Noelle (2019)

Noelle (2019)

Directed by: Marc Lawrence. Starring: Anna Kendrick, Bill Hader, Shirley Maclaine. Runtime: 1h 40 min. Released: November 12, 2019.

This review contains spoilers.

When Santa Claus dies, the mantle is handed down to his son Nick Kringle (Bill Hader), but he’s scared to take on the role and runs away to Phoenix. His sister, Noelle Kringle (Anna Kendrick) must track him down and bring him back so they can save Christmas.

Noelle has some solid fish-out-of-water humour as Noelle goes to Phoenix to find her brother, which gives it an Elf vibe and there’s nothing wrong with channeling a great movie. I’m also convinced that Anna Kendrick makes any film better and it’s no different here as she brings such a charm to this film. Kendrick truly embodies Christmas spirit as Noelle, as Noelle herself learns what Christmas is all about. Bill Hader’s also good as her brother Nick, and their chemistry is enjoyable. Like Kendrick, Hader can make any film better. Elf Polly (Shirley MacLaine) who helps Noelle is also great acting alongside her.

The story itself is predictable, but to be fair, it would be an honest challenge to find a Christmas film that isn’t predictable. Of course we know by the end that Noelle becomes Santa, but it’s the journey that matters. Some of the moments where everyone but her notices that should be the real Santa are sweet, notably when she speaks to a young girl using sign language though she doesn’t know sign language, as only natural Santa’s have a knowledge of every language. Noelle is a good character in her own right, but Kendrick and her general wholesomeness really makes her come alive.

Noelle article
Anna Kendrick in Noelle. (IMDb)

A problem with the story here is a lack of conflict. The main conflict is getting Nick back to the North Pole so they can save Christmas because of the Christmas deadline. Meanwhile, back at the North Pole, Mrs. Claus (the delightful Julie Hagerty) is stressing because the interim Santa Claus isn’t working out. By the way, Noelle isn’t simply handed the Santa reigns from the start because the role of Santa is “traditionally” played by a man. This interim Santa is their cousin Gabriel Kringle (Billy Eichner) who works in the technology department. He wants to take some of the joy out of Christmas and deliver presents by drone, and he also comes up with an algorithm for the naughty and nice list that only has less than 3,000 “nice” children in the world because all the kids have minor infractions. The film dips its foot into this conflict but it never really feels like it comes into fruition as it’s all talk. The conflict would be nice, though it would have felt like the Toy Santa villain plot in The Santa Clause 2 if it had actually embraced it, and instead feels like filler.

Noelle’s “friendship” interest here is private investigator Jake Hapman (Kingsley Ben-Adir) who helps her find Nick in Phoenix. Her relationship with this man is fine and it’s unclear throughout if it’s platonic or a love interest, or just a friendship based on the spirit of Christmas and helping each other out. Either way, they’re fine together and Noelle’s friendship and kindness to his son Alex (Maceo Smedley) is charming.

Despite its flaws, I think Noelle is a good film as Anna Kendrick’s performance just distracts so well from any shortcomings, and it’s fun throughout, too. It’s also a solid first effort at an original film on the Disney+ service. And in terms of Christmas movies, I don’t know if I’d watch this every year, but Anna Kendrick would sure make me consider it.

Score: 70/100

Fantasy Island (2020)

Fantasy Island (2020)

Fantasy Island posterDirected by: Jeff Wadlow. Starring: Michael Peña, Maggie Q, Lucy Hale. Runtime: 1h 49 min. Released: February 14, 2020.

This review contains spoilers.

Fantasy Island’s the most frustrating kind-of film, one that has such an intriguing concept but no idea what to do with it. Based on the TV show Fantasy Island, this is a horror riff taken to the extreme: What if your deepest fantasies come true, but they play out to their conclusion with deadly consequences?

That sounds interesting, an idea for a horror film that could either be great in execution or dead on arrival. As for this film, da plane da plane crashes before it even gets settled in. That’s not a hint at this film’s twist, but the twists and turns border on ridiculous and the big twist is hysterical. It’s a shame it’s silly, because this is the only point of the film where it feels cohesive.

