The Punisher (2004)

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When it comes to film adaptations of Marvel’s famed vigilante, there are two camps. One is the group loyal to the 2004 film starring Thomas Jane. The other camp, which I would proud say I’m a member of, favors the 2008 film with Ray Stevenson. I will admit that the Thomas Jane film is pretty good, yet it has flaws that make me prefer War Zone instead.

Frank Castle (Thomas Jane) is undercover for the FBI when a deal goes bad and one of the young dealers is dead. Turns out the dealer is the son of crime lord, Howard Saint (John Travolta). Saint finds Castle’s family and has them brutally murdered. Castle barely survives and is brought back to health. Now, Castle wants vengeance for the death of his family.

Castle systematically takes out members of Saint’s syndicate. Not only is he knocking off members, but also collecting blackmail evidence to use against one of Saint’s associates. During this time, Castle moves into an apartment with neighbors that take in Castle. Now, Castle has a surrogate family to protect, especially when Saint goes in to have Castle taken out.

Before I go into why this film doesn’t completely work for me, let me express what I did like. In the beginning the violence is vicious and unforgiving. The murder of Castle’s family is more than enough for me to want to see these mobsters pay. The violence doesn’t get so bad or rotten like it does in a movie like Death Wish III that no amount of retribution could satisfy.

I like Thomas Jane as Frank Castle. He does a pretty decent job with the character. Any problems I have with the film don’t pertain to Jane or his performance. He was doing as he was directed by Jonathan Hensleigh and how screenwriter Michael France presented his character.

The supporting cast featured a number of talented actors and actresses. Rebecca Romijn teases as a love interest to Castle. Comedian John Pinette (RIP) and Ben Foster are great as Castle’s goofy neighbors. Roy Schieider and Samantha Mathis have small, but memorable parts. Will Patton, Eddie Jemison, and Mark Collie stand out as Saint’s associates.

Last, but far from least, this film has one of my favorite fight scenes in all cinema. Thomas Jane as Castle and Kevin Nash as the Russian is such a crazy, hilarious sequence that it seems out of place for this film. Had the film been able to maintain this degree of absurd humor towards the violence, it would have been Punisher: War Zone four years early.

With those positives established, let me get into what about this film doesn’t work for me. First, its the inconsistency of tone for the film. There are moments where it jumps from gritty to funny to western to dramatic then to cartoonishly violent. With Punisher: War Zone as well as Dolph Lundgren’s 1989 film, they had a steady tone. This film is all over the place and it took me out of the movie.

John Travolta, as the head of the Saint crime family, is a one-note bad guy. There’s nothing interesting or dramatic about him. This comes off as a paycheck performance that pales in comparison to Dominic West as Jigsaw or Doug Hutchison as Looney Bin Jim.

If this is your favorite of the Punisher films, I can respect that. It does have its moments, yet those moments don’t match my sense of awe for War Zone. This film is worth checking out on a rainy day. If you’re a Marvel movie completist or want to delve into Marvel-based films before the Disney buy-out, this is one of the better ones to see.

Mortal Kombat (1995)

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Video game-based movie adaptations were in their early years during the mid 1990′s. Super Mario Bros. only led to other box office fodder like Street Fighter and Double Dragon. One common element between them was the fact that they were absolutely terrible. Yet, at the time, one film stood out from the rest as being the best video game film adaptation, and still stands as one of the best ever made.

Mortal Kombat is a fighting tournament that pits the greatest warriors of Earth against the champion of the realm known as Outworld. Under the guidance of Raiden, the hope of Earth lies in the trio of Liu Kang, Sonya Blade, and Johnny Cage. The overseer of the tournament, Shang Tsung, has his collection of warriors with the likes of Sub-Zero, Scorpion, Reptile, Kano, and Prince Goro. Fortunately, the Earth combatants have an unlikely ally in Princess Kitana.

