Posts Tagged ‘fbi

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

10
Jan
09

The Poughkeepsie Tapes Review

That's a lot of tapes.  Guy must of had a reward zone card for Best Buy.

That's a lot of tapes. Guy must of had a reward zone card for Best Buy.

The Poughkeepsie Tapes (or simply Tapes, as I will refer to it from here on out) is not a movie.

I’ll let that sink in.

“When hundreds of videotapes showing torture, murder and dismemberment are found in an abandoned house, they reveal a serial killer’s decade-long reign of terror and become the most disturbing collection of evidence homicide detectives have ever seen.” -Tribeca Film Festival Synopsis.

It’s a mockumentary, minus the comedy and satire.  It’s a mockumentary that houses a two-pronged attack of brutally accurate portrayals of torture, murder and dismemberment seamlessly interwoven with expert analysis and the thoughts and memories of those who were affected by the killers rampage, and those who were hunting him down.

In fact, it’s not too far removed from what the Discovery channel and TLC show on a daily basis.  All those shows about FBI profilers and how they catch these seriously deranged serial killers all seemed to be influential to the Dowdle Brothers, who both penned and directed Tapes.

And  writing may actually be Tapes strongest assets, although I’m sure it will get lost amidst all the chatter about the lengthy, suspenseful, and downright shocking film the killer shoots himself that is shown at certain intervals throughout.  The writing leaps off the screen, as the Dowdle brothers concoct a credible, highly intelligent, innovative killer and sets him loose in the “Anywhere, USA” suburbs of Poughkeepsie, New York.  The killer taunts his pursuers and gives cryptic clues for investigators to find, knowing far in advance where exactly the authorities will look to find them.  It’s this depth to a nameless, faceless character that brings us closer to him than is comfortable for most audiences.  Instead of being bogged down with trite, rationalizing back story about how the killer was beaten as a child or not hugged enough as a baby, we instead get an uncompromising and genius killer, who has found a way to elude the authorities all while documenting his spree.

A brief glimpse of the killer's throrough work.

A brief glimpse of the killer's thorough work.

Direction is also key, not so much in the static look of the interview pieces, (with the exception of the interview with Cheryl which actually made me lose sleep, it’s that fucking clever and disturbing) but in the low-fi, slow burn masterwork of the killers tapes.  The camera is almost always in the right position, whether it’s showing you everything that’s going on, or whether it’s showing you nothing, such as the inside of a car door, or an empty room.  There are times where the camera will be haphazardly placed, seemingly by accident, and we are left with just the screams and pleads of the victim and the orders of the killer to clue us in of what going on.  It’s a time-tested approach that works flawlessly here.  Show some gore in full view to screw with audience equilibrium, and then deprive them seeing something later on.  It works in two ways.  Once you don’t show the audience a scene straight on, it gets their minds working.  They create in their head horrible visions of what must be going on.  It also works to create a sickening feeling in the viewers, because they have to realize that they WANT to see whats happening, so much so they are willing to create the images in their own heads to replace the ones that aren’t on the screen.  It’s a lost art, but it’s a tactic employed by the Dowdle Bros. in exemplary fashion.

Eyes Without A Face reference in the movie.  Who would've thought?

Eyes Without A Face reference in the movie. Who would've thought?

With the audio and visual facets of the film firmly in and place grounded in reality, the one area where horror, or should I say terror in this case, goes awry is usually the acting.  You can have all your ducks in a row as far as directing and writing are concerned, but if your actors don’t come through in creating these characters in the physical form, than everything is lost.  Thankfully, the Dowdle Bros. must have been keen on this, and not only hired no names, but no names who looked liked everyday people.  I’m not sure how involved with the casting they were, but from what I’ve read and inferred through the piece itself, it seems fairly obvious they were pivotal in every decision made.  The most all inclusive and flattering thing I can say is, and this goes for the whole endeavor, not JUST the acting, if this were played one TV on night, and no one was told it wasn’t real, there would be a legitimate fear and uproar in many communities around the U.S.  It’s that believable.  So believable that even though I knew coming in it wasn’t real, I still lost sleep over it, and was looking over my shoulder while watching it.  It’s orchestrated with the sole intention of, if nothing else, to stay with you long after the credits have rolled.

Tapes has a long, uphill battle ahead it.  Still having no official release date for theatrical or dvd release, it is caught in release purgatory.  And once it is released, it will undoubtedly be met with serious backlash from angry mothers and politicians who won’t even bother to see the flick, but instead just berate both those who created it, and its fans.  It will be labeled as the next sick evolutionary step in the Torture Porn sub genre, when it really has a lot less to do with the fantasy world that movies like SAW occupy, and a lot more to do with the gritty, unfair, demented world we live in everyday.  There’s no sense of morals, right and wrong, or justification that other horror flicks try to implore.  It is just cruel, relentless, remorseless and always 10 steps ahead of you.  Just like the killer.

The Poughkeepsie Tapes has, buried underneath it’s tough outer shell, an insane amount of creativity and artistic ingenuity.  If an opportunity to see this bound-to-be-lost gem arises, don’t hesitate.  Just don’t plan on going to bed immediately afterward.

29
Oct
08

Saw V – Spoiler Free Review

Saw V

Saw V

Readers of this blog will know that I am a self-confessed Saw fanboy. So I was eager to see how the Saw franchise would move forward with the death of it’s leading character.

Fear not dear reader, this review will be spoiler free, I will not be giving away any new plot details, I promise!

Saw V begins with a quick review of what we found out at the end of Saw IV, that Jigsaw is dead, Strahm is trapped in a room and the other players from IV are also dead. The only survivor is Hoffman.

Saw V starts with the pendulum trap that we saw in one of the first clips released. V spends half of its time jumping back and forth between the past explaining stuff (‘stuff’ that I shan’t expand upon), and the present, with five new players in a trap. This is the ‘five will become one’ clip that was circulating before the release of V.

A lot of questions are answered in Saw V, but – true to the series – more questions arise as the movie trundles along. Speaking of which, I found the first twenty or so minutes quite slow, but – true to form – picked up pace. This is definitely more of a story Saw, than a gore Saw.

You won’t believe how it ends‘ say all the posters. Well, I obviously won’t give away the ending, but it’s hardly earth shattering – still a nice twist though.

I breath a sigh of relief and say: I like Saw V, I’m still a fan. And well done Mr Hackl too, his first full film as a Director, and it looks good… has the continuity of Saw I – IV (hardly surprising since Hackl practically is Jigsaw!), it’s dark, nicely lit and gory when it needs to be.

I just worry that there’s an outsider lined up to Direct Saw VI. Oh well, won’t be long now ’til Oct ’09…