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X-Men: Days of Future Past

August 17th, 2014
New comics posted daily, Monday through Thursday!

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Josh Reviews Bad Words

August 15th, 2014
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I don’t believe that Jason Bateman’s directorial debut, Bad Words, got much of a theatrical release, and that is a shame because the film is absolutely dynamite, a crackling concoction of a dark, dark comedy.

Mr. Bateman stars as Guy Trilby, a forty-year-old man who exploits a loophole in the rules of the National Quill Spelling Bee competition so that he can enter.  It seems that, because he never graduated the eighth grade, he can compete, and so Guy begins a quest to defeat child after child and be crowned champion of the National Bee.

If that premise, which involves a grown man competing against children and doing his darnedest to crush their dreams (and those of their usually-overbearing parents) sounds like an amusing premise, then this is a movie for you.  I found it to be absolutely hysterical.  The film has a transgressive edge to it, and it takes a certain demented glee in mining humor from Guy’s absolutely inappropriate interactions with all of these eighth-graders.  But this isn’t a mean-spirited movie, and the comedy stays on the right side of the boundary of good taste, at least in my opinion.

Most importantly: Bad Words is very, very funny.  The film has a biting, sharp script by Andrew Dodge.  I love that the story drops us right into the middle of Guy’s Spelling Bee quest, his plan already fully-formed.  The film opens with a very funny, attention-grabbing prologue in which we see Guy competing in a Bee.  After that opening, I expected the story to flash back by a few weeks or months to tell us just what this guy was up to and how he got to this crazy place.  But no, to my delight the film just keeps moving forward, and it’s only gradually, as we watch this crazy story unfold, that we learn more about Guy’s background and just what the heck he is up to.

Jason Bateman will probably never have a better role than that of Michael Bluth on Arrested Development, but boy this is up there.  On Arrested, Mr. Bateman usually played the straight man.  But here he gets to cut loose and bring Guy Trilby to life in all of his maladjusted glory.  Mr. Bateman taps into some sort of evil inner glee in all the scenes in which we see him torturing his fellow Spelling Bee participants (and their parents), and this gives the film a crazy, I-can’t-believe-I’m-watching-this energy.  (While, as I noted above, always managing to stay on what I felt was the right side of acceptability in terms of what an audience could find humor with and still somewhat sympathize with Guy as our main character.)

The great Kathryn … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Life Itself

August 13th, 2014

It’s hard to imagine anyone who loves movies not being taken by Life Itself, Steve James (Hoop Dreams)‘s biopic of film critic Roger Ebert.  The film opens with a delightful quote from Mr. Ebert, in which he remarks on the power of movies to help one understand a little bit more about different people in different situations, describing movies as a “machine that generates empathy.”   What a delightful and fascinating point of view.  I was already a fan of Mr. Ebert’s work going into this documentary, but that quote reinforced not only what a terrific writer Mr. Ebert was, but also what an insightful perspective he had on cinema, this art-form that so many of us love so much.  I love the movies, and I have never heard my love of the movies framed in this manner.  The moment I heard Mr. Ebert’s words I was in full agreement, nodding my head at the way he had pinpointed a very important idea.

Based somewhat on Mr. Ebert’s memoir of the same title, Life Itself traces the life and career of Roger Ebert.  We explore how he discovered writing and his love of journalism, his early days as movie critic for The Chicago Sun-Times, and of course the film digs deeply into his long, sometimes-turbulent partnership with rival Chicago film-critic Gene Siskel.  The film takes the time to dwell on some of Mr. Ebert’s many notable film reviews and to explore other aspects of his professional life, while also giving us insight into his personal life.  We hear some entertaining stories from his earlier, hard-partying days, learn about his journey into sobriety, and see his late-in-life marriage to the love of his life, Chaz.

All of this is fascinating stuff and wonderfully interesting and enjoyable to learn.  But what sets Life Itself apart from a more standard biographical film about this film critic is the incredible access Mr. James had to Mr. Ebert in the difficult last year-or-so of his life.  In 2002 and 2003, Mr. Ebert was diagnosed with cancer, and between 2003 and 2008, he underwent multiple surgeries in an effort to remove the cancer and repair the damaged tissue in his jaw.  Mr. Ebert, the famous television movie-reviewer, lost the power of speech entirely, and eventually his entire lower jaw had to be removed.  (I still vividly remember this shocking Esquire magazine photograph that revealed to the world Mr. Ebert’s new face.)  Mr. Ebert lived like that for many years, using a computer to communicate and continuing to write.  Indeed, Mr. Ebert developed an extraordinary web-presence and the movie-reviews he posted on his blog were must-reads for movie fans across the globe, including myself.

Mr. James … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Breaking Bad: Season Two

August 11th, 2014

Yes, I know I am hugely late to the party on Breaking Bad.  Just as everyone was getting excited about the finale of the show, my wife and I were just starting to watch it from the beginning.  I enjoyed season one, though I found the show hard to watch at times because of how unhappy so many of the characters were.  Still, I recognized it as very well-made television, and I was eager to move on to season two.  (Click here for my review of season one.)

I enjoyed season two just as I had season one, though it took me far longer to get through the thirteen-episode season than I had expected.  There is no question that it’s a unique, bold show, one that is the product of a team of extraordinarily talented people.  But man I found it hard to watch.  So much so that after watching the first few episodes of the season I stopped, and it took me a while to get back into it to finish out the season.

I am sure this is not news to anybody, but Breaking Bad is a very bleak show.  That is part of what makes it so compelling and bold, but it also for me makes the show tough to get through.  I watched many of the episodes with my stomach twisted all in knots as  terrible thing after terrible thing happens to (and by) the main characters in the show.  It is rough.

I am definitely not someone who things that all good TV should be simple and happy.  Quite the opposite!  I already love and respect Breaking Bad for its incredible quality and its breath-taking freshness.  I am just being honest that I have a tough time watching it!!  (As I noted in my review of season one, I felt this way, to a much lesser degree, about the early seasons of Mad Men, but I eventually grew to fall totally in love with that show and its characters.  I am curious to see if the same thing winds up happening to me with Breaking Bad.)

One thing that immediately impressed me about the show is the way it never let’ the views off the hook by skipping over anything in a way that would let the audience say, OK, well, they did such-and-such and I don’t need to think about why or how, they just did it.  No, instead the show always digs deeply into the details.  For instance, season one ended with Walter and Jesse making a deal with the drugs-dealer Tucco.  I had expected season two to pick up the story weeks or months later, with the boys … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Guardians of the Galaxy

August 8th, 2014
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I had a feeling this one was gonna be good.  I’m glad I was right.

With Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel Studios has blown the doors off of their cinematic universe in a big, big way.  This is a huge movie, filled with crazy alien planets and creatures and hugely original characters and situations.  The opening few minutes takes place on Earth, and then the entire rest of the film takes place in a far-off corner of the galaxy, a one-hundred-percent immersion in fantasy cosmic craziness.  (Man, this is what DC’s Green Lantern should have been like.)  The film is exciting and funny and it looks gorgeous.  I loved pretty much every minute of it.

Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) was born on Earth but was kidnapped and stolen from the planet as a boy.  He grew up among a band of thieves and ragamuffins to become something of a Han Solo type, a roguish scoundrel with a heart of gold.  When hired to find a priceless orb, Quill decides to double-cross his boss, Yondu (Michael Rooker).  But it turns out that the villainous Ronan (Lee Pace) also wants the orb, so he sends his minion Gamora (Zoe Saldana) to obtain it as well.  Gamora also double-crosses her boss, and just as she confronts Quill the two run afoul of Rocket and Groot, two alien mercenaries looking to cash in on a good bounty.  The four all wind up apprehended by the Nova Corps (an intergalactic peace-keeping force) and thrown in jail.  Somehow, these four criminal — soon joined by a fifth, the hulking Drax — find themselves forming a tight bond with one another.  And with the fate of the universe at stake, this motley five-some have to do the thing none of them ever expected to do: become heroes.

Guardians of the Galaxy harkens back to the tone of the first Iron Man, a very silly, goofy sensibility crossed with a great fantasy action-adventure.  Iron Man had stakes, but it was also a whole heck of a lot of fun, and Guardians is exactly the same way.  The film is a riot, but this is not a spoof.  The characters are fleshed out, with fully-realized emotional arcs, and there is weight to the story being told.

Anyone who has been watching Parks and Recreation for the past six years knows that Chris Pratt is a star.  Now the whole world knows it.  Mr. Pratt has been perfectly cast as Peter Quill, the tough space-pirate who is also an innocent boy at heart.  Mr. Pratt absolutely dominates this movie, and he’s magnetic in every scene he’s in, even when standing along-side the ridiculously scene-stealing two-some of Rocket and Groot.  … [continued]

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“About the Only Thing We Were Doing to Impress the Klingons was Dying Well” — Star Trek: Prelude to Axanar

August 6th, 2014
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Forget J.J. Abrams’ nuTrek.  Want to see the coolest bit of new Star Trek I have seen in a long time?  Click here to watch the twenty-minute short film, Prelude to Axanar — or just watch the video below!  (Make sure your video settings are on HD.)

How cool was that??

I have written a lot on this site about the fan film projects Star Trek: Phase II and Star Trek: Continues, each of which have created polished, episode-length adventures of Captain Kirk and company.  Now comes Axanar, an off-shoot of Phase II.  Writer/producer Alec Peters and an incredible team of talents have set out to create a feature-length adventure set prior to the events of the Original Series.  The proposed Axanar film will tell the story of Garth of Izar and his heroic actions that ended the devastating Four Years War between the Federation and the Klingon Empire.  Garth was introduced in the Original Series episode “Whom Gods Destroy.”  In that episode he had fallen from grace and turned into a terrible villain.  But Garth’s back-story was that he was once one of the greatest Starfleet captains who ever was, and Axanar aims to tell his story.

Axanar.01.sm

As a “proof of concept” for this planned feature-length film, the Axanar team have a created a twenty-minute prologue to their film, titled Prelude to Axanar.  This film has been created to be in the style of a Federation historical film, looking back to tell the story of the war between the Federation and the Klingons and the events that led up to the pivotal Battle of Axanar.

Prelude to Axanar is incredible.  It totally knocked me on my butt and has me salivating for the feature-length Axanar film.  This is an incredible achievement for an unofficial fan-made project.

It feels weird referring to Prelude to Axanar as a fan-film, because of the extraordinary level of professional Hollywood talent in front of and behind the camera.  (The Axanar web-site refers to the project as an “independent” film.)  Just look at this incredible array of actors who appear in this film:

Richard Hatch (Apollo from the original Battlestar Galactica and Tom Zarek from the reimagined BSG) plays the Klingon warlord Kharn.

Gary Graham reprises his frequent guest-starring role from Star Trek: Enterprise as the Vulcan Ambassador Soval.

Axanar.03.sm

Tony Todd (who played Worf’s brother Kurn on many Next Gen episodes) plays Federation Admiral Ramirez.

JG Hertzler (who played General Martok on many episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) plays Captain Samuel Travis.

And Kate Vernon (so incredible as Ellen Tigh on the modern Battlestar Galactica) plays Captain Sonya Alexander.

Prelude to Axanar is structured as a faux documentary, with the above characters each … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Jersey Boys

August 4th, 2014
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Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story didn’t make much of a splash when it was released back in 2007, but it think it’s a hysterical, brilliant skewering of the musical biopic genre.  It makes it hard to take any of these sorts of films seriously ever again after having seen it.  While watching Jersey Boys, Clint Eastwood’s adaptation of the successful Broadway show, I found myself often thinking back to Walk Hard.  Jersey Boys isn’t bad.  It’s a competently made, enjoyable film.  But it’s so by the numbers, so formulaic in the way it hits all of the usual musical biopic cliche scenes — all the cliches so ruthlessly exposed in Walk Hard, right down to an ending set many years later at an awards show — that I found myself wishing I was watching Walk Hard, which at east had a sense of humor about the whole thing!

Jersey Boys tells the story of the rise and fall of the Four Seasons.  The film’s focus is on Frankie Valli, born Francesco Stephen Castelluccio, a nice kid from Jersey with a unique, gorgeous voice.  As the film unfolds we watch Frankie’s early struggles, the band’s breakthrough and enormous successes, and then the problems that tore the group apart.

Periodically, one of the characters will stop in the middle of the scene to address the audience.  I love that device (from what I have read, this was taken from the stage show).  The movie always comes to life when one of the characters stops the proceedings to give us his insight.  I wish it happened more often, or that the rest of the film had an ounce of the fun and playfulness that we see in those moments.

The best aspect of this film is the music.  Those Four Seasons songs were hits for a reason.  It’s huge fun to hear them recreated here, and the four actors cast as the Four Seasons sure do have their musical chops.  (Three of the four leads also appeared in the Broadway show.).   (I wonder why they didn’t hire the fourth!)

But while all of the leads are talented musically, I never found myself that invested in any of their characters.  This is the fault of the script and the directing, I feel.  All four of the Jersey Boys remain pretty one-dimensional throughout the film.   I was particularly disappointed in how superficial a portrayal we wound up getting of Frankie Valli.  I like the actor (a dead ringer for a young John Travolta), but his character is flat.  Frankie is presented as a nice, good boy in the beginning, and he is presented like that all the way through.  It feels like something of … [continued]

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News Around the Net: Comic-Con Edition!

Hi friends!  This past week was the San Diego Comic-Con, and as a result there has been an awesome flood of news about all sorts of geeky things.  Let’s review some of the highlights, shall we?

Here’s the first teaser trailer for The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.  I don’t love that title (is the second “the” really necessary?) and I think the “The Defining Chapter” tag-line they are going with in this trailer and on the posters is silly, but I dig this trailer.  These Hobbit films have not lived up to the expectations established by the phenomenal Lord of the Rings films, but I have still enjoyed them a lot and I am eager for the third and final film.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron footage that screened sounds cool.  I am intrigued by this glimpse of Ultron Mk. 1.

This is a pretty terrific interview with Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige.  Interesting stuff covered.  Someday the true story of what went down with Ant Man and Edgar Wright is going to be told, and it is going to be fascinating.

This description of footage of Batman v Superman sounds interesting.  Are they really using some of Frank Miller’s  designs from The Dark Knight Returns?  I’d love to see this footage.  DC’s plan of stuffing lots of Justice League characters into this Man of Steel sequel seems worrisome to me, but on the other hand this first image of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman is pretty great.

People seem to have been bowled over at the footage that screened from Mad Max: Fury Road.  (I can’t believe this movie finally got made and is being released!!!)  I am very, very curious to see what George Miller has crafted after so much time away from this franchise.  This first teaser, made up of some of the footage they showed at Comic-Con, is pretty great:

Here is a teaser trailer for Kevin Smith’s Tusk:

Just what the heck is this film going to be, and could it be any good???  I dunno, I am not hugely optimistic, but I’ll admit I am damn curious and that’s a pretty great trailer…

Ronald D. Moore (one of the best Star Trek writers and creator and show-runner of the modern version of Battlestar Galactica) just did a fantastic Q & A on reddit.  Prepare to loose a large amount of your time reading this.

Dr. Julian Bashir will be appearing on Game of Thrones?  Awesome!!  I grew to love Alexander Siddig’s work on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (my favorite of all the Trek series) and I have often felt that he is a great … [continued]

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Star Trek: The Light Fantastic

Last year, David Mack wrote a terrific trilogy of Star Trek: The Next Generation novels, under the subtitle “Cold Equations.”  (Click here for my review of book 1, click here for my review of book 2, and here for my review of book 3.) It’s a great trilogy that moved forward the continuing, post-Nemesis 24th century Star Trek story that has been ongoing in the Trek novels for many years now.  Most notably, Cold Equations repaired the biggest sin of Star Trek: Nemesis and (Careful!  Spoilers!  Spoilers!) brought back Data.

Interestingly, this major event in the Trek books was itself a direct sequel to a stand-alone Trek book from about a decade earlier, a book called Immortal Coil by Jeffrey Lang.  That novel introduced the idea of a secret society of android artificial intelligences and led to several fascinating developments in the life of Lt. Data.  (Click here for my review of Immortal Coil, a terrific book.)

And so I was delighted to see that now Mr. Lang himself has written a sequel to David Mack’s Cold Equations trilogy, a book focusing on the newly-resurrected Data called The Light Fantastic.  What a wonderful bit of full-circle perfection.  The Light Fantastic is a phenomenal follow-up to Cold Equations, thoroughly exploring Data’s new status quo following the events of that trilogy.

It is difficult to discuss this book too deeply without ruining some of the surprises of Cold Equations, so if you are reading this but you have not yet read Cold Equations, you might want to stop here.

Still with me?  The Light Fantastic picks up about a year following the events of Cold Equations.  Data and Lal, both newly returned to life, have settled into a quiet life on, of all places, Orion Prime.  (When Noonien Soong inhabited the new android body now possessed by Data, he used his intelligence to create something of a casino empire for himself, an empire Data now finds himself running, mostly as a way to keep that parto f his father alive in some way.) But their tranquility is shattered by the return of Moriarty, the holographic entity from “Elementary, Dear Data” and “Ship in a Bottle.”

I was thrilled to read of the return of Moriarty, a wonderful character from TNG and a terrific foil for Data.  I was also delighted by what Mr. Lang has done with his character.  The narrative of The Light Fantastic jumps around in time, often flashing back to show us what became of Moriarty and the Countess in the years after they we trapped in a holographic simulation back in “Ship in a Bottle.”  It turns out things have not … [continued]