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Josh Reviews Better Call Saul Season Three!

So, I am late getting this review together!  I finished watching season three of Better Call Saul last spring, but for whatever reason haven’t found the time to get my review finished until now.  In short: it’s great!  I have adored the Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul since the very beginning.  In fact, as I have written before, there have been times when I have thought that Saul might be an even BETTER show than the undeniably great Breaking Bad.  That is staggeringly impressive.

Season three of Better Call Saul takes some dark turns.  This is a grimmer, more downbeat version of the show.  This was inevitable, as we knew since minute one the sad fate that would await Jimmy McGill at the end of Breaking Bad.  (Not even the end.  Forget what happens to him by the end of the series; the man called Saul Goodman is already a sad fate for the good-hearted Jimmy McGill when we first meet Saul in Breaking Bad.)

When Better Call Saul began, I, like most viewers, thought I’d be a rush for the show to show Jimmy’s transformation into Saul, since Saul was such a fun presence on Breaking Bad.  But it is a mark of how great this show has been that that I quickly fell in love with Jimmy McGill and have been dreading his transformation to the immoral Saul.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much FUN I found Better Call Saul to be in the early going.  Breaking Bad certainly had some funny moments, but as a whole that series was so bleak that I often found it hard to watch, even as I always has great respect for how terrific a show it was. But Saul, while always having rich emotional stakes, was a hoot to watch!  That changed somewhat this season, as things turned sour for many of the characters.  Saul is as good a show as it has ever been, perhaps BETTER, but as the series has gotten closer to its Breaking Bad end-game, there was no way for the fun not to start to fall away as the tragedies began to mount.

This season had an unusual structure in that I felt the emotional climax came in episode five, “Chicanery,” in which Jimmy and Chuck confronted one another in court.  Things had been building to this since the very beginning, and it was incredible to see the two brothers finally do battle with one another, and in such a public way.  In an incredibly astute move by Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould, and their writers, they finally gave Jimmy an unabashed win over his brother, exposing his mental illness for all to … [continued]

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Josh Reviews TV: The Book!

October 20th, 2017
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I love reading TV critic Alan Sepinwall’s work; I have followed his on-line writing for years.  I loved his book, The Revolution was Televised, which analyzed twelve dramas that, in Mr. Sepinwall’s estimation, changed the face of television in the 21st century.

And so I was eager to read Mr. Sepinwall’s next book, co-written with fellow TV critic Matt Zoller Seitz, TV: The Book.

In this fantastic book, published in 2016, Mr. Sepinwall and Mr. Zoller Seitz set out to identify what they feel are the 100 greatest scripted American TV shows in history.

I knew I would love this book right away from the very first chapter, in which Mr. Sepinwall & Mr. Zoller Seitz lay out, in wonderfully geeky levels of detail, the systems by which they analyzed and ranked hundreds of TV shows they loved in order to boil them down to this list of 100.  In broad strokes, they evaluated TV shows based on: innovation, influence, consistency, performance, storytelling, and the quality of the show at its peek.  Right here at the beginning, Mr. Sepinwall and Mr. Zoller Seitz describe how they wrestled with the challenges of comparing shows that ran for only one season with shows that ran for many years; with how to compare shows that were great at times but terrible at others with shows that were more consistent but without those highest highs; with how to compare comedies to dramas; with why they limited their list to scripted shows, and to American shows only.  I immediately fell in love with the care and detail, and the systematic approach these two TV critics used to create their list.

What makes up the bulk of the rest of the book is their list of 100, with brief essays written about each show.  (The top five get more lengthy analyses.)  Reading this book was an absolute delight.  I loved reading their essays about shows that I knew and loved and, as with The Revolution was Televised, I found I also enjoyed reading about shows that I’d never seen, as their their passionate descriptions of those shows made me want to track them down without delay.

The best chapter in the book is the second chapter, titled “The Great Debate,” in which we follow a back-and-forth GChat conversation between Mr. Sepinwall and Mr. Zoller Seitz, as they take the shows that wound up in a five-way tie for first place based on their systems, and debate which show should be number one.  I absolutely loved reading this debate/argument.  It was a hoot reading them discuss and consider, weighing the many relative merits of each of the five shows.  (Their finalists were: The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, [continued]

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Josh Reviews Star Trek: Discovery Episode 5: “Choose Your Pain”

In Star Trek: Discovery episode 5, “Choose Your Pain,” Burnham becomes convinced that the “Tartigrade” creature that is the key to Discovery‘s fantastic new drive system is suffering each time the drive is used.  She wants the Discovery to stop using the system until they can figure out a way to use it without harming the creature, but with Captain Lorca kidnapped by the Klingons, the drive is essential to the Discovery crew’s being able to mount a rescue.

Egad, I really want to like this show, and there is a lot in “Choose Your Pain” that I enjoyed.  But the show is continually limited by plot problems up the wazoo and its almost mind-boggling disregard for Trek continuity.

What’s good?  The central premise of this episode, in which our heroes discover that their fantastic new invention might be harming a sentient creature, and yet that invention is critical to their being able to rescue their captain, is a perfect Star Trek sort of premise.  So too is the idea of a crew falling into conflict without their captain, and eventually being forced to put aside their differences to find a way to save the day.  (Echoes of “The Tholian Web.”)  These are classic Star Trek ideas, and yet given a slightly different spin with these new situations with the Tartigrade and the Klingons.  I liked all of that.

There was a lot of great character stuff in this episode.  Once again all the interactions between Saru and Burnham was great.  These are two great characters and the conflict between them feels real and interesting. I am really enjoying getting to know Lt. Stemets more, and this episode gave him a good spotlight as we saw him wrestle with the moral issue of the possibility that his invention is harming the Tartigrade.  I liked that the Doctor, Culber, got some good scenes this week, and I liked that the episode finally confirmed that he and Lt. Stemets are in a relationship.  This is Star Trek’s first major canonical gay couple, and so far I have loved the non-sensational way in which this couple has been presented to us.

Also: I loved getting to see the show’s version of a 23rd century toothbrush!

Aren’t those matching space-jammies absolutely adorable?

Seriously, that scene of Stemets and Culber getting ready for bed was great; this is the type of below-decks stuff that we’ve never seen before in Star Trek, and I am enjoying when Discovery allows us to see what goes on onboard a starship when the main command crew is not on the bridge.  I’d like to see more of this.

As I wrote last week, I hated Ensign … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Blade Runner: 2049

October 16th, 2017
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Let me get right to it: Blade Runner: 2049 is a masterpiece, a worthy sequel to Ridley Scott’s iconic original film.  I would not have imagined it possible, but here it is.  Blade Runner: 2049 is as mysterious and thoughtful and enigmatic as the original, asking deep questions about the nature of humanity and about our relationship with technology.  The film is visually stunning and richly emotional.  I saw it in glorious IMAX and it absolutely blew me away.

The original Blade Runner took place in the apocalyptic far future: the year 2019.  (It’s funny how that is now right around the corner!!)  This sequel takes place 30 years later, and introduces us to a new Blade Runner, “K” (Ryan Gosling).  Just like Harrison Ford’s Deckard was, K is a cop tasked with hunting down “replicants” (synthetic people) hiding within society.  His mission to track down and kill a replicant named Sapper (Dave Bautista) at first seems routine, but then he discovers a box buried next to a dead tree outside Sapper’s home.  Hidden in that box is something that blows K’s life out of its precise orbit, a secret that threatens to unravel all human society, and that sends K on a search for Rick Deckard, who has been missing for thirty years…

For many years I’d been reading rumors and talk of a sequel to Blade Runner, and I always thought it was a bad idea.  On the one hand, the ending of Ridley Scott’s original film is so enigmatic that a sequel seems like a natural thing, as there still seemed to be so much story yet to be told.  And yet, that original film is such a unique and mysterious concoction that trying to recapture its magic felt to me like a fool’s errand, and I was not in any rush to have a sequel give definitive answers to the many wonderful and thought-provoking questions raised by that first film.  Nor did I want to see the cerebral and intelligent Blade Runner turned into a dumb action-adventure movie, which seemed to me the likely path a sequel would take.  Making a successful sequel three decades after the original movie seemed doomed to failure.  (True, Harrison Ford just recently starred into another thirty-years-later sequel, a small movie you might have heard of called Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and that was a success, but Star Wars actually feels to me like an easier film to sequalize.  Mr. Ford’s previous return to an iconic character many years later, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, was horrendous.)

The only reason I was excited about Blade Runner: 2049, was that it was being directed by … [continued]

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So, how about this gorgeous new Star Wars: The Last Jedi trailer??

Wowsers!  I’ve been waiting for months for another peek at this new film after the terrific first trailer, and this sure delivered.  There’s a lot to take in.  I cannot wait for this to come out in two short months.  My tickets are purchased!  (For a great analysis of the trailer, click here.)

So it seems that 2016’s six-episode X-Files mini-series was not the end, and an additional ten episodes are coming our way later this year.  Here’s the new trailer:

I have been a huge X-Files fan since the very beginning, so I have to admit that trailer gets me excited for new episodes.  (That “Mind is I smoke?” line is great.)  We’re getting ten episodes this time, which feels like a real season, so that feels like a good thing.  However, I thought the 2016 six-episode re-launch was mostly a disappointment (click here for my over-all review, and click here for my episode-by-episode analysis) and with basically the same creative team behind the scenes I am not that optimistic the quality will improve.  I’d love to be wrong.  This once-great series deserves to go out on a high note.

Speaking of things about which I am not hugely optimistic, here comes a new trailer for Justice League:

With all the behind-the-schenes meshugoss at DC/Warner Brothers, I am certainly curious to see what kind of movie this winds up being.  Just how much influence will Joss Whedon wind up exerting over the finished product?  We’ll see very soon…

Last month was the twenty-fifth anniversary of Batman: The Animated Series, and I posted links to some wonderful articles looking back on that phenomenal show.  Here’s one more, a great oral history of the show.

So James Cameron is going to be involved with the next Terminator sequel, and it will star both Arnold Schwarzenegger AND, for the first time since 1991’s T2: Judgment Day, Linda Hamilton??  Is it still possible to make a good Terminator film after so many failed attempts??  I am dubious, but with James Cameron’s involvement I can dare to dream.

Here is a link to two video clips of Jerry Seinfeld on Jimmy Kimmel’s show, in which Mr. Kimmel asks Mr. Seinfeld whether he can still enjoy Bill Cosby’s comedy now, knowing all that we know now.  Mr. Seinfeld has long spoken of Cosby as one of his main comedic heroes (this came up a lot in the movie Comedian).  It’s interesting in these clips to see Mr. Seinfeld wrestle with this question, at first giving an automatic answer and then changing his mind as … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Star Trek: Discovery Episode 4: “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not For the Lamb’s Cry”

In Star Trek: Discovery episode 4, “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry,” an important Federation dilithium mine comes under attack by the Klingons.  With no starships in range, everyone in the mine will die and the Federation’s war effort will be crippled unless the Discovery’s experimental drive can allow the ship to arrive in time to defend the mine.  Meanwhile, Burnham is tasked with learning how the monster captured in episode 3 was so effective at killing Klingons, but she suspects the creature might not be inherently violent and, in fact, the key to an important scientific discovery.

This episode is, in my opinion, a stronger effort than last week’s episode.  It flows much better, with a nice Star Trek story at its heart and some exciting action.  But while I mostly enjoyed the first two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery, these last two episodes are forcing me to realize that this is probably not going to be the show I’d hoped it would be.

As I wrote in my first review, what I liked so much about the first episode of Discovery, which enabled me to forgive the show’s rampant disregard for Star Trek continuity and other problems with the narrative, was that I felt the show embraced the humanism and morality that was at the centerpiece of all the best Star Trek.  Here’s what I wrote: “For the first time in a very long time (including the three recent J.J. Abrams rebooted movies, and even much of the previous two Trek shows, Enterprise and Voyager), the Starfleet officers on this show, so far, behave like Starfleet officers.  The first episode emphasizes this repeatedly.  “We come in peace… isn’t that the whole idea of Starfleet?” Burnham states in her very first line of dialogue.  YES.  The opening scene with Georgiou and Burnham has them working to help an endangered alien race without violating the Prime Directive.  YES.  “Starfleet does not shoot first,” Captain Georgiou declares in a tense standoff with Burnham.  YES.”

But after those first two episodes which took place on the U.S.S. Shenzhou with Captain Georgiou in command, Discovery has turned into a very different type of show, on board the U.S.S. Discovery, a ship with a mysterious purpose and a nasty, war-focused captain (Jason Isaac’s Captain Lorca).  I have no objection to war and violence on a Star Trek show.  (My favorite Star Trek series, Deep Space Nine, featured a multi-season-long war arc.)  But a Star Trek show featuring war and violence should focus on Starfleet characters struggling to keep their morality in place while doing what they need to survive.  That’s what so many of the best DS9 episodes were … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Kingsman: The Golden Circle

October 9th, 2017
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I loved Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons comic-book mini-series The Secret Service, a delicious send-up of classic sixties-era James Bond spy capers.  I was a little less taken with Matthew Vaughn’s film adaptation, Kingsman: The Secret Service.  Mr. Vaughn is a terrific director (I love Layer Cake despite my dislike of its ending, and X-Men: First Class is one of the better X-Men films), and he had already made a movie adapting a Mark Millar comic-book series that was as good as, if not better than, the original.  (That would be Kick-Ass, a great comic and a great movie.)  But I thought Mr. Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Secret Service film muddled some of the original comic’s best jokes and ideas, and I found the anal sex joke in the final minute to be very distasteful.  But, I really like Matthew Vaughn and I like the idea of this series — taking the fun of those Classic Bond gadgets-and-babes adventures and bringing them into the modern era — so I was curious to see Mr. Vaughn’s second whack at this property.  (I must admit, I never expected to see a sequel, so I was intrigued to see what Mr. Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman had cooked up.)

At the very start of Kingsman: The Golden Circle, the Kingsman agency is mostly wiped out by a new enemy.  The surviving Kingsmen agents — young Eggsy (Taron Egerton), the Q-like “Merlin” (Mark Strong), and the miraculously resurrected after getting shot in the head in the first movie “Galahad” (Colin Firth) are forced to turn to their fellow spy agency, the U.S.-based Statesmen, for help.  The dapper British gentlemen spies and their cowboy-esque American counterparts together attempt to outwit the drug-lord Poppy (Julianne Moore) and her plan to unleash a deadly virus across the United States.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a fun time in the movie theatre though, like the first film, I once again feel Mr. Vaughn and his team have somewhat missed the mark.  The film’s strength and its weakness is that every single element feels dialed up to eleven.  The film is packed to overflowing with one crazy, outlandish sequence after another, and few characters are elevated above caricature.  (Seriously, is this the way Matthew Vaughn sees Americans???)  Some of these crazy sequences are fun, but it all gets to be a bit too much after a while.  (Like the first film, I think this sequel is about ten-twenty minutes too long.)

The cast comes to play, and the reason the film works as well as it does is this terrific cast.  Taron Egerton is very solid as the young super-spy Eggsy.  He steps effortlessly into … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Angie Tribeca Season Three!

Angie Tribeca is this era’s Police Squad, a very funny, very silly show about L.A. detective Angie Tribeca, played by Rashida Jones, and her coterie of fellow homicide investigators on L.A.’s “Really Heinous Crimes Unit.”  But Angie Tribeca is not a cop show, nor is it really a parody of a copy show.  Rather, the cop show framework is used as a scaffolding upon which one delightfully nutty stream of consciousness gag after another can be hung.  The show has far more in common with Airplane! and The Naked Gun than it does with any standard TV detective show.

In its third season, Angie Tribeca doesn’t have the surprising freshness that so delighted me back in its initial season.  But the show has settled into a wonderfully pleasing groove.  This is not genius-level innovative television.  But it is tremendously enjoyable and rather unique in today’s television landscape.  This is a show that values being silly above all other virtues, and I sort of love it for that.

This ten-episode third season remains mostly episodic, with each episode standing on its own while several plot threads run across the season.  The best new development this year was the inclusion of Chris Pine as a Hannibal Lecter-like character to whom Rashida Jones’ Angie turns for help.  I have enjoyed seeing movie-star Chris Pine pop up in some small comedic roles on TV (most notably his terrific guest appearance in Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp), but I was not prepared for how amazing he would be here.  Mr. Pine is absolutely the best thing about this season of Angie Tribeca.  His warped impression of Sir Anthony Hopkins as Lecter is brilliant and fall-on-the-floor hilarious.  This is a home run.

The show’s main cast, anchored by the amazing Rashida Jones, continues to be terrific.  This team of performers are all very funny and game for absolutely anything.  I was a little disappointed that we didn’t see quite so much of Alfred Molina this year, but he was a pleasure whenever he did pop up.

There were quite a few fun guest stars this season.  After Chris Pine, my favorite would have to be Natalie Portman, who appeared in “This Sounds Unbelievable, but CSI: Miami Did It” (that is a terrific episode title, by the way!) as a NASA scientist who nevertheless looked and acted like a cliche 60’s housewife.  Ms. Portman plays this brilliantly.

Heather Graham, Randall Park, Rob Riggle, Ed Helms, Lizzy Caplan, Rob Heubel, Rachel Dratch, Constance Zimmer, Ernie Hudson, Jean Smart, Mary McCormack, Stephen Root, and Jack McBrayer all pop up at various points during the season, and they are all very funny.

I enjoyed this … [continued]

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Late to the Party: Josh Reviews The Good Place Season One!

I’m a big fan of Michael Schur.  He was involved with the American version of The Office and he created (with Greg Daniels) and ran Parks and Recreation, which is an amazing TV show that I loved dearly, and created (with Daniel Goor) and ran Brooklyn 99, a very funny show that, while it’s not genius-level TV, is consistently funny and joyous.  So why didn’t I watch The Good Place, the new show created by Mr. Schur, when it premiered on NBC last year?  I’m not entirely sure!  I think there was something about its bright, primary-color color palette that rubbed me the wrong way when I saw glimpses of the show in previews; and I think I am somewhat mistrustful of new shows anchored by big-time stars (in this case, Ted Danson and Kristen Bell).  But when the second season premiered a few weeks ago, I said to my wife, what are we doing??  Why have we not even tried this new show by the guy who made these other shows we loved?  So we decided to watch the first episode on Netflix, and a few days later found we’d sped through the entire thirteen-episode first season.  What a great show this is!

When the show begins, Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell), awakens in the afterlife.  She is relieved to be informed by Michael (Ted Danson), that she is in “the Good Place.”  But while Eleanor’s name is indeed Eleanor Shellstrop, she is not the saint that Michael seems to think she is — she has somehow been brought to the Good Place by mistake!

I really enjoyed this show.  Like most of Mr. Schur’s prior work it is very funny, very clever, and with a sense of optimism and sunniness that I find to be extremely endearing.

The show is very clever, with an impressive attention to detail.  I loved all of the worldbuilding that we were given in season one, as Mr. Schur and his team fleshed out this afterlife and how everything worked.  Most impressively, none of this felt like chunky exposition.  The show always found fun, character-based ways to explore this world and to answer questions that we the audience might not have even realized we had.

The Good Place strikes a great balance between episodic and serialized.  Each episode successfully stands on its own and tells a complete story.  But most episodes end with a wonderful cliffhanger that made me eager to move on to the next episode.  This was a fun show to binge-watch!  Mr. Schur and his team have impressively solved the problems that beset so many serialized shows these days.  I was delighted to discover the shape of the full story … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Star Trek: Discovery Episode 3: “Context is for Kings”

I seem to be in the minority of the Star Trek fans I know in that I mostly liked the first two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery.  I hate all the continuity problems caused by the show’s prequel setting (ten years before Kirk/Spock/McCoy’s adventures on the Original Series) — I wish dearly the series was set 100 years AFTER Star Trek: The Next Generation, which would make all of these continuity problems vanish.  But putting those continuity problems aside (which is, admittedly, hard to do), I enjoyed Discovery. It looked great, and I was happy that the show seemed to embrace classic Star Trek themes and morality, portraying heroic Starfleet officers behaving (mostly) the way I believe Starfleet officers should (something that the last three rebooted Trek movies, and even the last two TV series Voyager and Enterprise, often failed to do).  I was interested in the new characters introduced and excited to see a Trek series made with modern-era production values and storytelling approaches (such as serialization).  I was intrigued that these first two episode were basically just a long prologue to whatever the main story of Discovery is going to be — it’s nice to see the time taken to explore this backstory — and I was interested to see what episode three would be like, since presumably this would now start to establish exactly what sort of show Discovery is actually going to be.  Unfortunately, I found episode three, “Context if for Kings,” to be very problematic.  If this is what Discovery is going to be, then we might be in trouble.

Six months after the events of the first two episodes, the Federation and the Klingons are at war and Michael Burnham is in prison.  But while being transferred, her shuttle gets into trouble and she is rescued by the U.S.S. Discovery, an enormous new starship.  Burnham is tasked with assisting with some sort of top-secret experiment that the officers on board Discovery are conducting, an experiment that led to the destruction of Discovery’s sister-ship and the loss of all hands.  Yadda yadda yadda, it’s no surprise that Burnham winds up a member of Discovery’s crew by the end of the episode, albeit reluctantly.

I have a lot of problems with this episode, primarily boiling down to these areas:

Number one (see what I did there?), there is a LOT of important information that is withheld from Michael, and therefore the audience, and so for much of the episode we have absolutely no idea what is going on.  I am not a fan of this Lost type of storytelling, in which the viewer is kept in the dark about the motivations of characters and … [continued]