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February 23rd, 2015
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Catching Up on 2015: Josh Reviews Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

April 29th, 2016
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Back in December, before finalizing my Best of 2015 lists, I watched a ton of movies, trying to catch up on 2015 films I’d missed.  I’ve been writing about them in this “Catching up on 2015″ series of blogs, and I believe I have now finally arrived at the last of those 2015 films that I’d seen but not yet reviewed.

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Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, written by Jesse Andrews (based on his 2012 novel of the same name) and directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, tells the story of the year of friendship between High School seniors Greg (Thomas Mann), Earl (RJ Cyler), and Rachel (Olivia Cooke).  Greg’s strategy for surviving High School has been to try to float between all of the school cliques, without ever joining nor alienating any group, though he finds himself breaking many of his personal rules over the course of his eventful Senior Year.  Though Greg and Earl have been friends for years, working together on a bizarre project to film short reenactments of many of their favorite movies, Greg initially only talks to Rachel when forced to by his parents, who feels sorry for Rachel and her mom when Rachel is diagnosed with cancer.  What begins as an obligation eventually blossoms into a friendship, with brings with it some of the types of connections, and complications, that Greg had been trying so hard to avoid.

I enjoyed this film.  It has a very idiosyncratic tone that I found appealing, and the performances of the three teen-aged leads are all terrific.  But I can’t say that I loved this film, and I think that’s because I felt somewhat held at arm’s length by it.  I didn’t feel that I got to know any of the characters, particularly Earl or Rachel, as well as I had expected I would.  Now, part of that might be on purpose, as one of the film’s best and most emotional scenes comes at the very end, when Greg discovers something about Rachel’s bedroom that floors him, suggesting that perhaps he never knew her as well as he’d thought.  But I would have enjoyed getting inside each of these three kids in a way that I didn’t feel the film ever really allowed me to do.

I also have a strong objection to a plot twist involving a choice that Rachel makes in the third act.  I don’t want to spoil everything by getting too specific, but for me it took the wind completely out of my sails.  Up until that point, I thought I had been watching a sweet but sad story about kids growing up and learning to somehow deal with the unavoidable tragedies of which … [continued]

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Catching Up With DC Animation: Bad Blood and Justice League vs Teen Titans

OK, quick summary: I fell in love with Batman: The Animated Series when it first premiered back in the nineties.  Bruce Timm and Paul Dini forever defined Batman and so many of his supporting characters for me.  I believe that Kevin Conroy is the best actor to ever portray Batman on-screen, and Mask of the Phantasm is my third favorite Batman movie of all time (after The Dark Knight Returns and Batman Begins).  I watched and enjoyed all of Bruce Timm’s subsequent DC universe animated shows: Superman, Batman Beyond, and Justice League.  After a somewhat rocky first season, Justice League (later renamed Justice League Unlimited) became, for me, the finest superhero show (animated or otherwise) that I have ever seen, with sophisticated story-telling, a note-perfect voice cast, and gorgeous animation.  When it was announced that Bruce Timm would oversee a new line of aimed-at-adults, direct-to-DVD/blu-ray animated movies, I was super-excited.  But while there have been a few high points (most notably their adaptation of Batman: Under the Red Hood), these animated films have been extremely hit-or-miss.  A few years ago Bruce Timm left the project, and the new team decided to switch from one-off story-telling to developing a continuity between the animated films (a decision that I loved), while basing this new continuity on DC Comic’s latest revamp of their universe, nicknamed “The New 52″ (a decision that I was not wild about).  Disappointingly, I have not at all cared for the first four DVD-movies set in this new animated continuity.  But I quite enjoyed last year’s animated release, Justice League: Gods and Monsters, in which Bruce Timm returned to tell an alternate-universe story of his own creation.  So what did I think of the latest two animated films that have come out in the past few months?

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Batman: Bad Blood steps right into the continuity begun by Justice League: War, Son of Batman, Justice League: Throne of Atlantis, and Batman vs Robin It’s decently entertaining, I suppose, but it’s clear that this current wave of animated DC universe films is just not speaking to me at all.  There are some good bits in Bad Blood, but like the other films I found much of it to be humorless and somewhat dull, and I just don’t like this tone.  The opening of the story introduces the current DC Comics version of Batwoman, Kathy Kane, to the animated universe as she is witness to what looks like the death of Batman.  This forces former Robin, now Nightwing Dick Grayson, to become Batman, partnering up with the current Robin, Damian Wayne.  The two former sidekicks are joined by Batwoman and also the new character … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Spoils of Babylon

April 26th, 2016

How did I miss this??  The Spoils of Babylon is a brilliant, hilarious six-episode IFC mini-series from 2014 that parodies televised “event” mini-series, featuring an extraordinary cast that includes Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig, Tobey Maguire, Tom Robbins, Haley Joel Osment, Michael Sheen, Jessica Alba, and Val Kilmer.  I adored every minute of this.

