Friday, April 24, 2015

TV Review: Daredevil Season 1

Rating: 4 ½ out of 5 Stars

Bottom Line: This show transcends its comic book source material and delivers a first-rate genre entry fueled by challenging, hard-hitting drama

Note that I typically do much shorter reviews, but as I am reviewing the entire first season of Daredevil and as I was quite entrhalled by the series, I decided not to hold back and instead unleash a full-on analysis of the show.

Not Just Another Superhero Series

Over the past few years, we have seen more and more superhero television shows hitting the airwaves such as original entries like Heroes and The Cape along with comic book based shows like Arrow, Agents of SHIELD, and Gotham.  Netflix--which has been ramping up its original programming--is now getting into that game with several Marvel superheroes starting with Daredevil which was made available for streaming two weeks ago on April 10th.  This one will be followed by AKA Jessica Jones later this year, then next year a Luke Cage series will bow followed by Iron Fist and finally The Defenders which will bring all four of those characters into one series.

And if Daredevil is any indication, this multi-hero package of shows is off to a helluva start and has already taken a lead quality-wise over what the broadcast networks and cable channels are offering.  While shows like The CW's Arrow and The Flash as well as FOX's Gotham have done justice to their comic book source material, all of those have their shortcomings as well.  The CW entries have fantastic casting on their side and have demonstrated a willingness to bring in many familiar faces from the comics, but they suffer from their tendency to slip into soap opera sub-plots as well a propensity for copy and paste dialog and situations.  Gotham has delivered basically a crime story with frequent nods to the Batman mythos as it sets the stage for the Caped Crusader to eventually don his cowl.  But that one has a tendency toward melodrama and veers close to camp at times, and it has also felt padded out as its first season has progressed.  And while ABC did deliver a first-rate comic book entry with Agent Carter, Agents of SHIELD has just devolved into a mess after a promising start last year.

Daredevil is far more grounded than any of those shows as it takes a page from Gotham and delivers a crime story with superhero trappings, but it maneuvers past the over-the-top antics that have all too often crept into the shows mentioned above.  Daredevil has little in the way of sci fi elements (though it is linked to the Avengers movie universe and we hear a quick reference to the attack on New York early in the show) and also gives us a very human villain in Kingpin (though he is never actually referred to by that moniker in the series).  And while it focuses less on the fantastical, it still delivers the epic tale that you expect from a genre/superhero story while side-stepping the melodrama pitfalls of its source material and fully delving into the dramatic potential at its core.

An Extended Origin Story

I will admit that I have never followed Daredevil closely in comics, though I have read a sampling of his early adventures as well as his later stories, particularly those by Frank Miller.  I always liked Daredevil as a character, but typically it has been the more cosmic and sci fi superheroes in the Marvel stable that I followed.  Still, I have a passing familiarity with his origin story and some of his more infamous exploits over the years.

The series definitely hearkens back to the comics, but just like the other recent superhero shows on television, it takes plenty of liberties with the character's history as well.  The pilot does not belabor us with the expected expository origin story as we get about a two minute flashback sequence that recaps the accident that takes Matt Murdock's sight but also instills him with enhanced senses.  Those not familiar with the Daredevil backstory may actually miss the full implication of this, but it is revisited throughout the series as Season 1 essentially gives us an extended origin for Daredevil.  This allows us as the viewers to live through his early days as a vigilante and better understand how he evolved into the more iconic hero he will become.  He starts out without his familiar red suit as he simply dons a black mask when he begins his crusade against the criminal element in his city.  And it's actually not until the last episode that we get to see him in full action in the show's (quite excellent) version of his suit as that caps off the point at which Murdock transitions from a simple masked vigilante to an actual superhero (it's also when he finally gets name).

And while Murdock/Daredevil demonstrates his prowess with martial arts (which he learned from the mysterious character Stick), he comes from the Indiana Jones class of hard-knocks heroes.  Daredevil fights with skill and demonstrates amazing acrobatics, but when he takes a fall, he falls hard.  He doesn't walk away from his battles unscathed and several times you wonder if he will walk away at all, and that helps to ground the more fantastic elements of the superhero story.  We've seen similar from other recent superhero shows as well, but it is used well here to emphasize how Murdock is learning just how far he can stretch his limits and just how prepared he is for his campaign to become a super crime fighter.

Deconstruction and Reconstruction of the Superhero Story

The basic superhero story is a pretty simple one of hero vs villain, good vs. evil, right vs. wrong.  But we have seen that deconstructed over the past thirty years with revisionist superhero stories like The Watchmen, Frank Miller's The Dark Knight, and more which have gone dark and presented us with plenty of morally ambiguous characters and genre-stretching themes.  To an extent, the Daredevil series follows that same path, but it doesn't embrace the nihilism that has become all too common in comic book revisionism of late.  It does veer away from the simple tale of good vs. evil, and it does deliver the moral quandaries expected in superhero stories these days.  But as it deconstructs the genre, it also reconstructs it as it shows our main characters trying to keep a grip on those higher principles of good instead of allowing themselves to be dragged down by the despair which accosts them.  And thus, the basic elements of the traditional superhero story are still core to Daredevil even is it proceeds with its revisionist take on the genre.

Ultimately, it boils down to a tale of two towering figures (Daredevil and Kingpin) driven to change the world that is crumbling around them, yet they approach it from different perspectives.  Fisk/Kingpin comes from the position of power and is willing to make the hard sacrifices and allow the ends to justify the means in order to bring about the change he wants.  But whether he is truly evil is presented as a matter of debate in the story.  He shows a preference not to resort to violence, but if the situation calls for it he will not hesitate.  He approaches his campaign for change like the general on the battlefield; lives will be lost and the Scorched Earth policy may be required, but if his army is still standing at the end then they are the victors.  Daredevil comes at it from the perspective of the oppressed fighting against this ravaged world that has been allowed to descend into its current state by the cruel and uncaring people in power.  But he also fights the noble fight (with some shades of gray), trying to minimize the casualties on the battlefield.  He hasn't crossed the line yet like Fisk, but he struggles with it each day knowing that might be the easier path.  Both Fisk and Daredevil appear to ultimately have the same goal of saving their city and may just be different sides of the same coin, And Daredevil's journey will lead him to the point that he must decide if he is willing to cross the same line as Fisk to save his city.

The Actors and Their Characters Help the Show Soar

As with any series, the actors and the characters that they portray are crucial to the show's success and that is by far a strong point for Daredevil.  Charlie Cox--with his leaner, handsomer Quentin Tarantino looks--proves himself up to the task of playing the series lead.  He brings elements of uncertainty to the character as he shows Matt Murdock/Daredevil struggling to make the right decisions in his crusade against the forces that threaten his city.  He also reveals his inner turmoil as he has learned that the system he was brought up to trust does not always bring justice, and that leads him to the decision that he must step outside of the law.  In the pivotal scene were we see him pound the father that has abused his daughter (which Murdock could hear each night due to his ultra-sensitive hearing) we feel an allegiance with him despite his extreme, vigilante measures.  We have all had those moments where some instance of injustice has lead us to fantasize about striking out with impunity, and in that scene we see that played out.

Some might question Vincent D'Onofrio's muted portrayal of Wilson Fisk, but I personally consider it crucial to the success of the show.  We see Fisk as anything but the maniacal, conniving villain or megalomaniac so common to the superhero story. Often he appears halting and tentative with a sense of inner turmoil that links back to the beat upon boy we see from the flashbacks.  He also shows a need to find love that in his line of work ultimately turns into a vulnerability that works against him (though to the show's credit, all of that is handled without slipping into soap opera asides).  The Fisk we see is far from the powerful character you would expect, especially for readers of the comic book.  But to a larger extent that is just a guise as Fisk allows himself to appear vulnerable while all the time circling in for the kill.  We ultimately learn that he is actually a master strategist and manipulator and he proves that he should not be underestimated.

