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Well, I finally went and did it – I published my new book Worm on a Hook. I want to be a little vague, but basically it’s a horror story about a group of friends who rent a cabin for Memorial Day weekend and run afoul of a seemingly-invincible killer back from the dead. And then, I promise you, it’s on. The goal was to find overlap in the conventions of traditional slasher movies and the ’80s and ’90s action I love, and meld them into one ass-kicking novel. I’m very proud of the results, and I think you’ll not only enjoy the story but get a kick out of spotting the ways I apply concepts from reviews and Seagalogy to my own storytelling.
I hope to find this one a bigger audience than I’ve managed for Niketown, so forgive me for going into promotions mode for a bit and leaving this as a sticky post above the new reviews. I’m available for podcasts and interviews – email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for inquiries. And if you read it, let me know what you think!
NOTE: If you’re outside of the U.S. your local version of Amazon should have it too – try searching for “worm on a hook vern” to find it.
THE BONEYARD is a pretty cool little horror movie that according to IMDb was release direct-to-video on June 12, 1991. I’m not sure if that’s right, because that was a Wednesday, but I’m gonna assume it really was a summer of ’91 release. I’d never seen it before, but if I’d known about it when I was a little bit younger than I was in ’91 I definitely would’ve wanted to see it, because the cover has a demonic poodle monster, and for some reason I thought that type of shit was hilarious when I was young. For example, the poodle with the mohawk was half the reason I liked ELVIRA: MISTRESS OF THE DARK.
That image made me expect a horror comedy, so when the movie started with a very legitimate horror score (by John Lee Whitener [RAGIN’ CAJUN]) I was impressed because it makes it feel pretty serious. And then I slowly realized that it is mostly serious, so those FRIDAY THE 13TH-esque violins are appropriate.
In the opening sequence, veteran homicide detective Jersey Callum (Ed Nelson, who played Harry S. Truman in BRENDA STARR) and a younger partner Gordon (James Eustermann, later the makeup effects coordinator of SPECIES) come to a house looking for someone in regards to an investigation. No one answers so they go inside to look for her. There’s something very authentic and sad about this big, messy house. Not quite full-on hoarder, but garbage bags all over, pans covering every counter, laundry hanging in the kitchen. (read the rest of this shit…)
June 7, 1991
Of the other Summer of ’91 movies so far, DON’T TELL MOM THE BABYSITTER’S DEAD is most similar to SWITCH. It’s not nearly as high concept or fantastical, but it’s another comedy about a woman (in this case not a man trapped in a woman’s body, but an actual teenage girl) pretending to be an adult in order to work a fancy office job. I think I saw it back in the day but I had no memory of it, and the title and cover with the babysitter’s dead feet sticking out of the lawn had me thinking it was a dark comedy. I was even thinking “Oh shit, Christina Applegate now stars in Dead To Me, which also involves lying about a death and hiding a dead body.” But that’s not really much of a factor here.
(P.S. – She’s absolutely great on that show.)
The titular mom (Concetta Tomei, Max Headroom) goes on vacation to Australia with her boyfriend, and right when she’s leaving reveals to her five kids that she hired the titular elderly babysitter (Eda Reiss Merin, THE BLACK CAULDRON) to stay with them. I guess it’s a long trip, but this is two 17 year old high school graduates, a 14 year old, a 13 year old and an 11 year old – do they really need a full time paid supervisor? In ’91 no, of course not, you just give the kids a key and pizza money. So I guess this movie was ahead of its time. (read the rest of this shit…)
June 7, 1991. Despite the notable release of another odd Spike Lee movie, this week was won by more middle-of-the-road culture. It was the week that the original run of Twin Peaks ended. The #1 and #2 songs on the Billboard charts were “More Than Words” by Extreme and “I Wanna Sex U Up” by Color Me Badd. And the #1 movie was a nice normal comedy about wisecracking Billy Crystal birthing a cow to cope with the boredom of middle aged, middle class existence.
Like JUNGLE FEVER, CITY SLICKERS is about some lives upended and rearranged after a married man has an affair with a subordinate at his workplace. In this case the dude is Phil Berquist (Daniel Stern, C.H.U.D., FRANKENWEENIE), a wet blanket grocery store manager who is very unhappily married to a mean bully (Karla Tamburrelli, “Stewardess [Northeast Plane],” DIE HARD 2) until panicked young clerk Nancy (Yeardley Smith, then in her third season as the voice of Lisa Simpson) finds him outside of work to tell him she thinks she’s pregnant.
“Why is she telling you this?”
The scene goes down at the 39th birthday party of Mitch Robbins (43 year old Billy Crystal, ANIMALYMPICS) and inspires Phil to unleash twelve years of suppressed fury at his wife in front of the Robbins family and all their friends. If this was reality he’d for sure be the bad guy here, but we’ve already been primed to hate how this horrible wife talks to him and feel victory in him telling her off. (read the rest of this shit…)
June 7, 1991
JUNGLE FEVER is five films and five years into the career of Spike Lee. You have the financed-on-credit-cards debut SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT, the polished studio debut SCHOOL DAZE, the explosion of DO THE RIGHT THING, the follow up MO’ BETTER BLUES, and then this. Like all of his movies it’s interesting and bold and full of greatness but in my opinion, especially in retrospect, it’s his first fumble. That’s fine. He did MALCOLM X next.
It is the story of possibly the most only-Spike-Lee-would-ever-name-a-character-this character of all time, Flipper Purify, played by Wesley Snipes, who had been in Lee’s MO’ BETTER BLUES and was coming off of the success of NEW JACK CITY. He’s an upper class architect, living in Harlem with his wife Drew (Lonette McKee, BREWSTER’S MILLIONS, ‘ROUND MIDNIGHT), and things seem to be going well from the hot morning sex that opens the movie (the sounds of which greatly amuse their daughter Ming [Veronica Timbers]). (read the rest of this shit…)
Previously on Vern Tries To Learn About Indonesian Super Heroes:
The 2019 film GUNDALA caused me to read up a little bit on the other Indonesian comic book characters who will be part of an MCU-inspired franchise called the Bumilangit Cinematic Universe. It turned out some of them had been in movies before, and I was able to find THE DEVIL’S SWORD, about a character named Mandala who will be played by Joe Taslim in the BCU.
The character that sounded coolest, though, was Barda Mandrawata, The Blind Man From the Ghost Cave, a.k.a. Si Buta (“The Blind” or “The Blind Man”). I was intrigued partly because he’s a warrior who poked out his own eyes to learn how to defeat his blind enemy, partly because he has a pet monkey, and partly because his new movie is to be written and directed by Timo Tjahjanto (HEADSHOT, THE NIGHT COMES FOR US).
I was able to find two ’80s movies about Si Buta. The first was THE WARRIOR AND THE BLIND SWORDSMAN (1983), in which the character crosses over into part 2 of a trilogy starring THE DEVIL’S SWORD’s Barry Prima as a different character. The blind swordsman was cool looking, but I didn’t get very into the story and didn’t have enough to say about it to write a review. (read the rest of this shit…)
a.k.a. DEADLY FORCE: MISSION BUDAPEST
I’ve been a fan of Milla Jovovich since THE FIFTH ELEMENT, but I think it was when I finally watched her in Paul Whenharrymet Sally Anderson’s THE THREE MUSKETEERS that it occurred to me what a genre icon she’s become playing acrobatic heroes or cool villains in digital age B+ movies like the RESIDENT EVIL series, ULTRAVIOLET and HELLBOY. Then, while researching my review for MONSTER HUNTER, I noticed on IMDb that she’d even had a turn as the American marquee name in a 2019 Chinese-Hungarian movie. Jovovich + crazy international co-production = I want to see that, but it hadn’t made it stateside yet.
Written and directed by Alan Yuen (PRINCESS D, FIRESTORM) with action direction by Stephen Tung Wei (HERO, BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS, KUNG FU KILLER), the original title is 素人特工 (AMATEUR AGENT), but the English V.O.D. title is THE ROOKIES, and last Tuesday Shout! Studios released it on DVD and Blu-Ray as DEADLY FORCE: MISSION BUDAPEST. (Yes, that sounds like a joke title I would use for a fake generic action movie, but that’s real.) Jovovich plays a cool supporting role to a younger Taiwanese and Chinese cast in this comedic spy thriller. (read the rest of this shit…)
I’ve been waiting for Zack Snyder’s ARMY OF THE DEAD since it was first announced in 2007, at which point he’d only directed DAWN OF THE DEAD and 300. Snyder would’ve produced and they had commercial director Matthijs van Heijningen (who later did the THE THING premaquel) set to direct. My understanding of the premise was that Las Vegas was walled off to contain a zombie outbreak, a team of mercenaries were hired to go in for a heist, and the hero was really trying to rescue his daughter who was stuck in there.
