"Goes for the jugular"
Dir. Guillermo del Toro; writ. David S. Goyer; feat. Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson, Ron Perlman, Leonor Varela, Luke Goss, Norman Reedus (R)
Director Guillermo del Toro has made a name for himself with a couple of foreign-produced films (Cronos, The Devil's Backbone) that infuse the art film with a deep love of horror fiction's imagery. He's taken the vampire tale and the ghost story to sublime new places, stripping them down to their thematic essence and making them more haunting than frightening.
Blade II is not one of those films.
In this one, del Toro's touchstone is not the age-old ghost story, but the rock 'em, sock 'em modern comic book, cross-bred with the contemporary horror film. The violence is all stylized and hyperbolic, executed with maximum gore — and all in good fun.
For those who didn't see this film's precursor, Blade is a creature half-vampire, half-man, who uses his powers to rid the world of bloodsuckers. Kristofferson is his grizzled human partner, who builds all manner of vicious weapons for Blade to use. (Yeah, Kristofferson's character was captured in the last installment; this one opens with Blade coming to his rescue.) The plot this time around is that a new, mutant breed of super-vampire has been born, and our hero must team up with his enemy (including, naturally, one who's a real babe) to wipe them out.
The plot is thin, and has its share of holes; this is no Crouching Tiger-style genre film that crosses over into serious cinema. It's just a framework on which Del Toro hangs every kind of ninja/John Woo/Aliens style mayhem he can concoct — and he does it beautifully. — John DeFore
Festival in Cannes
"Pros and cons make deals in Cannes"
Writ. & dir. Henry Jaglom; feat. Anouk Aimée, Greta Scacchi, Maximilian Schell, Ron Silver, Zack Norman, Jenny Gabrielle, Alex Craig Mann, Camilla Campanale (PG-13)
In his new book Sundance to Sarajevo: Film Festivals and the World They Made, Kenneth Turan quotes Tim Robbins on the most glamorous one: "Cannes is a very strange mixture of the art of film and total prostitution of film." Festival in Cannes, filmed amidst the May extravaganza, includes one actress who is a former hooker — but other movie-types are still hustling. Henry Jaglom offers a genial portrait of moviedealing as streetwalking, where the streets are paved with gold.
Cannes seems French, not only because it is set entirely on the Riviera or its scenes are punctuated by peppy Gallic tunes. An intimate encounter with character, it is a morsel that recalls the piquancy of Truffaut's Day for Night. Think Altman's The Player more brightly lit, a clash between idealism and opportunism in which ethical qualms are no big deal: A $90 million Tom Cruise project is. — Steven G. Kellman
"Perfect claustrophobic thriller"
Dir. David Fincher; writ. David Koepp; feat. Jodie Foster, Kristen Stewart, Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto, Dwight Yoakam, Ann Magnuson, Ian Buchanan (R)
The creative opposite of Blade II, in which a director known for subtlety goes ape, Panic Room shows a filmmaker known for narrative and stylistic extremes (Fincher made Se7en and Fight Club) focusing his vision on a scenario that's stripped to the bone: a woman and her child trapped in a house with three burglars.
Fincher's hallmarks are here: It's a rainy night, fluorescent fixtures flicker, rooms are less illuminated than creatively shadowed, and moments of violence are pushed to the point that you can almost feel them — but never in a way that feels tacked on.
And screenwriter David Koepp has come up with some ingenious ways to keep this very simple plot compelling. On paper, the premise seems to have nowhere to go, but Koepp and Fincher never allow that notion to enter the viewer's head. The film's momentum is also driven by two leads (Foster and Whitaker) who create their own internal dramas to pit against the explicit one; either performance could have carried the film on its own, but the filmmakers give us more to watch than they have to.
Amidst the psychodrama, though, Fincher never forgets that he's making a thriller. The movie is a continuous nail-biter, the kind where, if you listen, you'll hear the audience whispering "hurry up, hurry up!" to Foster as she tries to outsmart the intruders. After the huge, "I'm going to make you rethink your entire worldview" psycho-epic of Fight Club, this is exactly the film David Fincher needed to make. — John DeFore