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Only Lovers Left Alive – 8

February 4, 2015 Leave a comment

Director – Jim Jarmusch

Cast – Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Anton Yelchin, Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt, Jeffrey Wright

Release Year – 2014

Reviewed by John of the Dead

When I think of indie filmmaker Jim Jarmusch I do not think of the horror genre, so when I learned that he filmed a flick referred to as a “crypto-vampire love story” I was stoked to see what he could do. Starring Tom Hiddleston, who replaced Michael Fassbender, Only Lovers Left Alive is a dramatic experience that may be a little light on the horror, but is nonetheless one of the best horror films of 2014. It moves slowly, but the subject matter and acting performances were so engaging that I hardly took notice to that. Instead, I left with a new appreciation for Jarmusch’s talents.

In the abandoned sprawl of Detroit lives Adam, an underground musician who has lived as a vampire for centuries. With depression kicking in as a result of his displeasure over mankind’s insidious downfall, his wife Eve, living across the world, reunites with Adam. What happens next displays the beauty, and troubles, of eternal love.

I am not a fan of vampire films. I am also not a fan of “horror” films with very little horror. Only Lovers Left Alive is both, and I really enjoyed it. Jarmusch writes and directs this piece, and his story begins with a heavy emphasis on Adam’s character. We learn that throughout the last few centuries Adam has played a role in the careers of famous scientists and musicians, but these days he is withdrawn and suicidal. He has a strong contempt for the world that the humans, who he refers to as “zombies”, have made for themselves and feels that they have missed their apex by squandering opportunities for advancements in education and science. His life as a musician is his escape from such disparity, however he finds himself at odds over recognition and his fans discovering his terrible secret. He befriends Ian, a young musician whom Adam pays to attain rare instruments and handle his odd requests, which are bound by a confidentiality agreement. For the first 39 minutes Adam’s character is established, then Eve walks back into his life.

Their reunion is heartfelt, tender, tame, and never feels forced. Married for centuries, they have spent the latter years halfway across the world from each other. This couple is unlike the typical vampire, who ventures out at night to drink the blood of the living. Instead, they drink the “good stuff” from local suppliers, fearing that fresh human blood has been contaminated by poor diet and the degradation of their environment. Yeah, it sounds like social commentary to me too. It takes a long while, but conflict finally arises at the 80 minute mark, which means you could have watched all of REC before anything juicy happens. I did not necessarily balk at this because simply put, this is not that type of film. Sources say that when Jarmusch was approached about adding more action to the film he instead removed all of the action that was already in it (which took place early in the film). This does not mean that Only Lovers Left Alive is without horror. There are a select few scenes of horror, and while they do not hit overly hard I found them pretty effective. This is first a dramatic melodrama and then a horror film, so keep that in mind.

They snack on Type O Negative blood popsicles.

I have seen other viewers mention that “nothing happens” in the movie, and I understand where they are coming from. This is especially understood when you consider that this is a two-hour movie. I must say that a lot does happen in the film, but the developments are mild and therefore the flick feels like it does not offer much. That could not be farther from the truth. We watch a relationship that has stood the test of time, which includes moments of weakness, depression, despair, and heartbreak. That is hardly uneventful.

Jarmusch’s direction is top-notch, and played a huge role in keeping me engaged during this “slow” film. His atmosphere is incredible, and as a film junkie he did his best to employ different lenses and lighting to make this digital (due to budget reasons) film appear acceptable to his liking. I loved the sets used for Adam’s home, which was adorned with vintage guitars, amplifiers, and framed photos of history’s most notable minds, who he apparently had an influence on over time. Next come the acting performances, which are some of the best I have seen in recent time. Hiddleston is perfect as Adam, Tilda Swinton meshes wonderfully with him, and together they create one hell of a couple to view. The supporting cast also deliver good performances, with actors Anton Yelchin and John Hurt getting more screen time than the possibly underused Jeffrey Wright. So how is Jarmusch’s execution of the horror? It was good, but keep in mind there isn’t a whole lot of horror here. We see one major death, and most of the good stuff occurs off-screen. Much to my surprise, though, the death was shocking nonetheless and that’s because I knew it was coming. Jim’s execution was THAT good.

