Movie Review: The PUNISHER

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punisher 2004
Lionsgate Films
2004
R

“Two thousand degrees, Mick. Enough to turn steel into butter. It won’t hurt at first. It’s too hot, you see. The flame sears the nerve endings shut, killing them. You’ll go into shock, and all you’ll feel is cold. Isn’t science fun, Mickey?”

  • Special agent Frank Castle had it all: A loving family, a great life, and an adventurous job. But when his life is taken away from him b a ruthless criminal and his associates, Frank has become reborn. Now serving as judge, jury and executioner, he’s a new kind of vigilante out to wage a one-man war against those who have done him wrong.

So far, there’s been three movie adaptations of Marvel Comics’ vigilante antihero The Punisher. The one in 1989 that starred Dolf Lundren (and did not feature the trademark skull breast plate), the 2004 movie staring Thomas Jane and the 2008 Punisher: War Zone which acted as a soft reboot of the 2004 movie. Of the three, my favorite big-screen iteration is the 2004 Thomas Jane outing.*

This particular movie borrows a lot from the “Welcome Back, Frank” mini-series story that ran in the Marvel Knights line in 2000-2001, in that the characters of Joan, Mr. Bumpo and “Spacker” Dave are featured as Frank’s surrogate family, and also “The Russian”, which was played by pro-wrassler Kevin Nash in one of the more amusing fight scenes in the movie. Anyway, the story has Frank Castle as a former Delta Force veteran and undercover FBI agent that has worked his last case before retirement, one that resulted in the death of the son of mafia boss Howard Saint. This results in a hit taken out on Castle and his entire family at a family reunion, where Frank is only sort of dead, so he’s found and nursed back to health by a local fisherman. Moving into a dilapidated apartment building among three other outcasts, Frank begins his war to take down the Saint family bit by bit, using not only violence but also psychological warfare to spread dissension from the inside. Of course, this wouldn’t be a Punisher movie if things didn’t get blow’ed up and there was no body count, and rest assured there are both here, in spades.

Yeah, I’m well aware of the complaints about this version of The Punisher, that we don’t have a Punisher that’s a gun-wielding berserker that shoots first and asks questions never. Instead, we have *gasp* a Frank Castle that is cunning, highly intelligent and calculating, almost like he was using his brain as a lethal weapon as much as the ones he has in his arsenal. And speaking of his arsenal, it makes sense that, given his military training and background, he would use other tactile weapons rather just the pew-pew, budda-budda-budda variety.

Thomas Jane is perfect as the title character. He’s not the typical by-the-numbers muscle-bound meathead, which makes him perfect for this iteration. There’s a dark intensity to his performance, here. John Travolta is in his element, methinks, as a mob boss that’s also has an underlying tension, like he’s trying hard not to fly into utter camp, especially with some of his lines. Everything flows well, here, from the story, to the tragic feel with dark comedy bits sprinkled in, to the soundtrack…I just don’t understand the 29% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I admittedly still get a bit misty-eyed when I see the late, great John Pinette do his thing, here. But, really, I think it’s time to check out The Punisher 2004 if you have been holding back due to the negative hearsay about this. Recommended.

[* = Keep in mind I said “big screen”; my all-time favorite version of The Punisher is the Netflix Marvel one, which has been sadly canceled as of the time of this writing.]

Movie Review: TRANSFORMERS The Last Knight

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Transformers The Last Knight

Paramount Pictures
2017
PG-13

“One hundred billion trillion planets in the cosmos. You want to know, don’t you, why they keep coming here?”

  • The Last Knight shatters the core myths of the Transformers franchise, and redefines what it means to be a hero. Humans and Transformers are at war, Optimus Prime is gone. The key to saving our future lies buried in the secrets of the past. In the hidden history of Transformers on Earth. Saving our world falls upon the shoulders of an unlikely alliance: Cade Yeager, Bumblebee, an English Lord, and an Oxford professor. There comes a moment in everyone’s life when we are called upon to make a difference. In Transformers: The Last Knight, the hunted will become heroes, heroes will become villains. Only one world will survive: theirs, or ours.

