Kris Kristofferson

Blade II (2002, Guillermo del Toro)

There’s a legitimately great sword fight scene in Blade II, after some really solid ones—the film’s CG assists never help it but director del Toro does understand how a fight sequence is like a dance sequence (particularly in the great sword fight) and star Wesley Snipes is always ready to show off his fight choreography abilities. The sword fight is so good you spend almost the entire rest of the film waiting for del Toro to execute something superior. Why open with such a stunning sequence if you don’t have something even better later on.

But with Blade II, there is no better later on, not for swords, fists, or anything else. None of the fight scenes following the sword fight get anywhere near the ones in the first act, which were Matrix-ripoffs but still well-executed Matrix-ripoffs. There’s a “this would be confusing if it mattered” sequence where Snipes and his newfound team of vampire super-vampire hunters each fight the super-vampires and the focus moves from character to character. The super-vampires all look like Nosferatu as homaged in Salem’s Lot, only their faces open up like a Predator and they shoot out tentacles and an inner mouthes of Aliens. It’s not a bad design but it’s nowhere near as terrifying as it would be if the CG weren’t middling. A lot of Blade II fails thanks to its bad CG, particularly in the third act, which isn’t good. It’s like del Toro knows the right shot, the technology just isn’t there to execute it.

Of course, Blade II having piddly CG is the least of its problems. It’s got a lousy script (courtesy David S. Goyer) and some really, really bad acting. And costumes. The costumes are terrible. At some point the vampire super-vampire hunters put on this glossy black body armor and look like the stormtroopers from Masters of the Universe: The Movie. It’s also not clear how the body armor helps them? Or would help them against the super-vampires or Snipes—see, Snipes has to take over this team of elite vampire commandos who trained to take him out but now have to deal with the more dangerous super-vampires. About the only way to make the shiny body armor sense would be if Snipes had them wear it to embarrass them.

But the shiny body armor is nothing compare to main villain Luke Goss’s ratty clothes. He’s got this intricately choreographed fight scenes but thanks to the costume he looks lumbering and artificially sped up. Blade II has a bunch of slowdown and speedup editing techniques. They’re all terrible. Not sure if they’re editor Peter Amundson’s fault or del Toro’s.

The film is a particularly frustrating tug of war between attentions—it’s a Snipes star vehicle, only Goyer’s script gives way too much to the supporting cast (almost to snipe Snipes), and then del Toro’s just trying to show off what he can do. At least del Toro doesn’t actively work against Snipes, who easily gives the film’s best performance but only because he’s not terrible like almost everyone else. Goss ends up giving the second best performance by default; he’s at least trying. If the rest of the cast is trying and Blade II is the best they give… shivers.

The worst performance is probably Norman Reedus as Snipes’s new sidekick. The film opens with Snipes rescuing his old sidekick, Kris Kristofferson, who’s also bad, but not as bad as Reedus. Kristofferson’s still really bad, but at least he’s committed to the performance. He was nowhere near as physical in the first movie as in this one, crawling all around as Snipes and Reedus worry the vampires secretly turned him before Snipes could rescue him. Is Leonor Varela worse than Kristofferson? Maybe. She’s really bad. But she and Kristofferson are better than Thomas Kretschmann, as the head vampire (and Varela’s father; the film never explains if its vampire father or father father). The more Kretschmann gets to do, the worse Kretschmann’s performance. Blade II doesn’t even get a good performance out of Ron Perlman, partially because—even though Goyer’s script doesn’t want to give Snipes too much to do, it also features him frequently pwning his uneasy vampire allies at every turn.

The rest of the supporting cast is low middling, with Danny John-Jules’s being the most acceptable. Matt Schulze is nowhere near as bad as I was expecting; possibly because Perlman not being good draws attention away from him.

