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Josh Reviews Dark Phoenix

I still remember how thrilled and excited I was when I saw the final shot of Bryan Singer’s X2 back in 2003.  Jean Grey had sacrificed herself to save the X-Men in the battle at Alkali Lake, and in that final, blink-and-you-missed-it shot, we saw a hint of flame rising from underneath the waters.  That shot was an announcement to all the comic book fans out there that the X-Men movie franchise was about to take on perhaps the greatest of all the X-Men storylines from the comic books: The Dark Phoenix Saga by Chris Claremont and John Byrne.  That storyline played out over the course of many months in the monthly X-Men comic-books back in 1980.  I walked out of the theatre after seeing X2 out of my mind with excitement for seeing this extraordinary story play out on screen.  And then, well… we all know what happened.  Bryan Singer decided to make Superman Returns and Fox hired Brett Ratner to make the terrible third X-Men movie, X-Men: The Last Stand, that took the epic Dark Phoenix Saga and turned it into a subplot in a film telling a story about a potential “cure” for mutants (an idea taken from Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men run from 2004).  I thought that film’s bungling of The Dark Phoenix Saga ruined any chance we had of seeing that story successfully told in a movie.  So I was surprised and pleased when the news was announced, two years ago, that Simon Kinberg (who has been a writer and producer involved with the X-Men film franchise for years) would be giving the story another go, featuring the First Class-era cast of younger X-Men characters.  After all this time, would we finally be getting the film adaptation that The Dark Phoenix Saga deserved…?

Well, sigh.  No.

Dark Phoenix isn’t nearly as bad as I’d feared from the lackluster trailers and repeated delays to the film’s release.  It actually has a lot going for it.  I really enjoy this cast, and in particular it’s a delight to see James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender back for one more go-round as Professor X and Magneto.  The film wisely sets Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey as its main focus, and I appreciated Simon Kinberg’s oft-stated goal to focus on intimate character scenes over CGI spectacle.  There are a number of dramatic moments between characters that are very effective, and the film does have a decent amount of exciting action.

But.

Sigh.

Shockingly, the film winds up making a number of the same mistakes that 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand did.

Most importantly, I was quite surprised to discover that Dark Phoenix is really barely more faithful to the original … [continued]

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Star Trek: Available Light

Simon & Schuster/ Pocket Books have been publishing Star Trek novels on a regular basis for as long as I can remember.  (I believe their first one was The Entropy Effect by Vonda N. McIntyre from back in 1981, and they’ve been publishing Trek books consistently ever since.)  But for the last year-plus, that regular schedule was interrupted by behind-the-scenes issues.  (Click here for more details.)  Thankfully, not only has the publishing of new Star Trek books resumed, but they are continuing, uninterrupted, the inter-novel continuity that I have so loved in these Trek books for the last 10-15 years, continuing the stories of these characters beyond the end of the 24th-century-set Trek shows.

The latest novel, Available Light, by Dayton Ward, picks up the threads left by the end of the last several Trek novels.  In David Mack’s Section 31: Control, from 2017, that secret organization was finally defeated, and all of their misdeeds from the past two centuries were made public.  At the end of Mr. Ward’s previous novel, Hearts and Minds, also from 2017, we learned that this release of information included Captain Picard’s involvement in the heretofore secret removal of corrupt Federation President Min Zife (from the climax of the “A Time To…” series of novels from 2004, that were set in the year leading up to the events of Star Trek: Nemesis).

Available Light tells two parallel stories.  One is an exploration of the repercussions, across the Federation, of the exposure of Section 31 and all its actions.  Federation Attorney General Philippa Louvois (from the TNG episode “The Measure of a Man”) and Starfleet Admiral Akaar (born in the Original Series episode “Friday’s Child”, Akaar has been developed into a major character in the last decade of Trek novels) are working together to track down all known and as-yet-unknown Section 31 agents and those starfleet officers who were involved with Section 31.  This includes Admiral William Ross (established as working with 31 in the DS9 episode “Inter Arma Ainem Silent Leges”) as well as Nechayev, Jellico, and Nakamura (all admirals seen on TNG who the novel series has previously established as being connected to 31).

The second half of the book is a wonderful tale of an encounter with new alien races and a mystery in space in the classic Star Trek style.  The Enterprise-E, continuing their new mission of deep-space exploration, encounters an enormous alien spacecraft, damaged and operating under low power.  The spacecraft seems designed to house an enormous population, but no life forms are aboard.  Meanwhile, a group of salvagers have laid claim to the vessel.  But the Enterprise crew soon discovers that the original inhabitants … [continued]

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Josh Reviews the Latest DC Animated Film: Justice League vs. the Fatal Five

The latest direct to blu-ray DC animated film, Justice League vs. the Fatal Five, is a relatively small-scale adventure arriving on the scene without too much to get your average fan excited.  It’s not an adaptation of a famous comic book story, and on the surface there doesn’t appear to be much that is extra exciting or epic about this super hero team versus super villain team battle.  And yet, I really enjoyed it!  Justice League vs. the Fatal Five is one of the strongest DC animated films to come out in years!

The film was overseen by Bruce Timm, who for years masterminded the terrific DC animated series and films.  I love having his voice back involved with a new DC animated film, and it’s a joy to see his iconic character designs back in use.  Even better than that, this film features the return of a number of the classic voice actors from Bruce Timm’s previous DC animated series: Kevin Conroy as Batman, Susan Eisenberg as Wonder Woman, and George Newbern as Superman!  And, even better than THAT, this film is in continuity with Mr. Timm’s previous series!  (It doesn’t directly connect to anything that came before, but it is clearly set in that universe, taking place several years after the finale of Justice League Unlimited.  This is very cool, because while these actors have occasionally been used in the various DC animated films from the past decade, those have all been stand-alone tales set in their own continuity.)

It is a joy to see these characters, illustrated in this style, and voiced by these amazing actors again.  And the soundtrack gets in on the fun too, occasionally quoting the memorable themes from the previous Bruce Timm animated shows.  We hear the theme from Superman: The Animated Series when Supes first appears and saves the kid, and we hear the Justice League theme when the heroes assemble in Portland, and again later at the JL museum in the future timeline.  This made me very happy!

The film focuses on a small group of heroes: in addition to the big three (Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman), the film gives us Mr. Terrific, Star Boy (from The Legion of Super Heroes), Jessica Cruz (a relatively new Green Lantern, created by Geoff Johns & Ethan van Sciver in 2014), and Miss Martian.

The main characters are Jessica (Green Lantern) and Thomas (Star Boy).  It’s fun to see these new-to-the-animated-universe characters, and the film digs deeply into their individual stories.  Both are neuroatypical characters, and it’s a delight to not only see these types of characters on-screen, but even better to see them portrayed in such a positive manner.  Thomas is trapped … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Atlanta Season Two: Robbin’ Season

I was a few years late, but recently I finally caught up with the first season of Donald Glover’s show Atlanta.  It was every bit as fantastic as I’d heard!  (Click here for my full review.)  I didn’t waste any time before moving on to season two, which I enjoyed just as much as season one.

Atlanta Season Two is subtitled Robbin’ Season.  The first episode kicks off with a lengthy sequence of the robbery of a fast-food joint.  This vignette features characters we haven’t met before and won’t see again, but it sets the tone for this thematically rich and endlessly compelling and original season of television.  Darius explains to the audience soon after that robberies increase in the lead-up to the annual holiday season, because “everyone got to eat.”  As the season unfolds, we witness several more literal robberies (Al is ripped off by his long-time drug connect, and in a later episode is held up at gunpoint by three fans on the side of the road; Tracy brazenly steals a pair of shoes from a mall shoe-store; Al’s barber engages in a series of escalating grifts; the gang all get their gear destroyed, and Earn has his laptop stolen, after a college campus performance goes wary).  But more than that, we see many of the show’s characters, particularly Earn, pushed to the brink of desperation by their need to eat, to find a way to keep their heads above water as the world seems to conspire against them.  Atlanta can be a very funny show, but the reason it’s a great show is because of its complexity and depth.

The season started off in a fairly low-key manner, with a series of episodes that were fun and funny and caught us up with the gang in the time that had passed since the end of season one.

Creator and star Donald Glover’s Earn was clearly the main character of season one, but in season two Earn took a step back to let others into the spotlight.  (Earn hardly appeared at all in a three-episode stretch in the middle of the season.)  Al (Paper Boi), played by Brian Tyree Henry, really stepped into focus for me this season.  We got to get to know Al much deeper this year.  We saw his struggle to “keep it real” at the same time as his star is rising.  (We see this most powerfully in “Woods,” in which Al argues with the young woman he is hanging out with over her manipulation of social media to increase her fame; in that same episode, Al’s attempt to walk home like a normal person gets him stuck in an increasingly terrible … [continued]