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Punisher: War Zone (2008)
Not a perfect film, but it gets the Punisher right for once.
Let me begin by saying that there are certainly some things that could have been done better here. Some of the performances from the supporting cast are a little over-the-top (Colin Salmon as Carl Budiansky, I'm looking in your direction). The violence is certainly over the top, and may seem laughable at times, however this was done to keep in line with the comics. I have been reading the Punisher faithfully for nearly twenty years, and I can say that I remember seeing some of these kills from the comics. To call the violence cartoony however, is incorrect. It is stylized just a few notches under that of Sin City. Just realistic enough to keep its dignity, without losing that Frank Castle intensity.
Another constant criticism that I have read is that the film can't decide whether it is a comedy or a tragic hero story. These are comments from people (I would have to imagine) who never read Ennis' work, and are unfamiliar with his shocking brand of gallows humor. Oh, it's here folks. Lexi Alexander tuned right into it. I felt like I was watching an amalgam of the humor of "Welcome Back Frank" and the dark as a graveyard pathos of Ennis work on the MAX series, particularly the "In The Beginning" arc.
Now on to the good stuff.
For Punisher fans who have been waiting to see the real Frank Castle realized on film, look no further. Ray Stevenson is Frank Castle, mind, body and soul, and he is by far this film's strongest asset. This is sort of ridiculous, but I nearly teared up with giddy excitement as I realized just how much Ray Stevenson GETS the Punisher. He is stony as hell, his delivery dry (as a man who feels somewhat emotionally dead on the inside should be), and his sheer presence just fills the screen with the dark presence of the Firebase Valley Forge-born Angel Of Death.
Dominic West as Billy "The Beaut" Russotti, aka Jigsaw, and Doug Hutchinson as his brother Looney Bin Jim--I'm sorry-- James Russotti have a great sicko chemistry about them. Their performances are over-the-top, yes, but that's kind of the idea here. These guys are full-on psychos. They are deranged, and let's not forget, they're comic book villains. Don't hold them up to the same light as Heath Ledger's Joker (which I have read so many people do). That's just not fair.
This is the Punisher film for Punisher fans. From his origin as a seminary student, to the death of his family after witnessing a mob execution, to the cast of supporting characters and locations ripped straight from the books (Det. Martin Soap, lone member of the NYPD's Punisher Task Force, Lucky's Bar, the place where Soap drinks, Paul Budianksy, Maginty from the Kitchen Irish story arc, Cristu and Tiberiu Bulat from the Slavers arc) the attention to detail that director Lexi Alexander lavished upon this film shows a genuine respect for the source material, as well as for its fans.
The bottom line: This is my Punisher film, Ray Stevenson is my Punisher, and I think the die-hards will feel the same way.
Art School Confidential (2006)
This film impressed the hell out of me
I came into this film expecting a mean, rude comedy in the vein of Zwigoff's previous effort Bad Santa (a film which has more brains than it gets credit for). For the first 3/4 or so of the film, that's what I got, and I enjoyed every second. Towards the last bit, the film takes a turn darker than you would expect. This sudden twist, unexpected as it was, did not feel trite or convoluted. More fascinating.
Make no mistake this a dark comedy in the truest definition. There is something about the ending that is supremely haunting.
Ethan Suplee provides the hyper-actively aggressive role he has become beloved for. Malkovich does not disappoint as the burnt-out and oh-so-full-of-crap art professor. Jim Broadbent channels Chuck Bukowski here as he barks like a pit-bull and alternately purrs like a tabby as the disheveled failed artist/ nihilistic mentor of our boy Jerome, who just may be the only unpretentious and truly talented student at Strathmore University. Throw in Anjelica Huston and Steve Buscemi in delightfully understated roles, a string of murders courtesy of the mythical Strathmore Strangler, and the positively stunning Sophia Myles as the nude drawing class model Audrey who becomes both the object of Jerome's affection and the source of his disillusion, and you have got a dysfunctional masterpiece.