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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).

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Terry Gilliam has been trying to make The Man Who Killed Don Quixote for nearly 30 years, including a 2000 effort starring Johnny Depp and Jean Rochefort where cameras actually began to roll.

The plug got pulled on that production after Rochefort, cast as Quixote, turned up with a bad back, and flooding rained down upon Gilliam’s set with a vengeance that wrecked the landscape and washed his equipment away. Further efforts to film Quixote since then have been mired in lawsuits and insurance issues, with many cast members—including Ewan McGregor, Michael Palin and Robert Duvall—passing through. So it was with a little bit of shock that I found myself sitting down for The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, a finished film directed by Terry Gilliam, almost 20 years after the documentary Lost in La Mancha depicted the collapse of the Depp iteration.

As a Gilliam fan, it is with a heavy heart that I report the film is, not surprisingly, quite a mess, the result of too many revamps and adjustments over the years.

The problems are not with the performances. Adam Driver does an excellent job in the role initially intended for Depp as Toby, a frantic, disillusioned TV-commercial director who longs for the esoteric days of his not-too-distant filmmaking past (a character clearly modeled after Gilliam himself). Jonathan Pryce proves to be a perfect choice for Don Quixote—or rather a cobbler given an acting gig who goes so method in his approach that he believes he’s the real Quixote.

In the film, Toby seeks out the Pryce character in an effort to bolster a current, commercialized version of the Quixote story. In his travels, he confuses dreams with reality, finds himself being mistaken for Sancho Panza (Quixote’s dim sidekick), witnesses the exploitation of women in the workforce, and battles some fat giants.

The screenplay, co-written by Gilliam, ambitiously shoots for satire about our current political atmosphere and the state of filmmaking in general. Its plot-driving device—the blurring of reality and the dream world—flat-out fails. This is the first Gilliam film shot on digital video, and the visual richness that accompanied his previous films is nowhere to be found. Gilliam’s often-violent and harried style, accompanied by tight, claustrophobic visuals, must not translate to the video lens. Much of this movie is just a spastic, visual mess.

Because the dream world and the real world have no true visual distinction, Gilliam constantly has Toby pointing out whether he is in a dream or not. It’s left to the viewer to really figure out what is going on—and it just doesn’t work, especially in the film’s second half, where it all falls apart.

There are some inspired moments. The giants sequence, so memorably depicted in Lost in La Mancha as Gilliam’s big moment in the Quixote story, shows a flash of what the movie could’ve been. Granted, the movie he made today was done for two-thirds of the budget he had 20 years ago. Gilliam has expensive visual ambitions, and trying to convey those on shoestring budgets doesn’t work. Granted, big budgets are justified by public interest in a film, and interest probably isn’t too high for a blockbuster Quixote movie.

Gilliam’s career went on a severe downhill trajectory after the failure of the original Quixote. He has said in interviews that he just wanted this movie out of his system. Now that Quixote is finally on screens, perhaps it will vacate the cherished auteur’s mind and allow him to get on to better things. Movies like Tideland, The Brothers Grimm, The Zero Theorem and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus are pale representations of what the man can do. Perhaps the director (still amazingly spry at the age of 78) can get back to the business of focused yet deliciously crazed movie-making.

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

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The great Spike Lee has returned with BlacKkKlansmen, his best film since Malcolm X came out 26 years ago.

Based on a true story—with some significant tweaking—it centers on Ron Stallworth (John David Washington, son of Denzel), a black police officer in Colorado who, on a whim, decided to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan by posing as a redneck. It wound up being a two-man sting, with Stallworth pretending to be a white man on the phone while sending in a white partner (depicted here by Adam Driver) to do the face-to-face work.

Stallworth’s investigation eventually leads to him being named the head of a local chapter of the KKK, and direct dealings with David Duke (Topher Grace), Grand Wizard of the KKK and major asshole.

The movie is as crazy as the story was, with Spike perfectly balancing intense drama and humor. Washington is fantastic, and Driver continues to show he’s always a cast MVP.