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Each episode of The Spoils of Babylon begins and ends with an “interview” with the mini-series writer/director Eric Jonrosh, played to note-perfect perfection by Will Ferrell from within an enormous fat suit.  Jonrosh is a corpulent Orson Welles-like figure, a perfect parody of full-of-themselves “artistes”.  Though I suppose my describing him as such is a terrible insult to Mr. Welles, who was actually a genius.  Jonrosh, on the other hand, seems to just THINK that he is, and his pompous, drunken ramblings at the start and end of each installment are absolutely wonderful and hilarious.  Take care to pay close attention to the fine print under Jonrosh’s introductory title at the start of each episode, listing his many interests/professions.  Some very good jokes in there!

Within that framing device is, amusingly, another framing device, as the dying Devon Morehouse (Tobey Maguire) tells his life story as he bleeds out from a gunshot wound.  (Each of these second introductions at the start of each episode ends with an overhead shot of Devin’s hand on the microphone he is using to record his tale, with increasingly copious amounts of his blood spilling out onto the table.  I may be a disturbed individual, but that made me laugh a lot.)

In the tradition of the epic mini-series, we follow the Morehouse family through many decades.  We first meet Devon as a young boy, when he is adopted by Jonas Morehouse (Tim Robbins) after being found on the side of the road.  Devon and his adoptive sister, Cynthia Morehouse (Kristen Wiig), immediately fall into forbidden love, a passion that will drive them together and pull them apart over the course of the rest of their lives.

That leading trio are absolutely perfect.  I feel like Tobey Maguire has fallen out of Hollywood’s favor in recent years, but this miniseries reminds you of his talents.  He’s wonderful here, over-acting to the exact right amount to land the jokes of this overwrought parody of a drama.  This is great casting, as Mr. Maguire’s natural intensity only makes his performance that much funnier.  He’s a completely different type of actor than is Ms. Wiig, but somehow their pairing works absolutely perfectly.  These two are brilliant together.  Ms. Wiig gets many of the mini-series’ best moments, as she follows Cynthia from young, naive girl to tough-as-nails, cynical titan of industry.  Whereas both Mr. Maguire and … [continued]

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The Great Hellboy Re-Reading Project Part XIII: The Return of the Master and Hellboy in Hell!

My epic project to re-read Mike Mignola’s complete Hellboy saga from the very beginning rolls on!

What began as a series of sporadic mini-series and short-stories featuring the big red occult investigator has deepened over the past twenty years into what is, for my money, the richest and most consistently entertaining comic book universe of stories out there.  Click here for part one, in which I discussed the very first Hellboy tale: the four-part mini-series Seed of Destruction.  Click here for part two, in which I discussed The Wolves of Saint August, The Corpse and the Iron Shoes, and Wake the Devil.  Click here for part three, in which I discussed a variety of Hellboy short stories including The Right Hand of Doom and Box Full of Evil.  Click here for part four, in which I discussed Hellboy’s last mission for the B.P.R.D.: Conquerer Worm.  Click here for part five, in which I discussed the beginning of a series of B.P.R.D. spin-offs and a whole new expansion of the Hellboy universe: Plague of Frogs.  Click here for part six, in which I discussed the major shift in the Hellboy story that took-place in The Third Wish and The Island.  Click here for part seven, in which I discussed the incredible B.P.R.D. mini-series that became the new central focus of the continuing Hellboy saga.  Click here for part eight, in which Hellboy finally returns to the spotlight with Darkness Calls.  Click here for part nine, in which the Hellboy universe expands with spin-off series focusing on Lobster Johnson, Abe Sapien, and the founding of the B.P.R.D.  And click here for part ten, in which I discussed the “Scorched Earth” trilogy of B.P.R.D. mini-series that wrapped up the series to that point and began the “Hell on Earth” story-line. Click here for part eleven, in which I discussed the death of Hellboy in The Storm and The Fury.  Click here for part twelve, in which I discuss the new B.P.R.D. “Hell on Earth” story-line.

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Wow, we are nearing the home stretch of our journey through Hellboy’s twenty-year publication history!  But with the exciting expansion of the Hellboy universe over the past few years, we still have a lot of great stories to discuss.  Onward!

