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

Archive for February, 2018

Gang in Blue

Wednesday, February 28th, 2018

GANG IN BLUE is a made-for-Showtime Melvin & Mario Van Peebles father-son directorial collabo from 1996. Mario plays Rhoades, a righteous cop surrounded by corrupt racists in a secret cop gang called The Phantoms. Please think of these “Phantoms” as dudes in white ghost hoods, not purple tights and skull rings. Their only uniform, though, is their regular police one or their tattoos or their softball jerseys and jackets, ’cause their softball team is also called The Phantoms. There must be some naive soul on the force who sees the tattoos and thinks “Geez, those guys are really into softball.”

Rhoades talks about hiring diversity and minority policing of minority neighborhoods while his co-workers are talking about “ching-chong” and “homeboys” and “ooga booga” and “the jungle” and calling people “animals” like Trump always does. His presence fucks everything up when they go to shake down an illegal casino. Despite all the anti-racism talk the only Asian we see after these stereotypical gangsters is a thickly accented officer at headquarters who’s kind of a doofus. (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.

Penitentiary II

Tuesday, February 27th, 2018

PENITENTIARY II (1982) is that thing we love where a director has been burning it up on the fringes and then they get a little more resources behind them and they really go for it. Still low budget and outside of the mainstream, but more professional than the first PENITENTIARY (1979) or the two other features writer-director Jamaa Fanaka made while still a student at UCLA. So he’s still hungry and crazy, but able to accomplish more. It’s one of the beautiful parts of life.

And you know this shit is gonna be good when there’s an opening scene and then a full credit sequence set to grimy DOLEMITE-esque blaxploitation funk and then a long STAR WARS style scroll explaining in more detail than necessary what’s going on.

The score is by Jack Wheaton, additional music by Marvin Gaye’s guitarist and musical director Gordon Banks. I tend to think that outside of the electro stuff like Zapp and “Atomic Dog,” funk no longer existed in the ’80s. Tell that to these opening credits, though: (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.

Johnnie Mae Gibson: F.B.I.

Monday, February 26th, 2018

(a.k.a. JOHNNIE GIBSON F.B.I. if you go by the VHS tape)

JOHNNIE MAE GIBSON: FBI is a TV movie directed by Bill Duke. It aired on CBS in October of 1986 against a World Series game. I found a New York Times review from the time lamenting that it was routine TV formula. Accurate, but thirtysome years later the routine TV formula of 1986 has a certain retro appeal.

It’s a premature biopic of a respected FBI agent (Lynn Whitfield, JAWS: THE REVENGE) who was still on active duty at the time. Only the fifth ever African-American female agent at the bureau, she was known for extreme cool under pressure in undercover assignments and a high arrest record, many from “old dog” cold cases they dumped off on her.

We see her rise from a childhood in rural Georgia, poor family, sick mother (Veronica Redd, The Young and the Restless), mean father (Henry G. Sanders, REBEL, CHILD’S PLAY 3, ROCKY BALBOA). One scene involves a white family offering them a Thanksgiving turkey, her father refusing it, and her getting it anyway and surprising the family with it. her dad throws a fit and knocks it onto the floor. So much is established in this scene: Johnnie’s fearlessness and insistence on doing her own thing, her lifetime of dealing with angry men, but also her dad’s attempt to instill self-reliance into her, and the idea that her willingness to engage with white people makes her an outlier. (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.

Phantom Thread

Thursday, February 22nd, 2018

a.k.a. THE INSUFFERABLE MR. WOODCOCK

or

LOOK AT THIS FUCKIN GUY

PHANTOM THREAD (no “THE”) is the latest from P.T. Anderson. I think we always figured he was gonna keep on being a great filmmaker, but back when he did BOOGIE NIGHTS I doubt I was thinking “In 20 years this guy will do a weird relationship drama about a dress designer with poor social skills and we’ll all go see it because it’s Paul Thomas Anderson.” If I was then I’m impressed with myself because that was an uncanny prediction.

