Tag Archives: Eddie Izzard

Shadow of the Vampire (2000, E. Elias Merhige)

Shadow of the Vampire opens with some title cards explaining the setup. Well, it opens with some title cards explaining the setup after what feels like nine minute opening titles. In reality… it’s six. Vampire ostensibly runs ninety-five minutes.

Anyway. The title cards setup the making of Nosferatu, F.W. Murnau’s highly influential 1922 vampire film. The cards end saying Nosferatu is going to establish Murnau as one of “the greatest directors of all time,” which would imply Vampire’s going to be very positive about Nosferatu and Murnau.

Not so much as it turns out. John Malkovich plays Murnau. The movie presents him as a pretentious dick, which you’d think Malkovich could easily play, but not so much. Steven Katz’s script is particularly wanting in the Murnau characterization department. Besides a visit to a sex club and drug use, there’s nothing to Malkovich’s character. He gets the least character development of anyone in the film. Except Eddie Izzard, who gets ingloriously chucked at some point. Anyway. Murnau’s direction is always played for laughs in one way or another. Sometimes it’s in how Izzard (as the human lead in Nosferatu) acts, sometimes it’s in how Malkovich directs, but there’s always a bit of a joke. Sometimes there’s a lot of one. Shadow of the Vampire has some good laughs.

But Vampire’s not a biopic or non-fiction. It’s about how Malkovich has hired a real vampire (Willem Dafoe) to play the vampire in the movie. Two big problems. One, Dafoe’s a vampire who wants to kill people. Two, he’s not an actor. There’s some real funny stuff with Dafoe. It’s just not particularly good funny stuff. Vampire’s not a comedy. Director Merhige manages to get into the third act without ever fully committing to a tone. He eventually does pick one and, wow, it’s a bad choice.

But Dafoe. Let’s just get it out of the way. He’s phenomenal. His performance gets the humor in the situation, but never at the expense of being scary. Katz and Merhige never take advantage of that aspect of Dafoe’s performance–the spontaneity of it. Because they’re not doing particularly good work.

At no point does Vampire show much potential. Malkovich is chemistry-free with everyone, which is a problem when it comes to leading lady (barely in the movie, completely “harpy,” ultimate damsel-in-distress Catherine McCormack) who he’s apparently been intimate with. Kinky sex implication intimate. He uses it to control McCormack. But she’s barely in the movie–three scenes, maybe four.

He’s also no good with Udo Kier as Nosferatu’s producer, or Cary Elwes as the ladies man cameraman. Or Izzard, but he and Malkovich don’t actually share the screen much. Malkovich is usually directing Izzard in Nosferatu, not acting opposite him. Malkovich also doesn’t have any chemistry with Aden Gillett, who plays the Nosferatu screenwriter. Gillett’s got no purpose except suspect Dafoe and play well opposite Kier. So Merhige does get these actors need to play well off one another, he just doesn’t do anything to facilitate it. Kier and Gillett have one of the film’s best scenes, if not the best. They bond with Dafoe.

So while often amusing–and quick-paced, at the expense of logic and character development and narrative gestures–Vampire doesn’t have much heft. Then it tries to get some and it doesn’t work out. At all.

The third act’s a bust, with Merhige, Katz, and Malkovich the prime offenders. But mostly Katz. There’s nothing you can do with the third act as written. Then Malkovich, then Merhige. Merhige needed to figure out how to cover for Malkovich’s broad performance.

Kier and Elwes are all right. Same goes for McCormack and Izzard. After Dafoe, Gillett gives the best performance. No one gets enough to do, not even Dafoe. Kind of especially not Dafoe.

Technically it’s a little dull, but still colorful. Lou Bogue’s photography doesn’t do crisp. Chris Wyatt’s editing is good. He knows how to cut for the comedy. Dan Jones’s music isn’t memorable.

Merhige’s composition is a little too tight, his narrative impulses aren’t good–somehow he still keeps a nice, brisk pace–he’s indifferent to actors’ performances. Lots, but nothing to really suggest how bad the movie’s going to close.

It’s worth seeing for Dafoe’s performance. And maybe Malkovich’s if you don’t like him. Vampire pretends Malkovich is giving a great performance–one where he has chemistry with Dafoe and whatnot–but Malkovich doesn’t even put in enough effort to pretend anything similar. It’s a problem.

Vampire’s got too many problems.

BOMB

CREDITS

Directed by E. Elias Merhige; written by Steven Katz; director of photography, Lou Bogue; edited by Chris Wyatt; music by Dan Jones; production designer, Assheton Gorton; produced by Nicolas Cage and Jeff Levine; released by Lions Gate Films.

Starring John Malkovich (Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau), Willem Dafoe (Max Schreck), Udo Kier (Albin Grau), Eddie Izzard (Gustav von Wangenheim), Aden Gillett (Henrik Galeen), Cary Elwes (Fritz Arno Wagner), Ronan Vibert (Wolfgang Müller), and Catherine McCormack (Greta Schröder).


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Valkyrie (2008, Bryan Singer)

For Valkyrie to work, Bryan Singer needs to get–give or take–five minutes when the viewer isn’t entirely sure Adolf Hitler wasn’t assassinated. The entire premise of watching a film, a historically-based film, where the conclusion is well-known and suspending disbelief… he needs five minutes. Maybe the trick is casting Tom Cruise as a German. By the time the story gets around to needing the viewer to question whether or not Hitler is dead, he or she has already accepted Cruise. The biggest hurdle is over (who knows what Welles could have gotten away with in Touch of Evil, after everyone is buying Charlton Heston as a Mexican).

Valkyrie arrives following months of internet-fueled derision–from Singer as director to Cruise as German–and it does away with both concerns in the first scene. The language transition from German to English isn’t the best ever, but it’s fine. It acknowledges the situation of having an English language film about a bunch of German speakers. Cruise is solid from the open. As for Singer–he keeps out of the way. Singer’s direction is unobtrusive and perfectly measured–when he needs to emphasize an actor, he emphasizes the actor, same thing when he needs to emphasize a story development. At its core, both story-wise and star-wise, Valkyrie is one of those 1970s pictures with a lot of recognizable, good actors and a lead who maybe has seen better days. Charting Cruise’s career, it’s either a good sign or a bad sign in terms of his bankability, but it shows he’s still capable of doing a fine movie star turn.

The script–from Singer’s Usual Suspects writer McQuarrie and some other guy–does have a lot of twists and turns. It’s kind of like watching a chess game and knowing who’s going to win in advance. At some point, knowing the winner isn’t as interesting as seeing how the game is played. Valkyrie‘s not one of the best World War II films, but it gets a lot of mileage out of emulating them–I half expected an end credits actor showcase like The Great Escape. The only thing I couldn’t figure out about the script was the presence of Carice von Houten as Cruise’s wife. Sure, it’s historically accurate, but Cruise is the protagonist because of his role in the conspiracy, not because he’s necessarily the most interesting character.

It doesn’t hurt the film’s technically superior. Singer’s usual crew, cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel, editor and composer John Ottman, these guys usually turn in good work.

Similarly, the all-star cast is excellent, particularly Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson and Terence Stamp. Kenneth Branagh and Eddie Izzard are fine in glorified cameos. Jamie Parker’s good as Cruise’s sidekick. All of the aforementioned anti-Hitler conspirators are played by Brits. The hero’s American. Given a point of Valkyrie is to identify some Germans as different from Hitler following stooges–the reality of a postwar Germany, excellently discussed in Tony Judt’s Postwar for example, reveals a far more depressing truth than a Hollywood movie would ever want to present–it’s kind of strange Singer casts a very German guy as a very big Nazi. You’d think he’d at least go for one major good guy. There’s one good guy played by a German, but he doesn’t come into the movie until real late.

Valkyrie‘s a solid, watchable thriller. Maybe even a little bit better than it should be. Singer has a couple excellent moments as a director, maybe the best stuff he’s done since The Usual Suspects. He actually gets sublime.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Bryan Singer; written by Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander; director of photography, Newton Thomas Sigel; edited by John Ottman; music by Ottman; production designers, Lilly Kilvert, Patrick Lumb and Tom Meyer; produced by Singer, McQuarrie and Gilbert Adler; released by United Artists.

Starring Tom Cruise (Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg), Kenneth Branagh (Major-General Henning von Tresckow), Bill Nighy (General Friedrich Olbricht), Tom Wilkinson (General Friedrich Fromm), Carice van Houten (Nina von Stauffenberg), Thomas Kretschmann (Major Otto Ernst Remer), Terence Stamp (Ludwig Beck), Eddie Izzard (General Erich Fellgiebel), Kevin McNally (Dr. Carl Goerdeler), Christian Berkel (Colonel Mertz von Quirnheim) and Jamie Parker (Lieutenant Werner von Haeften).


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