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

Film Review: Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)

Also known as: Meet the Invisible Man (working title)
Release Date: March 7th, 1951
Directed by: Charles Lamont
Written by: Robert Lees, Frederic I. Rinaldo, John Grant, Hugh Wedlock Jr., Howard Snyder
Based on: The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
Music by: Erich Zeisl
Cast: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Nancy Guild, Arthur Franz

Universal International Pictures, 82 Minutes

Review:

“The evidence says I did. When I stepped out of the shower that night, I found O’Hara beaten to death on the locker room floor. The cop outside the door swore nobody else had come in, so they pinned it on me.” – Tommy Nelson

I love the Abbott & Costello mashups with the Universal Monsters franchise, however one of the film’s has to be the weakest link and this one is it.

That doesn’t mean that it’s bad, as it’s still really enjoyable. It’s just that this one feels like it’s the least horror-y and it also just creates a new Invisible Man character, as opposed to being tied to any previous version, even after they already had the duo come into brief contact with the Vincent Price version of the character at the end of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

Oddly, this is more of a comedy sports movie. Which is actually achieved pretty cleverly in that the comedic duo use the Invisible Man to help give Lou Costello an edge in the boxing ring. It’s an ingenious and hilarious scheme and even if the joke feels one-note, they stretch it out in this movie and the physical comedy is so good that it works longer than it probably should.

Abbott & Costello are both as great as usual and even if the Invisible Man character felt weak when compared to past versions, he still meshed well with the two leads and everything came together fairly well.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Abbot and Costello monster movies.

Film Review: Champion (1949)

Release Date: April 9th, 1949 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Mark Robson
Written by: Carl Foreman
Based on: Champion by Ring Lardner
Music by: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cast: Kirk Douglas, Marilyn Maxwell, Arthur Kennedy, Paul Stewart, Ruth Roman

Stanley Kramer Productions, Screen Plays, 99 Minutes

Review:

“I’m expensive. Awful expensive. I didn’t want you to think you could buy me cheap.” – Grace

I heard pretty good things about this motion picture before I actually sat down and watched it. A lot of the film-noir books I’ve read over the years have praised it. It’s also often times discussed alongside The Set-Up, another film-noir from 1949 that features the sport of boxing. In fact, both movies came out less than a month apart and both are very good.

While I give The Set-Up a slight edge, Champion is almost on its level.

To start, this was directed by Mark Robson, who was most known for his noir-esque horror pictures before this. But his transition into more traditional film-noir was incredible and this film truly is a crowning achievement in his directing career.

Robson re-uses a lot of the visual cues from his previous horror work. While noir takes a lot from the visual style of German expressionist films, so did American horror. Robson employs a very chiaroscuro look and it gives certain scenes in this film a very brooding atmosphere. The lighting is fantastic from scene-to-scene and the general cinematography is impeccable. Even in the boxing match sequences, the look stays consistent, giving the bouts a real sense of high stakes and danger.

It’s nice to see how well Robson’s style evolved and developed, just within the 1940s, as he started out as an editor working on the earliest Orson Welles films: Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons. He also spent a lot of time working under RKO horror producer Val Lewton. But, honestly, what better filmmakers could one have worked under at the time?

Beyond just Robson, the film greatly benefits from the magnificent performance of Kirk Douglas, who is, hands down, one of the greatest manly man actors of all-time. He plays the main character, here, an opportunist, conman-esque piece of crap that ends up becoming a great boxer but it’s really neat seeing a guy known for being heroic, play a real scumbag. And despite the character’s terrible nature, Douglas plays the role so well that his fate in the film is still sort of a punch in the gut.

Also, Douglas didn’t have to do all the work and carry the load alone, as the film is full of great performances by several actors who probably deserved bigger careers. I especially liked the scenes he shared with Ruth Roman and Marilyn Maxwell.

Champion is a great sports-based classic film-noir. It does just about everything right and it’s carefully crafted, meticulously executed and just a beautiful looking film with depth, character and real human emotion.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: another 1949 film-noir surrounding the sport of boxing, The Set-Up.

Film Review: Killer’s Kiss (1955)

Also known as: Kiss Me, Kill Me (working title)
Release Date: September 21st, 1955 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Howard Sackler, Stanley Kubrick
Music by: Gerald Fried
Cast: Frank Silvera, Jamie Smith, Irene Kane, Ruth Sobotka

Minotaur Productions, United Artists, 67 Minutes

Review:

“It’s crazy how you can get yourself in a mess sometimes and not even be able to think about it with any sense-and yet not be able to think about anything else. You get so you’re no good for anything or anybody. Maybe it begins by taking life too serious. Anyway, I think that’s the way it began for me. Just before my fight with Rodriguez three days ago…” – Davy Gordon

I consider myself to be a massive Stanley Kubrick fan. However, I’ve yet to see this film, which came very, very early in his career. Like his other early film The Killing, this one is a classic film-noir, shot in black and white but with an extra level of grittiness that can only be described as Kubrickian.

Now this came out a year before The Killing and in a lot of ways, it feels like a rough draft or a practice run before he made that other, superior noir picture.

That’s not to say that this is weak or unworthy of admiration. The Killing was absolutely superb but I don’t think that Kubrick could’ve made it as good as it was without having done Killer’s Kiss first.

This film shows that even if Kubrick hadn’t quite reached greatness, at this point, he was always a visual storyteller. While employing several atmospheric tropes of the classic film-noir style, this movie also uses a lot of interesting angles and it showcases New York City in a way that even in its cold bleakness, it feels alive and becomes a character within the picture.

The story is about an aging boxer, at the end of his career. He falls for a taxi dancer across the courtyard from his apartment but he gets pulled into her seedy world and draws the ire of her villainous employer. One thing leads to another and their world is turned upside down. Luckily, this one surprisingly has a happy ending and the two lead characters are at least good people just trying to escape the hell that has become their lives.

Nothing all that remarkable happens in the movie. The plot is straightforward with a few noir-esque swerves but it’s very, very short and even if the plot has a lot of stages to it, it’s still pretty simplistic.

The film’s greatest quality is its look and its style. Experimenting with the noir genre here, allowed Kubrick’s The Killing to be a much better movie than just its script. But this certainly isn’t a waste of anyone’s time. This is pretty solid and engaging with characters that you care about.

In the end, this isn’t a bad outing from Stanley Kubrick and it helped lay the foundation for one of the greatest careers in film history.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Kubrick’s other noir picture: The Killing.

Vids I Dig 117: Whang!: Who Did Glass Joe Beat? – Gaming Mysteries

Taken from Justin Whang’s YouTube description: Glass Joe is famous for being a terrible boxer and the first opponent in Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!! for NES. One of the biggest mysteries around Glass Joe is that despite being an awful boxer, he has one victory on his record. Who could he have possibly beaten?

Film Review: The Set-Up (1949)

Also known as: Knock-Out (Denmark, Finland, Sweden)
Release Date: March 29th, 1949 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Robert Wise
Written by: Art Cohn
Based on: a poem by Joseph Moncure March
Music by: C. Bakaleinikoff
Cast: Robert Ryan, Audrey Totter, George Tobias

RKO Radio Pictures, 73 Minutes

Review:

“How many times I gotta say it? There’s no percentage in smartenin’ up a chump.” – Tiny

There is one film-noir that keeps coming up in almost every book I’ve read on the subject. Sure, all the really famous ones come up all the time but as far as little known ones that modern audiences have forgotten, this is one that is almost always mentioned and with a lot of adoration by the genre experts.

I finally got around to watching it, after I had tried for a few years but never found it streaming unless I wanted to buy it. You can rent it now on Prime but honestly, after seeing it, I’m probably going to break down and buy it on Blu-ray.

The Set-Up is not only a superb film-noir but it is, undoubtedly, one of the greatest boxing movies ever made.

There really isn’t anything negative to harp on. From the acting, the story, the direction and the cinematography, this is an incredible motion picture that transcends the screen and feels like something real, something lived in and it will connect with anyone who has ever faced adversity when it comes to one’s pride.

Robert Ryan is perfection as an aged boxer, on his last legs but still needing to fight for everything. He’s trapped by circumstance and his lack of being able to do anything other than fighting. While it’s a character trait that is pretty common in boxing stories, Ryan truly makes you believe it in a way no other actor has apart from Sylvester Stallone in Rocky and Robert De Niro in Raging Bull.

This story may also seem all too familiar, as well, in that it is about a boxer told to throw a fight but his pride and his purity won’t allow him to quit just because someone tells him to. It’s admirable and it’s stupid because we all know how these things tend to go. Especially for an honest guy that just wants to get home safely to the love of his life.

Apart from the compelling story, which is really a character study, the film employs some stupendous cinematography and knows how to tell its story visually.

The boxing scenes are well shot, well lit and the action looks authentic. Even the opening credits sequence, which just features the dancing feet of boxers locked in fisticuffs is a thing of absolute cinematic beauty.

What really grabbed my attention the most, however, was the alley scene at the end of the film. The boxer tries to evade the gangsters that mean to do him harm but he gets caught coming out of the back alley behind the arena and is then backed into a corner by several men that are determined to teach him a severe lesson.

This scene is so dynamic due to the high contrast chiaroscuro presentation, as well as its use of silhouettes and textures. Everything looks brooding and ominous, as it should in that moment. The real money shot is when you see Robert Ryan with his back against a closed garage door in one-point perspective. The use of lighting and shadows here is perfection. And it’s the moment when the dread Ryan is experiencing really grabs you.

The Set-Up is such a simple yet rich motion picture. It’s a story we’ve all seen before but from the perspective of visual storytelling, it’s never been done this well.

For film-noir fans that haven’t yet seen this picture, you probably should. It’s a scant 73 minutes but in that short time, it does more than most films double that length.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: The Champion, another film-noir that takes place in the boxing world and came out the same year as this.

Video Game Review: Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! (NES)

I think that Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! is still my favorite sports video game of all-time. Sure, it’s not realistic but it didn’t just give me hours of fun, it gave me decades of fun.

Hell, I still play through the game every couple of months and about a dozen years ago a friend and I made a short film where this game was the centerpiece of the plot.

Someone once asked what my favorite Mario game was and I answered, “Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!

But let me reel it back in.

This game is one of the greatest time wasters ever invented. That’s not hyperbole, that’s how I really feel.

You see, it’s pretty limited. You just do one thing in the game, you box. However, each boxer you face has a different style and it’s really a game about timing and pattern recognition. Now you may think that’s easy when a boxer you’ve beat shows up a second time but the patterns you familiarized yourself with change and get more difficult later in the game.

The way this was designed was pretty brilliant. It is also addictive as even in 2019, 32 years later, it’s hard to put down once you fire up a game.

I still play through this game in its entirety a few times per year. That’s staying power.

My only real complaint about the game is that Mike Tyson is ungodly hard. Yes, I can beat him on a regular basis but, as a kid, it took me a long ass time to finally take him out. Truthfully, even if you’ve beaten him dozens of times, as I now have, he’s still a beast and one mistake is pretty much your defeat.

A few years later, Mike Tyson got into some trouble, so he was removed from the game and replaced with a fictional boxer named Mr. Dream. Honestly, Mr. Dream was just a whitewashed Mike Tyson. Play both versions of the game and you’ll see what I mean.

In the end, both NES Punch-Out!! games are the same game. Just one has Mike Tyson and the other has whitewashed Mike Tyson.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: all other games in the Punch-Out!! franchise.

Vids I Dig 085: Generation Gap Gaming: ‘Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!’ NES Secrets and History

From Generation Gap Gaming’s YouTube description: I still love learning new secrets and history about my number two game of all-time Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! I wanted to share some of my favorites with you.