Tag Archives: 1990-1999

The Return of Doctor Mysterio

BBC

My rating: 4.5 of 5

NOTE: This TV special takes place following The Husbands of River Song” and immediately preceding series 10 of Doctor Who. It’s relatively spoiler-free, but you should still be sure to watch “The Husbands of River Song” first because you’ll miss half the feels of this episode if you don’t.

On Christmas Eve of 1992, the Doctor is in New York, trying to stabilize the mess he’s made of time there. That night, he encounters a young boy named Grant and accidentally gives the boy superpowers (don’t ask; it’s the Doctor) . . . and a strict command to never use those powers. Twenty-four years later, the Doctor returns to New York to investigate an alien invasion (surprise) only to encounter Grant–who is living a double life as both nanny to a small baby and local masked superhero “Ghost.” So much for never using those powers. . . .

At first, I was kind of exasperated with the writers for choosing a superhero story–I mean, that’s basically the only sort of movie that seems to be coming out right now! And honestly, I’m not the superhero movie type. But “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” is Doctor Who, and I have to admit that it brings in the best of both worlds. You’ve got all the quirkiness and geekiness of Capaldi’s Doctor (absolutely brilliant!) and the classic Who alien invasion story. Plus you’ve got a good guy trying to protect the people he loves and live up to the ideals of the old superhero comics he read as a kid . . . all the while keeping his true identity a secret from the very clever and insightful (except as it regards him) journalist that he works for. The lightness and action of the superhero plot (and the sweet, innocent romance they work in) actually do a lot to counterbalance what may otherwise have been a very dark and angsty story (if you’ve watched “The Husbands of River Song,” you know why). On the other hand, the interactions between the Doctor and the journalist, Lucy, are humorous on the surface but serve to draw out and develop the Doctor’s inner turmoil, which is neat to see. In any case, I would definitely recommend “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” to any fan of Doctor Who.

Written by Steven Moffat/Directed by Ed Bazalgette/Produced by  Peter Bennett/Music by Murray Gold/Starring Peter Capaldi, Matt Lucas, Justin Chatwin, & Charity Wakefield

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Finders Keepers

finders-keepersAuthor: Stephen King

Bill Hodges Trilogy, vol. 2

My rating: 3.5 of 5

WARNING: MATURE AUDIENCE

In his obsession with the writings of reclusive author John Rothstein (whom he considers a sell out), Morris Bellamy devises a plan to break into the old man’s house and exact his revenge. There’s also the tantalizing rumor that Rothstein has been writing in private and has volumes of unreleased work hidden somewhere in his home. Morris’s plan works, and he gets away clean, burying dozens of Moleskine notebooks full of Rothstein’s writing as well as several thousand dollars in cash that Rothstein also kept in his safe . . . only to find himself imprisoned for life on other charges before he gets to read a single one of those notebooks. Decades later, thirteen-year-old Pete Saubers finds Morris’s buried treasure by accident. And who could fault a kid for secretly passing the money along to his struggling parents, bit by bit–or for obsessively reading the Rothstein notebooks, fueling an already burning passion for literature. But things get messy when Morris is released from prison and comes looking for what he buried (what he killed for) so long ago.

I have found every Stephen King book I’ve read so far to be quite enjoyable, including Finders Keepers. Having said that, I think King does his best work when there’s something paranormal involved. This book is more of a crime thriller, and while it’s still quite excellent, it’s not his best in my personal opinion. I should note that this is the middle volume of a loosely connected trilogy (preceded by Mr. Mercedes and followed by End of Watch), but it’s entirely possible to read it independently (I did) without missing much; all the background you really need is worked into the plot. I thought the characters were solid enough, although I never strongly connected with any of them–Pete and Holly were probably the closest I came, but even they weren’t particularly immediate to me. The plot was fairly interesting though, all of the seemingly disconnected pieces fitting together like a puzzle. As far as the pacing goes, this is a fairly slow-burn thriller, if that makes any sense at all. There’s definitely action, suspense, and intensity, but as far as the story chronology goes, it takes decades to build, and for the reader, it takes place over several hundred pages. I wouldn’t plan to read the whole thing through in one night, that’s all.  It never got boring or stalled out though, at least not for me. Fair warning that, since one of the characters is a murderer and a convict, this book has more than its fair share of violence and language, so don’t come complaining to me if it’s shocking. Just saying. One of the most fascinating aspects of Finders Keepers for me was the obsession the characters had with Rothstein’s story; that’s something I can sort of relate to, and it’s also a good warning. I think most of us can agree that Bellamy is just stark raving mad, completely losing sight of the boundaries between fiction and reality. The greater warning is Pete’s story, that fine wavering of those boundaries that we can explain away logically while still doing nutty things to feed our obsessions, losing sight of what’s really important–like the people we care about. In any case, although it’s not my favorite of King’s books, I still think Finders Keepers is a good read, especially for those who enjoy the crime genre.

