Playing Catch-Up With The Films Of 2019: The Dead Don’t Die (by Jim Jarmusch)


Uh-oh, the dead are rising again.

Seriously, I’ve lost track of how many zombie films I’ve seen over the past ten years.  This last decade was the decade when zombies went mainstream and I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about it.  Zombies have become so overexposed that they’re no longer as scary as they once were.  I mean, there’s even PG-rated zombie movies now!  How the Hell did that happen?  Everyone’s getting in on the act.

There were a brief flurry of excitement when Jim Jarmusch announced that his next film would be a zombie film.  Myself, I was a bit skeptical and the release of a terrible trailer didn’t really help matters.  The fact that the film was full of recognizable names also made me uneasy.  Would this be an actual zombie film or would it just be a bunch of actors slumming in the genre?  The film opened the Cannes Film Festival and received mixed reviews.  By the time it opened in the United States, it seemed as if everyone had forgotten about The Dead Don’t Die.  It was widely chalked up as being one of Jim Jarmusch’s rare misfires, like The Limits of Control.

Last month, I finally watched The Dead Don’t Die and you know what?  It’s a flawed film and yes, there are times when it even becomes an annoying film.  That said, I still kind of liked it.

In The Dead Don’t Die, the Earth’s rotation has been altered, the result of polar fracking.  No one seems to be particularly concerned about it.  Instead, they’re just kind of annoyed by the fact that the sun is now staying up in the sky a bit longer than usual.  Cell phones and watches stop working.  House pets abandon and occasionally attack their owners.  In the rural town of Centerville, the dead rise from their graves and start to eat people.  Whether or not that’s connected to the Earth’s rotation is anyone’s guess.  (I like to think that the whole thing about the Earth’s rotation being altered was Jarmusch’s homage to Night of the Living Dead‘s suggestion that the zombies were the result of space radiation.)

We meet the inhabitant of Centerville.  Zelda (Tilda Swinton) is the enigmatic mortician.  Bobby (Caleb Landry Jones) is the horror movie expert.  Farmer Miller (Steve Buscemi) is the red-hatted farmer who hates everyone.  Zoe (Selena Gomez) is the traveler who is staying at the run-down motel with two friends.  Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) is the police chief who wants to save everyone but Farmer Miller.  Ronnie (Adam Driver) and Mindy (Chloe Sevigny) are police officers.  They’re all in the middle of a zombie apocalypse but very few of them seem to really be that surprised by any of it.

Throughout the film, we hear Sturgill Simpson singing a wonderful song called The Dead Don’t Die.  Cliff demands to know why the song is always one the radio.  Ronnie replies that it’s the “theme song.”  Ronnie, we discover, has an answer for almost everything.  He explains that he knows what’s going to happen because he’s the only one that “Jim” allowed to read the entire script.  Cliff isn’t happy about that.

That’s the type of film that The Dead Don’t Die is.  It’s an elaborate in-joke, a zombie movie about people who know that they’re in a zombie movie but who are too detached to actually use that information to their advantage.  The script has been written so they have no choice but to do what the script says regardless of whether it makes them happy or not.  It’s a clever conceit, though a bit of a thin one to build a 103-minute movie around.

As I said, the film can occasionally be an endurance test.  Everyone is so deadpan that you actually find yourself getting angry at them.  But, whenever you’re on the verge of giving up, there will be a clever line that will draw you back in or the theme song will start playing again.  Bill Murray and Adam Driver are fun to watch and Driver reminds us that he’s actually a good comedic actor.  (In the year of Marriage Story and Rise of Skywalker, that can be easy to forget.)

It’s a flawed film and definitely not one of Jim Jarmusch’s best.  At the same time, though, The Dead Don’t Die is not as bad as you may have heard.

Playing Catch-up: Yoga Hosers (dir by Kevin Smith)


I have to admit that the main reason I watched Yoga Hosers is because I’m currently in the process of making out my “worst of 2016” list and everyone that I’ve talked to has insisted that Yoga Hosers happens to belong on that list.

Well, for once, I actually happen to agree with other people.  At the risk of losing my contrarian reputation,  Yoga Hosers definitely belongs on any list of the worst films of 2016.

I mean … Look, I get it.

I know that making crappy-looking films with juvenile humor has, in the past, worked out very well for Kevin Smith.  It’s made him an icon.  It’s won him legions of fans.  Some of my best friends love Kevin Smith and his movies.  I, personally, appreciate that he’s a fan of Degrassi.

And I know that there are literally thousands of interviews with Kevin Smith where he talks about the fact that he’s not the world’s greatest visual stylist.  He always pokes fun at the fact that he rarely moves the camera.  He’s open about the fact that he’s better at writing dialogue than filming it.  And I also know that he has regularly encouraged people not to take anything that he does too seriously.

I get all of that.

But here’s the thing … Yoga Hosers is really, really bad.  And Kevin Smith openly admitting that he’s not a very good director doesn’t make Yoga Hosers any less painful to sit through.

It’s actually kind of sad that Yoga Hosers isn’t better.  The film deals with two 15 year-old Canadian convenience store workers.  They’re both named Colleen and they’re best friends.  They’re also very well-played, by Harley Quinn Smith and Lily-Rose Depp.  In fact, they both give such likable performances that it actually makes the film just a little more bearable than it otherwise would have been.  And, hey — Kevin specifically made Yoga Hosers so that his daughter could have a starring role.  That’s more than my Dad ever for me when I was fifteen!

But, God, the movie is just so bad.

And by bad, I mean boring.  It’s not even so bad that it’s good.  It’s just a boring, bad movie.

Of course, If you just heard a rough outline of the film’s plot, you would probably think that Yoga Hosers was destined for cult immortality.  The Colleens are forced to spend a Friday night working at the store and they end up having to fight off a bunch of Nazi bratwursts, all of whom seeking to continue the hateful legacy of a Canadian Nazi played, in painfully unfunny flashbacks, by poor Haley Joel Osment.  Johnny Depp shows up as Guy LaPointe, a “man-hunter” who has a huge mustache and who speaks with a thick accent that’s obviously supposed to be hilarious.

But seriously, it takes forever for those little Nazis to show up. First, you have to deal with about an hour of the Colleens obsessing over their phones and saying “aboot” a lot.  This is one of the slowest films that I’ve ever seen and Kevin Smith is not the type of director to make a joke and then move on after he gets a laugh.  No, instead, he’s going to make a joke and then make it a second time and then keep pounding you over the head with it.  Watching Yoga Hosers is the equivalent of having Kevin Smith in your face for 90 minutes, screaming, “This is funny, right!?  RIGHT!?”

For instance, do you think it’s funny that Canadians say “aboot” and “oot?”  If you do, Yoga Hosers might be for you.  Or it still might not be, because how many times can you laugh at the Colleens saying “aboot?”  After the 10th time, you’ve gotten the joke but rest assured, you’re going to hear it a hundred more times.  Do Canadians ever get tired of Americans demanding that they say “aboot?”  I think I would.  I’m from Texas and I know I get sick of people from up north going crazy whenever I say “y’all.”

I think the main problem with Yoga Hosers is that Kevin Smith apparently didn’t trust his audience to pick up on all of the film’s comedic details.  Hence, the film never makes a joke without then beating us over the head to make sure that we understand that we’ve just heard or seen a joke.  For instance, it’s clever that, in Yoga Hosers, Canadian cereal is called “Pucky Charms.”  I saw one of the Colleens walking around with an open box of Pucky Charms and I smiled and I thought it was a clever little joke.  But it becomes less clever once Smith starts to have other characters specifically point out that Canadian cereal is called “Pucky Charms.”  Then it becomes just another mildly funny joke that quickly gets old.

I love Canada!  And I’m pretty sure Kevin Smith is a nice guy too.  But seriously, Yoga Hosers is the worst.