Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Death Wish

[MCMLXXIV...what a great year for movies.]

1974 saw the release of some of the most respectable pieces of cinematic art this side of Steamboat Bill Jr. Francis Ford Coppola directed The Godfather II, Paramount released Roman Polanski's neo-noir Chinatown. Two of the most awe-inspiring disaster movies, The Towering Inferno and Earthquake entered the entered the Top 10 Highest-Grossing films of the year. Along with all these pre-blockbusters, several future cult classics found their way into various movie houses and drive-ins. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and John Carpenter's directorial debut Dark Star both did just that in 1976. Somewhere in the middle of all these great flicks was Michael Winner's Death Wish, the story of a vigilante husband and father on a mission of revenge.

[Here we find Charles Bronson, perplexed by the new Ghostface Killah album.]

Charles Bronson plays Paul Kersey, a role originally intended for Steve McQueen. To start things off, I've got to let you know, this movie is crazy. Okay, it's not Ichi, the Killer crazy or Audition crazy, but back in the 1970s, the American people weren't ready for this one. Critics panned Death Wish because they believed it promoted vigilantism. The film's plot circles around an upper-class New York family who suffers an unspeakable tragedy at the hands of this man and his friends:

[Long before he was pushing iMacs, Goldblum was best known for his Old-Lady Sleeper Holds.]

A rough group of hoods, the head gangster (Jeff Goldblum), some big ol' skinhead, and a graffiti artist named "Spraycan"viciously attack Kersey's wife and daughter. This scene is really rough. Basically, the bad guys stalk the two women back to their house in order to rob them. When all they have is seven dollars between them, they decide to beat the mother and rape the daughter. The scene is pretty graphic and hard to stomach. Goldblum, in his acting debut, screams "Goddamn rich cunts! Cunts! I kill rich cunts!" as he repeatedly punches the woman in the face.

Some bad-acting comedy accidentally makes it's way on-screen as Spraycan coats the curtains with orange paint, over and over again. When he tries to tag their walls, all he can come up with is a sloppy swastika and an orange scribble line that looks like a a child's rendition of a Richard Scarry worm. In the end, Kersey's wife is murdered by the thugs. His daughter goes into a comatose condition, unable to speak or move on her own.

[Who wouldn't have faith in this police force? You've got The Ghost of Christmas Dinner and a comedy God fighting crime for you, what else can you ask for?]

Now, if someone killed my wife and raped my daughter, the first people I would call might not be the police. Granted, my opinion changed a little after watching Death Wish. The cops aren't any help. They can't follow any leads. They can't nail down any evidence. They hide the facts from the victims and the public. Even when they realize that Kersey has taken the law into his own hands, they just seem to look the other way.

This movie makes me want to shoot people. No, seriously. If there's one thing that Charles Bronson does well, he makes shooting people look easy. Every time someone's got a problem with him, he whips out his pistol, and BAM..., in the words of Ice Cube, "...another sucker dead."

[What happens when three muggers attack Charles Bronson in an alleyway?]

The last hour of the film is a series of muggings that Kersey purposely gets himself into. He walks around bad neighborhoods, practically with hundred dollar bills sticking out of his pockets, just asking for some young punk to mess with him. What does he do when someone finally takes the bait, well, I think the pictures explain it all.

I agree with the critics that claimed that the film promoted taking the law into your hands. It clearly does. Over and over again. Death Wish has its exciting moments but by the end of the film, they've gotten pretty repetitive. I specifically checked this movie out to do a He Shot Cyrus write-up. I can't say I was disappointed with the movie, I think it was a pretty rad working of the vigilante storyline. Ever since I was little, I had constantly seen previews for this on Telemundo or Galavision. Apparently, this movie is huge among Spanish-speaking audiences. I remember when I used to work at Hollywood Video, this got rented all the time. The only one that was rented more than Death Wish was Blood In, Blood Out, which I recently watched out of curiosity. It didn't deserve it's own post.

[Charles Bronson shoots them.]

Here's the trailer for the movie, along with the trailers for it's four sequels! That's right, there are a total of five Death Wish movies. I would sometimes see previews for the second and third movies, but until I looked it up tonight, I had no idea that four subsequent movies could be made from this plot. From the look of the trailers, they only get better and better as the years went on.

Death Wish

Death Wish 2

Death Wish 3

Death Wish 4: The Crackdown

Death Wish 5: The Face of Death

Here's a recap on the basic plot advances of the last 60 minutes of Death Wish.

[What happens when knife-wielding hoodlums try to rob Charles Bronson in a subway station?]

[Charles Bronson shoots them too.]

[What happens when Freddie "Boom-Boom" Washington/Richard "Cochise" Morris tries to attack Charles Bronson in the park?]

[Charles Bronson shoots Freddie "Boom-Boom" Washington/Richard "Cochise" Morris.]

This may not have been the best movie to come out in 1976, but it definitely into the category of "entertaining." There are more than two handfuls of really cool scene, and not just ones where Charles Bronson shoots muggers. One of the most impressive parts of the movie is how Bronson's character changes through out the story. He begins as a family man, the everyman, in a sense.

As the film progresses, his mind changes. I'm not talking about his opinions or anything, I'm talking about the entire way his mind works. His inherent motives and goals are radically altered and Bronson captures each stage of the transformation with clarity. The most interesting part of the plot is how, even at the end, Kersey never becomes a monster. Even during his times of chaos, he remains what he started as: a man.

Even with the film's unevenness, there's enough redeemable elements that make it work watching. Among these elements is, first and foremost, the film's score. Herbie Hancock, the genius that created the song "Rockit," the first mainstream song to feature the turntable scratch. I've included an MP3 of the Death Wish theme for you guys. Hope you enjoy it.

[And what happens if you try to shoot Charles Bronson while tries to peek up a woman's skirt? That's right, Charles Bronson shoots YOU!]

Herbie Hancock - Death Wish Theme (MP3)

Download (Rapidshare)

Until next week, or maybe a little longer thanks to the craziest finals I've ever had, let me know what you think of Death Wish and my blog so far. If you have any ideas on how to improve it, then drop me a line. I'll have a new poll question for you soon. Here's the results of last week's question: C. Thomas Howell received the most votes as to which Outsider is the easiest to beat up.

Rob Lowe came in right after him and there wasn't any Outsider who seemed to be untouchable, even Macchio who received two votes. I want to know who said they could beat up The Karate Kid. He'll put you in a body bag quicker than you can say "Glory of Love."

Most importantly, thanks to RC, Matt, Usesoapfilm, Natsukashi, Brian, Jonny, Taylor, and Whitney for leaving comments on my Top 5 Movie Rumbles list. They were awesome. Thanks a lot.


Jonny said...

So I heard that Death Sentence, staring the incomparable Kevin Bacon, was a remake of Death Wish. My question for you is two-fold:

1) Is that true?
2) How did it compare to the original (I'm guessing not that well)?

Another question: in the first installment, Paul Kersey's wife gets murdered, his daughter gets raped and thus falls into some sort of coma, right? So, in Death Wish 2 did he remarry and have another daughter who got attacked by criminals?!

PS: I love the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre with all my heart. The fact that a bunch of film students did it still blows me away to this very day.

elgringo said...

Death Sentence was pretty much a remake of Death Wish with certain elements of Taxi Driver thrown in there (mostly, his haircut). Actually, now that I think about it, there's a shot at the end of Death Sentence where he's sitting on the couch covered in blood which completely rips off Taxi Driver.

Overall, the movie's not that great at all. There are some cool moments including a pretty cool(if I remember correctly) parking garage scene.

As for Death Wish 2, he lives in L.A. with his daughter who's still trying to get over her attack. In short, he gets mugged again but fights back.

The thugs decide to go to his house to kill him but he's not there. However, his daughter and his housekeeper are. They kill the housekeeper and his daughter is raped AGAIN! She jumps out the window and impales herself.

The plot basically follows Kersey coming for the attackers again.

Thanks for the comment!

whitney said...

I wonder if those two people who thought they could beat up the karate kid think they could also beat up Charles Bronson? I bet they think they could. idiots.

Nageoire said...

Well all I can say was that my mom (who loves Charles Bronson) had me watch two or three of these movies when I was ten or eleven years old. Forever will I have fond memories of Bronson running around in a black beanie with a tiny handgun in steamy metropolis backstreets. Great movies, great blog.

Unknown said...

I kind of remember the first time Bronson defends himself against a mugger it's with a sock full of nickels. Is that true?

Toestubber said...

Death Wish 2 is a slightly lamer cash-in on the success of the original, and it's not bad. Jimmy Page did the soundtrack for 2 & 3.

Death Wish 3 is incredible, though - completely over the top, stylized to the point of absolute absurdity. Bronson seems practically comatose, and there's a parade of great character actors slumming it plus the corniest array of stereotypes this side of a Mel Brooks comedy. It takes place in some sci-fi version of the Bronx where the use of gatling guns doesn't attract police. It's such a perfect storm of hackwork that it's extremely entertaining to watch.

Unfortunately, the series jumped the shark completely at that point (how they could have possibly topped the ridiculousness of #3 is an open question). #4 is tired and boring. Death Wish V pits Kersey against a bunch of lame-ass white-collar gangsters and there's no street action. I've never been able to watch it without falling asleep.

Anonymous said...

I love it ! Very creative ! That's actually really cool Thanks.

Tim Hackman said...

I agree with Toestubber that Death Wish 3 is a must-watch. The "plot" (such as it is) involves Mr. Kersey moving into a tenement building in the worst gang-infested cartoon slum you've ever seen. When the gangs get out of hand and attack (and rape, again with the rape) some of his new tenement friends, he mail orders a hand cannon and a disposable rocket launcher (because you can totally do that), borrows a .50 caliber machine gun from his WWII Vet neighbor, and cleans house. I must have watched this movie 100 times when I was 12 or so, a fact that makes me seriously question my parents' judgment. If I could have legally purchased a hand cannon and gotten to New York City at age 12, I would have gone looking for gang members to shoot. Great post and great blog.

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