Punisher War Zone (2008)

One from the re- watch pile…

Punisher War Zone (2008)

Film: I love films based on comics. No matter how bad they are, I love to watch them. I see them as an opportunity for a different creative team to take characters from a medium I love and adapting them to a format that is NOT a continuing story, but instead a one off look at the character. This of course can be difficult, and judging by the amount of bad comic based films, the results can be disastrous: Judge Dredd, Thor: Ragnarok and Tank Girl come to mind. The reason for this is simple: comics are mainly character based and not story based. The comics usually have an infinite life span, so even though a storyline may finish, the character continues on and on and on….sometimes too long.

This of course is not always true: V for Vendetta and Watchmen being two good examples of story rather than character based comics, and both were executed well, but a character based story can sometimes be filled with too much, especially a first film of a character, as you have to have not just the characters origin, but also an engaging storyline to boot, a villain to vanquish and a damsel in distress to rescue. This is why the second film based on a character can occasionally flow better. Sure, the origin may to be refreshed, but in general, the antagonist can get about his work pretty quickly.

So here we are with the second Punisher movie, and I call it the second as I choose to ignore the Dolph Lundgren effort, for no reason other than the time between it, of the Thomas Jane one of 2004. Besides, the Dolph Lundgren Punisher was really just an action film that had elements of the comic Punisher in it, whereas the more recent effort directly had elements in common with the comic version, and at least attempted to be a Punisher movie.

I will say though, thankfully all versions have chosen to ignore the comic-based Punisher’s original choice of shoe, which was a Nancy Sinatra, These-Boots-Were-Made-For-Walkin’, don’t wear after Labour Day, lily-white pair of boots.

The Punisher: War Zone, based on the comic of the same name, does not have Thomas Jane playing the title character, but instead has replaced him with the, in my humble opinion, far more appropriate Ray Stevenson , who also has played Volstaggin the Marvel Studios films, whose presence during this movie screams The Punisher. Taking place about 5 years after his alter ego Frank Castle’s genesis as the Punisher, this movie sees him initially up against a fairly generic mafia, whom he absolutely annihilates in a bloody orgy of violence, except for Billy Russoti (Dominic West) and his immediate henchmen, one of whom is undercover FBI. Keen to finish the job on the whole family, the Punisher follows the gang to a glass recycling plant, where after a gunfight, he accidentally kills the FBI agent, and not so accidentally throws Billy into the glass crushing machine.

Billy, of course, survives, but with a severe facial deformation, and a new name to reflect his Frankenstein-ian looks: Jigsaw! The first act Jigsaw does is get his mental case brother, Looney Bin Jim (Doug Hutchison… you should remember him, he played ‘Tooms’ in The X-Files) out of the mental facility in which he is being held, and then: vengeance. As far as Jigsaw is concerned, The Punisher needs to be taken out of the picture, and also, on a personal note, the wife, Angela (Julie Benz) and daughter Grace (Stephanie Janusauskas) of the FBI agent need to go the same way.

Frank’s guilt in killing the FBI agent causes him to want to quit ‘the business’ but when his weapons and technology supplier Micro (Wayne Knight) and Angela and Grace are kidnapped, under the noses of FBI agent Paul Budiansky (Resident Evil’s Colin Salmon) and police officer Martin Soap (Dash Mihok), The Punisher goes absolutely ballistic…. Literally! Jigsaw, of course, gathers the might of as many gangs from across the city as he can, and the only way to describe what is about to happen is to use a quote from another Lionsgate film, which also contains a character named ‘Jigsaw’…

‘Oh yes, there will be blood’.

This film is directed by German karate champion Lexi Alexander, but don’t let her being a female director trick you into thinking that this film has its feminine side in place: this film is an arse kicking, head popping, guns blazing punch in the guts all the way. It is perfectly cast, and special mentions have to go to Stevenson’s totally dry and humorless portrayal of Frank Castle, Doug Hutchison’s totally bonkers Loony Bin Jim and Julie Benz as a brunette….wow!!

The direction of this film deserves a special mention as well: the total aesthetic of the comic has been captured perfectly, it is framed and colored like a comic is, so much so I almost expected there to be an ‘inker’ credit in the films titles. This film was also filled with little touches for the comic fans, like the Bradstreet Hotel named after Timothy Bradstreet (Punisher cover artist extraordinaire), and secondary characters such as Maginty and Pittsey that have featured in the comics, albeit maybe after a small cinematic facelift.

This truly is an excellent rendition of The Punisher. It is certainly the first time it has been done right (except for the dulling down of the Punisher’s chest logo), and Ray Stevenson is the absolute perfect man for the role. John Bernthal in the Netflix Tv series came close, but Ray’s 100% my guy for the role.

Even those who have no familiarity with the comic, or the character, should have no problem catching up, and should enjoy the film for the bloody action experience that it is.

This is the Punisher film fans of the comic character have been waiting for. Vicious retaliation mixed with senseless bloodshed is like a dream come true for fans of this character.

Score: *****

Format: Supersexy transfer presented in anamorphic widescreen 2.40:1, with a crystal image that shows off Lexi Alexander and cinematographer Steve Gainer’s efforts perfectly. A fabulous Dolby Digital 5.1 that used the subwoofer so often I thought I may have to get it replaced. Explosions, gunfire, furious retribution….yeah!

Score: *****

Extras: A pretty cool set of extras on this disc, though no ‘Comic to Film’ one tragically, which are the ones I really love! This Punisher release could really do with a thorough ‘Comic character’ documentary like the ones seen on the releases of Ghost Rider and Iron Man, but they seem to have gone by the wayside now that things like the MCU have completely different identities from the comics.

The audio commentary with Director Lexi Alexander and Cinematographer Steve Gainer is a thorough one, with both of them commenting on many aspects of the film, from casting to design to special effects. There both seem to love their craft and the commentary only rarely, if at all, dips into mutual masturbation.

The Making of The Punisher Featurette is a traditional kind of feature, with a lot of the focus being on the casting, and voice bits from most of the major cast.

Training for the Punisher shows Ray Stephenson going through his paces with the marines, learning the ropes for both weapons training and hand to hand combat. Stephenson is an impressive model as an action hero, and the marines he is training with seem to appreciate his presence as well. There is also a small discussion with action sequence supervisor Pat Johnson, who talks about how important physical fitness is for an action hero, and we get to see footage of Ray Stevenson beating up on him… which when you see how short Johnson is, almost seems unfair (though I am sure that Johnson can handle himself quite well!!).

Weapons of the Punisher is a great featurette for fans of ordinance!! The weapons master of the film Paul Barrette discusses how the guns are applied to character archetypes to complete the look of a gang…. Something one may not generally take into account. John Barton, the military supervisor also speaks about the use of weapons in the film.

Meet Jigsaw introduces us to Dominic West, and he discusses the role, and the make-up application that go along with it. Most surprising in this featurette was the fact that West is actually English, as I was completely convinced by his over-da-top New York accent (which may be insulting to our American friends, so my apologies: my only exposure to this type of accent has been via gangster films).

Creating the Look of the Punisher is a fascinating look at the mise en scene of the film, and how efforts were made for a particular look, which included the use of only three colors in each scene. Alexander even talks about how she would freak out if one of the non-shot colors was present on the set.

We also get trailers for Right At Your Door, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, Vinyan, Lakeview Terrace, and The Burrowers.

Score: ****

WISIA: This comic movie is easily one of my favourites and gets a regular look.

R.I.P Ernie Colón: Comic artist

Was very sad this morning to find out that comic legend Ernie Colón had passed away.

Colón was born in Puerto Rico in July 1931, but lived in the US until his passing on the 8th August 2019.

Colón started as a letter for Harvey Comics working on Richie Rich before working as an artist for the same Company.

Throughout his career, he worked for Dc Comics, Marvel Comics, Warren Publishing, Eclipse, Atlas Comics and Valiant, on characters like Amethyst, Dreadstar, Damage Control, Red Sonja, Magnus Robot Fighter and many others.

Tragically, Colón passed away, aged 88 after a year of fighting cancer, but his legacy of over 60 years working in the comics field, not to mention painting, sculpting and other works, has left an indelible mark on the industry.

Rest In Peace, Mr. Colón.

All images (c) copyright their respective owners

Sin City (2005)

One from the rewatch pile…

Sin City (2005)

Film: Before these wonderful days of comic to movie blockbusters, in general, comic movies were a curio at best, and the entire history of comics to movies is littered with some absolute crap, and occasional highlights. Prior to the release of Sin City, the highs had been things like Sam Raimi’s Spiderman films, Richard Donner’s Superman and Tim Burton’s Batman, and there had been lows, like Albert Pyun’s Captain America. It used to be that to have a successful comic movie you had to satisfy the comic fans, which the more recent Marvel films have changed, by turning almost everyone into a comic film fan, but by staying true to the character or the aesthetic of a film, you could have a winner… and director Robert Rodriguez is well aware of that.

