Approaching fictions through a fictional lens: The Return of the Mighty Vern

24 04 2010

About ten years ago there was a lot of fun to be had as a film geek in reading many of the writers on the now-famous Ain’t It Cool News website, as they all took interesting internet names that often carried significant pop-culture weight, and carried those implications through in their writing.  Moriarty in particular, writing under his real name of Drew McWeeny over at, would often provide mini-tales of life at a laboratory befitting such a legendary villain.  Sometimes these sorts of items I’d skip over, and other times I’d let myself get drawn into the world they were creating from which to analyse the film(s).  Their approach made sense to me as former paper-and-dice gamesmaster – I’m actually of the same age as Moriarty, though with slightly different influences – but the nom de plume characterisation faded as the writers became more professionally involved in the film business, or simply grew up.  There were two who rose to prominence as the originals waned, both working at extremes of the film spectrum – the hysterically funny, teenage-like Neill Cumpston, reviewing blockbusters, and the more solidly witty Vern, handling DTV product with a specialist interest in badass cinema in general and Steven Seagal films in particular.  Cumpston was eventually revealed to be the nom de plume for comedian Patton Oswalt, and we have since been deprived of the pleasures of his alter-ego.  Vern, however, remains the solitary Seattle-based throwback to a time of clearer, less referential and less reverential writings about film, culture and politics – and now he’s a twice-published author, quite an achievement for someone whose actual identity remains unknown to his readers.

Yippee Ki-yay Moviegoer! Writings on Bruce Willis, Badass Cinema and Other Important Topics is the follow-up from Titan Publishing to Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal, a revised edition of the self-published edition I bought several years ago as my introduction as a consumer to the world of print-on-demand (a world, incidentally, I am very happy with, and have bought other books from since).  Seagalogy was a cohesive study of the entire creative oeuvre of Seagal up to that point, taking a thoughtful fan’s approach to his films, looking at the commonalities and differences across the man’s work.  Shot through with Vern’s wry humour conveyed in his conversational tone, it was a real pleasure for those of us who remain fans of the Big Guy’s work, even in a new era of DTV where he has learnt to make his age a feature of his films.  The new book, however, gives a far more accurate flavour of what regular followers of his website come back again and again for: a wide-ranging, brutally honest, worldly, reasonable and witty take on cinema from around the world with a particular interest in action and horror.

The book re-groups pieces from the website under new headings with fresh intros and footnotes from Vern.  Some of these are laugh-out-loud in their juxtaposition – Chapter 2: Thou Shalt Not Lie With Cartoons As With Live-Action is the best, but Chapter 6: It’s Not Supposed To Be Hamlet is pretty close – while others give a sense of how his best work often develops a momentum across reviews, delving into an actor or director’s work.  Recognising this instinct that seems to be waning in younger movie buffs, this desire to seek out and work through an artist’s filmography, makes Vern one of us: the film fans who found their lives changed by the creation of the video rental store. Looking for more films to enjoy led to reading credits and seeking out work from the same director, writer, actor, fight choreographer, 2nd unit director, stunt coordinator and composer, turning us into something more like cinephiles, less like the casual viewer, learning how to identify what we liked and chase it down.  However, not everyone is blessed with the turn of phrase that Vern is:

On Beowulf:  “So maybe it’s not a great movie, but it’s a good theme park ride.”

On Garfield:  “In a way this is the perfect movie for the 2004 election…  Garfield is a horrible, useless asshole bully…. There is nobody on earth who can explain why Garfield is supposed to be a lovable character, but there he is.  Just like Bush with his 51% mandate.”

On Warrior King:  “The Protector. Real Title: Tom Yum Goong. Should Be The Title: Where Are My Elephants?”

On Holy Mountain: “The place is pretty stripped down but I’d still say the Alchemist is living large since he has this beautiful naked tattooed black lady bodyguard working for him, and he has a throne made out of two stuffed mountain goats and a bathtub with a live baby hippo in it.  I mean, this would be a fuckin’ spectacular episode of Cribs.”

On Transformers, aka Vern vs. Transformers – One Shall Stand And One Shall Fall…:  “I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie that left me this befuddled that it actually existed. Now I know how your parents felt when they took you to see Transformers: The Movie.”

Vern is the Parker of film reviewers, a lone wolf man-of-mystery expert in his own field, with a unique skill-set to match.  Across Richard Stark’s novels, Parker doesn’t so much mellow as make more room in his life for folk he has come to know well.  Vern’s decision to spruce up his website and allow comments sections on posts has led to one of the most enjoyable online communities around, and that seems to have energised Vern in the same way as Parker in the later novels.  Reading the comments frequently leads to wonderful conversations about obscure or semi-obscure badass cinema, and that alone marks his site out as an oasis amongst modern film sites.  The fact that he covers Tony Jaa, Marko Zaror, and the new Elmore Leonard TV series Justified makes it essential for those of us interested in international action and cool, with his comments posters the nicest guys from around the world you can share these with.  For them, this book is a great updated easily-accessible “Best Of”; for everyone else, it’s a great place to start.  Welcome to the world as seen by Vern.



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