Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter

[Screenshot]It’s so much easier to pan a bad film than it is to explore the subtle complexities of a good one. This is going to be an easy review, as the best thing about Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter is its name.

I’m aware it’s an indie film, so the inept cinematography and poor lighting gets something of a pass. Something must be mentioned about the sound, though. For a start, the audio and visual were badly unsynchronized, which might be the fault of the DVD producers. But more damningly, sound didn’t seem to come from anywhere in particular. It’s like every performer had a throat mike instead of a boom mike for each scene, so everyone’s voice is sort of isolated.

The real problem though, is not technical, but structural. On a project like this you must embrace the madness to an extent the oh-so-serious writers of this film seemed unwilling to do. Vampires targetting lesbians motivate the Church to mobilize Jesus to fight them? That is insane and it would be the great premise for a pretty damn zany movie. JCVH is not zany. The character of Jesus is a representative example: the first thing he does is get a haircut. Then after fighting atheists, he gets a wardrobe change. At no time does he produce loaves and fishes or walk on water or change water to wine, or, basically, do anything particularly Christlike. Except for guys calling him “Christ” all the time, there’s nothing to differentiate him from any other asshole with blue jeans, a buzz-cut, and wooden stakes. Compare to Dogma, which embraced the supreme ridiculousness of angels and demons and muses and apostles in a modern context. So JCVH loses it tonally, and I’m not sure how, exactly: didn’t the filmmakers know they wanted an absurd movie? Why’d they hedge so badly? Maybe they didn’t trust their actors to be wacky. I sure wouldn’t, given how woodenly they deliver the lines they actually had.

There’s plenty more roasting to be done, but I think my point’s made. You can save yourself 90 minutes and some pain by just chuckling at the title and moving on. Go rent Ninja Cheerleaders or something. It’s bad, but at least you can tell the film-makers are having a good time.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

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The Mission

[Screenshot]I’ve fallen badly behind in my writeups, so, time to start catching back up. This one’s a simple tale on a grand stage, Redemption and the power of faith form the central narrative, but it’s grafted, perhaps a bit awkwardly, onto a tale of national and religious politics. Faith takes a back seat to the comparative powers of the Spanish,, Portuguese, and Jesuits in the New World. While the connection between Rodrigo’s tale of redemption and the war of infuence is tenuous and clumsy, this movie is in other respects well done, with extraordinarily well-chosen music and effective cinematography as accompaniment to a breathtaking setting (I have never been to Brazil myself, alas) and good performances, notably Jeremy Irons’s sympathetic balance of morality and political acumen. Sort of a lackluster praise, I know, but it was a long time since I watched it. I bet I liked it more a couple weeks ago.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Oberst Redl: Midcareer lull

[Screenshot]I’ve followed István Szabó’s work with interest. He has a number of themes he explored a lot in his early days and returned to in the 90s with Sunshine: family drama, Judaism, Hungarian history from the second World War throught the Kád&aactue;r regime. In the 80s he departed from his formula and worked closely with German and Austrian studios (which had the advantage of significantly higher budgets than MAFILM or MOKEP). His films from this period are somewhat atypical, focusing to a far greater extent on military matters. Oberst Redl is, to some extent, a second-rate exemplar of his work during this time. Mephisto was considerably more coherent and tightly plotted. Oberst Redl shares many of Mephisto‘s advantages, not least among them the nuanced acting of lead actor Klaus Maria Brandauer, but the actual motivations of the character are rendered somewhat murky by a somewhat loose storytelling. Sexuality is rampant, but while reviews fixate on Redl’s homosexual relationships, they’re actually quite incidental in the story until the end. It’s hard to get a coherent message from the film: while the facile explanation involves Redl’s downfall through the persecution of his homosexuality and fear of discovery, that seems secondary to the aspects of the story in which his ambition destroys his friends, leading to the symmetry in which he is destroyed by them.

Anyways, not the best representative of the style, or of the lead actor—Mephisto is better for both—but an interesting flick nonetheless, and more watchable than soem of Szabó’s earlier work, even.

See also: IMDB, Wikipeida.

Good Night, and Good Luck: Persecution at its least exciting

[Screenshot]This one was nominated for approximately five zillion Academy Awards, so I figured it had to be worth watching. I must confess, I found what I actually ended up seeing rather disappointing. The performance all felt rather colorless, and not just in the literal sense of being in black and white. One would think the persecution of the media by HUAC would be a great story, and it is, but it completely fails to come to life here. One gets no feel for the danger or the stakes. People being stoically brave in the face of a danger so nebulous it never overtly appears may make for great history but a lousy movie. I’m not sure I see what the Academy saw in this one. Maybe those things really are political, and this was meant as a dig at the current thin political atmosphere, but the modern “War on Terror” has a rather different tenor than the “War on Communism” (not to defend either of them, but they’re roughly orthogonal in the nature of their flaws and evils). The cinematography is well-done, and the choice to work in black and white works well in supporting the 50s-media vibe. Everyone acts well but, as I said, altogether too restrained. Not that we need scenery-chewing, but it would be nice to have some evidence of the internal conflicts and dangers the CBS crew faces. In technical details, the film is a believable recreation of a moment in time. But that moment in time looks kind of dull from the outside of the main players’ heads.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.