★★ / ★★★★
The problem with this remake of the 1984 “Ghostbusters” is a lack of a consistent engagement where laughs turn into gasps of horror, and vice-versa, as well as its dearth of genuine curiosity despite its main characters being scientists who aim to provide incontrovertible proof of the paranormal. One may not be blamed for thinking that the studios simply green-lit the project to make money without the intention of ever providing solid entertainment because just about every other scene plays out like a television movie.
The casting directors made good choices in employing Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones to play the paranormal investigators. Each of them has a big but specific personality that brings something special to the table even though the script is not quite up to the level of its performers’ talents.
Particularly joyful to watch is McKinnon, a real scene-stealer. Notice that even when she is not saying anything but just so happens to be in the frame as her co-stars, our eyes tend to gravitate toward her—whether it is due to the way she stands, how she contorts her face, the manner in which she controls her eyes. This is called presence and it is invaluable. Another ray of light, but in a different way, is Jones. She has the more thunderous lines but she sells them with one hundred percent effort with enthusiasm left to spare. I enjoyed how her character is written as a historian compared to her more science-minded counterparts.
Allowing the special and visual effects to take over the final third is a grave misstep. The images look too playful, silly, non-threatening. In the filmmakers’ attempt to become family-friendly, it has forgotten to take risks with its imagery. Compounded with the fact that the stunts are too jokey to the point where we can almost see the wires lifting the actors as the characters are attacked by ghosts in Times Square, what results is a frustrating lack of suspense. There is no tension in our heroines’ confrontation with the neon-animated spirits. Twenty minutes of action unfolds but we end up not caring at all. Clearly, the picture does not qualify as a thrilling action-fantasy picture.
Neither does it qualify as a strong comedy with interesting characters. While the Ghostbusters share a sense of camaraderie, there are numerous ad-libbed lines, particularly from McCarthy, that ought to have been left on the cutting room floor. They stand out like sore thumbs because they are usually out of context. In addition, some of the dialogue, especially those between Erin (Wiig) and Abby (McCarthy) which touch upon how they have grown apart over the years so their reunion—though friendly—is a bit awkward, barely commands realism. It might have been more interesting if the writers, Katie Dippold and Paul Feig, had allowed the two to engage in some sort of friction and then slowly build toward mending their friendship. Give them a reason to work together even though they do not want to be around one another. Instead, everyone must be likable from the get-go. This is a recipe for boredom.
Directed by Paul Feig, “Ghostbusters” wants to have fun, and there are amusing elements here such as Chris Hemsworth playing a handsome but hopelessly dimwitted assistant, but those involved behind the camera seem to forget that there is value in work that is rough around the edges. This is why the original was such a success and is beloved by many. This work, on the other hand, is pristine, neatly-packaged, and just about everything is too controlled and polished. It fails to embody the spirit of its inspiration. And we see right through its mask.
★ / ★★★★
Three months after her mother’s burial, Haley (Steffany Huckaby) finds a toy phone that she used to play with when she was a kid. Wanting to feel the good times of childhood once more, she picks up the phone and dials a number. It rings. To her surprise, a woman from 1960 answers. Haley tells her friend, Cathy (Amanda Troop), about her discovery. They wish to make sure it is real so they make a handful of prank calls. Cathy tells Haley that if they can communicate with the past, then perhaps they can change the present.
Written and directed by Robin Christian, “Disconnect” has a premise that brims with potential. Not only does the phone have the capability to call any number, whether it be from the past or the future, it gives the opportunity for the caller to reconnect with loved ones, dead or alive. Many of us can relate to that need to have a second chance, to reset and wipe the slate clean. So it is most frustrating that the film is a big disappointment.
While the acting is wooden across the board, it is worsened by the omnipresent score and soundtrack. When a person is expressing grief, the violin cranks up the elegy. When someone is expressing surprise or joy, a corny pop song is employed. It is often that the music serves as a distraction, blasting away when a scene ought to be shrouded in silence. The sound of grieving over a death of a loved one is silence, not sad chords or keys.
