Archive for the ‘Revenge’ Category


Finally gonna see THE RAID 2 this week! Been waiting two long years for this thing — can you feel my excitement buzzing like a swarm of cicadas on a summer day? The action in the first movie was all-out peanut-butter-and-bananas, and the events of that one were confined to one building. In this new one they go outside! Oh my god. Imagine these maniacs in cars. I can’t wait. Anyway, here’s what I wrote about the first one when I listed it in my 2012 year-end top-ten.




If I were an action-movie hero (and who’s to say I’m not?), I’d be on the phone to writer/director/editor Gareth Evans yesterday.  He has made,  by a wide margin, the best action movie of the year, displaying all of the most integral virtues of the field. THE RAID starts from the most basic plot – a small group of cops are cornered in a high-rise packed with murderous thugs – and uses only a fraction — $1 million – of the means most action movies have in the pocket.  None of the guys in THE RAID look to be over five feet tall and ninety pounds, and the lead actor (Iko Uwais) looks a bit like Halle Berry circa STRICTLY BUSINESS, yet somehow hey all turn out to be the kind of fearsome, fearless shitkickers who make all fifty-two Expendables look like a Mad Magazine parody.  That’s due to the fact that these are all incredible athletes, of course, but also due to filmmaker Gareth Evans and his ferocious camerawork and ginsu-blade cutting style.




This isn’t just the best action film of 2012 – it’s pure cinema.  Great film-making isn’t only about storytelling and style, though THE RAID has that too.  It’s about using the tools of cinema to most effectively get a story across, with style as a garnish.  What Gareth Evans does here is present the kinetic ass-kicking doled out by his stars in a way that maximizes its impact.  The choreography of both the battles and of the camerawork that captures them has an uncommon clarity.  The violence is tactile – you can practically feel it.  This cumulative effect is also achieved by brilliantly-chosen and –rendered sound design – whether it be the sound of bullets rolling around in a wooden drawer, or that of a chambered clip, or of a machete scraping the underside of a table, or the face of a stone wall.  While everyone else was name-checking Bruce Lee and John Woo in their reviews of this movie, I was oddly enough reminded most of Martin Scorsese’s short film “The Big Shave.”  That’s the level of clever, innovative, forward-thinking filmmaking on display in THE RAID. I’m talking craft, not content.  That said: Will Gareth Evans one day make his own TAXI DRIVER or GOODFELLAS?  I would not bet against it.









Definitely, definitely, definitely don’t look at the title THRILLER: A CRUEL PICTURE and mistake it for having anything to do with the Michael Jackson album. Also known as THEY CALL HER ONE EYE and HOOKER’S REVENGE, this vicious, grubby revenge picture from Sweden is little known to mainstream audiences but has been massively influential on the grindhouse and cult-film circuit. You see the footprints of this movie all over Tarantino’s work, particularly KILL BILL, and even on our promo artwork for Daily Grindhouse.





THRILLER: THEY CALL HER ONE EYE (1973) is a hard movie for normal people to watch. I’m in no way a normal person and I still had a lot of trouble with it when I finally watched it for the first time for our most recent podcast. In fact, I kind of hated it. Despite that knee-jerk reaction, we still had a detailed, rambunctious, hopefully informative conversation about it. Give us a listen!

Here are our previous episodes, in case you’d like to catch up. A new episode drops this week! Stay tuned.






Vigilante Force















DG LOGO Vigilante Force  Vigilante Force


This here is really me catching up: I mentioned it briefly in my 2014 positivity post, but I’m co-hosting the Daily Grindhouse podcast now with Joe and Freeman. Our most recent episode found us discussing 1976’s VIGILANTE FORCE, written and directed by George Armitage and starring Kris Kristofferson, Jan-Michael Vincent, Victoria Principal, and Bernadette Peters. It’s a crazy good time (we’re two for two on movie choices! And just wait until you hear our third episode, coming this week!)


[Click here to listen and download!]

Here is the trailer and then the copy I read on the show: I feel like I stumbled over my words a bit so for clarity’s sake and for completists, I wanted to make it available. (Sometimes I listen to my own voice and feel so deeply grateful my parents decided to make me pretty.)







Elk Hills, California is a boom town. Oil-field workers drawn to the town by black gold run wild in the streets, drinking heavily and getting in raucous and very costly bar fights (staged by veteran stuntman Buddy Joe Hooker). This movie is set in the 1970s, when it was made, but it plays out like the Old West. One early bar fight BEGINS with a man getting shot in the gut and then escalates from there. The marauders have shoot-outs in the street with the police. One young man decides he’s had enough. Ben Arnold (played by Jan-Michael Vincent) is a widower and single father with a nice, pretty girlfriend (played by Victoria Principal). Ben tells the city elders, including the mayor (played by Brad Dexter, the member of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN everyone always forgets) and David Doyle (best known as Bosley from Charlie’s Angels) that he’s going for outside help.






Ben’s older brother Aaron is a Vietnam vet working a lousy menial job at an airfield. Ben recruits Aaron and his shitkicking drinking buddies from the service to come to Elk Hills to clean it up. Because Aaron is played by the ruggedly handsome and endlessly charming singer, songwriter, and movie star Kris Kristofferson, we feel like we may have seen this movie before: Good-guy gunslinger comes to lawless town and cleans it up for the decent folks. This isn’t what happens. After beating the oil workers down, Aaron makes a deal with some shady characters – one of them played by professional hard-ass Paul Gleason, best remembered for TRADING PLACES, THE BREAKFAST CLUB, and DIE HARD — to shake down the townspeople so that Aaron and his boys can swoop in and collect the protection tax. Aaron takes up with a spacey nightclub singer – Bernadette Peters, who nearly steals the movie away – but his callous treatment of her echoes his cruel treatment of the town. As Aaron’s tyranny escalates, Ben slowly realizes that his brother is kind of a monster, and recruits his own vigilante force to take him down. This happens in a wild, almost absurdly explosive climax well befitting a story with Biblical undertones. Call it Will Kane and Abel. That’s a HIGH NOON reference, son.









A Vietnam allegory that’s actually about Vietnam, VIGILANTE FORCE was written and directed by a smart, savvy, and sorely under-recognized filmmaker named George Armitage. Armitage started out directing for Roger Corman (whose brother Gene produced VIGILANTE FORCE). His feature previous to this one was HIT MAN, an Americanized version of GET CARTER starring Bernie Casey and Pam Grier. After VIGILANTE FORCE, he didn’t direct a theatrical feature until 1990’s MIAMI BLUES, the cult classic adaptation of the Charles Willeford novel starring a young Alec Baldwin. After writing the screenplay for the HBO movie THE LATE SHIFT, Armitage directed another cult classic, the John Cusack-starring GROSSE POINTE BLANK. Next, Armitage directed THE BIG BOUNCE, a poorly-received Elmore Leonard adaptation starring Owen Wilson and Morgan Freeman. That was 2004. He hasn’t made a film since. This is a mystery that all of humanity should be working to solve.






If you like us talking about VIGILANTE FORCE, be sure to check out our episode on STREET WARS!:









LAWLESS is a couple weeks old now, but it’s still way worth talking about.  It’s not to be confused with FLAWLESS, the Philip-Seymour-Hoffman-in-a-dress movie, nor is it to be confused with the upcoming DREDD movie, which as we all know is guaranteed to have a surplus of law.

Here’s what I said about LAWLESS before I saw it

WETTEST COUNTY was on my list of 50 most eagerly-awaited movies of the year.   But it’s not called that anymore, though.  Now it goes by the handle LAWLESS, a much more generic title which sounds a little cooler after knowing it was generously bestowed upon the movie by none other than Terrence Malick.  Whatever it’s called, it’s a John Hillcoat movie, which after THE PROPOSITION and The ROAD, promises good things.  I’m definitely getting a less-artsy, more-mainstream PUBLIC ENEMIES vibe from the new trailer, but that doesn’t strike me personally as a deterrent.

Check out the trailer, it made LAWLESS travel that much higher on my want-to-see-now meter:


Now, to read what I had to say about LAWLESS after seeing it (spoiler warning: it’s a lot of very nice things), you’ll have to click over to Daily Grindhouse:


And make damn sure you check out that soundtrack:

If you’ve seen Sergio Leone’s THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY, then congratulations!  You’ve seen the greatest movie ever.  But even if you’ve seen every Western that Sergio Leone made (which you really ought to), you’ve still only scratched the surface of the vast reserve of wonderfulness that is Italian Westerns.  Another Sergio – surname Corbucci – made some of the best-regarded of those movies.