Oh, Sir Anthony Hopkins. Why? Why did you feel the need to be in this movie? Certainly, it wasn’t to lend a bit of legitimacy to an otherwise floundering and bloated franchise? Because Kelsey Grammer has already done that in the previous movie. *sigh* I digress. Let’s get to this, shall we?

So, after the great and disappointing spectacle that was Age Of Extinction, Michael Bay said he was done with doing any more Transformers movies. Presumably because he was off to ruin other 80s properties like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And that seemed to be that. No more Transformer movies to threaten our sanity and make us sad. But then, after Paramount decided to go ahead and do another Transformers sequel, it wasn’t long before Bay went back on his promise and jumped on directing the fifth installment. This time around, it looked like the movie was taking a look at the transforming alien robots’ influence throughout Earth’s history. Or something. I was too busy shaking my head in sad disbelief when I first saw the theatrical trailer. Also, Anthony Hopkins was in this, for some reason.

The film begins in Ye Olden Days–484 AD, to be exact–where King Arthur and his knights are upping the irons against the Saxons*, and seem to be losing until Merlin convinces some local Transformers called the Knights of Iacon to help them win the war. So they give Merlin a cool mechanical staff, group-transform into a dragon, and help out, but not before giving Merlin the standard Ominous Maguffin Prophecy about the staff. Fast forward to the year Present Day, and Optimus Prime has arrived on Cybertron, where he meets his alleged creator named Quintessa, who blames Optimus for the destruction of Cybertron and then brainwashes him to be EVIL! So they’re gonna go back to Earth and get the McGuffin Staff to drain the Earth of it’s energy and make Cybertron great again! Meanwhile, back on Earth, Transformers are still persona non grata (except in Cuba, for some reason), and Marky Mark Cade Yeager is helping the refugee Transformers to evade the Gov’ment. They come across a scrappy young scavenger named Izabella (because Cade’s daughter isn’t in this one, and they needed a replacement) and her two Transformer companions in the war-torn Chicago, then a dying Autobot knight gives Cade a mecha-talisman McGuffin, and next thing you know he and his Funky Bunch are being pursued by the Gov’ment who has enlisted the help of Megatron and some Decepticons ready for toy manufacturing. In the meantime, giant horns have begun poking out of the earth at certain places, because it turns out that the Earth is actually (dum-dum-duuuuuuum) the ancient enemy of Cybertron, Unicron! Because…reasons. A little part of my childhood just died, there. Anyway, Cade and an Oxford professor are brought together to the castle of Sir Edmund Burton (played by Anthony Hopkins himself), who exposition dumps the entire history of the Transformers helping out the humans throughout the centuries, their existence hidden by a secret society called the Order of Witwiccans (*groooooaaaan*), of which he is the last living member (of course), and that the talisman will help lead to finding the McGuffin Staff, but only the descendant of Merlin himself can weild it, which is fortunate then that the Oxford professor just happens to be that descendant. So then, they go off to find the staff, Evil Optimus arrives with Cybertron in tow, the Knights of Iacon awaken again to join the fight, all looks lost, Cade turns out to be the descendant of King Arthur or something (because of course he would be), Evil Optimus is turned good again through the power of love and friendship, the good guys win but not without massive losses, and a mid-credit scene threatens another Transformers movie. The End.

If it seems like I yammered on for forever, it’s because Transformers: The Last Knight yammered on forever. And just like the other four movies in this franchise, someone wrote the script, and someone approved of the script. It’s all fine and good, except that the leaps of logic and plot contrivances were such that my brain almost shut down at least three times. And yet, these movies still make oodles of money. So there’s gonna be a sequel. And no, Bumblebee doesn’t count because it was more of a spin-off movie, and also IT WAS A GOOD MOVIE. The Last Knight is merely another hot mess. Pass.

[*=this has been a Metalhead Joke(TM)…for further clarification, please reference your nearest Metalhead at your earliest convenience ~ Uncle NecRo]

Movie Review: 31 (Thirty-One)

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31

Lionsgate
2016
R

“You know what they say, Kemosabe. In Hell, everybody loves popcorn.”

  • Five carnival workers are kidnapped and held hostage in an abandoned Hell-like compound where they are forced to participate in a violent game, the goal of which is to survive twelve hours against a gang of sadistic clowns.

When it comes to Rob Zombie movies, love ’em or hate ’em, you can’t deny that you won’t be bored with them. With a style planted firmly in the 1970s-era exploitation style horror, calling his movies “over-the-top” just doesn’t seem to do it justice. Also, his movies seem to be able to give you the benefit of an acid trip without actually having to drop acid.

Same as it was with his 2016 flick 31. While Zombie’s previous movie, Lords Of Salem, was more of a psychological horror, 31 leans more to his House Of 1000 Corpses-style of intense, bloody and ultra-violent slasher style of movie, chock full of the kind of mind-bending insanity-inducing visuals you would come to expect from Rob Zombie in the first place.

On the plus side, at least Zombie doesn’t fill his movies with a bunch of pretty people. And these characters aren’t pretty, both in their looks and their speech. But, you should know by now that the characters in his movies revels in the ugliness. There’s a certain twisted charm in that, really.

In 31, we have an RV full of carny workers traveling to their next gig, traversing the bi-ways of 1970s America, when they stop at a gas station and comes across the local weirdos. Later than night, they come across a roadblock and are kidnapped by goons dressed in Freddy Kruger sweaters, and wake up in a warehouse, where they’re told via loudspeaker by a group of people dressed like 17th Century French aristocrats that they’ve been volunteered to play a game called “Thirty-One”, and for the next 12 hours they will be in kind of a Most Dangerous Game type setup, only they’re pursued by several different murderous clowns, and if any of them happen to survive the 12 hours, they win! Only, they never really get around to saying¬†what it is they win, as nobody’s ever really one one of these games before. So, of course, you already know that one of ’em are going to survive. But, I digress. The clowns include a diminutive Latino dressed as a Nazi called Sick-Head, a couple of redneck wackos named Psycho-Head and Schizo-Head, a guy-girl team named Death-Head and Sex-Head (respectively), and when all of those fail, they call in the fan-favorite pinch-hitter Doom-Head, who was taking this year off and wasn’t in a good mood to have his Halloween festivities interrupted.

I wonder if it says anything about my own mental state by how I can watch a Rob Zombie movie like this and just shrug and say, “Okay, sure.” at the insanity that was unfolding in front of me while watching 31. For those of you who want your movies to ultimately make sense in the end…nope, 31 isn’t the movie for you. Sure, I was left with many more questions than answers while watching this: Why do they call the game “31”? Why is Malcolm McDowell dressed in a powdered wig and foppish 18th-century regalia? Does Rob Zombie really think that actual dialogue works like that? Doubtful that these and other questions will ever be answered, but I’m thinking that’s the point. I’m fine with insanity for insanity’s sake.

What this boils down to, though, is that 31 isn’t exactly what you would call a genre-defining movie. It falls squarely in the torture-porn exploitation style, with its sheer madness being the most amusing part of the flick. I wasn’t expecting a full mind-blowing freak horror that got under my skin and stayed there like Lords Of Salem; this, however, did feel ultimately like going through the motions. Good for a rental.

Movie Review: DAY OF THE ANIMALS

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day of the animals
Film Ventures International
1977
PG

“Mighty advertising executive speak with empty head!”

 

  • The depletion of the earth’s ozone layer causes animals above the altitude of 5000 feet to run amok, which is very unfortunate for a group of hikers who get dropped off up there by helicopter just before the quarantine is announced.

While the whole Nature Run Amok thing is one of my least favorite subgenres in horror, I have to admit that some of the most fun z-grade movie schlock tends to fall squarely in that kind of flick. Especially the ones made in the 1970s; there’s just a special kind of cheesy magic in movies like Frogs, Grizzly, and the Shatner-riffic Kingdom Of The Spiders. And now I have 1977’s Day Of The Animals to add to my list.

While being squarely a low-budget exploitation flick, Day Of The Animals has the distinction of featuring Leslie Nielsen in the midst of his “serious actor” phase, as an antagonistic jerk who eventually snaps and then fights a bear while shirtless. Among other things. Oh, what a glorious spectacle this is, with Nielsen practically unhinging his jaw to chew the scenery. Add to this the stock footage shots, the shoddy attempts to make the animals scary, the really very bad acting and dialogue, and the dodgiest scientific reasoning and explanations given for the why behind the animals revolting they way they are that would make Al Gore facepalm, and you’ve got a movie that…is still better made than Birdemic. Mind you, that’s like saying the Galveston Plague was better than the Bubonic plague.

Overall: Get yourself the Riff Trax edition of Day Of The Animals to take the edge off, and marvel at the underappreciated greatness that was the late, great Leslie Nielsen. Not for the faint of heart for all the wrong reasons.

Movie Review: SPIRIT STALKERS

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spirit stalkers
Big Biting Pig Productions
2012
NR

“Expectant attention is not a mistake the Spirit Stalkers make.”

  • The Spirit Stalkers reality show, once a big hit, faces cancellation without a rating boost, which leads the investigative team to Gloria Talman, whose house is rampant with unexplained ghostly activity.

During my extended period of health-related exile in the year of our Lord 2019, I did watch a bunch of free-for-streaming movies on Amazon, and yet somehow managed to hold on to some semblance of sanity.

One of these movies that wound up in my watching que was 2012’s Spirit Stalkers, a direct-to-video horror flick that, on the surface, looked like another one of those found footage / mocumentary style movies about a group of ghost hunters who happen to stumble upon a real haunting. Since these kind of movies are almost literally a dime a dozen, I steeled myself for what I hoped would at least be a so-bad-it’s-good kind of movies. So, imagine my surprise when Spirit Stalkers wound up doing something slightly different than what was expected.

The Spirit Stalkers in question is a reality television show about a team of ghost hunters lead by a guy who is more concerned with uncovering the truth behind the aledged “hauntings” than relying on the sensationalism tactics. Of course, this is not good for ratings, and the producers and other cast members try to introduce more ratings-grabbing tactics–ghost hunting gadgets, suggesting there are real ghosts, trying out new catch phrases and younger cast members–he’s finally told to either find a real haunting, or get canceled. Fortunately for him, there appears to be an actual, honest-to-goodness haunting going on in the house of a single mother, where she and her teenage daughter seem to be experiencing weird things. So the Spirit Stalkers are on the case! But, will this wind up to be another fake haunting easily explained by science, or is there something more sinister going on? The answer is yes.

I’ll start off by saying that I’ve seen far worse independent horror flicks than Spirit Stalkers. It has its flaws, and make no mistake, I will be addressing them. But at least this was made with some skill, rather than a camcorder and delusions of adequacy. Here, there’s some decent editing, along with some very well executed framing and cinematography, lending to some good atmosphere. And at least part of the storyline has an intriguing kernel of an idea that I wish they would have explored more.

For me, the parts of the movie that worked the best were the television show angle itself. What they should have done was make that the main focus, leaving the bits with the lady and her daughter at the house introduced later on. Instead, the flashing back and forth constantly between the two interrupted the flow of the narrative something bad. Making things even more convoluted is the tendency to feature memory flashbacks that don’t really contribute to the story and makes one more confused than anything.

Also working against the movie is the subpar acting, which isn’t as bad as I’ve come across elsewhere, but is still cringe-inducing at times. But, like I said, I do like what they did with the ending. It wasn’t jaw-dropping or game-changing, but I respect the direction they took.

Overall: If I actually used a numerical system for rating these things, I would go with a 2 out of 5. It’s surprisingly much more watchable than your usual stable of haunting movies, but nothing that results in a must-see. Good for a time waster.

Movie Review: INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956)

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invasion of the body snatchers
Allied Artists Pictures
1956
NR

“I don’t want to live in a world without love or grief or beauty, I’d rather die.”

  • A dark, evil panic is sweeping over the town of Santa Mira, California. “My father isn’t my father.” “My sister isn’t my sister.” People are questioning the identities of their closest friends and family, as one by one they begin acting cold, distant and vacant…almost as if they aren’t human at all. Because they’re not. When Dr. Miles Bennell investigates the mystery plaguing the town, he stumbles onto a secret so bizarre even he is unable to believe it. A strange farm of plant life from outer space is spawning giant pods–pods which produce alien life forms that are systematically assuming the identities of the townspeople and taking their lives while they sleep. Realizing he is probably the last survivor, Bennell tries desperately to get out of town and warn the world of the invasion–but it may already be too late.

Here we have the original 1956 classic Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, one of the titles that appears on many of those Essential Sci-Fi Movies You Must Watch Before You Die lists. It’s easy to see why, judging by the fact that there are four remakes of this movie already, along with the term “pod people” firmly ensconced in pop culture culture lexicon to denote someone acting out of the ordinary.

Up until now, I had only seen the 1993 remake, Body Snatchers. I’ve been meaning to rectify this, starting with watching the original film that started it all in 1956. Fortunately, Amazon had it available for streaming, so during that several month stretch where I was down with medical crap, I finally made good on that promise to check out the original.

By now even if you have never seen the movie, you know the premise: Alien spores fall to earth, which grow into giant plant pods that reproduce a duplicate replacement copy of whatever human it happens to be near while they’re asleep, threatening to take over the world. Much has been written about the film being a big ol’ metaphor about the threat of a Communist takeover during the height of the Cold War paranoia. Divorced of that underlying commentary, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers is still an effective slow-creeping science fiction chiller in and of itself. The atmosphere, the cinematography, the acting, everything still holds up even when viewed now.

Overall: It always helps to check out the original. I’m glad I finally got around to doing so m’self. So far, this has been my favorite version (I haven’t watched the 1978 version yet, as of this writing); if you haven’t seen any of the versions of the movie, at least check out this original Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. Highly recommended.

Movie Review: STARSHIP INVASIONS

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starship invasions
Warner Bros.
1977
PG

  • What would you do if a UFO landed in your neighborhood? Turn and set a world record in the 100-meter dash? Dial 911? Haul out the video camcorder? Hapless victims of the first wave of Starship Invasions have none of these options. After being forced aboard a spacecraft for bio-medical research, they are mysteriously¬†compelled to take their own lives. An advance team from a dying, far-off civilization seeks a new world to conquer and inhabit. Tests on human abductees show that the third orb of the solar system–the blue/green spheroid called Earth–looks more and more like home. The invaders want it. Can anybody stop them from taking it?

When one thinks about the work of the late, great Christopher Lee, usually such movies as the Lord Of The Ring trilogy pops to mind, or his work in the classic Hammer flicks of the 1960s. The man was a legend for a reason, both on and beyond the silver screen, and is one of my all-time Top Five favorite actors. Which is why when I came across a movie that, let’s just say, isn’t exactly up to Lee’s level of awesomeness, it’s kind of a mixed of sadness and unintentional hilarity. Such is the case with Starship Invasions.

Starship Invasions is one of those sci-fi flicks that has the quality of a hastily slapped-together 1950s B-movie…only this was made and released the same year as the original Star Wars. Yeah, this movie had a million-dollar budget, something I suspect went to the purchase of copious amounts of cocaine.

If you’re wondering where Sir Christopher Lee factors into this cheeseball: He happens to be the leader of a would-be invasion force bent on taking over Earth as their own home, due to their planet being all dead and stuff. So, they’re running tests on certain humans by abducting them and…showing them naked people. Yeah. Better than probing, I guess? You know what, don’t answer that. Anyway, after they get the human subjects back to where they took them, the humans in question always inevitably commit suicide. That seems to be a flaw in the design, so a UFO-ologist teams up with the Intergalactic UN that happens to have its headquarters on the bottom of the sea in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle. So they pick up his bestest buddy, and with his help, the good aliens battle to keep the bad aliens from taking over the Earth.

Here’s the clincher: Christopher Lee never speaks during the movie. As a matter of fact, none of the aliens–both the good ones and the bad ones–talk in the traditional sense. See, they all communicate via telepathy. So, we hear Lee communicating via his pre-recorded voice overs, leaving his face to do most of the emoting for him. And the result is unintentionally hilarious, to say the very least. Add to this some rather shoddy acting, the most slapped together hodge-podge of a robot you would ever see, all the aliens in onesie tights and odd headgear, and the effects taken from Ed Wood’s playbook, and yeah.

Starship Invasions is another unintentionally hilarious science fiction flick that has to be seen to be believed. And thus, on that alone, I recommend this for a good quality Bad Movie Night.

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