14 years later it exists in what could only be an entirely different form, since it’s directed by Snyder himself, rewritten by a guy who was 13 years old when it was announced, starring a guy who was a WWE wrestler and hadn’t even been in a David DeFalco movie yet, made with technology that didn’t exist, distributed on a service that didn’t exist. As always, Snyder is unpredictable. I definitely wouldn’t have guessed that I’d be happier with his 4 hour redux of JUSTICE LEAGUE than the zombie movie I’d already been waiting several years for when he did MAN OF STEEL. But here we are.
ARMY OF THE DEAD did not live up to my hopes, so I will share many complaints about it. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it – it’s an entertaining movie, especially for straight-to-Netflix. I recommend watching it if you’re into this sort of thing and won’t pull your hair out that it’s either surprisingly sloppy or prioritizes setting up anime spin-offs and fan theory speculation over telling a good story. (read the rest of this shit…)
Recently I was a guest on the Adkins Undisputed podcast and the subject of the episode was THE LEGEND OF HERCULES, the 2014 movie in which Scott Adkins plays the villain. Somehow I had never gotten around to seeing it, despite knowing about Adkins’ participation, and that it was directed by Renny Harlin (between DEVIL’S PASS and SKIPTRACE, but I haven’t seen those either), and that I tend to go to these F.S.G. (Fantasy Sword Guy) movies and at least somewhat enjoy them. For example I saw the other Hercules movie starring The Rock that came out the same year. I didn’t understand why they made it a world where there was no magic, and I still liked it.
This is the Hercules played by Kellan Lutz, who you may know as one of the young guys in THE EXPENDABLES 3, if not from TWILIGHT. He also starred in a DTV action movie I reviewed called ARENA. And it looks like he played William Shatner in Michael Almereyda’s EXPERIMENTER? His thing is I guess he’s a uniquely babyfaced burly guy. He looks young and doesn’t try to macho up with a beard or something but is also very, like… wide-headed. I guess he’s tall, but he always looks to me like a comics-Wolverine, Ram Man type guy. (read the rest of this shit…)
“Certainly I am a lot to blame for the film but I can’t say the alchemy of it was well balanced. What I have always said about my participation in action films in general is that I like to cut the head off of a rhinoceros and put a giraffe’s head on it. For some people, a rhinoceros with a giraffe’s head on it is interesting and something to look at. ‘Wow, you don’t see that every day!’ Other people will say ‘That is wrong! That is an abomination against nature! Kill it now! Get it out of my sight!’”
—HUDSON HAWK screenwriter Daniel Waters to Money Into Light, 2016
May 24, 1991. Yes, THELMA & LOUISE, BACKDRAFT and HUDSON HAWK were all released on the same day. (Also ONLY THE LONELY and WILD HEARTS CAN’T BE BROKEN.) And cinema was never the same.
I reviewed HUDSON HAWK 11 years ago, and I stand by that review. There are many things about the movie that don’t work, but none of them overshadow how much it makes me laugh or how much I enjoy seeing, as the quote above puts it, “a rhinoceros with a giraffe’s head on it.” So read that review if you’d like to hear more detail, including my theory about its flop status being partly caused by Eddie “Hudson” Hawk being in many ways the opposite of John McClane. But this is so much the type of movie I love to look at in a summer retrospective – an attempted blockbuster, using star power and production value to try to draw normal people into something kinda weird – that I felt I should rewatch it and add further thoughts in the context of the other 1991 releases. (read the rest of this shit…)
Yes, it’s true – in 2019, 28 years after the release of the hit movie BACKDRAFT, it got a DTV sequel. Since I hadn’t seen the original when this came out two years ago I didn’t really pay attention, and kind of assumed it was just an unrelated firefighter movie taking on the brand name.
In fact there’s quite a bit of continuity: original screenwriter Gregory Widen (HIGHLANDER) returns, the lead character is meant to be the grown up son/grandson of Kurt Russell’s characters, William Baldwin returns as Brian McCaffrey (now assistant chief) and Donald Sutherland returns as crazy/fun pyromaniac Ronald Bartel. Also it’s supposed to be the same fire station, there are photos of Russell and Scott Glenn on the wall, the events of part 1 are discussed, and (in a real fuckin stretch) Brian uses the phrase “career dissipation light,” which was already a stretch when he repeated it back to a corrupt Alderman he heard using it 28 years ago. Are we really to believe he loved it so much he made it part of his lingo? (read the rest of this shit…)