Film Review: The Punisher (2004)

Release Date: April 12th, 2004 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Jonathan Hensleigh
Written by: Jonathan Hensleigh, Michael France
Based on: The Punisher by Gerry Conway, Ross Andru, John Romita Sr.
Music by: Carlo Siliotto
Cast: Thomas Jane, John Travolta, Will Patton, Roy Scheider, Laura Harring, Ben Foster, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, John Pinette, Samantha Mathis, Eddie Jemison, Kevin Nash

Valhalla Motion Pictures, Marvel Enterprises, Lions Gate Films, 124 Minutes, 140 Minutes (Extended Cut)

Review:

“Vaya con Dios, Castle. Go with God.” – Candelaria, “God’s gonna sit this one out.” – Frank Castle

Holy shit! This film aged remarkably well!

It’s been well over a decade since I had last seen it but watching it now, reminded me as to why it is the best live-action version of The Punisher that we have ever gotten.

More than anything, the film’s greatness is due to just how good Thomas Jane was as Frank Castle. The dude was damn dedicated to the role and made this a better film than it really had any right to be. Especially, in an era where most comic book movies were still kind of shitty.

I might not have realized it in 2004 but this exceeds the well-received X-Men films of the time and it is also much better than the Daredevil movie that came out a year before it.

Back in the day, I thought that setting it in Tampa was a weird decision but now having a better understanding of budgets in regards to shooting locations, I get it. Re-experiencing it now, though, I really dig the location, as it gives it a completely different vibe from the other live-action Punisher things that came later, as well as other comic book films that generally take place in New York City or some other massive metropolis. Also, being that I have lived on the Gulf Coast of Florida my entire life, it somehow feels like my Marvel Comics movie.

This film, regardless of it being based on a comic book or not, is just a balls to the wall, badass action flick in the same vein as the Dirty Harry and Death Wish films. While it’s a wee bit toned down from those gritty ’70s crime flicks, it still doesn’t pull its punches and I was actually kind of shocked by some of the stuff they did in the film that I guess I had forgotten.

It gets really dark and it actually has some pretty gory and gruesome moments. But at the same time, it has more heart and charm that those ’70s classics I just mentioned in how there are good people that come into Castle’s life and try to give him back some of his humanity after the mass execution of his entire family.

It wasn’t just Jane that was great in this, it was the entire cast, top-to-bottom, including some of the people that had fairly small roles like a few of the gangsters and especially Mark Collie, who played Harry Heck, in one of the best sequences that has ever existed in a comic book movie.

Man, I forgot how great the Harry Heck character was and I kind of wish he would’ve been a much bigger part of the story. Maybe he could come back in a sequel but then again, I doubt one will ever get made, as The Punisher has already been rebooted multiple times. Also, Heck’s death seemed pretty much confirmed by how he got taken out.

Getting to the story, I really like how Castle played John Travolta’s Howard Saint and tricked him into murdering his best friend and his beloved wife by cleverly convincing him, over time and by planting seeds, that they were having an affair. This was brilliant and it couldn’t have happened to a worse trio of people, as all of them were directly responsible for the execution of Castle’s family.

This version of The Punisher was as close to perfect as a studio could get. I know that the film wasn’t a massive hit, initially, but it did build up a solid fanbase over the years. The fact that a sequel never actually materialized was rather baffling.

Although, a fan film, also starring Jane as Frank Castle, was released in 2012. After revisiting this, I now have to fire that one up too and review it.

2004’s The Punisher is spectacular from beginning to end. It’s aged so much better than the other comic book movies from the early ’00s and it deserves to be displayed on a pedestal for all to admire.

Dear Disney and Tom Jane,

Please give us this Frank Castle again.

That is all.

Sincerely,

-Talking Pulp

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: it’s unofficial short film sequel, The Punisher: Dirty Laundry, as well as the other Punisher films and television series.

That superb Harry Heck sequence:

Film Review: X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

Also known as: X-Men 3, X-Men 3: The Last Stand (working titles), X3, X III: The Last Stand (alternative titles)
Release Date: May 22nd, 2006 (Cannes)
Directed by: Brett Ratner
Written by: Simon Kinberg, Zak Penn
Based on: X-Men by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: John Powell
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, Kelsey Grammer, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn, Shawn Ashmore, Aaron Stanford, Vinnie Jones, Patrick Stewart, Ben Foster, Ellen Page, Dania Ramirez, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Bill Duke, Daniel Cudmore, Eric Dane, R. Lee Ermey

The Donners’ Company, Marvel Enterprises, Twentieth Century Fox, 104 Minutes

Review:

“Charles Xavier did more for mutants than you will ever know. My single greatest regret is that he had to die for our dream to live.” – Magneto

From memory, this was the worst X-Men film of the lot. Well, after about a dozen movies with spinoffs and whatnot, this one still takes the cake in that regard.

This really killed the film franchise, at least for its time. It wouldn’t bounce back until First Class rolled around and gave the series a bit of a soft reboot.

Here, we see the original trilogy of films come to an end and unfortunately, that end is a very unsatisfactory one. Granted, none of these films have aged particularly well and they actually feel quite dated now.

That’s not to say that some of the performances aren’t great or iconic, a few of them are. Specifically, Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. This is probably also why they tried to find ways to include these guys in the X-Men films that followed during the reboot era.

The plot for this is pretty fucking atrocious and the film spends more time killing off beloved characters than trying to tell a good story. It’s like it went for shock and cheap emotional grabs but it failed in generating any real emotion because it all felt soulless and cheap.

I think the biggest issue with the film was that Bryan Singer left to make that big bust, Superman Returns. While Brett Ratner probably wasn’t a bad choice, the final product makes me feel like he was sort of just inserted into a movie that was already well into production and found himself in over his head.

The film is also pretty short when compared to the two chapter before it. It makes me wonder if a lot was left out of the final movie. It certainly feels like it’s lacking story, context and depth.

In the end, this is okay if you want to spend a little more time with these characters and if you turn your brain off, it has some neat moments, but overall, it’s a sloppy misfire.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: the other films in the original X-Men trilogy.

Film Review: Hostiles (2017)

Release Date: September 2nd, 2017 (Telluride Film Festival)
Directed by: Scott Cooper
Written by: Scott Cooper, Donald E. Stewart
Music by: Max Richter
Cast: Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Adam Beach, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane, Ben Foster, Timothée Chalamet, Jonathan Majors, Q’orianka Kilcher, Paul Anderson, Stephen Lang, Scott Wilson

Waypoint Entertainment, Le Grisbi Productions, Bloom Media, Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures, 133 Minutes

Review:

“I’ve killed everything that’s walked or crawled. If you do it enough, you get used to it.” – Captain Joseph J. Blocker

Hostiles came into the theater with a lot of praise from top critics. Entertainment Weekly referred to it as “…the best western since Unforgiven.” That’s a pretty bold statement but when looking at traditional westerns from 1992 up until now, it’s a statement that’s not too far off. It’s a superb picture, through and through.

I haven’t been a huge fan of director Scott Cooper’s work. I didn’t care too much for Black Mass and I thought Out of the Furnace was pretty mediocre; I’ve yet to see Crazy Heart, even though I’ve been meaning to. I think Cooper certainly has a good eye and he’s great at building suspense but I thought Black Mass suffered from a narrative standpoint, as it seemed to rely on people already knowing its story, while Out of the Furnace was initially engaging put tapered off pretty quickly. With Hostiles, I was pulled in from the opening scene, fully engaged throughout and thought the narrative was really strong, well paced and subliminally sweet underneath all the violence and racial tensions. I feel like Hostiles was a body of work that benefited from the director learning from his past hiccups and thus, really coming into his own in a new way.

The film was so amazing and visually enchanting that it’s the first film I’ve been to in years, where the theater was full and everyone actually stayed off of their phones and shut the hell up for the duration of the picture, which must have been hard for them, as this was over two and a half hours with all those friggin’ trailers.

The story sees a war hero have to transport an old Indian chief from New Mexico to Montana, where he is to be buried on his sacred land. The hero, played by Christian Bale, wants nothing to do with the mission and even tries to bait the Indian once they get far enough away from his fort in New Mexico.

As the story progresses, we meet a woman whose entire family was slaughtered by Indians. The journey is long and arduous and the party encounters many enemies, some Indians and some white men. By the end, we see personal biases fade and a family dynamic develop between this small group of people who started the journey with hatred for one another.

The film had a perfect cast. I’ve been a fan of Wes Studi and Adam Beach for a long time. I’ve actually loved Beach as far back as 1998’s Smoke Signals, a fantastic Native American coming of age picture that everyone should experience at some point.

Additionally, Bale was stellar, as was Rosamund Pike. I liked seeing Jesse Plemons play a nice character and it was cool seeing Timothée Chalamet in this, as he’s a young actor who is quickly becoming one of the best talents working today. Rory Cochrane was a pleasant surprise in this, as I’ve followed him since his teen pictures Dazed and Confused and Empire Records in the ’90s. There are also small but pivotal roles played by Ben Foster, Stephen Lang and Scott Wilson, who was pretty much the antithesis of his most famous character, Hershel from The Walking Dead.

The cinematography was handled by Masanobu Takayanagi, who also did The Grey, which I loved but most people didn’t. He has a real talent for capturing incredibly majestic landscapes. Here, he had some vast and beautiful country at his disposal and made the most of it.

Max Richter provided the score and did a fine job with the film’s music. He most recently worked on Miss Sloane and Arrival before this.

I would say that Hostiles is as good as the critical hype. I love westerns and it’s rare that I get to see a really great one come down the pipeline.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Scott Cooper’s other films.

Film Review: Hell or High Water (2016)

Release Date: May 16th, 2016 (Cannes)
Directed by: David Mackenzie
Written by: Taylor Sheridan
Music by: Nick Cave, Warren Ellis
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Gil Birmingham, Marin Ireland, Katy Mixon, Dale Dickey

Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, OddLot Entertainment, Film 44, LBI Entertainment, Lionsgate, CBS Films, 102 Minutes

Review:

“I know their faces was covered, but could you tell their race? Black, white?” – Marcus Hamilton, “Their skin or their souls?” – Elsie

Hell or High Water was a Picture of the Year nominee. It doesn’t seem to be all that well known, however. It was incredibly overshadowed by the other nominees that year: La La LandMoonlightManchester by the SeaFencesArrivalHacksaw RidgeHidden Figures and Lion. In fact, out of all the fanfare for the others, I forgot this was in the discussion.

It also saw nominations go to Jeff Bridges for Best Supporting Actor, as well as nominations for Best Original Screenplay and Best Film Editing. It also had three Golden Globe nominations. Still, when I’ve brought it up to people, it’s virtually unknown.

That being said, I’m not sure why it got overshadowed. It’s a damn fine film. It is a neo-western with a subtle neo-noir touch to it. It’s got some stylistic similarities to No Country for Old Men, granted it isn’t that good. Still, it’s a solid contemporary western tale with a great cast.

While Jeff Bridges rarely, if ever, fails to be great in a role, it was refreshing to see Chris Pine actually get to do something at this level. He doesn’t work as much as I’d like and I do enjoy him as the modern incarnation of Captain James T. Kirk in the rebooted Star Trek film series but it’s rare that I get to see him do something exceptional and at the level where I feel his talent lies. He also got to play opposite of Ben Foster in nearly every scene he had. Foster is another guy that just nails every role he is in and man, does he nail his role here.

To summarize the story, Pine and Foster play two brothers robbing banks in western Texas. The reason behind their motivation isn’t clear in the beginning but the way they hit the bangs is unusual and draws the attention of Jeff Bridges, an old Texas Ranger that makes it his personal mission to catch these culprits.

The story almost has the makings of something you’d read in a Cormac McCarthy novel but without an overabundance of violence. This film does have violent moments but nothing on the scale of No Country for Old Men or Blood Meridian.

The picture is accented and strengthened with incredible cinematography by Giles Nuttgens, who has a few dozen films under his belt already. The landscapes are just vast and beautiful, especially with the wide shots capturing the vehicles moving about in the countryside.

The score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis has a good emotional impact and just added to the film’s visual allure.

The high octane moments in this picture are exciting and energetic. There is a moment where Foster’s character finally goes over the edge, unloads a machine gun at good Samaritans tracking their escape from a robbery and gets himself caught up in a standoff with the law in an effort to allow his brother to escape. It’s an emotional and action packed high point in the film that was well worth the wait, as you knew the character would eventually become fully unhinged.

I really enjoy that this film is not predictable. It has some twists and surprises that just sort of happen. It doesn’t follow a traditional narrative for this type of story and ultimately, that makes the plot feel much more authentic and realistic.

I wouldn’t quite call this the film of the year for 2016 but it is pretty high up on my list for motion pictures that year. A good solid cast, great direction, wide open landscapes and a good amount of action all come together to make this maybe the manliest and ballsiest film of that year.

Rating: 8.5/10