He also knows that comic creator Frank Miller, the mind behind the world of Sin City, has been through the Hollywood machine, and did not enjoy it. Rodriguez did not want to do this movie without Frank Miller on board, and so pursued Miller, including making a short film called ‘The Customer is Always Right’ to convince him that the look of the comic could be done. Using the actual graphic novels as script and storyboards, the duo created a movie that is literally every comic panel come alive, albeit with a few small trims. Every angle, every effect is all done exactly to the comic’s specifications, which, at first may not seem that spectacular, but when you consider it is a black and white comic, with an occasional splash of color, it is incredible. The monochromic look was achieved by having all performances done in front of a green screen, with the backgrounds added later. This way, Rodriguez’s digital prowess could accurately create the unique look which is exactly what something based on Millar’s vision required.

One thing that I will point out that Rodriguez did here that pretty much NO other filmmaker has done when adapting a comic is keeping accurate to the source material. It seems every Hollywood director and writer and designer needs to put THEIR own stamp on the films they make, but here, Rodriguez realised the source material was solid, and didn’t need to have his personality and ideas littering it up like the Marvel and DC films have had. There was a few colour choices that were made but they were more to define comics ideas that don’t work outside of the pages of a graphic novel.

Also, in the comics, Nancy’s dance sequences were all topless, but either Jessica Alba didn’t want to do it or they wanted to avoid a higher rating, her boobs are covered.

Just as a quick side note, Miller is a big fan of the work of Will Eisner, specifically the character The Spirit, a character he himself made a… well, not very good film of, and the noirish, city-as-a-character theme plays highly in his stories.i like Miller’s writing, but his art style usually isn’t my bag, like his sketchy style used in`his 80s run of Daredevil, The Dark Knight Returns and 300, but I loved his treatment of chiaroscuro in his Sin City books, originally published by Dark Horse under their ‘Legend’ imprint, which is also where Hellboy came from.

The story is about Sin City…a town of roughnecks, hookers, maniacs and corrupt cops. Follow stories of Hartigan (Bruce Willis), Marv (Mickey Rourke) and Dwight (Clive Owen) as they cut violent paths of collateral damage through the denizens of the town to achieve their goals.

This edition of the Australian Bluray of the films comes with 2 versions of the film… well, kinda-sorta. The individual tales that are mixed up within the movie have been recut and watched as four separate mini-features… like novellas… titled That Yellow Bastard, The Customer is Always Right, The Hard Goodbye and The Big Fat Kill. It’s a cool and interesting way to split up the stories.

Featuring a massive ensemble cast of movie stars, including Rutgers Hauer, Rosario Dawson, Nick Stahl, Jessica Alba, Benicia Del Toro and many others… including Frank Miller himself, and an entire scene directed by Quentin Tarantino!

Welcome to Sin City: don’t forget to buckle up!

Score: ****

Format: This film is presented in a stunning 1.85:1 image with a matching Dolby digital 5.1 audio.

Score: *****

Extras: There’s a pretty cool bunch of extra in this package.

Disc one has the main release of the film on it, but in addition, a branching version of the film where special effects details can be seen whilst watching the film, and there are three commentary tracks, the first is with Rodriguez and. Idler, the second is with Rodriguez and Tarantino and the final one has the audience reaction to the film at an early screening. The two commentaries are fascinating and each cover different sides of the making of films in general.

Kill ‘Em Good: Interactive Comic Book which is essential a pretty cheap, Bluray based video game similar to something like Dragon’s Lair where being quick with the buttons is the way to win.

How It Went Down: Convincing Frank Miller to Make the Film looks at what Rodriguez did to convince Miller to allow him to make the film.

Special Guest Director: Quentin Tarantino looks at the relationship between Tarantino and Rodriguez and how they came to work together in this project.

Hard Top with a Decent Engine: the Cars of Sin City has us see the amazing vehicles used for the citizens of Sin City to drive. Car fans would love this.

Booze, Braids and Guns: The Props of Sin City looks at the cool amount of props collected for the film and the dedication to getting comic accuracy.

Making the Monsters: The Special Effects Make Uo is always my favourite part of any ‘extras’ section of a film, and this didn’t disappoint, especially considering most of it was done by Greg Nicotero of The Walking Dead.

Trench Coats and Fishnets: The Costumes of Sin City looks at the outfits and costume design of the film.

There’s also a teaser and a trail for the film… and then we get into the real fun part: The Rodriguez Special Features, which include:

15 Minute Flic School is an occasional series where Rodriguez shows tricks of the filmmaking trade.

The All Green Screen version is the entire film all played without any off the special effects, sped up about 800 times and it’s interesting what they were able to accomplish!

The Long Take looks at the way Quentin Tarantino directed Clive Owen and Benicio Del Toro in the scene he filmed and because it was shot on digital they could continuously shoot so you see al the direction and discussion.

Sin City: Live in Concert is footage from a concert with Bruce Willis and the Accelerators, and Rodriguez’s band Chingon.

10 Minute Cooking School is another staple/ irregular series that Rodriguez does, this time its the recipe for Sin City Breakfast Tacos!

Score: *****

WISIA: One of the best comic to film productions ever, AND a kick ass gangster film in its own right. You’ll watch it agin and again and again.

Creepy presents Steve Ditko

One from the reread pile…

Creepy Presents Steve Ditko (2013)

Many people in the comics industry have the word ‘legend’ attached to their names, but very few actually deserve it. Steve Ditko is certainly one of the names that DOES deserve it! He had an innovative drawing style that cemented the look for popular comic character like Spider-Man and Doctor Strange and gave us some wacky DC characters like Hawk and Dove, Shade the Changing Man and that’s not to mention his Charlton Comics output such as Captain Atom and The Question, of which the super heroic archetypes were used by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons when creation the groundbreaking Watchmen maxi series.

Ditko’s style though was really in tune with the macabre and the weird, so in the late sixties, after leaving Marvel Comics due to creative differences with Spider-man scripter Stan Lee, Ditko teamed up with Archie Goodwin at Warren Publishing, where he illustrated 16 tales for the horror comic magazines Creepy and Eerie. Even though the mighty Warren no longer exists, Dark Horse comics have managed to collect an amazing hardcover book with all these stories bound within.

And they are spectacular!

Whereas his previous comic work was strictly pencils and inks, the black and white magazine format really gave him an opportunity to expand his artwork in different ways, and a lot of this work is done in delicate ink washes which give his images a sense of depth not really seen previously.

The stories appeared in Creepy from issues 9 to 16 (the last one being the only story not written by Goodwin and instead penned by Clark Dimond and Terry Bisson) and Eerie issues 3 to 10, and mainly consist of horror stories of the Twilight Zone type, with a twist ‘shock’ ending. Those that weren’t horror though were fantasy tales in the form of Conan type warriors fighting magicians and the monsters held in their thrall.

The book itself opens with a foreword by Mark Evanier, writer of the book Kirby: King of Comics, who expands on what I stated about Ditko above, but really breaks down what made his art so special and unique. Men like Ditko and Jim Steranko and the mighty Jack Kirby weren’t forced to draw in a ‘company manner’ like those of today ( look at DC’s New 52: everyone is trying to draw like Jim Lee!) and individual styles were really embraced by the comics community.

Dark Horse has REaLLY outdone themselves with the book’s presentation as well. It’s an extraordinarily classy black square-bound book with a coloured piece of Ditko’s interior art, from the story Second Chance, which shows a typical Ditko character ‘trapped in an alternate universe being threatened by hordes of demons in a forest of human flesh and webbing’. Otherwise known as your average run-of-The-mill limbo stuff.

What particularly impressed me though in the presentation was the design of Dark Horse’s masthead for the book. You would assume that a book with this title would have the word ‘Creepy’ prominent, but instead it’s the artist name made to stand out!

Horror comics fans NEED this in their collection! It’s such a wonderful example of the work Ditko would do when he was really allowed to be let loose, and Creepy, being a magazine, wasn’t held down by the Comics Code Authority! It’s also a great time capsule of the type of horror comics we’re doing at the time, and of Archie Godwin’s skill in weaving masterful tales of the macabre.

Score: ****

Avengers (2012)

Avengers (2012)

Film: I started my horror and comic journey at about the same time.

As a kid, my dad, every Saturday, would take me to the local newsagency in Thirroul, NSW and when he grabbed his Sunday paper, he’d buy me either a comic, or an issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland. We moved away from that town, and the new place’s local newsagency only had comic, so for several years my monster love was reduced to either Godzilla films on Saturday afternoons, or the various horror comics from Marvel or DC (or their local reprinters like Newton Comics would do), or if I was lucky, a Vampirella.

Comics became my big bag until video stores emerged a few years later, and I loved them dearly. As a kid I was all about Aquaman or Captain Marvel (now known as Shazam!) with an occasional Hulk or Spiderman comic, and maybe an Archie or two, but in the 80s I became a full-tilt, no holds barred Marvel zombie, and the Fantastic Four, the X-men and the Avengers became everything I needed. I even entertained dreams of become a comic writer or artist one day.

I still have a gigantic comic ‘universe’ in my head that I’d like to do one day.

Anyway, the Avengers comics of that period were amazing, and I never believed we would ever see a movie based on them.

… and then the Marvel Cinematic Universe kicked off!

The MCU, as you should all know, is a juggernaut of a movies series starring all the Marvel heroes… well most of them except for the ones licensed to other companies(well except for Spiderman, but that’s another story), is what seems to be a bunch of individual movies, but in actual fact is the greatest, biggest budget soap operas in the history of entertainment.

This film, The Avengers, takes placed directly after 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, and was written and directed by Josh Whedon, from a story developed by himself and Zak Penn.

The Avengers is the culmination of the previous films and here, the heroes, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo and a HUGE team of CGI effects people) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) join together to fight against Thor’s brother, the charismatic and deceitful Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who has stolen a powerful, seemingly mystical item known as the Tesseract, from Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and his agents of SHIELD, including Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Agent Hill (Cobie Smulders).

SO the battle to retrieve the item begins, but what the Avengers and SHIELD don’t realise is, is that Loki has an ally in the alien race known as the Chitauri, who wait in another dimension to create Hell on earth if they aren’t stopped…

That comic collecting kid in me loves this movie, even though it does, like most of the films, take a few liberties from the source material, like the absence of Ant Man and the Wasp (who were founding members), and the early joining of Captain America (who didn’t become an Avenger until issue 4 of the comic). They do however do some fun stuff that pays homage to the comics, like Hawkeye’s turn as a bad guy (he was originally an Iron Man villain of sorts) and dodgy and adversarial combination of characters, which the early Avengers comics played upon to be a contrast to the ‘family’ vibe of Marvel’s first group comic, the Fantastic Four.

I also liked Edward Norton as Bruce Banner/ The Hulk, so Ruffalo’s replacement of him came as a surprise, but Ruffalo’s a charismatic actor, so it was easily overlooked. What wasn’t easily overlooked was the continued employment of the terrible, B-movie soap actor made good, Chris Hemsworth, who doesn’t seem able to rise to the occasion when dealing with far greater actors and comes across as a pantomime version of the character he is supposed to be portraying. At least Downey Jr and Jackson are playing themselves as they basically always have, and they are such cinematic legends, they can get away with it.

My only other criticism is a criticism I have of most modern day superheroes, and that is that it’s apparently just fine to be a killer with no regard for human life, but that’s not a criticism of this film, just of comic films, and comics in general.

The film clicks along at a brilliant pace and is a visual spectacle, and the story is pure comic book, which is exactly what it requires to be successful. Whedon clearly loves his comics books and the respect he has for the characters is clear. His strength is also team dynamics, which is apparent from his previous experience with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly.

This first Avengers movie is a fun rollicking adventure, which only relies on a couple of films worth of back story rather than the gigantic amount the later films suffer from, which become almost unwatchable by themselves as individual movies anymore.

Score: *****

Format: This release has the film in three formats: in 3D, a normal bluray and a digital copy. The film was reviewed on the regular bluray and was presented in a flawless 1.78:1 image with an epic Dolby Digital 7.1 audio.

Score: *****

Extras: The disc starts with an ad for an app called Marvel Avenger’s Alliance.

There are a bunch of cool extras on this disc:

Marvel One Shot: Item 47 is a short that Marvel used to do on their home video releases but unfortunately stopped. This is a cool one about a couple of thieves who have ended up with a Chitauri weapon and decide to use it for their own benefit… but don’t think SHIELD will be quite down with that. Much like one of the others focuses on Agent Coulson, this one gives Jasper Sitwell a go at being a hero… well before we find out the horrible truth about him in a later movie.

Gag Reel is just that, but back before they became contrived an unfunny, like they did on the later releases of other Marvel films.

Deleted Scenes has 8 deleted scenes, none of which are missed, but are interesting to see, particularly the Maria Hill interrogation stuff.

A Visual Journey is clearly the making of the film and only runs for 6 minutes. Shame, as I reckon a film this big deserves a little more than just a few minutes.

Score: ****

WISIA: It makes me cry with joy pretty much well every time I watch it, which is frequently.

Venom (2018)

One from the to watch pile…

Venom (2018)

Film: Yep, I was there at the start.

For me, the 80s were when the best Marvel comics were made: John Byrne’s Fantastic Four run, Mike Zeck’s Captain America run and easily some of the best Spiderman comics ever made, and in those pages, a great, monstrous character was born: Venom!

The character was a combination of an alien suit/ symbiotic organism that Spiderman had acquired on an alien planet during the so-called Secret Wars and a news photographer that had been exposed as a fraud. Together they were a deadly monster of the likes comics had never seen, but bringing the character to the screen accurately has been difficult due to the ‘ownership’ by Sony of the character in movie form.

Even though a deal was come to to put Spiderman in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I assume slipping Venom into that series hasn’t been a priority. What do you do with a character like Venom if the rest of the Marvel Universe is such a important part of his origin?

Well you basically create a brand new character and start again!

Venom starts with a crash landing of a rocket ship that has 5 alien symbiotes on board, collected from a comet. The owner of the ship, millionaire entrepreneur and total dickweed Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) desperately tries to reclaim the creatures but only manages to find three… of the remaining two, one begins its own journey that is revisited later in the film. (The other? Well Venom 2 needs a plot, right?)

Meanwhile, knockabout badboy journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) has an assignment where he is going to help Drake look good after the crashing of the ship… a puff piece, if you will… but Eddie has other plans as there are many rumours that Drake is a not a great guy and his pharmaceutical company experiments on live human subjects. He manages to find out this info by looking at private documents on his fiancé, Anne’s (Michelle Williams) computer, as she is a lawyer working for Drake’s firm.

He verbally attacks Drake during the interview and the aftermath of that is that his life goes south, as he loses his job and his girl when she is also sacked for revealing secrets.

Meanwhile Drake HAS been experimenting with the symbiotes on live humans and discovers most of them consume the host they acquire, but one of his scientists, Dr. Skirth (Jenny Slate) doesn’t like this method, contacts Eddie and takes him into the research centre to photograph what has been going on.

This doesn’t go well for Eddie though, and he quickly finds himself attached to a symbiote who calls itself Venom, and the pair of them decide its time to take down Drake’s empire…

This ‘superhero’ film certainly sits apart from other superhero films. The initial concept, obviously needed to be different from the comic origin described earlier, is pure horror. I’d even go so far an to say that it takes its ideas from films like Lifeforce (aliens in a comet), The Blob (crashing to earth and ‘infecting’ people) and maybe more recently, a film like Life.

Tom Hardy wails as both pre and post infected Eddie Brock. As a human he’s just an average bloke, with a drop of dickishness, and as Venom he plays this crazy schizophrenia with an amazing and amusing fervour.

Riz Ahmed as the rich jerk nails his role. He hits all the right notes as charming at first, and when he starts acting out you aren’t sure you WANT to hate him. Michelle Williams, on the other hand, feels out of place here. Her character is fairly vanilla anyway but to make her appearance like a poor photocopy of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts from Iron Man makes her even more unmemorable.

I mostly enjoyed the flavour of the film, which was borderline 80s style horror/ comedy, but when it really slipped into the superhero genre, it fails.

It doesn’t fail because it does what it does badly, it fails because it copies the boring and now overused Marvel Cinematic Universal trope of having the ‘hero’ fight a bigger, badder version of himself, like in Black Panther, and Iron Man, and Ant Man, and Captain America… there’s heaps of villains in the Marvel Universe, Hollywood, you can do better!

Honesty I would have preferred a more gruesome film, especially when you consider the characters requirement of eating people, but what we got was ok.

Score: ***

Format: I reviewed this film using the Bluray included in the Australian 4K release of the film. It was presented in an impeccable 2.40:1 image with a cracking Dolby DTS-HD 5.1 audio.

Score: *****

Extras: The disc starts off with a trailer for Spider-man: Enter the Spider- verse, Alpha and Searching.

The first extra is a really cool thing called ‘Venom Mode’ which is like one of those old ‘pop-up’ video things, but in this case it is a cross between a commentary about the film, and a comic/ film comparison. It’s completely fact with no feeling and a little sporadic but has some interesting info.

The are three deleted/ extended scenes and as usual, they really didn’t add anything to the film.

The Anti-Hero is an all encompassing short that discusses the hero in the comic, in the film and Hardy’s portrayal of him.

The Lethal Protector in Action looks at the action scenes in the film, and the stunts.

Venom Vision is a look at what the idea behind a film version of Venom would be, and how the horror films of John Carpenter, and An American Werewolf in London were influences.

Designing Venom discusses the adaptation of Venom’s look from comic to the movie.

Symbiotic Secrets compares the film to the comics, and checks out some of the cheeky nods that comic fans should appreciate.

Select Scenes Pre-Vis compares initial pre-special effects ideas to the completed scene from 8 scenes from the film.

There are two music video clips on this disc as well. Venom by Eminem is a horrible cash-in rap like they used to do in the 80s but in Eminem’s inimitable style. Sunflower by Post Malone and Swae Lee, from Spider-Man: Into The Spider-verse also makes an appearance.

