Thursday, December 10, 2009

Death Wish (The Series)

Death Wish (1974) * * * *

Cast:Charles Bronson, Hope Lange, Vincent Gardenia, Jeff Goldbulm

Directed by Michael Winner

Fascinating effort still remains the greatest vigilante movie ever made, not because of the action element and dramatic moments, but also because of the black humor, Bronson’s excellent acting and the factor that Bronson isn’t really looking for those responsible for the murder of his family but just on the muggers in general. While the sequels are one man army bodycount action flicks, this one stands above them all as a true classic. Bronson is as expected, sharp and his presence overall sells the concept. However what makes Death Wish so special is in fact that Winner balances out the serious moments as well as the brutal vengeance with a sense of humor. For instance the sequence where the news interviews others inspired by Bronson’s vigilante actions are in fact genuinely funny. Another factor is the fascinating elements that Death Wish has. The movie sees vigilante justice as in fact the only way to deal with muggers and the crime rate, indeed no scene is stronger than when Bronson asks what kind of a person just lets people get away with such things, and of course the angle that finds the police sort of torn on the vigilante and his justice, as the news reports that mugging is down and Bronson’s antics made New York that much safer. Death Wish then represents a time capsule of the 70s, when movies like Dirty Harry and The French Connection gave the impression that what is needed is a death sentence for muggers. Also the action is well staged,  indeed it’s impressive that while the subsequent entries got more violently graphic, this still remains the most suspenseful and overall has the most impact. Death Wish then is, rightfully so, a heavyweight in the genre.

Death Wish II (1982) *

Cast:Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland, Vincent Gardenia, Laurence Fishbourne, Thomas F. Duffy

Directed by Michael Winner

This pointless rehash has Bronson and Gardenia, and the same director but overall it completely lacks the elements that made Death Wish 1 so great. For one there is no sense of humor, the action is badly put together and the story is just the same as the first, with this time Bronson getting vengeance on those that attack his catatonic daughter and housekeeper. Actually the whole thing starts as the muggers grab his wallet, he chases them, catches one and beats him up, so then they come to his house for reasons fairly vague. What happens this time is so boring, as the film takes way too much time of Bronson stalking his prey, setting up his ruse to fool his girlfriend (Ireland) and then shooting his often unarmed enemies. Also I guess Bronson does get into a few fights and breaks up a drug deal but these scenes are boring and not at all that enjoyable. However what puts Death Wish II in ugly territory is the long and drawn out rape of Bronson’s maid and daughter, these sequences are fairly graphic (and edited one inch of its life) and it leaves the film feeling rather distasteful. What’s ultimately more surprising is that despite the graphic rape, we are still indifferent to Bronson’s call to arms. Death Wish II is a very weak movie, it remains one of the worst vigilante movies ever made (Only The Exterminator is worse) and it doesn’t work on any level. Death Wish II then is just an ugly, ungainly disaster of a film. Ultimately Death Wish II is one of Bronson’s very worst movies.

Death Wish 3 (1985) * * *

Cast:Charles Bronson, Martin Balsam, Gavan O’Herlihy, Ed Lauter, Deborah Raffin

Directed by Michael Winner

This time Bronson is hired by police captain Lauter to single handedly wipe out the gang bangers that have terrorized New York since the Vigilante’s departure, of course Bronson doesn’t need much convincing since the creeps murdered his old war buddy and so with vengeance in heart and 30 caliber machine gun in hand vengeance is served C-O-L-D. Death Wish 3 is one of the most guilty of guilty pleasures as it basically has hardly a vengeance angle, no attempt at even trying to be realistic and of course over the top violence that you ultimately cave in and enjoy the film as an action flick. Of course there’s no real plot, just Bronson shooting muggers, the muggers retaliating and then Bronson pushing back to a big orgy of gunfire that is the finale. Bronson of course seems more into it then he does in Death Wish II, and while Death Wish II collapsed into seriousness, Death Wish 3 seems to be almost a black comedy. One imagines that some of this is in fact intentional, especially since there are many sequences seen as comedy, mainly the housewife who shoves a mugger out of the house with a broom, and Bronson’s running joke of Wildey, a gun that is used to hunt elephant. Death Wish 3 is the type of vigilante movie that Cannon films (the producers of this) would use for their template of other ridiculous action flicks. However while Death Wish 3 is an excellent guilty pleasure, it is also a signature Bronson movie and is actually fairly well made as far as things go. The action is cut pretty well, the pacing is good and the film isn’t too badly acted, it’s just that this goes to the extreme so much, that you can’t take it seriously. While I can’t say Death Wish 3 is a bona-fide classic, I can say it’s a lot of fun to watch and no wonder it became a cult favorite. Death Wish 3 is probably the best movie Bronson made in the 80s and from a fan of his 80s work, this says a lot.

Death Wish 4:The Crackdown (1987) * *

Cast: Charles Bronson, Kay Lenz, John P. Ryan, Perry Lopez ,Dana Barron, George Dickerson, Soon-Tek Oh

Directed by J.Lee Thompson

Bronson’s back in L.A, this time dealing out vigilante justice to the drug lords responsible for the overdose of his girlfriend’s daughter at the hands of crack, Bronson is actually sponsored by a millionaire who provides him with the necessary ammo and explosives but there’s a double-cross and once again Bronson gets the old machine guns out from behind his fridge (Obviously the ones from Death Wish 3) What can I say about Death Wish 4, it’s ultimately even campier than the Death Wish 3, and while you could admire Winner’s intentional humor (as well as unintentional) and overall quality to the action, this time this is all across the board incompetently made. For instance the gunfight in the fish factory as well as the oil rig shoot out are in particular badly staged, mainly because Bronson just stands with a machine gun mowing down bad guys, indeed Bronson doesn’t even really break a sweat this time until the finale, where his girlfriend (Lenz) is taken hostage. Glass shatters before people are thrown into it, sounds of gunfire is heard before we see the fire on the end of the barrels and hilariously the climax takes place at a roller-skating rink where numerous laughs come just from watching people fall down and panic when the shooting commences. There’s also really, really bad acting from everyone (Even Bronson, Lenz and Ryan are bored with the movie) and this cheapjack sequel while very entertaining fails on pretty much all angles. Indeed this is one bad movie, I mean to explain how cheap the movie is, just know that the score steals the tracks from Invasion USA and 10 To Midnight. Both movies are much better than this, though Death Wish 4 is far funnier.

Death Wish V: The Face Of Death (1994) * * *

Cast:Charles Bronson, Lesley Anne-Down, Michael Parks, Robert Joy, Chuck Shamata

Directed by Allan A. Goldstein

The best sequel (in terms of quality and intentional results that is, though I still like 3 more) finds Bronson this time more in Jason Voorhies mode, as instead of using a machine gun, turns to cyanide sprinkled treats, C-4 laced soccer balls and acid pools to finish off mobsters who attack his finance and then kill her, Bronson keeps wrestling with the idea of going back to his old ways but when he sees the law fail again for the 5th time, Bronson becomes judge, jury and executioner, despite being 72 years old… Bronson as usual is effective in the role, in fact he seems very into the movie, as he personally taunts his prey before sending them plummeting to their deaths. The vengeance angle feels justified this time, as Parks makes an appropriately smarmy villain, in fact Parks gives a great performance one that makes Death Wish 5 more fun than one would expect. The film is also technically well made, as the action is cut relatively well, the production values are big improvement over the three entries and the serious nature is ultimately effective. That said the film takes a tad too long to get to Bronson’s vengeance and it is somewhat disappointing to see Bronson abandon the machine guns in favor of explosives and poison, but the film’s body count is decent, the gore level is high and the factory climax is ultimately pretty satisfying. An underrated sequel to be sure, Death Wish 5 then ends the series on a high note.


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  3. Watch Death Wish Netflix online free on zmovies now. Entertaining, witty, and aggressive; just what the Dr. ordered. Bruce Willis's performance does leave a bit to be desired, at times a bit too monotone in scenes where you wouldn't expect it and not always believable, but he still brings some of his typical charm. Hats off to Director Eli Roth who "saved the day" in my book when it came to some of those lesser moments. There were some glaring issues with the forensics aspect of the story and such that bothered me a bit, but, the movie was entertaining enough to let it go. Overall, sort of a mix between Die Hard and what a sequel to Unbreakable could have been. If you are looking for a bang-bang no-nonsense shoot 'em up, you might be a bit disappointed. If you want an action movie with a dose of comedy (and perhaps secretly tells what many anti-gun liberals are really feeling on the inside), then this it. Now, how about that Unbreakable sequel, someone? See more: