TV Review: Stumptown (2019- )

Original Run: September 25th, 2019 – current
Created by: Jason Richman
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Stumptown by Greg Rucka, Matthew Southworth, Justin Greenwood
Music by: Tyler Bates
Cast: Cobie Smulders, Jake Johnson, Tantoo Cardinal, Cole Sibus, Adrian Martinez, Camryn Manheim, Michael Ealy, Donal Logue

Don’t Tell Mom, The District, ABC, 7 Episodes (so far), 44 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

After reading the first Stumptown comic, I figured I’d give the television show a shot, as it just premiered a month and a half ago and because I generally like Cobie Smulders and Jake Johnson.

This is adapted from a neo-noir comic series by Greg Rucka and while the show adapts it fairly well, at least, its framework, this feels a little less neo-noir and a bit more like a network television crime show. While that’s not a bad thing, network TV is generally a pretty watered down and sterile version of the things it tries to adapt.

At least this has the same spirit as the comic.

It feels and looks different in that it loses its stylized visual allure and the edginess is scaled back quite a bit.

Additionally, the first episode starts with a familiar story for fans of the comic but it quickly veers off in its own direction. The show is episodic, usually solving a crime in one or two episodes where it then moves on to the next plot. So if you’re expecting the first graphic novel to basically be the first season, it isn’t.

Now all of this might sound like criticism but it’s not.

The fact of the matter is, I like the show, at least the half dozen episodes I binge watched to see if I wanted to keep moving forward with it. Based off of my experience, I’ll probably watch a full season of this and then decide whether or not I want to stick with it. But, so far, so good.

What really works for me is the cast. Everyone is really good in their roles and the main players all have great chemistry. I especially like the chemistry between Cobie Smulders, Jake Johnson and Cole Sibus.

I also like that the show features a special needs character that isn’t treated unrealistically. In fact, Sibus’ Ansel is one of the highlights for me. The kid is just damn good.

Additionally, within the first episode, the show accomplished what it needed to do in that it made me care about all of these characters.

Also, Stumptown is pretty refreshing in 2019, in that it features a tough, female lead but this show is written in a way that makes her a very anti-Mary Sue character. She struggles, she fails, she adapts, hell… she gets her ass kicked… a lot. Yet she grows as a character, becomes better at her newfound job and works through her flaws.

I can’t yet say that this is a hands down good show. It’s off to a solid start though and I care about these people and their situations. Maybe I’ll have to give an update after season one concludes sometime next year.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: probably other network television crime and P.I. shows but this one does seem cooler and more fun than the majority of them.

Film Review: Dressed to Kill (1980)

Release Date: July 25th, 1980
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: Brian De Palma
Music by: Pino Donaggio
Cast: Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen, Keith Gordon, Dennis Franz, William Finley (voice, uncredited)

Filmways Pictures, Cinema 77 Films, 104 Minutes

Review:

“Doctor, I am not paranoid. Bobbi was making threats over the phone. She said she’s going to hurt me. My patient was slashed to death. And now my razor is gone. Now you don’t have to be a detective to figure it out, do you?” – Doctor Robert Elliot

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this picture but if Brian De Palma’s early films are any indicator, I knew that this would be bizarre, artistic and intelligent.

And it was those three things but it was also damn compelling and honestly, damn impressive.

I loved this film and it’s a shame that I hadn’t seen it before this. It was intense, melodic, sweet, scary and most importantly, intriguing.

While this picture is very De Palma-esque, maybe the most De Palma-esque of the man’s work, it is also very Hitchcockian, as the narrative and the shot framing displays a young De Palma’s callback to Hitchcock’s style and tropes.

Still, this is very much De Palma’s composition and not a cheap attempt at trying to emulate one of the masters before him. Honestly, it comes off as a respectful homage that creates a familiar framework that De Palma could then artistically build off of.

This is also very much a noir story. It has twists, turns, mystery, secrets that evolve and a shocking reveal when all is said and done. It’s pretty damn impressive that they were able to do some of the stuff they did in the time that this was made.

What really solidifies this as a great movie, aside from the solid direction and story by De Palma, is the cast.

Nancy Allen really carries this movie once she becomes the focus. And honestly, I’ll always love Allen simply for being a huge part of RoboCop but I never really thought much of her as an actress. Not to say she’s bad, she’s perfectly fine. But in this film, she really got to do some daring things. Honestly, it has motivated me to check out De Palma’s Blow Out in the near future as it also features her under De Palma’s direction.

I was really impressed with Keith Gordon and Angie Dickinson as well.

Michael Caine also plays an very important role but it’s Michael Caine, so one should expect a damn fine performance because I don’t think I’ve ever seen the guy not deliver.

I’d love to go deeper into the story and analyze some of it but I don’t want to spoil this for anyone. It’s a film that needs to be seen without knowing much about the plot and a Google search will probably spoil some major details.

If you like De Palma, Hitchcock influenced cinema or neo-noir, than you’ll probably like this picture.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: other early Brian De Palma films, especially Blow Out and Body Double.

Film Review: Wicked City (1987)

Also known as: Monster City (Sweden), Supernatural Beast City (Germany)
Release Date: April 19th, 1987 (Japan)
Directed by: Yoshiaki Kawajiri
Written by: Norio Osada
Based on: Wicked City: Black Guard by Hideyuki Kikuchi
Music by: Osamu Shoji

Video Art, Madhouse, Joy Pack Film, 82 Minutes

Review:

“[chuckles, then unzips Taki’s fly] He’s a healthy one. Let me see if I can wake him… [gives him a blowjob]” – Kanako

I was a big fan of Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s work well before I realized who he was. I loved this film, as well as Demon City Shinjuku and the utterly superb Ninja Scroll, way before I learned that the same guy directed them.

This one always stuck out in my mind as the most twisted and disturbing of his films, even though they all deal with similar subject matter. Wicked City was just supremely messed up, especially for a young teen discovering this late at night on a VHS tape borrowed from a friend at school.

I love the art style, the visual and narrative tone and how this feels like a slow burn from start to finish.

That being said, this feels like it has a slow pace but a lot happens and it’s certainly not boring. In fact, it helps to build suspense as this strange, wicked world slowly reveals itself to the viewer over the course of the film.

All the action sequences in this are pretty damn cool and it’s one of the most creative animes of its time in how it uses horror and monsters. In fact, the otherworldly monsters feel like they were ripped from John Carpenter’s The Thing but they still have their own uniqueness.

My only real complaint about Wicked City isn’t about the film itself, it’s about the fact that this just exists as one entry into what I feel should’ve been developed into a larger universe. I’ve wanted more of these since I first saw this movie and I felt like it left a door wide open.

Wicked City is one of the top anime horror films of all-time and deservedly so. It’s still effective, has stood the test of time and it features incredible art, creativity and great monsters.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s other anime features: Demon City Shinjuku, Ninja Scroll and Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust.

Comic Review: Scene of the Crime

Published: 1999
Written by: Ed Brubaker
Art by: Michael Lark, Sean Phillips

Vertigo Comics, Image Comics (reprint), 132 Pages

Review:

I’ve been catching up on a lot of Ed Burbaker’s crime comics because I missed a lot of the old ones and because it is the month of Noirvember.

Scene of the Crime was the comic that put him on the map. It led to him working on Gotham Central and also paved the way for his future crime comics like Criminal, Kill Or Be Killed, The Fade Out and Fatale, just to name a few.

This one was highly regarded at the time that it came out and while it is pretty good, it isn’t my favorite of the Brubaker lot.

I can see how he developed his style here and it is a good, solid and competent story but it didn’t capture my attention like The Fade Out or Kill Or Be Killed did.

At its core, this is a noir tale set in contemporary times that sees a young private detective try to locate a girl that’s gone missing. However, he finds her fairly quickly, she’s then killed and we’re then treated to a pretty grandiose mystery story with lots of layers and twists.

This is a really dark tale but fans of Brubaker’s crime work shouldn’t expect anything different. I can’t go into more detail without feeling like I’d spoil too much but this is a pretty decent read with solid art by Brubaker’s top collaborators Michael Lark and Sean Phillips.

Despite this not being my favorite, it is still a good comic miniseries and a solid tale in the crime and noir genres.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Ed Brubaker’s other crime comics.

Film Review: Black Angel (1946)

Release Date: August 2nd, 1946
Directed by: Roy William Neill
Written by: Roy Chanslor
Based on: The Black Angel by Cornell Woolrich
Music by: Frank Skinner
Cast: Dan Duryea, June Vincent, Peter Lorre, Broderick Crawford, Constance Dowling

Universal Pictures, 81 Minutes

Review:

“Now may I have the box and the letter? Remember Catherine… you promised me to be a good girl.” – Marko

This is a pretty highly regarded classic noir picture. I had never watched it until now and despite the fanfare for it, I still wasn’t prepared for how good this movie is.

It stars a pair with great, great chemistry: Dan Duryea and June Vincent. They were perfect together in this and it was nice seeing Duryea not play an evil asshole.

The film also stars Peter Lorre in one of his best performances. In fact, this may be my favorite role he’s played after M.

Now the plot is complicated to explain but it all flows really well in the movie itself.

In a nutshell, Dan Duryea’s wife is murdered but the man wrongly arrested for it is June Vincent’s husband. Initially, Vincent suspects Duryea and confronts him in an effort to clear her husband. She discovers that he couldn’t have done it and the two pair up in an effort to find the real killer and to free Vincent’s husband before execution. The man they suspect is Peter Lorre, who owns a swanky nightclub where the pair get a gig as the house musicians.

What’s neat about the film is that it is one hundred percent noir but it has a lot of music in it and the performances by Vincent and Duryea’s characters are fantastic.

From the first frame to the last, the film looks perfect. The cinematography is top notch but the real life within the picture comes from the set design. The world feels real and genuine in a way that wasn’t typical with big studio films of the ’40s.

The shot framing is also really good. One moment that especially comes to mind is the scene where Lorre is opening his safe with Vincent just over his shoulder, watching him dial in his combination.

The opening sequence is also pretty well done in how it uses miniatures and shot transitions. While it’s not perfect, I don’t know how you could do it any better in the era when this film was made.

As good noir films go, this has a big twist and reveal at the end of the film. You don’t really see it coming and it is three parts heart-wrenching and two parts a punch to the gut. Basically, it was effective… damn effective.

I love this film and it’s a classic noir that I’m sure I will revisit again, much sooner than later.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: other classic noir pictures like Fallen Angel, The Dark Corner, Phantom Lady, The Blue Dahlia, etc.

Film Review: Inherent Vice (2014)

Release Date: October 4th, 2014 (New York Film Festival)
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Based on: Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon
Music by: Jonny Greenwood
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Katherine Waterston, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio del Toro, Jena Malone, Maya Rudolph, Martin Short, Joanna Newsom, Hong Chau, Eric Roberts

Ghoulardi Film Company, Warner Bros., IAC Films, 148 Minutes

Review:

“Well, it’s dark and lonely work, but somebody’s gotta do it, right?” – Petunia Leeway

I had really high hopes for this film.

It’s directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, who everyone, even their pets, loves. It stars Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin and a superb supporting cast. And, well, it’s a neo-noir set in the early ’70s that looked damn cool from the trailers.

Sadly, this was duller than an unsharpened pencil.

I kind of hate that I didn’t dig this but it was really hard for me not to nod off through almost every really long, drawn out scene. Frankly, the film didn’t even need to be two hours, let alone 148 minutes.

Visually, the film is stunning. Every scene and every shot looks pristine and perfect. But that’s not enough to carry a movie. I can see cinematography of the highest caliber in television commercials and music videos.

The thing is, the narrative needs to be as exciting as the visual allure. It needs to capture you, hold on and at least try to leave you breathless until the final frame.

I watched this movie and was so disinterested in it that I couldn’t remember what the film was about, where it needed to go or why Phoenix was investigating things. I felt like my mind was as numb and disoriented as the majority of the characters in the picture.

If you like movies solely for visuals and great soundtracks, than this may be your bag.

It wasn’t mine though.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: mind numbing drugs and a case of cheap whiskey while watching a Hypercolor t-shirt cook in the microwave.

Comic Review: Frank Miller’s Sin City, Vol. 1: The Hard Goodbye

Published: 1991-1992
Written by: Frank Miller
Art by: Frank Miller

Dark Horse, 210 Pages

Review:

My first experience with Sin City was seeing the 2005 movie when it hit theaters.

At the time that the original comic was coming out, I was aware of it but I was still a pre-teen obsessing over bright, colorful, ’90s superhero comics.

It wasn’t until I got older that I started to get more into film-noir and crime fiction.

Still, I never actually picked up Sin City until now.

I’ve got to say though, the film, at least the Marv stuff, was a beat for beat retelling of this story. That’s not a bad thing, as I loved that the Watchmen movie was very close to the source material.

If you have seen the film already but haven’t read this, there isn’t much in the comic that isn’t in the film. But if you appreciate Frank Miller’s Sin City world, you really should experience it in its original form and in the medium it was designed for.

That being said, I like the comic, at least this first volume, more than I like the movie.

Miller wrote a solid, compelling mystery and his art style is really unique. This feels more like it is pure noir than a lot of the other neo-noir comics of the last quarter century or so.

While I’m not a die hard Miller fan, this is one of his best pieces of work. This was created when the guy was just making magic on a regular basis.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the other collected volumes of Sin City.