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]

Conan the Barbarian

Sword and sandals, vixens, Vandals…however, Conan the Barbarian is more than just Arnold Schwarzenegger taking a broadsword to baddies…it’s a bundle of thrills, stuffed to the brim with as many ancient myths as humanly possible.

At its heart, it’s a son avenging the death of his father, which we can trace back to Homeric times (Orestes) and all the way up to The Princess Bride (Inigo Montoya) or The Godfather 2 (Vito Corleone).

And when pops is killed, mom shepherds Conan away to safety like the Arthurian legend of Lancelot (and that’s just one of the innumerable Knights of the Round Table nods).

The culprits? A vicious army of black-clad cavalrymen who look like they’ve got horseshoes on top of their heads, led by the one, the only, floor-shaking CNN voice, James Earl Jones (sporting a ludicrous Planet of the Apes mullet-extension wig). He plays Thulsa Doom, a wham-bam villain name if there ever was one, which could easily double as a death metal act or a motorcycle stunt driver.

The village’s sons/daughters are sold into slavery, and Conan is put to work as a mill grinder (which accounts for his ridiculously pumped up physique. Queue the latest late-night infomercial fitness fad: Grain Mill Pushing DVDs?).

Conan grows up to become a gladiatorial warrior, besting all the competition in pit fighting clashes to the death.

After he’s accidentally released, he connects with a couple of thieves (Subothai and Valeria), turning Conan the Barbarian into a buddy pic. Together, they help our heroic strongman solve the mystery of exactly who the black-clad villains were who killed Conan’s father.

This involves a sinister snake cult and its white-shawled acolytes (and Egyptian myths aplenty) and lots of ass-kicking by Conan.

Co-written by of all people, Oliver Stone, Conan the Barbarian wears its heart on its jerkin arms, celebrating its pulp origins.

*** 1/2 (out of 5)

[Be sure to check out the Really Awful Movies Podcast for a discussion of Conan the Barbarian]