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Archive for the ‘Crime’ Category

Cold in July

Tuesday, July 26th, 2016

tn_coldinjulyCOLD IN JULY is a hell of a thriller, a small town Texas crime story with a first act that provides enough story to turn into a standard movie, then adds an odd little swerve. And then a couple more, and eventually you’re down a road you never could’ve predicted. But not in a crazy twisty kind of way. More like the strange, almost random little turns that life takes.

It’s based on a book by Joe R. Lansdale, adapted by director Jim Mickle and his co-writer Nick Damici. After this they adapted Lansdale into the TV show Hap and Leonard.

It all starts in a very simple and human way in East Texas, 1989. Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall, GAMER) is woken up by his wife Ann (Vinessa Shaw, LADYBUGS, EYES WIDE SHUT) because she hears a noise. Like many Americans, especially Texans, he has a gun in the house in case something like this happens. But he’s not the hunting or target shooting type, and this sort of thing hasn’t happened to him before, so he nervously struggles to get the bullets in and tiptoes out to the living room scared as shit. And he sees that yes, someone has broken into his house.

Richard points the gun at the guy. The guy stares at him. What now? Before he can figure that out, his shaky finger accidentally pulls the trigger, shoots right through the dude’s eye. (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.

Monster

Tuesday, April 19th, 2016

tn_monsterI’m about 13 years late on this one, but it turns out there’s a reason Charlize Theron got an Oscar for MONSTER. Jeez. Playing Aileen Wuornos, “the first female serial killer,” she not only transforms herself, she transforms Wuernos.

That first part got all the attention. Theron was a well known actress by that point, but in movies like 2 DAYS IN THE VALLEY, THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE, REINDEER GAMES and THE ITALIAN JOB her acting chops usually took back seat to her hotness. Here she wore fake teeth, bleached her eyebrows and had her skin looking freckled and rough, a pretty decent likeness of the real woman and (though it looks natural in the movie) extreme enough to get a bunch of attention. I actually think the most drastic part is the hair, though. The way the movie tells it she has the hair of a butch lesbian before she even discovers that she is one.

This is a love story. Aileen, going by Lee, decides rather than kill herself one rainy day she’ll take her last five bucks to a bar and get a beer. And this lonely young woman Selby (Christina Ricci, CASPER) approaches her, talks to her, buys her a pitcher. Aileen protests at first – “What is this, a gay place?” she had snorted to the bartender earlier – but she can’t really pass up a person being nice to her. Too rare. (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.

Legend (the one about the Krays)

Thursday, March 10th, 2016

tn_legend15I always have hope for Brian Helgeland movies. It doesn’t matter how many times I don’t like his latest as much as I like PAYBACK, I keep having expectations. He also wrote A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4, ASSASSINS and BLOOD WORK and won that Oscar for L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, but PAYBACK is the Platonic ideal I keep coming back to.

Fairly or not, I associate Helgeland with that Richard Stark feel, that clean, precise storytelling, writing with a badass swagger, no need for fancypants show off business. His new one LEGEND is about London gangsters Reggie and Ronnie Kray (see THE KRAYS review from yesterday) in the early ’60s. Being based on real crimes stretched across a couple years doesn’t lend itself to that type of tight plotting, it’s more of a character study and relationship drama. But it is a little bit like PAYBACK (theatrical cut) in tone. It follows a charismatic criminal anti-hero who is funny, badass, and a terrible person. It’s darkly humorous, and violent, and set to alot of good soulful music (Booker T and the MGs, The Meters, Young-Holt Unlimited).

I guess it would be accurate to say it’s kinda Guy-Ritchie-esque, but I liked it more than some of those. It’s Guy-Ritchie-esque only in a good way.

Like Peter Medak’s take on the story, THE KRAYS, this one is told in first-person narration by a woman. But this time it’s not their mother, it’s Reggie’s poor wife Francis (Emily Browning from SUCKER PUNCH). The story focuses on Reggie and his relationship with Francis, with the crazier brother Ron as sort of a side character and threatening presence who’s always out there and liable to start trouble. Like if Jaws was your twin brother. (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 Krays

Wednesday, March 9th, 2016

tn_kraysRonnie and Reggie Kray were identical twin gangsters who ran London’s East End in the ’50s and ’60s. They owned night clubs (part of the movie SPARROWS CAN’T SING with Roy Kinnear was filmed in one of their clubs) and hung out with celebrities including Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra. Ronnie was gay, and was involved in a political scandal, allegedly having sex with and supplying men for the conservative politician Lord Boothby. The brothers were crazy and vicious and in ’69 got twin life sentences for different murders.

