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Josh Reviews the Premiere of Star Trek: Picard!

Set decades after the events of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the new series Star Trek: Picard reintroduces us to Jean-Luc Picard.  No longer the captain of the Enterprise, or indeed a Starfleet officer of any kind, Picard lives out his days overseeing his family winery, assisted by two gentle aides.  But when a young woman on the run seeks him out, and Picard discovers that she shares a connection to one of his former Enterprise crew-mates, the former captain must re-enter the world he has been hiding from for so long.

I grew up with Star Trek: The Next Generation.  I remember being so excited for the premiere, “Encounter at Farpoint,” and I watched every episode of the series as it came out.  (Many of those episodes I have rewatched at least a dozen times, likely more!!)  I loved that show and I loved those characters.  I was disappointed that the movie franchise never really took off.  (I get a lot of enjoyment out of Star Trek: Generations and Star Trek: First Contact, even though I think both films are deeply flawed.  Star Trek: Insurrection is forgettable and Star Trek: Nemesis is an abomination before the Lord.)  I never expected to see Patrick Stewart back in this role ever again.  But the creative and critical success of Logan, in which Mr. Stewart returned to portray an elderly version of Professor X, surely paved the way for his return, here, to the character of Jean-Luc Picard.

I was excited for this show, though very dubious.  I can’t say I have much faith in Alex Kurtzman, who is the current steward of the Star Trek franchise.  I didn’t love any of the three rebooted Trek films that Mr. Kurtzman was involved with (they’re fun but deeply flawed, and even when I love them they don’t really feel like true Star Trek to me); I have found Star Trek: Discovery to be a huge disappointment; and the “Short Trek” short films have been very hit-or-miss.

But I am pleased to report that I thought the first episode of Star Trek: Picard, titled “Remembrance,” was pretty great!!

It’s a pleasure to see Patrick Stewart back in this iconic role, and Mr. Stewart is, as always, fantastic.  He still has an incredible magnetism that is on full display whenever he is on-screen.  His commanding presence reaches out and grabs you.  It’s fascinating and sad to see Mr. Stewart play this older, damaged version of Picard.  This is still Picard — Mr. Stewart shows us Picard’s intelligence and empathy and warmth.  But this Picard has been changed by the events that have transpired since last we saw him.  Mr. Stewart … [continued]

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Josh’s Favorite Comic Book Series and Graphic Novels of 2019 — Part Three!

Click here for all of my “honorable mentions”, and click here for numbers 20 through 11 on my list of my favorite comic book series and graphic novels of 2019!  Here now is the conclusion to my list!

(As I did for parts 1 and 2, I’ll post Amazon links to all of these books at the bottom of this post.)

10. Brian Michael Bendis’ Jinxworld titles (Pearl illustrated by Michael Gaydos, Cover illustrated by David Mack, Scarlet illustrated by Alex Maleev, The United States vs Murder Inc. illustrated by Michael Avon Oeming) — Well, this is obviously a huge cheat in my including all four of Brian Michael Bendis’ Jinxworld series, but they’re all fantastic.  This was a lighter year for Mr. Bendis’ creator-owned series than 2018, as three of these series (Cover, Scarlet, and The United States vs. Murder Inc.) all wrapped up their current runs early in the year.  But I nevertheless got a huge amount of enjoyment out of all four of these series.  Pearl re-teamed Mr. Bendis with Jessica Jones co-creator Michael Gaydos for the tale of a young female tattoo artist who is mixed up with the Yakuza.  Cover re-teamed Mr. Bendis with Echo co-creator and Alias/Jessica Jones cover artist David Mack for the story of a comic book artist who becomes an undercover C.I.A. operative (a tale loosely based on Mr. Mack’s own experiences!).  Scarlet re-teamed Mr. Bendis with Alex Maleev (who has illustrated MANY of Mr. Bendis’ previous comic book stories, most notably a long, incredible run on Daredevil, and who this year collaborated with Mr. Bendis on DC’s Event Leviathan), and tells the story of an angry young woman in Portland, railing against corruption in the police force and in politics, who winds up starting a new American revolution.  Finally, the United States vs Murder Inc. re-teamed Mr. Bendis with Powers co-creator Michael Avon Oeming for a story of a world in which the mob (“Murder Inc.”) eventually took over a large portion of the Eastern seaboard and went to war with the U.S. government.  All four titles are fantastic original creations, illustrated by four of the very best artists working in comic books today.  These books are everything that I think great comic books should be.

9. The Batman’s Grave (by Warren Ellis & Bryan Hitch) — Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch have previously collaborated on some incredible comic books (most notably their original run on The Authority), and this new twelve-issue Batman story already stands with their best work.  We’re four issues in, and I still don’t yet quite see the picture of what larger story is being told, but these initial four issues, which have … [continued]

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Josh’s Favorite Comic Book Series and Graphic Novels of 2019 — Part Two!

