Warner Bros. Pictures.
Warner Bros. Pictures.
It’s true what they say about “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” (2019) — its script is almost completely brainless. It’s got about as much depth as the old “G.I. Joe” cartoon (1983-1986) that played after school when we were kids.
But I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t enjoy this. And I’m sure you know why — the big-budget, big-MONSTER special effects. They were spectacular — and sometimes they approached being unexpectedly beautiful. (It’s hard to explain here, but our eyes are treated to more than skyscraper-tall brawls between “titans.” We get a light show too — thanks to some confusing, thinly scripted, but nonetheless dazzling energy-based monster powers. It was really damned good.)
Add to this a generally excellent cast, and you might be able to forgive the screenplay for insulting your intelligence. I know that most people would name Ken Watanabe as the actor who truly classes up the joint. And there’s plenty of truth to that, but I myself would name Charles Dance as the movie’s biggest standout. The man’s craft is goddam Shakespearean, and I think he’s equal of the likes of Patrick Stewart or Ian McKellen. And I’d like to think that his throwaway line, “Long live the King,” was at least partly a fan-service reference to what I’m guessing is his best known role — Tywin Lannister on HBO’s “Game of Thrones” (2011-2019).
Based on my own enjoyment, I’d rate this movie an 8 out of 10 — with the caveat that I’m a kid at heart when it comes to giant monsters. If you’re the same way, then “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” might just become a guilty pleasure that you return to more than once.
“Vanishing on 7th Street” (2011) kicks off with an extraordinarily good start — it’s begins as an especially frightening supernatural apocalyptic thriller. Nearly everyone in the City of Detroit disappears at once, leaving only several survivors to cope with ubiquitous shadow figures that wish to visit the same fate upon them. The opening scenes completely intrigued me, and one early moment made me jump.
Hayden Christensen is good enough in the lead role — he actually is a competent actor, despite the movies for which he gained infamy in the early 2000’s. (And I won’t name these widely panned films in which he starred, because I don’t want to start any wars with its ardent fanbase.) Thandie Newton is predictably quite good, John Leguizamo is predictably awesome, and the young Jacob Latimore is terrific too.
How sad, then, that this creatively conceived thriller so utterly loses its way. The film stumbles completely by the end of its first hour. We spend far too much time listening to four characters bicker in an isolated stronghold while the failing lights flicker around them. We also visit the same basic scare sequence a bit too often. (It’s pretty damned scary when the shadow figures encircle our protagonists at first, only to recoil when they’re repelled by the light. But it gets progressively less scary after the fifth or sixth time the movie shows this happening.)
There are enormous logistical questions about the plot’s setup and elements, too. Virtually all are left unanswered by the movie’s somewhat ambiguous ending. Was this … intentional? Was the movie intended as some sort of open-ended abstract art film, instead of a complete horror story? It certainly didn’t seem that way from its detailed and effective early scenes.
I can’t actually recommend this film. But it’s … different and interesting, I’ll grant it that. Based on the parts of it that scared me and piqued my interest, I’d rate it a 5 out of 10.
“The Dead Don’t Die” indeed has the greatest zombie cast ever assembled. Seriously, just look at that poster below. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the best zombie screenplay ever written, or the best direction ever seen in a zombie film. This would-be classic was a surprisingly average viewing experience; I’d rate it a 6 out of 10.
I almost feel guilty for feeling so unenthusiastic, because I like so many of these actors so much. Bill Murray and Adam Driver actually are quite funny as the movie’s two torpid police officers; Chloe Sevigny makes them even funnier as their panicked straight man. And the addition of Tilda Swinton’s zany Scottish samurai undertaker makes them the perfect comedic quartet. (I think this is the first time I’ve seen Sevigny in a movie, as she mostly does arthouse films — including 2003’s ignominiously reviled “The Brown Bunny.” And I had no idea that Driver was this talented, given his milquetoast turn as a villain in the most recent spate of “Star Wars” films.) I honestly would love to see the four of these characters battle apocalyptic threats in a series of comedies — aliens, vampires, killer robots from the future … whatever.
Other big names shine here as well. Tom Waits and Caleb Landry Jones are both surprisingly funny, delivering little bouts of quirky, laconic, character-driven dialogue in a film that seems intended as mashup between “Cannery Row” (1982) and the first two “Return of the Living Dead” films (1985, 1988). (I first saw Jones as the creepy kid in 2010’s “The Last Exorcism;” I suspect that more of my friends will recognize him as Banshee from 2011’s “X-Men: First Class.”)
The problem is this — although many of the characters are engaging, they populate a subdued, disconnected movie that is frequently quite slow. Writer-director Jim Jarmusch’s heart is in the right place — assembling this oddball ensemble cast for the mashup I mentioned above is actually a terrific idea. But “The Dead Don’t Die” ultimately lacks punch, and even a tongue-in-cheek horror-comedy needs a minimum of tension. The movie is a bit too lethargic to become the truly great film that the trailer led us to hope for.
Complicating matters is the fact that that several groups of characters follow story arcs that go nowhere — sometimes literally. (Where did the kids from the juvenile detention center run off to? Why were they included at all? Not much happens to them and they have nothing to do with the rest of the movie.) This movie often felt like a number of comedy skits stitched together — some were admittedly quite funny, but they didn’t add up to a cohesive story.
Oh, well. It’s possible that you will like “The Dead Don’t Die” much more than I did. I might be the wrong audience for this, as I’ve never cared much for horror-comedies. (The aforementioned “Return of the Living Dead” films are on the short list of those that I like.) Your mileage may vary.