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Monday, November 20, 2017

The Punisher: Season One Review

Season two of Netflix’s Daredevil brought everyone’s favorite gun toting vigilante to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and this particular depiction of The Punisher was so well executed that he completely overshadowed the Elektra storyline. Once Frank Castle was presumed dead and left the plot I became a lot less interested. Thus when it was announced that Netflix was going to give The Punisher his own web television series I was thrilled at the news and eagerly awaited its arrival. Sadly my expectations may have been a tad too high.

The season opens with Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) hunting down and killing the last members of the criminals groups believed to be responsible for the death of his family, oh if only things could be so easy for dear ole Frank, turns out that the Castle family were actually victims of a conspiracy consisting of C.I.A. and Homeland Security members who used Federal resources to orchestrate the Castle family's death because they wrongly believed that Frank had leaked information damaging to their torture assassination squad. Remember when The Punisher was this badass vigilante who killed criminals because the justice system failed to keep them locked up? Well that guy is gone and is now replaced by Black-Ops murderer who only comes after the main villains because they thought he’d ratted them out and then made the mistake of killing his family.


I miss the days of straight forward obsessed vigilantes.

Did we really need to have more people directly responsible for the death of Frank Castle's family? What's wrong with The Punisher going after random bad guys? There is certainly enough gangland activities across America to keep Castle busy for several season.  All this does is allow the writers toss in some more character angst as Castle blames himself for their deaths, and being he was one of those doing the murdering and torture the karmic blowback can’t be all that unexpected. Now the first episode did involve Frank saving some dude from being murdered by his fellow crooks when the robbery of a high stakes poker game went wrong, resulting in Castle brutally murdering at least a dozen people, but this kind of thing is abandoned for the season’s main arc of Castle finding the people responsible for ruining his life.


Look in the mirror Frank.

Joining him from the comic books is Micro (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) who here is an ex-NSA analyst on the run from the same guys that Castle is after. Turns out he was the one who leaked damaging Intel about the death squad to Agent Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah) who is now working for Homeland Security and is obsessed with the hunting down of this squad for their involvement in the death of her partner Ahmed Zubair (Shez Sardar) of the Afghan National Police. Micro teams up with Castle to hunt down the mysterious Agent Orange who ran the death squad, which was financed by smuggling heroin hidden inside the bodies of dead Americans, all the while Madani and her new partner Sam Stein (Michael Nathanson), whose life expectancy you could track with an egg timer, get caught in the crossfire between Castle and the bad guys.

You will wait about ten episodes to see him back in this costume.

I’m not saying the plotting of this show is overly convoluted but at times it becomes so forced and contrived that it has to routinely bend over backwards, with characters doing the dumbest things, just to propel the plot forward. And one of the strangest decisions the show made was in turning the comic book character of Billy Russo (Ben Barnes) from the gangster who would eventually become the villain Jigsaw into an ex-military friend of Frank Castle, and he’s so obviously a bad guy that one simply groans when Madani ends up in bed with him. But as bad as his character is the cartoonishly evil and clichéd Agent Orange, who is revealed to be a high ranking C.I.A. agent named Rawlins (Paul Schulze), is a clear victim of lazy writing.


If he had a moustache he’d twirl it.

But what about the action? The first episode does have some nice Punisher action but if you are to take into account all thirteen episodes the percentage of action versus people just yapping about conspiracy and stuff I’d say the series as a whole is only about 10% action. And an important note to comic book fans Frank Castle retires his iconic skull emblazoned costume in the first episode and doesn’t put it back on until episode eleven, so don’t be expecting a lot of “Punisher” action as to be honest the series feels more like a Lee Child's Jack Reacher story than it does anything else. Seriously, I’ve read about every Jack Reacher novel and many of them consist of Reacher trying to uncover some government or military conspiracy, where he will then get the aid of a female from some form of law enforcement, and that is literally what this season of The Punisher is about.

“Do you think The Punisher will eventually show up?"

Though this review may seem fairly negative I must state that it’s certainly better than Iron Fist and I’d say it's on par with The Defenders, and if this had been called anything other than The Punisher, like say something along the lines of Jack Reacher: Never Look Back, I’d be a lot more forgiving. Netflix introduced an excellent version of Frank Castle in the second season of Daredevil and then for some reason they took the character in a completely different direction. It’s a shame because Jon Bernthal leads a very talented cast here and when we do get action it’s pretty balls-to-the-wall great, but stretched out over thirteen hour long episodes it seems overly drawn out for the story it’s trying to tell. It’s clear that the Netflix model for their original shows is to make overlong movies that are “broken” up into chapters designed for binge watching, unfortunately it doesn’t work here as not only is the overarching storyline completely unoriginal, with clichéd moments flying in from all directions, but The Punisher character would probably work better in an episodic format.

