The Dead Don’t Die

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What a disappointment! What a waste of talent!

It is true that The Dead Don’t Die actually was the opening film of the 2019 Cannes Festival last month. It still stinks.

Who’s to blame? Jim Jarmusch. He wrote the script. He directed. He’s the guy responsible of the slow pace of the film’s feeble story. He’s the guy who is stingy with the funny stuff. For a “zombie comedy,” the laughs are scarce.

The cast includes people you know and like. Bill Murray is a police chief in the typical American small town of Centerville. Adam Driver is his partner. Chloe Sevigny is also on the force. Tilda Swinton is the new undertaker in town. Tom Waits is a local hermit. Also in the cast: Danny Glover, Rosie Perez, Steve Buscemi, Selena Gomez, among other familiar faces.

The set-up: The world is in a minor panic after fracking messes with the earth’s rotation. This triggers, among other events, a return to the above ground world by the previously dead at the Centerville cemetery. It’s a decent framework for comedy storytelling but it never gets traction.

Sturgill Simpson’s theme song is played several times in the film. His song is okay but the running gag is weak.

Look, I’m sure people worked hard to make this movie. I respect their efforts. But The Dead Don’t Die is one you should wait for and watch via streaming or cable. Not worth the price of a ticket.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hail, Caesar!

In 1951, movies are huge. Their stars are big. Their colors are bright, if not garish. Television has not yet become a national obsession. In Los Angeles, Capitol Studios fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) loves his job even if his days and nights are spent putting out fires.

In Hail, Caesar!, the Coen brothers sprinkle their new film with fully realized scenes like those that electrified the movies Hollywood made in the postwar, pre-TV era. It’s a trick comparable to the addition of compelling music performances to brighten up a melancholy story in their most recent film, 2013’s Inside Llewyn Davis. Music also spiced up their 2000 release Oh, Brother Where Art Thou? It worked then and it works now.

Among the films in production at Capital in the day-and-a-half that Hail, Caesar! takes place is a film called “Hail, Caesar” starring Baird Whitlock (George Clooney). Whitlock is kidnapped after a spiked drink he chugs in a scene knocks him unconscious. A missing star is just one of Mannix’s problems.

DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johanssen) stars in a swimming pool scene that recalls Esther Williams movies. Mannix works to make sure news of Moran’s out-of-wedlock child is kept quiet.

Director Laurence Larentz (Ralph Fiennes) pouts when Mannix forces him to cast handsome young cowboy Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) in a sophisticated society film.

When Mannix seeks approval from a panel of clergymen for the script for “Hail, Caesar” and its depiction of Christ, they protest.

Twin sister gossip columnists (and bitter rivals) Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Tilda Swinton) threaten to write stories damaging to Mannix’s stars.

When Mannix drops in on an editor (Frances McDormand) and asks her to show him some footage, she nearly chokes when her scarf gets caught in the film.

A cushy job offer Mannix receives from Lockheed presents a chance to move into a more stable industry and spend more time with his family. Will he take it?

Among the film’s best scenes is a dance number featuring Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum), channeling Gene Kelly. Gurney sings and he and three other guys dance on tabletops. They lament that where they’re going there will be no dames. Near the end of the scene, the performance takes an unexpected turn.

Another features Mannix setting Whitlock straight with a bit of physical discipline.

Hail, Caesar! is a movie I enjoy greatly. The Coen brothers present a whacked-out story with damaged characters and several juicy 50s-era “movie within a movie” scenes. Brolin is excellent. Clooney gets to indulge in some ridiculous overacting. And Swinton continues to be one of the most versatile actors around.

As can be said about almost any Coens film, Hail, Caesar! may not be everybody’s cup of tea. You may walk out muttering WTFs. But you may also be delighted. It’s worth a shot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trainwreck

Amy Schumer homers in her first major league at-bat. Trainwreck is funny and she is the movie’s title star. Just as importantly, she also gets the lone credit on the “written by” card.

Amy Townsend (Schumer) is not a loser. It’s her love life that’s a trainwreck. She’s a woman who men pursue. But most of her hookups are just one-night stands, a few of which are hilariously depicted in the film.

She’s a writer for a Maxim-like men’s magazine called S’Nuff. Her editor Dianna (Tilda Swinton) assigns her to write a profile of a sports medicine doctor, Aaron Conners (Bill Hader), whose patients include several big name pro jocks. Among them is LeBron James (played by, in a casting coup, LeBron James, who turns out to be an excellent performer).

Following her first visit with Aaron, he takes her to dinner. They spend the night together and begin a normal relationship, which is not Amy’s normal M.O. The inevitable bumps in the road occur leading to a happy resolution and solid laughter along the way. Along with the raunch, there’s some real sweetness.

The cast also includes Brie Larson as Amy’s sister Kim and Mike Birbiglia as Kim’s husband Tom. Colin Quinn is wonderful as Amy and Kim’s cantankerous, ailing father. Daniel Radcliffe and Marisa Tomei appear in an art house film that Amy attends with one of her less refined boyfriends (WWE wrestler John Cena). Ezra Miller and SNL vet Vanessa Bayer appear as Amy’s co-workers.

Director Judd Apatow has delivered raunchy romantic comedies with a heart before. He has nurtured talented actor/writers before. (See Seth Rogen.) Apatow’s a pro who knows where the good/bad taste line lies and dances all around both sides of it. Schumer’s script (which he acknowledges he tweaked) has some holes, but is fresh and funny.

Amy Schumer is riding high on a positive wave generated by a successful Comedy Central TV series and tons of good media publicity for Trainwreck. The horrible comments made earlier this year by internet trolls regarding her physical appearance—she’s not the traditionally glamorous babe seen in most rom-coms—have led to backlash in her favor.

Trainwreck would be a respectable effort if it came from a veteran. Coming from a rookie writer/actor, it’s damned impressive.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

If the Marx Brothers were still making movies, they might’ve made The Grand Budapest Hotel. “Zany” is not a word I often use, but it’s the best word I know to describe TGBH.

Like the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup, The Grand Budapest Hotel is set mainly in the 1930’s in a fictional country with an oddly named lead character. Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx) ruled Freedonia; Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes) works in the imaginary European country Zubrowka.

Director and co-writer Wes Anderson has given us another movie with visual treats galore. This was suggested by the film’s preview trailer, which is better than many actual movies. Seeing TGBH in all its glory proves the product is as good as its tease.

The story is told via a triple flashback. A young girl opens the movie by reading a book about the hotel. Anderson cuts to the author (Tom Wilkinson) who flashes back a few decades to a time where his younger self (Jude Law) gets the lowdown from Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham).  Moustafa recalls his early days as hotel lobby boy (Tony Revolori) and his adventures with hotel concierge Gustave.

When the hotel truly was grand, dowagers (older ladies with money/property) would visit the hotel where Gustave would service them sexually. Madame D (Tilda Swinton) was among his favorites.

Following her passing, Gustave and his lobby boy take a rail journey to the funeral where they manage to steal a valuable work of art (which was supposedly bequeathed to Gustave). This is followed by Gustave’s imprisonment, which leads to a daring breakout. Throw in a wonderful wintertime chase scene on skis and sleds and the ludicrous story becomes even more bizarre.

The film’s cast includes Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Willam DeFoe, Edward Norton, Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Saoirse Ronan and Jason Schwartzman. Of course, Bill Murray is there. Murray has become an Anderson “director’s trademark.”

In 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson seemed to have dialed down the quirk factor a notch or two. In The Grand Budapest Hotel, it’s back up there. As he did with the young leads in Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson has cast an unknown in a pivotal role. The rookie Revolori does a more than decent job as the lobby boy.

The Grand Budapest Hotel may be too weird for those who prefer their comedy more direct. But if you are among the growing legion of Wes Anderson fans and/or you have a taste for something goofy, silly and, yes, zany, do not miss this movie! (Rated R.)

We Need To Talk About Kevin—((Kid Shock))

WNTTAK is not a “feel good” movie. It’s just the opposite. But if you miss it, you will miss Tilda Swinton delivering one of 2011’s best acting performances.

Tilda plays a woman for whom motherhood is not a happy experience. Baby Kevin makes noise. Child Kevin is a pill. Teenage Kevin is not unlike how one might imagine Rosemary’s Baby would’ve turned out.

Is Kevin a mental case or just a bad person? Did Tilda’s mothering cause him to turn out the way he did? OR did Kevin’s demeanor trigger something in Tilda? Is she brave or a fool for staying in her community after Kevin commits a violent act? These are among the questions the movie asks but does not answer completely.

John C. Reilly stars as Kevin’s father, but does not share the deep anguish that controls Tilda’s very being from the moment of Kevin’s birth.

Director Lynne Ramsey creates tension and signals alarm with her not-at-all-subtle use of the color red.

WNTTAK will not leave you unaffected. You are likely to be more greatly affected if you are a parent. Tilda’s character’s pains and frustrations are immense. Most parents have had similar feelings, but never on so grand a scale. Let Tilda Swinton show you—in her great performance—just how bad it can get.

Irrelevant trivia note: WNTTAK is the only movie I have ever seen with a credit for a “guinea pig costumer.”