Monday, November 22, 2010

Reel Rhino Review: FAIR GAME (2010)

I was in San Diego this week and whenever I hit the road, I enjoy taking in films in new and strange places.  The location of my hotel put a damper on my options in terms of local theaters and I was left with the La Jolla AMC 12 as my closest spot.  It served its purpose, but I much more enjoy seeing films in historic or unique venues.  AMC always comes through in the clutch, even though the 12 is your standard big picture movie house.  This one is built into a small mall, unlike the Kansas City AMC's which are all stand-alone buildings.

I got to see Unstoppable with a band of my fellow travellers.  It was one of our group's Birthday (Happy Birthday Chrystal!) and we opted for a little Denzel.  You can never go wrong with a little Denzel. 

Unstoppable was a monumental flick for a few reasons.  First, we had the birthday and a birthday movie is always a good thing. Second, Denzel and Tony Scott is always a great pairing.  And third, this film is essentially our introduction to the new Capt. Kirk, in his first post-Kirk, non-Kirk role.

Unstoppable was a great ride, but I don't want to write about a flick that has been blogged on so thoroughly already.  The Reel Rhino thinks this flick is great fun and gives it a solid 4 of 5 horns.

As for FAIR GAME....that's a whole other story!

You may have noted the 2010 designation in the title...that is of course to avoid confusion with the 1995 entry of FAIR GAME...starring the always stellar Billy Baldwin and Cindy Crawford....the IMDB description reads as follows: Max Kirkpatrick is a cop who protects Kate McQuean, a civil law attorney, from a renegade KGB team out to terminate her.

YIKES...that sounds like a winner for mid-90's action fare, but somehow it only managed a 3.9 IMDB score.  Whoda-thought-it?

I have never seen the 1995 entry, but perhaps I would have enjoyed it more.  Sadly, I was not a fan of this more recent go at the title, a Doug Liman film starring Sean Penn and Naomi Watts.  This story is the real life story of outed super secret spy Valerie Plame Wilson.  Plame was a CIA undercover agent who was running assets in the Middle East at the time her identity was abruptly made public.

Does this sound like the real life stuff that movies were made for?  Hell yes!  If it wasn't a movie, the first thing you would think after reading either Plume's book, or her husband's, is: 'why isn't this a movie?'

Oh, but it is a movie; it is.

This effort is written by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth and is based on the books written by each Plume and Joseph C. Wilson IV, her husband and former United States Ambassador to five different African nations, including Niger, which is the focus of this tale. 

Plume recommended her husband to her superiors as a potential candidate to visit Niger to investigate the suspected sale of yellow cake uranium to Iraq in the WMD investigation following the 9-11 attacks.  The CIA sends Wilson and he finds nothing.,  But the government spinsters took Wilson's negative findings and went public indicating that there was in fact evidence of a yellow cake sale.  In matters not so serious, I typically love yellow cake.

Wilson is furious when he sees Bush's speech indicating evidence of a yellow-cake sale from Niger, which he assumes is based on his intel.  Wilson's demeanor through the film is that of a stuffy academic with a very, very healthy ego.  In this film, the invasion of Iraq is presented in based in part on his findings, which was as said, false.  A man with his self-image, and I don't mean that in a good way, would not stand for such an atrocity.

Wilson writes an op-ed piece in the New York Times concerning this fallacy and it infuriates the powers on the hill.  Scooter Libby and Karl Rove in particular take umbrage with this claim that the yellow-cake intel was bad.  They start digging, and the story really takes off.

Here is where things get dicey.  The first hour of this movie is a mindless string of scenes, many starring name actors, trying to get you invested in the build up towards the invasion of Iraq. 

This build up should up should be engrossing.  The presence of these named actors should be the seeds needed to grow a decent flick.  This should be a fantastic ride for the viewer in a very terse thriller.  It is not.

The film seems to be acted with great dexterity but the story is told in extremely poor fashion.  I don't know if it is in the writing or the directing, but this film falls extremely short of its mark. 

I am leaning towards Doug Liman as the culprit.  Liman's last effort was an absolute train wreck: Jumper.  Remember the Hayden Christensen stinker about a boy with the ability to transport himself, or "Jump" from place to place.  Not good.  Not good at all.

