.44 Magnum

Dirty Harry gave us the original loose-cannon cop who plays by his own rules. 1971 was a big year for gritty police procedurals. While The French Connection won Best Picture and Shaft won Best Original Song, Dirty Harry didn’t receive a single Oscar nomination. Even though it’s an undoubtable action movie classic, the idea of a morally ambiguous “dirty cop” protagonist was controversial at the time. Inspector Harry Callahan is the most iconic role of Clint Eastwood’s career, after the Man with No Name. A cop was a natural progression from a cowboy, but the role wasn’t always meant for Eastwood. Everyone from John Wayne to Frank Sinatra were considered for the part.

Many actors and directors turned down Dirty Harry due to its content. Director Don Siegel brought a dirty realism to San Francisco and Eastwood brought his signature scowl to Callahan. Dirty Harry is full of intense violence and naked women. Harry stands out not as a “dirty cop,” but as the cop who does all the dirty jobs. He frequently disobeys orders and shoots to kill. One of the most iconic scenes in movie history is Callahan casually stopping a bank robbery with his .44 Magnum and asking a criminal played by Albert Popwell, “Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya… punk?”

Dirty Harry is assigned hispanic rookie officer Chico Gonzalez who gets in over his head when faced with a dangerous psychopath. The ‘Scorpio’ killer is a sharpshooter based on the Zodiac Killer. Newcomer Andy Robinson is both pathetic and disturbing in the role. Despite killing a kidnapped girl, the law fails to keep ‘Scorpio’ behind bars. Leading Callahan to take the law into his own hands after he hijacks a school bus full of children. The intense confrontation ends with a clever, much more angry callback to Harry’s infamous ultimatum. Dirty Harry throws away the badge and all the rules that come with making a great action flick.

1. Dirty Harry

Dirty Harry takes aim

Followed by: Magnum Force

Hannibal the Cannibal

Manhunter isn’t a Martian Manhunter movie. It’s actually the very first movie appearance of infamous cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter. People just forget about it, because it didn’t reach nearly the same level of admiration as its Best Picture winning successor. Despite having Michael Mann as a director. Manhunter is only ever brought up in comparison, but it does have its own merit. Manhunter is based on Thomas Harris’s first novel Red Dragon. Names like Lecter were changed to Lecktor and the title itself was changed too.

Brian Cox portrays this approach to Hannibal Lecktor as a different, more charismatic evil genius already behind bars. He makes an impression, but he’s barely in the movie. Manhunter refers to the true lead Will Graham. The retired FBI agent who caught Lecktor, but visits him to gain insight into the mind of a new serial killer. The “Tooth Fairy” is the one to catch since this is more of a game of cat and mouse. One with a lengthy amount of forensics, analysis, and investigation. Something that apparently influenced CSI shows.

I’m not a big fan, but it does give Manhunter a more unique identity. A specific color palette does the job too. He’s no Hannibal Lecktor, but the “Tooth Fairy” is a creepy threat. Hiding under a mask and sporting a Red Dragon tattoo. Until he’s revealed to be the more or less human Francis Dollarhyde. Probably the best takeaway is how Graham puts himself in the mind of a serial killer. Something most FBI agents do to find their target. Manhunter isn’t winning any awards, but it’s still interesting to see an early interpretation.

1. Manhunter

Hannibal Lecktor in jail

Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown

Chinatown is often considered to be one of the greatest films of all time. With what many have called the greatest screenplay ever written. It’ll probably take a few more viewings for me to fully embrace that claim, but I agree that it would have definitely won Best Picture if not for The Godfather Part II. The only Oscar win went to Robert Towne for Best Original Screenplay. I don’t normally mention screenwriters, but Towne’s subversive tribute to the noir genre of yesteryear is impressive to be certain.

Chinatown actually barely spends anytime in Chinatown. It’s more of a clever metaphor for the harsh reality of the world. Something director Roman Polanski knew all too well in what would turn out to be his final American film. Jack Nicholson delivers one of many great performances as J.J. “Jake” Gitties. We exclusively follow the private investigator’s point of view as he’s roped into a tangled web of scandal, deception, and shocking family secrets. I never knew the central conflict revolved around a water crisis. A client of Gitties leads him on a trail that soon reveals the murder of a key figure in the water scandal.

Faye Dunaway’s Evelyn Mulwray is presented as a standard black widow femme fatale love interest, but she’s far more complex than that. Gitties’ nosey investigation earns him an iconic nose injury and increased danger that nearly costs him his life. Classic noir director John Huston is Evelyn’s corrupt father and an unexpectedly convincing villain. I won’t dare give away the twist, but the explosive tragic ending sealed it as one of the greats. Ending on those famous final words, “Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown.” But the impact of Chinatown will never be forgotten.


