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Captain America: The Winter Soldier

April 24th, 2014
New comics posted daily, Monday through Thursday!

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April 23rd, 2014

Directed by Zak Knutson and Joey Figueroa, the new documentary Milius shines a spotlight on a fascinating character, the screenwriter and director John Milius.  In the seventies, Milius was part of a tight group of friends and filmmakers — including George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, and Steven Spielberg – who were about to revolutionize movie-making.  Milius found great success early-on as the screenwriter of the first two Dirty Harry movies.  He wrote the screenplay for Apocalypse Now, and he wrote Quint’s famous and powerful monologue about the U.S.S. Indianapolis in Jaws.  He eventually began directing films as well, and he wrote and directed Conan the Barbarian and Red Dawn.

This documentary is a fascinating and well-researched look at Mr. Milus’ life and career.  The early sections of the film chart Milus’ youth and how he discovered a love of film when his asthma washed him out of the military.  We dive deeply into the friendship between film-school buddies Lucas, Coppola, and Spielberg, and we get some great stories from the making of Mr. Milius’ films.

But, of course, what’s really great about Milius is the look at the character of John Milius himself.  Mr. Milius is a man about whom there are a lot of legends in Hollywood.  This big, bearded, bear of a man was well-known as a garrulous raconteur and outspoken personality.  He was said to be opinionated and stubborn, a gun-toting, motorcycle-riding right-winger.  (Rumor has it that John Goodman’s performance as Walter in The Big Lebowski was based directly on Milius.  Mr. Goodman denies that in the film, though one of my favorite moments in the documentary is when Mr. Milius’ kids laughingly recount seeing that movie for the first time and being stunned by the apparent recreation of their dad.)

The documentary is filled with great stories about John Milius.  We hear the famous tale of him pulling a gun on a studio exec during a meeting, and many others.  While I knew the famous story of Mr. Milius’ writing Quint’s speech for Jaws, I was also interested to learn how many other films he’d done uncredited script-doctoring for.  Most notably, it seems that Mr. Milius is responsible for many of Sean Connery’s best speeches in The Hunt for Red October.  Who knew??

It’s fascinating to watch the many interview subjects express different opinions as to whether the character that Milius presented to the world was really who he was or just that, a character he was putting on.

I was very impressed by the wealth of Hollywood power-players interviewed for the film.  Many well-known names appear to talk about Milius, including George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Martin … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Grand Budapest Hotel

April 21st, 2014

Ever since seeing The Royal Tenenbaums in theatres and being absolutely blown away, I’ve been a big fan of Wes Anderson.  Over the last few years, the filmmaker has been on a particularly special, can’t-do-any-wrong winning streak.  I thought Fantastic Mr. Fox was his strongest film since The Royal Tenenbaums (click here for my original review), then I fell just as deeply in love with Moonrise Kingdom (click here for my review), and now I’m here to tell you that his latest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, is an equally magnificent concoction.

The film chronicles the bond that forms between Gustav H. (Ralph Fiennes), the refined concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel — an expensive hotel high in the mountains of the fictional European nation of Zubrowka — and the young lobby boy, Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori).  The young Zero idolizes Gustav, who takes the lobby boy under his wing.  Gustav is a master of his profession, with a sixth sense as to how to provide his customers with what they need before they even realize they need it.  He also has a habit of sleeping with the wealthy, elderly women who frequent the hotel.  When one of his paramours, Madame D. (Tilda Swinton, under some impressive old-age make-up) dies, she leaves much of her estate to Gustav in her will (including, most notably, a beloved family heirloom, the painting called “Boy with Apple”).  This, of course, irritates her nasty children, who conspire to cause much trouble for the concierge.  

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a delightful romp, filled with a lot of humor and some terrific set-pieces.  The film is a historical drama and a murder mystery and a chase film and a prison break story and much more, all at once.  It’s also a surprisingly winsome, bittersweet piece of nostalgia for an idealized world that has passed.  The film is structured as a series of stories within stories, a structure than not only gives the film a bit of mind-bending fun but also emphasizes the nostalgic nature of the story being told.  We’re reminded repeatedly that the world of Gustav H. no longer exists, and that drapes the story in a layer of sadness, no matter how much fun we’re having as we watch his adventures.  I love the extra bit of emotional power that gives to the proceedings, and I was particularly taken by the specific note upon which Mr. Anderson chose to end the film.  It’s a surprisingly somber moment, and I loved it.

Wes Anderson has developed a very distinct visual style, and part of the secret of the success of his last several films in particular has been how well … [continued]

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Cerebus the Barbarian Messiah

Cerebus the Barbarian Messiah: Essays on the Epic Graphic Satire of Dave Sim and Gerhard is exactly what the book’s title promises.  It’s a collection of essays by different authors, attempting to take a serious, scholarly look at various aspects of Cerebus, Dave Sim & Gerhard’s 300-issue independent comic book masterpiece.  I found myself occasionally rolling my eyes at some of the overly verbose scholar-speak in the essays, but mostly I was delighted by this serious look at an important (albeit controversial) comic book work, and I found it a thrill to dive back into the deep, crazy waters of Cerebus.

For the uninitiated, Cerebus is a 300-issue-long black-and-white self-published comic book.  At first the series was written and drawn by Dave Sim by himself, but eventually he was joined by Gerhard as his partner on the art.  What began as a silly parody of Marvel Comics’ Conan series (illustrated at the time by Barry Windsor-Smith) evolved into an incredibly complex saga that dealt with politics and religion and male-female relationships.  If one were to sit down to read 300 consecutive issues of, say, Spider-Man or Batman or Superman, it would become quickly obvious that the stories, while having some continuity, couldn’t possibly represent events that could actually happen to a real character.  There might be the illusion of change, but ultimately all of these characters have to remain in a perpetual status quo.  Sim set out to do something completely different, to tell the story of the life a character — the titular Cerebus — in 300 issues, with the 300th issue chronicling the character’s death.  Over the course of twenty-six years, Sim and Gerhard did exactly that.

That alone would make Cerebus a jaw-dropping achievement.  I am hard-pressed to think of any example of long-form story-telling that can come close to matching this sisyphian effort of telling the story of Cerebus in monthly twenty-page installments over twenty-six years.  But there’s far more to Cerebus than just Sim and Gerhard’s endurance.  The story is at points hilarious and thrilling and infuriating.  It can shift from juvenile humor (when Cerebus is funny, it is VERY VERY funny) to incredible action-adventure to painfully sharp observations of marital discord.  The series features a wealth of fascinating characters and settings.  Cerebus is one of the most complex, fascinating examples of fantasy world-building ever made, rivaling J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Isaac Asimon’s Foundation, and George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones.

The series also pushed the boundaries of comic book art farther than any other series I can think of.  Sim and Gerhard experimented gloriously with page-layout, with different approaches to the combination of words and pictures and the use of large … [continued]

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This “Modern Seinfeld” twitter feed is pretty amusing.  I guess the premise is these guys are coming up with Seinfeld ideas, if the show was being made today.  This one really made me laugh: George gets dumped for being a “toilet texter.” GEORGE: “What else are you supposed to do in there?!” JERRY: “I can think of a couple things.”

This is awesome: A New Yorker’s Tour of Ghostbusters.

Did you catch the second Robot Chicken DC Special earlier this month?  So funny.  This DC All Access video contains some of the great bits, and a peek behind-the-scenes:

This article about Police Academy sort of makes me want to re-watch it!  I haven’t seen any of those films in YEARS, but Police Academy #1-4 were HUGE parts of my childhood!!

How Gravity should have ended:

A new animated Batman short by Bruce Timm (mastermind behind Batman: The Animated Series) in honor of Batman’s 75th anniversary?  And it’s a retro pulp adventure?  And Kevin Conroy voices Batman?  YES PLEASE!

The funniest thing about this new trailer for 24: Live Another Day is the “red-band” text that opens it:

I have absolutely zero interest in the film Sabotage, but this article’s description of star Josh Holloway as “America’s Sean Bean” made me laugh and laugh.  HAS Mr. Holloway actually lived to the end of a movie he’s been in…??

I learned about Operation: Paperclip as a kid from The X-Files.  It was real, and represents a fascinating (and morally ambiguous) era of American history.  I was pleased to see it referenced as part of the fictional S.H.I.E.L.D./Hydra back-story in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  More on Operation: Paperclip and the Marvel universe can be found here.… [continued]

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Josh Reviews Captain America: The Winter Soldier

April 7th, 2014

As Marvel Studios impresses yet again with another high quality super-hero film, one that honors and respects the source material while also being accessible to newbies and entertaining as a film in its own right, it’s easy to forget what a miracle this is.  There are so many ways that a character like Captain America could have been done so wrong.  Really, it’s so simple to imagine a million different terrible, pain-inducing versions of a Captain America movie.  So once again, bravo to Marvel mastermind Kevine Feige and his huge team of collaborators for giving life to another dynamite film.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is not perfect, but it’s a rollickingly entertaining film that I think would be fun for kids and adults alike.  After The Avengers (click here for my review), I wondered if I could ever again be satisfied by these heroes’ solo films, but with the one-two-three punch of Iron Man Three (click here for my review), Thor: The Dark World (click here for my review), and now Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I must say with no small degree of admiration that so far Marvel’s Phase Two (the films taking place after The Avengers and leading up to the next Avengers film, The Avengers: Age of Ultron) has been far more consistent than the much-admired Phase One.

Having been awoken in the twenty-first century, Captain America has continued to fight the good fight as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., but the array of cloak-and-dagger missions has left Steve Rogers feeling somewhat dissatisfied.  When he learns of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s new plan to use advanced technology and weaponry to take their strategy of eliminating threats before they happen to a whole new level, his dissatisfaction turns to distrust.  Soon Captain America finds himself on-the-run, a fugitive from S.H.I.E.L.D., and facing a powerful new enemy in the form of the Winter Soldier, a cybernetically-enhanced mercenary with a shocking tie to Cap’s past.

In a dramatic and savvy tonal shift from Captain America: The First Avenger’s nostalgic, pulp adventure tone, this sequel is a super-hero movie meets political thriller.  This is a really smart way to thrown Cap into a whole new kind of adventure in which the character’s inherent honesty and nobility is forced to confront the sticky complexity of twenty-first century threats to our freedom.  I loved this aspect of the film, and only wish the script had dug a little deeper into those shades of grey before spelling out for us exactly who the bad guys are.

Chris Evans is again fantastic as Steve Rogers/Captain America.  Probably the most important key to the success of all these Marvel movies has been … [continued]

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Star Trek Voyager: The Eternal Tide

This Star Trek Voyager novel, The Eternal Tide, is one I’d been dreading.

To my huge shock, I’ve found myself quite enjoying Kirsten Beyer’s post-finale series of Star Trek Voyager novels (click here for my review of Full Circle, here for my review of Unworthy, and here for my review of Children of the Storm).  I never much liked Voyager the TV show, but I’ve been intrigued by this series of novels, moving the Voyager characters beyond the universe-shaking events of David Mack’s epic novel trilogy Star Trek Destiny from several years back.  These Voyager novels by Kirsten Beyer have had a great mix of strong characters (Ms. Beyer has fleshed out the characters far more than they ever were on the TV show, and thankfully she has moved them all beyond the eternal-status-quo they were trapped in on the show) and some great new sci-fi stories and new concepts for alien species.  As opposed to the continuing series of post-finale Next Gen and Deep Space Nine novels, which have been written by a rotating series of authors, it’s interesting that Ms. Beyer has apparently been given full control (for now, at least) of the Voyager corner of the Trek universe.  Having one author write this series has given it a tight continuity and cohesiveness that has been particularly enjoyable for me, now, reading these books one after the other.

But while I’ve enjoyed the previous three Voyager books, I was not looking forward to this one.  Why?  Because of Kathryn Janeway’s face staring out at me from the book’s cover.

I adored the decision made, in Peter David’s Next Gen novel Before Dishonor (one of the books leading up to the big Destiny crossover) to kill off Captain Janeway.  It was a shocking move, one I did not see coming, and it was a thrilling raising-of-the-stakes as the threat of the Borg grew in anticipation of the massive Borg invasion of the Alpha Quadrant that occurred in Destiny.  More than that, the manner of Janeway’s death — her arrogance allowing her to wind up assimilated by the Borg Queen — seemed to me a support of everything I’d ever disliked about the Janeway character.

One of many reasons why I never took to Voyager was the character of Captain Janeway.  I like Kate Mulgrew.  She’s a great actress, and clearly capable of terrific work (just look at how amazing she is on Orange is the New Black).  So Ms. Mulgrew wasn’t the problem.  Nor did I have any issue with a female being the lead of a Star Trek series.  I love plenty of female-centric shows and movies, and the strong … [continued]

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Josh Reviews the Final Episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars

April 2nd, 2014

Shockingly, the animated TV show Star Wars: The Clone Wars has, over the years, grown into a pretty terrific show and a fascinating expansion of the Star Wars saga.  When the animated film was released to theatres back in 2008, I skipped it.  I was totally soured on the prequels, and the animated project didn’t interest me at all.  The CG animation looked stiff and fake, and the project seemed too kid-focused to interest me.  When the series began airing on cartoon network, I avoided it at first, but eventually watched a few episodes.  It wasn’t great, but it was good enough to keep me periodically checking back in with the show.  There were a lot of episodes I missed, but I’d catch one here and there.  By the third or fourth season, I felt the quality had increased dramatically, and I started watching the show more regularly.  When it was announced at the end of the fifth season that the show was being cancelled, I actually found myself rather upset!

I was disappointed at the end of a show I’d been enjoying, and more to the point I was disappointed that the story was being left incomplete.  Half the fun of the show wasn’t just my enjoyment of the episodes themselves, but my growing interest in how all of the character-arcs and story-lines would be wrapped up, as the show inched closer and closer to the events of Episode III — which would, of course, mean the brutal, tragic deaths of all the show’s characters!  Just like the whole point of the prequels was to eventually get to the end of Episode III and the events of Anakin’s fall and the destruction of the Jedi, it feels like half the point of this show was to arrive at that same end, and to see the story cut down in the middle was extremely frustrating.  (I’ve read the show was planned to last eight seasons.)

It’s all the more painful that the show was cut down at its creative height, and for something as stupid as the corporate bottom line.  (From what I understand, once Lucasfilm was sold to Disney, Disney didn’t want to be locked into Cartoon Network’s ownership of the show.)  And the show really was at a creative height.  The animation had improved dramatically, to the point where I found the episodes to be quite gorgeous.  This show gave us some phenomenal fight sequences: massive space battles; complex planet-based fights on land, in the air, and in the sea; and some extraordinary lightsaber fights.  We really got to explore the universe of the Star Wars, and the epic conflict of the Clone Wars, far more than the … [continued]

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Catching Up on 2013: The Bling Ring

March 31st, 2014

Written and directed by Sofia Coppola, The Bling Ring is loosely based on the true story of a group of California teenagers who, in 2008-09, robbed the homes of a number of Hollywood celebrities including Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Rachel Bilson, and others.

Marc is a quiet boy, a new student at a California high school.  He makes friends with a girl, Rebecca, and the two of them start committing small crimes, from breaking into parked cars to, eventually, breaking into the house of one of Marc’s out-of-town acquaintances.  They realize they can do the same thing to the homes of celebrities by simply using the internet to determine when they’ll be out of town.  They and a group of other girls start breaking into the homes of various celebrities and stealing some of their clothes, shoes, jewelry, and more.  Eventually the crimes are reported and a media frenzy grows around “The Bling Ring.”

I’ve enjoyed all of Sofia Coppola’s films that I have seen, though there is a coldness I’ve found to most of them, a distance between the audience and the characters/events on-screen.  I find that I like her movies intellectually more than I love them.  I respect them as the works of a talented filmmaker, more than I feel an emotional attachment to them.  I found that to be very much the case with The Bling Ring.  I never quite found myself engaged with the characters on screen, though I thought the performances by the actors were all very solid, and I was fascinated by the film’s many potent critiques of today’s media-obsessed culture.

The film is a fascinating commentary on the way our culture is obsessed with celebrity.  Marc and Rebecca and their friends want to be like the celebrities they worship, and don’t see anything morally wrong about breaking into their homes and stealing their stuff.  These celebrities are in the public eye, therefore they belong, in a way, to these kids.  Paris Hilton’s things are already their things.  They (the kids) have a perfect right to waltz into these celebrities’ homes and take their things.  This is the idea of napster writ large.  These things are ours, we don’t have to pay for them.  We already own them.  More than that, we are ENTITLED to them.

These issues of celebrity and their public/private lives is also all tangled up with these kids’ connection to social media.  They follow these celebrities and learn all about them, including tracking their comings and goings, using the internet and social media.  Then, after breaking into their homes and stealing their stuff, they post photos of themselves on facebook wearing the stolen items.  These kids don’t think twice about … [continued]