A Singular Career: The Roxie pays tribute to actor Don Murray


, , , , , , , , , ,

hoodlum priest1

After toiling in television for half a dozen years, Don Murray made his big screen debut in Joshua Logan’s romantic comedy drama Bus Stop (1956). His role as a cowboy smitten with a singer played by Marilyn Monroe earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor and made him a movie star at 27. He went on to make a number of high-profile films, including A Hatful of Rain (1957) and Advise and Consent (1962), but his career never quite reached the heights that Bus Stop promised.

Instead, Murray’s career became much more idiosyncratic and much more interesting. He worked on a number of his own projects, including writing, producing, and starring in The Hoodlum Priest (1961), an involving drama shot by Haskell Wexler with Murray as a priest struggling to keep juvenile delinquents on the straight and narrow, and writing, producing, and starring in Confessions of Tom Harris (1969), a truly eccentric drama in which Murray plays the titular character, a one-time vicious criminal who became a prison chaplain as well as Murray’s stand-in and stunt double after a conversion to faith. He also appeared in independent features, such as Herbert Danska’s Sweet Love, Bitter (1967), a downbeat drama set to Mal Waldron’s evocative score, in which Murray plays an alcoholic college professor in free fall who becomes friends with a Charlie Parker-like, junkie jazz musician played by comedian Dick Gregory.

All of these films and more will screen July 11-13 at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater as part of A Very Special Weekend with Don Murray. Coordinated by Roxie programmer Elliot Lavine and filmmaker Don Malcolm, who is currently directing and producing Unsung Hero, a documentary about Murray, the program offers a broad range of Murray’s movie and television work. The actor, who turns 85 this month, will be on hand over the weekend along with other special guests.

Malcolm will also screen clips from Unsung Hero throughout the retrospective. In this Q&A, he talks about Murray, his career, and what inspired Malcolm to make a documentary.

Q: Was there a defining movie for you, one that made you think, ‘There’s a film here?’

Donald Malcolm: I would say The Hoodlum Priest really broke something open. Don was the writer of the script, the producer, and all of that. I said, ‘How could that combination of talent not end up doing more of that kind of work?’ I found out why later on as we got into it. I think it really galvanized him—it didn’t happen all at once—I went and did the research and found the things that were hard to find.

I suddenly realized there were two phases to his career, the one that was sort of in the wake of Bus Stop up through The Hoodlum Priest. Then there was the material that followed, which then became more puzzling, more interesting, and just made the story even more needed to be told. As I got to know Don, I got to understand his perspective on it. Then I realized there were aspects of what he had been doing and the type of person he was when he wasn’t making movies that made it clear there was another thread that can be told in the story.

Q: In his more personal work there seems to be an emphasis on social justice and faith, most explicitly in The Hoodlum Priest.

DM: There’s a point of connection between social justice and the benefits of religious faith, and understanding how to apply it and how to use it in one’s life without being doctrinaire about it…Hoodlum Priest is what I would call a combination of a social problem film and neorealism jammed together to make a very hyper-dramatic point, which I think it’s very successful in doing, but it is looking backward into a different style of filmmaking that I think Don became enamored with when he first came to Hollywood. Obviously, he had an idea of how he wanted that film to look and he found Haskell Wexler making B noirs. He signed Wexler and [director] Irvin Kershner to do it from that side of the camera for him.

Q: Did you have any problems tracking down material for the documentary? Obviously, there are the things you’re screening at the Roxie, but beyond that group of movies, did anything prove elusive?

DM: There’s tons of stuff we weren’t able to get and we’re still working on getting bits and pieces to show in the film. One of the areas that will be covered as part of the quartet of films we’re showing on Saturday that deal with race relations is the live Philco Playhouse TV show called A Man Is Ten Feet Tall where he is opposite Sidney Poitier. Live television experience was something that buoyed Don quite a bit, because his contract with Fox didn’t push him to do that many movies and he was having trouble finding movies, because they kept trying to find some variation of Bus Stop or cowboy or whatever. They never quite figured out how to market him or go with him beyond that, because he also had a mind of his own and said, ‘I don’t want to do that kind of work.’

Don never wanted to do the same thing twice. As he said, ‘I came to Hollywood and they said I needed to establish a persona that the audience could relate and would be a reliable thing for them to get behind. I did the exact opposite.’ Live television turned out to be a great way for Don and many other actors with similar predilections to stay working…The actors enjoyed the challenge of working in a live context. It was like doing a play one time in front of a national audience. It also kept them in the public eye, because those shows were popular. That sustained Don quite a bit and that is one of the areas of his career that is difficult to reconstruct sufficiently in the documentary.

Q: How much time have you spent with Don?

DM: Quite a bit. Quite a bit of time, quite a lot of discussion to understand his perspective and finding out about his development as a young man and how he came to form a lot of his ideals and beliefs. It was important to have the time and also meet some of the people who worked with him when he was doing the refugee project that he did in the late ’50s that was an outgrowth of him doing alternative service as a conscientious objector during Korea. That’s all part of the story, trying to get people to understand the kind of person he is and how that shapes a lot of work that he’s done.

Don said, ‘Are you sure that my story is really the one that should be told? Is it really all that bad?’ I said, ‘All that bad? You’re a stoic. You’re a survivor. You’re a guy that found a way to forget about be forgotten and found a way to live a life that had nothing to do with all the hype and the craziness that can go in being in that kind of profession.’—Pam Grady

For more information about A Very Special Weekend with Don Murray, visit roxie.com.

Coming soon: THE DOG, DOG DAY AFTERNOON inspiration


, , , , , ,

Sometimes truth is more colorful than fiction. Such is the case of John Wojtowicz, the inspiration behind Sidney Lumet’s classic thriller Dog Day Afternoon. Like Al Pacino’s Sonny Wortzik character, Wojtowicz claims he robbed a Chase Manhattan bank branch for the love of a transgendered woman. But there is a lot more to Wojtowicz’s story than that, and Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren capture it all in The Dog, a hugely entertaining and surprisingly poignant documentary. Blending archival footage and contemporary interviews, the film presents an in-depth portrait of a man who evolved from Goldwater Republican to Stonewall era gay rights activist before taking his legendary detour into crime. The Dog comes to theaters August 8 and VOD August 15. –Pam Grady

A Legend Speaks: Q&A with SUPERMENSCH Shep Gordon


, , ,


Forty-odd years ago, Shep Gordon was an aimless youth, dealing drugs to support himself, when a chance meeting with Jimi Hendrix at the Hollywood Landmark Hotel changed his life. Sizing he new acquaintance up, the guitarist suggested that Gordon try his hand at talent management. Not long after, Gordon signed Alice Cooper as his first client. They’ve been together ever since and that was just the first step in a life that has included, in addition to representing musicians, making movies, befriending the Dalai Lama, and turning chefs into superstars.

Actor and comedian Mike Myers and Gordon met when the former was making Wayne’s World. A fast friendship formed and when Myers was going through a rough patch in his life, it was to Gordon whom he turned. What started as a short stay at Gordon’s Maui home stretched into months and seeing him daily and listening to his stories convinced Myers that Gordon was the perfect documentary subject. Thus, Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon was born, an affectionate and lively film that includes not just Gordon’s tales of his adventurous existence, but also testimonials from famous friends, including Cooper, Myers, Michael Douglas, Sylvester Stallone, and Emeril Legasse.

Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon recently screened at the San Francisco International Film Festival where Gordon himself sat down to talk about his storied life and how he feels to find himself in an unaccustomed spotlight.

Q: One of the things that stands out in this movie is your sense of ethics, which is not that common in the world of talent management. Where does your sense of ethics come from?

A: My dad was a really wonderful man, really wonderful. I have no idea, really. I was just talking to a Jewish journalist for a Jewish publication, and we were talking about the social liberal aspect, which I think probably comes from DNA – it’s a Jewish trait. I have no idea where the ethical – it just always felt right. I never really had a set of principles. I just did what I thought was right. And I got very lucky with Alice as my first client, because he had a very strong religious upbringing. So his sense of right and wrong, is disciplined, learned, and he believes it 100 percent. It was really easy for me to be ethical, because I had an ethical artist.

Sammy Hagar lives here and I’m going to see him tonight. The first time I met Sammy he was in a group called Montrose. We had hired them to open for Alice in Tampa, Florida in ’72.

They were getting like $500 or $300, it was nothing. A hurricane came and blew the stadium apart. We couldn’t do the show. We had no obligation to pay them; we weren’t getting paid. I went into Alice’s dressing room and I said, ‘Listen, we can afford to not get paid, but if they’re only getting $300, that’s gas money, that means they won’t sleep in a hotel tonight. Let’s just pay them.’ He said, ‘Oh, great, we should.’ Sammy couldn’t believe that someone actually paid them when they didn’t have to. That was an ethical decision, that just was the right thing to do. I never thought of it as ethics, just as the right thing to do.

Q: How did Mike Myers approach you about making the film and what your feelings were about it when he first talked to you about it?

A: He’s asked me for about 10 years. He loves my stories and he felts those stories told a cultural history of those decades and he wanted to tell that story. I didn’t really have any reason to want to do it. I really felt like fame is very dangerous and should only be flirted with if you need it for your income. If you happen to be unfortunate enough that that’s the way you made your money, then—and I didn’t. Never planned to, never will. So there was no real reason to do it. I appreciated him telling the story, but that was a bit more ego for me than I could deal with. I don’t consider myself that special. I just said, ‘No, no, no, no.’ Then when I was in the hospital, heavily medicated, he got through to me—in a weak or strong moment, I’m not sure which. (Laughs)

Q: One of the most moving things about the movie is people talking about you. Listening to someone like former Golden State Warriors coach Don Nelson say he’d like to kiss you on the mouth says so much about you and what you mean to people. When you watched the film for the first time, what was your reaction to that?

A: I was really humbled. I was amazed how many people gave up stuff that most public figures would never give up. Alice saying, ‘I would have been two years and gone.’ That’s from an artist, who’s an icon in the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. That’s pretty humble. Sylvester Stallone, who has this image of this tough, macho guy, talking about anybody being better than him at anything or wanting to emulate anyone. Just everybody. Mike, his words. It was very humbling. Now, I can watch it and accept it, but it was weird. I went to Mike and asked him, ‘Did you write these things for them?’ He said, ‘No.’ That was my first thought, that maybe they were scripted, but they weren’t. I had a really warm feeling, that I have friends [like that].

Q: Where do you you might be right now if you hadn’t stopped off at the Hollywood Landmark?

A: You know, I have no idea. It’s really funny. I have no idea. I was with my partner, Joe Greenberg, we probably just would have kept dealing or tried to or something. I don’t know. My whole life has sort of been like that. If I hadn’t been at the restaurant that night when Mr. [Roger] Vergé came in, would there be celebrity chefs today? I don’t know. I’m just happy to have taken the journey. It’s an interesting question that I’ll never know the answer to.

Q: When you look back over your career, and you’ve had so many facets of it, is there one thing that stands out more than anything else?

A: I think the thing I’m proudest of is the celebrity chefs, really creating a new category. Also, Alice and I are just like brothers, I almost take that too for granted, ’cause I know how much that changed the world and how important we were to it. It’s so part of me. I think probably those two. The celebrity chefs is very rewarding to me, because they were really underserved. I’m really proud that I had a part in that.

Q: The film does its best to try to encapsulate a very varied life with the different industries you’ve been involved with and different adventures. Was there something that maybe got left out, some big part of your journey, some aspect there wasn’t time to go into?

