Collectability (Toy Story 2, 1999)

Toy_Story_2_PosterToy Story had almost cemented itself as a classic in the public mind within a few short years.

This time, they open with a massive space adventure sequence which introduces Buzz’s arch nemesis Evil Emperor Zurg.

When Woody gets stolen by a collector at a yard sale, Buzz mounts a rescue mission. But for Woody, it turns out to not be as simple.

Woody discovers that he is not some random doll…but that he was originally part of a popular fifties toy and TV show combo.  And he finds out he was the last piece of the puzzle for a toy collector who plans to sell his collection to a museum in Japan.

At first, Woody is terrified by the notion.  But the rest of the collection (A cowgirl named Jessie, a horse named Bullseye and Stinky Pete-a toy still in his box, never opened) slowly convinces Woody that maybe life in a museum would not be so bad.

The film has a lot of fun, expanding both Woody and Buzz’s respective worlds.  They also find a new way to advance the story and give us “Buzz Does Not Know He is a Toy” in an entertaining way.

Jessie and Bullseye are engaging and lovable, making it easier to understand why Woody might consider abandoning Andy. Kelsey Grammer gives Stinky Pete just the amount of charm at the beginning to hint there may be more for him than we think. Admittedly, he is a bit of an indictment of collectors, as being left in the box plays a major motivation for Pete.

The animation shows some improvement here, though the human characters look…uh….freakish.  However, with Wayne Knight’s toy collector Al and the old man are much more cartoonish.  And it works more effectively when we see them on screen.

Toy Story 2 is a terrific follow up to the original, improving some things in the technical aspects and giving us a pretty tale revisiting characters we have come to love.

Parks and Wreck (Jurassic Park, 1993)

Jurassic_Park_PosterJohn Hammond has built an amazing and elaborate theme park. One like no other, and he has spared no expense.  But as they prepare to go a live, there is a deadly accident. His investors demand professionals endorse the safety of the park.

Hammond enlists Paleontologist Alan Grant and Paleobotanist Ellie Sattler, while the corporate lawyer brings in the “Chaotician” Ian Malcolm. At first, they are not fully sure what their presence is required for…until they discover that Jurassic Park is no ordinary vacation place.  Hammond’s company has perfected cloning to the point that they are able to use DNA to create new dinosaurs.

While at first awed by what they see, the three scientists start to question the decision to bring dinosaurs back into our world. The lawyer, meanwhile, is seduced by visions of money (“And we can charge anything we want, $2,000 a day, $10,000 a day…and people will pay it”).

Along with his grandchildren (Hammond’s target audience), Hammond sends everyone on the tour.  The crew has left for the weekend, leaving a very small staff.  Pretty much just Hammond, Ray Arnold (who runs the control room), Dennis Nedry (His IT guy) and Muldoon. Muldoon is a groundskeeper of sorts. An experienced big game hunter, he is also security in regards to things dinosaur related.

However, as one would expect…most anything that can go wrong does and our characters find themselves trying to regroup and get off the island without getting eaten.

As you would expect from a Spielberg adventure film, Jurassic Park is an exciting film full of great performances.  Jeff Goldblum’s Malcolm is especially entertaining in his over the top personality.

The film walks the line of challenging capitalism and corporate greed, without going all out for it. The lawyer represents the villainous corporate world, not Hammond. Hammond is the kindly grandfather with grand dreams of sharing his creation with the world. This is a change from the book, where Hammond is a much darker character who has a rather gruesome fate.

The film’s effects were groundbreaking for the time…and while it is a bit clearer now to see where the dinosaurs switch from digital to practical effects, the visuals in the film are still good enough to not be all that distracting today. It is easy to get lost in the excitement and danger of Jurassic Park.

 

Going To War (Punisher: War Zone, 2008)

Punisher_War_Zone_PosterThird times the charm!  While I enjoyed the second shot at the Punisher starring Thomas Jane, it appears a lot of people did not agree.  The Punisher is one of those tough characters.  He is brutally violent and (in large part) that is where his entertainment comes from…how far will he go to take out the underworld?  So, for the next attempt at the Punisher, much like the Hulk, they tossed aside the prior film.  They dumped Director Jonathan Hensleigh and lead Thomas Jane.  They replaced them with Director Lexi Alexander (Green Street Hooligans) and the new Punisher Ray Stevenson (Rome).

Like the Jane version, they draw from a variety of eras of the Punisher.  While the plot feels very Garth Ennis, the choice of villain is a character he never used.  That being the Len Wein/Ross Andru creation Jigsaw (Dominic West, 300 and the Wire).  But they do borrower characters he brought to the series, like the Punisher Task Force-Detective Martin Soap (Dash Mihok, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and the Day After Tomorrow) and Paul Budiansky (Colin Salmon, Resident Evil & Strikeback).

The film opens with Punisher playing with some adorable kittens…just kidding.

 

 

 

 

 

Just kidding..we meet mobster types meeting at a nice looking mansion.  Billy (West) steps out of a limo and check himself in the mirror…he is a pretty boy who wants to climb higher in the mob, but he is given no respect by the local “Godfather”.  As everyone sits down for dinner, the lights go out.  Suddenly a flare is lit and the Punisher runs across the table and chops off the “godfather’s” head.  And then the carnage starts… the Punisher takes out the entire house of mobsters, while Detective Soap and his partner are stumbling into the yard…his partner comes across the Punisher…Castle puts his hands over his head and turns around.  The officer gives Frank the keys his car.

A chase after Billy results in his apparent death.  Martin Soap.  Soap is the master of exposition and gets us from Frank’s “origin” to the current scene in about three minutes…giving the viewer everything they need to know.

I won’t lie…this is about as good of a Punisher movie as you will get.  It is true to character, completely violent with absurd and over the top villains.  Jigsaw gives a huge speech to recruit the gang members in front of screen with a giant American flag projected on it.  Hutchison is terrific in the role of Looney Bin Jim…he is uncomfortably menacing…not quite Heath Ledger’s Joker-but still scary all the same.  It is a shame Hutchison will be remembered more as the “Old Guy who Married a Teenage Girl”.  And you cannot get more over the top in a movie like this than cannibalism.  Well, the Punisher does kill 81 people.

Dominic West is no slouch either.  He plays Jigsaw and a man gone over the edge, flamboyant in his new-found skin.  West brings an appropriate amount of the absurd to the film.  Wayne Knight, on the other hand, draws it back.  Instead of going for broad humor, he plays Micro as a dedicated soldier trying to provide backup.  One of the things that is interesting here is that the filmmakers are clearly using Garth Ennis as a template.  Yet Jigsaw is not a villain Ennis ever used.Nor did Micro appear in his work (havibg been dead since the 1990’s.  I am always sympathetic to Julie Benz, though her accent seems to slip at times.  And hey, what’s not to like about Colin Salmon?  Dash Mihok makes a terrific Martin Soap…ineffectual and bumbling, but ultimately in Frank’s corner.

And Stevenson?  Wow.  He looks like Frank walked out of the comics.  He is really imposing, and able to make Frank work in the quieter moments.

The movie works really quite well.  Smartly, they put Frank in the role of protecting a family, and it is the interactions with Grace that humanize him.  As villains go, they played it smart.  In some comics, relate-able villains, or at least villains who see themselves as the heroes are great.  But for the Punisher?  You need remarkably un-sympathetic villains.  At no point can you look at Jigsaw and his men as misunderstood.  They are just terrible people and you want Frank to do his job and end them.

There are nice little touches, such as the The Bradstreet Hotel-named for long time Punisher cover artist Tim Bradstreet.  The visuals are really nice, with great use of the landscape, and the colors are very vibrant.

The film ends with Frank standing at the top of a set of stairs, behind him a neon cross that says Jesus Saves…the J,E,U & S all flicker out to just leave the word Saves and the screen goes black except for the neon “Saves”.  I am not really sure what the director is trying to do with the image.  But it looks kind of nifty.

Lexi Alexander did a great job with this interpretation of the character, making a film that effectively captures it’s source material.

Marvel set Punisher aside for film.  There was talk a few years back, which I felt seemed like a terrible idea.  The only way I saw it working was if you put it on HBO, Starz or Showtime.  On the networks there is no way it would be unrecognizable.  Of course this was before Netflix and the Daredevil series.

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