Yesterday I listed a lot of great comic books that I enjoyed in 2019.  But those were just my “honorable mentions”!  Let’s dig into my real list.  (As I did yesterday, I’ll post Amazon links to all of these books at the bottom of this post.)

20. The Green Lantern (by Grant Morrison and Liam Sharp) — This reinvention of the Green Lantern series is heavy on the outlandish sci-fi, which makes it right up my alley.  Grant Morrison’s stories are always twisty and weird and fascinating, and this is no exception.  I like the emphasis on the idea of Hal Jordan as a “space cop,” and I love how inventive this series is, continually throwing new and ever-crazier sci-fi concepts onto each page.

19. Moonshine (by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso) — The team behind the extraordinary comic book epic 100 Bullets (go read that immediately if you haven’t yet done so!!), Mr. Azzarello & Mr. Risso, have re-teamed for this story of prohibition, gangsters, booze, and werewolves.  After a lengthy hiatus, two new issues were published in 2019; I’m glad to have this series back!

18. Mae (by Gene Ha) — A teenaged girl named Mae follows her older sister Abbie through a mysterious doorway, and finds herself swept up in an epic adventure on a fantasy world.  I love this story, which is packed to overflowing with fun, original sci-fi and fantasy concepts, characters, and settings.  The story is delightful, and Mr. Ha’s artwork is astonishing.  The final two issues of the second volume were published in 2019… I hope 2020 brings additional issues!

17. The Wild Storm (by Warren Ellis and Jon Davis-Hunt) — I thoroughly enjoyed Mr. Ellis and Mr. Davis-Hunt’s brilliant reinvention of the Wildstorm universe (which began with Jim Lee’s Wildcats comic, one of the first series published after Image Comics launched in the nineties).  Mr. Ellis had written a number of terrific stories for that Wildstorm universe (especially his series, The Authority, which was illustrated by Bryan Hitch), so who better to relaunch that universe?  This twenty-four issue limited-series was magnificent, rich in fascinating concepts and characters.  It was cool to see so much of what made the original Wildstorm universe interesting distilled down into this thrilling new story.  I wish this series didn’t have to end!!  (And I wish that it had actually launched additional series set in this remained universe, as it seems to have been intended to…)

15. Thanos: The Infinity Ending (by Jim Starlin and Alan Davis) — the great Jim Starlin, who created Thanos several decades ago, returned to the character (and so many of his other favorites, including Adam Warlock and Pip the Troll) for … [continued]

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Josh’s Favorite Comic Book Series and Graphic Novels of 2019 — Part One!

Welcome back! I  hope you enjoyed reading my look back at my favorite TV shows of 2019, and my favorite movies of 2019.  Here now is my list of my favorite comic book series and graphic novels of 2019…!

There were a LOT of great comic books in 2019.  Let’s start with my lengthy list of honorable mentions.

I’ve included Amazon links to all of these books at the bottom of this post.  (Please remember that if you click through to Amazon from any of the links on this site, I’ll get a tiny percentage of the price of any purchase you make on Amazon for the next 24 hours.  You don’t have to purchase the specific item I linked to!  Just use one of my links to get to Amazon, and then purchase whatever you normally would.  This is a big help to me, so thank you!!)  OK, onwards…!

Marvels: Epilogue Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross reunited for this short story set after the events of their brilliant Marvels series (which retold the first several decades of Marvel Comics’ history from the point of view of photographer Phil Sheldon).  This tale adapted the events of Uncanny X-Men #98, and it was a delight seeing the classic X-Men team brought to life by Mr. Ross!

Superman: Year One this three-issue, large-size limited series from DC Comics’ Black Label was a weird new version of Superman’s origin story, written but Frank Miller and illustrated by John Romita Jr.  Those two had previously collaborated on the magnificent Man Without Fear, the definitive Daredevil origin story.  This is not Man Without Fear, not by any stretch of the imagination.  But it’s such an out-there version of Superman that I enjoyed reading it even though my eyebrows were raised throughout.

X-Men: Grand Design — X-Tinction Ed Piskor’s wonderful X-Men: Grand Design issues each take years of continuity from the multi-decade-long history of X-Men comic books and attempt to condense and synthesize those stories into a unified narrative.  The two-issue X-Tinction mini-series brought this grand experiment to a thoroughly satisfying conclusion.  It made this long-time X-Men fan very happy.

Marvel Comics #1000 (and #1001) — this lengthy one-shot special featured a plethora of one-page stories written and illustrated by a variety of different creative teams that looked back at Marvel Comics’ lengthy history while also introducing some new characters and concepts that I expect will feature in future stories.

