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

Advertisements

Aftershock (2013)

AftershockReleased: May 10, 2013. Directed by: Nicolás López. Starring: Eli Roth, Ariel Levy, Nicolás Martínez. Runtime: 89 min.

Aftershock is a Spanish-American film directed and co-written by Nicolás López, written with Guillermo Amoedo and Eli Roth. I’m curious to know which writers handled which aspect of the film. The movie is a disaster flick, a commentary on the ugliness of human nature, and it feels like an exploitation film at times. I’d imagine Roth handled that last aspect. Roth, also a star of the movie, gets a few laughs. Also featured are stars mostly known for foreign films. One, Nicolás Martínez, strikes me as a Chilean version of Zach Galifianakis. At least his last name is easier to say. Selena Gomez makes a short cameo as a random party girl. All the actors portray their characters well, at least well enough for a horror film.

The screenplay runs into problems early on that will bother some viewers; the problem is establishing character’s names. The character banter is actually funny (Martínez gives us the most laugh-out-loud moments), but for whatever reason not knowing the character’s names is a distraction to me. It’s sort-of like if I were to meet someone and I forgot their name mid-conversation, I wouldn’t be able to focus because I’d be so sidetracked trying to think of their name. Next time, the screenwriters should make it a habit of letting us know the characters’ names by their first or second scene, third at the latest. For those curious, not until 36 minutes in are all of the primary characters’ names established. Too often was I referring to characters as That Short-Haired Girl, Spanish Fat Alan, and Eli Roth. It turns out Roth’s character’s name is extremely generic, Gringo, a term used for English-speaking foreigners (mainly Americans) in Spanish-speaking countries.

Gringo is visiting his buddy Ariel (Ariel Levy) in Chile, taking in the sights. The two, and Ariel’s friend Pollo (Nicolás Martínez) go on the town to parties, where they meet a few pretty girls who are vacationing in Chile. It seems to me they’re all from Budapest or Hungary. One is named Monica (Andrea Osvárt) who is a controlling older half-sister of Kylie (Lorenza Izzo). Travelling with them is another pretty woman named Irina (Natasha Yarovenko). The characters are pretty okay, I like their chemistry and banter. On their second night of partying together, they’re in an underground night club when an earthquake strikes. When they reach the surface, it seems that the earthquake was only the beginning of their troubles. While trying to survive, they learn the horrors of human nature.

I like the flow of the plot. Technically speaking, it’s good – the cinematography is chaotic at times, but I think it’s used to highlight the chaos of the situation. The visual effects are cool and the sound editing is great. I think the score is well done, too. The cinematography captures some really nice Chilean landscapes. What I think is impressive about this film, is that even though the film’s not great at establishing character’s names, you care about a few of them and audience members feel some of the character’s pain. I think some parts are actually pretty sad. Other character developments aren’t the strongest; notably Roth’s Gringo, who never downplays the fact that he’s a Jew. Some of the things he says are funny at first, but it then it just becomes an irritating character trait. Enough about the characters, because there’s not much more to discuss here.

A layer of intensity is added when a group of convicts are able to escape from the local prison because of the earthquake. This keeps the story going and adds antagonists other than mother nature. The ugliness of human nature is analyzed by some character’s decisions, for example – when a random character doesn’t help a person, even though that said person helped her. That’s just a simple way to show how people can be crappy. The ways it shows how humans are ugly is only rarely so tame in Aftershock.

It seems to me, the reason why people might dislike this film is that there’s just a lot that it’s trying to juggle. It’s partly a disaster film, while expressing the ugliness of humans, as well showing each character’s will to survive. All with lots of gore. There are a lot of simplistic themes throughout, but I think they’re handled well. However, juggling all of these approaches to this kind-of filmmaking doesn’t allow it to boast full control and focus. This also takes the traditional horror route a bit too often. It seems that the viewer will have to decide whether this is a profound analysis of the ugliness of human nature or just another exploitation flick from Eli Roth’s extensive cannon. It feels like both to me, and both approaches are good.

Score63/100

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (2013)

City of BonessReleased: August 21, 2013. Directed by: Harald Zwart. Starring: Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower, Robert Sheehan. Runtime: 130 min.

“The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” is a bad, silly and largely unoriginal young adult adaptation. It takes components from many other young adult novels – classic love triangle, vampires, a bunch of mythical creatures, and the humans are called mundanes, a spin on muggles it seems – and mixes it into one. Authour Cassandra Clare, originally known for penning Harry Potter fan fiction (which caused a mighty roar of plagiarism), proves that really anyone can write a young adult novel. There’s one South Korean thriller called “Intruders” that includes a character who essentially says that, if a novel is published, it’s going to be read – even if it’s a bad book. Clare’s novel is half-decent, but this really doesn’t work on-screen. It’s as if the big screen amplifies some of its stupidity.

