The Dead Don’t Die review

THE DEAD DON’T DIE

Director: Jim Jarmusch
Cast : Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Chloë Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Caleb Landry Jones, Rosie Perez, Iggy Pop, RZA, Selena Gomez, Tom Waits
Genre : Horror/Comedy
Run Time : 1 h 45 mins
Opens : 18 July 2019
Rating : M18

There have been many zombie movies and many zombie comedies, but few with as illustrious a cast as The Dead Don’t Die. Can a bunch of stars unite to inject life into yet another story about the undead?

In the small town of Centerville, weirdness is afoot. An alteration in the axis of the earth’s rotation has resulted in fluctuating daylight hours and interference with cell phones. Even more bizarrely, the dead are rising from the grave to walk the earth. Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) and his partner Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) must fend off the zombies and protect the residents of Centerville from getting infected. Eccentric coroner Zelda Winston (Tilda Swinton) also battles the zombies as the cantankerous Hermit Bob (Tom Waits) observes from afar.

The Dead Don’t Die feels like a bunch of friends got together and shot a zombie movie for fun. It just so happens that acclaimed indie director Jim Jarmusch is the guy who gathered said friends, and in addition to the afore-mentioned names, the cast also includes Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Rosie Perez, RZA and Selena Gomez.

There is nothing wrong with a bunch of friends making a movie together – that’s what Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell did with The Evil Dead. While there is some amusement to be derived from the cast and the jokes, The Dead Don’t Die feels like a movie that would’ve played best in Jarmusch’s garage with the cast and crew gathered ‘round. It feels much longer than its 105-minute runtime.

Zombie movies have been so overplayed that every new entry in the subgenre must have a ‘take’ on things to justify its existence. With The Dead Don’t Die, the ‘take’ appears to be the cast. Its plot of a small town overrun with the undead, leading to colourful characters banding together to fight the zombie hordes, is a well-worn one. There are half-hearted attempts at social commentary – polar fracking leads to the destabilisation of the earth’s axis, and the sentiment that we’re all already zombies enslaved by the pursuit of the next shiny thing is stated outright. However, the zombie-as-consumerism metaphor was already done in 1978’s Dawn of the Dead. It feels like The Dead Don’t Die doesn’t have anything to say because its messages are conveyed so half-heartedly.

There’s no denying that it’s impossible to get at least somewhat amusing results from putting this group together. Bill Murray and Adam Driver are an endearing double act as the somewhat hapless heroes, with Driver putting all his lightsaber training to good use when he swings his bat at the zombies.

Tilda Swinton handily steals the show as intended. Naming her character “Zelda Winston” as a riff on her real name is something else that contributes to the feeling that The Dead Don’t Die is a silly enterprise undertaken by a group of friends as a fun project. Similarly, Rosie Perez plays ‘Posie Juarez’. Seeing Tilda Swinton swing a samurai sword at zombies is funny and she clearly had a great time making this, but her character is the biggest source of superficial quirkiness in a sea of superficial quirk.

There doesn’t seem to be much of a point to gathering this cast beyond the occasional “oh hey, that’s Selena Gomez” moment of recognition. Tom Waits’ appearance as a shaggy hermit is funnier than it should be because it seems like that’s pretty much who Tom Waits is in real life.

This reviewer keeps going back to the point about this feeling like an amateur effort made for a laugh, because it easily would’ve been more charming as that. There’s a dissonance in seeing the cast for this movie glamming it up on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival, where The Dead Don’t Die was the opening film. Because of the star power behind it and because Jarmusch is an established indie director, the self-referential nature of The Dead Don’t Die is smug instead of endearing. The is a film with a strictly limited appeal that based on its cast is getting a wide release, which seems ill-advised. The Dead Don’t Die is amusingly self-indulgent and does give us yet another delightfully committed, bonkers Tilda Swinton performance, but it is ultimately hollow and unsatisfying.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri review

For inSing

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

Director : Martin McDonagh
Cast : Frances McDormand, Woody Harrleson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage, Lucas Hedges, Abbie Cornish, Samara Weaving, Caleb Landry Jones, Željko Ivanek
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 1 h 57 min
Opens : 18 January 2018
Rating : NC16

Irish writer-director Martin McDonagh traverses from In Bruges to Outside Ebbing, after a detour caused by Seven Psychopaths, with his third feature film.

The film revolves around Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), a divorced mother grieving the death of her daughter Angela (Kathryn Newton). A year after Angela’s rape and murder, no arrests have been made. Mildred rents out three disused billboards (three guesses as to where they’re located), calling out Ebbing Police Chief William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson).

The billboards draw a strong reaction from the Ebbing populace, including Officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell) – not least because Willoughby has terminal pancreatic cancer. Both Mildred’s son Robbie (Lucas Hedges) and ex-husband Charlie (John Hawkes) take issue with the billboards, blaming Mildred for reopening that wound. Mildred still has a few people in her corner, including her co-worker Denise (Amanda Warren), and James (Peter Dinklage), who harbours feelings for Mildred. Mildred hopes the billboards will put pressure on the police to solve the case, but unexpected, violent consequences ensue.

If Seven Psychopaths was McDonagh channelling Quentin Tarantino, then Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is McDonagh channelling the Coen Brothers. It’s a happy coincidence that Carter Burwell, who has scored most of the Coens’ movies, has also scored McDonagh’s previous two films. It seems less coincidental that McDormand, oft-collaborator of the Coens and the wife of Joel Coen, plays the starring role.

However, this is no mere act of mimicry. McDonagh, who is also an accomplished playwright, has brought his own lyricism to each of his films. Three Billboards is the most serious film McDonagh has made, but it isn’t without its outstanding moments of pitch-black humour.

In part because of the pulpier elements of McDonagh’s two earlier films, one might go into Three Billboards expecting all the characters to be broadly-drawn archetypes. It seems almost by design that the audience thinks they have each player in this story figured out the moment we see them. “There’s the righteous mother,” “there’s the lazy cop”, “there’s the scumbag ex-husband”, that sort of thing. The surprises along the way are organic and well thought-out.

While Three Billboards wears its references on its sleeve, it subverts expectations with masterful subtlety. The dialogue, stuffed with words we can’t print, sounds authentic as spoken by these characters – especially impressive considering the writer-director isn’t American. The fictional town of Ebbing, Missouri has a realistic bleakness to it, and does seem like the place where something awful might happen and the world at large just wouldn’t notice it.

McDormand leads an ensemble of talented actors who do the material justice and then some. When it comes to strong performances per capita, Three Billboards is at the top of the heap this awards season. All the performances are the right degree of over-the-top – colourful and exaggerated enough to grab the viewer’s attention, but not to the point of being cartoony.

McDonagh wrote the Mildred role with McDormand in mind, and the character plays to all McDormand’s strengths as an actress. Mildred is tough-as-nails, bitter and takes no guff from anyone. Beneath the unyielding exterior, she is grappling with unspeakable grief and frustration and is a deeply flawed, conflicted person. The dramatic move she makes in renting out the billboards stirs up trouble, just as she planned, but she ultimately gets more than she bargained for.

We’re conditioned to root for Mildred and against Chief Willoughby, so we’re naturally surprised when the Chief ends up being not an awful person. We won’t give away too much, but Harrelson is able to shade the character while making him a little larger than life, and the interplay between Willoughby and Mildred is intense but restrained.

Rockwell’s character goes through the most dramatic arc. Dixon is racist, lazy, belligerent and often abuses his authority – but that’s just how the character begins. Rockwell has often portrayed characters who are slimy charmers, but he digs deep here, delivering a layered, fascinating performance.

The supporting cast members all snap right into place. Hedges, who was nominated for an Oscar for Manchester by the Sea, is believably conflicted as Mildred’s son. Hawkes is aggressive but not ludicrously so as Mildred’s ex-husband Charlie. Samara Weaving steals the show several times as Penelope, Charlie’s dim-witted girlfriend, showcasing delightful comic timing. Dinklage is likeable and just awkward enough as the designated ‘nice guy’ whose affections for Mildred are unlikely to be reciprocated.

Not everything here works: the film’s handling of race is clumsy and inconsistent, and as the film barrels towards its conclusion, a few noticeable plot contrivances start stacking up. As assuredly as McDonagh handles the tone, some viewers might still find it jarring when the film moves from its truly harrowing moments to its lighter-hearted ones.

