A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 490 – Blade: Trinity

Blade Trinity – July 3rd, 2011

I admit this is sort of a cheat for me. I had it marked as a movie I’ve seen in our big list, but I never paid close attention to it. I’d seen it on television and left it running while I did other stuff, so I counted it but really, I’m not what you’d call familiar with it. There are some scenes I know a lot better than others because I’ve flipped through them on other occasions, and some that feel brand new, which leads to a somewhat patchy viewing experience. Watching the movie feels familiar in places and then hey, when did that happen? I didn’t recall that being in this movie! Not that the movie had any real surprises for me, just scenes I must have been out of the room for. It’s not really a terribly innovative movie, all told, but then its main baddie is Dracula, so what do you want?

What this movie does that the previous ones didn’t is introduce a team for Blade. In the past he had Whistler, and when Whistler was MIA he had Scud, but one toymaker is not a team, and Whistler and Scud certainly weren’t out on the streets wasting vampires along with Blade. In this movie we get not only Abigail Whistler and Hannibal King, who get cover space because they’re ostensibly two more stars of the film, but we get the rest of their little crew. They call themselves the Nightstalkers and they’ve got a weapon designer, a biologist, a mechanic and two hunters, plus a bunch of sleeper cells around who also hunt vampires. Blade is understandably skeptical of their efforts, what with the name they’ve picked and all. I mean, if I walked in and heard these folks calling themselves the Nightstalkers I’d crack up.

But the group is pretty good, their doofy name aside. They’ve got a plan that involves a virus that will wipe out all the vampires within a certain radius, and they need some pure vampire blood to make it work. Blade, on the other hand, needs some support. Thanks to some escalated action on Blade’s part he’s gotten a reputation as a vigilante killer who’s wanted by the police. And since the vampires have their fingers in everything – as established by the earlier movies – Blade finds Whistler dead and himself in police custody. The new team rescues him and brings him back to their headquarters, lay their basic backstories and explain that our sub-baddie, Danica Talos, has found Dracula in hopes of creating some sort of new super vampire but they have their virus-in-progress. And then the rest of the movie is pretty much asses getting kicked by various people on both sides.

Somehow I suspect that Ryan Reynolds takes roles where he gets to be Ryan Reynolds. Now, I happen to find much of what I’ve seen of him amusing. I mean, he was born to play Deadpool (if only the movie he’d been in hadn’t done such a piss poor job with him) and I really quite enjoyed him as Hal Jordan. But let’s face it: He takes roles where he cracks wise and gets to be a bad/wise-ass. I’m cool with it and all, but really. He needs to go back to Deadpool and find a good writer, because here as Hannibal King? His lines were too desperate. Really, that’s how a lot of the script of this movie feels. Like the writers wanted to make it for The Kids and missed the mark. And I really do like the concept of Hannibal. An ex-vampire hunting down the folks he used to run with, resenting all the horrible things they made him do by turning him? Yeah, that works. And Reynolds does a decent job and I like how he takes a character who could be all serious business and angst and turns him into the source of a lot of the movie’s humor. But whenever he makes five jokes he should probably only have made four.

Then too, I’m not really opposed to Blade losing Whistler and gaining a new assistant in his place. It highlights the issue that Blade is part vampire and that Whistler is only human, and an aging human at that. And I like Jessica Biel as Abigail Whistler. It’s a nice bit of familial continuity and Jessica Biel is well capable of being a bad-ass. And I have a weakness for archery. The trouble is that with Abigail and Hannibal at Blade’s sides – or slightly behind him – it gives the movie three major protagonists (hence the Trinity bit of the title) and with three major protagonists comes three stories and three climaxes and three big fights at the end. The movie lacks focus.

The other problem here for me is the sub-baddie, Danica. On top of the lack of focus caused by running three climaxes at once, there are several baddies to deal with. There’s Danica, who seems to be the current leader of this branch of vampires. There’s her brother, Asher. There’s their ‘muscle’ and there’s Dracula himself. None of them are terribly well-developed as villains. Danica gets a fair bit of time, but she chews so much scenery she’s almost a caricature. Then there’s the muscle, whose name gets mentioned precisely once and who ends up being the climactic fight for Hannibal even though you’d think with Hannibal’s history he should be facing off with Danica for his major fight at the end. Asher gets practically no time whatsoever even though he’s supposed to be second in command or whatever. And because the movie spends time on all of those folks? Dracula gets almost no screen time to prove that he’s a force to be reckoned with. He kills a couple of goth kids who run a vampire memorabilia store, then menaces the minor Nightstalkers without getting any real lines or much time on screen. So when he has his climactic fight with Blade? He might as well be a monster, not a character, which makes his last lines rather weak.

With all this criticism it probably sounds like I hate this movie and I don’t. I really don’t. It’s fun and the fight scenes are well choreographed. If you enjoy hearing Ryan Reynolds crack wise and seeing Jessica Biel kick ass and watching Wesley Snipes as Blade? Then this movie will provide all those things along with some decent new ideas for the world the movie exists in. It’s just that it’s overstuffed. The writers and producers and director had too many ideas and tried to shove them into a single movie and all of those ideas are fun, but all together they’re sloppy. And I don’t think it’s just my initial viewing experience talking. I’ll gladly stop on this if I’m flipping channels, but I’m not going to try and claim it has no flaws.

July 3, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Blade Trinity

July 3, 2011

Blade Trinity

I haven’t seen this movie all the way through. I don’t recall exactly why. I bought it years ago and started to watch it at one point, probably some evening when I had the night off, but I only got about a half hour in. As we started watching tonight I was somewhat concerned that after the last two nights I would be somewhat Bladed out. Although I enjoyed Blade II with its cool look and slick action the actual plot and characters felt tired to me (maybe because the same plot was done better with Underworld.) So my vague memories of not having been able to finish watching this movie with my Blade fatigue gave me pretty low expectations. As a result I was actually pretty surprised by how much I enjoyed this movie.

