Friday, September 30, 2011

Blind Fury (1989)

Title: Blind Fury (1989)

Director: Phillip Noyce

Cast: Rutger Hauer, Meg Foster, Nick Cassavetes, Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb


Nowadays, when a film is released, companies already know what target audience they are making the film for. They do studies, they know on which television channels to promote the film and in which specific websites their promotional dollars will work the best in order to get their target audience in theaters. But once upon a time, the business of selling a film and knowing your target audience wasn’t as perfected as it is today. Back in the eighties, some films confused audiences upon their release to the point where the audience didn’t know what kind of film was being marketed to them. As a result, these films tanked at the box office. Two good examples of these types of films are Howard the Duck (1986) and Monster Squad (1988) to fun movies aimed at pre-teens/teens that failed to connect with them. Why? Well, for example Howard the Duck seems like a children’s film on the surface (we’re talking about a talking duck here for Christ’s sake) yet upon careful consideration it isn’t a children’s film at all. Howard smokes a stogie, carries a condom in his wallet, almost has sex with a human female, drinks beer, takes a look at a porn magazine (called Playbill) and finally, ends up working in a motel! And what about Monster Squad? Well, again, on the surface Monster Squad appears to be a film aimed at children, yet it was apparently perceived as “too scary” for them. I kind of agree, there is some disturbing imagery on this film, the kids shoot fire arms, say “bitch” and “shit”, read porn, take pictures of naked girls from their club house, stab vampire vixens with stakes through their hearts, you get the picture. The film was deemed to scary by critics, therefore parents didn’t let their kids see the film, hence, the films target audience never showed. Blind Fury, the film I will be reviewing today seems to fall under the same category of films that confused their audiences upon release.  

Blind Fury tells the story of Nick Parker (Rutger Hauer) a Vietnam vet who looses his eye sight during the war. He is taken in by the nicest Vietnamese ever portrayed on any war movie ever, and not only do they treat him and heal his wounds; they also train him in the ways of the sword. The training goes on and on for a while; long enough for Nick to become an expert swordsman. Fast forward twenty years and we have Nick, back in the United States, searching for his war buddy Frank Devereaux. What he doesn’t know is that Frank has been forcibly involved in the fabrication of a designer drug for a major drug dealer called McCready. You see, McCready owes a heck of a lot of money, and he needs Frank to create this designer drug for him so that he can sell it and pay off his debts. So McCready decides to kidnap Frank’s son and wife in order to force him to produce the drug. Unfortunately, the day the bad guys are going to kidnap Frank’s son, is the very same day that Nick decides to visit his old war buddy. One thing leads to another and Nick ends up saving Frank’s son from the bad guys, and soon finds himself on the road, running from the bounty hunters who are looking for Frank’s son. He is on his way to Reno, to save Frank and reunite him with his son. Will he make it to Reno without getting the kid or himself killed? Will he be able to save Frank?

Blind Fury is a couple of films all rolled up into one. First we have the Vietnam vet returning from war angle, not unlike the premise for First Blood (1982). On that film we first meet Rambo when is on his way to his war buddies house, same as in Blind Fury. Then we have a similar premise to that of the Japanese Zatoichi series of films; a series of films where the protagonists is also blind Samurai who in spite of being blind can kick anyone’s ass just as well as if he had his eyesight. We also have similar elements from Shogun Assassin (1980), a film in which a Samurai and his son are on the run from the Shogun who wants to kill him. And finally, this is one of those films where we have a father figure and his son going through a traumatic ordeal together, their bond growing as the adventure progresses. It reminded me a bit of Sylvester Stallone’s Over the Top (1987) or Tank (1984) a film about a soldier who tries to save his son, who’s been sent to jail for a crime he didn’t commit. You know, these are the types of films where father and a son bond. In Blind Fury, Rutger Hauer plays the role of the father figure, because Billy’s father is actually in a heap of trouble and cant be there for him.  

This must have been a difficult movie to market. From looking at the films poster, you’d think the film is a comedy about a crazy blind sword master, which it technically is. The film does have a slight comedy vibe going for it. But then there is the issue of little Billy, who tags along with Nick through out the entire movie, so then you get the idea that maybe this is a film targeted at that age demographic of 12 year olds. But then the movie is about a deadly sword master who slashes and dices he’s way through the bad guys like there’s no tomorrow, so then the film feels like it’s an adult film. So it’s a mish mash of genres which I’m sure ultimately made the film a hard sell for the studio. And when a studio doesn’t know who to sell a finished film to, it spells certain doom for a film project. This one tanked horribly, it cost less than ten million dollars to make, a reasonably cheap film. Yet it still didn’t manage to make more than 3 million dollars at the box office. So my theory is proven correct, when a film doesn’t have a target audience to sell to, it tanks horribly; unless by some miracle of the cinematic gods it connects with the audience somehow. And that didn’t happen with Blind Fury.

The films original poster  

The film is very lighthearted, in an interesting turn of events, Rutger Hauer isn’t playing the villain. Instead, he plays the blind swordsman with a heart of gold. I was expecting a hard hitting action film (and it kind of is at times) but instead what I got was a semi funny, lighthearted, father son bonding type of film with Rutger Hauer adopting Billy as his son for the whole film. And to tell you the truth, it was interesting to see Hauer playing this nice guy who cares for this little kid and will do anything to protect him, it was such a change of pace from what I’m used to seeing him play; so this movie is interesting in that way. I mean, you ever seen Hauer doing a bit of slapstick? You’ll see him here! Sounds weird don’t it? Hauer doing comedy, but strangely enough it works. We get to meet other funny characters as well, the villains in this film are a bumbling idiotic bunch who cant get anything done. At one point, a group of villains is chasing Nick and Billy through a corn field and one of them eats pop corn as he is chasing them down. Guess what that goons name is? ‘Pop Corn’! At another moment McCready sends a pair of buffoons after Nick, a pair of idiotic brothers called Lyle and Tector Pike. They are responsible for some of the funniest lines. One of them was played by Nick Cassavetes, the villain in The Wraith (1986) and the director of The Last Starfighter (1984). He is one of two bumbling brothers who say some pretty funny lines along the way. We also get Randall Tex Cobb a.k.a. the biker dude from The Coen Bros. Raising Arizona (1987), he plays the same character he’s always played in every single film. The tough looking gorilla type killer who’s always smoking something.

