Hey folks, Harry here – with the latest from Vern. This time, Vern tackles the ever evolving career of one, Wesley Snipes. I miss Wesley Snipes. He was never just the muscle action guy and I kinda hate that THAT is what he’s becoming in these cheap straight to DVD flicks. Snipes is a dramatic actor of an immense amount of range. He just needs to calm down and begin straightening out a lot of the bad press he’s had – and just do the work. Put himself in some independent films – showing his range and humility and getting back to where filmmaker’s won’t be taking a “chance” directing him, but taking the OPPORTUNITY to use him. He’s incredibly talented, I just want to see that back on screen again. Here’s Vern to tell us if we see any of that talent in HARD LUCK…
Well boys, time for another chapter in the ongoing drama THE MYSTERY OF WESLEY SNIPES, where we explore why a talented individual who starred in the three hit BLADE movies keeps doing nothing but straight to video. This new one, HARD LUCK, comes to video in October. While it’s not a particularly good movie, and it definitely shouldn’t be released theatrically, it’s at least a step up from the generic and sometimes horrible DTV action movies he’s been doing lately. It’s kind of a quirky crime movie with some occasional funny touches and an unorthodox (but not revolutionary) structure. The big news is that it reunites him with NEW JACK CITY’s Mario Van Peebles, who is director, co-writer and co-star of HARD LUCK.
A word about Mario Van Peebles. I’ve made fun of the dude alot because of the amount of DTV movies he appears in. But he’s regained my respect in recent years. I thought BAADASSSSS! was overrated. It was a TV-level movie that I think people gave a pass to because the subject is so interesting. But the one thing that was really great about it was Mario’s performance as his own dad. He was fuckin great. And then he carried that type of ’70s badass with a mustache persona into CARLITO’S WAY: RISE TO POWER, where his presence truly elevated the movie. So he has my respect now.
I’m not sure the same could be said for Sony Pictures Home Entertainment though, considering that they credited him as “Mario Peebles” on the front of this screener. Thanks alot, assholes.
There’s been talk for years that they could do a sequel to NEW JACK CITY where Nino Brown survived the shooting at the end and we find out what happens when he’s older and wiser. This is not that, but Wesley’s character “Lucky” is a similar sort of legendary Harlem hustler who people thought was dead. He took a fall and tried to turn his life around. A narrated opening sequence explains how he fell in love with his prison case worker, they moved to the south and bought a dog. But when a person in a movie is named Lucky, of course, it’s never meant literally. So Lucky suddenly gets sick and one day wakes up in the hospital surrounded by water. He thinks at first it’s the Ratpure, but actually it’s Hurricane Katrina that took his lady, his dog and his house. Melvin Van Peebles has a cameo as a crazy/wise old man who warns Wesley not to go to the Superdome, all the while enjoying a delicious fruit cup.
Despite this run of the type of luck mentioned in the title, Lucky stays on the straight and narrow. He moves back to New York, wears pooka shells, and runs an African dance group for at risk teens. The one mistake he makes is to go to a young white drug dealer friend’s birthday party at a strip club. The white boy unfairly pressures Lucky into backing him up during a big transaction. (That’s not a good friend there, I don’t give a shit if it’s his birthday.) This may surprise you, but the transaction does not go as planned, and there is some violence involved. In a voiceover, Lucky says, “There comes a point in life where you just gotta say ‘Fuck it.'” So he grabs two cases filled with $500,000, kidnaps a stripper (Jacquelyn Quinones) and leads cops and criminals on a high speed car chase. And the rest of the movie is about him on the run.
Okay, that’s not THAT much different from the type of action movies he’s been doing (except for the pooka shells), but the movie also keeps going to this parallel storyline about a weird couple out in the boonies somewhere. A young Asian guy obsessed with Mexican wrestling, and in love with Cybill Shepherd. There is obviously a pretty big age gap there, but you can see how they get along, because they are very accepting of each other’s idiosyncrasies and enjoy doing things together. For example, they like to kidnap women in the IKEA parking lot, take them home and strap them up inside a video studio surrounded by giant photos of young Cybill Shepherd, then they play old records and video tape themselves torturing the victims while wearing latex aprons and Halloween masks and shit. If it was anybody else it would be stupid, but the fact that it’s Cybill “Maddy Hayes” Shepherd trying to funnel a rat into a girl’s mouth makes it kind of entertaining.
