Film Review: So Dark the Night (1946)

Release Date: October 10th, 1946
Directed by: Joseph H. Lewis
Written by: Dwight V. Babcock, Martin Berkeley, Aubrey Wisberg
Music by: Hugo Friedhofer
Cast: Steven Geray, Micheline Cheirel, Brother Theodore

Columbia Pictures, 71 Minutes

Review:

“I knew it was too good to be true. That much happiness just wasn’t meant for me.” – Henri Cassin

This was a film-noir that I didn’t know much about before going into it. I also wasn’t familiar with the majority of the cast, other than Brother Theodore, who has a pretty minor role.

I came across this on the Criterion Channel, as they have a collection devoted to Columbia Pictures film-noir movies. A cool collection because I haven’t seen a lot of the Columbia noir films, as they weren’t as prominent in the style as RKO or Warner Bros.

The story here takes place in France but it stars actors speaking in English with a bit of a French accent. The narrative itself is pretty shaky and while it does gets you invested into the plot, early on, it all falls apart when the big reveal comes towards the end.

This, like many noir pictures, has a twist. That twist falls flat though, as it doesn’t make a lot of sense and its sort of forced on you and throws some science-y, psychiatric nonsense at you that you just have to accept, as its not really based in any sort of actual fact and is just manufactured out of the writers’ shoddy assumptions.

Additionally, while this is noir and filmed and presented in that style, it’s very pedestrian looking and doesn’t offer much noir allure. It lacks in regards to its cinematography, with basic lighting, shot framing and camera work.

However, this is directed by Joseph H. Lewis who would go on to make one of the greatest film-noirs of all-time: Gun Crazy.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: My Name Is Julia Ross, Drive a Crooked Road and Nightfall.

Comic Review: Batgirl: Stephanie Brown, Vol. 1

Published: August 22nd, 2017
Written by: Bryan Q. Miller
Art by: Lee Garbett, Pere Perez, John Trevor Scott

DC Comics, 296 Pages

Review:

I wasn’t sure what to think going into this series. I mean, I always liked Stephanie Brown as Spoiler since she first popped up in the ’90s but I’m not too keen on anyone other than Barbara Gordon being Batgirl.

However, I’m really happy to say that this book impressed me and was a heck of an exciting read.

Stephanie Brown is just a fun character and in many ways she reminds me of Barbara Gordon before she became Oracle. She has a lot of energy and her personality is infectious and definitely comes right off of the page.

That being said, this is very well written. Bryan Q. Miller was hitting homers right out of the park with just about every issue of the twelve that are collected in this big volume.

Reading this now is also interesting because it all takes place in the era where Dick Grayson a.k.a. Nightwing was filling in for Batman. It creates an interesting dynamic between the characters and what they all think Bruce Wayne wanted for his legacy.

Barbara Gordon is in this as Oracle and she is essentially the new Batgirl’s Alfred. It’s a nice passing of the torch to Stephanie Brown and it sort of legitimizes her. As a reader and fan of Barbara, her acceptance of Stephanie translates to the reader who may have reservations about a new Batgirl.

All the story arcs within this served a purpose and it was neat seeing Stephanie grow in this role. The final arc, a four parter called Flood is the highlight of the book. It’s a story that features The Calculator as the villain and it calls back to one of the more important Oracle stories.

This book was cool. I dug the hell out of it and I can’t wait to read the second volume.

And man, the covers are beautiful.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the volume that follows this one.

Comic Review: The Punisher: War In Bagalia

Published: January 9th, 2019 – May 1st, 2019
Written by: Matthew Rosenberg
Art by: Szymon Kudranski, Greg Smallwood (covers)

Marvel Comics, 119 Pages

Review:

This picks up right where World War Frank left off.

Overall, this wasn’t as strong as the first Matthew Rosenberg story arc but this builds off of it in an interesting way. However, by the end of it, you’re left empty handed because Baron Zemo evades the Punisher once again.

Still, Rosenberg is doing a stupendous job on The Punisher and I hope he sticks around for some time and keeps this momentum going.

Also, this just hits the right notes for me, as it is Frank Castle, being merciless, trying his damnedest to hunt down and kill Zemo, even if his biggest rival Jigsaw keeps getting in his way.

I’m a fan of the art style by Szymon Kudranski, it’s gritty and works for the tone. However, I have seen some criticism about how he doesn’t make characters with specific physical traits pop off of the panel in ways that you can instantly recognize.

For instance, his take on Jigsaw makes it hard to tell that you’re looking at Jigsaw unless he’s shown in close up. I agree with the criticism but it doesn’t break the book for me, as it is clear who the characters are through the story. But this should be improved upon.

While this was a pretty badass arc, it falls a bit short of the previous one because it seemed to slow the narrative down and with how this ends, it leaves Frank Castle’s hunt for Baron Zemo unfinished. While I love Zemo, he’s one of my favorite villains, period, the Punisher’s apprehension or murder of him is really being dragged out much longer than it needs to be.

But maybe Rosenberg has a solid plan for the next arc. I guess I’ll have to wait and find out.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: old school late ’80s to early ’90s Punisher and the recent Marvel Knights 20th anniversary event.

Comic Review: Deathstroke, Vol. 1: Legacy

Published: December 2nd, 2013
Written by: Kyle Higgins
Art by: Joe Bennett, Art Thibert

DC Comics, 180 Pages

Review:

I’ve been a fan of Christopher Priest’s solid run on Deathstroke, so I wanted to go back and check out some of the earlier Deathstroke titles since the start of DC Comics’ The New 52.

I kind of wish I hadn’t though, as this was nowhere near the great level of Priest’s work over the last few years.

In this story, Deathstroke is a real shithead. There is very little about him that makes him interesting or redeemable within this collection of issues. Frankly, this was a total dud.

The bulk of the plot deals with Deathstroke fighting with his son, Ravager. Usually, Ravager stories are good and engaging but nothing in this story felt organic. It felt kind of forced and the characters completely lacked depth. I think that it relies on the reader knowing everything they need to know about Deathstroke, Ravager and their past.

Being that this was the launch of the Deathstroke character within the rebooted New 52 canon, it needed character development and it certainly needed to spell things out a bit more for the reader.

After this collection, we get the second and final volume of this short-lived Deathstroke series. But I want to read that one because it is written and drawn by Rob Liefeld. It’ll be interesting to see his take on the character, as his most famous creation, Deadpool, is a parody of Deathstroke.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: later Deathstroke stories.

Film Review: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

Release Date: September 24th, 1986 (Chicago International Film Festival)
Directed by: John McNaughton
Written by: Richard Fire, John McNaughton
Music by: Ken Hale, Steven A. Jones, Robert McNaughton
Cast: Michael Rooker, Tom Towles, Tracy Arnold

Maljack Productions, Greycat Films, 83 Minutes, 75 Minutes (TV edit)

Review:

“How about those Bears?” – Store Clerk, “Fuck the Bears.” – Henry

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is a brutal f’n movie. However, it’s also very slow and drawn out more than it needs to be. Now I get the old school suspense thriller style of building up tension but it’s not effective here and it makes 75 percent of this movie pretty damn boring.

I get that this movie has its fans but I’m really not one of them.

Now this film does have three distinct positives.

One, the acting is superb. Michael Rooker is more chilling than ever and since I’m a big fan of Rooker, I do like this film as far as his performance goes. He went to some really dark places here but what’s most interesting about it, is that he showed how capable of an actor he was even in his younger years.

Two, I like the cinematography and how this film was shot. The lighting was done well, the shot framing was better than one would anticipate and overall, the visual aesthetic enhanced the tone of the story, greatly.

Three, the score is unsettling but interesting in a way that also enhanced the film and its effect.

Sadly, the pacing just undoes a lot of the good.

Additionally, this is an extremely violent picture and while I don’t have a problem with gore, when there’s a real purpose for it, this film seems to use it just to push the bar and maybe that’s because the rest of the picture is so dull. The film does seem like it’s trying too hard to be shocking in those scenes.

I’m not sure if this was trying to pass itself off as high art but it’s definitely not high art. It’s not necessarily a proto-Silence of the Lambs, as much as it just feels like a gore riddled Manhunter.

But for fans of Rooker, it is worth a watch for sure.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Manhunter and The Silence of the Lambs.

Comic Review: Joker

Published: 2008
Written by: Brian Azzarello
Art by: Lee Bermejo

DC Comics, 130 Pages

Review:

When this came out in 2008, I thought it was pretty badass. It hasn’t aged well though.

But I guess my changed feelings on it now is because I’ve aged as a comic book reader and the character of the Joker just doesn’t feel right in this. Also, the plot is very thin and this mostly just follows a regular guy who finds himself pulled into the Joker’s orbit on the day that the criminal madman is released from Arkham Asylum.

I know that this came out at the same time as 2008’s The Dark Knight and that it was made to capitalize off of that highly anticipated movie. In fact, the actual look of the Joker here, is much more in tune with Heath Ledger’s Joker than the regular comic book Joker.

The story does not tie to the movies though and it exists within Brian Azzarello’s own version of the Batman universe. But in an era where comic book franchise constantly get rebooted, what the hell is canon anymore?

I do like the art style and the character design is good for most of the key characters. Although, the look of the Riddler is more cringe than the current Tom King Riddler, who I absolutely hate.

Reading this now, this just feels like some edgy boy shit that’s trying too hard to be hardcore and extreme but never actually has the balls to cross the line like DC Comics did at the height of its classic Vertigo titles.

I think that this story ties into Azzarello’s current Batman: Damned series but I’m not 100 percent sure on that, as I’m waiting to read that series once all the issues come out.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other Brian Azzarello comics, especially the recent Batman: Damned series.

Film Review: M (1951)

Release Date: March, 1951
Directed by: Joseph Losey
Written by: Norman Reilly Raine, Leo Katcher, Waldo Salt (additional dialogue)
Music by: Michel Michelet
Cast: David Wayne, Howard Da Silva, Luther Adler, Raymond Burr, Jim Backus

Superior Pictures, Columbia Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Ordinarily you look for a dame or a bankbook, get a victim with known enemies, what do we got? Some missing shoes. What’re we looking for? A man with a twisted mind. Could be anybody.” – Inspector Carney

M is a film that never needed a remake. Fritz Lang’s 1931 original is a perfect film and even though it pre-dates film-noir by a decade, it is one of the absolute best films in that style. In fact, it’s a stylistic bridge between German Expressionism and the classic film-noir look of 1940s Hollywood.

However, the original M was a German film and its dialogue was in the German language. So with Hollywood being Hollywood, it was only a matter of time before there had to be an American adaptation.

This certainly pales in comparison to its German counterpart but it is still a very, very good classic film-noir.

One thing that gives this some real merit is in the cinematography and the shot framing. There are incredible shots in this film. The use of the City of Los Angeles, primarily the Bunker Hill neighborhood, is superb. Many of the shots have lots of depth and texture. The shot where the child killer and the little girl are running down the stairs is haunting and then there’s this other great shot of a guy sitting on a crooked bench on a hill with the city behind him, as the camera is positioned to shoot directly down the street in the background. Props to whoever scouted out some of these locations, as the city really is a character in this film. It’s also a real time capsule to a bygone era because Bunker Hill no longer exists and it was well represented in this picture.

Additionally, the shots within the Bradbury Building, which was used in a lot of movies, probably most famously Blade Runner, look fantastic. The Bradbury Building is almost always the star whenever it’s used and even though it is used sparingly in this film, man, does it really feel alive in this.

The acting is also great. The evil child killer in the film is played by David Wayne, who I mostly know as the Mad Hatter from the ’60s Batman TV show. Now his performance is nowhere near the level of Peter Lorre’s, who played the same role in the original German version, but he is convincing as hell and pretty damn stellar in this. His speech at the end is incredible and emotional. I also really enjoyed Howard Da Silva, Raymond Burr and Jim Backus.

To be frank, this is not a movie that probably needed to be made but it justifies its own existence and is still a superb motion picture. That being said, the original M is, in my opinion, impossible to top. But this finds a way to stand on its own two feet and it was well crafted and better than it deserved to be.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the original, superior 1931 Fritz Lang version of M, The Prowler and Footsteps In the Night.