Death Wish (2018)

One thing the DEATH WISH remake has in common with the original: it feels kinda disreputable. I went to it knowing it had gotten poor reviews, that it had been delayed, that the trailers had been scoffed at by anybody I ever heard talk about it. People have looked down on Roth’s movies since HOSTEL, and they’ve given up on Bruce Willis ever giving a shit anymore, and they assume any remake is a cynical i.p. cash-grab, even if it’s DEATH WISH and it’s been in development for years and years and Stallone almost did it and Joe Carnahan almost did it and etc. Most of all, they don’t want to see a movie right now that seems like it might glorify a white guy shooting minorities, or support the moronic Trumpian worldview of “good guys with guns” who can save the day by executing the “animals” who they just know are scurrying all around in the “hellholes.”

I was not immune to most of these concerns. But also I came to it as someone who enjoys the Charles-Bronson-starring DEATH WISHes 1, II, 3, 4: THE CRACKDOWN and V: THE FACE OF DEATH all in different ways, and has read both Death Wish by Brian Garfield and its sequel Death Sentence, and championed the movie (sort of) adapted from that book, and also read Bronson’s Loose!, the great DEATH WISH series making-of book by Paul Talbot, and have an interest in many rip-off vigilante and revenge movies. And also I have opinions about all of Roth’s films and about violence and politics in genre movies and in real life and I love Bruce Willis and want to see him restored to full Bruce powers. So I went in complicated.

The good news: Bruce is invested and good in it. There are some ways that it’s more nuanced and true to life than Michael Winner’s original. There is some tension and there are parts that are enjoyable for those of us lowbrows entertained by cinematic violence. It also seems wary of being the horribly offensive movie you worry or assume it’s gonna be, and mostly steps around that.

The bad news is that it doesn’t have much new to say about any of this other than “now we have Youtube though,” and I can’t imagine Garfield will like it if he bothers to see it (I’m talking about the original author Garfield, not the asshole cat, although I suppose this applies to him too). He felt the 1974 version glorified vigilantism, which I’ve always felt was not giving enough credit to Paul Kersey’s descent into madness at the end, quoting a western stunt show he saw, showing he’s lost touch with reality, and ending the movie pointing a finger gun at the camera. Roth ends his on the same shot without the same menace. If the box office doesn’t warrant a part 2 I can go on believing that this Kersey is a nice guy who went through some shit and now will go back to being a normal dad.

I’m excited if Bruce. Is. Back. But why not “BRUCE IS LOOSE”?

The book’s Kersey was a CPA, Bronson’s was an architect, Bruce’s is a top ER surgeon in Chicago. He pulls bullets out of people for a living and then goes to his nice big house in the suburbs and wears sweaters and is literally a soccer dad. His daughter Jordan (model and rookie actress Camila Morrone) and wife Lucy (Elisabeth Shue, HOLLOW MAN) are both vivacious and loving and excited about their (presumed) futures: Jordan just got accepted to NYU and Lucy is close to finishing her Phd. after fifteen years. (A cruel touch by credited screenwriter Carnahan, or whoever rewrote it after he left as director.)

That’s a good update, if you can call it that. I really like these characters and don’t want to see the inevitable bad things happen to them. Also in the mix is Kersey’s working class brother Frank (Vincent D’Onofrio, KILL THE IRISHMAN), a much more human replacement for the annoying son-in-law character. There’s more nuance to Dr. Kersey’s family relationships and paternalistic attitudes. It’s always been kind of a joke that Bronson is supposed to be a “bleeding heart liberal” whose values changed because of what happens to his family. Bruce is no Jack Lemmon (who was to star in a Sidney Lumet version that never happened), we’re waiting for him to go into action mode, but he’s more believable than Bronson as a sensitive, non-violent guy. They don’t have to come out and say it.They show it when he has the courage to tell off a guy yelling at the ref during the soccer game but is reasonable enough not to take the bait and turn it into a fight. And his sense of ethics is shown in a really effective opening where he’s consoling a cop about a dead colleague and then gets called away to try to save the life of the shooter, leaving the grieving officer behind in disbelief and disgust.

A major choice to be made: the original book and movie are not about avenging specific perpetrators of a violent family tragedy, but channeling anger into an un-endable war on random petty criminals. The remake begins with this sort of impersonal vigilantism but that leads to him tracking down his wife’s killers, basically combining DEATH WISH with DEATH WISH II or DEATH SENTENCE. On one hand that somewhat changes the meaning of Garfield’s original story, on the other hand it uses a generally more satisfying type of story that is part of the series as a whole. So I’m not against it.

Roth does bring his experience as a horror director to the film, especially in the home invasion that sets everything off. He wrings out plenty of suspense as they walk in front of dark windows, looking at a phone or a recipe book, oblivious to danger. And then by the drawn out sequence where Jordan is tied up and we know she knows a little Krav Maga and we don’t know if she’s gonna try something. His genre background also comes through in the scary masks the attackers wear, and especially later in a couple of great kills with quick bursts of spectacular gore.

Kersey doesn’t at first know how to be a violent guy, he bumbles into it a little and some of the deaths happen by accident (I am fond of a chain reaction that happens in a pawn shop type place). But pretty soon he’s got an elaborate torture scheme with sort of a one-liner climax, and does at least one classic Bruce action move:

If there was alot more emphasis on that, if it was outrageously entertaining throughout, and especially if it was less Sad Bruce and more Funny Bruce, maybe I could separate anything it might be saying (intentionally or otherwise) from reality. But it tries to play it pretty serious. There are no mohawks or rocket launchers. The 2018 version of creeps are twitchy white dudes with tattoos, not exactly a documentary, but they’re not memorably, colorfully vicious psychos like some of the ones Bronson faced. Roth seems to be going for some version of the real world, and that tells me to consider what it’s saying about the real world.

Roth is probly not a Republican or anything but his favorite thing to do is try to upset liberals and then cry political correctness and censorship when they respond. It still sticks in my craw that he couldn’t take the constructive criticism of a gay Fangoria letter writer when HOSTEL came out,* and that he talked up “SJWs” when promoting GREEN INFERNO. Surprisingly he doesn’t seem to want to be that guy this time, not totally. For a minute it seems like it’s gonna be some gun fetishist porn coming at the exact wrong time, but then he has a sort of jokey portrayal of gun stores that draw in customers with boobs, upsell ridiculous “tactical” products, have to do very little paperwork and promise that anyone can pass their gun safety course. I was more into the montage where Kersey learns to assemble, clean and fire a gun, but it’s split-screened with him at work removing bullets and sewing up the wounds they create. The circle of life.

There’s also a quick little bit, honestly like 30 seconds I’d estimate, acknowledging the dangers of other people who are not as awesome as Bruce Willis getting the idea to be Paul Kersey. And then we don’t think about that again.

Even as a guy who enjoys movies like 300 or PAYBACK or BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 or PUNISHER: WAR ZONE that immerse you completely in the single-minded perspective of their world or their anti-hero, I appreciate that Roth and/or Carnahan are too moral to make the asshole version of this tale. Their consciences won’t allow them to celebrate death wishing people without throwing in a couple caveats or asterisks or winks. The problem is it doesn’t feel like a consistent point of view. It’s just the serious pro-vigilante version with a couple things thrown in to say “look, we’re not gun nuts or anything.” It’s trying to have it both ways because that’s easier than navigating a specific path in between “he’s a folk hero, I wish I could do what he does!” and “this is wrong, and it’s a slippery slope,” the two attitudes you hear on call-in radio shows in virtually ever vigilante movie ever made, including this one.

That’s generally what passes for exploring the issue in these movies: the audience (and usually the vigilante) see a TV or radio broadcast with regular folks discussing his/her rampage, usually with a nickname (“The Grim Reaper” here). Other than a broad man-on-the-street interview, Roth handles the trope well. The discussion by Chicago radio guy “Mancow” sounds much more authentic than these things usually do, and the MVP is Sway of Sway in the Morning on Shade 45, who offers a resigned “I can’t believe people are on board with this” kind of dismay as some of his co-hosts and callers support The Grim Reaper. He’s also the only person to bring up race when he says he’s uncomfortable with a white guy in a hoodie shooting black people. Of course, Roth takes pains to make him closer to a white savior than a George Zimmerman by having him start by rescuing a black woman from white carjackers and by having the only black criminal he targets be on the behalf of black victims.

There also might be a little commentary in the moment when Kersey stink-eyes black and Hispanic possible-gangsters on the street as he thinks about getting revenge on his wife’s attackers, who eventually turn out to be mostly white dudes (though they’re tipped off by a Hispanic valet who overhears the family plans and gets their address – how’s that for upper class paranoia?).

But these are more like ways to get away with making a DEATH WISH movie in this day and age than they are an artistic way to do it. Roth doesn’t add much to the simplistic-four-decades-ago politics of Michael Winner. And it does bother me a little that the setting, Chicago, is Trump’s favorite punching bag. It may be in some ways subtler than the original DEATH WISH and its army of knock-offs, but it still offers an exaggerated idea of a city where you can’t walk ten feet without seeing a crime, and where the only thing you can do is own a gun and be man enough to fucking kill people all the time. Yeah, there’s a little more to it than that, but I’ve always felt like these type of movies, as much as I love them, were responsible for giving idiots like Trump – people who never set foot in actual cities, or live sheltered above them in golden towers – their horny fantasy of what “urban” areas are like. The concept is that the police aren’t doing enough, so believing this leads to giving them more weapons and more force, more leeway to kick down doors and step on throats and have no accountability when they accidentally or intentionally beat or maim or kill somebody, usually an unarmed black somebody. And meanwhile the citizens think they still need guns to protect themselves from these “animals” they are so sure are gonna kill their families or steal their property and they gotta have guns that can mow down an army in a matter of minutes because they just gave the cops tanks and you know the second amendment because of the tyranny and the, you know, the tree with the blood of patriots and what not.

Yeah, I guess I can see why people get mad when you think about these movies. They say you’re not supposed to. But I believe there’s already a better version of the type of movie Roth was going for, and it’s the aforementioned DEATH SENTENCE. That’s even directed by another horror director, James Wan, and credited as an adaptation of the book Garfield wrote out of disgust that people misunderstood the first one (though the movie has pretty much nothing to do with the book). Like Roth, Wan brings a style and sense of over-the-topness to a movie that takes very seriously the tragic murder of a son and a normal father’s loss of faith in the system and turn to violent retribution. However, Wan also shows in a powerful and non-preachy way the senselessness of revenge, the inevitable escalation, the sense that the good guy is literally indistinguishable from the bad guy at the end. It’s just an all around better movie.

Still, I probly like this DEATH WISH more than most of the people I’ve seen writing reviews. If you, like me, appreciate the tradition of the R-rated action movie, if you go see Liam Neeson movies and MECHANICs and JACK REACHERs and shit and you’re not gonna be bothered about the politics or the inevitable dangers of being held up to a Charles Bronson movie, you could do worse. It’s probly slightly above average in that company. I just don’t think it does enough to justify remaking this well-worn story.

A note about the score. It’s by Ludwig Goransson (THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN) and it’s not as good as his scores for CREED or BLACK PANTHER, but it’s pretty good. Still, I think in honor of Michael Winner, who had Herbie Hancock score the first one and Jimmy Page do II and 3, it would be cool if it was some respected jazz or rock guy. I’m not sure Kamasi Washington would’ve wanted to do it, though. I don’t know.

Oh – also what do you guys think about this for the end credits song:

P.S. Is there a way to make a sequel that’s more in the unhinged vein of DEATH WISH 3? Would that be too much? Once there’s a number after the title could I let go of my moral baggage? And could we have the daughter be a full-on Krav Maga expert for that one? I am open to finding out.

*I have referred to this Fangoria letter many times in Eli Roth discussions over the years, so I decided out of fairness I should track it down and see if it’s as bad as I remembered. It turns out the letter writer was a little less polite than I had thought, but Roth’s response was even more embarrassing than in my memory. This fuckin guy. It would’ve been so easy to politely defend his intentions, instead he insults the guy. His first sentence is out of the dumbass hall of fame, and then he tries to fit in so many bullshit, dishonest arguments that there’s just no time to come across as a sympathetic human. In retrospect I should’ve held this stupid shit against him more than I did.

But keep in mind that this was twelve years ago, and I don’t think he used gay slurs in any subsequent movies, so I can hope he’s not like this anymore.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 6th, 2018 at 1:36 pm and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

49 Responses to “Death Wish (2018)”

  1. I thought it was a decent revenge movie and got the job done. Though I’m pretty sure I like every DEATH WISH sequel more than it (which I though think I know because I watched all five over the weeked) and of course DEATH SENTENCE is way better (watched the uncut version as well). I remember being bored by THE BRAVE ONE which seems to be now being held up as what this genre should strive for. I mean the same ones who say that say that they shouldn’t make these movies anymore. I remember they were saying the same about big ‘ol ‘destruction porn’ movies as well post-9/11. I can understand the sentiment though and do feel we should be having these discussions.

    I disagree about Bruce carring in this one. I mean it was better than his turn in G.I. JOE RETALIATION and GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD but still not all that invested. Like many others are saying, I think Vincent D’Onfrio would have been the better or at least more interesting lead.

