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News Around the Net!

Have you seen this?  Jon Hamm (Mad Men) plays Lex Luthor in this short from Funnyordie.com, asking for bailout money for Luthorcorp.  Genius!

Out-there director Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) is making a film of Maurice Sendak’s beloved childrens’ book, Where The Wild Things Are?  What an insane, inspired notion.  Check out this wondrous trailer.  This is a movie I need to see.

Speaking of trailers I really want to see, I didn’t know anything whatsoever about Sam Mendes’ (American Beauty) new film, Away We Go, before I saw this new trailer (mentioned at the Motion Captured blog over on HitFix.com).  It stars John Krasinski (Jim from The Office) and Maya Rudolph (from SNL), and now that I’ve seen the trailer I am very excited for this film!  

I love this new poster for J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek movie.  I need this in my home.

Speaking of Trek, there’s been some interesting pieces posted on-line lately about the use of Bryan Tyler’s magnificent score for Children of Dune in the trailers for the new Star Trek film.  This article summarizes the confusion nicely.  I am fascinated by this stuff.  Tyler’s score was also used extensively in the first trailer for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  I loved both of the Sci-Fi channel’s Dune mini-series, and it tickles me to hear snippets of the score being used all over the place these days!

Come back here tomorrow to read my thoughts on a terrific older film from director Guillermo del Toro, The Devil’s Backbone!… [continued]

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“Amongst Horrors Must I Dwell” — Josh Reviews the Tales of the Black Freighter!

March 30th, 2009
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“Delirious, I saw that hell-bound ship’s black sails against the yellow Indies sky, and knew again the stench of powder, and men’s brains, and war.”

So begins the Tales of the Black Freighter, the famed “comic within a comic” from Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons.  It’s one of my favorite elements of the graphic novel, and also one of the most bizarre (which might be why I like it so much!).  Starting in the very first panel of Watchmen‘s third chapter, and then recurring periodically throughout the remainder of the story, the horrific narrative of this pirate comic (being read by a young boy hanging out by a street-corner news-stand) weaves in and out of the larger story being told.

In the Black Freighter story, we follow the ordeal of the lone survivor of a sailing ship that has been ambushed and destroyed by the pirates of the Black Freighter.  Fearing that the pirates’ next target is his home of Davidstown, where his wife and children live, the survivor (whose name is never given) goes to desperate efforts to make his way home before the Black Freighter arrives.  Needless to say, things don’t go well.

In my review of the Zack Snyder’s movie adaptation of Watchmen, I wrote how I found it hard to believe that I was actually watching a Watchmen movie.  Who’d have believed that this brilliant, violent, weird graphic novel had ever been made into a film — and, even more incredibly, one so faithfully translated from the source material??  Well, as much as I had doubted that a Watchmen movie would ever come to be, it was positively inconceivable to me that Tales of the Black Freighter would EVER be included in such an adaptation.  In bringing such a large and complex work as Watchmen to the screen, surely the first thing to be done would be to determine what elements could be jettisoned, and surely the Black Freighter digressions would be at the top of that list!

And, indeed, the version of Watchmen released to theatres last month did not, in fact, include the Tales of the Black Freighter.  But, bless their hearts, Snyder and his team did actually adapt the Tales of the Black Freighter.  In order to capture the “comic within a comic” and differentiate it from the rest of the movie, they made the savvy choice to create it using animation.  And so the twenty minute Tales of the Black Freighter short film came to be.  It was released to DVD this past week, and it will be edited back into the Watchmen movie for a super-duper special edition DVD to come.  

So how is … [continued]

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Star Trek: A Singular Destiny

In movies, in TV shows, in books, and in comic books, a big cataclysmic event is always a lot of fun.  But it only becomes meaningful and worthwhile if that big event leads to great new, interesting stories about the aftermath of whatever has happened.  

Did something BIG and DRAMATIC happen in some show’s season finale or season premiere?  Well, great!  But is everything back to normal in the very next episode?  Or are the repercussions of the exciting event explored in the episodes that followed?  Since, as you can tell from the headline, we’re talking about Star Trek today, let me give a Trek example: “The Best of Both Worlds” is possibly the high-point of Star Trek: The Next Generation.  (As anyone reading this article is probably aware, it’s an amazing, action-packed two-parter in which Captain Picard is assimilated by the Borg.)  But, for me, an enormous part of what made that event so great is the episode that follows, “Home,” in which we explore Picard’s attempt to recover from the intensely traumatic event that he went through.

David Mack’s trilogy of novels, Star Trek: Destiny, (which I reviewed here) was an incredibly exciting, ambitious story that left the established Star Trek universe in chaos.  I enjoyed Destiny thoroughly, but I was even more excited about that story’s follow-up: A Singular Destiny, written by Keith R.A. DeCandido.  That many of Mr. DeCandido’s books rank among my favorites of the recent Trek novels certainly added to my anticipation, but mostly I was just excited to see what sorts of new, exciting stories the Trek authors would be able to tell in this brave new post-Destiny world.

I am happy to report that A Singular Destiny is a terrific read, and that this new novel continues to contain all of the elements that I have so throughly enjoyed in so many of Pocket Books’ recent Star Trek novels.

As the book begins, we are introduced to a new character: Professor Sonek Pran.  Once a valued advisor to a series of Presidents of the United Federation of Planets, he has fallen out of favor and settled into a life of teaching University students on Mars.  But he is called back to service to help with the diplomatic situation within what’s left of the fractured Romulan empire (the result of the events of Star Trek: Nemesis as well novels such as Death in Winter by Michael Jan Friedman and Taking Wing by Michael A. Martin & Andy Mangels).  Needless to say, what seems like an isolated incident turns out to be only a small piece of a larger, galaxy-wide puzzle.  Before long, Professor Pran (and the readers!) have … [continued]

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Josh’s Least Favorite TV Series Finales!

Last week I waxed poetic about my favorite TV series finales.  Today let’s examine the other side of the coin — what I feel are the three WORST series finales that I’ve ever seen!

One quick note, before we begin: St. Elsewhere is renowned for having one of the most ludicrous series finales ever, in which it was revealed that the entire show was just the dream of an autistic child.  However, since that wasn’t a show that I ever watched, it’s finale isn’t on my list.

So what is?

The West Wing — “Tomorrow” — I thought the show would be lost after the departure of Aaron Sorkin at the end of season 4, and the limp season 5 didn’t do much to discourage me of that notion.  Season 6 started off just as badly, but about halfway through that season the show completely reinvented itself.  Suddenly the story focused on the race for the White House, following a variety of characters, new and old, through their involvement in the primaries and, ultimately, in the Presidential election.  Not only did this change bring a lot of new energy and intensity to the show, but by moving the show outside the confines of the White House and into new territory, it made it easier for viewers to stop comparing the new episodes to the Sorkin classics.  I got really into the show again, and was very excited for the finale to wrap things up in grand style.  Sadly, what we got was a tepid, boring hour in which nothing really happened.  The much-heralded return of Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) turned out to be barely more than a cameo.  Many long-running characters and storylines were ignored entirely (Toby doesn’t appear at all??  No resolution to the long-simmering Charlie-Zoey romance?) or handled in an entirely trivial, superficial manner (Gee, President Bartlett sees Charlie as his son?  That was obvious ever since the first season!).  Most disappointingly, the first episode of season seven had opened with an intriguing “three years later” flash-forward.  It had seemed clear to me that the questions raised in that scene would be addressed in a book-end scene at the end of the finale.  And yet, nothing!  Why include that scene at all in the season premiere if they weren’t going to go anywhere with it?  What a let-down.

The X-Files — “The Truth” — Although the show definitely should have ended after the seventh season, when David Duchovny (who played series lead Fox Mulder) left, I’m not one of those fans who thought the final two seasons to be entirely without merit.  There were still a lot of great spooky adventures to be had, and I … [continued]

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International Talk Like William Shatner Day!

Did you know that this past Sunday, March 22, was International Talk Like William Shatner Day?  Let the incredibly talented voice-artist Maurice LaMarche (the voice of The Brain from Pinky and the Brain, numerous characters on Futurama, and an incredibly long list of other credits) tell you all about it!

 

Have you ever heard Kevin Pollak do his famous impersonation of William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk?  BEHOLD!

[continued]

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“You know he doesn’t like that name” — Josh bids farewell to Battlestar Galactica!

So, it’s over.

I can count on one hand the number of truly great science fiction TV shows.  As I look back at Ron Moore’s reimagined Battlestar Galactica, there is no question that this epic tale is high on that list.  Seeing the show come to a close is a great loss — although I am comforted to know that in the often-brutal TV marketplace that’s out there, Moore & his team were able to end the show on their own terms, when they felt their story was finished.  This is a saga that I am certain I will revisit many times in the year to come.

It is staggering to consider all the little choices that Moore & co. made correctly, right from the beginning, that all came together to make BSG such a masterpiece.  The brilliant casting of the enormous ensemble.  The decision to forgo most of the Star Trek ideas that were so innovative 30 years ago but that have become such sci-fi cliches over the past four decades (such as aliens with strange foreheads in funky suits, magic transporters, view-screens, a bridge with a big captain’s chair in the middle of it, super-duper shiny computer consoles everywhere… I could go on!) and create a retro look for the show.  The fearlessness with which the writers tackled the inherent darkness of the premise — the near-total annihilation of the human race — and all of the logical questions and struggles that would come out of that apocalyptic event.  (What will our society be like?  Will we have a government?  Courts?  Freedom of the press?  Where will we get fuel, or food, or water?  What happens when we start running out of supplies like medicine, or toothpaste?  Who will be in control, the military or the civilians?)  And finally, the choice to center the stories not in sci-fi mysteries (no time-travel, no alternate universes, no weird astrological phenomena to investigate, no aliens to make contact with) but in characters.  There were no cardboard cut-outs, perfectly moral characters to be found on this show.  No, everyone (even the robots!) were completely human — flawed, imperfect, and capable of making terrible decisions (even our most heroic characters!).

The show has made some mis-steps over the course of its run, there’s no question about that.  I, for one, felt that it nearly lost its way in the latter half of season 2, after the Pegasus three-parter concluded.  There were a couple of stand-alone episodes there that were weak in the extreme, particularly the notoriously terrible “Black Market” (by the way, if you haven’t heard it, Ron Moore’s brutally honest mea culpa podcast for that episode is a must-listen).  But as I … [continued]

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“And the two grand ladies made their escape together” — Josh’s Favorite TV Series Finales, Part II!

The great Battlestar Galactica saga comes to an end, tomorrow.  I am trying to be brave!  In preparation, I have been thinking about some of my favorite series finales.  Click here to see numbers 10-6.

5.  Arrested Development — “Development, Arrested” — Cut down before its time, creator Mitch Hurwitz and co. at least had enough notice to be able to craft a fantastic finale.  Structured to echo the events of the pilot (I love it when series finales bring things full circle like that), it’s another momentous party-boat ride for the Bluth Clan.  Young George Michael confronts his feelings about his cousin Maeby (Michael: “How long has this been going on?”  George Michael: “I don’t know… about 53 weeks?”).  Lindsay stresses about getting older (“I’m going to be 40 in three years!”  Michael:  “You know, being twins, our birthdays are pretty close to one another…”).  Tobias… well, remains Tobias (“Perhaps I should call the hot cops and tell them to come up with something more nautically themed.  Hot Sailors.  Better yet, hot se–” Michael, interrupting: “I like hot sailors!”  Tobias: “Me too.”).  And many, many long-running jokes are revisited (“Ann.” — “Her?”  — “That was a freebie” — “I think I’ve made a terrible mistake” — “Annyong!”)  You might have noticed yesterday in part 1 of this list that I focused a lot on the final scene as the true measure of a series finale’s worth.  No surprise, the geniuses behind this show bring it all home in a note-perfect epilogue, in which Maeby attempts to sell the Bluth family story to Ron Howard (who was, of course, the narrator of the show for its entire run).  Says Howard: “I don’t see this as a series.  Maybe… a movie?”  We can only hope!!

4.  The Wire — “-30-” — As the fifth and final season of The Wire unfolded, I was petrified as to what would happen, in the end, to all of the beloved, damaged characters on this take-no-prisoners show.  Would ANYONE get a happy ending?? Somehow this finale managed to bring proper closure to almost every member of this amazing, one-of-a-kind sprawling ensemble cast.  Without breaking from the tough, down-beat tone of the series, I still felt throughly satisfied with where everyone wound up — quite a feat.  This episode is filled with all of the intensity and emotion that made this series such a powerhouse.  In particular, the Irish wake for one of our good friends was a profoundly effecting scene.  And the final montage of life in Baltimore?  Phenomenal.  Makes one want to watch the entire series through again.

3.  Quantum Leap — “Mirror Image” — To be honest, while I really enjoy Quantum Leap[continued]

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“Sorry, we’re closed” — Josh’s Favorite TV Series Finales!

As I prepare for this weekend’s series finale of Battlestar Galactica (and contemplate life without that brilliant show, one of the greatest of the last two decades), I’ve been thinking about some of the great series finales of the recent past.  Here are some of my favorites, counting down from ten!