Speaking of which, there is also a sneak peek into Spider-man: Into The Spider-Verse.

Score: *****

WISIA: I will watch this again for Hardy’s performance, but little else.

Superman/ Batman: Public Enemies (2007)

One from the re watch pile…

Superman/ Batman: Public Enemies (2007)

Film: There is no doubt in my mind that the DC animated films are some of the finest translations of comic stories into another medium. Sure the MCU is pretty cool, and some of the DC live-action movies have been pretty good, but they have a failing in comparison to these animated films from Warner Bros.

The problem with a big budget movie is to be successful, you need to get EVERYONE to see it: comic fans, movie fans, actions fans… football fans… this is why some of the Marvel films are using alternate media to get people to love their films: the rock soundtrack of the Guardians Of The Galaxy films for example, or the liberal and misplaced juxtaposition of comedy and serious action in Thor Ragnarok. The dumbing down of some high concept ideas to get more punters in the door isn’t a new thing: adaptations from book to film have been around sincethe dawn of cinema.

The DC animated movies work so well for comic fans because there is an assumption that the fan base will have a knowledge of the characters so excessive retelling of origin stories don’t exist: if Hawkman turns up in a story, he’s just Hawkman, and we already know what he is capable of.

This film, Superman/ Batman: Public Enemies is based on the story of by writer Jeph Loeb and artist Ed McGuinness in the pages of Superman/ Batman comics from the early 2000s, but with occasional tweaks.

The story tells of the ascension to presidency of Lex Luther (voiced by Clancy Brown), who is apparently doing a great job. There are no wars and the economy of the USA is the best is been in years. Crime is down and a majority of superheroes now work for the government, who even have a task force headed up by Captain Atom (Xander Berkeley), and featuring Power Girl (Allison Mack from Smallville), Black Lightning (LeVar Burton), Major Force (Ricardo Chavira) and Katana.

A meteor is heading to earth and President Luther has a plan to destroy it before it hits, and he offers a meeting with Superman (Tim Daly) so he can be the back-up plan if the missiles don’t work, but the meeting is a set-up and quickly Superman is accused of murdering Luther’s superpowered security guard, the supervillain Metallo (John C. McGinley) so he enlists the help of Batman (Kevin Conroy) to prove his innocence.

(By the way, this story links directly to the next Batman and Superman tale: Superman/ Batman: Apocalypse)

This was a pretty cool story in the comics, and it still works today. I imagine some might even find the idea of a self-serving political leader to be more relevant! It still is a pretty cool superhero tale and it features a load of both heroes and villains from cross the DC universe, my only problem with it is if you don’t like Ed McGuinness’ art, you might find the character designs clunky.

I am actually a fan of McGuinness’ work, but I find it works best with brutish characters like his run on Hulk. Here, characters like Power Girl and Starfire lose their softness and instead have the look of a badly made Disney action figure. The brutishness of his style does make Captain Marvel look like a total badass though!

I’m also a huge fan of Shazam! so his appearance here, and under his ‘proper’ name Captain Marvel, is a massive plus for me too.

All in all this is a well executed story but with an art style that whilst super-looking, is far too chunky for this traditional comic art style fan to fully appreciate.

Score: ***1/2

Format: This film was reviewed on the Australian Bluray release of the film with is presented in a perfect 1.85:1 image and a match Dolby Digital 5.1 audio.

Score: *****

Extras: The disc actually opens with a couple of trailers for the animated Superman Doomsday, Batman Gotham Night and Green Lantern: Emerald Knight . There is also a trailer for the video game Halo Legends and some propaganda about how awesome Bluray is.

There is also a great pile of extras:

A Test Of Minds: Superman and Batman which looks at the relationship that the Man Of Tomorrow and the Dark Knight have had over the years.

Dinner with DCU is a round table with Kevin Conroy, voice director Andrea Romano, DC’s Gregory Noveck and art legend Bruce Timm.

There is also a bunch of shorts docos about DC Characters, comics and animation events like First Look at Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, Blackest Night: Inside the DC Comics Event, Wonder Woman The Amazonian Princess, Batman Gotham Knight an Anime Revolution, From Graphic Novel to Original Animated Movie: Justice League The New Frontier and Green Lantern: First Flight – the Animated Movie Sneak Peek.

Finally there are six of Bruce Timm’s favourite episodes of Justice a league Unlimiyed and Superman The Animated Series.

Score: *****

WISIA: I really like all these DC animated features so yeah, it’s a regular respinner at my place even though it’s not my favourite one.