Stray Thoughts:

• The season repeatedly cuts away from Frank Castle and friends to follow an ex-solider with PTSD who turns into a crazed Unabomber killer. If this vastly uninteresting subplot had been jettisoned they could have shaved off a couple of episodes easy.
• Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) shows up to keep the Marvel Cinematic Universe connected and she is a welcome addition.
• The authorities in this series are so vastly incompetent that they make the Keystone Cops look good by comparison.
Netflix had the chance to make a strong character out of Homeland Security agent Dinah Madani but instead she’s about as effective as a tissue in a hurricane.
• The second last episode is almost entirely “The Talking Killer” cliché.
• The last episode is basically an hour long epilogue and aside from the “surprise” villain reveal it was completely unnecessary.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Justice League (2017) – Review

With Zack Snyder’s Justice League the DC Extended Universe moves into full gear, unfortunately at times it looks like they've stripped a gear or two. As the film’s troubled production has been no secret, with the original concept of it being a two part film being jettisoned in favor a two hour standalone one, and then the tragic death of Snyder’s daughter leading to the studio to bring The Avengers director Joss Whedon on board to finish the project, so it’s no surprise that the final product is less than polished. That aside it still feels very much like a Zack Snyder film, one with a few Whedon quips randomly thrown in to lighten things up, but the dark and gloomy colour palette remains consistent from his previous outings with Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

The collapsing of two films into one is the biggest detriment the film has as the “plot” rushes along at breakneck speeds only to be brutally halted occasionally for the introductions of new and old characters and massive info dumps; Martha Kent (Diane Lane) has lost her farm, Lois Lane (Amy Adams) has been reduced to writing puff pieces, Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller) visits his wrongly accused father (Billy Crudup) in prison, and then there is Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) who is beating up terrorists in-between working at the Louvre while also helping Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) recruit superheroes for a team that could be their only chance in stopping an alien invasion. The first guy Bruce looks for is Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa) who really has no interest helping mankind, and Wonder Woman tracks down Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher) who also isn't all that keen on the whole "team-up" thing as he's bitter about being turned into some kind of Frankenstein monster.


A monster with at times SyFy original levels of CGI.

That’s a lot going on for the first act of a movie and I’ve not even got to the alien threat; turns out Lex Luthor was right about an oncoming alien threat and soon we have Amazons and Atlantean warriors battling Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) a giant dude with a horned helmet who has returned to Earth to retrieve three space McGuffins (The Avengers only had one space McGuffin so already this movie is obviously superior) that he needs to reclaim victory after losing a battle to the Amazon/Atlantean/human alliance five thousand years ago.

One of the common criticisms of the Marvel movies is their lack of good villains, something they are finally getting better at, but Justice League provides us a villain so terrible that he makes Jesse Eisenberg’s manic pixie Lex Luthor look good by comparison. Not only is the CGI used to create him terrible, and I’m not sure why a guy in a horned helmet had to be a total computer generated creation, but he is monumentally boring with absolutely no character development. His sole motivation seems to be, “I failed to conqueror the Earth last time and so I’m totally doing it now.”


“I’m also going to kill the rabbit, kill the rabbit!”

Warner Brothers had issued a mandate that the movie could be no longer than two hours and that is exactly what Zack Snyder/Joss Whedon delivered, unfortunately the result is a movie so crammed to the gills with action and plot exposition that we literally have no time to care about any of the characters. There is about zero chemistry between the Justice League members and the writers attempt to lighten things up by turning The Flash into an annoying comic relief sidekick which pissed me off to no end. The Flash is not a sidekick, he is one of the core members of the League and his powers are badass, but for this movie he’s introduced as a social awkward nerd who previous to this movie has apparently done nothing more than shove random criminals aside and then run away. Aquaman even talks smack about The Flash tripping over his own feet, and don’t get me started on how crappy that cluttered costume looks.

Note: Bruce Wayne notes that Flash’s costume is armored with the same materials that is used to protect the space shuttle during re-entry, but if Barry needs this type of protection to keep him from burning up when he engages the Speed Force where is the protection for his face?

One of the hardest elements of writing a Justice League story is justifying why any other team member than Superman (Henry Cavill) is needed, if you need someone to talk to fish you call Aquaman but other than that there isn’t much the team can do that Superman can’t on his own. So you either have to somehow knock Superman out of the action for a while or come up with a serious threat that would require six or more superheroes. Well in the previous movie the studio managed to completely waste the "Death of Superman" storyline and had good ole Supes kacked, but as dumb as that was it did allow for the first half of this movie to exist, and when he does come back *Spoiler* it’s abundantly clear that Steppenwolf and his Parademons were no credible threat to the last son of Krypton. During the final fight Superman is even sent off to rescue some civilians just so the movie doesn’t end too soon.


Can’t have Clark hogging all the glory.

Justice League is not a terrible movie, and certainly nowhere near as bad as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but it’s a step back from the fun and engaging outing that was Wonder Woman and does not bode well for further team-up movies.

Final Thoughts:

• I still don’t buy the whole world mourning Superman when he never seemed all that beloved in the previous films.
• Aquaman is bitter about his mom, former Queen of Atlantis, for abandoning him as a child. Gee, that sounds something worth seeing.
• Cyborg is a bitter brooding dude who seems to be around only to give exposition.
“Do you talk to fish?” About the best joke in the movie
• Batman may be against using guns but cannons and missiles he’s okay with.
• So has Batman’s nightmare from BVS: Dawn of Justice been averted?
• Diana tells the guilt ridden Bruce Wayne, “You didn’t kill him.” Technically no, he didn’t kill Superman but he certainly tried.
• What was with all the cutting to that Russian family? That screen time could have been better utilized.
• The Parademons being uncontrollably drawn to fear was lame.
• Would have been nice to know who was activating the Boom Tubes.
• The League practically hands over the third Mother Box to Steppenwolf because they are idiots.
•  J.K. Simmons was criminally wasted as Commissioner Gordon.


"I get a bigger part in the next film...right?"

Monday, November 13, 2017

Amityville: The Awakening (2017) – Review

The Amityville movie series is one of those franchises that just won’t give up the ghost, it doesn’t seem to matter that in the almost forty years since the original movie was released that none of them have been particularly good, or even that profitable as it’s one of those franchises that hopes that brand recognition will be enough to overcome the stigma of past failures and thus bring in enough ticket sales to at least compensate for their modest budgets. In the horror genre this is not a unique marketing strategy. Now with Amityville: The Awakening being the tenth entry one can assume it will never stop as the producers of this series seem to love failure.