The characters on the island, winners of a contest I wish were never held, aren’t interesting. Melanie Cole (Lucy Hale) just hits on the hot guys on the island right away, and we learn she was bullied daily by someone named Sloane Maddison (Portia Doubleday). Melanie’s fantasy is revenge on Sloane; and they bring Sloane to the island so Melanie can exact her fantasy.

That’s what makes me question the rules of the island. Mr. Roarke (Michael Peña) explains to Gwen Olsen (Maggie Q), whose fantasy is undoing one of her biggest mistakes, that this is her life now because she’s fixed the mistake. Now she’s married to the man she rejected and has five years of memories of a child she never had.

She’s only married and only has a child on the island, and when she leaves, isn’t she on her own again? That sounds like a nightmare – seeing you could have had a happy life and a daughter but none of it ever exists. That’s just psychologically twisted.

Also, if the husband and daughter are only creations of the island, why did they need to kidnap Sloane? They could have just let Melanie let her frustrations out on an imaginary Sloane without real-world implications. The island’s mythos is explored, but it still never makes sense.

Fantasy Island
Maggie Q in Fantasy Island. (IMDb)

Meanwhile, Randy (Austin Stowell) wants to be in the Army and is now gets his chance. It’s the portion of the film that brings this into the adventure genre and shows the beauty of the Fiji island. Stepbrothers Bradley (Ryan Hansen) and Brax (Jimmy O. Yang) are also present, contest winners just here to party in a mansion. They high-five obnoxiously and are the film’s attempt at comedy.

There’s so much going on here and that’s why it’s 109 minutes, a crazy amount of time to invest in a film so messy. The tone is handled poorly because every fantasy is a different genre: The stepbrothers’ fantasy is a bad college movie; Randy’s sub-plot is a war adventure with a weird time thing; Gwen’s is romance; and Melanie and Sloane are the only ones in a horror fantasy, as they try to figure out the island. The film also needs to tell us why Roarke is responsible for it all.

Balancing these genres and tones isn’t a task Jeff Wadlow is up for. He doesn’t direct the horror well, there’s just misplaced eerie scores when nothing creepy is happening and no tension built while a random burnt man haunts the island. Fantasy Island should be very simple on paper, but it’s all a lot to take in and follow. There’s also the cardinal sin of being damn boring for much of it.

When it comes to the conventional horror in the third act once everyone’s individual fantasies have concluded, there is some cohesion. It’s the first time it doesn’t feel convoluted, but it also becomes truly ridiculous with its twists. I could see this developing a cult following because the last 30 minutes are just so insane.

As for the acting, I wasn’t offended by any of and it’s passable. It would be nice if they tried harder, but this is just a vacation movie where everyone just enjoys Fiji, while also making a terrible horror film. I think Fiji is why everyone stayed on this project, because I can’t imagine anyone reading the script and thinking, “That was good.”

The screenplay (by Jillian Jacobs, Christopher Roach and Jeff Wadlow) is just awful. Half of this is simply bonkers and none of it works in the same film. I reckon the writers watched Fantasy Island in a hotel room one night, went down to the bar, got blackout drunk, wrote the outline for this film on a bar napkin and woke up in the morning and tried to make sense of it. This is the result: A fever dream that’s a train wreck you can’t look away from.

Score: 40/100

29 Days of Romance, Review #25: Ghost (1990)

29 Days of Romance, Review #25: Ghost (1990)
Ghost poster
IMDb

Directed by: Jerry Zucker. Starring: Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg. Runtime: 2h 7 min. Released: July 13, 1990.

30 years later, Ghost still has some charm. Sam Wheat (Patrick Swayze) is a successful banker living with artist Molly Jensen (Demi Moore). On the walk home from the theatre one night, they’re mugged and Sam gets killed in the tussle.

They walk down what looks to be the sketchiest, emptiest street in all of New York City, and the way it plays out, it could double as a Batman origins story. Instead, Sam’s a spirit caught in limbo since he has to warn Molly from danger as the mugger, Willie (Rick Aviles), is after her.

