Movie Talk: Hobo With a Shotgun (2011)

hobo-1Release Year: 2011   |   Directed By: Jason Eisener   |   Starring: Rutger Hauer, Gregory Smith, Molly Dunsworth, Brian Downey, Nick Bateman

[to a group of newborn babies] “A long time ago I was one of you. You’re all brand-new and perfect. No mistakes, no regrets. People look at you and think of how wonderful your future will be. They want you to be something special like a doctor or a lawyer. I hate to tell you this, but if you grow up here, you’re more likely to wind up selling your bodies on the streets, or shooting dope from dirty needles in a bus stop. And if you’re successful, you’ll make money selling junk to crackheads. And you won’t think twice about killing somebody’s wife, because you won’t even know what was wrong in the first place. Or maybe you’ll end up like me – a hobo with a shotgun! I hope you can do better. You are the future.”

There’s nothing thought-provoking or “big” about a film like Hobo With a Shotgun but then, we don’t all want to coo over arthouse drivel or social commentary masquerading as entertainment. Sometimes we just want unrestrained fun, audacious violence and black humour without all that thinking man’s crap. This film certainly delivers on all those counts. The Hobo (Hauer) is a drifter travelling by rail who rides into Hope Town, a town with irony dripping from its name because there couldn’t BE a town with any less hope on display. Oppressive urban decay is everywhere as is flagrant, violent crime. Worse still, a psychotic crime lord self-styling as ‘The Drake’ (Brian Downey) rules the town with fear, routinely carrying out live executions in highly gruesome fashions. These killings take place in the streets for all to bear witness to and are dubbed “The Drake Show”. The Drake has his equally sadistic sons, Slick (Gregory Smith) and Ivan (Nick Bateman) on hand to help keep Hope Town dancing to his tune. Mess with The Drake or his business and you could well be The Drake Show’s next special guest.

All the Hobo wants is to keep himself to himself and scrape together enough money to realise his dream of purchasing a beat-up lawnmower from the town’s pawn shop. He quickly finds it difficult to turn a blind eye to the brutal, bloodthirsty acts taking place all over town however and his curiosity lands him on Slick’s radar when he intervenes in a struggle between The Drake’s favourite son and prostitute, Abby (Molly Dunsworth). The Hobo bucks the status quo by laying the smackdown on Slick and hauling him to the police station to make a citizen’s arrest. Unfortunately, Hope Town’s police force is in The Drake’s pocket and the Hobo finds himself on the end of a vicious retribution attack which he is lucky to survive, largely thanks to help from Abby.

The Hobo manages to obtain enough money for his lawnmower but upon visiting the pawn shop to make his purchase, he finds himself caught up in an armed robbery and despite the price paid for his previous intervention, steps in once more by seizing a shotgun and blowing away the criminal scum. He forfits his garden appliance to pay for said shogun instead and thus begins his vigilante quest to clean up the streets, delivering justice one shell at a time.

I said that this movie isn’t about the commentary but what I will say is that the Hobo’s desire to act and his subsequent killing spree speaks to that part of us that secretly wants somebody like the Hobo around; that person who can cleanse the streets of deviants and the very worst criminals when the justice system(s) has proved too soft and law ineffective. We want to see the monsters of society reap what they sow and not get off lightly. Of course, I wouldn’t go as far as to promote vigilantism but thankfully we have movies like this and I found immense satisfaction in seeing the utterly evil scourge of Hope Town first introduced through the Hobo’s eyes then blown away by his shottie.

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The other reason I really dig Hobo With a Shotgun is because it just doesn’t give a fuck. They went wild with the free-flowing gore, sadistic violence and generally fucked-up stuff here, firmly placing the movie in the Exploitation sub-genre with that crazy Grindhouse feel that you’ve seen in the likes of Planet Terror and Machete. There’s heads being crushed to a bloody pulp between two fairground bumper cars. There are heads being ripped off by barbed-wire nooses tied to cars. There are topless girls giggling as they beat the shit out of a human pinata with baseball bats and then squealing with delight when his blood sprays like a burst water main and soaks their naked bodies.

It’s disgusting, gratutious and extremely OTT but at the same time, it’s all so silly and comical that you can’t take it seriously and so all this highly creative violence is likely to coax out a smile from the viewer rather than a grimace.

Hobo With a Shotgun doesn’t just stop at the ultra-violence however. This is a no holds-barred movie that frequently shocks with the daring makeup of some of the scenes that fly in the face of our overly-sensitive society that wants everything banned. The paedophile santa for example who parks outside a children’s playground and spies on kids through binoculars, touching himself before speeding off with an unfortunate captive hammering on the back window of his car. Then there’s a scene where a school bus full of kids gets torched with a flamethrower to the tune of The Trammps’ Disco Inferno.

Nothing is held back and I got the sense that the director and writer of this film let their imaginations run riot without even considering putting their ideas through an acceptability filter in order to appease the “won’t somebody think of the children?” brigade. And I love them for it, I really do. It’s a fat dosage of mental, unpretentious FUN that absolutely rocks hence why I’ve watched this movie about four or five times since 2011.

I must also quickly mention the lovely Molly Dunsworth who plays Abby. All horror and bizarre exploitation films need a hot female lead who can kick ass as well as look sexy and Dunsworth more than succeeds here.

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If I had to level any kind of criticism at Hobo With a Shotgun then I suppose I would have to wheel out the traditional “style over substance” trope and I can’t completely refute that observation. However, it’s also worth pointing out that you know exactly what you are getting into with a film like this just by looking at the poster, DVD cover or synopsis so I imagine it unlikely that you could expect anything other than what I’ve described in this review.

Movie Talk: Heat (1995)

Heat-Poster-1Release Year: 1995     Directed By: Michael Mann   |   Starring: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, Diane Venora, Ashley Judd, Amy Brenneman, Kevin Gage, Natalie Portman, Dennis Haysbert, Danny Trejo, Jon Voight

[Not to be confused with “The Heat” (2013) or Heat (1986), Heat (1972), Heat (1996 Australian TV film)…how many times has this name been used? Jeez…]

I’ll go ahead and begin by stating that Heat is my favourite movie of all-time. It hadn’t used to be; that honour tended to switch between Terminator 2 and the first Kill Bill. Each time I re-watched Michael Mann’s crime masterpiece however, it crept up the order until I decided that, fuck it, Heat may as well be my favourite movie. I can’t say enough good things about it.

The film centres on professional thief, Neil McCauley (De Niro) and determined LAPD homicide detective, Lt. Vincent Hanna (Pacino). Both are dysfunctional individuals with their own code and the cat-and-mouse game between these two main players of the movie is one of its main draws. McCauley heads up a proven crew of organised thieves and is a loner by nature, living with the philosophy of not having anything in your life “that you cannot walk out on in thirty seconds flat if you spot the heat around the corner”. For McCauley, making the big scores is his life and all he wants to do. Hanna on the other hand is a workaholic cop that puts his job first at all times, even at the expense of his increasingly frustrated wife (Diane Venora) and step-daughter (Natalie Portman). Hanna is determined to take McCauley and his crew down and is unable to avoid putting the hunt aside to rescue his marriage.

The thing I absolutely love about Heat is that there are no irrelevant, filler scenes or dull moments – quite an achievement for a film that goes beyond the two-hour mark. Even the scenes that involve characters simply talking are enthralling because the writing and characterisation is brilliant. Obviously, the stars are De Niro and Pacino but the supporting cast are just an important. From the crazy Waingro (Kevin Gage) to the disillusioned Donald (Dennis Haysbert), there are so many memorable performances. Then there are the women who have to suffer for the actions and decisions of their other halves – just one of many subtle plot threads woven together to produce the epic tapestry that is Heat.

Another notable bit of genius is that it’s impossible not to like the characters no matter if they are good-hearted and innocent like Eady (Amy Brenneman), psychotic and violent like Waingro or greedy and unsavoury (most of the criminals). Heat is a character piece as much as it is a crime thriller or action movie and it feels natural to understand where everybody – good or bad – is coming from. Many of the characters blur the line between being wholly good or bad and this is probably what makes them so endearing as this is what it means to truly be human. We viewers may not partake in anything as dramatic as holding up armoured cars or putting big-time crooks behind bars but we can still relate to the characters and their motivations.

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The action scenes are another highlight of Heat, particularly the gun battle in downtown LA as McCauley’s crew attempt to escape following their carefully-planned bank heist gone wrong. This kind of scene just wouldn’t exist today for many reasons. First up, there are no unrealistic and unnecessary explosions or dynamic action shots. There’s no music either. What you get is a group of guys simply trying to get away, using cars as cover while shooting at the LAPD, deafening bursts of assault rifle fire echoing off the buildings. It’s exactly what a real-life version of this scene would sound like and I’ve even read that their tactical retreat was used as a reference for police or military training (though how true this is, I can’t say). The whole thing feels raw and natural and is totally immersive.

The final showdown between McCauley and Hanna is another scene that would never be permitted today. Hanna gives chase to a desperate McCauley across the runways of LAX, even running across the path of a taxiing passenger plane at one point. As I understand, this kind of filming is now strictly prohibited in a post-9/11 world which is a shame but completely understandable.

Heat is a masterpiece of scripting backed up by superb performances from all actors involved. Every set-piece, every action scene and every conversation is special. I know I’m probably gushing over this fim and I haven’t said anything bad about it but really, I can’t think of anything. If you’ve somehow missed it then you should really rectify that mistake because – as cliched as it sounds – they really don’t make ’em like this anymore.