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Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

War for the Planet of the Apes

Thursday, July 20th, 2017

Director Matt Reeves, in his two sequels to the prequel to the PLANET OF THE APES series, has achieved some sort of cinematic miracle. I don’t think we as a society have properly acknowledged how incredible and unlikely these movies are. These are prebootquel-sequel-summer-event-special-effects-movies that are bleak, heavy and emotional, yet fun to watch. They feel like they’re based in the real world, yet they have us accepting apes that can speak English – not in a BABE talking-animal-movie type of way, but in a “some of them have evolved enough to learn how to do it” sort of way. Tentative, with odd rhythms, and economical use of words. It’s like a trick that they’re still mastering, putting great effort into each syllable, having to catch their breath between words. There’s still something creepy about this demonstration of intelligence from animals that are in a war with humans like us. Yet Reeves gets us to root for them – for their survival, for their moral choices.

It’s almost beside the point that somehow Reeves films a bunch of dudes in weird suits out in the woods and Weta turns them into photo-realistic animated characters. Most of the main characters and extras are computer generated, but I just think of it as live action while I’m watching it. Remember when it seemed like the Achilles heel of motion capture would always be the creepy, doll-like eyes? Well, here we have Caesar (played by the Marlon Brando of mo-cap, Andy Serkis), a performance that’s at least 25% intense stare-down. It’s as if all the soul and humanity missing from all the eyeballs in THE POLAR EXPRESS were set aside to load into his. (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.

Transformers: The Last Knight

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

“Y’all wanna see some dead robots?”

TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT is what happens when a famed surface level maestro of brain damaged spectacle makes his fifth god damn movie based on a line of toys. Michael Bay’s robo-aesthetic has evolved and improved to a point where I have to begrudgingly respect it. The convoluted mythology has reached new levels of insane are-you-kidding-me-ness. But the characters haven’t developed one bit – is it possible that they have de-developed? Autobot leader Optimus Prime (voice of Peter Cullen, GREMLINS)’s swing between fascist brutality and wholesome-sounding inspirational speeches is taken to even more comical levels – if he didn’t talk like a bad guy and have a red slap mark on his face we wouldn’t know when he was turned into the evil “Nemesis Prime.”

This one opens on a beautifully weird note: a medieval battle between King Arthur (Liam Garrigan, reprising his character from Once Upon a Time) and a horde of barbarians. Arthur’s men think they’re doomed, but Merlin (Stanley Tucci, WILD CARD) shows up with a three-headed robot dragon, courtesy of a blood-stained Transformer he met inside the cave-like thing that voiceover narration by Academy Award winner Anthony Hopkins (TITUS) explains is actually a crashed alien spaceship. Yeah, we get it Sir Anthony. (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.

Wild Wild West

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017
a survey of summer movies that just didn’t catch on

Big Willie Weekend, 1999

Two summers after their hit film MEN IN BLACK, director Barry Sonnenfeld (d.p. of BLOOD SIMPLE) and star Will Smith (SUICIDE SQUAD) tried to bring a similar comedy/special-effects/adventure mix to the old west. It’s like a western in that there are cowboy hats, guns, railroads and occasional horses, but also not really because it’s about two top agents for the president going undercover and then having a big battle against a giant mechanical spider that’s on a rampage and headed for the White House. Not a type of story I’ve seen done with John Wayne or Clint or anybody.

The basis is The Wild Wild West, a western-meets-spies TV show that lasted four seasons, ending thirty years prior to the movie. It was actually cancelled not due to a lack of popularity, but controversy over violence on television, and did have two followup TV movies. But the last of those was in 1980, and nineteen years later it was at best a cult show, and not yet available on DVD. So this is another expensive blockbuster based on characters that most of its intended youthful audience had never seen, or in this case even heard of.

But they didn’t have to know it was based on anything. Waning interest in westerns may have been a bigger problem, but that could’ve been overcome by the popularity of Smith, or the fun gimmick of the gadgets and steampunk type robotics, or the energetic style and cartoonish humor of the director of the ADDAMS FAMILY movies.

But that didn’t happen. (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.

Spawn

Monday, July 17th, 2017
a survey of summer movies that just didn’t catch on

WARNING: Somehow I forgot that I already wrote about SPAWN eight years ago, but now you’re in for a more detailed look.

August 1, 1997

It’s weird that one of my least favorite movies in this series so far is the one that stars Michael Jai White! Thank you Ralph Bakshi for making sure it’s not in last place.

White plays Al Simmons, an amoral elite counter-terrorism black ops super badass who gets betrayed by his boss Jason Wynn (Martin Sheen, FIRESTARTER, who took the job because his grandson told him Spawn was cool). He’s set on fire, blown up and recruited by a crude CGI giant monster devil (voice of Frank Welker) to be a soldier for Hell. Returned to earth five years later as a burnt up demon called Spawn, he lives among the homeless and learns how to use his new demon powers while pining for his wife Wanda (Theresa Randle, CB4) and plotting revenge on Wynn.

I made that sound like a story, if I do say so myself. The movie’s not as interested in that. Faithfully adapted from the top-selling comic book of some parts of the ’90s, here is a visually dark, Marilyn-Manson-on-the-soundtrack slog that makes THE CROW: CITY OF ANGELS look like a masterwork of storytelling craft. And at least CITY OF ANGELS was nice to look at. Despite the participation of the great cinematographer Guillermo Navarro (DESPERADO, JACKIE BROWN, PAN’S LABYRINTH), this thing looks like shit! Rarely has there been a worse case of CGI overreach – shockingly sub-par, MORTAL KOMBAT-level monsters, fire and transformations are slapped all over it like a big-screen CD-ROM game, and even the straight-ahead action movie scene at “Military Air Base, Hong Kong” looks like a ’90s syndicated TV show where cops raid warehouses and dockyards every episode. (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.

GLOW Season 1

Thursday, July 13th, 2017

I don’t usually review TV, but this show is short and consistent enough to review like a movie, and long-time commenter Mr. Majestyk tried to get me to defend my love for it, and it seemed to me worthy of its own post.

GLOW is a fun new Netflix show inspired by the 1986 founding of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. It’s not a historically accurate representation of people or events, and even the wrestling personas are sort of off brand or alternate dimension versions. There’s a Machu Picchu instead of Mountain Fiji, and a team called The Beatdown Bitties are similar to The Housewives. But it takes the idea of fringe Hollywood people doing a casting call for women willing to live in a house together and learn to wrestle, and makes it into ten breezy half-hour-ish episodes of dramedy. There are underdogs, friendships, creative expression and a winning let’s-put-on-a-show spirit. And the show they put on is women in crazy costumes and glitter makeup tossing each other around in a ring with pink ropes, which is better than some other types of shows that somebody might put 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.

The Crow: City of Angels

Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

a survey of summer movies that just didn’t catch on

August 30, 1996

I don’t remember ever hearing anybody say nice things about THE CROW part 2, CITY OF ANGELS, so let me start out with one: this is a gorgeous looking movie. Part 1 production designer Alex McDowell (LAWNMOWER MAN, CRYING FREEMAN, FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, WATCHMEN) returns, this time with cinematographer Jean-Yves Escoffier (GUMMO, GOOD WILL HUNTING), to tweak and expand on the aggressively stylized gotholopolis look he created for Alex Proyas’ THE CROW.

This time it looks more real, and has a yellow tint on its foggy (maybe it’s smoggy?), trash-strewn streets, representing the heat of Los Angeles, I hope, and not the piss that it clearly smells of. I don’t know my skylines, so I’m not sure I would’ve understood that they changed the location from Detroit without the subtitle or the cool shot where a row of palm trees burst into flame one-by-one as the crow (the bird that seems to be responsible for resurrecting murder victims, not the vengeful harlequin ghost he enables) flies past them. There’s a great tracking shot of the bird flying over the (model) city, and a profile shot of the ghost speeding on his motorcycle, his feathered friend right in front of him. The movie definitely achieves on levels of technical craftsmanship. (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.

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Tuesday, July 11th, 2017

I liked the Sam Raimi SPIDER-MAN movies (1, 3) and I liked the chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone in the AMAZING SPIDER-MAN that I saw, but this new SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING is the first one to convince me that hey, I like Spider-Man. This is easily my favorite version.

Continuing the story of Peter Parker (Tom Holland, phone voice of Tom Hardy’s son in LOCKE) shortly after he got to fight with the Avengers in CAPTAIN AMERICA V. THE CIVIL WAR, this is an upbeat, funny slice of life in a previously unseen part of the Marvel Universe: the high schools.

Thanks to being discovered by Tony Stark (Saturday Night Live Season 11 cast member Robert Downey Jr.), Peter is now armed with a high tech costume and the prestige of being able to talk about “the Stark Internship,” but he’s still a dork. He gets made fun of even within his Academic Decathlon team (thanks alot Flash Thompson [Tony Revolori, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL]), his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) talks to him about Legos in front of cheerleaders, and he annoys the shit out of his Avengers pointman Happy (Jon Favreau, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET), who doesn’t return his way-too-many calls and texts about wanting a new mission. (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.

Cop Car

Monday, July 10th, 2017

After seeing SPIDERMAN’S HOMECOMING I wanted to link to my review from director Jon Watts’ great 2015 movie COP CAR, but for the life of me I couldn’t find one. I swore I remembered writing about it, though, so I searched through old notebooks and sure enough I found the handwritten review that I apparently did between THE LAST CIRCUS and CHEERLEADER CAMP. I must’ve been saving it for after Halloween and then forgot about it. So consider this a previously unreleased review from the vault.

COP CAR is an original, expertly crafted thriller that had me from the very start. Which, come to think of it, is a kid saying “Weiner.” Two young boys (James Freedson-Jackson [Jessica Jones] and Hays Wellford [INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE]) have apparently run away from their home in a small farming community in Colorado. They’re walking across a field, playing with sticks, talking about the type of shit that little boys think they know everything about: barb wire fences, snakes, arrowheads. It’s the rare case of movie kids who seem like documentary subjects. They’re not too precocious or romanticized, they’re just dumb boys, like some of us used to be. Not comically dumb, just regular dumb. They do dumb boy stuff. Nobody knows why.

And suddenly they come across something weird – the titleistical vehicle, parked in the middle of nowhere. They react in various stupid ways: paranoid that it’s looking for them. Throwing a rock as a distraction. Daring each other to touch it. Getting inside and pretending to be in a high speed chase.

Then they find the keys. (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 Shadow

Wednesday, July 5th, 2017

a survey of summer movies that just didn’t catch on

(NOTE: I’ve decided to go back to cover two Summer Flings that I regret having skipped.)

July 1, 1994

Look, I can’t say for sure what audiences were yearning for in the summer of ’94, but it might have been a cartoon about lions and it might not have been a super hero movie set in the 1930s, based on a character from serialized radio dramas. Here is yet another entry in my beloved genre of old-timey-super-hero-movie-that-totally-failed-at-the-box-office-but-I-thought-it-was-pretty-good. I suppose THE SHADOW seemed like a more sensible bet than some of them, because it was at least a character with vague name recognition and noir influences like BATMAN (in fact some believe the first Batman story was a rip-off of a Shadow story called “Partners of Peril”).

At first glance The Shadow (Alec Baldwin, THE GETAWAY) does seem like kind of a Batman-esque character. He’s a rich handsome guy named Lamont Cranston who lives a secret life, going out at night as a scary figure, fighting criminals. He doesn’t have a cape, but a black cloak that serves the same purpose, plus a hat and a mask over the mouth and two guns. And hidden in an alley is the entrance to his Batcave-like secret base. (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.

Action U.S.A.

Tuesday, July 4th, 2017

tn_actionusa“Come on Carmen, what do you want from me? I’m just trying to do my job protecting a federal witness from being chased by a bunch of assholes who shoot at us every time I turn around!”

ACTION U.S.A. is pretty much the perfect movie title. I mean, who the fuck knows what it means, it doesn’t describe the content of the story in a traditional way, and yet it exactly describes the vibe of the movie (filmed under the title A HANDFUL OF TROUBLE, referring to some diamonds). The movie opens with a long credits scene of a Corvette with a giant engine sticking out the front, Texas license plate “SLEEK 1,” naked lady airbrushed on the hood, speeding down roads. It pulls up to a house, the driver Billy Ray (Rod Shaft) (beer in hand, gun tucked in waistband) takes his girl Carmen (Barri Murphy) inside and they start to go at it on the couch. The director credit is over a shot of the door right before it gets kicked down and two mob thugs (one lookin like Freddy Mercury) come in and drag Billy Ray to the trunk of their car. Then they take him to a helicopter and fly around dangling him by one leg. Carmen drives underneath saying “Oh my god!”

They accidentally drop him in water, he swims ashore and gets in her car for a crazy chase that involves her hanging out the door, Freddie standing up in the sunroof firing his gun, of course some workers on ladders almost getting hit, and a completely full school bus that through some act of God or careful planning has a tow truck set up as a ramp so they can jump over it. The motor home in front of the bus is not so lucky, though, and the bad guys crash through it and explode into flames of awesomeness.

That’s the beginning, and it continues like that. That’s a movie you can call ACTION U.S.A. all right. I would also accept AMERICA T.N.T. or DYNAMITE EAGLE SQUAD. (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.