Guilty Pleasure No. 37: Death Wish (dir by Eli Roth)


Is it finally safe to honestly review Death Wish?

You may remember that this film, a remake of the 70s vigilante classic, came out last March and critics literally went insane attacking it.  That it got negative reviews wasn’t necessarily a shock because the movie was directed by Eli Roth and he’s never been a favorite of mainstream critics.  Still, it was hard not to be taken aback but just how enraged the majority of the critics appeared to be.  Seriously, from the reviews, you would have thought that Death Wish was not just a bad movie but a crime against nature.

Of course, a lot of that was due to the timing of the film’s release.  The film was released less than a month after the shootings at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.  At the time the film first came out, the country was in the midst of a daily diet of anti-second amendment rallies and David Hogg.  Many critics accused Death Wish of being a commercial for the NRA.  Others branded the film as being right-wing propaganda.  In fact, the criticism was so harsh that it was hard not to feel that the critics were essentially taking Death Wish far more seriously than it took itself.

If anything, Death Wish is a big, glossy, and rather silly movie.  Bruce Willis stars as Dr. Paul Kersey.  Paul is a peace-loving man.  We know this because he refuses to get into a fight with a belligerent parent at a soccer game.  He’s also an emergency room doctor, the type who pronounces a policeman dead and then rushes off to try to save the life of whoever shot him.  No one in the movie suspects that Paul would ever become a vigilante but we know that there’s no way he can’t eventually end up walking the streets with a loaded gun because he’s played by Bruce Willis.  When Paul backs down from the fight at the soccer game, Willis delivers his dialogue with so much self-loathing that we just know that, once Paul gets back home, he’s going to lock himself in the basement and start yelling at the walls, Stepfather-style.

Eventually, criminals break into Paul’s house and shoot both his wife (Elisabeth Shue) and his daughter (Camila Morrone).  His wife dies.  His daughter ends up in a coma.  Paul spends a day or two in shock and then he promptly gets a gun and starts shooting criminals.  Eventually, this brings him into conflict with the same criminals who attacked his family!  Meanwhile, two detectives (Dean Norris and Kimberly Elise) look at all the dead bodies piling up around them and just shrug it off.  At one crime scene, Norris is happy to grab a slice of pizza.

And really, that’s it.  It sounds simple because it is simple.  There is absolutely no narrative complexity to be found in Death Wish, which is why, in its own cheerfully crude way, the film totally works.  In real life, of course, vigilante justice is not the solution and the death penalty is often unfairly applied but, from the moment the opening titles splash across the screen, Death Wish makes clear that it has no interest in real-life and, throughout its brisk running time, it literally seems to be ridiculing anyone in the audience who might be worried about the moral ramifications of a citizen gunning down a drug dealer.

Death Wish is a big extravagant comic book.  It takes Paul one scene to go from being a meek doctor to being an expert marksman and, when Paul dispatches one criminal by dropping a car on him, Roth lays on the gore so thick that he almost seems to be daring us to take his film seriously.  By that same token, Paul kills a lot of people but at least they’re all really, really bad.  In fact, the criminals are so evil that you can’t help but suspect that Roth is poking a little bit of fun at the conventions of the vigilante genre.  Even the fact that Willis wanders through the entire film with the same grim expression on his face feels like an inside joke between the director and his audience.

The critics were right when they called Death Wish a fantasy but they were wrong to frame that as somehow being a flaw.  It’s a cartoonishly violent and deeply silly film and yet, at the same time it’s impossible not to cheer a little when Paul reveals that he’s been hiding a machine gun under his coffee table.  It’s an effective film.  Eli Roth delivers exactly what you would expect from a film about Bruce Willis killing criminals in Chicago.  It may not be a great film but it works.

Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan
  29. On the Line
  30. Wolfen
  31. Hail Caesar!
  32. It’s So Cold In The D
  33. In the Mix
  34. Healed By Grace
  35. Valley of the Dolls
  36. The Legend of Billie Jean

Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2017: Fist Fight (dir by Richie Keen)


While I wouldn’t begin to argue that it’s been a great year for movies, there were still some really good movies released in 2017.

Unfortunately, there were also some really bad ones.

Which do you think Fist Fight was?

If you answered really bad, congratulations!

Actually, I don’t think anyone was expecting Fist Fight to be a classic or anything like that.  Basically, the film is about a conflict between two teachers, a conflict that seems destined to end with the event promised by the title.  The two teachers are played by Ice Cube and Charlie Day.  Of course, in the movie, they have different name but it doesn’t matter.  Neither character has an identity outside of the actor who plays him.  Charlie Day is nerdy and quick to yell.  Ice Cube is tough and intimidating and not the type to back down from a fight.

Now, at the risk of losing all credibility, I’m going to be honest about something.  When I first saw the trailer for Fist Fight, I thought it might not be as bad as it turned out to be.  Charlie Day is hilarious on It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.  One of the more appealing things about Ice Cube is his willingness to poke fun at his tough guy image.  More often than not, I tend to like movies about teachers acting like children because, when I was in school, I always suspected that was the way teachers actually behaved when they were safely in the teacher’s lounge.  Charlie Day desperately running around the school, hyperventilating while Ice Cube pops up to remind him that they have a fist fight scheduled?  Seriously, it sounded like it could be funny in a dumb way.

Well, I was wrong.  Fist Fight is one of the most painfully unfunny films that I’ve ever seen.  This is a movie that should have been focused on one thing: the fist fight at the end of the day.  The entire movie should have been Charlie Day preparing for a fight that he knows he can’t possibly win.  Instead, the movie kept getting distracted with unnecessary subplots.  For instance, because it’s the last day before summer, all of the students are pulling pranks on their teachers.  In fact, the entire student body is out-of-control.  But who cares?  We’re here to see Charlie Day try to throw a punch at Ice Cube.  We don’t care about a bunch of obnoxious students pulling pranks that seem like they were directly lifted from a Crown International high school movie.  If we want to see that, we can rewatch The Pom Pom Girls or Joy of Sex.  And if we want to watch a teacher stand up to his students, we can watch Class of 1984.

The film is full of funny people but it never really takes advantage of them.  Actors like Tracy Morgan, Kumail Nanjiani, and Christina Hendricks pop up but just as quickly disappear.  Charlie Day does his best but the level of writing never rises to the level of It’s Sunny In Philadelphia.  (I personally would love to see “The Gang Gets In A Fist Fight With Ice Cube.”)  Compared to Fist Fight, even something like Horrible Bosses looks like nuanced and subversive humor.  There’s a lot of screeching in Fist Fight but very little of it is funny.

Shattered America #73: Team America: World Police (dir by Trey Parker)


Team_america_poster_300px

So, are we once again allowed to watch Team America: World Police?

As you may remember, back in December, the entire nation totally freaked out over the possibility that North Korea might be offended by the James Franco/Seth Rogen comedy The Interview.  Hackers — who many assumed were working for North Korea — released embarrassing emails that were exchanged among Sony executives and filmmakers.  Barely literate threats were posted, warning that any theater showing The Interview would be blown up.  Common sense should have told us that these were empty threats but instead, everyone panicked.

Sony announced that they would not be releasing The Interview.  The film would never see the light of day.  Overdramatic people like me got on twitter and announced that, if Sony didn’t release The Interview, then free speech was dead.  “It is every American’s duty to see The Interview!” I tweeted, “If you don’t see The Interview, you’re letting the terrorists win!”

Then Sony changed their mind and released The Interview after all.  People got to watch it.  Critics got to slam it.  Free speech lived for yet another day.

As for me, I never got around to watching it.

Uhmm, anyway…

What got forgotten in all of this drama is that some theaters announced that they would show the 2004 film Team America: World Police in the place of the Interview.  In many ways, it was a brilliant idea.  Team America, after all, is a brilliantly profane satire from South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone.  Not only was the film a parody of overdone Hollywood blockbusters but it also featured the members of Team America using their powers to take out Kim Jong-il, the father of the political leader targeted for assassination in The Interview.  Even better than that, it featured Team America violently destroying the vapid (and surprisingly well-armed) celebrities who Kim Jong-il had tricked into supporting him.  How can you not love a film that features a puppet of Michael Moore blowing itself up?

Oh, did I mention that the entire movie features puppets?  Because it so does!

The use of puppets allows Parker and Stone to not only create some spectacular action scenes but also to feature parodies of more than a few real-life celebrities, all of whom are portrayed as being stupid, trendy, and easily manipulated.  The fact that Sean Penn saw himself lampooned in the film and then wrote an angry letter to Parker and Stone (ending it with, “Fuck you!”) is one of many reasons to love Team America.

So, we weren’t going to get to see The Interview but at least we could see Team America.  But then Paramount Pictures announced that they were not going to let any theater show Team America.  As annoyed as I was by what happened with The Interview, the ban on Team America was even more annoying.

I mean, we all knew The Interview as probably a really bad film.  But we also knew that Team America was great!  Indeed, banning Team America seemed like exactly the type of thing that one of the film’s puppet celebrities would have demanded.

Plus, as Team America‘s theme song reminded us — “America!  Fuck yeah!”  Bowing down to dictators does not make anyone want to shout, “America!  Fuck yeah!”

More like, “America!  Fuck no!”

Anyway, eventually Sony relented and released The Interview.  But I haven’t heard anything about Team America.  However, it’s currently available on Netflix so I’m going to assume that it is once again legal to watch Team America.  But that doesn’t change the fact that I still felt like I was breaking the law when I recently rewatched it.

Yet another reason to love Team America: World Police.