Tuesday, 12 April 2011


Writings on Bruce Willis, Badass Cinema and Other Important Topics
VERN (Titan Books, 2010)

Die-hard [dahy-hard] - noun
1. A person who vigorously maintains or defends a seemingly hopeless position, outdated attitude or lost cause.
 This definition epitomises the mysterious online critic and Bruce Willis acolyte, known only as Vern, the self-styled outlaw, ‘documenting Badass Cinema, one film at a time.’ With a particular affectation for films that ‘blow things up good,’ with this collection of reviews he takes a stand, celebrating obscure, unsung actioners, while also exploring an eclectic variety of ‘other important topics.’ Shooting from the hip, Vern tackles overlooked ‘classics’ like bonkers killer-cookie slasher Gingerdead Man and ninjas-vs.-klansmen epic Ninja Vengeance, while also taking aim at more worthy, arty flicks like Jodorowsky's Holy Mountain, awesomely described as ‘The Die Hard of surrealist alchemy comedies.’
  Refreshingly unpretentious, Vern peppers his colloquial, ramshackle scribblings with slang, swearwords, and spelling mistakes. Stylistically shoddy, but endearingly so, the author’s imagination and burning enthusiasm shine bright. There is something spellbinding about this abrasive, opinionated pundit who compares the jarring stylistic flourishes of director Tony Scott to someone attempting to tell you a joke while simultaneously urinating on your leg.
  Frequently side-splitting, but always accessible, Vern is fearless and provocative, thinking nothing of drawing parallels between berserk Jason Statham vehicle Crank and a defiant child, proudly defecating on his shocked parents’ carpet.
  Though extremely opinionated, his street grade language and potty humour don’t obscure the genius of his work, relating his worldview like an accomplished comedian, employing clever, arresting anecdotes to draw us in. Going to great lengths to articulate the ways in which Batman is similar to Mary Poppins, and how Brokeback Mountain actually echoes Snakes On A Plane, it is engrossing, silly stuff.
    Many of these articles are as barmy and fun as the movies they describe, the outlaw frequently shooting off on compelling train-of-thought style rants. A simple review of Ice Cube’s Friday After Next quickly becomes a rampaging tirade against cinema advertising, while elsewhere, Vern unleashes a torrent of vitriol on Michael Bay’s Transformers in a furious appeal for Summer blockbusters to up their game.
  Vern is not kidding when he describes George Romero’s knights-on-motorcycles adventure Knightriders as the Best Movie Ever. His review of this offbeat gem is surprisingly uplifting, proclaiming it a moving melodrama, an inspirational poem about living by your ideals. Claiming it is so good it makes him cry, you’ll be desperate to track it down.
  Consistently enjoyable, Yippee Ki-Yay… is full of beguiling surprises. For all his macho grandstanding and fighting talk, Vern occasionally reveals a sweet centre. A poignant visit to the urology clinic becomes the basis for an examination of the fragile male ego, introducing  his ‘Theory of Badass Juxtaposition’ - the idea that a Badass’ potency is magnified by the presence of a sentimental, softer side. Vern’s prose has a similar effect: This winning collection often has the impact of an explosive roundhouse kick directed straight at your funnybone, but if you let your guard down, Vern might just break your heart.


It's late on a dark, eerily quiet evening. The driver of the 101 bus has had his fair share of crazies tonight and is dying to hang up his hat after a long, arduous shift. Pulling up outside the subway station, the coachman checks his watch, takes a deep breath and reluctantly opens his doors.
 Lurking, just beyond the fluorescent glare of the buzzing station lights, a lone figure clumsily lurches through the darkness. "God, not another drunk," thinks the disgruntled motorist, just as the shape lunges, arms outstretched , into the lamplight, revealing a shocking, grisly appearance. Clothes torn, drenched in gore and filth, it's face a bloody mess, a wild look glazes it's eyes as it reaches out towards the vehicle, growling, "Brraaaaiiinnssss!"
  Startled, the driver goes to make a break for it, when he suddenly notices the coins in the ghoul's hand. This undead marauder has brought his busfare. The coachman shakes his head, ushers the fiend on and warns him, impassively,  "Don't bleed on my bus." His passenger takes his seat and affords himself a wry smile, reflecting back on his exceptional day at work. Welcome to the weird world of Neil, The Zombie Movie Extra.

  Toronto resident Neil Sinclair is a warm, articulate forty-something, who is well-versed in literature and psychology. An enthusiastic cinephile, with a passion for the classic works of Bogart, Hawks and Welles, he admits that, truthfully, his heart really belongs to schlock horror movie maestro George Romero. Like so many exuberant others, Neil is a passionate horror fan, eagerly immersing himself in the macabre world of the weird and wonderful. Devouring an abundant cache of texts, from comics to movies to videogames, the Canadian has discovered a new lease of life in nightmarish tales of ghosts, creatures and, particularly, zombies.
  In recent years, the humble zombie has gone through something of a renaissance in popular culture, thanks to the success of big-budget efforts like 2009's Zombieland, the Resident Evil series, and ambitious HBO serial The Walking Dead. Spirited fanboys flock to conventions, often in full-on eye-catching zombie attire. Some go so far as to glue oatmeal to their bodies to resemble flecks of dead skin or to bury, then dig up their clothes to better recreate the risen-from-the-dead aesthetic, desperate to really indulge in a little gruesome escapism.
  Some devotees, like Neil, feel compelled to take their fandom a step further, looking to gnaw off a little chunk of screen history for themselves. Zombie pictures usually require legions of moaning, decaying bit-part players for the heroes to hack, slash and eviscerate their way through in their quest for survival, and there are thousands who are more than willing to stagger, growling, into the spotlight.
  "I found the ad for this through Craigslist.com, by looking up 'zombie' randomly," says the friendly canuck of his premier re-animated supporting role in the forthcoming Zombie Summer School. "I played 'Zombie #33,'" he enthuses, "I was there to get stabbed, chopped up and hit with baseball bats in the face! The basic plot is a bunch of kids somehow mistakenly go to the wrong summer school at night, in the fifties, and it turns out to be some sort of cursed, abandoned school. Wacky hijinks ensue..."
 Sounds like a recipe for riotous B-movie shenanigans, but Neil 's induction into the annals of horror movie legend wasn't all fun-and-games: "Honestly, this was my first experience, so I didn't know what to expect. It was basically a no-budget movie where the extras were treated like cattle. We were pretty much kept in the dark. Once, we had elaborate makeup put on and we were ready to go for three or four hours, and nothing was filmed and it was a waste of time."
  Occasionally, the artist makes sacrifices and the burgeoning actor certainly suffered for his art, disclosing, "There wasn't anything physically hard about any of the action shots, but lying on a cold, wet gym floor as cold, fake blood trickles into your ears and eyes can be uncomfortable." Though he didn't have it half as bad as one unfortunate crew member, cringing as he remembers the horrifying on-set conditions: "One of the makeup girls was hospitalised due to a lung infection!"
 Neil's first film project did not prove to be the most professional experience ("The crew would take breaks and smoke joints between shots!"), but unperturbed, the plucky Canadian was soon swiftly searching for his next festering adventure.
  Returning as a caged, enslaved test subject gone ravenous in forthcoming Ontario-set shocker Feral, this role proved a far more rewarding experience: "It was a more professional shoot...and they treated everybody with a respect that was absent [in Zombie Summer School]."
  Cast and crew were looked after, creating a galvanising, genial atmosphere: "They were aware of the conditions we were working in and provided us with lots of food, delicious hot soup, heat pads for our freezing hands, and the ripped clothes we had to wear...Also, they seemed to know exactly what they wanted to shoot."
  So how much preparation goes into transmogrifying oneself into a decaying flesheater? "I guess I just think 'zombie,'" the amiable Ontarian elucidates, "I basically just improvise my shambling and growling, and they let me know if they want a specific action." Having absorbed a plethora of horror classics in his time, particular favourites including the original Dawn Of The Dead (1978) and lesser known treasure Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (1977), the terror aficionado had plenty of inspiration to draw upon.
