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Only Lovers Left Alive, Fading Gigolo, Neighbors
by M. Faust
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It pleases me not at all to say that movies by three filmmakers whose work I generally enjoy, all opening locally this week, are not among their best. At least as a fan I can take comfort in the fact that all are likely to be hits (relatively speaking), making it easier for them to fund their next projects.
That’s particularly true of Only Lovers Left Alive, in which American film’s preeminent hipster, Jim Jarmusch, tackles the far overworked subject of vampires. It’s been nearly a decade since Broken Flowers brought him near the commercial mainstream, if only because he got Bill Murray for his star. But his sole release in the interim, The Limits of Control, barely made it into theaters, and was snubbed by many of his fans who don’t share his affection for the work of contemplative filmmakers like Yasujiro Ozu and Jean-Pierre Melville.
If Jarmusch decided to make a vampire movie because he knew it would get a certain amount of attention, not least from fans drawn to the most superficial aspects of his movies, he uses the theme both to indulge his own interests and to express his sourness with the philistines he has to cater to.
Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton star as vampires, longtime lovers who call each other Adam and Eve. They live separately, she in Tangiers, he in Detroit. She love to read and is surrounded by books in every language. He loves music and occupies a decrepit mansion filled with instruments and audio equipment in a mostly abandoned part of the city. He makes recordings featuring droning electric guitars that he leaks out to the world where they are rapturously received by the few who get to hear them. (The actual recordings are by the band Squrl, featuring Jarmusch on guitar.)
The plot is minimal: Sensing more than the usual malaise in her partner, Eve journeys to Detroit to visit him. They feed on goblets of blood acquired from physicians. Their existence get a counterpoint when Eve’s sister (Mia Wasikowska) pays a visit from (shudder) Los Angeles.
Jarmusch’s films have also been about paying tribute to his artistic idols, and Only Lovers Left Alive is awash in those. But making sure we see, to name one example among dozens, Infinite Jest among the books that Eve packs for her trip does nothing to increase or even spur our interest in David Foster Wallace; it just shows us what Jarmusch admires without giving us any reason to care.
Instead, he devotes most of his energy to derision. His vampires look down on the human race as “fucking zombies” for failing to appreciate genius and for spoiling the world. Which may be true, but do you really want to spend two hours watching a pair of heroin addicts (that’s how he films them taking their daily doses) whining about it?
Jarmusch’s sense of humor hasn’t entirely left him—there are some funny scenes as Adam dons outdated medical garb to collect his blood supply from a research scientist (Jeffrey Wright). The cinematography by Yorick Le Saux (I Am Love) is exquisite, especially as we tour the ruins of Detroit at night. I’ve been a fan of Jarmusch since 1984’s Stranger than Paradise, not least because of his delight at sharing the work of others that he admires. But this is two-plus hours of rubbing his taste in our faces and sneering at us if we don’t agree. Even if you do, I don’t know why you’d want to endure that.
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John Turturro is known primarily as an actor, one of the most distinctive of our time. He has also directed a handful of films, all well worth seeing: Mac (1992), about a family of Italian-American construction workers; Illuminata (1998), a behind-the-scenes theater tribute; Passione (2010), a documentary about Neopolitan music, and my favorite, Romance and Cigarettes (2005), a working-class lip-synced musical that would have been a cult hit if the distributor hadn’t gone out of business before it was released: from James Gandolfini leading a chorus line of garbage collectors through “A Man Without Love” through Christopher Walken’s interpration of “Delilah” and Kate Winslet’s bawdy take on Connie Francis’s “Do You Love Me Like You Kiss Me”—well, look them up on YouTube.
The problem with all of these films is that, brilliant and enjoyable as they are for the most part, they all peter out before the end. That’s the case with Fading Gigolo, which has a funny premise—Woody Allen as a pimp and Turturro as his whore—that it teases out but finally doesn’t know what to do with.
Allen plays Murray, owner of a Brooklyn bookstore that is about to close forever. Circumstances lead him to connect his friend, the florist Fioravante (Turturro) with a wealthy woman (Sharon Stone) looking to spice up her love life. That this is implausible is something Turturro the writer and director deals with by speeding through it: to examine an interesting idea, you just have to take it on faith that it can happen.
That Murray needs to make this happen is because he is in financial difficulties, and Allen’s scenes are as funny as anything in one of his own films (well, one of the better ones). But the sequences with Fioravante aren’t played for laughs. Turturro is going for a sleek romanticism, all elegant surfaces and cool jazz, that are enticing but not quite what you would expect from the preposterous setup. When Fioravante is enlisted for a three-way with Stone and her lady lover, Sofia Vergara, you start to feel like a voyeur watching the writer-director playing out a midlife fantasy. And when Fioravante is distracted by a Hasidic widow (Vanessa Paradis), it feels like Turturro mixed up the pages of a different script entirely.
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I’m about 50-50 on the work of Nicholas Stoller, who as a writer and/or director as been involved with films as good as Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Five-Year Engagement, and The Muppets (as well as the TV show Undeclared) and as rotten as Get Him to the Greek and The Yes Man. Neighbors is, unfortunately, in the debit column, though to be honest I only made it about a half hour in: A scene with a baby picking up a condom and putting it in her mouth was as much as I could take. This comedy about a couple trying to deal with the frat that moves in next door to them starts out badly with a sex scene between Seth Rogan and Rose Byrne that is terribly (and obviously) improvised: Where did Rogan get a reputation for being a good improviser? From there the story gets progressively idiotic and the jokes relentlessly crude. It will probably be the box office hit of the weekend.
Issue Navigation> Issue Index > v13n19 (Best of Buffalo, Week of Thursday, May 8) > Film Reviews > Only Lovers Left Alive, Fading Gigolo, Neighbors
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