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In Santa Monica, a woman becomes alarmingly concerned over her fiancé's unnaturally close relationship with his teenage daughter. In Westwood, a sexual act turns into a psychological obsession for a young woman. In West Hollywood, a gay couple buys a young daughter and attempts to mold her to fit their lifestyle. In Holmby Hills, maladjusted kids and their equally maladjusted nanny play murderous games. In Sherman Oaks, a rape victim faces her violator. In these five stories, one thing is clear, everything is taken to extremes in California. Written by
Apart from some moments and a few decent performances, there wasn't enough that disturbed or entertained here
Anthology films can be fun when done well, even if a vast majority of the time the good ones have some unevenness. While 'Burning Palms' is not a complete disaster, the disturbing and entertaining moments were too far and between, much of it being in bad taste and not for the easily offended.
The best of the five anthology stories were, for me, "This Little Piggy" and "Maneater". The former being the most entertaining, where the few humorous parts that worked were present (just wished that the ending was better rounded off), and the latter being the creepiest and most compelling. Didn't care for the acting on the whole, but some are decent. Coming off best are a sincere Jamie Chung, an intense and touching Zoe Saldana and a suitably sleazy Nick Stahl. Rosamund Pike doesn't have all that much to do, but brings a sense of urgency and intensity without being melodramatic that makes "Green Eyed Monster" watchable. Some of the music score is used to unsettling effect, not being bombastic, one-note or intrusive, though most of the time it does its job serviceably but with not much distinction.
Sadly, two good segments, a few decent performances and some nice moments musically were far outweighed by the numerous things that didn't work at all. Aside from Pike, "Green Eyed Monster" is forgettable and doesn't really do anything with its incest subject matter. It also suffers from its ending feeling the most incomplete-feeling and anti-climactic of all the five stories, in a film where neither ending feels that well-rounded off. "Kangaroo Court" is similarly not that memorable, and is further let down by a bland atmosphere, a particularly limp pace and very predictable shocks. The worst of the five this viewer found to be "Buyers Remorse" which was an embarrassment, with the film's most cringeworthy dialogue, vicious gay stereotypes galore and even Africans will find the film's depiction of African stereotypes verging on offensive (or even worse offensive full-stop).
Visually, 'Burning Palms' has an unfocused and monochrome visual style that fails to bring any atmosphere of any kind, while there are also too many superfluous shots of people and objects that have nothing to do with the storytelling, seeming only to be there for director Christopher Landon to revel in his cynicism and self-indulgence. Those are also the two words (self-indulgent and cynical that is) that would describe Landon's directing here, am aware that this was his film debut but those characteristics completely take over any tension, pace or suspense Landon could have provided.
'Burning Palms's' script is at best sloppy, only showing spark really in "This Little Piggy". The funny parts are crass and vulgar, with as said the supposed humour in "Buyers Remorse" enough to make even those with a strong stomach cringe. The parts intended to shock, especially in "Kangaroo Court", are timed limply, feel predictable and either too disgustingly crude or too tame with the film never feeling dark enough. The satire is next to non-existent, and if there was any it was nowhere near biting or sharp enough. Whatever points were made about stereotypes and such were done so viciously, especially in "Buyers Remorse" and the film's general treatment of women, that it all felt bigoted and misogynistic.
Generally, the storytelling apart from in two segments doesn't come off that well. Not enough of 'Burning Palms' entertains or disturbs; pacing is slack; the subject matters for all five stories are trivialised and not explored enough being completely lost in the film's content; the five stories as well as ending on anti-climactic notes don't seem related to one another and little attempt is made to tie them together (instead limping from one segment to another); any parts intended to be dark are not dark at all, being too tame and too safe, like the writers were afraid to take the plunge properly and at the end of the day the viewer question what the point of the film was. Nothing is done to make the characters emotionally investable or easy to root for, they are written too blandly and others are downright annoying.
All in all, not unwatchable but generally it didn't entertain and it didn't disturb, or at least not enough. The only thing that was shocking was how distasteful much of the film felt. 3/10 Bethany Cox
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