Doctor Who Episode Review: The Doctor Brings Some Chaos To Tranquility Spa

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Orphan 55 is the latest episode of Doctor Who to feature Jodie Whittaker in the lead role. She is still in the company of Bradley Walsh, Toson Cole, and Mandip Gill.  This episode was written by Ed Hime and directed by Lee Haven Jones.

The Doctor and her friends are whisked away by a transport cube for an unexpected holiday to a place known as Tranquility Spa on what is thought to be a distant planet. Strange savage creatures known as Dregs break through the barrier into the spa and starts killing the guests.  A small group of survivors come together with the Doctor trying to find the secrets behind the chaos.  There is also a a rather unexpected family reunion with a couple of the guest characters.

The guest cast includes Laura Fraser, Gia Re, and Julia Foster, and they do their best with only a mildly interesting episode.

The Dregs were fine as the monster of the week. There was some creativity in the design.  There are some aspects of the story that seemed overly familiar.  It was just a mishmash of concepts that have been visited before in the series.

The episode just didn’t leave much of an impression on me one way or the other.  It wasn’t the worst I have seen as other critics have suggested, however it certainly isn’t one worth remembering for any significant amount of time.  This series is somewhat better than Whittaker’s debut season, however it has yet to really impress me.  I may just have to live with Whittaker’s era merely being tolerable, and that may be just because I still love Doctor Who used to be and what it could be with better writing.

Sherlock Holmes Audio Review: Honest Jim May Not Be Telling The Whole Truth

The Master of Blackstone Grange is a Sherlock Holmes audio play released by Big Finish Productions.  This release also has a bonus adventure entitled The Adventure of the Fleet Street Transparency, both scripted by Jonathan Barnes.  Ken Bentley is the director this particular audio release.  Nicholas Briggs and Richard Earl return to the imagined lodgings of Bake Street as Sherlock Holmes, Dr. John Watson, respectively.

The first story starts off with Watson bringing a peculiar matter of his barber’s wife disappearing inexplicably.  Holmes is quite taken aback when his nemesis, Sebastian Moran, is released from prison.  Colonel Sebastian Moran was the chief lieutenant of the criminal enterprise headed by Professor James Moriarty.  Clues and circumstances take Holmes and Watson to Blackstone Grange where they encounter a mysterious landowner named “Honest” Jim Sheedy, whose fortune has hazy origins.  Also, Dr. Watson meets an intriguing woman.

This is a three hour adventure here.  It’s actually pretty good, but I am it does feel a little long.  Richard Earl still does a remarkable job as narrator and performer.  Briggs also delivers an interesting take on Holmes.  There seems to be some exploration of the period where Holmes and Watson middle-aged.  Watson has moved back to Baker Street after his wife’s passing.

Harry Peacock, Lucy Briggs-Owens, and Tim Bentinck are part of the guest cast.  John Banks portrays Colonel Moran and does a great job.  The story does drag at times, but it still has plenty of interesting moments.  Earl has the heaviest load here since he also narrates as Dr. Watson. There are some threads that lead back to Texas.

I also was interested that this takes place around Christmas of 1899, so there are questions concerning the changes swirling around Holmes and Watson at the dawn of what be a new century to them.

The Adventure of the Fleet Street Transparency has a longer title but is a much shorter installment.  Barnes elected to have the Baker Street face something quite a bit more supernatural.  Holmes and Watson will wander into the realm of H.G. Wells, but that’s all I will say about that.

It’s a lighter adventure than the first one.  This type of direction for Sherlock Holmes is not my favorite, however I still found some enjoyment here.  I guess I am getting more used to Nicholas Briggs’ take on Holmes, however I think Earl’s voice as Watson is quite compelling.

Blake Ritson, Anjella MacKintosh, and Leighton Pugh make up the guest cast and are well selected, however that’s no surprise.  There seems to be no shortage of talent found by the Big Finish folks.

Although I am not sure that Blackstone Grange needed three hours to tell the story, this release was still quite good for the most part. There are some interesting moments of friction in the relationship between Holmes and Watson.  Watson doesn’t quite come off as the sycophant as he is sometimes presented in other tales.  I never really disliked Briggs’ interpretation of Holmes, but I do think I can developing a deeper appreciation for it,  I think other previous depictions will still be a preference, but Briggs’ love for the character is something I share and appreciate.

Anyway, whatever misgivings I have expressed are really pretty minor, and I don’t have any hesitation in recommending giving this one a try.

Film Review: When Bryan Met Walter

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Just Mercy is a film based on the true story of a wrongfully convicted death row inmate in Alabama who is aided by Harvard attorney Bryan Stevenson who finds the evidence presented in the original trial to be a somewhat dodgy.  The film is directed by Destin Daniel Crettin, who also co-wrote the script with Andrew Lanham.  It is based on the memoir written by Stevenson.  Jamie Foxx and Michael B. Jordan lead the cast which which includes Brie Larson, Tim Blake Nelson, and O’Shea Jackson Jr.

Foxx plays the unfortunate Walter McMillian, who has been sentenced to death after being charged with the murder of am 18 year-old white woman in Monroe County, Alabama.  Jordan plays the determined attorney, Bryan Stevenson who takes on the appeal.  It’s based on a true story, however the incompetence that is depicted in the investigation at times seem too outlandish to believe.  I am not saying that I disbelieve that McMillian was not the recipient of a gross injustice.  I am not sure what elements depicted was artistic license and was actually accurate.  I might have to read the book if I get more curious obviously.

The performances were quite extraordinary,  Jordan’s acclaim as an actor seems quite well earned.  Foxx of course is a master at tugging the heartstrings as well.  Really, the acting talent runs abound all over this film.  It just manages to avoid the depiction of all white people being terrible racists, which I appreciated.  I am a proponent of the death penalty, but I am a bigger proponent of getting the right bad guy regardless of the ethnicity.  Stevenson’s final argument for justice and at times mercy did resonate with me.  If the evidence portrayed in this film  was as flimsy in real life, I have to say that I am glad that Mr. McMillian spent his final years in the free world.  As for Bryan Stevenson, he seems like a pretty decent fellow as well, and I hope that the people he ends up helping really are the victims of flawed prosecution.

It’s a pretty good film, and it does tell an important story.


Doctor Who Audio Review: The Cybermen Want You….Run!

Warzone/Conversion is a Doctor Who audio double feature from Big Finish Productions.  Peter Davison is of course the Fifth Doctor while Sarah Sutton and Janet Fielding reprise their roles as Nyssa and Tegan, respectively.  George Watkins is still on board as a former slave in Ancient Rome named Marc.  These are a pair of two-parters in the 258th release of the monthly range, directed by Scott Handcock.

Chris Chapman is the writer of Warzone which has Silas Carson and Pepter Lunkuse as part of the guest cast.  The Doctor and his companions land in the middle of a race with a lot of participants.  The Doctor learns that the runners subject themselves to upgrades that seem disturbingly familiar.

This is one of those stories which gets better in the second half.  It just seems to serve as a setup for the second story which has a more intense and dramatic purpose.  The episode is pretty good, but the real meat is in the second entry.

Guy Adams picks it up with Conversion which sees David Banks and Mark Hardy return as the version of the Cybermen featured during most of the 1980’s when they encountered the Doctor during the fifth, sixth, and seventh incarnations.

One of the more interesting aspects here is that the Doctor finally faces the aftermath of Adric’s death which occurred in the television serial entitled Earthshock. He does finally express some real regret over Adric’s death which was brought about by a confrontation with the Cybermen.

I like this story because it delves into the horror of the conversion process.  Marc has been infected with technology that kicks off the cyber conversion process, and the Doctor is desperate to not lose another companions because of his silver adversaries.

Many fans like the Daleks, however I was much more intrigued by the Cybermen, and they were used effectively here.

The cast continues to perform well.  I am not necessarily a big fan of Marc yet, but he got a bit more interesting once the story was about rescuing him.

I had a little trouble imagining everything that was occurring in this episode, but I still enjoyed this one.  I’m just a sucker for the Cybermen, I guess.

Doctor Who Review: The Master Of The Fall

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Spyfall, Part Two concludes the opening adventure of series 12 of Doctor Who.  In the first episode, the Doctor and her companions are asked to look into a series of attacks on various spies around the world.  The Doctor learns of a social media mogul named Daniel Barton and encounters large shiny luminescent aliens in Australia. An ally known as O turns out to be a familiar foe known as the Master.  He has the Doctor exiled to some strange environment in another dimension as Yasmin, Graham, and Ryan are plunging to fiery deaths in a plane that has lost its cockpit.

Jodie Whittaker is wielding the sonic screwdriver as the Doctor with Bradley Walsh, Mandip Gill, and Tosin Cole sharing the billing.  They have been separated with the Master chasing the Doctor through various time zones who is accompanies by Ada Lovelace and Noor Inayat Khan, code name Madeleine.  The Master has returned in the shape of Sacha Dhawan.

Executive producer and showrunner Chris Chibnall wrote this one with Lee Haven Jones as director.

The Master’s sudden appearance does smack of desperation from the writers in an effort to bring up a familiar presence after the previous series featuring no familiar adversary to the fans.  Dhawan does well enough, but he seems to just copy the same mania of John Simm’s performance.  I miss the suave villainy of the late Roger Delgado.  There also was strangely no mention of the Doctor and the Master developing their rather strange alliance during the Missy incarnation.

