John Wick (2014)

John Wick (2014)

The cover to the Australian Bluray release

Film: I’m not sure when it was that Keanu Reeves became some kind of Hollywood darling, but I do know that there is very few of his films that I haven’t enjoyed.

John Wick blasted out of nowhere in 2014 and even though it took me maybe a year to see it, I really enjoyed it from that first watch. This film really lies in my wheelhouse of the main character being an almost superhuman machine, a love which started with James Bond films, and trickled through many other films starring similar characters like Jack Reacher, Alex Cross, Jack Ryan, Lisbeth Salander, Lorraine Broughton and their ilk. I think the reason I like Call of Duty and the Tom Clancy video games is because it’s a chance to play as one of these types of heroes, with cutting edge gadgets and weapons, and violent adventure.

Keanu Reeves as John Wick

One of the things that makes this film such an interesting watch is the absolute amazing stunts, which is to be expected when one considers the director is Chad Stahelski, a former stunt co-ordinator on action films like The Hunger Games, The Wolverine and Deadpool 2. Apparently he directed this film with David Leitch who has a similar pedigree but was uncredited. It was written by Derek Kolstad, who wrote the other two Wick films, the Bob Odenkirk vehicle Nobody and a few episodes of a marvel’s entry into the espionage world, The Falcon and Winter Soldier.

The film tells of John Wick (Keanu Reeves), an ex-assassin and ‘problem solver’ for the Russian mafia who has retired his guns, and enjoy a quiet, married life. This life is destroyed when his wife tragically passes away, but as a last gift, he receives a puppy from her because he needs someone to soften him.

Unfortunately, by chance on the day of his wife’s funeral, Wick meets up with Iosef (Alfie Allen), the son of Wick’s ex-employer, Russian mafia boss Viggo (Michael Nyqvist), and he and his crew after spotting Wicks lovely ‘69 Mustang, decide to steal it. They break into his home, assault him, kill the puppy and steal his car.

Michael Nyqvist as Viggo

This opens a can of worms that cannot be unopened. Viggo is so afraid of Wick he puts a two million dollar contract out on him, a contract picked up by Marcus (Willem DaFoe) and Miss Perkins (Adrianne Palicki), but as we, the viewers, start to explore the underground world of assassin’s, we discover that not everything is as it seems…

Being directed by a stunt expert means that the highlights of this film are certainly the gunplay, the fighting and the car stunts. For want of a better term, the fight/ gunfight scenes are almost sophisticated and beautifully ballet-like in its execution, if you’ll excuse the pun. This doesn’t stop with the human contact stuff either, every car scene is like some kind of death-dealing gymkhana that is stunning to watch.

The actors that turn up are an interesting mix too. In addition to those mentioned previously, Ian McShane, Dean Winters, Bridget Moynahan, John Leguizamo, David Patrick Kelly and Kevin Nash turn up. Every time a face I knew turned up, especially Kelly, I was pretty pumped.

If I am to criticise this movie for anything, it is that it’s story is a generic revenge tale. The choreography is really spectacular, but when you sit down and think about the story, there’s really nothing to it. The world that has been created is quite fascinating, but the main characters motivations are action film generic-ishness of the highest order.

Score: ****

The menu screen to the Australian Bluray release

Extras: The disc opens with trailers for Good People and A Most Violent Year before we get to the main menu screen.

There are several extras, most of them under ten minutes, but there is a feature length audio commentary with directors Leitch and Stahelski which is actually quite a thorough look into the making of the film.

Don’t F*ck with John Wick looks at all the driving, shooting and fighting training Keanu Reeves went through to perform the role of John Wick. Honestly I went into a massive deep dive with Reeves’ training and found a bunch of stuff on YouTube about it all.

Calling in the Cavalry talks about the creation of the script and the characters.

Destiny of a Collective looks at Stahelski and Leitch’s history in stunts and stunt performance.

The Assassin’s Code takes us into the world of the assassins in the film. It shows how their world looks completely different to our ‘normal’ world.

The Red Circle discusses the design of the club and the characters that hang out there.

N.Y.C. Noir looks at the design and look of the New York in the film.

Score: ***1/2

WISIA: This DOES get regular watches. It may be generic revenge, but it’s GOOD generic revenge.

Wick’s man cave is probably a little different to yours or mine!

This review was done with the Australian Bluray release of the film.

The Machine Girl (2008)

The Machine Girl (2008)

Film: The trailer for The Machine Girl, aka Kataude mashin gâru, has these words boldly displayed across the screen: Yakuza, Ninjas, Tempura, Sushi, Chainsaws, Flying Guillotine, Drill Bra (yes, you have read that correctly) and Revenge. Now I don’t know about the rest of you, but that sounds to me like a shopping list for an Asian film that I want to watch!!!

Now just to confirm this is what I want to watch, let’s have a look at some of the visuals from that same trailer: cute Japanese girl, blood, Ninjas wearing cool red tracksuit styled outfits, blood, disembodies body parts, blood… by now you should get the idea.

