Friday, May 13, 2011
It’s sad to see the career of a talented actor be knocked about by the folks in Hollywood. How many times have we seen an actor display great depth, many characters, work hard no matter what roles they were given and go so far as to receive Hollywood’s highest accolade, the Oscar, only to disappear or find themselves in lesser films? Such has been the case with Cuba Gooding Jr.
A talented actor who did fantastic jobs in high profile films like BOYS IN THE HOOD and RADIO, Gooding has been relegated to B movie releases of late. These are films that usually go straight to DVD with little or no promotion. But the truth is that even these films give us the chance to have a top notch actor in what some would call a lesser quality film. I disagree.
THE HIT LIST stars Cole Hauser as Allan Campbell, a businessman with problems. In debt to a loan shark and depending on a promised promotion he finds himself passed over for someone else. Then he goes home to find his wife and best friend in the midst of an affair as she tells him that the life has gone out of their marriage since he seems consumed with the job. What to do? Hit the bar and start drinking.
At the bar he hears on the news that a controversial TV announcer has been murdered. As he starts his binge, he begins a conversation with another guy at the bar named Jonas (Gooding) who isn’t really interested in talking. But something that Allan says piques Jonas’ interest and the two spend the night drinking. During this night Jonas reveals to Allan that he’s the hit man who made the assassination in the news. Allan laughs it off but Jonas tells him to make a list of 5 names and he’ll kill each one to prove it. Quite drunk now, Allan starts with the boss, guy who got the promotion, loan shark, best friend and his wife. A quick trip to the men’s room and when he returns Jonas is gone.
Waking in his car the next morning, Allan heads to work only to find once he gets there that his boss has been murdered. Squeaking past the police he tries to find his competitor only to witness him being killed by Jonas who then takes him captive. The rest of the film plays out with Jonas trying to force Allan to stop him from continuing on, to finally take a stand for himself. He also wants to find his own redemption for a life filled with murder.
The plot runs fairly simple here and rather straight forward. So what makes it any different than any other B movie addition? First off is Gooding who does a great job here. He plays the role straight, a character who has done wrong and wants to pay but at the same time not in search of pity. He truly wants to be put down. Hauser is another B movie actor that deserves better. He might not shine as Gooding does here, but he does solid work. Lastly the thing that fares better than B movie average here is the soundtrack. This music sounds as if it comes from the latest blockbuster.
Yes this film may be relegated to the B movie rack, it might not be a film that you’ve ever heard of but it does offer some pretty decent entertainment. Other films may get the attention but this one is worth giving a shot.
There are movies that you watch to be entertained by. There are movies you watch to experience a piece of art. And then there are movies that combine these two ideas and come out with something altogether different, a movie that entertains on some level and yet is so well made as to be considered art. I SAW THE DEVIL is one such film, a truly disturbing picture that will stay with you long after the final credits.
The film opens in winter where a young woman’s car has a flat. While speaking to her boyfriend, a secret agent, she is offered assistance by a bus driver which she declines. Once she hangs up, the bus driver viciously attacks her, breaking out the windows of her car and clubbing her into submission with a hammer. She awakes to find herself in a secluded location where her kidnapper systematically tortures and kills her, even after she pleads for not just her life but that of her unborn child.
The victim’s boyfriend Kim Soo-hyeon (Byung-hung Lee) is distraught by her murder. Contacting her father, an ex-police detective, he is given several leads as to who may have killed her and begins targeting each one. As he enacts his revenge on the first two in a most brutal fashion, he finds himself realizing that the third is the guilty party. Tracking him down is easy. What he does afterwards is not.
Kim finds Kyung-chul (Min-Sik Choi) and nearly beats him to death. But he stops. His thirst for revenge would be short lived if he killed this monster. Instead he allows him to live with the knowledge that it isn’t over. Kim becomes the hunter, thrilling at the hunt as he continues to track down Kyung. Kyung continues on a murderous rampage almost racking up several more victims but Kim always shows at the last minute and does more physical damage to Kyung.
Readers may recall that I’ve found what is now called “torture porn” to be pretty distasteful, especially the film HOSTEL. There are many scenes in this film that rival HOSTEL for the sheer power of filmed torture. But there’s a difference as well that some will squabble over. In HOSTEL we witnessed a movie in which voyeurs had the chance to become a part of the action, to pay to torture people, no more motivation than the so called thrill. In this film we witness a man whose memory is tortured for his not being there to save his fiancé, a man who is seeking out vengeance.
I found myself watching and thinking what would I do given the same circumstances? Would I want to find vengeance on my own? If I had the skill set as the character of Kim has, the capabilities he displays in fighting and surveillance techniques, would I want to take my own pound of flesh from someone who had caused me such pain? I never did find an answer for my questions, just that there is the possibility that I would.
The film continues with bloody encounters all the way from start to finish. There’s even a stop by Kyung at a home invasion his friend has just done, a friend who enjoys cannibalism and is in the middle of eating one of his victims. But the encounters between Kyung and Kim as Kim nears the threshold of finally exacting his revenge are what make this movie click. It is witnessing Kim perhaps turn into the same monster he seeks in his search for revenge, perhaps not finally doing so, that holds our interest.
A word of warning: This film is not for the weak of heart. It is not for anyone who would be offended or upset at witnessing some of the most brutal moments on film that I’ve witnessed in some time. That being said this film is a movie that will stick with you in more ways than one. On a visceral level it will twist your insides. On an emotional level you’ll wonder how you would react in the same situation. And on a film watching level you will see a movie that holds many lyrical moments visually one minute and gut wrenching moments (literally) the next.
If you’ve seen the movie OLDBOY (which also starred Min-Sik Choi) then you’ll know the type of film to expect. It may not be for everyone but if you’re willing to take a chance you’ll finish by seeing a well made movie that doesn’t treat a serial killer as a jokester ala Freddy Kreuger, but treats him as the terrifying killer that he truly is. This is a film that treats horror as horror and not a joke. And it stays with you even after it ends.
How can anyone make a list of man movies and not bring up the films of Charles Bronson? Granted he’s already been in the cast of three of the movies I’ve chosen to write about already (THE DIRTY DOZEN, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN and THE GREAT ESCAPE), but those movies included him more as a member of the cast and not as the star. As Bronson’s career grew he went from playing the mute lab assistant in THE HOUSE OF WAX to the main character in a number of action films in the seventies including today’s gem MR. MAJESTYK.
Bronson stars as Vince Majestyk, a watermelon grower who wants nothing more than to get his crop in. As the film starts he shows his caring side by taking the side of migrant workers who just want to use a gas station’s rest room. Hiring them to work along side his already picked crew, he returns to the farm to find a hustler named Bobby Kopas (Paul Koslo) trying to force him into using the crew Kopas wants to supply. A physical altercation that results in Kopas losing his gun and having the stock used to change his mind results in a warrant issued for Majestyk’s arrest.
Placed in a jail Majestyk runs afoul of mob hit man Frank Renda (Al Lettieri). As far as Majestyk is concerned he’s just another guy in jail. Renda strikes fear in the hearts of the rest of the convicts but not Vince. The prisoners are loaded for transfer to another location but their bus is attacked by a group trying to free Renda. In the aftermath of the attack a number of officers are left dead or dying and Vince has taken Renda and the bus for a drive to his summer cabin. He makes a deal for Renda’s release just to get his crop in, but Renda’s crew show to rescue him.
The die is cast. Renda won’t listen to reason, wanting nothing more than to exact his revenge on Majestyk. The police won’t interfere, hoping that Majestyk can be used as live bait to catch Renda in the act. Not willing to bide his time, Renda eventually attacks Majestyk, first shooting up his barn filled with watermelons and then breaking the legs of Larry (Alejandro Rey) his foreman. Now its time for Majestyk to get some revenge of his own.
Written by action author Elmore Leonard, MR. MAJESTYK is a fantastic action/revenge film that moves at a fast pace and doesn’t waste a moment of screen time. Each second seen on the screen is planting the seeds for the final showdown and doing it with perfection. And the two leads are amazing to watch. Lettieri was always cast as a mobster and killer and seemed to excel at those roles.
Bronson was the epitome of the tough guy you just knew you shouldn’t mess with but who stood up for those less fortunate. He made a living playing roles like this, becoming a icon of the seventies. He didn’t possess the looks of the typical leading man having a rough exterior, but there was something about him that made you wish you had him in your corner. He had more movies that fit the “man movie” category and you’ll see me write about them in the future. In looking back Bronson was one of the main stars to represent the kind of actor found in those films. He took no guff, he kicked butt and he stood for something bigger than himself. And in MR. MAJESTYK Bronson gives a good example of the kind of star he was just before he became a bigger international sensation.
I’ll say up front two things about BLACK DEATH. The first is that it is a well made film, photographed well, acted well, directed well. The second is that it falls into a category of film I’ve tired of: trying to make Christians look responsible for every bad thing to ever happen in the world.
The time is 1342 and England is being ravaged by the Black Plague. The smell of death floats across the air in every corner of every location that exists. The dead are carted to the roadside to be taken away and rotting corpses are nothing unusual.
A monastery is no safer from the plague than anywhere else. Monks are dying just as the everyday citizens are. Young Osmond (Eddie Redmayne) is a monk early on in his life. Having sworn his life to God he also has done the forbidden by falling in love with childhood friend Averill (Kimberly Nixon). Insisting she leave town before she falls victim to the plague, she gives him a last chance: abandon God and follow me. She tells him she will wait for one week in the town they grew up in and then move on with her life.
Once Averill leaves a new group enters. This is an emissary of the Bishop, a warrior named Ulric (Sean Bean) who is en route to find a town where it is said no one dies or is affected by the plague. He’s looking for a guide and Osmond, having just asked God for a sign what to do, jumps at the chance since the town they seek is next to the one he grew up in. That town holds the chance of returning to Averill.
The journey is slow moving as the men walk and one cart is pulled along, a cart that contains the tools of torture used to force confessions of witchcraft and necromancy from helpless victims. The warriors that accompany Ulric all have their own short tales to tell, how they came to this place and what they expect to find. Bloodthirsty and ready for action they get their chance early on.
Near the town, Osmond sneaks off one morning to see if Averill awaits. To his dismay he only finds her cape drenched in blood and a group of thieves, weapons drawn. Osmond runs back and alerts the warriors who take up arms and battle the larger numbered thieves. They win but at what costs as one of their own lies dying and Osmond is wounded.
Moving forward they come to the marshland that holds the mysterious city they are searching for. They enter and find the inhabitants at first inhospitable, but after pretending to seek sanctuary they are welcomed to spend the night. A pale and well groomed woman takes Osmond with her and tends to his wound with a poultice. The rest wander about trying to figure out which one is the necromancer, the wizard, that has taken this village under his wing.
At dinner they discover that there may be more than meets the eye in this group. Are they truly bewitched? Are they pagans, worshipping the devil himself? Or is it just that this town is lucky? Perhaps they’ve discovered a secret that keeps them alive.
In short order (and hopefully without giving too much away) a confrontation involving the warriors being forced to recant their beliefs in order to stay alive is offered and a discussion about the horrors inflicted on many because of their belief in Christianity ensues. Christians are depicted as believe like me or die while pagans are shown as understanding and compassionate yet eventually acting the same way. Follow my way or die. A twist ending feels more tacked on than a part of the whole.
While both sides are shown to have terrible flaws in their religious backgrounds and thinking, the more damaging presentation is tossed at Christians. Certainly if you go back and check history you will find that Christians did some terrible things in the name of God (anyone ever heard of the Inquisition?). But if all you had to go by was this film you’d think Christians did nothing but attempt to exterminate people and that pagans just wanted to be left to their own devices. The truth is a combination. Both sides did wrong at one time or another. To depict one as being more aggressive at it just shows us another movie maker taking a swipe at Christians.
One thing this movie definitely illustrates. Those of us who can remember far back know of a time when Hollywood made movies like THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD, KING OF KINGS and BEN HUR. All of these movies painted Christianity in a good light. With the inclusion of historical “accuracy” into films in the late 60s, things changed. It was no longer considered cool. Weird religions started popping up and those new age followings were given a wider birth to be explored than Christianity. So what happened? Why did it become wrong to believe in God? And why is it that the only religion that seems to be fair game is Christianity?
I can’t give an answer to that other than to believe offers more restrictions than these new age religions. And God knows Hollywood doesn’t want to be restricted from anything.
In any event out of 5 stars I would give this movie 3 just for the quality of the production. Were it on content alone I’d have to slide down to 2. But if it were rated on the basis of how much it would offend or upset someone its 5 stars all the way. Perhaps I took it to hard or too serious. Then again that just might show the strength of my beliefs and their lack of the same.