I’m not sure when they did all those weird stop motion films with the creepy dolls and shit.

THE KRAYS is a 1990 movie about the Krays, directed by Peter Medak (THE RULING CLASS, SPECIES II) and written by Philip Ridley (writer/director of THE REFLECTING SKIN and THE PASSION OF DARKLY NOON). I guess that combination is why it’s not a traditional gangster movie. It gives the twins a creepy DEAD RINGERS kinda vibe and spends less time than you’d think on their criminal activities.

In fact, the first 20 minutes is about their childhood. We see their traumatic experiences during the war, and how much time they spent surrounded by women while the men were off fighting. They were protected by their mother Violet (Billie Whitelaw, TWISTED NERVE, THE OMEN, SLAYGROUND) and spoiled by their Aunt Rose (Susan Fleetwood, CLASH OF THE TITANS). (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.

Street Wars

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

tn_streetwars“This film is one I refused not to make.” –Jamaa Fanaka

STREET WARS is a 1992 movie about drug gangs, with a rap soundtrack, but it feels more like blaxploitation than BOYZ N THE HOOD. That’s because it’s, as the credits say, “A Jamaa Fanaka Picture Show.” That’s the director best known for the PENITENTIARY trilogy, but before that he did some weird blaxploitation movies like the killer dick picture SOUL VENGEANCE, aka WELCOME HOME, BROTHER CHARLES. So here he kinda takes the themes of SUPER FLY and stirs them into early ’90s black culture with some of his own weird seasonings.

It definitely falls into the outsider art type category. The awkward home-made filmatism combines with some truly strange ideas to create a surreal experience, a movie that transcends competence. The climax really doesn’t work as action or drama, but it’s so weird I forgave it. The shootouts are always confusing but enthusiastic. There are guns that blow soccer ball sized holes in the sides of cars, and send victims flying through the air looking suspiciously like dummies being sloppily tossed from off screen. (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.

Sicario

Monday, October 19th, 2015

tn_sicarioHere we go yo, here we go yo, so what’s a what’s a what’s a sicario? In Mexico, the onscreen text tells us, it’s a hitman. And the movie SICARIO is a nightmarish portrait of the byzantine conflict such a hitman would be in the middle of. Literally that would be the War On Drugs but metaphorically, it’s easy to think, it could be about the War On Terror, or any number of seemingly intractable cycles of violence. This is, after all, Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (PRISONERS, ENEMY) making an American movie about Mexico. It’s international and cross-cultural.

Our guide into Hell is Emily Blunt (EDGE OF TOMORROW, LOOPER) as Kate Macer, a new but talented FBI agent who raids a drug house in Phoenix and accidentally finds where a cartel has been stashing bodies. Next thing you know a meeting room full of mysterious higher-ups recruits her to aid in a vaguely defined interagency mission they say will lead her to the people responsible. She finds herself at an Air Force base with a couple dozen macho CIA, Delta Force and US Marshal tough guys who all seem to go way back and know exactly what’s going on and do this kinda mission in their sleep. And next thing you know they’re cruising over the border meeting up with militarized Mexican police forces and God knows who else. Nobody tells Kate anything. She just has to stay quiet and keep up. (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.

Menace II Society

Thursday, August 20th, 2015

tn_menaceiisocietyMENACE II SOCIETY is generally considered the best and most hardcore of the ’90s “hood movies.” BOYZ N THE HOOD (released almost 2 years earlier) was already controversial and blamed for violence near theaters  despite its unmistakable Increase the Peace preachiness. Now here comes this lower budget movie with more violence, more anti-social behavior, more expectation of the audience to know right from wrong, and no Huxtable sweaters, football or Stanley Clarke fusion to help the medicine go down. The “nice kid” in this one is a drug dealer who, when he gets a call from a girl telling him she’s pregnant with his baby, says “Look, I ain’t got time for this. Peace.”

