The Shadow Of Las Vegas

Carrier Commercial Service | Las Vegas, NV

I have just returned from my first excursion to Las Vegas, Nevada since this COVID 19 business has started. I have been there several times over the past twenty years or something along those lines, so I know the town quite a bit. I am not sure I would want to live there mainly because of the unbearable, oppressive heat during the Summer months, but I love going there. I love the choices of entertainment, the variety of eateries, and the general vibe.

I often tell people who tell me they have never been to Las Vegas that yes, it does earn the moniker of Sin City in a thousand different ways, but there is plenty to do where one can enjoy the many of the offerings and still be able to live with themselves. Las Vegas is one of the most unique cities in the United States, if not the world. Of course, there are many cities that could likely legitimately make that claim.

This past weekend, I saw a Las Vegas which made me think of someone with a bad limp. The restaurants were open, and people were able to risk their fortunes in the casinos well enough. Everyone was in masks and some effort was made to encourage the recommended social distance. I have learned that lounges and bars are going to be allowed to do business again this coming week.

I found that knowing about the dark theaters and lack of live shows still dampened my enthusiasm. I was there to visit an old friend, which did happen, and certainly made the trip itself more than worthwhile. It is still Las Vegas, so I found quite a few treats anyway. The Mob Museum is still a favorite diversion after my friend had introduced me to that little gem a few years ago. I still recommend to my friends here in Amarillo to check that out whenever I hear about them planning a trip out that way.

I was then brought to the National Atomic Testing Museum, while it may not spark the same interest in me as the cops and robbers exhibits, was certainly worth the time. It’s a chronicle of the nuclear testing done in Nevada from 1951. It apparently is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institute. I will likely be mentioning that to friends who are seeking an escape to Sin City and appreciate a new piece of American history.

So in spite of the restrictions imposed because of COVID 19 pandemic, Las Vegas has some less obvious treasures to discover. Although I am still very pleased to have taken the most recent trip, I am anxious for a return there after a time that all of the amenities and diversions are available. I will not attend or participate in all that is offered since I need to practice some kind of restraint, but I will be glad when the theatres, concert venues, and buffets are in use again.

Hopefully, Las Vegas will recover along with the rest of the country as we try to get a handle on this bug. And it will not be too much longer before I can return and recognize the vibe from the days before COVID 19.

Book Review: False Accusations

The Mystery of Three Quarters is a novel written by Sophie Hannah and is her third effort to feature the Belgian detective created by Agatha Christie, Monsieur Hercule Poirot.

The story has an intriguing start when no less than four people come to Poirot and claim to have letters written by him that accuse each of them of murdering a elderly man named Barnabas Pandy. Poirot has no idea how Barnabas Pand died or even what sort of life he had lived. He certainly has never written letters accusing people of murder. Poirot gains the aid of Scotland Yard Inspector Edward Catchpool as they try to find typewriters and connections between the recipients of the letters.

I am not sure what Christie’s reaction would be to this latest effort to provide new additions to Poirot’s casefiles, but I think the estate has found a competent enough writer to pull it off. I rather like that Hannah has created her own Scotland Yard inspector as an ally to the fastidious Belgian. She also seems to respect the original author’s presentation of Poirot. Not much new ground is discovered, but that was fine with me. Poirot’s sense of justice and his ego are quite intact.

I don’t feel as if I can say that Hannah’s efforts are a match for Dame Agatha’s, I will say that this particular effort is strong enough for me to appreciate a new story with Hercule Poirot.

Earlier this year, I was in Ireland and came across a little bookshop where I picked up what is to be my next reading indulgence. I will see what Richard Killeen thinks I need to know about the Emerald Isle in his book, Ireland: 1001 Things You Need to Know.

Book Review: Meet The Maji Clans

Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orisha (1))

In 2018, author Toni Adeyemi publishes the first novel in a trilogy. Children of Blood and Bone introduces the readers to the Maji clans of Orisha. Magic was thought to have been banished from this land until a scroll is stolen. It’s another story about a group of young rebels trying to bring magic back to their land despite the oppression of the kingdom. The novel is presented in first person, but the point of view alternates between each chapter. There is a girl called Zelie who seems to be the main protagonist, but two or three other characters are presented as well.

Full disclosure here: young adult fantasy is not my genre of preference when it comes to leisure reading. That bias likely was a major contributor to my difficulty in finding enjoyment. Also, I am well beyond what would be considered a young adult. Adeyemi is not a bad writer, but there was not much found all that distinctive in her prose style. Also, there was not much distinctive about each character’s voice when they were featured in the chapter. I often had to double-check the chapter heading to make sure I was in the right character’s head.

I actually found Adeyemi’s heritage and background as a Nigerian-American more compelling than the actual story. To be fair, she is a new author, and her writing was not noticeably bad. Hell, I am not a master of the written word either, so Adeyemi and I both need the practice. Still, I have read other published works that are considerably worse than this novel. This is likely one of those novels where I would still recommend others to try out since my perception is likely tainted by my lack of experience and interest in the genre overall. It’s not bad, but it just didn’t impact me as much as I was hoping.

Now, I will be returning to more familiar territory for my leisure reading. A few years ago, Agatha Christie’s estate allowed more stories featuring Hercule Poirot to be created by Sophie Hannah. I am more of a fan of the late Dame Agatha and of course, Hercule Poirot. So Poirot has a baffling start to his involvement in The Mystery of Three Quarters.

Doctor Who Audio Review: Puppets Of Death

The Scorchies is a Doctor Who audio drama from Bog Finish Productions and is another episode from The Companion Chronicles range. James Goss is the writer with Ken Bentley serving as director. Katy Manning reprises her role as Jo Grant with Melvyn Hayes pitching in his vocal talents as a malevolent race known as the Scorchies. The Scorchies have infiltrated Earth through children’s programming since they resemble puppets, and Jo is left on her own without the aid of the Doctor for most of that time. This is supposed to be in the era of the Third Doctor, who was played by the late Jon Pertwee.

This episode is certainly one of the more comedic and absurd tales from Big Finish. There are a few catchy musical numbers as well. Manning is known as quite the voice actor over in the UK and she gets to show off her formidable talents in this one. Hayes certainly knows what he is doing as well.

Doctor Who is no stranger to absurdity. Indeed, the whole concept of the series is outlandish, which makes it enjoyable. This episode sort of tested my tolerance for camp though. It is an interesting idea, but I am relieved that stories such as these are somewhat few and far between. There are some fans that will likely find this installment hilarious. I won’t one of them…well, at least not right away.

Doctor Who Audio Review: Lucie Bleedin’ Miller Lives For Now

Doctor Who: The Further Adventures of Lucie Miller

The Further Adventures of Lucie Miller Volume One is a Doctor Who audio anthology from Big Finish Productions in there are four new stories reuniting Paul McGann and Sheridan Smith as the Eighth Doctor and Lucie Miller, respectively. Nicholas Briggs has directed this set. There is a bit of an arc, but the stories mostly appear to be standalone. Lucie Smith joined the Doctor through Big Finish over a decade ago. She met a tragic end some time ago, but the Big Finish writers and producers made the decision to reveal some adventures that had yet to be heard. Basically, they all missed with Sheridan and decided to bring her back to the fold, and I don’t mind that one bit. So how do these stories hold up? Well, let’s get into that, shall we?

The man himself, Nicholas Briggs, kicks off the set with The Dalek Trap. He also voices the Daleks, so he is a busy fellow in this one. Matt Lloyd Davies and Amanda Hurwitz join in as the guest cast. The Doctor and Lucie have collided with a black hole where they find an amnesiac couple and Daleks. The Daleks may not be the perpetrators of this disaster, but the Doctor finds himself having to make a hard choice to save everyone. This is a good start. The cast is interesting, and Sheridan and McGann have no trouble reigniting their chemistry. Briggs is consistently an interesting writer. It was a fun story to start off with even with the sometimes overly familiar Daleks.

Alice Cavender is next up with the The Revolution Game. The guest cast is comprised of Jonathan Keeble, Madeline Duggan, Tom Alexander, and Alicia Ambrose-Bayly. The Doctor’s plan to give Lucie a surprise destination for her birthday backfires a bit when they find a human colony in the group of a mega corporation where the game to watch is roller derby. This is a pretty humorous addition, but any story with Lucie Miller is going to not be short of that. There is nothing too extraordinary about this entry, but it’s solidly entertaining. Once again, the performances make this a worthwhile distraction.

The House on the Edge of Chaos by Eddie Robson is probably my favorite in this set because of the claustrophobic setting and the tinge of horror. Carla Mandonca, Rupert Vansittart, Emily Woodward, Joe Jameson, and Alicia Ambrose-Bayly lend their voices in this one. The Doctor and Lucie are trapped in a house where creatures made of static are breaching the walls. There is a mysterious death in the past at the heart of this story. The guest characters are pretty compelling. I am probably a bit biased since I love a good haunted house yarn.

And the story with a thread through it all is Island of the Fendahl by Alan Barnes. The Doctor finds an opponent he had thought was destroyed long ago has been manipulating his journeys with Lucie. Carlyss Peer, Atilla Akinci, Paul Panting, Lauren Cornelius, and Bethan Dixon Bate make up the guest cast in the final story of this collection. This brought on a surprising enough twist that pays off nicely for this listener.

Although my enjoyment of each story was not equal, I am pleased to find that I had no real disappointment in any of them. The idea of bringing in Sheridan Smith again stoked up the proper nostalgia as I remember first hearing her. Smith has forgotten none of the sass and spirit of Lucie Miller. Of course, Paul McGann has lost none of his energy in his performance either. There is a bit of a shadow over the enjoyment because I already know how Lucie’s travels in the TARDIS come to an end, but it’s a very small shadow.

Film Review: Time Working Against The Protagonist

What Is Tenet About? Investigating Christopher Nolan's New Movie | Collider

Tenet is a science fiction spy thriller written and directed by Christopher Nolan. John David Washington is in the lead as some super agent identified only as the Protagonist. His cast mates include Robert Pattinson, Michael Caine, Kenneth Branagh, Elizabeth Debicki, and Martin Donovan.

So, Tenet is some organization that is studying ammunition that can move backward through time or something like that. The Protagonist is charged with finding some kind of stolen artwork that is somehow tied to technology that causes some sort of temporal inversion where people move backward through time or something. This thing is very hard to summarize. One can watch the movie and still struggle with articulating what went on.

The cast was great. John David Washington is the son of one Denzel Washington and certainly has inherited the old man’s presence and talent but without being an imitation. Pattinson was pretty compelling himself. I have no real issue with the performances, the visual effects, or the stunt choreography. Visually, the movie is stunning which is a usual hallmark of a Nolan film.

I didn’t really hate this film, but I was a little disappointed in it. It felt too long and slow sometimes. Sometimes the dialogue was hard to understand. It was confusing to follow due to the chaotic timeline aspect to it. Nolan’s initial story idea and his direction is compelling but I sometimes get frustrated with his convoluted windy roads I find myself on trying to comprehend some of the riddles and clues littering the experience.

If I were to recommend this film to anyone, I might also include a request to explain some of its facets if they seem to have an easier following it. The movie is well over two hours and it really felt like it. Obviously, I can’t really accuse Nolan of not having any originality but he may need to simplifying that originality just a little. I guess he needs to find that balance of making it simple enough to still keep up and yet complicated enough to keep an audience’s attention, which isn’t easy in today’s culture.

Doctor Who Audio Review: Double Shot Of Baker And Roberts

Doctor Who: (NA SE1): The Fourth Doctor by Gareth Roberts Ltd. Ed. Set

Okay, there isn’t really an umbrella title for this particular release, so I will just describe it and review the pair of stories contained within/  This is a limited edition Doctor Who audio set featuring two episodes that were adapted from original novels written by Gareth Roberts.  John Dorney adapted both novels for the audio play format. Nicholas Briggs directed both stories as well.  Tom Baker stars in both stories alongside Lalla Ward and John Leeson, who reprise their roles as Romana and K9.  Of course, this release is from those well known lovers of stories, Big Finish Productions.

The Romance of Crime is the first story here with a guest cast that includes Miranda Raison, Michael Troughton, James Joyce, and Jane Slavin.  The TARDIS brings the Doctor and his friends to an inhabited asteroid known as the Rock of Judgment.  A dangerous criminal who was thought executed has made a startling return in which not everyone can remain in control of their mind and body.  This is a pretty good romp with solid performances.  Tom Baker sounds great, and none of the chemistry seems to be lacking in the main cast members.  I wish there was something that stood out in this episode for me, but it was a serviceable presentation from Big Finish.

The English Way of Death has a solid enough guest cast which includes Terrence Hardiman, Derek Carlyle, Abigail McKern, and again Jane Slavin.  The Doctor is needing to return some overdue books to t.  a library in 1930’s London, but a distress call from the future and a dangerous green mist means the library needs to wait a little longer to shelve their missing volumes.  This episode was a little better than its companion piece, but still there was not a whole lot that stood out.  It’s always a delight to hear Tom Baker in these audio plays, but I was once again not exactly enthralled by this piece.  I wasn’t repelled either, so I guess Roberts and Dorney accomplished that.

The sound effects were well realized, and the it did sound very much like the era in the television series it was supposed to represent.  I enjoyed the set well enough, but it’s another one not likely to leave a lasting memory on me until I decide to give it another whirl.

 

 

Book Review: Jane Hawk Makes A Descent

The Crooked Staircase is the third novel by Dean Koontz to feature vengeful widow, Jane Hawk.  It was first published in 2018.

Jane Hawk is a former FBI agent who is stunned by the sudden suicide of her beloved husband but finds that the idea did not occur to him on its own.  She finds a deeply buried government program involving mind control.  Two malevolent operatives are on her trail.  Her young son is in the care of two dedicated allies, but her efforts there may not be enough to keep him from danger.  Jane is on the trail of more leaders of this group known as Arcadians and finds herself having to employ some ugly tactics to get the answers she needs.

In recent years, Koontz seems to continue his fascination with rogue government operatives and strange conspiracies involving subtle domination by the state, so this series seems to be more of the same.  Although Jane Hawk is compelling enough for me to not mind following her.  Koontz still has a unique prose style to keep the sometimes overly familiar plot somewhat fresh.  The killer duo known as Dubose and Jergen are eccentric yet evil enough for me to relish the final confrontation with Jane Hawk whenever that happens.  There isn’t much I would consider extraordinary about this novel, but the good news is that it does not stand out as anything terribly obnoxious either.

It was at least good enough for me to be willing to read the fourth installment. But before that, I will try out The Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi as my next literary indulgence.

Classic Film Review: Claude Misses His Mark

Murder by Contract (1958) directed by Irving Lerner • Reviews ...

Murder By Contract is a film noir thriller that was released in 1958.  Irving Lerner is the director with Ben Simcoe listed as writer.  Vince Edwards plays a somewhat philosophical hit man named Claude saving up to buy a house.  Phillip Pine, Herschel Bernadi, and Caprice Toriel are also part of the cast.

Claude is a contract killer who doesn’t use a gun but dispatches his victims in a variety of ways.  After proving his efficiency at the beginning of the film, two men hire him to kill a witness set to testify in a high profile trial.  Claude is somewhat hesitant when he learns his latest target is a woman.  Claude is an interesting character in that he would be described as am existentialist.  He has a somewhat perplexing moment where he snaps at a hotel server for an apparently lack of ambition or something and still gives him a fairly generous gratuity.

Claude is a somewhat interesting character.  The movie is acclaimed for being somewhat stripped down to basic movie making or something.  The soundtrack is pretty simple with a repetitive guitar riff throughout the film. The film has moments where it drags a bit though.  There are some interesting moments, but the ending didn’t really satisfy all that much.  I do appreciate the effort to see what could be done with the most basic elements of film making.  I am not sure if I need to see this movie again in order to appreciate something that I missed, but the first viewing didn’t exactly leave me in a rush to make another attempt.

Film Review: Hunting With A Twist

Saban Acquires Nikolaj Coster-Waldau Crime Thriller 'The Silencing ...

The Silencing is a thriller directed by Robin Pront from a screenplay written by Micah Ranum.  The cast includes Nikolaj Coster-Waldeau, Annabelle Wallis, and Hero Feinnes-Tiffin.

The film starts off with the corpse of a young woman drifting down a river which flows through an impressive forest background.  Coster-Waldeau  plays a drunken former hunter who now runs a sanctuary for wildlife in honor of his young daughter, who had gone missing five years earlier.  Wallis plays a young, pretty sheriff who starts an investigation into the murder of the young woman who was fished out of the river.  Anyway, it doesn’t take long to figure out that some lunatic is out in the woods hunting young women.  One is rescued by the drunken protagonist.  The sheriff has a troubled brother who she feels overly protective toward.  Everyone is a bit of a mess.  One or two people discover a bit of nobility within themselves.

So when this movie started, it seemed to hold some promise.  I started to be intrigued. When the aspect of someone hunting people for sport became apparent, my interest started to wane somewhat.  The performances were not bad, and some of the action scenes sort of jolted my attention back, but I ended up dissatisfied with the final revelations.  It’s one of those movies I should have enjoyed more, and it’s a little hard to articulate why it fell short.  I think the basic premise was not terrible, but the motivation behind some of the characters’ decisions just seemed absurd.  People are absurd anyway, but this movie goes in directions that really stretch the credulity.  Anyway, it’s fine if one really needs to see something new during this whole pandemic business, but it’s not worth any real effort beyond that.