I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Self indulgent THE GOOD THE TOUGH AND THE DEADLY journal

tn_gdtBwarning: 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.)

Apparently david has talked to some people critical of what these rules exclude, enough that he found himself offering a personal disclaimer to each buyer of the book. But to me that’s the beauty of it. How many books do you currently have on your shelf that include a 3 page interview with Lorenzo Lamas? For me, this is my first. You know who Matthias Hues is? The alien from I COME IN PEACE, villain from NO RETREAT NO SURRENDER 2? There’s a 3 page interview with him too. david talks to pretty much all of the legends of the modern DTV age: Scott Adkins, Michael Jai White, Isaac Florentine, John Hyams, Jesse V. Johnson, as well as old school stars that some of you have probly only ever heard of from me, like Jalal Merhi and Mimi Lesseos.

As far as the capsule reviews go, he’s completist enough that he has one of the cartoon Jackie Chan Adventures, and assigned me to do the CANNONBALL RUN movies specifically because Jackie is in them. I had to read the LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION review in suspense to find out it’s in there because the wrestler Bill Goldberg makes an appearance.

david lives in the L.A. area and I swear he goes to see every obscure action movie that plays only there. I think me and him might be the only people who try to follow WWE Films yet have no interest in following actual wrestling. But david has actually seen every one of them, and mostly in the theater. I can’t keep up with him. We don’t always agree on the merits of movies, for example he sounds disappointed by the unhinged lunacy of DOUBLE TEAM and KNOCK OFF, while I find joy in it. So I’m excited when he pumps up a movie I consider a classic, like BLOOD AND BONE, which he calls “Perhaps the most incredible direct-to-video movie ever made,” before interviewing its director, Ben Ramsey.

I don’t know what we did to deserve it, you guys, but this is a book specifically designed for our tastes. The introduction is by Craig R. Baxley. Let that sink in. A book by someone who knows that the guy who shot second unit for PREDATOR and directed STONE COLD is royalty. Few authors have that knowledge.

I only wrote five reviews for the book, part of a team of ten writers backing up david, who wrote the majority, with Corey Danna of slackjawpunks.com coming in second. So it was very generous of david to invite me to the signing. After many changes to the guest list and one no-show (Marko Zaror will have to remain mysterious to me) I still ended up sitting at a long line of tables with not only the contributors to the book (including Keith Batcheller, the veteran movie poster artist who painted the cover) but interview subjects like BLOODFIST star Don “The Dragon” Wilson, LIONHEART director Sheldon Lettich, INVASION U.S.A. writer James Bruner, AMERICAN NINJA 5 super ninja James Lew, ASSASSINATION GAMES director Ernie Barbarash, MACH 2 writer Steve Latshaw, RING OF STEEL star Robert Chapin (who brought one of his swords!) and a favorite of david’s, Julian Lee (FATAL REVENGE) who flew in from Korea. I was seated between Corey and Jino Kang, a Hapkido hall of famer whose starring/directing vehicle FIST 2 FIST I had just watched a few days earlier, and who had the same humble and kind presence in person as in the movie.

signingUnfortunately the bookstore – Dark Delicacies, a really cool horrorcentric place run by the very hospitable Del and Sue – was not attacked by mercenaries, so we didn’t get to see these expendables go into action. But hanging around them was amazing. Wilson was the most gregarious. When I told him I was a BLOODFIST fan he laughed, “I made alot of them!”

About an hour in, the one and only Michael Jai White walked in the door. He looked as intimidatingly sculpted as in the movies, and taller, wearing Chuck Taylors.

I knew he’d been invited, but it was kind of iffy so it was kept secret. He didn’t seem to have known what he was getting into, and didn’t sit down to sign, but did take photos with a few lucky people. (I didn’t try because it seemed like if one more person asked he would be scared off.)

Knowing I was a huge fan, david walked him over to my table and introduced us. It was awkward, but I’ll take it. david talked me up and said “Vern wrote the book on Steven Seagal,” which got a befuddled/skeptical look out of MJW. I sensed a bit of “I will smile politely at the crazy person” on his face and since I’d sold the one copy I had of the book I couldn’t show him the nice things I say about his paper cutter sword fight in EXIT WOUNDS. I was later told that he won’t talk about Seagal (though he has derided his martial arts legitimacy on Twitter before).

This was a bit of a recurring theme of the day. My status as the guy who wrote a book about Steven Seagal did not seem to ingratiate me to the martial artists in the room. The funniest moment of the whole experience was during set up when I witnessed a certain legendary martial arts champion seeing Seagalogy on the table and, not knowing the author was standing nearby, trash talking its subject. “He says he’s been a fighter all his life, so tell me one person he’s ever fought? His wife, maybe.” Van Damme was also mentioned. I could not believe I got the chance to be a fly on that wall. Life is beautiful, you guys.

When the line came through (I’m not sure how many people it was, but Dark Delicacies sold out of their 50 copies of the book, and david sold some as well) a record number of people wanted to tell me that they or someone they knew had had a terrible time working with Seagal. A funny one was the guy who said “I recently finished his new one, the sniper one.”

“Finished watching it, or finished working on it?” I asked.

Working, it turned out. Since I thought that was a terrible movie I was relieved that his job was related to the guns, so I could sincerely say he did good work. “I assume you’ve met him before then?” When I explained that I hadn’t he said, “You’re not missing much!” Later, the title of Yippee Ki Yay, Moviegoer earned me a bummer of a story about recent Bruce Willis difficulties. I thought Next time I’m gonna write a book about somebody everyone agrees is a sweetheart.

Superior gratitude to all the nice people who came partly to meet me. One reader (Ryan I think?) happened to live right near the store. I was surprised and flattered how many people were familiar with my work. Apologies to whoever I forget here, but I know I met Dtroyt and The Winchester, and I made a new vow to the gentleman who requested a HARD TARGET review when I met him at Cinefamily. I forget if it was him or someone else wearing the Argyle shirt from the Flea Market. I was happy to finally meet Horror Movie a Day author Brian Collins, and Zach and Chris who do a podcast called Van Damme It!, and to see Lance Henriksen biographer Joe Maddrey and get his new book about westerns. Also I saw Phil and Jackie who I feel like are dear friends even though I only met them that one time at Cinefamily. During the weekend I got to hang out with commenters Franchise Fred and Tawdry Hepburn at a bar that’s in MEMENTO, and when I told long-time-reader-but-non-commenter Frank S. I was staying at the Safari Inn, as seen in TRUE ROMANCE, he brought me to Pat and Lorraine’s, the diner from RESERVOIR DOGS, and then Nancy Thompson’s house. It’s not really on Elm Street, but it’s really 1428.

elmstreethouse
After the signing seemed to be winding down a tall Englishman walked up to the table and asked which of us was Vern. He turned out to be Jesse V. Johnson, veteran stuntman and director of PIT FIGHTER, GREEN STREET HOOLIGANS 2, THE BUTCHER and THE PACKAGE, and he said nice things about me having been “so nice, maybe too nice” to so many of his movies. If I hadn’t had to come home this morning I could’ve visited the set of his movie SAVAGE DOG starring Scott Adkins and Marko Zaror, at which point I would’ve conveniently forgotten every condescending comment I’ve ever made about critics who do set visits.

Of course that would’ve been awesome, but all of this was an unbelievable gift for a dude of my interests. I couldn’t believe I was seeing these greats interacting, finding out that the guys who’d worked with Van Damme were all buddies, that Johnson and Lee had been developing a movie together (unbeknownst to even david), witnessing White talking to his FALCON RISING director Barbarash, or intently discussing an upcoming martial arts event with Wilson. And I got to see Johnson turn down a dinner invitation because “I have all the guns from the movie in my car.”

I heard Johnson, Latshaw and others praise david’s book and gathering for giving this genre and these people the respect and spotlight they have long deserved; saying that this is an unfairly disrespected and forgotten type of movie that will some day rise again. I couldn’t agree more, and I’m thankful to have been able to witness it.

So allow me to extend my deepest thanks to every single person I met or re-met this weekend and especially david j. moore, who somehow made this miraculous book and brought this crazy group of people together.

p.s. I’m done traveling for now, so don’t worry, there are some reviews on their way!

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.
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31 Responses to “Self indulgent THE GOOD THE TOUGH AND THE DEADLY journal”

  1. I’m so glad to hear that you not just had such an awesome experience, but also get more and more recognition for the awesome work you do. Even among the professional contributors to the genre. It’s well deserved. Also congrats to david, for getting such an apparently awesome book off the ground. I hope it sells well. (Let’s hope that the people who were befuddled or angry by the existence of SEAGALOGY because of personal experiences with Seagal, will get a chance to read it and realize that you don’t have to like the man to enjoy your writings about him and his work.)

  2. Seagal and Bruce stories have been well documented. A part of me says sweethearts don’t make it the way those two did. Also part of what I always loved about Seagal was his myth. We all knew it was bullshit but his commitment to it was what was fascinating and endearing. Wonder if the latest Bruce story was even more recent than getting fired by Woody Allen.

