John Hurt

Only Lovers Left Alive (2014)

Eve (Tilda Swinton) lives in Tangier. Her husband, Adam (Tom Hiddleston), in Detroit. Eve lives vibrantly from day to day, surrounded by her books. Adam, a musician, is disillusioned with life, hiding away from the world and his fans. At first introductions, they don’t seem to have much in common. However, they love each other passionately and unashamedly. They also happen to be vampires. After Adam hints at ending his life, Eve rushes to his side.

Despite the potential for bloodletting and, god forbid, sparkling in the sunlight, Jim Jarmusch’s latest puts the vampirism on the back burner to a certain extent. Like Trainspotting with its cast of tweekers and junkies, the couple’s cravings are merely an extension of their characters, rather than the complete picture. After all, their thirst for the red stuff is sated through their contacts. For Adam, it’s a trip to a hospital’s bloodbank, whilst Eve gets her supplies from fellow vampire, and previously 16th century poet, Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt).

When the couple meet again in Adam’s rundown house, after the initial consolation, they do what any long term couple do. They enjoy each other’s company: going for walks, hanging out and listening to music. These moments are never made any less ordinary simply because they happen solely at night. For Adam, they are part of a reluctant acceptance that there actually are reasons to get up at night. Eve, infectiously played by Swinton, coaxes and coerces him out of his shell, blaming all his misgivings on socialising with Byron and Shelley back in the day.

It’s only when Eve’s sister turns up that things become a miss. Ava, a ginger whirlwind played by Mia Wasikowska, is passion of the immortal unkempt. A party girl without restraint, she tests the couple’s endurance of the outside world; reflecting as she does, everything Adam sees wrong with modern. It’s a superb performance, which, along with The Double, buries the misgivings of Alice in Wonderland.

At its heart, Only Lovers Left Alive is more a romance than anything else. Slow burning being its top speed, the film floats by like the thoughts one has at five in the morning after being up all night. It is an exquisite slice of nuanced filmmaking with a distant yet familiar sense of love. It is further enhanced by a soundtrack of feedback and strings provided by Jarmusch’s band SQÜRL. Put simply, Jarmusch has provided us with a suitably dark present of gothic modernism that is truly haunting.

The Day of the Doctor (2013)

Warning: We’ve tried to keep spoilers to a minimum, but please advised that if you’ve still yet to see the 50th Anniversary Special of Doctor Who, you’re best looking elsewhere for now.

You’ll have to have been trapped in some distant nebula to not know that that Doctor Who is now into its 50th year. As part of the celebrations, the anniversary special has made it the cinemas in glorious 3D – and not 12D as the good Doctor (Matt Smith) suggests in the opening promo.

Steven Moffat was always going to have to a hard time of it with The Day of the Doctor. On the one hand, we have the hardcore, dyed in the wool fans who want to see a special that carts out William Hartnell’s corpse to appease them. To them the show goes beyond pin-up boy David Tennant and his lovey-dovey Doctor. They want a dark doctor! On the other hand, we have the youngsters, the ones who helped make the show’s resurgence. They embraced Russell T. Davies’ reboot and The Day of the Doctor should acknowledge them. And on the third hand – This is sci-fi! We’re allowed three hands – there will be people who know Doctor Who as nothing more than that show with the metal pepperpots, and will be tuning in to see what all the fuss is about.

So, how did it go?

Well, pretty well actually. In fact, very well. In actual fact, we’re still recovering from it all.

Moffat seems to have managed to address concerns on all fronts; embracing the show’s canon, whilst providing a narrative that embraces newcomers one and all. A series of events leads to three incarnations of the Doctor having to join forces to save the world from the Zygons. Well, that’s not really the A-Story, but it’s the one we’re going to tell you. The Day of the Doctor is a bit like opening presents on Christmas Day. You don’t really know what you’ve got until you open them, and then there’s that giddy joy of finding one or two extras tucked away behind the tree. From Gallifrey, to long scarves, to mockney accents, references appear like little chunky nuggets of fun that won’t confuse the casual viewer.

It’s not just Moffat’s script that’s worth mention, Nick Hurran’s direction is particularly dynamic. It’s very easy for a show-runner to say his script is dynamic, but it’s the director that has to realise it. From to barren deserts to war-torn cities, Hurran has added some real weight to the visuals. We are far, far, far from the days when two school teachers turned up at a junkyard to talk to an old man in a blue box.

Whilst we take a break from the gushing praise, we should address the elephant in the room. John Hurt. Yes, he’s a forgotten Doctor, but it’s quite obvious that the character was originally the Ninth Doctor, played by Christopher Eccleston. Whilst Moffat has provided a backstory to explain all this away, it does irk a little. But only a little. Hurt is superb as the earlier and grumpier incarnation of Smith and Tennant. He acts as a bridge not only from the classic series to the new, but he also plays mouthpiece to the numerous old school fans who have had quibbles with the new show’s tropes, such as the overuse of sonic screwdrivers as a weapon. ‘What are you going to do? Assemble a wardrobe at them?!’

The other major problem is a cameo from the show’s past that comes out of nowhere and doesn’t really add anything to the story. But then again, who are we to fault a desire to please everyone.

The Day of the Doctor is a funny, moving, fast paced adventure. It’s big and bold and it’s a standing testament to the endurance of the show. Not bad for something that was cobbled together 50 years ago to fill a gap between the football and Top of the Pops. Not bad at all.

Dead Man (1995)

The Western, the Great American Western, like baseball, apple pie, roadside diners and that unwritten novel we’re all waiting for encapsulate America to the rest of the world. Jim Jarmusch’s deconstruction of it, dismantling of it, mocking of it and eventually reverential nature toward it is both sacriligious and revalationary. Jarmusch, that photo fit of American independant cinema, takes on the founding father of genres, kicks it about a bit and then disappears up his own backside for a while before emerging with a fresh take and a bright outlook on that most stereotypical of scenarios. Fashioning a Man With No Name from nothing, Jarmusch takes us on a supernatural journey through American and Native American folklore that, like Altman’s McCabe,  has a distinctive voice in that most crowded of arenas.

Depp plays William Blake from Cleveland, travelling to the very edge of the frontier to work as an accountant in a factory in Machine. Finding his position already filled and being chased out by the factory owner (Robert Mitchum, in his last film roll. Jarmusch has EVERYONE’s number it seems.), Blake finds himself stranded, very much at the end of the line, with no money, no job and certainly no skills to help him in this new, harsh world. Somehow, things get worse, Blake is shot by, and then shoots and kills the factory owner’s son. Blake flees, collapses from hs injuries and is rescued by Nobody (Gary Farmer), an outcast Native American who proclaims him a “dead man” and the re-incarnation of the poet, William Blake. Nobody vows to help Blake return to his ancestral home in England. The factory owner, however, lets loose three vicious killers on Blake’s tail.

Blake and Nobody’s journey toward the sea is fraught with danger, from cross dressing trappers (Hi Iggy Pop) to a cannibalistic bounty hunter (Lance Henrikson). Blake dispatches them with varying degrees of luck and skill, gradually filling out the “Dead Man” roll assigned to him By Nobody. These vignettes mirror traditional scenes from countless westerns but forced through Jarmusch’s thick-framed glasses they take on a new, poetic form aided by a suitably eclectic soundtrack.

Neil Young’s grunting, spitting electric guitar score, played directly to the screen in most cases, jarr’s menancingly alongside the action, adding an unusual, lilting darkness to proceedings. The washed out black and white palette conjurs images of silent pictures as does the way many characters move and overly express themselves with grand gestures and wide open faces, none more so than Blake, who, in his funny checked suit and waddling walk certainly resembles Chaplain at the start.

In many ways Jarmusch has created a kind of anti-western, an evolutionary throwback of a western, where myth and folklore are entwined with the violent birth of America. A comedy that turns mysterious, a childlike picture full of extreme violence and imagery. A film full of contradictions, sideshows, wrong turns and ambiguity that adds up to a haunting vision of the transformation of man into murderer and the lasting scars that leaves on America.