Written and directed by Noboru Iguchi, The Machine Girl is a film made by the production company Fever Dreams in Japan, but with a western market in mind, with typical western-perceived stereotypes of Japanese cinema like ninja and yakuza. Even the movie poster has the Machine Girl wearing the loose ankle socks that have not been fashionable in Japan for several years, but are still seen as very Japanese by the west. The female leads of this film are almost Meyer-esque in their single-mindedness and their drive (but not their stature) and Iguchi is clearly influenced heavily by the Sukeban flicks of the seventies (though sans any nudity), and also maybe the USA gore flicks of the 80s, if not the blood-fests of fellow countryman Takashi Miike.

The Machine Girl tells of Japanese schoolgirl, Ami (popular Gravure model and Snoopy aficionado Minase Yashiro) whose younger brother and his friend have been mercilessly tortured by the son of a local Yakuza boss, which results in their death. Ami goes on a revenge spree against the Yakuza, which finds her captured and tortured by the boss, to the point that her left arm is fully removed.

Being a tenacious lass, Ami manages to escape the Yakuza and ends up at the auto garage of her brother’s friend. His mother Miki (Asami) is mourning the loss of her only son hard, and she and her husband decide to assist Ami in her revenge, and so they create several weapons for her to be able to attach to the stump where her left arm used to be.

Now fully armed (if you’ll excuse the pun) Ami, with Miki, goes to complete her bloody revenge…

With the treasure trove of violent film staples (and then some) featured in this film, I have a name for the category it sits in: Everything-But-The-Kitchen-Sink-sploitation. Decapitation, dismemberment, split bodies, hot oil burns, electrocutions, blood sprays… this is a list that could go on and on! The icing on the cake is most of it is performed by a cute Japanese girl in a school uniform.

There are no doubt the special effects, some by Japanese SPFX artist Yoshihiro Nishimura are sub par, but that is more a reflection of the lower end budget rather than of the talent involved. The mutilated victims are obviously dummies, and the CGI at times sticks out like the dog’s proverbials, but this isn’t supposed to be a high concept, gigantic budgeted, Academy Award nominated piece of art. It is The Machine Girl, an ass-kicking, sexy super heroine for the Toxic Avenger set.

And I freakin’ love it!

Imagine if the guy who made The Story of Riki made a Mighty Morphin Power Rangers movie with a sukeban school girl as the heroine and a young Peter Jackson doing the SPFX. Yeah, it’s that crazy! Sequel NOW please!!!! There’s not much in the way of extras on this disc, but the sound options are many and varied, and the movie itself is just too much fun!!!

NB: Since writing this review I have discovered that there IS a sequel, and I am looking into acquiring it!

Score: ****

Extras: There are trailers for The Machine Girl and for four other Tokyo Shock titles: Heroes Two, Death Trance, Lone Wolf and Cub: The TV Series and Zebraman.

There is also a Behind the Scenes of Machine Girl which features interviews with Minase Yashiro (Ami: The Machine Girl), Asami (Miki) and Nobuhiro Nishimura (Sho Kimura). There is also a bit of special effects footage, but only of the live effects and not of any of the CGI. At only roughly ten minutes long it is not much more than a fluff piece, but I have no problem watching a bit of extra footage of the lovely Yashiro!

Score: **

WISIA: It’s ridiculous and fun, but this was the first time I’d watched it in years so maybe it’s replay ability is once a decade.

Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000)

Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000)

The cover to the Australian release on Blu of Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000)

Film: Here at the To Watch Pile, we love ourselves some Nicolas Cage; heck, last October we dedicated a whole month to his manic acting and freaky-deakiness! What a guy!

Add to this is my secret affection for car movies, which I guess is less secret now, which is weird considering I don’t like driving and don’t own a car. I’ve always been interested in car culture, not so much racing and that sort of thing, but car-related art, documentaries, even pinstriping and TV shows like Pimp My Ride. This of course means that movies that have cars as a part of their aesthetic appeal to me, then add Mr. Cage into the mix… I’m excited!

Gone in Sixty Seconds is the remake of the 1974 film, Gone in 60 Seconds, written and directed (and starring) H. B. Halicki, modernised by scriptwriter Scott Rosenberg, and directed by Dominic Sena, who directed the Hugh Jackman/ John Travolta thriller, Swordfish, and the comic adaptation of Whiteout, starring Kate Beckinsale.

Gone in Sixty Seconds tells the story of Kip Raines (Giovanni Ribisi) who has gone foul of the crime boss Raymond Calitri (Christopher Eccleston) and is going to kill him unless his brother, retired car booster Memphis (Nicolas Cage) can steal 50 cars, of Calitri’s choosing, in a single night, and have them delivered to the docks for export.

The Crew

Memphis gets in touch with his old crew, featuring Sway (Angelina Jolie), Sphinx (Vinnie Jones), Donny (Chi McBride), Otto (Robert Duvall), Tumbler (Scott Caan) and Kip’s new younger crew, Mirror Man (T. J. Cross), Freb (James Duval) and Toby (William Lee Scott) and they come up with an elaborate plan to execute the mission, but there is two things standing in their way.

