Month: December 2014

Saw II (2005)

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Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) is under a lot of stress. In between a pending divorce, his sullen, withdrawn son Daniel (Erik Knudsen), and complicated murder cases, Matthews has little margin for error in his personal and professional lives.

After an investigation of a grisly murder scene that was the work of the Jigsaw Killer (Tobin Bell), Matthews and his fellow detectives rapidly find clues that soon lead to Jigsaw himself. But getting caught is all just part of Jigsaw’s greater plan. Daniel Matthews, along with seven other unfortunate individuals, is trapped in a house, with mere hours to live. He and his unlikely allies, including heroin addict Amanda (Shawnee Smith), are forced to take sides and find clues to solve the deadly puzzle and find an antidote before they succumb to poison–or get killed by the others.

Jigsaw plays psychological games with Matthews, whose only desire is to find his son alive and well. Jigsaw explains his motivations for his work, saying that “those who do not appreciate life do not deserve life.” He also reveals part of his backstory and what drove him to “test the fabric of human nature.” As time runs out in the house, Matthews grows weary. Can he survive his own game before his son is killed?

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In a rare twist (especially in horror), this sequel might be better than the first. Saw II succeeds better than its predecessor primarily because it has better acting, writing, and overall production value. Although shot on only a slightly larger budget than the first Saw film (which grossed roughly $50 million in the U.S. alone), Saw II has a more controlled feel to it, and is less guerrilla-style than the first one.

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On a purely entertaining level, the second one succeeds more, as well. The traps are more elaborate, there’s more gore, and it works as a continuation of events of the first film, albeit with more people in games and more on-screen depiction of Jigsaw himself. Tobin Bell is very solid in this film, and his scenes with Donnie Wahlberg are some of the best in the whole series.

However, one of the biggest reasons that the first Saw was so successful is that you truly cared about the fate of the characters involved. Saw II, unfortunately, isn’t as good on that level; apart from Detective Matthews and his son, there are very few sympathetic characters in this film. While Wahlberg is a better lead than Cary Elwes was in the first film, the characters just don’t have the same depth as the first film’s characters did.

In the Saw II house, Daniel Matthews is the only guy with even a modicum of innocence to him. A heroin addict, a prostitute, two rival gangbangers, a thief, a white-collar embezzler, and an arsonist are paired up in the same area as Daniel. You can’t get much more unsympathetic than those types of characters.

And I get it. It’s supposed to be that way. Jigsaw, as the twisted puppet-master, desires to play God, so to speak, and redeem these morally bankrupt people into making a change–by putting them through brutal games and tests that will teach them to live gratefully. That’s the twisted moral to this story. Therefore, we don’t expect these characters to be particularly savory. Still, you’re left wanting more.

Other than those minor complaints, I really enjoy Saw II. It’s arguably the most entertaining out of the whole series. Do not watch if you’re offended by graphic violence, disturbing images, or profanity.

Rating: 7/10

Released 2005

Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman

Produced by Oren Koules, Gregg Hoffman, and Mark Burg

Written by Leigh Whannell & Darren Lynn Bousman

Starring Donnie Wahlberg, Tobin Bell, Erik Knudsen, Shawnee Smith, Franky G, Emmanuelle Vaugier, Glenn Plummer, Dina Meyer, Lyriq Bent, Beverley Mitchell, Tim Burd, and Tony Nappo.

Rated R for grisly violence and gore, terror, language and drug content.

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I’m Not There. (2007)

People are always talking about freedom. Freedom to live a certain way, without being kicked around. Course the more you live a certain way, the less it feel like freedom. Me, I can change during the course of a day. I wake and I’m one person, when I go to sleep I know for certain I’m somebody else. I don’t know who I am most of the time.

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Above is a quote from this film. Such words have defined the career, life, and music of Bob Dylan. Long considered an American icon who transcends genres of rock, folk, blues, and gospel, Dylan is a elusive and bizarre figure whose music is as obscure as his personality.

I’m Not There is about as unconventional as movies get. Directed and co-written by Academy Award nominee Todd Haynes, this film embodies the spirit and essence of different parts of Dylan’s six-decade career, with six different actors playing archetypes of Dylan. Shot in both color and black-and-white, the film follows a non-linear storyline, intertwining all six storylines.

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  • Woody, an 11-year-old African-American boy played by Marcus Carl Franklin, portrays the teenage version of Dylan, including Dylan’s real idolization of folk artist Woody Guthrie.
  • Jack Rollins (Christian Bale) represents the Greenwich Village folk singer, singing protest songs and gaining a large youth following, while also becoming involved with other figures and activists of the time.
  • Bale also portrays Pastor John, who is symbolic of Dylan’s gospel music and born-again Christian period in the late 70s and early 80s. John appears to be an older version of Jack Rollins, as he leads a Pentecostal church in Stockton, California.
  • Robbie Clark (Heath Ledger) is a playboy actor whose career is launched by appearing in a film as Jack Rollins. This section of the film follows Robbie as he romances Claire (Charlotte Gainesbourg), a beautiful French girl and artist, and later follows the rise and fall of their relationship and their custody battles with their two young daughters.
  • Jude Quinn (Cate Blanchett) is a cynical mid-to-late 60s rock music figure, representing Dylan’s electric phase that carried considerable controversy with it. This part of the movie follows the exhausted Quinn as he butts heads with reporters, gets booed on stage, and attracts a polarizing reaction from both fans and critics as he tours the UK.
  • Billy (Richard Gere) represents the outlaw Dylan, who helps save a rural Missouri town from being eliminated, while also embodying the isolation of Dylan, his willingness to reinvent himself, and his fascination with Western films.
  • Arthur Rimbaud (Ben Whishaw) is seen only in a plain white room, as he quotes extensively from poetry and actual Dylan interviews while being interrogated by a group of unknown men.

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Feel confused yet? Don’t worry, the film can be even more bizarre than it sounds. And get this: the name “Bob Dylan” is never stated in the entire two-hour, 15-minute runtime (although it does get shown in the opening credits).

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This film succeeds not only because of its strange setup and alternative storyline, but also due to its originality and its directing style. Todd Haynes does an excellent job with the story and the source material, and really delves into what makes Dylan such an intriguing figure. However, by the end of the film, you still have no idea what kind of cinema odyssey you’ve just taken, and probably no further clue about who Bob Dylan really is.

Cate Blanchett, in particular, is fantastic as Jude Quinn, earning an Oscar nomination for her work. It’s honestly one of the best performances I’ve seen in the past ten years, and got some well-deserved recognition when I’m Not There came out. It was also one of the final films for the late Heath Ledger, who passed away only two months after the film was released (the DVD features a special tribute to him).

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I would give I’m Not There an 8/10 due to its excellent writing and acting, as well as its originality. I believe it is a unique piece of cinema, as it showcases one of America’s most pivotal musicians and reveals unique details about Dylan in an interesting way.

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Rating: 8/10

Released 2007

Directed by Todd Haynes

Screenplay by Todd Haynes & Oren Moverman

Story by Todd Haynes

Produced by Christine Vachon

Based on the music and many lives of Bob Dylan

Starring Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, Ben Whishaw, Charlotte Gainesbourg, David Cross, Michelle Williams, Julianne Moore, and Bruce Greenwood

Rated R for language, some sexuality and nudity.

The end of an era?

Australian band AC/DC has an uncertain future. And if you’re a fan of these guys, you’ll know how nobody ever expected to put together the words “AC/DC” and “uncertain.” If anything, these guys have known what they’ve wanted to do for years. For example, the media always insisted on labeling these musicians as pop, hard rock, or heavy metal, but they always preferred to be known as rock ‘n’ roll.

But as of 2014, the band members, by now in their 60s, have endured quite a bit of turbulence. Rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young had a stroke earlier this year, and is now suffering almost complete short-term memory loss. His nephew, Stevie Young, has been filling in for him and will continue to do so on their upcoming tour.

Also, the band admitted that drummer Phil Rudd hadn’t “been being himself” during the recording process for their upcoming album. This culminated in his arrest in New Zealand for a murder-for-hire plot, as well as possession of marijuana and methamphetamine. Some of those criminal charges have been dropped, but lead guitarist Angus Young was quoted as saying that Rudd needed to make changes in his life and that he had been disappointed in the drummer’s recent actions.

So can AC/DC continue? It looks doubtful. I mean, the band is most likely going in the direction of their childhood idols The Rolling Stones–and by that, I mean playing until they’ll eventually drop dead on stage. But the so-called “nostalgia music” trend is getting stale, and I don’t feel like anything by AC/DC post-1994 is that good. They’re not recapturing their magic, and though their legacy is undeniable, it doesn’t look like they will be able to do anything particularly memorable, especially without Malcolm Young and Phil Rudd. Think about it: when you think of AC/DC, you think of the Young brothers and their hard-charging guitar riffs. And Rudd’s drumming is an integral part of the band’s sound.

So, right now, as improbable as it may seem, the future of these rock legends looks very grim indeed.

What we’ve learned in 2014

It’s been a frustrating year to be an Aggie football fan, and the season is officially in the books, with a 2-10 overall record (1-7 in the Sun Belt). Here’s what we know heading forward:

  • Larry Rose III is legit. The unheralded recruit from Fairfield, Texas earned the starting gig from the get-go and exploded for 1,102 yards and nine touchdowns – the first NMSU freshman to rush for over 1,000 since Denvis Manns in 1995. I can only imagine how impressive he’ll be in 2015 with 10-20 more pounds of muscle on his frame. Also, he was injured for two games in 2014, so his numbers could easily have been even higher.
  • The offensive line is a strength. In addition to paving the way for Rose’s monster debut, the offensive line allowed only 10 sacks on the season and seemed to improve as the year went on. Four starters will return in 2015, including senior guard Andy Cunningham, who tore his ACL halfway through this season. The only guy we’ll miss is four-year starting center (and team captain) Valerian Ume-Ezeoke, but coaches like his heir apparent, Jamin Smith.
  • Teldrick Morgan and Greg Hogan are the future targets. This pair of redshirt freshmen came out of nowhere to enjoy breakout seasons in Las Cruces. Coach Doug Martin has gone on the record as saying that Morgan is the best receiver in the Sun Belt, and I could be on board with that sentiment. He finishes 2014 with 75 catches for 903 yards and seven TDs and enters next season as a go-to target for his quarterback. Hogan, meanwhile, wasn’t as reliable, but finished with an impressive 162-yard, three-score performance in the season finale against Arkansas State.
  • The Aggies need much more depth on defense. We knew going into this season that Larry Coyer wasn’t going to work a miracle with such a young squad. But there’s plenty to build on next season with 10 starters coming back. Our linebacking trio could end up being very good, and our secondary was (for the most part) excellent this year. Still, you can never have too much depth at a mid-major program.
  • We’re great at forcing turnovers. Despite our below-average record, we led the Sun Belt in turnovers forced for the majority of the season, and we’ve got some ballhawks in the secondary, especially Winston Rose (five INTs). In all, the young Aggie defense forced nine fumbles and picked off 11 passes.
  • We need to get bigger on the defensive line. Defensive linemen are, historically, difficult to lure to Las Cruces, and it would go a long way to recruit some big, beefy guys on the interior line. We had a mere ten sacks this season, and arguably our best player, Jay Eakins, is graduating.
  • We desperately need consistency at quarterback. Coach Martin came into the season very confident in sophomore Tyler Rogers as our starter, but his confidence was quickly eroded. Rogers’s gunslinger mentality backfired more often than not, and he easily led the nation with 23 interceptions. After two seasons of Martin not getting the QB play that he craves, it’s become clear we need to start over. Touted redshirt freshman Nick Jeanty could be the answer in spring ball and beyond.

Aggie up!