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Josh Reviews Toy Story 4

I have loved all three previous Toy Story movies.  Toy Story 2 is one of my favorite sequels ever made, and I adored Toy Story 3 as well.  The ending of Toy Story 3 felt like a perfect ending to the series, beautiful and heartfelt.  And so I was a little nervous when Toy Story 4 was announced.  Was Disney/Pixar going to ruin the perfect ending of Toy Story 3 with another installment?

I needn’t have worried.

Once again, the geniuses at Pixar have produced a gorgeous work of art.  Toy Story 4 is beautiful to look at (the animation is extraordinary) and also rich and resonant beyond what I could have imagined.  I loved it.

Set some time after the end of Toy Story 3, Woody and the gang now belong to a young girl named Bonnie.  But whereas Sheriff Woody was, for a long time, Andy’s favorite toy, Bonnie has started leaving him in the closet in favor of other toys she likes more.  To make himself useful, Woody sneaks into Bonnie’s backpack on her first day of kindergarten, where, during an art project time, he sees Bonnie create a new toy she names “Forky” out of a spork, a pipe-cleaner, and other junk.  When Forky comes to life as a brand-new toy, he considers himself trash, rather than a toy, and continually tries to escape Bonnie to throw himself back in the trash.  Woody and the gang, seeing how much Bonnie loves her new creation, consider it their mission to prevent Forky from escaping.  But on a family road trip, Forky gets away from the family’s RV, and Woody chases after him.  Separated from his friends, Woody comes across Bo Peep, who had been given away by Andy’s sister years before.  Bo has been living as a “lost toy” for years, a fate that, at first, horrifies Woody.  This has been his fear for years, a fear that Woody is now forced to confront head-on in a way he never has before.

I love how deeply these Toy Story sequels have explored the very nature of the original premise.  That Forky, made up of pieces of trash, can come to life after Bonnie creates him, leads to all sorts of fascinating questions (as Kristen Schaal’s Trixie says at one point: “I have all the questions”), and the film allows Forky (and the other toys) to explore Forky’s existential dilemma (he considers himself trash, while Woody and co. consider him a toy) in a way that is surprisingly sophisticated for a kids’ film.  (Of course, Pixar’s films have never been solely “kids’ films.”  That’s their magic.)  Tony Hale is magnificent as the innocent and doubt-filled Forky.… [continued]

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Star Trek: No Time Like The Past

I am having fun catching up on a number of Star Trek novels from recent years that I have missed.  Most of these books that I had skipped reading are stand-alone tales from the Original Series era, and the first batch I have been reading have all been written by Greg Cox.  I have quite enjoyed every one of Mr. Cox’s Kirk-era novels, and No Time Like the Past is no exception.

During Kirk’s original five-year mission on board the Enterprise, he attempts to mediate a diplomatic conference aimed at curbing Orion piracy.  An Orion attack sends the conference into chaos, but Kirk’s life is saved by a young woman who calls herself Annika Seven.  A century later, in the Delta Quadrant, the starship Voyager detects an obsolete Starfleet distress signal.  Their investigation leads them to a hidden installation set beneath an enormous sculpture of the head of Captain James T. Kirk.

This book has a great set-up, as we encounter the dual mysteries of Seven of Nine’s presence in Kirk’s era, as well as the weirdness with the Starfleet distress signal far beyond where any Federation starship had gone before and the memorable image of the enormous Kirk-head on a planet in the Delta Quadrant.  It’s a great kick-off to the story, and what follows is a fun adventure/mystery as Seven and Kirk attempt to unravel the truth of what is going on.

The idea of Captain Kirk meeting Seven of Nine is a fantastic idea, and a great basis for a novel.  (I am not a big fan of Voyager — I consider it the weakest of the Star Trek series — but I cannot deny that this is a great hook for a story.)  For the most part, the novel follows through on that premise… though I must admit that I was a little surprised that we barely see any hint of flirtation between the two.  That Captain Kirk, who seemed to bed a different beautiful alien woman in nearly every episode of the Original Series, would not engage in some heavy flirting with the beautiful Seven of Nine was a surprise to me!  On the one hand, I like that Mr. Cox took both characters seriously, and depicted Captain Kirk as someone who acted professionally around Seven.  On the other hand, while I wouldn’t want to see Kirk acting like a boor around Seven, I did miss the fun of a little romantic interplay between the two characters.  I felt we missed out on that aspect of the story’s premise.

I enjoyed the way the story dug deeply into several different adventures from the Original Series, bringing the Enterprise back to several well-known locations: Gamma Triangula … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Godzilla: King of the Monsters

July 10th, 2019

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is pretty much exactly what I’d expected it would be: fun but dumb.

The film is a sequel to Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla.  I enjoyed that film, though I didn’t love it the way many others did at the time.  I thought it was a very well-made film and I respected its ambition, but I didn’t connect with any of the sprawling cast of characters as deeply as I’d thought I should have.  The result was a film that felt rather superficial to me.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters, directed by Michael Dougherty, unfortunately moves further in that direction.  They’ve assembled a terrific cast, but we didn’t get nearly deeply enough into any one character’s story to suit me.  And so, while I thought the film was fun, I didn’t care about any of these characters.  I think for these sorts of monster movies to succeed, you have to care about the characters who you are following through these crazy situations.  But here, I really didn’t, and so I didn’t engage with the film in any sort of deep way.

There’s an interesting germ of an idea in the story of the main dysfunctional family.  Kyle Chandler plays Dr. Mark Russell and Vera Farmiga plays Dr. Emma Russell, while Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown plays their daughter, Madison.  Their family was torn apart when Madison’s brother was killed in one of the Godzilla battles from the first film.  Mark descended into alcoholism and he and Emma split up.  Emma dove into her work, trying to find a way to communicate with (and perhaps control) the “Titans” (Godzilla and the other giant monsters — what the 2014 Godzilla film referred to as MUTOs).  When she and Madison are kidnapped by terrorists seeking to use Emma’s tech for their own nefarious purposes, Mark is drawn back into Monarch (the organization we’ve seen in Godzilla and also Kong: Skull Island, whose mission is to document and deal with these giant creatures) in an attempt to rescue them.  But Madison soon discovers that her mother has been drawn into very dark places, and she realizes that what she thought she knew about her estranged parents might have been very wrong.

That’s an interesting story around which to hang a crazy monster adventure.  But the problem is that we don’t spend nearly enough time actually getting to know and care about any of these characters.  From the trailers, I’d thought Millie Bobby Brown’s Madison would be a very important character.  I would have loved a version of this film that was told through her eyes, with our following the story through her experiences.  But Madison is a very … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Late Night

In Late Night, written by Mindy Kaling and directed by Nisha Ganatra, Ms. Kaling stars as Molly Patel, a young woman hired as the only woman on the all-white-male writing staff of a late-night talk.  That talk show is run by multi-decade late-night veteran Katherine Newbury, played by Emma Thompson.

Late Night is a terrific film.  Ms. Kaling’s script is very funny, while also containing well-developed characters who go through true dramatic arcs.  Ms. Kaling herself is a winning lead.  Molly is a heroic character, bravely pushing her way into the white-male-dominated comedy-writing world without losing her sense of self.  At the same time, Ms. Kaling allows Molly to look occasionally foolish and to be endearingly flawed and imperfect.

But it’s Emma Thompson on whose shoulders the film truly rests, and the great Ms. Thompson delivers a powerhouse performance as Katherine Newbury.  Katherine, like Molly, had to force her way into a white-male-dominated world.  She’s been at the top of the pack for decades, but now her show is losing viewers and she finds herself on the edges of relevance, as her new network head (Amy Ryan) moves to take her show away from her.  Katherine goes on a compelling journey in the film, as she is forced to take stock of her life and her career, the choices she’s made and their repercussions.  The film doesn’t pull its punches, and Ms. Thompson is able to completely inhabit this woman and take the audience along on this story.  Ms. Thompson’s charisma and energy also allows us to see exactly why Katherine has been a late-night star for decades.  This is a terrific performance.  Ms. Kaling and Ms. Thompson have sparkling chemistry; the best scenes in the film are the ones with just the two of them.

The rest of the ensemble is very strong.  The Wire’s Amy Ryan is perfect in her handful of scenes, and Ms. Ganatra and Ms. Kaling have populated Katherine Newbury’s writers’ room with a terrific ensemble of actors.  Veeps Reid Scott is terrific as Tom, the head monologue writer who is at first disdainful and threatened by Mindy’s presence in the writer’s room.  He’s very funny, while also allowing Tom to have a core of humanity.  Denis O’Hare is also note-perfect as Brad, Katherine’s right-hand man and show-runner, who is the one to hire Molly but more out of a desire to make Katherine’s show as great as it can be rather than out of any sort of idealistic stance.  Paul Walter Hauser (who was great in his appearances on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Max Cassella, John Early, and Hugh Dancy are all fun and funny.  I love how the film was … [continued]

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News Around the Net

I’m intrigued by this trailer for Ad Astra:

I love sci-fi, and I’m always up for an original sci-fi story.  This looks like it’s got a great cast, and visually the trailer is impressive.

Here’s another trailer that has me intrigued: an adaptation of Doctor Sleep, Stephen King’s sequel to The Shining!

That’s a terrific trailer.  I’m really interested in this one now.  So many of these Stephen King adaptations just don’t work, but I’m always hopeful…

Here’s a look at Disney’s Frozen II, a film which I expect to be HUGE:

There’s some gorgeous imagery there.  Will the film have a story that’s a worthy successor to the first film?  We’ll see…

So Marvel is re-releasing Avengers: Endgame back into theaters, with new footage?  I’m interested, though it doesn’t sound to me like the new footage is going to be very substantial.  (But I love this sort of thing.  I remember back in the day when they re-released The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring back into theaters with a lengthy sequence of first-look footage from The Two Towers at the end.  I loved that!!)

This is a spectacular, in-depth look back at Babylon 5.  I have a warm place in my heart for this show.  I love Star Trek: Deep Space Nine more (both sci-fi shows set on a space-station aired around the same time, originally, in the nineties), but I also love B5.  The show is flawed, for sure, but when it was great (which was often, particularly in the middle seasons), it was spectacular.  I’m due for a rewatch.

(Here’s a great interview with Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski on the show’s 25th anniversary a few months back.)

Speaking of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, I was sad to read of the death of Peter Allen Fields, one of the key writers for the show, who wrote such DS9 masterpieces as “Duet” and “In the Pale Moonlight.”  He also co-wrote “The Inner Light” for Star Trek: The Next Generation, one of Trek’s finest hours.

They’re really making a third Kingsman movie?  I was really excited for both of the first two films, but didn’t wind up enjoying either one as much as I’d hoped

Amazon’s adaptation of The Dark Tower is shooting!  This thing will actually exist someday!!  I am super-excited.  I adore the books and I was very disappointed by the recent film adaptation.  I hope the series gets it right.

I’ll leave you with this: a fascinating look back at the making of “The Rainbow Connection.”

Please support MotionPicturesComics.com by clicking through one of our Amazon links the next time you need [continued]

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Catching Up On 2018: Josh Reviews Holmes & Watson

In my “Catching up on 2018” posts, I review films that I saw in my busy end-of-the-year rush to catch up with as many movies from 2018 that I’d missed.

Good lord!  What is the behind-the-scenes story that explains this dud?

Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly are both comedic geniuses, and, prior to this misfire, their partnership has wielded comedic gold (see: Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby; Step Brothers; Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues).  While I think there have been a few too many reinterpretations of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson in recent years (see: the two Robert Downey Jr. films Sherlock Holmes and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows; the acclaimed BBC series Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman; the Elementary TV series with Lucy Liu; the wonderful old-Sherlock Holmes movie Mr. Holmes, starring Sir Ian McKellan… shall I go on?), the idea of Mr. Ferrell and Mr. Reilly taking on these two iconic characters seemed like an idea with some merit.

So what happened?

I found Holmes & Watson to be mostly a bore.  There are a few funny moments (I thought the idea of an autopsy scene version of the infamous Ghost pottery-wheel love scene was inspired), but for the most part the movie felt like it was struggling to find its way.

The central characters were surprisingly muddled.  Will Ferrell’s Sherlock Holmes seems to be both a buffoon and a genius at the same time, and the combination doesn’t work smoothly.  Mr. Reilly’s Watson, meanwhile, seems just as stupid, if not more so, that Mr. Ferrell’s Holmes… except for the times when he seems to occasionally be aware of Holmes’ buffoonery.  I’m all for an anything-for-a-joke approach, but 1) I think these sorts of movies only work if the jokes are hung around strong characters who you understand and, if not care about, are at least clearly-defined and interesting enough to want to follow for two hours, and 2) if you’re going to focus on jokes at the expense of character development, those jokes had damn well better be funny!

There are all sorts of weird off-notes in the film, which to me show the film’s struggles to find a tone that works.  The movie begins with a sad flashback to Sherlock Holmes’ lonely childhood, which is distinctly unfunny.  It feels like the type of opening to a character-based film that wants to create some pathos around its characters, and to therefore solicit the audience’s empathy.  But after this prologue, the film never develops the Holmes character beyond a one-note joke, so that opening feels like it came from a different movie.

I was equally off-put by the end of … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Disney’s Live-Action Remake of Aladdin

Let me say two things right at the top about Disney’s new live-action remake of their animated classic, Aladdin.  First, I’m just not sure I see much of any creatively interesting rationale behind Disney’s current penchant for remaking so many of their classic animated films in live-action.  (There’s clearly a financial reason, as these films seem like a good way to make money off of pre-existing, beloved properties.)  Two, as an enormous fan of Guy Ritchie’s early films (I hold Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels very close to my heart, and I really love Snatch as well), adapting Disney animated films is really not the type of project I wish he was working on.  But, that all being said, I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this new version of Aladdin when I saw it with my kids recently.  The film is fun and funny and gorgeous to look at.

After the prologue, we’re introduced to Aladdin and most of the main characters in a beautiful extended tracking show that takes us all through the nooks and crannies of Agrabah.  It’s a gorgeous shot that really shows off this new film’s production values: the sets, the costumes, the props, and the CGI artistry.  I was impressed.  It was a cool shot and a great way to bring us into the story.  (I love how well-realized Agrabah is in this new film.)

The cast of the film is strong.  I thought Naomi Scott was the film’s standout as Jasmine.  She was completely convincing and earnest in the role, critical qualities, and she has a stupendous singing voice.  Mena Massoud was also strong as Aladdin.  This is a tough role to play in live-action.  It’s easier for the animated Aladdin to be cute and bumbling while still being believable; that’s a harder balance to strike in live-action.  Then there was Will Smith, ably stepping into the big blue shoes of the late, great Robin Williams.  I was very dubious about Mr. Smith’s casting in the role, and the film’s early photos and trailers did not impress.  But, wow, I was really bowled over by how great Will Smith was!  He channels a lot of what Robin Williams brought to the role, while also easily making it his own.  Mr. Smith has the musical chops to own the songs, he’s able to be very funny and, most importantly, also channel the Genie’s sweetness and sincerity.  I thought he was terrific.  I was also very impressed by the CGI work that enabled the very-human Mr. Smith to have a lot of the fast-moving shape-changing whimsy of the animated version.  I really wasn’t sure the film could pull that off, but … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Dark Phoenix

I still remember how thrilled and excited I was when I saw the final shot of Bryan Singer’s X2 back in 2003.  Jean Grey had sacrificed herself to save the X-Men in the battle at Alkali Lake, and in that final, blink-and-you-missed-it shot, we saw a hint of flame rising from underneath the waters.  That shot was an announcement to all the comic book fans out there that the X-Men movie franchise was about to take on perhaps the greatest of all the X-Men storylines from the comic books: The Dark Phoenix Saga by Chris Claremont and John Byrne.  That storyline played out over the course of many months in the monthly X-Men comic-books back in 1980.  I walked out of the theatre after seeing X2 out of my mind with excitement for seeing this extraordinary story play out on screen.  And then, well… we all know what happened.  Bryan Singer decided to make Superman Returns and Fox hired Brett Ratner to make the terrible third X-Men movie, X-Men: The Last Stand, that took the epic Dark Phoenix Saga and turned it into a subplot in a film telling a story about a potential “cure” for mutants (an idea taken from Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men run from 2004).  I thought that film’s bungling of The Dark Phoenix Saga ruined any chance we had of seeing that story successfully told in a movie.  So I was surprised and pleased when the news was announced, two years ago, that Simon Kinberg (who has been a writer and producer involved with the X-Men film franchise for years) would be giving the story another go, featuring the First Class-era cast of younger X-Men characters.  After all this time, would we finally be getting the film adaptation that The Dark Phoenix Saga deserved…?

Well, sigh.  No.

Dark Phoenix isn’t nearly as bad as I’d feared from the lackluster trailers and repeated delays to the film’s release.  It actually has a lot going for it.  I really enjoy this cast, and in particular it’s a delight to see James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender back for one more go-round as Professor X and Magneto.  The film wisely sets Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey as its main focus, and I appreciated Simon Kinberg’s oft-stated goal to focus on intimate character scenes over CGI spectacle.  There are a number of dramatic moments between characters that are very effective, and the film does have a decent amount of exciting action.

But.

Sigh.

Shockingly, the film winds up making a number of the same mistakes that 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand did.

Most importantly, I was quite surprised to discover that Dark Phoenix is really barely more faithful to the original … [continued]

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