EXPLANATORY INTRODUCTION PARAGRAPH: I have noticed that some of the movies coming out this summer are based on pre-existing characters or stories. In this off and on series we’ll look at earlier versions.
I don’t know if the young people know about this now, but in 1989 Tim Burton’s BATMAN (do people even watch that anymore?) was a gigantic explosion in pop culture. This was way back when “geek” was considered an insult and “actually some comic books aren’t just for kids they call them graphic novels” was considered interesting trivia. A movie about a super hero hadn’t been popular since SUPERMAN twelve years earlier, and that had seemed like an isolated incident. Now all the sudden the world was captivated by billboards and merchandise of just the bat symbol. It was on cereal boxes and racks of bootleg t-shirts in parking lots. Batman was worn by skateboarders, celebrated in weird Prince videos on MTV, welcomed back nostalgically in reruns of the ’60s comedy series starring Adam West. Intrigued newcomers picked up paperbacks of the groundbreaking ’80s work of dark Batman that were considered sacred texts from publication until the exact moment when musclebound Zack Snyder picked up the ball (the dodge ball?) and ran with it. (read the rest of this shit…)
warning: I had to write this down as a time capsule of my book signing experience. Read at own risk.
Today, like the mighty sasquatch, I live as a recluse somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. Yesterday, in the name of transparency, I was out in the open in Burbank, California, joining lower-cased author david j. moore as one of the many guests signing his gigantic coffee table book THE GOOD, THE TOUGH AND THE DEADLY: ACTION MOVIES & STARS 1960s-PRESENT.
“It’s about action stars, not action movies,” david kept telling people as he signed their books. He’d wanted a different subtitle that made that more clear. Rather than trying to catalog everything that could technically qualify as an action movie – which could end up being half super heroes and transformerses and shit – he chose to zero in on the dying art of the action star vehicle. I remember him calling me for counsel on this issue a few years ago. I don’t think I was much help, but I agreed with his eventual decision to limit it to actors who primarily or exclusively do action, and (with a few exceptions) started as martial artists or athletes. That means no to my boys Bruce and Clint, sorry to say, but yes to JCVD, Cynthia Rothrock, Jerry Trimble, Michael Dudikoff, Olivier Gruner, ex-diver Jason Statham, and plenty of people I’m not even familiar with. People who never had books about them before, who you never thought would have books about them. (He does include Bronson, Stallone and Schwarzenegger, if you’re worried.)
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Well, we knew he was sick, but I’m still not ready to face a world without Bernie Worrell, the “Wizard of Woo” genius keyboardist of Parliament-Funkadelic.
I don’t say genius lightly. In a giant crew full of one-of-a-kind musical minds including George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley (to name only the most famous), Bernie still stood out. For one thing, he invented sounds never before heard by the human ear. The weird alien blurps and bloops of “Flashlight,” for example, that act as the crazy intro, the solos and the bassline, could have only come from one brain and pair of hands, and they were Bernie’s. More than any other player, Bernie gave P-Funk the alien edge that put them on a higher plane than any of their funky contemporaries. (read the rest of this shit…)
If you can make it to Dark Delicacies in Burbank on Sunday, please stop by and say hello. I’ll be signing david j. moore’s awesome new coffee table behemoth THE GOOD, THE TOUGH AND THE DEADLY along with david and fellow contributors Corey Danna, Mike Joffe, Jason Souza, Dustin Leimgruber, Duvien Ho and Keith Batcheller (cover artist). AND HOLY SHIT the action star and filmmaker special guests he has coming! The lineup has changed drastically (and is probly still subject to change) but check below for the latest info.
I think I only wrote five reviews in this thing, so david is the real man of the hour, but I’m very proud to be a small part of this incredible tribute and resource for my favorite artform. I’d also be happy to sign whatever else you want, and I’ll have a few copies of Niketown and Yippee Ki Yay, Moviegoer in case you need to buy one. (I only have one Seagalogy on hand, so bring your own.)
