Binge Review 9: Marvel’s The Punisher: Season 2

Here we go again.

With Frank’s revenge well and truly gotten, the season that followed was in a great place for introspection. Instead of regurgitating the same “being a killer is wrong” and “why can’t you stop killing” dreck that permeates the Walking Dead from episode to episode, season two of Punisher got into the actual motivation behind Frank’s vigilantism. I would rather not spoil how the show approaches the subject, but if you have read my other Punisher related posts, it would not be hard to imagine.

Season two is a remarkable improvement in quality. The narrative is not convoluted with five different plots happening at the same time and settles for the standard three. First you have Frank’s story, then Jigsaw’s, and a new character named Amy, a teenage con artist on the run from a mysterious hitman. Each episode devotes an equal amount of time to each plot without feeling too bloated, but not as often as anyone would like.

I understand the demand to fill time in 13 one-hour episodes. In school, I was taught you need to not only write complete stories, but also space them out between commercial breaks. All entertainment is based around a blueprint that has worked since Man learned to draw on cave walls. Everyone follows this blueprint, but like all the Marvel Netflix shows, there is a consistent issue of each show having too much space to fill.

While the story is not convoluted, the show spends so much time on its three plotlines that it becomes a slog. Rather than compartmentalize the plots with Frank’s character exploration as a framing device in a comfortable nine episode run, we get thirteen where different elements of each plot tag-teams converge. What you get is a season that flows about as well as bowels packed with concrete. The show is still better than before, but it is a chore to watch.

Jon Bernthal remains the best incarnation of the character since Ray Stevenson. His signature intensity has made his take on Frank wholly his own and I could not be happier. However, Ben Barnes’ version of Jigsaw took me completely by surprise. Instead of a villain that is a little more deranged than your average goodfella, Jigsaw is extremely traumatized from what happened to him last season. He has no recollection why Frank slashed his face and cannot remember events up until the maiming. Jigsaw lashes out at his therapist, has constant mood swings, and endures spats of pain. He is in pieces, but as he puts it all together, he develops into a great foil for Frank’s own journey.

The action scenes received a well-deserved upgrade with more brutal, close-quarters combat. Almost every episode Frank is stabbing or smashing someone and bathing in their blood. He also never walks away unscathed, either sliced or plugged with a hole or two. It is really a credit to the character as a hero that does not care about personal injury or that he is vulnerable. Frank wants to get loud and nasty.

The downside is relegated to the gunfights. As you probably know, I am a gun owner and an Effects Nazi, and I can tell when real blanks and squibs are being used. It is hard to fake unless you have a great VFX team. On the subject of bad gun effects, the Walking Dead does not hide the fact they use fake guns because, somehow, the production could not get real guns and blanks in RURAL FUCKING GEORGIA! There are airsoft weapons that simulate blowback and/or recoil and they could not have bothered buying just a few for less than grand of budget.

Jesus Christ.

Taking into account Punisher was shot in a New York, it is understandable that the best practical weapon effects could not be utilized and the show made due in both seasons. The issue with the gunfights is they are poorly choreographed. Early on no one acts like they know what they are doing. They just stand around holding rifles poorly before getting shot. Then there are scenes where muzzle flashes and accompanying sound effects are out of synch or poorly timed. Actors fall over before they are supposed to be shot or they are shot and do not fall down at the right time. Chalk it up to poor editing, but if maybe the guns functioned in a way the actors could see and hear them go off, you would not have much of a problem to begin with.

I also have a personal problem with how Frank is portrayed in the gunfights. 80% of the time he uses the same pistol over and over in a C.A.R. stance, where he is holding the gun to his face. This method works in the John Wick movies, but it looks stupid and everyone in the show does it. How about hold the gun like you are not trying to give yourself permanent hearing damage? When Frank is given a rifle it is a breath of fresh-air and adds a little diversity. In the comics he uses a variety of weapons depending on the situation, but all he has on the show is a pistol.

Lastly, and this is something I intentionally neglected to mention in my review of the first season, the Punisher costume sucks. In fact, it has sucked since its introduction in Daredevil. Nobody makes body armor like that. Not because it does not look practical, but because it looks stupid. There are exposed adjustable straps at the front, some shell loops that are not big enough for any caliber of ammunition, and there is no webbing for attachments like modern body armor.