  Though the financial rewards were slim, the Torontonian has fond memories when quizzed on what he took from his escapades: "It was fun! I've always wanted to take part in the process of filmmaking, and I like zombies. Incentive-wise, being mentioned in the credits and free food!"
  Just being involved in the genre he adores helps this fan foster his appreciation for even the cheapest, shoddiest B-movies, revealing that "Taking part in something like this is more immersive and interactive, you really get more into the fandom...You start to notice the impressive makeup and blood effects and become critical of them...but also appreciate when something's well done."
  Where does Neil think that this modern fascination with the walking dead comes from? Certainly recent years have raised fears about terrorism, disease and immigration - the threat of dangerous outsiders. Could these be factors in the gestation of our zombie obsession? Considering his words, the gorehound comments, "I think maybe, to some degree, because the zombie is the sort of slow, shambling face of the other...Also, there might be a little bit of wish-fulfilment fantasy tied in with the whole zombie apocalypse thing...a situation where you have a chance to shine, through brilliant survival tactics and possibly a ruthless state of mind."
  Perhaps this is the real draw of the zombie apocalypse scenario, luring so many hungry fans to it's decaying landscape -  the idea that The End could bring out the best in us. Though Neil feels prepared for the onslaught ("I may have some stockpiled resources..."), he doesn't see it happening any time soon. When quizzed on his involvement with niftily titled Facebook group 'The Hardest Part of a Zombie Apocalypse Will Be Pretending I'm Not Excited,' he giggles. "It's funny. I think there are people out there who are literally counting the days and every time a slightly confusing pandemic story shows up in the news, they are getting out their party hats and noisemakers...the noisemakers being AK-47s!"
  This is clearly something the splatter fanatic has thought a lot about, perhaps due to living in Toronto, a bustling, multi-cultural melting pot that has become decidedly 'zombie-centric.' Various high profile pictures have filmed there, most notably Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010), the highest grossing Canadian production of all time, and the city is now home to Neil's idol: "George Romero lives here now and the crews he uses in his movies are Toronto-based, " he gushes, "So if you're doing a zombie movie...you have a lot of professionals you can hire right off the bat who live here."
  This could open doors for the budding actor carving his niche as a fleshcrawling character actor, not that Neil is bothered about fame: "I don't really have any far-reaching aspirations, but I do want to continue doing it. I heard about some guy who did this as a full-time career and wrote a book about it, but I don't think I'll be chasing the undead dream that  far. But damn, it's a lot of fun to do every once in a while!"
  Neil Sinclair is a man who seems satisfied with his contribution to the horror universe. Content just to be involved, this zombie zealot should be commended for his small, but significant contribution to film history. Where would the genre be without these unsung heroes, the hard-working putrefied partisans doing it for the love of the subculture? Shuffling menacingly into our collective subconscious, the zombie extras deserve to be celebrated for their undying commitment to their creepy cause.
  Before signing off, no doubt to search for new adventures, Neil devours one final, grave question: Do zombies get chicks?
That wry smile returning, the diabolical disciple doesn't miss a beat, quipping, "Only as a side order."

You're F***ing Out! Danny McBride's F***ing In!!!

There is something irresistible about funnyman Danny McBride. The past four years  have seen the foul-mouthed scene-stealing Georgian rocket to superstardom, while creating some of Hollywood's most wonderfully crafted, memorable characters. 2010 saw scores of fans splashing out on customised Major League baseball shirts bearing the name and number of McBride's creation, champion of HBO series Eastbound and  Down, Kenny Powers. Popping up everywhere, from K-Swiss commercials to Kanye West tweets, it's clear that Powers  has already reached legend status in the minds of a small but dedicated fanbase. Bear in mind, this is the obnoxious washed-up pitcher whose mantra is "I'm the man who has the ball. I'm the man who can throw it faster than fuck. That is why I am better than  everyone in the world."
