Book Review: ‘Indiana Jones and the Interior World’ by Rob MacGregor

This was the last Indiana Jones book written by Rob MacGregor and also the sixth of the twelve ’90s novels published by Bantam Books.

I was kind of excited going into this one, as it featured Easter Island, a place that has always fascinated me. With that, I hoped it had some Tiki flavor and tapped into that stuff, which it did to a point, but then this gets more focused on what lies beyond the surface… literally.

The book also spends some time in South America and it draws some comparisons to my favorite MacGregor Indy book, The Seven Veils. But sadly, this didn’t match that one in quality.

I thought that the first few chapters in this were really good and it built up my hopes further, as I wanted to see MacGregor go out with a bang. However, it just kind of gets duller and duller as one reads on.

Overall this book turns into an acid trip and it doesn’t really embrace what makes the Indiana Jones franchise so beloved and that’s adventure.

I like that MacGregor ties his books together and the characters and MacGuffins bleed into other works but I just feel like the guy was out of steam here. Maybe he had a six book contract and he was just trying to get it over with, I don’t know. This just feels rushed and severely lacking.

Being that I’m now halfway through the ’90s Indy novels, I am going to take a bit of a break. I will review the other six in the near future but honestly, this one was just tough to get through and I have so many other books in my stack on my reading desk.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: other Indiana Jones novels from Bantam Books’ run in the ’90s.

Film Review: Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995)

Also known as: Gamera daikaijû kuchu kessen (original Japanese title), Gamera: Giant Monster Midair Showdown (Japanese English title)
Release Date: March 11th, 1995 (Japan)
Directed by: Shusuke Kaneko
Written by: Kazunori Ito
Music by: Kow Otani
Cast: Shinobu Nakayama, Ayako Fujitani, Yukijiro Hotaru

Daiei Studios, Hakuhodo, NTV Network, Toho Co. Ltd., 96 Minutes

Review:

Gamera movies are a lot of fun for hardcore fans of kaiju and tokusatsu flicks that want to go deeper than just the regular Godzilla films.

However, they were always sort of shit. That is, until this movie came out in 1995 and gave the world a Gamera picture that was taken really seriously and may actually be as good as the ’90s Godzilla movies. Hell, I’d say this is even better than some of them.

This has a darker tone than the jovial kids movies of the original run of films. Also, this has a harder edge and the monsters are more played up for scares than slapstick comic relief.

I like that the studio stuck to using actors in monster suits, as well as great miniature sets for them to wreck while duking it out over the course of the story.

In fact, the special effects for the time and budget are exceptionally good. Quality-wise, this is one of the best looking kaiju movies of the Heisei era.

Plus, I like the cast in this a lot more than what’s typical in these sort of films. The core characters stand out, have purpose and make the human part of the story a worthwhile one, which can often times just get in the way of what audiences really want to see, which is giant monster mayhem. 

This also sets up future films, which for this era in the Gamera franchise led to a pretty impressive trilogy.

From memory, I feel like each sequel improved upon its predecessor but since it’s been so long since I’ve watched these, I’ll refrain from actually stating that until I revisit and review them in the coming weeks.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Gamera films of the Heisei era.

Comic Review: The New Mutants – Epic Collection: Renewal

Published: March 8th, 2017
Written by: Chris Claremont, Bill Mantlo
Art by: John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Ron Frenz, Bob McLeod, Frank Miller, Paul Smith

Marvel Comics, 520 Pages

Review:

As big of a fan of The New Mutants as I am, it’s been a damn long time since I’ve read the original graphic novel and their earliest stories. I got into the series around it’s midpoint and because of that, didn’t have all of the earliest issues until more recently. This collects that first year of the regular comic books series, as well as the characters’ appearances before it started.

This was neat to revisit and it brought me back to where I was in the late’80s, as a young kid just discovering comics. Back then, I really liked the youth superhero teams like Teen Titans and New Mutants.

This collection had a few stories I hadn’t read before. It kicked off with Karma’s debut story, which happened in Marvel Team-Up and featured Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four.

Additionally, I had never read the story that served as the debut of the Hellfire Club’s Selene and New Mutants member Magma.

Everything else here I’ve read but it was nice checking it out again and refreshing my memory, as my brain gets older and forgets more than it remembers now.

I loved the art style of this series, early on, and the Chris Claremont and Bill Mantlo stories were solid.

Now I do have to say that this isn’t as good as the series would become. This is early on and it hasn’t found its grove, here.

However, this is the foundation of this group and they would eventually be faced with some really intense, life-altering storylines that would take this from just being a “Junior X-Men” comic to something unique and very much its own series, standing on its own strong legs.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other New Mutants comics, as well as the other X-Men related titles from the ’80s.

Comic Review: Dungeons & Dragons: Forgotten Realms – The Legend of Drizzt, Vol. 5: Streams of Silver

Published: October 12th, 2016
Written by: Andrew Dabb, R.A. Salvatore
Art by: Val Semeiks, Tyler Walpole
Based on: Dungeons & Dragons by TSR, characters by R.A. Salvatore

IDW Publishing, 136 Pages

Review:

The fifth of the six Drizzt Do’Urden comic books stories picks up where the fourth one left off. If you read my review for that one, you already know how much I liked it, after starting to lose a bit of faith in this series after the first three entries.

I had high hopes for this series before starting due to how popular the character of Drizzt Do’Urden is and because I’ve heard great things about his literary stories.

While I didn’t like this one as much as the fourth, it’s still damn good and made me excited for the sixth and final installment.

In this one, we see Drizzt and his allies travel a great distance on a new adventure after having just survived a war in volume four. He has his enemies in hot pursuit and draws the ire of another baddie, who forces an alliance with the evil man trying to hunt Drizzt down.

So the villains form a group to rival Drizzt and his allies and the stakes and danger are pretty high. I like that this had an unstoppable golem in it, which had to be outsmarted and taken out of the picture because you can’t actually kill it.

This story ends badly and not every hero comes away unscathed. Drizzt loses allies and it sets up what should be a worthwhile and heavy-hitting finale.

Shit, I got this far and didn’t even talk about the heroes having to fight a big ass dragon that’s hoarding treasure.

There’s just a lot of cool stuff in this volume and there isn’t a single page that’s a bore.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other Dungeons & Dragons comics, specifically those with the Forgotten Realms banner and more specifically, those featuring Drizzt Do’Urden.

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.

TV Review: Spider-Man (1994-1998)

Original Run: November 19th, 1994 – January 31st, 1998
Created by: John Semper, Bob Richardson, Avi Arad, Stan Lee
Directed by: Bob Richardson
Written by: John Semper, various
Based on: Spider-Man by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko
Music by: Kussa Mahchi, Jeremy Sweet, Shuki Levy, Joe Perry, Shuki Levy, Kussa Mahchi, Udi Harpaz
Cast: Christopher Daniel Barnes, Ed Asner, Jennifer Hale, Roscoe Lee Brown, Mark Hamill, Hank Azaria, Joseph Campanella, Martin Landau, Richard Moll, Don Stark, Dawnn Lewis, Majel Barrett, David Warner, Earl Boen

New World Entertainment Films, Genesis Entertainment, Marvel Enterprises, Fox, 65 Episodes, 23 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

After the success of the early ’90s X-Men cartoon on Fox, it was natural for the network to ask for more Marvel properties to adapt for their Saturday morning audience. The Spider-Man series was the longest running and most successful of these animated spinoffs.

While the X-Men show still stands as my favorite of these animated Marvel series, Spider-Man is a very, very close second and nearly as good.

The stories are generally well written and even if they have to take some liberties and alter the plots from the comics. This was due to time constraints and by trying to wedge in the debut of Venom really early in the series, which changes the overall timeline of events in Spider-Man’s life, greatly. Also, the showrunners probably wanted to get as many villains added into the mix, early on, so that each new episode felt fresh.

Spider-Man has a massive rogues gallery and this show utilized the core villains really damn well.

The tone of the cartoon is pretty perfect. Sure, there are cheesy and hokey bits in every episode because this is a kid’s cartoon but it does stay pretty true to the tone and style of the source material. Most importantly, it’s true to the characters and the writers obviously knew the Spider-Man mythos well.

I love this show and it’s still fun to have minimarathons of episodes. Honestly, to me, it’s one of the highlights of Disney+.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the other animated Marvel television series from the ’90s.

Comic Review: Marvel 1602

Published: February 10th, 2010
Written by: Neil Gaiman
Art by: Andy Kubert, Scott McKowen (covers)

Marvel Comics, 246 Pages

Review:

This started out as a really cool story and I enjoyed it a lot from the get go. However, it did lose steam after a few issues and wrapped up pretty weakly. I also thought the big reveal/twist was fairly predictable and that this didn’t live up to the high hopes I had for it and the past work of Neil Gaiman.

Still, it piqued my interest enough to make me want to check out some of the other stories that take place in this odd, alternative version of the Marvel universe.

I liked the setting and I really liked most of the character designs. I did, however, feel like too many characters and subplots were forced in for the sake of trying to make this a big deal, big event. A lot of the extra fluff was unnecessary and narratively cumbersome.

I don’t know if that was an issue with Gaiman’s writing or Marvel instructing him to throw in every major old school character. I feel like all the extra characters could’ve been saved for their own interesting spinoffs of this.

Beyond the rickety story, I thought that Andy Kubert’s art was pretty damn impressive. Artistically, this is one of my favorite things that he’s done and the style he used here fit with the story really well.

Also, the covers by Scott McKowen are some of my favorite from this comic’s era. They’re actually framed poster worthy and while staring at them, I thought about seeing if I could buy some.

In the end, Marvel 1602 was a fun experiment and it captivated me early on. But it was too dragged out and overloaded and with that, became more of a chore to read in the back half.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other Marvel alternative timeline stories, as well as other comics written by Neil Gaiman.

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.

Film Review: Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)

Release Date: June 9th, 2002 (CineVegas International Film Festival)
Directed by: Don Coscarelli 
Written by: Don Coscarelli 
Based on: Bubba Ho-Tep by Joe R. Lansdale
Music by: Brian Tyler
Cast: Bruce Campbell, Ossie Davis, Ella Joyce,  Heidi Marnhout, Bob Ivy, Reggie Bannister

Silver Sphere Corporation, Vitagraph Films, 92 Minutes

Review:

“What do I really have left in life but this place? It ain’t much of a home, but it’s all I got. Well, goddamnit. I’ll be damned if I let some foreign, graffiti writin’, soul suckin’, son of a bitch in an oversized cowboy hat and boots take my friend’s souls and shit ’em down the visitors toilet!” – Elvis

I’ll always have a certain level of respect for Don Coscarelli, as he gave the world Phantasm and Beastmaster, two films that had pretty profound effects on me as a kid.

However, I saw this back when it was new and it didn’t really speak to me like I hoped it would have. I haven’t watched it since then but I do love Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis, so I thought that giving it another shot was long overdue. Plus, tastes change, I’m nearly twenty years older and I often times find myself enjoying movies that I previously hadn’t.

I’m glad to say that I enjoyed this much more than I originally did in 2002. But, at an older age, I think it’s also more relatable. Plus, I’m probably just able to enjoy the slow pace and the nuance of the picture much better.

The plot surrounds two guys that become best buds in a nursing home and discover that something strange is afoot when a reanimated mummy starts killing some of the residents. The odd thing is that Bruce Campbell believes he’s Elvis Presley and he might very well be. Ossie Davis believes he’s John F. Kennedy, after being reconstructed in a lab and dyed black. We never find out if they really are who they believe themselves to be but it doesn’t really matter and it’s part of the movie’s unique charm.

So basically, we have a story where an elderly Elvis and an elderly, black JFK team-up to fight a killer mummy. What’s not to like?

My first impression of the film, years ago, was that it was kind of cool but it moved way too slow and felt uneventful. Now, I like the pace and it isn’t slow, so much as it tries to really develop the characters, their personal bond and build up some suspense before the big final fight at the end.

It’s still far from Coscarelli’s best work but it’s definitely better than the later Phantasm sequels and the Beastmaster movies he didn’t direct.

As I get older in age, I feel like I can just relate to the movie and its characters much more than I did in my early twenties. It probably reflects where Coscarelli saw himself at the time that he made it, as well as the two stars. Davis died a few years later and even though Campbell is still going strong, today, by 2002, he had to be feeling age creep up on him.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other Don Coscarelli movies, as well as other films starring Bruce Campbell.