A couple of the legends I was excited to meet are apparently not going to make it, but new ones have been added. Here is the updated and confirmed guest list I’ve been given:
And maybe some surprises. I hope to see some of you there. Even if I don’t, check out this book. It’s blowing my mind and I’m only in the Bs. Already there has been a motherlode of info on the AMERICAN NINJA series and an interview with the director of BLOOD AND BONE.
A few weeks ago at the Seattle International Film Festival I saw THE BODYGUARD, or MY BELOVED BODYGUARD as it’s currently listed on IMDb. It’s the new Sammo Hung vehicle, and his first time directing since ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA AND AMERICA in 1997. That’s a long fucking time! I didn’t realize it had been that long, but it was still thrilling to see the credit “Director and Action Director: Sammo Hung” not only splashed across a big screen, but in front of a sold out crowd. Unfortunately I can’t say the movie fulfilled the promise of those words.
Hung plays Ding, who we hear through both expository dialogue and seemingly-third-person narration was an elite agent in the Hong Kong equivalent of the Secret Service. He recently witnessed a gang murder and might’ve put a major gang figure away, but in the lineup he couldn’t remember him because “We think he has dementia.” (I feel like there might’ve been a more dramatic way to reveal that information than to just have a cop say it in the opening scene.)
There’s a little Clint Eastwood in the movie’s quiet, gentle portrait of Ding’s lonely life fending off advances from his landlord (Qinqin Li) and mourning his relationship with his daughter, who won’t speak to him because he lost her daughter (to a child murderer?) when he was supposed to be watching her. It’s never fully explained, but seems doubly tragic because we can assume his condition played a part in what happened, but his daughter seems to blame it on him just being a piece of shit.
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As a guy specializing in writing about action movies, sometimes I worry I’m documenting an ancient art form. I romanticize a time when action movies were a rite of passage, a father-son bonding tradition and a major passion for many young people, especially males, but it seems like the youth of today aren’t necessarily interested in this shit. And if they don’t grow up on it then they’re never gonna have that moment when they get a little older and become aware of the other powerful strains of it from around the world.
That makes me sad because whatever they’re watching instead cannot possibly match the rush of joy I got when I saw my first John Woo movie – which was THE KILLER – or each time I revisit his classics now. At the time there was nothing else like it. Somehow that seems even more true today.
The things that are greatest about THE KILLER might be the things that would seem silliest to younger people: the unabashed style and the the unbridled, unironic emotion. I remember people who came up a few years after the era when Hong Kong action cinema was the coolest thing going – people who are old and decrepit now – who would make jokes about John Woo’s doves. “Ha ha, two pistols, and some doves, am I right? Ha ha, I know about a trademark, I have defeated him.”
Well, THE KILLER is gonna be way too much for anybody like that. And maybe I gotta face that they just don’t deserve THE KILLER. The cards are laid on the table in the opening, when Chow Yun-Fat as Ah Jong (or “Jeff Chow,” according to the credits) meets with his Triad manager Fung Sei (Paul Chu Kong) in an empty church at night. That happens in all action movies, but this church is lit with what must be a thousand candles, and there are doves and pigeons flying around, landing on the cross. (read the rest of this shit…)
You know what they say about people who work in movies as some job other than director: they really want to direct. It happens to actors, it happens to writers, it happens to Mel Gibson’s hairdresser who directed PAPARAZZI. It also happens to special effects makeup artists. Tom Savini directed the quite good NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD remake. Stan Winston directed PUMPKINHEAD and A GNOME NAMED GNORM and Michael Jackson’s GHOSTS. John Carl Buechler directed TROLL and FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VII and a bunch of other stuff. Kevin Yagher (partially) directed HELLRAISER: BLOODLINE. Of all these, the weirdest is the one that Tom Burman did, MEET THE HOLLOWHEADS.
Maybe Burman isn’t as well known as some of those other guys. In recent years his work has been on hospital-set TV shows – Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Chicago Hope, Nip/Tuck. Good work if you can get it. But he’s been in the business since the ’70s, creating the titular heads of THE THING WITH TWO HEADS, doing makeup for FROGS, THE BOY WHO CRIED WEREWOLF, THE FOOD OF THE GODS, THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, and the Wookiees in The Star Wars Holiday Special. His work spans from classic gore moments (MY BLOODY VALENTINE, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, HALLOWEEN III) to werewolves (TEEN WOLF) to fantasy (SCROOGED) to action movies (DIE HARD 2, THE LAST ACTION HERO, CON AIR). He worked on Sloth in THE GOONIES, the monster in HOWARD THE DUCK and the Supreme Leader in CAPTAIN EO.
But in the late ’80s he decided to make his own movie to exercise and showcase the skills of The Burman Studios, the company he ran with his sons Barney and Rob. I remember it was on the cover of Fangoria under the title LIFE ON THE EDGE, and that might be the only reason I was aware of it. (read the rest of this shit…)
UPDATE: King Newbs kindly transcribed this for me. Scroll to the end if you need a readable version.
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6/22 UPDATE: I am hearing that unfortunately Craig Baxley and Cynthia Rothrock will not be able to attend. However Don “The Dragon” Wilson will.
If you haven’t heard yet, I (Vern) am emerging from my spiderhole again for my second ever public appearance, a book signing at Dark Delicacies in Burbank at 2 pm on Sunday, June 26th. This time it’s not all about me (or Seagal) though, I’m there to support my friend david j. moore and his gigantic new action movie compendium THE GOOD THE TOUGH & THE DEADLY: Action Movies & Stars 1960s – Present, which I made a very small and humble contribution to.
But that’s not all! I am told there will be a whole bunch of icons from the type of b-action movies we love in attendance as well. Like david’s post-apocalyptic movie book WORLD GONE WILD, this one has over 1,000 capsule reviews (five by me, I believe, which is how I got into this mess) and david’s interviews with a who’s who of action stars, directors, writers, stuntmen, etc. Some of them will be there with us to sign the book.
INCLUDING MR. CRAIG R. BAXLEY, DIRECTOR OF SOME OF MY VERY FAVORITE MOVIES.
Here’s the full list via david: (read the rest of this shit…)
a.k.a. “The VVitch: A New England Folk Tale,” as it said on the actual movie
Our beliefs on horror movies are very dear and personal to us. We were indoctrinated into them as children, performing rituals both in groups and in private. Though horror fans often think of themselves as one big group, different factions draw from different traditions. Some are strictly isolationist, while many draw from the Italians, or the Japanese, or even the French. Some have an Amish-like devotion to a specific bygone era, for example the Orthodox ’80s Slashists not only refuse to acknowledge the reformations of the SCREAM era, they don’t even believe in Blu-Ray.
There are many dogmas to adhere to or ignore. Some oppose jump scares, others welcome them to the flock. Many exalt franchise horror, but some consider sequeling a sin. Most oppose new remakes, but who doesn’t at least like THE THING? There is a wide spectrum, from those who seek the gore and transgression of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and GUINEA PIG to those who believe the best scares are always left to the imagination (of the viewer, not the filmmaker). In the middle are many who spent a few years fretting about “torture porn” and its hold on the genre. Or PG-13 teen horror. Or studio horror with big name actors. Or whatever.
Since the ’80s, horror has been both a highly specialized world for fangorian aficionados and a go-to market for squeezing quick bucks out of undiscerning young people. Therefore it should be no surprise that movies like THE WITCH that take a mood-heavy, narrative-light arthouse type of approach can be praised to the sky by critics and horror media, then called “the worst movie ever” by normal people who expect something different when they go to a horror movie. That they will get mad at the people who said it was good, and accuse them of thinking they’re stupid, which will then make them think they’re stupid. Lots of finger pointing. We could be moving toward burning and drowning. (read the rest of this shit…)