Tag Archives: murder

Wind River – Review

24 Aug

Hollywood has had a new powerhouse writer storming the industry recently, and his name is Taylor Sheridan. In 2015, Sicario took everyone by surprise, and Sheridan followed up that success with another in 2016 with Hell or High Water. Both of these movies are absolutely fantastic, and I had no idea he had another movie coming out that he was also directing. This latest film, Wind River, filled me with high expectations before it was released and I really wasn’t worried that it wasn’t going to meet these expectations. I mean, it’s a Taylor Sheridan movie. How could it go wrong? Well it met my expectations and gave me some really visceral, shocking moments that I won’t be forgetting. Wind River is simply awesome.

After hunting for a lion that’s killing livestock on the Wind River Indian Reservation, Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) comes across a dead body of an 18 year old resident of the reservation, Natalie Hanson (Kelsey Chow). This discovery deeply affects Cory since he knew the girl and her family but also lost someone in his own life in a similar way. The nature of the crime attracts the attention of the FBI, and the closest agent, Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), is sent to head the investigation. This kind of landscape is very foreign to Banner, however, so she enlists the help of Lambert to aid her both through the territory but also with the local Native Americans who may not speak so openly to an unfamiliar federal agent. As the mystery unfolds, a darker side to Wind River is shown that is filled with hatred and angst that clearly was the inspiration behind the ghastly murder.

I gotta be up front here. I really can not get enough of this movie. It’s taken me a while to write this review, but since I’ve seen Wind River, I haven’t been able to shake it from my head. This is definitely a film that demands multiple viewings because it is a bit unconventional in the layout of the story which may seem abrupt to some people. Above anything else, this film is a mystery and it even feels like something straight out of a classic novel from one of your favorite writers. It has a slow pace to it, but the way that the story curveballs makes everything worthwhile. I don’t normally try to solve the crime with the detectives in movies, but I couldn’t help myself with this one. When I thought I was on the right track, Sheridan hit me with a twist that felt like a punch to the jaw. So far, with three excellent movies under his belt, Sheridan has shown that he has the ability to write a story that will keep audiences shocked even when it starts to lull you with a seemingly simple storyline. It’s never quite as easy as it seems.

Something that Taylor Sheridan also has complete command over is the environment his stories take place in. Much like Hell or High Water takes place in a desert of sand, Wind River feels like one of snow. It’s an exposed in environment that just feels dangerous both due to the animals that Lambert hunts but also with all of the other hostility. This is not a happy movie, and it dives into some pretty intense themes that I haven’t seen in a movie that I can recall. At the end of the film, without giving anything away, a harrowing fact about Native American reservations is shown that brings total clarity to the movie. While this is a totally open area, the inhabitants feel trapped and this feeling isn’t something recent, but something that has been boiling for years. It’s never explicitly said that this movie is about the life of modern Native Americans, because the movie is truly about the mystery and Sheridan is dedicated to it. He also is smart enough to layer his stories to where this treatment of Native Americans is a huge part to what’s happening. Everyone that Lambert and Banner question sound like they’re at the end of their ropes. It’s an intense feeling to be shown onscreen and it makes for a captivating narrative.

This is a hard movie to find flaws with, but if I had to say anything I’d say that the acting is just good. There’s nothing really to say. Renner and Olsen have great chemistry and perform their parts well but there’s nothing really to write home about. They work very well, but never wowed me. That’s really where my complaints end, however. The merit in this movie that’s worth noting is in the writing, but also in the production design. This is a very realistic feeling movie. The homes and other sets feel very genuine and the scenes where people are navigating snowmobiles through heavily wooded areas was strangely hypnotic. This isn’t an extremely violent movie with only a few actual scenes of it, but when it gets down to it, it can be pretty rough. The climax of this movie made my jaw drop and stay dropped until the end.

Did this review sound like I was just gushing all about Taylor Sheridan? Probably, but I can’t really help it. He is, to me, one of my favorite screenwriters. He may even be my favorite, but that’s a pretty bold claim to make. Sicario and Hell or High Water were both excellent, and I’m thrilled to say that Wind River is also excellent. The mystery is deep and the consequences of everyone’s actions are felt. I was guessing until the very end and then the movie left me with a parting thought that is just chilling. This was a fantastic movie that I really can’t wait to watch again and again.

Final Grade: A

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Branded to Kill – Review

11 Jun

There are many film makers that create movies that leave me baffled. David Lynch and his fever dreams like Eraserhead and Inland Empire stand out, but who can forget the psychedelic nightmares of Alejandro Jodorowsky and his films like The Holy Mountain and Santa Sangre? A name that never really stood out to me was Seijun Suzuki, a Japanese film makers that was actually blacklisted from directing because of the odd and unmarketable nature of his movies. One of, if not his most infamous creations is the 1967 gangster film Branded to Kill. This is a movie that takes genre conventions and blows them out of the water. Is this film just one giant narrative mess or is it a satirical, yet experimental, look at the gangster subgenre? That’s for the viewer to decide.

Goro Hanada (Joe Shishido) has the honor of being the third ranked hit man in the Japanese underworld. He also has found a strange, and often unsettling, kind of love in his newly wedded wife, Mami (Mariko Ogawa). Hanada is assigned many important missions by the yakuza, including the killing of three seemingly unrelated civilians. He is also approached by a mysterious woman with a death wish named Misako (Annu Mari), who hires Hanada to kill a foreigner that she will be seen with the following day. When this new mission goes wrong, Hanada is soon on the run and betrayed by almost everyone he knows, with the only possible exception of Misako. Things only get worse for Hanada when he finds out the mythic hitman, known only as Number One (Koji Nanbara) is gunning for him and will stop at nothing until he is dead.

Take that summary with a grain of salt since Branded to Kill was not the easiest movie to follow, and it took me a little while after finishing it to fully process what I saw. At it’s core, this movie tells a classic gangster noir tale about murder, love, femme fatales, and betrayal. What makes Suzuki’s film so odd is the way this simple story is told. There are jumps in time and location that is incredibly jarring and takes a while to get used to. This movie is only an hour and a half long, but it felt so much longer than that because time and space was played with so much. The story could take place over the span of a week or a couple of months. Telling a totally linear story was clearly not Suzuki’s intention. While I do very much appreciate the strangeness, the odd continuity, and all of the confusion that goes along with it, I’m not sure how this really fits with telling the story. What I mean is that I can’t really thematically see any reasoning for telling the story like this. The third act gets really out of whack, which is appropriate for the action, but I’m not sure about the other two acts.

Despite Branded to Kill being totally strange, it still has a classic noir vibe which I really like. The lighting is harsh and the violence is sudden, but definitely leaves an impression. Another great example of noir that pushes the boundaries is another Japanese film called Pale Flower, which I reviewed quite some time ago. Branded to Kill takes it to another level, however, and some of it genuinely shocked me. This film came out in 1967, which is still some years before exploitation cinema hit audiences internationally. This film almost pushes things to that exploitive level. Like it comes real close. There are things in this movie that would have made mainstream audiences in America at this time lose their minds. Hell, there’s some things that would make modern American audiences gasp. I have to give Suzuki credit for daring to go the extra mile.

This brashness and willingness to go places traditional films of the time went didn’t come without a price. This is one of those movies where the history kind of provides a good context as to how to look at an appreciate the film itself. Seijun Suzuki made 40 B-movies for the Nikkatsu Company. That’s a lot of time dedicated to working for a company, but it didn’t last forever. Nikkatsu was not pleased with the original script for Branded to Kill, so they had Suzuki rework it. Instead of keeping it the traditional gangster tale, he made it something completely different, which is the movie I’ve done my best to illustrate as a crazy, untraditional ride. Nikkatsu was even more upset with the end result, and this got Suzuki fired. Jokes on Nikkatsu. Over time, Branded to Kill has become something of a cult classic.

Branded to Kill is certainly not for everyone, and it even took me a little bit of time to fully wrap my head around what I just saw. It takes a gangster story with hints of noir and turns it into a dreamscape where time and logic are unimportant. Sometimes I felt like this worked against the film, but most of the time I was really into the weirdness. I have to give Seijun Suzuki credit for making a movie that no one else at the time seemed interested in making, even if it end with him getting fired from Nikkatsu. For any fan of off the wall kind of movies, I’d recommend Branded to Kill. Anyone looking for something easier to comprehend, you can find plenty of other great gangster stories out there.

Final Grade: B

Snowtown – Review

5 Jun

You know that feeling you get when a movie just completely obliterates you? The credits are rolling and you’re just sitting there, numb to the world, with the film acting as a sort of pressure prohibiting you from doing anything at all? That’s how I recently felt after my viewing of Justin Kurzel’s 2011 film Snowtown, also called The Snowtown Murders in some parts of the world. This piece of unequivocal horror is based on the brutally true story of Australia’s worst serial killer, and the people he drew into his web of torture and murder. This is not an easy film to watch, and I’m sure there are some that may call it unwatchable, but I firmly believe that this may be one of the most horrifying films I’ve seen in a long time.

Jamie (Lucas Pittaway) is a teenager growing up in a poor suburban area of Adelaide. He has a couple of brothers and a loving mother, Elizabeth (Louise Harris), who despite the love has a hard time making ends meet. After the short lived relationship she’s in with her neighbor ends with her sons becoming in danger, Elizabeth doesn’t know where to turn. That is until she meets John Bunting (Daniel Henshall), a charismatic man who has a sort of team of vigilantes who keeps a harsh eye on certain people in the neighborhood. Jamie takes and especially strong liking to John, and it doesn’t take long for John to become Jamie’s mentor and father figure. As Jamie spends more and more time with John, he begins to notice certain behavioral patterns that don’t seem quite right, and when more and more neighbors begin to disappear the pieces really begin to fall into place.

Snowtown is a ten ton punch in the gut, and I really wouldn’t have it any other way. Kurzel does not mess around with what he’s willing to show and it makes the movie all the more horrifying. There’s terror to be seen everywhere from the people living around this family to the actual members of the family and finally from John, who is a presence that’s hard to describe. It was also a smart choice to have this film shot mostly in a hand held style with the surroundings often times being close to colorless. This is a very down to earth movie in the way it’s presented, but the lack of color brings in a layer of hopelessness and the living situations make it seem impossible for these people to escape the horror that is plaguing their lives. This is how you do it, ladies and gentlemen. This is top tier horror film making.

It’s kind of hard to find really serious problems with Snowtown because they really feel very few and far between. There’s some unnecessary padding to the plot in a couple of scenes. A few bits go on a bit too long, but it’s really nothing that noticeable unless you’re really trying to nit pick, which I’m certainly not. The plot moves at a very certain pace, which boarders between being a slow burn and an edge of your seat thriller. The only thing that really sticks out to me that I can complain about is the way the passage of time is shown. There are a few cues to show that time is passing, but I feel like a lot happens in this movie without any sort of clue as to how much time has passed from one scene to another. This movie could happen over the course of years, months, or weeks. I’m really not too sure. This does add a layer of disorientation, which is kind of cool, but it still would have been nice to have seen progress shown in a more clearer fashion.

With this movie being told in the way that it is, the actors would really have to sell that they aren’t actors playing characters, but are the actual people they are playing. It’s clear Kurzel wanted the audience to completely lose themselves in this movie and not just switch off and watch it. That being said, he casted a lot of people who aren’t actors, but were rather people who lived in the area. Lucas Pittaway, who was never in any kind of film before this, is excellent as Jamie, who gets completely entangled in John’s plans. His mother, played by Louise Harris, was also virtually unknown before this and she does a great job at bringing this character to life in a realistic way. Finally, Daniel Henshall, who plays John Bunting, was only known for some performances in television, but he gives a horrifying performance as the murderous mentor of Jamie. It’s something I won’t soon forget.

Snowtown is a prime example of true, excruciating horror. Justin Kurzel and his team do not hold back with this movie. Some truly terrible acts that really happened are depicted in this movie, which may turn some people off. It’s definitely not an easy movie to sit through, but it does tell a story that will guarantee to send shivers down anyone’s spine. I can’t emphasize enough that this is the way horror films should be made, even though this particular one is also filled with a lot of drama and true crime elements. If you ever get a chance and think you can stomach the content, I would highly recommend checking this film out.

Final Grade: A

V/H/S Series – Review: Part 2

29 Apr

Here we are again with some more entries into the V/H/S series. The first two films that I discussed in my last review surprised me with how well made they were and the fact that the film makers pushed the boundaries of the genre to deliver some really authentic scares. This time, we’ll be looking at the third film in the series, which unfortunately seems to have killed the who series, and a spin off film that is surprisingly a lot of fun.

Let’s start off with the 2014 film, V/H/S: Viral.

Kevin (Patrick Lawrie) is a videographer who has become obsessed with one of his videos going viral on the internet, even to a point of running out on his girlfriend, Iris (Emilia Zoryan), to capture a live police chase. After doing this, his girlfriend disappears inside the ice cream truck that the police were chasing. Kevin rides after the truck in order to save Iris from the malignant force behind the wheel. Amongst this story are three shorter tales. One features a magician who uses Houdini’s cloak to perform incredible feats of magic, but only if he provides the cloak with fresh meat to feed on. In another, a scientist creates a portal to a mirror dimension, but only finds unspeakable horrors when he crosses to the other side. The final short features a group of skateboarders who travel to Tijuana to shoot a video, but are soon attacked by occultists determined to resurrect their monstrous god.

V/H/S: Viral can be broken up into two categories: garbage and mediocrity. It’s split somewhere down the middle. Let’s get the garbage out of the way first. The wrap around story titled Vicious Circles makes little to no sense. This is the story of Kevin chasing after the ice cream truck. Nothing is explained and by the end, it just comes off as pretentious. Unfortunately, its pretentious attitude isn’t backed by anything of substance, not to mention some really awful CGI. The other short that falls into the garbage category is called Dante the Great. This is the story about the magician and the cloak. This entry isn’t even scary for a second. In fact, this is where I really could see this movie wasn’t going to come close to the other two. While this entry isn’t scary, subtle, or inventive, it also breaks a key rule of the series. Everything is supposed to be found footage, but this one does away with that completely at the climax so that a silly looking magic showdown can happen. Whoever thought of that idea was so far off, it’s kind of tough to watch.

So the movie wasn’t off to a good start and I found myself losing interest real fast. Things do pick up a little bit at this point, but not by much. The best segment of the whole movie is called Parallel Monsters, which is the story of the scientist that enters the mirror dimension. This one had a good deal of suspense and a payoff that was actually worth a damn. In fact, I’d watch this if it was a feature length movie because there was more than enough material. Unfortunately, the film makers had to cram it into a 17ish minute short film that didn’t feel nearly as complete as it could have been. Give me that as a 90 minute scare fest and I’d be in. It had really cool special effects and a neat concept that I really want to see explored more. The last entry called Bonestorm may have a great name, but there’s nothing too special about it. This is the story of the skateboarders attacked by occultists, and while it’s fun to watch while it’s on, this part doesn’t leave a lasting impression. It’s shot well, but the whole thing just turns into a big fight that goes on for far too long and an ending that’s anticlimactic. There’s not too much to say about this one.

All in all, I’m very disappointed with V/H/S: Viral. This was a really strong series up until this point. This movie isn’t all bad, but it doesn’t feel satisfying in the least. The story that holds the whole movie together is so boring and convoluted, I just wish they left it out all together. Everything also feels way too digital and polished, which also goes against what this series is all about. I also really need more of Parallel Monsters, because what I saw wasn’t enough. This is a movie you can skip on completely, even if you loved the first two V/H/S movies.

Final Grade: D+

So that marks the end of the V/H/S movies, at least for now. In 2016, however, a spin off movie was created based off of the Amateur Night short from the first film. This spin off is called SiREN.

Jonah (Chase Williamson) is getting married in a week, and custom dictates that his friends take him out for a crazy night before his wedding day. Led by his obnoxious older brother, Mac (Michael Aaron Milligan), the group of friends find themselves in the lamest club in the United States. There they meet someone who promises to take them to a mansion throwing a secret party that he guarantees will be the craziest they’ve been to. They all head to the mansion and meet its owner, Mr. Nyx (Justin Welborn), who brings Jonah to his greatest attraction, a woman named Lily (Hannah Fierman), who’s voice can make you feel things you never thought possible. Jonah decides to help Lily escape the clutches of Mr. Nyx, but he soon finds out that she’s more than meets the eye. Lily is actually a siren that’s chosen Jonah to be her mate. Now, Jonah and his friends are on the run not just from the monstrous siren, but also from the vengeful Mr. Nyx who is determined to get Lily back.

The biggest thing that surprised me about this movie is that I actually really enjoyed it. SiREN isn’t going to turn into a modern day horror classic. It doesn’t reach the levels of It Follows or The Witch, but it does stand strong as a B-movie that knows exactly what it is. This film doesn’t have a big budget, so it works with what it can do, and I appreciate the ways that director Gregg Bishop brings the material to life. It was also good to see characters that actually had some depth. There was one of the friends that was wasted before he had a chance to even do anything, but the way most of the characters were written felt real and had some depth to it. Mr. Nyx was also a really cool villain, and Justin Welborn hams it up just to the degree that was necessary.

If I had any complaints about this movie, they’d be pretty minor. There are some special effects that feel cheap, and these scenes could have been cut out or touched up. Another thing is that SiREN isn’t particularly scary. I never felt on edge or tense throughout the film’s run time, so it may be better to look at this more as a monster movie. These complaints don’t really detract from the positives that this film has going for it. Where this movie had the potential to really destroy itself, like many other movies, is with the pacing. I believe that the pacing in this movie is downright excellent. It gets right to the point at building up the characters and the circumstances these characters are working with and then shoots off like a bullet. There’s no unnecessary scenes dragging this movie down, and the whole narrative flowed nicely.

Like I said, SiREN isn’t destined for a status as a classic, but it’s a small movie that surprised me with how entertaining it was. There’s some really cool supernatural elements, a good cast of characters, and a memorable creature and villain to boot. The story moves fast and efficiently, even if the scares can’t really match the energy that the pacing has. This is a movie I’d recommend for horror fans looking for something off the beaten path.

Final Grade: B

As a whole, the V/H/S series is a strong entry into the canon of modern horror. The third film, V/H/S: Viral is the only thing holding it down, and it can be totally skipped altogether and forgotten completely. It was refreshing to see the found footage style of film making done properly, and I’d love to see more from these film makers, even if it means another V/H/S movie that goes back to basics.

