Film Review: Miss Marple Mingles With The Stars

The Mirror Crack'd (1980) - Kent Film Office

The Mirror Crack’d is a British mystery film released in 1980.  Guy Hamilton is the director while Jonathan Hales and Brent Sandler adapts the screenplay from a novel written by Agatha Christie.  Angela Lansbury is in the lead as Jame Marple, one of Christie’s best known sleuths.  The cast has some pretty heavy hitters of the cinema for that time.  Notable cast members are Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and Tony Curtis.  A very young Pierce Brosnan is in this in an uncredited appearance before his fame hit full stride.

A Hollywood studio has chosen St. Mary Mead for the location of shooting a historical piece about Mary, Queen of Scots, and Elizabeth I.  The two leading ladies have a long standing rivalry.  A fan is poisoned at the reception, which piques the interest of the ever curious Jane Marple.  Miss Marple is the best known of fictional elderly spinster detectives.  The detective inspector investigating the case happens to be a nephew of Miss Marple, so an injury to her foot does not keep her sidelined too long.

I liked Lansbury’s performance of Miss Marple, but the make-up was pretty ghastly.  She is wearing either a white wig or had her hair dyed.  The production team would have done better to just let her keep her natural reddish hair color at that time, even if it didn’t quite match Christie’s description of Miss Marple.  This adaptation was pretty mediocre overall though.  It’s a talented enough cast, but something about the writing just didn’t work for me.  I may have just been too distracted by Lanbury’s appearance.  Of course, I am used to her presentation in Murder, She Wrote, so I just think the performance in this film didn’t need to be too dissimilar from that.  I actually have the upmost respect for Angela Lansbury, and whatever downfall there may be in her performance is likely not her fault.  I found that some of the other actors were overacting a bit, but the setting sort of lends itself to that.  The basic story itself was fine, but it has been a long time since  read that particular novel.  Anyway, I was expecting better since there were so many Hollywood legends involved, but I just couldn’t stay connected to it.  I think the writing and direction is more to blame than the actors though.

Doctor Who Audio Review: Even A Pandemic Doesn’t Finish Big Finish

Doctor Who: Shadow of the Sun

Shadow of the Sun is a Doctor Who audio play written by Robert Valentine and directed by Nicholas Briggs.  Tom Baker returns as the Fourth Doctor as is joined by Louise Jameson as Leela and John Leeson voicing K9.  The guest cast is comprised of Paul Herberg, Fenella Woolgar, Glen McCready, and Barnaby Edwards.

Big Finish Productions has moved this story ahead of schedule by a few years since it was recorded while at height of the lockdown in the United Kingdom due to the coronavirus pandemic.  The cast was able to perform from their various residences with the sound techs putting it all together for a pretty satisfying story.

The TARDIS materializes aboard a star-liner in the middle of a party.  The Doctor, Leela, and K9 find that equipment has been breaking down and guests have been disappearing.  The Doctor makes a more alarming discovery in that the ship is on a direct course to collide with a sun.  He is even more alarmed when no one else seems to share his concern.

The story sort of explores the notion of cults and dangerous beliefs that could lead to some self-destructive tendencies.  Not much is more self-destructive than deliberately heading into a sun.  There is also a problematic autopilot that does not want to cooperate.

Overall, the episode is satisfying but not much new ground is broken here.  The post production work is top-notch as always though.  The sound effects were convincing, which is also expected.  The performances were all solid.  Tom Baker still sounds great for a man of his age, which is 86 now, in case anyone didn’t know.  Sometimes, I can hear it in his voice, but not enough to dampen my enthusiasm whenever a new Fourth Doctor adventure is on the horizon.

This is still quite a triumph for Big Finish regardless in that it is a testament to their determined ingenuity to provide new entertainment during the most difficult of times.  The story itself may not be a standout, but it’s quite good.  All of the cast seemed competent and enthusiastic in the effort put forth.  Because Big Finish did manage to find a way around some serious roadblocks brought on by the Bug,  this still is a very special episode and worthy of more than one listen.

Film Review: Some Confusion And Murder At Paradox Lake

Explaining the Confusing Movie Artifact Lake - Taylor Holmes inc.

Lake Artifact is a film with some horror, some science fiction, and according to IMDb, some comedy, although that last descriptor is a little hard to identify.  Bruce Wemple is the writer and director of this obvious B movie.  The cast includes Sheila Ball, Thomas Brazzle, Adrian Burke, and Catharine Daddario.  A few other actors were there as well, but they weren’t any more recognizable than those already mentioned.

A group of friends decide to spend a weekend at a place curiously named Paradox Lake where they are joined by a mysterious stranger with a case of beer and an intriguing, dour demeanor.  As they arrive at this cabin near the lake, it doesn’t take long to notice strange discrepancies such as photos of themselves that no one remembers taking.  There is a strange old man lurking in the woods, and no one seems to be able to leave easily.  The story is interrupted by interviews that supposedly help explain the history and legends of Paradox Lake.

This is a low budget offering, but I have to say, I have seen worse.  I got a little more interested in it than I anticipated.  The performances weren’t terrible.  The characters were somewhat interesting.  There were a few hints dropped about the background and dynamics between some of the characters that were predictable.  I thought there was some real effort to come up with something original and much of the effort is almost successful.  There is still plenty of room with some level of exasperation with this film. Too many loose threads are left dangling for my preference.  It’s not a straight-forward tale since parallel realities and time loops enter the fray, but Wemple could have still put more effort into a cleaner ending, unless he is angling for a sequel or something.

Anyway, I wouldn’t necessarily make a viewing of this a major priority, but it had just enough surprises and suspenseful moments where I wouldn’t label it a complete waste of time.

Book Review: Battle Of The Telepaths

The Higher Frontier is a Star Trek novel written by Christopher L. Bennett and takes place between Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  This book delves into the period which led to James Kirk finally accepting his promotion to admiral as Spock takes on the role as captain of the USS Enterprise.

A race known as the Aenar has all been wiped out when this novel begins, and the Enterprise is assigned to investigate the attacks as the second five-year tour comes to an end.  Kirk and company are reunited with telepath Miranda Jones and Medusan ambassador Kollos who first appeared in the television episode Is There In Truth No Beauty?.  The novel is full of references to other previous novels and television episodes.  It seems that the crew’s recent encounter with V’Ger had awakened latent ESP abilities in many people throughout the Federation which has generated in brutal attacks from beings known as the Naazh.  The story explores the different prejudices and suspicion directed to those with unusual abilities.

Bennett can indulge in a little too much exposition between characters for my liking sometimes, but I ended up still enjoying this latest effort when it was all done.  I am not one of those fans who need to be revisit previous stories much and was at first a little exasperation to the callbacks littered throughout this one, however the main plot ended up keeping me hooked.

I also liked that the story sort of unfolds over a period of almost over a year as well.  We see the crew face the idea of their careers finally moving them away from each other.  Spock even has to examine his choice of refusing command in a new light.  There was a sense of real conflict between the idea of the main characters staying together where they knew they performed well and valued and allowing the natural progression of career trajectory to play out.

Bennett packs quite a few personal dramas among the characters which could get a little distracting from the action, but he also makes them a bit more tangible and realistic than what was sometimes presented in the television series and movies.  Anyway, even if there were some practices that sometimes fail to endear me, I find this novel to be one of the better ones in the range.  It’s good to revisit this particular crew in a period of their lives that leaves plenty of room for creating new adventures.

I will next be reading another installment of a series featuring Jane Hawk, a recent widow with a unique set of special skills, that allows her to bring down an agency that was behind the very troubling suicide of her husband.  Suicides are troubling anyway, but Hawk has something to target here in The Crooked Staircase by Dean Koontz.

Doctor Who Audio Review: The Flying Inferno

Scorched Earth is a Doctor Who audio play presented by Big Finish Productions.  Chris Chapman is the writer here with John Ainsworth serving as director.  Colin Baker returns as the Sixth Doctor with Lisa Greenwood and Miranda Raison joining him as Flip Ramon and Constance Clarke, respectively.  The guest cast is comprised of Philip Delancy, Christopher Black, James Boswell, and Katarina Olsson.

The TARDIS materializes in July 1944 in a small French village which has recently been liberated from Nazi occupation as the Second World War is reaching its conclusion.  In the midst of the celebration, they have labeled one of their denizens a traitor, and their rage is feeding an extraterrestrial entity which resembles a large ball of fire.  Another French citizens has also learned how to connect with this creature, and he is not ready to forgive and forget.  Although Flip and Mrs. Clarke have bonded tightly through their previous adventures with the Doctor, the time and place of their latest stop will strain that friendship as their very different backgrounds exposes how much they have yet to learn about each other.

While Flip Jackson is one of a long line of present-day young female companions accompanying the Doctor, Constance Clarke was found in 1940’s serving as a WREN at Bletchley Park during World War II.  She gets a glimpse at the end of the war and discovers that her willingness to forgive the other side doesn’t come so easily either. Flip finds herself sympathizing with a young Frenchwoman who had dared to fall in love with a Nazi soldier who was later killed.  The hatred from her fellow villagers is what ends up feeding the fiery presence that the Doctor must have removed from Earth before even more unimaginable destruction is unleashed upon the human race.

There are some interesting interactions and conflicts at play.  The creation of this alien menace is somewhat unique but not as engaging as I had hoped.  Flip and Mrs. Clarke’s dispute ends up being the more engaging piece to this story.  There is a reluctant alliance with captured Nazi soldiers that occurs that smacks of a certain courage in the writing.  These particular Nazi soldiers do seem to renounce their previous misdeeds, so it isn’t that Chapman offers any real sympathy to their cause.  It did strike me as an interesting move to offer some path to redemption for Nazi characters that is usually not presented in today’s entertainment.

This particular main cast continues to impress with their energy and chemistry.  Colin Baker still continues to revel in his continued involvement with these latest stories.  A little tension between the two women does offer a shake up that does play out as genuine.  Mrs. Clarke finds herself needing to rediscover her sense of forgiveness and humanity, which adds another dimension to her already fascinating persona.  I do wish that more attention was paid to Flip needing to be more understanding of what Mrs. Clarke had faced during her participation in the war effort of her time.

All of the performances were engaging though.  Even if I wasn’t quite as impressed with the alien threat bearing down upon our heroes, there was plenty of other gems to be found in other facets of this story.  It’s probably not a huge spoiler to say that this particular TARDIS crew is not done yet, which doesn’t disappoint me at all.

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.