Author: Michael Cook

A theatre kid dabbling in the art of reviewing the things he reads, watches, listens to, and sees.

REVIEW: “It Chapter Two”

it chapter twoIt is a really tricky beast to adapt. It’s a massive novel that constantly jumps between time periods in such a way that to adapt it exactly as written would prove impossible for any kind of Hollywood film as it would require such an extensive runtime – or such an outrageous amount of cuts to the source material – that it just wouldn’t work. So, on the surface, it might seem like a really good idea to separate the two timelines in the novel into two movies – the first exploring the Losers Club’s childhood battle with Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) while the second movie deals with their second battle with him, as adults. The 1990 miniseries mostly took this approach – though certain elements of the adult storyline were mixed with that of the children storyline, the two were mostly kept separate. The 2017 remake of It took it a step farther by presenting audiences with a film that focused entirely on the younger incarnation of these characters. With the wild success of that first movie, its inevitable sequel, It Chapter Two, was left to adapt the adult storyline and wrap the whole story up. Does it accomplish this and is it as good as the first film was? Yes and no. This movie isn’t a great horror film, nor is it a particularly good sequel – but it is a solid and deeply enjoyable movie. (Mild spoilers for It Chapter Two and all other versions of the story follow.)

It Chapter Two (Written by Gary Dauberman, directed by Andy Muschietti)
Evil resurfaces in Derry as director Andy Muschietti reunites the Losers Club in a return to where it all began with “IT Chapter Two,” the conclusion to the highest-grossing horror film of all time. Twenty-seven years after the Losers Club defeated Pennywise, he has returned to terrorize the town of Derry once more. Now adults, the Losers have long since gone their separate ways. However, kids are disappearing again, so Mike, the only one of the group to remain in their hometown, calls the others home. Damaged by the experiences of their past, they must each conquer their deepest fears to destroy Pennywise once and for all…putting them directly in the path of the clown that has become deadlier than ever.

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REVIEW: “Doctor Who – The 13th Doctor, Volume 2”

13th doc vol 2With Jodie Whittaker’s second season as the 13th Doctor delayed until 2020, fans of Doctor Who are left to turn to other mediums to get their fix of new Doctor Who stories. Thankfully, Titan Comics continues to put out new 13th Doctor comics each and every month. And they’re really good, too, with each arc comprising a single storyline that feels like a complete episode of the series!

Doctor Who – The 13th Doctor, Volume 2 by Jody Houser, illustrated by Rachael Stott and Roberta Ingranata
A mysterious podcast leads the Doctor, Yaz, Graham, and Ryan throughout history as they work out how they’re involved in its creation and just who’s behind “Hidden Human History”.

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REVIEW: “Hadestown” – Original Broadway Cast Recording

Hadestown (Original Broadway Cast Recording)I say this every time I review any kind of music on this blog but it often bears repeating: I normally don’t review music. I don’t really feel all that qualified to talk about music as the only real knowledge I have of how it’s made comes from a 100-level college Music Appreciation course. So, because of that, I review music infrequently – and I review cast recordings eve less often as they usually comprise roughly 50% of the show and are an unfair representation of the entire quality of any musical. That being said, let’s talk about the Original Broadway Cast Recording for Hadestown – the winner of the 2019 Tony Award for Best New Musical. The Hadestown cast recording is unusual when compared to other cast recordings as it contains the entirety of the show’s score (most cast recordings leave out some reprises – or, even, entire songs). In that light, I think it’s worth looking at the album as a concept record and examine how it tells the story it’s trying to tell and how the music works to do this. (Spoiler alert: I really love this album a lot.)

Welcome to Hadestown, where a song can change your fate. This acclaimed new musical by celebrated singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell and innovative director Rachel Chavkin (Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812) is a love story for today… and always. Hadestown intertwines two mythic tales—that of young dreamers Orpheus and Eurydice, and that of King Hades and his wife Persephone—as it invites you on a hell-raising journey to the underworld and back. Mitchell’s beguiling melodies and Chavkin’s poetic imagination pit industry against nature, doubt against faith, and fear against love. Performed by a vibrant ensemble of actors, dancers and singers, Hadestown is a haunting and hopeful theatrical experience that grabs you and never lets go.

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Disney and Morality, or: How The Idea That ‘Viewing a Film is a Kind of Moral Act’ is a Bad Take – An Editorial

disney and moralityAt San Diego Comic-Con this past weekend, Disney/Marvel announced the slate of titles making up Phase Four of the MCU. Among the titles announced are five films – Black Widow, Eternals, Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and Thor: Love and Thunder – and five Disney+ shows – Falcon and the Winter Soldier, WandaVision, Loki, What If?, and Hawkeye. Some of these movies/shows seem interesting, others I don’t know enough about yet; but, overall, I found it rather hard to get excited for any of them as it all just sort of feels like an endless onslaught of similar-looking and feeling blockbusters that slowly erode any innovation within the artform. I wasn’t the only person with a take like this and, as you’d expect, there were some MCU-fans pretty unhappy with those who were less-than-enthusiastic about the news. One such fan replied to a pretty popular (progressive) YouTuber’s tweet, suggesting that the mixed reaction was partially in response to the Phase Four lineup consisting of films that focused on women/people of color/LGBTQ+ characters more than previous MCU films have. This accusation leveled at this particular YouTuber was a bit ludicrous as this YouTuber has long championed diversity in films, but it did lead to a conversation about how viewing Disney films has turned into a bit of a moral stance, often pushed by Disney’s own PR team. The idea goes that by watching one of Disney’s films featuring progressive ideas (such as having a diverse cast), you’re taking a moral stance in support of an issue rather than just giving your money to a corporation that doesn’t really care about these issues you care about. It’s an interesting conversation, and a kind of funny one, especially in light of Disney’s long history of immorality. (A quick note – I am not trying to insult or criticize anyone who is excited about any of Disney’s upcoming films, nor am I trying to insult or criticize anyone who really enjoys these movies. What I am trying to criticize is Disney’s framing of the viewing of their films as a moral statement while they do very immoral things as a company.)

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REVIEW: “The Lion King” (2019)

TheLionKing5c736ad86cb97In news that will surprise exactly nobody: I didn’t like this remake of The Lion King. I historically haven’t liked any of the recent Disney “live-action” remakes, but I dislike this one for reasons that are different to why I didn’t like the others. But first, it’s important to note that I was never on the hype train for the original version of The Lion King. Sure, it’s a wonderfully enjoyable movie with a killer soundtrack, but it wasn’t notably better than any of the other films from that era of the Disney Rennaissance. It had all the usual problems found in those movies: odd pacing, a saggy middle, and supporting characters and villains that ended up far more interesting than the main character. But it was still very well done, featured some stellar animation, and was full of heart. All of what made the original Lion King a classic is gone in this photo-realistic CGI remake (I refuse to call it a live-action remake because none of this movie was filmed live; it was all done in a computer so it’s every bit as animated as the original version was, just with a different form of animation). Instead, we’re left with some pretty impressive looking CGI animals that are devoid of any life or heart and a movie that hews so closely to the original that it begs the question: why bother making this at all?

The Lion King (written by Jeff Nathanson, directed by Jon Favreau)
From Disney Live Action, director Jon Favreau’s all-new “The Lion King” journeys to the African savanna where a future king is born. Simba (JD McCrary as a child; Donald Glover as an adult) idolizes his father, King Mufasa (James Earl Jones), and takes to heart his own royal destiny. But not everyone in the kingdom celebrates the new cub’s arrival. Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Mufasa’s brother-and former heir to the throne-has plans of his own. The battle for Pride Rock is ravaged with betrayal, tragedy and drama, ultimately resulting in Simba’s exile. With help from a curious pair of newfound friends (Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner), Simba will have to figure out how to grow up and take back what is rightfully his.

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REVIEW: “Books of Magic”, vol. 1: Moveable Type

791348._sx1280_ql80_ttd_I never read Neil Gaiman’s original 4-issue run of Books of Magic, nor did I read any of the subsequent runs, so, naturally, of the four titles initially announced for the first wave of Sandman Universe series, this one was the one I was least interested in. It’s not that I wasn’t interested in the premise – I love a good story about people learning how to do magic – but it was more the idea that, due to my lack of knowledge of any of the previous stories, I’d be totally lost going into this comic and find myself unable to enjoy it for what it is. Thankfully, that’s not what happened. Unfortunately, it is still my least favorite ‘volume 1’ of the three in the Sandman Universe that I’ve read so far. (Mild spoilers follow!)

Books of Magic, Volume 1: Moveable Type (written by Kat Howard, illustrated by Tom Fowley, colors by Jordan Boyd) 
While Tim’s trying to study and attract the cutest girl in his class, there are cultists who want to kill him, believing his magical powers will eventually corrupt him, turning him into a merciless mage that will bring upon the end of magic forever! But when a mysterious new substitute teacher for his school called Dr. Rose wants to mentor and educate him in the magical arts so that he can discover the secrets behind the Books of Magic, Tim believes he has the tools to find his missing mother. Is this sudden guidance too good to be true, and what connection–if any–does Rose have to the disappearance of Tim’s teacher Mr. Brisby?

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REVIEW: “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman

ocean at the end of the lane bookI first read The Ocean at the End of the Lane around the time it was originally published in 2013. It was the first novel from Neil Gaiman I’d ever read; I’d seen his Doctor Who work, watched Neverwhere, and read some issues of The Sandman by this point but I had never read one of his novels in their entirety. Talk about a hell of a way to get into Gaiman’s work. At the time, I was just approaching adulthood, so this novel’s tale of a middle-aged man going through a deeply nostalgic trip down memory lane really hit me hard as it evoked feelings of long-lost childhood and the story itself proved to be far scarier than anything I’d read from Gaiman before – or, frankly, since. Now, since a stage adaptation of the novel has recently been announced by the National Theatre in the UK (it hits the stage in December of this year and I desperately hope National Theatre Live broadcasts it), it felt like the perfect time to revisit this book. It’s been six years since I last read it and I reread books so infrequently that it’ll almost be like experiencing this story for the first time all over again. And how is it returning to this story, you might ask? Wonderful. I truly adore this novel.  (NOTE: this review may feature spoilers related to the plot of the story.)

A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse where she once lived, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

A groundbreaking work as delicate as a butterfly’s wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out.

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FIRST LISTEN: “Escape” by Salem Belladonna

Escape_Official_BestLast summer, I took a look at Circus of Alice, the first album from indie pop artist Madison Chase. That first album was the product of a young musician – it was made while she was a teenager – but it was easy to see that she had boatloads of talent and made the listener extremely interested in future music she’d make. Years have passed since that album came out, and she’s released a handful of new songs here and there, each of them showing her evolution as an artist while maintaining a similar stylistic connection to her previous work. Now, this past week, she dropped her newest single, “Escape”, as well as a total rebranding of her artistic persona: now performing under the name Salem Belladonna (henceforth, this post will refer to her by this stage name), “Escape” is the first song of the next era of music from Salem Belladonna – and the song continues where her previous singles have left off: furthering her evolution as an artist while pushing her music in both new and familiar directions – all while being a damn good, catchy song. (Two notes: 1. I don’t normally review much music on this blog, so I’ll do my best at sounding like I have any idea what I’m talking about. 2. In the interests of full disclosure, I know Madison in real life. That being said, all thoughts, as always, are my own and are not influenced by any outside sources.) (more…)

REVIEW: “Neverwhere” – The Illustrated Edition, by Neil Gaiman (will illustrations by Chris Riddell)

neverwhereI tried to read Neverwhere, the first solo novel from Neil Gaiman, years ago but I had shortly beforehand watched the original TV version of the story, so I had a lot of trouble getting into the novel as it skewed so closely to what I’d so recently watched. Years passed and I’d read a number of Gaiman’s other novels – Stardust, American Gods, Anansi Boys, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and more – while never returning to his first to really give it a fair shot. Now,  in the wake of the success of Gaiman’s adaptation of his and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens, I thought I’d return to a few favorites of Gaiman’s work while finally giving Neverwhere a real chance. Enough time has passed that I don’t really remember a whole lot of the TV show, so it was really the perfect time to give the book I read. I went to my local bookstore and found a new version of the book – Gaiman’s preferred text, now illustrated by Chris Riddell, one of Gaiman’s frequent collaborators. With this new copy of the book and a copy of the audiobook – narrated by Gaiman, himself – it was time to finally read Neverwhere. Now, having finished the book, I can honestly say that I’m really mad at myself for how long it took me to read this book because it’s really that damn good. (NOTE: This review will discuss elements of the story itself, Riddell’s illustrations, and Gaiman’s audiobook. Also, mild spoilers for a 23-year-old novel follow.) 

Neverwhere (written by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell)
Richard Mayhew is a young London businessman with a good heart whose life is changed forever when he stops to help a bleeding girl—an act of kindness that plunges him into a world he never dreamed existed. Slipping through the cracks of reality, Richard lands in Neverwhere—a London of shadows and darkness, monsters and saints, murderers and angels that exists entirely in a subterranean labyrinth. Neverwhere is home to Door, the mysterious girl Richard helped in the London Above. Here in Neverwhere, Door is a powerful noblewoman who has vowed to find the evil agent of her family’s slaughter and thwart the destruction of this strange underworld kingdom. If Richard is ever to return to his former life and home, he must join Lady Door’s quest to save her world—and may well die trying.

Published in 1997, Neil Gaiman’s first novel, Neverwhere, heralded the arrival of a major talent. Over the years, various versions have been produced around the world. In 2016, this gorgeously illustrated edition of the novel was released in the UK. It is now available here, and features strikingly atmospheric, painstakingly detailed black-and-white line art by Chris Riddell, one of Gaiman’s favorite artistic interpreters of his work.

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REVIEW: “Stranger Things” Season 3

StrangerThings_S3_Illustrated_Vertical_FINAL_RGB_Digital__ENI was late hopping onto the Stranger Things train. I tried watching the first season back when it was initially released in 2016 but I just couldn’t get into it. It featured all the things that so many Spielberg movies (many of which the series is clearly trying to emulate) have that annoy me – too much focus on the adolescent drama and not enough focus on the actual spooky stuff. So, I never got into it. Fast forward to December 2018, when I finally sit down to watch through the first two seasons of the show. I still stand by a lot of my initial thoughts, but it’s hard not to get into the show. It fetishizes the 1980s to the point where it almost feels masturbatory, never having anything interesting to say about its time period and merely mining the era for as many nostalgic references it cram into the show as humanly possible; it never explores its mythology with any of the depth you’d want it to; and it often gets too caught up in the kids’ needless drama and odd side stories, but it’s a mostly fun show. The two novels and comic series that have been released in the downtime between season two and season three have gotten me far more interested in the universe of the story than the show ever did, so, naturally, I’m interested in seeing what season three does with the storyline. Will it finally explore some of the more interesting elements of its mythology or will it just be more of the same frustrating balance the first two seasons had? Spoiler alert: it’s the latter. Season 3 of Stranger Things is more of the same stuff we’ve already seen and not much new. (Mild spoilers ahead!)

It’s 1985 in Hawkins, Indiana, and summer’s heating up. School’s out, there’s a brand new mall in town, and the Hawkins crew (Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Noah Schnapp, and Sadie Sink) are on the cusp of adulthood. Romance blossoms and complicates the group’s dynamic, and they’ll have to figure out how to grow up without growing apart. Meanwhile, danger looms. When the town’s threatened by enemies old and new, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) and her friends are reminded that evil never ends; it evolves. Now they’ll have to band together to survive, and remember that friendship is always stronger than fear.

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