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.

Book Review: A Train Ride And A Murderous Proposal

Strangers on a Train: A Novel by [Patricia Highsmith, Paula Hawkins]

Strangers on a Train is a suspense novel by Patricia Highsmith that was written in 1950. It was adapted for the silver screen by Alfred Hitchcock the following year. After reading the novel, I was rather surprised with the liberties Hitchcock took with the material in the screen version. Well, this little entry concerns just the book, so I will get to it.

A young architect is on a train to meet with his estranged wife to see if he can finalize his divorce. Another passenger sits down in his compartment an strikes up a conversation. The second fellow has some resentment of his father he wants to discuss. During this unexpected encounter, Charles Bruno offers the suggestion that he and Guy Haines exchange murders. Since the motive would remain rather murky, the murders should remain unsolved. Haines has a few more scruples than Bruno, however shaking his persistent fellow passenger becomes a bit harder than he anticipated.

The plot is a rather fascinating concept. There is an intriguing character study in the midst of the convoluted prose. I get that the prose styles in the mid-twentieth century were a bit different than what modern readers would expect, however this one was a little more challenging to stay involved. Highsmith seems more fond of long exposition than I even expected for that era. She does not seem to adhere to the maxim of “show, don’t tell”.

Highsmith is not without talent though. There is a rather distinctive flow to her writing style, but there are times where the story dragged and getting through some of her chapters was more of a chore than I preferred.

The experience was not without some merit. Train rides still tend to be intriguing settings for mayhem and menacing encounters. There wasn’t much actual mayhem on the train, but the encounter was menacing enough.

Anyway, I had some trouble staying focused due to the lengthy pages of unnecessary exposition, but I can still see why there is some affection from other fans for this work. This also may not be the only time I wade into the depths of Highsmith’s imagination.

Well, I will next return to the lodgings of 221 B Baker Street in Victorian London where James Lovegrove’s The Christmas Demon awaits the attention of Sherlock Holmes.

Film Review: A Black Widow Comes Home

Marvel shares new 'Black Widow' trailer ahead of July release date

Black Widow is the latest offering from Marvel Studios starring Scarlett Johansson in the lead role. Black Widow usually runs with a little group of super-powered buddies known as the Avengers, but in this one she is out on her own being reunited with her fake family comprised of Russian spies who had their own super powers or fighting chops. Jac Shaeffer and Ned Benson are the pair who came up with the story, however Eric Pearson actually wrote the screenplay. It then fell to Cate Shortland to actually the direct the film. Johansson is then joined by Florence Pugh, David Harbour, Rahas chel Weisz, Ray Winstone, Olga Kurylenko, and William Hurt onscreen. There are some other people involved, but I think I hit the significant ones in my little post.

So this is a flashback story set around the time of Avengers: Civil War and Infinity War. The Avengers have been scattered, and Natasha Romanoff is on the run. The film starts off with her as a kid living with a supposed sister and parents in Ohio, however they were actually Russian operatives who have been found out. They have to make their escape which leads to Natasha being pressganged by the Russian into becoming a hot assassin known as a Black Widow. It turns out that she was just one of a good number of killer babes sent out by the Russians to get some killing done. After a rather harrowing and implausible prologue, the audience catches up with the Johansson version of Natasha who is on the run from the government, who has sent a bunch of burly troops led by Thaddeus Ross, the secretary of state, who looks amazingly like William Hurt, the actor who is cast in the role. She then receives a message from her fake sister, played by Florence Pugh, along with vials of a substance known as Red Dust, which is the antidote to the mind control drugs that are used on the Black Widows to better keep them loyal to the demands of Russian agendas. Once the “sisters” are together again, they find that they need the assistance of their “parents”, played by Harbour and Weisz. Apparently, Harbour’s Alexi Shostakov is also the Russian knock-off of Captain America known as the Red Guardian. Also, Black Widow has a crazy fully armored opponent on her trail. This thing is known as Taskmaster, and it has the ability to mirror the fighting style of an opponent and use it right back against them. Anyway, the whole story then shifts to the bigger mission of destroying the training ground and headquarters of the Black Widows known as the Red Room and the mastermind of it all, General Dreykov.

Now that I made the plot recap probably so unnecessarily long, I can now share some thoughts and impressions about this little cinematic experience. Since Black Widow did not survive the previous Avenger outing, the fact that her fate is known after this film is a bit of a letdown in some ways. The movie could have been more intriguing if it felt more like a continuation of Black Widow’s story rather than merely an opportunity to have her headline her own solo venture. Saying that, there were some things the producers got right. The chemistry between Johansson and Pugh felt pretty genuine. I rather liked Pugh’s Yelena Belova and the ribbing she would give Natasha for the fighting poses and other idiosyncrasies. Once the “family” was together, there were some pretty amusing scenes. Marvel movies do have their fair share of comedic moments, and this one did provide some reason for me to let out a few snickers. The Russian accents seemed to work well enough for me, but I am no expert in such matters.

Basically, the movies placement in the whole MCU canon seems a little problematic, but I may just have a bias about doing movies about characters who we have already seen die onscreen. The cast members all seem pretty solid in their performances. The casting director did their job well enough. There were some pretty decent one-liners to break up the overload of action sequences. The implausible fight scenes were entertaining. They were also ridiculous, but this is a comic book movie so that will have to be forgiven within reason.

Overall, I do not consider a major waste of time to see this film. It may just be a minor waste of time. There were a few elements that worked quite well. The humor and the performances were pretty good, but as mentioned before, once I have seen an onscreen death of a character, my enjoyment of subsequent appearances is just a bit tainted. I am doubtful I will consider this entry into the MCU franchise to be the most memorable.

Book Review: Keep Your Eyes And Ears Open When Visiting The Charlesgate

Charlesgate Confidential is a crime novel by Scott Von Doviak and was released by Hard Case Crime. So this took me a little bit of patience to start to enjoy, but ultimately I ended up being pretty impressed. The story covers three different eras and centers on the Charlesgate Hotel in Boston. It also draws upon an actual art heist that occurred as inspiration. Keep in mind that the author has taken quite a bit of liberties here with the actual crime.

In 1946, a poker game is held up which leads to the planning of a major heist from an art museum. Although the paintings are actually stolen, not much else goes to plan.

Forty years later, a journalism student encounters a parolee who leads him on a search for the still missing artwork.

Then in 2014, a seemingly random murder at the Charlesgate has a Boston police detective wrapped in the legacy of the initial robbery which puts his career in jepoardy.

The chapters alternate between the three time periods, so it could be a little difficult to keep in mind where a certain group of characters were left off. The chapters were fairly short so it was not that difficult to follow the story.

The actual art robbery from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum occurred in 1990. The Charlesgate various incarnations from stylish hotel, college dorms, and now a condo actually occurred. Of course, Boston, Massachusetts is a real place, but I think everyone knows that.

Von Duviak is generally a pretty straight-forward writer, but he does show a rather fertile imagination in the relating of this tale. He of course offers an afterward that explains some of the actual history of this crime, which is nice to have.

I believe that this is Von Duviak’s first novel. I am hesitant to say that he hit it out of the park, however he does score a significant hit. My enjoyment had to increase gradually, but I got there in time to want to finish it. So yeah, I would encourage any fellow crime fiction aficionados to check this novel out.

Next up on the totally improvised and endless literary journey, I will be reading a classic suspense by Patricia Highsmith and learn why I should be wary of Strangers On A Train.

Doctor Who Audio Review: Some Protocols Should Be Fought

Doctor Who: Dalek Universe - The Dalek Protocol

Dalek Universe: The Dalek Protocol is a Doctor Who audio play from Big Finish Productions that is both written and directed by Nicholas Briggs. Tom Baker, Louise Jameson, and John Leeson return as the Doctor, Leela, and K9. John Sims plays an android spy named Mark Seven. Jane Slavin returns as Anya Kingdom. The rest of the guest cast is comprised of Anna Mitcham, Jez Fields. and Nicholas Briggs. Briggs is a busy guy in this one. He is voicing the Daleks and playing two other characters, including an old friend from the classic story Death to the Daleks.

Accepting a challenge from his two companions that he can steer the TARDIS competently, the Doctor takes them to Exxilon, where he has visited before in the aforementioned classic serial which starred Jon Pertwee at that time. The Doctor finds a familiar threat has returned. There is someone else nearby who the Doctor has met before, but not yet.

I wasn’t all that impressed with the story at first. It felt like it was dragging. however Briggs rallied toward the end when he started pulling on the threads of some complex relationships between the Doctor and a couple of the main guest characters. The performances were as good as I expect from these releases. Tom Baker still sounds pretty good, although when the Doctor is tortured or something, his cries of anguish sound a bit forced. Forced in a way that does not sounds quite genuine, I mean. I guess Tom Baker isn’t all that great on faking agony when he is just on audio. Other than that, he still sounds great for a dude in his mid-eighties for the rest of it. Overall, I found my patience being tested for quite a bit while listening to this, but I found there is a pretty intriguing payoff toward the end. The story also sets up a pretty expansive saga that will be starring David Tennant a bit later.

Doctor Who Audio Review: The Doctor Needs A Big Can Of Bug Spray On This One

Doctor Who: Day of the Cockroach

Day of the Cockroach is a Doctor Who audiobook released by the BBC. Steve Lyons is the writer with Arthur Darville presenting the text.

The Doctor, Amy, and Rory emerge from the TARDIS into a tunnel where they soon find a dead body. They quickly learn that they are in a British nuclear bunker where some soldiers are sheltering from an atomic war. They then learn that it is 1982, which causes some confusion since there was no atomic war in that year. Why is there cockroaches and bug spray mentioned in this title and blog. Well, that’s because there are giant cockroaches lurking the shadows to further complicate matters.

Steve Lyons is usually an interesting contributor to Doctor Who, however this was not his best efforts. The story was not really bad, and Darville is engaging enough as a narrator. If this was a television episode, it would be in the era where Matt Smith was in the lead. Darville does well enough capturing the essence of his performance. The story was competently written, but there was not much more than that.

Doctor Who Audio Review: Tribulations and Dangerous Designs Await The Doctor

Doctor Who: The Fourth Doctor Adventures Series 10 Volume 02

The Fourth Doctor Adventures Series 10 Volume 2 is a small collection of Doctor Who audio plays starring Tom Baker and Louise Jameson as the Doctor and Leela, respectively. They are released by Big Finish Productions with both adventures directed by Nicholas Briggs.

The first story in the dock is Andrew Smith’s The Tribulations of Thadeus Nook. Brendan Murphy plays the title character, who is roguish sort who has gotten hold of his own time machine and decides to start a time touring business. The guest cast is comprised of Laura Riseborough, Keieren Bew, Georgina Hellier, Arthur Hughes, Tim Bentnick, and Christopher Naylor.

It’s not the most spectacular of episodes, however there is quite a bit of amusement to be found. The Doctor comes across someone who shares some of his more reckless tendencies and handles it with his usual charming hypocrisy. Jameson is fantastic in this one as well. Once again, the performances really make what could have been a somewhat mediocre story into something significantly more enjoyable. Smith actually is an interesting writer who has been contributing to Doctor Who since the classic television era. I am not sure this is one of his better ones, however it is still far from anyone’s worst. It’s a fun rump that is a little reminiscent of the late Douglas Adams. It’s a solidly entertaining adventure but likely not one to stand out. With as much Doctor Who as there is out there, coming up with something reasonably enjoyable is still a pretty decent accomplishment. Hopefully, it is not too long before Andrew Smith takes another run at it.

The Primeval Design by Helen Goldwyn has the Doctor and Leela meeting a rather interesting historical character known as Mary Anning in Dorset, 1830. Mary Anning was one of a very few of female paleontologists of that time. Since she is encountering the Doctor, Mary gets a little more danger than expected in her latest studies. Gigantic crocodiles are roaming the countryside and someone seems to have been engaged in some lethal experiments. Lucy Briggs-Owens, Ian Conningham, Alan David, Charlotte Bate, and Joe Sims join Tom Baker and Louise Jameson as the guest cast for this particular adventure.

Although it is pretty fun to encounter a little-known historical figure, I think I like the first story just a bit more. Sometimes, the actions were hard to visualize. The performances were solid. Once again, Big Finish demonstrates their ability to find the right people to voice these characters. Leela and the Doctor are split up which helps break any potential monotony. Leela has been written with more depth than what was seen on television, and I like that. Baker and Jameson continue to excel in their chemistry and on their own during the times when the two TARDIS occupants are separated.

Neither story is really bad, but they also are not terribly memorable. Once again, it proves that more Tom Baker and Louise Jameson are still crucial to better enjoyment of the stories.

Book Review: Everyone Has Gone Mad…Except For Douglas Murray

The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race And Identity is a rather in depth analysis of the nature of today’s political and social discourse by Douglas Murray.

Murray presents the view that the identity of those who make a particular argument has become more important than the actual point. He breaks down the debates surrounding race, gay, and transgender matters. It has been argued that it is too easy for people of differing opinions end up talking past each other instead of to each other, and Murray expresses some well documented reasons to why the current nature of political discussion has grown more toxic and unproductive.

The book discusses recent controversies that involve Kanye West expressing some support for Candace Owens, the Harvey Weinstein trial, and so much more. In fact, there is a lot more that is handled more deftly and eloquently than yours truly could manage at this time.