A weekly feature from from ctvnews.ca! The Crouse Review is a quick, hot take on the weekend’s biggest movies! This week Richard looks at Jennifer Lawrence spy thriller “Red Sparrow,” the 1970s retread “Death Wish” with Bruce Willis and the deliciously venomous “The Party” starring Patricia Clarkson.
Richard and CP24 anchor Nathan Downer have a look at the weekend’s new movies including the Jennifer Lawrence spy thriller “Red Sparrow,” the 1970s retread “Death Wish” with Bruce Willis and the deliciously venomous “The Party” starring Patricia Clarkson.
Richard sits in with CTV NewsChannel anchor Marcia MacMillan to have a look at the weekend’s big releases, the Jennifer Lawrence spy thriller “Red Sparrow,” the 1970s retread “Death Wish” with Bruce Willis and the deliciously venomous “The Party” starring Patricia Clarkson.
For twenty years, from 1974 to 1994, Charles Bronson starred in “Death Wish” films as Paul Kersey, a successful New York architect turned vigilante after his wife was murdered and child assaulted. “If the police don’t defend us,” he growled, “maybe we ought to do it ourselves.”
In “Death Wish,” the new Eli Roth-directed reboot of the series, Bruce Willis steps in, beating out—but not beating up— Sylvester Stallone who was originally cast as Kersey.
This time around the backdrop is Chicago. Dr. Kersey (Willis) is a surgeon whose work in the ER gives him an up-close-and-personal look at the effects of violence in his city. He gets an even closer look at the carnage when home intruders viciously attack his wife (Elisabeth Shue) and young daughter (Camila Morrone). The healer turns killer, exchanging the scalpel for a gun, which he learns to fire by watching a YouTube show called Full Metal Tactics. “I love my family and when they needed me most I failed to protect them.” As bad guy bodies (and snappy one-liners) pile up he becomes headline news—the newspapers billboard “Grim Reaper Alerts”—but is he right to take the law into his own hands? Is he a folk hero or domestic terrorist?
With gun control front and center in public debate right now “Death Wish” could have been a timely and relevant film. It could ask questions. When does a good guy with a gun, shooting bad guys with guns, become a bad guy with a gun? It could have been a poignant film about a man pushed too far but there is nothing poignant about Roth’s reboot of the seventies series. It’s not a character study of grief or a portrait of Chicago’s escalating crime rate. Satisfied to take the low road, it’s a revenge film pure and simple. Audiences are meant to applaud every time Kersey blows away a bad guy and not think too deeply about the normalization of dangerous behaviour.
Willis, whose resume is dotted with charming hero types, plays Kersey as a wounded man who finds strength in his revenge. He’s locked, loaded and ready to rock. His most famous character, off-duty New York City Police Department officer John McClane, was always keen to dispatch a villain but he didn’t go hunting random victims or torture them once he found them. We are supposed to get the great contradiction of Kersey’s life—he’s a healer in the O.R. but a killer on the street—but the movie gives equal weight to the yin and yang. He’s a good guy because he cures people and a patriot because he rids the streets of undesirables. To be truly effective he must be one or the other. The muddy antihero middle is an ugly, exaggerated male violence fantasy. Is Kersey a folk hero or a killer? The movie can’t seem to decide.
“Death Wish” will provide ammunition for discussion, so that’s something. Gun violence has been a hot button topic when the first movie came out in 1974. It still is, but the conversation has changed.
It’s also illegal, dangerous and morally unsound, but that doesn’t stop Hollywood from featuring vigilantes in their stories.
Comic books have supplied the movies with vigilantes for years. According to comicbookmovie.com, “It is important to state one truth,” they write, “[and] that is, all comic book heroes, unless sanctioned by the government, are vigilantes.” That’s a wide group that includes, among others, Batman, Spiderman and Iron Man.
Lesser known is Rorschach, the anti-hero of the graphic novel The Watchmen and played by Jackie Earle Haley in the movie of the same name. He’s a masked crime fighter who believes in only good and evil. This black-and-white morality drives his ruthless need to punish evil-doers at all costs.
“Were it not for costumed vigilantism,” says the actor, “he’d have nothing.”
Rorschach is effective and lethal, but Paul Kersey didn’t wear a costume to earn his star on the Vigilante Walk of Fame. As played by Charles Bronson in five Death Wish movies, he cleaned up the streets with an efficiency that would make the Watchmen envious.
In the original 1974 film Kersey is an architect driven to taking the law into his own hands following the brutal murder of his wife. “If the police don’t defense us,” he says, “maybe we ought to do it ourselves.”
Star Bronson was quick to say that he didn’t “advocate anyone taking the law into their own hands,” but knew that the Death Wish movies were popular because, “Audiences like to see the bad guys get their comeuppance.”
