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.

Please comment if you agree or disagree on any of this.  If you can, follow/subscribe to The Reel Rhino so you can be sure to get updates as they are published.

Thanks and take care!

The Reel Rhino 

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