A: A lot got left out, A lot of people got left out. When the word ‘I’ is used in that film, it has nothing to do with ‘I.’ It’s ‘we.’ There’s nothing I ever accomplished that wasn’t a team effort. The person I felt was most left out of the story was my partner from the early days, Joe Greenberg. I put that [title] card up to try to show that, even though, it was my story, through Mike’s eyes, I wanted some recognition that the ‘I’ was really ‘we.’ … My ex-partner’s very angry, very angry that I’m stealing his story. I told him, ‘I’m not stealing anybody’s story. Mike’s telling my story and I don’t know what to say.’ So, I think that. There isn’t any one incident that I care about, it’s more the people who got left out. … It’s Mike’s movie. Sometimes I feel like a chair in his movie, but an interesting chair.—Pam Grady

Coming Soon: Elmore Leonard caper comedy LIFE OF CRIME


, , , , , ,

Elmore Leonard fans take note: Daniel Schechter’s Life of Crime, his adaptation of Leonard’s novel Switch, is coming to theaters and VOD on August 29. Yasiin Bey and John Hawkes star as, respectively, Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson’s character in Jackie Brown) and Louis Gara, two Detroit low lifes who kidnap millionaire Frank Dawson’s (Tim Robbins) wife Mickey (Jennifer Aniston), expecting to cash in on a huge ransom. Isla Fisher, Mark Boone Jr., Will Forte, Kevin Corrigan, Charlie Tahan, and Clea Lewis complete the ensemble of this comic caper set in a gritty, ’70s era Motor City and filled with Leonard’s vivid, witty dialogue.

I WAKE UP DREAMING 2014: Noir returns to the Roxie


, , ,


A decade before all those tapes started self-destructing when he played American spy Jim Phelps in Mission:Impossible, Peter Graves played a different kind of secret agent in the 1957 crime thriller Death in Small Doses. One of the 30 film noirs that Elliot Lavine is screening at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater as part of I Wake Up Dreaming 2014, Phelps is Tom Kaylor, an FDA agent sent undercover as a big-rig truck driver to get the scoop on the truckers’ “co-pilots,” amphetamines, in the wake of yet another fiery crash chalked up to demon Benzedrine. Kaylor’s driving partner Wally Morse (Roy Engel) warns him not to try the stuff. His boarding house roommate and fellow rig jockey Mink Reynolds (ex-major league baseball and NFL star and future Rifleman Chuck Connors) can’t get enough of the stuff, a jittery hipster who can’t sit still. Boarding house landlady Val Owns (Mala Powers) Kaylor sees as a victim of Benny, the widow of the dead trucker that inspired the investigation. There is big money to be made in pushing pills and before too long murder enters the picture.

All of the films in I Wake Up Dreaming 2014 are part of the Warner Archive, culled from the pre-code 1932 to 1965 when the production code was on its way out, and comprised of titles from Warner Bros., RKO, Monogram, MGM, and Allied Artists. Death in Small Doses is only one of the highlights, a nasty, atmospheric little thriller with not an ounce of fat on its lean 79-minute frame. Connors is a standout as the pixelated hophead Mink, scary and charismatic, in a role a world away from Lucas McCain, the quiet, upstanding sharpshooter that would come to define the actor during his five-year run on The Rifleman.

If Death in Small Doses is indicative of anything in I Wake Up Dreaming 2014, it is of the slate’s pure entertainment value. These movies, a mix of rarities and classics, are fun to watch and even more fun to watch on the big screen in a theater full of people. Among the highlights in the 2014 roster are:

The Stranger on the Third Floor (1940)—The opening night film along with 1947′s The Unsuspected, this offbeat B-thriller is thought to be America’s first noir. As a reporter (John McGuire) finds himself on the fast track to the electric chair for a murder he didn’t commit, it is the police and the American judicial system that are revealed as bigger heavies than the killer—a sentiment that won’t be lost on 21st century film goers. Peter Lorre and Elisha Cook Jr. costar.

When Strangers Marry (1944)—Future horror maestro William Castle helms this taut romantic thriller starring Kim Hunter as a woman who impulsively marries Dean Jagger, a man she just met. When she travels to New York to meet him and he fails to turns up, but Robert Mitchum, a charming old flame, appears, she wonders if she made a mistake. Her uneasiness turns to fear when she discovers that Jagger is suspected of murder. But did he really do it? This sleek suspense yarn keeps the audience guessing and gets a boost of adrenalin from the smoldering Mitchum.

The Locket (1946)—Mitchum stars as well in this Rashomon-like noir as one of Laraine Day’s past loves. Gene Raymond is about to marry her when a former husband (and her one-time psychiatrist) Brian Aherne turns up to warn the groom away from his troubled bride, telling a tale in flashbacks of kleptomania and murder.

