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X-Men: Days of Future Past

July 29th, 2014
New comics posted daily, Monday through Thursday!

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Star Trek: The Light Fantastic

Last year, David Mack wrote a terrific trilogy of Star Trek: The Next Generation novels, under the subtitle “Cold Equations.”  (Click here for my review of book 1, click here for my review of book 2, and here for my review of book 3.) It’s a great trilogy that moved forward the continuing, post-Nemesis 24th century Star Trek story that has been ongoing in the Trek novels for many years now.  Most notably, Cold Equations repaired the biggest sin of Star Trek: Nemesis and (Careful!  Spoilers!  Spoilers!) brought back Data.

Interestingly, this major event in the Trek books was itself a direct sequel to a stand-alone Trek book from about a decade earlier, a book called Immortal Coil by Jeffrey Lang.  That novel introduced the idea of a secret society of android artificial intelligences and led to several fascinating developments in the life of Lt. Data.  (Click here for my review of Immortal Coil, a terrific book.)

And so I was delighted to see that now Mr. Lang himself has written a sequel to David Mack’s Cold Equations trilogy, a book focusing on the newly-resurrected Data called The Light Fantastic.  What a wonderful bit of full-circle perfection.  The Light Fantastic is a phenomenal follow-up to Cold Equations, thoroughly exploring Data’s new status quo following the events of that trilogy.

It is difficult to discuss this book too deeply without ruining some of the surprises of Cold Equations, so if you are reading this but you have not yet read Cold Equations, you might want to stop here.

Still with me?  The Light Fantastic picks up about a year following the events of Cold Equations.  Data and Lal, both newly returned to life, have settled into a quiet life on, of all places, Orion Prime.  (When Noonien Soong inhabited the new android body now possessed by Data, he used his intelligence to create something of a casino empire for himself, an empire Data now finds himself running, mostly as a way to keep that parto f his father alive in some way.) But their tranquility is shattered by the return of Moriarty, the holographic entity from “Elementary, Dear Data” and “Ship in a Bottle.”

I was thrilled to read of the return of Moriarty, a wonderful character from TNG and a terrific foil for Data.  I was also delighted by what Mr. Lang has done with his character.  The narrative of The Light Fantastic jumps around in time, often flashing back to show us what became of Moriarty and the Countess in the years after they we trapped in a holographic simulation back in “Ship in a Bottle.”  It turns out things have not … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Game of Thrones Season Four

I keep waiting for Game of Thrones to stumble, but so far show-runners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss have continued on an impressive winning streak, with each season successfully building on what came before.  I wondered, in my review of season three, how the show would continue after it seemed like all of the main characters who I had been rooting for had been killed off.  I knew the show would go on, but I worried that I wouldn’t be as invested in the continuing narrative as I had been.  Thankfully, this didn’t wind up being an issue for me at all.  Season four gave us ten episodes filled to the brim with extraordinary drama on a small and large scale, and an array of incredible moments that I still cannot quite believe all happened in one ten-episode season.  There are some SPOILERS ahead in this review, friends, so beware!

Season four had so many spectacularly gasp-inducing and/or nail-bitingly suspenseful moments.  Joffrey & Margaery’s wedding.  Tyrion’s trial.  The Mountain versus Oberyn Martell.  Brienne of Tarth versus the Hound.  Arya’s laughter at the news of Lyssa’s death.  Mance Rayder’s army’s attack on the Wall and the Battle at Castle Black.  The revelation that Littlefinger’s role in the death of John Arryn, and as such the start of the whole Game of Thrones story.  Our first glimpse of Braavos.  Sword-wielding skeletons.  And so much more.  Did all of this really happen in just one season??

As I have written before in my previous Game of Thrones reviews, I have not yet read any of George R. R. Martin’s novels.  I am definitely interested in doing so, but I am enjoying the show so much that I don’t want to read the books until the show is finished.  That might sound weird, but I can’t recall the last time I have been this gripped by a TV show, one that has been able to so consistently thrill me with the story’s unpredictable twists and turns and with so many shocking deaths.  I don’t want to be spoiled by the books!  I want to continue to enjoy this show without having any fore-knowledge of what is going to happen next.