Three Billboards succeeds as an indie darling-type film that is rough around the edges and is never too precious about itself. The film recently collected four Golden Globes, including Best Motion Picture Drama and awards for McDormand and Rockwell. The film’s peculiar yet finely tuned mix of grimness and off-kilter humour keeps it interesting, and its performances, especially McDormand’s, are thoroughly riveting.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

American Made

For F*** Magazine

AMERICAN MADE 

Director : Doug Liman
Cast : Tom Cruise, Sarah Wright Olsen, Domhnall Gleeson, Jayma Mays, Jesse Plemons, Lola Kirke, Lara Grice, Jed Rees, Caleb Landry Jones
Genre : Biopic/Comedy/Thriller
Run Time : 1h 55m
Opens : 31 August 2017
Rating : M18 (Sexual Scene And Coarse Language)

As the star of the Mission: Impossible franchise, Tom Cruise has performed many daring stunts. In American Made, he plays someone who, by his own admission, leaps before he looks. It is 1978, and TWA pilot Barry Seal (Cruise) is recruited by CIA operative Schaefer (Gleeson) to take surveillance photos of communist rebels in South America. Soon, Seal is tasked with supplying the Nicaraguan Contras with American-supplied arms. Seal is also hired by the Medellín Cartel, transporting shipments of cocaine from Colombia and Panama to the United States. Seal’s wife Lucy (Wright Olsen) and their young children relocate from Baton Rouge, Louisiana to Mena, Arkansas. Mena Intermountain Municipal Airport becomes the base of operations for Seal’s burgeoning concern, as Seal rakes in the cash and evades the long arm of the law by becoming a DEA informant and operative. As a player in a game with dizzyingly high stakes, it will take all of Seal’s wits to keep him from crashing and burning.

American Made reteams Cruise with his Edge of Tomorrow director Doug Liman, who crafts a free-wheeling retro comedy thriller which is as engaging as it is entertaining. This is based on a true story, and you might know the name ‘Barry Seal’ from films and TV shows like Doublecrossed, The Infiltrator and Narcos. American Made certainly feels like the ‘Hollywood version’ of Seal’s story: despite the twists and turns, the narrative is so straightforward as to feel simplified and streamlined to keep things moving along. This is to say nothing of the fact that Cruise doesn’t resemble the real-life Barry Seal, who was pudgy and balding, in the slightest.

However, the way the film is assembled and the way screenwriter Gary Spinelli structures the plot, it’s easy to get swept up in the proceedings. Much of the comedy is derived from the inherent absurdity of the situations that Seal gets caught up in, and the film open acknowledges how crazy everything is without coming off as too flippant. It’s comparable in tone to 1990’s Air America, which starred Robert Downey Jr. and Mel Gibson as unwitting drug smuggling pilots during the Vietnam War.

Liman has considerable fun with the film’s style: the opening Universal Studios logo is interrupted by the old-school logo from the 70s, and the other production companies get retro-fied logos too. Uruguayan cinematographer César Charlone of City of God fame provides a mix of slick sweeping aerial shots and 70s-style handheld closeups, with the heat of the South American jungles radiating off the screen. The plane pursuit sequences are realistic and hair-raising, but came at a cost. Tragically, stunt pilot Alan D. Purwin and his Venezuelan co-pilot, Carlos Berl, died in a crash caused by foggy weather near Medellin, Colombia.

Barry Seal was a cog in a much larger machine, but this film places him front and centre and the film is Cruise’s to carry the whole way. The embarrassing dud that was this year’s reboot of The Mummy made some feel that Cruise’s star power was starting to wane, but American Made sees him back in top form. As the morally ambiguous charming rogue who’s in over his head but loving it, the Seal character is right in Cruise’s wheelhouse.

Cruise eclipses everyone else in the movie, such that the supporting players barely make an impact. Gleeson affects a convincing American accent as CIA operative Schaefer, who registers as a cipher and a composite character of some kind. Wright Olsen is, as expected from films of this type, relegated to the role of ‘the wife’, fretting over her husband’s questionable activities but eager to enjoy the lifestyle that said activities fund. Caleb Landry Jones visibly enjoys playing Lucy’s troublemaking, ne’er-do-well brother, whose sloppiness puts Seal in danger of being found out. It all revolves around Cruise and the other characters seem incidental, reinforcing the ideal of Seal as a mythic antihero around whom other forces revolve. It’s fine because Cruise’s performance more than anchors the film, but it does remind us that we’re watching a movie, detracting some authenticity from the real story.

American Made is a movie that’s powered by Cruise’s megawatt grin. Because it’s pitched as a comedy, the murky morality never becomes something audiences will think too deeply about. We’re invited to join the antihero on the ride of his life, and Liman spins an engrossing, invigorating yarn. With Cruise in the cockpit, this ride is an eminently enjoyable one.

Summary: A high-spirited biopic that packs in the laughs and thrills, American Made doesn’t delve deeply enough into the political intrigue to be very substantive, but it’s an entertaining, well-made Tom Cruise vehicle all the same.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong