Tag: good review

Audio Drama Review: Twilight Zone Radio Dramas, Volume 9

The ninth volume of Twilight Zone radio dramas features six more audio recreations of tales from the Classic TV series.

The set kicks off with “Time Enough at Last” where a bank teller who wants to do nothing but read and talk about what he’s read is persecuted by both his wife and his employer. It’s a classic story. The TV version is tragic and depressing and the expanded time for the audio drama manages to make it even moreso.

Next up is, “Will the Real Martian Stand Up?” There’s a report of a UFO, state troopers go out to investigate and find footprints leading to a diner. A bus has just arrived. The driver says he had six passengers, but there’s seven in the restaurant. Who’s the real Martian? This story is a nice science fiction mystery with a very clever twist at the end.

“The Trade-Ins” takes us to a world where the elderly can have their life renewed with a new body. An elderly couple wants to do this so they can have a fresh start on life. But they’ve only saved enough for one of them to get the treatment. The story has a few logical issues but still has some very sweet and surprising moments in it.

“A Passage for a Trumpet” features a trumpet player whose career has been ruined by his drinking. He’s ready to pack it in, selling his trumpet, and getting ready to leave town when he steps out in front of an oncoming truck. The story gets interesting when we find out what happens next. The story is heartfelt and earnest even its turns are a bit predictable.

“I Shot an Arrow Into the Air…” follows the crew of a downed spacecraft. One crew member sees this as a cutthroat survival experience. They have limited rations and the more of them there are, the less long those rations will last. So if fellow crew members die off, that’s longer for him to live. This one turns on a huge twist which changes everything for both the protagonist and the listener.

“The Brain Center at Whipples:” The owner of a factory (Stan Freberg) is bringing automation to spur on efficiency and eliminating jobs. This is a heavy-handed story about the anger and fear at the coming of automation. There’s a twist but you can see it coming a mile away. It does seem when Freberg did the Twilight Zone radio dramas, he tended to play roles that were much more caricatures than characters. Still, he does convey good emotion when the owner gets his expected comeuppance.

Overall, this was a pretty solid set. The stories were told well and adapted well (for the most) so the expanded running time the radio dramas offered was to put to good use. There were issues with a few of the stories but even the last (and least favorite) story wasn’t bad. All in all, a decent collection.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5

DVD Review: The Avengers: The Complete Emma Peel Megaset

Three seasons of the Avengers passed prior to Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) becoming John Steed’s (Patrick Macnee) partner in fighting crime and espionage. After she left the series, it carried on with a new assistant for Steed for another thirty-two episodes. Yet to many fans, if they think of the Avengers as anything other than Marvel Comics’ superhero team, they think of Steed and Peel. The Avengers was that rare British TV show that came to America and became a success in prime time television.

Steed worked for British Intelligence. Emma Peel was the latest civilian drawn into Steed’s orbit. She had inherited wealth, but also had a keen scientific mind, along with amazing martial arts skills.  

This DVD release collects all 52 episodes comprising the Black and White Season 4, the color Seasons 5 and Season 6, and her departure story in the first episode of Season 7. 

The series had them dealing with a wide variety of different threats, including some that were science fiction. The series was always stylish. Steed’s Bowler hat and umbrella and luxury cars mixed with Diana Riggs iconic style made for a compelling combination. The opening to the color episodes could easily be repurposed as a high-end champagne ad.  

The Avengers had a tongue in cheek feel that  grew as the Emma Peel went on. The fourth Season may be the best from a dramatic standpoint. The episodes were often tongue in cheek, but more grounded than some of the color episodes. When the series went to color, there seems to have been a thought that there wasn’t much to it, if the plots weren’t going to be as outlandish as possible. The plots ranged from elaborate revenge plots to towns populated by assassins, dance schools that were training killers, cyborg killing machines, body swapping, mind control, shrinking technology, underground cities, and even killer Christmas Trees. One episode paid homage to the iconic 1960s Batman show by having Mrs. Peel holding up Comic Book action words like, “Pow!” To be fair, this makes slightly more sense in context of the episode but not a whole lot more.

McNee was great as a leading man, providing great humor, but Riggs is ultimately what made the Avengers work so well. Mrs. Peel was a fun character with a lot of facets as a scientist, heiress, and fighter. Riggs’ acting ability is absolutely superb. She’s able to play both the serious and the playful aspects of the show. The strength of how good she can be is seen in an episode like, “The House that Jack Built” where Steed is mostly absent and Peel is trapped in a house meant to destroy her. She walks about the house in silence and sells the eeriness of the situation.

The set lacks a lot of bonus features, but it’s priced reasonably on Amazon at around $20 for more than fifty episodes. The episodes are a mixed lot. Some black and white episodes are bit dull, and more than a few color episodes that are a bit too silly or over the top. But those are matters of taste. At the end of the day, The Avengers is an iconic classic.

Recently Diana Rigg passed away after a long career that included appearing in a James Bond film as well as working on more modern hit TV shows like Victoria and Game of Thrones. If you want to see how she rose in stardom and why after such a long career, this is the role many remember her best for, this is a must-purchase. It’s also essential if you’re a fan of 1960s spy and adventure shows.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

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Audio Drama Review: Black Jack Justice, Season 8

Black Jack Justice eighth season was released monthly between September 2012 and March 2013, once again featuring Christopher as Jack and Andrea Lyons as Trixie Dixon, Girl Detective.

The series at this point was in a nice groove and the first four episodes reflect the typical episodic nature of the series up until this point. In “Jawbone of an Asp,” they find themselves drawn into the middle of an academic controversy.  In “Two is Too Many,” they end up trying to see if long-time underworld supporting character “Freddy the Finger” Hawthorne and his cousin have inherited a fortune. And in the best episode of the season, “The More Things Change,” the duo are hired by a woman who wants them to prove her fiancé to be virtuous.

The final two episodes are inter-related. “The Late Mr. Justice,” grabs the listener’s attention as Jack informs us that he’s about to die and explains how he got to this point. An old-time gangster Jack sent away has been released and is out for blood, having taken Jack’s girlfriend hostage. The gangster threatens to kill her if Jack doesn’t show up at an old abandoned theater. There’s some great noirish feel that leads to a solid finale.

The second episode has Trixie in an empty office wondering what happened to Jack after the events of the last story and whether he’ll be back. A boyfriend comes from a big agency with a clients…and with hopes of  becoming Trixie’s new partner if they uncover a missing will. A wealthy woman supposedly left it, cutting a repentant black sheep in for part of her estate. This was a good story that Trixie managed to carry quite well but I had a couple problems with it. Innuendos which Trixie used occasionally in most episodes were way overused as if writer Gregg Taylor was leaning into them a bit much.  In addition, this is the second story in six episodes involving a will. But other than that, it was a pretty good finale with a nice revelation to wrap up Black Jack Justice’s Eighth Season.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

Black Jack Justice Season 8 can be downloaded for free at Decoder Ring Theatre.

Book Review: The Misadventures of Nero Wolfe

The Misadventures of Nero Wolfe is an anthology of parodies, pastiches, and a few other things that are hard to categorize, all inspired by Rex Stout’s greatest literary creation. I’m going to give a detailed look at everything in the book.

“Red Orchids” by French Author Thomas Narcejac finds Wolfe out from the Brownstone to investigate a case with the promise of a rare, red orchid. This translation by Narcejac does a fair job capturing the Wolfe-Archie relationship, but there’s too much emphasis on Wolfe firing Archie, which wasn’t nearly as much of a thing in the novels. It’s not a bad read at all.

Next, we get an excerpt from Marion Mainwaring’s book Murder by Pastiche. The book contains several pastiches of detective characters solving mysteries. Here we get a flavor for how the Wolfe pastiche works and the author does a great job capturing both Archie and Wolfe. It was well-written and made me want to read the whole book.

I should not like “Archie Hunters” as much as I do as it’s a bit ham-fisted. It involves a parody of Mike Hammer meeting up with Nero Wolfe. Writer Jon L. Breen states he was not a fan of Mike Hammer. This is hardly a necessary statement when he named the parody Mack Himmler. In addition, Breen (through Wolfe) gives us the moral of the story. I think makes it work is the degree to which Mr. Breen commits to it. While he’s having Wolfe make a broadly political (not partisan) point, it’s so in keeping with Wolfe’s voice and something I could actually imagine Wolfe saying.

“The Frightened Man” is a pastiche that uses different character names but is inspired by Wolfe. It’s a solid entry, though a bit short for my tastes.

As to the first Chapter of Murder in E Minor by Robert Goldsborough, I’ve had my issues with Goldsborough’s Wolfe books, but this is the one is good. It does a solid job capturing the feel of Stout’s work. The first chapter is well-written and I wouldn’t mind reading the book again.

“The Purloined Platypus” finds Wolfe and Archie solving the mystery of a museum theft in the present day. It’s a good story, but the mystery is more okay, and the author is fine but not brilliant at capturing the voices and transferring the main characters to the 21st Century. However, I’m a bit prejudiced as its hard for me to wrap my head around the idea of Archie taking pictures with his phone and finding information on the Internet.

“The House on 35th Street” and “The Sidekick Case” are two of the parodies that were run by the Saturday Review. Both are short, but I think this is a case where brevity is the soul of wit. “The House on 35th Street” pokes fun at the conventions of Stout novels, while “The Sidekick Paper” takes on bad word usage in a way that you could believe Wolfe actually would.

“The Case of the Disposable Jalopy” is a parody with Wolfe and Archie in a futuristic world where both have aged (contrary to Stout’s general practice.) Archie no longer has his photographic memory and Wolfe’s mental powers have gone downhill. In addition, due to automation, most jobs have been eliminated with people living on a negative income tax and Fritz forced to buy lower class food on a budget. This is very much a sort of a Saturday Night Live sort of take on Nero Wolfe (from when Saturday Night Live was actually funny) and it’s a solid piece of humor. It’s committed to its premise, and the humor is far more hit than miss, although one of the jokes feels a bit tasteless. Overall, it’s a fairly solid parody.

 “As Dark as Christmas Gets” finds a Nero Wolfe fan who believes Nero Wolfe is real and hopes to gain his favor. Leo Haig is brought in to solve the mystery of a Cornell Woolrich manuscript that disappeared at the Christmas Party. This was a good story with some intelligent dialogue and fairly drawn characters. Haig’s Archie Goodwin character Chip is more vulgar than Archie, but not so much it got in my way of enjoying this short.

Next up is, “Who’s Afraid of Nero Wolfe” and the lead detective Claudius Lyon is the answer to the question. Lyon, like Haig, believes Wolfe is real, but is afraid of getting sued by him, so his detective work is strictly amateur which also avoids the requirement of a license. This is a fun story about a search for a missing poetry contest winner from several years back. It revolves around word play and as far as a mystery goes, it works. I enjoyed all the little twists that Loren Estleman took on the Nero Wolfe world, starting with Lyon being located in Flatbush.

In “Julius Katz and the Case of the Exploding Wine” writer David Zeltserman takes a few of the ideas from the Wolfe story and adds a whole lot to it. Katz has an Archie, but Archie in this case is an AI in a tie clip that advises Katz who is a wine-drinking gambler with a fifth degree black belt. However, like Wolfe, Katz is lazy and needs prodded to go to work. I enjoyed this and all of the twists and turns. There were characters who had very definitive counterparts in the Wolfe stories (ex: Detective Cramer), but others you have to guess at.

“The Possibly Last Case of Tiberius Dingo” is an original short story for this collection that finds a Wolfe-like detective in a state of semi-retirement but tempted to take on one final case. The writer isn’t as immersed in the Wolfe canon as other contributors and it shows but not too much. The story is still an entertaining read with some clever twists. I found the ending uncomfortable, but other than that, this was fine.

The book has a section entitled potpourri, which is a bunch of miscellaneous bits and bobs about Wolfe.

“The Woman Who Read Nero Wolfe” is a delightful short about an intelligent 500 pound circus woman who takes to reading Nero Wolfe and then has to solve the murder of a young woman she’d taken under her wing. Pithy, fun, and has a superb twist. 

“Sam Buried Caesar” is from a series of short stories about a police inspector who named his children after famous detectives. This is the story of ten-year-old Nero Wolfe and the detective agency he founded with his friend and assistant Artie. This originally appeared in Ellery Queen Magazine and a story like this poses a unique challenge because it’s got to be true to being a story about kids, without boring the adults. This story nails it and was just a lot of fun to read.

The book includes Chapter 24 from Rasputin’s Revenge. Writer John Lescroat posited that Nero Wolfe was the illegitimate son of Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler and born under the name Auguste Lupa. This chapter appears to be from the end of the mystery where Holmes, Watson, and Lupa are talking. This is fine and features interesting interactions. 

Joseph Goodrich adapted a couple of Nero Wolfe stories to the stage and the first scene of Might as Well Be Dead is included. This is probably as close to seeing the play as most of us are going to get as these haven’t been widely distributed or performed. The play appears to have some good ideas like having Archie as an on the on-stage narrator and really seems to condense the initial client interview from the book so the action can get moving. Other choices I’m less sure of, but they might make sense in the context of the full play. Its hard to evaluate it based on one scene.

The final short story by Robert Lopestri is amusing tale of two grandparents telling their granddaughter what it was like to live next to Nero Wolfe and why they eventually decided to move away. It’s an amusing and clever take.

While I have criticisms of many pieces in this book, I liked them all. If you’re a Wolfe fan, this book is for you. Taken together, the book is a fantastic tribute to Nero Wolfe and shows a bit of how Rex Stout’s work has been inspiring authors with the amazing characters and world he created.

Rating: Very Satisfactory

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Streaming Review: T-Men

In the 1947 film T-Men, two Treasury agents (Dennis O’Keefe and Alfred Ryder) travel to Detroit and go undercover in an attempt to infiltrate and ultimately break a counterfeiting ring.

T-men was a very entertaining bit of noir. It has the same cinematographer as He Walked by Night, and if you enjoyed the look of that film, you’ll probably like this one as well.

It’s one of those procedurals like He Walked by Night which really strove to portray the real life work of the investigator. So there’s a lot of detail, a lot of different scenes and minor characters who pop-up as our heroes try to work their way to the top, through a long tangled web of the underworld from creating their criminal identities to solving the case and making the bust. 

The script is smart, well-written and well-thought out. Our heroes are in constant peril and we’re given a reminder of how much they and, by extension, real-life Treasury Agents risk in the course of their work. Throughout most of the time, the film takes a deliberate pace, but it definitely picks up in the last ten minutes as the case comes to a finale.

The acting is solid. Outside of O’Keefe, most of the cast is made up of veteran character actors who manage to play their parts without seeming over-the-top, campy, or too stereotypical. Wallace Ford as the Schemer may have been my favorite performance. The main rising star in this is June Lockheart (Lost in Space) who appears as one of the agents’ wives.

The criticisms I’ve read online have basically come down to complaints about it being a procedural noir made in 1940s. If you want something faster paced or less detailed, this may not be the film for you. However, if you appreciate the realistic procedural films of the 1940s, this is a must-see.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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Currently Available for free Streaming with Amazon Prime or on Blu-ray/DVD with two other films.