Film Review: Maniac (1963)

Release Date: May 20th, 1963 (UK)
Directed by: Michael Carreras
Written by: Jimmy Sangster
Music by: Stanley Black
Cast: Kerwin Mathews, Nadia Gray, Liliane Brousse, Donald Houston

Hammer Films, 86 Minutes

Review:

“You take a man’s wife, Mr. Farrell, but not his money?” – Georges

Maniac is a pretty neat, lesser known Hammer picture. It’s written by Jimmy Sangster, who has written pretty much nothing but good shit for the studio. He’s probably Hammer’s most prolific writer and the films where his talent really shines are in smaller, lesser known ones like this.

This almost has a noir vibe to the story and like noir, it’s got some really wretched people and some surprising plot twists in it.

The killer is just really damn cool looking, especially for the early ’60s and in a lot of ways, the character feels like a prototype for a slasher flick bad guy, even though those weren’t a thing yet.

The killer wears a welding mask and carries a blowtorch. Granted, we see his face and he is very much just a human dude. Still, it gives off slasher vibes and the bad guy is pretty damn good and menacing. Most importantly, all the stuff with the killer in this is really damn effective.

The highlight of the film, to me, was the finale, which was shot in a cavernous tomb looking location. It was actually filmed in the huge stone galleries that were dug into the rock of the Val d’Enfer of Les Baux-de-Provence in southeastern France. The location really ups the ante in the picture and gives it something else memorable other than the killer.

My only real issue with the film is that the acting was a bit meh. I wouldn’t call it bad but the cast really could’ve used more coffee throughout the shooting day. I wouldn’t call the performances understated as much as I’d call them disinterested. Honestly, though, this really falls on the shoulders of the director or the casting agent.

Maniac is another Hammer film that has been kind of lost to time but after seeing it, the movie exceeded my expectations. It also makes me glad that I really started digging deeper into the Hammer vaults beyond the Victorian horror stuff and the films starring Peter Cushing and/or Christopher Lee.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other lesser known Hammer horror thrillers.

Film Review: Boomerang! (1947)

Also known as: The Perfect Case (working title)
Release Date: January 26th, 1947 (London premiere)
Directed by: Elia Kazan
Written by: Richard Murphy
Based on: The Perfect Case 1945 article in The Reader’s Digest by Anthony Abbot
Music by: David Buttolph
Cast: Dana Andrews, Jane Wyatt, Lee J. Cobb, Cara Williams, Arthur Kennedy, Sam Levene, Ed Begley Sr.

Twentieth Century Fox, 88 Minutes

Review:

“McDonald, I just made one mistake. I should have known by now that there’s one thing you can’t beat in politics, and that’s a completely honest man.” – T.M. Wade

Out of all the film-noir directors of the ’40s and ’50s, I’ve always held Elia Kazan’s visual style in pretty high regard. His movies, especially in the noir genre, always have this pristine visual look. They’re crisp, utilize great set and costume design with damn near perfect lighting and a mastery of that high contrast noir aesthetic. Granted, he also does all this more subtly than some of the directors that went more extreme with it.

Kazan’s pictures just seem to have a really good balance, boasting a certain style without overdoing it. In fact, you almost don’t notice it at first but as his pictures roll on, you find yourself a bit mesmerized by them.

Boomerang! is one that I haven’t seen in a really long time but it was one of my granmum’s favorites, as she had it on multiple times when I’d go to her house after school as a kid. Well, at least in the non-summer months when the Cubs weren’t on WGN.

The film is based on a true story where an innocent man was accused of murder by an incompetent police force and had to rely on a smart prosecutor to clear his name and save him from a fate he didn’t deserve.

Now this isn’t in my upper echelon of noir classics but it’s still a good movie with very good acting, especially on the part of Dana Andrews, who plays the prosecutor, as well as Lee J. Cobb, who plays the police chief. I also really enjoyed Jane Wyatt in this for obvious reasons but she definitely holds her own in the acting department, as well, and this made me wish that she had become a bigger star, especially in pictures of the noir style. I also didn’t realize, until today, that she played Spock’s mother in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

For the most part, the story is compelling but if I’m being honest, it is a bit paint-by-numbers and it’s fairly predictable and doesn’t throw any shocking patented noir curveballs at you.

Still, this is a good example of a standard film-noir. Especially in regards to those that deal with the legal system, as opposed to just schemers doing something dirty and paying the price for it.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other film-noir pictures of the ’40s and ’50s, especially those by Elia Kazan.

Comic Review: Daredevil by Ed Brubaker & Michael Lark – Ultimate Collection, Book 1

Published: June 4th, 2020
Written by: Ed Brubaker
Art by: David Aja, Michael Lark, Tommy Lee Edwards (cover)

Marvel Comics, 304 Pages

Review:

After Brian Michael Bendis’ run on Daredevil ended in a weird spot because the guy just doesn’t know how to finish, we were treated to Ed Brubaker’s solid stint on the title.

Brubaker had his work cut out for him, considering where the character of Daredevil was when this started and because Bendis literally spent about fifty issues going back and forth on whether or not the public knew Matt Murdock was Daredevil and still didn’t give that extremely drawn out, tiresome and annoying plot a definitive end.

So Brubaker still has that bullshit to try and resolve while also having to figure out what to do with the title character being locked up in prison. Oh, and there’s the whole thing about Daredevil’s flash in the pan ex-wife that Bendis had to clunkily wedge into the mythos with romantic cringe that made me question the writer’s manhood.

Anyway, Brubaker doesn’t waste any time trying to make magic out of Bendis’ J. J. Abrams style ending.

So we start with Murdock in jail and with that, we see him have to survive while being locked up with a lot of the criminals he put there, including The Kingpin, The Owl, Bullseye, Hammerhead, Gladiator and a slew of others. We also see The Punisher get himself arrested, so that he can also go to jail in an effort to help Murdock survive in there.

On the outside, we have someone else posing as Daredevil, while Foggy Nelson and Dakota North work to get Matt out of prison. Pretty early on in the story, Foggy is murdered while visiting Matt in jail. This sets Matt off on a revenge quest within the prison walls and with that, we get one of my all-time favorite Daredevil story arcs.

Following the prison story, we see Matt go to Europe, as there are more layers to the mystery surrounding Foggy’s death. This second half of the story is pretty fucking great too and the ending wasn’t anything I expected. It also satisfied, unlike the end of Bendis’ tenure on the book.

Beyond the story, the art in this is superb. Brubaker worked with Michael Lark, who is an artist that he actually works with fairly regularly. In this series, Lark really captured the already established tone and vibe of the Marvel Knights era of the Daredevil series. Lark was probably the perfect guy to pick up this ball and run with it, as he’s done a lot of the more gritty noir-esque comics that Brubaker has written over the years.

If you are a fan of Daredevil and haven’t read this story, you probably should. It’s one of my favorites of all-time and this Ultimate Collection joined both halves together in one volume. Although, you can also find the two stories as two separate trade paperbacks under the title The Devil, Inside and Out (Vol. 1 and 2).

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Daredevil comics from his Marvel Knights run.

Comic Review: Nightwing, Vol. 3: False Starts

Published: January 5th, 2016
Written by: Chuck Dixon, Devin Grayson
Art by: Scott McDaniel, Karl Story

DC Comics, 290 Pages

Review:

This collection of Nightwing issues from Chuck Dixon’s legendary run started off with a bang, as it started with the Nightwing and Huntress miniseries that saw the two vigilante heroes work together on a more intimate level.

Additionally, this picks up the stories that have been stretching over Dixon’s entire run and it keeps the momentum going with gusto.

I liked the stuff that involved the Huntress, a lot. The miniseries was actually written by Devin Grayson but it ties directly to Dixon’s run and lines up with the solo Nightwing stories, here.

This also features appearances by Deathstroke and Lady Shiva and that section of this beefy collection was probably my favorite, overall, following the Huntress miniseries.

Additionally, we get more of Blockbuster, as his large arc continues on, seeing him as the kingpin of Blüdhaven.

This is my favorite volume, so far, in Dixon’s Nightwing era. It’s just a badass series with great art and it keeps things flowing in a great direction.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other ’90s Nightwing and Batman comics.

Film Review: Throw Momma from the Train (1987)

Release Date: December 11th, 1987
Directed by: Danny DeVito
Written by: Stu Silver
Music by: David Newman
Cast: Danny DeVito, Billy Crystal, Anne Ramsey, Kim Greist, Kate Mulgrew, Rob Reiner, Annie Ross, Olivia Brown, Oprah Winfrey (cameo)

Throw Momma, Rollins, Morra & Brezner, Orion Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t you “In a minute, Momma” me! Get off your fat little ass or I’ll break it for you! I want two soft-boiled eggs, white toast, and some of that grape jelly goddammit! And don’t burn the toast!” – Momma

Man, I haven’t seen this since the ’80s but it held up pretty well and I found it as hilarious and amusing now, as I probably did back then when I was too young to grasp all of the clever humorous bits.

Danny DeVito and Billy Crystal make a pretty great comedic duo and this film really capitalizes on their strengths. The scenes they share with Anne Ramsey are also good and she was pretty believable as DeVito’s mean and overbearing mother.

Now that I’m older, I also appreciated the plot more, as it is basically a twist on one of Hitchcock’s classics, Strangers On A Train. With that, DeVito assumes Crystal gave him the plan of killing his ex-wife and in exchange, Crystal would kill DeVito’s mother.

For most of the movie, you believe that DeVito actually killed the ex-wife and this puts pressure on Crystal to kill the mother, as he realizes he is in deep shit and needs to keep a lid on things.

While the plot sounds ridiculous, it really sets up a good black comedy scenario and the two leads just commit to the script and put in performances so good, it’s really easy to get swept up in the story and not worry about whether or not it’s realistic. Frankly, this is meant to be a bit surreal.

The cool thing about this picture is that DeVito directed it. I think he did a pretty solid job and he definitely got a stupendous performance out of Anne Ramsey, who left this planet a year or so later.

Throw Momma From the Train was just good escapism and it featured two legendary comedic actors in their prime, who happened to have good chemistry.

Honestly, I wish these two would’ve done more together.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other ’80s and early ’90s comedies, specifically those with Danny DeVito or Billy Crsytal.

Film Review: The Snorkel (1958)

Release Date: June 18th, 1958 (Boston premiere)
Directed by: Guy Green
Written by: Anthony Dawson, Peter Myers, Jimmy Sangster
Music by: Francis Chagrin
Cast: Peter van Eyck, Betta St. John, Mandy Miller

Clarion Films, Hammer Films, Columbia Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“You think I’m mad, don’t you? They all thought I was mad when I said he killed my daddy.” – Candy Brown

This is another Hammer film I have never seen but was introduced to through a beefy Blu-ray box set I recently purchased, which features some lesser known gems by the greatest horror studio that ever existed.

The Snorkel also has one of the coolest posters I’ve ever seen but sadly, the movie doesn’t live up to its awesomeness. But that’s not to say it’s bad, it’s actually pretty good with a unique story, good performances and beautiful scenery.

The plot of the film is about a murderer that wears a diving mask equipped with air and then hides while he kills his victims with gas. He likes to knock his victims out, then turn on the gas lamps without flame, letting the gas fill the room to asphyxiate his victim. All the while, he hides under a trapdoor in the floor, breathing in clean air through his mask, where he can also listen to the conversations of the police investigating the scene.

Initially, he kills his wife but her daughter alludes to the fact that he also killed her father, previously. The girl isn’t sure how and no one believes her, so she starts snooping around. As the film rolls on, the killer attempts to kill the girl a few times, which culminates in him trying to murder her the same way he did her mother.

The film primarily takes place in a coastal Italian villa. The sets are pretty impressive and just look cool and exotic, especially for what Hammer usually did, which was Victorian horror stories set in England or Germany, in the case of the Frankenstein movies, and various Eastern European places, in the case of the Dracula films.

This is presented in black and white but it’s pretty stylized, which is also bolstered by the exotic locale.

In the end, this movie was a pleasant surprise and I enjoyed it. I thought it was a cool concept, even if it was a bit hokey and odd. The film is held together by the performances by its leads and it did a good job of separating itself from the standard Hammer formula and excelled at doing its own, unique thing.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer horror films of the ’50s through ’70s.

Film Review: The People Against O’Hara (1951)

Release Date: September 1st, 1951
Directed by: John Sturges
Written by: John Monks Jr.
Based on: The People Against O’Hara by Eleazar Lipsky
Music by: Carmen Dragon
Cast: Spencer Tracy, Pat O’Brien, James Arness, Diana Lynn, Yvette Duguay, Charles Bronson

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 102 Minutes

Review:

“[Near the eel tank] One thing about eels… give ’em air.” – Eddie

The People Against O’Hara is strangely the first movie I’ve reviewed with Spencer Tracy in it. It’s also a classic film-noir, so merging these two things should lead to an enjoyable experience.

Sadly, this isn’t as good as I had hoped but it does feature a great performance by Tracy, showing the audience what a truly virtuous hero is.

In this, Tracy plays a retired criminal attorney named James Curtayne. When Johnny O’Hara, someone from his neighborhood, is accused of murder, Curtayne decides to take the case after the pleas of O’Hara’s loving parents. This all leads to Curtayne investigating the murder and uncovering details that O’Hara had been set up by a gangster named Knuckles because O’Hara had been messing around with his young wife, Katrina. O’Hara doesn’t do himself any favors by not giving the full truth. The reason being, he wants to protect Katrina. In the end, while trying to take Knuckles down, Curtayne goes into a situation where he knows he’ll probably die. But to him, justice is more important than his own life.

I don’t want to spoil too many of the plot details but I did want to illustrate the type of man that Curtayne is. Spencer Tracy, in the role, did a fine job of making Curtayne a believable and authentic hero.

The rest of the cast was good but the scenes with Yvette Duguay as Katrina really stood out to me. I really liked her and she has that old school, majestic, starlet quality. It made me wonder why I hadn’t really seen her before and although she has a lot of credits to her name, she never seemed to be the star of anything, which is unfortunate.

As far as the look of the film, it was pretty standard. It wasn’t an overly stylized noir and was filmed without much artist flourish added in. I feel like it could’ve used some creative cinematography and lighting, as in these sort of films, that can take something average and make it into something much better.

The People Against O’Hara has some solid character moments and the plot is decent. However, when compared to the best films of the classic noir genre, it doesn’t stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other classic film-noir pictures of the ’40s and ’50s.

Comic Review: Deathblow – The Deluxe Edition

Published: March 25th, 2014
Written by: Brandon Choi
Art by: Jim Lee, Tim Sale

Image Comics, Wildstorm, DC Comics (reprinted), 292 Pages

Review:

Back when I was pretty hardcore into Image Comics, the company was still fresh, new and helmed by the coolest creators of the early ’90s. I used to buy everything I could get my hands on.

Jim Lee’s Deathblow was one of those titles and I remember first seeing the title character in the Darker Image one-shot, which was used to introduce a few characters with a darker or harder edge about them.

Deathblow really stood out, even though most people remembered that comic for bringing Sam Keith’s The Maxx into the mainstream.

There was just something super cool and brooding about this character, though. He felt like a much darker version of a Stallone or Schwarzenegger character with a bit of Punisher sprinkled in for extra flavor.

However, Deathblow’s solo series never really resonated with me like I had hoped but as I got older, I thought that it might have had a lot to do with my age at the time. So I always wanted to go back and read it to see it with fresh eyes and a few extra decades of life experience.

Unfortunately, this didn’t blow me away and I actually found it kind of boring once I got to about the midway point of this beefy collection. It just didn’t captivate me and it felt too much like a product of its time, embracing certain tropes, but not really offering up anything unique or different.

However, I have to point out that the artwork is absolutely stupendous and some of the best work I’ve seen from Jim Lee, a real legend in his field. I loved the muted colors and the high contrast and it was the cool art that at least kept me engaged where the story waned.

Looking back and also having read some of the Image Comics stuff as an adult, I think that this was really the issue with a lot of their comics. The art was always top notch and incredible but the stories were always kind of lacking. Maybe this is why Image never became another Marvel or DC, focused on superhero stories, and eventually moved well beyond that genre with things like The Walking Dead, East of West, Paper Girls, Chew and Saga.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other comics from Jim Lee’s Wildstorm universe.

Film Review: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)

Release Date: December 9th, 1934 (London premiere)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Charles Bennett, D. B. Wyndham-Lewis, Edwin Greenwood, A.R. Rawlinson
Music by: Arthur Benjamin
Cast: Leslie Banks, Edna Best, Peter Lorre, Nova Pilbeam, Frank Vosper

Gaumont British Picture Corporation, 75 Minutes

Review:

“Tell her they may soon be leaving us. Leaving us for a long, long journey. How is it that Shakespeare says? “From which no traveler returns.” Great poet.” – Abbott

Alfred Hitchock made a film in the 1950s that shared this same title. However, that one is not a remake of this one and both are very different stories. However, the title applies well to both.

This was made while Hitchcock was still primarily working in the United Kingdom before he blew up and moved his life to the glamorous, magical land of Hollywood.

The story does have similar beats to the other one, as it features a family man learning some secrets he shouldn’t have and to keep him quiet, the bad guys kidnap his kid. Apart from that, though, this is a unique tale.

The main baddie in this is played by Peter Lorre just a few years after his legendary performance in Fritz Lang’s M and before he, like Hitchcock, made his way to America to ply his trade and reach iconic status.

I like Lorre in this, a lot. It’s not too dissimilar from his other villainous characters but there’s just something extra weasel-y about him here. As should be expected, he knocks his performance out of the park.

I think that Lorre steals the show but the two leads, Leslie Banks and Edna Best are both on their A-game, as well. However, the entire cast is really good and I think it shows how well Hitchcock was able to direct his cast, even in his earliest movies.

My only real complaint about the film is that the sound editing was poor and choppy. However, that has more to do with this being made in 1934 and having to deal with those limitations than it does the craftsmanship of Hitchcock or his crew.

1934’s The Man Who Knew Too Much isn’t on the same level as its later namesake. However, it’s still a good Hitchcock suspense movie with good performances and a nice pace.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Alfred Hitchcock film’s from his earlier days while he was still working primarily in the UK.