The Dead Don’t Die

I’m going to be frank, I have never seen a film by Jim Jarmusch before. He has made a dozen films I have heard of and several that never crossed my radar. It was clear from the aesthetic I could see in promotional materials that his style is idiosyncratic and idyllic. I cannot say how representative the current film is of his movies, but I can say that if “The Dead Don’t Die” is typical, I don’t think I made a bad choice by avoiding his movies. It’s not that the film is bad, it is simply not in sync with the way I want my cinema experience to play out. I heard high praise for many of his other movies and if I come across them I might stop down and give them a try, but I will not be seeking them out.

The trailer for this film suggests a comedy full of dry wit and zombie action. They have done a good job selling this movie to an unsuspecting audience. The film’s sensibility is very different from the way it plays in the promotional material. This movie is slow moving, just like the zombies. The three main characters are so dead pan for most of the film that it is a relief when one of them finally shouts at another. This is the most passive group of police officers you will ever encounter. The zombie attacks are not particularly horrific, they are just perfunctory and slow. I suspect that what Jarmusch has done is made one of his character pieces and just hung it on the genre here to draw some interest. Well it worked, and now I have seen one of his movies.

Yes, it is a comedy, so you can expect some deconstruction of the genre as a way to develop humor, but it goes further than that. It feels as if the movie is mocking us for watching a horror film in the first place and then subverting our expectations of humor by isolating the jokes so far from anything else that is funny, that you may wonder if it really is supposed to be a comedy. There are so many “meta” moments in the film that feel like a put down rather than a wink or a nod. As the two police officers figure out what is going on by referencing the script and their lines, I began to feel left out rather than included in the joke. There are a few isolated laughs in the movie, but nothing is ever sustained for long and then there are huge passages of time where nothing seems to happen. Three kids driving in a car passing around an energy drink does nothing to enhance the story. Three other kids in a juvenile detention center appear several times in the movie and they do nothing interesting, have no relevance to the plot, and they disappear without any resolution. It certainly feels like something that would be part of an independent film project, but not the kind of independent film I’d want to go to.

The cast is one of the selling points of the film, it is large and packed with performers you might enjoy seeing on screen. The only ones who get much chance to do anything are Tilda Swinton and Adam Driver. In another one of those quirky moments that highlights that indeed the film maker himself is just a hipster from Cleveland, Swinton walks out of the story in an incongruous manner completely detached from the events of the story. The biggest laugh Adam Driver gets is when he shows up at a crime scene in his personal automobile. Meanwhile Steve Buscemi , has to play an exaggerated version of a Trump voter, Danny Glover finally is too old for this shit, and Carol Kane is a one word one joke cameo.

Maybe if you are a fan of the directors style, you will enjoy this film more than I did. I found the on the nose criticism of genre conventions to be off putting and the lack of pacing to be annoying. When the zombies do start to appear, the film picks up for half an hour or so, but then it meanders off onto paths that lead no where and a conclusion that is so self satisfying as to be a disappointment. That’s right, zombie movies usually end on a down note, so let’s ape that but make fun of it at the same time? I just didn’t care anymore. Marketing may make this film Jarmusch’s most successful box office result, but it is not a movie that will earn much love from those who see it under false expectations.

Little Shop of Horrors Director’s Cut Fathom Events

I loved this movie when it first came out. The humor is sly, the songs are hum-able and the performances were hysterical. I’d actually read about the changes made to the film before it was released. There was an article in the LA Times back in 1986 and Frank Oz talked very openly about how the previews just lost all their energy and enthusiasm when the originally planned ending was shown.  “Little Shop of Horrors” is based on a Roger Corman cheapo film, that was turned into an off-broadway production and it was getting a big screen treatment. It’s not as if they were hacking away at a classic and deciding that  Rick and Ilsa should end up together. The stinger at the end of the film still kept the biting edge alive, without losing the two characters that we had just spent an hour learning to love.

Tonight’s Fathom event features the original ending and I have to say there was a lot about it that was impressive, but they made the right choice thirty-three years ago. To call this a director’s cut is to ignore that Frank Oz himself could see what was happening to the audience, and that is why changes were made. The whole of the movie would be done ten minutes before the film ended. The originally planned ending plays out like a Joe Dante film. Not that that is a bad thing, but it is so different from the tone that was established in the first two acts. We start off with a great musical that sets up scene and characters in act one. Act two establishes the drama and romance that makes a story worth paying attention to, and then act three turns into a Japanese Monster movie with repetitive buildings collapsing. It might have felt like a bigger film but it is not a better film. I had seen some of this material on YouTube but in black and white. There was supposed to be a special edition fifteen years ago but it got pulled at the last moment.  It is available now so this is really a commercial for the blu-ray.