The first is the interest they have sparked in their reuniting from the police, particularly Detectives Castlebeck (Delroy Lindo) and Drycoff (Timothy Olyphant), and the second is Eleanor (an exquisite Shelby Mustang GT500), a car that Memphis has never been able to successfully steal!

Eleanor

Will they get all the cars to the docks or will Calitri have Kip killed? Who cares, just show us more and more sexy cars!

This is a weird movie for what’s essentially car porn. Sena’s direction is more about the micro looks at the cars, and even though you do get to see most of the cars, it’s prominently at night, so they are shown with a lot of reflection and instead the director has gone with close up of the interiors and the drivers. I guess in a movie that is quite heavily character driven and with so many personalities, that is just as important.

The story is actually a lot of fun and holds up, and I was so surprised to find that it was over 20 years old, well, until I saw how young everyone in it looks! There’s some clunky dialogue but it really adds to the cartoony feel of the whole thing. Even as a movie about crime, this doesn’t have the weight of a serious crime movie that shows that crime doesn’t always pay, but tries to give a warning about crime with an unexpected serious moral quote towards the end, which is like those awful pieces of moralising found at the end of a Masters of the Universe cartoon.

The performances are uneven, which is to be expected when three generations of actors ply their trade together, and it makes for some really silly moments, especially when you combine it with the already clunky dialogue, and I guess that’s where the charm of this lies.

One thing that does really irritate me about this film is the whole film builds up to this one amazing car stunt, that for some reason isn’t wholly a real stunt but instead appears to be a pretty average act of CGI shenanigans. When you consider car porn films lead up to ‘The Big Stunt’, this was a bit of a slap in the face.

Over and above that, cars and Cage: what a double! For me, even though I know it’s pretty bad, but it’s the most guiltiest of pleasures.

Score: **

There’s no menu screen on this disc, except for this pop-up menu.

Extras: All that car porn and so few extras! This is a fairly early disc in the Bluray format that was released for the film, so it weirdly goes straight to the movie and you have to access the extras via your pop-up menu. Even then, all that effort doesn’t result in a very interesting watch.

First we have some film highlights which are just a few of the more unbelievable scenes from the film, and the other is titled The Big Jump, which is a three minute making-of but about the really epic car stunt that occurs towards the end of the film.

Lame.

Score: *

WISIA: This film weirdly has a special place in my heart. It’s so stupid that I can just watch it again and again.

Christopher Eccleston as Raymond Calitri

Kill Chain (2019)

Kill Chain (2019)

The cover to the Australian release of Kill Chain on Bluray

Film: There is a quite hilarious website called phrasegenerator.com, and I just love it. Basically, it randomly generates various things like political rhetoric (it generated: I want an America where greedy doctors and filthy hobos can’t sabotage our iPhone apps.), sports quotes (Talk about Ronovich – all speed no agility and 5 foot 6 – he’s gotta fork to the quarterback sneak and work the rushing opportunity.), academic quotes (The hypocrisy of codependency is really quite dogmatic in its agnosticism) and my favourite, action movie titles (here’s a few: Soldier of Trouble, Extreme Extremism, Instant Punishment).

Why point out this website? Well it seems to me that modern direct-to-video (DVD, Bluray, whatever) simply MUST use this website to come up with titles for their new releases. It’s close to the end of 2021, and Bruce Willis’ latest release is called ‘Out of Death’, Karen Gillian’s (from Doctor Who and the Marvel movies) in ‘Gunpowder Milkshake’ and speak-of-the-devil Nicolas Cage newbie is titled ‘Prisoners of the Ghostland’. Surely… SURELY, these titles weren’t to be taken seriously. The only title of anything I remember being as silly is the zombie-hating cheerleader video game Lollypop Chainsaw, and that being a title from Super and Slither’s James Gunn, you just know it must be very tongue in cheek.

Arâna (Nicolas Cage) welcomes some uninvited guests to his hotel

Why does this preamble exist? That would be because I have just gotten my hands on the film ‘Kill Chain’, a film that essentially takes its title from a military manoeuvre, but is probably BETTER known as the video game trope of getting bonuses for kill bad guys without getting killed.

Still, though, it sounds like a randomly generated title.

Above that, It does have a some pedigree. It’s written as directed by Ken Sanzel, who has written or directed or produced lots of action movies and TV including episodes of Numb3rs, and 1998’s The Replacement Killers. Is it a fine pedigree? Let’s find out!

Kill Chain tells of Arãna (Cage), an ex-hitman/ mercenary who has been ‘left’ a hotel called Hotel Del Franco in Colombia by someone who he refers to as ‘his only friend’. One night, he is visited by a pair of mercenaries who are there to ‘finalise his account’, but they don’t realise what they have walked into is a black hole of violence and surprises, and a night that has been a long one for Arâna, and his patience has worn very thin.

Renata (Annabelle Acosta) gets a little bloody

This is a bizarre thing, this film. It’s slow and deliberate, with smacks of violence that pop up here and there that in a post-John Wick world are possibly a little cumbersome and not choreographed as one would like but occasionally are quietly brutal. The tension does build nicely at times but doesn’t always pay off.