Amityville: The Awakening is one of your typical troubled productions as it was originally supposed to be called Amityville: The Lost Tapes and was to move the franchise into the found-footage subgenre with a reporter trying to uncover the house’s secrets, but then after several delays that idea was abandoned and the standard haunted house tropes were put back in place with once again another family moving into the notorious murder house. The family this time out consists of  teenage-daughter Belle (Bella Thorne) her little sister Juliet (McKenna Grace) and Bella’s twin brother James (Cameron Monaghan) who is in a persistent vegetative state due to a tragic fall, and finally there is their widowed mother Joan (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who seems a bit off the rails with false hope. The wrinkle here is that Joan is completely aware of the nature of the house and her reasons for moving to the murder house provides the movie’s ludicrous twist.


Could the evil within this house have an adverse effect on a coma patient?

Belle is the film’s protagonist and it’s mostly through her eyes that the horror unfolds, though little Juliet does get one of the film’s better jump scares in a film just littered with endless amounts of fucking jump scares, but what makes the movie stumble is that we can’t really relate to her. The film spends little time setting up her character, her background motivations are not revealed until almost the final act and when they are it's too little too late, and worse is the fact that actress Bella Thorne seems to have a real hard time coming across as scared or even sympathetic. Then the movie has the audacity to have us believe she’s never heard of legend of the Amityville murder house yet this movie takes place in a world where the James Brolin/Margot Kidder movie from the 70s and the Ryan Reynolds remake exists. Belle is depicted as a somewhat Goth misfit yet somehow we are to believes she’s never even heard of The Amityville Horror? At one point two friends she makes at her new school bring over DVDs of the movies to watching during the houses supposed witching hour.


There is Meta than there is just plain stupid.

Amityville: The Awakening does have some cool atmospheric moments, when the sound track isn’t pounding musical stings with the accompanying jump scares; we do get a nice moment when neurologist Dr. Milton (Kurtwood Smith) is attacked by a swarm of flies in a clear homage to the flies attacking Rod Steiger in the original, but then the movie doubles down on its lameness by having it turn out to just be a vision. In fact most of the horror moments in this movie are revealed to be either visions or nightmares and we don’t get any real physical manifestations of the evil, instead the movie takes the route of Amityville II: The Possession and it’s all about demonic forces controlling a teenage boy into going on a family murder spree.


Why would you even bring a shotgun into a house with that particular history?

The greatest crime Amityville: The Awakening is guilty of is being incredibly boring, it’s not even so bad it’s good as it’s just so bland and generic. I will not get into spoiler territory here but the motivations behind the mother’s reasons for moving into the murder house are not those of a grieving woman desperate for any kind of help, as the movie would like us to believe, her actions are of someone who is either clinically insane or vastly stupid. For a horror movie to work you must be on the side of the protagonists but between vapid and uninteresting Belle and her cuckoo for Coco Puffs mom we’ve really only got little Juliet to feel bad for and sadly the film treats her more like a prop than an actual character. With this tenth entry in the franchise director Franck Khalfoun fails to bring anything new to the table, nor much in the way of scares either, which makes this one horror fans should just skip. It’s not even worth the rental fee.


Caveat emptor.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

From Hell It Came (1957) - Review

Do you remember when the tree grabbed that kid out of his bedroom in Poltergeist? Or how about the poor girl getting raped by the forest in Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead? As genres go “The Killer Plant Movie” is a rather small subset of horror films with a few notable films like Little Shop of Horror and Day of the Triffids being any good while the rest can easily be forgotten. Does anybody even remember the 2008 film The Ruins? Well today we are taking the Wayback Machine to the year 1957 where director Dan Milner and his producer brother Jack who brought the world the jungle thriller called From Hell It Came.

This movie was the kind of creature feature that would have populated the local Drive-Ins in the 50s, where teenagers could neck in the backseat while gleefully ignoring the action on screen, but even by low budget monster movie standards From Hell It Came was bargain basement bad. In a film that looks like it was shot at either a local park or someone’s backyard the production value is almost non-existent, and the film’s only stand-out feature is the monster itself because it is so hilariously goofy that you almost have to admire it.

"Tabanga just pawn in game of life."

The movie opens with a group of South Sea island natives killing the former Chief's son, Kimo (Gregg Palmer), by virtue of staking him to the ground and then driving a ceremonial knife through his heart.  The reason for this killing is that the tribe’s witch doctor, Tano (Robert Swan), has accused Kimo of being responsible for the Chief’s death by allowing Western medicine to be used on Kimo’s ailing father. Conspiring with Tano is new Chief Maranka (Baynes Barron), who informs his people of Kimo’s crimes of working with those evil Americans, and Kimo's wife Korey (Suzanne Ridgeway) backs him up by informing the tribe that it was Kimo who had allowed the American’s to poison their chief and not Tano as Kimo claimed. Its Korey’s damning testimony that seals the deal and Kimo’s heart is pierced and his body placed in a wooden upright coffin that is then buried in their sacred burial grounds.

Question: Why bury the supposed killer of your beloved chief in the sacred burial grounds? You would think the body of such a betrayer wouldn’t get such nice treatment and instead would be tossed into the local quicksand patch like so much garbage.

Of course before Kimo died he was able to proclaim his plans for revenge from beyond the grave, “I promise you all, I shall come back from Hell and make you pay for your crimes.” So with our supernatural revenge plot properly set up the film jumps over to those sneaky Americans Maranka was complaining about; we have Dr. William Arnold (Tod Andrews) and Professor Clark (John McNamara) who are scientists hired by the American government to study fallout from a nearby nuclear bomb test, apparently an unexpected typhoon blew the fallout towards this poor island and these two manly men spend most of the time bitching about being there and dealing with the superstitious locals. We learn quickly that Arnold would rather be back stateside but the woman he wants to settle down with is Dr. Terry Mason (Tina Carver) who has no interest in leaving her work to pump out babies. Arnold laments, “Why did I have to fall in love with a dedicated female scientist? She considers marriage some kind of prison, and sometimes I could kick her beautiful teeth in. Here I offer her the Earth, the Moon, the stars...” with Clark cutting in “And she prefers test tubes on a tiny Pacific atoll.”


Who wouldn’t prefer test tubes over these jackasses?

Their commiserating over the failure of the modern woman is interrupted by a scream and the two rush outside to find British expatriate Mrs. Mae Kilgore (Linda Watkins), who had witnessed the execution of Kimo and fled for her life, struggling with one of the natives. The villain is chased off and we are introduced to the film odious comic relief. If you are familiar with the works of character actress Una O'Connor in such films as Bride of Frankenstein and The Invisible Man you will recognize that actress Linda Watkins is from the same school of over-the-top Cockney comic relief. Her characters incessant babbling has one praying for the title monster to shamble on screen and end our suffering, but sadly she survives and our sanity does not.

Now it turns out that nuclear fallout isn’t the real problem causing illness among the locals it's the plague and witch doctor Tano has forbidden his people to seek medical help from the Americans.  This brings us to the arrival of another doctor who has shown up after Clark reported their problems to Washington. No surprise that said doctor turns out to be the aforementioned Terry Mason, and before you can say "Sexual harassment" Bill is trying to force his tongue down her throat.


Is this movie about a tree monster or a sexual predator?

Terry tries to explain things to the idiot, “Bill dear, I’m not the girl you want, or anybody’s girl.” Explaining further that she has no interest in living the “normal life” that Bill wants for her as her idea of normal is certainly not being cooped up in a stuffy apartment getting her ears blasted with Rock and Roll music. His rebuttal is, “Do you want to go through life alone? Don’t you want a husband, children, like other women?” He then kisses her hard and passionately and then asks, “You do love me, don’t you? Admit it.” She shakes her head, “I don’t love you,” and his rebuttal to that is, “Then why did you kiss me back?” This guy is one class act but she does beautifully shut him down by answering, “I don’t know…my metabolism? It was unconscious, involuntary.” Then he lands the Sexist Pig of the Year award for uttering the following line, “Terry, will you stop being a doctor first and a woman second? Let your emotions rule you, not your intellect.” Instead of a well-deserved punch to the throat, as he so richly deserves, Terry calmly informs the asshat that, “I live by my intellect and reason; if I let my emotions run away I wouldn’t be any good in my work.”  Dr. Terry Mason is a career woman fighting for the right to live her life on her own terms, who can guess how this will eventually end?


"Don't start the Sexual Revolution without me."

It’s at this point that the film remembers it's supposed to be a monster movie and so Terry spots a weird tree growing out of sacred burial site. This rare plant discovery warrants immediate research, sorry plague ridden villagers you’ll have to wait your turn this looks more urgent, and word from Washington is for our “heroes” to dig up the plant and study it. Norgu (Lee Rhodes), one of the more friendly natives, identifies the wooden growth as the Tabanga, a creature of vengeance animated by Kimo's angry spirit, and like a previous vengeful dead chieftain who came back as a tree monster it to will wreak unspeakable death and destruction. Professor Clark “Pooh-poohs” such superstitious nonsense, even after the weird wooden stump with a face turns out to be radioactive and has a ceremonial blade sticking out of it. When he discovers that it also has a human heartbeat he still manages to state, “Norgu, what you fear is scientifically impossible.”


I’m no scientist but I’m sure radioactive tree stumps with human heartbeats are also impossible.

In record time the tree stump grows to man size and our trio of scientific morons dig it up and cart it back to their lab, but what is startling here is that Bill is all for chucking the thing in the nearest quicksand patch they can find. Up to this point Bill has been a complete jerk yet all of a sudden he is the voice of reason, “If moving that monster violates another tribal law, we'll be in for it. You know we're greatly outnumbered here. They could easily overpower us. And don't forget what Norgu said about it being taboo for strangers to go near the... Tabanga.” Sadly he is outvoted, one man cannot stand in the way of science, and Terry even uses an experimentally formula she had developed to save the creature when they realize its heart rate is decreasing. This of course results in the creature reviving and going on a revenge fueled rampage of death and destruction…well more of a revenge fueled shuffle if one is to be accurate.


Beware the horror that is Tabanga.

Which brings us to the key problem with this particular monster, not only is he an incredibly silly looking creature but he moves at a speed that makes The Mummy look like an Olympic sprinter. The only way you are endanger from Tabanga is if you accidentally back into him or by some happenstance are knocked unconscious or dazed when he is nearby thus allowing him time enough to get close.