After nearly two decades and many attempts to bring video game source material to movie screens, Mortal Kombat is a fantastic piece of work. The characters are loyally adapted to the film. The fight sequences are well-choreographed and stylishly edited. The techno soundtrack helps the film maintain its high energy pace. The movie still holds up as entertaining and accessible to multiple audiences.

One of the film’s strongest aspects is the simple plot, something the video games were often lacking. Fans will recognize a number of cues the plot of Mortal Kombat takes from the plot of the Bruce Lee classic, Enter the Dragon. Liu Kang and Johnny Cage were played as surrogates for Bruce Lee and John Saxon. The Johnny Cage/Goro fight is similar to the Roper/Bolo fight. Both films center on a fighting tournament that’s a cover for a much bigger operation, be it a drug operation or another dimension.

While maligned for the Resident Evil films, director Paul W.S. Anderson garnered much respect for his lovingly crafted work on Mortal Kombat. After the likes of Street Fighter and Double Dragon, a video game-based film of this quality was a sign of hope. It felt like a legitimate movie and not a cynical cash grab.

The performances by the cast were appropriate for their characters. While Christopher Lambert’s comedic take on Raiden felt out of place, the other actors more than make up for it. Robin Shou, with his roots in Hong Kong cinema, is a perfect fit for Liu Kang. Linden Ashby gives Johnny Cage much ego, but not too much that we hate him. Bridget Wilson has the right look for Sonya and a gung-ho attitude to boot. Talisa Soto has her moments as Kitana.

The villains prove to be entertaining in their own right. Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa plays Shang Tsung with over-the-top aggression laced with camp. He comes off as a martial arts Palpatine. The late Trevor Goddard played a light-hearted take on Kano. He’s still vicious, but he’s very amusing.

With video game-based films having a growing number of misses than hits, the ones that work are all the more noteworthy. If I had to rank Mortal Kombat, it would be second only to Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie. Yeah, after all these years, its still that good of a movie.

The Beast Must Die (1974)

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Horror and mystery movies are genres that seem to actively engage the audience. Even today, to go to a movie theater for the latest horror feature and have members of the audience talk to the screen is quite common. Conversations for mystery films often consist of who were thought to be the murderer. Seldom does a movie of such a genre actively address the audience and invite them to partake in solving the mystery.

Tom Newcliffe is an obsessive millionaire who enjoys hunting. He has gone to great expense to have an extensive security system installed on his estate. Cameras are set in the trees, microphones are planted in the ground, and motion sensors litter the estate grounds. What would be the target of such obsession requiring these extreme measures?

Newcliffe has invited a group of acquaintances to his estate. Paul Foote is an artist, recently released from prison. Jan Gilmore is a renown pianist, joined by his lover Davina Gilmore. Arthur Bennington was a diplomat. These people all have one thing in common: they were in the vicinity where brutal murders were committed. One of them is a werewolf. Joining them are Professor Lundgren, knowledgeable in the field of lycanothropy, and Pavel, the operator of the estate’s security system. Newcliffe aims to kill the werewolf and claim it as the ultimate trophy.

The opening of this Paul Annett film reminded me of the trailers for directors like William Castle and Herschel Gordon Lewis. It felt like a gimmick. Castle used shocks in chairs and flying skeletons while Lewis used stern disclaimers and campy gore. The foreboding invite to actively solve the mystery may have come off as cheesy, but it has charm and I have respect for a film that encourages the audience to do more than be passive spectators.

Amicus was the studio that made the film. They were the main competition for the biggest British studio, Hammer. Hammer was founded on blood, sex, and high budgets. Amicus was more interested in telling wacky, bizarre stories. It was Amicus that first brought EC horror comics to the big screen with Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror.

Calvin Lockheart plays Newcliffe, the hunter/millionaire. His introduction alone makes the film worth watching. At a time when black characters were presented as heroes in The Dirty Dozen and Night of the Living Dead, Lockheart’s performance stands out because he is a shade of gray. He wants to kill a monster, which makes him try to be admirable. Yet, the pride-contaminated determination makes him not only a danger to the others on his estate, but a danger to himself and his wife. As the movie progresses, he only grows to become more ambiguous.

The supporting cast features a number of British talents. Peter Cushing heads the secondary characters as Lundgren. Harry Potter fans might not immediately recognize Michael Gambon until he starts talking. Ciaran Madden, Charles Gray, Tom Chadbon, Anton Diffring, and Marlene Clark fill out the rest of the supporting ensemble.

The music by Douglas Gamley is a nice mix of rock and jazz. You get your “wah-chika-wah” guitar during the chase scenes. The jazzy selections almost serve as a precursor to Goblin’s score for Dario Argento’s Profondo Rosso. If you’re a scourer of film soundtracks, this would be a gem worth owning.

If you’re looking for an alternative to the bloody, polished productions of Hammer, this particular Amicus production is worth a view. It encourages the viewer to pay attention as well as featuring quite a few talented members of the cast. As far as mystery films are concerned, The Beast Must Die! stands out as an underrated gem.

John Carter (2012)

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After bringing in a lot of box office cash with the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Disney was eying prospects for other series they could do the same with. Marvel and Pixar were already reliable resources, but they wanted the Disney logo on one. They did try to start a new series, but the film turned into an intriguing, but flawed, prototype.

Edgar Rice Burroughs takes a look at the personal effects of his late uncle, Civil War veteran John Carter, for clues that may make clear the circumstances of his death. Burroughs discovers his uncle’s journal and begins to read it. The journal starts with Carter’s arrest at the hands of Union Colonel Powell. Carter manages to escape, but Powell is in hot pursuit.

Carter finds a cave, but meets Powell. A mysterious person attacks them both. Carter kills the person and takes a medallion. The medallion transports Carter to the planet of Barsoom, what we named Mars. Due to the differences in the atmosphere and Carter’s biological make-up, he can do great acrobatic feats and greater strength.

During his time on Barsoom, Carter must end a war between two civilizations, Helium and Zodanga. Helium is under the leadership of Tardos Mors, with his daughter, Princess Dejah. Their enemies are under the control of Sab Than, who is armed with advanced artillery from a race known as Thern. In the middle of the battling tribes is the alien race of Tharks, with their leader Tars.

John Carter from director Andrew Stanton was a modest attempt from Disney to start another blockbuster series. With Carter’s origins in cheap literature and penny dreadfuls, Disney went to elevate the film above its source material. They did their best to make a Star Wars-inspired world for Carter to play in. With the detailed worlds and impressive art design, I was reminded why I loved that classic trilogy of films. I was taken to fantasy worlds, as this film tried to do the same.

Similar to The Artist, John Carter tried to give contemporary audiences a taste of an older style of film, but with use of current technology. While The Artist was a silent film for the 21st century, John Carter was a try at bring the films of Errol Flynn into the 2010′s. The Captain Blood antics were given a lot of attention, and much more emphasis on the action as opposed to Johnny Depp’s eccentricities.

Where the movie failed was to convince audiences that Taylor Kitsch was leading man material. Last time I saw him was as Gambit in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Neither the following film, Battleship, were able to change people’s minds. He has since disappeared from film in any lead role capacities. Better actors could have been chosen for the role of Carter, notably charismatic choices like Chris Evans, Tom Hardy, or James Marsden.

Kitsch’s shortcomings as an actor were only more obvious given the degree of talent in the supporting roles. Talent like Ciaran Hinds, Willem Dafoe, Samantha Morton, Bryan Cranston, and Thomas Haden Church, you need to be able to hold your own. There was zero chemistry between Kitsch or his love interest, played by Lynn Collins. She ended up doing most of the work to make audiences buy in their relationship.

Daniel Mindel was the cinematographer, and he did a fantastic job with bringing Barsoom to life. The unforgiving nature of the desert with the blue skies lended almost a comic booky feel to the film. The deserts of Utah and New Mexico made for visually stunning sights. Shepperton Studios served for interior films sets for numerous James Bond films, Star Wars, Batman Begins, and Captain America. It only makes it clearer how short John Carter fell in matching those fanciful works.

