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Archive for the ‘Drama’ Category

Molly’s Game

Tuesday, April 17th, 2018

MOLLY’S GAME is the directivational debut of playwright/The West Wing creator/screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (MONEYBALL, STEVE JOBS), and man is it ever Sorkiny. It revolves around the legal defense of a woman who ran an illegal poker ring, so there is law, legal strategy, business procedure and poker all out there needing to be explained and waxed poetic about by fast-talking geniuses constantly on the verge of dropping an anecdote about the 1942 Olympics or the Warren G. Harding administration or some shit that at first sounds like they got sidetracked with trivia but turns out to be a deft analogy to drive home the point they’re trying to make. And the protagonist Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain, MAMA) narrates the shit out of it and skips around in time, talks about her childhood and her Olympic skiing accident and what not. It looks good and the performances are excellent but yeah, dude, a writer’s writerly writer definitely wrote this writing here.

Sorkin seems like a guy who obsesses over some story he read about in a magazine a while back and he won’t fucking shut up about how fascinating it is and you’re like “Okay Aaron, young Hollywood intern stumbles into running high stakes poker game, sounds great Aaron anyway I gotta get going,” but then when he makes the movie you realize he was right, it really was a compelling story when presented exactly as he knew how to present 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.

The Last Movie Star

Tuesday, March 27th, 2018

Let’s say hypothetically you have a fondness for Burt Reynolds (HOOPER, CITY HEAT, regular HEAT, MALONE, UNIVERSAL SOLDIER II and III) but you find it depressing that circumstances have conspired to make his filmography this century include films like A MAGIC CHRISTMAS (as the voice of “Buster the Dog”), NOT ANOTHER NOT ANOTHER MOVIE, DELGO and Uwe Bolle’s IN THE NAME OF THE KING: A DUNGEON SIEGE TALE. Well, then THE LAST MOVIE STAR is for you. Writer-director Adam Rifkin (THE DARK BACKWARD, PSYCHO COP RETURNS, THE CHASE, DETROIT ROCK CITY, writer of MOUSEHUNT and SMALL SOLDIERS) devised the movie as a love letter to Burt’s career and a chance to show that he’s a legit actor. He wrote it for him and told him he would only make it with him. I think he hoped it could be a career reviver or re-contextualizer like LOST IN TRANSLATION or something.

I guess it’s too late for that, because it’s out on video today and you probly never heard of it. But it kinda fits the subject matter to be a shabby little obscurity getting by on alot of heart. See, Burt plays 80 year old former six-years-in-a-row box office champ Vic Edwards. He still has money and a nice house, but he lives alone, hobbles around like he’s someone who won’t be walking for long, and people barely look at him anymore. He’s like a super hero who’s lost his powers. He can’t get what he wants by strutting around and smiling at women. He’s much more likely to creep them out than impress them.

The movie opens with a real clip of handsome, charming young Burt on TV telling a funny story, casually taking in the adulation of the audience, then smash cuts to Vic skinny and wrinkled and having to put his dog to sleep. (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.

Roxanne Roxanne

Monday, March 26th, 2018

Do you guys know who Roxanne Shanté is? In the early days of hip hop, back when it was still pretty much just a New York thing, she was one of the greatest battle MCs. And she was also a 14-year old girl. Marley Marl, the producer behind Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, MC Shan, Kool G Rap, and others, was her neighbor in the Queensbridge housing projects. The way she tells it, one day when she was going to do her laundry he yelled down to her from his window to ask if it was true she could rap, and would she come up and record some rhymes for him. When he played her the beat that had been sampled in UTFO’s hit “Roxanne Roxanne,” she says she freestyled about being the Roxanne in the song. Ten minutes later she went back to the laundry and forgot all about it until her friend called and told her it was playing on the radio. And then it became a phenomenon.

I never knew much about her or heard that story until she was on Ice-T’s podcast three years ago. I actually wonder if that interview gave writer/director Michael Larnell the idea to make a movie about her. Either way, a bunch of the details she mentioned to Ice ended up in the biopic ROXANNE ROXANNE, which played Sundance in January and was released direct to Netflix on Friday.

I think Shanté’s story is more natural for a movie than your usual superstar music biopic it was more neighborhood legend than media event. I know her voice and style and “Roxanne’s Revenge” and some of the responses it inspired from rival female MCs, like when UTFO came back with someone calling herself “The Real Roxanne” added to the payroll. But she’s not like Johnny Cash or someone where they’re wedded to depicting the creation of all the most famous songs and their climbs up the charts and a bunch of iconic moments that people would be mad if they skipped. And there’s not a bunch of footage we’ve all seen a million times and can’t help but compare it to. (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.

Lady Bird

Thursday, March 1st, 2018

Of all the stories we tell over and over, “coming of age” might be the most universal. I don’t care who you are, as long as you live to be a certain age, at some point you’re gonna come of some of that age. And when you see some fictional (or, let’s be honest, usually semi-autobiographical) character’s age coming of you can compare and contrast to your experiences. You see echoes of your own life, revive emotions that were so potent at the time, now faded, learn about other people who had it different. So I have not specifically experienced being a girl in a private school in Sacramento in the oughts, and I definitely have no personal understanding of how it feels to be someone who could identify a song as Dave Mathews and have an emotional response to it that involves embarrassment, nostalgia and personal meaning*, but I can also see those things on screen and have them feel familiar and real and relatable.

(*I did see him in public one time and I could tell he was famous by the women who started gathering around him but I had to ask somebody else who he was) (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.

Phantom Thread

Thursday, February 22nd, 2018

a.k.a. THE INSUFFERABLE MR. WOODCOCK

or

LOOK AT THIS FUCKIN GUY

PHANTOM THREAD (no “THE”) is the latest from P.T. Anderson. I think we always figured he was gonna keep on being a great filmmaker, but back when he did BOOGIE NIGHTS I doubt I was thinking “In 20 years this guy will do a weird relationship drama about a dress designer with poor social skills and we’ll all go see it because it’s Paul Thomas Anderson.” If I was then I’m impressed with myself because that was an uncanny prediction.

They have advertised it as “Daniel Day-Lewis’s final performance,” as if he’s dead, but really he just says he’s retiring, like Jay-Z five albums ago or Steven Soderbergh before The Knick, LOGAN LUCKY, Mosaic and UNSANE. It’s not my place to tell him what to do with his life, but still I’d like to encourage him to hold off on retiring until doing one more film, a remake of ENTER THE NINJA. Then he would end on the greatest performance of his career by a country mile before heading off to the mountains to humbly cobble shoes, design dresses and live as a Mohican while leading a ninja clan in character as Abraham Lincoln. (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 Post

Monday, February 12th, 2018

THE POST is Spielberg’s newspaper movie. Specifically it’s about the Washington Post in 1971 struggling for relevance, banned from a first daughter wedding, in the process of taking an inherited family business public, when suddenly their more exalted rivals the New York Times get a court injunction for breaking the story of the Pentagon Papers (a secret study proving that the government had known for years that the war in Vietnam was unwinnable and stayed in just to put off the humiliation of a loss). Can The Post’s reporters get ahold of these Papers for themselves, will they have the balls to print a story about them, and will they get away with it? I think you know the answers, but tune in to find out how it goes down.

Like LINCOLN or MUNICH, this is one of Spielberg’s very good grown up movies that doesn’t necessarily light the world on fire, seems destined to be buried in his catalog of iconic classics, but gets some nice reviews and an “it’s an honor just to be nominated” slot in the best picture category at the Oscars. Another movie like that was BRIDGE OF SPIES, the year SPOTLIGHT won best picture. SPOTLIGHT was a good movie with a big cast doing great work in a story about the importance of journalists uncovering dangerous secrets and standing up to powerful institutions that have covered up their own complicity in atrocities. THE POST is all those things with the added bonus of being thrilling and cinematic. Spielberg might be doing a smart-people-talking-and-figuring-things-out movie, but he’s gonna do that with an eye for imagery, period detail, and visual explanations of processes: stealing and reproducing a massive document, puzzling together the order of said document when the pages get mixed up, delivering a message across town, creating the plates to actually print a newspaper, running the printing press, the list goes 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.

