Jim Jarmusch’s new film was chosen as the Cult Gala for the London Film Festival and it certainly presses all the buttons to be a cult classic. Lukewarm one liners, a superfluous supernatural element and a star with an obsessively devoted fanbase.
Visually, the film is very impressive, the opening few shots are totally engaging and this stylish cinematography stays throughout the film. Unfortunately the plot is nowhere near as impressive. The conceit of the film, in that our protagonists are vampires, is utterly pointless. Every single aspect of this story could be told without any vampires. However, removing this conceit shows up the film for what it really is, a banal, middle of the road, sitcom. However, even with the vampires Only Lovers Left Alive is barely funny and seems to rely on being “quirky” and “awkward” in the place of supplying the audience with any substance. Of course the whole film is set at night which means that 90% of the time the screen is dominated by black, dark brown and dark green, not least provided by Tom Hiddleston’s hair. Given that Hiddleston’s hair already has its own tumblr page there’s no doubt that this “emo rocker” style will gather a few new viewers.
No doubt the teenage girls who adopt this film (being too old for twilight) will champion the discussion of “real issues”. The film touches superficially on the wastefulness of humans and seems to champion love regardless of age or distance. These are not new issues. These are not groundbreaking or interesting issues. However, they are hip, liberal, teenage issues. Soon enough you will find yourself on the internet watching a GIF of Hiddleston and Swinton with the caption #trueloveknowsnodistance #ageisjustanumber. Once more Jarmusch has demonstrated an infallible ability to corner a market and pin it in place as it consumes every aspect of his niche film.
The performances in this film are difficult to judge. Every actor carries the burden of being self-aware and nonchalant in every scene. It gets very tiring to watch everybody on screen be so painfully aware of how funny they are. This is despite the fact that most of the humour follows the “oh look those words imply something different to normal because vampires” or indeed just involves pointing a camera at either Hiddleston or Swinton looking out of place and hoping it’s funny. A light interlude from Mia Wasikowska is a welcome break from the self-importance of the first act but is cut short to make way for some more moody lighting and jokes where blood is referred to as if it were drugs. There are people who will love this film, however, I am not one of those people. Cinematography can only carry a film so far, there has to be something, anything to make it worth watching.
P.S. I wish I could say I had planned to release a review of a vampire film on Halloween. As it happens, enjoy the happy coincidence.
Richard Ayoade’s Sophomore film is nowhere near the same ballpark as the quintessentially British Indie flick Submarine that propelled him into the realms of up-and-coming director. The Double is adapted from the Dostoyevsky story of the same name and features Jesse Eisenberg in his second film involving video cloning techniques.
The visuals arequite challenging to watch, not a single shot features daylight and the interiors all seem to be painted in a gloomy forest green with orange lighting. The production design is completely consistent in this to the point of it becoming so oppressive to watch you’re almost glad when the film finishes. This consistency does give the film a slick and stylish aesthetic more comparable to music videos than any cinema I can think of. The artificial environment makes it easy for the audience to suspend their disbelief during the bizarre and mildly supernatural series of events the film chronicles. By making the surrounding world so grimy and depressing there is no possibility of trying to find reason for the downward spiral you are watching: it just seems like a by-product of this dystopia.
There are two main characters in this film, Simon James and James Simon. Both are Jesse Eisenberg. Eisenberg manages to be on screen in nearly every shot, often twice in one shot. Amazingly it is never possible to be mistaken as to which character he is portraying. Despite identical clothing and setting Eisenberg’s performances capture the body language, personalities and variation in tone of two different people. Of course it is true that these two characters are formulated to be polar opposites, but Eisenberg’s consistent believability as both is nothing to be scoffed at. The supporting cast is somewhat less interesting, Mia Wasikowska’s performance is decidedly average, but then her character is more of a plot device than a human being. In fact, none of the other characters are fully fleshed out, only Yasmin Paige seems to break through this to still give an engaging performance, everyone else is just consistently one-dimensional.
While I really want to love this film there is something that seems to be missing. You watch it without being able to look away, but it’s almost too cool, too slick and focused and it wraps itself up so neatly that there is nothing for you to take away from the film. It’s like a soundbyte, a wonderfully entertaining and hip as hell soundbyte, but still not enough to really affect you in any way.
Gus Van Sant’s 2011 film was widely disliked by critics at its release. Almost universally considered too frivolous for its subject matter, it got somewhat forgotten in the back-catalogue of Van Sant’s work. The story confronts love, death and illness with an almost scandalous lightness of touch. Discussions of death are accompanied by upbeat ragtime piano tunes and light is made of every possible situation. As such, the film treads the fine line between comedy and melodrama, the cutting and witty script counterbalancing the tragic storyline at every turn.
Henry Hopper and Mia Wasikowska give charmingly subtle performances as today’s star-crossed lovers. Hopper’s performance as Enoch Brae is especially impressive given his newcomer status. His interpretation of the off-beat troubled teen is perfectly complemented by Wasikowska’s gentle presence. What is so endearing about this film is its distinct adolescent quality. What many have seen as Van Sant ignoring the issues is merely the result of a profound insight into the teenage state of mind: the ability to deal with something by simply…not dealing with it. Indeed Hiroshi, the third main character is an embodiment of emotional displacement. Not a single one of them is able to confront their issues. It is not that they are unwilling. Throughout the film numerous attempts are made to discuss or solve these issues, in a mature and adult way, but the tragedy is that they are not adults. Their attempts are on occasion farcical, calling to mind Luhrmann’s inept Romeo and Juliet more than any realistic coping methods.
While the simple narrative would designate Annabel (Wasikowska) as the tragic victim, it soon becomes apparent that happiness and tragedy befall only those who cannot approach them positively. Enoch bears the full brunt of the tragedy that befalls these lovers only because he tries to engage with it, unlike Annabel who shrugs off her issues in a definitively carefree manner. The cinematography and direction are knowingly whimsical, romanticising every moment as if the whole film is already held in happy retrospect. This is a huge part of the film’s success. Were it to be more brutal in its approach there would be no hope, no catharsis, and ultimately no point in telling this story. Van Sant delivers a highly moving story with heartbreaking realism, the deepest sadness is both amplified and healed by the very joy it unwittingly contains.
The transition from child to adult is a topic that has fascinated storytellers for generations. From the time of the very first bildungsroman up to the present day, some belief has persisted that a story of becoming mature, framed in the correct way, could shape adolescents into better adults.
Stoker does not do this. Stoker allows the process of losing childhood innocence and entering a world larger than your own to flourish in it’s full fear and gore. Mia Wasikowska plays India, a girl who loses her father on her 18th birthday. From this point onwards she must deal with grief, fear and sexual experimentation on her own. She has literally outgrown the vestiges of her childhood but is not yet ready to become a woman.
What is bizarre about this transition is that it seems to happen in the course of a few days, at most a few weeks. Placed into close contact with her uncle, an embodiment of temptation and darkness, she starts to discover herself. The use of blood in this film speaks volumes. Each stage of India’s sexual journey is accompanied by a release of blood. She matures as a woman at each stage, shedding her demure, uptight clothes for progressively more attractive and freer-styled attire. Her journey is twisted incestuous, sensual and violent. An appropriate styling for the female experience. In a world where women are consistently taught that sexuality is a sin, it is not over-dramatic to render this journey in terms of murder and terror.
The film’s depiction of family presents a division between India’s maternal and paternal bloodlines. India connects emotionally only with those on her father’s side of the family, leaving her mother (Nicole Kidman) confused and shocked by her own daughter. Eventually she even grows to fear this girl who has clearly chosen the opposite side of the family. Every member of the father’s bloodline, however, displays enduring love despite incredible, torturous circumstances. India is once again caught in the middle of these forces as she tries to become her own woman, taking what she was taught as a child and applying it to her own reality. In the end she is faced with a choice, but even then it is difficult to know whether she chooses to avenge her father or save her mother. This seems to be the only way she can accept both influences; to interweave them to the point where they seem to be the same goal.
The film is unique in its editing and cinematography, more resembling a comic book than any form of moving media. Time is distorted as memories, recollections and storytelling merge into one. Each important moment in fact seems to be happening at the same time. In one scene this even goes so far as to place past present and future into one short sequence of taking a shower. Oblique camera angles and negative space dominate and lend the film a surrealism which counteracts the shocking immediacy of the action. It seems to be set somewhere far off from reality yet in a place that is universally accessible to the viewer. This is what many artists have striven for over the years, to translate the specific plot to a universal experience. This is what Stoker excels at.