Nick Cave, Jim Jarmusch and, erm, Elijah Wood -October’s oddest DVDs reviewed.
Directed by acclaimed visual artists Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, 20,000 Days on Earth (4DVD) seeks to unpick the artistic processes that drive Nick Cave: the Australian musical icon, occasional author, sometime screenwriter and all-round cultural tour-de-force.
Blending candid discussions with Cave’s psychoanalyst (on the deliberately clichÃ© subjects of his early sexual encounters and the influence of his father) with brooding ruminations on his life and craft, 20,000 Days on Earth treads a blurred line between documentary and drama, with Cave himself seemingly fulfilling the roles of leading man, screenwriter and critic, all rolled into one. The singer offers a drip-feed of tantalising details about his past, without ever truly exploring his darkest impulses, and the storyline makes odd twists and turns as Cave weaves his way through his eventful history.
Throughout the film our anti-hero has surreal encounters with the likes of Ray Winstone and Kylie Minogue, as well as chats with impressively-bearded bandmate Warren Ellis and former colleague Blixa Bargeld, who quit the Bad Seeds in acrimonious circumstances. Of all the conversations, it is the one with Kylie that stands out; the two have barely encountered one another since recording the 1995 duet Where the Wild Roses Grow, and their discussion charts unexpectedly solemn territory.
Unlike some great music documentaries, such as DiG! (which isn’t particularly reliant on your prior knowledge of Anton Newcombe and the Brian Jonestown Massacre) your enjoyment of 20,000 Days on Earth is likely to directly correlate to your appreciation of Cave and his work. Cave, who co-wrote the ‘script’, doesn’t claim a directorial credit, but this carefully constructed retelling of his career has his fingerprints all over it. Cave -a man extremely comfortable with his lot in life -casually sifts through his own personal archive (quite literally in some scenes), tossing out memories and observations with deadpan relish.
For a man whose music oozes darkness, Cave’s take on his career is surprisingly upbeat, and his po-faced exterior conceals a wry, amused sense of perspective. It may be a vanity project, but 20,000 Days on Earth is one of the most rewarding, visually distinctive music documentaries in recent memory.
Only Lovers Left Alive (Soda Pictures) tells the story of Adam (Tom Hiddleston, Avengers Assemble) and Eve (Tilda Swinton, We Need To Talk About Kevin), a pair of intellectual vampires who have been lovers for centuries, but now reside on different continents. Eve resides in Tangiers, while Adam lives a subterranean existence in crime-ravaged Detroit, relying on eager go-between Ian (Anton Yelchin, Star Trek) to help him cater for his outlandish whims and help throw fans of his cult music career off his scent. Rather than feeding on the tainted blood of humans, the duo favour uncontaminated blood from hospitals; Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt, Alien) supplies Eve with her stash in North Africa, while nervous haematologist Dr Watson (Jeffrey Wright, Casino Royale) offers Adam safe blood for a price. Reunited in Detroit after many years, the lovers’ carefully constructed existence is soon ruptured by the arrival of Ava (Mia Wasikowska, Alice In Wonderland), Eve’s wild younger sister, who wreaks havoc with her shameless behaviour.
It may seem like Jim Jarmusch’s output has slowed dramatically in recent years, but in truth his filmmaking rate has always been unhurried, with Only Lovers Left Alive only his 11th film in more than 30 years. His previous movie, 2009’s The Limits of Control, was one of the weaker entries in Jarmusch’s distinctive back catalogue, and while Only Lovers Left Alive might not rank alongside the likes of Dead Man and Ghost Dog (my two personal favourites) it is arguably an impressive return-to-form.
Languid, self-indulgent and richly imagined, Only Lovers Left Alive is unlikely to win over non-Jarmusch enthusiasts, but fans of his offbeat, low-key work are in for a treat. The fact that the indie auteur should choose to make a vampire movie so soon after the genre hit its commercial peak/creative nadir with the Twilight series is admirable, not to mention slightly barmy! The fact that he manages to make it cool is even more laudable! Driven by excellent lead performances from Hiddleston and Swinton, Only Lovers Left Alive is an endearingly slight grab-bag of blood-soaked hipster nuggets, weaved together with aplomb by a master craftsman.
In Grand Piano (Icon) Tom Selznick, the most talented pianist of his generation, stopped performing in public because of his stage fright. Years after a catastrophic performance, he reappears in public to appear at a long awaited concert in Chicago. In a packed theatre, in front of an expectant audience, Tom finds a message written on the score: ‘Play one wrong note and you die’. Without leaving the piano, Tom must discover the anonymous sniper’s motives and look for help without arousing suspicion.
Grand Piano starts badly, and gets worse. With a narrative best described as a posh version of Joel Schumacher’s entertaining Phone Booth, Grand Piano features few thrills and even fewer spills. Elijah Wood delivers a solid performance as the twitchy Selznick, while John Cusack is thoroughly wasted as his off-screen tormentor. The level of tension generated is fairly weak throughout, and the late twist is so random you will consider switching off as soon as it happens. Very disappointing.
Also out now:
Oscar-nominated Palestinian thriller Omar (Soda Pictures). Adam Bakri delivers a star-making performance as the title character, in this story about a freedom fighter who is captured, tortured and coerced into becoming an informer by Israeli security forces after being caught perpetrating a deadly act of violence. An unsettling, thought-provoking thriller, full of blistering scenes.
Cut-price horror flick Reaper (Signature). This month has seen a glut of dodgy straight-to-DVD horror movies trickle out in time for Halloween, but Reaper must surely rank among the least essential. B-movie go-to-guys Danny Trejo and Vinnie Jones are among the assortment of petty criminals who find themselves tormented by a malevolent supernatural force at a crumbling hick motel. Sounds great, right? Thanks to its ramshackle plotting and dodgy central villain, Reaper misses the target time and time again. Very poor.