REVIEW: “Stranger Things – Suspicious Minds” by Gwenda Bond

suspicious mindsMy biggest problem with Stranger Things is that there’s too much pre-teen drama and not enough spooky stuff/weird government conspiracy stuff. I find myself far more interested in what’s going on in Hawkins Lab than I am in what Dustin, Mike, Will, and Luke are up to. So, getting through the show is always a bit of an ordeal for me as I just want the weird, spooky stuff. So, when Suspicious Minds was announced as the first official Stranger Things tie-in novel, I was pretty excited. It sounded like I’d finally be getting my wish. I’m happy to report that this novel is full of weird, creepy government stuff and I adored every page of it.

A mysterious lab. A sinister scientist. A secret history. If you think you know the truth behind Eleven’s mother, prepare to have your mind turned Upside Down in this thrilling prequel to the hit show Stranger Things.

It’s the summer of 1969, and the shock of conflict reverberates through the youth of America, both at home and abroad. As a student at a quiet college campus in the heartland of Indiana, Terry Ives couldn’t be farther from the front lines of Vietnam or the incendiary protests in Washington.

But the world is changing, and Terry isn’t content to watch from the sidelines. When word gets around about an important government experiment in the small town of Hawkins, she signs on as a test subject for the project, code-named MKULTRA. Unmarked vans, a remote lab deep in the woods, mind-altering substances administered by tight-lipped researchers . . . and a mystery the young and restless Terry is determined to uncover.

But behind the walls of Hawkins National Laboratory—and the piercing gaze of its director, Dr. Martin Brenner—lurks a conspiracy greater than Terry could have ever imagined. To face it, she’ll need the help of her fellow test subjects, including one so mysterious the world doesn’t know she exists—a young girl with unexplainable superhuman powers and a number instead of a name: 008.

Amid the rising tensions of the new decade, Terry Ives and Martin Brenner have begun a different kind of war—one where the human mind is the battlefield.

(more…)

REVIEW: “What In God’s Name?” (aka “Miracle Workers”) by Simon Rich

coverTonight, TBS is premiering a new show, Miracle Workers, based on Simon Rich’s novel, What In God’s Name?, a book about God deciding he doesn’t want to keep dealing with humans, so he’s going to destroy the Earth instead – leaving two angels, Craig and Eliza, the task of convincing God that humanity is worth saving. Since the novel wasn’t too long, I thought I’d give it a read before the show premiered on TV to see how good it was. I’m happy to report that it’s a genuinely entertaining read.

Welcome to Heaven, Inc., the grossly mismanaged corporation in the sky. For as long as anyone can remember, the founder and CEO (known in some circles as “God”) has been phoning it in. Lately, he’s been spending most of his time on the golf course. And when he does show up at work, it’s not to resolve wars or end famines, but to Google himself and read what humans have been blogging about him.

When God decides to retire (to pursue his lifelong dream of opening an Asian Fusion restaurant), he also decides to destroy Earth. His employees take the news in stride, except for Craig and Eliza, two underpaid angels in the lowly Department of Miracles. Unlike their boss, Craig and Eliza love their jobs – uncapping city fire hydrants on hot days, revealing lost keys in snow banks – and they refuse to accept that earth is going under.

The angels manage to strike a deal with their boss. He’ll call off his Armageddon, if they can solve their toughest miracle yet: getting the two most socially awkward humans on the planet to fall in love. With doomsday fast approaching, and the humans ignoring every chance for happiness thrown their way, Craig and Eliza must move heaven and earth to rescue them – and the rest of us, too.

(more…)

REVIEW: “Doctor Who: Scratchman” by Tom Baker

ScratchmanDoctor Who: Scratchman is a story that’s been gestating for a long time. Beginning life as an idea for a film by the Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, himself, Scratchman never resulted in an actual film, and the idea gathered a lot of dust as Baker moved onto other things. Until now, that is. Aided by prolific Doctor Who novelist, James Goss, Tom Baker returned to his Scratchman idea and turned it into the newest Doctor Who novel from BBC Books. So, is the novel worth the long wait? More or less, yeah.

In his first-ever Doctor Who novel, Tom Baker’s incredible imagination is given free rein. A story so epic it was originally intended for the big screen, Scratchman is a gripping, white-knuckle thriller almost forty years in the making.

The Doctor, Harry and Sarah Jane Smith arrive at a remote Scottish island, when their holiday is cut short by the appearance of strange creatures – hideous scarecrows, who are preying on the local population. The islanders are living in fear, and the Doctor vows to save them all. But it doesn’t go to plan – the time travelers have fallen into a trap, and Scratchman is coming for them.

With the fate of the universe hanging in the balance, the Doctor must battle an ancient force from another dimension, one who claims to be the Devil. Scratchman wants to know what the Doctor is most afraid of. And the Doctor’s worst nightmares are coming out to play…

(more…)

REVIEW: The Diary of River Song – Series 5

drs05_slipcase_1417sqOver the years, River Song (Alex Kingston) has had adventures with every (living) Doctor from the classic run of Doctor Who and those adventures have been a whole lot of fun. With that in mind, it was only a matter of time until she started meeting some of the Doctor’s biggest enemies. And now, she meets, perhaps, the Doctor’s greatest enemy. And several incarnations of them, to boot. Namely, Missy (Michelle Gomez), the Burnt Master (Geoffrey Beevers), the War Master (Derek Jacobi), and the Master from the TV movie (Eric Roberts). With this lineup of actors and characters, you’d expect quite the exciting set of adventures and I’m happy to report that this box set is every bit as good as you’d hope it would be.

The Doctor isn’t the only Time Lord River runs into on her travels up and down the timeline. The Master, in all of his – or her – guises, also has a chequered history with Professor Song. And whenever they meet, it’s a close call as to who comes out on top… It’s something River must get used to: there are three people in her marriage – at the very least!

(more…)

Some Thoughts on Live TV Musicals

rent-03We’re living in a golden age of the Live TV musical. Every year since 2013, we’ve gotten a new live broadcast of a famous musical. There are usually star-studded, filled to the brim with well-known actors from the stage and screen, and no expense is spared when it comes to the set and costumes. Why, then, are these productions usually met with reactions that range from indifference to hatred? Do we live in a society that finds itself too cynical to enjoy a good old musical? I don’t think so. I think the problem lies less with the audience and more with the creative team and the producers of these productions. In general, each of these productions has had at least one of four problems that result in their less-than-stellar reception: the choice of musical was questionable, the cast wasn’t great, the live audience (or lack thereof), or the camerawork. The teams behind each of these productions had their hearts in the right place, but nearly all of them fell into one of those traps, resulting in audience derision. (more…)

SCRIPT REVIEW: “Network” by Lee Hall

network lee hall

Regular readers of this blog know that I don’t frequently review the scripts of plays. Most scripts are designed to just be the blueprint of a theatrical production; their main purpose in existing is to aid directors, designers, and actors in the creation of a live performance. So, it’s often unfair to judge a play based solely on its script as there are so many more elements that go into a successful play than just a good script. That being said, I recently read the script for Network – a new adaptation of the classic film – and I have some thoughts on it.

I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore. Howard Beale, news anchorman, isn’t pulling in the viewers. In his final broadcast he unravels live on screen. But when the ratings soar, the network seize on their newfound populist prophet, and Howard becomes the biggest thing on TV. Adapted for the stage by Lee Hall from the Paddy Chayefsky film, Network premiered at the National Theatre, London, in November 2017.

(more…)

REVIEW: Fox’s “Rent: Live”

rent liveRent. It’s a musical that many people have heard of. It’s a musical that many either passionately love or passionately hate. It’s a musical that had a monumental impact on the Broadway musical. It’s also the newest musical to be adapted for TV as a live broadcast. And, I’ll be honest, when I heard that Fox was gonna do Rent as their next live musical, I didn’t think it was a great idea. Rent isn’t exactly network-TV friendly; it’s filled with lots of explicit language and adult themes and stuff you can’t do or say or network TV, so I assumed it would likely be censored to hell and back in order to make it comply with the standards and practices of Fox. With all that being said, how’d the producers and cast of Rent: Live do? Well, it’s a mixed bag.

A re-imagining of Puccini’s “La Bohème,” and set in New York City’s gritty East Village, “Rent” tells the unforgettable story of seven artists struggling to follow their dreams during a time of great social and political turmoil. Winner of four Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize, writer/composer Jonathan Larson’s tour de force continues to offer an inspiring message of hope and friendship.

The star-studded cast includes actress Kiersey Clemons (Joanne Jefferson), Emmy nominee and Tony Award winner Brandon Victor Dixon (Tom Collins), singer/songwriter Jordan Fisher (Mark Cohen), actress and singer Vanessa Hudgens (Maureen Johnson), newcomer and singer/songwriter Brennin Hunt (Roger Davis), R&B/Pop superstar Mario (Benjamin Coffin III), recording artist Tinashe (Mimi Marquez) and performer Valentina (Angel Dumont Schunard). Additionally, Keala Settle will perform the iconic solo from “Seasons of Love” and join the ensemble in the live musical.

(more…)

Season 3 of “The Good Place” Ends Much Stronger Than it Began

The Good Place - Season 3The Good Place is one of my favorite shows currently airing on TV. There’s nothing as funny, heartwarming, and genuinely well-written and well-made as this show. Unfortunately, every show is subject to a rough patch or two, and much of the first half of season 3 of The Good Place could be considered this show’s rough patch. At first, putting all the humans – Eleanor (Kristen Bell), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil), and Jason (Manny Jacinto) – back on Earth in an attempt to see if they can improve their lives seemed like a good idea. But, it quickly turned out that without that element of fantasy the show’s afterlife setting gave it, it all felt a bit less special. Thankfully, about midway through the season, the writers started reintroducing some of those fantastical elements before eventually killing the humans again and returning the show to the afterlife. And that’s when things got really good. When we last left off, Janet (D’Arcy Carden) had taken all the humans and Michael (Ted Danson) into her void while she and Michael went to the Accountant’s office to investigate the points. There, they found out that nobody had made it into The Good Place in over 500 years, and quickly Michael and the gang end up traveling through a mail chute into the mailroom of the Good Place. And things only get crazier and more satisfying from there. (SPOILERS AHEAD)

Episode 3×11: The Book of Dougs (written by Kate Gersten and directed by Ken Whittingham)
Michael’s resolve is put to the test. Meanwhile, Jason wrestles with his feelings and Chidi surprises Eleanor.

Episode 3×12: Chidi Sees the Time-Knife (written by Christopher Encell & Joe Mande and directed by Jude Weng)
Michael arranges an important meeting and Janet makes a reconnection.

Episode 3×13: Pandemonium (written by Megan Amram & Jen Statsky and directed by Michael Schur) 
Various events occur, in a certain specific order.

(more…)

REVIEW: “Doctor Who: The Secret in Vault 13” By David Solomons

secret in vault 13I am beginning to notice a trend with these books featuring the Thirteenth Doctor: I am liking them more than I liked a lot of the episodes in her first season. Perhaps it’s the fact that the novels have a bit more time to fully tell the stories they are wanting to tell. Perhaps it’s because these writers have an amazing grasp on these characters and the kinds of Doctor Who stories that work well in prose-form. Whatever the case, The Secret in Vault 13 is another excellent Doctor Who novel.

The Doctor has never faced a challenge quite like this.
A sinister school where graduation means death . . .
A monstrous mystery lurking beneath a quiet London street . . .
A desperate plea for help delivered by . . . Hang on. A potted plant?

The Doctor has been summoned. The galaxy is in terrible danger, and only a Time Lord can save it. But to do so, she must break into the ancient Galactic Seed Vault. And at its heart lies a secret: Vault 13. The Vault has remained unopened for millions of years and is located on a remote and frozen world–from which nobody has ever returned alive. . . .

Can the Doctor and her friends Yaz, Ryan, and Graham uncover the shocking secret in Vault 13?

(more…)

REVIEW: “Jeff Wayne’s The War of the Worlds – The Musical Drama”

war-of-the-worlds-coverH.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds has always been a better premise than it has been a story. The premise is just so interesting and malleable that it can be adapted and readapted into any number of different permutations. It’s this ability, more than the content of the actual story, that has allowed the novel to stand the test of time. Most of the well-known adaptations of the novel bear strikingly little in common with it – Orson Welles’ radio drama moves the action to America in the 1930s, and the two major film versions do the same thing, just in different time periods. One of the most well-known adaptations – that also skews pretty closely to the content of the original novel – was Jeff Wayne’s musical adaptation of the story. First released as a concept album in the 1970s, his adaptation has seen massive popularity in multiple worldwide tours. On the fortieth anniversary of the original release of that adaptation, Audible has released a new adaptation of Jeff Wayne’s musical – an audio drama featuring music from the musical and a new script. Is it as good as the musical? Well, I’m not sure I’d quite go that far, but it is pretty darn enjoyable.

When H. G. Wells first published The War of The Worlds in 1898, the novel quickly became a sci-fi classic. The story of extraterrestrials from Mars invading Earth captured the public’s imagination, inspiring a famed 1938 radio broadcast with Orson Welles, several feature films, countless video games, and a best-selling musical concept album by Jeff Wayne in 1978, among others.

Immersing listeners in a world that is as thrilling as it is desolate, Jeff Wayne’s eerie and pulsating score brings the suspense, drama, and urgency of Wells’s original novel to a fever pitch in this Audible Original Drama. Michael Sheen headlines an ensemble cast of talented performers that also includes Taron Egerton, Adrian Edmondson, Theo James, and Anna-Marie Wayne.’

(more…)