Saturday, October 18, 2014
Doctor Mabuse (2013) and Doctor Mabuse: Etiopomar (2014)
As I stated a couple of weeks ago, the Doctor Mabuse series is a German movie franchise about the titular character, a nihilistic and evil criminal genius. The three main Mabuse films were made by famous filmmaker Fritz Lang, from 1922 to 1960, and are well lauded. The series hasn't gotten many more entries over the years, however. There were a few cheap rush sequels in the 60's, an unofficial entry in the 70's made by Jess Franco, and another unofficial version made in 1990 by Claude Chabrol, and from then on, nothing...until last year, when young newcomer director Ansel Faraj penned his own Mabuse movies...
In a city (no, seriously, the film never bother naming it!), an evil criminal named Doctor Mabuse has returned. He has been away for many years, carefully planning how to overtake the city, and the only thing standing in his way is the young Inspector Carl Lohmann. However, Lohmann soon finds himself in over his head as he's unwittingly led along, by the mysterious Christina Novello, and by Mabuse's intricate mind games...
Doctor Mabuse is a bad movie! Really bad! It's slow, boring, and the writing is shallow. The plot masquerades as a deep film about nihilism and dread, but the story it tells is way too thin and poorly written for it to get across any real message or themes. The dialogue never feels pretentious, but it's never well-written either, and especially annoying is how people keep saying "These are strange times.". The film also has an incredibly confused timeframe in regard to its backstory with the character of Von Wenk.
Now when I say that the dialogue here isn't pretentious, I don't mean the film isn't. It is, mainly in how it bafflingly tries to build a connection with Suspiria, and Levana and Our Ladies of Sorrow! I'm sorry, I thought I was watching A Doctor Mabuse film! What are witches from the fiction of Dario Argento and Thomas de Quincey doing here?!
The plot's worst crime is that Doctor Mabuse doesn't do anything! His only plan in the entire film is getting Lohmann to be his successor, and a couple of vague remarks that he wants to rule 'the city' because he does. He never actually does anything except for kill a disobeying henchman! The Mabuse of the original film was formidable because he could hypnotize people, always wore elaborate disguises, and most importantly, was anonymous. When someone mentioned the name Doctor Mabuse, they didn't think 'infamous mastercriminal', they thought of a noted Doctor, and no-one even knew the name of the criminal tearing up the city. This new Mabuse is none of those things. The only reason he's able to get into people's heads is because he's magical! The original Mabuse was powerful by using tactics anyone else with smarts could realistically do, but this incarnation has to get by with BS cheating!
The look of this film is annoying. Most scenes are shot in front of green screens, and it seems like this was to intentionally evoke a mystique Well Doctor Mabuse fails at building mystique with green screens for the same reason Bride of the Monster doesn't build any with its hilariously bad giant squid-It's a bad effect! Not only does the film look incredibly fake due to this misguided effort, but the green screens keep glitching out!
Scenes that are shot in real locations are done so in very cheap looking sets, filled with more curtains than a plane in an Ed Wood movie, and are constantly lit by a green glow, because Ansel Faraj is trying to be STYLISH!
The rest of this film's effects are terrible, such as when a woman jumps off a building, or when a death ray is used! The CGI is the kind you'd see after fiddling around with photoshop and a couple of still images for two minutes!
The acting in Doctor Mabuse ranges from mediocre to bad. Jerry Lacy is merely passable as the titular character, and he is no Rudolf Klein-Rogge! One annoying aspect of his performance is that he keeps doing the Mabuse stare for no reason! If I was an evil mastermind, I would NOT not regularly glare into thin air for no reason! When Rudolf Klein-Rogge did that, it was usually for a reason, like hypnotizing someone! Jerry Lacy's Mabuse just does it because oooOOOooOOOOOOOooooOooooo ScaRY, the old films did this, so aren't we cool for doing it too, ooOOOOooOOOOO!
