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Josh Reviews Incredibles 2

July 16th, 2018
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Back in 2004, Brad Bird’s The Incredibles was a revelation — an extraordinary animated film that was gorgeous and funny and moving.  It was a major change of pace for Pixar (it was their first film with human beings as the main characters), and it was also, in the era before the Marvel Cinematic Universe, one of the best superhero movies I’d ever seen.  For those of us who knew and loved Brad Bird’s animated film The Iron Giant, it was no surprise that Mr. Bird could create an extraordinary animated film, but still, the delights of The Incredibles are hard to overstate.  Fourteen years later, The Incredibles still stands as one of my favorite Pixar films, AND one of my favorite superhero films.  I was, of course, excited when, after long years of wishes and speculation, it was announced that Mr. Bird and Pixar were finally in serious development on an Incredibles sequel.  But could a sequel made fourteen long years after the original recapture the magic of that first film?

For the most part, I am very happy to report that Incredibles 2 does!!  The first Incredibles still stands as the superior film, but this sequel is a beautiful companion piece, an exciting and very entertaining new chapter for these characters.  It’s a thrill to be able to return to this world.

Although this sequel has been released fourteen years after the original film, it’s set immediately following the climactic battle at the end of the first film, and we get to follow the repercussions of those events on the Incredibles family (the Parrs).  While the family was able to save the day and return to the public eye, the law that bans supers didn’t magically vanish overnight, meaning that the Parrs are continuing to break the law each time they don their costumes and fight crime.  After a battle in a city center with “the Underminer” causes major damage, the “Super relocation” program is permanently ended, meaning that Helen and Bob, along with their kids Violet, Dash, and baby Jack-Jack, are left on their own to figure out where to go and how to make a living.  Enter Winston Deaver, a wealthy super-hero fan who offers to use he and his sister Evelyn’s resources and PR know-how to get the public back on the side or the Supers.  Winston and Evelyn ask Helen to be the front-person for their campaign, leaving Bob to tend to the kids.

There is a lot to love about Incredibles 2.  Despite the long gap between films, I was pleased by how effortlessly the film is able to step back into this world and these characters, and the enjoyably fun and somewhat … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Ant Man and the Wasp

July 10th, 2018
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2015’s Ant Man was a delight; a fun, relatively low-stakes romp in which Kevin Feige’s Marvel Studios team demonstrated yet again that they could bring an obscure (at least to non-fans) comic book character to gloriously vibrant life on-screen.  The new 2018 sequel, Ant Man and the Wasp, is more of the same in the best possible way.  After the enormous, universe-shaking Infinity War, this is a palate-cleaning change of pace, a light, funny adventure that I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe films have been unfolding in something close to real time, and so as this new film opens, we check back in with Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) two years after having been arrested for helping Captain America against Iron Man’s pro-registration forces in Captain America: Civil War.  It turns out that Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) are quite pissed at Scott, because Scott’s very public siding with Cap put them on the wrong side of the law due to their association with him.  And so while Scott has been serving house arrest for two years, Hank and Hope have been on the run, attempting to piece together the tech necessary to attempt a rescue of Janet van Dyne, Hank’s wife and Hope’s mother, who vanished into the “quantum realm” thirty years ago when she shrank super-small small in an act of heroism.  Hank and Hope’s efforts hit a snag at a critical junction when they find themselves beset by the super-powered “Ghost” on one side, who is after their tech for reasons unknown, and the criminal Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) on the other, who is after their tech in order to make millions on the black market.  And so Scott has to choose between loyalty to his friends who need his help, and his responsibility to his family, especially his young daughter, who needs her father to stay out of prison.

As with the first film, director Peyton Reed (working this time from a script writtem by Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Paul Rudd, Andrew Barrer & Gabriel Ferrari) has crafted a very fun, funny, light adventure film.  Thankfully, Mr. Reed and his team have not tried to match the intense fate-of-the-universe tone of Avengers: Infinity War, and have instead had the confidence to continue with the low-key style that worked so well in the first Ant Man film.  I love that the stakes in this sequel are so low — arguably the lowest they have been in any Marvel Cinematic Universe film so far.  The events of this film really only matter to the lives of the handful of main characters.  There isn’t even a token … [continued]

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News Around the Net!

Check out this gorgeous new trailer for Damien Chazelle (Whiplash, La La Land)’s new film about Neil Armstrong, First Man:

Wow that looks spectacular!  I love movies about the space program.  This looks like it has the potential to be something special.

Here’s our first look at Shane Black’s Predator reboot:

I dunno.  I desperately want this to be good, and I have enormous faith in the amazingly talented Shane Black (who appeared in the original Predator and wrote and directed Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys, two films I adore), but this trailer isn’t giving me much reason to think this will be better than all the other bad Predator sequels we’ve gotten previously…

Here’s the latest trailer for Sony’s Venom:

Oy.  Look at all this talent and money put towards a movie that feels like a shameless attempt for Sony to make money on a character they have the rights to.  I don’t see any true creative reason to make a movie about one of Spider-Man’s greatest villains that doesn’t include Spider-Man.  I am intrigued to see Tom Hardy playing another weird-talking character, though…!

In better Spider-Man related movie news, I love this new trailer for the animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse:

I love that Miles Morales is getting a movie focused on him, and the animation looks fantastic.  I am very curious about this, and hoping it will be good.

Not to be ignored: this past season, The Simpsons finally did what had long been considered to be impossible, and surpassed Gunsmoke as the longest-running primetime scripted series in U.S. history.  Wowsers.

Jon Favreau’s live-action Star Wars TV show will be set seven years after Return of the Jedi.  I can’t wait to learn more about this project!  A Star Wars TV show, if done right could be amazing.  (And if done wrong, it could be The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles…)

Speaking of TV shows tangentially connected to huge movie series: Amazon’s Lord of the Rings show will apparently begin by following the adventures of young Aragorn.  (The Young Aragorn Chronicles??)   I have been dubious about this idea since it was announced — I feel like Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies adapted Tolkein about as well as can possibly be done, so I’m not sure that going back to this well is of much interest to me.  Still, I will withhold judgment until we learn more…  I’m glad, at least, that the show won’t just be a retelling of the same events we already saw on screen in the LOTR and Hobbit films…

This is a fantastic round-table interview with a group of TV critics … [continued]

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Star Trek and Star Wars in Trouble…?

June 25th, 2018
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It’s been something of a rough week for my two favorite franchises with “Star” in their title.

In last week’s big Star Trek news, the show-runners for Star Trek: Discovery were fired mid-way into production of season two, and replaced by Alex Kurtzman… who was then announced as having been signed to a five-year deal to expand his Star Trek work into multiple different Trek projects and platforms.  Well, I’m certainly happy that someone somewhere is working on more Star Trek.  There are so many places this franchise can go.  We’ve been hearing forever that Nicholas Meyer (writer/director of Star Trek II and Star Trek VI, which count among the very best Trek has ever been) had been working on some sort of Khan story, and I’d love for that to see the light of day.  And the idea of Patrick Stewart’s reprising the role of Picard in some way could be cool!

So what’s bad?  Let’s start with, ugh, the idea of a teen-focused Star Trek story set at Starfleet Academy that just won’t seem to go away.  It was a bad idea decades ago when it was rumored to be the plot of the next Trek movie after Star Trek V’s disappointment, and it’s still a bad idea now.

I’m concerned about yet more behind-the-scenes turmoil at Discovery, which is now on its third show-runner.  (The series’ original co-creator and show-runner, Bryan Fuller, was apparently forced off mid-way through production of the first season.)  And I doubt that Alex Kurtzman, announced as running the show now, will stay as show-runner for long since he’s involved with lots of other projects (more on that in a moment).  So assuming he’s soon replaced by someone else, that’d be four show-runners in two seasons.  That doesn’t bode well for a high-quality show!!

Also, I don’t like reading the dreaded “reboot” word in connection to the mentions in the press of Patrick Stewart’s possible return to the character of Picard.  Ever since 2002’s disappointing Nemesis, I have been hoping that future Trek movies/shows would move the franchise forward rather than backwards.  I’m not interested in more prequels like Enterprise or Discovery, and I really don’t want a reboot that will erase the past fifty-plus years of Trek continuity.  (While I was originally open to the idea of J.J. Abrams’ movies rebooting the Trek franchise in order to give us new adventures of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, etc., ultimately now I think we have to look back on that three-film reboot series as a disappointment.)  I’d love to see what Picard is up to a few decades after the events of Nemesis — but a do-over/reboot does not interest … [continued]

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Star Trek: Further Adventures of the Department of Temporal Investigations!

