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Josh Reviews Barry Seasons One and Two

Early on during our social isolation, my wife and I caught up with the HBO series Barry.  Bill Hader stars as the titular Barry, a former marine turned hitman who attempts to recreate himself after accidentally walking into an acting class and being mistaken as a prospective student.  The lonely Barry becomes enamored with the found family of wannabe actors he discovers in the acting class taught by Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler).  And he’s as surprised as anyone to discover that he actually has a modicum of skill at performing!  Suddenly Barry begins to envision a whole new life for himself.  But getting out of the hitman game doesn’t prove nearly as simple as Barry hopes it will be.

I was immediately taken by Barry, which was created by Mr. Hader and TV veteran Alec Berg (who wrote for Seinfeld and was an Executive Producer on Curb Your Enthusiasm and Silicon Valley).  Bill Hader has long since proven himself to me as a terrific actor, in such films as The Skeleton Twins and Trainwreck.  But he’s operating at a new level here, and he is magnificent as the central character on this show.  This is not a showy role.  Barry is an extremely buttoned-down, very internal character.  Mr. Hader has to convey a vast array of emotion without much movement or many big speeches, but he effortlessly allows the audience to engage with Barry’s struggles and journey.  There are a number of deeply emotional, dramatic moments on the show, and Mr. Hader nails every single one.  His comedic skills are also key here.  Most of the jokes on the show don’t involve any sort of standard set-up/punch-line; instead, the humor tends to come from the absurdity of the crazy situations that Barry finds himself in, and his deadpan reactions.  Mr. Hader never winks at the audience or allows a hint of playing a joke into his performance; this renders his performance very funny.  It’s a tight needle to thread but he nails it perfectly.  (I should also note that some of the best demonstrations of Mr. Hader’s acting abilities are the scenes in which we see that Barry is a bad actor.  A good actor convincingly acting badly is not as easy as you might think.  But Mr. Hader is so great, and so funny, in those moments!)

Tight needle to thread is a good way to describe the overall tone of the show.  This is a comedy that is about a character who has murdered people for a living, and who continues to murder people as the show goes on.  There are a million ways this could not work.  The show has to move from moments in … [continued]

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News Around the Net!

July 6th, 2020

Sad news of the passing of Carl Reiner at the incredible age of 98.  Here’s a great appreciation of Mr. Reiner, written by Rolling Stone TV critic Alan Sepinwall.  Mel Brooks tweeted a lovely tribute to his friend.  The long, incredible friendship between Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner was an incredible thing.  I loved their joint appearance on Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.  Mel Brooks’ son Max shares some moving insight into how his father is handling the loss of his long-time friend.  Lots and lots of additional reminiscences can be found here.

Like so many of you, I thoroughly enjoyed watching Hamilton on Disney+!  It was a delight getting to experience the play and to be able to feel like we were so close to all the performers.  I was going to write a review, but there have already been so many great articles written about it: take a look at “Why We Need Hamilton Now More Than Ever” by Alan Sepinwall at Rolling Stone; at this piece from the AV Club;  and this piece called “Hamilton and America’s Unfinished Symphony.”

Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool) crashes Hugh Jackman’s X-Men Zoom reunion in this very funny short video, made to support Global Goal: Unite For Our Future:

Speaking of reunions, I had so much fun watching the latest Reunited Apart show from Josh Gad, bringing together the cast of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off:

Mr. Gad says this will be the last show for now — I hope it’s only a temporary hiatus and that he keeps going with these fun reunions!  Also: if you’re watching and enjoying these reunions, please consider donating to the causes he specifies for each episode.

Two Seth Rogens in An American Pickle?  I can’t wait:

I loved Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernandez’s comic book series The Old Guard, and I’m hoping the new Netflix film (streaming this weekend!!) lives up to the source material:

This first look at Pixar’s upcoming film, Soul, looks terrific:

This is amazing (and a little creepy): actual footage of illegal fireworks displays in Los Angeles on July 4th, spliced into the famous opening sequence of Blade Runner and the music by Vangelis.

This is very cool: Bill Hunt of The Digital Bits writes about Kaleidescape, a high-end service for downloading and playing movie theater quality 4k versions of all your favorite movies.  Wow, someday I dream of having the money and space to create a home theater like this.  Check out the Kalediescape website and drool!

A Willow TV show is in development?  Count me in!  I recently rewatched Willow for the first time in almost twenty years, and I really enjoyed it!  … [continued]

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Star Trek: Crisis of Consciousness

I’m a big fan of author Dave Galanter, and I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to catch up to his most recent Star Trek novel, Crisis of Consciousness, which was published in 2015.  Mr. Galanter has written a number of great Trek books, including Troublesome Minds, which is one of my favorite stand-alone Original Series novels of the past several years.  He was also involved, for a while, with the Star Trek fan-film project Star Trek: Phase II (also known as Star Trek: New Voyages).  Mr. Galanter wrote the script for the excellent Phase II episode “Enemy: Starfleet!”  (He was also involved in other Phase II projects that sadly never saw the light of day, as the project has dissolved in the aftermath of CBS/Paramount’s draconian “fan film guidelines.”  I’d been particularly excited to see a Phase II adaptation of Troublesome Minds, which was rumored for a while.  Oh well!)

As Crisis of Consciousness begins, Captain Kirk and the Enterpise crew have just overseen the induction of a new species, the Maabas, into the Federation.  This formerly xenophobic culture has begun to embrace the wider universe around them.  But just as the Enterprise is about to deliver Ambassador Pippenge and his team back to their planet, they encounter another species, the Kenisians, who angrily declare that the Maabas’ world used to be their own, and they demand it back.  The Kenisians are Vulcanoids, sprung off from main Vulcan society uncounted millennia ago, who have now evolved into “multividuals.”  When one of their kind passes away, their katra is absorbed into a new host mind.  Zhatan, the Kenisian commander, contains hundreds of her ancestors within herself.  How can long-ago grievances ever be forgotten when one’s long-dead ancestors are not dead at all, but alive within you?

Mr. Galanter has crafted a wonderful story that feels new and original, and yet perfectly of a piece with classic Star Trek.  Crisis of Consciousness presents a number of new sci-fi situations and moral dilemmas for Kirk, Spock, and the crew of the Enterprise to wrestle with.

I loved the concept of the “multividuals.”  It reminded me, intriguingly, of Dune, and the way certain characters such as Aliya and the Bene Gesserit contained the consciousnesses of their ancestors within them.  In this novel, Mr. Galanter expands upon that idea in a number of fascinating way, as we see both the positive aspects of this unique mental situation, and the way the Kenisians have constructed their society upon this methodology, and also the challenges of trying to exist as an individual person with hundreds of other personalities roiling within you.  I particularly enjoyed the novel’s depictions of Spock’s interactions with Zhatan and the … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Luther

Idris Elba (The Wire) stars as DCI (Detective Chief Inspector) John Luther in the BBC television series Luther.  Luther is a brilliant investigator but he always seems to tread right up (and sometimes over) to the boundary separating a by-the-book police officer with someone willing to step over into the dark side and do whatever he feels it takes to see the guilty punished.  Five short series (seasons) of Luther have been released since 2010.  The series was created by Neil Cross, who has written every episode.  Over the past several months, I slowly made my way through the series.  I thought Idris Elba’s performance in the lead role was phenomenal, though the unrelenting bleakness of the show made it difficult at times to get through.

Idris Elba’s extraordinary work as Stringer Bell in The Wire made me an instant fan, and I’ve enjoyed his work in a variety of projects ever since.  He’s been great as Heimdall in Thor and a variety of subsequent Marvel movies, and his work has always impressed even in otherwise mediocre movies (such as Pacific Rim, Star Trek Beyond, Prometheus, and American Gangster).  His presence as the lead in Luther is what made me want to watch the show, and there’s no question that it’s his intense, live-wire of a performance that is the best thing about it.  Mr. Elba’s presence dominates the screen in a way that few actors can manage.  The series provides a fantastic showcase for his talents.  The show’s storytelling is 100% focused on Luther.  There are some wonderful actors in supporting roles, but none of those characters are very fleshed out.  This is the Luther show, through and through.  Mr. Elba’s passion and magnetism sucks the viewer right in, and you travel with him through these stories.  He is tremendous, start-to-finish.

In the past decade-plus, we’ve seen a lot of great shows about charismatic but deeply messed-up male leads.  (Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, The Shield, Boardwalk Empire, and many more.)  Luther fits squarely into that mold.  It can a bit of a tiresome structure for a show; it’s one that I don’t think has aged well since the series premiered in 2010.  My interest has waned in that type of show, and there were times when I felt Luther teetered on the edge of becoming a show I didn’t want to watch.  But Mr. Elba’s magnificent performance always pulled me back in.  I loved this character and ultimately I wanted to follow his journey!