When her mother disappears, Clary Fray learns that she descends from a line of warriors – called Shadowhunters, who are half humans, half angels and apparently all British – who protect our world from demons. She joins forces with others like her and heads into a dangerous alternate New York called Downworld.

This is one of those forgettable movies where the main character learns their life hasn’t been entirely truthful, and then gets hit with a lot of information at once. Some of this information is told to her by an arrogant Shadowhunter named Jace Wayland (Jamie Campbell Bower), who she is first afraid of and then (not so gradually) takes a liking to him. Cue the love triangle with Jace and Simon (Robert Sheehan). Further information about this new world is revealed to her by the leader of the Institute, Hodge (Jared Harris), making this another young adult novel where an adult gets the best monologue. By the way, the Institute is a lovely building protected by a glamour that just makes it look like a dump to mundanes. Other characters living in the Institute are Alec Lightwood (Kevin Zegers), a bitter and hateful protagonist, and his sister Isabelle (Jemima West). This film is also a good vs. evil tale where the evil person is Valentine (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a power hungry idiot, who, if he gets all of the mortal instruments, could summon demons and rule the world.

"Next time... I want a buzz cut."

“Next time, I want a buzz cut.”

One can tell who the villains are because they have really bad haircuts (with the exception of Robert Maillet’s character). Kevin Durand looks like Friar Tuck in this movie, and his character is way dumb. In a scene involving him that makes this film feel as silly as a parody, is when he randomly humps a character’s leg while interrogating him. I shit you not, this happens in the movie. There’s some laughably bad CGI, shown in a demon octopus thing, and a few vampires. The good CGI is found in the Silent Brothers, who look nightmarish and cool. I think the only half-decent innovation made by screenwriter Jessica Postigo is that Mama Fray (Lena Headey, who, by the way is on-screen only a bit more than Schwarzenegger’s wife in “Batman & Robin”) drinks a coma potion before being abducted, and I don’t remember that happening in the novel. So she makes maybe one decent innovation of her own, but the bad innovations are just horribly bad. She introduces this cringe-worthy concept that classical music is kryptonite for demons, because Johann Sebastian Bach was a shadowhunter… Uh? Ludicrous is the another good word to describe that.

The writing is really bad because it’s often so cheesy. One of the cheesiest moments is during a kissing scene when sprinklers go off, while a Selena Gomez pop song plays over the soundtrack… Kill me. (Another strange score choice is during a fight scene where there is pop music that sounds more like disco music.) You know, on paper, this universe is pretty cool – but this sucks on-screen. The writing has ideas that are inconsistent, and the movie is way too long and uninteresting. Lily Collins helps bring people some enjoyment because she’s really quite decent as her character, and she’s attractive to boot. More on the writing before I move on; Jessica Postigo isn’t completely to blame for most aspects of the writing, because she it’s an adapted screenplay, novelist Cassandra Clare writes in one twist that is truly strange and utterly stupid, especially how it’s handled on screen.

The writing isn’t the only thing that makes this bad, the casting director Stephanie Corsalini only gets the casting right for a few characters. Lily Collins fits the description of Clary and is a good lead, and it helps that she’s very attractive; Kevin Zegers, Jared Harris and Robert Sheehan are good as their respective characters. They’re really the only good actors in this film; Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Valentine is hard to take seriously because he chews the crap out of the scenery.

Campbell Bower isn’t strong as his character, because he’s bland, can’t land a joke, and his seriousness makes his arrogant character downright boring. Alex Pettyfer would be a much better Jace. Matthew Davis (TV’s “The Vampire Diaries”) or Mark Pellegrino might make a better Luke, too. But the worst casting is Godfrey Gao as Magnus Bane, because he is a god-awful actor who should stick to modelling, and if memory serves me well, Bane is described as muscular in the books. Or maybe there’s a perception of him being muscular because of Bane in Batman. All I know for sure, this skinny Asian dude sucks as him. Anyway, the movie just sucks altogether, from the bad writing to the poor casting, and the boring plotting. The tonal choices also don’t make much sense, either; sometimes it takes itself too seriously, and sometimes it embraces campiness too much. Pick one, please. The only redeeming qualities are a few okay fight scenes and Collins’ attractiveness.

Score30/100

Getaway (2013)

GetawayReleased: August 30, 2013. Directed by: Courtney Solomon. Starring: Ethan Hawke, Selena Gomez, Jon Voight. Runtime: 90 min.

I like a good action movie as much as the next movie critic. But that’s the key word: good. A good action film, “Getaway” is not.

