1.22.2017

[InstaReviews] THE EVIL THAT MEN DO (1984)


[This new series represents initial, off-the-cuff reviews of first watches. Often cross-linked with newly relaunched LB account. May prove to be the first draft for a longer, more rigorous review.]

Added to: You Can't Win 'Em All, Charlie

I'm always surprised when I see people who seem flabbergasted by how "sleazy" and "exploitative" and "extreme" these Charles Bronson movies could be. Have they never seen anything called "Eurocrime"? Or a movie made by Cannon?

Because that's how these movies really play--this one, his Cannon films generally, stuff like KINJITE, and every single DEATH WISH movie--like Americanized Eurocrime. They carry the same aesthetic. The same bald-faced glee in going way, way, way past "good taste" (whatever that means) and rubbing the audience's nose in the one-hundred-percent depravity of everyday society.

It's the same impulse to leave almost nothing--sex or violence-wise, offending the audience's sensibilities-wise--to the imagination. And the filmmakers acting like they can't possibly understand why their audience would be put off by such a strategy, instead of titillated and/or hooked in.

(What further links them of course is that Bronson made more than one "real" Eurocrime movie ... though you could successfully argue that he was making Eurocrime at a time when they were more noir-infused downers and less sex-and-gore parades; his work in Sergio Sollima's sublime VIOLENT CITY is perfect case in point.)

So. THE EVIL THAT MEN DO. It certainly trades in the bottom of the exploitation barrel. And tries that exploitation trick of muddying up your reaction to the exploitation--how offended or stomach-turned you're allowed to be--by spot-welding the offensiveness to "Real World Political Injustices." Like, it's okay to be this offensive, because it's all for a good cause. (This, another strategy used and abused by every Eurocrime director worth his salt.)

So the movie's villain, the cultured, foppish, obese "Torture Doctor"--it's okay for us to root for Charlie to take him down in the most despicable ways possible, because we're treated--by way of introduction to the man--to an extended genital torture scene that the Doctor impassively presides over (all while giving a gas-bag, bullshit speech about the importance of what he does for dicator-states around the world to retain their power).

This graphic scene is immediately followed by a car-bombing (one that kills the "heroic" rebel fighter trying to assassinate the doctor, and fails to touch the doctor at all). Which is followed by Bronson watching videotapes of the Doctor's torture victim's recount, in clinical and wrenching detail, the bodily abominations he's visited upon them.

And these exploitation beats keep coming. Bronson wrestles a dive bar rapist to the ground by grabbing his dick and wrenching on it--what looks like a big rubber hose in his pants--until the man passes out (he who looks like he could be Richard Kiel's brother). This dick-vice move causes one of the Torture Doctor's lieutenants to come and proposition Bronson for a night of swinging. Etc.

That's the movie--and this strain of the genre--for good or ill. Give or take. If that's surprising, then I'm not sure what you thought you were sitting down to watch.

Where the movie fails is in its construction. Poor pacing. Too many pointless dialogue scenes. Too many action-less, uncompelling diversions. Too many cloying attempts to tug on heart strings with Bronson's reluctant love interest and her daughter who maybe-possibly-probably will at some point be captured, exploited, and used for bait. (Also the fake-lame "happy ending" that results from the fake-lame restoration of this family unit, to paradise no less, at the end.)


Leonard Jacobs
January, 2017

[InstaReviews] FEAR IN THE CITY, aka PAURA IN CITTA (1976)



[This new series represents initial, off-the-cuff reviews of first watches. Often cross-linked with newly relaunched LB account. May prove to be the first draft for a longer, more rigorous review.]

Eurocrime Subgenre(s): [SUPER-COP/SUPER-VIGILANTE/SUPER-LONE WOLF]

Added to: Eight Times a Eurocrime [Ranked, Explained + a Running Tab of What I’ve Seen]

I watched this after I found the old Alfa Digital DVD for cheap on Amazon, and saw it as a way to keep my quest for the Merli roles I hadn't seen going. i watched it in the wake of Lenzi's THE CYNIC, THE RAT, AND THE FIST and ROME ARMED TO THE TEETH, both of which I'd seen more than once, but decided to revisit after the 88 Films Blu of CYNIC came out.

And while Lenzi's pairings with Merli are, above all things, kinetic--a plot and story almost constantly on the move, almost constantly propelled by Merli's "Iron Commissioner" and his fascist, two-fisted, smoking-barrelled, vehicular-manslaughtering one-man war on crime, Rosati's STREET WAR (aka FEAR IN THE CITY) feels like the work of a director out of his depth. Working in a genre whose conventions he's either unfamiliar with or mostly disinterested in.

The majority of Eurocrimes from this period live and die by their episodic structure. In the best, the episodic structure seems not slapdash and strung-together, but the dramatization of a larger thematic concern: The paranoid and all-pervasive nature of daily, random violence afflicting Italy's public.

I've lost count of the Eurocrimes that open with a non-sequitur purse-snatching ... which leads to an extended and over-the-top car chase ... which leads to the suspects being caught or killed (almost always beaten to a pulp) ... which leads to a stock scene at police HQ where we get dialogue-as-expository-lecture telling us that the purse-snatchers--though obviously guilty--will have to be released.

Because they're juveniles.

Or because of police brutality.

Or because all the witnesses of the crime have clammed up.

Or because some kind of bureaucratic bullshit has all but "tied the hands of the police" trying to do their jobs.

And repeat. With the run time  of these movies veering between bursts of unconnected violent spectacle and piecemeal plot elements that keep things chugging along. (There are exceptions of course, as I point out over at <a href="http://letterboxd.com/der_hexer/list/eight-times-a-eurocrime-ranked-explained/">Eight Times a Eurocrime</a>, but for this strain of the genre, it's a formula that often holds true.)

In STREET WAR, though, the randoms seem just that. Detracting from the plot instead of becoming anything like *more* than the sum of their parts. And, in between them, the movie meanders, focusing on long passages of ... not a whole heckuva lot ... long passages missing the undeniable charisma or violent bodily engine of Merli himself.

(The soundtrack, too, is oddball and ineffective. Eurocrime soundtracks are as propulsive and important as anything else in the movie. Here, it's so atonal, "off," that I thought it might be aiming for something like Morricone's score in Petri's INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION; instead it just seems wrong. And, like Merli, strangely absent from large chunks of the film. So MIA that I thought maybe the DVD's version of it was missing audio.)

...

Also, when Rosati does try to trade in genre conventions, he ends up making laughable what are already borderline ridiculous cliches. Case in point: The opening of the film is meant to show us a daring and inexplicable escape, where 12--count'em, 12!--inmates use the lax security of a "posh" church-run pen to break jail (and set in motion the rest of the plot).

But there's nothing daring or kinetic about it--everything is played low-key, slow-mo, the whole long line of them just kind of shuffling along ... which would be okay, as an aesthetic choice, a director in the genre trying something different, etc., if the execution wasn't so *glacial*. And if it didn't become silly.

Over the credits we get a static, close-up shot of each inmate rounding the corner of a passage on his way to freedom. We see one closeup. Another. Another. Until the parade of inmates' faces plays like a joke, something akin to the inmates piling out of some clown car. I.e., Rosati's execution, time and time again, misses its intended effect. Misses the mark. Is wrong-footed, wrong-headed, uninvolving, the end.



--Leonard Jacobs
January, 2017