Comic Review: Stumptown, Vol. 4: The Case of a Cup of Joe

Published: January 25th, 2017
Written by: Greg Rucka
Art by: Justin Greenwood, Ryan Hill

Oni Press, 143 Pages

Review:

This fourth and final volume of Stumptown was definitely a step up from the fairly mundane third chapter. Granted, I still wasn’t as engaged by this story as I was the first two.

The plot here is more interesting than the previous book but there doesn’t feel like there’s any real danger here for the characters, as the heavies in this are inexperienced hipsters from the coffee scene and not legitimate, dangerous criminals and brutes that have actually gotten blood on their hands.

In fact, this felt more like a comedy than a neo-noir crime drama.

Maybe Greg Rucka wanted to go out on a lighter note with this one but it lacks the gravity of the earlier stories and certainly pales in comparison to the darker, grittier and more realistic neo-noir comic book tales by Ed Brubaker.

I didn’t think this was a waste but it didn’t hit the mark and just didn’t pull me in and hold onto me like the first two volumes did.

There’s really not much else to say. This is just about a bunch of rich eccentrics and hipsters trying to acquire some magic coffee beans.

The end.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: the other Stumptown volumes, as well as Gotham CentralKill Or Be Killed, The Fade Out and Sin City.

Film Review: Clash by Night (1952)

Release Date: May 30th, 1952 (limited)
Directed by: Fritz Lang
Written by: Alfred Hayes
Based on: Clash by Night by Clifford Odets
Music by: Roy Webb
Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Paul Douglas, Robert Ryan, Marilyn Monroe, Keith Andes, Silvio Minciotti, J. Carrol Naish

Wald/Krasna Productions, RKO Radio Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“What do you want, Joe, my life’s history? Here it is in four words: big ideas, small results.” – Mae Doyle

While I love the hell out of Fritz Lang movies, especially his noir films, as well as just about anything that Barbara Stanwyck has done, this film mostly missed the mark for me.

This also has Marilyn Monroe and Robert Ryan in it too but regardless of the film’s star power, I found it mostly dull and sort of wrecked by Paul Douglas, who had me wanting to kill him by the third act of the picture.

Now I haven’t seen much with Paul Douglas in it, except for the original Angels In the Outfield, but he really started grating on my nerves due to how overly intense he was once he lost his shit due to his wife running around with Robert Ryan behind his back.

Sure, I understand the guy would be pissed but he wrecks the scenes he’s in by acting like a bull in a china shop. That might not be Douglas’ fault though, as Lang probably thought that it was effective, as he was sitting behind the camera directing these scenes. I guess my biggest issue with it is that it pulls you out of the picture and diminishes the great performance by Stanwyck, who felt like she was whispering her lines next to a madman with a bullhorn.

Still, it’s hard not to sympathize with Douglas’ character and maybe that’s just the magic of it all and Fritz Lang got the performance that he wanted out of him. And maybe I didn’t see how effective it was until that final scene that closed out the film, which had a surprisingly pleasant conclusion and made my heart warm for the two leads.

This isn’t the type of noir I fancy the most, however, as I like gritty crime stories. This one is more about a woman that creates human wreckage in her wake but starts to realize that she’s found something she didn’t even know she needed. Unfortunately for her, at least at first, she learns this way too late, after her selfish impulses have caused a lot of damage.

For those who prefer noir pictures that focus more on human romance, this will most assuredly be your cup of tea. It’s hard to deny how great Stanwyck, Ryan, Monroe and J. Carrol Naish are in this. And while this isn’t close to Fritz Lang’s best, you leave the film fairly satisfied with how it all turns out, which is kind of odd and unique for the noir genre.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other classic film-noir pictures of the era, especially those featuring Barbara Stanwyck or Robert Ryan or directed by Fritz Lang.

Comic Review: Daredevil by Frank Miller & Klaus Janson, Vol. 1

Published: March 6th, 2014
Written by: Frank Miller, Bill Mantlo, Roger McKenzie, David Michelinie, Marv Wolfman
Art by: Frank Miller, Klaus Janson

Marvel Comics, 326 Pages

Review:

I recently got to scratch off one of my comic book bucket list items. That item was the completion of the entire Frank Miller Daredevil run. I now own all the single issues and it feels good. So to celebrate, I thought that I’d re-read through them all, as they were collected in three beefy volumes that I also own.

This first collection starts with two issues of The Spectacular Spider-Man, which featured Daredevil and had art by Frank Miller. Getting into the start of his run on Daredevil itself, the first handful of issues aren’t written by Miller but he does do the art. But once Miller fully takes over and Klaus Janson comes in to do Miller’s inks, this book really takes off in a new and exciting way, as it becomes grittier and almost has a noir vibe to it.

In this collection, we see the Bullseye character evolve more into the lunatic he actually is. We are also introduced to Elektra, as she makes her first appearance here.

Now nothing is truly wrapped up in this volume and it mainly just lays the foundation for the rest of Miller’s tenure on the title. But it sets things up nicely, really changes the landscape of the title, as long-standing love interest Black Widow moves on with her life and Daredevil is pulled into two new romantic directions.

This also establishes the real tension between Daredevil and The Kingpin.

As the first of three collections covering this run, this book is damn stellar. It’s also a great jumping on point for fans that want to read some of the best years in Daredevil’s long history.

Frankly, I’d read all of Miller’s run and then follow it up with the Ann Nocenti era.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the rest of Frank Miller’s run, as well as Ann Nocenti’s and the stories in-between.

TV Review: Noir Alley (2017- )

Original Run: March 5th, 2017 – current
Cast: Eddie Muller

Turner Classic Movies

Review:

While I’ve always been a fan of classic film-noir, it was TCM’s Noir Alley that really reinvigorated my love for them and pushed me towards covering them a lot more on Talking Pulp.

There are two reasons as to why I really gravitated towards this movie show.

The first is the host, Eddie Muller. The guy is quite possibly the greatest expert on the subject of film-noir that we have in modern times. He works towards restoring old noir films and is a literal Wikipedia of knowledge when it comes to the history of film-noir and really, film history in general.

Muller is the perfect host for this show, as he breaks the films down, talks about their history, their genesis and their overall impact. His extensive knowledge on directors, actors, cinematographers, writers, etc. is astounding. Plus, he’s well spoken, extremely likable and he really taps into what makes these films and this era in film history, so damn cool.

The second thing I love about Noir Alley is the film selection. Muller really digs up and dusts off some lesser known gems and showcases them alongside some of the more famous noir classics. Without this show, it’s possible I wouldn’t have discovered nearly half of the films it has featured.

I sincerely hope that this is a show that can keep going for years to come. One may think that they’ll eventually run out of films to show but once you go down the noir rabbit hole, you discover that there are so many movies worth talking about.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: noir documentaries, primarily those featuring Eddie Muller.

Film Review: Gilda (1946)

Release Date: March 14th, 1946 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Charles Vidor
Written by: Jo Eisinger, Marion Parsonnet, Ben Hecht (uncredited), E.A. Ellington
Music by: M.W. Stoloff, Marlin Skiles
Cast: Rita Hayworth, Glenn Ford, George Macready, Joseph Calleia

Columbia Pictures, 110 Minutes

Review:

“Hate is a very exciting emotion. Haven’t you noticed? Very exciting. I hate you too, Johnny. I hate you so much I think I’m going to die from it. Darling… [they kiss passionately] I think I’m going to die from it.” – Gilda

Out of all the film-noir classics I’ve watched and reviewed over the last few years, Gilda was low on my radar, even if it is beloved by many and considered a top noir.

I’m not sure why I wasn’t in a rush to see this one, as I like Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford, but I do tend to be more attracted to intense crime thriller noir.

This does have a crime thriller element, more than I anticipated, actually, but it is mostly focused on drama and romance, as two ex-lovers who are still in love try their damnedest to try and hurt each other.

There really isn’t a likable character in this film, if you look past the charm and beauty of Hayworth. She acts shitty, Glenn Ford acts shitty and no one else is that great either.

I have to say, though, I was surprised by a rather shocking twist at the very end. I didn’t see it coming and it was jarring in a good way. However, that twist was quickly dealt with and a solid swerve immediately went out with a somewhat underwhelming whimper.

Directed by Charles Vidor, the film’s overall composition looked splendid.

This boasts great cinematography even for the high standard that was set during the height of film-noir. It’s a superb looking picture with magnificent shot framing, incredible lighting and a lush tropical setting that feels both lived in and opulent.

I was mostly pleasantly surprised by this. Sure, it may have been a bit slow, here and there, but it makes up for the lack of narrative energy in how energetic the performances are by the two leads.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other classic noir pictures like Laura, The Lady From Shanghai, The Killers and The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Film Review: John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019)

Also known as: John Wick 3 (unofficial title)
Release Date: May 9th, 2019 (Brooklyn premiere)
Directed by: Chad Stahelski
Written by: Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins, Marc Abrams
Based on: characters by Derek Kolstad
Music by: Tyler Bates, Joel J. Richard
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Laurence Fishburne, Mark Dacascos, Asia Kate Dillon, Lance Reddick, Anjelica Huston, Ian McShane, Robin Lord Taylor, Jason Mantzoukas

Lionsgate, Summit Entertainment, 87Eleven, Thunder Road Pictures, 131 Minutes

Review:

“John Wick, Excommunicado. In effect, 6:00 p.m., Eastern Standard Time.” – Operator

This is where the film series really jumped the shark for me. Granted, that happened in the finale of the picture but even taking that out, this is the weakest and worst entry in the John Wick franchise.

Let me start by saying that I really dug all the big action sequences and that the physicality of these movies is top notch. And since this is an action franchise with big, epic showdowns, the film doesn’t disappoint in that regard.

My real issue with the film is that the story and the mythos that the writers have been building up for three pictures has devolved into a big, shitty mess.

These films only really work if they follow a theory I have about them but I’ll get to that theory at the end of this review.

I mostly only really like the first movie. The second was decent and carried by its action. This third film, even with great action sequences, was just hard to get through as someone that wants to try and understand the world that these characters inhabit. It’s just become superfluous and overly complicated.

All you really need to know about the story is that an assassin’s guild with specific rules is pissed off at their top guy who has broken those rules. What we get instead is a story that is trying so hard to be larger than it needs to be. There is a guild, a side guild other entities playing a game to increase their political power among their peers and all the while, they are all trying to be so cool that they fail at it and just come off as pretentious, pompous shitheads.

It’s hard to follow what the hell is happening in these movies and when it comes to action pictures, the audience shouldn’t be required to think too hard and remember all these lame, uninteresting details.

The vocabulary of these movies is also ridiculous with words like “excommunicado” and “Adjudicator”. It’s like the writers had a thesaurus next to them and they were competing to see who could write the most pretentious ways of saying dialogue. No one talks like the people in this movie. In fact, John Wick is about the only person that sounds fucking human.

Additionally, almost all the characters other than Wick and the two guys from the Continental are deliberately crafted to be cool. But when everything is made to exude coolness, nothing is cool and everything just looks like shit and as if it is trying too hard to convince the audience it’s awesome.

The biggest example of this is the main antagonist, which is the Adjudicator, played by Asia Kate Dillon. Now while I only know Dillon from her role on Orange Is the New Black, I thought she did a good job on that show. Here, her character is made to act cool and calm to the point where she is essentially lifeless. Now there have been lifeless, emotionless, blank characters in movies before, they aren’t typically very exciting and this is no different. In fact, it makes her stick out like a sore thumb when everything else in the picture is audibly and visually boisterous. I can’t really blame her for it, as it seems to be more than likely an issue with the writing and the overall direction. Needless to say, the Adjudicator character is excruciating to watch and really puts a halt on any excitement or momentum that previous scenes have built up.

The one moment that really broke this film for me was the finale, which saw Wick get shot and then fall off of a very tall building, smashing into fire escape railing and metal awnings on the way down. Somehow, he fucking survives this and we’re supposed to except that because he’s a badass. Unless the dude is Wolverine, he’s fucking dead. I don’t care how good he is with a gun and his fists.

But this circles me back around to my theory and that’s that these movies only really work if John Wick is a character within a video game world. It would fix a lot of the movie’s problems and it would be easier to overlook the fact that nearly everyone in these films survives brutal deaths. Maybe he’s so good and doesn’t even feel in control of his own hands, feet and weapons because he isn’t. He’s actually controlled by some twelve year-old on Xbox sitting on a couch in Amarillo, Texas. Hell, maybe some of these characters can just respawn as long as the game is still going.

As crazy as my theory may sound, it’s less crazy than Wick surviving a fall like that.

In the end, I loved the action sequences and that was really about it. Do we really need to do this for a fourth time? No… but as far as there being another movie, signs point to yes, considering he’s not dead or paralyzed.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: the other two John Wick movies.

Film Review: Sudden Fear (1952)

Release Date: August 7th, 1952 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: David Miller
Written by: Lenore J. Coffee, Robert Smith
Based on: Sudden Fear by Edna Sherry
Music by: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: Joan Crawford, Jack Palance, Gloria Grahame, Bruce Bennett, Virginia Huston, Mike Connors

Joseph Kaufman Productions, RKO Radio Pictures, 110 Minutes

Review:

“I was just wondering what I’d done to deserve you.” – Myra Hudson

It wasn’t until recently that I knew there was a film where Joan Crawford starred opposite of Jack Palance. That thought alone is kind of chilling, just thinking of how intense a film might be with both of them sharing the screen. Add in the always stupendous Gloria Grahame and I knew that I had to check this out.

What we ended up getting is a really well acted and fairly compelling classic film-noir. However, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I was a bit underwhelmed by it.

What’s strange, is that it is hard to peg exactly why this didn’t resonate with me more. But I think that comes down to two things.

One, the film is slow. I feel as if they could’ve lobbed off twenty minutes and fine tuned the script quite a bit more but Crawford really liked to draw out her scenes when she was turning the drama up to 11. And she does that quite a bit in this movie but who am I to say it’s too much, as she got another Academy Award nomination for this.

Side note: Jack Palance was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor.

The second thing that effected this picture was the story. It’s a pretty basic noir plot. Woman marries man, woman is rich, man wants money, man plans to kill woman all while his other woman is assisting him in his heinous plot. And like a proper film-noir, the film has twists. In this one, Crawford finds out about the plot and decides to turn the tables. Ultimately, every main character is a shitty person.

Now this did have serious strengths.

Crawford, Palance and Grahame were all solid, even if I thought Crawford could’ve spent more time getting to the point, as opposed to clocking in more screen time for a visual reaction.

Also, this is meticulously shot with an interesting visual flair to it. One shot that really stood out was a simple one where the camera was inside a closet looking out at the characters. The shot was framed by the clothes and interior walls of the closet, making the characters feel confined and trapped. I’m assuming that was intentional but either way, it added serious weight to that scene.

Overall, this isn’t on par with something as great as Joan Crawford’s Mildred Pierce but it still showcases her skills and allowed audiences to experience her and Palance as an item on the silver screen, which is cool no matter how you want to slice it up.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other classic film-noir, especially those featuring Joan Crawford.