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Josh Reviews the First New Star Trek Short: “Runaways”

In the next few months, before the launch of Star Trek: Discovery season two, we’re going to get four new “Short Treks,” Star Trek short films.  I love this idea.  The people currently running CBS and Trek these days have made a number of statements to the press about how they want to have lots of Trek on CBS All Access, with multiple different projects in the planning stages.  My hope is that the next few years will see a lot of experimentation in terms of the type of Star Trek product we’ll get.  Rather than just one Star Trek show running for seven seasons, I’d love to see a mix of mini-series, TV movies, short films, and longer-running continuing series.  This would allow for the telling of all sorts of different styles of Star Trek shows, ideally spotlighting a rich variety of different Star Trek characters from across the previous series and eras, as well as the introduction of new characters and settings.  This would be very exciting for me as a Star Trek fan.  And so I was pleased by the announcement of these four short films, a dipping of the toe into the waters of possibilities for this franchise.

This first “Short Trek,” entitled “Runaways,” focuses on Cadet Tilly (Mary Wiseman).  Following a somewhat tense/awkward conversation with her overbearing mother, Tilly stumbles across an alien stowaway aboard the Discovery.  This alien turns out to be a young woman, who has run away from home for reasons that we will discover.  She and Tilly are able to forge an unexpected bond.

I thought “Runaways” was pretty great.  Running less than 15 minutes, “Runaways” tells a compact little story that is very satisfying.  It has a number of fun moments and interesting character beats for both Tilly and the new alien.

I enjoyed the spotlight on Tilly.  I wasn’t wild about this character when she was first introduced on Discovery, but she very quickly grew on me.  (Some day I will rewatch Discovery’s very uneven first season, and I’ll be interested to see if I think more highly of Tilly’s portrayal in those early episodes, now that I know the character better… or if I still feel that it took the show a few episodes to find this character.)  I loved seeing Tilly’s mom here in “Runaways.”  That one conversation sheds a world of light on who Tilly is and where she came from.  And Tilly’s adventure with the young alien woman gives a wonderfully efficient spotlight on everything that is interesting and unique about this character.

The young alien was also great.  Played wonderfully by Yadira Guevara-Prip, she has a great look (terrific makeup and prosthetic effects … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Annihilation

I have a huge amount of love for Alex Garland’s directorial debut, Ex Machina, which he also wrote.  If you haven’t seen that film, I exhort you to track it down immediately.  It’s a riveting piece of speculative fiction, with extraordinary performances by Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac, and Domhnall Gleeson.  I was excited to see Mr. Garland’s follow-up film, Annihilation, which he also wrote (adapting the novel by Jeff VanderMeer) and directed.  From the trailers, Annihilation looked like a larger-scale production than Ex Machina.  I was curious to see what Mr. Garland would do with a larger canvas (and budget) at his disposal.

I was concerned, though, by reports of behind-the-scenes trouble before the film’s release.  Apparently a poor test screening gave Skydance production (who co-financed the film along with Paramount) cold feet, and eventually the worldwide release for the film was truncated and certain distribution rights were sold to Netflix.  More details are here.  Mr. Garland expressed some disappointment at the Netflix deal, since he’d made the film to be seen in cinemas (but that’s a better result than the film getting re-edited over his objection).

After all this tumult, and after seeing wildly mixed reviews for the film, I was very curious to finally get to see it myself!

Immediately, I can see why this film had some people worried.  It’s a very bizarre film, and it does not unfold in the audience-pleasing manner that most wide-release sci-fi films do.

I’m somewhat lukewarm on the film myself.  There is a lot that I like about the film.  I respect the ambition of this cerebral story, and I love the cast of fantastic women.  It’s a gripping film, but in the end I didn’t feel the story came together the way that I’d hoped that a mystery-based film like this would.

This is a very different type of story than Ex Machina, but what the two films have in common is that both are very intellectual pieces of science fiction.  These are not shoot-em-up action-adventure sci-fi films.  Both are stories that begin in our “real” world and explore, thoughtfully and logically, what might unfold in the face of specific spectacular occurrences.  (I consider both films to be more speculative fiction than science fiction.)  But whereas Ex Machina was very contained — most of the scenes in the film are conversations between two characters, set in indoor rooms — Annihilation is a more expansive story.

Natalie Portman stars as Lena.  As the film opens, her military husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) has been missing for a year.  One day Kane unexpectedly shows up at their house, but he has been mysteriously changed.  As Lena digs into what befell … [continued]

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So, here’s our first real look at the new X-Men film, Dark Phoenix:

I really want this to be great, but I’m not yet feeling this one.  First of all, the continuity of these X-Men movies makes my head spin.  One of the things I loved about Days of Future Past was the way it adjusted the continuity of the previous films in order to undo some of the damage of The Last Stand and give these characters a happy ending.  Most relevant to this new Dark Phoenix movie was that, in the last moments of Days of Future Past, we saw that Jean Grey was still alive.  So I’m a bit flummoxed that they’ve continued making movies (X-Men: Apocalypse and now this one) set BEFORE the events of that Days of Future Past epilogue.  If Jean is alive in that epilogue, that sort of removes the suspense from this movie, no?  This is a actually a rare case where I wish they’d just do a reboot and start fresh.

Putting that aside and just considering this trailer, my next biggest concern is the degree to which what we see in the trailer seems totally different from the classic Dark Phoenix story from the comics (by Chris Claremont and John Byrne).  I’m not really seeing ANYTHING from the classic comic story here yet.  The Last Stand bungled the Dark Phoenix story, and so I am excited at the potential for a do-over.  But my hope for a do-over would be for the movie to hew much closer to the original comic story, which so far doesn’t seem to be what they’re doing here.  That really disappoints me.

What’s good?  I do really like this cast, and I am happy to see James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and Jennifer Lawrence back in these roles (after they all seemed like they were done after X-Men: Apocalypse).  And I’m happy that the new crew introduced in Apocalypse also seem to all be back as well: Sophie Turner as Jean Grey, Tye Sheriden as Cyclops, Alexandra Shipp as Storm, and Kodi Smit-McPhee as Nightcrawler.  I’m particularly jazzed to see Sophie Turner (who I thought was a little underused in Apocalypse) given a chance to shine.  I love the new-look costumes (which seem to be heavily influenced by Frank Quitely’s designs for Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men back in 2001).  I’d love for Dark Phoenix (why have they dropped X-Men from the title?) to be a big, awesome X-Men epic.  Here’s hoping…

Here’s a nice juicy look at Daredevil season three:

After the disappointment of The Defenders, I have fallen behind on the Marvel Netflix shows.  I skipped The Punisher, as I’m just … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

September 28th, 2018

Perhaps the best movie I saw this past summer was Morgan Neville’s wonderful look at the life and work of Fred Rogers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Like so many of my generation, I grew up watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.  The moral and life lessons of Fred Rogers’ television program for children have stayed with me, and are deeply woven into my being.  I knew this, but watching Won’t You Be My Neighbor? I was struck anew by the lessons that Mr. Rogers taught me and so many other kids like me.

The documentary film is a heartwarming (and also, at times, sad) look back at Mr. Rogers’ life and his life’s work: using the medium of television to educate children.  The film allows us to hear from Fred Rogers himself, via archival footage (such as clips from his famous testimony before Congress in 1969) and generous helpings of scenes from the show.  Even better, the film brings together many of the men and women who knew and worked with Mr. Rogers.  We hear from many of the men and women who knew and worked with him, in front of and behind the camera, and they each have fascinating and insightful stories to tell.

Watching the film, I was struck by the power of Mr. Rogers’ moral teachings.  The film devotes significant time to lessons that Mr. Rogers wove into his TV show.  For example, the film spends time discussing the episode in which Fred Rogers invited African-American François Clemmons, who played a friendly neighborhood police officer on the show, to wash his feet in the same small pool that he (Mr. Rogers) was using.  (That clip from the show is presented, in the film, along with actual clips of African Americans being chased out of a whites-only swimming pool.  It’s a powerful reminder of just how bold Mr. Rogers’ show truly was at the time.)

I particularly enjoyed the attention the film gives to an analysis of Fred Rogers’ pedagogical approach to education.  Most often this is explained best by Mr. Rogers himself, in archival interview footage.  I found it fascinating to listen to him discuss the ways he used his show to help teach kids to feel comfortable with their full spectrum of feelings, from happiness to sadness to anger.  One moment that stuck with me is when he compares talking to kids about their feelings with playing the piano — some key changes are easy, while some are hard.  I found this to be a striking piece of insight, one of many in the film.

But the film does not set out to canonize Fred Rogers as a perfect saint.  In an uncomfortable moment, one of his … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Predator

I’m an optimist, and someday I hope to see a new, truly great Star Trek movie in the theatres.  Someday, I hope to see a new, truly great Alien movie in the theatres.  And someday, I hope to see a new, truly great Predator movie in the theatres.

This sure as heck ain’t it.

The original Predator, from 1987, is a bad-ass, violent action movie with a sci-fi twist.  It was directed by John McTiernan, in the era in which Mr. McTiernan could do no wrong.  (He also directed Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October, two nearly perfect films that I adore.)  I love Predator — it’s got great characters, great action, and a great villain.  It holds up pretty well.  And it has spawned a heck of a lot of sequels, though sadly none of them have succeeded in being more then a relatively pale imitation of that first film.  1990’s Predator 2 is a truly bizarre sequel, transporting the series into the future (an at-the-time futuristic 1997 Los Angeles) and replacing the action-star Arnold Schwarzenegger with a very hyper Danny Glover as the lead.  At the time, it was a disappointment, and it’s hard to argue that the film is all that good, but relative to the films that followed, I now consider Predator 2 to be somewhat underrated!  In a film-fan in-joke, a sequence inside a Predator ship in Predator 2 showed an Alien skull, from the Alien franchise, on the Predator’s trophy wall.  That inspired a wonderful series of Aliens vs. Predator comic-books by Dark Horse Comics, which owned the comic-book rights to both franchises, and that in turn inspired two Alien vs. Predator films in 2004 and 2007, neither of which really lived up to the potential of the premise.  Then, in 2010, Robert Rodriguez produced another straight-up Predator sequel, called Predators (a fun nod to the Alien sequel, Aliens), that was directed by Nimród Antal.  I enjoyed the film’s efforts to do something new with the Predator franchise (such as setting the film on an alien planet as opposed to here on Earth), but in the end I didn’t find it particularly memorable.

And so now here we are with yet another attempt to relaunch the franchise with The Predator.  When I read that Shane Black was writing and directing this film, I was ecstatic.  Mr. Black is an incredible talent.  He wrote and directed Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys, two films that I absolutely love.  (He also wrote and directed Iron Man Three, which was pretty great too!)  And he has a connection to Predator in that he appeared as an actor in the first … [continued]

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News Around the Net!

September 18th, 2018

At last!  The first trailer for Marvel’s upcoming Captain Marvel is here — and, no surprise, it looks great:

There’s a lot to enjoy and unpack there.  Brie Larson seems great for the role, and I’m glad that Samuel Jackson’s Nick Fury looks to be a major part of the film.  (I love the moment in which he takes off his glasses to reveal that he still has both eyes.)  I loved the quick glimpse of what looks like the same communications device that Nick used in the final seconds of Infinity War.  I think both versions of Carol Danvers’ super-hero suit (the blue/green Kree warrior version as well as the classic-looking red/blue/gold version) look fantastic.  I’m super-excited that we’re finally getting Skrulls — those classic shape-shifting villains from the comics — in a Marvel movie (I assume the old lady Carol punches in the trailer is a Skrull).  (Is it possible that a story-line in Marvel’s as-yet-unannounced Phase Four of movies will include an adaptation of the “Secret Invasion” story-line from the comics in which the shape-shifting Skrulls wreak havoc?)  My heart sang at the pan down, at the beginning, to reveal the Blockbuster sign — what a clever way to clarify this film’s nineties-era setting!  I can’t wait for this.

My Star Trek-loving self thoroughly enjoyed this tribute to 52 years of Trek at the 2018 Creative Arts Emmys.  The speeches are OK, but it’s the skillfully-made clip package from 1:50 to 4:50 that made my heart sing.  Click here to enjoy.

Jon Kasdan (co-writer of Solo, along with his father, Lawrence Kasdan), has posted to twitter an extensive series of 52 notes/comments on the film Solo on the eve of its release to DVD/blu-ray.  This is fascinating reading for all Star Wars fans.

Speaking of Solo, this is a great interview with Sam Witwer, who voiced… well, to avoid spoilers, let’s just say he voiced a certain character on the animated Clone Wars and Rebels series who also appeared in the live-action Solo.

Since the start of the DVD era, I’ve been a big fan and a constant reader of Bill Hunt’s The Digital Bits website.  His latest editorial, “HEY KIDS… BUYING MOVIES? BUY THEM ON DISC, NOT DIGITAL. HERE’S WHY…” is a great summation of something that seems so obvious to me as a collector, and yet I know many feel differently.  It’s a great read.

On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Conan O’Brien’s late-night show, many of his former writers reminisce about their favorite moments from the history of the show in this fun article.

This is funny — nerdy fans have found a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it continuity error [continued]

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SCI: The Jewish Comix Anthology vol 2 is Now Available!

September 14th, 2018

I am pleased to announce that I have illustrated a short story in SCI: The Jewish Comics Anthology vol. 2!  (I also illustrated a story in volume 1!  It’s unfortunately out of print, but you can view the first page of that story here.)  The story I illustrated for volume 2 is called “Wrestling with Jacob,” and it was written by Michael Norwitz.  Whereas my story for volume 1 was in black in white, this story for volume 2 is full-color painted artwork.  This second volume of The Jewish Comics Anthology is focused on sci-fi tales.  I am delighted to be included in this volume, along with incredible talents such as Bill Sienkiewicz, David Mack, Ty Templeton, Michael Netzer, Neil Kleid, and many more!

The digital edition of SCI: The Jewish Comics Anthology vol. 2 is available RIGHT NOW on Comixology for only $9.99!

The print version will be available soon; I will share news of that when it is ready.

[continued]

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Star Trek: Elusive Salvation

I loved Dayton Ward’s 2013 Star Trek novel From History’s Shadow.  That novel took several characters and references from across the many different Star Trek series to aliens having been on Earth in the years between 1947 and 1968 and wove them together into a wonderful story about this secret history of the Star Trek universe.  It was brilliant.

And so I was eager to read Elusive Salvation, Mr. Ward’s 2016 follow-up.

Elusive Salvation is a wonderful book, but despite the back cover’s declaring that the novel would be “an all-new adventure from history’s shadow!”, it is not the sequel to From History’s Shadow that it was billed to be.

In fact, it’s not really a sequel at all.  I had expected that this novel would follow the further adventures of the human Captain Wainwright and the Vulcan Mestral (characters from the DS9 episode “Little Green Men” and the Enterprise episode “Carbon Creek,” respectively) and Allison Marshall and the other main characters of From History’s Shadow, but that did not prove to be the case.  I was surprised and disappointed that Wainwright and Marshall barely appear in Elusive Salvation. (Wainwright in two short chapters, Marshall not at all.)

Elusive Salvation is a sequel to From History’s Shadow only in that it’s a similar type of story, one that tells parallel narratives of aliens on Earth in the past with a connected adventure of Kirk and the Enterprise in the future.

In this book, we follow a group of aliens who, fleeing their persecutors, crash on Earth in 1845 in the Arctic Circle.  These long-lived aliens live for decades in secret on Earth, and we follow their progress over the years, seeing how they are able to successfully avoid being noticed both by the native human beings and also their alien oppressors who continue to pursue them.  Centuries later, Captain Kirk encounters representatives of this same alien race, the Iramahl, who have at last thrown off the shackles of their oppressors, the Ptaen, and who believe that a secret critical to their race’s survival has been hidden on Earth.

I wrote in my review of From History’s Shadow that I loved how that book, along with Greg Cox’s Eugenics Wars novels, had continued to utilize and develop Roberta Lincoln, the woman played by Teri Garr from the Original Series episode “Assignment: Earth.”  I was happy that Roberta appeared again in this novel.  I love seeing more of this character and learning more about her and Gary Seven’s mysterious employers, the Aegis (named by Howard Weinstein in his story for DC Comics’ Star Trek comic book series from the eighties and nineties).

Once again, this novel is, for the most part, … [continued]

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