TV REVIEW: THE PUNISHER (2017)

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THE PUNISHER (2017)

Spin-off series from season 2 of Netflix’s Daredevil finds ex-soldier Frank Castle aka “The Punisher” (Jon Bernthal) thinking he’s finished his mission of revenge and hanging up his skull adorned bulletproof vest under the new identity of loner, construction worker Pete Castellini. Upon being contacted by a whistle blower thought dead named Micro (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), Castle finds that there is a deeper conspiracy responsible for the murder of his family, one that involves high ranking military personal, dirty CIA agents and unknowingly himself. Castle returns to the road for revenge, but only now he has a tenacious Homeland Security agent on his tail (Amber Rose Revah) who has her own score to settle.

The Punisher solo series’ first season leaves some mixed feelings. Bernthal is still a great Frank Castle/Punisher and there is certainly a lot of the bone-crushing, brutal action like the character was involved in on Daredevil. The problems here are some sub-plots that don’t seem necessary or to add much to the proceedings and the fact that it once again takes nearly the whole season for The Punisher to really re-emerge. It’s more of a conspiracy show, a la the X-Files, which would be fine if it stuck to the conspiracy and it’s attention didn’t wander to sub-plots like a growing relationship with Micro’s “widow” (Jaime Ray Newman) and kids (Kobi Frumer and Ripley Sobo) and an emotionally disturbed young vet turned terrorist named Lewis (Daniel Webber). These sub-plots seem more like plot devices, one to keep his relationship with Micro antagonistic and the other to wrongfully out him to the world as a terrorist. At times they feel a bit like filler to stretch the series out to it’s 13 episodes when maybe a more streamlined 10 would have served it better and kept to the main story. Sometimes the violence seems a bit too over the top and Frank seems to bounce back from severe wounds or beatings far too quickly to be believable. If the show wants to ground itself in reality, which it does, than it’s hard to swallow a man entering physical combat mere days after being beaten practically to death. Still the show is well done and the acting is strong across the board, especially from Bernthal, Moss-Bachrach and Revah. Paul Schulze makes a detestable bad guy as rogue CIA director William Rawlins, one of the season’s main villains. There are also some returning characters From DDse02, such as Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page and Clancy Brown as Major Schoonover. While there are generous amounts of action throughout, once The Punisher suits up again there are some really intense action set-pieces, which illustrate just how bad-ass this incarnation of the character is. The show does have a kind of Sons of Anarchy vibe, it handled the theme of a combat vet’s life back home very well and a more focused second season could really fire on all cylinders for the character.

Overall, the first season for Marvel’s gun-toting vigilante wasn’t exactly on target, but has enough going for it to look forward to more. Now that the revenge and conspiracy elements are taken care of, season two can get down to The Punisher doing what he does best. Not a great first season, but one that shows a lot of potential if season 2 can lock it down.

EPISODE LIST

  1. 3 AM – directed by Tom Shankland and written by Steve Lightfoot
  2. Two Dead Men – directed by Tom Shankland and written by Steve Lightfoot
  3. Kandahar – directed by Andy Goddard and written by Steve Lightfoot
  4. Resupply – directed by Karl Skogland and written by Dario Scardapane
  5. Gunner – directed by Dearbhla Walsh written by Michael Jones-Morales
  6. The Judas Goat – directed by Jeremy Webb and written by Christine Boylan
  7. Crosshairs – directed by Andy Goddard and written by Bruce Marshall Romans
  8. Cold Steel – directed by Antonio Campos and written by Felicia D. Henderson
  9. Front Toward Enemy – directed by Marc Jobst and written by Angela LaManna
  10. Virtue of the Vicious – directed by Jim O’hanlon and written by Ken Kristensen
  11. Danger Close – directed by Kevin Hooks and written by Felicia D. Henderson
  12. Home – directed by Jet Wilkinson and written by Dario Scardapane
  13. Memento Mori- directed by Stephen Surjik and written by Steve Lightfoot

-MonsterZero NJ

3 bullets.

 

 

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BARE BONES: NOTHING LEFT TO FEAR and CAMP DREAD

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NOTHING LEFT TO FEAR (2013)

Horror flick has a very familiar story though, is competently made. A pastor (James Tupper) uproots his family from the city to take over a parish in a small rural farm town…one that, of course, has a dark secret. Obviously, Pastor Dan and family have been lured there for something other than singing Kumbaya. Film is most notable for being co-produced by rocker Slash and is written by Jonathan W.C. Mills and directed by Anthony Leonardi III. As such, it is a moderately entertaining thriller with no big scares and the usually shaky head CGI phantoms. One glaring plot hole really hurts and that is if the townies need to shut the gates of Hell, then why do they open them in the first place which we clearly witness them do? Also stars genre vet Clancy Brown, Anne Heche, and cuties Rebekah Brandes (Midnight Movie) and Jennifer Stone. A time waster but, you could do worse.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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CAMP DREAD (2014)

Awful movie has a washed-up, 80s horror filmmaker (Eric Roberts) planing to make a comeback by staging a horror themed reality show at a summer camp. Obviously, when the troubled young twenty somethings, that are the contestants, are eliminated, they are eliminated for real…and quite gruesomely. As written and Directed by Harrison Smith, this is a tedious and dull affair that makes 90+ minutes feel like three hours. There is no suspense, scares or surprises and the gore is phony looking, as well. Also stars Sleepaway Camp alumni Felissa Rose, Scream queen Danielle Harris…who only appears in two scenes…and if it wasn’t for some welcome eye candy from the shapely Montana Marks, this would have been a complete waste of time.

1 and 1-2 star rating

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 -MonsterZero NJ
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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (2010)

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A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (2010)

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

2010’s remake of A Nightmare On Elm Street isn’t really a bad movie, it’s just a very unremarkable movie that doesn’t bring enough new to the franchise to justify it’s existence. To a degree it’s just another sequel with a new Freddy and new characters, including a new Nancy in name only.

The story follows that of the original film very closely with a group of teens having nightmares of a horribly scarred man with a gloved hand fitted with knives. He is murdering them in their dreams and they are all now afraid to sleep as their numbers dwindle. The man is Freddy Krueger (now played by Jackie Earle Hayley) and he is a child molester that their parents hunted down and burned alive…and he has returned to exact his revenge against the teens he preyed upon as children.

The film is actually directed fairly well by Samuel Bayer from a script by Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer and does have a few effective sequences. One of the main problems here is the fact that it just comes across as another series entry with very little new, other than a new actor as Freddy and a brief period of time where they try…but don’t succeed…in making us have doubts surrounding Freddy’s guilt. It’s obvious from the get-go how horrible he is and that this is not a nice guy done wrong. The dream sequences are well filmed, but again, offer nothing really new and it wouldn’t seem like a remake at all if it were for a couple of sequences lifted from the original, a heroine named Nancy (Rooney Mara) and rehashing Freddy’s origin…and adding little new to that. Why not just make this another series entry and keep Robert Englund as Freddy? There lies another big problem, despite a strong turn in Watchmen as Rorschach, Haley does not impress or scare as Freddy. He comes across as someone’s sleazy, perv of an uncle and he is never as threatening as Englund in the early installments and certainly not as charismatic as Englund was in the later installments, when Freddy became more of a wise-cracking gremlin. Haley is just a generic boogie man and that legendary persona is all but gone. He’s bland and the film is neutered without a strong villain. The make-up and visual FX are top notch, as is most of the production, but it’s kinda hollow without a stronger story and more fearsome villain.

Aside from Hayley not living up to the challenge as Freddy, there at least is a strong lead from Rooney Mara as Nancy. She makes a strong heroine with her own inner turmoil and pain and it’s too bad she’s not in a better film to play her character in. Her character is so different from Langenkamp’s Nancy, that she could had been re-named and it would have had no effect on the story. Kyle Gallner is good as Nancy’s friend Quentin who helps her uncover the truth behind who this dream specter is who is hunting them and killing their friends. As those friends, we have Katie Cassidy as Kris, Kellan Lutz as Dean and Thomas Dekker as Jesse and they all do a suitable job as Freddy fodder. We also have good performances by Connie Britton as Nancy’s mom and Clancy Brown as Quentin’s dad. A decent cast, but wasted in a ho-hum reboot attempt.

I’ll admit this mediocre attempt to restart the series is still better than the worst of the original series (2 & 6 in my opinion), but far from the best of the bunch and can’t hold a candle to the original. The film is well enough directed by Samuel Bayer, who has a nice visual eye, but doesn’t deviate nearly far enough from what has come before it to justify it being made. It plays it safe and gives us little new except recast Freddy unsuccessfully. I didn’t hate this flick, but it is unremarkable and quite forgettable and certainly nothing worthy of building a new franchise over. It lacks the kind of intensity that made the familiar yet, entertaining Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake one of the better of this remake trend. Not the worst, but far from the best and makes you appreciate the great Robert Englund even more.

2 and 1/2 Freddys…and the real one, might I add.

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REVIEW: HOMEFRONT (2013)

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HOMEFRONT (2013)

Much like Out Of The Furnace, Homefront is another example of a film with a routine and cliche’ B-movie action plot elevated into something more by a good cast and a solid director behind the camera. Here we have a plot that in the 80s would have perfectly suited Van Damme, Norris or Seagal with undercover DEA agent Phil Broker (Jason Statham), who has had enough of the violence and bloodshed associated with his job, moving to a small rural town in Louisiana to start a new life. But, an altercation between widower Phil’s daughter Maddy (Izabela Vidovic) and a bully at school raises the ire of the boy’s redneck parents Cassie and Jimmy (Kate Bosworth and Marcus Hester) and when it escalates, Cassie calls upon her meth dealer brother Gator (James Franco) to get them payback. But, in a cruel twist of fate, Gator knows the man Phil last put behind bars, a biker gang leader named Danny Turrie (Chuck Zito) and sees this as an opportunity to earn a favor from the powerful gang leader. Now a schoolyard incident turns into a bloody fight for survival as Turrie sends a squad of killers, led by the lethal Cyrus (Frank Grillo), into this quiet town to get revenge on the man who put him in jail and caused the death of his son.

Sure we have seen this all before but, with a surprisingly tight script by none other then Sylvester Stallone, based on Chuck Logan’s book, and a real solid directing job by Gary Fleder, this film goes from direct to home media action flick to a very taunt and entertaining thriller. Felder creates some nice tension and suspense from a routine action movie plot and when that action comes, it’s fast, furious and bloody. The film has an intensity that runs through every scene and the action is well choreographed and we get just enough of it to punctuate the story without going overboard or getting over stylized. Most of the scenes are hard-hitting fight scenes and shootouts, saving the car chases and explosions to up the ante in the last act. Felder has a nice but, unobtrusive visual style which takes good advantage of the small town Louisiana locations, especially the scenes shot at night in the swamps and around Broker’s old house. There’s none of that post production editing FX or filters, just some crisp cinematography by Theo van de Sande that makes every shot have some nice, rich but, natural color. His night shots in the swamps are bathed in cool blues and I liked this no nonsense approach to the look of the film.

Felder also has a good cast to work with. Statham is an underrated leading man and does far too many generic action flicks but, he is as good an actor as he is effective in the action and here he proves it again with his portrayal of a loving father who will go to any length to protect his daughter. And he has never looked better in the film’s vicious fight scenes. Franco once again proves himself a chameleon in his portrayal of a sleazy redneck drug dealer who, is sly and clever but, ultimately, not clever enough to know when enough is enough and he is in over his head. He wants to be a big league gangster but, would be better off sticking to his small time meth business and staying out of his sister’s petty squabbles. Winona Ryder is a surprising choice to play Sheryl, Gator’s ex and a woman with connections in the seedy underworld and is the one who helps bring in the reinforcements from Turrie when Gator’s thugs get their asses handed to them by the ex-DEA agent, Broker. Frank Grillo makes an imposing villain as hired killer Cyrus and one of my few complaints about the film is he is not utilized enough and his showdown with Broker should have been a bit more epic. Rounding out, Bosworth and Hester are adequate as a stereotypical redneck couple who start a huge bloody mess just because their bully son is basically bested by a girl. Fan favorite Clancy Brown is also solid as the local sheriff, who will only look the other way so much. And Rachelle Lefevre is pretty and likable as Maddy’s teacher Susan, a potential love interest for Phil but, a story sub-plot that gets dropped and goes nowhere when the plot gets rolling.

To wrap things up, this is, on the inside, a routine B-movie action flick given some surprising depth by a good script from Sly… who avoids, for the most part, a lot of the cheesy dialog that usually inhabits his Expendables scripts… a very solid directing job by Gary Fleder and good performances all around by it’s cast. We have seen it all before, it’s not original in any way but, it’s a cliche’ action flick elevated to more quality entertainment due to the respect given the material by the creative team behind it. And it just proves that talent can overcome mediocrity. No classic, but a really solid action flick that puts some class back into the overdone ‘trying to escape violence but, having it follow you’ action flick. One of Statham’s better flicks in quite some time, too. Won’t win any awards but, should certainly provide satisfying entertainment on movie night.

3 very solid bullets. Would have given it more had it’s story not been so familiar.

ex2 rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: JOHN DIES AT THE END (2013)

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JOHN DIES AT THE END (2013)

John Dies At The End is an adaptation of David Wong’s book of the same name written and directed by Don Coscarelli (Phantasm, Bubba Ho-Tep). While not familiar with the book, the bizarre and surreal story does seem like a perfect fit for Coscarelli as his films have alway had a touch of both the surreal and a bit of offbeat whimsy. The film starts out with David Wong (Chase Williamson) telling his bizarre tale to a reporter, Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti). Wong starts to spin a tale involving himself and his friend, John (Rob Mayes) and their encounters with a powerful drug with a mind of it’s own called “soy sauce”. This bizarre narcotic not only gives the user (if they survive it) heightened psychic awareness but, opens doorways to alternate dimensions. But, once doors are opened they are opened both ways and can John and David stop the beings from the other side from entering our world and making it their own. John Dies is a very strange yet amusing head trip of a movie that won’t appeal to everyone but, under Coscarelli’s guidance, will entertain those who like a movie that isn’t afraid to be weird and unconventional. Coscarelli moves things along briskly and we find out what’s going on along with David and John as the story unfolds in flashback. The story focuses mostly on David as he’s is trying to find out how his friend John’s sudden bizarre behavior one night ties in with meeting a very strange Jamaican (Tai Bennett). As he tries to figure out the surreal occurrences now happening around him, he is drawn into a tale that is the stuff of hallucinogenic nightmares and it becomes a quest for he and John to save the world. Coscarelli wisely uses live effects for most of his surreal sequences and otherworldly creatures and what little digital effects there are, are used sparingly and are decent enough. The live action animatronic creatures and gore are very well done by Make-up FX master Robert Kurtzman and his team and I always prefer to see live prosthetics over CGI. Coscarelli is one of those filmmakers that is very adept at making good use of a small budget and probably would be lost on a Hollywood blockbuster and it is one of the things I like about him as a filmmaker. And here he achieves a lot of visual impact on his small budget. The director has also cast the film well,too. No great performances but, everyone is efficient and effective in their roles and approach the material with appropriate seriousness but, not without a few winks at the audience. Williamson and Mayes are fine and handle the bizarre material well. Clancy Brown in particular seems to be having fun as a TV mystic but, keeps his performance grounded enough to not spill into camp and Giamatti is simply one of the hardest working and best actors out there. And there is a delightful cameo from Phantasm’s Tall Man, Angus Scrimm as well, to please fans of that series. All in all, this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but, if you like stuff offbeat and a bit out there, and I do, then this is a fun low budget fantasy that is refreshingly and unapologetically weird in a good way.

3 and 1/2 eyes of Korrok.

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WARNING: trailer is graphic…

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