Friday, December 5, 2008

We are the Sprocket Holes vol. 45

"Sometimes the law is helpless to act, even when it identifies the guilty. It follows, therefore, that sometimes it is necessary to act ouside the law, to shame its inadequacy, to pursue a natural justice. I'm not talking about vengeance. Revenge is not a valid motive. It's a tawdry, emotional response no better than the act that provokes it. I'm talking about... punishment."

from Punisher: Year One, 1994

The Punisher: War Zone - 8/10

As a child who came of age during a time when pervasive, nihilistic themes had reached an all-time high all across the pop-culture board, no other comic book character resonated with me the way The Punisher did. Here was a man, clad in a two-color extremis that represented how he saw the world: black and white. There wasn't the inner struggle of Batman or the latent romanticism of Wolverine present in Frank Castle, just his mission. Just his war. He didn't have a colorful collection of rouges.. not to say that quirky super-villains were ill-present in the Punisher's stories... they just never hung around long enough to be considered a rouge's gallery. costume or no, if you are a bad person, an enemy of innocence, the Punisher aims to kill you. And that's what we loved about him. He went to those places we didn't want Batman to go, because it would compromise the integrity of who Batman is and what he stands for. The Punisher kills so other heroes and crime-fighters don't have to.

Lexi Alexander's Punisher: War Zone is the third, and certainly the most brutal (if not the best) cinematic take on the grizzly, gruesome world Frank Castle inhabits. Call it Story of Ricky meets Out For Justice; not a great movie in the traditional sense, but a rad-ass one none the less. Unlike the somewhat entertaining but ultimately flawed Dolph Lundgren and Thomas Jane attempts at the character, Alexander and indeed the whole crew seem to be the ones who are having fun with the Punisher. they get what makes the character work so well in the comics. which brings us to the star of the piece; Ray Stevenson.

THIS IS THE PUNISHER, PEOPLE. Ray Stevenson is not the sewer dwelling comatose lummox of the Lundgren film, nor is he the beady eyed mischief maker of Thomas Jane's take. Stevenson for the first time brings us a Frank Castle that feels like he came right off the pages of the best Punisher stories. He's severe, stoic, and intimidating, a solider through and through. Everything about Stevenson's Castle is commanding, from his voice to his glare. He's also the most physically violent of the 3 Punishers. He jumps from roofs onto the faces of meth heads, snapping their necks and leaving them to dangle lifelessly. he goes toe-to-toe with a cannibal acrobat in a filthy restroom. he punches a dude's face off. Let's face it, when Stevenson's Punisher is decapitating mobsters with one slash of his knife or punching their faces to the back of their heads, Thomas Jane's Castle (complete with toy fire hydrant) is revealed to be the pantywaist he truly is. Stevenson IS Frank Castle. There is not one moment when he's on screen that i thought otherwise.

Another thing that connects this movie more to the comics than previous attempts is the on-screen debut of Billy "the Beaut" Russo ("Russoti" in the film) aka Jigsaw aka Punisher's arch enemy. Jigsaw has always been one of the most underrated (and in the last few years, misused) comic book villains of all time. He's a twisted parody of the Punisher; someone who lost what was important to him (in the Beaut's case; his looks) and now vows revenge on the world. Jigsaw's loss, while important to him, is superficial and egregious when compared to Castle's defining moment, and yet he has the nerve to possess a similar (if more manic) outrage. He's one of the most darkly humorous characters comics has ever concocted, and it's a shame so few writers have understood the potential in the character.

This film mercifully understands, though; bringing Jigsaw back his roots as a crazed impulsive thug with sadistic delusions of grandeur that border on the pathetic as opposed to the Reverse-Punisher he has become in the last 10-12 years. Dominic West inhales the scenery (as this kind of character calls for such behavior) as the grotesque gangster, who is equal parts Pauly Walnuts, Two-Face, and William Forsythe from Out for Justice. Sure he's a stereotypical pulp Italian mobster, but that's the point. He's a vain, uneducated brute who thinks the world does, can, and will revolve around him. He's a Dick Tracy villain in a slasher movie context, and it's perfect.

Along for the ride is Jigsaw's brother, the aforementioned cannibal acrobat nicknamed "Looney Bin Jim", who may be an even more morose psychotic than his deformed brother. He eats an orderley's kidney right in front of him ("I'm gonna get my applesauce back" might be my favorite line in the whole movie), throws himself into mirrors to placate his brother's pride (looking in mirrors reminds Jigsaw of his "loss"), presses the barrel of a gun to the top of a child's head, and talks endlessly of blood and urine.

much like this years Rambo, every reason to hate this film is every reason to love it. It's a gory, un PC, misanthropic, ugly affair on par with the best 80s action films had to offer. No doubt that had this film been released 20-25 years ago, Cannon Films would have been the distributor. It is a beautifully shot, well acted piece of pulp that can be placed alongside recent action masterworks Shoot 'Em Up and the aformentioned Rambo, since i'm willing to bet it won't be welcomed alongside other more "sophisticated" comic book affairs like the Dark Knight or Iron Man. that's okay, though. It's going right where it belongs.

Come on god, answer me. for years I'm asking why, why are the innocent dead and the guilty alive? Where is justice? Where is punishment? Or have you already answered, have you already said to the world here is justice, here is punishment, here, in me.

- from Punisher: War Journal

12/08/08 POST SCRIPT;


Punisher: War Zone Gets Shot Down
December 7, 2008 has posted the box office estimates for the weekend which show that Lionsgate's Punisher: War Zone struggled its first three days in theaters:

Newcomer Punisher: War Zone, directed by Lexi Alexander and starring Ray Stevenson, bombed out of the gate with just $4 million from 2,508 theaters, a low average of $1,595 and good for only eighth place. It is less than a third of what the studio's first "Punisher" film opened to in 2004.

Okay first off, Do NOT let this clue you in with regards to the quality of this film. It is a fringe picture, no doubt... but because it is still a comic book film, and most comic films these days have huge openings, it is being judged by those standards. It is egregious and capricious and has nothing at ALL to do with the kind of movie Punisher: War Zone truly is; an ultraviolent love letter to genre cinema. Clearly it's not meant to be a blockbuster with cereal box tie-ins, just a splatter-pocked joyride for the carnage enthusiast in us all. This film will find it's audience on DVD, and probably become a begrudged cult classic like so many low-intake openers before it.

While you can't let this clue you into the quality of the film itself, it does however speak in spades with regards to Lion's Gate and their bafflingly self-destructive business formula as of late. Lion's Gate should have fucking OWNED 2008. This year should have been their year with regards to genre films. They had THREE...THREE of what-should-have-been the biggest genre films of the year; Midnight Meat Train, Repo!: the Genetic Opera and yes, Punisher: War Zone. They buried MMT in obscure dollar theaters, severely limited the run of Repo!, and decided that the fucking Christmas Season was a good time to release a blood-soaked vigilante film. This film should have been out end of summer/start of autumn (at the latest). This time of year is Ground Zero for Oscar Bait and Family Dramadies. your average film goer by this time is burned out on costumed crime-fighters and gore drenched mayhem. Only us all-year-round genre weirdos will give a movie like War Zone the time of day during "the most wonderful time of the year", but unfortunately that's not enough to make any significant money back. Lion's Gate shit the bed here, not Marvel or Lexi Alexander or anyone in the cast or crew or even the fans. The movie wasn't even playing at much of the theaters around here.

On top of that, people still have the foul taste of 2004's Punisher in their mouths, fresh as hangover morning breath. others; we'll call them "idiots", think Thomas Jane is the only Punisher there can ever be, and they believe that PWZ was sub-successful due to his lack of involvement. Riiight... cause no star burns brighter than Thomas fucking Jane's, correct? Those jerk-offs never knew the Punisher, and they don't know movies, so you can just take whatever they say with a grain of salt. anyone who is holding a torch for Thomas Jane can just sit the fuck on it.

Let's get real here; The 2004 film may have initially did decent, but slipped into obscurity after it's first week. Where were all the supporters then, huh? I can venture a guess; COMPLAINING ON PUBLIC INTERNET FORUMS ABOUT A MOVIE THEY DIDN'T EVEN SEE. The more things change... (btw i know i enact in such behavior on a regular basis, especially with regards to a certain upcoming Zach Snyder directed pile of ass-cheese caked toxic goat penises that shall remain nameless. but i try not to clog up public forums like Ain't it Cool News or Superhero Hype with my bile... i just keep them here and between friends... so spare me your cries of hypocrisy cause you're wrong.)

Time has made the film almost execrable (at least to me), what with its spaghetti opera numbers, Johnny Cash lite as a hitman (though i will admit the song was pretty cool), John Travolta stinking up the room with yet another botched attempt at playing a villain, and just general lack of regard or respect to the Punisher mythos. The setting was all wrong(fucking FLORIDA? Palm Trees and the Punisher do not go together... it's like mixed berry flavored beer), the backstory completely negated what made Frank Castle decide to don the Death's Head (it's a random act of violence that sparks his change, not a calculated revenge plot from a fucking nightclub owner's gold digging wife), and HE WASN'T EVEN THE PUNISHER UNTIL THE LAST 3 SECONDS OF THE MOVIE. The Punisher is not some master manipulator. He is a strategist, this is true, but he fucking kills the people himself. He does not play human games of chess, causing his enemies to turn on one another and kill one another... he gets his hands dirty. he mows people down in brutal and creative ways. Nothing cool like that happened until the last 5-10 minutes of the film, and even then it was capped off with Vinny Barbarino being tied to the bumper of a car. LAME.

The more i think about Punisher: War Zone, the more i realize what a miserable failure of a Punisher film 2004's really was, and most people i know either did not like or completely ignored 2004's, and believing that 2008's was a sequel to that film, they just steered clear of the whole thing. more could have been done to explain that this wasn't a sequel or a remake or anything, just a fresh start ala this year's the Incredible Hulk, but more wasn't done and thus there was probably some confusion, because these days everyone needs to have their hand held through everything, but i digress.

sanctimonious declarations of the end of good taste by stuff-shirted critics and hysteria-ridden e-fits from histrionic ankle biters aside, Time and the real fans will tell if Punisher: War Zone goes on to become an underground classic or be doomed to rot in the proverbial bargain bin of comic adaptations alongside genuine stinkers like Steel or Electra. Whatever its fate, i can't wait to add it to my DVD collection.

NOW i'm done.

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