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Josh Reviews Silicon Valley Season Five!

I was somewhat late to the party with Silicon Valley, but I loved the show when I started watching it last year, and I quickly devoured the first four seasons.  I was so happy that I didn’t have too long to wait before season five.  As the season begins, the Pied Piper gang are hard at work on bringing Richard’s “new internet” idea to life, and they are once again locked in competition with Gavin Belson’s Hooli, who is working on a very different type of technology, Gavin’s “signature box 3”.

Season five of Silicon Valley represents an interesting point in the life of the show.  There was a comedic and creative spark to the first several seasons that isn’t quite present now — that joy of discovery of the “new” is gone now (at least for me), as the show has settled into a comfortable middle-age.  The narrative wheel-spinning is somewhat more pronounced than it was in the early years, as the show has to keep this gang of misfits struggling and failing (in order to preserve the basic set-up of the show), in a way that can feel somewhat frustrating after five years of watching these characters and wanting them to succeed.

On the other hand, this latest batch of eight episodes is fantastic, filled with some truly great and very funny comedic moments.  I love these characters at this point (even a “villain” like Gavin Belson), and it remains great fun to be in these characters’ company and to follow their continuing misadventures.  So while the show might not feel quite as fresh as it once did, there is clearly still plenty of comedic life left in this show and its premise and characters.

At only eight episodes long, season five of Silicon Valley is the shortest season since the first year (seasons two, three and four had ten episodes each), and so the season zips along at a fast clip and doesn’t outstay its welcome.  Quite the contrary, at the end of episode eight I was bummed that there weren’t more episodes to watch immediately!!

T.J. Miller was written off the show at the end of season four.  This concerned me when the news broke, as Mr. Miller had been a key member of the ensemble.  It’s usually a bad sign when main characters leave TV shows, “rats leaving a sinking ship” and all, and the show that remains is often not quite the same.  But I must say, while I loved Mr. Miller on this show, I didn’t miss him at all.  Season five still has a large and highly-skilled ensemble, and so there were plenty of characters and story-lines to more than carry … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Solo!

Solo takes place in the years prior to the original Star Wars, when the galaxy is still under the thumb of the Empire.  Young Han and his friend Qi’ra (pronounced like Kira, which makes me think of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) have grown up in the slums of Corellia, scrounging a meager existence as thieves for an alien criminal called Lady Proxima.  When an escape attempt goes awry, Han manages to hitch a ride off-planet, but Qi’ra is left behind.  Han vows to return for her, but his plan to join the Imperial navy and become a pilot is thwarted when he’s kicked out of the flight academy for, as he puts it, having a mind of his own.  The result is that Han winds up as a Stormtrooper grunt, fighting the Empire’s wars in the dirt of a nameless world.  But when Han discovers a group of thieves, led by a man named Tobias Beckett, hidden among the Imperials, he sees at last his ticket to freedom.  And so the story of Solo begins.

Ever since plans were first announced, years ago, for a Young Han Solo movie, I thought it was a bad idea.  As a rule I am not a fan of prequels — I’d prefer the story go forward rather than backwards.  And while Rogue One, for instance, expanded upon a part of the Star Wars story about which I was eager to know more (just how DID the rebels get their hands on the Death Star plans in the first place?), I have never craved to know what Han Solo was like as a kid or young man.  The beauty of the character as introduced in the original Star Wars is that I feel we knew everything we needed to know about him.  What was interesting to me was not where he’d been, but how his crossing paths with Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Leia Organa would change his life, and vice versa.

Having seen Solo, I still feel that way.  This is not a movie that needs to exist.  I have never needed to know the origin of Han’s blaster, or those dice on the Millennium Falcon, or how Han got the last name “Solo,” or exactly how and why Han first met Chewie, or how Han acquired the Falcon from Lando, etc.

That being said, though, I was pleased by how much I enjoyed Solo.  It’s a fun, fast-paced movie with some great action, some nice character work, and lots fun connections to the broader Star Wars saga.  I still think the basic concept of the film is a bad idea, but if Lucasfilm was going to make a Young Han … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Deadpool 2

I feel about Deadpool 2 about the same way I felt about the first Deadpool: it’s a lot of fun and extremely well-made for what it is — a Mad Magazine version of a superhero movie.  That’s a compliment, as I hold Mad Magazine in the highest regard.  Twelve-year-old me didn’t think there was anything funnier than Mad Magazine, and I bet I’d have thought the same about these two Deadpool films.  They’re not exactly what I’m looking for in a superhero movie these days — a little too juvenile, a little too raunchy — but if you enjoyed the first Deadpool, I suspect you will love the sequel.  (Personally, I think I actually liked this sequel more than the original, which I was lukewarm on.)

Ryan Reynolds is again terrific in the lead role, and I love the way his Deadpool continues to be Bugs Bunny-like agent of chaos in the film (albeit an R-rated one!), unable to be destroyed and constantly commenting on everything going on around him.  The fast-talking Mr. Reynolds is very, very funny as this character.

Josh Brolin plays Cable, a super-soldier from the future come back in time to kill a super powered young Mutant before he wreaks havoc in the future.  Mr. Brolin is terrific, a great straight-man against Mr. Reynolds’ lunacy as Deadpool.  (Between this and his role as Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, Mr. Brolin is king of the superheroes this summer!!)  He also looks the part: the character-design of Cable in this film is perfect, a fantastic distillation of Cable’s iconic design (while losing some of the crazier aspects of the way the characters is sometimes drawn in the comics).  Mr. Brolin is so great as Cable that I sort of wish he was playing the character in a “real,” straight X-Men film as opposed to this silly one!!

The rest of the cast is strong.  Morena Baccarin, Karan Soni, T.J. Miller, Brianna Hildebrand, Stefan Kapičić, and Leslie Uggams all return from the first film and all have some fun stuff to do.  (Well, mostly. SPOILER ALERT FOR THE REST OF THIS PARAGRAPH.  The film makes the unfortunate choice to write out Morena Baccarin’s character early-on, which strikes me as incredibly lazy.  Attention writers:  a strong, smart, funny woman COULD have been incorporated into this film’s story!  It’s cheap and lazy, and a waste of the great Ms. Baccarin, that her character was “fridged” so quickly.  (Google “women in refrigerators” if you don’t know what I mean when I refer to that unfortunate comic book trope.) They do sort of undo this in the closing credits, so I hope that if there is a Deadpool 3, Ms. Baccarin … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Jessica Jones Season Two!

May 23rd, 2018
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I have been a fan of the character of Jessica Jones ever since picking up the very first issue of her first comic book series, Alias, by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos, back in 2001.  Jessica is a special creation, and I was excited and nervous when I heard that she’d be one of the characters brought to life by Netflix’s first batch of Marvel TV shows.  To my great relief, I loved the first season of Jessica Jones when it was released on Netflix back in 2015.  It’s been a hell of a long wait for a second season (though Jessica did appear in last year’s Defenders crossover series), but our long national nightmare is finally over and season two of Jessica Jones is out in the world.

Jessica Jones season two doesn’t equal the heights of season one (primarily because the dynamic with David Tennant’s villain Killgrave was so compelling that, try as it might, the show can’t quite overcome his absence here in season two), but it’s still a terrific season of superhero storytelling, and the strongest Netflix season since Daredevil season two in 2016.  The show remains a delight, filled with complex characters and a sophisticated, adult tone that leans far more to character drama than superhero fisticuffs.

I will comment that the season was hamstrung somewhat for me, at least at first, by the decision to investigate Jessica’s origin, which is a story I didn’t think needed telling.  Maybe it’s because I am such a long-time comic book fan, but I have no problem accepting superheroes as-is and don’t feel I always need to know exactly how they got that way.  The lengthy digression into Luke Cage’s origin in the second half of his show’s first season bored me, and I was at first disappointed that Jessica Jones season two was going in that same direction.  In the end, though, as the season unfolded and I understood the story the writers were trying to tell, I enjoyed the places the show went, even if this wasn’t the story I was looking for.

I have read some reviewers describe this season as a “slow build,” with the first batch of episodes being somewhat boring, but I didn’t feel that way.  Right away from the first episode I was happy to be back in the world of Jessica Jones, and I was impressed by the level of craft on display right from minute one.  It’s true that it takes several episodes for the story being told this season to come into focus.  But the strength of that approach is that the storytelling this season escalates in intensity from episode to episode, reaching a peek … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Tully

Tully marks the third collaboration between director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody.  Their first film together, Juno, got a lot of (well-deserved) acclaim, but I liked their second film — Young Adult, starring Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt — even more!  It’s been a delight following their collaboration through these three movies, and I hope they continue to make lots more films together!

In Tully, Charlize Theron is again the lead, this time as Marlo, a harried mother of two who, when the film opens, is pregnant with her third child (who was unplanned).  Marlo loves her kids and her husband (Drew, played by Ron Livingston), but she already seems to be at her wit’s end even before entering the gauntlet of the sleepless-nights-filled experience of parenting a newborn.  At the instistence of her brother, Craig (Mark Duplass), Marlo eventually relents and hires a night nurse, Tully (Mackenzie Davis), and things begin to change for Marlo almost immediately.

Tully is an interesting film. It’s extremely well-made, though I respect the craft on display a little more than I actually loved the film.  Part of that is because of how unflinchingly honest the film is about the unglamorous parts of parenting.  The film spends a great deal of time highlighting the minutae of being a parent of young children, the sort of stuff you seldom see portrayed on screen.  Even for those of us who have not suffered from the sort of emotional distress that Marlo goes through over the course of the film, or had to deal with a child with the needs that her son has, there is a lot to recognize here, and it is painful!  Watching Marlo deal with all of these harries and hassles of day-to-day life, and slowly crumble under the weight of it all, is (intentionally) tough to sit through.  So there are long stretches of Tully that are not exactly a fun watch.  However, my main hesitation about the film is connected to what happens in the final ten-ish minutes.  I will get into this a little later in this review.

First, let’s lavish some praise on the cast.  Mr. Reitman is a great director and Ms. Cody is a grat writer, and there is no question that these two have an electric alchemy.  They seem to balance each other’s strengths.  Each of their three collaborations has had a distinct energy and tone.  But for me, when Tully really sings it is because of the terrific cast.

Charlize Theron once again demonstrates that she is a fantastic actress.  (Those of us who saw Young Adult and Mad Max: Fury Road, among many other great performances by Ms. Theron, already know … [continued]

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Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations: The Collectors

Back in 1996, as part of the celebration of the 30th anniversary of Star Trek, Deep Space Nine aired the fantastic episode “Trials and Tribble-ations,” in which Sisko and the DS9 contingent found themselves cast back in time and mixed up in the goings-on between Kirk and the Klingons on board space-station K-7 in the classic Original Series episode “The Trouble with Tribbles.”  (Through groundbreaking-for-the-time special effects, we got to see the DS9 crew digitally inserted into famous scenes from “The Trouble with Tribbles.”  It was, and remains, a hoot.)  In a few short framing scenes in that episode, we were also introduced to the Federation’s Department of Temporal Investigations, through the form of agents Lucsley and Dulmur.

Years later, author Christopher L. Bennett expanded upon those characters and concepts in his two wonderful DTI novels.

First came Watching the Clock, which I feel is one of the best Star Trek books of the past decade. Mr. Bennett took the DTI, and Agents Lucsley and Dulmur, who appeared for less than four minutes in that one single DS9 episode, and expanded the concept and those characters into this wonderfully rich novel that digs deeply into Trek lore from across all the Trek series and many of the books and comics, etc., beyond.  The novel 1) explores the nature, purpose, and history of the DTI, 2) expands upon what we saw on-screen of Lucsley and Dulmur, developing them into three-dimensional characters, 3) references pretty much every single on-screen instance of time travel in Star Trek to create an extraordinary unified theory of Star Trek time travel, explaining how these many different, contradictory stories could actually work together in a coherent manner, 4) picks up the threads of the Temporal Cold War story that ran throughout Enteprise and pulls those many contradictory episodes together to present, for the first time, a clearly thought-out picture of what that Temporal Cold War actually was, who was fighting in it, and what their goals were (none of which Enterprise actually did), and 5) actually brings that Temporal Cold War story to a conclusion.  The novel is brilliant, a rich treasure trove of Star Trek lore.

Mr. Bennett followed that up with Forgotten History.  This sequel novel functions mainly as a prequel, depicting the events that led to the formation of the DTI in Captain Kirk’s era, and the early years in which the Department’s initial key players struggled to shape what the DTI would eventually become.  The novel also delves deeply into the many Original Series episodes that involved time travel and alternate or parallel universes, and, in an incredible example of Mr. Bennett’s creativity and attention to Trek detail, actually pulls those … [continued]

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The Many Origins of Superman!

It’s incredible that, eighty years after his creation by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, Superman remains such a popular character, one who is known and loved worldwide.  Even if you’ve never read a single comic book in your entire life, I bet you know who Superman is!  It’s quite extraordinary.

Something that has always intrigued me about DC Comics is their willingness to continually recreate their superhero universe, tossing out the old and restarting their characters from scratch.  This can make their continuity difficult to follow at times, as past stories are continually rewritten and/or shunted aside, and yet I suspect it has also helped to keep these characters relevant and viable.

Recently, I’ve found myself rereading several retellings of Superman’s origin.  It’s been fascinating to compare and contrast these different versions of the classic origin story that we all think we know!

Man of Steel Written and illustrated by John Byrne in 1986, this was the bedrock of the Superman comics that I grew up reading.  This six-issue mini-series spun out of DC’s line-wide crossover Crisis on Infinite Earths, which was their attempt to unravel all of the contradictions and inconsistencies that had cropped up over the previous fifty years of storytelling (much of which had been very silly) to restart their characters and reboot them for modern readers.  John Byrne, who had achieved success and fame working for Marvel (he illustrated The Uncanny X-Men for many years, including The Dark Phoenix Saga, and he had an incredible run writing and drawing The Fantastic Four, among other achievements), was lured to DC and given the keys to the kingdom: the opportunity to relaunch Superman, restarting his story at zero.  Man of Steel was a six-issue mini-series presenting a new version of Superman’s origin, and then Mr. Byrne continued as the writer and artist for the main Superman comic book, while also writing Action Comics.  Those two Superman comic book series, along with The Adventures of Superman (which was written at first by the talented Marv Wolfman), began a new continuing saga of Superman stories that would last for many years.  I was never a regular reader of DC Comics as a kid the way I was of Marvel books, but I first started reading Superman comics soon after Man of Steel, and I dipped in and out of the various Superman titles over the years.  For me, this was the Superman continuity that was the “real” Superman.  Not the old “silly” comics from days of yore, not the Richard Donner Superman movies (though I loved them), but the continuity begun by Mr. Byrne in Man of Steel.

At the time, the six-issue-long Man of Steel felt … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling

I’ve been a huge fan of Garry Shandling for as long as I can remember.  Mr. Shandling was a genius-level stand-up comedian, and he masterminded two of the greatest television shows ever made: It’s Garry Shandling’s Show and The Larry Sanders Show.  It was Larry Sanders that made me a forever fan of Mr. Shandling’s, and that drove me to go back and discover the rest of his amazing work.  I’ve spent uncounted hours watching old clips of Mr. Shandling on the stand-up circuit and on The Tonight Show, and I have watched and rewatched The Larry Sanders Show many times.  (“It was a back tooth, Hank,” might be one of the funniest lines ever spoken on a TV comedy.)  When Mr. Shandling passed away in 2016, it was a huge loss.

I have also been a huge fan of Judd Apatow’s for quite some time, ever since Freaks and Geeks (the amazing series created by Paul Feig and produced by Mr. Apatow back in 1999-2000).  I continue to adore Freaks and Geeks to this day, and I have rewatched those eighteen near-perfect episodes many times.  I also loved Mr. Apatow’s follow-up TV show, Undeclared (also killed before its time after one fantastic season), and I have followed his movie career avidly:  The 40 year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Funny People, This is 40, and Trainwreck.  Mr. Apatow has also shown his talents as a skilled and prolific producer, helping to shepherd projects such as Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Superbad, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Pineapple ExpressWalk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek, Bridesmaids, Wanderlust, The Five-Year Engagement, The Big Sick and many more!  That is quite a list of incredible comedic films with which Mr. Apatow has been involved, no?

Mr. Apatow wrote for The Larry Sanders Show and eventually served as a co-executive producer.  In many interviews over the years, it’s been clear how much of a mentor Garry Shandling was to him.  Mr. Apatow’s appearance on Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, filmed not long after Mr. Shandler’s death, is almost more about Garry Shandling than it is about Mr. Apatow himself!

And so I was not at all surprised when I read that Mr. Apatow was working on a documentary film about Garry Shandling.  As a huge fan of both comedic talents, I was excited to see what Mr. Apatow would create.

The result, The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling, is a behemoth: an almost five-hour film, shown in two parts on HBO.  But I’m here to tell you, I could have watched … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay

In the latest direct-to-DVD/blu-ray DC Animated movie, Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay, we’re presented with the latest incarnation of the Suicide Squad.  Amanda Waller dispatches her Task Force X (the “Suicide Squad”) to obtain for her a mystical “Get out of Hell free” card that allows anyone who perishes while holding the card to have all of their sins forgiven, no matter how dastardly.  This iteration of the squad is, as always, made up of villains — this time the team consists of Deadshot, Bronze Tiger, Harley Quinn, Killer Frost, Captain Boomerang, and Copperhead.  Over the course of the movie, they cross paths with many other villains from the DC universe, including Vandal Savage, Professor Zoom, Two Face, Count Vertigo, and Professor Pyg.

I don’t have anywhere near as deep a love for the DC Universe as I do for the Marvel Universe, and so I’m not nearly attached to this group of supporting DC Universe characters as I might have been to a corresponding group of Marvel villains.  I’ve always thought the Suicide Squad was an interesting concept in the comics, but I’m only passingly familiar with John Ostrander’s well-regarded run on the title from the eighties.  (Mr. Ostrander created the modern iteration of the Suicide Squad.)  This animated movie is the third movie version of this concept that we’ve gotten in the past few years.  There was the live-action film, of course, which I thought was a big mess, and we also got a prior animated version in 2014’s Batman: Assault on Arkham.  Frankly, I haven’t really loved ANY of these versions!

This new animated movie is not in continuity with Assault on Arkham… but while the details are different, overall I found this version of the Suicide Squad to be quite similar to that version, so much so that I’m not sure why they didn’t just make this film a sequel to Assault on Arkham.  I guess they wanted this new film to be a part of the new continuity of the past few years’ of DC animated films, a version based on DC’s “New 52” reboot of their universe.  (As reboot that has already been abandoned by the comics, which makes these new animated films feel curiously behind the times.)

There are elements of Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay that work, but its tone is all over the place.  Sometimes the film feels like it wants to be a tongue-in-cheek play on violent crime capers.  There are some moments when the film is edited to resemble an old “Grindhouse” B-movie; moments which are silly and loose even as they are hyper-violent.  The whole premise of a “Get out of Hell free” card is … [continued]

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News Around the Net!

Let’s begin today with an Arrested Development style two-minute summary of the original Star Wars THAT I CANNOT STOP WATCHING:

That is genius!  (My favorite part?  Has to be the callback to the Arrested Development Pete Rose joke!!)

Remember back when Netflix wasn’t really in the business of making their own programming, and a revival season of Arrested Development was one of their first steps in that direction?  That seems like forever ago.  I was so excited to get getting more Arrested Development… and then, like almost everyone, I was underwhelmed by what we got.  Still, I am very excited for the upcoming fifth season of the show on Netflix… and, wow, look at this: Netflix has just released a re-edited version of the fourth season!  Apparently, the fifteen original character-focused episodes have been completely remixed into twenty-two episodes that now feature all/most of the characters, more in the style of the show’s original run.  OK, color me intrigued!  I haven’t watched season four of the show since it was initially released five years ago… maybe this is a good way to five back in, in advance of season five…

And hey, look at this, on Monday Netflix released a trailer for the new Arrested Development season five, which is launching in just a few weeks!

