Tag Archives: Jim Jarmusch

Vancouver International Film Festival 2016

Our Vancouver-based writer, Nicholas Lay (of In Layman’s Terms), recently found himself in the midst of the 2016 Vancouver International Film Festival. Here, he rounds up seven of the more intriguing pictures featured this year…

godspeedGodspeed

Drama / Gangster

Director: Chung Mong-hong

Country of Origin: Taiwan

As an avid lover of classic Hong Kong cinema, the news that comedy legend Michael Hui (of the Hui brothers) was starring in Taiwanese director Chung Mong-hong’s new gangster flick, AND that said gangster flick was playing at VIFF, meant it was almost inevitable that Godspeed would be the first ticket I purchased at the festival this year.

A purveyor of satirical, character-driven comedy since the 1980s, Hui’s wise-but-cynical cab driver spins Mong-hong’s winding yarns into dry, droll gold as he and his companion, the wonderfully blank Na Dow, cruise down to southern Taiwan in order for the latter to perform the sort of drug deal we all know is going to go badly wrong.

Godspeed won’t be for everyone, but if you’re in the foreign language market for a violent, darkly humorous, subtle technical achievement (Nagao Nakashima’s ranging cinematography is gorgeous at times), then definitely make a note of this one for later.

Watch the trailer here.


Hello Destroyer

Drama

Director: Kevan Funk

Country of Origin: Canada

Without doubt the most depressing film I’ve seen this year (seriously), Kevan Funk’s debut feature, Hello Destroyer, is a bleak, painfully frank examination of the cycle of violence forever present at the heart of Canada’s national pastime.

Flirting with the blurred boundaries of an enforcer – regardless of the level the game is played at – the focus is Tyson Burr, an up-and-coming rookie riding the only talent he has ever been pushed to develop in the hope that, one day, his career may reach the pinnacle that is the NHL. Instead, one overly zealous decision, one single product of the nurturing he has received at the hands of the system; sees him gradually nudged back toward the cold, hard reality of the small town BC life he so desperately wants to escape.

The excruciating, systematically ruthless descent of Tyson as both a hockey player and a human being is ramped up by Funk’s intense style and a haunted, empathy-inspiring turn by Jared Abrahamson.

Trailer yet to be released.

inavalleyofviolence

In a Valley of Violence

Western

Director: Ti West

Country of Origin: USA

Those who’ve seen writer/director Ti West’s acclaimed micro-budget horror flick, The House of the Devil, will be familiar with his ability to transform a basic premise, a limited cast, a lead character who spends a large portion of time on their own, and plenty of glorious homage-paying into a workable, enjoyable picture. Finally moving away from horror, West turns his eye to the old school Western.

In a Valley of Violence follows a similar pattern to The House of the Devil, and certainly lives up to its name; as West holds nothing back in this backwater tale of fully justified (trust me, you’ll agree) revenge. Ethan Hawke stars as the wandering gunslinger, while John Travolta makes a random, but welcome appearance as the local Marshal.

There’s nothing all too groundbreaking about the film as a whole, but it looks great and West’s writing – particularly the comedy – is strong, as is the timing provided it by his cast. The modern subtext, deliberate or not, of Hawke’s character’s past and the small town setting – like recent neo-Western, Hell or High Water – is equally as interesting, but, if I’m being honest, the highlight is one hundred percent the quite marvellous canine performance of Hawke’s trusty mutt, Abbie.

Watch the trailer here.


Moonlight

Drama

Director: Barry Jenkins

Country of Origin: USA

Riding into town on the crest of the TIFF hype wave, Moonlight became one of the higher profile features at VIFF, due to the elevated levels of chat it enjoyed in advance. A moving journey along the path of one young man’s lifelong struggle as a black homosexual, trying to find his place in a forgotten, poverty-ridden corner of modern America; Moonlight is a highly relevant commentary on the stereotypes and social injustice that still plague a great number of people far more often than the odd flash on the news many of us are privy too.

Writer/director Barry Jenkins visual eye contrasts the striking and peaceful with the deliberately claustrophobic. One could argue he goes a tad overboard with the odd “artsy” sequence here and there, but it’s a minor complaint.

Featuring solid performances from the well arranged ensemble cast, Moonlight is more a conveyance of intriguing, vital subject matter than a “great” film. In these uncertain times, however, it certainly deserves a watch.

Watch the trailer here.

paterson

Paterson

Drama / Comedy

Director: Jim Jarmusch

Country of Origin: USA

Without question the highlight of my VIFF experience this year, Jim Jarmusch’s week-in-the-life of Adam Driver’s bus driving, poetry-composing lead character, Paterson, who lives in the town of Paterson, NJ, is a both a study, and itself a triumph of nuanced creativity, set against the mundane nature of everyday life.

Jarmusch has always been an unconventional filmmaker (in case you’re unaware, one of his films stars Forest Whitaker as a modern day, urban samurai and mafia guardian angel – and it is awesome), and Paterson is no exception to his repertoire. Pulling us in close to his characters’ eccentric normalness with a tight script and beautiful direction, Jarmusch masterfully sets up sequences of tension and relief that are clearly trivial in the grand scheme of things, but genuinely have you on the edge of your seat in the world of Paterson and Co. Moment after moment of sly comedic genius compliments such an approach, with everything from ordinary background objects, to the slightest facial reaction of our lead character playing a part alongside the amusing, dialogue-driven interactions that sustain his various relationships.

Driver, whose career goes from strength to strength, spearheads a top notch cast opposite Goldshifteh Farahani, with further stellar canine involvement (a running theme at VIFF) and a brief, but memorable cameo from Method Man, as Jarmusch revisits the Wu-Tang connection he established years back on Ghost Dog (which, if you’re yet to Google it, is the Forest Whitaker flick mentioned above).

Watch the trailer here.


Under the Shadow

Horror

Director: Babak Anvari

Country of Origin: UK / Jordan / Qatar

We often speak of the literal horrors of war, but rarely does the field of cinematic horror find itself in the midst of the battlefield. Iranian writer/director Babak Anvari sets out to change that with his subtext-layered, Under the Shadow; set beneath the harrowing barrage of Iraqi bombs raining down upon Tehran during the Iran-Iraq war.

The standard premise of a mother and daughter haunted in their own home is given a new lease of life by the backdrop of war, as Anvari dances on our nerves with a tightly wound depiction of his characters’ increasingly desperate predicament. The horror is both further emphasised and enhanced due to the depressingly intriguing military, political, and social quandaries faced by our two lead characters throughout.

Aided by standout performances from Narges Rashidi and Avin Manshadi, Anvari has fired the gun on adding an extra layer or two to the usual jump-punctuated screamfest formula.

Watch the trailer here.

weirdos

Weirdos

Drama / Comedy

Director: Bruce McDonald

Country of Origin: Canada

Balancing out Hello Destroyer’s dark take on small town life north of the border; Weirdos is veteran director Bruce McDonald’s black and white throwback to the folksy, teen-dream Canadian road trips of the mid-70s.

A true coming-of-age tale, Daniel Maclvor’s witty script follows Kit (Dylan Authors) and his girlfriend, Alice (a breakout performance by Julia Sarah Stone), as they seek out his metaphorically long-lost mother (Molly Parker, House of Cards) across the province of Nova Scotia. Rebellious teenagers having their insular, cherry-picked ambitions dashed on a regular basis is hardly anything new, but McDonald’s comforting sense of awkward calm ultimately succeeds in providing the heartwarming sense of hope necessary to bring the picture full circle.

One of the highlights of VIFF 2016, Weirdos is a softly spoken ride that does its best to convince you that, in the end, everything will be all right.

Trailer yet to be released.

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Only Lovers Left Alive

Only Lovers Left Alive Tom HiddlestonBy Mike Shawcross (@shawky1969)

Being a big fan of horror genre I’ve always considered the vampire sub genre as my favourite type of horror film. From the ageless story of Dracula, the oh-so-cool Lost Boys and the gritty dirty vampires from Near Dark or Stake Land, I’ll never grow tired of the blood sucking forces of evil. Unless they make them sparkle that is.

Hearing Jim Jarmusch was writing and directing a vampire film, starring Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton and John Hurt I had to say I was somewhat excited to say the least. But that was all I knew, I had seen nothing else, no trailer, no synopsis; and that for me is the best way to see a film.

Only Lovers Left Alive is a love story, a romance between vampires, spanning centuries.  It’s unlike any vampire film I’ve seen before, and I’ve tried to come up with something remotely similar and failed; hopefully someone may know of one, I would be interested to know if one does exists. This isn’t a vampire falls for girl or boy and romance blossoms like most teen vampire films, here the vampires are in love, and with an intense passion  that only 100’s of years could mature; this concept alone had me hooked.

Tom Hiddleston is Adam, a brooding vampire who’s will to remain alive is dying as fast as the human race. He is suicidal, resigned to composing funeral marches, he lives in solitude on the outskirts of Detroit. His only contact with anyone is with Ian (Anton Yelchin) who supplies his instruments and anything else Adam requests;  and a local Doctor (Jeffrey Wright) who supplies his blood.

Adam isn’t alone though, there are more of his kind, Eve (Tilda Swinton), Marlow (John Hurt) and Ava (Mia Wasikowska) are the only vampires which fill this story. Eve and Marlowe are in Tangiers, supplied with their blood from a local Doctor, and it’s blood of a high quality according to Marlowe. Eve is Adams wife,  and it’s their relationship which is the centre of the film.  Like Adam they keep themselves to themselves and trust only a few people.

The final vampire is Ava, Eve’s sister in name rather than blood; she is a little more trouble than she’s worth and Adam only tolerates her for Eve’s sake. She is young, carefree, irresponsible and is living in L.A. ; she just doesn’t have the same control as the others;  it’s the consequences of her actions which puts Adam and Eve in danger, as they leave Detroit for Tangiers; their problems go from bad to worse.

Jarmusch strips away the vampire action; if you are looking for kills and cool vampire deaths this isn’t the film for you. The focus is on the relationship between  Adam and Eve; their eternal love they share for each other, his love of music, her love of reading and the world they live in; even while it is dying around them. Pure blood is rare, the majority of the human race is infected by the polluted water supply. Blood is bought like a drug; Jarmusch rather  plays on this, as the vampires take their “hits” of blood they exhibit pleasure, a rush as the blood brings them to life; one of my favourite little touches.

Much of the vampire lore is intact, being invited into a house, the sun is deadly and blood sustains their life. Yet the script does make fun of some of these traditions, as Ava breaks some of these rules and mocks them. The script is superb, it’s sharp and witty with little anecdotes of people they’ve met through their long lives; the ultimate in name drops.

The world Jarmusch has created for these vampires is fantastic, it’s a visual treat from the derelict house filled with Adams instruments to Eve’s apartment stacked to the ceiling with books; you get the impression she has read them all a number of times. The detail is fantastic and it doesn’t stop at the set design the look of the vampires is stunning as well; their porcelain skin, their thick matted hair and their striking eyes;  Adam and Eve are two of the coolest looking vampires I’ve seen in a long time. It really is a wonderful film to look at and listen too.

Overall it’s ultra cool, extremely stylish and really it’s the “Drive” of the vampire films.  Hiddleston and Swinton are superb, they carry the film effortless; while the rest of the cast all deliver decent if quite short parts through the film, none of them seem out of place.

However I’ll warn you now, this is a slow burn, I mean a real slow burn. It is a film which will divide audiences; some will call it dull and it manages to achieve absolutely nothing. Yet some will enjoy the story, the detail, the dialogue and the cast; calling it a film for film lovers….. Personally I thought it was superb and I’m not saying that to be cool; I really am looking forward to seeing it again.

London Film Festival Diary: Only Lovers Left Alive, Exhibition, and Don Jon

In her final London Film Festival Diary for this year, Carole Petts gets to spend some time with a vampiric Tom Hiddleston and a porn-addicted Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Only Lovers Left AliveAfter the emotional fallout of Friday, I was ready for some more light-hearted fare on Saturday, but unfortunately I had chosen to see Love Will Conquer All, a collection of short films in the Love strand of the festival.  I can’t really put it any better than the description from the BFI website: “Eight short films examining an assortment of expressions of affection, from first love to unrequited love to unconditional love. With additional heartbreak, lust and resentment thrown in for good measure.”  Particular favourites of mine were Orbit Ever After, a film about first love with only the small matter of being in separate spaceships to contend with; The Phone Call, a harrowing piece starring Sally Hawkins and Jim Broadbent about a crisis centre worker and the person on the end of her line; and Out Of Darkness, a black and white film with nine different actors all telling a singular story of loss and heartbreak.

On to Saturday evening and the gala of Only Lovers Left Alive, a vampire film by Jim Jarmusch.  After the obvious excitement of walking past Tom Hiddleston on the red carpet (a very well put-together man) we settled in for what I was convinced was going to be a dryly humourous, vaguely satirical meditation on vampiric folklore as is per Mr. Jarmusch’s usual way.  Boy, was I surprised.

First of all, this film is hilarious – actually laugh-out-loud funny in parts, even though the humour is as dark as you would expect from a Jarmusch film about nocturnal, blood-sucking creatures.  A large part of this is down to the excellent lead performances from Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton (one of my heroines) as the titular lovers, and small but excellent performances by the supporting cast, including John Hurt and Jarmusch alumni Jeffrey Wright.  At the same time, the film plays out at a slow, dreamlike pace with very little in the way of plot – but as is so often the case with Jarmusch’s films, simply being in its universe is entertaining enough.

The film smartly avoids clichés from the genre.  These are modern vampires where blood must come from hospitals and willing doctors – “this is the 21st century…you can’t just make people disappear anymore”.  In fact I don’t actually remember the word vampire being used – and in a nice little twist the living are referred to as zombies, sleepwalking through their lives.  The film is also a love letter to Detroit – its rise as the centre of America and its swift decline.  The dilapidated city is shown in all its haunting glory at night, and the film is beautifully shot and designed both aurally and visually – a true treat for the gothic lovers among us.

If you’re looking for a love story with a healthy shot of jet-black humour, you could certainly do worse than this film.

Finally – Sunday brought my final two showings, the first of which was Exhibition, the latest from British director Joanna Hogg.  Exhibition follows an artist couple who are planning on selling their modernist house – it is suggested (although never explicitly explored) that there has been a traumatic event in or around the building which has been the catalyst for this decision.  There is a distance between the couple – they both work in the house and communicate by telecom.

I am a fan of Hogg’s sparse, static, fly-on-the-wall style of film-making but I can fully understand why it’s not to everyone’s taste.  As with all her films, the nub of the story is left unsaid, which can be frustrating but adds to the feeling of being an observer – you would never fully explain a previous incident during an argument in real life.  This won’t win any new converts but for fans of Hogg it’s another triumph of realistic drama, which may need time to think about afterwards.

Last but not least, the evening brought my festival to a close with Don Jon, the directorial debut of Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  JGL also wrote and starred in the film as the titular Jon, a bartender who is frequently out on the prowl for women, and a porn addict to boot.  His life seems to change when he meets Barbara (Scarlet Johannson) who has her own ideas about the perfect relationship.

I get the feeling that Don Jon is trying to say something about the way that women and men interact, and how that is changed by the consumption of media by both sexes.  It succeeds to an extent, but there is never really a powerful moment that makes this point hit home.  There are plenty of attempts, and by no means is the fault left purely at the male door – a mundane exchange in a DIY store lays bare the fact that women are as prone to artificial, media-instilled fantasy as the man who can only be satisfied in front of his MacBook.

The ending felt a little forced, but the film is snappily directed by JGL, and frequently hilarious.  As a first-time outing it’s very promising, but with a word of warning – it would probably make uncomfortable viewing for a first date.

That’s it for this year.  I’ve had a great time this past couple of weeks, and I look forward to seeing what LFF has in store for us next year.  Thank you for reading.

Carole will watch most types of film and particularly anything starring Nicolas Cage, leading to her firmly-held belief that The Wicker Man remake is the funniest comedy ever produced.  She hates Grease.

@The_DarkPhoenix