Film Review: Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

Also known as: Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (original German title), Nosferatu: Phantom of the Night (alternative title)
Release Date: January 17th, 1979 (France)
Directed by: Werner Herzog
Written by: Werner Herzog
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker, Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens by F. W. Murnau
Music by: Popol Vuh
Cast: Klaus Kinski, Isabella Adjani, Bruno Ganz

Werner Herzog Filmproduktion, Gaumont, Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen, 107 Minutes, 96 Minutes (theatrical cut)

Review:

“[subtitled version] Time is an abyss… profound as a thousand nights… Centuries come and go… To be unable to grow old is terrible… Death is not the worst… Can you imagine enduring centuries, experiencing each day the same futilities…” – Count Dracula

Back in the 1970s, I probably would’ve been vehemently opposed to a remake of the 1922 classic F. W. Murnau film, Nosferatu. However, I would’ve been very wrong, as Werner Herzog, who was still a very young director back then, made an update that fit the time while also being very true and respectful to the source material it used as its blueprint.

This incarnation of one of the greatest examples of the German Expressionist style did its damnedest to try and recreate the original. It employed great art design in how it recreated the look of the characters, the locations and the overall tone.

This also had to be a big challenge, as far as the location shooting went, as they couldn’t return to the same spots as the original due to the Berlin Wall and communism being in the way. They did, however, find great spots that replicated some of the original film’s most iconic visual moments.

The biggest difference with this picture is that it is presented in color and with sound. Other than that, it feels as true as a nearly sixty year-old remake can.

What also makes this so great is the cast. There wasn’t a more perfect actor at the time to play the title role. Klaus Kinski had already made a name for himself as an extremely versatile character actor in Europe and his most memorable roles were the ones where he was creepy or villainous.

In this, Kinski is absolute perfection. He owns the role, gives it life (even though he’s undead) and has this unsettling presence and an aura of death every time he is present on the screen. Plus, he had incredible chemistry with both Isabella Adjani and Bruno Ganz.

The cinematography is excellent and even though this film had a pretty iconic visual roadmap to try and emulate, it was done so to perfection and with great care. Herzog and his cinematographer, Jörg Schmidt-Reitwein, created a dark, gritty yet very lived in world that is full of atmosphere and nuance to the point that the scenery feels like a character in the movie.

My only real complaint about the film is that I didn’t like how they switched the character’s names to those in the Bram Stoker Dracula novel, as I always felt that the original Nosferatu really did a superb job in taking that story and reworking it into its own unique thing. I feel that to truly do an homage to the Murnau film, they should referred to the vampire as Count Orlok and not Count Dracula. I know it’s nitpicky but it’s just one of those things that is kind of jarring and takes me out of the movie. This could also be due to the fact that I’ve seen the original more than a dozen times.

Overall, this is how a remake should be done: just like a cover song. It should only exist if it can take the source material and build off of it and legitimately try to improve upon it. While this isn’t as good as the original, it is still a damn fine attempt and one of the best vampire movies ever made. Plus, seeing Kinski play an Orlock-like vampire is incredible because it feels like it was his destiny to do so. 

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the original 1922 film, as well as other film’s featuring Nosferatu-like vampires like Salem’s Lot and Shadow of the Vampire.

Film Review: Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

Also known as: M:I-6, Mission: Impossible VI (alternative titles) 
Release Date: July 12th, 2018 (Paris premiere)
Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie
Written by: Christopher McQuarrie
Based on: Mission: Impossible by Bruce Geller
Music by: Lorne Balfe
Cast: Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Alec Baldwin, Rebecca Ferguson, Sean Harris, Angela Bassett, Michelle Monaghan, Vanessa Kirby, Wes Bentley, Frederick Schmidt, Ross O’Hennessy, Wolf Blitzer (cameo)

TC Productions, Bad Robot Productions, Skydance Media, Paramount Pictures, 147 Minutes

Review:

“There cannot be peace without first a great suffering. The greater the suffering, the greater the peace. The end you’ve always feared… is coming. It’s coming, and the blood will be on your hands.” – Solomon Lane

These movies are so damn good! Well, at least from the third one forward. I’m still sour about my initial experience with M:I-2 from twenty years ago.

Anyway, this one is a hair below the previous chapter but it’s still a near perfect, spy thriller masterpiece.

There is really only one negative with this film and that’s the exclusion of Jeremy Renner. However, Renner had become too busy with his work as Hawkeye in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so his absence is understandable. Also, adding Henry Cavill to the cast was a massive plus, even if he doesn’t survive beyond this chapter… or so, one would assume.

Other than Renner, this brings back everyone from the previous film, as well as bringing back Michelle Monaghan in a role that was thankfully bigger than just an uncredited cameo like in the fourth movie.

This one also adds in Angela Bassett as the CIA director, who is a secondary antagonist until she sees the light and learns to trust America’s greatest hero, Ethan Hunt. We’re also introduced to a new character, played by Vanessa Kirby, who I sincerely hope returns in future films. Not just because she’s f’n gorgeous but because her character is really damn interesting, badass and I’d just like to see her get to develop more, as they keep pumping out these movies because Tom Cruise is ageless.

The plot feels a little heavy and overloaded but thankfully, by the end, everything kind of falls into place in a good way. I also felt like this didn’t just build off of its direct predecessor by featuring the same villain and key characters but it also sets up the future, as the main villain is still alive and one would assume that he will come back into play again, almost becoming Mission: Impossible‘s equivalent to James Bond‘s Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Plus, Sean Harris is f’n chilling as hell in this role and despite him being a monster, I want to see more of him. Although, I do eventually want to see him catch a bullet or an even more over-the-top death.

I think that my favorite thing about this film, though, was the rivalry and personal war that developed between Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and Henry Cavill’s August Walker. While Cavill dies, their final battle was so damn enjoyable that I wish he hadn’t. And no, I don’t think they’ll bring him back because that’d be stupid, based off of how he gets taken out, but killing him was a mistake due to how well he and Cruise worked together.

Additionally, the action in this chapter is top notch and nothing short of what you would expect.

I also feel like I need to give props to the film’s score by Lorne Balfe, who successfully experimented with the classic Mission: Impossible theme in multiple parts of the picture. I liked his fresh take on the score, as it felt like it belonged and didn’t come off as a composer trying too hard to stand out and make his own mark. It meshed well with what we’ve become used to over the last few films and just built off of that.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is impressive. But most importantly it was entertaining as hell and a shit ton of fun.

I’m also just going to come out and say that this series, after the disastrous second chapter, is my favorite film series post-2000. They’re consistently great, always leave me impressed and make me yearn for more.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Mission: Impossible films.

Film Review: Cuties (2020)

Also known as: Mignonnes (original French title)
Release Date: January 23rd, 2020 (Sundance)
Directed by: Maïmouna Doucouré
Written by: Maïmouna Doucouré
Music by: Niko Noki
Cast: Fathia Youssouf, Médina El Aidi-Azouni, Esther Gohourou, Ilanah Cami-Goursolas, Maïmouna Gueye

Bien Ou Bien Productions, France 3 Cinéma, BAC Films, Canal+, 96 Minutes

Review:

I normally wouldn’t have watched this or even cared about it. But since it’s the most controversial film of the fucking year, I couldn’t not watch it, review it and give my two cents.

That being said, I’ll probably piss off both sides of the debate because I’m not going to bash it as “pedo candy”, I’ll explain why, and I’m not going to pass it off like some sort of amazing motion picture that the world has been begging for and has desperately needed.

To start, this is controversial because the film is about a group of young girls who are trying to be a dance team; these girls are all about eleven years-old. They’re influenced by the provocative and highly sexual dance moves that they see all over the Internet from rap videos and other sources.

This, of course, makes people uncomfortable and it’s supposed to. However, these moments don’t make up the bulk of the movie and the film itself is really focused on one girl primarily.

This girl, Amy, comes from an immigrant family who have moved to France from Senegal. Her family is very religious and her actions in the film are a rebellion against the traditions of that strict religion and an exploration of the new things she’s found, culturally, in her new home. All the while, she’s also broken up by how changes in her family dynamic are emotionally effecting her mother and the structure of the family unit she’s used to.

Watching this as an American, I don’t know much about the culture of Senegal and how immigrants from that country would be effected by the socially liberal French that they would find themselves surrounded by. Honestly, I was kind of intrigued by this and would’ve liked to have seen it explored in a broader sense and not specifically from the viewpoint of one character. But maybe for those in France, where this film was made, it’s not as interesting, as other French films may have touched on it already.

But I feel like this film is pretty disjointed and it’s not all that coherent from a narrative standpoint. It plays more like a series of sequences with some connectivity but a lot of the film seems really random. Its like the director/writer is recalling actual moments from her own experience growing up and doesn’t realize that the audience might need some deeper context.