Split Second (1953)—One-time Philip Marlowe Dick Powell makes his directing debut with this tense slice of nuclear paranoia. Stephen McNally is the leader of a group of escaped prisoners who hide away with a group of hostages in a Nevada ghost town. One of the cons is wounded, but that’s not the worst of it: the place is an A-bomb test site that is about to be vaporized. For the hostages, it becomes a desperate race not just to escape McNally and his men, but also the coming explosion. This tight, nail-biting relic of the Atomic Age costars Jan Sterling, Alexis Smith, Arthur Hunnicutt, and Richard Egan.

The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond (1960)—Western auteur Budd Boetticher detours into noir with this thrilling and stylish biopic of the Depression era gangster. Ray Danton is Diamond, hoofer turned hood, who begins as Arnold Rothstein’s (Robert Lowery) bodyguard and rises to the top of the mob food chain—but not for long. Gorgeously lensed by legendary cinematographer Lucien Ballard, this compelling period drama also stars the great Warren Oates as Danton’s consumptive brother Eddie.

Miracles for Sale (1939)—Robert Young stars as an ex-magician, manufacturer of magicians’ tricks and a debunker of the supernatural in Freaks director Tod Browning’s final film. When he’s called upon to protect Florence Rice, a young woman in peril, Young is pulled into a murder mystery involving mediums and illusionists. Full of magic tricks and comic banter, this lighthearted proto-noir also stars William Demarest as a crotchety police detective and Frank Craven as Young’s visiting dad.

Brainstorm (1965)—Actor William Conrad steps behind the camera to direct this remarkable late noir starring Jeffrey Hunter as a scientist who plots to murder his lover Anne Francis’ husband Dana Andrews, believing that his history of mental illness will help him elude punishment. Viveca Lindfors costars as Hunter’s psychiatrist and the one person who knows for sure whether or not he is really mad.—Pam Grady

I Wake Up Dreaming 2014 runs Friday, May 16, through Sunday, May 25, at the Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St., San Francisco. For tickets and further information, visit roxie.com.

A Purr-fect Day: The First Annual San Francisco Intergalactic Feline Film and Video Festival For Humans


, , , , , , , , ,

Lil Bub1

So this is what Lou Reed was singing about. SFIAFFAVFFH1 is but a memory, along with a handful of photos, an All Cat-cess pass badge, and a couple of balls of yarn. The program that started as a “kitty porn” joke on the Roxie Theater calendar morphed into something much grander when founders Mike Keegan and Jay Wertzler decided to see if they could stage a full two-week film festival with all its moving parts—opening, closing, centerpiece, sidebar, awards, red carpet arrivals, celebrities (in this case, celebri-cats), world purr-mieres, etc.—in 12 hours. What the pair came up with was pure catnip, something the cat lover or the movie lover or the cat-worshiping movie lover could really sink her claws into.

Held Caturday, May 10, SFIAFFAVFFH1 began with the red carpet arrival of internet feline superstar Lil BUB—the recipient of the festival’s First Annual Lil BUB Award for Outstanding Achievement in CAT–and her human Mike Bridavsky. In between that and a closing night that included an appearance by the video collective Everything Is Terrible and—in keeping with the “intergalactic” portion of the festival—a screening of the 1978 Disney comedy The Cat from Outer Space was a cata-copia overflowing with the feline cinema of one’s dreams. Cats rule the internet 24/7. On Caturday, they sunk their claws into the big screen.


Jason Willis’ 2012 faux (fur?) documentary short Catnip: Egress to Oblivion​?, a hilarious send-up of 1960s era educational videos, a stylish animated Three Blind Mice, multiple episodes Kent Osborne’s cartoon series Cat Agent (along with a Skype Q&A with Osborne), and a section entitled New Directors’ New Films and featuring works submitted by budding cat-eurs were among the highlights in a day full of them.

A special shout out goes to musician Mike Shoun for his evocative new score performed live to Alexander Hammid and Maya Deren’s 1944 ode to their pets, The Private Life of a Cat. Wertzler and Keegan were congenial hosts, supplemented by video segments, the highlight of which was Keegan complaining about his cat allergy, a bit that required him to handle Owlbert—the fluffy winner of the First Annual Colonel Meow In Memoriam Award for Exquisite Grooming and Style—to make the joke work. Suffering congestion for one’s art, that’s a trouper.


Perhaps the most impressive facet of SFIAFFAVFFH1 is that an All Cat-cess pass holder, free to come and go, chose to stay all day. This after spending two weeks at the San Francisco International Film Festival followed by a Midnites for Maniacs double bill of Speed and the 1974 original Gone in 60 Seconds. That’s a lot of movie watching and way too much sitting, but SFIAFFAVFFH1 was too much fun to leave. San Francisco cat film lovers are not the only ones to think so. Wertzler and Keegan have been invited to take a petite version of the festival to Tennessee’s Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. (“Our festival’s having a litter!” laughed Keegan in a conversation shortly before SFIAFFAVFFH1.)

So how will Wertzler and Keegan top themselves in 2015? On Caturday, they sought audience suggestions for what the next “first annual” festival should be. It should be obvious, shouldn’t? Hedgehogs, porcupines, and honey badgers—the cute, the chatty, and nature’s bad ass. Or maybe not. Whatever they decide, sign me for a 2015 all ___-cess pass. —Pam Grady

Review: LOCKE’s riveting drama on wheels


, , , ,

LockeSafety experts recommend staying off the phone while driving, even with hands-free devices, because of the distraction calls represent. Tom Hardy’s construction foreman character learns that lesson the hard way in Steven Knight’s Locke. Hardy earned a Best Actor Independent Film Award nomination and Knight won a BIFA for Best Screenplay (beating out Philomena and Le Week-end, among others), a testament to this involving drama’s power.

Hardy plays Ivan Locke, who leaves his work site the evening before the concrete is to be poured for the foundation of his latest project. It’s a massive undertaking, the pour said to be the biggest in Europe for a non-military installation and one that he has been eagerly anticipating. But he is going to miss it, just as he is going to miss watching a football match with his wife Katrina (Ruth Wilson) and sons Eddie (Tom Holland) and Sean (Bill Milner). Instead of going home, he hits the highway and the evening becomes a series of phone calls with Katrina; the kids; Gareth (Ben Daniels), his angry boss; Donal (Andrew Scott), the overwhelmed subordinate he expects to take his place during the pour; Bethan (Olivia Colman), the woman whose phone call started him on his journey; and others. When Ivan isn’t on the phone, he holds angry imaginary conversations with his late father. He never stops talking.

A longtime screenwriter, Knight, who received an Academy Award nomination for his screenplay of Stephen Frears’ Dirty Pretty Things and also penned Eastern Promises for David Cronenberg, takes risks in directing only his second feature (his debut was the Jason Statham-starring Redemption). The drama takes place entirely within the confines of Ivan’s car, with closeups of Hardy alternating with shots of the road. Hardy’s costars are all but voices coming through his Bluetooth. It is a set-up that could get old fast, but instead it is riveting, a character study on wheels of a man trying to do the right thing and failing miserably.

Adopting a crisply enunciated Welsh accent, Hardy is terrific as a man who courts personal disaster, but sees no other alternative. He is too conscientious to lie his way out of the situation, or maybe he lacks the imagination for invention. He isn’t stupid, but he is as dense as the concrete he pours. It is admirable that he is trying to do the right thing. The effect of his effort, though, is brutal. His clear conscience comes at a price and he is not the only one paying it.

The voices on the other end of the calls are so strong that it scarcely matters that people talking are never seen. Especially effective are Wilson, as Katrina’s anger grows with each phone call, and Scott. So slippery and smart as Holmes’ nemesis Moriarty on Sherlock, Scott is brilliant playing the other end of the spectrum in Locke, a simple man who is comfortable in his minor role at the construction site. The thought of filling Locke’s shoes sends him into a dazed panic. Donal is the film’s comic relief, but he is also touching, particularly in his loyalty to Ivan when it would simply his life tremendously to simply ignore Ivan’s calls and let Gareth sort it out. The strength of Knight’s writing and the performances of the voice cast are such that even the smallest parts—such as that of a drunken bureaucrat angered at being disturbed at dinner—are actual characters rather than simply disembodied voices.

