Book Review: ‘The Best of Robert E. Howard, Vol. 2: Grim Lands’

I found this volume out of the two Best of Robert E. Howard anthologies to be the better one. I figured they’d blow their load in the first one but they really saved some good stories for this volume and there was more diversity in these tales from Howard’s most famous characters and the different genres he dabbled in.

This had great sword and sorcery tales, some swashbuckling, horror and a whole lot of action and adventure!

This book features solid stories with Conan, Kull and Solomon Kane. Each of those characters have a hefty amount of good material to pull from, though.

And sure, my preferences are subjective but the stories here are just ones that resonate with me more.

Also, these can be found elsewhere in other collections and even free online but if you really want to hold a thick, beefy book in your hand and enjoy some of Howard’s best work, this is certainly a good place to start.

Granted, I’d start with volume one but I’m OCD like that.

Rating: 8/10

Book Review: ‘The Best of Robert E. Howard, Vol. 1: Crimson Shadows’

This is the first of the final three Robert E. Howard books I have to review in this specific collection.

These final three books are anthologies of various stories featuring various characters. With that, many of these stories were already collected in other volumes. Still, I wanted to get this entire collection because I didn’t want to miss anything and well, they look damn good on the bookshelf. 

I’d say that this is actually a good starting point for those who might be new to Robert E. Howard, as it features a good variety of stories, genres and some of Howard’s most famous characters like Conan and Solomon Kane.

Like the other books, this is thick and packed full of tales. Also, it features a lot of art that helps tell the stories with some stylish, cool visual reference.

This is a solid collection, through and through. As a long-time Howard reader, I personally prefer the character specific collections but I would’ve really loved having this when I was just starting out reading his literary work.

Rating: 7/10

Book Review: ‘The Witcher: Season of Storms’ by Andrzej Sapkowski

I’ve finally reached the eighth and final book in The Witcher series.

This one is an anthology of short stories, most of which happen in-between the short stories collected in the two prequel books before the main saga begins. However, the final chapter in this serves as an epilogue for the entire series.

This was my least favorite of the eight books but it’s hard to top the last few installments of the five that made up the saga.

That being said, I still liked this but if I’m being honest, a lot of it felt like it was written to beef up enough short tales to make a full book.

I liked the epilogue and seeing things come to a proper close, reflecting on everything, I, the reader had been through with Geralt, his family and his friends.

However, I felt like maybe Andrzej Sapkowski had a hard time letting go and this was a bit of him hanging on longer than he should have.

If you ever do read The Witcher saga, I think all the books are necessary for added context and to get the full experience. Plus, even if this one is my least favorite, that could honestly be me running out of gas on this series, as it’s been a really long ride. Still, Season of Storms is worth your time if you do finish everything else.

I also know that at some point, I’ll probably read all these again. I rarely do that with books, especially lengthy literary series, but The Witcher was pretty special.

Rating: 7.75/10

Book Review: ‘Sword Woman and Other Historical Adventures’ by Robert E. Howard

Out of all the Robert E. Howard collections that I’ve now read and reviewed, I’d have to say that this one was my least favorite, overall.

It’s certainly not bad and I liked that this featured the first non-comic book Dark Agnes story that I ever read. However, the overall quality of these stories lacked when compared to Howard’s best work.

This is a collection of what feels like random short stories that were thrown together because there was nowhere else to put them. They don’t specifically follow any sort of unified theme.

I think a lot of this stuff was unfinished work or, at least, work that Howard moved on from before actually reworking it to be at his normal level of quality.

This was also one of the more beefy collections and with that, it did feel like it was dragging in parts. Although, the best stuff in here was still rather good.

Ultimately, if I were going to recommend a Robert E. Howard book to a new reader, it wouldn’t be this one. This is something that’s more for the completist that wants to obtain all of the legendary author’s published works.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Robert E. Howard collections.

Film Review: Pulp Fiction (1994)

Also known as: Black Mask (working title)
Release Date: May 21st, 1994 (Cannes)
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino, Roger Avery
Music by: various
Cast: John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Maria de Medeiros, Ving Rhames, Eric Stoltz, Rosanna Arquette, Christopher Walken, Bruce Willis, Phil LaMarr, Frank Whaley, Joseph Pilato, Steve Buscemi, Kathy Griffin, Alexis Arquette, Quentin Tarantino, Julia Sweeney, Lawrence Bender

Jersey Films, A Band Apart, Miramax, 154 Minutes, 178 Minutes (original cut)

Review:

“What now? Let me tell you what now. I’ma call a coupla hard, pipe-hittin’ niggers, who’ll go to work on the homes here with a pair of pliers and a blow torch. You hear me talkin’, hillbilly boy? I ain’t through with you by a damn sight. I’ma get medieval on your ass.” – Marsellus

Where the success of Reservoir Dogs opened the doors of Hollywood to Quentin Tarantino, it was Pulp Fiction, only his second film, that took him mainstream and made him one of the hottest, young directors of the ’90s. With that, he was able to make movies the way that he wanted with minimal interference from the studio system and he’s still considered an absolute maestro today.

From 1994 till about ten or so years ago, this was a picture I watched at least once per year. Hell, in the ’90s, I probably watched this, Reservoir Dogs and Jackie Brown almost monthly. I had them on VHS until the tapes either snapped or got warped to shit.

However, it’s now been several years since I’ve watched this. At least five, as that’s about how long it’s been since I first started Talking Pulp under its original name, Cinespiria. Seeing this again, though, was like coming home after a really, really long absence.

Everything about this film still feels right and man, it’s aged tremendously well and makes me yearn for a time where 99 percent of the films coming out weren’t dog shit.

Pulp Fiction is also a movie that birthed its own subgenre of of crime film. Many imitators emerged and dialogue in film changed around the mid-’90s due to this picture and Reservoir Dogs’ influence. For a film to really have that sort of impact on the entire American film industry is astounding but this did and dialogue is one of those things that really drives Tarantino’s work and many directors that followed and were inspired by it, whether knowingly or unknowingly.

The film is sort of an anthology but not fully. It has multiple stories going on but there is so much overlap with common characters that I can’t see it as a true anthology. It’s also told out of sequence, which isn’t a bad thing but I do remember the older generation being confused by the story when the movie came out. But ultimately, I like that there are these multiple plot threads, all of them very good, and none of them really being the main story.

Tarantino also pulled the very best performances out of his cast. This is incredibly well acted, so much so, that it revitalized John Travolta’s crumbling career and established Samuel Jackson as a long-term mainstay in Hollywood. Hell, that guy has been in so many damn pictures since Pulp Fiction, I don’t know if I’ll ever get around to reviewing them all and I review movies, sometimes multiple, daily.

The real breakout star for me in this movie was Uma Thurman, as she was able to show how skilled of an actress she is and thus, cemented herself as one of the top leading ladies of the ’90s and beyond.

The film also did great things for Ving Rhames’ career. He had some notable roles before this but it really opened a lot of doors for him too. Had he not done this film, he might not have gotten to be a big part of the Mission: Impossible film franchise alongside Tom Cruise and later, Simon Pegg.

Pulp Fiction is just a great film and one of the best of the ’90s, hands down. For Tarantino’s work, this along with the Kill Bill films are my favorites. It’s hard to choose between them but then again, the man’s worst work is still lightyears ahead of most directors’ best. He doesn’t have a bad movie, even if some of them don’t resonate for me on the same level as Pulp Fiction.

Anyway, you’ve probably already seen this movie and love it, so I’m not stating much of what you don’t already know. If you haven’t seen the movie, I’m not sure what sort of rock you live under and if you have seen it and don’t love it, you need to see a veterinarian because you’re not human.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: Quentin Tarantino’s other crime films.

Book Review: ‘Bran Mak Morn: The Last King’ by Robert E. Howard

Bran Mak Morn is a Robert E. Howard character whose stories I’ve wanted to read since I first heard about him. He exists in the same universe as Conan and Kull but he’s different from the Cimmerian and Atlantean dudes that are really similar. Bran Mak Morn is actually a badass Pict that forged his own badass destiny while crushing enemies and monsters in his way.

The Picts of Robert E. Howard’s mythos aren’t the same Picts that existed on Earth in the time of our recorded history. However, Howard stories typically take place in pre-history, so you may want to connect the two.

Bran Mak Morn, like Conan and Kull, exists in a prehistoric age. His time doesn’t overlap with either of the other heroes but his people and their history are tied to both Conan and Kull.

Bran has a harder edge to him than Conan or Kull and I kind of like his temperament and personality. It’s that personality that really carries these stories.

Overall, though, I didn’t like the tales as much as the ones of Conan, Kull or Solomon Kane. However, I’ve known some of those stories for a long time and maybe nostalgia gives them a bit of an artificial boost.

I certainly don’t want to take anything away from this collection of Howard stories, as his writing is still top notch with this character and his place in the shared mythos.

If you’ve already read a lot of Howard’s other work but haven’t delved into Bran Mak Morn, this is definitely worth a look.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Robert E. Howard collections.

Documentary: Orson Welles: The One-Man Band (1995)

Also known as: The Lost Films of Orson Welles (UK TV title)
Release Date: October, 1995 (Chicago International Film Festival)
Directed by: Orson Welles, Vassili Silovic, Oja Kodar
Written by: Orson Welles, Vassili Silovic, Roland Zag
Music by: Simon Cloquet-Lafollye
Cast: Orson Welles, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Charles Gray, Jonathan Lynn, Oja Kodar

Bayerischer Rundfunk (BR), Institut National de l’Audiovisuel (INA), La Cinquieme Boa Filmproduction Ag Zurich, 88 Minutes

Review:

When Orson Welles died in the mid-’80s, he left behind some unfinished work.

None of it really saw the light of day until the ’90s when his creative and life partner Oja Kodar started compiling these works together and teamed up with other creatives in an effort to release them in some form. This is one of those releases.

This first debuted in 1995 and it’s really an anthology of unfinished films. Although, it feels more like of an anthology of shorts due to it being a varied mix of stuff, mostly little segments or scenes.

Overall, this isn’t all that cohesive and plays like a video mixtape of random Welles ideas that were put to film but never truly realized or massaged into what they could’ve been. That certainly doesn’t mean this is bad but it feels more like peering into his creative process and his experimentation. Honestly, I’m not sure what his plan was, if any.

I guess it’s hard to interpret what’s here but it’s still entertaining and the man was a fucking legend.

I can see people that are unfamiliar with Welles or who don’t already appreciate his work not digging this film at all. That’s fine. But for those who are intrigued by the man’s creativity and charm, it’s a fun look into what could’ve been.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Orson Welles documentaries and films, many of which have already been reviewed here.

Book Review: ‘El Borak and Other Desert Adventures’ by Robert E. Howard

I had never read an El Borak story until now but since I was collecting all of the Robert E. Howard collections, I couldn’t pass on any of them and I’m glad that I got to discover this character, who is really unique when compared to the other characters that Howard spent most of his time writing.

What makes El Borak so different?

Well, these aren’t sword and sorcery, fantasy tales for one. Well, there is one story with some fantasy elements but the El Borak character was written as more of an adventurer who existed in real world historical times.

El Borak’s real name is Francis Xavier Gordon. He’s a skilled gunfighter from El Paso, Texas. He traveled the world and ended up settling in Afghanistan of all places. From there, he went on to have many adventures throughout the Asian continent.

Generally, El Borak spends his time trying to keep peace between waring tribes in different regions. Often times, he can use his cunning to convince cooler heads to prevail but these stories also wouldn’t be as badass if some direct violence didn’t come into play and it does.

These are all pretty cool short stories but I think that they’re weaker, overall, than the best of Howard’s sword and sorcery work. The reason being is that Howard is just so creative in the realm of fantasy and Lovecraftian style horror and making these stories more realistic, somewhat limits that creativity. That’s not to say that he doesn’t shine with these tales but they just lack that patented Robert E. Howard fantastical magic that makes me love the author in the first place.

However, comparing these to similar stories from other authors of Howard’s day, they hold up. These are just solid, grounded adventure tales in a foreign land and through the eyes and minds of readers in the 1930s, when El Borak first saw print, these had to have had a hell of an impact.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other Robert E. Howard collections.

Film Review: From A Whisper To A Scream (1987)

Also known as: The Offspring (original title)
Release Date: May 13th, 1987 (Cannes)
Directed by: Jeff Burr
Written by: C. Courtney Joyner, Darin Scott, Jeff Burr, Mike Malone
Music by: Jim Manzie
Cast: Vincent Price, Susan Tyrrell, Clu Gulager, Terry Kiser, Harry Caesar, Rosalind Cash, Cameron Mitchell, Martine Beswick, Lawrence Tierney

Conquest Productions, Manson International, Whisper Scream Limited Partnership, 99 Minutes, 92 Minutes (VHS cut)

Review:

“One thing I’ve learned, my dear, is that one is never too old for nightmares.” – Julian White

I’ve stated in the past that I’m not a big fan of anthology horror movies. However, as I’ve reviewed more and more over the almost five years that this website has existed, they’ve kind of won me over.

Sure, many are bad and most are inconsistent from segment-to-segment. However, even if something doesn’t hit the right way, it’s over pretty quickly and the viewer gets to move on to the next chapter.

With From A Whisper To A Scream, we get an anthology picture where every chapter was pretty decent. Plus, the story that connects everything together stars horror legend Vincent Price in his last true horror role.

I don’t know if Price would’ve been a fan of the level of gore in this movie but it’s pretty standard for an ’80s horror flick that’s going for the jugular. I don’t think it’s overly gratuitous and it’s fine for the style but it’s definitely edgier and bloodier than the film’s one would typically associate Price with.

Each story was interesting and pretty creative. Unlike Creepshow, the Twilight Zone movie, Tales From the Darkside and the Tales From the Crypt TV show, this didn’t have source material to pull from and adapt. Still, the situations were cool and unique and frankly, pretty f’n bonkers.

From A Whisper To A Scream was enjoyable from top-to-bottom. For me, that’s rare in an anthology horror picture.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other horror anthologies of the ’70s and ’80s.

Film Review: Moonwalker (1988)

Also known as: Michael Jackson: Moonwalker (promotional title)
Release Date: October 29th, 1988 (Japan)
Directed by: Jerry Kramer, Colin Chilvers (“Smooth Criminal” segment)
Written by: David Newman, Michael Jackson
Music by: Michael Jackson, Bruce Broughton, Ladysmith Black Mambazo
Cast: Michael Jackson, Joe Pesci, Sean Lennon, Kellie Parker, Brandon Quintin Adams

MJJ Productions, Ultimate Productions, Will Vinton Studios, 93 Minutes

Review:

“You wanna know why I’m doing this, do you? I just wanna get everybody high, Man. You know, some good drugs. That’s all.” – Mr. Big

I think I’ve only seen this once and it was way back when it came out. Although, I did play the Sega Genesis game on and off for years.

Anyway, I wanted to revisit this, as it’s been so long and I didn’t remember much about it other than some specific music videos it features, as well as the story portion of the anthology film, which co-stars Joe Pesci, as some sort of strange drug lord that has no problem murdering the shit out of some meddling kids.

Overall, this is pretty bad as a motion picture. However, as a sort of collected tapestry of random Michael Jackson multimedia work, it’s interesting and kind of cool. It also feels like a time capsule back to the point in history where Jackson was the biggest star in the world and he hadn’t yet been wrecked by child molestation allegations. Plus, the film feels dated as hell now, which just adds to it being a cinematic time capsule.

I like most of the stuff in this anthology but it’s mostly just music videos and performances, other than a biographical retrospective and the short dramatic film that starts around the mid-point.

The retrospective was pretty neat and was a lot more creative and artistic in how it was edited and presented than what would’ve been typical at the time.

The short film, which is all built around the famous “Smooth Criminal” music video, is the high point of the movie. It’s written by Jackson and with that, feels like it was written by a five year-old trying to wedge in all of his favorite toys while jumping all over the place narratively without any real focus other than there’s a bad guy and Michael Jackson is cool.

I thought the short film segment was fabulous when I was a kid but seeing it as an adult, it’s a mess. That doesn’t mean that it’s not entertaining, though. I kind of like the bizarre fantasy mixed with sci-fi world that Jackson created. It’s one-part gangster movie, one-part fantastical randomness, three-parts musical and nine-parts Michael Jackson.

Seeing this all these years later, I can’t say that this is a good film or even a very competent one. However, if you do like Michael Jackson, the artist, it’s still a entertaining look into his creative mind and it’s an incredibly unique experience. 

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Michael Jackson’s Captain EO, as well as other musical anthologies.