Exploitation films

Lurid horror, women-in-prison movies, blaxploitation, etc.

31

If Malcolm McDowell (no stranger to terrible movies) heeded the advice of the film agent he played on Entourage…well, he’d have told himself to pass on Rob Zombie’s 31, a boring, ugly, stupid, awful misfire that makes RZ’s Halloween reboot look like the summit of achievement.

31 sees Rob Zombie channeling Quentin Tarantino with another number— the 70s — rehashing the sepia and grunge that gave his earlier works their Texas Chainsaw Massacre aesthetic, + slick QT-talk like “the dirtier the work, the luckier you get.”

To quote Steely Dan’s Dirty Work,
“Times are hard
You’re afraid to pay the fee
So you find yourself somebody
Who can do the job for free…”

It’s pretty pathetic for someone as rich and successful as Rob Zombie to crowd-fund their art, essentially double dipping as it’s getting people to pay for a finished product, not once, but twice. Thankfully, this reviewer happened upon 31 through a library digital streaming service, Hoopla.

But no fanfare for this tale, about a bunch of carnival freaks in a touring van who are forced to fight to the death in a game of the same name — 31.

It’s painstakingly drab, cheap-looking, and not even juiced by the presence of a wrinkly, baked-in-the-hot-sun Meg Foster or a neo-Nazi midget (if you can’t shock with a neo-Nazi midget, then it’s time to find another line of work).

One thing 31 has going for it, sorta, is McDowell camping it up like a powder-wigged Amadeus harlequin, the Svengali figure who goes by the name of  Father Napoleon-Horatio-Silas Murder…Why? It’s just pseudo-smart syllable multiplication, speaking of numbers…

Harlequins, carny folk, big tops…It’d be nice to see RZ put aside his clown obsession. Then again, it’s even bled into his other business as well: he and his band performed the Grand Funk Railroad classic rock radio chestnut “We’re an American Band,” on Kimmel, bedecked in clown make-up, which provided more frights than this.

Variety nailed it with their take: [31 is a] “fanboy’s highlight reel of homages, without any of the credibility or context that made most of the films he’s inspired by so fine.”

*1/2 (out of 5)

[Listen to us talk House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects!]

Death Wish

death-wish-bronsonNobody slugs anyone with a roll of quarters anymore. And that’s a damn shame — an art lost for the ages.

For the victims of vigilante Charles Bronson in Death Wish, that’d be a preferable punishment for their transgressions (and one of ’em does get a sock wallop of coins).

This is the grandpappy of gritty revenge films, but it’s as sharp as Paul Kersey’s shooting and even more relevant today than it ever was.

Bronson is family man developer Paul, whose “heart beats for the underprivileged,” recalling the Irving Kristol zinger, “a conservative is just a liberal who has been mugged.”

When his wife and daughter are brutally victimized in his New York City apartment (one of the lecherous goons is none other than a shaggy-haired Jeff Goldblum) he immerses himself in his work to cope with the loss of his spouse, and the trauma of an indifferent NYPD up to its eyeballs in crime, with no leads, nothing to go on.

He heads down south to oversee a land development deal in Tucson. It’s there, he’s re-introduced to his Second Amendment rights by business partner Ames (“hell, a gun’s just a tool like a hammer or an axe”) and as a going away present, the Arizonian gives him a revolver.

DeathWish_And this doesn’t bode well for the Big Apple’s criminal element.

Back in NYC, Paul is a one-man Bernie Goetz*. He’s getting rid of the city’s scumbags and becoming something of a folk hero the cops are reluctant to investigate.

In a chat with his son-in-law, Paul puts forward the reasonable notion we’re all entitled to self-defense (something entrenched in law since Babylonian times). His son-in-law opines, “we’re not pioneers anymore.”

There you have it folks.

A line in the sand and a film that can be discussed and debated as hotly as sparks set off from gun control debates. And that’s a complicated issue, made even more difficult that there’s no distinct causal relationship between gun control and a state’s rate of fatal shootings. Then again, some are smuggled in from neighboring states. But in states with tighter controls, suicide victims choose another means, thereby skewing the numbers. There are just NO easy answers and each side right and left, is mired in confirmation bias.

Whatever way you slice it, Death Wish is a revenge film with smarts, smarter than anything Tarantino’s ever done. Nothing against him, but QT for all his formidable talent is a pop pasticheur who makes fun movies about movies; this is a movie about ideas, wrapped in a violent package.

Pacifist Paul is a real estate developer used to the orderliness of blueprints, budgets and constraints. When he’s thrust into a world for which there are no explanations, he’s forced to impose his own order, and whether you laud or loath him will resonate for years to come in political debates stateside.

****1/2 (out of 5)

[*Editor’s note: Soon after Bernie’s real-life vigilante act, there were “Ride with Bernie: he Goetz ’em” bumper stickers in New York City]