What’s odd about this movie is the way it attempts to blend irreverent humor and serious dark happenings in the Blade universe. The plot starts out fairly grim. The vampires, unable to defeat Blade on their own, have started a public relations effort to discredit him. They set him up to be captured on film staking a human familiar so they can characterize him as a delusional psychopathic killer and enlist the help of the FBI in capturing him. Very shortly they do go after Blade, with the help of a vast SWAT team. Whistler bravely goes about erasing all the incriminating evidence on every computer in the lair (which for some reason makes the computers explode) and ultimately blows up the entire warehouse, giving his life in the process, in an attempt to give Blade time to escape. Blade does not escape, though. Faced with the death (again) of his partner, mentor and father figure Blade is paralyzed with rage and is quickly surrounded and captured.

Of course it turns out that some of the police holding Blade in captivity are vampire familiars (including an unnecessary criminal psychologist who I think is supposed to be a reference to the psychiatrist in Miller’s Dark Knight Returns.) Several vampires turn up in the interrogation room with the intent of dragging Blade off to their base for no purpose that is made clear. (To torture him? To dissect him? It doesn’t really matter I suppose.) At the last minute Blade is rescued by Whistler’s vampire-hunter daughter Abigail and her wisecracking pal Hannibal King. Here the dark tone of the movie starts to clash with its more upbeat and comic-bookish underpinnings.

What’s strange is that the movie is so self-aware about its uneven tone. Most of the levity comes in the form of Ryan Reynolds – comic book movie superstar – as King. He and Abby belong to a kind of amateur vampire hunter club that call themselves the “Nightstalkers.” If that sounds like something out of a comic book that’s because it is. King makes many cracks about how juvenile he knows his group must sound to the legendary vampire hunter Blade, but that doesn’t stop him from giving goofy names to their ammunition and team mates. Indeed King, as with many of the characters played by Reynolds, seems incapable of taking anything seriously. This is a strange contrast in this particular movie which is generally gritty and dark, and even clashes with the details of his own past – him having once been a vampire himself before being cured. On the other hand I have to admit that as much as he doesn’t fit into the movie King is my favorite part of it. Without him it would be unceasingly downbeat what with Whistler’s death, Blade’s capture, the return of Dracula (who like Blade can tolerate sunlight) and the eventual invasion by Dracula of the Nightstalker base of operations. I don’t think that I would have wanted to watch this movie without King in it.

As Abigail we have the very capable Jessica Beil, who we have more recently watched in The Illusionist. She kicks all kinds of vampire ass from the very start of the movie using her recombinant bow and “UV Arc” lightsaber. Speaking of which, I have to say that the Nightstalkers do have all the coolest toys. Their armaments may have goofy names (thanks to King) but that doesn’t stop them from being cool as all get out. I can see why the producers of this movie thought they might be able to create a spin-off franchise from the Nightstalkers.

In general I have to say that I really enjoyed this movie. it doesn’t have the visual flare of the second movie. it doesn’t have the same level of fantastic fight choreography and hip direction as the first movie. But it has its own style, and it has an awful lot of Ryan Reynolds. That pretty much works for me. It’s a shallow, simple, popcorn action flick – which is just fine and was more than I was expecting when I put it in.

July 3, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 489 – Blade II

Blade II – July 2nd, 2011

In his review Andy will be talking about how we first saw this movie. Suffice it to say we saw the ending twice, which wasn’t really as much of a spoiler as you might think. I mean, you know a particular character dies, but it’s sort of like reading the very last page of a mystery novel. You might get something, but the context is missing and therefore it means almost nothing. And besides, the end of the movie wasn’t what I was looking forward to when we first saw it. After the opening of the first movie I was hoping for something spectacular in the second. Alas. It’s just never going to be as good.

This movie opens with a good introduction for our villain, but it’s just not the same sort of visceral intro to the whole movie. Sure, we pick up on the whole vampires-run-blood-banks concept and then meet a grotesque new breed of bloodsucker who can open his jaw from the center and use tongue tentacles to subdue his victims, but it just doesn’t grab me. There’s less of a sense of “this is going to be bloody fun” here and more of a sense of “this is going to be bloody.” And it will be! There’s plenty of blood in this movie, thank goodness, but it’s not shooting out of sprinklers or anything. And some of it’s green, which confuses the heck out of me (there’s a bit in the trivia about the new vampire breed having green blood but theirs is clear and the vampire lord at the end has green) but I’ll run with it. After all, the movie is also giving me more of Blade being a tidy bad-ass and another kick ass female lead.

The movie begins with Blade retrieving Whistler from a vampire safehouse. He’s half-turned and being stored in a vat of blood, which seems really unpleasant but hey, I’m not a vampire. It’s been two years, according to Blade and he has a new assistant: Scud, who’s a young man who likes loud music, cartoons and tinkering with mechanical things. Soon after he and Whistler butt heads a team of vampires breaches Blade’s security and shows up to deliver a message asking for Blade’s help. Seems the new baddie we saw at the beginning is feeding on vampires and turning them into feral versions of himself and they’re extending a truce offer to Blade so he’ll help them take out this new threat. And to help with this task they offer him the strike team that’s been training to take him down. Obviously this is an uneasy sort of group.

I do like the dynamics here. Blade is obviously our hero and he doesn’t like vampires. But then he gets a whole team of vampires to work with and they’re not the bad guys we’re worried about but they’re clearly not the good guys either. Still, a few of them seem to have some honor to them, which makes the vampires as a whole group deeper and more interesting to me. It was true of the first movie too – not all of them were interested in hunting down Blade or expending their resources on things like blood rituals – but this movie gives us a whole cast of vampires to meet. Not all of them are that interesting and they fill somewhat expected roles. There’s the Asian vampire who’s a kickass martial artist and there’s a petite punk pixie vampire with bright red hair who hangs off of her big strong tattooed boyfriend and there’s another tank and one of them is Irish and eh, it’s not that I’m so much invested in their individual characters as that I like that we’re shown a variety here (and when the tattooed boyfriend gets turned into the new type of baddie the punk pixie sacrifices herself to take him out – well played there).

Out of the whole crew there are two real standouts: Reinhardt and Nyssa. Reinhardt is played by Ron Perlman and okay, I love Ron Perlman so that’s a huge plus. But he also plays a good foil for Blade. Because no, this team is not going to be best buds with the man they’ve been planning on hunting down, even if they do have to work with him. Reinhardt sneers and snarls and is generally so not on board with this whole working-with-Blade idea but Blade sticks a bomb on the back of his head early on, so he kind of has no choice in the matter. Nyssa, on the other hand, is the daughter of the vampire lord who’s looking for Blade’s help. She’s got a nobility to her and I really quite like Leonor Varela’s performance of her. She’s smart, she’s fast, she’s skilled with weapons and she’s got a sense of honor and a code of ethics that put her people first and foremost in her priorities. And if working with Blade means she’s going to be able to stop a threat to her people then so be it. And she’s able to respect him and gain his respect in turn.

Again, this movie doesn’t really set up a romance. There’s a little something between Nyssa and Blade, but I’ve always seen it more as camaraderie than romance. Because again, Blade isn’t looking for a relationship and again, the female lead in the movie has better things to do than sit around and pine for a man who’s thoroughly unavailable. Where last night we had Action Hematology, tonight we just have plain old action. And it’s good action. Sure, some of the larger fight scenes suffer from the typical issue of there being a mob and they attack the hero one by one instead of, you know, ganging up on him. But at the same time the real baddies, the Reapers, mob everyone. So I’ll give the movie a bit of a pass on that. Maybe regular vampires have a thing about fights. Anyhow, the team heads down to track the Reapers, end up getting overwhelmed and then surprise! It was all a plot by the vampire lord in the first place!

Now, here is my only real issue with the movie. There are two traitors in among the people Blade works with throughout the movie. One of them? Fine, no problem. He doesn’t get much in terms of screen time away from Blade or Whistler so he’s clearly always acting. The other? Well, much as I like him, I don’t know if he was written convincingly as a traitor. He gets a good deal of screen time away from Blade and with other people and his interactions with them just don’t work for me. I can’t put my finger on it. There’s no one specific line that stands out to me. It’s just that when you find out that he’s been leading Blade on the whole time? It seems like there are things that should have been written differently. Like you should be able to look back at everything he did and said and see how it was leading to where the vampire lord wanted it to lead. And it doesn’t. Oh well. That’s really my only complaint here. It doesn’t start on as high a note as the first movie but it’s still fun and it’s still got some good characters and a strong female lead and lots of blood and a few more twists than the first one and a well developed villain concept. Not to mention a call-forward to Hellboy. So that’s a cool bonus too.

July 2, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Blade II

July 2, 2011

Blade II

I have an amusing story that goes with this movie. Amanda and I had enjoyed the first one on DVD so much that we decided to see the second one in the theaters. When we went into the theater though the movie was already playing. We checked our tickets to be sure we were in the right cinema and checked our watches. We weren’t late – as usual we were a few minutes early. Then the movie ended. I’ve never been sure why exactly, but for some reason the movie was running late, so we ended up seeing the end of the movie and closing credits before watching the start. It was very strange.

We stuck around after that though and got to see the movie from the start, and I have to say I really enjoyed it. On subsequent viewings it isn’t quite as cool as it was that first time in the theater, but at the time I thought it was one of the coolest pure stupid action films I had seen in a long time. It wasn’t so much the plot or acting, which are not particularly exceptional, but the visual flate the movie has that impressed me. At the time I didn’t know it, but what I was really falling in love with was the directorial style of Guillermo del Torro. I didn’t really know who he was when I went to see this movie, and wouldn’t start really paying attention to his work until I went to see Hellboy in the theaters a couple years later, but he has a vision which brought this particular pedestrian action movie and raised it up to be something which at the time I found surprising and enjoyable.

The story being told here is not a particularly convoluted one, and has somewhat of a written by committee feel to it at times. It starts out with Blade searching for Whistler, who has been taken captive by vampires after the events of the last film which left him half-turned. When he shot himself he already was vampire enough that it didn’t kill him, and the vampires have been keeping him alive ever since. After a flashy motorcycle fight scene Blade is able to discover Whistler’s whereabouts and promptly bursts into the warehouse in question and slaughters all the guards, but doesn’t have the heart to simply kill his old partner. So he hauls Whistler back to his lair and shoots a heavy duty cure into him and then hey-presto Whistler is entirely human again the next morning and the movie can get started. It’s clumsy and full of plot holes. As much as I enjoy having the team of Blade and Whistler back together again it’s a dreadfully awkward way to get it done.

With all that out of the way the actual plot of the movie can start to unfold. A pair of black clad vampires break into Blade’s workshop and after a little acrobatics announce that they’re come to offer Blade a truce. It seems that there’s a new monster in town, and it has the vampires running scared. These creatures, called Reapers, hunt vampires the way that vampires hunt humans and turn them into new Reapers. They have an insatiable appetite and their numbers are increasing exponentially and if left unchecked will very quickly wipe out all vampires (and probably all humans as well.) So Blade, along with Whistler and Blade’s new boy-wonder sidekick Skud troop off to the local vampire headquarters to meet the elite team of hunters they will be working with. The hitch? These hunters have been training for six years to hunt Blade – they don’t take too well to being forced to work with him to take on the Reapers.

From there on out it’s pretty much pure stupid action. The Reapers are not vulnerable to silver or garlic and regenerate even faster than vampires do, which makes them tough to kill. Pretty much the only thing that works is sunlight. Meanwhile Blade and the vampire squad all have cool new weapons including pistols with blades attached and UV flash grenades. They duke it out in a vampire nightclub, then in the abandoned building above it, and in the sewers below it. They eventually even end up fighting in the heavily fortified vampire home base (after the vampires’ sudden but inevitable betrayal.)

As I watched the movie again I realized that just about everything I liked about it and found cool the first time I saw it came from del Torro and his cohort Mike Mignola (the creator of Hellboy who worked on the art department for this movie.) Obviously I have no idea which members of the vast design department were responsible for which details of the movie, but the movie is filled with little details that feel ripped from the minds of del Troo and Mignola. The bladed pistols for example. The vampires in the club being flayed for fun. The glove with the syringes at the start of the movie. Even the exceptionally cool look of the Reapers with their bifurcated lower jaw.

I like the look of this movie better than I like the movie itself I guess. It’s full of awesome special effects shots that I have to assume use digital doubles which allow the camera to swoop impossibly around blade as he leaps and flips about. It’s got an aesthetic to it which I would characterize as uniquely del Torro look. In many ways it feels to me now as though it’s a dry run for Hellboy. It even has Ron Pearlman as one of the vampire cadre. It’s not as awesomely cool as Hellboy is though. When I first saw this it had a look that was cool and new and intrigued me, now that I know how much more del Torro is capable of though It seems like more of a stepping stone and not so much like the awesome action film I thought it was that first time. It makes me want to watch Pan’s Labyrinth.

July 2, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 488 – Blade

Blade – July 1st, 2011

Working in a library, I get a lot of people who look to me for book recommendations (and movie recommendations) but on the flip side I also end up having a lot of people try to recommend things to me. Sometimes this works out well, like with the 13 year old girl who’s pretty much got exactly the same taste in fiction that I do and whom I’ve found to be a very astute and critical reader. Sometimes it’s not so great, largely because most people who make recommendations to me aren’t really concerned with personal taste and preferences. And they’re hard to get rid of. Say you read/watched it just to get them to stop and they’ll want to talk about it. Say you will read/watch it and they’ll ask if you have yet every time they see you. Say it’s not your thing/you don’t have time/etc. and prepare for battle. So when people try to recommend Twilight to me, I tell them I prefer my vampires to be more like this. That tends to bring an end to any attempt to get me to dish about how dreamy Edward Cullen is.

If you’re looking for a vampire romance with pale and angst-ridden heroes whom the heroine can sigh over? You are watching the wrong movie. The hero has angst, to be sure, but he doesn’t sparkle and he doesn’t brood (much) and the heroine spends more time Doing Science than she spends sighing. Oh, and there are action scenes with guns, swords, silver spikes and incendiary devices. And a UV lamp for extra burny fun. There’s blood too, in case you forgot at some point what the movie’s villains (and hero) are. There’s a lot of blood. Like, a ton of it. Okay, so most of it is in the opening scene, but there’s still a lot even after that.

Speaking of the opening scene, this movie has what is, in my opinion, one of the best openings ever. And after seeing almost 500 movies in the past almost 500 days? I think I can say that with some authority. It is perfectly crafted to let you know who the bad guys are, who the good guy is, what the bad guys are like, what the good guy is like and what you’re in for in the next two hours. We start with Traci Lords, who has a character name but it doesn’t matter since it’s never mentioned and she’s only in the movie for about 10 minutes. She has a fast car and a douchey guy and she brings him to a club in a meat packing plant. You might think you know where this is going and you might be half right. Because the aim is definitely to feed on the douchey guy but he ends up unscathed. Scared witless, but unscathed. Anyhow, in the club they dance and she blows him off and then the sprinklers turn on and start spraying blood everywhere. Then our hero enters and proceeds to kill the vast majority of vampires present with clean and ruthless efficiency before cornering one particular vampire and pinning him to the wall, then setting him on fire. The whole scene’s got some pounding music going on and fast visuals with well choreographed action. It’s the best thing in the movie and now it’s over.

That’s not to say there’s nothing else good in the movie. It’s just that after that opening? Nothing can compare in terms of sheer cool factor. The movie has a bunch of great action scenes and Blade gets to be a total bad-ass for the vast majority of it. But that one scene. Yeah. It’s perfect. But the movie must go on or it would merely be a music video. So on we go to the plot. Blade is our main character, played by Wesley Snipes. And part of me will now always associate him with Noxeema Jones from To Wong Foo, but this is a very different character. Blade is known as the Daywalker, because while he was born as a vampire after his mother was bitten while pregnant, he takes a serum that suppresses his vampiric traits. So he doesn’t drink blood or hunger for it and he can go out in the day (hence the nickname) and he still gets to be super strong and super fast and all. Blade also has a really neat super power that lets him stand in the direct path of spattering blood and not get a drop on him. I don’t think this is related to his vampire status. I think it’s just that he’s such a bad-ass that blood spatter is afraid of him. There are at least two instances where he’s standing in the direct path and his matte black gear is spotless.

Anyhow, Blade and his powers of cleanliness and badassery are working on exterminating all the regular vampires. And according to this movie there are a ton of them and they dabble in just about everything. There are a number of different clans and they have their own businesses and night clubs and whatnot and he goes around cleaning them out. Told you: cleanliness and badassery. He’s got a human named Whistler who helps him out by making him new gear and weapons and eventually he gains a woman named Karen as another assistant after she gets bitten by a vampire in a hospital and he takes her to his hideout to try and stop her from becoming a vampire. Turns out Karen is pretty awesome both because she quickly learns how to handle herself in dangerous situations (she gets captured a couple of times, but always when there are a bunch of vampires to overpower her) and because she’s given more to do than pine for Blade. Because see, a romantic plot for Blade just isn’t going to happen. He isn’t romance material. So Karen feels some emotional pull towards him, but ends up directing it towards scientific research. Because she’s a hematologist. Lucky Blade, huh?

Karen and Blade head out to learn about what the vampires are planning. Obviously, something is up. Blade questions some people, like vampire Quinn (played by Donal Logue, who has one of the strangest and most varied set of roles on his resume I can think of aside from Michael Sheen) and a wannabe vampire who’s pledged himself to vampire Deacon Frost in hopes of being turned one day. He doesn’t get turned, by the way. I’d imagine being a vampire’s indentured servant is really a lottery with slim chances. Deacon, played by Stephen Dorff, is a young vampire who was turned from human, not born a vampire like the rest of the big high council. He’s kind of bitter about it and wants to be one of the big-wigs, so he’s researched some old vampire lore and learned about a ceremony that will turn him into a blood god called La Magra. The ceremony involves getting twelve pureblooded vampires together with a daywalker and using a combination of their blood in the right place. And the rest of the movie goes as you might expect.

There are some twists here and there. Some turns that aren’t necessarily expected. But for the most part this movie isn’t trying to serve up anything shocking. It’s trying to be cool and explosive and feature lots of fight scenes where vampires get staked and disintegrate. Frost and his crew have cool parties and Blade and his crew have cool weapons and the special effects aren’t perfect but they work just fine and there’s Action Hematology and enough humor to be fun without being goofy. And there’s plenty of blood and little to no romance, so it’s pretty much got exactly what I want out of a modern vampire movie.

July 1, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Blade

July 1, 2011

Blade

We own quite a few comic book movies, and quite a few vampire movies, but this film and its sequels are the only ones that qualify as both. In truth, though, it’s not really much based on the comic book from what I’ve been able to gather. I haven’t read the books but it looks like Blade was a king of cheesy seventies series that tried to capitalize on the blacksploitation craze of the time. This movie is more of a cool modern take on vampires. Influenced more by Whitewolf’s Vampire: The Masquerade series of games than anything else, or so it seemed to me.

What we have here is your basic martial arts, explosion filled vampire action movie. Right from the beginning it sets the tone very well, showing us that the vampires of this movie are not all old fogies in capes – they’re young (in appearance) social folks that like to party as much as they like to murder. We’re introduced to the vampires in an underground rave at a secret vampire club called bloodbath. It is called this because as the vampires dance about to the music they are sprayed with blood from overhead sprinklers. They’re all about hedonistic pleasure, thrashing about in the blood and toying with a snack that one of them brought along, right up until a single badass in a spotless black leather trench-coat comes along and starts to slaughter them. That would be Blade.

Blade, the daywalker, was from his mother’s womb untimely ripped while she was in the process of being turned into a vampire. As a result he has the recuperative powers of a vampire and the super strength, and the thirst for blood (which he barely contains) but he is not affected by sunlight and he ages like a normal human. We discover all this when he rescues a young lab tech from a hospital after she is attacked by a vampire he is hunting. He brings Karen back to his Blade-Lair where she meets his pal Whistler and sees all his cool toys.

It’s a good thing that we have Karen here because she’s a great all-purpose tool for the movie. She can ask all kinds of questions, which helps because there is a LOT of exposition to be laid out here regarding the vampires, their social structure, their weaknesses (crosses and holy water do nothing but silver can kill them – which I thought was werewolves) and Blade’s lifelong mission to hunt them down and kill them. She’s also conveniently a herpetologist specialising in blood-born diseases and therefore can provide not just some science lingo to handwave the existence of vampires in a fairly realistic modern world setting but also provide new weapons for Blade and a potential cure to his vampyrism. Furthermore, although she’s not really a romantic interest for Blade, she’s not too hard on the eyes and she eventually gets around to kicking a fair amount of ass in her own right during the final showdown.

Blade’s nemesis in this movie is an upstart vampire called Deacon Frost who is scheming to take over control of the vampire world from the elder council who currently rule. He’s also uncovered some long lost secret ritual which will help him in this goal – and of course the only thing standing in his way is Blade, whose blood also happens to be a key ingredient in Frost’s ritual.

I was kind of shocked to discover, when we started to catalogue our movies at the start of this project, that we didn’t own this DVD. It was odd. Odd because we owned the second and third Blade movies, so why not the first? Also odd because I really like this movie and used to own it at one time, so where did it go? This is a great DVD with a lot of fascinating extra material that’s well worth owning, so it surprised me to find that I didn’t have it any longer.

Really, the special features on the DVD are almost as interesting to me as the movie itself. For example: how many action movies have the cinematographer on the audio commentary track? Theo van de Sande is full of great tidbits about the techniques used to give this movie that slightly sharper than reality look which brings it so much to life. Things like using a strobe light synched to the camera aperture during the scene in the vampire night club to make the blood from the sprinklers look like sharp droplets instead of a stream. Things like using unique silver nitrate film for sharper contrasts and deeper shadows. It’s fascinating stuff.

Then there’s all the information on the movie’s action climax. The original ending (some parts of which are on the DVD) involved Frost becoming a “blood tornado” in an effects laden mess that left early test audiences disappointed because it didn’t deliver a good final clash between Frost and Blade. It just didn’t work. So the entire final confrontation was re-worked with a great swordfight between the two of them and Blade using a completely different method to defeat Frost. Which meant that the means he used to overcome Frost had to be layered into the rest of the film. It involved re-writes, re-shoots, new plot devices and new action scenes… all of which are so seamlessly incorporated into the final product that I’m not really sure in some cases what is new material and what was part of the earlier cut. Even more amazing, considering all the tweaking and re-working that had to be done on the movie, is that the film actually works very well as a whole.

The acting is perfect for this genre of action film. Wesley Snipes makes a great Blade with all his sneering and his martial arts action flare. Khris Khristofferson is so memorable as Blade’s mentor and partner Whistler that the writers of the sequel had to find a way to undo his off-screen death so he could be in that movie too. Stephen Dorf is just the right as Frost, combining ambition with and egotistical swagger. I know that one of Amanda’s favorite parts of the whole movie is Donal Logue as Quinn, Frost’s oft-dismembered right-hand man. And there’s N’Bushe Wright as Karen, who does an admirable job of moving the plot along.

Why and how did I let this movie escape from my collection? I have no idea, and I’m glad we have this movie project as an excuse to re-purchase it so that I own it once more. This is a DVD well worth having in my opinion.

July 1, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

June 16, 2011

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I own the box set that contains the complete television series that was inspired by this movie. I bought it for almost nothing from the Suncoast Video store I used to manage when it was going out of business. I haven’t watched all of the series (I pretty much stipped watching it when Tara was killed) but I did love it – especially in the earlier years. When it first came out though I was skeptical because although I had seen this movie in the theaters and enjoyed it I couldn’t really conceive why anybody would want to re-make this. It’s a somewhat uneven movie, after all, and so light hearted as to appear vapid as its protagonist at times. I didn’t really think there was enough material there for a television series.

