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

Cleaning Out The DVR: Killer Mom (dir by Christine Conradt)


(Lisa is currently in the process of cleaning out her DVR!  It’s going to take a while because Lisa has over 200 things recorded.  However, one thing is for sure: it’s all getting erased on January 15th.  Will Lisa be able to watch everything before doomsday?  Keep checking here to find out!  She recorded Killer Mom off of Lifetime on April 15th!)

Poor Jessica (played by Karen Cliche)!

Nothing’s going right for her.  First off, her husband has been arrested and charged with one of those financial crimes that rich men always seem to be committing in Lifetime movies.  She’s had to move in with her best friend, which is good because her friend keeps her supplied with wine and sympathy but bad because her friend’s house is not quite as nice as the house that she used to live in.  When she does go out of town, she’s so broke that she can’t even afford to stay in a nice hotel.  She has to rip open her blouse and threaten to accuse the manager of raping her just to get a good room!

However, there is a light on the horizon.  14 years earlier, as the result of an affair with a married man, Jessica had a daughter named Allison.  Jessica gave Allison up and Allison was raised by her father and his wife.  The wife died a few years previously and, just a few days ago, the father was killed in a plane crash!  That means that the now 14 year-old Allison (Maddy Martin) stands to inherit millions!

After showing up at the funeral and introducing herself, Jessica starts to work her way into Allison’s life.  Allison’s half-sister, Sydni (Kirby Bliss Blanton) automatically suspects that Jessica is only interested in the money.  For that matter, so does just about everyone else in the world.  No one trusts Jessica but Allison.  And Allison is so happy to finally be reunited with her biological mother that no one has the courage to tell her about their suspicions.

That doesn’t stop people from trying to investigate Jessica’s past, however.  Of course, that’s always a mistake in a Lifetime movie.  Trying to investigate anything is usually a good way to end up either getting framed or murdered.  For instance, Aaron Martin (Brad Long) makes it clear that he doesn’t trust Jessica and suddenly, his computer is full of child porn!  Is Aaron a perv or did Jessica use her magic internet powers to hack his computer?  (Take a guess.)  The housekeeper doesn’t trust Jessica and suddenly, her mother is attacked by an intruder.  Sydni thinks that Jessica is plotting something and … oh my God!  Suddenly, there are drugs in her car!

As I’ve said before, the more batshit crazy a Lifetime film is, the more likely it’s going to be a success.  Killer Mom is totally and completely over the top, full of nonstop plotting, snarky commentary, and — most importantly — really beautiful houses.  Nobody lives in a messy house in a Lifetime film!  Karen Cliche totally embraces the role of femme fatale, giving a performance that suggests that Jessica is almost as amused by her schemes as we are.  All in all, Killer Mom is good melodramatic fun.

Film Review: Suicide Note (dir by Jake Helgren)


(While this review is meant to be a rather breezy look at a minor Lifetime movie, it’s totally possible that you may have come across this review because you’re feeling suicidal yourself.  Maybe you googled, “suicide note.”  Please, if that is the case, consider calling the following numbers: Call 24/7: 800-SUICIDE (784-2433) 800-273-TALK (8255) Text Telephone 800-799-4TTY (4889) Trans Lifeline 877-565-8860.)

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On Saturday night, I watched and live tweeted the latest Lifetime original film.  Unfortunately, I ran into a small problem.  The title of the movie was The Suicide Note and, as a result, I ended up posting a few hundred tweets with the hashtag #SuicideNote.  Apparently, some people were not aware that I was watching a Lifetime film and they actually thought I was spending two hours tweeting out an actual suicide note.  One tweet in particular seemed to worry people:

Well, allow me to assure everyone: I was just talking about the movie.  Adam is a character in the movie and he’s played by Stephen Colletti.  Adam is a pre-med student with a temper.  When his girlfriend, Emma (Kristen Ray), plunges to her death from the rooftop of her dorm, Adam is an immediate suspect.  And why not?  Before Emma died, she was seen having a drunken argument with Adam.  A later search of Emma’s phone reveals threatening text messages from Adam.  Adam is the logical suspect, except for the fact that Emma left behind a suicide note.

What does the note read?

The note reads, “I was not murdered so please don’t suspect my boyfriend.”

No, actually, it doesn’t.  Instead it says, “I’m sorry, please forgive me,” or words to that effect.  Nobody is sure whether or not the handwriting on the note is Emma’s but, since it’s the only evidence that the police have, they decided that Emma must have committed suicide.

However, Emma’s roommate, Molly (Kirby Bliss Blanton), doesn’t believe that Emma committed suicide.  That’s because Molly once tried to kill herself and didn’t see any signs that Emma was suicidal.  With the help of her painter boyfriend, Brady (Brant Daugherty), and her sarcastic best friend, Irene (Lexi Giovagnoli), Molly sets out to solve the crime.  At first, she suspects that Adam is the murderer but this is Lifetime and that solution is way too easy.  As Molly investigates, she discovers that there are all sorts of secrets waiting to be uncovered.

Suicide Note is pretty much a standard Lifetime mystery.  It takes place on one of those Lifetime movie college campuses where there’s only ten students and they all keep running into each other.  Molly also has a mentor, a professor played by Gabrielle Carteris (who, my friend Holly tells me, was on the original 90210.)  My favorite scene was when Molly and Brady were walking across campus, just to be confronted by a jogging and shirtless Adam.  Adam yells that he didn’t kill Emma and then Prof. 90210 shows up and snaps, “GO TO CLASS!”  I wanted Adam to ask whether or not he could at least go get a shirt before going to class but instead, he just jogged off.

One of the things that I did like about The Suicide Note is that it featured some genuinely creepy dream sequences.  Molly has several dreams where she sees Emma’s ghost and several other unsettling things.  The dreams are all very well-shot and brings a jolt of life to the film.

As I said before, Suicide Note is pretty much your typical Lifetime affair.  If you’re not into Lifetime, the film will probably seem pretty silly to you.  But, if you are into Lifetime, you’ll appreciate Suicide Note for what it is.  Just be careful about hashtagging the title.

Horror Film Review: The Green Inferno (dir by Eli Roth)


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AGCK!

Seriously, it’s hard for me to think of any recent film that has made me cringe as much as Eli Roth’s cannibal epic, The Green Inferno.  A film about a bunch of Occupy activists who end up getting eaten by a native tribe in the jungles of Peru, The Green Inferno does not shy away from showing us all the icky cannibal action.  Eyes are scooped out of heads.  Heads are removed from bodies.  Flesh is ripped off of a bones.  Blood flows everywhere and …. well, let’s just say that I didn’t have much of an appetite after watching The Green Inferno.

And, to be honest, I have no idea whether or not the gore effects were realistic or not.  It always amuses me when some of my fellow film bloggers say, “That’s not what the inside of a human body really looks like.”  Like we would know!  Listen, I have no idea what it’s like to cook a human body and I never will.  It may have been realistic or it may not have been.  It doesn’t matter.  All I know is that, in a very visceral and frightening way, the effects worked.  They made me look away from the screen.  They inspired me to say, “Agck!” and I imagine that’s the exact response that Roth was going for.

If The Green Inferno was a box office success, I imagine that thousands of people would leave the movie and promptly google, “Can you get cannibals high by stuffing a baggie of marijuana in a dead body?”  (The Green Inferno certainly argues that you can but it also suggests that, once a cannibal tribe gets the munchies, bad things will happen as a result.)

However, I doubt that The Green Inferno is going to be a box office success, at least not during its theatrical run.  The film was originally made in 2013 and it’s taken two years for it to finally get a theatrical release and it’s pretty much being dumped into theaters with little fanfare.  Not surprisingly, it’s currently getting slammed by most mainstream critics and it’s hard to imagine anyone who doesn’t review films online waking up and spontaneously saying, “I want to see that movie about people being eaten alive!”  (Myself, I had no great desire to see it but I felt somewhat obligated, considering that I’m a self-described grindhouse fan and horror lover.)  Jeff and I saw The Green Inferno on Tuesday, at the Cinemark 14 in Denton, Texas.  The theater was nearly deserted.

And, in many ways, it is a difficult film to recommend, though that’s exactly what I’m doing.  It’s not an easy film to watch but it does what it does well.  Back in the day, many grindhouse films were advertised as being “a film that goes all the way” and, for better or worse, The Green Inferno goes all the way.  At a time when so many horror films are either watered down or just the usual found footage rehash, The Green Inferno is a film that actually made me squirm in my seat.  It’s a film that delivered exactly what it promised and that does count for something.  The Green Inferno is being advertised as being nightmare fuel and that’s exactly what it is.

(SPOILER ALERT!  READ NO FURTHER IF YOU’RE GOING TO WHINE ABOUT SPOILERS AS A RESULT!)

There’s an interesting and unexpected political subtext to The Green Inferno and, I would argue, that political subtext is exactly why so many online critics are having such a violently negative reaction to the film.  The Americans who end up getting eaten by the cannibals are all Occupy-style political activists.  The reason that they are in Peru is to protest a company that is chopping down the rain forests.  When they do their protest, they all wear masks (which makes the Occupy comparison obvious) and they use social media to make sure that the whole world is watching.  It’s only later, once the surviving activists are all locked away in a cage and waiting to be eaten, that they learn that their leader, the arrogant Alejandro, was actually working for a rival logging company.  And now, they’re desperately waiting for that rival company to show up, tear down the rain forest, and save their lives.

And, oh my God — some reviewers (mostly the ones that write at sites like the A.V. Club)  are so upset about this!  But, honestly, those reviewers are missing the point.  The Green Inferno is not attacking the politics of the activists.  Instead, the film is attacking the shallowness of the activists themselves.  Almost all of them are caucasian, all of them come from privileged backgrounds, and all of them are so high on their own self-righteousness that they don’t even realize that they’re being manipulated by the same system they claim to be destroying.  And, just like the college students who spent a few months doing the Occupy thing and then went on to get a job on Wall Street, they ultimately expect the system to protect them even as they play revolutionary.  At the end of the film, hundreds of new white, privileged protestors are wearing t-shirts decorated (Che-style) with Alejandro’s face.  It’s a deeply cynical vision of political activism but, in many ways, it’s far more realistic than a lot of people want to admit and it makes The Green Inferno a bit more interesting than your typical gore film.

(Add to that, there are thousands of movies about heroic political activists so what’s wrong with having one film where they all get eaten in the Amazon rain forest?  Seriously, it’s not the end of the world…)

Admittedly, the film does make a huge mistake.  It features a mid-credits scene which sets up a sequel.  (And a sequel was announced way back in 2013 but has apparently been abandoned.)  That mid-credits scene — which feels more appropriate for a Marvel film — is totally unnecessary.  There’s no need for a sequel.  The Green Inferno accomplishes exactly what it set out to do.

The Green Inferno’s Eye-Popping Red Band Clip


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It would be difficult to call Through the Shattered Lens a film blog that appreciates grindhouse filmmaking if we didn’t mention something about the cannibal subgenre of horror once in awhile.

Once a huge thing during the 70’s and right up to it’s demise during the early 1980’s, the cannibal films from Europe (especially by exploitation filmmakers from Italy) would compete with Italian giallo film and Euro-zombie knock-offs for on which one could be the most gory and grotesque. It was like a grand guignol royal rumble.

As founders of the site there’s one particular cannibal film that both Lisa and I have some sort of admiration for. This film is Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust. It would go down as one of the video nasties that kept the film as one that new fans of horror were told they must see if they were to complete their journey into the dark side.

After two years of distribution limbo, Eli Roth’s homage to the cannibal films of the 70’s and 80’s finally gets to show it’s wares up on the bigscreen and this red band clip will give audiences a brief taste of what to expect.

The Green Inferno is set for a September 25, 2015 release date.