This is kind of unfair, but if you look at this shot from the Edmondson/Gerads run of Punisher, Frank is wearing gear that works for his job.

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He has a plate carrier with ammo pouches painted with his signature skull and a hitcoat to protect his arms. The man is dressed practically and it looks cool because Frank makes it look cool. He is a military man that does not need fancy high-tech crap that looks like it was made by a cross-eyed cosplayer. He needs something that will keep working in hazardous situations and there is nothing more practical and foolproof than genuine military gear. I apologize to the costume designers, but if my own Punisher vest looks better than the one you made for big budget show, it is time to go back to the drawing board.

I thought about going in depth into the pre-release controversy, where people promoting season 2 were saying one of the characters is Alt-Right, but I decided otherwise. I will say, however, the character in question played by Josh Stewart is a reformed Neo-Nazi and born again Christian. That is not Alt-Right. The Alt-Right does not give a shit about Christianity, most of them are Pagans or Atheists, and they care even less for Neo-Nazis, a catchall for gang-bangers that hate each other more than non-whites. This controversy was just manufactured outrage to drum up viewers from a demographic that do not watch these shows in the first place.

Despite the pacing issues and bloated runtime, Punisher season two is a great watch. The lapse in better action takes away from the appeal, but seeing Frank and Jigsaw’s dueling progression into who they really are was better than the best gunfights last season. If you can make it through the slog, the show is worth your time. Oh and be sure to skip over the parts with Madani because they still suck.

Movie Review: First Man

This is going to sound stupid, but I think the Moon is the most under appreciated celestial body in the Solar System. I like Mars and all, but it is years away, and we have a perfectly decent planetoid less than a week from us. It is too bad NASA did not bother sending more missions and establishing a settlement after a handful of successful landings. What no one realizes, what we often take for granted, is how far we had to go to before getting off the ground. And First Man is about that prelude.

While working as a test pilot Neil, played by Ryan Gosling, signs up to work on NASA’s mission to the Moon. As the years go by, Neil and his crew get closer and closer to reaching their goal.

Gosling is one of those actors that has one mode, but plays it very well. Keanu Reaves, for example, is very reserved and keeps a lot of his energy bottled up for when it is appropriate. Not to harp on the man’s talent, but outside of John Wick and The Matrix, Reaves is not suited for many divergent roles. Gosling, with the exception of Nice Guys, is also reserved and methodical in 90% of his performances, even when he has to be outgoing. If you have ever heard the guy scream, it sounds like he never raises his voice outside of acting.

This made him the perfect choice for the lead. Neil Armstrong was notoriously private, refusing interviews and keeping out of the public spotlight before and after the Moon landing. A lot is not known about the guy, but given his intense reclusion you can glean what Neil was like as a person. Being a character study more than a historical piece, Gosling could not have sold the part better.

Taking note from his performance in Drive, Gosling was almost robotic. He comes off very driven in his goal to reach the Moon, but uses it to cover a ton of emotional baggage. He immerses himself in his work to avoid dwelling on the past. The very beginning of First Man starts with the loss of Neil’s daughter, an event that informs his entire character. He emotionally confines himself, becomes erratic when something triggers the memory, and never expresses his feelings. You can feel and see it on Gosling’s face with no breaks in character.

The other part of First Man is the program leading up to the landing. It does not go terribly in depth, but enough that you understand we started from square one. So much went into just figuring out how to dock in orbit. The struggle for progress further informs Gosling’s character as people are killed in accidents and equipment is destroyed. The more NASA fails, the more Neil is determined to reach the Moon, furthering the dedication to his work and emotional reclusion.

Another great aspect of the program side is the effects. I would say almost all of them are practical with CG enhancement. Given the cinematography, that was the only way to go. The camera is centered around Neil and what he is doing, creating an air of claustrophobia when it comes to perspective. Any out of place effect or fakery would have looked obvious. For the flight sequences, Gosling is shot from inside real cockpits with real exteriors captured from whatever vehicle he is flying. For added realism, the backgrounds are the result of rear screen projection with quality on par with Interstellar. The only bad effect was a shot of Apollo 11 lifting off at the end.

Being a month late I cannot imagine this review will sway you to see First Man. It is very good, but came and went like most historical films. What I think separates it from the norm is not only the subject, but also how it is presented. What Neil Armstrong was like is a mystery to many and here we get a personal view of the man from his humble beginnings to the moment that made him a legend. It is really one of the few historical movies that bucks the formula and I think you should give it a second glance before it is gone from theaters.

