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Steven Spielberg Triumphs Again With The Post!

In 1971, the New York Times obtained a secret study prepared by the Department of Defense on the history of the United States’ involvement in Vietnam from 1945-1967.  These documents demonstrated that a succession of Presidential administrations had been lying to the U.S. public about the war.  The Times published three articles featuring excerpts from these documents, dubbed the Pentagon Papers, before the Nixon Administration obtained an injunction forcing the Times to cease publication of the Papers.  When the Washington Post obtained the documents, executive editor Ben Bradlee and Post publisher Katharine Graham chose to defy the Nixon Administration and publish the Pentagon Papers in their newspaper.  By taking that action, they threw the future of the Post into question and risked possible jail time in a confrontation with the White House over the principle of freedom of the press that would wind up being decided by the Supreme Court.

The Post would be a magnificent film had it been released at any previous point on Steven Spielberg’s career.  But coming now, at this point in time, it is not just a great film, it is an important one.  The film is set almost forty years ago, and yet it feels like it could be taking place today.  (Change some of the names and you realize that, in fact, it pretty much is.)  The Post depicts a Presidential administration that chooses to deflect criticism by attacking the media, by whipping up public sentiment against the press and taking actions to curtail the very existence of n independent press.  It is striking to see the many way in which the story of the Pentagon Papers and the Nixon White House’s battles against the Washington Post echo the news we are reading about in the newspaper right now.  These philosophical battles for the soul of our nation that are depicted in The Post are taking place, again, right now, whether most Americans realize it or not, and the results will determine the future of our democracy.

The Post mounts a powerful defense for the central importance of a free press.  Both Tom Hanks (as Ben Bradlee) and Meryl Streep (as Katharine Graham) have powerful, emotional moments in the film in which they deliver stirring monologues making this point.  This is a film that every American should see.

But putting all that aside, it’s also just a dang great film.  Mr. Spielberg has taken these historical events and brought them to riveting life, and he has done it without using any showy tricks or dramatic directorial flourishes.  Everything in the film feels quiet and restrained.  Even John Williams’ score — which is excellent, of course — dials down Mr. William’s usual bombast and … [continued]

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Catching Up With Mike Mignola’s Hellboy!

For over twenty years now, Mike Mignola’s Hellboy comics have been one of my very favorite comic book series.  This series has expanded from an occasionally-published series of mini-series and short stories to a vast universe of stories, with multiple interconnected stories chronicling over 100 years of the history of these characters and this universe.  A little while back I spent a long time re-reading the entire saga from the very beginning, and writing about it.  Over the past year and a half, Mr. Mignola and his extraordinarily talented team of collaborators have continued to publish many new and wonderful stories…

B.P.R.D.: Rise of the Black Flame #5 (2016) — In my last post I wrote about this mini-series, but the final issue had not yet been released.  That last issue is a doozy, as we learn the true identity of the original Black Flame and witness his tragic origin.  It’s a heartbreaking twist to learn that this villain was once a noble man.  I was also delighted and surprised when we met Kamala again.  I love how the last page of the issue brings us full circle with this iteration of the Black Flame’s first appearance in Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand #1 from 2012, with the Flame and Kamala on a boat headed for New York in 1932.  Brilliant.  (I’d love for a follow-up to further explore these characters.  Does anything of the original good man still exist within the Flame?  What does Kamala make of her role in all of this?  Is she a villain, or is there some conflict within her?)

Witchfinder: City of the Dead #5 (2016) — As with Rise of the Black Flame, when I wrote about Witchfinder: City of the Dead in my last Hellboy post, this last issue had not yet been released.  Issue #5 brings this story of Sir Edward Grey’s encounter with the vampire Giurescu (first introduced way way back in Hellboy: Wake the Devil from 1996) to a fine conclusion, once again gorgeously illustrated by Ben Stenbeck, whose work is absolutely perfect for these London-set Hellboy universe stories.  I was left unclear by this issue whether Sir Edward Grey’s victory over Giurescu here meant the end of the vampire plot that we’ve been reading about for years.  We see one panel of Grey’s men digging up some of the vampires buried around London, but have they really found all of the vampires that have been hidden by Giurescu over the years?  If this is truly the end of this storyline, then on the one hand I am happy to see it reach a conclusion, but on the other hand it felt a bit too easy.  We’ll … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond

January 17th, 2018
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Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton is a new documentary by Chris Smith that documents Jim Carrey’s process of remaining entirely in-character as Andy Kaufman (as well as Kaufman’s abusive alter-ego, Tony Clifton) during the entirety of the making of Milos Forman’s 1999 bio of Andy Kaufman, Man on the Moon.

I have always been fascinated by Andy Kaufman, and I quite like Mr. Forman’s film Man on the Moon.  Jim Carrey’s performance as Mr. Kaufman in the film is spectacular.  He is brilliantly able to inhabit the character, perfectly recreating many famous on-screen moments from Mr. Kaufman’s life (his appearances on Saturday Night Live, Taxi, and more).  It’s an amazing act of recreation, as Mr. Carrey is able to modulate his voice and his physicality in order to nearly-perfectly recreate Mr. Kaufman.  The film is made by Mr. Carrey’s performance.

Throughout the film’s production, Mr. Carrey apparently hired a team to film behind-the-scenes footage, in an effort to produce a promotional material for the film that would be more interesting than the boring EPKs (Electronic Press Kits) that usually accompany a film’s release.  But the footage has remained unseen, until now.  Mr. Smith’s documentary Jim & Andy presents an extraordinary amount of this incredible footage, intercut with an in-depth interview with Jim Carrey conducted last year.  Ninety-five percent of the film is from those two sources: the twenty-year-old behind-the-scenes footage and this present-day interview with Mr. Carrey.  (We also get a generous amount of clips from Man on the Moon itself, as well as some great archival footage of both Mr. Kaufman and Mr. Carrey from throughout their careers.)

This behind-the-scenes footage is incredible.  I had heard rumors that Mr. Carrey had refused to step out of character during the months of making Man on the Moon, and this footage supports that.  It is… wow.  It is pretty jaw-dropping.  At one point in the film, Mr. Carrey recollects that he was told that Universal would not at the time allow any of the behind-the-scenes footage to be released because they didn’t want people to think that Mr. Carrey was an asshole.  I can see what they were worried about.

I cannot imagine how tough this must have been for the men and women working with Mr. Carey on the making of Man on the Moon.  Mr. Carey as Andy Kaufman was clearly difficult to deal with, as this footage makes clear, but Mr. Kaufman as Tony Clifton was absolutely horrible and abusive to everyone around him.  There are a lot of moments in which we see poor Milos Forman struggling to keep the peace and keep his film … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season Three

I fell very quickly in love with Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt in its first season.  While the show shared a certain comedic rhythm with Tina Fey’s previous show 30 Rock, I loved Kimmy Schmidt for its unique premise, wonderful characters, and, most of all, for Kimmy herself, a wonderfully positive, upbeat female character.  (Click here for my review of season one.)  I enjoyed the second season as well, which was unafraid to dig deep and explore the darkness inherent in the show’s premise of Kimmy as a kidnapping survivor.  (Click here for my review.)

Kimmy Schmidt season three feels a little more scattershot than the previous two seasons.  There were times, particularly in the early-going, in which it felt as if the writers were straining somewhat to find new situations for the show’s characters.  But the season took off for me with episode six, “Kimmy is a Feminist!”, which culminates in an insane and hilarious farce in which Jacqueline attempts to keep Russ’ brother Duke (Josh Charles) attracted to her without actually cheating with him, while Titus pretends to be Jacqueline’s gay best friend Flouncey McGoo who also has a thing for her.  (It’s complicated!)  I am a sucker for those sorts of madcap farcical situations (Frasier in its best years was a master at this sort of thing), and that episode had me on the floor.

What this season might lack in narrative cohesion it made up for in the continuing joy of watching these crazy characters bounce from one nutty situation to the next.  The show’s fast-paced style is a virtue, as before one might begin to tire of one situation the show is already on to the next one.  And no other show television packs as many gags per second of screen time as does Kimmy Schmidt.

Ellie Kemper is, once again, brilliant in the lead role.  Kimmy Schmidt is a perfect melding of actor and role.  I enjoyed the way the show has allowed us to occasionally see the very human cracks in Kimmy — she hits a low point at the end of this season — while never losing sight of her inherent goodness and unbreakable, sunny core.

Tituss Burgess just gets better and better as Titus Andromedon, and I was pleased at all the wonderfully nutty stuff the writers gave Mr. Burgess to play this year.  His attempting to play a “bro” lusting after Jacqueline in episode six was a highlight for me, but I also enjoyed his battle of wits with a gas-station attendant (Ray Liotta) in “Kimmy Pulls Off a Heist!”, and the collapsing of his relationship with cruise-ship mentor-turned-rival Dionne Warwick (played to a T by Maya … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Amazon’s The Tick

I read and loved The Tick way back when the first black and white issues of Ben Edlund’s super-hero parody masterpiece were published in the eighties, and I have followed the big blue goofball’s adventures through both of his two previous TV incarnations, an animated series in the nineties and the killed-way-before-it’s-time live-action series on FOX in 2001.  I was delighted when Amazon announced they’d be taking another swing at a Tick adaptation, and I loved the pilot episode they produced last year.  They released an additional five episodes a few months ago, and I am pleased to report that they are terrific!

The new episodes pick up right where the pilot left off, and maintain a wonderful consistency of look and tone.  (Strangely, the only major change I noticed was that they changed the look of the costume of the Tick himself. The version in the pilot did look a little, well, mushy, but the more blocky new version isn’t much better in my opinion.)

The show belongs to Peter Serafinowicz, who is fantastic as the Tick.  Mr. Serafinowicz is able to give the Tick all of the superheroic bombast that he needs, while maintaining the gentleness at the character’s core. Mr. Serafinowicz is very, very funny in the role.  At first I missed Patrick Warburton (who was so great as the Tick in the FOX version), but very quickly I felt Mr. Serafinowicz owned this role completely.  He makes every single line a comedic home run.  This is not an easy role too play — it could easily veer too far into the corny or the ridiculous.  But Mr. Serafinowicz is pretty much perfect.

Griffin Newman and Valorie Curry were both great in the pilot as Arthur and his sister Dot, and they continue to be great in these new episodes.  The pilot left open the possibility that Arthur really was crazy and the Tick was only in his head, which was an intriguing choice, and that continued at first in this new run of episodes. But the show did away with that pretty quickly and established that other characters could, indeed, also see the Tick.  I was a little sore to see that resolved so definitively so quickly, though that was probably the better choice in terms of the show’s longevity.  (The idea of other characters always just-missing the Tick would probably get old pretty fast.)  I liked the choice to make Arthur’s sister Dot a major character in the pilot, and I loved that Dot continued too play a major role in these subsequent episodes.  Ms.Curry is terrific, and I love the added dimension that this gives to Arthur and the show, by exploring Arthur’s … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Shape of Water

Guillermo del Toro’s latest masterpiece, The Shape of Water, is set in the early sixties.  Sally Hawkins plays Elisa, a mute woman who works as a janitor at a government installation.  Her routine, lonely life is shaken when she discovers that the scientists and military officers at the base have captured a monster: a humanoid amphibian creature whose ability to survive the pressures of the deep they believe holds the key to the U.S.’s successfully mastering the hostile conditions of outer space.  Elisa gradually develops a connection with the monster, and when she fears that the military is going to kill him, she hatches a plan with her friends, fellow janitor Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and her neighbor artist Giles (Richard Jenkins), to attempt to free him.

I adore the films of Guillermo del Toro, and The Shape of Water is a return to the near-perfection of Mr. del Toro’s best Spanish-language works such as Pan’s Labyrinth (El Laberinto del Fauno) and The Devil’s Backbone.  Once again, Mr. del Toro has crafted a gorgeous fantasy film that is grounded in real-life settings with fully-realized, rich characters, and with a fantastically memorable new monster creature.  

The Shape of Water belongs to Sally Hawkins, who is magnificent as the mute, lonely Elisa.  Mr. del Toro and co-screenwriter Vanessa Taylor have created a beautifully drawn character, and Ms. Hawkins knocks the role out of the park with her deeply emotional, affecting performance.  And all without speaking a single word!  Without any dialogue or “internal monologue” narration, Ms. Hawkins and Mr. del Toro are nevertheless successful in creating a film that is focused on Elisa’s inner life.  It is her emotions, and her actions, that drive the film.  This is a very clever approach, and yet one that could have been fiendishly difficult to achieve.  Yet Ms. Hawkins’ phenomenal work makes this all sing.  This is an incredible performance, and it is worth seeing this film just to watch what Ms. Hawkins is able to achieve.

Mr. del Toro’s films always show an enormous affection for the fantasy/monster creatures.  Each of his films contain wonderfully detailed, well-thought-out and beautifully-realized new monster/creatures, and the amphibious creature in The Shape of Water is a wonderful addition to Mr. del Toro’s filmography.  Mr. del Toro’s frequent collaborator, Doug Jones, does an extraordinary job in bringing this creature to life.  Although the creature, like Elisa, does not speak a word in the film, the gorgeous makeup/prosthetics design, combined with Mr. Jones’ incredible performance, communicate exactly what this creature is thinking and feeling.  I have seen many talented actors whose performance was lost under elaborate prosthetics or makeup, but Mr. Jones is a master at this sort of … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Orange is the New Black: Season Five

Wow, I can’t believe Orange is the New Black is already five years old!  While I have found the series to be somewhat inconsistent, I have enjoyed the ride, and season five was no exception.  The new season picks up seconds after the cliffhanger ending of season four, with Diaz holding a gun to one of the guards.  The entire fifth season follows the events of the prison-riot that follows.

I was excited to see creator Jenji Kohan and her writers explore this new narrative structure, with the entire season depicting the crazy few days of this riot.  It was fun to see the show try out this new structure, and by diving so deeply into the hours of these events, we were allowed to spend a significant amount of time with almost every member of the show’s sprawling ensemble, to see how these events affected each of them differently.  The best aspect of this season was the way it allowed us a deeper focus on so many of the show’s characters.  (The show mostly dropped its flashback format this year, and I am happy about that.  Those flashbacks were great at first — albeit hugely derivative of Lost — but I’d long-since grown tired of them.  I am glad this season mostly focused on the events happening in the here-and-now at Litchfield prison.)

While the first season was primarily about Piper (Taylor Schilling), the show has long-since re-structured itself to have Piper be just one member of a much larger ensemble.  This was a smart change to make.  I enjoyed following Piper’s story in season one, but Orange is the New Black became a much more interesting version of itself as it transformed into such a strong vehicle for telling stories about women of many different colors.  The show has sometimes struggled with trying to still find interesting things for Piper to do.  (I thought the whole business of Piper starting an underground underwear-selling company which then sort of turned into a gang war to be the weakest part of seasons three and four.)  I was pleased that, here in season five, we still followed Piper’s story (in a refocusing on her relationship with Laura Prepon’s Alex Vause) without having to have Piper involved in every single important event of the riot.

Danielle Brooks has been a standout since the very beginning as Taystee, and she really got to shine this season, as we followed her impassioned efforts to try to get some sort of justice for the murder of her friend Poussey.  Ms. Brooks is absolutely amazing.

I missed Natasha Lyonne as Nicky Nichols after she seemed to get abruptly written off of the show in season three, … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Vice Principals: Season Two

I quite enjoyed the first season of Danny McBride & Jody Hill’s latest collaboration, Vice Principals.  (Mr. McBride starred in Mr. Hill’s first film, The Foot First Way, and the two co-created Eastbound and Down.)  That first season chronicled the messed-up partnership between the two vice principals of North Jackson High School, Neil Gamby (Danny McBride) and Lee Russell (Walton Goggins), working to take down the newly-appointed principal, Dr. Belinda Brown (Kimberly Hebert Gregory), since they both wanted her job.  At the end of the season, it looked like Gamby and Russell had finally defeated their nemesis and driven her away, but then, well, things went in some even crazier directions.

There’s a lot to enjoy in season two of Vice Principals, as long as you don’t mind a plentiful amount of both raunchiness as well as humor borne from extreme awkwardness and uncomfortable situations.  Personally, I preferred the first season, both because I found the balance between laughs and awkward cringes to be tilted a little more towards the laughs, and also because it felt a little more straightforward, narratively, to me.  The show was over-the-top right from the beginning — I believe that it was only in the second episode in which Gamby and Russell burned down Dr. Brown’s house! — but as crazy as it got, I liked the central concept of these two horrible people, Gamby and Russell, united together in pursuit of their shared, very selfish goal.  Without Dr. Brown as a central enemy for these two numb-skulls to work against, season two bounced all over the place.  The individual episodes were mostly strong, but the story as a whole didn’t grab my interest as much as the first season did.  It felt a little like they didn’t quite have enough story to stretch over two full seasons, which is something of a surprise seeing as the show was, from the beginning, designed to run for just these two seasons.  (What a rarity that is, to have a show created right from the beginning with a planned beginning, middle, and end!)

On the other hand, I love the way the show allowed you to sort-of root for these two a-holes in season one, and then turned the tables in season two as they, and the audience, were forced to reckon with what they had done.  That’s careful, crafty storytelling there.  I also want to emphasize that, despite my criticisms, the show in season two still had the ability to make me laugh out loud and gasp in horror at what was unfolding.  I couldn’t look away, even when the characters were at their most distasteful!

Danny McBride is, as always, fantastic as the dim bulb … [continued]

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