The Department of Temporal Investigations was mentioned in one single Star Trek episode, Deep Space Nine’s “Trials and Tribble-ations.”  But many fans (myself included!) loved what we saw of the DTI, and its agents Dulmur and Lucsley.  Author Christopher L. Bennett must have felt the same way, as he expanded upon those characters and concepts in his two wonderful DTI novels, Watching the Clock and Forgotten History.  I had hoped for many more DTI novels, but I guess that was not to be.  Still, I was happy that Mr. Bennett continued the series in three novellas, which were released as e-books.  I quite enjoyed the first one, The Collectors, and I eagerly continued to read the next two, Time Lock and Shield of the Gods.

Time Lock:

Novella #2, Time Lock, is a fantastic mind-bender in which a Time-Lock security device is activated to slow down times within the DTI’s vault on Eris, when a group of bandits assault the location in an attempt to steal some of the valuable time-travel devices the DTI has found over the years (as discussed in the previous DTI e-book novella, The Collectors).  And so the 90-minute attempted heist within the vault takes place over the duration of nine months in the outside world.  As the story progresses, DTI agents within and without the time locked vault attempt to work together to save the day, with the ever-increasing time-difference alternatively proving an advantage and a disadvantage.

Mr. Bennett’s wonderfully clever, and mathematically precise, story is a delight, and at a short e-book length this novella races along at a gripping pace.

This is a very cool concept for a story, and Mr. Bennett keeps this complicated story clear and easy to understand.

I loved seeing Dulmer get to have a successful romantic relationship.  And I particularly loved that he gets involved with a Denobulan, Dr. Phlox’s race (from Star Trek: Enterprise) which Mr. Bennett had recently explored in his novel Rise of the Federation: Live By the Code.

When reading The Collectors, I had wished that agents Garcia and Ranjea (introduced in Mr. Bennett’s first DTI novel, Watching the Clock) had more to do, a wish that was thankfully granted in this novella.

I enjoyed the reference to the prism stone from Voyager: Eternal Tide, now stored in the DTI vault.

The novella ends on a terrific cliffhanger, which was a big surprise!  Thankfully I had already downloaded Shield of the Gods and could proceed to the conclusion without delay…

Shield of the Gods:

This final novella was a wonderful conclusion to Mr. Bennett’s e-book DTI trilogy.  The kidnapped DTI agent Ranjea attempts to determine the mastermind’s plan, while his partner … [continued]

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Josh Reviews the SyFy Channel Adaptation of Childhood’s End

June 18th, 2018

Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, first published in 1953, is a magnificent novel, a triumph of science fiction that is riveting and heartbreaking. It’s a ripe subject for adaptation, and I’m pleased that I had a chance to catch up with the SyFy channel’s three-part, four-plus hour mini-series adaptation, which originally aired in December, 2015.

The miniseries, like the novel, begins when enormous spaceships descend over major cities worldwide.  Though mankind at first fears the alien visitors, who the people of the world dub the “overlords”, the aliens — through their spokesperson, Karellen — vow to help humanity eliminate war, poverty, pollution, and all the other ills facing the planet.  And they do!  In so doing, they help humanity transition to — well, that would be telling!

The miniseries is a very solid and enjoyable, if not exactly spectacular, adaptation of Mr. Clarke’s wonderful original story.  The production values are (mostly) impressive and the cast is (mostly) great.  The writers made significant changes, but they (mostly) preserved the flavor of Mr. Clarke’s original story and the most important beats of the tale.

Mr. Clarke’s story is divided into three sections, which fits nicely with the miniseries’ three-part structure.  However, while Mr. Clarke’s novel takes place over about a century, the miniseries unsurprisingly condences the bulk of story into around twenty years, so they can have the same actors playing the same characters from start to finish. I can understand this choice, though I think the book’s timing makes more sense, as it stretches credulity that everything that transpires in the story happens across only twenty-to-twenty five years.  Also, they don’t make any effort to age the actors at all, which is weird. The young farm couple Ricky & Ellie look about 30 at the start of the story and still look exactly the same at the end, two-plus decades later.  It’s distracting.  (They throw in a line about how the improvements to the planet have caused people to age more slowly, but still, it’s extremely silly that everyone looks exactly the same a quarter century later.)  (I also think they lose the effect that recasting some of the characters to be played by older actors in the later parts would have given the story.  The climax would have been more effective had we felt this story as a generational tale, as the novel was.)

For the most part, I thought the mini-series looked great.  The visual effects of the Overlords’ ships, and the handful of other outer-space effects shots, and also the brief glimpses we get of the Overlords’ home planet, were all very well done.  This is an epic story, and for the most part I felt the mini-series … [continued]

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“I Always Wondered How This Was Gonna End” — Josh Reviews the (Series?) Finale of The X-Files

June 14th, 2018
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After a weak opening episode, I have been very impressed by how great the subsequent eight, mostly stand-alone episodes of The X-Files season eleven have been!  Click here for my review of episodes 1-3, here for my review of episodes 4-6, and here for my review of episodes 7-9.  And now, on to the finale:

My Struggle IV — After the beautiful ending of “Nothing Lasts Forever,” I was bracing myself for a return to the terrible with the finale.  The previous three “My Struggle” episodes by Chris Carter (that opened and closed the 2016 season, and that opened this new season) have all been a mess.  It’s remarkable to me how, for the longest time during the show’s prime, the mythology episodes were so spectacular and it was the monster-of-the-week episodes that, even when they were great, often stretched my patience.  But in these two revival seasons, the mythology episodes have been disastrous and the stand-alone monster-of-the-week episodes have been far more successful and entertaining (particularly in this season).

“My Struggle IV” isn’t quite as catastrophically bad as the previous three “My Struggle” episodes have been, but it’s still a disappointingly wobbly ending to the season and, perhaps, the show.

The episode opens with a narration from Mulder and Scully’s son William.  (Since the first three “My Struggle” episodes were narrated by, respectively, Mulder, Scully, and the CSM, I was really hoping that Skinner would get to open this one!!)  I was pleased to see William back in focus.  While I don’t think it’s been well-executed AT ALL, I can at least say that I was happy that these two revival seasons chose to pick up the story of Mulder and Scully’s baby, since that was a pretty huge thread left dangling from the original run.  Particularly in those final two original seasons (seasons eight and nine), we heard again and again and again that their baby was “important,” but we never understood why.

Sadly, we STILL don’t understand!!  Yes, William has psychic powers.  We knew that ever since we saw him as a baby moving the mobile above his crib.  But why does he have these powers, and why is this so important to CSM and all the other conspiracy people??  There have been plenty of super-powered people on the show before.  Why do they all “need” William for some reason?  What does any of this have to do with the alien plague that CSM threatens to unleash upon the world (and that we saw happen in “My Struggle II” which turned out to be, ugh, just a dream/prediction of the future by William and/or Scully)?  Why doesn’t the CSM unleash the plague if that … [continued]

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Josh Bids Farewell to The Americans!

I started watching The Americans very soon after I’d finished watching Breaking Bad, and right away from the pilot episode I was struck by the similarity of the set-up: Philip and Elizabeth Jennings had to hide their criminal activities from Stan Beeman, their FBI-agent neighbor, just as Walter White had to hide his criminal activities from Hank Schrader, his DEA agent brother-in law.  Of course, the two shows went in very different directions and turned out to have very different styles of story-telling.  (I loved them both!)  But as The Americans entered its sixth and final season, I wondered to what degree the endgame of the two shows would be similar.  The final run of episodes of Breaking Bad were among the series’ best — once Hank found out the truth about Walt, all bets were off and things got crazy.  Surely Stan would finally discover the Jennings’ secret before the end, right?  When would that happen, and what would happen once that revelation finally occurred??

What’s fascinating to me about this final season of The Americans is the way in which things unfolded not at all like how I’d expected — and yet, somehow, exactly in a way that, upon reflection, makes sense for this show and reflects the type of show this has been since the beginning, and the very specific, methodical way in which creator Joe Weinberg and his partner show-runner Joel Fields have told this story.

Breaking Bad went crazy in those final run of episodes — I found that final half-season to be a visceral, thrilling ride.  I’d expected The Americans to similarly ramp up the pace in this final ten episode season (all its previous seasons have been 13 episodes long), but instead, the show came back as the same show it had always been: a deep-dive into these characters and their lives, both personal and professional; steadily-paced and taking the time to show us all the details.  I was surprised at first that the show was taking so much time in this final run to introduce lots of new characters and situations for the espionage in which Philip and Elizabeth were engaging.  (Well, mostly Elizabeth, since the season began with Philip’s having been out of the game for three years.)  We spent a LOT of time in the early going this season with Sofia and Gennadi (the Russian hockey player) and with the dying artist Erica Haskard.

That’s a risky approach, but as I look back now on this final season, for the most part (and I’ll get to a few concerns in a moment), it worked!  I wasn’t impatient for The Americans to hurry up and get to the “good stuff,” … [continued]

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