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Josh Reviews Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind

August 20th, 2018
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The new HBO documentary, Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind, is a fascinating and funny look back at the life and career of Robin Williams.  If you’re a fan of comedy, and/or the work of Mr. Williams, I can’t imagine your not enjoying this film from director Marina Zenovich.

I’ve loved Robin Williams’ work for as long as I can remember.  He was a giant, an extraordinarily creative and original comedian and also a fantastic actor in all sorts of films — comedies and dramas.  As a kid I had a cassette tape with a recording of his electric, hilarious 1986 concert at the Met (“A Night at the Met”), which I listened to over and over again.  That was my introduction to Mr. Williams stand-up work, which I followed voraciously.  I particularly loved all of the Comic Relief specials that he did with Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg.  Mr. Williams’ film work was always of interest to me, as well, and while he was certainly in a lot of bad movies, he was also in quite a number of terrific films which I have returned to repeatedly over the years, films like Good Morning Vietnam and Dead Poets Society and The Birdcage.

Come Inside My Mind follows Mr. Williams’ life and career.  There’s a lot of ground to cover, but the film is skillfully edited so that it feels very in-depth while still moving along at a brisk pace.  here wasn’t anything major that I felt the film skipped, which is an impressive accomplishment for a documentary that clocks in at less than two hours.

The film is often somber, as we explore some of the troubles Mr. Williams faced over the course of his life.  And, of course, his too-early death hangs over the whole film like a shadow.  That being said, the film is also very very funny, giving lots of time for archival clips of Mr. Williams’ comedy — both from his stand-up work and also his performances on TV and in film — from throughout his life.  Sometimes documentaries about comedians take themselves too seriously and become somber and grim affairs, but Come Inside My Mind does not fall into that trap.  I love how jam-packed the film is with incredible, hilarious clips of Mr. Williams’ work.  We cover all the well-known bases you’d expect the film to cover, and also some surprisingly deep cuts.  (I was delighted that the film spends a lot of time of Mr. William’s hilarious, ad-libbed reactions to losing the 2003 Critics’ Choice award to a tie between Jack Nicholson and Daniel Day-Lewis.)

One of the things that sets this documentary apart is its extensive use of Mr. Williams’ own … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

I saw Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom well over a month ago, but I’ve avoided writing about it until now because my basic reaction to the movie can be boiled down mostly to:

Ugh.

I had a bad feeling about this film from the very first trailer.  I love the original Jurassic Park, and ever since that movie (which was released way back in 1993), I’ve been hoping (in vain) for a good sequel.  I didn’t care much for The Lost World or Jurassic Park III.  I was excited to see the series relaunched with Jurassic World, but while that movie was visually impressive and had a terrific cast, I thought it pretty much stunk.  And so I didn’t have high hopes for a Jurassic World sequel, but I dared to hope that a different director (J. A. Bayona replaced Colin Trevorrow) could do something better with this franchise and these strong actors.

Nope.  Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is worse than Jurassic World, and is, to me, the low point for this franchise.

As the movie opens, we learn that the Jurassic Park island, Isla Nublar, is apparently home to an active volcano that threatens to explode and wipe out all of the dinosaurs.  Just pause a moment to chew on that ludicrous idea.  So, you’re saying that the companies behind the original Jurassic Park, and the enormous multi-bazillion-dollar costing Jurassic World theme park we saw in the last film, built those parks on an island with an active VOLCANO???  That is the most insane, ludicrous idea in this entire movie series about cloned dinosaurs repeatedly running amok.  This concept makes clear that the people making this movie do not care one whit for telling a story with any intelligence or plot sense.  That realization immediately shut me off to this film.  This story set-up is staggeringly insulting to the audience.  And the film doesn’t get any better from there.

Turns out our main heroes, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen (Chris Pratt), are going on a rescue mission to save the dinosaurs from their exploding island.  This immediately makes these two main characters look even more idiotic than they did in the previous film (in which, for example, Owen demonstrated the hubris of the villains of every other Jurassic Park film, thinking he could tame and control velociraptors).  Every previous Jurassic Park film has emphasized the dangers of allowing dinosaurs to escape from the island.  So why is this now a good idea here in this movie?  Heck, even in this very movie, Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm returns in a cameo to make clear that allowing the dinosaurs loose is a terrible idea!!  The film tries in … [continued]

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Star Trek: From History’s Shadow

Dayton Ward’s wonderful Star Trek novel From History’s Shadow is a standout in Pocket Books’ wonderful continuing series of Star Trek novels.  This book does exactly what I most enjoy seeing in these Trek novels: it weaves together multiple characters and story-lines from across the Star Trek franchise into a ferociously entertaining tale that expands our understanding of the Star Trek universe as a whole and finds previously undiscovered avenues for fantastic new stories.

The bulk of the novel takes place on Earth between 1947 and 1968.  In the great Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “Little Green Men,” we saw that the spaceship that crashed in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947 was actually crewed by a time-traveling Quark, Rom, Nog, and Odo.  That episode was a fun romp.  But From History’s Shadow asks the questions that episode left unexplored — what effects would this encounter between several 1947 humans with these aliens from the future have on those people, and on human society as a whole?  One of the main characters in From History’s Shadow is the military man Captain James Wainwright.  Wainwright was a minor character in “Little Green Men,” but Mr. Ward has beautifully explored his character in this book.  We see how Mr. Wainwright came to be involved in Majestic 12, a secret organization working to track down evidence of alien visitors on Earth and to develop methods of defending against them.  (While there is no proof that Majestic 12 ever existed, this isn’t a made-up Star Trek organization — it’s an organization that many UFO conspiracy theorists believe actually did exist in the fifties.  I love how Mr. Ward was able to incorporate tons of real-life details like that into his fictional story.)

For another of the book’s major characters, Mr. Ward turned to the Enterprise episode “Carbon Creek,” in which T’Pol tells Archer and Trip a story about Vulcan visitors to Earth in 1957, and how one of them, Mestral, chooses to stay on Earth when the others are rescued.  That episode plays coy as to whether those events actually happened as T’Pol describes them, but Mr. Ward assumes they did, and picks up the story of Mestral’s adventures on Earth.  The idea that Mestral and Wainwright might one day cross paths is a brilliant one, and it provides one of the key elements of this novel.

The novel follows Wainwright and Mestral’s stories, as well as a number of other characters created for the book, and also a few other surprises from across the vast Star Trek tapestry, weaving in and out of both known events from Star Trek history as well as actual events from real-life human history.  We follow these characters … [continued]

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Josh Reviews the HBO Adaptation of Fahrenheit 451

Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is one of my very favorite books.  The novel, written in 1953, is every bit as relevant today as it was all those decades ago when it was first published.   When I first heard that HBO was working on a new adaptation, featuring Michael B. Jordan (Creed, Black Panther) and Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water, Midnight Special, The Night Before, Man of Steel), I was very excited to see it!

Michael B. Jordan plays the fireman Guy Montag, a man whose job it is to burn books.  In the world of Fahrenheit 451, firemen don’t put out fires, they start them.  (Even more frightening: in the sanitized history available to Guy and his fellow citizens, they don’t believe this has ever been different.)  Guy loves his job, and he’s good at it.  But as the story unfolds we discover that, perhaps, Guy harbors secret doubts about what he does.  Michael Shannon plays Captain Beatty, Montag’s fire chief and father figure.  Sofia Boutella plays Clarisse, a young woman who informs to Beatty on those hiding books, but there’s more to her than meets the eye.  After she and Guy cross paths, Guy is inspired to make some dangerous decisions, decisions that put him on a collision course with Captain Beatty and that will change his life forever.

I quite enjoyed this HBO adaptation!  It’s got a nice visual sense, and it’s a decently faithful adaptation of the novel.

The film is anchored by three terrific performances by its leads.  Michael B. Jordan is inspired casting as Guy.  Guy is a bit of an everyman cipher in the book (even his name is generic, I believe intentionally so on Mr. Bradbury’s part), but Mr. Jordan fills him with a rich inner life.  He is great at playing Guy as the fierce true believer in book-burning, and he’s also great at showing us the conflicted Guy.  We follow this story through Guy’s eyes, and for the adaptation to work we have to be right there with Guy as the illusions he has so carefully constructed for himself slowly collapse, one by one.  Mr. Jordan takes us carefully along every step of this journey.  It’s a fierce, compelling, emotional performance.

Speaking of fierce and compelling, I am also incredibly impressed by the brilliant idea of casting Michael Shannon as Captain Beatty.  Mr. Shannon’s intensity is perfectly served by this role.  Captain Beatty is the head Nazi in what we see of this world, and Mr. Shannon shows us his terrifying power.  But Mr. Shannon also keeps his performance very human and small-scale, and his work, and the smart script, allows us … [continued]

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News Around the Net!

August 2nd, 2018

There was a ton of exciting news out of Comic-Con recently, so let’s dig in!

Let’s start with the most exciting news: Star Wars: The Clone Wars is returning to give us the conclusion we were denied when the series was cancelled!  Wowsers!!  I never ever thought this would happen, and I am super excited.  The Clone Wars was planned as an eight-season show that would bridge the gap between Episode II and Episode III, but it was cancelled after five seasons when Lucasfilm was sold to Disney.  We got a partial sixth season when the in-production episodes were released to Netflix as The Lost Missions, and in the years since we’ve gotten bits and pieces of other planned storiesThe conclusion to Star Wars: Rebels salved a lot of the wounds from the Clone Wars’ cancellation, but I am so excited that we’re finally going to see how Dave Filoni and his team had originally planned to end the show and lead into the events of Episode III.  Here’s the terrific teaser trailer that I have already watched a number of times:

I’m also quite pleased by this first look at Star Trek: Discovery season two:

I felt mostly let-down by Discovery’s first season, but wow, that trailer looks pretty great to me and is actually sort of getting me excited for season two!  It’s certainly possible for Discovery to rebound — many Trek series have achieved greatness after a bad first season.  I love the tone of that trailer, fun without being too goofy or ridiculous.  I don’t love their decision to so dramatically rework the look of the original Enterprise, but I have to admit the Big E looks pretty good in the shots we see of her in the trailer.  And I am quite taken by Anson Mount’s take on Captain Christopher Pike.  He looks and sounds just about perfect (I like the updated version of his gold tunic — this is a far better modernization of a classic Star Trek uniform than the silly-looking regular Discovery uniforms), and I’d be pleased if Pike turned out to be a major part of the show this year.  (I’m a little concerned he’ll quickly be written out, the same way Michelle Yeoh’s fantastic Captain Georgiou was after the first two episodes of season one, but we’ll see.)  Are we actually going to see Spock in this season?  After this build-up, I certainly hope so.  Anyways, mission accomplished by this trailer, I am actually excited now for Discovery’s season two…

Here’s our first substantial look at M. Night Shyamalan’s Glass:

It’s been a long, long wait for a sequel to 2000’s Unbreakable, which was … [continued]