So once again we have survived.

Archive for the ‘Drama’ Category

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.

Roots: The Gift

Friday, December 16th, 2016

There have been many types of Christmas TV specials over the years: the beloved cartoons like A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the stop motion ones like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the musical variety shows like the ones Johnny Cash did, the very special episodes of sitcoms. December 1988 brought us Christmas episodes of China Beach, L.A. Law, Thirtysomething, The Wonder Years, Day By Day, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, Just the Ten of Us, 227, Amen, Dear John, Full House, Murphy Brown, Night Court, Perfect Strangers, Punky Brewster, The Tracey Ullman Show (including the Simpsons short), Who’s the Boss, Wiseguy, Beauty and the Beast, and Pee-wee’s Playhouse (still a perennial classic), plus the specials The Care Bears Nutcracker Suite, Christmas in Tattertown (directed by Ralph Bakshi), Bob Hope’s Jolly Christmas Show (special guests Orel Hershiser, Don Johnson, Florence Griffith Joyner and Dolly Parton) and the famous TV movie reunion A Very Brady Christmas.

But do you think it’s weird that there was also a special Christmas movie based on Alex Haley’s acclaimed 1977 slavery mini-series ROOTS? I thought it was kinda weird so I decided to watch it and see what the deal 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.

Manchester by the Sea

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is the heavily critic-worshipped third film by writer-director Kenneth Lonergan (YOU CAN COUNT ON ME, MARGARET*). It’s a story about loss and family and people trying to salvage their fucked up lives. It’s not as devastating as some people make it sound, but also not as ultimately-uplifting or inspirational as maybe you would hope. It’ll probly make you tear up a few times and laugh a few times in its 2+ hours. It captures the ways family, friends and beer can bring you both solace and pain.

*[Please note that it is not one movie called YOU CAN COUNT ON ME, MARGARET. It is one movie called YOU CAN COUNT ON ME and then another totally separate one called MARGARET. And if I had written it as MARGARET, YOU CAN COUNT ON ME I would’ve had the same problem.]

*[Also please note that Lonergan wrote THE ADVENTURES OF ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE and an episode of the cartoon Doug, but it wouldn’t be appropriate to mention those at all because right now we are focusing on his directorial work.] (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.

Loving

Tuesday, December 6th, 2016

tn_lovingLOVING is a pretty simple true story about something that should be pretty simple: two people are in love and having a baby and decide to get married and build a life together. Should be up to them to decide if that’s a good idea, you would think, but the trouble is that Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton, WARRIOR) is white and Mildred Jeter (Ruth Negga, THE SAMARITAN, WARCRAFT) is black, and in Virginia in 1958 it was illegal for them to get married.

Like same sex couples before we got marriage equality a few years back, they had to go somewhere else to get married (Washington DC), but back at home the cops kick in their door one night and arrest them. Richard gets bailed out but they won’t let him bail out Mildred. Wait to see the judge on Monday, they say, as if that’s a reasonable thing to ask a man whose pregnant wife is currently locked up in a cold cell for ludicrous reasons. They threaten to arrest him if he keeps trying to get her released.

The judge would make the Lovings do a year for this – for being married! – but they plea bargain. Instead they have to leave the state (their home, their property, their family, their jobs) and not come back together for 25 years. So, against their will, they go to raise their kid (soon kids, plural) in the city.

(Virginia: 13 electoral votes. DC: 3 votes starting in 1961.) (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 Best Years of Our Lives

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

tn_bestyearsofourlivesTHE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES is the earliest movie I’ve seen about veterans coming home from war and having trouble readjusting, and very different from the other ones. If it was made after Iraq and Afghanistan it might’ve been a sun-drenched support-the-troops true tale of sacrifice like AMERICAN SNIPER. If it was after Vietnam it might’ve been a dark but entertaining genre tale, like ROLLING THUNDER or FIRST BLOOD. But this was 1946, right after World War II, so it’s a beautiful black and white ensemble drama directed by William Wyler (BEN-HUR) and shot by Gregg Toland (CITIZEN KANE).

It’s the story of three men fresh back from the war. Army captain and bombardier Fred Derry (Dana Andrews, GOOD GUYS WEAR BLACK) can’t get a flight back to his home town of Boone City, but a woman at the airline desk points him to where he can catch a ride on an army plane. He has to wait around for hours, but ends up in the nose of a bomber with sailor Homer Parrish (Harold Russell, INSIDE MOVES) and infantry sergeant Al Stephenson (Fredric March, …TICK …TICK …TICK). They marvel over the view of America and bond over what they did in the war, and who and what they’re coming back to.

They get home and we follow each of them as they return to their families, try to find jobs, try to make regular life work again. For the most part their loved ones are thrilled to have them back, and will do anything they can to support them. And many people see their medals and treat them as heroes. Al is welcomed back at the bank where he worked, to almost an uncomfortable “we want to show off that we have a veteran on staff” level. Fred not as much. The drugstore has been taken over by a chain who will only hire him back as assistant to his old assistant when he was a soda jerk. (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.

Hell or High Water

Thursday, September 8th, 2016

tn_hellorhighwaterHELL OR HIGH WATER is one of these contemporary westerns, sort of a NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN fan film about two brothers robbing banks and two old Texas Rangers trying to catch them. It starts from the perspective of Toby (Chris Pine, SMOKIN’ ACES) and Tanner (Ben Foster, X-MEN 3) driving through barren stretches of country highway robbing banks in tiny, impoverished towns from Texas to Oklahoma, in between being brothers, annoying each other, talking around painful shit from their pasts, etc.

They did not cast against type. Tanner is the Mr. Blonde, yelling at and pistol whipping bank employees, causing scenes, screwing a hooker in the same hotel room while his poor brother lays wincing and facing the wall. I think this guy’s gonna be trouble. And Toby is the thief with a heart of gold, or at least the one who looks humanely through his ski mask with big blue sympathetic eyes and isn’t a jerk when a waitress (Katy Mixon from East Bound and Down) has a nice talk with him. (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.

Pride + Prejudice + Zombies

Thursday, August 25th, 2016

tn_ppzWhen I first heard about PRIDE & PREJUDICE & ZOMBIES – the book where Seth Grahame-Smith inserted the undead into Jane Austen’s original text – it sounded like a clever public domain art project, something I could respect without wanting to actually read it. When I heard that they were making it into a movie it sounded like kind of a bad idea, but since David O. Russell was doing it I thought maybe it would be interesting. By the time Russell left and it was finally made by 17 AGAIN director Burr Steers I had written it off.

But then I saw the trailer, where the absurd premise was done with a straight face, and that was all I needed to get on board. I should’ve known better, too, because this is actually a repeat of what happened with Grahame-Smith’s second book, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER. The wackiness of the title made me groan, but then I enjoyed the deadpan movie version. To this day it makes me smile to think that that actor had to master both delivering the Gettysburg Address and spinning an ax.

So I should learn to trust this Grahame-Smith guy. He also wrote Tim Burton’s DARK SHADOWS, which I enjoyed. But more importantly he has a corner on this rare, ballsy type of movie: lavish, earnest productions of intentionally ridiculous historical drama/horror-action combos. Steers has the unlikely discipline to treat Austen’s story of courtship among the rich with utter respect even though he’s moved it to a post-zombie apocalypse London surrounded by a moat and wall and at war with the undead hordes. I actually found myself invested in Austen’s original love story regardless of any zombie business. (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.