Author: Michael Cook

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

REVIEW: “The Dreaming, Vol. 3 – One Magic Movement” by Simon Spurrier

dreaming vol 3I have consistently loved Simon Spurrier’s run on The Dreaming. Of all the Sandman Universe titles, it’s the one that feels the most similar in tone to Neil Gaiman’s original Sandman run. Much like Gaiman, Spurrier has been using his run on the title to muse on the very nature of storytelling. His run has been as much about the art of storytelling as it has been about the Dreaming, and its inhabitants. It’s routinely been one of my favorite titles to return to and when I heard that this volume would be the final one in his run, I was a mixture of sad and excited. It would be sad to see him go, but I was excited to see how he’d wrap up this story he’s been telling since the very first issue. And here we are, at the end. And how is that ending? Well, it’s everything I could’ve hoped for. Spurrier has taken all the threads he’d left dangling and woven them into a wholly satisfying conclusion, ending this story while leaving the door wide open for future creative teams to tell new stories. It’s simply superb. (Mild spoilers follow.)

The Dreaming, Vol. 3: One Magic Moment (written by Simon Spurrier, illustrated by Bilquis Evely (issues 15, 17, 19-20), Marguerite Sauvage (Issues 16, 18) Dani Strips (Issue 13), and Matias Bergara (Issue 14)) 
As the second year of the Sandman Universe begins, the sentient algorithm known as Wan is now the acknowledged lord of Dream’s realm, and unquestioned ruler of all his subjects. It’s a huge problem that Wan is completely insane, and more than capable of wiping out all life in the Dreaming. What can Abel, the only one who knows Wan’s secret, do about it? And what must he do to poor Matthew the Raven to put his plan into action? Collects The Dreaming #13-20.

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A Review of Season 7 of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” by Someone Who Has Only Seen Season 7 (Mostly)

Brooklyn Nine-Nine - Season 7I love Parks and Recreation. I love The Good Place. You would think I’d have been all over Brooklyn Nine-Nine as it’s cocreated by Michael Schur, the creator of both Parks and Recreation and The Good Place. And yet, I’m not. Well, that’s not true. It’s not that I’m not a fan of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, it’s that I’d literally never seen an episode before this year. I love Michael Schur and I love Andy Samberg and I’ve somehow never seen Brooklyn Nine-Nine. So, what would possess me to start watching the show with its seventh season? Honestly, sheer curiosity. The screeners for the premiere came out right as The Good Place was ending and I was curious to see how someone who’d never seen an episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine might fair tuning into the seventh season? So, that’s exactly what I did. I watched the entire seventh season as it aired. I had a friend who was a Brooklyn Nine-Nine fanatic fill in background info or recommend previous episodes that would be of vital importance to understanding the context of one of the new episodes (I have no seen the first seven episodes of season one, the first three Halloween episodes, the episode with Bill Hader, and the first Jimmy Jabs Games episode). So, in that context, how was the seventh season of Brooklyn Nine-Nine? In short: it was great. It’s turned me into a fan of the show and I eagerly look forward to binging the entirety of the first six seasons as soon as possible. (Spoilers for the entirety of season seven of Brooklyn Nine-Nine.)

“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” follows the exploits of hilarious Det. Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) and his diverse, lovable colleagues as they police the NYPD’s 99th Precinct. After Capt. Raymond Holt’s (Andre Braugher) demotion to patrolman at the end of season six, the squad’s world is turned upside down.

Rounding out the ensemble is the newly promoted Lt. Terry Jeffords (Terry Crews), a muscle-bound human mountain who loves nothing more than his three little daughters, except for a fresh carton of full-fat yogurt. The man loves yogurt. Reporting to him is Sgt. Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero), a consummate rule follower with a weak spot for dork dancing and her husband, Jake.

The other detectives in the squad include Jake’s best friend and human puppy dog, Det. Charles Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio), and the incredibly secretive, tough-as-nails Det. Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz). Also part of the Nine-Nine are veteran officers Det. Scully (Joel McKinnon Miller) and Det. Hitchcock (Dirk Blocker), whose only skill as police officers are their ability to make a passable pot of coffee.

