MUSIC REVIEW: The Network’s “Trans Am”, Tim Minchin’s “Apart Together”, and “If the Fates Allow: A Hadestown Holiday Album”

I don’t normally review music here. From time-to-time, I make exceptions, but on the whole, I don’t feel particularly qualified to review music. I don’t write music, I don’t understand how one comes up with the perfect song. Nonetheless, I love music. And, sometimes, there are weeks where multiple albums that I am excited about all release on the same day. And, on those weeks, I feel the desire to take a listen to those albums and talk about them. This week, The Network (a Green Day side project) released an EP entitled “Trans Am,” Tim Minchin released his debut solo album entitled “Apart Together,” and the original Broadway cast of Hadestown released “If the Fates Allow: A Hadestown Holiday Album.” So, let’s talk about all of them.

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REVIEW: “The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special”

Continuing with the Holiday spirit, The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special just came out on Disney+ today. I am (unfortunately) familiar with the infamously terrible original Star Wars Holiday Special, and when I heard that this new Lego special would be a quasi/spiritual sequel to that original special, I was both intrigued and terrified. The trailers made it look charming and irreverent, but everything about Life Day (the fictional holiday at the heart of both Star Wars holiday specials) is mired in controversy and questionable choices—seriously, who thought it was a good idea to have the original Holiday Special’s dialogue be comprised of almost entirely unsubtitled Wookie-speech? But still, it looked fun. With all of that in mind, how is The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special? It’s solid. It is a holiday-themed, caffeine-fueled, hyperactive joyride through Star Wars past and future that should satisfy the child audience the special is aimed at while potentially exhausting everyone else. (3 out of 5 wands.) 

The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special (Written by David Shayne, directed by Ken Cunningham)
Directly following the events of “Star Wars :The Rise of Skywalker,” Rey leaves her friends to prepare for Life Day as she sets off on a new adventure with BB-8 to gain a deeper knowledge of the Force. At a mysterious Jedi Temple, she is hurled into a cross-timeline adventure through beloved moments in Star Wars cinematic history, coming into contact with Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Yoda, Obi-Wan and other iconic heroes and villains from all nine Skywalker saga films. But will she make it back in time for the Life Day feast and learn the true meaning of holiday spirit?

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REVIEW: “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey”

Who doesn’t love a good Christmas movie musical? I certainly do, as do most others, I think. There’s just something about Christmas and musicals that go very well together. So, when I heard that Netflix was making Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey, I was interested to see what they’d pull together. The trailer looked like a whimsical delight, filled with gorgeous sets and an all-star cast. And, having seen the film, that’s precisely what it is. While Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey could stand to be about thirty minutes shorter, it’s a bundle of holiday joy packed with fantastic performances, gorgeous visuals, and some pretty solid songs. (3.5 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: There may be mild spoilers ahead. Read at your own risk.)

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (written and directed by David E. Talbert)
A musical adventure and a visual spectacle for the ages, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is a wholly fresh and spirited family holiday event. Set in the gloriously vibrant town of Cobbleton, the film follows legendary toymaker Jeronicus Jangle (Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker) whose fanciful inventions burst with whimsy and wonder. But when his trusted apprentice (Emmy winner Keegan-Michael Key) steals his most prized creation, it’s up to his equally bright and inventive granddaughter (newcomer Madalen Mills) — and a long-forgotten invention — to heal old wounds and reawaken the magic within. From the imagination of writer-director David E. Talbert and featuring original songs by John Legend, Philip Lawrence, and Davy Nathan, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey reminds us of the strength of family and the power of possibility. 

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REVIEW: “Doctor Who – The Knight, The Fool, and The Dead” by Steve Cole

Time Lord Victorious, the first Doctor Who multimedia crossover event, has begun. Promising to chronicle how the Tenth Doctor tries to become the master of death, it looks like a fun and creative way to tell a truly expansive Doctor Who story. With the event fully underway, what better place to begin my coverage than with the first novel – The Knight, The Fool, and The Dead. Written by Steve Cole, it’s a pretty solid Doctor Who story and lays some intriguing groundwork for the Time Lord Victorious event, but as a stand-alone story, it’s a bit lacking. It’s got great characters, a great premise, and some solid writing, but the whole thing is undercut by a criminally low page count that prevents Cole from examining any of his ideas with the depth they deserve. (3.5 out of 5 wands.)

NOTE: There are mild spoilers ahead. Read at your own risk.

Doctor Who: The Knight, The Fool, and The Dead by Steve Cole
The Doctor travels back to the Ancient Days, an era where life flourishes and death is barely known… Then come the Kotturuh – creatures who spread through the cosmos dispensing mortality. They judge each and every species and decree its allotted time to live. For the first time, living things know the fear of ending. And they will go to any lengths to escape this grim new spectre, death.

The Doctor is an old hand at cheating death. Now, at last, he can stop it at source. He is coming for the Kotturuh, ready to change everything so that Life wins from the start.

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REVIEW: “Repo! The Genetic Opera”

I love a good, bad movie. Especially ones that aren’t trying to be bad. There’s something deeply enjoyable about a movie taking itself utterly seriously and being incredibly genuine with its material – especially when the results are probably not as objectively “good” as its creators might have intended. This is where Repo! The Genetic Opera enters. Repo! The Genetic Opera is a movie musical in the same vein as The Rocky Horror Picture Show – it’s a sci-fi musical made on a low budget that, in the years after its release, has found a cult following. And, like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Repo! The Genetic Opera is just one of those films that have to be seen to be believed. It is all at once confusing, entertaining, delightful, baffling, and grotesque. It’s an experience to behold and it’s a film that I adore. (4 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: There are spoilers ahead.)

Repo! The Genetic Opera (written by Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich, directed by Darren Lynn Bousman)
In the mid-21st century, an epidemic of organ failures leads to the rise of GeneCo., a company providing transplants at a great price. Those who miss their payments become targets of GeneCo. mercenaries, who repossess the organs. In a world of drug addiction and legalized murder, a sheltered youth (Alexa Vega) seeks a cure for her rare disease as well as information about her family’s mysterious history. Her questions are answered at “The Genetic Opera.”

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NEWS: “American Gods” Season 3 Trailer (and all other NYCC teases)

It’s been about a year and a half since the second season of Starz’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods ended. In the time since, a new showrunner has been appointed, some cast members have come and gone, and a pandemic has brought much of the film and TV industry to a complete standstill. But, as the saying goes, the show must go on – and go on it has, with much of the upcoming season’s post-production work happening quietly and remotely throughout the last several months. But finally, after a long wait, American Gods leapt onto the New York Comic Con scene with plenty of news, announcements and reveals about the upcoming season – including new key art and a trailer!

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REVIEW: “Working on a Song: The Lyrics of Hadestown” by Anaïs Mitchell

Hadestown is one of my favorite musicals from the last few years. It moved me in a way that many musicals fail to do. I found the whole thing utterly captivating and gorgeous. It’s one of those rare musicals where the entirety of the show is delivered through its music and lyrics. Sure, the staging plays a large part in the deliverance of the story, but there is no spoken dialogue. Everything that’s said on stage comes from the music – all of which came from the mind of Anaïs Mitchell. And that’s what makes Working on a Song: The Lyrics of Hadestown so appealing. It’s widely known how difficult writing musicals is. So, when it was announced that a book exploring the lyrics of Hadestown was due to be published, along with extensive commentary from Mitchell, I was immediately curious to see what all she’d talk about in the book. And, man, if you’re looking for insight into how composers and lyricists craft musical, this is the book for you. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)

In this book, Anaïs Mitchell takes readers inside her more than decade’s-long process of building the musical from the ground up—detailing her inspiration, breaking down the lyrics, and opening up the process of creation that gave birth to Hadestown. Fans and newcomers alike will love this deeply thoughtful, revealing look at how the songs from “the underground” evolved, and became the songs we sing again and again.

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REVIEW: “The Crossroads at Midnight” by Abby Howard

Something about the late summer/early autumn months makes me crave spooky stories. There’s nothing better than curling up and reading a scary story or watching a scary movie on an early autumn afternoon. It’s a nostalgic feeling for me and I am constantly on the lookout for new and unique spooky stories to read. So, naturally, I adored Abby Howard’s The Crossroads at Midnight, a graphic novel collecting five short stories. Feeling both classic and contemporary, it’s the perfect fix for horror-lovers looking for something new to sink their teeth into. Plus, the artwork is gorgeous. (5 out of 5 wands.) 

(NOTE: I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher and Edelweiss in exchange for a fair review. All thoughts are my own.) 

The Crossroads at Midnight by Abby Howard
An old woman living alone on the edge of a bog gets an unexpected — and unsettling — visitor, throwing her quiet life into a long-buried mystery. An isolated backwoods family stumbles into good fortune for a time with a monstrous discovery in the lake behind their house, but that time is running short. And a misfit little girl, struggling to make friends, meets an understanding soul one day at the beach: but why will he only play with her alone at night? All these lonely souls — and more — have reached out into the darkness, not knowing what they might find.

Around the dark edges of reality lurk unknown beings with unknowable intentions — ordinary objects can become cursed possessions, entities who seem like friends can become monstrous, and those who seem monstrous can become the truest companions. In this collection of evocative, unnerving slice-of-life horror, five stories explore what happens when one is desperate enough to seek solace in the unnatural, and what might be waiting for us at the Crossroads at Midnight.

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REVIEW: “The Last Halloween: Children” by Abby Howard

Halloween is right around the corner, which means now is the perfect time to find some new and interesting spooky tales. Some of my favorite spooky stories are those aimed at younger audiences. I love a good horror movie or novel, but so often those stories aimed at adults go into such extreme corners of horror that they just aren’t fun. This isn’t the case with horror stories aimed at younger audiences. These stories rely on creating scary atmospheres and balance their spooks with clever ideas and a sense of fun. This is exactly what the first book of Abby Howard’s webcomic, The Last Halloween, does. The Last Halloween is in the same vein as many classic spooky stories. It balances interesting and unique characters, scares, and a sense of adventure, spinning an atmospheric tale that is as addicting as it is fun. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher and Edelweiss in exchange for a fair review. All thoughts are my own. Additionally, there may be mild spoilers ahead.)

The Last Halloween: Children by Abby Howard
It’s a lonely Halloween night for ten-year-old Mona. While everyone else is out having a ghoulishly good time, she’s stuck inside without so much as a scary movie to watch. Just when she figures this evening can’t get much worse, a giant monster appears in her living room, proving her very, very wrong. Running for her life, Mona quickly sees that she’s not alone; trick-or-treating’s been canceled due to monster invasion! A barrier keeping billions of monsters at bay has broken and the horrific hordes have descended upon humanity, wreaking bloody havoc everywhere they stomp, slither, or squish. She may not be equipped for it, but it’s up to Mona to save the world with a team of fellow weirdos by her side. Perhaps they will succeed. Or perhaps this will be . . . The Last Halloween.

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REVIEW: “CODE 404” (Peacock Original)

I love a good sci-fi comedy. The melding of sci-fi concepts and comedy is often endlessly entertaining. However, there seems to be a general lack of sci-fi comedies on TV – especially in America. There are the occasional horror comedies and fantasy comedies but you don’t see many sci-fi comedies. This is where Peacock’s newest show, CODE 404 enters. A blend of traditional buddy cop comedies and entertaining sci-fi concepts, CODE 404 is an enjoyable, dryly funny show. Plus there’s a pretty fun mystery at the heart of the series. (4 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: There may be mild spoilers for Code 404 ahead. You have been warned.)

CODE 404 (created by Daniel Peak, Tom Miller, and Sam Myer)
DI John Major (Daniel Mays) and DI Roy Carver (Stephen Graham) are the best of the best at an elite undercover police team. When Major’s cover is blown and he is met with his untimely death, he is brought back to life with some glitchy AI technology. Now, he’s better than ever – or so he thinks.

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