Nick’s abilities sometimes defy logic, I mean, I know blind people can augment all their other senses to compensate for their loss of sight, but come on, this movie gets ridiculous at times, which of course is part of the fun of this film. Hauer plays Nick in a goofy way which makes it endearing to watch. This film comes to us from Phillip Noyce, the director behind one of my recent favorite action films SALT (2010), starring Angelina Jolie. From this to SALT, you can definitely see how he’s improved as a director.  Noyce directed Blind Fury right after he had just directed Dead Calm (1989), a film that put him on the map as a director. He would go on to direct a couple more thriller/action films like The Saint (1997), Clear and Present Danger (1994) and Patriot Games (1992). The violence in Blind Fury is never really graphic or gory, which is another indicator that they were never really going for a hard ‘R’ film, and another indicator that this film was aimed at a younger audience. In terms of tone, this one reminded me a bit of William Dear’s If Looks Could Kill (1991), you know, nothing deadly serious, just a fast paced and fun film all the way through. Recommend it if you’re ever in the mood for those father/son bonding films, or if you just want to watch a film that’s lighthearted and funny.

Rating: 3 out of 5  

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Mechanic (2011)

Title: The Mechanic (2011)

Director: Simon West

Cast: Jason Statham, Ben Foster, Donald Sutherland


So Jason Statham is trying his best to establish himself as THE action star of his generation, cause let’s face it, there aren’t many of those hovering around Hollywood, I mean not to the level of past action stars like Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Bronson and Norris. What actor’s are currently trying to establish themselves as the new generation of action stars? Well, let’s see, there’s The Rock (a.k.a. Dwayne Johnson) who has decided to work for Disney now making films like Race to Witch Mountain (2009). I get it though. He’s trying to do what Schwarznegger did when he started to make comedies like Twins (1988) and Kindergarten Cop (1990). But come on, Tooth Fairy (2010)? That’s pushing things a little too far; almost too far. He is attempting to make a comeback to action with films like Faster (2010) and Fast Five (2011), but is it too late? The Rock still has to prove himself in my book; he still has to make that ‘great action film’ that will place him on the legendary action star status. Same goes for Vin Diesel, but again, with the possible exception of the Riddick films (which I love) none of his films are half as good as the ones made by the good old guys. And there in lies the problem with all these new action stars. They are just not making good films. Or even memorable ones. Statham I can respect a bit more because, right from the very beginning, he hasn’t stopped making action films. Statham’s got the persona, the looks, the attitude, the cool of an action star. Because an action star’s got to have the cool, there’s no denying that. Yet, I don’t feel Statham has made that great action film either. So here comes The Mechanic, a remake of Michael Winner’s The Mechanic (1972), yet another attempt of Statham’s to solidify himself as this generations action star. How was it?

Story is all about a hired killer called Arthur Bishop. Arthur is methodical in his killings; he makes them look like accidents, and he is in and out like the wind. No one knows he was even there. In Arthur’s own words: “What I do requires a certain mindset. I do assignments; designated targets. Some jobs need to look like accidents. Others must cast suspicion on someone else. A select few need to send a clear message. Pulling a trigger is easy. The best jobs are the ones nobody even knows you were there.” But one day he is asked to kill his mentor, the man who taught him everything about being an assassin. Unfortunately, one of his own rules is to follow the orders of his superiors no matter what, so he does it. And here comes the complication, Steve his ex-mentors son (not knowing that Bishop killed his father) befriends Bishop and wants to learn all about being an assassin. So Bishop, out of guilt decides to take the young dude and teach him everything he knows. Will Steve ever know that it was Bishop who killed his father? It's this question that drives the film, and makes the Bishop/Steve team an uneasy alliance. One thing I will say about this film, I enjoyed the chemistry between Statham and Foster's characters. Many go as far as to say that Foster steals the film from Statham in some ways, and as far as the acting goes, I have to say I agree. 

I see what Statham’s trying to do by remaking a Charles Bronson film, and I get it. Just by doing a remake of a Bronson film he is trying to associate himself with Bronson’s now legendary legacy. I mean for those not in the know, Bronson was the ass kicker of his day, the silent type you didn’t want to mess with or you were going to pay, especially if you were a criminal. I mean, Bronson’s the guy behind Death Wish (1974)! Statham’s just trying to get some of that Bronson attitude rub off on him. Or maybe he just wants his name mentioned along side Bronson’s in every single review for this film in this way saying ‘I’m this generations Charles Bronson, how do you like them apples?’ Which is all fine and dandy, I mean trying to be the next Bronson isn’t a bad thing, but if you want to be Bronson, then goddamn it don’t water down the remake. Though to be honest, in these politically correct times we live in, the watering down of action/horror films shouldn’t surprise anyone. It’s a common thing these days. Face it my friends, action/horror films just aren’t the same these days. One look at action films of the 70’s and 80’s and you’ll see what I mean. Take one night and watch Death Wish (1974), Robocop (1987), Total Recall (1990) and Lethal Weapon (1987) and tell me you don’t see the marked difference. To use a tired phrase, they just don’t make them like that anymore. Was The Mechanic a victim of the watered down American action film?

 Well, in some ways yes and in some ways no. Statham’s character is still a killer, but he only kills ‘bad guys’. He kills drug dealers and evil religious leaders who take advantage of their flock. He kills gangsters and hitmen, and you know how it goes with killing hitmen, “no matter what you do to them, you don’t feel bad”. So Statham plays it safe like that. Another marked difference between this film and the original is that Bronson played his mechanic as a guy feeling the ravages of age, he knows he is getting old, he knows that his days are numbered so he is looking for someone to accompany him on his missions and ease his workload. On the remake Statham is practically The Terminator. He is untouchable, nothing is going to happen to him because he is Jason Statham and nothing touches him on his films. He reminded me of Chuck Norris in Invasion U.S.A. (1985), you know, totally indestructible. There is no vulnerability to Statham’s Bishop. Contrary to the original, this film plays by Hollywood’s rules: Nothing happens to the good guy, and above all things, the good guy cannot die. But here’s something that Bronson knew while making his film: he knew he wasn’t playing the proverbial good guy, he was a bad guy, playing by his own rules. You play a game of death, you expose yourself to death itself, you are always living under the assumption that you might bite the bullet at any moment. Statham mechanic doesn’t have that vulnerability. He is a killer, yet he lives in a mansion, he lives without a conscience apparently because he looks so calm and happy whenever he isn’t out there killing. Come on dude, you’re a killer. And your training a young lad in the ways of assassination, grow some fucking attitude, take some risks with your character. Surprise the audience. As it is, the film holds no surprises. Statham is indestructible, a killer with no conscience for his actions. For all intents and purposes, he is a robot. Indestructible action heroes can be fun to watch in cheesy action flicks, but this film plays it dead serious, there’s no fun to be had here. This wasnt supposed to be the kind of film that had the indestructible action star, this was to be the one about the troubled, angst ridden protagonist, trying to face issues of his own mortality.   

The most cliche scene you could put in your action film: The protagonist walking away from an explosion

But don’t get me wrong; in spite of this remake being a bit different then the original, it’s still a decent action flick with some cool action sequences. The fist fights are pretty intense, one takes place inside of a bus, I liked the closed quarters fighting in those scenes, there’s also a cool fight on top of a building which will give some watchers vertigo. It didn’t seem like they were using a lot of CGI in those sequences, kudos to them for that. Simon West the director behind Con Air (1997) and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) delivers a slick looking action flick that is technically superior to the original, but lacks any of the balls that Bronson’s film had. The original mechanic was a more cerebral film, it even dealt with existentialist issues. Can we live in society under our own rules? Can we live in our own mind and ignore the world we live in? And what are the consequences of living by our own rules in this world? These were the questions pondered in the original yet completely ignored by the remake. The remake is just another action film. The original was bleak, dark and void of a happy ending. Sadly, this new Mechanic is playing by Hollywood’s rules rather than its own, but still, you know, watchable.

Rating: 3 out of 5 

Ben Foster says: "I can walk away from explosions too!"

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Revenge (1990)

Title: Revenge (1990)

Director: Tony Scott

Cast: Kevin Costner, Madeleine Stowe, Anthony Quinn, Miguel Ferrer, John Leguizamo

If you asked me which one I prefer over the two Scott brothers (Ridley Scott and Tony Scott) I’d quickly tell you that I lean more towards Ridley Scott’s style of filmmaking. It’s not that I hate Tony Scott’s films, it’s just that I enjoy Ridley Scott’s films a whole lot more because they are more cerebral and artsy, and I love artsy. Ridley’s films satisfy my brain as well as my thirst for art and spectacle. Tony Scott is the complete opposite; he focuses more on making commercial films that play by Hollywood’s rules and I enjoy Tony Scott’s films for entirely different reasons, they are crowd pleasers, they are fun and fast paced, they are action packed. Where Ridley’s films make money as a by product of the quality of his art, Tony’s films are the other way around, money making comes into the equation first. And that’s exactly what he is best at: making profitable action films. Tony is the director behind such box office hits as Top Gun (1986), Beverly Hills Cop II (1987) and Days of Thunder (1990), all big Hollywood productions with big stars and wide appeal. Sometimes, he branches out and does more experimental films; the results have been films like The Hunger (1983) and Domino (2005). And finally, if you ask me, Tony Scott is at his worst when making simplistic, vapid films like Unstopabble (2010). But most of the time, his films are entertaining and highly watchable. 

Ridley Scott Directs 

Tony Scott has also ventured into the revenge film territory. He has made two films of this variety, both of which are excellent within the revenge film genre. The first one he made is the film I will be reviewing today: Revenge (1990). His second entry into the revenge film sub-genre was the Quentin Tarantino scripted: True Romance (1993), a film I have revisited on more than one occasion. The reason why Tarantino got Tony Scott to direct True Romance was that Tarantino saw and loved Scott’s Revenge (1990). Tarantino has been quoted as saying “I’m a huge fan of that movie. In fact, that was the reason I was supportive and really tried to make it happen that Tony directed ‘True Romance’. I was like I want the man who directed ‘Revenge’ to do my movie”  In fact, the dvd cover for the unrated director’s cut of the film has a Tarantino quote that says “I consider ‘Revenge’ to be Tony Scott’s masterpiece”, so hey, Tarantino backs the hell out of this movie. And when you watch it, you actually feel like your watching a Tarantino film in many ways.

The story is all about fighter pilot Michal Jay Cochran (Kevin Costner), who’s just retired and is ready to just kick back and relax. His friend Tiburon ‘Tibey’ Mendez (Anthony Quinn) a Mexican ‘business man’ whom Jay once flew to Alaska for a hunting trip, invites Jay over to his mansion in Mexico to enjoy a couple of days of relaxation. Problem comes when Jay meets Tibey’s wife Mireya, who is a stunning beyond belief  beauty (Madeline Stowe). Jay and Mireya are immediately attracted to each other. They develop the kind of attraction that you just can’t stop. The kind of love that’s going to happen no matter what; the kind of love that can get people killed. And so the question arises, will Jay and  Mireya go through with it? I mean, if you knew the object of your affections was married to a stone cold gangster, who is also your friend, would you even think about going through with it? Well, all I can say is that if you saw Madeline Stowe in this movie, you’d understand why Jay decides to screw it all and go for her, which of course get’s him into massive amounts of trouble.

Friends or Foes?

 This movie was great for various reasons; first and foremost, it’s a great revenge film. The complications and situations that happen in this film are worthy of a Tarantino film; you almost feel like he could have written it himself. For example, just in terms of characters doing all sorts of crazy things for love, this one is very similar to True Romance (1993), yet another film in which two characters risk their lives for romance. In Revenge, Jay and Mireya fall madly (and blindly) in love with each other. Their love sets in motion a chain of destructive events; but they don’t care; they can’t seem to keep their hands off of each other. Who cares if Mireya is married to a stone cold killer? They are in love! Anthony Quinn playing the role of Tiburon ‘Tibey’ Mendez, Mireya’s gangster husband, is a real asset to the picture. Tibey seems at first like a nice kind of gangster. He plays tennis with his clients, loves his smoking hot wife and treats Jay like a son. But don’t double cross him or you’ll see his ugly side. There is this moment in which you get to know how pissed off Tibey can get: two of his henchmen attempt a hostile take over of Tibey’s operations; he quickly lets them know just who is boss. And when he discovers what’s going on between Jay and Mireya, boy, he really shows just how much of a vengeful villain he can be. The most tense scenes in the film come from those moments when you get the impression that Tibey kind of knows what's going on, but he's just toying around with Jay. You get this uncertain feeling creeping up on you: Does he know or doesnt he? Great stuff. 

 And this is where I take a chance to talk about Madeline Stowe, one of the most beautiful actresses to grace the silver screen. From the first moment she appears on screen she stuns, and the sex scenes on this film are really something else. I saw the directors cut of the film (the only version you should see of this film) and the scenes where steamier than one would expect from a Hollywood film. Tony Scott really made an effort to make this film erotic, I think it worked because I am now officially a Madeline Stowe fan. After seeing her in this film you certainly feel like this is the kind of woman you’d get yourself in trouble over. Anthony Quinn’s character asks Jay at one point “Do you think my wife is beautiful?” and Jay hesitates to answer, afraid that Tibey might get the wrong idea, but I quickly answered for him with a resounding “Hell YES!” So we got a solid cast on this one. We also get Miguel Ferrer who plays sidekick to Costners character for about half of the film, and John Leguizamo tags along in one of his very first roles ever. Leguizamo isnt really given much to do, it’s one of those roles where the actor isnt really experienced or famous yet so he doesn’t really say much. But he’s there, and he does have one cool scene all to himself. Reportedly, Leguizamo partied so much one night that he barfed on Tony Scott, which probably explains why Leguizamo hasnt worked with Tony Scott ever again. 

 My only problem with the film is the way things are resolved in the third act. The resolution didn’t gel well with a story, the kind of build up we get through out the whole film makes you think things are going to end up really badly between Jay and Tibey, but alas, things are resolved rather blandly instead. This is a trademark move from Tony Scott. While his brother often times makes films that don’t have the happy ending tacked on to them, Tony is the kind of director who actually fights to include them on his films, again showing his affinity for Hollywood style filmmaking, the mega happy ending has got to be there to satisfy the audience, so people go home happy. For example in the Tarantino’s original script for True Romance, Christian Slater’s character dies a horrible death. Tony Scott didn’t want that ending for his film, so he fought to include the mega happy ending we see in the film with Patricia Arquette and Christian Slater on the beach with their new born baby looking all shiny and happy. Revenge doesn’t exactly have a happy ending, but the main problem in the film is solved in a fashion that didn’t seem to fit the film, which kind of promises a nasty showdown in the end. But that was my only real problem with the film. The rest of it was perfect in my opinion.  

Revenge was a film that had was a hot property at one point in Hollywood, way back in 1979. You see, it took the film little more then ten years to get to the silver screen. Before it was turned into a film, it was a novella by author Jim Harrison. Once it was printed on Esquire magazine in 1979, many a Hollywood director wanted to produce and direct this project. Amongst the actors and directors who were actively seeking to direct this film were: Jack Nicholson, Kevin Costner, John Houston, Sydney Pollack, Jonathan Demme and even Francis Ford Copolla himself, but it was Tony Scott who ended up directing and he did a great job with it as far as Im concerned. It might get a little too light for a revenge film at times (especially during it's third half) but it does get pretty intense, it has some really gripping and cringe inducing moments and it’s a bit different than other revenge films because of its marked sensuality. Highly recommend this underrated Tony Scott film. 

Rating: 4 out of 5 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Revenge (1964)

Title: Revenge (Adauchi) (1964)

Director: Tadashi Imai

Cast: Kinnosuke Nakamura


Samurai films and the theme of revenge are always laced together somehow; I guess living by the sword brings its own burdens and sorrows. This is a theme that director Tadashi Imai explore through this fantastic Samurai film, ‘Adauchi’, a story about a Samurai who gets thrust into a duel to the death for a minor squabble. The film explores the ideals of a Samurai, it explores how they gave more importance to their ‘honor’ and ‘saving face’ than human life itself. The question the film asks is: should it be this way? Or is human life more valuable?

Revenge tells the tale of Shinpachi, a member of a minor clan who works for the Samurais cleaning and polishing their swords. One day, a high ranking member of the Okumo clan criticizes Shinpachi’s work telling him that the spears haven’t been polished properly. Shinpachi takes this as an insult, and tells the official that his swords are probably not polished either, and that they are probably gathering dust at his house. The official takes this as an even higher insult, especially when it comes from a lower ranking clan member. So an illegal duel is arranged. You see, in those days duels had to have the approval of the government, and to go on and duel without proper authorization was something illegal. But pride wins the day and Shinpachi faces off with Okumo. We never get to see the fight, but we see it’s outcome, Shinpachi has won. The high ranking member of the Okumo clan is dead, how will Shinpachi respond for this death, especially when the duel was an illegal one?

That’s where Shinpachi’s problems begin because essentially, Shinpachi has commited an act of subversiveness by participating in an illegal duel. So the government labels him as a mad man, saying that he went mad and went on a killing spree. From their on in, Shinpachi runs away to a monastery, all the while the Okumo clan challenges him to another duel to settle the score. Will Shinpachi participate in the duel? Will he let his enemy kill him and die honorably? Will he commit Harakiri? Or will he simply ‘walk away’ and forget all about this mess? Will he choose to live or die? All these choices are offered to Shanpichi at some point by different characters in the film, but ultimately, it’s up to Shanpichi to make a choice. Stand up for yourself or runaway like a coward? Give up or fight for your honor?

The director of Revenge –Tadashi Imai- was considered in his time to be a very controversial director because he often time made extremely socially conscious films, many of which spoke against government abuse and were outright subversive. One such film was the one he made before Revenge called Bushido: The Cruel Code of Samurai in which he debunked the honor and heroism in the Samurai mythos. In other words, he didn’t much agree with the way of the Samurai. And since in those days Samurai’s were essentially the police force of their time, the films were considered to be subversive in nature. Revenge is no exception. Shanpichi is essentially a working class hero, a lowly worker who polishes the samurai’s swords, not necessarily and important individual within society. He’s the common man, just going about his business. But when treated with disrespect, he strikes back to defend his name and honor.

This is something that happens often with governments who cater to the rich. They have a modus operandi in which they basically bad mouth the poor, speak about them as something less than them, they thrive in belittling the little guy. A natural reaction for the insulted party is to get offended; anger and hatred of course can ensue. This is what happens to Shanpichi, he won’t take being insulted by a government official no matter how poor or common he is. He retains his self respect, no matter how much of a worker bee he might be. Subversive types who start talking about “Big Brother is Watching” and “conspiracy theories” often times get labeled as a crazies in society; this is yet another technique, labeling those who think differently as ‘crazy’ or in need of therapy. This is what happens to Shanpichi in Revenge. Suddenly, everyone in town goes against Shanpichi because the government has labeled him as a nut. Strange thing is that all the pressure and stress of the situation in which Shanpichi now finds himself in gets to him, to the point where it feels like he might really be going crazy. So I loved how the filmmakers used a Samurai story to address these very real issues about classism and difference of ideologies. It is a very rebellious film in nature, Shanpichi being the ultimate rebel willing to die for what he believes in, yet another common idea presented in films of a rebellious nature.

Something interesting about this movie is that for a film made in 1964, I think it was really ahead of its time in the way it tells it’s story. Director Tadashi Imai chose to tell this story in a non-linear fashion, which means that the story jumps from the past to the present and vice-versa constantly. In fact, all through out the film. You see, the film starts out by showing us the government preparing the arena in which the duel is going to take place, it shows us the people gathering for the event, the whole town gets worked up to see this duel! And it goes from the arena, to the past, to show us how Shanpichi got into this ordeal. But it doesn’t warn you about it, it simply jumps from past to present, you as the viewer have to be alert enough to realize that the film is doing this. It felt like Pulp Fiction (1994) or 21Grams (2003) in that way.

As for pacing, the film is very slow, but if you’re not the kind of person who needs something blowing up every five seconds you should be fine. Plus, the story is interesting enough to keep you glued to the screen. In other words, the film is slow, but the plot develops in a very interesting way. This is a Samurai drama that does not glorify the violence. In fact, Imai purposely leaves out the violence from certain scenes, meaning he totally skips a fight and jumps right into the outcome of the fight. But don’t get me wrong, we do get to see some cool Samurai swordplay somewhere around the middle of the film, and finally, the last 25 minutes of the film are completely reserved for the duel which is pretty awesome, and yeah, it gets bloody. The final confrontation has a lot of realism in it, and a lot of intensity, Shanpichi really lets out all his anger in those last sequence and it can be seen in his face, filled with blind rage, anger and lust for revenge.

Final words about Adauchi: a great Samurai film, beautifully shot in black and white. Director Imai might test the limits of your patience with the pacing, but just remember, it’s the story and its thematic elements that should keep you pulled in. That plus you just want to know what’s going to happen to Shanpichi, the rebel. The ending confrontation is worth the wait, but only if you know why they are there. It’s a film that shows the futility in pursuing revenge, rather than pursuing life.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Thursday, September 22, 2011

16 Of TheTop 'Revengiest' Revenge Movies!

Revenge Films are an intense bunch, usually they end up with somebody brutally killing another and usually it’s because they really had it coming. In these movies, someone is wronged in such a horrible way, that the wronged parties revenge has to be equally horrible, or maybe even more so. Since its “Action/Revenge Month” here at The Film Connoisseur (you guys been enjoying it?) I thought it would be cool to whip up a list of a couple of my favorite revenge films.  

Though to be honest, I don’t feel this list is complete because I know it is missing a film that should to be in there. I’m talking about Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs (1971), a film considered by many as one of the best revenge films ever. The only reason why it’s not on this list is because I hate to talk about films I haven’t seen myself, but do me a favor and just make believe it’s in there okay? Good. By the way Straw Dogs has just gotten the remake treatment starring James Mardsen and Kate Bosworth; I’m really curious to see how both of these films compare. But rest easy my friends; I will be reviewing Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs before revenge month is over, so look forward to that!

In the meantime, I offer you my choice of Top Revenge films, enjoy!

Title: Sin City (2005)

Director: Robert Rodriguez/Frank Miller

Synopsis: A trio of stories that all revolve around the scumbag characters that inhabit Basin City. Not all the stories revolve around the theme of revenge, but the one titled ‘The Hard Goodbye’ starring Mickey Rourke as Marv, a hitman who’s fallen in love with Goldie, the most beautiful bombshell/prostitute in Sin City, is a good one. Unfortunately, someone killed Goldie while Marv was sleeping, and now it’s his job to find out who did this to him, and why. You can bet when he finds out, they are all going to pay for Goldie’s death. This story has one of the nastiest paybacks on any revenge movie. Ever!  Also, Rourke steals the show as Marv, the killer with a heart of gold. As an added bonus you get Rutger Hauer playing an evil priest and Elijah Wood playing a 100% pure evil cannibal. This story get’s really dark and twisted, the final shebang is well worth the wait.     

Vengeful Quote: “Well, I’m gonna find that son of a bitch that killed you, and I’m gonna give him the hard goodbye. Walk down the right back alley in Sin City, and you can find anything.”

Title: Lady Snowblood (1973)

Director: Toshiya Fujita 

Synopsis: Criminals murder and wipe out Yuki’s family, only her and her mother survive, and Yuki survived because she was unborn, in her mothers belly. Her mother, burning with desire to make these criminals pay for their sins decides to raise her unborn daughter –Yuki- as the instrument with which to exact her revenge with. Unfortunately, Yuki’s mother dies when giving birth to her. But before she dies, she makes sure that her baby will be raised as an assassin, so that she can avenge everything that was done to her family. This is a great revenge film, with some beautifully shot images. One thing you will notice upon watching this film is how much it influenced Tarantino’s own Kill Bill (2003) especially with the characters of The Bride and of O-ren Ishii.

 Title: I Saw the Devil (2010)

Director: Jee-Woon Kim

Synopsis: This film comes to us from the director of the original A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) and The Good, The Bad and The Weird (2008). It tells the tale of a cop whose pregnant girlfriend gets caught and murdered by a vicious individual who likes to kill people and then eat them with his cannibal pals. The villain in this film is truly evil, hence the title of the film. He gives the appearance of being a normal person, yet he is anything but. What I enjoyed about this film was how the villain is presented with an equally intelligent and resourceful hero. This isn’t the kind of film in which the bad guy outsmarts the good guys all the time, nope, this is a film in which the good guy is always one step ahead of the killer. It plays with the idea of having to become a monster in order to catch the monster. A real bonus for this film is that the villain is played by Korean actor Min-Sik Choi who some of you will remember as Oh Dae-Su, the main character in Oldboy (2003)

Title: Taken (2008)

Director: Pierre Morel

Synopsis: This revenge film comes to us from the French director behind the awesome action flick, District B-13 (2004) and the recent John Travolta action film,  From Paris with Love (2010). But Taken tells the tale of ex-military man Bryan Mills. Bryan’s daughter Kim is set to go on a trip to Paris with her best friend, and in spite of his father being against the idea, he let’s her go because he doesn’t want to be the bad father who doesn’t let his teenage daughter spread her wings and fly away to see the world. So off she goes to Paris, unfortunately, as soon as she gets there she and her friend are kidnapped! Thankfully before the thugs take her away, Kim gets a chance to call up her dad! Unbeknownst to the villains is the fact that Bryan is a well trained killing machine with the abilities and know how to make these bastards pay. So after Kim is kidnapped the film turns into an exhilarating chase to catch the thugs who kidnapped her. Again, this revenge film presents us with an extremely reliable hero, one that will surely catch the bad guys and make them pay. This movie caught me by surprise. I was expecting a regular run of the mill thriller, and what I got was an extremely exhilarating story, with a completely satisfying ending! Highly recommend it! The interesting about this film is that it’s a relatively new film, yet it has shot straight to many film buffs “best revenge films” lists. Give this one a chance; I doubt you’ll be disappointed. Liam Neeson rules on this one!  

Vengeful Quote: “I don’t know who you are, and I don’t know what you want. If you’re looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you and I will kill you”

Title: Cape Fear (1991)

Director: Martin Scorsese

Synopsis: Max Cady is an ex-con who’s just gotten out of jail; he served a 14 year old sentence for rape. But now he is out and he is looking to exact revenge upon Sam Bowden, the lawyer who was supposed to defend him in court, but didn’t. You see, Mr. Bowden decided that Max was too evil too help and that he should go to jail. Well, he did. But now he is out, and he is looking to make Sam pay for the fourteen years that he lost. This movie is one of my favorite Scorsese films because it’s so over the top, it’s so colorful and alive. Deniro steals the show with this one, he is one big, loud, bible quoting, cigar chomping, tattoo sporting, terrifying villain; but also, a very memorable one. One of the Deniro’s most over the top performances.

Vengeful Quote: “I find you guilty counselor! Guilty of betraying your fellow man! Guilt of betraying your country and abrogating your oath! Guilty of judging me and selling me out! With the power vested in me by the kingdom of god, I sentence you to the Ninth Circle of Hell! Now you will learn about loss! Loss of humanity! Loss of Freedom! Now you and I will truly be the same...”

 Title: Sweeney Todd (2007)

Director: Tim Burton

Synopsis: Benjamin Barker, also known as Mr. Sweeny Todd was wronged many years ago by the lustful Judge Turpin, a man with power who took a liking for Mr. Barker’s  wife. The judge makes Barker’s life a living hell, and takes over his wife! Barker disappears for 15 years but then returns to exact his revenge upon the evil judge. This one is every bit as gothic, bloody, and dark as you’d expect a Tim Burton film to be like. It is also a musical, a fact that makes many people walk away from watching this bloody film. It’s their loss, the songs are pretty catchy, the art direction is top notch and the film gets gory as heck. Johnny Depp is awesome as The Demon Barber of Fleet Street; it’s surprising to see Depp sing so well, something he’d never done in a film before. Highly recommend it to fans of Burton’s gothic style of filmmaking and if you love musicals (as I do) than trust me, this one is a keeper. 

Vengeful Quote: “No, not Barker. That man is dead. Its Todd now, Sweeney Todd, and he will have his revenge!”

 Title: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn (1982)

Director: Nicholas Meyer

Synopsis: Star Trek II is considered by many Trekkies as the best Star Trek movie ever, or at least it was considered the best Star Trek ever until J.J. Abrahams Star Trek (2009) came along and changed all that. J.J. Abrahms film is in my humble opinion the best Trek film to date. But holding a strong second place amongst Trek films is Nicholas Meyer’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, a film purely infused with revenge. The films tagline is: “At the end of the universe lies the beginning of vengeance”. The films revenge theme comes to us via the character of Kahn Noonien Singh (Kahn for short) wonderfully played by Ricardo Montalban. Kahn has an old grudge to settle with Captain Kirk, and he aims to make him pay by stealing the Genesis Device, an artifact that can start life on dead planets, but can also be used to destroy them. You see, Kahn holds Kirk responsible for the death of his wife, and he plans to avenge her. This truly is one of the best Trek films, and a lot has to do with the fact that one of its main characters comes to a bitter end, and also because of Montalban’s awesome performance as the Shakespeare quoting Kahn.    

Vengeful Quote: “Surely I have made my meaning plain. I mean to avenge myself upon you Admiral. I deprived your ship of power, and when I swing around, I mean to deprive you of your life”

Title: Unforgiven (1992)

Director: Clint Eastwood

Synopsis: What do you do when you are Clint Eastwood, an American Icon that’s participated in so many memorable western films, amongst them the most legendary one of all The Good The Bad and The Ugly (1966)? I tell you what you do; you make another legendary western that epitomizes all that knowledge you acquired by making all those awesome westerns in the past! That film is Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. For all intents and purposes, Unforgiven is a film that exists in the same universe as all those other films that star Clint Eastwood as Blondie a.k.a. “The Man With No Name”. On this one he is a retired gunslinger called William Munny. William is trying his best to leave his dark past behind by living the life of a farmer, unfortunately farming is not really his thing. So when a group of whores puts a bounty on a bastard who cut up and maimed one of their own, he decides to take matters into his own hands by making the villains who did it pay. Cool thing is that William Munny is a character that used to be this crazed gunslinger that’d kill anyone out of pure madness and drunkenness, but now he’s all sobered up, trying to be a regular fellow, lead the good life. Honestly, amongst all the westerns I have seen, this one is in second place only to The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. This film is so well made, so beautiful to look at, so well acted. Plus, it’s just awesome seeing Clint Eastwood playing a gunslinger one last time, the film is worth it just for that. 

Vengeful Quote: “That’s right, I’ve killed woman and children. I’ve killed just about everything that walks or crawled at one time or another. And I’m here to kill you, Little Bill, for what you did to Ned”

Title: Mad Max (1979)

Director: George Miller

Synopsis: Mad Max takes place in a future in which chaos, cars and gasoline are God. Society is on the verge of completely loosing it, anarchy seems to rule supreme. This film is not yet “post apocalyptic” because the nuclear apocalypse doesn’t happen until the second film in the series, a.k.a. The Road Warrior (1981), but society is definitely on the fringes of normality. And so is Max Rockatansky, who is not entirely ‘mad’ just yet, but he’s certainly getting there. You see Max is a cop dealing with the scum of the earth, but his buttons are pushed when a group of good for nothing hoodlums kills both his wife and his baby. That’s when Max goes NUTS and becomes the titular ‘MAD MAX’! Revenge is what fuels him all the way to the end of the film. This movie stars a very young Mel Gibson and has some cool car chases across the Australian Outback. The car chases will make you want to get into one of these cars and burn some rubber!     

Vengeful Quote: “The chain on those handcuffs is high tense steel. It’d take you ten minutes to hack through with this. Now, if you’re lucky, you could hack through your ankle in five minutes. Go!”

Title: Fist of Fury (1972)

Director: Wei Lo

Synopsis: There are is a scene in Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury where you will feel the hatred and vengeance coming out of Bruce Lee’s every pore as he moves around in slow motion leaving ghost images of himself behind because he is moving so fast. First of Fury is in my humble opinion Bruce Lee’s best film ever, even surpassing in awesomeness the more recognized Enter The Dragon (1973). On this one Lee comes back to his home town to discover that his Kung Fu Master has been murdered by a rival school. What’s a faithful student to do if not avenge his masters death? And that’s exactly what Lee sets out to do. He goes around smacking people around to get to the one responsible. One scene has Lee punching a guy in the gut screaming Why? Why? Why? Why did you kill my master? With every ‘Why?’ he punches the guy in the gut again and again. Lee had this ability to project and intensity in his performances, but this is by far his most intense one. Highly recommend it. Fellow china man Jet Li remade this film and titled it Fist of Legend (1994), another fine film I highly recommend.

Vengeful Quote: “Why’d you kill my master? Why?! Why?! Why?!”

Title: Inglorious Basterds (2009)

Director: Quentin Tarantino 

Synopsis: There is perhaps no other living director in the world who understands revenge films as well as Tarantino does. I mean the guy literally feeds off of every revenge movie ever made during the 70’s and then goes and makes his own version of these films. He siphons everything he learns from Sonny Chiba and Gordon Liu and then projects all of that knowledge onto his own films. In Inglorious Basterds Tarantino presents us with a Jewish family who gets slaughtered by a Nazi commander. The Nazi literally comes into their household with a couple of soldiers and shoots the whole family down. Fortunately, the little girl in the family -named Shosanna- manages to escape the slaughter and makes her own way in life. But Shosanna hasn’t forgotten what was done to her family and so she makes it her mission in life to avenge their death. Shosanna patiently awaits the perfect moment in which to execute her glorious revenge. The ending to this movie is so awesome; Shosanna’s vengeance is so well orchestrated that you just might find your self clapping when watching it. This movie has so many good things going for it: a legendary director, an impressive cast and a revenge tale that will have you cheering by the final reel. What’s not to like?

Vengeful Quote: “My name is Shosanna Dreyfus, and THIS is the face of Jewish vengeance!”

Title: Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2 (2003/2004)

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Synopsis: So since Tarantino is such a specialist in the them of revenge, I couldn’t help but include more than one Tarantino flick in here. And let’s face it, Kill Bill has revenge written all over it, perhaps more so than any of Tarantino’s films. I mean, the film starts out with a title card that reads: “Revenge is a dish best served cold” – Old Klingon Proverb, yup, the film starts out quoting Star Trek, but you have to admit, the 'old Klingon proverb' certainly fits. So right from the beginning you know this movie is going to be about revenge. And a very well deserved revenge it is. You see this is the story of Beatrix Kiddo, a.k.a. Black Mamba. She’s part of a group of assassins that works for a man called Bill. One day, Bill gets jealous because Beatrix is marrying somebody other than him and he decides to go and kill her; and on her wedding day no less! To make things ever sweeter, she’s  pregnant! Beatrix doesn’t die that day, and so when she regains consciousness it’s all about getting her revenge. And boy does she ever get it. Beatrix is a master at the sword, and so she goes to Japan and buys herself a sword made by Sonny Chiba himself! Then, she returns to America and goes offing all of those who participated in her attempted murder, one by one, until she finally reaches Bill. These movies are worth the watch for so many reasons, but one of them is that fight that takes place in Oren Ishii’s restaurant –The House of Blue Leaves- with hundreds of goons facing off against a pissed off Beatrix! Now there’s a gory sword fight if there ever was one! 

Vengeful Quote: “No, no, no, no, no. No, to get even, even-Steven…I would have to kill you, go up to Nikki’s room, kill her…then wait for your husband, the good Dr. Bell to come home and kill him. That would be even Vernita. That’d be about square.”

Title: The Crow (1994)

Director: Alex Proyas

Synopsis: The Crow is simply put one of the purest revenge films ever made. If you were to distill this film, you’d end up with the prime ingredients for revenge. What better motive to make you come back from the grave then to avenge the rape and death of your fiancé? This is the story of Eric Draven, a young man in love. Unfortunately, just days away from marrying the love of his life, a gang of good for nothing thugs invades his home and proceed to rape his girlfriend and hurl him out the window of his apartment, effectively sending Eric down to his death. But death cannot stop revenge! And so, Eric’s hatred for these guys makes him come back from the dead! A supernatural force keeps him alive until the moment when he exacts his revenge. From there on in, Draven goes one by one killing all those involved in the murders. This is a dark film from its first opening scenes to its very last ones. Only ONE scene takes place during the day time, and it’s a brief one. This is a film enshrouded in real life sadness as well, Brandon Lee, who was surely to become a star after his awesome performance as The Crow, was shot dead while making this film. A great loss, but at least he left one last memorable performance before parting from this earth. 

Vengeful Quote: “He was already dead. He died a year ago, the moment he touched her. They’re all dead. They just don’t know it yet”

Title: Death Wish (1974)

Director: Michael Winner

Synopsis: So Bronson’s Death Wish is a film that always ends up on many reviewers’ top ten lists, and on many of those it’s on the #1 spot and for good reason: revenge is all it’s about. Revenge is what drives the plot, after Paul Kersey’s (Bronson) wife gets murdered and his daughter gets raped, and he sees that the NYPD can do next to nothing about it, he takes matters into his own hands and becomes New York Cities #1 vigilante. He starts whacking off the bastards who killed his wife, and then he takes it a step further: he simply lashes out against crime in general! It’s a movie that sends a big old “fuck you” to crime. You a criminal? You must pay! You messing around with the regular Joe who simply wants to get home after work, you get blown away! I recently reviewed this one so you can read a bit more on that film here if you want. But sufficient to say that this one is a must watch if you want to watch the best of the best in revenge films.

Vengeful Quote: “Nothing to do but cut and run huh? What else? What about the old American custom of self-defense? If the police can’t defend us, maybe we ought to do it ourselves”

Title: Old Boy (2003)

Director: Chan Wook Park

Synopsis: And here ladies and gentlemen is where we arrive at my #1 revenge film of all time, Chan Wook Park’s Oldboy. Up to this point in my film watching career (yeah it’s a career!) this is the most purely vengeful film I have ever seen. I mean, a guy gets locked in a room for 15 years and he doesn’t know either who did it to him or why! One day he is released and he can think of nothing but finding the one responsible and making that person pay! But does he have a couple of skeletons in his closet that he doesn’t remember about? Did he wrong somebody and he can’t remember what it was? This movie is all sorts of amazing and stops at nothing to shock you. Its amazing filmmaking as well, Chan Wook Park utilizes many imaginative camera angles and shots on this one, this is a director that never ceases to amaze me. Oldboy is part two of his “revenge trilogy” which also includes Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) and Lady Vengeance (2005). Great films on their own right (Lady Vengeance being the best of those two) but of all three, Oldboy is the most grueling of all to watch. It’s the goriest, the most violent and the one that really gets under your skin. The mind blowing finale is a showstopper, Min Sik Choi’s performance as Oh Dae Su is nothing short of brilliant, I mean, I can say nothing bad about this movie except go and watch it if you haven’t already. This is the apex of revenge films.  

Vengeful Quote: “If by any chance Mido should find out the truth, you son of a bitch, I’m going to rip you limb from limb. And your remains will never be found. Why? Because I’m going to swallow every last bit”


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