Gabriel Beristain’s photography runs mostly cold. Despite that awesome sword fight scene, which is shot entirely in blue light except for the spotlights—it’s so gorgeous it’s hard to say the film’s not worth seeing just for it; maybe the sequence is on YouTube—but other than that scene, Beristain and del Toro shoot the nighttime exteriors through a sort of piss yellow filter. There’s some okay lighting throughout, but mostly piss yellow. Not sure if it’s a budgetary choice or a stylistic one but the result is… pissy. The action choreography deserves better.

The second best thing—after the good or better fight scenes—is Marco Beltrami’s score. Sure, it’s derivative of other famous film scores, but it comes together fairly well. Except when the action is cutting between all the “good guys” fighting the Max Schrecks… there’s no flow between the action focuses in the score. Benefit of the doubt is Beltrami scored each character’s sequence separately and then Amundson screwed it up in the cutting but it’s just as probable Beltrami couldn’t figure out how to go between sequences. Like, it’s a surprisingly good score for Beltrami. The heavier lifting might’ve escaped him. Fixing a poorly conceived action sequence is a lot for a score to do.

Anyway. Blade II. It’s a disappointment. It’s a testament to Del Tori the film’s a disappointment, given the crappy script and the bad acting and the goofy visual effects. As for poor Snipes, who has to fight for relevancy in his own vehicle… he gets a pass. He’s able to sell the potential for the franchise, even if the film doesn’t.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Guillermo del Toro; screenplay by David S. Goyer, based on the Marvel Comics character created by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan; director of photography, Gabriel Beristain; edited by Peter Amundson; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, Carol Spier; produced by Tomas Krejci, Patrick J. Palmer, Peter Frankfurt, and Wesley Snipes; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Wesley Snipes (Blade), Kris Kristofferson (Whistler), Leonor Varela (Nyssa), Luke Goss (Nomak), Norman Reedus (Scud), Thomas Kretschmann (Damaskinos), Danny John-Jules (Asad), Matt Schulze (Chupa), Donnie Yen (Snowman), Karel Roden (Kounen), and Ron Perlman (Reinhardt).


Blade (1998, Stephen Norrington)

Back when the movie came out—on DVD, anyway—I tried watching Blade 1 a couple times. The first time I turned it off before I was twenty minutes in, which used to be a soft rule (give the movie twenty minutes, depending on runtime); I think I gave it until Stephen Dorff showed up, then had to stop. Stopping when you see Stephen Dorff is always a reasonable action. The second time I with a friend (because a Blade buddy might help me get through it?); we put it on, I promptly passed out. The funny thing about the latter attempt was I passed out before I had stopped it, though I think I woke up for some of the end… but maybe not. I didn’t know Blade had a bad Raiders of the Lost Ark rip for an ending.

The first failed attempt was during the controversial—amongst my film enthusiast friends—“you don’t stop a movie if you start it” period of nineties film snobbery. That period overlaps, possibly entirely, with the “sit through the end credits to show respect for the crew” period of nineties film snobbery. These periods weren’t me solo, in fact I picked up at least the latter from my film snob peers. The former seemed like common sense, but is, of course, the anthesis of common sense. The second failed Blade attempt—I mean, I was also blasted—was during in a different period; “why bother watching if you’re not learning anything from it.” That period didn’t just cover film, it was for all media ingestion. Why read a novel if it’s not going to teach you (specifically) anything applicable for your writing craft. That third period went the longest, well into when I started blogging about film here on “The Stop Button.” While I see that third period as an organic result of the first two, along with some seasoning from academe, my film snob pals never went for it. Somehow it was too far a leap.

And I’ve also given it the boot, slowly over time, as I discovered how I wanted to write about movies.

