Tag Archives: Die Hard

Rocks In The Attic #619: Bob James – ‘Sign Of The Times’ (1981)

RITA#619Here’s a sign of the times. I was watching Walter Hill’s 1978 heist film The Driver the other day; part of my ongoing fascination with Edgar Wright’s wonderful Baby Driver from this year. I was watching the film in bed on Saturday morning, and my four-year-old jumped into bed and started watching with me.

There’s a scene towards the end of the picture where Ryan O’Neal’s character steps into a phone-box in the train station to make a short call.

“Look – he’s getting into a lift,” Isobel said.

“No,” I said. “It’s a phone-box. He wants to call somebody.”

Thus began a short conversation around the wonders of modern technology, and the fact that in 1978 when you’re made arrangements with criminals, you couldn’t just call them on your Samsung Galaxy. She thought it was a lift / elevator simply because of its shape and the fact that he stepped inside it.

The simple phone-box has all but disappeared from our screens this century; it made a final death rattle in Joel Schumacher’s Phone Booth from 2002. That film seemed like the last preposterous variation on the ‘peril within a space’ movie trope kicked off by 1987’s Die Hard (peril in a building), and copied by 1992’s Under Seige (peril on a boat), 1994’s Speed (peril on a bus) and countless others since.

Try and think of the last time a character in a film – set in the present day – made a call in a phone-box. It’s virtually impossible, simply because it just doesn’t happen anymore. But before the advent of cheap mobile phones around the turn of the century, it was commonplace.

The phone-box used to represent a form of safety. I’ll never forget the opening credits to television’s The Equalizer, when the panicked woman ran from an unseen antagonist into the illuminated security of a phone-box. And what would Bill & Ted have used as a time-travelling device if phone-boxes weren’t around? (We may find out the answer to that question if the long-rumoured third film ever gets made – perhaps it will be a smart-phone after all).

I’m not sure what any of this has to do with Bob James, but it saves me writing about those horrible photos of him inside the record’s gatefold cover.

Hit: Hypnotique

Hidden Gem: The Steamin’ Feeling

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Rocks In The Attic #593: Jimmy Page – ‘Death Wish II’ (1982)

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Meet Paul Kersey. He’s a New York City architect with very bad luck. One day his wife and daughter are followed home from the grocery store by Jeff Goldblum and his pals. Perhaps frustrated by the continual struggles of being a jobbing actor, Goldblum’s goons beat up Kersey’s wife and have a bit of a grope with his daughter before they’re scared off.

Kersey arrives at the hospital to find his wife has died in surgery, and his daughter in a catatonic state. He buries himself in his work and takes a business trip to Arizona, where a colleague gives him a gift to take home in RITA#593chis luggage. On his return, Kersey opens the gift box to discover a revolver. Instead of filing a lawsuit against the airline for negligent baggage checks, he takes to the streets as a vigilante.

By cover of darkness, and soundtracked by some funky Herbie Hancock beats, Kersey traps would-be muggers into making a move on him before he guns them down. After he kills RITA#593aaa number of hoodlums, patrolman Nigel Tufnel covers up his arrest and Kersey is exiled to Chicago where he immediately identifies his next victims by pretending to shoot them in front of his new supplier. What a moron!

Death Wish II finds Kersey now living in Los Angeles with his daughter. This time around, it’s Lawrence Fishburne who numbers among those who gang-rape Kersey’s maid and kidnap his daughter. After she is raped, Kersey’s RITA#593ddaughters attempts to escape by jumping through a glass window where she falls onto a steel railing and dies.

Kersey doesn’t take the news so well. Instead, he takes to the streets again, this time soundtracked by a fresh-out-of-Zeppelin Jimmy Page, where he hunts down his daughter’s killers one by one. At the end of the film, Kersey’s girlfriend leaves him when she discovers he’s a vigilante. Women!

RITA#593eThe first victims of Death Wish 3 are the roman numerals of the title, as we open back in New York City where Kersey is visiting his old Army buddy. As Kersey takes a taxi from the train station to his friend’s apartment, a gang of thugs including Alex Winter (Bill from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure) murder his friend.

Kersey becomes the local Neighbourhood Watch, soundtracked by rehashed Jimmy Page music from Death Wish II, and starts picking off gang members. The most ludicrous point of the whole film series comes when an attractive Public Defender, Kathryn Davis, asks him out for dinner. I’m not sure what sold her on Kersey – the fact that he’s thirty two years older than her, or the fact that he’s living illegally in the middle of a slum apartment block, with no visible signs of income – but he takes her up on the offer.

The romance doesn’t last long before old Paul ‘Unlucky In Love’ Kersey watches her perish in a fiery car accident. I expect that the upcoming Death Wish remake starring Bruce Willis will be a grim romantic comedy set in the world of Tinder, where women who swipe-right for Brucie accidentally die on their first date.

The end of the film features a long, boring gun battle between Kersey’s elderly clique and the criminals who are terrorising their neighbourhood. Ever the master of subtlety, Kersey uses an elephant gun, a machine gun, and ultimately blows the last remaining gang member through a window with a rocket launcher.

Death Wish 4: The Crackdown is the first film in the series not to be directed by Michael Winner, who left the franchise to spend his retirement eating Steak Tartare. This time around, Kersey is back in Los Angeles living with a fashion designer and her teenage daughter. Uh-oh. A blind man could see it coming…

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When Kersey’s surrogate daughter dies from a drug overdose, he goes after the L.A. drug dealers who supplied her.  This time Danny Trejo is a member of the organisation responsible, until Kersey kills him with an exploding wine bottle. Yes, you read that correctly, an exploding wine bottle. In a bold move that can be praised for its ingenuity as well as its ridiculousness, Kersey pretends to be a wine salesman, giving his sales pitch to the bartender before offering a free bottle to his targets. In one of cinema’s greatest moments of special effects work, a dummy (seemingly constructed by an autistic child to look like Danny Trejo) is then shown exploding. Ka-boom!

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There’s another great moment in the film when Kersey is pulled over on a city street by a police car. As Kersey’s car slows to a halt, the residents of the first floor apartment block in the background walk up to the window to have a good look outside at the great Charles Bronson filming in their neighbourhood. I mean, who wouldn’t?

In 1988, John McTiernan’s Die Hard gave us the unforgettable image of Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber falling to his death from high up in Nakatomi Tower. After Rickman’s close-up, the long-shot was filmed by a stunt man, who falls backwards, cycling his arms and legs as he plummets to the street below. It’s reassuring to know that a year earlier, the makers of Death Wish 4 did the same stunt the old-fashioned way by throwing a mannequin out of a tower-block window.

With some more great dummy work – when you pause the DVD, you can even see the wire taking the charge up to the explosive – Kersey dispatches the villain of the film this time with a grenade launcher. At this rate, he’ll be using nuclear weapons by the time Death Wish 10 rolls around.

The final film in the series, Death Wish V: The Return Of The Roman Numerals, returns the action to a fabricated New York, filmed on location in Toronto. Unfortunately there’s no before-they-were-famous Hollywood actor doing the antagonising at the start of the film, unless you count the recently departed Michael Parks – Tarantino’s favourite character actor – who plays the film’s lead villain.

The setting for this one is the shady world of the fashion industry, but who cares anymore. It could be set in Antartica and Kersey would still be blowing Eskimos away for looking the wrong way at his girlfriend. This time his fiancé is facially disfigured by a criminal, and later gunned down, so Kersey dusts off his gun collection and goes on the warpath.

Progressing from the explosive wine bottle, the most bizarre death this time around occurs when Kersey uses a remote control football – no, really – to deliver an explosive charge to one of his targets. Again, there’s some shockingly-bad-it’s-almost-good dummy work if you pause the action just after the victim picks up the football.

Death Wish V’s main villain dies by falling into an acid bath, and Kersey walks away, never to be seen again. Well, unless you count the Simpsons:
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Jay Sherman: I’m your host, Jay Sherman, thank you. Tonight we review an aging Charles Bronson in Death Wish 9

Bronson: Ugh, I wish I was dead.

Hit: Who’s To Blame

Hidden Gem: Jam Sandwich

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Rocks In The Attic #589: Nino Rota – ‘The Godfather (O.S.T.)’ (1972)

RITA#589.jpgAll hail the greatest cinema in Auckland – the Event cinema on Broadway in Newmarket. Not only was this the location where I met both Quentin Tarantino and Danny Boyle, but last Friday night they played The Godfather.

For a long time, The Godfather has been among my favourite films. I first saw it around the age of 17 or 18, and was immediately obsessed with it. It was probably the first film I was obsessed with as an adult. Prior obsessions as a teenager included the likes of Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Aliens, so The Godfather was definitely a step-up, being such a decorated film and a more serious one at that.

I don’t know why the film struck such a chord with me, but it’s something I’ve never become tired with. I have a number of books on the film – Peter Cowie’s The Godfather Book and Mario Puzo’s original novel being early targets, and Harlan Lebo’s The Godfather Legacy being a happy find in more recent year. The soundtrack of Nino Rota’s score sits on my record shelves – a strange Australian pressing with a murky green cover – and of course, I have the Coppola Restoration of the trilogy on blu-ray. At University, I remember walking through a field to the supermarket with my housemates, feeling like Michael walking through Sicily accompanied by his bodyguards.

Seeing a film on the big screen is always a different prospect than watching at home though. You notice things that you would never have noticed in hundreds of home viewings – a character’s glance, a line of dialogue, the way the light falls on an object outside of the immediate foreground of a shot. It’s also nice to see it in a room full of people. The screening I saw was almost sold out, and full of much younger people than I was expecting.

As a film, it shouldn’t be so good. It goes against so many cinematic rules. The lead protagonist is clearly Michael, yet we don’t see him until a good five or ten minutes into the film, and even then he is introduced as a supporting character. Vito is initially offered as the film’s hero – or anti-hero – but his gunning down towards the end of the first act provides the film’s first challenge, a shake-up to decide not only who is going to become the patriarch of the Corleone family, but also the film’s lead protagonist.

By the end of the film, Michael’s actions have transferred him from protagonist to antagonist, and the stone-cold denoument where Michael’s study door is slowly closed on Kay, is matched only by the ending of The Godfather Part II where he sits alone to contemplate the terrible things he has done to his family.

Speaking of which, I’ll be seeing a screening of The Godfather Part II this Friday night. Same cinema, same seat probably. Leave the gun; take the cannoli.

Hit: Main Title

Hidden Gem: The Pickup