There are other villains here, too, but to discuss them would be a spoiler even after 30 years. I’m always that jerk who goes, “No, no, no, spoilers!” when someone talks about a film I haven’t seen, so I won’t spoil it. I’ll just say the character’s cliché in motivation. The film reveals the mastermind behind the murder at the one-hour mark, which is smart because the character’s involvement in Sam’s death is predictable 20 minutes in.

The film’s overtly cheesy in parts, especially when Sam the ghost punches at people and it obviously won’t do anything. The writing is also clever in how he’s able to interact with the living, notably when he scares a cat so an intruder flees.

Some of the visuals don’t look amazing nowadays, like when Sam tries to pass through objects, but the visuals are passable for a film made in 1990. There’s one creepy visual that’s a standout and those are the shadow figures that come to take away the spirits that are going to Hell. It’s cheesy in a way but the moans – which are baby cries slowed down and played backwards – are nightmare fuel. If I were a kid and I saw this movie, those cries would stick with me for awhile.

I wasn’t expecting a movie like Ghost to legitimately be creepy in parts, given that it’s that one pottery movie, but it has some creepy moments and delivers on most of its thrills. Some of the scares come from Maurice Jarre’s score, as well.

Bruce Joel Rubin’s screenplay is schmaltzy and predictable, but it’s solid. It’s a competent murder mystery, even though Sam just stumbles into solving his own murder very quickly. I like the way Rubin deals with other ghosts, though.

Ghost article
Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost. (IMDb)

Sam learns how to use his power from a Subway Ghost (Vincent Schiavelli) so he can interact with the real world. The first appearance of the Subway Ghost is one of the creepiest moments of the film when Schiavelli charges at the screen. It’s an intriguing scene, though I would like to know more about this Subway Ghost. For instance, does he eat fresh? (I’ll show myself out.) Sam does start to have more fun when he learns to control his power, though, as there’s humour and horror in his haunting of Carl (Tony Goldwyn) and others.

As for the romance, Swayze and Moore are solid. Their chemistry is strong and the pottery scene to The Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody” is still sexy and iconic. The romance is felt throughout, even if it’s underwhelming when they’re both alive – besides that pottery scene.

Ghost, Demi Moore
Demi Moore in Ghost. (IMDb)

Swayze is great in this role and Demi Moore is good. Demi’s a great crier and portrays the grief well, but I don’t think she has a lot to do. She has some great dramatic moments but gets the most to do at the beginning and at the end.

Swayze and Whoopi Goldberg are the best parts about this film. In her Oscar-winning performance, Goldberg plays Oda Mae Brown, a psychic who communicates with the dead. It’s all a parlor trick, but when Sam walks in, she can hear him and that’s how they warn Molly.

In these scenes, the romance is still felt because Sam’s love is in the room with Molly. These scenes are where Moore shines. They convince Molly in intriguing ways to make her believe it’s really Sam in the room, and the scene where the penny goes up the door is one of the film’s coolest moments. Within the romance, the whole “ditto” bit is built smartly throughout and makes for tear-jerking moments.

Sam and Oda Mae have an amazing dynamic, as well. She talks to the air and he follows her, it’s hilarious and their scenes work well. Whenever Whoopi’s on-screen, the film’s magical and brilliant. The film’s underwhelming without her and frankly boring at times. She’s brought back in the third act, though, and it’s all fine again. The film balances romance, creepiness and thrills well, even if it does tend to get melodramatic. I think Ghost works despite all this because of its 1990’s charm. It also works because of Whoopi Goldberg, and she’s the reason this won me over.

Score: 70/100

29 Days of Romance, Review #16: Across the Universe (2007)

29 Days of Romance, Review #16: Across the Universe (2007)

 

Across the Universe poster
IMDb

Directed by: Julie Taymor. Starring: Jim Sturgess, Evan Rachel Wood, Joe Anderson. Runtime: 2h 13 min. Released: October 9, 2007.

So far in my 29 Days of Romance series, I haven’t liked Footloose, Midnight in Paris or Blue Valentine but Across the Universe just takes the cake in films I didn’t like.

It’s a romance set in the 1960s between an artist from Liverpool, Jude (Jim Sturgess) and upper-class American, Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood). If their names didn’t give it away, the story is set to the music of The Beatles, as it uses the Vietnam War and anti-war protests as the background for the story.

The film’s first 40 minutes had wonderful music sequences. “It Won’t Be Long” with Evan Rachel Wood was simple but effective, and both “I’ve Just Seen a Face” set at a bowling alley and Prudence’s (T.V. Carpio) singing “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” were all fantastic and had a strong visual style. Still, the structure of the film had problems at the start as it feels disjointed introducing its characters.

This problem was most prominent at the start of a double funeral to the tune of “Let it Be” as it depicts the 1967 Detroit Riots where one of our main characters, Jo-Jo (Martin Luther), a guitarist, has a son who dies in the riots. It just feels like a random scene as the son starts singing during the carnage. It’s a bad way to introduce the character who then moves to New York and starts singing with Sadie (Dana Fuchs) and meets the rest of the characters.

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Jim Sturgess and Evan Rachel Wood in Across the Universe. (IMDb)

To this point, there was some high fantasy and style during some of the musical sequences, but it felt charming and grounded, never distracting from the scene. However, director Julie Taymor abandoned that when this jumped the shark and changed into something else. Max (Joe Anderson), Lucy’s brother and Jude’s friend who introduces the pair, goes to the enlisting office because he’s being forced to enlist after dropping out of Princeton.

He’s met with an animated Uncle Sam singing “I Want You” and a group of nightmarish soldiers who look like a mix between the toy green soldiers and Kronk in The Emperor’s New Groove. Seriously, their chins are straight out of a horror film. The visual style is interesting, but this was just too bizarre for me. Then there was an acid-trip kind-of scene where Bono shows up as Dr. Robert to sing “I Am the Walrus,” and the music in this scene is the final highlight of the film.

The characters go on a bus with him where they eventually meet Mr. Kite (Eddie Izzard), who looks like he’s in a cult with these blue people, creatures that look like they just escaped from Fegan Floop’s TV show in Spy Kids and went to something much weirder. I didn’t know I was in store for something so weird with this film and thought it would be a musical with fantasy elements, but I was not ready for bizarre this became.

Across the Universe article
Eddie Izzard and Fegan Floop’s rejects in Across the Universe. (IMDb)

With its bizarre style and hallucinogenic scenes, it was surprising they never played “Yellow Submarine” and maddening they didn’t play “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” until the end credits. The storytelling became a mess and I thought it lost all sense of plot as it became music video after music video, each trying to be stranger than the last. The songs seemed to usually fit its themes, though for “Strawberry Fields” it’s a weak transition where Jude simply looks at a bowl of strawberries, sings, pins them on a canvas and calls it art. It’s a stylish montage that I despised, and I don’t use that word lightly. I really dislike style-over-substance kind-of films, and for 80 minutes, this just abandoned substance.

The romance between Jude and Lucy is dull as Lucy fights for the cause in the anti-war movement and Jude works on his art. They just show how boring and one-note they are. Across the Universe felt disjointed as it introduced its characters, and since there was so much going on, it seemed like these characters were interesting (and Prudence truly is interesting as a lesbian who could not express her love for anyone). But when it focuses squarely on Jude and Lucy when every other major character is sidelined, they showed that their substance was simply a mirage.

I started hating this and wanted the spirit of the first 40 minutes back. As for the acting, Jim Sturgess can’t lip sync but he’s fine in the real acting, and Evan Rachel Wood is generally very good. Her singing is pretty, but the singing is unremarkable elsewhere. I love the Beatles but hated this story, and I just started shouting song recommendations at my TV. By the time it got to “Hey Jude” or even the titular “Across the Universe,” I was fed up with this.

Score: 40/100

 

 

 

29 Days of Romance, Review #10: Midnight in Paris (2011)

29 Days of Romance, Review #10: Midnight in Paris (2011)
Midnight in Paris poster
IMDb

Directed by: Woody Allen. Starring: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard. Runtime: 1h 36 min. Released: May 20, 2011.

I have some Woody Allen films on my watchlist and I thought I’d start with Midnight in Paris because it seems the most interesting. This is only my second Woody Allen film after watching the mediocre, but well-acted Irrational Man in theatres in 2014. My expectations were higher for Midnight in Paris because it’s well-reviewed, but apparently that doesn’t matter for me when it comes to my enjoyment.

Gil (Owen Wilson), an American screenwriter obsessed with Paris and nostalgia, is on vacation with his fiancé Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her family (Kurt Fuller, Mimi Kennedy) and is trying to write his first novel. For inspiration, he takes walks and is transported to 1920’s Paris every night at midnight.

There’s a charm and whimsy to Midnight, a lot of which is thanks to the 1920’s inspired score (there are no ‘music by’ credits on Woody Allen films for some reason, which seems weird). The concept of the film is good even if the “rules” of the time travel aren’t explained. Gil just has to go to one certain corner in Paris and hop in a car that will drive into that era. It’s not as much about the “time travel” side of it but the fact that it’s escapism to a golden age.

The film’s a love letter to the city of Paris and it’s evident Woody Allen loves the city. Owen Wilson’s performance is why I liked parts of this, but Allen inserts himself into the character a bit too much and his occasional prose would be easier to read than watch. His dialogue gives this life in the scenes of the 1920’s, which is where I found some entertainment. Tom Hiddleston as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Corey Stoll as Louis Hemingway are highlights, as is Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein. The rhinoceros bit with Adrien Brody as Salvador Dalí is hysterical. Allen captures the author personas and artists well even if half of what Hemingway went on about felt repetitive.

Midnight in Paris article
Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams in Midnight in Paris. (IMDb)

There are some obscure references to Parisian figures that I just didn’t know but are funny if you’re familiar with them. The writing in just sometimes not all that accessible because Allen just flexes how much he knows about the era and that gets to a point where it’s obnoxious, but Gil himself never feels obnoxious. Gil was the only character I cared for and even the literary figures became gimmicky after a couple nights. The best character is an amalgamation of Picasso’s lovers, Adriana (Marion Cotillard). She brings charm and strong chemistry with Wilson.

Rachel McAdams plays bitchy well but I hate her character. I’d assumed McAdams would be the love interest here and not the anchor holding Gil down. Kurt Fuller is solid as her father John. There’s a character here called Paul who is very obnoxious, and he’s only saved by Michael Sheen’s screen presence. He makes you want to listen even if his dialogue is dull. For the most part, the scenes in the present were insufferable for me. That’s the point because the present day is shown as pedestrian and unsatisfying, but still.

Wilson is the highlight for me as an average, rich guy who we live vicariously through as he goes back to the ‘20s. His passion for Paris is sweet – as this is a romance is man and woman, but also man and city – but it didn’t make me passionate about Paris. It just made me think it would be cool to revisit ancient Rome. I like nostalgia as much as the next guy, but the charm of this simplistic story turned to boredom quickly. It just left no impression on me and I don’t think strong dialogue and one good character is enough for a great film.

Score: 50/100

Anniversary Review: Legion (2010)

Anniversary Review: Legion (2010)
Legion
IMDb

Legion. Directed by: Scott Stewart. Starring: Paul Bettany, Dennis Quaid, Lucas Black. Runtime: 1h 40 min. Released: January 22, 2010.

Since this is a 10th Anniversary Review, I’ll be discussing some spoilers, but I’ll still include a spoiler warning when I really spoil the plot.  

Frustrated that humans are just generally terrible people, God sends his angels to Earth to bring on the apocalypse. We see the apocalypse start at a roadside dinner in the middle of nowhere. The archangel Michael (Paul Bettany) eventually helps this group of people because the waitress, Charlie (Adrianne Palicki), is pregnant with humanity’s last hope.

Legion is just a missed opportunity that doesn’t feel like it has its own identity. At times it’s a serious actioner toeing the horror line, and other times it’s tongue-in-cheek, silly and hilarious all in one. The film’s highlight is a possessed granny, Gladys Foster (Jeanette Miller), who cusses everyone out, goes totally bonkers and starts crawling on the ceiling. I feel like on the film’s 10th Anniversary (well, it was released January 22, 2010, so close enough), this crazy granny is the only thing people remember about this film.

