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Everyone shows up for THE DEAD DON’T DIE

:From left to right: Danny Glover, Bill Murray, and Adam Driver

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Eventually, it had to happen. Sooner or later every director at one point tries to delve into the horror genre and what better way to do it than the zombie flick? Jim Jarmusch isn’t actually a stranger to horror; in 2014 he directed TIlda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as languid lovers lounging in the middle of Detroit, barely alive, observing a world overtaken by zombies (i. e. “humans”). Fast forward five years ahead and Jarmusch returns to the genre in a generic and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny new movie, The Dead Don’t Die (which is also a song performed by Sturgill Simpson), a tepid take on Night of the Living Dead that features a laundry list of everyone who at one or various times worked with Jarmusch, and some social commentary on the woes of society through the staging of the action in small town Centerville. So, instead of two vampire lovers in a world they don’t recognize, we now get two yokely cops (Bill Murray and Adam Driver), with a female thrown in for scream queen moments (Chloe Sevigny), also commenting on a world that seems to have gone to hell without them knowing it.

For the most part, The Dead Don’t Die works even when the entire feature film feels as though Jarmusch left it at the level of sketch other than fully develop it. There are so many characters featured and all seem to demand as much attention as they do in their short screen time, I can’t see how this wasn’t a compendium of shorter sequences in style of Night on Earth tied together by the zombie thread.

First we have Tom Waits scuttling around the forest in full bushman regalia, observing everything happen through a safe vantage point. If anything, an despite not being credited first, he seems to be the true protagonist. Next we have Tilda Swinton in a role that makes her to be the resident eccentric who not only works at a funeral home and applies garish amounts of make up to the recently deceased but also has a penchant for sword fighting and walking in severe right angles wherever she goes. Swinton is clearly in her own movie zone, and later on it becomes clear why in a clever but WTF moment that basically, performs a magic trick and leaves us scratching our heads.

Other characters paint a rather picturesque canvas of small town life: Steve Buscemi as a stand-in for every MAGA supporter you would love to hate; Danny Glover and Caleb Landry Jones as unlikely partners fighting zombies in a video store, and Selena Gomez, Rosie Perez, and a gaggle of others making appearances to either enhance the mood or be sitting ducks for the insanity that is about to happen.

The one thing the undead have in common is that aside from craving human flesh they also have specific interests; the first ones to pop up (played by Iggy Pop and Sara Driver) want coffee, a dead woman (Carol Kane of all people) wants chardonnay, and others cling on to smartphones hopelessly seeking for WiFi. It’s a clever little commentary on society and how undead we have become, addicted to our habits, our pleasures, even our wireless connection. It’s this, it seems, that may be behind Jarmusch’s observation of humanity as a whole planet gone to hell that still deserves a laugh. He even extends his sense of humor in a pivotal moment towards the film’s end that is the movie’s only truly standout scene. It’s so left field that it threatens to stop the picture and morph into something closer to Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles’ climactic sequence.. It’s almost as if he were saying, “Look, don’t take this too seriously. It’s only a momentary lapse into crazy. Wink.” While this does indeed work (I heard several loud guffaws in the audience and I myself did a double take), it’s not quite enough to fill in for the movie’ overall feel of unfinished product. It’s because of this that in the end, The Dead Don’t Die ultimately delivers at a superficial, forgettable level equivalent to a low chuckle and a “Meh.”


3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

January and February usually get the short end of the stick in terms of movie releases. Usually, anything releases here will be the kind of movie that just couldn’t hold a candle against the September – December season, films that either were so tiny on the indie radar all they could aspire was for that requisite one-week screening in major cities while also reaching a prospective audience through VOD platforms like Amazon, iTunes, VUDU, DirecTV, and a couple others. It’s not that these films are bad — well, let’s not include Split, which is only now starting to really, really stink in my memory — it’s just that sometimes these are cinematic pieces from basically unknown directors looking to place their product, kitchen-sink dramas that try to portray a slice of life of a certain enclave. Sometimes they hit (Appropriate Behavior was a surprise in 2014); sometimes, not that much.

Had Robert Altman made a movie through the uneven filter of Paul Higgis we’d wind up with the final result, which is Jim O’Hanlon’s 100 Streets,  an ensemble in the vein of Crash and maybe Nashville (although closer to the former, heavens forbid I would compare it to the latter!) in that it tells overlapping story-lines that converge in a single point. It’s a rather bland drama that is wildly dissonant in tones.

First we have Idris Elba — the most salient marquee name in this film — playing a man whose marriage (to Gemma Arterton) has gone South due to his addictions to coke and sex). Arterton has tentatively started to see another man (Tom Cullen, a thing that will progressively send Elba right over the edge and straight into another movie. Then we have a neighbor, taxi-driver George, who has a fateful encounter with a pedestrian and sees his dreams of being an adoptive parent smashed to bits. And finally, and this was the story-line I liked the most, there is Kingsley (newcomer Franz Drameh), a thug and gang member whose life takes a turn when he befriends an older man (Ken Stott) who sees potential in the boy and serves as a mentor and father figure. Of course, shit happens when you’re in a gang, and things have a way of taking a dark turn. This was the story that engaged me the most and I feel that O’Hanlon could very well just do a very good movie based on this last story.

It’s not that 100 Streets is bad, far from it, it’s an okay watch, the everyone does a good job, the story has some good points . . . but if you’ve seen one ensemble, you’ve seen them all.