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.
Stake Land (2010)
★★ / ★★★★
Vampires have taken over the planet. While Martin (Connor Paolo) and his parents seal up their home to prevent the blood-suckers from getting in, a vampire manages to ambush them. A man named Mister (Nick Damici) rescues the teen but sadly it is too late for his family. While on the road, Mister and Martin hear about New Eden, a place of refuge somewhere in Canada, and so they make their way toward it and meet friends along the way: a nun (Kelly McGillis), a pregnant woman (Danielle Harris), and a former Marine (Sean Nelson).
“Stake Land,” written by Nick Damici and Jim Mickle, is successful in providing us images of the land so ravaged by vampires, religious cults, and cannibals, it is initially difficult what to expect. As our protagonists look on from their truck, there is a heavy solemnity in the air as if kindness and humanity have become a rarity.
But a believable environment does not make a movie. As Martin and company move from one location to another, the material often stalls. For instance, instead of fully exploring the motivations and complexities of a religious cult called “Christian Army of Aryans,” we are subjected to multiple and typical vampire attacks. Martin, still heartbroken from losing his parents, forges a bond with the nun and eventually comes to see her as a mother figure. Aside from certain glances which suggest that they have become close, they share not one meaningful or touching conversation designed to lead them to that point in their relationship. They could have talked about many things like the trauma of losing one’s parents and what it means to move on.
The lack of communication between the characters highlights the weak script. Instead of turning inwards when appropriate, it thrusts its audience into another scene featuring a rabid vampire that needs to be shot in the head or driven a stake through its heart.
Martin’s budding sexuality never comes into focus. We see him looking at a girl who he believes he might have a chance with. Nothing much happens there. We see him pocket a deck of cards with nude women printed on the back. Nothing much happens there either. As the ending implies, it is supposed to be Martin’s story. However, looking back, he isn’t given very much to do other than to look sad and scared to stab a vampire. Mister trains Martin how to kill a vampire, martial arts and all, but the montage verges on silliness.
The writers should have allowed the main character to be more colorful and lively to serve as a contrast against a planet overrun by depression and death. The different kinds of vampires are sort of interesting–kid vampires, berserkers, and the like. Mister claims he’d encountered vampires that had mutated. From a biological point of view, it may lead to rapid differentiation of the mutant vampires. I wished one of the characters was a scientist so he can explain to us, specifically, how each group is different. When the vampires hiss, growl, and attack, they all look pretty similar, almost boring. Although not consistently, “Stake Land,” directed by Jim Mickle, does offer a glimmer of an imagination. Is letting loose too much to ask?
★ / ★★★★
When a family (Stephen Moyer, Mädchen Amick, Lily Collins) was attacked by hungry, eyeless vampires, Priest (Paul Bettany) disobeyed the church’s orders not to take action. The institution claimed that vampires were contained in the Wasteland and those who terrorized the family were not creatures of the night but simply lawless men. Hence, Priest should not concern himself. However, to Priest, the attack was personal because the girl in the family, Lucy, turned out to be his daughter. Based on the graphic novel by Min-Woo Hyung, “Priest,” written by Cory Goodman and directed by Scott Charles Stewart, was a humorless, uninspired video game. Like most role-playing video games, the main character started off on his own and teamed up with other warriors throughout his journey. One was Hicks (Cam Gigandet), a sheriff with a talent for throwing knives, who loved Lucy. The other was Priestess (Maggie Q), who was assigned to bring our protagonist, dead or alive, back to the church. But unlike an RPG game, the picture paid no focus to each character. We knew nothing about them except for the fact that they wanted to rescue the girl. Good intentions aside, the dialogue became redundant because their specific motivations lacked depth. But one of my main problems with the film was its universe being devoid of complexity. We knew someone was bad because they chopped off chickens’ heads; we knew someone was good if they had the slightest screen presence. The rest, like the buildings and people’s homes, looked grimy and one-dimensional. Humans cowered at the word “vampire.” Meanwhile, the vampires were somewhat interesting because they were portrayed as beasts. Other than Black Hat (Karl Urban), the leader who was half-human and half-vampire, the rest didn’t have the capability to speak. They were hungry and blood was what they were after. The CGI kept my lowest level of interest because of the way the ravenous vampires moved. They were bulky yet they moved quickly, eyeless but always seemed to know exactly where their target was located. But the CGI’s magic was transient. I wanted to know more about the war that was often referred to between the clergy and the vampires prior to the latter’s exile in the dreaded Wasteland. Due to a lack of background information, I didn’t understand why the Priests became rejects of society. After all, weren’t they the ones who protected mankind from becoming dinner? Sure, they were no longer useful after the vampires had been contained but, if you ask me, they should have given at least a glimmer of power and authority after the war. As a film, “Priest” lacked flow. If injected with key transitions and history, it would have been stronger. The action sequences were exciting but if we don’t feel the gravity of what they were fighting for, we just don’t care about the outcome.
Underworld: Awakening (2012)
★★ / ★★★★
After humans discovered that vampires and werewolves walked the planet, they performed a mass cleansing of the abnormal. Selene (Kate Beckinsale), a vampire, was eventually captured by a drug company called Antigen, led by Dr. Lane (Stephen Rea), and experimented on her, while frozen, for twelve years. Their goal was to create a drug that could help authorities recognize the so-called infected. When she woke up, vampires and werewolves, though still at war with each other, were forced underground and had depleted in number. Directed by Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein, the way in which “Underworld: Awakening” began felt cheap. The narration and synopsis of what happened in its predecessors felt completely unnecessary. Instead of a movie, I felt like I was watching an introduction to a video game: you want to fast forward but it’s part of the whole package so you sit there and take it. My problem was it didn’t really try to make me care about the war among humans, lycans, and vampires. However, I found the action sequences very entertaining because they had a sense of humor. When Selene tried to escape from Antigen, she had complete disregard for the humans. She shot limbs, sliced throats, and cracked bones like it was nobody’s business. She didn’t crack a smile. I didn’t even notice her blink. What mattered was getting out and finding her boyfriend, Michael (Scott Speedman), the only vampire-werewolf hybrid in existence. Or so she thought. Eventually, Selene found a girl named Eve (India Eisley) who was supposedly her daughter. I began to have more questions and not all of them were answered or even addressed. For instance, though it was obvious, through snarling and looking morose, that the vampire and werewolf communities were against commingling of race, if Selene finally found Michael, what would it mean for the two camps? Did the plan involve Selene and Michael making a lot of babies so that, when the time came, werewolves and vampires would have no choice but to accept one another? Or did the plan simply involve the couple and their daughter, once reunited, hiding from the world and living happily ever after? Admittedly, I gave up trying to figure out motivations which wasn’t difficult to do when action scenes were thrown at the audience’s faces every ten minutes or so. I was very entertained by the scene where Selene, David (Theo James), a vampire with great bone structure, and Eve drove a van in the middle of a city while trying to escape from three lower-level–but still scary–werewolves. I found it amusing that although the werewolves jumped on top of one vehicle to another, the human drivers didn’t seem at all perturbed that a hairy beast was on the roof and, at times, blocked their vision. One would expect more car crashes considering how stupid people really are while behind the wheel. I was also tickled by watching Selene being thrown like a rag doll by a giant werewolf (Kris Holden-Reid). “Underworld: Awakening” was like eating popcorn: it’s salty, buttery goodness on the outside but the inside is all air. That doesn’t make it any less delicious.
Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1, The (2011)
★ / ★★★★
Invitations were sent to family and friends about Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward’s (Robert Pattinson) upcoming wedding. Jacob (Taylor Lautner) was far from happy after receiving the news so he headed outside, took off his shirt, transformed into a wolf, and ran to ameliorate his rage. During their honeymoon, Bella discovered that she was pregnant. The couple was surprised because it was believed that a human and a vampire could not conceive a viable being. The fetus was growing at a rapid rate and it threatened the life of its host. Despite sensible advice that she ought to terminate, Bella decided to keep the thing inside her. Based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer, “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1” was the weakest entry in the series. It was divided into three parts: the wedding, the honeymoon, and the horrific pregnancy. There was absolutely no reason for the film to be divided into two halves other than to make money. There was no pretentiousness, which I would have welcomed and possibly interpreted as ambition, or even an attempt of artistic integrity. The movie lacked interesting events, both big and small, designed to challenge who the characters were and what they really stood for. Since Melissa Rosenberg, who wrote the screenplay, stretched about half the novel for almost two hours, the pacing felt unbearably slow. It got so bad to the point where the characters actually ended up watching television together because they had nothing better to do. At least it was unintentionally funny. The acting was never the series’ strong point, but I’ve always managed to stick with it. In this installment, I lost my patience within the first few minutes. It was supposed to be Bella’s wedding day. It’s a big day when everyone is supposed to be excited and happy. Or at least pretending to be. Walking down that aisle, Bella looked absolutely miserable, like she was being punished and in pain. Take off the wedding dress and she looked like she really needed to go to the restroom. I understood that maybe she was nervous about marrying a vampire. Maybe she was even having second thoughts about making a monumental commitment. If those were the emotions that the actress wanted to portray, the responsible thing to do was for the director, Bill Condon, to do a reshoot until the right emotions were conveyed through the screen. The director had no control over his material. It looked like the filmmakers did only about ten takes and were forced to pick the best one, which was below mediocre. I’ve seen Stewart’s work in other movies and I know that she can act well given the right script and direction. I wish Jessica (Anna Kendrick), Bella’s friend from high school with whom she never interacted with, had more lines during the scenes prior to the wedding. Kendrick brought a certain energy, a realism and effortless charisma, that the other actors either didn’t have or were unwilling to show. “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1” could not afford its characters to look bored because the pacing, the script, and the plot were already on the verge of lethargy. For instance, instead of showing the Cullens, Bella, and Jacob just sitting on the couch and watching TV, why not explain the concept of imprinting? It was an important part of the movie, but I found myself having to look up exactly what it was after watching it. Like the parasitic creature in Bella’s womb, that’s not a good sign.
★★★ / ★★★★
It was year 2019 and vampires have taken over the world while humans were forced to hide because the creatures of the night hunted and used them for blood. Now faced with a shortage of blood because there were more vampires than humans, a hematologist (Ethan Hawke), a vampire who also sympathized with humans, aimed to create a blood substitute that could solve vampires’ problems. However, the leader (Sam Neill) of the company in which the hematologist worked for and the hematologist’s brother (Michael Dorman) himself had other plans. This movie had an interesting take on vampire movies because, like “28 Days Later” in terms of zombies, it related vampirism to a disease because it talked about having a cure. That scientific angle fascinated me, even though not 100% of it made sense in the end, and appreciated that it tried to do something new with the genre. Hawke did a great job as a man who, ten years being a vampire, hated what he had become because he did not want to become a vampire in the first place. I enjoyed his interactions with Claudia Karvan, as a human who led a resistance against vampires, and Willem Dafoe, as a vampire who accidentally turned human. The action sequences where exciting, thrilling and sometimes startling because it went in directions I did not expect. I just wished that the picture had a stronger last twenty minutes. It felt anticlimactic instead of urgent (especially if the fate of the planet boiled down to one showdown) and the abrupt ending left much to be desired. I was not quite certain whether it was setting itself up for a sequel or we were supposed to be hopeful for what would happen next. The ending needed a defined tone but it did not have a chance to reach a certain point because the filmmakers did not allow it to simmer. “Daybreakers,” written and directed by Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig, caught my attention and managed to keep it because it had grand and creative ideas about vampirism. It had its weak moments such as introducing a politician who was not explored in any way but it also had strong moments showing how far vampires would go to get food. Perhaps it took itself too seriously at times (it certainly would have benefited if it had taken some pages energy-wise from “Zombieland”) but I could not help but admire how dedicated it was with its new concepts.
★ / ★★★★
“Transylmania,” directed by David and Scott Hillenbrand, is one of the dumbest movies I have ever seen. That’s saying a lot because I’ve seen my share of egregious films. A group of college friends decided to go to Romania for an international studies program. Little did they know that the school was a nest of vampires wanting to feed on their blood. The premise made it seem like it would somewhat be a fun spoof because of the vampire craze these days. Unfortunately, the movie started off bad and only got worse from there. Throughout the whole thing, I felt like I was watching a really bad play where all the actors were overexaggerating everything. Worse, I felt like the actors didn’t know their lines at all and made them up as it went along. There was no sense of consistency or even a minute effort to make a decent movie. Everything was random, everything was flying all over the place, and everything was beyond boring. I would rather watch a group of real life kids pretending to be superheroes as they try to save the world using blankets and toys because at least those kids would put imagination into their pretend play. (Not to mention children are generally cute.) “Transylmania” had no material to build upon at all so I was shocked that it was even made in the first place. The characters were devoid of intelligence but they did have high levels of libido. They should have made softcore pornography instead of running around acting like idiots and wasting our time. But the point where I thought I had enough was when a girl was decapitated yet she was still able to speak. I mean, come on, are you serious? But my complaining won’t do anyone any good so I’m going to propose how this picture could have been improved in the most basic levels. I think this film should have taken the “Scary Movie” or “Not Another Teen Movie” route. There are so many vampire flicks out there worth making fun of (not just the “Twilight” series) from smart (“Fright Night,” “Interview with a Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles,” or the cult classic “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” television show) to stupid ones (“BloodRayne” which also happens to be one of the worst movies I’ve seen); it’s just a matter of finding the right jokes and comedic timing. The main characters (or one of the main characters) should have been likable. Without anybody to root for, why would the audience care? I wish I could say that “Transylmania” was so bad that it was good. Unfortunately, it was just really bad and it was stuck on that level because no effort was put into it. Needless to say, one should avoid this movie at all cost.
