Movie Review ~ Ghosts of the Ozarks

The Facts:

Synopsis: In post-Civil War Arkansas, a young doctor is mysteriously summoned to a remote town in the Ozarks only to discover that the utopian paradise is filled with secrets and surrounded by a menacing, supernatural presence.

Stars: Thomas Hobson, Phil Morris, Tara Perry, Tim Blake Nelson, Angela Bettis, David Arquette

Director: Matt Glass & Jordan Wayne Long

Rated:  NR

Running Length: 107 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review:  I’ve been through enough road trips across these glorious United States to wind up at some national monument or weird attraction that will always share one common thing. The “short introductory video.” You all know exactly what video I’m talking about. It’s the inevitable film, ranging anywhere from five (if you’re lucky) to thirty (always if you’re running late for somewhere else) that bars your way from moving forward into the main event you’ve already paid good money to see. Often produced before the tour guide was born, these are mini-masterpieces of balmy production quality, ripe acting, and directly stated dialogue that has precious little time for any subtext. When visiting Mt. Rushmore, the rickety film that greets you has surveyors arriving at the site, pointing up, and exclaiming, “We’ll build it…THERE!”  Subtle.

Memories of summers spent on vacations with my family seeing the country were stirred by Matt Glass and Jordan Wayne Long’s new film Ghosts of the Ozarks. That’s mainly because the look and feel of the film comes off like a lengthier version of one of these educational movies that get replayed every twenty minutes on a loop at the base of natural forming cave systems from California to Maine. Improperly being marketed as a horror/thriller but containing little of either element in its overindulgent runtime, it takes forever to get going and, even then, only sparks to life in small bursts of energy. This keeps one thankful for those players who manage to make something out of the screenplay from Long and third-billed Tara Perry.

Summoned by his uncle to the fledgling but remote town of Norfolk deep in the heart of the Ozarks, James (Thomas Hobson) hasn’t even made it to the outskirts before he encounters an unfriendly presence. A no-goodnik makes a play for his supplies but is usurped by the red plumes of smoke we come to learn signal the presence of dangerous predators lurking in the woods surrounding the walled compound. When he does make it town, he finds a simple community working on getting off the ground and putting aside any racial differences (James and his uncle are both Black) to be unified. The longer he stays in town and learns their customs, the more James realizes that not all is what it seems, and the lies that have been covered up as truths are coming back to haunt them all.

Had the film found more focus, I think the filmmakers behind Ghosts of the Ozarks might have capitalized better on the resources they had at their disposal. While it has an obvious digital look that can’t be avoided due to its high-definition rendering, the sets and costumes speak to a production design with enough creative energy to bring the viewer capably back to this period. The performances aren’t too bad, either. Though he’s laboring under a script that makes him far more inert than I think his character would have been, Hobson uses his arc to create an actual person gradually uncovering sad truths about those close to him. He and Phil Morris (Jingle All the Way) share several nice scenes, especially near the end when the action finally starts matching the advertising. Being a co-writer often results in reserving the extra juicy moments for yourself. Still, Perry is generous in doling out the emotional ups and downs, making room for more prominent names like Tim Blake Nelson (Nightmare Alley), Angela Bettis (Bless the Child), and even a typically weird David Arquette (You Cannot Kill David Arquette) to slide in and steal some scenes.

Never quite deciding what it fully wants to be, Ghosts of the Ozarks winds up being a head-scratcher for all the wrong reasons. Did I like the film? Not exactly. In the same breath, I’ll tell you it isn’t a bad film by any stretch of the imagination either. To say I wasn’t moved by it might be the worst thing I could report back, though Glass (who, like many involved with the film, wore multiple hats in the productions) composed a song for the film and replayed in the end credits that’s been stuck in my head ever since I saw it. Now that’s something I can’t say any of those road trip ranger station videos ever did for me.

Movie Review ~ Scream (2022)

Just when you thought it was safe to stop #Scream -ing…

The Facts:

Synopsis: Twenty-five years after a streak of brutal murders shocked the quiet town of Woodsboro, a new killer has donned the Ghostface mask and begins targeting a group of teenagers to resurrect secrets from the town’s deadly past.

Stars: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega, Jack Quaid, Mikey Madison, Dylan Minnette, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Mason Gooding, Sonia Ammar, Marley Shelton, Kyle Gallner, Reggie Conquest, Chester Tam, Roger L. Jackson

Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett

Rated: R

Running Length: 114 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: “What’s your favorite scary movie?” may now be a cultural touchstone phrase forever related to the classic film Scream, but it’s always been a litmus test to see where the person being asked falls on the scale of horror fandom.  If the answer is a deep cut, something from the Italian Giallo master Dario Argento or French cult vampire director Jean Rollin, you know you’re dealing with someone that has ventured further than the confines of their neighborhood video store.  Answering with a more commercially minded offering like a Friday the 13th or a Halloween tells you you’re in the presence of a person that doesn’t mind some blood, gore, and jump scares.  Get a response from a Frankenstein fraidy-cat and you may want to reconsider suggesting anything stronger than a black and white Universal classic.

For many, the answer to the question posed by the killer to Drew Barrymore’s doomed character in 1996 is, in fact, the very movie that asked it to begin with.  Scream opened to soft business in Christmas only to grow into a word-of-mouth hit, so much so that by the time the enjoyable sequel was released in 1997 both films had the distinction of being 1997’s top earners.  Fans of the franchise are legion, and after two more sequels (one in 2000 and the last one in 2011) it has amassed a devoted base that can and have spent much time arguing over the official order of quality, though you’d be hard pressed to find a list that doesn’t put the one that started it all in the prime spot. For the record, I’m a 1, 2, 4, 3.

Though the title lived on in television under the guise of an MTV scripted series with no ties to the original cast or setting, the first two seasons attempted to tell a continuing tale before killing off much of its YA cast.  I didn’t even bother with the third, standalone season, and from what I’ve heard that was for the best.  After the success of the continuation of Halloween in 2018, it still was a surprise when it was announced in March 2020 that Radio Silence, a filmmaking collective which found success in indie horror before making a snazzy showing in 2019]’s impressive Ready or Not, would direct and executive produce a fifth Scream movie incorporating original cast members with a new group of teens stalked by a vengeance-seeking killer.  As a dedicated fan of the films and the franchise in general (not to mention a number of the previous films Radio Silence has produced), I was thrilled for another gathering of my favorite cast members and a return to the whodunit slasher film that I have a true fondness for. 

Needless to say, as we move forward into the meat of the movie, this is a spoiler-free zone.  Aside from watching the first trailer for the movie the day it was released, I haven’t watched any other marketing for the film so can’t say what may be in the previews that could be a potential spoiler…but I won’t be giving away anything that could ruin your experience.

Well…maybe one thing.  And that’s my feeling toward the finished movie.  Surprising myself, I left the theater after my screening of Scream (which, it should be strongly stated, is Scream 5, no matter how the filmmakers and studio try to spin it) sort of aghast at how much against it I felt.  The more I heard how many people did like it, the more I was wondering if I just saw something different or my tastes had changed…but this was almost directly after gleefully binge-watching the previous four films.  Delivering on the “goods” if you will (read: killings, blood, and guts) but shortchanging fans that know their Woodsboro ins and outs with a number of discrepancies and head scratching choices, the screenplay from James Vanderbilt (White House Down) and Guy Busick attempts to make connections to the past at the outset but abandons its own efforts by the messy end.  Worse, the film suffers from a strong case of the unlikeables, characters and cast members that either don’t appear long enough to create much of an impression before they’re sliced or grate on the nerves to the point where you feel like paging Ghostface stat to get on with the show.

It’s been twenty-five years since the original murder spree changed the sleepy town of Woodsboro forever.  The survivors of the attack a generation ago have encountered several copycat slayings over the subsequent years but for the last decade there has been a peaceful silence which has allowed lives to be led without much fear.  Then Tara (Jenna Ortega, Insidious: Chapter 2) gets a phone call while alone in her house and hears a voice familiar to us but unfamiliar to her.  Remember, Stab (the movie within Scream 2 based off of the events in Scream 1) came out over two decades before and its sequels have long since fizzled out.  Poor Tara should have stayed up to date on her old-school horror trivia because things don’t go well for her when quizzed on her knowledge of Stab and Woodsboro’s sordid history.

Hearing the news about her sister from a town far outside of Woodsboro, Sam (Melissa Barrera, In the Heights) returns with her boyfriend Richie (Jack Quaid, Rampage) just as secrets from her family’s past and a clever killer targeting those with ties to the 1996 murder spree emerge from the shadows.  Teaming up with Tara’s friends, among them Amber (Mikey Madison, It Takes Three), twins Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown, Sound of Violence) and Chad (Mason Gooding, Booksmart) and Wes (Dylan Minnette, Prisoners), Sam and Richie eventually realize they’ll need the help of the remaining few who’ve experienced this before if they have any hope of surviving the game plan of a killer (or killers?) always several steps ahead of them.  Enter Dewey, Gale, and Sidney.

