This Way To The Chesterton Exhibition

“The Time Museum” is a Doctor Who audio play from The Companion Chronicles range released by Big Finish Productions.  James Goss is the writer here with Lisa Bowerman directing as usual for this particular series.  William Russell reprises the role of Ian Chesterton, one of the Doctor’s first companions when the series started on television in 1963.  Philip Pope is the talented guest actor alongside Russell.  Pope plays a myserious character named Pendolin.

Pendolin curates a Time Museum and has procured the memories and presence of one Ian Chesterton, who resumed his life after leaving the company of the Doctor.  Ian is quite a bit older now but no less of an interesting fellow.  Pendolin introduces Ian to his own section of this peculiar museum.  But another presence sends them both fleeing when an entity who feeds on such memories stalks them through Ian’s memories.

This episode is one of those infrequent numbers where there is no narration.  It’s a two-hander piece with the descriptions being relayed through dialogue between the two characters.  Russell was closing in on 90 years old when he performed this story in 2012, and he still sounds quite compelling in this one.  Pope was a good choice to pay off him as well.

I had some trouble staying into it at the beginning, but the second part sort of hooked me in better.  The idea seems to be another excuse for self-indulgence of just revisiting old stories for the sake of nostalgia, and that is likely what it is meant to be.  However, it turned out to be a pretty enjoyable nostalgic tale when it was all said and done.  There turned out to be surprising depth during a moment when Chesterton discusses how he and Barbara joining the Doctor and Susan ultimately changed everyone for the better.  The Doctor wasn’t quite the selfless interfering crusader when he first showed up on British airwaves.  Goss adds a rather creative depth to how the Doctor and his first companions affected each other that was never really explored back then on television.

Both actors did a fine job, but that is almost always the case with Big Finish releases, even if the story is a little below par,   Fortunately, this episode turned out to be a satisfying addition to the collection.

 

No Hidden Gems In “Gemini Man”

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“Gemini Man” is the science fiction action thriller directed by Ang Lee.  It stars Will Smith in a dual role as a super assassin and his young clone.  Clive Owen and Mary Elizabeth Winstead are also part of the cast.  It took three scriptwriters to get this together.  David Benioff, Billy Ray, and Darren Lemke are the culprits in this exercise of mediocrity.

A government hitman named Henry Brogan is wanting to hang up his high powered firearms and live a life of leisure.  His former employers decide that he knows too much or something like that.  They are in bed with some thinktank known as GEMINI.  An evil scientist played by Owen has a secret clone tucked away somewhere and sends the young, confused, lethal young an to kill his DNA donor.

The action scenes worked well enough, although most of these studios don’t seem to need to work as hard for that.  The dialogue was clunky and uninspiring.  The premise was only mildly interesting.  Smith just doesn’t look or act that dangerous for me to buy him as some world-weary super killer.  The digitalized de-aging of Smith was cleverly done, but I was able to spot the stand-ins a little too quickly, especially toward the end.  Winstead had some great fight scenes and she was kind of cool overall.

The were some moments that looked slick enough, but it was a good thing that I had a free movie ticket when I saw it.  The movie has been out for a week already and has not fared well critically or commercially.  It doesn’t really deserve to either.  Most if not all of the disdain expressed has validity.  I know there must be some latitude given in films of this genre in order to enjoy them, but this particular one was just asking for too much.

A Haunted Home Makeover With The Doctor

The Tenth Doctor Adventures Volume Three: No Place

“No Place” is a Doctor Who audio drama from Big Finish Productions and is written by James Goss, directed by Ken Bentley.  David Tennant returns to role of the Tenth Doctor, alongside Catherine Tate as Donna Noble.  Jacqueline King and Bernard Cribbins are back as well as Sylvia Noble and Wilf.  The gang is all here from the fourth series of the revived television series.  Joel Fry and Peter Singh round out the cast guest as well.

The episode starts off with the listener getting acquainted with “Haunted Makeover”, a supposed reality show about making over homes with haunting reputations.  The Doctor and Donna are there posing as a married couple who own the house with Sylvia and Wilf along for the ride.  Of course, the Doctor and Donna aren’t all that natural behaving as if their in marital bliss, so lots and lots of gags involving ridiculous pet names ensue.  I know the banter between the Doctor and Donna are one of the highlights of that pairing for fans, and I do like it too for the most part.  However, it threatened to distract me a bit from the story.  It seemed that Goss got a little carried away with it at times.  It took a while for the justification for Sylvia and Wilf being in on this story to be satisfactorily explained, but it ends up working out.  At least, I was okay with it.

The episode is an enjoyable little romp for the most part, but a little bit of toning down on the antics of the Doctor and Donna would have been appreciated.  It was still good to have a new adventure with this particular cast and revisit an era of the series I have appreciated a bit more in recent years.

New Zombies, Same Rules

doubletap

“Zombieland: Double Tap” is a sequel to “Zombieland” which was released in 2009.  Ruben Fleischer returns to the director’s chair with Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick being joined by Dave Callaham as the scriptwriters.  Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eiesenberg, Abigail Breslin, and Emma Stone all reprise their roles as the characters that prefer to go by their cities as origin.  Rosario Dawson, Luke Wilson, and Zoey Deutch join the cast as survivors of a zombie epidemic.

The writing did not seem to be that much better than the first film, however my enjoyment of the sequel was more noticeable.  I may have just been in a better mood when I saw the first movie for the first time yesterday.  Who knows?  Anyway, there are some new characters to meet.  There was some retreading and plenty of reminders of the rules compiled by Eusenberg’s Columbus.  Breslin’s Little Rock is all grown up and a little fed up being stuck with people a little beyond her age group though.  Harrelson’s Tallahassee is as outrageous and manic as ever.  It was sort of nice to see the main cast again even if I was a little disappointed in the first film.

It’s a very zany ride watching this movie, but I found myself able to just go with it.  Not every joke landed well, but there were moments that elicited some laughs.

It’s still pretty gruesome though.  The action sequences were fun and well realized for the most part.

I guess the third writer helped more than I expected.  It’s still a very flawed piece of film making, but it’s a still a fun diversion for an afternoon.

We’re Going To Need A Bigger Lawnmower

In the Tall Grass poster.jpeg
“In the Tall Grass” is a horror film recently released on Netflix that was written and directed by Vincenzo Natali, which really is a great name.  Too bad his film falls short of any real greatness.  Natali adapted it from a novella written by Stephen King and Joe Hill.  Patrick Wilson stars in this with several people I have never heard of, including Harrison Gilbertson, Laysla De Oliveira, and Rachel Wilson.

It starts off with a brother and sister traversing the country and coming to a stop just outside a huge field of tall grass across the street from an apparently abandoned church when they hear a young boy crying for help.  They go in and meet other lost people.  The sister is pregnant, and the ex-boyfriend shows up to get lost.  Everyone keeps having spooky sensations and coming across each other.  There is some big monolithic rock in the middle of this field which seems to be the source of all of this supernatural nonsense. Anyway, there is evidence of some kind of time distortion or something.  People who you thought were dead keep turning up.  This is just the most hellish field of tall grass one could imagine.

This may sound like a somewhat derisive description, but it had some promise.  Once again, it had an intriguing concept hear the beginning.  There are lots of Stephen King tropes and traditions such as some seemingly normal gut going off the rails.  The movie was a little hard to follow at times, but I suppose some viewers like a good brain teaser in their films sometimes.

It suffers from what I think is a common misstep in horror films in that the last third of the film where all the cards are laid out ended up being a bit of a disappointment and not much was resolved or explained all that well.

The cast was fine.  The visual effects were fine.  The movie was fine overall, but it’s a good thing I didn’t spend more than the monthly Netflix subscription for this.

Get In Shape And Know The Rules To Survive Zombieland

Poster for Zombieland with subtitle "Nut up or shut up" and movie credits: The four actors appear as a group all holding different weapons.

“Zombieland” is a film released in 2009 which has a long list of adjectives on how to describe the genre  I guess I will just say it’s a horror comedy…sort of.  Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick are the sometimes clever writers of the script which was brought to life by director Ruben Fleischer.  Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin,star in this occasionally amusing tale.

It starts off with the premise of the zombie apocalypse descending on the world leaving only a handful of survivors who find each other and have to get over some trust issues. They seem to prefer identifying themselves as their city of origin or something.  Harrelson plays the cynical, hardened loner known as Tallahassee who finds Eisenberg on the road and takes him under his wing somewhat reluctantly.  They they meet two clever sisters who knew a few tricks before the catastrophe.  It’s a road trip movie basically with lots of zombies thrown in.

Eisenberg’s character is the hapless naive narrator and does fine.  The kid known as Columbus has a lengthy set of rules to help him survive the trip from Texas to Ohio but finds his devotion to these rules tested when he unites with a few survivors.

The movie was fairly entertaining, and I only saw it because the trailer for the sequel which was released this week piqued my interest.  I didn’t really dislike this film, but I was hoping for a bit more wit.  Maybe this is one of those times where the sequel will have something a little more to offer.

