Death Wish (2018)

death1Another remake, and this time a remake of a decidedly exploitative 1974 thriller, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that this was as bad as they come. What did surprise me, though, was some of the talent involved in this- so much so that this movie felt more of a betrayal to filmgoers than I could believe.

We’ll start for what passes for a script, written by Joe Carnahan. That’s the guy behind such films as Narc and The Grey (a great film, that one) although considering he was also behind the A-Team movie reboot, perhaps this particular project shouldn’t surprise me afterall. This is purely by-the-numbers gun glorification, that uniquely American myth that owning guns is a noble thing and killing bad guys is what every righteous cowboy sorry civilian should aspire to do if only they had the guts to Do The Right Thing. Its every lunatic’s God-given right to own a gun, it seems. And every cop is so inherently stupid we can’t trust them to police the streets and serve justice. Seriously, the detectives here are greedy, lazy and so idiotic they can’t see whats infront of their faces- thank God for Bruce.

Ah, Bruce. That’s Bruce Willis, not the shark from Jaws, although that rubber shark was more impressive and sincere an actor than the one Willis is now. I don’t know what happened to Willis- he was so good years ago but he’s just appalling these days, phoning in performances that are frankly embarrassing. Its infuriating, because I watched him again in Die Hard only a few weeks ago and he’s so good in that- funny and charming and wiseass and cool, but with a streak of vulnerability too. Twelve Monkeys, he was just brilliant in that. These days he’s a cardboard smirk, and that’s about it.  That word raises up in my head again- betrayal; betrayal in this case of any fans he had left and anyone who pays to see a movie because it stars him. Off the top of my head I can’t name another actor who has gone so far south of the reservation as he has. Clearly he signed up for this film for two things- the pay cheque and a cynical ploy to launch another action franchise as Liam Neeson did with the similarly-themed Taken films and all the Taken clones Neeson cashed in on afterwards.

The rest of the cast- this thing has a pretty great cast; Vincent D’Onofrio,  Elisabeth Shue (now there’s an actress who deserved a better career), Dean Norris (so great in Breaking Bad, so awful here although he’s practically playing The Same Goddam Part), Stephen McHattie (so great in Watchmen, here he’s relegated to a (perhaps merciful) several-second cameo) are wasted, the film dragged down by the Black Hole of Willis’ charisma, sucking the very life out of every scene he’s in.  Its like some kind of irresistible life-sucking force of nature draining every other actors talent, it’s almost scary ruthless it is.

Surprisingly even Eli Roth, the exploitation-enfant terrible that he is, is unable to maintain any energy in this film- there’s a bit of commentary on social media and radio talk-show debates as people argue whether our hero (‘The Grim Reaper’ no less) is  a hero or villain, but otherwise Roth’s main contribution seems to be some moments of very graphic gore during the action stuff.

Watching this film I often had to wonder, is this film really this bad or is it some kind of arch-commentary of modern action flicks and right-wing politics? Willis plays Dr. Paul Kersey a top surgeon in Chicago’s A&E department (you’d think it’d be easier to just let the scum die on his operating table). It becomes almost hilarious when on his every vengeance spree he goes down to his Bat Cave (Hospital basement) to clothe himself in the abandoned hoodies of (presumably) dead patients, which always seem to fit him like some inevitable superhero costume (“no longer the Smirking Reaper, he becomes The Grim Reaper, scourge of the criminals!’).  Nah, this film isn’t clever or sophisticated enough to carry the arch-commentary excuse.

Utter nonsense and truly dire, definitely one to avoid because life is Just Too Short.

Daredevil: Man Not Without Fear

dared12016.7: Daredevil Season One (Blu-ray)

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m rather late to this one. Season Two has already been and gone and fans looking forward to a Defenders spin-off and an eventual season three further beyond that, but I’ve only just finished this first series. Blame it on how television shows are sold/distributed these days, and marvel (pardon the pun) at my powers of avoiding spoilers. For years.

Daredevil is, pretty much, every bit as good as people had been telling me. It takes many of the standard tropes of the superhero genre and gives them a fresh spin, which is pretty amazing considering how many superhero tv shows are on the air right now and how many superhero blockbusters are in cinemas. Its dark, its grim, it has a few  really effective twists and turns, and has a genuinely likeable lead who has enough doubts and fears to make him seem more realistic and interesting than your standard genre good-guy in a spandex suit might. Funnily enough, whilst I mention that, I would just point out the show seemed, in hindsight, more interesting when he was dressed in his simple black mask and suit disguise, like a shadowy vigilante. When he finally acquires his full Daredevil costume that doubles as protective armour, somehow the show veers uncomfortably close to self-parody and looking silly. Its another hero in a funny costume, this gritty and realistic film-noir story suddenly turning into, well, a typical Marvel flick. Its a tricky line to cross when a show has been as realistic and gritty as this was before turning into yet another super-costumed drama. Hopefully I’ll get over that when I eventually see season two.

The one thing Daredevil suffers from -if suffers is indeed the right word- is the usual strange thing about the villain stealing the show. It almost always seems to happen, and Daredevil is certainly no exception. Here we have the fascinating, vicious local crime boss, Wilson Fisk , who is played with such nuance and depth by Vincent D’Onofrio, it seems that he thinks he’s in a Shakespearean tragedy. His Kingpin is a monster who thinks his actions are justified by his goal to ‘fix’ his blighted city that he grew up in a child. Its clever how Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) shares the same background of being a child of Hell’s Kitchen, New York, and shares too a desire to ‘fix’ his blighted city .The guys are polar opposites yet be alike, both creations of this crime-ridden metropolis that needs either a hero or a monster, or maybe both.

Charlie Cox is great as the hero by the way- it’s just a pity for him that he is pitched against D’Onofrio playing a meatier character, but his Matt Murdock is pretty interesting and conflicted enough to be a rewarding hero. A lawyer by day and a vigilante at night, he is well aware of the perverse dichotomy at work and agonises over whether his violent actions are justified or his courtroom antics a waste of time. Corruption is rife throughout the system, and good guys are eaten up by it – who can you trust when you can’t trust the cops or the justice system? Is an honest lawyer the answer or a masked vigilante?

The show might have benefitted from being ten episodes rather than thirteen – ten seems to be some kind of magic number for these tv shows- as the story seems overly stretched over the run but on the whole, yeah, a great show, and a breath of fresh air for me, as I’ve gotten bored of (and stopped watching) Marvel’s Agents of Shield and Arrow, Flash etc. Maybe these Netflix shows are indeed the answer.