The Wild Bunch (1969)

wildbunch_2Starring William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Edmond O’Brien, Warren Oates, Jaime Sánchez, Ben Johnson, Emilio Fernández, Strother Martin, L.Q. Jones, Albert Dekker, Alfonso Arau

Directed by Sam Peckinpah

Expectations: High. It’s The Wild Bunch.

fourstar


When I was a teenager I loved The Wild Bunch because it was bloody and violent in ways that I had never seen in a classic western. This violence — and the way it was edited — would forever change the course of American cinema. Re-watching the film in my 30s, I am struck by how the violence is never presented as entertainment. It is instead meant to affect the viewer, and while 45 years of violent, bloody filmmaking have definitely softened its impact a bit, it’s still incredibly brutal and hard to watch at times. The violence also makes the film feel a lot more modern than its contemporaries, which I’m sure is a huge reason why this film has continued to resonate with audiences over the years.

On the surface, The Wild Bunch is about a gang of bandits who are looking to make one last score before getting out of the game. On their tail is the calm, mild-mannered Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan), who was once a trusted member of the outlaw group. It’s a rather simple and often-used story, but The Wild Bunch never feels simple or clichéd. One of the first images on-screen shows a group of children huddled around a colony of red ants attacking a small group of scorpions. This image is not only striking, but it is representative of the rest of the film and the struggles of the main character Pike (not to mention our own fascination with watching violent struggles).

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Escape from New York (1981)

escape-from-new-yorkStarring Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, Isaac Hayes, Season Hubley, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins, Charles Cyphers

Directed by John Carpenter

Expectations: High. I love John Carpenter movies.

fourstar


In 1988, the crime rate in the United States rises four hundred percent. The once-great city of New York becomes the one maximum-security prison for the entire country. A fifty-foot containment wall is erected along the New Jersey shoreline, across the Harlem river, and down along the Brooklyn shoreline. It completely surrounds Manhattan Island. All bridges and waterways are mined. The United States Police Force, like an army, is encamped around the island. There are no guards inside the prison: only prisoners and the worlds they have made. The rules are simple. Once you go in, you don’t come out.

1997. Now.

John Carpenter’s Escape from New York has what is perhaps one of the greatest premises in movie history. When terrorists hijack Air Force One and crash-land it in the middle of the Manhattan Island Prison, Lee Van Cleef makes a deal with hero-turned-criminal Snake Plissken. For the safe return of the president, Plissken will get a full pardon. But he’s only got 24 hours to get the job done or else two capsules in his neck will explode. See, I told you it was awesome.

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