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Josh Reviews Madi, the Graphic Novel Conclusion to Duncan Jones’ Moon Trilogy

September 15th, 2021

Duncan Jones has described his 2018 film Mute as the second part in trilogy of loosely-connected sci-fi films set in the universe of his breakout 2009 film Moon.  Mr. Jones has spoken of being unsure that he’d be able to raise the funds to make his third planned film; instead, last year he and co-writer Alex de Campi launched a kickstarter to create a graphic novel of this story.  Madi: Once Upon a Time in the Future is a 260 page graphic novel published by Z2 Comics that is available here from that publisher or here from Amazon.

Madi is set in the near future; it introduces us to a young woman named Madi, a former British soldier who has had much of her body replaced with cybernetics so as to be a better soldier.  Madi is no longer in the military, but she’s still paying off the cost of those implants, and so she and several of her fellow enhanced former soldiers have become a group of mercenaries for hire.  After a job goes wrong, Madi goes off on her own and gets herself hired by the head of a corporation to steal secrets from a rival company.  Those secrets turn out to be embedded in a cybernetically-enhanced young boy named Dean.  Rather than turn him over to be taken apart, Madi and Dean and a hacker named Ted wind up on the run.

I quite enjoyed Madi!  This would make an awesome movie.  As it is, it’s an extremely enjoyable graphic novel.  (Click here for an in-depth interview with Duncan Jones & Alex de Campi in which they discuss the decision to create Madi as a graphic novel, and the process of doing so.)

I love the world-building in the book.  The story is set in a futuristic world that has lots of fun details and idiosyncrasies to be discovered.  At the same time, the tale of battling corporations who treat people as disposable feels extremely relevant.  That’s a compelling balance!  I love exploring the world of this story.  Clearly a lot of thought was put into creating and developing this near-future setting.  The world of Madi feels real and thought-out in a way that enhances the best sci-fi stories, in any media.

Madi is set in the same world as Moon and Mute, but the stories are completely stand-alone.  The connections are actually extremely tiny, little more than seeing the “fly meal” packages (fast-food delivered by drones) that we saw in Mute.  However, having seen those prior films, particularly Mute, it’s fun for me to see how, for example, what we glimpsed of a future city in Mute (in that case, Berlin) is expanded … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Mute, the Second Film in Duncan Jones’ “Moon Trilogy”

I was blown away by Moon, Duncan Jones’ 2009 directorial debut.  It’s a fantastic original sci-fi film, featuring Sam Rockwell in a terrific leading performance.  (Well, actually multiple terrific leading performances… watch the movie!)  Unfortunately, I haven’t been nearly as taken by the follow-up films directed by Mr. Jones that I have seen, such as Source Code and Warcraft.  In 2018, Mr. Jones’ film Mute was released on Netflix.  I was excited.  I’m always interested in original sci-fi premises, and the film looked like it had an incredible cast.  Even better, Mr. Jones described Mute as a “spiritual sequel” to Moon, and so of course I was eager too see what that meant.  But Mute’s reviews were atrocious, and for one reason or another I never caught up with the film until recently.

The titular mute is Leo, played by Alexander Skarsgard.  Leo was horribly mangled in a boating accident as a boy, rendering him unable to speak.  He works as a bartender in a futuristic Berlin, and is in a relationship with one of the waitresses at the bar, Naadirah (Seyneb Saleh).  When Naadirah vanishes, Leo begins a relentless hunt through the scuzzy underbelly of the city in an attempt to find her.  This brings him into contact with Cactus Bill (Paul Rudd), an AWOL American G.I. working as a surgeon for a local crime-boss, as well as Bill’s scumbag friend and fellow surgeon Duck (Justin Theroux), and many other sketchy and dangerous characters.

I really wanted to like this film; I was hoping that it’s bad reputation was unearned.  It’s definitely not a catastrophe, but unfortunately in the end I felt it was a misfire.  It just didn’t work for me, though there was a lot that I enjoyed.

I loved the film’s imaginative futuristic setting: the cool, gritty, dirty, Blade Runner-esque future Berlin.  The film and all of its sets/locations were beautifully well-designed.  The world-building is top-notch.  The film is set in an unnamed near-future year, and I loved that what we saw of Berlin was futuristic but at the same time very real and grounded.  That was very cool.  This is a much larger-scale film than Moon, and it’s fun to see Mr. Jones and his team stretch their wings to bring this sci-fi setting to life.  I’m sure this film was made on a budget that’s a fraction of a big studio epic, and Mr. Jones and his team really made the most of their resources.  The film looks great.

