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Movie Review: “Only Lovers Left Alive”

May 132014
 By , May 13, 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive

“Only Lovers Left Alive” – a film review by Gary Chew

“Only Lovers Left Alive” sounds like a post-apocalyptic movie. Actually, it’s pre-apocalyptic with rock music and vampires who’ve begun buying the blood they need like junkies score heroine. These vampires, who are hundreds … even thousands of years old, no longer prey on normal beings who’ve long been the source of the blood for which bat people lust and which they require. These descendants of Bela Lugosi now take a more live-and-let-live approach to eternal existence.

Only Lovers Left AliveRight off, you know this new Jim Jarmusch movie will allow for some hoots since the main characters, played by Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton are named Adam and Eve. One of Eve’s best friends, where she lives in Tangiers, is an elderly gentleman played by John Hurt. His character is called Christopher Marlowe, the very one Elizabethan Tragedian we all know and love. Chris, also a vampire, is Eve’s supplier. He always has the best of blood for her.

A lover of vintage rock guitars, Adam is a handsome yet discontented musician/composer. He buys his blood in a lab from an on-the-take M.D. who’s name tag says “Dr. Watson” (shades of the great 70s film “They Might Be Giants”). Jeffrey Wright cameos as Watson somewhat like he does his gay male nurse role in HBO’s “Angels in America.”

Adam’s home is in one of America’s less prosperous cities: Detroit, Michigan. That’s what mostly makes Jarmusch’s latest project seem pre-apocalyptic. But in spite of the drear and — since “Only Lovers Left Alive” has only night scenes, many in downtown Detroit — there’s amusing dialogue to give balance.

Only Lovers Left AliveFor example, these lines from Eve: “Who wants to be up all day long?” or “Wasn’t it Schubert you gave that String Quintet to?” — with Adam’s retort, “Yes, but only the Adagio.” And in a really down moment, Adam is cheered a little by Eve giving him an o-postive popsicle fresh out of the fridge.

Eve travels by red-eye flights from Tangiers to Detroit in “Only Lovers Left Alive” to commiserate with Adam. They’ve been married a very long time. Soon after Eve arrives and the couple takes a few drives, and walks through what’s left of Detroit, her younger sister Ava bursts in from Los Angeles — hungry for blood. She’s an immature, irrepressible but sweet vampire, and so neatly played by Mia Wasikovska.

Adam is maudlin, and commissions a local music promoter named Ian to find someone who can make Adam a .38 caliber bullet out of very dense wood — with a regular metal casing as its cover. Adam owns a .38. Anton Yelchin is in the role of Ian.

Only Lovers Left AliveAva gets romantic with the music promoter late one evening on Adam’s living room sofa. This brings Ian to an unfortunate circumstance — which means that Adam and Eve must dispose of the body — in a very visual way.

Too bad Jarmusch’s movie can’t sustain the existential nihilism and black humor, even if some of the picture’s observations “drive the stake” deeply to what is true.

With young Ava dispatching Ian, Adam and Eve must hastily split for Tangiers (night flights only, please), as Ian was buds with zombies who now prowl Adam’s Detroit hood. But back in Morroco, things are even more trying for Adam and Eve. Marlowe has gotten a dose of bad blood and fading fast. (And you thought Marlowe died young.) Thus, Adam and Eve’s supply of first rate blood is scotched. And that’s all I’m going to say about “Only Lovers Left Alive.”

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Gary Chew was a classical music host, programmer and producer on Capital Public Radio’s KXPR 88.9FM, Sacramento for 18 years. He retired in January 2007. Read more about Gary's long and storied career here.

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