Movie Review ~ The Dead Don’t Die

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The Facts
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Synopsis: The peaceful town of Centerville finds itself battling a zombie horde as the dead start rising from their graves.

Stars: Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloë Sevigny, Selena Gomez, Iggy Pop, Caleb Landry Jones, Carol Kane, Danny Glover, RZA, Austin Butler, Rosie Perez, Tilda Swinton, Steve Buscemi, Tom Waits

Director: Jim Jarmusch

Rated: R

Running Length: 105 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review: It isn’t often a movie about a zombie apocalypse gets a premiere at the fancy Cannes Film Festival but if you are director Jim Jarmusch you’ve earned a certain amount of street cred.  The famously indie auteur has been operating since 1980 and has delivered numerous cult faves, many of them originally received as complicated misfires.  Given it’s subject matter, starry cast, and B-movie aura, I’d imagine The Dead Don’t Die will join those cult classic ranks but you won’t find me lining up to see a midnight screening of this one anytime soon.  I had trouble enough staying awake during a daytime viewing.

Look, I’m about zombie-d out by this point and I don’t care who knows it.  I don’t watch The Walking Dead, I avoid all of the straight-to-streaming zombie flicks, I’ve long since sold-off any zombie video games I owned, and I keep my distance from television shows with a zombie premise.  I just think we’re moving on to different things by this point and the whole metaphor linking zombies to mass consumerism is entirely passé.  All I need to do is watch George Romero’s 1978 classic Dawn of the Dead and my craving for brainy material is satiated. (Heck, even Warm Bodies, the zombified Romeo & Juliet will do just fine if you don’t like the hard horror stuff.)  It’s so strange to me that Jarmusch, who has been on a critical uptick the past few years starting with the fascinating vampire tale Only Lovers Left Alive in 2013, would find himself wanting to draw inspiration from this well.

Not much happens in the sleepy town of Centerville, OH.  As the film opens, Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray, Aloha) and Officer Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver, Midnight Special) are traveling out to find Hermit Bob (Tom Waits, The Old Man & the Gun), thinking that he stole a chicken from Farmer Miller (Steve Buscemi, Hotel Transylvania 2).  That’s the extent of the excitement going on until the Earth starts to experience a strange phenomenon caused by polar fracking and a shifting on its axis.  It’s this event that causes the town to lose almost all connection with the outside world and for the bodies in the cemetery to start inexplicably rising from their graves and feasting on the unsuspecting townspeople.

The next several days are captured in small vignettes of varying degrees of success from the large ensemble Jarmusch has assembled.  What Jarmusch does exceedingly well is attract top talent to his film and this is another example of an over-abundance of familiar faces popping up when you least expect it.  In addition to our two lead cops, there’s Chloë Sevigny (The Snowman) as another weary officer not used to so much action in town, Caleb Landry Jones (The Florida Project) and Danny Glover (Monster Trucks) playing store owners who barricade themselves inside a hardware shop to fend off the walking dead, and Rosie Perez (Won’t Back Down) playing an informative newscaster named, wait for it, Posie Suraez.  Though many of the cast have worked with Jarmusch before, the only one that really feels like they know what movie they are in is Tilda Swinton (Suspiria) as the town’s new mortician who takes a methodical slice and dice approach in handling the undead.  Some cast members come off as lackadaisical in their approach, which is very Jarmusch in style, but Swinton knows how to pitch that aloofness into something that makes you curious to know more.

Though it gives way to full blown horror in its final stretch, much of the film is paced and pitched at a low boil. There’s so much effort put into the set-up and an absurd amount of characters repeating back the same information on what’s going on to newcomers. Always one to look a little askew at midwestern America, it’s no surprise Jarmusch has cast the townspeople as a bunch of oddballs who get even stranger when death comes knockin’. For pure comedic effect, Jarmusch’s zombies rise up not just with a craving for human flesh but harboring the same obsessions they had when they were alive.  One zombie cries out for chardonnay, another asks Siri a question and these moments of levity are fun at first but begin to become as repetitive as some of the dialogue.  In a bit of supposed extra fun, Jarmusch has Driver and Murray break the fourth wall several times, often commenting as themselves…which might be interesting if they didn’t come off as just riffing off each other between takes.  I’m all for going meta if you can see it through but this continually fell flat.

What was so great about Jarmusch’s take on vampires in Only Lovers Left Alive is that he found an interesting angle into the story which allowed him to craft memorable characters within that framework. In The Dead Don’t Die, there’s no real easy way into a genre that’s been explored to the fullest if you don’t have anything new to add to the conversation.  Even when the tone switches to all-out horror there’s little tension created, and the production isn’t helped by hokey special effects and make-up meant to be impressive that’s hard to see in the dark.  What’s left is a pack of good actors stumbling around for 105 minutes with little to show for their effort.  The film may boast the “the greatest zombie cast ever disassembled” but it just doesn’t come together in the end.

Movie Review ~ Only Lovers Left Alive

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: A depressed musician reunites with his lover, though their romance – which has already endured several centuries – is disrupted by the arrival of uncontrollable younger sister

Stars: Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt, Anton Yelchin, Jeffrey Wright

Director: Jim Jarmusch

Rated: R

Running Length: 123 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: I feel like at this point in my movie viewing (and reviewing) career I should be much more familiar than I am with writer/director Jim Jarmusch. Responsible for a respectable amount of moody movies in the 80’s and 90’s, looking over his roster of work I realize that Only Lovers Left Alive is the just the second Jarmusch film I’ve seen with 2005’s Broken Flowers being the other. I’m not sure if I’m going to run right out and snap up movies like Night on Earth, Stranger Than Paradise, or Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai but based on the somber vampire flick he’s delivered here, it’s clear I need to do my homework.

Though the romantic vampire genre may have (fingers crossed!) finally run its course, Jarmusch nicely sidesteps the baring of fangs and avoids awkward kink in favor of character driven work that produces a curiously entertaining, unconventional entry in the bloodsucking oeuvre. Instead of Twilight’s Edward and Bella pawing over each other in a hazy meadow, we have Adam (Tom Hiddleston, Thor, Thor 2: The Dark World) and Eve (Tilda Swinton, The Grand Budapest Hotel) spending the first part of the film continents apart until Eve travels from exotic Tangiers to dilapidated Detroit for a reunion with her eternal flame. Like the impressively designed but fairly dated The Hunger from 1983, Only Lovers Left Alive is less about finding love than it is about what happens to a couple that have lived through many lives together.

Of course, into every vampiric life a little rain must fall and before Adam and Eve can really get down to business another creature of the night appears: Eve’s troubled sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska, Stoker). This family reunion doesn’t bring the kind of over-the-top fireworks seen in August: Osage County but the danger is very real as Ava’s free-wheeling lifestyle threatens to upend any brief bliss Adam and Eve are seeking.

It’s a very languid film and Jarmusch doesn’t make any apologies for letting his characters wax poetic about the state of art/music/literature in today’s modern society. He even introduces a true-blue historical figure, Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), still alive today thanks to a bite to the neck centuries earlier. Everyone in Jarmusch’s film seems too cool for school but not in the way that could have been aggravating or eye-roll inducing. My original feeling was that the film should have been called Hipster Vampire Namedroppers, a silly but pretty accurate way to succinctly describe the players.

Somber yet at times deeply funny, Only Lovers Left Alive is a nice antidote to several years of sappy films and television series that have made vampires more romantic leads than life draining villains. I’m not sure Jarmusch’s take will please everyone but there’s something interesting going on here seasoned moviegoers may want to investigate. Just make sure to bone up on your beatnik poets and existential artists so you can nod in agreement when Jarmusch makes an obscure reference.