\

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Reviews Better Things Season Two!

I loved the first season of Pamela Adlon’s show Better Things, and the recently-concluded second season was every bit as fantastic.  I feel like this show has been flying under the radar for many people, and that’s a shame.  It’s one of the best currently-running TV shows out there.

Pamela Adlon plays Sam Fox, a working but not super-famous actress, raising three girls on her own.  Better Things is fictional, but it draws heavily from Ms. Adlon’s real-life as a working but not super-famous actress raising three girls on her own.  The show is incredibly rich, focusing deeply on exploring the lives of Pam, her three daughters, and also Pam’s mother Phil who lives next-door to them.  Better Things can be very funny, and also absolutely heartbreaking.  It’s a marvelously heartfelt, idiosyncratic show that is truly unlike anything else on TV these days.

As I discussed in my review of season one, the show has a remarkably playful approach to narrative.  Better Things rejects all the usual ways that you would expect stories to play out on a TV show, both within a single episode and over the course of the season.  Some episodes explore a single story over the course of a half-hour episode, while other episodes are composed of a series of vignettes (that might be connected thematically or emotionally, but whose stories have little to do with one another).  Some episodes are plot-heavy, while others feel more like a “slice of life” exploration without much significant plot.  Several episodes early-on this season focus on Sam’s beginning a new romantic relationship.  I expected this to be a story that would run through the entire season, but after a few episodes that focused on this new man in Sam’s life, this story was completely pushed aside, with most of the major subsequent developments in the relationship happening off-screen.  It’s a fascinating approach, one that in less-skilled hands might have been frustrating.  But part of the greatness of Better Things is the way it explores aspects of people’s lives that TV shows usually skip over or ignore.  (I will never forget the extended sequence in season one of Sam silently walking around her house, starting up at her smoke alarms trying to determine which one is beeping because its battery needs to be changed.  Who hasn’t done that??  And yet, that’s not something I have ever before seen on a TV show!)

I love that Better Things features so many fascinating, strong but flawed female characters.  I love that the show is more interested in getting inside what makes each of them tick than it is in following usual TV-show story-arcs.  Each of the main women in this show … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Reviews Coco

December 6th, 2017

In Pixar’s latest masterpiece, Coco, we meet Miguel, a young boy growing up in a small Mexican town. His family are all shoemakers, and the expectation is that Miguel will follow in their footsteps (pun sort-of intended) and take up the family profession. But Miguel secretly longs to be a musician, like his idol Ernesto de la Cruz. This is Miguel’s big secret from his family, because many years ago Miguel’s great great grandmother was abandoned by her musician husband, and so ever since the family has refused to allow any music into their homes or their lives. When, on Día de Muertos (the Day of the Dead), Miguel sneaks out and steals a guitar in an attempt to enter a local music competition, he becomes cursed and trapped with his ancestors in the Land of the Dead.

That simplified plot description does not do justice to this subtle, sophisticated story.  Coco is a magnificent film, deeply moving and visually spectacular in the way that Pixar seems to make look so effortless. The film is filled with richly drawn characters who you will quickly grow to love and care deeply about. There were several moments in the film’s third act that had me in tears.  I am left to once again marvel at the rich world that the artists at Pixar are able to create with each of their films.

What at first seems like a fairly boiler-plate story about a child longing to spread his wings and escape the confines put upon him by his family quickly blossoms into a far more complex story.  Until we get to the end, the film avoids finding easy villains.  Both sides in Miguel’s argument with his family have merit.  His desire to express himself artistically is understandable, and as the film unfolds we also grow to sympathize with and understand both why his family has turned their backs on music, and also on the importance with which they hold honoring their elders and preserving their family traditions.

For an all-ages film, Coco does not shy away from addressing death, a topic one seldom sees incorporated into a movie like this!  And yet, death is a central through-line of the film.  Coco takes place on the Day of the Dead, and the deaths of several different characters in the film provide key plot points and emotional moments.  While the film does envision a life beyond death (more on that in a moment), the idea that all who live shall die is at the core of the film’s story.  This is a brave choice for a big-budget Disney/Pixar movie!  I am surprised and impressed.

Coco creates an entire universe and mythology out of the … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Reviews Stranger Things Season Two!

Like most everybody else, I quite enjoyed the first season of the Duffer Brothers’ Stranger Things last year.  (Click here for my review.)  But while I enjoyed that first eight-episode installment, by the end of it I wasn’t sure the show could sustain a multi-season run.  Would the show’s eighties-homage nature get old?  More problematically, while the final two episodes of season one were thrilling, I was disappointed by the number of narrative threads left hanging (read to the end of my review to see what I’m talking about); and if the show couldn’t be bothered to resolve these plot holes, it didn’t seem to me like a strong foundation for a lengthy run.

So color me pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed season two of Stranger Things.  While this second season doesn’t have the joy of discovery of this new and unexpected show that was part of what made watching season one so exciting, I actually think season two is a stronger piece of narrative story-telling, compelling from start to finish and with a more tightly plotted story.

I’ve read some complaints that the season starts too slowly, but I didn’t feel that way at all.  I enjoyed the way the show took the time to re-establish the characters and where they all were at, emotionally, a year after the events of the first season.  The obvious question was, why would any of these characters stay in Hawkins, but the show smartly answered that.  (Showing how Joyce Byers and Jim Hopper have become reliant on the scientists at the lab to monitor Will was a clever way to keep the characters tied to Hawkins.)

As always, all of the main kids are terrific, and the show smartly gave each of the main boys their own individual story-line here in season two.  We see that Mike has fallen into something of a depression at the disappearance of Eleven, while Dustin comes to care for a baby monster he nicknames Dart and Lucas begins to fall for the new-girl-in-town, Max.  Season one focused on the search for the missing Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), but that meant that Will wasn’t actually in the show very much.  Here in season two, Will steps to the forefront, and we discover that young Noah Schnapp is a fantastic actor, taking Will on quite a harrowing journey as he begins to succumb to the influence of what the boys nickname the “Mind Flayer” from the Upside Down.  There were more than a few scenes in which I was stunned by how great Mr. Schnapp’s performance was.

The older kids remain very interesting as well in season two.  Though Nancy ended season one in … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Taking a Deep Dive into the Avengers: Infinity War Trailer!

December 1st, 2017
,

Howsabout that new Avengers: Infinity War trailer, huh?

That’s a great trailer.  I feel as excited as I did during the months of anticipation for the first Avengers film, wondering whether Marvel would be able to pull off this grand experiment and succeed in their unprecedented super-hero crossover film.  Boy, did they.  The Avengers was a fantastic film, a terrific payoff to the stories woven through that first wave of solo films.  It satisfied fans and was an enormous global blockbuster.

We’re only a few years later, but at this point we are so much deeper into this interconnected Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Thor: Ragnarok was the seventeenth Marvel Studios film, and Avengers: Infinity War will be the nineteenth.  How crazy is that?  We are so far beyond any comparisons to any other film franchise.  Infinity War promises to draw together the tapestry of this massive film saga.  (There are still several films left in Marvel’s “Phase Three” of films, but by the time we arrive at the as-yet-untitled fourth Avengers film in 2020, Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige promises what we’ve “never seen in superhero films: a finale.”)

Just look at all the characters in this trailer!  Pretty much every Avenger is glimpsed, along with Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, the Black Panther, and, in that fantastic tease of a final shot, the Guardians of the Galaxy.  If you thought seeing the handful of original Avengers teaming up was cool, Marvel is telling us, just wait until you see ALL these characters team up in Infinity War!

Of course, we don’t know yet when or even if all these characters will ever actually appear on screen together, but this trailer hints at several exciting new character pairings, from Bruce Banner and Tony Stark hanging with Doctor Strange and Wong to, of course, Thor bumping into the Guardians.

I have been wondering how closely this film will hew to the classic Infinity Gauntlet story from the comics (written by Jim Starlin and illustrated by George Perez and Ron Lim).  Thanos already HAS all of the Infinity Stones (they were called Infinity Gems in the comics) by the time the Infinity Gauntlet story begins.  I have been assuming that this first Infinity War movie will actually me more of an adaptation of Thanos Quest, the two-part story that came before the Infinity Gauntlet, in which Thanos wreaked havoc across the galaxy in his quest to acquire all of the Infinity Gems.  We see hints of that in this trailer, as in several shots of Thanos we see him with only two of the Stones in his gauntlet.  The purple one looks to be the Power Stone which we last saw being given … [continued]