Book Review: Rapp Powers Up

Total Power is a recent thriller to feature Mitch Rapp and is written by Kyle Mills, who has been continuing the series originally created by the late Vince Flynn.

In this installment, ISIS operatives collude with a disgruntled American to take down the US power grid which would leave the whole nation in the dark in more ways than one. CIA unleashes its top operative, Mitch Rapp, to find the people responsible and see what could be done to restart the country. This time, Rapp must contain his usual fury and keep the mastermind alive so that the government has a chance to repair the devastating damage.

The plot seems to be quite fanciful, however Mills write a brief note assuring his readers that he did not have to make up much. Hopefully, the real world US government is rather more secure than what is written in Mills’ pages. Of course, the novelty of Rapp doing his thing on US soil brings a sense uniqueness to this novel. Mills continues to display his competence to continue the literary legacy left behind by Flynn. Things are about to be quite different for Rapp because the president who was rather supportive of his methods is turning the Oval Office over to a new occupant, but President Alexander has one more crisis to oversee. In spite of my instinct to consider the plot to be implausible, it’s still a compelling read. The could be just because I am such an avid follower of this series. Anyway, it’s a pretty good addition to the series, and Rapp still gets to kill a few bad guys. So check it out if you like to read about terrorists getting a brutal comeuppance.

We saw the Netflix limited series not too long ago, so it’s time to see how close the producers of The Queen’s Gambit followed the book written by Walter Tevis.

Doctor Who Audio Review: Ghosts On A Distant World

Doctor Who: Philip Hinchcliffe Presents Volume 04: The God of Phantoms

The God of Phantoms is a Doctor Who audio play from Big Finish Productions and is the latest in a range known as Philip Hinchcliffe Presents. Hinchcliffe is one the most celebrated producers of the series during Tom Baker’s era in the 1970’s. This story idea was adapted by Marc Platt, another long-time contributor to the franchise. Ken Bentley is back in the director’s seat. Tom Baker and Louise Jameson headline this one again. The guest cast includes Aurora Burghart, Nigel Fairs, Glen McReady, and Sam Stafford.

In this rather long tale, the Doctor and Leela arrive on a colony world somewhere in the future. Ghosts are haunting the inhabitants, and people are disappearing. The Doctor also has a sense of familiarity that he cannot quite place. It seems that an old enemy is waiting in the wings, but the Doctor has no memory of a previous encounter. Also, Leela has an encounter which forces her to keep the Time Lord in the dark.

The story has quite a bit of intriguing elements which sparks my macabre imagination. Although the performances are solid and the sound effects are spot on, this wasn’t what I call one of the best efforts. It’s a six part story, and I am not sure this was the one that needed to be drawn out. Tim Faulkner plays the villain known as Flindor. Although the Doctor may have encountered this being before, he is not known to the fans. I have to say, one appearance by this character is more than enough. I just didn’t find this guy to be all that well realized or compelling as a villain. It still features my favorite Doctor, and the story still avoids being terrible. I am one of the fans with an appreciation for the Philip Hinchcliffe era, but I am not sure this episodes stands up as well as the previous ones in this range. The problem Leela has with keeping a secret from the Doctor or risk him losing his sanity is an interesting predicament. Baker and Jameson are both great to hear even in this adventure. Anyway, the story may have worked better being a standard four part length, but it isn’t like it’s a terrible experience getting some extra time with the Fourth Doctor and Leela.

In spite of my reservations about this particular installment, I do hope that Philip Hinchcliffe has some more ideas to share, and I also have no objection to Marc Platt’s continued contributions. Of course, my enthusiasm for the continued participation of Tom Baker and Louise Jameson goes without saying. Whatever Hinchcliffe presents next, I will be there to snatch it up.

Film Review: The Old Man And The Rooster

Cry Macho Release Date: Clint Eastwood's Latest Hits This Fall

Cry Macho is a modern day western drama directed by and starring Clint Eastwood. You may heard of him. The screenplay was written by Nick Schenk and N. Richard Nash. It was based on Nash’s 1975 novel. The cast also includes Dwight Yoakum, Eduardo Minett, Natalia Traven and Fernanda Urrejola.

Eastwood plays a retired rodeo star named Mike Milo who just loses his job at a ranch ran by Yoakum’s Howard Polk. Sometime later, Polk comes to Milo and asks a big favor. He wants Milo to retrieve his son from his ex-wife in Mexico. He says that the boy is being abused, and he wants to have a relationship with his son, who is in the care of an unstable mother. Milo agrees to this and heads down south. He meets the ex-wife, played by Urrejola, and yes, she is a bit of a loon, but she has money and guys with guns to affirm her poor life choices. Milo then is able to find the boy who is living on the streets and making some money by having his rooster, Macho, fight against other roosters. Yeah…cockfighting. Anyway, Milo and the boy, Rafo, meet. They have an argument and still end up together in Milo’s car on the way back to Polk’s Texas ranch. Of course, all kinds of obstacles and sidetracks occur. The mother sends her hired gun after them as they also try to avoid the attention of the Mexican authorities. There is a little romance on the way for Milo. Anyway, that’s the gist of this thing.

I have a somewhat reflexive affection for Clint Eastwood, so I was pleased that he was putting out another film when I first heard of this one. The story was not without interest, but Eastwood’s age is a real problem here. The man is just over 90 years old, and he almost looks every bit of it. Yes, he is still walking unaided and seems fairly fit…for a 90 year old man, but it was still too implausible that this was Polk’s best option to send to Mexico to get his son from an unstable woman with an armed crew. The rest of the cast was pretty well chosen. Minett has enough charisma to carry off his role of thirteen year-old Rafo. There is some great scenery throughout the film. The writing seemed a little stilted. The pace of the film often dragged as well. It’s not all bad, but it does require an almost painful suspension of disbelief. I think if Eastwood is still sharp enough to direct films. that’s fine, however he would do better to understand that his days of convincingly playing an action hero are over.

Book Review: With A World At War, LA Still Has Its Own Troubles

This Storm is a crime novel from James Ellroy that takes place in 1942 Los Angeles. It’s one of a group of novels known as Second LA Quartet. It was first published in 2019.

This is one of these novels where it is uncertain who the real protagonist is supposed to be. Everyone’s morals seem to be a little ambiguous. There is a body found at Griffin Park. Two police officers are later murdered at a night club. A gold heist is also at the heart of this. Many characters are in other works written by Ellroy. To be honest, I am pretty unfamiliar with these novels. My only real prior exposure to Ellroy is seeing the movie LA Confidential, which is based on one of the previous novels.

This is a very dense, busy novel. The setting was fascinating. Real historic cinematic figures such as Orson Welles are peppered throughout. Ellroy apparently really delves into the culture of the city and the time quite thoroughly. There is a lot of violence and sex, which is not surprising. The characters are pretty complicated. Ellroy is an interesting writer and has no shortage of talent, but he can seem a little long-winded. The novel does not read very quickly even though it is not written with any Victorian flourishes. I struggled to stay engaged with this one, however that may be more due to not being used to this author’s style of writing. I may have to try another Ellroy novel or revisit this one in a few years.

Ellroy is a consistent best selling author for a reason and I did enjoy the film LA Confidential, so I won’t try to dissuade anyone from giving this novel a try.

Next up, Kyle Mills continues the bloody exploits of Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp with Total Power.

Film Review: 007 Always Has Time To Kill

No Time To Die review: Daniel Craig bids farewell to James Bond in style -  CNET

No Time To Die is the latest James Bond film to hit the big screen. Daniel Craig makes his last appearance as 007, and it is overall an impressive exit. Cary Joji Fukunaga directs this installment and also co-wrote the screen play alongside Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge. The cast also includes Naomie Harris, Rami Malek, Ralph Fiennes, Lea Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, and Christoph Waltz. Jeffrey Wright returns as CIA operative Felix Leiter. Ana de Armas also makes a brief but captivating appearance as another CIA operative who provides some much needed assistance to the retired MI6 agent. Anyway, there is quite a mixture of old and new faces to see Craig off. Oh yes, Ben Whishaw returns as Q. I think that covers much of the significant cast and crew.

The film starts off with a flashback in which Bond’s girlfriend, Madeleine Swann, recalls the murder of her mother. She is then rescued by the killer, who is to be the main villain, Lyutsifer Safin, played by Malek, James Bond has been retired by MI6 for some time. He is spending time with Madeleine in Italy when he is unexpectedly attacked while visiting the grave of a former love. Bond escapes that attempt but severs his relationship with Madeleine after he suspects that she led his would-be killers to their next. It is a few years later when Bond has retired to Jamaica and is contacted by Felix Leiter who asks for his help in locating a kidnapped scientist who has developed a dangerous bioweapon. Bond is then in the midst of SPECTRE, an old adversary, however the members of that organization are wiped out by another nemesis. Bond returns to MI6 and finds another agent played by Lynch with his old designation. It’s just a number, right? He also finds himself reunited with Madeleine, who now has a daughter. There are plenty of gunfights, explosions, and chases that lead Bond back to familiar dangers and to new revelations.

First of all, Daniel Craig delivers a compelling performance as expected. The cast is actually well selected. Ana de Armas was a rather unexpected treat in her limited screen time. I even got to like Lashana as Agent 007, Nomi. Nomi makes a really poignant gesture of respect to Bond during the film that was just too cool. The film work was spectacular. There was plenty of just great scenery and background. There was quite a bit of enjoyment to be found in this one. Daniel Craig flat out did great as James Bond through all of his era. Some people preferred the lighter, more humorous touch of the previous actors, but I appreciate the darker sides of the character being brought out. I have read most of the original Ian Fleming novels, and Bond was not presented as quite so flippant as the screen version has come across over the years.

This film is not without its flaws unfortunately. Malek’s role seemed to be a little unclear as to the purpose of his villainous deeds. Not all of the threads dangling from the recent previous films tied together so easily. There were times that some of the action sequences took on a video game aspect that was hard to buy into. Also, there was quite a shocking game changer at the end that I am not that sure was necessary. I will leave that vague out f respect for anyone who may come across this blog before seeing the movie. It’s a long shot, I know.

The film is going to be somewhat polarizing among the fans more than likely, but I would still recommend that it be seen in spite of some of my curmudgeonly views. Craig still does a great job. There is a lot to still enjoy about this film, and hopefully the producers will keep the franchise and the character recognizable because the one spoiler I will reveal is that “James Bond will return”.

Doctor Who Audio Review: The Daughters Step Up

Doctor Who: The Third Doctor Adventures Volume 07

The Third Doctor Adventures Volume 7 contains two audio drama featuring the Third Doctor as played by Tim Treloar, who is filling in for the late Jon Pertwee. This set is directed by Nicholas Briggs. Not only is Treloar taking over the part of someone no longer living, but two actresses who played popular companions are being portrayed by each of their daughters. This set is of course a recent Big Finish release.

The first story is Mark Wright’s The Unzal Incursion which has Daisy Ashford playing the role of Liz Shaw, who was first portrayed by her mother Caroline John. Jon Culshaw reprises his interpretation of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, who was played originally by the late Nicholas Courtney. The remaining guest cast is made up of Misha Malcolm, Clare Corbett, Avita Jay, Sam Benjamin, and Gary Martin. Liz Shaw has been a crucial member of an effort to invent an early warning system of extraterrestrial activity known as Hotspur. Members of UNIT have suddenly started behaving oddly and are in the midst of a mutiny, and a new alien threat is very interested in the new project as well. The Doctor, Liz, and the Brigadier have to dodge the efforts of their own team to capture them.

This story is actually pretty good. There was not a very clear description of the Unzal that I can recall, which I found a little frustrating, The cast performed well. Treloar’s portrayal of this particular Doctor is good enough to that I can still imagine Pertwee uttering his lines. It’s just a solid adventure that is quite reminiscent of this Doctor’s early days of his exile.

The second story is one that I prefer a little more. Tim Foley examines the other side of this Doctor’s era when Sadie Miller takes on the role originated by her mother, Elisabeth Sladen, with The Gulf. It’s all women in this one with a guest cast made up of Wendy Craig, Lucy Goldie, Jennifer Saayeng, Bethan Walker, and Issy Van Randwyck. The Doctor and Sarah arrive on an ocean planet aboard a former rig which now serves as an artists’ retreat. One of the small number of artists has disappeared. There is a creature below the waves that feeds on tears of guilt and sorrow, and this plenty of that to go around with this group.

This has one of my favorite types of setting. A claustrophobic isolated base in which there is little chance of escape. The Doctor has not really faced an enemy of this sort, and he is not always sure what to do. Sadie Miller can sometimes sound very much like her mother. Not all of the descriptions were that helpful on how to picture the setting in my mind. It was still quite well-written though with a fairly unique sort of monster.

The set was quite solid overall. The sound effects were convincing enough, and no one in the cast seemed to fall short. Treloar seems to be on solid footing in his portrayal of the Third Doctor. Neither story was bad. Culshaw bringing the Brigadier back to life is quite welcome. This is certainly one of the stronger efforts by Big Finish to capture a specific era of the series. The Gulf was different in some ways though If this were seen on television, the special effects would have to have been updated quite a bit.

This set is one of the better ones in recent years, and his other companions from the Third Doctor finally get to shine a bit through the daughters of the women who portrayed them. This turned out pretty well in spite of challenges of recording it during COVID 19 restrictions in the UK.

Classic Doctor Who Audio Review: The Doctor’s Treasure Hunt

The Smugglers is a Doctor Who television serial in four parts that was originally aired on the BBC in 1966. The actual television footage remains missing, but the soundtrack has been recovered. Anneke Wills, who played the Doctor’s companions Polly, provides narration to help fill in the actions that are unseen. This story is also William Hartnell’s penultimate outing as the Doctor. Michael Craze also has just joined the cast as Able Seaman Ben Jackson. The guest cast includes Terence De Marney, George A. Cooper, and John Ringham. Brian Hayles wrote the script which was directed by Julia Smith.

Ben and Polly are two young Londoners from 1966 who have encountered the Doctor in the previous adventure entitiled The War Machines. They wandered aboard the TARDIS as the Doctor was about to leave London. The TARDIS takes the trio to Cornwall in the 17th Century. The TARDIS crew then get immersed in a treasure hunt while fending off pirates and government bureaucrats.

Any Doctor Who fan knowledgeable about this era of the series knows that this is here William Hartnell’s failing health was becoming more apparent. He still seems to put in a fairly competent performance here, but I may be somewhat biased. I have always had a soft spot for Ben and Polly, but they are just finding their chemistry here. I always liked how Ben addresses Polly as “duchess”.

Sadly, there is not much remarkable about the story itself. It seems a little obvious that the Doctor would encounter pirates. Everyone played their stereotyped roles just fine, but not much else stood out other than the introduction of two new companions. The main cast seemed to do just fine, but it is a little sad knowing the next story would mark the end of Hartnell’s time when he was likely reluctant to give up the part. Ben and Polly were the first companions to witness the Doctor’s regeneration in the subsequent story.

Anyway, it was still rather intriguing to hear a very classic Doctor Who adventure on the verge of a momentous shift that would become a unique tradition where the lead role could be recast on a regular basis. Hartnell’s era in particular was plagued with somewhat problematic writing and production, but it is still fun to revisit those days. Anneke Wills also does well in providing the linking narration. There is not much flash or difficulty to that, but she deserves a mention for that contribution.

The Smugglers is really for fans who want to make sure they have at least experienced every piece of the early days. It isn’t terrible to endure, however the history and background of this broadcast is a bit more enthralling than the actual story.

Film Review: Millie And The Butcher Make A Trade

Freaky review: New movie is part Freaky Friday, part Friday the 13th, and  part Jack Black in Jumanji.

Freaky is a comedy slasher film that explores the body swapping gag in a new way. It is a Blumhouse Production directed by Christopher Landon, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Michael Kennedy. Vince Vaughn stars alongside Kathryn Newton, Katie Finneran, and Alan Ruck.

Vince Vaughn plays the Blissfield Butcher who wanders around town on the hunt for teen-agers to kill. After adding to his body count, he makes off with an ancient dagger with some strange powers. When the Butcher sets his sights on a shy, bullied girl named Millie, played by Newton, his plans go awry when the dagger casts a spell which has the air switch bodies. Millie has only twenty-four hours to retrieve the dagger from the police evidence locker, find the Butcher who has adapted to using his new disguise to add a few more notches to the aforementioned body count.