Sergio Corbucci’s THE GREAT SILENCE is about a mute gunslinger nicknamed “Silence” (Jean-Louis Trintignant, maybe not a household name but a terrific actor and still starring in major movies at 82), who tries to help a small community who have been besieged by a band of vicious criminals, led by the cooly genocidal bounty hunter “Loco”, played by the ever-disturbing Klaus Kinski.  Loco collects dead bodies like a hunter collects pelts, while Silence only kills in self-defense – to be fair, he does provoke a lot of dickheads to draw down.  That way it’s legal.  Silence kills bad guys.  Loco is the worst guy.  Inevitably they’re going to meet up.  Sounds like a movie we may have seen a few times before, right?

Not quite.

The main element that drew me to THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY when I first saw it, the element that got me into Italian Westerns for life, and the element that THE GREAT SILENCE has in abundance, is the otherworldly quality of it all.  There’s a beautifully weird disconnect that happens when Italian filmmakers use international actors to shoot stories about the American West in (usually) Spain.  THE GREAT SILENCE is one Italian Western that doubles down on the otherworldliness.  The story takes place in Utah, on a wooded frontier blanketed with snow – even the horses have a hell of a time getting anywhere.  The characters are bundled up in layers of animal hides, brown and grey spots in an oppressive blanket of whiteness.  And the score by Ennio Morricone is one of the most haunting you’ll ever hear, even by the haunting standards set by the maestro.

THE GREAT SILENCE will stick in your guts, and that’s good because it leaves you with a few things to think about.  Corbucci wasn’t the most political of Italian-Western directors (that’d be the third Sergio, Sollima), but there is some clear subtext here if you’re interested in looking for it.  It may or may not mean much that the voiceless hero is a Frenchman – maybe Trintignant was just plain the best guy for the job – but I’d say it certainly means something that a blond, blue-eyed German is the monster of the piece, and Loco’s every action in this film bear out that hunch.  His monstrousness is familiar, is all I’m saying.

Moreover, it says plenty that the romantic interest, Pauline the vengeful widow who sets Silence on his collision course with Loco, who is the man who killed her husband, is a black woman – Vonetta McGee, who went on to star in several grindhouse-friendly films including BLACULA,DETROIT 9000, andSHAFT IN AFRICA, and in my well-educated opinion is only second to Claudia Cardinale in the ranks of most beautiful women ever to headline a “spaghetti” Western.  Race isn’t an issue to Silence, who proves his open mind by engaging in probably one of the earliest examples of interracial love scenes on film, but it most certainly is to Loco, who, in addition to his many other crimes, is blatantly racist.  Corbucci couldn’t be drawing the line between good and evil any more clearly, which is why the movie ultimately becomes quite literally a punch in the heart zone.

Non-spoiler warning: THE GREAT SILENCE has probably THE down ending of all time.  I’m not going to get into it, but trust me on this one.  It’s almost unbearably sad, but it’s also resolutely unique and entirely unforgettable.  If you think you can handle the heartache, then I couldn’t recommend this movie any more highly.

THE GREAT SILENCE is screening from Sunday September 9th through Tuesday September 11th at Cinefamily in Los Angeles.  This is the world’s only surviving 35mm print.  If you want to see this movie theatrically, this is the time.




This beautiful portrait was taken by @SethKushner.

Hollywood legend Ernest Borgnine passed away Sunday, July 8th, 2012.  He was 95, which is not young.  But anyone who suggests that his age makes the loss much easier would be mistaken.  There are people who are irreplaceable, and this was most certainly one.  Ernest Borgnine, or Ernie to his fans, had more than sixty years in the movie business — just think of how many stories he must have had left to relay.  Though he gave plenty of great interviews over the years, that probably was only a fraction.  With Ernest Borgnine goes a unique and eternally ingratiating talent, and a pivotal bridge that spans Old Hollywood, New Hollywood, and the modern age we’re currently living in.  For this post I’ve collected a ton of pictures and posters of the many movies I’ve seen Ernest Borgnine in.  I will touch on most of these movies (and maybe more) in the longer appreciative piece I am working on, but in the meantime, please enjoy these movie memories of a true original.

Check out this great interview also.