In some cases, it’s spending three hundred words talking about not watching the movie. And Blade is the perfect subject matter for that approach. Because Blade is not a good movie. I toyed with the idea, after all these years, of how crazy it would be to give Blade a star. But anything good about it is incidental. Director Norrington just couldn’t manage to make it terrible because he was distracted screwing something else up. The film also has a stunningly bad script from David S. Goyer. Between the godawful exposition (Kris Kristofferson gets a lot of it and can’t do any of it) and the quizzical plotting—when the Raiders of the Lost Ark thing takes over in the second half, along with the big second act surprise, Blade feels like a very different film. Sort of. It’s still ugly in all the ill-advised ways Norrington employs, like the harsh, high often contrast lighting (courtesy Theo van de Sande, who either’s responsible or not but I wouldn’t want to track his career either way) or the crappy CG. Blade is ostensibly super-gritty but only when it’s Wesley Snipes. The nineties emo vampire stuff is never super-gritty. Norrington’s understanding of super-gritty is occasional shaky cam and inept head room and letting editor Paul Rubell chop whole seconds of action out to make it seem speedy. Every once in a while, there will be a sequence—like Snipes with his samurai sword taking out an endless stream of vampires dressed like they’re Joker thugs from Batman ’89—and you can see exactly how Norrington could’ve done it well. Because pretty soon it would be done well. Blade anticipates the visual tone of future films but none of the future style or technical ingenuity. Because Norrington sucks.

Someone also got the idea to have Mark Isham score it like John Williams, which doesn’t make sense until the end when it’s Raiders; for a while the movie pretends it’s Terminator 2—Snipes and partner Kristofferson hanging out with on-the-run-from-the-vampires hematologist N'Bushe Wright in their clubhouse; those scenes are really weird with the Isham score. Goyer’s script isn’t derivative and is bad. Norrington’s direction isn’t ever not derivative and is bad. It’s incredibly interesting how the two collide.

Stuck in the middle are Snipes and Wright. Blade can’t help but give Wright a great role and Goyer and Norrington can’t help but try to destroy it. Norrington’s got some… toxic masculinity issues. Or maybe just rape culture ones. It’s a couple things, with Wright being on the receiving end later (courtesy “no way” ex-boyfriend Tim Guinee), but the first one is Norrington’s onscreen director title card. It’s a gross “really, dude?”

Wright comes out very sympathetic, but she’s a lot better at the urban vampire action than the pseudo-Raiders thing. Some of the problem with the Raiders thing is Norrington’s bad visual storytelling, some of it is Goyer not giving Wright enough to do; if any of it’s Wright’s fault, you basically can’t tell. Goyer and Norrington give their separate badnesses 110%. You can barely make-out the acting through it.

Well, except with Dorff, who’s hilariously bad, Donal Logue, who’s hilariously bad, Udo Kier, who’s hilariously bad but also very obviously just playing a caricature and not trying… every once in a while, you get the feeling Blade could’ve been a lot better if it just let itself camp out on the shitty vampires. Wesley Snipes killing a bunch of silly, shitty white vampires would be a fun movie. Especially if Norrington had long enough shots of Snipes kicking ass. Snipes gives his physical performance his all in Blade and Norrington picks up about twenty percent of it. Other times the camera will be focused on a pillar instead of Snipes doing a jump kick or whatnot. Norrington is a stunningly bad action director, even for bad action directors.

Other bad performances include Arly Jover, who at one point seems like she’s going to give a good performance but then doesn’t. Sanaa Latham is actually good, which takes a few moments to comprehend–unqualified good acting in Blade.

For Snipes, it’s a good lead role. Ish. There’s not a lot of heavy lifting, his occasional personable action hero insert shots are weird, but he gets through it. He and Wright have less chemistry than… I don’t know, Kristofferson and Wright or something. It’s unfortunate and another way the filmmakers fail Wright.

I’m a little curious how the Isham score stands on its own—at one point he’s got to add all the tension to an action sequence because Norrington can’t figure it out–but otherwise, Blade doesn’t have much one could learn from it. Outside the contextual trivia.

It’s nowhere near as bad (or good) as it could be, which is the biggest disappointment of all.

