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

Airheads (1994)

AirheadsRelease Date: August 5, 1994Director: Michael LehmannStars: Brendan Fraser, Steve Buscemi, Adam SandlerRuntime: 92 min.

Three band members hoping for a big break head to a radio station to play their demo tape and wind up holding everyone hostage with plastic guns when the head DJ refuses to play them.

“Airheads” is a different heist film, but a stupid one. It’s a satire, but it’s never exactly clear what it’s trying to mock, to the viewers or the filmmakers. It says that one shouldn’t sell out in the music business. But the plot is silly, and something like this won’t turn out well for anyone. Adam Sandler will make you chuckle a few times, but none of this will have you on the floor laughing. It’s nice to see Joe Mantegna and Judd Nelson, even if they’re in small roles. Chris Farley is criminally underused as a police officer. This is about the same quality as the Adam Sandler movies of today. It isn’t particularly smart, or entertaining. It’ll make you smile once or twice, but the plot is better suited for an episode on a sitcom. Everyone in this movie has been in funnier things, and the premise truly grows tired early on.

Score38/100

Monsters University (2013)

Monsters UniversityRelease Date: June 21, 2013

Director: Dan Scanlon

Stars: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi

Runtime: 110 min

Pixar is one of this century’s most consistent studios; but they are fallible. I’ve seen 10 out of 14 of their movies. Cars 2 is apparently the runt of the litter, and I haven’t seen that, or the original. Brave (my review) is a good animated movie, but I’m not so big on the story and I haven’t (nor has anyone else, I doubt) forgiven it for winning that Oscar for Best Animated Feature yet. Monsters University is the fourteenth film out of Pixar’s creative cannon, and their first prequel.

From the moment Mike Wazowski (voiced by Billy Crystal) and James P. Sullivan (voiced by John Goodman) met, they couldn’t stand each other. Monsters University brings us a look at the relationship between Mike and Sulley when they weren’t exactly two peas in a pod.

Many people, mostly critics, have set their expectations for Pixar movies too high after the release of Toy Story 3. They’re a studio, they’re going to make a mistake. Their movies won’t be near-perfect or beloved each time. Deal with it. I’m here to tell you that this time around, Monsters University is deserving of being called one of Pixar’s best movies in years. I’m sure it will become a classic one day. It’s a great animated movie and a great Pixar movie. I’m not going to mention any other Pixar movie (excluding Monsters, Inc.) from here-on-out in this review. I want to review it as a Pixar movie, and not as a Pixar movie in the shadow of other, possibly better Pixar movies. I’m not going to pretend it isn’t a Pixar movie, because that just isn’t possible, and a disservice to Pixar. It also isn’t possible because their exemplary animation is present.

This is the most creative, the most charming, and the best, animated movie of the year so far. It’s heart-warming, moving, and funny. Everything here is top notch. The story features great entertainment and a whole lot of heart. The animation is beautiful, and the creativity put into this is prominent. The stakes are high during the movie; because of a situation caused by Mike and Sulley’s feud. Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren), is a frightening monster who, in some ways, is reminiscent of Henry Waternoose from Monsters, Inc. Thankfully, and impressively, this Dean is a completely different character. One might get the vibe that this franchise teaches University deans and bosses cannot be trusted.

I love how Pixar can create movies that both children and adults will love. The humour isn’t always cutesy, it’s usually extremely clever. The plot is also smart and rather enthralling for an animated family feature. The last thirty (or so) minutes is an amazing final act, and one of the best and most memorable in Pixar’s filmography. Even people with the smallest bladders should hold their urine like there’s no god-damn tomorrow. This is set at a university (hence: Monsters University), which might play a part in the appeal to older audiences. This isn’t set where it is purely because of marketing to older audiences (because Monsters, Inc. definitely would be enough to bring fans back to the theatre to see this). This is set at a university because it’s the best time for these two monsters to meet. It’s when people meet their lifelong friends. It’s where their feud makes sense. This wouldn’t be set at a pre-school, mostly because their feud could be over petty things like a crayon or Teddy Graham crackers (even though those are really freaking tasty). The creators really know what they’re doing, and how to give each of these characters depth.

You better believe this little guy is the cutest thing about the movie.

You better believe this little guy is the cutest thing in the movie.

There’s a new slate of colourful and inventive characters. This university looks like a great place to go to school. (And since Mike and Sulley can attend university, it makes me think I can do it, too!) This is part coming-of-age tale because the fraternity house crew, Oozma Kappa, that Mike and Sulley fall into, are a group of misfits who cannot scare, but they do have a lot of heart. The gang, and Mike, must find it within themselves to let out their scariest and mightiest roars.

One of the main criticisms this movie might receive is that “it doesn’t need to exist”. Justin Bieber doesn’t need to exist, but some people like him. (Yes, I did just compare this to Justin Bieber. If Monsters U is going to go up against Justin Bieber, MU is going to win ten times out of ten.) If you do feel MU didn’t have to see the light of day, you’ll be glad it gets made. As a fan of Pixar, a lover of movies, and a lover of Mike and Sulley, I’m estatic this exists. This movie is so entertaining, and I love it. It’s a great opportunity to see beloved characters in a new light.

They get new layers. Mike is a student who knows everything about everything, but he hasn’t always felt like he belongs. Sulley is a student who thinks he can get by just because of his family name. We see these characters in new, more vulnerable situations. We get to see these two monsters become an inseparable pair. We also get to see how Randall Boggs came to hate this dynamic duo. We also get to see some hilarious cameos. And for those opportunities, I will always cherish this fantastic film. I will always watch this with a big smile on my face. This is an impressive prequel to Monsters, Inc., and an impressive Pixar movie.

90/100

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013)

Incredible Burt WonderstoneThe Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Release Date: March 15, 2013

Director: Don Scardino

Stars: Steve Carell, Jim Carrey, Olivia Wilde

Runtime: 100 min

Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) was that one kid who always got picked on growing up. Then he received the Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin) magic kit for his birthday and… well, nothing changed with the bullying aspect. Though, he gained inspiration and a lifelong friend out of it, the person who will be soon be known as Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi). Burt wants to become a magician and that’s just what he does.

Skip ahead to when they’ve been a headlining act in Vegas for ten years. A new street performer, Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), comes on the scene and, in retrospect, makes Burt and Anton’s show feel extremely stale, especially because they’ve been doing the same old shit for the past ten years. The only thing that sometimes changes is the pretty assistant that helps them. In order to become popular again, Burt and Anton must learn to settle their differences and Burt must discover again what made him fall in love with magic in the first place.

The plot is really all about learning to adjust and be a more flexible person, something that Burt really needs to learn. It’s successful on that meaningful level. The audience can feel for the characters because all of us would like to see Burt and Anton be successful again and settle their differences, but the point of this isn’t to be meaningful. At all. It’s essentially a buddy comedy of meeting half-way, and Burt and Anton’s climb back to the top.

There aren’t too many characters, and they’re all developed in a mostly general way. Burt is just a selfish sex-fiendish magician who should learn to become more selfless, Anton is Burt’s magic partner who puts up with his nonsense, Jane (Olivia Wilde) is a former assistant of Burt and Anton who’s an aspiring magician herself; Rance is a magic veteran who Burt finds a friend in; Doug (James Gandolfini) is the traditional Las Vegas self-centered hotel owner; and Steve Gray is the ridiculous Criss Angel-esque street performer, who even has a show called Brain Rapist.

Everyone is good in their roles but, as expected, Jim Carrey is the real scene-stealer. He gets some of the biggest laughs, and does some of the nastiest gags. He’s playing a bit of a loony bird, and that’s what he does best. This just goes to show that Carrey can be much better than Carell when they’re in the same film, and I’d pick Bruce Almighty over Evan Almighty almost any day.

The movie is just a really silly way to show how far these actors would go for a laugh. They do cool magic tricks, silly stunts, hit-and-miss gags (most hit), and dress up in funky costumes and wigs. It’s somewhat quotable, too, but the hilarious stunts are the most memorable. Even when the film isn’t that funny, the movie tries, and that’s easy to respect. The only part that is easy to hate is really the beginning, because of two extremely annoying kids – Mason Cook (though, he might still be hated because the only other flick he’d be most associated with is Spy Kids: All the Time in the World) and Luke Vanek – thankfully, the characters grow up fairly quickly, and they’re the thing I would just like to forget completely.

Alas, a fair amount of the material won’t stick in people’s memories. Most could remember the best laughs come December, but the rest of the feature will feel a lot like a disappearing act from one’s memory.

In a nutshell: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone isn’t as magical as it might seem to promise, but it’s fairly satisfying and it offers a funny experience with a great premise and a silly story. It knows it’s silly, so it embraces it and takes it for a ride. While a fair deal of it isn’t extremely memorable, the solid performers make me want to give a recommendation. There’s nothing incredible that makes it worth the watch in theaters, but I’d recommend at least giving it a chance when it comes out on home media.

73/100

Monsters, Inc. (3D) (2001)

Monsters, Inc.Monsters,  Inc. (3D)

Release Date: November 2, 2012 (3D Re-release: December 19, 2012)

Directors: Pete Docter, David Silverman, Lee Unkrich

Stars (voices): John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Steve Buscemi

Runtime: 92 min

Tagline: Monsters, Inc. : We scare because we care

Monsters, Inc. is the fourth film that Disney is re-releasing in 3D (along with The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast and Finding Nemo) and the second for Disney’s Pixar. They are a studio that knows how to use the modern 3D visual effects with fine moderation. It seems as if they only visually enhance the best action scenes in a major way.

A city of monsters called Monstropolis centers around its power company, Monsters, Inc. That said power company generates the city’s electricity by scaring children half to death – they go into the human world and the more they scare the children, the more power they generate. The top scarer is James P. Sullivan (voiced by John Goodman), the lovable and cuddly big blue guy. At least, he’s lovable to his friends in the monster world – he’s the fuel for nightmares in the human world. He and his little green bowling ball buddy, Mike Wazowski (voiced by Billy Crystal) are the perfect dream team and the best of pals. One day, Randall (voiced by Steve Buscemi), a chameleon-like bogeyman leaves a door in the factory on purpose to steal the child he scares and use her for sinister purposes. However, Sully gets in the way – and the small child, Boo, wreaks havoc in the monster world and may just drive a wedge between the relationship of Sully and Mike. Will they be able to return Boo home and avoid Randall by all means?

The concept for this film is one of the most original for animated features to ever see the big old silver screen. While the children of that world are afraid of the big old monsters hiding in their closets every night; those monsters are terrified of an adorable girl in piggly wiggly tails and even a human sock that has an interaction with their skin. It’s very clever and fun. While the concept may be somewhat edgy for a family feature, it turns out to be fan-freaking-tastic.

It’s helped out by its fast pace, visually great action sequences and laugh-out-loud comedy. The comedy is astounding for the children, and it’s thoroughly enjoyable for older audiences. Everyone can really relate to this, as we as children would check under our beds before we sleep or ask our parents to inspect the closet for bogeymen (heck, I even look under my bed now from time to time – and I don’t even have a closet door any longer).

It is fairly surprising that one can so easily relate to this feature, as it is a simply refreshing and brilliant story about monsters who are terrified of little children, and vice versa. It also brings much truth to the “They’re more afraid of you than you are of them.” That is especially true for one monster, George, one who constantly gets mauled by the Child Detection Agency.

The story is great and it’s an overall splendid feature, but the real charm is in the voice performances. Goodman and Crystal convince us that they might as well have been friends for life, and the other chemistry is fine. Everyone involved does a great job, especially Mary Gibbs who voices Boo, and I’m pretty sure the only coherent word of English she utters is “Kitty,” the nickname she assigns to Sully. She is also a young girl who, unexpectedly, changes the factory and the hearts of a few select monsters for the better. You know, There are more powerful things that the sound of children screaming.

In a nutshell: Monsters,  Inc. is one of the most original animated features to see the light of day, and it is one of Pixar’s best. It is really a treat to be given the opportunity to see this in theatres again, and just a few months before the much-anticipated prequel.

100/100