I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

L.A. Takedown

L.A. TAKEDOWN (or MADE IN L.A. as the credits said on the region 2 DVD I watched) is a 1989 TV movie written and directed by Michael Mann, that started as a TV pilot but the series wasn’t picked up.

Actually, I take that back. It started as a 180 page screenplay that he wrote before THIEF, and tried to get Walter Hill to direct, but after a decade of not getting it off the ground he had a chance to do a TV series so he gave up and rewrote it as the pilot. It’s too bad he didn’t keep pushing for it, because it would’ve been interesting to see what the movie version would’ve been like. If it were up to me it would be called HEAT and star Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro. But of course there’s already the Burt Reynolds movie called HEAT so that would never happen.

The story begins with a squad of ruthless thieves headed by Patrick McLaren (Alex McArthur, CONSPIRACY THEORY) driving a garbage truck, which they ram into an armored car. It flips and gets pinned against a wall before they attach bombs, yank the guards out and line them up so some of them can threaten them and punch them in the face while the others climb in the car and steal its contents.  But like an idiot, the squirrely rookie Waingro (Xander Berkeley, BARB WIRE) turns Mr. Blonde and shoots one of the guards, forcing them to kill the other ones too. This was supposed to be clean. (read the rest of this shit…)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Troma boy made good James Gunn (SUPER) returns as director and this time sole credited writer to bring us GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2, the continuing adventures of Marvel’s literally-colorful team of intergalactic reprobates. Gunn doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, he just coasts on the charm and humor of the world and characters he set up in the first one. But this time they hit the ground running, already a team, and Groot (Vin Diesel, FIND ME GUILTY) is a baby tree man instead of a giant one, so they only have one big enforcer guy instead of two, and they have to take turns babysitting.

Think about it: wouldn’t it be weird if in one of the FAST AND FURIOUS movies all the sudden Tyrese was a 2-year-old and they still had to take him with them on their missions? It’s a pretty different dynamic.

The team is still earth-born manchild Peter “Star Lord” Quill (Chris Pratt, WANTED), green warrior woman Gamora (Zoe Saldana, THE TERMINAL), wiseass mercenary raccoon Rocket (Academy Award nominee Bradley Cooper, THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN), and literal-minded berserker-with-a-heart-of-gold Drax (Dave Bautista, WRONG SIDE OF TOWN, HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN, THE SCORPION KING 3: BATTLE FOR REDEMPTION, THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS, RIDDICK, KICKBOXER: VENGEANCE). They fly around in a little space cruiser and battle with laser guns, swords, bombs and jumping and what not. This time they do a security job in exchange for Gamora’s evil cyborg sister Nebula (Karen Gillan, THE BIG SHORT), who becomes the dangerous-prisoner-who-maybe-they-should-free-as-an-ally character like Riddick, Napoleon Wilson or Desolation Williams. (read the rest of this shit…)

Best Seller

Sometimes you’re not in the market for a topic to write about, but it falls right into your lap. Me, I’ve been dying to start writing about JCVD, but I keep coming up with other ideas that I get excited about. I have three different action stars fighting it out in my head to be my next book, so when I finally get the current one polished off and find some time to work I’m gonna have to make a decision and stick with it.

LAPD detective/best-selling true crime author Dennis Meechum (Brian Dennehy, FIRST BLOOD) doesn’t have as hard of a time deciding, because his subject keeps showing up in person and hassling him until he gets started. Back in ’72 he survived the infamous robbery of a police evidence depository (with the thieves wearing Nixon masks four years before POINT BREAK) and turned his experiences into the hit book Inside Job: Anatomy of a Robbery. This guy is a hard worker: he’s still a cop, and also keeps writing books, and also has raised his beloved daughter Holly (Allison Balson, Little House on the Prairie) alone since his wife died of cancer. But he’s burnt out and having trouble writing another one and some guy named Cleve (James Woods, VAMPIRES) has decided to come tell him what to write about. (read the rest of this shit…)

Happy Yaddle Appreciation Day

Hey everybody. As you know, certain people enjoy lispy puns, and have turned “May the 4th” into the international day to celebrate Star Wars. Which seemed like a pretty good idea a few years ago when there wasn’t a new Star Wars movie coming out at all times.

