Review – Only Lovers Left Alive

After testing the limits of our patience with the languorous The Limits Of Control, Jim Jarmusch has returned to his ironically idiosyncratic best by unashamedly injecting some arthouse into the well-worn vampire flick.

This year has seen plenty of highlights in the world of film; the return to form of Jim Jarmusch is one of the most welcome

This year has seen plenty of highlights in the world of film; the return to form of Jim Jarmusch is one of the most welcome

There really isn’t anyone out there who does what Jarmusch does and for that reason alone his status as life ambassador for effortlessly cool American independent cinema is assured.

There have been some misses, for sure. The Limits Of Control (2009) disappeared up itself and Night On Earth (1991) never quite got going, but set against such fare as his breakout Stranger Than Paradise (1984), the wonderful Dead Man (1995) and hugely atmospheric Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai (1999), Jarmusch’s filmography remains one to be reckoned with.

The effortlessly cool Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) in Only Lovers Left Alive

The effortlessly cool Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) in Only Lovers Left Alive

Only Lovers Left Alive finds the candy floss-haired writer/director in a rich vein (sorry) of form and leaves you wondering why he hasn’t done a vampire movie before now. As ubiquitous as this sub-genre has become, there is still plenty of room for exploration and Jarmusch casts a melancholic glance at an America that no longer exists.

Instead of chucking in werewolves or getting bogged down in tedious vampiric lore, the film’s central bloodsuckers Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) have a loving warmth that belies the fact they’ve been effectively ‘dead’ for centuries.

Playwright Christoper Marlowe (John Hurt), looking good for 600 (or so)  in Only Lovers Left Alive

Playwright Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), looking good for 600 (or so) in Only Lovers Left Alive

In spite of being on the planet for so many years, Eve still sees wonder in the world as she walks the streets of Tangier and sources “the good stuff” from her old friend, the English playwright Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), who has been sitting on a secret anti-Shakespeare conspiracy theorists would love.

Adam, meanwhile, is very much a glass half empty vampire and finds his only solace in vintage instruments and sound equipment, which he acquires from the eager-to-please Ian (Anton Yelchin). Adam purchases his O-Negative from Dr Watson (Jeffrey Wright), who refers to his vampire customer as Dr Faust (in a cute nod to Marlowe’s most famous play).

Eve (Tilda Swinton) enjoys a blood lolly in Only Lovers Left Alive

Eve (Tilda Swinton) enjoys a blood lolly in Only Lovers Left Alive

Adam lives in the industrial wastelands of Detroit and, unlike most vampires, steers clear of “zombies” (humans) whom he scolds for allowing the world to go to rack and ruin and infecting their blood with chemicals. A visit from Eve also soon brings with it an unwelcome stopover from Eve’s annoying sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska).

The relationship between Adam and Eve is beautifully handled by Hiddleston and Swinton (looking amazing for her age; maybe she went method for the role), who exude a otherwordly detachment from the world, whilst the love their characters share is exquisitely human. In spite of having been together for hundreds of years, they can still surprise each other with previously unheard stories and fresh observations (a mutual appreciation of musician Jack White being one of the more amusing ones).

Adam (Tom Hiddleston) acquires another vintage guitar from Ian (Anton Yelchin) in Only Lovers Left Alive

Adam (Tom Hiddleston) acquires another vintage guitar from Ian (Anton Yelchin) in Only Lovers Left Alive

Rather than being seen as mere nourishment, the vampires imbibe on the O-Neg as a junkie would their latest fix; falling into a bliss state not dissimilar to that shown in Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting. It’s not a particularly original approach – Abel Ferrara’s under-appreciated The Addiction explored the same metaphor back in 1995 – but like so much else about Only Lovers Left Alive, its askew view keeps it refreshing.

Yorick Le Saux’s silky cinematography (the camera’s circular motion can be interpreted in several ways) and use of space is particularly striking and lends the film an artful grace, while Jarmusch’s uncompromising script may slip into bouts of self-aware pretension when name-checking the likes of inventor Nikola Tesla and composers Franz Schubert and Franz Liszt (whom we learn Adam gave music to back in the day, apparently), but manages to get away with it.

This year has seen plenty of highlights in the world of film; the return to form of Jim Jarmusch is one of the most welcome.

Review – The Grand Budapest Hotel

The idiosyncratic Wes Anderson conjures up his latest magical microcosm in this sumptuously designed feast for the senses.

