Comic Review: Tokyo Ghost

Published: July 5th, 2017
Written by: Rick Remender
Art by: Sean Murphy, Matt Hollingsworth

Image Comics, 257 Pages

Review:

I wasn’t aware of this when it was being published but having found out about it recently, I wanted to give it a read, as it unites the writing of Rick Remender with the art of Sean Murphy, whose Batman: White Knight was one of the best comics I’ve read in the last few years.

Also, this kind of borrows from anime, manga and Philip K. Dick stories. It has an Akira meets Blade Runner feel even if the story is wholly original and its own thing.

Remender, overall, penned a good and engaging story. It took a few issues for it to click for me but even if it started out a bit slow, Murphy’s art held my attention.

As the plot builds and this universe gets richer and more complex, you do find yourself immersed in this world. And frankly, that’s what you want from a comic book and Remender did his job.

My only issue with the plot is that the two young lovers’ codependency sometimes felt a bit overbearing. However, it’s kind of supposed to, I guess, as it is a big part of who the main characters are and where they need to go in their lives. There are lessons to be learned within these character flaws and Remender succeeded in bringing the lovers’ story to a proper close by the end of the ten issues.

I liked the villain, the plot twists and the neo-noir vibe that really channels classic noir narrative tropes.

The story does have a lot going on and that may be jarring early on, as things seem to jump around a lot, but it all comes together rather well.

Sean Murphy recently stated that he’d only do art for stories he writes going forward. However, it’d be cool to see him team up with Rick Remender on another project in the future.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other comics written by Rick Remender and other comics with art by Sean Murphy. Also, it’s influences like futuristic anime, manga and the stories of Philip K. Dick.

Book Review: LIFE: Film Noir: 75 Years of the Greatest Crime Films

While this was technically released in a magazine format, it’s written more like a book, is devoid of ads and I read it on my kindle. Also, I want to read more specialty magazines like this for review purposes but since there are only a few I have, at the moment, I’ll categorize them with books for now.

This one looks at film-noir throughout history. It’s really broken into two sections: one that deals specifically with classic film-noir and then a latter section that deals with neo-noir, showing the effects and influence that classic noir had on later motion pictures.

The films selected here are all pretty top notch pictures in the genre. I thought it a bit odd that Sunset Boulevard was omitted but this magazine did seem to put its focus more on noir that were primarily crime dramas. But not really mentioning the impact of that film, as well as the influence of Citizen Kane, as far as style goes, seemed off. Especially when this does mention the stylistic influences it took from German Expressionism.

But I’m not going to gripe about those films not really being on the radar of the staff that put this together.

I think that this would have been a better and much richer read had it been put into something larger than a magazine. I blew through this in an hour and while I liked reading about the films discussed here, each chapter was pretty damn short. But I also get that this is more of a crash course and primer on noir movies than a full semester at film school.

The best part wasn’t even the write ups about the films, though. It was actually a lot of the captions that came with all the photos thrown in here. I learned more new information that way than from the film write ups themselves.

Reading this was a breeze but frankly, it left me wanting more… a lot more. But there are several great books on film-noir that give you a lot more meat and potatoes.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other books on film-noir: Into the Dark, Film Noir FAQ and The Dark Side of the Screen.

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: Body Heat (1981)

Release Date: August 28th, 1981
Directed by: Lawrence Kasdan
Written by: Lawrence Kasdan
Music by: John Barry
Cast: William Hurt, Kathleen Turner, Richard Crenna, Ted Danson, J. A. Preston, Mickey Rourke, Kim Zimmer, Jane Hallaren, Lanna Saunders

The Ladd Company, Warner Bros., 113 Minutes

Review:

“I’m really disappointed in you, Racine. I’ve been living vicariously off of you for years. You shut up on me now, all I have is my wife.” – Peter

Lawrence Kasdan is probably most known for being one of the writers that worked alongside George Lucas on the original Star Wars trilogy, as well as Raiders of the Lost Ark. But here, he not only writes but he directs. And it was his working relationship with Lucas that helped him get this film produced. In fact, Lucas put up some of the money himself, even though he’s not officially given a producer credit.

It’s interesting that Kasdan’s directorial debut was something so different than what audiences had known him for, which were primarily high adventure pictures. But Kasdan made a very true to form film-noir picture. But maybe it was too close and that worked against it; I’ll explain.

Kasdan’s story for Body Heat drew inspiration from the 1944 film-noir classic Double Indemnity. In fact, there are some pretty stark similarities but Body Heat is not a complete rehash and it certainly stands on its own, despite having very similar cues.

The film is really carried by the strong performance by William Hurt. Kathleen Turner stars alongside him as the typical femme fatale and while she’s pretty good, she comes off as more of a caricature of the femme fatale archetype than feeling like she is giving a genuine performance. But I don’t think that’s on her, as she’s proven how capable she is. I think it could be a combination of Kasdan’s direction and writing, as he was possibly trying to squeeze her into an image he had, as opposed to letting her put more of herself into the role.

Still, Hurt offsets the awkward clunkiness of Turner and the rest of the cast between Richard Crenna, Ted Danson, Mickey Rourke and everyone else, keeps the ship moving in the right direction.

The story is pretty good but it’s not anything new, especially if you’re a fan of the noir genre. Despite a few good twists and turns throughout this labyrinthine plot, nothing that happens is shocking and it is kind of predictable in retrospect. In fact, even though I enjoyed this, it didn’t give much of anything new to the genre it emulates.

In regards to it being a modernization of classic film-noir, it isn’t the first film to do that either. But if this is anything, it’s Lawrence Kasdan’s love letter to film-noir and for the most part, it’s a nice love letter that makes its point rather well.

Body Heat certainly isn’t forgettable but it’s a long way off from redefining what noir could be like Blood Simple and The American Friend did. But strangely, I did enjoy this a hair bit more than Blood Simple.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other neo-noir films of the era: Blood Simple, The American Friend and the remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Book Review: ‘Ebert’s Essentials: 27 Movies From the Dark Side’ by Roger Ebert

It’s been awhile since I’ve read anything by Roger Ebert but growing up in the ’80s, he was my favorite critic, right alongside Gene Siskel, who co-hosted Siskel & Ebert with him.

I recently bought an Amazon Fire Tablet, so while I was perusing the books they have on movies, I came across this title, which is Ebert discussing 27 of his favorite noir pictures, whether they be classic film-noir, more modern neo-noir or other pictures that were strongly influenced by the noir style.

Ultimately, this was a heck of a fun read. I love Ebert’s way with words and how he is able to describe a film, as well as the ins and outs of its development and overall execution.

Ebert loved movies and its incredibly apparent when reading books like this, which focuses on a specific style of film and its cultural impact on the film medium as a whole. But his passion really comes through and he’s a fabulous guide.

With this book, he goes through each of the 27 films featured with a fine tooth comb. He also presented me with several I didn’t know about or hadn’t seen, especially in regards to his foreign film selections that fit the noir template.

Film-noiristas should really dig this book, as should fans of Roger Ebert.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: any of Roger Ebert’s other books, especially his Essentials series.

Comic Review: Daredevil: Back In Black, Vol. 2: Supersonic

Published: September 14th, 2016
Written by: Charles Soule, Roger McKenzie
Art by: Matteo Buffagni, Vanesa R. Del Ray, Goran Sudzuka, Bill Sienkiewicz (cover)

Marvel Comics, 124 Pages

Review:

While I’ve praised Charles Soule’s run on Daredevil, this early stuff isn’t working for me.

I came into Soule’s run towards the end of it and I really liked the last few arcs. Here, though, he is bogged down by the writer before him, who made it so that no one knew Daredevil’s secret identity. It’s a weird plot device that comes up constantly in this volume and it’s pretty annoying.

This collection is made up of multiple short story arcs.

The first deals with Elektra showing up, looking for a daughter no one knew she had. Apparently, after about 50 pages, the daughter angle was a trick and the story ended up being completely pointless.

The second arc is all about Matt Murdock playing Texas Hold’em in Macao. You don’t know what his scheme is but it ends with him and Spider-Man hunting down a briefcase. It’s pretty dull and the dialogue was bad.

The third part of this scant 124 page collection is the Daredevil annual from that year, which has a short story revolving around Echo and another that pits Daredevil against the Gladiator.

Reading this felt like a complete waste of time. I’m sure that these stories were there to plant seeds for later plot developments but this feels like total filler.

Additionally, the art in the Elektra story was bad. And then in the Texas Hold’em tale, there is a scene where Spidey and Daredevil go parasailing behind a hydrofoil. Except they aren’t using parachutes. Um… you have to use a parachute, otherwise parasailing doesn’t work. Growing up in Florida, I understand the simple physics of parasailing. The human body is not a natural parachute no matter how fast the boat is going.

I wanted to read through the earlier Soule Daredevil stuff but man, this really destroyed my motivation.

Also, I hate the black Daredevil suit.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: the other Charles Soule story arcs on Daredevil.

Comic Review: Daredevil: Back In Black, Vol. 1: Chinatown

Published: May 11th, 2016
Written by: Charles Soule
Art by: Ron Garney

Marvel Comics, 115 Pages

Review:

I really came to like Charles Soule’s run on Daredevil towards the end. But that’s also where I picked it up, after having taken a few years off. So I wanted to go back and start from the beginning and build back up towards the end, so I could re-read the conclusion, The Death of Daredevil, with more context.

This first story arc was just okay. It didn’t blow me away and I wasn’t familiar with the bad guy, which doesn’t really matter because his whole story is basically wrapped up by the end of this.

We get to meet a character named Blindspot, that works as a sort of sidekick in training to Daredevil. He’s the second Marvel character with that name but this version was created by Charles Soule. He’s a gymnast from China and an illegal immigrant with a mother that’s tied to the story’s villain, Tenfingers. Blindspot’s story is fairly interesting but I’ll also have to see where things lead, as you barely get to know him here.

The one thing that really stands out about this comic book is the art of Ron Garney. It blends a very gritty, neo-noir style with almost Hong Kong cinema influences. I really like it, as well as how he uses vibrant colors, a heavy chiaroscuro style contrast and some half tone shading.

This is a good looking comic but the story didn’t hit the mark for me. I’m assuming that this will continue to build into something more substantial and meaningful as it rolls on beyond this volume. As I said in the beginning, I was a fan of Soule’s Daredevil work in the later stories.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Charles Soule story arcs on Daredevil.