 

Punisher Comics Review 6

Season two of Daredevil herald the coming of a new incarnation of Frank Castle, the Punisher, played by Jon Bernthal. The character has his own series on Netflix and it remains to be seen if Bernthal can keep up the momentum. Since my blog’s inception I have used it to examine the character and express my fandom, but I never talked about the comics that inspired me. And so, I will dedicate a new series to covering my favorite Punisher stories.

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The Slavers (2005)
Garth Ennis
Leandro Fernandez

If you were to compare Frank Castle to a movie slasher, Michael Myers is a perfect match. They are both shapeless entities with a singular drive, operating on instinct to get what they want. Where they differ is Frank has a defined moral compass, but remains an emotionless automaton. Nicky Cavella came close to getting a tangible emotional reaction out of Castle, but pissing on the corpses of his family was not enough. What came next would ultimately do the job in one of the darkest Punisher stories ever written.

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Lining up his crosshairs on a Balkan crime boss Frank prepares to do what he does best when someone tries to steal his kill. A lone woman nearly kills the boss before fleeing the scene. The boss sends his boys to get her, leaving him alone for Castle to perforate from his rooftop perch. Tracking the woman Frank contemplates abandoning her before the boys catch her and drop their pants. Castle makes quick work of them, saving the woman from humiliation.

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On his way out the woman begs for help, but Frank wants to stay out of it until she mentions a baby. The next day the woman wakes up in Castle’s subterranean home where she tells her story. Her name is Viorica and she lived in a village in Moldova before she was kidnapped and forced into prostitution. After enduring months of abuse and selling her body to multiple men on a daily basis, she was sent to America as a part of a larger operation run by a Romanian father/son team and a woman named Vera.

After the move Viorica gave birth to a baby named Anna, but she was only allowed to see her if she worked hard. Desperate to escape with her child, Viorica ran away and met a social worker named Jen Cooke, who was building a case against the Slavers. One day, when Jen leaves the baby in what she assumed was a safe place she gets an email from Vera meant for Viorica.

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A dead baby is more than enough motivation for Frank to rip and tear. All he needs is a who, what, and where. While telling her story, Viorica laid out the details of the operation. The Slavers have middlemen to attract clients before sending them to discreet locations where the girls are held. One of the middlemen was the boss Castle deep-sixed beforehand, leading him to the man’s club for answers. Wiping out the remaining gangsters, Frank interrogates the boss’s replacement, and gets an address.

Posing as a driver for a pair of clients leaving the house, Frank pulls over the van and makes them an offer. He wants the clients to tell him everything and then to lie to the house guards about losing their wallets once they drove back. The clients oblige until a cop shows up, siren blaring. Intent on sparing the officer Castle puts the fear of God into him before fleeing, the cop’s arrival no doubt spooking the Slavers.

While trying to get information on a new house location, Frank butchers random pimps until he realizes they do not know anything. He later tracks down Jen Cooke to get something more and she gives it up without protest.

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Tiberiu and Cristu Bulat ran a militia of foreign fighters during the Bosnian War. As they massacred whole villages, the militia took the young women, and killed the rest. Castle assumes once stability returned to the region, the sex trade would be difficult to maintain without NATO intervening. So, the Bulats took their operation underground and moved west. Frank realizes trying to get more information from veterans of the Yugoslav Wars would take extreme measures and plans accordingly.

Following up on a potential location from one of Jen’s rescues, Castle heads into rural New York in search of a house on a lake. Watching from a distance he spies a squad of heavily armed men enter the house, Cristu among them. Knowing they were ready for him, Frank knew to come at dinnertime, and spike their stew with a knockout drug. Soon the whole house goes to sleep and he gives each of the men a twelve-gauge face-lift. The only man to survive was Cristu because Frank needed answers. What followed is one of the most disturbing pages in comics.

 

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Having gotten what he needed Castle makes his way back to the house when he notices Tiberiu and a dozen men had arrived. Apparently, the father came to kill the son over a business dispute. Frank takes the smart route and hides under the cabin’s dock, hoping to given them the slip. Without a second thought he decides to go loud and gives the closest man a 45-caliber castration. Frank opens fire topside until he realizes he is not fighting street trash. The Slavers are real soldiers with more than a decade of experience. As Tiberiu gives orders the soldiers overwhelm Castle, forcing him to dive into the lake.

After returning to the city he meets Jen at a diner with two off-duty cops, Russ and Miller. They came to her after learning Jen was under surveillance by a Detective Westin, a known shitbag. Russ and Miller eventually reveal Westin is on the take from the Slavers. The cops agree to help, but on the condition that the Detective lives. Frank agrees and moves to pull apart the remains of the operation.

Making his way to a business office Frank confronts Vera, the brains of the Slavers. Plunking her two guards he throws Vera face-first into the window of a secluded room. The glass does not break, giving Frank enough time to reveal how much he knows after dissecting Cristu. He throws her again and again, slowly turning her face into a bloody pulp, while looting filing cabinets for information on Westin. With his final throw the window pops out its frame and Vera plummets to the street.

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Vera’s files give Frank the address of the last house and a possible location for Tiberiu. After setting up an explosive under the manhole by the curb of the house he waits across the street for the old man’s arrival. Triggering the bomb after making a positive ID Frank charges inside. He chases Tiberiu to the top floor where he uses a girl as a shield, knife to her throat. The old man eggs him on and Castle knows he is at a disadvantage with a scattergun. Out of options he settles for a gamble and calls Tiberiu a coward in Romanian. The old man tosses the girl aside and charges Frank before Tiberiu takes a knee to the face.

Later, with Tiberiu chained to a chair, Castle brings in Detective Westin to make a deal, threatening him with Vera’s file. Frank offers to surrender the file if Westin delivers a package to the Bulat’s contacts back home and acquires Visa’s for the rescued girls. Westin asks what package before Frank turns on a video camera and douses Tiberiu in gasoline. Sparking a flame from a flip-lighter Castle looks into the camera and says “Don’t come back here,” before tossing the lighter.

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The Slavers is Taken if it were a horror movie and actually good. It shines a light on the darkest criminal enterprise in the world and makes sure you see every detail. While acts of sexual assault are not shown on the page, the description and implication thanks to Ennis’s unparalleled storytelling makes you feel all sorts of uncomfortable. Unlike the usual story arcs, trafficking and slavery is very real, and having the Punisher in the middle of it was surreal to say the least. Instead of cartoonish gangsters and run-of-the-mill thugs, Castle is faced with real monsters that make their money on sexual violence.

If you cannot stomach sexual assault and/or violence against women, stay far away from this book. For Punisher fans, get ready for Frank’s most visceral and disturbing story yet.

Punisher Comics Review 5

Season two of Daredevil heralded the coming of a new incarnation of Frank Castle, the Punisher, played by Jon Bernthal. Soon, the character will get his own series on Netflix and it remains to be seen if Bernthal can keep up the momentum. Since my blog’s inception I have used it to examine the character and express my fandom, but I never talked about the comics that inspired me. And so, I will dedicate a new series to covering my favorite Punisher books.

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Up is Down and Black is White (2005)
Garth Ennis
Leandro Fernandez

Trying to emotionally shake Frank Castle is like beating on a brick wall with a whiffle bat. The man is best described as a void, a walking abyss whose singular purpose is to bring death to those that have done wrong. If he did not have his own villains, the Marvel Pantheon of Heroes would have no one left to fight. The closest anyone has ever gotten to penetrate Frank’s black exterior was Nicky Cavella in the worst way possible.

After recovering from his wounds suffered the last time he tried to kill Castle, Nicky returns home to a council of gangsters trying to salvage what is left of their business. Soldiers promoted to Capo have no clue what they are doing and call upon Cavella for advice. His solution: kill the Punisher. Having lost everything to the infamous vigilante the council is more than reluctant to devote their diminished resources to such a fruitless endeavor.

Nevertheless, they vote on the proposal while Nicky awaits their answer. Sending his partner Teresa, the sister of Pittsy to dispose of any dissenting voices, Cavella gets the gangsters to play along. In the same night Nicky and Teresa travel to the graveyard where Frank’s family is buried, exhume their skeletons, and urinate on the bones. The act is caught on camera and the footage sent to the media. At a diner the desecration is shown on television where Castle eats dinner.

Rather than bury the bodies, the NYPD confiscates the corpses as evidence in an ongoing investigation. Frank reacts to this development by travelling around town with a light machine gun and mopping up three criminal establishments in a single night. While inflicting near maximum casualties, he leaves one alive to tell the first responders to bury his family. If they do not, then he will keep going.

Watching his work play out, Cavella is visited by an old acquaintance named Rawlins, the same Rawlins that organized the failed terror attack on Moscow back in Mother Russia. The generals that planned the operation sent him to take out Castle for fear he knows too much. Seeing Nicky’s scheme as an opportunity, Rawlins convinces him to join forces via blackmail and appealing to Cavella’s repressed homosexuality.

With the mounting body count, the NYPD gives in and agrees to bury Frank’s family. Castle decides to go after Nicky, but a part of him knows it is a trap. However, he does not care about doing the deed with the same skill that made him such a formidable vigilante. A part of him, a rage greater than he had ever felt, wants to kill Cavella regardless of the danger.

Perched on a rooftop overlooking Nicky sitting outside a café, Rawlins stares through the scope of a rifle as Frank pulls up with shotgun. Before the killing blow could be struck, Cavella is hit instead. Behind the trigger stands Kathryn O’Brien, one of the CIA operatives that worked for Bethell from In the Beginning. She lays covering fire, buying her enough time to capture Rawlins and escape with Castle.

Meeting at the home of William Roth, another of Bethell’s operatives that tried to capture Frank, O’Brien interrogates Rawlins. He was one of her husbands who left her to a dreadful fate on a mission in Kabul. Rawlins brings up the incident and O’Brien leaves him alone with Castle. Meanwhile, Nicky and Teresa come upon Roth’s residence after licking their wounds. Cavella wants to wait for back up, but Teresa has a bloodlust that is exacerbated when Nicky turns down her advances.

After removing one of Rawlins’ eyes, Frank takes a breather with O’Brien. It is not long before the two are in bed together. She confesses that despite her years of wet work, she sees him as a good man. Watching Castle approach Cavella out in the open inspired her to act, fearing he was going to get himself killed. They lay with each other one last time before Frank takes a knife in the chest from Teresa. A fight ensues that leaves both him and O’Brien bloody. Castle gains the upper hand and gives her space to empty a whole pistol clip into Teresa’s face.

Before going their separate ways, Frank and O’Brien get Rawlins to confess to the Moscow terror attack among other operations. With the footage Castle will use it as evidence to go after the generals while O’Brien will use it to clear her name. On the way out, however, they stumble upon Cavella all by his lonesome trying to make a move.

After taking a little boy hostage, Frank calls him a coward who gets other people to do the killing and dying. Nicky gives in and lets the boy go, realizing his psychopath persona is a facade. O’Brien rushes back inside to warn Roth of the oncoming police and finds Rawlins gone. The story ends with Castle walking Cavella into the woods and shooting him in the stomach, saying he will die slowly from blood poisoning.

Needless to say there is a lot going on in Up is Down and Black is White. There was a lot I had leave out of the summary because we would have been here all day. With the characters working in parallel, we get Nicky’s backstory where he killed his own family and became the victim of sex abuse by his aunt. O’Brien is also more involved where she is accused of murder while in prison and escapes to New York City. Then there is Rawlins, who is connected to O’Brien and Nicky.

On top of that there is Castle’s desire for suicide that comes out of nowhere. While on his rampage, he has a reoccurring dream of all the scum dead at his feet as the innocents watch from the sidelines. Among the corpses is Frank’s family. He looks to the innocents and says, “If my world ends, so does yours,” before turning his gun on them. And after everyone is dead, his wife Maria tells him “We are still dead” before the dream ends.

It is an interesting concept that furthers Castle’s complexity. Nicky was right to target his family’s grave because that is where it all started. That was the last time the world appeared normal and once they were gone, Frank became the void. But Cavella’s simple provocation made Castle realize that there was no point. His family is still dead and watching Nicky piss on their corpses showed a faint glimmer of reality that he had been denying. No matter how many people he killed, nothing was going to change that they were gone forever.

O’Brien is very similar in this case.  In the latter years of her life she became embroiled in a world not unlike Frank’s.  In the nihilistic underbelly of wet work she became used to the darkness and remains content.  Even after what happened to her in Kabul, she did not quit and brushed it off as another part of the job.  Her story, though not as prominent, runs in tandem with Castle’s whereas she sees him as a genuinely good person despite what they have in common.  The title Up is Down and Black is White is how they see the world and explains why they are the way they are.

Leonardo Fernandez returns with his pencils following Kitchen Irish. It goes to show that a having a competent colorist can make all the difference in the world because this is a decisive improvement. Every panel is rich in detail from the gruesome to the beautiful. The guns are accurate, the characters’ expressions full of life, and the scenes perfectly realized.

Though one of my favorite MAX books, Up is Down and Black is White is difficult to recommend if you have not read the last three books. It builds upon what was established beforehand while adding more details that have yet to come. If you are as big a fan as I, you will have no problem understanding what is going on. Otherwise, get caught up before you jump in.

Movie Review: Inferno

As a director Ron Howard is unremarkable. His filmography is almost exclusively adaptations and true stories with barely anything along the lines of original. This is not a bad thing. Many directors have a preferred niche and genre they favor over others. Martin Scorsese became a legend for adapting novels about the mafia, Michael Bay is all about large-scale action, and James Wan specializes in horror. Not everyone can be Stanley Kubrick with a filmography more diverse than an SJW hate mob and Howard seems comfortable with his chosen signature. Was Inferno another acceptable Dan Brown adaptation or was it terrible?

After waking up in a hospital with amnesia Langdon, played Tom Hanks, finds himself in the midst of a plot involving a billionaire trying to spread a plague to cull the world’s population. In the race to stop the spread of the contagion, he is pursued by different organizations with separate agendas.

I understand mysteries are supposed to be confusing to throw off audiences. A lie here and a red herring there are designed to lead us in a direction that makes sense before the truth is revealed. Inferno is a great mystery that throws you off with not only an unreliable protagonist, but also many players whose intentions are kept in the dark. However, getting to that point is a struggle to sit through.

If nothing else, Howard can be counted on for quality. Regardless of the material, his movies are well made, and Inferno is the complete antithesis of good filmmaking from top to bottom. The storytelling and action are a congealed mess that you must hack through to get a clear picture of what is going on. I am not surprised because this problem was shared by Da Vinci Code, Howard’s first Dan Brown adaptation, where I think he did not know what he was doing.

Information in a mystery must be clear enough to take in so it makes the reveal impactful. Inferno is so dense with information that it was difficult to follow. First you have a rogue cop trying to kill Langdon, then World Health Organization agents have their own dramatic subplot in the background, and an illuminati-type organization is doing something else on the side. Even after the reveal it does not make the most sense because the utter mass of story to absorb is too much. If the goal was to confuse the shit out of me, mission accomplished. Still does not change the fact Inferno is more bloated than a Walmart shopper (sorry; I could not resist).

As a mystery, the possibility of good action is superfluous, but I am going to talk about it anyway. Like Da Vinci Code, the action consists of running away from things and stopping to find a piece of the puzzle before more running. It is acceptable, yet poorly constructed. You have shaky cam that I will always complain about until it stops existing. Then there is a drone chase scene that is so bad there will be clips of it on YouTube in a matter of weeks. The action is also presented as if it were intense when it is not. The rather great synth soundtrack and quick cuts make you think what is happening is thrilling, except you do not feel anything of the sort. The movie was trying too hard to engage the audience when we just wanted it to get to the point. Had the action been subtle this would not be a problem.

I would go so far as to say no one really cared to make Inferno good. Howard probably did it out of obligation and Hanks more or less phoned in his performance. So did Felicity Jones as Brooks, but I have not seen her enough to tell if she actually was or if she is just a bad actress. Irrfan Khan and Ben Foster were fairly decent and made the most of the situation with their small parts.

In retrospect, I should have watched I’m Not Ashamed instead. It is Christian propaganda dancing on the corpses of children like Piers “Super Cunt” Morgan, but I would have had something of substance to write about afterward. With Inferno, all I got was a poorly put together mystery that could have been better with some intense editing. This was Ron Howard on a bad day and I recommend Angels and Demons for an example of a good day.

Movie Review: The Girl on the Train

Let us get this over with. Was The Girl on the Train total garbage or actually pretty good?

To cope with crippling depression and severe alcoholism Rachel, played by Emily Blunt, inadvertently stalks a random couple she sees from the train every day. After an incident in which she blacked out, the police approach her when the wife of the couple goes missing. Rachel takes it upon herself to investigate what happened while fighting her alcoholism.

I cannot talk about Girl on the Train without giving everything away. I was going to compare it to similar stories until I realized if you have seen the same ones, you could guess the big revelation. All I can say is when it comes to suspense the movie does an excellent job of lying to you.

The storytelling, editing, casting, and whole scenes project a false narrative that seems obvious on the outside. The trailers were the most deceptive where they made you think Girl on the Train was a terrible pandering Lifetime propaganda piece scored by Kanye West. When you actually sit down and watch it all the way through, you realize everything you thought was utterly wrong. That is the essence of suspense and the film does a masterful job.

The cornerstone of this deception is Blunt’s character. Rachel is inherently pathetic, looking as though she does not shower, red-faced, and constantly inebriated. She carries around a water bottle that you think is full of water until she fills it with vodka. The fact she snoops on a random couple while envying her ex-husband’s new life just compounds her miserable state. Because we follow her the most and see the story from her perspective, we are tricked into seeing her views as the complete antithesis of reality. She is also a rather loathsome person who hates people because they have it better and we do not like her. That is how Girl on the Train catches you in its trap.

You should just go see it. If I say anymore it would be too easy to figure out the twist. There is no better example of how to do suspense in a movie than The Girl on the Train. Not telling the audience the whole truth is one thing, but lying to them outright takes craft that is so far unmatched with this year’s releases. See it while you can.

Punisher Comics Review 4

Season two of Daredevil heralds the coming of a new incarnation of Frank Castle, the Punisher, played by Jon Bernthal. Since my blog’s inception I have used it to examine the character and express my fandom, but I never talked about the comics that inspired me. And so, I will dedicate a new series of posts to covering my favorite Punisher books.

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Mother Russia (2005)

Garth Ennis

Dougie Braithwaite

Punisher is the antithesis of the action hero. He is not handsome, he does not use one-liners, and his personality pure nihilism. Frank Castle is what happens when John Matrix experiences psychological trauma and becomes a creature of instinct whose sole motivation is to kill criminals. He does not care about anything except his purpose and coasts through life looking for people to put his bullets in. Mother Russia, however, explores how Frank would fare as an action hero.

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After a drug pusher who dabbles in child prostitution gets back on the streets, Frank pays him and a dozen bodyguards a visit. After rearranging the pusher’s face with a shotgun, Castle steps out back before the bodyguards rush inside to find the oven gas turned up and a grenade. Finishing off the survivors retreating from the burning house, Colonel Nick Fury greets Frank outside, looking to talk business. Meeting at a local bar, he offers Castle access to national criminal databases in exchange for a favor. Frank accepts and is flown to an Air Force base.

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Castle’s mission is to infiltrate a missile silo and exfiltrate with Galina Stenkov, the daughter of a Russian scientist who developed a virus called Barbarossa. After failing to defect to America, he injected Galina with the virus and the antidote before he was killed. The virus will remain active within the girl for 48 hours and the government wants a sample. While Frank would have the mission well in hand, he is not going alone. The cabal of generals running the show is adamant about sending their man Vanheim from Delta Force as a partner.

After touching down in the frozen wastes, Castle and Vanheim acquire uniforms from soldiers in the local town and make their way to the silo. A few well-placed shots and burst arteries get the two inside before finding Galina in a laboratory. Everything seems fine as they make their way out when Vanheim stumbles upon some idle Russian soldiers and jumps the gun, alerting the whole area to their presence.

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When they retreat underground and fortify their position, the Russian military is notified of the attack. In command of the troops is General Zakharov, an infamous Cold War officer known as the Man of Stone. While his subordinates are convinced the attack is the work of terrorists, Zakharov thinks there is more than meets the eye.

The Man of Stone spares no expense in trying to get in, sending a complement of troops to the facility. While forming up outside the elevator leading to the underground, Frank comes up with an RPG on his shoulder and a pair of machine guns. Taking out a tank he charges into the fray, spraying everyone not him. Mounting the DShK atop the wrecked tank, Castle lays into the remaining soldiers before the weapon jams, and he makes for the exit.

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The heavy loses do not faze Zakharov when he tries to divine the ethnicity of Frank from the survivors. When their testimonies are not enough, the Man of Stone sends more men into the silo through the elevator shaft. While cutting down dozens of repelling soldiers and Vanheim tries to find an exit, Frank is careful to keep Galina away from the carnage. He gives her a file with nuclear go-codes to read and gets her ice cream so she does not leave the safety of the room.

Unbeknownst to Castle, Zakharov sent his silent confidant the Mongolian. The cunning mute sneaks into the silo and makes quick work of Vanheim before taking Galina hostage. Frank rushes to her cries and sees the Mongolian ready to land a killing blow. The two engage in a fierce melee with the mute gaining the upper hand. In the delirium between life and death, Castle sees his little girl holding her bleeding gut as she cries for him. The thought of failing once again inspires him to rise and continue the fight with renewed focus. The Mongolian comes in for a kick, but Frank grabs his ankle, and goes for the kill.

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Meanwhile on the outskirts of Moscow, a hijacked passenger plane is shot down and the generals back in the States congratulate themselves. The room goes quiet when Fury walks in demanding an explanation. When putting together the Barbarossa mission, they were worried a US operation in Russia would cause an international incident if exposed. To counteract the possibility, the generals coordinated with a CIA wet works operator named Rawlins to organize a terrorist strike on Moscow as a distraction.

Fury was not pleased by the notion he was involved in a mission that killed hundreds of innocent people. With a cool stoicism he asks for the individual responsible for organizing the ruse and the generals were quick to oblige. The officers make way as Fury approaches the man and starts beating him with his belt. Reducing him to a bloody shaking mess, Fury chews out the rest of the generals for their stupidity before walking off, hoping Castle will find a way out.

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With Galina safe and Vanheim still unconscious from the Mongolian, Frank makes for the hallway swarming with soldiers. In the midst of slaughter, Vanheim wakes up and pulls a pair of syringes from his pocket. When Castle returns he finds him trying to inject Galina with a yellow substance and subdues him. After a beating Vanheim confesses that the generals ordered him to kill Galina and extract Barbarossa as a last resort. Ever loyal to his morals, Frank is unwilling to sacrifice an innocent and comes up with a new plan.

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Zakharov remains steadfast in his suspicion that Americans are behind the attack on the silo when his staff informs him of a nuclear launch in progress. Major cities are targeted and they receive a message telling Zakharov to pull out his forces or Russia will burn. While his subordinates panic, the Man of Stone stays calm and tells them to do likewise. When an officer disobeys and tries to retaliate, Zakharov executes him on the spot. Once the missile goes airborne and makes for Moscow, it suddenly deactivates midflight, and from its bowels Castle, Galina, and Vanheim jump out with parachutes.

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The three of them make landfall in a blizzard with Vanheim losing his gear on the way down. When they meet, the two draw straws to see who will continue to a Navy submarine on the coast with the one available coat. Galina tucked close to his chest, Frank marches ten miles through the snow as Vanheim trudges behind until death.

Back in the States Castle is confronted by the generals. On the way from Russia, he would not let the doctors touch Galina and the Barbarossa in her body deteriorated. When Frank tries to leave, one general orders his men to stop him and take the girl. Surrounded by soldiers, Fury comes to his side, and the men back off. Just before leaving, Galina begs Castle to take her with him, but he knows he cannot take care of anyone, and she concedes to go with Fury.

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Mother Russia is by far my favorite book of the MAX series. It is full of action, violence, and tons of awesome stuff.  I loved this book so much, I went over my limit of photos to show you how great it is.  The best part was Nick Fury in the only incarnation that matters. If black Fury is Chuck Connors, then white Fury is a hard drinking whore-mongering Clint Eastwood. He swears, he is quick to anger, and does not care about your feelings. The panel of Fury beating the tar out of that general and his dialog throughout is just delightful.

I would go so far as to say he totally outshines Frank, who fits right into the role of an action hero. Usually his nihilism and lack of feeling would make him unfit for the likes of John Matrix and John Rambo, but Castle’s interactions with Galina penetrate his blackened exterior. His fatherly aspects return when he keeps her away from the violence and shields her from the carnage left in his wake. By betraying his cold personality in the presence of Galina, Frank embraces the persona of a hero like he was born to.

For any Punisher fan, Mother Russia is an essential read. Garth Ennis really lets loose while Dougie Braithwaite’s expressive art realizes his vision in beautiful fashion. If there is any book in the MAX series you must have, Mother Russia is without question the best you can hope for.