FROM PARIS WITH LOVE (2010)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 33 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Bloody Violence throughout, Drug Content, Pervasive Language and brief Sexuality

parislove-poster

Directed by: Pierre Morel

Written by: Adi Hasak & Luc Besson

Starring: John Travolta, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Kasia Smutniak, David Gasman, Richard Durden, Yin Bing & Amber Rose Revah

Sometimes, a movie surprises the hell out of you. That’s exactly what happened with FROM PARIS WITH LOVE for me. Every bit of marketing indicated this movie would suck and its original January release certainly didn’t do it any favors. John Travolta’s output during the 2000’s has been mediocre at best (WILD HOGS, anyone? What about OLD DOGS?) and Jonathan Rhys Meyers isn’t exactly a huge leading man on the big screen. This movie also didn’t bank at the box office and plans of a sequel have recently been scrapped. I stuck in this film with expectations of a cheesy action flick and it’s actually pretty damn good. While this movie definitely falls into the cheesy action genre, the script packs in numerous surprises, performs a balancing act of being comical and serious, and had me walking away very satisfied. I can’t believe I’m saying this but FROM PARIS WITH LOVE is one of the more underrated action efforts of the 2010’s.

parislove-1

James Reese (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) works as the personal aide to a U.S. ambassador in France, but also has a side-gig as a rookie CIA agent. Sick of swapping license plates and planting microphones, Reese finally receives a long-awaited promotion…but it comes with a catch. That catch is loose-cannon partner Charlie Wax (John Travolta). Wax’s methods are unconventional to say the least and he doesn’t exactly follow the rulebook, but he gets results! This means that Reese soon finds himself in over his head as the mismatched pair of agents contend with a cocaine ring and a terrorist plot. All the while, Reese attempts to keep his fiancé Caroline (Kasia Smutniak) from leaving him after his latest assignment causes a string of misunderstandings. Paris is already a wild city…but it’s even wilder when Wax is in town.

MCDFRPA EC038

Strange as it sounds, the unlikely chemistry between Meyers and Travolta greatly benefit FROM PARIS WITH LOVE. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is most famously known for playing Henry VIII in HBO’s THE TUDORS and he doesn’t seem like a plausible action hero type, but that’s exactly what sells his role as nervous Reese. This rookie agent is entirely new to the world of cocaine, high-stakes espionage and large body counts, meaning that a lot of comedy comes from his shocked newbie reactions. Meanwhile, John Travolta chews the scenery like it’s going out of style as Charlie Wax. That could be taken as a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the viewer. As someone who can kick back and enjoy cheesy action films as quality entertainment, this was a very good thing for me. Wax’s loose-cannon attitude and even looser moral compass bring plenty of jokes and cool charisma, making him a lovable scumbag.

parislove-3

The supporting cast is almost inconsequential. The only two side roles of note are Kasia Smutniak’s stint as frequently glimpsed fiancé Caroline and Richard Durden as bland Ambassador Bennington. The villains are pretty much one-note antagonists and hit a pretty dark cord considering the time that this film was made, along with the current state of the world. Terrorism isn’t necessarily exploited by PARIS’s screenplay though, because it follows the same path that many other action films from the 80’s and 90’s have already tread down. The difference here is that PARIS’s sense of humor, over-the-top action and jumps into serious tonal territory occasionally seem jarring, though the film performs an impressive juggling act for the most part.

MCDFRPA EC030

There’s also something to be said for an action movie that can make you laugh and simultaneously keep you on the edge of your seat with unexpected surprises. One plot revelation came out of nowhere and effectively punched me in the gut. The director and writers should to be commended for not backing out of their ballsy decision too. The film’s visuals look slick for the most part, though a brief bit of slow motion seemed like a sloppy post-production effect. The pacing is great as the film never slows down once Wax enters the story. The action itself is explosively awesome as gunfights, car chases and tense standoffs are executed with adrenaline-pumping energy.

parislove-5

FROM PARIS WITH LOVE is far from perfect. It’s a cheesy action flick, meaning that there are a few lapses in logic, some well-trodden clichés, and stretches of seriousness that don’t fully fit within the explosive entertaining atmosphere. Still, the film remains a lot of fun and left me very satisfied. It’s an action movie with comedy, twists, good chemistry between its two leads, loads of fun, and plenty of action. What more could you really want from a movie like this?

Grade: B

The Top 15 Movies I Reviewed in 2016

List by Derrick Carter

2016 has been a crazy year both on film and in real life. I’ve reviewed just under 200 movies in the course of the last twelve months and for the most part, have fared pretty well in catching cool new flicks as well as crossing many revered classics off my cinephile “shame list.” As a result, my focus in 2016 wasn’t necessarily on catching every new film that graced the big screen and I instead went off whatever the hell I felt like watching/reviewing. Though I didn’t get as many reviews up during 2016 as I have in previous years (for a myriad of reasons), I do feel that For the Love of Celluloid sort of matured over the past twelve months and deeply appreciate the support of anyone who bothers to read my little movie blog.

Apologies if I briefly bore you with a technicality, but my year-end lists will now focus on first time watches in the course of the year and not specifically releases from the year. Without further ado, here are my fifteen favorite first time watches from 2016…

Honorable Mentions: If I hadn’t previously seen RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, THE SHINING, and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE before 2016, then they all would have easily made this list. ANTHROPOID, 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE, ZOOTOPIA, SAUSAGE PARTY, THE NICE GUYS, THE HANDMAIDEN and TRAIN TO BUSAN were all stand-out movies in this rather mixed bag cinematic year. SPIRITED AWAY, UNITED 93, and THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY also barely scraped by in missing this list. So, what did make the list?…

15-lady-snowblood

15. LADY SNOWBLOOD: Before getting into how much I love this movie, this film deserves some context. A local cinema pub runs monthly Kung Fu Movie Nights here and a buddy of mine occasionally drags me to them. I’m not a big martial arts aficionado and most of the movies I’ve seen at this pub have been entertaining and undeniably stupid. However, LADY SNOWBLOOD blew me out of the water. This was more than just a martial arts flick being shown in a cinema pub, but rather a beautiful, bloody revenge tale that carefully unwound its plot and sold its bad-ass heroine as someone to root for as she sliced and diced her way to vengeance. Featuring geysers of blood, gorgeous visuals, and a calculated delivery of fun, LADY SNOWBLOOD may likely go down as my favorite martial arts flick of all-time!

14-invitation

14. THE INVITATION: Easily the best horror film that I saw this year, THE INVITATION is brilliant in planting the viewer on the edge of their seat for 100 minutes. The premise is simple. A man goes to a suspiciously casual dinner party held by his ex-wife. Through the course of seemingly mundane actions and a possibly paranoid protagonist, we are taken on a tense ride of two terrifying possibilities. This film does a fantastic job of keeping the viewer flip-flopping on their stance and trying to figure out the dark mystery behind the plot, which fully unleashes itself in a truly frightening third act. Don’t watch the trailer. Don’t read any long plot synopsis. If you want to be scared and appreciate a classy Hitchcockian sense of unease, then definitely go into this film as blind as possible!

13-dredd

13. DREDD: When DREDD came out in 2012, I quickly wrote it off as a RAID rip-off in spite of the comic book source material. Having finally watched the film four years later, I realize just how wrong I was. Though it may resemble THE RAID on the surface, DREDD could not be any more different. This ultraviolent, highly entertaining and fully loaded sci-fi action extravaganza had me laughing and cheering from start to finish. The film doesn’t present its action in a gritty, heavily edited, shaky-cam style as attention to detail and beautiful lenses have been used to portray the gory chaos. I really hope that DREDD 2 eventually becomes a reality, because this needs to be a franchise!

12-doctor-strange

12. DOCTOR STRANGE: The Marvel Cinematic Universe has now been running for nine years and fourteen films. Though none of its installments have failed to entertain me (some far more than others), I wouldn’t call any of them perfect entertainment…until now. Telling the most inventive origin story thus far in the Marvel universe and simultaneously functioning as a mystical adventure, DOCTOR STRANGE is easily the best MCU movie yet! The acting is stellar, making the main character’s transformation from selfish jerk to courageous hero all the better as a result. The effects are mindblowing (not to sound cliché) and deliver some of the most memorable sequences to hit the big screen in quite some time. It’s like a magical acid trip had a baby with a superhero movie and I loved every second of it!

11-breakfast-club

11. THE BREAKFAST CLUB: Yes, I know. I hadn’t seen this movie before and was only pressured into watching it by a co-worker who kept bugging me about it. After finally caving in, I discovered why this John Hughes classic has so many fans and is widely considered to be one of the best films to come out of the 80’s. Revolving around five fleshed-out characters and skewing teenage clique stereotypes (that still exist to this day), THE BREAKFAST CLUB is equally funny as it is insightful. The film is a perfect balance of comedy and drama, resulting in an emotionally involving and beautiful story about how people are alike in spite of their differences. Maybe, in a world that’s so divided by differences and labels, we should all just kick back, watch this movie and remember that we can get along. I’ll never forget about this movie. Get it? That’s a reference to the song that plays during the end credits. Whatever, let’s move on…

10-people-v-oj-simpson

10. THE PEOPLE V. O.J. SIMPSON: AMERICAN CRIME STORY: Yes, I know this is technically a miniseries, but you know what? This is my list and I don’t care. THE PEOPLE V. O.J. SIMPSON is better than damn near every true-crime film I’ve seen in my lifetime. Featuring a bevy of great acting talent and more than guaranteed to push a few buttons on every viewer, this 10-part miniseries stays true to the facts and relives the “trial of the century” in painstaking detail. I was addicted to this show when it aired earlier this year and have since binge-watched it as a complete cinematic experience. When paired with ESPN’s excellent five-part documentary O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA, there isn’t much left to be examined about the O.J. Simpson case. If you are the least bit intrigued by true crime, then PEOPLE V. O.J. SIMPSON is a must-see!

9-deadpool

9. DEADPOOL: Though this year had more than its fair share of disappointing superhero flicks, 2016 still managed to deliver two spectacular comic book movies. I loved DOCTOR STRANGE, but DEADPOOL might just be one of my favorite superhero movies of all-time (next to the DARK KNIGHT trilogy). This rowdy X-MEN spinoff did everything in its power to be entertaining as hell and milked the R rating for everything it was worth. Because of DEADPOOL’s massive success as an R-rated money-maker, I truly hope that more studios will realize older audiences will pay to see great R-rated movies on the big screen too. Not everything needs to be accessible to younger viewers and every demographic, DEADPOOL was refreshingly bonkers and the most fun I’ve had in a movie theater since MAD MAX: FURY ROAD!

MBDONTH EC043

8. ON THE WATERFRONT: Another title that I crossed off my shame list this year, ON THE WATERFRONT never seemed that appealing to me. Sure, I had seen Marlon Brando’s contender speech out of context and heard the basic premise, but none of it sounded particularly special. This movie isn’t about a corrupt union and poorly-treated dock workers though, instead it’s a story about broken souls and a long walk to redemption. Marlon Brando’s performance is breathtaking as he disappears into the role of a tough guy with a soft heart. This film progresses naturally and doesn’t cheat out on its dangerous stakes, resulting in some very tense moments. The final minutes are unbelievably emotional as a simple dockside walk becomes a test of willpower and ultimately sums up the entire film. ON THE WATERFRONT is an emotional, brilliantly acted, and spectacularly written piece of art that deeply moved me!

7-animal-house

7. ANIMAL HOUSE: Here’s another movie I crossed off my shame list during 2016. I had never seen ANIMAL HOUSE before, though I was well aware of its reputation. No hyperbole, this film changed the face of movie comedies and opened the door for crass humor to hit the big screen in gross-out fashion. This movie has plenty of hilarious scenes and quotes, but taken within the film’s context, they become ten times funnier. The dark sense of humor in areas had me cackling while the many sex jokes easily contributed to the likes of AMERICAN PIE and SUPERBAD further down the line. Also, John Belushi was a comedic tour-de-force to be reckoned with. With jokes about sex, death, horses, chainsaws, beer, racial differences, impressions of zits, and much more, ANIMAL HOUSE truly is one of the greatest and wildest comedies of all-time!

6-training-day

6. TRAINING DAY: Though it was released fifteen years ago, TRAINING DAY still seems frighteningly relevant in today’s world. Showcasing a dark underbelly of corrupt cops and street gangs, this film takes place in the space of 24 hours and sunk its hooks into me from start to finish. Ethan Hawke is a naïve protagonist (that’s kind of the point of the story) and we are forced to follow in his footsteps as he stands alongside one of my new favorite cinematic villains. Denzel Washington’s character is a beast and delivers one of the greatest movie monologues (for my money) of all-time in Detective Alonzo Harris’s street-side closing speech. Grim, gritty, and suspenseful the whole way through, TRAINING DAY is one of my new favorite movies!

5-arrival

5. ARRIVAL: A beautifully crafted and mature piece of science fiction, ARRIVAL’s true brilliance didn’t fully hit me until the closing credits began to roll. This film takes the alien invaders trope and spins in a mature, realistic direction. Though this has already been done in films like CLOSE ENCOUNTERS and CONTACT, I guarantee that it hasn’t been executed in the complex and thought-provoking manner that ARRIVAL delivers. Seemingly innocuous scenes take on whole new meanings when you realize the story’s true nature. The ending also guarantees that you won’t be able to watch this film in the same way upon a second viewing, much like Christopher Nolan’s THE PRESTIGE becomes a completely different movie once you’ve been wowed the first time around. ARRIVAL is a science fiction masterpiece and continues director Denis Villeneuve’s winning streak.

4-to-kill-a-mockingbird

4. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD: Despite stemming from a book that’s required in many classrooms and existing for decades as a beloved classic that’s cherished by countless film fans, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD somehow never made its way across my eyeballs before 2016. However, I now count it among the most emotional dramas that I’ve ever seen. This film tackles hard-hitting issues through the innocent eyes of a child in a coming-of-age tale crossed with a courtroom drama. Gregory Peck’s performance as Atticus Finch is outstanding and the rest of the cast put in stellar work as well. This profoundly powerful film deeply moved me and left me on the verge of tears with its beautiful conclusion. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is a masterpiece!

3-revenant

3. THE REVENANT: The film that finally won Leo an Academy Award, THE REVENANT is an amazing cinematic feat that was created by both madness and brilliance. Did Leo look like he just puked when biting into a buffalo liver? That’s because he did. Do these cast members look like they’re freezing their asses off? That’s because they are. Does it seem like these are real locations? That’s because the director shot in natural light and proceeded to put his cast and crew through a hellish outdoor shooting experience. Production accomplishments aside, THE REVENANT remains a riveting tale of revenge and survival in harsher than harsh circumstances. This film is a gritty, unforgiving, and awe-inspiring piece of cinematic art that has blown me away twice at this point and will continue to do so many times in the future. Also, this movie may have given me a fear of bears too.

IMG_3703.CR2

2. THE LOBSTER: The best love story I’ve seen all year belongs to a twisted dystopian dark comedy about a guy who’s forced to choose between finding a romantic partner or being turned into an animal. Sound weird? Oh boy, it is! Besides being strange all the way around, THE LOBSTER is also a wonderfully unique flick that’s equal parts charming and disturbing. This cinematic world felt like Terry Gilliam made a movie with David Lynch. The feelings this film gave me are almost impossible to properly describe as there really hasn’t been anything like it before. It’s a romance like no other and if you have a penchant for weird arthouse cinema, then I highly suggest that you watch THE LOBSTER at your earliest convenience…preferably with a significant other who’s also into awesome cinematic oddities.