    It’s a great book. I’m still only up to the American Ninja series but there are three interviews with key players!

  3. Great write-up, Vern. Sounds like an awesome, awesome experience and how I wish I could’ve attended.

    I am ordering the book right about…now. I will also be spreading the word as much as I can, too. We NEED this book.

    It is clearly a phenomenal piece of work and kudos to you all for making happen.

  4. Vern, that sounds like an awesome experience. I love the way you describe MJW hovering around the door like a scared animal. That really endears him to me because that’s the exact thing I do at social events.

    Anyway, book ordered. Can’t wait to check it out.

  5. I wouldn’t be surprised if action movies have a resurgence. With CGI you can do anything, but I think that appeal might be wearing off. Maybe people are ready to see actual stunts in movies again.

    Also, wasn’t the fact that Seagal was such a self-aggrandizer part of his appeal. Sure, he was full of shit, but that was somewhat endearing. Of course, it might be more enjoyable from afar. If I had to work with the guy, I’m sure my opinion would change.

  6. Jack – well, I don’t want to disappoint you, but I did not sense any scared animal. It’s just that you could see it on the verge of devolving into an autographfest which he clearly did not mean to sign up for. He actually hung around for a while talking to people and then when we left it turned out he was still outside.

  7. Vern, thanks for coming out to my neighborhood and signing Yippee Ki Yay, Moviegoer! Actually it was a lot of fun on the other side of the tables, just sharing enthusiasm with a lotta knowledgeable fans. I learned a bunch while standing in line! Keep up the great writing!

  8. Yeah, I think that’s the problem. When it’s a legendary figure you’ll never meet it can be funny and add to the mystique, but when it’s a guy you work with and depend on for a living it’s not.

  9. Hey Vern, nice to see you there. I didn’t really shoot the breeze with you or anything – didn’t wanna clog the procession, but I’m glad I went. A lot of cool stories floating around that room. Psyched about reading the book, even if it’s girth will give me some neck problems.

  10. Really glad I got to go to this and I’m looking forward to digging into this monster of a book (it really is a bit intimidating!). Vern, I hope I didn’t come off as a weirdo. I also feel awkward at signings and things and usually overcompensate by putting my foot in my mouth. I don’t remember saying anything strange, but I probably did!

    Don the Dragon was the biggest surprise to me. He really seemed like a nice guy which I would not necessarily have expected.

    And, I was the one with the Argyle shirt. I felt a little dorky, like the guy who wears the concert t shirt to the concert, but I figured (and hope) that you appreciated the gesture.

    Glad you enjoyed your trip and made it home safely.

  11. Oh… and with regards to the Argyle shirt: I gotta tell ya, that has turned out to be one of the greatest conversation pieces ever. People rarely catch it at first (a lot of, “Wait… I know that’s from something I’ve seen but I can’t place it”), but once they do they exclaim that it’s “the greatest shirt ever” or something similar. I always try to point them toward the flea market in hopes that they will buy one to support Vern, even if it sort of goes against my instinct of not wanting anybody else to have such an awesome shirt.

  12. This post makes my heart happy. It sounds like an amazing experience, awkward moments included. Just being in that room with all that talent must have been a blast. I sadly could not attend but if you ever plan on coming out to the east coast I would do my best to be there.

  13. Yeah, definitely a great time. Black Dynamite definitely seemed a little overwhelmed by us fans, and he was definitely inching out the door while I was trying to get him to sign the book, but it was a lot of fun and he did shake my hand.

    I loved talking to James Bruner about Invasion USA and how that concept was terrifying to a too-young-to-understand what was happening in the 80s kid. Anyway, good times, thank you again. I promise I’ll stop gushing now.

    And DTroyt, don’t fret about wearing the shirt of the band etc, as I had my Dolph Lundgren “You Go In Pieces” shirt, and was gonna wear it even before I found out Baxley was supposed to be there!

    (Last anecdote, I promise – I actually met Baxley a long long time ago and freaked him out when I revealed how much I love the holy trinity of Action Jackson, Stone Cold and I Come In Peace. He gets a big grin on his face when he talks about making Stone Cold, especially the helicopter in the end!)

  14. Dtroyt – Don’t worry, you were not a weirdo. Everyone was really cool. I feel self conscious when getting someone’s signature but in the two occasions where I did signings I was so thankful to anyone for caring that I would not think badly of them. The only kind of weirdo this time was not anyone here because he wasn’t familiar with my work, and he wasn’t too bad either.

  15. Hope you felt welcome to LA for a second visit. If I’d had the guts I’d of talked your ear off before the signing. Maybe next time. Promise ya sixty if you come down O mythical beast from the northwest for another visit. Just a little more warning about any dinner plans next time.

  16. I never understood the rule about not wearing the shirt of the band at the concert.

  17. Must be an American thing anyway. I’ve never heard of that rule and I constantly see Germans with shirts of the respective band going to their concerts.

  18. I’m with you, Fred. I can understand the band not wearing their own T-shirts at a concert but it should be perfectly okay for a fan to wear the band’s shirt to a show.

  19. As far as I’m aware the not wearing the shirt at the show of the band stemmed from PCU, where Piven chastises Favreau for doing that. “Don’t do it… Don’t be THAT GUY!”

    I always assumed everyone watched that movie far too much on HBO just like I did, and it seeped its’ way into the culture.

    Like “I’m right on top of that, Rose”

  20. Vern- Thanks for easing my mind about whether I was acting like a weirdo or not. And everybody else, thanks for having my back on the t shirt. We really do all strive for excellence here it seems!

  21. I am not a big watcher of DTV action films (tomatoes thrown from all sides). I enjoy reading Vern write about Seagal and these films more than I generally end up enjoying the films themselves.* Mostly, I come here to talk and argue about other stuff that sometimes shows up, like 70s-80s slashers, horror in general, and 80s theatrical action, Stallone, pop culture stuff, and the odd arty/Oscar bait film (Malick, Revenant).

    All that having been said, this book and event both sound awesome, and it is incredibly life-affirming to hear about you guys and others connecting over this in real, in-person way. The idea of having a dream or a thing you dig and then willing it into existence is very inspiring. Vern’s website, this book, and this community would not exist in anything like there current form if it weren’t for some person having the vision, tenacity, and creativity to identify something they dig and try to make it a thing and draw out and cultivate a community of like-minded people around that thing. Viva La Vern, you only get one shot to lose yourself, etc.

    *That is not a dig on the films, just a preference thing (I don’t like classical music or golf either). I did really enjoy Blood and Bone and the last two UniSol films. The later Seagal stuff is pretty grim (not in the good way).

  22. Jack – well, I don’t want to disappoint you, but I did not sense any scared animal

    Oh yeah, I didn’t mean like a kitten. I meant like wolverine or a wild bear.

  23. Amazing write up. Just picturing MJW bewildered and intimidated in that environment is funny as hell.

  24. My copy just arrived in the post today. You guys – this book is AMAZING.

    You know how when you flick through Halliwells or Leonard Maltin’s Film Guide and it only has entries for The Godfather but skips right over Ninja II: Shadow of a Tear. This book is the exact inverse. There’s thousands of b-movies and DTV flicks as well as all the major Hollywood action films.

    Hats off to David and his team. I never thought this book would ever exist.

  25. I will absolutely be ordering this book. Sounds amazing, and I will place it next to John Charles’ awesome HONG KONG FILMOGRAPHY 1977-1997 – it sounds like a spiritual cousin to it, but maybe a little more innerestingly designed.

    As far as wearing the band shirt to the concert of THAT band, I always kinda thought of it as an opportunity to wear a shirt for a more obscure band that you think those fans might want to check out later. Just me, I guess.

  26. Holy crap, Jalal Merhi is in the book?! I can’t believe anyone has heard of him. I met him when I was a kid. My dad used to buy jewelry from him before he got into movies and my dad was a “producer” on Jalal’s first movie, “Black Pearls” (ie he was talked into investing in it). He went to Hong Kong for the filming and had dinner at Bolo Yeung’s house (I am still jealous). Anyway, I have not heard about Jalal in about 20 years. Amazing.

  27. I’ve reviewed two of his movies so far: http://outlawvern.com/tag/jalal-merhi/

  28. Finally got this book and love it. But I have so many questions and comments for david j moore. Like how can you be so down on Rocky IV? And why are so many reviews referenced in the index but not in the actual book (e.g. Assassination Games and Total Recall)?

    But mostly I just want to say thanks for introducing me to Eric Jacobus. That dude is amazing!

  29. HALLSY- Have you seen Jacobus ROPE A DOPE 1-2? Martialö arts meets GROUND HOG DAY. He also recently did an amazing BLIND FURY/ZATOICHI martial arts short film that called BLINDSIDED.

  30. Vern, you need to do more 90s DTV reviews.

  31. Shoot – I saw those on youtube and immediately ordered the DVDs for Contour and Death Grip (though I think they have put the full movie Contour on youtube). The Rope a Dope videos make me so happy.

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