Comic Review: Cerebus, Book 2: High Society (Issues #26-51)

Published: May, 1981 – May, 1983
Written by: Dave Sim
Art by: Dave Sim

Aardvark-Vanaheim, 532 Pages

Review:

The High Society story arc actually ends at issue 50 but I tacked 51 onto this, as it serves as a one-issue bridge between High Society and the first part of Church & State. And it felt more natural to tack it into this big string of issues, as opposed to reading it at the front of Church & State.

Having just come off of reading the first twenty-five issues of Cerebus, I wasn’t sure what to expect from High Society. I’ve read a few issues from this large arc in the past but never have I read it in its entirety or in order, for that matter.

This really takes Cerebus to the next level and I understand that Dave Sim probably grew tired of the series just being a parody of ’70s sword and sorcery comics, as well as Howard the Duck, in some regard, but I personally loved those earlier issues.

But this is more mature, looks at life a bit deeper and Sim starts to ask bigger questions and reveal deeper things about himself.

High Society steps out of the formula of not having a formula. It fine tunes things and thus, gives us a more interesting, more cohesive and more meaningful tale to digest.

I really dug this story, its tone and I’ve got to say, I don’t really disagree with Sim’s commentary on politics and high society. This is a good critique on that stuff and even though it’s done with caricatures and in a somewhat fantastical way, it’s all very real.

The high points of the book for me channel back to the earlier stories though. My favorite bits are where Jaka returns and Cerebus is faced with his love for her while trying to maintain the status he’s achieved since they were last together. Has he changed for the better? Has he changed for the worse? How can his life be different but his love for her is still the same? Has his relationship with Astoria created a love triangle? How does Astoria really see Cerebus? And why the hell can’t Cerebus be nicer to the Elf?

High Society still delves into parody though. The Roach is used pretty heavily in this and we even get to see him take on a new form that is a parody of Marvel Comics’ Moon Knight.

This was a fine followup to Sim’s early Cerebus work and frankly, it’s made me excited to get into the next big epic, Church & State. Plus, Sim’s art really is more detailed and alluring here. This is a fantastic comic to look at and drink in. High Society is a great example of how powerful just black, white and grey can be in the comic book medium.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: other Cerebus story arcs, especially the earlier stuff.

Film Review: The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot (2018)

Release Date: July 20th, 2018 (Canada – Fantasia International Film Festival)
Directed by: Robert D. Krzykowski
Written by: Robert D. Krzykowski
Music by: Joe Kraemer
Cast: Sam Elliott, Aidan Turner, Caitlin FitzGerald, Sean Bridgers, Ron Livingston, Larry Miller, Ellar Coltrane, Rizwan Manji

Epic Pictures, Title Media, 98 Minutes

Review:

“An American Myth” – tagline

Sam Elliott is one of those guys that when you see him, you think to yourself, “This is the most badass guy on all of planet Earth.” Well, this film does nothing to dispel that thought.

This was also one of the coolest movies I’ve seen in a long time. Well, as far as modern motion pictures go.

The story is mostly about an older man reflecting back on his life and thinking about the things he should’ve done and how some decisions have weighed heavily on his soul. In some regard, it reminds me of another recent Sam Elliott film, The Hero, as well as one of Harry Dean Stanton’s last, Lucky.

Unlike those films, though, this movie includes the death of Adolf Hitler and Bigfoot.

However, those two events that are actually given away in the film’s title aren’t a big part of the story. Well, they are, as far as how they effect the man’s life but they are just two really cool sequences that serve as a backdrop for the film’s human drama.

Sam Elliott is one hell of an actor and this film is him at his best. But Elliott never disappoints, so I feel as if that should go without saying. But it’s not just Elliott that puts in a superb performance, the same can be said about Aidan Turner, who plays the younger version of the character, as well as Larry Miller, who I wish I could see in more dramatic roles. I mostly associate Miller with comedic performances but the guy has got chops.

Additionally, even with minimal screen time, Ron Livingston livens things up once he shows up. I have loved Livingston ever since Office Space but I feel like he’s such an underutilized actor. Like Larry Miller, it’s always nice to see Livingston’s more serious side.

When researching this film, I noticed that the ratings aren’t high for it and I guess I get that. The title might imply that this is some strange, quirky, time traveling, action adventure. It’s definitely not that, it’s something much better, actually. But character studies and dramas about old men processing a lifetime full of regret doesn’t put modern asses in seats.

But fuck those modern asses.

This is a very touching and personal film with a neat, amusing and interesting premise.

Plus it has a monster in it and I really like the unconventional approach this film took with its Sasquatch.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the recent Sam Elliott starring The Hero, as well as Lucky with Harry Dean Stanton.

TV Review: Swamp Thing (2019)

Original Run: May 31st, 2019 – current
Created by: Gary Dauberman, Mark Verheiden
Directed by: Len Wiseman
Written by: various
Based on: Swamp Thing by Len Wein, Bernie Wrightson
Music by: Brian Tyler
Cast: Crystal Reed, Virginia Madsen, Andy Bean, Derek Mears, Henderson Wade, Maria Sten, Jeryl Prescott, Jennifer Beals, Will Patton, Kevin Durand, Ian Ziering

Big Shoe Productions, Atomic Monster Productions, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Television, 10 Episodes, 52-60 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

At the time of this writing, only two episodes have aired and the show has already been cancelled. Honestly, that’s kind of infuriating, as this is a damn good show from just the small sample size I’ve seen, thus far.

Where Titans got off to a pretty rough start, between Doom Patrol and Swamp Thing, it looks like the DC Universe streaming service has quickly righted the ship and is making some damn good television.

At this point, I’m pretty sure that the service is in serious trouble and it is close to coming to an end, as it isn’t selling enough subscriptions and this solid show, only the service’s third, had its production closed down early, midway through its tenth out of the planned fifteen episodes. Additionally, it was then cancelled just after the pilot aired. Then DC Universe claimed it had something to do with North Carolina taxes, the State of North Carolina said that wasn’t true and then someone who worked on this show said that Warner Bros. (DC’s parent company) was sold to AT&T and they didn’t have faith in Swamp Thing.

Whatever the reason, DC Universe has been managed like a bastard child and everything surrounding it seems like a big corporate clusterfuck.

So I was really looking forward to this show, as I love the character and have fond memories of the Swamp Thing movies of the ’80s, as well as the old television show that used to air on the USA Network, back when I was in middle school.

Additionally, this show assembled a solid cast with Crystal Reed, who I thought was stellar as Sofia Falcone on Gotham, as well as Derek Mears as Swamp Thing, Virginia Madsen, Will Patton and Jennifer Beals. Also, a nice surprise in episode two is the addition of Ian Ziering, as the man that becomes another DC hero, Blue Devil.

What really makes this show work is that it commits itself to being straight horror, at least in these earliest episodes. We have some scenes that are very reminiscent of John Carpenter’s The Thing and it is actually quite glorious and impressive.

The show also is very dramatic but thus far, it’s all pretty good, the story is compelling and I’m already invested in the lives of the main characters. So much so, that it’s kind of depressing that I will only ever see ten episodes.

It’s hard to do a proper, thorough review and I usually wait until a new show has at least given us a full season but maybe if more people express their excitement and enthusiasm over this show, more people will give it a shot and maybe, just maybe, Warner Bros. could find a way to save it.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other DC Universe shows: Doom Patrol and Titans.

Film Review: Death Wish 3 (1985)

Also known as: Death Wish III (working title)
Release Date: November 1st, 1985
Directed by: Michael Winner
Written by: Don Jakoby (as Michael Edmonds)
Based on: characters by Brian Garfield
Music by: Jimmy Page, Mike Moran
Cast: Charles Bronson, Deborah Raffin, Ed Lauter, Martin Balsam, Gavan O’Herlihy, Alex Winter, Marina Sirtis, Barbie Wilde

Golan-Globus Productions, The Cannon Group, 88 Minutes

Review:

“It’s like killing roaches – you have to kill ’em all. Otherwise, what’s the use?” – Paul Kersey

Some people are going to wonder why I gave this film a really high rating and why I place it above the original. Well, I can’t give it a 15 out of 10 for just the last twenty minutes, so when I average everything out, the big climax pulls the rating up to a 9 out of 10.

Why?

Because the violent, explosive finale of this motion picture is the best big action sequence in the history of American filmmaking. It’s incredible, it’s badass and it force feeds you so much testosterone that some people have sprouted extra testicles.

As a total body of work, this isn’t a better movie than the first one. But the massive action-filled crescendo of a one man army against a city infested with human cockroaches is the stuff of legend! In fact, for fans of action movies, especially from the ’80s and made by Cannon Films, this is an absolute treat and a pillar of perfection for the genre.

Additionally, this chapter in the franchise has a great ensemble that works well with the great Charles Bronson. You’ve got Ed Lauter as the dickhead cop that allows Bronson to go Bronson on New York City, Martin Balsam as a tough old guy who has done some fine movies in his day, Barbie Wilde who was once a Cenobite, Marina Sirtis from Star Trek: The Next Generation, Alex Winter from the Bill & Ted movies and Lost Boys, as well as the always underappreciated Gavan O’Herlihy as the shitball, scumbag gang leader.

This is one of those movies where guns only run out of ammo if it suits the plot. Bronson literally shoots the damn machine gun for what feels like an eternity. Then when that actually runs out of ammo, his pistols are seemingly powered by Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas cheat codes. Plus, he uses an impractical but insane .475 Wildey Magnum. It’s like he’s got fucking Megatron in his hand! Scratch that, it’s like he’s got a handheld fucking battleship! The developers of the video game series Doom need to rename “God Mode” to “Bronson Mode”.

The film then ends with Bronson running into his apartment to finally reload, after twenty minutes of turning New York City into a carnage filled lead mine. He is then ambushed by Gavan O’Herlihy wielding a gun. But what’s Bronson do? He shoots him, in his own living room with a fucking bazooka! And he stands there after the walls explode into the street, completely unscathed while the corpse of the shitball, scumbag gang leader burns in the street below, covered in the rubble of what used to be Bronson’s apartment.

I remember watching this as a kid and thinking that it was the most epic thing I had ever seen in an action movie. I wasn’t wrong. But sadly, nothing has come along since and lived up to this movie’s stupendous finale. Sure, there are a lot of incredible, high octane action pictures, especially from Cannon Films, but this one took the cake and no one else has ever been able to get a slice.

Death Wish 3 needs more recognition for its greatness. I think it’s dismissed because it’s the third film in a long running series. The first one is beloved but everything after it doesn’t get the same sort of adoration. I mean, I can understand that in regards to parts 4 and 5, but 2 and 3, especially 3, deserve to be shown on a large screen in the center of every town for the rest of eternity.

If you consider yourself an action movie fan and you’ve never experienced the third act of Death Wish 3, you’re an absolute fucking fraud.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other Death Wish movies and the Dirty Harry film series.

Film Review: Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

Also known as: Phantom, Phantom of the Fillmore (working titles)
Release Date: November 1st, 1974
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: Brian De Palma
Music by: Paul Williams
Cast: Paul Williams, William Finley, Jessica Harper, Gerrit Graham, Rod Sterling (voice, uncredited)

Harbor Productions, 20th Century Fox, 91 Minutes

Review:

“[to Beef] Never sing my music again. Not here, not anywhere. Do you understand? Never again. My music is for Phoenix. Only she can sing it. Anyone else who tries, dies!” – The Phantom

This film often gets lumped together in conversations with The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The films came out around the same time, share a lot of similarities and have both developed cult followings. However, this film is far superior and I find it strange that it’s cult following is nowhere near as massive as Rocky Horror‘s.

I think this film has the edge in that it was written and directed by Brian De Palma, who was one of the top up and coming directors of the time. He was at a creative high and even though this film merges a lot of genres and is overly surreal and very absurdist, it’s kind of a masterpiece in that all the parts fit together and there has never been anything like this since. Well, at least nothing like this that was anywhere near as good as this.

Additionally, I’ve gone on record multiple times about my general dislike of musicals. Well, De Palma made a musical with this film and it is one of my absolute favorite films of the 1970s. In fact, I dig the hell out of the music in this picture and it all works in a way that makes sense. And I guess it’s not a musical with a traditional musical structure but it is chock full of tunes that progress the story without unnaturally pulling you out of it for the sake of wedging in another musical number.

The film stars actual rock star Paul Williams in what is my favorite role he’s ever had, playing Swan, a demonic record producer.

But the film is really carried by De Palma favorite, William Finley. It’s Finley’s over the top and batshit crazy performance that takes this film to heights it would not have reached without him in the title role as the Phantom. Finley is always great but this truly is his magnum opus, as he gives great range, exudes his passion for this role proudly with every frame and commits to the bit full throttle.

As good as both Williams and Finley are though, the film is also bolstered by the talent of Gerrit Graham. He’s had a lot of great roles within the horror genre but this is Graham at his best, as well. He plays a rock star simply named Beef. His onstage performance is incredible, his comedic timing is superb and he is a big, sweet cherry on top of this already perfect sundae.

And then there’s Jessica Harper. She’s most famous for being the lead in the original Suspiria from 1977 and even has a small role in the 2018 remake. She plays the apple of the Phantom’s eye and she’s terrific. Her performances are also solid and she has a lot more spunk in this film than what fans of Suspiria might expect. It’s really cool seeing her play a role that’s a departure from the one she’s most known for.

Phantom of the Paradise also boasts some incredible visuals. The film feels like a true rock opera of the highest caliber and even if this was made on what I guess was a modest budget, De Palma takes advantage of his surroundings, his sets and the talent he had working on this picture.

The cinematography is damn good and it is greatly impacted by the lighting, as well as the camera movement and shot framing of De Palma. It’s not just the colorful characters on the screen and the stupendous tunes that give this film all of its energy. A lot of it comes from the camerawork and the attention to detail within every single frame of this picture.

I can accept the fact that most people probably won’t view this movie the same way that I do and that’s fine. But from where I sit, it’s a damn fine motion picture that is incredibly unique and a pillar of imagination and creativity.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: I guess The Rocky Horror Picture Show is the closest film to this but it pales in comparison.

Film Review: Nora Prentiss (1947)

Also known as: The Sentence (working title)
Release Date: February 7th, 1947 (Philadelphia premiere)
Directed by: Vincent Sherman
Written by: N. Richard Nash, Paul Webster, Jack Sobell
Music by: Franz Waxman
Cast: Ann Sheridan, Kent Smith, Bruce Bennett, Robert Alda

Warner Bros., 111 Minutes

Review:

“I’m writing a paper on ailments of the heart.” – Doctor Richard Talbot, “A paper? I could write a book!” – Nora Prentiss

This is a classic film-noir that has been on my list for a long time. I had never seen it because it has never streamed anywhere that I’m aware of and I subscribe to a ton of these services. But it was finally featured on TCM’s Noir Alley, which seems long overdue, based off of all the great things I’ve heard about this movie from noir experts.

I’d have to say that it pretty much lived up to the hype. It’s not one of my all-time favorites but it was a well-crafted story with one of those really dark endings that sort of makes your heart sink.

Sure, the main guy, Kent Smith’s Talbot, is a bit of a shithead, as he fakes his own death to escape his wife and children so that he can run off with Nora, but by the end of the journey, you feel his remorse and his shame and when he makes the decision to be executed, to save his family from even more pain, it’s some pretty heavy stuff.

Additionally, all the emotion throughout this film is built up so well because of how convincing Ann Sheridan and Kent Smith were. They had solid chemistry, felt like genuine characters and this movie feels a bit ahead of its time, as these characters don’t come across as typical archetypes. Nora Prentiss may be a mistress but she’s not a femme fatale causing wreckage for her own personal gain. She’s a woman, caught up in emotion that ends up experiencing a great loss as the result of her and Talbot’s careless and selfish actions.

The film was directed by Vincent Sherman, who also directed other classic film-noirs: The Unfaithful, Backfire, The Damned Don’t Cry, Harriet Craig, Affair In Trinidad and The Garment Jungle. But he’s also the director of one of my favorite Errol Flynn swashbuckling pictures: Adventures of Don Juan.

If anything, this film has made me want to go down the rabbit hole of Sherman’s oeuvre. It was carefully crafted, well executed and had more dramatic flair and heart than a typical noir movie.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other film-noir pictures like The Unfaithful, The Breaking Point and Backfire.

Film Review: Once Upon A Time In America (1984)

Also known as: C’era una volta in America (original Italian title)
Release Date: May 20th, 1984 (Cannes)
Directed by: Sergio Leone
Written by: Leonardo Benvenuti, Piero De Bernardi, Enrico Medioli, Franco Arcalli, Franco Ferrini, Sergio Leone
Based on: The Hoods by Harry Grey
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Robert De Niro, James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern, Joe Pesci, Burt Young, Tuesday Weld, Treat Williams, Scott Tiler, Rusty Jacobs, Jennifer Connelly, Danny Aiello, William Forsythe, Adrian Curran, James Hayden, Brian Bloom, Darlanne Fluegel, Mario Brega, Estelle Harris, Louise Fletcher (only in 2012 restoration)

The Ladd Company, Embassy International Pictures, PSO Enterprises, Rafran Cinematografic, Warner Bros., Titanus, 229 Minutes (original), 139 Minutes (original US release)

Review:

“Age can wither me, Noodles. We’re both getting old. All that we have left now are our memories. If you go to that party on Saturday night, you won’t have those anymore. Tear up that invitation.” – Deborah Gelly

I tried watching this about fifteen years ago but if I’m being completely honest, it bored me to tears. And I’m speaking as a guy that has a deep love for the films of Sergio Leone, a man who sits among the best in my Holy Trinity of Motion Picture Directors. The other two being Akira Kurosawa and Stanley Kubrick, naturally.

So years later, I felt that I really needed to revisit this, as maybe I wasn’t in the right head space and because I generally have a hard time sitting through movies that feel like they could take up an entire day. Well, this took up an entire afternoon and I did have to take a halftime break and make a ribeye.

But regardless of that, I really enjoyed this picture and I can’t deny that it is one of Leone’s best. In fact, I may have to edit my rankings of his films, as I would now put this third behind The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and Once Upon A Time In the West.

What’s interesting, is that this movie has more in common with Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather trilogy than Leone’s own pictures, which were mostly top tier spaghetti westerns. But like his westerns, he also employs the talents of musical maestro Ennio Morricone, who gives real life to the motion picture full of mostly understated performances.

This movie is incredibly slow paced but it’s that kind of slow pace that is more like a slow simmering stew of perfection than the chef accidentally setting the burner too low and walking away.

As far as the acting goes, this is a superb film. Robert De Niro and James Woods own every scene that they’re in. However, the supporting cast is also stupendous, especially the child actors, who play the main characters in lengthy flashback sequences.

This is also compelling in that it is full of unlikable, despicable characters yet you are lured into their world and you do find yourself caring where this is all going and how life will play out for these characters. You never like them but that’s kind of what makes this story so intriguing. With The Godfather‘s Michael Corleone, there were things you could connect with and respect about the man, despite his crimes. In Once Upon A Time In America, you don’t really have moments with these characters that humanizes them all that much, in fact it does just the opposite of that. I can see where that might be bothersome to some people but we also live in a world where people saw Walter White from Breaking Bad as some sort of hero.

Once Upon A Time In America also shines in regard to its visual components. It’s a period piece that covers different periods, all of which come off as authentic, even if the city sometimes looks more like it was shot in Europe (some of it was) than truly being Depression Era New York City. But the sets and the location shooting all worked well and this picture boasts some incredible cinematography. It should be very apparent to fans of Leone that he’s taken what he’s learned making fabulous movies and found a way to perfect it, in a visual sense, even more with this, his final picture.

There’s not a whole lot I can pick apart about the movie, other than the pacing being slow. But again, it’s not a painful slow and it certainly isn’t full of pointless filler and exposition. Every frame of this movie needs to exist. But maybe take some breaks or just approach the film like you’re binge watching a short season of a TV show.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: Sergio Leone’s other films but this has a lot in common with Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather films.