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by Bill Gibron

4 Dec 2008

By now, the comic book movie is really nothing new. We’ve already gone through the various phases of adoration - from sycophantic worship to contemplative critical scrutiny. There’s no middle ground anymore. Either your latest funny book hero has to resemble a certain Dark Knight (or at the very least, an Iron Man) or you’re crapping on the artform. Even amiable efforts by The Incredible Hulk and anything X-Men are now considered second tier. So where does The Punisher fit into this fly by night, strike while the iron’s hot dynamic. Is the antihero vigilante a viable 2008 commodity, or was Dolph Lundgren the last word when the character went straight to video back in 1989. After witnessing the waste that is Punisher: War Zone, the answer seems like a solid “yes”.

When his family accidentally witnesses a mob hit, Frank Castle loses everything - wife, children, and marbles. Becoming The Punisher, he works closely with the NYPD to root out the bad guys and deliver a little judge, jury, and executioner justice. During a raid on the headquarters of mob hitman Billy Russoti, Castle accidentally kills an undercover FBI agent. This gets the bureau and its point man Agent Paul Budiansky angry, puts the dead man’s family in danger, and gets The Punisher to question his current career path. In the meantime, he messes up Russoti’s face, and after some botched plastic surgery, the mobster becomes a crazed monster named Jigsaw. After getting his nutso brother out of the insane asylum, the freakshow fiend decides to do away with the wife and child of the G-man, and kill The Punisher once and for all.

Punisher: War Zone is 100 minutes of people getting shot in the face - bad Italian stereotypes, non-existent narrative, and people getting shot in the face. There are so many goombahs in this film that the Super Mario Brothers need to be nervous. Members of certain anti-defamation leagues should be up in arms over the meatballs and manicotti way the mobsters are portrayed. If Sicilians got angry over how they were depicted in The Godfather, this latest Punisher should give them ‘agida’ in the ‘dingamagoo’. And forget that so-called “torture porn”. When the title hero opens fire, no one is left standing, blood spraying like spackle from an untrained plasterer’s pallet knife. And don’t look for anything referenced in the previous flimsy films. This is a reboot, meant to bypass events previous and go right up your unsuspecting ass.

German born Lexi Alexander was rumored to have left this project after completion due to what Lionsgate called “creative differences”. The ‘Net is rife with speculation, but when viewed in 35mm, it’s hard to see where the complaints were. If the studio wanted more violence, then what was Alexander thinking ratcheting down the mayhem? And if they wanted less, then didn’t they see a script filled with firefight after firefight and a main character whose face is literally scraped apart by broken glass? Maybe they all realized how mediocre the movie actually is. Nothing separates the know-it-all rats from a sinking cinematic ship quicker than a literal lack of motion picture quality. 

But Alexander needs to be complimented for staying so closely to the overall ‘80s feel of the film. This Punisher plays like a Charles Band byproduct, make-up effects resembling rejects from Dead Heat and the Savage Steve Holland portfolio. It’s all so cartoonish, uncomplicated, and manufactured to mean nothing beyond its basic shoot ‘em up strategies. Such a result creates a critical dilemma, however. A certain level of love/hate delineation is evident here. If you want plot, characterization, and narrative complexity, go down to your local B&M and buy a copy of Crank, or better yet, anything by Asian auteur John Woo. But if the discharge of gunpowder followed by the random opening of fleshy wounds is all you really care about, then settle in for some serene face-shredding delights.

From a performance standpoint, the new cast is just as capable as the old, with one odd exception. Mock his love of Scientology, but John Travolta was a much more effective villain in the original Punisher than Dominic West’s Don of Douchebags, Billy Russoti, aka Jigsaw. Any character that maintains a sense of narcissism even after a massive Jack Nicholson circa The Joker makeover is not evil - he’s friggin’ nuts. Odder still, he passes off most of the dirty work to his bugnuts brother Looney Bin Jim. As played by the Green Mile‘s pansied Percy Wetmore, Doug Hutchinson, we get the standard insane cackle followed by lots of stunt double fight moves. And as for the main man himself, Ray Stevenson’s Punisher is like an insurance salesman settling unpaid policy scores. He doesn’t look the part of a pissed off vigilante. He’s more like a guy dressed in black paramilitary gear looking for a three martini business meeting.

Far from a complete disaster, Punisher: War Zone does offer up lots of that already mentioned face shooting fun. But on the other hand, when all you have is shrapnel to the visage, there’s not a lot of leeway in the consideration. In a year which saw the sensational Wanted along with a bevy of better action films, this is hapless Hitman hokum at best. In the pantheon of Marvel/DC possibilities, some characters need to be left to the pages of a pen and ink fantasy. They just can’t make a successful leap to legitimate big screen substance. The Punisher is clearly a last tier talent. No matter how many bullets he lets loose in someone’s mug, he just can’t elevate his status above subpar.

by Jason Gross

4 Dec 2008

With news that the news biz is laying off more and more people, I can’t work up enthusiasm for the Grammy nominations right now, even if Lil Wayne bagged a bunch of them (which had to happen anyway since he’s got the best-selling album of the year).  A bunch of friends I know already lost their jobs at Viacom and many others are wondering if they’ll still have their jobs in 2009.

That’s why I’m encouraged by the bits of synergy that I’m starting to see happen more and more.  It’s hard to gauge how far these things can be taken but they might show some promise about the way to go in the Web world.

- Facebook Connect seems like an interesting idea, letting you hook up your Facebook items to your own site.  Publications could do the same, harnessing the power of this popular social networking service onto their site.

- Carnegie Hall is auditioning musicians by YouTube submissions.  This might sound like a gimmick but renowned conductor Michael Tilson Thomas is involved and like the Facebook idea, it also involves harnessing a popular web service for this event.  It’s already done it’s job as it’s gotten the interest of several publications who are covering the event.

- NY Post is posting Wall Street Journal material.  Makes sense since Rupert Murdoch owns both now and why not share resources, especially if there’s less staff to cover everything at each publication?

- Pitchfork and Fader are joining forces in an ad partnership, which will include “print, online, festivals, events and unique content exchanges.”  Not exactly like the NYP/WSJ combo but it’s the same kind of idea of pooling resources.

by Sarah Zupko

4 Dec 2008

Just more proof that the vinyl renaissance is in full swing, the majors are active again in the vinyl arena. Capitol/EMI is on a campaign to re-issue some of the most popular releases from their vast catalogue in 180-gram audiophile quality with the original LP artwork and packaging in limited edition form. These albums are gorgeous and remind those of us who grew up in the pre-MP3 age of the vital role the physicality and artistic presentation of a new record played in learning to love the music itself. Recent releases in this series include such can’t miss titles as John Lennon’s Imagine, Radiohead’s The Bends/OK Computer/Kid A, the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, the Band’s Music from the Big Pink/The Band, Jimi Hendrix’s Hendrix, and many more.


by Mike Schiller

4 Dec 2008

It’s hard to make the argument that Rayman Raving Rabbids: TV Party is really any better than any other Rayman Raving Rabbids game—its inclusion in this gift guide is really something of a lifetime achievement award for the series.  The first Rayman Raving Rabbids title may well be responsible for the capital-G-Glut of minigame compilations on the Wii, but despite the ignominy that comes with such a description, there’s no arguing that it was one of the most fun Wii experiences to be had at the time of the machine’s launch. TV Party is no different, and if anything, it’s better.  Ubisoft has honed the combination of surreal humor and easy-to-grasp functionality to a science, the game is an appropriately chaotic multiplayer experience, and some of the new games are hilarious (one where you shoot rabbids dressed as chickens comes immediately to mind).  Add to this formula balance board functionality and the continued presence of a drumming minigame that outdoes anything you could do in Wii Music in terms of pure fun, and you have a Wii game that may never be hailed as one of the classics, but might just be unbeatable this holiday season in terms of pure, stupid fun.


by Karen Zarker

4 Dec 2008

Guided by voices, images, moods, and impressions of contemporary life, the prolific Robert Pollard’s songs are captured in images and poetry in this artsy book. Pop art collage, ruminations dark, satirical and humorous, fans of the musician and art students alike will enjoy this volume. I rather like it for the ‘thousand words’ the best images invoke. Gaze at it to Pollard’s tunes, or merely let your head provide the soundtrack. Either way, for either kind of reader, it works.


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