Film Review: Maybe Yonder Isn’t The Place To Live

Vivarium Trailer Traps Imogen Poots & Jesse Eisenberg in a Forever ...

Vivarium is a supernatural suspense film that is one of the more bizarre ones I have seen even for this genre.  Lorcan Finnegan serves as director for this screenplay written by Garret Shanley.  Finnegan and Shanley also share story credits.  Apparently Finnegan had done some short film previously from which this current piece is based.  It’s a small cast with Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots.  Jonathan Aris and Eanna Hardwicke are a couple of other cast members of some note.

So the story starts off with a young couple in the market for a new house and meet a very unusual real estate agent where they are introduced to a suburban housing development known as Yonder.  The houses are even more eerily alike than most suburban neighborhoods these days.  The couple known as Tom and Gemma find themselves abandoned at the house and cannot find their way out of the unusually labyrinthine neighborhood.  Then the box with the baby inside arrives, and their stay gets even weirder.

There was a real effort at something original here, which I appreciate.  There are times where the film drags a little, but Eiesenberg and Poots give pretty convincing performances.  It’s hard to be too critical of some the decisions written considering the concept is so bizarre.  Not too many answers are given by the time this film ends, but I somehow found that fitting.

Anyway, it was a pretty interesting move to have a suburban setting to be distorted in something so nightmarish.  This film isn’t the first one to play with that notion, but this particular one was one of the better efforts.

Book Review: The Life Of Easy Rawlins Gets Even More Complicated

Devil in a Blue Dress (Easy Rawlins Mystery)

Devil in a Blue Dress is a mystery novel first published in 1990, and that is when Walter Mosley first introduced Easy Rawlins to an always eager crowd of readers looking for new and unusual literary heroes to follow.

Ezekiel Rawlins is a war hero, but he is a black man in 1948 Los Angeles, so he does not get the appreciation he deserves.  Instead, he is recently fired from his job at a defense plant and is contemplating ways to pay his mortgage that is soon due.  A peculiar white man approaches him in a bar and wants a woman found.  The woman is known to hang out in black jazz clubs and seems to have connections to people with whom Easy can more easily gather some information.  Easy is reluctant but he does need the cash. Unfortunately, searching for a wandering girlfriend gets considerably more perilous when murder is added to the mix.

I have been meaning to get to Walter Mosley’s works for some time and have no real good reason for taking so long.  He does not shy away from the social issues of the time concerning how our black citizens were treated during that time, and he shouldn’t. Of course, the challenges makes Easy more admirable as a protagonist because although he is understandably suspicious and cautious, he is not ruthless and embittered.  He is shrewd yet likable.  Easy is a complicated guy with a colorful background, yet it is easy for this reader to root for him.  The crazy friend known as Mouse finally shows up to lend a hand, and I was strangely relieved to see him.  Mouse has a much more direct method of dealing with threats, and his presence brings out some mixed reactions from Easy.  As a white man, it’s not always easy to be reminded how dreadfully black people were treated, particularly just after the Second World War, but I was too enthralled  by the caper ensnared Easy to really dwell on it.

There are echoes of the hard-boiled detective fiction which was produced by Raymond Chandler or Mickey Spillane, but Mosley brings a welcome and unusual perspective with a black protagonist who was facing the era before the Civil Rights Movement that would begin not too many years later. And Mosley just spins good detective yarn as well.  Easy is a guy just trying to survive in a world that fails to appreciate his sacrifices and talents and discovers that he has pretty good investigative instincts.

Although it is regretful that I didn’t read this novel sooner, it is a relief that I have no reason to regret finally reading it now.

Now it is time to return to the bridge of the Starship Enterprise with Captain James Kirk in command.  Christopher L. Bennett continues his contribution to the franchise with the Star Trek novel entitled The Higher Frontier.

Doctor Who Audio Review: No Tranquility To Be Found On Tranquela

Doctor Who: The Ultimate Evil

The Ultimate Evil is a Doctor Who audio play presented by Big Finish Productions and stars Colin Baker alongside Nicola Bryant.  Wally K Daly initially wrote this script for the television series in the 1980’s, however it ended up not being produced back then. It is now presented as an episode in the range known as The Lost Stories. Helen Goldwyn take her place in the director’s seat for this one.  It’s a talented roster of guest actors which includes Robin Sebastian, Paul Panting, and Kim Durham.

The Doctor is rather strangely put out when the TARDIS has decided to work perfectly, robbing the fidgety Time Lord of a way to occupy his time between cosmic crises.  When Peri suggests another attempt at a holiday, the Doctor is skeptical but seeks the counsel of some long-forgotten device which recommends some time on a planet known as Tranquela.  A greedy arms dealer is there waiting and has a weapon that can alter people’s emotions and keep is profits alive by goading an ongoing war…a war that threatens to count the Doctor and Peri among its casualties.

Once again, Colin Baker gets to engage in a bit overacting when the Doctor is affected by this hate ray.  It actually works well enough on audio, and I do not mean that description as harshly as it sounds.  Baker actually seems to have some fun, which is really quite evident in all of his appearances.  The return of the Sixth Doctor and Peri is welcome.  The sound effects are as effective as ever.  I liked Sebastian’s performance as Mordant, the ruthless salesman who is wanting to perpetuate the war on Tranquela for the sake of his profit margin.  It probably would have been a fun episode to see, but listening to it isn’t bad either.  Baker makes a somewhat curious distinction between his Big Finish performances and the television version of the Doctor.  I actually found his portrayal to be closer to how Big Finish has evolved the character than how he appeared in the 1980’s, which is a good thing.  I enjoy the Sixth Doctor much more in the audio productions.  There is some interesting history to this story.  Big Finish went a long time without the rights needed to bring this episode to life, but they finally pulled it off with the participation of the original author.  Overall, it was worth the wait.

Film Review: A Weekend Away Goes Way Wrong

The Rental Trailer: Dave Franco Directs a Getaway Gone Wrong – /Film

The Rental is a thriller film directed by Dave Franco.  Franco also co-wrote the script alongside Joe Swanberg with Mike Demski getting some story credit as well.  The cast is pretty small and is comprised of Dan Stevens, Alison Brie, Sheila Vand, Jeremy Allen White, and Toby Huss.

Stevens and White play a couple of brothers who take the ladies in their lives on a weekend getaway to an oceanview house that is rented out for such excursions.  The older brother is married but has a close working relationship with the younger brother’s girlfriend, played by Vand.  Nothing can go wrong there, right?  Anyway, there is a creepy caretaker sort who manages the property for his unseen brother.  That’s Toby Huss in a convincingly creepy performance, so he was worth whatever he was paid.  Anyway, there are drugs, then some infidelity, followed by murder to spice up the party.  Oh yes, then there are the cameras.

It’s not a bad movie overall, although I was not that keen on how it ended.  The ending leaves more questions which may be resolved in a sequel being considered according to an article I subsequently read.  The performances were pretty good for the most part.  The location was well chosen.  A lot of the basic elements of the film worked pretty well here.  It does take a bit for the action to pick up.  As mentioned before, there are some elements of the film that don’t quite work for me, but there is enough that does that keeps me considering it a waste of time.

 

Film Review: Bart Sees Too Much

The Night Clerk' Review - Variety

The Night Clerk is a crime drama film written and directed by Michael Christofer.  The cast includes Tye Sheridan, Helen Hunt, Ana de Armas, and John Leguizamo.

Sheridan plays a hotel night clerk who is afflicted with Asberger’s Syndrome and has a rather unusual method of trying to overcome the social mishaps that come with disorder.  He has wired up cameras in the various guest rooms and mimics the conversations he overhears in an attempt to be more in tune with those around him.  One night, Bart witnesses a murder in one of the rooms and is understandably reluctant to share his rather unconventional pastime.  Anyway, Bart ends up being reassigned to another site and comes across another pretty girl with whom he sort of connects. Meanwhile, a determined and wily detective has Bart in his sights.

The movie has an interesting premise and is not all that long, but it is a slow moving train.  The performances were pretty good and long time veteran actors like Hunt and Leguizamo does help.  I did like seeing Leguizamo in something other than the goofball he often portrays.  He is the shrewd detective on the case and delivers a pretty solid performance here.  Helen Hunt is also interesting to watch as well.  I don’t know much about Asberger’s, but Sheridan seems to have studied up on it enough to be convincing.  The actors were fine, but the story seems to be burdened by a lot of coincidence at times. There is not much direct conflict between Bart and the killer except toward the end.  There are times where the actions taken by some of the characters fail to make much sense.

In spite of the talent among the cast, I found this movie rather disappointing.

Doctor Who Audio Review: When Nightmares And Reality Collide

Nightmare Country is a Doctor Who audio drama produced by Big Finish Productions.  It is an episode from the range known as The Lost Stories, which were intended for the television series but for some reason never produced.  Stephen Gallagher is the writer with Ken Bentley in the director’s chair.  Peter Davison stars as the Fifth Doctor and is joined by Janet Fielding and Mark Strickson, reprising their roles as Tegan and Turlough, respectively.  The guest cast is comprised of Beth Chalmers, Ian Conningham, Edward Dede, and Tracy Wiles.

The story pretty much starts in the middle of the action with the Doctor finding himself on what is apparently a dead world with no memory as to his identity or why he is there.  The Doctor has a mission inside a simulator known as the Reality Engine.  He is in a shared virtual reality with an alien menace known as the Vodyani bearing down on him and the other visitors.  It is up to Tegan to enter the madness and help job the Doctor’s memory.

I ended up liking the episode in spite of some confusing elements.  The performances were all solid enough.  The Fifth Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough is favorite team for me, and I found that their chemistry together was as reliable as ever.  This was a pretty creative idea, and I enjoyed having the Doctor face an adversary unfamiliar to the fans.  Probably one of the main reasons for this story not actually being filmed was due to the production budget being too limited for the visual effects called for.  The sound effects were of high quality as expected from Big Finish.  Davison seemed pretty well engaged with this one.  The story is interesting in spite of some lack of clarity.  Some of that will probably come to light once I get around to listening to this one again.

Book Review: Dangerfield In Dublin

The Ginger Man is a novel written by J.P. Donleavy and was first published in 1955.  Donleavy was an American who immigrated to Ireland much like the main character in this novel.  He actually died not all that long in 2017.

Anyway, Sebastian Balfe Dangerfield is the protagonist or anti-hero, or just the cad at the center of this story.  He is attending law school in Dublin and marries a woman.  Then he cheats on her.  There are some bar fights and affairs peppered throughout.  There is a rather strange blend of first and third person prose which does not help present a very clear story.

I will always have a soft spot for Ireland and its people since I have been there a few times.  I really wanted to like this novel, but I just couldn’t stay engaged with it.  I did finish reading it, but not much of it stuck with me.

Apparently, this work is very highly acclaimed, but perhaps a more notable literary critic will have to explain to me what I missed in order to garner some enjoyment out of this. I could not bring myself to care about the characters.  I did somewhat enjoy picking up on the landmarks that I knew from my previous sojourns over to the Emerald Isle.

I found it rather unfortunate that I found this work so unsatisfying.  Fortunately, it doesn’t dent my affection for Ireland one bit.  I may not rush out to collect another Donleavy novel, however I will certainly be willing to explore other works by Irish authors.

I will be returning to American soil with my next reading indulgence, however like The Ginger Man, this one will take place just after World War II.  Easy Rawlins is introduced to crime fiction readers in Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress.

Film Review: A Missing Grandmother

Relic' Trailer: Sundance Horror Hit Puts Twist on Haunted House ...

Relic is a horror film recently released and is directed by Natalie Erika James, who also co-wrote the script with Christian White.  The main cast is comprised of Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin, and Bella Heathcoate.  The film takes place in Australia, which I rather enjoyed since I have not seen many films in that locale.

Kay and her daughter, Sam go out to visit Kay’s mother and are soon alarmed when it seems she has not been seen in several days.  The house seems to be invaded by a peculiar black mold.  A shadowy presence lurks just out of eyesight.  Strange sounds also disturb the night.  The grandmother makes a sudden appearance but is behaving oddly. Kay is having strange dreams about a decrepit old man in an isolated cabin.  It’s just a very strange movie.

Anyway, the film is not long but it has a bit of a slow burn at times.  I am not sure the explanation for these bizarre occurrences was all that clear to me.  I was not familiar with these actresses, but I did find their performances to be convincing enough.  The movie did have some genuinely disturbing moments which I relished since I do have an appreciation for the genre.  I thought it was one of the better films of this nature in recent years.  I also rather liked not knowing much about the main cast much although they are likely well known in Australia for the United Kingdom.  I sort of found the title to be somewhat perplexing since there did not seem to an actual relic that this thing revolved around.  The title could have been better considered.

Although a bit more clarity as the story unfolded would have been appreciated, enough was done right as far as casting and the mood that I didn’t end up disliking the film.  My fellow horror film aficionados should be able to find some enjoyment here.

Book Review: Know Your Elites

In Defense of Elitism by Joel Stein has a long subtitle that I am going to just people read in the little picture.  It is one of my few efforts to read nonfiction, but I hope to do better with branching out of my usual reading preferences.

Joel Stein is former contributor to Time magazine who was fascinated as to why Roberts County, Texas had the highest percentage of Donald Trump voters and decided to spend a week among the residents of Miami, Texas.  He was expecting certain unflattering characteristics about these folks and made uncovered some surprising truths about them.

Stein has probably many of the unflattering characteristics of those many assign to those who live in California.  Mainly he is a liberal elite writer who considers those of more conservative opinions to be backward, uneducated, and incapable of any reasonable coherence.

Stein discusses various types of elitism and is even brave enough to sometimes look upon his own peers with a critical eye.

I read this volume after it was selected in a book club in which I participate.  Just to be a clear, I am an unapologetic conservative Republican voter, so I was not sure if I was going to appreciate this particular selection.  It turns out that I could get through it without wanting to pitch it across the room.  Stein has an enviable wit in his prose.  One of the purposes of this blog is to work on improving my own style of written expression.  One of the purposes of the book club is work on improving on my range of reading preferences.

Did I get a little rankled at some aspects of this book?  Sure, but not as often or as severe as I expected.  It didn’t convince me to change my political leanings, but it did challenge me to examine them from a different perspective, and not everything Stein concluded is wrong.  I will allow other readers to come to their own conclusions or impressions as to what I may have agreed or disagreed with Stein about.

I also currently live in Amarillo, Texas which is not far from Miami, Texas so it was kind of amusing to read of a populace in close proximity to my humble abode.  Anyway, I would recommend a perusal of this book, even for those of us unapologetic Republican voters.

Next up, I am going to read a book I had picked up on my last trip to Ireland.  I will see what J.P. Donleavy has to tell about The Ginger Man.

Film Review: Miss Meadows Believes In Courage, Kindness, And A Clean Kill Shot

Miss Meadows Movie Production Notes | 2014 Movie Releases

Miss Meadows is a rather peculiar thriller film released in 2014.  Karen Leigh Hopkins write and directed this film.  Katie Holmes plays the title role and is joined by a cast that includes James Badge Dale, Cullan Mulvey, and Jean Smart.

Mary Meadows is a sweet, naive substitute teacher in a small town elementary school.  She also keeps loaded gun in her purse for those moments when she encounters those who do not want to act with any courage or kindness.  She also has a strange fondness for tap dancing, which I don’t mind.  I love watching that kind of thing.  She also just shoots people who are obviously a threat to her or the community.  The local sheriff has also fallen for her without realizing her more dangerous tendencies.  Miss Meadows also meets a more formidable adversary when a recently paroled child molester sets his sights on her.

Now, the basic plot is intriguing enough. The cast seems well chosen, but there are problems with how events unfold.  Miss Meadows encounters Mulvey’s creepy pervert, Skyler, and for some reasons gives him fair warning as to her intent should he target any child in her vicinity.  That was not a courtesy afforded to the other miscreants she dispatched in the film.  This was just a strange movie where some decisions by the characters were just baffling.  Also, the climax of the film was a letdown.  Holmes seemed to be reasonably good casting for this role, but the writing just didn’t serve her very well.  Miss Meadow’s eccentricities were plentiful, but I didn’t find her as fascinating as I would have expected.  There is a lot here that I should have enjoyed instinctively, but I was a bit disappointed when it was all over.

I just don’t think this piece lived up to the potential of what was actually a fairly clever story idea.