Classic Film Review: The Priests Work Overtime Here

The Exorcist is a 1973 supernatural horror film directed by William Friedkin. William Peter Blatty wrote the script, adapting his own novel for the silver screen. Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Max Von Sydow, Jason Miller, and Kitty Winn are included in the cast of the most iconic of possession movies.

A 12-year-old girl begins exhibiting violent behavior and gruesome sores. It gets pretty wild before the doctors start prescribing an exorcism. Father Damien Karras is a priest who needs some convincing, however he also has a lapsed faith. Max Von Sydow’s Father Merrin shows up to lend a hand, and the demon plays for keeps.

This is a film with a pretty notorious reputation and apparently disturbed the first audiences to see it back in the day. Unfortunately, I have seen other possession films before this one, so I was already familiar with the usual tropes. We have the cute girl who goes completely berserk. The priest with a shaky faith is bit overused, although this movie may be the beginning of these overly familiar elements.

I was not that impressed, truth be told. The plot seemed rather slow at times. I was rather bored with the demon’s forays into extreme and profane behavior. The special effects may have been more impressive at the time of release, but these don’t age very well. There are a couple of moments of some clever verbal sparring between Father Karras and the demon. Some the screeching and cursing just seems to go on too long.

I did rather like the somewhat reassuring presence of the more experienced Father Merrin. He had a pretty cool hat too. I may have waited a little too long to see this film to really appreciate it the same way the initial audiences did.

I am likely in the minority when I suggest this movie has been somewhat overhyped over the decades.

Book Review: Beaumont’s Nose For Trouble Hasn’t Retired Along With The Rest Of Him

Sins of the Father is a mystery novel written by J.A. Jance and features retired Seattle homicide detective J.P. Beaumont. Beaumont works as a private investigator these days, and an acquaintance from the past shows up at his door. Alan Dale wants Beaumont’s help to find his drug-addicted daughter so he can have legal guardianship of his granddaughter. The case takes on a new wrinkle when Beaumont recalls that he had a one-night stand with Dale’s wife before their marriage. Beaumont suspects that he has a closer family connection to the wayward daughter and the baby than he wants to admit. Beaumont also learns that the daughter, Naomi, is not the only missing person here. It does not take long before he realizes that murder plays a part in this latest family drama as well. Murder is something that J.P. Beaumont will also find to be familiar territory.

Somehow, these latest family revelations that Jance introduces does not appear that shocking. The story is fairly interesting, but it’s hard to really care about the murder victim since the reader never really meets the guy. Beaumont is a man still trying to atone from his days as an active alcoholic and is in a pretty good place in life. The character is still pretty likeable but still a bit predictable. He has married again, and his latest wife, a police chief, is nice enough. The last few novels seem to have Beaumont revisiting aspects of his past. I wouldn’t mind if a whole new client shows up with whole new circumstances.

Anyway, the novel is a competently presented as is typical of Jance. My chief complaint is that I am not sure I found this situation with the long-lost daughter as shocking as Jance had intended. I guess it does give some new dynamics for Jance to explore with this long-established character, but I would just prefer that Beaumont continue to encounter new cases with new killers and avoid these trips down memory lane.

Next up, I will return to an author whose works I have read only a few, but it seems time to give him another look. Iceberg by Clive Cussler is the next selection for some leisurely reading.

Doctor Who Audio Reviews: Dangerous Waters For The Doctor

Water Worlds is a Doctor Who audio boxset presented by Big Finish Productions. The three episodes are directed by Helen Goldwyn and stars Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor. He is joined by Bonnie Langford as Melanie Bush. They are joined by a new companion, Hebe Harrison, played by Ruth Madeley. Hebe is a smart, sassy young woman who happens to be in a wheelchair. Yes, Hebe’s disability is what makes her so unique from all of the other smart, sassy women who have joined the Doctor in his travels through time and space. Anyway, how does this latest trio of adventures stand up?

The Rotting Deep by Jacqueline Rayner introduces the audience to Hebe Harrison. The Doctor and Mel arrive on an oil rig in the North Sea. They find that many of the crew have died. The birds are more aggressive than usual. Something in the water is causing the survivors to go mad. It’s not too bad of a story, but it seems a bit too familiar at times. I may have seemed a little dismissive of Hebe in the earlier paragraph, but I do sort of like her. She is a marine biologist and will have some knowledge of marine life that will be useful to the story and to the Doctor. This story isn’t quite an outstanding kickoff to this set, but it is acceptable and reasonably enjoyable. That is probably down to the performances of the leads and the post-production work. There are a few effectively chilling moments that help make this worthwhile.

The Tides of the Moon is written by Joshua Pruett and sees the TARDIS crew visiting an ancient civilization on the moon affected by gravitational forces emanating from the blue-green planet nearby. Also, there are creatures in the vast ocean on the moon that have a close connection to the inhabitants known as the Gilleans. This turns out to be pretty good, although some of the action sequences are a little hard to interpret. This story was pretty interesting, but I sort of had the same reaction as I did with the first episode. It’s a reasonably enjoyable story but nothing too spectacular. The audience gets to know Hebe a little better, and other than her being confined to a wheelchair, I have a hard time seeing her as being terribly unique in the Doctor Who catalog of companions.

Maelstrom by Jonathan Barnes finishes out this set and actually is much more interesting. The Doctor, Mel, and Hebe arrive on a planet where a small group of people traverse the seas in a large floating township. Strange experiments are being done to implant minds in other people’s bodies. This is probably the oddest story in this set, but it is also the best written. Threats are coming from all directions, and Hebe’s intelligence gets to shine here. Barnes has contributed a lot of scripts over the years to Big Finish, and his skills have not diminished. This is a bit of a chaotic episode, but it’s an enjoyable mess. I think Barnes wins the contest for this blogger’s approval on this collection.

The performances are quite good. Colin Baker’s performance is predictably energetic and enjoyable. Big Finish has also made some great improvements to Bonnie Langford’s character, and her enthusiasm for this not exactly new but much improved version of Mel is quite evident. Madeley is new to me, but she performs well enough, and I am not in a hurry to see her departure. It seems she will be around at least for the next collection of Sixth Doctor episodes, and I am good to see how she develops. The first two episodes are solid with the final entry by Barnes bringing it to a more than satisfactory close.

Doctor Who Audio Review: Daleks, Russians, And The Doctor

The First Doctor Adventures Volume Four is another audio boxset from Big Finish Productions and continues their vast Doctor Who catalog. There are two adventures in this set directed by Ken Bentley. David Bradley is back on the microphone with his version of the First Doctor, who was originally portrayed by the late William Hartnell. Claudia Grant, Jemma Powell, and Jamie Glover join him again as Susan, Barbara, and Ian, respectively.

The first script is written by Andrew Smith and sees the TARDIS crew Return to Skaro after the Doctor tries again to return Ian and Barbara to their home of twentieth century Earth. This is a direct sequel to the serial known as The Daleks, where the Doctor and audience was first introduced to the mechanical tyrants. The crew encounter the descendants of the Thals who first fought the Daleks alongside the Doctor and his companions. The Daleks were thought to be destroyed; however the Doctor learns that is not going to be as easy as it first appeared.

Nicholas Briggs once again is performing the voice of the Daleks. Alisdair Simpson, Tracy Wiles, Nigel Hastings, and James Camp comprise the guest cast.

This particular adventure isn’t bad, but it felt repetitive and not all that needed. Bradley’s performance is great. I was a little distracted by that sense of “been there, done that”. The story isn’t really bad, but I was not as captivated by the idea of revisiting the Daleks, the Thals, and Skaro yet again.

