Sherlock Holmes Audio Review: A Case Tailor Made For Homes

The Seamstress of Peckham Rye is a Sherlock Holmes audio play from Big Finish Productions. Jonathan Barnes is the script writer with Ken Bentley serving as director. Nicholas Briggs and Richard Earl return as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. The guest cast includes Lucy Briggs-Owens, India Fisher, James Joyce, and Glen McCready.

Watson has fallen in love with an American actress just as the twentieth century is about to commence. Holmes appears to be slipping into a state of depression. Then a murder occurs, and Holmes begins a new investigation. He encounters a most unusual stage performance. Watson may have to tell an egregious lie in order to be with the woman he loves. Holmes has a young inspector as an ally as he learns of a new potential leader of the criminal underworld in London.

I so want to like Briggs’ interpretation of Holmes more than I do, but Richard Earl’s performance as Watson is really a saving grace here. Briggs isn’t terrible, but when he has to portray Holmes in one of more manic phases, it just doesn’t flow as convincingly as I expect. The story itself dragged a bit. I do think that a crime boss known as the Seamstress just doesn’t seem as foreboding as the writer intends. The actors performed well enough for the most part. The sound effects were well constructed. The technical aspects of this episode all worked out well enough.

The story is set to continue in the next episode. The friendship between Holmes and Watson was well depicted here. Barnes didn’t get everything wrong in his script. He is a reliable enough writer for the most part. It’s just this particular script didn’t hold my attention as thoroughly as it should have. Hopefully the next episode goes better.

Film Review: The Dinosaurs Are Restless Again

Jurassic World Dominion is a science fiction action film directed by Colin Trevorrow. He co-wrote the screenplay with Emily Carmichael after he developed the story with Derek Connolly. The concept and many of the characters were based the novel Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton. Chris Pratt and Dallas Bryce Howard are back and joined by original cast members, Sam Neill, Jeff Goldblum, and Laura Dern. Campbell Scott, DeWanda Wise, and BD Wong are also included in the party.

So, the dinosaurs are now all over the place wreaking havoc occasionally. Then. the ecology is further threatened by giant locusts. Dr. Ellie Sattler starts to investigate the locust problem and calls on Dr. Alan Grant to lend his expertise in prehistoric creatures. In the meantime, Owen Grady and Claire Dearing are trying to keep a clone teen-ager away from a corporation that wants to experiment on her. When the girl and a baby dinosaur are kidnapped anyway, the couple trace her to the company known as Biosyn. They pick up some other allies along the way and run into Ellie, Alan, and Dr. Ian Malcolm. Of course they all have to join forces after the onslaught of locusts and dinosaurs intensifies.

This is another entry in a franchise that probably should have been put to bed some time ago. However, I actually ended up enjoying this somewhat trite and unnecessary continuation more than I thought. It was fun to see the newer protagonists meet the main cast from the earlier movies. There seemed to be quite of story to go around for everyone. The action scenes were pretty compelling. There were some moments that I was on the edge of my seat. Of course, all of the main casts are pretty experienced now. There were some pretty good quips peppered throughout the movie. The visual effects were unsurprisingly convincing.

It doesn’t fall into any category of greatness, but I was reasonably satisfied when the ending credits started rolling. It was fun even if some of it seemed to drag at times. The charisma of the main cast was formidable enough for me to forgive the flaws.

Film Review: Outnumbered On The Frontier

Terror on the Prairie is a western film just released by The Daily Wire. It was written by Josiah Nelson and directed by Michael Polish. Gina Carano is in the lead role as Hattie McAllister, a woman besieged by outlaws who have a score to settle with her husband. The cast includes Nick Searcy, Gabriel-Kane Day Lewis, and Tyler Fischer.

Hattie’s husband has gone to town leaving her alone with her two children. In his absence, four men show up seeking some water and a bi of hospitality. Hattie soon figures out that their manners is a front for more sinister motives. A stand-off has begun, and Hattie has to use grit and ingenuity that she did not know she possessed to keep her and her children alive.

