Tag Archives: Justin Long

Scare BnB

Barbarian

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

When you see as many movies as we do – especially horror flicks – taking us places we did not see coming is much appreciated.

Barbarian certainly does that, mashing horror, dark comedy and social commentary to wild and mostly satisfying ends.

Tess (TV vet Georgina Campbell) is in Detroit for a job interview. She books an Airbnb in an unsavory part of town, only to find out Kieth (Bill Skarsgård) booked the same place on HomeAway. What to do?

They talk, flirt a little, and Tess agrees to stay in the bedroom while Keith takes the couch. They’ll sort it out in the morning.

In his feature debut, writer/director Zach Cregger (The Whitest Kids You Know) lulls us with a competent but familiar hook. What’s really going on? Can Keith be trusted? Creeger throws in some creepy camera angles, terrific lighting maneuvers and jump scare fake-outs to build tension.

Then Tess makes her way down to the basement. Yikes.

But even after Tess’s startling discoveries, we’re still feeling like we have a grip on what’s ahead.

And then Cregger takes us to Hollywood, where producer AJ Gilbride (Justin Long) is sacked from his latest project due to allegations of sexual misconduct.

Um…what?

AJ’s story suddenly crosses paths with a tale set in the same house in 1982, this one starring Richard Brake. While that’s often great news for viewers, it is rarely good news for other characters.

What could start to feel disjointed and episodic instead congeals into a bizarre and brutal minefield of surprises. There are times when these surprises hang together with unrealistic decision-making, but Cregger’s sly script overcomes most of its conveniences and missteps.

Not every moment works. Certain choices feel ridiculous and breaks of levity keep the film from being as disturbing as maybe it should be, given the content. But most of that is forgivable, mainly because of the surprises Cregger has for us, and the nimble way he brings them out of hiding.

In the Company of Women

House of Darkness

by Hope Madden

Who hurt Neil LaBute?

Would it surprise you to find that the latest from the writer/director behind In the Company of Men and Your Friends and Neighbors (as well as the less impressive Wicker Man reboot and others) is a meditation on sexual dynamics, power and agency? That it’s brimming with psychosexual wordplay? That it’s bitter and a bit misguided?

How many times can we disassemble the mating ritual to judge and shame those involved?  

Sometimes LaBute does it well—so well that it’s tough not to look forward to whatever he releases. House of Darkness sees the filmmaker again exploring his favorite topic, this time within a horror context.

Justin Long riffs on his nice guy persona, his character Hap actually referring to himself at one point as “one of the good ones.” (Had Hap seen Promising Young Women, he might have had sense enough not to make such a claim.)

Hap’s been lured into the stately gothic manor of the lovely Mina, played with controlled ferocity by Kate Bosworth. Bosworth seems to relish the directness of her character. Mina’s disinterest in accommodating Hap’s insecurities is glorious—a reminder of how casually brutal LaBute’s work can be.

Perhaps because he started his career as a playwright, each of LaBute’s films rise or fall on dialog. House of Darkness is a chamber piece – it could easily be a stage play (though it’s likely a Covid production). Limited performers pepper scenes with double entendres in an awkward dance of “will we or won’t we” sexual politics.

The difference this time around is the genre trapping, a first for the filmmaker. The look is lush and effective, particularly the more fantastical sequences. Long — a genre veteran — delivers a bit of nuance, his Hap never entirely sympathetic but definitely hard to hate.

The story builds effectively enough. It’s just that nothing is ever in question. The genre tropes are more threadbare from use than LaBute’s banter-driven power game. Worse, the point rings hollow, like a disingenuous, cash-grab reversal of In the Company of Men.

Manor Manners

Lady of the Manor

by Hope Madden

Flatulence, Judy Greer and historical reenactments? I don’t think we see enough of these in independent film.

Neither do brothers Justin and Christian Long, presumably, because they have written and directed Lady of the Manor to encourage us to spend some time with all three. And since the flatulence is cinematic rather than aromatic, what’s the harm?

There is none. The film is, in a word, harmless.

Greer plays Civil War-era Lady Wadsworth. As the film opens, we see her behaving properly, sporting proper posture and manners, quarreling politely with her husband, and tumbling fatally down a flight of stairs.

The Longs intercut this scene with the audio from a true-crime program being viewed by modern-day ne’er-do-well Hannah (Melanie Lynskey). After a series of drug and alcohol-related shenanigans, the down-on-her-luck Hannah accepts a position as tour guide of Wadsworth Manor.

Hannah’s clear, almost criminal weaknesses in the areas of ladylikeness bring the ghost of Lady Wadsworth back to the manor to teach Hannah some etiquette. Or is there another reason for her spectral return?

The Longs plump up their very slight script with plenty of silliness. Justin portrays Hannah’s bashful history professor suitor Max, while Ryan Phillippe lampoons his early career roles with a funny entitled douchebag performance as Wadsworth heir, Tanner.

There’s also a fun Luis Guzmán cameo and a rare Patrick Duffy sighting.

But the film is at its best when Lynskey and Greer turn My Fair Lady into The Odd Couple. These veteran character actors riff off each other like old vaudeville partners, bringing joy to even the most superficial scenes.

There are plenty of those. Lady of the Manor often plays like an extended episode of Drunk History, only maybe not quite as funny. Everybody seems to be enjoying themselves, no one is challenged by the material, and an entirely pleasant if fairly predictable and only modestly funny time is had by all, viewers included.

Going on a Trip

The Wave

by Brandon Thomas

For a split second there in the early 2000s, Justin Long seem primed for stardom: Jeepers Creepers, Dodgeball, Drag Me to Hell and Live Free or Die Hard. His nervous charm mixed with casual handsomeness made him instantly relatable. The Wave might not be a major studio movie like the aforementioned, but Long brings his classic charisma with him to this trippy sci-fi comedy. 

Long stars as Frank, an attorney for a large insurance company. He’s about to have the best day of his career after finding a way for the firm to avoid paying out a large policy. To celebrate, Frank and a co-worker (Scrubs’ Donald Faison) go out on the town where they eventually find their way to a house party. At this party, Frank is reluctantly introduced to a new drug that turns his world into a living hallucination. With his job, marriage and life on the line, Frank races around town attempting to undo the mess caused by the drug. 

The Wave walks a fine line between various genres. For most of its running time, the film resembles many mainstream comedies from the last two decades. Long plays the kind of lovable chump that wouldn’t feel out of place in the latest Judd Apatow flick. He’s a dirtbag, but a pretty harmless dirtbag. For a time, avoiding the wrath of his overbearing wife seems like Frank’s biggest obstacle. But only for a time.

The movie switches gears fairly seamlessly into a more sci-fi realm as the severity of Frank’s situation becomes more apparent. Visual effects play a large part, but director Gille Klabin also gets a lot of bang for his buck with simple in-camera effects. Frank’s jumps through time are more often than not sold through basic edits. Not only does this help keep the “weird” more grounded, but it also keeps the audience in Frank’s shoes as these strange things continue to happen to him.

The film threatens to stall when it begins to veer into a message about fate, the decisions that people make and where that leads them. The theme is muddled and never does more than distract from the fun core sci-fi elements. Primer this ain’t, and rightly so. 

The Wave has aspirations of telling a complex story about good people who make bad decisions. While that message never quite lands with much impact, the movie is still a moderately fun sci-fi romp.

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Oh, Can’t You See, You Belong to Me?

Comet

By Christie Robb

The extent to which you will enjoy Comet will probably depend on whether you are the type of person who thinks the Police’s “Every Breath You Take” is a good song to play at a wedding or not.

Romantic or stalkery?

Comet has a similar feel.

Neurotic Dell (Justin Long, who you might remember as the Mac guy from the commercials),relentlessly pursues Kimberly (Emmy Rossum) over a six year period during which he physically runs her down, declares his probable love for her on their first date, waylays her on a train, and shows up on her doorstep before her wedding.

Long and Rossum deliver stellar performances managing to effortlessly handle repartee of nearly Gilmore Girls proportions. Their chemistry is undeniable. However, it may be my inner cynic talking, but I found myself wanting to shake Kimberly by her slender little shoulders and point out all the red flags she seems unable to see.

Comet is a far more intellectual movie romance than is typical. It takes place in a parallel universe, which allows writer/director Sam Esmail to include some beautiful and trippy imagery. He also presents the story out of sequence, skipping around in the timeline of Dell and Kimberly’s relationship from a meeting during a meteor shower, to a snowy day in Paris, to a heart-to-heart on an LA rooftop at dusk (or is it sunrise?). Comet leaves the interpretation of what actually happens to the couple up to your careful scrutiny and interpretation.

Maybe not the movie to see on a first date, it nevertheless provides excellent fodder for discussion and perhaps a follow up movie marathon featuring 500 Days of Summer and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Verdict-3-0-Stars





The Kevin Smith Movie, Evolved

Tusk

by Hope Madden

In 2010, I had the chance to interview writer/director Kevin Smith. The proposed subject was Smith’s SModcasts – comic podcasts co-hosted by Smith and his buddy Scott Mosier – but I had other ideas. I knew Smith, a filmmaker most known for his juvenile comedies, was putting the finishing touches on his first horror film, Red State, and I was giddy to find out more about that.

Smith told me, “For years I’ve called myself a filmmaker, but it’s not really true. Really I just make Kevin Smith Movies. I’m at that stage where I could make a Kevin Smith Movie with my eyes closed. Let me see if I can make another movie.”

Too few people saw Red State, a flawed but fascinating film that boasted an absolutely mesmerizing performance by Tarantino favorite Michael Parks, but Smith knew he had something great in this actor. Wisely, when the filmmaker returned to horror with this year’s Tusk, he did so with Parks in tow.

Though Tusk is a surreal, utterly bizarre horror comedy, it is without question Smith’s most personal work as a filmmaker. The film follows a podcaster (Justin Long) who travels to an isolated cabin in Canada to record conversations with a recluse (Parks). The podcaster hopes to bring a good story of a weirdo back for the next show, but this story proves a little too weird.

The basic idea, in fact, comes from one of Smith’s actual SModcasts. He found online a letter from a man seeking a lodger, and he and Mosier read it aloud and mocked the man and giggled – the general MO for the show. But somewhere in all that, Smith found the story of man losing his humanity.

Yes, Tusk is a comic riff on The Human Centipede. It’s also an insightful kind of stress dream, so close to home for Smith that, even with all its utter ludicrousness, it feels almost confessional.

Once again, the greatest strength in the film is a hypnotic performance by Parks as the old seafarer with nefarious motives. He’s magnificent, and Long’s work is strongest when the two share the screen.

Smith’s tone shifts wildly from absurd comedy to real terror, but given the film’s insane premise, the approach works because nothing is ever what you expect. Like Johnny Depp as a French Canadian Inspector Clouseau.

There is no film quite like Tusk, certainly not in Smith’s arsenal, which, I suppose, means this is not a Kevin Smith Movie. And yet, there’s more Smith in this film than in anything else he’s made.

Verdict-3-5-Stars