LoganBookmark and Share

Saturday, 11 March 2017 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Logan Movie Poster (Credit: www.traileraddict.com/logan-2017)
































 


  STARRING: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen,
Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Elizabeth Rodriguez 
+ Richard E. Grant 

WITH: Eriq La Salle, Elise Neal, Quincy Fouse, Al Coronel,
   Frank Gallegos, Anthony Escobar, Reynaldo Gallegos,  Krzysztof Soszynski, Stephen Dunlevy,
Daniel Bernhardt, Ryan Sturz 

AND: Jason Genao, Hannah Westerfield, Bryant Tardy,
   Ashlyn Casalegno, Alison Fernandez + Parker Lovein
 



DIRECTED BY: James Mangold

STORY BY: James Mangold
 

SCREENPLAY BY: Scott Fran , James Mangold, Michael Green

Executive Producer: Joe Caracciolo Jr.

Producers: Simon Kinberg, Hutch Parker, Lauren Shuler Donner
    
Executive Producers: Stan Lee, James Mangold, Josh McLaglen

 Co-Producers: Dana Robin, Kurt Williams

Music: Marco Beltrami

Cinematography: John Mathieson

Film Editing: Michael McCusker, Dirk Westervelt

Released: March 2017

 

Note - Some Spoilers Feature (with specific details kept to a minimum).

This final official outing for the Wolverine character - as played by the charismatic Hugh Jackman - finds the ferocious mutant living in New Mexico in 2029. His former X-Men comrades are no more, and there have been no more mutants sighted in the populace, for many a year. Logan is now showing his age, and his scars, with his healing superpowers clearly rudimentary, at this point. He makes a basic living as a limo driver, and lives over in a junkyard refuge. His companions are an aged and mostly senile Charles Xavier, who needs strong doses of medication to hold back the potentially destructive psychic powers that once were so stable, as well as ex-mutant-hunter Caliban (Stephen Merchant).

Logan knows deep down that his body is failing, but refuses to admit it to anyone. But then something else appears that diverts his internal self-pity - a mission to look after someone 'special', but vulnerable. Despite early misgivings, the Canadian-born ex-super-soldier agrees to safeguard Laura (Dafne Keen) who seemingly speaks only Spanish in brief quantities. Before long, it becomes clear just how dangerous a fighter she is, and why she is being targeted by the sinister Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and his Reavers - an army of cyborg killers. Eventually, Laura's origins under the dark aspirations of Dr Rice (Richard E Grant) make themselves known, but with the added optimism that there may be a safe haven for not just her, but a whole clutch of young mutants that no one knows about in 'proper' society.


Having had such a strong trailer, it is a relief that the film proper mostly lives up to such lofty expectations. Despite what seemed to be suggested, there is still plenty of civilisation left on planet Earth. However, mutantkind is near extinct, and with this being essentially another in the X-Men franchise, the film has a real sense of emptiness and loss for much of its duration.

Further, this is a truly cynical grim and pessimistic version of the Wolverine character. Jackman has had this edginess before, but usually combined with some humour and everyman qualities. But this is very much someone who has been devastated by cataclysmic events, and is always ready to pop his claws out at the first opportunity. His uneasy friendship with Caliban, and somewhat brutish nursing of Xavier, shows just how close he has become to the animal inside.

Patrick Stewart has also confirmed that this film is his last in the role of Professor Charles Xavier. Since the beginning of the new century, Stewart and Jackman have come to embody the roles of Charles and Logan, and in a way that will be hard to overshadow any time soon - if ever.

The Professor we see in large portions of this film is frail, needy and somewhat of a liability. He has lost a good amount of control over his remarkably strong telepathic/telekinetic powers, and at times this renders humans, but especially mutants, utterly powerless around him as he has one of his ‘seizures’. Some of the film’s (notably truncated) budget went into these set pieces where Charles loses control. It was a wise move to make X-Men: The Last Stand lose some or most of its place in official continuity, including Xavier’s perfunctory death. Whilst he meets with a rather grim fate here, there is something poetic about it, and the writers even manage to slip in a nice little nod to Stewart’s biggest genre role - Captain Jean Luc Picard - when he is later buried.