Effects company Double Negative deserve credit for their creature effects. How they created the Tharks was impressive. The aliens showed life-like qualities than other CGI characters in other movies. There wasn’t the spotty moments from animating or poor lip sync with the dialogue. Its a bad sign when you’re effects characters show more emotion than your lead actor.

Sadly, there will never be another shot to make another John Carter film. His opportunity was a bomb, but a noble effort. It sought to take audiences back to a past era of filmmaking. Had a better actor been in the role of John Carter, things might have been a lot different. The film is still worth watching for the great secondary cast and eye candy sets/special effects.

Duke Nukem Forever (PS3)

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During a decade and a half, Duke Nukem Forever has been in a perpetual state of developmental hell. Company after company took up this project only to abandon it. Then Gearbox Studios, the studio behind the Borderlands series, takes up the burden. They finish the game, and unleash it upon a waiting public. Some games should have stayed buried.

The game begins with “our hero, ladies and gentlemen.” Duke is playing a level of a video game based on his adventures. He fights a giant alien on a football field. Then the game brings us into the world of Duke Nukem.

We get to see his plush highrise palace and see NPCs flatter him with comments. He’s due to appear on a late night talk show. However, aliens have arrived and the show is canceled for the media coverage of the aliens.

Duke returns to his base of the operations, The Duke Cave. There, he talks with the President and the General for an Earth defense force. The President demands he not attack the aliens so long as they’re not hostile. The General echoes the expectations of the President. Lo and behold, the aliens attack.

Whenever I try out a video game for the first time, I have a personal rule I follow. I give the game two hours before I decide whether I want to continue playing it or not. I broke that rule with Duke Nukem Forever. After an hour, I stopped playing and turned it off. There goes five dollars and 60 minutes I’ll never get back.

Yes, all the media criticism you heard about this game was true. All the bad word of mouth and angry, cynical reviews were right. This game does have its small army of defenders, but so does The Phantom Menace. There is nothing in this game to justify playing it whatsoever.

While the simplicity of the game would be honoring the game’s roots, in this world of evolved first person shooters, the simplicity shows how dated this game is. The rhythm of the game is walk, shoot, walk, shoot, puzzle, walk, walk, walk, shoot. In the era of Borderlands, Mass Effect, and Dead Island, the simple Point A to Point B approach is pretty dumb.

Even in older games like Goldeneye 007 or Timesplitters 2, there is more depth to the gameplay. Don’t get me wrong. Simple games like Duke Nukem 3D, Doom, and Wolfenstein 3-D had their glory days in the infancy of first person shooters. But when, of all games to make a comparison, the Call of Duty series, is doing more for the gameplay of the genre than a game 15 years in development like Duke Nukem Forever, its just plain sad.

The character of Duke Nukem has lost his relevancy. He is a dinosaur, a relic of a time when chauvinism and one-dimensional characterization were deemed “appealing.” The whole Alpha Male angle just doesn’t work in this age where female characters can be just as strong, if not stronger, than their male counterparts.

The treatment of female characters is stunning. The beginning has twins giving you gratification, whom are supposed to be spoofing the Olsen Twins. Yeah, the Olsen Twins. I’ve seen later levels in other reviews. The X-Play review and Angry Joe review do a more effective job of showing you why this game degrades women, all while trying to make it seem funny.

During the hour of gameplay I was able to suffer through, there was one instance where I kinda chuckled. There is a segment where you can punch an actor who is clearly supposed to be Christian Bale doing his Terminator: Salvation rant against a crew member. Punching him out gets you a trophy. Other than that, this game failed to either impress me or get a solid laugh out of me.

I know there’s multiplayer, but I doubt there are enough people on there to warrant playing it. The game is simple to play and the graphics may be dated. I can enjoy a game with simple controls and not the best graphics. However, the biggest crime Duke Nukem Forever commits is that it is just plain boring. It brings nothing new to the table. That’s fine for 1997, but we’re a few years shy of 2017.

Right now, you can find the game for ridiculously cheap. But, why would you? You’re not missing much. You’re better off just sticking with better games like Borderlands or any of the recent Call of Duty titles. There’s nothing Duke offers that hasn’t been done better in other games.

Defiance (PS3)

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2013 yielded a range of licensed video games. Aliens: Colonial Marines and The Walking Dead: Survival Instincts stand out as utter disasters. At the same time, there have been a few surprises. I didn’t expect a free to play fighter based on Spartacus to be good. A title from earlier this year was based on another TV series I didn’t watch that was turned into a video game from Trion Worlds. But after playing the game, I’m interested in watching the source material.

Defiance puts you in the role of a human or a Irathient as you help the surviving remnants of society survive a post-apocalyptic environment. Guided by an internal program known as EGO, you complete various missions in the hopes of finding your employer, Von Bach. You can also complete side missions to earn currency and experience.

You’ll face a diversity of enemies in the game. You have your basic soldiers. Then, there are the explosive bugs and mutants with high-grade weaponry. Expect to be overwhelmed by enemies, facing as many as ten at a time.

Your equipment ranges from guns to shields. You’ll have access to pistols, shotguns, assault rifles, and sniper rifles. You don’t have to worry about grenades since their essentially unlimited, but you have to wait in between each grenade you use. However, you get the impression they’re useless since enemies aren’t dealt a lot of damage. Shield work as a barrier before damage affects your health.

If any of this sounds eerily familiar, it should. Defiance is basically Borderlands with a painted-on license. Guess what? Its actually a lot of fun. People may complain about the game using the near-exact engine of a popular video game, but I say, “Why not?” Better to have similarities to a fun game than a dud with an original engine.

Multiplayer for Defiance works differently than Borderlands. While Borderlands favors a drop in/drop out format, Defiance takes cues from an MMORPG. While I was playing, I saw about 10 or so other people on the same map as me. Battles have a more chaotic, immersing feel to them with all the extra players. Even nicer is the fact that the frame rate remained consistent even with people in the game game and on-screen at once.

The graphics are average, nothing really special. They’re rather dark, which may be on purpose to distance itself from the rich colors of Pandora. But, they’re serviceable and help the game with it own look.

The controls handle well enough. Moving around and driving vehicles are responsive to the player’s actions. Aiming can be a trial and shooting exposes some of the game’s faulty collision detection. After a while, you adjust to the controls and the flaws aren’t so bothersome.

For your character, you get to customize them. You can select their race, either human or Irathient. Another race can be selected if you drop the money since its DLC. You pick from different professions: outlaw, survivalist, veteran, and machinist. One of the spotlight options is selecting a voice for your character. You have a few options, but my personal favorite would be “lunatic.” I found myself laughing at the one-liners coming from my character.

One issue with the game at this point is the amount of time spent waiting for patches to be downloaded. We’re talking roughly 45 minutes to an hour. I’m glad a lot was fixed, but its a shame so much needed to be fixed for the game.

Another problem was the expensive shops. You can buy weapons, but they’ll cost you a lot of money. You’re better off just completing missions to earn your gear and sell old equipment. Eventually, you’ll have accumulated funds to buy something, whether its a weapon or items to further customize your character’s look.

Defiance stands as an unexpected favorite. Much like the Dead Island series, it takes liberties with the Borderlands engine and makes a fun game out of it. With other licensed video games bombing left and right, a game that works stands out even more from the rest. By now, you can find Defiance at a lower price so you have more incentive to play it. This game is well worth a Gamefly rental, or a discount purchase if you’re a Borderlands fan.

Pacific Rim (2013)

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As a kid, even to today, I can appreciate a good monster movie. TBS on Saturdays would air classic Godzilla movies with Al Lewis doing his Grandpa Munster schtick as the host. Sadly, attempts to bring such movies to contemporary audiences have failed, whether it was the atrocious Roland Emmerich Godzilla or the nausea-inducing Cloverfield. The only monster movie that has been worth noting lately is The Host. With Pacific Rim, the truly visionary Guillermo Del Toro does justice to the Kaiju sub-genre.

There is a portal at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Through this portal, giant monsters are attacking cities around the world. When these invaders prove too much for our military, the world comes together and creates the Jaeger program. We will fight giant monsters using giant robots.

With the scenario established, we focus on Raleigh Becket, a former Jaeger pilot who saw the death of his brother during a battle with a Kaiju. Stacker Pentecost, his former commanding officer, tries to get him to come back to help keep the Jaeger program alive. When he returns, he finds himself being partnered with Mako Mori, a survivor of a Kaiju attack as well as aspiring Jaeger pilot.

A pair of scientists are trying to figure out how these monsters are invading from the ocean. After one of the scientists connects his mind to the brain of a dead Kaiju, he finds out how these monsters are being created and adapting to fighting Jaegers. The plan changes from merely fending off cities to closing the portal with a nuclear device.

It is fair to say that this concept is essentially Ultraman or even Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, but for lifelong geeks of different age groups. Is it cheesy? Sure, it is. Is it awesome? Absolutely! This was a great movie!

The special effects of this movie are impressive. Yeah, they’re CGI and involve giant robots, so of course people will make comparisons to the brainlessly dreary Transformers movies. Whereas those movies were a total mess, the effects with Pacific Rim look physical. Giant robots shouldn’t move fast like they do in Transformers. Something as big as the Jaegers or Kaiju have mass and it needs to show.

The effects wizards pull it off. You have slow, heavy monsters fighting slow, heavy robots. You see the impact of the punches. The ground shakes as they walk. These are not the cartoonish renditions of Optimus Prime and Megatron. These are creatures and machines that are organic and physical with its environment.

Now that we know the robots and the monsters are cool, what about the humans? The cast is pretty good at lending credibility and believability to the situation. Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) does a decent job as the lead. I was emotionally invested enough in his arc to care what happened to him. Idris Alba and Rinko Kikuchi provide solid supporting characters for Hunnam to work off of. Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, and Ron Perlman provide great comic relief. Former wrestler, Robert Maillet, has a minor part as the co-pilot of a Russian Jaeger. Ellen McLain does make a few voice-over appearances modeled after her Portal GlaDOS character.

The movie serves as a two-hour love letter to Toho Studios, the creators of the Godzilla franchise. We catch glimpses and brief fights in Australia and the coast of Alaska. Yet, Hong Kong is where we get our first real fight beteween Jaegers and Kaiju. Giant robot versus giant monster amidst buildings and neon. Seeing a Jaeger clobber a monster with a vessel brought me back to Neo-Geo’s King of the Monsters. The music score by Ramin Djawadi even takes cues from the music of Ifukube. If Godzilla, Rodan, Monster Zero, and Mothera were part of their childhood – YOU MUST SEE THIS MOVIE!

With a worldwide box office of over $180 million, there is an international audience that will see these kinds of movies. Since Del Toro wasn’t directing The Hobbit, he made this movie instead. I call that more than fair consolation. We got a really good monster movie, with more likely in the works after the reception from viewers worldwide.

Artist of the Internet: ItsJustSomeRandomGuy

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Comedy sketches using action figures is not a new concept. I remember in the early 1990′s, Jon Stewart (later the host of The Daily Show) made a short using Barbie dolls to parody the survival film, Alive. Probably the most well known example of this comedy style would be Robot Chicken of the Cartoon Network. With classic segments like “Real World: Metropolis” and “Hulk Hogan’s Heroes,” the show mocked pop culture using toys. However, there is a YouTube comedian who also uses action figures for comedic purposes. However, he has the wit that is often lacking in Robot Chicken.

Michael Agrusso, aka ItsJustSomeRandomGuy, is a professional voice actor as well as voice acting teacher. Along with Brinna Li, aka ItsJustSomeRandomGal, they provide voice overs for different sketches using various action figures. The versatility of both Agrusso and Li is impressive and show a passion for their craft.

