Comic Review: Batman: Three Jokers

Published: November 17th, 2020
Written by: Geoff Johns
Art by: Jason Fabok

DC Comics, 161 Pages

Review:

I enjoyed this story and its concept quite a bit. But generally, I’ve been a fan of Geoff Johns’ writing since he took over Green Lantern in the mid-’00s.

This isn’t really a canonical story but then again, nothing that’s modern DC really is to me anymore because they’ve rebooted their universe more times than my Uncle Terry has created children out of wedlock.

The story does directly build off of the events of classic Batman stories The Killing Joke and A Death In the Family. With that, it also utilizes Batgirl and Red Hood in the story, as it brings their issues with the Joker full circle and provides some closure to him crippling Batgirl and “killing” Red Hood when he was Robin.

The reason why the story is called “The Three Jokers” is because there are three Jokers. Each one represents a different version of the character, as he’s been used historically. One is the “criminal” Joker, another is the “comedian” Joker and the last is the “clown” Joker. The story plays off of their differences and the heroes aren’t sure which one is the real Joker or if possibly there’s been more than one all along. However, by the end, we see that there’s a much bigger, more sinister scheme at play and it’s revealed that Batman has always known who the real Joker is, all the way down to his real identity.

The story was very noir-esque, which isn’t uncommon for a Batman story but this one had so many curveballs that it just fits within that genre’s framework quite well.

Admittedly, I got to a point in the story where I started to think that the whole thing was ridiculous. By the end, though, it all came together in a really cool way and it seemed a lot less ridiculous and like something that would fit within the Joker’s larger worldview and his and Batman’s place in it.

I also really, really liked the art. I don’t know much about Jason Fabok but he captivated me, here, and I’ll be on the lookout for some of his other work. Frankly, I’d like to see him and Johns maybe work on a follow up to this and create their own unique continuity within Batman, similar to what Sean Gordon Murphy has been doing the last few years.

Rating: 8/10

TV Review: Cowboy Bebop (1998-1999)

Original Run: April 3rd, 1998 – April 24th, 1999
Created by: Hajime Yatate
Directed by: Shinichiro Watanabe
Written by: Keiko Nobumoto
Music by: Yoko Kanno
Cast: Koichi Yamadera, Unsho Ishizuka, Megumi Hayashibara

Sunrise, TXN, Wowow, 26 Episodes, 24 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Decades upon decades of hype and Cowboy Bebop just didn’t live up to it for me. But this is what happens when people, for years and years, claim that something is the “best ever”.

In those situations, I think that a lot of people who hear that, repeat it, as they don’t want to be the asshole that disagrees with everyone else. It’s just this effect that happens with things that are grossly overhyped by a passionate few who are able to push something beyond cult status.

Now that’s not to say that Cowboy Bebop isn’t enjoyable, it certainly is. I also wasn’t quite ready for it to be over when it was.

I like that it’s unique, features an incredibly jazzy score and finds itself wrapped up in several genres not really committing to any of them fully. It’s a mix of noir, western, cyberpunk and space opera. But it also features real human drama, comedy and often times plays like a crime thriller.

Essentially, I like it for all the reasons that other people do. I just don’t think it’s the greatest anime I’ve ever seen and just because it was unique and fresh when it came out in 1998, doesn’t mean that its some sort of masterpiece.

The show has some weak, forgettable episodes, some of the characters begin to grate on you like the shrill little kid with the barky dog.

However, that doesn’t mean that I’m not game to check out the animated film that came after or any potential sequel or animated reboot.

In the end, this is still high tier anime and much better than the norm. I’d even call it a classic. However, I can’t look at it as the greatest thing that ever existed in anime. It simply isn’t. But that’s also subjective and doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.

Rating: 8/10

Book Review: ‘The Club Dumas’ by Arturo Pérez-Reverte

After recently revisiting The Ninth Gate, a film I love for being a solid mix of neo-noir and occult horror, I decided that reading the book it’s based on was long overdue.

I’m actually surprised that I hadn’t read this a long time ago. I was also surprised to see that this was written by the same guy that wrote the novel that served as the inspiration to the hit television crime drama, Queen of the South.

This features the same core characters as the film but the two stories have some very big differences. This version alters the relationships of some characters, as well as their personalities. Corso and Balkan’s interactions are very different, here, and I feel like in the film, things were altered in a way that maximized the talents of both Johnny Depp and Frank Langella.

The book is more detailed and explores some territory that the movie did not. I don’t want to ruin it, though, and don’t want to point out every difference.

If you are a fan of The Ninth Gate, you should probably enjoy this. While I like the movie better, overall, a lot of that could just be due to my familiarity with it and now my nostalgia for it, being that it’s over twenty years old.

The book is pretty dense at times, though, and it assumes you have knowledge of classic literature. While that knowledge isn’t necessary in order to follow this, it does probably make the overall experience more interesting and engaging.

Like the film, it was fun seeing Corso try to solve a puzzle that would lead to some dark discoveries.

Rating: 8/10

Vids I Dig 819: Razörfist: Reject Modernity; Embrace Pulp Heroism

Film Review: The Ninth Gate (1999)

Release Date: August 25th, 1999 (Spain premiere)
Directed by: Roman Polanski
Written by: John Brownjohn, Roman Polanski, Enrique Urbizu
Based on: The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte
Music by: Wojciech Kilar
Cast: Johnny Depp, Lena Olin, Frank Langella, James Russo, Jack Taylor, Emmanuelle Seigner, Allen Garfield, Barbara Jefford

Orly Films, R.P. Productions, Artisan Entertainment, 133 Minutes

Review:

“There’s nothing more reliable than a man whose loyalty can be bought for hard cash.” – Boris Balkan

I don’t know what it is about this movie but I’ve probably watched it more times than anyone else I’ve ever met because it enchants me and grabs my attention. Something about it is cool, mesmerizing and weirdly soothing.

I also like that it blends supernatural, biblical horror with film-noir. Horror and noir were always a really good thing when paired up and a lot of those early RKO horror films that Val Lewton produced, showcased the blending of these genres exceptionally well.

This is directed by Roman Polanski, who made one of the greatest neo-noir movies of all-time with 1974’s Chinatown. Here, he takes some of that noir experience and adds it to a more contemporary film. And like Chinatown, this moves at a slow and steady pace but definitely not a boring one. The film is a slow burn all the way up to its finale, which I thought was pretty neat and satisfying.

The plot plays out like a game. You have a very rich publisher that hires a rare book dealer to track down the other copies of an extremely rare book that could very well be tied to the Devil. With that, he sets off on this adventure and crosses paths with a lot of mysterious people who have their own agendas, most of them being pretty sinister. The book dealer also gets assistance from a mysterious, unnamed girl, whose motivations are never clear. Later on, we also see that this girl has powers that make you wonder if she’s an angel or a fallen angel or even possibly a demon or some important biblical character.

There’s a Satanic cult, murder plots, twists, turns and serious curveballs that I didn’t see coming the first time I viewed this film. All the while, it does seem pretty clear that one of these people is pulling a lot of the strings.

The atmosphere of the film is one of the things that make this such a visually beautiful picture. While a lot of that has to do with the general cinematography, I think that the score by Wojciech Kilar is stellar and really gives this movie its life and energy while enhancing those visuals.

This is also one of my favorite roles that Johnny Depp has ever played and I thought that his fairly chill, almost understated performance was perfect for the tone of the story. I also thought that Frank Langella was magnificent and this is my favorite thing that he’s done besides Skeletor and Dracula.

The Ninth Gate was a movie that came out and seemed to be completely overlooked. Still, I know that most people haven’t seen it, over two decades later. It reminds me of the ’70s style of serious, religious horror. If that stuff is your thing, this should be right up your alley.

