Review: Only Lovers Left Alive

My housemate Cecilia and I went to see this film the other night.  We did so in flagrant disregard of the Benedict Cumberbatch rule, namely “Do not watch a movie, TV episode, or miniseries for no other reason other than one actor you like is in it.”  The one actor in question is, unsurprisingly, Tom Hiddleston; we’re fans of his, nor are we opposed to Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, or the rest.  Sadly, none of them could save Only Lovers Left Alive from a deadly (undeadly?) slow pace.

Only Lovers Left Alive

First, the good:  as a whole, the movie certainly catches a quality, a flavor.  It’s dark, coppery, and not very pleasant, but it’s certainly there in Eve’s brisk walk through Tangier (the most feminine I’ve ever seen Swinton), in the grungy melancholy of Adam’s house, in the streets of Detroit.  Cecilia found this depiction of Detroit rather refreshing: instead of focusing on the city as the capital of crime and corruption, the movie focuses on its musical contributions, the grittiness of its urban blight, and its hope for better things.  Eve notes the importance of the lakes all around, saying “This city will rise again.”  Why she doesn’t go for the original Latin, Jim Jarmusch only knows.  But then, Adam is the one in residence there.  Caught in the 1970s as he is, his affinity for the city indicates that both hope for better, but neither really changes.

The benefit of unending existence is the opportunity to read ALL the books.

The benefit of unending existence is the opportunity to read ALL the books.

That stagnant quality of endless days might account for the sluggish plot.  This is the most charitable explanation that comes to mind: that vampires, having spent centuries of darkness watching all that the “zombies” (ie, humanity) have to show – all the art, the music, the scientific advances – are doomed to ennui, to anomie, to acedia, and (should no sunlight, contaminated blood, or immortal beloved interfere) to suicide.  The story arc, such as it is, might just be one more postmodern conceit for human lives with no overarching narrative, no implicit meaning.  The lack of chemistry between Adam and Eve might have been intentional, depicting the natural consequence of being married for some 200 years.  Sparks, fire, fizzle, distance, regroup.  They try to patch it over with allusions to quantum entanglement, Adam describing them as particles which affect each other though they be a universe apart.  Perhaps Donne could make that metaphor work; this script can’t.

The less charitable and possibly more realistic explanation for the film’s torpidity is poor writing and an undeveloped plot.  At some points it was like watching Catcher in the Rye but with vampires in.  There are amusing moments – Adam burying his head under the pillow to avoid Eva, Eve’s iPhone calling Adam’s curious corded setup, the wrinkle of disgust that crosses Eve’s face on watching a body dissolve – but for the most part, neither Adam nor Eve compel me to care much about their undead existence or their butter-scraped-thin romance.  By far the most interesting character was Eva, Eve’s younger sister.  She is obnoxious, she is careless, she drinks them out of their fugue-inducing O-negative – and she somehow remains lively, as Adam and Eve do not.  We left the theater wondering how she spent her time in LA, how she’d offended Adam in 1925 in Paris, what bloodletting would attend her trip back west.

Possibly devotees of artistic films would appreciate details that I missed.  There are a number of overhead shots, a heavy-handed motif which attempts to connect the spinning of the stars, of records, and the eponymous lovers.  Adam takes a look at all manner of classic guitars, so perhaps Gibson fanboys would be into that.  Those with a dog in the fight over the author of Shakespeare’s plays might be amused when Christopher Marlowe turns up.  But for my own part?  Speraveram meliora.  I’d hoped for better.  They’re hardly lovers, and barely alive.

A Toast to Tom

Earlier this month, my housemate Cecilia requested of all and sundry that someone bring Tom Hiddleston to her.  Since none of us have made his acquaintance (and since honor demands that another friend meet him first, should it ever depend on me), the best thing I could offer was a Hiddleston-inspired cocktail.

So we set to work.  The first item of business was asking “If Tom Hiddleston were a drink, what would he be?”  Our Facebook friends were delightfully forthcoming:
            Something proper and classic, but also playful.
            Obviously mead given his asgardian roots.
            It would have to involve gin.
            Something that makes you raise your eyebrows and go ‘daaang’.
            a gin and tonic with extra lime for that dazzle that gives little playful dollop to a classic beverage.
            Something tall and delicious.

The two of us also brainstormed a fair bit: we wanted something classy and elegant, appropriately British, sweet, strong, a little fruity or perhaps a little nutty.  Then Cecilia said “Fun, but with an edge; a little bit crazy,” and I wondered if we were still talking about Tom or if we’d conflated him with his various roles.

Bottles and bottlesand bottles some more

In the end, we decided that the best thing to do was to create a drink based on Tom himself, then a few others based on our favorite characters he’s played.  I hauled bottle after bottle up from the basement, consulting Cecilia on the smell of each spirit and liqueur we proposed to combine.  Here’s what we came up with:

Tom Hiddleston
1.5 oz gin (Beefeater)The Tom Hiddleston
.75 oz St-Germain
.75 oz Pama
Dash orange bitters
Champagne to top in a wineglass (4-5 oz)

Verdict: appropriately sparkling; good and all, but more formal; not quite a pajama party or anything.
We tried adding ½ a tablespoon of Fee’s grenadine.  Adding some sweetness was a good idea, but it turned out to be too much; this whole recipe needs some work.


Loki #1
3 oz champagne
1 oz green crème de menthe
Serve in champagne flute; garnish with mint sprig

Verdict: This was mostly an excuse to use up some champagne as well as the incredibly green crème de menthe.  It’s powerfully minty, which makes it seem boozier than it really is.  It’s not that crazy, but the mint sprig adds the touch of slipping into the drinker’s face, as if to holler “LOKI’D!”

Loki #2
.75 oz green Chartreuse
.5 oz lime juice
.25 oz Maraschino liqueur
.25 oz simple syrup
¼ tsp absinthe
Stir gently and strain into cocktail glass.

Verdict: This is a paler green, but comes much closer to the “crazier than a bag of cats” taste we were going for.  It’s very similar to a Last Word, but removes the gin and adds the anise taste of absinthe.  I was well satisfied.

Coriolanus

Coriolanus
1.5 oz vodka
.25 oz Campari
.25 oz Amaretto
.25 oz Cherry Heering
.25 oz syrup
Stir in a martial fashion and strain into cocktail glass.  Sip while looking down your nose at the rabble.

Verdict:  It was quite as red as we hoped for; the strength of the vodka, bitterness of the Campari, and some visual allusion to all the blood covering Coriolanus were our chief goals.  In addition, since we were surprised by how sympathetic all the characters were in the Donmar Warehouse production, we added the syrup and liqueurs to make it go down a bit more easily.

Henry V
2 oz Laird’s Old Apple Brandy
1 oz complex syrup*
.7 oz lemon juice 
1 dash old fashioned bitters
Shake, strain, and garnish with a sage leaf.
*Boil a cup or so of sugar and water with sage, thyme, and rosemary for remembrance; strain and cool before use.

Verdict: This is something of a modified Sidecar, made with ingredients that evoked a much more rural England of centuries past.  Cecilia declared that it was “more Kenneth than Tom because of the sourness/bitterness.”  I declared that we had had enough to drink.

005

…then shall our names, Familiar in his mouth as household words – Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter, Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester – Be in their flowing cups freshly remember’d.

Review: Coriolanus

On Sunday, my roommates and I headed down to the Michigan Theater to see the National Theatre Live broadcast of Coriolanus.

I was a muddle of expectations: on one hand, I expected good things because it had Tom Hiddleston and Mark Gatiss at the very least.  On the other hand, the bits of the play I’d read (or read about) suggested that it involved a lot of politics (bleah) and Coriolanus being a jerk (which…could be interesting, but might just be annoying).  On the other other hand, I’d heard good things from Em about it.

So I went, braced for a bit of gore, some speeches I couldn’t hear very well, the possibility of boredom.

And?

I was blown away.

Why?  The reasons include, but are not limited to, the following:

Set.  We watched it on-screen, of course, but it still had the without-a-net feeling live theater gives – no editing, nothing between you and the players.  The set was spare: a red wall with graffiti projected on it, a ladder, some chairs.  Some explanation was given beforehand about the effects they sought to achieve with the red wall and graffiti; it’s a way of lampshading both ancient Rome and modern political discontent.  The space was dedicated to the players, to movement, dynamic and compelling.  The set changes were strangely electric.  The costumes were a great mix of old and new – modern shirts and trousers, accented with leather cuffs and breastplates and carefully chosen jewelry.

Suspense.  Despite knowing more or less how the play would end, I was on the edge of my seat.  Virgilia’s anxiety over her husband somehow renders the possibility of grave injury to him as more probable and pressing.  The discussions amongst Menenius, Brutus, Sicinius, and Cominius keep the question of consulship open, not a foregone conclusion.  It even seemed possible that Coriolanus might kill Aufidius early on, or be killed in Aufidius’s household.

Clearly the servant is ready to stab him at a word from Aufidius.

Clearly the servant is ready to stab him at a word from Aufidius.

Sympathy.  Throughout the whole play, each character made understandable choices and acted in consistent ways.  Though it turned out badly, it’s hard to castigate Cominius and Volumnia for encouraging Coriolanus to become consul.  It’s impossible to assign all the culpability to Coriolanus either.  One could blame the tribunes Brutus and Sicinius, but at least some portion of their double-tongued talk rings true.

Tom Hiddleston as Caius Marcius Coriolanus.  As noted, this is hardly a sympathetic role.  Caius is a successful general who takes over a city, thereby winning the name Coriolanus, but he’s rather less successful at public office.  His campaign for consul – encouraged by his commander Cominius and his glory-hungry mother Volumnia – ends in a lot of yelling, since Coriolanus doesn’t think much of the citizens and doesn’t ever try to hide it.  People lambaste him for his pride, for rudeness, for harsh speech, etc., and yet it’s easy to see why Coriolanus is proud of his military service, guarded with his scars, impatient with the easily led rabble, and angry when accused of treason.  He goes from hollering in the streets to covering himself in blood in battle to clean-cut mama’s boy to smirking voice-stealer, and that’s just in the first couple acts.

Coriolanus hips

Mark Gatiss as Menenius.  For the bulk of the play, he alternates between encouraging everyone to behave reasonably (you can almost hear “Sherlock Holmes, put your trousers on,” except it’s more a “Coriolanus, take your shirt off so everyone can see your battle scars”) and being a master of sass:

Men.  Our very priests must become mockers if they shall encounter such ridiculous subjects as you are. When you speak best unto the purpose it is not worth the wagging of your beards; and your beards deserve not so honourable a grave as to stuff a botcher’s cushion, or to be entombed in an ass’s pack-saddle. Yet you must be saying Marcius is proud; who, in a cheap estimation, is worth all your predecessors since Deucalion, though peradventure some of the best of ’em were hereditary hangmen. Good den to your worships: more of your conversation would infect my brain, being the herdsmen of the beastly plebeians: I will be bold to take my leave of you.

So that was quite entertaining enough on its own.  But then I watched him bid Coriolanus farewell in Act IV, and approach his camp to beg Coriolanus to spare his erstwhile home from destruction in Act V.  Terribly moving, even more in my estimation than the tears of Virgilia or the clamorous exhortation of Volumnia.

All in all, I went away flooded with thoughts and reeling with emotion.  Somehow I didn’t expect that.  It’s been a while since a Shakespearian play has been such a surprise for me.  This, I kept thinking, this is why Shakespeare is still a big deal.

This is what theater should be.

This is what art ought to do.

Catch an encore performance if you possibly can, and prepare thy brow to crease in laughter, to frown, to furrow in sadness.