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Decisions, Decisions

Taking sides in Festival in Cannes and Blade II.

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American independent filmmaker Henry Jaglom, despite being born in London and brought up in New York, has been described as a West Coast Woody Allen (I'm guessing the inferior version, with Albert Brooks as the superior). Prior to viewing his latest, Festival in Cannes, I'd never managed to see a Jaglom film (whose titles include Always, Eating, and Babyfever), and now that I have I can't help but wonder if Steve Martin's L.A. Story was meant to be some sort of parody of (and improvement on) Jaglom's lazy, whimsical style.

Festival in Cannes opens with a photo montage of stars interacting at the famed film festival --including Grace Kelly, Sophia Loren, Orson Welles, and Robert Mitchum -- and was, in fact, filmed in the midst of the 52nd festival in 1999. This veritÇ style evokes the likes of Medium Cool (shot during the 1968 Chicago riots) and Robert Altman's political series Tanner '88 (shot during the 1988 presidential election) as much as the more obvious Altman Hollywood polemic The Player. This style, along with Jaglom's status as a movie-biz social insider, leads to some rather chummy cameos -- William Shatner and Faye Dunaway as themselves, Peter Bogdanovich as a director named Milo, and was that Sydney Pollack I saw? --that carry none of the bite Altman's verisimilitude brought to The Player.

The film concerns two movie deals on a collision course, one an "indie" film being pitched by American actress and first-time director Alice Palmer (Greta Scacchi), the other a Tom Hanks vehicle being cobbled together by arrogant Hollywood producer Rick Yorkin (Ron Silver). Both deals eventually hinge on the participation of Millie Marguand (Anouk AimÇe, star of Federico Fellini films such as 8 1/2 and La Dolce Vita), an aging French star who consults her estranged director husband Viktor (Maximilian Schell, the Austrian actor who won an Oscar for Judgment at Nuremberg and whose presence here only adds to the feeling that this film could have been made during the post-shoot cocktail parties for one of those mid-century international epics).

Most sensible people would think she could do both projects --take the paycheck with a small role in the Hanks vehicle and follow her artistic impulses with the vaguely described indie -- but this being a film about the movie business, sensible thought doesn't prevail. Tax shelters and "windows of opportunity" complicate the possibility of cooperation.

Unfortunately, whatever observations about the state of the film business or about the Cannes Festival in particular that Jaglom is trying to communicate are so light as to be almost non-existent. And eventually these concerns are winnowed down to three "unexpected" couplings that lead the film down a more conventional path. About the strongest critique of the festival itself comes when the camera pans a thoroughfare crowded with huge billboards for dubious Hollywood product: Pushing Tin, Mystery Men, Never Been Kissed, Entrapment, etc.

The romance here is agreeably sunny, thanks in large part to the work of Scacchi and AimÇe, but it is so slight and unexceptional that most viewers will yearn for more insight into film politics and production -- more inside dope or more interesting ideas. But you won't get them here. -- Chris Herrington

In this sequel, Wesley Snipes returns as the titular half-vampire superhero who stalks evil with a heavy silver sword and a brutally high kick. A passable combination of over-the-top gore and martial-arts pyrotechnics, Blade II trades on the same expected formula of its predecessor. And, like the original Blade, this feature is initially more watchable than you might think, although the experience becomes tiring long before the final credits roll.

In this go-round, Snipes is given a new breed of enemy whose ass he must kick. Through a genetic mutation, a creature has come into being: a mutant vampire that feeds on both humans and the sharp-toothed bloodsuckers. Described as a kind of crack-addict vampire, the new breed must feed exponentially more than regular old vampires. And, more than simply sucking blood, these unfortunate creatures devour their prey whole in a leech-like manner. And talk about an appetite. If these fellas don't feed often enough, they actually begin to gnaw on themselves. Pasty, bald, clear-skinned predators, the villains look like skinheads who escaped the set of Night of the Living Dead.

In an unusual turn of events, Blade is approached by the vampire nation so he can team up with them in order to eradicate the new baddies. The emperor of the vampires (who is seemingly a second cousin of the emperor from the Star Wars trilogy, both in appearance and career choice) asks Blade to work with an elite team of vampires (originally trained to take out Blade) to take down the mutant breed that is multiplying at an alarming rate. Uneasy about teaming up with his old enemy, Blade agrees but remains on his guard.

Shot on location in Prague (where the film is set), Blade II maintains a dingy, eerie look and feel throughout. Wandering through a kind of post-apocalyptic ghetto, Snipes throws down in a variety of unsightly places -- blood banks that look like crack houses and after-hours clubs that look like crack houses. And although Blade II boasts more than a fair amount of well-crafted fight scenes, the mutant vampires Snipes and crew are after can only be destroyed by sunlight, allowing for more fires than fisticuffs. For fans of the original and viewers looking for the kind of artistry ignored on WWF Smackdown, Blade II will probably be two hours well spent. Other viewers, however, should beware. -- Rachel Deahl

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