In-House Reviews #116: I Saw the TV Glow, Poolman, The Roundup: Punishment, Unfrosted & More!

Aaron Neuwirth has reviews for I Saw the TV Glow, Poolman, The Roundup: Punishment, Last Stop in Yuma County, East Bay, and Unfrosted.

While Apes Together Strong, this week also has movies together good (and some bad). This set of write-ups includes a unique indie horror, a comedy-mystery, a Korean cop flick, a 70s-inspired crime thriller, an indie comedy-drama, and a slapstick comedy. The following features reviews for I Saw the TV Glow, Poolman, The Roundup: Punishment, Last Stop in Yuma County, East Bay, and Unfrosted.

I Saw the TV Glow: 8 out of 10

The Setup: An older classmate (Bridgette Lundy-Paine) introduces teenage Owen (Justice Smith) to a mysterious late-night TV show — a vision of a supernatural world beneath their own. In the pale glow of the television, Owen’s view of reality begins to crack.

Review: Here’s a film that’s tapping right into an area I’m familiar with and providing a unique understanding of what it means to feel lost at an adolescent stage and hold onto that sense of loneliness and isolation long enough to dig into adverse nostalgic effects of things once held dear. In many ways, I found Jane Schoenbrun’s effectively crafted I Saw the TV Glow to function much like Donnie Darko did for Gen Xers (and others who caught on). Both films provide a sense of comfort in their quirky look at a specific time period but with far more complicated underpinnings to add to the mystique of the narrative. In the case of A24’s trippy release, there’s much less at play from a narrative sense compared to Richard Kelly’s exploration of time travel through haunting means.

Instead, more introspection and emotional work comes from Lundy-Paine and a particularly excellent Smith. Complete with a show-within-a-show (The Pink Opaque) that captures a very specific mood well, clever homages to the 90s, and a soundtrack full of original songs, while I’m not big on films positioning themselves as cult favorites before an audience can decide on that for themselves, I won’t be surprised to see critical acclaim and specific viewers continually championing I Saw the TV Glow very easily.

Where To Watch: Now playing in select theaters. Opens wide on May 17.

Poolman: 3 out of 10

The Setup: Los Angeles pool cleaner Darren Barrenman (Chris Pine) is approached by a femme fatale to help uncover corruption in a shady business deal. He enlists the help of friends to take on a corrupt politician and a greedy land developer. Darren’s investigation reveals a hidden truth about his beloved city and himself.

Review: I could say I just had to see it to believe it, but when the unanimous boos came in from TIFF regarding Chris Pine’s directorial debut, I couldn’t help but think people were maybe being too hard on the actor’s steps toward becoming a behind-the-camera filmmaker. Sadly, they were warranted. Along with the namechecked Chinatown and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, it’s clear Pine did a lot of studying film comedically inclined LA mysteries such as The Long Goodbye, The Big Lebowski, and Inherent Vice. With all that in mind, even A24’s casually dumped Under the Silver Lake at least had a semblance of directorial vision and moments of brilliance (others like it more). Poolman is what happens when you take all the PTA out of a film like Inherent Vice and make people who derided that film realize they didn’t know how good they had it.

As a 100-minute opus, it wasn’t great to feel it lasted triple that runtime, even with talented co-stars such as Annette Bening, Danny DeVito, and Jennifer Jason Leigh on board. I’ve already made my stance on “cult films in the making” clear, but just to reiterate if there was an intended audience Pine was chasing after, I hope they have a relaxing dip with this mess.

Where To Watch: Available in theaters on May 10, 2024.

The Roundup: Punishment: 8 out of 10

The Setup: While pursuing the developer of a drug trafficking app, Detective Ma Seok-do (Ma Dong-seok) uncovers a deadly link to a vast online gambling syndicate, triggering an unprecedented alliance to take down the masterminds.

Review: Before watching this film in theaters, I spent a couple of days catching up with The Roundup series (which began with The Outlaws in 2017). Simply put – these films rock. Ma Dong-seok (aka Don Lee) is quickly becoming one of my favorite action stars, as he uses his immense charisma, burly body, and hammer fists to deliver a Korean detective who gets the job done in a very 80s/90s Hollywood cop movie way. This latest entry, Punishment, may be the best yet (or simply amplified by the theatrical experience), but it matters little. Each of these films are essentially the same – we learn about a new group of criminals (this time it’s dealing with cybercrime), follow parallel storylines involving their dealings as well as the cop’s investigation to find them, and get thrown into numerous fight scenes.

This is where Lee’s detective Ma Seok-do comes in, as he is so much fun to watch, and his fighting style is so immensely satisfying. There may be a formula here, but it works well (not unlike Bond movies, honestly) and keeps me amped for getting more. With Punishment, director Heo Myung-haeng delivers on the action, the humor, the dramatic stakes, and other areas this series knows how to handle when treated properly. This series is far from wearing out its welcome.

Where To Watch: Now playing in select theaters.

Last Stop in Yuma County: 8 out of 10

The Setup: Stranded at an Arizona rest stop, a traveling knife salesman (Jim Cummings) gets thrust into a high-stakes hostage situation by the arrival of two bank robbers (Richard Brake and Nicholas Logan) who will stop at nothing to protect their ill-begotten fortune.

Review: This movie was a blast. The only thing that would push onto an even higher level would be some sort of From Dusk Till Dawn type of twist, but alas, we’re stuck in this gritty, 70s-inspired thriller world. That’s not a problem, as this is a real corker of a crime flick. Playing well with the “all trapped in one location” premise, all the characters are out of gas, and tensions rise as we watch the fallout of bad decisions, exasperated further by the hot environment. Director Francis Galluppi (who’s just been tapped by Sam Raimi to direct the next Evil Dead film) gets a lot of mileage out of the diner setting and the character-actor-heavy cast. Not being afraid to go dark, it’s a good thing this film has a pitch-black sense of humor, as it only adds to the chaos and makes the go-for-broke third act pretty wild in the realm of morality plays. This is a film not afraid to go messy and go after those who didn’t exactly deserve it, the right kind of energy is at play here to deliver on its genre film goals.

Where To Watch: Available in theaters and digital on May 10, 2024.

East Bay: 4 out of 10

The Setup: After a string of crushing personal and professional humiliations, Jack Lee (Daniel Yoon) accepts that at age 39, he is a failure. Worst of all, he’s let down his selfless immigrant parents. To get back on track, Jack reaches out to others: an almost famous guru, a respected arts administrator, and two fellow computer programmers, all of whom have problems of their own.

Review: While I’m all for seeing something original and experimental, I couldn’t help but feel at arm’s length by what East Bay was after. Part of that comes down to the performances or at least how they are directed by star Daniel Yoon. For every character who felt intriguing in some way (Constance Wu, Kavi Ladnier), others wore “non-professional actor” very clearly on their sleeve. That’s not me trying to be dismissive of their talent or what Yoon thought they would bring to this. Still, if I’m not feeling as though my state of mind can match the energy this film attempts to bring, there’s only so much I can do about a movie I’m not feeling entertained or enlightened by. That said, there is a prevailing sense of uplift when all is said and done. That doesn’t count for nothing. It suggests Yoon has ideas that will hopefully be explored in future projects better.

Where To Watch: Available in theaters nationwide starting May 10, 2024.

Unfrosted: 3 out of 10

The Setup: In 1963, Kellogg’s and Post, sworn cereal rivals, raced to create a pastry that would change the face of breakfast forever.

Review: Look, if Jerry Seinfeld wants to spend a couple of weeks decrying the downfall of cinema and comedy on TV, he can do all his 70-year-old self wants with that. No matter how incorrect he may be, he’s earned a say on that front. The problem is that delivering a feature on par with his only other major cinematic effort, Bee Movie, isn’t exactly the way to say he has any answers. Unfrosted is the worst kind of comedy – largely humor-free and dull, despite the presence of lots and lots of funny people. That’s the thing, though; as a director, Seinfeld seemingly only told this cast to go bigger at every turn. This leads to a lot of mugging on camera and only a select few performers who seem to get how to play it (Bill Burr’s JFK comes to mind). For a big, broad comedy such as this, it will never help when the stars think they are being funny. It’s the downfall of plenty of comedies from some of the brightest comedic minds.

The reason a film like Airplane! never stops being hilarious is because all the actors play it completely straight, letting the gags easily deliver. This film has a germ of a good idea – parody the concept of rival cereal companies competing in a space race type of way to deliver a new breakfast pastry. It’s just a shame that this film has nothing on old-fashioned slapstick comedies or even homages to them like the Coen brothers’ Hudsucker Proxy. Even more of a shame – it’s the kind of thing I unfortunately expect from Netflix originals not coming from noted auteurs and acclaimed directors.

Where To Watch: Now available to stream on Netflix.

***

Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the African American Film Critics Association, the Hollywood Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Black Film Critics Circle. As an outgoing person who is always thrilled to discuss movies, he’s also a podcaster who has put far too many hours into published audio content associated with film and television. His work has been published at Variety, We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks, Firstshowing.net, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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