The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

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--Matt

Friday, March 12, 2010

Punisher: War Zone (2008)

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I first saw this when it came out on video. I might have seen it in the theater had it been there long enough, but that wasn't to be. It looked cool in the commercials, sorta kinda-- at the very least cooler than the Thomas Jane/John Travolta Punisher.

Punisher: War Zone takes place in New York, however many years after Frank Castle's wife and kids were killed, and he's been delivering his own brand of justice on killers. In the process of taking out a group of mafioso, he one, accidentally kills an undercover cop, and two, runs this dude through the bottle crusher at a recycling plants so his face is all messed up, and a plastic surgeon can only piece it back together so he looks like a jigsaw puzzle, hence his name, Jigsaw. Anyway, this cop may have set aside a good amount of mafia money, Jigsaw and his boys want it, and Castle feels like he should protect the family after he killed their dad, putting he and Jigsaw on a collision course to wackiness.

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I definitely liked this one better than the 2004 Punisher. One major plus was it felt like it could be a sequel to the Dolph Lundgren version, with how faithful it was to the comic book Punisher's origins. It's much more violent than either the 1989 or 2004 versions, with some very vicious kills, including one (which I included on the image page) where Castle almost punches right through a dude's face. (Though it's important to not the 1989 version had a much higher body count.) I mean, it wasn't all perfect, but there have been many worse comic book movies, and this was good for me.

For some reason I thought this film made more money than it did, which is why I didn't review it sooner. According to imdb, it only made $7.9 mill at the box office. I have to believe the only reason why it made so little was because it wasn't marketed well. With a budget of only $22 million, this was no Iron Man or Spiderman, this was a small scale, extremely violent, action film. I think that's what made it good for me, though. Ghost Rider, Catwoman, and Elektra all could've benefited from a smaller scale approach to the material-- I'm not saying they needed to be as violent, just not as big budgety. But the thing is, Hollywood has no idea how to sell us on a $22 million dollar too violent for kids comic book movie. Taco Bell and McDonald's don't want to do tie-ins with stuff like that, and shows like Today and Live! with Regis and Kelly don't want to interview actors showing clips from a project like that. The thing is, it was released near Christmas, which seems like a bad move, because it had a lot of nicer, more family oriented stuff to contend with, but I think had they marketed it as a way to let off steam without hurting anyone at a very stressful time of year, they might have made more money. Who wouldn't want to see something like that after spending hours with holiday shoppers?

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Also on imdb, I read that Thomas Jane and the 2004 film's original director were on board to do a sequel, and then one thing led to another and that fell though. Jane said the direction they were going in was too comic book-y, and he wanted a gritty, more realistic approach. What, like the guy who lived in an abandoned high school shop class for an apartment? What, like the guy who fought some ridiculous looking Johnny Cash wannabe of an assassin and killed the guy by shooting the blade of his knife out of it's handle, into the guy's throat? That's a serious, gritty movie, huh? A superfluous scene where a guy's piercings are ripped out does not a gritty film make, Mr. Jane.

With one of my all-time favorite directors, Kathryn Bigelow, winning the Oscar for best director last Sunday, I thought it would be good to point out that Punisher: War Zone is the only comic book movie directed by a woman, as far as I can tell. Lexi Alexander, who also directed Green Street Hooligans, took over when the director of the 2004 film split with Jane. I looked at her bio, and apparently she funded her movie making education by working as a stunt woman. I'm not saying she did a better job because she's a woman, I'm just saying it's important to point out the job she did, and that there aren't many women (really any) hired by the big studios to direct comic book movies; and also that throughout this look at comic book movies at the DTVC, I've had a running examination of which woman is the hottest lead, when perhaps it's a woman behind the camera, calling all the shots, that might be the hottest of all.

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Finally, already this week, with Black Dynamite, we've had one Seinfeld alum in Phil Morris, and now we have another with the great Wayne Knight, who plays Micro (I guess not quite Microchip, but almost?). He and Dash Mihok were the only two people I recognized in this, though Julie Benz is in Dexter, which I don't watch, but I'm sure a lot of other people do. I had no idea, and still have no idea, who Ray Stevenson is, but he worked much better than Thomas Jane as the Punisher, so I'm glad Jane felt things weren't "Gritty" enough for him. Oh yeah, and I also recognized Dominic West, who played Jigsaw-- though only barely. This was a long way off from A Midsummer Night's Dream or Chicago, and no, he didn't have an English accent.

So if you dig a lot of violence, this is the movie for you. I'm not sure it's a definitive or the best possible Punisher movie, but it works decently well, at least as far as I'm concerned. I'm not sure if I buy the Jane criticism that it's too comic book-y, but what it isn't is too blockbuster-y, which is a great breath of fresh air. Had this done better in the theater we may have seen a sea change in the way these things are made, but unfortunately that didn't happen, so expect to see the next attempt to make another Spiderman 2 or The Dark Knight in a theater near you this summer.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0450314/

10 comments:

  1. Well Stevenson is mostly known for the HBO series Rome(which i've never seen), and Julie Benz was also in the Boondock Saints II(with a really fake southern accent n less!) You got any plans to review that film?

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  2. Nice write-up! I wondered what this film was like. However, you write:

    "I thought it would be good to point out that Punisher: War Zone is the only comic book movie directed by a woman, as far as I can tell."

    Not true. Rachel Talalay directed TANK GIRL but considering how well it did it's not surprising that nobody remembers this film. And since that gig, Ms. Talalay has been relegated to the obscurity of directing episodes of random TV shows.

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  3. I didn't have any plans to do either Boondock Saints film, but I may sometime after this. I haven't seen part 2 yet, and I saw part one about five years ago, but part two sounds even funnier based on your description.

    Tank Girl I did forget about. I'm glad you pointed that out. I should've reviewed it for this series, especially because it not only is directed by a woman, but it's the only comic book movie with a female heroine directed by a woman. Maybe I'll get after it sometime later on in the year, because it was by any definition a box office bust, and it also has a great cast.

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  4. Judd Nelson is in Boondock Saints II...

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  5. Yeah, I have a soft spot for TANK GIRL. I used to hate the film but repeated viewings on Cinemax has worn me down and I actually quite enjoy it for the flawed mess that it is. Plus, it has a great soundtrack!

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  6. I hated that Thomas Jane version so much, I completely ignored this one, which is stupid because this one has a completely different creative team behind it.

    I wonder why they didnt market it better, with that kind of low budget, this could have made some serious mula. The lower the budget, the better the marketing, the more the money you make.

    But I guess they started getting second thoughts and thats what happened.

    I will give this one a watch solely on the basis of your positive review! Thanks again!

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  7. Yeah, I saw the in the trailer that Judd Nelson is in the new Boondock Saints. That makes it intriguing.

    Tank Girl is definitely one I'll keep in mind later on down the road. Anything with Iggy Pop belongs on here.

    I would say, Francisco, that it's possible all of my complaints about why other comic book movies don't take this slimmed-down approach might be exactly what we're talking about here: the studios don't know how to market comic book movies about major, popular characters, unless they're break-the-budget blockbusters, which is too bad a multiple levels. I'm glad you dug the review though.

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  8. I don't think there is a actor (Note I said actor and not action star) that deserves a comeback, he can actually act and always brings it in any movie he's in.

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  9. It's funny we're discussing Judd Nelson, because we'll be reviewing Steel, which he's in, on Thursday. In addition to Boondock Saints II, he's been doing some Asylum pictures. Let's hope that's not a sign of the times.

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  10. Yeah, C Thomas Howell is also doing several Asylum films, and I also found out that one of they're films-Megafault had none other then the late Brittany Murphy in the lead role, how did the hell did the people at Asylum manage to get an actress like her for the lead role? I mean I could understand Howell and Nelson ending up in those films since they're careers had been over for a long time, but Mruphy's career never sunk to the that point, and having a film like Megafault being one of your last films is a real tragedy, fortunately one of the other last films she as in was none other then The Expendables, now THAT'S the type of film you end your career with!

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