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Star Trek: From History’s Shadow

Dayton Ward’s wonderful Star Trek novel From History’s Shadow is a standout in Pocket Books’ wonderful continuing series of Star Trek novels.  This book does exactly what I most enjoy seeing in these Trek novels: it weaves together multiple characters and story-lines from across the Star Trek franchise into a ferociously entertaining tale that expands our understanding of the Star Trek universe as a whole and finds previously undiscovered avenues for fantastic new stories.

The bulk of the novel takes place on Earth between 1947 and 1968.  In the great Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “Little Green Men,” we saw that the spaceship that crashed in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947 was actually crewed by a time-traveling Quark, Rom, Nog, and Odo.  That episode was a fun romp.  But From History’s Shadow asks the questions that episode left unexplored — what effects would this encounter between several 1947 humans with these aliens from the future have on those people, and on human society as a whole?  One of the main characters in From History’s Shadow is the military man Captain James Wainwright.  Wainwright was a minor character in “Little Green Men,” but Mr. Ward has beautifully explored his character in this book.  We see how Mr. Wainwright came to be involved in Majestic 12, a secret organization working to track down evidence of alien visitors on Earth and to develop methods of defending against them.  (While there is no proof that Majestic 12 ever existed, this isn’t a made-up Star Trek organization — it’s an organization that many UFO conspiracy theorists believe actually did exist in the fifties.  I love how Mr. Ward was able to incorporate tons of real-life details like that into his fictional story.)

For another of the book’s major characters, Mr. Ward turned to the Enterprise episode “Carbon Creek,” in which T’Pol tells Archer and Trip a story about Vulcan visitors to Earth in 1957, and how one of them, Mestral, chooses to stay on Earth when the others are rescued.  That episode plays coy as to whether those events actually happened as T’Pol describes them, but Mr. Ward assumes they did, and picks up the story of Mestral’s adventures on Earth.  The idea that Mestral and Wainwright might one day cross paths is a brilliant one, and it provides one of the key elements of this novel.

The novel follows Wainwright and Mestral’s stories, as well as a number of other characters created for the book, and also a few other surprises from across the vast Star Trek tapestry, weaving in and out of both known events from Star Trek history as well as actual events from real-life human history.  We follow these characters … [continued]

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Josh Reviews the HBO Adaptation of Fahrenheit 451

Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is one of my very favorite books.  The novel, written in 1953, is every bit as relevant today as it was all those decades ago when it was first published.   When I first heard that HBO was working on a new adaptation, featuring Michael B. Jordan (Creed, Black Panther) and Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water, Midnight Special, The Night Before, Man of Steel), I was very excited to see it!

Michael B. Jordan plays the fireman Guy Montag, a man whose job it is to burn books.  In the world of Fahrenheit 451, firemen don’t put out fires, they start them.  (Even more frightening: in the sanitized history available to Guy and his fellow citizens, they don’t believe this has ever been different.)  Guy loves his job, and he’s good at it.  But as the story unfolds we discover that, perhaps, Guy harbors secret doubts about what he does.  Michael Shannon plays Captain Beatty, Montag’s fire chief and father figure.  Sofia Boutella plays Clarisse, a young woman who informs to Beatty on those hiding books, but there’s more to her than meets the eye.  After she and Guy cross paths, Guy is inspired to make some dangerous decisions, decisions that put him on a collision course with Captain Beatty and that will change his life forever.

I quite enjoyed this HBO adaptation!  It’s got a nice visual sense, and it’s a decently faithful adaptation of the novel.

The film is anchored by three terrific performances by its leads.  Michael B. Jordan is inspired casting as Guy.  Guy is a bit of an everyman cipher in the book (even his name is generic, I believe intentionally so on Mr. Bradbury’s part), but Mr. Jordan fills him with a rich inner life.  He is great at playing Guy as the fierce true believer in book-burning, and he’s also great at showing us the conflicted Guy.  We follow this story through Guy’s eyes, and for the adaptation to work we have to be right there with Guy as the illusions he has so carefully constructed for himself slowly collapse, one by one.  Mr. Jordan takes us carefully along every step of this journey.  It’s a fierce, compelling, emotional performance.

Speaking of fierce and compelling, I am also incredibly impressed by the brilliant idea of casting Michael Shannon as Captain Beatty.  Mr. Shannon’s intensity is perfectly served by this role.  Captain Beatty is the head Nazi in what we see of this world, and Mr. Shannon shows us his terrifying power.  But Mr. Shannon also keeps his performance very human and small-scale, and his work, and the smart script, allows us … [continued]

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News Around the Net!

August 2nd, 2018

There was a ton of exciting news out of Comic-Con recently, so let’s dig in!

Let’s start with the most exciting news: Star Wars: The Clone Wars is returning to give us the conclusion we were denied when the series was cancelled!  Wowsers!!  I never ever thought this would happen, and I am super excited.  The Clone Wars was planned as an eight-season show that would bridge the gap between Episode II and Episode III, but it was cancelled after five seasons when Lucasfilm was sold to Disney.  We got a partial sixth season when the in-production episodes were released to Netflix as The Lost Missions, and in the years since we’ve gotten bits and pieces of other planned storiesThe conclusion to Star Wars: Rebels salved a lot of the wounds from the Clone Wars’ cancellation, but I am so excited that we’re finally going to see how Dave Filoni and his team had originally planned to end the show and lead into the events of Episode III.  Here’s the terrific teaser trailer that I have already watched a number of times:

I’m also quite pleased by this first look at Star Trek: Discovery season two:

I felt mostly let-down by Discovery’s first season, but wow, that trailer looks pretty great to me and is actually sort of getting me excited for season two!  It’s certainly possible for Discovery to rebound — many Trek series have achieved greatness after a bad first season.  I love the tone of that trailer, fun without being too goofy or ridiculous.  I don’t love their decision to so dramatically rework the look of the original Enterprise, but I have to admit the Big E looks pretty good in the shots we see of her in the trailer.  And I am quite taken by Anson Mount’s take on Captain Christopher Pike.  He looks and sounds just about perfect (I like the updated version of his gold tunic — this is a far better modernization of a classic Star Trek uniform than the silly-looking regular Discovery uniforms), and I’d be pleased if Pike turned out to be a major part of the show this year.  (I’m a little concerned he’ll quickly be written out, the same way Michelle Yeoh’s fantastic Captain Georgiou was after the first two episodes of season one, but we’ll see.)  Are we actually going to see Spock in this season?  After this build-up, I certainly hope so.  Anyways, mission accomplished by this trailer, I am actually excited now for Discovery’s season two…

Here’s our first substantial look at M. Night Shyamalan’s Glass:

It’s been a long, long wait for a sequel to 2000’s Unbreakable, which was … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Mission: Impossible — Fallout

It is astonishing to me that not only does Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible film franchise still exist a whopping twenty-two years after the first movie was made (1996’s Brian DePalma-helmed Mission: Impossible), but that the series has arguably never been better!  I really like that first Mission: Impossible.  The second film is the weakest, but things got back on track with J.J. Abrams’ Mission: Impossible III, and the series has been on a heck of a roll since then.  Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles) came on to helm the fourth film, Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, which was even better than the third film, and then Christopher McQuarrie (author of The Usual Suspects) came on to helm the fifth film, Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation, which I thought was the best film of the series!

For the first time in this film franchise’s history, a director has returned for the next film, with Mr. McQuarrie returning to the director’s chair for Mission: Impossible — Fallout.  While we’ve had to wait a lot of years between the last several installments, this sixth film comes fairly hot on the heels of 2015’s Rogue Nation, which was a pleasant surprise.  With Mr. McQuarrie back at the helm, and most of the cast of Rogue Nation returning, would Fallout be able to match the greatness of that film?

I am pleased to say it does!  I’ll have to see Fallout again to decide if I think it’s better than Rogue Nation, but it’s certainly as good and a wonderful follow-up piece.  Mission: Impossible — Fallout is a triumph of fun pop action-adventure filmmaking.  It’s a delight from start to finish, filled with terrific characters, a tightly-woven plot (that actually, for the most part at least, makes sense), and some of the most outrageously bonkers action sequences I have ever seen.  I loved it.

Fallout certainly stands on its own, but for fans of this series, it’s a delight to see the way these films have gradually begun to cohere into a larger continuity.  I love how Missions III, IV, V, and now VI all fit together, leading one into the other and developing characters (good guys and bad guys) across the films.  The first few Mission films were completely stand-alone, and it was certainly fun to see different directors craft entirely different types of Mission films.  But I love seeing the connections between these more recent films, and Mission: Impossible — Fallout is filled with pay-offs to character relationships we’ve been watching develop across these past several films.

Whereas the first several Mission films were about Ethan Hunt: superhero — on his own fighting bad guys (with … [continued]

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Star Trek Titan: Fortune of War

For quite a number of years now, Pocket Books has been publishing a continuing series of Titan novels, chronicling the exploits of the U.S.S. Titan under the command of William Riker.  I enjoyed the way the post-Nemesis novels finally allowed Riker to have his own command, and over the many books, the various Titan-series authors have explored and developed a multi-species supporting cast surrounding Riker and Troi.  The Titan has developed a remarkably deep bench in terms of its supporting players, helping to solidify the Titan series as a key piece of the connected series of Pocket Books’ Star Trek novels.

A few years ago, the multi-book series “The Fall” shook things up and we saw Riker promoted to Admiral.  At the time, I wasn’t sure what that would mean for the Titan series moving forward, but I have been pleased that the series has gone on, continuing to follow Admiral Riker as well as the crew of the Titan, now under the command of Captain Christine Vale, who was formerly Riker’s first officer.  Vale was introduced way back in the post-Nemesis “A Time To…” series of Next Generation novels (at least that’s where I first encountered the character, it’s possible she also appeared in the Corps of Engineers e-book series, which I never read) and I am pleased that she has continued to be a major player in these Titan novels.

David Mack’s recent Titan novel, Fortune of War, picks up a thread from a long-ago episode of The Next Generation.  In the season three episode “The Survivors,” the Enterprise crew comes across an elderly human couple living all alone on a planet that has been devastated of all other life.  They eventually discover that the old man is in fact a powerful alien, who was able to survive when an alien race, the Husnock, invaded the planet.  When the Husnock invaders killed his wife, the alien lashed out and, in a single instant, annihilated the entire Husnock race.

Now, two decades later, a Starfleet team has discovered a barren world that they believe once belonged to the Husnock.  Although every last Husnock was wiped out, much of their powerful technology remains.  This discovery starts a chain reaction in which several competing galactic powers begin working to lay their hands on this powerful technology at all costs.

David Mack is a great author and he is particularly skilled at crafting exciting Star Trek action sequences.  This book is right in his wheelhouse, as he has crafted a fast-paced adventure story in which we follow both the Titan crew as well as a number of competing, nefarious interests, as each tries to outmaneuver the other in order … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Incredibles 2

July 16th, 2018
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Back in 2004, Brad Bird’s The Incredibles was a revelation — an extraordinary animated film that was gorgeous and funny and moving.  It was a major change of pace for Pixar (it was their first film with human beings as the main characters), and it was also, in the era before the Marvel Cinematic Universe, one of the best superhero movies I’d ever seen.  For those of us who knew and loved Brad Bird’s animated film The Iron Giant, it was no surprise that Mr. Bird could create an extraordinary animated film, but still, the delights of The Incredibles are hard to overstate.  Fourteen years later, The Incredibles still stands as one of my favorite Pixar films, AND one of my favorite superhero films.  I was, of course, excited when, after long years of wishes and speculation, it was announced that Mr. Bird and Pixar were finally in serious development on an Incredibles sequel.  But could a sequel made fourteen long years after the original recapture the magic of that first film?

For the most part, I am very happy to report that Incredibles 2 does!!  The first Incredibles still stands as the superior film, but this sequel is a beautiful companion piece, an exciting and very entertaining new chapter for these characters.  It’s a thrill to be able to return to this world.

Although this sequel has been released fourteen years after the original film, it’s set immediately following the climactic battle at the end of the first film, and we get to follow the repercussions of those events on the Incredibles family (the Parrs).  While the family was able to save the day and return to the public eye, the law that bans supers didn’t magically vanish overnight, meaning that the Parrs are continuing to break the law each time they don their costumes and fight crime.  After a battle in a city center with “the Underminer” causes major damage, the “Super relocation” program is permanently ended, meaning that Helen and Bob, along with their kids Violet, Dash, and baby Jack-Jack, are left on their own to figure out where to go and how to make a living.  Enter Winston Deaver, a wealthy super-hero fan who offers to use he and his sister Evelyn’s resources and PR know-how to get the public back on the side or the Supers.  Winston and Evelyn ask Helen to be the front-person for their campaign, leaving Bob to tend to the kids.

There is a lot to love about Incredibles 2.  Despite the long gap between films, I was pleased by how effortlessly the film is able to step back into this world and these characters, and the enjoyably fun and somewhat … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Ant Man and the Wasp

July 10th, 2018
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2015’s Ant Man was a delight; a fun, relatively low-stakes romp in which Kevin Feige’s Marvel Studios team demonstrated yet again that they could bring an obscure (at least to non-fans) comic book character to gloriously vibrant life on-screen.  The new 2018 sequel, Ant Man and the Wasp, is more of the same in the best possible way.  After the enormous, universe-shaking Infinity War, this is a palate-cleaning change of pace, a light, funny adventure that I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe films have been unfolding in something close to real time, and so as this new film opens, we check back in with Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) two years after having been arrested for helping Captain America against Iron Man’s pro-registration forces in Captain America: Civil War.  It turns out that Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) are quite pissed at Scott, because Scott’s very public siding with Cap put them on the wrong side of the law due to their association with him.  And so while Scott has been serving house arrest for two years, Hank and Hope have been on the run, attempting to piece together the tech necessary to attempt a rescue of Janet van Dyne, Hank’s wife and Hope’s mother, who vanished into the “quantum realm” thirty years ago when she shrank super-small small in an act of heroism.  Hank and Hope’s efforts hit a snag at a critical junction when they find themselves beset by the super-powered “Ghost” on one side, who is after their tech for reasons unknown, and the criminal Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) on the other, who is after their tech in order to make millions on the black market.  And so Scott has to choose between loyalty to his friends who need his help, and his responsibility to his family, especially his young daughter, who needs her father to stay out of prison.

As with the first film, director Peyton Reed (working this time from a script writtem by Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Paul Rudd, Andrew Barrer & Gabriel Ferrari) has crafted a very fun, funny, light adventure film.  Thankfully, Mr. Reed and his team have not tried to match the intense fate-of-the-universe tone of Avengers: Infinity War, and have instead had the confidence to continue with the low-key style that worked so well in the first Ant Man film.  I love that the stakes in this sequel are so low — arguably the lowest they have been in any Marvel Cinematic Universe film so far.  The events of this film really only matter to the lives of the handful of main characters.  There isn’t even a token … [continued]

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News Around the Net!

Check out this gorgeous new trailer for Damien Chazelle (Whiplash, La La Land)’s new film about Neil Armstrong, First Man:

Wow that looks spectacular!  I love movies about the space program.  This looks like it has the potential to be something special.

Here’s our first look at Shane Black’s Predator reboot:

I dunno.  I desperately want this to be good, and I have enormous faith in the amazingly talented Shane Black (who appeared in the original Predator and wrote and directed Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys, two films I adore), but this trailer isn’t giving me much reason to think this will be better than all the other bad Predator sequels we’ve gotten previously…

Here’s the latest trailer for Sony’s Venom:

Oy.  Look at all this talent and money put towards a movie that feels like a shameless attempt for Sony to make money on a character they have the rights to.  I don’t see any true creative reason to make a movie about one of Spider-Man’s greatest villains that doesn’t include Spider-Man.  I am intrigued to see Tom Hardy playing another weird-talking character, though…!

In better Spider-Man related movie news, I love this new trailer for the animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse:

I love that Miles Morales is getting a movie focused on him, and the animation looks fantastic.  I am very curious about this, and hoping it will be good.

Not to be ignored: this past season, The Simpsons finally did what had long been considered to be impossible, and surpassed Gunsmoke as the longest-running primetime scripted series in U.S. history.  Wowsers.

Jon Favreau’s live-action Star Wars TV show will be set seven years after Return of the Jedi.  I can’t wait to learn more about this project!  A Star Wars TV show, if done right could be amazing.  (And if done wrong, it could be The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles…)

Speaking of TV shows tangentially connected to huge movie series: Amazon’s Lord of the Rings show will apparently begin by following the adventures of young Aragorn.  (The Young Aragorn Chronicles??)   I have been dubious about this idea since it was announced — I feel like Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies adapted Tolkein about as well as can possibly be done, so I’m not sure that going back to this well is of much interest to me.  Still, I will withhold judgment until we learn more…  I’m glad, at least, that the show won’t just be a retelling of the same events we already saw on screen in the LOTR and Hobbit films…

This is a fantastic round-table interview with a group of TV critics … [continued]

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