One of The Vulgar Cinema’s favorite writers is the illustrious Outlaw Vern. He’s been writing movie reviews and criticism about badass cinema online since 1999 and is also the author of two great books, Yippee Ki-Yay Moviegoer!: Writings on Bruce Willis, Badass Cinema and Other Important Topics and Seagalogy: The Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal. His website is an essential resource for devotees of DTV movies and action cinema.
I’ve personally discovered oodles of movies thanks to Vern, including the cinema of John Hyams, and it was a true honor to conduct the interview below. Big thanks to Vern for his lovely answers!
SARA FREEMAN: What’s the movie that made you love movies? Can you tell me a little more about your own history with cinema?
OUTLAW VERN: I honestly don’t know the answer to that, but DIE HARD is always the one that I go back to that gets my blood pumping. I loved movies before that but my love for that movie and its universal appeal was part of what got me started writing about movies on the internet.
FREEMAN: What do you predict for the future of genre movies? Will DTV flicks play a significant part?
VERN: The new technology is going to kill what we currently know as DTV. The beauty of the format was that they were low budget movies that would automatically make a profit just by being pre-sold to the video store chains. Here in the U.S. Netflix killed most of the video stores by operating at a loss and devaluing their product until they had killed the business and could replace it with streaming. The whole experience of finding and watching movies has been changed by this corporation destroying everything that was there.
But we’re starting to see great movies that start off as video on demand. VOD is sort of the new DTV. UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING is the strongest example. But they’ll need people to actually watch them in order to be successful, which was not the case with DTV. In some ways that will be good, encouraging more quality, but I think it will be so hard to get anyone’s attention that it will cut down on the production of these types of movies and lead to less experimentation. Hopefully I’m wrong.
FREEEMAN: I know Kirsten Smith is working on a screenplay for the female version of The Expendables, which is supposedly going to be called The Expendabelles. What do you think the biggest differences will be between the male and female versions, other than, you know, tits? Who would you cast and get to direct it?
VERN: I don’t know what the difference will be but it would be cool if they showed up the Malexpendables by doing a better job. Because of the masculine emphasis of the action genre there aren’t nearly as many iconic female action stars, which will make it harder to have as impressive of a cast. On the other hand they’ll have less movies to make corny references to.
From what I’ve read there are two competing female Expendables movies in the works, which makes it even harder to cast. I believe the other one already has Gina Carano signed, which is a must. I think you definitely gotta have Cynthia Rothrock, Michelle Yeoh and Pam Grier in the movie, and Brigitte Nielsen (preferably as the henchwoman to the lead villain, who absolutely must be a total scumbag misogynistic male who gets his balls cut of figuratively and possibly literally). There’s a former wrestler who’s done some likable b-movies named Mimi Lesseos, I’d put her in it. I think Carrie Anne Moss would be good as a hat tip to her iconic status from The Matrix. Representing the current generation I would want to see Zoe Bell, Jeeja Yanin and maybe Maggie Q. I know they’ve also gotten the UFC champ Ronda Rousey into THE EXPENDABLES 3, and I think she’ll be great although I hope she doesn’t ruin her fight career by doing movies and losing focus.
I don’t know who should direct it because I know Kathryn Bigelow wouldn’t be interested. But she would’ve been perfect. Maybe Bronwen Hughes, who doesn’t direct much but did this really underrated movie I love called STANDER.
FREEMAN: It’s been almost a year since your Action Movies Don’t Have to Suck piece was published in the Village Voice. Have you observed any new trends or encountered any surprises in action cinema, either positive or negative, in the last year or so?
VERN: I did notice that despite my complaints in that essay 2012 did turn out to be a great year for action movies. I think The Raid, Haywire and Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning are all instant classics, I also enjoyed Dragon Eyes, Dredd, The Man With the Iron Fists. El Gringo and Get the Gringo were pretty good, Act of Valor was interesting, Safe was one of Jason Statham’s best so far and I really liked Stallone’s Bullet to the Head, even though nobody else seemed to go see it.
FREEMAN: Do you watch much TV? How do you feel about it as an artistic medium?
VERN: Obviously tv is great now, but I’m always trying to watch new movies to review and that makes it hard to keep up with anything else. I’ve so far remained totally clueless on all the big iconic shows that I’m sure I would love, like The Wire, Breaking Bad and even as far back as The Sopranos. I have managed to see the first seasons of Rome and Game of Thrones, and I liked those.
FREEMAN: Can you tell me a little bit about your writing process? Do you take notes during movies or use a tape recorder or anything cool like that? What inspires you to write when (and if) you’re in a rut? I like to watch the opening of Die Hard with a Vengeance when that happens.
VERN: When I watch movies on video I usually take notes, sometimes pretty detailed, depending on the project. If I see it in the theater I gotta rely on my memory, which is not as good as it used to be so alot of times I post the review and then I think “ah shit, I was gonna talk about that one part…”
This is gonna sound made up, but I write most of my reviews on paper first and later type them up. I don’t like smartphones or anything like that so I carry a notebook with me and write first drafts on the bus to and from work.
FREEMAN: Are there any movies you won’t watch and/or review?
VERN: I don’t review most of the straight ahead comedies I see, because I’ve found it’s hard and not very fulfilling to try to convince other people if something is funny or not. Like I saw This Is the End and I loved it but I didn’t write a review because I didn’t know much to write beyond a description of how hard I laughed. Of course, I have great respect for comedy and I’m sure other people could find worthwhile ways to analyze them that don’t come to me as naturally.
FREEMAN: What critics have influenced your writing? I know you’re a big Siskel and Ebert fan.
VERN: Watching them on TV in the ’80s and ’90s was the biggest influence in making me think about movies and ways to articulate my thoughts about them. I used to read some Pauline Kael but I’m honestly pretty ignorant about who’s out there. I remember I liked Jim Emerson’s reviews back when he wrote for a free Seattle paper called The Rocket. I’m talking his reviews of Robocop and They Live. I know he’s better known now because of rogerebert.com but I lost track of him after he left to write It’s Pat.
FREEMAN: What would your ten “Desert Island” movies be?
VERN: Man, this is so hard. I’m just gonna go for it.
1. DIE HARD
3. WAY OF THE DRAGON
5. KILL BILL
6. THE HOLY MOUNTAIN
7. ON DEADLY GROUND
8. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY
9. THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE
10. BARBARELLA (for personal reasons)
FREEMAN: Have you decided how you’re going to “take your writing to the next level?” What projects are you currently working on?
VERN: I’ve been working hard to try to do interesting things on outlawvern.com, like I recently finished The Super-Kumite, a tournament of fighting tournament movies. I’m finishing up my first novel which I unfortunately started 8 or 9 years ago, but I’m almost there and I’m gonna self publish that. I also have alot of good ideas for film criticism books that I’ve tinkered with. I think the next one might be a small self-published thing about the films of Brian Bosworth.