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.

Doctor Who Audio Review: The Man, The Myth, The Doctor

The Myth Makers is a Doctor Who serial starring William Hartnell and was originally aired in 1965. This is one of the stories with missing episodes, so BBC released the soundtrack with linking narration provided by Peter Purves, who had portrayed one of the companions, Steven Taylor. Maureen O’Brien makes her final television appearance as Vicki. Michael Leeston-Smith directed this story which was written by Donald Cotton. Adrienne Hill also makes her debut as Katarina.

The Doctor and his friends arrive in Troy during the Trojan War. The Doctor is presumed initially to be a manifestation of the Greek god Zeus. The TARDIS crew is split up between the two factions at war. A giant wooden horse plays a key role in the outcome of the war.

I have never seen or heard the episode as it was originally aired. This episode isn’t one of the greatest of this era, but I do not regret adding this to my collection. There are some noteworthy aspects to this one. This story leads into what was one at one time the longest serial, The Daleks’ Masterplan. Purves provides his usual engaging narration. It’s still a little hard to follow the events of the story. Hartnell still sounds pretty good although this is getting pretty close to the time where he was getting too ill to continue in the role. I have come to appreciate these particular companions from the First Doctor’s era the more I have seen or heard them. Both actors still participate in the Big Finish recordings of new adventures.

It’s not one of the greatest efforts from the Hartnell era, but there is still some enjoyment to be found here. Particularly because it is so hard to obtain these days,

Film Review: A Troll Just Out For A Stroll

Troll is a monster film that explores Norwegian folklore. The screenplay was written by Espen Aukan with Roar Uthaug serving as director. The cast includes Ine Marie Wilmann, Kim Falck, Anneke von der Lippe, and Mads Sjogard Pettersen.

A paleontologist is brought in by the Norwegian government to help investigate the strange deaths of several miners and protesters that occurred in something burst from the ground. The paleontologist’s father happens to be an expert in folklore and quickly identifies the giant creature roaming the land as a mountain troll. The military and government are trying to figure out how to stop this enormous wanderer from destroying Oslo. A very familiar sort of plot in a rather unconventional locale.

The film was somewhat better than I expected. Not much in way of new ground being broken though. The performances were not terrible. The father-daughter drama was not too out of place. The special effects were not bad. I am not sure if the actual mythology was accurately presented. The monster was convincingly hideous. and ferocious.

I ended up liking many aspects of the film, but I am under no illusion that this is going to be considered a masterpiece. It’s just another monster movie that was fairly amusing but not much more than that.

Book Review: The Gray Man Just Can’t Get A Rest

Relentless is a thriller novel written by Mark Greaney and features freelance CIA troubleshooter and assassin, Courtland Gentry, otherwise known as the Gray Man. He is also known as Sierra Six and couple of other peculiar monikers.

Court has been seriously injured, but that does not keep his handler from sending him on another mission. An agent has been captured in Venezuela. When Gentry is sent in to see if he can help, he finds some information that takes him to Berlin where a Russian agent he happens to love is having some troubles of her own. Killers from all sorts of agencies are coming out of the woodwork, and the Gray Man has to hold his body together well enough to function at his usual lethal capacity.

This novel is not the first in the series, but it is the first one I have read from Greaney. It was actually pretty good. The page count almost makes it to 700. There are times that the story drags in the middle. Greaney does have a fairly intriguing character, but he does at times seem similar to the other killer protagonists in the counterterrorist genre. Greaney is just solid enough of a writer to inspire me to revisit the world of the Gray Man, but I am not sure I am going to be keeping that close of an eye on the series.

There are few better ways to welcome the Yuletide Season than with a new Sherlock Holmes novel. James Lovegrove returns to 221 B Baker Street to relate how Holmes and Dr. Watson faced The Three Winter Terrors.

Doctor Who Audio Review: From Tinseltown To Ribos

Silver and Ice is a Doctor Who audio boxset from Big Finish Productions which contains two new adventures with Sylvester McCoy and Bonnie Langford returning to the roles of the Doctor and Melanie Bush. Samuel Clemens serves as the director. Nicholas Briggs returns to the Cybermen and a couple of other roles. Jasmin Hinds, Jenny Spark, Dan Starkey, and Vivienne Rochester are included in the cast.

Speaking of Dan Starkey, he is the scriptwriter for the first story, Bad Day in Tinseltown. In a town called Brightedge, which is supposed to represent some Old West locale, is on the verge of becoming some sort of entertainment mecca. When the Doctor and Mel arrive, it does not take them long to discover that the Cybermen are also there, and they are not interested in the fun and games. No surprise there!

What is surprising is how underwhelming I found this episode. I was distracted by the exaggerated American accents put on by some of the actors. Although I tend to enjoy pairing of McCoy and Langford, even their efforts were not quite enough to keep me significantly engaged. Doctor Who has attempted to recapture the atmosphere of the Old West, and this effort was not an improvement over the past forays into this setting.

The Ribos Inheritance by Jonathan Barnes is an improvement, but not quite as much as I had hoped. The Doctor and Mel return to Ribos, which was where he had recovered the first segment to the Key to Time in a previous life. Ribos is supposed to be in the midst of their Suntime, however it is still in the grip of bitter cold. For once, the eccentric steering of the TARDIS is not to blame. David Rintoul has taken over the role of Garron, the cosmic con artist previously encountered by the Doctor. Garron was originally played by the late Ian Cuthbertson in the television serial, The Ribos Operation.

I sort of found Garron’s inclusion to be somewhat unnecessary. Rintoul does fine in his performance and can almost sound like Cuthbertson. I think the episode would have worked better with a whole new cast of characters even though the Doctor would be in surroundings that he would find familiar.

McCoy and Langford continue to perform well together, and I don’t mind revisiting the early days of the Seventh Doctor. The mixed metaphor gag returned once or twice.

Anyway, this set isn’t the most exciting to me. It’s not an abysmal listening experience, but there is not much to leave an impression.

Film Review: An Evening At The Hawthorne

The Menu is a black comedy horror film directed by Mark Mylod and written by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy. It contains a pretty impressive cast which includes Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult, Judith Light, and John Leguizamo.

A rather eccentric and diverse group of diners gather at the Hawthorne for a unique culinary experience hosted by a peculiar celebrity chef. This restaurant is located on a remote private island. As the courses are served, secrets are revealed as the evening turns into something more macabre. There are humiliations and mutilations served up throughout the evening as the chef, played by Fiennes, has a final course planned which will leave no survivors.

Well, this turned out to be a pretty unique cinematic experience and a welcome one. This film takes all kinds of bizarre turns which did not always make the most sense, however the performances overall were compelling enough to keep me engaged. Fiennes, as expected, is absolutely riveting as the vengeful chef, embittered by the loss of his passion for his craft. All of the diners with the exception of one have played a part in his lost devotion to his artistic profession. The revelations are well planned throughout the film.

In spite of the outlandish plot and the occasional murky moments, the film does the job with keeping the audience in suspense and increasing that tension to a satisfying height. None of the performances turned out to be a weak link.

Overall, this film has far more strengths than downfalls. Although I doubt that I would enjoy the courses presented at the Hawthorne all that much, the film itself manages to satisfy a different sort of appetite for some entertainment with a whiff of originality.