The bizarre thing is… I like it. The odd walk around to get to the point, the fact that most of the characters have no names, the origami-styled folding story… it’s all somehow good. It has an extremely small cast, and has such a small amount of locations, it could have been a stage play!

I have to say how much I liked the soundtrack, composed by Mario Grigorov. Sometimes it’s a pumping modern-day interpretation of a John Carpenter synthwave soundtrack, and at others, a flowing end-credits giallo track from the 70s. I loved every second of it.

Score: ***1/2

The menu screen to the Australian Bluray release of Kill Chain

Extras: Sorry, but it looks like even the extras have been executed!

Score: 0

WISIA: I’ll definitely watch it again as it has a weird DTV, low-budget appeal to it. It’s cumbersome, but strangely engaging.

Enrico Colantoni has regrets about being a hit man.

NIC-TOBERFEST 2021

Charge your steins with your favourite ale, lager or stout and grab your tightest lederhosen because it’s time for NIC-TOBERFEST 2021!

Nic-Toberfest is the To Watch Pile’s celebration of everything Nicolas Cage, the hero’s hero! This month you won’t get your usual Wednesday reviews, you’ll also get a couple of extras too… that’s SIX… SIX reviews of Cage films, in which each one sees him in a nuttier role than the previous, and that’s not to mention a double feature (not Cage films unfortunately)for Halloween, one on Halloween and one on All Saint’s Day.

I hope you find it as exciting to read as I did to write!

Boss Level (2021)

Boss Level (2021)

The cover to the Australian Bluray release

Film: The whole ‘a day gets repeated over and over again’ is a trope that horror, sci-fi and comedy love. Personally, I think it’s for the opportunity of cheap laughs, showing the protagonist get injured/ die/ kill people over and over again without repercussions. Thankfully it would seem that most filmmakers KNOW it’s a trope that is quite derivative, and that gives them an opportunity to mix up the story a little, like with slasher film Happy Death Day and it’s sequel.

Boss Level is a surprising beast. Directed by Joe Carnahan, who co-wrote the screenplay with Eddie and Chris Borey, Boss Level should be a low budget piece of trash that pushes a ‘new’ action movie stars with a bunch of nobodies… but this stars Frank Grillo from the Marvel movies, and includes Mel Gibson, Maggie Q and Naomi Watts, and is as entertaining as dumb violent action gets.

Grillo and Watts

Boss Level tells of ex-special forces muscle-bound himbo Roy Pulver (Grillo) who wakes up every single day to find a bunch of assassins trying to kill him. Pam (Meadow Williams) tries to shoot him, the German Twins (Rashad Evans and Rampage Jackson) try to blow him up, Kaboom (Aaron Beelner ) also tries to blow him up (but with explosives, whereas the German Twins use bazookas), Smiley (Michael Tourek) tries to spear him, Guan Yin (Selina Lo) tries to cut him up… you get the idea: there’s a lot of people out to get him!

‘I am Guan Yin, and Guan Yin has done this!‘

Roy’s problem is, every single one of them have succeeded in killing him, but the second he dies, he wakes up back at the beginning of the day, with all the knowledge that he had been killed over and over again, and no matter how many times he tries to survive.

He does continue to try though (but only after a few depression episodes where he just allows himself to be murdered), and eventually starts to work out that he is very deliberately stuck in this time loop, but what does it have to do with his ex-wife Jemma (Watts) and her boss, Colonel Clive Ventor (Gibson)…

This film, like all these types of films, as I stated earlier, exist to show the funny side to how ridiculous the concept is, and the torture of the lead character is completely for our own amusement, especially when you think he’s achieved something that gets him away from one baddie, only to fall to some other fatal mishap. Let me tell you as well, these are some bloody and violent mishaps too! Roy even talks in a voiceover about how he’d prefer to be shot rather than stabbed because stabbing hurts more!

The mix of actors in this film is great too. Grillo’ s performance is hilarious, action-packed and even tender at times. Watts (who I have a crush on for years) is still a solid support and Gibson’s magical villain is spectacular. The wonderful array of assassins is fun and funny, and they even cop some of the deaths just as bad as Grillo does. Selina Lo’s Guan Yin is a particular highlight and her beauty combined with violent swordsmanship is a grand juxtaposition, and her exclamation whenever she kills is fantastic too.

Honestly there’s not much to NOT like about this film, but it’s essentially like a Fast and the Furious film: you see it for the spectacle rather than an intelligent story. I will say though that it’s sudden sci-fi U-turn is both expected and surprising.

Score: ***

The menu from the Australian Bluray

Extras: None.

Score: 0

WISIA: It was dumb fun, so it’s definitely getting watched again!

This review was done with the Australian 2021 Bluray release.

Guns, guns, guns.

The Lost Empire (1984)

One from the rewatch pile…

The Lost Empire (1984)

Film: As a teen, I was constantly borrowing the B movies from my local video shop, and of those movies, I had a special place in my heart for Chopping Mall, and because of that, I saw the name Jim Wynorski  as a sign of ‘quality’, and still today, if I see his name pop up I am willing to cast my eyes over whatever the product is.

Sometimes, I am rewarded with B movie goodness, and sometimes, my brain is poisoned, but nostalgia is a cruel mistress and I am willing to forgive this man whenever the film is less than good.

This film, The Lost Empire, is the first film that Wynorski wrote and directed, and co-produced with Russ Meyer girl Raven De La Croix, and is truly a film firmly dropped in the eighties. The fashions, the special effects, the acting and the sets are perfect examples of that.

Our movie starts with evil, shuriken-yoyo wielding ninjas attempting to steal a mystical ruby eye from a pig idol, that is on display in a jewellers. Several police arrive and foil the robbery, but not without there being several injuries and a few fatalities.

We are told in a text scrawl that this jewel is one of the two Eyes of Avatar and have the super science from the ancient Lemurians secreted inside them. They were separated many years ago and if the two eyes are ever brought together the weirder will gain the power of superior ancient science.

Next we are introduced to busty, big-haired, gun-happy sexpot police officer Angela Wolfe (Melanie Vincz), imagine Dirty Harry with a squarer jaw and bigger tits and her FBI boyfriend Rick (Paul Coufos) who are told, after a post hostage bust sex-session, that her brother Rob (Bill Thornbury)was shot in the jeweller robbery but survived and so she visits him in the hospital. Through his delusion bought on by pain, he hands her one of the shuriken from the robbery.

Rick sees the shuriken and tells Wolfe that it belongs to Lee Chuck, a man who sold his soul to the devil and needs to send him a soul a day to live forever. They investigate the robbery and the Eye of Avatar finds its way into Wolfe’s purse, unbeknownst to her.

Rick and Wolfe meet with Inspector Charles Chan, yep… Charlie Chan… who tells them that a religious nut named Dr Sin Do (Angus Scrimm) is linked to Lee Chuck and has an island, Golgatha, where he can practise his religion in peace.

Wolfe’s brother goes to the big precinct in the sky, and very soon, Wolfe wants revenge so she presses Rick for more information. He tells her that Sin Do has competitions where women fight for his entertainment. Soon she finds herself teamed up with Native American White Star (Raven De La Croix) who spouts generic Indian-isms (Kemo Sabe is slung around like pies at a footy game) and ex-con Heather McClure (Angela Aames) and the three enter the Sin Do tournament to find out what’s going on. Rick accidentally ends up with Wolfe’s handbag and realises that he has the Eye of Avatar and makes his way to the island as well…

Is Golgatha just a religious retreat, or a hideout for gang of terrorists run by a man who has lived for two hundred years after a promise to Satan himself…

Well, what do you think?

This film is most definitely a template for future Wynorski films, and honestly, for the market, there is nothing wrong with that. Essentially most if his films are adult male fantasy cartoons made real, with beautiful big-boobed babes, and testosterone fuelled dunderheads fighting against whatever evil may have reared its ugly head, with a peppering of toplessness, violence and terrible, almost Dad, jokes. It’s what B cinema is all about, and I’d watch one of these over a big cinema release any day!

This film also has a cameo by The Thing from Another World’s Kenneth Tobey.

I grew up loving Jim Wynorski films like Chopping Mall and it sure is nice to see his first attempt at ‘big’ budget filmmaking. I had a lot of nostalgic fun watching this film, and it has reinvigorated my love for Wynorski. I must track more of his films down. If you like the Corman films of the 80s, you’ll get a kick out if this too. Shame on my copy, the two interesting extras didn’t work.

Score: ****

Format: Immediately I have to criticise the the actual physical DVD itself. The cover is a horribly painted pic that disrespects the female leads of the film as it is horribly distorted and really, not very good. The menus of the disc itself needs also to received some criticism as it is difficult ascertain when a menu item is selected.

The disc image is presented in, quite an odd aspect ratio, of about 2.20:1 and the image is ok, but does have several scratches and other artefacts on it. The soundtrack in presented in stereo and is satisfactory, well until Raven De La Croix throws one of her terrible jokes out.

Score: *

Extras: There are three extras on this disc:

Director’s Commentary by Jim Wynorski… Well that’s what the menu option said, but what I received was… Nothing! I tried selecting it several times and not once did I receive the commentary. Disappointed.

The Stills gallery, which I shall point out is an extra on any disc I hate, is a 90 second slide show of stills from the film. Not behind the scenes photos or different shots, it is just freeze frames from the film. If I want to look a static images, I’ll read a comic, not put on a DVD.

The last extra is the Soundtrack which I was pretty excited for as I like the 80s synth track… Except of the ten tracks available to listen, it repeated 30 seconds of the first track over and over. Maybe I just received a faulty disc, but definitely not happy.

Score: *

WISIA: It’s an irresistible, quaint throwback, so I’ll definitely watch it again.

Punisher War Zone (2008)

One from the re- watch pile…

Punisher War Zone (2008)

Film: I love films based on comics. No matter how bad they are, I love to watch them. I see them as an opportunity for a different creative team to take characters from a medium I love and adapting them to a format that is NOT a continuing story, but instead a one off look at the character. This of course can be difficult, and judging by the amount of bad comic based films, the results can be disastrous: Judge Dredd, Thor: Ragnarok and Tank Girl come to mind. The reason for this is simple: comics are mainly character based and not story based. The comics usually have an infinite life span, so even though a storyline may finish, the character continues on and on and on….sometimes too long.

This of course is not always true: V for Vendetta and Watchmen being two good examples of story rather than character based comics, and both were executed well, but a character based story can sometimes be filled with too much, especially a first film of a character, as you have to have not just the characters origin, but also an engaging storyline to boot, a villain to vanquish and a damsel in distress to rescue. This is why the second film based on a character can occasionally flow better. Sure, the origin may to be refreshed, but in general, the antagonist can get about his work pretty quickly.

So here we are with the second Punisher movie, and I call it the second as I choose to ignore the Dolph Lundgren effort, for no reason other than the time between it, of the Thomas Jane one of 2004. Besides, the Dolph Lundgren Punisher was really just an action film that had elements of the comic Punisher in it, whereas the more recent effort directly had elements in common with the comic version, and at least attempted to be a Punisher movie.

I will say though, thankfully all versions have chosen to ignore the comic-based Punisher’s original choice of shoe, which was a Nancy Sinatra, These-Boots-Were-Made-For-Walkin’, don’t wear after Labour Day, lily-white pair of boots.

The Punisher: War Zone, based on the comic of the same name, does not have Thomas Jane playing the title character, but instead has replaced him with the, in my humble opinion, far more appropriate Ray Stevenson , who also has played Volstaggin the Marvel Studios films, whose presence during this movie screams The Punisher. Taking place about 5 years after his alter ego Frank Castle’s genesis as the Punisher, this movie sees him initially up against a fairly generic mafia, whom he absolutely annihilates in a bloody orgy of violence, except for Billy Russoti (Dominic West) and his immediate henchmen, one of whom is undercover FBI. Keen to finish the job on the whole family, the Punisher follows the gang to a glass recycling plant, where after a gunfight, he accidentally kills the FBI agent, and not so accidentally throws Billy into the glass crushing machine.

Billy, of course, survives, but with a severe facial deformation, and a new name to reflect his Frankenstein-ian looks: Jigsaw! The first act Jigsaw does is get his mental case brother, Looney Bin Jim (Doug Hutchison… you should remember him, he played ‘Tooms’ in The X-Files) out of the mental facility in which he is being held, and then: vengeance. As far as Jigsaw is concerned, The Punisher needs to be taken out of the picture, and also, on a personal note, the wife, Angela (Julie Benz) and daughter Grace (Stephanie Janusauskas) of the FBI agent need to go the same way.

Frank’s guilt in killing the FBI agent causes him to want to quit ‘the business’ but when his weapons and technology supplier Micro (Wayne Knight) and Angela and Grace are kidnapped, under the noses of FBI agent Paul Budiansky (Resident Evil’s Colin Salmon) and police officer Martin Soap (Dash Mihok), The Punisher goes absolutely ballistic…. Literally! Jigsaw, of course, gathers the might of as many gangs from across the city as he can, and the only way to describe what is about to happen is to use a quote from another Lionsgate film, which also contains a character named ‘Jigsaw’…

‘Oh yes, there will be blood’.

This film is directed by German karate champion Lexi Alexander, but don’t let her being a female director trick you into thinking that this film has its feminine side in place: this film is an arse kicking, head popping, guns blazing punch in the guts all the way. It is perfectly cast, and special mentions have to go to Stevenson’s totally dry and humorless portrayal of Frank Castle, Doug Hutchison’s totally bonkers Loony Bin Jim and Julie Benz as a brunette….wow!!

The direction of this film deserves a special mention as well: the total aesthetic of the comic has been captured perfectly, it is framed and colored like a comic is, so much so I almost expected there to be an ‘inker’ credit in the films titles. This film was also filled with little touches for the comic fans, like the Bradstreet Hotel named after Timothy Bradstreet (Punisher cover artist extraordinaire), and secondary characters such as Maginty and Pittsey that have featured in the comics, albeit maybe after a small cinematic facelift.

This truly is an excellent rendition of The Punisher. It is certainly the first time it has been done right (except for the dulling down of the Punisher’s chest logo), and Ray Stevenson is the absolute perfect man for the role. John Bernthal in the Netflix Tv series came close, but Ray’s 100% my guy for the role.

Even those who have no familiarity with the comic, or the character, should have no problem catching up, and should enjoy the film for the bloody action experience that it is.

This is the Punisher film fans of the comic character have been waiting for. Vicious retaliation mixed with senseless bloodshed is like a dream come true for fans of this character.

Score: *****

Format: Supersexy transfer presented in anamorphic widescreen 2.40:1, with a crystal image that shows off Lexi Alexander and cinematographer Steve Gainer’s efforts perfectly. A fabulous Dolby Digital 5.1 that used the subwoofer so often I thought I may have to get it replaced. Explosions, gunfire, furious retribution….yeah!

Score: *****

Extras: A pretty cool set of extras on this disc, though no ‘Comic to Film’ one tragically, which are the ones I really love! This Punisher release could really do with a thorough ‘Comic character’ documentary like the ones seen on the releases of Ghost Rider and Iron Man, but they seem to have gone by the wayside now that things like the MCU have completely different identities from the comics.

The audio commentary with Director Lexi Alexander and Cinematographer Steve Gainer is a thorough one, with both of them commenting on many aspects of the film, from casting to design to special effects. There both seem to love their craft and the commentary only rarely, if at all, dips into mutual masturbation.

The Making of The Punisher Featurette is a traditional kind of feature, with a lot of the focus being on the casting, and voice bits from most of the major cast.

Training for the Punisher shows Ray Stephenson going through his paces with the marines, learning the ropes for both weapons training and hand to hand combat. Stephenson is an impressive model as an action hero, and the marines he is training with seem to appreciate his presence as well. There is also a small discussion with action sequence supervisor Pat Johnson, who talks about how important physical fitness is for an action hero, and we get to see footage of Ray Stevenson beating up on him… which when you see how short Johnson is, almost seems unfair (though I am sure that Johnson can handle himself quite well!!).

Weapons of the Punisher is a great featurette for fans of ordinance!! The weapons master of the film Paul Barrette discusses how the guns are applied to character archetypes to complete the look of a gang…. Something one may not generally take into account. John Barton, the military supervisor also speaks about the use of weapons in the film.

Meet Jigsaw introduces us to Dominic West, and he discusses the role, and the make-up application that go along with it. Most surprising in this featurette was the fact that West is actually English, as I was completely convinced by his over-da-top New York accent (which may be insulting to our American friends, so my apologies: my only exposure to this type of accent has been via gangster films).

Creating the Look of the Punisher is a fascinating look at the mise en scene of the film, and how efforts were made for a particular look, which included the use of only three colors in each scene. Alexander even talks about how she would freak out if one of the non-shot colors was present on the set.

We also get trailers for Right At Your Door, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, Vinyan, Lakeview Terrace, and The Burrowers.

Score: ****

WISIA: This comic movie is easily one of my favourites and gets a regular look.

Kill Bill Volume 1

One from the rewatch pile…

Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003)

Film: Quentin Tarantino is one of those writer/ directors whose films are either loved or loathed. QT is regularly accused of plagiarism and being unoriginal on one hand, and on the other hand, he almost single handed lay brought back the popularity of some exploitation and international films into the limelight. It is unfair to call QT a plagiarist, as he freely acknowledges his influences, and ha always worn them on his sleeve. This film, Kill Bill Volume 1, was conceived during the filming of Pulp Fiction, where GT could see a potential in Uma Thurman to be a great female action lead, and decided to write an entire film around her.

As the title suggests, Kill Bill Volume 1 tells the first part of a revenge tale. ‘The Bride’ (Uma Thurman) was thought to have been murdered by a squad of killers she was once a part of, The Deadly Viper Assassin Squad, a group led by the mysterious Bill (David Carradine). She cuts a swath of violence in this film to get to her intended victims: O-ren Iishi (Lucy Lui) , Elle Driver (Darryl Hannah), Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox), Budd (Michael Madsen), but will she get to them all? Will she survive countless battles so that she can finally Kill Bill? Mmmm…I guess you shall have to watch Volume 2.

So, what is your pleasure? Wuxia? Got it! Exploitation? Yeah, got that too. What about gangster flicks? Yep, there’s a little of that as well. We even have a little bit of anime!! Some of the dialogue in this film suffers from ‘Lucas’ Romantic Scene Disorder’, where the lines seem to have trouble coming out of the actors mouths, and feel as awkward as a contestant on Young Talent Time. Tarantino’s plotting talents however should keep you interested enough that it is only a minor bother.

As usual, QT’s supporting characters are just as interesting as the main cast, and the plot, disjointed though it may be (like Pulp Fiction), moves along at a great pace. A fan of the type of cinema QT has interests in could really spend hours with a group of like-minded friends spotting the massive amounts of nods to other films.

With influences ranging from Tobe Hooper to the Shaw Brothers, and even sometimes borrowing from his own films, Kill Bill Volume 1 could have easily been takeaway crap, but instead it is a fresh dine-in meal with all the trimming… though the dessert has been saved for a Kill Bill Volume 2.

Score: ****

Format: Kill Bill Volume 1 was reviewed with the Australian release Bluray, which is presented in a 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen which is clean and perfect. The reds are SO red, the yellows are SO yellow and the black and white is… well, contrasting! This film is in Dolby 5.1 and is a kick ass track. The sounds of blood spraying and swords clanging together will ring in your lounge room long after the film has finished. There is some great use of musical cues that really make full use of the 5.1 sound stage as well.

Score: ****

Extras: The Making of Kill Bill should have been a three hour extravaganza where QT goes through everything that influenced this film and his career, but instead we get a 22 minute fluff piece that admittedly has a lot of interviews but ultimately leaves you unsatisfied.

There are two music clips from the 5,6,7,8’s, ‘Walk like Jayne Mansfield’ and “I’m Blue’. Is it surf music, is it pink? Who cares, it’s awesome!

There is also two trailers for Kill Bill Volume 1: a teaser trailer and a‘ bootleg’ trailer, which weirdly contains some footage from Volume 2!

Score: **1/2

WISIA: Oh HELL yeah I’ll watch this again!

Thriller: A Cruel Picture (1973)

One from the re watch pile…

Thriller: A Cruel Picture (1973)

Film: You have to love the way some people think. When director Bo Arne Vibenius’ 1969 family film flopped, he did what any good director would do: he got straight back on the horse and made what was to become one of the most un-family oriented mainstream releases ever made (albeit under the pseudonym Alex Fridolinski). This film, Thriller – En Grym Film, in its original Swedish title, has gone by many names: Hookers Revenge and They Call Her One Eye to name a few, and has been released in more running times, due to censorship laws in various countries, than you would find at the Olympics. Notorious to its core, this version, Thriller: A Cruel Picture, is unrated and with the unnecessary hardcore sex and (apparent) actual corpse mutilation in lieu of special effects. Synapse released both the hardcore and no-core versions on DVD, the Red cover, with the subtitle ‘A Cruel Picture’ is the XXX one where as the yellow cover, with the subtitle ‘They Call Her One-Eye’ is the non-awkward porn version.

Thriller: A Cruel Picture tells the tale of young Frigga (Christina Lindberg), who lost the ability to speak after being raped at a very young age. Her mother and father regularly send her to various doctors in the hopes that she will regain her voice. One day, after missing the bus to one of her appointments, she accepts a lift from Tony (Heinz Hopf) who dopes her and within ten days has her hooked on heroin and working for him as a prostitute. After she attacks a client, Tony cuts one of her eyes out. Eventually the pressure of all her woes gets to her, and she decides to fight back…with a vengeance! (Cue zoom in and stabbing strings)

The first thing to say about this movie is hubba hubba: even with one eye covered, Christina Lindberg oozes a sweet sexuality that would be slipped on if you stepped in it. It is unsurprising however that Vibenius had little success with his previous film, as he is an extraordinarily BORING filmmaker. His action scenes are suitable enough, although the use of slo-mo is somewhat excessive. The dialogue or ’emotive’ scenes are done with such extreme close ups of the actors faces that instead of looking sad or friendly, they just all looked ominous. Also of particular note are how badly the cars must be made in Sweden: even the slightest bump during the car chase scene causes these pieces of rubbish to explode. Having said all that though, it was kind of like watching a train wreck; you just couldn’t take your eyes off its grizzly allure.

The hardcore scenes in this film also deserve a mention, as the ‘stunt actors’ in them are quite obviously not Lindberg and her fellow cast mates.

This film never quite fits a certain genre. It’s sometimes arthouse, grindhouse and porno-house all mixed in one. Even though the hardcore parts were obviously tacked-on and felt completely out of place, they didn’t really effect my overall enjoyment of the film (although there was one bit of going-in-dry footage that made me cringe). This is one of those must see oddities. You have heard a lot about it, especially in the wake of the Kill Bill films, but few will probably enjoy it. I was one who thoroughly did, and it will become a regular rotation… although I might fast forward through some of the hairy nut parts, or watch the alternate release, Thriller: They Call Her One Eye.

Score: ****

Format: The picture quality is all over the shop. Grain, cigarette burns… you name an artefact, and this film has it. I will say though, the image is still clear enough to be watchable, and judging by the amount of bootlegs there are around of this film, it is probably the best it has looked in years. To be brutally honest, the slightly off image just adds to the sleaziness of the entire proceedings, and is probably reminiscent of those old grind house cinemas that exploitation stuff like this used to get shown in. The film is presented in an anamorphic 1.66:1 aspect ratio, even though the package states it’s 1.78:1. Presented in spectacular 1.0! This is a fairly clear mono track, but to fully appreciate this film you need to watch it both in English, and then with the subtitles…they are almost a different story! Even the main character’s name goes from Frigga (English dub) to Madeline (English subtitle). Keep your ear out for sound effects straight out of Scooby Doo cartoons, especially during the car chase scenes

Score: **

Extras: There are 4 theatrical trailers on this disc: the TV spot (for They Call Her One Eye), the theatrical trailer (for They Call Her One Eye), the Double Feature trailer (a grind house double feature trailer where the film is called the Hooker’s Revenge and is accompanied by The Photographer’s Model) and the Thriller trailer.

Outtake Reel is a few short outtakes, all in complete silence.

Alternate Harbor Fight is a reconstructed version of the harbor fight sequence using pieces of thought to be lost footage, which is then put together with some actual film footage to make a ‘new’ version of the fight.

Movie in Pictures (38 seconds) is the entire movie shown with a single shot from each scene…why? It’s like a crappy View Master version of the film.

There are 5 stills galleries: In Bed with Christina, a series of nude shots of Lindberg. Behind the Scenes, which is a collection of BTS footage, mainly of Lindberg, but dressed this time. Advertising and Promotion shows the posters and other advertising paraphernalia for the film. Deleted Fight Scene shows the still pics from a scene omitted from the final film, and Production photos are on set photos taken during the production of this feature.

There are also text filmographies for Lindberg and Vibenius.

Score: ***

WISIA: This film is such a weirdo watch, I actually can’t resist it, and have watched it several times.