    As for Roth, I wonder if he felt heldback by making a more mainstream picture and/or being handed another’s material? There are times where it seems he wants to be a much trashier button-pushing movie (aka an Eli Roth movie) but then the movie mostly doesn’t go there.

  2. The Undefeated Gaul

    March 6th, 2018 at 2:49 pm

    I honestly don’t care a lot for the politics of having a movie like this come out at a time like this. I love dirty, pulpy revenge films and I will never say no to watching another one, but I think they fucked it up by casting Bruce Willis. That’s the single most boring choice they could’ve made for the film, it’s the equivalent of casting Christoph Walz or Javier Bardem as the villain of your movie, there’s just no way they’re ever gonna be as good as the one time they played a similar part perfectly ages ago in their career, and it’s just gonna be slightly embarassing watching them try again for the sixth time with increasingly inferior material. I don’t think Eli Roth ever had a truly good movie in him, but with this casting he just shot himself in the foot right off the bat and handicapped himself even more than his limited skills already had.

    I’m not saying the Stallone version of this would’ve been good per se, but I will say I’m curious what he would’ve done with it, shortly after JOHN RAMBO. It would’ve been pretty hardcore and fucked up, I think, no winking or laughs. Might have been pretty interesting.

  3. I think I would have preferred a genuine raving right-wing paranoia version of this story to a soft-pedaled handwringing “well this is a complicated issue” version, especially right now. Because it’s not complicated. Either this is a pure macho fantasy about an imaginary world where being a vigilante is a cool idea, or it’s the real world, where it’s a horrifying one. I’m willing to buy either of those, but what I won’t buy is this kind of half-assed, sanitized take which tries to wriggle out of committing to either version. Constructing a elaborate phony rationale for why in this one case it’s cool and we should enjoy watching this guy’s murder rampage, but then equivocating and adding some lines about why also maybe we should feel uneasy about vigilante justice is, to my mind, more reprehensible than just admitting this is junk food for your brain and having some fun with over-the-top violent power fantasies.

    I don’t think all art needs to have good morals. I can have fun with irresponsible ultra-violence! But I refuse to sanction the basic premise that this is in any way a real-world gray area that deserves serious consideration, and this DEATH WISH remake is going to start some kind of constructive conversation about whether or not it’s a good idea for Bruce Willis to blow away evildoers in super awesome ways. No way. In fact, I think it’s more likely to have the opposite effect: by sanitizing this and conveniently making sure Bruce is blowing away other white guys so nobody can accuse them of racism, it actually insidiously validates the basic idea behind the fantasy while trying to dodge responsibility for the obvious real-world analogs. That’s much worse than just admitting from the start that this has fuck-all to do with real life and letting loose.

    The basic fact is this: vigilantism isn’t an issue we need to debate, or should feel morally ambiguous about. It’s antithetical to a functional civil society, period, full stop. However, vigilante fantasies are viscerally appealing, and can be great fun as long as we realize they’re just that: fantasies. But more and more it seems like TV and movies actually diminish that distinction by pretending their juvenile violence fantasies should be taken as serious moral conversations, when they’re manifestly nothing of the sort. Fuck that. Either trust that people understand this is make-believe and go all-in, or maybe reconsider if making a movie about vigilante violence is the thing you want to do with your time on Earth.

  4. Yeah considering all the ways in which an Eli Roth-directed remake of “Death Wish” could have gone really badly, this turned out better than I expected, and I thought Bruce gave a thoughtful and engaged performance. It is surprisingly tasteful, for lack of a better word, in its handling of things like the opening attack against the wife and daughter, and it is mostly successful at trying to balance between being a serious film and a crowd-pleasing action flick, although perhaps it would have been more memorable if it had actually been closer to the right-wing fascist fantasy that many critics are accusing it of being.

    Some parts are good enough that you wish they had been better, while other interesting ideas, like the copycat vigilante who tries to stop a mugging with disastrous results, are introduced and abandoned so quickly you wonder why they bothered. If nothing else though it was nice to see a Bruce Willis movie in an actual movie theater again, with higher-quality costars than Kellan Lutz or Johnathon Schaech, and in which Bruce didn’t just wear the same outfit and stay in one location so he could film all his scenes in like two days and collect $3 million.

  5. I also just realized that not only is the second half of the 2018 version a semi-remake of “Death Wish 2,” but the hoodie that Bruce wears is his version of the wool cap that Bronson wore when stalking his prey at night, and which apparently made Chuck impervious to detection even when standing feet away from the creeps who assaulted him a few days earlier.

