Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Kino Lorber Studio Classics - DEFIANCE and VIGILANTE FORCE on Blu-ray ""

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Kino Lorber Studio Classics - DEFIANCE and VIGILANTE FORCE on Blu-ray

DEFIANCE (1980; John Flynn)
What I thought was going to be your standard DEATH WISH clone was more enjoyable to me than that. While it slightly resembles DEATH WISH 3 (a favorite of mine), this movie preceded that one by five years. I've always loved gang movies of the late 1970s and the early 1980s. The DEATH WISH films, Bill Lustig's VIGILANTE and others are standouts. This one is solid too. Jan-Michael Vincent plays a feisty young seaman who finds himself stranded in New York City after getting kicked off the last ship he was one for fighting. He takes up temporary residence in a bad neighborhood and eventually finds himself at odds with the local gang known as "The Souls". The locals live in fear of the The Souls and nobody will sign a complaint with the cops for fear of retribution. The movie has a nice build to an fairly inevitable but well-played conclusion. There were several scenes that I could see coming just as they began, but I actually credit director John Flynn (who I love) with just knowing how to push buttons and progress the story in a suspenseful and tense way. John Flynn is an unsung workman director who deserves more credit for his great films,like THE OUTFIT and ROLLING THUNDER.
As much as I love Jan-Michael, it's always nice to see him have another strong actor to play off of. Danny Aiello has a fairly prominent role here and he is (as always) quite good as one of the guys from the neighborhood. The film is also littered with NYC character actors whose faces will be instantly familiar (Lenny Montana, Frank Pesce and Tony Sirico to name a few). Another featured player is the late great Art Carney himself as a shop owner. Carney is a favorite of mine as well and his presence in any film elevates the proceedings. Rudy Ramos is also quite good as the menacing gang leader Angel Cruz. You may recognize him from films like COLORS, THE DRIVER, and a ton of TV work that he did in the 1970s and 80s. This is one of those films that depicts the dirty and dangerous New York from the 1970s that always used to terrify me. I always imagined New York as this truly scary place where you had better odds of getting mugged than not getting mugged just walking down the street. This was all based on watching too many 70s NYC films though as I doubt the city could have been quite as dangerous as depicted in these gang movies. Regardless, it doesn't seem to be that way now from what I can tell. Not dirty and not nearly as dangerous. It feels weird to say I'm nostalgic for the old 70s cinema New York even though I never lived there (and have barely even visited) myself. Fans of vigilante films and gang films will dig DEFIANCE though, that was what I was getting at. It's a winner. Transfer looks good too. A bit of trivia - this was an early Jerry Bruckheimer production.
This Blu-ray can be purchased here:

VIGILANTE FORCE (1976; George Armitage)
This movie has a pretty bonkers crazy opening with lots of progressively more outlandish shenanigans. It reminds me of a combination of the end of OVER THE EDGE and the standard demonstration of how crazy a town is before the new sheriff comes to town to clean it up. Of course this movie isn't a western, but rather a contemporary story of a small town gone berzerk. The town in question has had oil discovered there and the ensuing influx of questionable types has made the whole place into an extremely dangerous and rowdy little burg. Crime is way outta hand and the police can't handle it. Jan-Michael Vincent is a local boy who has had enough. Unlike his approach in DEFIANCE, this time he calls upon his war hero, Vietnam Vet brother (Kris Kristofferson) to help the city out. He talks the cops into deputizing the cops into deputizing his brother and a bunch of his friends. At first they really do make a difference with their unconventional, no-nonsense (see also violent) approach to enforcing the law. Soon though, things start to take a turn and this "vigilante force" begins to get into some very shady dealings themselves. Writer and Director George Armitage (MIAMI BLUES, GROSSE POINT BLANK) has always been a guy that I've been a fan of. He makes a certain kind of gritty crime film pretty well. He sure knows how to close out a movie, that is for sure. The ending of this one is crazytown action. And it is always a pleasure to see actors like Jan-Michael Vincent and Kristofferson go head to head (and Kristofferson is outright scary in this flick). The supporting cast is lovely too and includes Victoria Principal, Bernadette Peters, Brad Dexter, Andrew Stevens, David Doyle, Chuck Cyphers and even an extremely greasy Paul Gleason. 
This disc features an excellent commentary track by director George Armitage, moderated by the always reliable Elijah Drenner.
The Blu-ray can be purchased here:

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