Neil Jordan dabbled in vampires before, in 1994’s blockbuster Interview with the Vampire. I didn’t think much of it, but Byzantium, virtually unseen on these shores, is lovely. Oh, it’s gory, too, but lovely in that visually sumptuous style for which Jordan is known, making IFC Films’ Blu-ray a feast for the eyes.

The film takes its title from an old hotel into which Clara (Gemma Arterton, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters) moves with her “daughter,” Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan, The Host). The women are vampires; for 200 years, they’ve been bound by blood, and that’s a thirst they can’t quite quench, although Eleanor sure wishes she could.

To survive, Eleanor seeks out the elderly. The more on the threshold of death’s door her willing donors are, the better to assuage her ever-growing guilt. For Clara, any man will do, so she operates as a prostitute to hook ’em quick and often. Because Arterton is so devastatingly, ferociously sexy, it’s damned believable.

A literate slice of art house horror, Byzantium will be despised by the average horror fan weaned on torture porn and The CW-cast slashers. Those with an appreciation for the Gothic, however, will sink their teeth into something quite good.

Rod Lott

In telling the story of X-rated superstar Linda Lovelace, the biopic Lovelace poses an interesting structure. Its first half makes her Deep Throat life seem like it’s all bells and fireworks; only after 45 minutes pass does it fill in details conveniently glossed over, casting an ominous veil over what we’ve already seen.

Lovelace is not the feel-good hit of the year. It is, however, a showcase for two unexpected performances. As Linda, who became coast-to-coast (in) famous for a skill one wouldn’t list on a résumé, Amanda Seyfried (Les Misérables) impresses in a way she never has.

Meanwhile, her husband-cum-nemesis is played by Peter Sarsgaard, who is what he couldn’t be even as the Green Lantern villain: menacing. He’s even more than that — he’s terrifying. If the film didn’t cop out with an abrupt and false ending, he might be in the conversation for year-end awards talk, as could Sharon Stone, unrecognizable as Linda’s emotion-bottled mother.

Lovelace is far from bad, but one can’t help but feel it did only half its job. We get very little sense of who Linda was as a person; her transformation into a porn princess is as ill-explained as other unsavory instances of her life are outright ignored. — RL

I eagerly await Brian De Palma’s comeback. A finely composed disappointment, Passion is not it.

A remake of the 2010 French film Love Crime, Passion burns in an advertising agency in Germany headed by Christine (Rachel McAdams, To the Wonder), a bratty, manipulative bitch who uses one of her creatives, Isabelle (Noomi Rapace, Prometheus), as a puppet.

When Christine takes credit for Isabelle’s idea for a smartphone campaign, it puts into motion a series of mind games and acts of one-upmanship, complicated by both ladies’ romantic involvement with an embezzling co-worker (Paul Anderson, The Sweeney).

Looking like a fashion-mag spread brought to life, the film bears all of De Palma’s trademarks: elevators, stairwells, twins, wigs, voyeurism, sex games, tracking shots, split screens, a Pino Donaggio score and so on. The difference between this and his finest thrillers is that Passion lacks his touch of the diabolic, resulting in unintentional humor.

For once, the filmmaker’s turns are not of the screw, but screwing the audience.

Nowhere is this worse than a clichéd trick he pulls on viewers thrice. The first time, the reaction is, “What a desperate cheat.” The second time, the reaction is, “Again? Seriously?” And the third time, in Passion’s final shot, the reaction is unprintable. — RL

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