You know I enjoy the Star Wars but in case some of you get sick of hearing about it today I thought it would be a good time to re-up one of my favorite series I’ve ever done, LUCAS MINUS STAR WARS. By going through 44 years of everything Lucas had his name on that was not Star Wars-related I think I really showed (or at least convinced myself) what a force (get it) he was in Hollywood even outside of his most beloved creation (Yaddle).

So here for your convenience are links to all Lucas reviews (including a few, like HOWARD THE DUCK, that I wrote before that series) in release order:

THX 1138
AMERICAN GRAFFITI
MORE AMERICAN GRAFFITI
KAGEMUSHA
BODY HEAT
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK
TWICE UPON A TIME
INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM
MISHIMA: A LIFE IN FOUR CHAPTERS
LATINO
LABYRINTH
HOWARD THE DUCK
CAPTAIN EO
WILLOW
POWAQQATSI
TUCKER: THE MAN AND HIS DREAM
THE LAND BEFORE TIME
INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE
The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles
RADIOLAND MURDERS
INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL
RED TAILS
STRANGE MAGIC

And, ah hell, I guess I should include my Star Wars writings too. “STAR WARS NO BAGGAGE REVIEWS” was also a proud time in outlawvern.com history, so here they are plus my Ewok ones and the post-Lucas ones:

STAR WARS
THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
RETURN OF THE JEDI
THE EWOK ADVENTURE aka CARAVAN OF COURAGE
EWOKS: BATTLE FOR ENDOR
STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE
STAR WARS EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES
STAR WARS EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH
DISNEY’S STAR WARS MINUS LUCAS: THE FORCE AWAKENS by Disney
ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS SUPPLEMENT

Firestorm (2013)

FIRESTORM, the Hong Kong movie from 2013, is unfortunately not a remake of the 1998 firefighter action vehicle starring Howie Long. But it’s a good movie. Andy Lau (INFERNAL AFFAIRS, HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS, THE GREAT WALL) plays Inspector Lui, a by-the-book cop trying to catch a gang of brazen thieves. He’s there when they literally lift an armored car with a crane, and he hopes to be there (but more prepared) the next time they strike.

This is not the Hong Kong I know from other movies, with all the bustle and boats and steam coming off of outdoor markets. This is clean, professional downtown Hong Kong. Tall buildings, office clothes. That robbery happens in broad daylight, the gunmen wearing scary fencing type masks. It’s got a realistic feel but it’s this outlandish action spectacle, like HEAT meets more of a DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE world. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Hunt For the Wilderpeople

THE HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE is a sweet New Zealand comedy about a gruff, inarticulate woodsman and his goofball foster child on the run together in the wilderness. To give you an idea of their differing outdoor skill levels, Hec (Sam Neill, DAYBREAKERS) has a broken ankle, but still manages to wrestle and stab a large boar to death, while Ricky (Julian Dennison, PAPER PLANES) initially called the woods “that jungle.”

The movie starts with child welfare services dumping Ricky off with Hec’s wife Bella (Rima Te Wiata). Ricky apparently has a hell of a rap sheet (spitting, kicking things, throwing things) and he looks funny standing on this rugged Hoggett Hollow wearing his shiny hat and giant hoody with dollar sign and diamond print. He later gets a dog and names him after Tupac Shakur, who he explains to Hec is “a rapper and my best friend.” (read the rest of this shit…)

Toy Soldiers (1984)

There’s another TOY SOLDIERS besides the Sean Astin/Wil Wheaton one from 1991 that I reviewed before. This is the one from 1984 that’s kind of like UNCOMMON VALOR but with rich college kids instead of Vietnam vets. Jason Miller (THE EXORCIST) plays a Vietnam vet now working as a family’s personal yacht captain. When he chaperones their daughter Amy (Terri Garber, SLAPPY AND THE STINKERS) and her loser friends on a trip to Panama, they totally prank the shit out of him by purposely leaving him behind on a dingy. Cut to montage of dumping beer on each other’s heads, smoking joints, making out and comical sexual harassment.

“What they didn’t know, what nobody knew, was that the fun was just about over,” intones Sarge in his weirdly Wonder Years-esque opening narration. The accident that fucks up everything is realistically random: drunken Tommy (Jim Greenleaf, TAG: THE ASSASSINATION GAME, JOYSTICKS) jumps belly first onto an inflatable raft, bounces off it and hits his head. They bring him to land to try to get medical help, but they end up quickly abducted by paramilitary forces. They’re tied up, beaten and groped. Amy is defiant, so they lock her separately in a pit with a dead priest currently in the process of being eaten by rats.

But otherwise that would’ve been pretty funny how they ditched that old wet blanket so they could party, ha ha. (read the rest of this shit…)

Red Rock West

RED ROCK WEST is one of my favorite neo-noirs, an ingeniously concocted tale with a simple, appealing hero who makes one wrong choice that snags him and he has to spend the rest of the movie trying to crawl his way out of an ever-tightening trap. He’s driving through the town of Red Rock, Wyoming when it goes down, so every time he gets out and then something else goes wrong we share his dismay at passing that god damn “Welcome to Red Rock” sign once more.

Well before all the thrilling twists and tense (but down to earth) set pieces, director John Dahl (THE LAST SEDUCTION, ROUNDERS, JOY RIDE) wins me over with an A+ overture of visual storytelling that establishes Michael (Nic Cage)’s hard times and integrity. We meet him waking up in his car on the side of a farm road, shaving, smelling the shirt he takes out of the trunk to make sure it’s not too bad, looking in the window reflection as he tucks it in, preparing to try to make a good impression. We also see his USMC tattoo, even before he starts doing shirtless one-arm push-ups. This will be relevant.

He’s broke and having trouble finding a job and has a bum knee brought back as a souvenir from Lebanon but he’s an honest man, not looking for any shortcuts. Not until he stops at a bar and his timing and Texas plates cause the owner, Wayne (the great J.T. Walsh, BREAKDOWN, EXECUTIVE DECISION) to mistake him for “Lyle from Dallas” who was supposed to be here last week for a job. Michael plays along, which seems like a promising trick for the few minutes before he realizes the job is to murder Wayne’s wife Suzanne (Lara Flynn Boyle, POLTERGEIST III). So it’s neither a line of work he’s interested in or the type where you can just put in your two weeks notice and be on your way. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Girl With All the Gifts

THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS is a very good new British horror movie and at this point I would like to offer the “Trust in Vern” review opt-out option. If you are willing to just take my word for it that this is good and check it out without knowing anything about it you’ll be able to enjoy the mysterious opening the way I did. Then you can come back and read this. But if you need more information first, keep reading. I’ll try not to spoil everything.

This is the story of Melanie (rookie Sennia Nanua), a young lady around 12 years old who lives locked up in a concrete cell in an underground military base. In the morning when soldiers come in pointing guns at her she dutifully gets into her wheelchair to be strapped in and wheeled into a room full of other kids also strapped into wheelchairs. It’s a classroom, and Melanie would be the kid who always has her hand up first, but they have their hands bound when they don’t have a writing assignment.

The soldiers call these kids “creepy little fuckers” and aren’t supposed to talk to them. Melanie’s favorite teacher Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton, THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED) seems to be in trouble for being too sympathetic toward them. What the hell is going on here? Why are they so afraid of these children? (read the rest of this shit…)

A Boy and His Dog

A BOY AND HIS DOG is a strange, scrappy post-apocalypse tale directed by character actor L.Q. Jones (HANG ‘EM HIGH, LONE WOLF MCQUADE), based on a 1969 novella by Harlan Ellison. Don Johnson (COLD IN JULY) is the boy, Vic; a dog is the dog, Blood. Blood talks but his mouth doesn’t move, we just hear his tired, tinny voice, so at first I thought he had a machine attached that broadcast his thoughts. But actually they communicate telepathically, so that when other people are around he Vic seems like a crazy person talking to his dog. Blood reminds me of Teddy in A.I., but meaner and more cynical. And they do a good job of matching up the dog footage to imply attitude and emotion in his body language that probly isn’t really there.

It’s a dangerous world, and they’re constantly on the run. Blood’s job is to sniff for approaching enemies. Vic’s is apparently to find a woman to rape. He has a hard time getting up the nerve to go through with it, though, and Blood nags him about it. I thought the worst thing about dogs was that they eat cat poop out of the litter box and then jump up in your lap and lick your face and try to pass that off as affection. It turns out it goes deeper. (read the rest of this shit…)