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Don't see 'Saw'

TERRORIST? Where "Catch" drops the ball.
  • TERRORIST? Where "Catch" drops the ball.

Another Hollywood view of Africa, ‘Catch a Fire’ is a good film that could have been great.

“When the sun goes down/we will meet in the bush/with our AK-47’s and our bazookas.”

This is only one of the rallying songs sung by members of the African National Congress as they prepare to rise up against apartheid in Philip Noyce’s dramatic film “Catch a Fire.”

The film chronicles the revolutionary life of Patrick Chamusso, a South African who, after bombing a coal plant that supplies all of the country’s automobile fuel, is caught and jailed.

Derek Luke, in his strongest and most emotional performance to date, is Chamusso. His counterpart in the South African government is Nic Vos, played by Tim Robbins. Vos is stoic and dangerous and a believer in apartheid. His job is to stop the ANC from acts of “terrorism” and he’s willing to use the full power of his position to get what he wants, even if it means torturing men, women and children.

Like “Tsotsi,” “Hotel Rwanda” and “The Constant Gardener” of 2005 as well as the upcoming “Blood Diamond,” “Catch a Fire” continues Hollywood’s cinematic obsession with life in Africa. But this is the first film in some time to address the issue of apartheid You take comfort in knowing that apartheid doesn’t exist anymore, but it doesn’t make the tactics displayed by Vos and his government any less despicable. Civil rights don’t exist in this world, which means the government is free to conduct its business as it sees fit, even if it means rounding up suspected blacks, detaining them without a right to counsel, and torturing them.

In today’s political climate you cannot help but contemplate the parallels between this and the goings-on at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. To be able to accuse and restrain a suspect without counsel or an opportunity to know the charges against him is chilling, to say the least. And it is even more so knowing that torture will follow.

But as wrong as apartheid was, can we justify Chamusso’s actions? Should we? How do we distinguish between terrorism and fighting for freedom? Where do we draw the line between protecting civil liberty and keeping a country safe?

Noyce should have spent more time with these issues. Instead, he rushes past them, to a time when apartheid ends, Chamusso is freed, and equality restored. We never fully understand why Chamusso chose to bomb the plant or why his wife disclosed his whereabouts after the bombing. The notion of forgiveness, one that Nelson Mandela spoke about often after his release, is granted less than one minute of screen time.

But this is not to say that these flaws result in a bad film. “Catch a Fire” is not a bad film. It’s good one that had all the elements to be great.

— Blake Rutherford



Don’t see ‘Saw III’

I saw a great new documentary the other day (“This Film is Not Yet Rated,” coming soon to Market Street Cinema) about the mysterious and sometimes idiotic workings of the MPAA ratings board — the group that hands out the R, PG-13, G and the dreaded NC-17. A good bit of the film is devoted to the idea that the reason American flicks are so violent is because — while a glimpse of pubic hair or non-missionary position sex is a sure invitation for an NC-17 rating — the raters let scenes of nearly unimaginable violence regularly zip past with only an R rating.

That fact came to mind while watching the R-rated “Saw III,” the third installment in the ultra-gory series that revolves around a serial killer devising twisted ways for his victims to die. I was one of the few critics who stuck up for “Saw” and “Saw II,” seeing them as commentary on the Very Bad Death — the only thing that scares us anymore in our violence-saturated society. That said, nothing will turn me against a film quicker than boredom. And with a recycled plot and buckets of blood for the sake of sheer shock value, “Saw III” soon devolves into a boring morality tale where even the tears look fake.

As the curtain opens, we find serial killer Jigsaw/John (Tobin Bell) still clinging to life, in the last throes of the cancer that was supposed to have killed him two movies ago. As you’ll remember, Jigsaw is a master of sadistic games, meant to teach the subject the value of life. Wanting to see the latest of his torments through to its conclusion, Jigsaw has protege Amanda (Shawnee Smith) kidnap Lynn (Bahar Soomekh), a world-class doctor. After securing an explosive collar around Lynn’s neck, Jigsaw tells her its trigger is linked to his heart monitor. If he dies, she dies.

Meanwhile, Jigsaw selects his newest victim, Jeff (Angus McFadden), the distraught father of a child killed by a hit-and-run driver. The driver received an unusually short sentence, and Jeff has fantasized about getting revenge for years. Now Jigsaw offers him the opportunity in a variety of grisly ways: against the trial judge, against a witness who sped away, and finally against the driver himself. Jeff is given the choice: Save them by sacrificing himself, and he might save his soul. Like the other “Saw” films, it all slumps toward a weak surprise at the end in which we find out that maybe Jeff wasn’t the student in Jigsaw’s lesson after all.

The problem with “Saw III” is that we’ve all seen it before, with the only question being what rusty contraptions Jigsaw and Amanda will come up with to snuff out their subjects. Everything else about the film — the spooky lighting, the depraved sets, the characters, the twist ending — is completely played out. While this film might be a hoot for those who slo-mo the Zapruder film, for the average moviegoer it’ll probably be about as fun as watching catfish being gutted. Our verdict: Let this one slice on by.

— David Koon




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