Film Review: Magic And Murder In Soho

Last Night in Soho is a supernatural thriller directed by Edgar Wright. Wright also co-wrote the script with Krysty Wilson-Cairns. Thomasin McKenzie stars in the lead role, Eloise Turner, alongside an impressive cast which includes Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Terence Stamp, and the now deceased Diana Rigg.

Eloise, or Ellie, as she prefers to be called, is a shy young woman about to make a big move from her comfortable English village where she has lived with her grandmother. Her mother had died by suicide after some significant mental health issues. Ellie is not entirely free of the affliction and has hallucinations of her mother. Ellie is determined to make her mark as a fashion designer after attending school in London. Of course, the fast paced life of London and her new social situation requires some adjustment. When Ellie moves out of the dormitory and into her new apartment, she finds a conduit to Soho in the 1960’s where she encounters an aspiring singer named Sandie and is able to observe her journey without being able to interact directly. Ellie doesn’t understand how she was able to enter this life, but she enjoys the ride at first. Then, Sandie meets Jack who makes promises of getting her foot in the door to the stage. Well, Sandie’s path to stardom gets detoured drastically as Jack proves himself to be less than noble as her manager. Then the detour becomes a bloody mess, and Ellie finds the nightmares of the past intruding on her present day reality.

This is actually a pretty good movie. It is not without some flaws, however it delivers on the suspense. I am not all that familiar with Thomasin McKenzie, however she does put forth a compelling, sympathetic performance. Taylor-Joy is an actress with whom I have recently become familiar, so I already suspected she would be compelling. Matt Smith plays the charming yet duplicitous Jack and is very different from his more benevolent previous role on Doctor Who. I have very little criticism of the actual performances. Most of the writing was fairly believable in spite of the supernatural aspects of the story. There are a few knots to unravel in the story. There is a mistaken identity issue that I think should have been easier for Ellie to figure out. She seems to drop the ball on asking the most obvious questions of Stamp’s creepy old guy lurking around the alleys and pubs of present day Soho, so that was a little distracting. The setting was greatly realized. It was a bittersweet moment to recognize Rigg in what seems to be her final role before her recent demise.

Behind the more fantastical plot elements, there is a pretty decent effort to deal with the difficult subject matter of mental health issues. McKenzie really does well with avoiding any of the more cartoonish portrayals of someone whose sanity is unraveling.

This movie does not manage to reach the heights of a masterpiece, but it does hit the mark of being solidly thrilling and entertaining, and that has been an increasingly difficult target for Hollywood to hit these days.

Book Review: A New Doctor Meets An Old Ace

At Childhood’s End is a Doctor Who novel written by Sophie Aldred, who had played the Seventh Doctor’s companion, Ace. Ace is a few decades older and runs some kind of global charity organization. She also has resumed using her real name, Dorothy McShane. An alien satellite has entered the moon’s orbit, and Ace is compelled to investigate. When an old friend gets to the satellite, she sees a familiar blue police box belonging to an unfamiliar woman and her three companions. The Doctor has changed more drastically than usual, but Ace remembers her previous incarnation’s tendency to duplicitous scheming. Basically, they have some things to work out and some fences to mend.

Ace meets the current Doctor, who is currently being played by Jodie Whittaker. She has some friends of her own, and they all work with Graham, Ryan, and Yaz to help head off this latest alien incursion. The Doctor and Ace find themselves caught in a familiar war between two species they had encountered before. The previous involvement with this war is what led to their separation. Although the parting of the ways between this two has had several interpretations between previous novels and the audio plays.

This novel was kind of interesting, but I am always interested in Doctor Who even if the current direction stirs little excitement. Aldred turns out to not be a bad writer. She isn’t the most talented of scribes either, but she is writing Doctor Who, so there is a risk of judging her too harshly. The novel was fairly entertaining but not that memorable.

Next up, Sherlock Holmes is quite a bit older, but that doesn’t keep entirely out of involvement in the The Great War by Simon Guerrier.

Doctor Who Audio Review: A Different Sort Of Watcher

Watchers is the second Doctor Who audio novel from Big Finish Productions. Matthew Waterhouse has written this tale and also narrates the whole seven hours. Nicholas Briggs returns to voice the Daleks. Nigel Fairs is the director. It takes place just after the Doctor and Adric encounter the Master on Traken and is very near to the end of the Fourth Doctor’s era.

The Doctor and Adric are trapped in the time vortex with other ships where desperate alien castaways fight to escape. There is a Time Lord known as a Watcher. She has a companion of her own. The Daleks also arrive to further complicate matters.

Waterhouse played Adric about four decades ago and has reprised the role for Big Finish several times in recent years. He has also displayed some talent in writing. I had a little trouble getting tuned in the first half, however I started being able to better piece it together as the story unfolded. Waterhouse is a capable narrator and makes a pretty good stab emulating Tom Baker’s distinctive baritone. Obviously, it isn’t a masterful impression, but it isn’t too distracting. The Fourth Doctor’s regeneration was the most intriguing considering it was preceded by the presence of a ghostly figure turning up throughout his farewell episode all those years ago. This story explores the origins of the Doctor’s most unusual transformation and manages to spark the imagination.

This may be one that I will enjoy better when I give it a second run, but I still liked it well enough to know I will want to give it another go.

Book Review: Off The Grid With The Allbrights

The Great Alone is a novel written by Kristin Hannah. The story begins in 1974. Ernt Allbright is a former POW during the Vietnam War. He cannot seem to catch a break until he receives word of an inherited land in Alaska. He takes his wife and daughter into the untamed wilderness where he encounters a small community of outcasts. The family is ill-prepared for the harshest of winters. The story is told largely from the perspective of Leni Allbright, the teen-age daughter. She notices her father’s grip on his sanity loosening. She certainly is finding it harder to overlook the beatings her mother takes when Ernt’s anger consumes him. As Leni gets older and becomes more attached to the community, her father becomes more irrational and dangerous.

Hannah has proven herself to be a formidable researcher and compelling writer. It’s a fairly lengthy work, but Hannah was able to keep me engaged with some intriguing characters and an ever increasing tension within the Allbright family. Not only has Hannah shown her diligence when it comes to her presentation of Alaskan culture, she also seems to understand the complexities of domestic violence as well. Cora Allbright, the much suffering wife and mother, somehow manages to be very misguided and yet understandably so as she attempts to protect her daughter from Ernt’s darker impulses. Of course, no fictional community is complete without a brash, wise black woman serving as mentor and protector, and Large Marge fits that bill quite nicely. Hannah creates quite a collection of supporting characters wanting to do more to help the female Allbrights, but circumstances force them to stand by as Ernt’s sanity and humanity slip away into the darkness of Alaska’s wilderness.

There are not many wrong notes to be found in this one. It can seem a little long at times, but Hannah gets the pacing mostly right. Hannah manages to pull off a few surprises in the story. There are some elements that seem a bit fanciful, but the story never veers too far off the road of believability. I am not too keen on the idea of roughing it like the Allbrights initially do at the beginning, but Hannah’s description of the wilds of Alaska does stoke the imagination and the desire to see the place for myself one day.

Sophie Aldred has proven herself to be an effective actress and is best known as Ace, companion of the Seventh Doctor. She takes on the role of Doctor Who novelist with At Childhood’s End.

Film Review: Dr. Fox Needs To Get Out More

The Woman in the Window is a thriller directed by Joe Wright. The screenplay was written by Tracy Letts. It is based on a novel by A.J. Finn. Amy Adams, Gary Oldman, Julianne Moore, and Jennifer Jason Leigh are included in the cast.

Adams plays an agoraphobic child psychologist named Anna Fox. Dr. Fox never leaves her house, watches old movies, and probably drinks more than she should. A new family moves across the street, and she meets who she believes is the wife one night. She also has gotten to know the troubled teenager named Ethan. While looking out her window one night, she sees her new friend stabbed at the house, however her medications have been known to cause hallucinations. Her mental health is on shaky ground after her apparent separation from her husband and daughter. The woman who is later presented as the wife of the man across the street is not the same one who spent an evening with her as a new friend. It all gets very confusing for poor Anna, and the audience gets to find out a few secrets she has of her own.

The film was not as bad as I have heard. Of course, I had read the novel not all that long ago, and the film stayed fairly close to it. The performances were pretty solid. Of course, with talent like Adams and Oldman, one should not expect anything less. Somehow, the film still falls short of being anything special. Basically, the book remains the better option. The film has taken some poor reviews by the pros, and some of it is deserved. It’s a mediocre cinematic experience, but mediocre is still not terrible.

Doctor Who Audio Review: A Planet Of Ghosts

Ghosts is a Doctor Who audio play from Big Finish Productions written by Jonathan Morris and directed by Nicholas Briggs. David Tennant and Alex Kingston reunite as the Doctor and River Song. The guest cast is made up of Tim Bentinick, Mina Anwar, Emma Swan, and Sam Benjamin.

The Doctor meets up with River Song on a planet known for its population of ghosts. Even the ghosts are disappearing, and a strange mist seems to be responsible. They meet other survivors who are also being pursued by the mist, and the pair of travelers find that there is a deeper truth to be uncovered that could have them question of the nature of their existence.

This turned out to have some interesting twists. The banter between the Doctor and River Song remains as quick and amusing as ever. There are some moments that evoke the appropriate sense of the spooks. It’s a strange yet solidly entertaining episode.

Book Review: Sheriff Brady’s Daughter Brings A Case

Missing and Endangered is a recent mystery novel written by J.A. Jance and features Sheriff Joanna Brady of Cochise County, Arizona.

Joanna Brady has been married to her second husband for a while and has two young children while her oldest daughter has just started college. She is facing staff shortages and budget concerns in her department. She is happy at home despite the recent death of her mother and step-father. but there are plenty of other pressures of her job that keep her on edge. Her professional and personal lives crash together here. One of her deputies is seriously wounded in a shoot-out. Two young children may be in danger from their unstable mother who may have been plotting a murder. Jennifer Brady has a very young roommate who has fallen victim to a very dangerous cyber predator. Although she has picked up some of her mother’s courage and fierce protectiveness, she is sharp enough to know that she is going to need some help from the elder Brady.

It is interesting to have some of the spotlight on the sheriff’s daughter. All of the regulars remain as likeable as ever. The readers may be saying good-bye to one of the more stalwart of supporting character. I have enjoyed seeing Joanna Brady grow into the profession that was somewhat thrust upon her after the murder of her first husband. She has a somewhat complicated blended family these days, but Jance makes it work since she has such likeable yet authentic characters. There are times when things seem to work out a little too pat in this series, but it’s nice to see some growth in the characters. Many times, writers put through protagonists through all manner of hellish situations, however Jance likes to share some joy with her readers as well.

I liked that there were essentially two plotlines to follow, and Joanna ended up being important to both. This was no literary masterpiece, however it provided a solidly enjoyable diversion.

Moving on from the perils of Arizona, the next reading indulgence will take place in the wilds of Alaska with Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone.

Doctor Who Audio Review: Two More Adventures For Three

The Third Doctor Adventures Volume 8 contains two more episodes featuring the Third Doctor as performed by Tim Treloar. Of course, he does his best to sound like the late Jon Pertwee and succeeds for the most part. The set was directed by Nicholas Briggs, one of the executive producers at Big Finish Productions.

Katy Manning reprises her role of Jo Grant in Conspiracy in Space written by Alan Barnes. Sam Stafford, Imogen Church, Barnaby Edwards, Aurora Burghart, and Issy Van Randwyck make up the guest cast. This a sequel to the television serial entitled Frontier In Space. The Draconians are back. Twenty years before the Doctor and Jo encountered them the first time, they find themselves caught up in another attempt to stir up a war between the Draconians and humans. There are rumors of some kind of super weapon and a mysterious group known as The Eyes complicating the Doctor’s efforts to intervene for the sake of peace in the galaxy.

This story is pretty average. I am not a huge fan of the television serial from which this follows. Treloar and Manning continue to hone their performances together. I just found much of this to be more repetitive. There also seemed to be some odd editing choices when it came to transitioning through the three cliffhangers. There were times when I wasn’t sure the sequence of events came across all that clearly. I think I was bothered by the television serial by the Doctor and Jo constantly moving from one period of captivity to another through the whole escapade. This revisitation isn’t quite that obnoxious, but it just didn’t have enough to make me reconsider my reservations about its preceding story.

Fortunately, The Devil’s Hoofprints by Robert Valentine was a much more appealing addition. Treloar is paired with Sadie Miller, who is resurrecting her mother’s role of Sarah Jane Smith. Miller doesn’t always sound just like her mother, Elisabeth Sladen, however she gets close enough for me to not be too distracted by the differences. Jon Culshaw returns to stand in for the late Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. The guest cast for this one is comprised of Barnaby Kay, Robert Daws, Derek Griffiths, Carolyn Seymour, and Nicholas Briggs, who is providing the snarls and growls of some creature known as the Icewalker. Okay, I am not sure about calling some alien an Icewalker, but most of the other elements in this story work well. Kay plays a scientist known as Chilton who has already met the Doctor a century or so before, however the Time Lord has yet to meet him. The Doctor’s examination of a new scientific center gets a bit more harrowing as he and Sarah have to travel back to 1855 during a time when a strange phenomenon in the snow caused some superstitious panic. The Doctor then discovers how Chilton knew him in the future. The Brigadier has his own battle for survival as he tries to avoid the crosshairs of a skilled alien hunter throughout the compound.

The Brigadier gets to be pretty much an action hero, which actually comes off rather well. The legend of the Devil’s Hoofprints is actually a real piece of British folklore. Kay plays the main villain and is actually rather compelling. This particular drama ends up coming out rather well. There is enough originality in the story without deviating from the feel of this era.

The two episodes did give me a very mixed reaction to it. Even though I may have a harsher opinion of the first episode, it still has some merit. I was actually rather mixed on the Third Doctor’s era on television as well. I was not a fan of the idea of confining the Doctor to at the time of broadcast would have been present day Earth. I am rather pleased that Big Finish seems to be working around some of that and having more adventures where this Doctor gets to explore other times and civilizations. I commend Big Finish for having the courage to explore this old era with some new talent. Jon Pertwee himself is what keeps me wanting to watch the Third Doctor era in spite of my reservations about some of the production decisions at the time. Treloar’s homage to his legacy is more than adequate for me to appreciate new stories with this particular incarnation. The work that goes into the casting and the post production effects seems to be getting better and better. Even if I have a few curmudgeonly thoughts about this release, no regrets here with the purchase.

Doctor Who Audio Review: A Peaceful War Is About to Heat Up

The Well-Mannered War is a Doctor Who audio play. John Dorney has adapted a novel written by Gareth Roberts. Ken Bentley is in the director’s seat. Tom Baker, Lalla Ward, and John Leeson reunite again as the Doctor, Romana, and K9. The guest cast includes John Banks, Jane Slavin, Russell Bentley, Michael Troughton, and a brief appearance by David Troughton as the Black Guardian

The TARDIS brings the Doctor and his companions to a planet known as Barclow where a war is being fought without a shot being fired. There is a presence that is going to escalate the matter into something a good deal more lethal. K9 goes into politics, which is a rather amusing turn. Romana and the Doctor are separated and working to prevent disaster from opposite sides.

This is a rather strange adventure in some ways even for Doctor Who but is worthy of attention. Tom Baker maintains a stellar performance here. The idea of K9 running for office is pretty amusing, and Leeson seems to enjoy the twist even while playing a robot. Lalla Ward maintains her elegant uppity demeanor as Romana. The whole main cast performs with their usual charming chemistry. It has been a while since I read the original novel, but it feels like the producers were pretty faithful to it. In spite of my enjoyment of this production, it still does not appear to be that special. In spite of how well the fundamental elements come together in this episode, it can still be a little hard to follow.

Its still by no means a waste of time to give this one a listen, and reading the original novel may be a better way to follow the tale.

Doctor Who Audio Review: The Doctor Makes A Trade

Damaged Goods is a Doctor Who audio play from Big Finish Productions and is adapted by Jonathan Morris from a novel written several years ago by one Russell T. Davies. Davies was of course the executive producer behind the resurrection of the television series in 2005. Ken Bentley serves as director for this play which stars Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor. Travis Oliver and Yasmin Bannerman are cast as companions, Chris Cwej and Roz Forrester. The guest cast includes Peter Barrett, Denise Black, Tayler Marshall, and Robert Duncan.

A young girl witnesses a mysterious meeting between her mother, a very tall menacing figure, and a smaller man in a cream jacket carrying a distinctive umbrella. In London 1987, a dangerous new narcotic is tightening its grip on a community. The Doctor and his friends encounter a local gang that is connected to an alien presence. A young boy with unusual powers is also at the center of a dangerous bargain that appears to be at the behest of the Doctor, however he has no memory of that night.

The cast is well chosen as usual. McCoy is quite enthusiastic and compelling. I have a hard time getting that enthralled with Cwej and Forrester. Those characters seemed much more interesting in the novels. It’s not really the fault of the actors. McCoy’s performance is as compelling as ever though. I guess I wasn’t into this particular story as some of my fellow Whovians. There is little else to say here, so I will just move along.