When Wes Anderson is good he's very, very good and with The Grand Budapest Hotel he's at the top of his game. It's is an absolute delight

When Wes Anderson is good he’s very, very good and with The Grand Budapest Hotel he’s at the top of his game. It’s an absolute delight

One could compare Anderson’s career to that of a sculptor meticulously chiseling away at a piece of rock and removing all of the rough edges until what’s left is a thing of beauty.

His 1996 debut Bottle Rocket was an uneven work with enough flashes of Anderson’s unique visual style to mark him out as one to watch. His following two films, the resplendent Rushmore (1998) and superior The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) marked the end of a highly impressive first phase.

M. Gustave H. (Raplph Fiennes) comforts the elderly Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) in The Grand Budapest Hotel

M. Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) comforts the elderly Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) in The Grand Budapest Hotel

Phase two was more difficult, with The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004) and The Darjeeling Limited (2006) failing to strike the same chord. However, since 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, the balance of whimsy, eccentricity and maturity he failed to achieve in his previous two films was finally stuck, with this third phase in Anderson’s oeuvre also producing the lovely Moonrise Kingdom (2012) and now this charming confection (actually his second ‘hotel’ picture following the 2007 short Hotel Chevalier).

The film begins with an unnamed author (Tom Wilkinson) recollecting the time he spent as a younger man (played by Jude Law) at the Grand Budapest Hotel, where he encountered its reclusive owner Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham). Over dinner, Zero tells the extraordinary story of how, as a young man in the 1930s, he came to inherit one of Europe’s most lavish hotels from M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), who at the time was its suave and sophisticated concierge. They strike up a warm friendship after Gustave is framed for the murder of his octogenarian lover Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) and must prove not only his innocence but also uncover the real culprits.

The one and only Bill Murray plays hotel concierge M. Ivan in The Grand Budapest Hotel

The one and only Bill Murray plays hotel concierge M. Ivan in The Grand Budapest Hotel

Anderson’s love of early cinema, present in Bottle Rocket with its nod to Edwin S Porter’s landmark 1903 picture The Great Train Robbery, can be found here in the wonderful old school effects shots that bring to mind pioneering genius Georges Méliès. Likewise, the film’s deadpan physical comedy inevitably brings to mind such early masters of the form as Chaplin and Keaton.

M. Gustave H. (Raplh Fiennes) confronts the dastardly Dmitri Desgoffe-und-Taxis (Adrieb Brody) and his henchman J.G. Jopling (Willem Dafoe) in The Grand Budapest Hotel

M. Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) confronts the dastardly Dmitri Desgoffe-und-Taxis (Adrien Brody) and his henchman J.G. Jopling (Willem Dafoe) in The Grand Budapest Hotel

His trademark mise en scène is also taken to the nth degree in The Grand Budapest Hotel, with its beautifully crafted and crisp tracking shots, zooms and back and forth camera shots so meticulously constructed as to make Stanley Kubrick proud.

In spite of being a marvel of precise technical mastery, the film is rich with memorable characters, each brought vividly to life by a splendid cast. Fiennes, in his first collaboration with Anderson, is a marvel and gives a beautifully measured turn that’s equal parts farcical, steely eyed and kind. He’s matched by Tony Revolori, whose portrayal of the loyal and determined young Zero sits perfectly next to his partner-in-crime Gustave.

Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori) and his beau Agatha (Saoirse Ronan) in The Grand Budapest Hotel

Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori) and his beau Agatha (Saoirse Ronan) in The Grand Budapest Hotel

The supporting cast, many giving extended cameos, all stand out due to the care and attention given to each of their characters. Willem Dafoe’s henchman J.G. Jopling looks like a cross between Nosferatu and Frankenstein’s monster, while Jeff Goldblum gives a typically terrific turn as the unfortunate Deputy Kovacs and Saoirse Ronan is sweet as Zero’s love interest Agatha. Let’s not forget Bill Murray, of course, who makes a quick impression as fellow hotel concierge M. Ivan.

These warm performances are matched by Anderson’s dialogue that, while maintaining the zippiness of his previous films, is also imbued with a generosity and affection that radiates when uttered by such a gifted cast.

When Wes Anderson is good he’s very, very good and with The Grand Budapest Hotel he’s at the top of his game. It’s an absolute delight.