Film Review: A Scandal In Boston

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Spotlight is a drama film released in 2015 and chronicles the events surrounding a group of investigative reporters for The Boston Globe who wrote a series articles exposing the Catholic Church’s propensity for covering up the sexual abuse of children perpetuated by priests. The Globe was awarded the Pulitzer in 2003, and the film won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Tom McCarthy directed the film and was also a co-writer alongside Josh Singer. The powerhouse cast includes Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, and Stanley Tucci.

“Spotlight” is apparently this special branch of investigative reporters who take on the more complex stories in Boston, Massachusetts. They get wind of a number of priests in the area being accused of molesting children and then having their misdeeds hushed up by the senior authorities of the Catholic Church.

This is actually a very compelling film, but it sometimes drags a bit. There are a lot of meetings which take place, which sometimes seems to slow the story down, however I guess lengthy intense discussions would indeed be commonplace at a newspaper. I have no complaints about the cast. The roster is an impressive collection of proven talent. Some of the attempts at the Boston accent seemed a little dodgy but not enough to dampen my interest in the film.

I am sure there was some creative liberties taken with the interpretation of this story, but the blowback and chaos that would follow such exposure of a vile betrayal such as sexual abuse of a child by those in the clergy did seem to be authentically portrayed. The excuses and minimizations these offenders express certainly were accurately presented. In the interest of full disclosure, I will say that I worked as a probation officer for many years and much of that time was supervising a caseload of sex offenders. The powers that be behind this film really seemed to have researched the subject quite thoroughly.

The film has a pretty grim subject matter, but I find it to be an important example of how complex and heartbreaking these cases can get. It also offers some insight on the work many journalists put in when it comes to bringing such troubling secrets to light.

It would seem odd to call this an enjoyable film, so I will say that it is an important and well-made one. The pace of it sometimes tested my patience, but the patience I had to muster did make the experience worthwhile.

Doctor Who Audio Review: Susan And Her Grandfather Take A Trip

Doctor Who - The Companion Chronicles: The Beginning

The Beginning is a Doctor Who audio play from Big Finish Productions and is an episode from the range known as The Companion Chronicles. Carole Ann Ford reprises her role as Susan, granddaughter of the space/time traveler known as the Doctor. She is joined by guest actor, Terry Molloy as a mysterious character named Quadrigger Stoyn. Marc Platt has written the script with Lisa Bowerman once again serving as director.

Well, it had to happen. Big Finish has decided to tackle the circumstances of the Doctor’s departure from his home planet. Susan relates the tale of their escape from their planet and their subsequent encounter with Quadrigger Stoyn who was aboard the purloined TARDIS. The Doctor, Stoyn, and Susan are also confronted by other alien beings.

I had a little trouble following this story for a bit, but I do appreciate the performances and the effort to tap into this era of the Doctor’s journey. Terry Molloy was one of the actors who had portrayed Davros, the creator of the Daleks, in the television series and has continued that performance for Big Finish. He has a new adversary to play now and does not need a voice modulator this time. He is quite good although there is yet much to understand about Quadrigger Stoyn.

Carol Ann Ford remains in good voice despite her age. The story presented by Platt may need another listen in order for me to understand and appreciate, but he tends to like a few extra layers in his plots.

The episode was actually released in 2013 and was part of Big Finish’s efforts to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who.

In spite of this coming across as a bit convoluted, the episode works, and I will likely clear up some of the questions I have by listening to it again. The performances are strong from both actors. The sound effects were as convincing as I would expect. It was still exciting to experience what the Doctor’s escape into the cosmos on some level. Platt did take good care to respect the show’s canon, such as it is. Quadrigger Stoyn is an interesting adversary and is likely to reappear to bedevil the Doctor further.

Netflix Television Review: Beth Harmon Learns The Game

About Netflix - From the 'Queen's Gambit' to a Record-Setting Checkmate

The Queen’s Gambit is a limited series released on Netflix a few weeks ago. It is comprised of seven episodes and was created by Scott Frank and Alan Grant. It is based on a novel by Walter Tevis. Anya Taylor-Joy plays the lead role of chess prodigy Beth Harmon. The cast includes Bill Camp, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Marielle Heller, and Rebecca Root.

Beth Harmon is an orphan who discovers an interest in the game of chess with the help of a janitor at the orphanage. Her passion and talent for the game stays with her after she is adopted and into school. Unfortunately, her taste for narcotics and alcohol also keeps its grip on her. That’s the simplest way to summarize this series. There is a lot that goes on in Beth’s journey into adulthood and notoriety in the global chess community. She also is not the most socially well-adjusted of young ladies, which also makes her a tragic and admirable character.

This is probably one of the most impressive programs I have seen in a while. Just about everything works. There is a very compelling and unusual protagonist who takes a viewer on a journey that is both tragic and triumphant. Who would have thought chess could be so exciting? I actually rather like the game but not very good at it. All of the cast appeared to be well selected. Bill Camp as Beth’s first chess mentor was quite intriguing. Mr. Shaibel is the janitor at the orphanage who first sparks Beth’s interest in the game. Brodie-Sangster at first seems to be somewhat of a questionable casting choice, but his Benny Watts really grew on me. He has the swagger of a rock star among the chess players, but there is a strong sense of decency that belies the apparent arrogance. He just gets a lot more likeable the more he is onscreen.

The high praise from the professional critics is actually well deserved. Even the moments that seemed the most predictable really did not detract much from the overall production. The series takes place mostly in 1960’s, and the era was convincingly recreated. The soundtrack was great. Anya Taylor-Joy was really the perfect choice in the lead role.

I don’t usually heap this much praise on a film or series, but there really was not much I could criticize all that harshly. Even if this was supposed to be some effort to champion an overly feminist ideology, it was done quite skillfully. I think there were enough male characters who behaved rather nobly and genuinely cared for the troubled prodigy that I didn’t mind it so much. It could also be there was a real effort to stay faithful to the novel, but I have yet to read that one, so I couldn’t say for sure one way or the other.

I would say this one was worth the time, but not necessarily for the youngsters. I may also look for the novel and see how that goes.

Film Review: Family Ties Get A Bit Bloody Here

Let Him Go Review: Kevin Costner & Diane Lane Carry a Revenge Western |  IndieWire

Let Him Go is described as a neo-western drama. The script was written by Thomas Bezucha, who also decided to direct the thing. It is also based on a novel by Larry Watson. The cast is led by Diane Lane and Kevin Costner and includes the talents of Jeffery Donovan, Lesly Mansfield, Kayli Carter, and Will Brittain.

Lane and Costner play Margaret and George Blackledge, who lost their only son in a tragic horse riding accident. The son’s widow later meets and marries Donnie Weboy. Margaret becomes concerned for the safety of her grandson when she witnesses the new husband being quite aggressive with his wife and the child. Things get even more troubling when Donnie whisks the wife and kid off to parts unknown to be closer to his family. When the Blackledges finally track them down. it seems that Donnie comes by his violent tendencies quite honestly. Mansfield is quite convincing as the dastardly matriarch. It was also great to see Donovan onscreen, even if his character was rather slimy.

Anyway, the film could get a little slow at times, but the performances of Lane and Costner helped to offset my impatience a bit. The scenery of Montana and North Dakota was beautifully shot. The story took place in the 1960’s and that era seems to be convincingly recreated as well.

There are some explanations I would have liked to have gotten. For example, the Weboys seemed to have some sort of influence on the town of Gladstone, North Dakota but it was not clear as to why other than them just being rather nasty. It was clear after a rather brutal assault on the intrepid grandparents that they had some pull with the local law enforcement but there was no real explanation as to how that came about. The Weboy family did not seem to be particularly wealthy and lived way out in the hills.

So the ending was a little far-fetched and not quite what I wanted to happen, but the film isn’t bad overall. It does a great job of showing both some of the challenges and the joys of a long marriage. Costner and Lane are just great together. Not all of the story elements made sense, but it did manage to remain quite suspenseful. The performances were all solid. The film has a few weak points, but not enough for me to regret seeing it.

Book Review: Rapp Unleashed

Lethal Agent (A Mitch Rapp Novel Book 16) by [Vince Flynn, Kyle Mills]

Lethal Agent is a recent novel by Kyle Mills which continues the black ops thriller series created by the late Vince Flynn. Mitch Rapp is back at his never ending crusade to take as many terrorists off the board as he can. In this novel, he has to head off an effort by a ISIS leader to introduce a dangerous strain of engineered anthrax. Rapp has figured out that an adversary has a Mexican drug cartel on hand to help smuggle the virus into the United States. He decides to make it apparent that he has betrayed his country so he can infiltrate the cartel. If Rapp can get both an ISIS leader and a head of a drug cartel, so much the better. He also has to contend with a very ambitious female senator with her eyes on the Oval Office who is less than approving of Rapp’s attitude and methods. It’s a powder keg ready to explode with Rapp in the blast zone, right where he works best.

Vince Flynn died way too young, but Kyle Mills does well enough to keep Rapp in the fight. The body count at the hands of Rapp is quite high in this one. He just seems to get deadlier with age. There is nothing all that extraordinary in the novel other than Rapp getting mixed up with a drug cartel. It does seem that Mills likes to imagine what Rapp would do in the midst of all of the unsavory characters that the US seems to hesitate on in real life. The last Red War pitted Rapp against the Russians. It is kind of fun to see Rapp tangle with some of country’s enemies other than Islamic terrorists. Yes, it all gets rather far-fetched and a little formulaic at times.

Of course, Rapp meets the senator with the major beef, and that does not disappoint when it finally happens. The novel was written well before the global COVID 19 situation, but there were some striking similarities peppered throughout the story. It’s an enjoyable enough entry into the series, but I still miss Vince Flynn.

Next up, I will be getting to an author of whom I have been aware for some time but whose works I have yet to explore. Time to get introduced to Matthew Scudder in Lawrence Block’s When the Sacred Ginmill Closes.

Doctor Who Audio Review: An Ood Assassin Has The Doctor In His Crosshairs

Doctor Who - Time Lord Victorious: He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not

Time Lord Victorious: He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not is a Doctor Who audio play from Big Finish Productions and is part of a much larger saga that crosses all sorts of mediums on the franchise. Paul McGann stars as the Doctor in this particular piece written by Carrie Thompson and directed by Scott Handcock. Silas Carson has returned to voice the Ood assassin known as Brian. Misha Malcolm, Melanie Stevens, Pauline Eyre, Martin McDougall, and Jack Devos make up the guest cast with Nicholas Briggs appearing very briefly voicing the Daleks.

The Doctor, in what is known as his eighth incarnation, arrives on a planet called Atharna in search of one of the Seven Hundred Wonders of the Universe. He instead finds an injured woman with an Ood named Brian accompanying her. The planet is a wasteland, but an inhabited one. The setting is supposed to conjure up images of some sparsely populated Old West town. What the Doctor discovers is that Brian is an assassin hired by some wayward daughter’s wealthy and oppressive father to kill the wife of his offspring and bring her back to his nest. There is a sheriff who holds the town doctor responsible for the death of a deputy and friend. There’s a bar owner who just wants to stay out of trouble and make a buck. It’s a very strange, which could shrug and say that was par for the course for the whole series.

Although, the performances are to be commended, as well as the post production work, especially since this was done mostly while the United Kingdom was experiencing the nationwide quarantine brought on by our ever present COVID 19 situation, the story itself just didn’t grab me. I was distracted by the phony American sounding accents even though this did not take place on Earth. An Ood working as a contract killer was a novel enough approach where I should have liked the episode better than I did. Unfortunately, not everything worked much for me in regard to the story, however I could not tell this was done outside of the usual method of recording done by Big Finish. The sound effects all sounded good. The actors did indeed sound like they could have been in the studio together instead of each at home holed up in some closet or cupboard. Even if I had some reservations about the episode itself, I do tip my hat to the ingenuity of the Big Finish staff to present post production work that belied the challenges brought on by this pandemic.

Doctor Who Audio Review: Benton…John Benton

Council of War is a Doctor Who audio drama from Big Finish Productions and is an addition to The Companion Chronicles range. It took two writers to come up with this story featuring Sergeant Benton of UNIT starring John Levene. Simon Barnard and Paul Morris are the co-writers of this particular installment with the ever reliable Lisa Bowerman in the director’s seat. Sinead Keenan joins the fun as the guest actor.

Sergeant Benton is in the spotlight for this one. He has taken up the guise of some kind of town councillor for a town known as Kettering. The Doctor has asked him to look into strange ghostly manifestations which could be the precursor for an alien invasion. Also, some of the locals have disappeared. Benton has his hands full, especially when he finds whisked away to a distant planet and has to jump start a rebellion. Keenan plays a woman named Margery Phillips and shares the narration duties.

Benton is fine for the most part, but I don’t really find him interesting enough to have him at the forefront of a story. Keenan does well as the audio foil for Levene. Levene’s performance is solid enough though. This episode isn’t anything to dread, but it sure missed the mark on making me care about it all that much. I guess there was not enough of the Doctor as a character. Levene’s effort to evoke the spirit of the late Jon Pertwee when he was performing the Doctor’s lines worked fairly well. Levene is no impressionist, but he did his best, and I have no criticism of the attempt. I really have no criticism of Levene himself, but the story just didn’t make Benton all that more interesting to me.

Doctor Who Audio Review: The Doctor Does Some Ghostbusting

Doctor Who: The Flying Dutchman / Displaced

The Flying Dutchman/Displaced is a Doctor Who audio double feature from Big Finish Productions and stars Sylvester McCoy accompanied by Sophie Aldred and Philip Olivier. Big Finish just can’t seem to let Hex go, and that’s okay with me. Olivier reprises the role of Thomas Hector Schofield in a pair of adventures that apparently occurred early in his time in the TARDIS. Hex already has a departure story in the Big Finish archives, but it was decided that there were stories that we had yet to hear with him. Samuel Clemens directed this pair of adventures. The guest cast is comprised of Nicholas Khan, Stephen Wright, Nigel Fairs, Carly Day, Patience Tomlinson, and Alexander Bean.

The Flying Dutchman is written by Gemma Arrowsmith and has the TARDIS crew aboard what first appeared to be a deserted ship in the 1740’s. The trio finds the crew in hiding after an encounter with a ghost ship on the high seas known as The Flying Dutchman. The Doctor, of course, is skeptical that there are actually ghosts wandering the deep blue sea. This was a pretty good pirate tale in the end. There was an ocean battle that probably would have worked a little better as a visual experience, but it was fine. No good sea tale is complete without a mutiny and that happens as well. It’s a fun romp on the high seas with a main cast that I have come to appreciate more over the years. It was fun revisiting the chemistry between Ace and Hex with their strange monikers.

As good as the first story was, I think I preferred Katherine Armitage’s Displaced. It probably is because it takes place in a spooky, deserted house, and our intrepid time/space travelers are trapped with a puzzle to solve. There is a family that is dead, and an Artificial Intelligence that may or may not much help. There is some tension between the Doctor and his companions when they suspect that he had somehow arranged the situation as some kind of test. This version of the Doctor is the manipulative cosmic chess player, and his companions’ concerns are not unfounded. Olivier’s performance here is quite compelling when Hex expresses disgust and frustration at how the Doctor behaves sometimes. The character moments is what really holds the interest here, but the story itself was also pretty interesting.

I said that I preferred the second story by Armitage, but this was a pretty solid release overall. McCoy, as expected, does a great job with presenting his Doctor. His era on television had some creative troubles, but Big Finish has gone a long way to raising my appreciation for the Seventh Doctor. Aldred is no longer a teen-ager as Ace is supposed to be, but she still sounds pretty well like she did almost thirty years ago in the television series. The addition of Hex in the mix is fine, but I would prefer if some new ground was broken here. Even if I want a bit more forward movement with each of the Doctors, the stories were good enough for me to not mind the return of Hex much. I certainly want more stories with Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor.

Classic Film Review: Unwanted Protection

Film Noir of the Week: Bodyguard (1948)

Bodyguard is a film noir, directed by Richard O. Fleischer, that was released in 1948 by RKO Radio Pictures. Frank Noblo, Jr. and Harry Essex are the credited screenwriters while George W. George and Robert Altman apparently conceived the story. The film stars Lawrence Tierney as a fired LAPD detective named Mike Carter who is approached by a man who is wanting to hire him as a bodyguard for his wealthy aunt. The cast also includes Priscilla Lane, Phillip Reed, and Steve Brodie.

Carter finds that he cannot disconnect from the Dyson family as easily as he imagined. Carter is compelled to investigate when he is subsequently framed for the murder of a former colleague. He also learns of an unsolved murder of a meat inspector connected to the Dyson family and has to look into that matter as well.

Tierney apparently had a reputation as a hard case which resulted in a very tumultuous relationship with Hollywood elite. He was a smart casting choice for this film, but working with him was apparently not likely going to be a smooth experience. The film is another one that is not too bad, but it’s not one that will be easily recalled on the off chance someone asked me about it. It didn’t make any real impact on me as I was watching it. It is mildly interesting in that it provides another glimpse to the society in LA at that time. Tierney’s biography is of more interest than this particular film. It is possible, if not likely, that many others could appreciate this a bit more than I did, and God bless them.

There was a pretty good fight scene in the climax of the film. I thought Priscilla Lane was a charming leading lady, but I had learned that this was her final film before retiring from the movies. Really, the performance of the cast was solid enough. No one stood out as being terrible on the screen.

It’s a pretty average film for the most part, but it’s possible that others may find an overlooked gem when watching this. I would still recommend that others take a look at it, but I would also urge them to take a look at Tierney’s often outrageous behavior offscreen. Anyway, Bodyguard is not a must-see, however it does not qualify as being a total waste of time either.

Film Review: One Dark, Stormy Night, Evan Answered The Door

Knock Knock Is Eli Roth's Least-Bad Movie

Knock Knock is a thriller directed by Eli Roth. He also shares screenwriting credit with Guillermo Amoedo, and Nicolas Lopez. The story was conceived by Anthony Overman and Michael Ronald Ross, which is a little confusing since this film is a remake of a film called Death Game. Keanu Reeves stars as architect and doting husband and father, Evan Webber. The cast also includes Lorenza Izzo, Ana de Armas, Ignacia Allamand. and Colleen Camp.

Evan Webber has the weekend to himself when his family take a little holiday to the beach, leaving him to work and attend some physical therapy appointment for an injured shoulder. A storm rolls in and bring two ridiculously attractive young women show up at his doorstep claiming to have been stranded by a taxi at a wrong address. Evan, being ever the gentleman, invites them in to dry off and make other arrangements for transportation. The devious pair of beauties have other plans when they seduce Evan into a threesome and stay into the next day. Then comes the psychological and physical torture at the hands of two women who are now claiming to be underage.

It’s an interesting idea to have a man fall victim to two bewitching women, but the absurdity is also a bit much at times. There is a morality lesson at the heart of this about Evan’s lapse in fidelity. It probably would have been more interesting if Evan didn’t fall for the initial charms for whatever reason. It’s just another jab at men in general by Hollywood, I suspect. There are times that the performances are engaging enough. The film very much earns its R Rating and probably deserved a mature designation. The sex scenes are pretty intense. After a while, the film also does get somewhat predictable. Some of the dialogue made me cringe as well, but that also could have been Keanu’s delivery at times. After a while, the mania exhibited by the two intruders gets to be more grating than terrifying.

Finally, this film has moments that are semi-compelling, but it fails to leave any real lasting impression that made the time worthwhile.