Jake drives with Evelyn

We Rob Banks

Bonnie and Clyde is one of the earliest movies from the villain’s point of view. It was also one of the first to bring the New Hollywood movement to life. Since Bonnie and Clyde deals with sex and violence in a frank manner. Something late 60’s films continued to do more and more. Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were the original criminal couple. Between 1932 and 1934, Bonnie and Clyde went on a series of crime sprees that would sometimes end in murder. They were named “Public Enemy” during the Great Depression.

Although I knew the basics of their story, parts of the movie still surprised me. Like I didn’t realize they committed their first crime mere moments after meeting. Clyde was fresh out of prison and Bonnie was simply bored. They’re so nonchalant about their criminal activities that they don’t even hesitant to tell people they rob banks. I knew they eventually had a getaway driver. So C.W. Moss didn’t come as a surprise. It’s Clyde’s criminal brother Buck and timid wife Blanche that I wasn’t aware of. Despite all the laws that they break, Bonnie and Clyde were practically hailed as folk heroes. Due to how glamourized they were by the media. Bonnie was especially glamourized as a gun-toting cigar smoker.

Whether exaggerated or not, Bonnie and Clyde’s deaths were all too real. Just when it seems like they were ready to put their crimes behind them, the couple was struck down by a hail of bullets. I know their actions were inexcusable, but it’s still shocking to see the stars of the movie killed in such a graphic way. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway play their parts perfectly. I’m not surprised that pretty much the entire cast was nominated (with Estelle Parsons winning the only Oscar). Along with a win for Best Cinematography and a nomination for Best Picture. Bonnie and Clyde broke all the rules.


Bonnie and Clyde rob a bank


Constantine fights a battle that puts him in direct conflict with Heaven and Hell. Since DC seemed to only care about their darker stuff in the 2000’s, John Constantine was the next “superhero” to get his own unnecessary movie. As part of DC’s Vertigo imprint that was of course written by Alan Moore. Constantine first made his debut in a Swamp Thing comic. Before getting his own graphic novel series with Hellblazer.

John Constantine is a chain smoking British occult detective with blonde hair who always wears a brown trench coat and tie. So they cast the very American dark haired Keanu Reeves for the part. It’s like the character leapt off the page! But seriously, how hard is it to get a character with such a basic appearance looking the way they’re supposed to? They couldn’t even give him a brown trench coat. As if anything other than black would make the film less edgy. Constantine is R and full of demons as well as angels. Specifically another androgynous performance by Tilda Swinton. This time playing the Archangel Gabriel.

Constantine attempts to save his eternally damned soul by doing good for those in need. The effects don’t quite make it convincing and this is a mid-2000’s Keanu performance. So don’t expect his comeback just yet, because he couldn’t be more miscast in the part. At least Djimon Hounsou played his first of many comic book roles as villain Papa Midnite. Despite the gothic material that I prefer to stay away from, Constantine is bad enough for it to become bland. At least Matt Ryan managed to save the character.

1. Constantine

Constantine escapes Hell

Beware the Dog Killer

Under the Silver Lake was a big waste of time on my part. Since I’m such a big fan of the hugely successful horror movie It Follows, I knew I needed to see what followed it. David Robert Mitchell’s third directorial effort became Under the Silver Lake. Instead of another horror movie, it’s a neo-noir mystery. Not something I’d normally see, but I figured I’d give it a shot. Being A24 helped a bit. Then it was pushed back from June, to December, and eventually April. Where it only ran for a few days in select theaters until it was dumped on digital.

When I finally saw the movie on YouTube I realized I wasted my time waiting for it. Like most one-hit directors, Under the Silver Lake suffers from too much confidence in said project. Mitchell probably took the success of It Follows as a sign to make any movie he wanted without question. No matter how bizarre it might be. It’s the biggest problem I have with the film.

Under the Silver Lake sees Andrew Garfield’s character try and solve the mystery of a missing girl that he met the night before. Among other things, he finds out that there are hidden messages in all of pop culture. The overly complicated nature of the mystery, out of nowhere tonal shifts, and casual blasphemy were my biggest turn offs. Not even the promise of nudity was enough of a draw. Really the score, visual style, and old Hollywood feel were the only things that made Under the Silver Lake even a little bit watchable.


Sarah swims around

Guns, Lots of Guns

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is basically one big action scene. It practically makes John Wick: Chapter 2 look like a preview to the main attraction by comparison. This was definitely my second most anticipated movie of the year and the trailer only fueled my excitement. Since John Wick has become such an action icon recently, you could definitely feel the excitement in the audience. After having 2 separate contracts on his life, Wick has officially become excommunicado. With a $14 million contract placed upon him.

Which is why Parabellum has more violence than any of the other films in the franchise. More than earning its R rating. The Matrix connection is very direct this time, because Wick fights his way through New York using guns, lots of guns. As well as knives, swords, axes, or any random object he can get his hands on. He also winds up on horseback and on a motorcycle. Parabellum also takes Wick on a more personal journey that takes him across the globe. With the help of Angelica Houston as someone from his mysterious past.

The Continental and assassin underworld is a bit more fleshed out as well. Probably the biggest surprise would be Halle Berry as a fellow assassin who assists Wick (along with her attack dogs). She proves to be more than capable of handling herself just like the equally ageless Keanu Reeves. In the end, John Wick has to battle rival ninjas and even bigger threats that seem to leave the door open for another sequel. With extended well choreographed mayhem like this, I don’t know how John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum will ever be topped.


John Wick goes hunting

Preceded by: John Wick: Chapter 2

Contract on a Killer

John Wick: Chapter 2 further proves that it is possible to make an action sequel of equal or greater impact. After the thrill ride that was John Wick, I knew I had to see John Wick: Chapter 2 in theaters. My whole family and I went to see it, since we’re suckers for a good action flick. Although I wasn’t thrilled to see a few young children considering its R rated hyper violence. John Wick: Chapter 2 makes the wise choice of doubling down on its over-the-top action and gun fights. With a bit more humor added, but not dominating the film.

Along with a gratifying Matrix reunion between Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne. After finally reprocuring his car, John Wick retires once again. Until a past agreement between an Italian crime lord comes back to haunt him. His refusal leads to his house being blown up (his new dog is thankfully ok). When his mission backfires, John Wick finds himself stuck in a $7 million contract on his life. Where he kills every bloodthirsty assassin that crosses his path. He even puts his infamous pencil kill to good use.

Ruby Roses’ mute assassin and Common’s rival assassin make the biggest impact. What makes the sequel so good is not just the non-stop action, but the deeper look into the fascinating assassin underworld. People just seem to turn a blind eye to their entire operation. One of their most sacred rules is never to kill on Continental grounds. When John Wick breaks this rule, all bets are off. John Wick: Chapter 2 is a shot above the rest.


John Wick goes hunting

Preceded by: John Wick & Followed by: John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

The Baba Yaga

John Wick is the most surprisingly successful action movie released this decade. Until this point, Keanu Reeves was barely finding any success after the Matrix trilogy. I wasn’t paying too much attention to it at the time, but John Wick became the comeback he needed. Hence the line “Yeah, I’m thinking I’m back.” Finally shaking off his surfer bro image for a truly menacing character. My only regret is not seeing this gloriously violent R rated action fest in the theater.

John Wick appears to be just an ordinary guy who recently lost his wife. He’s left with nothing but his vintage car and a puppy that his wife gave as a final gift. All that comes crashing down when a group of Russian gangsters, lead by the sniveling son of the boss, steal his car and kill his dog. Giving him the most unique motivation of any action hero. As it turns out, John Wick is really the most deadly former hitman ever to come out of a secret assassin underworld.

They called him “The Baba Yaga.” He digs up all of his old weapons and goes on a killing spree against the ones who did him wrong. John Wick’s long hair, beard, and well-tailored suit made him an instant icon. Despite pushing 50, Keanu Reeves perfects the art of gun fu. In insanely well choreographed easy to see hands-on gun fights. Along with a few one-on-one fights with other contract killers at the Continental Hotel. Having stuntmen Chad Stahelski and David Leitch direct was a stroke of genius. John Wick is modern action cinema at its finest.


John Wick takes aim

Followed by: John Wick: Chapter 2

No Egg on My Face!!!

The Spirit is another really old comic book superhero nobody’s heard of that they felt needed a movie (not made in the 90’s for a change). Despite DC and Marvel being full of superheroes to make movies for. The Spirit is as old as 1940. He made his debut in a newspaper comic that was either light hearted or dark. The character the Spirit was always dressed in a suit, with a fedora, gloves, domino mask, and a distinctive red neck tie. Apart from coming back to life, he didn’t have any powers (in the movie he has a healing factor). I assume the character was popular back in the day, but some of it hasn’t aged well. Specifically his blackface sidekick Ebony White. Making a movie adaptation seemed like a bizarre choice. The Spirit is directed exclusively by famous graphic novel writer Frank Miller. It proves that he’s clearly lost whatever made him so good in the first place. As he’s obviously trying to recreate the success of Sin City. By once again using black & white mixed with color and silhouettes in key areas. Only it seems much more random and less artistically crafted. It’s not like the Spirit comics had that visual style to begin with. Storywise, The Spirit is one big bombastic mess. Half the time it was trying to be a comedy. With an over-the-top performance from Samuel L. Jackson as archenemy the Octopus. This is clearly the worst performance of his career. Made even worse by him and Scarlett Johansson dressed as Nazis. Meanwhile Eva Mendes is the sexy femme fatal who is constantly objectified. I don’t know what they were trying to accomplish with this movie, but The Spirit is just plain damn weird.


The Spirit watches over his beloved Central City