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.

Film Review: Hamlet (dir by Michael Almereyda)


What if Hamlet was a hipster douchebag?

That appears to be the question at the heart of the 2000 film adaptation of William Shakespeare’s most famous play.  In this adaptation, a young Ethan Hawke plays a Hamlet who is no longer a melancholy prince but who is instead a film student with a petulant attitude.

As you probably already guessed, this is one of those modern day adaptations of Shakespeare.  Denmark is now a Manhattan-based corporation.  Elsinore is a hotel.  Hamlet ponders life while wandering around a Blockbuster and, at one point, the ghost of his father stands in front of a Pepsi machine.  While Shakespeare’s dialogue remains unchanged, everyone delivers their lives while wearing modern clothing.  It’s one of those things that would seem rather brave and experimental if not for the fact that modern day versions of Shakespeare have gone from being daring to being a cliché.

At the film’s start, the former CEO of the Denmark Corporation has mysteriously died and his brother, Claudius (Kyle MacLachlan), has not only taken over the company but he’s also married the widow, Gertrude (Diane Venora).  Hamlet comes home from film school, convinced that there has been a murder and his suspicions are eventually confirmed by the ghost of his father (Sam Shepard).  Meanwhile, poor Ophelia (Julia Stiles) takes pictures of flowers while her brother, Laertes (Liev Schreiber), glowers in the background.  Polonius (Bill Murray) offers up pointless advice while Fortinbras (Casey Affleck) is reimagined as a corporate investor and Rosencrantz (Steve Zahn) wears a hockey jersey.  Hamlet spends a lot of time filming himself talking and the Mousetrap is no longer a player but instead an incredibly over-the-top short film that will probably remind you of the killer video from The Ring.

I guess a huge part of this film’s appeal was meant to be that it featured a lot of people who you wouldn’t necessarily think of as being Shakespearean actors. Some of them did a surprisingly good job.  For instance, Kyle MacLachlan was wonderully villainous as Claudius and Steve Zahn was the perfect Rosencrantz.  Others, like Diane Venora and Liev Schreiber, were adequate without being particularly interesting.  But then you get to Bill Murray as Polonius and you start to realize that quirkiness can only take things so far.  Murray does a pretty good job handling Shakespeare’s dialogue but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s totally miscast as the misguided and foolish Polonius.  One could easily imagine Murray in the role of Osiric.  Though it may initially seem a stretch, one could even imagine him playing Claudius.  But he’s simply not right for the role of Polonius.  Murray’s screen presence is just too naturally snarky for him to be convincing as a character who alternates between being a “tedious, old fool” and an obsequious ass kisser.

Considering that he spends a large deal of the movie wearing a snow cap while wandering around downtown Manhattan, Ethan Hawke does a surprisingly good job as Hamlet.  Or, I should say, he does a good job as this film’s version of Hamlet.  Here, Hamlet is neither the indecisive avenger nor the Oedipal madman of previous adaptations.  Instead, he’s portrayed as being rather petulant and self-absorbed, which doesn’t necessarily go against anything that one might find within Shakespeare’s original text.  Hawke’s not necessarily a likable Hamlet but his interpretation is still a credible one.

At one point, while Hamlet thinks about revenge, we see that he’s watching Laurence Olivier’s version of Hamlet on television.  There’s Olivier talking to Yorick’s skull while Hawke watches.  It’s a scene that is somehow both annoying and amusing at the same time.  On the one hand, it feels rather cutesy and more than a little pretentious.  At the same time, it’s so over-the-top in its pretension that you can’t help but kind of smile at the sight of it.  To me, that scene epitomizes the film as a whole.  It’s incredibly silly but it’s so unapologetic that it’s easy to forgive.

Here’s The New Red Band Trailer For The Dead Don’t Die


I know that I should probably be more excited about The Dead Don’t Die, the upcoming zombie comedy film from Jim Jarmusch.

I mean, after all, Jim Jarmusch has made some brilliant films and I enjoyed his take on vampires, Only Lovers Left Alive.  Add to that, the film is full of wonderful actors, people like Adam Driver, Bill Murray, Selena Gomez, Steve Buscemi, and Tilda Swinton.  And yet, for whatever reason, I can’t summon up much enthusiasm for The Dead Don’t Die.  Everything that I’ve seen about it so far just seems to add up to one big “meh.”

Maybe it’s just the fact that there’s seems to be a new zombie movie every week.  Seriously, zombies were a lot more interesting before they went mainstream.

Anyway, The Dead Don’t Die opened the Cannes Film Festival yesterday and the response so far has been rather lukewarm, if respectful of the fact that the film was directed by a very important filmmaker.  Reading the reviews, you get the feeling that it’s a film that the reviewers wanted to like more than they actually did.

To coincide with the Cannes premiere, here’s a new redband trailer!  You can watch it below.  Maybe it’ll leave you with a bit more enthusiasm than it does me.

The Dead Don’t Die comes to theaters on June 14th.

6 Good Films That Were Not Nominated For Best Picture: The 1990s


Continuing our look at good films that were not nominated for best picture, here are 6 films from the 1990s.

Dazed and Confused (1993, dir by Richard Linklater)

 An ensemble cast that was full of future stars, including future Oscar winners Matthew McConaughey and Ben Affleck.  A killer soundtrack.  A script full of quotable lines.  Dazed and Confused seemed like it had everything necessary to score a Best Picture nomination and perhaps it would have if the film had been set in Los Angeles instead of the suburbs of Atlanta.  Unfortunately, Richard Linklater’s classic was overlooked.

Casino (1995, dir by Martin Scorsese)

Martin Scorsese’s epic gangster film had all the glitz of Vegas and Joe Pesci to boot!  Despite being one Scorsese’s best, the Academy largely overlooked it, giving a nomination to Sharon Stone and otherwise ignoring the film.

Normal Life (1996, dir by John McNaughton)

Life, love, crime, and death in the suburbs!  John McNaughton’s sadly overlooked film featured award-worthy performances from both Ashley Judd and Luke Perry and it definitely deserves to be better-known.  Unfortunately, the Academy overlooked this poignant true crime masterpiece.

Boogie Nights (1997, dir by Paul Thomas Anderson)

Paul Thomas Anderson first made a splash with this look at the porn industry in the 70s and 80s.  Along the way, he made Mark Wahlberg a star and briefly rejuvenated the career of Burt Reynolds.  Though both Reynolds and Julianne Moore received nominations, the film itself went unnominated.  Oh well.  At least Dirk Diggler got to keep his award for best newcomer.

Rushmore (1998, dir by Wes Anderson)

Though the film was nominated for its screenplay, the Wes Anderson classic missed out on best picture  Even more surprisingly, Bill Murray was not nominated for his funny yet sad performance.  Murray would have to wait until 2003’s Lost In Translation to receive his first nomination.  Meanwhile, a Wes Anderson film would not be nominated for best picture until Grand Budapest Hotel achieved the honor in 2015.  (That same year, Boyhood became the first Richard Linklater film to be nominated.)

10 Things I Hate About You (1999, dir by Gil Junger)

This wonderful take on Shakespeare not only introduced the world to Heath Ledger but it also proved that a teen comedy need not be stupid or misogynistic.  Because it was viewed as being a genre film (and a comedy to boot!), it didn’t get any love from the Academy but it continues to be loved by film watchers like me!

Up next, in an hour or so, the 2000s!

4 Shots From 4 Bill Murray Films: Cradle Will Rock, Lost In Translation, The Lost City, Zombieland


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking.

Happy Groundhog Day!

Today is the day when groundhogs across America will be asked whether or not they see their shadow and whether or not winter will be ending anytime soon.  Personally, I’m hoping for a lot more winter.  It still hasn’t snowed here in Texas and, if we don’t get any in February, we’ll probably have to wait until next December to get another opportunity!

Of course, the patron saint of Groundhog Day is Charlotte, the groundhog that was murdered by the mayor of New York a few years ago.  However, this is also a good day to give thanks for Bill Murray and his current place in the pop cultural universe.  So, in honor of Bill Murray, here are….

4 Shots From 4 Bill Murray Films

Cradle Will Rock (1999, dir by Tim Robbins)

Lost In Translation (2003, dir by Sofia Coppola)

The Lost City (2005, dir by Andy Garcia)

Zombieland (2009, dir by Ruben Fleischer)

8 Sure Shot Best Picture Nominees That Were Not


Let’s be honest.

Predicting the Oscar nominees is not an exact science.  The fact of the matter is that a lot of it is guesswork, especially in the early months of the year.

“Oh, Scorsese has a movie coming out?  Well, Martin Scorsese’s movies are always nominated!”

“Last year’s best seller is being adapted into a movie?  The Academy loves best sellers!”

“David Fincher’s directing High School Musical 4?  I LOVE DAVID FINCHER!  Best Picture for sure!”

That’s why, every year, there are films that seem like they’re guaranteed to reap Oscar glory.  These are the films that, in July, are listed on all of the awards sites as probable best picture nominees.  And every year, several of those sure shots turn out to actually be long shots.

Since Arleigh founded Through the Shattered Lens back in 2009, there’s been many guaranteed Best Picture contenders that, when the nominations were announced, were nowhere to be found.  Here are just 8 examples:

1. J. Edgar (dir by Clint Eastwood)

Remember how Leonardo DiCaprio was going finally win his first Oscar for playing J. Edgar Hoover in the 2011 Oscar biopic?  There was also some speculation that Armie Hammer would pick a supporting nod and, of course, the film was going to be a best picture nominee.  Then the movie came out, fell flat, and received not a single Oscar nomination.

2. The Dark Knight Rises (dir by Christopher Nolan)

I was not as big of a fan of this movie as some people who write for this site.  In fact, I thought it was kind of a mess.  Still, back in 2012, a lot of people assumed the Academy would make up for not nominating The Dark Knight by nominating the sequel.  (In a particular noxious example of fanboy culture, Christy Lemire was attacked online when she gave The Dark Knight Rises its first negative review.)  For all of the hyper and controversy, The Dark Knight Rises was totally ignored when the 2012 Oscar nominations were announced.

3. The Monuments Men (dir by George Clooney)

As strange as it may seem today, this now-forgotten World War II film was originally considered to be a surefire Oscar contender.  Throughout most of 2013, the majority of the experts on Gold Derby listed The Monuments Men as their number one prediction for Best Picture.  The logic was that it was based on an interesting true story, it featured Bill Murray in a serious role, and it was directed by George Clooney.  Then, suddenly, the release date was pushed back to 2014.  That was the first sign of trouble.  Then the movie came out and it turned out to be a complete mess, one that underused Murray and which reminded us that, regardless of his skill as an actor, George Clooney is a remarkably dull director.

4. Lee Daniel’s The Butler (dir by Lee Daniels)

From 2013, this is a good example of a film that tried so hard to be an Oscar contender that it basically knocked itself right out of contention.  Between the blind and dated worship of JFK and John Cusack’s performance as Richard Nixon, this film almost seemed like a parody of a bad Oscar contender.

5. Interstellar (dir by Christopher Nolan)

Personally, I liked 2014’s Interstellar more than I liked The Dark Knight Rises but ultimately, this turned out to be just another Christopher Nolan film that didn’t get much of a reaction from the Academy.  (Despite the nominations given to both Dunkirk and Inception, it’s hard not to feel that the Academy will always resent Nolan for being both successful and ambitious.)

6. Joy (dir by David O. Russell)

Many of us thought it would be one of the films to be nominated for best picture of 2015.  That was until we actually saw the damn thing.  David O. Russell’s worst movie still managed to net Jennifer Lawrence a nomination but not much else.

7. Silence (dir by Martin Scrosese)

Martin Scrosese’s 2016 passion product was expected to be a major contender and, on many sites, it was listed as a probable winner all the way through December.  However, when the nominations were announced, Silence only received one nomination, for cinematography.

8. Logan (dir by James Mangold)

At the start of 2017, a lot of critics stated that Logan might be the first comic book movie ever nominated for Best Picture.  For a month or two, I certainly thought it would be.  Ultimately, though, it only picked up a nomination for adapted screenplay.

Which 2018 sure short will turn into a long shot?  We’ll find out next year!