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

Film Review: Deadpool 2 (dir by David Leitch)


“From the studio that killed Wolverine!” the poster proclaims.

“Directed by the man who killed John Wick’s dog” the opening credits announce.

Deadpool 2 is so meta that it even opens with a close-up of a figurine of Hugh Jackman impaled on a rock or a branch or whatever it was that finally killed him at the end of Logan.  Deadpool, the irrepressible and nearly indestructible mercenary played by Ryan Reynolds, announces that he’s willing to accept the challenge posed by Logan‘s tragic ending.  Deadpool promises us that, in the movie we’re about to watch, he’ll die as well.  Deadpool then proceeds to blow himself up.

Of course, those of us who have seen first Deadpool film know better than to panic when Deadpool’s severed head flies at the camera.  Deadpool heals so quickly that, as long as his powers are working, he can’t be killed.  If he gets shot or stabbed, the wound heals almost immediately.  Broken bones mend themselves in record time.  When Deadpool literally gets ripped in half, he promptly starts to grow new legs.  Without his powers, of course, Deadpool would have died a long time ago.  He has cancer, a fact that the film doesn’t dwell upon but which still adds a bit of unexpected depth to the character and his trademark dark humor.

Of course, Deadpool is not just unique because his near-immortality.  Deadpool is also unique in that he, and he alone, understands that he’s a character in a movie.  Even more importantly, he understands that he’s a character who is being played by an actor named Ryan Reynolds.  (Some of Deadpool 2‘s best jokes — which I won’t spoil here — are at the expense of some of Reynolds’s earlier career choices.)  While everyone else in the film is taking things very seriously, as characters in comic book films tend to do, Deadpool is pointing out all of the clichés and even the occasional plot hole.  When Cable (Josh Brolin), a cyborg warrior from the future, offers up a hasty explanation for why he can’t just use time travel to solve all of his problems, Deadpool dismisses it as “lazy writing.”

With the monster success of Wonder Woman, Infinity War, and Black Panther, Deadpool is the hero that we now need.  I mean, let’s be honest.  Comic books movies can be a lot of fun and, right now, we’re living in the golden age of super hero cinema.  At the same time, these films can occasionally get a little bit pompous.  Think about the unrelenting grimness of the DC films.  Think about all the sturm und drang that made up the undeniably effectively ending of Infinity War.  It in no way detracts from those films to say that Deadpool’s refusal to take either himself or the movie too seriously often feels like a breath of fresh air.  Deadpool is the one hero who is willing to say to the audience, “Yes, it’s all ludicrous and silly and occasionally a little bit lazy.  Isn’t it great?”

And yet, even with all that in mind, Deadpool 2 has a surprisingly big heart.  Even while it encourages us to laugh as its excesses, the sequel makes clear that it has a bit more on its mind than the first film.  Deadpool 2‘s plot deals with the efforts of both Deadpool and Cable to track down an angry mutant who goes by the somewhat regrettable name of Firefist (Julian Dennison).  Cable has come from the future to kill Firefist and prevent him from eventually destroying the world with his anger.  As for Deadpool, he feels that the spirit of someone he loved wants him to save Firefist.  As for Firefist himself, he’s an escapee from the Essex Home For Mutant Rehabilitation, a Hellish orphanage where the hypocritical headmaster and his perverted staff attempt to torture young mutants into being normal human beings.  The parallel to conversion therapy is an obvious one and there’s always just enough outrage underneath the film’s humor.

Deadpool 2 is a fast-moving and quick-witted sequel and Ryan Reynolds is, once again, perfect in the role of the demented lead character.  The jokes are nonstop and fortunately, so is the action.  There’s a lengthy fight between Cable and Deadpool that’s destined to go down as a classic.  Another exciting scene opens with parachutes and ends with … well, I can’t tell you.  I won’t spoil it, beyond to say that sometimes, being a hero is all about good luck.  Deadpool 2 is an ultra-violent, ultra-profane action-comedy with a heart of iron pyrite.  It’s not a film to take the kids too.  Deadpool himself points that out.  (He also points out that the babysitter is probably stoned by now.)  However, Deadpool also says that this sequel is a film about family and, amazingly enough, it turns out that he’s not lying.

So far, 2018 has been the year of the comic book movie and Deadpool 2 is a welcome addition.

Film Review: 12 Strong (dir by Nicolai Fuglsig)


12 Strong begins with a montage of terror.

The World Trade Center is bombed in 1993.  Planes are bombed.  Ships are attacked.  Bill Clinton gives a speech in which he impotently condemns Al-Qaeda.  Finally, we reach September 11th, 2001.  Captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth) is playing with his daughter when she suddenly looks up at the TV behind him.  “Look, Daddy,” she says.  Nelson turns around and sees The World Trade Center on fire.

Even though he’s recently announced his intention to retire, Nelson reports for duty.  Despite the skepticism of his commanding officer (Rob Riggle), Nelson and 11 others are sent into Afghanistan.  Their mission is to meet up with a warlord named Abdul Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban) and to capture territory from the Taliban.  Nelson is initially given 6 weeks to complete this task.  Nelson replies that he’ll get it done in three, before the harsh Afghan winter makes it impossible to move through the mountains.

Among the actors who make up Nelson’s team: Michael Shannon, Trevante Rhodes, Austin Stowell, and Geoff Stults.  Fortunately, the cast is made up of familiar faces.  Even though you might not learn everyone’s name, you still feel as if you know them because you’ve seen all of them playing similar roles in other movies.  (After his performance in Moonlight, it’s a bit disappointing to see Trevante Rhodes playing such a minor supporting role in his follow-up but still, he’s a charismatic actor and he has enough screen presence that he definitely makes an impression.)  Somewhat inevitably, Michael Pena plays the funny member of the team.  It’s not a 21st century action film without Michael Pena providing comedic relief.

(That’s actually a little unfair to Michael Pena, who is a good actor and who gives a pretty good performance in 12 Strong.  It’s just that he’s played this role so many times that it’s almost become a cliché that every action movie will feature Micheal Pena making jokes.)

When the team first meets up with Dostum, there’s immediate tension between the supposed allies.  As Dostum puts it, the United States only cares about getting rid of the Taliban but they don’t care about what will happen afterward.  When Dostum looks at Nelson, he immediately announces that Nelson does not have killer eyes.  Everyone else on the team has killer eyes but not Nelson.  Dostum and his men are even less impressed when they see the Americans struggling to ride the horses that are required to get through the mountains.  Will Nelson win Dostum’s respect?  Will he develop the eyes of a killer?

You probably already know the answer to that.  There’s really not a single moment in 12 Strong that you won’t see coming.  As soon as Dostum says that Nelson needs to prove himself in battle, you know that he’ll get a chance to do just that.  As soon as another soldier talks about home, you know that he’s going to be seriously wounded.  When you first spot the child soldiers among Dostum’s forces and you see one of them give Nelson a nervous smile, you know that child’s probably going to be one of the first casualties of the attack.

12 Strong is a predictable movie but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a bad one.  It’s a well-made film, with the cast all giving strong performances and director Nicolai Fuglsig doing a good job with the battle scenes.  My heart was racing during the film’s final battle.  New Mexico doubled for Afghanistan and the film features some truly stunning shots of the mountainous landscape.  The film even makes a point about why, after 17 years, there still doesn’t appear to be any end in sight to the War in Afghanistan.

Clocking in at 2 hours and 9 minutes, 12 Strong is probably about thirty minutes too long.  It’s a predictable movie but it’s well-made and the fact that it’s based on a true story does make it a bit more poignant than it would be otherwise.  It’s not a bad war film, particularly for January.