Book Review: King Arthur, Merlin, and Hank Morgan

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is the time travel, satirical novel by Mark Twain that was first released in 1889. Hank Morgan is a 19th century factory worker who wakes up in the 6th century Camelot after a nasty blow to the head. Morgan decides to update his new surroundings with some of conveniences of his home century. He ends up in a battle of wits and spells with Merlin. He and King Arthur take a trip among the populace. Morgan finds that an improvement in material goods does not translate to improved cultural morality.

Every now and then, I try something that is considered classical, but I just don’t have a 19th century mind. I got the gist of what was happening, but I had trouble picking up the jokes that is supposed to be littered throughout this thing. It also seems to be one of Twain’s longer works. Anyway, it was a tough read at times, but it was worth the effort I think. I may try this again at some point. Anyway, it may not be one of my favorite reading experiences, but I am resistant to the notion of turning others away from an American classic.

Well, there isn’t much more I can express about this particular literary indulgence, but I am moving on to Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart A Doorway.

Doctor Who Audio Review: The Doctor Takes Some Calls

Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor Adventures - Respond to All Calls

The Ninth Doctor Adventures: Respond To All Calls is a Doctor Who audio boxset which has Christopher Eccleston back in the studio playing the Doctor. The set is directed by Helen Goldwyn. There are three stories in which the Doctor answers some call of distress. Big Finish Productions does it again.

Girl, Deconstructed is the first story in this set and is written by Lisa McMullin. Pearl Appleby, Mirren Mack, Forbes Masson, and Benjamin Davies make up the guest cast. The Doctor answers the cry for help from a teen-age girl whose molecules have been separated and is alive in spite of the transformation. He learns of other youngsters who have disappeared mysteriously over many years. He and a police detective must find a way to arrange some family reunions. This turned out to be a strong start to the series. There is a bit of unexpected family drama. Eccleston sounds fantastic here. This may actually be my favorite out of this collection.

Fright Motif is written by Tim Foley with Damian Lynch, Gemma Whelan, and Adrian Schiller joining Eccleston. The Doctor finds an alien creature in Paris just after the Second World War that feeds on the musically gifted. There is plenty of that sort of sustenance in that time and place. It’s a pretty good story and also deals with a musician who has lost his ability to play. It’s a solid middle of the road sort of tale. The performances and the post-production work is good. It doesn’t have the same punch as the previous episode, but it works well enough.

Timothy X. Atack wraps up this collection with Planet of the End. The cast providing their voices is made up of Margaret Clunie, Akshay Rhanna, Jan Francis, and Nick Fletcher. The Doctor finds himself trapped on a planet with an unusual AI he dubs as Fred. An alien corporation has their own plan for the Time Lord. This one took a little bit of time to really get into, but it ended up turning out pretty well.

All three episodes actually turn out pretty well. I mentioned that the first one was probably the strongest for me, but the others were not disappointing by any means. It is great that Eccleston has returned to the role in this way. I appreciated the variety in the writer selection in this one. I don’t think they are first timer to the Big Finish Doctor Who range, but they don’t appear to be the more regular contributors, which I appreciated. I have nothing against the more prolific scribes in this range, but it’s nice to to see some new blood show their stuff. I am glad that I responded to the call to purchase this latest set.

Film Review: Remember Who To Call

Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a supernatural comedy that is another sequel to the original 1984 film that starred Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson. They all show up in this new version, but this one focuses on the descendants of Egon Spengler. Gil Kenan and Jason Reitman co-wrote the script in which Reitman ends up directing. Carrie Coon, Paul Rudd, Finn Wolfhard, McKenna Grace, Celeste O’Conner, and Bokeem Woodbine are also included in the new cast.

Strange things are happening in a small Oklahoma town where Egon Spengler spent his remaining years. After his death, his daughter and her two children leave their problems in New York and take on new challenges when they decide to stay in Egon’s dilapidated house on the outside of town. Grace plays the genius granddaughter, Phoebe, who starts to figure out that her estranged grandfather was not just the mad old kook. She finds the equipment used by the Ghostbusters and starts repairing it. Wolfhard’s Trevor manages to get an old strange car the resembles an old hearse working again. There are unexpected earthquakes and an old abandoned mine that seem to have been the focus of Egan’s studies. When it becomes more obvious that an ancient evil is returning to the land of the living, the youngsters may the need the help of a legendary team that saved New York City decades ago.

Well, this was better than the previous attempts at sequels and reboots, however it still had some problems. In spite of the vastly different setting, there still remained that sense of “been there, done that”. The young cast members were charming and well cast. Phoebe became the catalyst for the others to get involved in this latest round of ghostbusting. The film ended up being a rather moving tribute to the late Harold Ramis, who actually died five years ago. The story gets pretty wobbly toward the end, but there is some fun to this latest addition. Although it does bring up some welcome nostalgia at times, my only real reaction to this film is that “it could have been worse”.

Animated Film Review: Some Holiday Cheer With Batman

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Batman: The Long Halloween is a two part animated superhero film directed by Chris Palmer and written by Tim Sheridan. It is based on comic book storyline written by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. The talent lending their voices include Jensen Ackles, Josh Duhamel, Katie Sackhoff, Billy Burke, and Titus Welliver.

Someone is murdering various Gotham mobsters on holidays, and Batman is called in on the case. The first murder is committed on Halloween, and the scares bleed over to other holidays throughout the year. During the course of his investigation, Batman encounters his old adversaries.. The Joker escapes yet again from Arkham Asylum. This also retells or reboots the origin of Two-Face. who is really former DA Harvey Dent. Batman also tries to navigate his complicated relationship with Catwoman during the whole bloody affair.

The animation is fine, and the cast performs well enough. The story gets a little jumbled when there is a mass escape from Arkham after the Joker breaks out. It is kind of fun to watch this series, but this one does drag a bit in the middle. Warner Bros does tend to like adapting long ranges of comic series. It may do better to come up with original plots foe the Dark Knight. I am sure there is plenty of enjoyment to be found for the diehard Batman fans, and I didn’t seeing it overall. It just gets a little long and predictable at times. Ackles has an appropriately creepy voice to pull off Batman. Troy Baker does well enough voicing the Joker, but there did not seem to be anything too fresh in his rendition. There is plenty to appreciate in these two films, but the story seems to lose focus, and the rogues’ gallery ends up being a little distracting from the mystery surrounding the Holiday Killer.

Doctor Who Audio Review: Racnoss, Carrionites, And The Vashta Nerada Have An Appointment With A Doctor

Doctor Who: Classic Doctors New Monsters Volume 02

Classic Doctor, New Monsters Volume 2 is a Doctor Who audio boxset from Big Finish Productions directed by Barnaby Edwards. There are four stories which features a Doctor from the classic era of the series facing an adversary introduced during the show’s revival beginning in 2005.

The collection starts off with Tom Baker starring in John Dorney’s Night of the Vashta Nerada. He is joined by a guest cast comprised of Pam Ferris, Lorelie King, Emma Lowndes, and Matt Devitt. The Vashta Nerada was a race made up of shadow that could devour a person in seconds. The gigantic resort known as Funworld has had its constructions ceased suddenly when reports of some kind of predator emerged. The owner and a group of galactic pest exterminators arrive and encounter a mysterious traveler known as the Doctor. The Vashta Nerada was introduced in the Tenth Doctor episode Silence in the Library where they were lurking around an abandoned planet-wide library. This time, it’s a global amusement park. This one seems a little too familiar at times, but Tom Baker’s Doctor still makes it worthwhile. Besides, I tend to like stories of this sort anyway. Dorney, as usual, provides a solid kickoff to the set.

Empire of the Racnoss is written by Scott Handcock and stars Peter Davison alongside Adjoa Andon, Nigel Planer, Andrew French, and Lisa Kay. The Racnoss were first seen in another David Tennant television episode entitled The Runaway Bride. The Racnoss are part humanoid and part arachnid with a particular way of speaking that involves a lot of hissing and spitting. The Racnoss were in only one episode, but this time we are treated to a previously unknown encounter with an earlier Doctor. They are said to be ancient foes of the Time Lords. The Doctor also finds himself enmeshed in quite the domestic squabble as well between the Empress, her husband, and the new consort. This episode was nothing spectacular, however it was not without some merit. It’s a reasonably enjoyable adventure with solid performances and great post production work. That’s usually how it goes with most of Peter Davison’s episodes for me.

Break out the potions and spells for this next one as Colin Baker steps up to the mic for Simon Guerrier’s The Carrionite Curse. The Carrionites resemble the popular depictions of witches….hooked noses, warts, and all. The Carrionites had an interesting weakness when it came to complex vocabulary. As one of the Doctor’s more verbose incarnations, he can make good use of that. The guest cast is comprised of Maya Sondhi, Andree Bernard, Adele Anderson, and Michael Fenton-Stevens. Anyway, it turns out this was a pretty fun one although there is a bit of grim ending. Colin Baker is great here, as he has been for many years with Big Finish.

The Vashta Nerada return to wrap up this set with Matt Fitton’s Day of the Vashta Nerada which starts Paul McGann, who is joined by Jacqueline Pearce, Jan Ravens, Himesh Patel, and Tim Wallers. The Doctor finds a laboratory that has been experimenting on Vashta Nerada to be used in the Time Lord. Even more troubling is when Cardinal Ollistra turns up to confound matters more. Of couse, The Vashta Nerada break out and sends the Doctor and his reluctant allies on a flight from the shadows.

The whole boxset is actually quite good. The Doctors are all very compelling which is of no surprise. The idea of mixing Doctors and monsters this way is perhaps inevitably predictable, but it was well executed here.

Book Review: Murder In The Machinery

The Steel Kiss is a thriller by prolific crime writer Jeffery Deaver. Lincoln Rhyme, the paralyzed yet still clever forensic investigator, returns with his partner, Amelia Sachs, with all of his various caretakers and fancy equipment to ferret out another unusual and outlandish killer.

Amelia has traced a killer to a department store in Brooklyn when an escalator malfunctions terribly and kills a man. Rhyme has retired from the life of criminal forensics and decides to put his formidable analytical talents to civil cases. Amelia and Rhyme have not been on the same page, but the investigations dovetail together. They find that a serial killer has found a way to turn various electronic tools and appliances unto weapons. Of course, Amelia becomes even more determined when her own mother becomes a target of this current lunatic.

At first glance, it seems a little hard to buy into this one, and that does not change much when one actually reads it. However, Deaver is a talented writer, and I enjoy the company and banter of the characters enough to not be that critical of the plot. There are a couple of side plots that are interesting. Rhyme takes in a new intern who has similar physical afflictions as himself. Juliette Archer’s spunk and intelligence are formidable enough to sometimes let this reader forget about her disability. There is another side plot in which an old flame and former colleague of Amelia’s is released from prison and asks for her help in proving his innocence of the crime that got him incarcerated. Of course, there turns out to be a bit more to the that story. There are a few twists and surprises that makes the journey worthwhile here, but it’s mostly the characters and relationships that helped to keep me engaged.

This is not a series I tend to read in order, so I have to piece some of the history together. This particular novel did keep me intrigued enough to look forward to the next chapter and the next revelation. Even if the credibility of the plot gets a little strained, there is plenty to talent and intrigue displayed for me to forgive Deaver for these imaginative indulgences.

It has been a while since I have delved into a bona fide classic, but I have put this off long enough. Time to meet Hank Morgan, a nineteenth century New England mechanic, who finds himself suddenly in the middle of Camelot at the time of King Arthur. The great Mark Twain has provided a story of A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court, and I am long overdue to join in on that adventure.

Sherlock Holmes Audio Review: Will Sherlock Holmes Always Survive?

Sherlock Holmes: The Sacrifice of Sherlock Holmes

The Sacrifice of Sherlock Holmes is an audio boxset from Big Finish Productions. It has four episodes, all written by Jonathan Barnes. Nicholas Briggs and Richard Earl return to the roles of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, respectively. The guest cast includes Alan Cox, Tracey Childs, Frances Marshall, Elizabeth Rider, and Natalie Burt.

This series takes the audience to Holmes and Watson in their twilight years of the 1920’s. Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock’s brother, has died, and the master investigator believes it to be murder. The mysterious group known as the Society is on the move again. London is besieged by mysterious attacks, and Holmes must take up arms once again. Of course, Watson remains on hand to lend a noble hand and face the threats alongside his friend.

The first of the four episodes is The Prophet in the Rain which begins with a séance and a murder. Someone has apparently returned from the dead, and they are very interested in renewing an acquaintance with Holmes. It’s a rather intriguing start. but once again it relies on the mystical to thrust Holmes into another adventure.

The Body in the Garret is the second installment here where the attacks on London are escalating. A mysterious foe calling himself Agamemnon has emerged from the chaos. A serum has also been revealed that turns man into beast. The agents of the Society are turning up everywhere to threaten Holmes and Watson.

Which then brings on The Beast in the Darkness where Watson is in the clutches of the Society. Holmes is starting to suspect the true identity of the brutal Agamemnon.

Finally, the answers are revealed in The Shadow in the Water where Holmes, Watson, and their allies confront the mastermind of the Society, including someone long thought dead. They are trapped aboard a large ship in the sea with monsters out for blood.

Once again, it is Richard Earl’s portrayal of Watson that really shins here. Briggs’s performance of Holmes is not bad. I still prefer many of the predecessors, but I am getting too used to him paired with Earl. The story had a bit too much of the supernatural for my liking in a Sherlock Holmes. I usually like stories that are somewhat supernatural on their own, but having Holmes confront these elements on a regular basis does get a bit wearying. This does leave the series in a rather interesting place. The talent of the actors is undeniable. Briggs does a decent enough portrayal of Holmes, but I am not sure it will be that memorable.

It has some pretty genuine suspenseful moments. Ken Bentley does pretty well as director, but he has been at this for a while now. I enjoyed it well enough, but I am usually biased in favor of Big Finish products. Anyway, it should prove satisfying for Big Finish fans, but overall Holmes enthusiasts likely won’t see this as a necessity.

Film Review: Tim Lake Gets A Few Chances To Get It Right

About Time' Review: Richard Curtis' Charming Time-Travel Romance - Variety

About Time is a romantic comedy with some fair amount of drama and a dash of fantasy added to the mix. It is written and directed by Richard Curtis. It was first released in 2013. Domhnall Gleeson is the lead actor and is joined by Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Lindsey Duncan, Margot Robbie, Tom Hollander, Lydia Wilson, and several other fine castmates.

Tim Lake is a young man who has come of age in Cornwall. He comes from a loving family, but he is a bit socially awkward. Bill Nighy, as the father, lets Tim on a rather unusual secret. Apparently, the men in the family have the ability to travel along through own timeline just by going into a dark closet and concentrating on when they would like to visit. There are some helpful warnings going along with this revelation. Tim decides to use his gift to improve his luck with women.

Tim meets Mary, played by McAdams, and falls in love. Of course, that doesn’t always go smoothly, but the time traveling comes in handy, but Tim finds there are caveats to this gift.

So this is a strange movie but it is loaded with charm and heart. There is a surprising depth to this one, which is impressive coming from a writer who helped create Mr. Bean. Anyway, the film is full of eccentric, amusing people. Nighy is particularly good, but he usually is. Gleeson is quite compelling as a young man trying to find his way in life and love. Really, everyone does well in their performance.

There is no explanation as to why this particular family possesses such a unique gift, the writing is so good that thread was fine dangling right where it was.
This is one of the few movies I have seen recently that worked on almost every aspect. Is it a perfect movie? Perhaps….

Book Review: The Queen Of The Board

The Queen's Gambit by [Walter Tevis]

The Queen’s Gambit is a novel written by the late Walter Tevis and was first released in 1983. There was a wildly popular Netflix limited series recently released.

If one is not familiar with the series or this novel, it involves an orphan who becomes captivated by the game of chess. She also gets captivated by pills and booze as she gets older. There really is not much to say here without a bunch of spoilers. At least, I am not sure what else I can say here plotwise.

I will say that it is worth the read. I enjoyed the Netflix series, and the book was pretty good. Sometimes the actual chess scenes can come across as a little dry, but I am not sure how a writer who chooses chess as a backdrop for the story can solve that. Chess is an interesting game, and I wish I could get better at it, but it is not the most thrilling of activities to put into writing. The rest of the story if quite compelling. Outside of the main character, Beth Harmon, the other people with whom she interacts have their own moments of interest. I liked the variety of competitors she faces as she progresses her way through the national and international tournaments.

The Netflix series is pretty faithful to the source material, although it’s the television series that delves more into Beth’s past a bit more than this novel, which is a rather interesting twist.

I was rather pleased with this reading selection. So I am marching onto the next literary destination and revisiting quadriplegic criminologist Lincoln Rhyme in Jeffrey Deaver’s The Steel Kiss.

Doctor Who Audio Review: The Doctor’s Granddaughter Has Her Own Fight

Doctor Who: After the Daleks

After the Daleks is a Doctor Who audio play released by Big Finish Productions and is one of the latest episodes in The Early Adventures range. Roland Moore is the scriptwriter with Lisa Bowerman back in the director’s seat. The Doctor has just left his granddaughter on 23rd century Earth where she is going to embark on a new life with David Campbell after the Dalek occupation was ended. Carole Ann Ford reprises the role and serves as narrator for the story of what happened to Susan just after the Doctor’s departure unfolds. Sean Biggerstaff, Lucy Briers, Jonathan Guy Lewis, Oli Higginson, and Nicholas Briggs make up the guest cast here.

What Susan does not know is that one Dalek is left behind, and an ambitious former collaborator with the Daleks has his designs on regaining power to reshape the recovery from the Daleks into something that would not benefit everyone. Susan gets her first real taste of dark side of politics, as if there is a real bright side. A couple of characters from the original serial The Dalek Invasion of Earth have ben recast. Lucy Briers is the daughter of the actress who played the character Jenny back in 1964. Sean Biggerstaff plays David Campbell, who is the man Susan stayed for.

It’s hard for me to appreciate a Doctor Who story without the Doctor, but I ended up getting more drawn into this one more than I expected. Ford really shines with this one, and gives Susan a bit more steel and courage than what was seen in the television series. Marcus Bray, played by Jonathan Guy Lewis, turns out to be rather shocking in his despicability and duplicity, which serves this tale mightily. Lewis can sometimes sound a little over the top. but this is all done with audio, so it may be rather unfair to fault him too much for that. There is a side plot about Jenny trying to find a way to restore her brother, who was converted into a Roboman. The Robomen were surgically altered serve the Daleks. The Doctor himself is not around, but his shadow remains, and his legacy carries on with his granddaughter’s commitment to helping the Earth recover from a brutal invasion.

Big Finish is pretty solid with the writing most of the time, but I am pleased to note that this episode was rather special. I still prefer having the Doctor around though.