Trailer: The Punisher – Season 2


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The first season of The Punisher on Netflix ended up being better than what had been advertised. The series and it’s ultraviolent tone became a divisive factor in how the show was scene.

Some saw it as the true adaptation of the titular character and his anti-hero status within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Others saw it as poor taste considering the rash of mass shootings and gun violence that’s plagued the country the last couple of years.

There was no disagreement in that Jon Bernthal owned and seemed born to play the role of vengeance-fueled and grief-stricken Marine veteran Frank Castle. His portrayal not just of Frank Castle but his vigilante alter-ego, The Punisher, was like watching a force of nature on screen.

It was a no-brainer that a second season of the series would be set into production and Netflix didn’t hesitate. It’s a bit bittersweet knowing that no matter how good season 2 turns out there’s a high probability that this will be the final season of The Punisher on Netflix as every Netflix-produced Marvel show has been cancelled the past year with only the upcoming seasons of The Punisher and Jessica Jones left.

Season 2 is set of a January 18, 2019 release date on Netflix worldwide.

Cleaning Out The DVR: One On One (dir by Lamont Johnson)


Sometimes, I come across things on my DVR that I not only have no memory of recording but which I also cannot, for the life of me, figure out why I decided to record it in the first place.  I recorded the 1977 film One On One off of TCM on January 17th and I’m not really sure why.

It’s not that One On One is a terrible movie or anything like that.  It’s an extremely predictable film and it’s got one of those soundtracks that is extremely 70s but not cool disco-style 70s.  No, instead this film is full of the type of soft rock music that your grandmother listens to while driving to the local CVS Pharmacy.  (The majority of the songs are performed by a group called Seals and Croft and are painfully undanceable.)  But, even with that in mind, it’s not really a bad movie.  If I’m confused about why I recorded it, it’s because One on One is a movie about basketball, which is a sport that holds absolutely zero interest for me.

(My main issue with basketball has to do with the sound of all of those squeaky shoes on the court.)

But, before going any further, let’s watch a commercial:

One on One tells the story of Henry Steele (Robby Benson), a high school basketball star.  Henry is from Colorado, which this film seems to suggest is the equivalent of coming from Siberia.  When Moreland Smith (G.D. Spradlin). the renowned coach of Western University’s basketball team, offers Henry a full athletic scholarship, Henry negotiates a pretty good deal for himself.  Not only is his education going to be paid for but he also wins a guarantee that he’ll never be cut from the team and that his father will get a car.  All Henry has to do is keep his grades up but that shouldn’t be a problem.  Sure, Henry appears to be an idiot but the athletic department will set him up with a tutor and, as long as the coach is happy with him, it’s not like Henry’s actually going to have to go to class.

Upon arriving in Los Angeles, Henry picks up a hitchhiker (a very young Melanie Griffith) who promptly robs him of all of his money.  Once he arrives at the university, he discovers that Coach Smith is not going to be the surrogate father figure that he was expecting.  Instead, Coach Smith is a rather cold and ruthless taskmaster, whose main concern is winning.  When Henry, who is by far the shortest player on the team, struggles, Smith tells Henry that he needs to renounce his scholarship and return home.  When Henry refuses to do so, Smith becomes obsessed with trying to break him.

As Henry’s roommate, Tom (Cory Faucher), points out, Henry’s head is not in the game.  Instead, Henry can’t stop thinking about his tutor, Janet (Annette O’Toole).  At first, Janet assumes that Henry is just a dumb jock, largely because Henry’s a jock and he spends the first half of the movie acting really, really dumb.  Then, out of nowhere, Henry reveals that he’s not only read Moby Dick but he can quote passages from memory.  In fact, Henry even understands that Ahab was — wait for it — obsessed!  Oh my God, Janet realizes, Henry’s literate!  In fact, Janet exclaims that Henry is the first person she’s met who has actually read Moby Dick!  (Really?)  Janet and Henry fall in love but, unfortunately, Janet is already dating her psychology professor.

(The professor has got a beard that looks like it reeks of stale weed and he says stuff like, “Have you seen my sandals?,” so we know better than to take him seriously when he compares the popularity of college athletics to the rise of fascism.  When Henry accuses him of being a hippie, the professor just smirks and says something condescending.  Stupid hippie.)

Will Janet and Henry fall in love?  Will Janet dump her unattractive and unappealing boyfriend so she can date Henry?  Will Henry manage to pass his classes?  Will Henry ever get a chance to prove himself on the court?  Will … oh, why even ask these questions?  You already know what’s going to happen in this movie.  There’s really not a single unexpected moment to be found in One on One.  Everything about the film, from the coach’s ruthlessness to Henry’s transformation from idiot to savvy player, feels pre-ordained.  It’s a predictable movie but, at the same time, it’s a likable movie.  At the start of the film, Benson overplays Henry’s stupidity and O’Toole overplays Janet’s brittleness but, at the film progresses, both performers seem to relax and, by the time the end credits role, they’re actually a fairly likable couple.  Benson even gets a killer final line, one that I imagine made audiences in 1977 applaud.

That said, the film is pretty much stolen by G.D. Spradlin.  Spradlin was a former Oklahoma oilman who reinvented himself as a politician and then as a character actor.  Best known for playing Senator Pat Geary in The Godfather, Part II, Spradlin had a flair for bringing casually corrupt authority figures to life.  In One on One, Spradlin turns Coach Smith into a Mephistophelean figure, offering Henry success at the cost of his soul.  Coach Smith is arrogant, oily, casually racist, and an all-around jerk but, at the same time, it is also obvious that he knows how to lead a team to victory.  The great thing about Spradlin’s performance is to be found in not just how menacing he is but in how charismatic he is.  You never doubt that Coach Smith is both a lousy human being and an absolutely brilliant coach.  If nothing else, he’s good at his job.

As I said at the start of this review, I am not really sure why I recorded One on One but it turned out to be better than I was expecting.  It is a flawed and uneven film but worth watching for Spradlin’s intriguingly villainous turn.

 

Horror Film Review: It (dir by Tommy Lee Wallace)


Last month, before I saw the latest film version of Stephen King’s It, I watched the 1990 miniseries version.

This was my first time to watch the It miniseries, though I had certainly heard about it.  Most of the reviews that I had read seemed to be mixed.  Everyone seemed to agree that Tim Curry was the perfect choice for the role of Pennywise the Dancing Clown.  However, many other reviewers complained that the program’s television origins kept It from being as effective as it could be.  “Not as scary as the book,” everyone seemed to agree.  The actors who played the members of the Loser Clubs as children all seemed to receive general acclaim but not everyone seemed to be as enamored with the adult cast.  And everyone, even those who liked the miniseries as a whole, complained about the show’s finale, in which Pennywise took the form of a giant spider.

Well, I have to agree about the giant spider.  That spider looked painfully fake, even by the standards of 1990s television.  Not only does the spider look too fake to truly be scary but, once that spider showed up, that meant that Tim Curry disappeared from the film.  Curry deserved every bit of acclaim that he received for playing the role of Pennywise.

All that said, the miniseries was still a lot better than I had been led to believe.

Certainly, it’s not as frightening as the book or the movie.  Considering that the It miniseries was produced for network television, that’s not surprising.  As opposed to the movie, the miniseries attempts to cover King’s entire novel.  That’s a lot of material, even when you have a five hour running time.  Obviously, a good deal of the story had to be cut and there are a few scenes in the miniseries that feel a bit rushed.  Characters like Audrey Denbrough and Stanley Uris, who were compelling in the novel, are reduced to being mere bystanders.  Some of the novel’s most horrific scenes — like Henry Bowers cutting Ben — are either excised or heavily toned down.  If the novel was as much about the hypocrisy of the adults of Derry as the paranormal horror of Pennywise, that theme is largely left out of the miniseries.

That said, It still had its share of memorable moments.  The image of a clown standing on the side of the road, holding balloons, and waving is going to be creepy, regardless of whether it’s found in a R-rated film or on ABC.  The death of little George Denbrough is horrific, regardless of whether you actually the bone sticking out of his wound or not.  Even the library scene, in which a grown-up Richie Tozier deals with a balloon filled with blood, was effectively surreal.

As for the actors who played the members of the Losers Club, the results were occasionally uneven.  The actors who played them as children were all believable and had a credible group chemistry.  You could imagine all of them actually being friends.  As for the adults, some of them I liked more than others.  Harry Anderson, Dennis Christopher, and Tim Reid gave the best performances out of the group.  John Ritter and Annette O’Toole were somewhere in the middle.  Richard Thomas was absolutely awful and I found myself snickering whenever he was filmed from behind and I saw his pony tail.  Richard Masur, unfortunately, wasn’t around long enough to make much of an impression one way or the other.

Ultimately, though, the miniseries (much like the book) suffers because the adults are never as interesting as Pennywise.  Tim Curry dominates the entire movie and, when he’s not onscreen, his absence is definitely felt.  Watching the miniseries made me appreciate why the film version kept Pennywise’s screen time to a minimum.  Pennywise is such a flamboyant and dominant character that, if not used sparingly, he can throw the entire production out of balance.

Despite its flaws, I liked the miniseries.  Yes, it’s uneven.  Yes, it’s toned down.  Yes, it works better in pieces than as a whole.  But, taken on its own terms, It was effective.  Director Tommy Lee Wallace creates a suitably ominous atmosphere and the child actors are all properly compelling.  And, finally, that damn clown is always going to freak me out.

Just for fun, here’s a trailer for It, recut as a family film:

Back to School Part II #38: Here On Earth (dir by Mark Piznarski)


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Here on Earth is a wannabe melodrama from 2000.  When I first started watching it on Netflix, I was convinced that I had never seen it before.  Sure, the name sounded familiar but I figured that was just because Here On Earth is such a generic name that it could have been used for any number of different films.  In fact, even as I sit here typing this, there’s a part of me that keeps wanting to call the film either Back On Earth or Heaven On Earth.

But then as I watched the film, I realized to my horror that I had seen Here On Earth before.  I watched it on cable back when I was in high school and, as much as I may not want to admit it, I think I actually cried at the end of it.

I didn’t cry this time, though.  In fact, I laughed.  Here on Earth is such a stereotypically melodramatic romance that it actually feels like a parody.  It didn’t help that the film starred Chris Klein, who goes through almost the entire film with this sort of steely look in his eyes.  No matter what emotion he’s supposed to be showing, Chris Klein’s impassive face remains frozen.  In fact, it’s tempting to wonder if his character was supposed to be a robot sent from the future.  Maybe Here On Earth was originally meant to be a Terminator film.

Here On Earth takes place in one of those little towns in Massachusetts where all of the poor townies resent the rich kids who go to a nearby boarding school.  (Judging from the movies I’ve seen, it appears that every small town in Massachusetts is also home to an exclusive boarding school.  A part of me suspects that this might not actually be the case.  Fortunately, several TSL writers are from Massachusetts so, the next time I get a chance, I’ll just ask Gary, Leon, or Pantsu if any of them grew up near a boarding school.)

Chris Klein plays Kelly Morse.  He’s a student at that boarding school.  He’s rich.  He’s snobby.  But he’s also really, really smart.  In fact, he was originally meant to be the school’s valedictorian until he got in some legal trouble.  See, Kelly was having a street race with a townie named Jasper Arnold (Josh Hartnett).  The street race led to the local gas station blowing up.  I have to admit that I started laughing as soon as that gas station went up in flames because … well, let’s just say that I imagine it’s a lot more difficult to blow up a gas station than this film makes it look.  Judging from this film, the gas station down the street from the office should be blowing up right now.

Anyway, that exploding gas station also causes a local restaurant to burn down.  Both Jasper and Kelly are sentenced to help rebuild Mable’s Table.  (That’s right, the name of the restaurant was Mable’s Table.  It’s a good thing that Mable rhymes with table.  If the place had been started by someone named Gretchen, I guess they’d call it Gretchen’s Kitchen.)  The judge literally says, “They’ll be building a restaurant but building character too!”

Okay, your honor, thanks for spelling that shit out for us!  Yay abuse of the justice system!

Anyway, Jasper has a girlfriend.  Her name is Sam Cavanaugh (Leelee Sobieski) and her father (Bruce Greenwood) is the town sheriff.  And guess what?  HER FAMILY ALSO OWNED MABLE’S TABLE!  This may seem like a lot of coincidences but these things happen when there’s only a dozen or so people living in a town.

Sam’s mother always tells her, “As long as we’re all alive, it’s nothing worse than a bad day.”  Because they’re poor but honest and that’s how poor but honest people talk, don’t you know?  Her father also tells her, every morning: “Good to be your father.”  “Good to be your daughter,” Sam replies.

BECAUSE THEY’RE POOR!

But honest…

In fact, they’re so poor but honest that they help Kelly come out of his snobby shell.  Soon, he’s opening up to Sam.  He’s telling her his secrets.  He’s revealing his inner self and probably asking her, “What is this thing you humans call pleasure?”  (Because he’s a robot from the future!)  Suddenly, they’re in a love…

But guess what?  Sam only has a few months to live…

Or I should say that she only has a few months to live here on Earth.  She’s at peace with the idea because she’s a saint and she has a pretty a good idea that heaven is going to kick serious ass!  Can she make Kelly into a better man before she dies?

