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

Documentary Review: Vice Versa: Chyna (2021)

Release Date: June 17th, 2021
Directed by: Marah Strauch, Erik Angra (segment director)
Written by: Marah Strauch
Music by: Ceiri Torjussen
Cast: Chyna, Mick Foley, Triple H, Kevin Nash, Drew Pinsky, various

Rock Skull, Rock Salt Releasing, Citizen Skull Productions, Vice, 90 Minutes

Review:

I’m not a big fan of Vice, overall. However, I really like Dark Side of the Ring quite a lot. I attribute that more to the showrunners and not the network, itself.

However, since they recently put out a documentary on Chyna, I figured I’d give it a watch, as their professional wrestling related content, thus far, has been exceptional.

While this didn’t captivate me on the same level of Dark Side of the Ring, it still pulled me in and held my attention. I think a lot of that has to do with Chyna’s story, though, as she lived an interesting but very sad and fucked up life. And I don’t say that lightly or to be disrespectful, it just is what it is and she was a nice person that deserved much more from life than her demons winning in the end.

This goes deep into her backstory before she entered the world of professional wrestling and it was cool finally getting to know her from that perspective.

Beyond that, it discusses her career and how it truly impacted the wrestling business. There are a lot of talking head interviews with several of her former co-workers and friends, as well as those she was most intimate with.

After the wrestling part of her life, things got really dark and I appreciate that this doesn’t gloss over it or try to play it down. This puts it all out there but at the same time, it lets Chyna talk about it and reveal why she did certain things and how having the rug pulled out from under her, professionally and romantically, really destroyed her spirit.

This starts to show you Chyna, in Japan as a teacher, where she started to get her life together and turn things around. However, after returning to the United States, probably too early, she picked up bad habits again and well, the rest is sadly history.

I always liked Chyna but I never felt like she had the right avenue to tell her story until now. Frankly, I like her even more and this is truly a heartbreaking and tragic story and it sucks that she couldn’t overcome the issues that plagued her for so long.

So this is a pretty depressing documentary but I think it’s also good in that it let her speak about this stuff and it also shows people who she was beyond the WWE’s glamor and glitz.

Rating: 7.25/10

Book Review: ‘Bruiser Brody’ by Emerson Murray

I know, I know… I’ve reviewed a ton of wrestler biographies over the last year or so. There’s just so many good ones and I especially want to read through everything put out by Crowbar Press, as those are generally on another level.

Bruiser Brody was also a guy who I loved. I heard the legendary tales about the guy but due to him being murdered while still at the height of his career, I didn’t get to actually see him perform until I became a wrestling tape trader in the ’90s.

Once I saw Brody, I realized that the hype was real and the guy had an infectious charisma and a ring presence that made nearly anyone facing him look like the victim of a savage beatdown.

Over the years, I amassed a pretty big library of Bruiser Brody footage from all over the United States, Puerto Rico and Japan, where he did some of his most amazing work. I’ve studied the guy for a few decades now and have read a lot of old articles about him. But I never felt like I knew enough about the actual man behind the persona, until now.

This book does a superb job in showing you Brody’s life from his childhood, his life in football and his life in wrestling up until the night where he was stabbed in the showers before a wrestling event in Puerto Rico.

The best part of this book is that we get to read a lot of Brody stories through the words of other wrestling legends that worked with the man, were his friends and traveled with him.

I also like that this book is loaded with photos. But even then, it’s not so loaded that there isn’t a lot to read here. This is a good-sized book and it really lets you get to know this legend that passed way before his time.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Thrashin’ (1986)

Release Date: May 11th, 1986 (Cannes)
Directed by: David Winters
Written by: Paul Brown, Alan Sacks
Music by: Barry Goldberg
Cast: Josh Brolin, Robert Rusler, Pamela Gidley, Chuck McCann, Brooke McCarter, Josh Richman, Brett Marx, David Wagner, Tony Alva, Mark Munski, Sherilyn Fenn, Rocky Giordani, Steve Whittaker, Per Welinder

Winters Hollywood Entertainment Holdings, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Thrashin’, it’s just an aggressive style of skating.” – Corey Webster

Whenever I watch this movie, I wonder if Josh Brolin still has his skateboarding skills. While I know that he didn’t do the hardest stuff in the film, the shots that do prove its him doing some of the moves are pretty good. He had to get more than just the basics down and the same goes for the rest of the core cast, who are actors and not competitive skaters.

I used to watch this movie a lot, alongside Rad, when I was elementary school age. My cousin was a competitive skater, BMXer and later, wakeboarder. He never got famous and he’s a doctor now but because of him, I grew up around these things. Sure, I attempted all of the above but I sucked at it and excelled more at martial arts, football and basketball.

Anyway, I probably haven’t seen this in a decade, the last time I had a working VCR. I’ve never owned the DVD or Blu-ray, assuming one exists, and only caught it this time around because it popped up on Prime.

Revisiting this was a lot of fun and I realized that it’s a much better movie than I realized. Sure, it’s chock full of ’80s cheese and clichés but that’s not a bad thing and it just enriches the world that these kids live in.

This also reminded me about how I used to think of this as a movie adaptation of the classic video game Skate or Die! While it isn’t that game brought to life, it kind of feels like it aesthetically and thematically. Hell, there’s even “Skate or Die” spray-painted on surfaces in multiple locations in this movie.

Also, a lot of the competitions in this feel like they were from the game. Specifically the jousting event, which sees the two skater rivals almost try and kill each other in skateboard combat.

For his age, Brolin was really outstanding and showed signs of the great actor he would become.

I also liked newcomer Pamela Gidley in this, a lot. She’d be in a few notable films over her career but ultimately, she didn’t reach the level I had hoped she would when I first saw her in this and felt my heart crushing hard.

Robert Rusler made a pretty convincing villain but even though he’s a very dangerous prick throughout the story, you can never really hate him because there’s still a good guy buried beneath the surface. His character sort of reminds me of the way I always saw Johnny in The Karate Kid. Sure, he’s an absolute asshole but you know there is some shit buried deep within him and when he meets his match, he is able to show respect to the dork that beat him.

I think that the action and the skating sequences in this are better than what one might expect going into this movie. This isn’t some dumb skater movie, there is a lot of heart in the picture and the stunts and tricks are top notch.

Additionally, I love the soundtrack but I was also a child of this era and a sucker for nostalgia.

Thrashin’ is one of those movies that may seem lost to time but for those of us who remember it, it’s still an enjoyable experience all these years later. It’s also one of the best movies of its type.

Rating: 7.5/10

Documentary Review: The British Bulldogs (1986)

Release Date: October 15th, 1986 (video)
Directed by: Vince McMahon
Written by: Steven B. Hecht, Vince McMahon
Cast: “Dynamite Kid” Tommy Billington, Davey Boy Smith, Lou Albano, Bret Hart, The Iron Sheik, Jesse “The Body” Ventura, various

World Wrestling Federation, Coliseum Video, 90 Minutes

Review:

I stumbled upon this on Peacock in the documentary section of their WWE content. I was pretty stoked to watch it, as The British Bulldogs were one of my all-time favorite tag teams and seeing a then-WWF documentary from 1986 seemed pretty cool.

Well, it’s not a documentary. While WWE become known for making great historical wrestling documentaries about past talent, this was produced before that era and thus, it’s a collection of Bulldogs matches with a few other segments mixed in.

This was still really neat to watch, though, as these guys were just solid f’n workers in the ring and they had an intensity that was kind of unmatched in the era until their greatest rivals came along, The Hart Foundation.

The content here is all enjoyable but it doesn’t feature their best stuff. This came out in the middle of their historic run, so WWF only had the first half of that run to pick matches from. There are some memorable matches thrown on this like their feud with The Dream Team (Greg “The Hammer” Valentine and Brutus Beefcake before he was “The Barber”).

Half of this is singles matches, though. And that’s fine, as both the Dynamite Kid and Davey Boy can work on their own. However, I was hoping for a lot of their iconic tag team championship matches. I was also hoping for a lot more of their feud with The Hart Foundation but this came out when that feud was really getting started.

Still, if you also love The Bulldogs, this is definitely worth checking out to see them win those titles and to see them both wrestle in their primes.

Rating: 7/10

Documentary Review: Bruno (2018)

Release Date: April 20th, 2018
Cast: Bruno Sammartino, Arnold Schwarzenegger, various

WWE, 46 Minutes

Review:

This was thrown together and released onto WWE Network just a few days after Bruno Sammartino passed away in 2018.

However, instead of trying to release it as quickly as possible, I really wish that WWE would’ve spent the time to put together a good, feature length documentary on Bruno. Hell, if anyone deserved it, it’s this guy, a legitimate legend that really helped make the World-Wide Wrestling Federation, decades before it became today’s WWE. In fact, this guy was the Hulk Hogan before Hulk Hogan. He was the megastar of the company and really carried it on his back.

Bruno and Vince McMahon had a falling out in the late ’80s, though, and they never really patched things up until a few years before Bruno’s death when he finally accepted a spot in the WWE Hall of Fame, after rejecting those offers for nearly two decades.

This documentary does go into Bruno’s life and his career but it mostly covers him coming back into the WWE fold and his reunion with Vince McMahon. It also features some neat backstage footage of Bruno and Arnold Schwarzenegger from the night of his Hall of Fame induction.

This was fairly decent but if I’m being honest, a legend like Bruno Sammartino deserved more and this just felt like it was slapped together to capitalize off of his death happening just a few days earlier.

Rating: 6/10

Film Review: Brewster’s Millions (1985)

Release Date: May 22nd, 1985
Directed by: Walter Hill
Written by: Timothy Harris, Herschel Weingrod
Based on: Brewster’s Millions by George Barr McCutcheon
Music by: Ry Cooder
Cast: Richard Pryor, John Candy, Lonette McKee, Stephen Collins, Hume Cronyn, David White, Jerry Orbach, Pat Hingle, David Wohl, Tovah Feldshuh, Peter Jason, Rick Moranis

Lawrence Gordon Productions, Davis Entertainment, Silver Pictures, Universal Pictures, 102 Minutes

Review:

“Gentlemen, do you think I’m a lowlife?” – Monty Brewster, “Oh no, Mr. Brewster. Not with these clothes.” – Tailor

When I was a kid, this was my favorite Richard Pryor movie. I probably watched this dozens of times, as it was on television a lot. I also liked that it starred John Candy and that Rick Moranis pops up in it, albeit in a pretty minor role.

This was also a remake of a 1920s Fatty Arbuckle film that I’ve never seen but honestly, that’s long overdue and I should probably give that one a watch.

For being a light comedy in the opulent and fun ’80s, I thought that the story and all its details were really well-crafted.

Basically, Pryor’s Monte Brewster has inherited $300 million but in order to collect it, he has to pass a test where he has to spend $30 million. But there are all these fine details into what he can and can’t do and that’s what makes the story really good.

There are twists and turns throughout and there are also some people that try to trick him into failing at every turn because they have a very big financial interest in seeing Brewster lose his right to his inheritance.

Surprisingly, this is directed by Walter Hill. He’s directed stuff like the 48 Hrs. films, The WarriorsRed Heat and other pretty awesome classic action flicks. So a straight up comedy like this makes him an odd choice for director but he taps into the same energy he had when working with Eddie Murphy on the first 48 Hrs. and just kind of applies that to Pryor and Candy.

I think Hill’s involvement actually shows his versatility as a director while also giving this a bit more oomph while making the story work really well in spite of it being more layered than it needed to be for a simple, light-hearted ’80s comedy.

Additionally, I love Pryor in this. I think it may be his best character, as he’s just a really good guy that wants to succeed but also wants to spread that success to those around him. Frankly, it’s impossible not to root for him in this.

Brewster’s Millions is just one of those movies that will always hold a place in my heart. It’s positive, it’s meaningful and it’s a much better movie than it should have been.

Rating: 7.5/10

Documentary Review: My Way: The Life and Legacy of Pat Patterson (2021)

Release Date: January 24th, 2021
Cast: Pat Patterson, Vince McMahon, Gerald Brisco, Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, Steve Austin, John Cena, Dwayne Johnson, various

WWE, 57 Minutes

Review:

Pat Patterson passed away last December and with his passing, the professional wrestling business lost a true legend and a guy that was very instrumental in how the business moved forward from the ’80s and into the modern era.

Not only was he a legend in the ring, he became Vince McMahon’s right hand when the World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment) became the dominant force in the industry.

Patterson helped shape the personalities and careers of several legendary wrestlers. He took guys like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and helped mold them into superstars.

However, Pat Patterson was also a gay man in an industry where that was very taboo in his day. It’s also an industry that is all about machismo and with that, Patterson kept his personal life very private. Those who were close to him, knew that he was gay but it was never publically stated by Patterson himself until really late in life when he felt like he didn’t have to hide it anymore.

All that being said, Patterson was an interesting but very layered guy. He was a sweet man, though. I met him briefly backstage at shows a few times and he was always a hell of a nice guy and always accommodating to the fans that got to be around him.

This WWE Network special did a pretty good job of capturing the man’s life even if it had what I consider a scant running time. But I did enjoy the fact that there was enough recorded material of Patterson for him to really tell you his story in his own words.

Rating: 7/10

Documentary Review: Hoop Dreams (1994)

Release Date: January, 1994 (Sundance)
Directed by: Steve James
Written by: Steve James, Frederick Marx
Music by: Ben Sidran
Cast: William Gates, Arthur Agee, various

KTCA Minneapolis, Kartemquin Films, Fine Line Features, 170 Minutes

Review:

“That’s why when somebody say, “when you get to the NBA, don’t forget about me”, and that stuff. Well, I should’ve said to them, “if I don’t make it, don’t you forget about me.”” – William Gates

Hoop Dreams was filmed over years, following two Chicago area high school basketball players that were trying to achieve their dream of someday playing in the NBA.

This was also pretty influential on how sports documentaries were made and presented going forward. This had a very direct, intimate approach and the time that it took to film these boys’ lives is pretty remarkable and impressive. If anything, the filmmakers deserved an award just for their dedication on this story.

It’s a very long documentary, however, and with that, it drags in some points. Although, they had to take hundreds of hours of footage over four years and edit it down to just under three hours. Had this been made today, it probably would’ve been released as a documentary miniseries with multiple episodes.

I like the film quite a bit, though, even if I hadn’t seen it since the ’90s. It’s a passionate human story that has its fair share of heartbreak, success and perseverance.

Rating: 8/10