The protagonist is not written smart. Never mind that she is always crying and constantly tells everyone around her how she feels. The holes in her logic—what should be done in order to trigger or fix a course of action using the magical telephone—are big enough for us to question. So instead of being behind her every step of the way, we hope that she recognizes a mistake and really think things through before a situation gets worse. Of course, it is convenient that the mistakes pile up until the final act.
Perhaps it might have worked better as a dark comedy instead of a thriller. Although the telephone is a mysterious artifact, there is nothing thrilling about the events that revolve around it. The occurrences in the second half are funny, but I am not sure they are meant to be. People die but the deaths do not hold much weight if by the next scene there is hope that their fates can be undone. Also, I laughed because it sounds like every line of dialogue is shouted. When more things go wrong—and they do—the decibels increase. We can feel the actors trying to remember their lines. It is like watching a rehearsal for a play that will take about two more months before it is ready to be shown to the public.
The movie is not unbearable and I liked how the so-called time telephone looks. But the negatives significantly outweigh the positives. Somewhere in the middle, I wondered how much more imaginative it might have been if a child had discovered the phone. I would be interested in seeing that movie.
Deepwater Horizon (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★
Peter Berg’s telling of the largest offshore oil spill in United States history translates into a compelling watch because sentimentality is kept at a minimum, it offers just the right amount of disaster movie elements without sacrificing realism and intelligence, and the director makes a smart choice in spending some time to allow the viewers to understand, and appreciate, what the disparate jobs in the oil rig entail.
We get the impression that we are simply watching people respond to a terrifying, life or death situation. Although there are numerous acts of heroism once the oil rig begins to fall apart, humanism is highlighted behind and despite such actions. The picture makes a point in the first half that these are men and women who have and must have strong professional relationships even though they pull one another’s leg from time to time. Thus, when someone’s life is in danger, it is not about simply saving a stranger. It’s about saving one’s friends who also have lives outside of what they do at sea.
Special and visual effects are highly convincing to the point where it is difficult to discern between, for instance, what is actual fire versus one produced using a computer. One of the standout scenes involves Chief Electronics Technician Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) and Drill Crew Floorhand Caleb Holloway (Dylan O’Brien) making their way to the other side of the rig in order to shut down a certain mechanism with the hope of avoiding to risk more lives. The seizure-like shaking of the ground they can barely stand on, the blasts of fire seemingly wanting to engulf their bodies whole, and the metallic debris falling all around them work together to create top-notch suspense, thrills, and engagement.
A director who does not understand how to helm an action film might have turned such a sequence, and others like it, into an incomprehensible mess where camera shaking is gravely mistaken as a proper substitute for timing and execution. Berg has an eye for framing movement—the characters in relation to the objects around them—and so our eyes always tend to focus on what we should be paying attention to, thereby avoiding confusion and, worse, headaches. It is easy to take for granted moviemakers who understand how to control nearly every element in seemingly pandemonium-packed action scenes.
But the best scenes, arguably, are the ones that simply take place in a room and there is a war between ideas. Kurt Russell, playing Offshore Installation Manager Jimmy Harrell, and John Malkovich, portraying BP Executive Donald Vidrine, have a solid handle on the dialogue. Nearly every look, body movement, and intonation of words are purposeful. So when the two men clash on how to proceed with their jobs, it is quite enthralling. Sure, we are supposed to take the side of Harrell, but we believe that Vidrine is convinced that what he knows, and therefore the path of action he wishes to take, is right. The script treats everyone as intelligent and so we wish to know what they have to say and why they think that way.
“Deepwater Horizon” is not for viewers must see an action sequence every ten to fifteen minutes. The movie, however, is for those who want to see a realistic interpretation of what did or might have happened during that tragic night on April 20, 2010 that could have been avoided altogether if greed had not gotten in the way of following protocol, if corporate monetary gains weren’t valued over human lives.
Beneath the Harvest Sky (2013)
★★ / ★★★★
High school seniors Dominic (Callan McAuliffe) and Casper (Emory Cohen) made a pact to leave Van Buren, Maine and live in Boston, Massachusetts upon graduation. Although best of friends, the two have different approaches when it comes to earning money prior to their departure: the former chooses to work in a potato farm while the latter collects prescription pills and gives them to his father (Aidan Gillen) to be illegally transported across international borders.
Written and directed by Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly, “Beneath the Harvest Sky” has its feet planted on realism but often falls short from becoming truly compelling because its subplot involving law enforcements trying to capture Casper’s father takes precedence over the relationship between the two young men. Although the subplot works as a peek into where Casper’s future might be heading if he continues to make bad decisions, it does not offer much in terms of what Dominic and Casper might be thinking or feeling toward a future inching closer by the day.
Cohen and McAuliffe create characters who are believable—as individuals and as partners. Despite their elementary differences, the screenplay is aware that it is necessary to communicate, in a subtle manner, that they share enough similarities—elements that keep them together. Thus, we reach an understanding of the characters’ friendship. For instance, when someone speaks with Dominic and makes a judgement about his best friend, we know exactly why he is hurt and feeling the need to defend Casper. To him, making a quick assessment of Casper is like attacking a family member.
Scenes that revolve around Casper and Dominic’s boredom and alienation of their small town are sandwiched by the business involving drug trade. Although Gillen makes a convincing criminal who knows how to separate business from pleasure, the subplot does not offer any emotional gravity that makes it a worthy parallel storyline alongside the boys’ uncertain future. So when the picture makes a switch from central plot to subplot, the intrigue is set aside for a couple of minutes and the pacing drags. Also, I found the subplot to have very little payoff, especially given the amount of time it gets.
I enjoyed the look of the film. There seems to be a fog of gray that hovers the town. I liked looking at the ordinary faces of high school students, some bored and others interested in what the teacher has to say. Certain images like rocks being picked up from the dirt and potatoes being processed are memorable because, ironically, these are details that are a part of every day life. The film gives the impression that these little things define a community. It may not be much but it is their life nonetheless.
“Beneath the Harvest Sky” has the potential to make a real statement about this generation, but it is too long and feels like two different movies at times. It is at its best when Dominic, in his own way, challenges or reminds his best friend that he can do so much more with his life. We wait for Casper to become defensive. Maybe, deep down, he knows that this is true.
★★★ / ★★★★
Mike Nichols’ “Silkwood” tells the true story of Karen Silkwood (Meryl Streep), a woman who worked at the Kerr-McGree nuclear plant in Cimarron, Oklahoma. Eventually becoming very vocal about the company’s unsafe policies, practices, and downright illegal activities, she inevitably becomes the target of not only the higher-ups but also her co-workers who are afraid that if the truth came out, the plant would be forced to shut down, thereby losing their jobs.
I admired the picture’s willingness to abstain from a typical arc involving a whistleblower and what might inevitably happen to her. I had no idea what was going on in the first half—a compliment—because the scenes do not appear to be building up to a climax—at least not in an obvious manner. The screenplay by Nora Ephron and Alice Arlen seems to be more concerned about letting the audience into the mindset of a small town and allowing us to get a feel of Karen’s life: how she feels about her job and being miles away from her children, how she relates or is unable to relate to some of her co-workers, the dynamics of her friendship with her lesbian roommate (Cher) and lover (Kurt Russell).
Pay close attention to scenes that show Karen simply being a part of her workplace. While we get to see a good chunk of her personality there, it leaves enough room for us to notice that maybe she is neglecting to take the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of radiation. The cake scene which takes place in a specific work area is telling. So is an early sequence in the lunch or break room where she takes food from other people. How does she know that they are clean?
Having experience working in a lab and dealing with radiation, I tend to notice every bit of detail, from what Karen is touching to what she is doing to protect herself—and others—from the long-term effects of plutonium exposure. And yet at the same time, the film does a good job in allowing us to understand that Karen may not know that she is being careless at times. After all, radiation safety is not instinctual. It involves considering things that are not easily seen. Maybe the workers at the plant are not well-trained.
The pictures offers one of the more chilling endings I have seen in some time. It is horrific and sad, certainly, but I was impressed with its elegance. Emphasis is not on the violence but in the aftermath, the still unresolved questions. It ends with mystery without pretension. Because of this, we think about the character and her mission rather than what has, what has not, or what has possibly happened to her.