Although there is much serious emotion, with melancholy, regret and a sense of friendship damaged, there is also hope, and some jokes at times. I really liked how X23 suddenly was able to talk, and following this 'switch' many of her lines had a quick punch to them; perhaps reflecting her disconcertingly brutal fighting style. The various bickering moments between Logan and his former mentor from the 'School for Gifted Youngsters' never gets tiresome. Indeed it can be very funny, with an extra dimension of this being an 'uncle/nephew' dynamic for those who faithfully followed the different X-Men films over the years. And, as one would expect, Merchant has terrific comic timing, thus making the viewer quickly care for Caliban, even if the character as written is somewhat flat in comparison to the main three leads.                                                                                                    
The villains are quite good, when taking into account that they are not really intended to be the focus. Pierce – complete with Terminator-esque metal hand - never is given a definitive speech, or something truly memorable to do in the action scenes. And yet Holbrook breathes full life into this creepy stalker of our heroes, coming off as both deeply unpleasant and remarkably persistent. He also makes for a fine lieutenant barking orders, and barely bats an eyelid should most of his men get chopped down, or he himself faces a bomb about to explode in his face. That he is ultimately not bested by Logan but a group of untested children 'fighters', who are still far from mastering their ‘uncanny' powers is nicely ironic.

Logan And Charles (Credit: http://www.blastr.com/)I find Richard E Grant an actor who can sometimes grate, but the slimier or more self-serving a character he plays, the better he convinces me. Here he is cast well, as the deranged scientist who believes he can use mutation as a carefully controlled 'benefit' for 'normal' society. He is rather overconfident of his gravitas, and certainly lets his guard down near the end. Much of the film’s core plot rests on the influence of this character, and by having him kept to the background in the earlier exposition - glimpsed on video fragments - Grant is used just to the right degree to be fully effective.

However the most chilling and formidable foe is a bestial, superpowered version of Logan himself. This gives Jackson a chance to play something totally irredeemable, and there is seamless technology used to bring our lead actor into the same frame for prolonged patches of action in the film. The final showdown between X24 and Wolverine is a brutally visceral one. Also, in keeping with the core theme of the story - its outcome does not totally rest in the hands of the title character.

4DX is one of the ways to enjoy the film (with IMAX and 3D being others). The screening i went to was a first for me, where punters were firmly instructed to leave their heavy items at the front, just under the main screen. And with good reason. For a two-hours-plus film, this often felt like one of the family ‘experience’ rides that feature at a theme park - except stretched out to the maximum. Whilst a little gimmicky, it still added to a film that already was engaging audience’s intellect and feelings. In this case, emphasising the physicality side of the film was not such a bad idea.

Logan is a generally successful action movie and definitely up there with the best of Marvel's output. The simple story allows this to be a great character piece, but sometimes the film's pacing feels just a touch laboured. A lot of characters make strange decisions, and given how powerful the children in the final act prove to be, it almost could be argued that Logan's sacrifice was something of a waste. The final confrontation is truly adrenaline-rushed, and emotionally gripping, however. The key to this movie is the grizzled veteran finding a person in his life, who is as close to being his own child as he ever could have hoped. And their bonding is played in note-perfect fashion. When viewed through the lens of this strong familial emotion, this would be a much poorer film if the door was still left hanging for Jackman to return.


FINAL SCORE - Four Stars out of Five:

This is a rip-roaring tale of good versus evil, structured as part-Western, part-road-movie. It is essential viewing for Marvel fans, and especially for admirers of the X-Men's uncontested figurehead.





