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From the Mighty Marvel Archives: Avengers Assemble!

May 30th, 2012

I’ve really been enjoying, over the past few months, dipping back into the archives of Mighty Marvel Comics to read some classic stories I’d never read before.  As my anticipation for the Avengers theatrical film grew, I found myself drawn to a variety of stories from Avengers history.  I do love me a nice handsome collected edition, and it was great fun to read some of these classic tales.

Captain America: The Captain — This lengthy tome collects the story-line that ran for about a year-and-a-half in Captain America back in 1987-89.  When the U.S. government tries to exert control over Steve Rogers’ actions as Captain America, Rogers chooses to give up his super-hero identity.  He eventually adopts a new identity of “The Captain,” while the government selects another super-human, John Walker, to become Captain America.  But when tragedy strikes his family, Walker becomes increasingly unstable, leading to an inevitable confrontation between the two Captain Americas.  I was just getting into comics in 1987, and I remember reading references to this story-line in various other Marvel comic books that I was reading at the time.  But I’d never actually read the Captain America story, so it was really fun to revisit this lengthy chunk of Captain America continuity, written by Mark Gruenwald.  There are aspects to the story-line that are a bit simplistic (the Presidential Commission assigned to oversee Cap’s activities comes off as just a little too evil), but the central story is a great one.  I like that Mr. Gruenwald lets us spend a lot of time with John Walker.  (After Cap quits in Captain America #332, for the next several issues we don’t see Steve Rogers at all — instead we follow John Walker’s story.)  Walker is clearly flawed but also sympathetic, which creates a strong dynamic in the stories.  I was pleased that this collection also included Iron Man #228, a key confrontation between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark (from the famous Armor Wars story-line) that takes place in the middle of this Captain America story-line.  (That’s a nice attention to detail by the editors.)

Avengers: The Children’s Crusade — While most of these collected editions I’ve been reading have been collecting stories from 20-30 years ago, this handsome hardcover collects the nine issue mini-series that Marvel published last year.  This story brings some resolution to story-lines begun by Brian Michael Bendis nearly a decade ago, in the famous Avengers: Disassembled story.  After Disassembled and her actions in House of M, Wanda Maximoff (the Scarlet Witch) has been pretty much absent from Marvel Comics, her fate unknown.  But with The Children’s Crusade, writer Alan Heinberg set out to bring some closure to Wanda’s story, and … [continued]

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News Around the Net

Yes, this really is an enormous oil painting depicting The Death of Jennifer Sisko at Wolf 359.  Love it.

I’ve really been loving the first season of Lena Dunham’s HBO show Girls. For anyone out there who is similarly digging this weird, funny show, allow me to direct you to this fabulous in-depth interview with Ms. Dunham and her fellow show-runner Jenni Konner.

I agree with pretty much every selection on this list of 15 superheroes who deserve a great reboot.  I’d have the Fantastic Four as number one on  my personal list.

Speaking of super-heroes: this is old, but somehow I just recently stumbled across this wonderful depiction of Peter Dinklage as Wolverine.  Genius.

Parks and Recreation is my favorite comedy on TV right now.  The show just wrapped up a great fourth season, and I’m pleased it was renewed for a (short) season 5.  Here’s a great interview with show-runner Mike Schur on season 4.

I think it’s super-cool that, to promote the upcoming release of season 1 of Star Trek: The Next Generation on blu-ray, they’re screening two season 1 episodes in theaters around the country.  I love that idea, and I wish it was something studios did a lot more of.  But why oh why did they choose to show “Datalore” and “Where No One Has Gone Before”???  Urgh, those are two very weak episodes.  Ordinarily I would jump at this sort of thing, but I don’t think I’m that interested in seeing those two episodes.  Two bad.  (For the record, if we’re picking first season Next Gen episodes — which is tough, because that first season is VERY rough — I’d have gone with “Hide and Q” and “Conspiracy.”)

Here is a terrific post from Devin at badassdigest.com on how to Take Back  the Nerd: Five Ways to be a Good Fan.  It’s a great piece, and I agree 100%.… [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: Out of Sight (1998)

Boy do I absolutely adore Out of Sight. It’s one of those films in whose world I wish I could go on living.  There’s just something so magical about the combination of the script, the direction, the acting, and the whole tone that is created in the film.  When watching Out of Sight, I never want the story to end.  I wish there were ten more films featuring these characters in further adventures.  It’s that good — just a (too short) little slice of perfection.

The film is directed by Steven Soderbergh (it’s by far my favorite Soderbergh film, so far above the dreadful Ocean’s 11 movies as to be laughable), and adapted (by Scott Frank, doing a bang-up job) from the novel by Elmore Leonard.  (Every time I watch this film I say to myself that I need to go read the original novel immediately.  I’m ashamed to say I haven’t yet, but I do look forward to getting to that some day.)

When the film begins, we meet Jack Foley (George Clooney), a man who seems to be at the end of his rope.  So, what is there to do but walk across the street and rob a bank.  He fails, of course, but that’s just the beginning of the story.  Out of Sight has a deliciously twisted narrative, jumping back and forth between different characters and different time periods.  (The joy of discovering, late in the film, just what happened to so royally piss off Jack at the start of the movie is immense.)

George Clooney is absolutely dynamite in the lead role.  It’s a true movie-star performance.  He gives Jack ENORMOUS charisma and likability, even though he’s a thief and a scoundrel.  Mr. Clooney brings a lot of layers to Jack, and I love the way the character is depicted as very smart and adaptable, though not super-humanly perfect.  Jack does screw up, and he makes bad decisions.  But we root for him to succeed every step of the way.

Jennifer Lopez plays U.S. Marshal Karen Sisco, and I would argue that she has never been better on-screen.  Ms. Lopez is sexy and smart, and her chemistry with Mr. Clooney is palpable.  Their first meeting — locked together in the trunk of a stolen car (you just have to watch the film to see how they got into that situation) — remains one of my favorite scenes from any film.  The dialogue bites, but the scene succeeds because Mr. Clooney and Ms. Lopez sell it perfectly.

And how great is the rest of the supporting cast?  There’s Dennis Farina as Karen’s dad.  There’s Ving Rhames as Jack’s partner-in-crime Buddy.  There’s Steve Zahn as the hapless criminal … [continued]

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Josh Reviews the Newly-Released Complete Soundtrack for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is one of my very favorite of the Star Trek films.  (Possibly my very favorite — depending on my mood, sometimes I consider it better than The Wrath of Khan, other times a close second.  Click here to witness my waxing poetic about the greatness of Star Trek VI!) One of my favorite aspects of the film — and a subtle but critically important key to its greatness — is the marvelous score by Cliff Eidelman.  I was thrilled that Intrada recently released the complete score on CD.

Director Nick Meyer is responsible, pretty much single-handedly, for a huge percentage of the greatness of the Star Trek film series.  He wrote and directed Star Trek II, co-wrote Star Trek IV, and co-wrote and directed Star Trek VI. Time and again, Mr. Meyer demonstrated an unswerving ability to make just the right decisions where the Star Trek films were concerned.  His choice of Cliff Eidelman as the composer for Star Trek VI is just one example.

Poor Mr. Meyer had quite a few difficulties pulling off Star Trek VI for the minuscule budget offered by the studio (thirty million dollars, an astoundingly low sum for a sci-fi epic and the exact same amount that the ugly, small-scale Star Trek V had been made for two years previously).  In his memoir, The View From the Bridge (click here for my review of that wonderful book), Mr. Meyer recounted his difficulty in finding a composer who could work for the small amount of money he had available to pay.  “I continued to exhaust myself trying to find ways to skin the cat.  I could not afford Jerry Goldsmith to write our score; I couldn’t even afford James Horner, who had risen in prominence (and price) in the years since The Wrath of Khan.” (Mr. Meyer had hired a young James Horner to compose the score for Star Trek II, because the budget had been slashed on that sequel and he couldn’t afford to bring back Jerry Goldsmith, who had scored Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Deja vu all over again.)

Luckily, Mr. Meyer was able to connect with another talented young composer, Cliff Eidelman (who was 28 years old at the time).  The two agreed on a key creative choice — that it would be fruitless to try to equal the dramatic bombast of the previous Star Trek films’ scores, and that, furthermore, such an approach wouldn’t suit the dark, somber story being told in Star Trek VI. In his fantastic (as usual) liner notes for the complete score CD, Jeff Bond notes: “From its opening bars, Eidelman’s music for Star Trek VI exhibits … [continued]

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Summer Movies!

May 22nd, 2012

The Avengers has raised the bar VERY HIGH for this summer’s movies!  Here are some of the films I’m looking forward to this summer:

The Dark Knight Rises — Duh.  Christopher Nolan finishes his Batman trilogy and my expectations are sky-high.  I’m curious just how FINAL an ending Nolan is going to give to his Batman.

Prometheus — Ridley Scott returns to the Alien universe.  Double duh.

Moonrise Kingdom — A new Wes Anderson film always has my ticket.

Brave — Cars 2 was the first Pixar film in years that I didn’t see in theatres.  It just didn’t interest me.  (And I actually still haven’t seen it, though I do hope to watch it on DVD one of these days.)  Brave, though, looks like a far more interesting film, and I’m pleased to see Pixar returning to original stories rather than sequels.  (Though please feel free to hit me with The Incredibles 2 any time you’d like, Pixar!!)

To Rome With Love — I tend to miss Woody Allen’s films in theatres these days, more often catching up to them on DVD, but a new Woody Allen film is always something I’m interested in.  I like the idea of Jesse Eisenberg in a Woody Allen film, and I’m excited to see Woody back on-screen for the first time since 2006’s horrendous Scoop.

Safety Not Guaranteed — I am intrigued by what little I know about this indie film, that might or might-not involve time-travel, and that stars Parks and Recreation’s Aubrey Plaza.

Ted — The premise seems stupid, but the profane red-band trailer made me laugh. Family Guy mastermind Seth MacFarlane makes his live-action feature film debut at the helm of this story of a man (Mark Wahlberg) and his Teddy bear who came to life and grew up with him.

Celeste and Jesse Forever — I don’t know much about this one, but I like the idea of pairing Rashida Jones (OK, it’s true, I will go see any film starring a member of the cast of Parks and Rec) and Andy Samberg.  Ms. Jones wrote the film with Will McCormack.  I’m curious to see what this one is all about.

The Campaign — Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis play politicians battling one another in a North Carolina Republican primary.  Looks great.

Men in Black 3 — I’m really dubious this is going to be any good, but I’ll admit it, I’m curious.  I thought Josh Brolin’s Tommy Lee Jones impersonation killed in the trailer.  I’m hoping to be surprised by this one.  We’ll see.

The Amazing Spider-Man — This, for me, is the biggest question mark of the summer for me.  I really really … [continued]

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James Bond Will Return!

May 21st, 2012

Finally! After an unexpectedly long hiatus in the franchise due to MGM’s bankruptcy, James Bond is returning to our cinema screens.  Here’s the first trailer for Skyfall:


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From the DVD Shelf: Platoon (1986)

After watching The Deer Hunter (click here for my review), I decided to move on to another famous Vietnam war movie that I’d never seen: Platoon.

Oliver Stone wrote and directed the film, based on his experiences as a soldier in Vietnam in 1967-68.  Oliver Stone is an interesting director to me.  I respect his work as a writer and as a director, though I haven’t really seen many of his films.  Maybe one of these days I should do a re-watching project (like my De Palma series which, by the way, I will be getting back to eventually…), but for whatever reason there aren’t that many films in Mr. Stone’s filmography that really interest me.  But Platoon is a movie I have long wanted to see, and the film didn’t disappoint.

Platoon has an interesting structure.  It depicts the one year posting in Vietnam of a young infantryman, Chris (Charlie Sheen), the Oliver Stone stand-in character.  Most of these war movies tend to begin with a sequence in basic training to introduce us to all the characters before they get to the war.  But Platoon skips over all of that.  The film begins the moment the plane carrying Chris and his fellow soldiers touches down in Vietnam, and it ends a year later when Chris steps back onto a plane to take him away.

The film is basically divided into two halves.  The first half is a series of vignettes of Chris’ experiences in ‘Nam: suffering on long marches through the jungle, struggling to stay awake on watch in the pouring rain, being in combat, and dealing with incredible stress and fatigue, not to mention the brutal heat, the disease-carried mosquitoes, the red ants, and many more terribly unpleasant experiences.  As we watch these events unfold, we, like Chris, learn about the experience of the war from the perspective of the infantrymen.  Because these scenes were all based on Oliver Stone’s real experiences, the movie has a powerful verisimilitude.  I  understand, of course, that this is still a Hollywood version of the Vietnam experience, but the events I was watching felt honest and real to me, which I enjoyed and appreciated.  I think it’s why the first half of the film works so well.