V/H/S Series – Review: Part 1

16 Apr

Found footage horror movies were a huge deal up until recently, and there was a good deal of bad mixed in with a handful of good. I firmly believe that if found footage is done correctly, it can be very effective, but the film makers who attempt this walk a fine line to make it seem realistic without making it look cheap. Perhaps one of the most recognizable series that implements the found footage style are the V/H/S films. These were mostly seen on the festival circuit before being released On Demand and then put on home media. I’ve never seen these movies, but I’ve heard plenty about them, so let’s dive right in.

Let’s start with the original 2012 film, V/H/S.

A gang of criminals is hired by a mysterious source to break into an elderly man’s house to retrieve a single VHS tape. What’s on the VHS tape is not explained and is deemed unimportant, so the thieves take the job. They easily break into the house but are shocked to find the old man dead and his house covered in an assortment of VHS tapes. In order to root out the correct tape, they start to watch what this man has in his collection, but are horrified at what they find. What is on these tapes are documented cases of horror that include a mysterious murderous entity, a siren that forces herself on men to feed her bloodlust, webcam footage that shows an unspeakable lie, a stalker hunting a couple on vacation, and a house that holds a deadly secret. While the thieves watch these tapes, they become aware of strange things happening around them that may have some connection with the dead man and what he has on these tapes.

So, I definitely have some things to say about V/H/S. Some of it’s good and some of it isn’t so much. Let’s get the negatives out of the way. First off, this is a found footage movie, and I believe that if found footage movies are done right, they can be a real success. This one takes that gimmick and goes a bit too far with it. The frame story of the thieves breaking into the old man’s house to find the VHS tape is fine, but it’s almost destroyed by these glitches in the tapes they’re using. This happens for the first few minutes, which didn’t really bother me, but they just kept happening. It drove me crazy. As I’m sure you’ve gathered, this is a horror anthology filled with short films. That being said, some of these shorts really didn’t do anything for me. The one that sticks out for being the most bland is the one titled Second Honeymoon. These shorts run close to 20 minutes long, so when one is really boring, it feels way longer than it actually is. This one leads absolutely nowhere, and it’s followed up by another short that also falls pretty short. This makes for a middle section of this movie that seems to drag on forever, but that’s the risk you take with anthology movies like this.

WhenV/H/S decides to get good, however, it gets real good. The general consensus from the critics I’ve heard from is that the first short and the last are the strongest, and I’m certainly inclined to agree. The first short called Amateur Night is a terrifying trip that has an excellent build up and an even better payoff. The final short called 10/31/98 isn’t the scariest of the bunch, but it does feature some pretty cool special effects that is the perfect climax to the style and mood that this movie has been building. There’s something startling about some of the imagery that’s used in this movie, and that’s probably what I’m going to remember the most about it. Since it is a found footage film, there are select elements that can’t be seen, which works since whatever you concoct in your imagination can be way scarier than the reality, but what is shown is brutal and has a style all its own.

V/H/S didn’t set a new standard of horror films when it came out, but the ripple that it made was well deserved. Comparing it to something like The Witch or It Follows isn’t really fair, but for what it is, it’s a pretty impressive low budget scare fest. There are certain segments that don’t hold up nearly as well as some of the other ones, and the acting can be a bit off at times. What does hold the movie up are some genuine scares and cringes that the scarier portions of the film provide.

Final Grade: B-

A year later, the sequel, simply titled V/H/S/2, was released. If this isn’t one of the most badass sequels I’ve seen in a while, I don’t know what is.

When two private eyes are hired to find a missing college student, their investigation leads them to a house that seems abandoned, except for a set up of televisions, a laptop, and a series of VHS tapes. The investigators begin to watch the tapes which seem to show unspeakable horrors. A man sees the vengeful undead through a new high tech prosthetic eye, a man on a bicycling trail is bitten and turned into a zombie, journalists witness a violent cult hit the climax of their worship, and aliens wreak havoc on kids having a slumber party. While the tapes don’t appear to be linked, it becomes clear to the investigators that something is very wrong with the house they’re in, and terror soon strikes them as they become part of their very own VHS tape to add to the collection.

Take everything you liked about V/H/S and turn it up to 11, and that’s how you get V/H/S/2. This really is one of the strongest sequels I’ve seen in a while, and certainly one of the strongest sequels in the horror genre. There are so many memorable moments in this film that it’s hard to wrap my head around all of them. If you want to talk about real horror, I’d be in trouble if I forgot to single out Timo Tjahtjhanto and Gareth Huw Evans’ segment titled Safe Haven. I have yet to watch the next film in this series, but I can say that this segment is going to be the strongest in the whole series. Take the real world horror of a Jonestown situation and add the supernatural, plus make it found footage so you’re smack dab in the middle, and you got some excellent moments of terror. I also want to single out Eduardo Sánchez’s and Gregg Hale’s A Ride in the Park, where we see through a zombie’s point of view via a Go Pro on his helmet. This is works as a zombie horror movie, but also a sort of wacky dark comedy.

I do have a few complaints about this movie, and they really just have to do with the strength of a couple of the tapes. The frame narrative with the investigators really doesn’t seem like much, but the end pay off makes it all worth it, so that one gets a pass as a positive. The first short titled Phase I Clinical Trials has a good idea if it were an episode of The Twilight Zone. For a movie that has shorts like Safe Haven in it, I expected a little bit more. It has some scares, but it’s over before it begins and there’s really nothing to it. The last short called Slumber Party Alien Abduction also doesn’t hold up as well as the two that come before it. There’s some interesting sound work and the aliens have cool reveals, but it feels underwhelming after the gems that have already been shown.

V/H/S/2, despite some of the segments being weaker than others, is a really good horror anthology film that is even better than its predecessor. It takes the scares, the gore, and the ideas and turns them way up to create a horror film that I may never forget. All the film makers that worked on this movie each had a specific task, and some of the made gold while the others follow up with silver. Never was I bored during this movie and it’s one that I’d love to watch again.

Final Grade: B+

So there’s the first two entries of the V/H/S series. Both were solid movies, but I have to give the edge to the sequel. Stay tuned for my next review where I’ll talk about V/H/S: Viral and the spin off movie, SiREN.

Death Wish Series – Review: Part 2

31 Mar

I vow to finish this series no matter what it takes, even if it kills me. The first Death Wish film, at this point, feels quite dated but it still presents the viewer with interesting points of discussion and some memorable sequences. Everything after that just got progressively worse to the point of being brainless and downright silly. Let’s see if that progression, or regression in this case, continues with the last two films in the series.

in 1987, Death Wish 4: The Crackdown was released, but this time Michael Winner was out of the director’s chair and replaced by J. Lee Thompson.

Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson), an architect by day and vigilante killer by night, seems to have finally found a place for himself with his girlfriend, Karen (Kay Lenz), and her daughter, Erica (Dana Barron). This stability is shaken to the core when Erica dies of a crack overdose one night, which angers Kersey to the point of once again picking up his weapons and cleaning up the mean streets of Los Angeles. Before he gets very far, Kersey is contacted by magazine publisher Nathan White (John P. Ryan) who tells Kersey that his own daughter died of a crack overdose and puts him on the trail of two big time rival drug dealers. Kersey now has a larger plan of action schemes to pit the two factions against each other while systematically wiping out their business on the streets.

I can believe I’m saying this, but Death Wish 4: The Crackdown may very well be the best sequel in this series so far. That isn’t really saying too much, but it at least keeps things minimally interesting. It’s still, at its core, the same exact thing. Someone close to Kersey dies so he goes on a revenge spree until he finds his way to the person truly responsible. It’s the formula for this series that has grown so old at this point. What this film does differently is show Kersey going against to warring factions and making them suspicious of each other, which at least adds a newer level that wasn’t in the other films. The unfortunate thing is that this doesn’t really amount to a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, and the effects that he has on them is over before you can fully appreciate what it is he’s doing. It was still nice to at least see the film makers trying something different with the material.

Death Wish 4 is still lacking in areas that the other films were, despite there being some improvements to the formulaic nature the series found itself in. For one thing, this film is still completely devoid of any emotional resonance which is garbage considering this is a revenge film. If you’re going to make a movie where a character feels the need to get revenge on someone, there should be some feeling expressed by the character. Instead, someone dies and Kersey kills people because that’s what it says in the screenplay, not because that’s what he feels he has to do. It’s so routine, and Bronson just looks like he’s going through the motions. It’s a very robotic feeling movie. Nothing happens because the characters feel this is what should happen next. Everything happens because that’s the way to move the story forward. That doesn’t make for good entertainment and that’s not the way a story should be written.

Death Wish 4: The Crackdown is a slight improvement over Death Wish 3, but not by a whole lot. It introduces some new concepts, which is fine, but doesn’t really go anywhere with them. The whole film just feels part of the same routine that other movies have already established. It also has one of the worst scenes involving a dummy I’ve ever seen, which can also be said about Death Wish 3. This isn’t a good action movie, but it isn’t the worst this series has to offer. I still found myself wishing I was just watching something else.

Final Grade: C-

As if 4 movies just wasn’t enough, a fifth and final movie was released in 1994. God help us all.

Paul Kersey, now living in New York City under the name Paul Stewart, has been madly in love with fashion designer Olivia Regent (Lesley-Anne Down) and has recently proposed to her. He also cares deeply for Olivia’s daughter, Chelsea (Erica Lancaster), who sees Kersey as a father figure. This happiness Kersey has found soon comes crashing down when Olivia’s gangster ex-husband, Tommy O’Shea, (Michael Parks) moves in on her business and eventually ends up disfiguring and killing her. This forces Kersey to once again pick up his weapons and bring real street justice to this band of criminals before they have the chance to hurt anyone else.

