Tag Archives: Vincent Gardenia

Death Wish II (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Architect becomes vigilante again.

Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) has recovered from his traumatic loss of his family from 8 years earlier and is now living in L.A. where he continues his work as a successful architect. One day while taking his new girlfriend Geri (Jill Ireland) and cationic daughter Carol (Robin Sherwood) to a fairground he gets robbed of his wallet by a gang of 5 thugs (Thomas F. Duffy, E. Lamont Johnson, Kevin Major Howard, Laurence Fishburne, Stuart K. Robinson). They use the address on Paul’s driver license to find his home and invade it while he is away. There they rape and kill his maid (Silvana Gallardo) and then when Paul returns they knock him out while kidnapping his daughter who they take back to their ‘hideout’. While there they attempt to gang rape her and in her effort to escape she’s impaled on a fence and dies. This sets in motion for Paul to return as a vigilante this time prowling the underground neighborhoods of L.A. where he’s motivated to shot each of the 5 gang members who participated in the crime.

The film is less like a sequel and more just a slight variation from the original. Having to go through yet another home invasion/rape sequence, which is almost shot-for-shot the exact same as in the first installment (if even more exploitive) is mechanical to the extreme and an insult to the viewer. It’s like a TV-station promising their audience a new episode of their favorite series only to end up showing them a rerun instead. The story should’ve evolved more perhaps having Paul now becoming a ‘professional vigilante’ and being hired by people to track down the killers of their loved ones or at least something that would’ve taken the theme in a slightly different angle.

There continues to be the issue, like in the first film, of why does Chuck constantly get marked by these hoodlums for harassment anyways. For instance at the fairground there’s many other people milling  around and yet for some reason it’s Bronson, this very nondescript middle-aged man, that becomes their target.

The recasting of the daughter role is another problem. In the first film she was played by Kathleen Tolan and portrayed as being an adult married woman. Here though the character has regressed back to being a teenager and looking to be no older than 18 if even that.

To some degree on a sleazy B-level it actually hits-the-spot the soundtrack is done by former Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page and it is perfect especially the strained, loud electric guitar chords that effectively reflect the film’s dark, grimy mood. Most of the locales were filmed in actual buildings that were abandoned and in crime-ridden areas forcing the cast to require 20 off-duty police guards for protection. There’s even a scene featuring large squealing rats roaming around at the character’s feet as they say their lines.

The fact that Paul hunts down the actual perpetrators of the crime is on an emotional level satisfying, but it also becomes a logistical problem as it’s just not believable that he’d be able to find them all at random times, one-by-one simply by going to the city’s ‘bad areas’. I was also flabbergasted that in a later scene when Paul returns home from shopping and after dealing with his home being invaded now twice by crooks he doesn’t bother to lock the door once he gets inside, which you would think would be the first thing done each and every time!

The one interesting aspect that could’ve helped the film stand-out was the reintroducing of Vincent Gardenia who played the NYC police chief Frank Ochoa who tracked down Kersey in the first film and does the same here, but not to  arrest him, but instead to kill him. This could’ve created more tension had it been played out effectively as Kersey would constantly have to watch his back for an attack while simultaneously attacking the thugs when he came upon them. Unfortunately this side-story dies before it gets going when Ochoa gets kill just as he decides to help Kersey, which in itself could’ve been an intriguing odd couple-like pairing.

The ending  jumps-the-shark by having Kersey disguise himself as a doctor so that he can infiltrate a mental hospital in order to kill the last of the thugs who now resides there. This segment though becomes more like a scene from one those cheap horror movies with an asylum setting and not like an action flick at all.

The credibility gets seriously strained too by having Kersey constantly coming into contact with regular citizens who always conveniently side with him when it is most needed and thus helping him escape the clutches of the authorities. Sure this might happen every once in a while, but eventually he would confront someone who sees things differently, which all helps to make this film too dumb to take seriously, but slick enough to appease those looking for nothing more than simple-minded action.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 19, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Winner

Studio: Filmways

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Death Wish (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Architect becomes a vigilante.

In connection with the Eli Roth/Bruce Willis reboot that is set to be released to theaters this Friday I thought now would be a good time to go back and take a look at the original. The story centers on Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) who works as an architect and lives a comfortable life with his wife Joanna (Hope Lange) and adult daughter Carol (Kathleen Tolan). One day while he is at work his New York apartment gets invaded by three thugs (Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Logan, Gregory Rozakis) who kill his wife and rape his daughter. Paul becomes outraged that the police can’t seem to make any headway on the case and decides to take matters into his own hands by becoming a self-styled vigilante shooting random thugs on the street late at night, which in turn has him becoming a cult hero to the many residents of the crime ridden city.

The film is based on the novel of the same name by Brian Garfield. Garfield was inspired to write the story after his car got vandalized. He initially fantasized about tracking down the criminals and killing them before eventually speculating what would happen if someone actually went through with these feelings and decided to take the law into their own hands. The main difference between the novel and film is that in the book the vigilantism becomes more of the problem while in the movie it’s considered the solution.

Many critics at the time gave the film unfavorable reviews as they felt it advocated violence, but I found the movie to have a certain uplifting quality. While the message is certainly simplistic and one-sided it still nicely conveys the idea that ordinary citizens can make a difference and it is up to us, the American public, to foster change and not to simply leave it up to someone else. The film doesn’t completely promote violence as the solution either as there is one scene where an old lady (Helen Martin) scares off her attacker simply by using her hat pin.

The problem that I had with it was why does Bronson constantly get harassed by these thugs in the first place? Whether he is at a restaurant or on the subway the bad guys constantly hone in on him for no apparent reason even when there’s plenty of other people around. In the book it made more sense because the title character would intentionally set traps for the thugs like abandoning his car and putting an ‘out of gas’ sign on it, so the criminals would try to rob the vehicle and then when they did he’d shoot them. Of course this would make the character’s motives more questionable, which the film wanted to avoid, but in the process it becomes less believable.

While this has become Bronson’s signature role it still would’ve worked better had a less brawny actor played the part. In the book the character is a meek accountant and someone like Jack Lemmon, who was originally considered for the role, would’ve been a more authentic fit. Bronson’s image is so entrenched as a ‘tough guy’ that his presence here seems like just another of his action themed vehicles. Chuck should’ve also not known how to use a gun right away either and maybe even been initially clumsy with it as it would’ve made the character arch from peaceful novice to sharp shooting vigilante stronger.

I liked Michael Winner’s directing particularly the way he shot the interiors of the apartments and his grimy portrayal of the urban New York setting that perfectly played-up the city’s crime ridden paranoia at the time. This is also a great chance to see some young performers before they were famous including Christopher Guest as a patrolman. I also found it amusing that Paul Dooley and Vincent Gardenia share a brief scene together as they both went on to play the dad character in Breaking Away. Dooley portrayed him in the movie version while Gardenia played the part in the short live TV-series.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 24, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Winner

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Little Murders (1971)

little murders

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review:  They shoot at people.

Patsy (Marcia Rodd) is a woman who practices the art of positive thinking despite her dismal urban surroundings. She meets Alfred (Elliot Gould) who is very detached and dropped out of society and no longer shares any hope in humanity, but she decides to marry him anyways and ‘reform’ him.

For a black comedy this one has got to be tops. It stays on a grimly humorous level from the beginning and doesn’t let up especially with its wicked ending. Everything gets the offbeat treatment and if it starts out conventional it is soon turned upside down until it is absurd. The funniest scenes involve Patsy taking Alfred home to meet her parents where things become very odd until they are absolutely hilarious. The wedding scene is also a classic where Donald Sutherland plays a hippie minister and gives a speech about masturbation that is as outrageously funny today as it was back then. Yet it is the surreal scene of seeing Alfred riding a subway car while dripping with blood and nobody saying anything that leaves the strongest impact. The targets that this film satirizes are just as potent today as they were back then. The film also manages to dig a bit deeper than most and successfully analyzes the myriad of societal complexities while not siding with any particular social movement or philosophy.

Rodd is terrific in her film debut and Gould is good in a surprisingly restrained performance. Jon Korkes is also excellent as an infantile adult son in an over-the-top send-up of grown children still living at home. However, it is Vincent Gardenia that ultimately steals it playing a hard-liner conservative father who finds himself becoming literally imprisoned by the increasingly insane world around him.

Although still potent this outrageous story seems to have lost some of its zing through the years and doesn’t seem to be as offbeat or ‘out there’ as it once did. It also lacks any type of cinematic flair and at times seems to be nothing more than a filmed stage play.

However, for fans of black comedy and relics of a bygone era it doesn’t come much better than this. Although it has softened a bit there are still enough bizarre and funny moments to please those with an acquired taste.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 9, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated R

Director: Alan Arkin

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD