It used to be that tracking the latest in cutting edge horror, fantasy, and science fiction films required traveling to film festivals, tracking down second hand videotapes, of staking out the local art house or revival cinema to catch a limited engagement. And living in a non-major film market (or really anywhere outside of Los Angeles or New York) made tracking down these films even more difficult. However recent technological advances have made locating these films much easier. Many films open ‘on demand’ through streaming technology and can be viewed from the comfort of your own home. Smartphones and other wireless devices allow these films to be stream anywhere one desires. Recently three new movies have arrived that have traveled ‘under the radar’ and are worth checking out: a very different take on the vampire movie, a horror/sci-fi film that integrates new technology with old fashioned chills, and a documentary about the greatest sci-fi film never made.
Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) Directed by Jim Jamusch. Starring Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, and Geoffrey Wright. Recorded Picture Company and Pandora Film. Running Time: 123 minutes.
Personally, I think being a vampire in the modern world would be ridiculously easy. Most people think you don’t exist so you do not have to worry about tenacious vampire hunters on your trail, vampire fans would actively seek you out, rendering even the thrill and work of hunting unnecessary. And if you wanted to have any killing on your conscience, you could feed off the blood supply, or the dying, or even animals. The thing that would make a vampire’s existence truly terrible would be how incredibly banality of eternal existence. Nothing ever changes, and the humans, who are like vermin to you or if you are charitable affectionate pets, just keep making the same dumb mistakes over and over. How would one keep from getting bored? Jim Jamusch, a director with an interesting filmography of lyrical movies that serve as mediations on life and philosophy, examines that question in his vampire film Only Lovers Left Alive.
When Adam, a vampire/reclusive musician living in Detroit, appears to be more withdrawn then usual, his wife Eve travels from Tangier to visit with him and rouse him from his depression. What follows is an odyssey of a long married couple attempting to find something to interest them in a modern world that seems to be in decline. Jamusch presents a very different image of the vampire, showing them as erudite artists and intellectuals who have long ceased to be surprised by the world. His vampires do not engage in power politics or have some sort of organized worldwide council to govern their actions. They are just creatures living their un-lives, where the greatest threat to their wellbeing is feeding on contaminated blood and the isolation of their centuries long existence.
This is a richly shot film with stunning visuals, and eclectic soundtrack, and some wickedly funny humor. Those looking for action or a special effects laden vampire showdown will be disappointed, but if you accept the premise of the film it will be found entertaining. Personally, I had become bored with the concept of vampires, but this movie has proved me wrong, and there may still be fresh ideas for these ancient threats.
APP (2013) Directed by Bobby Boermans. Starring Hannah Hokestra, Isis Cabolet, and Robert de Hoog. 2CFilm. Running Time: 75 minutes.
The modern theatrical experience often runs the risk of being ruined by the bright light of a tiny screen piercing the darkness during a dramatic moment. Yet smartphones and their associated technologies are unlikely to go away anytime soon. Is there way in which these second screen technologies could be integrated into the movie going experience turning a distraction into an asset? The Dutch seem to think so, and in Sci-Fi/Horror film APP, they show us one potential future of this integration.
APP relates the story of Anna, a Dutch psychology student who wakes up one morning after getting black out drunk at a party to find a mysterious app on her phone. The app, named IRIS, appears to be a helpful companion, but gradually reveals itself to be a sinister intelligence, concerned with propagating itself across as many systems as possible. As IRIS targets Anna’s friends and life, she seeks a way to defeat a seemingly invincible foe.
From this description one gets the impression that APP is a decent sci-fi/horror film with some decent scares and shocks, a few surprising twists, and action and special effects that make great use of a small budget; and this is all true. If ARIIA, the artificial intelligence from Eagle Eye (2008), and the ghostly phenomenon from One Missed Call (2003 for the Japanese original, 2008 for the American remake) had a child, it would probably act like IRIS.
What elevates APP above its genre, is the fact that the movie includes the integration of your wireless device into the plot. Before the movie begins you download an app, and start it once the movie begins. At certain points during the film, hidden cues in the film’s sound track activate the app, and provide you with additional content related to the movie. Usually this consists of security camera feeds, background information, and one part where the app lets you know what the villains are doing to try to counter the heroine’s actions. The app vibrates when content is about to start, so you do not have to constantly divide your attention between your device and the screen.
I found the material in the app interesting, and felt it enhanced the cinematic experience. It was not too distracting, and I had the added challenge of having to watch the movie, read English subtitles, and check the app. Of course the movie is perfectly comprehensible without the app, but that defeats half the fun.
At this point I think second screen technology still has a ways to go in becoming more then a gimmick, but it is heartening to see that there are directors out there willing to try to move the horror/sci-fi film the next step into the future.
Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013), Directed by Frank Pavitch, and starring Alejandor Jodorowsky, Michel Sydow, and H. R. Geiger. Sony Pictures Classics. Running Time: 88 minutes.
Imagine if you will that it is the mid-1970s. The benchmark for excellent science fiction in cinema was set by Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey. It will be at least five years before Star Wars arrives and ushers in the age of the Sci-Fi blockbuster. But one man has a plan for a science fiction film that will alter human consciousness. Alejandor Jodorowsky, the surrealist Mexican filmmaker of El Topo and The Holy Mountain wants to adapt Frank Herbert’s Dune for the cinema. He plans to have it star Orson Wells as Baron Harkonnen; Mick Jagger (of the Rolling Stones) as Feyd-Rautha; and at the cost of $100,000 dollars a minute Salvador Dali as Shaddam Corrino IV, Emperor of the Universe. It will feature art by the French comic illustrator Moebius and an up and coming Swiss designer named H.R. Geiger. Also he plans to have Pink Floyd score part of the soundtrack. Then it all fell apart. However, thanks to the impressive film documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune we get the opportunity to hear from the visionary himself how this film would have come to pass.
One part mediation on the creative process, one part story of how a director assembled a group of established and legendary performers to fulfill his vision, Jodorowsky’s Dune takes the viewer into mind-scape of a visionary director who wants to make a film that will start a revolution.
Through a massive 3,000 page illustrated scrapbook which he had bound and professionally printed, we are given an idea of the film Jodorowsky conceived. He explains how he recruited performers as diverse as French Heavy Metal Band Magma, his own son (who underwent two years of martial arts training to be Paul Atrides), and Orson Wells (lured to the set with the promise of all you can eat French Food) to join his crusade to bring enlightenment through his science fiction masterpiece.
This is a deeply felt film, examining the creative process, as well as Jodorowsky’s own unique perspective on creativity, story, and filmmaking. Knowledge of the book Dune is not essential, and might even get in the way of one’s understanding of the unfolding panorama laid out before the viewer. If one loves cinema or science fiction, one may come to deeply regret that is probably the only opportunity we will ever have to see Jodorowsky’s vision on film*.
*Many of the ideas Jodorowsky’s had for Dune were re-purposed in two comic book series: The Incal (1981-2011), on which he worked with Moebius, of which several volumes are available in English; and The Metabarons (1992-2013), also originally published in French but available in English translations.