I really hate saying this, but I am so sick of writing about these movies. They wore out their welcome long ago, yet here I am commenting on another Death Wish film. Death Wish V: The Face of Death has few positives working for it. For one thing, Kersey has some interesting methods of killing people, and it sometimes borders into dark comedy territory. I also really enjoyed the villains in this movie, and they are much more memorable than any of the other antagonists this series had to offer. Michael Parks really hams it up as Tommy O’Shea and he comes of as slimy and down right villainous. I at least really wanted to see Kersey get his revenge on him and it works well. There’s also a really interesting character played by Robert Joy that is quite unique, but he’s never really touched upon except in a few very brief scenes.

Everything else about this movie is recycled, and I honestly don’t have too much to say about it. It’s all the same formula. Someone hurts one of Kersey’s loved ones and so he, in turn, kills them. It’s the same exact thing over and over again, and by this point it’s tired. Bronson, himself, seems bored out of his mind and this is obviously just a paycheck for him at this point. There’s nothing exciting about anything in this movie except for the end credits because I knew that it was at this point I was done with these movies.

I don’t have anything more to say about Death Wish V: The Face of Death that I haven’t already said for the other 4 movies in this series, especially concerning the sequels. This is a pretty boring movie that plays by the formula that it dares not change. There are only a few redeeming qualities, but it doesn’t really help that much.

Final Grade: D

The Death Wish series really didn’t have a whole lot of steam to start with, so the fact that there are 5 movies is really an anomaly of film. I will admit that it’s fun seeing Charles Bronson do what he does best, but there really isn’t much else worth while in these movies. I hate to use this term when it comes to movies, but this series is a prime example of cinematic garbage.

Death Wish Series – Review: Part 1

24 Mar

One of the most iconic action stars of the past century is the one and only Charles Bronson. He has a charisma about him that is undeniable, so it’s no surprise that he’s a name still remembered to this day. The film that got him raised to such a status is a well known thriller called Death Wish. While controversial for its time, and even this time in a way, it has garnered a lot of fans and a possible remake from Eli Roth. Like with other films of this time and genre, one movie wasn’t enough, which resulted in a total of five Death Wish movies. What can be said about them? Well… they’re certainly something else.

Let’s start with the original from 1974.

Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) is a liberal minded architect living with his wife (Hope Lange) and daughter (Kathleen Tolan) in New York City during a time when crime is sky rocketing. One afternoon, a group of thugs break into Paul’s apartment and assaults his daughter and murders his wife. Overcome with grief, Paul doesn’t know what to do and his beliefs are all starting to go down the drain. After a business trip, Paul comes home with the answer and a brand new revolver. He takes it upon himself to start working as a late night vigilante, walking the bad streets of New York and shooting anyone that threatens him or another person. This causes the media, citizens, and police to start paying attention to his actions, and things in New York begin to slightly change. With the people starting to fight for themselves, NYPD Lt. Frank Ochoa (Vincent Gardenia) begins his nearly impossible task of tracking down the vigilante and putting an end to his spree.

Death Wish was made in 1974 and based off of a novel of the same name that was published in 1972. This was a time when crime was really getting bad in major cities, and people just didn’t know what to do about it. This brought about a new age of action films, with the most resonant being the Dirty Harry series. This film doesn’t quite hit as hard as some other films because the idea of vigilantism isn’t explored nearly enough. The novel takes the idea and shows the dark side that it can create, while the film shows Kersey as a straight up hero who can do no wrong. This makes the film feel incredibly dated and kind of a shallow experience, especially if you’re approaching this wanting to see an action classic that can stand the tests of time. It can also come off as very preachy in terms of its right wing political ideology. I don’t care if a movie leans a certain way, but make it subtle and don’t talk down to an audience.

There are things in Death Wish that do stand out. For one thing, Bronson’s performance is good even though the character sort of feels a little bit underdeveloped. Instead of being this boisterous vigilante, he plays the role very quietly, which actually reflects the whole tone of the movie. As the series goes on, it gets more and more off the walls, but this film is much more down to earth. In fact, it’s hard to call this movie a full blown action movie when it often times feels like a drama. The plot moves along slowly, which in retrospect actually works better than I originally thought. There are also no grand action set pieces. The “action” happens very quickly with Kersey pulling out his revolver and shooting a criminal, and once that’s done he just leaves the scene. It felt gritty and real and wasn’t at all what I originally expected this movie to be.

Death Wish is an interesting time capsule of a movie, but it’s one that hasn’t really aged well. It’s political ideology is rammed down the audience’s throat to the point of being obnoxious and it features a well known main character that didn’t always feel too complete. It does feature some cool scenes that feel gritty and realistic and the whole approach of not making a grand scene of the violence is a good choice. I just wish that the idea of vigilantism and its dark side was explored more instead of the whole concept just being praised. It’s an interesting movie for any film history buff and fans of Charles Bronson, but it’s really lacking in many ways.

Final Grade: B-

Eight years later, in 1982, a sequel crept its way into theaters and dragged things down even further.

After his vigilante spree in New York City, Paul Kersey has found a peaceful home in Los Angeles. His daughter (Robin Sherwood) is in a mental hospital and improving significantly, and he’s also found new love with radio reporter Geri Nichols (Jill Ireland). All of this comes crashing down when his daughter is kidnapped and murdered by a gang of criminals, which forces Kersey to once again pick up his revolver and hit the mean streets. As Kersey starts his revenge quest on the group of thugs, Detective Ochoa gets wind of what’s happening and travels to L.A. to put an end to Kersey’s spree, but it can never be that easy.

Death Wish II is straight up garbage. There’s no use beating around the bush with this one. It doesn’t even try to be anything different than the original. Kersey is living a happy live, then someone he loves is killed which brings him to his vigilantism. That’s the same exact plot as the original Death Wish. At least that one raises some questions and presents the material in a subtle way. This one, however, is just violence for the sake of it without any interesting material to back it up. That would be acceptable if this film had any sense of style, but it doesn’t even have that. It’s just a gray, ugly looking movie filled with cannon fodder for Bronson to take his anger out on. It’s absolutely mindless and devoid of any sort of flash to pull the viewer in.

Death Wish II succeeds at only the most base level. I will say that compared to the first one, there’s a bit more mindless entertainment. There’s no real set up to the movie. Things happen right away which leads Bronson to start his vengeful murder spree. If you want to see an action star just blow criminals away, this is the right movie to look at. There’s a lot more action and the violent scenes do feel bigger and more exciting, which is definitely a plus. The only problem, like I said before, is that there’s no style and the motivation feels completely stunted by Charles Bronson’s lack of dramatic presence.

There’s really not much to say about Death Wish II. It feels like a rehashing of the first film, but more loud and more violent. This would be a welcome addition if the story felt different and something new was added. There’s really nothing new here at all. The only time there was a plot development that could lead somewhere interesting, the film makers decided to cut that off prematurely in favor of more mindless proceedings. This film is really a waste of time and only die hard Charles Bronson fans should give this movie any sort of respect.

Final Grade: D-

But the series wasn’t done with the stinker that is Death Wish II. Not by a long shot. In 1985, Death Wish 3 was released, and this is where things really started to go off the rails.

Paul Kersey has been living the life of a vigilante for too long and has finally decided to put away the revolvers and lead a normal life. This personal promise to himself is shattered upon his return to New York City where he finds his long time friend bleeding to death after being attacked by a group of thugs in his apartment. Kersey is than approached by Inspector Shriker (Ed Lauter), who makes an off the records demand of Kersey to return to his old ways and clear the neighborhood of the goons responsible for all the mayhem. Kersey finds allies in the tenants of the apartment building, especially with WWII veteran Bennett Cross (Martin Balsam) and the mild mannered Rodriguez (Joseph Gonzalez). With the support of his neighbors and other victims of the community, Kersey wages war with the criminals and their leader, Fraker (Gavin O’Herlihy).

Death Wish 3 is one of the most unintentionally hilarious movies you or I may ever see. To be fair to it, it’s a slight step up from the second film but for some of the wrong reasons. I do like that the plot deviates from someone hurting his family, but it just goes right to someone hurting his friend. Where the movie really differs in that Kersey becomes something of a guardian angel to the neighborhood, and by the end they all join him in his war against Fraker and his goons. The third act of the movie, by the way, is an extended shoot out in the streets that seems to never end. It’s so much fun to watch but it’s some of the most absurd, mind numbing violence. By the end of it, there’s no emotion or excitement to be felt, other than the moment of joy when the first end credit begins to scroll up the screen.

The rest of the movie is also devoid of any kind of emotional or dramatic impact, which would be fine if the rest of the movie was as entertaining and off the walls as the third act. It isn’t unfortunately, and this is where things really get bogged down. It does have more memorable characters than the previous film, but they don’t really have to much to say or do until things really start happening. There’s a few scenes of Kersey gunning down people throughout the movie, but it’s just all part of the formula by now. Even with a storyline that’s changed, it’s not enough.

If you want a good laugh, Death Wish 3 might be worth checking out, if only for the outrageous finale. It still keeps up the same trend that the other ones did, so the whole routine is feeling kind of stale at this point. It is a step up from the second movie, but that’s hardly saying much.

Final Grade: D+

So that’s the first three films in the Death Wish series. I still have two more movies to go, so keep an eye out for the next part of this review.