TOP 5 (NON)SUPERHERO COMIC BOOK FILMS – Part 2

In Part 2 of this Critics Pick, film aficionado Dorjan gives you the second half of his all time favorite Top 5 Non Superhero comic book movies.

 

From Hell (2001)

I’m sure that the late nineteenth century London Chamber of Commerce had its work cut out for it when it came to tourism. Pickpockets, streetwalkers and all various sorts of hooligans. And to top it all off during a few week stretch in 1888, the Whitechapel district, particularly known as the worse of the worse comes down with a sudden case of serial killings. The killings however seem isolated to a certain portion of the population, notably prostitutes. Unfortunately for the world’s oldest profession, dead whores (or ‘unfortunates’ as the upper class like to refer to them) don’t rate too high on the police’s to-do list. That is until one of Scotland Yard’s top inspectors, Fred Abberline (Johnny Depp), is put on the case, a quirky detective with a reputation for clairvoyance and chasing the dragon. Utilizing then unheard methods of forensics, Abberline quickly deduces that these murders may not be so random.

The premise of From Hell is an intoxicating blend of fact and fiction brought to us by none other than the graphic novel auteur, Sir Alan Moore (V For Vendetta, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). The story presents viewers with the thoroughly well crafted hypothesis of the origin and subsequent vanishing of Jack the Ripper. As Abberline and his partner, Godley (Robbie Coltrane) investigate the Whitechapel district where the gruesome crimes have occurred, they meet some of the unfortunates and become acquainted with them. Abberline even finds himself falling in love with Mary Kelly (Heather Graham), a fetching Irish ginger and de facto leader of the ladies of the evening.

While the film itself doesn’t necessarily stand up to harsh dissection, I still found it to be a very engaging and quite serviceable thriller. A dark Elizabethan horror story mixed with dashes of CSI and Medium. A respectable departure of form for the directors as well, the Hughes Brothers, twin directors best known for urban crime dramas like Menace II Society and Dead Presidents. As far as comics-to-film adaptations go, thankfully it’s more on the V for Vendetta end of the cinematic spectrum than the atrociously lackluster League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. So for an interesting spin on the true-life horror story of the legendary Jack the Ripper mythos, you could do worse than to spend a little time in Hell.

From Hell received a 57% on Rotten Tomatoes and 6.8/10 stars on IMDb.

 

RED (2010)

Mirren, Morgan and Malkovich. Oh my.

Right off the bat I have to say that I didn’t think the day would come so soon when I would be watching John MacClane play a retiree whether it’s an action comedy or not. That being said, I have to say that I enjoyed this film waay more than I thought I would. Bruce Willis plays a retired CIA agent who spending his golden years bored out of his gourd in suburban hell. So bored is he in fact that the highlight of his day is calling this pension case worker, the equally bored Sarah (played by the always reliable Mary-Louise Parker.) She spends her days discussing the tawdry romance novels she reads with Frank. Frank seems satisfied with the arrangement. You get the impression that these calls are the closest thing to a real relationship that he’s ever had or at least had in years. All is hunky dory until a Black-Ops hit squad drops by to pay Frank a little visit that and turn his place into Swiss cheese. It seems that someone has deemed Frank, RED, Retired Extremely Dangerous.

Now will Sarah in tow, Frank has to go on a road trip to track down the rest of his old colleagues starting with his mentor, Joe (Morgan ‘can-do-no-wrong’ Freeman.) Then they track down Marvin, the paranoid conspiracy theorist, which is very much John Malkovich being John Malkovich. Last and certainly not least is the marvelous Dame Helen Mirren as Victoria, who mere presence elevates the film another star. Victoria who plays her character like a Martha Stewart with a itchy trigger finger, who misses the days as a wetwork agent. Karl Urban, Brian Cox, Richard Dreyfuss, and Ernest Borgnine co-star.

I’ve noticed this trend of action flicks for the AARP crowd during the past few years starting with the whoduthinkit action hit Taken helmed by Liam Neeson who’s pushing 60. Then Book of Eli and the geriatric sausagefest Expendables. I mean who am I to argue with a trend, it seems to be working well enough. RED is formulaic but it works and works well. All the players are playing it safe, delivering performances well within the lines but I’m an fan of the film what can I say? Willis leads a fine cast who all know they’re doing and Willis’ performance itself brings back memories of Moonlighting. So while RED is not heady stuff by any means, you can certainly color me impressed.

RED received a 71% on Rotten Tomatoes and 7/10 stars on IMDb.

 

A History of Violence (2005)

Screw The Lord of the Rings, the whole damn trilogy (well maybe not Fellowship) but my favorite Viggo Mortensen flick by far is A History of Violence. This unassuming film comes in like an American gothic crime drama then hits you across the face with a 2 x 4. Can a man truly start over? Can we ever really leave the sins of our past behind us? If you’re expecting a black and white answer then History of Violence is not the film for you. This film is brutal and visceral in its storytelling and captivating in its execution. Another unsung gem on my list that does for the Heartland what Fargo did for North Dakota.

Viggo Mortensen plays Tom Stall, a simple family man living a quiet life in the small Indiana town of Millbrook. His beautiful wife Edie (played by Mario Bello) is a lawyer while Tom runs the local diner. Life is good until he decides to be a hero. One late night at the diner, a pair of shady characters attempt a vicious robbery forcing Tom to confront them with fatal results. Upon news of his selfless deeds, the national media descends on the idyllic town to laud Tom as a hero. He does his best to avoid the notoriety, looking to see things return to the way they were. That is until a horribly scarred man named Fogarty (Ed Harris) appears in town, claiming that Tom is not only hiding a dark and violent past from his loved ones but that his name isn’t even Tom.

Directed by horror-meister extraordinaire David Cronenberg, History of Violence certainly lives up to its name yet the violence never crosses over into gratuitous or cartoonish territory. And Viggo, who I consider to be one of the underrated leading men of this generation, possesses both the square-jawed authority and puppy dog vulnerability his character calls for. The rest of the supporting characters are compelling and the storytelling is sharp from start to finish bringing a gritty realism to the screen that almost defies its graphic novel origins. This is without a doubt a ‘History‘ lesson worth paying attention to.

A History of Violence received a 87% on Rotten Tomatoes and 7.6/10 stars on IMDb.

 

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About Dorjan Williams

Dorjan Javas Williams has been in Film/Video production for 8+ years. Starting out as an intern and then a production assistant for several production companies in the Miami area, he has worked on set for all types of productions ranging from independent films, student films, music videos, documentaries, commercials, red carpet events and reality shows. Over the years, he has followed his passion to Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Philadelphia, Chicago, Tampa even London. Recently, he has even taken on the role of production supervisor and instructor at two South Florida institutions, the Miami Film School and Miami Media School. As Production Supervisor, he assisted the film students in helping them prepare, develop, shoot and edit their short films as well as, helping them verify their film shoot locations, permits, props, release forms, cast and shot lists. Then as Instructor, he taught students Filmmaking and Production which included camera, lighting, sound, pre-production, script review and casting. As of Spring 2014, Dorjan has produced, written, directed and edited 4 short films, of which 3 have won awards from local film festivals for Audience Favorite. He is currently working on completing his first anthology series, See No Evil. His objective is to ultimately fulfill his dream of becoming a full-time 'anthology' writer/director, by producing films and short films series series that present different stories and characters within each episode or season. He can be contacted here.