The first person to fall victim to the evil that is Tabanga is Korey who gets dazed after a hit to the head while fighting her rival Naomi (Tani Marsh), the native girl who took her spot as Maranka’s main squeeze when he didn’t feel comfortable marrying someone who betrayed her last husband, and Tabanga grabs hold of her and ever so slowly he carries over to some quicksand and tosses her in. Next on the revenge list is Maranka himself who manages to get killed because he has no peripheral vision or apparently the ability to hear a tree monster slowly lumbering up behind him. Maranka even manages to miss Tabanga with a thrown spear when the creature was barely a spear length away.


“Pssst, he’s right behind you.”

Then in a surprising display of courage Tano, realizing that the creature is hunting those Kimo swore to kill, he offers to use himself as bait to destroy the creature, and the plan works…briefly. Tano is able to lure the monster into a disguised pit trap and then the remaining villagers toss flaming brands to turn the pit into a fiery hell. As plans go that is a pretty good one but unfortunately this particular tree monster is of the non-flammable kind and so Tabanga just climbs out of the pit, hunts down Tano, and then kills him by rolling him down a hill.


I think he probably died of shame for being caught in the first place.

With the three villains that Kimo vowed to get revenge on dead you’d think the monster would peaceably wander into that ever present quicksand patch for some nice sweet oblivion, but sadly we still have our “Great White Heroes” to contend with and so Dr. Clark, Bill, Terry, and even the annoying comic relief Mae, along with Eddie (Mark Sheeler), the camps security specialist and man voted most likely to be fired for being bad at his job, load up with guns and venture into the jungle to hunt down the creature. It should surprise no one that Terry is grabbed by the monster, but that she is nabbed because she leans against the thing while adjusting her shoes (we won’t get into questioning why she was wearing heels for a trek through the jungle) is truly sad, and so our heroes have to chase after the monster before it can toss her into the quicksand.


At least Tabanga didn’t tell her to quit her job and pop out babies.

The group unload a barrage of bullets at the monster but the bark of Tabanga seems indestructible, “Doc I’ve never seen anything like. The bullets bounce off it like bee-bee shot on a stone wall,”  The group then somehow come to the conclusion that if they can shoot the ceremonial knife that is sticking out of the creature they could drive it deeper into the monster’s heart and end its reign of terror. The small end of a knife’s hilt is certainly no easy target, not helped by the creature refusing to turn around and face it’s attackers, but eventually a volley of bullets annoys it enough that it drops Terry, turns around to face our heroes, and Bill is able to land one round on the knife's hilt. The monster staggers back, falls into the quicksand and disappears below its murky surface. The day is saved and Norgu runs up to Dr. Clark and exclaims, “We now know American magic is better.”


“Better health through bullets” is the new AMA slogan.

Do remember that debate earlier in the film where we heard Terry claim she didn't want to give up her intellect for a career in baby making? Well after being saved from the clutches of Tabanga the once spirited Terry runs to her rescuer, gives him a deep kiss and a passionate embrace, and upon seeing this Clark comments to Mae, “Looks like a honeymoon and back to the States for them.” So according to the Milner Brothers all it takes is a life or death situation to show a woman that her place is in the kitchen.


“The Sexual Revolution has been postponed, please stand-by for a word from our sponsors…Men.”

The monster Tabanga will always have a place in horror movie history as one of the dumbest looking creatures to ever grace the silver screen, but From Hell It Came also briefly gave us a female scientist who seemed more interested in her career than in men, and though she kind of recanted that belief at the nine yard line it is still something that a film of this nature even brought up the subject matter in the first place. At seventy minutes in length the film isn’t long enough for the lack of monster action to be too detrimental but the annoying Cockney comic relief does make things a trifle painful at times.  On the other hand that most of the natives are played by Caucasians is certainly typical of time and their stilted acting as primitive natives is simply quite awful. From Hell It Came is good as a curiosity but not one I can honestly recommend seeking out.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok (2017) - Review

What if Thor and Hulk were roommates? That is just one of many interesting ideas that director Taika Waititi tackles in this latest chapter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and boy does he have fun exploring them, but of course the biggest question answered is what exactly were Thor and Hulk doing when everyone else was fighting it up in Captain America: Civil War?

Thor: Ragnarok begins with a cold open where we find Thor (Chris Hemsworth) locked in a cage and at the supposed mercy of the fire demon Surtur who plans to see the Asgardian realm destroyed in the prophesied Ragnarök. Needless to say Thor is able to kick his and his entire army of minion’s butts, and then everyone's favorite god of thunder returns to Asgard to confront his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) who has been impersonating Odin since the end of Thor: Dark World. Unfortunately the mischievous Loki is the least of Thor’s problems as the two brothers learn that Odin had kept from them the knowledge that they had an older sister Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death, who Odin (Anthony Hopkins) had imprisoned after her ambitions got out of control.


I'd say her hat choices got even farther out of hand.

Hela easily destroys Mjolnir and then in a battle across the Bifröst Bridge both Thor and Loki are torn loose and sent tumbling through space where they soon find themselves on Sakaar, a junk planet run by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), who quickly puts Thor to work in a gladiatorial arena. Comic book readers will of course recognize elements of this from the “Planet Hulk” story but due to Universal still owning the rights for standalone Hulk movies this is the best we are going to get, and though this is only a taste of that epic tale it still manages to capture some of the grandeur found in the book and even though it is now more Thor-Centric story we do finally get to see a more intelligent Hulk. These two heroes work beautifully together in what could best be described as a buddy comedy fantasy adventure tale that will keep you in stitches.

Hated on Earth the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) has now found a place where his monstrous power has earned him adulation and respect and has even gained a friend in the form of the beautiful Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) who is living on Sakaar as a somewhat drunken obtainer of fighters for the Grandmaster, but then his old Avenger pal shows up to rain on his parade. When Thor wants the Hulk's help in escaping Sakaar and to join him on his mission to defeat Hela the big green giant is less than enthusiastic, in fact he’s acts very much like a petulant child who doesn’t want to go to school.


"Hulk just pawn in game of life."

It’s the dynamic between Thor and Hulk, and then later Thor and Banner, which is at the center of much of the film’s comedy making this the funniest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But the film is much more than a laugh fest as we also get a somewhat resolved Thor/Loki conflict as we get hints as to what these once inseparable brothers were like growing up and whether a person’s nature can change to find redemption. The chemistry between Hemsworth and Hiddleston is pitch perfect and is a nice counterpoint to the relationship between Hulk and Thor where in the Loki/Thor relationship Loki would be the brains to Thor’s brawn but then nicely reversed when Thor finds himself needing the incredible Hulk who is no long limited to “Hulk Smash!” comments as his vocabulary is expanded to a degree closer to what we got in the Peter David run of the comics.

This is not to say there isn’t a helluva lot of Hulk smashing going on in Thor: Ragnarok because when fists go flying they really go flying and the arena fight between Thor and the Hulk is as spectacular as one could hope to imagine when seeing a contest between an all-powerful monster and a warrior god. These two have always been the heavy hitters among the Avengers but have mostly been relegated to second banana status but here the two are allowed to shine in both action and in comedy.


"Tonight's Contest of Champions!"

The cast across the board all bring their best to the project with Cate Blanchet relishing every moment of screen time as the first female villain in the franchise (Scarlett Witch not withstanding) who completely dominates her scenes with Hemsworth and Hiddleston and is clearly having a blast with the role of “Goddess of Death” not to mention easily winning the best dressed villain award hands down. Then there is Karl Urban as Skurge the reluctant executioner who sides with Hela because he’s not all that keen on being brutally murdered and works mostly as a comic relief expository device.  We get another unforgettable performance by Jeff Goldblum, who is at his Goldblumiest to date, as this crazed despotic ruler who steals every scene he’s in, and Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie manages to pull off being funny as a drunken broken Asgardian but also as a credible threat to the villainous Hela.


"It's not easy being this evil."

If anything negative can be said about this film is that there is almost too much going on for one movie as you could have easily filled a two hour plus movie on the “Planet Hulk” storyline alone yet director Taika Waititi not only has to create and show us a whole new world and society but he has to cut away from it from time to time to show us how Hela and her overthrowing of Asgard is doing, not to mention more screen time with her hunting down Heimdall (Idris Elba) and the sword that activates the Bifröst Bridge which would open all the realms to her goal of conquest. It just goes to show you how engaging and fun Cate Blanchett is in this role that whenever the film cuts away from the cool stuff with Thor, Hulk and Valkyrie we aren’t immediately annoyed, but damn does she deserves her own movie.


Even the badass Valkyrie could star in her own movie.

Thor: Ragnarok may be the 17th installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe but I’d honestly say this one feels most like a comic book brought to life than any of the previous ones; the action is larger than life, the fantasy elements are everything you could expect and more, and then you get random characters from other comic books making appearances as they would in any crossover, what more could a Marvel fanboy want?

Of course what makes this film open to more than comic book nerds is that the humor is not forced or cheesy but organic comes out of the situation, and this was all brought about by Taika Waititi allowing about 80% of the dialog to be improvised which shows his faith in his actors and the characters they helped create over the span this franchise, it also shows Marvel Entertainment's faith in the directors they choose and in letting them fulfill their vision and not become a cookie cutter hired gun. In conclusion if you are in the mood for comic book mayhem and laugh out loud antics this is the film for you as it is an hilarious madcap adventure film that will entertain the whole family.

Final Thoughts:

• Doctor Strange is not someone you'd like be on the bad side of.
• We get to experience just what an evil Galadriel would be like.
• Now that we’ve seen how well an evil female villain can be handled how about we get The Enchantress next?
• The Hulk may be physically stronger than Thor but the thunder god is easily the better fighter.
• Director Taika Waititi also plays a rocklike gladiator and has some of the best lines in the movie.
• Naked Hulk…yikes!
• We get a throwaway line about how once Loki turned Thor into a frog, a nice reference to the Walter Simonson story where the god of thunder was trapped in the body of a frog.


I’d pay to see this movie.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Death Note: Anime vs. Netflix

For those not in the know Death Note started out as a Japanese manga series written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata that was then adapted into an anime television series that aired between 2006 and 2007 which also led to Japanese live action movies, video games and even a musical. Needless to say Death Note was very popular in certain circles and once those circles got big enough for North American movie executives to take notice a western version of the story was all but inevitable. That the nationality, races and locations of the American adaptation got a healthy white-washing is no surprise, and if that had been all director Adam Wingard and the producers changed I could have let that slide as I understand the economics behind it even if I don’t necessarily agree with it (Hollywood is all about making money and if filling a movie with American teens will put a few more butts in the seats that’s just going to happen), but the this Netflix movie almost completely abandoned everything that made the original manga and anime interesting.

Now a truly faithful adaptation of the manga or anime was never going to happen, the anime itself ran 37 episodes and is roughly 12 hours long, but the key to making an adaption work is in the capturing of the themes, characters and tone of the original and that is really where Netflix’s attempt fails. First off I will state that this movie is nowhere the train wreck that other North American adaptations of Japanese works have been; James Wong’s Dragonball: Evolution (2009) and M. Night Shyamalan The Last Airbender (2010) being prime examples of how far you can fuck something up, but Netflix’s Death Note still suffers from the same compression problems as characters are short shifted and entire plot lines are abandoned.

Let’s first look at the similarities; the basic concept and story of Death Note deals with a teen-age boy coming into possession of a notebook that he discovers allows him to kill anyone whose name is written within its pages and he soon launches a secret crusade to rid the world of criminals. The book was dropped into our world by death god Ryuk, and this mysterious being follows the actions of the teen with interest. Once the killings begin in earnest a task force is set-up to catch whoever is responsible and soon the teen himself is being hunted by the world’s greatest detective. And no I don’t mean Batman. And that’s about all the manga/anime have in common with the Netflix version, but just how far off base does the American version go? Let us first compare and contrast the key characters that make up Death Note.


Light Yagami

Light Yagami is a brilliant high school student who upon finding the Death Note begins to experiment with it until he comes to the conclusion that he can make the world a better place by ridding it of criminals and people he deems morally fit to live remain, and he would become the god of this new world. Light is a textbook sociopath with a heavy degree of narcissism, he manipulates and controls all those around him to serve his sole agenda. He takes on the persona of Kira (a name given to him by his followers) and ruthlessly kills thousands of criminals by giving them heat attacks, the default death the note book chooses if not otherwise specified, and then he would use “accidental deaths” to take out people that are a danger to him and his secret.  He would kill them in this fashion so it would not tip off the authorities that Kira was responsible as the police and the populace only think Kira kills via heart attacks. Light is a genius level tactician, and one can almost admire him at times, but the series doesn’t once let us forget that he is evil and not some superhero that nobly wants to make a better world. “The ends justify the means” would basically sum up Light’s credo and he will kill anyone who stands in the way of his goal, whether they are on the side of the law or not.


Light Turner

Light Turner (Nat Wolff) is an idiot, it's as simple as that, intellectually there is no comparison between the Light from the anime and the one found in the Netflix movie.  Aside from a brief moment where we learn Light does other people’s homework for money we get no indication that he is of above average intelligence, and unlike the Light in the anime he himself seems very easily manipulated. It takes Ryuk taunting and pushing him to try the Death Note out which makes his decision to suddenly become a mass murdering serial killer harder to believe. The film adds a bit of backstory where his mom was killed by a mobster who got off scot-free (anime Light has living mother, father, and sister) but by the time we learn this he’s already killed a school bully and a hostage taker so all this does is muddy his motives. Easily the dumbest thing we see him do is reveal the notebook and its properties to a girl at school who he has a crush on. Light knows almost nothing about her when he reveals that he’s got a supernatural book that he has been using to murder people with and lucky for him she is totally into it, but I’m assuming most sane teenage girls would have screamed and called for the police. We also get this idiotic moment where he chooses the name Kira because it means light in Russian (this is not actually the case so the film’s writers join in on the stupidity here) and because it sounds like the Japanese word for killer the authorities will think Kira is Japanese. This level of stupidity on display here is staggering, and this makes his face-off against the world’s greatest detective completely unbelievable. Kind of like if Bullwinkle went up against Sherlock Holmes.


Ryuk, the death god.

Ryuk is a bored Shinigami (death god) who lives in another realm and alleviates his boredom by dropping a “Death Note” into the human world to stir things up. Like the other Shinigami he is rather monstrous looking creature but one could not classify him as evil but more as an agent of chaos. He doesn’t so much as encourage the use of the notebook as he does just sit back and enjoy what wacky troubles humans will get into by its use. Ryuk follows the holder of the Death Note around much in the manner of a twisted invisible friend; he is neither for nor against the actions of the human. Ryuk could almost be classified as chaotic-neutral.


Ryuk, the Netflix version.

Ryuk (Willem Dafoe) is a death god in the same vein that Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street is a god of nightmares, he immediately convinces Light to try it out the note book by having a school bully brutally decapitated.

Note: The deaths in this film are very much in keeping with the Rube Goldberg type deaths found in the Final Destination series, with the same level of gore.

Unlike in the anime this version of Ryuk remains in the shadows and his appearances on screen are quite limited, only popping into a scene be snarky or manipulative for whatever the moment requires, and though Willem Dafoe is easily the best casting choice for this role the writers clearly wanted to make an iconic movie monster in the vein of Freddy or Pinhead from the Hellraiser films and that's not what this kind of story calls for. Sadly the result is that even though we get a cool looking and well acted villain it’s all surface and we get no motivations or backstory for him. In the anime we get to see how he interacts with his fellow Shinigami in his own realm, and how he dropped the book out of sheer boredom, while the Netflix version he remains a two dimensional monster and all the less interesting for it.


“L” aka Hideki Ryuga

When Interpol begins to focus on the killings attributed to the mysterious Kira they bring in “L” a world-famous detective who has never failed on a case, he is an introverted, eccentric and is basically the yin to Light’s yang, but visually one would almost expect the opposite; where Light is this tall golden boy, as one would expect a hero to be, “L” on the other hand is this crouched pale character that looks like he escaped from an of issue of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. “L” is a genius and he is quickly able to deduce that Light Yagami is the notorious Kira, but only with a 5% certainty, and thus begins the cat and mouse game between these two that makes the anime so damn good. Both “L” and Light are so well written that you will find yourself rooting for both of them at times, Light is clearly evil and must be stopped but as a viewer you can’t help but admire how good he is at what he does, and the quirky and dizzying intellect of “L” is equally fun to behold.


"L" Netflix Version

For the Netflix version “L” (Lakeith Stanfield) is played slightly older than Light and though they toss in a couple of personal quirks from the anime version, like his crouched sitting posture and love of candy, the two versions are not very much alike.  While the anime version of “L” is the flipside of Light’s genius the Netflix version has the problem of Light Turner being a grade level moron, so he's not exactly Professor Moriarty to L’s Sherlock Holmes.  There is no cat and mouse game between these two as “L” practically just shows up in Seattle announcing he knows who Kira is.  The movie barely gives time to really establish how he deduced this but like everything else it just rushes blindly on hoping the viewer won’t notice.  The movie even insults us further by trying to justify L’s love of candy by having his mentor mention it increases his ability to think and work longer.  Sorry, but that is not how sugar works.  In the anime he liked candy simply because he liked candy, a part of his peculiar childlike persona.  Netflix does not give us the battle of intellectual titans that we got in the anime but instead we are saddled with two tepid characters that are only a couple steps away from “We must get Moose and Squirrel.”


Misa Amane

Misa Amane is a bubbly and energetic model/actress whose parent’s murderer was killed by Kira and so she had become a devout supporter of his cause, the added wrinkle here is that she is in possession of a second Death Note and along with the help her own Shinigami she is able to track down Kira and discover his true identity. She falls in love with Light on first sight but the relationship that develops between the two is clearly one sided, Light manipulates and uses Misa to further his own ends and to help outsmart those people hunting him. The closest analogous relationship here would be to that of The Joker and Harley Quinn, it is a dark and abusive with Light showing no empathy towards the girl who has devoted her life to him.  She’s kind of like a cute puppy doing all it can to please its master only in this case this involves multiple murders. It’s no surprise that the character of Misa became one of the most popular among fans of the anime as she is just so damn fun to watch, she certainly isn’t the brightest crayon in the box but her motivations and heart remain true. Betrayal is not in her nature, which of course only adds to the tragedy of her character.


Mia Sutton

Mia Sutton (Margaret Qualley) sadly doesn’t have much of character at all; she is a cross between Bella Swan from Twilight and Mallory Knox from Natural Born Killers and we never once get a peek into motivations or desires. Upon learning of the Death Note her reaction is basically “Cool, let’s go a murdering!” with no justification other than being an “angsty teen” and her supposed love for Light flips flops between actual heartfelt love to dark manipulated love that is more in keeping with the relationship in the amine between Light Yagami and Misa Amane only with the flipside here being it’s the girl manipulating the guy. This change could have worked, and would have been a nice twist to give fans of the anime, but sadly her character never remains consistent and so instead of being this dark mastermind she comes across as lame and uninteresting. You certainly won’t see anybody cosplaying Mia Sutton at any Comic Expos.

Clearly doing a standalone movie was not going to easily compare to an anime series that ran 37 chapters but it’s the lack of believable characters and understanding of the source material that is the true stumbling block for the Netflix version. The premise of a teenager with supernatural killer notebook could easily fit into a half hour movie but for that to work motivations and behaviors have to make sense; at one point in the Netflix movie Mia Sutton is suggesting to Light that they murder his dad (who is part of the task force hunting Kira) right out of the blue as of this makes logical sense and would be something Light could agree on. Is she fucking insane? As far as she knows Light has a loving relationship with his father so murdering him would be a most definite no go, so why even bring it up? By this time she’d already secretly killed off the FBI agents brought into track down Kira (in the anime it is Light who orchestrates their deaths) so why not have Light’s father meet with an “accident” and thus keep her relationship with Light on an even keel? The movie is full of these nonsensical moments that are not helped by the filmmakers trying to keep Light sympathetic when he is clearly some kind of murdering vigilante whose only true motivation seems in getting laid by a cheerleader.


“I was bitten by a radioactive notebook.”

The film works so hard at keeping us on his side when what he is doing is clearly abhorrent, sure we can understand his desire to make the world a better place but then again that’s what Hitler thought he was doing. The writers shifting the killing of the FBI agents to Mia is a clear attempt to keep Light morally excused from his crimes. Yet he seems to have no problem in deciding to kill “L” so his code of “Killing only bad people” is apparently not so much a rule as it is a soft guideline. This makes Light a wishy-washy putz and thus fairly unlikable, and then we also have his face-off with “L” where he pretty much blubberingly confesses to being Kira after about ten seconds of questioning.


“I also killed JFK and orchestrated the 9/11 attacks.”

The Netflix version of “L” isn’t much better with him failing to display any real detective skills and when his mentor/friend goes missing he completely flips out showing him to be emotionally out of control unlike his anime counterpart.  It's the death of the mentor that also leads the film into it's generic action/chase sequence that has no real business being in this movie, its inclusion is very much a product of the cookie-cutter mentality of many American movies, worse for the fact that this version of Death Note isn’t even sure what kind of movie it’s trying to be. Is this a Young/Adult dark comedy in the vein of Heathers or is it a mystery thriller in the mode of David Fincher’s Se7en? That the movie had three screenwriter is not surprising, one of them have written the dreadful Fant4stic should have been a good enough warning, but director Adam Wingard has given us such excellent films as You’re Next and The Guest so I went in expecting more.

I should state that I watched the Netflix movie before checking out the anime series and even without the comparison I found the movie to be a muddled mess that seemed to be rushing the “plot” forward at a fever pace while sacrificing character development along the way. Being this was made for Netflix I don’t understand why they didn’t just make it into an eight episode mini-series as that would have at least solved many of the movie's problems.


The original anime is also available on Netflix so I highly recommend you check it out.