The moment I read, months ago, that Bill Cosby would be releasing a new stand-up special, his first in thirty years, I immediately pre-ordered the DVD on Amazon. I am a huge Bill Cosby fan. I grew up listening to his records (particularly Bill Cosby is a Very Funny Fellow…Right! and I Started Out as a Child), and I think that Bill Cosby, Himself is far and away the greatest stand-up routine ever put to film.
So I was obviously excited at the prospect of stand-up material from the Cos. I knew that he’d been continuing to tour and perform over the past several decades. Jerry Seinfeld’s odyssey to see Cosby in the documentary Comedian is my favorite part of that film. But I hadn’t ever seen Mr. Cosby perform live, so I didn’t have any real idea what his stand-up was like these days. Could Cosby, in his late seventies, still be as funny as he was all those decades ago?
Sadly no. While I enjoyed watching it, Bill Cosby …Far From Finished is no Bill Cosby, Himself, nor does it hold a candle to his earlier records from the sixties or seventies. The material just isn’t as sharp, and there’s no question that Mr. Cosby has lost a few steps in terms of his delivery. Particularly in the first half of the special, I felt that he takes a long, long time to tell his stories, far longer than was necessary. This resulted in my actually being a little bit bored in that first half. I felt that the material that took him 45-50 minutes to get through could have been told in 20 (and would have been far punchier at that shorter length). It also results in a moment in which the audience actually gets ahead of Cosby during one of his bits, with several people shouting out the punchline before Cos gets to it, causing him to stop and say to the audience “let ME tell it!” It’s a funny moment and a deft recovery by Mr. Cosby, but the fact that the audience could get so far ahead of him, that they could so easily spot the punchline, is a mark of the performance’s problems.
There were also a number of times in which Mr. Cosby stumbled a little over his words. There was just a hint of sloppiness in his story-telling, and at times I felt it hindered him somewhat in delivering his punchlines. One example that comes to mind is a bit in which Cos is explaining how, while all wives like to consider themselves to be the “best friend” of their husbands, wives are in fact nothing like friends. He illustrates this … [continued]
This is fantastic: The Seinfeld reunion episode from Curb Your Enthusiasm season #7, edited together. Enjoy!
This is a great site that lists the various actors and actresses who played multiple characters in different Bond films. Great fun for the Bond fans out there!
Speaking of Bond, there was BIG NEWS last month that the James Bond movie producers and MGM have finally ended the nearly fifty-year-long legal battle with Kevin McClory, the co-writer of Thunderball. I’ve known about this rights conflict before, of course (it’s what led to another studio being able to make the competing Bond film, Never Say Never Again, that was released the same year as Octopussy), but what I didn’t realize was that this rights situation was what was preventing MGMN’s bond films from using Bloefeld or SPECTRE. My reviews of the Daniel Craig Bond films have been lamenting the absence of those two classic villains, and I am overjoyed at the idea that now the way is open for Bloefeld to be revealed as the head of Quantum, and/or for Quantum to be revealed as a branch of SPECTRE. I desperately hope the next Bond film walks through this now-open door!!
Hey, comic book fans: I’ve recently discovered two comic-book-related tumblrs that I am now obsessed with. First is John Byrne Draws, which is chock-full of absolutely gorgeous scans of Mr. Byrne’s original art from the decades that he has been working in the industry. There was a long, long time during which John Byrne was my very favorite comic book artist (and writer!), so this was a real treat. Then there is comic book writer Brian Michael Bendis’ tumblr, which is a showcase for two things: 1) amazing, extraordinary scans of classic comic book art from across the decades — work by many different artists from many different eras, being linked only by being some of the finest comic book art ever drawn, and 2) Bendis’ incredibly open, honest, funny and insightful Q & As with his fans. Both aspects of the tumblr are equally valuable — together, they’re an irresistible time-suck for me.
This is a fun article on 10 parts of the Indiana Jones films that bother the writer. I hugely agree with numbers 4 and 5. (Don’t worry, the article only focuses on the original Indy trilogy, rightly ignoring The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.)
This Star Trek reference-laden conversation between a Netflix employee and a customer is apparently real, and it is amazing.
This is a great article on two of my very favorite novels: Isaac Asimov’s The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun. Oh man do I love those two … [continued]
It’s taken me many months, but I have at last arrived at the end of my project re-reading Grant Morrison’s seven-year-long Batman epic.
You can follow these links to read my previous reviews of the last several years of Batman stories: Part 1 of Grant Morrison’s run on Batman, part 2 of Grant Morrison’s run on Batman, Batman: The Animated series’ Paul Dini’s run on Detective Comics, the post-death-of-Bruce-Wayne stories that culminated in Neil Gaiman’s Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?, the re-launch of the Bat-books under the Batman: Reborn banner, Part 3 of Grant Morrison’s run, the launch of the new Batman and Robin series, Part 4 of Grant Morrison’s run, Time and the Batman, Part 5 of Grant Morrison’s run, The Return of Bruce Wayne, The Long Road Home, the story of the return of Bruce Wayne to life and the DCU, and Part 6 of Grant Morrison’s run, Batman Incorporated.
I am excited to dive into an analysis of the end of Mr. Morison’s story, issues #1-13 of Batman Incorporated volume 2. But first, a warning: there are spoilers ahead. There is just no way to discuss this final run of issues without talking about some of the major plot twists. I will try not to spoil every single twist and turn of the stories, but I’m going to have to mention a few of the big events. These developments are, I think, pretty well known to comic book fans, even if they didn’t read these specific issues. But still, fair warning: SPOILERS ahead, so proceed at your own risk.
In the middle of the final arc of Grant Morrison’s storyline, the DC Comics universe was completely rebooted, re-starting all of its series back at issue #1 and re-starting all of its characters and their story-lines. This “New 52″ universe-wide reboot was intended to be a massive blank slate for all of DC’s characters, so that they could tell new stories, unburdened by decades of continuity. Unfortunately, Grant Morrison’s long-running story was just nearing its conclusion! What would happen?
Well, his Batman Incorporated series was cancelled and re-started with a new #1. Fortunately, DC editorial seems to have been willing to turn a blind eye to what Mr. Morrison was doing in his series, and while this new Batman Incorporated title was theoretically set in the “New 52″ rebooted continuity, it’s actually way more complicated than that. The most major plot twist in the story, the death of Damian Wayne, was referenced in all of the other “New 52″ Bat-books, which dealt with the impact on the Bat-family on Robin’s death. So, in that respect, the events … [continued]
As a humongous fan of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, I am delighted by how central the DS9 storylines and characters have become to the continuing, interconnected series of Star Trek novels, in particular this new five-book crossover series, “The Fall.”
In the first installment, David R. George III’s Revelation and Dust, Starfleet finally brought on-line the new, Federation-designed and built DS9. The celebration, though, was marked by terrible tragedy, an event that threatened to spill the tentative peace in the Alpha Quadrant back over into brutal interstellar war. In the middle of the book, Cardassian Castellan (the head of their government) Rakena Garan was forced to depart DS9, in order to return home to deal with unrest back on Cardassian Prime. She then dropped out of the book. Una McCormack’s magnificent The Crimson Shadow picks up the story from there.
Ms. McCormack has become the go-to writer in Pocket Books’ stable of Trek writers when it comes to dealing with Cardassians. One of her first major pieces of writing for Pocket Books was the Cardassian novella The Lotus Flower, in Worlds of Deep Space Nine back in 2004. That was a terrific story, and ever since then most of Ms. McCormack’s works have focused on Cardassians, in particular her phenomenal novel The Never-Ending Sacrifice.
Like that book, The Crimson Shadow draws its title from a Cardassian novel mentioned on DS9 (and kudos again to Ms. McCormack for that wonderful little bit of continuity). It’s hard to believe, but this book is actually set ten years following the series finale of DS9. I knew that the Trek series of books was moving forward in time — that’ one of my favorite things about Pocket’s Trek novels from the past decade-plus, how they have fearlessly moved the over-all story forward beyond the finales of the 24th century-set Trek TV shows. But I hadn’t quite realized how much time had passed in the books.
The Crimson Shadow is an engaging study of what has been happening on Cardassia in the previous ten years, following the defeat of the Dominion (and their final, great purge that laid waste to most of the planet and killed hundreds of millions of Cardassians). With Federation aid, the Cardassians have slowly been rebuilding, both the physical structures of their cities (buildings, roads, etc.) and their very society. Cardassia has been struggling with democracy, an entirely new concept for its citizens who had been ruled by the military for so long. The road has been rocky, and Ms. McCormack’s story doesn’t gloss over the difficulties this new experiment in democratic self-government represents, nor does she cheat and give us overly-easy answers in the end.
The focus of … [continued]
Peter Jackson reinvented what DVDs could be when he released his extended edition of The Fellowship of the Ring, a month before the release of The Two Towers in theatres. I had fallen quite in love with The Fellowship of the Ring after having seen it many, many times in theatres. (I have never seen a movie more times in theatres than I saw Fellowship.) I loved the film. When I read that an extended edition was being released on DVD, I was of course excited. I had seen (and loved) previous home-video director’s cuts of movies (James Cameron’s Aliens and The Abyss come to mind). But I was not prepared for how bowled over I would be by the Extended Edition of The Fellowship of the Ring. I still remember watching it, that first time, and being shocked at how complete a re-edit of the film it was. This wasn’t just the same movie with a few additional scenes added in. The entire movie had been re-worked and enhanced. Particularly in that first 45 minutes, I felt like I was watching a totally different movie, with so many little shots and moments woven into the fabric of the film that I had already loved and known so well.
That Extended Edition of The Fellowship of the Ring quickly became the definitive version of the film for me. I hardly ever watched the theatrical cut again. For the next few years, the release of Mr. Jacksons’ Extended Editions of his Lord of the Rings films became a vital part of the experience of anticipating and enjoying these movies, for me. I anticipated the DVD release of the Extended Editions almost as much as the initial theatrical release, because it seemed to me that it was the Extended Editions that represented the full, true versions of these films. These days, when I re-watch the films, I only watch the Extended Editions.
And so I was excited when I heard that Peter Jackson’s first Hobbit film, An Unexpected Journey, would be receiving an Extended Edition release of its own. But I must confess to not being quite as deliriously impatient for this release as I was for the extended LOTR films. As I wrote in my review of An Unexpected Journey, that film’s theatrical release already felt to me like an Extended Edition. Not just because of its lengthy run-time, but because of the film’s structure, which seemed to me to be overstuffed with the types of digressions and moments of back-story that characterized the LOTR Extended Editions. So how much could the film be further Extended?
Not by much, it turns out. The Extended Edition of The Hobbit: An Unexpected … [continued]
Last week I decided one intense man-faces-death-at-sea movie just wasn’t enough for me. After watching Robert Redford’s harrowing performance in All is Lost (click here for my review), I went and saw Paul Greengrass’ Captain Phillips.
Tom Hanks plays the titular captain in this based-on-a-true-story of the shipping boat that was hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009, eventually resulting in the ship’s captain being held hostage by the pirates in their lifeboat before ultimately being rescued by navy SEALS.
I’ve read a little bit of questioning as to how true-to-the-facts this heroic portrayal of Captain Phillips is. Perhaps wisely, Mr. Greengrass avoided opening this film with the standard “based-on-a-true-story” text caption or something similar. That, and the tremendous skill with which this nail-biter of a thriller has been crafted, allowed me to sit back and enjoy the film without spending the whole run-time questioning it’s veracity. (It should also be noted that Mr. Greengrass has strongly defended the accuracy of his film.)
Paul Greengrass has become extraordinarily skilled at creating intensely suspenseful, almost documentary-feeling thrillers (that are either based on real events, or that feel like they COULD have been). He’s so good at this, in fact, that the are quite a few of his films that I have chosen not to see, because they just seemed too tough to watch. (For example, though I am sure it was made with tremendous craft, I can’t imagine a scenario in which I would ever consider watching United 93. It just seems too painful.)
But I love Tom Hanks, and his involvement made me push aside any worries that this movie would be too stomach-churning for me to see. I’m glad I did, because Captain Phillips is a very skillfully-made film. It’s every bit as edge-of-your-seat intense as I had expected, and contains some wonderful performances.
In particular, I was quite taken by the work of the men playing the four main Somali pirates. All four are extraordinary. These non-actors perform better than most highly-paid Hollywood superstars. Their work is extraordinary, so real and so immediate. In addition to their strong work, I credit perfect casting and great direction by Mr. Greengrass to help fine and hone such wonderful performances.
Then there is Tom Hanks, so is so good so consistently that he makes it look easy. For much of the film Mr. Hanks keeps his performance very reined in. his Captain Phillips is a strong, confident man, but also internal, not prone to demonstrative speeches or big emotional explosions. (The sharp scrip by Billy Ray, based on the book by Captain Phillips himself and Stephan Talty, is a significant factor.) Probably my favorite piece of performance from Mr. … [continued]
Last week I took in not one, but two intense stories featuring great peril at sea: All is Lost and Captain Phillips.
Today I am here to talk about All is Lost. The film is a fascinating exercise in technique, as it depicts only one single human being on camera from start to finish: Robert Redford as the never-named protagonist. The movie opens when Robert Redford’s character awakens aboard his small but nice boat, out at sea. A Chinese shipping container has bumped up against Redford’s boat, puncturing the hull. Mr Redford is able to extricate his boat from the lost shipping container, and quite ingeniously he is able to make a decent repair of the hole in his vessel. But it turns out that the water that came into his boat through the hole has fried his computer and radio, and indeed all the boat’s electronics. A terrible storm that comes a few days later takes his situation from bad to worst, and soon Mr. Redford’s character is in a desperate struggle for survival, alone at sea.
All is Lost is very well-crafted and extraordinarily well-directed. The film is haunting in its austere beauty and intense, you-are-there no-frills realism. I am very impressed by the work of writer/director J.C. Chandor (whose work I was unfamiliar with prior to seeing this film). All is Lost is a bold undertaking of style and format, but while those aspects provide an intriguing hook for the film, the movie is more than just an interesting exercise. It breathes as a complete, viscerally-affecting story.
All of that is because of the incredible skill of Robert Redford. Mr. Redford is the reason to see this movie. At 77 years of age, Mr. Redford is still an actor of tremendous skill, and this is a powerhouse of a performance. Not only is he the only person on-screen for the entire run-time of the movie, but after a short opening monologue that we hear over blackness at the very start of the movie, there are less than ten lines of dialogue in the whole rest of the film. The entire story of the movie plays almost completely over Mr. Redford’s face, and in his eyes. It is wonderful.
One of the film’s stylistic quirks that I alluded to above is that the story starts at the exact moment that Mr. Redford’s character’s ordeal begins, and ends the moment that ordeal ends. This is a very interesting approach. By telling us nothing of Mr. Redford’s life before the accident that punctures a hole in his boat, the film keeps much of his character and his past a secret from us. This focuses us in on the intense experience … [continued]
I read Orscon Scott Card’s novel Ender’s Game when I was in college, and I loved it. I was intrigued by the character of Ender, and captured by the tough, brutal world Mr. Card had created. I of course kept reading and, though I know I am in the minority on this one, I loved Mr. Card’s exceedingly weird, lengthy follow-up novel, Speaker For the Dead. That books feels like it is a part of a whole different series than Ender’s Game. It’s got to be one of the most bizarre sequels I have ever encountered, in that it takes the story in an entirely different direction. While Speaker For the Dead is something of a letdown for people looking for a follow-up to the events of Ender’s Game, I think it’s a pretty great sci-fi novel when taken on its own. I read Mr. Card’s next two Ender’s books, Xenocide and Children of the Mind, but by the end of that fourth book I had lost interest. When Mr. Card returned to the timeframe and setting of Ender’s Game with a new series of novels, I was intrigued, but while Ender’s Shadow has been sitting on my bookshelf for about a decade, I have never gotten around to reading it.
I have been rooting for Ender’s Game to be made into a film since I first read it, almost twenty years ago. But paradoxically, as the film adaptation finally became a reality over the last year or two, my enthusiasm dimmed. I am not a fan of director Gavin Hood (although the world seems to disagree with me, I did not like his film Tsotsi, and X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a catastrophe of epic proportions), and the involvement of Bob Orci and Alex Kurtzman (whose scripts for J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek films have been poor, and their work on the Transformers films and Cowboys and Aliens has also been unfortunate in the extreme) worried me. So I did not enter the film adaptation of Ender’s Game with a lot of hope.
In some ways, then, I was pleasantly surprised that the bulk of the film is actually pretty good. There is a lot of the middle of the film that I quite enjoyed. However, the problem is that the first ten minutes and the last ten minutes are incredibly ham-handed and amateurish, and as a result leave the film crippled, just a mildly diverting adventure as opposed to the powerful sci-fi tale that this story should be.
Let’s start with the opening, which is just a mess of heavy-handed exposition and choppy scenes. Rather than focusing on letting us get to know this smart, intense, weird boy Ender, … [continued]