Tag Archives: Byzantium

Catch Neil Jordan’s Vampire Epic “Byzantium” While You Still Can

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I had planned on posting something entirely different today, but I noticed that Neil Jordan’s “Byzantium” is already closing at the Eastern Hills Mall, which is a tad disappointing. As I stated when I posted highlights of my interview with Jordan last week, it’s quite good, a smart and involving vampire epic that serves as a nice bookend with the director’s “Interview With the Vampire.”

It is, indeed, another unique effort from an up-and-down filmmaker whose career has been as fascinatingly diverse as any director in the last few decades.

Sure, “The Crying Game” is his (still stunning) modern classic, and “Interview” his greatest hit, but look at his full resume (Jordan has also written several novels, and produced TV’s “The Borgias”):

  • “Angel (1982)
  • “The Company of Wolves” (1984)
  • “Mona Lisa” (1986)
  • “High Spirits” (1988)
  • “We’re No Angels” (1989)
  • “The Miracle” (1990)
  • “The Crying Game” (1992)
  • “Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles” (1994)
  • “Michael Collins” (1996)
  • “The Butcher Boy” (1997)
  • “The End of the Affair” (1999)
  • “In Dreams” (1999)
  • “The Good Thief” (2002)
  • “Breakfast on Pluto” (2005)
  • “The Brave One” (2007)
  • “Ondine” (2009)
  • “Byzantium” (2012)

There are some big misses (“High Spirits,” “We’re No Angels,” “In Dreams,” “The Brave One,” “Ondine”), but there are also modest successes (“Michael Collins,” “The End of the Affair,” “The Good Thief”), and, I think, some outright greats (“The Company of Wolves,” “Mona Lisa,” “The Crying Game,” “The Butcher Boy,” even “Breakfast on Pluto”).

I would rank “Byzantium” as one of those modest successes — not a great film, but certainly a good one. It is a very human vampire film, a very believable one, and a film with great casting (especially Saorise Ronan and “Antiviral”’s Caleb Landy Jones), a dark mythology, and some spectacular visuals.

A waterfall of blood is the standout; as Jordan explained during my TIFF interview, “It’s a real waterfall. We put dye into the water and the whole thing just turned red.” (Interestingly, I was originally going to be interviewing Ronan and Jordan in person after a screening of the film. Sadly, that did end up being the case.)

“Byzantium” may be leaving the Eastern Hills, but it is still available on VOD. Below is my B+ review from The Film Stage.

 

There’s a moment in Neil Jordan’s “Byzantium” when the strange family unit — mother Clara, daughter Eleanor, and new “boyfriend” Noel — watch what seems to be an old Hammer horror film on TV. In it, we see a stake jabbed through a female vampire in this seemingly 1960s-filmed genre flick. It is fitting, perhaps, to see this meta moment in Jordan’s film, since it has many of the tropes of bloodsucker cinema, but also goes beyond them, creating something epic, bloody, and very enjoyable.

Similar in style and spirit to Jordan’s “Interview with the Vampire,” it is, in fact, the director’s best film of the past few years (at least since “Breakfast on Pluto”), and his most muscular effort since 1997’s “The Butcher Boy.” I found it to be one of the more original and involving vampire epics to come down the pike recently, far closer in feeling to the great “Let the Right One In” than anything in Stephanie Meyer canon. While it certainly does not equal Tomas Alfredson’s modern classic, it’s a solid, twisty treat.

Premiering at this month’s Toronto International Film Festival, “Byzantium” opens with Clara (Gemma Arterton in a bold, brassy performance) and her daughter Eleanor (the ever-intriguing Saoirse Ronan) being forced to once again flee their current home. As we learn, they have been on the run for two centuries, vampires being hunted for a transgression detailed later in the film. Next stop is a seaside town in which Clara meets the morose Noel (a stammering Daniel Mays), a sad-sack of a man seeking someone — anyone — to love. They move into his late mother’s old hotel, the seedy Byzantium, and Clara seizes the chance to make it a sort of brothel.

As we dip into their present life, and the story of how they came to be, the film, based on Moira Buffini’s play” A Vampire Story,” its characters taken on added weight. Clara, for example, becomes much more interesting after we meet the detestable Napoleonic captain, Ruthven. As a monstrous rapist who is not above, well, any dastardly deed, Jonny Lee Miller is wildly over the top, yet it works. His actions haunt “Byzantium,” and its leads, and the effects are still chasing them.

As Clara develops her new business opportunity, sad Eleanor meets a rather awkward fellow teen, Frank (nicely played by “Antiviral” star Caleb Landry Jones), starts to attend school, and hopes beyond hope that she and her mother can stay in one place for a little while. Predictably, that’s going to get very difficult, and very quickly, thanks to the men who on their tail. After an occasionally choppy midsection, the action hurtles along to a wild and bloody final stretch and a satisfying conclusion.

Throughout, Jordan’s direction is stylish and smart, while its cast succeeds in making its characters truly involving. It is no shock that Ronan gives a fine, appropriately glum performance, perfectly embodying a 200-year-old teenager. But the surprise in the cast is surely Arterton. She proves her work in “The Disappearance of Alice Creed” was a sign of good things to come, making us understand exactly why Clara does what she does, while also bringing to it a delicious sense of old-school, Hammer-style fun. Meanwhile, Sam Riley gives another fine performance as Ruthven’s fellow Navy man and Ronan’s “Hanna” costar Tom Hollander makes for a believably caring teacher.

