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

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Looking Back at Mad Max!

I am in almost physical agony that I haven’t yet seen Mad Max: Fury Road.  I cannot believe that George Miller has returned to make another Mad Max film, THIRTY YEARS after the last film.  And what’s more amazing is how spectacular it looks.  I need to see this thing, and I hope to make that happen this week.

But, meanwhile, in the past month I’ve had a great time re-watching George Miller’s first three Mad Max films.  I love them all, even the hugely-flawed Beyond Thunderdome.  These were movies I watched a lot in high school with my friends, and re-watching them now they were definitely tinged with a pleasant nostalgia for me.  But more than that, there’s no question in my mind that Mad Max and The Road Warrior are truly great films, and important ones as well.

I’ll also comment that, re-watching these films for the first time in a while, it was interesting to watch Mel Gibson again.  I try very hard to separate a performer’s artistic work (behind the camera or in front of it) from what he/she might be like in real life, but for the past decade I have had a truly hard time bringing myself to watch Mel Gibson on screen.  I have found his Anti-Semitic outbursts to be so distasteful that they have colored my feelings about him to such a tremendous degree that I’ve found myself almost totally disinterested in watching him on screen any more.  Mel Gibson has made some films that I used to love — not just Mad Max, but also Braveheart and Lethal Weapon and others.  But it has been many years since I have gone back to watch any of them.  I don’t know if that’s right or wrong, but that’s just the way it’s been for me.  I simply haven’t had an interest in re-watching any of those films.  So it felt a little odd for me at first, re-watching these three Mad Max films, but for better or for worse I was pleased that I was very quickly able to forget about Mel Gibson the man and just relax into my pure enjoyment of these films.  (It probably helps that Mr. Gibson speaks very little, particularly in the first two films!)

Mad Max (1979) – I know that many people prefer The Road Warrior, but for me, the first Mad Max will always be the best (especially now that American audiences can enjoy it in its original, undubbed version).  George Miller’s film was made for almost no money by a bunch of inexperienced young men, and despite or perhaps because of that the film has a brazen, take-no-prisoners mad-cap ambition that I absolutely … [continued]

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“Bravo.” Josh Bids Farewell to Mad Men!

May 20th, 2015
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Mad Men season one was, I am pretty sure, the first TV show set I ever owned on blu-ray.  It was a gift, given to me soon after I bought my first blu-ray player.  At the time, I’d heard about but had never seen this new cable show, and also I wasn’t sure if I ever intended to own any TV shows on blu-ray (as opposed to the at-the-time far cheaper sets available on DVD).  Mad Men season one made me a fan of both the show and the format.  (Lord did that gorgeously filmed first season show off how beautiful a blu-ray image could look!)  It’s hard to believe that was almost a decade ago.

I was immediately captivated by Mad Men, and I was impressed by how complete a piece of work that first thirteen-episode season was.  In 2007, I feel like the idea of a short season of a cable show (as opposed to the usual 20-24 episode run of a network season) was still a fairly new idea (though of course the Brits had been doing short “series” of their shows for quite a while), and Mad Men dazzled me in how effortlessly it used that compact length to tell a complex story with a definitive beginning, middle, and end.  Had there been no more Mad Men after that first season, I would have been completely satisfied.

But, of course, luckily for us, we got a lot more.  I watched seasons two and three the same way I had watched season one — all at once when those seasons were released on blu-ray.  Season four was when I found I couldn’t wait any longer and started watching the show as it aired on AMC.  I’m not sure if it’s connected, but season four is also when I truly fell in love with the show.  I had always enjoyed it, and intellectually recognized the greatness of the show.  But I also found it difficult to watch in those early years.  With so many unpleasant and unhappy characters, I found Mad Men to be a tough show in which to invest.  There were few characters I found I could really root for, and whenever I found such a character it was painful to watch unpleasant things happen to him/her, or to watch said character brutally sabotage him/her-self in the way that so many Mad Men characters so often did.  So it took a little while for the show, and its characters, to really grow on me.  But by season four I was well and truly hooked.  I found I could love watching even the most scoundrel-like character on the show.  I also found myself discovering and enjoying … [continued]

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Catching Up! Josh Reviews Powers Season One, Star Wars The Clone Wars “Bad Batch”, and Batman vs Robin

On my desk I keep a list of the various movies and TV shows that I’ve watched that I intend to write about here on the site.  Lately that list has been growing very long!  I have fallen somewhat behind on my blogging.  So I’m going to try a new format here and post some “Catching Up” blogs in the coming weeks, with short reviews of some of the stuff I’ve seen.  Let’s dive in!

Powers Season One – For fifteen years Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming’s Powers has been one of my favorite indie comic books.  For about that long, Powers has been “in development” in Hollywood for a movie or TV adaptation.  It looked like it would never happen, but then miraculously the series became the initial TV show produced by Sony’s Playstation network.  It seemed to me like a perfect fit.  The show would have the freedom to faithfully adapt Mr. Bendis & Mr. Oeming’s profane, sexy, violent, weird, wonderful series.  I was very excited.  But I’m sorry to say that this first season of ten episodes disappointed me.  I wrote about my initial lukewarm reaction here, and unfortunately the series never improved much for me.

Powers should be edgy, it should be cool, and above all else it should have the wonderfully witty & gritty dialogue that Mr. Bendis is justifiably famous for.  But I found the show to have none of those things.  It was stiff.  It was cheap looking.  Shockingly cheap-looking.  The sets looked like sets and what few super-heroic moments we saw were painfully primitive.  (I mean, the wire-work was just horrendously awkward.)  But I could forgive that if the series told a cool story.  Sadly it did not.  The show has a great ensemble of actors but there was never a moment when I felt that the show ever truly came alive and took flight.  There was little momentum from episode to episode.  With the involvement of the talented Mr. Bendis and crime-writer Charlie Huston, I was excited to see a ten-episode super-hero murder mystery.  But that never really came together.  The murder of big-time super-hero Olympia that kicked off the series, was quickly forgotten about in place of a lot of boring soap opera between former friends Walker, Johnny Royale, and Wolfe.  There was never any momentum to the show, just a lot of dithering about and back-and-forth between these flat characters.  Hardly any character actually DID anything.  Worst of all was that the comic’s central relationship, that between partners Walker and Deena Pilgrim, felt ignored by the show.  Deena herself was marginalized in the second half of the season, and that was a big disappointment.  Who’d … [continued]

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“The date is set!” — The X-Files returns to TV on January 24, 2016!  Please don’t disappoint me, Chris Carter!!

This is a great article listing 10 Making-Of Documentaries That Are Better Than The Actual Movie.  In many of these cases I don’t actually agree with the “Better Than The Actual Movie” part, but these are certainly ten of the very greatest documentaries about the making of specific movies.  These are all essential viewing for movie fans.  (The only one of the ten listed that I haven’t seen is Cleopatra: The Epic That Changed Hollywood.)  Hearts of Darkness is endlessly fascinating, one of the best movies about movies ever made, period.  I wrote about The Sweat Box, the documentary that Disney doesn’t want you to see about the making of what became The Emperor’s New Groove, here.  It’s fascinating and heartbreaking.  The documentaries on the Alien Quadrilogy are magnificent, particularly the staggeringly no-punches-pulled version on the Alien 3 blu-ray.  (The doc on the original DVD release was edited by the studio who felt that some of the behind-the-scenes material was too honest and raw.)  I have written endlessly about the amazing Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Appendices (elaborate, hours-long making-of documentaries) on the Extended Edition DVD/blu-ray sets.  (Click here for my thoughts on the behind-the-scenes material from An Unexpected Journey and here for my thoughts on The Desolation of Smaug.)  And I am glad this list also included two of the many magnificent making-of documentaries on the DVDs and blu-rays of Ridley Scott’s films, all of which was masterminded by Charles de Lauzirika.  Dangerous Days is an exhaustive look at the making of Blade Runner, and though Prometheus was a bomb, the four-hour long look at the making of that train wreck, titled Furious Gods, from the Prometheus blu-ray set, is amazing.  (By the way, Charles de Lauzirika also masterminded all of the Alien documentaries on the Quadrilogy set, making him the king of this list of making-of documentaries.)  I highly recommend all interested film fans track down these documentaries, they are wonderful.

I recently read Jerry Weintraub’s terrific memoir: When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead.  Mr. Weintraub was a music producer who worked with Elvis and Sinatra, and in his later years he became a movie producer as well, most notably working with Steven Soderbergh on Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen.  The book is terrific — Mr. Weintraub is a wonderful raconteur and, man, does he have some great stories to tell. I highly recommend it.  Here’s a link.  In a related story, birthmoviesdeath.com recently posted this loving look back at Soderbergh’s Ocean’s trilogy.  I never thought too highly … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Netflix’s Daredevil: Season One!

