Film Review: 1917 Was A Tough Year For Many But Makes For A Pretty Good Movie

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1917 is a war movie directed by Sam Mendes.  Mendes co-wrote the screen play with Krysty Wilson-Cairns.  The cast includes George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Colin Firth, and Benedict Cumberbatch. Two young British soldiers fighting in the First World War are tasked with delivering orders to another battalion to halt a planned attack on the Germans.  It seems the Germans have a trap ready to spring, and two soldiers have to make their war across the battlefield in France to warn their comrades off.

This is one of those films that is shot in mostly one continuous sequence.  I am not very familiar with actors MacKay and Chapman, however they carry most of the story and were well-chosen to do so.  The movie has some moments that seem to drag a little, but the action sequences startle you back to attention.

I noticed that some moments reminded me of an Role Playing Game sequence at times.  Although the film ends up being compelling for the most past, I am not sure that this is my favorite type of presentation.

In spite of my doubts about the style of filming, it ends up being a pretty compelling movie.  There are some graphic deaths throughout, but it’s a war film.  Mendes didn’t choose to dwell too much on the more grotesque moments, which was a good decision. The movie should do well enough at the box office, and I think it very much deserves to. Even if I don’t necessarily prefer the one shooting sequence type of storytelling, I found much to still appreciate about this film.  The cast and crew still presented a pretty remarkable cinematic experience and should be quite proud of how this turned out.

Book Review: Alex Delaware And Milo Sturgis Are Cordially Invited To Solve A Murder

The Wedding Guest: An Alex Delaware Novel by [Kellerman, Jonathan]

The Wedding Guest is a recent mystery novel by Jonathan Kellerman which again features consulting Los Angeles psychologist Alex Delaware as he comes to the aid of homicide detective Milo Sturgis.  Milo has a pretty good one as a wedding reception is rudely interrupted by the discovery of a corpse.  A young woman has been murdered in the restroom and no one from either side of the ceremony knows her identity.

Not much new ground is explored here, but it’s still a reasonably enjoyment installment in the series.  It takes a bit more effort than usual for the victim to be identified, but the story manages to move along pretty well.  There’s plenty of sleaziness in the path of clues left for the two determined investigators since the reception venue was a strip joint at one time.  Kellerman does handle the more risque elements well enough to elevate this above just some trashy novel.  Delaware is a pretty easy protagonist to like due to a somewhat unflappable determination to help his friend, Milo.  No major shakeups have occurred in quite some time for Delaware, and I am sort if interested in seeing one happen.  I don’t know what I would want to happen, but it just seems like another case closed until the next one is published.

Overall, the novel is fine.  Kellerman once again writes a mystery intriguing enough to keep my attention, but I doubt I will remember much about this for any significant time. I suspect I drew a similar takeaway from the last Kellerman novel I discussed in this blog.

And so onward I go with my eternal and often random literary explorations.  I will next be reading Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward.

Film Review: Kurt Russell Gets The White Beard And Red Coat

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The Christmas Chronicles actually premiered last year on Netflix.  This particular holiday fantasy is directed by Clay Kaytis with the screen play being credited to Matt Lieberman.  Kurt Russell dons the red coat and steers the magical sleigh for this one.  Darby Camp plays the 11 year-old girl who tries to catch Santa on film.  Other cast members include Judah Lewis, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, and Lamorne Morris.

Christmas 2018 is a tough one for the Pierce family when the husband and father is killed while fighting a fire.  Mrs. Pierce works as a nurse and covers all kinds of crazy hours.  The two kids aren’t getting all that well.  It’s a familiar family situation in these kinds of films.  Kurt Russell as Santa is a fairly intriguing casting choice.  I tend to like Russell, so I thought it would be a fun experience to see his version of St. Nick.

