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

Posts Tagged ‘TV movies’

Johnnie Mae Gibson: F.B.I.

Monday, February 26th, 2018

(a.k.a. JOHNNIE GIBSON F.B.I. if you go by the VHS tape)

JOHNNIE MAE GIBSON: FBI is a TV movie directed by Bill Duke. It aired on CBS in October of 1986 against a World Series game. I found a New York Times review from the time lamenting that it was routine TV formula. Accurate, but thirtysome years later the routine TV formula of 1986 has a certain retro appeal.

It’s a premature biopic of a respected FBI agent (Lynn Whitfield, JAWS: THE REVENGE) who was still on active duty at the time. Only the fifth ever African-American female agent at the bureau, she was known for extreme cool under pressure in undercover assignments and a high arrest record, many from “old dog” cold cases they dumped off on her.

We see her rise from a childhood in rural Georgia, poor family, sick mother (Veronica Redd, The Young and the Restless), mean father (Henry G. Sanders, REBEL, CHILD’S PLAY 3, ROCKY BALBOA). One scene involves a white family offering them a Thanksgiving turkey, her father refusing it, and her getting it anyway and surprising the family with it. her dad throws a fit and knocks it onto the floor. So much is established in this scene: Johnnie’s fearlessness and insistence on doing her own thing, her lifetime of dealing with angry men, but also her dad’s attempt to instill self-reliance into her, and the idea that her willingness to engage with white people makes her an outlier. (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.

Tonya & Nancy: The Inside Story

Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

When I moved a few months ago I found a box of VHS tapes deep in my closet, and on one of them had been taped the 1994 NBC Movie of the Week TONYA & NANCY: THE INSIDE STORY. I offer no explanation except that Elm Street’s own Nancy, Heather Langenkamp, plays Kerrigan. Anyway, I set it aside to watch after I, TONYA.

And when I did I was surprised to find how much the two biopics, made 23 years apart, have in common. Of course they hit many of the same famous moments and details, but also they both seem very self conscious about seeming exploitative and therefore attempt to elevate the material with a playful style involving mock interviews and contradictory viewpoints. Some of the scenes, like Tonya being chased by her stepbrother, her father leaving or the first time she meets Jeff Gillooly have weirdly similar staging. Both movies flash forward to Nancy screaming “Why?” early on and then take their time showing Harding’s life leading up to the attack (though this one does have scenes just about Kerrigan).

Both movies have a similar view of Tonya: her dad taught her boy things (shooting guns, shooting pool, fixing engines), her mom abused her, her step brother abused her, her husband abused her, she got swept up and either didn’t know or didn’t fully understand what these guys were doing on her behalf. Would you believe that both movies have a part where the fourth wall is broken to directly accuse the viewer of contributing to the abuse and exploitation of Tonya Harding? In this one it doesn’t come from the actor playing Harding, it comes from the actor playing the screenwriter of the TV movie! (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.

L.A. Takedown

Wednesday, May 10th, 2017

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…)

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.

Blackjack (second review)

Monday, May 2nd, 2016

tn_blackjack“Okay, I understand that, but Jack you need to realize that your sunglasses are the only protection you have from all the white out there.”

woozoneusaBIt wasn’t part of the original plan, but as I was re-watching the American John Woo movies I realized I had to revisit this 1998 USA Networks TV movie (and unfulfilled backdoor pilot), even though I did an okay job reviewing it long ago. I’ve recently had good luck recommending it to a couple people who never heard of it, but I hadn’t seen it myself in 11 years. Fortunately this thing (shot right after FACE/OFF) holds up as an absurd and entertaining Dolph Lundgren vehicle that transcends its cheapo format.

Dolph plays Jack Devlin, a world class bodyguard who seems to work out of Reno. In the opening he agrees to a favor for an old friend who owns a casino and needs him to protect his little girl Casey (Padraigin Murphy) from the mob. She calls him “Uncle Jack,” which I took literally this time, but my research tells me that they’re not actually related.

It goes down kind like in TAKEN, where the kids get to Europe and are immediately kidnapped. Here gunmen arrive about 30 seconds after Jack walks into the house with Casey. He’s checking the rooms upstairs when they come in. (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.

Ewoks: Caravan of Courage / The Battle For Endor

Tuesday, December 1st, 2015

tn_ewoksYou may not pick up on it, but I sense a strong anti-Ewok sentiment in our culture, even to this day. It might seem like an insignificant hatred compared to that of Gungans and Prequels, but it exists. I think it’s mostly people who were in their teens or early twenties when RETURN OF THE JEDI came out, and had to prove they were big boys by rejecting what they thought the kids liked. To this day they call this proud people who helped defeat the Empire “teddy bears” and other slurs. The Ewoks were just product placement to sell dolls and they ruined Star Wars by being too furry and cute, they say bitterly, before clicking “favorite” on an adorable cat video.

As I’ve argued before, this viewpoint is ludicrous. The cuteness is a deliberate juxtaposition – they’re cuddly, but they try to roast Han on a spit, they bludgeon Stormtroopers to death with rocks and use their helmets as drums. Saying they shouldn’t be cute is like saying Rocket Raccoon shouldn’t be a dumb little raccoon, he should be a big muscular tiger man. It’s missing the point. Furthermore, it’s not the first time this trick was used in the Star Warses. The Jawas were cute little dudes who make adorable squeaky noises, but also they were sleazy Droid-poaching pricks. It’s a Star Wars thing.

So I am staunchly pro-Ewok, but I can’t really defend CARAVAN OF COURAGE (or THE EWOK ADVENTURE as I seem to remember it being called when it was a TV movie in November, 1984). Still, I thought it would be worth revisiting before Disney’s Star Wars Episode 7 The Force Awakens rewrites history so that the war never ended, robbing the Ewoks of their signature victory.

(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.

Dr. Strange

Friday, July 10th, 2015

tn_drstrangecomicsconworldexclusiveEXCLUSIVE: Vern’s review of Marvel’s first ever supernatural movie, DR. STRANGE

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(p.s. the 1978 tv movie)

DR. STRANGE is the story of a supernatural battle going on in New York. The world you live in is a sugar-coated topping, etc. Dr. Stephen Strange (Peter Hooten from ORCA and THE INGLORIOUS BASTARDS) is a mustachioed lady’s man doctor at a psychiatric hospital who goes about his normal hospital business for half of the movie before meeting an old sorcerer dude (John Mills, GANDHI) who tells him that he has known since Stephen was a kid that he had a talent for magical voodoo type business shooting beams and saying magic words and flying in space and all that type of shit that you would have to do if you chose that sort of alternative lifestyle which so far he has not because he’s a normal person, he doesn’t believe in that shit or ever heard of it. Also Stephen’s dad knew it and that’s why the tacky ring he wears that his dad gave him matches the “ancient symbol of light” on the old man’s attic window, apparently. (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.

Stalking Danger (aka C.A.T. Squad)

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

tn_stalkingdangerSTALKING DANGER is the video title for C.A.T. SQUAD, a 1986 TV movie directed by William Friedkin. You can tell it’s TV by the cheap video titles, the 4:3 composition (even though it’s shot by Wes Anderson’s Academy Award nominated cinematographer, Robert Yeoman) and the “guest starring” in the credits, but otherwise it’s very cinematic. It even has a blood-pumping score by Ennio Morricone.

This is another secret agent counter-terror thing, with badass Doc Burkholder (the Michael Douglas-esque Joe Cortese)  appointed to put together his own team to catch an assassin called Carlos (Eddie Velez, THE HUNTED, BLACK DAWN). It’s not supposed to be Carlos the Jackal, by the way,  just standard, human Carlos I believe.

We know who the guy is because we watch him come in disguised as a priest, see how he sets up in a tower, crosses himself after he snipes the guy, gets away. And possibly we realize that the reason he looks so familiar is because he played “Dishpan” Frankie Santana, the best special effects man in Hollywood who joined the A-Team in the last season. But if not we are excited to learn that from IMDb.

Then we switch to Doc going around recruiting each member of his group (always a favorite part of this type of story), following leads, doing surveillance, poring over the photos, comparing everything to what else they know. ZERO DARK THIRTY shit. Eventually they catch on that it’s this guy and they go look for him. They follow him on the street, he tries to lose them down alleys, goes through different apartments and out the back door, that kind of stuff. (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 Jericho Mile

Monday, March 9th, 2015

tn_jerichomilerookiesIf you count TV movies – and I do – JERICHO MILE is Michael Mann’s directivational debut. It’s not as cinematic as his later big, wide movies, but it’s from the days when TV movies were legit enough to play theatrically overseas. It also stood out from other TV at the time, winning Emmies for writing, lead actor (over Kurt Russell in ELVIS!) and film editing for a limited series or special, and a Director’s Guild Award for “Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Special/Movies for TV/Actuality.” (?)

It’s a prison movie, and you know Mann isn’t gonna want to soften that up. I mean, it’s TV so we don’t get any profanity, racial slurs or rape, but it’s still got a gritty feel because it was filmed in Folsom with the real inmates all around, and plenty of establishing montages that are clearly just documentary footage. You can definitely tell that some of the supporting players are real cons. I wasn’t surprised when I read that Mann had to negotiate for each of the race gangs (white, black and Latin) to have representatives on screen and vow to prevent any race wars or riots during filming so the production wouldn’t be kicked out. I mean obviously it’s an unwritten rule on pretty much all movie sets that the actors should not be involved in any race wars. But I still give them credit for not having one. Apparently there were a bunch of stabbings, one fatal, but those were allowed. (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 Equalizer

Monday, September 29th, 2014

tn_equalizerAll things being equal, THE EQUALIZER is Denzel Washington’s TAKEN. It’s the one where they figure out people like to watch a really commanding older actor be smarter than everybody and kill a bunch of criminals. It has some gestures of seriousness and takes a bit to get to the killing, but once it does it’s pretty straight up about being a violent, lowbrow action movie. It even has the Academy Award winner doing the ol’ slo-mo-walking-away-from-a-fiery-explosion shot. I guess he did that in MAN ON FIRE too, and shot more beautifully from what I remember. But this one is more my speed because it’s not trying to rub my nose in the shit, it’s just trying to be stupid fun.

And by the way I apologize for awkwardly shoe-horning “all things being equal” in there at the beginning. It just seemed like something you do. But let’s try to get past it.

Written by Richard Wenk (VAMP, 16 BLOCKS, THE MECHANIC REMAKE, THE EXPENDABLES 2) and sort of based on the ’80s TV show of the same name, this has Denzel (RICOCHET) playing Edward Woodward’s character Bob McCall, now a book-reading, OCD widower square who works at “Home Mart,” wears polo shirts tucked into dad jeans and cleans his New Balance sneakers with a toothbrush every morning. Then one day when an acquaintance from the diner where he hangs out (Chloe Grace Moretz, TODAY YOU DIE) gets badly beaten by her Russian pimp (David Meunier, a.k.a. Cousin Johnny from Justified) Bob decides to try to help her. And it turns out his previous job was at the CIA or something (the agency is not specified) and that he’s real good at massacring a whole bunch of armed criminals using found objects and guns he takes out of their hands. Gino Fellino would be proud. He even sticks a corkscrew in a guy’s chin and we see it poke up into his mouth. (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.