1-high-rise

1. HIGH-RISE: So if you thought THE LOBSTER was an odd choice for this list, then brace yourself because I can see people flat-out hating my number-one pick. HIGH-RISE is one of the few movies to be adapted from the work of British science fiction author J.G. Ballard. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because David Cronenberg adapted his work into twisted romantic thriller CRASH. That’s the level we’re at here, folks. HIGH-RISE is a grim, darkly hilarious and disturbing tale about a high society that devolves into a bloody class war in the space of a forty-floor apartment building…and I absolutely friggin’ adored this film! I’ve watched it four times within the space of the year and plan on revisiting it many more times in the future. The stylish visuals, colorful characters, twisted story arcs, oddball humor mixed with darkly disturbing content, a suffocating atmosphere, and shocking social commentary blew me out of the water. I love this movie so much that I actually listened to the DVD commentary. It’s the first film to make me do that in years! Though it’s definitely not for everyone (see THE LOBSTER’s divisiveness and crank it up to 11), HIGH-RISE is my favorite movie of 2016 and makes me hope for more big screen adaptations of Ballard’s work.

2016 was a pretty insane year in a lot of different ways. Many movies disappointed me in the theater, but I still saw plenty of good and great films. I also crossed many titles of my cinephile “shame list,” though I still have many more to eventually get through. Here’s hoping for an even better 2017!

THE PEOPLE v. O.J. SIMPSON: AMERICAN CRIME STORY (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 8 hours 19 minutes

ACS1 poster

Starring: Cuba Gooding Jr., Sarah Paulson, Sterling K. Brown, John Travolta, Courtney B. Vance, David Schwimmer, Nathan Lane, Kenneth Choi, Bruce Greenwood, Chris Bauer, Selma Blair & Steven Pasquale

AMERICAN CRIME STORY is the more mature true-crime cousin of FX’s AMERICAN HORROR STORY. This is a new anthology series wherein each season will examine a notorious American crime (hence the not so subtle title) and they picked a doozy for the first season: the O.J. Simpson murder trial. This “trial of the century” was a double-homicide case turned national sensation. A car chase interrupted the NBA playoffs, broadcasts of the trial resulted in a media circus, tabloids took sexist jabs at the main prosecutor, and racial tensions across the country became even more tense. The whole trial is a fascinating story and makes for equally fascinating television. If THE PEOPLE v. O.J. SIMPSON is any indication of the quality in store for AMERICAN CRIME STORY’s future seasons, then this has just become one of my favorite TV shows!

ACS1 1

On June 12, 1994, Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman were brutally murdered. The key suspect in the case became football player/actor/Nicole’s abusive ex-husband O.J. Simpson. This was a black celebrity being tried for the murders two white people in Los Angeles, a city where the Rodney King riots had taken place two years earlier. State prosecutors seemed to have an open-and-shut case (with mountains of evidence against O.J.), but Simpson had a dream team of lawyers who weren’t afraid to divert attention away from the actual case at hand by any means necessary. The trial became less about the murders and more about media, elaborate conspiracy theories, racial tensions, police corruption, and celebrity status. You get to see this all play out in painstakingly detailed fashion.

ACS1 2

“I already know the ending of this trial,” you might say, “what could possibly be gained from watching this show?” I would respond by pointing out that THE PEOPLE v. O.J. SIMPSON goes through every fascinating bit of the trial. We see the initial investigation, the forming of O.J.’s legal dream team, just how much the prosecution screwed up in presenting evidence, drama among jury members, the public’s reaction to the case, the race card being played time and time again, and the ultimately heartbreaking verdict. This miniseries keeps a level hand as to whether or not O.J. committed the crimes, even though it’s based on Jeffrey Tobin’s book THE RUN OF HIS LIFE (which works under assumption that O.J. Simpson murdered Nicole in cold blood). We are given evidence for the possibilities of O.J. being guilty as sin (something I believe), but also enough wiggle room for the assumption that he might not have committed the crimes (something that other people might believe). It was an undeniably difficult tightrope to walk, but AMERICAN CRIME STORY does it well.

ACS1 3

Besides going through the courtroom drama and murder proceedings, this show also holds up a mirror to mid-90’s America in order to explore ugly truths about racial tensions and media sensationalism. It’s scary how relevant this show is to our current times and how certain things still haven’t changed much. It’s not brought up to an over-the-top degree, but the Kardashian children occasionally pop in and their portrayal is less than glamorous (young fame-seeking whores). It’s an apt reminder that we’re still living in the country the O.J. Simpson trial created. Every time you see a Kardashian “news story,” you’re looking at a direct result of post-O.J. America.

ACS1 4

The media circus isn’t the only thing that PEOPLE v. O.J. SIMPSON nails, because we get loads of scenes that examine racial tension. There is a particularly powerful scene wherein Johnny Cochrane is falsely pulled over and handcuffed in front of his children, but keeps his cool. This small moment demonstrates that the black populace were indeed being horribly mistreated in the streets of L.A. (again, Rodney King just a few years earlier). Other areas of the country were just as bad (if not, worse) and it’s understandable that a “win” was needed to feel justice. Unfortunately, that “win” had to come in the form of O.J. Simpson. More rock solid examinations of racial tension arrive in the jury episodes (near the end of the season) as we watch these people interact with each other and base assumptions solely on color of skin. It’s a touchy subject, but AMERICAN CRIME STORY covers it even-handedly and with a level-head.

ACS1 5

I’ve mentioned the historical content and deeper areas that O.J. SIMPSON covers, but have yet to mention the performances. To be blunt, they’re brilliant across the board. Sarah Paulson is sympathetic, but equally frustrating to watch as prosecutor Marcia Clark. Sterling K. Brown is great as Christopher Darden, a black face for hire in the prosecution’s eyes and a man who wants to convict a murderer in his own eyes. Kenneth Choi is a dead ringer for Judge Ito and actually managed to come off somewhat likable.

ACS1 6

As far as O.J.’s defensive dream team goes, John Travolta plays a diva in Robert Shapiro and Nathan Lane is perfectly slimy as F. Lee Bailey. David Schwimmer isn’t exactly known for his acting prowess, but he’s surprisingly fantastic as Robert Kardashian. His complete arc through the season offers one of the most quietly powerful scenes during the finale. He’s only outshined by Courtney B. Vance’s Johnnie Cochran. To me, there was no Courtney Vance in this series, it was just Cochran brought back from the dead! Vance is perfect! He captures the rage, determination, and underhanded ethics.

ACS1 7

Finally, there’s Cuba Gooding Jr. as O.J. Simpson. Though he might not bear an immediate resemblance to the titular criminal, Gooding Jr. captures the arrogance, mental instability, and anger present in the real-life O.J. It’s funny though, because Cuba Gooding Jr. isn’t exactly the focus of this series. He’s actually overshadowed by the legal teams duking it out among one another. O.J. doesn’t get to do much but sit in his chair and occasionally yell at his lawyers. After the first few episodes, Gooding Jr.’s screen time is significantly shortened, but that actually makes for a more interesting show as a result.

ACS1 8

Parts of THE PEOPLE v. O.J. SIMPSON were definitely exaggerated for the sake of ratings (a bar scene between Christopher Darden and Marcia Clarke is clichéd, F. Lee Bailey has an enemy juror nicknamed “the demon,” etc.), but this show also sticks true to the facts on a lot of fronts. It’s unapologetically grim, harsh, and depressing…but also, extremely well-written, carefully detailed, driven by stellar performances, and packs many powerful (frighteningly relevant) punches. THE PEOPLE v. O.J. SIMPSON is one of the best true-crime television miniseries to ever hit the small screen and I’d also argue that it’s better than most true-crime films too!

Grade: A+

THE PUNISHER (2004)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 4 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Pervasive Brutal Violence, Language and brief Nudity

Punisher poster

Directed by: Jonathan Hensleigh

Written by: Jonathan Hensleigh & Michael France

(based on THE PUNISHER comics by Gerry Conway, Ross Andru & John Romita, Sr.)

Starring: Thomas Jane, John Travolta, Will Patton, Roy Scheider, Laura Harring, Ben Foster, Rebecca Romijn & John Pinette

Marvel failed to birth a PUNISHER film franchise during the late 80’s, so they gave it a second try in 2004. Though this early 2000’s incarnation is a more “realistic” take on the Punisher’s origin, it failed to spawn the potential franchise that the studio and viewers were hoping for. Despite that disappointing turn of events, the film still stands head and shoulders over the 1989 Dolph Lundgren version. Instead of feeling like a straight-up comic book movie, THE PUNISHER has the tone of a gritty revenge-thriller…despite its main character’s claims that his motives are not fueled by vengeance.

MCDPUNI EC001

Frank Castle is an undercover FBI agent whose latest sting has resulted in the death of Bobby Saint, the son of powerful mafia lord Howard Saint. In order to avenge his scumbag son’s death, Saint orders the execution of Frank Castle’s entire family. This results in every single one of Frank’s relatives being wiped off the face of the earth in a bloody ambush, least of all his wife and son. Little does Saint know that Frank barely survived the vicious attack and is now fueled by an overwhelming desire to punish the Saint crime family for all of their wrongdoings. Frank sets up a carefully calculated plan of revenge, all while trying to dodge colorful assassins at every turn.

MCDPUNI EC009

To state the obvious, Thomas Jane is a far better Punisher than Dolph Lundgren could ever hope to be. Jane manages to maintain the character’s tragic brooding nature along with his bad-ass action hero persona. It’s a hard combination to balance, but he pulls it off damn near perfectly. When I think of The Punisher, Thomas Jane is always the first incarnation that pops into my head. Facing off against him is John Travolta as the evil, soulless Howard Saint. Though Travolta can get a little hammy in places, he’s so good at being bad. Saint is a villain that you love to hate and you can’t help but take gratification when things are (sometimes, literally) falling apart around him.

MCDPUNI EC011

The side characters are where this PUNISHER becomes a bit of a mixed bag. Ben Foster and John Pinette play comic relief neighbors to Jane’s sullen Punisher. Though the script eventually tries to craft something deeper out of them, their presence feels forced and unneeded. Rebecca Romijn receives slightly more to do as the potential love interest for Castle, but her eventual arc feels slightly half-assed and underwhelming. It seemed like the film was building towards something big with this character and then forgot what it was by the time the final scene arrived.

MCDPUNI EC007

The foes that Frank faces off against are far more interesting and entertaining to watch than any of the three apartment dwellers. There’s the Russian (a huge, silent, and seemingly unkillable foe) and the short-lived, but memorable, Harry Heck (an assassin who also fancies himself a musician). The former delivers the best fight scene of the entire film, while the latter has a memorable shoot-out that ends in one crazy punch line. Will Patton also receives a significant amount of screen time as Howard Saint’s number-two man and I ultimately liked where they went with his character (even if it seems slightly silly by today’s standards).

MCDPUNI EC008

What should be praised about 2004’s PUNISHER is that it actually takes time to develop Frank Castle as a family man before getting into fiery combat sequences and bloody revenge. It’s all the better for it because I was rooting for Frank, even as he was committing rather monstrous acts that make you question whether he’s better than the bad guys. Though the film has some significant downtime between action sequences to watch Castle slowly transform into the unforgiving Punisher, the finale is truly something to behold. Viewers who find themselves fidgeting through the movie’s slower moments will be rewarded with an explosion-filled climax that’s littered with corpses. That’s a very good thing in THE PUNISHER universe.

MCDPUNI EC002

This reboot of THE PUNISHER can get a tad over-the-top and silly in places (John Travolta’s ultimate fate is completely ridiculous), but remains an enjoyably dark revenge-thriller. This is a film for those who want a straight-up violent action movie featuring Marvel’s equivalent of Batman (though this vigilante has no qualms about killing bad guys in particularly brutal ways). THE PUNISHER is an entertaining good time and miles better than its 1989 competition (though I have yet to see the 2008 reboot).

Grade: B

PULP FICTION (1994)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 34 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Graphic Violence and Drug Use, Pervasive Strong Language and some Sexuality

PulpFic poster

Directed by: Quentin Tarantino

Written by: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis, Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Maria de Medeiros, Ving Rhames, Eric Stoltz, Rosanna Arquette & Christopher Walken

Coming off of RESERVOIR DOGS, Quentin Tarantino was recognized as a rising talent. This led to Miramax instantly green lighting Tarantino’s next film based solely on his script. So at Cannes 1994, Tarantino’s sophomore effort PULP FICTION premiered to much acclaim, awards and success. Since its release, the crime anthology has cemented itself as a pop culture phenomenon and frequently ranks amongst the best films ever made. Whereas RESERVOIR DOGS had a couple of slight flaws that kept it from perfection, PULP FICTION was the first outright Tarantino masterpiece. This film is simply awesome! Told in a non-linear format of four interlocking crime stories, PULP FICTION is an anthology that was unlike any other at the time. So without further ado, I’ll get to the stories…

MSDPUFI EC003

THE DINER (Wraparound): This segment opens and closes the film from two different points of view. A couple (referring to themselves as Honey Bunny and Pumpkin) begin a conversation about mistakes that can be made in robbing banks, gas stations and other locations, only to reveal that they’ve planned an ingenious robbery of a diner. Their plan doesn’t exactly play out the way they intended it to when a mysterious patron steps in. This segment immediately throws the quirky sensibilities of PULP FICTION at the viewer. Despite being not necessarily funny in that the characters are despicable, this story thrives on witty dialogue and little touches. It’s pretty excellent stuff that cuts to credits and then we get…

MCDPUFI EC001

VINCENT VEGA AND MARSELLUS WALLACE’S WIFE: Out of all the segments in PULP FICTION, this is the least violent. A hitman, Vince Vega, is instructed to take his boss’s wife out for a date. This is especially nerve-wracking for Vince, because his boss, Marsellus Wallace, is known for being vicious towards people who cross him. In an unexpected turn of events, Vega and Mia Wallace hit it off very well at a 1950’s-themed restaurant. The date gets complicated as things go on, but you can’t help but feel that there’s some real chemistry between Vega (played in a stellar turn by John Travolta) and Mia (a sexy Uma Thurman). It feels nice to see a bit of relaxation and tenderness in a movie that’s so crazy and violent on every other front. This story is far lighter fare than…

MSDPUFI EC004

THE GOLD WATCH: Butch is a boxer paid off by Marsellus (yes, the mob boss from the previous story) to take a dive during his final boxing match. However, Butch decides to get greedy and cash in on himself winning the match. Now on the run, Butch realizes that his beloved gold watch (handed down through three generations) is still at his apartment. His journey to retrieve the watch takes him through encounters with very nasty people…and I’m not just talking about gangsters. It seems like this segment gets a bit too dark for some, but I love it. It’s grim and pretty disturbing, but never revels in an unpleasant nature. Things are sick and wrong, but somehow remain fun and entertaining. You know that you’ve done something right when MAD TV and THE SIMPSONS are brilliantly lampooning your material in a way that pays respect to it rather than outright mocks it. Though this story is friggin’ messed up, we get a lighter touch with the final full length story…

MSDPUFI EC001

THE BONNIE SITUATION: Vince Vega and his partner, Jules, are assigned to kill a few guys who screwed over Marsellus. The hit is successful, but the pair wind up with an accidental corpse in the backseat of their car in broad daylight. In a desperate attempt to avoid jail, they hide at Jules’s friend’s home and try to clean up. This segment might seem sort of uneventful, but it’s damn near entirely driven by dialogue between the characters. Whether it’s Quentin Tarantino (in a far better cameo than his stint in RESERVOIR DOGS) talking about non-existent signs on his lawn or Harvey Keitel (cast as the charismatic Wolf) teaching the pair of blood-soaked killers how to best cover their tracks. It’s all entertaining to a ridiculously satisfying degree. There’s no real way of describing why, because you’ll fall under its spell as this segment goes on.

MSDPUFI EC005

Usually, my anthology reviews have grades for each of the segments and an overall grade for the whole film. There’s no need for that approach in PULP FICTION because each of four interlocking crime stories are A+ worthy. The film’s fun tone and sense of style permeates through all of its segments, even though each can be held up as their own individual stories. Ranging from funny and charming to twisted and darkly hilarious, Quentin Tarantino’s sophomore film is a classic that will hold a strong place in cinema history. I’d tell you to watch it, but you probably already have.

Grade: A+

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