We also gradually meet many of the other members of Chris’ platoon, most notably the two very different leaders: the kindly Sergeant Elias (Willem Dafoe) and the vicious, scarred Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger).  Willem Dafoe often plays the villain or the weirdo, so it’s delightful to see him playing the tough but fair Elias, a good man trying to do his best in a tough situation.  Tom Berenger, meanwhile, is a nightmare come … [continued]

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More fun from the Mighty Marvel Archives!

May 16th, 2012

A few weeks ago I wrote about the collected editions I’d ben reading of old, classic Marvel Comics story-lines.  Here are some more of the Mighty Marvel collections I’ve been reading lately!

West Coast Avengers: Sins of the Past — Picking up right where the previous West Coast Avengers Premiere Hardcover (which collected West Coast Avengers #1-9, and which I wrote about here), left off, comes this Premiere Hardcover collection of issues #10-16 and a two-part storyline from West Coast Avengers Annual #1 and Avengers Annual #15.  The stories in this collection feel like less of a complete story than those in the first volume, but having enjoyed the first collection I didn’t mind as I just enjoyed reading the next series of adventures.  (And I’m looking forward to the already-announced third volume which will collect the next batch of West Coast Avengers issues.)  I’m not sure why anyone at Marvel feels these issues are significant enough to warrant being collected in these snazzy Premiere Hardcover editions, but I’m enjoying them.  Mr. Englehart continues the blend of soap-opera and super-heroics that characterized the stories in the last collection.  We get some nice resolution to the Master Pandemonium story-line left hanging by the first collection, as well as to Tigra’s struggles with the two aspects of her personality which were introduced in the previous volume.  There’s a weird edge to Tigra’s characterization in these issues that is intriguing.  We see her behave as, well, a bit of a slut in these issues, throwing herself at various different men (even the villain, Graviton!).  It’s interesting to see this willingness to depict the sexual side of one of the characters — a prelude to some of what you see in many comics today, particularly in the Avengers issues written by Brian Michael Bendis — though I can’t help but feel that there’s something a little sexist in depicting this female character in such an unflattering way (especially when she briefly winds up as a chained love-slave to Graviton — I am not making that up).  It’s an interesting tension.

Avengers: The Korvac Saga — Boy I’ve been aware of this famous Avengers story-line for decades, but hadn’t ever read it until now.  It was fun to finally read this famous saga!  I was very pleased that this collection begins by reprinting Thor Annual #6, which features Thor’s time-traveling battle with Korvac the Machine-Man and also featured the 31st century super-hero group The Guardians of the Galaxy.  The story serves as an important prelude to the Korvac Saga that ran through Avengers #167-168 and #170-177, so I was really happy it was included.  Those Avengers issues from 1978 were written by Jim … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Five-Year Engagement

In the opening scenes of The Five-Year Engagement, Tom (Jason Segel) and Violet (Emily Blunt) get engaged after having been dating for exactly a year.  They seem perfect for one another, and the engagement is quickly followed by a movie-perfect sweet/off-color engagement party.  Bring on the wedding, right?  Well, as you can tell from the title, not quite.  Violet gets accepted into a post-doc at the University of Michigan, so the couple decide to put off the wedding-planning temporarily to move from sunny San Francisco to cold, wintry Michigan.  The movie isn’t called The Two-Year Engagement, so obviously further obstacles spring up in Tom and Violet’s path.

I’ve been enjoying Jason Segel’s work ever since Freaks and Geeks. It’s hard to believe that the weird, gangly kid who the networks refused to cast as the lead in Judd Apatow’s follow-up series, Undeclared, despite Mr. Apatow’s championing of him (and who, as a result, Mr. Apatow snuck into episode after episode in the supporting role of Eric, Lizzie’s stalkerish ex-boyfriend) has over the last few years become a big-screen leading man.  I’ve never stopped being a big fan of his work.  In project after project, Mr. Segel can always be counted on to bring a certain oddball weirdness to all of his characters, but that weirdness is usually tempered by an inherent innocence and goodness.  He’s a fearless performer (yes, Mr. Segel is naked at times on-screen in this film, as he often is) and one not afraid to dive deeply into the well of psychosis.  My favorite section in the film is Tom’s descent into depression, as his two-years in Michigan slides into four and he becomes increasingly bitter about the chef-career he gave up for Violet.  Tom gets weird, and hairy (he sports a hysterical wild-man beard-thing), and obsessed with hunting, and the whole thing comes very, very close to being off-putting, but I thought it was an absolute riot.

The Five-Year Engagement is the third film directed by Nicholas Stoller.  His first film was the absolutely brilliant Forgetting Sarah Marshall (click here for my brief review), which he co-wrote with Jason Segel (who also appeared in the film, in his first major starring role).  Mr. Stoller also directed the sort-of sequel Get Him to the Greek (click here for my review), and he co-wrote The Muppets with Jason Segel (click here for my review).  So clearly Mr. Segel and Mr. Stoller are a well-oiled machine, and The Five-Year Engagement, while not quite as great as Forgetting Sarah Marshall, is a pretty terrific film that benefits greatly from their strong partnership.

It’s also a film that is unabashedly bizarre.  It’s a comedy, … [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: The Deer Hunter (1978)

A few years ago when I was watching the documentary I Knew it was You: Rediscovering John Cazale (a really incredible short documentary that is well worth checking out — click here for my review), I commented that of Mr. Cazale’s five films, the only one that I hadn’t seen was The Deer Hunter. When Universal decided to release a nice new blu-ray of the film as part of their 100 year anniversary celebration, it seemed like it was finally time for me to remedy that.

The Deer Hunter is a powerful anti-war film, co-written and directed by Michael Cimino. It concerns the effects of the Vietnam war on a small group of friends from a Pittsburgh steel town. The very long (over three hours) film basically has three distinct sections.

The first act, well over an hour long, depicts a tumultuous day and a half in the life of Mike (Robert de Niro) and his steel-worker buddies. When we meet them, they are finishing a day’s work in the steel mill. They head to a bar to relax, and we learn that that night is Steven (John Savage)’s wedding, an event which the film depicts in geat detail. I don’t recall this lengthy an on-screen wedding celebration since The Godfather. The weddings in both films serve a similar function: slowly introducing us to all of the characters and their relationships.

I love how Mr. Cimino (working from a script he co-wrote with Deric Washburn, which was adapted in part from a script by Louis Garfinkle and Quinn Redeker) takes his sweet time with the opening act.  We really live with these characters for a while, and I think that gives the film’s second and third segments that much more power.  We spent time in this opening act learning some character details that don’t really go anywhere in terms of the film’s plot — I’m thinking specifically of the scene with Meryl Streep’s character Linda and her abusive father — but which enrich our understanding of these people and their lives.  The wedding itself takes up a huge chunk of screen-time, but none of it feels extraneous or wasted.  Indeed, the 30-40 minutes we spend at the wedding might be my favorite part of the film!

The film’s second act takes place in Vietnam.  We skip right over all the usual basic training sequences, and also over seeing our characters’ reactions to arriving in Vietnam.  Instead, we jump right into the middle of a harrowing sequence in which Mike (Robert De Niro), Nick (Christopher Walken) and Steven (John Savage) are being held captive by a group of Viet Cong soldiers.  The captured American soldiers are forced to play Russian … [continued]

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Josh Reviews the Newly-Released Complete Soundtrack for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

I’ve been really enjoying the releases, over the past few years, of the complete soundtracks for the original Star Trek films.  (Click here for my review of James Horner’s complete score for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, here for my review of Jerry Goldsmith’s complete score for Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, and here for my review of Michael Giacchino’s complete score for J. J. Abrams’ Star Trek.)  Recently, Intrada released Leonard Rosenman’s complete soundtrack for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Cliff Eidelman’s complete soundtrack for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. I’ll be back here soon with my thoughts on Trek VI — for now, let’s dive into Mr. Rosenman’s wonderful score for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

After James Horner’s glorious scores for Star Trek II and Star Trek III, director Leonard Nimoy and composer Leonard Rosenman decided to go in a totally different direction for the soundtrack of Trek IV. To fit the lighthearted film, Mr. Rosenman produced an equally lighthearted, joyous score.

It’s a score that is unique among the Star Trek films for many ways.  There are not a lot of different themes for all the different characters, as we hear in the scores of the other films (by James Horner, Jerry Goldsmith, and Cliff Eidelman).  There’s no main love theme and no real “bad guy” theme (though there is an ominous motive used for the Probe).  The score is also incredibly short.  This complete version of the score clocks in at 40 minutes and 5 seconds long, and it includes several minutes of music that Mr. Rosenman wrote but that were not included in the finished film.  Much of Star Trek IV plays without any score at all — after the crew of the Enterprise arrive in San Francisco, there’s no music whatsoever until Chekov’s run across the flight deck of the U.S.S. Enterprise aircraft carrier.  It’s funny, I’ve watched Star Trek IV countless times and it’s never ever occurred to me that there is so little scoring in the film.  It’s a testament to the skill and craft with which Mr. Nimoy and Mr. Rosenman spotted the music for the film, and a perfect example that sometimes a little really does go a long way.

We hear a triumphant rendition of Mr. Rosenman’s main theme for the film in the disc’s first track: “Logo/Main title.”  I absolutely love the soaring, ringing main theme for this film — it sets the perfect tone of fun-filled adventure.  The liner notes describe the music as “upbeat, heraldic, and heroic,” which I think sums up the main theme perfectly.  It’s totally different from the nautical … [continued]

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“Hulk: Smash!” Josh Reviews The Avengers!

Well, here we are at last.  The brilliant post-credits scene of 2008’s Iron Man (click here for my original review) promised the beginning of a bold experiment by the fledgeling Marvel Studios — launching stand-alone films starring several of their major characters (Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America) which would then be followed by all of those characters teaming up in an Avengers movie.  It was a gloriously outrageous idea, one common to comic-books but never before seen in movies.  Marvel Studios was actually planning on making a super-hero crossover film, and one featuring all the same actors who starred in the individual films!  And not only that, but the individual films would actually connect, with story-points and characters overlapping to create a building momentum for the eventual climax in The Avengers.

It was a bold plan, and I am so happy and relieved to report that Marvel Studios has stuck the landing.  Not only does The Avengers work, it works crazily well, and I think it’s the strongest Marvel Studios film since 2008’s Iron Man (and I say that as a big fan of both Thorclick here for my review — and Captain America: The First Avengerclick here for my review).  It’s hard to believe that I live in a world in which a film version of The Avengers actually exists!!  And that it not only exists but that it kicks so much ass makes the whole thing the stuff of beautiful fantasy.

There is surely a huge list of people who must be given credit for the success of this enterprise, but at the top of the list is co-writer and director Joss Whedon.  I am a huge, huge, huge fan of his film Serenity (which he wrote and directed) and that film clearly showed that Mr. Whedon was the perfect man for the job of helming The Avengers. Serenity not only looks amazing, boasting some fantastic visual effects sequences and completely selling the reality of a futuristic, sci-fi world despite being made for a relatively small budget (FAR less than The Avengers).  But more importantly, in that film Mr. Whedon was able to balance nine main characters, giving depth and life to every one of them, presenting them as very different people with different goals and different attitudes and different ways of speaking, and also giving each one of them moments to shine in the course of the film, without one character overshadowing the others.

Mr. Whedon brings the same deft touch to The Avengers. The greatest pleasure of the film isn’t just that the characters are all appearing in the same film (though just the … [continued]

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Fifty Years of 007! Josh Reviews Thunderball (1965)

Well, my apologies, gang, for the long delay between installments of my look back at all the James Bond films.  I’ve been eager to get back to this Bond re-watching project, but I’ve just found myself busy with other things and continually drawn to other films.  In the months since my last installment (my review of Goldfinger), I’ve had to change the title of this series from (Almost) Fifty Years of 007 to just Fifty years of 007, without the (Almost)!  Yes, we have arrived at the fiftieth anniversary of the first James Bond film, Dr. No. Can you believe that?  But I’m not here to talk about Dr. No. (I did that already — click here for my full review of that first Bond film!)  No, let’s dive into Thunderball:

The film: Thunderball is probably my least favorite of the first batch of James Bond films, starring Sean Connery.  (It’s way better than the later film that featured Mr.Connery’s return, Diamonds Are Forever, and my recollection is that it’s also better than the remake, Never Say Never Again.)  Thunderball isn’t a bad film — no, it’s still a pretty great Bond film and a pretty great film, period.  But for me, it lacks some of the magic of Mr. Connery’s first three Bond films, as well as the next film, You Only Live Twice.

The opening/The music: The film gets off to a rocky start with an opening sequence in which Bond attends the funeral of a SPECTRE operative.  But it turns out the bad guy isn’t dead, he’s just pretending to be one of the mourning old ladies.  Bond spots him, of course, and soon engages in an extended fight sequence with the dressed-as-a-woman SPECTRE agent.  Disregarding the lunacy of the whole set-up (if the SPECTRE agent was just pretending to be dead, why did he attend his own funeral??  Why wasn’t he 10,000 miles away??), the whole Bond versus a dude in drag fight is just ridiculous, and even less compelling than the Bond versus an old lady with a knife in her shoe climax of From Russia With Love. The fight also hasn’t aged well, as there are so many obvious camera tricks (over-cranking the film to speed up the pace, stunt doubles a-plenty) that render the scene silly to the modern viewer.  The whole thing has nothing at all to do with the rest of the film, and is best forgotten altogether.

Things pick up with the terrific theme song, sung by Tom Jones.  I tend to prefer it when the Bond themes are sung by women, but damn if Mr. Jones doesn’t turn in a winner of … [continued]

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From the Mighty Marvel Archives!

May 2nd, 2012

I’ve written before about what a sucker I am for the gorgeous Premiere Hardcovers that Marvel Comics has been issuing for the past number of years, collecting seminal story-lines from their long history.  I grew up a HUGE fan of Marvel Comics (I have always been more attached to Marvel than DC), and so the opportunity to catch up on some famous runs of Marvel Comics that I’d missed is compelling, and having these stories reprinted in such beautiful hardcover editions is just icing on the cake.  Here are some of the hardcover collections from Mighty Marvel that I’ve enjoyed over the past few months:

Avengers: Assault on Olympus — I wrote before about reading the hardcover Under Siege that reprinted the famous Avengers story in which the Masters of Evil invaded Avengers Mansion and brutally beat the Avengers’ butler Jarvis.  The stories in that collected edition left a number of plot-lines hanging, so I was pleased to see that Marvel had released a follow-up collection reprinting the next several issues of The Avengers, numbers 278-285 from 1978.  These issues were written by Roger Stern and illustrated by John Buscema and Tom Palmer.  The look of that Buscema/Palmer art is exactly the look I associate with the Marvel comics that I grew up reading in the ’80s, so it’s nostalgic fun to read these issues I’d never-before-read, drawn by that art team, and presented in such a beautiful way on shiny paper and with re-touched colors.   Roger Stern’s story also reminds me of the classic Marvel Comics I grew up with.  There’s a lot of rhetorical bombast (and a LOT of expository narration), but also rich characterizations.  Pretty much each issue contains a complete adventure, but the issues connect to tell a longer story, and there’s a great deal of continuity from issue-to-issue, with subplots constantly providing intriguing hints at story-lines-to-come.  This particular story, which focuses on the Avengers’ conflict with the pantheon of Greek gods (instigated by the grievous injuries suffered by the Avenger Hercules in the previous collection), isn’t exactly the best Avengers story I’ve ever read, nor does it have much larger significance in the over-all history of the Avengers (in the way that the events in Under Siege did).  But it’s a perfectly entertaining story, and a great sort-of-epilogue to Under Siege. I also really enjoyed the stand-alone issue #280, included in this collection, that was written by Bob Harras and illustrated by Bob Hall and Kyle Baker.  That issue focuses on the hospitalized Jarvis’ struggle to recover physically and mentally from the savage tortures he received at the hands of the Masters of Evil in Under Siege. In many ways it’s a very dated story, … [continued]

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The Dark Knight Rises

May 1st, 2012
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This Is Forty

May 1st, 2012

I’m excited that we now have our first look at Judd Apatow’s fourth film, a sort-of follow-up to Knocked Up, focusing on Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann’s characters:


I’m in!  Really looking forward to this one.… [continued]