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Archive for the ‘Drama’ Category

The Truman Show

Wednesday, June 13th, 2018

June 5, 1998

Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey, THE DEAD POOL, PINK CADILLAC) thinks he just enjoys a normal white picket fence type life mowing the lawn and saying hello to the neighbors and putting on a suit to go work at the insurance company and all that type of shit. He has no idea that his idyllic town of Seahaven is actually a set built on a soundstage so huge it can be seen from space, or that everyone around him, from the random cars that drive past him to his own wife Meryl (Laura Linney, ABSOLUTE POWER, MYSTIC RIVER, SULLY), are hired actors, in on the deception. Literally everything in his life is staged for his benefit.

It sounds like a Twilight Zone premise, and it kind of is: there’s an episode of the ’80s incarnation of the show that’s pretty similar. In “Special Service,” written by J. Michael Straczynski (CHANGELING), David Naughton is shaving one morning when the bathroom mirror falls off the wall and he sees a camera behind it. A serviceman shows up and tries to make excuses but soon has to admit to him that his life is a popular TV show. He seems to be allowed to live in the regular world, though, and the people around him are just cool about keeping the secret until the cat’s out of the bag, at which point he gets mobbed by screaming women. He also got to grow up normal before they started doing this to him five years ago. (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 Horse Whisperer

Monday, May 21st, 2018

May 15, 1998

THE HORSE WHISPERER is a drama about healing and romance and horses. It’s pretty simple and intimate, focusing mainly on three characters, but it’s on an epic canvas; it’s nearly 3 hours long and it spreads out to widescreen when it moves from New York to the wide open fields of Montana, photographed lovingly by Robert Richardson (U-TURN, THE AVIATOR, DJANGO UNCHAINED).

Sixteen year old Grace (Scarlett Johansson in her followup to HOME ALONE 3) has a horrific horse-riding accident – I was actually unprepared for how fucked up the accident is – that results in the death of her best friend (Kate Bosworth [THE WARRIOR’S WAY, HOMEFRONT] in her first movie) and her friend’s horse, plus the loss of one of her legs and the mangling of her horse, Pilgrim. (This is the third movie of the summer where a semi-truck plowing into someone is a crucial plot point, but I don’t think this one involved a tired driver.) The experts want to put the horse out of his misery, but Grace’s mom Annie (Kristin Scott Thomas, UNDER THE CHERRY MOON) never gives permission, so he lives in a barn all scraped up and violently freaking out when approached. Grace is kind of the same, hating her mom and her life and breaking down when she sees Pilgrim scared of her.

But Annie reads a magazine article about this horse expert in Montana named Tom Booker (Robert Redford [THE HOT ROCK], his first time starring and directing at the same time). When she can’t get him to come to New York she packs up her daughter and horse against their will for a long drive conveyed through the medium of longer-than-expected driving montage. Grace dodges all attempts at conversation and bonding – thankfully the movie doesn’t give Annie any horse troubles on the trip. That would be a nightmare. I don’t know how helpful a horse whisperer is when your psychotic horse gets loose at a truck 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.

He Got Game

Tuesday, May 15th, 2018

also May 1, 1998

I remember thinking of HE GOT GAME as a slightly under-the-radar Spike Lee joint, but I think it’s become pretty well known over the years. It’s just that it’s in that middle period where he still seemed to have clout but the cultural excitement around him was on a slow, inevitable decline after touching the sun in 1992 with MALCOLM X.

With CLOCKERS and GET ON THE BUS he got increasingly experimental with his style, switching between different film stocks and handheld cameras in energetic ways that I always thought were influenced by Homicide: Life on the Street. HE GOT GAME is a uniquely stylish film that seems more inspired by slick commercials and sports show intros. The story is about the ugly, exploitative side of college athletics, but the style is all about worshiping basketball as the great American sport.

Two credits give you an idea of Lee’s lofty approach: “Music: Aaron Copland. Songs: Public Enemy.” The musical score is built from the sweeping 1940s “populist” style orchestral pieces by, as Lee puts it on the commentary track, “the great American composer from Brooklyn, New York.” Pieces used include “Our Town,” “Lincoln Portrait” and “Fanfare for the Common Man.” The latter has been used in sports broadcasts and Navy ads, it has played on Space Shuttles and inspired the scores for both SUPERMAN and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. It was originally composed upon America’s entry into WWII. Copland considered the titles “Fanfare for a Solemn Ceremony” and “Fanfare for Four Freedoms” before using a term he heard in a speech by Vice President Henry A. Wallace. These are reverent Americana anthems for the pursuit of happiness and amber waves of grain and all that. (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.

Tully

Monday, May 14th, 2018

No, it’s not the sequel to SULLY, smart guy. It’s also not the sequel to BULLY. It’s not the monster from Sesame Street, it’s not the founder of the coffee chain, and it’s not the device that’s a wheel and the rope goes around it to lift things up. It’s just TULLY. That’s the name of a character. I’ll explain it later. Be patient.

One thing I always get excited about: a new Diablo Cody movie. I liked JUNO and JENNIFER’S BODY was interesting and I even saw the movie she directed, PARADISE (though I don’t seem to have reviewed it), and though she said she didn’t rewrite much on the EVIL DEAD remake, she either helped make it great or didn’t screw it up.

But it’s YOUNG ADULT that made her one of my favorite screenwriters. I gotta proselytize for that movie all the time. It speaks deeply to my darkest thoughts as somebody who left the suburbs, didn’t end up being a regular grown up type person, and alternates between pitying and envying the perfectly fine people who did it the normal way and have kids and houses and cars and money and shit. And it’s one of the very best roles for one of my very favorite actresses, our Furiosa, Charlize Theron. (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.

Emperor of the North

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018

EMPEROR OF THE NORTH (a.k.a. EMPEROR OF THE NORTH POLE) is a great 1973 tramp epic, a Depression-era tall tale of a battle between the champions of two rival kingdoms: a legend of the homeless counterculture pitted against the meanest, most heartless bastard among those lucky enough to have a job working the railroad. A-No.-1 (Lee motherfuckin Marvin [PAINT YOUR WAGON] in his followup to PRIME CUT) is a smart, experienced “bull” intent on riding the No. 19 all the way to Portland, Oregon. Shack (Ernest Borgnine, THE SPLIT) is the cruel sonofabitch conductor who takes that shit way too personally.

The opening scene sets the stakes high. Under a somewhat amusing Marty Robbins theme tune that personifies trains, the Shack chases down some poor guy trying to ride his rails and whacks him on the skull with a big metal mallet, like he’s Vinnie Jones in THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN. We have to hear the man’s screams as he falls and tumbles beneath the wheels and is left on the tracks separated into two pieces. Horrible. (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.

Killer of Sheep

Tuesday, May 1st, 2018

KILLER OF SHEEP is the influential 1978 feature film debut of Charles Burnett, who would go on to direct TO SLEEP WITH ANGER and THE GLASS SHIELD, among other things. Filmed in handheld, 16mm black and white, it’s a naturalistic, mostly unstructured (but not documentary) portrait of the working class people of the Watts neighborhood where Burnett grew up.

The lamb-murderer of the title is Stan (Henry G. Sanders, CHILD’S PLAY 3), but that’s not to say he’s some sicko – he works at a slaughterhouse. The job seems to be as exhausting and soul-sucking as it sounds. In his time off Stan always looks tired, often shirtless, just sitting around unless he’s on the floor fixing something or other. Friends are always coming over, sometimes trying to get him to do some crime or other money-making scheme. These leather jacket wearing bigshots try to smooth talk him into something until his wife (Kaycee Moore) comes out to tell them off. (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.

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.