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February 23rd, 2015
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Josh Reviews The Jinx

March 30th, 2015
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HBO’s riveting six-episode true-crime documentary series, The Jinx, is one of the most compelling pieces of television I have seen in a long time.  This is edge-of-your-seat television, and the twists and turns of the story are so staggeringly jaw-dropping because these things really happened.  The events you see unfold in The Jinx are so extraordinary, so unbelievable, that they feel like this must be fiction.  But all of these events actually happened!!

The Jinx has been in the new quite a lot recently, as it’s main subject was arrested on the eve of the airing of the finale.  But somehow, luckily, though I had seen the headlines, I had avoided reading too much about the show.  When I started watching the first episode, I went in pretty cold.  I didn’t really have any idea what The Jinx was going to be about, or what sort of story it was going to tell over the course of its six episodes.  The show immediately sunk its hooks into me, and I could not stop watching.  I marathoned all six episodes in one afternoon.  I was home sick for the day, and though it wasn’t my intention to spend the entire afternoon on the couch watching TV, once I started watching The Jinx I could not turn it off.

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The Jinx focuses on Robert Durst, now 71 years old.  Mr. Durst is a member of an extremely wealthy family of real estate developers in New York City.  Unbelievably, Mr. Durst has been suspected of involvement in the deaths of three separate people over a span of 33 years.  In 1982, his first wife, Kathleen Durst disappeared.  In 2000, Mr. Durst’s close friend Susan Berman was murdered in her home.  And in 2001, Mr. Durst dismembered his neighbor in Galveston, Texas, and threw the dead man’s body parts into Galveston Bay.  Mr. Durst was tried for that third death, and even though he admitted to killing the man and to cutting up his body and throwing the pieces, wrapped in garbage bags, into the bay, Mr. Durst was acquitted.  (His lawyers argued that the man’s death was self-defense, not murder.)

The story of how The Jinx came to be is almost as fascinating as that of Mr. Durst (though less violent!).  In 2010, Andrew Jarecki directed a feature film called All Good Things that told the story of Robert Durst and the disappearance (and presumed murder) of his first wife Kathleen.  The film starred Ryan Gosling & Kirsten Dunst.  Following the release of that film, Mr. Jarecki got a phone call from his film’s subject: Robert Durst himself.  Surprisingly, it was not an antagonistic conversation.  In fact, Mr. Durst expressed an interest in … [continued]

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Don’t tease me, universe!  I desperately want this news of a possible resurrection of The X-Files to be true!!

The X-Files

I am thrilled to have three cartoons from Motion Pictures included in JOMIX — Jewish Comics; Art & Derivation, an exhibition currently open in New York City.  Click here for more details!  I was also delighted to get such a nice mention in this review of The Jewish Comix Anthology The Anthology is still available for purchase at amazon!

This is an older article, but Rolling Stone’s The Last Days of 30 Rock is a magnificently in-depth look at the life and end of Tina Fey’s wonderful sitcom.

Keeping us on a similar topic, I loved this A.V. Club look back at Newsradio, listing their ten favorite episodes of that late great series.

I love listening to comic book author Brian Michael Bendis talk, usually on the wonderful wordballoon podcast.  His recent appearance on the Nerdist podcast is hugely entertaining.

After losing Leonard Nimoy last month, we also lost the great, woefully under-appreciated Harve Bennett.  Mr. Bennett was critically involved in the “trilogy” of Trek films: Star Trek II, III, and IV.  Most importantly, without Mr. Bennett’s involvement, Star Trek II might never have happened after Star Trek: The Motion Picture underwhelmed.  Mr. Bennett and writer/director Nicholas Meyer are the men who saved Star Trek.  Harve Bennett is responsible for what, to me, is the greatest iteration of Trek, those three films.  Star Trek would not be the franchise that it is today without Harve Bennett.  Rest in peace.  (You can learn a lot more about Harve Bennett by reading this wonderful eulogy on badassdigest.com.)

We also recently lost Sam Simon, who was one of the key creative voices in the early (and best) seasons of The Simpsons.

On a more upbeat note, watch this:

I am super-duper excited for Captain America: Civil War.  The idea of adapting that great comic book story-line for the Marvel cinematic universe is genius.  They should probably be calling it The Avengers 3 rather than Cap 3, but whatever.  Looking further down the road, I am thrilled that it looks like The Russo Brothers, after directing The Winter Soldier and then Civil War, will be directing the two-part Avengers: Infinity War films.  It’s been clear for a long while that Joss Whedon would be stepping aside after Avengers: Age of Ultron, and if it wasn’t going to be Mr. Whedon, I am delighted that the Russo Brothers are taking the lead in guiding Marvel’s Avengers franchise.  These next few years of Marvel movies are going to be amazing.

