Classic Film Review: The Wrong Man Stands Accused

Intruder in the Dust (1949)

Intruder in the Dust is a drama film released in 1949 and was directed and produced by Clarence Brown.  Ben Maddow is the writer who adapted it to the screen from a William Faulkner novel.  The cast includes David Brian, Claude Jarman Jr., Juano Hernandez, and Elizabeth Patterson.

It’s not exactly a new story idea.  A black man stands accused of a murder he didn’t commit in a small Southern town.  A white kid who befriended him enlists his uncle, the town attorney, to help find the truth.  What is somewhat different is that the accused black man, played by Hernandez, is actually someone of some means.  He has property and a modest fortune.  Juano Hernandez does have a commanding presence in this film.

This is a pretty interesting movie, even if it has had a few iterations over the years.  It’s an interesting to see that a few white residents do actually come to his aid.  In one scene, the spinster played by Elizabeth Patterson faces down a mob that shows up at the jail to exact their version of justice.

The sets were quite impressive.  For a film of that time, it appeared that some money was spent on the production designs.  The town looked convincing.  The performances were pretty solid throughout.

The relationships had some depth among various characters.  Sometimes, films of this sort often make the racist characters seem rather campy and over the top.  This one makes it a bit more believable in this setting.

The movie sounds like a story that has been overdone, and it has.  However, this one was well made.  Most of the main characters were interesting.  It delved into the matter of racism with a more subtle and layered portrayal than other films of this sort.

Classic Film Review: Before Godzilla, There Was This Guy

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The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms is a 1953 science fiction film from Warner Brothers Studios.  It was directed by Eugene Lourie and was co-written by him and remarkably three other people.  Fred Freiberger, Louis Morheim, and Robert Smith all share the blame here.  It is interesting to note that the script is based on some short story by Ray Bradbury.  The film stars Paul Christian, Paula Raymond, and Cecil Kellaway.  It used the stop motion animation techniques that were popular during the era of film making.

It’s kind of a silly diversion.  It’s one of the early monster movies where some creature is roused by atomic blasts and starts to rampage across civilization.

The background and history of this genre of film is a bit more interesting than the actual story.  Although I suspect I would enjoy Bradbury’s original idea.  The performances didn’t really stand out. although I probably wasn’t all that captivated since I was not familiar with anyone in the cast.

It’s not that most memorable of cinematic efforts other than its place in the history of the genre.  I didn’t hate it, but I struggled to keep my attention on it.

Doctor Who Episode Review: The Doctor’s History Goes Awry

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Fugitive of the Judoon is the latest Doctor Who episode with Jodie Whittaker in the lead role and her faithful companions played by Bradley Walsh, Mandip Gill, and Tosin Cole.  Chris Chibnall and Vinay Patel write this script with Nida Manzoor in the director’s chair.  Guest stars include John Barrowman, Jo Martin, Neil Stuke, and Ritu Arya,

There are a lot of twists in this episodes that are unexpected.  I try to be mindful of spoilers, but there are aspects I want to discuss which will require the spilling of some beans.  This episode sort of intrigued and infuriated me at the same time.

I actually have decided that I sort of like the Judoon, the alien mercenary police force who resemble rhinos.  The Judoon were first introduced in the era of Russell T. Davies in an episode entitled Smith and Jones, which starred David Tennant as the Doctor.

The Judoon have arrived in the town of Gloucester looking for a mysterious fugitive.  The Doctor and her companions have arrived to stop the Judoon from traipsing through the town leaving a wake of casualties.  A couple seem to be at the center of this hunt.  The companions are whisked away to some other ship and meet none other than Captain Jack Harkness, played by John Barrowman.

The Doctor discovers that a woman named Ruth Clayton has a much deeper secret than she realizes.  Ruth is able to regain her memories and proper biological make-up. The big shock is when she claims to the Doctor which is backed up by Whittaker’s Doctor checking on this development herself.

The suggestion has been out there that Chibnall intended to have it suggested that there was a female Doctor or Doctors before the time of who what the fans know as the First Doctor, played by the late William Hartnell.  This is what he has done.  Jo Martin, who is a black British actress, is cast in this rather dubious role.

I have to ask, what is Chibnall’s problem here?  He may not be about wreck the established, canonical history of the character since the Doctor has no recollection of ever looking like Jo Martin.  Jo Martin’s Doctor is also not claiming recognition of Whittaker’s incarnation.  There may be an alternate universe explanation, but we didn’t get a resolution to this at this time.

I try not to be too vitriolic when it comes to criticizing this particular era of what is my favorite series, but some of these decisions are making the temptation to join some of my fellow skeptics in their more strident objections a little too great.

Captain Jack’s return sort of smacks of a desperate effort to lure back viewers.  The ratings have been sinking for some time, and Chibnall’s efforts to bring back elements common in the eras of Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat do not seem to be helping.

There are some questions to be answered here, and I hope they will be resolved in such a way that does not trash the history that is already established.

I know this is merely a science fiction show, and writers can d whatever they want.  Doctor Who is certainly more durable in its format than other long-running shows. That is part of the genius of its development over the past fifty-six years.  Doctor Who does have some problems in its canon and continuity, so die hard fans already have to forgive a lot in its very long history.  I do think it would be asking too much to accept that Jo Martin is supposed to be some other secret incarnation who existed before the First Doctor we know and love.

A couple of things worked in this episode.  The Judoon looked fantastic.  Whittaker’s Doctor seems to be developing a bit of gravitas. She is not going to be a favorite of mine, however her astonishment and bafflement a some of these revelations seemed believable enough.  I guess we have not seen the last of Captain Jack.  Captain Jack turning up again is not something I really cared about.

Maybe Chibnall is just having some fun here.  Some would say that he has no real respect for the long time fans who grew up on this show and want to have some aspects preserved.  In the past couple of years, I have to wonder if the the more cynical voices are entirely wrong.

 

Film Review: When Will These Nannies Ever Learn?

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The Turning is a horror film directed by Floria Sigismondi.  It is written by Carey and Chad Hayes who adapted it from a ghost story written 1898 by Henry James.  Mackenzie Davis, Finn Wolfhard, Brooklynn Prince, and Joely Richardson are included in the cast.

Davis plays a former teacher who accepts a position as a live-in tutor and nanny for a couple of orphans in a large mansion.  She also has to contend with a rather and rigid housekeeper who is also a guardian of the rather strange and reclusive children.  Of course, there are secrets and strange manifestations to make the job more interesting.

My usual problem with horror films of this sort is often a breakdown when it comes to explanations and resolutions toward the end.  CGI and much improved visual effects in the film industry do make it likely that the scares will be fairly effective and raise some  goosebumps regardless of the quality of the script.  This film does have some of those effective moments of genuine spooks and scares.  The performances were reasonably good considering the many weaknesses in the actual plot and dialogue.

The design of the house and property where all of these ghostly shenanigans occurred was intriguing.

The story just didn’t seem all that well thought out.  There was this roommate that seemed rather unnecessary.  I wasn’t sure how some crazy mother played by Joely Richardson fit into all of this.  This film was just determined to make me work harder than I wanted to when it came piecing together background of these poltergeists and whatever evil events transpired before the heroine’s arrival.  Whatever may have started to impress me about this film was undercut by a weak resolution.

Book Review: Know Your Neighbors

The Outsider is a recent novel from Stephen King first published in 2018.  King starts off with a very brutal murder which has taken place in Flint City, Oklahoma.  Detective Ralph Anderson has arrested a popular Little League coach in front of much of the populace after an eleven year old boy is found butchered horrifically.  The coach has an apparently solid alibi out of town, however reliable witnesses also place him in the vicinity and in the company of the young victim.  It seems that the suspect, Terry Maitland, was in two places at once, however that is impossible.  On the other hand, this is a Stephen King novel.

I may just be getting too used to Stephen King novels, but I was not exactly riveted by this one.  There were some interesting twists and turns, but I am getting to me one of those readers more impressed by King’s earlier works.  The setting is fictional, which isn’t a bad idea, but I can sense that King doesn’t really know Oklahoma all that well, which he kind of acknowledges in the afterword.  There is a character named Holly Gibney who shows up to lend a hand when the almost inevitable group of intrepid citizens gather to discover the truth and face an evil darker than they could ever imagine.  Holly was introduced alongside of retired detective Bill Hodges in the trilogy which began with Mr. Mercedes.  Her nervous, eccentric, and determined presence in this story was the most compelling facet to this story.

There’s no question that Stephen King is a talented storyteller, but there are better examples of that talent than this particular novel.  I didn’t dislike the novel though.  Die hard Stephen King fans will still find this one worth reading, but I am not sure it’s going to be considered one of his most treasured offerings.

As 2020 begins, my bottomless appetite for literary indulgence continues with a new Star Trek: The Next Generation entitled Collateral Damage by David Mack.

Doctor Who Audio Review: Return To The Forge

Project: Nirvana is a Doctor Who audio drama presented by Big Finish Productions, that well known supplier of such entertainment.  This episode was released in 2012 and is part of the range known as The Companion Chronicles.  Cavan Scott and Mark Wright are the writers with Ken Bentley back in the director’s seat.  Maggie O’Neill and Amy Pemberton are Big Finish original characters Captain Lysandra Aristedes and Private Sally Morgan and share narration duties.  The special guest performer is none other than the Seventh Doctor himself, Sylvester McCoy.

This episode also brings back the organization known as the Forge, which was introduced in Colin Baker’s Big Finish episode Project: Twilight.  The Forge had some similarities to Torchwood in that they collected alien equipment left behind in all of the invasions foiled by the Doctor or by some other means.  The Forge had a much more ruthless outlook on how such finds were to be employed.  I rather miss the Forge which was under the iron grip of a leader code named Nimrod.

Anyway the Doctor, Aristedes and Morgan find that a dangerous creature has been let loose, and they must do something about it.

The alien in this one isn’t a bad idea.  The actors all did fine as they usually do, however I didn’t find that actual story to be all that enthralling.  I didn’t find it to be all that terrible either.  The story had some interesting moments such as when we find a younger version of Aristedes on the scene.  The creature has some interesting psychological effects on the heroes.  The episode was competently written and very well performed, but it still felt a bit middle of the road.

Film Review: Now That’s Way Too Deep

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Underwater is a science fiction horror film written by Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad.  The director is William Eubank.  Kristen Stewart is the lead protagonist with Vincent Cassel, T.J. Miller, Jessica Henwick, and Mamoudou Athie as part of the cast.  The film draws some inspiration from H.P. Lovecraft.

It’s not exactly the most original of plots, but the film works overall.  A group of deep sea drillers are stationed about six miles under the ocean.  The station suffers a catastrophic breach that occurs about just two minutes into the film.  I thought for a couple of moments that it was a dream sequence experienced by Stewart’s character, however that was not the case.  Stewart plays a young chemical engineer named Norah who manages to lead another crew member to other survivors of the initial collapse of the base.  As the survivors try to make their way to another base a mile away, they find that new and savage intruders stand in their way.

There were some pretty effective frights throughout the film.  Stewart is often panned for a limited range of acting, and that criticism is usually fair.  She does manage to keep my interest this time. Everyone in the cast manages to sell it throughout the film.  The visual effects were also quite convincing.  The deep sea creatures were very well designed.  I might have ended up with nightmares if I had seen this as a child.

There were times on the ocean floor where it was hard to determine what was actually happening.  I understand that some of how the action was shot and edited was supposed to provide a sense of frightening realism, but it pulls me out of it a bit as my brain tries to catch up with what the characters are experiencing.

There wasn’t much explanation as to the origin of the creatures, however I found that I liked that.  The film was about how these people were going to survive the onslaught, and I thought it was a good decision to just focus on that other than spending much time trying to figure out as to why these things are so testy.

For those of us who enjoy a good cinematic fright every now and then, this film manages to deliver just that.  I still wouldn’t all it a future classic or anything like that, but it made a more lasting impression on me than I expected.

Doctor Who Audio Review: It’s All Of Fun And Games Until The Queen Catches You

The Queen of Time is a Doctor Who audio play released in 2012 by Big Finish Productions.  It is an episode from a range known as The Lost Stories, which were initially written for television but ended up not being produced for one reason or another.  Catherine Harvey is the scriptwriter who adapted a pitch conceived initially by Brian Hayles in the 1960’s.  Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury share narration duties as well as reprise their roles as Jamie and Zoe, respectively.  Hines once again shares his impression of the late Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor.  Lisa Bowerman is the director of this episode.  Caroline Faber is the guest performer who plays an immortal, all-powerful being known as Hebuca who also dubs herself as the Queen of Time. She has an unusual fondness for clocks and various sorts of timepieces. She also has a similar taste for games and puzzles much like another entity in which long-time fans would recognize.

The Doctor and his two companions find themselves trapped in the Queen’s realm and forced to endure her cruel challenges.  Jamie and Zoe are separated from the Doctor, who is held prisoner by Hebuca as he is forced to watch their plight.

It would be pretty easy to dismiss this episode as something that has already been explored, however the performances of all of the cast keeps one pretty riveted.  I was waiting for that moment for the connection to a previous First Doctor story to be fully revealed even though I knew there was no real mystery in that.  Faber pitches the seductive nastiness just right in her vocal performance.  Padbury and Hines are typically very engaging in this one.  They have worked together on enough of these episodes to no longer be astonished by their efficiency and effectiveness.  Hines continues to honor his deceased friend and costar with an affectionate impression of how Troughton would likely have read the lines.

Yes, this episode is a bit of a retread in many ways, and I wouldn’t say there are any great twists or surprises, although there is a dinner scene which is rather more gruesome than what I would have thought one would see on the telly during Troughton’s era.

Harvey’s creative choices to extend the story into something that could stretch to two hours are actually quite good.  She didn’t have much to work with since Hayles never actually wrote a script, but she made great use of what she did have.

Doctor Who Episode Review: Tesla, Edison, And The Doctor

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Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror is the latest Doctor Who episode with Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor.  Mandip Gill, Bradley Walsh, and Tosin Cole are still aboard the TARDIS playing Yasmin, Graham, and Ryan respectively.   This latest story is written by Nina Metivier and directed by Nida Manzoor.   Goran Visnjic joins the guest cast as inventor Nikola Tesla.  Tesla’s rival, Thomas Edison, is portrayed by Robert Glenister.  Anji Mohindra and Haley McGee round out the main guest cast.

In 1903 America, The Doctor and her friends meet Nikola Tesla who is being hunted by a renegade alien knows as the Skithra Queen.  The Skithra are wanting to use Tesla’s inventive genius to repair their ship.  Thomas Edison also gets caught up in the mess, which does not help since he and Tesla are not exactly fond of each other.

This episode wasn’t terrible.  It’s not going to rank as any spectacular addition to the series, but I liked some of the ideas explored.  It reminded me of some of the earlier episodes of the Russell T. Davies or Steven Moffat eras.  Visnjic was pretty good as Tesla. Really all of the guest cast was pretty good, although I was not that impressed with the realization of the Skithra.  Mohindra did the best she could, I think.  I guess I didn;t find her all that menacing.  The Doctor dismisses her as a scavenger and bully.  I do like that we get a new adversary though. It’s just that I didn’t find her all that compelling or threatening if she needs to snatch an inventor from the early twentieth century to repair her ramshackle ship.

I am probably just getting used to Whittaker’s performance, but I didn’t find her performance too off the mark this week.  She just can’t quite come off as intimidating as some of the previous incarnations when she is being confrontational with whatever alien menace if before her for the week.

There is not much emphasis on the relationship between the companions this year, which is nice.  I still think the focus should be on the Doctor, even if this isn’t a favorite incarnation.

This may end up being one of the better episodes of the current year, but it’s not going to hold up much within the Doctor Who canon as a whole.  At least, I didn’t outright hate this one, which may be about as high as enjoyment is going to get as long as Chris Chibnall is at the helm of the production.

Play Review: The Hound Is Loose In Amarillo

Baskerville

Amarillo Little Theater continues its long tradition of entertaining plays performed by a talented cast.  Even the plays that are not often my cup of tea still manage to keep me pretty well engaged.  Baskerville is a much more comedic take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, certainly one of the most popular  adventures to feature renowned fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes.  This version of the story also has the unique experience of only being played by five performers, with three of them hurriedly switching from role to role.

Zeke Lewis dons the deerstalker and cloak as Sherlock Holmes with Jeffrey Pickens at his side as Doctor Watson.  Brandon Dawson, Brooks Boyett, and Kara Leimer play everyone else.

Sir Henry Baskerville is portrayed as a Texan who inherits the cursed property in Dartmoor.  I thought that was a nice touch.  I do wonder if the original adaptation by Ken Ludwig had that or if that was somehow adjusted by the cast.

I ended up getting more into after the intermission though.  I suspect that this is likely because I am a bit of a purist snob, and it takes me some time to warm up to the slapstick being presented here.  I did appreciate the moments where the Fourth Wall was overlooked, and the audience was brought more directly into the joke.

Once I was able to use my imagination during the location changes because the set never changed, I was more appreciative of  the detail given to design the famous 221 B Baker Street lodgings.

I am no expert on plays, so I am not sure there were any technical flaws that would have caught my eye, but I think my overall admiration for the performances were strong enough for me to forgive them.

So the play has another weekend to go before the Amarillo Little Theater preps for their next show.  If anyone in Amarillo reads this or is stopping through in the next few days,  would certainly recommend an evening out at the theater next week.