Sunday, October 23, 2016

Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

Wikipida describes the Werner Herzog directed Nosferatu the Vampyre as a West German art house vampire horror film, and there can't be many of those. In truth this film is basically a remake of the better known 1922 silent German expressionist classic Nosferatu, which itself was an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stokers novel Dracula. This film takes some visual cues from the original, particularly in the look of Nosferatu, here played by Herzogs best fiend Klaus Kinski. It also largely follows the plot of the original film but I think the ending is a bit different, though is been around five years since I saw that movie so I could be misremembering. Part of me wonders why Herzog chose to remake a film already so well known and innovative, but the picture works well as mood piece, and particularly the sequences near the end, as the town is overrun by rats and descends into plague, is a great example of the directors stylized fatalism. The title sequence of the film, which features the actual mummified corpses of the victims of an 1833 cholera epidemic is also very Herzogian.  If your looking for something both familiar and odd to watch this Halloween I'd recommend it. ***1/2

The Gambler (2014)

The summation that kept running through my mind as I watched this film is that it was smarter then it needed to be but less smart then it thought it was. The Gambler stars Mark Wahlberg as a college literature professor who comes from a wealthy family and has a major gambling addiction. Films about addiction, and I'm thinking particularly of Preminger's The Man with the Gold Arm, can some times come across as kind of full of themselves, and I'm afraid this one did to an extent. Wahlberg's character makes a lot of really stupid decisions and it can be hard to like him, which is not a great problem to have with your movies protagonist. Interestingly this movie is based on another movie also called The Gambler, but not Kenny Roger's The Gambler, James Caan's The Gambler. The supporting cast here is quite strong, with Jessica Lange, John Goodman, and (briefly) George Kennedy in his final film role. A pre-Room Brie Larsen is also in this. **1/2

Never Let Me Go (2010)

In the tradition of The Island and The Clonus Horror comes Never Let Me Go, a movie about cloned children raised from birth for the purpose of harvesting their matured organs later in life for the benefit of others. Based on a well regarded 2005 novel of the same name by Kazuo Ishiguro, the story is lent an extra level of the surreal by setting it in an alternate England of the 1970's through 1990's, where raising children for the purpose of later killing them is surprisingly accepted. The story is basically an ill fated love triangle between Keira Knightley, Andrew Garfield, and Carey Mulligan, as well as the actors who play them as children. Charlotte Rampling and Sally Hawkins have nice but small supporting parts. I'm sure this worked much better as a novel, its a very internal monologue type of story, and while the actors do a fine job, I had a hard time connecting with their characters. A worthy effort though. **1/2

Friday, October 14, 2016

Housemaids (2013)

A really fascinating documentary in which seven adolescents each spend a week documenting and interviewing their long time house maid. In Brazil having a housemaid is apparently a lot more common then in the United States, and not something confined just to the wealthier classes. One of the maids in the film works for a woman who also works as a maid, with a housemaids role in this society often more a combination of nanny and housekeeper then just cleaning lady. The housemaids documented in this film often blur the lines between employee and family member, with two of them being more then the first generation in employ to the same family. The six women and one man documented all have fascinating, varied, and often tragic personal stories, with the death of children featuring prominently in two of them. I really didn't expect this to be as entrancing as it was, a work subtly genius in conception and execution. Worthy your time. ****

The Measure of a Man (2015)

French film about a laid off, middle aged factory worker, trying to keep his family afloat and maintain his personal dignity under very trying circumstances. Star Vincent Lindon deservedly won the best actor award at Cannes playing Thierry Taugourdeau, a man of few words but a lot of personal integrity. Though I could talk about this movie at length I think it is best approached with little foreknowledge about the plot. Retroactively I'd say this is one of the 3 best movies of last year. I would strongly recommend you seeing it. ****

Deepwater Horizon (2016)

Movie about the notorious April 2010 explosion on the titular semi-submersible offshore drilling rig, whose resultant Gulf of Mexico oil spill proved the worst such disaster in U.S. history. The middle chapter in director Peter Berg's apparent 'Mark Wahlberg Does Recent Perilous Events' trilogy, after Lone Survivor and before the forth coming Patriots Day, Deepwater Horizon is a $150 million dollar cinematic indictment of BP Oil. British Petroleum comes off appropriately horrible in this, the accident could have been easily prevented had one of the worlds largest corporations spent a little more time and money to ensure operational safety.

The Deepwater Horizon disaster occurred a few days after I got out of the hospital following a prolonged stay after a major car accident, so that oil seeping up from the ocean floor for weeks upon week will forever be associated in mind as an oddly appropriate counterpoint in what would prove to be some of the worst months of my life. That being said I was surprised by how much of the story I had misremembered, I though everybody on the thing had died, when in fact all but 11 of the 126 on board surived. A straight forward, docudrama type presentation, with few flourishes, because few are needed. Sufficient to good acting all around, with John Malkovich the standout out as a short sighted oil company exec. I also quite liked Kurt Russell's casting as the wells foreman. The movie does a really good job of brining home just how giant this thing was, that burning behemoth awes on the big screen. A very well executed real life disaster film, and an interesting counter point to the recently released Sully. My disaster movie loving dad would have really appreciated this movie. ****

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Dracula Untold (2014)

Dracula Untold doesn't so much seek to tell the story of the real life historical figure Vlad the Impaler, upon home Count Dracula is based, but rather just to fictionalize Vlad differently then Bram Stoker did. Here the 15th century Prince of Wallachia (part of modern day Romania) is not the famously cruel tyrant of history, but as played by Luke Evans a generous, sensitive ruler. In fact Vlad loves his family and people so much, that it is for them that he risks his very soul to be transformed into a powerful vampire, this in order to better defend against heartless Ottoman Turks who seek to conscript the kingdoms children to fight in their armies. The movie is a weird blend of elements, and its hard to figure out what kind of movie the filmmakers really were going for. There's everything from The Lord of Rings, to Underworld, to The Book of Exodus in here. It's a less a traditional horror movie and more like a riff on Frank Millers 300. The main reason I even saw the movie was the presence of my latest film crush Sarah Gadon as the female lead, she was fine in this, but the part could have been played by most any pretty actress. Ironically the little coda at the end, which hints at a possible sequel, looks more interesting then this film was. Still with its limited 1 hour 32 minute running time Dracula Untold makes for passable, if at times perplexing, entertainment. **