The plot is a bit of a mess, but it was a little better than what the fans got during Whittaker’s freshman season.  Her version of the Doctor still seems to be an echo of the energy displayed by David Tennant or Matt Smith when they had the role.  There is some effort to have a more serious threat looming over the Doctor.  There is another disturbing revelation about the Doctor’s home that I found to be a little unnecessary.

Some of this worked well enough, however I found this to be somewhat average in spite of the big reveals and surprises.  I may just find it too soon to have the Master back.  At this point, I am relieved that I at least found this to be tolerable.  Unfortunately, I am not sure that much of the audience is going to be as forgiving, and I also am not in total disagreement with that group either.  I hope the series gets better from here.



Film Review: A Grudge From Beyond

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The Grudge has been revived yet again.  This time, the screenplay is written and directed by Nicholas Pesce. It was based on the original idea created by Takashi Shimizu.  According to the Japanese legend, the spirit of someone who had died a violent death can live on in some vengeful and rage-filled existence and just be a real nuisance to the living.  The film stars Andrea Riseborough, Demian Bichir, John Cho, and Lin Shaye.

The film is presented in a non-linear presentation which was how it was done in the previous installments.  The tendrils of this curse reaching into the minds and taking the lives of various couples.  It’s a pretty effective technique, although it does make it a little challenging to follow.  It turns out this film turned out to be something dubbed a “sidequel”.  It has connections to the previous films done around 2004. It has been quite a while since I saw those films, so I was a little lost in trying to remember the events of those.

There were some effectively disturbing and spooky scenes that did cause the occasional goosebumps.  The main cast was fine in their performances.  The visual effects were pretty convincing.  In spite of that, there was not much to make this a standout in the horror genre.  The overall reactions from the professional critics have been quite negative.  I didn’t find the movie to be that bad overall.  It’s not great, but it’s not much worse than most films of this sort.  There just isn’t much I haven’t seen before.  I tend to appreciate the Japanese horror films, but creepy dead girl walking around with wet hair seems to have developed into  a pretty standard trope in these things.

The movie evoked some of the intended reactions in me while I am watching it, but it misses the mark when it comes to leaving a lasting impression.

Film Review: Have An Incredible Time

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The Incredibles is an animated superhero film from Pixar Animation Studios and released in 2004.  The voice cast includes Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, and the prolific Samuel L. Jackson.  Brad Bird wrote and directed this piece.

This was one of those rare occurrences where I saw the sequel before I saw its predecessor.  I watched it earlier in the week with a friend who just had a new home theater installed.

Anyway, Nelson and Hunter play Bob and Helen Parr as a typical couple who end up starting a family when they have to give up their super powered crime fighting after the public outcry due to the collateral damage left in the wake of their epic battles with the various peculiar supervillains.  Anyway, Bob finds himself missing his glory days in his suburban existence and white collar job.  A strange phone call lures him back in his suit and facing giant robots, however there is a more sinister purpose behind the second chance, and pretty soon the whole super powered family have to come together to face the latest threat.

This is one of those films that make me want to pay attention to more animated films even if I am not necessarily the primary target audience.  This was pretty fun. I have an unusual perspective because I had seen the second film first about a year ago and enjoyed that.  I think the first film as the better out of the two.  There are some underlying themes I can appreciate such as the relevance of strong family loyalty even in the midst of some disagreement and discord.  Hunter and Nelson have been at this a long time, and they’re performance was great.  I also really enjoyed Sarah Vowell’s vocal antics as the insecure teen-age daughter, Violet.  The obnoxious son, Dash, was also great.  There are some slow moments at times, which seems odd to note about feature length cartoon, however it’s still a really good time.  I found myself enjoying the family dynamics portrayed here.  The quips were pretty good throughout.  Some of the supporting case has some scene stealing moments as well.  There is this babysitter for the youngest child, Jack-Jack, who was an absolute scream at times.  Bird demonstrates a wicked sense of humor that I think can be appreciated by audiences of quite a wide age range, assuming of course they like superheroes.

I can’t believe it took me over fifteen years to catch this one.  If a third one is being considered, I won’t be waiting near as long.

Doctor Who Review: The Doctor And The Spymaster

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Spyfall-Part One starts off the twelfth series of the revived Doctor Who.  Jodie Whittaker is still the Doctor.  Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, and Mandip Gill return to their repective roles of Graham O’Brien, Ryan Sinclair, and Yasmin Khan. The executive producer, Chris Chibnall, wrote this particular episode which was directed by Jamie Magnus Stone.  Notable guests are Stephen Fry and Lenny Henry.

