A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

Release: Friday, November 21, 2014

[Netflix]

Written by: Ana Lily Amirpour

Directed by: Ana Lily Amirpour 

In Iranian-American Ana Lily Amirpour’s first film only two things are certain: you will meet a girl, and you will see her walking home alone at night. Outside the realm of the obvious exists a strange and ominous atmosphere laden with unpredictability and breathtaking creativity, an environment that challenges viewers’ preconceived notions of what vampires can and cannot do or be.

In the film you’ll see a vampire skateboarding. You’ll also see her seeking out wayward men for their tasty blood supply. I think it’s clear which of the actions hew closer to traditional vampiric values; yet for all of its clever subversiveness this isn’t a movie aching with the pain of vampiric immortality, it’s the kind of love story mainstream Hollywood time and again harps on using beautiful looking people to sell the sensation of kissing born out of true love, but the catch is this one’s brilliantly disguised in layers of velvety texture and genre-blurring style. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night isn’t really much without its own chador, but my goodness, what a stylish cover it is.

Perhaps it’s too dismissive paralleling Amirpour’s art with Tinseltown’s preference for Happily Ever After. The denouement left me wanting, but I now find myself overcome with the striking visual imagery and subdued performances that, when coalescing in earnest, recall an era of Hollywood production well before my time — a shot of the nameless girl (hello, Sheila Vand) applying make-up in her humble abode evokes a Middle Eastern Audrey Hepburn in all her ethereal beauty. But the longer I sat there, ever more entranced by the contrasts in the film’s gorgeous grayscale the more I realized the sum total of the production mattered less than its more memorable passages.

Girl is just as much about grappling with loneliness and/or failed romance — Bad City is one strange place, its population of night-prowling prostitutes reminds one of the inescapable hopelessness of Basin City — as it is concerned with identity. The titular girl more often than not manifests as a specter of death as she stalks a brutish thug who she witnesses abusing a hooker in a vehicle he has just stolen from the film’s second lead, Arash (Arash Marandi). Our introduction to the girl is foreboding, but in the aftermath of a forthcoming scene in which the thug assumes he is successful in seducing her, we get a glimpse of the vigilantism that is to come. Her physical appearance — one that is borderline iconic already — causes prejudice as we’re never fully certain what she is capable of. We pick up a pattern though. She seems to prey upon men, and not just any man she comes across.

Ostensibly Bad City’s guardian . . . vampire, she’s more interested in ridding the town of its evildoers — if you do see other people in the frame there’s a good chance they belong to the mass grave of bodies in a shallow ravine. It’s not until she comes across Arash, cloaked in a Dracula cape and false fanged teeth (who also happens to be tripping balls on ecstasy having just stumbled out of a Halloween party), that we get a better handle on how Amirpour means to go about depicting a less civilized society, one plagued by moral turpitude and antiquated views on gender roles. The long, flowing headdress manifests as traditional garb worn by Muslim women and phantasms alike, even if the association with the latter is more approximation than traditional visual manifestation (capes typically do not fully engulf a vampire’s body head-to-toe, yet that’s what’s demanded of most Middle Eastern women).

When found in her apartment bathing in the throbbing pulses of some kind of new wave music (I’m not cool enough to be able to tell you exactly what or who it is), sans her enigmatic exterior, the girl becomes, in some ways, even more mysterious. She seems a perfectly ordinary teenaged girl, one with a fascination for pop culture and presumably a desire to be anywhere but where she currently is. Arash, the good boy, starts hanging out with her more often, intrigued by her aloofness. Though she barely speaks, even in the company of someone who actually seems to care about whether or not she’s freezing cold, mutual attraction is evident. Love, as it is portrayed in many a big-budget Hollywood production, is thick and syrupy yet it enables our principals to get over things they otherwise couldn’t. If there’s a flaw in Amirpour’s auspicious debut, it’s the realization that love apparently does conquer all. The conclusion is far less interesting than what has preceded it — minus Masuka the cat, that was great casting —  and feels too safe. Too routine for a production so firmly rooted in unorthodoxy.

Girl marks an exciting beginning for an up-and-coming director and effectively establishes yet another intriguing take on the vampire legend. Last year Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive struck a chord with audiences, providing an absorbing and amusing take on the curse of immortality. Highly atmospheric and memorably performed, that film invited audiences in to its obscure yet wholly believable world of hipster vampires. That audience clearly had Amirpour in attendance. Eerie, enigmatic and unforgettable, her painstakingly off-beat creation is superlative ‘style over substance’ filmmaking.

