Friday, September 2, 2011

The Cynic Reviews Shadow of the Vampire

Author's Note: Lately, I've been trying to only review movies movies that are somewhat new, and I swear that I will more or less keep to that. However, I recently saw a movie so striking that I felt like Ihad to review it. So forgive me for writing about something that's eleven years old.

My name is Aidan, and I hate vampire movies. Okay, so there are a few flicks out there that are pretty good (Cronos for the "serious" film conniseurs, Daybreakers for those of you who are... less serious*), but this subgenre of horror has for the most part been overrun by god awful, whiny, inane crap that trat their audiences like they're drooling idiots. It's no matter to me that the audiences for these things are drooling idiots; you can't move anywhere if you don't reach for a higher bar. Look, you can cater to a broad, mainstream audience without sacrificing any semblance of intelligence your concept may have had; the public's not that stupid, guys!

But this wasn't always the case. In fact, my favorite horror movie of all time is a vampire movie: F.W. Murnau's 1922 masterpiece Nosferatu. Count Orlock is still one of the scariest looking movie monsters ever created, and Murnau's use of shadow to heighten the tension is pure genius. If you haven't seen it, I first would like to ask you what rock you've been living under all this time, and then urge you to go out and see it. Just be wary of what cut you get; the film was butchered for the silver in the film stock and despite a lengthy restoration process, most versions still use the bad cut (google it for more info).

So why am I saying this? After all, I'm not reviewing Nosferatu, am I? But you see, you first need to be familiar with that film before watching Shadow of the Vampire. The concept is simple but fascinating: it suggests that Max Schreck (the actor who played the Count Orlock) was more than just a convincing actor aided by some very creative makeup. In Shadow, Schreck is a real vampire that Murnau (John Malkovich) found in Czechoslovakia and paid to play an actor playing a vampire.

The story is brilliantly executed by director E. Elias Merhinge, and boasts an impressive cast that includes Malkovich, Carey Elwes, and Eddy Izzard (playing it totally straight; and in men's clothing, no less) who are all very good, but the real treat here is Willem Defoe as Schreck. The scariest part of this movie is just how much Defoe looks like Schreck here, and he copies his moves so perfectly that when they intercut scenes from Nosferatu with footage from Shadow, it's almost impossible to tell the difference between the two. But Defoe truly shines in the scenes that take place outside filming ofNosferatu, where he gets a chance to create his own character off of where Murnau left off. You cannot take your eyes off him; it's the best I've ever seen him, the kind of performance you truly have to see to believe. He was nominated for an Oscar for this film, and rightly so. The mystery here is why he didn't win.

Bottom line: if you, as I have, are longing for an intelligent, highbrow horror film that treats its audience like adults, then by all means see this movie. You won't be disappointed. I had no idea I would like Shadow of the Vampire as much as I did. But I guess that makes me all the more glad that I finally saw it. Grade: A

*I mean no disrespect to Daybreakers; I thought it was pretty damn good, and was surprised at how maturely they executed their concept.surprised at how maturely they executed their concept.

The Cynic Reviews Birdemic

  It seems that I haven't been living up to my title lately. I haven't been nearly curmudgeonly enough to deserve the name I've given myself. After all, if I'm gonna call this thing "The Cynic Reviews", the least I can do is deserve the name. The problem here is that I've so far only reviewed movies that I liked, and it's hard to turn "this was pretty good" into something bitter and acerbic. So it seems that it's time I review a real turd. I owe it to all of you who take the time to read this crap.

Boy does Birdemic deliver. I mean, I've seen some crap in my time, but damn!

Okay, so maybe I've seen worse; things like Troll 2 or Jesus Christ: Vampire Hunter that made me genuinely cringe and roll up into a fetal position, questioning how there could be a god in a world where these movies are allowed to exist.Birdemic: Shock and Terror is not that kind of bad. Actually, as crazy as it may sound to many of you, I really enjoyed watching this movie. 

Before you all drag me off to the asylum, let me explain:

If you're any kind of movie geek, there's a very good chance that you've at least heard of the concept of a movie that is "so bad it's good". For those who aren't movie geeks, I've drawn up a terrible diagram for you:

Basically, have you ever laughed at something serious a friend of yours said because it was just so phenominally stupid? As it turns out, movies sometimes work that way as well. Birdemic is one such movie: if you've ever wanted to see just how many ways a movie can suck, watch this movie.

The lines sound like they were written by a third grader (with such classics as "There are dead people by that car. Let's go see if there are any survivers." and "Yeah, well my car gets a hundred miles an hour!"), the "actors" sound like they came off some bad middle school production of Everybody Poops, the production values are so poor, they makeSharktopus look like Avatar, and the music sounds like it was comprised entirely of sample loops from Garage Band. I've never seen Murphy's Law apply so beautifully to a movie. And as for the plot...


It seriously feels like two completely different movies: one a crappy romance between two people who never actually get to know each other, and base their entire relationship on a mutual desire to screw each other (so in other words, exactly like all movie romances), and the other being a half assed ripoff of The Birds, except with eagles instead of seagulls, and without the involvement Alfred Hitchcock which, let's face it, was the reason The Birds  was good.

But the plot isn't important (not even to the cast and crew, apparently). The best part about Birdemic is that we were meant to take all this crap seriously. The stupid love story, the stupid horror movie part, even the stupid, tacked on message about global warming. I mean look, I'm a good radical lefty; I understand the importance of global warming. I understand that human beings need to stop fucking up the planet for teh lulz. But whatever global warming is doing, it probably has nothing to do with a mass uprising of birds who start invading cities and killing people. Global warming, important a subject as it may be, global warming never does well with a cinematic treatment. It is a subject that deserves a respectful, intelligent debate. "Respectful", "intelligent", and "debate" are three words that b movies and Hollywood collectively don't understand.

But enough preaching. Bottom line: Birdemic: Shock and Horror is awful, but awful in all the right ways. As much as it sucks, I think everybody needs to see it, if only so you all believe me when I say that something like this exists. Get some good friends together, overload on junk food, and prepare to laugh your asses off. That may not be what the filmmakers had in mind when they made this cinematic dump, but it's nice to think that it turned out to be good for something. That's more than I can say for Troll 2Grade: a hilariously well deserved F