‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ Turn Detroit into a Sizzling Vampire Romance

It’s Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as you’ve never seen them before. They look like the coolest, hippest rock and roll couple ever in Jim Jarmusch’s new film, “Only Lovers Left Alive.”

And here’s a chuckle in this romantic tale. Their names are Adam and Eve.

Yes, that’s a biblical reference and it’s amazing what long hair will do to visually represent the timelessness of love. In this case, Swinton sports waist length, platinum-y locks while Hiddleston has the shaggy long dark-haired British rock star thing going on. And they’re often seen rocking some ultra cool shades, indoors of course, as in “I wear my sunglasses at night.”

There’s a really good reason for that, as viewers soon discover as the goth-style, musically influenced cinematography unfolds. These two are vampires that have been a passionate couple  for countless centuries but somehow have become separated, apparently due to their individual artistic pursuits. For him, it’s music. For her, apparently living life to the fullest.

Without revealing many spoilers, they are reunited in Detroit, where Hiddleston’s character lives in a creaky old house in what looks like a largely abandoned neighborhood, where male groupies–seen through a security camera– often congregate to get a look at the reclusive rock star.

You never know what’s coming next as several supporting characters are introduced into this creepy yet strangely enticing, erotic locale, including a connected music scene dude, Ian, played by Anton Yelchin, who procures rare guitars and seems to be the main connection to the outside world.

Adam himself seems to only venture out of his vamp-mansion to get his drug of choice from a helpful doctor (Jeffrey Wright) at a local hospital.

But when Eve comes to town, traveling from her home in Tangier, where she makes similar nocturnal forays, Adam gets pulled out of his comfort zone.

Things get especially off track when Eve’s younger sister, Ava, (Mia Wasikowska) makes an unwanted appearance and after creating a series of nuisances, commits a crime that needs to be covered up by her elders.

Jarmusch has said he finds romantic appeal in desolate and postindustrial landscapes, and Detroit is filled with them. Tangier, Morocco also swirls with moody mystery in a much livelier environment where another supporting character, John Hurt as a witty, erudite Christopher Marlowe holds court.

The music, the moods, the unexpected humor, the romance, the costumes all blended together to make this one of the most thrilling and evocative films seen in recent years.

–Hillary Atkin

HBO’s ‘Silicon Valley’ Satirically Nails the Gold Rush Geekdom of High Tech

Here’s the definition of a geek entourage, straight from the mouth of one of the characters on Mike Judge’s new HBO comedy, “Silicon Valley:” “It’s weird. They always travel in groups of five, these programmers. There’s always a tall skinny white guy, short skinny Asian guy, fat guy with the ponytail, some guy with crazy facial hair and then an east Indian guy. It’s like they trade guys until they all have the right group.”

Many will compare the new comedy to the dearly departed but being made into a major motion picture “Entourage,” which also dealt with a group of guys either hustling to make it and/or dealing with their success.

And just as “Entourage” skewered the Hollywood establishment, its rituals and its hometown turf of Los Angeles, “Silicon Valley” sends up the high tech industry, its “visionary” leaders and the working stiffs who do most of the heavy lifting in Palo Alto and environs.

Creator Mike Judge (“Office Space,” “Beavis & Butt-head,” “King of the Hill”) collaborated with  Alec Berg (“Seinfeld,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm”) to bring his irreverent brand of humor to this series, which was partially inspired by Judge’s own experiences as a high-tech engineer in the late 1980s.

The series begins at a splashy launch party with Kid Rock playing to an almost all-male crowd where the main characters Richard (Thomas Middleditch), Big Head (Josh Brener) Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) and Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) feel like outsiders in a crowd of nerds – nerds who are worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The guys live in an incubator, a communal house run by a charismatic former programmer Erlich, charmingly played by T.J. Miller, who stakes his claim to 10% of anything and everything they invent under his roof. Meanwhile, the crew all work at a company called Hooli, a Google-like entity which wants to make the world a better place, with all the aggrandizement that entails.

When it becomes clear that Richard has developed what could be a groundbreaking compression algorithm for an otherwise lame music website called Pied Piper, he becomes the target of an intense bidding war between his boss at Hooli, Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) and a brutal investor, Peter Gregory. (Sadly, Christopher Evan Welch, who played Gregory, died while the eight-part series was in production.)

Richard, who looks like a version of Mark Zuckerberg but is portrayed with much more humanity and emotion than Zuck was in “The Social Network,” is urged repeatedly by Erlich to “be an asshole.” Hilarity and more parody ensues. And not many women are part of the “money changes everything” storyline, with the exception of Amanda Crew, who plays Gregory’s right-hand woman, doing his bidding.

