Film Review: Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman (1947)

Also known as: Smash-Up (working title, alternative title)
Release Date: March, 1947
Directed by: Stuart Heisler
Written by: Frank Cavett, John Howard Lawson, Dorothy Parker, Lionel Wiggam
Music by: Frank Skinner
Cast: Susan Hayward, Eddie Albert, Lee Bowman, Marsha Hunt

Walter Wanger Productions, Universal Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“I just remembered, I have an appointment with a headache.” – Martha Gray, Elliot’s Secretary

I’ve heard good things about Smash-Up from multiple sources and books I’ve read on film-noir. Unfortunately, it didn’t resonate that strongly with me and just came across as fairly meh.

That’s not to say that the performances weren’t good. I’ve liked Susan Hayward in everything I’ve seen her do but even her performance didn’t really keep my interest for too long.

The story is about a woman that hits rock bottom and gets burned in a fire after her daughter almost burns. It’s one of those noir stories that starts at the end and then recounts the events that led the main character to their terrible fate. Granted, this one does have a more positive and hopeful outcome than say, Double Indemnity.

It’s also nowhere near as great and iconic as Double Indemnity.

While this came out in 1947, at the height of film-noir cinema, by that point it already seemed derivative of other movies like it. It feels like the plot of a half dozen Joan Crawford flicks but without the Crawford magic and intensity. Frankly, it feels like a lighthearted and thin copy by comparison.

In the end, I did like the music and Hayward was still good. I also liked Stanley Cortez’s cinematography but there are dozens of better noir pictures that deal with similar subjects.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other classic film-noir of the ’40s and ’50s.

Comic Review: Daredevil: Love & War

Published: 1986
Written by: Frank Miller
Art by: Bill Sienkiewicz

Marvel Comics, 65 Pages

Review:

This was a one-shot graphic novel that came out a few years after Frank Miller had completed his Daredevil run. However, it was a return to form, narratively speaking, while also coming off as even darker due to the haunting and beautiful visuals created by one-of-a-kind artist Bill Sienkiewicz.

The plot is fairly short and sweet but it’s important to the overall character development of The Kingpin, as well as his relationship with Daredevil.

The story sees The Kingpin try his damnedest to save his beloved wife Vanessa. He does some pretty heinous shit while trying to get her the treatment she needs. However, this all horribly backfires in a way that will effect him forever.

Additionally, there is a side story about the doctor’s wife and her situation, as she is being watched over by a violent madman that believes her to be an angel.

This has a very layered story and it taps into neo-noir and psychological horror vibes.

While this does feature Daredevil, he almost feels secondary to the majority of the story. He just sort of moves in and out of it and the real players moving the chess pieces on the board are the doctor and The Kingpin.

Ultimately, and without spoiling too much, this is really compelling stuff with exceptional art and some of Frank Miller’s best writing.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil.

Film Review: Psycho (1998)

Release Date: December 4th, 1998
Directed by: Gus Van Sant
Written by: Joseph Stefano
Based on: Psycho by Robert Bloch
Music by: Bernard Herrman, Danny Elfman (adapting), Steve Bartek (adapting)
Cast: Vince Vaughn, Julianne Moore, Viggo Mortensen, William H. Macy, Anne Heche, Robert Forster, Philip Baker Hall, Anne Haney, Rance Howard, Chad Everett, Rita Wilson, James Remar, James LeGros, Mike “Flea” Balzary, Gus Van Sant (cameo)

Imagine Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“A boy’s best friend is his mother.” – Norman Bates

If you ever thought that a shot-for-shot remake of a masterpiece with added gore and vibrant color was a good idea, you’re in luck because this motion picture exists!

If you’d rather see someone take old material and give it new life and a fresh perspective, well… don’t watch this motion picture.

It’s baffling to me that the director, Gus Van Sant, came right off of the critically acclaimed and multiple award winning Good Will Hunting and churned out this pointless, vapid turd.

I’ll be honest, I never wanted to see this film because the original Alfred Hitchcock classic is damn near perfect. However, it’s the only Psycho-related thing that I haven’t watched and reviewed. Sadly, it makes the worst of the sequels and re-imaginings look like classics by comparison. Hell, even the strange Bates Motel TV movie from the ’80s is much better than this.

What’s weird is that the acting actually isn’t bad, it’s just that this uses the same script and only really alters it to feature some extra violence and to update it due to technology changing from 1960 to 1998. The problem with that, is that this feels more like the actors trying to emulate what came before with just a little bit of their own flourish added to it. But I can’t really say that it’s their fault, as how can one not be influenced by the great performances that already turned this same script into a real cinematic classic?

As a film, this is embarrassing. I feel bad for everyone involved in it and I just don’t understand why this was made and who thought it’d be a good idea. Some of the sequels and other takes on the material were good. It would’ve been a lot cooler to see a new take on the story, as opposed to just making it in color, more violent and more modern.

Eh, whatever… fuck this movie.

But I guess it’s worth checking out if you’ve ever wanted to see Vince Vaughn fap.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: spoiled milk and stale Zebra Cakes.

Film Review: Champion (1949)

Release Date: April 9th, 1949 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Mark Robson
Written by: Carl Foreman
Based on: Champion by Ring Lardner
Music by: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cast: Kirk Douglas, Marilyn Maxwell, Arthur Kennedy, Paul Stewart, Ruth Roman

Stanley Kramer Productions, Screen Plays, 99 Minutes

Review:

“I’m expensive. Awful expensive. I didn’t want you to think you could buy me cheap.” – Grace

I heard pretty good things about this motion picture before I actually sat down and watched it. A lot of the film-noir books I’ve read over the years have praised it. It’s also often times discussed alongside The Set-Up, another film-noir from 1949 that features the sport of boxing. In fact, both movies came out less than a month apart and both are very good.

While I give The Set-Up a slight edge, Champion is almost on its level.

To start, this was directed by Mark Robson, who was most known for his noir-esque horror pictures before this. But his transition into more traditional film-noir was incredible and this film truly is a crowning achievement in his directing career.

Robson re-uses a lot of the visual cues from his previous horror work. While noir takes a lot from the visual style of German expressionist films, so did American horror. Robson employs a very chiaroscuro look and it gives certain scenes in this film a very brooding atmosphere. The lighting is fantastic from scene-to-scene and the general cinematography is impeccable. Even in the boxing match sequences, the look stays consistent, giving the bouts a real sense of high stakes and danger.

It’s nice to see how well Robson’s style evolved and developed, just within the 1940s, as he started out as an editor working on the earliest Orson Welles films: Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons. He also spent a lot of time working under RKO horror producer Val Lewton. But, honestly, what better filmmakers could one have worked under at the time?

Beyond just Robson, the film greatly benefits from the magnificent performance of Kirk Douglas, who is, hands down, one of the greatest manly man actors of all-time. He plays the main character, here, an opportunist, conman-esque piece of crap that ends up becoming a great boxer but it’s really neat seeing a guy known for being heroic, play a real scumbag. And despite the character’s terrible nature, Douglas plays the role so well that his fate in the film is still sort of a punch in the gut.

Also, Douglas didn’t have to do all the work and carry the load alone, as the film is full of great performances by several actors who probably deserved bigger careers. I especially liked the scenes he shared with Ruth Roman and Marilyn Maxwell.

Champion is a great sports-based classic film-noir. It does just about everything right and it’s carefully crafted, meticulously executed and just a beautiful looking film with depth, character and real human emotion.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: another 1949 film-noir surrounding the sport of boxing, The Set-Up.

Film Review: Quicksand! (1950)

Also known as: Gungfly (Sweden)
Release Date: March 24th, 1950
Directed by: Irving Pichel
Written by: Robert Smith
Music by: Louis Gruenberg
Cast: Mickey Rooney, Jeanne Cagney, Barbara Bates, Peter Lorre, Jack Elam (uncredited)

Samuel H. Stiefel Productions, United Artists, 79 Minutes

Review:

“Now, wait a minute! Don’t holler ’til you hurt!” – Daniel ‘Dan’ Brady

Quicksand was pretty highly touted in a few books I read on classic film-noir. However, I found it to be a bit pedestrian and drab.

Now the performances by most of the main cast were good, especially Peter Lorre, but Mickey Rooney was kind of a distraction, as I just didn’t find his character to be believable. That may also be because I’m watching this through modern eyes and I mostly only know Rooney through his work, later in his career.

It was just hard for me to buy into him in this but that’s also a moot point when the picture itself isn’t very engaging, has a really basic plot and also has really predictable twists and turns.

The film is also very short, which isn’t a big deal, especially with smaller noir productions of the time but there is such a lack of story that even with a scant running time, it feels like there are scenes that are too drawn out. It feels like the script was 60 pages and they tried their damnedest to stretch it to the length of a film with 80 to 100 pages.

Still, it’s not bad. It’s passable and fairly competent from a technical standpoint. There just isn’t a whole lot here to care about or sink your teeth into. There’s a hundred classic noir pictures that are better than this one.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other noir B-movies of the ’40s and ’50s.

Film Review: Panic In the Streets (1950)

Also known as: Outbreak, Port of Entry (working titles), Quarantine (script title)
Release Date: July 1st, 1950 (Boston premiere)
Directed by: Elia Kazan
Written by: Richard Murphy, Daniel Fuchs, Edna Anhalt, Edward Anhalt
Music by: Alfred Newman
Cast: Richard Widmark, Paul Douglas, Barbara Bel Geddes, Jack Palance, Zero Mostel

Twentieth Century Fox, 96 Minutes

Review:

“You know, my mother always told me if you looked deep enough in anybody… you’d always find some good, but I don’t know.” – Lt. Cmdr. Clinton ‘Clint’ Reed M.D., “With apologies to your mother, that’s the second mistake she made.” – Capt. Tom Warren

While most urban film-noir pictures take place in big cities like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles or Chicago, it’s always cool to see one set in another city. In the case of this film, we’re taken to one of the most interesting and entertaining cities in the world: New Orleans.

I love New Orleans and it’s really neat seeing a film that was shot in that city’s streets circa 1950. It’s a very different place from what it would become but at the same time, it has such a rich history and really it’s own style that all of that comes through and gives you one of the most unique looking urban noir pictures ever made.

The film also gave us the debut of Jack Palance, who would go on to be one of the greatest character actors of all-time, as well as a multiple Academy Award nominee.

On top of that, we get such incredible performances from Richard Widmark and Paul Douglas that just on acting alone, this eclipses most of the other noir pictures of its day. Add in superb direction from a true maestro, Elia Kazan, and you’ve got a true classic.

While it’s not a masterpiece, it was a gritty, energetic and engaging motion picture from the first frame to the last.

The City of New Orleans really becomes a character in the film and apart from Kazan’s visual style, I think a lot of the credit also has to go to cinematographer Joseph MacDonald, who has a pretty impressive filmography, himself.

The story is about stopping a potential outbreak, as a small crew of criminals murders a man and it’s discovered that the victim had pneumonic plague. This forces a police captain and a military doctor to have to begrudgingly work together in an effort to solve the mystery of the man’s execution, find his killers and stop a pandemic from happening in New Orleans.

This is a movie that packs a real narrative punch that is punctuated by an incredible finale in a banana factory. In fact, there’s so much squeezed into this energetic and very layered film that I’m surprised they were able to get it all in the movie at just 96 minutes.

It is well-paced and even if it moves by fairly rapidly, Kazan did a masterful job in executing his vision on the screen and with real energy.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other noir pictures of the era, as well as Elia Kazan’s other films.

Comic Review: Daredevil by Frank Miller & Klaus Janson, Vol. 3

Published: July 2nd, 2015
Written by: Frank Miller, Mike W. Barr
Art by: John Buscema, Klaus Janson, Bill Sienkiewicz

Marvel Comics, 317 Pages

Review:

While this is the weakest of the three volumes that collect the Frank Miller run on Daredevil, it’s still a damn good book and it closes out the run, setting things up for a new creative team.

In the previous volume, we already dealt with the death of Elektra and the defeat of Bullseye. This one pretty much covers the fallout from that, emotionally, as well as how it effects the overall story and the primary characters within.

This collection also includes the graphic novel Love & War, which I will actually review as its own body of work at a later date.

The thing I really liked seeing in here was how Daredevil dealt with his grief, as well as how he and Black Widow sort of came back into each other’s lives after everything that happened to them previously, as well as the issues Daredevil is left to deal with after losing the love of his life.

The story also does a great job of fleshing out Foggy Nelson and giving him things to do, other than just being Matt Murdock’s best bud and business partner.

On top of that, we get a powerful moment between Daredevil and Bullseye, as well as some really interesting and character defining moments for The Kingpin.

This was definitely a worthy conclusion to the Frank Miller era, even if it wasn’t as exciting as the other two volumes. This is much more a story about human emotion and working through it than it is straight action and street level badassery. However, there’s enough of that stuff in here to keep the normie superhero comic book fan engaged.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the rest of Frank Miller’s run, as well as Ann Nocenti’s and the stories in-between.

Video Game Review: Batman: Return of the Joker (NES)

I never played this game and I guess I kind of missed out, as I probably would’ve really liked this, back in the day.

I was a fan of the first Sunsoft Batman game for the original Nintendo, as it came out and was tied to the 1989 Tim Burton movie.

I never realized that this one was a direct sequel to it and I guess that makes it exist in an alternate timeline than the cinematic universe of the same era. Granted, these games are very different than the ’89 movie in that they have a very sci-fi/cyberpunk aesthetic and deviate from the film’s story quite a bit.

So in this version of a sequel, the Joker has survived. They’ve also given him more of a comic book look, as opposed to using Jack Nicholson’s likeness. I’m assuming that was because the licensing fees to use his visage once again was too pricey and unnecessary in the grander scheme of things.

The game looks very similar to its predecessor; however, they’ve given Batman a larger sprite and stripped away the mechanics only to replace them with something worse. The weapons system may seem more advanced but it’s kind of confusing, tedious and annoying. Also, you can’t bounce off of walls and scale them like you could in the previous game.

This also adds in a few jetpack shooter stages that play more like a Gradius game than a normal Batman title. It’s kind of cool but I would’ve preferred having more standard levels with some good design. In fact, the levels in this game feel very small and are conquered too quickly.

Most of the bosses are just a big pain in the ass. Additionally, the first time you fight the Joker, he flies around in a pod like Dr. Robotnik from the Sonic games. It’s not cool and it’s pretty lame. The second time you fight the Joker, you basically fight a Joker-themed super computer. It’s also lame.

This game had some promise and I mostly enjoyed it but the improvements just ended up being disappointments. I would’ve rather just gotten a redesigned version of the first game with new levels and bosses.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: the previous Sunsoft Batman game for the NES

Film Review: The Long Goodbye (1973)

Release Date: March 7th, 1973 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Robert Altman
Written by: Leigh Brackett
Based on: The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Elliott Gould, Nina van Pallandt, Sterling Hayden, Mark Rydell, Henry Gibson, David Arkin, Arnold Schwarzenegger (uncredited)

E-K-Corporation, Lion’s Gate Films, United Artists, 112 Minutes

Review:

“Listen Harry, in case you lose me in traffic, this is the address where I’m going. You look great.” – Philip Marlowe, “Thank you.” – Harry, “I’d straighten your tie a little bit. Harry, I’m proud to have you following me.” – Philip Marlowe

I find it kind of surprising that this is the first movie I’ve reviewed with Elliott Gould in it, considering the guy has done so much and I’ve already reviewed 1914 movies on Talking Pulp. But hey, I guess I’m correcting that by finally watching The Long Goodbye, which has been on my list for a long-time.

My real interest in this is due to it being an adaptation of one of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe novels. Also, I’m a big fan of classic film-noir, as well as neo-noir, especially from the ’70s. From what I understand, this is one of the best ones I hadn’t seen yet.

That being said, this did not disappoint, as I was immediately immersed into this version of Marlowe’s world and I enjoyed it immensely.

Elliott Gould is incredible in this and while this statement may come across as really bold, I don’t know if he’s ever been better. On paper, he seems like an odd choice to play the super suave Marlowe but he nails it and gives the character a certain life and panache that we haven’t seen before this. Sure, Humphrey Bogart and Robert Mitchum are masters of their craft but Gould, in this iconic role, shines in a very different way making the character even cooler and more charming. While my assessment of Gould’s Marlowe is certainly subjective and a matter of preference and taste, seeing this film truly made me wish that Gould would’ve played the character more than once.

I love this film’s sense of humor and its wit. Gould really brings all this out in a way that other actors couldn’t. There is just a certain charisma he has that worked perfectly here and the end result is the greatness of this picture, which may be the most entertaining neo-noir of its decade.

Additionally, the rest of the cast was good and I especially loved seeing an older Sterling Hayden in this, as he was involved in some of the best classic film-noir movies ever made. Nina van Pallandt also impressed and it was neat seeing Henry Gibson and an uncredited Arnold Schwarzenegger pop up in this too.

The craftsmanship behind the picture also deserves a lot of credit from Robert Altman’s directing, Vimos Zsigmond’s cinematography and the interesting and instantly iconic score by John Williams.

One thing that really adds a lot to the picture is the locations. Whoever scouted out these places did a stupendous job from Marlowe’s apartment setting, to the beach house to the Mexican locales. It’s just a very unique yet lived-in environment that sort of makes the locations characters within the film.

In the end, I can’t quite call this the best noir-esque movie of the ’70s but it might be my favorite and it’s certainly the one I’ll probably revisit the most, going forward.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: other neo-noir films of the ’70s, as well as any movie featuring Philip Marlowe.