Tag Archives: Adam Driver

CAPSULE: THE DEAD DON’T DIE (2019)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Jim Jarmusch

FEATURING: Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tom Waits, Chloë Sevigny, , Steve Buscemi, Tilda Swinton, Selena Gomez,

PLOT: The townsfolk of Centreville, USA find their quiet routine is interrupted by re-animated undead who rise when the Earth is thrown off its axis by polar fracking.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Jim Jarmusch opts for restraint in his take on the zombie genre, resulting in a Xanaxed, matter-of-fact “horror” movie that will tickle zombie movie revisionists and infuriate dogmatic enthusiasts. “Oddball” describes the tone well, as it describes pretty much everything Jarmusch has put his hand to.

COMMENTS: I’ve been advised by 366’s executive board on a handful of occasions that the movie image I choose for my reviews should be “more dynamic.” I am flouting that admonition for Jarmusch’s latest outing because, though it is certainly well-shot, its overall tone is “languid.” Indeed, the preponderance of A-list actors delivering hyper-low-key performances nearly tipped The Dead Don’t Die into apocrypha candidacy—that, along with its self-awareness, and humorous streak being coupled with an unfailing adherence to every zombie-movie rule in the book. Jarmusch’s venture into the realm of horror-comedy doesn’t quite reach the lofty heights for certification, but to its credit it’s also a near-miss for the “” designation.

The story is as old as time itself (or at least as old as 1968), as a tiny American town finds that it’s on the front line against a horde of shambling undead. The action kicks off with Centreville’s chief of police, Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray), with his sidekick Officer Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver, proving he isn’t the mopey so-and-so his more famous films would suggest), investigating the alleged theft of a chicken from Farmer Frank (a “Make America White Again”-hat-wearing-hick incarnation of Steve Buscemi) by Hermit Bob (Tom Waits, who also acts as a Greek chorus throughout). “This isn’t going to end well,” Ronnie tells us. And it doesn’t. Despite the best efforts of the police force, as well as the local merchants (the ever-reliable Danny Glover as the hardware store owner, the ever-mustachioed Caleb Jones as the gas-station/horror memorabilia shop-keep, and the ever-mysterious Tilda Swinton (as the possibly Scottish undertaker who is Not of This Town and is on a mission to “accumulate local information”), events teeter on, slowly and lugubriously, to the doomed showdown in the town cemetery.

I never thought I’d see the day that I’d recommend a Jim Jarmusch movie. While I’ve always respected him as a filmmaker for doing things differently, I’ve never been one to much enjoy what he was up to (barring a handful of the vignettes in Coffee and Cigarettes). However, any artist that can make a jab at himself (delivered by Bill Murray at his world-weariest, no less) is all right in my book. And The Dead Don’t Die is an unequivocally fun movie that takes jabs at other worthy targets: hardcore horror buffs, small town America, and, in particular, hipsters (“…with their ‘irony'”). All the pokes are light and playful, though, as if Jarmusch has come to realize that the many people in the world who aren’t his fans (and the greater number who have no idea who he is) are people, too.

Indeed, the whole thing is worth it just to hear nerd-cop Adam Driver matter-of-factly remark, “I have an affinity for Mexicans.”

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The Dead Don’t Die very occasionally seems flippant and unfinished, an assemblage of ideas, moods and prestigious actors circling around each other in a shaggy dog tale. But it’s always viewable in its elegant deliberation and controlled tempo of weird normality – and beautifully photographed in an eerie dusk by Frederick Elmes.”–Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE (2018)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Terry Gilliam

FEATURING: Adam Driver, Jonathan Pryce, Joana Ribeiro, , Jordi Mollà

PLOT: Toby, a narcissistic ad man, discovers that the aging star of his student film has come to believe himself to be Don Quixote, and is enlisted as the knight-errant’s squire while on the run from the law.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: When he chooses, Terry Gilliam can go full-bore weird, but also has a long-established (relatively) down-to-earth side to him. In this adaptation he’s worked on for a quarter of a century, he does tap into his ever-ready spigot of wonder, but Don Quixote‘s story and style is grounded in a humorous humanist tone.

COMMENTS: At the cross-section between exasperation and relief, you can find Terry Gilliams’ The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. Anyone  familiar with his career knows that this movie, in the works in one way or another since at least 1989, has hung over Gilliams’ head like tantalizing, forbidden fruit. He felt compelled to admit as much with the note preceding the opening titles, “And now, after twenty-five years in the making…and unmaking…” His quest to make this movie was itself quixotic. Having gotten that obvious remark out of the way, I can move on with this review—much like Terry Gilliam can now move on with his artistic career.

Once an idealistic film student, Toby’s final student project was (wink, wink) an adaptation of Cervantes’ pre-modern-written, post-modern-toned classic, Don Quixote. Young Toby discovers his star, an old shoemaker “with an interesting face” named Javier Sanchez (Jonathan Pryce), while traveling through rural Spain. He also finds Angelica (Joana Ribeiro), a young tavern keeper’s daughter who he promises can make it in show biz. Ten years later, Toby (Adam Driver), now a flippant, shallow, and highly sought after TV ad director, discovers that their small hometown is a quick ride from his film shoot. He rediscovers Javier, who is locked away in a trailer, trapped re-enacting his role of Don Quixote against a projected backdrop of student film footage. Javier believes the grown Toby to be his faithful squire Sancho come to free him, and the two go off on a picaresque romp through the countryside, encountering friend, foe, police, producers, a battered Angelica, and an evil Russian oligarch. Throughout the journey, Toby’s grip on reality increasingly blurs with the chivalric world of Javier’s imagination.

Woof, long-winded. Indeed, about two-thirds in, Don Quixote chides Sancho “Toby” Panza for not being able to keep up with the plot. This movie oozes plot, sidetracks, and everything you’re looking for in a Gilliam fun-time adventure. It tells a story he wants to tell, reveling in the barely-controlled chaos of his flights of fancy and allowing plenty of potshots at the money men who have done their level best to thwart him over the years. What bitterness there is, though, is well coated in humor, and the whole tone is one of joyful excess.

Having read “Don Quixote” a few years back (mostly while sobering up or hungover), little snatches of the story resurfaced in my memory during the many nods to the source material. It also occurred to me that Terry Gilliam was the ideal director to bring that novel to life. “Don Quixote,” the book, is cluttered, long-winded, meandering, bizarre—and a work of comic genius. Gilliams’ oeuvre is all of those things, too. Having lost two potential leading men (Jean Rochefort and ) trying to make this story and getting no younger himself, it’s a relief to know that Gilliam finally got his dream project assembled for the world to see; and a true joy to watch such a good movie made by one of cinema’s best story-tellers.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s an uneven and unflinchingly weird movie… [Gilliam]’s He’s unafraid to dive into the shadows and root around for weird and wonderful surprises. There are gaudy set pieces and bizarre relationship dynamics and a tenuous divide between truth and falsity – all Gilliam hallmarks.”–Allen Adams, The Main Edge (contemporaneous)

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) is everything George Lucas’ Star Wars prequels promised to be, but fell short of. Director J. J. Abrams finds the pulse that somehow evaded creator Lucas himself: the appeal of Star Wars is not found in Luke Skywalker. Rather, it’s heart is the space age swashbuckler, Han Solo. There is probably nothing duller than the zeal of a religious convert. The prequels convinced us of that by honing in on the Luke-ian brand of mysticism. At its best, Star Wars is more soap opera than opera, but someone forgot to tell Lucas that, and he approached his second trilogy with the seriousness of “Parsifal” (Wagner’s very long take on the King Arthur legend). Without a Han Solo-type to offset all that pseudo-religious mumbo jumbo, crash landings were inevitable. There were enough stand out moments in Episodes I-III to retain the loyalty of an audience who hoped in vain that Lucas would improve; although, for some, Revenge of the Sith (2005) was a payoff.

Poster for Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)Without Harrison Ford and the always delightful Alec Guinness, the original Star Wars (1977) might have been a one-shot because, despite the epic FX, it takes vibrant, identifiable personalities to ground it. We certainly did not get that from the “Taming of the Shrew” robot couple, C3PO and R2D2 (thankfully, the duo only make an obligatory cameo in The Force Awakens). Nor did we get it from Leia, the princess with a headset styled ‘do (she’s more likable thirty-eight years later). It was left to relative newcomer Ford and veteran Guinness to pilot us to movie magic, which they did (although Guinness forever grumbled about the fame of Star Wars, lamenting that he would be remembered for this role instead of his superior work in the Ealing comedies of the 40s and 50s). Under the assured direction of Irvin Kirshner, The Empire Strikes Back (1980) smartly retained the linear flow and finale of its cliffhanger sources, making it the best of the trilogy (despite the bumper sticker wisdom pontification of Yoda). In Empire, Luke briefly escapes his Arthurian trappings, becoming both vulnerable and more likable. Unfortunately, Richard Marquand directed Return of the Jedi (1983) and he had no feel for the material. Continue reading STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)