Film Review: The Big Sleep (1978)

Also known as: Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep (UK)
Release Date: March 13th, 1978 (new York City premiere)
Directed by: Michael Winner
Written by: Michael Winner
Based on: The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
Music by: Jerry Fielding
Cast: Robert Mitchum, Sarah Miles, Richard Boone, Candy Clark, Joan Collins, Edward Fox, James Stewart, Oliver Reed

Winkast Film Productions, ITC Entertainment, United Artists, 99 Minutes

Review:

“Such a lot of guns around town and so few brains!” – Philip Marlowe

I never saw this film until now but I had assumed that it was a proper sequel to Farwell, My Lovely, a film that came out three years earlier and also starred Robert Mitchum as the famous literary private dick, Philip Marlowe.

However, this is its own thing, as this takes place in a contemporary setting, as opposed to being a period piece like the previous movie.

Still, this makes Robert Mitchum the only actor to play Marlowe more than once in a feature film.

Overall, this is a star studded affair with James Stewart, Richard Boone, Oliver Reed, Joan Collins, Sarah Miles and Candy Clark in it. And honestly, everyone does a pretty fine job with the material and you do become invested in most of the characters.

This film is pretty harsh, though. Especially when compared to other films about Marlowe, especially the older version of The Big Sleep, which starred Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. And while this is a modernized noir, it’s grittiness is over the top and it loses some of the luster that the Marlowe movies had when they were traditional film-noir from the ’40s.

I did like this for what it was and it’s worth checking out at least once for fans of noir and Mitchum. However, it seems like it is trying to be edgy while not fully committing to the bit.

This isn’t bad and it has a few memorable moments but it’s far from Mitchum’s best and nowhere near the top of the list when it comes to Marlowe pictures.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Robert Mitchum movie where he plays Philip Marlowe: Farewell, My Lovely, as well as other ’70s neo-noir.

Film Review: Vertigo (1958)

Also known as: Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (complete title), From Among the Dead, Illicit Darkening (working titles)
Release Date: May 9th, 1958 (San Francisco premiere)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Alec Coppel, Samuel Taylor
Based on: D’entre les morts by Pierre Boileau, Thomas Narcejac
Music by: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes, Tom Helmore, Henry Jones

Alfred J. Hitchcock Productions, Paramount Pictures, 128 Minutes

Review:

“Only one is a wanderer; two together are always going somewhere.” – Madeleine

This is the only one of Alfred Hitchcock’s ’50s and ’60s “masterpieces” that I have never seen. I’m not sure why I haven’t seen it over the years, as I’ve seen all the other films from this era multiple times. However, I wanted to save this one for a rainy day so what better time is there than just before a hurricane?

Having now seen it though, I’d say that it is probably my least favorite of the films considered at the top of Hitchcock’s oeuvre.

The reason being, is I just can’t buy into the plot. There are multiple things that make the plot kind of messy and for a film with a twist, I was able to figure it all out with a half hour to spare. It was kind of disappointing though, because I expected more than what I thought was the ending. But it ended, as I suspected, without any extra flair to put the end result ahead of my expectations.

The problem could be my own, however, as I’ve seen so many Hitchcock films, multiple times, that I can kind of see the tropes from top to bottom and thus, am able to get a pretty accurate sense of where the story is going. I may have had a different view of the film had I seen it a few decades ago like I did most of Hitchcock’s work.

Additionally, the film’s title and it’s plot revolves around a gimmick. The centerpiece of the film is James Stewart’s fear of heights but this is shown through what was a new technique at the time, the dolly zoom. While it’s a shot that has been used to death since this film, it’s a technique that has lost its effect on modern audiences. But that’s certainly not Hitchcock’s fault in 1958.

Apart from all that though, this is still a finely acted film. James Stewart was one of Hitchcock’s favorite leading men and for good reason. The two made magic together. And while this isn’t my favorite film of their pairings, it certainly isn’t a picture that is hindered by anything that Stewart did or the direction of Hitchcock for that matter.

Now while I mostly always love Kim Novak in film-noir, she did feel like she was out of her depth here. Not to knock her, she’s a good actress, but she lacked that extra something special that Hitchcock’s female leads usually bring to a film. She also didn’t have as good of a chemistry with Stewart as Grace Kelly or Doris Day.

One thing that did keep this movie very energetic and also assisted in keeping it well above water was the dynamite score of Bernard Hermann. It fit well with the tone of the picture, especially in that fantastically shot opening scene.

Vertigo is definitely a competent film, technically speaking, but the plot was too wonky. I guess you could get away with faking a death from a fall off of a tower in the late ’50s but I’m pretty sure they’d need to go deeper than a few eye witnesses to identify the body, even back then. Maybe I’m wrong but this just felt sort of thin and a bit daft.

Still, this is pretty enjoyable and even if the mystery fell flat, it was a fun ride until it wasn’t.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Hitchcock’s other thrillers of the ’50s and ’60s.

Film Review: Sicario (2015)

Release Date: May 19th, 2015 (Cannes)
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Written by: Taylor Sheridan
Music by: Johann Johannsson
Cast: Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Victor Garber, Jon Bernthal, Daniel Kaluuya, Jeffrey Donovan

Black Label Media, Thunder Road, Lionsgate, 121 Minutes

Review:

“Nothing will make sense to your American ears, and you will doubt everything that we do, but in the end you will understand.” – Alejandro

This is a film that I put off watching because there was a lot of hype about it when it came out. Had I watched it in 2015 or even 2016, I probably would’ve lost my shit.

Reason being, this is nowhere near as good as the critics and my friends led me to believe.

In fact, other than less than a handful of scenes, this is a boring fucking movie that doesn’t seem to have much of a point.

I mean, I get it, the drug cartels in Mexico are fucked up. But I’ve known this and seen this in lots of film and television shows that are far better than this.

With the cast and a very capable director I was expected an intense, badass neo-western in the vein of No Country For Old Men and Hell or High Water. Sadly, this doesn’t hold a candle to those films and it is just a few cool action sequences and one intense dinner scene, strung together with moral babble and Emily Blunt not doing much other than looking offended and confused.

I can see why she didn’t come back for a sequel but her character was completely vacant anyway and it didn’t really matter that she was in this film. And that’s not to knock Blunt, she’s an incredibly capable actress. However, they could’ve just taken all her close ups in this movie, spliced them into the sequel and no one would’ve been the wiser, as she is just sort of in the film as an observer and moral compass.

Now I can’t completely shit on the film. The high points were actually good and intense. The dinner scene has incredible tension but at the same time, the end result of that scene is not shocking and has little effect. It’s more fucked up than shocking.

Also, the cinematography and shot framing were incredible. This is a good looking film from start to finish and that’s probably its biggest positive. But I can get these things in a music video from a talented director of photography. Alluring visuals are great and they are important but they can’t be the sole driving force of a film.

For instance, The Revenant was visually breathtaking but none of that would’ve mattered if the rest of the film was a crap factory.

I absolutely love the modernized western film but they are really hard to do well. Sicario doesn’t deliver on much but I’ll still probably check out the sequel just to review it.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: the sequel and other neo-westerns, most of which are better than this.

TV Review: 11.22.63 (2016)

Original Run: February 15th, 2016 – April 4th, 2016
Created by: Bridget Carpenter
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: 11/22/63 by Stephen King
Music by: J. J. Abrams, Alex Heffes
Cast: James Franco, Sarah Gadon, Cherry Jones, Lucy Fry, George MacKay, Daniel Webber, T. R. Knight, Kevin J. O’Connor, Josh Duhamel, Chris Cooper, Annette O’Toole

Carpenter B., Bad Robot Productions, Warner Bros. Television, Hulu, 8 Episodes, 44-81 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I was actually pretty hyped to watch this when it was coming out, three years ago. However, my work life took a turn for the worse and I spent most of 2016 working about 70 hours per week and not having much time for anything else. I actually started this site later in that year when things started to stabilize again but by that point, this slipped down the memory hole.

However, I’ve been wanting to watch Stephen King’s Castle Rock on Hulu. So before getting into that, I wanted to go back and check this out, as it was King’s first Hulu collaboration.

The premise follows a man (James Franco), as he goes back in time to try and stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It’s an interesting premise but it does also seem that the protagonist does it really haphazardly, as messing with the timeline can have some unforeseen consequences and it does. In fact, it has grave consequences, which I think are supposed to surprise you but for fans of time travel stories, it really doesn’t. I kind of sighed and went, “Well, it’s not like this wasn’t an obvious result of his meddling.”

What’s interesting about this though, is that King explores the idea of time itself fighting back during the hero’s journey. It almost feels like horror at times but at the same time, the effect that time has in fighting back against changes seems inconsistent throughout the story. It is really only used where it is convenient to the plot in some way or just to remind you that time is its own master.

I had a problem with that aspect of the story and I felt like it was a wasted opportunity in a lot of ways. Cool concept, half assed execution.

But still, this was damn compelling television. You get drawn into this world, this character’s mission and you do fall in love with some of the characters.

The acting is superb and this is some of Franco’s best dramatic work. But the rest of the cast is also exceptional, especially the love interest, played by Sarah Gadon, the and the best friend/partner, played by George MacKay. But two real standouts were Daniel Webber as Lee Harvey Oswald and the evil son of a bitch that was brought to life by Josh Duhamel.

Overall, this was a solid political thriller with a time travel twist. While the time travel stuff was handled pretty willy-nilly, you get so caught up in the proceedings that it feels secondary.

Rating: 8.5/10

Comic Review: Wolverine Vs. Blade – One-Shot

Published: July 10th, 2019
Written by: Marc Guggenheim
Art by: Dave Wilkins

Marvel Comics, 40 Pages

Review:

This was a comic book that I didn’t know I wanted until I saw it hit the shelves. It came home with me immediately and I gave it a read, twice.

Now it’s not a classic and probably won’t be heralded for years to come but for a Marvel comic in 2019, this was some solid f’n stuff! But maybe it would’ve worked better as an annual. Granted, I don’t think Wolverine or Blade have regular titles, right now. Wolverine has just been in a lot of recent miniseries, as Marvel just resurrected him after being on the shelf for a few years.

Anyway, this is a badass comic. Marc Guggenheim, now mostly known as the guy behind all the CW superhero shows, penned a cool story that understood its characters and gave them real life. The banter between Blade and Wolverine was entertaining and they made a formidable pair.

Now calling this Wolverine Vs. Blade might have been a bit of a stretch. The two fight but it’s pretty short and they realize that they need to team up to stop a vampire threat.

The big twist as to who the big villain is, is pretty neat. I don’t want to spoil it but it makes sense for the story and for being a good match for the combined powers and skills of the heroes.

Also, there is a Doctor Strange cameo in this.

But apart from my satisfaction regarding the story, I also loved the art. Dave Wilkins created a beautiful looking comic.

In fact, I’d like to see Guggenheim and Wilkins work together again. Marvel should just greenlight a sequel to this or let these two work on some sort of team up miniseries.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other Blade stories, as well as mid-’00s X-Force featuring Wolverine leading the team as a black ops group.

Comic Review: Watchmen

Published: September, 1986 – October, 1987
Written by: Alan Moore
Art by: Dave Gibbons

DC Comics, 415 Pages

Review:

After recently reading through all of the Before Watchmen stuff, I thought that I should give the original comic a re-read. It’s been a long time and even if I know the story inside and out, it’s always a good comic to revisit every couple of years.

Plus, I wanted it to be fresh in my mind before delving into the Doomsday Clock maxiseries that is finally close to finishing. Additionally, there is that HBO Watchmen TV series that starts pretty soon and even though I’m highly skeptical of it, I want to give it a fair shot.

While I do think that Watchmen is pretty close to being a masterpiece, it isn’t a perfect comic book despite what the hype says.

I love the story, the art, the characters and it really is close to being a perfect marriage between the writing of Alan Moore and the astounding art by Dave Gibbons. It is a neo-noir fan’s dream come true on paper.

However, sometimes I feel like it gets bogged down by its wordiness. Plus, even though the narrative flows along at a good pace and multiple character arcs are well balanced, it doesn’t do a great job of keeping your mind on the mystery that opens the big story. Sure, you reach a resolution and all becomes clear but what starts out as the main narrative, takes a back seat in most of the comic’s twelve issues.

I guess it works absolutely fine if that’s not your primary reason for reading the book. I’m also fine with nontraditional forms of storytelling but the opening is so good, presents a good mystery and then sort of just touches on it from time to time. My main issue with it is that by the time the pieces fall into place, the big reveal doesn’t have much impact.

This is an ensemble piece though and with that the book does each and every character justice. So Watchmen‘s pros certainly outshine it’s very few cons. Plus, Moore does a superb job at creating such a rich and lived in world in only twelve issues. By the time one is done with this book, you have a very intimate understanding of this universe. And its overall effect has been so strong that this book maintained its legions of loyal fans over several decades without any sort of follow up.

Granted, there have now been prequels, sequels, a movie and a television show. But for a very long time, this was all that existed under the Watchmen brand.

Watchmen‘s legacy can’t be denied. This is a piece of stellar work that will still touch people years after we’re all dead. It is a comic book but it is also one of the greatest pieces of literature from the 1980s.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta and Mike W. Barr’s Camelot 3000, as well as the Before Watchmen stuff and Doomsday Clock.

Film Review: Monster Party (2018)

Also known as: Killer Party (UK)
Release Date: October 1st, 2018 (Beyond Fest)
Directed by: Chris von Hoffman
Written by: Chris von Hoffman
Music by: Felix Erskine, Nao Sato
Cast: Sam Strike, Erin Moriarty, Kian Lawley, Julian McMahon, Virginia Gardner, Brandon Michael Hall, Robin Tunney, Lance Reddick, Bill Engvall

RLJ Entertainment, AMC Networks, 89 Minutes

Review:

“Here I am, a functioning member of society.” – Roxanne Dawson

As a Shudder subscriber, I’ve been trying to work my way through the Shudder exclusives. This one is a pretty recent addition to the streaming service and it boasts a pretty capable cast with Julian McMahon, Robin Tunney and Lance Reddick. Hell, even “blue collar” comedian Bill Engvall shows up in this.

This also starts off fairly well with a good, engaging premise.

However, as the film rolls on, it all fell apart for me.

There were a lot of interesting angles that this film could have had but ultimately, it took a pretty pedestrian and derivative route, marking cliches off of the checklist and trying to throw a mix of craziness and gore at its audience without really providing anything new or fresh.

The acting was better than average for something like this but it gets lost in the mess of a movie, which tried really hard to be overly stylized and hip but felt more like a direct to video horror film from the ’90s that you never would’ve heard of if not seeing it taking up shelf space in Blockbuster by the register.

All that being said, the film isn’t a waste of time for fans of the slasher or psycho family sub genres of horror. I did like it for the most part but in the end, it was predictable, far from shocking and quite tiresome by the third act.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: other recent slashery films but nothing good comes to mind.