Tuesday, April 15, 2014

M Is For Music Of The Night

Today's Blogging From A to Z Challenge is another new release. You guys are so lucky I had enough money to actually review two new films this month! Maybe I should include a tip jar on the sidebar...

Year: 2014
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Cast: Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska
Run Time: 2 hours 3 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Horror in 2014 is certainly shaping up to be better than that bland, uneven slate of studio horror we were trapped with last year. I had to chew off my own leg just to make it through to Christmas. Luckily, Only Lovers Left Alive, the new film from the director of nothing you've ever heard of, Jim Jarmusch, is an intriguingly fresh take on the notoriously haphazard vampire genre.

It really changes your perspective on Tom Hiddleston. I mean... vampires. Or whatever.

The film follows Adam (Hiddleston), a mopey and reclusive rocker vampire in Detroit, and Eve (Tilda Swinton), his wife of many (many) years, who has taken up residence in Tangiers. You might expect this situation to be a result of marital strife, but you would be wrong. In fact, nearly all expectations one might typically have for a film like this turn out to be wrong.

There's no fighting wars with sunlight, crosses, and garlic. There's no evil tribe of vampires or mystical demon queen bent on world domination. There's hardly any conflict to speak of, actually. More Breathless than Dracula, the film depicts a few days in the life of a vampire couple, exploring the nature of a relationship that has weathered the tests of centuries.

Only Lovers Left Alive is also characterized by a quiet sense of humor that doesn't seek to announce itself. Bright and clever, with only one joke that is beaten into the ground too often to have much merit, the film is a curious genre-bending piece that never quite falls into a categorizable camp, which is much to its benefit.

The film simply exists, defying explanation. Much like Tilda Swinton's cheekbones.

The entire value of the thing relies intrinsically on the acting chops of its core couple and the Swinton-Hiddleston duo deliver like never before, turning in a pair of performances like nothing the world of vampires has ever seen before. Although Hiddleston displays some traces of Rice-ian vampire angst, there is never a second that these two aren't convincingly ancient and utterly in love with each other. 

Their effortless chemistry is something I would never have expected from these two actors but by the end of the first ten minutes, you can feel it in your bones and question why you ever doubted it.

Swinton steals the show with a marvelous performance as a woman who has rode out millennia, seeing the worst that humanity has to offer but still ceaselessly finding the joy in life. Her lusty appreciation for the world around her is what compels her to live and keeps Adam away from his darker tendencies.

At its heart, this isn't a story about vampires, but about two philosophies and worldviews duking it out on the battlefields of love. That sounds hokey as all get out, but the film is rather rich in thematic material on the nature of what it means to be alive and to be human. There's a reason Adam calls the un-vamped denizens of the city "zombies" and it's not entirely ironic.

Leave it to the undead to know more about life than we ever will.

The real strength of the film is in its world building, something which frequent followers of this blog will know I have a dangerously overwhelming passion for. But there's just something about investigating the nooks and crannies of an alternate universe that gets me all tingly inside.

This film is full of well-thought out explorations of what unending life would be like and how different personality types would handle it. Add in a dash of old souls needing to adapt to the changing times (and with the amount of contaminated blood on the rise thanks to our dumb human antics, it's a real necessity) and you get a deliciously rich cocktail of pure cinema.

Although occasionally the film bogs itself down in the mire of stuffy "art" filmmaking (it's these points that lost me) like the nauseating opening shot or some of the longer musical interludes, the favoring of intellectual meat over conflict or even literal meat is utterly unique in a film of this type.

All in all, it's perhaps more moody than I care for, but it's a terrific film that blows most of the crappy vamp films we've been dumping into theaters since the 90's out of the water.

TL;DR: Only Lovers Left Alive is a slow-moving, conflict less film that is a valuable exploration into human nature guided by a pair of terrific performances.
Rating: 7/10
Should I Spend Money On This Movie? I can't imagine a scenario in which I'd seek out to view this movie again, but I feel that I am a better horror fan for having watched it.
Word Count: 848

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