Ghosted in LA Written by Sina Grace and illustrated by Siobhan Keenan, this tells the story of a young college student, Daphne, who discovers a manor filled with ghosts.  Daphne winds up feeling closer to those ghosts than … [continued]

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We have arrived at the conclusion of my list of my favorite movies of 2019!  Please click here to read numbers twenty through sixteen, click here for numbers fifteen through eleven, and click here for numbers ten through six.  And now, without further delay, here are my FIVE FAVORITE movies of 2019:

5. The Irishman The Irishman tells the story of Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran, who was a hitman for the Bufalino crime family.  Frank claims to have been the man who killed Jimmy Hoffa.  The film chronicles decades of Frank’s life, from his first involvement with the Bufalino family, through his close friendship with Hoffa, and eventually through Hoffa’s death and the long, lonely years of the rest of Frank’s life.  It is an absolute delight to see Robert De Niro and Al Pacino together on-screen in so many deliciously meaty scenes in this film.  Both men turn in strong performances, and their on-screen chemistry together is everything you’d want it to be.  But Joe Pesci, who hasn’t been seen on-screen in years, absolutely steals the movie right out from under them in his role as Russell Bufalino, a powerful mob figure who becomes Frank’s mentor.  Mr. Pesci is so great!!  I loved the film’s interwoven structure of flashbacks within flashbacks, as we follow Frank and the other characters across the decades.  I was very impressed with the CGI and makeup effects used to age and de-age Mr. De Niro, Mr. Pesci, and others.  For the most part, that work was seamless.  Even in those few moments in which the visual effects trickery doesn’t quite work, I admired the film’s ambition in telling this broad story.  I know some have complained that the film is too long, and that the last half-hour drags, but I loved that last half-hour!  Those final sequences were critical to the film — we need to see the fall-out from Frank’s violent life.  I didn’t find the ending boring at all; I thought it was the most moving part of the film.  What a delight that the master Martin Scorsese is still creating films as epic and engaging as this one!  (Click here for my full review.)

4. Knives Out 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.  I have so much love in my heart for this film!!  Knives Out, written and directed by Rian Johnson, is a ferociously entertaining film, a delightfully funny and twisty … [continued]

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Josh’s Favorite Movies of 2019 — Part Three!

I hope you are enjoying my look back at my favorite movies of 2019!  Please click here to see numbers twenty through sixteen, and click here to see numbers fifteen through eleven.  And now… onward into my TOP TEN!

10. Uncut Gems Adam Sandler is absolutely electrifying in this film, written and directed by Josh and Benny Safdie.  (The script was also co-written by Ronald Bronstein.)  Mr. Sandler plays Howard Ratner, a jewelry store owner in the Diamond District in New York City.  He is buried in debts, but the fast-talking Howard has a series of plans within plans to get the better of everyone who is after him and to get a big payday.  I have enjoyed Mr. Sandler’s previous turns in more serious films (Punch-Drunk Love, Spanglish, Funny People), but his work here is head and shoulders above anything I’ve ever seen him do before.  Lakeith Stanfield (Atlanta), Idina Menzel, Judd Hirsch, Julia Fox, and Kevin Garnett (doing a terrific job playing himself) are all so much fun in supporting roles as people caught in Howard’s orbit.  The film is a magnificent exercise in sustained tension.  From practically the first moment until the last, the Safdie brothers skillfully ratchet the tension up and up and up.  It’s an incredibly stressful experience watching this movie!!  And, at the same time, so much fun!!  (My full review is coming soon.)

9. Late Night Mindy Kaling wrote and stars in this film as Molly Patel, a young woman hired as the only woman on the all-white-male writing staff of a late-night talk-show.  That talk show is run by multi-decade late-night veteran Katherine Newbury, played by Emma Thompson.  Directed by Nisha Ganatra, Late Night is a phenomenal showcase for the talents of both Ms. Kaling and Ms. Thompson.  They make a fantastic pairing — I love their chemistry on-screen!  Ms. Thompson in particular is spectacular, delivering a powerhouse performance as her character goes through quite a journey over the course of the film.  The film has a lot to say about being a woman working in show business, and it’s also a fun peek behind the curtain at the running of a TV show.  The film is very funny, while also having true dramatic heft.  The supporting cast excels: the great John Lithgow, Amy Ryan (The Wire), Reid Scott (Veep), Paul Walter Hauser (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Ike Barinholtz, Max Cassella, John Early, and Hugh Dancy and all fun and funny.  If you missed this film this past summer, I encourage you to check it out.  (Click here for my full review.)

