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Star Trek: Foul Deeds Will Rise

For a while now I have been catching up with a bunch of Star Trek novels that I had skipped reading when they were originally published.  With more books on my “to-read” shelf than I had time to read, I often found myself choosing to read the Star Trek novels that were set in the novel series’ wonderful interconnected continuity that moved the Star Trek story and characters beyond the series finales of the 24th century-set Trek shows (TNG, DS9, and Voyager).  This meant that often I wound up skipping the stand-along stories set in Captain Kirk’s era.  Over the past several months I have been finally catching up with those books, the first batch of which were all written by Greg Cox.  Mr. Cox is a terrific writer (his two Eugenics War novels are among my very favorite Trek novels!) and it has been a pleasure catching up with these great books that I had missed reading!

While the past several novels (including Assignment: Eternity, The Rings of Time, The Weight of Worlds, and No Time Like the Past) were all set during the Original Series era of Kirk’s first five-year mission on board the Enterprise, this latest novel, Foul Deeds Will Rise, is set during the movie era, between Star Trek V and Star Trek VI.  It’s an interesting change of pace, and Mr. Cox shows just as much skill at depicting the movie-era of Kirk and the Enterprise as he was at writing stories set during the five-year mission.

Foul Deeds Will Rise is a sequel to the Original Series episode, “The Conscience of the King.”  That episode ends with young Lenore Karidian exposed as a murderer and driven mad by the accidental death of her father at her own hands.  As she is taken away, McCoy assures Kirk that Lenore would get the best psychological care that the Federation could provide.  But what would become of Lenore?  Foul Deeds Will Rise picks up that fascinating question.

Twenty years after those events, the Enterprise-A is called in to help mediate a fierce dispute between planetary neighbors Oyolo and Pavak.  Kevin Reilly, now a Federation Ambassador, is back on board the Enterprise to help broker the peace talks.  While visiting Oyolo, Captain Kirk is shocked to encounter Lenore Karidian, now going under the name Lyla Kassidy.  After many years in a rehabilitation institute, Lenore/Lyla has been declared sane and released; she is now a part of a relief mission to Oyolo, where she attempts to give back to the Federation as a way of atoning for her crimes.  She agrees to join Captain Kirk on board the Enterprise for a reception, but … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Jon Favreau’s remake of The Lion King

It seems like it was just a few weeks ago that I was writing about the live-action remake of Aladdin, and stating that I don’t see any creatively interesting rationale behind Disney’s current predilection 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.)  The original animated films Aladdin and The Lion King are magnificent, among Disney’s very best.  So what is to be gained from remaking them in live action?

I don’t have an answer to that (again, other than money in Disney’s coffers), but while I don’t think either of these new remade films have much of a reason to exist, I enjoyed Join Favreau’s new version of The Lion King even more than I enjoyed Guy Ritchie’s remake of Aladdin!

Mr. Favreau first dipped his toes into these waters with his CGI-remake of The Jungle Book, which I thought was a visual marvel.  Mr. Favreau has gone even further with The Lion King, pushing the boundaries of technology and visual effects.

It’s a mistake to call this a live-action remake of The Lion King, because this new version doesn’t feature any human beings.  (The Jungle Book was mostly CGI, but the boy playing Mowgli was real.)  This new film has been created with astonishing, cutting-edge motion-capture and CGI work.  The result is incredible.  The film looks entirely photo-real, despite the fact that it features an ensemble cast of talking animals.  The world of The Lion King has been brought to astounding, beautiful life.  You easily believe that these talking animals are real.  It’s astonishing… and very cool to see the iconic animated locations of the original film (such as Pride Rock) brought to the screen in a way that makes it look like those places really exist.

The original Lion King features some iconic and memorable vocal performances.  Recasting this film could not have been easy… but Mr. Favreau and his team made all the right choices.  JD McCrary plays young Simba, while Donald Glover plays adult Simba… and Shahadi Wright Joseph plays young Nala, while Beyoncé Knowles-Carter plays adult Nala.  All four actors are perfect.  They give different interpretations of these characters than the original actors did, and yet at the same time they all sounded absolutely perfect for Simba and Nala to me.

I thought the hardest voices to recast would be Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella as Timon and Pumbaa.  And yet Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen might be my favorite performers in the new film!  They make Timon and Pumbaa entirely their own, while still allowing the … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Seeing Pulp Fiction for the first time in the theater back in 1994 made me a Quentin Tarantino fan for life, and so I have been eagerly anticipating the release of his ninth film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.  A new Tarantino film as always a cause for excitement!  I was not disappointed.  I loved Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.  The film is longer than it needs to be, but I so enjoy Mr. Tarantino’s unique style of dialogue and direction that I would have happily spent many more hours living in the world he (re)created for the film.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is set in Hollywood in 1969, in the months and weeks before the murders of Sharon Tate and others by members of the Manson Family.  Sharon Tate, played by Margot Robbie, is a character in the film, but the film’s focus is on two fictional characters: aging cowboy actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his friend and stunt-man Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt).  Rick became a star as the lead of a Western TV series called Bounty Law, but in the years since the show has ended he’s fallen on hard times, finding it harder and harder to get work.  Cliff has had similar trouble finding work as a stuntman; now he mostly earns his living by driving Rick around and helping him with various errands and chores.

There’s not too much actual plot to the film.  I’m OK with that!  For me, the joy is in luxuriating in the world that Mr. Tarantino has created.  I love spending time with these characters.  Both Mr. DiCaprio and Mr. Pitt are fantastic.  Their movie-star wattage is a perfect match for the terrific roles that Mr. Tarantino has written for them.  Like many of Quentin Tarantino’s films, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is filled with digressions and asides, and I love all of those little rivulets of story so much.  (One of my favorite sequences in the film is a lengthy flashback, while Brad Pitt’s Cliff fixes Rick’s antennae on the roof of his house, about how he got fired from his last stuntman job.)  As I noted above, one could say that the film is longer than it needs to be.  For a movie that’s around two hours and 45 minutes, there’s not a heck of a lot of actual plot/story to be found.  But I don’t care a whit.

The film is very funny.  Mr. Tarantino’s dialogue is, as always, a joy to unravel… and Mr. Tarantino sure knows exactly how to get the timing perfect on a comedic scene.  But there’s also a looming sense of dread hovering over the film, as … [continued]

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News Around the Net

I really enjoyed this trailer for Picard, the new show in which Patrick Stewart will reprise his iconic role as Jean-Luc Picard:

That’s a great trailer.  Will the show be any good?  Who knows.  I’m dubious, mostly because I’m just not sure that Alex Kurtzman is the best shepherd for the Trek franchise.  (I haven’t loved any of the J. J. Abrams movies that Mr. Kurtzman was involved with, and I’ve found Discovery to be mostly disappointing.)  But I want to believe.  (Oops, wrong franchise.)  Patrick Stewart looks great in this trailer; just seeing him as Picard again is a joy.  There are some great visuals.  I loved the callback to “Captain Picard Day.”  I LOVED seeing Data again at the end.  (My thinking is that Picard is playing cards with a holographic Data, just as Data often played cards with holographic figures from the past, back on TNG.)  I loved the revelation late in the trailer that this story has something to do with the Borg.  While the Borg were given a terrific finale and resolution in the Star Trek novels (in David Mack’s wonderful Destiny trilogy), they never got a great finale on-screen, so I’d love to see them revisited here.  (I’m also intrigued to hear that Hugh from “I, Borg” will be back in some manner!)

I don’t love the implications that Picard left Starfleet because of something to do with the destruction of Romulus (a rather silly plot point from the first J. J. Abrams Star Trek film).  And while I have nothing against Jeri Ryan and am quite happy to see her character of Annika/Seven again, I think her appearance as the “wow” surprise towards the end of this trailer demonstrates Alex Kurtzman’s misunderstanding of what TNG fans are looking for.  I want to see Doctor Crusher in this show far more than I want to see Seven of Nine from Voyager!!  Well, we’ll soon see what they’ve cooked up.  I am truly hoping for the best.

Marvel had a lot of exciting announcements at San Diego Comic Con.  Click here for a summary.

* Black Widow: The Black Widow prequel film which we all knew was in-the-works was officially announced.  I’m excited for Scarlet Johansson to finally be the lead of a Marvel film, and I’m very curious to know where/how this will fit into the overall timeline.

* The Eternals: This is a very curious choice.  This is a very obscure title from the Marvel archive.  Over the years, I’ve read some interesting stories featuring Eternals characters in the Fantastic Four and Avengers comic book series, but this wouldn’t jump out at me as something I’d long to see in … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Spider-Man: Far From Home

While Avengers: Endgame was an epic, enormous culmination to the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far, it was actually Spider-Man: Far From Home that was the official end to Marvel’s “Phase Three” of films.  (Kevin Feige just announced an exciting and weird array of films and TV shows that will make up “Phase Four” — I’ll have more to say, soon, about all of those announcements.)  Serving as something of an epilogue to Endgame and also an exciting tease of the shape of the MCU in the years ahead, Far From Home is a spectacular film.  It’s fun and funny and sweet and emotional and action-packed.  I loved pretty much every single moment of the film.  Marvel is sure making it look easy at this point; I strive to remind myself while watching every single one of these films just how difficult and unusual it is to make these sorts of super-hero films be great.  For Marvel to be succeeding film after film after film is simply extraordinary.

Spider-Man: Far From Home is set after the events of Endgame.  The film spends some time exploring the repercussions of the climactic events of Endgame (more on this below), but for the most part it puts the galaxy-shaking events of Endgame aside to focus on a much smaller-scale story.  Peter Parker and his classmates are going on a school trip to Europe.  Peter is eager to leave the responsibilities of being Spider-Man behind, and to just have fun with his friends.  But Nick Fury has other ideas: the spy-master wants Peter’s help combating a new menace from across the multiverse.  Along the way, Peter meets a new ally: Mysterio, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, who is stepping into the void left by the death of you-know-who at the end of Endgame, a responsibility that Peter is resisting taking on.

Far From Home is a fantastic film.  Director Jon Watts and screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers (all three of who returned to the Spidey franchise after Spider-Man: Homecoming) demonstrate a perfect mastery of tone from start to finish in the film.  Far From Home is a very, very funny film.  The script is great and the talented cast are extremely funny.  There are some huge laughs in the film.  And yet, critically, Far From Home is not just a farce.  There are real stakes in the film.  Not galaxy-shaking stakes like in Endgame.  But for Peter Parker and the other characters in the film, the emotional (and, eventually, physical as well) stakes are very high.  And so the audience is engaged with the film right from the beginning.  We care about these characters and are invested in what happens to them.  This … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Men in Black: International

I really enjoyed the first Men in Black film, made back in 1997.  It’s not a perfect film, but it’s a lot of fun to watch.  But none of the sequels have ever lived up to the potential of this series’ wonderful premise (of a secret group of men and women whose job it is to protect the Earth from extra-terrestrials who mean us harm).  Over the last twenty-plus years, there have been various wild attempts to re-start this franchise, but none of them have ever quite worked the way they should have.  This fourth film, Men in Black: International, is no exception.

I was excited to see a new Men in Black film, and I loved the idea of Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson stepping in as the series’ new leads.  The two of them had terrific comedic chemistry in Thor: Ragnarok, and I was eager to see them re-teamed.

But, unfortunately, I found little of interest in Men in Black: International.

The film is amiable enough, but for an action comedy it is really not very funny (there were like five jokes in the whole film that made me laugh), and for a sci-fi adventure it’s very small-scale and small-looking.  (Godzilla: King of the Monsters demonstrated the same near-incompetent story-telling, but at least that film was gorgeous to look at, a humongous big-budget spectacle.  I feel bad to be disrespecting the many people who I’m sure worked very hard on this movie, but Men in Black: International looks to me like it was made on the cheap.)

The story-telling in this film is stunningly amateurish, which continually cuts the movie off at the knees.

What do I mean by that?  Well, let’s start with how, in my opinion, the film totally fails to properly set up the story or the two leads.

We learn in the early-going that Tessa Thompson’s character Molly discovered the truth about the Men in Black as a kid, and that she has been trying to become a part of their organization ever since.  Then we see that she has a terrible job at a call center, and yet that she has somehow been able to track spacecraft in Earth’s vicinity on her work computer.  What?  How??  The film can’t be bothered to do the work to actually show us how Molly could achieve that — thus laying important pipe regarding her skills and her smarts.  Instead, she just somehow magically has this information on her computer at work.  Then, once she locates and sneaks into MIB headquarters, she’s quickly accepted as a probationary agent by Agent O (Emma Thompson), and sent on a mission to London because there is a “problem” … [continued]

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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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