Watch and find out!  Or don’t.  This is one of those extremely silly and misjudged melodramas that doesn’t really work.  The adult roles are played by dependable character actors like Bruce Greenwood, Michael Rooker, and Annette O’Toole but Chris Klein and Josh Hartnett go through the entire film looking like they’d rather be anywhere but here on Earth.  Leelee Sobieski gives the film’s best performance, bringing as much credibility as she can to an idealized role.  (She’s beautiful, she’s sassy, she’s saintly, and she’s dying!)  It’s a shame that she has since retired from acting but maybe she didn’t want to spend her entire career making movies like Here on Earth.

Anyway, Here on Earth made me laugh for all the wrong reasons.  Maybe it will do the same for you!

 

Horror Scene That I Love: The Leopard Tree Dream from Paul Schrader’s Cat People


Since I just reviewed Paul Schrader’s 1982 version of Cat People, I figured that I’d show a scene from the film that I love.

In this film, Irena (Natassja Kinski) has a dream in which her brother, Paul (Malcolm McDowell) explains the curse under which they both live.  This dream leads directly into the first part of the film’s best sequence, in which Alice (Annette O’Toole) suspects that she’s being followed while out jogging.

Everything about this scene — from the music to the sets to the cinematography — is horror perfection as far as I’m concerned.

Horror Film Review: Cat People (dir by Paul Schrader)


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Before I get around to actually reviewing Paul Schrader’s 1982 reimagining of Cat People, I’m going to suggest that you take a few minutes to watch the film’s opening credits.  Say what you will about Schrader’s Cat People, it has a great opening, one that perfectly sets up the rest of the film.

In this version of Cat People, Irena (Natassja Kinski) is a naive young woman (and virgin) who, after the death of her parents, has spent most of her previous life in foster care.  Irena travels to New Orleans, where she reconnects with her older brother, Paul (Malcolm McDowell).  From the minute that Irena meets her brother and his housekeeper (Ruby Dee), it’s obvious that something is off.  When Paul looks at her, he does so with an unsettling intensity.  At night, while Irena sleeps, Paul wanders the dark streets of New Orleans.

One morning, Irena wakes up to discover that Paul is missing.  Having nothing else to do, Irena wanders around New Orleans.  When she visits the zoo, she feels an immediate connection to a caged panther who stares at her with a familiar intensity.  It turns out that the panther was captured the previous night, after he mysteriously appeared in a sleazy motel and mauled a prostitute.

It’s at the zoo that Irena meets zookeeper Oliver Yates (John Heard).  Oliver gets Irena a job working at the zoo gift shop. where Irena is befriended by Oliver’s co-worker, Alice (Annette O’Toole).  One day, Irena witnesses the panther kill another zookeeper before it then escapes from its cage.

That night, Paul suddenly shows up in Irena’s bedroom.  He explains to her that they are a cursed species.  Having sex causes them to turn into panthers and the only way to avoid the curse is through incest.  A terrified Irena flees her brother and soon finds herself living with and falling in love with the increasingly obsessive Oliver, all the while knowing that giving herself to him physically will lead to her transformation.

From the very first second of the film. Schrader’s Cat People is an exercise in pure style.  If the original Cat People was largely distinguished by its restraint, Schrader’s version is all about excess.  Everything that was merely suggested in the original is made explicit in this version.  As tempting as it may be to try, it’s somewhat pointless to try to compare these two versions.  Though they may both be about a woman who turns into a panther when she has sex, they are two very different films.

Schrader’s Cat People walks a very fine line between moodiness and absurdity, which is perhaps why I enjoyed it.  Making great use of both the sultry New Orleans setting and Giorgio Moroder’s atmospheric score, Cat People is compulsively dream-like and enjoyably over-the-top.  Cat People is often described as being an example of a movie that could have only been made in the coked up 80s  and truly, this is one of those films that’s so excessive that it’s becomes fascinating to watch.

(I think that often we are too quick to assume that excess is necessarily a bad thing.  If you can’t be excessive when you’ve got Malcolm McDowell playing an incest-minded cat person in New Orleans, when can you be excessive?)

Schrader’s Cat People may not have much in common with the original version but the film’s best scene is the only one that is a direct recreation of a scene from the original.  In fact, in recreating the scene where Alice is menaced while swimming in a public pool, Schrader actually improves on the original.  Brilliantly performed by both Annette O’Toole and Natassja Kinski (whose cat-like features made her perfect for the role of Irena), it’s the only scene in the film that can truly be called scary.  Starting with a tracking shock that follows Alice as she jogs, the stalking scene is practically a master class in effective horror cinema.  If nothing else, you should see Cat People for that one scene.

And you should also see it for the wonderful soundtrack!  Let’s end this review with David Bowie’s theme song, which you may also remember from Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds.