Posts Tagged ‘Book

06
Mar
09

The Punisher: War Zone Review

He is all out of bubblegum.

He is all out of bubblegum.

2008 was, without a doubt, the year of the comic book movie.  Along side the earth shattering success of The Dark Knight, there was the surprisingly impressive Hulk movie, and the Robert Downey Jr. resurrection machine known as Iron Man.  Both turned out to be great movies in their own right, with the Hulk finally getting the balance between the rage fueled violence and the plight of the scientist with a curse right, and with Iron Man, where Downey Jr. literally transformed himself into a living, breathing Tony Stark.

So then why didn’t anyone pay any attention to Punisher War Zone?  Maybe it was because the 2004 entry was almost universally panned for being quite atrocious.  Maybe because it didn’t have anywhere near the hype and media coverage that the big three got.  Maybe because it’s R rated (and let me tell you, its earns ALL of that R rating and then some).  Maybe it’s because the plot concerning an ex-military mans family being slaughtered because they witnessed a mob killing is just to grim for most audiences.  Whatever the reason, it’s truly a damn shame, because against what seemed like all odds, the old adage of “third times a charm” came shining through, and Frank Castle finally get his long overdue opus on the silver screen.

The Punisher to me, always seemed like the safest and easiest bet of all the Marvel heroes to turn into a feature film.  There’s no expensive CGI and complicated suits to create.  There’s no interplanetary or ridiculously complex scientific origin to the hero.  His appearance is just that of a middle-aged tired and emotionally distraught Italian male.  And he actually doesn’t even has superpowers, his is just an incredibly driven, superlatively trained warrior who occupies the gray area in between the good and evil of society.  Aside from some more intimate and provoking undertones that go on within The Punishers own conscious, his main method of entertaining comic books fans was plowing his way as violently as possible through droves of street thugs, gangsters, and criminals.  It’s at about this time your probably recognizing how male orientated this comic series was.  It seems like every male action junkies fantasy, to be this near suicidal, empty shell of a man who can just kill with absolute impunity.  Yet, in a strange twist, it took a woman to get this story right.

The Punisher can kill a man with a chair.  That's hardcore.

The Punisher can kill a man with a chair. That's hardcore.

Director Lexi Alexanders’ command of the visual style and pacing of this movie is probably the most immediate and impressive of the taunting hurdles she had to overcome to create such an exceptionally accurate representation of The Punisher as it is presented in the comics.  The Punisher is a man of action, a man of finality, in his world there are three colors, Black (evil), White (good), and Red (Blood and Justice).  Lexi encapsulates that beautifully, knowing exactly when to allow the story play out a bit, and maybe let the characters get a little introspective, and when to crank it up to 11 by unleashing the Punisher without any hesitation or restriction.  Combining those strengths, with a keen eye for lighting, to give everything  that grimy, almost mafia look, and some dynamite performances and well thought out actions set pieces and you have a recipe for success.

But while Lexi may have created quite the landscape for a vigilante superhero with an uncanny talent for dealing death, it would be nothing if there weren’t solid actors to bring the persona’s off the pages of the comics.  Everyone, let me introduce to Ray Stevenson.  This guy is a presence on screen, I liken him to Gerald Butler, who completely stole the show in every scene he was in in 300.  His somber and weathered face and flat voice was a perfect fit for bringing to life the near emotionless Frank Castle.  He wasn’t just a revelation because he accurately portrayed a comic book character, he was a revelation because he acted his fucking ass off, and bridged the gap between inflated, comically quirky superheroes, and three-dimensional characters who seem to live and breath in an incredibly believable manner.

Jigsaw.

Jigsaw.

Surrounding him is a ensemble cast that includes Julie Benz (RAMBO, Dexter TV show), Dominic West (The Wire TV show), and Wayne Knight (Seinfeld and Jurassic Park).  They all fit the bill perfectly, and bring the kind of subtle, validating emotions to the screen, while still being incredibly fun to marvel (pun intended) at due to their fan service nature and faithful reproduction on screen.

Technically speaking, the audio is superb, with the score being allowed to creep into the forefront at just the right moments to give more emotional resonance and weight to a particular scene.  Also, every gunshot, shell casing, bullet wound, lost limb, and blown up body is accounted for, with satisfyingly loud, deep, and visceral sound effects.  As previously mentioned, the lighting is a perfect blend of realistic city environments, and heavily stylized colorful comic book cities.  The camera also always seems to be in the right place, never wearing out its welcome by using too many gimmicks or by sitting around like a seemingly uninterested bystander.  It moves with the pace of the action, and always gives a great glimpse of what is happening.

Heavy Handed for those uninitiated in Punisher lore, but this is as fitting a message to go out on as any.

Heavy Handed for those uninitiated in Punisher lore, but this is as fitting a message to go out on as any.

The Punisher, is my humble opinion, is better than the Hulk movie, and right up there with Iron Man as far as 2008 comic book movies are concerned, with the The Dark Knight being the obvious number 1.   This is an incredibly faithful, stunningly grisly, and frighteningly accurate depiction of everything that is great about the character Marvel fans seem to forget about the most in The Punisher.  The acting is simply spot on, only once or twice spilling into hammy territory.  The look and feel is wonderful without being overbearing.  It sounds like a dream John Woo had, and it moves quickly, avoiding all those slippery little chasms where character exposition and plot development can lead to mind-numbing boredom and frustration.

The birth of the alternative comic book movie is upon us, and I for one am eagerly awaiting whats next.

Get out of my way, punk.

Get out of my way, punk

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30
Sep
08

Sleazoid Express by Bill Landis and Michelle Clifford

Sleazoid Express by Bill Landis & Michelle Clifford

Sleazoid Express by Bill Landis & Michelle Clifford

With a sub-title like: A Mind Twisting Tour Through The Grindhouse Cinema Of Times Square!, how could I resist?

The book begins way back in the 60s where it goes in to great detail about the atmosphere in grindhouse cinemas and the danger that lurked in some of these hell holes. Initially this chapter seemed completely pointless, but reading on – you realise that you needed that chapter to give you the background of which cinema was where, who owned it and it’s reputation within the legendary 42nd Street.

Sleazoid Express moves chronologically through the exploitation movies being peddled. Filled with crackheads, thiefs and prostitutes/pimps 42nd Street certainly sounds sleazy! Beginning with the Olga series of movies (a pre-cursor to the Ilsa movies) it often gives a brief review (sometimes a lengthy review, if the film was decent) of the movie plot and, most times, even giving away the ending, so if you don’t want your plots spoiled, beware! But lets face it, how many exploitation movies have an in depth plot or twist ending?

The chapters are genre points within the exploitation time line, chapter titles such as: The Anco Does A Gendertwist and Blood Horror: Chopping ‘Em Up At The Rialto hint at the subjects (the Anco and Rialto being cinemas with Times Square). Many different types of film are spoken about in the book, everything from the early gore classics (Blood Feast) through to the zombie flicks, cannibal movies and even the influx of gorey westerns and wacky oriental fung-fu movies (Flying Guillotine).

Just shy of 300 pages the book also lists exploitation video companies who still sell many of the gems mentioned in the book. The index is excellent as lists actors, directors and film titles, so it’s easy to dive in to the book to find a fact. This is THE exploitation book to own, Nightmare USA is also excellent, but spends too much time reviewing, Sleazoid Express gives history, and life, to the home of exploitation cinema. If you want to know how it all started, this is the book you want.

Favourite fact gleaned from the book? The fact that Dyanne Thorne (Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS) is now an ordained minister!

SEE ALSO: Nightmare USA – The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents.

24
Sep
08

The Beyond directed by Lucio Fulci

The Beyond - directed by Lucio Fulci

The Beyond - directed by Lucio Fulci

The Beyond is looked upon as being one of Fulci’s best movies. I have to say, I preferred Zombie Flesh Eaters (Zombie 2), but I can see what makes it appealing.

The movie begins with an artist creating a painting who is then attacked by a torch carrying mob, missing only their pitchforks,  who whip him with a chain then crucify him to a wall. Nice them country folks. Many years later a woman inherits the building (a Hotel) and is trying to restore it to its former glory. Unfortunately it sits on one of the entry points to hell, which is always a tad inconvenient. Strange things begin to happen, a dusty old book called Eibon pops up here and there, and the new hotel owner begins to believe she is going crazy.

The story isn’t the worst, but it’s still very cliched and some of the acting is embarassing *cough* blind woman *cough*.

Lots of good gore, and fx, scenes though, my favourite shot (hoho! I made a funny!) being the exploding head on the little girl near the end of the movie (below).

See? That's what happens to annoying school girls who try and rip peoples faces of.

See? That's what happens to annoying school girls that try and rip peoples faces off...

I don’t think The Beyond is Fulci’s finest, but it’s still a good film, it has zombies, so that’s a +1. Ask my partner in crime, Alex, about the movie, he has the evil books logo tattoo’d on the back of his neck! The madman!

14
Sep
08

Nightmare USA by Stephen Thrower

A big beast of a book!

A big beast of a book!

This is indeed a beast of a book! With dimensions of 10″ x 12″ x 1.5″ you could nail four poles under it and use it as a coffee table.

Nightmare USA is divided in to sections. Section I is an explanation of the genre from the 1970’s to the mid-80’s which is literally a who’s-who of sleaze/gore/splatter but without the (now) big names (such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre etc.). Section II is a group of essays on various films and the people involved, such as The Films of Frederick Friedel, Douglas McKeown on The Deadly Spawn, Joseph Ellison on Don’t Go In The House, and so on. Section III is over 100 movie reviews (from 1970 – 1985), and Section IV is appendices and the index. Weighing in at over 500 pages, it’s informative to say the least!

The majority of the book is in black and white but there are colour sections which, like the B&W sections, display rare video covers, one sheets and on-set photo’s which complement Throwers writings.

The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents is it’s sub-title. ‘Exploitation Independents’ is a term coined, in the book, by the author (Stephen Thrower) to more precisely define exploitation movies as not exploiting people, but exploiting genres of the time. Not only does it define the term well, it defines the genre as a whole in a highly informative way. At the end of the book Thrower teases that there will be a volume two. It can’t come fast enough!

If you don’t want to pay the £40 (£25 on Amazon.co.uk with free postage) then you could always wait until 2nd Oct which is when the paperback is released at £20.

A cracking book. Buy it! Buy it NOW!