Tonya & Nancy: The Inside Story

Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

When I moved a few months ago I found a box of VHS tapes deep in my closet, and on one of them had been taped the 1994 NBC Movie of the Week TONYA & NANCY: THE INSIDE STORY. I offer no explanation except that Elm Street’s own Nancy, Heather Langenkamp, plays Kerrigan. Anyway, I set it aside to watch after I, TONYA.

And when I did I was surprised to find how much the two biopics, made 23 years apart, have in common. Of course they hit many of the same famous moments and details, but also they both seem very self conscious about seeming exploitative and therefore attempt to elevate the material with a playful style involving mock interviews and contradictory viewpoints. Some of the scenes, like Tonya being chased by her stepbrother, her father leaving or the first time she meets Jeff Gillooly have weirdly similar staging. Both movies flash forward to Nancy screaming “Why?” early on and then take their time showing Harding’s life leading up to the attack (though this one does have scenes just about Kerrigan).

Both movies have a similar view of Tonya: her dad taught her boy things (shooting guns, shooting pool, fixing engines), her mom abused her, her step brother abused her, her husband abused her, she got swept up and either didn’t know or didn’t fully understand what these guys were doing on her behalf. Would you believe that both movies have a part where the fourth wall is broken to directly accuse the viewer of contributing to the abuse and exploitation of Tonya Harding? In this one it doesn’t come from the actor playing Harding, it comes from the actor playing the screenwriter of the TV 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.

I, Tonya

Tuesday, January 16th, 2018

From the naming convention that brought you I, ROBOT and I, FRANKENSTEIN comes I, TONYA. I, Vern, was concerned about this one from the second the production company logos started. Obviously I’m all for movies kicking off with a blast of funk, but I couldn’t see how such music represented Tonya Harding, the scandal-scarred bad girl of Olympic figure skating, icon of early ’90s teased bangs, discussed in this movie as going to a Richard Marx concert, disparaged for her allegedly low class music choices in competitions (“Sleeping Bag” by ZZ Top), declaring herself a redneck, marrying a white man who wears a turtleneck under a cardigan.

Okay, they got a Chicago song on there, I buy that. But Violent Femmes? Siouxsie and the Banshees covering Iggy Pop? And yes, there’s a prominent use of “Spirit in the Sky.” All movies that aspire to hipness have “Spirit in the Sky.”

Throughout the movie these wall-to-wall needle drops never said to me “This is the soul of Tonya Harding,” but instead “Guys, this is like BOOGIE NIGHTS! This is like GOODFELLAS! Right Guys? It’s like Scorsese!” An Entertainment Weekly  interview with music supervisor Susan Jacobs confirms that she sees it as “the soundtrack of AMERICAN HUSTLE or a Scorsese film.” She says they chose ’70s and early ’80s music because “there’s a warmth to the ’70s that does not exist to the ’80s and ’90s.” Sorry Richard Marx.

It’s a small thing. Most people shouldn’t care. But it felt false to me, and kept me a little skeptical. (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 Florida Project

Wednesday, January 10th, 2018

I didn’t know much more going into THE FLORIDA PROJECT than that some people said it was great, that it was something about Florida and kids and that Willem Dafoe would show up at some point. No idea what it was about, just open for something interesting. That was a good strategy. But this is a review, so I sort of gotta tell you more. Heads up.

Turns out it’s about kids around six years old or so living in tacky tourist motels near Orlando. In their world, most buildings are painted bright pink or purple or shaped like a giant orange or ice cream cone or wizard. The title comes from what Disney World was called during the development stages, but of course it’s a double meaning here because these kids are basically living in the projects. Their parents are young, single, unable to be with them during the day because of work, or because they are inattentive.

We first meet Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and friends doing what they will do for most of the movie: run around giggling and raising holy hell. In that opening scene their current interest is spitting over a ledge onto a parked car whose owner Gloria (Sandy Kane), they soon discover, is smoking nearby, so she runs after them. They call her names and aren’t scared and are lectured for having “too much fun” after she tracks them to where they live and guilts Moonee’s mother into dragging them out to clean off the windshield with paper towels. In the process Moonee becomes friends with Gloria’s granddaughter Jancey (Valeria Cotto). (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.