The Jigsaw Files: Saw III (2006)

It’s not brain surgery for fans of this franchise to view Saw III. Well, except, maybe when actual brain surgery is performed. I know I turned away when I saw it a decade and a half ago. Same goes for the rewatch. The third feature in the series is up as I recap the Saw sagas prior to the release of Spiral. If you didn’t catch my first two write-ups, they’re right bloody here:

The Jigsaw Files: Saw (2004)

The Jigsaw Files: Saw II (2005)

Saw III finds our criminal mastermind Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) in a reflective mode as his cancer is finally about to put a stop to his intricate games. He’s still got one up his hospital gowned sleeve and it’s for Jeff (Angus Macfayden), who’s mourning the death of his adolescent son three years earlier. Depressed and seeking revenge on the many people responsible for that demise, Jigsaw gives him the elaborate opportunity. This involves potential payback for witnesses, judicial personnel, and the driver who subjected Jeff to the loss.

In a Saw pic, we know that means torture devices that test their fate and test previous meals of moviegoers watching it. Jeff’s journeys are intercut with Jigsaw’s failing health in a makeshift hospital. As we learned at the conclusion of Saw II, he’s got a partner in crime with Amanda (Shawnee Smith). Lynn (Bahar Soomekh) is the surgeon brought in (kidnapped) to save his life. Of course, if she doesn’t, Amanda has built a contraption to immediately end the doctor’s life once Jigsaw’s expires. And let the games begin!

Darren Lynn Bousman returns as director for the second time and James Wan and Leigh Whannell are back for story credit. This would mark the final time that this trio would collectively have their hands in the franchise. And they sure go out of their way to tie the first three pictures together… logic be kinda damned! Donnie Wahlberg reprises his role as the detective from part 2 as does Dina Meyer. Even Whannell’s Adam from the original is seen in flashback form.

Saw III, to its credit, creates a more emotional situation for Jeff to find redemption. Unlike most of the lead characters in I and II, he’s not a horrible person. He’s just in a horrible situation due to tragedy and he actually makes some decent choices based on Jigsaw’s vile experiments. And I have to say, this is the first time in the franchise where Jigsaw’s trials of human behavior really seem too complicated for anyone to comply with. I mean that in the context of this grisly and implausible cinematic universe, but still…

By the third act, Saw III begins to fall all over itself in attempting to connect various loose ends. It all feels a bit much. There are many who think this is second only to the original in terms of quality. I would put it a notch behind #2 as well.

Find out how this series progresses or regresses when The Jigsaw Files returns with Saw IV (2007)…

The Jigsaw Files: Saw II (2005)

As we await the release of the ninth Saw franchise gorefest Spiral, my Jigsaw Files posts continue with Saw II. If you missed my first entry for the 2004 original, you can find it here:

The Jigsaw Files: Saw (2004)

When Saw was released in October of 2004, Lionsgate didn’t know they had a series that would continue into three separate decades. The opening weekend grosses changed that and a sequel was immediately commissioned. Not only that – the studio wanted it out fast in time for the 2005 Halloween box office. Darren Lynn Bousman, as luck would have it, already had a screenplay outside of the Saw universe that could serve as a template. Franchise co-creator Leigh Whannell was brought in to bring the script into this demented world. And Saw II was hurried into production to meet that all important drop date.

The rushed production schedule does not deter this from generally doing what a sequel needs to do. It builds upon its predecessor. It looks like more of a sophisticated final product (at $4 million, it nearly quadrupled the budget of part one). There’s a twist ending that legitimately manages to surprise. Most of all, Saw II (even more than Saw) sets the formula for those that followed.

Whether that’s a good thing likely depends on your stomach for this type of material. Like many horror follow-ups, part II is bloodier and more sadistic. Picking up from the shocking ending of Saw when we learn who Jigsaw is, this puts a lot more meat on the bones of its central antagonist. We learn more about John Kramer (Tobin Bell) and his cancer diagnosis that causes him to develop these games of survival. Or as he describes it… “testing the fabric of human nature.” In John/Jigsaw’s world, he’s allowing his potential victims a chance to appreciate their lives and give them a second chance. A lot of them don’t see it that way.

