Film Review: Guy Levels Up

Disney pulls Ryan Reynolds' Free Guy from its schedule

Free Guy is an action science fiction film directed by Shawn Levy. The script was written by Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn. Ryan Reynolds is in the lead role as Guy, a bank teller who discovers that he is a non-player character in a video game called Free City. The cast includes Jodie Comer, Joe Keery, Taika Waititi, and Channing Tatum. There are a number of surprising and amusing cameos as well, but I don’t want to spoil all of the surprises.

Even if one is not a gamer, there is plenty of enjoyment to be found. Free City is an open world video game where Guy is accustomed to the daily chaos of bank heists, insane car chases, and open warfare in the streets. He goes about his day in the midst of pixelated mayhem with a warm smile and a comfortable daily routine. A pretty face with the moniker Molotov Girl causes a deviation in his program where he decides he wants to be more involved in the world and make more profound choices.

In the real world, two programmers are reunited when they recognize certain codes from a game they had developed before their rift. Guy, in the meantime, has garnered a following as he tries to make decisions to help out his fellow Free City citizens.

As absurd as this story seems, it actually has quite a bit more depth and heart than expected. Reynolds, a gifted comedic actor, unexpectedly proves to be a perfect casting decision. I found that I was not that familiar with other members of the cast, but everyone seemed to hold up pretty well. There is quite a bit of hammy, over the top, performances, but this film was written well enough to handle it. The visual effects were also well designed and executed. At least, it seemed that way to me.

The film really does manage to deliver significantly more enjoyment than I expected.

Doctor Who Audio Review: The Doctor Feels The Heat

Doctor Who: The Flight of the Sun God: 6th Doctor Audio Original

The Flight of the Sun God is a Doctor Who audiobook released by the BBC. Nicola Bryant reads this adventure which was penned by Nev Fountain. If this were a full cast audio, it would stay Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor, but it just has Bryant reading it to us. She has a pleasant enough voice, so it works.

The Doctor and Peri arrive in the far future aboard a spaceship known as the Sun God. For some reason, the big cheese in charge, Spaulding Revere, has set the course so that the ship actually runs into the sun taking a group of executives with it. The Doctor and Peri get separated. She encounters robot cats and a guy with head of a beetle who ends up being an ally.

It’s a strange little tale, but it is Doctor Who. There is not much terribly remarkable in the plot, but it is fun. Bryant does a decent job of capturing the spirit of this particular Doctor’s rather bombastic tendencies. It does seem that there have been one or two other stories which features a ship heading toward a sun. Also, there is another overly ambitious tycoon at the heart of the problem. Some of the motivations for these shenanigans did not appear all that clear. Fountain at least does a pretty competent job with this one though. Bryant makes this rather more enjoyable with her rendition of the story. She is able to recreate the banter between her and the Doctor even without Colin Baker being there, but I still prefer when they perform together.

It’s not a bad addition to the vastness of Doctor Who lore, but it also falls short on being all that memorable.

Book Review: The Doctor Lands On Fang Rock

Doctor Who and the Horror of Fang Rock is a novelization by Terrance Dicks of the television serial which first aired in 1977. The episode starred Tom Baker and Louise Jameson as the Doctor and Leela.

Dicks was no master wordsmith, but his simple prose style had a distinction all its own. He tended to use the same adjectives when referring to the TARDIS materializing, and his description of the Doctor did not vary all that much from book to book.

The adventure starts off with the TARDIS bringing the Doctor and Leela to an isolated lighthouse located on a small isle ominously named Fang Rock. They arrive in time to find that one of the keepers has died rather mysteriously. As the Doctor and Leela get to know the remaining two keepers, a yacht crashes onto the rocks below, and the survivors are thrown into the mix. A mysterious creature does indeed stalk the shores of this island, however the Doctor soon realizes that a confrontation was happen there, or the world will face the consequences the this latest visit from the stars.

This novel is really just good for striking the chords of nostalgia. The television serial is one of my favorites, and Terrance Dicks sticks pretty close to the original script. It’s an enjoyable enough little romp that was read in about one day, but don’t expect any profound insights from this one.

Next up will be a much grittier read in Lawrence Block’s Out on the Cutting Edge.

Book Review: Let The Contest And The Kidnappings Commence!

A Contest of Principles is a recent Star Trek novel from the mind and keyboard of Greg Cox. It revisits near the final year of the original five year mission where the women wore impractical mini-skirts and the men in red shirts were picked off on a regular basis. A fine period for any Star Trek devotee.