But women are a big subject of interest, including a subplot with a stripper who provides more than paid lap dances.

“I didn’t even shake a woman’s hand until I was 17 years old,” Dinesh says when Erlich brings the stripper into the house. “The idea of getting an erection around man I live and work with is just not something I can handle.”

The night before the Los Angeles premiere, Judge and Berg and the cast were in Silicon Valley screening the first two episodes at the Fox Theatre before a high-tech crowd that included Elon Musk, Craig Newmark and Zynga founder Mark Pincus, anxious about its reception.

But the crowd laughed more than they did in Hollywood.

The first episode of “Silicon Valley” gets what amounts to the post Super Bowl slot on HBO, Sunday night at 10 p.m. after the premiere of “Game of Thrones.”

–Hillary Atkin

 

 

 

Getting under Scarlett Johansson’s Skin in Jonathan Glazer’s Sexy New Film

Would Scarlett Johansson in a brunette wig fool you into thinking she was someone else– like maybe, wait for it, an alien? That’s the jumping off point for an intriguing, thought-provoking and sometimes frightening new film, which finds the actress driving around Scotland in a creepy van, sussing out strangers in order to lure them to her lair, where even creepier things happen to them.

The victims, as you might guess, are all single young men who have been easily coaxed into going for a ride with Johansson, who quickly goes all-out seductress on them once they get to the hiding place, a nondescript, out of the way and very dark structure where unspeakable things happen after Johansson takes off all of her clothes.

Directed by Jonathan Glazer, who gave us “Sexy Beast” and “Birth,” “Under the Skin” is based on Michel Faber’s novel that looks at the world through alien eyes, housed in a human, very hot body.

But living in that body changes the journey of the protagonist in this stunning emotional transformation where the alien becomes more and more human and seems to disavow the mission of the intergalactic corporation that employs her to harvest human muscle–and her motorcycle-riding handler and clean-up man.

And even while Johansson hauntingly portrays the protagonist, the men she victimizes are real humans, mostly of the non-actor variety. Part of the film’s conceit is its usage of real people who were on the streets of Glasgow, although several of the roadside pickups were scripted and cast– including the only victim to escape from Johansson’s clutches.

Going undercover was part of the attraction for Johansson to take the role. To prep for it, she had to learn to drive on the opposite side of the road as well as adapt a realistic British accent. which she perfected with the help of a voice coach.

“It was a kind of metamorphosis, but there was also something metaphysical about playing this character,” she says. “It’s hard to put your finger on it and that was part of the appeal for me. This is not a genre movie. It’s more along the lines of an Ingmar Bergman drama in terms of its philosophical inquiry.”

Shot both in Glasgow– small cameras were mounted in the van– and in the surrounding, rugged highlands, untamed beaches and forests, the locations were crucial to the film’s distinct visual language. Having Johansson roam the terrain without the conventional limitations of a film set gives it a sense of naturalism, while still being otherworldly.

This is not a conventionally entertaining popcorn feature like her other big one of the moment, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” But for those who enjoy innovative filmmaking– this reminded us somewhat of the spirit of Terence Malick’s” Tree of Life” – put “under the Skin” on top of the list.

–Hillary Atkin

HBO Goes Behind the Scenes for Making of Springsteen’s High Hopes

Fans of the Boss appreciate not just his music, but getting inside his head for the thought processes behind the songs. And that’s exactly what they’ll get in a new documentary about his most recent release, “High Hopes,” airing April 4 at 9:30 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.

“High Hopes” was Springsteen’s 18th studio album, released in January and debuting at number one, and recorded in the middle of a tour with Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello filling in for E Street axman Steven Van Zandt.

Morello’s presence seems to invigorate Springsteen, and both are interviewed extensively in the new doc, directed by Thom Zimny, who previously helmed the 2010 HBO Springsteen documentary “The Promise: the Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town.” He also did ”Bruce Springsteen: A Conversation with His Fans” in 2011.

The half hour film, which seems to go by in a flash, also features scenes of studio sessions and rehearsals, and appears just a few days before the E Street Band receives a special award at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Brooklyn on April 10.

“High Hopes” includes new versions of “American Skin,” “The Ghost of Tom Joad” and “Dream Baby Dream,” Suicide’s classic postpunk lullaby. Another highlight is “The Wall,” a bittersweet tribute to two friends who never returned from Vietnam and features the lyric, “I read Robert McNamara says he’s sorry.”

 

It’s the Alan Partridge Party, and America is Invited

America, meet Alan Partridge. He’s a fictional character who shares some of the same DNA as Ron Burgundy, Will Ferrell’s buffoonish, boisterous and somewhat deluded 70s era TV news anchorman. Partridge is a British Burgundy, a radio jockey full of himself and never at a loss for schticky humor and silly catchphrases in Steve Coogan’s brilliant portrayal.

Coogan, last seen on the big screen in the US in a much different sort of film, “Philomena,” brings the character to life in a charming and utterly British tale that will be quite familiar on the other side of the pond – and quite enchanting over here.

In the UK, Partridge is a multimedia personage who’s been around for 20 years, with a presence brought to life by Coogan on stage, radio, television, the printed page (2011’s book “I Partridge: We Need to Talk About Alan Partridge”) and now finally, on celluloid. Yes, this is the first Partridge film. It was already released in Great Britain and opens in the US on April 4.

While Partridge may have longevity, he doesn’t necessarily have maturity, but one thing that has remained constant is his gift for being impressed by himself. Hence the tagline: “Someone is trying to kill Alan. You’ll wish it was you.”

As kind of an endearing idiot with media whorish values and no holds barred ambition (a familiar combo in the US) — he claims his first cry at birth earned a 100% audience share in the delivery room– Partridge is at his funniest when trying to get out of a jam. That usually results in a cringe-worthy situation that could involve nudity, loads of coarse language that accidentally gets on the air, or firearms.

The plot revolves around a radio station where Partridge works in the town of Norwich, England that has been purchased by new owners who have started cutting costs. With everyone’s jobs on the line, the situation becomes even tenser when a fired employee takes hostages at the station and insists on negotiating only through Partridge.

Realizing the media opportunity that has landed in his lap, Partridge sees it as career boost even while botching basic tasks the police ask him to do to save the others. In the midst of all the televised tumult, he somehow ends up with his naked bum splashed across national, and possibly worldwide media.

Watching the tale unfold, we definitely felt the comic fingerprints of Armando Iannucci—the creator of “Veep,” who has been part of the Partridge team almost since its inception and is a writer and executive producer. Declan Lowney directed the film, which is being released stateside by Magnolia Pictures.

So go. You’ll laugh, you’ll laugh again and then you’ll laugh some more, even if some of the Brit lingo flies by without full comprehension.

–Hillary Atkin

TCM’s Magical Mystery Movie Tour: The Ultimate Ride-Along for Movie Lovers

Too much, magic bus! That was the reaction of participants on board the first-ever Turner Classic Movies Locations Tour that took them to dozens of real-life settings that were the scenes of many of the most iconic moments captured on celluloid, going back to the earliest days of the movie industry.

The clock where Harold Lloyd indelibly hung off the hands from 1923’s “Safety Last” may have been a movie prop but the building in downtown Los Angeles where the scene was filmed is still there, one of multiple historic sites that exist in the zone between there and the heart of Hollywood, where the tour begins from the historic TCL Chinese Theatre, formerly Grauman’s Chinese.

It’s a route that also tells of the history of the region through the story of the movies.

Other locations with filmic significance include the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, site of the first-ever Academy Awards, Hollywood High School, the Formosa Café, Paramount Pictures, the site of the Ambassador Hotel, the Talmadge and Bryson apartments, MacArthur Park, Bunker Hill, the 2nd Street Tunnel, the Bradbury Building, the Orpheum Theater, Los Angeles City Hall, Union Station, Angelino Heights, Echo Park Lake and the Vista Theater.

Many of those locations boast memorable scenes from more than one film, like the 2nd Street Tunnel (Blade Runner, The Terminator) and the Bryson Apartments (Double Indemnity, The Grifters). Stops are made at the Bradbury Building (Blade Runner, The Artist) and Union Station (The Way We Were, Silver Streak).

TCM organized the three-hour bus ride in conjunction with Starline Tours for the upcoming 20th annual TCM Movie Festival. The limited-time experience began March 14 and runs through April 14.

Full disclosure: because the cable network offered seats for free to its fans, it may be challenging to get on board one of the state of the art buses, which feature retractable side windows to allow better viewing and a 65” HDTV monitor for the contemporary and classic clips and photos that augment the tour.

But based upon the success of the venture, and the first such tour that was created in New York and still runs there, there may be more opportunities in the future.

“After enjoying such tremendous success with our TCM Classic Film Tour in New York, we decided to bring some of that magic to Los Angeles for a limited time to celebrate TCM’s 20th anniversary,”  said Dennis Adamovich, senior vice president of digital, affiliate, lifestyle and enterprise commerce, TCM, TBS and TNT. “TCM Movie Locations Tour is a great chance to celebrate classic film in the very heart of the movie business, Los Angeles. It is also another way for us to thank to TCM’s  community of fans for their passion and devotion.”

We were one of the participants in the inaugural ride-along in the panoramic roofed vehicle, with TCM host Ben Mankiewicz on board to offer even further perspective in addition to our guide Michael’s knowledge.

As we drove by the locations, Michael, a veteran Hollywood Starline guide (the company has been around since 1935 doing tours of movie stars’ homes) cued film clips that played on the large monitor at the front of the bus, merging real life and the movies and connecting the past with the present for an incredible experience for anyone who appreciates the artistry of film.

–Hillary Atkin

 

 

 

Gillian Anderson is Back and Better than Ever in NBC’s ‘Crisis’

Take a busload of overprivileged high school kids – including the son of the president of the United States – their powerful and entitled parents, a heroic rookie Secret Service agent, an FBI agent with a dark secret and a shadowy terrorist organization, and you have the makings of NBC’s “Crisis,” premiering Sunday night at 10 p.m.

If it sounds a little bit like the premise of CBS’s “Hostages,” well, this one has a much better chance of making it.

What gives the new drama even more gravitas is Gillian Anderson, in her first US television role since “The X-Files” wrapped in 2002. Anderson plays a CEO of a high tech company whose daughter is on the bus. She’s also the estranged sister of the FBI agent, played by Rachael Taylor.

Anderson has been busy on the other side of the pond, appearing in the acclaimed BBC series “The Fall,” in which she plays a detective brought in to solve a series of murders in Belfast.

But back to Washington DC, where “Crisis” is set. The story opens with a nervous parent being forced to take an action that looks like it will put the kidnapped students in further danger. As they are held in captivity, loyalties fray and new alliances are formed as these private school overachievers are held captive.

The endgame is not clear, the kidnappers’ motives are fuzzy as well. What we do know is that one of the girl’s dads, played by Dermot Mulroney, was a chaperone on what was to be a field trip for the students. No spoilers here, but his character veers off in a completely different direction than he first portrays.

Another plot twist comes between Anderson and Taylor, who both need each other to cooperate in order to save the students. Both seem to have oversized egos, both have different realms of power that intersect in the personage of one of the students.

The action moves back and forth between the captives and the world outside where the crisis has almost immediately garnered wall-to-wall media coverage.

Oh, and did we mention that one of the kids gets away, with the help of the Secret Service agent? Without giving too much else away, seeing Anderson in action in again is more than enough reason to watch.

(“Crisis” airs Sunday at 10 p.m. on NBC.)

 

 

The Verdict is In: L.A. Law is Finally Out on DVD

It’s hard to believe that the iconic, highly acclaimed TV series “L.A. Law” closed out its run on NBC 20 years ago– and that its 22 episodes of Season One are just now being released to DVD, available beginning today from Shout! Factory.

Created by award-winning writer-producers Steven Bochco and Terry Louise Fisher, the legal drama debuted in 1986 and held court during primetime for an eight-season run, racking up 15 Emmy Awards, including four as outstanding drama, as well as four Golden Globes and a slew of other trophies.

For those who didn’t see it the first time around, the show takes viewers on an often wild ride inside the inner sanctum of the fictional Los Angeles law firm of McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney & Kuzak. It stars Harry Hamlin, Susan Dey, Jimmy Smits, Corbin Bernsen, Jill Eikenberry, Alan Rachins, Michele Greene, Michael Tucker, Susan Ruttan and Richard Dysart.

The team of ambitious, attractive and competitive attorneys face the conflicts between their personal desires, their obligations as lawyers, and their principles as human beings. A portrayal of the law and its litigators that was both realistic and irreverent, “L.A. Law” captivated millions of viewers with its hardboiled drama, rich characters and ironic wit while tackling emerging social issues of the time—issues that are still being debated, like abortion, gay rights, sexual harassment and racism.

The series also depicted class issues and social tensions that arose between the highly-paid senior partners and their smaller pay-checked junior staff.

There were also soap opera elements, especially involving Bernsen’s character, divorce attorney Arnie Becker, an inveterate womanizer who embodied the 1980s nouveau riche lifestyle and Susan Ruttan as Roxanne, his motherly secretary.

Television historians consider the series, a production of Twentieth Century Fox Television, the progenitor to other notable legal dramas including “Ally McBeal,” “Boston Legal,” “The Practice” and “Suits.”

Several of “L.A. Law’s” cast members are still mainstays of series television, with Smits appearing on FX’s “Sons of Anarchy,” Bernsen on USA’s “Psych” and Hamlin on AMC’s “Mad Men.”

Hamlin told the Los Angeles Times that he developed a running gag on “L.A. Law” by always eating in the conference room scenes and that he considers the pilot script among the most brilliant he’s ever read.

Eikenberry and Tucker, married in real life, created a pop-culture sensation when their characters discussed a sexual technique mysteriously called “The Venus Butterfly.”

The sexual peccadilloes of almost the entire cast would become fodder for many episodes of the series.

Perhaps its true legacy is the way it shaped how Americans viewed the law and lawyers. Although its characters were fictionalized and glamorized, the number of applicants to law school rose because of the way it depicted the profession and as one law school dean remarked, “the infinite possibilities for sex.”

–Hillary Atkin

 

 

 

Oscar Countdown: Original Song

U2, one of the world’s greatest bands, is rarely if ever on the losing end of any proposition. But even Bono admitted– on the first night of “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” that an animated character was likely to take the Oscar in the category of Original Song.

That would be one big golden trophy for the ultra-catchy “Let it Go” from Disney’s “Frozen,” with music and lyrics by Kristin Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez and performed by Idina Menzel.

But don’t count out the power of U2’s anthemic song, “Ordinary Love” from “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” with music by Paul Hewson, Dave Evans, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen to rouse AMPAS voters more. “Ordinary Love” also brings the imprimatur of its Golden Globe award from last month into the competition.

Whichever tune takes the title, just being nominated is a major coup for Pharrell Williams, up for the song “Happy” from “Despicable Me 2.” It’s the first nomination for the producer/performer and he’s been promoting it like crazy, just recently performing it at the NBA All-Star game and the Brit Awards in London. Meanwhile, the gospel funk number is currently No. 2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 List.

The other candidate is “The Moon Song” from “Her,” with music by Karen O. and lyrics by Ms. O and the film’s director, Spike Jonze.

But wait a second, wasn’t there another nominee? Yes, in one of those rare Oscar campaign scandals, it was kicked to the curb when it was discovered that emails were sent out to the Academy’s music branch asking them to take a listen to “Alone Yet Not Alone,” a song from a little-seen film that somehow beat out music from the likes of Taylor Swift, Celine Dion and Coldplay.

All four of the contenders will be performed live at the Oscars on March 2.

TAR’s Take: We’re going to go with the luck of the Irish and wager that the Academy will resonate more to music that accompanied depiction of the late, great Nelson Mandela.

–Hillary Atkin

Oscar Countdown: The Supporting Actors

For all the Rayons of the world – and just about everyone else – Jared Leto can do no wrong this awards season. Returning back to the big screen after years of focusing on his band, 30 Seconds to Mars, Leto’s gender-bending role alongside Matthew McConaughey  in “Dallas Buyers Club” has gripped the hearts of awards voters. He’s racked up a glittering stash of hardware from the Golden Globes, Critics Choice and SAG– as well as a slew of film critics’ awards early in the season which set him up as the front runner.

But it’s been fun to watch first-time actor Barkhad Abdi glory in his role as “the captain now” in “Captain Phillips,” which just earned him a BAFTA Award. Although Abdi was born in Somalia, he immigrated to Minneapolis at the age of 14 and was a complete acting novice before he auditioned for the lead pirate’s role.

In any other year, the rest of the field would pose more of a threat. Bradley Cooper and his head of permed curls, barely repressed sexuality and rapid fire violence are an integral part of “American Hustle,” and his second in a row nomination for appearing in a David O. Russell film.

Michael Fassbender brings his own brand of sadism and sex, honed in “Shame,” another Steve McQueen picture, to the role of the cotton plantation owner who torments his slaves, particularly Patsey, played by Lupita Nyong’o in “12 Years a Slave.”

And what would Leonardo DiCaprio’s role as Jordan Belfort be without his sidekick, Jonah Hill as Donnie Azoff, the true underbelly of “The Wolf of Wall Street.” After years of working in comedy, Hill is on a roll with his roles in “serious” films like this and “Moneyball,” and seems to work well as the number 2 to the two of the world’s most handsome men.

TAR’s Take: We are not exactly going out on a limb here. But if Leto doesn’t take the Oscar for best supporting actor this year, something might’ve been amiss in the Price Waterhouse ballot counting system.

–Hillary Atkin