To say the film feels lighter the moment even one of the legacy cast members is on screen is an understatement.  Originally meant to be killed off in the first film and then set to die in the sequel, original director of the first four films Wes Craven and his producing partners had such a strong reaction to David Arquette’s (You Cannot Kill David Arquette) portrayal of Deputy Dewey Riley (not to mention his popularity with fans) that they made sure to shoot endings where he lived.  And you’ll be especially glad he did because his presence in this entry is so useful, bringing not only that trademark goofiness to the role but an emotional sweetness that has always defined the role and made it unmistakably his.  Noticeably absent for much of the film are Courtney Cox (Masters of the Universe) and Neve Campbell (Skyscraper), but they’re like that time Madonna made all of us at her concert wait two hours after the opening act before she went on.  By the time she showed up, we were more than antsy but when she did…it was completely worth it.  Same goes here and not only do Cox and Campbell fit right back into their characters like no time has passed, they highlight the biggest problem with the movie for me.  The acting.

I’m not sure what’s up with this cast but I think each and every one of them I’ve seen and liked far better in other projects.  Here, it’s like no one was acting in the same movie or playing off of one another to any winning effect.  It’s never more evident than with Barrera who has some of the strangest line readings, coming off as emotionless when the scene calls for drama and often absent as strong support for those she is acting opposite. I felt for Ortega who is acting her face off, performing the role like it’s the last thing she’ll ever do.  I wish the performance (which, to be clear, is solid) was in a different movie she was headlining.  Brown is another standout, finding herself a nice match for the dialogue which has some hints at original scribe Kevin Williamson’s quick meta banter but never reaches that same smirking bar which made Williamson’s screenplays, for lack of a better word, iconic.

Which brings me to another low-ish point.  Vanderbilt and Busick don’t have Williamson’s knack for snappy phrasing, relying much more on accessing the characters F-Bomb portal than having them volley back-and-forth.  While Brown gets those nice moments to explain the rules surrounding a ‘requel’, too many references are made to fifth entries not living up to their potential, being ill-advised, not being titled correctly, etc…. basically heading off all the naysayers at the pass and beating the critics to their punches.  In that way, the script starts to feel like it’s apologizing for itself instead of creating its own playing field. A few missed opportunities along the way exist, making you wonder if there wasn’t more to the story that was left on the cutting room floor or if the screenwriters are saving something for potential sequel routes. 

Perhaps you can tie some of it back to that Wes Craven touch which guided those first four films.  Dying of brain cancer in 2015, Craven was never going to be a part of this new film and while no one is claiming the previous sequels to be flawless (let’s face it, as fun as Scream 3 was, it was also silly and falling apart at the seams) or that Craven was a can’t miss director, he set the look and feel of the franchise from the start…down to Marco Beltrami’s score which I was also sad to see wasn’t back. Yet…you just can’t divest yourself from feeling that if directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett were attempting to honor Craven they would have displayed some of his knack for spotting acting talent on the cusp of greatness. Going into more details is definitely tipping the scale toward spoilers…but we can chat after you’ve seen it and I can explain more.

I’m disappointed for myself that I didn’t like the movie a little more than I did.  This isn’t about living in any kind of past because onward we must travel, especially if we want the things we hold dear to continue to thrive.  Personally, I hope this Scream makes huge bucks (all signs point to a big YES in that department) and more films in a similar vein are made.  I would ask, please, that the same kind of focus is put on the key pieces that elevate a movie to classic status though.  The original cast and script of 1996’s Scream simply can’t be beat, even all these years later.  I can’t say the same for this continuation…but trust me, I wanted to. 

Now…I’m a 1, 2, 4, 5, 3 person.

31 Days to Scare ~ Scream (1996)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A year after the murder of her mother, a teenage girl is terrorized by a new killer, who targets the girl and her friends by using horror films as part of a deadly game.

Stars: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Skeet Ulrich, Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan, Jamie Kennedy, Drew Barrymore, W. Earl Brown, Henry Winkler, Liev Schreiber

Director: Wes Craven

Rated: R

Running Length: 111 minutes

TMMM Score: (10/10)

Review: Do you remember where you were when you first saw the original Scream?  I sure do.  I snuck into it at Centennial Lakes 8 after seeing the Eddie Murphy stinker Metro the week that movie arrived in mid-January 1997.  Scream had already been out for several weeks, and I’d heard a bit of buzz about it but releasing on December 20, 1996 during the Christmas holiday it was just starting to get that word of mouth build that would catapult it to the phenomenon it would become.  That particular night I just needed another movie to see to complete a double feature so I could feel I was getting some return on my high school allowance.  Almost as a second thought and seeing that the previews were starting, I ducked into the tiny theater it was playing and sat with the half full audience for a 9:30pm showing.

That’s my Scream origin story and it’s special to me because I’ll never forget what it was like to leave that theater (one of my favorites, RIP Centennial Lakes) so energized by a genre film that felt as if it not only knew what it was doing but knew the audience that was hungry for it.  This wasn’t some half-baked studio dreck which left out the brains with the kills or was just a series of random boobies and ugly gore coupled with an uninteresting story.  Instead, screenwriter Kevin Williamson took his own clear love for scary movies and wrote a script that acknowledged their existence with rules that came close to breaking the fourth wall while creating his own stealthy serial killer tale where no one was safe from bloody elimination.  To put a cherry on top of the already calorie rich sundae, genre icon Wes Craven directed it.  Delicious.

After a teenager and her boyfriend are brutally murdered by someone wearing a masked costume, the town of Woodsboro is on high alert.  After all, the one-year anniversary of the murder of Maureen Prescott is closing in, a date her daughter Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell, Skyscraper) is dreading.  Trying to distract herself by focusing on time with her boyfriend Billy (Skeet Ulrich, As Good As It Gets) and their group of friends, Sidney soon becomes the target for the killer and learns this masked maniac might be involved with the death of her mom as well.  With bodies piling up and a house party setting the scene for a night of violence and surprising reveals, a bumbling deputy sheriff (David Arquette, Spree) works to put the puzzle pieces together while keeping ambitious news anchor Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective) from interfering with his investigation. 

Casting the film with recognizable stars was a smart move on the part of Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street) who experienced a justified career resurgence with the release of Scream.  Using proven talent took away the guessing game of how an actor would deliver on their performance and allowed Craven to focus less on developing the acting and more on constructing the mystery and suspense that make Scream such a rare breed of entertainment.  It’s why so many (SO many) movies tried to copy its success in the years to come, including its own subsequent sequels which became suspiciously less self-aware the more it touted how self-aware it was being.  Craven would at least get the chance to direct his pet project, 1999’s Music of the Heart in between directing Scream 2 and Scream 3.  Then came Cursed which is…a whole other 31 Days to Scare.

Mere months before a highly anticipated fifth sequel arrives (titled, simply, Scream) many fans will be revisiting the first four movies again and everyone has their favorite.  For a while, I leaned toward the second one as my go-to because of the sheer number of stars in it but you just can’t deny the maximum impact created by the original which has yet to be surpassed by anything that followed it.  The copycats were numerous, and it has been used as a comparison tool for hundreds more in the ensuing years.  That’s the sign of a film designated as a cultural touchstone for more than just a scary mask or pre-credit murder scene.  It’s a classic.

31 Days to Scare ~ Scream (2022) – First Look Trailer

Synopsis: Twenty-five years after a streak of brutal murders shocked the quiet town of Woodsboro, a new killer has donned the Ghostface mask and begins targeting a group of teenagers to resurrect secrets from the town’s deadly past.

Release Date:  January 14, 2022

Thoughts: It’s been 10 years since we’ve heard that familiar voice on the phone calling the latest batch of doomed flavors of the month (quick…how many of the teenage cast members of Scream 4 are still a ‘thing’?) and so the return of Ghostface is being met with an expected marked frenzy.  Going the 2018 Halloween and 2020’s The Grudge route and leaving off any numerical suffix, 2022’s Scream is the first not to be directed by Wes Craven who passed away in 2015.  In the hands of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett (also known as Radio Silence, the team behind 2019’s Ready or Not), we’re back in Woodsboro for a new series of murders that tie into the events from a generation earlier. 

As excited as I am for this new installment, I almost wish I hadn’t watched the lengthy preview because…boy does it show a lot more than I wanted to see.  I know this cast is huge and the body count has the potential to be plentiful but seeing the fates of several characters (and perhaps a healthy bit of the opening) feels like we’re being served far too much before we’ve even sat down to eat.  Fingers crossed the twists make up for the trailer spoilers, but this is the last time I’ll watch any promo materials for the film before it is released.

Movie Review ~ kid 90

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: As a teenager in the ‘90s, Soleil Moon Frye carried a video camera everywhere she went. She documented hundreds of hours of footage and then locked it away for over 20 years.

Stars: Soleil Moon Frye, David Arquette, Stephen Dorff, Balthazar Getty, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Brian Austin Green, Tori Leonard, Heather McComb

Director: Soleil Moon Frye

Rated: NR

Running Length: 71 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  Although I know now there was a lot going on the world I wasn’t aware of when I was a young child in the early ‘80s, it holds so many warm memories of growing up that I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t want to go back and relive that time of my life.  Yes, the fashion was “truly outrageous”, the hairstyles were ghastly (or was that just mine?), and taste in general leaned toward gaudy excess but…what fun it all was!  Moving into the ‘90s is when reality started to set in for my sphere of consciousness and more self-awareness led to less freedom of expression.  You can see the shift in movies, television, and music as well, especially as the early part of the decade gave way to the mid ‘90s. When I tell you that I love the ‘80s it’s only because my current relationship with the ‘90s is…complicated.

A documentary like Hulu’s Kid 90 is both a blessing and a curse for someone like me who devoured pop culture throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s because it allows me to marvel at the stars I used to think were the “cool kids” but also feel the sting seeing the flip side to what all that adoration can do to someone so young.  While we’ve read many a cautionary tale of brilliant artists that have been taken too soon, either by accident, by their own purposeful hand, or through the overindulgence in substances that led to their eventual demise, it was always different when it was an actor your own age because it was often your first reality check with mortality.

Directed by and largely framed within the context of the life and career of child star Soleil Moon Frye who broke big early on with her starring role on Punky Brewster, it begins with Frye recounting her trajectory to fame and interspersing interviews she conducted with her old Hollywood friends throughout.  While it may have been obnoxious to her friends and family back then, Frye carried her video camera with her everywhere and has hundreds of hours of footage of the people she hung out with, and many of them happen to be stars we were used to seeing on hit television shows and blockbuster movies.  Seen at their unfiltered best and most at-ease worst, Frye isn’t out to shame anyone for their actions from years ago (mostly, more on that later) but more to just document what life was like off set when the professional cameras weren’t rolling.

What struck me most was the lack of female friends Frye has throughout the years.  While we see several during the course of the movie, Frye mostly hung around with guys and a number of the films divergent themes cover her romances that either soured or faded.  In the final act, she bravely recounts for the first time on camera an act of sexual violence toward her at an early age and the impact that had on her relationships for the ensuing years.  There’s also closure to be found in brief passages with some exes and hoped for loves that doesn’t feel stagey or forced in any way. More often than not, it feels as if everyone is happy to be walking down memory lane with a friendly companion, one that knows the pitfalls and won’t let them be hurt or led onto dangerous ground.

Once Frye gets to the segment showing just how many of these teen and young adults she knew and captured in her video memories didn’t live to see their thirtieth birthday, the sweetness of the nostalgia turns to sadness. What a shame that for whatever reason they didn’t make it and it’s no good now relitigating who is to blame because decades have passed.  That seems to be Frye’s take on the situation as well and where she finds herself as Punky Brewster begins a revival on television.  In the end, Kid 90 feels like a brisk, tightly edited way to put a few of the demons that have been circling her to rest, giving her control of the narrative as is her right, while at the same time honoring a generation that grew up in the public eye.

Movie Review ~ You Cannot Kill David Arquette

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: Following his infamous championship as part of a marketing stunt for the film Ready to Rumble, actor David Arquette returns to the professional wrestling ring for a series of matches.

