Thursday, 31 July 2014


It's no surprise that when Marvel's lastest movie was released many, many people (the non comics reading kind, mainly) said "Who?" The comic itself has never been what you call top tier, with various incarnations having been around for decades, although the film is based on the team created by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning in 2008, now being serviced by top writer Brian Bendis.

Marvel certainly have made sure the Guardians have plenty of publicity, turning a bunch of also rans into a must see event and even having the confidence to proclaim "The Guardians Of The Galaxy Will Return" at the end of the movie. This is a company with the utmost confidence in their product, and after seeing it it's very easy to understand why.

First and foremost, Guardians... is fun. After a truly heartbreaking beginning everything goes a bit daft, mixing swashbuckling sci fi action with larger than life characters, and whilst at first you may be a little puzzled, it all streamlines into a simple plot soon enough. Basically, Guardians leader Peter Quill (known mainly to only himself as Star Lord) has a plot device, and other people also want the plot device. He forms an alliance with a very disparate bunch of people who each have their own reason for helping him. To go into more detail really isn't that necessary, as all it will involve is laying out a roster of names and personal grievances, and you'll get all that when you watch the film, because if you're reading this review I will lay odds you're going to see it.

The movie looks beautiful throughout, probably thanks to the thousand or so "Digital Artists" who take up a large part of the end credits. Ship design is fantastic, with many looking like they were pulled direct from a Chris Foss art book, and if you know Foss you'll know this is a high compliment. Yeah, the bad guys have dull, dark vessels with inadequate lighting (surely evil needs to see as well?) but the good guys have some sexy vessels indeed. Sound wise, it may seem odd that a 2014 state of the art sci fi movie will have a 1970's chart soundtrack, but the inclusion of The Runaways, Rupert Holmes and, of course, Blue Swede's "Hooked On A Feeling" is completely explained and rather poignant. It would be nice, too, if kids start downloading some of this awesome old stuff and finally start listening to real music (so speaks an old fart).

So in a nutshell this is a very good movie. It's packed with fun and enjoyable characters, but also has it's fair share of down beats and dead beats. Top honours are fought out for between Chris Pratt, excellent and ridiculously likeable as Peter Quill, and the brilliant Rocket Raccoon, a purely CGI character stuffed with attitude and some great one liners. The other main characters all do well, however, with even big bag Ronan (no, not the Boyzone one, mores the pity) being well served and very well played with menace aforethought by Lee Pace.

One thing people want to know about Marvel films is what's the afer credits scene like? Well, without being spoilery, I'll say two things: one, it's NOT a big reveal or anything like that, but two, it's really funny if you have a knowledge of a certain old Marvel character. Oh yeah, and you get to play eveyone's favourite game in the movie - 'Spot Stan Lee'. It just wouldn't be the same without him mugging it up somewhere.

In closing, "Guardians Of The Galaxy" is right up there with the rest of Marvel's cinematic output, making a clear mark by being totally different to anything else we've so far seen. It's Fun with a captial 'F', and engaging throughout. Some of the violence may be a bit much for smaller kids, and there's a bit of moderately fruity language (is 'dick' fruity still? I fall behind sometimes). That said, kids who don't mind a walking tree impaling people or a raccoon murderising people with a kick ass gun will have a blast. Big, beautiful and badass, "Guardians Of The Galaxy" is definitely the feel good fantasy of 2014, as evidenced by the shit eating grin still stuck to my face. All together now... "I'm hooked on a feeling..."

Trailer... nah, you've all seen it, so here's 2014's official ear worm to keep you singing:

Wednesday, 30 July 2014


The Punisher is forty years old. Forty years since Gerry Conway created him for his Amazing Spider-Man title, the big loony with a skull shirt and plenty of weaponry. Since then he featured in plenty of comics, never really realizing his potential until Garth Ennis got hold of him in 2000. Although his first run at the character was brutal it had a sense of fun running through it, his second, under the MAX banner, went deeper. Punisher MAX saw the character finally get the treatment he deserved. Ennis and a succession of gritty artists made the Punisher into the ultimate killer. They also took him away from the same old mob killings and introduced creative scenarios, often more akin to a war comic than anything else. For me, this IS the Punisher.

The first Punisher movie was released in 1989, with Dolph Lundgren as the main man. It was the first film to be written by Boaz Yakim, who has since written several other shit films (as well as a couple of good ones, to be fair). Saddled with a first time writer is bad enough, but The Punisher also got a rookie director in the shape of Mark Goldblatt. Much better known as a veteran editor, Goldblatt’s only other directing credit was the fantastically awful supernatural cop buddy comedy ‘Dead Heat’. After The Punisher he only ever did it one more time (on an episode of ‘Errie, Indiana’) and after watching The Punisher I’m glad of that. The films faults are legion, and start with the totally charm free Lundgren. He certainly looks the part, but that’s about it. Not that he has much to work with, mind, as the script is rather pathetic as well. Throw in abysmal fight scenes  (with, for some reason, several people being pinned to walls) and clumsy cutting and you have a film that is a poor bookend to a decade that provided us with so many action classics. Basically, it sucks.

