Korean filmmaking icon Bong Joon-ho gives English language features another crack with a Netflix Original about a young girl and her friend, a giant genetically modified pig, whom she raises in the mountains of Korea. It’s as weird as it sounds, but ten times more lovely – and more than a little bit distressing. Owen reviews Okja: Continue reading Okja
Apologies for this week’s podcast being so late. It took us a little while to master the art of manipulating time and space, unlike a certain Marvel wizard who can montage his way through ancient texts on the topic. Steve Norman was closely guarding the FC library which meant Owen Hughes, Brian Plank and Andrew Brooker had to use all their cunning to get past him.
You know what, I’m just going to end that metaphor there. It’s possibly the worst one I’ve ever come up with and I’ll just tell you what’s on the podcast this week.
The big new release this week is – as you’ve probably ascertained – the new Marvel movie, Doctor Strange, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton, Benedict Wong, Chiewetel Ejiofor amongst others. (Scott Adkins!)
In What We’ve Been Watching, Steve stays quiet as Brian declares Hot Fuzz the best of the Cornetto trilogy, Brooker quenches his appetite for all things gruesome and grotesque with The Woman, and Owen doesn’t watch anything at all, but reviews the BBC Radio4 horror The Stone Tape by Peter Strickland (of Berbarian Sound Studio fame).
By 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.
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.
After 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.