I use hands to help my fellow man / I use hands to help with what I can / But when I face an unjust injury / Then I change my hand into FIST OF FURY

Archive for the ‘Crime’ Category

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.

Logan Lucky

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017

The prodigal son has returned. Four years ago, Steven Soderbergh (OUT OF SIGHT) had gotten burnt out on directing and decided to retire. After the 2013 doubleheader of SIDE EFFECTS and BEHIND THE CANDELABRA he hung it all up, and in the interim he’s done nothing but kick back, lay low, recharge his batteries, start his own brand of Bolivian muscat brandy called Singani 63, do an edit of HER for Spike Jonze, create his own alternate cuts of PSYCHO, HEAVEN’S GATE, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and 2001: A SPACY ODYSSEY for fun, shoot and edit MAGIC MIKE XXL, direct, produce, shoot and edit 20 one-hour episodes of The Knick, and relax. And now, finally, he’s back to work!

I guess that makes BEHIND THE CANDELABRA his Black Album and LOGAN LUCKY his Kingdom Come. But fortunately without a duet with Coldplay at the end.

If it was anybody besides Soderbergh it would seem weird that it was this one that pulled him back in – arguably as close to hack-work as he’s ever done. It’s sort of a redo of his three OCEAN’S movies but with hick characters and locations. But even a weak Soderbergh movie has always been worth seeing, and one of his talents is finding the compelling in the routine. It’s a bouncy, far-fetched caper story, but he seems completely invested in the lead character and the time he spends with his precocious little daughter (Farrah Mackenzie, DOLLY PARTON’S COAT OF MANY COLORS), and gives those scenes weight that really anchors the movie. (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.

Baby Driver

Monday, July 3rd, 2017

There’s this baby-faced young man who in fact goes by the handle of Baby (Ansel Elgort, who impressed me as Tommy Ross in the CARRIE remake) and he’s a whiz kid of a getaway driver for armed robberies. He loves listening to music, and uses his favorite songs to inspire and time his driving, which is spectacular. He can maneuver and slide and spin and he is living proof that not everybody followed the disclaimer at the end of TOKYO DRIFT.

(He would’ve been about twelve when it came out, and surely influenced by it during his driver’s exam.)

Some have described this is a musical, which makes some sense. At times it feels like a movie based on the current trailer fad of editing gunshots and other sound effects as percussion playing along with the music.

After they get away, when the gang meets up to split the money, they make Baby go buy the coffee. Here’s one thing they carefully edited out of the trailers: he’s a total dork. In the car, but also at home, or walking in public, he listens to his earbuds and sings along and does little dance moves and shit. The whole walk to and from the coffee shop he seems like he’s on the verge of busting into a full on SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN number. I wonder if they considered casting Moose from the STEP UP sequels in this. (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 Assignment

Tuesday, June 27th, 2017

THE ASSIGNMENT is Walter Hill’s weird new pariah of a movie, a Tale From the Crypt without a Keeper, based on a gimmick that was too challenging to execute properly, even ignoring the current touchiness of the subject matter. It’s much more interesting than good, more of a great acting challenge for Michelle Rodriguez (AVATAR) than a successful vehicle for her talents. Nice try, though.

Here’s what it’s about: ruthless hitman Frank Kitchen is just doing his thing one day, ruthless hitmanning, when he gets jumped and knocked unconscious and later he mysteriously wakes up in a hotel room with a woman’s body. Not, like, in bed with a dead woman. Like, he looks down and he has female genitalia. (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.

L.A. Takedown

Wednesday, May 10th, 2017

L.A. TAKEDOWN (or MADE IN L.A. as the credits said on the region 2 DVD I watched) is a 1989 TV movie written and directed by Michael Mann, that started as a TV pilot but the series wasn’t picked up.

Actually, I take that back. It started as a 180 page screenplay that he wrote before THIEF, and tried to get Walter Hill to direct, but after a decade of not getting it off the ground he had a chance to do a TV series so he gave up and rewrote it as the pilot. It’s too bad he didn’t keep pushing for it, because it would’ve been interesting to see what the movie version would’ve been like. If it were up to me it would be called HEAT and star Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro. But of course there’s already the Burt Reynolds movie called HEAT so that would never happen.

The story begins with a squad of ruthless thieves headed by Patrick McLaren (Alex McArthur, CONSPIRACY THEORY) driving a garbage truck, which they ram into an armored car. It flips and gets pinned against a wall before they attach bombs, yank the guards out and line them up so some of them can threaten them and punch them in the face while the others climb in the car and steal its contents.  But like an idiot, the squirrely rookie Waingro (Xander Berkeley, BARB WIRE) turns Mr. Blonde and shoots one of the guards, forcing them to kill the other ones too. This was supposed to be clean. (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 Chaser

Wednesday, April 12th, 2017

THE CHASER opens with an escort getting in a car with a john. We don’t see what happens after that, just that she doesn’t come back. Many days pass – we know this from the amount of parking tickets attached to the car when Joong-ho (Kim Yoon-seok, THE YELLOW SEA) finds it abandoned on a winding road in the Mongkol District.

“You bitch,” he says. “If I find you, you’re dead.” And it cuts to the title. THE CHASER.

So this guy is The Chaser. Cool, I thought. This tough-as-nails detective is on the trail of a serial killer, and he’s not messing around!

Ha ha. Not quite. Come to find out he’s a pimp. It’s her he’s threatening to kill. A bunch of his employees have gone missing, and he thinks they’re running out on him. He sees it as a personnel problem. Not to be preachy but in my opinion pimping is not a respectable line of work, and he performs this immoral vocation in the style of a heartless corporate boss, or an Ebenezer Scrooge.

(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.