Today is, by my best guess, the 20th anniversary of Then Fuck You Jack: The Life + Art of Vern, the humble collection of movie reviews I crudely constructed on the free “home page” platform Geocities way back in the nineteen-god-damn-nineties. What started as a goof transformed, over the course of two decades, into some sort of life’s mission. I’ve learned, had fun, made friends, and written about a shit load of movies. More than 3,000, I’d estimate, because you’re looking at post #3,508 (including columns, blog posts and the posts I used to do to link to the new stuff).
I hope that output earns me the right to be self-indulgent today, because otherwise I’m in trouble! I went back to the beginning to prepare this retrospective, and many of the early ones are embarrassing, but most of them still make me laugh. I think I’ve lost some of that youthful craziness over time (sorry), but I also think I’ve gotten way better, especially around 2015. I’m glad it came that late, because I feel like I’m still growing. Still striving.
I look at everything I wrote and remember all the tragic shit I was going through during some of the later years and I can’t remember how I did it. I guess I was escaping into my work, but also stubbornly clinging to what I wanted to do with my life, even while spending so much of it waiting in hospitals. I probly owe some people some apologies.
But mostly thank yous. Few will make it through this whole post, so I want to do those first. Truly, sincerely, if it weren’t for you (yes – YOU!) I would’ve stopped before I ever got good. So many of you have commented or kept in touch over the years, or you drop me a line and tell me you’ve been reading since Ain’t It Cool, or you just discovered me or whatever. You make me feel like I’m not crazy, there are other people who are passionate about the same silly shit I am, or at least are entertained to read about it. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. And extra super beyond the call of duty thanks to Jacob Martin for once telling me I should keep writing reviews when I had stopped, to Phil Blankenship and david j. moore for getting me to show my face in public, to Clubside Chris Rowley for a ridiculous amount of work and financial support to create outlawvern.com and keep it online.
I need to emphasize that last one. Chris was there to catch me when Geocities finally shriveled up and died about ten years in. He not only gave me my url, but built this whole archive and everything on here. Before him if I remember right I’d just have a page for each letter of the alphabet, so if I finished the review of BEDEVILLED I’d paste it onto the page with all the movies that start with the letter B. Imagine if I was still doing that! He helps me with all my computer shit, so I know he has a particular set of skills, and I know right now he’s in need of a gig, so if anyone has/knows something for him please get in contact with him – his email is email@example.com.
And finally, thank you to my friends and family, including my parents (who gave me the leeway to decide what I wanted to do with myself even when they didn’t understand it), and most especially the anonymous Mrs. Vern, who has done more for me than words can express. Words is stupid.
I figured 20 years was a big a deal, but I wasn’t sure how to celebrate, besides getting drunk and doing karaoke, which is my plan for tonight. I decided it was a good occasion for self evaluation, so in the last few weeks I went through my entire archive and have compiled a year-by-year look back over important events and favorite writings from my ongoing climb up the holy mountain of excellence.
WARNING: This thing is 8,000 words long. I’m not a monster, I don’t expect you to read it all, and (like William S. Burroughs said of Naked Lunch) you don’t have to read it in order. But this is kind of my life’s work here so I wanted to put together a history. For some of you I hope skimming through will bring a little nostalgia, and it will point to the things I’m proudest of and/or most amused by, in case you care.
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Some of the dates got mixed up when we transferred over, so I’m not sure what the first official review was. I think I started by cutting and pasting the bullshit I had previously posted on the rec.arts.movies.current-films newsgroup. But October 11, 1999 is when I put up my first “VERN TELL’S IT LIKE IT IS” column, descriptively titled “My First Column.” In it I used some of my future catch phrases such as “then fuck you jack” and “to be frankly honest.” I also explained an important piece of film criticism history I had forgotten until now: that the name “outlawvern” came from the email address I chose when I moved from Deja News and discovered that “outlaw_69” was already taken on Hotmail.
Soon I was reviewing FIGHT CLUB, with such eloquent declarations as “now every so often there is a movie that comes along that really hits a motherfucker right in the balls and says LOOK AT ME, MOTHERFUCKER – I AM A CLASSIC.” In that review I also made my first reference to Felicity, which I believe was a television show or music group from that time, I never really knew any details, it was just something I heard about somewhere I believe.
In my second month I had a feud with “a pantywaist janey by the name of Jailhouse Jim” whose websight Jailhouse Jim’s Convict Flicks! was a watered down imitation of my gimmick and may or may not have been created by me. To my surprise, his sight is still online, so you can check out his style and see if you prefer it to mine.
I cringe at most of my early reviews, even when they make me laugh. There are many where I joke about things I wouldn’t anymore, trying to make people do spit takes by casually bringing up horrible things like they’re no big deal. But I’m more bothered by their low volume of analytical insights. Still, when I read the Jailhouse Jim stuff I think I was pretty dead on about a particular tone of magazine film criticism that I thought (correctly) was garbage. So I was on my way.
I ended that column by saying, “Now i hope to christ i don’t end up in the joint again over this, but sometimes god’s laws are more important than man’s laws in my opinion. and god says don’t fuck with the fucking Cinema, asshole.” Which, aside from the straight up fabulism at the beginning, still makes a pretty good motto.
If I had to choose a favorite review from year 1 it might be DIE HARD 2. The comparison of McClane to Bond is decent. And this may have been when I started my tradition of the Bruce icon.
started off pretty good because I pre-wrote a column in case of Y2K disaster, when I assumed
“We have gone from a comfortable first world priveleged type of living to a warrior culture like Mad Max”
“obviously I won’t be reviewing any new movies until we as a society get our shit together and start rebuilding.”
“Just as a sidenote I know this isn’t politically correct but I hate those fucking roving bands of cannibals. I’m sorry I know it is freedom of speech and all that but your lifestyle disgusts me and I hope you stay the FUCK out of my neighborhood.”
I wrote a piece called Nothing Lasts Forever: The Birth of Die Hard that people still occasionally reference, since it’s a semi-informative comparison of movie to book. And FROM DUSK TILL DAWN 3: THE HANGMAN’S DAUGHTER must’ve been my first DTV review? Then I had my first rejection from a critics group, detailed in the columns Vern vs. the critical establishment and The Society for Critics of the Online Film Critics Society. I don’t blame them for rejecting me back then. (The local one that rejected me a few months ago – that’s a different story.)
I formed something called The World Badass Committee to put together The Badass 100. That’s something I’ve always meant to revisit.
Also, I had my first mention in a magazine, Jockey Slut.
The column “Man stuff” was very revealing not only about my feelings but a medical procedure that the nurse jokingly referred to as “an intimate date.” It was kind of crazy of me to put that out there in front of any stranger (or personal friend!) who might come across it, and to make things worse I later published it in a book. I’m afraid to re-read it but I think it was a breakthrough for me as one of the first things that put my emotional vulnerabilities out there and connected them to my upbringing admiring movie tough guys.
In November, when the presidential election was unexpectedly undecided, that was the beginning of the world getting so crazy that I had to vent in columns about politics. I try to avoid that these days, mostly getting it out in short bursts on Twitter.
When the new space odyssey type millennium began I was in a place of negativity and I didn’t think anybody gave a shit what I thought about movies. So I disappeared for half a year. But I ran into a friend from the old days named Jacob and he mentioned that he liked the last review I’d posted, CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON, and hoped I’d do more. So I did. I’m grateful to him and the people who were still emailing me and even sending me DVDs of foreign movies they thought I would like, as mentioned in the raving column I wrote when I started up again in June. A few months later when 9-11 happened and shit really got dark, I didn’t let that stop me from doing what I loved, in between some real cathartic but embarrassing-to-read-now columns.
Out of shame I’m not gonna link to them, but I started doing posts such as the one that reviews the BILLY JACK trilogy along with six lefty political documentaries, or the one that covered Bush’s military tribunals along with comments on recently viewed movies AMELIE, CRYING FREEMAN, BONES and THE WASH. I always think it’s funny when people get mad at me for including politics in my movie analysis, because from pretty much the beginning I took that as my duty as a citizen of the world who cares about shit. Be thankful that I do it a little smarter and way less strident now, I say.
This is the year that the online critics group Cinemarati gave me an award, and I forget how long after that they invited me to become a member. I believe Jill Cozzi (whose sight was called Cozzi fan Tutti) was the one who recruited me, and I remember her and Maryann Johanson (flickfilosopher.com) being very welcoming. Jill later wrote the introduction to my first self-published book, and her early support was a crucial bridge to people who weren’t necessarily into my same bullshit but got a kick out of it and treated me seriously as a writer. (I should also mention Mike D’Angelo [The Man Who Viewed Too Much] in this respect.)
I did my first not great attempts at writing about classics like HARD BOILED and POINT BLANK. But this was mostly a year of digging up oddities. I reviewed the underground phenomenon RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK: THE ADAPTATION thirteen years before there was a documentary about it. I got big into Rudy Ray Moore movies including SHAOLIN DOLEMITE. A still obscure one I dug up is the (sort of) documentary DERBY, about a guy in Dayton, Ohio trying to join a roller derby team, with a whole tangent about cheating on his wife. I reviewed the parkour movie YAMAKASI, but I called it “climbing up buildings, jumping off buildings, sliding down ropes and all that sort of shit” because we Americans never heard the word parkour until sometime after DISTRICT 13 came out a couple years later. Also ‘R XMAS, an Abel Ferrara movie nobody talks about.
Most of the important ’03 stuff was posted on The Ain’t It Cool News. Writing about the DTV Seagal movies OUT FOR A KILL and BELLY OF THE BEAST led to me deciding to write Seagalogy. And I reviewed a bunch of movies I saw at The Seattle International Film Festival, including BUBBA HO-TEP, AMERICAN SPLENDOR, Alex de la Iglesia’s 800 BULLETS, and what I believe is the world’s first review of Stuart Gordon’s KING OF THE ANTS. I reacted poorly to the TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE remake. I’m still fond of my review of X-2: X-MEN UNITED, which took the form of a love letter to Mystique.
The part that impressed me the most was when you were talking to Kurt by the campfire. And by the way I could tell this impressed Kurt too, but some nerd told me you’re his mom, is that true? Anyway Kurt asked why you don’t just look normal all the time since you can, and you said, “We shouldn’t have to.” Right on girl. I like you just the way you are. Just don’t shoot me up with metal so Magneto can tear it out of me.
Think about it Mystique. We could be magic together if you were real. Either way, I can’t wait to see you in part 3.
This must’ve been an important year for my tough guy education, because I reviewed ROLLING THUNDER, VIGILANTE, PRIME CUT, BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA, THE MECHANIC, WALKING TALL, MIAMI BLUES, THE DRIVER, DEADBEAT AT DAWN, and ROAD HOUSE. A still obscure one I reviewed was the 1971 indie heist movie from Arizona, DAY OF THE WOLVES. Look that one up, Vinegar Syndrome.
The year ended bleakly with Bush’s re-election. At least I had a brief moment of optimism, when I was able to make this prediction in a column:
When Bush loses, they will go live to the republican headquarters for his concession speech. After a long, awkward pause, it will become clear that Bush actually isn’t there. The camera crews will eventually find their way to a restricted hallway where Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, Bush Sr. and some guy from NASCAR (in full uniform and helmet) will be standing outside a locked door, trying to coax Bush into coming out. “Come on buddy, we know it’s tough.” Eventually they’ll figure out that Bush actually climbed out the window and took off. For years republicans will speculate on Bush’s whereabouts, imagining a poetic life of mystery and adventure. Rumors will surface on the internet and talk radio that he actually went to Afghanistan to personally fight terrorism and teach women how to read. Within six years he will turn up bloated and dead after a poorly planned fishing trip just off his private resort island near Costa Rica. His body will be sporting a soul patch. New generations of republicans will be taught of a fictional George Bush who spoke in English and accomplished things for our nation. He will be honored, Tupac-style, on airbrushed t-shirts sold at gun shows and in the gift shop at the George Walker Bush Presidential Library. The library will not contain any books, but they do rent Playstation games for pretty cheap, and they have a decent selection.
I also predicted that BLADE 3 would win best picture. I can’t remember how that turned out. It’s weird reading my own ancient political rants from a time when I had been reading Hunter S. Thompson’s ancient political rants. His are better. I prefer when I channeled it all into movie reviews – the next three I posted were GARFIELD, THE POLAR EXPRESS and SEED OF CHUCKY.
What this is is a movie based on the popular comic strip from the 1980s called Garfield. Like all comic strips it is not funny and about a talking animal. This is a cat called Garfield who is orange. The thing about Garfield, he is real fucking fat, he eats lasagna. That’s funny because real cats eat cat food, but this one also eats lasagna. Also he says “I hate Mondays” at the beginning although this does not turn out to be important. But it is that sort of detailed characterization that makes him, you know, Garfield. I guess.
And soon after that PAPARAZZI, the review that the Titan legal department wouldn’t let me include in Yippee Ki Yay Moviegoer just because it speculated that Mel Gibson might’ve committed a series of vigilante murders during the filming of LETHAL WEAPON 2.
But that was later. Five years in seemed like a long time, so I did my first self-published book, a best-of type collection called 5 On the Outside. The cover was inspired by the poster for a movie called THE BROTHERS (1977) that I still haven’t seen, but I recently got the soundtrack.
Drew McWeeny hooked me up with the blurb from Guillermo Del Toro, which Titan continued to use on my other books years later, and I felt kind of guilty because I don’t know if he even remembers who I am. But let’s pretend he does.
Although I didn’t make it a tradition until years later, it looks like this was the first year I started with a Clint Eastwood review. It was MILLION DOLLAR BABY, which I saw at a preview screening before there was any acclaim or word about the issues it dealt with. I honestly expected a “female ROCKY”!
I had a New Year’s resolution of “A Commitment to Excellence.”
I did the first of many pieces on Craig R. Baxley’s STONE COLD. Same goes for CANDYMAN. I hated FINDING NEVERLAND and WEDDING CRASHERS. I tried to do the THE ARISTOCRATS joke. I kinda liked THE BROWN BUNNY. I saw John Woo’s BLACKJACK and finally got that Dolph Lundgren wasn’t a meathead. Some obscure ones I did were THE AMERICAN ASTRONAUT and THE WOMAN CHASER (based on the Charles Willeford book, and still not on DVD).
The rare political column I’m not embarrassed of (except the part where I use the r-word – sorry) is the one where I try to describe the MTV Video Music Awards that took place during Hurricane Katrina.
There was exactly one shocking moment in this whole freak show, and it was when the band “Green Day” was accepting one of the awards. One of the dudes in the band said something about it being dedicated to the soldiers and hoping they come home safe. It was a weird feeling, like they had just punched Diddy’s party real hard in the gut and knocked the wind out of it, or maybe they just shut off the water. At this point even I was thinking, “Oh shit, that’s right, there’s a war in Iraq.” It never even occurred to me as a possibility that somebody might mention the war or the president or anything that has any real meaning to anybody.
You know what would be an interesting art installation? Picture this awards show projected onto the side of a bombed out building in Iraq. The piece is called “Why do they hate us?” The winners for “Diddy’s Fashion Challenge” are being announced while over 1,000 muslim pilgrims are trampled to death because they heard there was a suicide bomber.
