REVIEW: “Girls5eva”

I’m gonna be honest—the only reason I watched Girls5eva is because Sara Bareilles and Renée Elise Goldsberry were in it. I never watched Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and I’m not the biggest fan of Tina Fey comedies (they’re well-made but the humor tends not to be my particular cup of tea). But, I gotta say, I enjoyed Girls5eva. To be clear, based solely on its writing, it’s a pretty standard comedy. I’ve seen similar premises done in similar ways before, and the jokes are a bit hit or miss. But Girls5eva’s special sauce is its cast. Bareilles, Goldsberry, Paula Pell, and Busy Philipps are so good that they frequently pick up the writing’s slack. Plus, there’s a whole host of entertaining guest stars that join them, making Girls5eva worth watching for its outstanding cast, alone. (3 out of 5 wands.)

Girls5eva
(created by Meredith Scardino)
When a one-hit-wonder girl group from the 90’s gets sampled by a young rapper, its members reunite to give their pop star dreams one more shot. They may be grown women balancing spouses, kids, jobs, debt, aging parents, and shoulder pain, but can‘t they also be Girls5eva?

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REVIEW: “Doctor Who: The TV Movie” by Gary Russell (Target Novelization)

Most movie novelizations end up being a not-quite-final draft of the film’s script converted into prose. There’s the occasional deleted scene or expanded character backstory, but it’s mostly just a book version of the film, as you’d have seen it. Doctor Who: The TV Movie is precisely that kind of novelization. It’s well written, sure, and Russell’s prose adds a fair amount of depth to the story that a ninety-minute TV film simply can’t have. But it’s still a very safe, very standard novelization. It’s a little disappointing compared to how different some of the other recent Target novelizations are to their original stories, but I’m kind of okay with Russell’s adaptation being as faithful and safe as it is. I have quite the soft spot for the TV film, and Russell’s novel does a great job of capturing what works about the film. (4 out of 5 wands.)

NOTE: This review features mild spoilers for Doctor Who: The TV Movie and its novelization. Read at your own risk.

Doctor Who: The TV Movie
(written by Gary Russell)
It’s December 1999, and strange things are happening as the new millennium nears. A British police box appears from nowhere in San Francisco’s Chinatown and the mysterious man inside it is shot down in the street. Despite the best efforts of Dr Grace Holloway, the man dies and another stranger appears, claiming to be the same person in a different body: a wanderer in time and space known only as the Doctor.

But the Doctor is not the only alien in San Francisco. His deadly adversary the Master is murdering his way through the city and has taken control of the TARDIS. The Master is desperate to take the Doctor’s newly regenerated body for himself, and if the Doctor does not capitulate, it will literally cost him the Earth… and every last life on it.

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REVIEW: “Doctor Who: Dalek” by Robert Shearman (The Target Collection)

Dalek is a perfect episode of Doctor Who. It’s got great character work, thrilling action sequences, and an expertly crafted and executed plot. The idea of novelizing the episode must have been a daunting one for Robert Shearman, the episode’s original writer and the author of this new Target novelization. How do you successfully translate the episode’s bone-chilling tension into prose? The answer, in Dalek’s case, is that you don’t. Instead, Shearman takes the opportunity to delve deeper into the story, stretching out the backstories of all of the characters and allowing the narrative a lot of room to breathe. This results in a compelling novel, but one that lacks the tension and focus of the episode it’s adapting. It’s a fun read—but a wildly different experience when compared to the episode. (4 out of 5 wands.)

NOTE: There will be mild spoilers for “Dalek” ahead. Read at your own risk.

Doctor Who: Dalek
(written by Robert Shearman)
The Doctor and Rose arrive in an underground vault in Utah in the near future. The vault is filled with alien artefacts. Its billionaire owner, Henry van Statten, even has possession of a living alien creature, a mechanical monster in chains that he has named a Metaltron. Seeking to help the Metaltron, the Doctor is appalled to find it is in fact a Dalek – one that has survived the horrors of the Time War just as he has. And as the Dalek breaks loose, the Doctor is brought back to the brutality and desperation of his darkest hours spent fighting the creatures of Skaro… this time with the Earth as their battlefield.

