Thanks to the Internet there are a lot of film critics getting published these days. Yet, few of them could claim to have a unique voice. One critic who can is Ain't It Cool News contributor Vern (yes, we're on strictly first name terms here). Titan Books has recently published a collection of his reviews, titled Yippee Ki-Yay Moviegoer: Writings on Bruce Willis Badass Cinema and Other Important Topics. Its 400+ pages provide plenty of evidence of his unconventional approach. It is an essential read for any film fan looking for a less formulaic perspective on mainstream movies from the last 20 years.
As the title of Vern's book indicates, this is no academic thesis on film. You won't find a detailed deconstruction of the works of Polanski or a thoroughly researched and referenced argument for the genius of Scorsese, Tarkovsky, or Truffaut. Vern expects films to be underpinned by some intelligence, but to a degree commensurate with the filmmaker's intent (as evidenced by his contrasting critiques of Die Hard 2 and M. Night Shyamalan's Lady in the Water). Other than that, anything goes.
Whereas film reviews typically stick to a conventional formula – introduce the film, outline the plot, critique the performances, script and technical merits, wrap up with a yea or nay and give a star rating – Vern does things differently. His reviews generally include a synopsis of the focal film's plot but his style could best be described as rambling. He picks out parts of the film for particular praise or ire and often associates these with personal anecdotes or social and political observations. Sometimes these asides only tangentially relate to the film. Always they are accompanied by uncompromising and often laugh-out-loud wit.
Don't expect to find a numerical rating anywhere in Vern's reviews. In at least one case (Aliens) he jokingly mocks the reader for being impatient to find out whether he likes the film or not. Vern is generally explicit about his likes and dislikes. Moreover, he makes no secret of the personal biases that influence his opinions. As a result you never quite know where a review is going. At the end of it, however, you may see a movie in a way that never occurred to you before.
Vern's wit and unpredictable trains of thought are a breath of fresh air. They made this one of the most entertaining movie review compilations I have read. It is a great book to dip into when you have a few minutes to spare. Don't be surprised, though, if you find yourself compelled to read more than you planned. Also, you shouldn't expect to read about the classics. "Badass cinema" is not a category into which the likes of Lawrence of Arabia and Brief Encounter are generally placed. Not surprisingly they are not in this book. That said, it does include a piece on 2001: A Space Odyssey. It's probably the oldest film in here, though. Bear in mind, too, that Vern's language is littered with colourful metaphors – more South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut than Leonard Maltin. If you can handle that, this book is a great read.
Yippee Ki-Yay, indeed.