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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

The zombie genre gets the Jim Jarmusch treatment with mild levels of success in The Dead Don’t Die, an often funny, sometimes scary and always amusing horror-comedy effort from the famed director.

Jarmusch has done horror before, most notably with his atmospheric vampire flick Only Lovers Left Alive and, some could argue, the disturbing death-meditation Dead Man. His latest effort is as close to full-on satire as the director has ever come: The world is falling apart politically, socially and environmentally, and its inhabitants are too slow and dimwitted to really do anything about it.

Bill Murray, Adam Driver and Chloe Sevigny play sheriff Cliff and his deputies Ronnie and Mindy in a typical American town called Centerville. The town is severely laid back, with a typical day revolving around when to get coffee and donuts from the cultural hub, the local diner.

Then things go awry: Due to polar fracking, the Earth spins off its access, and the dead begin to rise. The days become longer; the electronic gadgets we rely upon go dead; and people start getting unsolicited neck bites from formerly live neighbors. Some characters, including those played by Murray and Driver, react in a way that is so disorganized and disconnected that they practically deserve to die.

This, perhaps, is a not-so-veiled statement about our current administration’s strange attitude toward global warming. Actually, there’s no doubt: Jarmusch hates Trump, and this is an anti-Trump zombie movie. Steve Buscemi plays a racist resident who dons a red and white MAGA hat, except his actually says “Make America White Again.”

The pacing of this movie is really slow … Jarmusch slow. In fact, the pacing is so slow that the lumbering George Romero-style zombies are almost sprinting compared to what is going on around them. Your ability to like this film depends very much upon your willingness to let the things happening onscreen linger and, in some cases, get dragged out.

The film does contain a moment of genuine terror when a zombie couple takes out two waitresses at the diner. The zombies feast upon the dying with—yes, I’ll reference the zombie master again—Romero-like goriness, right down to intestine-chomping. The moment is ultra-creepy because one of the victims does not die immediately, and she expresses her agony loudly. The zombies are played by Iggy Pop (often a Jarmusch collaborator) and Sara Driver as rock groupies with caffeine addictions. Live flesh is great when it comes to feasting, but what they really need is a good cup of joe, like many among the multitudes currently crowding Starbucks and indie cafes across our great nation.

Murray and Adam Driver are both very funny, with Murray’s Cliff representing the old-school, I’ve-had-enough-of-this-to-the-point-where-I-will-barely-react part of society, and Driver’s Ronnie providing the semi-hipster outlook. It is Ronnie who calmly declares that they are in the midst of an apocalypse while never losing his deadpan face. He’s a lot younger than the equally deadpan Cliff, and will probably catch up to Cliff’s level of disinterest very soon.

Other Jarmusch stalwarts include Tilda Swinton as a samurai-sword-wielding funeral-home director, a role only Swinton could play. Tom Waits (Down by Law) plays the mystic homeless guy commentating on Centerville’s demise, of course. Who else would he play?

I am a big fan of Jarmusch’s work, and even I couldn’t get past the pacing at times. A couple of days later, when I reflected upon the picture, it hit me that I liked the movie a lot more after I saw it than I did while watching it. His films tend to get that sort of delayed reaction out of me.

The Dead Don’t Die opens Friday, June 14, at the Century Theatres and XD at The River (71800 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-836-1940).

Published in Reviews

I missed The Death of Stalin in theaters. Shame, shame, shame on me: It’s one of this year’s funniest—and strangest—movies.

Director and co-writer Armando Iannucci puts together an incredible cast to tell the story of the last days of Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin), and the chaos that ensued when he died. Ingeniously, Iannucci opts to have his British and American cast members keep their regular accents, giving the movie a sort of crazy, Monty Python-like vibe (It reminded me of the Pythons talking with their British accents in Life of Brian.) Having Michael Palin in the cast as Vyacheslav Molotov certainly helps that vibe.

Steve Buscemi deserves to be a legitimate Oscar contender as Nikita Khrushchev, depicting the soon-to-be Soviet leader as a chest-bumping nut fond of dirty jokes and saying “fuck” a lot. It comes off as if Khrushchev is the son of Buscemi’s Boardwalk Empire character, Nucky Thompson, or the great grandad of Mr. Pink from Reservoir Dogs. With his performance, he’s doing what Buscemi usually does, and the effect is hilarious. The same goes for Jeffrey Tambor as Georgy Malenkov, depicted here basically as George Bluth on an insecure day.

Through all the farcical lunacy, Iannucci somehow manages to give his film a dark depth that feels, at times, quite historically accurate. It’s definitely one of the more unique movies you will see this year … or any year.

The Death of Stalin is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

After a strong, sweet and funny start, Adam Sandler’s latest Netflix effort, The Week Of, falls apart in its second half.

Sandler plays Kenny, a dad whose daughter (Allison Strong) is getting married in a week. He sees it as his last chance to do something for her, so he tries his best to put together an impressive spread for the two families. Chris Rock plays the father of the groom, a wealthy heart surgeon who isn’t impressed with the hotel Kenny has picked. Others on hand include Rachel Dratch (It’s good to see her!) as Kenny’s wife, and Steve Buscemi as a sleazy family member with amazing climbing abilities.

Directed by Robert Smigel, the film goes on long enough for the jokes to start dying from old age. A joke involving a legless uncle starts funny, gets funnier, almost gets really funny … then goes stale.

As a Howard Stern fan, I was happy to finally see the culmination of Ronnie the Limo Driver’s hard work; he’s a bad actor, but he was better than I thought he would be. (He’s a convincing sleeper.)

Having grown up on Long Island, I can say the movie does a good job of capturing the region, from the accents to the undying loyalty to Billy Joel. You have to have some respect for a comedy that kills a legless man by throwing him into a bounce pit in the middle of a strip club—but that’s not enough to make it a winner. That’s a shame, because Sandler is actually fairly endearing here, and some of the performers bring at least their B- game. The Week Of just needed to be about 25 minutes shorter, and 35 percent funnier.

The Week Of is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Transformers: The Last Knight gets the dubious distinction of being the worst in the series.

That is a major accomplishment. It’s not the easiest thing to look at this collective pile of movie manure and decipher which of the five is the worst. It’s like going to a frat house during the first week of a semester at Dickhead University, and trying to pick out the dumbest, drunkest douche in the place. All of the qualifiers are terribly, criminally lame.

I’m giving Transformers: The Last Knight the award of Franchise Worst, because it’s clear that every participant in this enterprise, from director Michael Bay right on down to the production assistant who smeared glycerin on Mark Wahlberg’s pecs, is jaded, tired and played out. Nobody really wants to be in this thing. The stink of, “Who gives a shit … just pay me!” hits your nostrils with Wahlberg’s first line delivery.

Yes, Wahlberg, who has the honor of being Shia LaBeouf’s stand-in, returns for his second go-round, and he looks embarrassed. He should be embarrassed. He’s publicly declared that this is his last Transformers movie, and his performance and demeanor indicate that he checked out the day cameras rolled on this mess.

Also along for the ride is the formerly acclaimed Anthony Hopkins, acting all nutty, like he did in Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula—with the big difference being that this is a Michael Bay film, as opposed to a Coppola film. Acting all nutty in a Michael Bay film offers the impression that you have given up and thrown any kind of reason to the wind.

I can’t really explain what happens in this flick. I know Optimus Prime was floating toward his home planet all frozen and shit, and he gets sucked into some sort of scheme to betray his race and all humans. His part is kind of like Vin Diesel’s in the last Fast and Furious movie—that of the pawn in somebody else’s evil scheme who probably won’t go rogue for the entire film. The big difference here is that Optimus Prime doesn’t get to mush his mouth all over Charlize Theron. However, it goes without saying that Optimus Prime has a greater acting range than Vin Diesel.

The best part of this movie happens when Hopkins inexplicably goes to Stonehenge to witness a robot battle, and then gets blown up, leading to the silliest death scene ever. Yep … I just issued a spoiler: Anthony Hopkins dies hilariously in this movie. I hope this spoiler pisses you off so much that you don’t go see the movie. Be mad at me for the next 10 years, but I know I did you a favor.

Other around is John Turturro, whose, “I’m in a Transformers movie, but it’s OK, because I’ve sold out in an unorthodox, hip sort of way!” shtick got tired four films ago. Meanwhile, the film features the voices of John Goodman and Steve Buscemi. That’s actually three-quarters of a The Big Lebowski reunion. I’m surprised they didn’t throw some money at Jeff Bridges to deliver a few lines. That would’ve been the most novel thing in the movie. Eh, they probably needed the cash for Mark Wahlberg’s tanning and body-hair-removal bills.

Transformers: The Last Knight plays like a Worst of Michael Bay sizzle reel: It’s 2 1/2 hours of things smashing into each other in fast-cut fashion, accompanied by bombastic music and lots of crane and slo-mo shots. In other words, it’s exactly what we’ve come to expect.

Picking a time to go see a Transformers movie is like picking a time to have dysentery. Protect yourself, and your innards, by choosing to do something better, like punching yourself in the face until your eyes pop out.

Transformers: The Last Knight is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

Richard Gere delivers one of his very best performances as the titular Norman, a New York “businessman” who doesn’t really have a business or a job.

He’s a mysterious, earbud-wearing, graying man riding the trains and grabbing crackers for dinner at the local synagogue—with big aspirations. A self-professed “good swimmer” fighting to stay afloat, Norman finds himself in the company of an up-and-coming Israeli politician (an excellent Lior Ashkenazi), and in a moment of generosity/desperateness, Norman buys the man a pair of shoes. That gesture earns him good favor—as the politician becomes the Israeli prime minister. With big friends comes more notoriety, and Norman finds himself involved in political intrigue and rising responsibility within the New York City Jewish community.

Gere, who basically shrinks himself under a sun cap and trench coat here, sparkles in the role, making Norman a memorable, likable and appropriately annoying character.

Supporting performances from Dan Stevens, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Steve Buscemi round out an excellent cast. Director Joseph Cedar presents the story in a surprisingly layered, often-funny fashion, with definite tragedy at its center.

Gere’s work here is some of the year’s best so far.

Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer is now playing at the Regal Palm Springs Stadium 9 (789 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm Springs; 844-462-7342) and the Century Theatres at The River (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940).

Published in Reviews

Louis C.K., the Radiohead of standup comics, has dropped yet another surprise on his fans: On Saturday, Jan. 30, I—having been the purchaser of many C.K. nuggets before— received an e-mail from his website stating there was something new to watch, a show called Horace and Pete.

Well, shit. I buy anything this guy turns out—and I mean anything. I went to the website, digitally plopped down my $5, and set about watching his new experiment.

Horace and Pete, as it turns out, is a Web series staged not unlike an off-Broadway play. There are a couple of sets, and a bunch of actors seemingly going at it without the benefit of a lot of takes. There’s no studio audience, and no laugh track. It’s bare-bones—and it’s very good.

C.K. writes, directs and stars as Horace, owner of a family bar alongside brother Pete (an often-unhinged Steve Buscemi). Horace has a younger girlfriend, Rachel (Rebecca Hall), and full-grown daughter, Alice (Aidy Bryant), who has a tendency to return his calls with unwanted texts. Uncle Pete (Alan Alda) mans the bar with an intolerant and racist fist.

Jessica Lange—yes, the Jessica Lange—co-stars as a barfly, while the likes of Steven Wright, Nick DiPaolo and Edie Falco round out the stellar cast. Alda makes the most memorable impression, partly because he delivers the most-shocking lines. He has a remark about pedophilia that looks like it caught C.K. off-guard.

There’s a definite improvisational feel to much of this. Some lines get flubbed, and there are a few signs that the performers didn’t have a lot of time to get their lines down. That’s probably true, because the show feels as if it was taped just a few days ago; for example, there are remarks about Trump in Iowa.

Throw in a theme song by a little guy named Paul Simon, and you have a pretty impressive production. There are signs that this isn’t a one-time thing, which is good to know.

If you are wondering whether or not it’s worth $5 … well, it’s 67 minutes long, and it has Louis C.K. and Jessica Lange in it. Enough said.

Louis C.K. has put his FX series on hold in favor of other projects, this being one of them. May Horace and Pete serve drinks at their shitty bar for a long time to come.

Horace and Pete is available for download ($5) at Louisck.net.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

A cavalcade of stars shows up for this pretty, if meandering, adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s semi-autobiographical novel, On the Road.

Sam Riley (who was so damn good in Control) provides a decent center as Sal (essentially Kerouac). He finds himself on a long road trip that involves hand jobs from Kristen Stewart and him watching sex acts performed on Steve Buscemi. (Yikes!)

In short, this movie is a bit crazy, and its unpredictability keeps it interesting. Garrett Hedlund is solid as a character loosely based on Neal Cassady, and Stewart sheds her Bella image for a good, carefree performance. Others in the cast include Amy Adams, Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst.

The movie is OK, but I was looking for a little more meat on the bone, considering the subject matter.

On the Road is now available On Demand.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing