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MOVIE REVIEW — DEATH WISH V: Geriatric Dementia (1994)

In film on October 22, 2012 at 12:48 pm

I had only seen the Death Wishes I & II up till tonight and I suppose I should have anticipated the deterioration three entries on. No jokes about this bringing on a Death Wish for me or sapping my will to live, but a little over an hour into it I switched over to NYPD Blue. I’m sorry I waited that long because I missed the intro and and then some — and in the nightly reruns they’re just up to the stage where Russell has left to find herself and Charlotte Ross has yet to start a relationship with Sipowicz. (I personally like Dennis Franz as an actor but Sipowicz’s effortless — often reluctant — success with beautiful young women one after the other stretches credulity. It seems to follow the English pattern of casting where they put a plain-looking but good actor in to play a sex symbol and expect him or her to work miracles of suspension-of-disbelief on the part of the viewer.)

PrintIn that limited time, in fact in the first 15 minutes, I could see that Kersey, played by 73-year-old Charles Bronson in his 40th year in starring roles, had lost it. About to marry beautiful fashionista Lesley Anne Down, who is only 40 here, he seems to sleepwalk into situations that the early Kersey would have dealt with with ruthless aplomb. Lesley, who won a custody case years before for daughter Chelcie over her ex, sociopathic mob leader Michael Parks, is about to testify against him. Kersey/Bronson has already seen what this guy and his minions are capable of, having left a pool of congealed blood on the factory floor from a victim who crossed them. Yet, when Parks and his stooges follow him and Lesley into a restaurant and Lesley spends far too long powdering her nose all Kersey can raise the energy to do is lift his watch and look irritatedly at it every now and again. Was that irritation? — Bronson’s face was so immobile by now that it’s hard to tell. To give him the benefit of the doubt, maybe he was still depressed over the death of wife Jill Ireland three or four years before — I would be.

Parks’ cross-dressing henchman deals to Lesley’s lovely face (she was once voted the world’s most beautiful teen) by bashing it into the ladies’ room mirror three times. Kersey is in time to catch her as she collapses from loss of blood and accompanies her to the plastic surgery ward though it is known she will be disfigured for life. Finally, he reacts by going to his home safe and getting his trusty handgun. Unfortunately, he forgets to use it for quite a while. He suspects his friend the district attorney’s phone is tapped and is sharp enough not to tell him over the phone that Lesley will still be testifying, but is stupid enough to go round to his house and tell him — thinking it makes a difference. Of course, when the bad guys come round to eliminate Lesley, Kersey is left holding (well, not his gun) in his hand — and instead throws a vase at three men wielding machine guns and shotguns. They kill Lesley while Kersey, apparently still in great physical shape, throws himself off their building in a swan dive (to land on a well-placed mountain of garbage bags), just in time to cradle Lesley’s bloodsoaked head as she expires. He forgets to register any emotion in this scene, even vaguely pissed off.

Back home Chelcie tells him casually, “I’m going to miss Mom.” The next morning, resisting prostration from grief, Kersey is out taking a bracing jog through beautiful snowlined streets — I guess to keep in shape — can’t backslide on exercise — and they say it’s especially good for warding off depression. The horrible men show up to claim Chelcie and Kersey gets clubbed with a chunk of his own firewood. This is the limit! Yes, they can mutilate and murder my wife, steal my child from my home… But now they’re out of line! And next we see Kersey happily playing with a remote control soccer ball in a toystore. At least, he raises a faint smile now that the expendable members of the family are out of the way, enough to show that he’s back in his element devising elaborate revenges.

I only saw fragments of the rest of it — including how head baddie Michael Parks got his — but I am well able to resist spoiling it for anyone out there who might be in the least interested in watching this movie. The sad part is that Chelcie will have to spend the next 10 years being raised by a psycho mob family — because Kersey couldn’t move himself in time either to marry her mother.

MOVIE REVIEW — MacKenna’s Gold a remake of It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World?

In film, literature on October 13, 2012 at 1:39 am

JulieNewmarWhen I first saw MacKenna’s Gold (1969) I was 13 or 14 and thought it was a classic — great special effects and sound effects for the Sixties, visuals for the earthquake at the end that buries all that gold. And it had other elements a kid moviegoer wanted. Even kind of a happy though cheesy twist ending reminiscent of the Sixties’ James Bond series, where the guy and the girl survive to live happily ever after with saddlebags full of gold. These days the romantic charms of Julie Newmar and Camilla Sparv are about the only ones that stack up, along with the theme tune as sung by Jose Feliciano and narrative by Victor Jory. And their fights over Gregory Peck with knives, whips, cat-wrestling in a big pond, show a piquant hint of sado-masochism (though admittedly I didn’t think about lithe young women in those terms then).

Six-foot-three Greg Peck — here dwarfed by six-nine Ted Cassidy of “Lurch” fame in tv’s The Addams Family — was always good for an epic, as was Omar Sharif. Both had worked with director J Lee Thompson before early in the decade on earlier epics (The Guns of Navarone and Taras Bulba). Telly Savalas tended to pick his pictures for blockerbuster appeal too — sheer Sixties commercial potential. The cast included a host of older guest stars, all along for the ride and underused: Edward G Robinson, Raymond Massey, Burgess Meredith, Lee J Cobb, Eli Wallach, Anthony Quayle. Sharif probably gives the best performance, at least tries the hardest. Most of the rest of the cast looks demoralised (but for Julie, who’s crazy) and I can’t blame them. Amid all this, stupid back-process shots, carelessly speeded-up film and gimmicky horse’s-head-point-of-view mounted-camera shots are too much to take.

Meantime, Missouri-born screenwriter William Rose had spent the Fifties in Britain creating truly classic screenplays like Genevieve and The Ladykillers before returning to Hollywood for It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963) and going on to another in The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming!(1966). Carl Foreman was writing Champion, Home of the Brave, Young Man With a Horn, The Men, High Noon, A Hatful of Rain — all worthy, topical subjects — before settling for the epic if-somewhat-bloated war movies Bridge on the River Kwai and The Guns of Navarone. Who would have thought he would be found resorting to cribbing from another screenwriter — Rose — just at the peak of his reputation?

I’d long since forgotten the gist of MacKenna’s Gold unlike It’s a Mad Mad… World, that I first saw when I was eight but have watched a few times since. Now, having just watched the western right through for the first time since 1969, the formula format is far too obvious to miss. Both stories are centered on the search for a lost treasure told of by a dying old man. Its_a_Mad,_Mad,_Mad,_Mad_World_Trailer9In both the rumor spreads until multiple factions join the search — in the western, a marshal, bandidos, Indians, townspeople, cavalry — and run across each other in a game of attrition, picking each other off. Old partnerships are summarily dissolved too, as when Telly, as a cavalry sergeant, shoots two of his own men in cold blood in his lust for gold. The dust-ups are way funnier in the comedy, between Terry-Thomas & wife Dorothy Provine, father-in-law Milton Berle & wife Ethel Merman, along with the expert hijinks of Jonathan Winters, Sid Caesar & wife Edie Adams, Phil Silvers, Dick Shawn, Paul Ford, Buddy Hackett, Mickey Rooney and many more.

It strikes me there’s nothing expert at all in MacKenna’s Gold aside from maybe a knife vs belt duel between Sharif and Peck (he’s helped by Camilla) — attractively choreographed, probably worked out themselves. No thanks to Foreman or Thompson. Note that this takes place between two other pointless pieces of business: climbing up a sheer thousand foot cliff, then climbing down again to fetch their horses. Maybe I should have left my teen illusions of a classic western intact…

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