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February 23rd, 2015
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Josh Reviews Jurassic World

June 28th, 2015

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I was excited when I first heard about Jurassic World.  I absolutely adore the first Jurassic Park.  I think it’s one of Steven Spielberg’s very best films.  (Click here for my thoughts on Jurassic Park’s 3-D re-release, and here for an earlier review when I was re-watching various middle-career Spielberg films.)  I love the world of that film so much that every time I re-watch it, it continues to leave me hungry for further exploration of that world.  Neither of the two sequels satisfied me (I think The Lost World is one of the worst films Steven Spielberg has ever made, and I like Jurassic Park III a lot but feel it ends much too abruptly — it’s a solid film missing the last twenty minutes).  This makes Jurassic Park a franchise I am eager to see additional sequels to, because I want to see another great Jurassic Park movie and I haven’t yet.

When I read that they were returning to this series after more than a decade away, I was excited because I thought for sure that meant they had a new idea for this series, a way to better the two mediocre sequels we’d already gotten.

Unfortunately I was wrong, they had exactly the same idea.

One of the inherent problems with all three Jurassic Park sequels is that they have all, basically, told exactly the same story as the first film.  This latest sequel, Jurassic World, is in fact the closest in structure to that first film, in that it’s about a theme park of dinosaurs where the dinosaurs get loose.

But I’ve seen that story already.  And each of these re-tellings — including this latest, Jurassic World — just wind up being a pale shadow of that first film.

On a superficial level, there are a lot of things to like about Jurassic World.  The film certainly looks great.  There are some gorgeous visual effects, and some really wonderful sequences of dinosaur mayhem.  I like the idea of the twist on the original film that while that park was still under construction, the park we see in Jurassic World is a fully-operational, top-of-the-line theme park that is open for business.  I love the design of the park and its rides and everything we see of John Hammond’s original vision come to life as an actual theme park island.  That is all very cool.

But the problem with Jurassic World is that the characters are both incredibly, unbelievably, jaw-droppingly stupid or totally flat and uninteresting, or both.  The magic of that first Jurassic Park was its wonderful characters.  Within the framework of an exciting adventure story were interesting, fun, complex characters … [continued]

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Star Trek Continues! “The White Iris”

Star Trek Continues is an impressive fan film production, creating full-length episodes that are intended to serve as the never-made fourth season of the original Star Trek.  I love these episodes.  The talented folks at Star Trek Continues are keeping Star Trek alive!

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In “The White Iris,” the fourth episode of Star Trek Continues, Captain Kirk suffers a severe head injury while negotiating with a new planet that is set to join the Federation.  Doctor McCoy uses an experimental medicine to heal Kirk’s injuries, but the procedure has an unexpected result: the unravelling of the mind-meld that Spock had used to erase Kirk’s memory of the death of Rayna in “Requiem for Methusaleh.”  This in turn brings up Kirk’s repressed grief for the many women he has loved and lost over the years of his career.  Overwhelmed by visions of these dead women, Kirk seems unable to stave off the escalating violence between the planet and its aggressive neighbor world.

As always, the production values of Star Trek Continues are incredible.  The episode looks and sounds exactly, and I mean exactly, like a real episode of the Original Series.  The costumes are perfect, from the Enterprise crew uniforms to the look of the new aliens introduced in this episode.  The sets are perfect, from the bridge to sickbay to the transporter room to the Enterprise corridors.  There is not an off-note anywhere to be seen.  My jaw is on the floor at the way the sets from the Original Series have been so perfectly replicated.  I mean, look at the pattern on the red pillows in sickbay!  They are perfect!!

There aren’t too many visual effects in this episode, but what effects we see are fantastic.  The Big E looks gorgeous, as has been the case in all of these Star Trek Continues episodes.  I love seeing the original Enterprise reproduced so gloriously using CGI.  The see-through effect on the women in Kirk’s visions is well-realized, simple and effective without becoming silly.  I was also particularly impressed by the score in this episode, which wonderfully channels the sound and feel of Classic Trek.

I like the main story of this episode very much.  It’s nice to see the show taking a look into the internal emotional life of our hero, Kirk.  It’s also fun to see the modern sensibility of continuity brought to an Original Series story.  The original Star Trek almost never referred back to a previous episode.  But for modern viewers, there are so many Original Trek episodes that feel, today, like they demand follow-up.  So it was a great thrill in this episode to see so many important women from Kirk’s like brought back to our attention.  … [continued]

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News Around the Net!

Some momentum on two exciting Stephen King fronts!  There’s been a little bit of movement on the planned adaptation of The Dark Tower.  I’m not holding out too much hope, but I’d love to see it.  Meanwhile, looks like another Stephen King adaptation might take the idea that has been floated about The Dark Tower adaptation combining a TV show with a movie and beat it to the starting line: the latest announcement about The Stand is that it will be an eight-episode miniseries for Showtime, followed by a movie.  OK, that is an interesting and sort-of bizarre idea.  Curious to see where that goes.  In less-great Stephen King news, True Detective director Cary Fukunaga has left his planned two-film adaptation of It just weeks before the start of production.  That’s a huge disappointment.  I was excited to see what Mr. Fukunaga’s distinct voice would do with It.  Oh well.

Love this new trailer for Stephen Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies.  Spielberg and Hanks making another film together?  I am in!

I am very excited to see Inside Out, but that doesn’t mean it’s not too early to start anticipating Pixar’s NEXT original film!

Oh man, this new trailer for Macbeth, with Michael Fassbender & Marion Cotillard, is amazing!!

Macbeth has always been one of my very favorite Shakespeare plays.  I cannot wait to see that.

To my enormous surprise, Marvel Comics’ new Star Wars comic books have all been kind of awesome.  (I’ve been particularly interested in their depiction of just how Darth Vader discovered that the rebel who blew up the first Death Star was his son, and of Vader’s reaction to that important piece of information, thus proving that the Emperor lied to him about Padme’s death.  That’s a great story and something I’m frankly shocked hasn’t been tackled before now.)  Their latest issue of Star Wars had a pretty major twist that is, apparently, now completely part of Star Wars canon.  I’ll be interested in seeing where that story goes…!

It is really starting to look like a fifth season of Arrested Development is actually going to happen!  Huzzah!  Yes, Netflix’s fourth season was a far cry from the greatness of the show’s original three seasons on FOX, but still, further stories of the Bluth family is cause for rejoicing.

They’re making a Layer Cake sequel (click here for my review of the original film), starring Jason Statham???  That is such a weird idea, I’m not quite sure what to make of that!

I would love to someday see a really good Tron film, so for that reason I am bummed that Disney has pulled the plug on Tron 3.  But … [continued]

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Days of De Palma (Part 12): Carlito’s Way (1993)

Slowly but surely, my journey through the films of Brian De Palma continues!  (If you scroll down to the bottom of this post, you’ll find links to all the other Brian De Palma films I have watched!)

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As I have discovered, Brian De Palma’s career seems to unfold in waves.  He hits big with some great films, then sinks back into the depths with some bad films, then he rises again.  After the stinkers of The Bonfire of the Vanities (a huge flop) and Raising Cain, the great De Palma of old returns with a vengeance in Carlito’s Way, one of his very strongest films.  I’d only seen this film once before, about two decades ago.  I remembered enjoying it, and I was pleased on this re-watch that it was even better than I’d remembered.

Based on the novels Carlito’s Way and After Hours by Judge Edwin Torres, the film tells the story of Carlito, a Puerto Rican criminal played by Al Pacino.  After having been released from prison, Carlito attempts to stay on the straight and narrow but finds himself increasingly drawn back into the world of crime.  The slow dissolution of his relationship with his lawyer and former best-friend, David Kleinfeld (Sean Penn) leads to a turning point in Carlito’s life.

While the idea of Al Pacino as a Puerto Rican is a little silly, I absolutely adore Mr. Pacino in this sort of epic crime story.  It’s a genre that well-suits Mr. De Palma as well.  And while this film doesn’t quite reach the heights of the two men’s previous collaboration, Scarface, Carlito’s Way is a terrific crime saga, with a wonderful cast and some iconic set-pieces.  David Koepp’s screenplay is terrific.  It’s clear that De Palma is at his best with a strong screenwriter.  In a film like this, Mr. De Palma’s striking visual style is able to elevate a great story to create a compelling, top-notch film.

The film kicks off with a striking opening as we see, in black-and-white, that Pacino’s Carlito has been shot.  The music is a bit overwrought but it gives the introduction a suitably epic feel.  This feels like the follow-up to The Untouchables.  Forget those terrible movies in between!!

There are so many sequences in the film that are elevated by Mr. De Palma’s cinematic style.  I love the tense shoot-out in the bar, early in the film, after Carlito accompanies his young nephew (played by John Ortiz, who was so great last year in The Drop) to a drug-deal that goes wrong.  This is a great sequence because there is very little cinematic trickery.  It’s just A-level filmmaking, as Mr. De Palma slowly and carefully … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Spy!

At this rate, I want Paul Feig and Melissa McCarthy to never stop making movies together.

Ms. McCarthy killed in Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids, and then she stepped up into a co-starring role in Mr. Feig’s follow-up film, The Heat.  In Spy, Ms. McCarthy and writer/director Feig reunite for a third film together, and once again the collaboration proves to be absolutely golden.

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Melissa McCarthy plays Susan Cooper.  She’s the CIA operative who, from her desk at Langley, serves as the voice in the ear of suave, handsome, James Bond-esque super-spy Bradley Fine (Jude Law).  But when Fine is killed on a mission to recover a rogue nuclear bomb, Susan finds herself thrust into the field, forced to go undercover to befriend the woman who killed Fine, Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne) in an attempt to locate the bomb before it can be sold to terrorists.

For a long time, Paul Feig (who created Freaks and Geeks and ran the show along with Judd Apatow) felt like something of a secret to comedy fans.  So it’s been a delight to see him achieve big-time success these past few years since Bridesmaids.  I hope this run continues for him for a long time!!!  (I am NOT excited by the idea of a Ghostbusters sequel/remake, but if anyone can make that interesting, it’s Paul Feig, so I am at least curious to see what he’s cooking up.)  There is some sort of magic when he collaborates with Melissa McCarthy.  Mr. Feig seems to know exactly how to use her, crafting characters for her that play right to her best comedic strengths.

What’s great about McCarthy in this role is that Susan Cooper isn’t a bumbling idiot.  She’s smart and loyal and tough.  This isn’t the story of a dour housewife transforming into a super-spy, which would have been the predictable route to go in a movie like this.  I was impressed that Paul Feig (who wrote the film in addition to directing) chose to tell a different story.  When we first meet Susan, we can already see her great qualities.  It’s Fine and her superiors at the CIA who don’t see them.  What happens in the film is that Susan is finally given an opportunity to show what she’s really capable of.  I love that.

Ms. McCarthy is so, so funny.  She’s equally as adept at physical comedy (there is a close-quarters fight in a dirty kitchen that is absolutely magnificent) and verbal comedy (in the early scenes when she’s just sitting at a desk and talking into Fine’s ear, she is still hilarious).  She and the film do fall back on a few familiar tricks — at one point, when … [continued]

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The Great Hellboy Re-Reading Project Part VII: The Black Flame

I have recently begun an epic project: re-reading Mike Mignola’s complete Hellboy saga from the very beginning!  What began as a series of sporadic mini-series and short-stories featuring the big red occult investigator has deepened over the past twenty years into what is, for my money, the richest and most consistently entertaining comic book universe of stories out there.  Click here for part one, in which I discussed the very first Hellboy tale: the four-part mini-series Seed of Destruction.  Click here for part two, in which I discussed The Wolves of Saint August, The Corpse and the Iron Shoes, and Wake the Devil.  Click here for part three, in which I discussed a variety of Hellboy short stories including The Right Hand of Doom and Box Full of Evil.  Click here for part four, in which I discussed Hellboy’s last mission for the B.P.R.D.: Conquerer Worm.  Click here for part five, in which I discussed the beginning of a series of B.P.R.D. spin-offs and a whole new expansion of the Hellboy universe: Plague of Frogs.  Click here for part six, in which I discuss the major shift in the Hellboy story that took-place in The Third Wish and The Island.

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B.P.R.D.: The Black Flame (2005) – If there was any doubt in my mind that these B.P.R.D. stories were now the centerpiece of the Hellboy universe, that was swept aside by the phenomenal mini-series The Black Flame, which saw the introduction of an important new villain (the titular Black Flame), a horrifying expansion of the threat facing the B.P.R.D., and the devastating death of a major character.

The story opens with the B.P.R.D. in full combat mode, engaged in vicious fights all over the United States, trying to stop the spread of the frog-creatures but daunted by the new nests popping up everywhere.  The conflict with the frogs has turned into a WAR.  The B.P.R.D. agents are no longer bookish academics, they are soldiers.  The fight with the frogs in issue #1 is brutal.  I love the development of Roger’s relationship with Captain Daimio and Roger’s mimicking of Daimio.  It’s such an interesting progression for the sweet Roger.  I love that Zinco finally re-enters the main story, after having been mostly on the sidelines since way back in Wake the Devil a decade earlier.  Issue #2 of this series introduces the new Zinco head, Landis Pope, and his assistant Marsten, both of whom will remain major players in the Hellboy universe for quite a while.

The introduction of The Black Flame is (as I have discovered in this re-read) classic Mignola, once again giving us the end of the story before the beginning.  The … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Tomorrowland

June 10th, 2015

Brad Bird is one of my favorite directors, and so I was excited by the prospect of a new film with him at the helm.  I was also intrigued to see what would result from combining his voice with that of Damon Lindeloff (showrunner of Lost) and Jeff Jensen (a great writer for Entertainment Weekly who shares story credit on the film).  Sadly Tomorrowland is a disappointment, a bland all-ages film that has a few fun moments but otherwise fails to leave much of an impact.

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In 1964, young Frank Walker brings the jetpack he invented to the World’s Fair.  He catches the eye of a young girl named Athena, who helps him find the secret entrance (in Disney’s “It’s a Small World” ride, a nice touch) to a fantastic, futuristic world.  (The “Tomorrowland” of the title, get it?)  Cut to years later, when a teenaged girl named Casey encounters Athena, who mysteriously hasn’t aged a day.  Athena gives Casey a Tomorrowland pin which gives her glimpses of the magical Tomorrowland, and then sets Casey on the path to meet Frank, now a middle-aged man (played by George Clooney) who was banished from Tomorrowland years ago.

I don’t automatically assume that a movie based on something from a Disney theme park will be bad (enough people certainly loved the first Pirates of the Caribbean, though I was never a huge fan), though a movie with such a mercenary origin does tend to inspire some doubt.  Ultimately one of Tomorrowland’s many weaknesses is that we get to spend so little time exploring the actual Tomorrowland itself.

Brad Bird has always made all-ages films.  One of his main skills has been the adult way he has approached those films, refusing to dumb them down for an “all audiences” approach.  His films can be enjoyed by kids and adults alike, and they have always been chock full of humor and heart, with rich characters and real dramatic stakes.  Sadly, Tomorrowland has almost none of those things.  Any edge or sense of drama or danger has been sanded off the film.  There’s never any sense that the characters are in any real danger.  More importantly, there are no real emotional stakes for any of the characters.  Casey starts off the movie happy and well-adjusted and ends the film the same way.  Athena is, by her very nature, unchanging.  And although George Clooney’s Frank is supposed to be a broken man when we first meet him as a grown-up, George Clooney doesn’t give the character any real darkness.  He’s gruff but it doesn’t feel like real anger or bitterness, just a charismatic fellow playing at being gruff.  George Clooney can be a great actor … [continued]

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Holy Shit! Mad Max: Fury Road!!

June 8th, 2015
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Based on the awesome trailers and the strong early reviews, I had high hopes for Mad Max: Fury Road, but holy cow, I was not expecting the masterpiece I have just beheld.  Fury Road is a triumph, a guts-gripping thrill-ride filled to overflowing with extraordinary visual inventiveness, absolutely bonkers insane action, wonderfully compelling characters with rich emotional arcs, humor and horror and fun all wrapped up together in a breathtaking cinematic package.  I stand amazed.

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This movie really should not exist.  George Miller directed a trilogy of low-budget Mad Max films back in the seventies and eighties, with Mel Gibson in the lead.  I’ve been reading for decades that Mr. Miller wanted to mount a fourth film, but it seemed like his chance had long-since passed.  This franchise felt well and truly done.  The last Mad Max movie was back in 1985.  In the last twenty years, Mr. Miller has only directed four films, one of which was a TV documentary and two of which were the animated Happy Feet and its sequel.  It didn’t seem to me that Mr. Miller had ANY films left in him, and if he did, the chances that they would be any good seemed slim.  And returning to a thirty-year-old franchise?  I can’t think of a single example of that happening and working — the most well-known similar examples of a sequel made after many years had passed all resulted in enormous levels of fan disappointment.  (I’m thinking of the Star Wars prequels, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and The Godfather Part III.)

But my goodness has seventy-year-old George Miller blown the barn doors off of my expectations.  Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the most astonishing films I have seen in years.  This is a big-screen film if ever there was one.  Every frame of the film is filled with extraordinary creativity, and this is a movie worth soaking in on the very biggest screen you can possibly see it on.

Fury Road is the fourth Mad Max film, but it completely stands on its own.  Everything you need to know about Max is established in the film’s opening minutes, and all of the other characters and situations in the film are completely original to this film.  (The Mad Max films have always had a very loose sense of continuity — see Bruce Spence appearing as two entirely different characters in The Road Warrior and then Beyond Thunderdome.  And that continues to be the case here, as Max somehow has his iconic car back when the film begins, despite the fact that it was destroyed back in The Road Warrior.)  The film’s opening is clever.  I loved … [continued]