‘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

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

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

 

 

 

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

 

Oscar Countdown: The Supporting Actresses

There are just 10 days to go before the Academy Awards are handed out in this awards season bifurcated by the Olympics. We will be taking a look at all the top categories as the last-minute campaigning goes down to the finish line for moviedom’s most coveted honor.

For supporting actress, the contenders’ characters range from a blue-collar single mom to a feisty, bitter older daughter and an elderly yet extremely outspoken wife and mother, not to mention a con artist’s stay-at-home wife and slave who is brutally abused by a plantation owner.

Lupita Nyong’o’s role as Patsey in “12 Years a Slave” has already been recognized with trophies from the Critics’ Choice Awards and the Screen Actors Guild Awards– as well as garnering a slew of other nominations.

Her competition: Sally Hawkins for “Blue Jasmine,” Jennifer Lawrence for “American Hustle,” Julia Roberts for “August: Osage County” and June Squibb for “Nebraska.”

The range of not only the characters but of the actors is remarkable with the youngest, Lawrence, coming off of last year’s win in another David O Russell film, “Silver Linings Playbook.”

Squibb meanwhile, is just now getting major recognition in a career that spans more than five decades, while a mid-career Roberts never struggles to gain attention.

For Hawkins, a Brit who has been recognized for her roles in smaller films over the last few years including “Happy Go Lucky” and “Made in Dagenham,” playing Cate Blanchett’s younger, poorer, less educated San Francisco sister has been a huge career boost.

TAR’s Take: It’s Lupita’s! AMPAS voters will be unlikely to recognize Lawrence two years in a row (last year, she won lead actress) and Nyong’o has comported herself the entire season with dignity and grace befitting her role. As a newcomer, she’s quickly made herself into a style icon on the red carpet, appearing in a stunning array of jewel-toned gowns that have anointed her the belle of the ball.

–Hillary Atkin

Off to See the Wizard, Dorothy, Lion, Tin Man and Scarecrow–in IMAX 3D

Everyone remembers seeing the classic film “The Wizard of Oz,” most likely on a television set in the family living room.

 

But you haven’t truly experienced the magic of it until you see the newly restored version on the big screen in IMAX 3D, which opens for an exclusive one-week engagement in more than 300 IMAX theaters starting on September 20.

 

We got a chance to see a preview of the iconic 1939 movie at the recently reopened TCL  Chinese Theater in Hollywood– formerly Mann’s and Grauman’s–and adding to the thrill of it was knowing that the theater was the site of the film’s original premiere on August 18, 1939.

 

Seeing Judy Garland as Dorothy and her dog Toto being transported from Kansas to the land of Oz was a magical movie experience on the big screen, which measures 94 feet wide by 46 feet tall, so you felt like you were right there with them on their journey, ensconced in the comfortable new seats of the theater.

 

And when the Wicked Witch of the West made her first appearance, the clarity was downright chilling, all the way through until she was liquidated and joy and the Ding Dong song broke out throughout the land.

 

The restoration of the nearly 75-year-old film, directed by Victor Fleming, followed its own lengthy yellow brick road. More than 1,000 people spent 16 months working on the IMAX and 3D conversions for Warner Bros.

 

Even the “mistakes” were left in. All three stand-ins for the Tin Man, Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion are briefly visible in several shots that show the trio climbing the mountain to get to the Witch’s Castle to rescue Dorothy from the green-faced broomstick riding wench who wants her ruby slippers.

 

More Oz trivia: there are two surviving Munchkins of the original 124, 95-year-old Ruth Duccini and 93-year-old Jerry Maren, the middle Lollipop Guild kid, who just had his hand prints recorded for posterity in the cement outside the Chinese Theater.

To commemorate the landmark anniversary of the film, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment on October 1 will release a limited, numbered Wizard of Oz 75th anniversary collectors edition, which will include a five disc set, including Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD, and Ultraviolet versions of the film, a new documentary about the making of the movie and other bonus features.

