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.

TV Review: The Mandalorian (2019- )

Original Run: November 12th, 2019 – current
Created by: Jon Favreau
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Star Wars by George Lucas
Music by: Ludwig Göransson
Cast: Pedro Pascal, Carl Weathers, Werner Herzog, Nick Nolte (voice), Taika Waititi (voice), Gina Carano, Ming-Na Wen, Mark Boone Junior, Bill Burr, Clancy Brown, Natalia Tena, Richard Ayoade (voice), Giancarlo Esposito, Emily Swallow, Jason Sudeikis

Lucasfilm, Walt Disney Studios, Disney+, 8 Episodes (so far), 31-46 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

While I haven’t been too happy with Disney’s handling of Star Wars, this was still one of the television shows that I was anticipating the most.

I assumed that after the Boba Fett movie was cancelled, following the lackluster performance of Solo, that this show would end up taking some of that planned film’s ideas, reworking them into a new character and story. I’m not a hundred percent sure that’s what they did but this feels close to what Boba Fett could’ve been.

The first few episodes of this show were mostly okay but they didn’t blow me away, if I’m being honest. However, it did feel good to have someone seemingly taking Star Wars seriously once again, which I didn’t feel was the case since Rogue One, the only Disney Star Wars film I actually liked.

The middle few episodes were low points but everything really started to pickup with episode six. Episodes seven and eight were then quite awesome and they brought everything that happened over the course of the season together in a way that justified the episodes that felt more like filler than part of the larger story.

Season one of The Mandalorian was more about world building and introducing the audience to these new characters. In that regard, it succeeds greatly. But ultimately, it feels like the first act of a much larger story and not necessarily its own self-contained arc.

In any event, I’m more excited for season two than I was season one and I hope that the momentum continues to build and that this stays on the right trajectory, especially after the terrible sequel films just concluded, leaving most people with a really bad taste in their mouth. I still haven’t seen The Rise of Skywalker and I’m really not that enthused about taking time out of my schedule to go see it in theaters.

I used to be a massive Star Wars fan: massive. But until this show mostly impressed me, this gigantic force in my life was dwindling away. Granted, The Mandalorian alone isn’t enough to bring me back and, at this point, I don’t think I’ll ever have a love for Star Wars like I once did.

But so far, so good. Don’t fuck this up.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: any Mandalorian heavy Star Wars Expanded Universe books, comics and video games.

Documentary Review: Grizzly Man (2005)

Release Date: January 24th, 2005 (Sundance)
Directed by: Werner Herzog
Written by: Werner Herzog
Music by: Richard Thompson
Cast: Werner Herzog (narrator), Timothy Treadwell

Discovery Docs, Real Big Production, Lions Gate Films, 104 Minutes

Review:

Grizzly Man is a documentary by Werner Herzog. It follows the life and tragic death of Timothy Treadwell, who was killed and partially eaten by grizzly bears along with his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard.

Herzog, like in his other documentaries, weaves a wonderful tale out of extraordinary events and a very interesting character. This is one of my favorite Herzog documentaries, as it showcases a man, who many believe was out of his mind, and his crossing the line into living among the wild.

Timothy Treadwell was certainly eccentric and you can clearly see that, as much of the film is made up of the home movies Timothy shot while living with Alaskan grizzlies over thirteen summer seasons. One could bring his sanity into question and as the film went on, the less I liked the guy and thought he was off of his rocker. Did he deserve to die? No, but his incessant stupidity at being “one with the bears” eventually lead to him being one with the bears’ digestive track.

The videos that Timothy shot of the bears over the course of his time with them is nothing short of exceptional but he died for his work and very idiotically so. I understand passion but I also understand mental illness and I’m not saying that he was mentally ill but he certainly wasn’t all there and lived in a fantasy world where he thought he could tame the wild and thrive in it and among its apex predators. Even with thirteen years experience, one day the wild had enough of Timothy Treadwell.

This is a tragic story regardless of how you feel about Treadwell. In the end, I am glad I got to go on the journey and see things through his eyes, even though he wore rose-colored glasses.

And there is an awesomely epic bear fight about halfway through the film.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Encounters at the End of the World, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Into the Inferno, The White Diamond and Into the Wild.

Documentary Review: Red Army (2014)

Release Date: May 16th, 2014 (Cannes)
Directed by: Gabe Polsky
Written by: Gabe Polsky
Music by: Christophe Beck, Leo Birenberg
Cast: Viacheslav Fetisov, Vladislav Tretiak, Scotty Bowman, Vladimir Pozner

Gabriel Polsky Productions, Sony Pictures Classics, 84 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2015.

Gabe Polsky and Werner Herzog, now regular collaborators, worked together on this documentary. Polsky directed and conducted the interviews, where Herzog produced it.

This film follows the story of the Soviet Union’s last great hockey team, as told through their point of view. It follows them through their early days as kids in the system, through international competition, the Olympics, political and social turmoil, as well as their journey to North America and the NHL.

The bulk of the story is told through the eyes of legendary player Viacheslav Fetisov. He is dynamic, charismatic and, at times, an abrasive cantankerous jerk. But he does seem to tell an honest story and expresses his feelings and his tale pretty thoroughly. He’s straightforward and comes with a no nonsense approach, other than poking fun at the director here and there.

The most important thing about this film, is how intimately it portrays these young players relationship with the Soviet Union’s sports system and the hardship and challenges they faced. It also displays their loyalty to their country and the pride they had for playing on the national team but it evolves into their inability to trust their coach and that same system, as it holds them prisoner and doesn’t allow for them to have lives.

Through the broken promises and mistreatment over the years, many of these players eventually left the crumbling Soviet Union for the greener pastures of the National Hockey League in the United States and Canada. It then follows their struggles in the NHL and how these Russians adapted and then changed the game at it’s highest professional level.

This is a thought provoking and fast-paced documentary. It has something for everyone, whether you are into sports, politics or both. Truthfully, it is one of the best hockey documentaries that I have seen in quite some time.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Of Miracles and MenMiracle and The Nagano Tapes: Rewound, Replayed & Reviewed.

Documentary Review: Happy People: A Year In the Taiga (2010)

Release Date: September, 2010 (Telluride Film Festival)
Directed by: Werner Herzog, Dmitry Vasyukov
Music by: Klaus Badelt
Narrated by: Werner Herzog

Studio Babelsberg, 90 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2014.

Happy People: A Year In the Taiga is a documentary by Werner Herzog that follows the people living in the village of Bakhtia along the Yenisei River in the Siberian Taiga. It mostly focuses on trappers but follows others with different occupations that help contribute to the overall well-being of all the people within their small community. The documentary also gives some insight into the lives of the native Ket people from that region.

The film goes on to show a way of life that hasn’t changed in over a century. Other than having a few machines to make life a bit easier, the people of Bakhtia still exist in virtually the same way that they always have. It is a unique and simple way of life that is not only hard but extreme for those of us looking through our television sets. To those of us in the first world, it is something so foreign and seemingly archaic. But one can’t not respect the lives of these tough people, who really are the hardest and most badass beings on this planet.

While the footage was originally filmed by Dmitry Vasyukov for a television film he made. The footage was re-edited and narrated by Wener Herzog for this more fleshed out theatrical version.

This film was pretty great to watch. It was slow at times but it was never boring, as it gave one a direct and intimate view of these people. Their words and advice on life, through their experience living in such harsh conditions, was fascinating. It was a thoroughly engaging film that I was pulled into from the start.

Herzog’s narration was enjoyable. From his deadpan humor and his awesome German accent, he kept the scenes moving and helped weave this wonderful tale. Furthermore, his re-editing of the material was well done. This is now one of my favorite Herzog documentaries.

I’d recommend it to anyone wanting to watch some tough men doing tough shit, living in tough conditions against the odds. While this life is somewhat romanticized in the film, it did make me yearn for a simpler time when there was less materialism and life was pretty straightforward. Granted, I’d never want to have to weather these insane conditions.

Rating: 6.75/10