FSR's Weekly Report Card

PUNISHER: WAR ZONE

Studio: Lionsgate

Rated: R for pervasive strong brutal violence, language and some drug use.

Starring: Ray Stevenson, Dominic West, Doug Hutchison, Colin Salmon, Wayne Knight, Dash Mihok, Julie Benz and Stephanie Janusauskas

Directed by: Lexi Alexander

What it’s about: Kickboxer-turned-director Lexi Alexander reboots the Punisher franchise with a bigger dude and a lot more violence. Ray Stevenson takes on the role as Frank Castle, a former cop who is cutting down all the crime families in New York after his wife and kids were killed in a mob hit. After a sting gone wrong, which results in the death of an FBI agent, Castle aka The Punisher takes it upon himself to protect the fallen agent’s wife and daughter.

What I liked: At the onset of the first action sequence in which the Punisher decapitates a gangster then practically twists off a mob boss’s wife’s head a moment later, I was hooked on the intensity of this film. Lexi Alexander may not be the best director in the world, and she might not be the woman you want to be in charge of a character-driven drama, but this lady knows her action.

Like last week’s Transporter 3, you don’t see this film for the characters or the plot. You see it for the action. While over the top at times, it’s exceptionally done. It even manages to be comical and silly, like when a freerunner is blown up mid-jump with an RPG.

An Ray Stevenson, while he’s no Tom Jane on the acting front, really comes across as a dude that could really kill an entire house filled with gangsters. The guy’s got the stature of Dolph Lundgren without the pretty boy looks. He may not be great in the dialogue scenes, but he still delivers on the Punisher icon front.

What I didn’t: While Lexi Alexander is great with the action, she’s grasping at straws everywhere else. At times the characters are ultra serious. Other times, they’re ridiculous caricatures. Dominic West, who is normally a decent actor, comes across looking like Baby Finster from a Warner Bros. cartoon. His cheesy mobster accent is downright laughable. Similarly, his on-screen brother Doug Hutchison also goes too far with the campy villain.

Some of the production design is pretty cool, but it’s like the DPs were switched from shot to shot. Some scenes are gritty and realistic. Others look like they’re lit with Christmas lights, straight out of Batman & Robin.

Finally, the bloody action is good, but the blood doesn’t always work. Too much CGI gore, which looks about as real as Dominic West’s accent sounds.

Who is gonna like this movie: Fanboys who want to see an imposing Punisher who kicks a whole lotta ass and fans of ultra-violent action flicks.

Grade: B

FROST/NIXON

Studio: Universal

Rated: R for some language.

Starring: Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Toby Jones, Sam Rockwell, Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt and Rebecca Hall

Directed by: Ron Howard

What it’s about: David Frost scored a media coup in 1977 when he landed an exclusive interview with disgraced President Richard Nixon. Ron Howard directs this film, based on the award-winning stage play, which shows events leading up to the interview and how this fluffy journalist managed to get Nixon to admit some wrongdoing in the Watergate debacle.

What I liked: With the exception of The Missing, Ron Howard always puts together a quality film. And this movie is no exception. The film is very well constructed. The cinematography looks great and embodies a real look of the 70s. The acting is top-notch with Michael Sheen holding his own against the great Frank Langella.

Other actors, like Sam Rockwell and Oliver Platt, provide excellent foils for Sheen, and they manage to make the not-too-attractive behind-the-scenes media guys warm and cuddly. But it is really Langella who shines the most in the film. Unlike Anthony Hopkins’ embarrassing SNL-level impression in Oliver Stone’s Nixon, Langella manages to embody the former President without turning into a stand-up comedy routine.

What I didn’t: Maybe it’s because I was only six when these events played out. Maybe it’s because I spent my early adult formative years watching Bill Clinton dwarf Nixon’s abuses of power. Maybe it’s because I had to sit through the rather lame presidential biopic W a few weeks ago and am plum tuckered out with presidential movies. Whatever the case, I just didn’t find any relevance to this film.

While an exceptional feat of movie-making, Frost/Nixon seems to be a little too late as a film. And when Nixon finally makes his admission of guilt, it’s such a weak moment that it really didn’t serve as a solid climax.

Finally, there was a bit of a rah-rah attitude from the characters that reminded me of the too-zealous charge in Good Night and Good Luck a few years back. In this day of weekly presidential scandals on the 24-hour news networks, I just found the subject matter kinda lame.

Who is gonna like this movie: Anyone who loved the play, hated Nixon and was glued to the TV in 1977 when the events actually took place.

Grade: B

TIMECRIMES

Studio: Magnet

Rated: R for nudity and language.

Starring: Karra Elejalde, Candela Fernandez, Barbara Goenaga and Nacho Vigalondo

Directed by: Nacho Vigalondo

What it’s about: A middle-aged husband stumbles onto a mystery in the woods near his house. After being chased by a masked man, he ends up thrown back in time by an hour and a half. The events of the day loop back across itself and reveal a crime that he may or may not be able or want to prevent.

What I liked: I absolutely loved the simplicity of this story. I wouldn’t brand this film as science fiction because it’s not that type of traditional sci-fi story. Sure, it involves time travel, but it’s very grounded and believable.

Even though there were moments of predictability, I was glued to this movie to see exactly how all the pieces fit together. Timecrimes is a gripping film that is exciting, creepy and keeps you guessing. On one level, I look forward to the eventual English-language remake, but on the other hand, I’m terrified it will turn into an overblown fluff piece.

What I didn’t: There’s not much that I took issue with this film. It’s in Spanish, so you have to deal with reading subtitles, but I’m okay with that. If you’re not, give a shout out to FSR’s Rob Hunter. He’ll set you straight.

Who is gonna like this movie: People who love a great speculative fiction thriller but don’t mind reading a few subtitles in the process.

Grade: A


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