Archive for hit men


Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Buddy Movies, Cop Movies, Crime Films, Gangsters!, Intense Movies, Killers, Michael Arruda Reviews, Sylvester Stallone!, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , , , on February 5, 2013 by knifefighter

By Michael Arruda


This movie earns its title and then some.

BULLET TO THE HEAD is one brutal action flick, featuring more bullets to the head than a Corleone family reunion.

James Bonomo (Sylvester Stallone) is a hit man who hates cops, mostly because he’s spent his life in and out of jail and doesn’t trust anybody, cops included, as he’s seen his share of crooked law enforcement officers in his day.  After he and his partner finish a hit, they are double-crossed by the folks who hired them, who send in a hit man of their own, an ex-military beast of a man named Keegan (Jason Momoa, who was CONAN THE BARBARIAN in the 2011 reboot of that franchise), who promptly slays Bonomo’s partner—- displaying some vicious knife work— but fails to complete the job, as Bonomo turns the tables on him, sending him fleeing from the scene with his tail between his legs, at least for the time being.

It turns out that the man Bonomo and his partner killed was an ex-cop from D.C.   The man’s former partner Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang) arrives in New Orleans to investigate his death, and his investigation leads him to Bonomo.  Kwon wants more than just Bonomo.  He wants the men who hired him, because he wants to get to bottom of the whole sordid affair by taking down the men at the top.  Bonomo wants these men too, because they killed his partner, tried to kill him, and never paid him his money.

Bullet to the Head

Faster than you can say buddy cop movie, Bonomo and Kwon find themselves working together to find the men behind the murders.  The trail leads them to a slick lawyer, Marcus Baptiste (Christian Slater), who throws huge parties where beautiful women prance around in their birthday suits, and to the man he works for, Robert Morel (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) a baddie who went to the Lex Luthor school of villainy, as he’s obsessed with purchasing real estate.

Morel of course hires Keegan to kill both Bonomo and Taylor, and when that plan fails, he sends Keegan to kidnap  Bonomo’s daughter, Lisa (Sarah Shahi), for leverage, since Bonomo and Taylor have in their possession a flash drive containing incriminating information against Morel.

As you might expect, Bonomo doesn’t like having his daughter kidnapped, setting the stage for a confrontation between Bonomo and Keegan that is worth the price of admission.

I really liked BULLET TO THE HEAD.  In the triumvirate of recent action movies I’ve seen the past month— Schwarzenegger in THE LAST STAND (2013), Jason Statham in PARKER (2013), and now Stallone in BULLET TO THE HEAD, I liked BULLET TO THE HEAD the best, as it’s the most complete movie of the three.  That being said, I liked Statham’s take on the character of Parker a lot, with his unique set of rules and sense of honor, and so I liked PARKER just about as much as BULLET, but in terms of sheer brutality, BULLET TO THE HEAD takes the prize.

Sylvester Stallone, at his age, 66, still makes for one convincing bad ass tough guy, and when he looks at Jason Momoa’s Keegan at the end of the film and says “I’m going to kill you,” the audience believes him.  Rarely has Stallone played a colder killer than Bonomo.

The deaths are up close and personal.  Director Walter Hill, a veteran of these buddy cop movies, going back to the 1980s with films like 48 HOURS (1982), with Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy, brings the camera in close for some jarring execution style murders that are actually quite wince-inducing.  I found myself looking away a few times, and the two gentlemen in the seats in front of me, not tiny men by any means, jumped on a couple of occasions.

There are also some memorable fight scenes in this one, as again, Stallone still looks like he can really bring it.  The concluding bout between Stallone and Jason Momoa is every bit as good as the clash between Stallone and Van Damme at the end of THE EXPENDABLES 2 (2012).  One of my gripes about the concluding hand to hand fight in THE LAST STAND was that Schwarzenegger’s opponent looked so wimpy.  Not so here.  Momoa looks like he could handle both Stallone and Schwarzenegger at the same time.

Speaking of Momoa, he’s quite impressive as the unstoppable killer Keegan, and he delivers one of the better performances in the movie.  Often these big tough guy villain roles come off like robots, but Momoa’s Keegan is infused with personality.

Sarah Shahi is also very good as Bonomo’s daughter, Lisa.  She’s a tattoo artist who moonlights as a doctor, helping her dad patch up his buddies from their various bullet and knife wounds.

Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Robert Morel, the guy in a suit pulling all the strings, played a similar bad guy role in KILLER ELITE (2011), making life miserable in that movie for Jason Statham and Robert De Niro.  Akinnuoye-Agbaje, you might remember, played Mr. Eko on the TV show LOST. 


Christian Slater is sufficiently slimy as shady lawyer Marcus Baptiste, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen Slater do before.

Perhaps the only weak link in the movie is Sung Kang as Stallone’s cop buddy Taylor Kwon.   Kang’s acting is decent enough, but the clean-cut pretty boy Kwon stands out like a bright cheery light in an otherwise dark gritty movie.  I would have preferred a Mark Wahlberg-type in the role.

The screenplay by Alessandro Camon is a winner.  While the plot is nothing more than your standard buddy action flick, an excuse, really, to allow Sylvester Stallone to make tough guy wisecracks and beat up on the bad guys—and because Stallone is so good at this, it lifts the material above what it otherwise might have been without him— there were still some nuances to the story which I really enjoyed.

I liked the character development of the hit man Keegan.  As we learn more about what makes him tick, we find out that he’s driven by a sense of honor more than the almighty dollar, and when his boss Morel shows no loyalty to the men he employs—he’s only interested in money— this doesn’t sit well with Keegan.  Keegan actually cares about the men who work alongside him.  Of course, he also loves killing.

The story also does a good job convincing us that Stallone and Kang want to work together.  At first, I thought, no way, Stallone’s Bonomo hates cops, so there’s no way I’m going to believe he’d want to work with Kang’s Kwon, but screenwriter Camon succeeds in pulling this off.   In one instance, for example, old school Bonomo is clearly impressed with the wealth of information Kwon has at his fingertips on his smart phone and realizes the advantages of working with the officer outweigh his personal disdain for his profession.

BULLET TO THE HEAD is a completely satisfying action thriller.  It’s brutal, dark, and intense from its opening execution scene to its closing clash featuring Stallone and Momoa going at each other with axes.

Sure, its buddy action movie plot offers little we haven’t seen before, but what it lacks in originality it makes up for in ferocity.

I give it three knives.


© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda  gives BULLET TO THE HEAD ~three knives.



Posted in 2012, Bad Situations, Crime Films, Gangsters!, Hit Men, Killers, Murder! with tags , , , , , , , , on December 3, 2012 by knifefighter

By Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares


(The Scene: A poker game in the back room of a building.  Around the table playing cards sits a tough group of mobsters and killers.  The door bursts open, and two men in masks holding guns enter the room shouting for everyone to put their hands up. Another door opens and MICHAEL ARRUDA enters.