Everyone in the movie is terrific. Seeing this tonight reminds me of how much I miss having Rick Moranis in a movie. I also could not believe that Steve Martin was ignored for a best supporting actor nomination, he is pitch perfect in his role. Because the songs were from the original stage play, they were not eligible for nomination, with the exception of one original song written mostly for the new ending. “Mean Green Mother from Outer Space” may not be a classic, but it was a way to honor the music and lyrics of Alan Menkin and Howard Ashman. Of course two years later, they would be showered with awards for their work on “The Little Mermaid” and the prolific work that follows is impressive.Ellen Greene was so good in this film. She has had a nice career but this most certainly was her crowning achievement and it came early.

This might have been a film I saw with Bob and Susan Gass along with my wife and Dan Hasegawa. I have a distinct memory of talking with Bob about the Greek Chorus of singers and him responding to it because he did not really like musicals. I could be conflating this conversation with the theatrical experience however. I do know that I saw the film again at the home of a Glendale Physician who had a spectacular view from a hillside residence in Glendale. My friend’s sister was house sitting for the Doctor and she invited us to come and look at his home theater. There was a descending screen and a projector that was hooked up to a Laser Disc player.  We looked at his discs and selected”Little Shop” for our evenings pleasure. It sounded great and the picture left VHS presentations in the dust. It was just a couple years later that I made the jump to Laser myself.

 

This is the end of a long week that held some sadness for our family. This seemed just the recipe to get us back on track after the disruption and frustrations. We ate popcorn and basically sang along with the movie. “Suddenly Seymour” and “Somewhere that’s Green” are standouts for me, but I giggled throughout the film at the clever lyrics of Howard Ashman.

The Jungle Book (2016)

There are many in the film community who will deride the idea of remakes, live action or otherwise. It seems to suggest a shortage of creativity somewhere in the script department. I understand that feeling and I myself often hesitate to venture into a new version of an old film. You don’t want to be disappointed or have your fond memory of the original besmirched. At the same time, if the movie touched you in some way the first time, there may be something to the subject that can affect you again, and why someone would not want that is hard for me to fathom. Of course it is also a money issue, but every movie is a money issue and remakes and sequels do not always guarantee results despite the hopes of producers everywhere. The new version of “The Jungle Book” is a live action remake of the last film that Disney himself oversaw. The animated version is a different take on Rudyard Kipling’s stories from the 1942 version. So we have been here before. I was encouraged to go by word of mouth and several sources insisted that the 3D version is the one I wanted to see, so I used up all my accumulated AMC Stubbs points and pulled the trigger on a 3D IMAX (FAUXMAX) screening this morning.

It was a delightful experience and lived up to most of my hopes and it included a couple of surprises as well. The story closely follows the tale as it was told in the animated version, and here is the surprise, they even included a couple of songs. Admittedly the animals in this version are as animated as they were in 1967, but since they are photo-real, it was still a little bit of a shock that they spoke and sang. One of the best things that the film has going for it is the voice casting. Bill Murray as Baloo just about perfect. He is not a singer and the presentation of “The Bare Necessities” is not a show stopping moment but rather a casual way of telling us who the character is supposed to be. Similarly,  Christopher Walken as King Louie is no Louie Prima but he gives an engaging almost rap like delivery of his signature song. The film has humorous moments but it does not have the comic visuals that would go along with this sequence. Probably a good choice.

The most valuable addition to the story here is the integration of the wolf pack into the story. There is a code that they live by which becomes a turning point for the animals in the story, and the family development makes Mowgli much more a part of the pack. That also makes what happens in the climax of the film more satisfying and exciting. We got a little bit more about Mowgli’s background and a clearer sense of what it is that drives the villain of the piece, Shere Khan. Idris Elba does a menacing voice that has authority, but it lacks the snarly sophistication that George Sanders brought to the role. Bagheera is voiced by Ben Kingsley and he is wise and loyal without the fussiness that Sebastian Cabot added. The changes are subtle ones and they seem to be designed to make this more “real” version of the story work for the universe that is created here.

Obviously, the real stars of the movie are the technicians who have brought the jungle to life. They make all the animals real, in spite of the size perspectives and physical details that have to be worked out. It is a complicated job and if you look at the credits for the film, you will see hundreds of names, most of whom I’m sure Director Jon Favreau never met, much less spoke to on a daily basis. There was an interesting location id in the final credits saying the film was shot entirely in the City of Los Angeles. Guns and Roses may think of it as the jungle, but the closest it comes in looks are some bad neighborhoods, there are no cliffs, rivers, or lush Savannah anywhere around here, this was all created in the computer.

Young Neel Seethi is the star of the film. He is credible in the action sequences but a little stiff in the dramatic scenes. Child actors are tough, they have great presence sometimes but they may have limited range at their young age and I think that this is the case here. The action scene at the end is pretty spectacular, although there are several scenes where the visuals impress, including a mudslide/stampede sequence. The fire effects and the the trees in the last action scene are rendered in a way that makes the #D investment worth the price, but there were dozens of shots like that throughout the film, so I will add my voice to those who say go 3D. Stick around for the credits and you get Scarlett Johanson’s version of “Trust in Me”, which did not make the film but does play and remind us of the character and the earlier movie, without having it’s specter hanging over this film the whole time.