10.  Cheers — “One For the Road” — Diane Chambers (Shelly Long) returns in an attempt to re-kindle her romance with Sam (Ted Danson) in this extra-long finale.  To be honest, it’s been years since I’ve seen this one, but my recollection is of really enjoying it.  Bringing back Shelly Long, who was pretty much the star of the show (along with Danson) for the first half of its run, was a brilliant idea.  And the final scene is perfect — Sam waving away a customer while saying “sorry, we’re closed.”  Sniff!

9.  Star Trek: Deep Space Nine — “What You Leave Behind” — I am giving props here to the entire 10-hour, 9-episode “final chapter” of this, the greatest of the Star Trek series.  The show finally becomes what it has always flirted with: a true serial, as seven seasons worth of storylines come to fruition over the course of this magnificent final epic run of episodes.  The Dominion War escalates, a secret section of Starfleet’s complicity in attempted genocide is revealed, and Captain Benjamin Sisko must finally fulfill his destiny as Emissary of the Prophets (a story thread begun in the series’ pilot episode). The show was notable for its enormous cast of recurring characters, and everyone gets his/her due here (with quite a number of popular characters meeting their demise!).  The show gets bumped down a bit on my list because the actual final two-hour episode isn’t quite as great as the episodes leading up to it (it looks like they used up their special effects budget, as one of the major battle sequences is composed almost entirely of recycled footage, something that eagle-eyed fans like me noticed).  Still, the melancholy tone (so unusual for a Trek series) and the sad, final shot of Jake Sisko looking out the window for his lost father as the camera pulls back and the station slowly fades away into the blackness of space is just perfection.

8.  Justice League Unlimited — “Destroyer” — Classic DC Comics villain Darkseid launches a full-scale invasion of Earth, and even the combined might of practically every character (hero & villain) who ever appeared on this amazing animated show are powerless to stop him.  In an epic battle atop the ruins of the Daily Planet building, Superman ultimately falls before the might of Darkseid.  (That sequence, by the way, is a showcase for the … [continued]

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Animation Update! Josh reviews the final Futurama adventure and DC’s new Wonder Woman film!

Two rather high-profile new direct-to-DVD animation projects have been released recently — but are they worth your time and hard-earned dollars?  Well read on, true believers!

Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder — And so, once again, we bid farewell to Futurama.  Matt Groening’s lunatic sci-fi series was brutally cancelled by Fox back in 2003 after only four seasons.  Luckily, after several long years of waiting, the series was resurrected for a series of four direct-to-DVD feature-length animated films, of which this is the last.  While these new movies haven’t quite reached the high-points of the series’ best episodes (I’m thinking about episodes such as The Farnsworth Parabox, Roswell That Ends Well, Love and Rocket, War is the H-Word, Amazon Women in the Mood, The Bird-bot of Ice-Catraz, The Problem with Popplers, or The Day the Earth Stood Stupid), they have been very, very good.  The strongest, in my opinion, was The Beast with a  Billion Backs, in which David Cross (Arrested Development, Mr. Show) plays the alien Yivo who attempts to mate with every creature in the universe, while the weakest was Bender’s Game (as I found the extended fantasy sequence in the middle of the film to be a bit dull).

Into the Wild Green Yonder contains all the crazy zaniness, wild side-stories, and obscure sci-fi references that I have come to expect from the series.  The plot is almost beside the point, but I will attempt a summation.  The story begins on Mars, where the construction of a new Mars Vegas is disrupted by a band of eco-feminists.  Pretty soon Fry has been declared the savior of the universe by a bunch of telepaths wearing aluminum foil hats, Bender arouses the wrath of the mobster Don-Bot for making out with his wife, Leela goes under-cover with the feminists, and it all builds to a massive space-ship battle in the middle of an intergalactic mini-golf course.

The DVD is very solid — the animation is GORGEOUS, as always.  The story, despite some digressions, works well as a movie.  There are very few lulls between big laughs.  As for the ending — well, the original Futurama series was cancelled without any time to produce a final episode, so with this being the final DVD (for now, at least — hope always springs eternal that these will have proven profitable enough for more to be on the way!), fans wondered if we’d get some sort of “finale” to the over-all story.  Well, I think they got things just right.  The last scene is just terrific, with some nice closure that doesn’t close the door on further adventures.  And the very last shot?  Perfection.

If this is … [continued]

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Rain of Madness: The best part of Tropic Thunder on DVD!

March 16th, 2009
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Tropic Thunder was one of my favorite films of last year.  It made my Top 10 Movies of 2008 list, and you can click here to read my original review.

The two-disc special edition DVD is pretty snazzy.  It contains a pretty thorough series of featurettes that cover many of the aspects of creating the film (shaping the script, casting, the visual effects, etc.).  There is also an extended, director’s cut version of the film with a lot of new material added in.  (This is neat, although in my opinion this longer, slower version is inferior to the original theatrical cut.  That the theatrical version is not included on this DVD is disappointing.)

But let’s not focus on the negatives.  The highlight of the DVD, and the thing that I want to bring to your attention, is a special feature called Rain of Madness.

Some background: As you all probably know, Tropic Thunder is a parody of a number of different war films, including Francis Ford Coppola’s sprawling Vietnam War epic Apocalypse Now.  Quite a lot of the imagery in Tropic Thunder is clearly inspired by that film, specifically the helicopter attack opening sequence.

Several years after Apocalypse Now was released, Coppola’s wife Eleanor was involved in the creation of a documentary about the making of that film called Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse.  It chronicled the numerous and mounting problems that beset Coppola during the production of Apocalypse Now — problems that lead to his, basically, falling apart.

Seeing as Tropic Thunder is a parody of Apocalypse Now, Ben Stiller and his company had the inspired idea to create a “behind the scenes” look at the making of Tropic Thunder (that is, the fictional Tropic Thunder film within the film) that is itself a parody of Hearts of Darkness. You with me?  The result is this brilliant little DVD special feature entitled Rain of Madness. It features a TON of new footage that focuses on director Damien Cockburn (played by Steve Coogan)’s descent into madness during the trying first few, um, day of filming Tropic Thunder.  There is a lot of hysterical new material included (scenes shot specifically for this fake documentary) including a series of Cockburn’s passive-aggressive battles with star Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), and Kirk Lazarus as Sgt. Osiris (Robert Downey Jr.) coming down with P.P.S.T. (Post Platoon Stress Disorder) and melting down completely during a visit with the real Osiris’ family.

But the parody goes even further.  The faux documentary is narrated by a fake pretentious German documentarian named Jan Jurgen, a biting satire of Warner Herzog.  Have any of you ever seen Grizzly Man?  It’s a documentary … [continued]

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It’s been a busy month here, but that hasn’t stopped me from checking out a bunch of DVDs recently, new and old:

The Conversation — Released in 1974, this masterpiece was written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola between The Godfather and The Godfather Part II.  Gene Hackman stars as twitchy, secretive surveillance specialist Harry Caul, whose life is up-ended by a seemingly-innocuous conversation that he is hired to record.  Confidently directed by Coppola at the height of his abilities, the film is a perfect study of a slow burn as we watch Hackman’s character gradually fall to pieces.  This is Hackman’s film, without question, but it’s also fun to see the great John Cazale (Fredo in The Godfather) and an incredibly young Harrison Ford in supporting roles.  The film is also notable for the contributions of master editor Walter Murch (American Graffiti, Apocalypse Now) who created an incredible sound-scape that plays with sound and dialogue in some incredibly inventive ways.  The bravura opening sequence, in which Caul and his team records the titular conversation, is staggering — like Caul, we attempt to follow the couple and their conversation, but keep getting distracted by people talking, music playing, and a myriad of other background noises, with the conversation itself flittering in and out of our perception.  It’s really quite astonishing.  Everybody loves The Godfather these days, but I feel that The Conversation is a film that has fallen out of the popular consciousness.  Do yourself a favor and help remedy that by checking out this brilliant film!

Band of Brothers — Speaking of masterpieces, there is this 2001 HBO miniseries executive produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks.  Adapted from the book by Stephen Ambrose, the series follows the men of Easy Company (of the US Army 101st Airborne Division) from their training in 1942 through to the end of the second world war.  I have watched this series through four times now since it was released, and each time I watch it I am just as over-come by the power of the story of these extraordinary heroes.  The production quality of this mini-series is unbelievable — each episode is really its own mini-movie.  The vistas are stunningly beautiful, and the action is gut-wrenchingly intense.  There are few movies. let alone TV shows, that are able to stage combat sequences with as much ferocity.  Over the ten episodes we follow and grow to love an enormous ensemble of characters: Damian Lewis as Richard Winters, Ron Livingston as Lewis Nixon, Donnie Wahlberg as Carwood Lipton, Scott Grimes as Donald Malarkey, Michael Cudlitz as “Bull” Randleman, James Madio as Frank Perconte, Neal McDonough as “Buck” Compton, Frank John … [continued]

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News Around the Net

March 12th, 2009

So have you all seen Watchmen yet?  I am eager to hear people’s thoughts.  Roger Ebert has seen it twice, and after his first review he felt he needed to go back and write about it again.  Pretty interesting.  Speaking of Ebert, I really loved reading his recent tribute to his partner, Gene Siskel, on the tenth anniversary of Gene’s death.  Don’t leave that page without watching the video of the two of them on the Howard Stern show, which is posted at the bottom.  

