Book Review: The Doctor Goes Underground

Molten Heart is a Doctor Who novel written by Una McCormack. It features the current Doctor on television portrayed by Jodie Whittaker.  Graham, Ryan, and Yaz are the companions who have joined her in the TARDIS.  They have arrived on a planet known as Adamantine in which a civilization lives underground.  The citizens are strange lifeforms made out of rock-like substances.  They are also named after rocks such as Quartz and Emerald. Anyway, the Doctor learns that the environment is unstable and leads an expedition to find a lost scientist with the help of his daughter, Ash.  The planet is about to be destroyed, and the Doctor must find a way to the surface to seek the answers as to why and what she can do to help.

I am really not on board with the producer’s decision to change the Doctor’s gender and the reasons behind it, but it is what it is.  The novel wasn’t bad though.  The banter among this TARDIS crew seemed a little more clever and authentic than what is seen onscreen.  McCormack presents the story well enough.  There isn’t much that stands out in her writing style, but it gets the job done.  It’s an enjoyable if unmemorable contribution to the range.

Next up, Michael Connelly pairs up two formidable detectives in Dark Sacred Night.

Film Review: DuPont’s Dirty Water

Dark Waters

Dark Waters is a legal thriller that is based on the true story of attorney Robert Bilott’s efforts to sue the corporation, DuPont, for tainting the waters of a community in West Virginia.  It is based on a 2016 article by Nathaniel Rich published in The New York Times Magazine.  The screenplay was written by Mario Correa and Matthew Michael Carnahan.  Todd Haynes is the director.  Mar Ruffalo plays intrepid and determined corporate attorney, Robert Bilott.  The cast includes Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, Bill Camp, and Bill Pullman.

There have been plenty of films in recent years about some crusader going against the irresponsible big company that ends up poisoning some town’s water supply.  Not much new ground is broken here.  It’s still a pretty good film if a little slow at times.  The cast all did well, although some of the Southern accents seemed a little too thick at times.  I found this was a story that may have needed a little more room than what was afforded in a two hour film.  Maybe a limited series would have provided a little better breathing space for the story to unfold.  Anyway, Ruffalo does well enough in the lead role.  The case actually has gone on for years, and apparently Bilott is still a thorn in the side of DuPont to this day.

Even if the story seems a little too familiar at times, the movie was presented well enough for me to not hold a grudge over it.  I think most of the flaws the movie has is more due to the complex nature of these lawsuits than much else.  The ending scene has a very simple yet rousing moment that I appreciated, but I won’t spoil it.

Doctor Who Audio Review: The Brigadier Is Back

“The Third Doctor Adventures Volume Five” is an audio play box set from Big Finish Productions the returns the fans to the era in which the late Jon Pertwee starred in “Doctor Who”.  Katy Manning reprises the role of Jo Grant.  Since Pertwee is still deceased, Tim Treloar provides the vocal performance of the Third Doctor and continues to represent the era quite nicely.  The late Nicholas Courtney was best known as Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart and of course is unable to reprise his role, however Jon Culshaw, perhaps Britain’s best known impressionist, is on hand to pitch in with his talents, so the Brigadier lives again.  I love the Third Doctor, but I was never a fan of the decision to have most of his tenure grounded on Earth. Saying that, I was very impressed with the efforts to recreate the dynamic as best as possible with several major performers deceased.  The while thing works quite well.  There are two four-part stories in this set as customary with this range and both are worth the time.

John Dorney kicks off with “Primord” which follows up on the catastrophes of the television serial “Inferno”.  Daisy Ashford takes on the role of the Doctor’s former assistant Liz Shaw, which was originally portrayed by the late Caroline John.  The touching little bit is that Ashford is actually Caroline John’s daughter and was reportedly very pleased with the idea of allowing fans to revisit Liz again.  Liz Shaw was a scientist as well and often was not quite as lost as other companions when the Doctor spewed forth his overly complicated explanations.  It has been a bit since I have watched an episode with Liz, so I am not sure how close Ashford actually is to sounding like her mother, however she is good enough to make me not care that much.  I liked Liz, so it was great to have her presence represented regardless.  I was also pleased that Michael Troughton was part of the guest cast as an overly ambitious general.  He is of course the son of the great Patrick Troughton, who is best known as the Second Doctor.  The story effectively revisits elements of “Inferno” and still offers a new take on the Primords.  Also, Liz sort of ends up not being quite the woman the Doctor remembers and that adds an interesting dimension to her participation.  Finally, the fans get the pleasure of hearing two of the Doctor’s friends who never met onscreen interact finally.  If there are more adventures to represent this era, I certainly would not object to hearing more Liz Shaw, as played by the original actress’s daughter, Daisy Ashford.  I certainly don’t object to John Dorney continuing to contribute his talents as writer as well.

“The Scream of Ghosts” is the second piece brought to us by another long-time Doctor Who contributor, Guy Adams.  This one sees the return of Sergeant Benton, as played by John Levene, who is still very much alive.  Guy Adams also is part of the guest cast alongside Dominic Wood, Rosalyn Landor, and David Dobson.  This story delves into what could have been the early days if experimenting with portable communication, in other words, mobile phones.  This story is set in the 1970’s, so this would have been a revolutionary invention at the time.  The Brigadier and Jo are asked to evaluate the progress of the work being done by a scientist named Coldicott, played by Landor.  Benton comes to the Doctor asking for help when an old friends reports hearing strange voices coming through CB.  All kinds of strange voices and sounds are emerging from the radio waves, and Coldicott seems to have made extraordinary breakthroughs in her efforts to master the problem of instant communication.  The Doctor finds that there’s a dangerous intelligence behind the strange events in the English village, and the danger also ends up being rather familiar as well.  It’s a good story, but I may have to listen to it once or twice more to imagine what was intended to be conveyed.  It’s a little harder to follow than Dorney’s contribution, however I found plenty to enjoy anyway.

The release pretty much stoked my sense of nostalgia for this particular era of the series as a whole.  Even though I may have some disagreement with some of the creative decisions at the time, the Third Doctor and Jo as main protagonists are still quite compelling and charming.  Even though some of the original performers are no longer with us, Big Finish put a lot of thought on how to recreate this particular era and it shows.  Culshaw’s talents are amazing.  I enjoy listening to the cast interviews which are included in the CD releases, and Culshaw seems to enjoy showing off his vocal talents in this set, but I did not mind a bit.  I also loved Katy Manning’s reaction in the interviews when she talks about how her memories of Jon Pertwee and Nicholas Courtney are brought to the forefront.  Her affection for her cast mates and her friends is very evident and makes her all the more charming.  The chemistry among the actors and the characters is recreated very effectively as well as providing new stories for them.  I hope news of the sixth volume of Third Doctor adventures breaks very soon.

Classic Film Review: Don’t Double Cross Raven

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“This Gun For Hire” is a crime drama released in 1942 and is apparently quite the gem in the film noir era.  Albert Maltz and W.R. Burnett are the screenwriters who adapted this piece from the novel by Graham Greene.  Greene’s novel was entitled “A Gun For Sale”.  Frank Tuttle is the director and does a pretty good job.

The film stars Veronica Lake, Robert Preston, and Alan Ladd.  Although Ladd has fourth billing, he is apparently the star here as Phillip Raven, a hit man on the run after he was betrayed by his most recent employer.  There is also a chemical formula on the black market that is key here, but I didn’t really care about that.  Anyway, Raven’s path crosses that of Lake’s character, Ellen Graham, a nightclub singing magician who is also the girlfriend of the police detective who is on Raven’s trail.

It sounds pretty confusing, and it is actually kind confusing, but it still manages to be a good film for the most part.  Ladd makes a formidable presence as the stoic, cynical gun for hire.  He and Lake seem to have an impressive chemistry that led to the studio making it a bit of a habit of casting them together.  The plot is a little complicated and rather implausible but not unforgivably so.

I could see why this film was a hit when it came out back then, and it should be one that any other classic film watcher would want to catch.

Book Review: Ove Has A Bad Attitude And A Big Heart

Paperback A Man Called Ove Book

“A Man Called Ove” is a novel written by Swedish author, Fredrik Backman and centers around a curmudgeonly widower who finds that new neighbors aren’t always a bad thing.

Ove always struggled with liking or connecting with people, but he does find someone to love which is revealed in some flashbacks scenes peppered throughout the book.  Not long after his wife’s death. Ove meets his new neighbors after they back an RV over his mailbox.

Ove is an interesting fellow, but I have a soft spot for literary curmudgeons. He is quite the tortured soul who ends up being of some help to people without quite meaning to. I guess one could call him the quintessential study in contradictions.  The novel shifts back and forth between scenes of some hilarity and moments for sorrow.

A novel of this sort isn’t my usual genre of choice, but I rather liked this one.  If I had to express some disappointment, it would be that Backman really doesn’t get much into showcasing any real unique facets of Swedish culture.

It’s a pretty charming novel with more than a bit of poignancy to it as well.  Long live the curmudgeons!

Next up, I will be returning to one of my favorite series, although the TARDIS’s journey didn’t start between the pages of a novel.  It’s time to see what Una McCormack can do with latest TARDIS crew in her latest Doctor Who novel, “Molten Heart”.

Classic Film Review: A Dangerous Passenger

Image result for The Hitch-Hiker

“The Hitch-Hiker” is a 1953 film noir which was directed by Ida Lupino.  She also shares screenwriting credit with Collier Young and Robert L. Joseph.  This film has an interesting background in that it is based on the true story of how a psychopath named Billy Cook was captured after he had taken two men captive and forced them to help his escape from federal authorities.  The names were changed in order to avoid giving Cook some satisfaction over his notoriety. Cook himself was executed in California in 1952.

Anyway, the film stars Edmond O’Brien and Frank Lovejoy as the two buddies whose fishing trip is interrupted by notorious murderer, Emmett Myers, played by William Talman.  Talman is best known as Los Angeles District Attorney Hamilton Burger of “Perry Mason”.

Ida Lupino appears to be the only woman who directed a film of this genre in the 1950’s and she does a pretty good job with it.  It’s a pretty compelling movie, although it does seem a little implausible that the two men were not able to overpower Myers a little sooner.  They were together for several days before the climax of the film.

Talman displays some versatility as an actor with a his menacing depiction of Myers.  O’Brien and Lovejoy also work well together.

The other interesting aspect of this film is that there are no female characters in it.  It’s a pretty fascinating film when it’s all said and done.

I thought the film was quite compelling for the most part.  It was great to see Talman in such a wicked part.  He makes a pretty convincing psychopath.

The movie has both a compelling screen presentation and backstory.

Movie Review: Stay Sharp

Image result for knives out

“Knives Out” is a mystery film written and directed by Rian Johnson.  All sorts of eminent actors are in this.  Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Toni Collette, and Christopher Plummer are part of the cast.  I guess I should mention Michael Shannon as well.  It seemed to be a bit of a spoof as well.

Craig plays this famous private detective with the unlikely moniker of Benoit Blanc who is asked to look into the gruesome death of very successful mystery writer.  Blanc .is at first the silent observer who is privy to the interviews the police are conducting into the dubious and shifty family members.  The only trustworthy soul is a nurse to the old man, played by Plummer, who has the inconvenient affliction of vomiting anytime she attempts to lie.

The movie takes a bit to get going, and the story doesn’t unfold in the most linear fashion.  Flashbacks are employed quite liberally.  In spite of this being a bit of a spoof of some classic murder mysteries, the puzzle at the center of this piece is actually pretty intriguing. Blanc turns out to be a wonderfully eccentric sleuth, although the accent Craig chose to employ was a little hard to identify.  I wasn’t actually sure if Blanc actually knew what he was doing, however he did end up being a lot sharper and more engaging than was first apparent to me.

It was pretty cool to see Don Johnson on the big screen.  It just seems a while since I have seen him in anything all that significant.  The cast over all was quite good, even the ones with whom I was less familiar.

Although I had to muster a bit of patience to get used to the style of how this story would be told, I ended up enjoying this quite a bit.  I think it would be fun to see Craig pick up the strange accent again as Blanc solves another case or two on the big screen.  Since Craig has confirmed that he is done with the James Bond franchise after the next upcoming film, a different sort of crime fighter could pique his interest.  Maybe Rian Johnson has another case in which to engage the services of Benoit Blanc.

Book Review: Revisiting Twelve’s Last Bow

Doctor Who: Twice Upon a Time (Doctor Who: Target Collection)

“Twice Upon A Time” is a Doctor Who episode in which the Twelfth Doctor, as played by Peter Capaldi, regenerated after an encounter with his first encounter.  Since William Hartnell has been deceased for some time, David Bradley was the actor who performed the role well enough.  BBC Books had published a few novelizations of episodes from the era of Doctor Who which was a revival that began in 2005.  “Twice Upon a Time” aired on Christmas Day 2017.  Paul Cornell was the author who adapted the original script conceived by Steven Moffat.

As mentioned before, I think Peter Capaldi was a fine casting choice for the Doctor, however many of his actual stories had some real problems in the writing.  Moffat ended up not being all that great as a show runner, in my opinion. Also, this regeneration story is one of the weakest in the series as a whole.  I thought it was pretty cool to revisit the First Doctor era though, even if it was with a different actor.  Bradley had played the role of William Hartnell in a dramatization of the early days in Doctor Who known as “An Adventure In Space and Time”.  He also has been doing a series for Big Finish Productions in new audio plays featuring his version of the First Doctor.

Cornell’s novelization doesn’t work any miracles as far as me appreciating Moffat’s script more, but he does add some nice touches and expansions that helped me enjoy his contribution more.  It’s a very short novel, but Cornell make the most of what he could with it.  Of course, the idea of how traumatic a regeneration could be for the Doctor is a fascinating aspect to explore.  There were moments in the television story that were kind of moving at times, but the overall plot was rather nonsensical, and Cornell just could not help me forgive that.  Cornell is a pretty good record with a long history of contributing his talents to the survival of the franchise in its various media.  He has written original novels for Virgin Publishing and BBC Books for years.  This particular book is well written, but it’s based on an episode which I found to be a bit below average.

So it’s back to the less frivolous of literary journeys with a new author to me.  Next up,,,”A Man Called Ove” by Fredrik Backman.


Movie Review: Back To The Neighborhood With Mister Rogers

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“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is a biographical drama film…sort of.  The late Fred Rogers is featured as played by Tom Hanks, but the journalist assigned to profile him as really at the center.  This is a pretty unique way to reexamine the life and messages of Mr. Rogers.  Marielle Heller is the director who brings to life the script written by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster. It was based on an article written by Tom Junod in 1998 which was published by the magazine, Esquire.

Tom Hanks dons the familiar sneakers and red sweater as Mr. Rogers.  Matthew Rhys is the journalist who is named Lloyd Vogel in the film.  Vogel is struggling with a lot of resentment toward his father over some serious past transgressions, and it is affecting his relationship with his wife and their newborn son.  Chris Cooper, Christine Lahti, and Maryann Plunkett are also part of the cast.

The film does present the life and wisdom of Fred Rogers in a rather creative manner.  Rogers is sort of relegated as a supporting presence in the film at times but  a profound one.  Anyway, most of this works quite well.  Hanks does well in his depiction of Fred Rogers, which is impressive since he does not really resemble the real Mr. Rogers without a lot of help from the make-up department.  He sure made me regret not following Mr. Rogers more closely when he was alive.  The other cast members did fine too,  There was also some pretty slick visual effects with scene changes that were done in a manner which could have been seen in “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”.

The movie was quite charming and poignant at the same time.  Although it could have stood more exploration of Rogers’ faith and philosophy, I think it was likely a very fair and loving depiction of a man with a singular mission to use television as a means to reach and comfort children in a world that can often be dark and confusing.

This is not my usual genre of preference when it comes to my film viewing, but I was glad to see this one.  I was quite curious to see how this would turn out when I heard about it, and I think it Fred Rogers would have been pleased with the result as well.

Doctor Who Audio Review: Never Be Too Certain Concerning The Doctor

“The Uncertainty Principle” is a Doctor Who audio play written by Simon Guerrier for Big Finish Productions.  It is part of the range known as The Companion Chronicles and stars Wendy Padbury alongside her daughter, Charlie Hays.  This continues a series in which Zoe Herriot is being questioned by an investigator for some ambiguous agency known as The Company.  Fans of the television series would know that Zoe had her memory of her travels with the Doctor erased by the Time Lords when they were captured in the serial known as “The War Games”.  Jamie McCrimmon had been the 18th century Scottish denizen who had been with them during that era.  The Company has found a way to break through the memory block imposed by the Time Lords, however the method is a little unreliable.

Zoe does manage to recall an adventure that starts off with the Doctor and his two companions attending a funeral for a young scientist whose experiments brought very unusual aliens to Earth.  These aliens have an unusual ability involving electricity, and the scientist’s actual death may be in doubt…or it may not.

Padbury is engaging enough as a performer in these episodes, and her daughter Charlie Hayes, is fine as well.  Guerrier’s script is a bit hard to follow at times though.  He has written several episodes for Big Finish, and he usually comes through.  This era of the program is a favorite of mine though, so I relish any opportunity for a new Second Doctor adventure.  This episode isn’t bad, but I am not sure there is anything that remarkable that makes this one memorable.  Padbury does great and seems able to capture the spirit of Patrick Troughton’s interpretation of the Doctor.  It’s evident that the mother and daughter seem to enjoy working together.  Big Finish has yet to put out something that I actively disliked, but occasionally, there are stories that just fall short of capturing my attention with any intensity.  Unfortunately, this particular episode is one of those.