“It’s an art movie. Doesn’t count. I’m talkin about movie movies.”
April 10, 1992
I have enjoyed some of Robert Altman’s movies over the years, but never became a full-on “he’s one of my favorites” convert like so many film buffs a little older than me. In fact the only ones I’ve ever reviewed are MCCABE & MRS. MILLER, POPEYE and NASHVILLE. POPEYE was definitely the first Altman movie I saw, since it starred my biggest childhood hero (not Robin Williams – Popeye). THE PLAYER was the first one I watched as a grown-ish person trying to see good movies for adults.
I don’t hear people talk about it that much these days, but it has an 86 on Metacritic, which they quantify as “universal acclaim.” And it has a Criterion Edition. I remember it being viewed as a major cultural event in the film coverage I read in magazines and alternative weeklies of the time. In his review, Roger Ebert brought up Wall Street scandals and said the movie “uses Hollywood as a metaphor for the avarice of the 1980s,” but in my memory people enjoyed it as a satire of Hollywood executives. My most specific memory about it was a certain cameo in a movie-within-the-movie meant to parody the “pat Hollywood endings” joked about throughout the movie. (read the rest of this shit…)
Bruce Willis is… THE JACKAL. This one came out in 1997, between THE FIFTH ELEMENT and MERCURY RISING. It was coming off an adventurous couple of years in Bruce’s career that included NOBODY’S FOOL and 12 MONKEYS, and this is more of a normal Hollywood picture than those, but it was still an unusual role for him. He’s top-billed over Richard Gere (who was between RED CORNER and RUNAWAY BRIDE) but playing the antagonist, a very cold and serious assassin hired to kill the head of the FBI.
It comes from director Michael Caton-Jones (DOC HOLLYWOOD) and it’s based on Kenneth Ross’s screenplay to the 1973 Fred Zinnemann film DAY OF THE JACKAL, which itself was based on a 1971 novel by Frederick Forsyth. The new screenplay is credited to Chuck Pfarrer, a national hero because he wrote HARD TARGET and part of DARKMAN. (He was also a Navy SEAL and wrote NAVY SEALS.) Reportedly there was an uncredited rewrite by Kevin Jarre (who has a “story by” credit on RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II). (read the rest of this shit…)
We’re all sad that Bruce Willis has retired, and more than that to have confirmation of his long rumored cognitive issues. He’s still there, and unable to say goodbye. It’s crushing.
The upside is how nice it’s been to have everyone on the same page again and celebrating his great career and all the happiness he’s brought us over the years. That made me want to watch something of his I’d never seen before – thanks for the recommendations, everyone. I decided to check out Blake Edwards’ SUNSET (1988), since it’s from that period when Moonlighting was still on the air, and I truly believed Bruce represented the maximum coolness potential for a human being. The earlier Edwards/Willis joint BLIND DATE has a terrible reputation, but I liked it, so SUNSET seemed worth a try. (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…)
I don’t normally review Batman cartoons (I think the only time I have before is the Suicide Squad one, ASSAULT ON ARKHAM), but I think you will agree that this one falls into my jurisdiction. In fact, it’s so weirdly specific to my particular areas of interest that during the ‘70s-inspired opening credits montage with funky theme song, after seeing the names Mark Dacascos and Michael Jai White, Mrs. Vern turned to me in disbelief and said, “Did they make this only for you?”
Yeah, actually, it seems they did, so thanks, guys!
No joke, this is an animated movie set in the 1970s, based in the DC Comics universe but taking most of its template from kung fu movies. Its spy movie opening and funky, wah-wah heavy score are clearly homaging ENTER THE DRAGON, and there’s definitely some Jim Kelly/Blaxploitation influence in there, but its flashback structure mostly splits between an old school kung fu training movie and a getting-the-band-back-together type story. Two of my favorite plot structures in one. (read the rest of this shit…)
I reviewed THE LAST BOY SCOUT (1991) once already, 15 years ago. Though I think I described some things about it pretty well, I was at somewhat of a snooty wiseass stage in my critic’s journey, and I was more dismissive of it than I should’ve been. Despite that I remembered it being a pretty good movie, and I’d been wanting to rewatch it for a while, so this last November, when BWolfe asked in the comments, “Can you re-review this? I feel like you’d give it a much better shake now,” I knew he was right.
This Joel Silver production is a collaboration/clash between director Tony Scott (coming off of DAYS OF THUNDER) and screenwriter Shane Black (after being replaced on LETHAL WEAPON 2). Those guys making a Bruce Willis movie is about as all-star action as it got in 1991, and had Bruce and Silver known how the release of HUDSON HAWK was gonna go earlier in that year they would’ve been even more eager to sow they could still blow people through the back walls of theaters. (read the rest of this shit…)
Late last year there was this new entertainment websight or lifestyle brand or whatever that was kind enough to recruit me for a bi-weekly column about the films of badass cinema. After twelve installments I decided to quit, and a couple weeks later they closed up shop, because what would be the point of doing it without my column, and/or there was an unrelated scandal involving the company that owned them. But they were nice enough to give the writers permission to put up our pieces on our own blogs and what not.
Meanwhile, the Criterion Collection is on this very day releasing a Bruce Lee box set. And I believe they will accomplish something I’ve been trying to do for years now: get people to watch all the Bruce Lee movies. In fact, that was the goal of my first Profiles in Badass column. So for those of you who didn’t go through the Rebeller pay wall to read it back in January I am proud to present column #1 to you absolutely free of charge and without any corny anti-PC stuff next to it.
PROFILES IN BADASS #1: BRUCE LEE
Everyone knows who Bruce Lee is. Kind of. They know the flying kick guy on the posters, the philosophical inspirational quotes guy, the nunchaku guy, the DJ on Tony Stark’s t-shirt. Maybe they’ve even seen Enter the Dragon, or heard about Lee’s concept of “using no way as way” being a precursor to today’s mixed martial arts, but I think that’s as far as it goes for many.
It doesn’t have to be that way! I believe many people who are only familiar with the idea of Bruce Lee would enjoy finally sitting down and watching his movies. And it’s an easy fix. Though the multitude of alternate titles, documentaries, lookalikes and posthumous-footage-extrapolations could give the impression that it’s an inaccessible “Where do I even start?” body of work like Sun Ra or Frank Zappa or somebody, set aside his work as a child actor and his TV appearances and there are really only 4 1/2 true Bruce Lee films. I know you watch more than that in a weekend when a new season of a streaming show drops. You can do this! Let me guide you.
About 12 miles and 48 years from ONCE UPON A TIME …IN HOLLYWOOD lies ONCE UPON A TIME IN VENICE. In this 2017 DTV joint, Bruce Willis is the center of a sunny, quirky, comedic crime tale ensemble. Though the story is narrated by his dorky new assistant John (Thomas Middleditch, THE KINGS OF SUMMER), it revolves around Bruce’s low-life private eye Steve Ford. As you do in these movies, a pan through his office shows us some of his history through the medium of props. For example, some photos and a surfboard tell us he’s a surfer. There’s one touch that made me laugh, but maybe wasn’t supposed to: we learn he’s a disgraced ex-cop from an article that calls him “disgraced” in the headline. Why would he frame that and put it on his wall? It’s not even an important piece of exposition.
THIS IS A FREE RANGE SPOILER REVIEW. THE SPOILERS ARE NOT KEPT IN CAGES. THEY JUST RUN ALL OVER THE PLACE, INCLUDING THE FIRST COUPLE SENTENCES. SEE THE MOVIE FIRST.
ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD is an odd and beautiful movie from… Quentin Tarantino. It’s undeniably one that only he could or would make – it’s even in his now-trademark ‘wish-fulfilling rewrite of a historical atrocity’ mode – but it’s different. It’s not as mean and angry as the last three, or as carefully plotted as any of them. It’s sort of a hang out movie, a day-in-the-life of two friends, and a gentle tale of surviving a mid-life crisis, wrapped in a love letter to Los Angeles of the late ’60s, and to the then-fading leading men of the ’50s, with a chaser of gruesome violence. The fun kind, though. The cathartic kind.
Throughout his career, Tarantino has shown his affinity for cool shit like spaghetti westerns, blaxploitation movies, kung fu and crime novels. Here’s where he says “Fuck it, I also like old cowboy shows and procedurals and stuff.” When the guy who makes film exhibition and criticism a major element of his WWII epic does one that’s actually about the Hollywood film industry, obviously he’s gonna go buck wild. The amount of detail he puts into the fictional career of TV star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio, two episodes of The New Lassie) – to the point of needing a narrator to talk us through each entry from his Rome period – reaches the level of sci-fi world building. And of course Tarantino, being Tarantino, gives us a soundtrack that drips the sixties without one whiff of Creedence, Dylan, the Doors or Hendrix. Admittedly “Mrs. Robinson” is in there somewhere, but he leans more Deep Purple, Vanilla Fudge and Paul Revere & the Raiders. One of the few I knew was the Neil Diamond song. (read the rest of this shit…)
Like many of you I was a pretty big fan of M. Night Shyamalan’s UNBREAKABLE when it came out in 2000. It was a different time. One year after THE SIXTH SENSE, the idea of Shyamalan as a master of suspense was not a punchline, and quiet, sad Bruce Willis characters were fairly new territory. It had only been about a month since the very first X-MEN movie came out, and would be years before Batman began and the Marvel Cinematic Universe followed, so when we were blindsided by the opening title card of oddly useless comic book statistics, and Samuel L. Jackson (THE SPIRIT)’s character proceeded to make grandiose generalized proclamations about the comic book mythology, it was semi-forgivable. The ads gave no hint of this, but the movie took the idea of super powers and put them in a grounded suspense thriller context that felt like a pretty new combination of flavors at the time.
Sixteen years later Shyamalan had been a laughing stock far longer than he’d been a respected auteur, and the popularity of SPLIT counted as a comeback. Though I found the “oh, this was actually a super villain origin story” ending a little anti-climactic, I thought most of the movie was effectively creepy and I was really impressed by James McAvoy’s playful turn as the many personalities of “The Horde.” And of course I enjoyed the wacko reveal at the end that it was I DON’T THINK THIS IS A SPOILER ANYMORE taking place in the same universe as UNBREAKABLE.
Now, finally, Samuel L. Jackson is… GLASS. Except he gets a “with” credit. McAvoy gets top billing, because he does the most acting, by many different meanings. (read the rest of this shit…)
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