SELMA is a story about the influential social justice warrior Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Not a biopic, but a movie focused on one specific campaign, a march through Alabama to demand a law to protect voting rights. The importance of this legislation is illustrated by an old black woman who, though clearly exhausted from her shift at a nursing home, and intimidated by the experience of her previous attempts, tries to register to vote. The white clerk says she’s “stirring up trouble,” threatens to tell her boss about it, and gives her an impossible local government pop quiz before gleefully rejecting her. That the lady is played by Oprah Winfrey, who more than a few people wish would run for president, adds a little meta-weight.
At one point SELMA was gonna be directed by Oprah’s friend Lee Daniels, whose combination of talent and insane tastelessness could’ve been a problem for this story. But I think he was responsible for the brilliant stroke of casting David Oyelowo (the snobby reporter Yardley in THE PAPERBOY, the militant son in LEE DANIELS’ THE BUTLER) as King. Daniels was also gonna have Robert De Niro, Hugh Jackman, Cedric the Entertainer, Lenny Kravitz and Liam Neeson in the cast. I imagine Neeson would’ve been the voice on the phone harassing Coretta Scott King (played in the actual movie by Carmen Ejogo, who also played King in BOYCOTT, and other characters in ALEX CROSS and THE PURGE: ANARCHY).
Oyelowo (who had also worked with director Ava DuVernay in MIDDLE OF NOWHERE) somehow fattened his face to create a surprisingly good likeness. I’m told he just gained weight, it’s not makeup, but how the fuck do they do that? It’s not like his body is real fat, how did they know he’d gain the weight there? Do they have physical trainers that can focus your diet and workout that specifically? Do they use computers? (read the rest of this shit…)
Unfortunately TAKEN 3 is an uninspired new sausage from the Besson/Kamen factory. Liam Neeson’s ruthless ex-CIA family man character Bryan Mills returns for his first adventure not related to the endless circle of violence caused by his daughter getting kidnapped on a trip to Europe. This time it’s the go-to action movie bad guys of today, the Russian mafia (see also THE EQUALIZER, JOHN WICK, SAFE, DRIVEN TO KILL) who (SPOILER THAT’S IN THE TRAILER) kill poor Lenore (Famke Janssen), Mills’s ex-wife and mother of Kim (Maggie Grace) and who he sort of still has a thing for. The cops show up and it kinda looks like he did it so he beats them up and goes on the run so that he can prove that he didn’t do what it now really really looks like he did.
Even more than part 1 and part 2, part 3 leans heavily on the non-action movie family stuff. There’s a whole lot of time spent showing that he has a good relationship now with his daughter and ex-wife and gets along with his daughter’s boyfriend and tries to help Lenore with her problems with her second husband Stuart (Dougray Scott). I guess at this point I sort of have to admire that Besson cares so much about these characters, or thinks we do, but it’s not like this is real deep observations about relationships. And besides, UNDER SIEGE 2: DARK TERRITORY will always be the definitive action sequel where an old asskicker gives a giant teddy bear to a female relative and it’s awkward because she’s way too old for it. (read the rest of this shit…)
I watched NIGHTCRAWLER back-to-back with FOXCATCHER. So far I’ve been able to keep the titles straight in my head though, haven’t mixed them up like I still do with RISE OF THE/LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS. But it’s not just the titles that are vaguely similar. This is another story about a bizarre, unfeeling weirdo pretending to be a human. The biggest differences from John Du Pont are 1) no fake nose 2) this guy comes from a working class perspective; he’s introduced sneaking around stealing copper to sell for scrap, like a junkie 3) he’s the protagonist.
It takes place in L.A and mostly at night, so it’s kind of like a noir. Jake Gyllenhaal (HIGHWAY, PRINCE OF PERSIA) plays Lou Bloom, the weirdo in question. I liked him so much in PRISONERS that I’ll see a movie just for him now, so I was excited for this even before the acclaim. Lou is the kind of weirdo who (correctly) thinks he can just walk wherever he wants to if he acts like he belongs there. When he’s driving home one night and sees a flaming car wreck on the side of the freeway he just pulls over, gets out and walks up to watch firemen trying to pull the driver out of the wreckage. You know, just curious. Wanted to see what all the fuss was.
When he learns he can make a living listening to a police scanner, chasing down these tragedies and shoving a camera in there, it quickly becomes clear that he has a natural talent for it. He’s not only completely willing to get in the way of cops and paramedics in life and death situations, he’ll also walk into a house where a shooting has taken place, film the bodies, move things around to make the shots more compelling. Here, get this happy photo of the victim next to this bullet hole. Perfect. (read the rest of this shit…)
How’s this for a pitch: it’s POINT BREAK meets DROP ZONE and TERMINAL VELOCITY! Stephen Baldwin plays an over-the-edge customs agent who, like Keanu Reeves’s FBI agent in POINT BREAK, goes undercover with a group of (non-surfing this time) skydivers who he suspects of being involved in drug smuggling. And like DROP ZONE and TERMINAL VELOCITY it’s about this whole subculture of skydivers who live like a family or a tribe with their own stupid lingo and traditions that they’re real proud of. For example “cutaway” is their term for somebody (for example a hot shot lawyer) leaving behind their previous life to just be one of these parachute gypsies for now on. And of course that takes on extra meaning for Baldwin’s character, who is here with a secret agenda that he’s gonna be tempted to cutaway from as he becomes accepted by the group. (read the rest of this shit…)
For several years Spike Lee talked about doing a James Brown biopic starring Wesley Snipes. This was fairly recently, like while Wesley was locked up. Man, I couldn’t quite picture what that would be like, and I really wanted to find out. But I figured even if Wesley could pull off the role I wasn’t sure a movie about James Brown could ever work. Would a movie really be able to show his incredible genius without toning down what a horrible person he was?
When I heard somebody besides Lee was doing the James Brown biopic, and that it was the guy that did the fucking HELP, I was not happy. And who do they have playing The Godfather? Chadwick Boseman, same guy who already played Jackie Robinson in that other movie that that other white director did before Spike Lee could. I bet this Boseman guy has nightmares about getting stomped by Air Jordans.
And the trailers didn’t help. With quick clips of Boseman in a wig lip synching James Brown, you couldn’t really tell if he looked that much like him, same with the dialogue. And there was a version with interviews of rappers and Mick Jagger and stuff talking about how important James Brown is. What the fuck is this approach? Who is this demographic of fucking weirdos who have no idea who James Brown is but will see a movie about him if Mick Jagger recommends it? What, did they already see a video of Taylor Swift or Macklemore or somebody explaining how important Mick Jagger is? (read the rest of this shit…)
Okay, I’m skeptical about this one, but it would be irresponsible of me not to make sure everybody has heard this report that three great screen martial artists from the RAID saga are allegedly crossing over to the STAR WARS one. This has been picked up by Deadline and other industry type blogs (specifically the movie industry), but the report comes from Twitch, who source it simply by saying that “Twitch has learned” Iko Uwais (Rama), Yayan Ruhian (Mad Dog/Sad Dog) and Cecep Arif Rahman (“The Assassin” in part 2) will be in THE FORCE AWAKENS.
I guess only time will tell whether or not Twitch learned accurately. In my opinion these three star warriors are for sure playing Luke Skywalker’s triplet sons Huey, Louie and Mad Dog Skywalker. I have learned (in a dream) that part 7 is pretty much non-stop brutal martial arts and death defying stunts with an occasional C3PO “Oh dear!” for punctuation.
Seriously though, guys, if this somehow turns out to be true then it looks like Lucasfilm has decided to go after the coveted Vern vote. Next week they’ll announce that part 3 will be directed by Isaac Florentine and go straight to video.
Back in 2013 I started a new old wives tale that it is good luck for a critic’s first review of a new year to be a Clint Eastwood movie. I continued the tradition for 2014 and I ended up having a really intense year that was not fuckin around when it came to either highs or lows. It was a year that included a funeral, way too much time spent hanging out in hospitals and job-related fears like losing my health insurance. But on the other hand I finally published
that damn novel and I had a great trip to Tennessee and of course my TED talk or whatever at Cinefamily was a great blessing and the highlight of my career so far. It was also just an evolutionary step for ol’ Vern because I learned I could actually make a public appearance without ruining everything, as far as I could tell. So in honor of my miraculously retained Outlaw status let’s start off 2015 with THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES. I haven’t seen this one in forever and a day and a half.
What we have here is a badass western revenge story. Clint directs and plays the titlational Josey Wales, who at first is just a regular non-outlaw family man. Then “redleg” raiders come through raping and pillaging, kill his boy and his wife, burn down his house, scar his face. Who knows how many days later he’s still just sitting there brooding on his patch of land when a squad of Confederate guerillas come by, tell him they’re at war with the bastards who did this. “I’ll be comin with you,” Josey says. (read the rest of this shit…)
Happy New Year everybody!
2014 was quite a year in my opinion. There are many personal, national and global reasons for me to hope that the door hits its ass on the way out, but it’s also been a great year for me in so many ways. I definitely had some landmarks and I want to thank all of you for the part you played in that. You always let me know how you feel and that’s important to me. You have fueled me with your kind words on my essays, your thoughtful comments on my reviews or about Niketown, by saying hi in email or the social media, and even in person that one time. That was awesome! I truly could not have faced these new challenges without all of your support and inspiration.
Also the people who have supported outlawvern.com financially in the various ways, that is so cool of you, I am very grateful and I hope that my reviews give you a laugh or an idea to in some way pay you back.
Thanks everybody and let’s try to make 2015 have less shittiness and more excellence. WE CAN DO IT!
A quick word on THE NOVEMBER MAN. It’s the recently-released-on-video Pierce Brosnan spy joint directed by Roger Donaldson (SPECIES). Brosnan plays Peter Deveraux, an ex-CIA guy (not MI5, interestingly) who gets called in for one last mission for personal reasons, gets betrayed, has to straighten things out and make those motherfuckers wish December would get here real quick. The intrigue involves a brutal Russian general (Lazar Ristovski, CASINO ROYALE) on the verge of becoming president and various parties trying to find a woman who might have incriminating information about him or something. But to Deveraux it’s just about the fact that the agency had his old protege Mason (Luke Bracey, Cobra Commander in GI JOE’S RETALIATION, soon to be remake Johnny Utah) snipe his old girlfriend Natalia (Mediha Musliovic). What the fuck, CIA.
(read the rest of this shit…)
“It was this old guy with a gun, and some broad.”
ALLEY CAT is a shoddy but sometimes fun version of the urban vigilante thriller as well as the female assault-victim revenge story, the types of copycat movies made in the wake of DEATH WISH and MS. 45. Billie (Karin Mani, whose character was killed in the beginning of the similarly themed AVENGING ANGEL) is an adult woman in Los Angeles who studies karate, lives with her grandparents and as far as we know has no job. In the opening scene a neighbor calls to tell her someone’s stealing the tires off her car. She throws some clothes on, goes out there and tells the two thugs* crouched down by her car that “Okay guys, that’s enough.”
Of course, criminals in a 1984 action movie are not going to have a good grasp of gender equality, so one of them says “Hey bitch, didn’t your daddy ever teach you nothin? Never bother a man when he’s workin?”
*I know these days “thug” is racist code for the n-word, but I am old fashioned and using it to describe white guys who steal tires
(read the rest of this shit…)