Tag Archives: X-Men: First Class

A review of “The Dead Don’t Die” (2019)

“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.

 

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“Annabelle” (2014) scared the $#@& out of me!!

“Annabelle” seems like precisely the sort of horror film that shouldn’t work.  Thinly drawn characters wind their way through a series of overly familiar tropes, including, of course, the titular possessed doll.  These characters make the same baffling decisions that only people in horror movies are stupid enough to make, and cavalierly remain in dangerous situations long after you and I would have gotten the hell out of there.  The film is so reminiscent of “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968) that for a while I actually wondered if it was a remake.  And the script is pretty clunky — especially the coda at the church.

Yet … “Annabelle” still works.  This is a frikkin’ scary movie.  I’d give it a 9 out of 10.

There are a couple of reasons for the movie’s success, I think.  First, it’s beautifully shot and directed throughout an especially creepy apartment building. Our supernatural antagonists are (at first) wisely seen down long corridors and stairwells.  There are some static shots of the doll but none of the silly cut-and-cut-back tricks to explain that it is moving on its own.

Second, there is no ham-handed CGI to make the action cartoonish; there are only sparsely placed practical effects, and they work quite well.  This felt like an effective old-fashioned 1970’s horror movie about the devil.

Third, Annabelle Wallis does well in her role as the wife in the young married couple targeted by Satan. She underplays it quite a bit, but she’s still a good actress.  (The beautiful Wallis is none other than the college student that young Charles Xavier tried to pick up in 2011’s “X-Men: First Class.”  And, yes, she does have the same first name as the demonic doll.  Weird world.)

I was confused at first about the awkward and confusing bookends to the film; they’re distracting and unnecessary.  Wikipedia informs me that these are intended to remind viewers that this movie is a spinoff of “The Conjuring” (2013), which is regarded by horror fans as superior to this film.  I guess I’ll need to watch that soon.

 

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Just a few quick thoughts about “X-Men: Days of Future Past.”

And, no, that is not a lame attempt at a “Quicksilver” pun.   Honestly.

I really, really liked it.  It isn’t my favorite “X-Men” movie — those will always be what is arguably the darkest of the franchise (“X2: X-Men United”) and the lightest (“X-Men: First Class”).  But it’s definitely a nice addition to the series.

Here are a few reactions, with minimal spoilers, in no particular order:

  • What a radical shift in tone from “First Class.”  Way to bring the pathos, Bryan Singer.  The opening scenes are brutal, and there are many major character deaths.  Some of them occur off screen; others do not.  Some are violent.  I do believe this is the first superhero movie I have ever seen in which a major character and fan favorite has his or her head crushed, in close-up, during the opening action set piece.
  • Speaking of the opening segment, will somebody please validate my uber-nerd-dom and tell me that they saw what I saw?!  I KNEW that the overflying airships that are dropping The Sentinels looked familiar.  Am I nuts, or are those none other than facsimiles of the lone “Valhalla” airship depicted in the woefully underappreciated “Marvel 2099” universe from the mid-1990’s?!  If Singer intended that, it’s a terrificly obscure and fun shout-out to 40-year-old comic book fans.  (Ahem.)
  • There isn’t any unnecessary exposition to bore us.  This is a major issue in comic book movies.  We can forgive the Christopher Nolan films for revisiting Bruce Wayne’s metamorphosis, because those films were exceptionally well made.  The new Spider-Man films?  Not so much.  In “Future Past,” we have thankfully no flashbacks for every single character.  We’re briefly told that there is a global pogrom waged by The Sentinels against mutants and innocent humans, and that Xavier and Magneto have joined forces to fight the good fight.  Then we’re shown various heroes with various superpowers fighting.  We don’t need to know all of their backstories.
  • The action scenes were very well directed.  Nice work, Mr. Singer.
  • The special effects were top notch.  What great fun it was seeing Blink, Iceman, Quicksilver and Bishop do their thing.
  • Given the movie’s central plot device … why on earth are we concerned with Mystique, and not Rogue, given their respective powers?  There are a few obvious guesses … One, Mystique is a more popular character.  Two, Jennifer Lawrence has more star power than Anna Paquin.  Still, this bugged me throughout the film.
  • I personally hate the plot device itself, in which various characters can steal or borrow others’ powers.
  • Time travel is also a frequently unwieldy plot device, but I think it was capably handled here, thanks to careful writing and a little restraint.
  • It would also be just great if somebody could explain to me how Mystique apparently alters her body mass.
  • I love how this movie and “First Class” integrate the comic book mythology with real world events.  It’s pure fun, especially the nod at JFK.
  • Sigh.  I lied about my age above.  I’m almost 42.
  • Once again, we have an “X-Men” movie in which the darker characters are less predictable and more fun to follow.  A better adjusted and more grounded Wolverine makes perfect sense.  (We don’t need to endlessly revisit the same character arc.)  But he actually is less interesting when he becomes more stable.  And characters like Beast are flat out boring.  I’m happy that we spent a nice amount of time with Magneto, Mystique, and the human antagonists.
  • Speaking of which, Peter Dinklage was perfect as Bolivar Trask.  What a performance — especially with respect to making weighty dialogue sound natural — look again at his reaction to the suggestion that he hates mutants.  Incredibly good line work.  Is this the same guy as in “Games of Thrones?” I refuse to watch that show simply because I am tired of hearing about it.  But the “X-Men” movies seem to do a great job providing us with human adversaries that are threatening despite an absence of super-powers.
  • Michael Fassbender is simply a wonderful actor, and he is perfectly cast as Youngneto.  He vocalizes and emotes just like a raging, charismatic ideologue.
  • If I said that Patrick Stewart’s and Ian McKellan were fantastic, that would just be belaboring the obvious.
  • I like Jennifer Lawrence.  I do.  She was great as a strong, sympathetic protagonist in “The Hunger Games.”  And she deserves her fanbase.  But here, she just doesn’t demonstrate range enough to play a vengeful, homicidal woman. Rebecca Romjin did a better job of giving us a good, scary, bogeyman to make us think that humans needed protection by Xavier’s kids.  Or, for an amazing example of a young actress portraying anger and vengeance, look no further than co-star Ellen Page’s amazing performance in the brutal, incredible movie, “Hard Candy” (2005).  Furthermore, Mystique, as written here and in “First Class,” just isn’t as much fun.  No, she wasn’t really an identifiable character in the previous movies, but she was a great bad guy — something that a doe-eyed, redeemed Mystique just isn’t.
  • Quicksilver steals the show.  Evan Peters was awesome. Unsupervised teenagers with superpowers are always fun.  This movie takes a lighter look at what transpired in the extremely enjoyable “Chronicle” (2012).  What would happen if this kid met those kids?
  • It’s rather nice seeing how this movie placates fan complaints with “X-Men 3: The Last Stand.”
  • If you’re the kind of flick nut who enjoys movie marathons, good luck figuring out where this film fits chronologically with the other movies!  😀
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