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

Archive for the ‘Crime’ Category

Wild Things

Monday, May 7th, 2018

WILD THINGS is the ultimate Sharon-Stone-meets-Brian-DePalma ’90s erotic thriller on swamp gas. It’s legitimately sleazy and provocative, but also clever and funny and audacious. It has a really game cast with grown ups played by men who are former young hotshots aging into respected veterans, and teens played by young women who were on a roll at the time but never got their proper due. And it’s usually grim and serious director John McNaughton (HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER, NORMAL LIFE) taking a rare dive into slick, multiplex-worthy entertainment.

I’ve never been to Florida, and when I finally go there, let’s face it, I’ll probly just go to Disney World. So my impression of the place comes from Charles Willeford novels, Miami Vice, and the storied misadventures of Florida Man. From that perspective, WILD THINGS seems like a perfect mythical charting of the frontier that would soon bring us the election of George W. Bush. For the opening credits, helicopter shots survey the land from the swamps to the ritzy coastal town of Blue Bay, a collection of estates, country clubs and future Mar-a-Lago members where people wear white and tropical prints and the school counselor and his girlfriend both drive Benzes. (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.

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.

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.

Urban Jungle

Wednesday, March 28th, 2018

Well my friends, I’ve made another weird VHS discovery. You know how I am. I rent odd little movies I never heard of that seem to have never made it to DVD. And in an attempt to legitimize this activity I now have a name and logo for such reviews. I considered VH-EXCAVATOR, but I decided TAPE RAIDER worked a little better and sounded more like an exciting adventure. Picture me as The Phantom going into that museum and stealing back the artifacts for his buddies, but instead of an artifact it’s a movie and I’m making sure you know about it. Whether you like it or not.

This one is called URBAN JUNGLE and was released by Xenon, so it has a trailer for THE LEGEND OF DOLEMITE at the beginning. It might be from 1989 or 1994, depending on which IMDb entry you trust (it seems to have two). I first found it under the title URBAN JUNGLE HARLEM (1994), and I looked up the director and was searching for a copy of his other movie HOMEBOYZ II: CRACK CITY (1989) until I watched a trailer for it which proved it was the same movie. Some of the weird things about that are

1) None of the people on the cover are in this movie or look like anybody in this movie

2) I never noticed any crack

3) I can’t find any evidence of a HOMEBOYZ I.

URBAN JUNGLE is the story of David (Brian Paul Stuart, BIG MOMMA’S HOUSE), a young man living in Harlem, working as a photographer “for the revolution” and also doing some unspecified job for a crime boss named Enrico (Blas Hernandez). Maybe they do sell crack, but I never saw any. Enrico works out of a dilapidated old church and has an unfuckwithable Native American enforcer in a bolo tie (didn’t catch the character’s name). (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.

Gang in Blue

Wednesday, February 28th, 2018

GANG IN BLUE is a made-for-Showtime Melvin & Mario Van Peebles father-son directorial collabo from 1996. Mario plays Rhoades, a righteous cop surrounded by corrupt racists in a secret cop gang called The Phantoms. Please think of these “Phantoms” as dudes in white ghost hoods, not purple tights and skull rings. Their only uniform, though, is their regular police one or their tattoos or their softball jerseys and jackets, ’cause their softball team is also called The Phantoms. There must be some naive soul on the force who sees the tattoos and thinks “Geez, those guys are really into softball.”

Rhoades talks about hiring diversity and minority policing of minority neighborhoods while his co-workers are talking about “ching-chong” and “homeboys” and “ooga booga” and “the jungle” and calling people “animals” like Trump always does. His presence fucks everything up when they go to shake down an illegal casino. Despite all the anti-racism talk the only Asian we see after these stereotypical gangsters is a thickly accented officer at headquarters who’s kind of a doofus. (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.

Johnnie Mae Gibson: F.B.I.

Monday, February 26th, 2018

(a.k.a. JOHNNIE GIBSON F.B.I. if you go by the VHS tape)

JOHNNIE MAE GIBSON: FBI is a TV movie directed by Bill Duke. It aired on CBS in October of 1986 against a World Series game. I found a New York Times review from the time lamenting that it was routine TV formula. Accurate, but thirtysome years later the routine TV formula of 1986 has a certain retro appeal.

It’s a premature biopic of a respected FBI agent (Lynn Whitfield, JAWS: THE REVENGE) who was still on active duty at the time. Only the fifth ever African-American female agent at the bureau, she was known for extreme cool under pressure in undercover assignments and a high arrest record, many from “old dog” cold cases they dumped off on her.

We see her rise from a childhood in rural Georgia, poor family, sick mother (Veronica Redd, The Young and the Restless), mean father (Henry G. Sanders, REBEL, CHILD’S PLAY 3, ROCKY BALBOA). One scene involves a white family offering them a Thanksgiving turkey, her father refusing it, and her getting it anyway and surprising the family with it. her dad throws a fit and knocks it onto the floor. So much is established in this scene: Johnnie’s fearlessness and insistence on doing her own thing, her lifetime of dealing with angry men, but also her dad’s attempt to instill self-reliance into her, and the idea that her willingness to engage with white people makes her an outlier. (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 Land

Thursday, December 14th, 2017

THE LAND is a movie that played Sundance last year, that I watched because its writer-director, Steven Caple, Jr., was just announced as the director of CREED 2. And I hate to start out a review this way, but it’s fucking 2017, so… I need to say that I’m not sure where we’re at on Sylvester Stallone. Horrible allegations were published, but not in one of these exhaustively researched and backed up pieces that have taken down Harvey Weinstein and others – this was in the tabloid the Daily Mail. The only additional reporting I’ve seen was on TMZ, in a post where Stallone’s ex-wife Brigitte Nielsen swears it could never have happened, and a person said in the Mail story to have introduced Stallone to a fan denies that he ever did or would have done anything like that. More significantly, TMZ says that Vegas police do not have a record of the police report that was the entire basis of the Daily Mail story. But they offer no further details and I have seen no followups from any serious journalists.

Stallone’s work means so much to me that obviously I would prefer to live in the world where he’s officially cleared of being a piece of shit. But if the unidentified accuser in the Mail story really exists, I don’t want any part in debating what she says happened. So I don’t know what to do on this one.

In the happy world where everything is fine, the CREED sequel is my most anticipated movie. So forgive me if this is wrong, but I have allowed myself to have some excitement for it. The other day it was announced that Michael B. Jordan and Stallone had chosen Caple Jr. to direct on the strength of his debut THE LAND. Obviously I was curious, so I rented 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.

Brawl in Cell Block 99

Wednesday, December 13th, 2017

When we last left novelist and heavy metal drummer turned filmatist S. Craig Zahler, he had made a distinctive directorial debut with BONE TOMAHAWK, a nice western with great characters and dialogue and that turns into a little bit of a gory cannibal movie by the end. I liked that one quite a bit but I think film #2, the crime movie BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 (which is coming to video on the 26th but I splurged for VOD) is a huge leap ahead for him.

Vince Vaughn (PSYCHO) stars as Bradley Thomas, a burly tow truck driver who, after a really bad day, decides to go back to the drug business for a while. Cut to 18 months later, when his bedroom is almost as big as the whole house we just saw him in, and his wife Lauren (Jennifer Carpenter, BATTLE IN SEATTLE) is pregnant. Their dreams are finally coming true, but some things go wrong at work (as they do) and he ends up in prison, where he must protect himself on the inside and his family on the outside from the enemies he’s made. (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.