Dickon Hinchcliffe’s evocative score and Haris Zambarloukos’ moody cinematography capturing the lonely allure of the road at night underline Ivan’s growing isolation. The longer he stays on the phone, the longer he stays on the road, the more distance he puts between himself and the life he has known. He is so distracted that he doesn’t notice that he is driving further and further into uncharted territory. Locke is not a big drama. This is a small, personal tragedy unfolding in real time and all the more moving because of it. —Pam Grady

For more about Locke, read Steven Knight’s SUV-driven ‘Locke’ set amid grip of technology.

Review: Jim Jarmusch finds true romance in ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE


, , , , , ,

"only lovers left alive"Beneath Jim Jarmusch’s cool, hipster veneer beats the heart of a romantic and he proves it with Only Lovers Left Alive, a paean to the constancy of love wrapped in the tale of a vampire couple, soul mates for centuries. Horror nibbles at the edges for the ethereal twosome played by Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton, but what resonates in this gorgeously photographed, often darkly funny drama is their unconditional devotion to one another.

Jarmusch says he took inspiration for this tale from Mark Twain’s The Diaries of Adam and Eve. Somehow from that congenial author’s fables about the biblical first humans, he glimpsed these ultimate outsiders. And while they may be bloodless, undead creatures, they also may be the warmest in the filmmaker’s universe. Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is a morose, reclusive rock musician, living among a huge vinyl record collection and a pile of vintage guitars in the ruins of Detroit. The more exuberant Eve (Tilda Swinton) resides in luxury in a beautifully appointed, book-filled home in Tangier. Though separated by geography, these opposites are as one.

Adam and Eve are also living in a dangerous time for their kind. Their food source, human blood, is no longer reliable. What runs through the zombies’ (as Adam derisively refers to mankind) veins is too often tainted. Eve has a reliable supply of the good stuff from the couple’s friend, playwright Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt). Adam’s connection is a doctor (Jeffrey Wright). But when Adam and Eve come together again in Detroit, a reunion they celebrate with a night out clubbing with Eve’s wild child sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) and Adam’s human friend Ian (Anton Yelchin), their well-ordered lives fall apart, and along with it their connections. The couple is soon on the run and thirsty, very thirsty.

That need to feed prompts fear, but also soul searching for these creatures of the night. Is it time, at last, to reclaim their mortality? Ava calls them snobs, and they are. Scrounging for blood is at odds with the sophisticated images they present to the world. Death as an option would satisfy their vanity. Shuffling off the immortal coil together would be one last grand romantic gesture. It’s something to consider, anyway, on a long night in Tangier.

There is a lot of beauty in Only Lovers Left Alive, starting with the ravishing leads and Yorick Le Saux’s shimmering cinematography. Even Detroit’s desolation looks alluring in the film’s evocative nightscapes. More than its pretty stars and beautiful photography, it is Adam and Eve’s enduring passion that makes this Jarmusch’s most appealing film in years. The vampire trappings, the deadpan humor and the dangerous situation that threatens them are almost beside the point. One gets the feeling that if Adam and Eve’s hearts could still beat, upon seeing each other, they would beat a little faster – even after hundreds of years. –Pam Grady

ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE: Jim Jarmusch airs a theory


, , , ,


Jim Jarmusch is a Shakespeare fan, not just of the works themselves, but of the theories surrounding their authorship. He is not sure who wrote the plays and sonnets. Perhaps Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford, the man immortalized by Rhys Ifans in Roland Emmerich’s 2011 drama Anonymous, or perhaps Christopher Marlowe. Whoever it was Jarmusch is certain that it wasn’t William Shakespeare.

It really doesn’t matter who wrote that stuff, in my opinion,” the filmmaker says. “It’s beautiful. In my opinion – along with Sigmund Freud, Orson Welles, Henry James, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain – none of them bought that Shakespeare thing. Come on, it’s ridiculous, if you do any research at all.”

