Movie Review: Blue Steel

Movie Review: Blue Steel

This is a 1934 Western starring John Wayne, Gabby Hayes and Yakima Canutt.

Blue Steel

Wayne’s character witnesses a safe robbery by the Polka-Dot Bandit.  But Sheriff Hayes witnesses the events just after that, and thinks Wayne is the bandit.  While Wayne trails the bandit and Hayes tags along in hopes Wayne will lead him to the money, they both become involved with the daughter of a murdered store owner.

It turns out the local town is being squeezed dry by an outlaw gang.  They’re secretly under the control of a rancher who’s found out there’s a rich gold deposit under the homesteaders’ land.  And it just so happens that the Polka-Dot Bandit’s day job is as one of the outlaws.

The sound design is very economical, with little music, and many scenes are nearly silent.  Unfortunately, this applies to some of the dialogue as well.  Bits of comedy are scattered throughout, such as a very shy young man on his honeymoon who hasn’t quite figured out what he and his bride are going to be doing in the bridal suite.  The big chase scene at the end is standard of its type, enlivened with some handy dynamite used by the good guys.

The young lady is your standard damsel in distress, needing repeated rescuing.  Her and the Wayne character hooking up at the end is both inevitable and completely baffling.

A quick time-waster, but not something to seek out.

Comic Book Review: Batman Deathblow After the Fire

Comic Book Review: Batman Deathblow After the Fire by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo

Full Disclosure: I received this book as a Goodreads Giveaway on the premise that I would review it.
Cover of Batman/Deathstroke
Those of you who’ve been following my reviews for a while will know that I’m a longtime Batman fan. Not so much though as regards Deathblow, one of the many Nineties antiheroes Image pumped out back in the day. He’s an agent of International Operations (I/O) who, well, kills people.

This is not a promising basis for a team-up, and Mr. Azzarello wisely doesn’t try to make it one. Instead, Batman picks up the trail of a pyrokinetic terrorist that the now-deceased Deathblow had encountered a decade before. The story cuts between the two eras, piecing together the murky circumstances through the triple-crossing wires of espionage agencies.

Even with a good writer, Michael Cray, the Deathblow used in this story, never rises above the Nineties cliches he’s mired in. Batman is done pretty well, and Alfred is a delight. Commissioner Gordon makes a cameo to give Batman a clue. The villain has a bit more depth than is evident through most of the story, which leads to a neat little last page twist.

Lee Bermejo’s art is kind of blocky, which makes for some nice covers, but is less effective in the story itself. For this deluxe edition, he presents some sketches and alternative covers, with notes on each.

To be honest, I think this book is only getting the deluxe treatment because the author has gone on to do better work. This is one I recommend checking out at the library if you can.

 

Comic Book Review: Son of Samson #1 & 2

  Comic Book Review: Son of Samson #1 & 2 by Gary Martin & Sergio Cariello.

Christian kids, just like every other kid, want to read the kind of books that appeal to them. And for a while, manga volumes became huge in the bookstores.  So there was an obvious market for something that physically resembles manga but reflects wholesome Christian values.  Zondervan, a Michigan publisher, is attempting to fill this need with series like Son of Samson.

Son of Samson

The series begins ten years after Samson’s death, with the arrival of Branan, the son Samson never knew.  He wants to know more about his father, and wanders ancient Palestine hearing about Samson’s many feats.  (For purposes of this story, the Biblical account is factual.)

In Volume One, “The Judge of God”, Branan matches wits and muscles against the Philistine commander Sidon.  He’s accompanied by a not-so-faithful sidekick, the irritable camel Uzal.  There’s a bizarre side trip to a town of crazy religious fanatics awaiting Samson’s return.

Volume Two, “The Daughter of Dagon,” introduces spoiled heiress Saphira, who hires Branan as a bodyguard on a journey.  Unfortunately for Branan, her other parent is the treacherous Delilah, the only person ever to defeat Samson.

Branan is a much nicer person than his father, and the story does address the fact that Samson was a jerk.  Branan does not kill (never outright stated but it’s pretty obvious) which comes back to bite him a couple of times.  He seems to have his father’s strength and appetite, but not Samson’s love of booze or lust.

Saphira is more oblivious than evil.  About halfway through volume two, she learns that slavery is bad, and gives letters of manumission to her slaves.  She thinks that because she’s never mistreated them, the former slaves will stick around out of loyalty.  While it’s true Saphira has never abused her slaves, she’s never done anything to earn their loyalty either, and she finds herself stuck in the middle of a journey with no clue how to do anything for herself.

Delilah, on the other hand, is out for herself at any cost–even getting her daughter to do her dirty work.  And still very physically attractive.

The art does not try to be manga-style, which is a relief.  It is well suited to the humorous bits, such as the splash page of Branan and Uzal fleeing in terror in volume one.  There’s a number of backup features, including maps, discussions of the various terms, and a quick  look at how Samson might not have been a handsome muscleman at all.  (The Bible mentions his great strength, not his physique.)  Some non-Christian readers may find the Bible citations annoying.

Overall, this is a pretty good series, though clearly not for everyone.

Book Review: Where the Cherry Tree Grew

Book Review: Where the Cherry Tree Grew by Phillip Levy

George

Full Disclosure: I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway, on the premise that I would review it.

This is something a little different for me, a geographical “biography” that traces the history of a particular place. In this case, the piece of land that became known as Ferry Farm, where George Washington lived during his boyhood years. The title alludes to the infamous Parson Weems story in which young George takes a hatchet to his father’s favorite cherry tree and owns up to it.

The history begins with the first written accounts of the area, back when the Rappahannock was a wild river, where the West began. It mentions the first person to put a house on this particular tract, Maurice Clark, and a bit about his structure (traces of which were found by the author’s archaeological team.)

There’s a fair bit on the Washington years, some from actual records and other pieces extrapolated from what was dug up there. At the time, the Washingtons were an unremarkable family, planters and slaveowners like most of the local gentry. Some difficulty over the land (which George inherited, but not without strings) meant that young George Washington had to make his own way in the world, with the results most readers will be familiar with.

One notable thing here is that the original Washington house vanished bit by bit over the years–when Washington surveyed the land shortly before selling it off, he didn’t mention its location at all. And at the time, the people of Fredericksburg weren’t much interested in memorializing Washington, even after he became president of the United States.

Interest in the farm perked up, however, after it was visited by Parson Weems, who claimed that he had interviewed many of the older locals and learned of George Washington’s childhood. It is evident now that many of his stories were made up, though at one time there had been cherry trees on the property.

After Weems came a string of promoters and farmers who tried to make something out of Ferry Farm’s connection to the first president, interrupted by the Civil War and the near destruction of Fredericksburg and everything in the vicinity. Even the Washington Bicentennial (1932) failed to get Ferry Farm off the ground as a viable historic site. Only the threat of Wal-Mart paving the whole place over as a parking lot finally got enough money and interest flowing.

Chapter Nine is an abrupt shift from third person to first person, as it details the author’s archaeological dig and how they finally found the foundations of the Washington house. i found the shift offputting, and it might have been better left in third person.

The book wraps up with a meditation on what Ferry Farm meant to Washington, and what the cherry tree story, however fabulous, has to teach us today. There are black and white photographs in the center of the book, copious footnotes, and a complete index.

I’d recommend this book to the Washington completist, American history buffs, and the geography student looking for something different to read.

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