His sights are set on corrupt detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) here. Jigsaw orchestrates the abduction of eight strangers in a dim dungeon to toy with. This includes the detective’s teen son (Erik Knudsen). The seven others are all of a criminal mind. The unexpected addition is Amanda (Shawnee Smith), who we glimpsed in Saw and was a survivor of Jigsaw’s tests (she even appreciated his unconventional method of getting her off smack).

Jigsaw is captured early in the film. It doesn’t take long to figure out that this is on purpose and he holds court with Detective Matthews as he tries to save his estranged boy. According to the ailing prisoner, the detective only needs to follow his instructions step by step. Unfortunately, the new character on the block’s temper prevents that from happening. I’m not sure if Bousman and Whannell wanted us to root for Wahlberg’s character. Probably not. If by any chance they did, that’s a failure because we don’t mind Jiggy gettin’ the best of him.

Saw II truly begins the parade of gross out gags and creative deaths that have marked the series. The most squirm inducing involves needing to find a key. In this situation, the key is the needle and the haystack happens to be needles. By the time we reach our climax, a time shifting revelation manages to fool us. It’s not as effective as Jigsaw rising from that disgusting washroom floor in Saw, but it’s pretty good stuff.

I give the filmmakers due credit with the first sequel. This was made to make a release date and it did so without seeming like a rip-off of its source material. Far from it.

The Jigsaw Files will continue with Saw III (2006)…

The Jigsaw Files: Saw (2004)

Perhaps I’m feeling like a glutton for punishment, but the upcoming release of Spiral: From the Book of Saw got me in a bloody nostalgic mood as we anticipate its premiere. Nearly 17 years after the low-budget original became one of the most profitable horror pics ever and spawned now eight sequels/reboots, I felt it was time to revisit the franchise.

Hence The Jigsaw Files where I will recap the series movie by movie. It naturally begins with the original Saw. Shot for a reported teensy budget of $1.2 million, it came out of nowhere in October 2004 to become a genre classic. So is it?

This marks the directorial debut of James Wan and he went on to be involved in numerous franchises. Some were of his own making (Insidious, The Conjuring). Others brought on his talents like in Furious 7 and Aquaman. Wan came up with the story along with Leigh Whannell, who has since helmed Upgrade and The Invisible Man (both critically acclaimed scare fests).

Most of you are familiar with the story. Whannell costars as Adam, a photographer who awakens in a dingy and feces covered washroom with Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes). The duo soon discover that they are part of an elaborate game orchestrated by a serial killer who concocts these elaborate schemes. They have to figure out why they have been placed in such a foul setting and they only have hours to do so before their time expires.

The screenplay intersects their countdown with Detectives Tapp (Danny Glover) and Sing (Ken Leung) trying to figure out who this monster is. Saw is told in a non-linear fashion that isn’t totally clear until the climax. I had forgotten about the Lost TV series connection until my rewatch. Leung was the quirky medium Miles. Michael Emerson, who is involved in the mayhem happening here, is an Emmy winner for his brilliant portrayal of Ben Linus.

What’s striking about Saw upon another visit is that its meager budget limits some of the gore we became accustomed to in the sequels. Don’t get me wrong… it’s there, but not quite as prevalent. Elwes and Whannell get the most screen time (Glover apparently only shot for two days). Both actors have their moments of extreme overacting and I’m pretty sure that’s on purpose. Some may find this exercise humorless, but there’s some winking and nodding occurring in my estimation.

The other plot point that audiences might forget is that Tobin Bell’s Jigsaw (who becomes this franchise’s Freddy, Jason, Michael… take your pick) plays a minimal role… kind of like Jason in the first Friday the 13th. This is, of course, until the surprise ending. And that ending is still one of the better twists in modern horror history. If you’re a stickler about it making sense… well, you might hurt your head deciding if it holds up to scrutiny. Yet it was effective when I first watched it and it still is today.

Saw is certainly not perfect. Its price tag limitations show, but even that adds to the B movie vibe. Wan shows right away why he’s become the in demand filmmaker he is now. And this Saw remains a cut above most of what followed and rightfully has the reputation that precedes it.

The Jigsaw Files will continue with Saw II (2005)…

Mortal Kombat Box Office Prediction

Fresh off their massive success with Godzilla vs. Kong, Warner Bros is back in theaters and streaming on HBO Max with the release of Mortal Kombat on April 23. The film is, of course, an adaptation of the hugely profitable gaming franchise. It’s also a reboot of the film series that began in 1995 to potent box office returns and a 1997 sequel (Mortal Kombat: Annihilation) that couldn’t live up to the first. Therefore the series has been dormant nearly a quarter century.

Simon McQuoid makes his directorial debut (and James Wan as a coproducer) with a cast featuring Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Josh Lawson, Tadanobu Asano, Mehcad Brooks, Ludi Lin, Chin Han, and Hiroyuki Sanada. While it seems like every major motion picture has experienced major delays due to COVID-19, this one was only pushed three months from an original January release date.

As mentioned, its studio has found a formula that works in recent months with their simultaneous multiplex and HBO Max drop dates. Godzilla vs. Kong set the COVID times record with a much better than anticipated $32 million traditional opening weekend and nearly $50 million for its five-day Easter frame rollout.

Mortal Kombat may not have quite the appeal of those two monsters mashing, but it certainly has a built-in fanbase that will prefer to see it in the theaters. Its R rating (the first two flicks were PG-13) could be a minor hiccup, but I doubt that will have too much effect. It can’t hurt that there’s a new generation of video game players and their parents who are familiar with it.

I look for Kombat to punch in with a little more than half of what GvK accomplished and that means high teens is the range I’m forecasting.

Mortal Kombat opening weekend prediction: $17.5 million

For my Demon Slayer prediction, click here:

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train Box Office Prediction

The Nun Movie Review

We aren’t exactly blessed with a new horror classic in The Nun, the latest entry in the seemingly endless possibilities for spinoffs in the Conjuring Cinematic Universe. It does, however, manage to rise above the Annabelle creations before it with some style points and an occasional identity of its own. While both Annabelle and its sequel often felt like unnecessary cash grabs, I’ll give director Corin Hardy a bit of credit for creating something a little different. Let’s call it maybe a B- for trying.

The title character here first appeared in The Conjuring 2. She’s a demonic nun possessed by evil spirit Valak. Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) had to put up with her sister acts of violence in that picture. This prequel and spin-off (preoff?… spinquel??) takes it back two decades earlier to the 1950s in Romania. A nun has committed suicide in a monastery after making the acquaintance of Valak and the Vatican enlists Father Burke (Demian Bechir) to look into it. He’s paired up with Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), who’s still in the novitiate (or training) stage before taking her vows.

Once they reach the scene of the death, Father and Sister are subject to lots of shadowy lurking, visions of terror, and charming local Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet) who provides a couple moments of genuine comic relief. That’s not something often found in this particular Universe and it’s welcome because these pics aren’t worth taking seriously.

2013’s The Conjuring was a very entertaining and scary genre exercise. The direct sequel and the offshoots haven’t come close to its power. And The Nun is nowhere near as entertaining or scary. Yet I wouldn’t classify this one as lazy. The monastery setting creates a sometimes effective claustrophobic feel. We know this franchise is all about jump scares and they’re in bountiful supply. I’ll give Taissa Farmiga props for her ability to act as terrified as her big sister Vera in the main series flicks. Calling this the best spin-off thus far isn’t praise of the highest power, but I’ll confess to it holding my interest better than the doll.

**1/2 (out of four)

Annabelle Comes Home Box Office Prediction

2019 has seen a number of franchises stumble hard with their sequels and reboots. Yet Warner Bros has one of the sturdiest series in recent memory with the Conjuring Cinematic Universe. Next week brings the third edition of the Annabelle entries and I don’t see fatigue among horror fans happening here.

Annabelle Comes Home marks the directorial debut of Gary Dauberman, who penned both predecessors and last fall’s spin-off The Nun. Mckenna Grace and Madison Iseman star and this time Conjuring leads Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga join the doll party.

As mentioned, this has been a mighty profitable franchise for its studio. After five pictures, the lowest opening belongs to Annabelle: Creation at $35 million two summers ago. However, it legged out better than 2014’s Annabelle ($102 million vs. $84 million). Any thought of the series dwindling was dispelled last fall when The Nun took in $53 million for the best premiere of all.

What might give this Annabelle the lowest debut yet is a matter of logistics. This one opens on Wednesday and that will certainly eat into its traditional weekend haul. I still foresee a high 20s Friday to Sunday gross and high 40s when factoring in the extra two days.

Annabelle Comes Home opening weekend prediction: $27.4 million (Friday to Sunday); $38 million (Wednesday to Sunday)

For my Yesterday prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/06/21/yesterday-box-office-prediction/

The Curse of La Llorona Box Office Prediction

Next weekend could provide an interesting answer to a question not posed before – how much can a Conjuring series picture gross if a lot of moviegoers may not be aware it’s actually part of the franchise? I give you The Curse of La Llorona, the sixth entry in this scary supernatural cinematic universe. The 1970s set ghost tale is directed by Michael Chaves in his feature-length debut (he’s slated to be behind the camera for the third official Conjuring flick next year). Linda Cardellini headlines a cast that includes Raymond Cruz, Patricia Velásquez, Tony Amendola (reprising his Annabelle role), and Sean Patrick Thomas.

Llorona premiered last month at the South by Southwest Festival. Early reviews are mixed to negative with a current 44% Rotten Tomatoes score. At the time of its unveiling, it was a bit of a surprise that this even existed in the billion dollar worldwide franchise. It’s a legitimate question as to whether the marketing campaign has had enough time to establish that fact.

In my view, that almost certainly means this will experience the lowest debut of the series so far. Horror fans have certainly had options lately with Us and Pet Sematary. That said, it’s a risky group of films to bet against. Just last fall, The Nun unexpectedly set the franchise opening weekend high mark at $53 million. The lowest start belongs to Annabelle: Creation at a still impressive $35 million. That creepy doll, by the way, is back this June with Annabelle Comes Home.

Tracking currently has this at $20 million and that sounds about right.

The Curse of La Llorona opening weekend prediction: $20.1 million

For my Breakthrough prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/04/09/breakthrough-box-office-prediction/

For my Penguins prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/04/10/penguins-box-office-prediction/

Aquaman Movie Review

In movies nowadays, the superhero genre has become so popular that a rule now applies to well-known thespians. You can play a hero or then you act long enough to see yourself become the villain. Or vice versa. Patrick Wilson was a good guy in Watchmen and now he’s a bad guy in Aquaman. Willem Dafoe was the key villain in SpiderMan, but he’s an ally to the title character here. As for Nicole Kidman, she was Bruce Wayne’s love interest in Batman Forever. Now she’s Aquamom.

This is all in a feature-length experience that HBO’s “Entourage” treated with humor. The thought back then… who would really buy this comic book creation in his own two-hour saga? Director James Wan’s weird but often endearing take ups the ante by padding nearly an extra half hour. It sorta works. It does by knowing that it’s silly most of the time despite occasional meanderings into thinking it belongs in Lord of the Rings territory. While it doesn’t, some of the battle scenes approach that grandeur.

We’ve seen Aquaman before in the DC Extended Universe. He was introduced briefly in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (which I still think is a little better than its reputation) and his role was expanded in the sub par Justice League. He gets the whole origin treatment here. In 1985, the Queen of Atlantis names Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) washes up on shore after a storm in Maine. She makes the acquaintance of the local lighthouse keeper (Temuera Morrison) and Splash style romantic sparks fly. Leaving her King hubby behind underwater, Atlanna and her new flame bear a son named Arthur and that little tyke eventually becomes the heavily tattooed punk rockish muscle man embodied by Jason Momoa.

As we witnessed in the previously mentioned pics, Momoa’s Aquaman becomes a mysterious superhero above water when not chugging beers with Dad. Atlanna, on the other hand, is long gone after being hunted down by her husband’s henchmen and returning below the surface so her new family isn’t harmed. She’s said to be dead.

Soon enough, Arthur is pressured to see Atlantis for the first time. His half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) is hell-bent on becoming the ruling Ocean Master. That means the destruction of Earth is on his to do list. Mera (Amber Heard) is the daughter of an Atlantean  King (Dolph Lundgren) allied with Orm. She disagrees with her father and along with Arthur’s old mentor (Willem Dafoe), they attempt to recruit our hero to become the King himself.