Liman did give us Swingers, but I attribute the success there to the spectacular script from Jon Favreau.  He also gave us The Bourne Identity, but again Tony Gilroy's script was the creative background for that film.  Perhaps he showed some chops with Bourne but this was something of a standalone.  Many argue that he kept the train a rollin' with Mr. & Mrs. Smith, but I argue that Mr. & Mrs. Smith was a failure from what it could have been.  It suffered also, from Brangalina-itis, a debilitating disease of the film industry (see also: Bennifer and the atrocity that was GIGLI).

Liman doesn't have a reliable enough track record to not look his way first when considering the blame.  And in my humble opinion, there is some blame to be thrown here.

This film gets mired in a bunch of unrelated scenes that are supposed to tie everything together and instead make everything worse.  It plays out just as it sounds - the scattershot plot details are muddled and do very little more than confuse the viewer.

It is nearly a full hour before we get to the reveal.  The outing of Valerie Flume.  If her reaction would have given us high drama and drawn in the viewer, I would have forgiven the first hour.  The post-outing drama that unfolds is just as scattered and boring as the build.  In fact, the road to resolution is even worse.  We get more of Wilson's ego and little more than a stoic response from Flume, who is in reality furious and frightened at the same time.

Perhaps everything seems so disjointed because this film is completely devoid of emotion both on screen and in terms of what is stirred in the viewer.  From the first credits to the end roll, I felt nothing.  I will use the word disjointed again, because that is how it felt.  Perhaps with a more coherent story line, things would have played out differently and I would have been drawn in a bit more.

I started writing this last night and I have picked it back up watching Hot Tube Time Machine with some friends who are in town.  I am bored with FAIR GAME and I am done writing about it.  I hope to get to see Harry Potter soon. I hear it is fantastic and it is very, very dark.

I also want to see The Next Three Days.  It actually looks like a different take on the standard action drama.  The Next Three Days is going to pale at the box office next top HP 7 Pt. 1, but Russell Crowe still has it and I hope some folks make it out there to check him out.

As for Fair Game, I really didn't like it...2 of 5 horns from the Reel Rhino and I think that is being generous.  The best one-minute of that movie is the last minute.  An impassioned speech by Sean Penn about the responsibility of the people to protect themselves from oppression and tyranny. It is a well delivered speech that stirred the only emotions in me that I felt the entire film.  This was a poorly made movie of a fantastic story.  

I will catch up with you soon...till later, take care.
The Reel Rhino 

Saturday, November 13, 2010


I made a judgement call yesterday (Nov 12th).  The Reel Rhino opted to see SKYLINE instead of UNSTOPPABLE  thinking I might have caught lightning in a bottle and seen a winner before anyone realized what Skyline actually was as a movie.

Oops...I was wrong.

SKYLINE is an alien invasion film.  Those of you that know me, will testify that I fall into the extremely easily entertained category of movie-goer.  This is typically a good thing, but the other side of the coin is when I don't like a movie, I typically don't like it in glorious fashion.  I love Sci-Fi and I especially love end of days type battle for earth movies, which is what Skyline shoots for, but misses.

Skyline is a Brothers Strause picture...Colin and Greg...who have had very illustrious careers in the visual effects department of many well-known and much-loved films.  Their best known directorial effort has been Alien v. Predator: Reqieum.  AVP: R was not received well, currently at 12% from the critics and 37% overall on Rotten Tomatoes.  I thought AVP: R was fantastic!  These guys took a very modest budget and made a very smart sequel using primarly practical effects!

Given their history with effects and my enjoyment of their first mainstream feature, I went in hoping for the best.  I mean clearly, Denzel Washington and Tony Scott...that was the safe bet. SKYLINE was a wild card.

My first question is this: Who is this cast?  I guess they were hoping that shooting with a lesser-known cast, this movie would slide low on the radar for a while, which it did.  I don't think I knew this movie existed until around August, and I keep my ear to the ground about movies pretty much all the damn time!

The movie stars Eric Balfour as Jarrod, who has travelled to L.A. with his girlfriend Elaine (Scottie Thompson) to visit his old friend, Terry (Donald Faison).  Terry is an actor who has just come into his own in Hollywood, hitting it big.  He and Jarrod are old friends having a reunion at Terry's place, a penthouse apartment in L.A.  Terry lives with his girldfriend (Brittany Daniel) and his assistant (Crystal Reed).  David Zayas rounds out the cast, as Oliver, a Security Guard for the apartment building in which Terry lives.  Sadly, not even Sgt. Angel Batista (see also: DEXTER) couldn't even save this sinking ship.

For starters, I will say that I commend the Brothers Strause for making movies.  They seem to be extremely creative and I hope that they continue forward and I look forward to enjoying their work in the future.  This film was written by Joshua Cordes and Liam O'Donnell, so the full brunt of the blame doesn't fall solely on the Bros.  To that end, the dialogue in this film was awful.  There was a reunion scene early between Jarrod and Terry and the stilted exchange was not one I would have expected from old friends.  For starters, the dialogue was very much read rather than performed or acted with any sense of emotion.  The same goes for some early relationship drama between Jarrod and Elaine.  It's in there to try and hook us into caring about these relationships, but it completely misses the mark!

We are introduced to the alien visitors in the beginning as lights in the sky, falling to the surface of the streets of LA.  Significant time passes before we really figure much of anything out and our lack of understanding doesn't add to the suspense, but instead adds to the confusion.  I am all for telling the story through action instead of dialogue, but if you don't have the action, the story won't tell itself!  75% of this film takes place in the apartment in L.A. and while our cast has little idea what is going on, the audience knows even less.  Holding back information for the sake of suspence is great and all, but most of the time in the apartment is basically spent watching these folks worry, with little plot unfolding for the viewer.

When the action scenes hit, they were impressive.  This film toggled between mediocre shots and great shots, at random intervals. This lack of continuity in tone, badly damages this film as a whole.

There is one eerie shot used a few times early, but sadly that shot is used as the hook in the trailer, so it was not at all impressive once projected in the theater. 

This film starts to live a bit once the group we are following ventures out from the apartment.  The only scenes that really impressed were the broad shots of the initial invasion and then the broad city shots of the military response and the ensuing aerial battle.

I will not be alone in comparing this film to Roland Emmerich's Independence Day, and it would be hard to review this and not do so.  Some of the scenes felt like shot for shot remakes of the major battles from ID4. At different points, I expected to hear Will Smith or Harry Connack Jr scream "WOOOOOOO!" or for Harry COnnack to bust in with the MLK Jr. speech.  If nothing else, I would have gotten Randy Quaid in this flick as a nod to Emmerich's film, which would have maybe made the similarities more forgiving.  I think Quaid would have been unavailable, though, as he was likely on the run from the Super Secret Celebrity Assassination Squad. 

While this movie does not nearly succeed on its own, I would love to see this movie and ID4 mashed-up into a single flick.  This presents a limited perspective and ID4 presented a broad view of all aspects of how the invasion affected people.  This movie essentially is an entire movie about one group of people and what we have may have been enough to support itself as a side-story in another movie, but it is not enough to support itself here.

1.5 of 5 horns from The Reel Rhino for SKYLINE.  This is a film that would have benefited from a few dancing popsicle sticks! 


Morning Glory is something of a chick-flick with less chick and more flick.  This isn't a romance (per say) and it isn't a touchy-feely everybody hug kind of movie.  Morning Glory is a solid dramatic comedy with small bits of romance thrown in.  It is a darker comedy, but not too dark.  It is just risque enough to really make this film interesting.  In a nutshell, it is a sharply written (Aline Brosh McKenna) and well directed (Roger Mitchell) movie, which I very much enjoyed.

MG stars Rachel McAdams as Becky, who at the beginning of the film loses her job as the producer of a small morning show in New Jersey.  Desperate, Becky takes an Executive Producer position on a show called Daybreak, on fictional studio IBS.  Daybreak is nationally broadcast every morning as a talk-show in the vein of The Today Show and Good Morning America.  While the movie in action admits it is a stretch to put a person as inexperienced as Becky into the position of Executive Producer for such a large-scale show, it works none the less.

Rachel McAdams is adorable.  I hope that doesn't sound bad, but she is one of the most watchable actors working today.  I hate to refer to such a cheesy (and underrated) flick in The Hot Chick, but how great was it to see McAdams in such a radically different role compared to much of her other work.  Perhaps the best "mean" role she played was as super bi-otch Regina George in Mean Girls. 

We have the extreme pleasure of seeing two of the finest all-time actors playing the antagonistic anchors of the morning show Daybreak in Diane Keaton as Colleen Peck and Harrison Ford as Mike Pomeroy.

Harrison Ford has been active in film for around 45 years.  Of course the late seventies, early eightes brought him the roles for which he will never be forgotten in Han Solo, Indiana Jones, and Rick Deckard.  Ford bleeds career icon, later becoming Jack Ryan and Richard Kimball and even reprising his role as the good Dr. Jones in 2008.  If you look at his filmography, Ford is somewhat of an enigma.  Ford would often go a year without a role and went several years appearing in no more than one film a year.  I think it can be said that he is somwhat selective, although if he were selective enough, perhaps he would have opted out of Hollywood Homicide (hehehe I couldn't help it!).

