Only Lovers Left Alive

Everyone in the audience loved Plautus, Septimus’ little tortoise, in our student theater production of Arcadia. They loved Plautus, the director told me one night, because the actor playing Septimus loved Plautus. He bestowed small moments of love on him throughout the play — pretending to feed him little slivers of apple, sharing looks, acknowledge him before he left the table — and we fell in love with both of them.

There are few movies I love as much as Only Lovers Left Alive. I mean really love, love in this unconditional bone-deep way, blood-deep, forever and ever. And I’m pretty sure it’s because of that wonderful Plautus property: we love watching people love. Eve and Adam love each other, unconditional bone-deep blood-deep forever and ever, and so I love them that way.

And I do believe what lets their love sing through so clear and strong is the same thing that built Septimus’ love for his paperweight pet. Our deathless couple show their love not so much through grand gestures, although Eve does fly halfway across the world to get to Adam at one point, but in a beautiful accumulation of casual, honest affection. They lie around and listen to music, they play chess and eat blood popsicles, they drive through night-drawn Detroit and idly chat about sleeping cities and Jack White and a diamond planet up in space that emits the sound of a gigantic gong. They dance together in the living room. They just try to sleep in a bit, please. Their love is actually shown, not just stated. More than any movie I’ve seen, their relationship is allowed to breathe, which is rather ironic as they’re vampires. Maybe their eternalness is what gives them this privilege of getting time in their own story to love each other.

Perhaps it’s a little odd that my dearest comfort film is a Jim Jarmusch vampire flick where not much even happens, but perhaps not. For something that stars two cool-skinned creatures of the night, it is the most warmly humanist movie I have ever seen. It’s stylish to the bone, yet none of those bones have a lick of cynicism. And it’s funny — pitch black, droll, arch yet affectionately so. A typical scene: Eve reclines on Adam’s ornate shabby sofa, her head in his lap, surrounded by his ramshackle collection of instruments and speakers and dishevel-tude. “I love what you’ve done with the place,” she remarks, and he places his whole hand over her face. They both laugh.

Describing this movie to a friend recently, I didn’t mention the plot once, and instead found myself just offering a list of charming facts about it — like how they fondly call plants and animals by their Latinate scientific names, or that one of the vampires is Kit Marlowe and wrote the complete works of Shakespeare. It was as if I hoped to find one detail that would manage to communicate the whole thing, one treasure that tells the shape of the chest. But I’ve come to the idea that perhaps the appreciation of the assembly is the point of Only Lovers Left Alive, and the point the movie is making about life itself. The Small Good Thing Theory of the Universe. That should probably be Eve’s philosophical epithet, to match Adam’s romantic Spooky Action At a Distance. Eve is the one most purely lit by wonder for the world, and I feel it’s telling that she’s also the one who is most fluent in survival. What it means to survive, what to survive for.

I don’t want to get too grand here, but honestly if there were only one movie left at the end of everything? Well we could do a lot worse than the message of living and love in this one.

Plus, it’s got a killer soundtrack.

A Single Man

I never intended to rewatch A Single Man. A friend and I went to see it at the tiny independent theater in our college town, and we had exactly the sort of curious, stylish time we expected and wanted, and that was that. But recently, I discovered there’s a certain mood in which all you want to do is watch the sort of movie where the opening credits play over footage of a beautiful naked man slowly dance-drowning in dark blue water. Actually, perhaps the better verbing is “put on.” You want to “put on” a movie where that happens, because A Single Man is somehow meditative and background even when you’re intently watching it. It’s kinda remarkable in that respect.

I’m really glad that enough people perked up at the idea of noted fashion designer Tom Ford directing an adaptation of a Christopher Isherwood novel that he managed to get Colin Firth and Julianne Moore, because he gave them roles very suited to them. Which makes sense after all — things being well fit is rather Tom Ford’s whole purpose. They look so lovely. Everyone looks so lovely. The 1960s, lovely; Los Angeles, lovely. So lovely even though they are all so, so broken, time, place, and people all together.

If I recall, critical talk on this movie was overwhelmingly concerned with style and aesthetics, given who helmed it, and some were willing to say that was “all” it is. But I suspect Ford knew exactly what his strengths would be, because A Single Man is constructed to be purposefully concerned with the look of things. It treats the beauty of the world as something to be sincerely, purely appreciated, even more so for a man who has decided to leave the world today. The very colors on screen bloom forward into high saturation whenever our heartbroken professor notices a particularly pleasing detail — a woman’s eyeliner, a young man’s mouth, the smell of a dog’s fur, a smile, a California sunset. Everything is a little more precious, because it will be the last.

Perhaps the most beautiful and befuddling thing in Professor Falconer’s life is his student Kenny, played by Nicholas Hoult at his most preposterously anime. He looks angelic to the point of sinfulness, which is a feat that took more than simply draping him in pale pink angora, although they did that too. For my money, the role he plays in this movie might be the most interesting part, as a boy who seems every inch a symbol at first and yet keeps flaring up with his own weird spark. There’s a fascinating dualism to Kenny, pushing and protecting in equal measure. He’s something more of a true angel than he first seems, might be the way to put it.

Anyhow, if you’re going to watch A Single Man you either already have, or were sold in the first paragraph. Or perhaps you were waiting for this: Julianne Moore has what looks to be a small citrus grove inside her house, and at one point grooves to “Green Onions” in her perfect black & white mod frock.

Gosford Park

Gosford Park might be the preeminent Manor House Murder Movie in my heart. I’m a little uncertain about giving it this title because I dearly, deeply love Clue and the recent BBC miniseries of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, but Gosford Park manages to combine several elements of both of them, plus only the best bits of Downton Abbey. It’s a standout in the field.

Julian Fellowes deservedly won the 2001 Academy Award Winner for Best Original Screenplay for this script, and I’m not sure what I’m more surprised by: that it was fully original, or that he didn’t have the good sense to quit while he was ahead. Honestly, I’m pretty sure he used up 70% of his ideas about interwar period English class relations in a big old house just in this one script. It’s like a highly concentrated version of however many seasons Downton has lagged on for, and much like how I prefer Thomas Hardy’s bleakness distilled into poem form, I definitely prefer this Fellowes.

And, you still get Dame Maggie Smith! Along with every other actor in Britain. Seriously, all of them, and all in top form. The majority of the characters in this movie are hilariously savage, impeccable burns right and left, and yet somehow you still get blindsided with real aching human drama in the midst of it all. It’s wonderful entertainment. I’ve watched this movie three times now, and every time I’ve laughed from beginning to end, only broken up by freshly shocked gasps. And as much as Gosford Park is trafficking in the sort of fun that’s built on the inherently fucked up British class system, said fucked up-ness is examined with a bite as sharp as Dame Maggie’s. No one gets off in the movie. Even your faves are problematic, and their problematicism will be commented on, and I really appreciate that. It’s remarkably rich in nuance, for something that could have simply been a landed gentry murder mystery and still been a treat.

This is not my idea, and for the life of me I can’t find where I’d read it or who said it, but it has been proposed somewhere that it might have taken an American director (Robert Altman) to portray a certain sort English society the way Gosford Park does, similarly to how it took an English director (Sam Mendes) to do what was done with American Beauty. I feel like there might be something to this. If nothing else, it’s interesting to think about with the through-plot of an American director researching his next Hollywood movie.

Anyhow, come for the amazing 1930s frocks and plentiful possibilities for femslash, if nothing else. Or simply Bob Balaban, the token American, bleating “Hello” out of a car in the rain, which my sister and I have been mimicking for weeks now.

X-Men: First Class and Days Of Future Past

I feel like movies should be judged on how well they achieve what they set out to be. A dramatic biopic is not trying to be good in the same ways an indie comedy is, you know? This gets tricky in the case of X-Men: First Class, because I don’t know if they intended it to be the homoromantic superhero movie of our times. But that they achieved this, harder than anything that has come before or since, is honestly an accomplishment that nearly stands independent of whatever the intentions may have been.

The prequel/origin story First Class was actually the first X-Men movie I ever watched, over five years ago. Through some remarkable cultural blindspot, at that time I had zero idea that Magneto is the franchise’s villain, and was under the perfect impression that I was watching the story of two people finally finding their soulmate and deciding to raise their adopted children together. If anything, I think that the blast radius of my devastation over their break-up might have obscured even what led to it, because on rewatch, my god if Charles and Erik aren’t even hotter for each other than I remembered. Else, maybe this movie just gays with age.

Now, the X-Men franchise has always been interested in making mutation a metaphor, broadly for all who are not white, straight, able-bodied, and male. Our heroes and villains both are basically engaged in a superpowered fight against discrimination. This is great and I’m all about it. What is frustrating though, is that the movies don’t actually commit to representing the sort of people who are discriminated against in our own world. The female and non-white mutants are sidelined (or flat killed) more often than not, leaving more room for the two white guys in the lead, with their relationship always readable on the bro side of -mance. They shouldn’t do any of this. Put your mutant money where your metaphor mouth is. Give us more characters of other colors than white and blue. Let your shapeshifting woman shift into other shapes. Go further than just having sweet nerdy Hank explain why he hid his mutation from his boss with: “You didn’t ask, so I didn’t say.”

While we continue to wait for more diverse casting, at least we can say that they don’t backpedal from the level of love story First Class established, as the follow-up feature, Days of Future Past, does absolutely nothing to disavow anyone of the belief that we’re watching the Rope of superhero franchises. The honest-to-goodness plot hinges on Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen’s older versions of Charles and Erik (from X1 and X2) coming together to send Wolverine into the past to bring their younger James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender versions together as well, so they can try to save the world like they couldn’t save their relationship. How romantic is this shit? I’ll tell you: this shit is maximally romantic.

In said past, both Magneto and Xavier seem to have dealt with this break-up exceedingly poorly, though occasionally it’s hard to tell what is the result of emotional trauma and what is just the universally bad, brown stylings of the 1970s. What was even going on in that decade. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, in the X-Men world we may never actually know! There is a whole lot of time travel and slate wiping, but honestly it hardly matters. You could stack up a list of things that are important in an X-Men movie and “consistent world ramifications of actions that unfold” is going to lag way behind things like “two exes play a loaded game of chess.”

And the thing is, I get the feeling this franchise knows this. The X-Men are weirder than the Avengers. The characters are less heroes with the weight of the world on their shoulders, and more a bundle of misfit children who can control metals but not their feelings. There’s an inherent silly soap opera quality to the X-Men that the films embrace, which lends a refreshing looseness to the whole splashy escapade. Costumes are bolder, plots more unpredictable. These movies will literally slow down for an extended comedy sequence of über-fast Quicksilver whizzing around a room setting up slo-motion slapstick, because they know that we love that character, and they know that the reason why we love Peter Maximoff is because Peter represents this fundamental truth: that the point of a superhero movie is to have a grand old time. And I have faith that if we keep talking about it, someday the studios will make room for everyone at this party.