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The great director Steven Soderbergh’s latest film, No Sudden Move, was recently released on HBO Max.  The film stars Don Cheadle as Curt Goynes, a man just released from prison.  Needing cash, he takes a job along with another criminal named Ronald Russo (Benicio del Toro).  They each take an immediate dislike to the other but are forced to rely on one another when the job goes wrong and they find themselves on the run from a mess of other criminals, both of the gangster type and the rich white collar type.

This film has a hell of a cast.  It’s great fun seeing Don Cheadle back in a leading role.  Mr. Cheadle (who previously appeared in Mr. Soderbergh’s Oceans 11 films, as well as Out of Sight and Traffic) is great as Curt.  He plays Curt as tough and brave but flawed; this is a classic noir protagonist for whom we’re not sure things are actually going to work out.  I love the oil and water pairing of Mr. Cheadle and Benicio del Toro, and some of the best parts of the film are when the two get to bounce off of one another.  Ronald Russo is another in Mr. del Toro’s collection of scummy but still lovable characters.  David Harbour (Stranger Things, Hellboy, Black Widow) is fantastic as Matt Wertz, the poor sap who has access to the documents that the criminals want/need.  I haven’t seen Brendan Fraser (The Mummy films, The Quiet American) on screen in years; it’s fun to see him here as Doug Jones, the criminal fixer who connects Curt and Ronald for the job.  Jon Hamm brings his perfect Jon Hamm square jaw and charisma to the part of Joe Finney, the detective assigned to investigate the events that go wrong at Matt Wertz’s house.  Ray Liotta and Bill Duke are both terrific as dueling crime bosses.  Matt Damon pops up late in the film for a critical scene as a wealthy businessman who is just as much a criminal as the street-level hoods we’ve been following for much of the film.  Amy Seimetz has a small but important role as Matt’s wife Mary Wertz.  Julia Fox (Uncut Gems) is great as Vanessa, the wife of Ray Liotta’s crime boss Frank Capelli.  Kieran Culkin is great as an unhinged criminal, Charley.  What a cast that is!!

I liked No Sudden Move, though I didn’t quite love the film the way I’d expected to based on Mr. Soderbergh’s being at the helm and the incredible cast he assembled.  Frankly, the film’s sort of generic title (which doesn’t really mean anything, nor does it seem to me to connect … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Ghostbusters: Afterlife

November 29th, 2021

I think the original 1984 Ghostbusters is one of the most perfect movies ever made.  I adore that film.  It’s a brilliant comedy whose jokes still hold up decades later (and even after so many viewings that I have most of the movie memorized).  At the same time, it’s also a thrilling adventure movie that’s actually scaring and thrilling, with real stakes for the characters.  And it’s also blazingly original, jam-packed with wild ideas that no one had ever seen anything like before.  While the 1989 sequel Ghostbusters 2 is far inferior to that first film, and it smoothed out many of the first film’s more anarchic rough edges into a more family-friendly tone (which I don’t see as a positive), I have a real soft spot in my heart for it.  I really like Ghostbusters 2 a lot; I think it’s very funny with some extremely memorable sequences.  Paul Feig’s 2016 Ghostbusters reboot wasn’t quite everything I’d hoped for, but I’m nevertheless a staunch defender of that film.  I wish that film had been set in the continuity of the original films, rather than being a start-from-zero reboot, and I just wasn’t quite as captivated by the story or the characters as I’d wanted to be.  At the same time, it’s a very funny movie with a spectacular cast, and I think it gets funnier every time I see it.  (I also think the film’s extended version is superior to the theatrical cut.)  The 2016 film, unfortunately, became a touch-point for an insane culture-wars argument, with many “fans” filled with rage at the idea of an all-female version of Ghostbusters.  The film’s female stars were subjected to outrageous, horrible online harassment.  (Leslie Jones, who had the temerity to be not just a woman but an African-American woman, suffered the worst of it.)  When the news broke about this new attempt to craft a Ghostbusters sequel, one that would go back to the continuity of the first two Ghostbusters films, I was torn.  I was excited to see a return to the beloved world of the original Ghostbusters, and I was eager to see what Jason Reitman (the son of Ivan Reitman, who directed the original two Ghostbusters films) could do with this franchise.  At the same time, I hate the idea that the “bros” won and the all-female Ghostbusters lost.  I tried to go into this new film with an open mind and an open heart.  I truly would be so excited for a great new Ghostbusters film!

While I enjoyed Ghostbusters: Afterlife, this is still not the great Ghostbusters sequel that I’d been hoping for.  I think I prefer the 2016 Ghostbusters, though I’m not sure … [continued]

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Star Trek Coda Book Two: The Ashes of Tomorrow

I’ve been reading Star Trek novels since I was a kid.  For the past two decades, these books have gone to the next level, and I’ve been captivated by the vast interconnected universe of Star Trek stories that has developed.  What began as a few books set after the events of the last canonical on-screen Star Trek adventures (the finale of Deep Space Nine and the movie Nemesis… and later also the Voyager and Enterprise finales) has grown over the years into a tapestry of interconnected stories, an epic saga that I love dearly.  But the Picard show presented a very different version of events in the Star Trek universe, thus suddenly rendering all of these wonderful stories out of continuity.  Rather than abandoning this universe immediately (as happened with the Star Wars books when Disney started making new Star Wars product), I am pleased that the authors and readers were given an opportunity for closure with this three-book Coda series.

In book one, Moments Asunder, an alien threat from the TNG series returned, attempting to destabilize and eventually destroy the entire timeline in which these Star Trek novels have taken place.  An aged Wesley Crusher from the future returned to attempt to warn his friends and family.  Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise E attempted to mobilize their allies to mount a defense, but at the end of the first book, things looked grim.  Here in The Ashes of Tomorrow, the scope of the story expands even further.  Captain Picard and the crew of the U.S.S. Aventine (the starship formerly commanded by Ezri Dax, as established in previous novels) attempt to rally Starfleet to the cause, only to be stymied by Captain Riker and the U.S.S. Titan, who unexpectedly find themselves in opposition to Picard.  Meanwhile, Benjamin Sisko (once again a starship commander) and Kira Nerys (now a Vedek on Bajor) both receive warnings from the Prophets that the Celestial Temple/Wormhole is about to become a critical battleground in this time-spanning conflict.  Sisko and Kira return to Deep Space Nine and attempt to gather their friends and comrades to do what they can to protect Bajor… and the Prophets themselves.

The Ashes of Tomorrow is a terrific book, even better than Book I: Moments Asunder.  I love the epic scope of this story, featuring a wealth of characters from across the various Trek TV shows as well as many characters created just for the books.  Author James Swallow really knows how to build tension, as he tightens the screws on our heroes as the story unfolds.  I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.

My main two complaints about this novel are the same I had … [continued]

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News Around the Net!

November 24th, 2021

Here’s the latest (final?) trailer for Spider-Man: Far From Home.  It’s an awesome trailer and it has me very excited for the film!  But there are some spoilers in here, so if you want to go into the movie totally clean, you might want to skip this:

I haven’t loved the Apple TV+ Foundation show nearly as much as I’d hoped, but one of the best aspects of the show are its gorgeous visual effects.  I really enjoyed this short video exploring the making of those effects.  Who knew the show was actually using some old-school miniatures??

There were some big announcements on Disney+ day earlier this month.  Probably the most surprising was the announcement of a continuation of the X-Men animated series from the nineties!!  Wow!!  (I enjoyed that show when it originally aired, but I haven’t ever gone back to rewatch it.  Does it hold up??)

This is a very funny introduction to the cast of the Willow TV show (which I am super-excited for!!):

Hang on a second… have we all been mispronouncing Warwick Davis’ name ever since Return of the Jedi...????

Here’s a first look at the upcoming Ms. Marvel series for Disney+:

I can’t believe there’s a Moon Knight show in our future!!  Here’s a first look:

Just like I can’t believe there’s a She-Hulk show in our future!!  Here’s a first look:

I’m pleased that Disney has confirmed the Agatha Harkness show, spinning out of WandaVision, to be called Agatha: House of Harkness.  Click here for the logo.  I’m also excited for the Echo show, focusing on the deaf Native American super-heroine.  Click here for the logo.

I laughed at this trailer for Baymax, the upcoming TV show spin-off of Big Hero 6:

I dream that someday there will be another great Predator film.  (Just as I dream that someday there will be another great Alien film.)  The bad taste of 2018’s The Predator has barely left my mouth, and apparently there’s already a new Predator film heading our way: it’s called Prey and it’s set 300 years in the past.  It’s hard for me to get excited about this.  Though I loved Director Dan Trachtenberg’s 10 Cloverfield Lane, so maybe there’s hope that he’s the one to finally make a good Predator sequel…?  We’ll see…!

It’s been a long wait for the fourth season of Stranger Things.  I hope we don’t have to wait too much longer.  Here’s a trailer:

Sad news of the recent passing of Dean Stockwell, who was of course so magnificent as Al on Quantum Leap, not to mention Brother Cavill on the reimagined Battlestar Galactica in the oughts.

This is an [continued]

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Josh Reviews Pretend It’s a City

I am head over heels evangelical about the Netflix documentary series Pretend It’s a City.  Stop reading now and go watch it!

OK, do you need a little more information?  The series is seven half-hour episodes, in which Martin Scorsese chats with his friend, author Fran Lebowitz, about life.  More specifically, life in New York City.

I must admit that while of course I knew the name Fran Lebowitz, I was not tremendously familiar with her or her work before watching this series.  But by the end of the first episode I had fallen in love with this sharp-written, fast-talking, opinionated woman.  I couldn’t stop watching this show and I wound up watching all seven episodes within 24 hours.

The series has a very loose structure; basically Martin Scorsese winds up Ms. Lebowitz on a topic and then lets her go.  The series is a love letter to her and her opinions on, well, everything.  It’s also a wonderful love-letter to New York City and everyone crazy enough to live there (despite Ms. Lebowitz’s frequent complaints about her fellow New Yorkers.  The series’ title comes from her very funny exhortation to people who don’t pay attention when walking around the city to “pretend it’s a city!!” and look where you’re going!).  (The love for New York City pouring out of Ms. Lebowitz and this series reminded me of the equally wonderful HBO series How To with John Wilson.)

The series gives a little background information on Ms. Lebowitz and her work and career.  There are some fun clips of Ms. Lebowitz being interviewed over the years; I particularly enjoyed the snippets of her appearances on David Letterman’s show.  But for the most part, the series is a spotlight on Ms. Lebowitz today and her many opinions.  The series jumps around from an extended conversation with Mr. Scorsese in a restaurant with various other appearances and Q&A sessions, as well as Ms. Lebowitz being interviewed by other celebrities including Alex Baldwin, Spike Lee, and Olivia Wilde.  All of which basically serve as an opportunity for Ms. Lebowitz to give us her very funny opinions on a variety of subjects.

As joyous as it is to listen to Ms. Lebowitz hold forth on a variety of topics, it’s almost equally joyous to listen to Mr. Scorsese laugh at her comments.  It tickles me to see the friendship between these two.  (Apparently Ms. Lebowitz got her start writing reviews of bad movies for Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine.  I can see why these two are friends!)

I had a ball watching this series.  I wish there was more!

Click here to purchase my “Maclunkey” Star Wars/Highlander mash-up t-shirt!

Please support by clicking [continued]

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Josh Reviews Oxygen

November 19th, 2021

In the film Oxygen (available to view on Netflix), Mélanie Laurent plays the main character (whose name we don’t at first know), who wakes up trapped in some sort of futuristic medical pod.  She doesn’t know who she is or how she got there.  The pod has an A.I. called M.I.L.O. (Medical Interface Liaison Officer) with whom she can communicate, but she doesn’t seem to have the needed authority or codes to order M.I.L.O. to unlock the pod and release her.  But she does know that the oxygen within the pod is rapidly running out…

I really enjoyed this film!!  It’s a tour de force performance by Mélanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds), who is basically the only human being we see on screen for the entire film.  Not only is she the only person on screen, but she’s basically trapped lying down inside this sci-fi apparatus of the medical pod.  It’s an extraordinary performance, electric and gripping and completely compelling.

I always love original sci-fi stories, and I was impressed by the way director Alexandre Aja and screenwriter Christie LeBlanc were able to create a great sci-fi premise.  I love the way the film is structured as a mystery, with Ms. Laurent’s character and the audience gradually putting together the pieces of the puzzle.  At the same time, it’s also a race-against-the-clock thriller as the oxygen in her medical pod slowly dwindles away.

Every now and then a great film comes along that basically only has a single character on screen.  (I’m thinking about films like Locke, starring Tom Hardy, or All is Lost, starring Robert Redford.)  Those sort of cinematic live-wire acts are always exciting for me, because there are so many ways they could go wrong and become a dull slog.  But I found Oxygen to be thrilling.  The great script was supported by skilled directing and editing that keeps the film tense and exciting and never boring, despite our basically watching one mostly immobile woman lying in a tube for an hour and a half.  It’s all driven by Mélanie Laurent’s riveting performance.  She commands the screen, and the viewer’s attention, with the power and emotional truth of her performance, despite the wild sci-fi set-up.

And, wait, did I mention the film is subtitled?  Yet another potential obstacle to an exciting thriller!  Yes, Oxygen is a French-language film.  (Note: when I started watching it on Netflix, the film defaulted to an English dub.  It was weird and distracting to me.  A few minutes in I realized what was happening and switched over to the original French language track, with English subtitles, and I vastly preferred that.)

I also want to make note of … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Only Murders in the Building

In Only Murders in the Building, Steven Martin plays Charles Haden Savage, who years ago starred in a popular TV crime show called Brazzos as the titular detective.  Martin Short plays Oliver Putnam, who used to be a successful Broadway producer before several outlandish flops sunk his career.  And Selena Gomez plays Mabel Mora, a young woman living in her aunt’s mostly gutted apartment building.  The three are total strangers, but they all live in the same luxury Manhattan apartment building, the Arconia, and they’re all huge fans of true-crime podcasts.  When a young man named Tim Kono dies in their building, the three of them doubt the police’s determination that it was a suicide.  They suspect foul play, and set out to find the truth, charting their investigation in a true-crime podcast of their own.

I adored this first season of Only Murders in the Building.  It’s a near-perfect concoction.  It’s a very funny show that is also a compelling drama and an engaging mystery, whose twists and turns are perfectly paced to carry us through this first ten-episode season.

Steve Martin and Martin Short have been comedic collaborators for many decades, and it is tremendously joyous to me to see that not only are they continuing to work together on new material, but that they both still demonstrate such fierce comedic powers.  Watching these two men play off of one another is like watching two master musicians at work.  To say their comic timing is flawless would be to understate matters.  Is this edgy, groundbreaking comedy?  No.  It’s something very different: it’s two grand masters at work.

Pairing these two older comic actors with Selena Gomez is an inspired idea, but it’s also one that I could have easily seen sounding good on paper but failing in execution.  But I was delighted by how wonderful Selena Gomez is in this show, and how seamlessly her energy and style meshes with that of Steve Martin and Martin Short.  The three very quickly become a magnificently synchronized trio, and the show is always at its best when the three of them are on screen together.  I’m impressed with Ms. Gomez’s ability to go toe-to-toe with these two comedic giants, and with how skillfully she’s able to create a fascinating character in Mabel; someone mysterious and also someone for whom the audience never loses empathy.  It’s a terrific performance and I was immediately captivated.

If this was twenty years ago, Steve Martin and Martin Short would be collaborating on a new movie.  But because it’s 2021, this project is a TV show, and I am impressed at how smoothly these two talents have been able to apply what worked on the … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Eternals

The latest MCU film, The Eternals, brings Jack Kirby’s cosmic creations to the big screen for the first time.  The film introduces audiences to the Eternals, a group of immortals who have been living on Earth for around seven thousand years.  They were planted on Earth by gigantic space gods known as the Celestials, in order to defend burgeoning humanity from the threat of the monstrous Deviants, who hunt down and destroy intelligent life across the universe.  While the Eternals thought they’d wiped out the last of the Deviants on Earth millennia ago, as the film begins they discover that the Deviants have returned, at the same time as a new menace emerges that threatens the entire planet.

The Eternals is a fun film, filled with all sorts of wild stuff from the comics that delighted me to see on screen.  At almost two hours and forty minutes, the film is longer than it needs to be.  (I wish the section in the middle of the film in which Ikaris, Sersi and Sprite set out to gather the rest of the scattered Eternals was shorter.  I understand why it’s not; all the individual scenes are great and it’s nice to allow each character in this large ensemble to get time in the spotlight, but taken as a whole it means we basically see characters receive the same information several times over.)

I like that the film’s tone is a little different from what has become the standard adventure/jokey tone of the MCU.  There are some funny moments in The Eternals, but as a whole this is a more somber, elegiac film that the average MCU movie.  I like that director Chloé Zhao and her team have brought a sense of epic scope and beauty to the film, as well as a focus on an exploration of the characters, as well as the broader cosmic universe of the MCU.  The film is beautiful, with a memorable “on location” feel in beautiful settings across the globe, a credit to the work of Ms. Zhao and her crew.

I love that Marvel’s Phase Four is focusing on introducing new characters and new concepts into the MCU.  Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings brought all sorts of new characters and ideas into the MCU, and The Eternals is an even bigger swing for the fences, as the movie involves the origin story of all life on planet Earth and introduces a variety of ancient cosmic characters.

The Eternals represents what is by far the most obscure characters to headline an MCU film by far (topping what I’d say is the previous champion, and also the last MCU film released: Shang-Chi and the [continued]

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