Comic Review: Doppelgänger

Published: March 2nd, 2017 – September 7th, 2017
Written by: Jordan Hart
Art by: Emmanuel Xerx Javier

Alterna Comics, 94 Pages

Review:

Peter Simeti might be a genius. The reason I say that is because everything I have read from Alterna Comics has been top notch storytelling and just damn good. I’m always glad to support them and, at this point, I try to stay up on all their new releases and buy them all, as they come out.

Simeti is just really good at going through the countless submissions he gets from aspiring comic book creators and finding the stuff that is top notch.

Doppelgänger is no different. And I shouldn’t be surprised at how much I enjoyed this but when a company has so many solid releases in a vast array of genres and styles, it’s impressive and it just keeps my passion for this medium alive and strong.

It’s hard talking about the plot, as I don’t want to spoil it but it is about a man who has a doppelgänger come into his life. The doppelgänger’s purpose is to take over his life and replace him, as he is scheduled to die within a few days.

The plot is well crafted, the characters are all lovable, except for the evil doppelgänger, and I really like the art in this. And like other Alterna books, this really benefits from being on newsprint. The colors truly pop in a great way.

These four issues were a quick read but I also couldn’t put them down. Usually, I will read an issue, take a break, come back for the next, and so on. As I read Doppelgänger, I just wanted to keep going and soak it all in, in a single sitting.

Jordan Hart wrote something really good and based off of how this ended, I hope there is eventually a follow up.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other Alterna Comics horror and adult titles.

Film Review: The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

Also known as: Blood Relations (working title)
Release Date: June 15th, 1977 (Tucson premiere)
Directed by: Wes Craven
Written by: Wes Craven
Music by: Don Peake
Cast: Susan Lanier, Robert Houston, Martin Speer, Dee Wallace, Russ Grieve, John Steadman, Michael Berryman, Virginia Vincent

Blood Relations Company, Vanguard, 89 Minutes

Review:

“We’re gonna be french fries! Human french fries!” – Brenda Carter

I’ve said this before and I know it upsets some ’70s and ’80s horror fans but I’m not very keen on the work of Wes Craven outside of A Nightmare On Elm Street. But this is, at least, better than The Last House On the Left.

I don’t know what it is about Craven but if I’m being honest, his ideas always feel borrowed and not done as well as what he’s borrowing from. Even A Nightmare On Elm Street came from an article he read about a teen that died in their sleep.

The Hills Have Eyes is very much Craven’s version of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. But it’s not a complete rehash of it, it does take some creative liberties and the premise is somewhat interesting but basically a family’s car breaks down and they are preyed upon by a family of cannibals.

This is more action heavy than Chain Saw or other similar films, which is a definite plus for me. It also has a sort of post-apocalyptic Mad Max vibe to it, which is also a plus. But other than those two things, there’s not much else here.

The film, despite its subject matter, is fairly boring. It has some good intense moments, I love Michael Berryman in everything and the family dog was the most badass character in the film but it is really dragged out in spots.

The Hills Have Eyes is one of the rare exceptions when it comes to remakes, as I was never a big fan of it to begin with and I honestly feel like the remake was a big improvement on the story, the overused formula and it even had a deeper and richer backstory. But I’ll review that one later.

Sadly, this film also had a really bad sequel. I’ll review that at some point too.

I don’t know, I’ve probably seen this movie a half dozen times since I was a kid and I never walk away from it saying, “Oh, I get it now. This is deservedly a classic.”

But it does have a great title and an awesome poster featuring Michael Berryman.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: other early Wes Craven works, as well as other cannibal killer movies.

Comic Review: Trespasser

Published: February 10th, 2016 – August 10th, 2016
Written by: Justin Ryan
Art by: Kristian Rossi

Alterna Comics, 106 Pages

Review:

I have really enjoyed pretty much everything that I’ve picked up from Alterna Comics the last several months.

But this title really caught me off guard. I wasn’t sure what it was about but man, going into it blindly was the right way to go and I’d say that this moves to the top of the heap for me out of the Alterna comics that I have read.

If you’d prefer to also go into this blindly, stop reading now. But I’m really only going to reveal what happens in just the first issue.

The story is about a man and his daughter who live in a cabin deep in the wilderness away from everyone and everything. We do know that something catastrophic happened to the world and that if anyone were to come around, it would probably be for nefarious reasons.

While out one night hunting for food, the father comes across an alien caught in one of his traps. He stops the alien from shooting him and then relaxes it to the point where he can try and help it. He takes the alien back home, even if he is apprehensive about it and gives him a bed and space to heal.

All that happens in the first issue. From that point on, things get really weird and the story goes places I didn’t expect.

I thought the story was nice and dark; it had real human emotion and struggle in it. Even though you don’t spend a lot of time with these characters, you do care about them and their situation.

I thoroughly enjoyed the art and visual tone of this book and it looked great on newsprint and probably wouldn’t have had the same tonal effect had it been printed the same way most modern comics are.

Trespasser is a damn fine comic book miniseries. I don’t hear it being as talked about as some of Alterna’s other books and really, this should be near the top of everyone’s list.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other Alterna Comics releases, especially the horror and sci-fi titles.

Film Review: The Night of the Hunter (1955)

Release Date: July 26th, 1955 (Des Moines premiere)
Directed by: Charles Laughton
Written by: James Agee
Based on: The Night of the Hunter by Davis Grubb
Music by: Walter Schumann
Cast: Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish, Billy Chapin

Paul Gregory Productions, United Artists, 92 Minutes

Review:

“There are things you do hate, Lord. Perfume-smellin’ things, lacy things, things with curly hair.” – Rev. Harry Powell

I hadn’t seen this since I was a kid but having revisited it now, I was torn as to which Robert Mitchum character was more evil, this one or his role as Max Cady in Cape Fear. Regardless of which you choose, there is no one from this era that quite stirs up the intimidating, creepy vibe like Robert Mitchum.

Mitchum is perfection in this film. Also, Shelley Winters was solid and just a heartbreaking character. The scenes the two shared were so uncomfortable that I’m sure it left the audiences of the 1950s pretty disturbed.

As unhinged and as crazy as Mitchum was in Cape Fear, I do think that his character here, the Reverend Harry Powell, gets the edge. For one, he always speaks about the word of God and God talking through him but he is an actual serial killer, driven by greed and willing to kill innocent women and children just to get a bag of money that his former cellmate hid before incarceration.

This is a truly chilling film and there are few scenes in motion picture history more effective than the moment where the runaway kids are hiding in the barn and see the silhouette of Mitchum on his horse, slowly trotting across the horizon line, singing his biblical songs while looking for them.

Additionally, the scene with Shelley Winters dead in the front seat of a car at the bottom of the river is shocking, even by today’s standards. At the same time, there is a real haunting beauty in that shot and it’s that moment that really takes this film from being a dark thriller to something a bit more enchanting and viciously surreal.

Another moment that really stuck out to me, visually, was when the kids escaped the basement with Mitchum running up the stairs, reaching out like a murderous madman trying to grab them. It’s a quick moment but I immediately equated Mitchum to a natural predator desperately lashing out with animal-like instinct.

The kid actors in this, who take up most of the screen time, are actually pretty incredible. Most kid actors are annoying, especially in the 1950s, but these two felt like real frightened kids from any era. And the bravery of the boy was both uncanny and inspiring.

The Night of the Hunter is a bonafide classic and for good reason. If you love Robert Mitchum and have never seen this, you’re doing yourself a grave disservice.

It boasts some of the best cinematography and lighting I’ve ever seen, as well as perfect set design and a mesmerizing tone that feels a bit fantastical but also gritty and real.

Man, I just love this movie.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the original Cape Fear, as well as some of Mitchum’s noir pictures: Out of the Past, Crossfire, Where Danger Lives, Angel Face and The Locket.

Film Review: Black Legion (1937)

Release Date: January 17th, 1937 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Archie Mayo, Michael Curtiz (uncredited)
Written by: Robert Lord, Abem Finkel, William Wister Haines
Music by: W. Franke Harling, Howard Jackson, Bernhard Kaun
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Dick Foran, Erin O’Brien-Moore, Ann Sheridan

Warner Bros., 83 Minutes

Review:

“So, you’re afraid! Maybe they better change the name of your outfit from the Black Legion to the Yellow Legion.” – Ed Jackson

I was talking about Humphrey Bogart, my favorite actor, with a friend of mine when he asked, “Did you see that one where he was in the KKK?” I didn’t know what he was talking about, so I looked it up and found this film, which Bogart did really early in his career, before reaching superstardom. Also, it’s not the actual KKK but it is a group based on them called “the Black Legion”.

This film is rather short but it’s definitely got a lot packed into a small package. It’s a true thriller and very noir-esque before film-noir was a thing.

The gist of the story surrounds a hard working man that is looked over for a promotion that he was pretty sure he was going to get. It weighs heavily on him and eventually, some bad seeds take advantage of that and influence him into joining their cause. That cause, sees them dressing up in black hoods, similar to the KKK’s white hoods, where they go out at night in an effort to chase off the foreigners who are coming in and taking their jobs. So the Klan (or “Black Legion”) in this isn’t so much racist, as they are xenophobic.

In his heart, Bogart’s Frank Taylor was opposed to the madness he found himself entangled in but he was already in over his head and couldn’t leave the group for fear of what they might do to him and his family. It all comes crashing down when Frank murders his best friend that was trying his damnedest to save him. Regretful and remorseful, will Frank work to bring down the Black Legion or is the fear of his family’s safety too great?

The film is intense and it moves swiftly. It was hard for me to turn away from it and the acting of Bogart, as well as his best bud, Dick Foran, was superb and kept me glued to the screen.

While this isn’t Bogart or Foran’s best picture or performance, it really goes to show that both men were definitely capable of something greater. Luckily, for us, both men would have busy careers, especially in the noir style of the ’40s and ’50s.

Black Legion is certainly worth a watch. While most movie sites don’t list this as a thriller, it definitely is… and a pretty effective one from start to finish.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Bogart films before he became a big star: High Sierra, They Drive by Night and Crime School.

Film Review: You Were Never Really Here (2017)

Also known as: A Beautiful Day (Germany, France, Italy)
Release Date: May 27th, 2017 (Cannes)
Directed by: Lynne Ramsay
Written by: Lynne Ramsay
Based on: You Were Never Really Here by Jonathan Ames
Music by: Jonny Greenwood
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, Alex Manette, John Doman, Judith Roberts

Film4 Productions, British Film Institute, Why Not Productions, Page 114, Amazon Studios, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Where you spend your time? What do you do?” – Joe’s Mother

I heard a lot of exceptional things about this film and it sort of came and went without much fanfare, even though it premiered last year at Cannes. It’s an Amazon Studios film and they’ve been putting out a lot of great indie pictures, as of late.

While I enjoyed this, it didn’t blow me away like it seems to have for so many others.

To start, Joaquin Phoenix is damn good in this. He plays this character almost in monotone and it’s an understated performance but it works so well that it gives the character more depth and meaning than being overly emotional or rampaging against the vile scum in the film.

Phoenix is almost sweet even though he becomes a one man killing machine in his effort to save a very young girl from high profile sexual predators. The film is similar in a lot of ways to Taxi Driver but the main character is almost the antithesis of Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle. Granted, both men are damaged but Phoenix’s Joe is a lot less outwardly emotional.

Young actress, Ekaterina Samsonov, was also pretty stellar and her performance was understated, as well. It makes me wonder if things naturally flowed this way or if it was the director’s choice to have her two leads perform in a more subtle style. Whatever the case, it works for both characters and the tone of the film, as it feels more organic and natural than what’s typical in these types of pictures.

I thought that the cinematography and mise-en-scène had an enchanting quality from shot to shot. There was a lot of detail to absorb but the stylistic choices really supported the narrative and the overall tone.

All the parts came together quite nicely but if I had to nitpick, I’d say that this did lack some excitement. It’s hard to see a picture like this and not expect some good action. There almost is none, really. This is more about the emotional journey of the characters within the story than being an uber violent revenge flick.

I’m all for artistic license but I really wanted to see Pheonix actually go ape shit on the evil bastards in the film. But I’m also a child of the ’80s and devoured ’80s action films like an old lady at a bon bon buffet.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other modern vigilante films: the Death Wish remake, the Taken films, Death Sentence.

Film Review: North by Northwest (1959)

Also known as: The Man In Lincoln’s Nose, The CIA Story (working titles)
Release Date: July 1st, 1959 (Chicago premiere)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Ernest Lehman
Music by: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Jessie Royce Landis, Martin Landau

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 136 Minutes

Review:

“Now you listen to me, I’m an advertising man, not a red herring. I’ve got a job, a secretary, a mother, two ex-wives and several bartenders that depend upon me, and I don’t intend to disappoint them all by getting myself slightly killed.” – Roger Thornhill

I feel like I’ve been reviewing a lot of perfect films, lately. But it’s not because I magically stumbled upon a treasure trove of perfection. The reality is, most of these films I had planned to revisit and review anyway but since the FilmStruck streaming service is closing down Nov. 29th (this may be posted after that) I wanted to squeeze in as many movies from that service as possible. But this isn’t about FilmStruck and I’m working on an article about that anyway.

I saw North by Northwest when I was really young. And then, a few years ago, I got the pleasure of seeing it on the big screen, which is how everyone should watch this the first time, if they are presented with the opportunity to do so.

I love this movie and in some ways, it almost feels like what could have happened had Alfred Hitchcock ever directed a James Bond film in the classic era. However, this predates the James Bond movie franchise by a few years, so Hitchcock was ahead of the curve. Plus, the main character isn’t a spy but is a man that has become the victim of a mistaken identity. So it has a solid Hitchcock trope already in place and while this doesn’t globe-trot, it sees our protagonist travel to different parts of America.

The film is perfectly shot, superbly acted and everyone that comes on screen has amazing charisma and personality that is fine tuned to work within the picture but not to overpower or dilute the scenes for the sake of performance. Also, the one on one chemistry between Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint is magical.

North by Northwest boasts some top notch, high octane action sequences that were far better than anything you’d see in 1959. Between the crop duster scene and the big finale on Mt. Rushmore, this was a film ahead of its time but very grounded in the concerns and real world worries of the late 1950s.

This feels like Hitchcock’s biggest movie and in retrospect, I can’t think of one that comes off as grander in scale. Also, as great as his movies are, it’s hard to think of one that is more fun and entertaining. This really isn’t just a perfect film, it is the perfect Hitchcock film and really encompasses his best tropes, his style and everything that made his work at his peak, some of the best motion picture releases of all-time.

Movies this good are few and far between. While I love just about everything that Hitchcock has ever done, this may be the tip of his grand and near perfect iceberg.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other Hitchcock films of the 1950s.