This thing falls pretty short in lots of ways.  Darby Camp is a cute enough kid for her role.  Russell’s version of Santa is not without charm.  I thought he would give his Santa a little more of a cynical edge or something, however that was not quite the case.  Santa was a little more hip than one would expect when dealing with the other citizens Massachusetts after he has to recover his belongings and presents after a rather inconvenient sleigh crash.

The visual effects were a little cheesy, but that sort of fits with the film.  The plot was also lacking in some coherence, which still seems strangely appropriate genre.  Apparently, there is some work on a sequel for next Christmas probably.

The film has a  bit of charm to it but is still rather underwhelming for the most part.  There still seems to have been some missed opportunities with such a unique casting choice for Santa.   I am not sure what I wanted to see with this one, however I just wasn’t impressed with much of  what it had to offer.

It’s not a terrible movie, but with the exception of Kurt Russell playing Santa Clause, there just isn’t much to make it all that memorable.

Doctor Who Audio Review: An Underwater Vacation For The Doctor

One Mile Down is a Doctor Who audio drama released by Big Finish productions and reunites David Tennant and Catherine Tate as the Tenth Doctor and Donna Noble, respectively.  Jenny T Colgan is the writer with Ken Bentley acting as director for this episode.  Nicholas Briggs shows that he can perform more than just as Daleks or Cybermen as he voices the often overly judicious Judoon.  The guest cast is also comprised of Eleanor Crooks, Rakie Ayola, Christopher Naylor, and Robert Whitelock.

Vallarasee is an underwater tourist spot which is protected by an airdome.  Unfortunately, it is the indigenous people who have to wear helmets to survive in their own city.  The Doctor and Donna arrive to check out the sites and are surprised to find Judoon being employed to keep order.  A dangerous act of sabotage has resulted in the ocean being brought down on thousands of visitors.

The banter between the Doctor and Donna is familiar yet still rather engaging.  When the catastrophe actually strikes, the performances and sound effects really set the tone here.  I rather like the idea of the Judoon because they are not necessarily evil or out for conquest.  Their very rigid adherence to rules and protocol often hamper the Doctor’s efforts to help, and Tennant performs that exasperation quite well.  Tate is also quite welcome here, although there is some gag with plastic shoes I found more distracting than amusing.

I found myself rather enjoying this release very much, especially during the second half.  Some of the social commentary about protecting the environment and respecting other cultures was a little overdone but not enough to turn me off much.  The outrage Tennant projects as the Doctor when he figures out how native people of Vallarasee were bamboozled by a corporate entity who actually coaxed them into wearing helmets to accommodate the human vacationers was pitched very convincingly.  Tennant was always pretty good at outrage, now than I think about it.

This is a pretty good episode with an intriguing setting.  Some of this has been experienced before in the series, but I thought Colgan’s writing and the cast’s performance were god enough for me to just shrug and go with it.

Film Review: The Star Wars Saga Concludes…For Now

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Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker supposedly concludes the Star Wars saga.  J.J Abrams both directs and shares script writing credit with Chris Terrio.  Derek Connnelly and Colin Trevorrow are credited with sharing the story idea.  Old and newer characters return with Daisy Ridley as the main protagonist known as Rey.  We get to find out more about lineage.  John Boyega and Oscar Isaac return to their roles of Finn and Poe Dameron, respectively.  Adam Driver is still raging across the galaxy far, far away as Kylo Ren, aka Ben Solo.  Unused footage of Carrie Fisher helped to bring General Leia to life in this film.  There are plenty of treats for the long-time fans of this franchise.

The plot is a bit of a mess, but the performances were all quite good.  It was also great to see Billy Dee Williams return as Lando Calrissian.  Some of the nostalgic moments seemed a little crammed in there, but I found myself not minding that too much.

Yes, some of the critiques from the professionals have some validity, but I was relieved to find myself still marveling at the imagination in the visual effects and fight choreography.  Basically, I was just relieved that I didn’t hate it.  I had moments where I felt the scenes were cut too short though, which is strange since it does go well over two hours.

