The end-of-summer movie doldrums have arrived with nary a major new release in sight this weekend.
Hollywood is busy taking stock of a disappointing season — it was the worst summer at the box office since 1997. As usual, it was a season dominated by childish fare, including hits “22 Jump Street,” “Godzilla,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” “Maleficent” and “Transformers: Age of Extinction.”
The good news is that fall is on its way with a tantalizing selection of “grown-up” Oscar bait and enough art house offerings to satisfy even the most snobbish cinema palate.
If you’re looking forward to the more sophisticated films of fall but find yourself at a loss this weekend, here are a couple of recent home viewing releases to tide you over until fresh reinforcements arrive.
Whether renting or streaming, you can’t go wrong with the pair of intriguing dramas below. Released in mid-August on DVD, they’re easily two of the most compelling films of 2014.
Only Lovers Left Alive
R (language, brief nudity)
The artful, eccentric films of writer-director Jim Jarmusch are legend (“Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai,” “Coffee and Cigarettes,” “Broken Flowers”) but these languidly paced gems can often be a chore to sit through.
Not so with Jarmusch’s latest, which is a total delight, dark, romantic and playful and starring the irresistible Tom Hiddleston and often creepy, always fascinating Tilda Swinton at their very finest.
People may think that the sappy, sparkly bloodsuckers of “Twilight” effectively killed off the vampire film, but then a movie like this comes along, delightfully toying with the genre in clever ways that would make Anne Rice proud.
Just pause for a moment to let that sink in. “Only Lovers Left Alive” is a vampire movie. By Jim Jarmusch. Oh yeah.
Hiddleston and Swinton play centuries-old creatures of the night, old souls and soul mates who live on separate continents, only to reunite in the inky midnight of his improbable hometown of Detroit.
Hiddleston’s Adam is a brooding Byronic bloodsucker with a passion for beautiful old instruments, mainly guitars, and a talent for composing moody rock music that has teenage groupies encamped outside his house.
This drives Adam crazy. He’s an analog guy in a digital age and he’s not happy about all the changes he’s seen in his immortal lifetime. It’s got him so depressed that Swinton’s Eve is concerned enough to make the exhausting red-eye journey from her home in exotic Tangier to cheer him up.
Eve is Adam’s polar opposite, free-spirited, cultured and open to new things — she’s got an iPhone while Adam is still stuck on rotary. She’s not so modern, though, that she’s forgotten her rich past. One of her best friends happens to be Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), the guy conspiracy theorists believe wrote Shakespeare’s plays. Jarmusch has a lot of fun with that.
The director’s vision of the 21st-century vampire lifestyle is hilarious, sexy and literate in ways that will make English majors swoon. Adam and Eve are like rock stars, staying up all night, with their disheveled hair, shades and gloves, listening to music, debating existential questions and jonesing after their next fix (they’re vegetarians and blood is like a drug to them).
In true Jarmusch style, “Lovers” never goes quite where you expect it to. When the credits rolled, I had fallen head over heels for this wonderful, bookish, effortlessly cool film.
Tom Hardy is one of the most talented young actors of his generation, proving his subtle charm, versatility and serious chops in such films as “Bronson,” “Inception” and “Lawless.”
He’s a forceful guy and we’re used to seeing him in films that are violent or big on spectacle, which is why the quiet, brilliant one-man show that is “Locke” comes as such a surprise.
Penned and directed with considerable minimalist style by Steven Knight (writer of “Closed Circuit,” “Eastern Promises” and “Dirty Pretty Things”), “Locke” consists entirely of Hardy alone inside a car as his character makes a late-night drive from Birmingham to London.
The movie begins as a mystery. Ivan Locke has abruptly abandoned his post at a construction site, where he is supposed to be supervising a critical cement pour. His mission is urgent and we slowly learn where he is headed and why in a series of frantic phone calls between him and his irate boss, his worried wife, an increasingly drunk co-worker and a panicked woman from his past.
“Locke” is a thriller in the truest sense but it’s a rare film in that its dilemmas are moral ones. As Hardy takes one harrowing call after another — his car is conveniently equipped with a state-of-the-art hands-free system — our feelings about Locke’s motivations are in constant flux. Is he a man of integrity or a man who can’t let go of his destructive past?
Knight uses shifts in lighting to conjure up a mood of suspense. This is one of the most stressful movies I’ve seen in a long time.
Other actors give voice to the ensemble Locke speaks to via phone but this is all Hardy’s show and it’s amazing how he brings the screen to life, simply sitting behind the wheel of a car.
The sole flaw to be found in “Locke” is Hardy’s occasional railings against his character’s dead-beat dad, who he imagines is sitting in the backseat. It’s a distracting theatrical device in a ride that is otherwise impressively smooth.
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