Amongst film critics, Outlaw Vern is something special. Since he started writing reviews in 1999, including a long stint on Ain’t It Cool News, he’s developed a style that is uniquely his own, and one that’s hilarious and intelligent in equal measures. His websight – as he insists on spelling it – is called Vern’s Reviews on The Films of Cinema, and it’s a place where lowbrow genres like action and horror can live side by side with classy dramas. His reviews will give just as much insight into a straight to DVD Jean-Claude Van Damme movie as they will to 12 Years A Slave. Maybe even more so.
In addition to his site he’s also the author of two books on film criticism: Yippee Ki-Yay Moviegoer: Writings on Bruce Willis, Badass Cinema and Other Important Topics and the cult classic Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal. And now he’s just published his first fiction novel, Niketown (check out our review here), a thriller about a former convict trying to find his missing brother.
In my chat with the Seattle based, publicity shy author (hence the lack of a photo) we cover his inspiration for the book, his writing philosophy and most importantly of all, Steven Seagal.
Hi Vern. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us. You’ve been writing film reviews and articles for about 15 years now. What got you started as a critic initially?
I started out writing gibberish on a movie newsgroup. I came off like kind of an idiot so people sarcastically suggested I should start my own websight, and I did. I got better since then.
Were you influenced by any other critics when you were starting out?
I don’t think anyone specific, but Siskel and Ebert’s show was a big deal for me, watching and hoping they would like the same ones as me, or getting more interested in something that they liked that I didn’t expect them to. And I remember really liking Jim Emerson back in the ’80s when he wrote for a free Seattle paper called The Rocket.
You’ve developed your own unique voice as a critic over the years. How would you describe your writing style?
I guess I try to be conversational but substantial, funny but not dismissive, lowbrow but thoughtful.
What is your writing process like when it comes to working on a review? Is it true that you always do a first draft on paper?
If I’m at home I just type, but I get a lot of my writing done on the bus to and from work every day. I don’t have a laptop or a smart phone, so I write with pen in a notebook. So yes, most of my reviews start out on paper.
You review all kinds of films on your website but you’re seen as an expert on action, or “Badass”, cinema in particular. What are the key ingredients to a Badass movie in your opinion?
To be considered Badass Cinema it doesn’t necessarily have to be an action movie, but it has to have a strong presence at the center that you know could step up if he or she had to. For example Charles Bronson and Lee Marvin are never gonna do a flip off the front of a car, but most of their movies are grade-A badass. It’s more about the threat of what they could do than what they actually do get around to doing. Action movies, westerns, samurai movies, stuff like that.
You’re critical of a lot of modern techniques in action cinema, such as shakycam, quick cut edits and a general lack of visual clarity. Do you see any signs that these techniques are fading out, or are they liable to get worse?
I think they’re becoming more standard and some of the younger directors don’t even seem to think visual communication is a necessary skill for a filmmaker. So I definitely think it will get worse. But I think there will be at least a small backlash just because any style that gets popular people start to get sick of and rebel against it. So when a movie comes along that’s serious about the action, like say The Raid, it’s refreshing to people. Hopefully the pendulum will swing back in the other direction.