After former race car driver Brent Magna (Ethan Hawke) comes home to find his wife missing, he gets a phone call from a mysterious villain who informs him to go to a parking garage to retrieve a fast car.

From there, the Voice gives him random orders, to wreak havoc on the streets, so man on the other end would know he is willing to do just about anything to get his wife back. The orders are rather ludicrous, “smash into whatever you can,” “drive on the skating rink.” At one of the stops, a young girl attempts to steal the car, and she turns out to be the owner of it. She is portrayed by Selena Gomez, the film’s appeal for teenage girls.

Getaway1The Mysterious Villain’s motivation is, of course, personal gain, because, what else would it be? He states in his bad European accent that there is something at a bank and he “needs it.” Apparently, kidnapping someone and sending their loved one on a crazy mission to retrieve them is all the craze in Europe these days. This specific setting is a town called Sofia, Bulgaria; I think. The storytelling is kind enough to flash the name of the town two or three times, but that’s still not enough to make it memorable without research.

Ethan Hawke, as the former race-car driver, is sent on a set of missions; only about 40 per cent of which feel like they have purpose, or advance the story in any way. Many are random, only there to keep the action going. At least the “Fast and Furious” franchise has the courtesy to step out of the driver’s seat, throw around amusing banter between the characters, and have some character and plot development. Those movies are lots of fun, this one just steals from better films – and doesn’t try to put a spin on them. This just rarely stops for a single minute to try create a wholly coherent story, or have good character development. Selena Gomez plays a character who is billed as The Kid. She doesn’t even have a character’s name! Hawke’s character is likable enough for the viewer to care that he gets his wife back, because he’s an okay guy placed in a crappy situation; but every viewer already knows how it ends… So how does that make the film suspenseful?

Gomez and Hawke carry the film, but only with adequate performances; so that’s saying, they’re not particularly memorable. Nor is the film as a whole. Everything about this is lacklustre. Jon Voight literally phones in his performance as the villain, sporting a bad European accent. His character is The Voice.

That is compelling character development, right there. When an actioner is this generic and uninteresting, there is little fun to be had. Sure, it never stops. Sure, it’s never mind-numbingly boring, because something is always happening. But when the action is so repetitive, the experience isn’t compelling or notable.

When a movie can make me derisively laugh at its lame dialogue, I can’t take it seriously. There is a point where Brent is driving (as usual), and he’s saying something along the lines of, “I want to see my wife!” And the villain asks, “You want to see your wife again, right? Then do what I say!” Naw, man, that’s not why he just said “Let me see my wife” about three times in a row. (This is a scene from the movie, but I know I didn’t get it word for word. I’ll have to start bringing a notepad to screenings.)

If you are an audience member who is attending this film for a pulse-pounding, full-throttle, pedal to the metal, non-stop actioner, you shouldn’t be disappointed. But, with unoriginal fast-paced actioners like this; I like it to be fun, and not just the conventional mess this turns out to be. It’s a 90-minute chase movie, where cops chase Magna, Selena Gomez whines and begs to be let go, more cops chase Magna, cops crash because Magna’s just too fast and he has mad skills. The filmmakers put that on a loop, and pray audience members aren’t intelligent enough to notice. This time, they couldn’t getaway with it.

Score: 38/100

Spring Breakers (2013)

Spring Breakers

Release Date: March 22, 2013 (initial wide release). Director: Harmony Korine. Stars: James Franco, Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez. Runtime: 94 min.

It’s a movie that gets so much better after you think about it quite a bit.

Brit (Ashley Benson), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Cotty (Rachel Korine) and Faith (Selena Gomez) are four friends anxious to let loose during spring break, but they lack sufficient funds to go on vacation. They hold up a restaurant for some quick cash, and they travel to St. Petersburg, Florida, in pursuit of a good time. They then find themselves in jail (for partying too hard, not robbing the restaurant) and are soon bailed out by a rapper, drug and arms dealer, Alien (James Franco), who introduces them into a criminal world that is both influential and intriguing for a group of girls who are still figuring out their path in life.

This is difficult to place into one basket, as it’s sometimes funny,  strange, violent, and rather brilliant. I think. It’s also a movie that isn’t afraid to make a statement. This examines the moral codes and the social strata of today’s youth through its four primary characters.

It expresses that today’s female youth aren’t difficult to manipulate and influence if you can give them something more exciting than their everyday routine. It’s also a reality check for the youth of today because those who go on spring break and party hard must realize that the vacation is a week, and they’ll have to get back to reality sooner than later. They shouldn’t immerse themselves into a path that is completely irrational. It also explores the consequences of these crazy decisions, in a rather intelligent fashion. Though, this is merely my own interpretation (among many other interpretations) of what  Korine is trying to say. The feature gets the point across fairly well, and it certainly isn’t as mindless as party brand TV show Jersey Shore or the moronic Project X (even though teen partying is the only similarity).

