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The Best Superhero Show You’re Not Watching: Josh Reviews Legion Season Three

December 9th, 2019
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There are very few people I know who watched Legion, Noah Hawley’s magnificent, mind-bending three-season series based on the somewhat obscure X-Men character David Haller, who was created by Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz in the eighties.  I keep saying to people: you’re missing out on one of the best, most delightfully bizarre and original super-hero TV shows ever made!!  The show’s eight-episode third and final season brought the series to a satisfying conclusion.  I’m still not certain I understood half of what was going on, but I hugely enjoyed the journey.  (Click here for my review of Legion season one, and here for my review of season two.)

Legion is unlike any superhero TV show I’ve ever seen.  The show has very complicated storylines, but at the same time, I often felt like the show wasn’t really focused on the plot-lines.  Similarly, while Legion is packed with fascinating characters, I often felt like the show wasn’t really focused on the characters.  Noah Hawley and his team’s goals seemed to me to be more about the experience they were creating for the viewer, watching the show.  Legion is stuffed to overflowing with incredibly bizarre and memorable imagery; sequences and moments that were completely unexpected and out there.  The show doesn’t follow any sort of standard narrative path.  There are none of the expected super-hero/super-villain punch-em-ups one might expect from a show like this.  Legion is a much weirder, much more unexpected experiment in telling a story about super-heroes and super-villains that avoids all of the cliches and expected paths of the genre.  All of this sounds like it could have/should have been a mess.  But in the capable hands of Mr. Hawley and his team, I have found Legion to be a riveting experience, one that continually delighted me with its surprising twists and turns, and one I have been thinking about for quite a while after finishing watching it.

Legion’s main character is a relatively minor X-Men villain/supporting character, David Haller.  David first appeared in New Mutants #25 back in 1985.  He was revealed to be the son of Charles Xavier and Gabrielle Haller; he was a mutant with extraordinary psychic powers (rivaling those of his father), but who was also beset by a multiple personality disorder.  Although a sympathetic character, David was generally presented in the comics as a villain.  I was at first surprised that this minor villainous character would be chosen as the main character of an X-Men TV show, but I assumed it was just a way to tell stories in the X-Men world on TV without connecting in any way to the X-Men movies.  It seemed clear to me that … [continued]

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I was very sad to read that D.C. Fontana has passed away.  Ms. Fontana was one of the key creative voices on Star Trek the Original Series, and also in the early days of The Next Generation (she co-wrote “Encounter at Farpoint”).  She wrote 10 of the 79 Original Series episodes, and she was hugely important in shaping so much of what we know of as Star Trek, especially the character of Spock.  She also was a key player in running Star Trek: The Animated Series, and she wrote “Yesteryear,” which is generally agreed to be, by far, the best episode of that series.  You can read more about D.C. Fontana here, and also here are David Gerrold’s beautiful remembrances of her.

We have our first trailer for Bond 25: No Time to Die:

That’s a spectacular trailer.  A great trailer doesn’t mean a great film, but I really hope it can redeem Spectre.  I am excited to see the stories and characters that have been running through these Daniel Craig Bond films continuing here.  I’m very happy to see Christoph Waltz back as Blofeld.  I hope he has a major role in the film, and this isn’t just a cameo.  (I really really want Blofeld to be the dangerous threat to Bond that he failed to be in Spectre.)  I’m pleased to see Léa Seydoux back as Dr. Madeleine Swann, in what appears to be a significant role.  Her romance with Bond was unconvincing for me in Spectre, but I am glad this new film isn’t forgetting about her and that it looks like she’ll have a significant role here.  (I’d assumed she’d be dead by the time the opening song began.  I’m very pleased the film isn’t taking that predictable and lame route.)  I’d love for this film to develop the Bond-Madeleine story in a more satisfying way that Spectre did.  I’m pleased to see Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, and Ben Whishaw all back (as M, Monneypenny, and Q), and I was also happy to catch what I think was a glimpse of Rory Kinnear’s Bill Tanner.  I am THRILLED to see Jeffrey Wright back as Felix Leiter (for the first time since 2008’s Quantum of Solace a decade ago) and I’m also supper-excited for Captain Marvel’s Lashana Lynch as a new double-oh agent.  (Is she Bond’s replacement as 007??)  Ana de Armas was amazing in Blade Runner 2040 and in Knives Out, so I’m excited to see what she can do as a Bond woman.  This is all great stuff so far in this trailer.  I hope the film is good!!

Here’s a new trailer for Black Widow’s long-awaited solo film:

That looks … [continued]

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Late to the Party: Josh Reviews Veep Seasons 3 and 4!

Last year I finally found the time to start watching Veep, Armando Iannucci’s raunchy Washington satire, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Vice President Selina Meyer.  I loved the first two seasons, and I was eager to continue with the show!

Julia Louis-Dreyfus continues to be perfection as the petty, narcissistic, power-hungry Selina.  This is a spectacular performance, and Ms. Louis-Dreyfus deserves all of the accolades she has received for her work on this show!  The entire ensemble is spectacular.  I love the group of borderline incompetents Selina has gathered around herself: Tony Hale as Gary, Anna Chlumsky as Amy, Reid Scott as Dan, Matt Walsh as Mike, and Sufe Bradshaw as Sue.  Season two added Kevin Dunn as Ben and Gary Cole as Kent, and at this point I could not imagine the show without those two weirdos.  Speaking of weirdos, of course, there is Timothy Simons as Jonah Ryan, the loudmouthed doofus constantly flitting in and out of Selina & co.’s orbit.  There’s also Sarah Sutherland as Selina’s much put-upon daughter, Catherine.  What a powerhouse ensemble!!

Season three adds Sam Richardson to the group as the pleasantly dim Richard Splett.  Richard enters the show by filling in for Gary on Selina’s book tour (where he proves to be a huge annoyance for her), and he continues to stick around in a variety of roles.  Mr. Richardson is so funny as this character!!  I also really enjoyed Diedrich Bader as Bill Ericsson, a campaign manager Selina considers hiring instead of Amy or Dan.  Another great addition was Christopher Meloni as Selina’s new personal trainer, Ray.  (Selina quickly starts sleeping with Ray, to the chagrin of most of her staff, particularly Gary.)

Season three charts Selina’s campaign for the job she has always longed for: the presidency.  The show mines a lot of fun out of the rituals of a modern-day campaign, from Selina’s book-tour through Iowa to the announcement of her campaign to the media furor when Selina tries out a different haircut.  I was also pleased that Danny Chung (Randall Park) and George Maddox (Isiah Whitlock) continued to appear, as Selina’s main opponents in pursuit of the presidency.

That Jonah could hold down a job in the White House seemed somewhat absurd to me, so I enjoyed that season three began with him out of work, trying to get back into a position of importance by starting a political gossip blog (“Ryantology”).  It’s a fantastic commentary on the media landscape that Jonah’s profane, the-truth-is-irrelevant style would allow him to succeed in this type of role!!

Other great moments in season three: Watching Amy and Dan fiercely compete over who gets to be Selina’s campaign manager; seeing Gary thrown into … [continued]

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When wealthy author Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plumer) is found dead in his home, many of his family members and others in his orbit all seem to have a possible motive.  Enter: detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), who has been hired to get to the bottom of the whole bloody affair.

Knives Out, written and directed by Rian Johnson, is a ferociously entertaining film, an agreeably funny and twisty whodunnit.

Mr. Johnson’s film is a clever modern version of an Inspector Poirot or Agatha Christie mystery, with a brilliant detective investigating a large cast of characters, each of whom might be a suspect in the crime.  The film is very much of the current day, with conversations about immigration and references to Netflix.  At the same time, it’s a murder mystery in the classic mold, one that can hold its own proudly with the classic stories of this genre.  The film is very funny, but it’s not a spoof.  There is real death, and significant stakes for the characters involved.  And yet, Mr. Johnson effectively maintains a fun, jaunty tone for the film’s entire run-time.  It’s an impressive accomplishment.

The cast is magnificent.  I don’t know what’s going on with Daniel Craig’s accent, but his surprising and unexpected choices continually delighted me throughout the film.  His detective Blanc seems in many ways to be just as loony as the characters he’s investigating; but he proves again and again his skill and attention to detail.  I love how Mr. Craig was able to make this detective character just as interesting as all of the other suspects.  Ana de Armas was dazzling in Blade Runner 2049, and she proves that was no fluke here with her empathetic work here as Harlan’s young nurse, Marta, who suddenly finds herself in an escalatingly crazy situation.

Jamie Lee Curtis is devastatingly sharp and acerbic as Harlan’s oldest daughter, Linda.  It’s a delight to see the great Ms. Curtis back on screen playing such a strong and memorable character.  I don’t think I’ve seen anything Don Johnson has done in almost 20 years, and yet here I am loving his work in HBO’s new Watchmen series, and he was terrific in this film as Linda’s husband Richard.  Chris Evans plays an anti-Steve Rogers character in Ransom, Linda and Richard’s spoiled son.  It’s fascinating to see Mr. Evans use his thousand-watt smile for such a smarmy, selfish character, rather than a noble one.  Michael Shannon’s usual intensity brings interesting colors to the role of Harlan’s youngest — and somewhat desperate — son Walt.  Toni Collette is hilarious as Joni, the ditsy widow of Harlan’s dead son Neil, who runs a fake-sounding lifestyle business that rather resembles … [continued]

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Maclunkey!

November 29th, 2019

Please enjoy this Star Wars/Highlander mash-up!  This is, of course, a joke based on the latest bizarre tweak to the Han-Greedo scene in Star Wars.  (In the 1997 Special Edition, George Lucas changed this scene so that Greedo shot first and somehow missed Han Solo at point blank range, before Han shot and killed him.  The scene has been further messed with in the subsequent DVD and blu-ray releases of the film.)  The version of Star Wars available on Disney+ has yet another change to this scene.  Now, before Greedo dies, he says something that isn’t translated with a subtitle as all his other dialogue is.  It sounds like he’s saying “Maclunkey”!  (Think I’m making this up?  Read more here.)  I don’t know what “Maclunkey” means… but this drawing is my explanation!

[continued]

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Josh Reviews the Film Adaptation of Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep

November 27th, 2019
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After revisiting The Shining and then reading Mr. King’s sequel novel, Doctor Sleep, I was eager to see the film adaptation, written and directed by Mike Flanagan.  The film, like the novel, picks up the story of Dan Torrance, decades after the tragic events at the Overlook Hotel.  Dan has spent years struggling with the trauma he suffered as a child, and he has often viewed his supernatural abilities (his “Shine”) as more of a curse than a gift.  But at last he has found peace, living a quiet life in a quiet New Hampshire town, working at the local nursing home/hospice.  But his peaceful life is threatened when he befriends a young local girl, Abra, with a Shine more powerful than his ever was.  Abra’s shine has made her the target of the True Knot, a group of immortal vampire-types who consume the Shine of young children as a way to extend their own lives.  Dan must now embrace and use his Shine as he never has before, if he is going to be able to help Abra and try to defeat this evil which has marked the two of them as their next victims.

I really enjoyed Mr. King’s novel, and I was extremely pleased and satisfied by this film adaptation!  The film has apparently been a box office disappointment, which is a shame, because it’s a terrific film, a satisfying adaptation of Mr. King’s novel and also a satisfying sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film.

Mr. Flanagan’s film takes the difficult path of attempting to be both a faithful adaptation of Mr. King’s novel Doctor Sleep, as well as a sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film The Shining, which diverged from Mr. King’s novel The Shining in a number of ways.  I was continually pleased and delighted by the ways in which the film slightly tweaked the Doctor Sleep novel’s story so as to maintain continuity with Kubrick’s film.  Here’s a great example: the novel contains a scene, early on, set very soon after the events of The Shining, in which Dick Halorann teaches young Danny how to create a locked box in his mind, in which he can trap the ghosts and other horrors that are drawn to him because of his Shine.  This is a critical scene, because Dan will use this ability throughout the story.  But the film is faced with a challenge: how to have that scene, when Dick was killed off in Stanley Kubrick’s film!  (He survived in the original novel.)  Cleverly, the film presents this scene with a twist at the end: only Danny can see and hear Dick.  The implication is that Dick in this scene is a ghost.  … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Doctor Sleep

November 25th, 2019
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Published in 2013, Stephen King’s novel Doctor Sleep is his long-awaited sequel to The Shining (which was originally published in 1977).  The book depicts what happened to young Danny Torrance after escaping, with his mother, the horrific events at the Overlook Hotel.  After recently reading The Shining (for the first time) and rewatching Stanley Kubrick’s film (for the umpteenth time), I was excited to continue and read Mr. King’s sequel novel!

The book is terrific.  It is extremely difficult to craft a satisfying sequel (to a story in any medium) so long after the original.  And, as Mr. King himself admits in his afterword, The Shining has gained near mythic status among his oeuvre.  A sequel must not just equal the original novel, but also the audience’s fond recollections of the original, and that is an extremely difficult task.

I was impressed with how much Doctor Sleep felt of a piece with The Shining, despite the decades in between the writing of the two books.  I loved that Mr. King mimicked certain aspects of the novel’s structure for his sequel (for example, opening with a section called “Prefatory Matters,” and titling the climactic section late in the book “Matters of Life and Death”).

Boy, it’s tough to read how hard a time Danny Torrance had growing up.  It makes perfect sense, of course.  Even a normal boy (one without a Shine to serve as a magnet for ghosts and other horrors) would have a hard time recovering from having his father try to murder him and his mom!!  My favorite aspect of Doctor Sleep is the way the novel really dug deep into the character of Dan — even deeper than what we’d seen in The Shining — and depicted in an unblinking but empathetic way how this young man clawed his way back to some sort of life out of the traumas he’d endured.

It’s tragic but feels right that Dan would sink into alcoholism just like his father.  I loved the way the book explored the culture of Alcoholics Anonymous.  (I imagine that those sequences drew significantly from Mr. King’s own experiences in AA.)  It was fascinating to explore this group and its members.  I loved the picture Mr. King painted of the close bonds between AA members, and how they would go out of their way to shepherd and support one another.  I loved how we saw in the book that Dan was able to create a new family for himself with his fellow AA members who he met and connected to in the small New Hampshire town in which he eventually settled after he stopped running from himself.

I was intrigued to see Mr. King’s … [continued]

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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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