Though, wow, it was sometimes hard, because I found the show’s unending horror to be difficult to stomach.  First of all, every episode is about some sort … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Undone

Amazon’s gorgeous, emotionally rich animated series Undone centers around a young woman named Alma (Rosa Salazar), who feels stuck in the mundane routines of her every-day life.  When her younger sister Becca announces her engagement, Alma begins to spiral into insecurity and frustration and loneliness.  After a car crash — the result of her running through a stop sign — lands her in the hospital, Alma begins seeing visions of her dead father (Bob Odenkirk).  He begins to teach Rosa shamanistic techniques to untether her mind from her linear reality, allowing her to experience different moments in her life and explore her past, and that of her father’s.  Has Alma taken the first steps into connecting with her family’s Nahuatl roots and learned how to see time and the universe in an entirely new way?  Or is this all in her head, and she is sinking into the schizophrenia that destroyed her grandmother?

I adored Undone.  This eight-episode series is a beautiful, complex character study of a deeply broken young woman, and at the same time it is a gloriously mind-bending sci-fi tale.  Both aspects of the series work wonderfully and enhance the other.  The series was created by Kate Purdy and Raphael Bob-Waksberg and directed by Hisko Hulsing.  (Mr. Bob-Waksberg created Bojack Horseman, and Ms. Purdy was a writer and producer on that show.)

Even without the sci-fi elements, Undone would be a deeply entertaining and moving series.  I loved the way the show slowly and carefully allowed us to peel back the layers of Alma’s personality and history.  Alma is incredibly well-developed as a three-dimensional protagonist.  She is deeply flawed, and the series doesn’t shy away from frankly depicting her poor decisions and upsetting, selfish behavior.  At the same time, the show never condemns her for those choices.  And while in the hands of less-skilled storytellers these choices might have turned off the audience, I found that they only rendered Alma even more interesting and sympathetic a character.  I couldn’t help but connect to how human and real she seemed.  Rosa Salazar’s phenomenal performance was rich and nuanced; she floored me with her work time and again over the course of these eight episodes.

Undone was created through rotoscoped animation.  Actors performed the scenes on a soundstage, and then that footage was used as the basis for the show’s gorgeous animation.  (Click here to read more about the process.)  The result is a unique and dazzlingly beautiful show.  The approach is perfect for executing the show’s regular dips into mind-trips and other brain-bending scenarios.  As co-creator Kate Purdy points out in that article: “We thought the show should be live action [at first]… but then if you … [continued]

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I am delighted by this first trailer for AppleTV’s upcoming adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation:

Mr. Asimov’s Foundation series is one of my very favorite works of sci-fi in any medium.  I love those books and have longed for years for a top-notch adaptation.  Will this be it?  Hard to say, but that trailer is great.

I’m also, like the rest of the world, very excited for the upcoming release of Hamilton on Disney+…!

Josh Gad has pulled together another fantastic Reunited Apart episode with this Ghostbusters reunion:

Star Trek: Voyager was, for quite some time, my least-favorite Trek series (though it looks amazing, now, compared to Discovery and Picard), but I nevertheless quite enjoyed this recent reunion of the Voyager cast on Stars in the House, raising money for The Actors Fund:

I enjoyed this podcast interview on “Off Panel” with comic book author Brian Michael Bendis, looking back on his incredible career.  Comic book fans might also be interested in this lengthy interview from “Comic Book News with Dan Shahin” with Dan DiDio, who was recently outside from his long-held position running DC Comics:

Click here for a lengthy interview with Dave Filoni, looking back on the conclusion of Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

In other Clone Wars news, a terrific Star Trek podcast I listen to called Inglorious Treksperts recently did a rare non-Trek episode, interviewing Henry Gilroy, who was a key creative player on both Clone Wars and Rebels.  Dave Filoni tends gets most of the spotlight for those Star Wars animated shows, so it’s fun to hear from Mr. Gilroy.  Give it a listen here.

If you like that and want to listen to other episodes of Inglorious Treksperts, I recommend this fantastic remembrance of Leonard Nimoy with his long-time assistant Kirk Thatcher, who also played the “punk on the bus” in Star Trek IV!!  It’s a terrific conversation.  Click here to find it.

I was so sad to see the news of the passing of the great Ian Holm, who was so magnificent in so many films from Alien to The Lord of the Rings.  Bilbo Baggins now resides forever in the Grey Havens.  Click here to read Peter Jackson’s moving remembrance of this wonderful actor.

Click here to read about Mad Magazine’s Al Jaffee, who has apparently drawn his final “fold-in” at age 99!! Wow!

J.K. Simmons has already shot his next Marvel movie cameo as J. Jonah Jameson??  Fantastic!

I very intrigued and excited by this rumor that Michael Keaton will return as Batman/Bruce Wayne in the upcoming Flash movie!  Will this be a “Flashpoint” style reboot of the current DC cinematic universe?  I don’t know, … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Disenchantment Season Two

Matt Groening’s animated Netflix series, Disenchantment, doesn’t seem to me to have made much of an impact on the pop-culture scene.  And, let’s be honest, Disenchantment isn’t The Simpsons.  It doesn’t come near to approaching that series’ transcendent heights.  And it’s not even Futurama, Mr. Groening’s sci-fi comedy that, while it hasn’t made a hundredth of the cultural impact of The Simpsons, might just be even more beloved by its true fans — including me.  So, OK, Disenchantment isn’t as good as two of the greatest animated TV shows ever made.  I still think it’s quite good!  If you’ve previously enjoyed either The Simpsons or Futurama, Disenchantment is worth a look.  (It was one of my favorite TV shows of 2019!)

Disenchantment is set in a medieval fantasy world, and the writers have fun playing with the tropes that fans of anything from Game of Thrones to Dungeons & Dragons might expect.  As was the case on both The Simpsons and Futurama, Mr. Groening and his team have done a great job at developing the reality of this universe.  I enjoyed the many nooks and crannies that were developed and explored here in season two.  It’s fun to feel like you’re getting to see a fully-realized new world, one that has been carefully thought about and designed.

The Simpsons has always been very episodic.  Futurama was too, though that series gradually developed a very enjoyable continuity.  The characters were able to stay in their archetypical status quo, but at the same time, their personalities and relationships developed.  Meanwhile, as Futurama continued, viewers discovered that there were all sorts of fun mysteries built into the world, which were gradually revealed.  Disenchantment has been designed to move even further into serialization.  It’s a choice that makes sense, both as a reflection of the modern television landscape and also as a way to bring momentum to these short (10-episode) Netflix seasons.  Disenchantment is more about the series larger story-lines than Futurama was.  There are times when the show seems to value these unfolding storylines above the need to have a funny joke every few seconds.  Disenchantment is a very funny show, but I’ve never found it to be fall-off-your-seat funny the way The Simpsons and Futurama were at their best.  That’s not a criticism at all, just an explanation that the show has a different “vibe” than either The Simpsons or Futurama.  I like the choice.  There are hundred and hundreds of hours of those two previous shows.  It’s nice for Disenchantment to be able to be its own thing.  At the same time as the show has embraced serialization, it never falls into the trap of being a movie chopped … [continued]

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Josh Reviews John Lewis’ Graphic Novel March

June 22nd, 2020

March is a three-book graphic novel series, telling the inspiring true story of Congressman John Lewis’ years spent as a leading figure in the Civil Rights Movement.  This graphic novel memoir is an extraordinary powerful, deeply moving history of the Civil Rights Movement and Mr. Lewis’ experiences during those long years of struggle.  The book is devastating in its unflinching look at the blood and horror that African Americans faced in their quest for basic human dignity in the United States… and a sobering reminder that we still have so far to go.  I would go so far as to call March absolutely essential reading.

March was written by Congressman John Lewis, along with Andrew Aydin, and it is illustrated by Nate Powell.  It was published in three volumes.  The book uses two events as its central framing pieces: the marches from Selma to Montogomery in March, 1965, and the inauguration of President Barrack Obama on January 20th, 2009.  The focus of the book is on an incredibly detailed recounting of the Civil Rights struggle, between 1958 and 1965.

Congressman Lewis is a true American hero.  Quoting President Bill Clinton, from the book’s promotional materials: “Congressman John Lewis has been a resounding moral voice in the quest for equality for more than 50 years.”  Congressman Lewis and Mr. Aydin are able to strike a perfect balance between keeping the story of March intimately focused on Mr. Lewis’s personal journey and experiences, while also creating a clear and detailed history of the events that unfolded during that tumultuous time in the fifties and sixties.  That context is critical to March’s success not only as autobiography but also as a vitally essential history lesson for readers.  It also allows the book to not fall into the trap of spotlighting Mr. Lewis’ role and achievements above and beyond all others.  Rather, the book continually pauses to introduce the reader to other important figures from the Movement, several of whom I was not previously familiar with.

As a history lesson, March was a revelation to me.  I have to admit that there were a number of horrific events depicted in the book that I was not at all familiar with.  March is unblinking in its portrayal of the horrifying violence visited upon innocent African Americans throughout the years it chronicles.  Some of these events I knew about (such as the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 that resulted in the deaths of four young girls and the injury of dozens of others), and many I had not.  Reading March is a wrenching experience, as it seems that every time that the groups fighting for Civil Rights made … [continued]

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