Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Going to Extremes

By Hadley Hury

AUGUST 31, 1998: 

Polish Wedding

Despite some maddening flaws in concept and execution, Polish Wedding is a likable little movie. Writer-director Theresa Connelly, who grew up in the Polish Catholic neighborhood of Detroit where the story is set, too often mistakes dramatic disingenuousness for quirky comedy and compounds the error with doses of saccharine. But viewers who are able to get past its distractingly half-baked artifice will savor in Polish Wedding the ingredients of the much more satisfying film which, in certain moments or for whole scenes, emerges.

Primarily responsible for saving Connelly’s kielbasa are the performances of Gabriel Byrne and Lena Olin. These two fine actors bring dignity and resonance to their roles and a credibility and coherence of tone to both the farce and the poignancy of the uneven script. In their skillful, passionate work, Polish Wedding is able at least occasionally to reveal a genuinely sweet heart and thoughtful intelligence.

In the early establishing shots, we might think we’re looking at a town on the flat plains of Quebec or a parish in southern Louisiana. The working-class houses, old and old-fashioned, line the gray grid of streets with a gray, shabby-genteel determination. The landmark of the community, the one monumental edifice rising impressively and watchfully from the landscape, is the church; that is, until we meet Olin’s character, Jadzia, who with her husband Bolek (Byrne) runs a successful bakery. Sensuous, mid-forties, and fierce, Jadzia – like the Church with whom she is somewhat at odds – also looms large in this landscape, and particularly in the lives of her husband, daughter Hala (Claire Danes), and four sons.

The loopy plot involves the marital compromises that have been made over the years between Jadzia and the long-suffering Bolek, the compromises Hala makes between spirit and flesh, and the spiritual compromises between the women and the Church which have evolved over generations into a variant, more pragmatic, but nonetheless respected, moral code. Everything moves toward a warm and fuzzy Hallmark-card resolution, but not before each of the characters has to fight his way through some interestingly thorny questions about marriage, sex, family, and Catholicism.



Blade

Blade clearly has ambitions to be all things to all people, and its gory smorgasbord offers up just enough of three of the major film food groups to keep the late-summer lines coming – traditional horror, special effects-enhanced martial arts/ action, and comic-book violence. For those who consider the first genre to be the real red meat of the matter, and who accept the latter two only as discreet condiments, the film starring Wesley Snipes and Stephen Dorff may leave the appetite keenly whetted but only partially sated.

Although the scenes of vampires exploding like metastasized bunches of grapes are fun the first time, they become less so after the 10th, and the comic-book distancing – while welcome amid all the grisly bloodletting – deflates the film’s more absorbing atmospherics. Blade is at its best when it’s long in the tooth. The script, by David S. Goyer, is intriguing enough, and when he’s not orchestrating the combat scenes and special effects, director Stephen Norrington gives the tale an edgy naturalism that, in proper horror-movie tradition, heightens our sense of dread and makes the horror palpable. The production design is architecturally remarkable and eerily evocative. And some of the special effects and camera work, when in service to character and mood, are brilliant. Action fans and older teens will, no doubt, glory in the pumped-up episodes of martial arts and would-be witty mayhem, but many viewers may find them a distraction from – and, as they begin to repeat with little variation, a drain on – the film’s more seductive elements. Traditionalists may feel the film wimps out on its early promise of real darkness, a creepy potential for real threat.

Snipes is Blade, a half-vampire whose mother was bitten while pregnant. He has fought his darker half with steely determination and daily infusions of serum, and is on a crusade to rid the world of vampires. Dorff plays Deacon Frost, a sleazy, anarchical bloodsucker who is plotting to overthrow the aristocratic establishment of vampires which has ruled for centuries; he needs the half-breed blood of Blade for his scheme to work. Needless to say, they go at it tooth and nail. Snipes is fine, Dorff even better – he makes your flesh crawl with his soulless cynicism, scruffy slouch, and sunken, vacant eyes.

Like the schizoid DNA of its hero, Blade is only a half-vampire movie. Its other generic personality traits will no doubt appeal to the filmmakers’ various demographic targets. Horror purists, however, may find that its hyperactivity clots the imagination.


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