Find Ernie in the southwestern hemisphere.


Here’s something I wrote on January 31st, 2009.  Now there’s a sequel coming.

Taken is the movie, just released in the U.S., in which the great Irish actor Liam Neeson takes on the traditional Steven Seagal role of an ex-spy who moves to Los Angeles to be closer to his teenaged daughter, only to ramp up the path of vengeance and death-bringing when she is kidnapped during a summer trip to Europe.

The first thing you will want to know, if you are a person like me who is willing to watch such a film, is that it’s a PG-13.  I don’t know about you, but just about the last thing I want from a revenge picture is the knowledge that I am free to bring my favorite 13-year-old friend or relative along, that there is no scene too brutal or offensive that it could not run on USA or some other basic cable outlet at 4pm on a weekday afternoon.

That said, one thing I came to understand while watching Taken is that you really can’t argue with an audience.  The critic and the aspiring filmmaker will (and must) watch this movie with different eyes, but on an audience of laymen it seems that the movie absolutely works. 

To the right side of me, there was applause after every act of brutality.  To the left, there was talking at the screen.  And after the credits finished running, there was this conversation between two ushers:



Usher 1:  “This movie is hot!”

Usher 2:  “You saw it?”


Usher 1:  “Yeahhh!  I want to see it again!”


Usher 2:  “Me too!”


The film critic (which I am not) will look at Taken and point to the incoherent gunfight sequences, the questionable performances from just about every character not played by Liam Neeson, the inconsistent orientation of the action and its arbitrary engine of suspense (96 hours!), the fact that it keeps running for ten minutes longer than it has to, and the strange feeling of xenophobia elicited throughout, considering the international pedigree of the production.

The aspiring storyteller (which I am) will take all of those things into account, but will also need to consider why an audience might be so [pun intended] taken with the movie.  I have a friend who tells me, “Jonny, you think too much – no real person cares about all that film major stuff.”  Honestly, he’s halfway right: there is a certain elemental appeal, particularly to a movie in this genre, in watching a convincingly badass character take two hours to whale on bad people.  But I would argue that by ignoring all of those aspects that the critics will object to about a movie, the ultimate result is most likely a forgettable movie.  The movies that “real people” will remember and add to their home collections and watch again in ten years, like Dirty Harry and Die Hard and more recently The Dark Knight, deliver the elemental thrills WHILE also being able to answer the logistical questions that a critic or a film major would ask.

But again, you can’t argue with an audience.  So why does Taken play? 

Liam Neeson has a lot to do with it.  Strange to see such an acclaimed actor in a movie like this one, but a guy’s gotta work!  Guess he’s just killing time (and many, many bad guys) until Spielberg calls him again.  Even when he’s dressed up in a Jedi mullet, Liam Neeson is the kind of actor who takes every role seriously, in the best sense – he makes sure that he is convincing as the character he is playing, and he has the ability to make the audience care about what he cares about.  That’s why, even though his daughter in the movie establishes herself pretty quickly as pretty annoying, you absolutely want him to save her.  And to kill every last person who threatens her.  The script is smart enough to give Neeson that improbable scene, where he talks his daughter through her initial abduction (“This is the hard part; they’re going to take you now”) and the trailer people were smart enough to put that scene in the trailer, because my man sells it all.

Lesson learned.  Luckily, it won’t take nearly as much time to explain the wide [pun intended] appeal of Paul Blart, Mall Cop.  To paraphrase the great Chris Farley, “Fat man fall down.”  Boom!  Thirty million!



P.S.  In the department of things that are funny only to me:

Early on in Taken, Liam Neeson’s old company buddies are introduced.  They seem interesting enough to be featured in more scenes, so naturally they all disappear after the first half hour.  Anyway, one is played by the solid character actor Leland Orser (you’d recognize his face) and the other two characters are named Bernie and Casey. 

Bernie… and Casey… 

Bernie… Casey.

Bernie Casey.

You’d definitely recognize his face.  (Spies Like Us, Sharky’s Machine, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Revenge Of The Nerds, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka…)

So, end result, you have a brief action scene where Leland Orser is shouting out “Bernie!  Casey!  Bernie!  Casey!” and I keep combing the screen, going “Where? Where?”

It’s as if Quentin Tarantino scripted an Abbott & Costello routine.