Next up, Jonathan Barnes gives us a little history lesson with Last of the Romanovs. Leighton Pugh, Dan Starkey, George Weightman, John Albasiny, and Alex Tregear perform the guest roles for this one. The historical event witnessed by the Doctor and his companions is the upcoming execution of the last Tsar of Russia and his family in 1918. The story is rather slow. The historical significance is somewhat interesting. Yet again, the performances help make this episode tolerable, however it doesn’t quite make it all that memorable.

The set is reasonably entertaining, but there was not much to help it keep my attention riveted. The range itself is still worth the effort though. Hopefully, the next volume will be more engaging.

Film Review: Meet The Not So Friendly Neighborhood Otto

A Man Called Otto is a drama film with some comedic moments sprinkled in. It is based on a bestselling novel out of Sweden called A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. David Magee wrote the screenplay while Marc Forster served as director. Tom Hanks plays the grieving, curmudgeon, Otto Anderson, a retired engineer and the neighborhood enforcer of the now defunct HOA rules. The other cast members include Mariana Treviño, Manuel Garcia-Rufo, Rachel Keller, and Truman Hanks. Truman Hanks is the son of the elder Tom and plays a younger version of Otto in some flashback scenes.

Otto Anderson recently lost his wife to cancer and has become rather surly, which is understandable. He does his best to enforce the rules of the neighborhood, which is the midst of some kind of redevelopment. He meets his new neighbors and is especially perturbed by the pregnant immigrant wife, who seemingly can’t take a hint. Otto just wants to be left in peace so he can finally be at peace with his deceased wife, however the neighbors keep unwittingly saving his life. He ends up adopting a cat, teaching the pregnant neighbor how to drive, and going against the real estate developers to help a former friend.

Tom Hanks does exude his usual charm and talent in making this piece fairly enjoyable, although there are some heavy topics. The suicide attempts are somewhat disturbing and almost graphic. There are times that the story feels pretty predictable. The performances are pretty solid throughout. There was some witty dialogue peppering the script. However, there were also some clunky moments such as when Otto tries to walk back a somewhat politically incorrect accusation aimed at a delivery driver.

I think it’s great when the actor’s offspring gets to play the younger version of their parent’s character. Truman Hanks does a competent job of portraying the younger Otto as the audience gets to see how he and his beloved wife meet and the troubles they faced in their long marriage. I am not sure if his talent will be on par with his father’s, but he did well enough in this particular role.

Otto’s tragic past and his suicidal tendencies does make for a heavy load at times and is at stark odds with some of the more comedic moments. Still, I found some enjoyment out of some of Otto’s verbal sparring matches. Hanks continues to display his usual reliable charm even if the character is meant to be anything but charming.

Anyway, it’s a pretty good movie in spite of a few missteps in the writing.

Book Review: Reacher Gets Technical

The Sentinel is a novel featuring Jack Reacher, the retired major who meanders around the country not looking for trouble however finding it, nevertheless. Author Lee Child is joined by his brother Andrew in the writing of this installment. Andrew Child is going to be taking over the continuation of this series in the near future.

Jack Reacher rescues a man named Rusty Rutherford from a planned ambush. Rutherford is an IT manager who was recently fired after his town fell victim to a cyberattack. Reacher finds that the plot goes deeper than expected and finds that more dangerous killers are converging on the hapless Rutherford. With a couple of allies of his own, Reacher shows the bad guys that he can be bring his own brand of trouble on their heads.

There is not much that makes this particular novel stand out. It is kind of amusing to find Reacher having to understand the modern technological advances of today. He can be a bit of a Luddite. Rutherford ends up being kind of an interesting foil for Reacher at times. There is not much here that I found all that gripping unfortunately. I would hate to think that this series has fallen into a bit of a rut, however I am sure the more hardcore fans will find something to enjoy. I got some enjoyment out of this but not much.

Film Review: A New Killer Doll To Kick Off The New Year

M3gan is a science fiction horror film directed by Gerard Johnstone. Akela Cooper is the screenwriter and shares story credit with James Wan. The film is the latest offering from Blumhouse Productions. Allison Williams, Violet McCraw, Amie McDonald, Jenna Davis, and Ronny Chieng are included in the cast.

Allison Williams plays a roboticist who works for a high dollar toy company. Her niece is orphaned after her parents are killed in a car accident and is sent to live with her. Gemma is working on the creation of an advanced artificial intelligence doll named M3GAN. The doll is completed and imprinted on Gemma’s niece to be her companion and protector. The problem is that M3GAN gets to be rather over-protective as her intelligence and sense of independence increases to an alarming degree.’

The visual effects are quite engaging. The creation of what turns out to be a rather psychotic toy is realized quite convincingly. The performances are not too bad; however, the film does drag a bit at times. I know that seems a strange occurrence for a film of this genre. The film turns out to be reasonably entertaining, but nothing resembling a cinematic home run.

The story is pretty far-fetched out of the gate, but it does starts to teeter on the edge of total absurdity at times. It is also somewhat predictable. The film manages to not turn into a complete waste of time, but it’s another one that falls short of making a lasting impression.

Doctor Who Audio Review: The Scoop On Kaleidoscope

Kaleidoscope is a Doctor Who audio adventure from Big Finish Productions. The six-part story is written by Alan Barnes and directed by Nicholas Briggs. Tim Treloar returns to the role of the Third Doctor, who was first played by the late Jon Pertwee. Sadie Miller steps in for her deceased mother, Elisabeth Sladen, as Sarah Jane Smith. Jon Culshaw continues his reasonably convincing Nicholas Courtney, the original actor to have given us Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. Gerran Howell, Imogen Church, and Jasmin Hinds are included in the guest cast.

Kaleidoscope is an alien who claims to have come to Earth to warn the Human race away from the brink of extinction. When another UFO is spotted, it appears that Kaleidoscope’s warning may have some merit. It’s a good thing the Doctor is on hand to help out as well.

For once, the alien from which the title is based on isn’t really the problem. The story gets rather complex and turns into a little bit of a spy romp. It is a little long at times. Six-parters are sometimes a little draining on the patience, however this one had some good moments. It is not without some drag, but the performances help out. We meet a journalistic rival of Sarah Jane’s in the shape of Jenny Nettles. There are some rather interesting characters here. Kaleidoscope turns more into an ally along the way against a bigger threat.

Alan Barnes manages to concoct a story that seems pretty fresh while still remaining faithful to the era of the Third Doctor. Treloar has gotten much better at his vocal impression of Jon Pertwee. Miller can at times sound very much like her mother.

The adventure isn’t without fault and does require some patience because it is long, however there is quite a bit to enjoy here. It has the expected humor of the era and just is a solid story overall.

Doctor Who Audio Review: The Classic Doctors Take On Some New Nightmares

Classic Doctors, New Monsters: The Stuff of Nightmares is a new Doctor Who audio boxset from Big Finish Productions. It is the third volume of episodes in which the Doctors from the classic series encounter creatures and adversaries introduced in the renewed series that began in 2005. There are four adventures included in this set.

Tim Foley starts off this collection with his Third Doctor story, The House That Hoxx Built. Tim Treloar provides an acceptable impression of Jon Pertwee’s performance alongside Sadie Miller, who is portraying Sarah Jane Smith, originally played by her mother, Elisabeth Sladen. The Doctor and Sarah travel to Earth in far future where they find an isolated, haunted house, inhabited by the Hoxx of Balhoun and his ward, some kind of sentient sheep. Dan Starkey, a frequent guest on Big Finish plays the role of Hoxx, which is a bit of a departure for him. He actually really helps make this work. Foley provides a bizarre story, but I ended up enjoying it more than I thought I would. Treloar really has done well with capturing the essence of the late Jon Pertwee. Miller certainly has been getting better with sounding like her late mother. This first story in this set is a promising start.

Robert Valentine reunites the Fourth Doctor and Leela in The Tivolian Who Knew Too Much. Tom Baker and Louise Jameson reprise their roles. The Tivolians are a race perfectly comfortable being conquered, except for the one gangster in their midst. The story takes place in 1970’s Rome, and the Doctor keeps coming across Tivolians and ends up being stuck with one of the more nervous allies he has encountered. The tale is a strange hybrid of a comedic mob and soy story. Of course, the title does rather give away the inspiration Valentine was drawing from. This was a pretty fun romp for the most part. I like that not all of the new monsters are necessarily the bad guys. Baker and Jameson still manage to keep the banter familiar and sharp.

Together in Eclectic Dreams is written by Roy Gill and introduces a new companion for the Sixth Doctor. Colin Baker figuratively slips back into the patchwork coat and is trying to help his new companion, Mari Yoshida, played by Susan Hingley, to get some better sleep. Strangely, Mari has dreams where she encounters a strange long-haired man in a green velvet coat. Paul McGann, the Eighth Doctor, is also in this one. The Dream Crabs are feeding again, and it will take two Doctors to wake everyone up. For some reason, I think Colin Baker just shines when playing off one of the other Doctors. He just seems extra funny when reacting to his other incarnations. The Sixth Doctor really struggled with popularity during his television era, however Big Finish continues to make this particular iteration much more engaging. The writers flesh out how brilliantly inventive this Doctor can be in a crisis. McGann’s participation was a treat as well. There is a pretty good twist with Mari’s presence as well. I have a somewhat disapproving take on multi-Doctor episodes, but this ended up being one that worked. I think it was because the Sixth Doctor’s interaction with his other incarnations are often extra funny.

John Dorney brings this set to a close with If I Should Die Before I Wake. The story was apparently conceived by Jacqueline Raynor. Paul McGann is reunited with India Fisher. The Eight Doctor and Charlotte Pollard have some stories to share, however the tales have a deeper purpose. The Dream Crabs are still hungry, and the Doctor and Charley have to use fantasies and myths to find their way back to reality. This one got better as it went along. McGann and Fisher have maintained their chemistry. It was good to revisit this pairing in a new adventure.

Barnaby Edwards directed this set pretty well. The stories were not necessarily stand-outs, but none of them really disappointed either. All of the Doctors were just as fun as I remembered. The performances were all solid and engaging. This turned out to be one of the better collections overall that Big Finish has delivered.

Book Review: Sherlock Holmes Gets New Cases To Solve For Christmas

Sherlock Holmes and the Three Winter Terrors is the latest contribution to the vast pastiche material from James Lovegrove. This is actually three novellas that are connected by a familial thread over a period of five years between 1889 and 1894. Holmes is back to debunking various supernatural incidents, which is a trail that I don’t often appreciate.

The first story involves a curse from a long dead accused witch. Then a client is apparently killed after a haunting a year later. Finally, Holmes meets a possible cannibal after a body is found to be uniquely ravaged in the woods.

Lovegrove is obviously quite an admirer of the Arthur Conan Doyle’s works and does well with the characterizations of Holmes and Dr. Watson. Once again, he seems overly fond of placing Holmes as some kind of myth buster.

Even though this novel sort of contained a practice I find a little irksome, I did end up enjoying it quite a bit more than I expected. Christmas was mentioned only briefly, but I go to other inspirations for that particular joy.

Lovegrove’s prose style manages to be easy to read and yet somehow seems faithful to Doyle’s original literary voice. Kudos to Lovegrove, but it would be nice if he wrote a different type of Holmes story without having him dip into these supernatural undertones.

Lee Child, the creator of the Jack Reacher series, started collaborating with his brother, Andrew, as he prepares to retire from full-time writing. I am next trying out their first joint literary venture, The Sentinel.