Another problem with the actors here is that they constantly mispronounce the title name as either Mabyuse (sounding like Inspector Clouseau saying 'room' in the process), or by pronouncing it phonetically! You're making Germans angry, Faraj! It's pronounced Mabus-a!
If you don't know anything about the Mabuse franchise, and are going into this film completely fresh, then you won't be in luck. This is not very accessible.
The direction in this movie is barely ok at best. There are several moments that are outright bad, such as a dizzying chase scene, where the camera twirls around and upside down for no reason, and there annoying super zoom-ins here and there. Especially bad are the egregious strobe flashing scenes in the climax, which make me think that Ansel Faraj has it in for anyone with epilepsy!
The score is ok, but it's too low-key. It never goes beyond a few moody low notes, and thus, it's not memorable.
And finally, dialogue in Doctor Mabuse is hard to hear on many occasions due to the poor sound and music balancing!
It seems as if every terrible thing about this movie is a deliberate move on the part of its creator to make it look stylish! Well I didn't find it to be so. I found it to be shit! Doctor Mabuse is a boring film that's bad in just about every way a movie can be bad! It looks crap, it sounds crap, the acting is crap, as are the effects, the music, the set design, the editing, the writing, and the direction! I loathe this film for its detestably wasteful nature! If you've been patiently waiting for a real Doctor Mabuse film since the 1960's (or the 1970's if you're a Jess Franco fan, or the 1990's if you're a Claude Chabrol fan), you'll be extremely disappointed by this mess!...
It's been two years since Doctor Mabuse took control over 'the city', and all is not well. He grows paranoid, and seeks to root out those who would betray his doctrine of Etiopomar-Mabuse's 'utopia'. Meanwhile, not only are two of the witch sisters plotting and scheming, a man by the name of Professor Konradtz is creating a revolution to overthrow Mabuse...
Doctor Mabuse: Epiotomar is a hodgepodge that throws everything it can into its short 82 minute runtime, from Fritz Lang 'homages', to rival evil doctors for Mabuse, a revolution, robots, psychics, magic, interdimensional beings, and a trio of witches, hoping it'll all stick. As you'd imagine, none of it does, and what we get is a strange beast that has very little to do with Doctor Mabuse.
A big problem with this movie is in its names. It has a trio of magical sisters named after the Sorrows from Levana and Our Ladies of Sorrow (and by extension, Dario Argento's witchy Three Mother's trilogy). I don't think Ansel Faraj has ever read a single word of Thomas de Quincey. I think he just utilized names from it to sound profound and stylish, when in reality, it just makes him sound like a fucking pretentious idiot! If one wants to utilize elements from other works, they should actually do it, not just have superficial names and nothing else, because that's shallow, stupid, and offensive to the creators of such work! Ansel Faraj, you're pissing of undead Thomas de Quincey with this bullshit! Did you think he wouldn't mind just because he's dead?!
Ultimately, this problem spreads to the main work these two movies are adapting itself. These films have nothing to do with Doctor Mabuse! I've seen the other films, and they're about a nihilistic criminal genius, not ancient Egyptian witches, magic, and robots in Justine top hats!
The writing here is bad! It's poorly written, poorly planned, and poorly paced! Doctor Mabuse: Etiopomar is only 82 minutes, but it feels a lot longer. The script's problems range from its characters going nowhere and making zero impression on the film's events, to an overabundance of subplots, all of which go nowhere, and the fact that the city the film is set in is only ever called 'the city'!
The titular villain does very little in this movie, and it doesn't help that the script unwittingly makes him an idiot! For such a supposedly meticulous plotter, he only has one copy of his doctrine, which he keeps in an unlocked clothes drawer! Wow, what a criminal genius! This Mabuse is all-round extremely ineffectual, and does nothing but make mistakes. All the original Mabuse needed to build his criminal empire was an elaborate doctrine. This Mabuse, however, is worried that he can't keep control of 'the city' unless he's backed by an army of robots! What a pathetic villain!
Meanwhile, mad scientist Rotwang (yep, this movie goes as far as to have a mad scientist named after the one from Fritz Lang's Metropolis!) is the kind of dumbass who proclaims his intent to take over the city from Mabuse when the 'good doctor' literally only just stepped out of Rotwang's laboratory.
The acting in Doctor Mabuse: Etiopomar is a mixed bag, mostly leaning on the negative side. Jerry Lacy was passable in the previous movie, but here he's bad! His line delivery is frequently clumsy, or just boring. As for Nathan Wilson, he made a meh Inspector Lohman in the last movie, and he performs worse as Doctor Mabuse. His acting just isn't up to snuff. Christopher Pennock is mostly terrible as Professor Konradtz, especially in the film's climax.
The only bright spot in this movie is John C. Smith. He's not all that great in the first movie (where he plays the 'End is nigh' placard guy), but he's markedly better in Etiopomar, and he's Australian, so that's cool! Unfortunately it doesn't take long before the script starts to misuse and waste his character. By the way, his character is named Cesare, because Ansel Faraj probably thought something along the lines of "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a German silent film. Not a Fritz Lang film, but it's German, so if I use a name from it, my movie will seem very intelligent and thematic with...err...something! Yes, something! I'll probably work out what that something is in post. By the way, what's a Mabuse?".
Kelsey Hewlett is a decent actress here, but the movie's poor script, and the direction I suspect, hold her back, which is a shame. I hope to see her in better things. By the way, her character is another who's horribly wasted and misused, almost to a Women in Refrigerators degree (that is to say, her death only seems to happen to inspire the film's male leads into action). Speaking of misused and wasted, the character of Christina Novello does nothing here but cry, and be indecisive, before getting killed! A far cry from what the previous movie foreshadowed!
For all his over-the-top camera mugging, Dane Corrigan is actually quite good as Rotwang!...Aaand he's horribly wasted and misused! And finally, Elyse Ashton and Kelly Erin Decker* are decent, but underused.
*Kelly Erin Decker, by the way, has an insanely awesome sounding filomgraphy! Lizzie Borden's Revenge, Nazi Dawn, Dracula's Sorority Sisters, Disaster Wars: Earthquake vs. Tsunami, Serial Love: A Sociopath to my Heart, and Doctor Mabuse! Wow!
One last annoyance is the constant mispronunciations! It's bad enough that no-one can say Mabuse correctly, but they mangle names as simple and well-known as Cesare and Hecate!
The effects in Doctor Mabuse: Etiopomar are dreadful! There's one scene where two characters are walking down a street, but the actors are in front of a green screen. It's obvious they're not really walking, as they're just going through motions, and not actually moving, and the camera keeps shaking, trying to make it seems like the actors are actually walking! Then there's the city destruction at the end, which is some hilariously bad CGI photoshop crap! The green screens are just as present here as they were in the last movie, and they glitch out all the time! It's pathetic!
The budget here is so embarrassingly low that when Konradtz is making his viva la revolution speech out in the streets about overthrowing 'the city's' corrupt regime, there's no-one around to hear it! The streets are completely empty!
Finally, the ending to Doctor Mabuse: Etiopomar is abrupt, pointless, and has a twist for the sake of having a twist. It adds nothing to the film's plot, or characters!
The two Ansel Faraj Doctor Mabuse films are adaptations in name only. They are pathetic and boring films that have no substance, no character, look embarrassingly bad, and worst of all, they have nothing to do with the Doctor Mabuse franchise! These films are the lowest of the low! I gave 1989's Dr. Caligari some crap last Halloween for using the Caligari name despite only being tenuously connected to the 1920 film, but I was at least thoroughly entertained by that movie. Doctor Mabuse and Etiopomar have no such entertainment value, and are completely worthless films, which I recommend nobody watch!
I'm going to end this double review on a grim and harsh note-The people who made the Italian goofball Fantomas spy trilogy in the 1960's did better justice to that character than Ansel Faraj has done to Doctor Mabuse with his 'adaptations'. Yes, I seriously just said that!...