The film isn’t a perfect cinematic experience, but I still enjoyed seeing it.  I have a somewhat mixed, confusing appreciation for it, but I absolutely have no regret seeing it.

Doctor Who Audio Review: Nyssa Gets Nasty

Interstitial/Feast of Fear is a Doctor Who audio double feature from Big Finish Productions.  I believe Big Finish calls these releases double bills, but I think double feature works just as well.  Anyway, this has two stories different stories each with two parts written by two different authors.  George Watkins has joined the TARDIS team comprised of the Fifth Doctor, Tegan, and Nyssa as the former Roman slave named Marc.  Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, and Sarah Sutton are all back behind the mics performing with their usual sparkling chemistry.  I like this release because I am not familiar with the writers, and I usually appreciate Big Finish’s efforts to get new writers into the fold.

Interstitial is written by Carl Rowens and has Anna-Maria Nabirye and Jeremy Ang Jones in the guest cast.  In fact, they are the only two members in the guest cast in this episode.  The Doctor and his companions happen upon an experiment being conducted with time itself, and as usual, this kind endeavor goes quite off the rails.  The setting and idea seems quite familiar, however the results of the experiments kind of have some horrific creativity.  The story has some engaging ideas, but it’s petty heavy on the technobabble, which is a little distracting.  Unfortunately, that sort of jargon is somewhat expected in Doctor Who, so I have no suggestions as to how Rowens could get around it.  It’s enjoyable enough for me to be willing to hear what else the writer has up his sleeves.

Feast of Fear is written by Martyn Waites and has a little larger guest cast which includes Deirdre Mullins, Melissa Dean, Niamh McGrady, Peter Heenan, and Michael Yare.  It has a sinister carnival traveling around Ireland during the period of the Great Famine in the mid-nineteenth century.  Nyssa has been taken over and is acting like a spooky ringmaster.  The Doctor is chained and blindfolded and having to mutter more nonsense than usual to keep an alien presence out of his mind.  Tegan and Marc are trying to figure this whole thing out and save everyone.  I have a deep affection for Ireland, so I am already partial to this story.  It’s a pretty disturbing set-up.  I am not sure, but I had some trouble keeping my imagination locked on to the setting of the circa 1845 Ireland. There was little in the sound design to help remind me that this was going on close to 200 years ago.  It’s not a bad story though.  It does have some aspects that seem a little overly familiar at time, but it’s performed well enough.  Sarah Sutton gets to indulge her darker side as Nyssa has fallen prey to one of these mind parasite type of alien threats, and she seems to have fun with it.  Tegan, played by Janet Felding, ends up being quite instrumental in the resolution of this particular , and that is handled well. Davison gets to act out more desperation from the Doctor in this one and does so quite convincingly. The Fifth Doctor tended to have a more excitable demeanor.  One can hear the almost four decades in Davison’s voice since the time he played the role on television, however the stories are usually good enough for me to welcome his version of the Doctor without hesitation.  I hope Davison has many more audio adventures left in him.

Unfortunately, I am not feeling this latest Big Finish companion in the shape of George Watkins as Marc.  It’s not really Watkins’ fault, but I think there are some missed opportunities with developing the idea of him being a Roman slave from what would be a BC era.  Marc is just sort of feeling like some dude who hitched a ride in the TARDIS.  He’s not really unlikable, but I don’t find his presence all that interesting or necessary. I may just have to see what happens with him in the next release to appreciate him more.

For the most part, this particular release has a couple of good ideas from at least newer writers for Big Finish.  The sound effects and music are quite effective, although Big Finish regularly does well in the technical aspects.  Not much new could be said about the main case since all three of them know their parts so well that they can make some of misfire stories pretty enjoyable.  Tegan is sometimes a tough character to really enjoy all the time, but she was presented quite well here, particularly in the second story by Waites.  My occasional reservations about Tegan are really not because of Janet Fielding’s performance, but sometimes the writers sometimes amp up her more obnoxious tendencies, so no one needs to think I want Janet gone or something like that.  She was a significant part of the program for the Davison era and has definitely earned her place with Big Finish.  Anyway, this is a fine release for the Doctor Who fans of all stripes.

Book Review: Ballard And Bosch Unite

Dark Sacred Night (Renée Ballard Book 2) by [Connelly, Michael]

Dark Sacred Night is the crime novel by Michael Connelly which brings together two impressive literary detectives.  Detective Renee Ballard is much newer creation than the old veteran Harry Bosch.  Ballard is a detective on the midnight shift of the Hollywood Division of LAPD, which is also referred to as the Late Show.  She discovers a stranger rifling through old case files.  Harry Bosch is no stranger to the department though.  He has retired under somewhat strenuous circumstances, but he has plenty of unfinished business, and one such bit of that is the unsolved murder of a fifteen year-old runaway named Daisy.

You know, it seems a little strange to bring these two together so soon after Ballard is introduce, however the novel is still quite intriguing.  One of the aspects of this novel that works is that each of them have their own side projects as well, so Ballard and Bosch are not necessarily joined at the hip.

The alliance between these two seems a little fragile at times, but they end up working well together.  Connelly brings a certain authenticity in spite of the characters being completely fictional.

Connelly came up with some interesting cases for Ballard and Bosch to work together and separately.  It was also, as usual , evident that Connelly continues to do some impressive research with Los Angeles Police Department in order to inject some realism into his story.

It’s a solid introduction to what will apparently be an intriguing partnership.  It looks like Connelly intends to avoid a standard mentoring relationship.  Ballard and Bosch may have different backgrounds and styles, however Bosch knows a kindred spirit when he encounters one.  Hopefully, Connelly fans will get several more years of Bosch as well as getting to know Renee Ballard better.

I think the next literary diversion will remain in the realm of unusual and disturbing  murder with Alex Delaware being drawn into the mystery of The Wedding Guest by Jonathan Kellerman.

Film Review: Get Your Game Face On Again

Jumanji : The Next Level

Jumanji: The Next Level is the next installment in the Jumanji franchise.  Jake Kasdan directed this film which he co-wrote with Jeff Pinkner and Scott Rosenberg.  Dewayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Jack Black, and Kevin Hart suit up as the avatars in the game. Now this next bit gets a little tricky to explain if one is unfamiliar with the latest films.  Johnson gets to act like Danny DeVito while Kevin Hart assumes the persona of the character played by Danny Glover.  A rather welcome addition to the cast is Awkwafina as a new avatar with the amusingly unfortunate name of Ming Fleetfoot.

There is a pretty decent blend of the familiar from the last installment and some new features.  Johnson actually pulls off a fairly good impression of DeVito.  Awkwafina really does add something a little special to the chemistry among the cast.  Black and Hart get to get switch things up themselves since different teenagers from the real world, cinematically speaking of course, are in control of their avatar personas.

It turned out to be a pretty fun movie and stands up well enough when compared to its predecessors.  There were plenty of moments that made me laugh as intended.  The visual effects were pretty well done for the most part.  The fight scenes were over the top, which is fitting for this genre of film.  There is not much about this film that I failed to enjoy.  It has a few spots throughout where the wisecracks fell a little flat, but I still had a good time watching it when it was all said and done.

Film Review: Richard Jewell’s Life Gets Bombed In More Ways Than One

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Richard Jewell is the biographical drama directed by Clint Eastwood who was wrongfully accused of masterminding the bombing at the Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta, Georgia in 1996.  Billy Ray is the scriptwriter who adapted most of the material from an article by Marie Brenner and a book by Kent Alexander and Kevin Salwen.  The cast includes Sam Rockwell, Jon Hamm, Olivia Wilde, Kathy Bates, and Paul Walter Hauser. Hauser takes on the title role as the well-meaning yet awkward Richard Jewell.  Rockwell plays the well-meaning yet much more intimidating attorney, Watson Bryant, who comes to Jewell’s aid.  There has been some controversy swirling around the depiction of Wilde’s role of recklessly ambitious reporter Kathy Scruggs.  It was rather heavily suggested that Scruggs had used her feminine wiles on a source to get information about who the FBI were considering as the culprit behind the bombing.  Her newspaper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, has weighed in their displeasure about how their contribution to the brouhaha at the time was presented.  Scruggs herself is deceased, so she doesn’t have the opportunity to share her thoughts in the matter.  I would imagine she would raise all kinds of hell if she could.

Anyway, Eastwood once again comes up with a very compelling story to relate.  The movie is pretty captivating in spite of the questions of authenticity surrounding it.  It does appear that Rockwell’s character is some kind of composite fictional character since I can’t seem to find a badass attorney named Watson Bryant on Google.  That’s too bad because it’s a great name.  The performances are all really powerful.  Of course, with Rockwell, that’s not surprising.  Bates also deserves some mention here for her presence playing Jewell’s mother.  She’s also reliably compelling in whatever role she takes on, so that’s also not a shocker either.

There were some times I thought Scruggs came off as a bit of a caricature of an overzealous reporter, but that may have more to do with the writing than Wilde putting in a poor performance.  Some of the more egregious acts by the FBI in the film were apparently true.  I did some checking on the how some of the actual moments went down, and the film doesn’t appear to veer too far into the realm of utter fiction.  In spite of the hurt feelings being reported by some of the actual players or entities involved, the film still held my attention.  The film does well with pointing out the hazards of a rush of judgment and that sometimes even the press could use a critical eye when judging the veracity of what is reported.  It is terribly sad that Jewell himself did not live too many years after being essentially vindicated from suspicion.  He likely still would never have gotten the respect he deserved for his heroic contribution in saving some lives on that terrible day in 1996.  He did come out on top when it came to the lawsuits filed against the news agencies that contributed to his difficulties afterward.

Anyway, my recommendation is to check this film out and make your mind up.  Eastwood is closing in on 90 years old and can still put together a decent piece of work, so that’s also worthy of some respect.


Doctor Who Audio Review: Light And Shadow At War

The Dark Planet is a Doctor Who audio drama released by Big Finish Productions and is an episode from the range known as The Lost Stories.  Brian Hayles was the initial writer, however Matt Fitton adapted the story for audio.  William Russell and Maureen O’Brien reprise their roles as Ian and Vicki, respectively, and share in narration duties.  John Banks and Charlie Norfolk are the guest performers pitching in.  Ken Bentley directed this story as well.

So this is a story that was apparently submitted or considered for broadcast during the second season of the series around 1964 or 1965.  It ended up not being made for the television series which had the late William Hartnell in the lead role at the time.

The Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Vicki arrive on a planet during the early years of the universe and discover that the sun is dying.  It appears abandoned except for crystalline statues peppered on the surface.  They find that it is not that deserted when the find a war has been occurring among the people of Light and Shadow.

This a six part story, and that’s just too many parts for this one.  I don’t mind lengthier stories generally, but I had some trouble staying too interested in this one.  That is not the fault of the performers though.  O’Brien and Russell are both compelling narrators and actors in spite of their rather lengthy life span.  I think this was one of those stories which I found harder to visualize than many.  It may have been too costly to bring it to life on the small screen at the time.  I am not too familiar with the background of this particular story since no cast interviews were included in this release.

I guess I didn’t find anything too unique in this one, but I am glad this was released since my affection for the First Doctor era has increased in recent years.  I am just going to hope I grow to enjoy this story more once I slip it back into the CD player.  It has some interesting ideas, but it felt too long.  Also, this may have been one of the harder ones to realize fully just on audio in spite of the narration.