Streep is such a consummate performer that watching her in slow motion makes me smile. I loved the scene where Karen must say farewell to her boyfriend temporarily. Karen does not want to let him go and so Streep, standing next to his car (Drew is a car mechanic—the car is an obvious representation of him), allows her hand to slide off the vehicle as it drives away. Choosing to inject such a small moment that may have been easily overlooked and inspiring us to extract significance out of it separates Streep from her fellow performers.
“Silkwood” is for absolutely for those who like to observe without having to be told where to look or what to think. One example is the relationship among Karen, Drew, and Dolly. During the first half, I did not know exactly what to make of what they have. I had my suspicions and so I looked for clues. The answer becomes clear soon enough but the fact that I had to question and revise means the characters are not cardboard cutouts but real people who have real thoughts, pains, and yearnings.
Take Me to the River (2015)
★★★★ / ★★★★
At least once we have all been in a situation where we realize suddenly that we are in the middle of something that can go very wrong at any second. Feelings of anxiety and dread soon follow. They attempt to overwhelm the body, but the mind insists to run as far away—and as quickly—as possible. “Take Me to the River,” written and directed by Matt Sobel, perfectly captures this quandary. Although it is a drama in its core, the film stands strong alongside the best suspense pictures of any year.
The plot is deceptively simple but effective. A family of three from California drive to Nebraska for a family reunion. Their conversation in the car point to a possible source of conflict between city and country; Ryder (Logan Miller) is gay and he wishes to make minimal effort in hiding who he is around his relatives despite his parents (Robin Weigert, Richard Schiff) imploring him to consider otherwise. The expectation of the seventeen-year-old receiving condemnation for his sexuality is a constant source of tension. This piece supports that movies containing a similar plot are not only consistently not fresh, when faced with it we have been conditioned to go on autopilot.
Here is a film that upends expectations. We believe it is about one thing but maybe it is about another, or even several things altogether. To cast a relative unknown like Miller is a great decision because many of us are not yet familiar with how the performer conveys his character’s thoughts and emotions. This is absolutely not the kind of role for someone who is exceedingly good-looking or extremely quirky. It is for someone who looks sort of ordinary but one who nonetheless commands a high level of control: convey subtlety but not so subtle that the protagonist ends up boring or one-dimensional.
Certain images are downright sinister—and without context they are peaceful, alluring. For example, as Ryder is on a horse among a field of yellow flowers dancing along the wind, we suspect violence to exacted somehow. As he sleeps in an isolated barn at night, anybody can so easily sneak up on him, beat him, kill him. Even a quiet river poses a threat. We look at the trees, shrubs, and shadowy areas nearby. Is anybody hiding there?
Sobel creates a magnetic rhythm that keeps us off-balance for the entire duration of the picture—quite a feat because many filmmakers do not even bother to take their time to establish or create meaningful, rich context for whatever it is they wish to communicate let alone to make sure there is music during unbearable silences.
The picture is clearly for viewers who like to search the screen for the minute details, to dig deep, to consider challenging implications when certain actions are undertaken, like characters looking at one another in a certain tension-filled way, or when they touch, or the manner in which certain phrases are expressed in order to inflict as much psychological damage as possible. Sometimes horror comes in the form of us simply thinking of the possibility that another person knows what they should not and suspecting that they are threatening surreptitiously to unveil it.
Neon Demon, The (2016)
★ / ★★★★
Nicolas Winding Refn is an interesting and capable writer-director; anybody would be proud to have “Bronson” and “Drive” in their oeuvre. However, although a gifted filmmaker in that he has a knack for picking near-perfect soundtrack to accompany specific images, he is not yet at the level to pull off a beast like “The Neon Demon,” a would-be arthouse psychological horror film about a sixteen-year-old trying to make it into the modeling industry.
To be successful in this type of film, the helmer of the picture must underline the story’s theme, or themes, in just about every scene. Despite the numerous beautiful high fashion magazine inspired images, the forefront is almost always the visuals rather than what is, or are, coursing in veins of the facade. This creates a superficial experience, which is partly the point because I believe the story is a critique of the fashion industry or Hollywood in general given the rigorous standards of women’s physical beauty, but it is never involving since we never get to learn what makes the heroine tick.
Elle Fanning plays Jesse the young aspiring model and she is convincing as an innocent girl navigating her way through a cutthroat industry. There is a pureness and softness to her that radiates a warm feeling and so when Jesse enters a room we understand why photographers, designers, and casting directors look her way. Less impressive, however, is when Fanning portrays the flip side of the coin. The glowering looks, the tight jaw and mouth, the long but empty silences come across too much as a performance. This is why the second half is much weaker than the first; we no longer believe or relate to the character that anchors the story.
There are a few interesting themes, one of which involves Jesse always being regarded, whether it be a boy (Karl Glusman) with whom she meets mere days after her arrival in Los Angeles, a makeup artist (Jena Malone) with an interesting job at night, creepy photographers (Desmond Harrington), and fellow fashion models. Compliments are always being thrown her way, some genuine but mostly out jealousy. We are given a chance to laugh at the highly competitive models (Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee) and their incredibly poor self-esteem.
Perhaps most noteworthy are scenes that show a room full of people but no one is talking to one another. The use of silence amplifies the fantasy. People, looking soulless, corpse-like, are either looking away or at Jesse, the sunshine in the middle of winter. When the critique is pointed and specific to our modern culture of selfies, wannabe/self-proclaimed models, and celebrity-worship, the film commands relevance.
Although not short of ambition, as detailed above, for the most part, however, the “The Neon Demon” is a trial to sit through. There are things to see but there is no one to root for. There is not one specimen worth putting under a microscope to undergo a thorough examination. Also, I felt that the resolution is so literal (given a particular common saying about the fashion industry), I wondered if Refn gave up on trying to come up with a more inspired way to end his story. Clearly, David Lynch he is yet not. At least with Lynch, there is no compromise.
Darkness, The (2016)
★ / ★★★★
“The Darkness” is an excellent example of a horror-drama gone terribly wrong. Thirty minutes into it, one is likely to experience a sick, sinking feeling that the deadly dull material isn’t going to get any better due to a screenplay so anemic in creativity, tension, and intrigue, it seemed as if the writers—Shayne Armstrong, Shane Krause, and Greg McLean—penned the material when half-asleep.
There is no inspiration to be had here. Instead, it offers old, rickety clichés—reshuffled, regurgitated, and reduced even further to their most basic, most frustrating building blocks. Halfway through, I wanted to shove the writers into a dark room, lock the door, and force them to watch great horror movies so that the next time they write a screenplay, it would not end up like this egregious vomit bag.
It is a shame because the first scene shows some promise. A family goes camping at the Grand Canyon and the children go exploring on their own. The youngest, Michael (David Mazouz), who has autism, stumbles upon a hidden cavern with curious rocks at the center space. Entertained by them, he decides to take these home, unaware that the artifacts, when taken from where the extinct Anasazi people had placed them exactly, would release demonic spirits that they imprisoned. Strange occurrences begin to unfold in the house. It works because the opening scene is mostly silent. It is about movement, exploration, how the camera follows a character from one beautiful place to a curious place.
Kevin Bacon and Radha Mitchell play the parents and it is clear that they are cast because they must sell the more dramatic moments. For instance, Peter and Bronny are still undergoing a monumental shift in their marriage because the former had had an affair. But the script is so poor, no performer, no matter how talented, can possibly save the material. The dialogue functions on the level of cheesy television, to refer to the script as Lifetime-like would actually pass as a compliment.
The marriage drama subplot does not work for several reasons. For one, the dialogue is too robotic, superficial, lacking a certain push to keep the viewer’s interest. At the very least, we should be mildly interested in the details of the affair and somewhat curious as to whether Peter and Bronny would actually choose to stay together for the sake of their family despite the increasingly powerful displays of supernatural phenomena in their home. Another reason is the lack of convincing or realistic rhythm in marital disputes. Notice scenes that show the couple arguing. It is almost always one-dimensional, painfully obvious. At times real couples fight not with words but through action or inaction—not necessarily physical violence but oftentimes through silences, insinuations, the hurtful details between the lines.
Because the people are not believable, the events happening all around them are not believable either. It does not help that the special and visual effects appear third-rate, one wonders if it might have been better if such displays were kept to a bare minimum. Sometimes horror lies in not seeing and comedy results in baring it all.
Directed by Greg McLean, “The Darkness” is an embarrassing attempt at horror, and filmmaking in general. This is what results when writers understand neither the psychology of its characters who just so happen to cross paths with otherworldly elements nor what makes horror savage and therefore engaging, thrilling, highly watchable. Most successful in the genre are those the viewers can actually believe to be real somewhere out there. The film suffers from a lack of ambition and common sense.
Soshite chichi ni naru (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★
“Like Father, Like Son,” written and directed by Hirokazu Koreeda, has the premise of a soap opera: a couple (Masaharu Fukuyama, Machiko Ono) learns that the child (Jun Fubuki) they raised for six years is actually another couple’s child—the two boys having been switched at the hospital after being born. But the story is told with such deep insight, high level of detail, and not once is the situation, and the people caught up in it, written lightly. Everyone is treated with respect and we observe how the parents and their children navigate themselves through a series of challenges with neither easy nor convenient answers.
Audiences unused to subtle performances will need some time take on a learning curve. Although it is not the kind of picture where characters are mostly silent, details are embedded in the looks one person gives another. For instance, when Ryota (Fukuyama) gets a chance to take a good look at the boy he thought was his son for the first time since learning of the fact, we cannot wonder about what he is thinking. This is a man who is about following rules and traditions, someone who thinks highly of himself because of his career and money in the bank, someone who thinks that blood is above all else.
Fukuyama plays a father who resembles an iceberg: cold, tough, unbothered. Despite the screenplay requiring the character to go through expected but important changes, the performer is smart to downplay Ryota’s evolution as to avoid cliché. The key is in those looks he gives and the judgments he imparts through those windows. The writing is so rich that even Ryota’s occupation is a metaphor. An architect must learn to demolish what he knows, accept that the life he thought was built just perfectly is not that perfect at all, and reestablish a new, modern way of living that can endure, possibly even flourish, well after what must be done is accomplished by both set of parents.
The picture is also successful in terms of framing images. Because the child actors are not given very many, certainly not complex, challenges in terms of expressing and emoting specific thoughts and feelings, the camera must take on their perspective. This is done by allowing the adults to appear bigger or taller in certain scenes in order to communicate their dominance. When the child feels as though he is being questioned in a forceful manner, closeups of adult faces fill the screen accompanied by very quick cuts of the child’s face, this time the camera is less close in order to allow for room to breathe.
The story is not simply an exploration of whether blood truly is thicker than water. I argue that this work is a critique of that well-known saying because the maxim tends to reduce the subject into something that is either black or white. Thoughtful, surprising, and daring almost every step of the way, “Soshite Chichi ni Naru” is likely to engage and compel those who yearn to explore the gray areas of parenting on a personal level and how society expects or dictates parenting ought be like based upon patterns and traditions.
Body Snatchers (1993)
★ / ★★★★
A chemist (Terry Kinney) from the Environmental Protection Agency is sent to a military base for a month to test possible toxicity of various sites. His daughter, Marti (Gabrielle Anwar), is less than excited about the assignment because she did not expect him to get remarried after her mother’s passing. Though she and Carol (Meg Tilly) get along just fine, the new wife is a constant reminder of her mom’s replacement.
Speaking of replacement, something strange is brewing in the base. Major Collins (Forest Whitaker) admits to Steve that he has been receiving a surge of patients with extreme delusional fixations like being deathly afraid of their family members because they are convinced somehow that the people they are living with are not really their loved ones.
Inspired by Jack Finney’s novel, “Body Snatchers,” directed by Abel Ferrara, is an exercise in, ironically, identity crisis. It is very frustrating to sit through because although it is science fiction on the surface with horror and paranoid thriller elements, it also deals with teen angst—a most toxic combination. Because the suspense-thriller and teen drama realms depend on vastly different moods and tones, they picture fails to propel forward. The little mystique it conjures up is aspirated out just as quickly.
The characters are severely malnourished in terms of development. Although the first scene suggests that Marti is a lead character of deep thought and intelligence, the scenes that come afterwards show that she is really nothing special, just another teenager who is neither a bad girl nor a good girl—just somewhere in-between, boring, waiting for outside forces to compel her to react. Anwar has the physical beauty and grace to become a compelling watch but the screenplay by Stuart Gordon, Dennis Paoli, and Nicholas St. John makes her character as bland as possible. Why?
One does not get a real impression that the story is really taking place at a military base. It looks more like a set with soldiers sitting on vehicles, jogging, looking stern. The interiors of the house Marti and her family are staying in offer nothing eye-catching in terms of design or geometry. Pale lighting is used to give the impression that the house has had prior residents but upon looking more closely, change the lightbulbs and everything would look artificial.
Because these crucial elements—characterization and a real sense of place—do not fall into place, it is difficult to buy into the reality of individuals being replaced by emotionless doubles. Instead of engaging us in a natural flow, coupled with the chemist’s analytical mind—which the writers prove too lazy to place any significance toward, just about everything comes off silly, very often forced.
Reduced into its final minutes, just about everyone is running around either trying to catch someone or a person trying not to get caught. It is all very standard and unimpressive. Where is the sense of wonder? Where are the interesting questions? Where is the palpable sense of danger? Don Siegel’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and Philip Kaufman’s remake of the same name are effective because they work literally and as metaphors.
This one is not about ideas. In fact, it is not about anything. As you saw, I was able to summarize the plot but there is nothing substantial to hold onto. About less than halfway through, I wished that my double were watching this brain cell-killing film instead while I enjoyed the sunshine and fresh air.
Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
★★ / ★★★★
Currently living in Tangier, Eve (Tilda Swinton) decides to pay Adam (Tom Hiddleston) a visit in Detroit given his increasing depression. Its source: once a wonderful world quickly being reduced to a wasteland of mainstream-mindedness and self-imposed limitation resulting in humanity’s failure to progress. Eve hopes that her presence will help her fellow vampire to climb out of the rut, but the eventual arrival of Ava (Mia Wasikowska), Eve’s sister, threatens to lodge him deeper into his crippling frustrations.
Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, “Only Lovers Left Alive” rests on its mood and atmosphere to tell a relatively forgettable story of two lovers who have lived together for centuries and are now questioning, in their own ways, if their everlasting lives, given that they choose to sustain it, is still worth continuing. Its languid pacing gives plenty of room for thought but it is certainly not the kind of picture that offers any kind of excitement despite its blood-drinking—preferably from blood donations—protagonists.
In a way, the slow as molasses pacing is appropriate. Since Adam and Eve are able to live for eternity and have been alive—if such a word is appropriate—for hundreds of years, time for them is to be relished. The film concerns itself with the details of its characters’ lives. Looking at the state of their homes, we can tell immediately that they admire art and music, like to read books, and value antiques. We get a taste of their personalities through the clothes they wear and how they are worn. We get an idea of what they like to do by looking at materials left on tables, chairs, and beds.
Casting Swinton and Hiddleston works for the movie’s advantage. These great performers are able to create something from pretty much close to nothing. Imagine if actors of lesser caliber were cast instead. Gone are the subtleties in facial expressions, how their limbs are placed and hung just right to evoke both menace and elegance, the control of movement from one point to another which communicates that they may look human on the outside but inside they are not. Both conjure up a mythical presence about them.
For instance, one of the more memorable shots is Swinton’s nostrils flaring just so when Eve, on her way to the City of Champions, notices a man’s finger dripping with blood. Just imagine: Creating tension from a simple millisecond movement of the nostrils? Only seasoned or naturally gifted thespians are able to pull that off without looking silly.
There is talk of “contaminated” blood which forces vampires, at least the very few we meet, to withhold from drinking any red at the most convenient opportunity. Is contamination referring to disease or drugs? There may be some evidence that it is the latter given one remark about a character spending too much time in underground clubs. Has the contamination gotten so bad that the vampire community is under a threat of extinction?
“Only Lovers Left Alive,” not without a sense of humor, gives audiences time to wonder what one might decide to do if one were given a chance to live forever. I would like to say something typical like “travel the world” or something of that sort. But I propose to take on a more challenging prospect: To watch every movie that has ever been released around the world… including those that are believed to have been destroyed. Places to visit are limited but movies are made and released on a daily basis.