I so want this to be good!!  I am starting to dare to hope…

By the way, since I’m thinking about Arrested Development, you all know about the Arrested Development Easter eggs that directors Joe and Anthony Russo (who directed many episodes of the show) snuck into Avengers: Infinity War and Captain America: Civil War, right?

And, since I just can’t seem too stop writing about Arrested Development today, take a look at this unified theory of TV/movie continuity that suggests that those Easter eggs demonstrate that Avengers: Infinity War is in the same universe as the classic Adam West Batman show!

OK, moving on…

After fourteen years, I am super-excited that The Incredibles 2 is almost here…!

Buuuut… boy, I’m really hoping that this is a case of a lousy trailer misrepresenting what the film is really about.  Because if the film is really about a dad having issues with his wife having to work while he raises the kids… I am going to be very disappointed.  Come on, it’s 2018 for goodness sake!!  This had better not be what The Incredibles 2 is really about!!!

I am very excited that, after Infinity War, the next Marvel Studios movie is only two months away!

The first Ant Man was a fun surprise and I’m hoping this sequel is able to give us more of that fun tone.  I … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Ready Player One

Steven Spielberg’s latest film, Ready Player One, is an adaptation of Ernest Cline’s popular novel of the same name.  (Full disclosure: I have not read the novel, and so I will be judging Ready Player One fully on its strengths and weaknesses as a movie.)  The story is set in 2045, in which much of the United States has devolved into slums called the “stacks” (because cars and trailers are stacked one atop another, with people living inside).  The world stinks, and much of the population has retreated into the virtual reality world called “the Oasis,” in which they can be anything and do anything.  (Though even within the Oasis, some of what you can do remains limited by your finances.)  Following the death of the Oasis’ creator, James Halliday, almost the entire world has become caught up in a competition to attain three keys that Halliday has hidden in the Oasis.  Whoever can win the game and obtain all three keys will become the new owner of the Oasis.  Seventeen year-old Wade Watts, who calls himself Parzival inside the Oasis, is one of the millions of people searching for the keys.  Wade and his friends, who include Aech and Art3mis, are trying to beat the corporation IOI, which is throwing all of its money and employees towards the cause of capturing ownership of the Oasis.

I wasn’t that impressed by the trailers for Ready Player One, but a new Steven Spielberg film always demands my attention.  I’m glad to have seen it, but this isn’t top-tier Spielberg in my opinion.  Mr. Spielberg has assembled a talented cast and the film boasts some visually pleasing sequences.  But I wasn’t as captivated by the world (of the movie or of the Oasis) as I’d hoped to be, and over-all I found the story and the characters to be rather superficial.

I really liked all three of the main young leads.  Tye Sheriden was good but underused as Scott Summers/Cyclops in the last X-Men movie, X-Men: Apocalypse.  He’s better utilized here, and I can start to see why he’s being tapped as a leading man.  Mr. Sheriden has a good-natured, easy charisma that is endearing.  It’s easy and automatic for the audience to root for this character, even though by the time I got to the end of the film I realized that I hadn’t really gotten to know Wade at all.  He seems like a good kid, but why does he deserve to win the contest for the Oasis more than others?  Ready Player One is a sci-fi version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and while that is an idea that has potential, it’s also a fairly simplistic notion … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Isle of Dogs

May 3rd, 2018
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I adored Fantastic Mr. Fox, Wes Anderson’s first foray into stop-motion animation from back in 2010, and so for quite some time I have been anticipating the release of his follow-up, Isle of Dogs, which Mr. Anderson wrote and directed.  The film is set in Japan in the near future, when fears of a dog flu virus lead to all dogs being outlawed and sent to “trash island.”  When a young boy, Atari, journeys to trash island to search for his dog, Spots, he befriends a pack of dogs that includes Chief (Bryan Cranston), Rex (Edward Norton), Boss (Bill Murray) King (Bob Balaban), and Duke (Jeff Goldblum).  Together, they seek to reunite Spots and Atari, and also, along the way, they just might wind up defeating the dog-hating Mayor Kobayashi and overturning the ban on man’s best friend.

There is a lot to love about Isle of Dogs, and I throughly enjoyed the experience of watching this beautifully-crafted fable-like story unfold.  The film is also, unfortunately, burdened by some issues of cultural appropriation and sensitivity which have weighed on me as I have considered the film after walking out of the theater.

Let’s start with what’s great.  Although many American audiences think of animation as being for kids only (and I was shocked that there were some families with very young kids who were in my screening — good lord, those kids/parents must have been horrified if they went in expecting a G-rated Disney-type story!!), Isle of Dogs is unabashedly aimed at adults.  I referred to the film, in the previous paragraph, as a “fable,” because, for me, the film had that feeling.  Even beyond the fact that most of the film’s characters are talking dogs, the film has an aspect of exaggeration that made it feel, to me, almost like a fairy tale.  And yet, beautifully combined with that structure to the story, was a film featuring many wonderfully nuanced and sophisticated characters and relationships.  Just as was the case in Fantastic Mr. Fox, here in Isle of Dogs the main focus of the story is on the journey of these characters.

Just like Mr. Anderson’s live-action work, Isle of Dogs is filled to overflowing with a wonderful array of characters, played by extremely talented comedic and dramatic actors.  Bryan Cranston is magnificent as Chief, an angry, loner “stray” dog who, over the course of the story, gradually learns to open himself up to friendship and companionship.  This is a fantastic dramatic performance, full stop.  Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, and the Jeff Goldblum are each fantastic as the members of the pack who follow (and often bicker with) Chief.  They’re each so funny, and they each … [continued]

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Catching Up on 2017: Josh Reviews The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Season One

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is the latest show created by Amy Sherman-Palladino, and produced by Ms. Sherman-Palladino and her husband Daniel Palladino, the duo behind Gilmore Girls.  Set in New York City in 1958, the show tells the story of Midge Maisel, who discovers that she has an aptitude for stand-up comedy and sets out to try to make it in the business.

I have never seen Gilmore Girls, though from what I have read about it I suspect I would have enjoyed the writing.  I certainly quite enjoyed The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

Centering on a smart, strong female character, the show feels wonderfully of the moment, and while there are many reasons why the show works, Rachel Brosnahan’s spectacular performance as Miriam “Midge” Maisel is the key.  This is a great blend of character and performer.  Midge isn’t perfect.  She can be a little blind to what those around her are thinking and feeling, and she sure can talk a LOT.  But she is fiercely intelligent and admirably persistent at striving towards her goals.  She is a fascinating character, and Ms. Brosnahan easily shoulders the weight of the show.

I recently wrote about The Deuce, a show that explores the seedy underbelly of New York City in the 1970s.  Compared to that, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, set a little over a decade earlier, feels like a fairy tale.  And perhaps it is, but there’s nothing wrong with that!  What I appreciate about the show is that it creates as distinct and complete a portrait of New York City as The Deuce does, albeit one that is very different.  (One example of the gulf between the two shows: I believe that mob boss Rudy Pipilo is the only major character on The Deuce who is nearly as affluent as the majority of characters on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.)

I was intrigued by how Jewish The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is.  Midge and the majority of the characters on the show are Jewish —even the comedians like Lenny Bruce, more on him layer — and the show takes the care to allow this Jewishness to be a major part of these characters’ lives, as of course it would be, without skewing into caricature.  There were a few mis-steps that caught my eye (many TV shows make the mistake of showing a rabbi wearing a tallit outside of prayer services, and in the pilot we see the rabbi wearing a tallit at Midge and Joel’s wedding dinner, which no rabbi would actually do), but overall I was pleased by how smoothly these Jewish elements were integrated into the fabric of the show.

After Rachel Brosnahan as Midge herself, I was most taken … [continued]