8. Spider-Man: Far From Home This … [continued]

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Josh’s Favorite Movies of 2019 — Part Two!

Yesterday I began my look back at my favorite movies of 2019!  Shall we continue…?

15. Brittany Runs a Marathon In Amazon Studios’ film, Jillian Bell (The Night Before, Office Christmas Party) stars as Brittany, a single young woman living in New York who, after seeing a doctor (as part of a scheme to score a prescription to Adderall), gets the surprising news that she is unhealthy and needs to lose weight.  Initially resistant to the idea, Brittany gradually begins to experiment by going for a run.  To her great surprise, she gets into it, and eventually sets a goal of running the New York City Marathon.  Written and directed by Paul Downs Colaizzo, this film is very funny while also packing some serious dramatic weight in the grounded drama of Brittany’s often-painful, often-failed journey to grow up.  Brittany’s weight isn’t really what the film is about.  As the story unfolds, and we get to know Brittany as a person, we gradually discover — as she does — the damaged places within her, and the steps she needs to take in order to heal.  That’s the true journey Brittany is on in the film.  Jillian Bell has always impressed me with her comedic timing, and it’s a delight to see her step into a leading role here in this film.  Michaela Watkins (Wanderlust, In a World…, They Came Together), Utkarsh Ambudkar (Brockmire), Lil Rel Howery, and Micah Stock all kill in their supporting roles.  I’m really glad to have seen this film!  (My full review is coming soon.)

14. Doctor Sleep I’m really bummed this film didn’t do better at the box office, because Doctor Sleep is a terrific film, a satisfying adaptation of Mr. King’s novel (a sequel to The Shining) and also a satisfying sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film of The Shining.  Written and directed by Mike Flanagan, I was continually pleased and delighted by this film.  I thought it was a wonderful character study and also a thrilling supernatural yarn, and I was impressed by the many clever ways in which the film slightly tweaked the Doctor Sleep novel’s story so as to maintain continuity with Mr. Kubrick’s film.  Ewan McGreggor is terrific as the lead, an all-grown-up Daniel Torrance whose life after the events of The Shining has not been easy.  At the edge of losing his life to alcoholism, the film (and Mr. King’s novel) is as much the story of Dan’s clawing his way back to humanity and a life as it is about a battle with supernatural forces.  Kyliegh Curran is terrific as the young girl, Abra, whose … [continued]

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Josh’s Favorite Movies of 2019 — Part One!

I hope you enjoyed my list of my favorite TV series of 2019!  And now, on to my list of my twenty favorite movies of 2019 — here we go…!

20. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker I debated whether or not to include The Rise of Skywalker on this list.  The film has so many flaws.  I don’t like how simplistic and predictable it is.  I don’t like how it undoes many of the things I loved about The Last Jedi (putting Kylo Ren back in the mask, saying that Rey DOES have a familial connection to a famous Star Wars character after all, and, most damningly, totally sidelining Rose Tico).  I don’t like how dumb and nonsensical the Emperor’s plan is.  On the other hand, there is still a lot that I enjoyed about this film.  I loved the renewed focus on the trio of Rey-Finn-Poe.  I loved the clever way Leia was incorporated into the film’s story despite the tragic passing of Carrie Fisher.  I loved Adam Driver’s continued amazing work as Kylo Ren.  I thought the film was visually stunning.  I thought John Williams’ score (his final Star Wars score ever…?) was beautiful.  I loved the Han-Kylo scene.  I had a lot of fun sitting in the theatre and being carried along by the film’s rollicking pace.  Despite it’s many flaws, I’m sure this is a film that I will rewatch many times in the future — probably, in all honesty, more times than many other films on this list.  So I figured The Rise of Skywalker needed to be included.  (Click here for my full review.)

19. It: Chapter Two — Like The Rise of Skywalker, It: Chapter Two is flawed.  The film is too long, and it doesn’t pack the emotional punch or the scares that the first film did.  And yet, I think that critics were way too hard on this film.  I quite enjoyed it.  The casting of the adult versions of the Losers’ Club was absolutely perfect.  Better than I could have dreamed: James McAvoy as Bill, Jessica Chastain as Beverly, Bill Hader as Richie, James Ransone as Eddie, Isaiah Mustafa as Mike, Jay Ryan as Ben, and Andy Bean as Stanley.  Wow!  The best moments in the film are the scenes (such as their epic reunion over Chinese food) when that ensemble was all together.  Additionally, of course, Bill Skarsgård returned as Pennywise, as deliriously weird and horrific as he was in Chapter One.  It’s exciting to see Stephen King’s brilliant novel brought to life as skillfully as it was here.  (Click here for my full review.)

18. Joker Todd Phillips’ Joker isn’t … [continued]

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