DT Moviehouse Review: Blade

Time once more for my blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I make my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here) and decide if each one was worth the money. Today I review Marvel’s first ever comic book movie hit, Blade.

(1998) Directed by Stephen Norrington

Screenplay by David S. Goyer

Tagline:

The power of an immortal. The soul of a human. The heart of a hero.

600full-blade-poster

What It’s About:

bladepose“You better wake up! The world you live in is just a sugar coated topping. There is another world beneath it – the real world.” In the real world, immortal vampires enjoy a parasitic relationship with mortal man, controlling the population through their puppet police force and world governments. Standing against the bloodsuckers is Eric “Blade” Brooks (Wesley Snipes). After his mother was attacked by a vampire while he was in the womb, Blade was born with superhuman vampiric abilities, but none of the selfsame weaknesses, aside from a growing hunger to consume blood, which he suppresses with the help of his grizzled partner, weapons designer and serum synthesizer, Whistler (Kris Kristofferson). When Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorf) an ambitious young vampire revolutionary, sets out to overthrow the elder hierarchy and call up La Magra, an ancient vampire deity to throw back the curtain and rule humanity outright, Blade enlists the help of Dr. Karen Jensen (N’Bushe Wright), a blood expert unwillingly thrust into the action.

Why I Bought It:

It’s fitting that the first comic book movie to show up on the review list is Blade. Without the success of Blade, there would be no Spider-Man, no X-Men, no Iron Man, no Avengers franchises.

frost!Blade was Marvel’s first big hit. The first of its characters to successfully transition to the big screen and the first Marvel film to earn a theatrical release. Prior attempts at getting Captain America, The Fantastic Four, and The Punisher to audiences resulted in direct to video US releases, mainly forgettable.

What’s so unlikely, is that Marvel took an obscure character from the 70’s (Blade was created by Gene Colan and Marv Wolfman to be part of the crew that hunts Dracula in the Tomb of Dracula title), made him a headliner in an R-rated action horror movie, and came away with a pretty sizable success. This wasn’t Spider-Man or The Punisher, this was Blade. Blade!  It’s like making a Robin movie without ever having a Batman flick, or putting out a picture about The Wonder Twins.

OK, not that unlikely, but pretty unlikely.

But Blade, despite all its got going against it, remains one of the coolest comic book movies of all time.

Every time I rewatch Blade I’m giddy with how much I still enjoy it. I didn’t see it in the theater. It looked like a rental to me. But it grabs you right from the beginning with its super rain slicked visuals and frenetic Hong Kong style action, its nifty CGI (I was really wowed by the disintegrating vampires when I first caught this) and driving, ultra-cool soundtrack.

bladeWesley Snipes looks like he’s having a great time in this one. Before Blade, I only knew him from Jungle Fever, Sugar Hill, Mo Better Blues, and New Jack City, and even though I was aware of Passenger 57, I thought it was a bump in the road in the career of a mainly serious actor. But watching this, I can see Snipes’ fondness for this role in his performance, a barely contained nerdiness that escapes now and then in his impromptu fist pumps and certain comic book-y expressions. Blade is an extremely physical role. He barely has any lines, but he arrests your attention whenever he’s on screen.

bladeduelI can picture Snipes as a wide-eyed kid haunting Chinese video stores for those awesome blurry videos with the barely readable white subtitles and the too large clamshell cases in a carefully ironed coolie shirt.  The guy loves kung fu movies, loves martial arts (became a practitioner at age 12), and it shows in his performance, in the little physical homages he does. Several of Blade’s dismissive, sort of “bitch, please” expressions remind me of Bruce Lee, and there are moments during the fight sequences where I see Jackie Chan in his reactions, Jet Li, Jim Kelly and the Run Run Shaw gang in his stances and poses. I read somewhere that it was Snipes’ great ambition to star in a movie with Jackie Chan, and I wish now he’d got his chance. I’ll bet he was ready to roundhouse kick his TV over when the Rush Hour movies were announced.

Add to that the fact that Snipes is breaking ground portraying the world’s first cinematic African American superhero (Spawn doesn’t count for me – he was masked most of the time, and please don’t try to bring up Meteor Man), and yeah, there’s a barely perceptible but definite kid in a candy store vibe to Snipes in Blade.

iceskateBut make no mistake, Blade is a total badass, so monumentally skilled and high powered that his swagger is totally deserved (“Quinn. I’m gettin’ real tired of cuttin’ you up.”), and instead of dropping a lot of dumb one-liners, when the chips are down, he speaks with his actions. I love the scene where Quinn (Donal Logue), wearing Blade’s sunglasses, giddily announces the latest regrowth of his hand (Blade has chopped them both off at various times) and dances in place with a knife. “I got two new hands, Blade, and I don’t know which one I’m gonna kill you with!” He lunges forward and Blade’s only answer is to spin, neatly decapitating him with a length of concealed razor wire, and reclaim his sunglasses as they fall.  Maybe there’s something of the alternate definition of blade in his name, that of the dashing youth with implied panache and style, I don’t know – but he’s got it in spades. uphillThe ending is off the chain ridiculous, with Blade performing several unbelievably timed and executed tricks, throwing his booby trapped sword into a stone crack, catching the coagulant stuff behind his back, and not being content to just toss them with proven deadly accuracy at Frost, he actually tosses one in the air and roundhouse kicks it into Frost’s forehead. But screw it, this is Blade, and more, it’s blood supercharged Blade. You can believe he’s capable of it.

blade%20whistlerKris Kristofferson as Whistler, Blade’s limping, unshaven mentor and right hand guy behind the guy is great, delivering macho lines like “Catch you fuckers at a bad time?” in this great Harley ridin’ gravelly growl that I love to imitate (and am only capable of aping) when I’m struck with a chest cold.  He spends most of the movie like a frowning old spider in the center of this sparking machine shop web of workbenches and toolkits, metal shelving and jury rigged weaponry. Yet there are cool moments between him and Blade that elevate him above a hollow stereotype.  There’s an unspoken fatherliness and mutual respect, when he injects Blade with his serum and grips his hand as he convulses, yet looks away, allowing Blade his dignity. And when Frost leaves Whistler a bloody, dying mess, Blade betrays no emotion, yet mops at the copious blood bootlessly and with the tenderness of a son attending his father’s death bed as Whistler groans his last words.

bladenbusheThe gorgeous N’Bushe Wright (who I first had a crush on in Zebrahead) provides a little more than eye candy in her portrayal of Dr. Jensen, who is early on bitten by the vampire Quinn and nursed back from the edge of turning by a combination of Blade and Whistler and her own ingenuity. She’s a cool, nominally romantic foil to Blade, doesn’t really swoon overly, and gets herself out of a jam now and then, dispatching the wonderfully otherworldly and decadent Mercury (Arly Jover).  She even provides Blade with the impetus to beat the bad guys in the end, offering her own blood. There is some weird Oedipal stuff going on, admittedly. When Blade first decides to try and save her, she is interposed with a shot of Blade’s mother (the stunning Sanaa Lathan) reaching out to him from the delivery room table, and Jensen’s offering of blood and Blade’s ravenous partaking is almost filmed psychosexually. He thrusts his hungry mouth at her, devouring her, and it almost looks like breastfeeding gone horribly wrong. Her interplay with her ex-boyfriend Webb (Tim Guinee) is great, and I absolutely love the abrupt tonal shift when Webb is attacked by the burned to a crisp and presumed dead Quinn on the autopsy table. It’s very indicative of the film’s tone that as these two characters begin to have a believable romantic tiff and the plot starts to sag a bit into familiar expository territory, suddenly a corpse sits up and takes a bite out of one of them.

La_Magra_(Earth-26320)Stephen Dorff’s antagonist Deacon Frost is a cool counterpoint in physicality and attitude to Blade. He looks like some posing clubgoer, and even the vampire elders dismiss him (gotta mention Udo Kier and Judson – Joaquin from Star Trek II – Scott appear as old money purebloods). He talks a lotta smack and appears to party a lot, but in fact he’s got this cold, reptilian demeanor that betrays his ambition. As his minions cavort and dance, he’s shown obsessing over the computer translation of the vampire bible, burning the candle at both ends. Stephen Dorff has nothing on Wesley Snipes in terms of physique, but he’s still deadly in the climactic duel, and when he’s infused with La Magra it’s like watching a cobra and a mongoose go at it.  Though he walks around in the daylight under heavy skin crème and looks like something out of Twilight, make no mistake, Frost is totally gangster, proving his monsterhood in a cool scene when he executes Udo Kier with the dawn and tosses his fangs on the board room table to make his point to the rest of the elders.

blade-1998-the%20bad%20guysI already mentioned Arly Jover. Mercury’s a white clad skinny as a rail vampire with an untraceable accent, vaguely eastern European, vaguely Irish, and comes across as a White Queen on heroin, visually fascinating to watch and scary as hell.  I maintain that more comic actors should be cast as villains, because Donal Togue’s Quinn is a great character. He loves being a vampire, but is a bon vivant and a coattail rider. He and Dorf have their own brand of fun, ad-libbing some great exchanges like “I’m gonna be naughty. I’m gonna be a naughty vampire god.” And that whole bit where Frost pretends he’s going to cut off Quinn’s hand. Clearly Quinn amuses Frost, as I can’t see why else he’d be allowed to stick around.

The soundtrack for Blade was a big hit, if I remember, the blazing hip hop and electronica complimenting the crazily stylized story perfectly. Particular standouts for me were the opening number, heard in the trailers, the Japanese schoolgirl rap at the vampire club, and that end track that kicks in after Blade catches the sunglasses. It gives the furious action a video game feel that gets me grinning.  I also like the simple pulsing track that plays when Blade and Jensen trail Officer Krieger (Kevin Patrick Walls) through the night time streets in their cars, a sequence Norrington shoots in fast motion, lending it a cool, nightmarish quality.

Best Dialogue/Line:

“Some motherfucker’s always tryin’ to ice skate uphill.”

Best Scene:

bloodbath-realzThe initial scene, the one that pulls you right into the world of Blade.  A dopey clubgoer (Elliot James) rides in a hot car with an even hotter chick (Traci Lords), who takes him (and the audience) to this super secret club located behind a meat packing company (were those bodies in the plastic?). She throws the dork her coat and leaves him standing there, and he drops it and tries to get in on the party, but the beautiful but slightly weird dancers reject him at every turn and eye him with all the disdain of a bunch of Hamptonites whose party’s just been crashed by ‘Ol Dirty Bastard. He wanders through the strobing lights, ogling the dancing bodies and finally reunites with his ride, who is dancing seductively with Mercury. When he tries to cut in, he’s shoved away.

This sucks he thinks, and as the music reaches a fever pitch, he mutters something about needing a drink. Suddenly the house lights go up, the DJ roars in front of a banner reading BLOODBATH! and after wiping a spot of red from his cheek, the guy looks up in time to see the overhead emergency sprinklers douse the crowd and him in human blood.

Horrified, he recoils, desperate to find the exit, and each of the partiers starts popping fangs and vamping out. Stumbling away from horrors at every turn, he tries to run, but is laid out by a punch from some shirtless vampire and falls to the bloodsoaked floor, where he’s kicked and pummeled. The sprinklers drained, the music dies down and the crowd applauds and cheers, some holding up bottles to catch the drippings. Slipping to get away, the one lone human crawls towards some clean whiteness, an abbatoir shower or something for the slaughterers, and a big black boot comes into frame.

blade-1aHe looks up, and the entire crowd of suckheads crouches like wary dogs and backpedals, parting to reveal Blade standing motionless, uncaring of the crimson painted vampires creeping out of his wake, and only nominally concerned by the crowd of the undead milling behind him (“It’s him!” “Daywalker!”).

Blade waits for the inevitable as the music reaches a lull.

But as if on cue, when it starts back up again, somebody kicks it off, rushing forward, and what follows is a frantic one against many battle that perfectly introduces the character of Blade. His fearlessness, his weaponry, his attitude.

If you can watch this scene and want to turn this movie off, yeah, it’s not for you.

Would I Buy It Again?

Yes. But you won’t see the other Blade movies on here, unfortunately. Blade 2 couldn’t touch this movie with its screechy Predator-faced vamps, and besides Ryan Reynolds’ creative cursing in Blade Trinity, it’s a snoozer.

Next In The Queue: The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi

In Teh Realms Of Teh Unreal: San Diego Comic Con 2012

Fortunately, we had plenty of bubblegum.

Not a whole lot of news to report on my trip to San Diego Comic Con this year.

Brought three writing samples and didn’t pass out nary a one, to my detriment.  My friends and I had a late start and I narrowly missed connecting with the IDW editor I had acquainted myself with at WHC. I’m terrible at just cold-approaching people for the most part, something I’m working at getting over.

Most of the day was spent traversing the huge exhibit hall and shopping for presents for my kids. Wound up with one of those plushie Wonder Womans for my middle daughter and a Poison Ivy t-shirt for the eldest (she likes Poison Ivy because she’s into gardening).

Open your miiinnnnd, Mr. Carter

My favorite costume of the con.

Of note, there was a seriously intense pair of sprawling action figure dioramas at the Hasbro booh I had to stop and take a few appreciative pics of.

Snake Eyes and Jinx battle ninjas.

Yes – that is a flying guillotine.

I did manage to connect with author and friend Alice Henderson. We had a decent dinner, marred by an unseasonal chill and obnoxious fellow diners (sorry, Alice – you pick next time). We adjourned to the Hilton later and had drinks and talked with Warhammer authors Nathan Long and Mike Lee, as well as Chelsea Monroe-Cassel and Sariann Lehrer, the culinary experts behind the A Feast of Ice And Fire: The Official Game Of Thrones Companion Cookbook.  Nice group of folks. A good time was had I think by all.

2AM on the streets of San Diego. Moments later I saw the Doctor.

Two AM rolled around and we took a pair of pedicabs back to the garage. I’ve never taken one of these things before, being content to walk usually, but given the lateness of the hour and the cuteness of the driver, I agreed. It turned out she was ashmatic, so my guilt was compounded, but we happened to pass another pedicab going the other way and saw the Doctor himself, Matt Smith, yucking it up in the back with a lady friend.So I guess it was worth her suffering?

Our much put-upon pedicab driver….I don’t know if we even tipped her, assholes that we are.

Next year, plotting a three day weekend to really take more advantage of things professionally.

Hasta pronto.

My Love For Comics Has A Giant Sized Origin

I’m a comic book fan from waayyy back. I can trace my interest in funnybooks directly back to four big oversized comic books my parents bought for me back in the day. This was a couple years before I could read, so I used to make up the story and dialogue as I followed along with the pictures, running to grab an adult when something particularly interesting to me came up and I just HAD to know what was going on.

Marvel Treasury Edition #18

Marvel Treasury Edition #18 featured Werewolf By Night, whose standalone series is the only complete run I’ve ever hunted down and purchased. There was also an Iron Fist story about a guy who was born old and aged backwards, the X-Men (out of costume, so I had no idea who they were) and Morbius the Living Vampire, and a Ghost Rider story with a bad guy cyclist called The Orb, who wore a big blue eyeball motorcycle helmet for a very good reason. He had ditched his bike during a race and crossed the finish line ON HIS FACE. Leaving me with this indelible image (I think I might’ve been four)…

The Orb Unmasked

Gah! No wonder my interests went the way they did. I covered my eyes through the climactic unmasking in Return of The Jedi because I imagined Vader would look much like The Orb….but Anakin had nothing on him.

Marvel Treasury Edition #25  – Spider-Man vs. The Hulk at The Winter Olympics. I remember The Mole Man created a machine to lift the Olympic village out of reach. Peter Parker was there covering the games. I don’t remember why the Hulk was there. I think the Mole Man’s guys competed against the Olympians for some reason, and I don’t remember if they were actual real life Olympians. All I remember about this is there was a lady with a bubble head space helmet which got cracked and made her rapidly age. The Mole Man carried her off and The Hulk pounded the village back to ground level with his fists.

Sweet

Hulk, MODOK and The Harpy

Marvel Treasury Edition #26: The Rampaging Hulk. My impressions of this one as a kid are hard to put to words as an adult. I remember being fascinated and repelled by MODOK, the leader of AIM. The guy is just a huge head and face with relatively spindly mechanical arms. Freakish. There was also The Harpy, who was a hot chick (apparently Betty Ross) that seemed to have the same problem as The Hulk, except she turned into a green skinned half bird woman, which again, freaked me out (and yet was also titillating, because her clothes tore off).