FIRST ROBBER:  Put your hands up!  Give us the money!

MA:  I don’t think you want to do that.  Do you realize who these people are?

FIRST ROBBER:  Shut up!  Just give us the money!

MA:  I’ve got some beer and chips in the back.  Wouldn’t you rather have that?

FIRST ROBBER:  No, I wouldn’t rather have that!  Just give us the money already!

MA: Okay.  If you say so.  Come with me.

(They walk towards the back when a third door opens, and L.L. SOARES enters.)

L.L.SOARES:  What’s going on here?

MA:  We’re being robbed.

LS: Did you tell them who it is exactly who’s playing here?  That these guys are all killers and that if they do this they’re as good as dead?

MA: I tried.

FIRST ROBBER: Shut up!  (to LS)  You!  Put your hands up!

LS:  What if I don’t wanna?

FIRST ROBBER:  Then I’ll blow a hole through your skull.

LS:  I’d like to see you try.  It’s going to be real difficult for you to see straight with an ax sticking out of your head.


(LS suddenly retrieves an axe from behind his back and strikes the robber in the head.)

MA (winces):  Ouch!  That’s gotta hurt!

FIRST ROBBER (with an axe embedded in his skull and blood pouring down his face):  Damn your fast for a big guy, I didn’t even see that coming!  How the hell were you hiding an axe behind your back?

LS:  Trade secret.
FIRST ROBBER:  You’re right.  I can’t see straight to save my life.  I’m outta here!  (Flees)

SECOND ROBBER:  Hey!  Where are you going?

MA:  Probably to the hospital.  I’d leave too if I were you.  The next weapon on our list isn’t an axe.  (holds up a nutcracker.)

SECOND ROBBER:  Yikes!  (runs away).

LS (to players):  All set.  You can get back to your game now. And we can get on with our movie review.

MA:  Yes, today we’re reviewing the new thriller KILLING THEM SOFTLY (2012) by writer/director Andrew Dominik.  Shall I start us off?

LS:  Sure.  I’ve got to find me another axe anyway. Just in case we have any more visitors. I really wish I’d packed the chainsaw for this trip.

MA:  KILLING THEM SOFTLY is the latest film by writer/director Andrew Dominik, a guy who’s known for making an underwhelming number of movies.  His last film, the critically acclaimed THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD (2007) was made in 2007.  He’s not exactly churning them out every year.

LS: That doesn’t mean much. The great Terrence Malick, who made one of my favorite movies of last year, THE TREE OF LIFE, went through a period of 20 years between DAYS OF HEAVEN (1978) and THE THIN RED LINE (1998) where he didn’t put out anything. And Stanley Kubrick, arguably the greatest director whoever lived, took his sweet time between movies. It’s not quantity, brother, it’s quality!

MA: You’re comparing Dominik to Malick and Kubrick?

LS: Not yet. But there’s definitely potential there. He certainly isn’t a bad director. And he made the excellent Australian prison movie CHOPPER (2000) with Eric Bana. Not bad for resume for his first three films.

MA: True, and you’re right about quality over quantity, but I find it a little strange, that’s all.  I mean, what the heck are they doing when they’re not making movies?

LS:  Does it matter?

MA:  Not at all.  I’m just curious.

Anyway, KILLING THEM SOFTLY is the story of some low-life crooks who cross paths with dangerous higher tier criminals, set against the backdrop of the troubled economy in the waning days of the George W. Bush administration, so one of the themes in the movie is that crooks are struggling too.

LS: And that they’re not the only crooks. The news, like you said, is constantly rumbling about the Wall Street debacle and how we were teetering on the cliff of financial upheaval. Of course, that’s also when Barak Obama was a Senator campaigning for the presidency for the first time against John McCain, so we hear them on the news as well. I think this footage was a double-edged sword. In one way, it kinda worked because it was drawing a parallel between low-life crooks and the swindlers on Wall Street, and how everyone was feeling pretty desperate around then. In another way, it brought a whole political agenda to the movie that really wasn’t necessary. I think in the long run, I would have preferred the movie without it.

MA: I thought it added to the ugliness of the whole story.  I liked the footage.

Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) are hired by Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola) to rob a poker game run by Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta).  The players at this game are an exceedingly dangerous lot, the likes of which a guy like Amato would never dream of stealing from, but the angle here, as Johnny explains it to Frankie, is that some time ago Markie robbed his own game, and since he’s a likeable guy, the players when they found out years later, let him get away with it.  Amato tells Frankie that if Markie’s game is robbed again, everyone is going to blame Markie, and he’s the guy who’s going to take the fall.  The real robbers would get away with it.

LS: Or so he thinks.

MA: So, Frankie and Russell pull off the job, which of course upsets the criminal powers that be.  The man at the top, a guy named Dillon (Sam Shepard) has his man Driver (Richard Jenkins) hire a professional killer Jackie (Brad Pitt) to find the guys who robbed him and kill them.  They pretty much know that Markie wasn’t involved, yet decide he should be punished anyway, to send a message.

LS: Well, he’s not completely innocent. He did hire other guys to hold up that poker game years ago. I actually think Jackie’s logic makes complete sense. Markie had it coming. Oh, and did I mention that Brad Pitt is like the personification of cool in this movie. Jackie is friggin terrific.

MA: Jackie also enlists the assistance of a New York City hit man Mickey (James Gandolfini) since Jackie knows one of the guys he has to kill, and he doesn’t feel comfortable doing it.  As he says, he likes to kill his victims softly, from a distance.  Up close and personal, he explains, it gets messy and emotional, and he doesn’t like that.

LS: Thus, the title.

Gandolfini is actually pretty great here. Mickey is a complete sad sack, always whining and he seems to be always on the verge of tears. Instead of doing his job, he’s too busy drinking and spending all his money on prostitutes. It’s a big leap from the confidence and scariness of his most famous role, Tony Soprano.

(TONY SOPRANO enters the room)

TONY SOPRANO: Are you effin kidding me here? This Mickey is a wimp. I woulda eaten him for breakfast. So are all these guys. I woulda taken care of this whole situation in like five minutes and there would have been a lot of dead bodies on the floor.

LS: Yeah, this town really could have used a Tony Soprano.

MA: But the fact that it’s not that organized, that people get away with stuff like this, is what makes it interesting.

TONY SOPRANO: I still say I would have cleaned this up before lunchtime. And that Mickey is a friggin embarrassment.

LS: No one is disagreeing with you, Mr. Soprano.

TONY SOPRANO: Good. Youse guys make sure and keep it that way. I gotta go back to the Badda Bing now. My favorite girl is dancing tonight.

(SOPRANO exits)

LS: That was scary.

MA: Not really. You forget, this is Cinema Knife Fight Land. We’re in control here.

LS: Oh yeah. I forgot.

MA: Anyway, back to my review, Jackie sets out to complete his job, spending nearly as much time working as haggling with Driver over how much he’s going to get paid and terms of the hits, as well as dealing with Mickey who seems to be in no shape to pull off a hit.  Meanwhile, Frankie realizes that the robbery might have been a dumb move once he learns there’s a contract out for his life.

KILLING THEM SOFTLY is one cynical movie.  Its stylish creative script tells a gritty story that hooks you immediately and in spite of its ensuing ugliness doesn’t allow you to turn away.  It’s not an enjoyable movie by any means.  It’s dark and it’s depressing.

I liked it.

LS: If you didn’t like it, I would have had my doubts about your reviewing skills.

It’s a solid little movie. It’s also based on the novel “Cogan’s Trade” by one of the best crime fiction writers of all time, George V. Higgins. He’s the guy who also wrote the classic THE FRIENDS OF EDDY COYLE which was made into a great movie in 1973 by Peter Yates starring Robert Mitchum and Peter Boyle. Higgins had a thing for dialogue – he was a master at it. And as you can tell, most of KILLING THEM SOFTLY is people talking. Sure, there are moments of brutal violence, but most of the time, people are talking things out. And the dialogue is really good. My only complaint is that there’s so much dialogue that sometimes the movie seems a little stagey – which is something that usually happens when people adapt plays for the movies – but it didn’t bother me that much, because the dialogue is so good! Higgins was a master at that stuff.

And Higgins was from Boston – our old stomping grounds – and set his stories there. You can’t really tell where KILLING THEM SOFTLY takes place – it could be any economically depressed town in the US. There is a scene where Frankie mentions local cities like Holbrook and Somerville, but it really could be anywhere.

MA; Even though this movie sports a strong cast, the true star of KILLING THEM SOFTLY is writer/director Andrew Dominik.  He scores high on both fronts.

His screenplay, which as LL mentioned is based on the novel “Cogan’s Trade” by George V. Higgins, is dark and cynical, and but it’s also full of sharp clever dialogue, some of it funny, but most of it plain sad.  There’s just a bunch of sad characters in this movie.  I didn’t particularly like Frankie as a character, but I certainly felt bad for him and didn’t want to see him fall victim to the likes of a hired killer like Jackie.

LS: You didn’t like Frankie? I thought the guy was at least sympathetic. The character who annoyed me the most was Russell (Ben Mendelsohn), an Australian low-life who grated on me with every scene. Don’t get me wrong, Mendelsohn does a great job bringing this guy to life, but every time I saw him, I wanted to smack the taste out of his mouth.

MA:  Yes, he was annoying.  I liked the clever juxtaposition of the crime story told in this movie with the economic woes going on in the country as a whole.  There are nonstop newscasts playing in the background throughout this movie first of press conferences of President Bush speaking about the imminent economic crisis, and then of newly elected Barack Obama speaking about hope and unity, sentiments the characters in this movie, in the midst of their own troubled lives, don’t share at all.

I loved Brad Pitt’s speech at the end of the movie, where he says America isn’t a community, it’s a business, and we’re all on our own.  It’s an incredibly cynical soliloquy.  For a moment I thought I was on Facebook.

LS; It was a helluva lot more poignant than something you’d read on Facebook, you goober.

MA:  No, I meant how people go on relentless political tirades on Facebook.  His speech was like that.

LS: Yeah, except it friggin ROCKED.


MA: I enjoyed Dominik’s work behind the camera just as much as his script.  There were some very taut scenes in this film, including the robbery of the poker game, which I found very gripping.  I kept expecting someone to pull a gun and start a bloodbath.

LS: Yeah, that was always a possibility.

MA: The scene where Markie is worked over is brutal.  He gets the crap kicked out of him big time, and it’s as unsettling a beating as you’ll see in a movie.  Better yet, Dominik didn’t use CGI blood here, so things looked real.

LS: The way that scene is filmed, the points of view, the use of sound when the punches land, was pretty much perfect. One of the best “guys getting the crap kicked out of him” scenes I’ve seen in a long time.

MA: However, later in a key murder scene, CGI blood is used, and so in spite of some very stylish camerawork, I found this scene less satisfying.

LS: I don’t know, I liked that scene a lot, too. That murder scene is actually poetic, the way every bullet shatters car glass that cascades like rain. And during that scene, the song “Love Letters” by Ketty Lester is playing. It’s a creepy little love song that was also used to similar effect in David Lynch’s masterpiece, BLUE VELVET (1986), and was most probably meant to be a moment of homage to Lynch’s film.

MAPoetic, but fake looking.  It didn’t wow me as much as it wowed you.

KILLING THEM SOFTLY reminded me a little bit of Quentin Tarantino’s RESERVOIR DOGS (1992), although it’s not as “in-your-face” as that movie.  It’s much more reserved and less visceral, making its points more through characterizations than violence.

And while the cast is very good, it’s an ensemble cast, and no one person dominates.

LS: In an ensemble story like this, that involves a lot of people and lots of dialogue, it’s really easy to misstep, but Dominick handles everything really well. It doesn’t hurt that he’s got a dream cast here. These actors must have relished the chance to be part of such a great script, though. We should mention again that Dominick also wrote the screenplay.

MA: I enjoyed Brad Pitt a lot as Jackie Cogan, the enforcer who’s all about the business and getting the job done. It’s a subtle performance, nothing like his lively turn in Tarantino’s INGLORIOUS BASTERDS (2009).

LS: You know, Brad Pitt is a really underrated actor. He is better known for his appearances in the tabloids, where every move he makes with Angelina Jolie is scrutinized, than for his acting, which is a shame. He’s certainly not just a pretty boy. This guy can friggin act. The first time he completely blew me away was back in FIGHT CLUB (1999) and he’s had lots of great roles since then, including his hilarious one in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS. KILLING THEM SOFTLY just reinforces how great this guy is.

MA:  Agreed.

Scoot McNairy makes for a very sympathetic Frankie.  We just saw McNairy in ARGO (2012), and before that in MONSTERS (2010).  I thought James Gandolfini was excellent as Mickey, the New York hitman dogged by his personal problems and alcoholism.  Once again, Richard Jenkins makes his mark, here as Driver, coming off two memorable performances, one in CABIN IN THE WOODS (2011) and the other in LET ME IN (2010).

LS: Richard Jenkins is a terrific character actor. One of the best in the business. I first really started to pay attention to him as an actor when he played the father (actually most of the time, he was a ghost) in the HBO series SIX FEET UNDER (2001 – 2005), but he had been in tons of movies before then, and he’s been working a lot since. He’s really a great go-to guy for directors. And I hope they keep hiring him, because it’s always a treat to see Jenkins at work.

MA: Ray Liotta, looking older and flabbier, is nearly as sympathetic as McNairy was as Frankie.  I found his Markie likeable, mostly because almost everyone else in this film is unlikeable.

LS: Yeah, you can see why he got a pass the first time around. As we’re told, “Everyone likes Markie.” And Liotta is perfect in this role. He’s been in tons of great movies, but he might always be known best as Henry Hill in Martin Scorcese’s excellent GOODFELLAS (1990).

MA: Vincent Curatola is also very good as Johnny Amato, in a small role.  Speaking of small roles, you can put down Sam Shepard’s performance as Dillon in the “blink and you’ll miss him” category.  I don’t think he’s in the movie for more than sixty seconds.

If there were any drawbacks to KILLING THEM SOFTLY it’s that it’s a difficult movie to like.  It presents a very cynical story with characters who really aren’t very likeable.  It doesn’t mean it’s not a good movie, but it’s not something I’m going to want to rewatch any time soon.

LS: I disagree completely. But then again, I have never had a problem with cynical stories or unlikeable characters. This movie is dark, sure, but the characters are fascinating. And I think Brad Pitt is likable as hell here. How can you not like a character who is so damn cool? He dominates every scene he’s in.

MA: See, I didn’t find him all that cool. …


MA: On the other hand, I did like the film’s unconventional directorial style a lot.  It definitely does not play like a traditional glossy Hollywood production. This is a gritty movie that gets down and dirty.  You can almost smell the blood, sweat, and death.

LS: Exactly, and that’s why it’s so good.

MA: Not perfect, and not for everyone, but in terms of telling its story, it’s a killer.

I give KILLING THEM SOFTLY three knives.

LS: Well, I guess I liked this one a little more than you did. I give it three and a half knives. Like you said, it’s not perfect. But it’s really good. And this is one of those movies that, the more I think about it over time, the more I’ll like it.

MOBSTER 1: Are you guys done talking yet?

LS: Yep, that’s our review.

MOBSTER 2: It’s about time.

MOBSTER 1: You two were disrupting the poker game with all that chatter. The other guys got so pissed off they just got up and left. You know how much money that cost me?

MOBSTER 2: Yeah!

MOBSTER 1: Looks like I’m gonna have to take it out of your hides.

MOBSTER 2: It’s time for a beatin’!

MA: Well, if you got another axe like you said, now is the time to use it.

LS: Naw, I couldn’t find another one.  Damn, I wish I’d brought the chainsaw.

MA: What are you saying? That we better start running?

LS: Exactly.

(LS and MA flee the scene)

MOBSTER 1: Hey! Come back here!

MOBSTER 2: Yeah, gets your beatins like a man.


© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives KILLING THEM SOFTLY ~three knives!

LL Soares gives KILLING THEM SOFTLY~three and a half knives.


Posted in 2012, Coming Attractions, Hit Men, Martial Arts, Vampires with tags , , , , , , , , on November 3, 2012 by knifefighter

by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(The Scene:  A lavishly decorated bedroom.  Several beautiful Asian women lay on a huge bed.  L.L. SOARES karate chops his way through the bedroom door.)

ASIAN WOMAN:  Can we interest you in some pleasure?

L.L. SOARES:  You’re business.  (Lifts axe above his head.)  This is pleasure.  (Swings axe, and women run away, screaming in terror.)

(MICHAEL ARRUDA enters the room.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Scaring the women away again, I see.

LS:   At least I’m trying to scare them.  What’s your excuse?

MA:  Huh?

LS:  When was the last time you went on a date?

MA:  Shh!  I’m too busy watching all these movies.  Speaking of which, it’s time for our November Coming Attractions column.  There are some interesting movies this month.

We kick things off this weekend with a review of THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS.  I have to say, I’m really looking forward to this one, as the trailer is pretty cool.  It looks like it’s going to be a hoot.

Directed by RZA of hip hop fame, with a screenplay by Eli Roth and RZA, this actioner takes place in feudal China and features assassins, warriors, and soldiers all fighting over a treasure of gold.  It stars Russell Crowe, RZA, and Lucy Liu.

Based on its stylish and high-octane trailer, this one looks like fun.

LS:  What’s not to love? I’m a big fan of RZA and the Wu-Tang Clan, I’m a big fan of Eli Roth, and this one is produced by Quentin Tarantino. It looks a little one of those super-stylized martial arts flicks, like Tarantino’s KILL BILL movies, and it should be a great time.

I hope it lives up to our expectations.

MA:  On November 9, the action continues with our review of the new James Bond flick, SKYFALL.  I’m actually reviewing this one with Nick Cato.  (turns to LS)  Do you have something against James Bond or something?

LS:  Not really. I’ve just never been a big fan of the series. I know some people are nuts for James Bond movies, but I’ve found a lot of them to be kind of…well…boring. Truth is, I think Daniel Craig is great in the role, and I liked him a lot in CASINO ROYALE (2006), but I figured that the new one should be reviewed by hardcore fans, and I know you dig the series. And I know Nick is a huge fan, too. So I decided to sit this one out and let two Bondies review the new movie.

MA:  Bondies?

LS: Or whatever it is you Bond fans call yourselves. Bondians? Besides, it gives me a weekend off.

MA: I remember not knowing what to expect with the first Daniel Craig Bond movie, CASINO ROYALE, because I’d heard they had made lots of changes, but I ended up loving that film and enjoying the next one QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008) even more.

I enjoyed Craig’s interpretation of Bond: a much grittier, darker hero, than the previous Bonds, and he’s as rough and tough as Sean Connery’s original interpretation of 007.  The two Craig Bond movies really didn’t play like previous Bond films.  The filmmakers deviated from the traditional Bond formula, and the films were better for it.

The only thing I’m concerned about is I enjoyed the previous two films so much, I wonder if this film will be as good?  Of course, there have been so many James Bond movies, and they have a proven track record, so I’m reasonably confident this movie is going to be good.

In addition to Daniel Craig as James Bond, the cast also includes notable actors Javier Bardem, who won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN in 2007, Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney, and Judi Dench, who returns for the seventh time as M.

LS:  On 11/16, we’ll be reviewing TWILIGHT BREAKING DAWN PART II.

(MA groans).

LS:  Don’t worry, it’s almost over. BREAKING DAWN PART II is the final film in the TWILIGHT series. At least I hope it is. You should be proud of yourself. We’ve sat through every single movie in the TWILIGHT franchise. That’s quite an accomplishment! We can’t just walk away and not watch the final one.

MA: Why not?

LS: Because the fans expect us to see it and review it. And, most likely, rip it to shreds.

MA:  I have nothing to say about this one, other than I can’t believe I’m still alive after having to sit through the previous movies in this series.  God-awful, and then some!

The weekend of 11/23, Thanksgiving weekend, has a couple of movies that might be of interest. First, LIFE OF PI opens on 11/21.  I don’t know much about this one, other than it’s directed by Ang Lee and looks to be some sort of fantasy. Then there’s the remake of RED DAWN also opening that weekend.

LS:  I think it’s a long-shot if we review either one. Most likely we’ll take that weekend off. Even we deserve a holiday. Besides, if no one else on the staff reviews them, we’ll no doubt have something else cooked up for our readers.

And we finish the month with a review of KILLING THEM SOFTLY, which opens on November 30.  This one has Brad Pitt and James Gandolfini as hit men who are called in to handle some yahoos who robbed a mob-run poker game. It actually looks pretty cool.

MA:  I agree that this one looks good. It looks like a hard-edged crime thriller, and it’s got a solid cast. Along with Pitt and Gandolfini, there’s Richard Jenkins, Ray Liotta, and Sam Shepard.

It should be a strong way to finish the month.

Okay, that wraps things up for November.  We’ll see you on Monday with our review of THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS.

LS:  Thanks for joining us, and we’ll see you again soon.


© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou: THE OUTSIDE MAN (1972)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2012, Action Movies, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Crime Films, Drive-in Movies, Fast Cars, Gangsters!, Hit Men, International Cast, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , , , on September 13, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:


Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes!

Ah, the 1970s.  Not only was it a great time for gritty independent film-making, it was also a happy time for international productions.  You could have a film made in France, with a Spanish director, costumes by a British woman, stars from America and Poland and Germany and Thailand, produced by Italians, and with music by some Paraguayan rock star with a sitar and a hookah pipe.  When the movie was completed, it would be instantly dubbed into every language in the world, given an exploitive advertising campaign, and plopped into drive-ins and grindhouse theaters everywhere.  Italian horror movies did this for years, touting American actors in the lead roles but with a rainbow coalition of production credits that always made you go ‘hmmmm.’  Most of the time, we were duped into yet another six day wonder about women in bikinis and zombies in a Nazi-patrolled oasis (and there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with that!)  Every once in a while, a real treat would emerge from this United Nations of Sleazy Filmmaking—movies like THE OUTSIDE MAN (1972) a great gangster action movie with an A-list cast and a crazy diverse group of people behind the camera.

Look out! The OUTSIDE MAN is coming!

Directed by Frenchman Jacques Desrayaud, who also created THE SWIMMING POOL (1969) and LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN (2001), and written by Jean-Claude Carriere (who wrote such high class films as BELLE DE JOUR, 1967, THE TIN DRUM, 1979, THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING, 1988, SOMMERSBY, 1990, CYRANO de BERGERAC, 1990 and THE HORSEMAN ON THE ROOF, 1995), and we have a highly respected couple of filmmakers who had worked with the likes of Luis Bunuel, Wayne Wang, Hector Babenco, Peter Brook, Louis Malle, and, well, Jess Franco (I guess everyone hits rock bottom at some time or another).  Very impressive credits to their names and some major connections.  Also behind the scenes we have music by Michel Legrand (THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG, 1964 and YENTL, 1983), cinematography by Silvano Ippoliti (GREAT SILENCE, 1968, SALON KITTY, 1976 and CALIGULA, 1979), and produced by Jacques Bar (LET SLEEPING COPS LIE, 1988, and THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO, 1998).  This is some pedigree, with some of the greatest Europeans working in the 1960s and 1970s.  But there’s a bit of a CHINATOWN feeling to it all . . . “It’s an art film; it’s exploitation.  It’s an art film; it’s exploitation.”

But it’s the story and the cast that make THE OUTSIDE MAN so much damn fun!  This is one back-stabbing, sleazy, nasty picture . . . and it was rated PG back in the day!

We start in Los Angeles, amidst music that sounds like leftovers from STARSKY AND HUTCH (“You got no trouble with Jesus, You got no trouble with me!”) and it’s sung by Joe Morton, future star of BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET (1984), SPEED (1994), and the TV show LAW AND ORDER!  That astonishing cast flashes across the screen, but more on them as they appear.

Jean-Louis Trintignant (LES BICHES, 1968, MY NIGHT AT MAUDE’S, 1969 and RED, 1994) stars as Lucien, a hit man with the heaviest French accent ever.  The handsome Frenchman is delivered a suitcase full of money and orders from a Los Angeles crime family to assassinate another mob boss.  When he arrives at the target’s house, he finds a mansion with a fleet of cool cars out front, a fountain, and Victor Kovaks, played by Ted de Corsia (THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI, 1947 and THE KILLING, 1956) and his beautiful, much younger wife Jackie, played by POLICE WOMAN herself, Angie Dickenson (also in RIO BRAVO, 1959 and DRESSED TO KILL,  1980).  She sports a great bikini and a pool-boy.  Lucien kills Victor and calmly walks away from the scene of the crime.  When he gets back to his hotel, he finds that someone claiming to be his secretary has already checked him out and taken everything from his room, including his wallet and passport.  Suddenly, someone is shooting at him wherever he goes.  Turns out, the assassin after him is ice-cold Roy Scheider (JAWS, 1975, THE FRENCH CONNECTION, 1971 and BLUE THUNDER, 1983).

Sexy redhead Ann-Margret goes blonde for THE OUTSIDE MAN.

After escaping, Lucien hitches a ride with housewife Mrs. Barnes, played by Georgia Engel (Georgette on THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW and Esmeralda on the soap opera PASSIONS).  Her kid is played by Jackie Earle Haley (BAD NEWS BEARS, 1976, WATCHMEN, 2009, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, 2010 and SHUTTER ISLAND, 2010).  The boy says, “What are you, a foreigner?”  They watch STAR TREK on television, as well as Friskies commercials.  Our favorite killer calls Paris on her phone (“Who’s gonna pay for this?”) while Jackie Earle listens in.  Lucien smacks the crap out of the kid (according to reports, the slaps were real and brutal), then he leaves them, getting into an elevator with. . . NO!  Roy Scheider!  Luckily, two women get in and all Scheider gets to do is light Lucien’s cigarette.  Then, the shooting and chasing starts again.

Lucien, obeying orders, goes downtown following a group of bikers and a Jesus-freak hitchhiker who tries to convert the assassin.  Scheider accidentally kills the hitchhiker, so Lucien is driving around with a religious nut with long blond hair and a bloody hole in his head and a giant golden cross around his neck!  More chasing and shoot-outs ensue.

Lucien hears a description of himself on the news, but the wife and pool-boy of his victim have given incredibly erroneous descriptions of him, which makes him start to wonder if it was all a set-up.  He’s told to seek out the ex-moll of his boss, a stripper in a club named Nancy, played by Ann Margret (BYE BYE BIRDIE, 1963, TOMMY, 1975 and GRUMPY OLD MEN, 1993) in a very low-cut, revealing white outfit and a blonde Marilyn Monroe wig.  “I tend bar with my tits hanging out,” she says.  “Victor made sure that was the only job I could get.”  According to her, Victor’s brother, Alex, will run the mob better.  Alex, aka the pool-boy, is played by Umberto Orsini from THE ANTICHRIST (1974) and EMMANUELLE 3 (1977).  Nancy takes him to her friend Karl’s place where he can lie low for a while.  Karl’s a hippie played by Carlo de Mejo, who was in THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY (1981), CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD/THE GATES OF HELL (1980), and MANHATTAN BABY (1982.)  Who knew a Lucio Fulci regular would be in the same movie as Ann Margret?

Meanwhile, Scheider has tracked down Georgette and followed the trail to Nancy who leads him to Lucien.  Cue exciting chase involving hit-men, Nancy, and the police!  Eventually, the French mob, led by Antoine (Michel Constantin of LE TROU, 1960 and THE INGLORIOUS BASTARDS, 1978) gets to America and decides to join forces with Lucien.

Who is trying to kill Lucien?  Who hired the assassin in the first place?  Can Karl and Nancy be trusted?  What about the wife of the target and his brother, the pool-boy?  Will Lucien make it back to Paris, or will he be trapped in the States and hunted like a dog?  Where can I get one of those fabulous suits Scheider and Trintignant wear throughout the movie?

The pacing, as in most European films of the period, is a little slow for today’s ADD tastes, but it works beautifully in the context of the movie, which stresses cool and hip over action-packed thrills.  There are car chases, foot chases, shoot-outs and more, but this is more FRENCH CONNECTION (1971) than DIE HARD (1988).  If you can groove on that kind of atmosphere, you’ll dig this one.

A shootout and a car chase during a funeral? Must be THE OUTSIDE MAN.

The music is groovy and funky, the women are smoking hot, the men are cool as can be, the cars are yacht-sized and beautiful, and the plot twists and turns like crazy.  This is the kind of cool every stupid OCEANS 11 movie wants to be, but falls short.  This is the kind of cool that cults are built around, and the movie throbs with it.  There are gorgeous hookers, loads of neon, drugs, strippers covered in glitter, pink Cadillacs, drive-in theaters, a Talia Shire cameo, roller derby scenes, scary layouts at funerals, an Alex Rocco cameo and more.    But that cast!  Where else will you see Police Woman making out with a star of EMMANUELLE 3 while being followed by Ann Margret, one of the sexiest women ever, who is rooming with the psychiatrist from the GATES OF HELL (1980) and pursued by Sheriff Brody, while Ted Baxter’s girlfriend mothers the guy who would one day play Freddy Krueger?  Plus, a small part by John Hillerman who played Higgins on MAGNUM P.I.!  This is the ultimate six degrees of separation matrix!  You can use this movie to connect anyone to anyone!

MGM has put out a beautifully restored copy available on CD-R through Amazon.

I give THE OUTSIDE MAN three and a half European hit-men out of four.

© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl


Posted in 2012, Controverisal Films, Crime Films, Disturbing Cinema, Hit Men, Killers, LL Soares Reviews, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , , , on August 20, 2012 by knifefighter

Movie Review by L.L. Soares

William Friedkin is the director who gave us such classics as THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971) and THE EXORCIST (1973), and his most recent movie, KILLER JOE (2012), is proof that the man is alive and well, and still turning out top-notch work.  For some reason, the movie is only in limited release in a few cities. On second thought, there is a reason: the movie received an NC-17 rating from the MPAA, and Friedkin refused to cut it to get an R, which makes it harder to market. I’m assuming that has something to do with it. Did Friedkin make the right choice? I’d say so.

Based on a play by writer (and sometimes actor) Tracy Letts—who also collaborated with Friedkin on his last movie, BUG (2006)—KILLER JOE is a tale of seedy characters living desperate lives, and the lengths they will go to dig themselves out, even when it’s clear they’re just digging themselves deeper down.

The movie opens by introducing us to the Smith family. Chris (Emile Hirsch) is a gambling-addicted low-life who owes a lot of money to a loan shark. After having a fight with his mother, Chris goes to see his dad, Ansel (Thomas Haden Church)-who lives in a trailer and doesn’t seem very bright, about a possible solution to his problems.  Chris’s mom is Ansel’s ex-wife, and he’s now married to his second wife, Sharla (Gina Gershon). Right away, the family members are bickering and hitting each other, and you know they don’t have much of a shot at getting up from the bottom. But Chris thinks he has the answers to their problems: what about killing his mother for her insurance money? Ansel listens, because he’s too dumb not to be seduced by the idea.

Oh yeah, there’s also Dottie (Juno Temple), Ansel’s daughter and Chris’s sister, who seems a little slow and who lives with her daddy and Sharla.

In order to get away with the murder, Chris suggests they hire someone outside the family to do it. This is where Killer Joe comes in. Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a Dallas police detective who also has a “side business” as a hit man. For twenty-five grand, he’ll get rid of Chris’s drunken mother (who we only see briefly in the movie). But there’s a problem. Chris and Ansel can’t pay him his money up front, as Joe demands. They won’t have the money until after the deed is done and they get the insurance money, since they know the mom’s policy makes Dottie the beneficiary.  So they have no way to pay Joe beforehand. He is about to walk out the door when he decides to make them a deal. He’ll take a retainer until he gets paid, and that retainer is Chris’s underage sister. They hesitate, then agree to it, and set up a special “private” dinner between Joe and Dottie, so they can get to know each other….

From here, it’s a matter of whether Joe goes through with the murder, and what happens to Dottie. There are also a few double-crosses along the way.

You can tell that KILLER JOE is based on a stage play at times, since there’s a lot of dialogue here , and some of the scenes seem a little stagey. However, this does not detract from the film version, mainly because the story is well-written and the acting is so damn good.

Hirsch is suitably scruffy and pathetic  (yet also sympathetic at times) as Chris, a guy who gets himself deeper and deeper in debt, but who wants to redeem himself in the end, even if his idea of redemption doesn’t exactly make a lot of sense. Church is also well-cast as Ansel, who willingly agrees to awful things, partly because he just doesn’t seem to have any kind of moral compass, but also because he might just be a little slower than some folks. Gershon is pretty amazing as Sharla; a trashy trailer queen who answers the door without pants on and thinks she has all the men in her life wrapped around her little finger. Gershon has shown fearlessness in her roles before, and KILLER JOE just ups the ante. This is a woman who will go to great lengths when she needs to in a performance. And it’s for that reason that I think she’s very underrated as an actress. And then we get to the main characters here.

Juno Temple does a great job as Dottie. While Dottie is supposed to be fairly young, it’s clear that Temple is over 18 (for the obvious reasons), but she’s good at emanating a naïve innocence that hovers between youthful exhuberance and brain damage (her father is Ansel, after all, but we also find out that when she was little, her mother tried to smother her death, and thought she had, which may have deprived her brain of precious oxygen for a spell). You care about Dottie, and you can understand why some of the characters feel the need to protect her, even while they’re selling her like property. For her part, Dottie is also willful and may be a little smarter than her family thinks she is, since she’s capable of selfish acts when given the tiny bit of power to act them out. Her character has been compared to Carroll Baker in the film version of Tennessee Williams’ BABY DOLL (1956), and the comparison is apt. Strangely enough, we most recently saw Temple as Catwoman’s sidekick in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES.

But the real reason to see KILLER JOE is Matthew McConaughey, who is simply awe-inspiring here as Joe Cooper. Intense, always in control, and downright scary, Killer Joe is a character who exudes cool, even as he does the vilest things. It’s fascinating to see McConaughey here, playing against type as a vicious murderer in contrast to his roles in countless light romantic comedies. There is nothing light about Joe. He’s a stone-cold killer, and even his “romantic” side is focused on a slightly slow, underage girl who doesn’t know any better. Needless to say, there are times when he makes your skin crawl.

Matthew McConaughey turns in an Oscar-caliber performance here as the very unpleasant character, “Killer Joe” Cooper.

In every scene McConaughey is in, he’s the camera’s main focus. He owns this movie and it’s such an excellent showcase for his acting chops that I think he really deserves an Oscar nomination for this role, even though he will probably be overlooked because Joe is so unpleasant, and this movie is so damn dark and disturbing.

McConaughey’s role here reminded me a little of Lou Ford, the protagonist of  THE KILLER INSIDE ME, the classic novel by crime fiction god Jim Thompson (twice filmed, first in 1976 with Stacy Keach and 2010 with Casey Affleck), but McConaughey makes Joe all his own. I’d really like to see him in more roles like this, because he was fascinating to watch. Kind of like a coiled, venomous snake, walking around on two legs.

As for that NC-17 rating, I didn’t see a lot here that should have denied it an R, but there are two scenes the MPAA might have been squeamish about. One involves the outcome of Joe and Dottie’s first “date” in that trailer. The other involves Joe, Sharla, and a fried chicken leg, that is bound to upset some viewers.

Despite the subject matter, and the fact that there really isn’t one character here who deserves the redemption they crave, KILLER JOE is a solid, emotionally-powerful piece of work. Friedkin shows he’s still at the top of his game, and everyone involved here does an exceptional job. Obviously, a movie this dark is not for everyone, and there are people who probably shouldn’t see KILLER JOE. But if you think you can handle it, it’s worth wading in the slime for 103 minutes. Hell, there are even a few moments of (dark) humor to keep it from being overly oppressive.

In a summer that gave us superhero extravaganzas like THE AVENGERS and sci-fi mammoths like PROMETHEUS, I found KILLER JOE to be both more emotionally effective, and more satisfying as a cinema experience.

I give it four and a half knives.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives William Friedkin’s KILLER JOE ~ four and a half knives.

KILL LIST (2011)

Posted in 2012, Bad Situations, British Horror, Disturbing Cinema, Hit Men, Killers, LL Soares Reviews, Murder!, Surprises!, Twist Endings, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , , on March 6, 2012 by knifefighter

KILL LIST (2011)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

Sometimes you find a movie that you don’t know a lot about, and you go in fresh, and it completely blows you away.

This doesn’t happen very often. With this age of media oversaturation, it’s almost impossible not to see the trailer for a movie a hundred times before it opens—not to mention countless ads on television. But every once in a while a little independent film, usually showing in a limited-run at an arthouse theater, slips through the cracks. You hear the buzz about it, and without too much effort you can avoid finding out too much about the plot, and you can have a fresh experience. Like I said, this is rare. The last time I felt this way about a movie was back in 1999, when Takashi Miike’s AUDITION had a very limited theatrical run (the theater I saw it in had it for two days!). I’d heard it was supposed to be good, but I avoided any reviews of it, and was amazed and surprised by it.

Well, sitting through KILL LIST was a very similar experience. It is nothing like Miike’s film, but it has been getting some buzz in the independent horror movie scene, and I was able to avoid reading too much about it, which is good, because it’s one of those movies that throws a few curveballs at you in ways M. Night Shymalan only wishes he could do. (Note: KILL LIST was made in 2011, but some people are only seeing it in the U.S. now, thanks to limited theatrical runs and services like OnDemand cable.Personally, I’m glad I got a chance to see it on the big screen.)

When it started, I thought maybe this one wasn’t going to live up to its buzz. It seemed like just another drama about British working people enduring hard times. Jay (Neil Maskell) has been out of work for months and his wife, Shel (MyAnna Buring) is getting more resentful with each passing day. Enter Jay’s buddy Gal (Michael Smiley) who comes over for dinner with his new girlfriend, Fiona (Emma Fryer) for some wine and chat, but the party turns ugly when Jay and Shel start screaming at each other in the other room. Meanwhile, their young son Sam (Harry Simpson) is taking the brunt of it all.

But things change when Gal offers Jay a chance to get his old job back. The two of them are veterans of the Iraq War and here’s where the first big story twist happens. It turns out that the two of them started freelancing as hired killers after the war ended. Jay has been out of work for a bit because of some mysterious mistake he made in Kiev (we never find out exactly what it was, but it must have been a doosy). But Jay gets a second chance and Gal seems genuinely happy to work with him again, “The Two Musketeers are back together,” as Gal puts it. They accept a job from an enigmatic man (Struan Rodger, who in the credits is simply referred to as “The Client”), who hands them money and a list of three people to kill, including a priest and a librarian. However, to seal the deal, the Client feels the need to take out a knife and make a deep cut in Jay’s hand, then proceeds to do the same to himself. Gal freaks out and pulls out his gun, but Jay seems able to overlook it and move on, even though he’s bleeding all over the carpet. Maybe he’s just happy to be working again and doesn’t want to blow it.

The people Jay and Gal are sent to whack are particularly unsavory types whose crimes shock and offend Jay, and he begins to take the job a little too personally, going after their accomplices as well. Gal starts to worry Jay is going to screw up again, and begins to seriously question the new partnership. Meanwhile Swedish beauty Shel decides to take their son and move out of the house to stay in a cabin they have in the country, leaving Jay alone to stew in his own rage.

It’s the final person Jay and Gal go to snuff that takes the movie in a completely unexpected direction. And about this twist I won’t say anything more, except that it reminded me a lot of two horror “classics,” one from the 1970s and the other much more recent. Needless to say, the ending is suitably disturbing.

The script is top-notch and the acting is equally good. You believe these characters are genuine people, and you care about them. I thought the camaraderie between Jay and Gal was especially good; these guys really do seem like best friends. The budget is clearly small, but director Ben Wheatley turns out a remarkable product all the same. Oh yeah, and there’s plenty of the red stuff for fans of gore. This is a movie that doesn’t look away when the rough stuff is happening. One scene involving a hammer is especially gruesome.

My only issue is that I couldn’t understand everything the characters said. In a few scenes, their Yorkshire accents get a bit thick, and I kind of wish the movie had given us some subtitles (which reminds me of another good but sometimes hard to understand movie, Gary Oldman’s NIL BY MOUTH, 1997). Don’t let this scare you off, though. You’ll get sucked in just the same and it’s pretty clear what’s happening at all times. You just might not catch a phrase here and there.

I’ve seen a few Hollywood movies lately where at the end, the audience feels the need to applaud. Most of the time, this is totally unwarranted (most Hollywood movies these days just aren’t that good). Besides, the people involved in making the movie can’t hear you anyway. But at the end of KILL LIST I wanted to applaud anyway. It was that good.

I can’t praise this one enough. I give it four and a half knives.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

L.L. Soares gives KILL LIST ~ four and a half knives!



Posted in 1970s Movies, 2011, Action Movies, Crime Films, Hit Men with tags , , , , , , , , on February 2, 2011 by knifefighter

DVD Review by L.L. Soares

Before I saw the new version of THE MECHANIC with Jason Statham and Ben Foster, I revisited the original version from 1972 on DVD, starring the great Charles Bronson.

When I was a kid in the 1970s, Bronson was one of the coolest guys alive. He probably reached the height of his popularity as Paul Kersey in 1974’s DEATH WISH, a bonafide classic, but he had some memorable roles before then. THE MECHANIC was one of them. It’s always been one of my favorites of Bronson’s movies.

The plot is very similar to the 2011 remake. Bronson plays Arthur Bishop, a hit man who tries to avoid just shooting people in the head. He likes to make his killings more elaborate, and tries to make them look like accidents when he can. The first guy he kills, he watches him for days in a rat-trap flophouse across the street, keeping tabs on the guy’s routines, his comings and goings. Then, when he goes outside, Bishop breaks into the guy’s apartment and rigs the man’s gas stove to blow up at a certain point. He even puts sedatives in the guy’s tea (which he drinks every day at a certain time) so he will just nod off before he’s killed in a fiery inferno. Bishop is a cerebral guy who likes a challenge and the way he does his job is fascinating.

We never really find out who it is Bishop works for, but it’s implied that it’s the Mob, especially in a job where he’s hired to kill a man in Italy who is about to testify in a court case.

Bishop meets with his close friend Harry McKenna (the always excellent Keenan Wynn). McKenna has had a falling out with “the organization” and he begs Bishop to put in a good word for him. When McKenna becomes Bishop’s next assignment, he doesn’t seem too upset. In fact, nothing seems to phase this guy. Arthur Bishop seems emotionally dead. He performs the job without a second thought. He’s the epitome of the cold-blooded killer. Which is why he is so good at his job.

When he goes to Harry’s funeral, he sees Harry’s son Steve McKenna (Jan-Michael Vincent) there. They know each other because Arthur was a long-time friend of Harry’s, but Steve is a spoiled hippie kid who is just interested in looking for excitement. After the funeral, Steve asks for a ride and they go back to Harry’s house, which has become the scene of a giant party. Hippie kids are taking drugs and having sex everywhere. Steve seems bored and takes Arthur to his girlfriend’s house. She has threatened to commit suicide. When they arrive, she cuts her wrists and they watch her sit there, bleeding. After about an hour, Steve tosses her her keys and tells her to go to the hospital. But it’s clear he would have been just as happy to wait it out and let her die. Arthur doesn’t do anything to help either, though. They’re both cold-blooded.

Arthur sees Steve as a kindred spirit and agrees to take the kid on as his apprentice. Steve knows his father and Bishop were involved in some shady business, and he wants in. There’s a strange bond between the two men, almost a kind of unspoken, homoerotic attraction. Both men don’t seem to care much for other human beings, and both are adrenaline junkies.

Bishop takes Steve on a few assignments. Then his bosses get wind of it and tell him they’re not pleased that he has involved someone new in the business without getting their okay. Bishop tells them it’s his decision who he teaches the ropes to. This is a bad move.

The rest of the movie is a series of hits and double-crosses. The coldness of both of the main characters gives the movie a kind of existential element. Here are two men who kill without a second thought. They don’t seem very good at relationships with other people (the only girl we see Bishop with early on – played by Bronson’s real life wife, Jill Ireland – turns out to be a hooker playing the part of an adoring girlfriend; it’s all fake), and yet they seem to have a human connection with each other for some reason.

Despite the emotional vacuum in his soul, Bronson’s character has a sad look on his face most of the time. And it makes you wonder what’s going on in his mind. It makes you want to understand this character, even if, in the end, he’s still a mystery. There was always something sad about Bronson’s face. He was never the average leading man type. His face was weathered and he looked weary most of the time. His hair looked odd. He was the exact opposite of the usual movie star, and yet he became a star anyway. It was this difference that made him such a watchable actor. He always seemed real. Maybe he was always more of a character actor than a movie star, but somehow he got to be both. His movies did big box office in the 70s.

He was definitely one of my favorite actors growing up.

THE MECHANIC is well-directed by Michael Winner, who would go on to direct Bronson in his most iconic role in DEATH WISH. (Winner also directed the very interesting 1977 horror flick, THE SENTINEL.) He worked well with Bronson and knew how to bring out the best of his enigmatic qualities.

In a lot of ways, THE MECHANIC is a strange film, but it’s also a satisfying one. I always liked this movie a lot and watching it again after many years, it held up very well. It also holds up well in comparison to the new remake. I enjoyed both films, and I thought Jason Statham was fine in the Bishop role, but he’s no Charles Bronson.

There was only one of those. And we haven’t seen anyone else like him since.

© Copyright 2011 by L.L. Soares

Charles Bronson, the star of the original 1972 version of THE MECHANIC, was a one of a kind actor.