Over time, of course, I have learned not to underestimate Joss Whedon, but tonight’s review is about this movie, which came out long before that name meant anything to me. What it is is a fun sort of teen vampire movie in the vein of Lost Boys (though not quite as good.) Buffy is a brainless cheerleader who cares about nothing but shopping with her tight group of Heathers. Her biggest challenge is picking a theme for the high school senior dance (they chose the environment – because she’s concerned about the ozone layer. That’s got to go.) She has a secret though which she’s never told anybody. She has reoccurring dreams of past lives where she used to fight vampires. A strange old man shows up one day and tells her that this is because she is the chosen slayer – a girl destined to fight the never ending tide of vampires that plagues the world.

So Buffy has a training montage and discovers that she has a purpose in the world, which makes it much harder for her to hold on to her childhood dreams of marrying Christian Slater and moving to Europe. There are vampires in her home town, led by a sinister elderly master named Lothos who has been hunting the slayers down through the years, waiting for one to be a worthy opponent. As Buffy begins to realize how shallow her old life was she befriends a local townie named Pike who is the sort of person she used to ridicule in the old days. Naturally everything comes to a head when Lothos encourages his vampire horde to invade the senior dance to draw Buffy out of hiding so he can confront her and destroy her.

There’s a lot of silly fun in this movie. Paul Reubens steals every scene as the vampire second in command Amilyn (going so far as to get a stinger near the end of the closing credits.) Stephen Root is the clueless principal who drones on about his drug experiences in an attempt to seem hip. (I prefer Armin Shimerman as a principal foil for Buffy, but Root provides a number of good laughs.) Luke Perry as Pike sort of plays with his 90210 heart-throb status and is somewhat of a goof, which I enjoyed. I even enjoy Kristy Swanson as Buffy, with her valley girl attitude.

It is not a movie without its flaws though. Donald Sutherland (better known for his role as the clumsy waiter) sleep walks through his performance as Buffy’s mentor and watcher Merrick. I suppose it must have been trying to be playing a humorless fogey and exposition machine in an action comedy, but he almost looks like he doesn’t want to be there at all. Then there’s the utterly bizarre performance of Rutger Hauer as the vampire Lothos. He looks ridiculous with that silly mustache and he seems to be having a lot of trouble enunciating around his fangs, resulting in a very mealy-mouthed delivery to many of his lines. (Did he have something against re-recording in ADR?) I don’t know, maybe the fault lies with director Fran Rubel Kuzui, who might have felt that since this is a comedy the main villain should be laughable. In my opinion it leaves the movie feeling flat and lifeless right when it should be rousing and adventure filled.

Still. It is a movie with a lot of great quotable bits and some very funny performances. It stumbles a bit in its never-ending and desperate attempts to keep us laughing, but I enjoy it nonetheless. I am very glad, however, that Joss got a chance to re-boot the idea and do it his own way, because the television series is a thing of beauty filled with humor, surprising emotional depth and some strong messages about how hard growing up can be.

June 16, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 444 – I Am Legend

I Am Legend – May 18th, 2011

I have not read the book this movie is ostensibly based on. I keep meaning to because the premise seems decent and all and I do like having read the books movies are based on so I know what’s been changed. I’ve talked a lot about my thoughts on the transition between types of media and how it’s usually inevitable that changes will be necessary to make a text story work on screen. But I like to know where those changes are. And I don’t here, with the exception of the ending. And I’ll get to the ending. I have what might be an unpopular opinion, but we’ll deal with that later. What I’m really saying here is that I’m looking at this movie not as an adaptation but as a thing on its own. And I wish I wasn’t. Because I have some issues.

Before I get into my issues let’s make it clear that I think this movie had some really cool potential and I flat out loved Will Smith in it. And since he’s the heart of the movie for the vast majority of it, that’s a good thing. He plays Robert Neville, the only survivor in New York City after a mutated virus swept through the population. The virus was meant to cure cancer, but something went wrong and it went airborne and we find out later it has a 90% mortality rate. Of the remaining 10% of the population a tiny number are immune. The rest turn feral. They become incredibly photosensitive, avoiding UV light when at all possible. They seem to hunger for blood and attack any other living thing they see. They lose their hair, their jaws elongate, their heartrates speed up and their core temperatures rise. They sleep in the day and come out at night. They’re very much akin to the traditional vampire but without the romance. And not a sparkle in sight.

So Neville lives in a fortified townhouse in New York. His wife and daughter died during evacuation attempts, which we learn through a series of dreams Neville has about his life leading up to the situation he’s in now. Over 1000 days after the outbreak and it’s just him and his dog, Sam. She follows him around the city during the day while he goes about his routine. He breaks into abandoned homes looking for supplies like canned goods. He tries to hunt. He spends an hour or two at the pier after broadcasting a message to any other survivors. He goes to the video store and gets a new movie. He spends some leisure time hitting golf balls through the abandoned city. He avoids dark spaces and in his basement he’s got a bunch of infected rats and is testing possible cures made from his own immune blood.

The first two thirds of this movie are basically about this one man and his fairly solitary life and the ways he’s devised to cope and survive. He’s got his routine. He’s got his dog. He’s got his fortress and his lab. He has a large goal and a number of small goals. He has a few leisure activities. He has tapes of news broadcasts playing when he’s at home, seemingly more to have regular voices talking about real life than for any information they might deliver since he’s probably heard them all many times over. And you can see that he’s starting to lose his grip on things and you can see that he knows he’s losing his grip on things. When a promising potential cure doesn’t work out he bangs things around and gets not just angry but frustrated and scared too. He’s set up department store mannequins in some of the places he frequents, like the video store. He’s named them and he talks to them as if they’re real, though you’re sure at the start that he knows it’s all just a coping mechanism. Later on, however, he starts to panic. One of the mannequins has been moved and he yells at it to say something if it’s real. He says hello to one and begs it to say hello back. It’s heartbreaking to watch and Smith handles the part incredibly well.

The vast majority of the movie is just Smith and the dog. His few encounters with the infected humans in the city are panicked episodes, with lots of yelling and fighting as they attack him and he defends himself. They’re not really characters to be interacted with. Not the way they’re portrayed in the scenes they get, anyhow. So it’s Smith and his dog and the empty city and his dreams about his wife and daughter. That’s it. And I really felt for him. The dreams are well defined and they fill the time when Neville is locked up tight in his fortress, reminding him of what he’s lost and what led up to it all. It’s heavily implied that he was involved in the original outbreak somehow, or in trying to contain it. He was military, but also a scientist. So he’s got a mission here. And I honestly think it’s really well put together for about two thirds of the film.

When another survivor shows up, however, the movie loses me. It lost me and went wandering off towards The Stand without me. Now, I liked The Stand just fine. The book was great fun and epic and all and the miniseries didn’t suck. But it handed the religious aspects fairly well, setting them in place early on and running them through the whole story as an essential aspect of the plot. This movie? Is purely science fiction right up until Neville asks the newly arrived Anna what made her show up when she did and she says God told her to. And I don’t want to be one of those atheists who can’t stand to have religion added to the mix. I generally don’t mind it, so long as it’s well incorporated. Like in The Stand. But here? It’s out of nowhere. It’s not like there’s been any hint of divine intervention or even divine signposts up until Anna’s all “God sent me to you.” It’s not that it’s religion. It’s that it feels like lazy storytelling. Like they needed to have her there in the right place at the right time and couldn’t figure out a way to work it into the existing storyline. So, God! Of course. It’s a cheap plot patch and I’m curious about whether it’s in the original story and if so if it’s handled any better.

Unfortunately, the ending of the movie is somewhat dependant on Anna and her son. I know the ending in the book is far different, and I have what is likely an unpopular opinion in that I don’t hate the hopeful ending the movie gets. But I wish it hadn’t depended on a new character showing up out of the blue and then saving the day, so to speak. It makes the ending feel just as cheap and weak as the plot patch that got Anna there did, because it’s dependant on that plot patch. It feels like so much more could have been done with the infected humans in the city and Neville’s mission to ‘cure’ them. There are some hints that there’s more going on than he realizes, with the moved mannequin and a trap laid using his techniques. There’s an infected man who exhibits some atypical behavior that Neville notes later on and it’s so obviously a pointer to there being more than meets the eye with the infected folks. But since the ending was changed and Anna has to get some screen time, well, we never explore that.

Honestly, while I get that the original ending (which I take it was actually filmed but replaced at the studio’s insistence) is more artistic and fits the world and has heavy meaning and all, I don’t mind the semi-happy ending. Some days I need a bit of brightness at the end of a bleak movie, not just more bleakness and a moral about human nature because let’s face it, by the time you get to the scene with Neville and Sam on the floor of the lab you’re about as bleak as you can get and yes, I did cry. But at the same time, I wish the ending had been better incorporated. I wish all the things the movie promised and hinted at were followed up on. At least enough to join the fascinating and heartbreaking first two thirds with the ending instead of just plunking it down. As it is, I didn’t dislike it, but I was left feeling incredibly frustrated.

May 18, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 321 – Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

Bram Stoker’s Dracula – January 15th, 2011

Tonight, while looking through our list, Andy and I decided that tomorrow we would embark upon a rather long series. We toyed with the idea of starting it tonight, then looked at the movies’ lengths and mapped them to which days they’d fall and realized it wouldn’t work. And so we have the next two weeks planned, but we did not have tonight planned and so I said “How about Dracula?” and Andy said “Huh, sure. Why didn’t we watch this during our Keanu Reeves weekend?” I have no answer aside from forgetting he was in this, because, you see, I had not seen this movie prior to tonight. Indeed, this is probably another admission that might get my English degree revoked, but I’ve never read the book either.

I’ve always meant to read the book. It’s one of those things I have no good excuse for aside from simply never getting around to it. My college English lit classes were mostly modern literature, with only a few small ventures into earlier centuries (Shakespeare and Chaucer, most notably – my Victorian lit class was focused on material culture) and since then I tend to keep myself busy with work reading. But I like the idea of Dracula, told through articles and letters and transcribed interviews and the like. Epistolary writing can be really fantastic when done well, and I like the concept of tracking a story through multiple formats, as opposed to a single character’s diary. The trouble with a story told in this way is that it makes for a challenge when it comes to adaptation to a new medium. The format is so integral to the telling of the story that transferring it to a visual format such as film means losing much of its flavor and tone(s). A graphic novel might be better suited to the job. Just look at the original graphic novel for Watchmen. Now there’s some fantastic epistolary work, and the film adaptation had to do some fancy footwork to deal with the content from the novel chapters and psychiatric files and old photos. I think this is the source of Dracula’s major failings for me.

And yes, that means its major failings for me are not Dracula’s hair or Keanu Reeves’ performance. Yes, the hair is easy to poke fun at, and no, this isn’t Reeves’ best work, but the major issue I have is that the plot seems to meander and the transitions aren’t terribly smooth. Oh sure, the movie is fantastically over-dramatic and all, but I kind of would expect that. It’s Victorian. I expect swooning here and I expect shocking revelations and I expect everyone to be exaggerated. I expect melodrama and big dresses and big hats and this movie delivers on those counts. Unfortunately, while doing all that it also wanders in and out of various episodes in the plot, sometimes giving background, sometimes not, sometimes having things connect, sometimes not. And I can only assume that it comes from the content cleaving too closely to the written work, which, being composed of letters and other bits and pieces, would force you to skip from one piece of the story to the next. It’s a difficult thing, I would think, and I don’t think it was handled terribly well, which is frustrating.

The thing is, I enjoyed the movie quite a lot. Visually it’s a lovely piece of work, with lots of details and gorgeous costumes and fun camera tricks instead of the usual post-production special effects I’m used to. It was great to see so many in-camera effects used. I liked the cast (yes, even Keanu), especially Lucy’s three suitors and of course Gary Oldman as Dracula. I can’t honestly say how I feel about Winona Ryder as Mina, but I understand she’s the one who brought the script to Coppola, so it’s not like they were going to ditch her. She does a fine job, but every so often I felt a little thrown out of her scenes and I can’t put my finger on why. But really, I like the visuals, I like a lot of the acting, I like that the movie kept in a lot of characters who are, according to what I’ve read, often omitted or combined into one stand-in. As I said, I enjoyed watching it. But I freely acknowledge that it has flaws.

I’m not sure what I would do to fix my problems with the movie, to be honest. Were I taking a book done in this format and adapting it for the screen, I might end up doing the same things, and so I understand where it’s coming from. But it makes it feel a little sloppy, which is a shame. I like the portrayal of Dracula as a semi-sympathetic villain, and I liked the teamwork of Lucy’s three suitors. I liked a lot of the choices that were made. I just wish the narrative had either been thoroughly consistent or it had been more obvious in how it was drawing from its source, because other than that, this movie was a lot of fun.

January 15, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

January 15, 2011

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

I was working at Waldenbooks in downtown Boston when this movie came out. I remember being amused that we had on the shelves a book entitled “Bram Stoker’s Dracula: The Book of the Film” or something like that. There’s a strange kind of recursion in marketing a classic novel as a byproduct of the theatrical movie adapted from it. All the more pathetic because the movie is so overblown and pretentious… and cheesy.

I’m not sure I agree with the direction that Francis Ford Coppola chose to go with this movie. I think he was trying too hard to do to much with it. He wants the movie to be a horror film of some kind. He wants it to be an epic love story. He wants it to be a lavish and spectacular production. He wants it to feel authentic to the book. And on top of all that he wants to infuse the movie with a complex directorial flare full of clever camera tricks and intricate set-ups. The end result feels… crowded. Like four or five movies are vying for attention on the screen at the same time. I can’t argue with any one of Coppola’s choices but taken all together they end up feeling like too much.

There’s not much point in summarising the plot of the movie. The tale of Dracula has been filmed so many times that it’s a genre to itself. The central conceit of this film, and its biggest departure from the book, is that Mina is somehow the resurrection of Dracula’s long lost bride. To this end there’s a prologue showing Dracula as Vlad the Impaler before he chose to become immortal, and explaining that the reason he turned his back on God is that when his beloved wife killed herself (thinking that he had been slain in battle) she doomed herself to hell. So he chose to turn his back on God and become an undead destroyer of all that is good and pure out of spite.

From there on the movie very closely follows what I know of the book. Jonathan Harker is sent to the castle of the mysterious Count Dracula in Transylvania. Eventually he becomes trapped in the Count’s castle while the Count travels to London to wreak havoc. Jonathan’s fiance Mina is staying with her childhood friend Lucy when Dracula turns up to turn Lucy into an undead vampire herself then seduce Mina. Lucy’s three suitors (an American cowboy, a psychiatrist and an English Lord) band together with the enigmatic Abraham Van Helsing to become reluctant vampire slayers. When Jonathan eventually escapes Dracula’s castle he rushes back to London and joins the others in a desperate bid to destroy Dracula before he can claim Mina as his own.

It’s a very Victorian adventure story, full of the sort of things I expect from British adventures of the time. The exotic American stereotype, the proper British gentlemen, the train rides to distant and savage lands at the edge of the reach of the British empire… it all feels very familiar, and Coppola captures that aspect of it quite well. That’s where the movie is most faithful to the book, is in recreating a world on the edge of the industrial age when there were still wonders to be found on distant continents while at home the age of science was just beginning.

Something I had not known about the film before researching it for this review was that Coppola had chosen to do the movie with almost no computer effects of post production trickery. Almost every visual trick was done in camera using things like rear projection, forced perspective, backwards filming, turning the camera on angles, double exposures and such. It means that aside from a very few special effect shots here and there this movie could have been made the same way fifty years earlier – and what an amazing thing it would have been then! It just shows how jaded we have become in the modern age of digital special effects that we take for granted that anything is possible on film, so we’re not particularly wowed when seemingly impossible things are presented to us.

The cast that Coppola has collected for this movie is astonishing. I enjoy seeing Cary Elwes getting work of course, and Anthony Hopkins is as always great as Van Helsing. I won’t say that Keanu Reeves’ performance is anything particularly grand, but the stuffy hero of the story isn’t really what the tale is about. Indeed it might work FOR the movie in some way that Jonathan Harker is so wooden and forgettable, because after all this is a movie about Dracula. That’s the title of the film of course. What a Dracula they got too! I can’t imagine anybody else besides Gary Oldman in this particular role. he has the deeply unsettling madness to portray Count Dracula in every stage of his descent. We see him as the elderly and eccentric Count in his castle, surrounded by a strange supernatural air. We see him as the suave lover in London wooing Mina. We see him as a gruesome monster. He is a jilted lover, a cold-blooded rapist and killer, a soulless undead monster – and all the time he has a slightly tragic and sympathetic air. It’s an absolutely stellar performance, especially considering the mountains of prosthetics and pounds of make-up that Oldman had to perform through.

Given all the thing I actually do like about the movie, it’s a little puzzling to me that as a whole I can’t really say it’s all that good. Maybe it’s because it’s too artsy for a star-laden action monster flick. Maybe it’s that the story itself is too firmly lodged in an outdated and almost archaic view of the world. The movie is too over-produced to be enjoyable as pure cheese and too bizarre to work as summer movie pap. In that regard it reminds me somewhat of the David Lynch Dune. I can’t really enjoy it as much as I’d like because I feel as if it’s hammering me over the head at every turn saying “Look! See how clever I am?” I enjoyed watching it again, but if I want a good vampire movie I’m much more likely to put in Lost Boys any day of the week.

January 15, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | 3 Comments