The character of Faith really contrasts the abnormal behaviour of the other girls, as she is more reserved and not as vulnerable to crazy corruption such as this. The character represents the better choices of youth, and Mr. Korine writes her in rather brilliantly, and his style is easy to love (even though casual, mainstream moviegoers may find it way too different and weird).

The film is very bright and highly-stylized. The cinematography opts for style by going with usual montage-esque filmmaking, and a few of the sequences feel like entertaining filler for the runtime. There are entertaining sequences, compelling sequences and compelling-but-strange sequences. Some of the oddest-yet-compelling scenes are the most memorable of the film. There’s a lot of tits and ass bouncing around throughout the feature, and some sequences are repetitive (one Girls Gone Wild-esque scene, in particular, gets shown two or three times). There are a few Britney Spears-related sequences where one is compelling and funny in a strange way (where Franco sings a bit of “Everytime” at his piano, and the girls dance around with assault rifles, and then it becomes background noise to a violent montage), and the other, to the song “Hit Me Baby One More Time” (if memory serves me correctly) is strange but rather fascinating.

They’re singing along and then Brit and Candy are telling Cotty (who was the getaway driver) and Faith (who stayed home) exactly how the restaurant robbery went down. They robbed the store with a hammer and a squirt gun, and they’re discussing how they got all up in the people’s faces saying, “Give me all your money, mother fucker!” Their behaviour seems completely irrational and it could really make an audience member uncomfortable, but it is oddly compelling, and no matter how hard anyone might try, it is impossible to look away. It also shows that these two specific girls were slightly off their rockers before they even meet Alien, and him giving them real guns doesn’t help their seemingly psychopathic behaviour in the slightest…

Some of Korine’s other creative choices also aren’t stellar. During a scene when Alien is getting prepared for a critical occasion, there’s a line of dialogue repeated over and over as background noise, and it isn’t very interesting (it almost gets tedious, almost). Also, sometimes when a new scene starts, the sound of a gun cocks and it gets old after the third time, so it’s incredibly pleasing that it happens about ten freaking times…

James Franco is the funniest part of the film as an insane, creepy, grill-wearing, violent, tatted-up gangster called Alien. He’s crazy but he’s probably cool enough to hang out with E.T. His charms draw the girls deeper into his insane world, and into his delusions (this guy calls his bed his space ship). His character only seems to be influencing the girls a little, because they’re (Brit and Candy, in particular) take plenty of insane liberties of their own. Franco has a blast playing Alien, and his performance is really one of the best parts of the film, even though he is a little crazy. When his character’s behaviour is challenged by the craziest of the spring breakers, we must question who the hell is influencing who, here… This is part of what makes Korine’s writing so brilliant at times. There isn’t a ton of comedy, and some of the biggest laughs come when Alien is, in fact, acting cuckoo, making funny gangster faces, or during the bizarre yet compelling Britney Spears sequence where he’s at the piano.

The bikini gals are also good performers (mostly just Benson, Hudgens and Gomez), and their performances are probably their finest hours, even though their previous roles in films have hardly been memorable. Selena Gomez has the smallest amount of screen time, and she’s really the representation of innocence in youth. Rachel Korine is the weakest of the bunch, and it seems this is a breakout role for her, and she might start to get typecast as the slut because she is not afraid to get fully nude. Former Disney star Vanessa Hudgens and the Pretty Little Liars star Ashley Benson, do enough R-rated actions in this film to allow them not to be typecast again. Though, that might be their goal and they might be trying to lose that innocent girl image, and if that’s the case, they achieve it with neon bikinis on. Their violent and abnormal roles represent an insane, irrational, curious party girl. I hope these roles turn out to be good career choices for all the girls, even if it prevents Hudgens or Benson (maybe even Gomez, even though her role compared to theirs is as innocent as a pony) from appearing on the Disney channel ever again.

Spring Breakers is a well-written, controversial, ultra-stylized, bright film that will divide audiences, especially the mainstream viewers who aren’t used Korine’s tendency to insert a ton of style, and are expecting something along the lines of Project X. Thankfully, the only similarity to Project X is teenage partying.

It’s a film that has a near must-see status because it’s fascinating and you can stand on either side of the spectrum, you might hate it or love it. You may hate it at first, but if you think about it a lot more, you might end up loving it. One thing is certain: It’s a thought-provoking, un-for-fucking-gettable experience.

Score75/100