Kevin Smith is making Mallrats 2…?  Okay…  … [continued]

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Powers is a TV Show At Last! So is it Any Good…?

I’m a huge, huge fan of Powers, the self-published comic book series written by Brian Michael Bendis and illustrated by Michael Avon Oeming.  I bought the very first issue back in 2000, and I have been following it monthly (or as near-to-monthly as the series gets) ever since.  (I wrote about Powers here and here!)  While I think the series has dipped in quality a little bit in recent years, it’s still a terrific book and one of the more brilliant premises for a series that I have ever come across.  Detective Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim are homicide detectives.  But they live in a world of super-heroes and super-villains, and they investigate Powers-related homicides.  That is a genius-level idea (one that has been imitated in the years since).  Combine that great hook with Bendis’ incredible gift for dialogue and Oeming’s wonderful stylized artwork and you have the recipe for a classic comic book series.

Hollywood clearly thought so too, because Powers has famously been in development ever since the second issue was published.  For years and years it was being developed as a new TV series by FX, and in 2011 they actually filmed a pilot episode.  But I guess it wasn’t that successful, because FX declined to continue on to make a series.  At first they announced that they’d be re-working that pilot, but then the project was dropped.  (I would LOVE to see that original Powers pilot someday!!)  But in a crazy twist, Powers wasn’t dead.  Instead, it was picked up to become the first show for the newly developed Playstation Network.  A new cast was brought in and new writers were hired, and, after 15 years of “development hell,” Powers actually existed as a 10-episode TV series.  The first three episodes were released last week, and a new one will be released every Tuesday (starting tonight!) for the next seven weeks.

So, after this crazy fifteen years of development (and boy, I really hope this means Bendis will get around to writing a sequel to Fortune and Glory some-time soon!!), is Powers the Playstation Network TV show any good?

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Well, the jury is still out.  It is hood, but it is not the home-run I had been hoping for.  There are a lot of aspects of these first three episodes that are a lot weaker than I’d expected.  However, by the end of the third episode, I could see the potential in this series, and I can envision a scenario in which I will be very, very satisfied by the end of the ten episode first season.  I can also see a scenario in which I will be very, very let down!  We’ll see … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Kingsman: The Secret Service

I was thrilled when I head that Matthew Vaughn would be directing an adaptation of Mark Millar & Dave Gibbons’ wonderful comic book series, The Secret Service.  I adored the original comic, and I had loved Matthew Vaughn’s previous adaptation of a Mark Millar-written comic-book: Kick-Ass.  (Click here for my original review.)  That Matthew Vaughan would be adapting another Mark Millar comic book was very exciting to me.  As the release of the film adaptation grew closer, my excitement only grew.  I felt that I was privy to a secret that few knew.  I couldn’t wait to see movie-goers, who were unaware of the comic, have their heads spun by this deliriously profane, violent twist on the James Bond mythos.

But while I have read a lot of glowing reviews of Kingsman: The Secret Service, I found myself disappointed.  It felt like all the elements of a great film were there.  I love the central hook of the story.  (Both the idea of playing with the cliches of the James Bond films as well as the notion of a guy-centric, violent take on My Fair Lady.)  The casting of the film was spectacular, most notably the genius idea of casting Colin Firth in the role of the fearsome British super-spy.  The film looks great, and there are some terrific moments in the movie.

But I never felt the film quite lived up to the potential of its premise.  It didn’t capture the fun of the jaw-dropping twists and turns of the original comic, nor did it live up to it’s central idea as a spin on the concept of the James Bond-like super-spy.

I think my biggest over-all complaint is that the film is overly convoluted.  It felt like the filmmakers took the fairly simple, straightforward premise of the original comic and complicated-it-up with a lot of unnecessary meandering.  Here are two examples.  First, it’s a predictable idea that, in this sort of film, the mentor is eventually going to get pushed aside by the story so that the young protege can save the day.  In the film, that happens TWICE.  Colin Firth is introduced as the super-spy agent Galahad, mentor to the young Eggsy (Taron Egerton).  But then he falls into a coma, and Eggsy is left on his own in a dangerous world.  But then Galahad gets better, and so he and Eggsy can partner up again.  But then Galahad is again knocked out of play so that Eggsy can be the lone hero for the climax.  Why give us this same plot twist twice?? Consider also the film’s introduction.  In the comic book, the series opens with a James Bond-type agent attempting to rescue celebrity … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Star Wars Rebels Season One

The first twelve episodes of the first season of Star Wars Rebels were entertaining, good-not-great pieces of all-ages fun.  The thirteenth and final episode of the first season was terrific and really made me sit up and take notice, and I started to get excited for the potential of this animated series.

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Set five years before the events of the original Star Wars film, A New Hope, Star Wars Rebels is an animated series which tells the story of the exploits of the crew of the Ghost, a young, rag-tag group of privateers out to make a buck and, hopefully, thumb their noses at the Empire.   Over the course of the first season, the group transition from being mostly concerned with staying out of the Empire’s way to becoming more involved with active efforts to undermine the Empire.  In the finale (which I will discuss more in a moment), we see that the crew of the Ghost are but one group of players in the burgeoning Rebellion against the Empire.

Setting the show in the “dark times” between the prequels and the arrival on the scene of Luke Skywalker is a great idea, as this time period is ripe for some great untold stories.  The early episodes of this first season were a bit contradictory in that, on the one hand, the writers seemed to want to avoid telling grand, galaxy-in-peril stories (of the type that its animated predecessor, The Clone Wars, had gotten so good at doing), instead just focusing on the relatively small-scale adventures of this one little ship and crew.  On the other hand, they seemed to enjoy playing the prequel game and dropping in a surprisingly large number of familiar Star Wars faces.  I didn’t enjoy seeing C-3pO and R2-D2 so early in the show’s run, but damn if hearing Billy Dee Williams on again playing Lando (in this case, a young, even-more-roguish version of the smuggler and scoundrel) wasn’t a heck of a lot of fun.

At first I was dubious of the idea of Rebels.  I was still smarting from the abrupt cancellation of the Clone Wars animated series, a show that had blossomed into a wonderfully epic, complex, dark series.  I felt that the show was snatched away from us just as it was really getting good, and just as it was approaching the show’s whole reason-for-being, the moment in which the show’s characters and story-lines would catch up with Episode III.  I am still bummed that we’re never going to get to see that.  And so, at first, Rebels seemed like a poor substitute.  Even the title, Rebels, was annoying to me, as it seemed like a tease and that the show … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Agent Carter: Season One

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I had high hopes for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. when it launched last year.  The idea of a Marvel TV show was of course of interest to me, but what really excited me was that, as opposed to the various DC Comics superhero shows over the years, this new Marvel TV show would be set in continuity with the Marvel movie universe.  It seems like a total no-brainer of an idea, and yet, nothing like this had ever been done before.  I was super-excited.

And yet, right from the pilot, I was underwhelmed.  Despite the involvement of some great talent both in front of and behind the camera (particularly the show-runner husband-and-wife team of Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen, of whom I have been a far for years), the show seemed surprisingly lifeless.  The characters were dull, the writing was flat, and the episodic structure did not engage me.  Things picked up a little towards the end of the season, when the series’ story-lines took a major turn in connection with the revelations about S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra from Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  The first half of this second season has seen the show continue to improve, and I’ve enjoyed the way the show has utilized elements of the mythology of the Inhumans, a classic group of Marvel Comics characters.  But I still think the show is surprisingly mediocre, lacking either the fun or the edge-of-your-seat intensity I was hoping for.

I was excited to hear that Marvel would be launching a second TV series (a mini-series of sorts to fill the time-slot during Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s mid-season hiatus) that would allow Hayley Atwell to reprise her role as Peggy Carter from Captain America: The First Avenger.  I loved everything about that idea.  Ms. Atwell was marvelous as Peggy — she was one of the best things about that first Cap film.  I felt there was still a lot of life left in that character, and I loved the notion of seeing what happened to her in the years following the loss of Cap.  I also loved the idea of a period-piece show; that seemed like a lot of fun, and something unusual for a superhero TV show.  And considering the revelations in Captain America: The Winter Soldier about the nature of S.H.I.E.L.D., suddenly a show about the origins of S.H.I.E.L.D. seemed ripe with potential.  We’d seen that this premise had juice in the wonderful Peggy Carter one-shot short film attached to the DVD of Iron Man Three.  Frankly, the only thing that had me worried was the mediocre quality of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. — would Agent Carter be of just as middling a level of quality?

Well, … [continued]

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Josh Bids Farewell to Parks and Recreation

Last week Parks and Recreation signed off after seven pretty fantastic seasons.  I can’t believe how sad I am that the show is over.  It has hugely grown on me over the years, to the point that it is now one of my very favorite TV comedies of all time.

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I barely made it through Parks and Rec’s first six-episode season.  It launched back when the American version of The Office was in its prime, so I was excited to see what had originally begun as an Office spin-off.  What aired was not a direct spin-off of The Office (Rashida Jones transitioned from The Office to Parks and Rec, but she was playing a new character), though both shows felt cut from the same cloth.  Both used the fake-documentary style, and both focused on a clueless main character who was a source of ridicule for his/her co-workers and the audience.  I was not taken with the new show.  The episodes were more painful to watch than they were funny.

But then, interestingly, Parks and Rec made exactly the same type of course-correction that The Office did after its first sub-par six-episode season.  The tone of the comedy shifted from laughter centered around awkward/painful moments to more heartfelt humor.  More importantly, they shifted the character of Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope from someone who was pathetic and socially oblivious and pretty much a failure to someone who was actually damn good at her job.  She was still something of a weirdo and a social outcast, but suddenly we liked Leslie because of her incredible good nature and her drive to do good.  Leslie’s force of personality began to cause her co-workers to look up to her, rather than ridiculing her, and just like that the seeds for the show’s magic were sown.  In the early first-season episodes we’d hear Leslie describe her aspirations of being a great leader who would stand with the great women of the planet, and those dreams were pathetic because of how inconsequential Leslie actually was.  But gradually those dreams became to seem not nearly so far-fetched, and we the audience saw Leslie as easily standing among those great women she idolized, even though she just worked in the parks department of a small Indiana town.

The season two premiere was an immediate and powerful announcement of the show that Parks and Rec could be.  Leslie performs a fake marriage of two penguins at the Pawnee Zoo as a stunt to promote the zoo, only to cause a huge uproar because it turns out both the penguins were male, and thus Leslie had performed a gay marriage.  It’s such a great hook for the episode, and immediately … [continued]

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“Of my friend, I can only say this…”

February 28th, 2015
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After reading of Leonard Nimoy’s passing, I knew I needed to watch some Star Trek.  Star Trek II was too painful to consider.  I thought about watching Trek III or Trek IV, both of which were so marvelously directed by Mr. Nimoy.  I thought about Trek VI, which is probably my favorite of all the Trek films, and which features one of Mr. Nimoy’s very best on-screen performances.  (His heartbroken delivery of the line “She does not know” absolutely kills me every time.)  But I decided what I wanted was some classic Trek, so I could see Mr. Nimoy — and the iconic character with whom he has been so indelibly associated for almost 50 years, and now will be forevermore — in his prime.

So I decided to watch “Amok Time,” from the second season of the Original Series.

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“Amok Time” is one of the most famous Trek episodes.  I’ve seen it countless times, but I hadn’t watched it for several years.  It’s astonishing how great this half-century-old TV show looks and sounds on blu-ray, and re-watching the episode I was once again impressed by the show’s boundless creativity, and the high-quality of the production across every area.  This happens to be a very sharply-written episode, filled with some of the very best and most well-known Spock lines.  (Spock’s final statement to the Vulcan Stonn is particularly wonderful: “After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting.  It is not logical, but it is often true.”  There is great wisdom there.)  The amount of world-building in this episode is astounding, as we make our only visit to Vulcan in the series’ run and, in so doing, learn so much about Spock and his people.  It’s all super-cool, everything from our glimpse of the elderly stateswoman T’Pau to those awesome Vulcan weapons (which Trek fans well-know are called the Ahn-woon & the Lirpa) to all the great details in (and fun, made-up Vulcan words for) all the aspects of the Vulcans’ complex mating rituals.  (Again, all true Trek fans know all about Pon Far and the Koon-ut-kal-if-fee and Plak Tow.)  This episode features one of the very best Trek scores of them all, with the incredible theme music for the Vulcan combat.  (I love how we can hear this music playing, very soft and slowly, when Spock first speaks to Kirk on the Enterprise of Pon Farr.)  The episode feels a little of-the-past in the unsettling-to-a-modern-viewer way that the Vulcan combat ritual involves the woman’s being given to the victor.  On the other hand, one can see and respect the groundbreaking-for-its-time way in which this episode presented Vulcan as a matriarchal … [continued]