Recommendation: Unlike any film I’ve seen before, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is quite the experience, yet its methodical pace, limited dialogue (spoken in Farsi with English subtitles), and borderline erratic genre shifting could prove too much for some viewers. Girl is more an art form and less a story you can . . . uh, sink your teeth into; it’s eerie, haunting, mesmerizing and oh-so-slightly amusing all at once. I’d say it’s worth a look for those in search of something off the beaten path. And it’s right there for you on Netflix. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 101 mins.

Quoted: “Don’t leave me. Don’t leave me alone.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

What We Do in the Shadows

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Release: Friday, February 13, 2015 (limited)

[Theater]

Written by: Jemaine Clement; Taika Waititi

Directed by: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi

It’s once again cool to bust out your vampire get-up for the next Halloween party because these guys have just made being an ugly, putrefying member of the undead so totally hip. Even I, one of Dracula‘s biggest naysayers, wants a sweet cape.

If you’ve been entranced by musicomedy duo Flight of the Conchords, a televised show/live performance featuring the inseparable Kiwis Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie this film has your name written (in blood) all over it. Their brand of humor runs amok in this mockumentary about several vampires struggling to just get by in the 21st Century, all while anticipating and preparing to attend the annual Unholy Masquerade hosted in their fair town of Wellington, New Zealand. This film is such an amusing spin on the vampire legend that being a dedicated fan isn’t a matter of eternal life and death.

What We Do in the Shadows sucks-eeds on a number of levels. Aside from that being possibly this blog’s worst pun yet, it’s also paramount to understanding why you’ll walk away from this fangtastic comedy feeling completely refreshed and satisfied with how you’ve spent your money. Consistency is difficult to find in comedies, much less those of the contemporary variety, but there is no better word to describe Shadows, apart from echoing critics’ chosen adjective: hilarious. From the performances to the frightful wardrobe; the subversion of vampiric lore to the commitment to being ridiculous, this is a product that delivers on its promises from the opening frame of being a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

The film invites you in with a frank discussion between two roommates attempting a diplomatic approach with a third, much lazier roommate, the 183-year-old Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), who hasn’t done the dishes in at least five years. Clement’s Vladislav and Taika Waititi’s Viago, both several centuries Deacon’s senior, are understandably upset. Tensions have literally risen to the ceiling and added to this the fact that their fourth roommate, 8,000-year-old Petyr (Ben Fransham) doesn’t exactly try to voice his concerns. Quickly the tone of the film is set, although direction is a little harder to nail down.

Shadows, while thoroughly ridiculous, knows not to forsake tradition, however. Some of its funniest moments come from demonstrating the “mild inconveniences” of having to suck blood to stay alive. Because they cannot expose themselves to sunlight the gang has to prowl the streets at night looking for new “friends,” and also because of other technicalities, they often find themselves denied the chance to enter night clubs since they’re never invited in. A friend of Deacon (a human female, as it so happens) tricks her ex-boyfriend Nick into coming over to their house to eat what he thinks is a hearty bowl of spaghetti. Uh, it’s not. It’s actually pasghetti, thank you very much, and it looks remarkably similar to a bowl of live worms. A chase ensues when the guest refuses to eat and Nick, despite his best efforts, may never be the same again.

Several other humorous vignettes transpire before we get to the main event: the Unholy Masquerade, and I refuse to reveal anything more about those sequences. While tensions among the roommates are being documented in each scene, this is where things really start to unravel for Vladislav in particular. As he’s expecting to become the featured guest of this year’s Unholy Masquerade, it’s no surprise he is crushed when he hears that not only is he not the guest of honor but instead it’s none other than his ex, whom he describes — in a scene that had me crying from laughter — as “that damn Beast.” All hell breaks loose at the dance when Pauline (a.ka. “The Beast”) quickly sniffs out the human members among Vladislav’s crew — Nick’s computer engineer/dorky friend Stu is one such individual, as are the people filming the documentary — but luckily enough our gang escapes the angry mob of undead.

Shadows may be loosely strung together in terms of plot, but when the gags come in such rapid succession and the characters are this entertaining, basic structure fades into the background. It’s easy to sit back and eagerly anticipate the next twist in the adventure. The addition of human Stu is a brilliant reflection of our own wide-eyed reactions to these bloodthirsty drama queens. He’s also someone the vampires actually take kindly to, as he introduces them to the conveniences of Skype and smart phones, assimilating these creatures slowly into the modern age.

It’s a pretty difficult world to get by in if you’re a mere mortal, but if you’re a vampire good luck trying not to go insane figuring out what the point is of things like Twitter and Instagram.

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4-5Recommendation: What We Do in the Shadows pulls off an impressive feat of remaining funny, engaging and clever from beginning to end while creating several interesting riffs on the vampire genre. For fans of anything Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi have done this inspired documentary is an absolute must. It basically is for anyone in search of one of the year’s better comedies. The sun hasn’t come up yet, but this has a good chance of staying alive for a long, long time. Fantastic bit of creative energy out of New Zealand. Check it out.