This turned out to be pretty good for something with a limited budget. Searcy steals the show here as the vengeful Captain Miller. Carano does well carrying the film. There does seem to be an unbelievable amount of poor aim at times. There are some moments where the film drags, however it still managed to keep my attention. The acting from the cast was pretty solid. Some were better than others at times, but Carano and Searcy stayed pretty strong in their respective performances. It’s a simple story in the vein of many films of this genre. I doubt it quite hits the caliber of the classic westerns, but it ended up being solidly entertaining. The production team should be proud of the final product.

Book Review: Matthew Scudder’s Odd Choice Of Friends

Time to Murder and Create is a crime novel written by Lawrence Block and was first published in 1976. It features one of Block’s best known protagonists, Matthew Scudder.

Scudder is a former NYPD officer who left the force after an unfortunate shooting which took the life the of a young girl. He is sort of a freelance private eye who scrapes by on doing paid favors for others. He is acquainted with an informer who turned his rather sketchy interests to blackmail. Jake Jablon is also known as the Spinner due to a singular habit of spinning a quarter on a tabletop during conversations. The Spinner is a rather shady sort with something resembling a conscience, so when his body is fished out of the river with a crushed skull, Scudder feels a sense of obligation to find out how that happened. Scudder was also given an envelope that contained details of his blackmail targets.

This was a fairly short novel, but Block packs a lot in there. All of the characters end up being complicated in some ways. Block does a great job keeping a reader hooked in this one. It really felt like the quintessential detective story with the best elements of the genre.

Next up, Stephen King will unlock the secrets of The Institute.

Doctor Who Audio Review: The Hodiac Is On The Hunt

Mind of the Hodiac is a Doctor Who audio play from Big Finish Productions and is the latest entry into the range known The Lost Stories. Russell T. Davies, the first producer in the revived television series had written this script back in the 1980’s and rediscovered. Scott Handcock did the completion and adaptation as well as serving as director. Colin Baker and Bonnie Landford are reunited as the Sixth Doctor and Melanie Bush. Laurie Kynastan plays the obsessive and dangerous psychic villain known as the Hodiac. The guest cast is quite lengthy, but it includes Richard Clifford, Annette Badland, Loreece Harrison, and T’Nia Miller.

The Doctor and Mel have to contend with the TARDIS being thrown off course and drawn to an unintended destination yet again. They learn of the Hodiac attempting to hire mercenaries to find a lost love or something like that. His obsession also manifests in psychic disturbances bedeviling a family on Earth. The Hodiac also has some familiarity with the Doctor and his coat.

I have to admit that I had some trouble staying interested in this one. It seems forever before the Doctor actually gets involved in much of anything significant. Davies is know for somewhat complicated storylines and relationships, however this tendency does not work out quite so well in audio format. At least, not for this particular story. The performances are fine, but even Baker and Langford could not really save the story itself. Davies still displays some writing talent. It’s impressive that he was a teenager at the time he first conceived of the idea, however the actual presentation is somewhat lacking. It is an episode that I will likely try again, but the first listening experience is not something that I found terribly impressive.

Film Review: Is Nothing After Beth?

The Night House is a supernatural thriller written by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski and directed by David Bruckner. Rebecca Hall is in the lead role with some support from cast members Sarah Goldberg, Evan Jonigkeit, Stacy Martin, and Vondie Curtis-Hall.

Beth is grieving the loss of her husband, who took his own life recently. She is still living in the lake house that was built by Owen, the deceased groom. It doesn’t take long for the spooky dreams to start. There also seems to be some kind of poltergeist shenanigans. The mysterious presence is apparently leading Beth to some long hidden secrets kept by the late husband.

This turned out to be fairly effective at giving me the chills at times. Hall gives a pretty compelling performance here. The expression of her grief and confusion kind of goes all over the place. It’s a little hard to predict her reactions to the various strange occurrences going on around her. The film does well enough to keep one guessing as to what led to Owen’s tragic decision. I did have some difficulty understanding the disembodied voice at times. Whatever voice modulation effect the technical wizards used was not all that conducive to making the spirit easily heard by everyone. That seems to be the only major distraction to my enjoyment of the film.

This is one of the better horror flicks I have seen in some time, and Rebecca Hall seems to be a consistently solid and interesting casting choice. The title of this little blog will make more sense to those who actually see the film and pay attention.

Book Review: Donald Harvey Has A Nazi To Find

Deathwatch Beetle is a thriller that takes place just a few years after the Second World War and is written by David E. Huntley. This is a self-published novel first released in 2012. An executive named Donald Harvey is brought into an operation that is being conducted by both the American CIA and the British Secret Service to locate an escaped high level Nazi. He basically becomes a freelance operative and travels between three continents to find this Nazi and is being shadowed by an assassin known as the Falcon.

There is no question that Huntley knows his history even though this particular piece is a fictional one. The problem is that nothing really popped here. I didn’t find the main characters all that interesting. There was some action peppered here and there, but it feels like a long time between those sequences. There seem to be a lot of long briefings and meetings, which are likely to happen in real life, but really slows the pace when the author claims to be writing a thriller. I do not know Huntley’s history all that well, but I imagine he has published a lot of essays or other books about this period in history, which is great. His biographical summary at the back of the book would indicate he would be a fascinating guy to meet at a dinner party or charity event. I think his writing talent probably doesn’t translate all that well to writing a thriller.

This is not to say that one shouldn’t check out his history or attend a speech from Mr. Huntley, but his apparent only foray into the realm of fiction turned out to be a struggle to stay engaged with the story. He is a man of significant accomplishments and knowledge, but he could stand to put a few more thrills into his thriller.

Well, I have a few more books to read before my time expires on this Earth…whenever that will be. Anyway, the next literary diversion will be another crime novel by a writer who is quite well regarded in the genre when I peruse the pages of Time to Murder and Create by Lawrence Block.

Doctor Who Audio Review: The Master, A Witch, And The Doctor

Solo is a Doctor Who audio boxset with two adventures starring Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor. There are two stories directed by Nicholas Briggs and released by Big Finish Productions.

Blood of the Time Lords is written by Timothy X. Atack. James Dreyfus plays an early incarnation of the Master, which sort of messes with the continuity of the series, however he is sounds even more vicious than some of the known iterations of the character. He’s pretty compelling, so I won’t be too annoyed by his inclusion in this story. The guest cast includes Emma Noakes, Annette Badland, Jane Slavin, and Christopher Naylor. This Doctor attempts to return a powerful book from Gallifrey. The Doctor decides to take it to an old friend who is posted at some mysterious Time Lord base on the moon of Gallifrey known as the Recusary. As usual, there is trouble afoot, and the Master is back to challenge the Doctor’s good intentions. This turned out to be pretty engaging once the deaths started. The performances of Tom Baker and James Dreyfus really engage the listener. Quite a few familiar voices to Big Finish listeners in this one. Slavin seems to have become a favorite in recent years, and that is nothing to complain about. It was kind of fun revisiting Gallifrey without quite the Doctor getting there. Atack gives the audience a pretty good kickoff here, but Tom Baker continues to impress with his participation even though he is closing on ninety years old.

The second story is The Ravencliff Witch written by David Llewellyn. Nerys Hughes, Lucy Pickles, Richard Earl, Deli Segal, Trevor Cooper, and Nicholas Briggs make up the guest cast. The TARDIS once again finds another English coastal village besieged by what appears to be curse. The Doctor is intrigued by a recently constructed power station, and of course a spectral woman is lurking around the beach. This turned out to have some familiar elements seen in the series before, but Llewellyn manages to spin a pretty good yarn. Of course much of the enjoyment stems from Tom Baker’s boisterous enthusiasm which is still impressive in spite of his approach to his ninth decade. These kind of settings just tend to work well for the series when not overused.

This set takes place just before the Doctor meets Leela. Both stories deliver the goods here. I think I prefer the second one but not by much. I rather like the notion of this Doctor traveling alone for a bit. Not that I would not miss the other known companions. I like Leela, Romana, and the return of Sarah Jane Smith, now played by Elisabeth’s daughter. Tom Baker likely does not have long on this side of existence, so I hope Big Finish is able to record as much as they can with him for however long he is healthy and enthusiastic enough to participate.

