The Punisher (Throwback Post)

This is a repost of a previously published review. Due to my wedding/honeymoon, as well as hectic grad school scheduling, I’m taking some time off from weekly posts. – Gordon

The Punisher

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Today’s movie is a lesser-known early Marvel comic book adaptation: 1989’s The Punisher.

The Punisher is a character who was initially created by Gerry Conway, Ross Andru, and John Romita, Sr. for Marvel, and he was debuted in The Amazing Spider-Man issue #129 in 1974. 1989’s The Punisher marked his first appearance in a film, though not his last: two other high profile movies were created with the character in 2004 (The Punisher) and 2008 (Punisher: War Zone), and a television series starring the character is currently on Netflix as part of the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The writer for The Punisher was Boaz Yakin, who also penned From Dusk Til Dawn 2, The Rookie, and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and also directed movies like Remember The Titans and Uptown Girls.

The Punisher was directed by Mark Goldblatt, who is best known as the proficient editor of such movies as Predator 2, Enter The Ninja, Humanoids From The Deep, Piranha, Super Mario Bros, The Howling, Commando, The Terminator, and Terminator 2: Judgement Day. The Punisher is one of only two feature-length directorial efforts by Goldblatt, the other being the buddy cop zombie flick Dead Heat.

The editor for The Punisher was Tim Wellburn, who also cut the Stuart Gordon flick Fortress and the BeastMaster television series. The cinematographer for the film was Ian Baker, who also shot such movies as Queen of the Damned, Evan Almighty, and Roxanne.

The musical score for The Punisher was composed by Dennis Dreith, who has worked as an orchestrator on movies like The Rock, Jurassic Park, and Misery.

The visual effects for The Punisher were done by one Roger Cowland, who has worked on such films as Babe, The Piano, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, and The Howling III.

The Punisher special effects and makeup teams included common elements with movies like The Matrix, The Road Warrior, Street Fighter, Fortress, Crocodile Dundee II, Razorback, and Mad Max, among others.

One of the producers for The Punisher was Robert Mark Kamen, an accomplished action movie writer who penned screenplays for such movies as Taken, The Transporter, The Fifth Element, Lethal Weapon 3, and The Karate Kid.

The cast for The Punisher includes Dolph Lundgren (Masters of the Universe, Dark Angel, Rocky IV), Louis Gossett Jr. (Iron Eagle, Jaws 3-D), Jeroen Krabbé (The Fugitive, The Living Daylights), Barry Otto (The Great Gatsby, The Howling III), Nancy Everhard (DeepStar Six), and Kim Miyori (Metro).

THE PUNISHER, Louis Gossett, Jr., Dolph Lundgren 1989.The plot of The Punisher follows Frank Castle, an ex-cop turned vigilante who hunts down and executes members of the mafia and other criminal figures. After 5 years of his activities, the local criminal scene has weakened considerably, but the vacancy also attracts the interest of a foreign criminal power: the Yakuza. After the Yakuza attempts to seize the remaining operations of the mafia by kidnapping the surviving leadership’s children, Castle winds up making strange allies through his efforts to save the children and put the Yakuza down.

punisher4Reportedly, most of the fight choreography for the film was done with full contact, given professional martial artists were hired for the fighting roles instead of stuntmen. Dolph Lundgren did most of his own stunts for his role as well, given his martial arts background.

The Punisher is one of the best known “Ozploitation” action movies: meaning it was filmed in Australia, and done with extreme violence on an exploitation level.

A sequel to the movie was at one point planned, but the production company (New World Pictures) wound up going bankrupt before it could happen.

The Punisher interestingly did not theatrically release in the United States, due to the aforementioned bankruptcy of the production company. However, it managed to distribute to theaters internationally (at least, in places where it wasn’t outright banned), and popped up on home video shortly thereafter.

The beginning of The Punisher features a thinly-veiled version of John Gotti, one of the most well-known gangsters of the modern era. In 1989 (the year of this film’s release), he was still two years off from his ultimate conviction and incarceration, but was very much a public and recognizable figure as a crime boss. While the character isn’t explicitly named John Gotti in the movie, he is referred to as “The Dapper Don,” a well-known nick-name of Gotti’s.

The reception to The Punisher was generally negative: it currently holds Rotten Tomatoes scores of 28% (critics) and 32% (audience), along with an IMDb rating of 5.6. However, it has a dedicated cult following in spite of the bad reviews.

punisher3The Punisher has a great grimy look and feel to it, which is definitely a credit to this being an exploitation-style action movie. Honestly, I think this ambiance fits The Punisher as a character better than the other adaptations, though I don’t hate either of those films as much as some people do. As weird as Lundgren’s casting might seem at first glance, I think he nails the spirit of the character pretty well. Also, it is hard not to appreciate that this movie isn’t an origin story, and that the plot the screenwriter came up with is actually pretty cool, and deals with a realistic consequence of the presence of a Punisher-style vigilante.

punisher2I have never understood why so many people vocally hate this movie. The absence of the iconic skull image is certainly notable, but that actually strikes me as pretty minute on the grand scale of things. This movie is over-the-top violence and action, which is basically what the spirit of The Punisher is all about. Dolph even does a pretty good job with his lines, which is likely the result of him being given permission to rewrite them for his comfort level. I feel like it is a real shame that Goldblatt hasn’t directed any other movies, as both Dead Heat and The Punisher are entertaining flicks that have become cult classics.

I definitely recommend checking this movie out, as it is probably the best of the Marvel movies made before the modern era of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Sony’s Spider-Man flicks, and Fox’s X-Men franchise. I think b-movie and action fans in particular will enjoy this adaptation, perhaps more so than die-hard fans of the comics.

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The Island of Doctor Moreau (Throwback Post)

This is a repost of a previously published review. Due to my wedding/honeymoon, as well as hectic grad school scheduling, I’m taking some time off from weekly posts. – Gordon

The Island of Doctor Moreau

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Today’s flick is the disastrous 1996 adaptation of The Island of Dr. Moreau, starring Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando.

The Island of Doctor Moreau is based on a famous work by H.G. Wells, which has been adapted a number of times to the screen, dating all the way back to 1932’s Island of Lost Souls. The screenplay for this particular incarnation was written by Richard Stanley (Hardware, Dust Devil) and Ron Hutchinson (The Josephine Baker Story).

The screenplay co-writer Richard Stanley was initially brought on board to direct, but was ultimately fired and replaced by John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate, Reindeer Games, Ronin). However, rumor has it that Stanley snuck back on to the production as an extra, specifically made up as one of the background creatures so that he could eavesdrop on the progress of the movie.

The cinematographer for The Island of Dr. Moreau was William A. Fraker, who also shot such films as Vegas Vacation, Tombstone, Street Fighter, SpaceCamp, WarGames, The Exorcist II, Rosemary’s Baby, 1941, and Bullitt, and was nominated for a total of 6 different Academy Awards over his career.

The Island of Doctor Moreau featured two primary editors: Adam P. Scott, who has worked on films like Any Given Sunday, The Insider, Blade, and Matchstick Men, and Paul Rubell, who cut The Cell, Thor, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Collateral, and Battleship. A third editor, Thom Noble (Red Dawn, Thelma & Louise, Alex Cross, Fahrenheit 451), worked without credit on the film.

The makeup and special effects for The Island of Doctor Moreau were provided by the prestigious Stan Winston Studios, led by none other than Stan Winston himself, a four time Academy Award winner. The makeup and special effects teams included common elements with movies like The Thing, The Cell, John Dies At The End, Tremors, Congo, Jurassic Park, Lake Placid, Small Soldiers, The Bat People, Predator 2, Avatar, Iron Man, Hollow Man, Class of 1999, Pacific Rim, Aliens, Leviathan, Dollman, and Dead Heat.

moreau2The score for The Island of Dr. Moreau was composed by Gary Chang, who also provided music for movies like The Substitute, Under Siege, and A Shock To The System.

The three producers on the film were Claire Rudnick Polstein (Austin Powers, Wag The Dog), Tim Zinnemann (Street Fighter, The Running Man) and Edward R. Pressman (Street Fighter, Judge Dredd, Masters of the Universe, The Hand).

The cast for The Island of Dr. Moreau included David Thewlis (The Big Lebowski, DragonHeart), Val Kilmer (Heat, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Top Gun), Marlon Brando (On The Watefront, The Godfather, A Streetcar Named Desire, Apocalypse Now), Ron Perlman (Pacific Rim, Hellboy), Mark Dacascos (American Samurai, Only The Strong, Double Dragon, Scorcher), Peter Elliott (Congo), Temuera Morrison (Speed 2), and Fairuza Balk (The Waterboy).

moreau3The plot of The Island of Dr. Moreau follows a shipwrecked man who is rescued and brought to an isolated island.  However, the island is inhabited by a reclusive and eccentric doctor, who has been performing experiments splicing genes from humans with animals, and has created a population of hybrid abominations. As the story progresses, the hybrids become increasingly unruly and savage, and ultimately revolt against their creator.

As he did with many of his later movies, Marlon Brando was affixed with a radio receiver in his ear so that someone off-screen could feed his lines to him. However, during The Island of Doctor Moreau, the device received a good deal of interference from local radio frequencies, and lore has it that Brando would frequently read off messages from police scanners  instead of his lines, without realizing his mistake.

moreau1One particularly infamous sequence from The Island of Doctor Moreau, in which Brando plays a piano duet with his small companion (who he insisted on having as part of the production), was famously lampooned in the second Austin Powers movie. The sequence went so far as to even include the stacked miniature piano setup used in Moreau.

In 2014, a documentary was released detailing the troubled production behind The Island of Doctor Moreau, titled Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau.

Val Kilmer tried to get out of the movie before filming began, but was contractually forced to participate. He openly disliked the direction of the film, and was reportedly actively disruptive during the production. Rewrites reassigned many of his lines to Ron Perlman’s character so that his screentime could be further limited, and the director reported said “Cut. Now get that bastard off my set” after the last take with Kilmer wrapped.

Rob Morrow was originally cast as the lead, but left after Stanley was fired from the production. This led to Thewlis being brought in on short notice to take over the role.

Because of numerous rewrites and changes in direction, the screenplay for The Island of Doctor Moreau went through no less than four distinct incarnations over the course of the production.

The Island of Doctor Moreau wound up with six Golden Raspberry nominations, which are given out to the worst films and performances of the year. Outside of Marlon Brando winning for worst supporting actor, however, it wound up getting beat out in the major categories by the Demi Moore movie Striptease.

The popular reception to The Island of Doctor Moreau was quite poor, though it did wind up making its money back at the box office (a gross of $49 million on a budget of $40 million). It currently holds Rotten Tomatoes scores of 23% (critics) and 20% (audience), along with a 4.4 rating on IMDb.

The Stan Winston designed creature effects are pretty impressive, and are probably the biggest reason that this movie is remembered in any kind of positive light. Some of the creatures certainly look more realistic than others, but the sheer amount of makeup work that had to be done to transform so many actors must have been daunting, and it isn’t too outlandish to say that the movie probably wouldn’t have happened at all without Winston’s involvement.

Where the movie really falls apart is with the screenplay, which, as I mentioned earlier, went through a number of rewrites. This was clearly an ambitious project, but it comes off on screen as trying to do far too much, and it lacks an even tone or style thanks to all of the edits and rewrites. Apparently, apart from the full screenplay rewrites, some of the actors also rewrote their own lines, which contributes even more to the bizarre inconsistencies throughout the film.

The one-two acting punch of Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer, which should have been a knock-out combo on paper, proved to be an absolute disaster for this production. Not only did both men already have reputations for being troublesome on sets, but both were in particularly bad personal situations during the filming of Moreau: Kilmer was suddenly embroiled in an unexpected divorce, and Brando was mourning the recent suicide of his daughter. Adding to the powder keg, appropriately enough, was an atomic test that was performed near a property owned by Brando, went sent him even further into a dark psychological state. The mixture of all of these elements created two lead actors who wanted nothing more than to be off the production, and gave respective performances that could accurately be described as sabotage.

Overall, this is a legendarily terrible movie, but is another one of those productions that feels like it had some honest potential behind it. The behind the scenes antics are fascinating to read into, and make the movie worth a watch if you ask me. Kilmer and Brando are also hypnotically awful in their performances, despite how little screen time they get.

I first saw this  movie when I was pretty young, when it got a lot of airplay on the Sci-Fi Channel, and it made a significant impression on me. I remember being particularly baffled by Kilmer’s drug-fueled Brando impression in particular, which might be the highlight of the whole film. If you happen to come across this one, it is worth picking up, particularly if you are a fan of movie trivia. I also recommend giving a watch to the documentary about it, Lost Soul.