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.

Film Review: Heavy Metal (1981)

Also known as: Universo en fantasía (original Spanish language title)
Release Date: July 29th, 1981 (premiere)
Directed by: Gerald Potterton
Written by: Daniel Goldberg
Based on: original art and stories by Richard Corben, Angus McKie, Dan O’Bannon, Thomas Warkentin, Bernie Wrightson
Music by: Elmer Bernstein, various
Cast: Rodger Bumpass, Jackie Burroughs, John Candy, Joe Flaherty, Don Francks, Martin Lavut, Marilyn Lightstone, Eugene Levy, Alice Playten, Harold Ramis, Susan Roman, Richard Romanus, August Schellenberg, John Vernon, Zal Yanovsky

Canadian Film Development Corporation, Guardian Trust Company, Columbia Pictures, 86 Minutes, 90 Minutes (premiere cut)

Review:

“A shadow shall fall over the universe, and evil will grow in its path, and death will come from the skies.” – Narrator

Fuck, this movie is so damn cool!

However, it does lack in the “heavy metal” department, as far as the music goes. That’s not to say the music is bad, this is just a lot less heavy than the title implies. Still, this developed a really strong cult following and for very good reason.

I love the rock and pop tunes in this, though. I mean, where else can you see a sword and sorcery story with sci-fi elements playout to a Devo song? Nowhere!

This entire movie is an animated anthology. The various segments were inspired by some of the stories and art that appeared in the pages of the Heavy Metal comic magazine. This is also a very adult cartoon, as it features nudity, sex and violence. There really isn’t anything here for kids but I saw it as a kid and it blew my mind. The ’80s were a different era, though. Kids today can’t watch Gremlins without needing the light on till they turn thirty.

Anyway, this was produced by Ivan Reitman and it featured a lot of his regular actors in voice roles. It’s kind of neat watching this for the first time in years and hearing John Candy, Harold Ramis, Eugene Levy and Joe Flaherty. It almost needed Bill Murray in there to round it out but it was still pretty dope hearing these comedic legends voices pop up in something like this.

That being said, this is just a really unique experience and it still conjures up a sort of magical feeling when watching it.

Despite the action and violence, the film has a calming, chill vibe to it and I think that has a lot to do with its visual style, tone and the superb use of music to season the already flavorful meal.

Heavy Metal is a weirdly comforting movie that reminds me of a time when filmmakers were still daring and experimental and with that, often times gave us movies that were really interesting, wonderfully eccentric, bizarre and special.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: its sequel, as well as other late ’70s and ’80s adult animated films.

Book Review: ‘The Conquering Sword of Conan (Book 3)’ by Robert E. Howard

This is the third and final installment of Robert E. Howard’s Conan collections in this series. It’s been a fun ride reading his Conan stuff in its entirety and this book didn’t disappoint.

After reading all three books, the quality between all these stories is pretty damn consistent and the ratings on these reviews only really reflect my own personal preferences of the stories collected in each one.

Out of the three, this one fits in the middle for me. It’s not full of just short stories and poems like the first volume or just collects a few novellas like the second, this book collects a handful of stories that fit somewhere in the middle.

The stories collected here are The Servants of Bit-Yakin, Beyond the Black River, The Black Stranger, The Man-Eaters of Zamboula and one of my favorites, Red Nails. There are some other miscellaneous things tacked on at the end.

With these stories you pretty much get what you’d expect. Conan kicks the crap out of monsters, goes on epic adventures, hunts treasure and wins over the women. Most of these, if not all of them, have been adapted into comic book stories. While I love both versions of these tales, there’s just something really cool reading them as Robert E. Howard originally wrote them.

Reading through all the Howard stories was a great experience and I’m glad that it’s a mountain I decided to finally climb in its entirety over the last few months.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other Robert E. Howard collections.

Book Review: ‘The Bloody Crown of Conan (Book 2)’ by Robert E. Howard

The Bloody Crown of Conan is the second collected edition of the original Robert E. Howard Conan stories. Unlike the first one, however, this isn’t chock full of short stories, poems and unfinished works. This one primarily features three full-length novellas: The People of the Black Circle, The Hour of the Dragon, and A Witch Shall Be Born. There’s some bonus stuff tacked on at the end but these three stories are the focus of this volume.

For the most part, I liked the stories included here. Before this, I had never read Robert E. Howard’s original versions of them but I do recall two of them from comic book adaptations. Knowing Roy Thomas and his run on Conan comics while writing them at Marvel, I’m sure he adapted all three of these at some point.

I enjoyed the first volume a bit more, as that collection offered up more variety and featured more well-known secondary characters in their original literary versions. Still, these bigger stories were fun, adventurous reads.

The benefit of these novella length tales is that Conan feels more realized and complete. His character is able to develop and breathe a little bit more. This is where you really feel like you get to know him beyond just his already well-known basic traits.

For fans of the character and Robert E. Howard’s work, this is definitely something that should be read. If you’re like me and haven’t experienced these stories in their original form, you need to.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Robert E. Howard collections.

Comic Review: Tales of the Green Lantern Corps., Vol. 1

Published: March 3rd, 2009
Written by: Robin Snyder
Art by: Dave Gibbons

DC Comics, 157 Pages

Review:

I always thought that the Hal Jordan Green Lantern was cool. However, I never really started reading his stories until the Geoff Johns era and a lot of that had to do with the art by Ethan Van Sciver, which popped off of the shelves when I walked into a comic book shop for the first time in a decade in the mid-’00s.

Through that era of Green Lantern titles, I grew to love several characters and the rich mythos of that pocket of the larger DC Comics universe.

In the years since, I like going way back and reading some of the earlier stuff to get a grasp on the more classic stories. This collection is one of those, as it features stories originally published in the early ’80s.

This collection has one primary story that takes up about the first half of the book. It features Hal Jordan and other Green Lanterns as they face off against villains Krona and Nekron. In fact, this story is the first appearance of Nekron, who would grow into a fairly prominent villain over the years.

The second half of the book features short stories of what appears to be random Lanterns. It’s a collection of both origin stories and quick adventures for a plethora of Lanterns. Some of it is cool and really imaginative but not all of them really connected for me.

Still, as a more modern Green Lantern fan, this was cool to read. Plus, it features tremendous art by the great Dave Gibbons, one of my favorite comic book artists of all-time.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other old school Green Lantern stories.

Book Review: ‘The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian (Book 1)’ by Robert E. Howard

This is the first of three collected editions of Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Cimmerian tales. I’m reading these as they’re numerically numbered and I assume there’s at least a loose chronology to the placement of the stories over the three volumes.

This one features several of the famous Conan short stories that I’ve also read but about 40 percent of it was new to me.

Covering nearly 500 pages, this is packed full of a dozen or so stories, as well as alternate draft versions of many. The main part of the book has The Frost-Giant’s Daughter, The Tower of the Elephant, The Phoenix and the Sword and Queen of the Black Coast just to name a few.

Overall, this was a hell of a lot of fun to both revisit and discover stories I hadn’t yet read. Some of these were also stories I knew from the comics but hadn’t actually experienced the source material for myself.

All in all, a great, beefy book packed full of sword and sorcery adventure, heroism and monsters. What the hell isn’t there to love?

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other Robert E. Howard collections.