Jarmusch’s love of Shakespearean theory is what led him to write in Marlowe as best friend to Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) in his new romantic drama Only Lovers Left Alive. Like the couple, Marlowe is a vampire. Hundreds of years after his supposed death, he is living the undead life in Tangier. More curious is that, according to the history books, the Elizabethan playwright was only 29 when he was murdered in 1593, but Jarmusch cast 74-year-old John Hurt to play him.

Because Marlowe’s death, the more I researched it, it seems totally faked,” Jarmusch says. “I don’t believe in Marlowe’s death, so another conspiracy comes to light. And Marlowe is a possibility, so in this version I’m going with the Marlowe theory.

It’s so crazy,” he adds “You mean Shakespeare wrote all that shit and there’s not a single manuscript of a single page. Where did it go? Come on! What is this? It’s the biggest conspiracy in literary history. I find it fascinating. Someday I might make a documentary on my Marlowe theory, but I don’t know. I snuck it in here.”

Only Lovers Left Alive may not convince the world that William Shakespeare didn’t write a thing and that it was Christopher Marlowe all along, but Jarmusch has made at least one convert: John Hurt.

He hadn’t really researched it much,” Jarmusch says. “Now he’s definitely sure that Shakespeare wrote nothing. He’s pretty sure it wasn’t DeVere, but he’s reading everything, too. It’s just fun to get his mind going. He’s like, ‘Thank you! I now know Shakespeare didn’t write a thing!’

I love it when Adam says, ‘Well, you still got the work out there, kid.’ It’s kind of like, ‘Well, you still did your job even though no one will know you wrote it ever.’” Pam Grady


Review: A role he was born to play: Jude Law in DOM HEMINGWAY


, ,

dom hemingwayDom Hemingway begins with an uproarious monologue, an ode to the titular safecracker’s anatomy delivered with profane bravado by an actor clearly relishing his role. After nearly two decades of playing the pretty boy – Dickie Greenleaf in The Talented Mr. Ripley, Errol Flynn in The Aviator, Alfie’s incorrigible womanizer, etc. – Jude Law comes into his own as a character actor in Richard Shepard’s (The Matador, The Hunting Party) screwball Brit crime comedy delivering a performance that is a bawdy beauty to behold.

With 20 pounds added to his normally lean frame, terrible prosthetic teeth, a misshapen nose, horrible sideburns, a disco era wardrobe, and pugnacious gait, Law looks every inch what Dom Hemingway is supposed to be: a working-class criminal with flamboyant tastes and an even more extravagant personality. After serving 12 years in prison, he is eager to collect his best mate Dickie (the wonderfully deadpan Richard E. Grant) and head to France to collect money owed to him by crime boss Mr. Fontaine (Demian Bichir). He would also like to reconnect with his estranged daughter Evelyn (Emilia Clarke), who equates her father’s imprisonment with abandonment.

Standing in Dom’s way, whether it’s in his interactions with Mr. Fontaine and Evelyn or in his attempt to slide back into a life of crime, is Dom himself. He is an alcoholic with a volcanic temper and absolutely no filter. Even in the most favorable situation, he finds a way to give offense, vulgarities and insults tumbling out of his mouth with zero regard for how they will be received. To be sure, Dom is hilarious. He is one witty, vulgar and weirdly erudite guttersnipe, a kick to watch, but clearly his own worst enemy.

After spending the last several years directing TV shows, such as Criminal Minds and Girls, and making the documentary I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale, writer/director Shepard makes an impressive return. Dom Hemingway does not rise to the level of Brit crime classics like Get Carter or Sexy Beast, but it is a pleasure to watch. Shepard’s hilarious; raunchy dialogue; Lawrence Dorman’s gaudy production design; an ’80s soundtrack; and a wonderful supporting add up to some really big fun. It is Law, though, inhabiting the soul of this goodhearted but completely bonkers not-so-master criminal that makes Dom Hemingway such a treat. This is a role he was born to play. —Pam Grady


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 183 other followers