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X-Men: Days of Future Past

July 22nd, 2014
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Josh Reviews Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

I have been troubled by the popularization, over the past several years, of the idea of a “reboot” as a way to keep franchises evergreen and continually making money for the corporations that own them.  I think there are times when a reboot is foolishly chosen whereas a continuation would have been preferable (Exhibit A: the Spider-Man films).  And there are lots of examples of Hollywood choosing to remake a great or well-liked film as a lazy way of capitalizing on a familiar brand rather than daring to create something new or original.  This usually results in a lame, lesser version of the original (See: Robocop, Total Recall, I could go on…)

But not all reboots are bad.  I loved Christopher Nolan’s reboot of Batman in Batman Begins, and while it is too early to tell whether the again-rebooted Batman we’ll see in Batman V. Superman will be any good, I think Warner Brothers has the right idea in giving us a new version of Batman rather than trying to keep telling stories in continuity from the end of Mr. Nolan’s Batman Trilogy.  (I love Joseph Gordon Levitt, but thank goodness the rumors — following the release of The Dark Knight Rises – that he would star in a new movie as Batman proved to be false.)

Which brings me to Planet of the Apes.  I have always been a HUGE fan of the original five films.  That first Planet of The Apes from 1968 is a true classic, a fantastic film that holds up extremely well today.  The four sequels that were then churned out in short succession (basically one a year!!) are increasingly bad, but I still love them.  Even though the budgets shrank and they had to come up with increasingly ludicrous ways to continue the series, I am always impressed by the creativity shown in the ways they found to continue the story, by the ambition on display in the way they continued to incorporate social allegory into the film’s stories, and by just how much innocent goofy fun can be had when watching the films today.  I love them all.

The other nice thing about the original five films is how complete they feel as a series.  The fifth film cleverly wrapped the story back around to the first film, giving the five films together the feel of a complete saga.  I never felt that this series cried out for a continuation or a reboot.   Tim Burton’s idiotic attempt to remake/reboot the series is best forgotten, and strong evidence for the pitfalls in trying to remake/re-envision a famous film series.

But then came 2011′s Rise of the Planetof the Apes.  It had a dumb title, … [continued]

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Josh Reviews 22 Jump Street

July 14th, 2014

I enjoyed 21 Jump Street but not nearly as much as many others seemed to.  I remember reading rave reviews of the film, and I saw it on several best-of-the-year lists.  I’m not sure what others saw in the film that I didn’t.  I thought it was an amusing diversion but not much more than that. (Click here for my original review.)  Still, I was interested when I heard that Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum were reuniting for a sequel.  Their chemistry was the best part of the first film, and I was curious to see where they’d take things in a second installment.

I wasn’t blown away by 22 Jump Street, though I certainly had a good time watching it.  This is not a very clever comedy but it’s funny and good-natured enough that it’s hard to find too much fault with it for being the dumb comedy it clearly is setting out to be.

The film takes a smart approach to being a comedy sequel in that it goes out of its way to repeatedly poke fun at the very idea of a comedy sequel.  I like this self-referential, tongue in cheek attitude, and it gives the film an endearing sense of playfulness.  Even though they make this same joke way too many times.

In fact, the film has two main jokes, each of which it pounds into the ground through repetition followed by more repetition.  Those two jokes are 1) the idea that they’re making fun of being a sequel in which everyone just wants the exact same story of the first film told again, and 2) the idea that the arc of Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum)’s relationship, their “bromance,” is just like the arc of a love affair between a man and a woman.  Both ideas are funny and good fodder for humor.  But both also grow tiresome when the movie makes the hundredth joke about each of them.  We get it guys!!!  We get it!!

Nick Offerman and Ice Cube return from the first film and both have a lot of fun with their scenes, especially Ice Cube who is a hoot.  There are a few new actors of note in this installment, Particularly Amber Stevens as Maya, Schmidt’s new love-interest.  I wish she had more of an actual character to play.  Jillian Bell kills it as Maya’s roommate from hell.  She has one scene in particular with Jonah Hill, in which the two can’t seem to decide if they want to beat the shit out of one another or to make out, that is on its own a reason to go see this movie.

The funniest part of the … [continued]

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Josh Reviews They Came Together

They Came Together was released to select theaters on June 27, but it never opened anywhere around me.  However, I was pleased to discover that the film is available to watch on VOD through iTunes and amazon.  Right now, from the comfort of your own home!  Just click here and watch!

You really should, too, because this send-up of romantic comedies by director David Wain (Wet Hot American Summer, Wanderlust) is fantastic and boasts an extraordinary ensemble of comedic performers.  The film stars Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler and also features Ed Helms, Bill Hader, Ellie Kemper, Jason Mantzoukas, Cobie Smulders, Christopher Meloni, Jack McBrayer, Michaela Watkins, Ken Marino, Melanie Lynskey, and many other fantastic men and women who you’ll probably recognize.  I cannot believe this film is not getting a wide release!  (Is the I-can’t-believe-they-got-away-with-it dirty title holding the film back??)

They Came Together tells the story of the torturous path to romance followed by made-for-one-another couple Joel (Paul Rudd) and Molly (Amy Poehler).  I really don’t want to tell you anything more than that, because the fun of the film is watching hapless Joel and Molly stumble through every single cliche romantic comedy plot-twist that you could possibly think of.

It’s really quite brilliant.  There are some very specific references (I myself was very taken by the film’s version of the trip to meet the wealthy Christian in-laws from Annie Hall) and also a lot of more generalized messing around with the types of scenes we have all seen a million times in romantic comedies.  (The way Joel and his brother each give a tender “thanks” to one another after a heart-felt moment had me in stitches.)  There’s some nerdy clever humor in the film and also some very low-brow, silly humor.  There are a few very literal scenes that would have felt at home in Airplane! (such as the moment in which Joel and his bartender go through a “you can say that again” routine about ten times).  There are also some extremely random digressions (such as a stunningly bizarre sequence in which Joel’s boss is unable to unzip his super-hero Halloween costume when he has to go to the bathroom).  Not every one of these jokes lands, but there are always about ten more jokes coming right on its heels, so I found myself laughing pretty consistently throughout.

The film has a playful, anything-for-a-laugh approach that at times can make the film’s narrative feel choppy, but which I found quite endearing.  There’s one moment when we suddenly discover that Molly has a young son, which provides a great opportunity to get this film’s silly version of the classic romantic comedy moment in which … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Edge of Tomorrow

July 7th, 2014

While humanity wages a bitter war against a race of alien invaders nicknamed the Mimics, Major William Cage works for the military as a television-friendly recruiter, encouraging young men and women to enlist in the fight.  But when he finds himself assigned to the front, Cage panics and tries to bribe his way out of his orders.  This backfires spectacularly, resulting in his being stripped of his rank and assigned to a unit of front-line grunts.  Despite his protestations, he’s strapped into an exo-suit, a complex piece of military hardware he hasn’t a clue how to operate, and is dropped into the thick of the counter-offensive against the aliens.  But the offensive is a catastrophe, the human forces are wiped out, and Cage is killed.  Then Cage wakes up and it’s the morning of that day, the day of the offensive.  He lives the whole day again only to find himself once again killed by the aliens.  And then he wakes up again back at the start of that same day.  Over and over again.

Based on the Japanese novel All You Need is Kill, the film Edge of Tomorrow (written by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth, and directed by Doug Liman) is very much a sci-fi version of Groundhog Day.  This is something of a double-edged sword, because while the idea of an action-packed, hard sci-fi version of Groundhog Day is a tantalizing idea and a juicy hook, it also gives the film’s structure a bit of a feeling of been-there, done that.  Groundhog Day is a phenomenal film, and I don’t think any film could tell that particular story any better than it does.

Luckily, while Edge of Tomorrow also tells the story of a self-centered jerk who learns to become a better man while living the same day over and over and over again, it’s different enough that, to me, it succeeds in standing on its own two feet as its own story.

In this film, the survival of humanity rests in Cage’s hands, as he must find a way to not only understand what is happening to him but also to use that to in some way defeat the seemingly unbeatable aliens.  That gives the film a narrative momentum, and it means that the intensity continues to raise after each of Cage’s repeated deaths after deaths after deaths.  It also means that, whereas in Groundhog Day the explanation for Phil’s being trapped in a time-loop was unimportant, here it is of critical importance that Cage discovers what is happening to him and why, and how he can find a way to control it.

Tom Cruise is great in the film.  As always, Mr. Cruise … [continued]

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Star Trek Continues! “The Fairest of Them All”

After the dismal Star Trek Into Darkness (click here for my review), with the rumor that Bob Orci (who is perhaps a 9/11 Truther) will be directing the next Trek film, and with no prospects of a new Trek TV show anywhere on the horizon, this feels like a bleak time for Trek fans.  But some Trek fans aren’t taking things lying down.  As readers of this site are well aware, I am a huge fan of two parallel groups of Trek fans who have taken it upon themselves to create the never-made fourth season of the Original Series, crafting full-episode-length Star Trek episodes featuring the further adventures of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.

The folks at Star Trek Continues have just released their third episode, “The Fairest of Them All,” and like their initial two efforts (“Pilgrim of Eternity” and “Lolani”), it is a magnificent achievement and a very fun watch.  Here is the full episode:

Star Trek Continues E03 “Fairest of Them All” from Star Trek Continues on Vimeo.

This episode is a direct sequel to the Original Series episode “Mirror, Mirror” in which Kirk, McCoy, Uhura and Scotty found themselves in a twisted alternate universe following a transporter accident.  The opening moments of the episode recreate the closing scene of “Mirror, Mirror,” in which Kirk exhorts Mirror Spock to take steps to change or defeat the cruel Terran empire which he serves.  The entire rest of the episode takes place in the Mirror Universe; we never see the “real” characters again.  Instead, we get to see what happens after Kirk & co. beamed back to their universe and the Mirror versions of Kirk, McCoy, Uhura and Scotty beam back aboard the I.S.S. Enterprise.

I’m pleased that they chose to set the whole show in the Mirror Universe (as did Enterprise’s Mirror Universe prequel two-parter “In a Mirror, Darkly”) rather than trying to find some way to involve the regular versions of the characters.  It’s fun that they leaned into this exploration of the repercussions of Kirk & co.’s visit to the Mirror Universe, to try to answer the intriguing question of “what happened next.”

As has been the case since the very first Star Trek Continues vignette, the extraordinary production quality of these entirely fan-made efforts is jaw-dropping. These talented men and women have painstakingly recreated all of the familiar Enterprise sets.  The bridge looks perfect.  Kirk’s quarters look perfect.  Sickbay looks perfect.  The Enterprise corridors look perfect.  The costumes, the lighting, everything has been recreated extraordinarily faithfully.  I couldn’t spot one off-note.  Even more impressive for this episode, the production team has exactingly recreated the look of the Mirror … [continued]

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Did you know that genius Calvin & Hobbes cartoonist Bill Watterson recently drew a few new comic strips?  I sure didn’t!!  Here’s the whole crazy story of how master artist Bill Watterson wound up collaborating with Stephan Pastis on his comic strip Pearls Before Swine.  And here are the cartoons.  Wow.  Holy cow am I jealous of Mr. Pastis!!  Well done, sir!

In last month’s News Around the Net post, I noted the 30th anniversary of both Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.  This summer also marks the 30th anniversary of Ghostbusters (holy hell, the summer of 1984 was AWESOME), and, to celebrate, the film is getting re-released to theaters on August 29th!!  Mark your calendars!  I’ll certainly be there.  (I love these sorts of revival screenings and wish the studios would do this far more often with their great films of yore.  As it happens, I’ve been able to see Ghostbusters a few times on the big screen in the last decade-or-so — click here for my thoughts on a screening of the film from 2011.)

And, sticking with Ghostbusters for just a moment longer, this is an awesome 30th anniversary infographic.

Gillian Flynn (author of Gone Girl) and Dave Gibbons (the artist of Watchmen) have collaborated on a short comic-book story.  Here it is, and it’s great.

This collection of Lucas Lee’s fake movie posters from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World really made me laugh.  I love that movie!!

This is a great, great list of the five best episodes of Mystery Science Theatre 3000.

I love this fantastic look back at two classic Newsradio episodes.  My lord that show was great.

Here’s another great stroll back down TV memory lane (as well as another reason to dearly miss the great, late Phil Hartman): a look at one of the very best episodes of The Simpsons, and one of the very best half-hours of television ever: “A Fish Called Selma.”

The Wachowskis are working on a ten-episode sci-fi show for Netflix, and the co-showrunner will be Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski?  OK, I am interested.

Speaking of Netflix, is Rosario Dawson going to be playing Karen Page on Netflix’s upcoming Daredevil show?  That would be awesome.

This is a fun article: Kramer, Meet Feldman: 19 TV Bizarros.

Joss Whedon has some fascinating thoughts on the state of super-hero movies today.  I cannot wait to see what he has in store for us with The Avengers: Age of Ultron.  Meanwhile, is Nathan Fillion going to be in Guardians of the Galaxy???  Holy cow that’s … [continued]

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Re-reading Captain America: The Winter Soldier

After enjoying the latest Captain America film, The Winter Soldier, I decided to go back and re-read the comics that had inspired the film.

Back in 2005, writer Ed Brubaker and artist Steve Epting collaborated on a re-launch of the Captain America comic book.  Their initial story-line would prove to be incredibly popular with fans, one that would define the Captain America mythology for years to come.  It was such a popular and influential story-line that it was a clear choice for the second Cap film to adapt.

Before then, I had never read the Captain America comic book series on a monthly basis, and I didn’t initially read this story monthly, either.  But after the first few months, I started hearing and reading more and more about Mr. Burbaker’s story-line.  Eventually I picked up the first two trade paperback collections, and I was immediately hooked.  Mr. Brubaker would go on to write Captain America for many years, and it was a great run.  But it’s that initial story that was the very best.

The Winter Soldier Volume 1 (Captain America #1-7) — The first issue is fantastic, immediately setting up the dynamics of the story and Cap’s status quo, and then turning the whole apple-cart over at the end of the issue.  Right away, we see several stylistic devices that will become emblematic of Mr. Brubaker & Mr. Epting’s long run on Cap.  There’s the balance of a story set in the present-day Marvel Universe with a parallel tale set during Cap & Bucky’s adventures during World War II that elaborates upon the present-day story and provides critical back-story.  There’s the beginning of the Red Skull & Russian General Lukin’s parallel secret evil plans, plans which will provide the backbone for the next fifty issues of story-telling.  And there’s Mr. Brubaker’s brilliant reinvention of the character of Bucky.

Mr. Brubaker’s “Winter Soldier” story is well-known for his famous resurrection of Cap’s former partner Bucky, killed during WWII.  Although death is usually a temporary thing in comic books, Bucky was one of the few characters to be considered permanently dead.  Mr. Brubaker raised a lot of eyebrows with his decision to bring back Bucky, but his story was so good that now, far from being controversial, this “Winter Soldier” story-line is considered to be one of the most central pieces of canon in Captain America’s history.  (It’s so important that it was a clear and popular choice to be adapted in the second Captain America film.)

But a huge part of what made this story-line work wasn’t just how he handled Bucky’s resurrection, but the subtle but important — and fiendishly clever — adjustments Mr. Brubaker made to … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Mad Men Season 7.1

June 16th, 2014
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It’s a very rare thing when a TV series is able to end at a time and place of its creators’ choosing.  There are many things that are problematic with today’s TV landscape, but I must say the recent trend of more TV series having this sort of opportunity is extremely refreshing.  Certainly there are older shows that didn’t just fizzle out but were allowed to have a well-crafted ending (such as M.A.S.H. or, more recently, Seinfeld and Friends).  And certainly today there are still great TV shows that are brutally cancelled without allowing the creators to provide any sort of closure for the audience.  But more and more, particularly with series that become successful and click with an audience, I am seeing creators allowed to design and execute an ending to their series.  Just look at how many great series-finales were in last year’s list of my Top 10 Favorite Episodes of TV in 2013!

Mad Men is one of those shows that is being allowed to end at the point at which creator and show-runner Matthew Weiner wanted it to end.  This is a terrific opportunity, and also, of course, a make-or-break moment for the series.  The strength of a show’s ending plays a huge part in determining the over-all success or failure of a show.  For five seasons I thought Lost was one of the greatest television shows ever made, but the total catastrophe that was the show’s final season really ruined the whole show for me.  (If the creators weren’t going to bother to answer the vast majority of the questions they’d set up in the previous five seasons, why would I ever want to re-watch the show, knowing it would end with only disappointment?)  On the other hand, I love the finale of Babylon 5 — a good-to-middling sci-fi show — so much that to me it elevates the entire series.

I’ve been watching Mad Men since the show began.  As I’ve written about before, for the first three seasons I liked the show more than I loved it.  It was clear, right from the first episode, that this was a fascinating, extraordinarily well-crafted show.  But so many of the characters were so mean and so nasty that I found it off-putting.  I respected the show intellectually more than I actually enjoyed the experience of watching it.  But gradually that changed, and I began to fall in love with all of these characters, despite their continuing self-centeredness and bad behavior.  By season four, I was hooked in hard, and I thought that last season, season 6, might have been the best of the show’s run.  I have noticed that the show … [continued]