Doctor Who Audio Review: Hunters, Curses, And Monsters

Lost Warriors is a Doctor Who audio boxset from Big Finish Productions and stars Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor. There are three episodes all directed by Barnaby Edwards.

James Kettle kicks off the set with The Hunting Season. The guest cast is made up of Alex Jennings, Allegra Marland, Tilly Steele, Don Gilet, and Annette Badland. The Doctor lands in an estate that is besieged by alien hunters. He meets both the owners and the staff below the stairs. The Doctor learns the hunting party are after a fugitive which could mean that someone in the manor is not they appear to be. The episode has a bit of a slow start for me, but the second half gets better as identities are revealed. Eccleston still sounds fantastic since his return to the role. Kettle doesn’t exactly overwhelm me with excitement with this effort, but I consider it a solid start to a promising idea.

The Curse of Lady MacBeth is written by Lizzie Hopley. Neve McIntosh, Anthony Howell, David Rintoul, Maggie Service, and Lucy Goldie join Eccleston and deliver their own vocal talents. The Doctor is brought to Scotland where he encounters the queen who William Shakespeare based his Lady MacBeth in the eleventh century. There is also an alien presence which may need the Doctor’s help or his life. This may need to another listen, but there is not much I found all that memorable in this episode. It was fine for the most part, I suppose.

Finally, John Dorney closes it out with Monsters in Metropolis where the Doctor meets a far more familiar adversary. The guest cast is comprised of Nick Wilton, Helen Goldwyn, Peter Bankole, Nicholas Briggs, and Raj Ghatak. In Berlin 1927, an iconic film is being made, and a lone Cyberman has been cast. This was a strong finish here. There is some history, murder, betrayal, and an old rivalry that takes an odd turn. Unlike the middle story, this one remains quite memorable. The guest cast were all solid, but I thought Helen Goldwyn in the role of Anna Dreyfus sort of stood out. She and Eccleston seemed to have a rather nice rapport throughout the play. The classic silent film, Metropolis, is the backdrop here. There is an impressive sense of foreboding as the Doctor knows that the persecution of the Jewish people is about to hit catastrophic levels. Dorney really gives a solid concluding story here.

Overall, I enjoyed the set as expected. Eccleston hasn’t really lost a step in is portrayal of the Ninth Doctor. The cast and post production work are as top notch as expected. Not every episode hits the mark, but most of the set does.

Book Review: Return To Baskerville Hall

James Lovegrove returns to the shadows and menace of Victorian England and presents another case for Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson as they unravel the mystery of The Beast of the Stapletons.

An old friend of Sir Henry Baskerville’s shows up at 221 B Baker Street. It has been five years since Holmes and Watson faced the dangers of Dartmoor in The Hound of the Baskervilles. Sir Henry had gotten married and produced an heir, enjoying some happiness in his life after a terrifying start to his migration from North America. The wife has recently been found dead with her blood drained. A giant moth-like creature is seen hovering over the lands. Sir Henry has slipped into madness. Watson is hesitant to return to the fray back in Dartmoor, so Holmes is accompanied by an untried assistant. I will just say that Watson does join in the action a bit later, so don’t judge him too harshly here.

I usually am not overly find of these pastiche writers revisiting Arthur Conan Doyle’s previous writing. I also get a little worn out with Holmes getting wrapped up with apparent supernatural situations. This story actually has most of the elements I tend to criticize in these latest Holmes stories, however Lovegrove somehow miraculously managed to make me enjoy this contribution this time.

Many familiar characters from Doyle’s original novel return, but the story still manages to feel pretty new. I am not sure if a giant moth is the creature I would have chosen to be the latest menace bedeviling Sir Henry, but it ends up making a sort of sense when one remembers that the villain from the original story was a naturalist and studied butterflies and moths.

Lovegrove pulled off some interesting twists in this latest mystery. Holmes is quite at his best when it coms to his deductive powers. I don’t know if I would go so far to say that it felt just like Doyle wrote this one himself as one of those review blurbs state, but I do know that I ended up finding more enjoyment than I expected.

Next up is a novel written by a self-published author named David E. Huntley. Huntley gives us a glimpse of the early days of the Cold War in Deathwatch Beetle.