  6. Is great going to see movies that get pummeled by critics, because you almost always are pleasantly surprised. Especially if it’s a genre you like and critics usually hate.

  7. I don’t want to say too much about this one, since I haven’t seen it and I don’t think I will (in the near term at least), but it does seem like exactly what I feared it was going to be. Tasteless enough to be off-putting, but not committed enough to it’s own shitty principles to be memorable or interesting in any way. Mr. Subtlety is exactly right in that it isn’t a complicated issue, and I can’t believe that several decades years later we’re still filling our dumb, escapist vigilante movies with radio call-in segments and TV news interstitials so we can pretend that regular folks going out and murdering criminals is a position that is worth considering in any way. If they can’t even muster a LONDON HAS FALLEN level of boneheaded, right-wing hysteria, then I’m not really interested.

  8. It’s fine. It’s got too much good craft (e.g. the long tracking shots) to be actively bad, but it’s not good either. If it didn’t have the Death Wish title and the Kersey name, people probably wouldn’t be as hard on this movie. It’s also coming out right when people are inclined to shit on it. The movie does too much stuff just to throw some things off-weight only to never bring that back up enough, e.g. the copycats or how the police are deadbeats only to inexplicably steer back the other way, to make the movie’s points that interesting. It’s politics aren’t as bad as people pretend. Basically, if it’s in favor of anything, it’s in favor of getting guns legally and a man using them to defend his house and his family. Not exactly a hot take, aside from maybe how the ending involves gimmicked furniture and a high powered semi-auto. (Though everyone is right that does do the soft-pedal of “look at how fun this guy’s vengeance and law into his own hands killing spree is, but wait, here’s some stuff to maybe make you wonder about viligantism.” I agree that the movie either should’ve been something like the Breitbart macho wet fever dream that was DEATH WISH III or actually steered into more realism and possibly psychological in tone.

    I didn’t think Bruce was great in this. He was solid and didn’t totally sleep walk through it, but geoffreyjar is right Vincent D’Onfrio would have been the more interesting lead. Maybe then the moments like how you finally see Kersey’s disheveled basement lair would’ve played stronger.

  9. RE: portrayals of “urban” areas as crime infested warzones: My mother and I are huge fans of HAWAII 5-0 (which btw is always best when it commits to being a crazy action show) and ever since we heard that it helped to increase the tourism on that island, we always joke about how we would never go to Hawaii, because according to the show, it’s full of terrorists, gangs with machine guns, child molesters, Yakuza, serial killers, rapists, crazy guys who run amok with armored vehicles, Randy Cotoure as arsonist and as soon as you step into the jungle, you either find a corpse or will be one.

    Anyway, it’s nice to hear that it’s not the “Bruce shoots black stereotypes because Roth thought it would be funny” movie, that we all expected it to be, but I guess I wait till it hits Pay TV.

  10. It’s an interesting time in Bruce’ career for this to coming out. Bronson starred in the first one when he was at the very top, became the king of VHS with the second and then rounded it off with the worst movie of his career with the fifth one. I Wonder if it will work the other way around for Mr Willis?

  11. When I saw this months ago I thought it could be Bruce Willis’s Unforgiven, where he meditates on the violence of his trademark action genre. I don’t think there’s a chance it can be perceived that way now, and maybe this climate reveals it wasn’t as deep at addressing those themes.

    Also remember when the Big Bad Wolves Guys we’re attached? Wonder what their take was and why Bruce/the studio passed.

  12. CJ, what’s funny about Hawaii being so crime ridden, is that they never ask for help from Magnum or Jake and the Fatman!

  13. Well, they are making a new Magmum series and knowing how much CBS loves their crossovers, I guess it will only be a matter of time.

  14. I just don’t have it in me for this movie right now. I already hate/am indifferent to all the movies everybody loves this year. I can’t run the risk of loving the movie everybody hates. I would feel the need to defend it, and that would make me feel even more like a crazy hermit living in the woods and jarring his own urine. So I guess I’ll check it out in a few months when, despite so many pearl-clutching prognostications, civilization has somehow survived another Eli Roth movie.

  15. I’m kind of with Mr. Subtlety in that I feel like these sorts of movies are less objectionable when they’re just pure male power fantasies and don’t try to be “philosophical” about vigilantism. Any right thinking person knows that going around killing people suspected of a crime is idiotic and would lead to lots of dead innocent people, so let’s just ignore the issue altogether. I guess what I’m trying to say is, please ditch the man on the street interview trope in revenge flicks.

  16. I don’t think we can accuse Mr Roth to be nearly as right wing as Mr Winner became, but to do vigilantism properly on film you have to be a lot more into liberal politics than I think he is. Bronson was kind of a liberal, and maybe he had enough clout to keep Winner in check…for at least the first film. Even if that one too loses it for the last 20 minutes. So, to make a long story short, the action of 2, 3 and 4 is a lot easier to stomach than the pretend seriousness of the first.

  17. Vern, you asked if there was a way to make a more unhinged sequel. I got three words for you: LADY DEATH WISH.

  18. The sad part is, I fully believe Roth is liberal. He’s a Jewish guy from Massachusetts; I’m pretty sure it’s illegal for him to be a conservative. But he’s also the epitome of what I’ve come to call a South Park Centrist. He doesn’t believe in anything the conservative believe in, but his whole identity is based on being a rugged individualist rebel so he can’t bring himself to agree with the liberals, either, because that would mean he’s soft or a follower or whatever the fuck lets these people sleep at night. I have a friend who’s spent most of his adult life on the radio, so not taking a stand and pretending that both sides are just as bad has become a way of life. He is liberal in every conceivable way except accepting the label. It’s like how cowards relate to the word “feminist.”

  19. Absolutely believe Mr. M is correct here. Roth is 100% a Liberal, just of the increasingly tiresome variety who confuses being “edgy” with being “provocative.” He gets off on tweaking sensitive issues and then calling anyone he’s offended humorless scolds, but he doesn’t actually have any real point he’s trying to make. He just wants a reaction. Needless to say, he absolutely doesn’t really buy into the idea of armed revenge sprees being a good idea — hence his awkward equivocating here, so you can’t quite nail down the film as being indefensibly pro-vigilante. He’s not pro-vigilante, and he has no interest in defending that point of view — or any point of view, other than getting people to pay attention to him. But to my mind that’s worse, because it tacitly acknowledges that this is a bad enough idea to waste time handwringing about on-screen, but not a bad enough idea to justify, you know, not making it (or at least setting it in a STREETS OF FIRE-style fantasy world, which is where this kind of nonsense fits much more comfortably). If you think telling a DEATH WISH story is a responsible thing to do right now, by all means, do it, and defend yourself from the inevitable backlash of people who feel otherwise. But don’t make one that overally embraces the trope but also halfheartedly apologizes and frets about the it so you can weasel out of the issue and claim you are “just trying to start a conversation.”

    That’s what’s so deeply unappealing about the South Park Centrist. They want to feel dangerous and edgy without actually committing to anything. Which is the least dangerous and edgy thing you can possibly do.

  20. Haha, I remember thinking there was no way I was seeing this in theaters and if I see it at all it will depend on what Mr. M thinks of it.* So of course I make an exception for my theater-ban cause I was so desperate to get out of the house and he ends up not seeing it. I don’t think I’m made for this bizaro world.

    *Reminds me: I still need to give A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD another shot

  21. Sorry to let you down, geoff. I plan on seeing it someday soonish. I’ll probably even like it. Normally, I enjoy the way Roth’s conflicting tendencies make the point of his movies hard to suss out (if there’s even a point at all). I’m just not really feeling it right now.

  22. Terrific discussion, guys. I’m often reminded of something I once heard, which is that nothing worthwhile tries to be controversial. If it’s interesting, it will be controversial by default. I don’t know Roth personally, so this isn’t about him but the personality type being described, and with it, the self-regard of one’s own perceived “edginess.” These real-life trolls pre-dated social media, though we’re hearing from them more now. The irony, of course, is that dismissing activists or anyone who cares about the things they don’t as “pretentious” is the definition of being pretentious.

    I’ll probably see the new DEATH WISH, but a lot has been coming out, so I haven’t fit it into my current “two cinema outings a week” schedule yet.

  23. On the topic of “the self-regard of one’s own perceived ‘edginess,'” I think it’s hilarious that the description on the Bret Easton Ellis Podcast starts “Controversial best-selling author and screenwriter Bret Easton Ellis…” ‘Cause, like, it’s okay if someone else describes you as controversial, but you don’t put that in your OWN BIO unless that’s the main thing you value about yourself, that some people get mad at you all the time. (Which is obviously true of him, but still, have some dignity.)

  24. This discussion inspired me to track down the Fangoria letter I always refer to and add it below the review. (Do not read if you don’t want to witness Roth being a doofus.)

  25. I think the letter was polite enough, but the answer..!

  26. Ugh…that motherfucker. Back in the old MySpace days I wrote a short review of HOSTEL on his profile after I watched it. All I did was saying that I liked it, but also thought that it didn’t fully reach the goals it was clearly aiming for. He deleted it. Which respectively is definitely a less douchy thing than his respose to that letter.

  27. I think “I wanted to accurately portray douchebags, not sanitize them” with a side of “Depiction is not endorsement” would have been a perfectly valid response. He didn’t have to be a tough guy about it.

  28. 2005 is a strange year to complain that everything is too politically correct. It was the height of Extreeeme frat/Doritos culture, and the era that tolerated BUMFIGHTS and where almost all of Pitchfork-endorsed indie rock was as white as Weezer, yet people looked at you like an alien if you ever mentioned that.

  29. this Enio Chinola letter is perfect example of how everyone is being offended by everything. It’s a goddamn movie for god’s sake! I was thinking “wut?” when Diane Kruger’s revenge movie came out where Neonazis were ultimate badasses or this Jackie Chan movie where IRA was behind bombing – although we all clearly know that danger comes from totally different direction(s) than nazis or IRA. But my point is, I was able to live with those plausible villians and enjoyed both movie very much.
    I’m disgusted by people who whine over everything in life and especially whine over movies or some plot elements. Well said, Eli Roth, in this letter!

  30. When your main problem is that you don’t like hearing about other problems, you don’t really have a problem.

  31. “I’m disgusted by people who whine over everything in life”

    Like “Waaaah, the PC police is coming to get me, why is everybody offended when I use gay or racial slurs, I am the REAL victim here, why is nobody understanding that I’m an artist”?

  32. “This is what writing douchebag characters is all about! The horrific part of life, the part that you don’t see in movies. The part that they don’t tell you about in books. Because this is the reality, this is MY reality, gay Fangoria reader!”

  33. I’m not victim nor “artist”. I try to enjoy movies as they are not find ghost behind every detail.

  34. But, ahv, why is it not fair to call out a filmmaker who is clearly unaware of how their movie reinforces a harmful stereotype? It’s not a “ghost behind every detail” if characters constantly use “gay” as a slur and the movie acts like that’s normal, it’s a clear example of homophobia that actually exists in our culture. Sometimes the most difficult thing is to get people to see the existence of institutional injustices in our society, which is unsurprising because this stuff is nuanced, and it’s easy for the privileged to remain blind to it. One very effective way to change this shit is to publicly confront examples of it, as the writer of the Fangoria letter admirably did.

    Majestyk is correct that the best way to respond would have been for Roth to claim he was accurately portraying a particular type of person, but if you’re going to do that, you’d better be able to defend your reason for such a portrayal. Really, the context in the film itself should be its own defense; if a filmmaker has to explain what he was thinking after the fact, they probably didn’t do a good job making the movie in the first place.

  35. Mike V, I don’t think that’s true. Plenty of people misinterpret movies and it’s not always poor craft. TAXI DRIVER partially inspired Hinkley for fuck sakes. Besides most of the times a filmmaker bothers to be incredibly clear with their views and not complicate things at all it turns into a message movie, which usually suck.

    It’s ironic though when I see the issues with the letter and Roth’s sentiments in it that they feed into why we weren’t high on this movie, for example “realism” and “political correctness”—I can only assume that explains part of DEATH WISH’s wishy washy tone. I haven’t seen HOSTEL in awhile but I’m sure somebody could’ve written back to that fan that they interpreted that homophobia as being part of their negative gendered masculinity blah blah that ends up getting making them prey for the club and into this torture porn. Or, you know, just write that you don’t have to like the protagonists and how obnoxious they are, which makes sense given the movie was torture porn. But instead Roth got all hot about how he’s an artist. He’s speaking his truth and the reality of what he sees or whatever and don’t censor him, which is just a superficial and stupid reply.

  36. BrianB, good point about how art is always open to misinterpretation. I still think a film can be clear that it does not condone a character’s behavior without it being a message picture, though; TAXI DRIVER is actually a pretty good example of this.

  37. Another example is THE WOMAN and the notorious incident at Sundance I believe where a dude stood up and yelled about how misogynistic it was. Or all the people who hated WOLF OF WALL STREET because they thought it was pro wolves of Wall Street. Or the people who think SCARFACE is about why you should want to grow up to be Scarface. It’s worth being misunderstood to make a great movie, I think. But Roth’s later claims about HOSTEL being an attack on entitled American tourists seem suspicious when in this letter he tries to defend it as how the kids talk these days.

