I think there are a lot of people who have written a lot of words about movies who are good at what they do. I think many of them are working currently, and many of them have worked in the past. But as far as critics whose work I will seek out and read for the sheer pleasure of reading, no matter what they're reviewing?
Outlaw Vern is the best of the best.
I spent many years publishing his articles at Ain't It Cool, and what many people don't realize is that I was familiar with Outlaw Vern well before he started publishing articles. I have been a fan of the way he thinks about movies since 1995 or so, and I've been entertained by the way he expresses those ideas since the first time I encountered him. I take genuine pleasure from reading about the way he approaches a film. He is as good at teasing out subtext as any of the "great thinkers" on film, but he's also a man with a real appreciation for the tactile pleasures of filmmaking. He's able to surrender himself completely to movies, and I've never caught him acting like he was above watching or reviewing something. There is an open contempt for movies that many professional critics express in public, and even in private, Vern is as relentlessly in love with movies as he seems in his published work.
He finally broke through to a level of mainstream success and awareness with his first self-published book, Seagalogy: A Study Of The Ass-Kicking Films Of Steven Seagal, which was indeed a scholarly breakdown of the onscreen career of Steven Seagal. It sounds like a joke, but it's not. It's a great, entertaining, in-depth, intelligent piece of work that studies seriously the work of Steven Seagal. It is one of the best books about movies written in recent memory. It's so good because it is laser-focused. Vern becomes the expert on these movies by virtue of seeing and seriously writing about each one. In doing so, he establishes himself as the foremost published authority on the onscreen work of Steven Seagal. His book is absolutely and precisely about that. It's a great way for people to get their head around an introduction.
Vern's new book, Yipee Ki-Yay Moviegoer, covers a much broader range of material. It is a sort of loose collections based on theme, a chance to print some of his best material all in one place. When he started publishing Seagalogy, it was a self-published thing through Lulu, but eventually Titan Books stepped up and got involved and turned it into a "real" book, doing a very good job in the process of getting the book some well-deserved attention. This time around, Titan Books is involved from the start, and the end result is a great way to introduce someone to the range of Vern's work.
I'm mentioned a few times in the book, which I must admit is a thrill considering how much I respect Vern. One of the proudest moments of my life was when I read in his review of a Jodorowsky movie, "My buddies Moriarty and Scott Swan wrote a 'Masters Of Horror' episode where everybody's trying to find a print of a movie that has only screened once and when it did it drove everybody crazy and they all killed each other or themselves or something. That was what I always figured a public screening of 'Holy Mountain' would be like, but somehow this was a normal moviegoing experience." Being linked by Vern to a filmmaker as remarkable as Jodorowsky in any way whatsoever? Pretty much a perfect moment.
I've got a couple of quick excerpts from the book for you today, courtesy of Vern's publisher, Titan Books. You just need to pick the book up and start anywhere. There's not a bad or uninteresting essay in the entire thing. But just to give you a taste of what you can expect, here are some thoughts on "Candyman":
My one complaint is that you don't really know why people call him Candyman. There's one part where she finds a bunch of Halloween candy with razor blades in his lair, but if he was fucking with trick or treaters they must've cut that subplot out. We never see him carrying a bunch of candy in his pockets or anything. And I doubt he eats a lot of candy because he's pretty slim. Unless maybe he eats it but the bees in his rib cage digest it for him. Anyway, a guy with a huge bloody hook hand with a million bees crawling all over him and flying out of his mouth, I don't think anybody's gonna fixate on a subtle detail like he has a pile of candy on the floor. They're gonna call him Hookman or Hiveman or something. Candyman — that's just poor nicknaming. The only logical explanation I can think of is if his real name is Steve Candyman or something like that. But if that's the case they should've mentioned it.
And here's what he had to say about "The Polar Express":
For the most part, the characters did not look as creepy as I was expecting. At least the main kid wasn't. But then he gets on the train and this little girl is smiling at him. And I don't know what they did but I swear to christ this little girl character looks like she has two glass eyes. Other than that, she looks great. But the two glass eyes kind of freaks you out. Maybe this was intentional, and there is some implied backstory of dual eye injury that ties in to the magic of jingle bells or whatever, I don't know. I have read a lot of the bible but not all of it. Anyway I was going right along with it, but as soon as I got to the girl with the glass eyes I started to lose my connection to the computer world. I started to go offline. And suddenly I realized that these were not actual kids. They moved exactly like actual kids but they didn't look right. And I realized what they were was kids dipped in molten rubber, then airbrushed and wigged and given glass eyes. So there are actual little kids in there controlling the rubber outer layers from within. What a weird fucking thing to do, Zemeckis.
And finally, some thoughts on the classic John McTiernan action movie, "Predator":
If this guy was REALLY the great hunter he obviously thinks he is, he wouldn't be fucking CHEATING by using advanced alien technology. The guy is making himself invisible, using laser cannons, all this shit. This seems more like Dick Cheney style bird torture than actual legitimate hunting. It's not until the very end that Predator takes off his helmet and weapons and takes on Schwarzenegger man-to-man. But he probably wasn't planning that from the beginning, he probably either got the idea from Billy when he threw down his gun, took off his shirt and cut his face, or from Dutch when he did the same kind of thing. That macho take-off-your-shirt-and-throw-down-your-weapons shit is contagious when you're out there in the jungle away from civilization. But make no mistake about it, this Predator asshole is just some rich spacetourist coming here for some thrills. You don't fly all the way to Earth for hunting unless you got some serious money in your account. That opening shot of the shuttle firing off of the mothership and heading for Earth? That's the Predator Luxury Vacation Cruiser bringing Predator to Earth for the Deluxe Big Game Hunting Package. I mean come on. Let's not glamorize this guy.
Speaking of which, Vern, have you seen this new image from the Robert Rodriguez/Nimrod Antal film?
Oh, I hope that's just a case of some bad lighting in a publicity image. Oh, my.
I have a quote on the front of this book, although it's attributed to "Ain't It Cool News" instead of an individual reviewer. It was from an introduction I wrote to one of Vern's reviews. I meant it when I wrote it, and I mean it now, as well.
"Vern is the greatest writer about film writing about film anywhere that film is written about."
You can always find him at his official "websight," and you absolutely should pick up his new book. And his first one in the unlikely event you do not already own multiple copies.
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