Agrusso first attracted attention for his “I’m A Marvel…and I’m a DC” shorts that spoofed the popular Mac/PC commercials. These often came out when summer blockbuster films for characters from both companies were coming out. Seeing Deadpool paired with Rorschach from Watchmen or Iron Man with Jonah Hex made for some clever sketches.

Zero Hour was an episodic series featuring multiple comic characters involving schemes by Lex Luthor and The Joker. An unlikely alliance formed between the DC and Marvel heroes. There were a few seasons and each episode is around 10 minutes. You’ll be able to breeze through them pretty quickly.

One notable entry on his YouTube channel is the first in a series of basic voice acting lessons. For the opening episode, Agrusso offered instructions in performing an impression of Sir Ian McKellan. Its only meant to be a starter video and encourages the viewer to meet with a vocal coach or take lessons. I would hope to see more videos on learning how to impersonate celebrities.

The one video I really want to bring to your attention is the parody trailer for the Justice League movie modeled after the trailer for the Avengers. It nails the characters and really exemplifies what makes Agrusso’s comedy work so well. It also shows that he’s not afraid to feature a character that moderate comic fans won’t recognize. How many people would know what Starro the Conqueror is without looking it up?

For a long period, there was little to no new content. Thankfully, in the past two months, a half dozen new videos have been added, taking jabs at recent Marvel/DC movie news. Here’s to upcoming videos and the return of sketches like Zero Hour, Rorschach & Deadpool, Goblin Bloggin’, and others formed a strong basis of entertainment that overshadowed the likes of Robot Chicken.

One minor issue with the channel is having one person do the voices for all the characters. The skill on display is amazing, but there comes a point where the characters sound similar to one another. Still, the quality of the writing and mix of characters make for clever work by Agrusso and Li. But, having another voice actor or two may have benefited the show and lightened the load for Agrusso.

ItsJustSomeRandomGuy is one of the better comic-oriented channels to be found on YouTube. Comic Con and the PGA have used his talents for advertising. If Robot Chicken and other animated shows have left you yearning for better writing and sharper wit, I highly recommend Michael Agrusso’s channel of ItsJustSomeRandomGuy.

Land of the Dead (2005)

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When zombies made their return to the forefront of horror film, there were almost as many good ones as bad ones. For every good one like 28 Days Later and Shaun of the Dead, there were bad ones like the remakes for Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead. Sadly, when the man responsible for the modern zombie film is approached to make one, the zombie genre’s welcome is already worn out. Yet, Romero’s fourth zombie film stands as one of the best of the 2000′s.

In the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse, the remaining humans have taken shelter in the remnants of Pittsburgh. Thanks to natural barriers and shock fences, zombies don’t pose a threat. Despite the collapse of society, some of the ills still remain. The wealthy enjoy their luxurious lifestyle in Fiddler’s Green while the struggling poor must survive for themselves on the street.

Because of the near constant need for supplies, survivors venture into zombie-infested areas. This trek has been made easier thanks to the use of an armored truck named Dead Reckoning. A unit under the guidance of Riley (Simon Baker) scavenge for medical supplies and canned goods. Cholo (John Leguizamo), one of the more reckless members, gathers fancy items like brandy and cigars to entice Mr. Kaufman (the late Dennis Hopper). Kaufman is the overseer of Fiddler’s Green, with Cholo serving as his secret hatchet-man.

When Cholo is denied entry in Fiddler’s Green by Kaufman, Cholo takes Dead Reckoning and has his own agenda. Cholo targets Fiddler’s Green unless Kaufman pays a substantial amount of money. Kaufman has Riley sent with a squad to get back the armored vehicle. Meanwhile, a group of zombies led by Big Daddy (Eugene Clark) are making their way through numerous barriers towards Fiddler’s Green.

Romero continues his knack for mixing zombies with social commentary. Night of the Living Dead dealt with social divisions. Dawn of the Dead mocked consumerism. Day of the Dead dealt with sexism and Reagan era militarism.

For Land of the Dead, Romero satirizes the post 9/11 retention of pre-9/11 status quo. The zombie menace is still around, but the rich just ignore the problem and continue to live their jaded lives. Kaufman keeps the people distracted with games and vices, which keeps them docile. Much like with the AIDS epidemic under Reagan or George W. Bush’s Iraq war to distract from Afghanistan, Kaufman is ignoring the problem and enticing the masses to “move along.”

The cast has a number of interesting selections. Simon Baker has leading man qualities as Riley. Dennis Hopper and John Leguizamo make for interesting antagonists. Robert Joy and Asia Argento make for unorthodox anti-heroes. Pedro Miguel Arce is awesome as Pillsbury. Tom Savini, Simon Pegg, and Edgar Wright make cameo appearances.

Greg Nicotero heads the make-up effects, which would foreshadow his work for AMC’s The Walking Dead. The quality of the effects have improved since the mucky blue-black of Day of the Dead. Zombie fans expecting a sterile outing due to the backing of a major studio will be pleasantly surprised. There is a lot of gore in this film, which will throw some audience members off. There is some CGI, but very little and its subtle in its use.

While Romero may have misfired with Diary of the Dead and Survival of the Dead, Land of the Dead stands as the best of this specific trio of films. It may not be the same quality as Night, Dawn, or Day, but its a good film on its own. There are some great performances, solid gore, and an interesting allegory. Land of the Dead stands out as one of the stronger zombie efforts in the midst of zombie genre entries.

Darkman (1990)

Darkman - English DVD Layout1

Before Sam Raimi made his big break with 2002′s Spider-Man, he was very much a cult director. The Evil Dead series earned him a strong underground following. While his first non-horror effort was the mixed bag Crime Wave, inklings of his potential could be seen in a film that came about because he wasn’t able to secure the rights to The Shadow. It was this film that allowed him to make Army of Darkness.

Scientist Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson) is on the verge of a major discovery. He is trying to create synthetic skin for people with severe burns. Unfortunately, the skin only remains stable for 99 minutes before dissolving. Meanwhile, his girlfriend, Julie (Frances McDormand), finds incriminating evidence of her employer bribing the zoning commission and links to local mobster Robert Durant (Larry Drake).

Durant and his men come for the evidence to Westlake’s lab. They bomb his lab and leave him for dead. Believed to be dead, he assumes his work with two goals. One is to get back to Julie and try to live a normal life. The other is to take down Durant and his men.

As stated earlier, director Sam Raimi wanted to make a movie based on The Shadow. Since he couldn’t get the rights, he made his own pulp hero. Taking cues from The Invisible Man as well as Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Darkman is a tortured, battered man empowered by his own rage and pain.

The six writers who worked on the script for this film may account for the mixed tone. Its a revenge story with some pretty violent sequences. Sometimes, the violence is punctuated with comedy. Westlake confronting Durant’s men and the helicopter ride serve as some of the film’s biggest laughs. The scenes between Westlake and Julie provide some heart.

The casting is filled with talented actors. Liam Neeson provides the performance needed for Westlake to work. His scenes with Frances McDormand provide drama to balance out the action and humor. Larry Drake is clearly having fun as Durant. The supporting cast features regulars of Raimi’s films. Sam’s little brother, Ted, is joined by Evil Dead 2′s Danny Hicks. Ash himself, Bruce Campbell, makes a cameo.

Danny Elfman provides a music score that almost parodies his Batman score. It may not have a memorable melody, but it serves the film well enough. Thankfully, Westlake’s rage moments allow Elfman to go crazy with Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure carnival stylings.

Sam Raimi showed creative agility to re-work a classic hero and make him something his own. While the film may have been for a studio with a modest budget, it still felt like a Sam Raimi film. Unlike his recent films, Darkman serves as a reminder of what a talented director can do with limited resources and drive to make the movie he wants.