I use hands to help my fellow man / I use hands to help with what I can / But when I face an unjust injury / Then I change my hand into FIST OF FURY

Archive for May, 2017

The Rocketeer

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017
a survey of summer movies that just didn’t catch on

June 19, 1991

THE ROCKETEER has all the right ingredients for an aw schucks old timey circa-1938 super hero yarn. The hero, Cliff (Billy Campbell, FAT KID RULES THE WORLD), is a pilot for air shows – small time enough to be an underdog, but cool enough to strut around in his brown leather pilot’s jacket and clock a guy when necessary.

The setting is Los Angeles, so his girlfriend Jenny (Jennifer Connelly, CREEPERS, LABYRINTH) is an aspiring ingenue, the villain is suave, swashbuckling “#3 box office star” Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton, BRENDA STARR), and the experimental technology they’re fighting over was originated by Howard Hughes (Terry O’Quinn, THE STEPFATHER). Also involved are mobsters (because Sinclair hired them), Nazis (because he is one), G-men (led by Ed Lauter, DEATH WISH 3, THE ARTIST) and a giant named Lothar (former Austrian basketball pro Tiny Ron Taylor [ROAD HOUSE, SASQUATCH MOUNTAIN] made up by Rick Baker to look like Rondo Hatton).

The random way Cliff becomes a jet-packing hero is pretty cool. During a test flight of the craft he and his mechanic/mentor Peevy (Alan Arkin, FREEBIE AND THE BEAN) have been working on for years, he flies over a chase between the mobsters and the FBI. The mobsters think he’s with the feds and turn their tommy guns on him! Some kind of mixup causes the gangsters to get away without the jetpack they stole from Howard Hughes, but Cliff accidentally finds where they stashed it. (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.

Dick Tracy

Tuesday, May 30th, 2017

Oh hey, look guys, it’s summertime! And you know what that means: 1) time to sit back and unwind 2) that hardcore dance has gotten a little bit out of control, and 3) there will be a bunch of big special effects type movies coming out. As soon as the sunny days start I get excited for all the greatness and/or crap that’s coming out every Friday, I get nostalgic for the joy I’ve had in movie theaters throughout my life, or even that certain feeling I get from sitting down and waiting for some big expensive heavily advertised movie that will turn out to not be artistically worthy of its Slurpee tie-in. I still cherish the experience.

And in between watching the new movies I usually do some kind of summer movie retrospective. I’m sort of running out of good anniversaries to do, though, so this year I decided to try a different approach. This will be a series of films that have come out in the past couple decades of summers but didn’t exactly catch on culturally. Some of them will be financial flops or disappointments, others made decent money but were undeniably rejected by audiences. We’ll look at some misunderstood gems, some horrible pieces of garbage, and various stages in between.

I’m calling them SUMMER FLINGS – things the world flirted with briefly on the screen, then left in the past. Or movies that were flung out there and nobody caught them. Today’s movie is arguably remembered more than most of the others we’ll be looking at, but it definitely didn’t catch the world on fire the way Disney hoped it would, so I didn’t want to skip it.

P.S. I’m shy about bringing this up, but I’d have a hard time doing a series like this without my benefactors on Patreon, whose generous donations help offset some of the extra days I take off to really dig in and research and what not. So thank you to them and if you enjoy these reviews and can afford it please consider donating (or using any of the other methods of support mentioned on the right side of your monitor/bottom of your phone). Thanks!

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June 15, 1990

When the ’90s began, Tim Burton’s BATMAN seemed like the gold standard for summer movie excitement. In 1989 it had been a phenomenon at the box office, in record stores and at bootleg t-shirt stands, and every studio wanted to find their own Batman. (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.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

Monday, May 29th, 2017

KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD is not your father’s King Arthur. Nor is it your John Boorman’s King Arthur, your Broadway’s King Arthur, your Disney’s King Arthur, your Jerry Zucker’s King Arthur or your Antoine Fuqua’s King Arthur. It’s not even your 300‘s King Arthur, even though it opens with two armored, King Kong sized war elephants laying siege to Camelot. One of them swings a wrecking ball from his trunk, the other has a pyramid on his back. It spews flames like some kind of crude engine and contains the evil Mage King Mordred (Rob Knighton). That is until King Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana in another Oh cool, it’s Eric Bana / Oh wait, he’s only gonna be in the beginning part, isn’t he? role) jumps aboard and introduces the inside of the sorcerer’s neck to Excalibur.

Yeah, there’s more crazy fantasy where that came from, or at least a couple more giant versions of animals (snake, bat), but mostly this stays true to the description Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur. Like he did with Sherlock Holmes, he recasts Arthur (Charlie Hunnam, GREEN STREET HOOLIGANS) as a streetwise brawler. He was sent away (like Superman) but in a boat (like Willow) to avoid being killed by his evil uncle Vortigern (Jude Law, eXistenZ), but also he witnesses his father being murdered (like Batman) and then grew up in a brothel (like Richard Pryor). In adulthood, we first meet him having just avenged some vikings who (at the very least) beat up one of the ladies. I’d like to think he’s just a loyal family member and not their pimp.  (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.

The Yellow Sea

Thursday, May 25th, 2017

THE YELLOW SEA is a movie about desperation. In the zone between China, Russia and Korea a man named Gu-nam (Ha Jung-woo, the killer from THE CHASER) works a miserable job for criminals, enslaved by debt after they got his wife over the border into South Korea for him. She hasn’t sent word back, or the money she was supposed to; every time he mentions her, people tell him she must be a prostitute or remarried. But he never stops waiting for her.

Then one day, salvation. Well, not really. Not at all. But his bullying handlers introduce him to Jung-hak Myun (Kim Yoon-seok, the actual chaser in THE CHASER), who has a job Gu-nam can do to erase the debt. Myun is not to be trusted, but he has a great charisma. He feels authentic in his casual bonding by talking shit about “the bastards” Gu-nam is indebted to.

Of course the job is to kill a guy in South Korea. Memorize an address, go there, kill him, cut off a thumb to prove he did it. Keep the receipts, in other words. I’m not so sure his servitude is what pushed him far enough to say yes. I think it’s more the notion that he can look for his wife while he’s there. Kill two birds with one stone. Or kill one bird with one stone but use the same stone to try to find another bird. (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.

Steel Dawn

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017

STEEL DAWN takes the post-apocalyptic world of George Miller, pumps up the samurai and western influences, adds a little martial arts, replaces the internal combustion engine with wind power, and invents the Patrick Swayze action vehicle. He’d already made a name for himself in ensembles – THE OUTSIDERS, UNCOMMON VALOR, RED DAWN – but this was released only three months after his breakout role in DIRTY DANCING. It didn’t catch on in the same way, and it doesn’t play on cable nearly as much. But this last time I watched it was a profound experience.

It opens with Swayze balancing on his head in the middle of a desert. That’s how he meditates. But then a bunch of shrieking, masked mutants climb out of the sand to attack him. He uses martial arts to fight them off, pulling a sword out of his bag when he gets too outnumbered.

He’s a nomad. In fact, he’s credited as Nomad. Heading for a tavern, he gets attacked by an old warrior who turns out to be Cord (John Fujioka, AMERICAN NINJA, AMERICAN SAMURAI, AMERICAN YAKUZA), an old war comrade just fucking with him. They catch up over drinks but suddenly a bunch of brutes led by a guy named Sho (Christopher Neame, LUST FOR A VAMPIRE, DRACULA A.D. 1972, SPECIES III) in a ridiculous hair metal wig attack them and kill Cord. (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.

Steele Justice

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

“Steele left this buried in my chest 12 years ago. I swore one day I would return it to him.”

STEELE JUSTICE is one of those special action movies that is serious but feels more like the parodies of action movies than you realized was possible. Martin Kove – the KARATE KID bad guy and valuable supporting player in movies like DEATH RACE 2000, RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II, BARE KNUCKLES and BEYOND THE RING – actually gets to play the hero of this, and it’s one for the record books.

I’m sure you’re already making some assumptions about what kind of a movie would be called STEELE JUSTICE, so I would like to go ahead and verify the following points for you:

1) Yes, his name is John Steele

2) Indeed, he is a Vietnam vet

3) You are correct, he is also an ex-cop (fired)

4) You bet your ass there’s a title logo made of steel letters that clanks onto the screen (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.

Alien: Covenant

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

More like ALIEN: LOVIN’INT, am I right?

I don’t know.

Hello everyone. I don’t think it would be appropriate to discuss the sequel that Ridley Scott decided to make to PROMETHEUS until we first bow our heads in a moment of silence for the completely insane one we imagined when PROMETHEUS ended with Shaw in a stolen Engineer ship carrying a severed robot head on an impossible mission to stick her foot up the ass of the Space Jockeys on their home turf.

PROMETHEUS 2
b.
June 8, 2012 – d. May 19, 2017

R.I.P. the way better movie in our minds. Gone too soon. Sleep well my sweet baby prince.

Instead of that legendary greatness we have something pretty good: ALIEN: COVENANT, a hybrid between what-people-expect-in-an-ALIEN-sequel and weirdo-philosophizing-PROMETHEUS-shit. Scott, with returning cinematographer Darius Wolski (CRIMSON TIDE, DARK CITY), gives us another gorgeous-looking sci-fi horror, this time with a script by John Logan (THE LAST SAMURAI) and Dante Harper that’s not as outwardly dunderheaded as PROMETHEUS at its worst, though not as imaginative as it at its best. It starts out with circa 1979 pacing (very effective) but eventually throws a modern amount of frantic action at the screen (pretty enjoyable too).

(WARNING: spoiler-heavy analysis ahead) (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.

Steel Arena

Friday, May 19th, 2017

tn_steelarenaSTEEL ARENA doesn’t seem at first glance like a particularly distinguished b-movie, especially in its current form as a poorly transferred old VHS tape that’s scanned but not panned. Many scenes, including the first one, are conversations in the front seats of vehicles with one or more participants mostly cropped out of frame. I rented it because it’s one of these stuntsploitation movies I find so interesting, but this time it’s about the lives of professional stunt drivers in a road show, not in movies. Most of the stars are real drivers playing themselves and doing their own driving. STEEL ARENA is to stunt drivers as ACT OF VALOR is to Navy SEALs.

It centers on Dusty Russell, a not-all-that-talkative good ol’ boy with a silly mustache that would endear him to the modern hipster. He’s looking for work and a moonshiner has a job opening.

“Can you drive?”

“Sure.”

It doesn’t seem like it’s his passion in life yet, but he turns out to be good at it, leading the cops on a chase that predicts every episode of The Dukes of Hazzard ever made. But the payment plan has some problems so he moves on and finds his way into “the destruction derby” (same as a “demolition derby” as I always knew it), teaming with a guy he meets, Buddy Love, and going on to dominate the circuit. (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.

Ring of Steel

Thursday, May 18th, 2017

RING OF STEEL is a classical underground fighting circuit movie from 1994, and it has many familiar elements: a hero who needs work after accidentally killing an opponent in a legitimate match, a mysterious, clearly untrustworthy stranger who leads him into the temptation of a high stakes fight club, rich people betting, the slow roll-out of death matches after the hero is already in too deep, a jealous and possessive-of-women rival, police snooping around, a girlfriend who ends up being used as collateral to make him fight the big match, all that type of stuff. But it has one unique element that gives the whole enterprise a novel flavor and personality: the fights are sword fights.

The hero is a disgraced fencing champion. Given a choice of weapons, he picks some kind of 17th century musketeer deal to go up against knights and samurai and shit. And some of the score by Jeff Beal (IN THE REALMS OF THE UNREAL, BLACKFISH, WEINER, HE WAS A QUIET MAN) would work for a Roger Corman sword and sorcery movie. (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.

Satin Steel

Wednesday, May 17th, 2017

tn_satinsteelSATIN STEEL is a 1994 Hong Kong cops ‘n martial arts movie that starts off as a bit of a LETHAL WEAPON rip-off, but with women. I wish the heroine was actually named Satin Steel, but instead her name is Jade (Jade Leung, BLACK CAT 1 and 2). Like Riggs, Jade is a maverick police detective with a death wish. And it opens with a similar (though smaller scale) undercover bust where she does something insane to get her collar (it involves a grenade).

She takes crazy risks because she’s depressed that her husband was shot to death (and fell out a high window!) by assassins trying to kill her. We learn this when she’s outside smoking and brooding to a bluesy soundtrack and she witnesses a wedding in progress. When her flashback ends she’s holding her gun to her head. Luckily she snaps out of it, realizes she has caused a scene and goes over to congratulate the newlyweds, but in my opinion you can’t really recover from a faux pas like that. That is just plain poor wedding etiquette, I don’t care what the 2nd amendment says.

Although Jade is a cop who gets her man, she’s obviously hard to deal with, so the boss takes a getting-rid-of-Chris-Tucker-in-RUSH-HOUR type glee in sending her to Singapore to investigate an international arms dealing ring. And something about the American mafia and diamonds and a guy that was involved in the World Trade Center bombing. (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.