Kevin Carr’s Weekly Report Card: October 29, 2010

This week, Fat Guy Kevin Carr celebrated Halloween by dressing up as a slutty nurse and watching the latest Saw movie. Then he dressed up as a slutty lawyer and watched the latest slice of Oscar bait known as Conviction. Now, he’s changed costumes once again to dress up as a slutty schoolgirl to hand out grades to these movies and contemplate whether you all would be better off catching up on the awesome recently Halloween-appropriate Blu-rays releases like The Exorcist, Psycho, Alien Anthology or The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Want to hear what Kevin has to say on the Fat Guys at the Movies podcast? Take a listen below as Neil Miller and he meet up in the Magical Studio in the Sky to discuss this week’s new releases.

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Studio: Lionsgate

Rated: R for sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture, and language

Starring: Tobin Bell, Cary Elwes, Costas Mandylor, Betsy Russell and Sean Patrick Flanery

Directed by: Kevin Greutert

What it’s about: While Jigsaw’s protege Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) is recovering from almost being killed by Jigsaw’s widow Jill, a new set of games is afoot. Bobby Dagen (Sean Patrick Flanery) is a Jigsaw survivor who runs a support group for other survivors. However, he is put to the test by Hoffman in an attempt to uncover his deceitful past.

What I liked: As a fan of the Saw films and the new 3D wave, I was pretty interested to see this movie. As far as the 3D presentation goes, it works. Sure, along with a movie like Piranha 3D, it’s a quintessential example of the 3D being used as nothing more than a gimmick. But if there’s a reason to see this movie in the theater, that’s it.

Don’t expect Avatar level effects. But at least Saw 3D has been conceived and shot in the format rather than an afterthought conversion that we saw with My Soul to Take. As gimmicky 3D goes, Saw 3D delivers. There’s lots of blades flying at your face, and there’s plenty of blood, guts and other gore flung at the camera. Gorehounds should enjoy this film for the 3D presentation and the more explicit shots of human mutilation.

What I didn’t: I have enjoyed the Saw films ever since Carey Elwes cut off his foot in 2004. Many people have dismissed these films as exploitative torture porn, but they are actually pretty well written with a twisted but unflinching moral compass behind them. But that’s for the earlier films.

Once they killed off Jigsaw and resorted to a series of flashbacks to keep Tobin Bell in the franchise, the Saw films started to lose their luster. What was unique about this series was that Jigsaw offered a set of rules that, while gruesome, had a certain morality behind them. In the later films, it has become more about chopping people up than staying within those parameters. It really goes overboard in this film with Hoffman indiscriminately killing innocent people like a run-of-the-mill psychopath, and that’s just not what Jigsaw was all about.

With this said, the plot plays out more like a bad slasher film, feeling more like a low-level Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th sequel from the 80s or 90s than a bona fide Saw installment.

Similarly, Saw 3D seemed more to be an excuse to cram every possible torture device they could into a single film. Where in earlier films, even the seemingly unrelated deaths had a purpose in the end, this film just throws a bunch of traps at you that have no relevance to the overall plot. It’s so bad that if you walk in five minutes late and miss the first mutilation scene, you’re not going to miss anything except for some intestines on the ground.

And yes, they even go as far to give us a dream sequence, just to have an extra gory trap. It’s lazy filmmaking at its worst.

Who is gonna like this movie: People who can’t get enough Saw and love to see blood and guts fly in their faces.

Grade: D+

Studio: Fox Searchlight

Rated: R for language and some violent images

Starring: Sam Rockwell, Hilary Swank, Juliette Lewis, Minnie Driver and Clea DuVall

Directed by: Tony Goldwyn

What it’s about: Hilary Swank plays Betty Ann Waters, a poor woman from Massachusetts who goes to extraordinary lengths to overturn the murder conviction of her brother Kenny (Sam Rockwell). As he spends decades in prison, she gets a law degree and works with Barry Scheck and the Innocence Project to try and prove he did not commit the murder for which he was convicted.

What I liked: Every year around this time, you have Hollywood stars take their shot at winning an Oscar. Last week we had Clint Eastwood throw his hat in the ring with Hereafter. This week you have Hilary Swank trying to get another award for her mantle.

As far as the acting goes, Conviction does deliver. You’ve got some great names in this film – including Sam Rockwell, Melissa Leo, Juliette Lewis and Minnie Driver in addition to Swank – and everyone gives a fine performance. This is to be expected since the film is populated with Oscar winners and Oscar nominees, after all.

What I didn’t: Unfortunately, fine acting won’t save a dud of a film. Conviction has more in common with Amelia, Swank’s Oscar grab from last year, than it does with her winning films like Boys Don’t Cry and Million Dollar Baby.

The biggest sin that Conviction commits is the fact that there are no surprises in the plot at all. From the crime to the conviction to the fight to prove his innocence, every aspect of this film is telegraphed to the audience and presented in a shockingly pedantic way. In this sense, the film plays out more like a Lifetime movie-of-the-week with more swearing in it than an award-winning film.

If you were to sit down and make a list of all the award movie cliches, you’ll have a list of many of the things that happen in Conviction. A scene where someone is so devastated that they literally fall to the ground? Check! A scene in which a character is so mad, she just throws things? Check! A moment where someone yells at another to never give up hope? Check!

Conviction may be well acted, but it’s a paint-by-numbers snoozer.

Who is gonna like this movie: Anyone who thinks “ripped from the headlines” Lifetime movies-of-the-week are the pinnacle of brilliant writing.

Grade: D+

Want to see what Kevin had to say about these films on TV? Check out his interview on FOX…

Kevin Carr crawled from the primordial ooze in the early 1970s. He grew up watching movies to the point of irritation for his friends and was a font of useless movie knowledge until he decided to put that knowledge to good use. Now, Kevin is a nationally syndicated critic, heard on dozens of radio stations around the country, and his reviews appear in a variety of online outlets. Kevin is also a proud member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA).

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