The Dead Don’t Die (2019)

The Dead Don’t Die. Directed by: Jim Jarmusch. Starring: Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloë Sevigny. Runtime: 1h 44 min. Released: June 14, 2019.

My reviews usually contain spoilers so you’ve been warned about that. However, here, I don’t really talk about a lot of the major plot points because nothing really happens. 

This is the first Jim Jarmusch film that I’ve seen and man, I should not have started with this one.

In Centreville, seemingly the only crime reports are Hermit Bob (Tom Waits) causing trouble. But more trouble comes for the town, especially for Officer Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) and Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) when the dead start raising from their graves.

Usually there’s no reason given for why the dead come back to life, and that probably would have worked better for this. Jarmusch uses it as a commentary on the environment, as there’s polar fracking that’s affecting the daylight and everyone comments on it and keeps commenting on it.

It’s a strange set-up, but what’s stranger is that the reason for the dead coming back to life is the polar fracking and because it’s throwing the Earth off its axis. This becomes such a big thing that we get about five or six hints about this before someone literally says the zombies are here because of the polar fracking.

That doesn’t make much sense to me, and just explaining it as they’re zombies, it’s what they do, come back to life is a more believable explanation. One unique thing it brings to zombies is that, since they’re coming back to life because the Earth axis being affected, when they’re killed, blood doesn’t come out. Dirt flows out.

That’s a bit of the on-the-nose commentary you can expect here, but in dialogue it’s usually brought up by Hermit Bob (“the ant colonies are all jacked up like it’s the end of the world.”) By the end of the film, Jarmusch also shoehorns commentary on capitalism as well, the usual staple of George A. Romero’s zombie films.

In this, it’s not subtle. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything as pretentious as Hermit Bob watching the carnage of the zombie horde from the woods and monologuing about the zombies just being hungry for more stuff and basically recapping the film (“remnants of the materialist people, zombies all along.”)

Dead Don't Die article

Adam Driver in “The Dead Don’t Die.” (IMDb)

I don’t know enough about Jarmusch to know if this is always his level of subtlety, but it’s bizarre. His dry sense of humour is unique but I’m not a fan of it. I like dry humour just fine, but it should be funny. For the most part, the film isn’t funny for me. There are a couple of visual things I liked, like when Ronnie pulls up in a smart car. But there aren’t many laughs at all. The humour is more-so just annoying because it repeats so many jokes.

There’s a recurring thing when the film’s original song “The Dead Don’t Die” by Sturgill Simpson plays. It’s a great song and I thought the film was named after it, because it sounds like an old song, but it’s an original song. Everyone always comments “oh, I love this song.” It’s funny the first time it’s used but when the bit is used about six times, it gets old. Same with when Ronnie says “This isn’t going to end well.” He literally says it seven times by the end of it. It’s played for a pay-off joke near the end which might be amusing to people who like the film.

But it didn’t pay off for me because by that point, I was so bored by the film I didn’t care about anything happening on-screen. It’s just one of the most boring films I’ve ever seen. Nothing really happens. The comedy never worked for me and it’s the least scary zombie film I’ve seen. It’s an honest shame, too, because the cast is filled with a lot of funny people.

Adam Driver and Bill Murray play off each other well enough for what the dialogue allows them to do. Tilda Swinton’s a highlight as a samurai-wielding coroner who is just weird and gets weirder as the film progresses. Chloë Sevigny is totally fine for the first half but the character is just dull. Near the end, she’s whining so much and complaining at everything that happens that I honestly couldn’t wait for her to get eaten by the zombies. Am I a bad person? Probably, but if you’ve seen this, you’ll know what I mean.

Donald Glover and Caleb Landry Jones are fine as their characters who hole up in a hardware store when the zombies descend. The criminally underused include Steve Buscemi and especially Selena Gomez. Her arc isn’t even concluded well. There’s also an arc with three kids at a detention centre that you won’t give two shits about. That’s what “The Dead Don’t Die” is for me, a boring film that I didn’t give two shits about.

Score: 38/100

The Lazarus Effect (2015)

Released Feb. 27, 2015. Directed by David Gelb. Written by Luke Dawson, Jeremy Slater. 1hr., 23 min.

With rushed execution, The Lazarus Effect has a premise taken from Biblical origin that intrigues but an execution and narrative that bores.

Zoe, a sometimes creepy Olivia Wilde, and Frank, Mark Duplass, are the head of an experimental scientific team that originally specialized in studying neurological patterns in coma patients. It quickly turned into an experiment where they revive deceased animals just to perfect a formula that could be a revolutionary innovation for healthcare professionals that could give them more time to bring someone back to life.

It’s an underground formula where they’re experimenting using a government-approved grant, but they’re not doing what they’re supposed to be. It heightens aggression and make animals display bizarre behaviour when they’ve been brought back. In an extreme situation, they bring Zoe back to life out of Frank’s undying love for her.

In its winning horror premise, it’s great on paper. In its execution, it truly doesn’t make a lick of sense. Zoe’s brought back and she starts displaying even stranger behavior than the dogs that have been brought back. She has heightened senses and powers that could be cool enough for a super hero flick – but things quickly go awry.

Donald Glover as Niko. (Source)

Donald Glover as Niko. (Source)

There are ideas of what might lie after death and that’s an interesting aspect of the film, but where Zoe was is only vaguely touched on. The screenplay is predictable in its occurrences and way too rushed for its own good. There are some scenes that are almost good, but way too many that will just leave you scratching your head.

The character with the strongest characterization is the central anti-hero, Zoe. She has these horrible memories that constantly haunt her, which adds something remotely interesting to the narrative.

Something silly in the film is the utilization of an opera song that is meant to instil fear and anxiety in viewers, but just ends up being quite laughable. The film just isn’t scary in the traditional sense, but is alright at building tension. It’s just far too quickly forgettable for its strong cast also including Donald Glover and Evan Peters, playing far too basic characters. Sarah Bolger’s performance is mildly enjoyable, though, and Olivia Wilde a bit too unconvincing.

One good thing that came out of the project is the fact that it at least isn’t filmed in found footage. There is a documenter present, character Eva portrayed by Sarah Bolger, and since the premise did seem promising enough; it was able to get enough funding to warrant a strong production quality. For a demonic flick, it’s one of the more creative premises to come out of the sub-genre, but the god-awful execution can’t save it.

1 star

The To Do List (2013)

The To Do ListReleased: July 26, 2013. Directed by: Maggie Carey. Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Johnny Simmons, Bill Hader. Runtime: 104 min.

“The To Do List” is an occasionally funny film but, when it’s not that funny, it’s intensely boring. And that’s too often for it to tell a compelling story. The premise is reminiscent of “American Pie” with one central female, and taken to more extreme lengths. No one screws a pie, but a character does something much more disgusting – she takes a bite out of what looks like a Snickers bar floating in the local pool, taking it as a new employee hazing… Well, you can figure out how that ends… That’s also another way to show that the girls can get just as raunchy as guys in comedies.

The story follows Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza) who, in the opening scenes, gets ridiculed during her valedictorian speech for being a virgin. She is too embarrassed to even make much of a speech, or impression. Her friends Fiona (Alia Shawkat) and Wendy (Sarah Steele), who are nicknamed the slutty Oompa Loompa’s by Brandy’s father (Clark Gregg), take the virgin to a kegger celebrating their graduation. When the local dream boat Rusty Waters (Scott Potter) mistakenly sticks his tongue down her throat in a very awkward encounter, she doesn’t know what to do. Taking this as a sign that she is sexually inexperienced to say the least, she puts together a to-do list of all the sex acts her sister (Rachel Bilson) can tell her about, all of which she will do before going to college, finishing with the endgame of going all the way with the guy who started it all: Rusty Waters.

We should be thankful for little favours. If the setting were actually 2013 instead of 1993, this would be a four-hour movie if she were to list all the sexual acts from UrbanDictionary.com. Her raunchy to-do list has everything from giving oral, cunnilingus, going all the way, motor-boating… The only thing not on the list is anal sex, because god forbid anyone takes the backdoor – said by Gregg in the amusing trailer. It seems he has a lot of the best lines – as well as Brandy’s slacker boss, portrayed by Bill Hader. As far as films where the main protagonist works at a public pool for the summer, who else would take “The Way, Way Back” any day over this?

It’s just that the cast isn’t utilized very well in a film purely concerned with sex, but at least you know what you’re going into before you see this. When films have such sexual subject matter, they should at least be funny. Right? I think they should at least have some nudity, too (for a film rated 18A that expectation is not unreasonable) but apparently Maggie Carey doesn’t think so. The reason the cast gets under utilized is because the material really isn’t that funny, and these cast members are funny people delivering crappy dialogue. Bill Hader is probably the funniest character, and Clark Gregg is funny, too, when he shows up. Donald Glover gets a few laughs, too. There aren’t many good characters to root for, however. Aubrey Plaza’s talent derives mostly on sarcastic witticism; but the character just comes off as bitchy and unlikeable. Admittedly, Plaza gets a few laughs in the beginning, but not much else. She is miscast because there’s hardly anything witty about the character she’s playing. She’s just throwing around her kitty to anything that moves.

When things go wrong for our “hero,” she sports a Why does everyone hate me? attitude. She’s inadvertently hurting people for the sole reason of gaining sexual experience, and it’s just not that entertaining. The only decent chemistry there is shared between Plaza and her two besties. The only time they don’t talk about sex is when they’re talking about watching “Beaches” before the summer expires (so it just passes the Bechdel test). I think this film is supposed to show that women like casual sex, too; and that sex isn’t everything. Plaza doesn’t have good chemistry with anyone else because her character is just so bossy and unlikable, really. If she has to go out for another leading role, she should pick her characters better. The plot is utterly predictable, and it is partly inspired by events from Carey’s life – so it expresses that life can be pretty predictable, too; as well as mostly unfunny romantic comedies like this one.

Score30/100