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Catching Up On 2018: Josh Reviews Song of Back and Neck

Wait, what, I never got around to posting a review of one of my favorite films of 2018?  Time to remedy that immediately!  I’m talking about Song of Back and Neck, the small, sweet, funny, weird film written by, directed by, and starring Paul Lieberstein (Toby from The Office).  

Song of Back and Neck is a wonderfully bizarre and idiosyncratic movie about a sweet, mousy man named Fred Trolleycar (Paul Lieberstein) who suffers from debilitating chronic back pain.  His journey to deal with that pain leads Fred to some delightfully unexpected places.  The film takes some wonderfully weird turns that I don’t want to spoil.  But I will say that the film allows Fred to form a strange and surprising connection with music (the “Song” in the film’s title does connect to some of what actually happens in the film, though not in the way you’d probably expect) as he goes on this journey that results in his facing some of the psychological wounds that he had tried to bury.

The film is loosely based by Mr. Lieberstein’s own personal experiences with back pain, and how he addressed what he discovered were the psychological underpinnings of his affliction.  I’m not sure I quite buy any of that, but Mr. Lieberstein makes a strong case for the truth behind his own personal experiences in this wonderful, lengthy in-depth interview on Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show, which is where I first discovered that this movie existed.  (Mr. Pollak’s wonderful, and deeply missed podcast led me to a number of great little films last year that I never would have known about, such as Jenna Laurenzo’s Lez Bomb.)

I was taken by this film right from the wonderfully funny opening sequence, in which we see the crazy lengths that Fred has to go through in order to get dressed and out the door in the morning.  The story that follows is funny and sad and sweet and moving.  I wouldn’t call this film a comedy, per se, but it is very, very funny at times.  It’s not a straight-up drama, either, though the film has some touching and painful dramatic moments.  There’s a slightly fantastical twist that the film takes at one point, but it’s all very grounded in the reality of life for real, every-day people.  It’s weird, but it all works.

Mr. Lieberstein is terrific in the leading role.  I always loved his performance as sad-sack Toby on The Office, and it’s fantastic to see Mr. Lieberstein in the center-ring spotlight of his own movie.  I also knew, by paying attention to the credits on The Office, that Mr. Lieberstein was clearly a terrific writer, and it’s fascinating to see … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The New Breaking Bad Netflix Movie: El Camino!

I am thrilled that Breaking Bad creator and showrunner Vince Gilligan has made such a thrilling return to the world of the series with El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, which Mr. Gilligan wrote and directed!  I loved every minute of this surprisingly deep dive back into this universe and these characters, and the long-awaited and well-deserved focus on Aaron Paul’s character of Jesse Pinkman.

Breaking Bad is without question one of the great television achievements of all time.  Vince Gilligan and his astoundingly talented team of collaborators were able to craft a magnificent character study of a hugely flawed middle-aged white American man, Walter White (Bryan Cranston), charting his transformation from mild-mannered high school science teacher into a criminal overlord and monster.  (“From Mr. Chips to Scarface,” as goes the phrase often used by the folks behind the show.)  The show was breathtaking in the way it plumbed the worst depths of Walter White (and many of those around him).  The show could mount a viscerally exciting action sequence and also be very funny, but most of all it was heartbreaking.  A carefully structured, serialized show, Breaking Bad ended at a time of Mr. Gilligan’s choosing, and the phenomenal final season brought the show to a nearly perfect ending.

I was completely satisfied with the five seasons of Breaking Bad.  And yet, in the years since the finale, the show’s universe has expanded.  Mr. Gilligan and Peter Gould launched a prequel spin-off series, Better Call Saul.  To my enormous surprise, not only is the show great, I think it has grown to equal and possibly even surpass Breaking Bad!  I am completely captivated and I eagerly await the coming fifth season.

As Better Call Saul has progressed, gradually catching up to the timeline of Breaking Bad, I’ve been wondering whether Saul will ever directly cross over with events from the original show.  Many Breaking Bad characters have appeared on Saul (beyond Saul Goodman and Mike Ehrmantraut, the show’s two lead characters, both of whom originated on Breaking Bad).  But would we eventually get to see the events of Breaking Bad from the perspective of Saul’s characters like Jimmy and Mike and Kim?  Might we even actually see Walt or Jesse appear on the show?  Better Call Saul’s post-Breaking Bad “Cinnabon Gene” sequences also have served to hint that the show might eventually move beyond the timeline of the events of Breaking Bad, and perhaps show us more of other Breaking Bad characters’ final fates.

But I never in my wildest dreams expected that Vince Gilligan would one day mount a full-on Breaking Bad sequel.  And yet, here we are with El Camino: A Breaking Bad [continued]

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Josh Reviews the New “Short Treks” Star Trek Short Film: “Q & A”

Last year in the months leading up to the launch of the second season of Star Trek: Discovery, CBS All Access posted a series of four Star Trek short films, which they nicknamed “Short Treks.”  In the months leading up to the start of the new Picard series, it looks like they’re doing the same, with a new round of six new short films.  The first one, “Q & A”, was recently released.  It depicts Spock’s first day on board Christopher Pike’s Enterprise (prior to the events of the original Star Trek pilot, “The Cage,” as well as the events of Discovery’s second season), in which he and Number One get trapped in a turbolift together.

I love the idea of these “Short Treks” as a way to give us vignettes set across the Star Trek universe, in different times and different locations.  The Star Trek universe is vast and deep, and there are so many wonderful areas and settings and characters to be mined for new stories.  One of the most fan-favorite aspects of Discovery’s second season was the way they incorporated Christopher Pike (now played by Anson Mount) and Spock (now played by Ethan Peck) as important characters, so the idea of returning to those characters and setting makes sense for this first new “Short Trek.”  Discovery season two also recast the role of Pike’s first officer, Number One (played by Majel Barrett in “The Cage” and by Rebecca Romijn in her brief appearances on Discovery).  I was bummed that Number One had so little to do on Discovery, so I was pleased that she and Spock would be the focus of this new short film.

But I wasn’t as taken with “Q & A” as I was with the four previous “Short Treks,” and I found it vastly inferior to Michael Chabon’s previous effort, the beautiful “Calypso” (which represents possibly the best 15-ish minutes of new official Star Trek in a decade).

The short is cute, with some nice banter between Spock and Number One as they while away the hours stuck in the turbolift.  But I didn’t find the banter to be nearly as funny or interesting as I’d expected, nor that revelatory for either of their characters.  We never got to know Number One that well in “The Cage,” but the Number One in this short strikes me as a very different character than the woman we saw in “The Cage.”  The Number One of “Q & A” is surprisingly snarky, and I just don’t buy that this stiff, buttoned down woman would ever start singing in front of a man who she’d just met that day.  The short is supposed to … [continued]

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News Around the Net

Two exciting new Star Trek trailers dropped this week!  First up is this look at Picard:

This is a very solid trailer.  Lots to get excited about here.  The production values of this show look spectacular, which makes me happy.  (On the other hand, Discovery also had terrific production values, but that show disappointed me again and again.)  I love the glimpses of Starfleet Headquarters, and the holographic projection of the Enterprise D!  I love the glimpse of Data — and he’s painting!  Nice nod to TNG continuity.  (And also, apparently a confirmation of my theory that Data in this show would only be appearing in Picard’s memories/dreams.  Note that Data is wearing the TNG-era uniform, and not the later uniform of the movies, or what we see of current Starfleet uniforms in the Picard era.)  It’s also exciting to see Riker and Troi, though actually that was the aspect of the trailer that I was least into.  I am not wild about the idea that Riker and Troi have retired to the woods.  Why is everyone from the TNG an old hermit now?  Jonathan Frakes is still vital and working despite his age here in the 21st century (he’s a fantastic director) — so wouldn’t Riker all the more so still be in the thick of things in the 24th century?  I want Riker to be (finally) in command of a starship!  But there is lots here that makes me happy.  I really hope the show is good.

Discovery also dropped a trailer for their third season:

This is also a great trailer.  I’m intrigued for to see this depiction of 1,000 years ahead in Star Trek’s future.  I’ve always wanted these Trek shows to go forward in time, not backwards… and I’ve also often thought that a cool premise for a future-set Trek show would be the depiction of the re-establishment of the Federation after some sort of catastrophe.  That sorts of seems to be what we’re getting here, and I am intrigued.  I love the glimpse of a version of the Federation emblem (albeit with what looks like far fewer stars on it).  I love Burnham’s various new looks.  I love seeing what looks like the return of Craft, from the terrific Short Treks short film “Calypso”, written by Michael Chabon.  I’m VERY intrigued by the appearance of Trills, as well as the symbiont pools — a deep-cut reference to Deep Space Nine!  I don’t have much expectation that I will ever love this show… but hope springs eternal.  (And I continually remind myself that neither Next Generation nor Deep Space Nine were much good for their first two seasons, either…)

I think this … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Fleabag!

I’d been hearing about Fleabag for years, ever since the first season of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s show was released back in 2016.  The acclaim for the show’s second season, released this past March, bumped the show up higher on my (lengthy) to-watch list.  About a week or two before Ms. Waller-Bridge cleaned up at the Emmy Awards, I finally wised up and started watching.  Thank goodness!  I tore through the show and was done with the two six-episode seasons in less than a week.  I’m sorry I waited so long to watch the show and equally regretful that I devoured all of the episodes so quickly, because this show is phenomenal.  It’s quickly become the TV show I am most evangelical about these days.  I think it’s an absolutely brilliant accomplishment.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge created the show (based on her one-woman play).  She wrote every episode, and stars as Fleabag, the unnamed woman at the center of the story.  (Ms. Waller-Bridge has suggested that the name refers to the messy reality underneath the main character’s put-together exterior; the character is never actually referred to by the nickname “Fleabag” on-screen.)  To tell you too much about the show would be to spoil its many wonderful surprises and layers.  Suffice to say, Ms. Waller-Bridge’s character is a bit of a mess, a young woman who owns her own cafe but who is drowning in debt and floundering in her personal life.  Ms. Waller-Bridge is magnificent in the role; funny and heartbreaking and immediately captivating for the audience.  She invites us into her life and we dive in with enthusiasm.

That’s one of the keys to the show.  Ms. Waller-Bridge’s character often speaks directly to us, the TV viewer watching at home.  We’re her confidantes; her secret friends.  It’s a device that pays off emotional dividends, as we are drawn in to her life and her story and are made, in many ways, a part of that story.  It’s also the set-up for many, many magnificent jokes.  Ms. Waller-Bridge can get more comedic mileage out of a quick glance into the camera than anyone since Johnny Carson.

Fleabag achieves the impressive tightrope-balance of being incredibly, extraordinarily, astoundingly funny — fall-off your seat funny — while also gradually building to be a story of great depth and emotion.  (Although they are very different types of shows, I am reminded of Catastrophe, which strikes a similar balance in tone.  The two shows also share a ribald, very raunchy sense of humor.)  I can’t believe that a show exists that, in only two short seasons (each consisting of six half-hour episodes), can be at the same time so hilarious and so poignant.  I was deeply moved by … [continued]

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Josh Reviews the Premiere of Stumptown!

Stumptown is a magnificent comic book series written by Greg Rucka and illustrated by first Matthew Southworth and then Justin Greenwood.  It centers on Dex Parios, a private investigator in Portland, Oregon.  The series has been published periodically between 2009 and 2016 (though I continue to hope for new installments…).  I was excited when I heard that the series was being turned into a TV show for ABC starring How I Met Your Mother’s Cobie Smulders in the lead role!

I watched the first episode, and I was pleased!  It wasn’t flawless, but it was an entertaining hour of television and I think the series has a lot of potential.

This first episode is a loose adaptation of the comic book’s first story-line, “The Case of the Girl Who Took her Shampoo (But Left her Mini)”.  Dex is broke and owes the local casino, run by the Confederated Tribes of the Wind Coast, $11,000.  The head of the casino offers to wipe out Dex’s debt if Dex will help find her granddaughter, who has gone missing.  Dex agrees, and quickly finds herself in a world of trouble she didn’t expect.

The comic’s first issue opens with Dex getting shot, and then the story flashes back to retrace the steps of what happened.  This episode takes a similar approach, though it borrows a scene from a later Stumptown story, in which Dex gets thrown in the truck of a car by two coffee-loving goons.  This opening sequence of the show is terrific — probably the best part of the episode.  It’s very funny (the goons start singing along to the Neil Diamond song playing on Dex’s car’s broken tape-player) and then turns into a terrific action sequence, as Dex breaks out of the trunk and attempts to subdue the two guys, while the car careens out of control through traffic, leading to the car’s taking a huge jump off of a bridge (which is also a callback to a famous moment from the comic).  The show then flashes back, as the comic did, to show us how Dex got locked in that trunk in the first place.

What follows is a decently compelling mystery.  I love that Dex actually finds the missing girl, Nina, fairly quickly — but that turns out to be just part of the larger story.  That’s a clever twist.  This first episode has a lot of ground to cover, introducing the whole cast and Dex’s world, while also telling this mystery/investigation story.  It’s all done fairly well.

Cobie Smulders is well-cast as Dex.  I think she’s a strong choice to carry the show.  She’s beautiful and she can kick ass, and she has the acting chops … [continued]

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“Going From Drunk Asshole to Sober Asshole Isn’t the Dramatic Makeover You Think it is” — Josh Reviews Brockmire Season Three!

September 25th, 2019
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I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to write about Brockmire season three, which I devoured quickly upon its release last spring.  I absolutely adored season one and season two of Brockmire, and season three did not disappoint!  This is one of my very favorite shows currently being made!

Brockmire has charted the slow climb back up of Jim Brockmire, a disgraced former baseball announcer who years ago destroyed his life and career in a drunken on-air rant after discovering that his wife was cheating on him.  The show is one of the funniest shows on TV today, while also at the same time being a deeply moving story about real, flawed humans beings doing their best to get through the day.

As I’ve said in all of my previous Brockmire reviews, the main reason to watch Brockmire is to see Hank Azaria give the greatest performance of his career in this, the role it seems that he was born to play.  Mr. Azaria is magnificent, able to deliver devastating punchlines as the show’s jokes come fast and furious, while at the same time mining deep, moving pathos out of the story of this former scumbag inching his way, maybe, towards something better.  Every moment Mr. Azaria is on screen is a master’s course in comedic and dramatic acting.  It’s truly extraordinary.

The show’s season one set-up felt like something that could have lasted for many years, with Brockmire working as an announcer for a podunk team in a tiny town, flirting with local bartender Jules (Amanda Peet).  I was surprised in season two that the show shifted locations, as Brockmire got a new job working for a minor league team in New Orleans.  I was excited to see the show and the characters move forward, though I missed having Jules as a series regular.  Here in season three, the show has again reinvented itself, as Brockmire has gotten sober and gotten himself a job back in the Major League, calling games for Oakland.  (The show doesn’t actually mention the A’s by name.)  I miss Jules (who returns for one episode) and Charles (who was elevated to the series’ second lead in season two, but who, like Jules, only appears in one episode here in season three).  On the other hand, I think it’s incredible that the show doesn’t rest on its laurels.  Too many TV shows insist on staying put in their status quo year after year.  I think it’s fascinating and exciting that Brockmire has reinvented itself completely with each new season.

Not just the show, but the main character himself!  In the first season, Brockmire was an alcoholic and drug addict, and much of the humor … [continued]

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For the past few months, I’ve been rewatching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, my favorite of all the Trek series.  It’s very sad to read the news, right smack in the middle of my rewatch, of the passing of Aron Eisenberg, who played Nog. Here’s one of my favorite scenes of Mr. Eisenberg’s, from season three’s “Heart of Stone”:

Such a loss.  The Divine Treasury has a new member.

This is interesting: more than a year in advance of the next Jurassic World film, they’ve released a new short film set after the last film but before the next one:

I strongly disliked the first two Jurassic World films, but that’s an enjoyable, well-put-together little action-adventure short!  The cast is solid — and in particular it’s great to see Moonlights Andre Holland.  And the short validates the point I’d made in my review of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom that I think the characters who were supposed to be the heroes in that film acted like villains.  This short (and the fun stuff in between the credits) shows the negative consequences of their actions at the end of that film!

This is a fun trailer Marvel Studios put together for “The Infinity Saga,” their first 22 films:

Bring on Phase Four!

Over in DC-land, I’d thought DC/Warner Brother’s attempt at an interconnected movie universe was mostly dead, but that Harley Quinn sequel film (in which Margot Robbie reprises her role from 2016’s Suicide Squad) is really coming!  This is a fun new poster.  Could this film possibly be any good?  Margot Robbie was one of the only good aspects of the dreadful Suicide Squad… and I’m excited to see Rene Montoya on the big screen… we’ll see in February…

I’ve never watched any of the DC “Arrowverse” TV shows, but I might have to sample their upcoming “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover.  I’d noted in a previous post that Brandon Routh, from the vastly underrated Superman Returns, would be reprising his role as Clark Kent/Superman for the crossover… now it seems that Smallville’s Tom Welling and Erica Durance will ALSO be reprising THEIR roles as Clark Kent/Superman and Lois Lane!  That is very cool.

The great Paul Feig might be involved with resurrecting Universal’s monster movie franchises?  Ok, that is a bizarre match, but I am intrigued…!

Looks like a SECOND Game of Thrones prequel project might be moving forward… I feel sort of done with this series following the so-so final season… but on the other hand, who am I kidding, I’ll be watching any and all of these spin-offs/prequels if they actually happen…

I’ll leave you for today with … [continued]

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