Twilight Saga: Eclipse, The (2010)
★★ / ★★★★
I can always rely on the “Twilight” series to be consistently mediocre despite the fact that each movie released was better than its predecessor. In “Eclipse,” based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer and directed by David Slade, the love triangle between Bella (Kristen Stewart), Edward (Robert Pattinson) and Jacob (Taylor Lautner) reached its peak but the vampire and werewolf camps decided to join forces in order to protect Bella from newly-born vampires led by Riley (Xavier Samuel) and Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard taking over for Rachelle Lefevre). Like the first two movies, “Eclipse” suffered from far too many ways Edward and Bella expressed how much they loved each other. I understood that the whole thing might have worked on paper or else the novels wouldn’t have been as successful but it just did not work on film because it quickly became redundant. Even when the movie tried to explore the romantic relationship between Bella and Jacob, the picture lacked energy and, to be quite honest, I started noticing the make-up, editing and the lighting. In other words, it lost my interest despite my best intentions of sticking with the story. The movie would have benefited if it had more action sequences. Maybe it’s because I’m a guy but I did enjoy the climax when the werewolves and vampires came head-to-head with the vampire army while Edward and Bella faced Riley and Victoria. Victoria was probably my favorite character since the first movie because I thought she was menacing but enchanting at the same time. Unfortunately, even though I could tell she was trying her best, Howard’s interpretation of her character did not work for me because she lacked Lefevre’s subtleties (which the series desperately lacked). In this installment, Victoria felt like a pawn instead of a rogue vampire who was full of malice and thirst for vengeance. I also enjoyed the tent scene when Edward and Jacob finally connected not because it was touching on any level but because it was very amusing to the point where people were actually laughing out loud in the theater. There was something purposely homoerotic about the very intense glares the two sent each other. Even though that scene wasn’t very effective, I admired that the material was aware enough to make fun of itself. Furthermore, I can criticize the film for not being a good example for teenagers in promoting marriage considering the characters’ ages but I won’t because it simply tried to remain loyal to its source. I can only hope that the final installment (divided in two) will have more suspense and action than romance. It needed less cheese and more bloodshed.
Twilight Saga: New Moon, The (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
I cannot believe I saw this in theaters considering I wasn’t that impressed with the first “Twilight” film. However, since my expectations were low, I’m happy to say that I wasn’t disappointed (but I wasn’t happy about it either). I expected a mediocre outcome and got just that. Chris Weitz directed the second installment of the highly popular franchise. He tried to balance Bella’s (Kirsten Stewart) depression when Edward (Robert Pattinson) decided to break up with her due to an incident during her eighteenth birthday and Bella’s attempt at recovery when she finally got the chance to get to know Jacob (Taylor Lautner) who saw her as a romantic interest. And that was pretty much what the whole movie was about because I felt like this was more of a transition than anything. With that said, I found that this movie had no reason to be over two hours long. There were far too many scenes when Edward and Bella would talk and circumvent the main point they wanted to get across. For me, the sexual tension that worked in the first film simply wasn’t there anymore. Simply saying, “I cannot live without you” over and over is simply not good enough. In fact, I hated it when Bella and Edward were alone together because I knew I would hear an extended conversation that lacked gravity. On the other hand, I was interested in Bella and Jacob’s blossoming friendship. There was a certain brother-sister connection there even though Jacob wanted Bella romantically (and not the other way around). I was also happy with the new characters that involved a vampire royalty called the Volturi (mainly Michael Sheen, Dakota Fanning). I completely bought that they were menacing, powerful and very unstable group of vampires. One of the many ways this movie would’ve been more entertaining was having more action scenes. I loved the scenes that involved the diabolical Victoria (Rachelle Lefevre). Even though she barely said a word, her presence was mysterious and posed as a real threat. Granted, the film was based on Stephenie Meyer’s novel so it had plot limitations that were strictly designed for this sequel. However, there’s a certain way–an elegance, confidence, and ability to take risks–to make those limitations work for this project but I felt like it didn’t even try. With a much bigger budget than its predecessor, it should have been that much better, bigger in scope and more urgent. Regardless, I’m still curious with how the story would play out in the future installments especially with the way they ended this one. I cannot believe I said (more like yelled) “What?!” out loud when a certain line was said and it cut to the end credits. The fans of the novel probably looked at me and wondered why I watched the movie before I read the book.