This weekend, don’t miss what is arguably the best film of director Jim Jarmusch’s storied career, “Only Lovers Left Alive,” starring Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as exquisitely cool, ancient vampires still in love after centuries. That film hits LA and NY, along with David Gordon Green’s Nicolas Cage starrer “Joe,” and “The Railway Man” with Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth. In wide release arrive the horror film “Oculus” and Ivan Reitman’s “Draft Day,” with Kevin Costner. (Trailers below.)
In “Only Lovers Left Alive,” vampires Eve (Swinton, icily perfect) and Adam (Hiddleston, dead-sexy) maintain a long-distance relationship. As she roams the streets of Tangiers in between meetings with her blood supplier Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt, who plays, indeed, that Christopher Marlowe), Adam is a mopey, down-and-out musician living in Detroit and disenchanted with the mortal world. Sensing her lover’s ennui, Eve heads to his homestead, but the ill-timed arrival of her flighty ingenue sister (Mia Wasikowska, also a vamp) throws a wrench in things. As is typical of Jarmusch’s laidback, ultra-cool oeuvre, almost nothing happens plot-wise in “Only Lovers,” but in that nothingness he finds the magic.
Picking up pretty solid reviews — for a horror movie, anyway — is Mike Flanagan’s “Oculus,” about a woman haunted by a malevolent spirit living in her antique mirror. The low-budget horror, which premiered at TIFF last Fall, even has the Stephen King stamp-of-approval. The author tweeted: “I saw a screener of OCULUS and loved it. Very scary. I may never eat an apple again.” It’s been a startlingly un-scary year for horror in the mainstream, so here’s hoping “Oculus” delivers more than just an onslaught of cheap jump scares.
Nicolas Cage returns to naturalism this weekend in David Gordon Green’s hardscrabble drama “Joe,” giving his best performance since his drug-addled, out-of-control police lieutenant in Werner Herzog’s campy-good “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.” In this modestly-scaled indie, Cage plays a decent, hard-driving southern ex-con trying to keep a handle on his anger issues. He can explode at any time. He hires and mentors a young teen (“Mud”‘s Tye Sheridan) who is coping with an abusive drunk father (non-pro Gary Poulter) but doesn’t want to leave his family behind. Can these guys overcome their parents’ legacy?
Aussie director Jonathan Teplitzky’s “The Railway Man,” picked up by the Weinsteins at Toronto, is a handsomely mounted but altogether straight-on, conventional telling of the true story of Eric Lomax (Colin Firth), who was captured by Japanese troops and forced to labor on the Thailand Death Railway. Nicole Kidman costars as the woman who loves him. The tale is familiar to anyone who has seen David Lean’s “Bridge of the River Kwai.” Skip it.
Football fans may be more forgiving of this Ivan Reitman sports drama “Draft Day,” which doesn’t play to Reitman’s strength, comedy. This old-fashioned day in the life brings Kevin Costner back in a lead role after a series of well-received supporting gigs. Costner is fun to watch and carries the film but the movie–while it effectively builds to the predictable climax of who the Cleveland Browns general manager will pick as his first round draft pick–is dated and misogynistic. Jennifer Garner, Ellen Burstyn and Rosanna Arquette do their best with thankless prototype roles as girlfriend, mother and ex-wife, respectively. Go watch Bennett Miller’s super-smart “Moneyball” or Costner’s fab collaborations with Ron Shelton in the fast-talking sports romances “Bull Durham” and Tin Cup or Sam Raimi’s baseball flick “For the Love of the Game.”
Only Lovers Left Alive Dir. Jim Jarmusch, USA | Sony Pictures Classics | Cast: Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt, Anton Yelchin | 89% Fresh | The Dissolve: “‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ excels mainly as a vampire slice of life, functioning beautifully as both an inventory of Jarmusch’s literary, philosophical, and musical interests, and a larger comment on the follies of human existence.” | Our review and ranking of the films of Jim Jarmusch
Oculus Dir. Mike Flanagan, USA | Relativity Media | Cast: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Rory Cochrane, Katee Sackhoff | 70% Fresh | Village Voice: “A cleverly executed mind game that generates scares via structural ingenuity, Oculus suggests a world coming terrifyingly unmoored from its bearings.” | Watch NY Times Anatomy of a Scene video
Draft Day Dir. Ivan Reitman, USA | Summit Entertainment | Cast: Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Denis Leary, Frank Langella, Ellen Burstyn | 58% Fresh | Los Angeles Times: “This is an earnest and way-contrived endeavor that manages, due largely to Costner’s efforts, to be genially diverting in a gee-whiz kind of way.”
Joe Dir. David Gordon Green, USA | Roadside Attractions | Cast: Nicolas Cage, Tye Sheridan, Ronnie Gene Blevins | 81% Fresh | New York Magazine: “When Cage doesn’t grandstand, you can see what made him so likable once: his boyish earnestness, his touching lack of cynicism.” | Our interview with Nicolas Cage and Venice review
The Railway Man Dir. Jonathan Teplitzky, UK | The Weinstein Company | Cast: Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Jeremy Irvine | 68% Fresh | Variety: “Lomax found heroism in compassion, and that attitude is what audiences are bound to connect with so deeply here, even if such an outcome proves almost anti-dramatic onscreen.” | Our review and roundup