This is a tale of three worlds that are cosmic neighbors or something. They are all in the same star system, parsec, or whatever. Anyway, the inhabitants are all aware of each other, but engage in some rivalry or something. The planet known as Vok is about to hold its first pure election after years of tyrannical military rule. Captain James Kirk and his noble crew of the Starship Enterprise are sent by the Federation to ensure the integrity of the election and remain neutral observers. It seems a simple enough task, but hold on! The crew is made aware of some medical emergency on a nearby planet known as Braco. Dr. McCoy is sent to see if he can lend a hand with a party that includes Nurse Christine Chapel. But hold on! That’s a trick! That landing party is ambushed and McCoy is kidnapped. He is then hauled off to the planet Ozalor to see if he can help an ailing princess. The good doctor finds himself soon enmeshed in palace politics. Kirk can’t leave Vok, however Spock catches up with Nurse Chapel on Braco and begins a search for the purloined doctor. Of course, Spock and Chapel are also taken prisoner by some group dissidents or rebels not happy with the leadership on Braco. Really the only one who manages to avoid capture and captivity is the stalwart captain, but he finds plenty of trouble on his own as well.

This is a rather cheeky summation of the plot, but it’s actually not a bad addition to the still-growing catalog of Star Trek novels. I am not sure that much of it stands out, and there is a fair amount of predictability that is probably unavoidable considering the nature of the series as a whole. Cox has been writing for this franchise for some time, so he has proven himself to be at least a reliably entertaining writer yet again. He does a pretty good job with most of the guest characters, although a couple of them seem more like caricatures at times. No major surprises or plot twists await the reader, however it is solidly entertaining and evokes that sense of nostalgia for the original television series.

The title is borrowed from a quote by a writer named Ambrose Bierce. I don’t usually comment on titles, but I thought this particular one was rather clever and fitting.

Anyway, it’s a pretty good book with a pretty cool title.

Next up, I will be returning to the world of Doctor Who Target novelizations. I have had this collection since I was a wee lad and occasionally find one I not yet read. Terrance Dicks was the most prolific of the Target novelists, yet I somehow I missed out on Doctor Who and the Horror of Fang Rock, so that needs to be rectified. This is one of my favorite television serials, so I shall see if this will become a favorite novelization.

Doctor Who Audio Review: A New Romana Remembers Her Old Selves And One Quadrigger

Doctor Who - The Companion Chronicles: Luna Romana

Luna Romana is a Doctor Who audio drama from Big Finish Productions and is an episode of The Companion Chronicles. The story is written by Matt Fitton and directed by Lisa Bowerman. Terry Molloy returns as Quadrigger Stoyn which completes a trilogy of stories with various previous incarnations of the Doctor. Lalla Ward returns as the second incarnation of Romana with Juliet Landau taking on the mantle of her third incarnation. Mary Tamm was supposed to have starred in this one, however she had died not long before this recording which was released in 2014. This ended up being an unapologetic tribute to Tamm, and that was an entirely appropriate decision. There was a moment of flashback recordings of Tamm’s voice which was rather moving.

The First Romana and the Fourth Doctor end up in Ancient Rome as they search for the final segment of the Key to Time. Romana meets Stoyn and narrowly escapes the encounter. Sometime in the future, the Second Romana and the Doctor arrive on a lunar colony modeled after Rome where Stoyn continues his efforts to destroy the Doctor. Romana must break an important rule of time travel and is set on collision course with her own past.

Landau and Ward share the narration duties and are both quite compelling. Landau’s Romana effectively conveys her affection for her first incarnation, which would seem egotistical in most circumstances, but somehow works well here. I love the chemistry between Mary Tamm and Tom Baker during that era of the television series. Mary Tamm carried off her air of haughty charm very effectively and was a wonderful foil against the Fourth Doctor’s domineering eccentricity. It would be interesting to hear a Doctor encounter this new version of Romana.

The story is a little confusing at times, but still enjoyable. There also seems to be more if a complexity in Quadrigger Stoyn’s villainy than many of the other renegade Time Lords encountered by the Doctor. Molloy, who is better known as playing Davros for a time on the television series and for Big Finish, really does put in an impressive performance as this newer menace.

This particular episode was quite engaging for a variety of reasons. It would have been better if Tamm was still alive to participate, however Big Finish did a fine job memorializing her. It was also a pretty good yarn.

Film Review: Corey Needs A Little Help Solving Her Own Murder

Ghost of New Orleans is a supernatural thriller written by Gerald and Justin Di Pego and directed by Predrag Antonijevic. The cast includes Josh Lucas, Terrence Howard, Lake Bell, and Cary Elwes, The film was released in 2011, so it isn’t that new, but it is still worthy of a blog entry since I have not seen it before.

Lucas plays a disgraced, guilt-ridden police detective in New Orleans who spends a bit too much in the company of the bottle. After a tragic and controversial shooting, Detective Chaney is tasked with keeping a suspect under surveillance. Howard plays the eccentric neighbor who sued the police. He develops an unusual friendship with Chaney, who finds himself in a stranger relationship. A young brunette keeps appearing and disappearing. When she is able to communicate with Chaney, she explains that she was murdered, and her brother was not the culprit. Chaney finally gets intrigued enough to take another look into the case. There is also a serial killer lurking around the Big Easy that is causing some concern as well.

So it has some elements that I like in a film such as a few interesting characters, some murder, and a pretty ghost. Howard and Lucas are two talented guys who have been in a lot of movies and they do their best here. I thought Howard was pretty intriguing as a guy named Drag Hammerman. The character’s name seems a little absurd, but I like it. He has the peculiar habit of narrating the reactions of those around him. He is apparently in the midst of concocting a pretty unique memoir. It’s an intriguing dynamic between the two men. Lake Bell as the ghostly murder victim who was a cellist, does pretty well.

The story is a bit short on explanations such as why Chaney was the only one who could communicate with Corey Little, the dead beauty, who is not happy with how her murder case was closed.

The story was still adequate, but not much more than that. The writing is more of the weak point than the actual performances. The twist at the end was not that much a surprise. Also, I did not get that much of a sense of the unique character of New Orleans.

Anyway, the movie has some interesting aspects in its favor, but not much for it to stand out. It still leaves too many questions unanswered for my liking.

Book Review: A Little Christmas Cheer With Sherlock Holmes…With A Dash Of Murder

Sherlock Holmes & The Christmas Demon is a pastiche novel by James Lovegrove. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson are visited by a lovely heiress who has been experiencing manifestations of a legendary demon known as the Black Thurrick who supposedly menaces the countryside where her family resides during the Christmas holiday. This nocturnal menace leaves little bundles of twigs as a sign of its presence in the area. The Allerthorpe family has had some recent tragedies with the matriarch throwing herself out a tower window . Young Eve Allerthorpe stands to inherit a nice little financial primogeniture, but one of the conditions is that she keep her sanity. Although Holmes doubts that an actual supernatural being is the culprit, he does suspect some foul deeds are indeed being committed.

Holmes and Watson trek out to the family estate where they meet an eclectic group of family members who have many other secrets and dark motives to untangle. Just to make matters even more interesting, the scullery maid is killed quite dramatically. I suppose there is not really an undramatic way to commit murder, but there you have it…

So I read and review a lot of Sherlock Holmes pastiche, and I wish I could come up with a more original criticism or something else I have not noticed before in these publications better, however Lovegrove lets me down here on that score. Once again, he is a competent writer and does not really deliver anything all that terrible, but we Sherlock Holmes pastiche readers keep seeing this tendency to have Holmes constantly having to debunk these supernatural shenanigans. There is also almost always some wealthy family with some kind of legendary curse in the background. The patriarch is some gruff rich dude who does not appreciate the presence of Holmes and Watson and then is later shown the error of his ways. There is once again some damsel in distress. The plot is rife with cliched, overused elements. Even if Lovegrove still manages to make the cliches somewhat entertaining, there are still merely cliches.

Next up is a return to the twenty-third century as the crew of the USS Enterprise engage in A Contest Of Principles by Greg Cox.

Film Review: Keep Checking On Those Children

When a Stranger Calls (1979) Reviews - Metacritic

When a Stranger Calls is a thriller with a few adaptations and sequels, but the original version was first screened in 1979. It was directed by Fred Walton, who was cowrote it with Steve Feke. The cast includes Carol Kane, Charles Durning, Tony Beckley, and Colleen Dewhurst.

The film starts off with a charming young babysitter who suddenly gets terrorized by phone calls from a stranger. While she is trying to get the police to help her, what she does not realize is that her two charges have been murdered quite brutally by a mad Englishman named Curt Duncan. He has been calling the babysitter from inside the house because he apparently was not ready to make his escape. He is arrested and sent to an insane asylum. Seven years later, he escapes from the asylum and soon has a private detective, played by Charles Durning, on his trail. Beckley plays the deranged Curt Duncan, and he is suitably creepy. Anyway, one would think that Kane’s role as the babysitter would be the protagonist, but she does not really appear until near the end as a married mother of two. The private eye has the bulk of the heroism to do here.

Okay, this should have been a more interesting film, but it falls short. The children were apparently torn apart by Duncan’s bare hands, however Beckley, the aforementioned actor, doesn’t look like he could tear apart a slice of bread without difficulty. Durning does his best. He has a long screen history and is a compelling presence, but the script is of little help. Some aspects just needed to be toned down for it to seem somewhat realistic. I just could not buy into it very much.

The cast is talented, but the writing and editing did not really help them much here. This is definitely a film I will not be revisiting anytime soon.,

Doctor Who Audio Review: A Little Cosmic Flirting From River Song

Doctor Who: Expiry Dating

Expiry Dating is one of a series of Doctor Who audio dramas featuring the Tenth Doctor and River Song, played by David Tennant and Alex Kingston. The script was written by James Goss with Nicholas Briggs in the director’s chair. The guest cast is comprised of Colin Baker, Peter Davison, and Glen MacReady. Yes, a couple of other Doctors are part of this story.

The whole timeline of the relationship between the Doctor and River Song is a little hard to describe or understand sometimes. To be honest, I thought River Song was a little overused when she was in the television series, but she is entertaining enough for me to not dwell on it so much. Alex Kingston is a beautiful and talented actress and works well with whichever Doctor she happens to encounter.

Saying that, I wish I enjoyed this episode a bit more. River Song reaches out to the Tenth Doctor and wants to arrange a date for them to meet at something called the Apocalypse Vault. This version of the Doctor has not worked out River’s true identity, but he was present when her corporeal life ended at the Library. This Doctor has been traveling on his own for a bit after his separation from Donna Noble. The script is written in the form of notes and letters sent back and forth through time and space between the two of them. River has some brief encounters with the Doctor’s fifth and sixth incarnations. The business with Davison’s version was a bit too bizarre for my liking. Apparently, the Fifth Doctor was somehow captivated by her. It was meant to be rather humorous, but the whole scene fell a bit flat.

I wouldn’t consider Goss to be a favorite writer of mine, but he is at least usually fairly reliable. This episode was a disappointing misfire. Tennant and Kingston were fine, but the script needed some work. Hopefully the other two installments of this particular pairing will be better.

Sherlock Holmes Audio Review: After Reichenbach Falls

Sherlock Holmes: The Judgement of Sherlock Holmes

The Judgement of Sherlock Holmes is an audio boxset from Big Finish Productions. It contains four stories that are really connected. The whole saga was written by Jonathan Barnes and directed by Ken Bentley. I would usually take each installment individually, however since it is all one story anyway, I may just save myself a little bit of time.

First, I will mention some of the cast members. Nicholas Briggs returns as the Big Finish version of Sherlock Holmes, once again paired with Richard Earl as Dr. John Watson. Nicholas Chambers, Gemma Whalen, Jemma Churchill, and John Banks are included in the cast guest. There are a number of other actors involved, but one can read up on them in another blog or more official review.

So this collection delves into the years that Holmes and Watson were separated after it was thought Holmes fell to his death locked in battle with Professor Moriarty over Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland. Holmes turns up three years later after that dramatic encounter, but of course he had to be doing something worthwhile during those years. He is still Sherlock Holmes after all.

The first story is entitled Poppyland where the audience learns of Watson’s marriage and Holmes is exploring the land of Tibet. Holmes has learned that a mysterious innkeeper has deduced his identity just in time for a murder to occur. Watson is having to defend his wife from another murder attempt with the help of Inspector Lestrade.

At the Garden of Shambhala is the second story where the machinations of some strange organization known only as the Society are coming to light. Watson is having to convince members of the Society that Holmes is dead, but we all know otherwise.

Sherlock Holmes faces some revelations of some secrets with roots back to his childhood in The Man in the Moonlight with the whole business coming to a fairly impressive conclusion in The Tragedy of Pargetter Square.

Nicholas Briggs does not give a bad performance as Holmes, but I wish I could get into it more. It’s really Richard Earl as Watson that is the more memorable, which does still seem appropriate since he is the narrator. Also, the goals of this Society seems a little murky even after a series of four stories. There are several troubling and compelling moments though that does makes this still a worthwhile listen. Obviously, when I say troubling, I mean it in a good way, at least in the context of a fictional thriller.

Briggs may not be my favorite actor to play Holmes, but he does have some pretty engaging scenes, especially during the times of victory. Also, mysterious, seemingly ubiquitous organizations seem to be a dime a dozen with Sherlock Holmes stories. At least, he wasn’t chasing ghosts as many other pastiche writers are prone to have him do.

I enjoyed this set for the most part in spite of the cracks. I have seen better interpretations of Holmes, but Briggs does just well enough to keep me interested. Some of my misgivings about this series may have more to do with my personal preferences when it comes to continuing Holmes’ exploits.