TV Review: The Punisher (2017- )

Original Run: November 17th, 2017 – current
Created by: Steve Lightfoot
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: The Punisher by Gerry Conway, John Romita Sr., Ross Andru
Music by: Tyler Bates
Cast: Jon Bernthal, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Ben Barnes, Amber Rose Revah, Paul Schulze, Jason R. Moore, Michael Nathanson, Daniel Webber, Jaime Ray Newman, Deborah Ann Woll, C. Thomas Howell, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Clancy Brown, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio

ABC Studios, Marvel, Bohemian Risk Productions, Netflix, 13 Episodes (so far), 49-58 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

This was the first of Marvel’s television series for Netflix that just didn’t resonate with me. Luke Cage wasn’t on the level of Daredevil or Jessica JonesIron Fist was a big step down and The Defenders was a pretty huge disappointment. Plus, Daredevil season two was nowhere near as good as season one. The Punisher, however, is the worst of the bunch.

The problem, is that I anticipated the Punisher doing what he is most known for, shooting the shit out of everyone and everything. The bigger the guns, the better.

Instead, we get a Punisher that just talks and talks and talks and talks and occasionally finds himself in a firefight. We also have to wait like ten episodes to see him wear the iconic skull logo again. Most of the time, he’s a depressed and brooding, angry brute trying to woo the wife of his partner.

Jigsaw is in this, which I was excited about, but I shouldn’t have been. I mean, he’s in just about every episode but he’s Jigsaw before Jigsaw and his origin isn’t even close to what its supposed to be. In The Punisher, we get Ben Barnes looking all pretty and shit. The show should have followed suit with the Punisher: War Zone movie, which featured Jigsaw and did a fine job with the character, even if they botched his real name.

The first season of this is also capped off with a shootout on a carousel. Wasn’t there a carousel scene with the Punisher in Daredevil already? Also, Bernthal had a massive shootout with the mob in Mob City. If you’ve seen that show, which luckily for Netflix, no one else really has, then this feels like familiar territory. Why wasn’t Bernthal on set going, “Guys, I’ve already done this scene before and it was a lot better!”… why?

The only thing I really liked about the show was Ebon Moss-Bachrach, who played Microchip. He was, by far, the best actor in this thing and his work made his character more interesting than it otherwise would have been. In fact, he was more interesting than the Punisher, who just mumbled and grunted through thirteen boring episodes.

I’ll watch the eventual second season but only if Marvel’s Netflix stuff starts getting back to basics and getting as good as it was in the beginning. Besides, I’m pretty close to cancelling Netflix anyway, as the shows I like are ending or falling off, other content is dwindling away and their price keeps getting higher.

Film Review: Gone In 60 Seconds (1974)

Also known as: Gone In Sixty Seconds (alternate spelling)
Release Date: July 28th, 1974
Directed by: H. B. Halicki
Written by: H. B. Halicki
Music by: Ronald Halicki, Philip Kachaturian
Cast: H. B. Halicki, Eleanor, Marion Busia, Jerry Daugirda, James McIntyre, George Cole, Ronald Halicki, Markos Kotsikos

H. B. Halicki Junkyard and Mercantile Company, 105 Minutes

Review:

“This job is ruining my sex life.” – Maindrian Pace

For those who love the Nic Cage movie Gone In 60 Seconds, you might not know that it was a remake. In fact, it was the second attempt at a remake. There was 1989’s Gone In 60 Seconds 2, which actually wasn’t completed due to the death of H. B. Halicki during production. Before that though, there was this film and a couple similar ones by Halicki: Deadline Auto Theft and The Junkman.

This film is unique in that Halicki directed, wrote and starred in the film and only hired friends and family members to play the other roles. This was done in order to keep the cost of production down. The police officers, fireman and paramedics are all real. Halicki even did his own stunts and the cars destroyed in the film were owned by him. The emergency vehicles in the film were bought at an auction for an average price of $200 each.

The big car chase in the film takes up the last forty minutes or so and sees 93 cars get wrecked. It is still the longest car chase sequence in movie history.

The premise of the film is about a group of thieves tasked with stealing 48 cars over the course of just a few days. While the setup is cool, most of the film drags on and isn’t as interesting as it could have been. The lengthy action finale certainly makes up for the first fifty minutes or so but it is a drag trying to get there, except in the few earlier scenes that provide a bit of car action.

Considering that this film was made by an unknown in the film industry and he made an impact due to his resourcefulness and skill, Gone In 60 Seconds is pretty impressive. It’s certainly not a great movie but it is hard to deny how fun and how well executed the massive car chase is, as it plows through five California towns and sees the destruction of nearly 100 vehicles. If anything, this film has got me interested in checking out Halicki’s other films.

If you love car action movies, this will be your cup of tea after surviving the first fifty minutes.

Film Review: Pushover (1954)

Release Date: July 30th, 1954
Directed by: Richard Quine
Written by: Roy Huggins
Based on: stories by Thomas Walsh and William S. Ballinger
Music by: Arthur Morton
Cast: Fred MacMurray, Phil Carey, Kim Novak, Dorothy Malone, E. G. Marshall

Columbia Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“I can’t spot it, but something’s wrong somewhere!” – Rock McAllister

This is the only film-noir, other than Double Indemnity, that I have seen Fred MacMurray in. I like the guy, especially in these roles. He was pretty damn good in this and really helped give birth to Kim Novak’s career, as this was her debut and he gave her a very capable opposite to play off of and learn from.

This came out as the noir style was sort of dwindling away, even though a few great noir pictures followed this.

It is an enjoyable film due to the work of MacMurray and Novak but there isn’t much else here to make it stand out from the pack. It’s a good and entertaining movie but it’s nowhere near the level of MacMurrat’s Double Indemnity or the films Novak would do later on in her career.

Still, I was engaged for 88 minutes and that’s a positive.

The cinematography is decent but really just average. The direction of Richard Quine was good but like his stars, he’d move on to bigger and better things outside of film-noir.

Pushover isn’t bad but to be frank, there are dozens of better noir pictures out there to check out before this one.

Film Review: The Killing (1956)

Also known as: Bed of Fear, Clean Break, Day of Violence (working titles)
Release Date: May 19th, 1956 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stanley Kubrick, Jim Thompson
Based on: Clean Break by Lionel White
Music by: Gerald Fried
Cast: Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, Vince Edwards, Elisha Cook Jr., Marie Windsor, Joe Turkel

Harris-Kubrick Pictures Corporation, United Artists, 85 Minutes

Review:

“You like money. You’ve got a great big dollar sign there where most women have a heart.” – Johnny Clay

The Killing is one of the really early films in auteur director Stanley Kubrick’s long and storied oeuvre. It came out less than a year after his previous film and first attempt at film-noir, Killer’s Kiss. With similar titles and coming out around the same time, the two films may confuse people looking back into Kubrick’s filmography. Also, Killer’s Kiss and The Killing are both noir pictures and presented in silvery black and white.

The Killing is the superior of the two pictures, however, and Killer’s Kiss feels like more of a practice run leading up to this damn fine motion picture, which boasts the star power of well known noir actors Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray and Elisha Cook Jr. Plus, Marie Windsor is perfection in her role.

The plot of this film is about a high stakes heist at a horse track. A team is assembled, a greedy femme fatale enters the mix and we get scheming, violence and chaos. And it is all capped off by the immense talent of Kubrick behind the camera and a stellar and more than capable cast in front of the camera.

The truth is, The Killing, as great as it is, has always been overshadowed by Kubrick’s more famous pictures: 2001: A Space OdysseyThe ShiningA Clockwork OrangeDr. StrangeloveLolitaFull Metal Jacket, etc. The Killing is a top notch crime thriller and true to the film-noir style, even coming out late in the style’s classic run through the 1940s and 1950s. It is one of the best heist pictures ever made and like John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle, it helped create a lot of tropes used in heist pictures since its time.

Being a fan of Elisha Cook Jr. for years, I especially love this film because he gets a really meaty and pivotal role. He is one of the top character actors of his day, was in more noir pictures than I can count and even went on to some well-known westerns and popped up in a few Vincent Price horror movies. He really gets to display his acting chops in this and it is nice to see the guy’s range, as he was a more capable actor than one being relegated to playing background characters and bit players.

The Killing was an incredibly important film in the career of Stanley Kubrick, as it lead to bigger things. He would go on to do Paths of Glory and Spartacus and eventually start making more artistic films that changed the filmmaking landscape forever. The Killing was a big part of Kubrick’s evolution and thus, the evolution of motion pictures in general.

Film Review: Mitchell (1975)

Also known as: Kill Mr. Mitchell (Hong Kong – English premiere title)
Release Date: September 10th, 1975
Directed by: Andrew V. McLaglen
Written by: Ian Kennedy Martin
Music by: Larry Brown, Jerry Styner
Cast: Joe Don Baker, Linda Evans, Martin Balsam, John Saxon

Allied Artists Pictures Corporation, 97 Minutes

Review:

“Piss off, kid!” – Mitchell

The only reason people even remember this movie now is because it was featured on one of the most important episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000, the episode that was the big farewell to original host Joel Hodgson.

Apart from that great episode, the movie itself is absolutely atrocious. It is a massive pile of steaming shit. It’s fucking horrible, if I can be so bold.

Sure, Joe Don Baker is the man. This also has John Saxon in it. But even these two can’t save a picture that is so poorly written and horrendously directed. It is one of those movies where watching too much of it will cause your eyeballs to bleed out of your sockets. It may even induce vomiting and diarrhea.

Yet, I still love Baker and Saxon and for some reason I’ll never understand, I love to torture myself with the worst movies that Earth has to offer. Maybe I should see a therapist but my Uncle Grapes once told me that “therapist” is spelled the same as “the rapist”. He spent a lot of time in a sanitarium though because he tried gluing cats to his naked body to “blend in with the bears”.

So what’s really wrong with this shit pancake of a movie? Well, a lot… frankly.

To start, lets talk about the action. There is a car chase that is so slow and boring that Crow T. Robot of Mystery Science Theater 3000 commented that it made “…Driving Miss Daisy look like Bullitt.” Also, watching Mitchell (Baker) do anything athletic, like running away from gunmen and such, was laughably bad. Although, we get that scene where he waves down a helicopter and it drops a shotgun down to him. I mean, who doesn’t want a shotgun dispensing chopper overhead when bad guys got you surrounded? Maybe that part of the action was kind of cool.

You also have to sit through one of the most awkward and strange sex scenes in movie history. Plus, it is accented by the horrible Mitchell theme song that just won’t go away from the time the picture starts till the very end of the credits when this turkey stuffed with crap finally ends.

Honestly, these could have all been different songs throughout the movie but they all sounded the same and I had to be on suicide watch for 37 days because that’s how long it took to get them out of my head.

Mitchell really is friggin’ dreadful. That being said, it has to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer. And the results read, “Type 6 Stool: Fluffy pieces with ragged edges, a mushy stool.” Ew… gross, Mitchell!

Film Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Also known as: Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (stylized on screen)
Release Date: September 4th, 2017 (Venice Film Festival)
Directed by: Martin McDonagh
Written by: Martin McDonagh
Music by: Carter Burwell
Cast: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage, Lucas Hedges, Abbie Cornish, Samara Weaving, Caleb Landry Jones, Clarke Peters, Željko Ivanek, Sandy Martin, Brendan Sexton III

Blueprint Pictures, Film4 Productions, Cutting Edge Group, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 115 Minutes

Review:

“What’s the law on what ya can and can’t say on a billboard? I assume it’s ya can’t say nothing defamatory, and ya can’t say, ‘Fuck’ ‘Piss’ or ‘Cunt’. That right?” – Mildred Hayes

I’ve been hitting the theater, trying to catch up on some of the indie films I’ve been missing. Luckily, I have a lot of days off to use between now and the end of the year, so playing catch up should be fairly easy now that Cinespiria has gotten through Darktober and Noirvember and there isn’t a theme for the month of December.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was a really nice surprise. While I did expect to enjoy it, it wasn’t as straightforward and cookie cutter as I anticipated. But I probably should have known better with Martin McDonagh in the director’s chair, as In Bruges and Seven Psycopaths weren’t films that one could label predictable.

This picture has a magnificently solid cast but so did Seven Psychopaths and McDonagh has shown that he’s fully capable of managing an ensemble. Although, while this is an ensemble piece and everyone is well beyond satisfactory, Frances McDormand’s Mildred Hayes is center stage in just about every scene and she really put the weight of this picture on her back and succeeded, giving us another masterful performance. She is a tough cookie and she never relents in her quest to find justice for her raped and murdered daughter.

Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell both do fine in this film, as well. Both men play cops and, at first, based off of how the story starts, you aren’t really a fan of either man. Harrelson’s Sheriff Willoughby wins you over fairly quickly, as you sympathize with his illness and the toughness of his job and a system that can’t always catch the bad guy. Rockwell’s Dixon is incredibly unlikable for two-thirds of the film but there is a real turning point where the angry boy with a badge becomes a man. Both cop characters, like all the characters can’t not be affected by the events of the story. People change and this is a film about character evolution and redemption, just as much as it is about justice or lack thereof.

This is the second film where I’ve seen Caleb Landry Jones play a nice and decent character, a departure from the psychos he played in Get Out and the revival of Twin Peaks. This guy has come along way since I first noticed him in X-Men: First Class and he’s really carving out a nice career for himself with a good amount of diversity in his roles. I hope to see a lot more from him in the future.

We also get to see character actors John Hawkes and Sandy Martin and both shine in their small but influential roles. Clarke Peters shows up and I always get excited when I see him, as he was one of my favorites in the underappreciated HBO show Treme. Another HBO alum, Peter Dinklage of Game of Thrones, plays a nice and sweet character in this. Brendan Sexton III, probably most remembered as the young shoplifting shithead in Empire Records and as a bully in Welcome to the Dollhouse, plays a character not too dissimilar from his earliest roles.

Three Billboards is a film that carries a lot of emotional weight and unfortunately exists in our sad reality where sometimes the worst people get away with deplorable acts. The film ends with two of the characters having to make a grave choice but we do not get to see what they decide to do. Like these characters, you want justice for Mildred’s daughter but you also have to ask yourself where the line is drawn while understanding that nothing will bring her back.

Film Review: Strangers On a Train (1951)

Release Date: June 30th, 1951
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Raymond Chandler, Whitfield Cook, Czenzi Ormonde
Based on: Strangers On a Train by Patricia Highsmith
Music by: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cast: Farley Granger, Ruth Roman, Robert Walker, Patricia Hitchcock

Transatlantic Pictures, Warner Bros., 101 Minutes

Review:

“I may be old-fashioned, but I thought murder was against the law.” – Guy Haines

Alfred Hitchcock was a bit derailed before the release of Strangers On a Train. While he had had an incredibly successful career up until this point, his previous two films were box office duds. Those pictures were Under Capricorn and Stage FrightStrangers On a Train got the auteur director back on track, however, and it really set the stage for what was to come with a string of incredible pictures throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s.

This is also a Hitchcock picture that falls into the film-noir style. It even stars Farley Granger, a guy who worked in several notable noir movies: They Live by NightSide StreetEdge of Doom and Hitchcock’s own Rope.

Alongside Granger are Robert Walker and Ruth Roman, a woman who does not fit the typical Hitchcock female lead archetype, which were almost always stunning blonde women. Hitchcock had reservations about using Roman and he also didn’t feel like Granger was believable as the type of man another man would become infatuated with.

Speaking of which, this is a film with very well hidden gay undertones in it. Robert Walker’s psychotic Bruno Antony was infatuated with Granger’s Guy Haines. While it isn’t explicitly stated, when you understand that this was an adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith story, it makes that aspect of the men’s relationship much more apparent. She was known for writing about gay characters and obsessive infatuation in her novels, even if they did come out in a time when the subject was incredibly taboo. It is very clear though when you see later adaptations of her work like The Talented Mr. RipleyCarolRipley’s GameRipley Under Ground and The American Friend.

The story starts with Guy, on a train, as he is approached by Bruno, a complete stranger. Bruno has a weird obsession with the young man and it doesn’t take long to realize that the guy is off his rocker. Bruno suggests that he kills Guy’s soon to be ex-wife and in exchange Guy kills Bruno’s father. It will be a perfect set of murders as neither man has a real motive to kill their victims or any personal association with them. Guy continues to try and dismiss Bruno but Bruno follows though and murders Guy’s wife. He then becomes enraged when Guy doesn’t seem like he wants to return the favor and thus, begins to blackmail Guy and try to pin the murder on him.

Strangers On a Train is a dark and twisted movie that showcases the great and intelligent Highsmith story with respect and care. It is a film that has a lot of talent in front of and behind the camera. Superb direction, stellar photography and believable actors that pull you along for this wild and intense ride. Hitchcock was the “Master of Suspense” and this movie is a perfect example of how the director earned that moniker.

There are some incredible shots in this movie. Most notably, the scene where Guy’s wife is being strangled to death and you see it from the perspective of a reflection in the lens of her glasses, lying on the ground. The special effects shot of the carousel spinning wildly out of control is another great shot and in fact, that whole big finale is a visual delight.

Strangers On a Train is not my favorite Hitchock motion picture but it is really high up on my list of his best.