George Lucas has apparently begun casting his Star Wars TV show.  Be afraid.  Be very afraid.

Have some money to burn?  Then have you considered adorning the wall of your home or office with this damn dirty ape?

In anticipation of the new Star Trek movie, Devin Faraci over at CHUD has been reviewing every single original Star Trek episode.  (Or, at least he was, before the pace of his articles slowed to a crawl.)  But he seems to be back with his review of episode 17, “The Squire of Gothos.”  This episode is, for some reason, considered a classic of the Original Series, but in the cold light of 30 years of hindsight, we must acknowledge that it’s pretty bad.  Anyways, Devin’s reviews are always HYSTERICAL, and this one is no different.  

Let’s end where we began, with Watchmen.  Was my lengthy pre-movie-release dissertation on some of the themes of the graphic novel not in-depth enough for you?  Well then have I got the web-sites for you.  Clear your afternoon’s schedule, and the click here and here.

Don’t forget that, since January, I have been on a new schedule in which I ALWAYS post a new blog on Friday (even though there is no new cartoon on that day).  So don’t forget to check back every Friday to see what’s cooking here!  Coming up tomorrow is a look at some of the great DVDs that I’ve been watching recently.  See you then!… [continued]

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“That was another lifetime!” — Josh is blown away by the new Star Trek trailer!

March 11th, 2009

So, showing in front of Watchmen in many theatres across America right now is a new trailer for J.J. Abrams’ upcoming Star Trek movie.

Holy shit!

 

You can also check it out in glorious Quicktime here.

You can never be certain, from a trailer, just how good the actual movie will be.  (Remember that stunningly awesome first trailer for Star Wars: Episode I?)  But HOLY COW that trailer was awesome!!  

I have actually been quite impressed with every trailer for J.J.’s new Trek film that I have seen so far, even that short teaser with Leonard Nimoy’s voice-over that was attached to the release of Cloverfield way back in January, 2008.  Even so, while I have been very, very excited by the prospect of a new Trek movie on the horizon — particularly one masterminded by as high-quality a talent as J.J. Abrams, and with the backing of such a substantial budget from Paramount — I have remained quite dubious about the project.

First of all, I find prequels to be, for the most part, pretty dumb.  I’d rather see the Trek story moving FORWARD.  (Maybe it’s time to jump the story ahead by another 100 years or so past the time-span of Next Generation/Deep Space Nine/Voyager.  I’ve always sort of thought of Star Trek as being like Asimov’s Foundation novels, which spanned thousands of years.  I wouldn’t mind if every decade of so the folks behind Star Trek put aside everything that had come before and moved the story even further into the future, thus creating new characters, conflicts, and situations for new movies or TV shows.  But anyways…)

So, OK, I don’t really like prequels.  But, if you’re going to do a prequel, it seems to me that you are obligated to be faithful to the already-established continuity.  And, to put it mildly, from what I have seen the makers of this new Trek film are doing no such thing.  The glimpses we’ve gotten of the bridge of the Enterprise look nothing like the classic bridge design — as many on-line commentators have remarked, it looks more like an apple store!  I have already whined in-depth about the re-design of the Enterprise exterior.  And where is Kirk’s best-friend Gary Mitchell?  The Enterprise was constructed on Earth?  Did the entire Enterprise command crew all go to the academy together?  Ridiculous.  I could go on.

But.

But!!

How friggin’ cool was that trailer???  Spectacular.  There is some phenomenally gorgeous imagery in the trailer (the shots of Vulcan, of Starfleet Academy, and of course all of the fast-paced starship combat).  The new actors continue to impress me with the way they look, feel and sound remarkably like the … [continued]

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“I did it thirty-five minutes ago” — Josh Reviews Watchmen!

It’s a bit hard to fathom that I live in a world in which there actually exists a film version of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s magnificent epic Watchmen.