What is it with me and green chicks? Later there was the Orion girl, She-Hulk, and Oola, but first there was Harpy...

The thing I remember clearest though was the little story in the back which featured Hercules getting into a barfight with a trucker looking guy with nails that came out of his fists. I think the fight started over Hercules hording all the chicks in the place. At the end, their tremendous fight cleared out the bar. I had no idea who Wolverine was till years and years later. This story confused the heck out of me as a kid because I thought the trucker guy was a bad guy and couldn’t figure out why they got along in the end.

It also introduced me to the term ‘skirts’ as a word for women.

Finally, there was the magnum opus of my collection, which I wish to God I could find. Thankfully DC put this one out again recently in a nifty hardcover edition which my lovely wife got me for Christmas.

Oh yeah.

Superman vs. Muhammad Ali.

It’s as awesome as it sounds and not nearly as bad. The Neil Adams art is great, the story line killer. An alien fleet appears in orbit and demands to fight Earth’s greatest champion over the fate of the planet. Superman steps up to the challenge, but Muhammad Ali argues that as a native earthling, HE’S Earth’s greatest champion.

They decide to settle it with an exhibition bout, battling it out under a simulated red sun. Ali OWNS Supes, apparently putting him in traction.

Ali goes toe to toe with the massive alien boxer, but sensing the alien commander’s duplicitous nature, Ali and Superman had previously formed a plan. Bundini Brown (Ali’s real life cornerman) is in reality Superman in disguise. He goes off to cripple the alien fleet while Ali takes a pounding in the ring. What happens next is best left to the actual panels…I think by the time I got a hold of this one I could read a little bit, so imagine a six or seven year old little white kid speaking Ali’s dialogue in his best Mr. T voice.

BAD-ASS

Meanwhile, don’t think Superman has been slouching all this time either….

SEE ABOVE

And the real kicker at the end, which was a stipulation Muhammad Ali demanded before he allowed DC to use his likeness…

Haw! Yeah, Ali figures out in a single issue what it took decades for Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen to learn. That’s why he’s the greatest, I guess.

Anyway, in retrospect, these four comics likely informed my own storytelling for years to come. I’ve always been attracted to old fashioned stories transplanted or retold with weird concepts.

Jack Russell’s (AKA Werewolf By Night – yeah, like the terrier) appearance in #18 probably went a long way towards fostering my love for werewolves, which I expounded on in my pirate horror novella Red Sails.

Bizarre, oddly sympathetic villains like The Mole Man, MODOK, and The Orb have always appealed to me. My first encounter with martial arts was probably the Iron Fist story in #18.

My professional Star Wars story was a boxing tale, and part of the Chevin cornerman’s name, Eedund Cus, was just Dundee (ie Ali cornerman Angelo Dundee) backwards.  My appreciation for Muhammad Ali no doubt sprang from reading his exploits with Superman at a young age.

Of course, my tastes changed over the years. In the 80’s, like most kids, I was reading The Punisher (but enjoying DC’s illicit modern day continuation of The Shadow with Howard Chaykin, Bill Scienkiewicz and Kyle Baker more) X-Men, and Wolverine, with an early stint through Marvel’s fantastic GI Joe and Transformers comics. That was probably the peak of my collecting days, when I built up my boxes, finding little gem titles I continue to return to every so often like Milk and Cheese, Groo The Wanderer, Hellboy, and Marshall Law. Then came The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, and all the heavy stuff that followed.  I don’t pick up monthlies anymore, relying mainly on word of mouth and wikipedia to keep up with what’s going on there. I still go to Comic Con every year, pick up the occasional funnybook or trade paperback.

But I look back on these (and probably a giant sized Shazam/Captain Marvel edition I can’t even begin to remember enough to seek out) early, slightly goofy but genuinely great books as the beginning of my comics education. I lost them all a long time ago. Read them so many times the covers disappeared followed by the title splash pages, and finally the whole shebang.

Think I know what I’ll shop for at Comic Con this year.