Author: Michael Cook

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

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.

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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.

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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?

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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.’

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REVIEW: Doctor Who: “The War Master – The Master of Callous” (Big Finish Box Set)

warmaster2masterofcallousartwork.jpg_cover_largeThe War Master: The Master of Callous is one of my least favorite box sets from Big Finish Productions. It’s a shame, too, as I really love Derek Jacobi as the Master and I enjoy stories that focus on the Master doing dastardly things. I enjoyed the first War Master box set, Only the Good, quite a bit, mostly because it felt like the writers had something to say about the War Master and had something for him to do. That box set went a long way towards tying the Master from the classic series (and Eighth Doctor audios) and the Master from the revived TV series together. This box set, on the other hand, features none of that interesting writing. Here, it doesn’t feel like the writers had anything new to say about the character, nor did it feel as though the character actually had anything to do. In fact, he’s barely in two of the four stories! Needless to say, I’m not a fan of this box set. (NOTE: There will be spoilers ahead.)

(Written by James Goss and Guy Adams)
On the mining colony Callous, Elliot King struggles to meet the demands of its governor, Teremon. The odds are stacked against him, and his options are running low. The world that once promised dreams now offers only despair. A wild Ood stalks the forests, carrying an antiquated phone. The caller promises much – he claims he can change the world – but he always speaks a devastating truth. He is the Master and the Ood will obey him… but to what end?

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REVIEW: “A Series of Unfortunate Events” – Season 3

asoue-posterAll good things must come to an end. The same remains true for unfortunate things, too. Even A Series of Unfortunate Events must come to an end. With season 3, that’s exactly what the Netflix adaptation on the Lemony Snicket series does. The books are pretty notorious for their lack of any kind of real resolution or concrete answers to the mysteries presented throughout the series. So, with that in mind, how does the show handle the ending? The answer: much the same, but a bit different. Featuring a bit more resolution than what was found in the books, season 3 of A Series of Unfortunate Events brings the somewhat uneven series to a satisfying conclusion.

Season 3 of A Series of Unfortunate Events adapts the final four novels of Lemony Snicket’s acclaimed novels. The series follows the Baudelaire orphans – Violet (Malina Weissman), Klaus (Louis Hynes), and Sunny (Presley Smith / Tara Strong (voice)) – after they’ve suffered a terrible tragedy: the deaths of their parents and the destruction of their home. The orphans are sent to live with Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris), a villain who will stop at nothing to obtain their fortune. Their journey will take then into the wilderness of a snowy mountain, to the depths of the ocean, to a mysterious hotel, and all the way to a deserted island. There are no happy endings in this story, so what will become of the Baudelaire orphans?

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REVIEW: Doctor Who 2019 New Year’s Special – “Resolution”

7Well, that episode should’ve been the real series 11 finale of Doctor Who. Resolution is exactly the kind of exciting, explosive story that you’d want to end a series of Doctor Who with, so at least we got it a mere three weeks after the series technically ended. In possibly the worst kept secret of Chibnall’s era so far, Resolution featured the return of the Daleks (or, to be completely honest, a Dalek) and what a return it was! (This review will feature spoilers)

Episode 1111: Resolution (written by Chris Chibnall, directed by Wayne Yip)
As the new year begins, a terrifying evil from across the centuries of Earth’s history is stirring. As the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker), Ryan (Tosin Cole), Graham (Bradley Walsh) and Yaz (Mandip Gill) return home, will they be able to overcome the threat to planet Earth?

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REVIEW: “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch”

BM_Bandersnatch_Vertical-Main_PRE_RGBChoose-Your-Own-Adventures books are always a lot of fun. You’re able to explore multiple different endings to a story, some ridiculous, some serious, and you’re able to replay that story countless times to explore each different branch of the story. It’s a method of storytelling that’s never really been tried in film or TV before. Before Bandersnatch, that is. Bandersnatch is the first film in the Black Mirror series. Written by Charlie Brooker and directed by David Slade, Bandersnatch is a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure film that allows audiences to choose how the story of Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead) plays out. It’s a whole lot of fun and genuinely impressive to watch (and participate in). (NOTE: There will be spoilers for Bandersnatch. I will try to keep them minor, but it’s hard to talk about this film without spoiling some things.)

In 1984, a young programmer begins to question reality as he adapts a sprawling fantasy novel into a video game and soon faces a mind-mangling challenge.

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REVIEW: “Mythicals” by Dennis Meredith

MythicalsI love a good sci-fi book, that much is well known. But what about a sci-fi book that puts forth the idea that all the mythological creatures from Earth’s history (fairies, pixies, werewolves, vampires, etc) are actually alien species exiled to our planet as punishment for crimes made on their own planets? Well, a book like that would be right up my wheelhouse. That’s exactly the kind of book that Dennis Meredith’s Mythicals is. It’s also a very good one, too.

Drunken journalist Jack March can’t believe his bleary eyes when he stumbles onto a winged fairy! She vaults away into the night sky, and his unbelievable—and unbelieved—encounter leads to a stunning revelation that all the creatures of myth and legend are real!
Fairies, pixies, trolls, werewolves, ogres, vampires, angels, elves, bigfoot—all are alien exiles to the planet. For their crimes, these “mythicals” are serving out banishment disguised in flesh-suits enabling them to live among the planet’s natives.
Jack reveals their secret to the world, along with a horrendous discovery: they have decided that the native “terminal species” must be eradicated before it ruins its home planet’s ecology.
In this riveting scifi/fairy tale, Jack joins with sympathetic fairies, pixies, and ogres to attempt to save the planet from the mythicals, as well as the mysterious alien cabal known as the Pilgrims.

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REVIEW: “Mary Poppins Returns”

mary poppins returnsposterMary Poppins is one of Disney’s best live-action musicals. It jump-started the film career of Julie Andrews and provided audiences with some of the best known Disney songs. With that in mind, how does one make a sequel to such a classic, beloved film? According to Rob Marshall (director of Mary Poppins Returns) and David Magee (writer of Mary Poppins Returns), the best way to make a sequel is to essentially remake the original film, using a similar (but less interesting) plot and far less memorable songs.

In Depression-era London, a now-grown Jane and Michael Banks, along with Michael’s three children, are visited by the enigmatic Mary Poppins following a personal loss. Through her unique magical skills, and with the aid of her friend Jack, she helps the family rediscover the joy and wonder missing in their lives.

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