The family drama is a very familiar plot point in most movies in the genre – no matter which cinematic universe it takes place in. This is no exception. Orm is the Loki to Aquaman’s Thor, but he’s not near as memorable. Mera is the love interest and she has some humorous moments due to her unfamiliarity with our land. Those light moments reminded me of Gal Gadot’s acclamations to her fresh surroundings in Wonder Woman. And while we’re talking similar plot themes, this will remind you of Black Panther from time to time.

There’s only so much you can accomplish with this well-worn origin stuff, but James Wan conjures up a visually vibrant tale with an engaging lead. Momoa’s Aquaman is a bit of a Hulk like creation who seems impervious to harm. Frankly, the tension is a bit watered down because it seems like he could swat Orm off like a fly. Yet the action sequences are effective when they’re not too weighed down in confusing CG mayhem. The best one takes place in Italy when all the players remain dry. Aquaman is worth the watch, despite its flaws, as it builds plenty of worlds we’ll see again and with more details. This uses what seems like a record of title cards to tell us where we are as the plot moves along. Unlike other films where we might see “St. Louis” with The Arch in frame, they’re necessary here. Most of the places we visit come with acceptable levels of entertainment value.

*** (out of four)

Aquaman Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (12/18/18): Update here as I’m increasing my $74.3 million estimate up to $77.3 million.

We don’t have Vincent Chase from TV’s “Entourage” starring in it as portrayed on that show years ago with James Cameron directing. Yet DC Comics hero Aquaman finally gets his stand-alone experience next weekend. Instead it’s Jason Momoa reprising his role as the waterlogged warrior after first seeing him in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League. James Wan, who made the Conjuring entries and Furious 7, directs. The supporting cast includes Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, and Nicole Kidman. In a bit of irony, Julie Andrews has a voice-over while Mary Poppins Returns serves as competition over the pre-Christmas frame.

Aquaman marks the sixth DC Extended Universe feature that began in 2013 with Man of Steel. The lowest grossing opener of the series was Justice League in November of last year with $93 million. All others (Steel, BvS, Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman) took in over $100 million. Forecasts and expectations aren’t as high here, but Warner Bros is certainly hoping for a sizable hit. The film opened in China last weekend to robust results. Reviews are fairly solid with a current Tomato rating of 78%.

No previous DC Universe production has premiered in the crowded holiday month of December. Direct competition comes from both Poppins (family crowd) and Bumblebee (action crowd). With Disney’s famous nanny getting a two-day jump on Wednesday, Aquaman appears in good position to grab the #1 spot.

My feeling is that it will do so with a gross in the mid 70s.

Aquaman opening weekend prediction: $77.3 million

For my Mary Poppins Returns prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/12/10/mary-poppins-returns-box-office-prediction/

For my Bumblebee prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/12/11/bumblebee-box-office-prediction/

For my Second Act prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/12/14/second-act-box-office-prediction/

For my Welcome to Marwen prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/12/15/welcome-to-marwen-box-office-prediction/

The Nun Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (09/05/18): I am revising my estimate up from $38.4 million to $45.4 million

The Conjuring Cinematic Universe rolls along when The Nun debuts next weekend. The fifth entry in the highly successful Warner Bros horror franchise is a prequel to all four previous pictures. Our title character was first glimpsed at in 2016’s The Conjuring 2. Corin Hardy directs a cast that includes Demian Bichir, Taissa Farmiga (sister of Conjuring star Vera), Jonas Bloquet, and Bonnie Aarons.

Just a couple of weeks back, The Nun received some unexpected publicity when YouTube pulled one of its trailers off the site due to its frightening jump scares. If anything, that notoriety could help peak the curiosity of moviegoers. Not that it necessarily needs it. The opening weekend grosses of this series have been remarkably consistent. Here’s the rundown:

The Conjuring – $41.8 million

Annabelle – $37.1 million

The Conjuring 2 – $40.4 million

Annabelle: Creation – $35 million

I don’t see any compelling reason why The Nun would change that range. You could say it seems pretty (ahem) black and white to me. I’ll predict this scary sister act hits high 30s.

The Nun opening weekend prediction: $45.4 million

For my Peppermint prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/08/28/peppermint-box-office-prediction/

For my God Bless the Broken Road prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/09/02/god-bless-the-broken-road-box-office-prediction/