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.

Comic Review: Scene of the Crime

Published: 1999
Written by: Ed Brubaker
Art by: Michael Lark, Sean Phillips

Vertigo Comics, Image Comics (reprint), 132 Pages

Review:

I’ve been catching up on a lot of Ed Burbaker’s crime comics because I missed a lot of the old ones and because it is the month of Noirvember.

Scene of the Crime was the comic that put him on the map. It led to him working on Gotham Central and also paved the way for his future crime comics like Criminal, Kill Or Be Killed, The Fade Out and Fatale, just to name a few.

This one was highly regarded at the time that it came out and while it is pretty good, it isn’t my favorite of the Brubaker lot.

I can see how he developed his style here and it is a good, solid and competent story but it didn’t capture my attention like The Fade Out or Kill Or Be Killed did.

At its core, this is a noir tale set in contemporary times that sees a young private detective try to locate a girl that’s gone missing. However, he finds her fairly quickly, she’s then killed and we’re then treated to a pretty grandiose mystery story with lots of layers and twists.

This is a really dark tale but fans of Brubaker’s crime work shouldn’t expect anything different. I can’t go into more detail without feeling like I’d spoil too much but this is a pretty decent read with solid art by Brubaker’s top collaborators Michael Lark and Sean Phillips.

Despite this not being my favorite, it is still a good comic miniseries and a solid tale in the crime and noir genres.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Ed Brubaker’s other crime comics.

Film Review: Black Angel (1946)

Release Date: August 2nd, 1946
Directed by: Roy William Neill
Written by: Roy Chanslor
Based on: The Black Angel by Cornell Woolrich
Music by: Frank Skinner
Cast: Dan Duryea, June Vincent, Peter Lorre, Broderick Crawford, Constance Dowling

Universal Pictures, 81 Minutes

Review:

“Now may I have the box and the letter? Remember Catherine… you promised me to be a good girl.” – Marko

This is a pretty highly regarded classic noir picture. I had never watched it until now and despite the fanfare for it, I still wasn’t prepared for how good this movie is.

It stars a pair with great, great chemistry: Dan Duryea and June Vincent. They were perfect together in this and it was nice seeing Duryea not play an evil asshole.

The film also stars Peter Lorre in one of his best performances. In fact, this may be my favorite role he’s played after M.

Now the plot is complicated to explain but it all flows really well in the movie itself.

In a nutshell, Dan Duryea’s wife is murdered but the man wrongly arrested for it is June Vincent’s husband. Initially, Vincent suspects Duryea and confronts him in an effort to clear her husband. She discovers that he couldn’t have done it and the two pair up in an effort to find the real killer and to free Vincent’s husband before execution. The man they suspect is Peter Lorre, who owns a swanky nightclub where the pair get a gig as the house musicians.

What’s neat about the film is that it is one hundred percent noir but it has a lot of music in it and the performances by Vincent and Duryea’s characters are fantastic.

From the first frame to the last, the film looks perfect. The cinematography is top notch but the real life within the picture comes from the set design. The world feels real and genuine in a way that wasn’t typical with big studio films of the ’40s.

The shot framing is also really good. One moment that especially comes to mind is the scene where Lorre is opening his safe with Vincent just over his shoulder, watching him dial in his combination.

The opening sequence is also pretty well done in how it uses miniatures and shot transitions. While it’s not perfect, I don’t know how you could do it any better in the era when this film was made.

As good noir films go, this has a big twist and reveal at the end of the film. You don’t really see it coming and it is three parts heart-wrenching and two parts a punch to the gut. Basically, it was effective… damn effective.

I love this film and it’s a classic noir that I’m sure I will revisit again, much sooner than later.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: other classic noir pictures like Fallen Angel, The Dark Corner, Phantom Lady, The Blue Dahlia, etc.

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.

Comic Review: Frank Miller’s Sin City, Vol. 1: The Hard Goodbye

Published: 1991-1992
Written by: Frank Miller
Art by: Frank Miller

Dark Horse, 210 Pages

Review:

My first experience with Sin City was seeing the 2005 movie when it hit theaters.

At the time that the original comic was coming out, I was aware of it but I was still a pre-teen obsessing over bright, colorful, ’90s superhero comics.

It wasn’t until I got older that I started to get more into film-noir and crime fiction.

Still, I never actually picked up Sin City until now.

I’ve got to say though, the film, at least the Marv stuff, was a beat for beat retelling of this story. That’s not a bad thing, as I loved that the Watchmen movie was very close to the source material.

If you have seen the film already but haven’t read this, there isn’t much in the comic that isn’t in the film. But if you appreciate Frank Miller’s Sin City world, you really should experience it in its original form and in the medium it was designed for.

That being said, I like the comic, at least this first volume, more than I like the movie.

Miller wrote a solid, compelling mystery and his art style is really unique. This feels more like it is pure noir than a lot of the other neo-noir comics of the last quarter century or so.

While I’m not a die hard Miller fan, this is one of his best pieces of work. This was created when the guy was just making magic on a regular basis.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the other collected volumes of Sin City.

Film Review: The Glass Key (1942)

Release Date: September 8th, 1942 (Toronto premiere)
Directed by: Stuart Heisler
Written by: Jonathan Latimer
Based on: The Glass Key by Dashiell Hammett
Music by: Victor Young
Cast: Brian Donlevy, Veronica Lake, Alan Ladd, William Bendix

Paramount Pictures, 85 Minutes

Review:

“Hey, Rusty, Little Rubber Ball is back. I told you he liked the way we bounced him around.” – Jeff

The Glass Key was film-noir before film-noir was a thing. A lot of people consider 1944 to be the year where noir took over but there were a few films that paved the way and this was one of them. Plus, it was based off of a Dashiell Hammett novel ala The Maltese Falcon.

This also pairs Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd, who worked together in seven movies, four of which were noir pictures.

For the most part, this helped set the stylistic trends of cinema for two decades. It isn’t the best noir, far from it, honestly, but it boasts pretty good cinematography, shot framing and shot motion that would become the norm.

Also, from a plot standpoint, it showcases political corruption, gangsters and a look at American life at the end of World War II. These are all tropes that would be a big part of movies well into the ’50s.

But even with all that, it doesn’t resonate with me as greatly as some of the better noirs do. I can’t deny that this was doing some solid things from a filmmaking perspective before the rest of Hollywood jumped on the bandwagon but I found the film a bit dull.

The acting was good, the film looks nice and the story had some decent curveballs thrown in but it lacked the panache and energy that would come later, as the noir style really took hold.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: the other noir films featuring both Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd.

Video Game Review: Batman (NES)


This game came out in early 1990. In fact, I got it for Easter that year, which made me extremely happy and lead to me playing the crap out of this game for weeks on end.

It was made to tie-in to the 1989 Batman movie but the game has a lot of original stuff in it.

For one, it has more villains than just Jack Nicholson’s Joker. It also features a high tech version of Killer Moth, the Electrocutioner, as well as minor DC Comics baddie, Firebug.

The game also features two other boss battles with super computers.

All that being said, while the framework of the story follows the movie’s plot, the game really goes in its own creative direction and has a sort of futuristic cyberpunk vibe between killer robots, killer computers and all types of other high tech things. The entirety of Level 4 feels like you are inside a massive super computer.

That being said, I always kind of dug this take on the Batman ’89 universe. I think that the game designers may have been somewhat inspired by Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.

My only issue with the game is that the mechanics are a bit clunky, especially in regards to jumping from wall-to-wall. You do adapt to it and after playing this for awhile, the mechanics almost become second nature.

In fact, the game is kind of a breeze until the final level, which is the giant, towering cathedral from the ’89 film’s climax. Except this version isn’t mostly empty minus three thugs and the Joker. This version is full of flamethrower troops, killer machines and an infuriating boss in the form of Firebug. After all that, hopefully you’ve got enough health to take on the Joker.

I can’t say that this game has aged particularly well but it is still a really fun game from its era. It reminds me a lot of Ninja Gaiden but less frustrating.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Batman games for the NES, Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis.