Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Reviews the Third New Star Trek Short: “The Brightest Star”

The third of four new Star Trek short films, dubbed Short Treks, has arrived: “The Brightest Star.”  This short story presents a concise version of the origin of Saru, the Discovery’s Kelpian science officer played by the phenomenally-talented Doug Jones.  The story is set before Saru left his planet to join Starfleet.  For the first time, we get to see Saru’s home planet Kaminar, and we meet Saru’s father and sister.  The short quickly sets up the sad life of the Kelpians, who wait to be harvested by an unseen alien race called the Ba’ul.  (We don’t see exactly what happens to the harvested Kelpians, who we see vanish in a flash of light, but we assume the worst.)  Saru questions why this is the way life must be, but his father, who appears to be some sort of religious figure who oversees these harvests, attempts to squash his questioning.  When Saru gets his hands on a piece of alien technology, he uses it to send a signal off-world.  But who will answer…?

With “The Brightest Star,” these Short Treks are now three for three.  This was a great short film.  It looked absolutely gorgeous, and it provided us with a wealth of fascinating information about Saru’s backstory.

I love how different all three of these Short Treks have been from one another.  The first, “Runaways,” was a great little character piece for Discovery’s Ensign Tilly.  It didn’t feel essential, but it was a great showcase for Mary Wiseman’s Tilly and a lovely chance for her character to step into the spotlight.  The second, “Calypso,” (written by Michael Chabon) was set 1,000 years after Discovery and felt like totally it’s own thing, a complete short-story set outside of current Trek continuity.  I hope this story will be followed up on someday, but if it never is, I’ll be OK with that.  This third short, though, feels like an essential piece of critical backstory for one of Discovery’s main characters, and it leaves so many questions hanging that it feels like a story that demands a follow-up.  (Rumor has it that there will indeed be a Saru-focused episode in Discovery’s second season that will pick up threads from this short.)

I hope that turns out to be the case, because this short film left me with a million questions.  Who are the Ba’ul?  What do they do to the harvested Kelpians?  Why do the Kelpians go along with this so docilely?  What is that obelisk-like device around which the Kelpians gather to be harvested?  What would we see if the camera had ever panned up — does that object connect to a ship, or is … [continued]

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Reviews Green Book

Set in 1962, the film Green Book tells the story of the eight weeks that African-American jazz pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) and Italian-American Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) spent on the road together.  The out-of-work Tony was hired as Don Shirley’s driver, as Shirley’s jazz trio embarked on a tour of the Deep South.  Tony’s assignment, from Don’s record label, was to make sure that Don made it to each of his pre-booked dates, and to take care of any trouble that might arise along the way.  The men at first seem like oil and water, but as their weeks on the road progress, they eventually strike up an unlikely friendship.

The film is based on a true story, and the screenplay was written by Tony’s son Nick Vallelonga, along with Peter Farrelly and Brian Hayes Currie.  The film’s title refers to the Negro Motorist Green Book, a handbook used by African-American travelers in that era

Green Book is a warm fable the likes of which is a little out of style these days, and I suppose one could find fault with the film for the way it follows very familiar beats.  You know from minute one that the very different Tony and Don will overcome their initial mutual dislike, and very different ethnic and class backgrounds, to become friends by the time the end-credits role.  Trust me, I’m not spoiling anything by revealing that here in the opening paragraphs of my review.

But while it’s story-beats might feel a little familiar, I found Green Book to be a delight, primarily because of the exceptional work of the two lead actors.

I have been a fan of Mahershala Ali’s since his days as the best part of The 4400 (a sci-fi show that was never quite as good as I’d hoped it would be).  Mr. Ali has been doing consistently great work for years, but he’s really shot into the spotlight recently with his amazing work in Moonlight and a fun recurring role on the first season of Netflix’s Luke Cage.  He’s terrific here as Don Shirley.  What I love about this film, and Mr. Ali’s performance, is that they have avoided the stereotype of the perfect, angelic African-American character.  Don Shirley is not Hoke (from Driving Miss Daisy).  No, Don Shirley is… well, an uptight prick.  He’s an extraordinarily talented, genius-level musician, but he’s also stuck-up, curt, isolated and lonely.  This is not an easy-to-like character.  Mr. Ali’s work (and the strong script), however, allow us to understand him and empathize with him as we gradually learn more about who Don Shirley is and why he is that way.  We see his daily struggles against vicious prejudice and … [continued]

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

News Around the Net! UPDATED with Avengers 4 Trailer!

UPDATE: The first trailer for Avengers 4 has finally dropped!

First off: the title.  Endgame.  That’s… OK.  Not a bad title, but it’s a bit generic.  I think the phrase “endgame” is a bit overused in genre circles, and Dr. Strange’s line in Infinity War that “we’re in the endgame now” frankly wasn’t my favorite piece of dialogue in the film.  I’m not sure why Marvel felt the need to keep this title so top-secret for the last few years!  After such a build-up, this title is a bit disappointing.  But it’s fine.  The title underlines the importance of Dr. Strange’s line of dialogue in Infinity War that there was only one way in billions to defeat Thanos.  I’d commented in my original review that I suspected that Strange’s choice to give Thanos the Time Stone wasn’t a defeat but, in fact, the key to victory.  From this title, it looks like I was right, big time.

As for the rest of the trailer — excellent!  We don’t actually see very much, but it’s a great tease.  The first half with Tony Stark is fantastic and strikes the right “hopeless” tone.  I like seeing this more substantial clip rather than just fast-paced shots.  I love the way the Marvel logo dissolves just like everyone dying at the end of Infinity War.  I’m delighted to see Hawkeye (who appears to be dressed up as Ronin from the comics — that’s an interesting touch and a nice reference for comic book fans) and Ant Man in the trailer, since they were the two main characters left out of Infinity War.  (Looks like Scott escaped from his perilous situation in the post-credits sequence of Ant Man and the Wasp!)  I love what I am seeing so far.  I really hope Marvel can stick the landing on this one.  I am counting the days.

Ok, back to our regularly scheduled post…!

Stop what you’re doing and please watch Tom Cruise and Christopher McQuarrie’s new short PSA about how the motion-smoothing setting on most HD-TVs ruins movies.  Their life-and-death, super-serious tone is sort of hilarious. But also, I agree!! I am evangelical about this, though most of my friends and family just shake their heads. Turn off this setting so that you can watch movies properly!!

Then, for follow-up reading, this is a great piece on Tom Cruise and Mr. McQuarrie (author of The Usual Suspects)’s many recent collaborations.

This is an inspiring interview with architect Frank Gehry on how he got started.

I’m impressed and awed that, after more than a half-century, Doonesbury continues.  Here’s a great interview by Rolling Stone with Garry Trudeau.

Red alert: Nicholas Meyer, one of the … [continued]

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Late to the Party: Josh Reviews Veep Seasons One and Two!

December 5th, 2018
,

Julia Louis Dreyfus’s show Veep always interested me.  I was, of course, an enormous fan of Ms. Dreyfus from Seinfeld.  The cast looked great (Arrested Development alum Tony Hale’s involvement got my attention), and the political setting really interested me.  But somehow, I never got around to watching the show!  Thankfully, I have finally remedied that, tearing through seasons one and two on DVD, and I love this show as much as I had expected to.

Created by Armando Iannucci, Veep stars Julia Louis Dreyfus as Selina Meyer, the Vice President of the United States.  This political satire follows the misadventures of Ms. Meyer and her somewhat hapless team as they try to navigate the shark-infested political waters of Washington.

Julia Louis Dreyfus is superlative as Vice President Meyer.  She is so effortlessly perfect in this role.  Above all else, she is toweringly funny.  I mean, ridiculously, amazingly, note-perfectly funny.  She’s able to play Meyer as a little dim, a little self-centered, a little bumbling, but also as a good-hearted underdog who we root for as she is ignored by the president, critiqued by the press, and surrounded by a staff who don’t exactly feel like the Washington A-team.  This is an amazing balancing act.  There is a slim club of actors who get to play an iconic character on TV.  It’s almost unheard of to get to play two.  Ms. Dreyfus makes it look easy.

Anna Chlumsky (all grown up since 1991’s My Girl) plays Amy, Selina Meyer’s Chief-of-Staff.  I love Amy, a tough, smart Washington warrior who is also human and not above an occasional (ok, more than occasional) screw-up.  Ms. Chlumsky’s unflappable demeanor is comedic gold.  Tony Hale plays Selina’s body-man, Gary.  Mr. Hale is hilarious as the fiercely loyal, puppy-dog-like Gary.  This is a classic, instantly iconic TV character.  (Remember what I just wrote about how amazing it is that Julia Louis Dreyfus was able to play two iconic TV characters on two different shows?  Same goes for Mr. Hale.)  Matt Walsh (founding member of the Upright Citizens Brigade, who has also popped up all over the place, in films such as Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters, The Hangover, Cyrus, I Love You, Man, Role Models, Step Brothers, and Be Kind, Rewind) plays Communications Director Mike McLintock, and Mr. Walsh is the show’s comedic sneak weapon.  I find the way he plays the weary and idiotic Mike to be hilarious perfection.

Reid Scott plays Dan, the young, ambitious smooth operator who joins Selina’s team in the pilot episode.  Dan starts off, by design, as very unlikable.  (We the viewers don’t like him because Amy and the rest of Selina’s team don’t like him.)  But … [continued]

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

William Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade!

December 3rd, 2018
,

I was saddened by the recent passing of William Goldman.  Mr. Goldman was a talented author of many famous and great (many are one or the other, and many are both) novels and screenplays, including The Princess Bride (the novel and the screenplay), Marathon Man (the novel and the screenplay), the screenplays for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All The President’s Men, and so many more.

For a few years I’ve had sitting on the “to-read” pile on my bookshelf Mr. Goldman’s two memoirs/how-to books: 1982’s Adventures in the Screen Trade and 2000’s Which Lie Did I Tell?  More Adventures in the Screen Trade.  My Goldman’s passing kicked me in the tuchas to finally read them.

I just finished Adventures in the Screen Trade, and let me tell you: it is magnificent!  This is a must-read for anyone interested in behind-the-scenes stories of how movies get made, as well as the art of writing.

The book is a combination of two very different goals: spinning yarns about Mr. Goldman’s many wild experiences in Hollywood and providing instruction on how to write.  (Mr. Goldman’s focus is on how to write screenplays, but many of his points are applicable to writing of any kind.)  Both aspects of these books are wonderful and ridiculously enjoyable.

The book is divided into four sections.  The first section is a somewhat randomly-ordered description of many of the different types of players in Hollywood (directors, producers, studios, stars, agents, etc.), as well as Mr. Goldman’s ruminations on other aspects of the biz (meetings, etc.)   One might think that this would be of zero interest to someone not interested in pursuing a movie career — but one would be wrong!  Within the first thirty pages I was hooked.

Mr. Goldman’s writing style is conversational and fall-on-the-floor hilarious.  This is not a dry tome — the book truly feels like Mr. Goldman is right there chatting with you, with his chair back and his feet up, telling funny and horrifying stories of all the crazy Hollywood bullshit he’s experienced over the years.  And boy oh boy does he have some wild stories to tell.

The second section serves as something of a memoir of Mr. Goldman’s years as a screenwriter, including his experiences on All The President’s Men, Marathon Man, The Right Stuff, The Stepford Wives, and several other films that I hadn’t ever seen.  This section of the book is FASCINATING.  I think it’s my favorite part of the book (though it’s all good)!  Mr. Goldman is brutally honest, describing his experiences on movies that came out great (All The President’s Men) and those that, well, didn’t (The Stepford Wives).  This part of the … [continued]

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Reviews Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

I quite liked the first Fantastic Beasts film.  I enjoyed being back in the world of Harry Potter (what has now been dubbed “The Wizarding World”), and I thought the film was fun if a little slight.  (It was a gentler, more meandering tale than the last few Harry Potter films, which were darker and more intense.)  I wouldn’t say I LOVED the film, but I was eager for the story to continue in the next of five planned films.

The trailers for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald were intriguing, but also raised some alarm bells for me.  This new film looked a lot more epic and a lot darker than the first Fantastic Beasts — this excited me.  The trailers played up this film’s connections to the broader Harry Potter mythology — Dumbledore, Hogwarts, the human form of Nagini, etc.  This also excited me.  But mostly absent from the trailers were the foursome who were the focus of the first Fantastic Beasts film: the sisters Tina and Queenie, the “No-Maj” Jacob Kowalski, and Newt Scamander himself.  This worried me.  Was this second film abandoning these characters?  I doubted it would, but then I worried that they would they be in the film but overshadowed by all of the more exciting mythology, the Dumbledore-versus-Grindelwald stuff.  Would Newt & co. be unnecessary and boring in their own film?  Would I wish that Dumbledore was the main character, rather than Newt?

Having now seen the film, I can say a few things:

First off, I quite enjoyed it.  I thought it was, overall, a stronger film than I’d been expecting based on the early reviews.

Second, the film feels very much of a piece with the first Fantastic Beasts film.  I’d worried this film was going to be a major course correction from the first film, but in fact it continues nicely from the first Fantastic Beasts in terms of tone and style.

Third, I had expected that the film would be structured with Newt & co. going on a series of adventures that I’d find somewhat entertaining but not as much fun as the “good stuff” of the mythology revelations and spectacle that I expected in the film’s climax.  In fact, I was very taken by the film’s first three-fourths, and all of that adventuring by Newt & co., while I found the film’s last thirty-or-so minutes to be head-spinningly confusing, overstuffed with exposition describing IMPORTANT REVELATIONS that I felt weren’t sufficiently explained nor were their repercussions sufficiently explored (the latter being a task, presumably, held for the next film).

OK, let’s dig in.

I was pleased that, contrary to how the film was being advertised, the big-four … [continued]

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Reviews Luke Cage Season Two

November 26th, 2018
,

For quite a while, I’d wished that the Marvel Netflix shows would come out at a faster pace.  We had to wait almost three years, for example, between the first two seasons of Jessica Jones.  (Though the character did appear in The Defenders in between.)  But weirdly, since the summer there’s been a bit of a glut: Luke Cage season two came out in June, Iron Fist season two came out in September, and Daredevil season three came out in October.  I wasn’t certain how I wanted to proceed.  I wasn’t in a huge rush to watch Luke Cage or Iron Fist, since I’d found both of their first seasons to be extremely mediocre.  (Click here for my review of Luke Cage season one, and here for my review of Iron Fist season one.)  But I was curious to see if they’d managed to course-correct for their second seasons.  (I avoid reviews of shows or movies I haven’t yet seen, but I’d seen headlines and it seemed that people felt that Iron Fist, at least, had improved significantly, so that was encouraging.)  The show I was most interested in seeing was the third season of Daredevil, and I debated whether I wanted to watch the shows out of order and jump ahead to that.  When news broke that both Luke Cage and Iron Fist had been cancelled before I’d started watching, I debated skipping both Luke Cage and Iron Fist altogether.  In the end, I decided to go in order and take a look at Luke Cage, and see how things went from there.  (Actually, the news that both Luke Cage and Iron Fist had been cancelled made it an easier decision to watch their respective second seasons, because I knew that I was making a finite commitment…!)

I don’t regret watching Luke Cage season two, but the show remains far more mediocre that it should be.  I can’t really recommend it.  It’s ludicrously slow.  The first five or six hours are particularly painful.  While I have found that most of the Netflix Marvel shows start off strong and then sag, Luke Cage season two was a rare one that did get better as the 13 episodes unfolded.  But there is still barely 5-6 hours of plot stretched out over 13 episodes.  The show suffers from an unfortunate tendency to give us the same type of scene, over and over and over again.  This results in a painful sense of wheel-spinning.  In those rather dreadful first five or six episodes, how many times did we get a version of these scenes:

* Luke Cage walks into the barber shop feeling discouraged, and someone gives him … [continued]

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Star Trek: Assignment: Eternity

After reading several recent Star Trek novels that played with the history of the Star Trek universe, and that involved Gary Seven and the mysterious Aegis agency for which he worked, I decided to go back to an earlier Star Trek novel that focused on the enigmatic Mr. Seven, Greg Cox’s Assignment: Eternity.

I have always loved Mr. Cox’s Eugenics Wars duology, two novels that attempted to merge the hints we got in various Star Trek episodes about the Eugenics Wars that gave rise to Khan, with the actual history of the 20th century as it unfolded in the decades after the Original Series.  (Our actual history caught up to the years in which this global Eugenics Wars conflict supposedly took place!  Mr. Cox’s brilliant novels suggested that the Eugenics Wars had happened under all of our noses, weaving the story of Khan and his conflicts with the actual history of those years.)  Those novels Eugenics Wars novels also involved Gary Seven and Roberta Lincoln, who were introduced in the Original Series episode “Assignment: Earth”.  Mr. Cox had a great handle on those characters, and when I realized that he had written another book involving them, I decided to track it down.

In Assignment: Eternity, a tragedy involving an Aegis operative in the time of Captain Kirk and the Enterprise’s five-year mission leads Gary Seven and Roberta Lincoln to travel forward in time to Kirk’s era.  But Kirk doesn’t trust the mysterious Seven, and with the Enterprise on an urgent mission of mercy, Kirk does not want to divert his ship at Seven’s whims.  But a crisis is brewing on the Roman side of the Neutral Zone…

This was a great book.  Gary Seven and Roberta Lincoln (and Isis!) are terrific characters, and their one on-screen appearance left so much to be explored about all three of them.  It’s great to get to see these characters again, and as before Mr. Cox has a wonderful handle on their mannerisms.  It’s fun to see these characters, and also the mysterious Aegis (and props, by the way, to Howard Weinstein for coining that name in DC Comics’ original Star Trek comic-book series) explored in this story.  I’d wondered whether the Aegis was continuing to operate in Kirk’s era — apparently they are.  (I liked the note that the Aegis is no longer operating within the Federation, since apparently they have gotten onto the right track.  The Romulans, however…)

I enjoyed the way that Mr. Cox developed an entire story out of an offhand line of dialogue in “Assignment: Earth” about the Aegis having the ability to cloak a planet.  The idea of a hidden Aegis base within Romulan space is a … [continued]

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone