Book Review: ‘The Witcher: Baptism of Fire’ by Andrzej Sapkowski

As I’m working my way through The Witcher books, this is my favorite installment of the regular “saga” novels, thus far. It’s also the third and middle chapter of the five.

I guess it’s actually my favorite, counting the two short story compilations that I started with and honestly, the first one of those is hard to top.

In this volume, we pick up where things left off with the previous book. The trio of Geralt, Yennefer and Ciri are split up and in different places, dealing with their own issues and adventures.

Ciri’s part of the story deals with her taking on an alias and running with a gang called “The Rats”.

Yennefer deals with the politics and issues following the fall of the Brotherhood of Sorcerers.

Geralt, on the other hand, really gets the bulk of the time in this novel but then he should, as he’s the title character of the series.

In this, Geralt wants to search for Ciri. He sets off to find her with his bestie Dandelion and a newcomer, Milva, who initially has a rocky relationship with Geralt. They also meet up with Zoltan and his dwarves and along the way they are shadowed by Cahir, who was the “black rider” that Ciri was having nightmares about in the previous book. Eventually, Cahir joins the group, as does Regis, a vampire, who the group doesn’t trust but he comes with valuable medical skills.

The big climax of the novel sees the Battle of the Bridge on the Yaruga. This is where Geralt’s chosen name of “Geralt of Rivia” actually becomes an official title, after his heroism and skill helps win the day.

Additionally, we also learn a big secret about Ciri’s lineage, which I won’t spoil.

This book had superb action, a great battle, shaky alliances, new friendships and loyalties forged and it was just one hell of a fun, badass adventure. Honestly, this was just great escapism and an enthralling epic tale.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Witcher books, comics and television shows.

Film Review: Never Take Candy from A Stranger (1960)

Also known as: Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (UK)
Release Date: March 4th, 1960 (London premiere)
Directed by: Cyril Frankel
Written by: John Hunter
Based on: The Pony Trap (play) by Roger Garis
Music by: Elisabeth Lutyens
Cast: Patrick Allen, Gwen Watford, Felix Aylmer, Janina Faye, Michael Gwynn

Hammer Films, 81 Minutes

Review:

“This isn’t an ordinary crime like burglary or a holdup.” – Martha

Similar to a lot of the other Hammer films I’ve been watching and reviewing lately, courtesy of a sweet, beefy box set I bought, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this movie.

I was pretty shocked and impressed with this, however. So much so, I’m surprised that I never knew about this picture and that it’s seemingly been lost to time.

The film is about a small town with a pedophile that is the old, senile patriarch of the town’s richest family. With that, no one really wants to do anything about this predator, as they don’t want to draw the ire of the family, who have lots of money and connections and essentially own everyone and everything in the region.

This is pretty heavy, serious subject matter for a movie that was made in 1959 but I thought that the material was well handled and even if the film feels like it’s leaning into exploitation, it classily reels itself in just enough to be respectable.

Additionally, this is well crafted, well shot, well acted and the picture’s climax of the elderly pedo chasing two young girls through the woods had similar, creepy vibes to some of the best moments from the exceptional film, The Night of the Hunter. In fact, this movie kept making me think of that classic, Robert Mitchum starring film.

I have to say that the main girl in the movie acted great and handled so many tough scenes like a seasoned pro. Gwen Watford, who played the girl’s mother was also really exceptional in this.

Also, Hammer regular Michael Gwynn had a role in this as the young victim’s lawyer. He was also solid and convincing and really shined in the courtroom scenes.

This is a dark, tragic film that most people will find upsetting. However, it’s also a great piece of work and one of the best things that Hammer Films has ever made outside of their more famous monster movies.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer horror films that are more grounded in reality.

Film Review: Return of the Fly (1959)

Release Date: July, 1959
Directed by: Edward Bernds
Written by: Edward Bernds
Based on: The Fly by George Langelaan
Music by: Paul Sawtell, Bert Shefter
Cast: Vincent Price, Brett Halsey, David Frankham, Danielle De Metz, John Sutton

Associated Producers Inc., 20th Century Fox, 80 Minutes

Review:

“[voice over] Here passes from this earth Helene Delambre, widow of my brother, Andre, whom I loved deeply, hopelessly. She was destroyed in the end by dreadful memories, a recollection of horrors that did not dim as the years went on, but instead grew monstrously, and left her mind shocked and unsteady, so that death, when it came, was a blessed release.” – Francois Delambre

Return of the Fly was rushed into production pretty quickly after the immense success of its predecessor.

That being said, it’s not as good as the first film and it also lacks color but I thought that the story justified its existence and it added something fresh to what would become a franchise starting with this movie.

The story follows the young son of the Fly from the first movie. Except now, he’s a full grown adult that has studied science and wants to follow in his father’s footsteps in an effort to honor him and prove that he was a genius that just took one terrible misstep.

It’s kind of odd that the kid is now a grown man and Vincent Price looks like he hasn’t aged a day but this is a 1950s atomic age horror flick, so suspending disbelief isn’t too difficult.

The son gets into bed with a business partner that has criminal aspirations and with that, comes a grave double cross that sees the son become a human fly like his father.

The finale of this picture isn’t as tragic, however.

While this does follow some of the same beats of the first movie, once the man becomes a fly, the people working to solve the problem have more success, here.

All in all, I enjoy this chapter in the series. It found a decent way to milk the original film and to keep this concept going. Still, it’s not as good of a movie and the scientist’s fate as a fly never feels as permanent in this one.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: its predecessor, as well as its sequel Curse of the Fly and the ’80s remakes.

Film Review: Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Release Date: December 10th, 1962 (London – Royal premiere)
Directed by: David Lean
Written by: Robert Bolt, Michael Wilson
Based on: Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence
Music by: Maurice Jarre
Cast: Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, Jose Ferrer, Anthony Quayle, Claude Rains, Arthur Kennedy, Omar Sharif, Peter O’Toole

Horizon Pictures, Columbia Pictures, 222 Minutes (premiere), 202 Minutes (theatrical cut), 187 Minutes (1970 re-release), 228 Minutes (1988 restoration) 

Review:

“I killed two people. One was… yesterday? He was just a boy and I led him into quicksand. The other was… well, before Aqaba. I had to execute him with my pistol, and there was something about it that I didn’t like.” – T.E. Lawrence

My grandmother used to watch this movie a lot when I was a kid. It was always on her television and I’d catch big chunks of it from time-to-time. While I was always enthralled by it, especially its epic scope and cinematography, I never actually watched it in its entirety from start-to-finish until I was in my late teens.

From that point on, this became one of my all-time favorite films. Granted, it’s not something I can revisit too often, as it’s incredibly long and it doesn’t need to be revisited frequently, as its effect is almost otherworldly and sticks with you pretty deeply.

That being said, I’m not sure what it is about this that makes it pretty damn close to perfect and a bonafide masterpiece. But if you look at every element of this picture, there really isn’t anything one can pick apart. I guess some modern filmgoers might think that the pacing is too slow but I feel like the whole story is sort of a slow burn towards the end and once you get there, the payoff far exceeds the time invested in the picture.

Earlier, I mentioned its cinematography. For me, this is probably the first film that I saw that made me start paying attention to these sort of details and craftsmanship in motion pictures. I wanted to be a filmmaker, as a kid, and while I was more inspired by the work of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas back then, it was films like this, Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus that really opened my eyes to the actual art of filmmaking and what was possible using just the beautiful real world outside your door.

This movie also introduced me to Peter O’Toole, who I would go on to love in every role that I saw him in after this, except maybe King Ralph. I thought that one was well beneath his talent level (and also beneath John Goodman’s).

Lawrence of Arabia is an exceptional masterpiece. It’s one of those movies that everyone should have seen at least once. Honestly, even if you don’t think that it’s your cup of tea, you should give it a shot.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other all-time classic films. Specifically those that are true epics.

Film Review: Go (1999)

Also known as: Go! – Sex, Drugs & Rave’n’Roll (German VHS title), Life with Ronna (Welsh title)
Release Date: February 20th, 1999 (Miami International Film Festival)
Directed by: Doug Liman
Written by: John August
Music by: BT
Cast: Sarah Polley, Katie Holmes, Timothy Olyphant, Desmond Askew, Taye Diggs, William Fichtner, J. E. Freeman, Jane Krakowski, Breckin Meyer, Jay Mohr, Scott Wolf, Manu Intiraymi, James Duvall, Melissa McCarthy

Saratoga Entertainment, Banner Entertainment, Columbia Pictures, 102 Minutes

Review:

“You come here, out of the blue, asking for 20 hits. Just so happens 20 is the magic number where intent to sell becomes trafficking!” – Todd

When this came out, I had a lot of friends that talked about it and liked it quite a bit. I never got around to seeing it and it has been in my Starz queue since I first got Starz, years back.

As I’ve been trying to clear out the things in all my queues that have just been sitting there for eons, I was pretty excited to finally check this film out. And I guess I never knew that Doug Liman directed it, early in his career.

Overall, this is a pretty energetic picture. It’s also got several cool and likable characters, even if nearly all of them are committing crimes in the effort to pay back rent and have a good time.

There are three stories in this film that intertwine and they’re each broken out into roughly half hour segments with a bookend to introduce multiple characters and another bookend to closeout the story.

Out of the three stories, I was most engaged by the first one, which saw Sarah Polley basically become a one-time drug dealer because she needs money. Also, there is a rave later that night where she can go and try to make a hefty profit. However, when she accidentally fucks over the drug dealer, he comes for her, but not before she is hit by a speeding car and knocked down a hill.

The second story follows the kid that normally deals drugs. However, he isn’t around town because he’s headed to Vegas for an adventure with his buds. However, this also goes sideways and the friends have to escape a vengeful strip club bouncer and owner, after a debaucherous mishap that ended in a non-lethal shooting.

The third story deals with two gay actors who are secretly in love and how they get busted by a narcotics detective that decides to use them to entrap someone else in exchange for their freedom. This crosses over with the first plot thread, as Sarah Polley’s character is who they approach for drugs and it’s the event that sets her off on her path. What we find out here, though, is that these were the people in the car that hit her. So now they’ve got to try and clean up their mess.

I don’t want to spoil too much of the plot and I won’t reveal the ending or how this all comes together in a big way. But it’s a movie with a lot of layers and solid actors playing these great, interesting characters.

Go is a better motion picture than I thought it would be, even with years of praise from friends in the back of my mind. Frankly, I should’ve watched it much sooner. Had I seen this back when it was current, it probably would’ve been a movie I watched a lot back in my youth.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other late ’90s dark teen dramas/comedies.

Film Review: Stop Me Before I Kill! (1960)

Also known as: The Full Treatment (original title)
Release Date: October, 1960 (UK)
Directed by: Val Guest
Written by: Val Guest, Ronald Scott Thorn
Based on: The Full Treatment by Ronald Scott Thorn
Music by: Stanley Black
Cast: Claude Dauphin, Diane Cilento, Ronald Lewis

Falcon, Hilary, Hammer Films, 108 Minutes, 93 Minutes (cut), 107 Minutes (Screen Gems print)

Review:

“Tesoro, I’ve lied for you but never to you.” – Denise Colby

This is a very noir-esque horror flick from Hammer, who were mostly known for their colorful, opulent adaptations of classic literary monsters.

Films like this weren’t outside of Hammer’s area of expertise, however, as I’ve discovered multiple films like this over the years and most recently, in a beefy Blu-ray box set I purchased a few months back.

So the story follows a married couple that had just survived a car accident. The husband, at one point, loses control and tries to strangle the wife. He then decides to get help from a psychiatrist to figure out why he has this impulse to murder her.

After some time, it’s revealed that there was a moment during the car crash where the husband believed he had killed his wife and since then, he’s subconsciously had this urge to fulfill what he thought was reality for a brief moment in time.

The doctor then visits the home of the couple the next day. The wife is missing and it appears that the husband murdered her even though the doctor considered him cured. However, the doctor is a total bastard that is in love with the wife and is now using the husband’s greatest fear about himself to make him actually go insane, so the doctor can swoop in and take the man’s wife.

It’s a complicated plot with many layers and some solid twists but I wouldn’t call it unpredictable or anything. Still, it’s entertaining and engaging.

Additionally, the performances are pretty good and the film has a good atmosphere. I also found the climax to be pretty satisfying.

Now this isn’t Hammer’s best film in this style but it’s still a cool movie that is worth a watch if you’re into these sort of stories.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer horror films that are more grounded in reality.

Film Review: Angus (1995)

Release Date: September 15th, 1995
Directed by: Patrick Read Johnson
Written by: Jill Gordon
Music by: David E. Russo
Cast: George C. Scott, Chris Owen, Ariana Richards, James Van Der Beek, Charlie Talbert, Kathy Bates, Kevin Connolly, Irvin Kershner

Atlas Entertainment, BBC, New Line Cinema, 87 Minutes

Review:

“As for what anybody else thinks, always remember these words and live by them: screw ’em!” – Grandpa

Angus had a pretty big impact on me when I saw it back in the late ’90s. I thought it was one of the best movies of the teen coming-of-age genre. Something about it felt more pure and realistic than the dozens of other films like it and having now seen it, a quarter of a century later, I’m really pleased to discover that not only has it held up but it’s still relevant and even better than similar movies that came after it.

I think that this movie flourished in that it used a cast of mostly unknown teens. Sure, it had Academy Award winners George C. Scott (who refused his Oscar for Patton) and Kathy Bates but they just sort of added legitimacy to the film and probably helped get it in front of audiences that might have otherwise missed it. Plus, they’re both damn good in it and even if their roles are smaller than the teens in the movie, they really have a profound effect on the overall story and Angus’ character arc and personal growth.

The story is about a smart but awkward fat kid who is voted homecoming king as a joke. However, it gives him the opportunity to at least have a dance with the girl he is crushing on, as well as allowing him stand up against the bullies trying to break him down.

It’s a pretty fresh take on the awkward kid trying to win over the popular love interest trope and it’s done remarkably well, which I think has to do with superb writing but also the great performances of the young cast. Frankly, there isn’t a weak link among them and the film’s title character, played by Charlie Talbert, is just great in every scene.

Talbert was a newcomer and this was his first professional credit. Still, this kid held his own sharing scenes with George C. Scott and Kathy Bates and it’s pretty damned impressive.

I think another thing that adds a lot to the picture is the music. The film is full of great tunes from ’90s alternative rock bands and even if it dates the movie, it still sets the tone and allows the viewer to sort of sink into this kid’s world.

Angus is something I should probably revisit more often. It’s absolutely one of the best motion pictures of its type and it’s still good with a message that will always be relevant.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other teen coming-of-age movies of the ’80s and ’90s.

Film Review: Jackie Brown (1997)

Also known as: Rum Punch (working title)
Release Date: December 8th, 1997 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Based on: Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard
Music by: various
Cast: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster, Bridget Fonda, Michael Keaton, Robert De Niro, Michael Bowen, Chris Tucker, LisaGay Hamilton, Tommy “Tiny” Lister Jr., Hattie Winston, Sid Haig, Aimee Graham, Gillian Iliana Waters, Quentin Tarantino (voice, uncredited), Denise Crosby (uncredited)

Lawrence Bender Productions, A Band Apart, Miramax, 154 Minutes

Review:

“Here we go. AK-47. The very best there is. When you absolutely, positively got to kill every motherfucker in the room, accept no substitutes.” – Ordell Robbie

Jackie Brown is probably the most underappreciated film of Quentin Tarantino’s career. It followed Pulp Fiction and it has similar vibes but it didn’t seem to connect with audiences in the same way.

I think the main reason that this didn’t win over audiences, as effectively, is because Tarantino adapted a novel, as opposed to just doing his own thing, which has been his modus operandi in every movie that he’s made apart from this one.

Elmore Leonard is a great crime writer that makes cool characters and has seen his work adapted a dozen times over. Plus, his writing style actually fits well with Tarantino’s filmmaking style. However, I think that because this was an adaptation, it was more of a straightforward, fluid story, as opposed to what Tarantino did in Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, before it.

Those movies followed non-linear paths, which was kind of groundbreaking at the time for regular filmgoers. Jackie Brown was presented in a regular chronological narrative style and maybe it seemed less “cool” to people.

Whatever. I think it’s a pretty solid movie that was superbly cast, superbly directed and had a great flow and pace. Tarantino also does get a bit tricky in showing events in the film from different points of view. So he still does his own thing with how time is managed in the movie, it’s just not as prevalent as it was in his previous flicks.

Most importantly, the story in the film is really good and engages the viewer. A big reason for this is that the core characters, even the plain evil ones, are all charismatic and kind of likable. Mostly, you just find yourself pulling for Jackie, as well as Max, her accomplice and a guy that’s a bit smitten with her.

Also, as prickish as they can be, you kind of like the cop and his FBI agent partner in this. Michael Keaton and Michael Bowen were both damn good. Keaton actually plays this exact same character in 1998’s Out of Sight. That film isn’t actually a sequel to this but it kind of feels like it exists in the same universe because of Keaton revisiting the same role just a year later.

I also enjoy the scenes with any combination of Sam Jackson, Robert De Niro and Bridget Fonda. The three of them played off of each other really well and had pretty nice chemistry. De Niro’s character was pretty chill and his performance was understated but he still brought a certain intensity to his character.

This is a very character driven movie. So I guess it’s great that all of these characters are interesting and that all the actors brought their A-game to this movie.

Jackie Brown is just damn good. I feel like it gets overlooked when people discuss their favorite Tarantino pictures but it’s always been one of my favorites. It fits well with Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, as well as a film Tarantino wrote but didn’t direct, True Romance. Honestly, I wish he’d make films like these again.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Quentin Tarantino’s other early crime films.

Book Review: ‘The Witcher: Time of Contempt’ by Andrzej Sapkowski

The Time of Contempt is the second book in the five-part main novel series of The Witcher. It’s my fourth book, as I read the two prequel short stories first, as was recommended.

This one starts off a bit slow but even the slower parts are good, as this series does a stupendous job of character development. And with that, we see Ciri mature a little bit and also experience the threat of the Wild Hunt for the first time.

The book also reveals more about Ciri and her destiny and how everyone is tied to her.

Beyond the first act, the book shifts into overdrive. We reconnect with some familiar faces but there are plots and twists and then, major conflict and action.

The core trio gets split up in the mayhem but this sets Ciri off on the path she is destined to follow.

I honestly don’t want to spoil too much about the plot but I hope these stories are something that the Netflix show can eventually get to, as long as they do it justice. I worry that they won’t but then, I’ll always have these books, which are the superior versions of The Witcher mythos.

I dig this series a lot and honestly, I’m halfway through the eight books now and I still find them hard to put down. I feel like this is a novel series I will return to multiple times in the future, as I have with the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Witcher books, comics and television shows.

Film Review: Those Who Wish Me Dead (2021)

Release Date: May 5th, 2021 (South Korea)
Directed by: Taylor Sheridan
Written by: Michael Koryta, Charles Leavitt, Taylor Sheridan
Based on: Those Who Wish Me Dead by Michael Koryta
Music by: Brian Tyler
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Finn Little, Nicholas Hoult, Aidan Gillen, Jake Weber, Medina Senghore, Jon Bernthal, Tyler Perry

BRON Studios, Creative Wealth Media Finance, Film Rites, Warner Bros., 100 Minutes

Review:

“I hate this fucking place.” – Jack, “It hates you back.” – Allison

This is the fourth or fifth movie to be released simultaneously in theaters and on the HBO Max streaming service. I decided to watch it on HBO Max, as I probably wouldn’t have seen it in theaters, anyway.

The trailer looked good enough and I’ve mostly liked Taylor Sheridan’s writing and narrative style in films like Hell Or High Water and the Sicario pictures. He hasn’t directed anything I’ve seen yet, so this is my first experience seeing what he can do helming his own picture.

This stars Angelina Jolie, who is believable when she plays tough women. And in this, Sheridan goes against what seems to be the Hollywood trend these days, as he doesn’t make her some invincible Mary Sue. No, she goes through absolute hell in this film and severely gets her ass kicked by scumbag assassins. However, like the Ellen Ripleys and Sarah Connors of motion picture history, her maternal instinct kicks in and she does everything she possibly can do to help a young kid survive the terror that’s coming.

Additionally, Jolie’s character has some serious demons in her past that she needs to exorcize and when shit hits the fan in this picture, she rises to the occasion and does the right thing.

The film also stars Jon Bernthal, Nicolas Hoult and Aidan Gillen. All of these guys were good in this but the movie really let Jolie shine on her own, as the focal point and hero trying to save the kid from assassins and a massive forest fire.

The action sequences were pretty decent and the killers were damn believable and cold as hell. Jolie really shines, though, and the kid was pretty good and didn’t annoy the crap out of me.

Honestly, though, this is a pretty forgettable movie. It’s competently made and the story works but I don’t know if Sheridan, as a director, has everything clicking on all cylinders yet. That certainly doesn’t mean he won’t and this is still a better picture than most directors’ earliest efforts.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other action films of recent years.