Movie Review ~ Darby and the Dead

The Facts:

Synopsis: After suffering a near-death experience as a child, Darby Harper is granted the ability to see ghosts. To combat the existential boredom of high school, she runs a side business counseling local spirits in her spare time. When an unexpected occurrence happens between Darby and Capri, the most popular girl at school, Darby reluctantly agrees to help her and, in the process, learns how to fit in with the living world again.
Stars: Riele Downs, Auli’i Cravalho, Chosen Jacobs, Asher Angel, Wayne Knight, Derek Luke, Tony Danza
Director: Silas Howard
Rated: PG-13
Running Length: 108 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: Here’s why a movie like Darby and the Dead should have attracted more attention when it was released in early December. It was one of a select few films released aimed at the teen crowd which didn’t originate from a YA novel, comic book, or other existing IP. That may not sound like a huge event, but with the lack of new content coming out of Hollywood, finding a movie made from an original script by a major studio in 2022 was something we should have celebrated much more.

Of course, as lovely as that is to report, that’s not to say Darby and the Dead is the most original teen afterlife comedy you’ll ever see. It’s almost astonishing how it references countless other films that have come before it. Whether intentionally or subconsciously, there are bits sprinkled throughout Wenonah Wilms and Becca Greene’s script that reference supernatural comedies from Topper to Ghost to even the Reese Witherspoon comedy Just Like Heaven. It’s all in lighthearted fun, and while I fully recognize I’m not the target audience for the film (and have thus fairly reviewed it keeping that in mind), it gives me hope that screenwriters are looking to the past to spur ideas for the future.

A typical high-school set-up (mean popular girl vs. shy special girl) is turned on its head when the popular girl (Auli’i Cravalho, Ralph Breaks the Internet) dies and finds out that shy girl (Riele Downs) has a talent for talking to the dead, helping the recently deceased finalize any unfinished business. It turns out the popular girl had a birthday coming up, and throwing one last bash might be the closure she needs to walk into the light. Of course, alive or dead, it’s not as simple as that, and when the shy girl gets a taste of the cool side of the lunch table, our dead girl makes plans to reclaim her throne.

The latest addition to the slumber party fare that parents don’t have to fret over, Darby and the Dead has some flash in filmmaking (director Silas Howard helmed many terrific episodes of Dickinson on AppleTV+) and above-average performances from all. It’s bound to go in one ear and out the other for adults, but I feel that teens will latch onto a few life lessons learned here about embracing individuality and living for today. 

Movie Review ~ Don Jon


The Facts:

Synopsis: A New Jersey guy dedicated to his family, friends, and church, develops unrealistic expectations from watching porn and works to find happiness and intimacy with his potential true love.

Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Brie Larson, Glenne Headly

Director: Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Rated: R

Running Length: 90 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (4.5/10)

Review: The early promise of Don Jon came in the form of a confident trailer for the directorial debut of Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Premium Rush, Looper, The Dark Knight Rises) but the good will sadly stops there.  Though I can say that the movie is directed with a certain flair and knowledge of what makes a modern film tick, the overall substance is lacking and the lasting effect is a close-but-no-cigar exercise of great sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Certainly on paper the film looked intriguing.  Gordon-Levitt directs his own script about a New Jersey ladies man with a future that’s not really going places but who is still happy in the circle of routine he’s settled into.  Aside from his family, his car, his workout, and his weekly Sunday confessional, the one thing that our leading man can’t get enough of is porn.  Porn in the morning, porn in the evening, porn at suppertime.  His constant reliance on being aroused by the taboo medium has led to a loss of true intimacy in his relationships because he feels like nothing will ever be as good as what he watches on his computer screen.

An interesting concept to be sure and a valid discussion point for the age of technology we live in when connection is just a mouse click away.  The problem I have with Don Jon is it never really says anything more than that.  Ok, so maybe by following Jon through his less than perfect relationship with no-nonsense gum smacking  beauty Barbara (Scarlett Johansson, Marvel’s The Avengers, Hitchcock) helps him understand some greater lessons about himself but it isn’t that pleasant of a journey for the audience to go along with.

From the opening credits the movie is unleashed on our senses at Level 10 and rarely does it turn the dial down.  Perhaps it was just the sound system at the theater where I saw the movie but the soundtrack and visuals had an overwhelming effect…so much so that I felt like covering my ears at times.  Gordon-Levitt captures the high velocity nightlife of the Jersey town where the action takes place and his routine is captured nicely (ala All That Jazz) with a repetitive style that’s edited with slick verve.

So Gordon-Levitt makes for a nice director and a less than realized screenwriter but what of his acting?  Though he’s takes on a De Niro-esque squint and wears white tank tops in a way that would make Channing Tatum jealous, there’s a glimmer of vulnerability underneath it all that helps his character not stray too far from our good graces.  Johansson’s role is considerably more shrewish than you’d think but she balances the good/bad sides nicely.  Tony Danza and Glenne Headly cut the image of typical Jersey parents…but Gordon-Levitt has scripted them to be shouting the majority of their lines and they become aggravating.  Brie Larson (The Spectacular Now) has but a few sentences as Gordon-Levitt’s tuned out sister but when she speaks it’s worth the wait.

Then we have Julianne Moore (2013’s Carrie) as a woman Jon meets in night school.  This is a puzzling character, not because Moore doesn’t shine in it because she’s the best thing in the whole movie, but that it’s created solely to provide an out for Jon that’s more convenient than true.  It’s a smaller role for Moore but it isn’t hard to see what drew her to the damaged goods mystery woman.

Interesting only in brief passages, overall this was a let-down in my book.  It’s one of the rare movies that I like less the more I think about it…mostly because it’s pretty average but also because with the talent involved I know it could have been better.

The Silver Bullet ~ Don Jon


Synopsis: A New Jersey guy dedicated to his family, friends, and church, develops unrealistic expectations from watching porn and works to find happiness and intimacy with his potential true love.

Release Date:  October 18, 2013

Thoughts: You may not know it but crafting a solid movie trailer is really an art form.  Sure, anyone can make a bad movie look good if left in the hands of a master editor…but delivering a truly enjoyable trailer is a rare feat.  So it’s with a wee bit of glee that I present the first trailer for Don Jon, the writing/directing debut from Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Dark Knight Rises, Looper, Premium Rush) and it looks like a slam-dunk winner for the dependable star.  With ample amounts of laughs that I believe don’t give away the best parts, the preview is engaging and energetic as it clearly lays out what type of movie audiences can expect to find when it’s released in October.  I’ll be one of the first in line.