Then, at one point, they hear something on the baby monitor – not the sound of fear, but some sort of grunting. So Cybill goes across to the house and upstairs to sing “Amazing Grace” to her retarded adult son who is upset because he wants to dress up as Spider-man and go trick or treating.
Luis Guzman shows up later as a gay dude in a bathrobe. It’s always nice to see Guzman (CARLITO’S WAY: RISE TO POWER) but to be frankly honest his scene should’ve been better. It’s not nearly as funny as it’s obviously supposed to be. If you are a big Guzman fan you’re better off renting THE SUBSTITUTE.
Also, the movie introduces Mario Van Peebles (CARLITO’S WAY: RISE TO POWER) as a cop. He doesn’t have a mustache and doesn’t play it as badass, but you gotta give him points for the way he introduces his character. It would be a typical secret-cop-meeting-in-an-out-of-the-way-spot scene except that for some reason Van Peebles does most of the scene riding in circles on a bicycle. There are lots of goofy little touches like that that make the movie better than average. For example, an exploding dye pack causes Wesley and his stripper hostage to spend a portion of the movie dyed purple (unfortunately, not for as long and not as purple as I would prefer). Lucky manages to overcome the villain partly by upsetting him by criticizing his punching. A mohawked underground fighter is introduced late into the movie, only to be murdered without ever fighting. All of the main characters randomly start narrating at various points. And there are references not just to Katrina but to other tragedies like Abu Ghraib and the movie CATWOMAN. And for some reason they mention SUPER-SIZE ME twice – once in a random conversation in the movie and another time on a weird rap song by little kids that plays on the end credits.
In my review of Wesley’s UNSTOPPABLE – I complained about how in BLADE III Wesley ended up strapped to a chair and you’re wondering what badass maneuver he’s gonna do to escape, but then he just gets rescued. And then in UNSTOPPABLE he finds himself in the exact same situation, with a chance to redeem himself, but then he gets rescued again. I haven’t watched THE DETONATOR or THE MARKSMAN yet so I’m not sure if there are similar situations in those ones, but sure enough here in HARD LUCK he ends up coming to the Cybill Shepherd farmhouse to borrow a phone and quickly finds himself tied to yet another god damn chair.
This time, thank God, Wesley DOES NOT GET RESCUED. Of course, I’m not 100% on how he pulls off the maneuver that allows him to escape, but at least it’s his own doing. And even though this isn’t really an action movie, he does get to have a quick fight with the Mexican wrestling fan (in mask). As usual, Wesley’s moves and poses are flat out awesome. It’s too bad the scene is short and the fight is cluttered by an annoying strobing effect.
And that’s one of the main reasons why the movie doesn’t work, the filmatism is typical DTV shit. I would think Van Peebles would be old school enough to stay away from the Avid farts, but they’re all over this thing. Instead of showing somebody walking somewhere they gotta pop in a little burst of fast speed walking. And there’s a couple of those black and white flashes and annoying shit like that. There’s also some pretty awkward transitions going back and forth between the Wesley and Cybill stories. I bet even with the footage they shot, some better editing could improve the movie by 10-15%. I don’t know why these guys seem to think all that flashy shit makes a movie more professional. It’s the opposite, man. If you do those Avid farts and wacky speed ups and slow downs, it automatically signals to the brain that this is not a real movie. Stop doing it, fellas. It ends now.
