CHUCK a clove of garlic at a multiplex nowadays and you’ll hit a vampire.
Only Lovers Left Alive (15)
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Running time: 123 minutes
Star rating: * * *
But Only Lovers Left Alive, Jim Jarmusch’s sepulchral romance, seems to have been designed to accommodate both those who love the genre and those who can’t face another bite, by making a movie which acknowledges some of the bloodsuckers’ favourite touchstones whilst pondering what eternal love really means in the undead community.
Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston star as Eve and Adam, married vampires and original sinners who have been together for so long that they are now able to spend even longer apart. She bases herself in a cool quadrant of Tangier, with lots of bright embroidered textiles that suggest someone in the house shops at Zara Home. He lives in Detroit in a bohemian man-cave of vintage record players, tape recorders and classic guitars, creating melancholy rock tunes. Both of them have the lean physiques and damp, tangled coifs that could qualify them to front the dank Euro-metal band of their choice.
Fans of sharp teeth may be a little disappointed that Jarmusch’s bloodsuckers don’t do much neckbiting in this film. However, unlike the vegetarian vampires of Twilight, this isn’t because of any great sense of compassion for humans, but because humans are so polluted nowadays that it is safer to bribe a doctor to slip you sachets from a blood bank, or tap Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt) for his supply of The Good Stuff.
Yes, apparently Kit Marlowe didn’t die on a pub brawl but now hangs around Tangier with Eve, regretting that he let Shakespeare take credit for his work. As played by John Hurt, he’s also about the only person in this movie you wouldn’t expect to find backstage after a Marilyn Manson gig.
Jarmusch is a precious part of independent American filmmaking, a writer-director who has stayed faithful to his own vision from early work like Down By Law to his recent, ruinous dud The Limits Of Control. Only Lovers Left Alive is a partial return to form; a world of quirky cosmic jokes and self-conscious cool, patterned by Jarmusch’s usual droll, meditative vibe and pace.
The parallels between the artistic community and vampiric instincts are especially nicely done, with their nocturnal lifestyles, elitist instincts, name-drops and tendency to attract groupies – in this case Anton Yelchin as an awed assistant who helps a bored Adam acquire a wooden bullet after one particularly long night of brooding. However, before Adam has a chance to act on his suicidal impulses, Eve books herself on planes from Morocco to the United States – a complicated business since, in a joke that dates back to Bela Lugosi, vampires only fly at night.
Like its ravenous couple, Only Lovers Left Alive can be a bit bloodless at times. The nearest we get to plot is a riff on irritating relatives, generated by Eve’s little sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) inviting herself to stay; and without much narrative momentum to push the film forward, we’re left with a deadpan treatment that flattens into rather a monotonous portrait of love and art appreciation. Hiddleston and Swinton are lovely to watch, but they need more to chew on than this.
The Monuments Men (12A)
Star rating: * *
AS A director, George Clooney has a definite taste for the retro: we’ve had the screwball of Leatherheads, the 70s paranoia of Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind, and the old-fashioned news values of Good Night, And Good Luck. On the face of it then, The Monuments Men is right up his alley: a film about rueful, mature men trying to save the treasures of Western civilisation looted by the Nazis during the Second World War.
Clooney is director, co-writer and, on-screen, a dashing, semi-fictional art historian called Stokes, who recruits a platoon of crack treasure hunters that includes sculptor John Goodman, grumpy Bob Balaban, famous architect Bill Murray, Matt Damon, boozy art historian Hugh Bonneville and Vairy Freynch art dealer Jean Dujardin. Not so much a dirty dozen, more a doughty half-dozen: but all of them known to have their way with a quip, and an appetite for derring-do.
With such a starry, swaggering cast, a daring quest, a dame (Cate Blanchett as a suspicious French museum secretary), and Nazis – what could possibly go wrong?
In a nutshell it feels like a forgery, and not a particularly artful one. The glossed-up camaraderie evokes an ersatz Hogan’s Heroes, and the drama is a less rousing The Great Escape. The guilt ultimately rests with Clooney, who struggles to build character, tension and excitement and allows Alexandre Desplat’s unbearably jaunty score to intrude on any redeeming moments like an explosion in a tuba factory.
On general release
Stranger By The Lake (18)
Star rating: * * *
French writer-director Alain Guiraudie shapes a sharp, smart, Hitchcockian thriller where a gay man witnesses a murder, but finds himself irresistibly drawn to the killer. Notable already for its depiction of real sex, it’s explicit in other ways too: a depiction of amoral attraction that deserves a wider audience than mere fans of elegant congress.
A New York Winter’s Tale (12A)
Star rating: *
Sappy fantasy set in 1916 Manhattan with Colin Farrell as a petty thief who falls in love with an aristocratic but sickly woman called Beverley (Jessica Brown Findlay unable to escape Downton Abbey typecasting). Theirs is a relationship that defies time, Russell Crowe’s demonic intervention, and any kind of sense. Since writer Akiva Goldsman’s directorial debut is decorated by an A-list cast (watch out for Will Smith, if you must), one can only assume that he has their families held hostage somewhere, because even by Colin Farrell standards, Goldsman’s tale is a mawkish stinker.
On general release from Friday
Stalingrad (3D) (15)
Star rating: * *
Russian war yarn about five soldiers fighting the Nazis in the besieged Russian city who vow to protect an 18 year-old girl. Fedor Bondarchuk helms one of Russia’s most expensive action pictures, and the 3D effects of explosions and plane crashes are plentiful and impressive; the one-dimensional storytelling and stiff subtitles, rather less so. The Russians put Stalingrad forward for a best foreign film Oscar this year. It didn’t make the shortlist.
On general release