The To Watch Pile’s GoFund Me campaign

You may have heard, like Arnò above, that running a website isn’t free. I don’t mind that either as the To Watch Pile is a passion project and I enjoy doing it cost is something that can accompany ANY hobby.

I want to change things up a little though, and start a comic related podcast, and extend my YouTube stuff up a bit more, but need equipment to do so, and unfortunately I DON’T have the capitol for it.

So, I have started a GoFund Me Page to try and acquire better cameras, microphones and stuff so I can make more content for you to enjoy.

I can’t offer anything in return, but just a bit of spare change thrown towards the TWP will not just keep the doors open a bit longer, but also give me an opportunity to make more engaging content, maybe even with an occasional co-contributor!

The link for the page is right here: https://www.gofundme.com/keep-the-to-watch-pile-website-afloat?pc=ot_co_dashboard_a&rcid=e28632772b5242a08151aafce5b9b0a0

RIP Stan Lee

It was a very strange day for the To Watch Pile.

Yesterday, I found out that a friend of mine, whom I met through a fellow love of movies, records, comics and Doctor Who, had passed away and that led to a restless night, and I awoke to find out the comics legend Stan Lee had also passed away.

Stan Lee is known as the father of Marvel Comics and there is no doubt he was an innovator whose editorial and organisational skill was outstanding, and his collaborations with comic greats like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and John Buscema have become literary classics greater than comics fans of the 60s, 7os and 80s could ever have dreamed.

He had become so ingrained in the editorial voice of Marvel that comics fans all knew of Stan’s legend and recognisable image, but more recently he achieved more mainstream popularity from his appearances in the Marvel films, and stuff like Big Bang Theory.

You will be missed, Stan, thank you so much for co-creating such a layered playground for so many writers and artists to play in and entertain we, the fans.

First Look: PlayStation 4 Spider-Man

One from the to play pile…

First Look: PlayStation 4 Spider-Man

I love superhero video games, even more than horror-related ones. I think it’s because in general I find that horror games occasionally plod, and depend on jump-scares for their horror value, but that’s the nature of the beast, isn’t it?

Games occasionally try to replicate the feelings one get when one is encountering another source of that genre. Horror games want to emulate a great horror film, but they can’t really as the greatest horror films tell a lot of story in their short timespan, and a horror game that does that doesn’t have much interaction, which defeats the purpose of it being a ‘game’.

Superhero games work perfectly as superhero comics are action surrounded by story, which means a LOT of interaction as part of the storytelling, as that is the nature of the genre.

When people talk about superhero games, DC usually gets discussed first as they have dominated video games with their brilliant Arkham Asylum games and the Injustice series, which combined the best of the DC Universe and Mortal Kombat… but Insomniac Games may have turned that around.

Now I have only had this game for a little over a day, but I’m in love with what it does. It’s true to the character and the design of everything is immaculate, from the Fisk security employees to the multiple Spidey costumes, which so far I have opened his original suit, the video game suit, a punk suit, the Scarlett Spider suit, the Iron Spider suit and it looks like heaps more are available.

It really feels like a Marvel comic set in New York as well. The city is magnificent and bloody huge! It’s obviously not as densely populated as one would expect to see as the real New York, but I imagine the processor of most systems would have trouble with that kind of population.

Our story isn’t a part of either the regular Marvel Universe or of the Marvel Cinematic Universe but is instead it’s own thing and starts about 8 years after Peter Parker first became Spider-man, and the arrest of Wilson Fisk, aka The Kingpin starts a series of events that will bring a new gang to light on New York, and will bring Spidey up against many of his old foes.

The action is fast and you get very quickly into the game as it tastes like a Marvel product, especially with Stan Lee making an appearance as Restauranteur Mick!

There is heaps of cool releases of this game, I grabbed the special edition which came with an art book (which contains spoilers) and a download code for some cosmetic extras. Also available was a ‘statue’ edition, which came with a statue of Spiderman, and a PS4 edition which came with a ‘Spiderman’ themed PS4.

There is heaps of cool other stuff available too. Funko have made Pops of the 4 main characters, and there is an amazing art book from Titan Books, which is totally worth it if you are into cosplay as the designs of EVERYTHING from this game feature within its pages.

So far I am having a blast with this game and am finding it a decent challenge with a fun skill tree to advance through. The last open-world game I played for a long time was Watchdogs 2, and I’m thinking that this game will take over from that with mindless fun can be had with bank-robbery styled side quests, and puzzles to expand your Spider-armoury.

All in all, if you have a PS4 or like Marvel characters, you need this game.