Friday, April 18, 2014


Jim Jarmusch's "Only Lovers Left Alive" exudes cool and sinks its teeth into a genre that has otherwise been tarnished into trash by pop culture. The writer-director brings it back to rare life and escalates it to art, diving into territory those others wouldn't dare to. The biggest question: what motivates these creations (vampires) to keep loving, living and moving forward for untold centuries at a time? They have no wonder grown tired of this earth and the people that inhabit it -- problem is, there's nowhere else for them to go.

Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton -- with long hair, swaying limbs and ever-present shades to block out the light -- are absolutely magnetic as the arty, existential vampire couple at the film's center, Adam and Eve.  They refer to humans as zombies, those who have ruined the world in which they live, watching as it wastes away before them. The two have been married forever (almost literally) but begin the film apart. Eve rests in Tangier using the precious blood supply from ancient vampire Marlowe (John Hurt) to sustain herself, while in Detroit, Adam sneaks into a hospital to get blood from Dr. Watson (Jeffrey Wright) who asks no questions and accepts a wad of cash. Adam and Eve have to be cautious because blood, their life supply, has become increasingly contaminated.

Adam is also a musician, fascinated by the age of analogue rock, but he's also in complete recluse and doesn't want his music out in the world. He relies on errand boy Ian (Anton Yelchin) to help keep him hidden from the scene. Eve comes to join her love in his hideaway, but her presence also draws her mischievous sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) to them, as well. Music plays a large part in the film's aesthetic, the camera swirling like a record player along with repeated variations of a theme. With cinematographer Yorick Le Saux ("I Am Love") shooting Jarmusch's first foray into digital, it marks the filmmaker's most visually exciting film to date. It's very much a Jarmusch film ("Broken Flowers," "Coffee and Cigarettes"), and as long as you can groove with his unhurried pace, it's an alluring two-hour treasure.

"Only Lovers Left Alive" is both dead-serious in its meditation on pressing onward even amid a feeling of having nothing left to live for, while also lightly funny in moments of perfectly executed, bone-dry humor. It's also more than a little hopeful in its strange way, a lamenting love letter to the city of Detroit, a microcosmic wasteland of civilization that has a glimmer of potential for rejuvenation.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


The voluptuous alien seductress leads unsuspecting men into her otherworldly lair. Naked, they stroll across a reflective black surface in a pitch black room toward her. They begin to sink into a velvety darkness beneath them to be forever trapped and eventually killed, their bodies mined for resources. Images such as these, which are so striking, are at the center of Jonathan Glazer's "Under the Skin," which represents powerful and visionary storytelling from a singular artist (who helmed "Birth" and "Sexy Beast"), that is endlessly confounding but never frustrating. The film is sublime, an intoxicating mix of sci-fi elements wrapped in a horror atmosphere where nothing is clear; it's a narrative puzzle that unravels in mystery and beauty.

This is the other Scarlett Johansson fare that came out last weekend, the one that's not "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." Her casting is inspired, she astonishes and is extraordinarily brave in the sometimes wordless role, and I don't say brave just because of her full frontal nudity. It's easily her best (onscreen) performance in a decade, save for "Her." She plays a creature not of this earth but cloaked in the skin of a beautiful woman, silently cruising the streets of Scotland in a big white van, looking for prey. What's most fascinating here is the way the film was shot: guerilla style, with many of the Scottish men not realizing they were speaking to a well-known American actress.

Things take a turn in the second act when Johansson's creation becomes aware of herself, the form she has taken and most notably her body, which has a power over men she doesn't even quite grasp. How is it possible these men so willingly join her to an unknown location? There's a great moment where, becoming fully conscious of what the men really want, she scrambles to the edge of the bed, grabs hold of a lamp and bends over to examine up herself.

"Under the Skin," fueled by a brain-searing score from Mica Levi, transforms into a meditation on sexuality, gender norms, the fine line between lust and danger and, finally, the nature of humanity, what it means to be non-alien, of this world and of our skin. Don't be shied away from evocative experimental cinema. This one is brilliant.