So once again we have survived.

Archive for the ‘Drama’ Category

‘Round Midnight

Monday, February 27th, 2017

I got the distinct feeling you guys were bored to death when I did a mini-jazz series after LA LA LAND came out (reviewing MO’ BETTER BLUES and THELONIOUS MONK: STRAIGHT NO CHASER). You know, you follow your muse, and sometimes your muse is heading out north when the zeitgeist already got on a plane going south two days ago. But I’m glad I went on that kick if only because it inspired me to finally watch ‘ROUND MIDNIGHT (1986), French director Bertrand Tavernier’s beautiful tribute to the scene of American bebop players transplanted to Paris circa 1959. Real life saxophone legend Dexter Gordon plays fictional saxophone legend Dale Turner as he tries to recapture inspiration and meaning during a stretch of depression near the end of his life.

With his froggy voice, tired eyes and odd sense of humor, sixty-something-year-old Gordon’s is a non-actor performance so compelling he was nominated for the best actor Oscar. Of course he also plays live music all throughout, so Ryan Gosling wouldn’t have been as good in the role.

(The Oscar went to Paul Newman for THE COLOR OF MONEY. Herbie Hancock did win one for ‘ROUND MIDNIGHT’s score, taking out James Horner’s ALIENS and Ennio Morricone’s THE 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.

Hacksaw Ridge

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

HACKSAW RIDGE is a twisted, uninhabitable mass of rock with a steep edge and riddled with secret caves, one of which is home to 2×4-carrying WWF legend “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan. But there is no movie about that so until then we’ll have to make do with director Mel Gibson (APOCALYPTO)’s identically titled HACKSAW RIDGE, the best-picture-nominated movie based on the true story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN), the only WWII Medal of Honor recipient who was a conscientious objector. See, he wanted to do his part to fight Hitler, but he didn’t believe in killing or even touching a gun, so he went as a medic and was really fucking good at saving people’s lives. A reverse AMERICAN SNIPER.

I wonder if he traveled through time if he would kill Baby Hitler, or just try to give first aid to other babies fighting against Baby Hitler? It really makes you think.

The first half or so is before he goes to war. We see him as a little shit, constantly running and climbing and getting in violent scraps with his brother Hal, with no intervention from his drunk asshole dad (Hugo Weaving, BABE), a WWI veteran. Desmond could easily turn into the town bully, but maybe it’s his intense devotion to the family’s Ten Commandments poster that ensures he’s a big dork by the time he grows into Garfield. On one INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE style conveniently fateful day he discovers the two other loves of his life, because he 1) rushes to heroic action in administering a tourniquet and getting an injured person to a hospital where 2) he spots a beautiful nurse (Teresa Palmer, POINT BREAK remake) and decides he will marry her.

But not until his first furlough, because shortly after successfully wooing her he announces that he has to enlist. (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.

Lion

Tuesday, February 21st, 2017

LION is one of those movies I never heard anybody talk about, but the Weinstein Company somehow got it a best picture nomination. That’s okay – it’s a well made movie and a powerful story, the kind of thing you go to this time of year and you cry and you’re uplifted and in this case I feel no shame about it. It’s based on the memoir of Saroo Brierley, who when he was a dirt poor peasant kid in India got very lost and never found his way back for 25 years.

Sunny Pawar as 5-year-old Saroo is one of those situations like past best picture nominees ROOM or BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD where a director (Australian TV guy making his feature debut Garth Davis) gets an almost supernaturally good performance out of a tiny little kid. Raised by a single mother (Priyanka Bose, JOHNNY GADDAAR) whose job is moving rocks, Saroo and his brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) go out in the day and find ways to scrounge up a little something, like they hop a train to steal coal to sell to buy two little baggies of milk.

The disaster comes when Guddu leaves Saroo at a train station while he goes to do something he says is only for bigger kids. Saroo falls asleep and is scared when he wakes up and his brother’s still not back. Looking for him he slips onto a train which, to his terror, starts moving before he can get off. It’s an empty train so he ends up trapped and traveling for days, finally getting off somewhere where they don’t speak Bengali. The feeling of helplessness is overwhelming. He’s in this terrible situation and he can’t even tell anyone. They just think he’s an annoying kid blocking them from the ticket window. They push him out of the way. (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.

Sully

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

When I heard they made a movie about “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot who heroically landed a downed commercial jetliner in the Hudson River, saving everyone onboard, I wondered how you would make a whole movie about that. Well, it turns out the story of Sully is a little more complicated than what I knew.

And I really mean a little more complicated. Not that much more complicated. He landed the plane, and then they said you know what, you might’ve done the wrong thing according some tests we did, and he said well this is why those tests are wrong, and after a while they said yeah you’re right, sorry about that Sully. The end.

So it’s weirdly uneventful for a movie about a famous airline disaster. But as a gentle character drama it’s not bad, the kind of thing that Clint Eastwood can make much more interesting than most directors could. (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.

Fences

Thursday, February 9th, 2017

FENCES is a wonderful new Pixar movie about the secret world of fences. What happens when the barriers that keep people out decide it’s time to start letting them in? But it’s also the famous play by August Wilson (1945-2005) that Denzel Washington (VIRTUOSITY) has turned into a film as star and director.

There’s no mistaking that this was a play. It’s all talk talk talk, mostly by Denzel. Lots of telling stories. And it mostly takes place in his small backyard, kitchen and living room. He plays Troy Maxson, a bitter garbage man in racially discriminating 1958 Pittsburgh. Ten years before NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. He thinks he might get fired because he recently took a stand and asked why only white men get to drive the trucks. He likes to come home from work, shoot the shit and pass around a bottle of gin with wife Rose (Viola Davis from the Jesse Stone movies) and his co-worker Bono (Stephen Henderson, RED HOOK SUMMER, MANCHESTER BY THE SEA). (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.

Casablanca

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

You guys know about this CASABLANCA? 1942, hill of beans, they don’t really say “Play it again, Sam,” etc.? Yeah, well, until recently I’d never seen it. And that’s always intimidating, trying out an iconic classic way after the fact. You don’t want to find yourself very respectfully trying to enjoy it. But that wasn’t a problem here – I loved it. I won’t have to research why it was considered good at the time.

If you haven’t seen it either, it’s a story about love, heartbreak and duty in a limited, colorful location: Rick’s Cafe Americain, a popular “gin joint” in Casablanca, Morocco, the next-to-last stop on the trail of European refugees trying to flee the war and get to the Americas. It’s based on an unproduced play by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison called Everybody Comes to Rick’s, and that title is accurate: Rick’s is a hangout for people of all backgrounds and proclivities. Club owner Rick (Humphrey Bogart) is a disillusioned ex-mercenary from the U.S. whose alleged neutrality makes him the perfect person to welcome Moroccans, French occupiers, immigrants, police, criminals, Nazis, the Resistance. They all come to this place where Rick discourages political arguments and police overlook (and enjoy) gambling. (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.

Get On the Bus

Monday, January 16th, 2017

Well, I’m skipping ahead in the Spike Lee chronology I’ve been ever-so-slowly crawling my way through, but I thought a movie about a march on Washington would be a good thing to revisit on the Martin Luther King Day starting the week that, as far as we know, will end with the inauguration of the first American president to be 2 degrees of separation from Steven Seagal (they have a mutual friend, a Russian guy named Vladimir something) and subsequent protest march.

GET ON THE BUS is a road trip movie, but it could almost be a play, because the vast majority of it is about conversations taking place inside a charter bus. Around fifteen African American men, most of them meeting for the first time, are headed from a church parking lot in South Central Los Angeles to the Million Man March in Washington DC. If you’re too young to remember, that was the October 16, 1995 gathering of black men organized by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

(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.

Moonlight

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

I seem to remember hearing somebody say that criticism was dead, but MOONLIGHT is a real good movie I definitely wouldn’t have gotten around to seeing if critics weren’t doing flips over it. It’s an indie movie about growing up gay, black and poor around drug dealers in Liberty City, Florida, but it’s not the bummer that might sound like. I think that’s important to say right now: the people talking about crying during this, I’m not 100% sure which part they’re talking about, but it’s not some BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN type tragedy movie. Unless this is like CLUE and they released it with different endings. But as far as I know they didn’t do that.

The structure is basically three vignettes or chapters about this character Chiron as a young kid (Alex Hibbert), a high school kid (Ashton Sanders, “Kid,” STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON) and a grown man (Trevante Rhodes, OPEN WINDOWS). During these times he struggles with his masculinity, trying to understand his attraction to men in a community that considers that soft and highly values the perception of toughness. His friend Kevin jumps him on the field supposedly to prove to the others that he’s capable of fighting back. They wrestle on the field, an indistinct mix of physical struggle and boys touching each other. I’m not sure either of them knows which it is. (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.

Hidden Figures

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

HIDDEN FIGURES is an obvious, inoffensive, feel-good-movie with a noble purpose we haven’t seen before: honoring three African-American women whose mathematical genius helped NASA put people into space. Even today, women in scientific and mathematical fields are not given their just due. But these three were helping win the space race when they weren’t even allowed to use the same drinking fountain as their co-workers.

I don’t know if in real life these three drove to work together, but they did work together, and from what I’ve read the movie sounds fairly accurate. Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson, SMOKIN’ ACES) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae, MOONLIGHT) work as “Colored Computers” in a segregated department run by Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer, HALLOWEEN II). This is back when NASA was about to get their first giant room-filling IBM, so “computer” actually means a human being who calculates math. I never knew that. If a computer played chess was it called a video game?

Then Katherine gets an incredible assignment: working in the office calculating the trajectories and entry points for the first American manned space flights. Okay, I don’t know exactly what that means, to be honest, but it involves filling up chalkboards with a bunch of numbers and letters and lines and shit. Actually, it mostly involves this prick Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons from the fucking Big Bang Theory show) giving her snobby, suspicious looks and tossing giant piles of paper on her desk to go over the calculations that have already been gone over. And with a bunch of shit crossed out because he thinks it’s dangerous for her to know too much. (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.

Mo’ Better Blues

Wednesday, January 4th, 2017

After DO THE RIGHT THING made Spike Lee into a major cultural force, he set his sights on a few subjects he thought were important. Before he made his MALCOLM X movie with Denzel, and before he didn’t make his Jackie Robinson movie with Denzel, he tackled a broader topic: a jazz movie with Denzel.

It was a subject near and dear to Lee’s heart. His father Bill Lee was a jazz bassist and composer for his first four films (this being the last), and he’d befriended Branford Marsalis on DO THE RIGHT THING, so The Branford Marsalis Quartet (plus Terence Blanchard on trumpet) plays the music here. I seem to remember Lee being publicly hostile toward Bertrand Tavernier’s ROUND MIDNIGHT and Clint Eastwood’s BIRD for focusing too much on drug addiction, a complaint possibly aggravated by his annoyance at reporters asking him why DO THE RIGHT THING didn’t deal with drug addiction.

Can you imagine? “Wes Anderson, don’t you have a responsibility to your community to show that rich people use coke?” “Makers of SWEET HOME ALABAMA, where is the meth?” Fuck you. Just for the sake of my blood pressure I’m gonna assume every reporter who asked that has since sent Spike flowers and a card with a long, heartfelt, handwritten letter of apology.

Surprisingly, Lee’s jazz movie just replaces heroin with other vices. Washington’s quintet-leading trumpeter Bleek Gilliam is some kind of womanizer who tries to have two girlfriends at the same time, med student Indigo Downes (Joie Lee) and aspiring singer Clarke Betancourt (Cynda Williams in her first role). His childhood friend/terrible manager Giant (Spike himself) has a dangerous addiction to sports gambling and is in debt to his bookie (Ruben Blades, SECUESTRO EXPRESS, COLOR OF NIGHT). But these troubles are kind of woven into a casual and down to earth story about Bleek’s fairly minor struggles doing shows at the Beneath the Underdog jazz club, during a slow-brewing musical and love rivalry with his saxophone player Shadow Henderson (Wesley God Damn Snipes, BLADE). (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.