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Josh Reviews Spider-Man: Far From Home

While Avengers: Endgame was an epic, enormous culmination to the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far, it was actually Spider-Man: Far From Home that was the official end to Marvel’s “Phase Three” of films.  (Kevin Feige just announced an exciting and weird array of films and TV shows that will make up “Phase Four” — I’ll have more to say, soon, about all of those announcements.)  Serving as something of an epilogue to Endgame and also an exciting tease of the shape of the MCU in the years ahead, Far From Home is a spectacular film.  It’s fun and funny and sweet and emotional and action-packed.  I loved pretty much every single moment of the film.  Marvel is sure making it look easy at this point; I strive to remind myself while watching every single one of these films just how difficult and unusual it is to make these sorts of super-hero films be great.  For Marvel to be succeeding film after film after film is simply extraordinary.

Spider-Man: Far From Home is set after the events of Endgame.  The film spends some time exploring the repercussions of the climactic events of Endgame (more on this below), but for the most part it puts the galaxy-shaking events of Endgame aside to focus on a much smaller-scale story.  Peter Parker and his classmates are going on a school trip to Europe.  Peter is eager to leave the responsibilities of being Spider-Man behind, and to just have fun with his friends.  But Nick Fury has other ideas: the spy-master wants Peter’s help combating a new menace from across the multiverse.  Along the way, Peter meets a new ally: Mysterio, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, who is stepping into the void left by the death of you-know-who at the end of Endgame, a responsibility that Peter is resisting taking on.

Far From Home is a fantastic film.  Director Jon Watts and screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers (all three of who returned to the Spidey franchise after Spider-Man: Homecoming) demonstrate a perfect mastery of tone from start to finish in the film.  Far From Home is a very, very funny film.  The script is great and the talented cast are extremely funny.  There are some huge laughs in the film.  And yet, critically, Far From Home is not just a farce.  There are real stakes in the film.  Not galaxy-shaking stakes like in Endgame.  But for Peter Parker and the other characters in the film, the emotional (and, eventually, physical as well) stakes are very high.  And so the audience is engaged with the film right from the beginning.  We care about these characters and are invested in what happens to them.  This … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Men in Black: International

I really enjoyed the first Men in Black film, made back in 1997.  It’s not a perfect film, but it’s a lot of fun to watch.  But none of the sequels have ever lived up to the potential of this series’ wonderful premise (of a secret group of men and women whose job it is to protect the Earth from extra-terrestrials who mean us harm).  Over the last twenty-plus years, there have been various wild attempts to re-start this franchise, but none of them have ever quite worked the way they should have.  This fourth film, Men in Black: International, is no exception.

I was excited to see a new Men in Black film, and I loved the idea of Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson stepping in as the series’ new leads.  The two of them had terrific comedic chemistry in Thor: Ragnarok, and I was eager to see them re-teamed.

But, unfortunately, I found little of interest in Men in Black: International.

The film is amiable enough, but for an action comedy it is really not very funny (there were like five jokes in the whole film that made me laugh), and for a sci-fi adventure it’s very small-scale and small-looking.  (Godzilla: King of the Monsters demonstrated the same near-incompetent story-telling, but at least that film was gorgeous to look at, a humongous big-budget spectacle.  I feel bad to be disrespecting the many people who I’m sure worked very hard on this movie, but Men in Black: International looks to me like it was made on the cheap.)

The story-telling in this film is stunningly amateurish, which continually cuts the movie off at the knees.

What do I mean by that?  Well, let’s start with how, in my opinion, the film totally fails to properly set up the story or the two leads.

We learn in the early-going that Tessa Thompson’s character Molly discovered the truth about the Men in Black as a kid, and that she has been trying to become a part of their organization ever since.  Then we see that she has a terrible job at a call center, and yet that she has somehow been able to track spacecraft in Earth’s vicinity on her work computer.  What?  How??  The film can’t be bothered to do the work to actually show us how Molly could achieve that — thus laying important pipe regarding her skills and her smarts.  Instead, she just somehow magically has this information on her computer at work.  Then, once she locates and sneaks into MIB headquarters, she’s quickly accepted as a probationary agent by Agent O (Emma Thompson), and sent on a mission to London because there is a “problem” … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Toy Story 4

I have loved all three previous Toy Story movies.  Toy Story 2 is one of my favorite sequels ever made, and I adored Toy Story 3 as well.  The ending of Toy Story 3 felt like a perfect ending to the series, beautiful and heartfelt.  And so I was a little nervous when Toy Story 4 was announced.  Was Disney/Pixar going to ruin the perfect ending of Toy Story 3 with another installment?

I needn’t have worried.

Once again, the geniuses at Pixar have produced a gorgeous work of art.  Toy Story 4 is beautiful to look at (the animation is extraordinary) and also rich and resonant beyond what I could have imagined.  I loved it.

Set some time after the end of Toy Story 3, Woody and the gang now belong to a young girl named Bonnie.  But whereas Sheriff Woody was, for a long time, Andy’s favorite toy, Bonnie has started leaving him in the closet in favor of other toys she likes more.  To make himself useful, Woody sneaks into Bonnie’s backpack on her first day of kindergarten, where, during an art project time, he sees Bonnie create a new toy she names “Forky” out of a spork, a pipe-cleaner, and other junk.  When Forky comes to life as a brand-new toy, he considers himself trash, rather than a toy, and continually tries to escape Bonnie to throw himself back in the trash.  Woody and the gang, seeing how much Bonnie loves her new creation, consider it their mission to prevent Forky from escaping.  But on a family road trip, Forky gets away from the family’s RV, and Woody chases after him.  Separated from his friends, Woody comes across Bo Peep, who had been given away by Andy’s sister years before.  Bo has been living as a “lost toy” for years, a fate that, at first, horrifies Woody.  This has been his fear for years, a fear that Woody is now forced to confront head-on in a way he never has before.

I love how deeply these Toy Story sequels have explored the very nature of the original premise.  That Forky, made up of pieces of trash, can come to life after Bonnie creates him, leads to all sorts of fascinating questions (as Kristen Schaal’s Trixie says at one point: “I have all the questions”), and the film allows Forky (and the other toys) to explore Forky’s existential dilemma (he considers himself trash, while Woody and co. consider him a toy) in a way that is surprisingly sophisticated for a kids’ film.  (Of course, Pixar’s films have never been solely “kids’ films.”  That’s their magic.)  Tony Hale is magnificent as the innocent and doubt-filled Forky.… [continued]

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Star Trek: No Time Like The Past

I am having fun catching up on a number of Star Trek novels from recent years that I have missed.  Most of these books that I had skipped reading are stand-alone tales from the Original Series era, and the first batch I have been reading have all been written by Greg Cox.  I have quite enjoyed every one of Mr. Cox’s Kirk-era novels, and No Time Like the Past is no exception.

During Kirk’s original five-year mission on board the Enterprise, he attempts to mediate a diplomatic conference aimed at curbing Orion piracy.  An Orion attack sends the conference into chaos, but Kirk’s life is saved by a young woman who calls herself Annika Seven.  A century later, in the Delta Quadrant, the starship Voyager detects an obsolete Starfleet distress signal.  Their investigation leads them to a hidden installation set beneath an enormous sculpture of the head of Captain James T. Kirk.

This book has a great set-up, as we encounter the dual mysteries of Seven of Nine’s presence in Kirk’s era, as well as the weirdness with the Starfleet distress signal far beyond where any Federation starship had gone before and the memorable image of the enormous Kirk-head on a planet in the Delta Quadrant.  It’s a great kick-off to the story, and what follows is a fun adventure/mystery as Seven and Kirk attempt to unravel the truth of what is going on.

The idea of Captain Kirk meeting Seven of Nine is a fantastic idea, and a great basis for a novel.  (I am not a big fan of Voyager — I consider it the weakest of the Star Trek series — but I cannot deny that this is a great hook for a story.)  For the most part, the novel follows through on that premise… though I must admit that I was a little surprised that we barely see any hint of flirtation between the two.  That Captain Kirk, who seemed to bed a different beautiful alien woman in nearly every episode of the Original Series, would not engage in some heavy flirting with the beautiful Seven of Nine was a surprise to me!  On the one hand, I like that Mr. Cox took both characters seriously, and depicted Captain Kirk as someone who acted professionally around Seven.  On the other hand, while I wouldn’t want to see Kirk acting like a boor around Seven, I did miss the fun of a little romantic interplay between the two characters.  I felt we missed out on that aspect of the story’s premise.

I enjoyed the way the story dug deeply into several different adventures from the Original Series, bringing the Enterprise back to several well-known locations: Gamma Triangula … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Godzilla: King of the Monsters

July 10th, 2019

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is pretty much exactly what I’d expected it would be: fun but dumb.

The film is a sequel to Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla.  I enjoyed that film, though I didn’t love it the way many others did at the time.  I thought it was a very well-made film and I respected its ambition, but I didn’t connect with any of the sprawling cast of characters as deeply as I’d thought I should have.  The result was a film that felt rather superficial to me.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters, directed by Michael Dougherty, unfortunately moves further in that direction.  They’ve assembled a terrific cast, but we didn’t get nearly deeply enough into any one character’s story to suit me.  And so, while I thought the film was fun, I didn’t care about any of these characters.  I think for these sorts of monster movies to succeed, you have to care about the characters who you are following through these crazy situations.  But here, I really didn’t, and so I didn’t engage with the film in any sort of deep way.

There’s an interesting germ of an idea in the story of the main dysfunctional family.  Kyle Chandler plays Dr. Mark Russell and Vera Farmiga plays Dr. Emma Russell, while Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown plays their daughter, Madison.  Their family was torn apart when Madison’s brother was killed in one of the Godzilla battles from the first film.  Mark descended into alcoholism and he and Emma split up.  Emma dove into her work, trying to find a way to communicate with (and perhaps control) the “Titans” (Godzilla and the other giant monsters — what the 2014 Godzilla film referred to as MUTOs).  When she and Madison are kidnapped by terrorists seeking to use Emma’s tech for their own nefarious purposes, Mark is drawn back into Monarch (the organization we’ve seen in Godzilla and also Kong: Skull Island, whose mission is to document and deal with these giant creatures) in an attempt to rescue them.  But Madison soon discovers that her mother has been drawn into very dark places, and she realizes that what she thought she knew about her estranged parents might have been very wrong.

That’s an interesting story around which to hang a crazy monster adventure.  But the problem is that we don’t spend nearly enough time actually getting to know and care about any of these characters.  From the trailers, I’d thought Millie Bobby Brown’s Madison would be a very important character.  I would have loved a version of this film that was told through her eyes, with our following the story through her experiences.  But Madison is a very … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Late Night

In Late Night, written by Mindy Kaling and directed by Nisha Ganatra, Ms. Kaling stars as Molly Patel, a young woman hired as the only woman on the all-white-male writing staff of a late-night talk.  That talk show is run by multi-decade late-night veteran Katherine Newbury, played by Emma Thompson.

Late Night is a terrific film.  Ms. Kaling’s script is very funny, while also containing well-developed characters who go through true dramatic arcs.  Ms. Kaling herself is a winning lead.  Molly is a heroic character, bravely pushing her way into the white-male-dominated comedy-writing world without losing her sense of self.  At the same time, Ms. Kaling allows Molly to look occasionally foolish and to be endearingly flawed and imperfect.

But it’s Emma Thompson on whose shoulders the film truly rests, and the great Ms. Thompson delivers a powerhouse performance as Katherine Newbury.  Katherine, like Molly, had to force her way into a white-male-dominated world.  She’s been at the top of the pack for decades, but now her show is losing viewers and she finds herself on the edges of relevance, as her new network head (Amy Ryan) moves to take her show away from her.  Katherine goes on a compelling journey in the film, as she is forced to take stock of her life and her career, the choices she’s made and their repercussions.  The film doesn’t pull its punches, and Ms. Thompson is able to completely inhabit this woman and take the audience along on this story.  Ms. Thompson’s charisma and energy also allows us to see exactly why Katherine has been a late-night star for decades.  This is a terrific performance.  Ms. Kaling and Ms. Thompson have sparkling chemistry; the best scenes in the film are the ones with just the two of them.

The rest of the ensemble is very strong.  The Wire’s Amy Ryan is perfect in her handful of scenes, and Ms. Ganatra and Ms. Kaling have populated Katherine Newbury’s writers’ room with a terrific ensemble of actors.  Veeps Reid Scott is terrific as Tom, the head monologue writer who is at first disdainful and threatened by Mindy’s presence in the writer’s room.  He’s very funny, while also allowing Tom to have a core of humanity.  Denis O’Hare is also note-perfect as Brad, Katherine’s right-hand man and show-runner, who is the one to hire Molly but more out of a desire to make Katherine’s show as great as it can be rather than out of any sort of idealistic stance.  Paul Walter Hauser (who was great in his appearances on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Max Cassella, John Early, and Hugh Dancy are all fun and funny.  I love how the film was … [continued]