Rating: 9.25/10

Film Review: Angel Heart (1987)

Release Date: March 6th, 1987
Directed by: Alan Parker
Written by: Alan Parker
Based on: Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg
Music by: Trevor Jones
Cast: Mickey Rourke, Robert De Niro, Lisa Bonet, Charlotte Rampling

Union, Winkast Film Productions, Carolco Pictures, 113 Minutes

Review:

“They say there’s enough religion in the world to make men hate each other, but not enough to make them love.” – Louis Cyphre

I wanted to kickoff my Halloween movie season with something that many consider iconic but that I hadn’t seen, at least in its entirety. I chose Angel Heart, as it isn’t just horror but it’s also neo-noir and stars two elite talents in Mickey Rourke and Robert De Niro.

While I’ve seen segments of this motion picture, over the years, it’s rarely ever been on television and out of the thousands of movies I’ve come to own, this wasn’t one of them.

I really dug this movie tonally and aesthetically. It’s also tremendously well acted from the two leads, as well as Lisa Bonet and Charlotte Rampling, both of whom carry themselves fantastically alongside two real heavyweights.

This movie is just so dark and brooding that you feel it in your gut. It’s hard to describe but it reminds me of the feelings I get whenever I revisit The Serpent and the Rainbow. Well done voodoo movies just hit me on a guttural level, I guess. Maybe that’s because I live in southern Florida and have grown up around many Caribbean people, who have effected me over the years.

My only real issue is that sometimes it feels slow or uneventful. I think that the payoff, albeit predictable, is still satisfying and it helps bring everything together.

I actually don’t want to spoil too much about the plot but a private investigator is hired by a mysterious man in New York City. This man is looking for a lost pop singer named Johnny Favorite. The investigation leads the P.I. to New Orleans and the surrounding bayou a.k.a. voodoo country.

While there, and as the story progresses, things get increasingly more fucked up and weird. Eventually, this guy is in really deep and he starts to lose his mind, as bodies start piling up.

The art direction and cinematography in this film are incredible. While I think that was made easier by using the timeless architecture and locations in New Orleans, that doesn’t discount how well that city was captured on film and maximized to its fullest effect.

With that, this movie feels kind of timeless. Sure, it happens in a specific location and era but something about this film feels like it exists in its own special place and time. When you get to the ending, it may actually get you theorizing on why exactly this is.

Angel Heart is an incredibly unique experience and unlike just about anything I can think of. While I can’t call it great, it’s worth checking out at least once, because of that uniqueness. This picture won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but there’s really only one way for a person to find out.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: The Onion Field (1979)

Release Date: May 17th, 1979 (Cannes)
Directed by: Harold Becker
Written by: Joseph Wambaugh
Based on: The Onion Field by Joseph Wambaugh
Music by: Eumir Deodato
Cast: John Savage, James Woods, Franklyn Seales, Ted Danson, Ronny Cox, Christopher Lloyd, Priscilla Pointer, John de Lancie

Black Marble Productions, AVCO Embassy Pictures, 122 Minutes

Review:

“Any man who gives up his gun to some punk is a coward. Any man who does can kiss his badge goodbye, if I can help it. You’re policemen. Put your trust in God.” – LAPD Captain

I had never heard of this movie until the Criterion Channel put up a neo-noir collection, recently. Going through it, I figured I’d give this picture a watch, as it was one of the few in that collection that I hadn’t yet seen.

This also has James Woods and Ted Danson in it, so I was pretty intrigued, considering I had never stumbled across this.

The story is based on a true crime book and the film is written by the same author, which I guess helped keep things as accurate as possible. With real world stories, accuracy is hardly a priority for Hollywood.

First and foremost, this is incredibly well acted. Once the big, fucked up event in the film happens, John Savage’s acting goes to another level and the film switches gears, showing a once badass man break down because of the death of his partner and because the broken justice system is failing to make the killer pay for the crime.

The first hour of the story gives the background on the people and the events that led to a cop being murdered by a scumbag criminal. At the midway point of the film, we see the traffic stop that leads to the cop’s murder and his partner’s escape. The last half of the film focuses on the fallout and how the surviving cop can’t deal with justice not being served.

This is an emotionally heavy film in the back half and it leaves you incredibly pissed off, as you start to wonder if the scumbag is going to get away with the heinous, cold-blooded crime.

Beyond the great acting, this is a film that has great atmosphere. Watching it, it feels dark, confined and muggy. You feel stifled by the weight of it and feel the emotion pretty intensely. However, even with the genuine emotional connection to the primary character, the film really suffers from its pacing and structure. Something just felt a bit off in that regard and the film drags in points.

Still, I enjoyed this and was glad that I discovered it.

Rating: 6.75/10

Comic Review: Moon Knight by Bendis and Maleev – Ultimate Collection

Published: March 7th, 2018
Written by: Brian Michael Bendis
Art by: Alex Maleev

Marvel Comics, 264 Pages

Review:

After reading through the lengthy Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev run on Daredevil, I figured I’d give their run on Moon Knight a shot.

Reason being, I mostly liked Bendis’ Daredevil stuff other than how he didn’t know how to bring it to a close and his cringe romance shit. I also liked Maleev’s art, for the most part. Plus, I like the hell out of the Moon Knight character and wish I had read more of is stories over the years. I’m trying to rectify that now, as I’m older and have access to so much more.

This story is twelve issues long and it uses that space really well and wraps up much better than Bendis’ Daredevil run. I think that he went into this knowing where it needed to end and that since he had limited space to tell a story, he gave us something well structured that got to the point and gave us a satisfying conclusion.

In this story, we see Moon Knight dealing with his “hearing voices” problem in a fresh way. While he is recruited for a mission by Captain America, Wolverine and Spider-Man, he also starts seeing versions of them in his mind. Additionally, with such a close connection to them, he starts to use their gimmicks in his battles with L.A.’s criminal underworld.

That underworld is ruled by its own kingpin, similar to The Kingpin in New York City. However, this person’s identity is a mystery and Moon Knight is tasked with luring them out and discovering why exactly they wanted to buy a deactivated Ultron head.

Moon Knight also meets Echo, the two have a reluctant partnership but end up falling in love during their mission.

This becomes more and more high stakes as it rolls on. Out of the twelve issues, none of them are wasted on filler bullshit and the romance stuff is in there but it’s nowhere near as exhausting as what we got in Bendis’ Daredevil. It’s like Bendis improved in that regard and wrote something more natural and to the point. Nothing between Moon Knight and Echo seemed forced like it did between Daredevil and his wife Milla.

I also feel like Alex Maleev’s art was an improvement. It’s cleaner while also looking more detailed. It also fit the tone of the story pretty damn well.

I don’t want to say too much about the story, as there are some big reveals and twists but this is definitely worth reading if you want a superhero, neo-noir tale that isn’t Daredevil-centric.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976)

Release Date: February 15th, 1976
Directed by: John Cassavetes
Written by: John Cassavetes
Music by: Bo Harwood
Cast: Ben Gazzara, Timothy Agoglia Carey, Seymour Cassel, Azizi Johari, James Lew

Faces Distribution, 135 Minutes

Review:

“I’m a club owner. I deal in girls.” – Cosmo Vitelli

This has been in my Criterion Channel queue for far too long. In fact, it was in my FilmStruck queue before that service went kaput and Criterion struck out on their own with their current service in an effort to fill the voice leftover by AT&T killing FilmStruck and crushing the hearts of legit cinephiles that can’t get their fix with crappy Netflix originals.

Anyway, this isn’t a rant about the loss of FilmStruck, I already talked about that here. This is a review of a pretty solid neo-noir picture directed by the multitalented John Cassavetes.

Cassavetes doesn’t star in his own picture, though. Instead, the film is led by Ben Gazzara, who became one of Cassavetes’ favorite actors to work with. This was the second of their three pictures.

Gazzara was fucking dynamite in this as his character, Cosmo Vitelli, a cabaret club owner with a serious gambling problem. He finds himself in great debt and with that, to square up his bill with the mafia run casino, he is pushed into murdering a Chinese bookie that is cutting into the mob’s business.

Obviously, he doesn’t want to commit murder but when he drags his feet, the mob does their damnedest to make him see things their way. So he does eventually go to the Chinese booker’s home to begrudgingly kill the mob’s rival. Things don’t go as smoothly as he’d like and I’ll leave it at that because I don’t want to spoil the details.

There are a lot more layers to this than just the main plot thread, though. We get to really know this character and see the world and his profession through his eyes. He’s a nice, likable guy that loves women, loves the nightlife but finds himself in way over his head because he couldn’t stop himself from digging his own hole.

This is a great character study piece while also being a solid 1970s neo-noir picture. And with the neo-noir style, you obviously get a film that’s visually vivid and beautiful to look at in spite of the gritty, dirty city that these characters operate in.

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie is a really unique and genuine movie. Cassavetes wrote a compelling story with a really likable character and his direction behind the camera was executed tremendously well.

While I don’t know if this is something I’d revisit in the future, unless I was showing it to another neo-noir fan, it still provided me with a worthwhile and entertaining experience. It also showed me that Ben Gazzara is a better actor than I’d previously given him credit for only seeing him in smaller roles and as the baddie in Road House.

Rating: 7.75/10

Film Review: Across 110th Street (1972)

Release Date: December 19th, 1972 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Barry Shear
Written by: Luther Davis, Barry Shear
Based on: Across 110th Street by Wally Ferris
Music by: Bobby Womack, J. J. Johnson
Cast: Anthony Quinn, Yaphet Kotto, Anthony Franciosa, Paul Benjamin, Ed Bernard, Richard Ward, Anthony Fargas, Norma Donaldson, Gilbert Lewis, Marlene Warfield, Nat Polen, Tim O’Connor, Burt Young, Charles McGregor, Paul Harris, Ric Mancini

Film Guarantors, 102 Minutes

Review:

“Look at me, huh. Look at me! You’re looking at a 42 year old ex-con nigga with no schooling, no trade, and a medical problem! Now who the hell would want me for anything but washing cars or swinging a pick? You gotta get your mind out of that white woman’s dream!” – Jim Harris

While many consider this blaxploitation, I thought it was a bit light in that regard. However, this also came out before that subgenre of film really pushed the envelope. This, honestly, has strong noir vibes and with that, it’s kind of interesting seeing early blaxploitation and a ’70s neo-noir flavor come together.

This also stars Yaphet Kotto just before he did Live and Let Die and Truck Turner, two films I love him in, the former being the one that really brought him a new level of notoriety and a pretty solid future, as an actor.

Kotto is solid as hell in this as the cop that wants to do the right thing, even though he is surrounded by rampant crime, violence and police corruption. Through all of that, he finds a way to win the day and to wreck the nefarious efforts of the Italian mafia and the black criminals who run Harlem.

This is a pretty decent movie from top-to-bottom, especially considering its limitations due to budget. It’s filmed in a lot of tight feeling spaces and while I’m not sure if that was due to the limitations or if it was intentional but it creates a sort of stifling atmosphere that actually adds to the tension of the movie.

The film is also greatly helped by the soundtrack and themes that were provided by Bobby Womack. The title theme would later be re-recorded and that better version was used by Quentin Tarantino in Jackie Brown.

All in all, Yaphet Kotto truly carries this picture, once he arrives on the scene. Without Kotto, the picture wouldn’t have been nearly as good. But he does make it work and it’s a pretty unique movie to begin with.

Rating: 6.25/10