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Films I Neglected To Review: The Saw Is Death.
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "All I See is You," "Faces Places" and "Jigsaw."

Former ''Gossip Girl'' star Blake Lively delivered one of the finest and most underrated performances of last year in, of all things, the high concept shark attack thriller ''The Shallows.'' As good as she was there, not to mention most of her other acting endeavors, not even her undeniable gifts can begin to redeem ''All I See Is You,'' a fairly dreadful work that can't decide if it wants to be a failed melodrama or a misfired psychological thriller and winds up serving as both. Blinded in a childhood auto accident that also claimed the lives of her parents, Gina (Lively) is living in Bangkok with her overly helpful husband James (Jason Clarke) when her doctor (Danny Huston) informs him of an experimental surgery that could restore the vision in one of her eyes. The operation is a success and Gina revels in the newfound freedom that comes with being able to see and do things for herself. The only trouble is that as she begins to assert more control over her life--changing her hair color and wardrobe, taking charge in bed and the like--the insecure James feels marginalized now that he is no longer her chief caretaker and protector. After a few weeks, her vision begins to falter again--is it simply a matter of her body eventually rejecting the procedure or are there more sinister reasons behind her gradually failing eyesight?

The early scenes of the film are not without interest as director Marc Forster uses an oddball stylistic approach to approximate the extremely limited manner in which Gina is able to see the world before the operation. However, it soon becomes evident that there is no real point to any of these visual fripperies other than to distract from a strangely sketchy narrative. As it plods along (and boy does this movie drag), it becomes painfully obvious that the blindness and its reversal is essentially a hackneyed metaphor for the story of a woman who has her blinkers removed at long last and discovers the toxic underpinnings of what she thought was a perfectly happy relationship--pretty much the same thing that the wonderful ''Colossal'' did earlier this year with a lot more wit, cleverness and visual style. Since neither Gina nor James are especially interesting as characters and since the plot never goes beyond the basic soap operatics in the first half, Forster and co-writer Sean Conway try to juice up the second half with would-be intrigue involving affairs, tainted eyedrops and a children’s talent show but these elements are contrived as can be and inspire more bad laughs than anything else.

The unquestioned grand dame of the French New Wave, Agnes Varda is now 89 but is still going strong and her latest film, ''Faces Places'' is one of the most immediately engaging of her entire career. The film is a documentary collaboration with artist/muralist JR that follows the two as they drive throughout the French countryside for a project that has them photographing working-class people--ranging from a waitress to a local church bell ringer to the wives of striking dockworkers in Le Havre—onto giant-sized prints that are then affixed to buildings. In between the art sessions, we bear witness to the byplay between the two, who have never worked together before but who come across as two kindred artistic spirits, and their other adventures, which include a doctor’s appointment regarding Varda's failing eyesight and a visit to JR's 100-year-old grandmother. One spirit hovering over their adventure is that of the legendary Jean-Luc Godard, an old friend of Varda’s and an idol of JR's, and the last section of the film finds them journeying to visit the reclusive director at his home in Switzerland. I would not dream of revealing what happens there except to say that it proves to be just as surprising, entertaining and unexpectedly moving as the rest of the film, a one-of-a-kind work from a one-of-a-kind filmmaker.

Although 2010's ''Saw 3D: The Final Chapter'' promised to be the conclusion of the torture porn horror franchise that started off on a reasonably intriguing note with 2004’s ''Saw'' and quickly and disgustingly went downhill from there, it probably should come as no surprise to most observers that the series would eventually return (few phrases in a horror movie title indicate a future sequel more concretely that anything invoking the word ''final''). What may come as a surprise, however, is that despite having more then seven years to come up with a fresh take, the reboot ''Jigsaw'' would be just as idiotically conceived and badly executed as the other sequels. Set 10 years after the events of ''Saw III,'' which saw the demise of John Kramer (Tobin Bell), the sanctimonious psychotic craftsman who designs elaborate deathtraps that he forces people who have sinned in their own lives to endure as a way of redeeming themselves in his eyes, the film involves a quintet of hapless sleaze balls harboring guilty secrets (ranging from knowingly selling a defective motorcycle to some nastiness involving a baby) who are being put through their paces in a new series of traps that involve such arcane elements as motorcycle motors and grain silos along the usual array of needles, shotguns and saw blades. While their numbers are gradually and goopily reduced, the police are trying to figure out if there is a Jigsaw copycat out there or if there is a possibility that Jigsaw himself has managed to cheat death. Complicating things is that most of the people investigating the case--including a corrupt cop (Callum Keith Rennie), a coroner (Matt Passmore) with some dark secrets in his past and an assistant (Hannah Emily Anderson) with a major Jigsaw fetish--would appear to be more-than-convincing suspects as well.

Not to put too fine a point on it but the movie sucks. Say what you will about the later ''Saw'' sequels--as ugly and grotesque as they were, the borderline cubist narratives that they employed in order to work around the fact that the bad guy died after the third film (with events taking place before, during and sometimes within the events of the earlier efforts) did engender some amusement at the sight of the filmmakers trying to work around the corner in which they painted themselves. Without that added level of curiosity, all we are left with are two parallel storylines featuring loathsome characters either doing horrible things or having them done to them before a final explanation that even the most devoted fans of the series will find to be a profound letdown. What makes this installment especially disappointing is that it was directed by the Spierig Brothers, whose previous efforts have included such interesting genre exercises as ''Daybreakers'' and ''Predestination''--any hope that their genuine filmmaking talents might lead to a new and improved ''Saw'' turn out to have been for naught as this one is practically indistinguishable from the others, right down to the dimly lit stylistic approach that feels like a cross between a Clint Eastwood movie and a glaucoma attack. Gorehounds may get a couple of cheap thrills out of the bloodshed on display (though even they may be put off by the CGI nature of much of the carnage) but other fans of the series will find it a pointless rehash while newcomers will have no idea what is going on. As for me, I came out of it yearning for a drink and a shower and feeling absolutely no desire to even sit through another ''Saw'' sequel again in my life, unless they get around to doing a crossover with the ''Bad Moms'' franchise.

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originally posted: 10/28/17 02:16:15
last updated: 10/28/17 04:46:59
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