Our Vampires, Our Selves

ONLY-LOVERS-LEFT-ALIVEVampires are windows to our souls. The fascination with the creatures of the night has always been ingrained in human history and psychology. The stories started with our lack of medical knowledge and what happens to our bodies after we die. Many a poor body was mutilated for fears that they were actually vampires. But as medical knowledge prevailed, we stopped putting stakes in hearts or bricks in mouth to keep the body from rising. Instead, they became an existential study of our selves. Human are drawn to these supernatural tales as a way to come to grips with their own mortality. We have romanticized them right into pop culture.

Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lover Left Alive is a perfect example of using the supernatural to reflect the fears of the natural. The story follows Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton), a husband and wife who truly love each other after centuries together. Eve returns home to despondent and suicidal Adam. He is tired of the world and how the humans treat it. His life is only made more complicated when Eve’s “sister” visits them.

The movie is beautiful allegory for drugs and rock and roll. These vampires are almost hippy like with their vintage music and soul charging highs. A search for the purest source is like that of a true drug aficionado—not just some crack whore. It’s the typical drug story just trapped with vampire edges and dark humor. Chaos and death reign in this world even though Eve and Adam only want to spend their time enjoying the world and each other. But like all drug tales, the source dries up and Adam must come face to face with an inevitable death.

The casting is superb. Hiddleston is so much more than the impish Loki of the Marvel universe. H nails the suicidal rocker on the head giving more depth to a character that could be one sided. His chemistry with Swinton is tight, and Swinton herself is, as always, superb. Mia Wasikowska plays the younger and fickle sister infusing chaos perfectly into the couple’s tiny world. And  Anton Yelchin evokes his best Matthew Gray Gubler as Adam’s minion who is a needed source of comic relief.only-lovers-left-alive-jim-jarmusch-05

The only issue with the movie is that Jarmusch wears his symbolism on his sleeve. He forces the use of spinning imagery upon the viewer wasting an endless amount of time with either dancers or spinning records. These sequencing using music are used to drive the story, but it really just slows it down. By the time you get to the end of the movie and a music sequence that was vital to the story, the viewer has lost interest and ready to move on.

Despite of these, Only Lovers Left Alive is a captivating and complex tale mirrors our human emotions in the faces of vampires. If they can find both self-love and romantic love why can’t we? But at what prices do we pay for our lives when we are just seeking out our next high?

Without All the Powers of Hell

Maleficent is based on the classic Disney animated feature Sleeping Beauty. The new film gives a new view point on Disney’s scariest villain. But in the process, the movie completely changes the character and the ending of a vintage tale.

The basic is story is the same. Maleficent casts a curse foretelling that the young princess will prick her finger on a spinning wheel on her sixteenth birthday and fall into death-like sleep. But then the story abruptly changes and the tale is rewritten.  The bad fairy’s heart is softened by the child. Maleficent comes to regret the curse but does not have the power to change the outcome. Instead she tries her best to break the spell. The king becomes the de-facto maleficentvillain as he sinks into further paranoia after the curse is set.

Maleficent, at first glance, is a grand tribute to the original picture. The production, make-up and costume crew pay great attention to detail. Angelina Jolie brings Maleficent to life working with a dialogue coach to mimic the distinctive tone Eleanor Audley gave the character in the original. The costume team recreates the basic iconic look of the character when she visits the baby princess. It was refreshing to see that instead of making Maleficent into Angelina Jolie, the production team turned her into Maleficent. And it worked well, Jolie enveloping the character and giving it new life.

But Jolie is the only great performer. Supposedly the cast was chosen based on the fact that they looked like the original characters but Prince Phillip looks like someone from One Direction and his character is minimized greatly. The film spends more time on Sharlto Copley as King Stefan instead. Unfortunately, Copley is flat, uninspiring and quite grating. Even Elle Fanning doesn’t blow you away with the stereotypical angelic child with a lack of fear and no idea of true evil.

This could all be overlooked if the film didn’t get all hippy dippy (for a lack of a more politically correct word) and rewrite the story. The idea of “True Love’s Kiss” is flipped 180, and Maleficent actually becomes quite found of the child. Even her most famous line “And all the powers of Hell!” is erased in this over-family-friendly adaptation.

The bright spot is the guardian fairies. While the iconic dress battle is not included, their ineptitude for carrying for the child infuses humor at each turn. These fairies aren’t the brightest of the forest blooms but they just might be the nicest.

Overall, Maleficent is a good movie if you can separate this film from the Disney classic you grew up with. But anyone expected the badass Maleficent will be sorely disappointed. But at least there is a dragon.

Godzilla Leaves Only a Slight Rumble In Its Wake

He has a star on the walk of fame, an MTV Lifetime Achievement Award and his own cartoon. He is Godzilla.

In over 30 movies, he has had a son, fought King Kong, and flattened countless buildings. Godzilla (Gojira in the original Japanese release) started as a cautionary tale about nuclear war that grew into its own franchise.  Like so many pop icons, Hollywood had to getting on the action. The original Japanese releases and several others of his films were reedited to add American elements. In 1998, Hollywood decided to create an All-American movie. The Matthew Broderick vehicle was critically lambasted and fans of the franchise were horrified (Put it this way: when RiffTrax set out to purchase the right to riff this version, the Kickstarter campaign met its goal in 16 hours).

Then Hollywood tried again this year. Awakened and rejuvenated by a nuclear power plant, a large insect like creature attacks Tokyo and heads to American to reconnect with its mating partner in Yucca Flats. These events cause Godzilla to awaken in order to restore peace to the planet. Viewers follow a father and son who know something is terribly wrong with the current earthquakes shaking Japan.

The movie tries to pay homage and treat Monster Zero with respect and reverence but fails. The biggest issue is that the movie spends too much time on flat characters no one cares about. While Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche do well with what hey have, the writers didn’t give them much to work with.  The lead is horribly flat. Aaron Taylor-Johnson has one expression and voice tone throughout the movie, unable to show vacillating human emotion. To be fair, the producers asked him to try to compete with a giant dinosaur.  Only Ken Watanabe’s character gives the proper awe and respect to the monster. His performance is spot on as always.

Unbalanced and capricious, the movie obscures the kaiju battles only letting viewers peek in on the monster bashing action. There are many, many shots of kaiju feet and scared looks by the stereotypical characters (even Frank Darabont couldn’t bring suspense to these scenes). When the battle is finally the focal point, destruction and mayhem take the stage. This is what Godzilla should be: monsters beating the crap out of each other and destroying things.

While Godzilla isn’t a bad film, it fails to capture the thrill and reverence of this iconic creature. If the sequels can lend more toward action at the end of the film instead of the characters, the movies could be everything viewers want them to be. We’ll see if director Gareth Edwards understands this and brings it into the other films.