Skip to main content

She's back, she's dead, and she thinks we're still dating.

Burying the Ex
(2014)

(SPOILERS) We shouldn’t have to wait five years between Joe Dante movies, even when the results are as close to middling as he’s ever got. Burying the Ex follows the example of The Hole in sticking to the received script and reining in the director’s more eccentric, cartoonish touches. But where The Hole had a good creepy story to tell, here Dante’s stuck with something decidedly more pedestrian and familiar; the possessive partner who won’t let a little thing like death end the relationship.


Dante has compared it to EC Comics fare, and the macabre twist has something of that. It also arrives in the wake of other romzom(com)s Life After Beth and Warm Bodies. At times Burying the Ex is like a less witty Death Becomes Her by way of an early Buffy episode, with a sprinkling of post-Apatow crudity. The latter doesn’t seem very Dante at all, and the presence of Oliver Cooper (Duchovny’s son in the final, fetid season of Californication) is a fair indication this is largely aiming for nutsack in terms of humour. I wouldn’t go as far as to say the material is beneath Dante, but… kind of, it is. Given this script as a starting point he could surely fashioned something much more satisfying.


But I guess beggars can’t be choosers (Dante ran a less than responsive crowdsourcing campaign during the shoot to get more cash for CGI). The most amusing and complementary aspect of its cheapness is the burial scene, where only five people show up, and three of those come with the half-brother; a commentary on how unloved her vengeful self-righteous eco-vegan (those bastard self-righteous eco-vegans!) is.


Max (Anton Yelchin), a very Dante-esque employee of a horror-themed store, is in a relationship with the dictatorial Evelyn (Ashley Greene), and it’s all becoming a bit much for him (the last straw sees her folding his prized vintage movie posters – though why he didn’t have them framed is anyone’s guess). When he accidentally wishes/promises that they will always be together, a newly delivered Satan doll genie grants it. And when Evelyn is hit by a bus, and subsequently interred, Max discovers he definitely isn’t free to get on with his life and a blossoming romance with Olivia (Alexandra Daddario, as the fantasy horror geek girlfriend; she's a horror geek herself). Worse still, Evelyn decides "If I kill you, then we get to live happily ever after".


Death as a metaphor for a doomed relationship is so well worn it needs serious invigorating to fly, but for too much of the (brief) running rime, Alan Trezza’s script devotes itself to the laboured comedy of concealment, as Max does his darnedest not to let anyone know Evelyn has come back. If the writing was sharp enough this might pass muster, an update of any number of ‘60s fantasy sitcom scenarios where a desperate protagonist hides out-there occurrences with hilarious consequences (I Dream of Jeannie, The Munsters, The Addams Family etc.) Instead Burying the Ex gets caught in a holding pattern rather than exploring its numerous other possible options.


Certainly, keeping Olivia out of the loop for so long limits the scope and reduces her to a romantic cypher (a shame as Daddario, memorably of True Detective, is an exuberant presence) and the picture only really builds up a head of steam when Cooper’s Travis, Max’s half-brother, learns the truth. The romzomcom side of the picture is its least illustrious element, even though Yelchin (affable, but less engaging than in the superior oddball fantasy Odd Thomas) and Greene (embracing the opportunity to bitch out and ugly up) bounce well off each other.


When Max investigates A Guide for Ridding The Unwelcome Undead for means to permanently off his ex, there’s an intimation this might go down a more engaging, lunatic path. But Max – a huge horror buff – needs Travis to suggest means of dispensing with Evelyn, and the late hour most obvious method comes via Olivia. Part of the fun of The Howling was playing with the rich tapestry of werewolf lore, but Ex’s attitude to its fantasy elements is at best arbitrary; there’s no Eerie, Indiana fun to the whys and wherefores of the Satan Genie, and Max’s response to the discovery of Evelyn resurrection is almost perfunctory.


If the dialogue is frequently obvious (“I dug myself out of a grave for you”, “You were never this busy when I was alive”, "I sort of threw her under a bus", "You broke my heart Max": "I know, but it's not beating any more"), Dante has a lot of fun with the increasingly gross deterioration of Evelyn’s physical state, recalling both Death Becomes Her and Burton’s Frankenweenie (‘There’s a freaking Tim Burton movie in your living room”). She slips on the carpet and breaks her neck, doing yoga is very much not a good idea, and as her teeth gradually yellow, so CGI flies start circling her.


When Travis shows up at the door, having volunteered to kill her, you can feel Dante shifting into a groove he’s been struggling for until this point, with even his usual asides and references failing to make do. There’s nothing particularly genius about this latest in the line of boorish movie vulgarians, but Cooper has much better timing and delivery than, say Seth Rogen (actually, let’s not say Seth Rogen) and lines like “Well hello Evelyn, you’re looking especially morbid this evening” and "I can't text dump her. We live together" are as close as the picture comes to vintage Dante.


The movie references come thick and fast, although Wild ThingsII is much funnier than yet another Psycho visual gag (really Joe?) Having the comedy zombie sidekick survive is also overused by about a decade at this point (and why exactly does a sword finally do for Evelyn when stabbing her in the brain didn’t work?) There are clips aplenty, from Plan 9 from Outer Space to House on Haunted Hill to (of course, and redundantly) Night of the living Dead and… The Gore Gore Girls. Dante even has room for a few cameos from pals; Dick Miller, of course (gloriously entering from the crapper and asking, “Are you pulling my pickles, funny boy?”), Archie Hahn and John Hora.


It’s a shame Hora isn’t still working as a cinematographer on Dante pictures. Jonathan Hall does a serviceable job, as does Joseph LoDuca with the score (the Evil Dead composer; at its best there’s something of that energy). Dante couldn’t make a completely meritless movie any more than Terry Gilliam, but there’s a definite lack of inspiration on a fundamental level here. Even something as wholly unhappy (for the director) as Looney Tunes has an irresistible verve driving (for all the number of times its gags fall flat). Burying the Ex might be the closest Dante has come to an unadorned movie since his earliest, similarly low budget days with Piranha. The only problem with that being, Alan Trezza is no John Sayles.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

You look like an angry lizard!

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
(SPOILERS) I can quite see a Queen fan begrudging this latest musical biopic for failing to adhere to the facts of their illustrious career – but then, what biopic does steer a straight and true course? – making it ironic that they're the main fuel for Bohemian Rhapsody's box office success. Most other criticisms – and they're legitimate, on the whole – fall away in the face of a hugely charismatic star turn from Rami Malek as the band's frontman. He's the difference between a standard-issue, episodic, join-the-dots narrative and one that occasionally touches greatness, and most importantly, carries emotional heft.

I'm a sort of travelling time expert.

Doctor Who Season 12 – Worst to Best
Season 12 isn’t the best season of Doctor Who by any means, but it’s rightly recognised as one of the most iconic, and it’s easily one of the most watchable. Not so much for its returning roster of monsters – arguably, only one of them is in finest of fettle – as its line-up of TARDIS crew members. Who may be fellow travellers, but they definitely aren’t “mates”. Thank goodness. Its popularity – and the small matters of it being the earliest season held in its entirety in original broadcast form, and being quite short – make it easy to see why it was picked for the first Blu-ray boxset.

Must the duck be here?

The Favourite (2018)
(SPOILERS) In my review of The Killing of a Sacred Deer, I suggested The Favourite might be a Yorgos Lanthimos movie for those who don’t like Yorgos Lanthimos movies. At least, that’s what I’d heard. And certainly, it’s more accessible than either of his previous pictures, the first two thirds resembling a kind of Carry On Up the Greenaway, but despite these broader, more slapstick elements and abundant caustic humour, there’s a prevailing detachment on the part of the director, a distancing oversight that rather suggests he doesn’t feel very much for his subjects, no matter how much they emote, suffer or connive. Or pratfall.

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

I don’t know if what is happening is fair, but it’s the only thing I can think of that’s close to justice.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
(SPOILERS) I think I knew I wasn’t going to like The Killing of a Sacred Deer in the first five minutes. And that was without the unedifying sight of open-heart surgery that takes up the first four. Yorgos Lanthimos is something of a Marmite director, and my responses to this and his previous The Lobster (which I merely thought was “okay” after exhausting its thin premise) haven’t induced me to check out his earlier work. Of course, he has now come out with a film that, reputedly, even his naysayers will like, awards-darling The Favourite