But I should compliment Van Peebles on the way he does the shootout when the drug deal goes sour. The music gets all crazy, the colors are bright and it’s chaotic to the point of psychedelia. I wondered if he was actually inspired by SWEET SWEETBACK in that part. Another scene I really liked is a little moment at the beginning when Lucky goes back to his flooded house. He finds a camcorder and cries while watching footage of his wife on the viewfinder. Suddenly a soldier walks in and points a gun at him, thinking he’s a looter. Before Lucky can say anything, the soldier gets called away, and Lucky is left standing with his camcorder, his memories and now an added humiliation. You don’t get moments like that in UNSTOPPABLE or 7 SECONDS.
It’s not a very good movie, but I enjoyed it because I’m glad to see Wesley and Mario trying some unusual shit. Maybe if they make some more like this they’ll get it down. Compared to real movies it’s shitty, but as far as DTV or what-the-hell-is-this-movie-I-just-flipped-to-on-cable it stands out, and by the end I found myself pretty involved. Even the relationship that predictably grows between Lucky and his hostage/partner is kind of sweet. But if you don’t go for that at least you got to see Cybill Shepherd threaten Wesley Snipes with a dildo.
Okay, so I reviewed that movie, I think I threw Hercules off the scent. I’ve been wanting The Ain’t It Cool News to say something about BLADE: THE SERIES, but I didn’t want to send it to Coaxial. No offense but as a serious Writer on the films of Cinema, I just don’t want to see that giant Buffy the Vampire Amazon ad at the bottom of my shit.
The biggest problem with BLADE: THE SERIES is, of course, no Wesley Snipes. Kirk Sticky Jones has some big god damn boots to fill. It’s like Will Smith playing Mohammed Ali – he does a surprisingly good job at something that probaly shouldn’t be tried. There is one Mohammed Ali and his name is Mohammed Ali. And there is one Blade, his name is Wesley Snipes.
But get past the fact that it’s a guy playing Blade instead of THE REAL Blade, and you’ve got a good fuckin TV show. Each of the BLADE movies has kind of a different feel from the others, and same goes for this. The show wisely plays down the action and focuses on the detailed world of the vampires and a much more complex and suspense oriented storyline than you could do in the movies. There are no one-off episodes, it’s all a continuing storyline about Blade’s operation to stop a vampire leader named Marcus Van Scuyver. Because this guy is a famous real estate developer in Detroit, Blade is not able to kill him without exposing his operation to that “sugar coated topping” world the rest of us live in. So instead he has a vampire informant who he supplies with his serum so she can keep enough of her humanity to go undercover in the vampire “House of Armaya.” And slowly they uncover the secrets of the vampire’s methods and plans.
Krista, the undercover vamp, is as much the protagonist as Blade is. That sounded like a bad idea to me, but it’s actually really smart. Unlike the movies, the show allows you to see things from a vampire point-of-view and have some sympathy for them. There are complex politics between the different vampire houses and even within the one house that we have seen from the inside. You actually start to kind of like this Van Scuyver guy that Blade is after and root against his boss, a pureblood vampire in the body of a little girl, who gets carried around by a mean looking 7 foot bodyguard. In the most recent episode the bodyguard brought her a human baby in a duffel bag as a snack. Which is a sign that she is a bad guy, I think.
I think there have been 8 episodes so far, and across those episodes a whole lot has unfolded. We’ve seen Blade track vampires across multiple continents. We’ve learned that people are starting to snort vampire ash to bring themselves temporary vampire powers – it’s a plague, but since it involves killing vampires Blade tells the drug dealers to “keep it up.” We’ve seen a lead vampire get blown up and then spend an entire episode hooked to blood packs, recuperating from human-fried-chicken to almost presentable. When Krista was worried that her cover was not convincing enough, she had Blade slice from the top of her head through her eyeball. We’ve learned where Blade’s tattoos come from, who raised him, and that his dad is Richard Roundtree (which, in retrospect, should’ve been obvious). We’ve found out how he can get his weapons through customs (there’s a worldwide network that actually gives him weapons and intel when he arrives in another country). There have been constantly growing stories about vampires experimenting on each other, a corrupt cop turned vampire who is playing the houses against each other, and (my favorite) an FBI agent who has been following a trail of evidence as if he was in an ordinary cop show without vampires. The producers claim the show is partly modeled on THE WIRE which I’m sure is a better show, but does it have Blade in it? No, I doubt it. (please email if I am wrong).
The fights are cheesy sometimes, and definitely don’t come close to the ones in the movies. But you don’t really care because you’re not watching it for the fights. You’re watching it for badass moments like the opening of the episode where Blade tracked a piece of vampire medical equipment to a seemingly ordinary pediatrician. He walks into the waiting room and a bunch of parents turn and gasp at this weird dude dressed in black walking in with a sword and a bunch of guns and explosives. It seems like he has the wrong place. In the office, we see the doctor having a talk with some parents about the status of their kid. He looks down at a monitor on his desk, and sees Blade in the waiting room. He knew this would happen sooner or later. So he reaches into his desk, pulls out a gun, puts it in his mouth and blows his brains out right in front of the parents. Blade figures he doesn’t have enough time to search the office before the cops get there, so he takes off. But when he gets to his car he sees a note under the windshield wiper. It says, “HELLO LITTLE MAN.” What the fuck? Just then an armored car runs him over, and a SWAT team of masked vampires jump out and snatch him. And that’s just the opening scene, before the intro.
I have one request for the show. I would like to see David Goyer go in there and add some badass lines to the scripts here and there. There are so many classic lines in the movies and so few in the show. With Blade it might not matter, because part of his strength is that he doesn’t talk all that much. But it was real evident in the latest episode when a flashback had a young Whistler in it. The guy playing him wasn’t bad but when he just has exposition and none of the trademark Whistler crassness, it just doesn’t fly. This does not seem like the same guy who busted through the side of the vampire archives with two machine guns and asked, “Catch you fuckers at a bad time?”
But that’s a small complaint. I’m not much of a TV watcher and don’t write about TV shows much. But this one has me addicted. I didn’t expect that a BLADE tv show would work this well. So you know what, fuck anybody who has to compare this to BUFFY THE VAMPIRE, DARK SHADOWS, DRACULA COPS, or whatever other vampire shows. Of course it’s not like that show, it’s fucking BLADE. If you like the character Blade, you will probaly like this show.
One thing though: if you start watching at this point it’s not gonna make any god damn sense. So with computer technology, or when the DVD comes out, however you want to do it, catch up on the old ones. Tell ’em Vern sent you. Er, that doesn’t really make sense. I don’t know. Don’t tell em anything I guess. Just watch it.
BLADE THE SERIES: VERN APPROVED.
HARD LUCK: AT LEAST IT’S WEIRD.
p.s. Check out the 2006 revised edition of THE BADASS 100
Originally posted at Ain’t-It-Cool-News: http://www.aintitcool.com/node/24159
July 12th, 2009 at 1:09 pm
Hey vern, ever finish watching Blade: The Series? Because it’s been a LONG, LONG time since I saw a movie/TV show and felt I needed to run around, screaming to high heaven, telling everyone how fucking awesome it is. But I’m here to tell everyone Blade: The Series is fucking awesome.
(BTW – damn was this review hard to find! I could never find it in the “B” section on the review list (should have used the magic of CTRL F), and thought “man, that’s weird Vern never wrote anything on Blade: The Series”.) Anyways – just finished watching the entire series on Netflix, it’s only 4 discs long (first one is the 2 hour pilot) – like any show, it takes a few eps to get going (the pilot is actually the weakest episode) but once it got going, man was I hooked. It’s like crack. Or Lost on a good day.
And even though this is a fricking movie discussion site, I actually don’t even really want to discuss what happens in this series. Not yet at least. There’s not any Shyamalan-style twists or anything, but i think you guys deserve to see it with fresh eyes the way I did, without knowing what the plot is, or even who is (or isn’t) a series regular. I’ll just say if you liked what Sarah Connor Chronicles did to the Terminator Universe (i.e. slowed down the pace, expanded the mythology, etc..) I guarantee you’ll eat this shit up. If you thought SCC could have used more explosions and robot fights, Blade probably isn’t for you.