This Week in Geek (29/04-05/05/19)

In theaters: I realized last week that I saw two movies with a time travel element, one of which was Endgame. So am I cheating by making it my featured time travel movie THIS week? Well, no, because I also SAW IT AGAIN this week. Caught a couple little things more, but generally the same feeling. Wept through the first hour, bawled through the finale, ya know, as you do. In between the two viewings, recorded a very spoilery podcast review with the Fire and Water crew, check it out if you can't get enough MCU talk.

At home: Set time machine to Marvel Universe in the past. Keywords: People who turn to dust. References to secret wars. Weapons that hurt to use. A swordsman hero.

One of the first "Marvel movies", though muggles would be hard-pressed to realize it, was Blade, starring Wesley Snipes as a vampire hunter with vampire blood, created for Marvel's Tomb of Dracula comics in the '70s. The movie was made during an upswing in directorial interest in Hong Kong cinema, so the action and visual style definitely show that influence (that non-HK fans will correctly identify with The Matrix, made later). The plot is some pretty standard supernatural action stuff, further diluted by the rash of terrible CG creatures films of the 2000s, but it's never boring despite an emotionally closed-off lead character. He's just the essence of cool, so sit back, enjoy the violence, hate on the vampires, and maybe hook into N'Bushe Wright's plight as a woman bitten and on borrowed time. Nice surprise, this "damsel in distress" turns out to be a badass, and not the love interest you might imagine her to be. Since Blade is at a remove from the audience, she's the POV character we need, and want.

Guillermo del Toro's Blade II is much more to my tastes than the first one. A visual world-builder, he's a good choice for Goyer's second script, which significantly opens up the world of Blade, and really turns it into a superhero franchise, despite its horror tropes and positively Cronenbergian gore. Blade has much more of a sense of humor in this one, and he gets to team up with the Blood Pack, a vampire team that includes my boy Donnie Yen (who doesn't get to do enough in the picture, but still). The fight choreography is, on the whole, an improvement on the original, and del Toro finds a lot of fun ways to kill vampires and reapers (a new super-vampire that justifies his uneasy alliance with the regular kind). Some ropy moments, but there's just so much stuff that it was bound to happen here and there. Quite fun and often inventive, Blade II isn't free of missteps (characters shuffled in and out on awkward twists), but it's dang entertaining and that's all I require of it.

Wendy Hiller is pretty great in I Know Where I'm Going, a British film where she plays a woman who's always known what she wanted and found a way to get it. Except this time, Scotland may have other ideas. See, she's got into her head to marry a rich industrialist who's renting up there, and it's all been arranged. Now if only she can keep herself from changing her mind once in-country, especially after she meets the charming laird of the island. For the most part, it's a showcase for the Scottish locations and Scottish culture, all quite charming. But the film also plays with useful motifs, in particular legends surrounding dangerous whirlpools (fairly well executed on the physical plane) as they relate to Hiller's dilemma, and a crucial curse on the laird's abandoned castle. The stuff with the falconer's escaped bird also adds to the film's thematic resonance. A bit of comedy, a bit of drama, a bit of romance, a bit of danger, a weird dream sequence, a lot of good writing and staging... I'm sold. FAVORITE OF THE WEEK

La Strada won Fellini his first Oscar, at least in part thanks to his wife Giulietta Masina who stars in the picture as an open-hearted woman who is sold by her family to a circus strongman played by Anthony Quinn (which she introduced to Fellini, thereby securing a more international audience for "The Road"). Not only is she important to the film's inception, but she's the best thing about it, giving an expressive performance as a kind of female Chaplin character equal parts lightness and sadness. In Fellini's cruel neo-realism, life on the road for performers is far from glamorous. Post-war Italy is a devastated wasteland. The two leads sleep in the snowy gutter. And her only respite from his cold brutality is also a bit of a jerk. Both men are closed off and incapable of admitting any real feeling for her, though it can be found in the subtle acting. The question of the film, then, is whether her spirit will be broken by the strongman, or if her love for and loyalty to him with break his first. A tragedy in the making.

Am I the only one bothered by the dog-switching in De Sica's Umberto D.? Flike is normally a black-faced dog, and turns into a white-faced dog in two scenes. While I can well imagine reasons both tragic and benign why that might be, it actually changes one's interpretation of a key scene, and they causes unnecessary confusion. Otherwise, while I do not affect it as much as the director's masterpiece, Bicycle Thieves, the film has a similar feeling. Again, non actors are used to good effect, and we're witness to what impoverished circumstances might force a person into, in this case a struggling pensioner, mistreated by his landlady, and forgotten by the world, though he can't quite bring himself to fall even if it would be easier. But if Bicycle Thieves is a tragedy, I think Umberto D. may be more hopeful. Not that you'd know until the very end, because it's sadder and more pathetic along the way. As a piece of neo-realism, it defies any kind of "movie scripting", that's all. It instead opens a window on real-seeming life, with its unscripted ups, downs and even-keeled routines. Plus, cute trained dog. One of them anyway.



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