Tag Archives: Caleb landry jones

The Dead Don’t Die (2019)

14 Jun

American indie darling Jim Jarmusch enters genre territory for arguably his first time in The Dead Don’t Die with frequent collaborators Bill Murray and Tom Waits in tow. Known for his poetic portrayals of subtle human interactions, Jarmusch would seem, on paper anyway, to be an obvious mismatch for taking on a horror-comedy about zombies eating their way through a rural Pennsylvania town, and the mixed reaction from its Cannes premiere had me less-than-enthused.  Fortunately, the acclaimed director leans into the material with a self-aware smirk and gives the colorful cast of characters room to breath and embrace the absurd.

The film opens with a country radio track (an appropriately-titled song bearing the same name as the film) that soon gives way to a breaking news alert: the moon has been knocked off its axis and is affecting the earth in all sorts of spooky ways including – you guessed it – zombies.

Along with the aforementioned Murray and Waits, the film boasts what has to be one of the best ensembles of the year. Adam Driver, Selena Gomez, Chloe Sevingy, Danny Glover, Tilda Swinton, Steve Buscemi, even Iggy Pop and RZA make an appearance.  Jarmusch, who also wrote the film’s screenplay, gives in to his inner camp sensibilities with the comedy and delivers some of the best bits tongue-in-cheek.

The Dead Don’t Die is stacked with sly pop culture references and meta commentary. Hell, there is even a near-perfect caricature of the film bro here (played brilliantly by Caleb Landry Jones) who only seems to be missing his Criterion Collection pins. Puns, winks, and in-jokes are drawn out almost to a fault which would become annoying if not for the sardonic chemistry between the cast members.  Driver and Murray are particularly great together, playing up the buddy-cop moments with ease.

There are a few left-turns in the script for sure, and some of the dad-joke-worthy moments induce more groans than laughs. Still, there is no denying the sense of charm on display here, and most notably The Dead Don’t Die knows exactly what kind of film it wants to be and hits all the right notes with total consistency.

Bottom Line: Delightfully absurd and genuinely funny, The Dead Don’t Die shows Jarmusch embracing the best of his comedic sensibilities and plays perfectly to its audience’s expectations. 

Rating: 7.7/10 

Film Recipe: What We Do In The Shadows + Zombieland 

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

25 Nov

Personal loss, justice, and forgiveness are central themes to the new film from Martin McDonaghThree Billboards Outside Ebbing, MissouriA tragic crime has occurred in this small rural town, and the seemingly apathetic job from law enforcement leaves Mildred (Frances McDormand) no choice but to buy out a series of billboards that specifically call out the local Sheriff Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) for his lackadaisical approach. Of course, news travels fast in a small town like Ebbing, and soon the billboards are even being featured on late night news. This spawns a public rivalry of sorts between Willoughby and Mildred, one that soon spirals out of control and quickly consumes a colorful assortment of Ebbing citizens.

Martin McDonagh’s long awaited follow-up to Seven Psychopaths (2012) doesn’t quite hit the same absurdist notes its predecessor did, but it does supply us with an engaging story delivered through an awkward mix of tragic comedy and melodrama. McDonagh is a writer and director who takes great pleasure in manipulating his audiences; one minute we are feeling intimately sorry for a character, the next – they are blowing their own brains out. It’s in the same storytelling vein as someone like Tarantino or Kevin Smith, but delivered with such black comedic undertones that it both welcomely and uncomfortably upsets the narrative flow.  The emotional shapeshifting of a film like this provides us with a plot that is truly unpredictable while being a lot of gaudy fun.

Most of the characters we meet in Three Billboards are variations on well known tropes, with Mildred being the strong exception. McDormand is the obvious standout here, and her jaded ferocity shines through in every scene. Her son Robbie (Lucas Hedges) is also wonderfully bleak, providing Hedges with another notable role under his young acting belt.

Things really become complicated in the film’s hasty last act. McDonagh is an accomplished writer, and though his characters never quite earn the moral sympathy we should be giving them, the story all comes together in a satisfying, singular way.

Bottom Line: Tonally inconsistent but always entertaining, McDonagh’s latest delivers his signature affinity for black comedy in an emotionally challenging but deeply uncomfortable manner. 

Rating: 7/10 

Film Recipie: A Serious Man + In Bruges + Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead 

Get Out (2017)

24 Feb

Let’s say you’re on the road to meet your girlfriend’s parents for the first time. This situation alone is the nightmare of many, but let’s imagine for a second that they might – heaven forbid – be a bit racist. Not the Alabama-redneck, confederate-flag-toting kind of racist, but more like the passive-aggressive, educated white “we voted for Obama, we promise!” kind of racist. This is the premise for the new horror comedy Get Out; the terror here is not sourced from some demonic supernatural entity or schizophrenic masked serial killer but from ol’ fashioned disdain of having a white daughter who is currently dating a black man.

Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is naturally a bit apprehensive to meet Rose’s (Allison Williams) parents after hearing that he is, in fact, the first person of color she has ever dated. Followed by some hilariously awkward conversations with Miss and Mr. Armitage (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford, respectively) that only confirm Chris’ racial paranoia, and a few weird encounters with missing person Andrew (Lakeith Stanfield) and Rose’s brother (Caleb Landry Jones) seal the deal: something is wayyyy off about the Armitage family.  What starts out as a slow burn psychological thriller soon gives way to a twisty, violent nail biter as Chris peels back the layers of the Armitage family and does his best to survive his weekend away.

Make no mistake: Get Out is a serious-minded horror film, but also one that is self-aware and also manages to pack a biting (and often hilarious) socio-political punch. It’s a very bold film to say the least – especially in a post-Obama America where racial tensions were supposed to be long dissolved. Director Jordan Peele confidently holds his own as a feature-length director, and brings his witty comedic skills to the script.  Though some scenes feels unnecessary at times, most of what we see is a tightly-controlled and well-executed genre piece that plays at length with uncomfortable racial undertones. It’s an incredibly awkward mix that should’ve fallen apart at the seams (I can’t imagine how a major Hollywood studio even found the balls to fund something like this) but in the hands of Peele, everything works out beautifully and leaves me wanting more.

Bottom Line: A highly-entertaining directorial debut by Jordan Peele of Key & Peele fame, Get Out plays out like an extended College Humor skit in the best way possible. 

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Rating: 7.5/10 

Film recipe: You’re Next! + Tucker & Dale vs Evil + House of the Devil 

Heaven Knows What (2015)

13 Sep

Heroin junkies have been made subjects of films before, but perhaps never so intimately and up close as in Ben and Joshua Safdie’s indie hit Heaven Knows What.  Based on the real life memoir of actress Arielle Holmes, the film documents several days in the lives of a group of addicts living on the streets of NYC with incredible realism, intimacy and honesty.

Holmes plays Harley, a homeless young girl who has fallen in love with fellow addict Ilya (Caleb Landry Jones). Ilya, set on getting high on his own, decides he wants nothing to do with Harley, and in a bizarrely startling opener, dares Harley to kill herself as proof of her love for him. It’s a jarring, uncomfortable way to open a film like this, but it acts as compelling evidence to Ben and Joshua Safdie’s commitment to highlight the ups and downs of addiction. The director’s fly-on-the-wall approach works effectively well throughout the rest of the film; the omnipresent camera floats between capturing Harley and Ilya’s toxic relationship to introducing us to other characters like Mike (Buddy Duress) and Skully (Ron Braunstein) who both provide and demand drugs from each other in equal measure.

It’s easy to assume that the Safdie brothers should be building a narrative out of exploitation, a sort of “shock-doc”  expose on one of NYC’s most notorious subcultures. Instead, they simply let their subjects do the talking, and – thanks to some incredibly raw and authentic performances – it works.  By sidestepping the unnecessary melodrama or stylization (any comparisons to similarly themed Enter The Void would be proven inaccurate), we get a subtle and honest look at the lives of these characters, specifically how substances have gradually replaced their interpersonal relationships. The editing is fast and cutthroat, and the rhythmic electronic score by Ariel Pink and Japanese composer Isao Tomita, adds a unique but never distracting layer of atmosphere.

Make no mistake, this is absolutely Arielle Holmes’ story; she absolutely owns every moment onscreen in what will no doubt be one of the year’s most memorable performances. But credit must also be given to the directors for creating such an immersive experience.

Bottom Line: Sincerity and authenticity from Heaven Knows What give the filmmakers a distinct and vibrant storytelling voice.

Rating : 7/10 

Film Recipe: Requiem For A Dream – style overload + cinema verite’ + actual junkies