Sensibly, Hollywood left Frank castle alone for the next fifteen years, but Ennis’ resurrection of the character must have persuaded someone to give it another bash. Helmer and co-writer this time was Jonathan Hensleigh, the man who brought us Die Hard With A Vengeance and Armageddon among others. So it was a promising start, with Hensleigh having plans for a sixty million dollar all action movie. Unfortunately that was cut down to fifteen million and extensive re writes were necessary. What this means is we get The Punisher playing mind games with his target instead of blowing shit up, and it’s not remotely exciting. Thomas Jane plays Castle pretty well, with John Travolta scraping by as the big bad mobster, and there’s even some good supporting turns, notably the reliable Will Patton. They even pull some stuff from Ennis’ original run, and have a good go even though it doesn’t really work like in the comics. Whilst there’s a good lot of things to like about the movie, in the end it’s just not engaging enough, with a mid section that drags horribly. An improvement on the 1989 attempt, but still not the Frank Castle we deserve on screen.

Finally, we come to Punisher:War Zone, the 2010 movie that nearly got it right. A number of important boxes were ticked on the way, staring with Ray Stevenson as The Punisher. He looks perfect, has some charisma and importantly is decked out in Kevlar and the like throughout. Whilst Thomas Jane’s moron Punisher went into a  firefight wearing a sleeveless Kevlar vest, this version goes fully expecting to be shot at. The film also introduces occasional Punisher support character Micro (played well by Wayne Knight), the guy who gets Frank all his ordinance. The plot is solid enough, as Frank accidentally kills an undercover agent and has to protect said agent’s widow and child from crazed mobster Jigsaw. It’s tied in by the fact that Jigsaw’s grotesque face is the result of The Punisher putting him through a bottle grinding machine. Whilst Jigsaw and his brother Loony Bin Jimmy are standard villain caricatures, even they cannot ruin what is a very gritty movie. When The Punisher goes into a firefight he uses proper tactics and is smooth and efficient. You really believe that this man knows what he is doing and enjoys it. This is the veteran soldier of Ennis’ MAX series, with barely a laugh throughout and plenty of dead bodies. The Ennis run was a very obvious inspiration, and the strong script shows genuine attention to the main character. It’s not perfect, with a few over the top moments that seem out of place and the aforementioned caricature gangsters, but it’s the closest yet.

So what could the future hold for The Punisher? As I see it, if someone took the Punisher MAX series from Ennis and made an adult TV series based around some of the stories and the character as written there they’d have a hit. Not just mobsters, but human traffikers, international terrorists and plain old scumbags. The Punisher should be dark and gritty, but should ideally reflect the lowest dregs of the world we live in, where the only light is a brick shithouse wearing a skull on his chest.

To finish, here’s the ten minute short that Thomas Jane starred in a couple of years ago, reprising his role for a lowly fan film, albeit it a very, very well made and written one. If you haven’t seen it, it’s well worth a look.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Film Review - "Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes"

I’m a big fan of the old school Planet of The Apes movies, and rate the original as one of the finest films ever made. Considering it was made 45 years ago the acting, script and even the make up has held together astonishingly well. I even liked Tim Burton’s much maligned version, which itself had some amazing make up. For me it was a good film that only died on it’s arse with the awful ‘surprise’ ending that mystifies me to this day.

So it’s established that I’m an Apes fan, so it will come as no surprise that I absolutely loved Rise Of The Planet of The Apes, a film that actually came up with a plausible (for cinema) way that the whole mess could have happened in the first place. Combine that with a very powerful, emotional story and flawless motion capture effects and you have the kick start to a whole new Apetastic era. So what next? Well, this…

In Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes we join the story ten years later, with the simian flu having wiped out a fair percentage of the Human race. Meanwhile, Caesar and his apes have been building a community in the woods near San Francisco untroubled. Until now, as the San Francisco survivors want to use the dam near the Apes home to generate power. Caesar is cautiously agreeable, whilst Koba, who has only known the cruelty of humans, urges the leader to wipe the humans out. The humans have their own dickhead in the shape of Carver (Kirk Acevedo), who seems to only be in the film to act like a total arse. Will there be war between apes and humans despite Caesar and Malcom’s best efforts? Well, it would be a pretty dull film if there wasn’t, eh?

Dawn… is another powerful film from the same creative team as Rise… - you don’t really root for either side, but you can emphasize with each of the main protagonists. The character of Caesar is amazing, his eyes blazing with wisdom and power, his movements that bit more human than the rest of the apes. Koba again is beautifully realized, a devious bugger who will do anything to set ape against human, reasoning that the end justifies the means. We are also introduced to Bright Eyes (a nod to the original), Caesar’s son, who is caught between the two. Again, the apes are as real as anyone could imagine, bringing an authenticity to the film that could never previously have been achieved. Story wise it’s not as emotional as the first one, mainly because we have more protagonists to follow. This isn’t a happy film, people, it’s a dark, violent one.

If compared to the original movies, Dawn… would be somewhere between the new society and hope of ‘Battle For The Planet Of The Apes’ and the bloodshed of ‘Conquest Of The Planet of The Apes’. It ends making you want to know what happens next, and we will certainly find out in a few years with the third part. The big question for that one will be: will they blow it all up? I, for one, can’t wait to find out. Ook!

We've come a long way from this: