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.

Book Review: Jane Hawk Closes The Window

The Night Window is a thriller written by Dean Koontz and closes out the saga which features ex-FBI Jane Hawk’s fight against the Tech Arcadians, who like to infect people with nanobots and compel them to do vile, unspeakable acts against loved ones and others. After five novels, it comes to an end.

There are all kinds of chase scenes going on. A young movie director is being stalked through the winter night by a billionaire megalomaniac who is the head of the dastardly Arcadians. Jane Hawk is joined by a former colleague who has a bit of a crush on her in spite of her still being a grieving widow. Another hitman who likes to perform random acts of cruelty is on her tail. Koontz has quite a few threads running together until what is supposed to be the exciting conclusion.

I may still be reading Koontz more out of a sense of nostalgia than any significant enjoyment these days. He’s still a talented writer, but I am sort of finding too much repetition in the types of characters he presents. I like Jane Hawk, but she just seems to be another archetype strong female protagonist who is just a little too badass to be believable. Of course, this is basically a science fiction thriller, but still…I am having a hard time finding anything that unique about her for this genre.

Koontz knows how to create a sociopath, but even the various mercenaries and assassins are kind of blending together in my memories.

Overall, this novel landed a couple of notches above mediocre. There were a few moments that were pretty gripping, but I wasn’t kept riveted with any amount of consistency. I hope some of the projects Koontz are able to keep as engaged as his earlier works. Hopefully, Jane Hawk is able to live out a long, peaceful life in the fictional realm with her son, and Dean Koontz come up with something a bit more unique and thrilling in his next release.

I recently saw the movie, “The Gray Man” with Ryan Gosling and was not impressed with that, however I am still interested to actually read something in the series of novels from which it was based. Mark Greaney is the next author on tap as I learn how Relentless the Gray Man can truly be.

Doctor Who Audio Review: Reluctant Allies

Agents of Chaos is the third volume of Doctor Who audio set featuring John Hurt as the War Doctor. These continue the efforts of this once unknown incarnation of the Doctor during the chaos of the Time War. There are three episodes in this one. Nicholas Briggs continues to voice the Daleks and also directed this compilation. Jacqueline Pearce also returns as Cardinal Ollistra. Helen Goldwyn, Honeysuckle Weeks, Barnaby Edwards, Neve Mcintosh, and Dan Starkey are included in the cast. Of course, Big Finish Productions are the masterminds behind this offering which was first released in October 2016.

David Llewellyn starts off with his script entitled The Shadow Vortex. The War Doctor is sent to East Berlin in 1961 to track down a Dalek agent, however a dangerous experiment is about to have disastrous results. The War Doctor must first elude the attentions of MI6 and KGB. It’s a pretty good start, and I like the cat and mouse chase between the War Doctor and the Dalek agent known as Lara Zannis. It’s noisy and kicks off this collection cosmic war stories with a promising storyline. Of course, Hurt gives an excellent performance. I wasn’t all that keen on his introduction in the fiftieth anniversary special on television, but he has grown on me.

Andrew Smith continues the fun with The Eternity Cage in which the War Doctor has just learned that Cardinal Ollistra was just kidnapped by the Sontarans. On the planet Rovidia, The War Doctor learns the secrets of the Eternity Cage and learns of an unexpected traitor among his small group of allies. Smith has been associated with Doctor Who a long time, and he deserves to continue in that vein. The story is a little hard to picture in the mind at times, but it’s still pretty good. Weeks shines quite brightly here as the Cardinal’s assistant with a secret of her own. Dan Starkey returns to voice the Sontarans, and he once again hits the right radically militaristic notes.

Finally, Ken Bentley closes this book with Eye of Harmony. The Dalek Time Strategist has a powerful force he can unleash, and the War Doctor still has a chance to stop, but he is trapped in a damaged battle-TARDIS with time, predictably, running out.

This whole set was pretty good. The reveal of the traitor was well handled. All of the cast performed well. John Hurt continues to live up to his status as a legend. As mentioned before, I am not instinctively a big fan of the War Doctor, however Big Finish has sort of helped me raise my respect for this character. Although the War Doctor is supposedly the more ruthless of the incarnations, there are plenty of moments that have him more recognizable as the Doctor, however he does not claim that title during this time. This collection is enjoyable in spite of sometimes confusing action sequences.

Doctor Who Audio Review: From Tyre To A World Of Ghosts

The First Doctor Adventures Volume Three is a Doctor Who audio boxset released by Big Finish Productions. This is another in the range of sets featuring David Bradley’s version of the First Doctor. Since it is pointless to wish for William Hartnell to still be alive and well enough to return to the role, one will have to find some satisfaction with Bradley’s interpretation. Fortunately, Bradley is a talented fellow and does well in the role. He is joined by Claudia Grant, Jemma Powell, and Jamie Glover returning as Susan, Barbara, and Ian, respectively. There are two stories directed by Ken Bentley.

The Phoenicians is written by Marc Platt. The guest cast is comprised of Ajjaz Awad, Jo Ben Ayed, Orion Ben, Youssef Kerkour, and Raad Rawi. The Doctor and his companions arrive in ancient Tyre and encounter King Pygmalion. The king is feuding with his sister, and the TARDIS crew get split up again. The story is sort of standard for the era this represents. Platt is a solid writer though. Even if there is little new ground broken here, it’s still a fun story. The actors were all good. Bradley is pretty good as the First Doctor. The story is not the most magnificent of offerings, however it’s solidly entertaining, and it presents another piece of historical perspective seen through the eyes of our favorite time travelers.

Guy Adams is the writer of Tick-Tock World. The guest cast is comprised of Carole Ann Ford, Mina Anwar, Susie Emmett, and Belinda Lang. Ford is, of course, the original Susan, so it’s rather surprising and amusing that she is joining this new cast who represents her era of the television series. The TARDIS has disappeared, and the Doctor and company are marooned in a strange place that is between time and space. There are other survivors, and a mysterious ghost-like woman watching, waiting for a terrible prediction to come true. This was a very intriguing story from Mr. Adams. I liked this one a little more, and I enjoyed Ford’s making an appearance. It’s a somewhat strange, confusing story that works out quite well.

Both stories have plenty of merits. The performances of this particular main cast are improving with each of these releases. Of course, both writers have contributed significantly to Doctor Who over the years, and they continue to come up with impressive ideas that Big Finish effectively brings to life. This third volume of this range is a fine contribution to the vast catalog of stories.

Doctor Who Audio Review: A Few More Adventures With Charley Pollard

Charlotte Pollard: The Further Adventuress is a Doctor Who audio boxset from Big Finish Productions. Paul McGann and India Fisher are reunited to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the introduction between these characters. There are four episodes that have been directed by Ken Bentley.

Alan Barnes begins this set with The Mummy Speaks! which takes place in 1841 Paris. The Doctor and Charley Pollard attend the Carnaval de Paris and encounter a 4000-year-old mummy that speaks and participates in breaking into houses. This actually turns out to be one of the more comedic episodes. It’s a solid start to the set. McGann and Fisher demonstrate that the chemistry that charmed the fans in the early days of Big Finish is still as formidable as ever.

Lisa McMullin continues the ride with Eclipse. On a planet called Pteron, the Doctor and Charley encounter a swarm of moths that go on the attack. They learn that the Hellstrung may have a legitimate grievance against the settlers. This episode was actually quite interesting because of some interesting revelations as to what drives these creatures. There is an effectively disturbing transformation that was well presented in audio form.

Eddie Robson follows up with The Slaying of the Writhing Mass which has the Doctor and Charley getting caught up with a group of time tourists who are trying to witness an event in which a legendary cosmic entity is destroyed. They find that not everything presented in the telling is quite right. This one was a little hard to follow at times. It’s not bad, but I would probably consider this one the least enjoyable in this collection.

Finally, Nicholas Briggs returns to pen the script for Heart of Orion, which is a follow-up to another audio play entitled Sword of Orion. The Doctor and Charley learn the fate of an android ally after they respond to a distress call which brings them back to the Garazone System. They find that many people have gone missing, and their old friend may have something to do with it. This one was a strong finish to the set, which is consistent with Briggs’ accomplishments. The earlier story had the Cybermen, which Briggs chose to avoid in this one. I like the Cybermen, but I felt that Briggs made the right call on not having them involved again.

For Big Finish fans, this hits the right notes of nostalgia. India Fisher still puts in a compelling performance. Paul McGann delivers as well. There are no masterpieces in this set, but it still is quite enjoyable, largely because of the reunion between McGann and Fisher. I wouldn’t mind revisiting this particular TARDIS team further.

Book Review: The Beginning Of Coda For The Enterprise

Dayton Ward kicks off the trilogy Star Trek: Coda with Moments Asunder. Gallery Books, the latest publishing house releasing Star Trek novels, has decided to have this range come to an end since Paramount has decided to bring back Jean-Luc Picard, whose television future is quite different from the direction taken in the print version.

So, Wesley Crusher, who was last seen transforming into a trans dimensional Traveler on the television series, has returned. A mysterious alien force is threatening to destroy all sorts of realities, and Wesley returns to the Enterprise after a future version of himself has already died. Captain Picard and the crew begin their investigation and find old adversaries behind the chaos. Their discoveries don’t prevent catastrophic losses for those on board the Enterprise.

The plot sounds like an utter mess, but it actually is quite compelling. Ward really goes for the jugular when it comes to challenging one of our favorite Star Trek ensembles. I sort of question the necessity of this path for the novel range just because a new television series has launched, but Ward once again demonstrates why he has been commissioned so often to contribute to this series.

This turned out to be quite a shattering start to this trilogy, and there are still two more novels to go.

Next up, I am finishing another small series written by Dean Koontz. Jane Hawk returns for her fifth and final fight against the vast organization that is trying to control minds on a frightening level in The Night Window.

Film Review: Sister Ann Has Demons Of All Sorts To Fight

Prey for the Devil is the latest in a long line of horror films with demonic possession as the crux. Robbert Zappia wrote the script, bur he shares story credit with Earl Richey Jones and Todd R. Jones. Daniel Stamm is the director with a cast that includes Jacqueline Byars, Colin Salmon, Virgina Madsen, and Ben Cross.

Byars stars as a young nun with a troubled past who is convinced that her mother died some years before at the hands of a demon who was possessing her. The Catholic Church forbids women from learning to perform exorcisms, but Sister Ann wants to usher in a new day, especially when she meets a young girl named Natalie who seems to have the same affliction. Sister Ann ends up with a couple of unexpected allies, and she has to confront her own dark past as well as the dark forces closing in on her.

This is not a film that is going to win any awards anytime soon, however it seems to be par for the course for this genre. I actually ended up kind of sympathizing with Sister Ann a bit more than I expected. Of course, the actress being an attractive blonde doesn’t exactly deter me from sitting up and taking notice. I did find her character to have a pretty good balance of vulnerability and courage. Some of the revelations about her past were a little far-fetched for my liking, but that is also pretty standard fare for this type of film. Colin Salmon’s presence was quite welcome here. I do not know if many of my American peers would recognize him, but I have seen some of his work in England, and he was a steady presence in the James Bond films during Pierce Brosnan’s era. I actually found myself enjoying the fact that he had a significant role here, although I wish the writing was better.

The visual effects were pretty well done with the expected grotesque displays of creepy agility and unsettling stares from the possessed. There were a few moments that were effectively startling.

However, this one still doesn’t escape the disappointing sense of predictability. There were some quality cast members. Jacqueline Byars was pretty new to me, but she seemed well chosen for the lead role here.

I guess the whole twist on the genre was that the lead protagonist was a woman, but that didn’t keep me from noticing the presence of too many usual, yawn inducing tropes seen in the vast library of possession movies.

Some facets of this one I found somewhat interesting. I have no real objection to the cast, and the special effects worked well enough. Saying all of that, this is not likely to stick in my memory as any grandmaster piece of cinematic history. Colin Salmon and a pretty blonde nun just aren’t enough to turn this into anything that will makes much of an impression.

Book Review: Jack McEvoy Is Back On The Beat

Fair Warning is a suspense novel by one of the most popular crime writers of today. Michael Connelly brings back a lesser-known protagonist than Harry Bosch. Jack McEvoy is a former crime reporter who is working for a service that informs the public of dangerous products, however a new serial killer draws his attention.

McEvoy comes under the scrutiny of police detectives when a woman with whom he once has a one-night stand is murdered. He decides to look into the matter himself and finds a killer who stalks women who use a certain DNA analysis service. He is reunited with a former lover, Rachel Walling, who at one time worked for the FBI. This isn’t McEvoy’s first rodeo with a serial killer, but it could be his last. Well, it could be his last unless Connelly decides otherwise.

Jack McEvoy has some characteristics that can be admirable or exasperating, which probably makes him pretty much like everyone else. The story itself is entertaining enough, but it does seem rather far-fetched at times. There are some irritating unanswered questions by the time the novel ends. I still ended up enjoying this one, but I already have a bias in favor of Connelly.

McEvoy comes across as a dedicated and reliable reporter, but he gets obsessed pretty easily, which is probably what is supposed to make him interesting. He does tend to keep making the same mistakes when it comes to his relationship with Rachel. I do like the idea that McEvoy is in a different living and working situation. What does make McEvoy more relatable is his career track. He doesn’t remain the same position with the same news service for very long, which seems to reflect the trend of today’s workforce.

Although the plot does seem a little outlandish, Connelly does ground it with a realistic sense of the news business. He was a crime reporter himself before his fiction career took off, so that understanding being reflected in his current works does make sense.

Michael Connelly has a large following, which he deserves. I don’t know if Fair Warning is going to be favorite, but it does the job as far as being an entertaining distraction from the stresses of the real world.

I will step even further out of the real world with my next reading selection, which is the beginning of Star Trek trilogy. The first one is Coda: Moments Asunder by Dayton Ward.

Film Review: Hero Or Avenger?

Black Adam is the latest superhero film and is based on the character in DC Comics. Jaume Collet-Serra directs this film, which is written by Adam Sztykiel, Rory Haines, and Sohrab Noshirvani. Dwayne Johnson takes on the title role and is joined by a cast which includes Aldis Hodge, Marwan Kenzari, Sarah Shahi, and Pierce Brosnan.

Black Adam is brought to the modern world after a 5000 imprisonment in his homeland known as Kahndaq. He had defeated a tyrannical king, but he sort of has anger issues to go along with his devastating superpowers. Some group known as the Justice Society of America is sent in to reign in this bad tempered, supercharged brute with powers similar to a certain Krytonian with a red cape. There are plenty of bone crushing fights between Black Adam and Hawkman. Then, someone else gets resurrected with an even worse temper and a desire to conquer. Black Adam and JSA need to set aside their hostilities and figure out how to stop an ancient force hellbent on chaos and misery for everyone in the world.

Yet again, I am left with a mixed bag of reactions to this mess of a film. Johnson is charismatic enough to make this watchable, although Black Adam does lack the actor’s usual amicable personality. It does get better, and there are times the humor that is attempted almost works. The special effects were pretty good, and some of the crazy fight scenes between the superbeings was engaging. It does become interesting because Black Adam is more motivated by revenge and rage than any actual altruistic heroism. Johnson does succeed in making Black Adam kind of a complicated fellow. Johnson seemed to have better chemistry with some of his costars than others. The dialogue wasn’t always as sharp as I would have liked. There was an ongoing deal about this quip Black Adam was trying to deliver just before dispatching an enemy. I found that gag to be more annoying than amusing.

I ended up not hating this film but wishing I could have enjoyed it a little more.

Doctor Who Audio Review: The Doctor’s Tour Of The Dalek Universe Continues

Dalek Universe 3 is the final collection of audio plays in this series which features David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor. Big Finish Productions continue to explore new stories with past Doctors. Ken Bentley is the director of this trilogy. This time, the Movellans are back to continue their battle campaign against the Daleks. The Doctor is accompanied by Anya Kingdom, who is still played by Jane Slavin. Terry Molloy reprises his role as Davros, which is quite a treat. The Doctor also learns that an old friend is behind the birth of the Movellans in a pretty decent plot twist.

Lizzie Hopley starts off this set with The First Son which sees the return as Alex Kingston as a Movellan that strangely resembles Professor River Song. Matthew Jacobs-Morgan, Noma Dumezweni, Paul Panting, and Nicholas Briggs make up the guest cast. This is rather an amusing take which sees the Doctor not entirely sure of River Song is actually there in some kind of undercover capacity or if she served as kind of template for a Movellan somehow. It’s pretty confusing, and Hopley does a great job of holding the audience in suspense until the big reveal. Kingston is still charming and engaging as River Song. Tennant is still compelling as his Doctor and displays his usual fun mania.

Matt Fitton writes the final two episodes entitled The Dalek Defence and The Triumph of Davros. The origin of the Movellans has a tragic but fascinating reveal. The Doctor and Davros are actually taken prisoner together and become reluctant allies for a time. Molloy remains superb as Davros. Tennant performs with his usual gusto. Anya Kingdom, with her strange and tragic family history, becomes a very likeable foil with this Doctor. Slavin has performed quite a lot with Big Finish, and she really sinks her teeth into this role.

The saga has a satisfying conclusion here. The Doctor had been separated from his TARDIS and was sent back to just before the Time War had broken out. The Movellans being reintroduced was great since we saw so little of them on the television series. The Movellans are a race of androids who were a torn in the side of Daleks. Davros at one time was found and resurrected to break a logical impasse that kept either side claiming victory in their long running war.

I didn’t struggle to stay engaged with this one. Enough old friends appeared to make this worthwhile. I hope David Tennant still finds time in his busy schedule to continue his participation in Big Finish recordings.