Review: ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ 8.26.14

Writer/Director Jim Jarmusch has had a very varied career. He has gone through different transformations and styles since becoming one of the first real American independent filmmakers on the scene back in the early eighties. Leading up to this film, I did what I do with a lot of other directors in that if I’m a big enough fan of a film or 2 of theirs, I will go back and do a complete retrospective of their entire ouevre in anticipation for it. Having really only seen ‘Dead Man’ (mediocre) and ‘Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai’ (great) I was pretty much a Jarmusch novice. So I started out with the film that put him on the map – 1984’s ‘Stranger Than Paradise’ and went in ascending order watching every film he put out along the way up to 2011’s ‘The Limits of Control’. One thing I realized throughout this process is that I have a very deep respect and admiration for Jarmusch. But as I mentioned, my opinion of his films are rather varied. This one fell into the varied group, in that I can’t say it really did much of anything for me. Much like Wes Anderson, I feel like after he made a few of his earlier films, he developed a certain style that he continued to rehash and infuse into all his films following. Although I did enjoy ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’, I did come to the realization that not much has really changed. That’s sort of how I feel about Jarmusch. Ever since his films shifted, both stylistically and in content, around the time he released “Dead Man’, I feel like I’ve liked his films less and less with each release (‘Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai’ being an exception). He has developed a certain style that is unique and very particular to him. The characters he writes are always hip, cool, sleek, and stylish. That and cinematically his films have always been a feast for the eyes. But here, as more aligned with his most recent efforts, it’s yet another exercise in style over substance. I get that he was trying to do his own take on the vampire genre. Which for the most part was pretty inventive. What lost me was the story. It meandered and little to next to nothing happened except for a few characters that come in and out of this tale of 2 aging vampires, played well mind you, but it’s Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton, so when are they ever not good? While we do get to meet some interesting characters in the form of Anton Yelchin, Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt, and Jeffrey Wright. I felt like the film was too full of itself and Jarmusch just used it as yet another vehicle for his psuedo-intellectual hipsters (only this time they’re vampires!), while also displaying his penchant for music and how he very specifically incorporates it into each of his films (one of the few aspects I thought was well done), and finally, his ability to put his own spin on a different genre all were on display here. But besides his usual trademark stuff, other than that, I felt like the film was void of any true feeling or development of the story. If you want see see a vampire take on ‘Sid and Nancy’, and watch aging vampires sit around, play and listen to music, and do not much of anything other than get their fill. Well, maybe this one’s for you. I just can’t say I would personally recommend it. Except to maybe the diehard Jarmusch fans. In which case, I’m sure they will rise to his defense at any cost and disagree with me.

Grade: C

Review: ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ 5.3.14

It’s nice to see a return to form for Wes Anderson. After having been pretty  disappointed with his last effort – ‘Moonrise Kingdom’, for the sole reason only that for the first time he decided shift his story to focus on characters who were children, which made it feel almost a little too “family friendly” for Anderson. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’m all one for branching out. But I’ve personally always have thought that Anderson is at his best when he’s exploring the pain and sadness of the life of being an adult (which we all know and understand there’s plenty of). That’s why I loved ‘The Royal Tenebaums’ and ‘The Life Aquatic’ so much. Of all of his films, this one reminded me of and was most closely aligned with the aforementioned 2. So it was inevitable that I would take more of a liking to it. That, and what I loved about those other movies is that they’re essentially character studies despite their large casts. In the form of both Royal Tenenbaum and Steve Zissou. Those characters were bigots, narcissists, egocentric, and self absorbed. But they were also incredibly human despite their flaws. Which allowed me to be able to relate to more and have a deeper affinity for them. But even more importantly, they were completely aware of their attributes, just not willing to admit them, which I think is very indicative of human nature in general. M.Gustav, played brilliantly by Ralph Fiennes (funny how you forget about how good of an actor is sometimes and then they come back to remind you), is strikingly similar to the 2 characters mentioned above. And he fits into and plays this role to a T. I would be very hard pressed at year’s end if his work here doesn’t garner him at least a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor. It’s get the usual Anderson trademarks – sadness, absurdity, whimsy, sharply written (I don’t think I’ve seen an Anderson film yet with this level of witty dialogue), and unbelievably eccentric characters. To me it’s the absurdity of his characters and the situations in which they find themselves that I find so funny. Is it filled with laughs? That depends on the audience. Did I find it absolutely hilarious? Yes. But in Anderson’s usual high brow way. I don’t think I need to go into the fact that it’s meticulously and incredibly shot, that’s a given. So even if you’re not a fan of Anderson’s films, at the very least you can sit back and marvel in the decadence and splendor of it all.

Grade: strong B