Friday, 13 March 2015

Wrinklies in India vs. Cool Vampires

Eeny, meeny, miny, mo...decisions, decisions, decisions. Normally, if I have seen a new release at the cinema, that is my choice for the week's review. However, while I wasn't exactly dragged kicking and screaming to see "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" (2015) as part of a visiting family outing, I can state that it never would have been my own choice.

This sequel to the surprisingly successful 2011 movie celebrating golden oldies finding a new lease of life in India is quite honestly the same film again writ slightly larger. Yes, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, and Bill Nighy are always very watchable and the producers have dragged in silver fox Richard Gere for good measure, possibly as a lure for potential American viewers. However the situations are so contrived and obvious and the young hotel proprietor, Dev Patel, so very annoying that the movie is a colourful celebration of very little. Easy enough to watch but even easier to forget.

The crux of the tale concerns Patel's effort to open a second hotel with backing from an American mega-group and to navigate the problems and parties culminating in his wedding to his long-suffering fiancĂ©e. He decides that Gere is an inspector for the Americans, ignoring new guest Tamsin Grieg who might well be the culprit, while Gere seems intent on romancing Patel's dishy momma. Talk about ho hum...and two hours' worth at that.

In contrast the movie that really struck my fancy this week is Jim Jarmusch's "Only Lovers Left Alive" (2013). Jarmusch is an art-house/cult director, and many of his movies are something of an acquired taste. Of his previous outings, I really liked "Dead Man" (1995) -- a revisionist Western -- and "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999) which is unclassifiable, with Forest Whitaker as the most laid-back assassin in film history. However there are other movies in his filmography which are hard to love and equally a little hard to watch.

This film proved a surprising exception as Jarmusch creates his own unique vampire mythology. The ethereal Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston play centuries-old lovers Eve and Adam. They just can't get enough of each other, even if, when the movie opens, she is living in louche Tangiers and he is camped out in derelict Detroit, indulging his passion for classic guitars. Adapting to the new century, they do not feed on humans (whom they refer to as zombies) but on supplies from friendly doctors or blood banks. Wads of cash help to provide the 'life' style of choice for these immortals. Swinton's best friend in Tangiers is the Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlow, amusingly embodied by John Hurt. They all wear gloves for some reason and are able to read by touch, just part of Jarmusch's new mythos.

The screenplay is replete with hip references to amuse the learned viewer. Hurt mentions that he wishes that Adam had been around with his critical ear before he wrote "Hamlet". Missing her lover, Swinton books flights to Detroit, stressing that she can only fly at night, as Mrs Fibanacci. When the lovers need to flee Detroit after the debacle mentioned below, she books similar flights back to Tangier as Stephen Daedalus and Daisy Buchanan. OK, not all of these little niceties will register with every film-goer, but they are pleasing nonetheless.

Adam's needs and privacy in Detroit are provided by Anton Yelchin in exchange for lashings of lolly, but the lovers' idyllic existence comes to a screeching halt when Eve's sister Ava (the ubiquitous Mia Wasikowska) decides to pay a visit from Los Angeles ('Zombie Central' says Adam). She rapidly depletes their store of O-negative (another little interesting touch) and craves excitement, convincing the couple to visit a jazz club with Yelchin. When they return home and Adam and Eve retire, Ava finds Yelchin just so cute that she decides to drain him dry for a tasty midnight snack. The least she could have done is 'turn' him says Adam, as they drive her out and find themselves fleeing back to Tangier.

Apart from the above there is very little story to this film, but it is so beautifully and lovelingly filmed  and so cleverly written that I found it enchanting viewing. Also measuring in at the two-hour mark, I would cheerfully watch this one again, rather than sit through the contrived kitsch of the Indian alternative.
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