    I do kind of like the movie though and love the sequel.

  38. Eli Roth would be so much better off if he’d just shut the fuck up and let his movies do the talking. I’ve tried to defend his movies in the past, but he makes it more difficult every time he opens his mouth.

    I’ve tried to listen to the Brett Easton Ellis podcast because he has a lot of interesting guests on, but I’ve never made it through an episode. I reflexively switch it off whenever he starts going on about political correctness and snowflakes.

  39. I’ve said this before, but the endless wincing of his 15-20 minute anti-snowflake diatribes is sometimes worth it for that moment when it becomes clear that the guest had to sit there and listen to the whole thing.

  40. I haven’t seen this one yet, but I take we don’t get a cameo from Jeff Goldblume as a rapist?

  41. Mr Subtlety:

    I love it. Nice one!

  42. And I think it should also be said: great art doesn’t always have to have great morals. I would be perfectly fine if Roth had just said, “I wrote these characters as homophobic douchebags because I thought it was funny, and I enjoyed spending some time with these irresponsible assholes. I don’t think this is the right way to behave in real life, but the nice thing about fiction is that it isn’t real life, and consequently artists sometimes depict and even revel in things which would not be OK at all in the real world.”

    I mean, Scorsese is a perfect example: he doesn’t really think the characters in GOODFELLAS or WOLF OF WALL STREET are good role models for the kiddies, but come on, he’s obviously not making grueling morality tales for the purpose of warning us about the deadly perils of this lifestyle. He knows these characters are entertaining and that their bad behavior has a certain rebellious appeal. And he’s right — it IS entertaining, and that’s what makes those movies good — not the utility of the moral lessons they vaguely toss in at the very end, but the fun we have watching bad behavior. I’m OK with that! It’s a movie, it’s fiction, it’s a totally separate and distinct thing from real life.

    That’s actually what bugs me about the new DEATH WISH — its (death)wishy-washy approach suggests it really is kind of uncomfortable with its basic premise, or at least enough to hedge its bets. But if you’re uncomfortable enough to worry that the bad behavior in your movie isn’t defensible as entertainment or might cause some real-world harm… maybe just don’t make the movie, dude.

  43. pegsman: I was hoping for after the credits, but no.

  44. I saw the trailer for this the other night and it looked so terrible that I am 99.9% sure I will never see this. The part where Bruce Willis sees a therapist really made me cringe. I was there to see GAME NIGHT which was actually pretty damned great. Funniest movie I’ve seen in quite a while.

    I don’t see anything wrong with BEE calling himself controversial – Prince wrote a whole song about how controversial he is. But BEE’s podcast rants are extremely annoying (the interviews are usually good though).

  45. I enjoyed this as a discount potboiler, nothing more. As an aging white male, I have to admit that it coasts largely on aging white male wish fulfillment and the accompanying nostalgia for Bruce’s heyday. A film like this absolutely pushes the same emotional-rhetorical buttons as the Trump candidacy, and it does try half-assedly checking minimal boxes of political correctness via the the overall mix of ethnic casting and the ethic distribution of good/bad guys. They even co-opted Sway!

    Pretty cynical and have it all ways, as Vern, Subtlety, and others note. Still, I am not immune to the allure of the white male Gen X or earlier wish fulfillment fantasy, provided we keep it at the level of fiction.

    Pluses included a moderately committed if wooden and e fiddly mediocre

  46. …(shame on me for using this tablet, I will switch)…

  47. Much better. Yeah, so, the pluses for me:

    Good production values, good cathartic wish fulfillment stuff, always like to see Sway. Dean Norris and Vincent D’Onofrio are always welcome. Elisabeth Shue, too. Though, kind of sad seeing her so marginalized in films like this and PIRANHA.

    What I was going to say before my tablet and poor proofing betrayed me is that I agree that Bruce’s performance was moderately committed but wooden and mediocre. It really shows when he and D’Onofrio share the scream, because the latter is oozing with energy and commitment, and Bruce is just kind of serviceable and shows very little range or energy. Maybe that’s his version of morose or sober, but he never seems to get out of first gear. The performance has all the emotional range and nuance of a cardboard cut-out.

    Don’t get me wrong: I’d like to see more of this stuff. A solid, diverting Redboxer and looks like this was actually modestly profitable.

  48. Share the “screen.” Can’t blame the tablet for that one. Only my special brand of aphasia.

  49. Really strange film, a low-quality cinema, why Bruce works with such movies?

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