Rated: N/R

Running Time: 86 mins.

Quoted: “What are we?” / “Werewolves, not swear-wolves . . .”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Only Lovers Left Alive

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Release: Friday, April 11, 2014 (limited)

[Netflix]

Written by: Jim Jarmusch

Directed by: Jim Jarmusch

Vampires have never seemed as hipster as they do in Jim Jarmusch’s beautifully framed and deliberately paced tale of two long-time lovers reuniting in Detroit — but in an incredible twist of fate script they have also never seemed so appealing.

Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton are in a romance so convincing their performances transcend faking attachment at the hip. Hiddleston’s unkempt Adam and Swinton’s fragile but unbroken Eve — don’t worry, the names are tongue-in-cheek — coalesce on a spiritual level we can’t help but believe wholeheartedly. If you can quash the temptation to label them as the most anti-social couple of all time (or at least since the 16th Century) you’ve won half the battle that is the challenge to the perception of the vampiric legend that is Only Lovers Left Alive.

The second half of the battle is accessing the conclusion of the film, a galvanizing reflection on the “gift” of mortality. Being mortal may suck, but probably not as much as sucking blood for to stick around longer to see what, if anything, about eternity might change, sucks. For this is a slow-burn, a candle-wax dripping kind of slow that will have some feeling as though they are macraméing themselves to their couch. Hipster me loves the pacing, the tedium of old souls scourging the Earth for something new to invigorate their old-fashioned sensibilities while they reap the benefits of humans (a.k.a. ‘zombies’) making short work of destroying themselves through selfishness, bitterness and open hostility. It’s a challenge to be sure, but the reward gained from enduring is a vampiric cinematic experience unlike anything else.

Only Lovers is not as static as it sounds. Jim Jarmusch, both writer and director of this offbeat little gem, throws a kink in the perpetually unaddressed ‘vampiric’ lifestyle in the form of Mia Wasikowska’s much younger and more reckless Ava, sister of Eve. When she randomly shows up in Adam’s secret hideaway — a cramped space more akin to a hoarder’s cavern — she threatens to expose the pair’s identity to the world at large. For presumably decades, perhaps centuries, Adam’s been impressively fending off any curious passersby who have dared approach his stoop and now, this relative adolescent is about to be his and his beloved’s downfall? He’ll be fanged if it happens on his watch.

(In)accessibility is part of Only Lovers‘ hipster appeal, and because it is, I ought to embellish on my introductory statements, lest I be mistaken for one myself. If you don’t “get” this film, then you’re just not cool enough . . .

No, but seriously. I’ve taken off my thick wire-framed glasses and am prepared to give this film a proper look. It’s a sluggish, stubborn film, even for someone who enjoys the slow burn. And Only Lovers lacks the crackling power at the end of the fuse and if you so much as yawn during any given moment you’re likely to miss something that adds to this collage of atmospheric production and refined performance. I guess what I’m saying is that for every reason Jarmusch’s commitment to the offbeat is effective it is also polarizing. That’s a shame when this movie is this well-acted and cast. It also finds profundity in the decrepitude of a Detroit reeling in the economic collapse of 2008/2009. A former car manufacturing plant is converted into a gothic cathedral wherein our leads find solace and serves as one of the film’s more impressive set pieces.

Perhaps what is most admirable about this non-conformer is its odd sense of humor. Without this Only Lovers would be labeled an obtuse, pretentious bit of film, unable or even unwilling to harness its true potential. But because vampires refer to us mere mortals as the weird ones; because Anton Yelchin’s Ian, guitar enthusiast and friend of Adam, is too ignorant for his own good, there is a thread of commonality that unites vampire and zombie. The weirdness is most certainly accessible to the open-minded. Jim Jarmusch is inviting those who are curious inside his unique little world with fantastic performances and beautifully realized settings alike.

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3-5Recommendation: Only Lovers Left Alive is a film not just for the fang-toothed. I just checked in the mirror; I am sadly (fortunately?) without any. It needs to be said I’m not really faithful to vampire films. In fact, I have a great distaste for them. I find the genre more cliched than romance and action films combined, yet I now find a soft spot for this one. As The National’s very own Matt Berninger sings, I’m on a blood buzz. Yes I am. I’m on a blood buzz. Don’t worry, that’s not supposed to mean anything. I just wanted an excuse to include those awesome lyrics.

Rated: R

Running Time: 123 mins.

Quoted: “Please, feel free to piss in my garden.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Let the Right One In (2008)

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Happy Halloween everyone! In trying to properly celebrate the world’s most bizarre ‘holiday,’ today’s entry nearly did not happen, as I couldn’t find a copy of the original Halloween and I’m not into the whole bootlegging thing (yet). . .that, and I don’t watch a lot of T.V. Then the second choice was going to be Child’s Play. Netflix again failed me by informing me that there was a “very long wait” associated with that particular rental. So I was forced to go to other options. After pouring over many great suggestions from you fine folks, I decided to go in a completely different direction and I wound up watching a movie about. . . vampires. I know. I know. These, if anything, seem to be the type of ‘horror’ film that I would instantly be turned off by. Predictable, utterly cliched, and usually just. . .weird as hell, I’ve yet to find a vampire film that I could really enjoy. And then I stumbled across this little gem, something that many people might not necessarily associate with ‘horror.’ Nonetheless, today’s TBT turned out to be a great choice and I’m glad I made it. 

Today’s food for thought: Let the Right One In

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Release: January 26, 2008

[Netflix]

This review is coming at you right off the heels of the end credits, which only finished just seconds ago; therefore this is going to be the freshest any film has been on my mind since I started doing Throwback Thursday. And as such, this is probably going to be a sloppy review. All the same, the beauty and sublime perfection that is Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In is likely to leave a lasting impression upon me. This is one of the most beautiful films I have ever laid eyes on. And again, vampires do did almost nothing for me.

A Swedish film, Let the Right One In is about a young boy who finds his first romance in a girl who’s not quite human. Alfredson’s work here is stunning for a couple of reasons. Let’s start with the cinematography, considering this element is all but impossible to gloss over.

It’s obvious that Alfredson is about as taken with the elegance of winter — what, with all its crystal-tipped trees, snow-blanketed wonderlands — as any person might be who may consider themselves a romantic. The winter is harsh and unforgiving — especially the further north you go — but the director is intent on capturing the exquisite beauty, if but to simply distract for a moment or two from the world as it were. It’s also a perfectly spooky setting in which to make a horror film. The wintery environs throughout compound the effect of the many bizarre murders that happen in this small town near Stockholm. Bodies are discovered buried in snowdrifts, in thick ice; the chilled breaths of the characters provide an instant discomfort from the opening scenes.

Fortunately there is a story woven like fine fabric through this frozen wonderland of troubled youth, despair and oppression. Twelve-year-old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is introverted and a little strange, resulting in his constant bullying at school. He wants to do something about it but can’t find it within himself to actually take action. Then one night he comes across a very strange girl on a playground just outside of his decrepit apartment block — a girl about his age (“I’m 12, more or less. . .”) and the two become friends, even despite her initial not wanting to even go that far. She’s actually a vampire, destined forever to live off the fresh blood of humans, otherwise she’ll die.

Of course, none of this information she reveals at first, which is part of what makes this such an interesting watch. Bit by bit we see this innocent/vampiric personality coming together. Alfredson selects the perfect moments to reveal the characterizations of the “vampire,” using the experiences of this disturbed boy to reflect the nature of humanity versus that of the undead (what exactly are vampires — are they dead, or not? If someone can riddle me that one, I’ll give them. . .a Twix, or something. . .)

Instead of associating laughable, questionable special effects with the actions of these kinds of creatures, the girl (an excellent performance from Lina Leandersson) her character is very much reacting to and interacting with the real world, in real time. Her attacks are not only necessary but understandable. We know why she’s sucking so much blood from the necks of these otherwise-harmless passersby. And we see the effects her presence takes on the town. Each murder becomes more and more strange, and as they do, Eli (Leandersson) knows her stay in this tiny, frost-laden town is dwindling. Only, she begins to fall in love with a real person — Oskar.

The relationship is beautiful, as much as the scenery is a pleasure to watch. I could stare at the introductory scene all day. And while this couldn’t seem more of an odd choice for the night when we celebrate All Hallow’s Eve, the only thing more terrifying than it is the prospect of sitting through a shit horror film on that night. Fortunately, my experience tonight was completely the opposite. I want to reveal so much more about this film, but alas I cannot, for fear of ruining the entire experience for you.

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4-0Recommendation: This will not be the scariest thing you can find on Halloween, but if your goal is to watch a quality flick, here is one rare example of applying classical elements to a story very much steeped in reality. The locations help to make things interesting as well, as Sweden is a beautiful landscape of architectural splendor, barren isolation and unrepentant cold. In short, this is the perfect location to find some creep creatures lurking around. Forget about coffins and Dracula. This is a vampire movie for the 21st century, and it really works.

Rated: R

Running Time: 114 mins.

Quoted: “Oskar, I do it because I have to. Be me for a while. Please, Oskar. Be me, for a little while. . .”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com