The film’s cast is strong.  Alexander Skarsgard cuts an imposing and memorable figure as Leo.  Mr. Skarsgard’s expressive face helps us bring us inside this silent and closed-off character.  Paul Rudd … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Bad Batch Season One

September 7th, 2021

I’m a big fan of the animated Star Wars series The Clone Wars and Rebels.  There’s a lot of terrific Star Wars storytelling in those series.  It’s a huge section of the Star Wars story that remains under the radar for many Star Wars fans.  (Though that’s starting to change, with many characters and story-elements from those animated series being incorporated into the second season of The Mandalorian…)  When Dave Filoni and his team were able to return to The Clone Wars and present a proper final season of that show (which had been cancelled back in 2013 when Lucasfilm was sold to Disney) onto Disney+, the first story-line introduced the Bad Batch: a group of unusual clones whose mutations made them different than the regular Clone troopers.  (This story had been written for The Clone Wars before it was cancelled; I’d actually watched those four episodes in rough animated form back in 2015, when they found their way onto the internet.)  Now, The Bad Batch, the new animated series for Disney+, focuses on this group of Clones, and explores what happened to them in the days after the fall of the Republic and the rise of the Empire.

I liked but didn’t love the Bad Batch characters when they were introduced on The Clone Wars.  They were fun characters, but I wasn’t exactly clamoring for them to be the center of a spin-off show.  However, I was overjoyed when The Bad Batch show was announced.  I was excited to see Dave Filoni and his team continue to tell more great Star Wars animated stories, and I think this time period is a fertile ground for stories.

I quite enjoyed the first sixteen-episode season of The Bad Batch, though it didn’t match the highs of the fourth and final season of Star Wars Rebels or the brilliant final episodes of The Clone Wars.  This first season felt more like the early seasons of those shows rather than the greatness to which they both eventually reached.  On the one hand, that makes sense.  It takes time for a show to develop.  On the other hand, I must admit to being a little disappointed that The Bad Batch opted for a more episodic formula and one whose storytelling seemed aimed more towards a younger demographic.  I enjoyed watching every episode of this first season, but it didn’t reach the emotional intensity I’d been hoping for.

The animation is spectacular; easily besting any previous Star Wars animation.  The lighting, in particular, has taken a huge leap forward from the previous animated shows.  There are sequences in this series that were gorgeous and memorable in a way that had me … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Loki Season One!

Loki picks up the thread of the alternate Loki who, in Avengers: Endgame, picks up the Tesseract and escapes after our heroes bungle their “time heist.”  This “Variant” Loki quickly finds himself apprehended by the TVA — the Time Variance Authority — a bureaucracy tasked with keeping the timeline secure and correct.  TVA agent Mobius (Owen Wilson) attempts to convince Loki to help the TVA track down a villain who is attacking their agents — who is apparently yet another Loki variant.

Marvel Studios’ third TV show for Disney+ is another winner, and at this point I have completely accepted these TV shows as essential pieces of the larger MCU.  I feel rather spoiled, actually.  Now, instead of waiting months and months between new MCU feature films, we can get new installments on a weekly basis?  I am completely in.

Loki is a delight.  I think it’s my favorite of the Marvel Disney+ series so far!  (Though I’ve really enjoyed all of them, so there’s not an easy winner.)

The show was created by Michael Waldron, who wrote several of the episodes.  (Mr. Waldron was a writer for Rick and Morty and wrote the script for the upcoming Doctor Strange: In the Multiverse of Madness film.)  All six episodes were directed by Kate Herron.  I was very impressed by the writing and direction of this series.  Everything seemed to click, even better than they did in WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.  This was an impressive achievement all around.  I love that we’re getting feature-film quality product each week in Disney+!!

Tom Hiddleston was great right from minute one (the first Thor movie) as Loki, and he’s only gotten better and better — and the character richer and richer.  Because this Variant Loki begins as the villainous version of Loki from the first Avengers film, I worried that we might lose some of the wonderful development the character has gotten in subsequent films.  Thankfully, the show finds a way to quickly make this Variant Loki the most interesting version of the character we’ve seen to date.  I love the journey Loki goes on in these six episodes.  It’s fun to see him challenged and put in his place — Mr. Hiddleston is fantastic at showing Loki getting his bluster punctured — while still remaining the slightly dangerous character he’s always been.  I’m glad they didn’t file away all of his sharp edges.

Owen Wilson is a magnificent addition to the MCU as TVA agent Mobius.  He is an absolute delight pretty much every second he’s on screen.  Mr. Wilson’s comedic timing serves the series very well.  At the same time, he gives Mobius … [continued]

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News Around the Net (UPDATED)

August 31st, 2021

At long last, here’s the first trailer for Spider-Man: No Way Home:

Looks like Disney & Marvel opted to skip a traditional teaser and jump right into a full trailer.  I can’t believe this movie is only a few months away!

Jon Stewart is returning to TV!  (Sort of.)  Here’s a teaser:

Here’s the first real trailer for FX’s upcoming adaptation of Brian K. Vaughan & Pia Guerra’s comic book series Y: The Last Man:

I loved the comic book series, so I’m interested to see if this show is any good.

This is a wild trailer for the upcoming Star Wars: Visions anthology series:

I’m very curious to see this…

Sad news that author Jonathan Rinzler has passed away at a too-young age.  Mr. Rinzler was the author of numerous incredible books exploring the making of the original Star Wars trilogy, the Indiana Jones films, Alien, Planet of the Apes and many more.  Allow me to recommend The Making of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back as an awesome way to dive into his work.

This is exciting — the complete series of Superman: The Animated Series is finally being released on blu-ray!!  This follow up to Batman: The Animated Series is a terrific show, one of the very best non-comic book depictions of Superman ever made.

Here’s a first look at Kevin Smith’s upcoming Clerks III.  It’s been years (decades) since I loved a Kevin Smith film, but I still have a lot of love in my heart for his early films (Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back).  Can he recapture the magic with a new Clerks film?  I’m hoping for the best…

This is fun news: they’re making a documentary series based on the podcast Smartless, hosted by Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes, and Will Arnett.  I love the podcast, so I’m eager to see this documentary series!  (Though, what the heck is Discovery+…?  I must admit I’ve never heard of that streaming service…)

Sign me up to read Mel Brooks’ newly-announced memoir, All About Me! (that’s a great title) when it’s published…!

I’ve loved the past several Mission: Impossible films, and this description of a massive new stunt they’ve cooked up for the seventh film sounds like fun!  I can’t wait to see it!

So, it’s really true, a new Fletch film is actually happening??  Apparently Greg Mottola’s Confess, Fletch has wrapped filming!  Jon Hamm is playing Fletch?  I can’t wait to see this — I really hope it’s good!

Is Francis Ford Coppola finally going to get to make his long-in-the-works film Megalopolis?  I certainly hope so.  I’d love to see it someday…

Click here [continued]

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Josh Reviews Who Are You, Charlie Brown?

August 26th, 2021

Who Are You, Charlie Brown? is a lovely short documentary on Apple TV+, exploring the life of Charles Schultz and the development of his classic Peanuts comic strip and its characters.  The documentary was produced by Ron Howard & Brian Grazer’s Imagine Documentaries and directed by Michael Bonfiglio.

The film is narrated by Lupita Nyong’o, whose beautiful voice is guides us through a concise summary of the life and career of Charles Schultz, the man everyone called “Sparky”.  The film features some great archival interviews with Mr. Schultz himself, and a wealth of new interviews.  It’s interesting and insightful to hear from many of the people who knew and worked with Mr. Schultz, including his widow Jean.  It’s also great fun to hear from an array of successful creative people who loved Peanuts, including Drew Barrymore, Al Roker, Kevin Smith, Billie Jean King, Paul Feig, Ira Glass, Chip Kidd, Lynn Johnston (writer/artist of For Better or For Worse, an iconic comic strip in its own right and a woman who deserves her own documentary feature) and many others.

To my surprise, the documentary aspects of this film were intercut with a new animated Charlie Brown story, in which he struggles to write a school essay answering the question of “Who am I?”.  I quite enjoyed these animated sequences.  The animation style was modern but simple, with beautiful backgrounds and smooth animation.  The animation had a modern look but it was also very much in the style of the classic Charlie Brown animated specials that I loved watching when I was a kid.  The characters and sound effects matched my memory of those old cartoon specials.  They did a great job blending a modern approach with the classic “feel” of those old animated specials.  And I must admit I was surprised by how happy I felt seeing all of the classic Peanuts gang brought to (animated) life again!

My complaint about the film is that it’s too short, and far more superficial than I had hoped.  The actual film is only about fifty-some minutes long, and with all of the animated segments that doesn’t leave much time to actually dig too deeply into Mr. Schultz’s remarkable life and career.  Time and again I’d be enjoying a sequence and then it would end and we’d cut back to an animated segment; as much as I enjoyed those animated segments, I really wish we’d been able to spend more time exploring Mr. Schultz and the development of Peanuts.  For instance, the film only spends about a minute on the classic Peanuts animated specials.  I’d have loved to have learned more about how they came about; how involved was Mr. Schultz in their production; … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Justice Society: World War II

August 23rd, 2021

In the latest DC animated direct to DVD/blu-ray film, Justice Society: World War II, the Flash winds up zapped from present day back to World War II. There he encounters the Justice Society, a group of superheroes led by Wonder Woman who are fighting alongside the Allies in Europe.

I thought this was a solid, if perhaps unspectacular, film.  I liked the WWII setting.  That was a fun departure from the usual tone of these DC animated films, and there were some cool combat set pieces.  I particularly enjoyed the initial big battle in a smashed French village.  Have I seen that sort of thing before, in Band of Brothers and many other WWII films?  Yes, for sure.  But it was still very well executed with some exciting action animation and gorgeous backgrounds.

From the film’s title and cover art, I wasn’t expecting this to be a Flash story!  So that was a surprise, but not an unpleasant one.  Matt Bomer (who previously voiced Clark Kent/Superman in the 2013 animated film Superman: Unbound)  was great as the voice of Barry/Flash, and the filmmakers did a nice job exploring Barry’s character through this story. That first picnic scene with Iris did a nice job at depicting the basic conflict between Barry’s superhero life and private life.  And I was pleased to see Iris depicted as a person of color, as she often has been on TV and film recently.

I enjoyed that Wonder Woman was such a major character in the film. I really dug Stana Katic’s voice work as Diana.  It’s interesting how several recent DC stories, across different media, have embraced the idea that Diana was around decades before the “present day” of the DCU.  (In the 2017 Wonder Woman feature film, Diana entered man’s world during World War I; the most recent “Infinite Frontier” relaunch of the DC comic book continuity has taken the same approach.)  It’s fun to see Diana kicking ass during WWII.  I like that this film embraced the idea of Diana as a warrior and a leader.  I love seeing the character in such a central role, and depicted with such strength.

I also enjoyed seeing the other Justice Society characters depicted on-screen: Hourman, Black Canary, Hawkman, etc.  We didn’t get to know any of these characters that well, but they were interesting enough for the screen time they got.

I really enjoyed Chris Diamantopoulos (Silicon Valley) as Steve Trevor.  I loved the film’s depiction of the dynamic between Steve and Wonder Woman.

The film was a little choppy, particularly in the opening minutes.  The opening credits were created in a very reto, old-school style, which I liked.  Then we … [continued]

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Star Trek: Death in Winter

After reading the nine-book “A Time To…” series, which was set in the year prior to the events of Star Trek: Nemesis, the (very terrible) final TNG film, I decided to continue on and re-read one of Pocket Books’ first TNG novels set immediately AFTER the events of Nemesis: Michael Jan Friedman’s Death in Winter, which was originally published back in 2005.

While the Enterprise is in drydock, getting repaired after the terrible damage the ship suffered in the battle with Shinzon in Nemesis, Dr. Crusher has gotten started as the new head of Starfleet Medical.  Only a week later, however, she’s swept up in a secret mission to the Romulan-controlled planet of Kevratas, which is suffering from a terrible plague that Dr. Crusher had been involved with handling decades ago.  The Federation is hopeful that Dr. Crusher can help the Kevrata, which would be a humanitarian accomplishment and also help the Kevtarans to embrace the Federation and lift off the shackles of Romulan control.  But those hopes are dashed when Dr. Crusher is captured by the Roman Sela.  And so Captain Picard and several of his and Jack Crusher’s old colleagues from the Stargazer set off on a rescue mission… and Picard and Crusher will finally confront their long-submerged feelings for one another.

I didn’t at all like this book when I first read it.  The book was billed as being the story that would finally move the Picard-Crusher romance forward.  (Although their sexual tension was introduced right at the beginning of TNG, the show mostly ignored it after those early episodes.  And when the show did finally address their romantic interest in one another again, in the seventh series episode “Attached,” they STILL refused to develop any sort of actual romantic relationship between these two.)  But I was disappointed that in this book, this nothing actually happened between Picard and Crusher (who spend most of the novel separated) until the final pages.  So the book felt like all build-up but no payoff!  On top of that, I wasn’t that interested in all of the goings-on with Picard’s old Stargazer crew-members; I felt Worf and Geordi were ignored; and I have never found Sela to be an interesting or credible threat.  (She’s defeated here just as easily as she was in every on-screen TNG appearance.)

Re-reading this book now, though, I liked it a lot more than I originally did!

I really liked the look into Beverly’s past, especially the chapters of her as a young girl, which showed not only the start of her interest in medicine, but also her personal connection to the plague affecting the Kevratans.  (I also enjoyed seeing Beverly’s grandmother Felisa Howard, who was … [continued]

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