Perhaps this one might meet a more promising fate outside of a festival setting as it is not typical TIFF fair, exactly, and it is also a bit more than Just Another Vampire Movie. (Aren’t we all sick of the dreaded JAVM?) “Byzantium” works as both gothic horror and offbeat character study, and for a Jordan fan, leaves but one unanswered question: Where’s Stephen Rea?

 

Photo courtesy of IFC Films

Weekend Preview: Neil Jordan Discusses His Reinvention of the Vampire Genre, and Almodovar’s Latest Opens

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In terms of summer blockbusters, this might be the most boring weekend of the summer. When it comes to indies, on the other hand, it could be one of the most interesting. Go figure.

Opening at Eastern Hills is Neil Jordan’s “Byzantium,” an icy, atmospheric vampire film I reviewed at TIFF 2012 for The Film Stage. (I gave it a B+; I will be posting that review here soon, but check it out at the link.) Also available on VOD, it is a fine bookend to Jordan’s “Interview With the Vampire,” and, I think, already a tad underrated.

I had the opportunity to interview Jordan for The Playlist, and while it was not a stellar interview — it was moved to the phone after a scheduling snafu two days earlier — it was humbling to chat with the man behind “The Crying Game.”

Written by Moira Buffini, “Byzantium” stars Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan as a vampires in a British seaside town. For Jordan, it was a chance to revisit a genre he had dabbled in previously:

“Moira sent me the script. I read it, and thought it was very interesting. On the one hand, it’s kind of a story about a mother and daughter, on the other hand about a teenager growing up in this wonderful kind of mythological context of the period and I thought it was gorgeous. It was a chance to return to the territory of ‘Interview With the Vampire’ and ‘The Company of Wolves’… I think the whole thing was a great opportunity to really reinvent the vampire legend really. It’s become a bit tired of late, you know?”

It also offered him the chance to direct “Disappearance of Alice Creed” star Arterton:

“Gemma’s a wonderful actress. She’s physically beautiful but she’s also just so bloody good, you know? And I think when I saw her in ‘Alice Creed,’ I thought, ‘Okay, this is a woman who’s very professional and very brave, in a way that most actresses aren’t.’ If you want a vengeful, terrifying vamp, to be in a movie, that also brings all the protective instincts of a mother, I can’t think of a better actress to cast than Gemma Arterton.”

And Ronan, the star of “The Lovely Bones” and “The Host,” was another draw:

“I didn’t know her, but I’ve watched her work for the last six years and I’ve always wanted to work with her — she’s incredible. She brings everything, doesn’t she? She’s amazing, very extraordinary. She’s so young and so kind of tough and accomplished at the same time. … [Arterton and Ronan] don’t actually look like mother and daughter, but the strange thing is that they seem like it. They ended up being very good together.”

He also spoke briefly of influences on the film:

“I kept thinking of ‘Don’t Look Now.’ It’s not a vampire movie at all, it’s not really horror film, except maybe for that little red coat! And I kept thinking of those great English films like ‘Séance on a Wet Afternoon.’”

Check out the rest of the interview at the link above.

I am a longtime Pedro Almodovar fan — I reviewed, and adored, his last two films, “Broken Embraces” and “The Skin I Live In” — but I have not been able to get too excited about “I’m So Excited.” There has been a curious lack of buzz regarding the airplane romp, but it is Pedro, so it won’t be dull. It, too, is opening at Amherst and Eastern Hills.

In VOD-land, the already controversial, mostly panned Paul Schrader-Bret Easton Ellis team-up “The Canyons” drops today. I’m sorry, but even with these reviews, I’m fascinated by this one …

Meanwhile, the Sundance 2013 selection “This is Martin Bonner” is playing The Screening Room. I do not know too much about this one; I reached out to the film’s PR folks and received no reply. But it drew solid press at Sundance, and it is worth a look. (Next Thursday, August 8, The Screening Room features a sci-fi double-bill, with the underrated “Gattaca” and the classic “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”)

Now, prepare for boredom: This week’s two big openings are “2 Guns” and “Smurfs 2,” and I’m doubly disinterested. Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington are the reason to see “Guns,” which looks awfully rote. As for “Smurfs,” I did not see the first installment, but if the kids enjoyed it, they’ll likely dig No. 2. I would expect Smurfette and friends to lead the weekend box office; “2 Guns” should slightly disappoint, and come in at No. 2 or 3.

It will be interesting to see how “Wolverine” fares in week two — it was a slight disappointment in week one — and whether or not “Fruitvale Station” and “The Way, Way Back” continue to surprise.

BREAKING: “Sharknado” is on Regal screens at midnight tonight. Catch it now, before the joke is stale. (Or is it too late?)

Squeaky Wheel has a cool “Film Fiesta” planned for tomorrow (Saturday) at 1 p.m. as part of the Infringement Festival; see Squeaky’s website for details.

Bacchus brings us the great Kristen Wiig in “Bridesmaids” on Thursday (August 7), while the UB North Campus has the great “Place Beyond the Pines” tonight and the so-so “Iron Man 3” on Tuesday (August 6), both at 9:15. “Iron Man 3” is also showing at the UB South Campus at 8:45 on Wednesday (August 7).

“Elysium” is coming next week — probably the last interesting biggie of the summer.

Photo courtesy of IFC Films