Lobster Johnson: The Prayer of Neferu (2012) – The Lobster confronts an Egyptian priestess trying to harness the spirits of the four dead high priests of Anubis as we get to enjoy a story first hinted at all the way back in 2007′s The Iron Prometheus #2.  It’s great to finally get to see the full story!  This one-shot features gorgeous art from Wilfredo Torres.… [continued]

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The Star Trek Saga Continues with Star Trek: Sacraments of Fire

We’re in the midst of one of the longest dry spells of new “official” Star Trek content since the decade between the cancellation of The Original Series in 1969 and the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979.  In the decade since the cancellation of Star Trek: Enterprise in May 2005, there have been just two official new Trek adventures released: the fun but flawed Star Trek reboot in 2009, and the catastrophically terrible Star Trek Into Darkness in 2013.  And yet, among fans, Trek has continued to flourish.  Despite Paramount’s ridiculous effort to shut down the production of Axanar (a kickstarter-funded fan-led effort to create a professional-quality Trek feature film, telling the story of the Federation’s Four-Years War with the Klingons that took place before the events of the Original Series), many fan-film productions have created wonderful new Trek episodes.  (My favorites are Star Trek: New Voyages/Phase II, and Star Trek Continues; both groups are producing extraordinarily high-quality new Trek episodes set during the classic Kirk/Spock “Five Year Mission” era.)  While those fan productions so ably explore Trek’s past, Pocket Books has continued to produce new officially-licensed Trek novels that explore Trek’s future.  Over the past fifteen years, the Trek novels have created a wonderfully complex and sophisticated web of stories that expand the saga and the characters beyond where we left them at the end of the Star Trek: The Next Generation film series and the Deep Space Nine and Voyager TV series.

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Being of the mind that Deep Space Nine was the best of the Trek spinoff shows, I’ve appreciated how central so many of the characters and story-lines from DS9 have been to this expanding Trek literary saga.  It was the post-finale-set DS9 novels, beginning with S.D. Perry’s Avatar trilogy from 2001, that brought me back to the Trek books after some time away.  And the success of that first wave of post-finale DS9 novels set the stage, I believe, for the more ambitious ongoing Trek story that has woven together characters and plot-lines from all of the many Trek series.  With no new 24th century-set shows or movies on the horizon to whose canonical continuity the novels would have to adhere, the Trek books have been free to play freely with all sorts of wonderful Trek characters and story-lines, moving the sage forward in exciting and surprising ways.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this last decade-and-a-half of Trek novels has been one of the very best sci-fi sagas in any medium that I have ever come across, sophisticated and a hell of a lot of fun.  This is long-form story-telling at its very best.… [continued]

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Josh Reviews 10 Cloverfield Lane

April 18th, 2016

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I feel like 2008′s Cloverfield has been somewhat forgotten and/or dismissed in recent years, but I loved that film when it came out.  Back in 2008 I wasn’t yet fed up with J.J. Abrams’ “mystery box” schtick and it was fun going into seeing that movie without really having any idea what the heck it was about.  That was cool, and the movie didn’t disappoint.  It was a tremendous big-screen experience, with the “found footage” device used to great effect to put the viewer right into the thick of the action.  Subsequent viewings at home can’t live up to that original big-screen presentation, but I’ve watched Cloverfield a few times over the years, including just last month, and I think the film holds up well.  The skill of screenwriter Drew Goddard (who also helped create Netflix’s Daredevil and wrote & directed the great The Cabin in the Woods) and director Matt Reeves (who directed the spectacular Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) created in Cloverfield a fun, thrilling, and gorgeous-to-look-at monster movie.

Cloverfield felt like a completely one-off thing, and so like everyone else I was stunned when news broke a few months ago that J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot production company was releasing a new film called 10 Cloverfield Lane.  First of all, my cap is off to Mr. Abrams and co. for somehow managing to produce this movie entirely in secret.  They only announced the film’s existence a few months before its release!  I don’t know how they did that, in this day and age.  And, of course, they once again decided to keep almost everything about the movie very secret.  Trailers for 10 Cloverfield Lane didn’t tell much about the film’s story, nor did they reveal whether the film had any connection, other than the title, to 2008′s Cloverfield.  Was this a sequel?  A prequel?  A totally new story?

Here is an example of Mr. Abrams’ secrecy-heavy approach to movie-making really worked for me.  I was intrigued by the mystery around 10 Cloverfield Lane just as I had been with the original Cloverfield.  I had felt burned by Mr. Abrams’ “mystery box” technique in the past, most especially by Star Trek Into Darkness, not only because of everyone involved with the film’s flat-out lying to audiences for months (claiming that Khan was not the villain), but that the film’s story was stupidly structured to keep the identity of Khan a secret until the final 30 minutes, thus defeating the whole idea of bringing back one of Star Trek’s greatest villains.  (Why use Khan if for most of the movie you’re going to have him be pretending to be some other guy??)  But … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Angie Tribeca Season One

Considering that TBS decided to air all ten episodes of the first season of Angie Tribeca on one single day back in January, I suspect the network doesn’t have great confidence in this show.  That’s a huge mistake, because Angie Tribeca is a delight, a relentlessly silly show that is the best heir to Police Squad that I have ever seen.

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Rashida Jones stars as the titular Angie, a no-nonsense detective in the Los Angeles RHCU (Really Heinous Crimes Unit).  Angie Tribeca could be described as a parody of detective TV shows.  In some ways it is, but the show takes the very interesting and rewarding approach of aiming its comedy less towards being an incisive parody of the particular tropes of detective shows and more at just being very silly and random.  The show is stuffed with bizarre sight-gags and word-play, with jokes ranging from the very juvenile to the very clever.  The best comparison to the show’s humor truly is the classic Police Squad and the Naked Gun movies that show spawned.

One of my favorite jokes from the whole first season, and one that gives a great sense of the tone of the show, is a gag from the pilot episode in which Angie warns a suspect, played by Gary Cole, not to do anything stupid.  The camera then cuts to Mr. Cole’s character sticking a metal fork into a toaster.  You’ll know right away if this show is for you by whether that moment in the first episode makes you laugh.  It certainly cracked me up something fierce.

I quickly found myself quite taken with this show’s particular brand of humor.  I think it’s rather unusual for TV comedy today.  Created by Steve Carell and Nancy Walls Carell, Angie Tribeca embraces the silly in a way that really tickled me, and that I found quite endearing.

The show is a lovely showcase for Rashida Jones, who mostly plays the straight-person in the midst of chaos, a role she is able to handle with gusto.  My favorite of her supporting characters is her intense police captain, Atkins, played by Jere Burns.  (I recognized Mr. Burns’ face but when I looked at his imdb page, though he’s been in a lot of stuff I didn’t think I’d ever seen any of it.  Then I realized he played Jesse’s Narcotics Anonymous group leader on Breaking Bad, and I was floored because that was such a completely different role.)  I don’t quite know why but pretty much every single one of Mr. Burns’ slightly-yelled line-deliveries here on Angie Tribeca got me giggling.  I also really enjoyed the great Alfred Molina as medical examiner Dr. Edelweiss, a character who every time … [continued]

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Rogue One and News Around the Net! UPDATED with Doctor Strange Trailer!

I suspect by now you’ve all watched the first teaser trailer for Rogue One, perhaps (like me!) several times:

That’s a pretty terrific trailer.  Not as instantly iconic as any of the magnificent trailers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but still pretty great.  It’s a far more substantial look at the movie than I had expected for a first teaser trailer.

My main question is: why the heck isn’t this film called Star Wars: Rogue One?  Because Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a heck of a mouthful.  I guess we’re going to be saddled with this “A Star Wars Story” business for all of the non-official-”Episode” spin-off Star Wars films to come.  I think that’s a big mistake.  Just call all of these films Star Wars: Whatever You Want Your Title To Be.  Isn’t that much more simple and direct?

As for the peek at the content of the film itself: well, I am on-record as hating prequels, but while I am absolutely DREADING the in-the-works “young Han Solo” movie, I am sort of taken with the idea of telling the story of the secret mission to steal the Death Star plans that must have happened right before the events of the first Star Wars.  That’s a pretty big piece of Star Wars back-story about which we know nothing at all, and it seems like a cool idea for a movie.

And while we all know that you can’t judge a film by its trailer, this first trailer is pretty terrific.  I love that, like The Force Awakens, this Star Wars film seems to be anchored by a strong female character in the lead.  I really enjoyed Felicity Jones’ work in Like Crazy, and she looks terrific here in the lead as Jyn Erso (I had to look that up on-line).  I like the Seven Samurai type feel to the film, of a motley crew of criminals and scum gathered together for a mission.  (It’s interesting that Warner Brothers’ next big DC Universe movie, Suicide Squad, is also based on a similar premise.  I am curious to see how similar those two films wind up being.)

It’s pretty cool to see those shots of Star Destroyers and the Death Star being assembled.  I’ve heard rumors that Darth Vader will be appearing in this film (which would be awesome if done right), but so far they have kept him hidden in this trailer.  (There is a shot of a figure in black kneeling before a pillar of light which resembles how Vader would communicate with the Emperor but that figure doesn’t look like Vader to me.)

I’m eager to learn more about the many new characters … [continued]