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 ‘Drama’ Category

Eighth Grade

Tuesday, July 31st, 2018

EIGHTH GRADE is a beautifully true high definition close-up on the most awkward of ages. You don’t feel like a kid anymore, but the high schoolers you’re about to be tossed in with seem like adults, and you haven’t even caught up with the kids your own age. If you’re Kayla (Elsie Fisher, a voice in the DESPICABLE ME film saga) you pride yourself on knowing how to conquer life – in fact your hobby is creating Youtube videos giving friendly, positive advice – but really you feel like every single other person knows what they’re doing and you don’t.

The movie isn’t in first person, like I’m describing it here, but it’s almost that intimate. So much of it stays close on her face, the kids around her a little out of focus. From her terrified expressions you can feel her chest about to implode with tension, but you can also tell that nobody notices. They’re off in their own world. They don’t even look at her.

For my money this is an improved grade of WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE. It captures the nightmare of social awkwardness without having to exaggerate the ugliness of the world. It’s not mean. It’s real. Sure, there’s cringing, but it’s organic cringing, not pushed-to-the-limit cringing like we enjoy in Curb Your Enthusiasm and stuff. The events are mostly mundane – a birthday party where she doesn’t fit in, a trip to the mall with older kids – but they feel as heavy and monumental as they would at that age. (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.

Pi (a.k.a. π)

Wednesday, July 25th, 2018

July 10, 1998

PI might be the most impactful of the summer of ’98 indies, at least in the sense that it introduced filmmakers who continue to be relevant 20 years later. It’s one of the old fashioned, scrappy, less-than-a-million dollar shoe-strings-and-boot-straps indie debuts, by which I mean it’s in black and white. Actually, 16mm high-contrast black-and-white reversal film. Vincent Gallo claims he fired Dick Pope as cinematographer of BUFFALO ’66 because reversal stock was too hard for him, but here’s director Darren Aranofsky and cinematographer Matthew Libatique, two Mr. Nobodies out of nowhere and they know how to use it. I like this kind of look, the grain dancing around, creating shadowy faces. It’s so opposite of how low budget movies usually look now that they’re digital.

Co-writer Sean Gullette (TRAITORS) plays Max, a genius mathematician obsessed with his thesis that “everything around us can be represented and understood through numbers.” When he was a kid, he says, he stared into the sun, and this gave him an ability to notice numbers everywhere. He’s fixated on discovering patterns in long sequences, a hobby that first-time director Aranofsky has fun trying to make seem cinematic through fast editing, the cool guy electronic dance music of the era and pre-THE-MATRIX lo res on-screen strings of numbers. Also he figures out how to get some foot chases in there (Max thinks he’s being followed). (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.

Buffalo ’66

Tuesday, July 17th, 2018

June 26, 1998

Look, I don’t want to brag, but in 1998 I was twenty years younger than I am now. I had the youth. The vigor. The open-mindedness and enthusiasm for things that seemed new and different. I had less of the anger toward people who get on lawns – if I had had a lawn I would’ve invited the youths to hang out on it and talk about youth stuff like did you know Lauryn Hill is doing a solo album or what is up with these Furbies or have you heard about this new WB show coming out in the fall they’re calling it “Ally McBeal in college” I don’t think I’ll watch it but it’s something I read about.

What I’m trying to do here is establish why it’s a good thing that in 1998 BUFFALO ’66 seemed like a great movie. I mean, I haven’t entirely turned my back on it. It’s still interesting. It has many positive qualities. But I definitely question it more now.

It’s easy to see what was appealing in that moment. Star/director/co-writer/composer Vincent Gallo plays Billy Brown, a just-released convict who looks like he inspired half the dudes who were in American Apparel ads (I mean, look at that striped muscle shirt). With cinematographer Lance Acord (first feature for the music video d.p.) he shoots scuzzy locations that seem like the stale refuse of the ’60s and ’70s: cracked parking lots, a bowling alley, a motel, a tiny house decorated in Buffalo Bills memorabilia. Chic, magazine ad ugly. I’m actually kind of surprised it’s not in black and white, but the muted color palette is one of its most striking features. (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 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.