The Dead Don’t Die (2019)

or “The Living Don’t Entertain”

Director: Jim Jarmusch

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

Screenplay: Jim Jarmusch

104 mins. Rated R for zombie violence/gore, and for language.

 

The Dead Don’t Die might have the greatest cast of 2019, but everyone in the film is a guest star in someone else’s movie, but no one knows who that someone is.

In the sleepy and small town of Centerville, the dead have started to rise. Polar fracking has caused the Earth to fall of its axis, causing strange phenomena like sunlight at odd hours or cell phones dying, and of course…zombies. Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray, Lost in Translation, Ghostbusters II) and Officer Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, BlacKkKlansman) don’t know how to stop the phenomenon, and Ronnie has a feeling that this is going to end up bad. The only residents in town that seem to understand the stakes are Hermit Bob (Tom Waits, Seven Psychopaths, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs) and a mortician with swordplay skills named Zelda (Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Avengers: Endgame).

The first sin of this zombie comedy is boredom, and it is visited upon the audience rather quickly. I never would have thought a zombie film with this impressive cast could bore, but it did. Director and screenwriter Jim Jarmusch (Broken Flowers, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai) seemingly pays tribute to zombie history in film, but he does it with what feels like an ineffective laziness, never really giving his zombies any bite. His tone is never struck sharply enough to affect the viewer. It’s clear that he studied the genre, but he never delivers on any of the elements the genre requires. His knocks on the current political climate work well enough, from the Make America White Again hat worn by Farmer Frank (Steve Buscemi, Fargo, TV’s Miracle Workers) to the claims of Fake News on the television concerning the cause of the rising dead.

As I said before, most of the cast listlessly moves through the film with deadpan wit. Some of the jokes work, but most do not, and the way the film is written, with Driver and Murray aware that they are in a film, is neither executed fully nor elaborated beyond three lines of jarringly useless dialogue. If that had been the full conceit, that some of the actors knew they were in a zombie film and understood the rules, that would be one thing, but it is never elaborated on enough to really mean anything. In fact, the characters would behave no differently in the film if I had replaced the zombie problem with something like one of them forgetting to turn off the oven at home.

The Dead Don’t Die has moments of greatness, but they are few and far-between. The cast is wasted on a subpar script and an attitude that shows no real love for the genre. Boring is a tough thing to achieve when you have creatures eating human flesh, and it that was the goal, it was met.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early Review] Okja (2017)

Director: Bong Joon-Ho

Cast: Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Seo-Hyun Ahn, Byun Hee-Bong, Steven Yeun, Lily Collins, Yun Je-Mun, Shirley Henderson, Daniel Henshall, Devon Bostick, Choi Woo-Shik, Giancarlo Esposito, Jake Gyllenhaal

Screenplay: Bong Joon-Ho, Jon Ronson

118 mins. Not Rated.

 

Well, have I got a movie for you today!

Okja is the story of a young girl named Mija (Seo-Hyun Ahn, The Housemaid, Monster) who lives on a farm in South Korea with her grandfather and a unique animal, a superpig named Okja. For ten years, Mija and her grandfather have been raising Okja to win a competition against other superpig farmers around the country. Mija is overjoyed when the judge, TV personality and zoologist Dr. Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal, Donnie Darko, Life) selects Okja as the winner. But when she learns of what will happen to Okja upon returning to the United States and to its true owner, Mirando Corporation, she sets out to free him and, along the way, gains help from Jay (Paul Dano, Little Miss Sunshine, Swiss Army Man) and his ALF (Animal Liberation Front) team. Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk About Kevin, War Machine), the CEO of Mirando, will stop at nothing to use Okja for her own greedy plans in this strange and unique new film from Bong Joon-Ho (Snowpiercer, Mother).

Now, I get it. Reading that synopsis wouldn’t exactly hype me for a film, and in lesser hands, I’d believe this film to be destined for failure. But with this director, I became more and more excited to see it.

And Okja has a lot going for it. With Bong Joon-Ho’s direction  and powerful writing, the cardinal message shines clear but with enough layers to make the discussion following an important one. The use of the CG superpig allows enough separation from reality for the film to make thought-provoking statements and ask serious questions behind the guise of a science-fiction adventure.

The performances here aid in crafting the unique vision presented, specifically Tilda Swinton as Lucy Mirando, a villain with motivations and an understandable approach but one that doesn’t always have the right methods to solve her problems. Then, there’s the standout work from Jake Gyllenhaal, who steals every scene as the over-the-top Wilcox, an unhinged failing TV personality who lost his fanbase years ago. Paul Dano and Giancarlo Esposito (The Usual Suspects, The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials) also turn in great work, the latter portraying Frank Dawson, Lucy’s right-hand man, but the work from Seo-Hyun Ahn as Mija rises up to match her fellow performers. The young actress’s ability to play to a CG superpig and hold her own in scenes with much more accomplished actors is strong in its own right.

It frustrates me that a film like Okja was booed at Cannes for having the Netflix banner in front of its opening titles. The streaming giant has more than proved itself in recent years, and Okja stands among the best of their original films. I’ll say it simple: it’s the best film I’ve seen this year so far. This is a film that balances humor with deep political satire and genuinely heartbreaking moments. I don’t care if this film changes your mind on its subject matter. It didn’t completely change mine, but I’m happy for the interesting viewpoint it offers. This is one that will stick with you. It will make you believe in a superpig.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Harry Potter Day] Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Director: David Yates

Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol, Dan Fogler, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Jon Voight, Carmen Ejogo, Ron Perlman, Colin Farrell

Screenplay: J.K. Rowling

133 mins. Rated PG-13 for some fantasy action violence.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Costume Design
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Production Design

 

Today, to honor the 19th Anniversary of The Battle of Hogwarts, we look back at the film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a film that exists in the Wizarding World Cinematic Universe (yep, that happened) but takes place decades before Harry Potter was even born.

Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything, Jupiter Ascending) has arrived in 1926 New York with a mysterious case full of amazing and exotic creatures, but when a tiny mix-up with aspiring baker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler, TV’s Secrets and Lies, Kung Fu Panda) causes several of his fantastic beasts to be released upon the No-Maj (America’s term for Muggles) society. Now, it is up to Newt, Kowalski, and ex-auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston, Inherent Vice, Steve Jobs) to retrieve the missing creatures before they are discovered by the non-magical citizens of New York City.

There are many things to love about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, but I have to start with the performances. Eddie Redmayne absolutely disappears within his role as Newt and becomes the magi-zoologist with apparent ease, and his foil in Kowalski is expertly lovable and comedic due to Fogler’s performance. I was also blown away by Ezra Miller’s (We Need to Talk About Kevin, Suicide Squad) work as Credence Barebone, the adopted son of a religious zealot being manipulated by the sinister Auror Percival Graves (Colin Farrell, Phone Booth, Solace). There’s also some nice supporting work from Samantha Morton (TV’s Harlots, John Carter), Jon Voight (TV’s Ray Donovan, Mission: Impossible), and Ron Perlman (TV’s Hand of God, Hellboy).

The collaboration between screenwriter J.K. Rowling and director David Yates (The Legend of Tarzan, The Girl in the Café), who has now directed five films in this franchise, is electric to say the least. Yates has an understanding of how to treat the fans, and Rowling’s decision to use creatures hinted at in the books and previous films to further enhance the experience is something to dazzle at. For me, getting to see an actual Bowtruckle and Nifler, two creatures mentioned in novels but never put to film, was very exciting.

I also would like to point out the excellent score in the film, courtesy of James Newton Howard. Howard is one of my favorite working film composers, and his work here is some of his best. When you compare the score of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them to, say, something like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, it is clear to see where one score outdid the other. Howard’s music entices us with callbacks to the original music, and when it does, it’s pitch perfect, but at the same time, he creates a plethora of new music to further guide this franchise into the future.

As for issues, I felt like the New Salem Philanthropic Society felt a little rushed in their exposition. I would like to know more about them but they don’t get the full exposition needed to really consider them a threat. The same thing with Jon Voight’s character, Henry Shaw, and the secondary plot thread with him doesn’t really go anywhere. Finally, as for the twist (if you can call it that), it’s a little easy to spot, and I feel like there was a better way to do what was done at the end of the film. Thankfully, these problems only affect secondary characters and our main characters are more or less unaffected by them.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is an exquisite and sophisticated return to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Thanks to some clever callbacks to creatures and major plot points of the franchise like the Deathly Hallows, the film feels new but also honors what came before. It’s a clever film that will have something for everyone, as long as they are a Harry Potter fan. I don’t think this new entry will win over any new fans, but anyone who has taken the ride this long shouldn’t have any trouble going around again.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Chris Columbus’ Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, click here.

[Happy 5th Birthday!] We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

weneedtotalkaboutkevin2011a

Director: Lynne Ramsay

Cast: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller

Screenplay: Lynne Ramsay, Rory Stewart Kinnear

112 mins. Rated R for disturbing violence and behavior, some sexuality and language.

 

Wow, I love it when I can watch a film knowing nothing about it and be absolutely floored. That’s what happened with today’s choice, We Need to Talk About Kevin.

weneedtotalkaboutkevin2011b

Eva (Tilda Swinton, Adaptation., Hail, Caesar!) is a troubled woman, a woman haunted by her past and the memories of her son Kevin (Ezra Miller, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), a troubled boy who took great pleasure in upsetting his mother. Eva’s husband Franklin (John C. Reilly, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Guardians of the Galaxy) either cannot see him for what he is or chooses not to, placing the blame on Eva. But is Eva to blame, or is there something horribly wrong with their son?

We Need to Talk About Kevin is a strangely beautiful film that plays with some horrifying themes. It is at times visceral, unnerving, irritating, and exhilarating as it plays with viewer emotions and expectations. Tilda Swinton gives one of her most real and tragic performances of an already terrific career here. She is matched on the playing field by Ezra Miller, known for playing strange and nuanced characters. Here, he ratchets the tension up to eleven and owns his scenes with a command that would rival most other performers. His is an upsetting and unsettling performance, but in the best possible way.

weneedtotalkaboutkevin2011c

We Need to Talk About Kevin is a character piece, mostly relying on Eva, and this is her film to shine. Swinton does so and is aided by Miller and John C. Reilly in a rare but always welcome fully dramatic performance. Director Lynne Ramsay displays the sorrow and pain of Eva just as well the actress does, and so the film is deeply saddening, not for the faint of heart. Though it may run on a bit too long, this is one of those films that you must see, even if only once.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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