So once again we have survived.

Archive for December, 2015

So long 2015, you hustlin sonofabitch

Thursday, December 31st, 2015

tn_mcqueentoastWell, it’s been a year again. 365 days of 2015ness have passed, that much I know for sure. I did not manage to become a successful or highly paid individual yet. I lost some family. The world lost Darren Shahlavi, Roddy Piper and Wes Craven. A bunch of less celebrated people got shot and blown up all around the world. I’m against it. Stop doing that.

I’m gonna focus on the positive though. My life is mostly good, and I make it through the bad days in part because of you guys and what we do here. I think I had a year of writing that I can be proud of. Let’s go over some highlights.

As is my tradition now, I started the year with Clint, revisiting THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES. Later in the month I saw his AMERICAN SNIPER, which I still think is more complex than it got credit for. And if you think that makes me a war apologist, fuck you. I didn’t see you seeking out actual Iraqi films about the war like AHLAAM to write about too. That was me that did that.

Speaking of Bradley Cooper movies, I finally reviewed THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN, so I can include a link whenever I mention Cooper for any reason. In that sense I really made alot of progress this year.
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VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

The Hateful Eight

Wednesday, December 30th, 2015

tn_hatefuleight(SPOILERS. This is a don’t-read-before-seeing-the-movie review.)

Quentin Tarantino tries out a couple new tricks in his new one, THE HATEFUL EIGHT: he shot in extra-wide 65mm Cinemascope, and helped hook up a bunch of theaters with 70mm projectors (and projectionists, I assume) to show an early, longer version of the movie complete with an overture, intermission and program. He got Ennio Morricone to compose and orchestrate some new music for it (Tarantino’s only previous original scoring was some bits by RZA and Robert Rodriguez for the KILL BILLs). But it also feels pretty familiar: his second extreme-racism western in a row, with chapter titles like KILL BILL, full of conversation suspense scenes like INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, mostly one location like RESERVOIR DOGS, some non-linear jumps like most of his movies, and a cast with plenty of his regulars (Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, James Parks, Zoe Bell, Waltong Goggins [I almost forgot he was in DJANGO UNCHAINED). Just as INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS got away with some out-of-the-blue, seemingly incongruous narration by Jackson, HATEFUL EIGHT follows up its intermission with some omniscient narration that you suddenly realize is Tarantino himself. I can see why some people would hate that, but I loved it. I mean, who are we fooling, we all know it’s this guy talking to us through this movie anyway. And it helps kick off the second half with an energy the first was lacking.

Here’s something brand new for a Tarantino movie: I didn’t immediately love it. I’m honestly still trying to figure out how I feel about it. I’m not sure I get it. I remember that with both INGLOURIOUS and DJANGO I had misgivings on the first viewings that later seemed completely irrelevant. With the former it was thinking that Brad Pitt seemed like Brad Pitt playing a funny character, he didn’t inhabit the character the way previous Tarantino leads had. With the latter it was that Tarantino had never done a movie that followed one character chronologically, and it seemed kinda too simple for him. Both of those seem like dumb complaints to me now, and I loved both movies without reservations on subsequent viewings. Even so, their first times I liked better than this first time. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Labyrinth

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

tn_labyrinthlucasminusstarwarsJennifer Connelly’s first movie was Sergio Leone’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (as the young version of Elizabeth McGovern’s character). Her first starring role was Dario Argento’s PHENOMENA, aka CREEPERS. Then she did some normal teen movie, but the one after that was LABYRINTH, directed by Jim Henson, where she’s co-starring with David Bowie and about a hundred different puppets. That’s a crazy career already, years before she got an Oscar.

This one is pretty different from the Argento one. Yes, she still communicates with bugs, because there’s a worm in one scene who gives her a helpful tip and invites her in to meet his wife. But there’s no monkey going nuts with a straight razor, and no Goblin. Just goblins.

She plays Sarah, a teenage girl who one day during a bratty fit about having to babysit says some fantasy nonsense that actually summons goblins to take away her toddler brother Toby. Whoops. To get him back she has to make it through a labyrinth to the Goblin King (Bowie)’s castle in 13 hours. Except for the king, the goblins and the inhabitants of the maze are all puppets and special effects creations. Designed by artist Brian Froud (like Henson’s previous movie, THE DARK CRYSTAL), they still have cartoonish looks and personalities, but with more realistic texture and detail than Muppets. They seem like closer relatives to Yoda than to Cookie Monster. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Latino

Monday, December 28th, 2015

tn_latinolucasminusstarwarsIn the early ’80s, a brutal guerrilla war was going on in Nicaragua, with an army of terrorist counter-revolutionaries, or contras, fighting against the leftist Sandinista party that was in power. The contras were funded and trained by the U.S. and called “freedom fighters” by President Reagan. Most Americans didn’t really pay attention, so the cinematographer, documentarian and sometimes narrative film director Haskell Wexler – who died yesterday at the age of 93 – decided to make this fictionalized movie about it.

Eddie Guerrero (Robert Beltran, LONE WOLF MCQUADE) is an American special forces soldier following up his Vietnam tours with a secret mission in Honduras. He works with Ruben (Tony Plana, HALF PAST DEAD 1-2) to train some soldiers who go over the border into Nicaragua to fight the communist Sandanistas.

Then we meet some of these communists living on a farming cooperative. They are peasant women and teenage boys with AKs trying to defend themselves from the contras who keep coming in, burning their crops and taking their sons, forcing them to join up.

We see how that works: they come into town, spray some bullets around, throw the young men on the ground and tie them up. While they’re there Eddie doesn’t really know what’s up yet, but he wanders into an old lady’s kitchen and gets an earful about his side and how she hopes he dies. He takes one of the tortillas she’s making and eats it, so maybe he’s more of an asshole than we realized. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Die Hard

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2015

tn_diehardBI don’t like to say I have a favorite movie. There are too many great ones that I love for too many equally meaningful-to-me reasons. But if I had to choose one, like if you had to register your favorite movie with the government or something, maybe it would be DIE HARD. I wrote a piece about it before, but that was 16 years ago, I was a different person then, and it’s embarrassing to me. So let me try again.

Many of the reasons I love DIE HARD are self evident. By now most people have caught on to the fact that it’s an extremely well made, ridiculously entertaining popcorn masterwork. The story is so perfect and elemental that it became a template, a name for a reliably entertaining subgenre of action movies. This is a testament to the genius of the setup by Roderick Thorp in his novel Nothing Lasts Forever, its remolding by screenwriters Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza, and its precise cinematic execution by director John McTiernan, cinematographer Jan de Bont, editors John F. Link and Frank J. Urioste, composer Michael Kamen, etc. They crafted a pitch perfect introduction of this character (based around the charm and humor of Bruce Willis) and unrolling of the sinister plot he’s about to crash head first into. And then it escalates into spectacular crescendos – the explosion in the elevator shaft, the desperate leap from the roof and bare-foot-kicking-through of the window – that, in their somewhat grounded context, continue to feel enormous even after movies (including its four sequels) have gotten bigger and bigger for nearly three decades. In retrospect it wasn’t the amount of C-4 but the placement of it that caused the ads to vow it “WILL BLOW YOU THROUGH THE BACK WALL OF THE THEATRE.”
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VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Monday, December 21st, 2015

tn_forceawakensstarwarsminuslucasWARNING: This is all spoilers, why would you read it without seeing the movie?

Previously on Disney’s Star Wars™: When it was announced that George Lucas had sold Lucasfilm to Disney and other people were gonna make new Star Wars movies, the world celebrated like the end of RETURN OF THE JEDI special edition but with the song from the original end of RETURN OF THE JEDI. I wasn’t so sure. I thought Lucas was a one-of-a-kind visionary whose works couldn’t be duplicated without his oversight, and I would rather see a flawed idiosyncratic Star War like his prequels than the potential mediocre one made by somebody else. But on the other hand as a huge Star Wars trekkie to the bone I couldn’t help but be excited to see Luke, Leia, Han, Sebulba and Chewbacca on the big screen again, something I never expected to happen. So when the trailers came out I was as down as anyone. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Mishima: a life in four chapters

Thursday, December 17th, 2015

tn_mishimalucasminusstarwars

This is the story of Yukio Mishima (Ken Ogata, VENGEANCE IS MINE), once “Japan’s most celebrated author,” but now largely known as a crazy who commited public ritual suicide. Paul Schrader’s complex, lushly produced film weaves together both sides of the writer’s legacy, illustrating what he called “the harmony of pen and sword,” an attempt to fuse his art and his actions into one.

It starts in 1970 the morning of the day when we know from the onscreen text that Mishima is going to take “4 cadets from his private army” to a military base, kidnap a general. Mishima, and those of us who have heard of this incident, know he will make a speech about the soul of Japan and then cut his belly open with a sword. But he doesn’t seem nervous. He skips breakfast but has one last leisurely morning, reading the paper, enjoying some tea in his lovely backyard. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

BEWARE! people talkin Star Wars

Thursday, December 17th, 2015

tn_starwarsPlease note, I will not be seeing the new Star picture until Friday night. I will be leaving the internet to seclude myself in the mountains or somewhere, hopefully to return with a review next week. I know some of you are gonna want to comment on it before then, so I made this post so you can use it and not some unrelated review where somebody might be reading the comments not wanting you to spoil FORCE AWAKENS for them.

But please remember that much of the world will not have seen the movie yet. Be honorable and not only try to avoid spoilers for now, but fill the beginning of your comment with a bunch of non-specific stuff so there is nothing even remotely midly almost spoilery in the “recent comments” thread. WE DON’T WANT TO FUCKING KNOW. Be nice.

“Patience my young padawan learner, be mindful of I have a special set of skills give me the fucking elephant.” –Qui G. Jinn

Happy Boonta Eve everybody and may the force awakening you! (that’s from Star Wars)

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VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Wednesday, December 16th, 2015

tn_templeofdoomlucasminusstarwarsOh no, Indy! Don’t go into that temple! That’s not a regular temple, that’s a temple of doom!

I practice religious tolerance, so if those guys want to eat monkey brains and bugs and what not, I’m not gonna judge. But in my opinion they should not be having child slaves and pulling a guy’s heart out of his chest and stuff. Not unless it’s consensual. I don’t care what their Bible of Doom says about it, you don’t go around doing that stuff, you guys. Or don’t rub our faces in it.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM has an amazing opening that scores big by being absolutely not at all what anybody thought would be the opening of the sequel (well, technically prequel) to RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Instead of rugged Indy wearing leather, in some jungle or desert, covered in sweat and sand, maybe carrying a torch, cutting through cobwebs in an ancient burial chamber, it opens with a musical number in a glamorous Shanghai restaurant. Dr. Jones has no hat, and is wearing a white tux, as he conducts a tense merchandise exchange with nefarious gangsters willing to resort to poisoning and hitmen disguised as waiters to get what they want out of him. But for his part Indy is willing to resort to taking a showgirl (Kate Capshaw) hostage at knifepoint and fleeing with an orphan boy named Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan) as his getaway driver. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Twice Upon a Time

Tuesday, December 15th, 2015

lucasminusstarwarstn_twiceuponThe early ’80s were an odd time for animated features. Though Disney had somewhat come out of a slump with the successful THE FOX AND THE HOUND and Disney-defector Don Bluth had some success with THE SECRET OF NIMH, most of the releases were off-brand, slightly off-kilter and remembered now as cult films at best: FLIGHT OF THE DRAGONS, THE LAST UNICORN, THE PLAGUE DOGS, as well as cartoons for adults or teens like AMERICAN POP, HEAVY METAL, HEY GOOD LOOKIN’, FIRE AND ICE and ROCK & RULE. Into this weird landscape came TWICE UPON A TIME, a movie with an entirely unique look and that doesn’t seem to be aimed at children or adults.

The story has something to do with dreams. In a city called “Din” (portrayed by live action footage and photos of San Francisco or somewhere), people who fall asleep will have good dreams if little animated blobs jump on their faces. But an asshole called Synonamess Botch sends vultures and a magic glowing spring (?) to stop the blobs and give the people nightmares instead. Meanwhile, back in whatever the magical place that’s not Din is called, there’s a guy called Ralph, the All-Purpose Animal, who changes to different animals or combinations of animals, and has the same voice as Garfield, Lorenzo Music. He has a sidekick called Mumford who’s a guy with a bowler hat who seems like maybe he’s supposed to be funny or something, but I’m unclear what he does. These two are sent on a mission to dump some garbage, but then sent on a different mission to steal “The Cosmic Clock,” which they break and accidentally stop time. Also there’s a fairy godmother involved and a guy called Rod Rescueman who is one of those Dudley Doright type characters who thinks he’s a super hero but is actually just a dumb muscly guy. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.