Of The Macabre, Musicals, Magic, and Maslany

9 to 5 – Live Theater 

For my wife’s birthday we went out for a dinner theater at the Mayfield Theater in Edmonton to a stage version of the 1980 film that starred Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, and Dabney Coleman.  The movie examined the office politics and sexual discrimination that took place in the 1980s and in some ways seems dated though sadly not enough.  Now the movie is best remembered for the Dolly Parton songs that came out of it.

We had seen the Buddy Holly story the previous year and really enjoyed that performance.  9 to 5 was fun but the songs just did not grab us as much.  Still the food at the dinner buffet was good and the play did entertain.


Orphan Black – starring Tatiana Maslany

This 10 episode series came out of the blue and blew a lot of people away: critics and viewers alike.  Canadian actress Tatiana Maslany carries the premise of human cloning on her slight shoulders with great aplomb.  Her ability to create distinctly different personas for each of the clones – aided with wardrobe and accent changes and the advancement in technology that gets away from the old school locked down split screen shots used for doubling up the same actor in one shot – sells the series conceit.

Mix in the main clone’s gay brother played with cheeky humor by Dylan Bruce, an over arcing mythology as the clones work together to find out who is behind their creation and why, the constant thread of humor in what could be a very dark and morose series, and the kicker of seeing the various clone iterations interact with one another.

Another kicker with all these clones was getting to know each of them and re-evaluating which version you liked best.  Sarah, the main clone, is the punk rocker version and initially seems the most rebellious, interesting, and engaging.  At the other end of the scale we had the uptight soccer mom – Alison who was off putting.  Yet by the end of the season because of the character arcs the clones have, Alison became my favorite clone and Sarah ended up being the more restrained one used to drive the plot.

A fun series and as an added note of attraction the series is shot in Toronto so seeing familiar landmarks ie Union Station and the tight shots of the Toronto skyline trying to hide the CN Tower bring an extra layer of verisimilitude to it.


Shadows & Tall Trees – Vol 5 – edited by Michael Kelly

I’ve read every volume of this small press collection that Michael Kelly has put out and this horror  series continues to explore the themes of alienation and loss.  This volume includes stories by Ray Cluley, Gary Fry, Richard Gavin, Claire Massey, Daniel Mills, Lynda E. Tucker, Kin Tidbeck, and D.P. Watt.

There are several great tales here with the standout being Moonstruck by Karin Tedbeck which has a Gaimanesque quality as the moon gets closer and closer to earth. Other tales range from the sublime – Casting Ammonites by Claire Massey to the outright horrific – Laudate Dominium (for many voices) by D.P. Watt.

As Peter Straub is quoted on the cover – ‘A beautiful and courageous journal.’  I agree and will continue to follow the journey Michael Kelly is charting with it.


The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman

A wonderfully lyrical book.  Gaiman makes magical seem so…. magical.  To put specific words down to describe the story would dilute it’s charm because it would put limitations on the ginormous ideas contained in this slim novel.

Read it. Treasure it. For Gaiman is indeed a Wizard Of Words.

Shining Some Light Into The Darkness

Star Trek Into Darkness

Two years too late describes how best I feel about this sequel to the highly enjoyable 2009 reboot of the adventures of Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock.  Two years earlier and my expectations would not have been as demanding.  Two years ago another exploration of these characters before they started their 5 year mission would have been something agreeable.

But 4 years later, my expectations were higher.  A highly polished script and a brand new adventure to go boldly once again were want I wanted – and I suspect a lot of the fans of the Trek franchise before this reboot started.  Instead we get a perfectly serviceable summer blockbuster that the general movie going public and critics have found enjoyable.

As a summer blockbuster movie I found it enjoyable.  And instantly disposable.

As a long time Trek from when the original series aired I found this a mediocre Trek movie that recycled elements from the original series and the second movie.  The recycling lacks the impact from the original iteration because the events that take place in The Wrath of Khan work so well because of what transpired in the original Space Seed TV episode.  Khan works as a threat in the movie because he and the crew of the Enterprise have a shared history.  In STID, Khan means nothing to these new versions of Kirk and Spock et al.  So their moments together have no way of carrying the same dramatic tension.

I remain hopeful the next movie will finally deliver some new and original ideas.  The cast is fantastic and they really deserve their own adventure.

It’s time for them to see what’s out there.


 Black Hills aka Paha Sapa by Dan Simmons

This book totally caught me off guard and blew me away. Plain & simple. Partially because it does not seem to garner the same attention Simmons’s other recent books do.  And partially while I enjoy reading Simmons’s books, he favors world building to that of character and I always find his characters somewhat cool and aloof.  Not so with Paha Sapa. What a remarkable character and what a remarkable story Simmons tells about and through him.

I found the integration of his story with the history that was taking place during his life, plus the glimpses into other times, the most compelling of any book Simmons has done to date.

In some aspects, and I mean this in the most complimentary way, this is like Simmons’s version of Stephen King’s – The Dead Zone. The tragedy that Paha Sapa endured for the majority of his life was heart breaking and I loved how Simmons handled his life after meeting his granddaughter.

The recounting of the construction of Mount Rushmore, the Chicago World Fair of 1893, the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, the exploration of George Custer and his wife, plus the glimpses of the world past, present, and future; all so engrossing and fascinating.

Just looking at all the research material and people Simmons conversed with is staggering.

And it all comes together so seamlessly to so poignantly tell the life story of this Sioux, or Lakota or Natural Free Human Being.

This is now my favorite Simmons book.

Family Fueds

Fast & Furious 6

What can one say about this franchise?  It maintains the kinetic car carnage and mixes a team of misfits that form a family to tackle the next set of baddies. Round it out with a likable cast with liberal sprinklings of humor and this has become a franchise built to last.

Too long by 20 minutes, there is a whole section where Paul Walker’s character goes off his own to prison to find out some information, that could be excised from the movie with nary a beat mixed.  Vin Diesel growls his way through the movie, and performs one death defying feat that exceeds even the loose limits of physics established within the franchise framework.  The Rock is suitably pumped up but his cop character could be played by anyone.

The franchise is already revved up for a sequel with the ending sequence revealing who the big bad for the next installment is.  And the reveal is a biggie.  Fellow action star Jason Statham will lock horns with Diesel in FF7.


Ghost Brothers of Darkland County – Stephen King, John Cougar, & T. Bone Burnett

My hardcover edition has been in the house for awhile and after several listens of the 17 tracks there is a lot to like in this album.  I rate at least 10 of the tracks very listenable and actually they stand on their own with no knowledge of the play needed to enjoy them.

Overall I’m happy with this edition – gorgeous sleeve to hold the book, which is a soft, dark brown pebble that looks like a photo album.  Wish it was hard cover too though.

The major knock I have is there is no full version of the play on either the DVD or the CDs.  Disappointing.  The minor knock I have is the discs are stored in cut out pockets on the inside of the back cover.  Would have much preferred jewel cases. A matter of preference.  

The book is much larger than I expected, it’s 11 x 11 inches – thought it would be more disc sized – which is great because it makes reading the Libretto so much easier with the larger text.  Reminds me of a LP album.

All in all a very nice package with 2 fumbles.

Magical Carnies

My, my how time flies.  It has been over 3 weeks since my last update!  Wow.  Been doing a lot of things, saw a couple of movies, read a few books, and have been writing!!  WooT! Finally got an idea that excited me and looks like it has some legs that will allow me to write a short story first with an eye towards a novel(s) later on.

So, I’ll make up for the lack of posts by stringing together a series of them over the next few days which will allow me to go into more detail about the various items I want to post about.


Now You See Me

This was an unexpected gift.

A combo heist/revenge/magic illusion movie with a great cast: Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, and Isla Fisher.

My wife and I saw this free as part of one of the Cineplex Scene promotions and turned out to be an excellent surprise.  We both love magic and the premise of the movie is based on it.  Of course with the cinematic trickery available today the line between it and sleight of hand is even more blurred. So a bit of buy in is needed to accept that certain tricks would not be possible in a live show. With that in mind this is a fun story that explores the concept that real magic does exist.  Something that most of the characters in the film are searching for, especially the magicians.  Which is great since they know the tricks behind the supposed magic they are practitioners of.
This is a fun romp with the actors obviously having a lot of fun with their roles and each other.  The story is well written with many twists and turns and moments of triumph, comeuppance, and for certain characters – unexpected payoffs.  
The pleasant surprise of the movie was Mark Ruffalo, an actor that’s been around for awhile and made a big splash as Bruce Banner/Hulk in Avengers.  In Avengers, Ruffalo demonstrated his ability to create an empathetic character with limited screen time.  He pulls off that same trick in this flick but with a much more complicated arc; starting with a character that cliche strictures dictate will be the antagonist.  His character of FBI agent Dylan Rhodes is the cop in pursuit of the Four Horseman – the illusionists who are using their shows to pull off big scale heists.
The first heist, in which a man is seemingly transported from the US to the inside of a Paris bank vault from where the money makes the reverse journey to be dispersed to the crowd is the coolest one.  Especially when Magician Buster Morgan Freeman shows Rhodes how it was done.
A movie we probably never would have seen if not for the promo that allowed us to see it for free.  A very pleasant surprise.


My favorite writer, Stephen King, delivers the goods again.  A breezy 283 pages, especially for a King novel, this Hard Case Crimes paperback edition starts and ends far too quickly.

King and Carnies are something that go together naturally and it is a bit surprising he has not used such settings more often.  In Joyland the story takes place in 1973 at the titular amusement park which went out of business just a few years later; a victim of the Disney Worlds and other corporate theme parks that spelled the end for most independently owned amusement parks.

This is a story of a 63 year old Devin Jones, King’s age when he wrote the book,  looking back on a summer job at the North Carolina amusement park.  At the same time Jones is grappling with the realization that his first real relationship is breaking down and rejection is coming his way.  Throw in an unsolved murder that happened at Joyland and a mysterious woman with a wheel bound young son and all the ingredients for a King novel are there.
This novel marks the perspective that only an older man can have and the tale King weaves around Jones and the people he meets at the park is another example of his ability to create characters you come to care about.  There are some slight supernatural elements to the story.  In a way, I wish King had written the story without it because it comes across as a story telling convenience.  
That minor quibble aside, the story is so engrossing because the writing so transparent as it is crafted to service the story and not call attention to the writer’s talent.  It is all over before you know it.  I read the book in two days and it felt like I had read a short story instead of an almost 300 page novel.
Joyland is a captivating story from the bittersweet perspective of a character, and writer, who has the life experiences to put things in their proper context.  
Now the wait for Dr. Sleep – King’s – The Shining sequel – begins.  Since the accident back in 1999, the amount of work King has produced is incredible.  And at age 65 now, King does not appear to be slowing down.  If anything, he seems to be gathering momentum.