While there is a lot that is great about Game of Thrones, my favorite thing about the show is this way that it is able to continually shock me.  As I noted above, I worried about a decrease in my investment in the story and characters following The Red Wedding and other events of season 3, but if anything I have become even more invested in what happens to my favorite (surviving) characters.  As an example let’s take two moments from the season … [continued]

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Star Trek Enterprise: Rise of the Federation: Tower of Babel

Star Trek Enterprise was was an interesting failure as a TV show.  Its pilot episode showed great promise, but the show quickly fell into the trap of recycling familiar Trek story tropes.  Its first two seasons were very mediocre, and the show quickly shed most of the viewers who had watched the pilot.  Things took a sharp turn for the better in the third season, when the writers decided to tell a more complex, serialized story-line.  Things got even better in the fourth season, when the show finally embraced its concept as a prequel to the Original Series, we finally got to see the kind of show it could have/should have been.  And then, of course, it was cancelled, and that was that.

But Pocket Books’ series of Star Trek novels have been creating a phenomenal, inter-connected web of Trek stories moving beyond the finales of the various Trek TV shows.  They have not ignored Enterprise, and have boldly pushed the series forward into territory it might have explored had the show been allowed to continue.  (Click here for my review of Enterprise: Kobayashi Maru.)

I was at first delighted by the series of novels telling the story of The Romulan War, an event hinted at in The Original Series.  But in the end, I felt those books disappointed.  (Click here for my review of The Romulan War: Beneath the Raptor’s Wing, and here for my review of The Romulan War: To Brave the Storm.)  When the Romulan War series was hurridly wrapped up (that’s how it seemed to me, at least, with Michael A. Martin’s planned trilogy shortened to just two books), I figured the post-Enterprise series of novels were over.

But, to my surprise, Pocket Books turned to a high-level Trek author, Christopher L. Bennett, to launch a new series of post-Enterprise novels, now subtitled “Rise of the Federation.”  These books take place following the end of the Romulan War and the founding of the United Federation of Planets.  The first novel, A Choice of Futures, followed now-Admiral Archer and all the other members of the former Enterprise command crew, now divided onto different ships, including the Endeavor, under the command of Captain T’Pol, and the Pioneer, under the command of Malcolm Reed.  I thought this first novel was a terrific read and a compelling exploration of just how the noble Federation of Kirk’s era came to be.  I was impressed at how thoughtfully Mr. Bennett examined many aspects of the Federation that Trek fans have taken for granted for fifty tears.  I loved the way he moved all of the Enterprise characters forward  into new situations, rather than having everyone … [continued]

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News Around the Net

So Seinfeld premiered twenty-five years ago last week?  Holy cow.  Here’s a great look back at the beginning of the show.  This is an interesting assessment of the show’s influence by noting, counter-intuitively, Seinfeld’s lack of imitators.  This is also worth your time: The New York Post’s list of Seinfeld’s 25 greatest contributions to the English language.

Somehow Community has once again escaped cancellation and is now so close to the attainment of the “Six Seasons and a Movie” dream.  Nice to see this much-loved (though I guess little-watched) show dodge death once again.

Devin Faraci’s reviews of the Transformers film series are absolutely hilarious.  His review of the latest debacle, Age of Extinction, is here.  After reading that, I encourage you to travel back in time through the terrible-ness, and enjoy his review of the third film, Dark of the Moon, as well as the second film, Revenge of the Fallen, which Mr. Faraci correctly identifies as one of the worst films ever made.  These are very funny pieces as well as astute dissections of why these films have been such disappointments.

Alan Sepinwall has another great “TV Rewind” column, this one looking back at “Thanksgiving Orphans,” a classic season 5 episode of Cheers.  (It’s the one that ends with the huge food-fight.)  Now I need to go back and re-watch that episode immediately.

Great article about a great movie: a look back at The Beatles’ A Hard Days Night.  The movie is a minor miracle, something which should have been dreck but instead was gold.  I really love this film.

I still love listening to Kevin Smith spin yarns, but it’s been a bit of a stretch since I was last excited for one of his films.  (I still haven’t seen his last flick, Red State.  I’m curious to watch it one of these days, but it’s been a low priority for me.)  I don’t have any clue what to make of his latest film, Tusk, a horror film inspired by one of his podcasts.  Like the new poster, though.

The apocalypse is un-cancelled!  Pacific Rim 2 is actually happening?  I have mixed feelings.  I love Guillermo del Toro and if he has another story to tell in this universe then I’m game.  Still, while the first film was a visual feast and the action was amazing, I felt the story fell way short.  I hope the sequel, if it really gets made, has more interesting characters anchoring the story.

This is a fantastic interview with phenomenal actor Alan Tudyk, in which he discusses several of his roles in-depth, as well as his commitment to never … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

I have been troubled by the popularization, over the past several years, of the idea of a “reboot” as a way to keep franchises evergreen and continually making money for the corporations that own them.  I think there are times when a reboot is foolishly chosen whereas a continuation would have been preferable (Exhibit A: the Spider-Man films).  And there are lots of examples of Hollywood choosing to remake a great or well-liked film as a lazy way of capitalizing on a familiar brand rather than daring to create something new or original.  This usually results in a lame, lesser version of the original (See: Robocop, Total Recall, I could go on…)

But not all reboots are bad.  I loved Christopher Nolan’s reboot of Batman in Batman Begins, and while it is too early to tell whether the again-rebooted Batman we’ll see in Batman V. Superman will be any good, I think Warner Brothers has the right idea in giving us a new version of Batman rather than trying to keep telling stories in continuity from the end of Mr. Nolan’s Batman Trilogy.  (I love Joseph Gordon Levitt, but thank goodness the rumors — following the release of The Dark Knight Rises – that he would star in a new movie as Batman proved to be false.)

Which brings me to Planet of the Apes.  I have always been a HUGE fan of the original five films.  That first Planet of The Apes from 1968 is a true classic, a fantastic film that holds up extremely well today.  The four sequels that were then churned out in short succession (basically one a year!!) are increasingly bad, but I still love them.  Even though the budgets shrank and they had to come up with increasingly ludicrous ways to continue the series, I am always impressed by the creativity shown in the ways they found to continue the story, by the ambition on display in the way they continued to incorporate social allegory into the film’s stories, and by just how much innocent goofy fun can be had when watching the films today.  I love them all.

The other nice thing about the original five films is how complete they feel as a series.  The fifth film cleverly wrapped the story back around to the first film, giving the five films together the feel of a complete saga.  I never felt that this series cried out for a continuation or a reboot.   Tim Burton’s idiotic attempt to remake/reboot the series is best forgotten, and strong evidence for the pitfalls in trying to remake/re-envision a famous film series.

But then came 2011′s Rise of the Planetof the Apes.  It had a dumb title, … [continued]

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Josh Reviews 22 Jump Street

July 14th, 2014

I enjoyed 21 Jump Street but not nearly as much as many others seemed to.  I remember reading rave reviews of the film, and I saw it on several best-of-the-year lists.  I’m not sure what others saw in the film that I didn’t.  I thought it was an amusing diversion but not much more than that. (Click here for my original review.)  Still, I was interested when I heard that Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum were reuniting for a sequel.  Their chemistry was the best part of the first film, and I was curious to see where they’d take things in a second installment.

I wasn’t blown away by 22 Jump Street, though I certainly had a good time watching it.  This is not a very clever comedy but it’s funny and good-natured enough that it’s hard to find too much fault with it for being the dumb comedy it clearly is setting out to be.

The film takes a smart approach to being a comedy sequel in that it goes out of its way to repeatedly poke fun at the very idea of a comedy sequel.  I like this self-referential, tongue in cheek attitude, and it gives the film an endearing sense of playfulness.  Even though they make this same joke way too many times.

In fact, the film has two main jokes, each of which it pounds into the ground through repetition followed by more repetition.  Those two jokes are 1) the idea that they’re making fun of being a sequel in which everyone just wants the exact same story of the first film told again, and 2) the idea that the arc of Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum)’s relationship, their “bromance,” is just like the arc of a love affair between a man and a woman.  Both ideas are funny and good fodder for humor.  But both also grow tiresome when the movie makes the hundredth joke about each of them.  We get it guys!!!  We get it!!

Nick Offerman and Ice Cube return from the first film and both have a lot of fun with their scenes, especially Ice Cube who is a hoot.  There are a few new actors of note in this installment, Particularly Amber Stevens as Maya, Schmidt’s new love-interest.  I wish she had more of an actual character to play.  Jillian Bell kills it as Maya’s roommate from hell.  She has one scene in particular with Jonah Hill, in which the two can’t seem to decide if they want to beat the shit out of one another or to make out, that is on its own a reason to go see this movie.

The funniest part of the … [continued]

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Josh Reviews They Came Together

They Came Together was released to select theaters on June 27, but it never opened anywhere around me.  However, I was pleased to discover that the film is available to watch on VOD through iTunes and amazon.  Right now, from the comfort of your own home!  Just click here and watch!

You really should, too, because this send-up of romantic comedies by director David Wain (Wet Hot American Summer, Wanderlust) is fantastic and boasts an extraordinary ensemble of comedic performers.  The film stars Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler and also features Ed Helms, Bill Hader, Ellie Kemper, Jason Mantzoukas, Cobie Smulders, Christopher Meloni, Jack McBrayer, Michaela Watkins, Ken Marino, Melanie Lynskey, and many other fantastic men and women who you’ll probably recognize.  I cannot believe this film is not getting a wide release!  (Is the I-can’t-believe-they-got-away-with-it dirty title holding the film back??)

They Came Together tells the story of the torturous path to romance followed by made-for-one-another couple Joel (Paul Rudd) and Molly (Amy Poehler).  I really don’t want to tell you anything more than that, because the fun of the film is watching hapless Joel and Molly stumble through every single cliche romantic comedy plot-twist that you could possibly think of.

It’s really quite brilliant.  There are some very specific references (I myself was very taken by the film’s version of the trip to meet the wealthy Christian in-laws from Annie Hall) and also a lot of more generalized messing around with the types of scenes we have all seen a million times in romantic comedies.  (The way Joel and his brother each give a tender “thanks” to one another after a heart-felt moment had me in stitches.)  There’s some nerdy clever humor in the film and also some very low-brow, silly humor.  There are a few very literal scenes that would have felt at home in Airplane! (such as the moment in which Joel and his bartender go through a “you can say that again” routine about ten times).  There are also some extremely random digressions (such as a stunningly bizarre sequence in which Joel’s boss is unable to unzip his super-hero Halloween costume when he has to go to the bathroom).  Not every one of these jokes lands, but there are always about ten more jokes coming right on its heels, so I found myself laughing pretty consistently throughout.

The film has a playful, anything-for-a-laugh approach that at times can make the film’s narrative feel choppy, but which I found quite endearing.  There’s one moment when we suddenly discover that Molly has a young son, which provides a great opportunity to get this film’s silly version of the classic romantic comedy moment in which … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Edge of Tomorrow

July 7th, 2014

While humanity wages a bitter war against a race of alien invaders nicknamed the Mimics, Major William Cage works for the military as a television-friendly recruiter, encouraging young men and women to enlist in the fight.  But when he finds himself assigned to the front, Cage panics and tries to bribe his way out of his orders.  This backfires spectacularly, resulting in his being stripped of his rank and assigned to a unit of front-line grunts.  Despite his protestations, he’s strapped into an exo-suit, a complex piece of military hardware he hasn’t a clue how to operate, and is dropped into the thick of the counter-offensive against the aliens.  But the offensive is a catastrophe, the human forces are wiped out, and Cage is killed.  Then Cage wakes up and it’s the morning of that day, the day of the offensive.  He lives the whole day again only to find himself once again killed by the aliens.  And then he wakes up again back at the start of that same day.  Over and over again.

Based on the Japanese novel All You Need is Kill, the film Edge of Tomorrow (written by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth, and directed by Doug Liman) is very much a sci-fi version of Groundhog Day.  This is something of a double-edged sword, because while the idea of an action-packed, hard sci-fi version of Groundhog Day is a tantalizing idea and a juicy hook, it also gives the film’s structure a bit of a feeling of been-there, done that.  Groundhog Day is a phenomenal film, and I don’t think any film could tell that particular story any better than it does.

Luckily, while Edge of Tomorrow also tells the story of a self-centered jerk who learns to become a better man while living the same day over and over and over again, it’s different enough that, to me, it succeeds in standing on its own two feet as its own story.

In this film, the survival of humanity rests in Cage’s hands, as he must find a way to not only understand what is happening to him but also to use that to in some way defeat the seemingly unbeatable aliens.  That gives the film a narrative momentum, and it means that the intensity continues to raise after each of Cage’s repeated deaths after deaths after deaths.  It also means that, whereas in Groundhog Day the explanation for Phil’s being trapped in a time-loop was unimportant, here it is of critical importance that Cage discovers what is happening to him and why, and how he can find a way to control it.

Tom Cruise is great in the film.  As always, Mr. Cruise … [continued]