Overall, Only Lovers Left Alive is a sure that is sure to please those who enjoy a good story in a dramatic horror film. It is also amazingly well-shot, making it a visual treat I suggest you check out.

Rating: 8/10

…Additional Stills…

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Under the Skin – 8

January 26, 2015 Leave a comment

 

Director – Jonathan Glazer

Cast – Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Lynsey Taylor Mackay, Adam Pearson, Jessica Mance, Dougie McConnell, Kevin McAlinden, D. Meade, Andrew Gorman, Krystof Hádek, Scott Dymond, Michael Moreland

Release Year – 2014

Reviewed by John of the Dead

Earlier this year I learned that there would be a horror film starring Scarlett Johansson as an alien seductress who lures men to their doom. If you ask me, that sounds like a kickass grindhouse film – I was dead wrong. The more I learned about the film the more it came off as an art house masterpiece with hints of influence from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Regardless, with so many cool elements involved I had to give this a watch, and was pleased at the outcome. Under the Skin is an experience that must be experienced. It’s a horror, thriller, drama, and fantasy effort that makes for one of the most unique horror films this millennium.

The storyline is as simple as the first sentence of this review. Scarlett stars as an unnamed woman who removes the clothes from an unconscious woman and then embarks on an unmentioned mission to seduce random men. That is, of course, after the film’s immense opening sequence. I really cannot tell you what happens at the beginning of the film, but it is this sequence that makes me mention 2001: A Space Odyssey when I speak of this flick. The first word is not spoken until 13 minutes into the film, and I was very surprised to learn that much of the dialogue was unscripted. To get a realistic feel, most of the men that the woman meets are non-actors who had their conversations with the woman recorded and were then offered roles in the film. This is a bold move by writer/director Jonathan Glazer that worked out in his favor in the end. So, instead of an actual screenplay the film is written more as a blueprint, with the non-actors giving “true” performances as they were unaware that they were speaking to Scarlett Johansson, who was wearing a wig and makeup.

A very long first act gives us approximately an hour of the woman seeking men, both successfully and unsuccessfully, and disposing of them. The first kill appears at the 21-minute mark, and it will leave you bewildered as to what exactly happened. Do not worry though, the next kill, at 35 minutes, explains what happens to her unsuspecting victims…and it is truly haunting. For this being such an artsy film I was quite surprised at how effective the horror was. I can’t say that this will give me nightmares, but I was definitely left in shock over what I saw. The second act slows things down as she travels a bit and begins to find herself. At times it feels like she is curious to know what life is like as a human, but she is on a mission and we are made aware that those who sent her to Earth are covertly watching her. The third act gives us the woman’s first true conflict, which is short-lived and leads to a climax you will either love or hate.

 

Jonathan Glazer’s direction is what sells the film, and it was unexpected given his previous efforts, which are Birth and Massive Attack videos. His provides a visceral experience with long, drawn-out sequences that play on your senses with amazing visuals and a haunting score. Scarlett is great, and the execution of her character, from looks to mannerisms, surpasses her acting. This is not because her acting is poor, but because the performance is so basic. Glazer’s direction of the kills was quite out of this world, with the uneventful ones still captivating me thanks once again to the visuals. I mentioned earlier that there is at least one haunting scene, and its effectiveness is incredible. Glazer draws these scenes out to achieve the highest amount of tension possible, leaving you to squirm in your seat, eyes glued to the screen, and in complete submission to the film. I cannot say that happens often, and I give him props for that.

Overall, Under the Skin is an experience that must be experienced. If you are looking for a film to entertain a group of friends with then this is probably not for such an occasion. However, if an incredibly unique effort is what you seek, you have found it here.

Rating: 8/10

Amer – 8


 

Director – Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani

Cast – Cassandra Forêt, Charlotte Eugène Guibeaud, Marie Bos, Bianca Maria D’Amato, Jean-Michel Vovk, Delphine Brual, Harry Cleven, Bernard Marbaix

Release Year -2009

Reviewed by John of the Dead

The Italian giallo films of the 60s/70s/80s are some of my favorite films of all time, and made their mark on the horror genre with their beautiful visuals, great mystery storylines, and awesome blood-soaked horror. Since then the giallo sub-genre has since died out, despite Argento’s attempt at revisiting it with Giallo in 2009, but in the same year we were given a true homemage to Argento and Bava’s earlier films in the French effort Amer. Focusing heavily on visceral senses and supreme atmosphere, Amer delivers the best modern attempt at the famed Italian sub-genre that I have yet to see, and is one of the best films from last decade as well.

Amer follows Ana during three phases of her life; childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Each of these phases comes with key sensual moments that define Ana’s life, and as she rides between reality and fantasy she finds herself stalked by a black-gloved killer who seems to know just where to find her during these key moments of her life.

I was not 100 percent sure what to expect with Amer. I figured it would at least somewhat follow the giallo template, but I had no idea that it would turn out the way it did, a masterpiece of superb visuals and truly sensual material. Simply put, Amer is Black Swan before Black Swan.

The story following Ana is great, and I loved that it came in three segments taking place in three phases of her life thus far. As you can imagine, the first act is her childhood, the second her adolescence, and the third her adulthood, with each act/phase consisting of sensual material in its own right as well as some positive horror as well. The horror in the film is not outright, and some of you may balk at that, but in the end I found the minuscule amount of horror to be worthwhile, although this film’s great rating comes mostly due to its quality as a film, not so much its horror. In fact, at times the film felt as if it were more of an “art house” film than horror, with its numerous long-winding scenes consisting of Ana’s seeking and enjoyment of numerous elements that seem to get her aroused, all coming with few spoken words. My only balk at the film came as a result of this, in which the film would begin to head in a horrific direction but would instead turn towards an artistic this or that, leaving me wanting more. Some of you may enjoy a film that toys with you and leaves you begging, and while I enjoy some films like that I really wanted Amer to deliver more of the horror in the giallo element and not so much showing off directing duo Helene Cattet and Bruna Forzani’s directing prominence.

While the story was great and gave us a unique take on the giallo sub-genre, Cattet and Forzani’s direction was superb and definitely the highest selling point of the film. From the get-go we are thrown into insanely superb atmosphere consisting of fantastic visuals, perfect lighting, great sets, and awesome camerawork that had me hooked from the get-go thanks to what I was visually seeing before me. I mentioned earlier that the story tends to abandon all dialogue, and while that sounds boring I never found myself uninterested in what was going on thanks to the superb direction we were given. Ana’s delusions consist of colored fantasies that were a true visual treat, and while at times it felt the did not make any sense I thought nothing of it and went along for the ride, which worked for me. You already know that the level of horror in the film is fairly low, especially in comparison to other giallo films, but the horror that we do get was great and very well executed. The usage of the gloved assailant was great, and although it takes a long while to pull through we are given a truly sensational kill(sadly the only kill in the film) during the film’s final sequence, including a climax that was perfect for the film and left me satisfied from this experience.

Overall, Amer is a unique modern day giallo film that is sure to please those seeking a horror film that is much more than a horror film. Superb visuals and captivating execution sell the film to the viewer, and while the storyline refuses to focus on dialogue we are given a creative story that I have yet to see in the genre. Although the horror is fairly low in comparison to similar films, Amer provides a truly horrific experience that you must pay close attention to in this beautiful and visceral experience. Highly recommended.

Rating: 8/10

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