It’s a genuinely freaky moment that is also just hilarious. The whole scene is decent and when Gladys gets killed, the film’s peak dies with her. The cast is an impressive little ensemble even if not everyone has great performances. Dennis Quaid phones it in as the owner of the diner, Bob Hanson, and Lucas Black (of The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift fame) is a weak spot here as his son, Jeep Hanson.

Tyrese Gibson is fine, too, but honestly I watched this a week ago and completely forgot he was in this. That’s because the characters just aren’t that memorable, and the only characterization I remember is Jeep wanting to take care of Charlie, even before the apocalypse hits.  The other character work isn’t notable, as the only others of note are a family passing through including Sandra (Kate Walsh), her husband Howard (Jon Tenney) and their daughter Audrey (Willa Holland).

Audrey’s the only one who has anything to do, and Sandra’s just there to be a terrible, terrible character and a nuisance to the story as she blames her daughter for the situation because they stop at this diner because Audrey’s promiscuous and they were moving here (Nevada, I think) because of her. Newsflash, lady, the apocalypse is going on everywhere in the world. But to be fair this apocalypse is so concentrated here because of the baby inside of Charlie. I like Kate Walsh but her character is terribly written and she just brings so many unnecessary moments.

Paul Bettany makes a fine Michael, by the way, but it’s awkward that he never explicitly tells the group that he’s the famous archangel Michael. He’s just a Terminator type sent to help them and everyone takes that at face value because they don’t have a choice. Some of the action scenes of them warding off demons are fine, but they’re often unintentionally hilarious, especially when we meet small child with the deepest voice you’ll ever hear. There are some funny delights – like Doug Jones as the Ice Cream Man whose limbs extend and jaw widens and he starts charging the group. It’s one of the creepier visual moments.

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Doug Jones as the Ice Cream Man in Legion. (IMDb)

The film tries to say a lot about fate and explores a lot of its religious themes in dull ways, largely in conversations between Michael and his brother Gabriel (Kevin Durand). The brotherly rivalry is made boring and is the most disappointing thing about this film. If you haven’t seen this and want to, I’ll pretty much only be talking spoilers from now on as I discuss most of the end of the film.

It’s disappointing to me when you have the potential of a big fight and a fight between two archangels is so pedestrian. Gabriel’s weapon is cool but it’s a boring fight scene. The third act feels like a weak re-shoot. The part that makes me think that is after Michael and Gabriel’s fight when Bob blurts out an action movie one-liner (I can’t remember the line but this film is so cheesy there’s a decent chance it’s “your wings are cooked”) before he blows the diner. Gabriel starts to fly away like he’s about to be blown to smithereens. The concentration on his face is the look of a man that is trying to escape imminent death.

Instead, he catches up with the fleeing Charlie, Jeep and Audrey a minute later completely unscathed. That makes me think they tacked on the escape scene after test screenings because no way Gabriel’s trying to get out of that explosion so quickly if he knew he’d be totally fine.

Eventually, Michael comes back from Heaven, an archangel again with his wings and everything, and then I think “Oh wow, now we’re going to get the memorable archangel fight!” I thought maybe it was trying to make up for the mediocrity of the first fight, but I gave Legion too much credit in that moment. Gabriel just gets angry at Michael – his inferiority complex has been building up too long – and charges at Michael and Michael just slices right through Gabriel.

Gabriel plops on the ground and that’s the end of the fight. It’s kind-of an uneventful smack in the face and the editing here (by Steven Kemper) is just ugly when Michael slices through Gabriel. You barely see it and it’s literally like five quick edits in one second. The non-fight just has the sense of an editor trying to put the finishing touches on a weak film and says, “Sure, that looks fine, I want to go home.” Truthfully, that’s what a lot of Legion feels like.

Score: 30/100

The Dead Don’t Die (2019)

The Dead Don’t Die (2019)
The Dead Don't Die
IMDb

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