It’s narrated by that kid from Watts, Caine (Tyrin Turner, PANTHER), telling the story of his summer after graduating from high school. It starts with him and his friend O-Dog (Larenz Tate, WAIST DEEP) going into a mini-mart for 40s and getting into an argument with the Asian couple who run it (June Kyoto Lu [who was in CONFESSIONS OF AN OPIUM EATER!] and Toshi Toda [LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA]). Caine and O-Dog are being jerks, opening the bottles before paying for them, even though they’re under 21 and oughta be grateful that these people are gonna sell it to them in the first place. Caine is kinda laughing it off but then fuckin O-Dog decides to shoot and kill the couple. He takes the security tape and spends the summer showing it to all his buddies like it’s a funny Jackass video or something.

This shows you the relationship between these two. Caine knows it’s stupid to be showing it to people, and he complains about it every time, but he never makes him stop. (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 Usual Suspects

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

tn_usualsuspects

RELEASE DATE: August 16th
RELEASE DATE: August 16th

Do you guys know about these “Usual Suspects”? They’re this group of criminals who get rounded up one day for a line up for some crime none of them had anything to do with, and it pisses them off so much that they decide to pool their resources for a job that will get them some diamonds and humiliate the police by exposing their corruption. As a bonus it will also allow them to terrorize an uptight Paul Bartel and blow up his car. But when they go to fence the jewels they realize they’ve been pulled into this whole other thing with an infamous boogie man super-criminal who now says they owe him and have to do a job for him or their loved ones will be assaulted and killed. Or at least that’s what this lawyer Kobayashi (Pete Postlethwaite, INCEPTION) tells them. Or at least that’s the story that Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey, MOON, The Equalizer) tells Customs Agent Kujan (Chazz Palminteri, BERRY GORDY’S THE LAST DRAGON) when he wants to know what led up to the burning ship full of dead bodies discovered last night.

Yeah, actually this movie is pretty complicated, and that’s just the basics there. There’s also the whole thing about a Hungarian burn victim survivor of the boat fire and the FBI agent (Giancarlo Esposito, DO THE RIGHT THING, The Equalizer) bringing in a translator and sketch artist before surgery to try to get him to tell what he knows about the mysterious Keyser Soze and trying to get the information to Agent Kujan in time and etc. (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.

Set It Off

Thursday, August 13th, 2015

tn_setitoffLong before he directed the new biopic STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON, F. Gary Gray was already linked to members of N.W.A. He’d directed the video for the Ice Cube classic “It Was a Good Day” (1992), and later the action-movie-inspired “Natural Born Killaz” by Dr. Dre and Ice Cube (from the soundtrack to MURDER WAS THE CASE). When Gray started in features it was with Cube, who wrote, produced and starred in FRIDAY. And he also did the video for Dre’s “Keep Their Heads Ringin” from that soundtrack.

So in ’97, when he did his first action movie, he cast Dre in a small role as Black Sam, an underworld figure who provides guns for the protagonists, an all female crew of bank robbers.

Hear me out on this, but I do not consider N.W.A to be super respectful of women. Their songs talked endlessly about the bitches and/or hoes. FRIDAY also did some of that, in arguably a more playful way. The men are all doofuses, but Nia Long and Regina King aren’t, so you can’t take it completely seriously. But there’s a whole lot of humor about the women they do or don’t want to get laid by, and one hilariously has as her theme song “Hoochie Mama” by 2 Live Crew. “Big booty hoes – up wit it!”

So with that in mind it’s pretty cool that Gray’s second movie has an entirely female POV. (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.

Thief

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015

tn_thiefTHIEF is a pure dose of most of what I love about Michael Mann. It’s moody, atmospheric and macho as hell. It matter-of-factly drops us into a gritty underworld, makes us feel like we’re witnessing the real deal, and puts us on the side of a guy who has no business being the good guy except that he lives by more of a code than the other guys do. Not even really a code of honor, just a self-serving code of independence, but one that we can loosely apply to more ethical aspects of our own lives.

By today’s standards it’s an arty movie, full of long, quiet scenes, not a bunch of noises to tell you it’s exciting. It opens with a 10 minute heist sequence where everything goes right. No one gives chase or almost sees them. They’re just very professional about it and perform their jobs well. And it doesn’t need tension. It’s fascinating without it.

It’s a movie that’s low on exposition, high on uncomfortable moments where we aren’t expected to agree with the protagonist (like the aggressive way he courts Jessie [Tuesday Weld], and then the heartless way he cuts her off, treating her as a property that’s been tying him down). But also it has plenty of moments of badassness, not shirking its duty to deliver on the genre goods. Its closest modern equivalent is DRIVE, which at times plays as an homage or ripoff of THIEF. But that’s a character, believe it or not, with more heart. (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.