For instance, there’s a scene where Amy takes a picture of her private parts and uploads it to the Internet. It’s random as hell, really uncomfortable and isn’t really followed up on in any meaningful way, other than having some kid at school slap her ass. Did it need to be in the film? Was it just there for shock value?

Additionally, this is a coming-of-age story and it’s not really clear what the main character has learned or how she’s grown. Sure, she has an emotional breakdown and what appears to be a scary moment of clarity when she’s achieved her goal but the movie sort of ends and you’re sort of just left going, “Um… okay?”

What’s even worse is that this film is really well acted from top-to-bottom but the performances feel wasted.

This had the makings of something that could’ve been interesting but it’s honestly a really boring and drab movie. Even though there’s a plot progression, it feels like not much happens apart from the uncomfortable finale and a few weird moments dropped in.

The thing that has people in an uproar are the scenes that have leaked out that feature these young girls dancing in an over-sexualized way. The thing is, if you know kids or remember when you were that age, kids didn’t know a damn thing about sex but they all talked about it. I remember girls in my middle school days emulating the dances they saw in 2 Live Crew videos. This is nothing knew but maybe I also grew up in a more urban area and I was exposed to things that middle America wasn’t. I can only speak from my own experiences and memories but I’m pretty sure kids this age, everywhere, weren’t too dissimilar.

What is bizarre and sort of counterproductive to the director’s stated intent, is how the dancing scenes are filmed. The movie is made to critique and expose the over-sexualization of kids, especially young girls, but in trying to speak out against that, the film does exactly that. So I have to conclude that the director is either lying to cover her ass or a moron.

You could’ve made your point without closeup shots of eleven year-olds crotches and booties. Once or twice, I might roll my eyes but it did feel gratuitous. And frankly, I think it would’ve been a lot more effective having them dance but having the camera looking out to the crowd, getting their reactions to seeing young girls dance in such a way. But I’m not the artist, here.

I can’t say that I’m offended by it, I just sort of got through these moments like, “Really, you had to go there?” And maybe this was deliberate and the director knew that it’d get attention and that the media and film industry being the way they are, would show support. I’m leaning more towards her being an idiot, though.

Additionally, what tune would Hollywood and the media be singing if this was made by a white dude? And since it’s not made by a white dude, is the director getting a free pass? Why do we have to even ask these questions in 2020?

While I think this isn’t “pedo candy” (or why it isn’t intended to be) is due to the fact that these moments don’t happen often in the overall running time of the picture. I highly doubt that the director had that intention. I think she wanted to make something personal but didn’t realize that she was doing the same thing she wanted to expose as a problem. You don’t clear a flood by hosing it down and someone else working on the picture or producing it should’ve stepped in.

It also doesn’t help how Netflix initially marketed this film. They’ve since apologized and removed their pedo-tastic poster but the damage was done and it makes you wonder about the suits at Netflix making these decisions. As you can see above, the film’s original poster wasn’t offensive or provocative.

So yeah, I get the pushback but I’ve never been a fan of puritans of any kind. While I’ve gone on Twitter to chime in on the film’s marketing in the US market, I didn’t feel like I had a right to comment on a film I hadn’t seen. But we live in a time where everyone is outraged about everything without actually having the full context. That’s the main reason I felt like I needed to watch the movie when I’m surrounded by those trashing it or talking it up without actually watching it.

Any critic that tells you that this is anything more than “meh” is a shill, however. While that’s my opinion, from my point-of-view, my opinion is fact.

In the end, without the controversy, this is a completely forgettable film. While I would’ve liked to have learned more about the Senegalese experience in France, I was left with a mostly boring movie that felt aimless and didn’t effectively make its point or develop its main character in any sort of meaningful way. In fact, this film does the opposite of what it set out to do.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: other coming of age movies from Europe, I guess. I don’t watch a lot of those.

Film Review: The House of the Devil (1896)

Also known as: The Haunted Castle (US), The Devil’s Castle (UK)
Release Date: Winter, 1896
Directed by: Georges Méliès
Cast: Jehanne D’Alcy, Jules-Eugene Legris

Star Film Company, 3 Minutes

Review:

Is this the first horror movie ever made? Well, it’s probably the oldest one still in existence.

The film is important in the earliest days of motion picture history for it being what’s considered the earliest form of cinematic horror but even more than that, it’s use of special effects and editing are quite impressive for the time.

The House of the Devil came out when film was still a new, barely unexplored medium and those who were experimenting with it still found themselves inventing the techniques that would go on to expand the art form into the most popular artistic medium on the planet.

Beyond simple horror, this also bleeds into the fantasy and comedy genres. It features pantomimed sketches with a bat, a devil, a couple of cavaliers, a skeleton, spectres and other goodies.

It uses clever editing techniques to show the transformation of magical creatures and other monsters appearing like magic to confront the heroes.

The film is only three minutes, which is pretty normal for pictures from this era but it packs a lot into that short time and it’s a much more entertaining film that what was the norm.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other very early and experimental films.

Film Review: Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971)

Release Date: September 4th, 1971 (Turin premiere)
Directed by: Paolo Cavara
Written by: Marcello Danon, Lucile Laks
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Giancarlo Giannini, Claudine Auger, Barbara Bouchet, Rossella Falk, Silvano Tranquilli, Barbara Bach

Da Ma Produzione, Produzioni Atlas Consorziate (P.A.C.), 89 Minutes, 98 Minutes (uncut)

Review:

Paolo Cavara was better known for making mondo films. However, he also made two giallo pictures, this being one of them.

Since I had never seen this but heard good things, I figured I’d check it out. It also stars a young Giancarlo Giannini, as well as the immensely beautiful ladies, Barbara Bouchet and Barbara Bach.

Like many giallo pictures, this one plays like a proto-slasher movie. And while it is very artistic and vivid, as giallos go, it doesn’t look as overly stylized as the works of Argento or the two Bavas. Still, it is a beautiful looking picture, a product of its unique time and country of origin, but it feels a bit more grounded in a gritty reality.

The method of the killer in this movie is unique and kind of cool, as he kills his victims in the way that a spider wasp kills a tarantula: paralyzing them with the sting of a needle and then slicing open their stomachs as they are conscious and can feel the agonizing pain without the ability to fight back or scream.

Giannini plays the detective trying to stop the killer but in doing so, finds himself and his girlfriend as targets of the deranged, mysterious killer.

While I can’t put this on the same level as the best giallos to come out of Italy, it is still memorable because of its killer’s methods, as well as the superb cast.

This also came out just as the genre was finding its style and getting its stride. So it might not feel as refined, beautiful and as opulent as later films in the genre but it did help pave the way for them.

Overall, this was pretty enthralling from the perspective of one who generally likes these sort of films. I can’t necessarily call Cavara a giallo maestro just based off of this one film but it did make me want to check out his other giallo picture: Plot of Fear a.k.a. Bloody Peanuts.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other early ’70s Italian giallo pictures.

Film Review: The White, The Yellow, and The Black (1975)

Also known as: Il bianco il giallo il nero (original Italian title), Samurai (Canada), Ring Around the Horse’s Tail (US dubbed version), Shoot First… Ask Questions Later (US alternative title)
Release Date: January 17th, 1975 (Italy)
Directed by: Sergio Corbucci
Written by: Amendola & Corbucci, Santiago Moncada, Renee Asseo, Antonio Troisio, Marcello Coscia, Sergio Spina
Music by: Guido & Maurizio De Angelis
Cast: Giuliano Gemma, Tomas Milian, Eli Wallach

Filmel, Mundial Film, Tritone Cinematografica, 112 Minutes

Review:

“[about to be hanged by a gang] I’ll never die without my boots on, and a star on my chest.” – Sheriff Edward Gideon

I’ve seen and reviewed about a half dozen Sergio Corbucci spaghetti westerns in recent years. I didn’t know about this one, however, until I stumbled across it while looking for something else. But I’m glad I did, even if it’s one of Corbucci’s weaker westerns.

Still, it’s a well cast film with three cool characters that had nice chemistry and provided solid performances that required dramatic and comedic acting with a little pinch of badassness sprinkled in.

People today would probably find the fact that Italian actor Tomas Milian plays a samurai in the Old West to be “problematic” and while the character is written mostly for laughs by tapping into cultural stereotypes, Milian still gives his character a certain panache and coolness when push comes to shove.

Spaghetti western legends Eli Wallach and Giuliano Gemma also add some fun to the proceedings, with Wallach playing a Sheriff and Gemma playing a typical western cowboy.

The plot sees this unlikely trio come together to track down a stolen Japanese horse that was intended to be a gift for the US government. The three men end up embroiled in a rivalry with a band of desperadoes that are made up of former Confederate soldiers.

Side note: this film was actually made as a loose parody of the Charles Bronson starring Red Sun. Milian’s samurai character would also reappear in the film Crime at the Chinese Restaurant in 1981, directed by Sergio’s younger brother, Bruno Corbucci.

Out of the Corbucci westerns I’ve seen, this one is, unfortunately, the weakest. But I can’t fault the director for trying to do something different for his last picture in the genre. While the characters are amusing and work fairly well together, the movie does kind of miss its mark and pales in comparison to Django, The Great Silence, Compañeros and The Mercenary. I’d also rank it behind Navajo Joe, which wasn’t anywhere near as goofy and borderline slapstick-y despite having more humorous bits than Corbucci’s other spaghetti westerns.

This also lacks the gravitas of those earlier films. Not that that’s a bad thing, per se, but Corbucci sort of had a particular style with his westerns and this plays more like a generic western comedy than the great action flicks one could expect from Corbucci.

Overall, I like the casting and I enjoyed their characters but apart from that, this is almost forgettable and probably only stayed afloat in a sea of spaghetti flicks due to who made it.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other Sergio Corbucci spaghetti westerns.

Film Review: Falling Down (1993)

Release Date: February 26th, 1993
Directed by: Joel Schumacher
Written by: Ebbe Roe Smith
Music by: James Newton Howard
Cast: Michael Douglas, Robert Duvall, Barbara Hershey, Rachel Ticotin, Frederic Forrest, Tuesday Weld, Lois Smith, Michael Paul Chan, Raymond J. Barry, Steve Park, D. W. Moffett, Vondie Curtis-Hall

Alcor Films, Canal+, Regency Enterprises, 113 Minutes

Review:

“Is that what this is about? You’re angry because you got lied to? Is that why my chicken dinner is drying out in the oven? Hey, they lie to everyone. They lie to the fish. But that doesn’t give you any special right to do what you did today. The only thing that makes you special is that little girl.” – Sergeant Prendergast

Being that Joel Schumacher just passed away, I wanted to watch one of his films that I really like that I hadn’t seen in a really long time. I saw a lot of people online talking about Falling Down and it immediately moved to the top of my list in my head of Schumacher films, I have yet to review.

I have a sort of love/hate relationship with Schumacher’s work. There’s a few films I’m not too keen on but the ones I like, I really like. This being one of them.

Also, with everything insane that’s going on in the world in 2020, this actually seems kind of topical, 27 years later.

The story, for those who don’t know, is about a man who just simply loses his shit in a world that always seems to be working against him. As his day rolls on, shit keeps escalating to a point where he ends up feeling like he has to have a legit Old West style showdown with a cop on a pier.

What’s great about this movie is that the main character keeps crossing the line but their is a weird nobility in his actions and when he comes across people who are worse than him, he doesn’t really hesitate on taking them down. He takes out a shitty gang, kills a Nazi piece of shit but ultimately causes damage to his loved ones and some people who just happened to get caught in the crossfire of his meltdown.

This is a smart, layered picture with a lot of angles to it. It’s superbly acted by Michael Douglas and Robert Duvall, who plays the cop trying to stop the main character. It’s also the cop’s last day as a Los Angeles detective.

While the story shows the main character do bad things, it does a great job of justifying these things in his mind and to the audience, as everyone can relate to the sort of bullshit and pressure he has to deal with in this movie. However, the film also checks the main character’s ass and challenges him to see through his rage and to actually look for the silver lining.

Movies don’t really do this anymore, as in current times, they seem to just focus on the one side of the story they want to tell, as opposed to trying to get the audience to relate to multiple sides. This is smartly written and masterfully directed.

Now it’s not perfect but it doesn’t need to be. It’s just about a guy pushed to the point of a mental breakdown, who has some deep seeded issues in his past, that we only get hints of. In the end, he gives up and pushes the forces challenging him to take him out. But even in that last act, he shows that he’s not simply a bad, madman.

Falling Down is a tragedy. It’s a story about a beaten down human spirit that tried to play ball by the rules but always felt like the world was coming down on him. At some point or another, I think we’ve all felt that way.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other drama and crime films by Joel Scumacher, as well as dramas starring Michael Douglas.

Vids I Dig 372: Defunctland: The History of Disney’s Best Coaster, Space Mountain: From the Earth to the Moon

From Defunctland’s YouTube description: The conclusion of Defunctland’s two episode dissection of the Euro Disney resort. This time, Kevin discusses the history of Discovery Mountain, aka Space Mountain: De La Terre a La Lune, aka Space Mountain: From the Earth to the Moon, and eventually known as Space Mountain: Mission 2.