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Let’s cut right to the chase: Netflix’s thirteen-episode first season of Daredevil is a triumph, a gloriously dark, gritty, adult depiction of The Man Without Fear.  Netflix’s Daredevil is the finest super-hero television show I have ever seen.  Am I exaggerating?  I don’t think so.  I am hard-pressed to think of anything that even comes close.  Only a few episodes in, my wife asked me: how is this show so good and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. so bad?  Good question!

When Netflix first announced that they would be producing four Marvel TV shows that would eventually connect together, I was excited.  But as the release of Daredevil approached, I must admit that my expectations had dimmed.  I was troubled by the departure, mid-production, of original show-runner Drew Goddard, a terrific talent (responsible for The Cabin in the Woods with Joss Whedon).  Surely his leaving the show spelled trouble?  The early images and trailers for the show also didn’t inspire confidence.  What we saw of Daredevil — not in costume, but instead in a rather ordinary-looking black outfit — made me fear that this show was embarrassed by its super-hero content and/or didn’t have the production value to depict super-heroes well.  The show looked small and it looked silly.

But holy cow was I wrong.  Daredevil is an exceptional piece of work, a confident, bold piece of story-telling.  First of all, I was very impressed by how adult the show is.  There’s some tough language and a lot of truly brutal violence.  This isn’t a kiddy, all-ages show like Marvel’s ABC shows (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter).  This is a tough show, one far more inspired by the intensity and adult-content of a show like Game of Thrones.  (Though of course Daredevil doesn’t go quite that far — there’s no nudity or sex in this show, and not the same level of gore — but I am complimenting Daredevil by putting it in the same league as GoT.)  The adult nature of the show isn’t only the violence and language.  The whole approach to the world and the story-telling is very adult.  Daredevil is a super-hero show, so there are clear heroes and clear villains, but at the same time the show is nimble at presenting us with a complex world filled with moral grays and difficult decisions for our characters.  This is not a show in which the heroes always win by the end of each hour.  Our heroes take some tough, tough lumps as the show goes on (both physically and emotionally), and throughout I was impressed by this adult, compelling approach to presenting a super-hero story.

I love the concise, finite format of Netflix’s thirteen-episode … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Avengers: Age of Ultron!

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Marvel Studios is on a winning streak the likes of which I have rarely seen.  (The only recent comparison I can draw is Pixar’s incredible run from Ratatouille in 2007 through Toy Story 3 in 2010.)  Right before seeing The Avengers: Age of Ultron, one of my friends sent me a ranking of all of Marvel’s movies.  In response I created my own ranking (which I might publish on this site one of these days).  The bottom two films on my list were Iron Man 2 and The Incredible Hulk.  What’s astonishing is that each of the rest of the eight Marvel films on the list were all pretty great films that I loved a lot — and even those bottom two films were pretty enjoyable!  There really isn’t a true failure in the mix!  Over the past eight years, since 2008′s Iron Man, Marvel has done what had not only never been done before, but really never even conceived of before: they’ve created a vast cinematic universe of interlocking films, with characters and story-lines flowing from film to film in an epic continuing saga.  What’s even more incredible is that, at this point, they make the whole thing look so damn easy!  It’s astounding.  I know Marvel is going to stumble one of these days, but for now I am sitting back and loving every minute of this ride.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron is an amazing film.  I loved it.  Watching this film I had a huge grin on my face for the entire run time.  There are so many reasons this film could have been bad.  Sequels are hard and usually disappoint.  In addition to all of the main Avengers characters, this film introduced a number of new characters and we’ve all seen superhero films (particularly sequels — I’m looking at you, Spider-Man 3) collapse under the weight of too many characters.  Whereas The Avengers was the culmination of the first run of Marvel films, Age of Ultron needs to set up the next several years of story-lines, and that could easily have made the film feel unwieldy and unsatisfying (the fate that befell Iron Man 2).

But thanks to the incredible skill and talent of writer-director Joss Whedon and his astounding team of collaborators (overseen by Marvel Studios mastermind Kevin Feige, the guiding force behind all of these Marvel movies), Age of Ultron soars.  It’s a long-movie but it never drags, it is hugely enjoyable from start to finish.  It’s got enormous, staggeringly gigantic action sequences that astound, but it’s also deeply routed in character with some wonderful moments for every one of the film’s sprawling cast.  It’s serious and tense but it also … [continued]

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Star Trek Deep Space Nine: The Missing

What a delight it is to have a new Star Trek novel that is officially titled as a Star Trek: Deep Space Nine book!!  Though characters and situations from Deep Space Nine (my favorite of the Trek TV shows) have played a major part in the last decade or so of Pocket Books’ wonderfully interconnected universes of Star Trek novels (particularly David R. George III’s Typhon Pact novels Rough Beasts of Empire and the spectacular Plagues of Night/Raise the Dawn duology), it has been many years since one of these novels has actually born the banner of Deep Space Nine.  I am glad to see that drought come to an end with Una McCormack’s new book, The Missing!

Giving this book that Deep Space Nine label is appropriate.  Though this book is set squarely in the continuity of Trek books following last years’ five-book The Fall series, The Missing is very much a stand-alone novel.  I love the tight continuity of Trek books and all the stuff about epic galactic politics, but having a small stand-alone story like this every now and then is a refreshing change of pace.

The Missing tells two parallel stories.  Firstly, Dr. Katherine Pulaski has assembled an interspecies civilian crew of scientists on the space-ship the Athene Donald, filled with scientists from across the members of the Khitomer Accords and even the Typhon Pact (the association of races who have long stood in conflict with the Federation), including a member of the mysterious Tzenkethi.  Dr. Pulaski’s hope is that these civilian scientists can learn to work together and thus set an example for their respective governments.  But this effort is disrupted by two events.  First, a Starfleet intelligence officer insists on being allowed to join the mission, and the Tzenkethi scientist takes offense, seeing this (correctly) as a sign that she is not trusted and that Starfleet as sent someone to spy on her.  Second, a large, technologically-advanced, alien vessel intercepts the Athene Donald and threatens their safety.  These aliens, who refer to themselves as The Chain, consider themselves vastly superior to the members of the Athene Donald.

Meanwhile, on Deep Space Nine, a small fleet of ships arrives at the station, containing a community of adults and many, many children from different species, who together call themselves The People of the Open Sky.  At first these friendly People are welcomed with open arms, but soon questions arise as to their history and motives, and Captain Ro must deal with a quickly-escalating situation.

The Missing is a fairly short book and a very quick read.  I quite enjoyed both stories, though both unfold fairly quickly and straightforwardly.  I wouldn’t have minded a few additional … [continued]

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Wow, looks like the studios have all started selling their 2015 movies pretty hard lately!  This past week has seen a flood of new trailers for some big upcoming films.

It all started, of course, with that look at Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  What a great trailer.  As I wrote last week, I remain dubious that this film is going to be any good (though I am beginning to dare to hope), but wow, this is a pretty perfectly cut trailer.  It’s been very interesting to see how universally loved this trailer seems to have been, across the internet.  Let’s watch it again, shall we?

Oh man.

Moving on, soon after the Star Wars trailer dropped we also got our first peek at Batman v Superman:

Unlike the Star Wars trailer, this trailer has been pretty roundly criticized across the interwebs.  I think the hate is a little much, personally.  This is a not a home-run trailer, but I don’t mind that DC is giving us a more serious, grim version of their super-heroes, in contrast to the Marvel approach.  I am glad a main story-point for this film seems to be the public’s questioning perhaps rejection of Superman as a hero.  That’s certainly understandable after the carnage that Supes was involved with at the end of Man of Steel.  And while I think Batman’s line about making Superman bleed is pretty dumb (and I’m definitely not yet liking the highly-modulated new Bat-voice), I do have a lot of love for the Frank Miller The Dark Knight Returns inspired look of Batman’s anti-Superman armor.  I am very intrigued by this film.  I can see a lot of ways in which it can stumble, most primarily under the weight of all the announced cameos as Warners seems increasingly desperate to ape Marvel’s success with The Avengers.  But boy, wouldn’t it be cool if this Batman/Superman crossover film — something we’ve never seen before — was actually good??  We’ll see…

We also good our first good look at Fox’s upcoming Fantastic Four film:

I’m very uncertain what to make of this film.  I love the FF dearly.  This might prove to be a great film, and I am certainly hoping it will be.  But it feels like it’s a decade too late.  After the last few years of Marvel films, in which we’ve seen superhero films that were able to be both compelling and also incredibly faithful to the essence of the characters from the comics, what I want to see on screen is the FF I know from the comics, not this weird un-superhero version.  I am not very excited right now for this film.  Prove me wrong, … [continued]