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

Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Birth of the Dragon

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017

BIRTH OF THE DRAGON is now on video. A very fictionalized riff on the legendary challenge fight between two early ’60s Bay Area martial artists named Wong Jack Man and Bruce Lee, it was not exactly welcomed to screens with open arms. Shannon Lee and the Bruce Lee estate (who are currently developing an official Lee movie) did not approve, white director George Nolfi (THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU) was viewed by most with an understandable raised eyebrow, and an early trailer showing not-in-the-finished-movie first person narration by a white character caused widespread derision (including by me).

But look, I’m fascinated by Bruce Lee, the man and the myth, and by this event in particular. If there’s gonna be a movie about it, no matter how possibly misguided, but especially if produced by the prestigious WWE Films and Blumhouse (whuh?), of course I’m gonna watch it. So I did. (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.

Justice League

Tuesday, November 21st, 2017

(SPOILERS)

Sometimes, you know, Superman dies, so a bad guy decides to conquer the world, so you have to put together a team of other super heroes to fill in for Superman, but then you decide to bring him back to life, but he seems evil at first and fights you, but then he chills out while you fight the CGI guy, then he shows up. JUSTICE LEAGUE is a perfectly watchable, okay super hero romp, with a hefty serving of the humor everyone thought was missing in the last two Superman pictures, but no more sense, and very little of the gravity or operatic style. Goodbye worshipful awe of Superman, hello green screened-in undercutting gags.

Oh, but don’t worry, when Aqua-Man smashes through a building it’s been painstakingly established that it’s in an abandoned town. That’s the most important thing, obviously.

The invasion foreshadowed at the end of BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF THE LIVING JUSTICE is at hand. Batman knows it because a Geonosian “Parademon” flies up while he’s hanging a thief off a rooftop. I think he was using the poor guy as bait (the things smell fear), but possibly it’s just a weird thing that happens while he’s on the job. I like that when the creature appears Batman and the criminal seem to completely drop their conflict and have a conversation about how fucked up things are since Superman’s death. A little bonding between fellow humans. A nice moment. (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.

Bits & Pieces

Monday, November 20th, 2017

BITS & PIECES (1985) is another only-on-VHS obscurity that should teach me a fuckin lesson about Slasher Searching. Like HOLLYWOOD’S NEW BLOOD it’s made in California (San Fernando Valley and Burbank, according to IMDb) but clearly not by actual professionals in the movie industry. If their goal was to prove you could make a movie as icky as MANIAC but with no single element from scripting to cinematography to acting that in any way comes even remotely close to being as good, they have succeeded wildly.

Like PSYCHO, DERANGED, DON’T GO IN THE HOUSE, etc. it’s a killer with mommy issues. Like MANIAC he abducts women and brings them to his apartment and has a female mannequin there that he pretends is alive. His name is Arthur (S.E. Zygmont, no other credits) and there is no indication that he has a job besides murder but he’s always dressed like he just got home from work, or is cosplaying the guy from THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED.

(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.

Check Point

Thursday, November 16th, 2017

I don’t think any of you would disagree that I’ve been neglectful of DTV action lately. I’ll always try to see the new Scott Adkins and what not but I don’t get down in the dirt like I used to. I mean I’m proud of the other stuff I write about, but I do have some concerns about the state of my mojo. And to be honest I’ve been feeling a little down worrying that too many of my proudest moments are now associated with skeezy people. It’s like, I mention the guy I wrote a book about, the websight I started out at, the place where I did my first public appearance, I gotta distance myself from three different sexual harassment scandals. And as I’m about to post this I just found out about allegations against an iconic hero for most of us around here, and it’s absolutely crushing me.

I’m gonna have to start hiring detectives to do background checks on these people before I start writing books on them. Pretty soon the fictional characters in my novel are gonna turn out to have secrets. I’m gonna have to write strictly about inanimate objects, because people always turn out to be creeps.

I know it’s more important to expose scumbags than to make sure I feel good about my legacy, but it’s kind of a bummer. So while I process all this I’ve decided to put more effort toward seeing probly-gonna-be-shitty-but-hopefully-not DTV/VOD type action movies like I used to, to see if it brings me back to full strength.

So far the results are inconclusive. I started with CHECK POINT, a film from this year, directed by Thomas J. Churchill (LAZARUS: APOCALYPSE). I chose it based on the following signs of b-action legitimacy in the cast: professional wrestler (Bill Goldberg), horror star (Kane Hodder), professional wrestler turned horror star (Tyler Mane), blaxploitation icon (Fred Williamson) and great character actor (William Forsythe). The lead turns out to be Kenny Johnson, who I assumed was also a wrestler because in close-up he looks kinda like present day Mickey Rourke, but in fact he’s an actor who I would’ve recognized if I watched The Shield or Sons of Anarchy. (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.

Wind River

Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

WIND RIVER, new on video this week, is a thriller written and directed by Taylor Sheridan, who’s on the radar now because he wrote SICARIO and HELL OR HIGH WATER. Jeremy Renner (Catwoman: The Game) plays Cory Lambert, a hunter for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Wyoming. When he drives out to the Wind River Indian Reservation to find what wild animal killed some livestock and spend some time with his son Casey (Teo Briones) he finds a dead woman in the snow. He knows her, her name is Natalie (Kelsey Asbille, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN). She’s a good friend’s daughter. When they ask him to help show around FBI Agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen, OLDBOY) he ends up unofficially joining the investigation with her and tribal sheriff Ben (Graham Greene, DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE).

It’s a quiet, broody modern western type of a movie with matter-of-fact badassness in the dialogue and bursts of violence, tonally comparable to the aforementioned Sheridan joints, THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADAS ESTRADA, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, stuff like that. But unlike any of those the wide-open landscapes are covered in snow. It’s not sweaty, it’s frost-bitten. (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 Frontier

Tuesday, November 14th, 2017

Hey look, here’s a minor gem that I found via video store browsing. I never heard of it and it seems to have gotten not-great reviews and little mileage for its rookie director (despite having the audacity to have “a film by Oren Shai” not only on the cover, but the DVD menu). But it’s a solid and great looking little neo-noir kind of in the vein of RED ROCK WEST, but smaller scale and more retro.

Like so many of these stories it follows a mysterious drifter who stops at a small diner/motel on a desert road somewhere, desperate, hiding a secret and then getting mixed up in some more trouble. An unusual twist is that this drifter is a woman, Laine, played by Jocelin Donahue from HOUSE OF THE DEVIL. And she’s not some BOUND style tough girl either, she wears nice sweaters and skirts and doesn’t intimidate anybody. But she has blood on her hands, both literally and figuratively.

Her backstory is implied and revealed through small things: stashing a money clip in the bathroom, examining a rope burn on her neck, reports of murder in another city, a cop (A.J. Bowen, YOU’RE NEXT, THE GUEST) having one of those conversations with her that could be honest friendliness but is more likely a veiled threat. We watch Laine navigate small talk questions she doesn’t want to answer, wind up with a room for the night and a job as a waitress, and practically give us a heart attack by sneaking into the rooms to look through guests’ luggage for something valuable enough to get her the fuck out of Dodge. This stuff is very reminiscent of Marion Crane trying to get away with the money in the first part of PSYCHO. (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.

Ingrid Goes West

Monday, November 13th, 2017

INGRID GOES WEST is kind of like a KING OF COMEDY for the smart phone era. Instead of seeking fame by doing something on television our stalker wants to live a blandly glamorous life on Instagram. But this is not just an update of the ol’ “people will do anything for fame” trope we’ve seen in MAN BITES DOG, NATURAL BORN KILLERS, etc. Sure, Ingrid would love more likes and followers, but mostly she wants attention from one specific person who’s famous on Instagram. So, no big deal, she moves to L.A. to try to find her.

Aubrey Plaza (SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD) is outstanding as Ingrid, a multi-layered role that evokes uncomfortable laughs, creeped-out squirms and also some sympathy. She has comic timing, subtle expressions, pathos, and next-level physical comedy in the scene where she first encounters the famous Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen, OLD BOY) in a store and tries way too hard to browse casually. She’s not so much posing for social media as living life as if she’s inside social media. When she first gets to L.A. she rides around on a bike with a forced “say cheese” smile stuck on her face.

She’s a SINGLE WHITE FEMALE reading what Taylor likes so she can go to the places she goes, eat the things she eats, read (or at least hold) the books she recommends. We watch her struggle to construct the perfect inane one-sentence comment, an online activity soon to be repeated IRL when she finds Taylor and, you know, kidnaps her dog. Just as a way to meet her and start a friendship. It’s all cool, don’t worry about 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.

Thor: Ragnarok

Thursday, November 9th, 2017

Recently some friends and I were choosing favorites between Marvel’s three Chrises. It’s a tough call because Evans (the Captain America one) has the best Marvel series in my opinion, plus he seems like a cool guy in real life and starred in SNOWPIERCER. But Pratt (the Star Lord one) is the funniest and most down-to-earth Chris, and he has the more irreverent Marvel series. I even like his hypermasculine hold-on-I-need-to-roll-up-my-sleeves-so-you-can-see-my-forearms turn in JURASSIC WORLD.

Still, I chose Hemsworth (the Thor one) as my favorite Chris, because here is the most potentially embarrassing of the major Marvel characters, and frankly their least memorable series, but they got this Australian guy I never heard of who looks like He-Man and still was able to fuel the entire first movie on the power of his charisma. I really realized I was a fan when he did Michael Mann’s BLACKHAT. Not only is it a movie I really liked, but it was the first time in a while that one of these new guys displayed the type of manly magnetism that inspired me in the action movies of the ’80s and ’90s. I’m older than him but he made me want to grow up to slick my hair back and do hand stand pushups and read about philosophers.

So thank God his signature character Thor finally gets a movie worthy of his charms. Taika Waititi, the New Zealand writer-director best known for WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS and the great HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE, completely reinvents the series as a colorful comedy much more in the vein (and sci-fi landcape) of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY than of the previous THORs. He quickly makes him funny, destroys his hammer, puts him on another planet and has cyborg Stan Lee cut his hair short. So it’s different. (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.

Hollywood’s New Blood

Wednesday, November 8th, 2017

Since SLASHER SEARCH 2017 barely got off the ground, I have decided to break tradition and continue it post-Halloween. I guess the series will go on sporadically either until I’m satisfied that I found a good one or until I get sick of it.

HOLLYWOOD’S NEW BLOOD is copyrighted 1989 (IMDb says 1988) and the cover – a painting of a screaming woman reflected in the lens of a movie camera held by a rotting ghoul – makes it look like it might be a little comedic in a Hollywood satire or maybe even EC Comics RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD kind of way. Unfortunately that key art is more professional than the movie itself. It’s basically regional horror where the region happens to be Los Angeles.

A small group of acting students go out to a remote cabin for a seminar. (A pretty big nice cabin, not a spooky EVIL DEAD one.) During the course of their stay they learn that the cabin was built on the site of a local tragedy, when a drunk film crew were rigged the wrong house with explosives and blew up the Glouster family. Pretty huge error there that seems almost impossible to have gone through with without someone on the crew or in the house catching on, but hopefully they learned their lesson and were more careful on future productions. (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.

Legendary Assassin

Tuesday, November 7th, 2017

After seeing WOLF-WARRIOR-II-mania sweep the globe (especially in the China part of it) I thought I should pay a little more attention to Wu Jing as an up and coming Badass Laureate (director/asskicker), so I went back to LEGENDARY ASSASSIN, his directational debut (co-directed with KILL ZONE 2 action director Chung Chi “Nicky” Li, who also choreographed).

Though there will later be lulls, it’s clear the movie is worth our time within the first 22 minutes or so, because by that time we’ve already experienced two excellent fights and the unveiling of a nice, elegant premise (the screenplay is by Fung Chi-Keung, who wrote SHAOLIN SOCCER and THE MERMAID). Wu plays “Bo,” the assassin of the title, so presumably he’s legendary, although this is not really covered in the movie. He fearlessly walks in to face Chairman Ma (Kou Zhan Wen, TAI CHI II), an evil crime boss who comes at him Shaw Brothers style with a big bladed staff. Bo does lots of leaning and dodging and running up things and defeats him unarmed.

In the morning we see Bo walking up to a dock to make his exit… just as a police officer is turning people away. All boats are cancelled due to an approaching typhoon. And the last boat in unloads a troupe of gangsters looking for the killer of Chairman Ma.

Whoops. This could get messy. (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.