reviews

A List of Linky Linkishness

It’s been a while since one of these, eh lovely lurkers?

A Critical Praising of Sex in the City

As the S.O. said, isn’t this story begging for a movie?

Boulder Fringe Fest Artist Lineup 2017

A History of the C-word

Denver Comic Con 2017 (yes, I’ll be presenting there with Page 23)

Seriously, Should a Woman Play Hamlet?

And, finally, an image and a video clip of Boulder Burlesque’s pre-show performance from the Allen Ginsberg birthday bash the other day. Please to enjoy.

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How surreal is this? The ol’ perv would’ve approved, methinks…

 

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NiB Review re-post: A Dance in Blood Velvet

Here’s the sequel to A Taste of Blood wine, that I was talking about earlier, lovely lurkers. These books do stick with you after experiencing them. This one in particular hit me in a particular way, as I was in a place where I guess you could say I needed it when it came across my desk.


Book Review: A Dance in Blood Velvet by Freda Warrington

Review by Prof. Jenn

 

dibvThe re-publishing of Warrington’s lush vampire epic continues with A Dance in Blood Velvet–a story that takes place after They Lived Happily Ever After. Because hey, vampires really do have literally the opportunity to do so. However, as former humans with every human foible still intact, it’s not so simple. Relationships become tautly intertwined as Karl’s former companions reawaken and challenge what Charlotte has found and begun with her new life as a vampire. Charlotte herself is learning what sort of a vampire she is becoming as well as dealing with searing jealousy which finds manifestation (or retaliation?) in her obsession with a ballerina.

Warrington has a gift for portraying realistic strong feelings and is an excellent author of character. Because of this, what we get in this sequel is not over-ornate romanticism but powerful driven characters, going for their objectives no matter what. The reader finds it hard to put the book down, as long as it is, because she must find out what happens next. As far as how it reads as a sequel, I can imagine someone coming into this story without having traveled with the characters before, as there is enough explanation (without info dumps) and opening discussions between Karl and Charlotte that one could hit the ground running without having read the first one. Though, you’ll want to read the first one too.

This book ends with a potential serial villain much in the vein of Batman’s Catwoman–definitely an antagonist and dangerous, but surprisingly not always not on our heroes’ side…and we are left with the idea that yes, we will be seeing this villain again.

Bottom Line: this series is extremely well written–A Dance in Blood Velvet is a taut, tense, exhilarating read.

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Book review re-post: Chicks Dig Gaming

Another in the Reviews From The Nearly-Defunct Nerds in Babeland Site That I Wrote And Am Now Re-Posting Here series: Chicks Dig Gaming. I am inspired to re-post this one because Friend Ed is involved in a game-related fundraiser for an excellent cause right now. Visit me on Facebook to find out more and support him.

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Book Review: Chicks Dig Gaming

Review by Prof. Jenn

chicksdiggamingBooks of this nature can easily fall into the trap of redundancy. Witness my review for Queers Dig Timelords, another anthology of this ilk, and indeed in this series. Chicks Dig Gaming does not, however, fall prey to the trap. The collection of essays span from wicked satire to sweet nostalgic memoir, to a celebration of gaming in general or certain games, a recounting of a particular gaming event, to analysis of a game or game trope, a recounting of the history of video games, to the ever-important discussion of the unfair and even dangerous treatment of women in the gaming world. This collection doesn’t only cover video games, but board games, LARPing and pen-and-paper RPGs are discussed as well.

My problem with Queers…, as you recall, was that the essays all had the same tone and even the same subject matter (Doctor Who changed my life because…). This, especially read in big sections in one sitting, started to grate on the nerves, or at least became repetitive fawning. Chicks… doesn’t do this, as each essay has an author voice distinct from every other, and the topics at hand vary widely. I commend the editors for this, as it’s an entertaining as well as an informative read throughout.

Highlights of this collection include: a satirical look at the lack of boys in video gaming and what we can do about it, a parallelling of Mario to a bodhisattva and the Mario games to buddhism, how one author who didn’t like video games at all tried Portal, and a delightfully written description of how another author learned to get cutthroat in Eve Online.

Bottom Line: this collection is highly recommended for anyone who loves any games.

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NiB Review re-post: Sherlock Holmes & the Island of Dr. Moreau

More refurbished repostings of reviews that first appeared on soon-to-be-defunct site Nerds in Babeland.

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I’m a Sherlockian nerd of the first water–I’ve read the Doyle stories countless times, adore the Brett and the Cumberbatch versions of him, and love researching all about the culture surrounding the phenomenon. One thing Sherlockian I’ve never been able to abide, however, is Holmes stories written in that time and world, not written by Doyle (the BBC series is an exception, but it’s not Victorian, you see). I do this canon-snob thing with Star Wars too. Okay, maybe I enjoyed The Seven Per Cent Solution marginally. But I digress.

Guy Adams’ new Sherlock Holmes novel, The Army of Dr. Moreau, may be nearly an exception to this rule of mine. Nearly. 

I do enjoy literature that plays with remix, however, like the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Hellboy, and Kim Newman’s vampire novels. Adams’ new book does a great job with this fun admixture of Holmes and Moreau (of course narrated by Watson as all good Holmes stories are), but by also adding in such illustrious Victorian fantastic fiction cast members as Professor Lindenbrook, Professor Challenger, Abner Perry, Edward Prendick, and Professor Cavor. This makes for some delightful literary Easter egg hunting, but doesn’t just throw these characters all in there just to hear the fangirls squee, like Star Wars Episode 1. No, these characters are all vital, and all make perfect sense in their roles as the mystery of the hybrid animals unravels. Oh come now, the title has Moreau in it, it’s not like that’s a spoiler.


Most of this book is just the right combination of mystery and action that Doyle would be proud of, and mostly in Watson’s (very authentic) voice. It’s a lot of fun to hear his meta complaints about how difficult it is working with editors, and that rabid fans are the worst editors of all. It’s also fun to hear more of Watson’s emotional reaction to Holmes being, well, Holmes–he gets rightfully angry and frustrated with him more than once, and more than societally correct Doyle would have written him. But it’s not so un-Doyle-ish that we nerds can’t read it and suspend our disbelief. It’s a thrilling mystery, and in fact quite an intricate plot. Until.

Until Part 6, the last section of this book, which is where the quality of it as a Holmes book falls way short. This section suddenly is told in even shorter bursts than the already short chapters, from every character’s POV. It’s apparent why we are not in Watson’s POV exclusively at that point in the story, but to jump from character to character is just too jarring, and doesn’t have anything in the way of consistency with the rest of the book. If we had stayed in Holmes’ POV during our non-Watson time, that would have been more in keeping with the tone and style of the rest of the book, but the POV jumps are too much. Also, the way in which the story concludes just seems too unrealistic, especially compared with the intricacy of the rest of the story. I don’t want to spoil the end for you, so I’ll just say that a certain character does something which I don’t buy, and it basically concludes the book. It’s too simple, over the top, and frankly feels rushed. It’s such a fun, great book until then! 

Bottom Line: Sherlock Holmes, the Army of Dr. Moreau is a fun addition to any Holmes fan’s library. I just wanted more from the ending.

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Re-Post Review: The Kingkiller Chronicles

As you’ve heard me tell you before, lovely lurkers, the website Nerds in Babeland, for which I used to frequently review stuff, is about to become defunct. So I am re-posting reviews that appeared there, here. This was one that was not solicited by them or by the publishers, but the inspiration to write this came from my astonishment at how incredibly good the second book was. Please to enjoy.

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Book(s) Review: The Kingkiller Chronicles

Review by: Jenn Zuko

Whew!

I just finished Wise Man’s Fear, the second book in Pat Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles, bestselling novels that have exploded his fame and are, incidentally, my new favorite Fantasy novels EVAR. Yes, they have supplanted Lord of the Rings in the Faves folder in Prof. Jenn’s brain. So that happened.

What is most novel about these…novels (ahem) is the fact that they are mostly about storytelling and truth. This (besides Rothfuss’ insane talent and the absolute gripping, taut plot) is what makes one really want to know what happens next. The premise is: a scribe finds a legend, in hiding, masquerading as a humble bartender. The legendary Kvothe then proceeds to tell his biography to the scribe, which is so wonderful, as we get to not only hear the legends about him, but hear what *really* happened. And he is also from a family legendary for storytelling, which means good storytelling (and performance) is threaded throughout the whole tale. Don’t let my discussion about theme stop you from reading them, and don’t let the length of these books deter you. They are the most compelling story of any genre I’ve read in a long time (and am likely to, in all honesty). They are page-turners.

The world of the Kingkiller Chronicles is incredibly well-built. We are there in the world, immersed in it without questions, and without the least trace of an info dump. This is extremely hard to do, especially with such a sweeping epically-scaled story. I am so beyond impressed with this that I’m actually a little mad at Rothfuss. Just a little.

Bottom Line: Absolutely, definitely pick up both books in the Kingkiller Chronicles. Then savor them slowly. Because who knows when Day Three will appear. I’m already beginning to bite my knuckles in anticipation (between this and Sherlock, I don’t know what to do with myself).

 

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BIFF Review #4: Mysto the Magi

Fringe Fest Review #4: Mysto the Magi

Review by Jenn Zuko

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Ta-daaa……or ta-don’t.

Those of you that know me personally know that I love watching Columbo. You know, that fantastic police procedural featuring the rumple-coated detective who disarms his 1970s murderers with low status strategy? Well, my favorite episode has got to be “Now You See Him,” wherein Jack Cassidy plays a suave stage magician who kills his blackmailer while in the middle of a grand illusion. This ep is so fun largely because of the cheesiness of the magic tricks they show. Obviously Cassidy is an actor and not a magician so when we clearly see The Great Santini place a scarf in Columbo’s pocket before “magically” pulling it out, we can be a forgiving audience. And when we might roll our eyes at the cheesiness of the thimble trick, or him pulling playing cards out of Columbo’s suit, we can suspend our disbelief.

When I am told via postcard and website, however, that I have never had more fun than at this magic show, and that the magician in question has been in professional practice for 30+ years, won awards, and etc., I am not likely to be such a forgiving audience when I witness clumsily performed tricks clearly taken from magic kits. When the person I attended the Mysto Mysto show with could clearly see the playing cards clipped inside Mysto’s jacket, when Mysto dropped props to the floor left and right, stumbled over awkward patter, and when it’s like pulling teeth to get anyone from the tiny audience (in the hot, stuffy room) to join him onstage, and finally, when objects are clearly visible palmed in his hands, I find myself surreptitiously looking at my watch to see if the show is over yet.

That sounds, harsh, yes I’ll admit it. What I also noticed about Mysto’s show, though,  is that a good number of people in the audience were enjoying themselves hugely. They were having a fantastic time, and were delighted by what they saw. So, you can chalk this review up to a jaded audience member if you so choose. However, this reviewer can’t recommend the Mysto show based on what I experienced. Sorry.

RATING: 2 stars out of 5

BIFF Review #3: EllieIda

Fringe Fest Review #3: EllieIdaReview by Jenn Zuko

Wow!! 

Okay, so, if I had been teaching my Stage Movement class at this time, I would have demanded, nay, required all my students to witness EllieIda. Why? Because this show, and especially these two actors’ performing this show, epitomize the concept of physical characterization. Let me explain:

Two women perform eight roles in this show. And of those eight, two of them span ages in a way that Ian McKellen’s Sherlock Holmes barely rivals. And the show does not take place in chronological order, oh no. The plot jumps back and forth in time from flashback to silent film slapstick to the two central characters at age 100, drinking and fighting over the remote in a physical way that only very highly trained clowning skill can achieve. What makes this show even more astonishing is the fact that, as an audience, you know each character immediately and thoroughly, not because the two actors change costume and makeup and hair in the blink of an eye, no. Because they both embody each character completely using posture, gesture, facial expression, and voice. In some scenes, each woman plays both the central characters and a third character, switching back and forth in a way that anyone less physically well trained would render confusing as all get out. This audience isn’t confused, though, because the physical characterization is so spot on, we know exactly who we’re looking at, even though the other actor was just playing her literally seconds ago.

image from the Boulder Fringe Fest website.


I’m trying my best, in each show review, to find something that could use improvement. You know, just to be totally honest and not be *that* reviewer that does nothing but glow and rave. I’m having trouble finding something less than positive to say about EllieIda though. Oh wait, I know!: as a stage combat professional and fight director, I do have issue with the use of the full-contact slap to the face. Even in a teensy, intimate space such as the CDC, I never think that the “authenticity” of contact slaps are worth the risk. And yet, having said that, I could see very clearly that neither woman was at all being unsafe, and the slaps did not a) stop the action with being too discombobulating, or b) look fake, with flinches, too-quiet sounds, etc. So. Maybe this is the exception to my slap rule? Naw, I’ll never succumb…..

Bottom line? As you may guess, I absolutely highly recommend EllieIda. If you have to be selective, or miss any of the shows at the Fringe, do not let yourself miss out on this one.

RATING: 5 stars out of 5.

For more of these (and other) performances, go to Boulder Fringe.

BIFF Review #2: Love and Loss

Fringe Fest Review #2: Love and Loss

Review by Jenn Zuko


The audience files in, quietly, taking in the beauty of the church sanctuary, admiring the peaked, mullioned windows and the propensity of warm wooden surfaces everywhere: floors, wall sconces, pews. The audience spaces itself out in said wooden pews, knees resting inches from Bibles, hymn books moved aside to have room to sit. After a brief pause, as the congregation admires the near-sunset sunshine, streaming in from the translucent windows, a lean, lacy-legged woman strides out onstage in impossibly high heels that tie up her leg, and awkwardly cracks a whip down center. Smiling easily, she tries another couple of times before getting a really satisfying crakk! sound, and the audience shows its approval with startled but delighted applause. She greets us, and remarks that it always takes a few tries with those things…

The woman is Madame Merci, the emcee of Boulder Burlesque’s evening called Love and Loss. She serves as an anchor of sorts throughout the hour of sexy dance pieces, and though she does perform a couple of times herself, is more the travel guide for us through the journey of powerful sexuality, sensuality, beauty, and exploration. A strip club this is not, as the evening as a whole stays under the theme of the title, Mme. Merci narrates for us in between each piece (between autobiographical anecdotes, brief performer bios, philosophical ruminations on the burlesque arts, and more), and the dancers are both less nude and more sexual than you’ll find at a strip joint. 

Things that stand out about this group include Merci herself, as she opens the evening discussing the fact that we are in a church, that in some countries doing such a thing would be punishable by death. To be reminded of privilege is a very good thing, and Merci proceeded to give the audience permission, for many things, throughout the evening. The performances were lovely, with ladies and gentlemen of various body types and shades, which again was nice to see: a much wider spectrum of real sexy beauty than one would normally find in a strip club. What was missing a little for me was the high level of dance ability I (for some reason) came expecting. Sexy and fun, lovely and creative they all were, but technical excellence in dance I didn’t find. Thing is, that’s really not the point of this show. At all. 

And there was audience participation. Not only the catcalls and applause, which were much whip-encouraged by Merci, but in one group dance, any audience members that felt the impulse were allowed up on stage in whatever state of undress they felt comfortable in, to join the dancers in one very tribal piece. 

Overall, I recommend Love and Loss wholeheartedly. It’s a lovely, sexy, fun, heckuva time. 

RATING: 4.5 stars out of 5

For more performances and tickets, visit the Boulder Fringe Festival website.

P.S. You may be asking yourselves, lovely lurkers, if I went up onstage myself in that group/audience piece. Do you need to ask, really? 

BIFF Review #1: Grimm’s Tales

Fringe Fest Review #1: Grimm Tales

Review by Jenn Zuko



Storytelling is one of those theatrical forms that is not as well known or certainly as commonly practiced as others today. I’m not sure why that is, unless it’s a matter of the general public misunderstanding the art as something only old lady librarians or tribal shamans do. Truth be told, the art of storytelling is one of the richest practices one can experience, on either side of the stage (and I’ve been both places, readers, so I should know). Stories With Spirit is the first Fringe group I was able to enjoy at this year’s festival, and I couldn’t have been happier with what I saw.

Rachel Ann and Cooper are not reciting text verbatim from a script. They’re not acting out scenes and dialogue together. Nope, they are telling the story, in their words, not because they know their lines, but because they know their stories, and this makes all the difference in good storytelling. They have chosen a variety of tales from the Brothers Grimm that span from the bizarre (a bird, a mouse, and a bratwurst living together?) to the dark (innocently murderous children, or are they?) to the familiar but not so familiar (a delightful run on commentary on an old version of Cinderella). Cooper, in particular, has a near-perfect blend of the comfortably natural and the powerful actor in his delivery, and to see him walk downstage as the angry, fooled-thrice Devil himself is enough to send delightful goosebumps up the arms.

One little thing that I did wish: I had hoped they would treat at least one of their longer stories the way they did their 5th of the Princess Bride last year: telling the story together, as a pair. This show consists of them trading off stories back and forth, which was great, don’t get me wrong, I just would have liked…maybe the last one, about the hunchback and the Princess, to be done together, instead of one at a time. Totally not a criticism, however, they’re both compelling to listen to, and it’s easy to become transported to these strange varied worlds. Though you may have told some versions of Grimm’s tales to your children, I wouldn’t bring very young ones to this show–another common misconception of storytelling is that it’s just for kids. This well-curated collection of gruesome, compelling tales well told is not. 


RATING: 5 stars out of 5

Find the rest of these performances at Boulder Fringe