The story starts off with various British spies being killed by some flashing entity coming out of boulders, walls, and ceilings.  The head of MI6, known as C, summons the Doctor and her companions to help figure out the source of this obviously extraterrestrial attack.  The search takes the Doctor and her team in various parts of the world. There’s a big twist toward the end as the Doctor learns that something or someone wickedly familiar is behind the alien menace.

I have mentioned before that changing the gender of a character who has been around as a male for over half a century since the conception by BBC was not my favorite decision imposed.  I am not a fan of Chibnall’s production decisions.  I think the TARDIS is a bit crowded, although three companions have worked somewhat well before in the show’s past.  I do like the dynamic between Graham and Ryan.  Yasmin has struggled with having a consistent purpose for her presence.  The social messages have been delivered with too much bluntness for what is supposed to be largely an entertaining science fiction program.  In short, this is not my favorite era of Doctor Who.

Saying that, this episode does have a few improvements from what grated on me over the previous series.  The cause of these attacks was somewhat intriguing.  Whittaker herself was not quite so annoying, but that may just be me getting used to her.  I will say that I do not like the obvious James Bond riff depicted here.  In the era of what is now known as Classic Doctor Who, the influences of other genres or writings was shown with a bit more subtlety.  This business of distorting titles from other franchises or other works should really stop.

As much as recent creative and production decisions have exasperated me at times, I am not ready to give up on a series which has been a source of such joy and diversion for me since childhood.  I was relieved that I found myself getting drawn in, anxious for the revelations to unfold.  I will also mention that some of the latest changes of the TARDIS interior actually is an improvement over the last series.  This wasn’t a great episode by any means, but I would consider it an improvement over how Whittaker’s version of the Doctor was introduced.

Book Review: Katrina Revisited

Salvage the Bones is a novel by Jesmyn Ward about a family who reside in a fictional Mississippi town in the path of Hurricane Katrina.  The book was first published in 2012.

The story is presented in first person narrative from the perspective of a fifteen year old girl named Esch who gets herself in the predicament of being pregnant,  Ward explores lots of issues with this book.  She touches on all sorts of social topics with this one.  Esch lives with several brothers and a widowed father.  She doesn’t make the safest decisions when it comes to her romantic liaisons.  Esch is a bit complicated, to put it kindly.  Most of the story takes place just before Hurricane Katrina bears down on their community in 2005.

This isn’t my usual sort of choice for my leisure reading.  It’s basically a family drama. Ward is actually a pretty talented writer, however I had some trouble staying interested in the characters since the hurricane’s grand entrance is quite delayed.  Esch spends a lot of time dealing with keeping her pregnancy a secret while coping with the usual physical upheavals that accompanies the condition.

I have to say that I appreciated the book more when I read the interview printed in the back and the brief postscript.  Ward reveals that she actually survived Katrina’s intrusion.  She does have a decent prose style, but I didn’t find her characters all that compelling until the hurricane started pounding away.  I also don’t usually this type of book, so my impressions may be tainted a bit.  I could see why others would like her though, and from what I could see on her cover photo, she looks young enough to get plenty of practice honing her skill.  I may still keep an eye for her other works because she may still have a story that can resonate with me more. Plus I still need to broaden my literary horizons.

Saying that, I will be returning to an author with whom I much more familiar.  I will start off 2020 with Stephen King’s The Outsider.

If I Could Have Your Attention Please As 2020 Kicks Off

So I have been writing this blog for over a year now.  I usually review movies, books, and Doctor Who as they I see, read, or hear them for the first time.  It has been pretty interesting to see the few reactions to get.  I hope my reading audience will grow unto something more than a dozen or so people, but I will keep up the practice anyway. In review of what I like to do with this blog, I tend to comment on movies I have seen for the first time.  I am trying to watch more classic films I have yet to see such as The Godfather or Raging Bull. I know…how can I still missing out on those? That will eventually be rectified.  The thing is that there will be some reviews of older movies or books that I have yet to ever experience.  I also will be keeping up on current output from studios and publishing houses as well as best they can.  I do still have a full-time job.  This blog evolved out of a practice I had on Facebook of writing quick thoughts about whatever I had seen or read.  I figured out how to use WordPress, but I could stand to learn more about how to maximize the benefits there.

As 2020 begins, I am considering also trying to post more frequently and will do more to include reactions on various stories in pop culture and perhaps in the political arena as we are coming up on another presidential election.  I also will need to take time to read and study other bloggers in order to find ways to make improvements in my own efforts.  This blog is mainly about finding ways to finding my voice in expressing the things that interest me and adding to the conversation.  I don’t necessarily want to get into contentious debates, but I will defend my thoughts vigorously if I find the counterpoint or response stimulating enough.

I am coming up on three hundred blogs written this past year.  I hope to be even more prolific and with a bit more variety as well.  Happy New Year!