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.

Film Review: Red Rock West (1993)

Release Date: May 14th, 1993 (Italy)
Directed by: John Dahl
Written by: John Dahl, Rick Dahl
Music by: William Olvis
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Dennis Hopper, Lara Flynn Boyle, Timothy Carhart, J. T. Walsh, Dwight Yoakam, Robert Apel

PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, Propaganda Films, Roxie Releasing, 98 Minutes

Review:

“You must be Suzanne. You look pretty enough to eat.” – Lyle

John Dahl started out making neo-noir films in the late ’80s and early ’90s. This was the second one of three and comparing it to its predecessor, Kill Me Again, I’d say that the films are very consistent.

Two of the most intense actors of the last few decades, Nicolas Cage and Dennis Hopper, face off in this film and man, it is really entertaining to watch.

These are my favorite types of roles for Dennis Hopper. I love it when he’s a murderous psycho or just a twisted bastard in a neo-noir cinemascape. It is hard to watch him here and not have your mind make connections to his roles in The American Friend and Blue Velvet.

I thought the cast in this was pretty good, other than Lara Flynn Boyle. I’ve never really been keen on her, even though I know she was popular with a lot of filmgoers and Twin Peaks fans at the time. She just doesn’t work as a noir-esque femme fatale for me. I can’t really peg why but when I compare her to Joanne Whalley’s femme fatale in Dahl’s Kill Me Again, there is no comparisson. Whalley nailed the role, Boyle didn’t. Also, Whalley looked like a goddess, Boyle looked like a small town mayor’s wife. Sure, that may seem incredibly superficial but this is a femme fatale we’re talking about. The trope is the trope and here it wasn’t convincing.

Red Rock West seems a bit more refined than Dahl’s previous picture but I preferred the story of the first one better. This excels because of the scenes with Cage and Hopper playing off of one another. While I thought Val Kilmer and Michael Madsen also had a good rivalry in Kill Me Again, the two male leads here take the cake.

Overall, the two films are very similar and pretty much equal. Where one lacks, the other gains. It’s almost as if you could cherry pick the good bits of each and make one incredible movie out of them.

I can’t yet compare these two films to Dahl’s The Last Seduction, as I haven’t seen it yet. But it is on the docket and I’ll probably review it very soon.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: John Dahl’s other neo-noir films: Kill Me Again and The Last Seduction.

 

Documentary Review: The Phenomenon: The Comic That Changed Comics (2009)

Release Date: July 21st, 2009
Directed by: Eric Matthies
Cast: Malin Åkerman, Billy Crudup, Carla Gugino, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson, Zack Snyder, Gerard Way, Dave Gibbons, Len Wein

Eric Matthies Productions, Warner Bros., 29 Minutes

Review:

I believe that this was originally included on the DVD release of Watchmen back in 2009 but I never owned the original DVD so I’m not sure.

This documentary is very tied to the movie, however, as most of the interviews are with the actors from the film, as well as its director, Zack Snyder. But we also get to hear from some comic book personalities, such as Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons, as well as Len Wein and Gerard Way.

Cast aside, this is not a documentary about the film adaptation, it is about the original comic book, which many consider to be one of the all-time masterpieces in comic book history. Carla Gugino even refers to this as the Citizen Kane of the comic book medium. She might not be wrong there and frankly, I’ve found few people that weren’t moved by Watchmen in some way.

This is a shorter documentary than it should be, as this great work deserves to be explored for more than 29 minutes. But still, it is informative and really gets into the messages within it, its philosophy, its style, the art and its cultural impact.

I’m not sure if there is a longer and more comprehensive documentary on the Watchmen comic but this is fairly satisfactory until one eventually gets made. Maybe HBO will do it, as they are now coming out with a Watchmen TV show.

If you love the comic, which you should, this is definitely worth a watch.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the 2009 Watchmen movie and other recent comic book documentaries.

Film Review: The Spirit (2008)

Also known as: Will Eisner’s The Spirit (poster title)
Release Date: December 25th, 2018
Directed by: Frank Miller
Written by: Frank Miller
Based on: The Spirit by Will Eisner
Music by: David Newman
Cast: Gabriel Macht, Eva Mendes, Sarah Paulson, Dan Lauria, Paz Vega, Jaime King, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson

OddLot Entertainment, Lionsgate, 103 Minutes

Review:

“I’m gonna kill you all kinds of dead.” – The Spirit

I really wanted to like this. I really did. But alas, it was as bad as everyone has said. That doesn’t mean it’s all bad but even the positives couldn’t save it. I’ll explain.

To start, I really liked the visuals for the most part. It’s very similar in style to Sin City. In fact, it feels like a spinoff of it, even though it has no real connection to it, other than the visual style and the director, Frank Miller, who directed some of the scenes in Sin City. However, in the previous film, Miller also played third fiddle behind all-stars Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino.

The opening to this movie was really strong. The scenes of The Spirit running from rooftop to rooftop during the credits was fantastic. Initially, I also liked the score. It did, however, sound like it was trying really hard to channel the feel of Danny Elfman’s work on the 1989 Batman score.

That being said, the score did end up being a problem for me, though.

While it started off cloning Elfman, it was inconsistent throughout the picture. It would get jazzy at times, like it was trying to accent the noir look of the picture and then it seemed like it was mimicking Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western scores, primarily those used in the Sergio Leone films of the ’60s. The score just had multiple personality disorder and none of it seemed wholly originally, it just seemed like homages to other things that don’t necessarily fit well together.

Then there is the plot itself. I do like the origin story of The Spirit and how it ties to the villain, The Octopus. But apart from that, everything else seemed overly stylized, ridiculously hokey and nothing was fluid. The film felt like a bunch of scenes sewn together without any regard for pacing or a consistent tone.

Humor was used a lot in this movie and most of it just doesn’t work. Everyone feels like a caricature and therefore, is lacking any real depth. Without depth, you don’t care about them, can’t relate to them and don’t even find them to be all that interesting. Sure, The Octopus changes his look in nearly every scene and he usually looks cool but when doesn’t Samuel Jackson look cool? Also, when doesn’t Scarlett Johansson look stunning? Here, she always looks great but she delivers her lines like she’s dead. I don’t blame her for that, I blame Miller’s script and his direction.

The only actor I actually liked in this was Dan Lauria. His role here felt tailor made for his personality. But I’ve always loved Lauria since The Wonder Years and I thought it was cool seeing him essentially play the Commissioner Gordon of this movie, even if he felt more like Harvey Bullock.

The Spirit lures you in with its credit sequence and its overall look but after about twenty minutes, you grow tired and bored of it. The humor is bizarre, the tone is confusing, the music is distracting and the actors deliver their lines like they’re in a film that should be lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

It’s no wonder why there was never a sequel to this, even if the ending leaves things open for one.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: the Sin City and 300 films.