Bringing Background Singers to the Forefront at SXSW: Twenty Feet from Stardom

“Rape, murder. It’s just a shot away. It’s just a shot away.” Think of that line from the infamous Rolling Stones song Gimme Shelter. Who sang it? Merry Clayton, one of the singers profiled in the stunning new documentary “Twenty Feet from Stardom,” which premiered at Sundance and was screened at South by Southwest, followed by a surprise performance that generated several standing ovations from the audience at Austin’s Paramount Theater.

If you haven’t been among the select few to see the film, directed by Morgan Neville,  you will have the opportunity soon–because RADiUS-TWC (The Weinstein Company) picked it up at Sundance for theatrical distribution beginning on June 14.

With thrilling archival footage of rock ‘n roll icons like David Bowie and Joe Cocker intermixed with current-day interviews of musical greats Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Mick Jagger, Sting, Sheryl Crowe, Bette Midler and producer Lou Adler, the doc shows and tells what life was like behind the music for the mainly black and female background singers who lent their soaring voices to many of the biggest records of the past four decades.

Even as tellingly, it shows how they’re doing now. And with a few notable exceptions, like recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Darlene Love, they lead lives like many people–struggling to make ends meet—at the complete opposite end of the spectrum from the rock legends with whom they shared the stage.

While heartbreaking in parts, the film pays tribute to those whose voices who added immeasurably to the greatness of popular music—putting them at center stage to reflect on the sacrifices and rewards of their careers spent harmonizing just feet away from superstardom.

A common theme runs through the personal stories—the desire to become a solo artist—and women like Love, Clayton and Lisa Fischer tell of the struggles they faced in doing so.

But the dream doesn’t die despite persistent challenges, and is exemplified in the story of acclaimed vocalist Judith Hill, who was to be part of Michael Jackson’s “This is It” huge London shows. She would have been featured in MJ’s “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”–you can see her in rehearsals with him in the Kenny Ortega-directed film– as well as on other numbers. While periodically doing backup since Michael’s shocking death, she’s intently focused on becoming a solo performer and recently performed at the Academy Awards Governors Ball.

After the final credits rolled, Hill took to the stage to perform, followed by Love, with a heartfelt rendition of “Lean On Me,” emblematic of backup singers’ role in shaping musical history. The crowd went nuts, showering them with love and admiration, and Neville revealed plans for a soundtrack album. There’s also talk of a tour, or at least a few shows featuring these talented people, many of whom are just now getting their due.

Meanwhile, Neville also announced that Hill will be featured on NBC’s “The Voice” when its new season premieres March 25. Here’s a taste: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k4zG-WfHGtA

–Hillary Atkin

 

James Bond Parachutes in to Producers Guild Awards Nominations

Leave it to the Producers Guild of America to finally give some credit to a 50-year-old film franchise. Showing 007 some real love, its members nominated “Skyfall” as one of the 10 films up for the Darryl F. Zanuck producer of the year award for theatrical motion pictures.

 

Skyfall, starring Daniel Craig, is the first James Bond movie ever to get a PGA nomination.

 

It will compete against Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Lincoln, Life of Pi, Moonrise Kingdom, Silver Linings Playbook, Skyfall and Zero Dark Thirty, when the awards are handed out on January 26, in the 24th edition of the ceremony.

 

The PGA trophy is considered a leading indicator for the best picture Oscar as well. The last time the two choices differed was six years ago when the Academy Award went to The Departed and the PGA Award was handed to Little Miss Sunshine.

 

For animated films, the producers of Brave, Frankenweenie, ParaNorman, Rise of the Guardians and Wreck-it Ralph will vie for the prize.

 

The small screen battles are expected to be just as fierce on the drama side with the teams behind Breaking Bad, Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, Homeland and Mad Men competing.

 

For television comedies, the contenders are 30 Rock, The Big Bang Theory, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Louis and Modern Family.

 

Competing for the David L. Wolper Award for outstanding producer of longform television: American Horror Story, Hatfields & McCoys, Game Change, Sherlock and The Dust Bowl.