Diane Keaton is also an icon.  She is the strong matriarch to the Godfather, Michael Corleone and the titular character in the classic Woody Hall flick, Anie Hall.  She and Ford together was exactly what you would expect...dynamite!

Keaton's Colleen Peck has been on the show for years, while Ford's Pomeroy spent his career primarily as a straight newsman.  You learn early on that Pomeroy is under contract with IBS and is essentially being paid off to ride out his contract years.  Becky is a life-long Pomeroy fan and when she sees that he is available, she wants him to fill the other anchor role on Daybreak. For a life-long newsman, the thought of morining TV is insulting.  Morning TV to Pomeroy is not worthy of his greatness.  From here forward is just a joy to watch the relationships unfold.

Yes, this is very much a character based relationship film, but not necessarily a romance.  The film centers around Becky as the driving force in an effort to turn around this low-rated morning show.  As a competetor to the big boys of morning TV, Daybreak doesn't hold a candle.  Becky is brought in with little experience in the big leagues, but as nothing else seems to work, they are willing to take a chance on her.  She screams youthful vigor and optimism.  She simply refuses anything that is negative, using jedi-like focus. 

Becky is a young, attractive executive and it is completely clear that she has not thought much about romance, acting like a 15 year old girl being asked to her first dance when it comes to anything related to boys.  She drops a great line in somehing like: 'I usually don't realize a guy is interested in me until he's naked in my room.'

He romantic opposite in this flick is played by the very charismatic Patrick Wilson.  Given the hours that Becky pours into her show, you would think there is no way that she could survive in a relationship, but luckily, Wilson's Adam Bennett is also in the industry.  The biggest upside for Wilson in this movie is that there are several scenes in which he gets to wrestle around with McAdams while she has stripped down to her under-things....

...awkward topic. 

Perhaps my favorite component of this film was Jeff Goldblum in the studio executive role of Jerry Barnes.  Compassionate, brutally honest, borderline cruel....he runs the gamut of his treatment of Becky.  In this film, he is the person who hires Becky and then the one who gives us our danger element...the risk of cancellation.

This movie is very much a comedy with bits of effective drama and a bit of romance.  The movie looks great, being set in New York.  The film is beautifully filmed with only a few excessively artsy shots of slow-mo running, with birds taking flight and things like that.  These scenes are very much noticiable but they detract very little from a great flick.

I especially enjoyed Harrison Ford's Mike Pomeroy and I think he acted with more enthusiasm than he has in recent years and perhaps it was just the extent to which Ford's facial expressions play into his character.  He emotes like a champ with sweeping body movement and wild facial reactions that specifically had me busting a gut.  It was very reminiscent of the pained looks we got from Ford in his early Indy roles.

I thing this is a very solid movie and The Reel Rhino gives it 4 horns of 5.  If you are looking for something less action-packed than Unstoppable, less animated than MegaMind, less-darkly comedic than Due Date, and LESS TERRIBLE THAN SKYLINE ~ check out MORNING GLORY.

I am running long, but let me share with you that I also saw CONVICTION starring Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell, Minnie Driver, among others in this true story procedural surrounding the wrongful conviction of Kenny Waters for a 1980's murder in rural Massachuchetts.  Convinced of her brother's innocence, Betty Ann Waters endures divirce, much time away from her children, and other hardships as she puts herself through an undergraduate education and then law school, in an effort to prove her brother's innocence.  This film, directed by Tony Goldwyn and written by Pamela Grey is well made and a great watch!  The film keeps you invested from start to finish and the film as a story takes place in two eras.  One, in the days of Kenny and Betty Ann's childhood, where you see the roots of their bond as brother and sister; and two, in the 'present day' mid-eightes when the murder occurs then the running story of the trial, his imprisionment, Betty Ann's days as a student, lawyer, up through a more-curremt present day where we get to see the resolution of this up/down/up/down/up storyline.

CONVICTION was a wholly enjoyable film that I can recommend without reservation.  The movie is rated R for a few EFF's, Rockwell's naked bum, and grisley images of blood and a beaten body from the murder in question.  Truthfully, if this movie had cut the EFF's, I think it would have caught a PG-13.

4 of 5 horns from the REEL RHINO on conviction.

Lots of movies this week.  I am going to see Unstoppable ASAP but I probably won't review it as it will have been reviewed extensively already.  I will keep my eye on what's coming out and will be back soon with more on the movies!

I will take a moment to admit a mistake here.  YES, I AM A MAN AND I AM SAYING I WAS WRONG!  We watched GROWN-UPS last night.  This past summer, I had denounced GROWN-UPS and refused to see it, on the assumption it would be terrible.  I was wrong and I actually enjoyed it a great deal.  I give GROWN-UPS a 3.5 of 5 horns, a decent rating for a wholly decent and very funny movie.  Sorry Adam, Kevin, Rob, Chris, and David!  My bad!!

Until next time, take care....

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Reel Rhino Review: Rodrigo Cortés' BURIED

Wow...and I mean Wow!

BURIED stars Ryan Reynolds and is directed by Rodrigo Cortés.  This film left me shaken...this is a movie that is not watched, but experienced.

BURIED was slated for a decent sized release, but apparently test runs in major markets didn't turn out as well as they could have.  BURIED had a decent presence at the San Diego Comic-Con, which is usually a decent indicator that a film will be pushed pretty hard by the studios...but this was not the case.

BURIED was released on a single screen in Kansas City, with very little fanfare.  It is sad to see the rug pulled out from what I see as a very entertaining exercise in filmmaking.  BURIED opened in select markets playing in 11 theaters, and at its widest, it expanded to 107 theaters nationwide.  I wish the suits would learn that you gotta spend money to make money....risk a bit on films like this and the payoff will be huge.  Prints & Advertising was awful for BURIED, which again with the Comic-Con presence, that is a huge surprise to me.  BURIED would have thrived off of itself, but it never had the chance.

Perhaps it is the experimental nature of this film which was its undoing.  I commend Cortés and those that supported this movie being made.  Why is it experimental, you ask?  From opening shot to final credits, the entire film takes place in a single location: a coffin buried several feet beneath the sands of an unknown location in Iraq.

Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) is the main character and the only on-screen body we see throughout the film.  I think if I were to list my man-crushes, Ryan Reynolds would be near the top of that list.  I mean that in a totally hetero way....not that there's anything wrong with that (wink wink nudge nudge Seinfeld fans!).  Yep, Reynolds and Bradley Cooper...that's not weird, right!

Back to BURIED...Conroy is an American truck driver who is a civilian contractor in Iraq.  He works for a company called CRT and he has been captured after a group of insurgents ambushed his convoy, which was carrying non-war related supplies.

When he wakes up in the coffin, he has nothing with him except a Blackberry cell phone and a zippo lighter.  To those of you with Blackberry phones, you will appreciate this as you know it is tough to be away from your BB!  The problem of lighting is of course a big one when you are filming in complete darkness.  Cortés overcomes this through the use of the cell phone light and the zippo lighter, and via a few other tricks that develop as the story unfolds.

The movie from start to finish focuses on Conroy.  This is a one-man movie and all other roles are mere voices on the other end of the phone.  Conroy spends the front chunk of this film trying to figure out what the hell happened to him and the back half figuring out what he can do to escape.

You would think that 95 minutes in a single unique location like this would get old fast, but Cortés pulls it off.  Reynolds pulls it off, as well.  The gripping nature of this film is much due to his ability as an actor to convey to you the shear terror of this circumstance!

There is an inherent sense of claustrophobia with this film and the tension is tangible as not only are you digesting what you are seeing, but you are also feeling the walls of the coffin as Cortés well-conveys spatial discomfort.  Ultimately it is creative camera work and lighting and the use of off-screen characters that helps the narrative of this film move smoothly.  It all adds up to a very well told tale!

I think that BURIED will have a short life remaining in theaters.  If you can, see it on the big screen as the ambiance of complete blackness on-screen is stellar in the big theaters.  If not, see it at home, but set the mood right.  This is a harrowing thriller that builds towards an amazing climax.  See this movie!

BURIED gets 4.5 of 5 horns from the REEL RHINO...I look forward to more from Rodrigo Cortés and of course to more from Ryan Reynolds.  If you ever have the chance, check out early-RR on Two Guys, A Girl, and a Pizza Place.  Reynolds turn as Berg was hilarious and that show in general was pretty awesome.  Also there is some early Nathan Fillion work featured on the show as well.

Chris Sparling was the screenwriter for this film and generally speaking, his dialogue was both curt and gripping!  He is slated to write one of the upcoming NIGHT CHRONICLES features and I hope it is just as good!

And as a final note, one of my absolute favorite actors (and perhaps people in general), Mr. Stephen Tobolowsky, has a role in BURIED.  As I mentioned, everything else is voice, besides Ryan Reynolds, and since his voice IS his passport, I think he did a great job, as always (see also: SNEAKERS).

I also saw MEGAMIND in 3-D earlier this week.  I think it is a visually stunning movie and it tells a very entertaining story.  I have grown wary of much of Will Ferrell's schtick, but I think he does a great job in this one.  Along with Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, and Mr. Brad Pitt.    A side note, as I was watching, there were some moments I saw glimmers of similarity to the Iron Man saga to date.  Watching the credits, Mr. Justin Theroux, both a talented actor and writer, had given some creative input on the flick.  He was also the scribe for IM 2, so perhaps some of his vision for MegaMind actually made the screen.  If nothing else, he did make the final cut in voice, as he played MegaMind's father.

I have come to appreciate good animation as a substitute for a live-action, action-adventure flick.  Animation is essentially becoming the realistic way to make effects-laden films, without any of the sophisticated effects.  I guess since everything is so damn CGI heavy these days, it is hard to distinguish regardless, but these animation features are all so good!  Megamind is in the A-tier of animation.  As was Despicable Me, Toy Story 3, Shrek 4, Horton Hears a Who, Ice Age 3, Madagascar 2, Bolt, etc.....!  Is there too much great animation?  Avatar is an animated feature, if you want to get technical, right?  It is CGI with photo-realistic images, but just because something is photo-real, doesn't mean it is live-action...I guess it's a deeper topic than I want to get into right now, but perhaps deserves a closer look.  When you factor in a four-way battle with: hand-drawn vs. CGI animation vs. motion/performance capture vs. live-action with CGI, the lines become pretty blurry!

What about the upcoming week?  I hear that UNSTOPPABLE is quite a spectacle and is leaning towards ridiculous, but ridiculous in that good, Tony Scott kind of way.  I like the Tony Scott/Denzel show and I really liked the breakout performance of Chris Pine as Capt. Kirk.  It'll be nice to see him in something else for a better idea of who he is as an action-star.

I will see unstoppable this weekend and perhaps MORNING GLORY.  Morning Glory looks like a great comedy and almost like a darker comedy of sorts, which will hopefully override the cheesy parts.  I love Harrison Ford in general and I really liked his bits in the trailer.  I am sure that I will like it, as a friend recently put it, it takes little more than dancing puppet popsicle sticks to entertain me. 

It may sound bad, but I take it as a great compliment...

Until later, take care...

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Reel Rhino Review: DUE DATE, HEREAFTER, and SAW 3-D

I have had good runs and I have had some bad ones too...I guess you could say I'm currently on a bad one.  My last three movies have been DUE DATE, SAW 3-D, and HEREAFTER and I will review all of them below.

I will run short the pleasantries and cut right to the chase...disappointment.


I was looking forward to DUE DATE for many days.  I saw this as a great chance for TODD PHILLIPS to deliver the coveted two-fer.  If he is going to play hit and miss, I sure hope that HANGOVER 2 is a hit, because for me, Due Date was a miss.

We are the movie-going public victims of our own technological advances.  I think that if I had not seen any of the previews/trailers/tv spots for Due Date, I probably would have loved it.  Sadly, most of the jokes fell flat with me because I had seen them all.  In fact when I saw the set-up on the screen for any of the trailer scenes, I think there was more of a crowd laugh in anticipation, than when the joke itself actually played.

All my disappointment aside, I didn't hate the movie.  It is a funny movie.  I am a huge fan of the Robert Downey Jr. camp and I think that Zach Galifianakis may be one of the funniest actors out there now and has far more range than folks expect he will (see also my review of It's Kind of a Funny Story).  Sadly, his breakout performance will likely be the benchmark to which he is held for some time to come ~ and that's a pretty damn high bar! 

Todd Phillips has a great eye for comedy (see also Old School and The Hangover), but The Hangover was a one of kind movie and a success like few movies reach...the question must be asked: "Can he do it again?"

The story centers around two characters, Peter Highman (RDJ) and Ethan Trembley (Galifianakis), and their forced effort to take a road trip from Atlanta to Los Angeles.  Peter is an architect who just wants to get home to be there for the birth of his first child.  Ethan is a hopeful actor who is on his way to a meeting with an agent.  Travelling with them also is Sonny the dog, a cute add to this travelling band and from an audience perspective, an enjoyable component regardless of what they showed in the trailer.  I mean, come on...who doesn't love a dog!  The fourth and silent traveller is Ethan's dad.  Ethan had recently lost his father and is carrying his ashes with him in a coffee can.  Again, with so much spoiled in the trailer, you probably already know many of the hijinks that ensue.

The cast is rounded out by Michelle Monaghan as Peter's wife, Jamie Foxx as his friend, and decent cameos by Juliette Lewis, Danny McBride, Matt Walsh, the RZA, and by Todd Phillips himself.  

Again, this is not a terrible movie.  It looks great in terms of shot quality and the soundtrack is a winner, unless you consider it too similar to The Hangover in terms of tone and song selection, but I guess that is more a product of Phillips' taste and preference, which is okay by me.

3 of 5 Reel Rhino Horns for DUE DATE.  It is worth seeing, but if I had a time machine, I would go back and tell myself not to watch any of the previews.  Zero knowledge of this film would have made it a much better experience.  Granted it didn't matter for The Hangover, but that film is truly in a different league of films.


I saw Hereafter last weekend and I know it has been a few weeks since it came out.  I have been all over Clint Eastwood's work since Mystic River.  Of course my enjoyment of Eastwood's work goes back much farther, but I view his Mystic River forward era as his mature filmmaker era (which is funny since he is 80 years old ~ he's a pretty mature guy).  His three films prior to this era were a bit more lighthearted fare...Blood Work, Space Cowboys, and True Crime.  These were much more pop-culture, mainstream films that didn't have the indie-type feel of the work that Eastwood is producing now.

The trailers for HEREAFTER painted it as a unique and mature film.  I was upset to see that it was not that at all.  This film, like some of his earlier works, was very much a movie with a pop feel.  It is more fluff than substance and it features one too many divergent story lines for my liking.  Perhaps the master is getting tired in his old age.  I hope not and I look forward to many more films from him.   

The story follows George Lonegan, a "retired" psychic who developed the power to speak to the dead after a debilitating bout with encephalitis (swelling of the brain) as a child.  A once well-known medium, with a website and all, he has resolved to live a normal life, keeping a low profile as a factory worker.  

Generally speaking, there are multiple stories throughout, and as I said above, perhaps one too many.  There are: George's Brother Billy (Jay Mohr), his brother's client Christos (Richard Kind), his potential love interest Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard), the British twins, the French newswoman (Cecile De France) and her producer boyfriend.  All of these characters have an integral moment or two throughout, but this remains very much a story just about George.  The problem is, the best way to get use to care about these characters is to show us more of them, but all of this story telling results in a fair amount of story danglers.

I think that this movie is watchable, but it pushes too much at the viewer and ellicits confusion more than emotion.  Again, I like it, but was let down as I really wanted to feel this movie.  I thought it would touch me more than it did.  Yes, there were at least three take your breath away moments, but they were just moments rather than components of a wholly moving film.

I will remain a devoted follower of Clint Eastwood.  His recent films have been great and I think he has so much more to give.  HOOVER is up next for him with Leonardo DiCaprio in the titular role.  I hope he can give us something special, balancing the tone of The Changeling, the intent of Public Enemies (Sorry Michael Mann, it was a fun movie, but you missed the mark just a little bit), and finally with a bit of that Leo magic.

Hereafter gets a 3 of 5 horn rating from The Reel Rhino.  This is completely home movie fodder.  Except for the opening Thailand sequence, there is nothing of this film that you won't miss out by watching at home.

This is less of a review and more a brief word on the state of the SAW franchise.  I think the saw poster you see here may be my fovorite of them all.  Say what you will about the films, the graphic designers did a fine job throughout.

Firstly, let me say I am a fan of the horror genre.  It could be argued that Saw balances a line between traditional horror and the sub-genre that has come to be known as torture-porn.  Genre be damned, I sure do like the concept of the SAW films.  I think that in the seven features they have made, that only the first film can truly be held high as a great work of art within the horror genre. 

The SAW series had the benefit of the 1970's, 1980's and 1990's to learn from.  It was 2004 that SAW hit theaters and it was unlike anything the genre had seen in recent times.  I hoped that they would have learned the lessons of Friday the 13th, Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hellraiser, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and even 90's horror fare like Candyman or the first Final Destination (which besides being a decent and unique first entry into the genre, gave us the joys of a geekish Steve Stifler, in an early role for Seann William Scott.)

With all the wisdom of having see these other franchises (mostly) end up in the crapper, I had a glimmer of hope in 2004, that SAW would either avoid these pitfalls, or would take the noble route and stand alone as a single film and be held as a classic.  If you are a fan of the genre, you would likely suffer through a lackluster sequel of Nightmare, or Friday, Halloween, and now, for SAW, holding out hope that somehow it would have gotten better.

SCREAM pulled off a decent three-fer in their series, but as we know, that hallowed trilogy is perhaps on the verge of being ruined with SCREAM 4.  I know they have the best of intentions and Lord knows Wes Craven needs a winner (any fans out there of My Soul to Take? I missed it, sadly as I thought it looked as though it had promise).  Craven is clearly a very creative mind and filmmaker, but can he do it again?  With Kevin Williamson back as the scribe, with all of the cast who survived the first trilogy are back, and with Craven himself directing, maybe it will be alright?  At the very least, I am interested.

Well SAW didn't take the high road.  They chose a different path.  Much like the Nightmare series, SAW moved to a movie-a-year schedule, for better or for worse, and sadly, it was often for the worse.

The SAW franchise had a great first entry and none of the films would ever come close to replicating this magic.  Darren Lynn Bousman's SAW 2 and SAW 3 are by far the most watchable, other than the original, and the final entry is a good one, but mostly due to the 3-D effects and the fact that it is seemingly is the end of the SAW era. 

I think that there is a great trilogy *somewhere* in these seven films.  SAW 5, as I recall, was one of the worst constructed films I have ever seen.  So I say this...chop all seven movies into 3 that everyone will love!  I'd even like to see what the fans could do ala The Phantom Edit from The Phantom Menace, which completely excised Jar Jar Binks from Episode I.  I know there are some up and comers out there who could turn this chicken $hi* into Chicken Salad!

There is enough gore and enough story in there to make a very well written series of three films.  It is sad that money drives the industry because there are those that appreciate the art of filmmaking and writing enough to want style and substance over quantity.  Seven movies in seven years is fine quantity, but the are not seven movies of worthy material there....but I do say you could probably find three in there!

Another quick word about the series in about that freaky clown!  Or that Hog Mask!  Only 50% combined from all 7 movies may fall into the decently watchable range, but bad horror movies be damned, SAW gave us some great visuals!

It seems that Paranormal Activity is primed to take the helm and be the next run in the horror genre.  If they do it right, things will end at a trilogy.  They tied together nicely the first two films and a third could give good and acceptable resolution.  Instead of building a ridiculous franchise, why not finish it up proper and then task the creative team with building a new concept and a different set of films.

For the record, SAW 3-D gets a 3 horn rating, but I am being generous.  If I find out that there is to be a Saw 8, I promise to drop this to a 2.5.  And my 3 rating is for the 3-D version. See this in 2-D, and it gets dropped half a point for becoming much less visually stimulating. 

Finally, the worst thing about the best parts of older horror movies is that it has apparently been long enough for the studios to "reboot" some of their winners from through the years.  Most of these reboots, the majority of which have been pushed through by Platinum Dunes, overseen by Michael Bay....Bay! Stick to Transformers!  I am a fanboy for your stuff, so keep it coming.  But stay the hell out of isn't for you, trust me!

My horror recommendation for you is this...check our Trick R Treat, the 2007 film from Mike Daugherty.  It actually didn't get released until last year (2009) and of all the movies that get the big screen treatment, why not this one!!

Trick R Treat is a horror anthology in which even if you don't like one segment, the others are bound to entertain.  A yearly October release of a horror anthology would strike me just right.  Even these remakes of successful foreign horror don't cut it for me.  Let Me In should not exist.  Films made just so you don't need to read the subtitles are lazy in my mind.  Let this $ get into the hands of filmmakers with unique projects!  Let the Right One In from Sweden was just fine and did not need to be Americanized.  Sweden has put out some fun flicks as of late.  The Girl With series isn't necessarily fun, but they are well-made films.  A great Swedish horror flick to check out is Dead Snow...the Nazi zombie film from last year.  Much like the early efforts of Sam Raimi, Dead Snow combines laughs and scares with great success.

So there you have it.  My somewhat convoluted take on the state horror films.  My ratings for SAW 3-D, HEREAFTER, and DUE DATE aren't that great.
I plan on seeing BURIED, with Ryan Reynolds within the next day or so.  Also, MEGAMIND is on my to see agenda.  I have heard decent things about both.  Next week will be UNSTOPPABLE, an extravagant, but enjoyable thriller, I am sure it will be.

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Thanks and take care!

The Reel Rhino