical father-son tension on one part of the movie. Didn’t he play Lara Croft's father too? Then there's the ever-cool Harvey Keitel as Police Chief Sadusky, who delivers this convincing short speech at the end part of the movie that serves as a sort of epilogue for the film.
More than just a plain adventure movie, National Treasure has subtle elements of being educational and informative. As the story progresses, the characters tend to review details of events in American History. As they do this, some who are familiar with American History would tend to also think along of those details as well. Fortunately, this doesn’t come off in a cheesy manner as to give the film "school-textbook" segments. The informative stuff comes off naturally and appropriately.
What I like about the movie is that it immediately jumps into the action without long character introductions. There was no need of making complicated character-drivers since the characters are not-very-complicated and easy to comprehend in the first place; the visionary hero, the comedic sidekick, the greed-driven villain, the helpful damsel. The hints of romance between cage and Kruger does not lag the movie on the expense of its main storyline. The villains of this movie are non-American, which is simplistically in tone with the whole idea of the movie's semi-patriotic yet obvious un-pronounced undertone that the heroes are trying to stop the foreigner-villains from taking away what belongs to America. But that's beside the point because the thrill and adventure aspect of the film comes first. It is a film honest to itself as being marketed for pure all-around entertainment (especially on this season of holidays). The film is directed by Jon Turteltaub and produced by the big-budget icon Jerry Bruckheimer. Although it does not even attempt to compete with the immortal appeal of Indiana Jones and the femme testosterone of Lara Croft, and though it does not promise some unique new stunt, National Treasure is one adventure that doesn’t miss on giving you that suspenseful thrill of a great treasure-hunt movie, it doesn’t fail to give you that promised mystery-solving intrigue, that beat-per-second chase scenes, and it is very wholesome to all ages. The minimized violence is appropriate for the story without making it look too trying-hard-safe about it. The film appropriately steers the action more into the adventure level. The heroes of this film aren’t really the kind who’d face d bad guys with a fist or gunfight, rather more of your ordinary Joes in a cat-and-mouse race to get to the treasure.
NATIONAL TREASURE is one movie that everybody can enjoy. While most action-adventure movies these days tend to have that exclusively adult content, it is a relief that some action-adventures are family-safe without being tarnished with wimpy factors. This is one movie even you Lola will enjoy. In fact, I saw a lola inside the moviehouse that night.