It’s All Theo’s Fault

“The Goldfinch” is a film directed by John Crowley with screenwriter Peter Straughan adapting the novel written by Donna Tartt.  The story centers on a young man named Theodore Decker, played by Ansel Elgort, whose mother was killed in a bombing Metropolitan Museum of Art when he was thirteen years-old.  A much younger actor with the distinctive name of Oakes Fegley takes on the younger Theo.  The film also stars Jeffrey Wright, Nicole Kidman, and Luke Wilson.

Theo has grown up and sells antiques in New York, alongside a mentor, played by Wright.  This is one of those films which cuts back and forth between his adult years and his troubled childhood.  Theo has developed a substance abuse problem to go along with his other challenges.  After his mother’s death, the movie explores how Theo was betrayed by those who were supposed to care for him, and encouraged by those who had no such obligation.

I ended up liking the film, but it’s another one that still was a mixed bag.  It’s a long movie and it feels like a long movie.  The transitions between the two main eras of Theo’s life was a little jarring.  The cast was great though.  Reliable performers such as Wright and Kidman still managed to keep me engaged.  It was an interesting story for the most part and delved into the world of art history and antiques, which I didn’t mind.  I was rather distracted by some of the extraordinary coincidences that sort of kept cropping up on how the adult Theo kept reconnecting with aspects of his childhood.  I have yet to read the novel, so I can’t say for sure, but it really felt like a lot was left out of the adaptation which could have helped the screen version make a little better sense.

It’s a film I didn’t necessarily mind seeing, but I would say it’s probably something one doesn’t need to make a special effort to watch.

Welcome To The Hot Zone

“The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus” is a chronicle first published in 1994 by Richard Preston.  Preston first published an article two years before in The New Yorker entitled “Crisis in the Hot Zone” in which this particular book further expands.

Preston knows how to rattle the nerves with his accounts of the devastating effects the Ebola Virus wreaks on the body.  He also delves into the personal lives of  some of those researchers who faced this terrible affliction and does so quite effectively.

Preston not only comes off as a meticulous researcher and journalist, but he also is a pretty compelling writer without making the subject more complicated than necessary. There are times when it gets a little dry, but those pages are not too numerous.

I don’t read non-fiction on a regular basis, but I was glad to give this one a gander.  Preston does a great job of presenting the horrors and the noble efforts of the scientists to study the Ebola Virus in a manner in which laypeople can follow fairly easily.

I will next be delving into an American classic about one of the darker periods of this US history.  It’s going to be lengthy reading indulgence, but I am going to be taking on “Roots” by Alex Haley.

A Missing Will, A Long Lost Cousin, And Murder Cheers Sherlock Holmes Up

“The Reification of Hans Gerber” is a Sherlock Holmes audio drama released in 2011 from Big Finish Productions.  This episode is written by George Mann, and Nicholas Briggs and Richard Earl star as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, respectively.  John Dorney, Dan Starkey, and Terry Malloy are included in the guest cast.

First of all, the title is perhaps a little too ambiguous.  My vocabulary is pretty good, and I had to look up the definition of reification, which means to basically to make a concept or idea into a concrete thing.  I don’t know if many people could recall that meaning easily, so the title could have been better thought out.

In spite of that, I really enjoyed this episode.  I am getting used to Briggs’ portrayal of most famous literary detective, which isn’t bad.  I find the performance of Richard Earl as Dr. Watson as pretty extraordinary.  I don’t know which makes a perfect Victorian sounding voice, but Earl pitches his just right.  He gets amazingly frantic during the action sequences he relates.  He may be becoming one of my favorite versions of Watson.

The other element I enjoyed about this story is that for once, Mann doesn’t have the two adventurers investigate another family curse or supernatural legend.  There are no appearances by other literary or historical figures of that era.  This really is something I could imagine that Arthur Conan Doyle would have written.

The story centers on a suspicious death that leads to a missing will.  The offspring of a banished relative has laid claim to the estate, and Holmes is asked to look into the matter.  Then a murder occurs, and the deductions are pronounced.  There are some pretty good twists here even if they are not entirely unpredictable.

This is the kind of Holmes story I prefer if other writers want to contribute to the legend. Of course, no one compares to the master, Conan Doyle, but Mann’s offering here does come closer than a lot of recent pastiches I have read or heard recently.  He does manage to emulate the prose fairly effectively while laying out some much needed creativity.

Big Finish consistently hires solid if not extraordinary performers who do make some of the more ill-considered storylines at least reasonably enjoyable.  This episode had great performances which I can almost always count on, and a story that would likely make the creator of the most recognizable pair of Victorian crime in literature proud.  Well done, George Mann and Big Finish!

