The Dead Don't Die
*** The Dead Don't Die is, on the surface, a zombie movie with the type of cast—Murray, Driver, Swinton, Sevigny, Waits, Buscemi, RZA—only a director with Jim Jarmusch's cache of indie cool could even dream of rounding up. In reality, the film is an exercise in Jarmuschism—a fourth wall-obliterating horror-comedy that wears its feelings about society (and filmmaking norms) on its sleeve. Unsurprisingly, Jarmusch cares little for either. The Dead Don't Die is filled with so many in-jokes it takes a second viewing to catch them all. For example: "This is going to end badly." "How do you know?" "Jim showed me the script," is a typical exchange between Murray and Driver, who, along with Chloë Sevingy, are the overmatched cops trying to figure out what's afoot in the fictional town of Centerville, Pa. True to the genre's roots, Jarmusch uses the zombie trope to take aim at socio-political topics like fracking and consumer culture—but the auteur also turns his eye toward seemingly any and everything that crosses his mind, and that's where the fun lies. Topics as wide-ranging as country musician Sturgill Simpson, MAGA, hipsters and the fact that Tilda Swinton seems rather otherworldly are all clowned here, with much aplomb. Like most Jarmusch features, Dead will severely divide audiences. To me, it's one of his finest works. R. DONOVAN FARLEY. Vancouver Mall 23, Cinema 21, Clackamas, Hollywood, Bridgeport.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco
*** Gentrification has many casualties: family, security, institutional memory. But rarely has a movie tapped into the tragic, bone-deep irony of a city's shape-shifting quite like The Last Black Man in San Francisco. This twilight-hued portrait of historic insiders craning their necks just to get a glimpse of the place they know best weaves together docudrama and fairy tale in its battle against displacement. Playing a version of himself in an extrapolation of his youth, co-writer and star Jimmie Fails, a young black man, caters an idealistic relationship with the post-World War II home his grandfather built in the Fillmore District. Though his family lost the house years before, he performs its upkeep covertly and soon hatches a plan with his best friend Mont (Jonathan Majors) to move back in. By measures exciting and frustrating, Last Black Man feels like a first feature. Director Joe Talbot's filmmaking is as bold and urgent as Fails' story. Still, certain details of the characters' lives add up to precious little while a climactic piece of community theater is grossly overcooked. Even so, Last Black Man upholds the highest ideals of American independent film. Just watch the sunset sheer through the fog of the bay, like the hope fighting to stay in Fails' eyes. R. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Cinema 21.
Men in Black: International
** Look, it's fine if you go to this movie simply to gaze at unfairly attractive people in tailored suits hanging out and fighting with aliens. On that front, you're covered. On most other fronts, well… This spinoff of the Men in Black series, which was originally supposed to be a 21 Jump Street crossover, centers on Molly (Tessa Thompson), a brilliant hacker who harbors both the burning passion for truth of Mulder and the dry cynicism of Scully. After landing a job as a probationary agent, she pairs up with the roguishly charming Agent H (Chris Hemsworth) for her first mission, which soon spirals out of control. The first act is OK, good even, and it's refreshing to see a science-minded woman of color in a franchise that has, historically, suffered from casual misogyny (looking at you, MIIB). As soon as Agent H enters the picture, however, the movie starts to displace the half-baked and predictable story in favor of relying almost entirely on the star power and chemistry of the Marvel actors. There are some snort-through-your-nose funny jokes interspersed throughout, mostly delivered by Kumail Nanjiani as the agents' pocket-sized alien sidekick, but it's climactically a forgettable, though entertaining, sci-fi ride. PG-13. MIA VICINO. Dine-In Progress Ridge 13, Mill Plain 8, Vancouver Mall 23, Bagdad, Cedar Hills, Clackamas, Cornelius, Eastport, Mission, Oak Grove, Bridgeport, Cascade, Cinema 99, City Center, Division, Evergreen, Lloyd, Pioneer Place, Sherwood, Tigard, Vancouver Plaza, Scappoose, St. Johns Pub and Theater.
* Occasionally, the wheel of sequelization turns so desperately that a "franchise" forgoes copycatting to become a formless imitation of something long forgotten. Enter 2019's Shaft, the fifth movie and third generation of the fictional Harlem investigator who came to embody the blaxploitation film era in the popular imagination. Yet all Shaft (2019) has in common with Shaft (1971) is a theme song that begins with a rattling hi-hat and a faint idea of how people should strut to it. This feeble cash-in from director Tim Story (Barbershop, Ride Along) follows up 2000's Samuel L. Jackson-led reboot and unrolls as a lumpy, tone-deaf action-comedy about the elder Shaft (Jackson) and his estranged son (Jessie T. Usher) squabbling over generational differences. The millennial likes coconut water, and the boomer is homophobic. What fun. Sadly, you can't take your mind off it with an incomprehensible plot about veterans smuggling heroin or love interest Regina Hall being a quarter-century too young for the 70-year-old Jackson. Don't get it twisted: None of this would be solved by fealty to the original Shaft. This isn't a tale of musky, polyamorous noir; it's a cautionary one about trying to mass-produce an artifact and ending up with a movie from nowhere, about nothing, for no one. R. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Dine-In Progress Ridge 13, Mill Plain 8, Vancouver Mall 23, Cedar Hills, Clackamas, Cornelius, Eastport, Oak Grove, Bridgeport, Cascade, Cinema 99, City Center, Division, Evergreen, Pioneer Place, Sherwood, Tigard, Vancouver Plaza, Scappoose.