PG Cooper Film Club: Barry Lyndon, Coach Carter, and Shadow of the Vampire

Posted: April 1, 2012 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in Film Club Reviews

Barry Lyndon

Stanley Kubrick is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. Yeah, you’ll hear a million film fans say it over and over again, but it doesn’t make it any less true. I know personally, I’ve thought every Kubrick film I’ve seen was excellent. From Paths of Glory to A Clockwork Orange, to Full Metal Jacket, I had yet to see a bad Kubrick film. And while Barry Lyndon doesn’t break this trend, it is the first Kubrick film I don’t love.

Set in 18th century Ireland, The film follows Redmond Barry, who would later go on to be Barry Lyndon, played by Ryan O’Neal. As a teenager, Barry falls in love with his older cousin, but she abandons him for an English captain. Barry challenges the Captain to a duel and wins, but is then forced to go on the run. From there, he gets mixed up in both the English army, and the Prussian army to fight in the Seven Years’ War. Years after the war ends, Barry seduces and later marries the Countess of Lyndon.

On a technical level, this movie is marvelous. The art direction and costumes capture the times very well, while also looking excellent. The music features several arrangements from classical musicians and they all sound great. The music brings you into the period perfectly. Probably most notable though is the cinematography by John Alcott (who also shot A Clockwork Orange and The Shining). Several scenes were shot using only candle light, giving the film a distinct look reminiscent of classic paintings. The camera movements themselves are smooth and graceful, immersing you in the world.

Given that it’s a Kubrick film, there’s likely tons of hidden imagery, metaphors, and symbolism throughout the film. I don’t go looking for these things, but I did notice two things. One is a running motif of dueling, and how after each duel, Barry’s life is altered dramatically. The second is a running message about the dangers of relationship. Every sexual relationship Barry encounters either leads to problems, or is a precursor of bad things to come.

But despite all these glowing things, I couldn’t really get into the story. The film is essentially about Barry’s downfall. How he starts out noble, kind, and honest, but grows harsh, selfish, and cruel. It’s similar to Charles Foster Kane and Michael Corleone. But I never actually liked Barry so I didn’t really care about his descent. I don’t know if this is actor Ryan O’Neal’s fault, or if it’s just the character himself, but to spend three hours with a character I felt nothing more felt like a chore at times.

Like I said, Barry Lyndon isn’t a bad film. In fact, there’s a lot to admire about the film, but I feel a lot of the film relied on the title character, and he dropped the ball. But this film is worth seeing for its technical merits alone. It’s definitely my least favourite Kubrick film, but I still enjoy and recommend it. Of course, this is a Kubrick film, so it’s possible I’ll come to love it with time. For now, it’s a good film, nothing more.

Rating: B


Coach Carter

Coach Carter tells the true story of Ken Carter (Sam Jackson), a high school basketball coach who changes the lives of his players. Ken is asked to take over as coach by an old friend. Though the players are initially resistant to Carter and his belief in education, they eventually come to see his value.

The film follows the general tropes and cliches usually seen in sports films. This is one of the film’s biggest flaws. I can’t say there was ever any big surprises or that I was ever taken off guard. The unorthodox mentor is a story arch seen a thousand times over, and nothing really new is done with it here. Because of this, the emotional scenes don’t have as much weight as they could have. I also felt like the movie was too long. It’s only two hours and 15 minutes, but when you know exactly how the film is gonna play it, it can start to drag.

The movie has its positive qualities though. Sam Jackson carries the film very well. He’s got charisma, you feel like he genuinely cares, and he’s the kind of guy that could motivate a group of confused kids. Jackson also makes some of the script’s weaker dialogue work. I don’t think anybody else could have made the line “I ain’t your teacher, I’m your basketball coach” sound badass. The rest of the cast is also fine. Ocatavia Spencer has a small role here and she makes the most of it. I could have done without some of the players subplots, but they weren’t bad. And as predictable and cliche as the movie is, I did get caught up in the story while I was watching it.

I have problems with Coach Cater. I’ve already talked about the typical story elements and that it’s too long, but I also feel the music (both the score and soundtrack) to be really grating. However, the film is saved by a strong central performance from Sam Jackson and a solid cast. It’s easy to get caught up in the story and the movie is always watchable. Calling a movie “watchable” isn’t exactly high praise, but it’s something to value.

Rating: C+


Shadow of the Vampire

Shadow of the Vampire tells the story of the making of the first Dracula film, the silent Nosferatu. Director F.W. Murnau (John Malkovich) has become obsessed with bringing his art to life. So obsessed that he’s taken to casting a real vampire named Max Schreck (Willem Dafoe) to play the part of Count Orlok in the film. But as the production goes on, Murnau finds Schreck harder and harder to control.

Easily the best thing about the film is Willem Dafoe as Max Schreck. You quickly forget you’re watching Dafoe and start to believe he really is a vampire Max Schreck. He’s frightening and hilarious at the same time. Dafoe received a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Speaking of Oscars, the film was also nominated for the Make-Up effects to bring Count Orlok to life. I also wanna give credit to John Malkovich who is good as the determined F.W. Murnau.

I found the rest of the cast a bit underwhelming. I suppose the all do a decent job, and German accents were consistent. But at the same time, I never really cared about any of them. One of the elements of the film is the sense of danger on the set with Schreck. I felt that, but because I didn’t care about the people (except Murnau) it wasn’t as effective as it could have been.

I really liked the way the film brought the images from Nosferatu to the screen again. Now, I’ve never seen Nosferatu, not yet anyway, but the scenes in the film seem pretty accurate to the clips and images I have seen from Nosferatu. I’m also a sucker for stories about film and filmmakers, so I really enjoyed all the filmmaking scenes. The film also has a message about the lengths artists will go to achieve their vision.

I do feel the story could have been paced better. It’s only 90 minutes, but there were moments that I felt dragged. That, plus a weak supporting cast do hold the film back quite a bit. Still, a good performance from Malkovich and a fantastic performance from Dafoe mixed with an interesting story about filmmaking makes Shadow of the Vampire well-worth seeing.

Rating: B

  1. Like you, I saw Shadow of the Vampire before seeing Nosferatu. I thought it was pretty good; entertaining, just a bit chilling, and had dashes of dark humor throughout. (“Why didn’t you eat the script girl?!”) I have since seen Nosferatu, and it does seem as if Shadow was faithful in the scenes that it represented. (Nosferatu is in the public domain, so it shouldn’t be too hard to track down a copy if you want to see it; the version where the names have been substituted back to the Dracula character names is available on several internet movie sites.)

    • pgcooper1939 says:

      I actually got a copy that came with a set of public domain films (Night of the Living Dead was in there too actually). So I have it, just haven’t got around to watching it yet.

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