The Avengers - The Comic Strip Adaptations Volume Two (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 28 February 2017 - Reviewed by Matthew Kilburn
The Avengers: The Comic Strip Adaptations Volume Two (Credit: Big Finish)
2.1 Playtime is Over by Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky
2.2 The Antagoniser by Paul Moris and Simon Barnard
2.3 The Mad Hatter by Matt Fitton
2.4 The Secret Six by John Dorney

Starring Julian Wadham and Olivia Poulet
with Lizzie Roper, Michael Keane, Kiruna Stamell,
Andrew Wincott, John Banks, Richard Earl,
Michael Lumsden, Paul Kemp, Eve Webster,
Maggie Service, Paul Chahidi, John Voce,
Terry Molloy, Ozzie Yue, George Asprey,
Jonathan Telfer, Anita Booth

Directed by Ken Bentley
Producer: David Richardson
Script Editor: John Dorney
Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Released in November 2016 by Big Finish Productions

Big Finish’s The Avengers ranges offer not only an opportunity for listeners to imagine themselves visiting the 1960s, but for the 1960s to visit them. In this case four stories originally published in D.C. Thomson’s girls’ comic Diana are developed for Big Finish’s older audience and for the auditory instead of visual medium. In doing so they acquire an extra level of knowingness while remaining aware of their roots.

The four stories all draw on familiar girls’ story concepts. Playtime is Over draws on the mystique of the circus and the possibility that some children might not be who they say they are. The Antagoniser is a story about doing harm to animals. The Mad Hatter is about a princess in danger. The Secret Six is about a fancy dress ball which gets very out of hand. All these settings suit the exaggerated, boldly-drawn and brightly-coloured world of the Steed and Peel Avengers, as well as source material where Emma Peel is presented very much as an aspirational heroine for a child readership.

Julian Wadham is a more earnest, straighter Steed than the role’s television originator Patrick Macnee, and similarly Olivia Poulet is a less wry Emma Peel than Diana Rigg, with a tendency to sound a little more exasperated by her experiences. However, these changes arise not only from casting different performers but from the change of medium. Listening to the Big Finish adaptatins, one realises how visual an experience The Avengers was, particularly once it was on film and the budgets seemed to increase every year. There’s no point in a raised eyebrow when the listener can’t see it. The challenge is to find a new way of communicating the tone.

These adaptations succeed to varying levels. Playtime is Over launches the set, but is the most awkward, perhaps because of its subject matter, adults of restricted height masquerading as children to commit crimes. They are generalised in the script as ‘dwarfs’ but one is played with a high voice slightly reminiscent of popular 1960s comedian Jimmy Clitheroe, suggesting a different condition. The effect is disturbing on more levels than perhaps intended. I’m not sure whether it was a good idea to draw attention to nominative determinism as an eccentric feature of one family in this story, when it clearly prospers in other families too elsewhere in the set. However, there is a pleasing reversal towards the end and several performances to enjoy too.

The other three stories are less troublesome. The Antagoniser is at first reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, as domesticated animals turn on humanity, but broadens into satire on familiar 1960s targets such as the television personality and the possibilities of mind control. The Mad Hatter and The Secret Six are both reliant to a great deal on that mid-60s Avengers staple, the comedy foreign accent, which can also make one wince. However, the vocal talents of the cast are impressive. Particularly evocative of time and place is Richard Earl’s Dr Verbatim in The Antagoniser, in a part which one could imagine Colin Jeavons playing in a similar fashion in the 1960s; and Maggie Service as Princess Helga in The Mad Hatter embodying – envocalising? – assumptions of mutual incomprehension and struggles with English, but also bewitching hints of sexual freedom, which seem to have peppered the British view of continental Europe between the Second World War and entry into the European Economic Community.   

The bane of fan reviews, I once read, was the paragraph towards the end which began ‘As for the sets and costumes…’ and I fear that where modern audio productions are concerned the equivalent phrase is ‘As for the sound design…’ Writing of which, there are several highlights, from the Steed and Mrs Peel’s apparent sabre duel (actually attacking a champagne bottle) in Playtime is Over; to the escape in The Antagoniser from angered, stampeding Ayrshire cows (though surely given where the comic strips were originally published they should have been Angus cattle?); to the horse chase in The Secret Six. Most of the music is cheerily Laurie Johnsonesque though not all, and this is just as well for these stories are not strictly speaking in Brian Clemens’s Avengerland but a place close enough to it for there to be policemen and working class characters. Then again, the (literally) highly-flown praise for British engineering (with of course appropriate sound effects) in track four of Playtime is Over made me think the writers were selling 1960s British industry to a 1960s American audience via the ABC network rather than remaking 1960s pop culture through the downloads and CDs of the 2010s.

The Comic Strip Adaptations Volume Two is a self-aware box set, scattered with jokes about the medium and the producers’ other wares. It’s mostly pleasant listening so long as one recognises that this is its own The Avengers and can’t be a recreation of the best of the Steed and Mrs Peel era. I hope that this isn’t the end and that the rights to the TV Comic strips are also available.





Dark Shadows: Haunting Memories (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 19 February 2017 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
Dark Shadows: Haunting Memories (Credit: Big Finish)
Written by Marcy Robin, Adam Usden, Lara Parker, Kay Stonham

Directed by Darren Gross
 
Narrated by Kathryn Leigh Scott, Jerry Lacy, Lara Parker,
& Marie Wallace
 
Big Finish Productions - Released December 2016

Haunting Memories is the second of Big Finish’s short story collections narrated by a member of the Dark Shadows cast. This time around, the four stories are linked by the theme of memories of key events which have shaped the lives of the central character.

Hell Wind by Marcy Robin, narrated by Kathryn Leigh Scott who played Josette Du Pres but in the third person. Years before the arrival of Josette’s notorious husband Barnabas, this is a story of a key event in her childhood as a hurricane devastates her family home on the island of Martinique. This is a well-crafted tale with some deft touches including Josette’s first encounter with a child of one of the servants named Angelique whose significance will of course be very familiar to regular listeners. The story concludes with quite a strong emotional punch as Josette has to come to terms with a terrible loss caused by the hurricane. Overall, a strong opening entry for this set.

Communion by Adam Usman is narrated by Jerry Lacy as Elias Trask. Elias is the father of Lacy’s regular character Reverend Gregory Trask who in the time of this story is a 16 years old and has been re-adopted by his father having been initially raised as a foundling. Set in 1861 during the hell of the American civil war, this is a story about Elias’ faith in God being tested in extreme circumstances and is narrated as if Elias is speaking directly in prayer. After rescuing a prostitute named Chastity from a town of “heathens” controlled by a notorious purveyor of prostitutes, Elias and Gregory are forced to flee for their lives. The story concludes with a pivotal moment which will set both men on a different path from that which they began although those familiar with Dark Shadows will probably guess the inevitable twist from the story’s opening line “In the dark, Lord, I am not alone.” Whilst being somewhat predictable in its outcome, this is an enjoyable story and certainly conjures some vivid images such as that of the brothel “Old Marge’s House of the Heaving Bosom”.

The Ghost Ship is written and narrated by Lara Parker who plays the witch Angelique and has written for her character before. In this story Angelique finds herself transformed from a ghost into a vampire, the form occupied by her one true love Barnabas, however the price of her transformation is the return to Collinsport of a ghost ship bearing a crew of dead souls. This is another enjoyable tale but although with so many of the central events of Angelique’s long life having been detailed in previous stories, it is perhaps inevitable that this memory is not quite as pivotal.

A Face from the Past written by Kay Stonham is narrated in third person by Marie Wallace who played Elizabeth Collins Stoddard. In 1986, Elizabeth returns to Collinsport only to be confronted by a young estate agent who bears more than a passing resemblance to a young man she met many years before who ought to have been the love of her life, had fate not intervened and led her instead to become the wife of Roger Collins. This being Dark Shadows there is a supernatural element at play, and the encounter between Elizabeth and the young man ends with a bittersweet emotional climax which fits in exceptionally well with this collection’s theme of Haunting Memories.

In conclusion, Haunting Memories is a worthwhile follow up to Echoes from the Past. Whilst it is to be hoped that the next series of full-cast adventures, Bloodline (which featured in the trailers at the end of this release) will arrive in the not too distant future, these short story collections are certainly an enjoyable substitute with the next release, Phantom Melodies, due to be released imminently and a further three collections due to follow before the end of this year.

 

Haunting Memories is available now from amazon.co.uk

 

 





Rogue One: A Star Wars StoryBookmark and Share

Thursday, 5 January 2017 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Poster) (Credit: Lucasfilm)

STARRING - Felicity Jones: 'Jyn Erso',
Diego Luna: 'Cassian Andor', Alan Tudyk: 'K-2SO',
Donnie Yen: 'Chirrut Imweƒ', Wen Jiang: 'Baze Malbus',
Riz Ahmed : 'Bodhi Rook', + Ben Mendelsohn : 'Orson Krennic'

WITH - Mads Mikkelsen: 'Galen Erso', Jimmy Smits: 'Bail Organa', Alistair Petrie : 'General Draven',
Genevieve O'Reilly: 'Mon Mothma', Guy Henry: 'Governor Tarkin'
+ Daniel Naprous/ James Earl Jones: Darth Vader

AND Forest Whitaker: 'Saw Gerrera'


 Music By: Michael Giacchino, 
       
                Screenplay: Chris Weitz  + Tony Gilroy,

     Story By: John Knoll + Gary Whitta,

  Based On Characters Created By: George Lucas,

         Directed By: Gareth Edwards 
 



Released: December 2016 by Disney/ Lucasfilms

 

Please Take Care As Significant Spoilers Are Featured:


This prequel to Episode IV of the saga centres on Jyn Erso (Jones). As a child, she lives with both her parents in a small rural residence, on the planet Lah'mu. Then Imperial forces, led by Orson Krennic (Mendelsohn), demand that her father Galen (Mikkelsen) resumes his duties as a top engineer. In the struggle, Jyn's mother is gunned down, but the little girl manages to escape. She eventually is rescued by Gerrera (Whitaker), an extremist militant. As she grows up, Jyn learns many combat skills, and develops a heavy edge of cynicism, in no small part due to being abandoned by Gerrera, when he has to make a choice for 'the greater good'.

In the meantime, Galen begrudgingly helps the Empire with work for the Death Star, overseen by both Krennic and Grand Moff Tarkin, with powerful Sith Lord Vader lurking in the shadows.

As an adult Jyn is accosted by rebel agent Cassian Andor (Luna), and a struggle begins to take advantage of Galen's deliberate design of a small flaw, that can allow the lethal battle station to be destroyed. Along the way a tactless droid called K-2SO (Tudyk) lends his strength and skills, as do some human fighters, including a renegade imperial pilot (Ahmed), a blind monk with some Force powers (Yen) and a bearded strongman (Jiang).

Eventually a tumultuous struggle will occur on planet Scarif, where the forces of the Empire are amassed in great number. Yet, even with a Rebel fleet hovering in space above, this may turn out to be one gambit too far, and the Death Star plans may remain suppressed.


The second film under the helm of Disney interests, in that its climax is inevitable for anyone familiar with the classic original film that first introduced the world to Star Wars. Yet it is no less involving, as the sequence of events presented do ultimately tie in with the victory of the Rebellion, over the forces of the supremely confident (but fallible) Tarkin.

The main protagonists are a lot more flawed, and decidedly less charming than those from the various (completed and in-progress) trilogies. This is a brave move, and helps sell the darkest slice of cinematic Star Wars to date. The downside is there is a lack of charisma in general, and dialogue - often a hindrance in these movies - is particularly unmemorable. The back stories, apart from Jyn's, are also very rudimentary. Thus the film has a challenge in making cinema-goers care about the Rogue One team's fates.

The chief villain, Krennic, is despicable and we do very much wish his comeuppance. He however is - perhaps deliberately - far from scary, being more a creepy and grubby person, who is out for his own glory. There is that classic visual motif of an impeccable uniform, and a cape that swirls around him, as he marches onto his next agenda item.

Rather dramatically, Krennic dares to cross Tarkin, seeing him as someone in higher authority for the present moment. Later on he is rather more obsequious to Vader. In the end though he does  indeed "choke" on his "aspirations".

Director Orson Krennic (Credit: Lucasfilm; Starwars.com)

 It is good to have Vader in brief scenes spread across the narrative, and the classic movie villain has  great presence and the trademark sardonic wit. However it is also a little disconcerting to see yet  another face-mask reimagining, as well as a performance from James Earl Jones that feels strangely  off. The link between the suit/voice, and the Vader in A New Hope, is thus not quite what it should be.

 For me the key scene-stealer was K-2SO, (who vaguely resembles the creepy EV-9D9, from Jabba's  Palace, in Return Of The Jedi), but is programmed to aid the Rebellion. He does have perhaps rather  arch humour at times, but it usually works as light relief in such a generally grim story. (Despite its  intentions, Revenge Of The Sith did have both intentionally and unintentionally funny sections.)

 I did find the film a bit inconsistent in keeping my interest throughout the two hours-plus duration. This  was despite there being plenty of potential in the premise of the movie. Some of the plot threads do not  quite feel relevant enough, and the sense of both re-writes and re-shoots is inescapable.

Whilst more original in story terms than The Force Awakens, a lot of the highlights do feel deliberately included as crowd-pleasing moments, and for Star Wars fans in particular. Although I enjoyed the thread with Tarkin, it was rather unnecessary to give (an admittedly solid) CGI effect/actor quite so much screen time. Maybe another character linked to the Death Star, who was not quite as iconic as the one played by the late Peter Cushing, would have been a better choice.

Perhaps the difficulty securing John Williams hurts the film, somewhat too. However the legendary composer is rather elderly now, and cannot produce the amazing quantity of soundtracks that he once could. The actual music score was completed in a matter of weeks, but on its own terms is decent enough. Also jarring is the lack of an opening crawl, alongside a subdued appearance for the Rogue One title caption.


The human resistance fighters of 'Rogue One' (Credit: Photo by Jonathan Olley and Leah Evans - 2015 - Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.)The very most accomplished actors - Forest Whitaker and Mads Mikkelsen - are somewhat underused. All the same, what little screen time they do have is certainly worthy material. Felicity Jones was a perfect casting choice in The Theory Of Everything, but perhaps any number of actors could have done an equal job, even a superior one, for this rather more venomous heroine. Luna is more than convincing as a morally grey and ruthless agent, but I never quite felt the inner turmoil that someone facing so many difficult choices would have to contend with. The supporting players, however, are great fun - in particular Tudyk, who provided a (now genre standard) motion-capture performance.

One thing is for certain, and that is how expensive-looking and polished the production comes across, with many stunning SFX shots. There is a plethora of detail, and this truly is a proper war film. Of course it is also less gory than some, so as to enable a huge turnout at the box office.

Almost every single battle, of which there are many, is utterly stunning. Both the close-up, hand-held shots of action, and the more traditional, vast space opera sections (ideal for big screens and IMAX) stand up as well as anything in the war or sci-fi film genres.

The final sequences, with Vader totally impervious to an onslaught of Rebel fighters' blaster fire, and slashing with his ruby-red lightsaber, are some of the best moments of any blockbuster film in recent memory. These fleeting seconds also help amp-up the tension over whether the Death Star plans will make it into Rebel hands.

At the time of writing, the tragic death of Carrie Fisher at age sixty in our home Earth dimension, means that the cameo digital recreation of Leia feels bittersweet, rather than the resounding counter to the downbeat final reel that Edwards and his team clearly intended.


This is a very enjoyable film on some levels. It ties in with the timeless 1977 film undeniably well. But something is missing and most of the main character's fates just do not resonate as they might do, when all the stars are in alignment. There is the disadvantage of this being a one-off, whereas the much-anticipated 'young' Han Solo movies will be able to take a bit more time. But ultimately this film was made to be seen on the big screen, and for some that includes 3D or IMAX variants, and it does enough good things to more than justify the massive amount of money Disney has put into it.

The force is strong enough with this one, but it sits firmly in the middle of the pack of (ever growing) entries in the saga.


Final Score: Three Lightsabers Out Of Five





The Confessions of Dorian Gray: The Spirits of Christmas (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 31 October 2016 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
The Confessions of Dorian Gray: The Spirits of Christmas (Credit: Big Finish)
Written by Tim Leng and Alan Flanagan

     Produced and Directed by Scott Handcock
 
Cast: Alexander Vlahos (Dorian Gray), Guy Adams (Peter Jameson), Sophie Aldred(Sally Jameson), Tom Allen (Camberwell Haines), Samantha Béart (Catherine), David Blackwell (Simon Darlow), Lisa Bowerman (The Woman in the Woods), Jacqueline King (First Neighbour), Bruno Langley (Ben), Tim Leng (Second Neighbour), Colin McFarlane (The Narrator), Katy Manning (Isadora Rigby), Sarah Ovens (Teddy Quigley), Sakuntala Ramanee (Stella), Miles Richardson (Harry Wotton), Laura Riseborough (Holly), Hugh Skinner (Tobias Matthews), Bianca Stephens (Newsreader), David Warner (Santa Claus), Gabriel Woolf (The Man Upstairs)  

Big Finish Productions -  Released December 2015    

The Confessions of Dorian Gray first appeared four years ago in October 2012, originally as a weekly download only series. This seemed to be something of a risk for Big Finish to produce an original series created by Scott Handcock based upon a reimagining of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, with (at the time) relatively unknown actor Alexander Vlahos in the lead role.  However, the resulting series quickly gained a firm following amongst Big Finish listeners which has subsequently resulted in a further three series and several special episodes including appearances alongside Sherlock Holmes in 2012’s Ghosts of Christmas Past and 2015’s celebratory release The Worlds of Big Finish.

However, it seems all good things must come to an end, and Halloween 2016 sees the release of the fifth and final series of Dorian’s adventures across his long life from Victorian London through to the present day. It therefore seems apt to first review this penultimate release in the popular range which consists of two stories both set in December of 2015 which serve to set the scene for the impending finale.

First up we have the gloriously macabre Desperately Seeking Santa by Tim Leng. Only Big Finish’s casting couch could provide a release which opens with Doctor Who alumna Sophie Aldred being viciously murdered by no less stellar a guest actor thanDavid Warner, whose portrayal of the eponymous Santa is at the heart of this story. Warner shares some great scenes with Vlahos, who has continually excelled in his portrayal of Dorian. The story returns regular listeners to early December 2015, following on from the present day setting that linked the whole of the third series before series four resumed the series’ original anthology format with stories set at various stages of the 20th Century. Dorian has been reunited with the true love his life, the vampire Tobias Matthews, sensitively portrayed by Hugh Skinner, who was first introduced in one of the standout stories of the first series, The Heart That Lives Alone. Dorian and Toby are preparing to celebrate their first Christmas together but the activities of Warner’s evil Santa threaten to cause problems. There is also a brief reappearance by another of Dorian’s former lovers which seems to a hint of things yet to come. The proceedings are given an extra sinister edge with narration by Colin McFarlane. Overall, a great start to this set which indicates that Dorian and Toby’s Christmas is clearly going to be memorable for all the wrong reasons and not just because of some really bad carol singing.

Events take an even more sinister turn as we rejoin Dorian and Toby on Christmas Day itself for All Through the House by Alan Flanagan. Toby and Dorian arrive at a very old and mysterious hotel (although those familiar with Lerner and Loewe musicals will guess the significance of its name) where they start to experience some very strange goings on when they encounter characters who bear a startling resemblance to Dorian’s old friend Harry Wooton (Miles Richardson reprising the character from Big Finish’s adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray) and more intriguingly his sister Isadora, once again brilliant portrayed by Katy Manningwho previously appeared in series one’s The Twittering of Sparrows. Without wanting to give too much away this is very much an adventure story which is as dark and twisted as the series has ever managed. It becomes clear that events are being manipulated by the mysterious Man Upstairs about whom this reviewer will just say that he could only have played by Gabriel Woolf. There are surprises in store which guarantee that this story is compulsory listening for all fans of this series, especially If you have any intention of listening to series five. Basically, this second story is excellent and will justify buying this special release.

Overall, the two stories which comprise this special release continue to push the envelope as part of a great series of audio dramas. The second story in particular sets the scene for the impending release of the finale. Big Finish clearly gambled a lot in commissioning this series but four years on it’s clear that the gamble has continued to pay off with the combined creative talents of Handcock and Vlahos providing some of Big Finish’s finest output.

 

The Spirits of Christmas is available to buy now from amazon.co.uk





Survivors Series Four (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 21 October 2016 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
Survivors - Series Four (Credit: Big Finish)
 

Written by Ken Bentley, Louise Jameson, Christopher Hatherall,  and Matt Fitton

Directed by Ken Bentley 

Cast: Ian McCulloch (Greg), Lucy Fleming (Jenny), Louise Jameson (Jackie), Fiona Sheehan (Molly), Zoë Tapper (Evelyn Piper), Ramon Tikaram (Theo), Jane Maud (Mildred Sanderson/Sarah), Paul Panting (Colonel Stephen Adams), Jonathan Oliver (Lewis Bartholomew MP), Terry Molloy (John Redgrave), Sean Murray (Dr Stewart/Terry Levinson), Alex Lanipekun (Roy), Vinette Robinson (Davina), Laurence Dobiesz (Michael), Enzo Squillino Jnr (Stan)

Big Finish Productions – Released June 2016

With the release of Series Five only a few weeks away, it seems an appropriate time to catch up on the fourth boxset of Big Finish’s extremely successful, dark, gritty and powerful audio revival of Terry Nation’s original 1970s TV series Survivors. It is terrible thing to admit, but when contemplating this release this reviewer finds himself to be at a loss for words. The problem being that whilst, taken on its own merits, this box set is just as strong as the three box sets that preceded it, there is a real sense of déjà​ entendu in terms of the repetition of the format which links the four stories of this box set.

That being said, The Old Ways by Ken Bentley is a very strong opening entry which takes us back to the original outbreak of “the death”. As well as providing a welcome cameo from Terry Molloy reprising his character of John Redgrave from the first audio series, this gives a great introduction to new character Evelyn Piper, played by Zoe Tapper who starred as Anya in the re-imagined Survivors of 2008-10. A neat way of squaring the circle by uniting actors from both TV versions. There is also a strong central turn in this episode from Jane Maud as the Prime Minister’s widow Mildred Sanderson. Having had a paramilitary group of thugs calling themselves the “British Government” in the last audio series, it is a neat contrast to now discover the fate of the surviving remnant of the actual government. It is however to be hoped that having revisited the starting point of the original TV series now in the opening stories of three separate box sets (with only series two having opened several months later), Big Finish will allow the series to move on a little in future releases.

For the Good of the Cause by Louise Jameson returns us to original series regulars Greg and Jenny (Ian McCulloch and Lucy Fleming on great form throughout) who are visiting a potential ally community with a quasi-religious outlook, The Belief Foundation, headed by an idealistic leader called Theo, played with great charm as charisma by Ramon Tikaram. As someone who was a teenager in the 1990s, Tikaram’s performance as Ferdy in the series This Life was extremely influential, and so this reviewer is delighted to hear this actor being regularly employed by Big Finish. I was also go as far as saying that of the four principal antagonists who have appeared in the audio series to date, Theo is by far the most compelling performance and after the chilling performance given by Paul Thornley in series three that is really saying something. However, herein the thorny issue of repeated formula begins to raise its head. Before moving on, some praise for Jameson’s excellent portrayal of Jackie, particularly in the scene where learns of the death of her friend Daniel whose loss is still felt by this reviewer.

The third episode Collision is a welcome contribution from a new writer Christopher Hatherall, who played Tyler in last November’s third series. It starts to become apparent that all is not quite as it seems in Theo’s utopia (this will ring bells for those who remember the villainous Gilligan from series one) as the survivors of the Tartarus bunker from the opening episode struggle to integrate with the Foundation. Meanwhile a young man called Michael seeks to make amends but a revelation about his past sets the scene for confrontation as Theo’s true motives become more apparent (although not especially surprising). There is a still plenty of tension as events build.

Forgive and Forget  by Matt Fitton brings about the expected crescendo. Perhaps the highlight is that the listener may not necessarily find themselves always supporting the decisions of the protagonists. There is, as expected, a predictably enjoyable confrontation between Greg and Theo but also some powerful scenes for Fiona Sheehan as Molly who continues to impress as she confronts her past head on.

Overall, this is another very strong entry to this audio series. However, having ended up with a very similar story arc to the three previous series each revolving around a single antagonist, it ends up losing something. It is to be hoped that the next couple of series can be less formulaic whilst maintaining the powerful storytelling and strong characterisation which continue to mark this series out as a must listen.

 

Survivors Series Four is available to buy now from amazon.co.uk