TV Review: Stumptown (2019- )

Original Run: September 25th, 2019 – current
Created by: Jason Richman
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Stumptown by Greg Rucka, Matthew Southworth, Justin Greenwood
Music by: Tyler Bates
Cast: Cobie Smulders, Jake Johnson, Tantoo Cardinal, Cole Sibus, Adrian Martinez, Camryn Manheim, Michael Ealy, Donal Logue

Don’t Tell Mom, The District, ABC, 7 Episodes (so far), 44 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

After reading the first Stumptown comic, I figured I’d give the television show a shot, as it just premiered a month and a half ago and because I generally like Cobie Smulders and Jake Johnson.

This is adapted from a neo-noir comic series by Greg Rucka and while the show adapts it fairly well, at least, its framework, this feels a little less neo-noir and a bit more like a network television crime show. While that’s not a bad thing, network TV is generally a pretty watered down and sterile version of the things it tries to adapt.

At least this has the same spirit as the comic.

It feels and looks different in that it loses its stylized visual allure and the edginess is scaled back quite a bit.

Additionally, the first episode starts with a familiar story for fans of the comic but it quickly veers off in its own direction. The show is episodic, usually solving a crime in one or two episodes where it then moves on to the next plot. So if you’re expecting the first graphic novel to basically be the first season, it isn’t.

Now all of this might sound like criticism but it’s not.

The fact of the matter is, I like the show, at least the half dozen episodes I binge watched to see if I wanted to keep moving forward with it. Based off of my experience, I’ll probably watch a full season of this and then decide whether or not I want to stick with it. But, so far, so good.

What really works for me is the cast. Everyone is really good in their roles and the main players all have great chemistry. I especially like the chemistry between Cobie Smulders, Jake Johnson and Cole Sibus.

I also like that the show features a special needs character that isn’t treated unrealistically. In fact, Sibus’ Ansel is one of the highlights for me. The kid is just damn good.

Additionally, within the first episode, the show accomplished what it needed to do in that it made me care about all of these characters.

Also, Stumptown is pretty refreshing in 2019, in that it features a tough, female lead but this show is written in a way that makes her a very anti-Mary Sue character. She struggles, she fails, she adapts, hell… she gets her ass kicked… a lot. Yet she grows as a character, becomes better at her newfound job and works through her flaws.

I can’t yet say that this is a hands down good show. It’s off to a solid start though and I care about these people and their situations. Maybe I’ll have to give an update after season one concludes sometime next year.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: probably other network television crime and P.I. shows but this one does seem cooler and more fun than the majority of them.

Film Review: Inherent Vice (2014)

Release Date: October 4th, 2014 (New York Film Festival)
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Based on: Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon
Music by: Jonny Greenwood
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Katherine Waterston, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio del Toro, Jena Malone, Maya Rudolph, Martin Short, Joanna Newsom, Hong Chau, Eric Roberts

Ghoulardi Film Company, Warner Bros., IAC Films, 148 Minutes

Review:

“Well, it’s dark and lonely work, but somebody’s gotta do it, right?” – Petunia Leeway

I had really high hopes for this film.

It’s directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, who everyone, even their pets, loves. It stars Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin and a superb supporting cast. And, well, it’s a neo-noir set in the early ’70s that looked damn cool from the trailers.

Sadly, this was duller than an unsharpened pencil.

I kind of hate that I didn’t dig this but it was really hard for me not to nod off through almost every really long, drawn out scene. Frankly, the film didn’t even need to be two hours, let alone 148 minutes.

Visually, the film is stunning. Every scene and every shot looks pristine and perfect. But that’s not enough to carry a movie. I can see cinematography of the highest caliber in television commercials and music videos.

The thing is, the narrative needs to be as exciting as the visual allure. It needs to capture you, hold on and at least try to leave you breathless until the final frame.

I watched this movie and was so disinterested in it that I couldn’t remember what the film was about, where it needed to go or why Phoenix was investigating things. I felt like my mind was as numb and disoriented as the majority of the characters in the picture.

If you like movies solely for visuals and great soundtracks, than this may be your bag.

It wasn’t mine though.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: mind numbing drugs and a case of cheap whiskey while watching a Hypercolor t-shirt cook in the microwave.

TV Review: James Ellroy’s L.A.: City of Demons (2011)

Original Run: January 19th, 2011 – February 23rd, 2011
Directed by: various
Cast: James Ellroy (host/narrator), Phil LaMarr (voice)

Digital Ranch Productions, 6 Episodes, 43 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

This is a weird show. No, not because of the subject matter but because of the way this thing was produced and presented.

I guess this is James Ellroy’s baby but he doesn’t make a good host or narrator, as his delivery is off putting and distracting. Where most of these episodes had interesting topics, it was hard to get lost in the tales because Ellroy delivered his lines like a monotone crazy person that likes to go, “BAM!” between every segue in his story.

Also, there are these weird bits in each episode where he talks to a CGI cop dog that looks like Spuds McKenzie. These scenes are bafflingly bad with worse computer graphics than a homebrew 1994 PC game from the Ukraine.

I really wanted to delve into these stories, as each one was like a real life film-noir from a bygone era.

Ultimately, this was poorly crafted, poorly presented and even though I got through all six episodes, I felt like I wasted my time trying to dig through the dirt to find the treasure.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: other crime documentary shows.

Film Review: Batman: Year One (2011)

Release Date: September 27th, 2011 (Spain)
Directed by: Sam Liu, Lauren Montgomery
Written by: Tab Murphy
Based on: Batman: Year One by Frank Miller, David Mazzucchelli
Music by: Christopher Drake
Cast: Bryan Cranston, Ben McKenzie, Eliza Dushku, Jon Polito, Alex Rocco, Katee Sackhoff, Grey DeLisle, Stephen Root

Warner Premiere, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Animation, 64 Minutes

Review:

“Twelve years. And the ache is still fresh. Like a raw angry nerve. But this isn’t about healing. I’m not looking for closure.” – Batman

This was a pretty short film, even for a DC Comics animated feature. Not counting the credits, this was exactly one hour and it played more like a pilot for an hour long Batman animated series for adult fans than it did a movie.

That’s certainly not a knock, as this was pretty solid, overall. It was a really good adaptation of the original Frank Miller story, even though these DC animated films take a lot of creative liberties.

It captures the gist of the story and the tone of the comic. Although, this does feel less gritty but I think that is due to it being very clean looking animation mixed with obvious CGI in parts. I wasn’t a fan of the CGI bits, as they stick out like a sore thumb and don’t blend well with the overall visual composition.

The plot and the script are very good though. But they are truly brought to life by a heck of a cast that boasts Bryan Cranston, Ben McKenzie (who went on to be the star of Gotham), Eliza Dushku, Katee Sackhoff, Alex Rocco, Jon Polito, Stephen Root and solid voice actress, Grey DeLisle. The voice acting was superb and it made this a better film than it would have been with a lesser cast.

I guess I actually would’ve liked this to be a bit longer. It rushes through the story, which isn’t too dissimilar from the comic it is based on, but I felt like some added context and more plot and character development could’ve put this at the level of the two-part The Dark Knight Returns animated picture.

Still, this is a good outing by Warner Bros. animation studio and it’s definitely in the upper echelon of animated Batman flicks.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other DC animated films, primarily those featuring Batman.

Documentary Review: Los Angeles: City of Film-Noir (2015)

Also known as: Los Angeles: Cité du Film Noir (original French title)
Release Date: February 28th, 2015 (France)
Directed by: Clara Kuperberg, Julia Kuperberg
Written by: Clara Kuperberg, Julia Kuperberg
Cast: James Ellroy, Eddie Muller, Alain Silver

Wichita Films, 52 Minutes

Review:

This is a short one hour documentary that specifically focuses on film-noir that has encapsulated the City of Los Angeles.

The documentary features only three people, which doesn’t seem like enough but all three men do have extensive knowledge on the subject.

James Ellroy has lived in L.A. his entire life and has written noir-esque crime novels, two of which were made into major neo-noir motion pictures: L.A. Confidential and The Black Dahlia.

Eddie Muller is a film-noir historian that runs the Film-Noir Foundation, restoring lost noir classics to HD beauty, as well as having gone on to host the Turner Classic Movies weekly program, Noir Alley.

Alain Silver is a film producer and author that has spent extensive time working in the realm of noir.

So there’s a lot of meat and potatoes here to chew on in regards to the subject matter.

Still, more talking heads would’ve been great and I think that this is something that could’ve gone on for longer than 52 minutes because of how interesting the subject matter is.

If you dig classic film-noir, this is certainly worth a watch. In fact, as opposed to just a trailer, I posted the full documentary below.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries on film-noir. Several can be found on YouTube.

Film Review: Drive (2011)

Release Date: May 20th, 2011 (Cannes)
Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
Written by: Hossein Amini
Based on: Drive by James Sallis
Music by: Cliff Martinez
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman, Oscar Issac, Albert Brooks

FilmDistrict, Bold Films, MWM Studios, OddLot Entertainment, Marc Platt Productions, Motel Movies, 100 Minutes

Review:

“[on phone] There’s a hundred-thousand streets in this city. You don’t need to know the route. You give me a time and a place, I give you a five minute window. Anything happens in that five minutes and I’m yours. No matter what. Anything happens a minute either side of that and you’re on your own. Do you understand?” – Driver

Nicolas Winding Refn is a director I appreciate but have also had some issues with, as some of his films feel like style over substance and entirely miss their mark for me. That being said, this was really my introduction to Refn and upon initially seeing this, I thought it was spectacular.

It’s been awhile since I revisited it, however, and I wondered if my assessment would still be the same after having bad experiences with his films that followed it. I wondered if I might have just been captivated by the visuals and music of the picture that I gave a free pass to a film that really didn’t cut the mustard.

Well, I’m glad to say that I still think this is pretty exceptional. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that Refn didn’t write this, unlike Only God Forgives and The Neon Demon. My other favorite film by Refn, Bronson, was co-written with another writer. So maybe Refn does his best work behind the camera, filming the stories and scripts of another writer (or co-writer that can massage out the overly pretentious crap).

Driver has one of the best opening sequences I have ever seen in the way that it builds suspense and introduces you to the main character, who remains nameless throughout the film. He’s quiet but intense and lives by a sort of code that ultimately, causes a lot of problems for himself and the few people who come into his orbit.

The film’s greatness is magnified by the performance of Ryan Gosling, who didn’t fully win me over until this role. He moves through every scene like a spectre, saying little and sort of just reacting to what happens around him. It’s a truly understated performance but it works so well for the picture’s tone and style.

There is mystery around the character, mystery around the swerves within the plot and nothing is really clear until the end and even then, you still don’t feel like you know this guy who you just spent 100 minutes with. But it’s hard not to respect him, even if he did terrible things because there’s a selflessness in his actions despite living a morally vacant and criminal life.

It’s apparent that his time with Carey Mulligan’s Irene and her son has left an impact on him that has brought him a newfound sense of morality. But ultimately, he can only respond with the tools and experiences that are most familiar to him and to the underworld he inhabits.

Despite the violence and the heinous things that happen within the film, there is a bizarre sweetness to it. There are few films that can make you feel so much for its characters when the actors’ performances are so low key.

But there are also a few actors in this who seem larger than life. Mostly, the two mob bosses played by Ron Perlman, at his slimy best, and Albert Brooks, who steals the show and whose performance here makes me wonder why he hasn’t been in a lot more movies. The dude was cold, callous but exuded a genuineness that lesser actors couldn’t have pulled off in quite the same way.

This film is greatly enhanced by the tremendous musical score from Cliff Martinez, as well as the use of synthwave music throughout the film. The music just feels perfectly married to the visual style of the film, which has a vibrant neo-noir look to it. This mixture of visual style and music can’t simply carry a picture though, as tapping this well again in Only God Forgives and The Neon Demon didn’t deliver the same results.

Drive is comprised off a lot of different elements that just came together and worked. I don’t think that it is something that can replicated easily, as Refn’s two following films showed. Here, it was just magic. And frankly, I think that Refn is better off adapting other people’s scripts or finding himself a great co-writer that can come in and make something that’s more coherent and emotional.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: stylistically, other Nicolas Winding Refn films, other than that it is pretty unique.

Film Review: 3 From Hell (2019)

Also known as: Los 3 del infierno (Mexico)
Release Date: September 15th, 2019 (Fantasy Filmfest – Germany)
Directed by: Rob Zombie
Written by: Rob Zombie
Music by: Zeuss
Cast: Sheri Moon Zombie, Bill Moseley, Richard Brake, Sid Haig, Danny Trejo, Dee Wallace, Daniel Roebuck, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Emilio Rivera, Clint Howard, Richard Riehle, Sean Whalen

Capital Arts Entertainment, Spookshow International, Saban Films, Lionsgate, 111 Minutes

Review:

“Um… some old broad next door saw me gut that bitch. Um, think we should think about rolling out of here soon.” – Baby

Well, it took fourteen years to get a sequel to The Devil’s Rejects. If I’m being honest, the previous film had a perfect ending and it didn’t need a followup. I’m also not sure if Rob Zombie ever intended to do a third film. It feels like this was more or less done for fan service to get back on the good graces of those who liked his early movies, as everything since his Halloween remake hasn’t been received very well by most.

That being said, this is better than his more recent movies but it is definitely the worst of The Firefly Family Trilogy. Also, this is left open for a possible fourth movie but it should’ve ended with the second because you can only milk a cow so long before you start getting pus.

The problem I have with this film is two-fold.

First, this plays like the seventh movie in a row where Rob Zombie is basically creating a vehicle just for his wife. It’s more of his, “Look, guys! Isn’t my wife hot and crazy?!” The thing is, I initially liked Sherri Moon Zombie but she has been used to death and the focal point of all of Rob Zombie’s films that I’m kind of over it. Actually, I’ve been over it since Halloween II. She’s not a good actress and every character she plays is pretty much the same with her crazy dial adjusted to whatever the scene calls for. But I get that she is a main character in this film series. But maybe seeing her return to this role would’ve actually been welcomed had she not been the star of every movie Zombie’s directed since The Devil’s Rejects.

My second problem is that this is a movie with multiple personality disorder.

The picture is really two films wedged into two hours. With that, this doesn’t have what feels like a traditional three act structure but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Where this is bad, however, is that the first half is terrible, almost cringe worthy minus a few highlights. The second half is much better but it still isn’t up to par with the two films before it.

The first half of the movie deals with the family members surviving a shootout that definitely should have killed them, their time in prison and then their eventual jailbreak. This excludes Sid Haig’s Captain Spaulding, however, as he is executed. This was primarily due to Sid Haig being in poor health and only being able to film for one day on set. Sadly, he passed away a few weeks back but he did go out with a bang and delivered the best dialogue of the picture. Luckily, for Haig fans, he has two more movies slated to come out next year.

The second half of the film sees Otis and Baby with their cousin Winslow escape to Mexico, where they think that they’ll be safe from the national manhunt that wants to see them brought to justice, once again.

I mostly like the second half and it at least woke me up from the slumber of the first hour.

In Mexico, we see the family hole up in a shitty motel brothel with some other rough characters. However, their hideout vacation is quickly invaded by a Mexican cartel in lucha libre masks that want revenge for something that Otis did. So we get a big war between the Firefly Family and the lucha cartel in a rundown Mexican brothel. In some ways the setting is pretty much a rehash of the confrontation the family had in Charlie’s brothel in The Devil’s Rejects, except there is a lot more action, the extra flair of the Mexican locale and it feels more like a western standoff.

I think that the one saving grace of the film is Bill Moseley, who hits it out of the park once again, as Otis. But I also really enjoyed newcomer Richard Brake, who played the new, third member of the family. While he doesn’t makeup for the severe lack of Haig’s Spaulding, he was still a fun character with a lot of charisma and he meshed well with the dynamic of Otis and Baby.

3 From Hell is the weakest chapter in the trilogy. That’s mainly due to the first hour and frankly, that half of the film could’ve been edited down to a half hour. This would’ve benefited from being a 90 minute movie instead of a two hour one.

Ultimately, it’s bogged down by scenes that didn’t need to be there because they didn’t advance the plot. This should’ve rolled forward at a swift pace and not have started out as such a slog to get through.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: the two films before it: House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects.