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Josh Reviews Teen Titans: The Judas Contract

Teen Titans: The Judas Contract is the latest DC Animated direct-to-DVD/blu-ray film.  It adapts the famous Judas Contract story-line by Marv Wolfman and George Perez from The New Teen Titans in 1984.  In the early eighties, Wolfman and Perez’s Teen Titans was an enormous smash hit for DC Comics, rivaling Marvel’s X-Men in popularity.  The Judas Contract is one of the most well-known stories from the run, in which the young Titan Terra is revealed to have been working with the villain Deathstroke to learn the Titans’ secrets in order to destroy them.

This new animated film is a direct sequel to last year’s Justice League vs. Teen Titans That film introduced this version of the Titans into the “New 52” continuity of the past few years’ worth of DC animated films.  I enjoyed this version of the team introduced in that film, with an amalgam of characters from the classic Wolfman/Perez run (Starfire, Raven, and Beast Boy, with Cyborg and Nightwing making brief appearances) combined with characters from more recent versions (the current Blue Beetle and the Damian Wayne Robin).  Justice League vs. Teen Titans was a loose adaptation of Wolfman and Perez’s Terror of Trigon story, which delved into the origin of the young heroine Raven.  This new film focuses exclusively on the Titans, without feeling the need to shoehorn in the Justice League, and dives directly into The Judas Contract, perhaps the most famous Teen Titans storyline ever.

Overall, I was very satisfied by this adaptation.  When this series of direct-to-DVD/blu-ray animated DC films began a decade ago, The Judas Contract was one of the first storylines that was rumored to be adapted.  But year after year, it never happened.  It’s great to see that, so many years later, this adaptation has finally gotten made, and that it’s far better than most of the other very mediocre recent animated films have been.  This isn’t anywhere as good as the great Bruce Timm/Paul Dini collaborations from years ago, but it’s a solidly entertaining story with good characters and interesting conflict.  The voice cast is great, and the animation is solid if not spectacular.  The film has an adult edge, but it avoids the worst of the juvenile cursing-and-sex masquerading as “sophisticated” elements of the recent DC animated films.  I liked it quite a bit.

The film makes a LOT of changes to the original story, in order to fit it into the continuity of these new DC animated films.  But I was impressed by how faithfully the film stayed to the major beats of the original story.  Most of the best moments from the original story find their way into the movie somehow.  The Judas Contract, as … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Seinfeldia

My love for Seinfeld is deep and vast.  I started watching around the time of the show’s fourth season, back in 1992/93.  I remember being told that I absolutely had to watch “The Contest.”  I liked it, and by the end of that season I was watching regularly.  I think it was the fifth season episode “The Marine Biologist” that made me a fan of the show for life.  I can remember, like it was yesterday, that moment at the end in which George whips that golf ball out of his pocket.  (Kramer: “Is that a Titleist?”)  I don’t think I had ever before laughed so long or so hard at anything I had seen on TV.  Circa 1995, my friends and I started watching and/or taping the daily Seinfeld reruns at 11:00 PM, which allowed me to catch up on all the earlier episodes.  It was at this point, watching and re-watching those old episodes over and over again, that my Seinfeld love inched towards obsession, and I quickly grew well-versed in the minutia of the show.  I watched regularly until the end, and I have enjoyed regularly diving back into the show over the years.  When the DVDs were released, between 2004-2007, I enjoyed doing a complete re-watch of the show from start to finish.  So, yeah, I am a fan.

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong’s new book, Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything, tells the story of the show.  The book begins with a look back at the life and careers, to that point, of Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, and their fateful conversation in a Korean deli in 1988 in which they hatched the idea that would become Seinfeld.  We read about everything that went into creating the pilot episode, and the sporadic early episode orders from NBC that gradually led to the order for a complete, twenty-two episode third season in 1991.  Ms. Armstrong’s book moves through all nine Seinfeld seasons, right up to the controversial finale.  Along the way, we stop for spotlights on various members of the supporting cast and also the production team, in particular a variety of the show’s writers.  The final chapters follow the main Seinfeld players through their post-Seinfeld years, including Michael Richards’ unfortunate racist outburst and the cast’s reunion on Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Seinfeldia is an enjoyable read, but it’s not nearly as in-depth as I had hoped.  Reading this so soon after The Daily Show (The Book), I found that Seinfeldia suffered significantly in comparison.  I loved the oral history format used in The Daily Show (The Book), and I wish a similar format had been used here.  It doesn’t appear to me that … [continued]

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Analyzing the New York Times’ List of the Best 25 Films of the 21st Century

June 19th, 2017

Recently, The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott published their list of the 25 Best Films of the 21st Century So Far.

It’s a fascinating list, and well-worth your checking out.

My own list would certainly be very different, but I was surprised and delighted that this list highlighted some movies from the past fifteen-ish years that I have dearly loved, and did not expect to see highlighted on a Times list.  These include:

Spirited Away at number two?  Wow!  I’ve actually only seen Spirited Away once, but it was on a huge screen in Boston when the film was first released in the U.S., and I adored it, blown away by its beauty and its weirdness.  This is a film I’ve been meaning to rewatch for years now, and its inclusion on this list reminds me that I need to hurry up and do that already.  The Times article includes an interview with Guillermo del Toro, who waxes poetic about this film.  It makes perfect sense to me that Mr. del Toro is a big Miyazaki fan, and of this film in particular.  The man loves his weird, wistful monsters!

I recently rewatched Inside Out, and I was once again dazzled by the genius-level insight of Pixar’s magical film, so I was happy to see it listed as number seven on this list.  (I’m impressed with the respect that Ms. Dargis and Mr. Scott’s list gave to animated films!)  The film is a wonder: very funny and painfully sad, tackling complicated emotional and psychological issues with a depth and tenderness that staggers me.  If you don’t weep at Bing Bong’s final moments, you’re made of sterner stuff than I am.  Inside Out made #5 on my list of my favorite films of 2015Click here for my original review.

Boyhood at number eight?  Dynamite!  Richard Linklater’s extraordinary achievement, filmed a few weeks a year over the course of twelve years, was my #1 favorite film of 2014.  It’s a profound accomplishment, capturing a boy’s development into manhood in a way no other film has ever done.  Both times I’ve seen it I was entranced by every minute of its nearly three-hour run-time.  Click here for my full review.

I’m pleased a Coen Brothers film made the list, and while, if I had to choose only one from this century, my choice would have been A Simple Man, I can’t really argue with Inside Llewyn Davis, which clocks in at number 11 on the Times list.  It’s a spectacular film, an overlooked masterpiece from the Coens.  I love the circular structure of the film (a stylistic device that perfectly fits with … [continued]

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Late to the Party: Josh Reviews Silicon Valley Season One!

Quite a few friends have recommended Silicon Valley to me, but for one reason or another it took me a while to find the time to start watching the show.  I am sorry I waited so long, because now I am hooked!

Silicon Valley.season 1.cropped

Created by Mike Judge (Office Space), John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky, the series follows the trials and tribulations of a group of Silicon Valley programmers involved in a small start-up company.  Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) is a small fry working for a huge Google-like company called Hooli.  Like many in Silicon Valley, in his side time Richard is working on an app, which he calls Pied Piper.  It’s intended as a music app, but in creating it Richard has also created a potentially revolutionary compression algorithm.  This attracts the interest of Hooli founder Gavin Belson (Matt Ross), who offers Richard ten million dollars for his app.  It also attracts the interest of venture capitalist Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch), who offers Richard a much-smaller $200,000 investment in exchange for a five-percent ownership in Pied Piper.  Richard passes on the easy money from Gavin and takes Peter Gregory’s offer, excited by the chance to build his own company.  As the series progresses, we see Richard discover that it’s a lot harder than he thinks.

I love shows and movies that explore a particular sub-culture, and Silicon Valley is a wonderful exploration of the intersection of technology and business in this particular corner of the U.S.  This is a show that I suspect people who really know this world will dig for its attention to detail, while also being completely accessible to anyone (like me) who doesn’t know much of anything about this sort of thing.

The show is fantastic, absolutely hilarious and filled with wonderful, compelling characters.  Every member of the ensemble could carry his/her own show.  As Pied Piper’s nervous, frazzled new C.E.O., Thomas Middleditch is fantastic.  I could see a less interesting version of this show in which Richard was the straight person, surrounded by all the weirdos he has to work and live with.  But Mr. Judge & co., along with Mr. Middleditch, have made Richard just as interestingly flawed and bizarre as all the other characters in the show!  But, importantly, they’ve also given him an honesty and a earnestness that makes you want to root for this character.

T. J. Miller (Cloverfield, Deadpool, Office Christmas Party) goes big, and then bigger, as Erlich, the blustery, full-of-himself owner of the incubator where Richard and his co-workers live and work.  Erlich got rich when his own app was sold for millions, and so now he fancies himself as a wise mentor … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Brockmire Season One

June 14th, 2017
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In IFC’s new series Brockmire, Hank Azaria stars as the titular Brockmire.  Once a major league baseball play-by-play announcer, Brockmire had a spectacular public flame-out after discovering that his wife had been cheating on him.  After disappearing for ten years, Brockmire is hired by Jules James (Amanda Peet) to do play-by-play for the mostly-ignored minor league team she owns in a small middle-American town.

Brockmire is fantastic, my favorite new show of 2017 so far.  The series is hilarious, ribald and fall-on-the-floor funny, while not being afraid to explore its dark, broken main character.  The ensemble is spectacular and, at only eight episodes, the first season zips along at a rapid clip and doesn’t overstay its welcome.  I loved every second of it.

The series is a tremendous showcase for Hank Azaria.  His “broadcast announcer” voice could have been a one-off joke (the character previously appeared in a “Funny or Die” short), but Mr. Azaria and the show’s wonderful writers dig deeply into the character and create a real person out of that incredible voice.  We still get plenty of jokes based on the idea of how silly that broadcaster voice sounds outside of the context of calling a baseball game (Brockmire’s announcer-like narration of sex with Jules is a high-point of the show), but Mr. Azaria is able to also create a fully-rounded character.  This is a fiendishly complex circle to square, and Mr. Azaria makes it look easy.  I love this performance, and I love this character.  Outside of The Simpsons, I think Jim Brockmire has already become my very favorite Hank Azaria role.

Amanda Peet is also terrific as Jules, the woman who hires Brockmire to help save her team.  She and Brockmire share a love of baseball and a love of alcohol, and the pairing of the two is what gives life to the series.  Ms. Peet is so funny, able to go toe-to-toe with the great Mr. Azaria in the series’ big comedic moments, and also in its big dramatic ones.  Their chemistry is terrific.

Tyrel Jackson Williams completes the main threesome as Charles, the young internet-savvy kid hired by Jules to help promote Brockmire and get some attention for her mostly-ignored minor league team.  Mr. Williams makes an art out of looking some combination of surprised, amused, and horrified by what comes out of Brockmire’s mouth.  He is so funny without even saying a word, just using his expressive eyes.  Of course, he’s also great when he does get to deliver dialogue.  Charles represents the voice of normalcy between the loony Brockmire and Jules, but over the course of this first season we also get to see Charles be bizarre and funny.

I … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Wonder Woman

June 12th, 2017
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Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman is a delight, a thrilling spectacle whose heart is 100% in the right place, focusing on a hero who is fierce and brave, a skilled warrior, who nevertheless prizes loyalty and love above all else.  It’s hard to believe it’s taken so long for a Wonder Woman movie to get made (or for any female super-hero, for that matter, to have an opportunity to headline their own big-budget film) (and no, I’m not forgetting about the dismal Elektra or Catwoman, try though I might).  It’s fantastic that this movie exists, and even more exciting that it’s so great, washing away the stink of Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad.  Yes, the movie has flaws (most notably the lame CGI punch-fest of an ending), but what works far outshines any chinks in the armor.

DC and Warner Brothers, clearly jealous of the success that Marvel Studios has had with their interconnected cinematic universe, tried to jump-start a DC universe with Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad.  Rather than having the patience to introduce their characters one-by-one in their own films, before then building to a crossover film (like Marvel’s The Avengers), Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad threw the audience into an already-existing universe in media res.  Had the films been good, that approach might have been an exciting way to differentiate the DC films from the Marvel ones.  It might have been cool to jump into a DC universe that was already well-underway, with lots of backstory and characters for us to discover.  But sadly, both Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad stunk, with nonsensical plots and nonexistent characters.  They were also painful in their desperate desire to be “adult.”  It’s interesting to imagine a DC cinematic universe in which Man of Steel had been followed up, not with those two turkeys, but with Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman.  The one-two-punch of those films would have left me chomping at the bit to see where the DC universe would go from there.

Wonder Woman has a brief framing sequence that acknowledges the wider DC movie universe, but thankfully the rest of the film is a completely stand-alone story that stands on its own two feet as opposed to being an advertisement for future adventures.  (Part of me wishes even that short framing sequence wasn’t in the film, though I can understand why DC/Warner Brothers wanted it there.)

I applaud whoever had the courage to make this film a period piece, rather than setting it in the modern day.  And setting the film in WWI, rather than WWII, is even better.  This gives the film a flavor and texture that differentiates it from so many … [continued]

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Josh Reviews King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

June 9th, 2017
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I’m not sure why Hollywood keeps insisting on making King Arthur movies.  Is it the allure of a known name, in the way that studios chase after franchises and keep remaking and rebooting series with a recognizable title?  Personally, I have never been all that interested in the King Arthur mythos, and I have not actually seen too many Arthur movies.  The early trailers didn’t make this new version, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, look all that interesting to me.  But I enjoy the work of director Guy Ritchie, and though his films can be hit-or-miss, I am always intrigued to see what he has done with his latest project.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword creates a new mythology, casting the Arthur story as taking place in the midst of a conflict between mages (magicians) and humans.  Arthur’s father, Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana), is able to defeat the villainous mage Mordred.  But soon after, Uther and his wife are murdered by Uther’s brother Vortigern (Jude Law), who takes the crown.  Young Arthur escapes and is raised in a whorehouse in Londinium.  He grows up to be a savvy and tough young man, able to carve out a comfortable niche for himself within the low-level crime taking place in the city.  But when he crosses a group of Vikings under King Vortigern’s protection, he comes under the King’s scrutiny and Vortigern soon discovers Arthur’s true heritage.  Though Arthur initially wants nothing to do with any sort of struggle for the crown, he is soon drawn into the fight.

While I can’t recommend King Arthur: Legend of the Sword as a great movie, neither is it as bad as I had heard.  I found myself entertained by the film, and engaged with the story.  It’s a perfectly fine, fun film.  But neither is it a film that seems to have much reason for existing.  Did we need yet another version of the Arthur story?  What does this film add that we haven’t seen before in other films?  True, this fantasy-epic version of the Arthur story does incorporate a lot of weird new ideas, but while these ideas might be new for the Arthur story, they feel rather derivative of so many other fantasy films from recent years, most specifically Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.  (The giant elephants with villain fighters on their back from The Return of the King even make an appearance in King Arthur’s opening sequence!)

What is more genuinely new to the story is taking the fantastical and historical aspects of the story and wrapping it up in Guy Ritchie’s very modern, fast-talking, street-level-crime style of storytelling.  There are a few moments when Mr. … [continued]

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Long Mirage

David R. George III’s latest novel, The Long Mirage, picks up exactly where his terrific DS9 duology Sacraments of Fire and Ascendance left off.  Religious unrest is spreading across Bajor with the discovery that the moon Endalla appears to have been artificially constructed as an anchor for the wormhole, casting doubt as to the divinity of the Prophets.  A Bajoran man, Altek Dans, has apparently been brought forward by the Prophets from thousands of years ago, in the past, but no one knows why.  Kira Nerys, thought lost in the wormhole, has also returned, only to discover that Altek is the man who fell in love with her when she was sent to the past by the Prophets (as seen in Revelation and Dust).  Why have both Kira and Altek been returned to Bajor at exactly this moment in time?  Meanwhile, Quark has hired an investigator in an attempt to locate Morn, missing since the destruction of the original DS9 two years earlier (at the end of Mr. George’s novel Plagues of Night), but now that investigator has apparently run off with Quark’s money.  So Quark sets out to track her down, and hopefully also locate his missing friend Morn, with Captain Ro along for the ride, just at the moment that Ro and Quark’s decade-long relationship has come crashing apart.  Finally, Nog’s attempts to restore the program of his holographic friend Vic Fontaine reaches a desperate hour, as Nog discovers he has only days before Vic’s program is corrupted and irrevocably lost.

David R. George III has, over the past few years, become the main story-teller of the continuing Deep Space Nine saga.  His recent novels — from Rough Beasts of Empire (part of the “Typhon Pact” series) to the duology Plagues of Night and Raise the Dawn, to Revelation and Dust (part one of the five-part crossover series “The Fall”) to the duology Sacraments of Fire and Ascendance, and now to The Long Mirage — all connect together to tell a thrilling, expansive Deep Space Nine saga that hopefully is far from over.  (Actually, Mr. George’s tale seems to have started all the way back in his contribution to the “Worlds of Deep Space Nine” series, the novella Olympus Descending.)

Mr. George has a mastery of the Deep Space Nine characters, and it’s wonderful to see the characters and story-lines from DS9, the greatest of the Trek TV shows, continuing on in such an engaging fashion in these stories set far beyond the events of the DS9 finale, “What You Leave Behind.”

In many ways, The Long Mirage functions as something of an epilogue to Mr. George’s past several books.  His recent novels have … [continued]

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