Shadow Of The Vampire

Directed by: E. Elias Merhige
Written by:Steven Katz
Starring: John Malkovich, Willem Dafoe, Udo Kier, Cary Elwes, Catherine McCormack, Eddie Izzard
Released: January 25, 2001
Grade: A

When people talk about Dracula, many would remember seeing Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 version with Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves and Anthony Hopkins.  Hands up then who saw another adaptation titled Nosferatu?

In 1922, German director F. W. Murnau wanted to be one of the first to bring Bram Stoker's famous novel to a big screen but of course this is back in primitive days when movies didn't even have sound.  However, Bram Stoker's widow refused to grant the rights to Murnau.  Not to be deterred, he changed a few names and made the film anyway.  Shadow Of The Vampire is an interpretation of the events that led to the creation of Nosferatu.

In Berlin, Murnau assembled his cast and crew before travelling to Czechoslovakia for shooting.  Strangely missing from the introductions was Max Schreck, an unknown actor who was to play the lead role of Count Orlock (i.e. Dracula).  Murnau informed his crew that Schreck was already in Czechoslovakia preparing for his role.  To become more believable, he would be always be in character and would always wear his makeup.  Very strange indeed.

When production begins, things get even stranger.  The cinematographer is killed in unusual circumstances forcing Murnau to return to Germany to find another.  In his absence, another crew member is killed and questions are being asked.  Just what is going on?

Nosferatu is regarded by many as the greatest vampire film ever made despite its grainy quality and lack of sound.  Perhaps it was because people still believed in vampires back?  The Internet Movie Database has it listed in its top 250 films of all time as voted by the public - that says something.  Max Schreck's portrayal of Count Orlock is also considered the best of any screen vampire.  So good in fact, that it provided Shadow Of The Vampire screenwriter, Steven Katz, with the inspiration for this film.  Perhaps Max Schreck really was a vampire?

Shadow Of The Vampire is a hypnotic comedy/thriller that is difficult to describe.  It's bound to become a film seen by few but appreciated by all who had the chance - a cult film.  Willem Dafoe's performance as Schreck is the best by any supporting actor this year.  He is unrecognisable beneath his make-up and looks eerily similar to the real Max Schreck thanks to the help of artists Ann Buchanan and Katja Reinert.

It's one of the year’s finest and most inventive scripts and is given justice by director E. Elias Merhige.   Cinematic boundaries are being broken...


Cast Away

Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by:William Broyles Jr
Starring: Tom Hanks, Wilson The Volleyball, Helen Hunt, Christopher Noth
Released: January 18, 2001
Grade: A

It's not Tom Hanks, it's not Robert Zemeckis or it's not even Wilson the Volleyball that will draw audiences to Cast Away.  It's the storyline.  How many times have you heard a question asked like "what three things would you take with you on a deserted island?"  Just look at the huge ratings the recent Survivor television series has generated.  Haven't you ever wondered what it would be like?  In today's technologically advanced world, the possibility of being stranded seems an impossibility.  Or is it?

FedEx employee Chuck Noland’s (Hanks) life revolves around getting things done on time.  He's the guy that takes care of your package when "it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight".  It's a tough job travelling around the world especially when having to leave his long-term girlfriend Kelly (Hunt) behind.  Kelly understands the demands placed on Chuck by his job and the two cherish every moment they spend together.  Still, there just doesn't seem to be enough time.

Called out to Malaysia on Christmas night, Kelly drops Chuck to the airport under strict instructions that he's back to her by New Years Eve.  Exchanging presents in the car, Chuck gives Kelly a small box with the instruction not to open until the new year.  Chuck sets off to catch his flight jokingly saying "I'll be right back".

Deep into the flight, the plane encounters severe turbulence, losing radio contact.  Attempting to avoid the storm, the pilot changes course with little success and crashes into the Pacific.  By sheer chance, Chuck survives the impact and with the help of an inflatable raft is washed ashore on a small uninhabited island in the middle of nowhere.  There's no chance of a search party with the plane veering roughly 400km off its intended path.  The impossible has now become distinctly possible...

Tom Hanks has won two Oscars (Philadelphia, Forrest Gump) but he may be remembered most for this career-best performance in Cast Away.  From the moment he sets foot on the island, there's nothing more to watch than a silent Tom Hanks relying solely on actions and expressions.  The film was shot in two stages 12 months apart to allow Hanks to transform from a "beefy" FedEx employee to a "lean" wildman.  The time off allowed director Robert Zemeckis to make What Lies Beneath in between.

Speaking of Zemeckis, his direction is bold and original.  It's a tough ask to make a two and a half hour movie set in just one location with just one actor.  With little film score, you'll go much of the movie with only the soft sounds of the wind, rain and crashing waves.  I am curious to know how much was paid by FedEx and Wilson for the not-so-subtle advertising.

One can't overlook the effortless performance from Wilson the Volleyball.  A few tears will be shed over his fate and he can expect a flood of great scripts in the near future.  I feel the Academy will ignore his subtle performance but the Broadcast Film Critics have already rewarded him with best performance by an inanimate object.

Cast Away should be appreciated on many levels.  Hanks goes from being a man with no time to a man with nothing else but time.  What does he learn from it all?  Zemeckis leaves the question open to wide interpretation.  The ending is slightly drawn out but it will leave you something to think about.

Above anything else, this is a story of love.  Every moment he spends alone on the island, he longs for a way to get back to Kelly.  The audience may not relate to a man trying to survive on desolate island but they'll emotionally understand what's driving him.  That's what life is all about.  It's not what you make of it - but who you make it with.


Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch 2

Directed by: Joe Berlinger
Written by:Dick Beebe, Joe Berlinger
Starring: Stephen Barker Turner, Tristine Skyler, Erica Leerhsen, Kim Director, Jeffrey Donovan, Lanny Flaherty
Released: January 11, 2001
Grade: C-

Since the release of The Blair Witch Project, the town of Burketsville has been invaded by tourists trying to discover if the movie was true.  Some are frustrated but others are enjoying new found notoriety.  One such person is Jeff Donovan.  Jeff has set up his own Blair Witch merchandise store (you can even order over the internet).  His latest venture is to act as a tour guide and take those interested into the woods for a glimpse of the legend.

On his introductory tour are boyfriend and girlfriend, Stephen and Tristine, a "witch" named Erica and a gothic named Kim.  Following the tradition of the original, most all characters have the same first name in real life.  Out they set and of course things get scary and nasty.  They wake up following their first night of the trip and all their equipment and gear has been trashed.  However, the tape from the video camera filming overnight has been left and should hold all the answers.  Retreating to Jeff's secluded home, things get even stranger when the tape is watched…

It so happens that another tour group was murdered that night in the Burketsville woods and Jeff, Stephen, Tristine, Erica and Kim are leading suspects and told not to leave town.  When the five start seeing things in Jeff's house, no one is sure what they are seeing and who to trust.

Again, I must emphasise that this film is total fiction and there is no such town as Burketsville.  Sorry if I'm destroying the legend but I think most people by now know the story is garbage.  Book Of Shadows is very poorly made.  It opens interestingly with a look at how successful the original became and it was a nice touch to see film critic Roger Ebert on screen.

What followed was total lunacy.  Nothing seemed to make sense.  They were constant flashes to murderous scenes all through the movie that were never explained.  The whole witchcraft theme was laughable and the ending was so incomprehensible, it's not worth describing.  I remember sitting in the cinema waiting for the experience to end but even I was shocked at how abruptly the film concluded.

The Blair Witch Project cost a mere $35,000 and grossed over $140m in the United States alone.  The spare change left over from the original helped spawn this $15m sequel.  I guess it goes to show that money doesn't always make a difference.  What a shame the mystique of the original has been tarnished with this utter crap.


The Sixth Day

Directed by: Roger Spottiswoode
Written by:Cormac Wibberley, Marianne Wibberley
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Rapaport, Tony Goldwyn, Michael Rooker, Sarah Wynter, Robert Duvall, Rodney Rowland
Released: January 18, 2001
Grade: A-

It is the not too distant future and the world is advancing.  Cloning has become an important industry but legislation limits its usage to animals only.  It seems the human brain is too complex to clone and after a failed experiment, "sixth day" laws were introduced prohibiting any attempt to clone a human being.  In the ten years since the laws were introduced, a rebel scientific team has perfected the art of human cloning and is running an underground operation.  The team is led by scientist Dr. Griffin Weir (Duvall) and financed by the very wealthy Michael Drucker (Goldwyn)

Adam Gibson (Schwarzenegger) is a helicopter pilot with a wife and daughter.  He is hired by Drucker and a few of his men to take them skiing atop a mountain range.  However, it's Adam's birthday and he palms the job off to colleague Hank Morgan (Rapaport) to get some time off.  Waiting on top the mountain is an armed anti-cloning protester who shoots and kills the entire party.

The party are cloned and returned back into the world but unknowingly, they think Hank is Adam and so the clone created is that of Adam.  Now we have two Adam Gibsons and given the 40-year mandatory sentence for human cloning, there's a lot of people who would like to see one of the two eliminated.

Like a favourite film of mine, Gattaca, The Sixth Day makes a point about playing god and where to draw the line.  It's a touchy subject matter and many people haven't sat down and thought about where they really stand.  If your son was critically ill and you had the technology to save him through cloning, would you do it?

This action-thriller shows the talent of Canadian director Roger Spottiswoode and writers Cormac and Marianne Wibberley.  I concede I was surprised on many occasions by both the storyline and intelligent surprises that followed.  Even Arnie gets the opportunity to pull out some great lines typified when he tells someone to get a clone so he can "go fuck himself".  Even I had to laugh at that.

Of course the film is filled with tacky "close call" action scenes which detract but this look at the future has been logically created thanks to great special effects.  The three-member film editing team has done a super job maintaining the suspense and the style is very audacious.

Arnie does have a limited range but has found just the right movie in The Sixth Day.  We haven't seen him much of late with End Of Days being his only other film in the past three years.  Interestingly, both films have heavy religious undertones.  I wonder if Arnie is trying to leave his mark on the world...


What Women Want

Directed by: Nancy Meyers
Written by:Josh Goldsmith, Cathy Yuspa
Starring: Mel Gibson, Helen Hunt, Marisa Tomei, Alan Alda, Lauren Holly,  Bette Midler
Released: January 11, 2001
Grade: B-

Nick Marshall (Gibson) is a high-flier in the advertising biz and is gearing up for an expected promotion.  He tells his secretaries to start packing for the move upstairs, arranges a 1:00 lunch with another colleague and heads off to meet with company director, Dan Wanamaker (Alda).

Surprise!  The job has gone to Darcy McGuire (Hunt) who has come from another top firm with the reputation of being a hard-nosed bitch.  Women are now the significant target in the advertising market and Dan doesn’t believe Nick has the touch to develop the firm in that area.

In her introductory address, Darcy gives the staff a chance to impress.  She gives everyone a box of women’s products that require advertising ideas.  To show he still has what it takes, Nick decides to try a few of the products - lipstick, eye shadow, pantyhose...  However, in a drunken state, Nick falls into the bathtub with the hairdryer.  When he wakes up the next morning, something is different - he can hear what women think.

Stunned at first, the advice of a marriage counsellor (Midler) puts him on track.  As she says, “if you know what women want...the world can be yours”.  Think of the possibilities.

Bottom line, What Women Want should be taken with a grain of salt.  I could begin a deep psychological discussion on what both women and men think or I could ask everyone to read Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.  It’s worthy subject material but is not treated seriously in this film.

Mel Gibson is a stereotypical male bastard who treats women like dirt until he sees the light through this special gift.  For some reason, in this large session in which I saw the film, women were crazy about the film.  They loved seeing Mel Gibson transform and win the hearts of all women.  Sadly, that’s all the film really offers so please advise boyfriends to stay at home.

Of most interest from a male perspective are the workings of the firm and the final product that both Nick and Darcy show to Nike executives.  Those being picky (such as myself) will see the obvious flaws.  How is it that the thoughts heard are only selective - surely women think about more things?  The film’s conclusion was also poor.  Without revealing too much, why didn’t Darcy ask Nick how he knew her thoughts?

Sure it’s meant to be a light-hearted comedy and I confess I did laugh occasionally but there wasn’t enough to material to hold my attention for over two hours.  If you take a look at Nancy Meyer’s previous efforts, Father Of The Bride, Father Of The Bride II and The Parent Trap, you know you’re in for a “rosy and fluffy" ride.  Honestly, would anyone really want to know what women think?  If we all knew what each other thought, life would be pretty boring.  Then again, I could have seen this coming and braced myself for the experience...


The Adventures Of Rocky & Bullwinkle

Directed by: Des McAnuff
Written by:Ken Longergan
Starring: Rene Russo, Jason Alexander, Piper Perabo, Randy Quaid, Robert DeNiro
Released: January 11, 2001
Grade: C+

The Bullwinkle Show aired from 1961 but was cancelled in 1964 due to low ratings.  All this time, poor Rocky and Bullwinkle have been stuck in their cartoon world with no adventures and little to do.  Imprisoned for the last thirty-five years, their great enemy, the Fearless Leader (DeNiro), and his sidekicks, Boris (Alexander) and Natasha (Russo), have developed a devious plan.

Using digital television, they are going to take themselves into the human world.  Once there, they will take over television networks and create television shows so bad, audiences will become mindless zombies.  The Fearless Leader will then have total control over their helpless minds making him a shoe-in to become the new U.S. president.

FBI agent Karen Sympathy (Perabo) has been assigned to case of stopping the Fearless Leader and knows there are only two “people” who can stop him.  Using technology of her own, she brings Rocky and Bullwinkle to life and they begin a road trip across America to get to New York in time to stop these villains.  It won't be an easy journey with Boris and Natasha following them all the way.

The animation is great and it's an interesting concept but there isn't a lot to laugh about in The Adventures Of Rocky And Bullwinkle.  The screenplay is from upcoming talent Kenneth Longergan (You Can Count Of Me, Analyze This) but you get the feeling it tries to be a little too smart for its own good.

The film has been a big underachiever in the U.S. which exemplifies its lack of a target audience.  Clearly the best aspect of the film is Piper Perabo who is really dazzling on screen and has followed this film with the recently released Coyote Ugly.  She'll be one to watch in the future.