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Review: “Death Wish” is a Clunky Mess of Guns-Gushing Insanity

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I always admired Death Wish more as an oddity than a genuinely great action picture. It’s a little hard to become invested in a film series known for gratuitous amounts of graphic violence and rape, many times in the same scene. And while the Death Wish remake thankfully avoids become the exploitation mess it could have been, the film is still just as odd for its unusual mix of commentary and comedy amid bullets and blood.

Bruce Willis now plays the role of Paul Kersey, appearing with far less hair on his head, now a Chicago surgeon as opposed to a New York architect. He has to witness day after day multiple patients with gunshot wounds rushed into the ER. It’s draining work, but he can still have fun at his lovely home with his beautiful wife and college-bound daughter. Surely nothing terrible will happen to them because they’re so carefree and all smiles. They’re built up to be such a sugary family that the inevitable beating the wife and daughter receives only occurs after they decide to make a birthday cake for Paul secretly.

I will give Eli Roth credit in that the expected inciting incident that sets off Paul is not as hard to watch as the original. Rather than draw out a long and uncomfortable rape of a mother and daughter that leaves one dead and the other in a coma, the scene is kept tense with the tease for a sexual assault that doesn’t get very far and gunshots quite subtle. That being said, Roth doesn’t disappoint in the rest of the violence that becomes just as cartoonish as it does gory. Blood will splatter, neck cracked, and one unlucky thug has his skull crushed as his brains spill out.

Roth’s film is one that’s hard to love for its seesawing of gritty drama and over-the-top violence. You can probably guess which category he excels at best. When Willis is going on the hunt and making snarky remarks, he’s in his element. When he’s trying to look sad and depressed with contemplating losing his family, however, the heart isn’t there, and his acting becomes downright awkward to watch as he stumbles through his quieter scenes. Almost of mercy, the film is aware enough of these shortfalls and slowly steers the focus away from the dramatic elements. It’s a smart move, but it would have been an even better move if Rothe embraced more of the crazy than the relatable.

Several aspects of Paul’s crusade come with consequences, but they’re rarely explored. There’s no point made in bringing up the dangers of copycat vigilantes that are gunned down in the street if Paul ignores, turning off a news report and then never addressing it again. Why even bother having morning radio debates on the slippery slope of Paul’s revenge spree when they’re just as quickly swept under the rug? Rather than dig deep into these issues or cut them out for the sake of campy violence, Roth decides to dance around them, taunting the audience with his film being culturally relevant, but not really.

And it can’t be ignored how poorly timed this movie was with the current state of arguing about gun control. While the film had reportedly been pushed back because of the Vegas shooting, now it has the uncomfortable awkwardness of coming out after the Parkland shooting. I don’t want to hold that against the film, but it should be noted that this film was pretty much a love letter for the NRA. This film doesn’t just showcase a lot of guns; it loves firearms to a ridiculous degree. When Paul becomes inspired to go out and buy one, he’s greeted in the gun shop by a bouncy blonde that perkily sets him up with a form and dismisses how tough gun safety classes are to pass, reasoning that anyone can qualify. This type of attitude would set off red flags about gun access in Chicago, but all Paul gathers from that visit is “Man, it sure takes a lot of work to get a gun. Better go steal one of a gangster.”

Death Wish has its demographic down for targeting middle-aged Americans who love guns and want to take a bite out of the next generation with their dentures. Willis is a snarky anti-hero who loves shooting young punks, Vincent D’Onofrio is an all-American guy gunning for a union job, Dean Norris is a pursuing detective that thinks gluten-free foods are yucky, and the soundtrack boasts top hits of classic rock. All it’s missing is a Make America Great Again hat, Willis fumbling with a smartphone, and a preachy rant about how lazy millennials are to be the elderly audience movie of the year.

And I honestly would have been okay with this over-the-top presentation if Roth decided to keep this film where it firmly belongs in cartoony gore land, going so far as to have a goon killed by a bowling ball falling off a shelf. But when he ventures outside this territory, into the world of gun violence, being a real issue with dire consequences, the cracks in the entertainment value become uncomfortably thick, as if Tarantino meshed footage of Schindler’s List into Inglourious Basterds. I wanted to like Death Wish for being a bullet and blood bonanza, but not when it tries to make a point of all this madness, only to trail off into another silly segment of Willis getting in an ouch-inducing kill. Such inconsistencies made me wish this tired franchise had stayed buried, coming out as the wrong film at the wrong time.

[author title=”About the Author” image=”http://popstermedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/mark_mcpherson-300×221-150×150.jpg”]Movie Reviewer Mark McPherson has been all about movies since working at a video store in his youth. His talents range from video editing to animation to web development, but movies have always been his passion to write about.[/author]


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“The Grinch” Steals Box Office, “Overlord” and “Spider” Left With Scraps

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The holiday Christmas movie season starts early as it usually does in November. Just one week after The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, along comes Dr. Suess’ The Grinch, the theatrical animated adaptation of the classic children’s novel, helmed by Illumination Studios of Despicable Me fame. The animated comedy raked in $66 million for its first weekend, well on its way to conquering its $75 million budget as the holidays roll on. Given Illumination’s track record with comedy among kids, expect the film to stick around for the next two months.

The rather high box office of Grinch stole the thunder of the other two films debuting this weekend. Overlord, a Nazi zombie action/horror romp, debuted at #3 with a domestic gross of $10.1 million, which is not exactly a strong opening for a film with a $38 million budget. But it could’ve been worse as The Girl in the Spider’s Web: A New Dragon Tattoo Story, the action sequel to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, premiered at #5 with a box office take of only $8 million on a $43 million budget. Don’t be surprised if you see these darker, violent films take a tumble coming into the holiday season that seeks more PG-13 genre films for the families to venture out to the theater for.

Bohemian Rhapsody, the Freddie Mercury and Queen biopic, is holding firm at #2 on its second weekend with a weekend gross of $30.8 million, bumping its domestic total up to $100 million. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, however, isn’t doing so well in its second weekend. The Disney fantasy adventure only made $9.5 million over the weekend, a 53% drop with a domestic total sitting at a meager $35 million. Not a very strong take for a Disney Christmas fantasy that cost $120 million.

It’s no surprise, however, that David Gordon Green’s Halloween took the biggest dip of the weekend at 64%. It’s surprising the horror film is even still here at #9 in the box office, the domestic total now sitting at a very pleasing $156 million. Also holding firm once again at #10 is The Hate U Give, having made $26 million for only being in 1,100 theaters.

View the full top 10 box office weekend results below.

Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch ($66,000,000)
Bohemian Rhapsody ($30,850,000)
Overlord ($10,100,000)
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms ($9,565,000)
The Girl in the Spider’s Web: A New Dragon Tattoo Story ($8,015,000)
A Star is Born ($8,010,000)
Nobody’s Fool ($6,540,000)
Venom ($4,850,000)
Halloween ($3,840,000)
The Hate U Give ($2,070,000)

Next weekend will feature magical beasts versus dysfunctional families versus women robbers. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, the second film in the new Harry Potter spin-off series, will debut in 4,000 theaters. Instant Family, a family comedy starring Rose Byrne and Mark Wahlberg, will hit 3,000 theaters. Also debuting in 3,000 theaters will be Widows, the all-star heist picture directed by Steve McQueen and starring Viola Davis.


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Review: “Overlord” is a Gritty, Gory Genre Mash

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Overlord is one of those delicious genre blenders that delivers World War II action and viciously gruesome body horror into a beautifully bloody cocktail of entertainment. In the same way that From Dusk Till Dawn convinced you into watching one type of film before switching gears, so too does this war film that soon mutates into an equally as frightening tale of science experiments gone wrong. And although the subgenre of Nazi zombies is a fairly small one, this is by far one of the most fun.

Starting loud and explosive, making great use of IMAX, we’re quickly thrown into the action with an interesting ensemble of soldiers tasked with taking down a Nazi control tower in French territory. Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo) is fearful of combat and reasonably so when everyone is shooting at you when making a rocky landing and losing more than half his comrades. His methods of choosing the least lethal options clashes greatly with the ruthless Captain Ford, played by a stellar Wyatt Russell, son of Kurt Russell who has that same great level of grit in his performance. Meeting up with a handful of other soldiers, they secretly make their plans in a Nazi-occupied French village to assault the tower where the Nazis have established a base.

Though Boyce is prepared to take down the target, he’s not prepared for what he discovers underneath the base. The Nazis have a classic mad doctor hard at work on breeding the ultimate race of super soldiers. These monsters are not ready yet and Boyce, unfortunately, happens upon the stepping stones of mangled corpses, howling undead, and decapitated heads begging for death. Of course, this is all helmed by a nervous mad scientist, Dr. Schmidt (Erich Redman), and a sneeringly sinister overseeing Nazi Officer Wafner (Pilou Asbæk).

While the Nazi experiments are in desperate need of improvement, Overlord shoots straight for the guts with gusto when it comes to the action and terror. The US soldiers are portrayed as a lot of colorful characters, including the nasally joking Tibbet (John Magaro) that provides vital comic support. The Nazis are seen as unhinged evil, never wasting an opportunity to shoot a civilian in the streets or rape a woman when she is cornered. And the monsters all feel like brilliant works of terrifying body horror, where necks snap open and chunks of flesh fall off the face. Consider how when the French civilian of Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier) gets in on the action; she quickly goes from fearful sister looking after her ailing aunt to a flamethrower-touting badass.

But what’s most remarkable about all this is how it never feels the need to blatantly wink with its theatrics, shying away from trying too hard to seem badass. This movie is badass and it knows enough not to amp up the humor when setting undead zombies aflame or watching someone’s body contort in unnatural ways. The tongue is buried firmly in cheek, chewing on its meaty set pieces of blood and explosions to stand firm without a knowing nod to the audience. Such earnest seems almost rare in films that want to replicate that grindhouse flavor of filmmaking.

Overlord more than earns its brutal showdown of fierce fights and abundance of firey blasts, putting in all the grunt work of a capable war and horror film. With the relatively fresh direction of Julius Avery, it’s a film that is smart enough to have faith in its grit of the disturbing elements from both genres that it never feels the need to spice it up too high with self-consciousness. And in its own weird way, it’s serious and subtle enough that we can buy into the fantasy of a Nazi zombie story told straight with character and cunning. After all, we’ve already had the over-the-top angle with Dead Snow. The time has finally come for this subgenre to be taken seriously. Or about as seriously as it can be taken.


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Big “Bohemian Rhapsody” Opening While “Nutcracker” Trails

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In weekend box office battle, it’s Queen who is king. Bohemian Rhapsody, the Freddy Mercury and Queen biopic, came in at #1 making $50 million domestic. With a $52 million budget, this is a very successful opening for the film, despite the mixed critic reaction. Falling just behind it with less than half the take is The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, Disney’s latest fantasy adventure debuting early for the Christmas season. The film did poorly with critics and even poorer at the box office, bringing in only $20 million which is not a good debut at all for such an expensive epic. Also just behind is Tyler Perry’s new romantic comedy, Nobody’s Fool, taking in $14 million, strangely low for a Tyler Perry movie, especially when you consider that higher budget of $19 million.

Since Halloween is over, it’s natural to see that David Gordon Green’s Halloween would dip in the box office and it certainly fell the lowest this week with a 64% drop. Falling sharply from #1 to #5, the film made $11 million for the weekend but it’s not a huge concern given the film has already made $150 million on a budget of $10 million. Almost tying with the picture is A Star Is Born, the Bradley Cooper/Lady Gaga musical drama that has proven to be a box office darling, earning $11.1 million over the weekend with a $165 million domestic gross. And still sticking like goo to the box office is Venom, Sony’s solo villain picture starring Tom Hardy, making another $7.8 million for a domestic total nearly at $200 million.

Aside from A Star is Born being the smallest drop of the weekend, it also tied for the lowest drop with Smallfoot, Warner Bros animated comedy that is proving to have modest legs to stick around. The animated film with the voices of Channing Tatum and James Cordon made $3.8 million for a $77 million domestic gross. And The Hate U Give, the racial drama, is still hanging in there at #10 with a domestic total now sitting at $23 million, rather strong for a drama that slowly rose up over the course of October.

Bohemian Rhapsody ($50,000,000)
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms ($20,000,000)
Nobody’s Fool ($14,000,000)
A Star is Born ($11,100,000)
Halloween ($11,015,000)
Venom ($7,850,000)
Smallfoot ($3,805,000)
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween ($3,700,000)
Hunter Killer ($3,525,000)
The Hate U Give ($3,400,000)

We hope you’re ready for Christmas because those movies are going to start early. Next weekend will see the 4,000 theater debut of The Grinch, the latest animated comedy from Illumination Studios based on the classic Dr. Seuss book. But it’ll have some adult competition with The Girl in the Spider’s Web: A New Dragon Tattoo Story opening in 3,000 theaters (the sequel to 2011’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), and Overlord, a Nazi zombie action picture, opening in 2,500 theaters.


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