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REVIEW: “World War Z” by Max Brooks

world war zI imagine a lot of people are going to be reading zombie books during this COVID-19 crisis. Just like the Contagion film has seen a spike in popularity, so too, I feel, will many zombie stories. I can’t blame people for turning to fiction during this time of crisis; it can be cathartic to view a disaster movie in a time of disaster. But that’s not why I finally picked up World War ZWorld War Z is one of those books I’ve been meaning to read for years. It’s frequently touted as one of the best zombie novels. I read an early screenplay for the film – back when it still tried to adhere to the book’s structure – and loved that, but I just never got around to reading the book. And then I heard that the novel’s author, Max Brooks, was publishing a new novel this year – Devolution – and I thought now was the time to finally give World War Z a read. At the end of the day, I totally see why World War Z is as beloved as it is. It’s a really unique take on the zombie genre, combining it with a traditional oral history of a real-world war is a stroke of genius. But I don’t know that I loved this book. It’s good, but the hype might have killed it for me. (Mild spoilers may follow.)

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks 
We survived the zombie apocalypse, but how many of us are still haunted by that terrible time? We have (temporarily?) defeated the living dead, but at what cost? Told in the haunting and riveting voices of the men and women who witnessed the horror firsthand, World War Z is the only record of the pandemic.

The Zombie War came unthinkably close to eradicating humanity. Max Brooks, driven by the urgency of preserving the acid-etched first-hand experiences of the survivors, traveled across the United States of America and throughout the world, from decimated cities that once teemed with upwards of thirty million souls to the most remote and inhospitable areas of the planet. He recorded the testimony of men, women, and sometimes children who came face-to-face with the living, or at least the undead, hell of that dreadful time. World War Z is the result. Never before have we had access to a document that so powerfully conveys the depth of fear and horror, and also the ineradicable spirit of resistance, that gripped human society through the plague years.

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REVIEW: “Bandstand: The Broadway Musical”

bandstandAmong the artistic industries suffering the hardest during the COVID-19 crisis is the Broadway community. Unlike with film and TV, Broadway has nearly nothing “in the can” that they can roll out to fill the time all of their theatres are shut down. No shows can be performed while all the theatres are closed and nobody can gather to see them. So, what is Broadway to do? Answer: release some of the musicals they’ve professionally filmed over the years. Which is where Bandstand enters. Directed and choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler and featuring a book and lyrics by Richard Oberacker and Robert Taylor and music by Richard Oberacker, Bandstand tells the story of a group of PTSD-suffering World War II veterans who, after returning home from the war, form a band and compete in a nationwide songwriting competition. The show opened on April 26, 2017, and closed on September 17, 2017, playing only 166 performances. The musical was filmed towards the end of its run and shown in movie theaters in November 2018. Yet most of the public, even the theatre-going public, probably haven’t heard of it. With its early closure, its mixed reviews, and its lack of any major Tony nominations, Bandstand would seem to the definition of a flop destined to rot in obscurity. But does it deserve that reputation? From a financial standpoint, sure. But from a creative one? I’d argue the opposite. I’d argue that Bandstand is one of those forgotten treasures that hit Broadway at exactly the wrong time. It’s a show filled with captivating characterizations and excellent music and is well worth a watch. (Spoilers for Bandstand follow.)

Bandstand (directed by Andy Blankenbuehler, lyrics by  Richard Oberacker and Robert Taylor and music by Richard Oberacker)
1945; as America’s soldiers come home to ticker-tape parades and overjoyed families, Private First Class Donny Novitski, singer and songwriter, returns to rebuild his life with only the shirt on his back and a dream in his heart. When NBC announces a national competition to find the nation’s next great musical superstars, inspiration strikes! Donny joins forces with a motley group of fellow veterans, forming a band unlike any the nation has ever seen. Along the way, they discover the power of music to face the impossible, find their voice and finally feel like they have a place to call home.

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REVIEW: “The Prince of Egypt – Original Cast Recording”

prince of egyptAs I say every time I review an album, I don’t consider myself a music reviewer. I know the basics of what makes a song work, but I do know what I like and I mostly know why I like it. I do consider myself someone who can review musicals, though, which is why I’ll occasionally review the cast album for a musical. A good cast album should be able to stand on its own as a wholly complete piece of music but should also be a good representation of the musical and its plot. This is where The Prince of Egypt enters. I grew up watching the film and absolutely adore it. It’s once of my favorite animated musicals of all time and I’ve long wanted it to be adapted for the stage, much like Disney does with their animated films. And it’s finally happened. A big, grande adaptation opened in London’s West End earlier this year, and its cast album dropped today. Featuring all-but-one of the film’s songs and a whole host of new songs by original lyricist and composer, Stephen Schwartz, can this new musical hold a candle to its iconic source material? In short: more or less.