They have advertised it as “Daniel Day-Lewis’s final performance,” as if he’s dead, but really he just says he’s retiring, like Jay-Z five albums ago or Steven Soderbergh before The Knick, LOGAN LUCKY, Mosaic and UNSANE. It’s not my place to tell him what to do with his life, but still I’d like to encourage him to hold off on retiring until doing one more film, a remake of ENTER THE NINJA. Then he would end on the greatest performance of his career by a country mile before heading off to the mountains to humbly cobble shoes, design dresses and live as a Mohican while leading a ninja clan in character as Abraham Lincoln. (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.

Allied

Wednesday, February 21st, 2018

ALLIED is an unassuming, quick-paced WWII spy thriller/tragic romance combining the slick directivational chops of Robert Zemeckis (BEOWULF) with the smart guy writing of Steven Knight (EASTERN PROMISES, REDEMPTION, LOCKE). Brad Pitt (CUTTING CLASS) plays Canadian-born spy Max Vatan, who parachutes into French Morocco and pretends to be the Parisian husband of secret resistance leader Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard, RUST AND BONE, TAXI, FURIA). He’s dropped right into the fire, instantly feigning intimacy with this woman as he meets her for the first time sitting with a table of Germans (I think?) at a restaurant. It’s kind of like that story about James Brown calling young Bootsy and his band The Houseguests and flying them in to walk right out on stage and play a show with him. Except way more dangerous. And less funky.

I feel like I’ve gotten off track here.

In private Marianne hammers Max on his terrible Parisian accent, and they very professionally put into place a plan we’re not let in on. It’s not until shortly before the shit goes down that they give in to the elephant in the room, or in this case the car, as they make love inside one while the windows are covered by a brutal sandstorm. (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.

Black Panther

Monday, February 19th, 2018

(SPOILERS)

BLACK PANTHER is the first Marvel movie I was anticipating mainly because of the director. FRUITVALE STATION was very good, but of course it was CREED that made me think Ryan Coogler is one of the most promising young directors we have. Best and most miraculous movie of 2015 that didn’t star Charlize Theron with a robot arm. I’d be up for whatever Coogler wanted to do next, but this seemed like a particularly good match for him after CREED’s mix of moving personal drama, immaculate filmatistic style and 21st century pop mythmaking.

#2 reason: Chadwick Boseman. The guy playing the title character shot to the top of my most exciting actors list when I saw his incredible performance as James Brown in GET ON UP. I didn’t know how anybody could pull off playing The Godfather and here is this actor I barely heard of before transforming himself into crazy old man James Brown, young James Brown, all kinds of James Browns. And dancing and strutting and grunting and referring to himself in the third person and pulling it off. He didn’t get all that much acclaim for it, definitely not any awards – somehow he got to skip that step before becoming a super hero.

If you want to call him that. T’Challa isn’t a vigilante or anything, he’s the King of Wakanda, a culture where part of the job is getting supernatural strength and wearing a panther costume to defend the kingdom. It’s like if the president also had to be Superman. What’s cool about this is that Black Panther has to think about things none of his peers do. He has to be a symbol much like Captain America, but with the responsibilities that Thor skipped out of when he turned down the throne. Here he’s challenged to not only defend his rule from a dangerous usurper, but convince his people to shift the direction of the country in order to make a better world. (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 Seasoning House

Thursday, February 15th, 2018

(Warning: this movie is about disturbing shit, and I’m going to describe what it’s about)

THE SEASONING HOUSE is a very dark thriller from the UK circa 2012. How very dark? Well, it takes place in “BALKANS, 1996” and it’s about a mute girl whose family got killed in front of her and she’s forced to work in a brothel for war criminals. Not as a prostitute – the boss thinks the birthmark on her face makes her wrong for that, so she’s sort of like his assistant. Her job is to go around to the poor girls tied to beds, shoot them up and fingerpaint makeup on them.

It’s fucked up, man! And the light at the end of the tunnel that caused me to give this one a shot is the promise of “brutal revenge” on the box. Revenge is never righteous, but in movies I tend to enjoy it, despite not liking the muck you have to get through in order to make the comeuppance seem deserved. (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 Villainess

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

THE VILLAINESS is LA FEMME NIKITA with a little KILL BILL by way of South Korean cinema. A young woman with a troubled past has her identity erased, is trained to kill for the government, put undercover, given a mission, trying to earn her freedom. But she was already pretty damn good at killing before the feds got involved. They capture and recruit her after an incredible opening massacre, done in her POV – it’s first person shooter/slasher/stabber/kicker-through-window – until she sees herself in a mirror, then gets her head smashed into it and the perspective separates from her body, rotating around her as she continues to fight, mostly using gym equipment (the jump rope is my favorite) as weapons.

As her captivity, training and missions are depicted in somewhat elliptical fashion, the events leading up to that rampage also come out piece-by-puzzle-piece in flashbacks, not even in chronological order within themselves, and with some characters played by different actors in different periods. I find the story at times confusing and overcomplicated, but still compelling. Even if I didn’t, I’d still call THE VILLAINESS a must-see for the most audacious, envelope-pushing action filmatism I’ve seen in quite a while. (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.

Hellraiser: Judgment

Tuesday, February 13th, 2018

It wasn’t much more than two years ago that I finally bit the bullet and reviewed the entire HELLRAISER series. I’d always had an attachment to the four theatrical ones (HELLRAISER and HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II are still classics, HELLRAISER III: HELL ON EARTH is ridiculous, HELLRAISER: BLOODLINE is a mess with its hellbound heart in the right place) but had previously stayed the hell away from the DTV sequels (HELLRAISER: INFERNO (directed by Scott Derrickson), HELLRAISER: HELLSEEKER, HELLRAISER: DEADER, HELLRAISER: HELLWORLD and HELLRAISER: REVELATIONS). That last one feels for all the world like they just had to shit something out by the end of the month to maintain the movie rights, and that’s what they came up with. Yet they’ve gone almost seven years without making a new one or a remake. Could it be that they finally decided to let it–

AH, FUCK. They made another one. And you know me, I’m a completist, I can’t be the guy who’s watched nine of the ten HELLRAISER movies. I had no choice but to watch this shit.

(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 Post

Monday, February 12th, 2018

THE POST is Spielberg’s newspaper movie. Specifically it’s about the Washington Post in 1971 struggling for relevance, banned from a first daughter wedding, in the process of taking an inherited family business public, when suddenly their more exalted rivals the New York Times get a court injunction for breaking the story of the Pentagon Papers (a secret study proving that the government had known for years that the war in Vietnam was unwinnable and stayed in just to put off the humiliation of a loss). Can The Post’s reporters get ahold of these Papers for themselves, will they have the balls to print a story about them, and will they get away with it? I think you know the answers, but tune in to find out how it goes down.

Like LINCOLN or MUNICH, this is one of Spielberg’s very good grown up movies that doesn’t necessarily light the world on fire, seems destined to be buried in his catalog of iconic classics, but gets some nice reviews and an “it’s an honor just to be nominated” slot in the best picture category at the Oscars. Another movie like that was BRIDGE OF SPIES, the year SPOTLIGHT won best picture. SPOTLIGHT was a good movie with a big cast doing great work in a story about the importance of journalists uncovering dangerous secrets and standing up to powerful institutions that have covered up their own complicity in atrocities. THE POST is all those things with the added bonus of being thrilling and cinematic. Spielberg might be doing a smart-people-talking-and-figuring-things-out movie, but he’s gonna do that with an eye for imagery, period detail, and visual explanations of processes: stealing and reproducing a massive document, puzzling together the order of said document when the pages get mixed up, delivering a message across town, creating the plates to actually print a newspaper, running the printing press, the list goes on.

(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.