  Despite portraying unconventional, often just plain ugly characters, somehow audiences just can't get enough of McBride. Graduating from quirky big screen supporting turns in the likes of 2007's Hot Rod, to holding court with George Clooney in 2009's Up In The Air, his ascent seems the stuff of Hollywood fairytales. Though most fairytales probably don't involve a mulletted southern drug-dealer punching Seth Rogen 'in the bum' as he did in 2008's Pineapple Express.
  Lifelong compatriot and collaborator, Pineapple... director David Gordon Green attempts to explain his buddy's appeal: "My parents were on-set and Danny was talking about eating Nerds out of strippers buttholes, and my parents were like, 'Under most circumstances this would offend us, but somehow it seems sweet...'"
  Despite his rapid rise, McBride didn't start out with the greatest acting aspirations. As the actor points out, "I didn't even have a fucking headshot!"  He attended the North Carolina School of the Arts with a tight-knit group of friends that included Green and Observe And Report director Jody Hill. Receiving a BFA in filmmaking, his passions originally lay behind the camera, working as second-unit director on Green's acclaimed George Washington in 2000.
  Though not a trained actor, McBride's gift for improvisation made him ideal talent for his friend's projects, leading to him being cast in a showy supporting role, opposite Zooey Deschanel in Green's romantic drama All the Real Girls in 2003. Although not a huge commercial hit, his turn as a wise-cracking, dim-witted rascal offered a warm, welcome relief in this heavy tale of doomed romance and gave a tantalising glimpse of what would come.
 Though Real Girls scooped the Jury Prize at Sundance, it would be three years before he would return to the screen, with Jody Hill's 2006 martial arts comedy The Foot Fist Way. As inept, slightly sinister tae kwon do instructor  Fred Simmons, McBride is fascinatingly unhinged in the goofy, low-budget ballad of existential crisis, that laid the foundations for Eastbound.  The barmy film caught the attentions of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay who believed in the picture so much, they chose to distribute it through their Gary Sanchez Productions.
  Suddenly, people in Hollywood were whispering about this uproariously self-assured southern hick casually delivering lines like "I'm so hungry I could eat a grown man's ass," in his level, middle-American monotone. Foot Fist put it's star on the map, but didn't reap huge returns, though McBride is surprisingly pleased with this: "I liked that it was made off the radar and I'd like it to stay that way. It's like a cool band that has dedicated fans."
  Offers started coming in and McBride was quickly cast in kooky stuntman comedy Hot Rod. In a minor, yet ostentatious performance as mentally-unstable ramp-builder Rico, the southerner demonstrated what would become a talent for taking throwaway background parts and transforming them into magnetic works of scene-stealing genius. McBride's hilariously abrupt outbursts and instantly quotable improvisations ("I've been drinkin' green tea all damn day!"), elevated a bizarre, but so-so comedy to something infinitely more memorable.
  On the back of Hot Rod, McBride received a staggering offer to team up with his heroes, Ben Stiller and the Farrelly brothers for screwball comedy The Heartbreak Kid. Simmeringly intense as the overprotective cousin of Stiller's love interest, the gifted jester transformed what could have been a redneck stereotype into one of the year's funniest scene-grabbers.
  The key to McBride's appeal lies in his ability to toy with conventions, frequently portraying badboys and tragic misfits, but challenging us to care. The actor suggests, "I like playing assholes...A lot of the material I'm interested in writing and getting out there is stories about anti-heroes and people you should just not ordinarily root for."
  He continued to pop up in jawdropping bit-parts, notably as Owen Wilson's easygoing, highly-sexed homeless compadre in 2008's Drillbit Taylor. A subtle balance of sweet, absurd and outrageous fast became his calling card and, riding high, McBride's star would go supernova in the Summer of 2008 with the back-to-back releases of the year's two biggest comedies.
  Reunited with David Gordon Green, and teamed with gravel-voiced comedy hotshot Seth Rogen and versatile star James Franco, dope-hazed buddy actioner Pineapple Express unleashed McBride on a larger audience than ever before. As cartoonish, unfailingly polite dealer Red, he effortlessly plunders the plaudits with a barrage of insane one-liners, camp intonation and one of the most boisterous, wince-inducing fight scenes in film history.
  Next up, impressed by what he saw on Heartbreak Kid, Ben Stiller invited McBride to join the all-star cast of ridiculous war saga Tropic Thunder. As special effects wizard Cody, the mulletted-one is possibly, save for Tom Cruise's phantasmagorical cameo, the film's standout performance. Standing comfortably amongst big boys Jack Black, Stiller and Robert Downey Jr., McBride's hard-edged, no-nonsense bumpkin persona has an effortless humility to it that stands out from the crowd. During the film's grandiose pyrotechnic-packed opening, his rallying call of "Big-Ass Titties!" is absurdly euphoric, and as the dust settled on an explosive summer, the funnyman found himself an established member of tinseltown's comedy fraternity.
  2009 saw McBride flexing his bastard muscles, cameoing as an outrageous tattooed crackhead in Jody Hill's Observe And Report, before the pair unleashed their most ambitious, co-written project yet. Darker-than-dark television sitcom Eastbound And Down is incredibly daring, a show that features more slang referrals to genitalia in a typical half-hour episode than any other programme in recent memory. Yet, in successfully charting the downfall of such a foul-mouthed, politically-incorrect lowlife, Major League scumbag Kenny Powers might just be McBride's crowning achievement. Seducing audiences with a character who pisses people off faster than he strikes out ballplayers has been a masterstroke, with viewers keenly returning for 2010's second season, eagerly following the scoundrel's rocky road to redemption.
  Continuing his winning streak, McBride partnered up with Eastbound co-producer Will Ferrell in 2009 to battle dinosaurs and otherworldly lizard creatures in Land Of The Lost. Toning down his sardonic redneck persona, he revels as wifebeater-wearing illegal firework salesman Will, a pitch-perfect comic foil to Ferrell's over-the-top bombastic mugging. Officially promoted to 'sidekick' status, the wisecracker is on top form, cementing his place as an outrageous master of acerbic quips.
  McBride's trans-dimensional hijinks were followed by a surprisingly subtle, tender turn, opposite George Clooney in Jason Reitman's Oscar-botherer Up In The Air. Given a chance to stretch his acting chops, he is moving and amiable, exuding likeable everyman charm in his emotional heart-to-heart with corporate high-flyer Clooney. Playing it straight for once, it's an impassive, heartfelt performance, but McBride still brings the funny, his genius lying in the prodigious way he manages to balance comedy and tragedy.
  From the clueless loser of All The Real Girls, through to his most recent turn as a badass wheelchair-bound 'handi-capable' Western Union employee in Todd Phillips' Due Date, McBride works his alchemy to make us feel for the unsung weirdoes of the movies. It is a gift that has so far seen great box office returns, but does the quick-witted southerner have what it takes to carry a movie?
  Time will tell, with Spring 2011 promising the release of Your Highness, a jocular swords-and-sorcery epic in the vein of eighties classics Krull and Willow. Describing his on-set experience as "Wearing armour, swinging swords and killing shit all Summer," this will be the actor's first lead role, but with this tale of wizard's weed and easy maidens, the affable anti-hero should be right in his element. Just as Kenny Powers straddles his spluttering moped as though it were a triumphant, snarling Harley Davidson, on the back of this hot streak, McBride can't fail to feel confident.
  And what of the future? Having recently founded production company Rough House Pictures with brothers-in-arms Green and Hill, the future certainly seems bright for the cult hero who found fame without really looking for it. Eternally grateful, Danny McBride seems happy to accept whatever comes his way: "You know, since I was a kid, I always wanted to be involved with films, but I didn't really imagine that it would be with acting. But I just loved movies and I went to film school...and luckily it's paid off!"
  As Kenny Powers once said: "If there's one thing I've learned through all my adventures and conquests, it's that some people are just wired for success...That's just how shit works sometimes."