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QUICKIE REVIEW: “Child’s Play” (1988)

Believe it or not, I’ve never seen a Chucky movie. I know a lot about the franchise thanks to culture osmosis, but I’ve never sat down to watch any of the films. With SyFy working on a TV continuation of the franchise, I figured now was the perfect time to give the movies a watch. And what better place to start than at the beginning, with 1988 Child’s Play. It’s weird watching this movie and knowing that Chucky is going to be a cultural icon because while this is a great horror film it doesn’t have a lot of the trademarks associated with a Chucky film. The kills aren’t particularly gnarly, Chucky’s not cracking a bunch of jokes, and Chucky’s not even in the movie much. It’s more of a thriller than a horror movie, but that doesn’t make it any less fun. 

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QUICKIE REVIEW: “Minecraft: The Mountain” by Max Brooks

Max Brooks’s first foray into Minecraft literature, The Island, was better than it had any right being. So naturally, I was excited to see what direction he’d take the follow-up, The Mountain, in. While The Island was a charming, unique take on a Minecraft story, The Mountain overstays its welcome a bit. The whole “protagonist finds himself in the world of Minecraft and is confused about everything” gimmick grows stale, even with Brooks’s attempt at spicing things up by introducing a new character, Summer, to act as a foil to Guy, the protagonist of the two books. The problem with The Mountain is that it’s too much like the first book. What felt quaint there feels tired here. It’s just another book that hints at this grander, more interesting idea (why have these people suddenly found themselves trapped in the Minecraft world, with barely any memories of their former lives?) instead of properly exploring it.

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REVIEW: “Doctor Who: Dalek Universe 1”

If there are two things I feel are overused in current Doctor Who expanded universe material, it’s the Tenth Doctor and the Daleks. So, it’s kind of weird that I’d find myself so excited for Dalek Universe, the newest series of Tenth Doctor audio boxsets from Big Finish Productions. Truth is, I’m interested in it because it reminds me a bit of the (infamously missing) First Doctor story, “The Daleks’ Masterplan.” That story was, partially, an attempt to flesh out the Dalek universe, introducing The Space Security Service, multiple planets/governments, and a universe that’s constantly at war with the Daleks. It’s one of those Doctor Who things that has always begged for further exploration, and it’s bonkers to think that the show has never really returned to it. This is why it was so exciting to see Big Finish leaning into it as hard as they are with Dalek Universe. This first volume of Dalek Universe feels like a prelude for stories to come. It’s an exciting, sweeping space opera that reintroduces elements from Classic Who into the world of New Who. It features fantastic sci-fi ideas, David Tennant’s best Big Finish performance to date, and a captivating throughline that makes me eager to hear the rest of the series. Plus, if you’re like me and a bit tired of the Daleks, then fret not. The Daleks barely appear in this. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)

NOTE: There will be minor spoilers for Dalek Universe 1. Nothing major is spoiled, but read at your own risk.

Doctor Who: Dalek Universe 1
(written by John Dorney and Andrew Smith)
Time has gone awry. The Doctor is lost, without his TARDIS. But he’s not alone. The Space Security Service agents Anya Kingdom and Mark Seven haven’t always been on his side in the past, but now they are here to help him. And he’s going to need them – because the oldest foes of all are waiting to strike. Ready to take down their greatest enemy…

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REVIEW: “Doctor Who: The Crimson Horror” by Mark Gatiss / “Doctor Who: The Witchfinders” by Joy Wilkinson (Doctor Who Target Collection)

The Target range of Doctor Who novelizations has long held the ability to transform an otherwise average-to-bad episode of the show into a memorable and enjoyable book. Sometimes, what doesn’t work on screen is destined to work on the page, and granting the original screenwriter the opportunity to expand upon their script often yields exciting results. This is the mindset I approached the latest wave of the range with. Neither “The Crimson Horror” nor “The Witchfinders” are bad episodes of Doctor Who, but they are decidedly average ones, which means there’s quite a lot of room for them to be bettered in a novelization. While “The Crimson Horror” doesn’t really achieve this feat, “The Witchfinders” does. And, to be fair, both novels are immensely enjoyable and should prove pleasing to any Doctor Who fan who decides to read either story.

