Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

fucking beautiful, Jim Jarmusch, John Hurt, Mia Wasikowska, review, Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston

I like the idea of vampires. Not romantic and sappy Twilight vampires but back to basics vampires. I’m thinking those who build on the foundations laid out by John Polidori (let us not forget the true father of the literary vampire) and Bram Stoker: basically Lord Byron but with a bigger appetite for blood. So vampires: tick. As you probably also know, I really like Tom Hiddleston (I’m talking worry proportions here). Therefore, after finding myself alone on Valentine’s Day, I made the best of the situation by watching a preview showing of Jim Jarmusch’s vampire love story with friends. I ask you, dear reader, if you can think of a better Valentine’s companion, than sexy vampire Hiddleston. No, thought not.

In the nineties painfully hip director Jim Jarmusch experimented with genres and gave the world his indie versions of the classic western, Dead Man, and the samurai movie, Ghost Dog: the Way of the Samurai. As we all know, these days there are very few things quite as popular as vampires so it was only a matter of time until Jarmusch tackled this in his usual ‘too cool for school’ style.

Taking back vampires to the original Byronic hero style, Jarmusch’s tale follows undead married couple Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton). The pair has been together for centuries but now find themselves apart. Eve meanders around Tangier enjoying the music and literature it has to offer her. She has a lust for the after-life and enjoys her time with friends, including the famous Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt) who also happens to be her supplier of clean blood.
Across the globe in Detroit, Adam is a reclusive rock star who is lamenting the stench of humanity that has infected the world around him. Viewing all of mankind as culture destroying “zombies”, Adam has grown tired of his immortal existence and divides his time between making melancholic music with his vast array of musical equipment and contemplating firing a wooden bullet through his chest. Worrying about her long-distance love, Eve packs up her belongings and travels to her husband’s side.
We have come to expect certain things from Jarmusch’s films and Only Lovers is no different, despite being one of his most accessible films for a few years. The director’s focus has never been on narrative and story but on style, characters and mood. The film looks amazing thanks to the work of cinematographer, Yorick le Saux, and production designer, Marco Bittner Rosser. Thanks to the crumbling backdrop of modern Detroit, the film-makers have created a dark and luscious world full of hypnotic images that sum up Adam and Eve’s strange, night-time world. Most notably those gorgeous slow-motion scenes in which the camera circles over the couple.
Only Lovers is a technically wonderful film and visually stunning but, don’t go into this expecting great drama and complicated story. It is minimalistic and slow-paced, giving itself room to be self-indulgent and arty. Nevertheless, thanks to the fantastic performances from the main cast you never feel less than engrossed by the limited action on screen. Tilda Swinton makes an elegant and beautiful vampire and, if it is even possible, gives the film its humanity and sympathy. She treats Adam with a motherly tenderness and attempts to remind him of the joys the world has to offer. Swinton is the strongest member of the cast and is utterly mesmerising.

Her husband Adam is a much less agreeable character thanks to his incessant dark mood. Adam’s condemnation of the majority of the human race endows him with some amusing deadpan evaluations but Adam occasionally comes across as just another annoying hipster moaning about modern culture and lamenting the loss of the old ways. Due to Hiddleston’s inherent likeability and his relationship with Eve, Adam is prevented from falling over into full on emo-ness and becomes someone you care about.
Thankfully for the audience, we have a brief respite from Adam’s negativity with the arrival of Eve’s younger sister Ava, or at least the vampire equivalent of a sibling. Played by the joyful Mia Wasikowska, the screen lights up every time Ava appears. Acting like the playful toddler getting in the way of the pairs romance, Wasikowska is a scene-stealer and, though I never thought it would be possible, grabs the attention away from Tom Hiddleston’s remarkable cheekbones.
The main characters are aided by notable supporting roles from John Hurt as Marlowe, Anton Yelchin as Adam’s loyal errand boy, and Jeffrey Wright as an opportunistic doctor who supplies Adam with his supply of blood. They are all allowed to have a bit more fun than either Swinton or Hiddleston and bring some light-hearted relief to the potential melodrama of the central relationship.

Jarmusch’s script is littered with humour and self-awareness. This is not a vampire film but a Jim Jarmusch film containing vampires. It is arty, unconventional and ever so delightfully pretentious. There are few allusions to traditional vampiric law and instead the couple make numerous references to the historic figures that they have met over their vast lifetime. Those not accustomed to Jarmusch’s work will no doubt find this grating and smug but there is something lovely and alluring about its unashamed superiority. 
This certainly isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. If you are looking for a complex and drama-filled story then this may not be the film for you. However, if you appreciate stylish films, with an interesting script and intriguing, well-drawn characters I insist you give this a chance.   

Jane Eyre (2011)

Bronte, drama, Judi Dench, Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, review

(Feel I should point out this contains spoilers but doesn’t everyone know the story of Jane Eyre even if they haven’t read the book? Maybe not. SPOILERS!)

For a reason that remains unknown to me, Edward Rochester is the most popular romantic literary character ever. Rochester is not the kind of man you fall in love with. He is creepy, possessive and, generally, just a bit of a dick. Oh, but all he needs is a hug, a cup of tea and your love, right ladies? So he’s a tortured soul, who made a mistake in his youth but that really doesn’t justify psychologically torturing the young Jane. Although, maybe it is every girl’s dream to meet a man who loves her so much he is willing to convince her he is marrying another woman and break her heart before revealing that it was all a plot to make her jealous? What? In the words of renowned fashion designer Jacobim Mugatu, “I FEEL LIKE I’M TAKING CRAZY PILLS!” Rochester is a man who is bitter about ruining his life by marrying a woman he not only didn’t love but who turned out to be mad. This does not give him to right to play games with an innocent, young woman, fresh out of school, who is stupid enough to fall in love with him. I don’t get it and I never will.

This mindless rant isn’t quite as off topic as it may seem at first. My main issue with the film is the characterisation and casting of Rochester. No sane woman would fall Mr Rochester at first sight (I still maintain that after that it would be difficult but I have to get on with this). On the other hand, very few women would be able to stop themselves falling for Michael Fassbender at first sight. Fassbender cuts an attractive but brooding figure against the backdrop of the wild moors (much more akin to Heathcliff than Rochester). Within this setting, a truly complex man and this turbulent relationship is transformed into a stock character from a romantic comedy. This is not Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre this is When Harry Met Sally in breeches.

The awful and cruel Rochester of the book, who enjoys playing games with Jane’s emotions, has been replaced with a slightly offhand and bored man. For the most part, Jane is treated like his pet, used for his entertainment until, all of a sudden, he is wildly and obsessively in love with her. It is an even more nonsensical relationship than the one within the book (even taking into account that the moment where he disguises himself as a gypsy has been taken out). The intense feeling that is represented within the book never quite translates onto the screen.

The novel has remained a favourite literary work because its heroine represented a great improvement in the representation of gender politics and feminine power. Jane as a character is plain but, most importantly, she is passionate, intelligent and strong. Mia Wasikowska doesn’t stand up to the brutish Rochester and instead comes off as dull, rather pathetic and stiff. She sits opposite Fassbender’s Rochester and barely makes an impression. It is no wonder that the romance never really takes off within the film when the two lovers are as worn-out and dull as this pair.

I’m in desperate need of something positive to say about Cary Joji Fukunaga’s adaptation or this will turn into a review that beats Rochester in the broody and annoyed stakes. Clutching at straws here: I was rather impressed with Wasikowska’s Northern accent. As a proud Northerner myself, I found that my ears were not bleeding in response to her performance, as they indeed were post-viewing of One Day (Anne Hathaway has probably been ridiculed for this enough but casting her in that role is a representation of everything that is wrong with the film industry today. Why pick the best person for a role when you can pick the person who appears in the most magazines? Sorry, still bitter.)

At the same time, Judi Dench is as wonderful to watch as ever but her time onscreen is limited and there is very little she can do to improve the overall quality of the film. Her elderly housekeeper Mrs Fairfax is undeniably rather hammy but she is the only character that it is possible to have any real connection with. She is the only figure that I ended up caring about in the long run. Her happiness at having Jane in the house and their lovely reunion at the end of the film brings a much needed dose of emotion and life into the dusty Thornfield Hall.

However, I was thoroughly disappointed with the portrayal of Bertha as the gothic presence within the film. Having written my post-graduate dissertation on gothic fiction which I’m fairly sure now makes me an expert on the subject (hell if, Jamie Cullum can describe himself as an “expert on Shakespeare” thanks to his degree in literature then I can be a fucking expert on this.) The mysterious screams, the talk of dark figures walking around at night and secret passages are either forgotten or given such little emphasis that there seems little point that the discovery of the secret wife was included at all. They should probably have just fully descended into the world of romantic comedy and had Jane catch Rochester in bed with Judi Dench. Bertha, who is seen for all of 2 minutes, is reduced to the mysterious figure who sets fire to a bed, stabs her brother and give Rochester a well-deserved slap. In the novel, she is feral and very dangerous; within the film she is just an annoyance that prevents Rochester from getting it on with his employees.

Whatever the film lacks in figurative darkness it certainly makes up for in literal darkness. As far as cinematography goes, it was an interesting choice to use as few lights as possible during filming. I realise we are meant to believe that we are witnessing events within the past but that I would have thought it was prudent to allow the audience the chance to see the magnificent sets and Yorkshire backdrop. Of course, this could just be a clever cinematographic attempt to represent the darkness within Thornfield and the unseen gothic feeling that was such an important part of the novel but wouldn’t dare accuse this film of something so clever/pretentious. I

Although, for what you can see of it, the film is visually stunning. Great use is made, during the opening scene, of the wild moors that surround Thornfield. The costumes are stunning and Dario Marianelli’s score is beautiful. In terms of artistic merit Jane Eyre really does deserve the amount of praise it received following its release. Fukunaga’s style is simplistic and understated. He lets the materials that he has at his fingertips do the work for him and it is beautiful. It is just a shame that  the main event, the love story, does not deserve it.

I guess, all in all, Jane Eyre is a decent enough film. The main actors both do commendable jobs that, had it not been for the fact that this is one of many adaptations, would have been satisfying. As it is indeed one in a vast ocean of similar works, this film fails to live up to the reputation of either the original material or the many others that have come before it. The main characters have been so greatly diminished that their love story doesn’t really stand out from the crowd. The film pretty much collapses under the weight of the reputation of its beloved and well-known characters. The ending (expertly mirrored in this review) is rushed and doesn’t offer an adequate resolution for the audience.