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The Best Moments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (So Far…!)

April 25th, 2019

“We’re in the endgame now.”  Later this evening (unless something goes terribly awry!) I’ll be seeing Avengers: Endgame, the twenty-second film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  I am, to put it mildly, excited.  As I have often written about on this site, the existence of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a miracle that we shouldn’t take for granted.  TWO DOZEN interconnected films??  No one has ever done anything even REMOTELY like this before!!  And that there is nary a stinker in the bunch is stunning.  (The very worst Marvel films — and I’d rank The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, and Thor: The Dark World at the bottom of the list — are still very watchable and enjoyable!!  And the BEST films of the MCU are some of the greatest action-adventure-fantasy films ever made.)  As we prepare for the grand finale of the MCU so far, I thought it’d be fun to look back at some of my very favorite moments from the film series to this point:

“I am Iron Man” — I loved pretty much every second of the first Iron Man film.  I was blown away by how adult and how fun it was, and how faithful it was to the essence of this great character who was super-well-known to comic-book fans but unknown to the world at large.  But it was the very last line of the movie that made me truly fall in love with the film, and this experiment of the MCU.  I was ready for the usual super-hero trope, in which Tony Stark would act to preserve his secret identity and pitch some sort of story to the public to pretend that he wasn’t Iron Man.  But then Tony surprises everyone (including me!) by, as usual, doing his own thing, and boldly proclaiming his super-hero identity to the world.  Amazing.  And if that had been the actual ending of the movie, dayenu.  But, of course, in the MCU’s first and still-greatest post-credits teaser, we got:

“The Avenger Initiative” — As a comic-book loving nerd, I was shocked and overjoyed by the appearance of Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury.  Not only is Fury a fantastic character from the comics, but I was delighted by the in-joke of casting Mr. Jackson, who was used as the model for Bryan Hitch’s drawings of Fury in the Ultimates series (a reimagining of the nineteen-sixties-era Avengers concept for the modern era).  So, just seeing the great Samuel L. Jackson in the one-eyed flesh as Nick Fury put me over the moon.  But to hear Fury mention “the Avenger initiative,” and discover that Marvel was actually planning to create a never-before-seen super-hero crossover movie blew my mind.  That … [continued]

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Game of Thrones: “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms”

I thought this second episode of Game of Thrones’ final season was magnificent, a high water mark in the series.  I know of some people who have complained that these first two episodes have been boring, and I truly don’t know what to say about that.  The character moments in these episodes have been amazing.  This is why I watch and love this show, because of the characters, not because of the zombie action.  (That’s just the gravy!)  I was nervous going into this final season about how the show could possibly be brought to a satisfying end in only six episodes, and I am still nervous about that, but after these first two episodes I am as excited for this show as I have ever been, and I am all-in on the journey on which we’re being brought in this final stretch.

This episode was filled with some of the series’ all-time greatest moments.  I wasn’t sure I’d ever seen anything better than the spectacle of Tormund Giantsbane’s smitten attempt to impress Brienne of Tarth by retelling the story of how he suckled at a giantess’ breast for three months, prompted by his guzzling of that horn of booze (or giants’ milk??) that he’d brought with him.  But then we got to the scene that gave this episode its title.  I was heartbroken that, even on the eve of death and sitting in the company of this group of men who all accept and respect her, Brienne still felt that she had to lie and say that she never wanted to be a knight, when that was so obviously her heart’s desire.  And then my heart broke again, but this time out of happiness, when Jamie finally realized how he could repay the debt he owed her for setting him on the path to redemption.  Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s gentle delivery of the oath was beautiful, and then when Gwendoline Christie rose, and gave that beautiful smile (was that the first time in the entire series we’d ever seen Brienne truly smile?), my heart just sang.  Amazing.

And by the way, there were several other great Jamie and Brienne moments.  I loved seeing her stand up and vouch for him in front of the assembled Lords of the North, and it was beautiful to see how much weight her words carried, particularly with Sansa.  And then, later, when Jamie humbly asked to fight under Brienne’s command — wow!  Who could ever have imagined that Jamie Lannister would ever be willing to serve under ANYONE else??  What a beautiful payoff to their relationship, which has been one of my very favorite character arcs in the entire series.

That opening scene, in which … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Hellboy

Mike Mignola’s Hellboy is one of my very favorite comic book characters.  Over the past 25 years, the comic book universe surrounding this big red paranormal investigator has grown and deepened into a fantastically fun and complex epic-scale saga.  The various Hellboy-universe comic books continually top my list of my favorite comic book series each year, and I have written extensively about these amazing comics here on the site.  I loved the two Hellboy movies directed by Guillermo del Toro.  Neither is perfect, and while there are aspects of the comic-book series and the characters that they get exactly right, there are also many instances in which the movies are less a faithful adaptation of the comics and more a version of the comics filtered through Guillermo del Toro’s particular vision.  But a Guillermo del Toro version of Hellboy is a spectacular thing, and there are so many aspects of those two movies that are just so wonderful, in particular Ron Perlman’s absolute perfect embodiment of the title character.  The ending of the second film, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, seemed to set the stage for a trilogy-capping third film, and it’s one of the great cinematic disappointments that this third film never materialized.  I was disappointed when I heard that they’d be rebooting the Hellboy film series, but I also saw potential in the idea of a more faithful adaptation of the comic book source material, and I thought the casting of Stranger Things David Harbour as Hellboy was a great idea.  So, how was the finished film?

It’s a disappointment, honestly.  There are a lot of interesting moments and ideas in the film, certain concepts and scenes that work great.  But for every moment that works, it feels like there are three that are huge missed opportunities, and I didn’t feel that the film came together into a coherent and enjoyable whole.

Hellboy feels, frankly, like a B-movie.  There are several reasons for this:

First, the film is overstuffed with over-the-top gore and violence that is cartoonishly silly.  When I saw The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring for the first time, I was completely unprepared for the intensity of the violence.  I wasn’t expecting so much blood and violence in a fantasy movie!  That intensity elevated the movie; it showed that this was a movie to be taken seriously, one with real dramatic heft.  But here, in Hellboy, the blood and gore feels to me like it makes the movie LESS serious.  The over-the-top crazy violence feels silly and juvenile to me, like a teenager’s idea of “yeah, cool!!” but not something to be taken seriously.

The entire film feels … [continued]

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Josh Reviews the Powers Novel: The Secret History of Deena Pilgrim

Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming’s terrific comic book series, Powers, follows homicide detectives Walker and Pilgrim in a world of superheroes.  After rereading the series last year, I realized that there was one additional piece of Powers material that I hadn’t yet read.  Back in 2016 — instigated, I suspect, by the launch of the Powers TV adaptation — a Powers prose novel was published!  The book was called Powers: The Secret History of Deena Pilgrim, and it was written by Mr. Bendis and Neil Kleid.

Wow!  A Powers novel!  And one that would explore the backstory behind Deena, one of the comic’s two main characters?

I was immediately interested… and then immediately curious as to why I hadn’t heard more about this project.  I don’t think it was ever mentioned in the back-pages of any of Mr. Bendis’ many comic-book series, including Powers.  Mr. Bendis is an excellent promoter of his work, frequently writing about all his projects in his various comic book series and on his tumblr, and talking about them in interviews.  So the lack of publicity (at least as far as I could tell) for this Powers novel grabbed my attention.  And so, I immediately began to wonder, despite Mr. Bendis’ name being written on the cover, had he actually written the book?  Was he involved at all, or were they just using his name (as many famous so-called “autobiographies” do?)  Was this novel “canon” for the comic book series or just an extrapolation by another writer that wouldn’t, in the end, have any relevance towards the main series?

These questions cooled my enthusiasm for the project.  But after recently re-reading the last several years’ worth of Powers comics, I decided the time had come to give this book a read.  What if I was missing out on a super-cool, super-important piece of the Powers story?

Well… I don’t think I was.

The Secret History of Deena Pilgrim is a decent book, but it doesn’t have the magic Powers feel and I doubt the comic book series will ever reference the events of this novel.

After reading the first few chapters, I became fairly certain that Mr. Bendis did not, in fact, write this book.  I’d imagined that an all-prose version of Powers would have given the dialogue-loving Bendis an opportunity to go nuts with lots of great conversation.  That was one of the things that I was the most potentially excited for in a Powers novel.  But I felt that the dialogue in the book lacked that special Bendis panache.  It wasn’t bad, but not much was particularly memorable.  This interview with Neil Kleid suggests, as I’d suspected, that Mr. … [continued]

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Game of Thrones Returns with “Winterfell”

After an almost two years’ wait, Game of Thrones’ six-episode final season has, at long last, begun!  I thought this first episode, “Winterfell,” was a fantastic beginning to this final run of episodes.

Let’s begin by discussing the gorgeous new opening credits!  It’s about time!  I was thrilled to see these beautiful new opening credits.  It makes sense to focus on only a few locations now, because all of our characters have come together at a few key spots.  The detailed new looks inside these cities (into the crypts beneath Winterfell, or into the throne-room of King’s Landing) were fantastic.  And I loved the device of showing us the movement of the army of the dead.  Will future weeks also show us the movements of the other armies?  I can’t wait to see…

I am, of course, nervous as to whether this show will be able to reach a satisfying conclusion in only six episodes.  One might accuse this first episode of being guilty of wasting time, as not much of consequence politically or militarily occurred in Westeros.  There were no battles, and no one was killed off.  I admit that, watching this episode, there were a few moments in which I wondered to myself, “hadn’t they better hurry things up already?”

But that would be to miss everything that was great about this episode.  Yes, we’re all excited to see the big battles, and yes, we’re all anxious to see who will live and who will die.  But after seven seasons of television, I am delighted that the show is taking its time to allow us the wonderful character moments with which this episode was overflowing.  It is a delight to see new character pairings and, even better, reunions that have been so many YEARS in coming.  Let’s review:

Jon and Arya — these two haven’t seen one another since the SERIES PREMIERE, at the end of which Jon went off to join the Night’s Watch.  I’d forgotten that Jon had given Arya Needle!  It was gloriously sweet to get to see them embrace… and also painful to hear Jon asking Arya, cluelessly, whether she’d ever had an opportunity to use Needle.  It’s a potent reminder of how much they’ve each been through.  But I also hope that the show will show us that these characters do take the time to catch one another up on what they’ve been through.  I don’t actually need to see those long scenes of catch-up, but I want to get the sense that these characters communicate with one another.  That’s important, because while of course I understand that this show thrives on drama and friction between the characters, at this point in the … [continued]

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Examining the First Star Wars: Episode IX Trailer!

April 15th, 2019
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On Friday we got our first peek at footage from Star Wars: Episode IX!  It’s a great trailer but a terrible title.  Let’s take a look:

Wow!

I love the trailer but hate the title.

“Rise of” anything is just a terrible way to start a title.  It’s way overplayed (Terminator: Rise of the Machines, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Rise of the Planet of the Apes… shall I go on?) and it’s generic and meaningless.

Furthermore, The Rise Of Skywalker feels very awkward to me.  Maybe (hopefully) this will make more sense when we see the movie, but Skywalker isn’t a thing or a single person who can “Rise,” it’s a family name.  So this feels clumsy to me.  (Is “Skywalker” going to be the name of the resistance or rebellion or whatever moving forward?  Perhaps this will be the uprising of the Force-wielding kids spreading the Skywalker legend, as glimpsed at the end of The Last Jedi?)

Also, the title increases my fear of a reversal of one of my favorite unexpected choices in The Last Jedi: the revelation that, despite the mystery raised in The Force Awakens, Rey’s parents weren’t actually anyone significant.  With J.J. Abrams returning to the director’s seat, I’d been worried this would be reversed in Episode IX, because clearly Abrams’ original intention in The Force Awakens WAS for Rey’s parents to be someone we knew (why else create such a mystery around their identities?), and because this is pretty easy to reverse (by just saying that Kylo Ren lied to Rey).  The presence of Skywalker in the title strongly suggests the Skywalker family won’t end with Luke’s death in the last movie.  Are we going to find out Rey is a Skywalker after all?  (I hope not.)

But while I hate the title, I love the trailer!  It’s gorgeous and tantalizing, just as a teaser should be.

I love the callbacks to the first trailer for The Force Awakens (which began with a shot of Finn, alone, panting, on a desert world), and also the first trailer for Episode I (which had the title cards “Every generation has a legend” and “Every Saga has a beginning,” here paralleled by the repetition of the former and the “the saga comes to an end” text).

My favorite shot in the trailer is the joyous yell of Lando Calrissian, back in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon.  I feel just like Lando in that moment!  I’ve been very disappointed that Billy Dee Williams wasn’t brought back for the previous two Star Wars films, so I am so thankful and happy to see him here.

I’m very happy … [continued]

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Let’s begin with the upcoming movie that I am most excited to see (OK, after Endgame, I guess):

I am so excited to finally see What We Left Behind, a documentary looking back at my favorite of all the Star Trek series: Deep Space Nine!  I backed the kickstarter that funded this project, so I’ll be able to stream this soon.  But I couldn’t conceive of missing the documentary’s one night in theaters, courtesy of Shout! Studios and Fathom Events.  My tickets are purchased!  Will you be joining me…?

Next up: our first glimpse at the next Quentin Tarantino film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood:

That’s a great tease.  I am excited that a brand new Tarantino movie is only a few months away!

I don’t know what exactly to make of this first trailer for the Joker movie, starring Joaquin Phoenix:

On the one hand, I am always open for a movie that takes superhero/supervillain characters dead seriously, and this certainly looks like a well-made, bonkers piece of work.  So I’m intrigued.  On the other hand, it looks so horrific and joyless that it’s hard to muster too much enthusiasm.  Also, please name one movie that tried to turn a comic book villain into the main character, without the hero, that wasn’t absolutely terrible.  You can’t.  This feels like DC/Warner Brothers having absolutely no idea what to do with their stable of DC characters.  So I’m not sure what to think.

On a lighter note, here’s the first full trailer for Toy Story 4:

I loved Toy Story 3 so much; I felt it was the perfect final chapter for this series.  (Did it really come out almost a decade ago??)  So far all three Toy Story films have been great, and I have faith in the talented men and women at Pixar, so while I don’t feel the need for any more Toy Story films, I have no reason to doubt the quality of this coming fourth film.  This trailer shows a bit too much of the movie, but it suggests that there’s lots of new existential ground for this new film to cover.  I can’t wait.

Stranger Things season 3 is coming on July 4, 2019.  Here’s our first detailed trailer:

That looks like fun!  Some great imagery in that trailer.

For all you Parks and Rec fans out there, here is a report from the Paley Center’s 10th anniversary celebration of the show.  This sounds like it would have been amazing to have been at!

It looks like Amazon’s Dark Tower series might actually happen!  I adore these books, and I’m still bummed that the long-awaited film adaptation was so lame.  … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Star Trek: Discovery “Perpetual Infinity” and “Through the Valley of Shadows”

We’re heading into the home stretch of Star Trek: Discovery season two.  I’m finding things to enjoy in every episode, but the show is far shakier than I’d hoped (and that the stronger episodes at the start of the season had led me to anticipate).

Episode 10: “Perpetual Infinity” — after two episodes I was not that into, things picked up significantly in this installment, which I enjoyed quite a lot.  (For the most part.  As usual, there are some storytelling decisions that make me crazy.)

The heart of this episode, Burnham’s emotional reunion with the mother she thought long-dead, and the story of what happened to Dr. Gabrielle Burnham in the intervening years, is very strong.  While the device of Burnham’s watching her mother’s logs stretched credulity a bit (both that the logs captured all of this critical information and that Burnham would have the time to sit and watch all these hours of logs while a race-against-the-clock crisis was unfolding), emotionally the scenes worked.  I loved the opening flashback of Michael Burnham’s memories of her last happy moments with her parents, and I enjoyed the structure of following Gabrielle’s life in the series of flashbacks interspersed into the episode.  Guest star Sonja Sohn (Kima from The Wire!!!) was fantastic.  The strength and believability of her performance is a huge component of this episode working.  The other component is Sonequa Martin-Green, who is absolutely spectacular in every moment of this episode.  Ms. Martin-Green has, from the beginning, been one of the best aspects of this show.  She is amazingly talented, and while the show has veered perilously close into soap opera territory with the number of reasons they’ve given Michael Burnham to cry this season, I was gripped by the visceral emotion Ms. Martin-Green brought to every moment in this episode, particularly the scenes she shared with her mom.

I was happy that we get a satisfactory answer to why Gabrielle, who was in possession of a time-travel suit, couldn’t have done more to actually affect positive change to the time-line.  I’d been wondering this for weeks, and the answer (that after been shunted a millennia into the future, Gabrielle couldn’t spent more than a few moments in the past before being snapped back to that future time) is reasonably satisfactory.  (There ARE still plenty of problems with this time-travel story; see below.)

Spock is finally acting like Spock, and I found myself enjoying Ethan Peck’s performance more than ever.  This Spock is smart, calm, and kind, the way Spock should be.  Spock had several great moments with Burnham this week, but the best was the their terrific final scene together, in which Spock quietly re-sets the three-dimensional chess … [continued]

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