MOVIE REVIEW – ‘THE PUNISHER’ (2004)


Plot Summary: Frank Castle is an undercover DEA agent working on his final assignment, a gun running deal that goes wrong when one of the accomplices is killed in the crossfire. The dead man turns out  to be the son of Howard Saint, a powerful mastermind who controls the criminal underworld of Tampa, Florida. Saint and his wife vow revenge on the man who caused the death of their son, so they track Castle down to a family reunion in Puerto Rico, slaughter his entire family, and leave him for dead in a firey barge explosion. Castle miraculously survives, becoming the grim, black-clad, machine-gun toting Punisher.

The Good: Well, Thomas Jane does an admirable job playing the Punisher, and the costume is faithful to the comic book. Other than that…this movie is absolute drivel.

The Bad: You know you are watching an atrocious film when the best thing you can say about it is, “Hey, at least it’s not as bad as the 1990 version with Dolph Lundgren.” Wait, you know something? I can’t even bring myself to say that. This movie, in many ways, is even worse than that straight-to-video clunker. At least in that version, the Punisher actually fires a gun.

There is so much wrong here that I don’t even know where to begin. The editing is just plain inexcusable. Half the time you don’t know where you are, who the characters are, or how much time has elapsed between scenes.  The acting ranges from “mediocre” to “utter trainwreck.”  John Travolta is the single worst comic-book villain to appear on the silver screen, hands down. Watching him in this piece of shit is like stabbing yourself in the eyeball with a red-hot sewing needle.  Rebecca Romjin-Stamos,or whatever she’s calling herself this week , John Pinette, and Six Feet Under’s Ben Foster are three completely superfluous characters thrown into the screenplay only because they appear in Garth Ennis’ critically acclaimed Punisher comic book series. Their performances range from bland to ridiculous, and they contribute absolutely nothing to the storyline.

The “action” scenes are few and far between, and when they do occur, they are laughable at best. The Punisher, as depicted in hundreds of Marvel comics, is a no-nonsense killer who hunts down criminal scum and fills them with thousands of rounds of ammunition from his arsenal of various guns. However, in this film, he sneaks around office buildings to drop millions of dollars on the street, carries around a fire hydrant in order to get the villain’s wife a parking ticket, and takes pictures of Saint’s top henchman kissing guys. By the time the final shootout in Saint’s nightclub happens, you just don’t care anymore because everything that has come before is a hideously boring and confounding mess.

Congratulations Daredevil and Hulk, you are no longer at the top of the list of horrifically bad Marvel comic-book adaptations. Hell, this movie makes Daredevil look like Spider-Man.  Painful.

The Ugly: Spacker Dave, after his piercings have been forcefully removed by one of Saint’s henchmen.

Should I See It In The Theater? Only if you hate yourself. A lot.

Are You Going To Buy The DVD? Sure, it’s right on my list afterGigli, Police Academy: Mission to Moscow, and a coupleHillary Duff movies.

Final Grade: D

MOVIE REVIEW – ‘KILL BILL 2’

“That Woman Deserves Her Revenge, And We Deserve To Die.”


Plot Summary: “The Bride” is nearly finished with her mission of vengeance. After dispatching two of the most ruthless members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad in spectacularly bloody fashion, only two more stand between her and the man who tore her world apart. Now the Bride must slash her way through Elle Driver, codename California Mountain Snake, and Budd, codename Sidewinder before reaching her ultimate goal of killing Bill.

The Good: It seems like every critic on the planet has been trying to figure out what kind of statement uber-director Quentin Tarantino is making with these two films. What does it mean? What does it say? What message is hidden within this mis-mash of kung-fu and exploitation movies? I don’t think any of them have taken the time to consider the possibility that Kill Bill volumes 1&2 aren’t really trying to say anything terribly profound at all. It’s a story about cold, ruthless revenge, plain and simple. It is also a loving tribute to everything Quentin Tarantino cherishes most in life…movies. 70’s Blaxploitation movies. Junky Saturday-morning matinee Kung-Fu movies. Hardcore vengeance movies of the late 70’s-early 80’s. Japanese Anime movies.  Hell, just about any kind of movie you can imagine, Tarantino has seen, absorbed, processed, and transplanted its influence onto the screen in these two crazy, frenetic films.

One thing is also made abundantly clear with Kill Bill Vol. 2…Tarantino loves Uma Thurman. He understands her methods, he knows her strengths and her weaknesses, and he uses that knowledge to give us the best Uma Thurman performance to date. In the previous volume, Uma as the Bride was a humorless, unstoppable killing machine. She was cold, efficient, and she didn’t waste a lot of time talking. But in Vol.2, Tarantino humanizes the Bride a bit more. The burden of her mission is beginning to weigh heavily on her heart and on her conscience just enough for her to slip up, and that mistake nearly costs her the mission and her life. It’s a complex, brilliant performance by Thurman, and it shines even more thanks to the outstanding supporting cast that she plays off of.

As with Pulp Fiction, Tarantino isn’t afraid to cast actors that haven’t seen the limelight in quite some time. In Kill Bill Vol. 2, he’s able to once again resurrect not one, but two acting careers in the same film. Darryl Hannah shines as the deliciously devious and malevolent Elle Driver, who we gilmpsed only briefly in the first volume when she donned a nurse’s disguise to finish off the comatose Bride. Her battle with Uma Thurman is so savage, you can feel the hate ooze with every word exchanged and every brutal kick landed. Her method of demise is a very shocking and abrupt surprise. But Hannah’s career re-start is nothing compared to the sheer magnificence of David Carradine’s performance as the grizzly target of the Bride’s vengeance, Bill himself. Carradine’s on-screen presence is chilling; every line delivered from his weathered face is a riveting and terrifying experience. He’s a brilliantly cold, calculating contrast to the Bride’s raging mass of emotions. Their final encounter is an unforgettable duel to the death with an added element of tension that you don’t see coming.

Kill Bill Vol. 2 is a grittier, “talkier” picture than Vol. 1, but that should not be construed as a negative in any way. Gone are the flashy, whirling, blood-spewing kung-fu battles, replaced here with more personal, intimate moments of pain and brutality. Tarantino really wants you to get to know and understand Bill and the remaining members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad before they fall under Uma’s wrath. The film strays into more familiar Tarantino territory, with lots of dialogue and quirky characters popping up in even quirkier settings. One of Tarantino’s biggest strengths is his ability to draw the viewer into the seedy underbelly of society and make these incredibly real settings pulsate and breathe with a sense of mystery. The “gimp” scene inPulp Fiction is a particularly good example of this device. Quentin masterfully creates scenarios that make you feel like anything could happen at any time, no matter how bizarre or absurd it may be.

Tarantino has reached deep into every possible cinematic influence to  bring Kill Bill Volumes 1&2 to the big screen. The end result, while not brilliant, is pretty a damn cool movie. And that’s probably what he wanted to make in the first place.

The Bad: While I personally don’t consider the lack of multiple, blood-spattering, kung-fu swordfights to be a negative, I can understand how people who enjoyed the first film could be painfully let down by this installment.  As I stated earlier, the hyper-violence and the slick, Japanese anime-influenced cinema style
is long gone in Vol. 2, replaced with lots of dialogue, intimate character moments, and lenghty flashbacks. The pace of Vol.2 is much slower, which is a big negative in some spots, and the songs in this movie can’t hold a candle to the kickass Vol. 1 soundtrack.

The Ugly: It’s a tie between the always creepy Michael Madsen and the Mexian prostitute with the sliced up lips.

Should I See It In The Theater? Only if you saw the first volume.

Are You Going To Buy The DVD? Probably not the standard version that comes out soon. There are rumors of a special edition DVD that combines the two volumes back into one film.

Final Grade: A-

MOVIE REVIEW – ‘HELLBOY’

Plot Summary: The Nazis are trying to win World War II, and they’ll do whatever it takes to get it done, including delving deep into the world of the paranormal. On a remote island, an elite Nazi task force led by Grigori Rasputin (yes, that Rasputin), attempts to open an interdimensional portal which will unleash the “Seven Gods of Chaos” upon the Earth. Alongside Rasputin are his faithful female companion Ilsa and Hitler’s most deadly assassin, the gasmask-clad Kroenen. Rasputin succeeds in opening the portal, but before the Gods of Chaos can be released, American soldiers show up and foil the Nazis’ plans. The portal is destroyed, sucking Rasputin into it before collapsing in on itself. Professor Trevor ‘Broom’ Bruttenholm, a British paranormal investigator sent along with the Americans, fears that something came through the portal while it was open. The soldiers search through the debris, and discover a baby demon with a huge left hand. The Professor calms the demon down with Baby Ruth bars, dubbing him “Hellboy”. We then flash forward to the present day, where Hellboy is fully grown and serves alongside Fish-man Abe Sapien and Firestarter Liz Sherman, as a special operative in the FBI’s Paranormal Investigation branch. Trouble arises when Ilsa and Kroenen return to resurrect Rasputin, who is determined to finish what he started in World War II.

The Good: Hellboy is a shining example of what every comic book adaptation should be. It’s faithful to its source material, has top-notch production values, a perfect cast, and lots of solid action and special effects. Ron Perlman is an absolute genius as Hellboy, turning in a gruff, hilarious, and oftentimes touching performance as the titular character. What’s even more amazing is the fact that he is able to accomplish it while buried under thick red latex prosthetics. Perlman never lets the makeup hinder him as he chews scenery and spouts gut-busting wisecracks while fighting monsters. John Hurt is perfect as the noble Professor Bruttenholm, lending weight and a sense of credibility to the role. Selma Blair as firestarter Liz Sherman is fantastic. She has the unenviable task of making the audience believe in her  very unbelievable relationship with Hellboy, and she pulls it off brilliantly. The producers of the upcoming Superman film would be nuts not to cast her as Lois Lane.

The filmmakers, under the direction of  Blade 2’s Guillermo Del Toro, do a masterful job of bringing Mike Mignola’s artwork and designs to life on the big screen. Whether it be the amazing creature designs like Abe Sapien and the Lovecraftian Sammael monster, or the fantastic Gothic scenery, Del Toro and crew know how to please the rabid comic book fans. The Nazi assassin Kroenen simply has to been seen to be believed. Amazing. His costume is incredibly cool, and his spinning moves with blades of all types will leave you breathless, as will just about any action scene in the film. Hellboy is a wonderfully weird thrill ride filled with so much eye candy, your corneas will get cavities. Excellent.

The Bad: There isn’t much bad here, but if I had to nitpick, the first place I’d start is with the film’s villains. Karel Roden as Rasputin is pretty dull and isn’t all that mean or threatening for a guy who is supposed to be one of the most fiendishly evil men who ever lived. His Nazi girlfriend or whatever she’s supposed be is your typical sneering German. Aside from looking mean, she doesn’t really do anything in the movie. Kroenen, on the other hand, is awesome and fascinating, but he never speaks a word and we don’t find out much about him other than a brief origin from the Professor. He’s the Boba Fett or the Darth Maul of the Hellboy universe:  looks cool, but doesn’t do much and you’re left wanting to know so much more about him. The Sammael monsters are pretty cool, but their endless shrieking and the repetitivenessof their battles with Hellboy gets irritiating.

As with any comic book film, you must have a firm “suspension of disbelief” in order to absorb all of the fantastic visuals and story elements on the screen, and Hellboy is no exception. If you’re not a comic book fan, or if you have trouble with fantasy genre pictures, the thin plot is going to leave you cold. There are some editing mishaps that make things hard to follow in some areas of the movie, but a strong plot is not the main draw here. It’s a character-driven action movie that overcomes the plot holes.

The Ugly: Kroenen’s unmasked face and naked body…ugghhh….nightmarish.

Should I See It In The Theater?: Yes, absolutely.

Are You Going To Buy The DVD? HELL yeah! (heh heh)

Final Grade: A-for “awesome”