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The Loose Canon: Blade

Monday, April 4th, 2016

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Every now and then I write a more-in-depth-than-usual study of a movie I consider important and influential in the evolution of Badass Cinema, a movie I believe most fans of the genre would love and all should see and have an opinion on. I call this series THE LOOSE CANON.
Every now and then I write a more-in-depth-than-usual study of a movie I consider important and influential in the evolution of Badass Cinema, a movie I believe most fans of the genre would love and all should see and have an opinion on. I call this series THE LOOSE CANON.

Before there was such a thing as Marvel Comics movies, there was BLADE.

Technically it wasn’t the first Marvel movie. It was the fourth. But nobody would’ve expected Marvel Comics to take over the movie business the way they have now. There had been the infamous flop HOWARD THE DUCK in 1986, and a few low rent b-action movies: THE PUNISHER starring Dolph Lundgren in 1989, then Albert Pyun’s DTV movie of CAPTAIN AMERICA in 1990. A Roger Corman production of FANTASTIC FOUR had been made in 1994 merely to extend the movie rights to the characters; it was never released, and the negatives have since been destroyed. I still kinda like THE PUNISHER, but until BLADE came along in 1998 none of these really connected with audiences, and there was no reason to think they would. James Cameron and Golan & Globus had an equal amount of success in trying to make a Spider-man movie, and Marvel had gone bankrupt.

bladecomicLet’s be honest, most of us never heard of a Blade before the movie. He came from the ’70s series Tomb of Dracula, part of a team of Dracula-hunters made up of descendants of Mina Harker, Abraham Van Helsing and Dracula himself. He wore a red leather jacket and green pants and spoke what creator Marv Wolfman later admitted was “cliche ‘Marvel Black’ dialogue.” But screenwriter David S. Goyer was a fan of the character when New Line Cinema, inspired by the success of FRIDAY, wanted to do a black super hero movie.

At the time it was easier to compare to other vampire movies. Anne Rice style romantic bloodsuckers had dominated the image of the subgenre since at least the movie version of INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE in 1994, and BLADE was part of a pushback that included FROM DUSK TILL DAWN two years before and John Carpenter’s VAMPIRES two months after, all reminding audiences how much fun these creatures could be as vicious monsters that need to be exterminated. Each has their own version of the rules and their own leather-clad hunters with weapons made from silver, garlic, holy water or wood, but only BLADE (and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, then two seasons in) treated it as an opportunity for martial arts. (read the rest of this shit…)

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Monday, March 28th, 2016

tn_bvs(HEAVY SPOILER REVIEW)

Here’s a weird thing about gigantic blockbuster movies based on popular licensed characters: you can end up making a sequel aimed less at the fans of the first movie than at the people who saw it once and have still not stopped complaining about it. At least that’s the fool’s errand that director Zack Snyder and writer David S. Goyer (this time rewritten by Academy Award winner Chris Terrio) chose for themselves on BATMAN von SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, which selects as its primary theme the criticisms that people had of part 1.

To this day I don’t feel like I understand the widespread outrage at MAN OF STEEL for having a comic book style battle between super beings where buildings were destroyed in the process. I still haven’t noticed this standard applied to any other movie or comic book (including the cover of the very first issue of Superman!) and I stand by everything I said in this essay about how wild misinterpretations of MAN OF STEEL have become conventional wisdom. Still, I gotta thank all of you for doing that because I suspect it inspired the most intense and cinematic section of BATMAN vehemently opposed to SUPERMAN, in which we see the Superman v Zod battle from an even more human perspective than before. Specifically, from Bruce Wayne’s point-of-view as he runs fearlessly into the destruction and tries to help.

We only see the Kryptonians in tiny glimpses, far away, high in the sky. Mostly we see raining glass and brick and glowing energy beams in their wake. They truly are gods. And now we specifically see that rubble landed on one guy and are told that a woman is missing. And Bruce Wayne doesn’t like it.

(SPOILER: Bruce Wayne is Batman.) (read the rest of this shit…)

Deadpool

Monday, February 29th, 2016

tn_deadpoolDEADPOOL is a smart-ass, hard-R super hero revenge movie for the 14 year old boy in every man, woman and child. The feature directing debut of FX artist Tim Miller (who designed the opening credits for Fincher’s THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO) has show-offy digital camera moves, fourth-wall-breaking narration, meta and self-referential humor, frequent jokes about dildos and other things going up butts, gun fetishism, jerking off, juvenile homophobic name-calling like “cockgobbler,” and is convinced that it’s hilarious to know the names of different gross sex acts and talk about doing them with old ladies. Sounds exactly like a Neveldine/Taylor style headache. But I really enjoyed it.

I saw commenters here predicting I would hate DEADPOOL like I did KICK-ASS. I understand the comparison, but here’s why I think it’s different: it has a different personality. Both are trying to push buttons with foul-mouthed costumed characters going overboard with the violence and seeming real proud of themselves for it, but to me KICK-ASS seems like it’s trying to shock and outrage some hypothetical prudes and squares that would never watch the movie anyway, while DEADPOOL seems like it’s trying to win everybody over with its obnoxious charm. There are tons of childish jokes in the movie that didn’t make me laugh, but they felt less like jokes failing and more like me smiling and shaking my head at a dipshit friend trying to make me uncomfortable to amuse himself. And the X-Men seem to feel kind of the same. He’s basically a bad guy but they keep going easy on him because they want him to be a good guy. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Peanuts Movie

Monday, November 9th, 2015

tn_peanutsTHE PEANUTS MOVIE is a 95% respectful and pure tribute to the American institution that is the comic strip Peanuts by Charles Schulz and its animated adaptations by director Bill Melendez (especially 1965’s A Charlie Brown Christmas and 1966’s It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown). With surprisingly little compromise or update it brings all the characters back to the screen in recognizable form. It doesn’t add new characters or celebrity voices or make them talk like smartass sitcom shitheads, or try to make some kind of meta commentary about what Peanuts represents, or give some origin story about how Charlie Brown got his dog or the first time he tried to kick a football, or some joke pointing out that it’s weird that he seems to only have one hair on the front of his head and two on the back… basically, it doesn’t do any of the one hundred dumbass things that you can guarantee almost any asshole who would make this movie would think was a good idea. Luckily, those assholes were busy trying to ruin The Muppets or something when this was made. (read the rest of this shit…)

Azumi 2: Death or Love

Thursday, September 17th, 2015

tn_azumi2Thanks for the warning, fellas. AZUMI 2 is no AZUMI. I had known director Shusuke Kaneko as being good at giant monster and horror type pictures, and I really thought his cleverness and style would apply well to our little badass raised in the mountains to be the ninja assassin orphan girl with the purple cape. But maybe with this one he caught a tough break. Either the budget was much lower or they just didn’t know how to use it as well as Kitamura did. Lots of standard woods and dirt, looking cinematic than ’90s syndicated TV show. Like Xena or something.

I didn’t really mind that (spoiler? unspoiler?) negotiations prevent us from having a huge climactic massacre like in the first one. That part feels kinda ballsy, I can respect that. It’s progress for the character and her story instead of just more of the same. What was disappointing was that the first one had that incredible village set that was so integrated with (and wrecked by) the battle. This one is just in an ugly clearing. She could’ve killed 700 people, it still would’ve seemed like a step down. (read the rest of this shit…)

Dr. Strange

Friday, July 10th, 2015

tn_drstrangecomicsconworldexclusiveEXCLUSIVE: Vern’s review of Marvel’s first ever supernatural movie, DR. STRANGE

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(p.s. the 1978 tv movie)

DR. STRANGE is the story of a supernatural battle going on in New York. The world you live in is a sugar-coated topping, etc. Dr. Stephen Strange (Peter Hooten from ORCA and THE INGLORIOUS BASTARDS) is a mustachioed lady’s man doctor at a psychiatric hospital who goes about his normal hospital business for half of the movie before meeting an old sorcerer dude (John Mills, GANDHI) who tells him that he has known since Stephen was a kid that he had a talent for magical voodoo type business shooting beams and saying magic words and flying in space and all that type of shit that you would have to do if you chose that sort of alternative lifestyle which so far he has not because he’s a normal person, he doesn’t believe in that shit or ever heard of it. Also Stephen’s dad knew it and that’s why the tacky ring he wears that his dad gave him matches the “ancient symbol of light” on the old man’s attic window, apparently. (read the rest of this shit…)

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Monday, June 22nd, 2015

tn_kingsmanWell, I wasn’t sure if I could do it, but I did, you guys: I enjoyed KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE. Although I have this idea of director Matthew Vaughn as an overhyped Friend of the Internet, when I look at his filmography it’s really only KICK-ASS that I have a beef with. But since KINGSMAN is the director and writers of KICK-ASS adapting from another comic from the same guy that did KICK-ASS you can see why it would be a concern.

Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is a young British man of drinking age. His dad died in Iraq when he was a kid, his mom has an abusive asshole boyfriend, he hangs out at the pub with his friends, gets in fights, doesn’t have a job. This could be the beginning of another GREEN STREET sequel, but when he gets busted for stealing some asshole’s car it’s not a soccer fan club that helps him out, it’s a stranger who claims to be a friend of his dad.

Little did Eggsy know that his father was in a secret society of highly skilled, well-financed super-spies working independently of any government. This guy who helps him, code named Galahad (Colin Firth, THE KING’S PEACH), says he owes Eggsy’s dad for saving his life. Galahad notices Eggsy’s squandered potential (he quit the Marines as well as an Olympics-bound gymnastics career) and decides to recruit him to try out for their organization. But it’s a tough audition. It’s kinda like trying out for the SEALs but only one person gets to join. (read the rest of this shit…)

Batman Forever

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015

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RELEASE DATE: May 19
RELEASE DATE: June 16

“Those who cannot remember [BATMAN FOREVER] are condemned to repeat it.” –George Santayana, The Life of Reason, 1905

You guys wanna see a hit summer blockbuster that was well received at the time, but has since been disavowed like a discredited ideology? The summer of 1995 gives you BATMAN FOREVER.

Just six years earlier Tim Burton had smashed open the zeitgeist with BATMAN, which had been used as somewhat of a reference point for would-be blockbusters since, clearly influencing at least the scoring and marketing of DICK TRACY, DARKMAN, THE ROCKETEER and THE SHADOW, for example. But Burton’s second one, BATMAN RETURNS (1992) was weirder, more personal, and therefore less enthusiastically received by the public. That made the studio weary about plans for a Burton-directed part 3, and they parted ways. Burton is credited as an executive producer on FOREVER, but apparently his only role was to give the new director his blessing and meet with screenwriters Lee & Janet Scott Batchler once to discuss the importance of duality in Batman characters.

Joel Schumacher was a weird but not controversial choice for a replacement. People remembered THE LOST BOYS, FALLING DOWN and maybe FLATLINERS as good movies. And he did THE CLIENT – you know, those John Grisham court room thrillers were a big deal in the ’90s, for some reason. I wonder what happened to that whole genre. Anyway, a 1993 Entertainment Weekly article said “Hiring Schumacher to direct the summer-of-’95 release is seen by insiders as an attempt by Warner Bros. to get the Batman movies back on track” because “Warner doesn’t want a repeat of the macabre 1992 sequel, BATMAN RETURNS, which frightened small children and angered many parents.” It goes on to quote an anonymous “source close to the project” as saying they didn’t want Burton to direct because “he’s too dark and odd for them.”

Yeah, because Schumacher made a real normal movie. No oddness to see here. Just a couple of bros in shiny plastic muscles driving a car up the side of a building. Don’t worry about it, fellas. (read the rest of this shit…)

Casper

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

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RELEASE DATE: May 26
RELEASE DATE: May 26

I got a feeling a couple of you probly grew up liking 1995’s CASPER, the big Universal movie adaptation of the famous friendly ghost of comics and cartoons, and you’re gonna tell me it’s pretty good. But if so I will disagree. In my opinion it’s not cuttin it.

Why would I expect otherwise? Well, #1, as a positive individual I believe in the possibility of great art coming from anywhere. #2, as a striver for excellence I expect all artists to take a shot at said greatness. #3, This was produced by Steve Spielberg, with what at the time were groundbreaking effects by Industrial Light and/or Magic. Remember, this was only two years into the modern age of digital effects started by JURASSIC PARK. Computer generated imageries were still novel and scarce. This was the first movie to have an all c.g. main character. Of course, he’s deliberately cartoony, and transparent to boot, so it wasn’t gonna blow people away with its realism. But this was about half a year before TOY STORY came out, so I’m pretty sure it was the most computer animation that had been seen in one movie up to that point. So it was new.

An older generation than you CASPERheads now talks with deep nostalgia about “Amblin movies” as this beautiful type of family-friendly movies from the ’80s. They’re specifically talking about E.T., GREMLINS, GOONIES and BACK TO THE FUTURE, I believe. And then you can pad it out with HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS and *batteries not included I guess. I doubt they mean the serious Amblin productions like THE COLOR PURPLE, CAPE FEAR, SCHINDLER’S LIST or THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. (read the rest of this shit…)

Disney’s Marvel’s Joss Whedon’s The Avengers in: The Age of Ultron: A Marvel Cinematic Universe Adventure 2D

Monday, May 4th, 2015

tn_avengers2THE AVENGERS PART 2 is probly the most comic bookiest comic book movie achieved by mankind so far, which is to say that most of the action scenes have like 15 different supermen and secret agents and shit flipping around shooting magic beams and power waves and explosive arrows and laser things and doing super punches and alley ooping each other and what not as they fight against an army of flying wiseass robots. There are two main characters who wear capes, one that turns into a giant monster, one that’s from a viking fantasy dimension or whatever, at least two that fly of their own accord and two using the jets on their power suits, one that moves faster than sound and another that does mind control and shoots red, uh… magic I guess?… from her hands. It’s not played exactly “gritty” but it’s not a joke either. It means it.

After writer/director Joss Whedon (SPEED)’s masterful job of combining all the different Marvel characters into one supergroup in part 1, he has an even bigger miracle to pull off, and ends up with more mixed results. Because after you’ve managed the trick of combining all these worlds and characters into one coherent movie (which honestly I didn’t believe could be done), the challenge is how do you do it again and make it seem new again and bigger this time but not worse? And the answer is “it’s hard to say.” (read the rest of this shit…)