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REVIEW: “The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home” (A Welcome to Night Vale Novel) by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

fowI love Night Vale. A lot. It’s one of those ideas that is eternally malleable. There’s so much that can be done with these characters and the setting and novels are a really good way for the authors to push the boundaries of the world. It’s what they did with the first two novels, Welcome to Night Vale and It Devours! and it’s obviously what they’re seeking to do here with their third, The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home. The Faceless Old Woman is the perfect character for a book devoted to her, much like the Man in the Tan Jacket was a perfect character to explore in the first novel, and the promise of finally learning her story was one that immensely interested me and got me really pumped to give this book a read. Having read it, I can safely say that it does not disappoint. For long time fans of the podcast and previous books, this one might take some getting used to, but the story it tells does complete justice to the character while still spinning a story that’s full of surprise and pathos. (Mild spoilers may follow.)

The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
In the town of Night Vale, there’s a faceless old woman who secretly lives in everyone’s home, but no one knows how she got there or where she came from…until now. Told in a series of eerie flashbacks, the story of The Faceless Old Woman goes back centuries to reveal an initially blissful and then tragic childhood on a Mediterranean Estate in the early nineteenth century, her rise in the criminal underworld of Europe, a nautical adventure with a mysterious organization of smugglers, her plot for revenge on the ones who betrayed her, and ultimately her death and its aftermath, as her spirit travels the world for decades until settling in modern-day Night Vale.

Interspersed throughout is a present-day story in Night Vale, as The Faceless Old Woman guides, haunts, and sabotages a man named Craig. In the end, her current day dealings with Craig and her swashbuckling history in nineteenth century Europe will come together in the most unexpected and horrifying way.

Part The Haunting of Hill House, part The Count of Monte Cristo, and 100% about a faceless old woman who secretly lives in your home.

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REVIEW: “Star Trek: Picard – Countdown” Comic

Star Trek Picard - CountdownI’ve never read a piece of Star Trek fiction before. Well, unless you count that weird crossover comic with Doctor Who from 2012/2013. In fact, my only real exposure to Star Trek, in general, comes from a handful of episodes of The Next Generation, the first two JJ Abrams movies, and general cultural osmosis. But when the trailers for Star Trek: Picard started dropping, I found my interest piqued. It looked like the kind of show I’d be interested in, so I made a point of watching it. At this point, several episodes have aired and I’m really enjoying the show, so I went and looked to see if anything had been released to tie into the show. And lo, and behold, there was this three-issue prequel comic from IDW, written by Kirsten Beyer and Mike Johnson and illustrated by Angel Hernandez, that promised to reveal some of the events that happened prior to the start of the show. It sounded like the kind of thing I’d be interested in, so I picked up the issues and gave them a read and, I gotta say, it’s really solid. Though a bit short, Star Trek: Picard – Countdown tells a really good story that shines a bit of light on Picard’s history before the beginning of Star Trek: Picard(Mild spoilers may follow.)

Star Trek: Picard – Countdown (written by Kirsten Beyer and Mike Johnson, illustrated by Angel Hernandez) 
Witness the events leading to the new CBS All Access series Picard in this graphic novel where new characters are introduced and secrets will be revealed. Before he retired to his vineyard, Jean-Luc Picard was the most decorated admiral in Starfleet. Then one mission changed his life forever. The Countdown starts here!

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REVIEW: “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – The Journey” by Jody Revenson

hpcursedI am one of the (seemingly) few people who really liked the script for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but I felt it had a lot of really interesting ideas and it explored some themes that I thought were worthwhile to explore in a Harry Potter story. But more than that, it seemed like the kind of story that could only work on stage; the kind of production that would have taken countless amounts of people and manhours to pull off. As someone who is literally in university studying theatre, the making of a play as huge as this one was always going to be of interest to me, especially as there’s little chance I’ll be able to make it to Broadway anytime soon to actually see this show staged. So, when Scholastic decided to publish this book all about how the play was created and initially staged, I jumped at the chance to read it. It’s exactly up my wheelhouse, and I have to say that the book does prove to be a really interesting and informative look at the making of this show – even if I do wish it went into a bit more depth.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: The Journey by Jody Revenson
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is one of the most celebrated stage productions of the past decade. Opening in London’s West End in 2016, on Broadway in 2018, in Melbourne in 2019 — and with more productions worldwide still to come (including San Francisco later this year) — the play has smashed records, collected countless rave reviews and awards, and captivated audiences night after night. Now readers are invited behind the scenes to experience the show’s journey to the stage — from the earliest phases of development with producers Sonia Friedman and Colin Callender, to the crafting of the eighth Harry Potter story with J.K. Rowling, director John Tiffany, and playwright Jack Thorne, to the gathering of an extraordinary team of artists and actors together to bring this new part of Harry Potter’s story to life.

With stunning photography, insightful interviews, and never-before-seen sketches, notes, candid backstage photos, and more, this full-color deluxe edition offers readers unparalleled access to this unique production, and is a beautiful gift for Harry Potter fans and theater lovers alike.

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REVIEW: “Bottle Grove” by Daniel Handler

Bottle GroveI have never read a Daniel Handler book. This is half-true. I grew up reading and loving A Series of Unfortunate Events, written by Handler under the pseudonym of Lemony Snicket. But I have never read one of Handler’s novels written for adults, under his own name. With that in mind, I really didn’t know what to expect when approaching Bottle Grove, his most recent novel. The synopsis promised something along the lines of magical realism, and I was definitely intrigued to see how Handler approached writing for adults versus writing for children – would he still have lots of fun wordplay and interesting prose? Unfortunately, I didn’t love Bottle Grove. I don’t know that I’d say it’s a bad book or anything, but it definitely wasn’t what I expect and I’m not sure it’s what I wanted, either. (Mild spoilers for the novel follow.)

This is a story about two marriages. Or is it? It begins with a wedding, held in the small San Francisco forest of Bottle Grove–bestowed by a wealthy patron for the public good, back when people did such things. Here is a cross section of lives, a stretch of urban green where ritzy guests, lustful teenagers, drunken revelers, and forest creatures all wait for the sun to go down. The girl in the corner slugging vodka from a cough-syrup bottle is Padgett–she’s keeping something secreted in the woods. The couple at the altar are the Nickels–the bride is emphatic about changing her name, as there is plenty about her old life she is ready to forget.

Set in San Francisco as the techboom is exploding, Bottle Grove is a sexy, skewering dark comedy about two unions–one forged of love and the other of greed–and about the forces that can drive couples together, into dependence, and then into sinister, even supernatural realms. Add one ominous shape-shifter to the mix, and you get a delightful and strange spectacle: a story of scheming and yearning and foibles and love and what we end up doing for it–and everyone has a secret. Looming over it all is the income disparity between San Francisco’s tech community and . . . everyone else.

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REVIEW: “Star Wars – Dooku: Jedi Lost” by Cavan Scott

dookuI haven’t read a single Star Wars novel since 2016’s Bloodlines (which was genuinely one of the best Star Wars stories, in general, and should be read by all Star Wars fans). It’s not that I don’t have any interest in them, although I did find it a little frustrating that so many of them were being published in the eras of the Prequel Trilogy and the Original Trilogy instead of during the era I was more interested in reading about – the Sequel Trilogy. It’s just that I didn’t really have the time to read these books that might get invalidated in a few years by another canon overhaul alongside all the other books I wanted to read. So, many Star Wars books fell by the wayside. But when I heard about Dooku: Jedi Lost, I was immediately interested. I love audio dramas and I have really enjoyed Cavan Scott’s work on various Doctor Who titles, so I was definitely intrigued. Unfortunately, having read the script and listened to the audio drama, Dooku: Jedi Lost feels more like a lost opportunity than a truly good audio drama. It’s got a good plot but the story doesn’t work well in this medium. (Spoilers follow!)

Star Wars – Dooku: Jedi Lost (by Cavan Scott)
Darth Tyranus. Count of Serenno. Leader of the Separatists. A red saber, unsheathed in the dark. But who was he before he became the right hand of the Sith? As Dooku courts a new apprentice, the hidden truth of the Sith Lord’s past begins to come to light.

Dooku’s life began as one of privilege—born within the stony walls of his family’s estate, orbited by the Funeral Moon where the bones of his ancestors lie interred. But soon, his Jedi abilities are recognized, and he is taken from his home to be trained in the ways of the Force by the legendary Master Yoda.

As he hones his power, Dooku rises through the ranks, befriending fellow Jedi Sifo-Dyas and taking a Padawan of his own, the promising Qui-Gon Jinn—and tries to forget the life that he once led. But he finds himself drawn by a strange fascination with the Jedi Master Lene Kostana, and the mission she undertakes for the Order: finding and studying ancient relics of the Sith, in preparation for the eventual return of the deadliest enemies the Jedi have ever faced.

Caught between the world of the Jedi, the ancient responsibilities of his lost home, and the alluring power of the relics, Dooku struggles to stay in the light—even as the darkness begins to fall.

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