Comic Review: Detective Comics, Vol. 2: The Victim Syndicate

Published: May 16th, 2017
Written by: James Tynion IV, Marguerite Bennett
Art by: Eddy Barrows, Alvaro Martinez, Ben Oliver

DC Comics, 142 Pages

Review:

I’ve liked James Tynion’s Batman work and I also liked the volume before this that set things up. However, I was not digging this story at all.

It’s not that it’s bad or that there weren’t some interesting ideas here but it didn’t resonate with me and this new villian team called The Victim Syndicate just seemed like generic, throwaway, one-off baddies.

Also, this story happens in the wake of Red Robin’s death and it shows how Spoiler, a former Batgirl, deals with this loss. Frankly, I’m wasn’t happy with how her character was handled, as it felt like a major and uncharacteristic regression when compared to who she was by the end of her Batgirl run.

And while I’m not a big fan of Batman having a large Bat-Family, I do like how he’s been working with Batwoman in this series, as well as how Clayface has evolved into a character that is trying to be heroic and looking for redemption.

This volume is a mixture of good and bad. I think the good slightly outweighs the bad and even if I didn’t like the story, it wasn’t boring or dull and I still got through it with hope that the next volume in Tynion’s Detective Comics run would be a better one.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: other collections of James Tynion IV’s run on Detective Comics.

Film Review: The Big Sleep (1978)

Also known as: Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep (UK)
Release Date: March 13th, 1978 (new York City premiere)
Directed by: Michael Winner
Written by: Michael Winner
Based on: The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
Music by: Jerry Fielding
Cast: Robert Mitchum, Sarah Miles, Richard Boone, Candy Clark, Joan Collins, Edward Fox, James Stewart, Oliver Reed

Winkast Film Productions, ITC Entertainment, United Artists, 99 Minutes

Review:

“Such a lot of guns around town and so few brains!” – Philip Marlowe

I never saw this film until now but I had assumed that it was a proper sequel to Farwell, My Lovely, a film that came out three years earlier and also starred Robert Mitchum as the famous literary private dick, Philip Marlowe.

However, this is its own thing, as this takes place in a contemporary setting, as opposed to being a period piece like the previous movie.

Still, this makes Robert Mitchum the only actor to play Marlowe more than once in a feature film.

Overall, this is a star studded affair with James Stewart, Richard Boone, Oliver Reed, Joan Collins, Sarah Miles and Candy Clark in it. And honestly, everyone does a pretty fine job with the material and you do become invested in most of the characters.

This film is pretty harsh, though. Especially when compared to other films about Marlowe, especially the older version of The Big Sleep, which starred Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. And while this is a modernized noir, it’s grittiness is over the top and it loses some of the luster that the Marlowe movies had when they were traditional film-noir from the ’40s.

I did like this for what it was and it’s worth checking out at least once for fans of noir and Mitchum. However, it seems like it is trying to be edgy while not fully committing to the bit.

This isn’t bad and it has a few memorable moments but it’s far from Mitchum’s best and nowhere near the top of the list when it comes to Marlowe pictures.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Robert Mitchum movie where he plays Philip Marlowe: Farewell, My Lovely, as well as other ’70s neo-noir.

Comic Review: The House of Secrets, Issue #92 – First Appearance of Swamp Thing

Published: June 30th, 1971
Written by: Mark Evanier, Jack Kirby, Virgil North, Len Wein
Art by: Dick Dillin, Bill Draut, Alan Weiss, Bernie Wrightson

DC Comics, 26 Pages

Review:

While this issue is mostly widely known because it is the first appearance of Swamp Thing, I can’t review it just based on that story. This is an anthology comic and I have to review this issue as one body of work.

That being said, the Swamp Thing story was far and away better than the other chapters in this. But I’m also not a big anthology fan, as I’ve stated many times. And this issue is an example of why I’m not big on anthologies, as it features one great story while the rest fall well below the mark of this issue’s only memorable tale.

However, these old school ’70s horror comics still resonate with me and luckily, the Swamp Thing story resonated enough with other people that the character would go on to survive for decades and even get multiple films and television series.

I think the reason it really had the lasting power it did was due to the artwork of Bernie Wrightson. The art is spectacular but I also have to give credit to Len Wein’s writing. But when you put two superb talents like this together, magic often times happens, as is the case with this character and his first story.

For fans of Swamp Thing, it is really worth going back and checking this out. Luckily for all of us, DC just released a facsimile edition. But you can also read it digitally on Comixology for just a few bucks.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other early Swamp Thing stories, as well as other issues of The House of Secrets anthology comic.

Film Review: This Gun for Hire (1942)

Release Date: April 24th, 1942 (Denver premiere)
Directed by: Frank Tuttle
Written by: Albert Maltz, W.R. Burnett
Based on: A Gun for Sale by Graham Greene
Music by: David Buttolph
Cast: Veronica Lake, Robert Preston, Laird Cregar, Alan Ladd

Paramount Pictures, 81 Minutes

Review:

“You are trying to make me go soft. Well, you can save it. I don’t go soft for anybody.” – Philip Raven

I feel like this picture doesn’t get the respect it deserves for establishing the noir genre and style. A lot of people don’t want to consider anything that came out before Double Indemnity as true film-noir but that’s bullshit. In fact, I consider Fritz Lang’s M from 1931 to be a part of the genre, even if it predates the era by a decade and was a movie made in Germany.

This Gun for Hire predates Double Indemnity by two years but it also came out a year after The Maltese Falcon and if you don’t consider that classic noir, you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Plus, this movie stars Veronica Lake in her prime; that alone screams noir.

I really like the story in this too, as it puts Lake’s character between a rock and a hard place. She’s really just an innocent woman wrapped up with trying to reason with a killer that doesn’t have her in his sights but is hunting down the man who double-crossed him.

In part, the film is a character study of Alan Ladd’s Philip Raven, who confides in Lake’s Ellen about his past and how he fell into a very shady and violent life. Ellen wants to save Raven from himself but this is film-noir and it’s very rare that the bad guy ever gets off scott free.

There are typical noir twists and they make this a pretty layered and exciting film from start to finish. Things escalate quite a bit as the picture rolls on and it’s not entirely clear as to whether or not Ellen could also have a bad fate just for trying to save Raven from himself.

I think that the fact that this has a great plot is due to it being an adaptation of a Graham Greene story. Every film based off of his work that I’ve seen has always given me a pleasurable experience.

Additionally, this encompasses the noir vibe in its visual style. The credit for that goes to cinematographer John F. Seitz, a guy who won seven Academy Awards before he hung it up.

Sure, director Frank Tuttle also deserves credit, as he brought all the pieces together and really got superb performances out of Veronica Lake, Robert Preston and Alan Ladd. Not to say that these three aren’t always more than capable.

This Gun for Hire isn’t a film-noir that gets talked about as much as some of the more famous pictures but some of those better movies probably wouldn’t have existed in their same form if it wasn’t for this trendsetting motion picture that was just a few years ahead of its time.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The Blue Dahlia, The Glass Key, Murder, My Sweet, Criss Cross and Phantom Lady.

Film Review: Danger!! Death Ray (1967)

Also known as: Nest of Spies (UK), Hellish Beam (Sweden), Death Ray (Netherlands)
Release Date: January 28th, 1967 (Italy)
Directed by: Gianfranco Baldanello
Written by: Dick Arthur, Juan Antonio Cabezas, Al Christian, Jaime Comas Gil, Aldo Cristiani, Domenico Paolella
Music by: Gianni Ferrio
Cast: Gordon Scott, Maureen Delphy, Nello Pazzafini, Tullio Altamura

Leda Films Productions S.L., Meteor Film S.r.l., 93 Minutes

Review:

Not all spy thrillers are created equal. This is one that is pretty close to the bottom of the barrel.

But this is an Italian-Spanish co-production that ripoffs a lot of tropes and stylistic cues from much better, more famous movies.

Also, this was thrashed pretty hard in an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and for good reason. It’s schlock, pure schlock… although, there is still something charming and endearing about it.

That’s not to say that some sequences won’t bore you to tears but I did enjoy how insane the plot was and it almost felt more in tune with the Matt Helm movies than the James Bond ones. However, this was lacking Dean Martin, solid laughs and a sea of gorgeous women.

But I really can’t compliment it beyond that and beyond saying that I didn’t hate it.

This has a lot of flaws from the acting, the dubbing, the direction, the cinematography, the lighting, the set design and just about everything else.

It’s goofy, it’s shitty but it’s a strong, solid turd, as opposed to a soft mushy one. And I guess that’s something.

Rating: 3/10
Pairs well with: other low budget spy films and James Bond ripoffs.

Film Review: Vertigo (1958)

Also known as: Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (complete title), From Among the Dead, Illicit Darkening (working titles)
Release Date: May 9th, 1958 (San Francisco premiere)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Alec Coppel, Samuel Taylor
Based on: D’entre les morts by Pierre Boileau, Thomas Narcejac
Music by: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes, Tom Helmore, Henry Jones

Alfred J. Hitchcock Productions, Paramount Pictures, 128 Minutes

Review:

“Only one is a wanderer; two together are always going somewhere.” – Madeleine

This is the only one of Alfred Hitchcock’s ’50s and ’60s “masterpieces” that I have never seen. I’m not sure why I haven’t seen it over the years, as I’ve seen all the other films from this era multiple times. However, I wanted to save this one for a rainy day so what better time is there than just before a hurricane?

Having now seen it though, I’d say that it is probably my least favorite of the films considered at the top of Hitchcock’s oeuvre.

The reason being, is I just can’t buy into the plot. There are multiple things that make the plot kind of messy and for a film with a twist, I was able to figure it all out with a half hour to spare. It was kind of disappointing though, because I expected more than what I thought was the ending. But it ended, as I suspected, without any extra flair to put the end result ahead of my expectations.

The problem could be my own, however, as I’ve seen so many Hitchcock films, multiple times, that I can kind of see the tropes from top to bottom and thus, am able to get a pretty accurate sense of where the story is going. I may have had a different view of the film had I seen it a few decades ago like I did most of Hitchcock’s work.

Additionally, the film’s title and it’s plot revolves around a gimmick. The centerpiece of the film is James Stewart’s fear of heights but this is shown through what was a new technique at the time, the dolly zoom. While it’s a shot that has been used to death since this film, it’s a technique that has lost its effect on modern audiences. But that’s certainly not Hitchcock’s fault in 1958.

Apart from all that though, this is still a finely acted film. James Stewart was one of Hitchcock’s favorite leading men and for good reason. The two made magic together. And while this isn’t my favorite film of their pairings, it certainly isn’t a picture that is hindered by anything that Stewart did or the direction of Hitchcock for that matter.

Now while I mostly always love Kim Novak in film-noir, she did feel like she was out of her depth here. Not to knock her, she’s a good actress, but she lacked that extra something special that Hitchcock’s female leads usually bring to a film. She also didn’t have as good of a chemistry with Stewart as Grace Kelly or Doris Day.

One thing that did keep this movie very energetic and also assisted in keeping it well above water was the dynamite score of Bernard Hermann. It fit well with the tone of the picture, especially in that fantastically shot opening scene.

Vertigo is definitely a competent film, technically speaking, but the plot was too wonky. I guess you could get away with faking a death from a fall off of a tower in the late ’50s but I’m pretty sure they’d need to go deeper than a few eye witnesses to identify the body, even back then. Maybe I’m wrong but this just felt sort of thin and a bit daft.

Still, this is pretty enjoyable and even if the mystery fell flat, it was a fun ride until it wasn’t.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Hitchcock’s other thrillers of the ’50s and ’60s.

Comic Review: Stranger Things: Six

Published: May 29th, 2019 – August 28th, 2019
Written by: Jody Houser
Art by: Edgar Salazar, Keith Champagne, Marissa Louise, Aleksi Briclot (covers)
Based on: Stranger Things by The Duffer Brothers

Dark Horse Books, 98 Pages

Review:

I was pretty happy with the first Stranger Things comic miniseries. With this second attempt at making a comic book tie-in, I still left pretty satisfied. However, this one lacks slightly in that I didn’t feel as connected to the characters or their personal peril.

In the first miniseries, we got to follow Will Byers, as he was trapped in the Upsidedown during the events in season one. It gave us Will’s perspective and the horror he lived through, which we weren’t able to really see on the television show.

This comic follows a new character named Six. She is like Eleven in that she has grown up in the same lab and mostly just has Dr. Martin Brenner as her only parental type of figure.

The story is a prequel, as it shows some of what happened in the lab before Eleven’s story really started for the television audience. Although, you do get to see glimpses of a very young Eleven even though her story isn’t central to the main plot of this arc.

My only real issue with this miniseries, is that it is less engaging overall because it doesn’t directly tie to the larger story. Sure, it happens within the show’s universe but it’s basically just Six’s story and she isn’t someone that we will meet on the show. And I’ve kind of mentally put the Brenner character to bed, unless there is going to be more of him in the future. Although, I’m not sure how that would work.

I prefer the approach of the first comic series. I think that these should be tied more directly to the show and give us other perspectives or events that happen parallel to what we already know. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t have wholly original stories with new characters. It all just depends on how well the comic book part of the mythos develops.

So far, I’m pretty happy with what Dark Horse, specifically Jody Houser, have been doing with the IP.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: the previous Stranger Things comic book miniseries, as well as the show and mobile RPG game.