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.


Popular posts from this blog

Abandon selective targeting. Shoot everything.

28 Weeks Later (2007) (SPOILERS) The first five minutes of 28 Weeks Later are far and away the best part of this sequel, offering in quick succession a devastating moral quandary and a waking nightmare, immortalised on the screen. After that, while significantly more polished, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo reveals his concept to be altogether inferior to Danny Boyle and Alex Garland’s, falling back on the crutches of gore, nihilism, and disengaging and limiting shifts of focus between characters in whom one has little investment in the first place.

The Bible never said anything about amphetamines.

The Color of Money (1986) (SPOILERS) I tend to think it’s evident when Scorsese isn’t truly exercised by material. He can still invest every ounce of the technical acumen at his fingertips, and the results can dazzle on that level, but you don’t really feel the filmmaker in the film. Which, for one of his pictures to truly carry a wallop, you need to do. We’ve seen quite a few in such deficit in recent years, most often teaming with Leo. The Color of Money , however, is the first where it was out-and-out evident the subject matter wasn’t Marty’s bag. He needed it, desperately, to come off, but in the manner a tradesman who wants to keep getting jobs. This sequel to The Hustler doesn’t linger in the mind, however good it may be, moment by moment.

Doctors make the worst patients.

Coma (1978) (SPOILERS) Michael Crichton’s sophomore big-screen feature, and by some distance his best. Perhaps it’s simply that this a milieu known to him, or perhaps it’s that it’s very much aligned to the there-and-now and present, but Coma , despite the occasional lapse in this adaptation of colleague Robin Cook’s novel, is an effective, creepy, resonant thriller and then some. Crichton knows his subject, and it shows – the picture is confident and verisimilitudinous in a way none of his other directorial efforts are – and his low-key – some might say clinical – approach pays dividends. You might also call it prescient, but that would be to suggest its subject matter wasn’t immediately relevant then too.

I said I had no family. I didn’t say I had an empty apartment.

The Apartment (1960) (SPOILERS) Billy Wilder’s romcom delivered the genre that rare Best Picture Oscar winner. Albeit, The Apartment amounts to a rather grim (now) PG-rated scenario, one rife with adultery, attempted suicide, prostitution of the soul and subjective thereof of the body. And yet, it’s also, finally, rather sweet, so salving the darker passages and evidencing the director’s expertly judged balancing act. Time Out ’s Tom Milne suggested the ending was a cop out (“ boy forgives girl and all’s well ”). But really, what other ending did the audience or central characters deserve?

Your desecration of reality will not go unpunished.

2021-22 Best-of, Worst-of and Everything Else Besides The movies might be the most visible example of attempts to cling onto cultural remnants as the previous societal template clatters down the drain. It takes something people really want – unlike a Bond movie where he kicks the can – to suggest the model of yesteryear, one where a billion-dollar grosser was like sneezing. You can argue Spider-Man: No Way Home is replete with agendas of one sort or another, and that’s undoubtedly the case (that’s Hollywood), but crowding out any such extraneous elements (and they often are) is simply a consummate crowd-pleaser that taps into tangible nostalgia through its multiverse take. Of course, nostalgia for a mere seven years ago, for something you didn’t like anyway, is a symptom of how fraught these times have become.

Captain, he who walks in fire will burn his feet.

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973) (SPOILERS) Ray Harryhausen returns to the kind of unadulterated fantasy material that made Jason and the Argonauts such a success – swords & stop motion, if you like. In between, there were a couple of less successful efforts, HG Wells adaptation First Men in the Moon and The Valley of the Gwangi (which I considered the best thing ever as a kid: dinosaur walks into a cowboy movie). Harryhausen’s special-effects supremacy – in a for-hire capacity – had also been consummately eclipsed by Raquel Welch’s fur bikini in One Million Years B.C . The Golden Voyage of Sinbad follows the expected Dynamation template – blank-slate hero, memorable creatures, McGuffin quest – but in its considerable favour, it also boasts a villainous performance by nobody-at-the-time, on-the-cusp-of-greatness Tom Baker.

Listen to the goddamn qualified scientists!

Don’t Look Up (2021) (SPOILERS) It’s testament to Don’t Look Up ’s “quality” that critics who would normally lap up this kind of liberal-causes messaging couldn’t find it within themselves to grant it a free pass. Adam McKay has attempted to refashion himself as a satirist since jettisoning former collaborator Will Ferrell, but as a Hollywood player and an inevitably socio-politically partisan one, he simply falls in line with the most obvious, fatuous propagandising.

Archimedes would split himself with envy.

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977) (SPOILERS) Generally, this seems to be the Ray Harryhausen Sinbad outing that gets the short straw in the appreciation stakes. Which is rather unfair. True, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger lacks Tom Baker and his rich brown voice personifying evil incarnate – although Margaret Whiting more than holds her own in the wickedness stakes – and the structure follows the Harryhausen template perhaps over scrupulously (Beverly Cross previously collaborated with the stop-motion auteur on Jason and the Argonauts , and would again subsequently with Clash of the Titans ). But the storytelling is swift and sprightly, and the animation itself scores, achieving a degree of interaction frequently more proficient than its more lavishly praised peer group.

You just threw a donut in the hot zone!

Den of Thieves (2018) (SPOILERS) I'd heard this was a shameless  Heat  rip-off, and the presence of Gerard Butler seemed to confirm it would be passable-at-best B-heist hokum, so maybe it was just middling expectations, even having heard how enthused certain pockets of the Internet were, but  Den of Thieves  is a surprisingly very satisfying entry in the genre. I can't even fault it for attempting to Keyser Soze the whole shebang at the last moment – add a head in a box and you have three 1995 classics in one movie – even if that particular conceit doesn’t quite come together.

You have a very angry family, sir.

Eternals (2021) (SPOILERS) It would be overstating the case to suggest Eternals is a pleasant surprise, but given the adverse harbingers surrounding it, it’s a much more serviceable – if bloated – and thematically intriguing picture than I’d expected. The signature motifs of director and honestly-not-billionaire’s-progeny Chloé Zhao are present, mostly amounting to attempts at Malick-lite gauzy natural light and naturalism at odds with the rigidly unnatural material. There’s woke to spare too, since this is something of a Kevin Feige Phase Four flagship, one that rather floundered, showcasing his designs for a nu-MCU. Nevertheless, Eternals manages to maintain interest despite some very variable performances, effects, and the usual retreat into standard tropes, come the final big showdown.