Movie Review: The PUNISHER

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punisher 2004
Lionsgate Films

“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

“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]

Book Review: AMISH VAMPIRES IN SPACE (Peril In Plain Space #1)

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amish vampires in space

Kerry Nietz
Fireheads Publishing

  • Jebediah has a secret that will change his world forever and send his people into space. The Amish world of Alabaster calls upon an ancient promise to escape destruction. Then end up on a cargo ship bound for the stars. But they are not the only cargo on board. Some of it is alive…or used to be. Now, with vampires taking over and closing in on the Amish refugees, these simple believers must decide whether their faith depends upon their honored traditions or something even older.

A couple of years ago, while bored at work, I was amusing myself by doing Google searches on words that were absurd when paired together: words like “Wafflecone Conspiracy”, “Polka Metal”, “Government Intelligence”, things like that. Just to see what wackiness would pop up. One of those searches was for “Amish Vampires”. And lo and behold, the link for this actual novel, Amish Vampires in Space, popped up. Which tells me that there are clearly other people out there whose brains work just like mine. That should be enough to give anyone pause.

Anyway, as a title like Amish Vampires in Space falls squarely in the Shut Up And Take My Money files, I purchased the Kindle edition of this book, just to check it out, sight unseen. No idea what the book was about…but I had an inkling that, somehow, this would involve Amish vampires. In space. I mean, it’s right there in the title. Brilliant, that. Besides, even it it turned out to be someone’s poorly written subReddit fan-fic that somehow found its way to getting published for realsies, I can at least hold my head up high, and proclaim from the rooftops that I have, indeed, read a book titled Amish Vampires in Space.

I haven’t even gotten to the review of the thing, and I am savoring this for all it’s worth.

So, a little backstory: Apparently, this title came about because the owner of the book’s publishing company was contemplating how popular Amish romance novels were in the Christian fiction market. I don’t know what it’s like now, but there was a time when Christian book publishers’ collective credo involving romance fiction–or, possibly any kind of religious fiction in general–was, “If it ain’t Amish, don’t bother submitting.” Or something like that. Then he started thinking about how popular vampires were in young adult fiction in the general market, and came up with the idea of producing cover art for a fake book he had no intention of actually publishing, more as a satirical goof on the genres. And that was that…until author Kerry Nietz contacted the publisher with an actual idea for the story of Amish Vampires in Space. And so they did. Mind you, they stipulated that he had to have an actual story to give them, and they reserved the right to reject publication. The fact that this not only got published, but also has a sequel further intrigued me.

But, enough prattling about the making of. Let’s get to what you’re really here for: What do I, your Uncle NecRo, think of Amish Vampires in Space? And, can I manage to continue typing out that title without giggling like a five-year-old who heard his grandmother pass gas while bending over?

To answer the later question first: No. I cannot. But, you probably suspected that.

As to the former question: Amish Vampires in Space is a subversive novel of science fiction goodness that takes a rather absurd sounding premise, and manages to weave a story that makes it all not only plausible, but also manages to be an engaging and heart-felt and well thought-out novel chock full of drama, comedy, and action to keep even the most jaded of sci-fi geek engaged to the end of the book. The writing style takes a very cinematic style, keeping the story moving, despite the over-400 page length of the book. I found myself enjoying pretty much every page from when I picked it up, and finding it hard to put back down.

Overall: Whether you pick up a copy of Amish Vampires in Space because of the gonzo title alone (like I did) or more out of morbid curiosity, you will be pleasantly surprised by the quality of the story contained herein. This isn’t one of those subReddit fan-fics that got lucky, like 50 Shade of Toxic Relationships; this is actually well-written. Recommended.

Movie Review: Fast & Furious Presents HOBBS & SHAW

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hobbs and shaw
Universal Pictures

“I’m trying to save the world, which, for the record, will be my fourth time. ‘Cause I’m really good at it.”

  • Ever since hulking lawman Hobbs and lawless outcast Shaw first faced off in 2015’s Furious 7, the duo have swapped smack talk and body blows as they’ve tried to take each other down. But when cyber-genetically enhanced anarchist Brixton gains control of an insidious bio-threat that could alter humanity forever–these two sworn enemies will have to partner up to bring down the only guy who might be badder than themselves. Hobbs & Shaw blasts open a new door in the Fast universe as it hurtles action across the globe, from Los Angeles to London and from the toxic wasteland of Chernobyl to the lush beauty of Samoa.

Up until now, I haven’t seen any entry in the bafflingly extensive Fast & Furious series of movies. They never really grabbed my fancy, even after the series got more and more ridiculous as it progressed. I know plenty of fans of the franchise who have tried to get me to watch them (and failing miserably, I might add); for me, they always seemed to be Monster-fueled dude-bro flicks that had a sorry lack of zombies or vampires or Cthulhu for my taste.

So, it would make sense that the first entry in this series of movies happens to be the first spin-off featuring a couple of side characters, played by The Rock and Jason Statham. “Why start here?” you may be asking yourself. Fair question. The answer is, the trailer for Hobbs & Shaw was so utterly over-the-top and ridiculous that there was no way I wasn’t going to watch this. Just, not in the theater during the initial run. Yeah, I waited until the DVD release to check it out.

One thing I’ll give Hobbs & Shaw is, it’s a movie that seems to gleefully disregard little things like, you know, realism and the general laws of physics to just flat out entertain you with enough nonstop action and a barrage of testosterone-fueled banter that your brain has no choice but to throw its figurative hands up into the air and go, “I’m out,” leaving you enjoying things with a big stupid grin on your face and probably a bit of drool pooling on the side of that grin.

So, we open up in London, where a bunch of MI6 agents are being dropped at a site to take down a bunch of anarchists in the process of stealing a deadly bio-engineered virus called “Snowflake”, named as such because it will literally liquefy the insides of everyone it comes into contact with. Which could mean genocide on a global scale. That’s bad. They manage to take down all of the minions, but while one of the MI6 agents starts to try and disarm the virus, the cybernetically-enhanced leader of the baddies shows up on a physics-defying self-driving motorcycle–of which I mentioned to the friend I was watching this movie with that I half-expected an antenna to pop up on the rear of the bike and start wagging like a puppy–and makes quick work of the MI6 agents, but loses the agent that manages to sneak the virus inside herself and escape. Of course, said agent is framed as the one who doublecrossed the other agents and absconded with the virus. So now, an agent from the United States–Hobbs–and a former British Special Forces agent–Shaw–are finagled by their respective gov’ments to track down the supposed rogue agent and get the super-virus out of her before it kicks in and makes the Black Death look like an outbreak of the common cold. That’s the easy part. The hard part is getting the two to play nice long enough to actually do that. Adding to the drama is the fact that the actual agent in question is also Shaw’s estranged sister. Not to mention that the supervillain is hot on everyone’s tail as well, complicating things further. Then they all go to Samoa to have Hobbs’ equally estranged family help fight the bad guys in a manner that brings to mind the epic Ewoks Vs. Stormtrooper battle in Return Of The Jedi. Wackiness…it ensues…

This. Movie. Is. AMAZEBALLS. It has a cybernetically-enhanced Idris Elba spouting dialogue such as “Genocide, shmenocide,” and “Look at me, I’m Black Superman!”, which is just delightful. The big action scenes are pretty much non-stop, not giving you much time to breathe, let alone try to process everything that’s going on; also, there’s a couple of times where I’m pretty certain they lifted transforming sound-effects from the Michael Bay Transformers movies. Therefore, I demand the Fast & Furious / Transformers crossover. Get on that, guys. The interaction between Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Jason Statham are essentially epic Alpha Male phallic-waging insult contests that I’m speculating the writers consulted several Middle School-aged boys for the dialogue. I imagine the writers pounding away at their word processors, writing the airport scene and giggling uncontrollably. And of course, since this is technically a Fast & Furious movie, we get a scene where a bunch of supped-up tow trucks link together to take down a military-grade helicopter.

Essentially, Fast & Furious Presents Hobbs & Shaw is the action movie I didn’t know I needed in my life. Yes, I know I said the same thing about John Wick. But this here…I needed a cigarette afterwards, and I haven’t smoked in nearly ten years. Good, mindless fun, this is.

Movie Review: 22 JUMP STREET

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22 jump street
Columbia Pictures

“Say something cool when you throw it!”
“One, two three! Something cool!”

  • After making their way through high school (twice), big changes are in store for officers Schmidt and Senko when they go deep undercover at a local college. But when Jenko meets a kendred spirit on the football team, and Schmidt infiltrates the bohemian art major scene, they begin to question their partnership. Now they don’t have to just crack the case–they have to figure out if they can have a mature relationship.

Did there need to be a sequel to the 21 Jump Street movie? Rhetorical question. Obviously, it’s a bit late in the game to question the need of one; they made a sequel. And since I can’t watch one and not watch the follow-up, I went ahead and watched 22 Jump Street pretty much immediately after watching the first. And, yeah…this was definitely a sequel. To a movie. Let’s just get to it…

For the second go-round, the Jump Street headquarters was moved across the street from its original address. Which is how they managed to get that title. Anyway, our two protagonists from the first movie are assigned to go undercover to find out the source of a deadly new designer drug making its way across campus. Only, this time it’s at a college, instead of a high school. And really, aside from the change of scenery-and a bit more mature class to work with–this is essentially the same movie with some tweaks to at least make it more than your standard retread. To ramp up the wackiness, though, Ice Cube’s Captain Dickson character is given a much more prominent roll, as Jonah Hill’s Schmidt happens to be dating his daughter, resulting in one of the more hilarious scenes when Dickson finds out. It involves a taser, let’s just say. The dry wit of the person who turns out to be the villain was done well. And the end credits montage was worth sitting through, especially for the cameo shot of Richard Grieco as Dennis Booker.

Overall, though, as a sequel to a movie that was really not needed (but was made anyway), 22 Jump Street works again as an American Pie-style comedy if directed by Michael Bay. Worth a rental.

Movie Review: 21 JUMP STREET

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21 jump street
Columbia Pictures

“Those are jocks, those are nerds…I don’t know what those are…”

  • Former high school foes turned rookie cop partners can’t catch a break–until they’re assigned to pose as students and bust a drug ring inside their old alma mater. Living like teenagers again, they slip back into their adolescent selves and risk the case–and their friendship–with hysterically disastrous results!

As this second decade comes to a close, I look back on this and stand amused at how many meta-style tongue-in-cheek movie adaptations of nostalgic television shows from the 70s, 80s and 90s there were. Or just straight adaptations that could have benefited from a sense of humor (I’m looking at you, Miami Vice). It’s nothing new, really; it’s just that the Teens have been the time where a lot of the shows that I grew up with watching got the big screen treatment. My generation is nostalgia fodder now, it seems. I’m just waiting for that gritty 90210 movie re-imagining that’ll inevitably happen.

21 Jump Street was one of the shows I watched on occasion back in the day. I was really more of a fan of Booker–he was a way cooler character than Johnny Depp’s Officer Hanson character, I thought. But that’s besides the point. The actual point is, they made a 21 Jump Street movie.

Originally, I had no intention whatsoever with watching this big screen adaptation. For one, I wasn’t really that big of a fan of the show to begin with. I don’t think I could make it through an entire episode before getting bored and losing interest. Secondly, they made the movie into a comedy. And it looked like one of those bawdy stupid kind of comedies that pandered to the lowest common denominator (says the guy who watches Asylum movies on a regular basis). And I kept that vow…until the summer of 2019, when my health took a turn for the worse and I found myself bedridden for a few months. Yeah, boredom will make you do odd things.

Anyway, so I watched this 21 Jump Street. And… *sigh* Okay, I do have to say that I did find it somewhat entertaining. Mind you, the humor does lean towards the crude side of the comedy spectrum, which I was expecting. Didn’t make the eye-rolls any less…um, eye-rolly. But, underneath all that, there’s an underlying smart satire hiding amidst the sex and drug jokes.

Story-wise, 21 Jump Street isn’t really an adaptation/re-imagining of the television show; it’s more of a loose continuation of that show. Essentially, a couple of rookie bicycle cops are reassigned to the recently re-opened Jump Street program after a couple of decades of being mothballed (presumably immediately after the show was canceled), and assigned to find out the source of a deadly new designer drug circulating around campus. The two rookies in question were your standard jock/nerd odd couple dynamic who bonded during Police basic training. Of course, things have changed since they were in high school, and that’s where a lot of the comedy elements come into play. Wacky shenanigans ensue, with the two cops’ bumbling inexperience working to their advantage.

Of course, the best thing about this movie is Ice Cube as the Captain of Jump Street. There are cameo appearances by series originals Johnny Depp, Peter DeLuise and Holly Robinson Peete in their original rolls (Depp and DeLuise I caught immediately when they showed up; Holly Robinson Peete I missed originally, and noticed while doing a bit of Google research on the movie for the review), which was awesome in a nerdy way. And like I said, there were more than a few moments that elicited some snickers from me. Probably because of the pain meds I was on at the time, but still.

Overall–and this is probably due to my extremely low expectations going into this movie–21 Jump Street was more entertaining than I thought it was going to be. That isn’t saying much, as this is, at best, an American Pie style comedy if directed by Michael Bay. Worth a rental, at least.

Movies+Beer: JOHN WICK 3

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Join with Exalted Geeks Brian, Jacob, James Classic and some other guy as they discuss the newest John Wick movie…does it hold up to the other movies? Plus, Brian has some words about this season of Game Of Thrones, and a bit on the upcoming movies on the docket…

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