And not only do we get very strong characters for the show's two lead roles, the supporting cast/characters are top notch as well.  Elden Hensen is perfect as Foggy Nelson; he might be underestimated as the baby-faced lawyer, but he has the intelligence and strength of character to stand up against the dominating figures he must contend with.  His verbal sparring with Murdock is priceless and he acts as the heart and conscience of that lawyer duo.  Deborah Ann Woll steps away from the vampy character she played in True Blood and asserts herself next to the towering male characters in the series and stands out as more than just the damsel in distress.  While she does get put into that situation several times, she doesn't always have to rely on others to save her and she shows that her drive for the pursuit of justice is equal to that of Foggy and Matt.  Toby Leonard-Moore gives us this series' HRG and--just as Jack Coleman played the character in Heroes--while he may not truly be evil, he has no qualms about taking care of the messy things when necessary.  He also shows a genuine sense of friendship with Fisk which adds to the depth of both characters.  Scott Glenn (who has many roles to his credit but I personally best remember his as the biker Reeger in 1972's Gargoyles) stops by for one episode as Murdock's mentor Stick, asserting a strong presence and plenty of the moral ambiguity we expect from revisionist superhero stories these day, and he's definitely one we want to see more of.  Pretty much all of the characters in the series show sufficient development and the actors deliver that next level of performance to help the rise above the cardboard caricatures so often seen in shows like this.

The Limited Run and Arc-Driven Series Done Right

Word broke this week that Daredevil will be getting a second season on Netflix, and there were already plans in place for the character in the over-arching Defenders series mentioned above.  But despite that, the creative team took the right approach with the first season so as not to leave fans hanging as it wrapped up.

These days, we are all too often seeing the "event" series thrown at us by the broadcast networks and cable channels that allegedly will tell a complete story over its "limited run" (usually ten to thirteen episodes) and not leave and not leave a bunch of loose ends when it wraps ups.  But in truth this has become a bait-and-switch tactic to lure viewers into an arc-heavy series upon the assumption that it will deliver some sort of resolution, while it instead strings us along for more (hello cliffhanger).  Daredevil actually approaches its arc-heavy format the right way because it gives us an ongoing, thirteen-chapter story that wraps up with its final installment.  And while there is still plenty of story left to tell, it doesn't leave us on some wild cliffhanger that will not be resolved for a year or more (or not at all if a show gets cancelled).  At this point, I am eagerly awaiting the second season of the show, but that's because I want more of its well-crafted and engaging stories, not because it left a mountain of questions unresolved.  Most importantly (minor spoilers ahead), the final episode addresses the moral quandaries the heroes wrestled with over whether to work within the law or step outside of it, and takes a best-of-both-worlds approach as it delivers a satisfying resolution to the final confrontation the show has been building to.

Daredevil also succeeds at doing what the genre can do when at its best.  The series uses the world it creates to mirror our own and present challenging ideas that engage us and make us think more deeply about our own world.  And it doesn't offer simple answers as we are led to question the validity of the choices made by the heroes just as much as those made by the villains.  It transcends it comic book source material, leaving behind camp and melodrama, as it delivers a hard-hitting, dramatic tale.  And Daredevil likely managed to do this because its creative team had less network interference from Netflix (which has allowed its original entries plenty of creative freedom) than shows on the broadcast and cable channels typically experience.  But when you consider the mega-corp that is Marvel/Disney, I have to give the brass of those companies props for not simply playing it safe with the show and allowing it to explore some challenging territory.

Sci fi and fantasy stories have plenty of dramatic potential as well as the ability to delve into some deep moral and philosophical issues.  We have seen television shows over the last decade or so such as Battlestar: Galactica, The Walking Dead, and Game of Thrones rise to the challenge and prove that the genre can deliver first-rate story-telling.  After the first season of Daredevil, I would put it into the same class as those shows and far above the copy-and-paste corporate genre product that is all too often cranked out by the television networks these days in the hopes of finding the next Lost or TWD.  Daredevil delivers an excellent superhero series, and excellent genre series, and damn good television in general.  It would be nice to see more of this on TV and less of the corporate clones chasing the latest trends.  But for now I'm just happy knowing that we have another season of Daredevil headed our way next year (and the new showrunners better make sure that they took plenty of good notes from the person they are replacing).


Thursday, April 23, 2015

#DepressingTVReboots: With the Current Reboot Fever on TV, Twitter Offers Some Suggestions

David Tennant to star in Doctor Wha?
This was a fun little trending topic I noticed on Twitter yesterday.  Apparently the recent announcement of the Full House revival on Netflix (along with all the other revivals in the works) sparked plenty of suggestions for more reboots and revivals such as Saved by the Bail from ‏@SusiePlascencia, Pee Wee's Half-Way House from @shelikesitloud, and Mystery Creationism Theater 3000 from (@nerdist).  Among my suggests were Doctor Wha?, The Hot Flash, The Beverly Hillbilly Cop, Star Trek: Deep Throat 9, The Six Trillion Dollar Deficit Man, Gilligan's Temptation Island, CSI: Mayberry, and McHale's NCIS.  I hear the CBS saw those last two and is actually working on getting something into development . . . 

Here's some more of the suggestions from Twitter and you can search #DepressingTVReboots to find even more and/or make your suggestions:

Leave It To Beiber#DepressingTVReboots @midnight
— Clifton Millimen(@i_am_clifton) April 22, 2015


It's the Great Depression, Charlie Brown #DepressingTVReboots @midnight
— Geoffrey Gould (@realbadger) April 22, 2015


Everybody Loves Ramen #DepressingTVReboots @midnight pic.twitter.com/bt1HG90MUC
— Charley Kaye (@Ckandrew14) April 22, 2015


#DepressingTVReboots Repossessed Little House on the Prairie pic.twitter.com/7FxxNbZSOK
— Lee Healey (@HealeyCartoons) April 22, 2015


Occupy Sesame Street @midnight #DepressingTVReboots
— Bryan Behar (@bryanbehar) April 22, 2015


Bill Nye The Scientology Guy @midnight #DepressingTVReboots
— Kenny (@PhillyCustoms) April 22, 2015


Kardashian 54, Where Are You? #DepressingTVReboots @midnight
— Chris Hardwick (@nerdist) April 22, 2015


American Horror Tolstory#DepressingTVReboots @midnight
— Chris Hardwick (@nerdist) April 22, 2015

Murder, She Texted #DepressingTVReboots @midnight
— Robert Buscemi™ (@RobertBuscemi) April 22, 2015


Malcolm in the Middle East #DepressingTVReboots
— SubMedina (@SubMedina) April 22, 2015


Third Reich From The Sun #DepressingTVReboots
— blmayne (@blmayne) April 22, 2015


AA team #DepressingTVReboots @midnight
— Craig Hargis (@chargis) April 22, 2015


Mobile Home Improvement #DepressingTVReboots @midnight
— HoJo (@HollyLynnJ) April 22, 2015

Word is that the networks are setting up pitch sessions for some of these now . . . 

Saturday, April 18, 2015

If an Agents of SHIELD Spin-Off Does Happen, They Need to Get More Marvel Superheroes Involved With Both Shows

Last week, rumors surfaced that ABC was considering a spin-off series from Agents of SHIELD that would carry over several cast members from the current show.  That seemed like surprising news considering that AoS has struggled in the ratings throughout its second season, but then it is part of the multi-billion dollar Avengers franchise and Disney--which owns ABC--has an interest in keeping that franchise visible.  I mulled over the strategic implications of the spin-off from the network standpoint at this link, and thought I would present my idea on the best direction for these two shows here.

When Agents of SHIELD debuted last season, I rather enjoyed it at first for its witty scripts and stories that incorporated plenty of sci fi elements. But then it just seemed to start treading water and not really going anywhere before eventually rebooting itself to an extent with its tie-in to Captain America: The Winter Solder.  And when it returned this year, it went dark and almost completely lost touch with the sense of fun it had when it started.  And not surprisingly the show has seen its ratings head on a steady decline since bowing with monster numbers for its first season premiere.  But still, there are rumors of a spin-off and if that does happen then I believe they should take a page from what The CW is doing with its DC superhero shows Arrow and The Flash.

Both of those two have been strong performers for the fifth place networks, and The Flash is currently only a few ticks behind Agents of SHIELD as far as its season to date ratings average.  And I believe that a large part of the reason those shows have registered with the audience--apart from stellar casting and decent writing--is that they have shown respect for the source material.  They may have re-written much of the history of the characters for the TV universe they are creating, but they regularly dip back into the well and bring in additional characters that fans are familiar with from the comics.  That's one area that I believe Agents of SHIELD has missed out on from the beginning, yet it also presents an opportunity to revitalize the series going forward.

Personally, I believe that the show would have been better off bringing in superhero characters from the comics right from the get go.  The mission for Coulson's team should have been getting the many heroes out there onboard with SHIELD (just like we saw Nick Fury do in several of the movies) or clamping down on those getting out of control.  It wouldn't necessarily have to have followed a hero-of-the-week formula, but get familiar faces in there on a regular basis.  Marvel has a ton of them, so there's plenty that could show up on the series that wouldn't interfere with future movie plans (and DC is planning separate movie versions of some of the TV characters, so why couldn't Marvel do the same?).   And that format would have still worked after the events of the Captain America movie, because at that point SHIELD would need the help of those superheroes even more to build up the ranks of their decimated agency.

Of course that's not the way they went with Agents of SHIELD originally, but the spin-off presents an opportunity to still consider that direction.  I'm guessing that the new show will explore the Inhuman characters that have been introduced during the second half of this season (no inside information, just a hunch).  So let the spin-off go in that direction and let AoS go on a recruiting drive for superheroes.  They need the help and I'm guessing the familiar faces from the comics could re-energize interest from the fans.  Or if they want to keep the Inhumans storyline with the main show, then let the spin-off go hero hunting (though I think Coulson would be best suited for that and I don't see him leaving the main show).

The fact is that Arrow and The Flash are considered hits for The CW and they continue to parade characters from the comics through their episodes.  Agents of SHIELD is struggling in the ratings and has mostly avoided familiar faces from the Marvel ranks.  Spinning off from the current format seems sure to fail seeing as the parent series is barely holding on now.  But reconnecting with the comics could help revitalize both.  Bringing in the Inhumans is already one plus because of its nod back to the comics.  Now they need to get even more familiar Marvel faces in there, even if it is some of the B and C list characters.

Of course at this point we don't even know for certain if Agents of SHIELD will get a third season renewal, and if it doesn't then the spin-off is certainly dead in the water as well.  But just the fact that ABC is considering that spin-off suggests that AoS has a decent chance of coming back for at least one more year.  And if they do, then they need something to bring the viewers back to the show to help keep that advertising revenue flowing in.  Going back to the source material and bringing in familiar superhero faces is that something.  That's what I believe the fans want to see and that's the best chance AoS and its potential spin-off have of keeping the audience engaged.

Buy Agents of SHIELD Season 1 on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon.com:

Friday, April 17, 2015

Retro Movie Review: Daredevil (2003)

As I work my way through Netflix's Daredevil in plans on posting a review of the full first season, I thought I would post my original review of the 2003 movie written when that first came out. I am not one of the haters of that movie or Ben Affleck's performance as Matt Murdock / Daredevil. I do have to admit that it did not quite hold up as well when I re-watched it a couple of years ago (though I still liked it), so I adjusted the rating down by half a star.

Rating: 3 ½ out of 5 Stars

Bottom Line: At times seeming like a Marvel take on Tim Burton's Batman, it still does justice to the Daredevil character.

Imagine what you would get if you took Tim Burton’s first Batman movie, cranked it through a heavy metal adrenalin rush and threw in some Ang Lee style martial arts for good measure.  That pretty much describes Daredevil.

This is the third movie in three years to bring the A-list Marvel Comics characters to the big screen (the forth, Ang Lee’s The Hulk, is due out this summer).  Like 2001’s The X-Men and 2002’s Spider-Man, Daredevil draws heavily from the comic book source material but also creates its own world distinct from the four-color universe.  Purists may be annoyed by the liberties that the screenwriters take, but the basic storyline remains intact and provides for a highly entertaining movie.

Daredevil the movie at first might seem like a Marvel reworking Tim Burton’s first Batman movie.  Matt Murdock (Daredevil’s alter ego) experienced the trauma of witnessing the death of his father which drove him to dedicate his life to fighting crime.  He assumes the guise of Daredevil and stalks the dark streets of the very Gotham-like New York City seeking vengeance against criminals.  Because of his dedication to this vigilante crusade, he has trouble maintaining long-term relationships with the opposite sex.  Throughout the course of the movie, Daredevil comes face to face with the man responsible for his father’s death just as Batman confronted the Joker at the end of the first movie.  While the similarities exist, however, Daredevil is anything but a rehash of Tim Burton’s masterpiece.

Because of the myriad of characters that have graced the pages of comics, it makes perfect sense that strong similarities would crop up amongst the masked crime fighters.  However, Daredevil the character is no clone of the Batman character.  Matt Murdock was blinded in an accident as a child when he was doused with radioactive waste.  The rest of his senses, however, were magnified a hundred-fold.  Therefore, unlike Batman, Daredevil truly has a “super power”.  Murdock is also a struggling lawyer who is more concerned about helping people who are down and out than he is about how they will pay him.  A far cry from the millionaire Bruce Wayne.

Daredevil the movie ventures beyond the simple story of superhero vs. supervillian (in fact, it lacks a Joker-style supervillian).  Matt Murdock, lawyer by day and vigilante by night, wrestles with the moral implications of his crime fighter persona’s actions.  He seeks justice through the legal system as Matt Murdock the lawyer, but becomes frustrated when the system breaks downs.  That’s when he turns to Daredevil to try and even the scales.  Murdock’s moral dilemmas are central to the story.  He goes to a priest (who also knows of his secret identity) to confess his “sins” and to try and console his conscience.  But he finds little solace to curb his vigilante drive.

Ben Affleck gives Daredevil and Matt Murdock a strong presence, but the supporting characters add to the movie as well.  Jennifer Garner is sizzling as Electra – a fellow crime fighter that Murdock has a tragically short fling with.   Michael Clarke Duncan is an unexpected but excellent choice as the Kingpin.  Collin Farrell seems to take great delight in his role as Bullseye.  Unfortunately, the villains are portrayed as little more than caricatures, but the door is left open for further development in subsequent films.  Despite their lack of depth, though, Duncan and Farrell revel in their parts and they are great fun to watch.

Like The X-Men and Spider-Man, Daredevil does an excellent job of bringing the comic book franchise to the big screen.  Most fans should be happy with it, and the uninitiated will quickly be caught up in the action and drama.

Buy Daredevil and Other Early 2000 Marvel Movies on Blu-ray DVD from Amazon.com:

Saturday, April 11, 2015

#DidYouKnow About the Star Trek Fan Film Of Gods and Men Which Starred Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, and Alan Ruck?

Originating as a three-part web series, it also included appearances by Tim Russ (who directed the film), Grace Lee Whitney, Garrett Wang and Ethan Phillips.  Plus, James Kirk even shows up (sort of).  For a fan film, it was really quite good, and maybe it should be considered a semi-pro effort because of its credentials.  It delivers an interesting alternate timeline story, and it's worth a look for Star Trek fans.  You can watch the trailer below and the full film is available at YouTube at this link.


Find Star Trek comics, toys, statues, and collectibles at TFAW.com!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Audiobook Review: The Voice from the Edge by Harlan Ellison

Book Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Audiobook Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars (Highest Rating)

Bottom Line:  Some of the best stories by Harlan Ellison brought to life the way they should: read by the master himself.

The Voice from the Edge (Vols 1 &2) is a collection of short stories by Harlan Ellison which is also read by him.  Mr. Ellison is a well known figure in the sci fi community having penned many, many short stories in the genre as well as a few novels and quite a number of television scripts (most of which he was never happy with their final execution).  This two volume audiobook brings together some of his best known stories and offers a perfect starting place for those who may not have read much or any of his work.  Vol 1 collects three of his best known stories  "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream",  "‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman", and "A Boy and His Dog" along with 6 others "Laugh Track", "Grail", "The Very Last Day of a Good Woman", "Paladin of the Lost Hour", "The Time of the Eye", and "The Lingering Scent of Woodsmoke". The first story on that list is probably his most famous, though I can't say it is one of my favorites by him.  It's a good story, but he has plenty more which are better such as "A Boy and His Dog" which delivers an irascible, post-apocalyptic romp that has Ellison written all over it.  Also, the less well-known "Laugh Track" is must-reading for anybody who wants to get involved in the entertainment industry.  It may focus on sitcoms, but it applies just as well to the industry as a whole and Ellison's reading is spot-on.  And "Paladin of the Lost Hour" is a piece of lyrical prose that had me nearly sobbing at the end.  It deserves to get made into one of those "big message" movies that stars Kevin Costner (think more Field of Dreams and less The Postman, though I'm sure Ellison would be unhappy with any big screen treatment).  Vol 2 has the stories "Jeffty is Five", "S.R.O.”, "In Lonely Lands", "The End of the Time of Leinard", "Pennies, Off a Dead Man’s Eyes", "Midnight in the Sunken Cathedral", "Rat Hater", "Go Toward the Light", "The Function of Dream Sleep", "Soft Monkey", "Prince Myshkin, and Hold the Relish".  Surprisingly, this volume falls short of the first largely because of the inferior story selection.  Ellison has plenty of tales better than the ones included here, so I'm not certain how these made the cut.  Perhaps the author himself chose the stories and he has a particular affinity for them.  None of these are bad, mind you, it's just that several of them start out quite interesting but don't quite seem to offer the resolution you might expect.  Still, I liked "Jeffty is Five" (a Hugo award winner) and "S.R.O." quite a bit and the others at least made for an enjoyable listen.  Note that several of the stores in Vol 2 are not sci fi, but I don't hold that against them.

As for the audiobook narration, I typically believe that authors should stick to writing and leave the voice work to the professionals.  However, in the case of Harlan Ellison's stories, not only do I make an exception, I can't imagine anybody other than him providing the narration.  His voice, with its palpable New York accent, adds just the right amount of acidic snarkiness to many of these stories to really emphasize the wicked humor at their core.  Particularly, his reading of "Laugh Track" is essential and I can't imagine this story working nearly as well without his voice.  In his introduction to "Prince Myshkin, and Hold the Relish", he claims that he wrote that to be heard and not read, and he definitely gives it the perfect treatment here.  Even the more somber tales like "Paladin of the Lost Hour" work well here as he shifts out of high gear and gives the tale the attentive reading that it deserves.  Personally, I think Ellison missed out on one of his callings and should have pursued a more extensive career in voice work.  He has done some other audiobooks (I have his reading of Usrula K. Le Guin's The Wizard of Earthsea which is truly excellent) and some voice-overs in film and television.  But I believe that he could have become one of the most sought after voice actors out there if he had chosen that route.  But at least you get to enjoy him here as he is full-on Ellison bringing to life some of his best tales.  You can buy The Voice From the Edge as a download from Audible.com and if you search around you may be able to find it on CD as well.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Sci Fi Genre Gems: Forgotten magic and hidden treasures from the worlds of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror

Sci Fi Genre Gems
By Johnny Jay

Sure, everybody knows Star Trek and Star Wars and Harry Potter and the other “big name” sci fi / fantasy franchises, but there’s so much more to the genre than just those juggernauts. Anybody remember Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski’s other TV series, the post-apocalyptic Jeremiah? What about the Kick-Ass-like Defendor which starred Woody Harrelson and actually beat Kick-Ass to the punch (so to speak)? Ever read the Pelman the Powershaper fantasy book series that pitted an actor/wizard/prophet against a two-headed dragon and a sentient castle (two, actually)? What about that PBS television adaptation of Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Lathe of Heaven? Anybody want to play the Nuclear War card game?

Never heard about of those properties mentioned above or maybe just have vague recollections of them? Then Sci Fi Genre Gems is here to enlighten you as it takes a look at the nuggets, the upstarts, the dark horses, the gems of science fiction and fantasy.

Delivering a journey through the obscure, the forgotten, the under-appreciated, and the over-looked, Sci Fi Genre Gems seeks out to reveal to the wider sci fi fanbase some of those hidden treasures  they have been missing. So prepare to discover some lost nuggets of the genre that may have been previously unknown or that you may have just heard about in passing references. Also get ready to revisit some buried classics (or semi-classics) as this book goes beyond the big names and uncovers some of the less-renown (but still worthy) entries of the genre while offering up a fun read that will expand your sci fi horizons.

Also Available by Johnny Jay:

Why Were They Cancelled? The Plight of Sci Fi TV in the Face of the Unforgiving Nielsens and Networks

25 Must-Watch Science Fiction and Fantasy Movies: An Essential Guide to the Best Movies of the Genre

Sci Fi Trifles: Useless but Essential Pop Culture Tidbits and Trivia from the Worlds of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror

Coming Soon:

Cancelled Sci Fi TV Shows from 1949 to 2015:  A survey of science fiction and fantasy shows that have been cancelled over the last sixty plus years.