So once again, the body swapping plot device is in play, which usually is handled rather clumsily. This particular idea was actually rather amusing in an expectedly grotesque sort of way. Newton’s shift to the Butcher persona was rather compelling. Vince Vaughn acting like a teen-age girl could be rather hilarious. The weak moments in his performance have more to do with the writing than his effort. The rest of the cast was fine. Newton and Vaughn do pretty well carrying the heavy load of this film.

Yeah, the film is rather stupid in many ways, however it still manages to avoid being irredeemably bad. If one is in the mood of some entertaining, gruesome absurdity, this one delivers.

Film Review: Nothing Can Cure Carnage Like A Little Venom

Venom 2: Release Date, Casting, and Everything We Know | Digital Trends

Venom: Let There Be Carnage is the latest Marvel film which brings back Tom Hardy as Eddie Brock/Venom. Kelly Marcel wrote the screenplay with Andy Serkis taking up the director’s mantle. The cast also includes Michelle Williams, Woody Harrelson, Naomie Harris, and Stephen Graham.

So this one is chock full of unrequited love. Eddie Brock is working as a reporter and is still missing his girlfriend, Anne Weying, played by Williams, who is now engaged to someone else. His relationship with his symbiote, Venom is on the rocks. Psychotic killer, Cletus Kasady, is missing his childhood love, Frances, while facing execution. Frances has an unusually piercing scream which has her incarcerated in an institution reserved for dangerous mutants, and she is not happy to be so separated from her favorite lunatic. No one seems to be able to sort out their love lives here. Brock pays Harrelson’s Cletus a little visit. That meeting gets a little tense when Cletus gets a little taste of Venom. Of course, we know what’s next. Venom’s little spot of blood mutates inside Cletus, transforming him into Carnage, who just wants to find his lost love so he is not alone in his indulging his bloodlust.

Harrelson takes on the role of Carnage and is reliably creepy and unhinged. Harris does fine as Frances, who has her own issues. Frances is also known as Shriek. Hardy’s performance is quite good in spite of some weak dialogue. The special effects and the fight scenes are done well enough to make this just entertaining enough. Venom’s single-mindedness when it comes to eating bad guys is supposed to be amusing in some gallows sort of way, but I was finding it somewhat annoying. So this is a comic book movie, so there needs to be grace extended when it comes to expecting a lot of coherence. I get that, but somehow I felt that some opportunities were missed to really elicit some laughs. Of course, the humor would be quite dark and disturbing, but I don’t shy away from that.

Basically, this is another film that left me a little cold. I shouldn’t be disappointed since this is a comic book film. but somehow this ended up being more of a letdown than I anticipated. The only really impressive aspect was the effects, but that is even not all that notable considerable most movies in this genre can at least get the special effects right. It’s not the worst film I have seen, but it is one of a big blob of unremarkable cinematic offerings. This is still rather annoying because I seem to be saying much of the same thing about the recent films I have endured, which makes this latest blog feel rather unremarkable. Better luck next time, Marvel.

Book Review: The Play’s The Thing…

A Bright Ray of Darkness is a novel written by Ethan Hawke. Hawke is of course better known as an actor, but he apparently likes to throw out a book every not and then.

The tale is told in the first person from the perspective of actor William Harding, who is the midst of a public scandal after he is caught cheating on his wife. Young William has joined the cast of a stage the hopes of of some kind of redemption. He has tried to drown out his regret with booze and sex, but he is merely making his situation worse. Anyway, the catch is that an actual Hollywood figure is giving a fictional inside look of the profession.

So, this isn’t my usual mode of literary diversion, and I doubt I will be revisiting this one anytime soon. Harding is a little hard for me to find much sympathy for. Toward the end of the novel, Harding gets some advice from his fellow cast members and the director that sort of resonated with me. Unfortunately, it isn’t until that moment that I saw Harding as another shallow Hollywood airhead. Hawke’s writing isn’t that bad though. I didn’t find it to be uniquely compelling, but I have read worse. I suspect my reservations about this novel is inspired by my overall cynicism of Hollywood airheads. Through much of the novel, he makes most of the boneheaded decisions I would expect. There is some payoff toward the end, but this one tested my patience overall.

Now that is over, time to immerse my imagination in 1940’s Los Angeles with James Ellroy’s This Storm.