Sparkly vampires could learn a lot from Jarmusch
by Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Only Lovers Left Alive
May 29-June 1, RPL Film Theatre
For mainstream audiences, director Jim Jarmusch is an acquired taste. While so much of the film world pushes family and camaraderie, Jarmusch’s films celebrate solitude and foibles (Ghost Dog, Broken Flowers). He’s not a misanthrope; he just believes that interesting people are few and far between, although once in a while they’re able to find each other (Coffee and Cigarettes, Night on Earth).
These days, Jarmusch’s voice feels more distinctive than ever. Only Lovers Left Alive is his most personal film, and also his most accomplished. This unique vampire movie is both an indictment of everything Jarmusch despises about humanity (our disregard for the environment, the ruling mob mentality) and a celebration of his heroes — from Edgar Allan Poe to Rodney Dangerfield. It’s also therapy: the modern world has Jarmusch depressed, and he needs to share.
Adam (Tom Hiddleston, Thor), a reclusive vampire living in Detroit, is the ultimate hipster. A composer who’s reluctant to share his gift with the world, he uses analogue technology as a statement. He also thinks humans are zombies unworthy of his wonderful music. His ennui has led him to consider suicide, and only the thought of his wife is preventing him from doing it.
That wife is Eve (Tilda Swinton), who prefers the narrow alleys of Tangiers to the mostly abandoned streets of Detroit. Sensing impending tragedy, Eve crosses the Atlantic to rescue Adam from his funk, but there are other ominous forces closing in.
Only Lovers Left Alive is more character study than plot-driven drama. Given the number of vampire-centric movies and books out there, it’s remarkable how few of them deal seriously with the idea of eternity and accumulated knowledge (only Anne Rice comes to mind) — but this one does, and wonderfully.
There are delightful little details sprinkled through the film that reveal the vampire as the ultimate insider when it comes to all things human, and it’s hard to imagine a more appropriate casting than Hiddleston and Swinton as the lovers of the title. They’re superb actors, obviously, but both also have an ethereal quality that Jarmusch puts to good use. In a supporting role, Mia Wasikowska is the equivalent of an unexpected kick in the balls just as Adam and Eve settle into delightful domesticity.
Jarmusch’s portrayal of Detroit is also pitch-perfect. In Only Lovers it’s a ghost town that subtly reveals there’s still beauty left.
Jarmusch has been a consistent filmmaker throughout time, but the way he approaches film narrative has become more accessible, opening the door to a larger audience. I can’t imagine a better movie than Only Lovers Left Alive for anyone looking to enter his world.
Oh, and do the world a favour and bring a friend: we need brilliant films like this to be successful.
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Other than the unwatchable X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the saga of mutant superheroes has remained remarkably solid. (I’m inclined to give X-Men: The Last Stand a pass because of Brett Ratner willingness to kill half the cast just to keep us entertained. Then again, that might get me banned by Prairie Dog’s X-nerds so maybe I’ll just shut up.)
This is not to say the franchise is remotely consistent. You can poke all kinds of holes in the universe’s structural logic. Sure, directors make huge (HUUUGE) efforts to keep all the films integrated, but there’s no plan behind it. Just improvisation and the rapid accumulation of franchise-killing high-gravity plot holes.
In Days of Future Past, X-Men past and (near-) future combine forces against unbeatable killer robots by going into the past to stop them from ever being made. Wolverine’s mind is sent back in time to warn Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr (a.k.a. Magneto) of the looming threat.
The results are tremendously entertaining, both in a post-apocalyptic future (more than a few shades of Terminator), and in the waning days of the Vietnam War. There’s a lot of vicious violence, too, if not blood. Sentinals are eeevil.
But one can smell trouble ahead.
Unlike the Marvel-Disney combo that has the Avengers universe mapped out until the next decade, Fox has barely two more movies in mind, one of them likely the last in Hugh Jackman’s tenure as Wolverine. X-Men movies are much too dependent on Jackman — only Magneto and Professor X, under two sets of actors, have developed into somewhat compelling characters. This, in seven movies? Not great.
Let’s not even go into the piss-poor job done with Rogue, Storm, Deadpool, Gambit, Emma Frost, Juggernaut, Sabretooth…
The X-Men universe is the one franchise with enough depth to give the Avengers a run for its money. DC Comics and Warner’s Superman efforts stink of desperation and stupidity, and they handed the keys to the wrong guy. And Sony’s effort to turn Spider-Man into a “universe” feels like a stretch (get Spidey back to Marvel!).
An X-Men relaunch is clearly the way to go for Fox, but the studio will need a more sound strategy than winging it as they go along.
That said, this movie is really good. And quite clever. /Jorge Ignacio Castillo
The Grand Seduction
Opens May 30
There’s a kind of Canadian film — medium size prestige productions — that bets on the same debatable strategy time and time again: hire a foreign actor of certain notoriety and surround him with Canadian talent. The approach is not entirely obtuse — a big star opens the door to foreign sales — but for every Barney’s Version there is a Colony, a Owning Mahoney or a High Life.
The Grand Seduction has all the tools to succeed, and yet it doesn’t.
The Grand Seduction is based on the Quebecois sort-of hit Seducing Dr. Lewis, although it’s more reminiscent of the Michael J. Fox vehicle Doc Hollywood. Tickle Cove, an impoverished Newfoundland town, is hoping to land a chemical disposal factory and the jobs that come with it. In order to get their proposal taken seriously, the community must get a permanent doctor.
Aware his hometown has little to offer beyond warmth and fresh fish, the de-facto mayor of Tickle Cove (Brendan Gleeson) goes above and beyond to convince a physician doing community service in town (Taylor Kitsch) that this is the place for him. Several town-wide schemes ensue, like creating the illusion they prefer cricket to hockey 10 times over. Cute.
The Grand Seduction could have been a poignant statement of the indignities remote towns must endure to receive healthcare. Instead, the outcome is light as a feather: It goes for the low hanging fruit and avoids controversy at all costs (the shady factory business gets a very Harper-ian resolution). And two mayor character — the doctor and his would-be love interest — are painfully underserved by the script. A shame, given how good Kitsch and Liane Balaban can be.
This is the Brendan Gleeson show, and The Grand Seduction lives and dies with him. The burly Irishman is very much at home in Newfoundland and carries the movie with ease. It’s too bad his efforts don’t get a better frame.