Lee, shooting on celluloid again, makes a fantastic-looking movie; he’s a master of period pieces, with this one set in the 1970s. The film’s conclusion utilizes current-events news footage (including Charlottesville), showing the unfortunate and all-too-real racism parallels between the events in this film and the current state of America.

The movie is a great watch, but it is also a loud wakeup call.

BlacKkKlansmen is playing at theaters across the valley.

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In Star Wars: The Last Jedi, we finally get the movie with both older Luke and Leia. Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher get to do what Harrison Ford did in The Force Awakens: They spend a little more time (in the case of Hamill, a lot more time) in their iconic roles.

Both stars shine as they play in the Star Wars sandbox 40 years after the original’s release. When this film focuses on the saga of Luke and Rey, it is nothing short of epic. When the camera is on the late Carrie Fisher—who gets more quality screen time than she did with her glorified cameo in Force Awakens—it’s heartwarming and, yes, sad. (The Leia stuff gets a little kooky at times, but I’m trying to make this a spoiler-free zone.)

When writer-director Rian Johnson takes the action to the characters of Poe (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega) and a new character named Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), the film falters. Poe, so engaging in Force Awakens, seems underdeveloped here. While the Resistance fights an oddly prolonged and bizarre space battle against the First Order, Poe just whines a lot—the point where you’re actually happy when Leia smacks him across the head.

The film picks up where The Force Awakens left off, more or less, with Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Luke in a stare-down: Rey is looking for tutelage, but Luke wants nothing to do with that Jedi stuff anymore, and desires to be left alone with his alien milk. While on the island, Rey starts having some sort of psychic Force conversations with Kylo Ren, aka Ben Solo (Adam Driver). Will Luke train Rey? Will Rey find out who her parents are? Will Adam Driver engage in his obligatory partial nudity in this film? I’m not telling.

What I will tell you is that there’s too much going on in The Last Jedi, and a lot of it feels like filler. Besides that stalled-out space battle, there’s a clunky sequence in a casino that goes on far too long; a lot of distracting cameos; and new characters inhabited by Laura Dern and Benicio Del Toro who bring little to the proceedings.

Am I overthinking this? Yeah, I am—but I’m a dude who has spent the last 40 years worshiping Star Wars. Anything you put onscreen that’s a Star Wars production is going to have me (admittedly, a loser) breaking down that shit. I’m saying that some of this movie seems a little half-baked, and also overstuffed. If there’s any movie I want to be more than 2 1/2 hours long, it’s a Star Wars movie—but at that length, it needs to be a really good Star Wars movie, not a so-so one. The Last Jedi is so-so.

I’m of two minds when it comes to The Last Jedi. It’s part Best Star Wars Ever (Luke, Leia, Rey, Ben Solo) and part Worst Star Wars Ever (Poe, Finn, the girl with the flip hair, and just about any time Domhnall Gleeson speaks). I’m recommending it for the Luke and Leia goodness, Daisy Ridley’s continued greatness as Rey, and inspired moments of fun and humor. But, man oh man, it nearly goes into “Jar Jar” territory a little too often for my tastes.

Johnson has been given a new Star Wars trilogy on which to work—a saga supposedly away from the Skywalkers. I’m hoping the guy gives us something a little more balanced. He’s made great movies (Brick, Looper) and crap movies (The Brothers Bloom) in the past. The Last Jedi falls somewhere in between.

So, as Yoda would say: A great Star Wars, this is not. Like it just fine, I did, but there is a tremor of over-indulgence in the Force. Be mindful of this for future times in edit bay, you must.”

One final note: Porgs are awesome.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

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A gang of losers plots to rob a NASCAR racetrack during one of its busiest weekends—and they do it in a hackneyed way that makes absolutely no sense in Logan Lucky.

Steven Soderbergh comes out of retirement to direct Channing Tatum as Jimmy Logan, a former football player who has fallen on bad times, and then suddenly gets it in his head to rob the racetrack. His plan involves sneaking people out of prison, blowing things up with gummy bears, and using secret allies within the establishment.

Soderbergh did the Ocean’s Eleven movies, and the first one included a reasonably fun and inventive heist. Well, this is sort of Ocean’s Eleven for rednecks—but it’s hard to believe this group would have the ability to pull off the heist.

The film is almost saved by some of the supporting performances, including Daniel Craig as an incarcerated safe cracker who digs hard-boiled eggs, and Adam Driver as Jimmy’s one-armed brother. But for every character who is a plus, there’s a lame one, like Seth MacFarlane’s heavily accented millionaire who is not as funny as he thinks he is. Hilary Swank shows up in the final act in a role that feels tacked on.

The movie doesn’t come together in the end, and its robbery scheme is too cute to be realistic. The big reveals feel like a cheat rather than a unique twist.

It’s good to have Soderbergh back in action, but this is just a rehash of something he’s done before—with the addition of a Southern accent. It’s much ado about nothing. There are a few laughs here, but not enough to justify seeing Logan Lucky in theaters.

Logan Lucky is playing at theaters across the valley.

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Adam Driver plays the title character, a bus driver with a penchant for poetry, in Paterson, writer-director Jim Jarmusch’s latest.

Not only is his name Paterson; he lives in Paterson, N.J., and he sets his folded clothes out every night so he’s good to go in the morning. His wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), aspires to be a country music singer, and eagerly awaits a new guitar the couple can barely afford. (Sadly, she can’t play the guitar.) The film offers no substantial plot; it’s simply a snapshot of a normal, pleasant life being led by two people who aspire to create art in their spare time.

Jarmusch always does well with these sort of observational stories, and this is no exception. Driver is terrific here, capping a great year that included Midnight Special and a great performance in the muddled Silence. It’s a funny, sweet performance without him really trying to be funny or sweet.

The big events in this movie consist of Paterson taking his bulldog for a walk and meeting a fellow young poet who makes him feel insubstantial. If you love Jarmusch, you will love this movie.

Paterson opens Friday, Jan. 20, at the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0033).

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Martin Scorsese’s Silence, aka How to Torture a Jesuit Priest Until He Says “Ah, Screw It!” and Looks for Another Gig, is the auteur’s most inconsistent offering since his misguided and sloppy Casino.

It’s clear that Scorsese poured his heart into this passion project, which makes it even more disappointing that it doesn’t live up to his usual standards. The movie is far too long (2 hours and 41 minutes!), and repetitive and boring to the point where it becomes laughable rather than having the desired effect of moving the viewer. Based on the Shusaku Endo book, Silence is a project Scorsese has been trying to mount since the ’80s—and it winds up being nothing but a waste of a great director’s time.

Two Jesuit priests, Rodrigues and Garrpe (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver), head to Japan in search of their mentor priest, Ferreira (Liam Neeson). Ferreira went missing during a mission years ago, and is rumored to have gone into hiding as a civilian with a wife. The whole setup feels a bit like Apocalypse Now, minus the excitement, capable storytelling and Fat Brando.

After the two priests split up, the film basically becomes a series of scenes in which Rodrigues witnesses Japanese Christians being tortured by samurais trying to cleanse the country of Christianity. He watches men and women getting drowned, hung upside down, beheaded, etc. To Scorsese’s credit, the violence, while horrifying, is never gratuitous.

Garfield’s character is essentially a Christ figure reminiscent of Willem DaFoe in The Last Temptation of Christ. He’s being followed around by what amounts to the film’s Judas, a guide named Kichijiro (Yosuke Kubozuka). Kichijiro screws Rodrigues over repeatedly, constantly asking for confession, and even getting paid in silver at one point. His actions almost feel like a running gag.

The film does get better in its final act, when Rodrigues finally crosses paths with Ferreira. Neeson is so good that you’ll wish he had shown up a little sooner. As for Garfield, for every scene where he’s powerful, there are others where he’s overwrought and feels slightly miscast. Driver is excellent; the film might’ve benefited from him and Garfield switching roles.

The movie does feature some typically great Scorsese flourishes. A scene in which three men are tied to crosses in the ocean, continuously being pummeled by waves, is an absolute marvel. Rodrigues’ interrogation at the hands of an evil feudal Samurai governor (a creepy Issey Ogata) is mesmerizing. Had Scorsese and longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker taken a pair of scissors to the film and made it no longer than two hours, it might’ve done the movie a big favor. (I will sit through a five-hour movie if it is well done. This isn’t.) The sound and camerawork, as with all Scorsese films, are exemplary.

Coupled with Steven Spielberg’s The BFG, Silence represents the second movie that was technically released in 2016 by one of my very favorite directors to disappoint. It’s just another reason to hate 2016.

I didn’t like Silence, but I feel like I should have and could have; there were a lot of things in the movie I did enjoy. Scorsese just needed to rein himself in on this one.

Silence is playing at theaters across the valley.

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Writer-director Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter, Mud) has named his latest film—about a boy with special powers running from a Texas cult—Midnight Special.

The name alone is a stroke of genius. Creedence Clearwater Revival’s cover of “Midnight Special” was featured in Twilight Zone: The Movie back in 1983. Whenever I hear that song, or even see the title, I am reminded of that song and movie, which both hold a special place in my film-going heart. Because of all of this, I walked into Midnight Special in an ’80s sort of mood. Whether or not Nichols named his film with Twilight Zone in mind doesn’t really matter. The end result had me thinking of Dan Aykroyd attacking Albert Brooks in a parked car at night on a country road.

Midnight Special, the movie, feels like a product of the late ’70s and early ’80s, a time when the likes of Spielberg and Scorsese were going full-throttle and turning out some of their best stuff. It also works like a really cool episode of The Twilight Zone.

Other filmmakers, like J.J. Abrams with his muddled Super 8, have tried to evoke a Spielberg vibe and wound up ripping him off. Here, Nichols has made a film that is an interesting homage to Spielberg—while still coming off as smart and original. It’s also a very entertaining journey.

Michael Shannon (who has appeared in all of Nichols’ films) plays Roy, father to young Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), a mysterious boy who must wear goggles all the time due to fits during which his eyes shoot out blinding light. He has the power to down satellites, channel radio broadcasts and transmit military secrets. So, yeah, the government is after him—and the Texas cult he grew up within sees him as some sort of prophet.

Roy takes Alton away from the cult (led by the forever-haggard Sam Shepard) and is racing toward some undisclosed location—because he knows his boy is important, and that his mystery meeting is important. Nichols cleverly keeps much of his movie shrouded in mystery, with some of questions never getting clear-cut answers. Movies that spell everything out for you can be very boring.

The film has elements of Duel, E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind on the Spielberg front, along with the mystery and wonder of the best Twilight Zone episodes. It also has the look and feel of some of Clint Eastwood’s best offerings, the dramatic intensity of Scorsese films, and some of the better aspects of last year’s poorly received Tomorrowland. Yet it feels very original.

Shannon is typically strong as the worried yet emotionally closed-off father who doesn’t have all of the answers, but will do everything he can to help his son. Joel Edgerton gives his best performance to date as Lucas (yep, a George Lucas homage), a former state trooper along for the ride.

Kirsten Dunst plays Alton’s mysterious birth mother. There’s also Adam Driver as the sympathetic government guy (think Peter Coyote in E.T.) in full nerd mode, doing much to make viewers forget that sinister villain he played in that little film that came out late last year.

Nichols is, quite simply, one of the finest directors making movies today. If you haven’t seen Take Shelter or Mud, get on it. This film is perhaps a notch below those two movies, but that’s not saying it isn’t an entertaining and satisfying experience. That’s just saying he’s made three great movies.

Some people have complained that Nichols botches his films in the third act. That’s a bunch of crap. The third acts in his films are always exciting or mind-blowing, and this one is no exception. 

Midnight Special is an example of a great director stretching his wings and hitting his marks impressively. It’s also the first of two Nichols movies (the other being Loving, also starring Edgerton and Shannon) that will be released this year. In other words, this is a movie year about which you should be excited.

Midnight Special is now playing at the Cinémas Palme D’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0730).

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The new Star Wars doesn’t suck! The new Star Wars doesn’t suck!

What a relief, right? Ever since Disney absorbed the Lucasfilm empire, some fans and cynics have speculated that the Mouse plus George could equate to shite. Then the Mouse handed the reins of the Star Wars universe to that bespectacled guy who reinvigorated the Star Trek universe.

Fret not, for director J.J. Abrams and crew have done exactly what they did with Star Trek: They created a fun movie that not only respects the blessed canon of a beloved franchise, but stands on its own as a piece of supreme entertainment. It is 2015’s most entertaining film, and a movie that stands up proudly in the realm of Star Wars movies.

In many ways, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the best movie in the franchise. I won’t say it’s my personal favorite. (I think The Empire Strikes Back still holds that post; a little more time will tell.) Its storytelling is solid; its special effects are first-rate; and the performances are easily the best the franchise has ever seen.

That’s due in part to Daisy Ridley, an incredible talent who is now an instant star as Rey, a scrappy scavenger on a Tattooine-like desert planet. She delivers the best all-around dramatic performance in the Star Wars universe. She does some of the year’s best “face acting”; you’ll have to see the movie to find out what I’m talking about. With this new star at its center, the revitalized Star Wars universe takes life around her with a bevy of new characters and, of course, returning oldies.

Abrams and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan, who happens to be the guy who wrote Empire, combined on a screenplay that follows a lot of the familiar beats from past Star Wars films. They took over writing duties after Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine) took a failed stab at the task. (Arndt still gets a credit.)

The universe is being tormented by the First Order, an offshoot of the former Empire. Rey, after rummaging around in a fallen Star Destroyer, discovers a lost droid (BB-8, who is adorable), and eventually finds herself on a space adventure with familiar and new faces.

That’s it. That’s all I’m saying about the plot.

Harrison Ford, cryptic and snarky about his Star Wars pedigree in the past, returns as Han Solo, and his newfound enthusiasm for the part is infectious. Ford slips back into that laid-back, charmingly sarcastic smuggler role with ease, while his old buddy Chewbacca has become some sort of comedian in the last 30 or so years: The old Wookiee scores some of the film’s biggest laughs. Seeing the pair together again is an invaluable movie gift to be treasured.

As the movie’s central villain, Adam Driver is multi-layered and appropriately disturbing as Kylo Ren, a masked, obvious riff on Darth Vader who is a bit of a fanboy of the long deceased Sith Lord. I’m a Star Wars fan, and I have a few nice toys in my possession—but Kylo Ren has the Holy Grail for Star Wars collectors in his chambers!

John Boyega brings a new, welcomed dimension to the Stormtroopers. (Hey, there are actual people under those helmets!) Oscar Isaac a brings funny charisma to Poe, the best pilot in the galaxy.

I think I got through this review with no major spoilers, so no Star Wars geeks will kill me. My life force will not be extinguished, and I will make it to next year’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and Episode VIII, which is due in the summer of 2017.

Gone are the days when we waited decades for new Star Wars chapters. Oh, the spoils of Disney.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is playing at theaters across the valley in a variety of formats.

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Ben Stiller re-teams with director Noah Baumbach (Greenberg) for While We’re Young, a very funny movie about artistic integrity and learning to grow up.

Stiller and Naomi Watts play a 40-something couple who are content, but perhaps a little bored. They meet a 20-something couple (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried) and find themselves drawn to them and aspects of their “really cool” lifestyle. As it turns out, the Stiller and Driver characters are both film documentarians. This leads to initial bonding—but then it leads to big problems.

This is Stiller’s funniest movie since Tropic Thunder, and Watts is every bit as funny (especially when she cuts loose in a hip-hop dance class). Driver and Seyfried are adorable, and a little scary, as the younger couple who still listen to vinyl and watch VHS tapes, because it’s cool and retro.

Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz and Maria Dizzia get laughs as Stiller’s older friends who just had a baby and are worried about the emotional welfare of their two pals.

Baumbach is always amusing, and this is one of his better films.

While We’re Young is now playing at the Camelot Theaters (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; 760-325-6565) and the Century Theatres at The River (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940).

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