Stars: David Arquette, Courteney Cox, Patricia Arquette, Rosanna Arquette, Ric Flair, Diamond Dallas Page, Christina McLarty Arquette, Jack Perry, Luke Perry, Jerry Lawler

Director: David Darg & Price James

Rated: NR

Running Length: 90 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  Over the years, I’ve had a complicated relationship with the Arquette family.  For a while, when I was younger and browsing the video store I was totally confused over Rosanna (Draft Day) because the VHS cover of Desperately Seeking Susan made me think she was Madonna and vice versa.  What can I say, I was an easily confused child that didn’t see that particular film until I was an adult.  It wasn’t until the cult film The Big Blue arrived in 1988 that I finally figured out who she was and by that time I was already into Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors which starred her younger sister, Patricia.  Now this Arquette I really didn’t understand.  Over time, she’d occasionally pop up in something that would interest me but I largely found her a grating presence…until I saw 2014’s Boyhood in an early, early screening and knew right then and there it would win her an Oscar.  Father Lewis was a dependable character actor in so many movies including The China Syndrome and Waiting for Guffman and late sister Alexis also appeared in a fair share of eyebrow raising movies over the course of her career.

The really strange one, and I mean really strange, was David.  Now, I first remember him all the way back in the original film version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer but he’s since become synonymous with both the Scream franchise and his future ex-wife Courteney Cox whom he met while filming the first of the four films (a fifth one is in the planning stages).  With the popularity of Scream, Arquette’s film career opened up and he became a go-to person for silly and outright stupid fare…pretty much anything Tom Green or Pauly Shore had turned down because they thought it was beneath them.  One such film was 2000’s wrestling comedy Ready to Rumble and that became a calling card pivot point of sorts because it was on that film where the producers of World Championship Wrestling did what some fans consider a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad thing.  They decided to fix it so Arquette (a huge wrestling fan in the real world) would be named WCW World Champion as a way to generate publicity for them and for the movie.  It didn’t go well.  Though Arquette donated all the money WCW had paid him for the stunt, the damage had been done and he became a joke within the wrestling industry and in some Hollywood circles.

The new documentary You Cannot Kill David Arquette takes a novel idea, that David could return to the wrestling world and do it for real this time, and creates something magical both for the viewer and for the actor himself.  Before the movie I considered Arquette to be a kind of clown.  Yes I admit it and I know that’s not a very nice thing to say sitting here from my perch in midwest MN.  Still, he’d fallen into a semi-slump in terms of high profile roles and suffered several medical and pharmaceutical setbacks in recent years and I just couldn’t take him that seriously.  At the beginning of the film, it appears that a lot of people were in my camp as well.  Even his no-nonsense, supportive wife Christina McLarty Arquette has serious doubts about Arquette’s plan to revive his wrestling character and give it another go in the ring.  I mean, the man had a heart attack but still pushes himself far past the limitations of endurance…sometimes just for a gag.

Directors David Darg and Price James follow Arquette over the next year and lets us watch as the actor suffers numerous beatdowns in amateur rings, south of the border lucha libre fights, and makes the rounds on the bloody indie deathmatch circuit.  It’s a brutal redemption tour and Arquette gamely puts his body, mind, and spirit to the test time and time again.  At first, I was sort of put off by the whole thing and found Arquette to be another washed up star looking for that final four minutes of fast fame.  Then, I dunno, something clicked and I saw the concerned people he was surrounding himself with and the sincerity in which he listened to their thoughts.  There’s a sadness in him that eventually becomes a winning quality and it transforms him from the outside in.  The Arquette at the end of the movie is totally different than the beginning…and I think the same goes for this viewer’s opinion of the actor himself.

With brief appearances from his ex-wife, sisters, and even the late Luke Perry in the kind of misty-eyed cameo you may only realize happened after the fact, You Cannot Kill David Arquette is a very Hollywood documentary that reaches far beyond the confines of the city for its best material.  Watching Arquette (also appearing in the recently released Spree) travel around the country to Podunk towns with makeshifts wrestling rings that fall apart on impact, you marvel at his willingness to put himself out there…and to be filmed while doing it.  In the end, it’s compulsive and oddly compassionate filmmaking that taps out at just the right time.

Movie Review ~ Spree

Available In select theaters, drive-ins, on demand, and digital August 14, 2020

The Facts:

Synopsis: Thirsty for a following, Kurt Kunkle is a rideshare driver who has figured out a deadly plan to go viral.

Stars: Joe Keery, Sasheer Zamata, David Arquette, Kyle Mooney, Mischa Barton

Director: Eugene Kotlyarenko

Rated: NR

Running Length: 93 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review:  Being famous for doing nothing used to be seen as something trivial, what you’d snicker at silently and roll your eyes over while reading about it in a wrinkled magazine at your optometrist’s office while you waited for your pupils to slowly dilate.  As your vision became blurrier and the words became harder to read, all you could focus on were the pictures and in the end that’s all that mattered because it was the visuals of the do-nothing-for-fames that managed to get them where they were.  Now, after years of watching people ascend to the rank of celebrity on their skills as an “influencer”, it’s no longer something to laugh about.  It almost makes you want to cry.

That’s why a movie like Spree will likely be interpreted in a number of different ways by anyone who views it.  It all depends on what you personally think about the current culture of social media and how it has the power to affect the actions of others.  Whether it’s deciding what to buy or where to go, more and more there is a reliance on these internet influencers to call the shots and it’s crazy to think it’s a money-making business for some.  It’s definitely not making money for the likes of people like Spree‘s Kurt Kunkle, the twenty-something wannabe star who takes his desire for fame too far over the course of one bloody night.

Though it’s framed like a “found footage” sort of package, don’t let that scare you off right away (there may be other things that do that, so beware) because Spree gets off to an entertaining start taking us through our introduction to Kurt (Joe Keery, Stranger Things, Molly’s Game) and his YouTube show “Kurt’s World”.  Attracting minimal viewers and netting next to no followers on his various social media accounts, Kurt’s hopes of becoming famous seem to be fading fast and he knows he needs to do something big to get noticed.  Maybe he can use his connection as former babysitter to internet sensation @bobbybasecamp (Josh Ovalle) to drum up some new followers but how to get the attention of the world?

The answer shows up in what Kurt dubs #TheLesson.

Working as a driver for a rideshare service, Kurt tricks out his car with video cameras and livestreams his fares…who he begins to kill, first with poisoned water and then with the clock ticking and his follower count not rising fast enough, via other methods that get progressively more gruesome and desperate as the night goes on.  Throughout the day, Kurt encounters a number of faces that will be familiar to viewers and it’s not a spoiler to say that some of them make it out of the car alive.  Some of them die out of the car, too.  No, really, there are interesting cameos from Kyle Mooney (Hello, My Name Is Doris) as a hapless jokester, David Arquette (star of the equally meta documentary You Can’t Kill David Arquette arriving soon) as his Dad, a loser DJ that bribes his son for a ride by promising him an Instagram mention from a visiting DJ playing at the same (strip) club.  Mischa Barton (Notting Hill), Frankie Grande, and Lala Kent (Hard Kill) all show up at one point or another, too…a random mix of the very influencer-celebrities the film is taking aim at.

The most important fare is comedian Jessie Adams (from SNL player Sasheer Zamata, excellent in a honest to goodness breakout role) because she’s exactly the kind of social media star he isn’t.  Easy-going, self-aware, honest, edgy, and maybe a little meaner than she has to be, she’s also worked her way to get to the comedy show she’s performing in that evening and an early encounter with Kyle doesn’t end well for him.  Quickly becoming fascinated with Jessie, Kurt turns his attention from wondering why his star struggles to rise to fixating on how hers manages to ascend with little trouble.  That’s when the real madness of Spree truly takes over.

Spree is a move that is all fun and games…until it isn’t and then you suddenly realize you’ve been playing along with something very dark and dangerous.  It’s exactly the kind of response the movie wants you to have and I admit I fell head first into its well-designed snap trap.  Writer/director Eugene Kotlyarenko doesn’t have any observances that are hugely revelatory but it’s the way he goes the extra mile in depicting the lengths to which Kurt will go for fame and the alarming coldness in his dispatching of human life that gives Spree those extra jolts to make you shudder.  Along with Keery, Kotlyarenko and cinematographer Jeff Leeds Cohn have amassed a tremendous amount of footage to establish Kurt’s online presence – I can’t even imagine how many hours/days it took to film all of it, yet alone for editor Benjamin Moses Smith to cut it together into the cohesive narrative it is.  That is isn’t just a 90-minute exercise in eye-ball gouging obnoxiousness is a miracle unto itself.

Still…it’s hard to get over the truth the movie is made up of bits and pieces of other films that have done this whole 15 minutes of fame nonsense in better (though more subtle) ways.  You don’t have to squint too hard watching Spree to see the elements of Taxi Driver, Maps to the Stars, American Psycho, Joker, Nightcrawler, or even Chicago that have been brought into the mix.  Yes, Spree may deliver the same message with the volume turned up a little louder and is far more in your face than Travis Bickle ever was…but those understated characters were often more unnerving because of their stillness.  Spree’s Kurt Kunkle is a ball of energy wanting to be noticed and it’s hard not to see him in front of you.  Same goes for the movie.