It actually sounds kinda like now. Donald Trump is even mentioned.
It’s true, anything did happen, anything that could be done in under two minutes. MC Hammer and his dancers appeared suddenly to perform less than one song. Snoop Dogg introduced some poor sap up and coming comedian who had to do about two minutes of jokes. Of course he completely bombed, because what the fuck are you doing coming out doing miniaturized standup at an awards show? Paris Hilton and Little Bow Wow introduced one of the very few awards that were given out, but first they compared the jewelry they were wearing and talked about how many karats each item was. If you think the world sucks now, wait until we have a generation of adults who grew up idolizing Paris Hilton and Donald Trump, watching tv shows about tricked out cars and rapper’s mansions. The weird thing is, it turns out the ’80s could’ve been worse.
This time I adjusted my New Year’s resolution to “Striving For Excellence,” which is still my motto. That means when I reviewed MUNICH, I also took a look at the TV version of the same book, SWORD OF GIDEON. And I reviewed CRASH and CRASH pretty close together.
CARS was a pretty good review. I think somebody told me he worked at Pixar and had passed it around. I enjoyed SILENT HILL in one of the most hostile audiences I’ve ever been in. This year it got a special edition from Scream Factory, so fuck all y’all. I kinda loved SEE NO EVIL, possibly the only review I’ve written that was quoted on an eventual commentary track.
I had my most infamous Ain’t It Cool incident when I negatively reviewed the movie CHAOS and got challenged to a wrestling match by writer/director David “The Demon” DeFalco. So getting beat up could’ve been the most significant event of the year for me, but I turned him down, so instead it was seeing The Steven Seagal Blues Band live.
GRINDHOUSE was a major cinematic event. Bruce Willis responding to me on Ain’t It Cool talkbacks was a major internet event. The guy defending bestiality in the talkback for my ZOO review was a medium one. Everybody being mad at me for hating THE TRANSFORMERS was a minor one.
The new age documentary THE SECRET was my best negative review. I tried to turn people on to the book Men, Women and Chainsaws by Carol J. Clover, back before her term “final girl” was in such wide use. 007 fans Tom Zielinski and Paul Baack got me to do a double feature of THUNDERBALL and GOLDENEYE. I also did the YOJIMBO, FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, LAST MAN STANDING triple header. I reviewed THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE on a bootleg, because it wasn’t released on video at the time. Criterion released it a couple years later.
Forgotten DTV movie: CONNORS’ WAR starring Treach
Obscure discovery: CRAZED COP and BALLBUSTER starring Ivan Rogers
One I was ahead of the curve on: DEATH SENTENCE
One that should get a 3D re-release: BEOWULF
Weird one nobody talks about anymore: I KNOW WHO KILLED ME
I wrote some columns for some joint called Screengrab. One was about how much I hate The Razzies. I’m not saying I invented the idea, but I felt like nobody knew what I was talking about back then. I also did one about seeing Rudy Ray Moore live in a little punk club called The Funhouse that used to be across the street from the Space Needle and had a big evil clown head on the outside.
On October 20th, Ain’t It Cool ran my review of URBAN JUSTICE, in which I announced the publication (on the self-publishing platform Lulu) of Seagalogy: The Action Films of S. Seagal. An old friend had hooked me up with David Gordon Green to write the introduction – at the time he’d only done respectable indie movies like GEORGE WASHINGTON and ALL THE REAL GIRLS, so it was cool to learn he knew so much about Seagal.
On December 10th I announced that it was going out of print, because I had signed the deal with Titan to do it up all professional-like.
An important year because I caught up with UNDISPUTED II, finally got why Michael Jai White was a big deal, and got into Isaac Florentine. I got my shit together and reviewed all the ELM STREETs and all the DEATH WISHes and all the DIRTY HARRYs and all the PHANTASMs.
I spent a month or two preparing one of my favorite things I’ve ever done, the April Fool’s page where I pretended to have sold the sight and turned it into a slick, shallow aggregator of movie news. I was definitely basing it on some specific sight that annoyed me at the time – sorry, nothing personal, whoever that was. Targets of satire include ’80s nostalgia, the TRANSFORMERS movies, the Weinstein Company’s treatment of Asian films, watching movies on small devices, spoof movies, box office predictions, and many more. I tried to depict the world as a tasteless capitalistic nightmare with ads for a Platinum Dunes remake of 2001 and an XBox game called UNITED 93: MISSION BURMA.
I like the piece I did called “Racially questionable double feature: John Ford’s PRISONER OF SHARK ISLAND and Karl Armstrong’s NINJA VENGEANCE (bear with me here).” I was reading the book Manhunt, about the Lincoln assassination, and getting interested in that stuff. But wasn’t gonna let it take me away from watching ninja movies.
I loved REDBELT. I think I was a little ahead of the curve on SPEED RACER and PUNISHER: WAR ZONE. I was told I was wrong to like INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL, which has not changed. We all loved WALL-E and THE DARK KNIGHT though.
Favorite discovery: The New York gang documentary 80 BLOCKS FROM TIFFANY, at that time only on VHS.
It’s kind of painful to look at now, but I’m glad I wrote a column called “YES WE MOTHERFUCKING CAN”
about celebrating in the streets of Seattle after Obama won. I don’t know if I’ll ever experience anything like that again. Although I have some ideas.
This time I ended the year with an Eastwood – GRAN TORINO.
In April my original Geocities sight stopped working, so I took up an offer from Chris Rowley to set up outlawvern.com. That same month he convinced me to try out Twitter. I don’t blame him for my addiction – that’s on me. It has definitely helped me promote reviews and meet people and stuff, so it’s not a total loss.
I got ahold of the script for MACHETE before it came out and reviewed it, but I did it as a video review, as a parody of everybody Pivoting To Video. Man, that was a pain in the ass, but it still makes me laugh. At one point it was taken down for copyright reasons (why did I think I could put a Michael Jackson song on the end credits?) but at the moment it seems to be working.
The great Jeeja Yanin arrived in CHOCOLATE. AVATAR (1/5) came out. And IP MAN! That one doesn’t seem like ten years ago to me. BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS inspired me to coin the term mega-acting.
I wrote about MARTYRS right when it came out on video, and worried people would think I was a sicko for recommending it. Didn’t know it would become such a touchstone for extreme horror movies.
To my surprise, the guy who had rejected me from the Online Film Critics Society contacted me out of the blue to make sure I knew. That’s still mysterious to me but I figured it was Fight Brotherhood, a concept that had occurred to me while watching ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN.
I also did an early review of BLOOD AND BONE, correctly praising it through the roof.
I hated best picture nominee THE READER.
I was genuinely devastated when Michael Jackson died. Whatever you may think about that now.
On my review of a movie called HOUSE OF DEATH I decided to abbreviate “my search for decent slasher movies of the ’70s and ’80s that I haven’t seen yet” to “Slasher Search,” which then became an annual tradition.
VHS discovery of the year: the amazing Billy Dee Williams slow burn revenge movie HIT! (released on disc 8 years later)
The most important review I wrote that year was UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: REGENERATION. I believe I was the first person to write a positive review of it. Finally the prophecy had come true. Florentine had already been knocking it out of the park, but this John Hyams showed up with the greatest DTV sequel ever made. Still a classic. Momentous.
Titan published my review collection Yippee Ki Yay Moviegoer in April.
I did a supposed live blog of the Academy Award nomination announcements. “i’m hearing words. none of them are port of call. none of them are squeakquel.”
I saw David DeFalco’s WRONG SIDE OF TOWN and thought this guy Bautista was the best thing about it. I saw Jesse V. Johnson‘s THE BUTCHER and thought he was up to something interesting – although I definitely didn’t guess that he’d become one of the best and most prolific low budget action directors a decade later!
THE FOUNTAINHEAD was a pretty good review. I totally forgot that I watched and wrote about JONATHAN LIVINGSTON SEAGULL, I guess as a tie-in to LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS: THE OWLS OF GA’HOOLE, a.k.a. OWL 300.
I reviewed all of the JAWSes, all of the SCANNERSes, all of the BEST OF THE BESTs, all of the A BETTER TOMORROWs and all of the HOUSE PARTYs (in an important series called Kid ’n Play: 20 Years On Film: a cinematic legacy). I like that I followed up CITY OF GOD and some related movies with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s semi-notorious T&A travel video PARTY IN RIO. Trying to go the extra mile.
I revisited FACE/OFF and co-writer Mike Werb showed up in the comments, seemingly surprised that we all loved the movie so much. In related news, Fred Topel did me a historic solid by telling Nicolas Cage about my word mega-acting.
And he liked it!
“I often refer to it as outside the box, as opposed to over the top. The two things mean the same thing on one hand but one sort of celebrates the idea of breaking free and going into other forms of expression, whether they’re abstract or extreme or as this friend of yours calls mega acting. The other sort of implies you’re not being truthful to the part, but see, I don’t know how you measure something like that because life can be extreme and life can be mega.”
Also related, I loved John Woo’s RED CLIFF so much I made a chart explaining all the factions to make sure people wouldn’t be too intimidated by it.
My first review of the year was the weird Daft Punk movie ELECTROMA, which I remember being one of the first things I watched on my first HDTV, which I guess I bought myself for Christmas. And soon I reviewed SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS [sic], which was one of my first blu-rays.
FAST FIVE, DRIVE and THE TREE OF LIFE happened that year. VENGEANCE, I SAW THE DEVIL and 13 ASSASSINS were movies I saw that knocked my ass out. I saw LAWRENCE OF ARABIA! More importantly I watched and loved STEP UPs 1-3. I reviewed the Cirque du Soleil show about Michael Jackson.
In the summer I did a retrospective of the summer of 2001. And I think I’ve done some series like that every year since.
At the beginning of the year I realized there were a bunch of Spielberg movies I hadn’t seen, so I watched and reviewed them. Turned out I liked 1941. But I also hadn’t seen SCHINDLER’S LIST or SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. Look, this was a long time ago. I also watched all the SNAKE EATERs and all the CHINA O’BRIENs and all the POLTERGEISTs and all the POLICE ACADEMYs.
I guess I found out about Marko Zaror, because I reviewed KILTRO, MANDRILL and CHINANGO all in a row. I saw the final Dolemite movie, THE DOLEMITE EXPLOSION. My wet blanket take on CABIN IN THE WOODS was unpopular. I should rewatch that.
The expanded edition of Seagalogy came out (11 all new chapters).
Piece I felt was important: my Loose Canon review of the first two LONE WOLF AND CUB movies, back when I kept running into people who had only seen them as SHOGUN ASSASSIN. (Thank you Criterion for fixing that problem.)
Chris was kind enough to redesign the sight when I started to feel bad about people having to read skinny grey letters on a black background. I think it was for the best.
I wrote a piece for The Village Voice called “Action Movies Don’t Have to Suck.” The link is dead and I can’t find it on the Wayback Machine. But here I said, “I think I managed to give a good explanation of my concept of Post-Action (with specific examples), the importance of action geography, how THE EXPENDABLES could be better, the renaissance in DTV (mentioning Florentine and Hyams), and favorite topics like that.”
I struggled with my hero Clint doing that embarrassing empty chair thing at the Republican National Convention. Seems like a million years ago.
I think this is when the Clint tradition officially started. My first review was TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE.
I did a piece for the Village Voice that’s still online as of now. It was about Tarantino, rebutting the argument that he just copies all his shit from other people. I was actually recruited (I believe by then-VV-film-editor Alan Scherstuhl) to expand on a comment I wrote here, ranting at C.J. Holden about it. Thanks C.J.!
Hell of a year for action movies: FURIOUS 6, THE GRANDMASTER, MAN OF TAI CHI, THE RAID 2, DRUG WAR, NINJA II. And hell, THE LONE RANGER counts. But you still couldn’t take it for granted that you would be able to tell what the hell was going on in a studio action movie, which caused me to introduce the Action Comprehensible Rating (ACR) starting with OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN. I phased out the system about four years later when I felt that standards had improved enough. Before that I calculated the ACR for 43 action films. The only films to receive a perfect 5 were JACK REACHER, NINJA II and 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE. JASON BOURNE and RESIDENT EVIL: THE FINAL CHAPTER were the lowest rated at 2.
My SAVING MR. BANKS review is kind of a manifesto.
I started a weekly column at Daily Grindhouse, reviewing b-action shit I hadn’t seen before. For some reason it amused me to change the title each time (Vern’s Punch-Quest, Journey to Battle Island, Tape Trek, Feet of Fire Fist of Flames, Tough Tuesday, Four-Fisted Tales) until they just made it Outlawvern Presents. The first one was on the interesting Lorenzo Lamas joint NIGHT OF THE WARRIOR. I also did one of my favorite dumb concepts: The Super-Kumite, a tournament of fighting tournament movies. Man, I saw so many of those types of movies that year. A formative time for me.
I saw Goblin live and wrote about it in a review of DEEP RED. I was honored to be invited to write an underrated horror list for Brian Sauer’s blog Rupert Pupkin Speaks. Just kidding. I asked him if I could do one. I’m not sure he knows who I am.
I’m still proud of the DAWN OF THE DEAD review I wrote. I think I actually came up with some new things to say about it.
I reviewed all the LETHAL WEAPONs and all the ANGELs and all the SUPER FLYs and all the MANIAC COPs and both of the PSYCHO COPs and both of the SPEEDs and both of the BARBARIAN QUEENs and did “RoboCop History Week.” And most notably I did the STAR WARS “No Baggage Reviews.”
Movie that seemed like it might be the best thing I’d ever seen: THE ACT OF KILLING.
Movie I liked that still hasn’t come out in the U.S.: the Japanese remake of UNFORGIVEN.
I published my first novel Niketown. I got another one for you soon. I swear it’s pretty much done. I gotta get my shit together.
In June I had one of the best days of my life when the saintly Phil Blankenship (now of the New Beverly) had me flown out to L.A. to co-host (with him and Jeremy Smith) a marathon of four Seagal classics at the Cinefamily. You can read my whole self-indulgent account of the event if you want. To this day I’m so grateful that it happened. The total anonymity I’d been operating under had become both an impediment and a crutch that this opportunity finally convinced me to toss aside. It forced me to tear-off-a-Band-Aid/get-a-big-weight-off-my-shoulders by ending some of the kayfabe I had been operating under, and that mostly went okay. And honestly getting that rock star treatment, signing books and meeting some of you guys, it was such a self esteem booster and validation of what we do here that I’m positive it has improved my writing and my attitude toward life. Thanks again for that!
I also met david j. moore and wrote the introduction to his epic guide to post-apocalyptic movies World Gone Wild.
Speaking of which, another life-change event: seeing the MAD MAX: FURY ROAD trailer for the first time. In a brief post called “Holyshitmadmaxfuryroad” I wrote, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is what we’re fighting for,” adding, “!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Somehow it still far exceeded my expectations.
Also JOHN WICK came out. I celebrated the 25th anniversaries of the “Batdance” video and DO THE RIGHT THING. And I went to Tennessee for the first time so I reviewed FOR THE LOVE OF DOLLY, NASHVILLE and MYSTERY TRAIN.
First sign this was a banner year: I finally reviewed Bradley Cooper’s THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN starring Bradley Cooper (THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN). In other Clive Barker news I did a freelance piece on the racial themes of CANDYMAN that I think was a little ahead of the curve.
I’m proud of my look at FALLING DOWN, most notable for including a still of the shot with a giant inflatable ass promoting Sir Mix-a-Lot in the background.
I guess this was the year I got really into doing series. I did one of badass director’s first movies: Michael Mann’s JERICHO MILE, Akira Kurosawa’s SANSHIRO SUGATA, Walter Hill’s HARD TIMES, Isaac Florentine’s DESERT KICKBOXER and Luc Besson’s LE DERNIER COMBAT. And then I did an indie director version with Spike Lee’s SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT, Robert Townsend’s HOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE, Steven Soderbergh’s SEX LIES AND VIDEOTAPE, Richard Linklater’s SLACKER and Kevin Smith’s CLERKS. And that went right into a FAST & FURIOUS ORIGINS series with Vin Diesel’s STRAYS, Justin Lin’s BETTER LUCK TOMORROW, and the Paul Walker movies JOY RIDE and BOBBY Z, leading up to the release of FURIOUS SEVEN. In the summer I did 1995 Summer Movie Flashback, the most popular one being CASPER, maybe?
I was so excited for STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON I did a week of N.W.A-themed reviews including CB4, DANGEROUS MINDS, FEAR OF A BLACK HAT, SET IT OFF and BOYZ N THE HOOD and got Chris to temporarily change the title font to Mistral.
Then I went absolutely crazy with part 2s. I didn’t say anything about it but I reviewed DELTA FORCE 2, MARTIAL LAW II, LADY DRAGON 2, CYBORG 2, SANJURO, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2, SANSHIOR SUGATA PART TWO, JEEPERS CREEPERS 2, HIGH NOON PART II, GAME OF DEATH 2, AZUMI 2, LOS LOCOS: POSSE RIDES AGAIN, NO RETREAT NO SURRENDER 2, THE RETURN OF JOSEY WALES and WARLOCK: THE ARMAGEDDON consecutively. I fucked up and reviewed THE GREEN INFERNO, but then it was THE FLY II, SPECIES II, INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 2, SCREAM 2 and HALLOWEEN II. More than a month of part 2s!
But my favorite series of that year (and continuing into 2016) was Lucas Minus Star Wars, where I reviewed every George Lucas production besides those space ones. Among the things I learned: MORE AMERICAN GRAFFITI is great! Holy shit, MISHIMA! Turns out I love WILLOW. RADIOLAND MURDERS is… kinda interesting I guess? STRANGE MAGIC is terrible, though.
It goes without saying that the biggest movie/event/experience of the year was MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. I honestly don’t know if another movie will ever hit me that hard again. I kept obsessing over it. It’s rare that I get a chance to see a movie twice in the theater, but I managed to see this one eight times. And I’d do it again. I’m surprised I didn’t write a new review of it each time, but there was one followup essay with the pretentious title Righteous Fury: In Praise of Peaceful Notions In Violent Movies.
But also my dad died. So one of my favorite things I wrote that year, and ever, is when I tried to process some of my grief by watching and writing about DIE HARD.
KILL ZONE 2 was the movie of the year.
Then I did my personal favorite series to date, which I retroactively call THE 400 DEATH BLOWS. It’s where I alternated between Truffaut’s five Antoine Doinel films and Cannon’s five AMERICAN NINJA films. Kind of my mission statement.
A dream came true when I saw John Carpenter live. I couldn’t type it up because I had to fly out to Knoxville for a wedding right after, so I hand-wrote a review and took pictures with the phone I had finally sold out and gotten. R.I.P. my brain. On the way out of Knoxville I saw Burt Reynolds filming THE LAST MOVIE STAR.
david j. moore released his canonical action movie tome The Good, the Tough and the Deadly. Because I wrote a few reviews in it I was invited to join in the book signing at Dark Delicacies in Burbank. It was an unforgettable experience where I got to meet (and even go for drinks with) a bunch of you, talk to Jesse V. Johnson, get my picture taken with Don “The Dragon” Wilson, and make the one and only Michael Jai White look uncomfortable when I was introduced as the guy who wrote a book about Steven Seagal. Thanks david!
I’ve never been to San Diego Comic-Con but all the other movie reviewers used to cover it so I tried to fit in by reviewing movies taking place in San Diego: HARDCORE, K-9 and TOP DOG. (How are there two cop/dog movies that take place in San Diego?)
I honored the MAGNIFICENT SEVEN remake by reviewing seven related movies: SEVEN SAMURAI, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960), RETURN OF THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, GUNS OF THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN RIDE!, THE SEVEN MAGNIFICENT GLADIATORS and SEVEN WARRIORS.
After fucking Trump got fucking elected I took a few days to recover and then tried to express some of what I was feeling and hoping in a review of BABE: PIG IN THE CITY. Don’t blame me, I voted for Babe.
I did some more action outreach to the mainstream. I got to write a piece for The Village Voice, also on L.A. Weekly (R.I.P. both), with the self-explanatory title The State of Action Filmmaking 2017. More mainstreaming of DTV action, a little more optimistic than earlier articles. I’m proud that I got a picture of Michael Jai White in NEVER BACK DOWN: NO SURRENDER into a major publication. I also did The 30 Greatest, Straight-Up Ass-Kicking Action Movies of the Century for Thrillist. For the 4th of July I did another Thrillist piece called The 15 Great American Action Movies That Everybody Should See. I’m proud of this one because I tried to make, as I said when I linked to it here, “a portrait of America through the medium of action movie list.”
I watched all of the RESIDENT EVILs and all of the UNDISPUTEDs again and both of the LAWNMOWER MANs and both of the BLACKBELTs and both of the SILKs and both of the CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGONs and both of the FRIGHT NIGHTs. And CASABLANCA and BARB WIRE back-to-back.
For my summer series I decided to do what I called 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.” Talk about a collection of interesting flops and also-rans (a couple of which I love): DICK TRACY, THE ROCKETEER, HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN, COOL WORLD, SUPER MARIO BROS., CONEHEADS, THE METEOR MAN, THE FLINTSTONES, WOLF, THE FRIGHTENERS, BATMAN & ROBIN (20th Anniversary Ice-travaganza), THE SHADOW, SPAWN, WILD WILD WEST, MYSTERY MEN, TITAN A.E., SWORDFISH, BAD COMPANY, THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, BATTLE FOR TERRA, THE LAST AIRBENDER, BATTLESHIP, R.I.P.D.
I finally watched THE POSTMAN and not only did I like it but it seemed kinda profound after Trump. Makes you cherish the institutions you take for granted.
One of the movies mentioned in this year made me realize what my next film criticism book should be about. But I haven’t started it yet so forget I said anything.
I did my first podcast appearance (talking the DEATH WISH remake on the Pink Smoke Podcast) and my second podcast appearance (talking all kinds of shit on Zebras in America). I did my last piece for the Village Voice – preview for a film series on Steve McQueen, Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson and Jim Brown.
The Summer of ’98 retrospective was fun. I realized along the way that the smaller movies were way more interesting than the blockbusters (not usually how I roll) and ended up broadening the scope of the series. Highlights include WILD THINGS, HE GOT GAME, THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO and OUT OF SIGHT. I even liked THE HORSE WHISPERER. Also THE MASK OF ZORRO held up.
I reviewed all of the PROM NIGHTs and all of the TWILIGHTs (Patreon exclusive). On Halloween I finally took a crack at officially reviewing what I sometimes consider my favorite horror movie, THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE.
But also my mom died. I wrote this about her. And I channeled some of that pain into a piece about the entire HALLOWEEN series. Sounds crazy, but I think it makes sense. It was for a new sight that immediately went bankrupt and I don’t believe I got paid but I think it’s one of my best essays. Here’s an archive of it: The Shape of Evil: Confronting Darkness Through the ‘Halloween’ Series.
And this year – I don’t know. I did my third podcast appearance, talking three Denzel movies on The Suspense Is Killing Us. I reviewed all of the IRON EAGLEs and all of the THE STREET FIGHTERs. I wrote about (almost) all of the ‘90s comic book or comic strip movies for Polygon. Made a few mistakes and angered some Ninja Turtle fans, but I think it turned out good.
I did a series on the directorial works of martial artist John Liu (AVENGING NINJA, NINJA IN THE CLAWS OF THE C.I.A., DRAGON BLOOD). I was very proud that I did Steve Wang Week (THE GUYVER, KUNG FU RASCALS, GUYVER: DARK HERO, DRIVE) and shortly after that Mark Dacascos Week (KICKBOXER 5, SANCTUARY, CHINA STRIKE FORCE and ALIEN AGENT leading into JOHN WICK 3) and then pretty much went straight into my favorite series of the year, HIGHLANDERLAND, followed almost immediately by 1989: The Last Summer of ‘80s Action.
If you’ve made it this far, even skimming, you’re amazing. What I hope all this shows is that you can stay stubbornly true to something but still get better at it, evolve, grow as a person and artist, change your mind about things, but not be a total sellout. If not, I’ll just keep telling myself that. Thank you. And I’m sorry. I think I’m doing pretty good so far. Another 20 years and I just might master it.
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APPENDIX: Zero External Reviews On IMDb
I’ve reviewed some pretty obscure ones over the years. The ones that I noted had zero external reviews on IMDb when I wrote them were POTNAH, STAR TIME, SUPER FLY T.N.T. (a total classic still only on VHS!), FLORIDA STRAITS, TONYA & NANCY: THE INSIDE STORY, NINJA KILL, JOHNNIE MAE GIBSON: F.B.I., THE CONTRACT, URBAN JUNGLE, BUFFALO HEART: THE PATH OF DEATH, THE MONSTER’S CHRISTMAS, WIDOWS (2002), DRAGON BLOOD and NEVER ON TUESDAY.
VERN has a new action-horror novel out called WORM ON A HOOK! He has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the film criticism books Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal and Yippee Ki-Yay Moviegoer!: Writings on Bruce Willis, Badass Cinema and Other Important Topics as well as the crime novel Niketown.