Reviews – New movies opening February 21st 2014

We review this week’s new cinema releases, including ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE and STRANGER BY THE LAKE

ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (UK | Germany | France | Cyprus | USA/15A/123mins)
Directed by Jim Jarmusch. Starring Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Anton Yelchin
Vampires Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) have been married for centuries. Unable to be together for long, but also to never be truly apart they reunite at Adam’s home in Detroit to rejuvenate one another and celebrate their love. When Eve’s vampire sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) arrives on their doorstep, however, she throws their carefully ordered world into chaos and threatens their very survival.
THE VERDICT: Did you think you’d had enough of vampire films now that the Twilight franchise has come to an end? Director Jim Jarmusch seems to think not and, as it turns out, he is right. Only Lovers Left Alive is a return to vampires as monsters and hermits, with touches of the romanticism of Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire thrown in for good measure.
Tom Hiddleston plays Adam as a tortured rock god genius vampire, surrounded by his beautiful instruments, in a house and city that are falling apart, he falls into despair; a romantic despair of course. At first, Swinton seems the more pragmatic of the pair, as Eve’s belief is that vampires such as they endure, but it soon becomes clear that these two characters are dependant on one another and the power constantly shifts in their interactions. Swinton and Hiddleston embody this in their performances, constantly shifting the power, relying on and inspiring one another.
It makes a refreshing change to see Mia Wasikowska play a character who is truly a selfish brat; so used are we to seeing her play old souls. It is clear the actress had great fun with the chance to play a bratty vampire, and she is as engaging as she is (deliberately) annoying. Anton Yelchin does admirably as a human who fawns on the vampires without really understanding why, and John Hurt has a surprisingly funny and affecting part as Marlowe; companion to the vampires throughout their lives.
Jarmusch, Swinton and Hiddleston play with vampire lore, and create new parts of their own; gloves and clothing play a huge part in the film, and serve to underline the fact that these are new creatures, the like of which we have never seen before. Blood, as is always the case with vampire films, is never just blood, this time taking on the euphoric highs and addictive qualities of a high quality but deadly drug. The same can be said, however, for the addictive, but tender expression of Adam and Eve’s love for one another.
Shot in a crumbling city, through a hazy glow, Only Lovers Left Alive almost drips gothic romance; the soundtrack and the characters’ obsession with science only serve to underline this. Jarmusch has created a languid but intense affair that burns slowly but brightly. The pacing may lag a little before Ava arrives, but it is such a joy to spend time with these characters that it hardly seems to matter.
Only Lovers Left Alive is an engaging and intense portrait of love through addiction. Hiddleston and Swinton are not only a wonderful match for one another, but their chemistry and connection is an absolute joy to watch. As uncluttered as Detroit itself, Only Lovers Left Alive is surprisingly funny and affecting, and will have you coming back for more.
Review by Brogen Hayes

Directed by 
Alain Guiraudie. Starring Pierre Deladonchamps, Patrick d’Assumçao
THE PLOT: Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) spends his summer afternoons whiling away the hours by a lake. The beach is a known gay cruising spot and, even though Franck quickly decides on a man he likes, it seems he has been beaten to the punch, so he spends his time talking with Henri (Patrick d’Assumçao), an apparently straight man who sits apart from the men searching for one another. When Franck is late leaving the beach one night though, he witnesses horseplay in the lake that quickly turns to murder.
THE VERDICT: Stranger by the Lake is a rather strange film that deals with loneliness, desire, love and fear. The film lives and dies on the performance of Deladonchamps as Franck, and he manages the responsibility ably. There is a fear in Deladonchamps’ eyes throughout the film, but it seems that this is mainly the fear of himself and the fact that he does not run away from what he knows to be a dangerous situation. Patrick d’Assumçao captures the essence of a man on the fringes, filled with loneliness and Christophe Paou brings an oddly unsettling calm to Michel, the object of Franck’s attentions.
Writer/director Alain Guiraudie makes the mystery of Stranger by the Lake not the murder that takes place almost calmly, but what happens afterwards. Guiraudie makes sure that Franck is shown to be a clever, gentle and intuitive man but the fact that he consistently returns to a dangerous situation, and denies what he has seen, leaves the audience questioning human nature and the nature of desire.
As well as this, Guiraudie shines a light on a question that evades many of us throughout our lives, is there a difference between love and desire? In his conversations with the surprisingly astute Henri, Franck discovers the line between the two and finds himself questioning where he stands. As well as this, the questions of loneliness and companionship are explored, along with the notion of cruising itself. In the end, however, it is the line between sex and death that Guiraudie treads most expertly. There are touches of Hitchcock’s Rear Window throughout the film, not least in the way that the men gaze at one another, but also in that Franck seems paralysed by his desire.
As director, Guiraudie throws the audience in at the deep end, with beautiful lingering shots of the scenery that quickly give way to much unashamed male nudity at its most graphic. The chemistry between all the men is both gentle and intense, as though their comfort with being nude opens them up to one another on an emotional level also.
Stranger by the Lake is a tightly wound thriller with plenty of gratuitous male nudity and examinations of desire, relationships, love, death and loneliness. However, the film is let down by an ending that seems as though the filmmakers did not know how to conclude their story.
Review by Brogen Hayes 

Directed by Akiva Goldsmith. Starring Colin Farrell, Jessica Brown Findlay, Russell Crowe, Will Smith, Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt, Eva Marie Saint, Graham Greene, Kevin Corrigan, Alan Doyle.
Having been abandoned, Moses-like, as a small boy in New York Harbour in 1895, by his immigrant parents, the now 20-year-old Peter Lake (Farrell) makes ends meet by being a thief – and the man who thought him all he knows, Brookyln’s Short Tails gangleader Pearly Soames (Crowe), isn’t too happy that his protege has decided to go it alone. Escaping with his life from this fuming mentor on the back of a horse Peter nicknames, eh, Horse, our artful dodger finds his life takes another dramatic turn when he’s discovered during a routine Manhattan mansion burglary by the beautiful daughter of the house, Beverly Penn (Brown Findlay). Cue mushy romance montage, as Peter nurses his newfound love as she succumbs to consumption whilst trying to stay one step ahead of the perspiring Pearly. But then, hey, we jump to 2014, and Peter is now a hippy making a living by doing chalk drawings in Central Park…
Based upon Mark Helprin’s 800-page 1983 novel, and marking the directorial debut of noted screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind, I Am Legend, etc), A New York Winter’s Tale is one sorry mess. Goldsman may have been able to attract some old famous buddies into the cast, but none of them come out smelling of Oscars here, with the falling Will Smith proving particularly painful in a cameo that just won’t stop.
Which would be all well and good if you had a story that truly moved, or a leading trio that you wanted to spend some serious time with. Farrell is still on the comeback trail, but not quite there yet, whilst Brown Findlay hopes to trade on her Downtown Abbey fame, and Russell Crowe once again accepts the role of the panto baddie.
Review by Paul Byrne

STALINGRAD (Russia/15A/131mins)
Directed by Fedor Bondarchuk. Starring Mariya Smolnikova, Yanina Studilina, Pyotr Fyodorov, Thomas Kretschmann, Sergey Bondarchuck, Dimitriy Lysenkov, Andrey Smolyakov, Alexey Barabash.
Opening on the Fukushima earthquake, March 2011, a Russian team leader rescuing some German students tells the story of his mother during the Battle Of Stalingrad. Autumn 1942, and the Germans have the city as Captain Gromov (Fyodorov) heads an advance party for the Russian army, keen to cross the Volga. The hotheaded Captain Kahn (Kretschmann) jeopardises the mission somewhat when he causes the Germans to ignite their own fuel supplies, killing many of his fellow soldiers in the process. Holed up with a shell-shocked survivor, Katya (Smolnikova), former tenor star Nikiforov (Barabash), sharpshooter Chvanov (Lysenkov), veteran Polyakov (Smolyakov) and young engineer Astakhov (Bondarchuk), Gromov bunkers down for a stand-off with the Germans across the square…
The biggest-grossing Russian movie of all time, Stalingrad is, as you might expect, one epic war movie. Made that little bit more epic by its solid use of 3D. Director Bondarchuk has spoken of being heavily influenced by Zach Snyder’s one good movie, 300, and certainly there’s an unashamed artificiality at play here. Russian soldiers, exhumed in flames, fight on, as much with the Germans as with a near-fatal onslaught of CGI. It’s an artificiality that isn’t unbefitting such brutality, and such a barbaric slice of history (over 1.7million were said to be killed or wounded in the Battle Of Stalingrad, but it also makes for a film that, at times, plays like a Putin wet dream. And nobody really wants to see that. Except for lots of Russian people, of course. Not that the politics of the battle seems to be of much concern to Bondarchuk – Stalin and Hitler are never even mentioned. This is more Michael Bay than Ken Loach.
RATING: 2/5 
Review by Paul Byrne