Writings on Bruce Willis, Badass Cinema and Other Important Topics
In the introduction to Yippee Ki-Yay Moviegoer: Writings on Bruce Willis, Badass Cinema and Other Important Topics, the author, known only as Vern, sets the tone for the book: “I’m not a professional movie critic, I’m just some asshole.” He’s correct on one point; he is just “some asshole,” meaning his name probably isn’t as well known as, say, Roger Ebert, Peter Travers, A.O. Scott or any number of film critics working today. However, it would be untrue to consider Vern anything other than a consummate critic because, while his tastes are limited, his knowledge and respect for film as an art form are as strong as any of the critics just mentioned.
Vern’s so-called “badass cinema” is hard to define because being badass can take so many different forms. Bruce (never referenced as Bruce Willis in the book, only “Bruce,” as if there could be any confusion) is, of course, badass because of the macho presence he has on screen and the fine oeuvre of action films he has amassed. Unforgiven, Clint Eastwood’s masterpiece about justice and retribution, is undeniably badass because of Clint’s almost self-mocking character and some great twists on the Western genre.
Vern is in no way so biased as to only consider “guy movies” as important works of film, though he has a clear affinity for explosions, shootouts, car chases and Steven Seagal. Vern dedicates an entire section of the book, called “Filth and Sleaze,” to films such as The Aristocrats, The Brown Bunny and Zoo. Vern expertly navigates the filth and sleaze of these and other pictures to address whether or not they succeed as films. Unlike many critics who cannot divorce their personal opinions or prejudices from their critiques, Vern understands that taboo topics can make for great cinema if the films are honest about the subject and not crass or exploitative.
One rather difficult aspect of Vern’s writing is his aversion to proper punctuation and spelling, and the tangential nature of how he reviews movies. Rarely will he simply outline a film’s plot unless it is key to the point(s) he is trying to make. His mission in his writing is to discuss (which he is quite adept at doing) how each movie fits into the grander scheme of its genre and/or movies as a whole. Again, this is only possible because Vern has an impressive grasp on all kinds of cinema. He is even happy to explain how he happened upon certain films, whether they were recommended by a friend or through some surreptitious event, which allows the reader to experience firsthand the unbiased nature of his respect for film. He is even open and confident enough, as a diehard Die Hard fan, to admit to watching and enjoying Brokeback Mountain, which he describes as film with universal themes that transcend gay or straight sexual orientation.
For all his crude language and adrenaline-loving personality, Vern will, at times, surprise readers with the insightfulness of his writing and his wit when it comes to observations about film, people, society and other topics you wouldn’t expect to read about from the guy who wrote Seagalology: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal. In one chapter, titled simply “Philosophy,” he discusses the nature of drug-induced reality in the form of Richard Linklater’s Waking Life and the existential angst of Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day. He even has a rather fantastical musing on the reality of the world in Pixar’s Cars and how the hierarchical nature of the society must be set up and the possibilities of procreation and life cycles of the cars.
Vern is never as good as when he is genuinely psyched about the film(s) he is discussing, and his passion and obsessions become clear. He is also hilarious when railing against films or filmmakers he absolutely despises, most notably Transformers and anything in which Michael Bay has played a part. Overall, his book gives the reader a well-rounded look at what it means for a film to be badass. More importantly, though, he gives a refreshing take on film criticism for which many movie fans will be thankful. | Matthew F. Newlin