Rapp Goes In The Red

Red War

“Red War” is the continuation of the Mitch Rapp series started by the late Vince Flynn.  Kyle Mills has been the one keeping the character in the bloody fight to protect the United States against the most determined of threats.  Rapp has usually targeted the extremist Islamic terrorists through most of the previous novels, however in this one the Russians are in his cross hairs.

The Russian president has discovered that he has brain cancer and may not have long to live.  While he is searching for a miracle in the most selfish of ways, he also wants to make an impact on the world before his departure.  Nothing would make him more memorable than a successful bloody campaign against he West.

Mitch Rapp has an uneasy alliance with former Russian assassin who nearly killed his best friend in order to put a stop to this foolishness.

It does not strike me as the most plausible of plots, however it was still intriguing to see Rapp face a threat other than the insanity that comes out of the Middle East.  He has a rather complicated domestic situation now that he is living with the woman who was once with the French assassin who killed his wife a while ago.  Once again, the sense of reality is a bit stretched, but I like the series enough to go with it,  I guess it would seem a little too odd if Rapp had normal relationships with people who who have no understanding of his almost fanatical dedication to protecting his country,  It isn’t that he has no boundaries or sense of decency, however it gets a little blurry sometimes.  Of course, that is part of what keeps me interested in the character.  I wish Flynn was able to continue the series himself obviously, but Mills is good enough to keep me looking forward to whatever may be in store for Rapp next.

The next literary journey will be aboard the Starship Enterprise in a new adventure with the crew that started it all.  Captain James Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise have a mission to complete in a dangerous sector known as “The Antares Maelstrom”

Time Lords On The Menu

Ravenous 3

“Ravenous 3” is a Doctor Who audio boxset presented by Big Finish Productions.  Paul McGann stars in this one as the Eighth Doctor and once again is joined by Nicola Walker and Hattie Morahan as Liv Chenka and Helen Sinclair, respectively.  Mark Bonnar returns as the extra crazy Time Lord known as the Eleven with John Heffernan also on hand as the earlier incarnation known as the Nine, who really isn’t that much less nuts. The Eleven is a Time Lord whose previous personas stay in his current form after each regeneration.  It’s the Gallifreyan version of a split personality disorder.  As usual with these sets, there are four stories with writing credit split between Matt Fitton and John Dorney.

The Ravenous is some legendary cosmic hobgoblin who devours Time Lords, or as we now learn feeds on the regeneration energy when one is about to shed one life for another.  It’s a pretty good idea for a new monster, but I am not sure that it is quite worth four boxsets which adds up to sixteen adventures.

Anyway, Matt Fittons kicks off this series with “Deeptime Frontier” in which the Doctor and his companions escape a dead TARDIS and find themselves aboard a Gallifreyan research vessel in which other Time Lords have brought aboard a dangerous artefact.  Here, we are introduced to another Time Lords from the Doctor’s academy days with Damian Lynch playing Rasmus, a rather decent sort who is still not immune to the Time Lords’ more arrogant tendencies.  Long time Big Finish actor Dan Starkey plays another Time Lord named Braxis who makes a startling and politically correct transformation which causes the role to be taken over by Susie Emmett.  This adventure is a fine start.  There are lots of familiar claustrophobic type trappings which work well enough.

“Companion Piece” by John Dorney might as well have been called “Girl Power” since it is a self-indulgent romp in which most of the female assistants from the Eighth Doctor’s era take center stage as the Nine starts a rather troubling collection.  Yes, this is pretty self-indulgence and probably over the top, but it’s still well-written, which is typical of a John Dorney script.  Alex Kingston is back as River Song with India Fisher’s Charlotte Pollard and Rakhee Thakrar as Bliss pitch in to help out Liv and Helen who are the latest additions to the Nine’s macabre collection of the Doctor’s companions.  There are also a few pleasant surprise and familiar performances here.  Heffernan goes all out in his depiction of one of the Doctor’s zanier opponents and is just brilliant.  Kingston also continues to sound great.  It’s great that Charley still gets to drop in from time to time as well.  This episode is just a fun addition to the set with some great biting humor.  Nothing wrong with the ladies getting a chance of shine a bit without the Doctor on hand to rescue them, especially with Dorney penning it.

“L.E.G.E.N.D.” by Matt Fitton has the Doctor and his friends alongside a very unlikely, troubling ally as they meet the masters of folklore in the shape of the Brothers Grimm played by Leighton Pugh and Arthur Hughes. They also meet another alien researcher who is not quite as careful when it comes to her efforts to add to her database.  Also, fairy tales in this tale don’t stay within the realm of imagination.  The Doctor meeting the Brothers Grimm feels like something long overdue, but this was a fine story to finally hear that happen.

Then, John Dorney concludes this set with “The Odds Against” where the craziness of the Eleven’s affliction gets doubled.  The Ravenous is closing in and there are disguises being revealed.  This is a fairly typical chaotic ending to a series in which the next catastrophe is being teased.

Overall, this particular boxset ended up being pretty entertaining even if some of this felt like retreading of old themes and challenges.  Villains like the Eleven are a little hard to picture when they are presented only in audio form, so I am having some trouble imagining how that would look.  Frankly, I am a little worn out with the Eleven, or the Nine, or the Twelve.  Paul McGann sounds great but he always sounds great.  I do enjoy the dynamic between this particular Doctor with these companions.  The sound effects are quite convincing although some of the action sequences could have used a little better explanation.  There are some fun and intriguing ideas explored here but it falls just a little short of it being a grand slam or some other kind of jaw dropping sporting event.

A Great Talent, A Hot Mess

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“Judy” is the biographical drama film about the legendary Judy Garland directed by Rupert Goold. Tom Edge wrote the screenplay which was adapted from a stage play entitled “End of the Rainbow” by Peter Quilter.

Renee Zellweger takes on the lead role with Rufus Sewell, Finn Wittrock, and Michael Gambon as part of the cast.

The focus is on Garland’s performances in London a few months before her death in 1969.  There are flashbacks to her teen-age years with her younger self played by Darci Shaw.  It depicts how her handlers pushed her into her drug addiction that bedeviled her for years and lead to her demise.

Zellweger does put in a very compelling performance.  This is likely one of the better portrayals I have seen from her.  She also seems to have done the singing herself, which does tend to lend more credibility to the action.  The sets looked great. Zellweger looked appropriately and convincingly haggard at times.

My only real issue with the film is that there was no real explanation of the timeline for those of us who do not have Garland’s biographical imprinted in our memory banks.  It was not clear as to how long Garland actually performed in London at “Talk of the Town” in the movie.  I had to look it up to learn that it was a five week run.

Garland is probably the quintessential Hollywood tragic figure, and Zellweger was the right choice of portray the complications within that poor woman.

The movie was pretty well done for the most part, but it could have been a little more informative for those less familiar with Garland’s biographical details.

Alex Haley Shares His Roots

Roots by Alex Haley by Alex Haley (1976-01-01)

“Roots” is the novel in which Alex Haley presents his lineage beginning in 1750 where the reader introduced to a young African villager known as Kunta Kinte.  The reader spends several chapters in the village with young Kunta as he grows into manhood.  There is quite a bit of detail in the depictions of Kunta’s family dynamics and the traditions of the village.  It’s pretty interesting for the most part, but it does seem to go on a little longer than necessary.

Then, Kunta is finally ambushed and taken across the ocean in a slave trip.  That was a well described grueling experience for the young fellow.  Haley does an effective job emphasizing the likely abuse and misery experienced by the Africans being brought over to be sold like cattle into the brutal institution of slavery.

So starting from that point, the reader learns the struggles and triumphs of the descendants of Kunta Kinte in a very lengthy chronicle of one of America’s darkest practices in her history.

There are times when the story seemed to drag a little, however Haley does present a complicated and intriguing picture of what that period in history was probably like.  Haley also depicts some complicated relationships between the masters and the slaves where it wasn’t all abuse all the time.  Of course, any moments of reasonable or even kind behavior from the plantation owners does not excuse the overall practice of slavery.  There is apparently some research out there that suggests Haley is not entirely accurate as to his family history, however I can still appreciate the importance of this piece on the literary landscape.  Haley is also a talented enough writer where artistic license is easily forgiven.  The novel also reads as a novel and not a textbook.  I am not going to dig into it deep enough to ascertain for certain what is true and what is perhaps questionable.

Although it took me longer than usual to finish the book and it was a tough read at times, I am glad that I took the time to include this in my efforts to broaden my literary horizons.

Next up, I return to a series that I have enjoyed for a few years now and something a little less weighty.  Mitch Rapp has continued to live on despite the death of his creator, Vince Flynn, a few years ago.  Kyle Mills has recently continued Rapp’s crusade to protect the United States from whatever dastardly attacks are being planned from the more hostile powers around globe in “Red War”.