Long considered completely unadaptable, Watchmen (originally published as a 12-issue limited-series by DC Comics back in 1985-86, and re-printed countless times in the subsequent two decades in collected “graphic novel” form) is a staggeringly intricate, layered work that is at once a ripping super-hero yarn and, at the same time, a complete deconstruction of the entire idea of the super-hero adventure comic.

What is fascinating is that the film version of Watchmen arrives at a unique time.  Over the past almost-decade (since the release of Bryan Singer’s X-Men in 2000), we have seen a flood of super-hero movies (a great many of them dreck, and a great many of them of pretty high quality).  This past summer alone saw the release of The Dark Knight, Iron Man, and Hellboy II, among others — three very different films, yet all examples of super-hero movies that were quite extraordinarily well executed.  We’re at a point now when the general public has become very familiar with a lot of the tropes of the super-hero movie genre — and so are perfectly primed to see those familiar characters and themes and story structures completely up-ended by the movie of Watchmen, the same way that the comic book audience had all of their familiar super-hero comic ideas up-ended by the original Watchmen comic.  This movie, I think, is being released at just the right time.

And it is magnificent.

It’s hard for me to imagine what someone who has never read Watchmen would think of this film, because I have read the comic so many times that it is impossible to imagine not knowing (and revering) the story beat-by-beat.  But it seems to me that director Zack Snyder has done an extraordinary job of maintaining a great deal of the depth and complexity of the comic, while also making it very accessible to a first-timer.  That is no easy feat.

Those of you who, like me, worship the source material, can rest easy.  Snyder’s film is a breathtakingly faithful adaptation of the comic.  The structure and story-line of the comic is replicated in great detail; almost all of the dialogue and narration has been lifted right out of the comic; and most importantly, the tone and atmosphere of the world that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons created has been brought to life in a powerfully real, visceral way.

To begin with, the film is a marvel of casting.  Thinking about Watchmen in the months leading up to the release, there were a lot of elements … [continued]

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Star Trek: Of Gods and Men

March 6th, 2009
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In case you haven’t figured this out by now, I am an enormous Star Trek fan.  But I have lamented before on this site that, for a number of years now, there haven’t been any new Star Trek TV shows or movies to entertain me.  (And frankly, I wasn’t that wild about the last two Trek movies OR the last two Trek TV series, so it’s been even LONGER since I was able to enjoy any consistently GREAT official, live-action Trek.)  However, I have been really digging Pocket Books’ recent Star Trek novel releases (just recently I reviewed the spectacular trilogy Star Trek: Destiny)… and there has been some UN-official Trek product out there to enjoy, as well, like the terrific fan series Star Trek: Phase II (which I discussed here, and I reviewed its most recent episode, “Blood and Fire” Pt. I, here).  

Today I’d like to discuss another notable Star Trek fan production, albeit one with a pretty remarkable pedigree — Star Trek: Of Gods and Men.

Inspired by the success and near-professional quality of Star Trek: Phase 2, director Tim Russ (who played Tuvok on Star Trek: Voyager) and his team have assembled a group of film professionals to produce this feature-length project (which was originally released on-line in three 30-minute installments).  In front of the camera, Star Trek: Of Gods and Men stars a rather remarkable assemblage of former Star Trek actors: Walter Koenig (Pavel Chekov), Nichelle Nichols (Uhura), Alan Ruck (Captain John Harriman of the Enterprise B from Star Trek: Generations), Grace Lee Whitney (Janice Rand), J.G. Hertzler (Martok from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), Garrett Wang (Ensign Kim from Star Trek: Voyager), Ethan Phillips (Neelix from Star Trek: Voyager), Cirroc Lofton (Jake Sisko from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), Chase Masterson (Leeta from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), and many others.  

A number of the above actors (like Koenig, Nichols, and Ruck) reprise their roles from the shows, while others play entirely new characters (Hertzler, Wang, Lofton, Masterson, etc.).  Either way, one of the great joys of this film is getting to see this terrific group of actors again on screen, interacting with one another and a lot of other familiar faces from the different Trek series.  Special props to actor Gary Graham, who has played a variety of roles on the different Trek series (most notably Vulcan Ambassador Soval on Enterprise) for his dynamic turn as Chekov’s partner Ragnar — it’s a small role, but it’s one of the most compelling performances of the film.

But without question the stars of the film are Koenig, Nichols, and Ruck, and … [continued]

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“God Exists and He’s American” — Thoughts Upon Re-Reading Watchmen

March 4th, 2009

I’ve been torn as to whether to recommend to my friends who aren’t already into comic books that they should go and read Watchmen.  On the one hand, it is unquestionably one of (if not the) greatest graphic novels of all time.  On the other hand, would someone who’s never seen a movie before really appreciate Citizen Kane?

I have read Watchmen scores of times.  Part of its brilliance is the incredible depth of its detail — upon each re-reading I always notice new things, new details, new connections.  If you are going to take the plunge and sample Watchmen for the first time (and, you know what, forget what I wrote in the first paragraph — if you haven’t read Watchmen you should go find a copy to read RIGHT NOW) or if, like me, you’re considering re-reading it in anticipation of the upcoming movie adaptation, then here are some things to watch out for while (re-)reading:

Mirroring and (fearful) Symmetry in WatchmenWatchmen is replete with the repetition of images.  This device is used to draw connections, visually, between otherwise disparate scenes and ideas.  Obviously, any fan can recognize the iconic image of the smiley face with the splotch of blood, but have you really noticed just how often that image repeats and repeats throughout the story?  Take a look at the owlship in the last panel of issue 2, page 17; the sun in the center of the Buddha poster in the last panel of issue 5, page 7; Laurie wiping a smudge in the window in panel 7 of issue 7, page 1; the electric socket at the bottom of issue 12, page 6; the covers of issues 7, 10, and 11… and so many more examples.  Slightly less iconic but no less striking is the repetition of the composition of the panel that shows the Comedian’s face, right before being thrown out the window, in panel 3 of issue 1, page 3.  Take a look of that image, and then check out panel 8 of issue 2, page 21, and panel 4 of issue 2, page 22.  Look familiar?

Repetition and symmetry figure heavily into the stories and backgrounds of many of the main characters.  Consider chapter V, titled “Fearful Symmetry,” that focuses on Rorschach.  Obviously, the chapter title is a clue, but look deeper.  The entire issue is symmetrical in its composition and color, with the first panel of the first page almost identical to the last panel of the last page, then working forwards/backwards, panel-by-panel, towards the middle of the issue.  Pretty cool, no?  Consider also the symmetrical nature of the many inkblots (rorschach tests) that the character is … [continued]

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“I Am The Night” — The Very Best Episodes of Batman: The Animated Series

Last week I wrote about the terrific new soundtrack collection of music from the early episodes of Batman: The Animated Series.  That got me reminiscing about that amazing cartoon series, and so of course I busted out my DVDs to enjoy a few episodes.

Several few years back, I was rather shocked to discover that one of my good friends who dug comics had never gotten into Batman: TAS.  So I put together a collection for her of several of my favorite episodes — everything I could squeeze onto one VHS tape.  A few days ago I happened to stumble across the list of the episodes I’d selected (yes, I save everything), and I thought I’d share it with you all.  

So what follows are some of the best half-hours of animated television you’re ever going to find, and also among the most perfect non-comic book depictions of Batman.  If you’ve got these episodes on DVD or on tape, then dust ’em off and give ’em a watching!  If you don’t, then go out and find a friend who does!!  

 

1.  The Demon’s Quest , Parts I & II — Batman traces a criminal conspiracy across the globe, in an effort to locate a kidnapped Robin.  Liam Neeson was fine in Batman Begins, but if you want to see the REAL Ra’s Al Ghul, check out this version, voiced by the incomparable David Warner (Time Bandits, Star Trek VI).

2.  I Am The Night — A depressed and disillusioned Batman goes into an emotional tailspin when Commissioner Gordon is shot during a botched stake-out.  

3.  It’s Never Too Late — There are no supervillains to be found in this episode — it’s just a small, personal story about an aging mobster’s fall from grace.  This is why this series is awesome.  

4.  Robin’s Reckoning, Parts I & II — Perhaps the series’ finest hour.  Batman and Robin’s relationship is strained to the breaking point when the man responsible for the murder of Robin’s parents returns to Gotham City.

5.  Legends of the Dark Knight — This episode pays homage to some of the most iconic comic book depictions of Batman over the years, from Dick Sprang’s Batman of the ’50s to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns from the ’80s.  

6.  Mad Love — A disturbing examination of the twisted relationship between the Joker and his “hench-wench,” Harley Quinn.  Plus, Harley asks the Joker the question that comic fans have been wondering about for over 50 years.

7.  You Scratch My Back — I really enjoyed how, over the life of the series, we saw a noticeable passage of time.  This episode from late in … [continued]