It’s eh.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Stephen Norrington; screenplay by David S. Goyer, based on the Marvel Comics character created by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan; director of photography, Theo van de Sande; edited by Paul Rubell; music by Mark Isham; production designer, Kirk M. Petruccelli; produced by Robert Engelman, Peter Frankfurt, and Wesley Snipes; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Wesley Snipes (Blade), Stephen Dorff (Deacon Frost), Kris Kristofferson (Whistler), N’Bushe Wright (Karen), Donal Logue (Quinn), Arly Jover (Mercury), Tim Guinee (Curtis), Sanaa Lathan (Vanessa), and Udo Kier (Dragonetti).


D-Tox (2002, Jim Gillespie)

D-Tox is a messy film with way too high a concept. Sylvester Stallone–who’s good when he’s actually in the film, which isn’t much–is a FBI agent who becomes a drunk following a bad result in a big case. He ends up in a rehab for cops. It’s in an old missile silo (or something along those lines) in the middle of nowhere. And guess what… there’s a serial killer on the loose.

The supporting cast is full of people who have seen better roles yet still manage to turn in good performances. Charles S. Dutton, Polly Walker, Courtney B. Vance, Robert Patrick, Robert Prosky, Dina Meyer, Tom Berenger. All of them are fine. Some of them are great–Patrick in particular. Yet D-Tox doesn’t have anything for them to do because it’s Ten Little Indians, but it only runs ninety-some minutes and there’s a bulky opening to turn Stallone into a drunk.

Like I said, messy.

There are some bad performances too. Christopher Fulford, Stephen Lang, Jeffrey Wright. Kris Kristofferson might be better if his character weren’t a complete idiot (he hires incompetent repairmen for his isolated missile silo for starters).

There’s some actual suspense involving the bad guy’s identity, but director Gillespie can’t figure out how to pace it. When he gets to the finish, the big action scene, he flops. He can’t even direct a couple guys punching. Stallone should’ve stepped in.

Decent photography from Dean Semler helps.

It’s bad, but still watchable.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jim Gillespie; screenplay by Ron L. Brinkerhoff, based on a novel by Howard Swindle; director of photography, Dean Semler; edited by Timothy Alverson and Steve Mirkovich; music by John Powell; production designer, Gary Wissner; produced by Karen Kehela Sherwood and Ric Kidney; released by DEJ Productions.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (Jake Malloy), Charles S. Dutton (Hendricks), Polly Walker (Jenny), Kris Kristofferson (Doc), Mif (Brandon), Christopher Fulford (Slater), Jeffrey Wright (Jaworski), Tom Berenger (Hank), Stephen Lang (Jack Bennett), Alan C. Peterson (Gilbert), Hrothgar Mathews (Manny), Angela Alvarado (Lopez), Robert Prosky (McKenzie), Robert Patrick (Noah), Courtney B. Vance (Reverend Jones), Sean Patrick Flanery (Conner), Tim Henry (Weeks), Dina Meyer (Mary), Rance Howard (Geezer), Frank Pellegrino (Jimmy) and James Kidnie (Red).


Blade: Trinity (2004, David S. Goyer)

I imagine you’re thinking, why would he watch that? And I agree, Blade: Trinity is hardly Stop Button material. Except… I have been insulting David S. Goyer a lot lately (because he sucks) and I wanted my insults to be more informed and, also, because I enjoyed Blade II. I’ve never seen more than fifteen minutes of Blade and I’ll never see more than an hour of Blade: Trinity, but Blade II is fine. It’s Guillermo Del Toro, who’s never worthless. Also, we’re house/dog-sitting and they had Blade: Trinity. I’m reading its source material, Tomb of Dracula, and I had time to kill… And, honestly, I never thought I’d get through it.

Oddly, Blade: Trinity starts out fine. Well, almost. It starts with Parker Posey waking up Dracula, except he’s not called Dracula because that’s not cool enough. So he’s called Drake. David S. Goyer has a lot of machismo issues to work out, further evidenced in Drake’s open shirt and gold chains apparel. Posey, who was recently so good in Personal Velocity, seems to have taken some rather naughty pictures that Goyer has gotten his hands on.

But, really, the scenes after that–at least the ones starring Blade and Kris Kristofferson, are all right. The style keeps Del Toro’s cinematography from the last film, but in a 1970s cheap police movie. It’s fine. In fact, I sat thinking, “Maybe I was wrong about this one.” But, no, thank goodness, soon enough, Jessica Biel and Ryan Reynolds arrived.

As bad, as unbelievably terrible, as Reynolds is in this film, Jessica Biel is two or three times worse. You have to have more presence to work a drive-through. She’s really the pits.

Reynolds, the object of Goyer’s man-crush, is bad. And the man-crush is pretty clear–Reynolds, idiotically, narrates the prologue. The character is written as Brodie, from Mallrats. Amusingly, Mallrats bombs, but Brodie becomes the archetype for all future twenty-something male characters. Reynolds even plays the character like Jason Lee would–except without being funny or being a good actor.

I can understand why Wesley Snipes sued Goyer. Blade: Trinity is not about Blade, it’s about Goyer’s little teenyboppers. What’s incredibly sad is that Blade: Trinity has the best Snipes acting in years. Snipes is an amazing actor–One Night Stand. All this action movie crap, action comedy crap, does a real disservice to the quality of film. More apparently, Blade was about a kick-ass black guy. It was a movie black guys could go to–black men are the great lost comic book reader. I just listened to former “New York Times” film critic Elvis Mitchell go on and on about his love for the Thing in the 1970s Marvel comics. Comic books have lost black males (probably because they eschewed the newsstand for the direct market). Blade: Trinity is a movie for fanboys. Fanboys tend to be white. I imagine Wesley Snipes was a little distraught over appearing in American Pie 4….

It’d be nice if I could avoid Goyer, just ignore him, but he’s the guy non-Marvel comic books go to. Besides (following Batman Begins) being DC’s golden movie boy, a couple really good comic book writers have film projects going through him. I find that particularly amusing since, in Blade: Trinity, the characters frequently deride the source material, Tomb of Dracula, at one point tosses an issue aside as trash.

This twit writes “song and dance” in his dialogue. He makes James Remar a cop and has him say “song and dance.” That’s Dante’s fifth ring of Hell right there. Check your copy of Inferno, right there. “The fifth ring was filled with suck-ass filmmakers who made James Remar a cop that says ‘song and dance.'” Obviously, it sounds a lot nicer in the Italian. “Il quinto anello è stato riempito di criminali che hanno reso a James Remar un poliziotto che dice la canzone ed il ballo.

I certainly hope Remar used his paycheck to take a Tuscan vacation….

Anyway, Goyer isn’t some harmless twit. He’s going to ruin some good writers’ works. I keep thinking about the 1990s, pre-Independence Day and post. In and of himself, Emmerich isn’t even that bad (no, I haven’t seen The Day After Tomorrow), but the film revolution he birthed with ID4–the feckless blockbuster–has ruined American cinema. So, although no one really takes Goyer seriously (only internet sites interviewed him as co-writer of Batman Begins), he’s here to stay… and he’s going to make film worse and, eventually, I’m going to feel it.

Just wait….

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by David S. Goyer; written by Goyer, based on the Blade character created by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan; director of photography, Gabriel Beristain; edited by Howard E. Smith and Conrad Smart; music by Ramin Djawadi and the RZA; production designer, Chris Gorak; produced by Peter Frankfurt, Wesley Snipes, Goyer and Lynn Harris; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Wesley Snipes (Blade), Kris Kristofferson (Whistler), Jessica Biel (Abigail Whistler), Ryan Reynolds (Hannibal King), Parker Posey (Danica Talos), Dominic Purcell (Drake), John Michael Higgins (Dr. Edgar Vance), Natasha Lyonne (Sommerfield) and James Remar (Cumberland).


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