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February 23rd, 2015
New comics posted daily, Monday through Thursday!

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Josh Enjoys the Rogue Cut of X-Men: Days of Future Past

I quite enjoyed the theatrical version of X-Men: Days of Future Past.  (Click here for my original review.)  Let me be clear, I lament how much of the classic comic-book story, by Chris Claremont & John Byrne, was jettisoned for the film.  I would so dearly love to some day see a more direct adaptation of that classic X-Men story for the big screen.  But I loved the idea of using the hook of that story-line as a way to merge the original cast of Bryan Singer’s X-Men films from a decade and a half ago with the new, younger First Class versions.  That’s a genius idea.  I thought the film worked well on its own — not spectacular, but very solid — as a super-hero adventure flick, and I absolutely adored the final few minutes which served as a tremendous course-correction on the mis-steps the franchise took with Brett Ratner’s misguided and flawed X-Men: The Last Stand. 

When the film was released, there was a lot written on-line about how Anna Paquin’s Rogue had been cut from the film.  Apparently, to keep the film’s run-time at a manageable level, an entire subplot featuring her character was cut from the film, and in the theatrical cut Ms. Paquin only appeared as Rogue for a brief instant in the final moments of the film.  That brief appearance was satisfactory for me, but of course I was curious to see what had been cut out.

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I am delighted to report that the extended “Rogue Cut” of Days of Future Past that has recently been released to blu-ray is a wonderful enhancement of the film.  The Rogue subplot has been restored to the film, but I was surprised by how many other great little bits and moments had also been edited into the film.  Pretty much all of these moments are great, and as such I feel pretty confident that this will be my preferred version of the film to watch from now on.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this “Rogue Cut” is not a radical alteration to the theatrical version.  The changes are far more subtle than some of the more famous directors cuts that are out there, such as the extended editions of the Lord of the Rings films, or, say, the directors cuts of James Cameron’s Aliens or The Abyss.  (By the way, if you’ve never seen those directors cuts, track them down immediately!!) The most dramatic change to the film is, no surprise, the sequences involving Rogue, which are nicely well-woven into the extended version.  The main element of this restored subplot is the mid-movie mission that the aged Magneto (Ian McKellan) leads to rescue Rogue … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Mr. Holmes

In Bill Condon’s magnificent new film, Mr. Holmes, Sir Ian McKellan stars as an elderly Sherlock Holmes.  Now 93 years old, Holmes has long-since retired and lives far from London (and 221B Baker Street) in a quiet, rural farmhouse.  Holmes’ main occupation has become raising bees, and his only two companions are his housekeeper Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney) and her young son Roger (Milo Parker).  The once-brilliant Holmes now struggles with a fading memory.  At Roger’s prodding, he attempts to reconstruct the details of his final case, the one whose resolution drove him to abandon his profession as a detective.

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Mr. Holmes is a masterpiece, a beautiful story of the later years of a former legend.  The film cleverly treats Holmes as if he were a real person (rather than a fictionalized character), about whom his partner John Watson wrote many books, and explores what might have happened to this brilliant mind when beset by old age.  I am reminded of the cleverness of the appendices to The Lord of the Rings, which make the case that a story’s ending becomes happy or sad based on where you choose to end the telling.  If you stop reading The Lord of The Rings at the end of the last chapter of The Return of the King, then the story has, for the most part, a happy ending.  But if you continue through the appendices and read more about the lives of the characters, through to their later years and their deaths, then the end of the tale becomes far more heartbreaking.  Such is the case here with Mr. Holmes, as the film (based on the novel A Slight Trick of the Mind, by Mitch Cullin) takes the story of Sherlock Holmes past the years of his adventures as a detective to see what the man might have been like at the end of his very long life.

The result is a gorgeous, delicate story, a wonderful character piece that is anchored by a mesmerizing performance by Ian McKellan.  Sherlock Holmes feels like a role that Mr. McKellan was born to play.  He brings great gravitas and intelligence to the role of Holmes, while also gently allowing the audience to see the man’s beating heart, his loneliness and creeping sadness at the devolution of his faculties.  It’s an extraordinary, riveting performance, one that had my attention completely glued to the screen.  It’s great fun seeing director Bill Condon reunited with Mr. McKellan, with whom he collaborated back in 1998 with Gods and Monsters (a terrific film that I really need to re-watch one of these days).  It makes me happy to see Mr. Condon freed from directing Twilight movies and back to … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

August 28th, 2015
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There is nothing particularly revelatory about Guy Ritchie’s new film version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., a nineteen-sixties TV show now reinvented for the big screen.  Of the two films released this summer that are based on nineteen-sixties TV shows about spies, I definitely preferred Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.  That’s a much larger-scale film, a more exhilaratingly fun adventure and also a story than manages to better balance tongue-in-cheek silliness with some actual narrative weight and stakes for the characters.  But while The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is a smaller-scale film, it is not without its charms and doesn’t deserve to be ignored in this busy season of big loud summer movies.

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Though the film tries to pack in a lot of crosses and double-crosses, its basic story is fairly simple.  In 1963, with the Cold War in full swing, a handsome and debonair CIA agent, Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill), and a tough as nails KGB agent, Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), are forced to work together to stop a group of former Nazis from building their own nuclear weapon.

That’s a great hook for a story, and I quite enjoyed Mr. Cavill (who played Clark Kent/Superman in Warner Brothers’ recent Man of Steel and what looks to be a plethora of upcoming Justice League films) and Mr. Hammer (so memorable in The Social Network) in their co-leading roles.  Since this film opened with weak box office numbers, I have read some sniping on-line that neither Mr. Cavill nor Mr. Hammer were capable of carrying a film.  But frankly, I think the two men were the two most successful elements of the movie.  Whenever the two men shared the screen I felt the film came to life, while I got bored whenever the story strayed from them for too long.  Mr. Cavill certainly has the looks to play an American version of James Bond, and I enjoyed his sardonic line delivery.  Mr. Hammer, meanwhile, plays the film with a sort of crazy Rocky and Bullwinkle Russian accent, but it totally worked for me.  It’s silly, but just the right kind of silliness for a story like this one.

Alicia Vikander has been getting positive press for her work as Gaby Teller, the young woman whom Solo extracts from East Berlin in order to help with the mission, and rightly so.  She’s a lot of fun in the film and able to hold her own quite well with her two male co-stars.  I just wish that Gaby had more of a fleshed-out character in the film.  I liked the revelations about her that come in the second half of the film, and how they make Gaby a more critical player in … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Fantastic Four

August 26th, 2015
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I’ve been a fan of the Fantastic Four ever since I first started reading comic books as a kid.  The FF was the first super-hero comic book I ever followed monthly, and I’ve been reading it on and off ever since.  I long to someday see a faithful adaptation of the FF on-screen.  Sadly, Fox’s latest attempt is, for the most part, another mis-fire.

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It’s a shame, because there are many good elements to Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four (though maybe I shouldn’t call the film “Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four,” seeing as how the director publicly disassociated himself with the film just days prior to its release).  Reacting against Tim Story’s two light and silly (and very unfaithful to the comics) films from a decade ago, this latest version of the FF is a far more serious film.  I like that approach.  But even what works in the film is hindered for me by its being so far removed from the source material of the comics.  There is almost nothing of the familiar Fantastic Four characters in this film.  Where Mr. Trank and his team drew from the comics, they drew not from the classic characters but from the “ultimate universe” reboot of the FF from about a decade ago.  That’s not actually a bad move, since that rejiggered version of the FF’s origin (written by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar) has a lot of good qualities that make more sense when setting the FF’s origin in the modern era rather than the nineteen sixties.  But then the film goes in directions all its own, and although the characters have the names of the familiar FF heroes, the characterizations and look of the characters are way off from what is familiar to readers of the comics.  Had we not gotten the last decade of Marvel Studios movies, in which we have seen that these Marvel superheroes can be adapted incredibly faithfully, while still working as films, I might like this version of the FF a lot more.  This approach feels more in line with the way Bryan Singer tackled the X-Men back in 2000.  (And I’ll note that even that film felt, to me, far more faithful to the comics, even though the costumes were all different.)  But now it’s 2015, and we’ve seen that even incredibly “comic-booky” characters and concepts (like Captain America, Thor, and the Guardians of the Galaxy) can be brought to life so faithfully on screen.  I dearly wish to someday see the classic FF characters realized in a movie.  I want to see those classic FF uniforms, not the ugly “containment suits” of this film.  That’s just one example, but it’s a damning … [continued]

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Josh Reviews True Detective Season 2

August 21st, 2015
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I watched both the first and the second seasons of True Detective several months after they aired.  For season one, after months of reading rapturous praise for the new show, I just had to see what all the fuss was about.  (Click here for my review.)  For season two, after reading critic after critic trash the show, I was deeply curious to see if the sophomore season was truly the train-wreck that everyone was claiming.

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It is not.  True Detective season two is a far cry from the masterpiece that was season one, but it’s not the catastrophe you might have heard it was.  Season two has some deep flaws, but I nevertheless found it to be a wonderfully complex, delightfully grim and nihilistic piece if work. It’s a great noir for television.

This season has two main weaknesses.  First, it’s nearly impossible to follow.  I had praised season one for being unapologetically adult and complicated in its storytelling.  This was a show with a tremendously complex plot, and it didn’t slow down to hold the audience’s hands and explain things.  I loved that about season one, even as I was certain there were details I was missing on a first viewing.  I like a show that will reward multiple viewing.  But I feel that here in season two that has been taken too far to an extreme.  There are so many different characters and agendas in season two, and such a complicated web of plot and circumstance, that I had an enormous amount of difficulty in following it all.

The season’s second, and connected, weakness is its failure to properly identify all of the supporting characters.  There are a lot of background characters who I feel the show, to have worked this season, needed to more clearly define and identify for viewers.  Here’s an example: Frank is upset by Stan’s death in the third episode, “Maybe Tomorrow,” but we never really knew who Stan was or what he meant to Frank.  This is exacerbated in the sixth episode, “Church in Ruins,” when Frank and Jordan visit Stan’s widow and son.  It took me a long while to figure out just who the heck they were visiting.  Vince Vaughn was wonderful in the scene with Stan’s son, but that whole scene would have meant so much more had we had time to care at all about Stan and his death.  This failure to clarify the identities of all of the supporting players really cripples the show when the reveals start to come in the later episodes of the season.  Characters refer to names of characters as if they were supposed to mean something, but I had little to … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Vacation

August 19th, 2015
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National Lampoon’s Vacation was a film I loved dearly when I was a kid.  It was so funny and raunchy and felt a little bit dangerous to my young self.  (I probably saw it at a younger age than I should have, though on the other hand perhaps that was the perfect age at which to have watched it!)  The film captured Chevy Chase at the height of his comedic powers.  I never felt any of the sequels were able to recapture that magic of the original, though Christmas Vacation came the closest.

While I always loved Vacation, I never felt the movie was so pure or perfect that a reboot was objectionable.  Quite the contrary, I think the concept is elastic enough that it should/could be able to support multiple iterations.  (This is as opposed to, say, Ghostbusters, which I am very unhappy to see being rebooted/remade.  I love Paul Feig and he has assembled a marvelous cast, but I wish they had made an original film and called it something else.  But I digress.)

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This latest Vacation starts off on the right foot for this particular film fan by not being a reboot, but rather an in-continuity sequel to the earlier films.  Ed Helms plays Rusty Griswold, the now-adult son of Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswold.  Rusty wants to create a memorable, bonding experience for his family so he decides to recreate the road-trip to Wally World on which his dad took his family decades before.  This is a great idea for the film, in that it allows the movie to have basically the same structure as the original film, while also allowing the story to be filled with all-new hi-jinks.

Unfortunately, while I certainly laughed a lot while watching Vacation, it’s not a particularly clever comedy.  Many of the jokes, while funny, are fairly obvious and rather low-brow.  (I have nothing against gross-out humor — as an example, the diarrhea sequence in Bridesmaids is a classic piece of comedy gold — but the bathing-in-sewage sequence in this film doesn’t feel to me to have anything approaching that sort of originality.)  And sadly most of the film’s very best jokes were spoiled in the trailers.  (Any fun that “Griswold Springs” sequence might have had was ruined because I knew exactly where that whole bit was going from the first second, because I’d seen the pay-off in all the trailers.  So that whole five-plus minutes of the movie became totally boring to me.)

The film is well-cast.  Ed Helms is a solid choice as the lead.  He plays Rusty as a familiar Ed Helms character — well-meaning but dim, with an undercurrent of desperation — but it works for who … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Game of Thrones: Season Five!

August 14th, 2015
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I fell in love with Game of Thrones fairly early in its first season.  I keep waiting for the show to falter, but I am continually impressed and amazed by this spectacular show which seems to continue building and deepening the characters and the world.  No show in years has held me as spellbound from start-to-finish each week, and as desperate for the next episode the instant the one I am watching finishes.  Season five was a terrific ten hours of entertainment and, as usual, it also felt far too short and left me head-spinningly crazy with desperate anticipation for the next season, which is a long ten months away.  Sigh.

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For its first several years, Game of Thrones’ storytelling was all about taking the characters we liked, most of whom were together at Winterfell in the first episode (even Tyrion was there!), and scattering them to the winds.  Towards the end of season three I started to get a little weary of the show’s delaying of any gratification in giving us any reunions of these loved but terribly-tortured-by-the-events-of-the-show characters.  One of the chief delights in season five was in seeing some of these characters finally starting to get drawn back together.  The season was filled with wonderful character pairings, from Stannis and Davos at the Wall hanging with Jon Snow; to Jaime and Bronn, Varys and Tyrion and then Jorah and Tyrion, Sansa’s reunion Theon (now Reek), and, of course, to the absolutely delightful bringing together of Tyrion and Daenerys (pictured above).

The pairing of Tyrion and Daenerys was one of my very favorite aspects of the season.  It’s a brilliant move (particularly considering that, apparently, the characters have not yet met in George R.R. Martin’s books).  I was excited when, in the season premiere, it became clear that Varys was steering Tyrion towards Daenerys, and I was thrilled by how quickly Tyrion actually arrived at Mereen and met Dany.  I’d been expecting far more delays, and was impressed that this was one time when the show didn’t put a billion obstacles before a character, preventing him/her from getting to the place that we the viewers desperately wanted him/her to get.  Bringing Tyrion to Mereen was a genius move, as it uses the best character on the show (Tyrion) to suddenly up the interest factor of the show’s longest-running storyline (that of Daenerys Stormborn, Mother of Dragons) that has been almost totally disconnected from everything else happening since the very first episode of season one.  One of my main complaints with the season five finale is that, despite how right it feels to have Dany back with Dothraki, it felt like a pretty silly way to again separate Dany … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Trainwreck

I’m a huge Judd Apatow fan.  Have been ever since I fell in love with Freaks and Geeks back in 1999.  I adore that show, and its equally criminally underrated follow-up Undeclared.  (Important note: Paul Feig was the co-creator of Freaks and Geeks.)  When Judd Apatow found big-screen success with the brilliant The 40 Year-Old Virgin, I was thrilled.  I love that movie and I watched it a lot in those first few years after it came out.  It seemed like a perfect distillation of everything I’d enjoyed about those two failed TV shows.  Knocked Up was just as much fun, but then came Funny People and This is 40.  There is a lot to enjoy about both of those films.  I think they’re far better than many reviewers gave them credit for being.  But even I must admit that both of those films are a little bit too long, and perhaps a little bit too indulgent.

And so I was excited when the news came that Mr. Apatow’s fifth film as a director would be the first one he wasn’t writing himself.  Trainwreck was written by and stars Amy Schumer.  I loved the idea of Mr. Apatow’s voiced being combined with that of another strong comedian.  That seemed like a good recipe for success and a nice change of pace for Mr. Apatow.

Trainwreck did not disappoint.  Amy Schumer hits a huge home-run with her work in the film, creating a wonderfully raunchy, extremely funny comedy.

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Amy Schumer plays Amy, an attractive thirty-something woman who has a nice life working for a trashy mens magazine and partying in New York City.  She’s a serial dater who enjoys having a good time, and she looks down her nose a bit at her sister who is married with a stepson.  When Amy gets roped into doing an assignment for her magazine interviewing a sports doctor, Aaron (Bill Hader), she is shocked to find out she actually likes this relatively normal, together, professional guy.  Can she possibly hold down a stable, monogamous relationship?

The over-all story beats in Trainwreck are fairly predictable, with the film’s big idea being that it’s the woman who is the immature one who loves to go to parties and get drunk and/or stoned and date lots of different people.  This would have felt a tad more ground-breaking a few years ago before Bridesmaids, but I certainly don’t think that one female-centric film means that whole idea is over-done.  I hope we continue to see many great female-driven comedies in the future!!  So let’s be clear: while I like the idea of a raunchy Judd Apatow comedy focused on a female character, there’s far more to … [continued]