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Josh Reviews the Animated Wonder Woman: Bloodlines

Wonder Woman: Bloodlines is the latest direct-to-DVD/blu-ray DC animated film.  Set in the “New 52”-style continuity begun with 2014’s Justice League: War, this film is a welcome focus on Wonder Woman.  We begin with a retelling of her origin, and her departure from Themyscira with Steve Trevor.  After returning with Steve and his friend Etta Candy to Washington, DC, Diana goes to live with a professor, Dr. Julia Kapatelis, who specializes in ancient cultures.  Dr. Kapatelis’ daughter, Vanessa, grows jealous of the perfect Diana, believing that she can never equal Diana in her mother’s eyes.  Years later, Vanessa grows to blame Diana for her mother’s death, and she takes up with a group of super-villains who are plotting to locate and destroy Themyscira.

It’s great to see Wonder Woman headline one of these animated films.  Back when this animated film series began, a solo Wonder Woman film was one of the earliest projects made.  I quite liked that 2009 solo film; I’d have loved to have seen follow-up adventures with that spectacular voice cast (Keri Russell as Diana and Nathan Fillion as Steve Trevor).  In the past decade, I don’t think we’ve gotten any additional DC animated films with a female character in the lead role.  While this version of Wonder Woman (voiced by Rosario Dawson) has appeared in many of the films in this “New 52” animated continuity, it’s nice to see her given the spotlight here in Bloodlines.

This film is solid though not spectacular.  It’s a fun adventure with some interesting emotional stakes, as we follow Diana and Vanessa’s fraught sisterly relationship.  I like the idea of making that relationship the focal point for the story.

There are two main problems.  The first is that I think the film tries to do way too much in its short (fewer than ninety minutes) run-time.  Not only do we get appearances from many of Wonder Woman’s rogues gallery (Cheeta and Giganta and Dr. Poison and Dr. Cyber and more), we also get a retelling of Wonder Woman’s origin before the main adventure begins.  That was a head-scratching decision for me.  Those opening ten minutes are a perfectly fine, entertaining cliff’s notes version of Wonder Woman’s first encounter with Steve Trevor and her decision to leave Themyscira.  But why did we need it?  No only have we gotten to see this origin in prior animated films, we also saw in in the 2017 live-action Wonder Woman film.  Is there anyone watching this film who doesn’t know Wonder Woman’s origin?  Clearly the filmmakers were worried there would be.  Their aim with this film seems to have been to create a definitive Wonder Woman story, complete with her origin … [continued]

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Checking into the Overlook Hotel: Josh Looks Back at The Shining

The recent release of the film adaptation of Doctor Sleep (which I thought was great!!  My full review is coming soon!!). the sequel to The Shining, made me feel like it was time to look back at The Shining.  And so I started with Stephen King’s novel, which I’d never before read!  I’m a huge Stephen King fan, but somehow I’d never read this, one of his most well-known novels.  And so last month I decided to remedy that, reading the novel before then rewatching Stanley Kubrick’s famous film adaptation from 1980.

I was not at all surprised to find that I loved Mr. King’s novel.  It’s interesting: while I have read many of Mr. King’s Books, The Shining feels to me like the most “Stephen King” novel of all the Stephen King novels I have ever read.  By that I mean that The Shining seems to be a perfect combination of all of the characteristics I’d most expect from a Stephen King novel: a gripping character story that involves horror both from a human source and with a supernatural bent.

I’ve seen Stanley Kubrick’s film several times, so I was decently familiar with the broad strokes of the story.  (Equally as memorable: The Simpsons’ brilliant parody in Treehouse of Horror V, from 1994.  But that’s a whole ‘nother blog post…)  And yet, when reading the book, I was as gripped by the story as if I was completely unfamiliar with it.  Mr. King’s writing is so propulsive.  It grips the reader right in the guts and pulls you right along.  The Shining is a very internal novel, with a great deal of time spent inside the heads of the main characters Danny, Jack, and Wendy.  And yet it’s never slow or boring.  One of my favorite aspects of Stephen King’s writing is how folksy it is, how conversational, how easily it engages with the reader.  Reading a Stephen King novel, I always feel as if Mr. King is right in front of me, telling me the story, spinning me the yarn.  His writing doesn’t have the formality or distance that prose from a lesser hand might sometimes have.

After finishing the novel, I rewatched the film.  It was great fun to see where the film followed the novel faithfully, and where it diverged.

There’s no question that Stanley Kubrick’s film is a masterpiece.  Right from the opening, in which we follow those magnificent, long tracking shots as the camera glides over the water, eventually finding the Torrence’s lone car as it travels along a windy road, while the camera follows from overhead, the film announces itself as something special, something important, something different and unexpected.  Those long tracking shots … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Jessica Jones Season Three

November 18th, 2019
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Back in 2015, the Marvel Netflix shows launched with such promise.  Daredevil came first, and I thought that first season was extraordinary: dark and complex and adult.  Then came the first season of Jessica Jones, and it was as good if not better.  I loved this character from the comics (she was created by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos in their series Alias, and then Mr. Bendis made her an important character throughout his long run on The Avengers), and I was so excited to see her on screen.  I couldn’t have been happier with the sophisticated, compelling first season.  But then we had to wait three long years between season one and season two (though Jessica did appear in the six-episode Defenders crossover series in between), and while I enjoyed season two very much, I thought it was significantly inferior to season one.  We only had the standard one-year wait between seasons two and three, but by the time season three launched on Netflix this past season, my enthusiasm had cooled.  None of the subsequent Netflix shows/seasons came anywhere close to the greatness of those first two seasons of Daredevil and Jessica Jones, and the third season of Jessica Jones launched as a lame duck, as the show had already been cancelled months before that third season was released, as part of Netflix’s decision to end its connection with Marvel.  So when Jessica Jones’ third season did come out on Netflix, it didn’t shoot to the top of my to-watch list.  Nonetheless, I was interested to see how the series wrapped up, and so recently I found time to watch it.  Daredevil season three brought the series to a satisfying end… would Jessica Jones season three do the same?

I have very mixed feelings about this third season.  For the most part, I quite enjoyed it and while it doesn’t equal the greatness of the first season, I thought it was a solid improvement on the second season.  So I was quite happy right up until the finale, which disappointed me.  The finale felt like a season finale, not a series finale, in that it left many of the characters in places that felt like we were still in the middle of their stories, rather than having arrived at a satisfying conclusion.  (This might not be the writers’ fault, as I’m not sure at what point in production they learned that the show had been cancelled.)  Either way, I was left unsatisfied by where many of the show’s main characters wound up in the end, which I’ll discuss more below.

Krysten Ritter continues to be terrific in the lead role as Jessica.  … [continued]

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Josh Reviews the First Episode of The Mandalorian!

It’s here!  Disney+ has launched and the very first Star Wars live-action TV show has arrived: The Mandalorian.  Two talented craftsmen are at the helm: this first episode was written by Jon Favreau, who created the series, and it was directed by Dave Filoni.  Many Star Wars fans know that we’ve already been shown that Star Wars can succeed as a TV show, and that’s mostly due to the talents of Mr. Filoni, who oversaw both Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels, two wonderful animated series that have done a spectacular job of expanding the canvas of Star Wars, telling new stories that feel completely of a part with the universe that George Lucas created.  That is no easy task, and Mr. Filoni and Mr. Favreau have accomplished that very feat here with The Mandalorian.  I don’t know where this series is going, but I was continually delighted by this first episode, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.

What struck me most about this first episode is how absolutely gorgeous it looked.  Mr. Filoni’s direction, combined with scene after scene of truly spectacular visual effects work, is breathtaking. This first episode gives us a widescreen, big-budget feel.  This isn’t some cheap-looking version of Star Wars, a poor TV imitation of what we’ve gotten to see on the big screen.  If anything, this first episode was even MORE spectacular than the films!  The visuals are enhanced by the show’s comfortable pace, which allows us to live in the quiet moments of these characters moving through this world (moments in which the fast-paced films would generally not allow us to linger).

The show gives me exactly what I want in a new Star Wars adventure (in whatever the medium might be — film or TV), what I’d mentioned right in the first paragraph.  I want a new story with new characters, new settings, and new situations… that also feels like it fits into the established universe that I love so much.  The Mandalorian beautifully threads this needle.  There is so much gorgeous imagery in this first episode!  There are so many beautiful new alien landscapes!  I am already dreaming about many of them, eager to learn more.  And there are so many wonderful aliens!  We see many familiar Star Wars species (more on that below) and many new creatures, all of whom are beautifully realized.  I have no idea what was CGI and what was prosthetics and what was makeup and what was puppetry.  The series brilliantly blends these many techniques to create a feast of new alien characters who just feel REAL, which of course is the most important thing.

This first episode is chock-full … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The King of Comedy

Recently, as part of my preparation for the new Joker film, I re-watched Martin Scorsese’s 1983 film The King of Comedy.  In the film, Robert De Niro stars as Rupert Pupkin, a wannabee comedian who becomes obsessed with the famous late-night talk-show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis).  After an encounter with Mr. Langford, Rupert begins to dream that the two are good friends and comedic peers.  When he is rejected from appearing on Jerry’s TV show, Rupert and a fellow Jerry-obsessed young woman, Masha (Sandra Bernhard), concoct a plan to kidnap Jerry.

Rewatching this film, what struck me most was how much this film reminded me of the comedies of awkwardness that would become so popular several decades later, comedies such as Ricky Gervais’ The Office (and, to a somewhat lesser extend, the American version as well).  The King of Comedy is often wrenchingly painful to watch, as we endure witnessing Rupert’s increasingly awkward encounters with the people he encounters.  (The sequence in which Rupert and the woman he sees as his true love, Rita, arrive unannounced at Jerry’s house and refuse to leave is a masterpiece of social awkwardness.)  It’s fascinating how much this film presaged a major movement in comedy that would arrive quite a few years afterwards.

Mr. Scorsese and Mr. De Niro have collaborated to depict several examples of dangerous, damaged men.  Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver is probably their most famous example, but I found Rupert Pupkin to be as scary and unnerving as Travis.  Rupert presents a little more normally — though, really, is his wearing a white linen suit outfit on all occasions any less bizarre than Travis’ angry young man gear?  Rupert certainly presents a more jovial facade.  But from the first time Rupert appears on screen, it was clear that this man is a bomb waiting to go off.  This depiction of a lonely young man, someone who is socially awkward and without much regular human contact (friends, family), someone who believes he is “owed” more than what he actually has in life, as a powder keg waiting to blow is frightening familiar and potent when viewed in today’s world.  I think we’re far more aware of the existence and danger of this sort of toxic male figure than we were back in 1983.  So here is another way in which the film feels remarkably prescient and ahead of its time.

Jerry Lewis is perfectly cast as Jerry Langford, the object of Rupert (and Masha)’s longing and obsession.  He’s perfectly believable as this famous comedian.  His entire persona plays into this role; almost no acting is required.  Who better than Jerry Lewis to depict this character who we see affected … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Season Five of Black Mirror

I think the first six episodes of Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker’s haunting anthology series that explores the many (mostly negative) ways in which technology has and will continue to affect our lives, are a triumph of television.  I love all six of those original UK-produced episodes.  I’m thrilled that the series has found a new life on Netflix, and I’ve quite enjoyed the new Netflix episodes as well, even though I’ve fallen a bit behind on the show.  (There is so much great TV being made these days, it’s hard to keep up!)  I thought that Bandersnatch, the 2018 Black Mirror special that utilized a choose-your-own-adventure type interface to create an interactive experience with the viewer at home, was spectacular.  I’ve recently caught up with the three new episodes released this past summer, and they’re all strong new installments of the series.

Striking Vipers Anthony Mackie (who plays the Falcon in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) stars as Danny, who has a comfortable suburban life with his wife Theo (Nicole Beharie) and their young son.  Danny is reunited at his birthday party with his old friend Karl (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who played Black Manta in Aquaman and is also part of the cast of HBO’s new Watchmen series), who gives him a new video game as a birthday present.  The game is Striking Vipers X, a new virtual reality version of the fighting game the two used to play when they were young.  Now the two can actually inhabit the characters they used to play on a screen: Danny as the buff Lance and Karl as the hyper-sexualized Roxette.  With the VR world, Danny and Karl start having sex in the form of their characters.  The intense sensation of sex within the game begins to make everything else in their real lives feel lesser, and Danny and Karl struggle differently with how to respond.

Striking Vipers was wrenching to watch.  Despite the fantastical aspect of the VR video game, this is a pretty grounded story about a marriage in trouble and two men questioning their sexuality.  The actors are all very strong.  The lead trio of Anthony Mackie, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Nicole Beharie are all terrific, and bring so much humanity to this story.  It was painful watching them all suffer.  This was the hardest-to-watch episode of this trio of new episodes, because the drama felt so real to me.

The depiction of the video-game world come to life in the Striking Vipers game was amazing, a perfect extrapolation of what one of those classic street-fighting video games would look like in the virtual world.  The visuals were very cool.  Pom Klementieff (Mantis from Guardians of [continued]

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News Around the Net

Well, obviously the biggest new trailer to drop recently is this look at The Rise of Skywalker:

That trailer is crazy huge.  There is a lot of extraordinary imagery in there.  Will the movie be any good?  Who knows!  A great trailer for a Star Wars film doesn’t necessarily mean the film itself will be good.  (See: the great trailers for all of the Prequel films.)  But boy am I excited.  (Best thing about this spectacular trailer?  Hearing the late great Carrie Fisher deliver the final line: “Always.”)

Is that not enough Star Wars awesomeness for you?  Here’s the latest trailer for The Mandalorian, which launches next week!!

I am really pumped for this show.

This is interesting: a documentary on Galaxy Quest called Never Surrender that will be released to theaters for one night later this month via Fathom Events:

I’m not sure I need to see this in a movie theatre, but I’m definitely interested in this documentary!  I love Galaxy Quest!  (I’m glad we get to hear from some Star Trek people in the doc, and I’m happy that the doc, and the above trailer, showcase Brent Spiner’s terrific Patrick Stewart impersonation…!)

I adore Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, and for years I’ve longed to see a high-quality adaptation.  And so I am thrilled that a 10-episode adaptation for Apple+ is moving forward!  I have hugely high hopes for this.

I was surprised to read that Game of Thrones show-runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are no longer working on their Star Wars trilogy project that was originally announced with such fanfare.  I am sure there is more to this story…!  (Meanwhile, I am eager to learn what Disney’s plans are for the next Star Wars film after The Rise of Skywalker.  I know they’re marketing this film as the end of the Star Wars saga, but there’s no way we won’t be getting lots more new Star Wars films on a regular base for the near future…)

Speaking of Game of Thrones, I was also surprised to read that the in-development prequel project, for which they’d shot a pilot written by Jane Goldman and starring Naomi Watts, has also been cancelled.  I’m surprised HBO isn’t moving forward full speed ahead on new Game of Thrones product!  I wonder what went wrong?  Will this pilot ever see the light of day?  Doubtful, but I’m sure curious to see what they made…  Meanwhile, another Game of Thrones prequel project, House of the Dragon, has been ordered straight to series!  Why did this prequel get a series order without having to make a pilot, while the other project actually made a project before getting shut down…?  I am … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Amazon’s Adaptation of Good Omens

This past summer, Amazon released a six-episode adaptation of Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, the wonderful novel by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.  I love the novel.  It’s a deliriously funny, clever romp that reminds me very much of the work of Douglas Adams.  The mini-series, like the novel, charts the unlikely friendship between an angel, Aziraphale, and a demon, Crowley.  When the Antichrist is born on Earth, and the sides of Heaven and Hell ready for war, Aziraphale and Crowley, having grown to quite like life on Earth, realize they have no choice but to work together to try to prevent the end of the world.

In the mini-series adaptation, Michael Sheen plays Aziraphale and David Tennant plays Crowley.  This is genius casting for both characters, and what I liked best about this mini-series was seeing these two characters brought to life so well, and watching them bounce off one another.  Both Mr. Sheen and Mr. Tennant are absolutely perfect, and they both have tremendous comedic timing which is put to good use here.  I loved their scenes together.  I was particularly taken by episode three, “Hard Times,” one of the few times in which the show diverged from the novel, showing us the history of Crowley & Aziraphale’s strange friendship over the centuries, from Noah’s ark through the time of Jesus to the modern day.

This mini-series is one of those curious projects which is incredibly faithful to the source material and yet still, somehow, winds up missing the certain spark that made the source material so special.  The mini-series lacks the comedic pulse of the novel, and its light tone.  Most importantly, the novel is so, so funny, and unfortunately the mini-series isn’t.  It’s a shame, because I was generally impressed with how carefully they adapted the story.  The six-episode length gave the show plenty of time to fit in almost all of the novel’s many twists and turns.  They even included the narration, using the great Frances McDormand to play the narrating voice of God.  This inclusion of the narration is a great example of where the mini-series wound up going just a tad bit astray.  Including the narration — unusual for a TV show to have — allows the mini-series to include many of the book’s best jokes.  But on the other hand, I found the narration slowed down the show and prevented me as an audience member for connecting as deeply with the characters as I might have expected.  The narration kept me at a distance.  And as such, I found the jokes in the narration didn’t land nearly as well as they did in the novel.

The … [continued]

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