A Terrifying Reunion With Pennywise

“It: Chapter Two” is the second half of the cinematic adaptation of one of Stephen King’s most iconic novels.  Gary Dauberman wrote the screenplay with Andy Muschietti directing.  So the first film depicted the battle between a group of teen-age misfits and the demonic, murderous clown known as Pennywise.  This film has the kids all grown up and called back to Derry, Maine when familiar murders start to break out again.  James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Jessica Chastain, and Bill Skarsgard are part of the cast, with Skarsgard donning the face paint and wicked looking teeth once again as the malevolent clown.

The film has some new footage of the younger counterparts of the main cast as well as flashbacks flesh out the events that occurred twenty-seven years ago in the first film.

The visual effects were quite good, although some of the manifestations of Pennywise were a little too absurd even for a horror movie.  The performances were strong enough for the most part.  Hader, who is best known as a comedic sketch artist from Saturday Night Live, demonstrated an unexpected range of acting.  He is apparently gotten significant acclaim in television series entitled “Barry”, and the praise seems like it is deserved.

There are times when the story doesn’t flow very well onscreen, however I am willing to show some grace here since the original novel is quite massive.  It’s a pretty solid cast overall.  Not all of the frights worked as well as others.

Bill Skarsgard does have some moments where he is quite chilling as Pennywise.  He was a great choice to take on that role.

The movie works pretty well for the most part.  The fans will see this regardless of the reviews, but I doubt many will be that deeply disappointed.  I noticed quite a few flaws here, but I still ended up finding a fairly significant amount of macabre enjoyment as well.

A Quick Trip To The Memory Farm

“Memories of a Tyrant” is a Doctor Who audio drama released by Big Finish Productions.  This particular episode is brought to us by Roland Moore and finally reunites Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant as the Sixth Doctor and Peri, respectively.  Listeners haven’t heard Bryant in this range for a couple of years, but she slips quite nicely back into the part, and the two resume their familiar and enjoyable chemistry.

The Doctor brings Peri to a space station known as the Memory Farm where technology is able to access memories that are thought to be quite buried.  There they find a patient who may or may not have been a ruthless dictator and the scientists trying to verify his identity.  Of course, things take a dangerous turn when the Doctor gets himself caught up in the experiment.

The guest cast includes Joseph Mydell, Charlotte Stevens, and Sean Connolly.  These are actors with whom I am not familiar, but they seem to be well chosen as what can usually be expected from Big Finish.

The episode has a pretty fascinating concept and becomes something of a classic murder mystery at the beginning and shifts into something I found to be a little confusing after the second episode.  I probably just need to have another listen to grasp the middle of the episode a little better.

I will say that it was still great to have Baker and Bryant together again.  Baker still continues to muster the same energy in his performance.  The relationship between his Doctor and Peri continues to have a much more meaningful dynamic than what was sometimes presented in the television series.  Although I enjoy this Doctor’s interaction with the other Big Finish characters such as Evelyn, Constance Clarke, or Flip, I have no issue with revisiting this particular team either.

Moore leaves some unanswered questions when this episode comes to a close, however I found myself not minding that due to the uniqueness of the plot.  Of course, this TARDIS crew being together again does help me shrug off what would normally be an annoyance to me.  There are some elements of the story that are a little hard to follow, at least on the first listening, but this is another example of why I still get an enormous pleasure out of the Big Finish contributions to Doctor Who.

Mike Banning Has To Get His Wings Back

“Angel Has Fallen” is the third action film to feature super duper Secret Service Agent Mike Banning, played by Gerard Butler.  It is directed by Ric Roman Waugh, who also co-write this thing alongside Matt Cook and Robert Mark Kamen.  It’s the follow-up to “Olympus Has Fallen” and “London Has Fallen”.  Morgan Freeman returns to the role as now President Allan Trumbull and gives the film the benefit of his reassuring presence in spite of a somewhat incoherent storyline.  Jada Pinkett Smith plays the part of an FBI agent who is trying to sort out the mess after an attempted assassination on the president which ends up getting pinned up on Mike Banning.  Nick Nolte shows up as Banning’s weird survivalist dad.  Piper Perabo is also there as the worried yet supportive wife.  I had forgotten until I checked later, but she took over the part originally played by Radha Mitchell.

It’s a pretty fun movie to sit through if one can forgive the plot holes and general silliness of the whole thing.  The action scenes are pretty good and compelling.  Banning as a character isn’t too bad to follow.  I like Butler well enough to stay with him in most movies though.

There is nothing terribly special or memorable about this particular movie, but I couldn’t bring myself to really dislike it either, so I guess the that’s a fair accomplishment for the studio.

Big Finish Has A Big Story To Tell And Several Doctors On Hand

“The Legacy of Time” is a Doctor Who audio boxset that is a celebration of twenty years for Big Finish Production’s contributions to the travels of the maverick Time Lord.  There are six individual stories with a very powerful threat linking them together.  Temporal disturbances are plaguing the universe and several Doctors and his companions have to repair the damage and find the source of the maelstrom.  This is a chance for the writers to play and they go for maximum indulgence.  This is a great addition for Doctor Who collectors.  I won’t give away too much, but I can give a brief breakdown of the episodes here.

James Goss starts off with “Lies in Ruins” which has the anticipated meeting between Professor River Song and Professor Bernice Summerfield, plays by Alex Kingson and Lisa Bowerman.  Long past time for this little encounter.  They are on a ruined world unearthing an ancient tomb when a familiar police box appears.  Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor arrives with a new companion named Ria.  The Doctor appears to be quite different, and the devastated planet starts to look quite familiar.  There is great chemistry among the lead cast, but that’s not too surprising.  It’s a very promising start to this compilation.

Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred return to their roles as the Seventh Doctor and Ace in John Dorney’s “The Split Infinitive”.  Simon Williams, Pamela Salem, and Karen Gledhill return as the Counter-Measures team.  These were the people the Doctor first encountered in “Remembrance of the Daleks”. This time, Ace and the Doctor have to accomplish a mission in two different decades at the same time.  It’s a pretty complicated story in many ways, but it’s pretty good.  Counter-Measures have their own spin-off series with Big Finish, so I am not that familiar with them.  Dorney is a prolific and consistent writer for Big Finish and continues to demonstrate a penchant for creative conflicts.  It’s a pretty fun adventure which peels off another layer leading to the heart of the more important mystery.

Guy Adams continues the galactic journey with “The Sacrifice of Jo Grant” in which Jo and the present day leaders of UNIT are transported back in time where they encounter the Third Doctor.  Tim Treloar once again is on hand to give a very uncanny impression of the late Jon Pertwee.  Jemma Redgrave returns as Kate Stewart, the offspring of another iconic figure in the series.  Ingrid Oliver also steps up to the mic as Osgood, the new scientific adviser and the Doctor’s biggest fan.  Nicholas Briggs also joins the cast as a soldier named Wallace.  This is probably the most moving story in the set.  At the end, Kate makes a rather special call that I am sure brought a misty eye to many of the listeners.

“Relative Time” is written by Matt Fitton and reunites father and daughter.  This touches on the new series episode “The Doctor’s Daughter”.  This is quite the family affair. Georgia Tennant returns as Jenny and reunites with an earlier incarnation of the Doctor’s.  Peter Davison is a bit taken aback to meet this strange woman claiming to be his Doctor.  Of course, they are father and daughter in real life.  John Heffernan plays the deranged Time Lord known as the Nine.  The Nine is the earlier version of the Eleven.  Once again, it’s a pretty good episode and is probably long overdue to have Jenny meet earlier versions of her father.

Jonathan Morris pens the penultimate episode entitled “The Avenues of Possibility” in which Colin Baker and India Fisher slip into the welcome and familiar roles of the Sixth Doctor and Charlotte Pollard.  Anna Hope joins the chaos as Detective Inspector Patricia Menzies. At this point, all kinds of time portals are creating havoc.  The twenty-first century has intersected with the eighteenth century, and brothers John and Henry Fielding are pulled into the temporal pandemonium.  They are both English magistrates of repute.  Henry is credited with the founding of London’s first police force.  Anyway, the time distortions have gotten way out of hand, and the Doctor does discover the force behind it.  A force that is very familiar to the Big Finish listeners who have been around since the beginning.  This is one of most complicated relationships between the Doctor and his companion since Charlotte first traveled with the Eighth Doctor and cannot reveal that to his past incarnation.  Anyway, it’s a wonderfully twisted addition to the collection.  Every story has plenty of good points, but this is a pretty strong one.

Finally, we come to “Collision Course” by Guy Adams.  Former companions Romana and Leela, played by Lalla Ward and Louise Jameson, remember a visit to the same world when they traveled with Fourth Doctor at different times.  Tom Baker is back at it and sounds great as usual.  A TARDIS has been constructed and needs a test flight.  This is the first TARDIS, and the Doctor returns to the beginning of the legend of his people.  In order to undo the damage created by the time distortions, the flight needs to happen and this time all sorts of Doctors have arrived to help reset the timelines.  I won’t spoil too much here, but some Doctors show up that are unexpected.  I should have known that they would be there.  This is the extravaganza we all expect for a celebration of this sort. It doesn’t make much sense plot wise, but it’s damn good fun regardless.

This is probably one of the best constructed multi-Doctor collections I have experienced in some time.  There were plenty of moments to pull at the heartstrings a little without sacrificing the humor or the adventure.  Each Doctor was showcased quite effectively.  The performances were all solid, and I could believe how hard everyone worked to make this happen.  A limited number was released so that the physical set has apparently been sold out, however any Doctor Who fan should definitely figure out a way to listen to this saga.

When Murder Comes To Call

“The Unexpected Guest” is a novel by Charles Osborne, however it also is adapted from a play penned by the great Agatha Christie.  It was first published in 1999.

A fellow named Michael Starkwedder comes to a not so modest house in the English countryside for assistance after he runs his car into a ditch.  When he arrives, he finds a study door open and a dead man in a wheelchair.  Starkwedder is further startled to find a woman holding a gun as well.  The woman turns out to be the widow who admits to killing her husband.  Starkwedder hears a story about what led up to such a heinous situation and decides to help her cover up the crime.  The police arrive in the shape of an Inspector Thomas and Sergeant Cadwallader. More of the stricken Warwick family is introduced.  The murdered Richard Warwick ends up not making the most sympathetic of victims.  Secrets of all sorts start to come to light.  It’s typical Agatha Christie in all her literary glory.

I read another one of these adaptations recently and had a somewhat lukewarm reaction to it.  I am pleased to say that this one was quite an improvement.  Yes, some of the clichés and tropes are ever present, however there were some interesting twists and turns.  Some I predicted, however there were a few unexpected revelations.  Not everything came off as entirely implausible, but it is Dame Agatha ultimately, so it was easy enough to enjoy regardless.  Osborne is not a spectacular wordsmith or anything, but he was competent enough to keep me interested.  The story does move pretty quickly as well.

The story does a pretty good job of throwing the reader off when what appears obvious turns out to be a misdirection,  and fairly clever ones as well.

Although I wouldn’t rank this as one of the classics in Christie’s body of work, it’s a solid enough addition for me to suggest this one to anyone who has yet to peruse it.

The unending literary expedition continues with one of my rare forays into non-fiction.  I am about to step in “The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus” by Richard Preston.

Arm Yourself…Game Time!

“Ready or Not” is a called a dark comedy horror thriller film. There are some horrifying scenes and some unlikely comedic moments, so I guess that’s an apt description.  It’s written and directed by a bunch of people with long complicated names, but I guess I will forge ahead and mention them anyway.  The screenplay is written by Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy.  Okay, those two aren’t too bad.  But this thing apparently needed two directors, and they are Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett.  The cast includes Samara Weaving, Andie McDowell, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien, and Henry Czerny.

Weaving plays a brand new bride marrying into a family who has built their considerable wealth by creating and marketing various board games for lots of years. The Le Domas family success comes with a peculiar cost.  After the wedding, a rigid tradition demands a game to be played.  Weaving’s character, Grace, happens to draw the card that has them play Hide and Seek, however this ends up being a more lethal version of the game that what is usually played.

There is a fair number of gruesome deaths with exotic weapons of the past.  There is a great looking spooky house to run around in.  The characters are appropriately weird and fairly compelling. The bride is expectedly gorgeous and fairly resourceful in between moments of terror.

It’s kind of horrific and a little stupid, but still strangely enjoyable for those of us with a taste of the macabre.  Grace proves herself to be a scrappy little woman in between her moments of understandable panic. Weaving’s performance is pretty convincing, however that is not surprising since her father is a pretty impressive actor named Hugo Weaving.

There are a few twists and turns that are a little unexpected.  Now, there are a few problems in the logic of the script, but that’s to be expected given the genre.  I probably enjoyed this film a little more than it deserves, but I am not expecting many awards are going to be thrown its way.

 

Remember Who You Marry!

“Secret Obsession” is a thriller that recently premiered on Netflix and was written by Kraig Wenman and Peter Sullivan.  Sullivan is also the director.  Brenda Song, Mike Vogel, and Dennis Haysbert star in this lackluster cinematic effort.

The premise is a little absurd, but the genre tends to be up my alley so I thought I could find some enjoyment here.  Haysbert is really the only one who had the more interesting character of a detective coping with the grief having a daughter kidnapped, however that is not the main plot.

A young woman is run down by a car after fleeing an attack and wakes up with several significant holes in her memory.  A man is there claiming to be her husband, however it does not take long for the viewer to suspect this fellow is not to be trusted.

This is a mess.  It’s not the worst mess I have seen, but there isn’t much to justify a lot of attention being given to this movie.  The performances weren’t completely hopeless, but some of the reasoning behind the actions doesn’t hold up very well.  It’s really the writing that needs a second thought here.  I also am not sure that amnesia works quite the way that’s depicted here, although that condition does manifest itself in a variety of ways in real life, so maybe…

Anyway, Haysbert has a presence that tends to help a film more than hurts, but I wish he was utilized a little more with a better writer.  Mike Vogel could be kind of chilling at times as the doting psychotic, but we have seen this kind of obsessive crazy too many times before.  He’s not a bad actor, but there just wasn’t much for him to do to stand out.

I guess this isn’t totally unwatchable, but there are much better options out there.