I have been thinking about doing this for a while. I find myself with a lot of films becoming more interested in some of the minor or supporting characters then I do the main character. It may be because of the actor portraying the supporting character, but I think it is incredibly important to have a solid supporting cast to form around your lead(s) (unless your Daniel Day-Lewis – who does a one man show in “There Will Be Blood” and “The Ballad of Jack and Rose” – granted the child actor and Paul Dano were very good in TWBB but still, come on!). And since I enjoy making lists, I wanted to list a couple of character actors that I enjoy very much, and if they are in a film – regardless of how good, mediocre, or shitty it is – I’ll give it shot.
“The Punisher” – 1989. Dir. Mark Goldblatt. With Dolph Lundgren, Louis Gossett, Jr. and Jeroen Krabbe.
The first of “The Punisher” films came out in the wave of the first “Batman” film, it was made before it was hip to make them. This isn’t a great film, but it is a lot of fun. The opening credits show much homage to comics, and how they are laid out and designed. This is basically a revenge film where Frank Castle (Lundgren with an awesome jet black “die” job [get the pun?!]) is out to kill all the mobsters in New York, to avenge the car bombing intended for him that killed his family. Louis Gossett, Jr. plays Castle’s former partner, who is the only cop in America convinced Frank Castle is the infamous Punisher! The dialogue is campy, and a lot of the action and supporting characters are over the top. Jeroen Krabbe plays the Mafia kingpin who comes from overseas to salvage what’s left the “family”. Krabble gives a great performance as always. What I found so interesting about the film is there is a character named Lady Tanaka who is the boss of the American Yakuza. She’s a strong independent woman who strong arms the mafia and tries to take control of their operations. This character screamed O-Ren Ishii from the Kill Bill saga. I wondered if this character was a slight template for Tarantino’s character. Probably not, but it’s cool to think about. All in all this is a film worthy of attention from comic book fans and action film fans.
“The Punisher” – 2004. Dir. Jonathan Hensleigh. With Thomas Jane, John Travolta, Will Patton, and Roy Scheider.
This is a film that I thought was going to be lame and trashy. It isn’t. The film has a similar set-up as the first, but with much more depth, more character development and much more talent. Thomas Jane plays Castle this time around, and his dye job is more acceptable and believable. The film centers on Castle’s retirement. His last case to wrap up before retires is posing as a Russian gun runner who is selling weapons to the son of Howard Saint (John Travolta). The gun deal goes wrong and ends with the death of Saint’s son. Castle thinking his life in undercover law enforcement is over, retreats to the gulf for a long overdue family reunion where the patriarch of the Castle family lives, played excellently by Roy Scheider. Scheider’s small role in the film adds to the backbone of Jane’s character; showing the hard bark that Old Man Castle displays gives credibility to Frank Castle’s blood lust. While on vacation, Saint’s right hand man Quentin Glass (Will Patton) finds out the true identity of the Russian gun runner, and where he’s at. Saint orders Glass to lead a herd of baddies dressed in black to kill Castle – and his entire family – upon the request of his wife. John Travolta is surprisingly excellent; he gives his character a charming ruthlessness. Will Patton turns the best performance in the film. He gives the subtle and mystical performance of a very willing and capable man. Patton gives this character more depth than the character actually needs. Patton has always been one of my favorite character actors, turning up in small films and big films, always giving a solid performance. What makes this film work is the fact it isn’t overly stylized like most comic book films are. This film follows my Super Hero film template, of casting a relatively unknown or a star that isn’t as bankable, and bringing in “the heavy” with John Travolta and Roy Scheider. The cast isn’t packed with names (aside from what’s left of Travolta and Scheider’s), but all the performances are solid, leaving you wanting to watch it again.
“Punisher: War Zone” – 2008. Dir. Lexi Alexander. With Ray Stevenson, Julie Benz, Dominick West, and Wayne Knight.
This was a film that was supposed to continue the franchise with Thomas Jane playing Frank Castle. Jane left the project due to a disagreement with the studio over the route the character would take, along with the script and the new production team. This film captures the essence of comic book violence, much like “Sin City”. It’s very over the top and campy. A friend of mine is a gigantic comic book enthusiast, who was extremely excited about this version of The Punisher. This film is trite and lame, and you can’t help but feel the villain, Jigsaw (played by Dominick West) is the shitty cousin of The Joker from “The Dark Knight”. Stevenson can be good in limited roles where he’s not the lead, and in this film he’s mediocre at best. A lot of people were excited that a woman was directing this! It’s much like the press revolving around “The Hurt Locker”, a woman directing a war film. Who cares? Do you think Bigelow is appreciative of all the gender based talk around her directing the film (although she plays it well and loves the attention)? What a badass chick to direct a “Punisher” film! The bottom line is it wouldn’t have mattered who directed this film. It’s garbage.
With the recent release of “Shutter Island” and my utter disappoint in the film, I have raged watched a couple of Scorsese films, “Gangs of New York” and “After Hours”. Some are impressed by Scorsese breaking from his “genre” and making a thriller/horror film! Wow! Watch “Cape Fear” instead. Scorsese doesn’t have a genre, he’s not held down by them but his staples are crime films. Scorsese has made a thriller/horror with “Shutter Island” and “Cape Fear”, a film that empowered women in the 1970’s with “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”, three epics: “Kundun”, “Gangs of New York” and “The Last Temptation of Christ”, a period piece romance “Age of Innocence”, a semi sports film “Raging Bull”, three musical documentaries “The Last Waltz”, “Shine a Light” and “No Direction Home” and two dark, dark, dark comedies, “The King of Comedy” and “After Hours” a musical “New York, New York” and a sequel to a classic that could stand as a standalone movie “The Color of Money” and Michael Jackson’s music video “Bad”. My point with all this is Scorsese isn’t a genre director.
“After Hours” came out when Scorsese was on a role with “Taxi Driver”, “Raging Bull” and “King of Comedy”. “After Hours” stars Griffin Dunne (who’s most notable as Michael Keaton’s brother in “Johnny Dangerously”) as Paul Hackett who is computer processer who lives a mundane life. He’s alone, and is lonely. After leaving his job and sitting at home watching TV Paul goes to a local coffee shop where he sits and reads Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller. The only other patron in the diner is Rosanna Arquette and she proceeds to tell Paul that she loves the book he’s reading. She moves to Paul’s table and tells him how she is going to her friend’s house who is an artists that makes plaster bagels as paper weights. Paul wants one and she gives him the number where she’s staying. Paul goes home, and doesn’t even last five minutes before he calls the number asking to buy a paper weight. What embarks this night in New York City is dark, disturbing, and wickedly humorous. The randomness of the events that happen are so hard to describe, this defiantly in not a film for the casual movie watcher.
The cast that exists in “After Hours” consists of non Scorsese players (aside from Arquette who starred in “Life Lessons”, Scorsese’s segment in “New York Stories”, Verna Bloom and character actors Victor Argo and Murray Moston) Griffin Dunne, John Heard, Teri Garr, Cathrine O’Hara, Cheech and Chong, Will Patton and Linda Fiorentino. With a cast like that, you know this is going to be one odd movie. What works in “After Hours” is the heightened sense of paranoia and suspense Scorsese throws at us, as we watch poor Paul Hackett go through these series of unfortunate events that are all connected and related. The poor guy is having the worst night he’s ever endured and he just wants to get home. We can’t help but feel uncomfortable by Paul’s actions, what a dork he is. Its fun to watch him as he transforms from square to paranoid vigilante as an angry mob is chasing him, ends up at an S&M Club, picks up a gay man and is what he believes, the cause of a suicide. This is one fun movie!
What makes this similar to “Shutter Island” is this isn’t a personal project for Scorsese, it’s not a project that he sought out and wanted to make. This was a film that he was offered and turned it down because he was about to start work on “The Last Temptation of Christ” so the studio hired Tim Burton to direct it. Once production was severely delayed on “Temptation” he went back to the studio to tell them he was available and Tim Burton respectfully bowed out of the project because he “didn’t want to stand in the way of Scorsese”. Even though this isn’t a personal project for Scorsese, it feels personal. His use of camera angles and Thelma Schoonmaker’s brilliant editing makes this a Scorsese film. It’s obvious yet again Scorsese’s love for New York City. His camera shots and descriptions of places are remarkable. It feels like a Scorsese film, it sounds like a Scorsese film. Even though the cast is very odd and very random, you still know you’re watching a Scorsese film. The final shot of the film, that roles through the end credits is one continuous shot, much like the Copacabana scene in “Goodfellas” – so you know, by the end of “After Hours” you watched yet another remarkable Scorsese film.
The film itself stands alone as one of Scorsese’s true deep cuts, and it’s a film most people haven’t seen. It’s hard to find, but it did get a DVD release years ago, and might still be in print. The film is structured a lot like the HBO series “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, except it is much darker and the entire film takes place in about 12 hours of Paul Hackett’s life. This is a brilliant film, by another brilliant filmmaker. Skip “Shutter Island” and visit the real Martin Scorsese and watch “After Hours” or “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”.