Harry Brown is a gritty Gran Torino with British accents and a dash of Death Wish. Michael Caine plays the title character as High Noon’s Gary Cooper, but instead of being set on the wide open plain, the action in this Teabag Western takes place in the urban terrain of the Elephant and Castle section of London.
“This movie changed me,” Caine said. “I started out thinking, ‘Let’s go out and make a movie about killing all these scumbags,’ and then I met these people and realized they were helpless, just as much as the victims, and they had been neglected and they need help.”
To understand the wild new movie from co-directors Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez first you have to understand the premise. They have made a good old-fashioned exploitation movie double bill, complete with scratchy film and missing reels. They’ve recreated the grind house experience for an audience that may be too young to remember the days before multi-plexes dotted the landscape and people went to local theatres where movies were two for the price of one.
What is a grind house you ask? You may have been in a grindhouse theatre and not even known it.
If the ushers in the theatre carried a flashlight in one hand and a two by four (known as the “peacekeeper”) in the other, chances are, you were in a grind house.
If they played Santa Claus Conquers the Martians in July, that’s a grind house.
If there were gaps in the story, or if the reels were out of order, you were in a grind house.
Most of those seedy theatres are gone now, but you can relive the experience in the new film Grindhouse, a double feature of two new films aged to look like classic exploitation fare, complete with coming attraction trailers. The only thing missing is the usher with the two by four.
The first film, Planet Terror is Robert Rodriguez’s riff on the zombie genre. Set in a small, dark Texas town on the edge of nowhere the story begins when a toxic bio-chemical weapon that turns God-fearing citizens into flesh-starved zombies is unleashed on the public. The fate of the world rests in the hands of band of vigilantes led by a plucky Go-Go dancer named Cherry (Rose McGowan) and her mysterious companion, and former boyfriend, Wray (Freddy Rodriguez).
Director Rodriguez kicks out the jams, layering one over-the-top exploitation cliché over another. Where else would you see a one legged Go-Go dancer with a machine gun prosthetic who uses stripper moves to avoid getting shot? McGown plays Cherry as the ultimate b-movie babe—beautiful, dangerous and just slightly silly (although you wouldn’t tell her that, she’d likely blow you into a million pieces). With her is Wray, the enigmatic hero, whose back-story is cleverly omitted because of a missing reel. Together they battle creatures that resemble past their expiration date versions of The Toxic Avenger. It’s gooey, ghastly and gross and darkly funny.
Between the first and second features are trailers for make-believe movies. Splat Pack directors Rob Zombie and Edgar Wright contribute funny and outrageous promos for Werewolf Women of the SS and Don’t! respectively. Eli Roth contributes a third twisted trailer that is exactly what you would expect from the warped mind that gave us movies like Hostel and Cabin Fever.
Filling out the bottom of the bill is Quentin Tarantino’s tribute to the killer car movies of the 1970s, Death Proof. Kurt Russell dusts off his badass image, retired after making a string of movies like Escape from LA, to play Stuntman Mike, a psychopath with a 1972 Chevy Nova. The stuntman’s MO is simple; he befriends and stalks women before using his car to commit vehicular murder. When he targets a couple of female stunt drivers, however, he may have bitten off more than he can chew.
Tarantino’s film is the more textured of the two. Whereas Rodriguez’s film takes off like a rocket, Death Proof takes its time. Like its Austin locale, the movie is laid back and just a little quirky. We meet radio DJ Jungle Julia (Sydney Poitier) and her friends who are chillin’ out, getting high and making girl talk. When Arlene (Vanessa Ferlito) agrees to give Stuntman Mike a lap-dance, she inadvertently seals the fate of her and her friends.
From there Mike turns his attention to four gal pals who are working on a nearby movie set. They literally give him a run for his money in one of the most exciting car chases in recent memory. The movie’s languid pace evaporates like water in the hot Texas sun as Tarantino skillfully turns Death Proof into an action packed revenge drama.
Despite some star power—Sin City’s Rosario Dawson is the above-the-title name—it’s a relative new comer who steals the movie. Stuntwoman Zoë Bell, who doubled for Uma Thurman in the Kill Bill movies, plays herself and it is her presence that lends the movie much of its oomph. The realism of her dangerous looking stunts—Tarantino filmed all her dialogue scenes first just in case she was hurt (or worse) during the elaborate car chase scene—kicks the movie up a notch and drew cheers from the audience I saw the movie with.
Planet Terror and Death Proof are both clearly labors of love for the directors. From the insane plots to the faded film stock to the missing reels, they have nailed the look and feel of 70s exploitation flicks. Both directors are smart enough not to take to the mickey out of the movies. The outrageous material is played straight, with the actors and directors taking the story seriously. The result is a certain earnestness in the performances that transcends campiness.
Grindhouse succeeds because it creates an entire atmosphere, whisking the viewer away to a different time and place where ushers carried two-by-fours.