 

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The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

Author: Jonas Jonasson/Translator: Rod Bradburythe-100-year-old-man-who-climbed-out-the-window-and-disappeared

My rating: 4 of 5

On his one-hundredth birthday, Allan Karlsson finds himself in a nursing home with a big party planned in his honor. If only they had deigned to ask what he wanted! Allan would much rather have a bottle of vodka to enjoy–something that is, in fact, forbidden in the home. In that case, it’s time to stop sitting around. Allan climbs out the window of his room and embarks on quite the adventure, one including murder and elephants and, of course, vodka. Not that it will be the first adventure of his long life.

I first discovered The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared through a review by Paul@The Galaxial Word (which you should check out; it’s excellent). It seems that this is a book which inspires rather polarized opinions in either direction. Personally, I enjoyed it, but I think you have to come at it with the right expectations. Because this book is, essentially, an extended tall tale, a larger than life story that’s meant to be fun and funny but that can’t be taken too seriously. The humor is rather dark, I must warn; there’s some violence (actually, quite a bit) scattered throughout the story as well. I found that, while I didn’t exactly like the characters, they were interesting and they all contributed to the story. As for the plot, it’s a fascinating blend. Half of the time, you get a present-day romp through contemporary Sweden with this old man and the people he picks up along the way sending the police and the papers on a merry chase. The other half, scattered between the present-day chapters, is a historical progression through Karlsson’s long and storied life. It shows his intimate involvement–brought about by his coincidental presence in most circumstances–in numerous high-profile situations throughout the years. Obviously, such involvement is highly improbable and historically unlikely (a common complaint that I’ve heard). Duh. It’s a tall tale; it’s meant to be improbable and unlikely. I did enjoy the close-up walkthrough of those historical events though. I guess what I’m getting at is that, while it’s not for everyone, I personally found The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared to be enjoyable, and I’m planning to check out others of the author’s books (which all seem to be just as ridiculously titled!).

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Ouroboros (2015 TV Series)

TBSouroboros

Status: Completed, 10 episodes

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Growing up together in the orphanage of Mahoroba, Danno Tatsuya and Ryuzaki Ikuo found love, inspiration, and strength in their caregiver, Yuiko-sensei. . . . That is, until one night when she is murdered and the case is covered up by a police man wearing a gold watch. Young Tatsuya and Ikuo vow to find Yuiko’s murder and exact their own justice. Twenty years later, Tatsuya is a leader in the yakuza and Ikuo is rising through the ranks of the police, working together to ferret out any clues as to Yuiko’s killer. But will they be able to handle the truths they find?

Ouroboros is probably the best J-drama I’ve seen to date. Of course, part of that is the fact that it stars both Shun Oguri and Toma Ikuta, two of my favorite actors. They have a really great dynamic when they work together, and their part in this show was definitely a huge plus for me. But I think that even for those unfamiliar with these two, the show has a lot to offer. It’s a cops and yakuza story, with lots of interconnecting plots, tragic backstory, and a nice balance of drama and action. There are some nicely choreographed fight scenes, even. And an adorable but tragic love story (more than one, depending on how you look at it). Of course, being a J-drama, there’s a certain amount of just plain goofiness, especially at the beginning (then again, can you put Toma in a show without some goofiness?). But again, it balances out, and by the end of the show, it’s just plain heartbreaking. This is a tear-jerker, to be sure, but I think the writers did a great job of making the story fall the way it needs to, not the way you necessarily want it to. . . . It feels like hitsuzen when you get down to it, I guess. Also just have to mention that the character development is remarkably well done–especially for this sort of show–and even the relatively minor characters are interesting. And one last point of note: the casting for the childhood versions of Tatsuya and Ikuo are fabulous. So often, kids seem just picked at random, but the kids chosen for the roles here are perfect, both in appearance and in how they act. Ouroboros is high on my list of recommendations, both for those who enjoy J-dramas and for those who like detective stories in general.

Note: At this point, I don’t know of an official English version of this show, but there are some quite decent fan-subs available.

Based on the manga by Kanzaki Yuya/Directed by Yasuharu Ishii/Music by Kimura Hideakira/Starring Toma Ikuta, Shun Oguri, & Juri Ueno

 

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Neverwhere (TV series, 1996)

BBCNeverwhere TV

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Richard Mayhew had a nice, normal life with a steady job and a fiancée ready to order every aspect of his life perfectly. But one evening on the way to an important dinner that all changes as Richard stops to help Door, a young girl who is clearly injured and frightened. Following that moment of doing the right thing, he finds himself suddenly unnoticeable and unmemorable to everyone in normal London society. Thus, he is forced to seek Door and her strange companions in London Below, a strange world that he had never even been aware of previously. And somehow, Richard finds himself caught up in this huge adventure to find who murdered Door’s family and to get her safely to the Angel Islington. All poor Richard wants is his old life back, or so he thinks.

So, I’m pretty sure I came at the Neverwhere TV series completely backwards. I mean, the Neil Gaiman book Neverwhere is based on the TV series, but I read the book first, ages before I was even aware that there was a TV show. Having read the book first, I was expecting to be a bit disappointed in the screen version (I usually am), but I  was willing to give it a try since it was also written by Neil Gaiman. I was very pleasantly surprised to find that the TV version is actually quite good. I think the actors picked for the characters are excellent. Richard and Door are absolutely perfect, as is Hunter. The Marquis was . . . well, I was expecting someone a bit more Johnny Depp, but Paterson Joseph’s portrayal of the role definitely grew on me over the course of the story. And seeing a younger Peter Capaldi as the Angel Islington was fabulous (although I hardly know what to make of him without a Scottish accent and a gruff attitude). The plot is concise (there are only 6 episodes of 30 minutes each), but it feels complete; I was actually quite impressed by how much story was fit into such a brief series. I would say that comparing the book and the TV show in terms of plot, they are remarkably consistent. One of the things I loved best about this show was the wonder and magic that was expressed in such simple ways. While a modern story would likely use sparkly lights and huge special effects to express these ideas, this show uses mystery, blurred graphics, and a lot of subtle suggestion to get the idea across. There’s a dark Alice in Wonderland feel to it all that’s absolutely perfect. Basically, Neverwhere is a great show that I highly recommend to anyone who likes a good urban fantasy.

Created by Neil Gaiman & Lenny Henry/Directed by Dewi Humphreys/Music by Brian Eno/Starring  Gary Bakewell, Laura Fraser, Hywel Bennett, Clive Russell, Paterson Joseph, Trevor Peacock, Elizabeth Marmur, Tanya Moodie, Peter Capaldi, & Earl Cameron

 

 

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Angel

Created by Joss Whedon & David Greenwalt

Leaving Sunnydale behind, Angel finds himself alone in Los Angeles, brooding (what else is new), alone, and still nursing his guilt over his previous (pre-soul, vampiric) life. Fortunately, the powers that be (truly) send help his way in the form of Sunnydale expatriate Cordelia Chase–who’s not making the big movie break she was expecting–and Doyle–an Irish half-demon with skull-bursting visions that point the team to those in trouble. Together, these three form the beginnings of a team, “Angel Investigations,” dedicated to rendering aid to those who need it–and, of course, to opposing the working of evil in the city, which in L.A. means the law firm, Wolfram & Hart. Angel and his team are sure to have their work cut out for them, but they just might be able to make a difference . . . and if they’re lucky, they might even make enough money to stay in business!

I came to Angel as, probably, most viewers do: as a spin-off series from Buffy, starting simultaneously with season 4 of the Sunnydale classic. I’m honestly not sure if that’s a good thing or not. There are certainly things that carry over–you have a lot of back-story on the characters going in to Angel if you’ve watched the first few seasons of Buffy first, for instance. But the genres are pretty different. I feel like I should pause and say first that I honestly enjoyed Angel very much and would watch it again. Having said that, I felt like it was, on the whole, a weaker story–the plot’s all over the place, the character set is erratic, and sometimes I had no idea what sort of genre I was supposed to be watching. Plus, they used all that CSI flashing between scenes at the beginning; that just about gave me vertigo (hyperbole), ugh. But in spite of not knowing whether it’s a detective story or a soap opera, I usually enjoyed the story, wherever it went. I think a lot of that is attributable to the characters, many of whom I absolutely loved. I think one of the most positive aspects of this show for me was that it took characters that I rather disliked in Buffy–namely Cordelia and Wesley Wyndam-Pryce–and actually developed them into mature characters that I truly enjoyed. Also, the inclusion of more peaceable characters like Lorne and Fred (love those two!) added a lot to the story. Honestly, the one character I really didn’t care for was Angel himself, not because he was poorly placed–Boreanaz did an excellent job portraying him–but because I just don’t like who he is, never have really. But I guess the show must have some significant redeeming qualities elsewhere if I like it despite disliking the main character. Finally, the ending was somewhat abrupt, but I do understand that the show was cut unexpectedly (and is said to be continued in some graphic novels, though how that’s possible, I don’t know).  Anyhow, I enjoyed Angel, and I think Buffy fans who have a taste for more detective-y, urban stories would likely enjoy it also.

Starring: David Boreanaz, Charisma Carpenter, Glenn Quinn, Alexis Denisof, J. August Richards, Amy Acker, Vincent Kartheiser, Andy Hallett, James Marsters, & Mercedes McNab

Note: This TV series consists of 5 seasons (yes, it doesn’t seem like it should end where it does).

Note 2: Does anyone else get a Star Wars vibe out of Connor?

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Another

Author: Yukito Ayatsuji

Translator: Karen McGillicuddy

In the wake of his hospitalization for a collapsed lung, Koichi Sakakibara moves in with his aging grandparents and his aunt Reiko while his father is out of country for work. He also transfers into the local middle school, Yomiyama North–the same school his dead mother and his aunt had attended when they were kids. While there is nothing clearly spelled out, he soon gets the sense that something is very wrong at his school, or at least in Class 3. Everyone seems uneasy, afraid even. Not to mention there’s a girl in their class who may or may not exist–Koichi has talked to her numerous times, but everyone else doesn’t seem to even see her or know her name. And just when things couldn’t get eerier, people related to his class start dying. Finally, he gets something of an explanation . . . his class is cursed with an extra member who is actually dead.

I first encounter Another as an anime, and in that context it was super scary and gross but extremely good at the same time. The light novel on which the anime is based gives almost exactly the same impression, although it is more suspenseful and less disgusting in my opinion. Ayatsuji-san is first and foremost a mystery writer, and that comes through strongly even when he writes horror. The gradual unfolding of details is brilliantly done, never quite giving the reader enough to get a jump on the plot. If I hadn’t known from watching the anime first, I absolutely never would have guessed the surprise ending–it’s actually kind of an evil set up for the reader, but I love it. This is definitely a plot-centric story, but the characters are also important–they’re well written and engaging, but just distant enough to make the plot work. For instance, you’re always thinking “what if he/she’s the one?” On a side note, I think McGillicuddy’s translation work is excellent–it flows nicely and maintains the perfect atmosphere throughout. It’s interesting to compare her work on the Book Girl light novels in contrast to this; I think it gives a better idea of what the actual authors’ writing flavors are, you know? In any case, if you don’t like mystery/horror stories, avoid Another at all costs, but if that sort of story appeals to you, this is a highly recommended option, for sure.

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