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

Author Archive

Emperor of the North

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018

EMPEROR OF THE NORTH (a.k.a. EMPEROR OF THE NORTH POLE) is a great 1973 tramp epic, a Depression-era tall tale of a battle between the champions of two rival kingdoms: a legend of the homeless counterculture pitted against the meanest, most heartless bastard among those lucky enough to have a job working the railroad. A-No.-1 (Lee motherfuckin Marvin [PAINT YOUR WAGON] in his followup to PRIME CUT) is a smart, experienced “bull” intent on riding the No. 19 all the way to Portland, Oregon. Shack (Ernest Borgnine, THE SPLIT) is the cruel sonofabitch conductor who takes that shit way too personally.

The opening scene sets the stakes high. Under a somewhat amusing Marty Robbins theme tune that personifies trains, the Shack chases down some poor guy trying to ride his rails and whacks him on the skull with a big metal mallet, like he’s Vinnie Jones in THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN. We have to hear the man’s screams as he falls and tumbles beneath the wheels and is left on the tracks separated into two pieces. Horrible. (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.

Killer of Sheep

Tuesday, May 1st, 2018

KILLER OF SHEEP is the influential 1978 feature film debut of Charles Burnett, who would go on to direct TO SLEEP WITH ANGER and THE GLASS SHIELD, among other things. Filmed in handheld, 16mm black and white, it’s a naturalistic, mostly unstructured (but not documentary) portrait of the working class people of the Watts neighborhood where Burnett grew up.

The lamb-murderer of the title is Stan (Henry G. Sanders, CHILD’S PLAY 3), but that’s not to say he’s some sicko – he works at a slaughterhouse. The job seems to be as exhausting and soul-sucking as it sounds. In his time off Stan always looks tired, often shirtless, just sitting around unless he’s on the floor fixing something or other. Friends are always coming over, sometimes trying to get him to do some crime or other money-making scheme. These leather jacket wearing bigshots try to smooth talk him into something until his wife (Kaycee Moore) comes out to tell them off. (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.

Avengers: Infinity War

Monday, April 30th, 2018

(Honestly it would be hard to spoil everything major that happens in this movie, because it’s hard to keep track of it all. But this review is loose and reckless with SPOILERS)

I learned in 2012 when THE AVENGERS came out to never underestimate Marvel. So on the third AVENGERS movie, INFINITY WAR, I figured they could pull it off – they could combine most of the main characters developed over 17 previous movies (people from the IRON MAN movies, THE INCREDIBLE HULK, the CAPTAIN AMERICA movies, the THOR movies, the AVENGERS movies, the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY movies, DOCTOR STRANGE, SPIDER-MAN HOMECOMING and BLACK PANTHER) into one big super hero monster mash. But back when I had first learned that lesson, when they introduced the purple CGI space monster villain Thanos after the credits, I gotta admit I was still skeptical. I didn’t know how they were gonna make that guy cool.

They did it. To me he’s their best villain outside of Killmonger. It’s a cliche to say that comic book characters are the Greek gods of the modern age, but Thanos (Josh Brolin, JONAH HEX) is the villain that most lives up to that description. In fact, one minor problem I had with the movie is that he seems so convincingly powerful I wondered what the hell the Avengers and the Guardians thought they were doing repeatedly going after him. Like, come on Star Lord (Chris Pratt, ZERO DARK THIRTY), why are you pointing a laser gun at this guy and acting like that’s gonna do anything? Are you stupid? (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.

Den of Thieves

Thursday, April 26th, 2018

Have you ever seen a sprawling, nearly 2-hour-plus epic about a gang of bank robbers in Los Angeles, the special police unit trying to bust them, the parallels between the groups that make them as bad as each other and give them a macho bond, the chance public encounters they have in neutral spaces before the robbery, and the absurdly high capacity shootouts they have in broad daylight among the public… but that is only heavily influenced by Michael Mann, not actually directed by him? Oh yeah, it sounds like you saw DEN OF THIEVES too. It was okay though, right?

The thieves are led by ex-Marine Ray Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber, 13 HOURS) – who looks a little like a Christian Bale character, but feels more like Bodhi in the POINT BREAK remake – with goons including Evan Jones (Cheddar Bob from 8 MILE), 50 Cent (Young Caesar from GET RICH OR DIE TRYIN’) and O’Shea Jackson Jr. (Ice Cube from STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON).

(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.

Jane Got a Gun

Tuesday, April 24th, 2018

JANE GOT A GUN is a straight forward modern western, and a pretty good one. It doesn’t reinvent the genre, or have a new twist on it, other than to star Natalie Portman (STAR WARS I, II, III), who also produced it and fought to bring it back to life after the original director famously left on the first day of production.

I can see why she cared about it so much. It’s a good role for her, one she must’ve done alot of preparation for. She’s a much more natural western heroine than I pictured. Jane Hammond lives in a little house on a remote patch of land with a young daughter (Maisie McMaster). One day her husband Bill (Noah Emmerich, WINDTALKERS), who everybody calls “Ham,” comes home dying of a bullet wound. She does exactly what all movie people do in that situation – give him a bottle of liquor, pull the slug out with tongs, and most importantly DROP THE SLUG INTO A METAL BOWL – then chews him out, puts on a hat and a coat and goes out to take care of business.

Okay, I’m making that sound a little more badass than it is, because Jane’s no-fuckin-around demeanor makes it seem that way. She’s not going to get revenge or nothing, she’s actually going to drop the kid off at a friend’s house and then go beg her drunk ex-boyfriend to protect her from the Bishop Boys, the guys who shot Ham and who he says are coming for him. And for her. (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.

You Were Never Really Here

Monday, April 23rd, 2018

YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE is the latest example of what I call “Arthouse Badass” – movies with subject matter and tropes from our beloved crime/action/tough guy movies, but with more interest in formal experimentation and subverting expectations or cliches than in delivering on traditional money shots. It’s based on a novella by Jonathan Ames that sounds like a pretty straightforward action kinda thing, but it’s written and directed by Lynne Ramsay (WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN). Joaquin Phoenix (U TURN) stars as a scary dude who, in the opening scene, has just killed some sex traffickers or somebody and is making an escape. But there will be little emphasis on how badass he is and alot on how damaged and haunted and sad he is.

Like Riggs he regularly contemplates suicide (holding a knife over his mouth, pulling a plastic bag over his head, peering over bridges and onto train tracks). Like Rambo he’s covered in scars and sees flashes of war crimes and other traumas, and at one point breaks down crying about the people he’s killed. Like Leon the professional, Creasy the man on fire, The Equalizer, Logan, Statham in SAFE or Seagal in OUT OF REACH he finds some kind of life’s purpose in protecting a little girl.

But he’s not cool. He’s a husky, baggy-pants-and-pullover-hoodie guy, with a belly and greasy unbrushed hair and a bushy, graying beard, and he mumbles and lays around lazily eating jellybeans, and the last thing he does in the movie is loudly slurp up the dregs of a melted milkshake. He looks more Jack Black than John Wick, more Devin Faraci than Chow Yun Fat, more George R.R. Martin than Lee Marvin, more guitar tech for Ratt than elite operative. (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.

Paradox

Thursday, April 19th, 2018

Remember the great Donnie Yen/Sammo Hung movie SPL, or KILL ZONE as the Weinsteins retitled it in the U.S.? If not, do you at least remember SPL 2/KILL ZONE 2, the even greater Wu Jing/Tony Jaa movie that knocked our asses and hearts into the stratosphere a couple years ago? Well, PARADOX was made as SPL 3. That’s why I got antsy and ordered an import from YesAsia before I read that Well Go is putting it out in the U.S. on May 8th.

Once again it’s not a normal followup, but a thematic sequel, or a spiritual sequel, or a sequel in name only, or a remix. Some of the connective tissue cast-and-crew-wise is that it’s directed by Wilson Yip (who directed the first SPL and produced the second), it’s produced by Cheang Pou-soi (who directed part 2), it stars Louis Koo (who played the crime boss who needs a transplant in part 2), it has a “special appearance” by Tony Jaa (who was the co-lead of part 2), Ken Lo (part 2) is in it too, and the action director is Sammo Hung (choreographer and co-star of part 1).

Also the cool American cover has a wolf on it, which must be a reference to the weird metaphorical encounter at the end of the last one. I do believe this one is wolf-free. (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.

A Quiet Place

Wednesday, April 18th, 2018

A QUIET PLACE is a really effective monster movie that goes a long way just on the strong execution of a simple, cool premise. 89 days ago as of the opening scene, civilization as we know it ended under the sharp teeth of some GREAT WALL-esque man-eating monsters. They’re blind, but they have great hearing and they run fast, so they’ll zip in and munch on anybody who makes any kind of noise. That could be some librarian’s bedtime story to keep the kids in line, but it feels a little more like THE ROAD or something.

We follow a family who have already developed methods to survive in this dangerous new reality. They live on an isolated farm, they speak in sign language. Their daughter (Millicent Simmonds, WONDERSTRUCK) is deaf, so she’s good at being silent, but of course she doesn’t necessarily hear if there’s a monster behind her or someone else is making a sound that’s gonna attract one. They’ve developed warning systems involving lights, torches that seem to communicate with other survivors (though we never see them) and various emergency backup plans. When they need to go into town to scavenge they walk barefoot on trails of sand (I wonder where they got all that from?) It shows just how serious this is, and how much work they have to put into it, and also it’s a cool visual. (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.

Molly’s Game

Tuesday, April 17th, 2018

MOLLY’S GAME is the directivational debut of playwright/The West Wing creator/screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (MONEYBALL, STEVE JOBS), and man is it ever Sorkiny. It revolves around the legal defense of a woman who ran an illegal poker ring, so there is law, legal strategy, business procedure and poker all out there needing to be explained and waxed poetic about by fast-talking geniuses constantly on the verge of dropping an anecdote about the 1942 Olympics or the Warren G. Harding administration or some shit that at first sounds like they got sidetracked with trivia but turns out to be a deft analogy to drive home the point they’re trying to make. And the protagonist Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain, MAMA) narrates the shit out of it and skips around in time, talks about her childhood and her Olympic skiing accident and what not. It looks good and the performances are excellent but yeah, dude, a writer’s writerly writer definitely wrote this writing here.

Sorkin seems like a guy who obsesses over some story he read about in a magazine a while back and he won’t fucking shut up about how fascinating it is and you’re like “Okay Aaron, young Hollywood intern stumbles into running high stakes poker game, sounds great Aaron anyway I gotta get going,” but then when he makes the movie you realize he was right, it really was a compelling story when presented exactly as he knew how to present 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.

Proud Mary

Monday, April 16th, 2018

Mary (Taraji P. Henson, SMOKIN’ ACES, THE KARATE KID, Felicity episodes 7 and 14) is some kind of hitwoman for a Boston crime family, though you’d think she was a high class international assassin judging by her well-maintained secret fold-out arsenal and array of flashy blonde disguise wigs. One day after killing a bookie she sees his young son in the next room playing video games with headphones on. She should kill him – not in my opinion, but in her profession’s – instead she leaves him be.

A year later the kid, Danny (Jahi Di’Allo Winston, “Young Ralph Tresvant,” THE NEW EDITION STORY), has been through some foster homes and run away and become a hardened drug runner for an abusive Russian scumbag called Uncle (Xander Berkeley, L.A. TAKEDOWN, CANDYMAN). Without mentioning “Hey, I’m the one that murdered your dad” or even “I am a dangerous criminal,” Mary rescues Danny, brings him to her apartment and goes to tell off Uncle – who she ends up killing. And that’s a big mistake because her boss Benny (Danny Glover, PREDATOR 2) sends the whole crew to find and kill whoever took out Uncle. (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.