“Doctor Who: The Crimson Horror” by Mark Gatiss
Something ghastly is afoot in Victorian Yorkshire. Something that kills. Bodies are washing up in the canal, their skin a waxy, glowing red… But just what is this crimson horror? Madam Vastra, Jenny and Strax are despatched to investigate the mystery. Strangely reluctant to assist their enquiries is Mrs Winifred Gillyflower, matriarch of ‘Sweetville’, a seemingly utopian workers’ community. Why do all roads lead to the team’s old friends Clara and the Doctor? Who is Mrs Gillyflower’s mysterious silent partner Mr Sweet? And will the motley gang be in time to defeat the mysterious power that threatens all the world with its poison?

“Doctor Who: The Witchfinders” by Joy Wilkinson
The TARDIS lands in the Lancashire village of Bilehurst Cragg in the 17th century, and the Doctor, Ryan, Graham and Yaz soon become embroiled in a witch trial run by the local landowner. Fear stalks the land, and the arrival of King James I only serves to intensify the witch hunt. But the Doctor soon realises there is something more sinister than paranoia and superstition at work. Tendrils of living mud stir in the ground and the dead lurch back to horrifying life as an evil alien presence begins to revive. The Doctor and her friends must save not only the people of Bilehurst Cragg from the wakening forces, but the entire world.

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QUICKIE REVIEW: “The Last Blockbuster”

I grew up right around the time Blockbuster started dying. I can remember occasionally going to my local Blockbuster with my family and renting videos, but it wasn’t something we did all that often. With that said, I still have quite a nostalgic kick for the idea of Blockbuster—and video stores in general. For me, video stores are akin to libraries—they’re places you can go to find new films that are curated by people trying to give you a positive experience. And, in that regard, I will always be a little sad about the demise of video stores. Yes, it’s far easier and more convenient to just rent a digital copy of a film from Amazon or iTunes or whatever, but you lose out on that curation, on that sense of community. And it’s this very point that gets highlighted in The Last Blockbuster, a documentary about, well, the last Blockbuster in the world.

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QUICKIE REVIEW: NBC’s “Debris”

If you’re a sci-fi fan and you’re not watching Debris, you’re missing out on a fun show. Debris is one of those weird experiments in how little exposition a show can get away with giving. The pilot episode drops viewers in the middle of the action, with Brian and Finola having been tracking debris for several weeks already. It’s a gutsy way to start such a high-concept series, for sure. But it’s honestly a breath of fresh air in a genre that usually spends an unwieldy amount of time setting premises up before anything interesting happens. It’s nice getting right to the action, especially when the action involves a new piece of Debris each week that lets the writers explore a multitude of science fiction ideas. Want a story about clones? Check out episode two. Want something involving wormholes? Episode three’s your bet. Want to see an episode where old people can become young again? Watch episode six. I’m not always the biggest fan of procedural shows, but Debris offers a nice balance between fun cases of the week and an intriguing ongoing mystery—there’s some kind of terrorist group trying to find the pieces of debris before the various governments can and they seem to be up to no good. The mystery needs some development, but it’s enough to keep you coming back each week to see the newest strange case.

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REVIEW: “Killadelphia vol. 2 – Burn Baby Burn”

The first arc of Rodney Barnes and Jason Shawn Alexander’s Killadelphia ranked among my favorite comics of 2020. It was a breathtaking, gorgeous, layered story that blended absurd-yet-scary horror with gritty, grounded character drama. So, naturally, I was pretty excited to see where the comic would go from there. That first volume ended in a way that opened numerous narrative doors for future stories. And that’s a pretty exciting place for a second arc to find itself. Now, to be fair, Barnes and Alexander certainly take advantage of those numerous avenues—but it comes at the cost of narrative coherence. While the first volume of Killadelphia was something new and exciting, the second volume feels like more of the same—with all of the pros and cons that come with that. The world is explored with more depth, but the narrative is often unfocused, with an ending that’s less of an ending and more of a beginning for another story. There’s too much going on and not enough time to explore it with. (3 out of 5 wands.)

NOTE: This review will remain as spoiler free as possible.

Killadelphia vol.2 – “Burn Baby Burn”
Written by Rodney Barnes
Illustrated by Jason Shawn Alexander
Adams’ battle to reshape the United States in his own twisted vision might have been thwarted for now, giving Jimmy Sangster a moment of respite, but the war for a new America rages on! Now, as Abigail steps out of the shadows, she unleashes a new violent terror upon the city some have renamed Killadelphia. But this time, it’s about creating as widespread a web of fear imaginable as she rips the beating heart from the city itself.

Can Jimmy stop her or will history repeat and force him to meet the same fate as his father?

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