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The Dead Don't Die is minor Jim Jarmusch. The storied director has made some great films but this doesn't have the emotional honesty of a Paterson or Broken Flowers or the edginess of a Dead Man or Ghost Dog. It's quite enjoyable to be sure but it does feel slight and under developed. The story is set in the fictional small town of Centerville that undergoes a Zombie takeover. The world is experiencing strange affects from polar fracking and Centerville experiences things like radios going dead, animals going wild and daylight extending. Soon the cemetery is popping up zombies. Of course it's all really a bit silly but that is the point. But the plot line is super thin and although the comedy is amiable it's never super funny. It does have a great cast though, especially Bill Murray, Adam Driver and Chloe Sevigny as the perplexed police officers. There is also a great turn from Tilda Swinton as the owner of a funeral home. I guess a zombie film is a zombie film but I was hoping for a bit more from the great Jarmusch.
Parasite is a meticulously crafted and superbly staged film from the Korean master Bong Joon Ho. It is clever, enlightening, funny and always captivating. A film that is tightly directed and written so that nothing ever feels remotely out of place. Set in Korea, it tells the tale of two families from opposite ends of the income scale. The poor family lives in a semi basement packing pizza boxes to make ends meet. The rich family live in a beautiful architect designed home with all the mod cons you could ask for. When their daughter needs a tutor a fortuitous break sees the son of the poorer family claim the job. Soon the family is plotting a scheme to have all four members find their way into employment in the richer household. This film is beautifully crafted, each scene is a gateway to the next. It's darkly funny but also dramatically rich. The third act gives many twists and turns that will keep you guessing through out. The film also makes some keen social commentary on the disparity between rich and poor. Just another layer to what is already a multi layered and successful film.
Little Woods is an austere, bleak film that is still eminently watchable. It is taut, tight and features fine performances especially in the lead role by Tessa Thompson. Thompson plays Ollie in a fracking town in North Dakota. Her life has been messy to say the last but she is trying to restore order to give herself a last chance to lead a normal life. Cleaning up after the death of her mother she has to deal with past indiscretions and the dire situation of her half-sister. This film works as a small tight thriller but also as a family drama. It concerns itself with finding ourselves in poor situations and how to escapre them. A finely made small film that has plenty to offer.
Ad Astra is a complex character driven film that takes its time but burns deeply into your mind and soul. It's science fiction but it's also so much more than that. It is both an exploration of space and also an exploration of the heart. James Gray is an excellent film maker. He makes films large in scope but ones that also pay attention to the finer details. Ad Astra is no different. Set sometime in the near future we meet Roy McBride, a decorated astronaut just returning from space. The earth is being hit by power surges coming deep from space, causing catastrophe on Earth. Roy's father is a legend of space travel, but one who is presumed dead after his mission to Neptune disappeared many years ago. Now it is believed he might be alive and the cause of the power surges. Roy is sent to Mars to try and send a message to him so he can be located and the damage brought to a halt. Brad Pitt is superb as the stoic and serenely natured Roy. He dominates the film, giving a fine and nuanced performance. The film looks incredible, aided by a stellar score by Max Richter. As said this film moves slowly. There are big set pieces such as the thrilling chase on the Moon, but mostly this is an internal film. It looks deep into the soul of humanity to question our place in the universe. But mainly the film is about a father and son relationship. How ambition and career can destroy a relationship. How chasing your dream can cut short personal connections. It's a surreal space epic brimming with intelligence. A film of contemplation and reflection.
The Farewell is a wondrous film. Beautifully crafted, infinitely humane, joyous and poignant in all the right measures. All credit to Lulu Wang, she has written and directed a film of true grace and pleasure. Set mostly on mainland China the film is about a grandmother who is dying of cancer. The trick though is that the family doesn't wish to tell her so that her last weeks are angst free. One of her sons lives in the US and he is OK with this plan, but his daughter Billi is not so sure. She returns home with the family, a wedding is the occasion, and really needs to divulge the truth. Awkwafina plays Billi and she is truly superb in the pivotal role. In fact the whole cast is stellar. There is so much to admire in this film. It's funny when it needs to be, but also terribly poignant. It is so beautifully observed. There are lots of small moments of humanity that filter through the film. And it never dips into sentimentality even though it could easily do so. There are nice comments too on the differences between Eastern and Western culture. This is a film to embrace and treasure.