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Josh Reviews Better Things Season Three

Pamela Adlon’s show Better Things continues to be one of my very favorite TV shows currently being made.  I recently caught up with season three, and it’s every bit as magnificent as I had hoped.  (Click here for my review of Better Things season one, and here for my review of season two.)

Better Things was co-created by Pamela Adlon, who also plays the lead role, writes most of the episodes (she wrote or co-wrote eight of the twelve season three episodes), and directed ALL of them in season three.  This is a magnificent showcase for Ms. Adlon’s talents, and I love that she has created a show that is idiosyncratic and unique.  Better Things is unlike most other television.  The show zooms from comedy to heartbreaking drama and back again at a moment’s notice.  It has a loose approach to narrative structure, with some episodes containing several vignettes that have little to nothing to do with one another, and some story-lines carrying through multiple episodes while other single episodes represent completely stand-along mini-movies or tone poems all their own.  There are many reasons why I love this show; one of the best is that, from episode to episode and moment to moment, I never know what I’m going to get.

I love that the show’s focus is firmly on Sam (Ms. Adlon’s character), her three kids Max, Frankie, and Duke, and the other women in their lives.  There are male characters on the show and many of them are great and interesting.  But this is a show that is about these women and their experiences.

Ms. Adlon seems focused on honesty, on depicting the real-life joys and struggles and sorrows of life as a working single parent of kids.  She seems to revel in showing the audience real-life moments we’ve never seen on TV before.  (As a prime example: episode seven, “Toilet,” chronicles Sam’s preparations for her colonoscopy.)

There are times when the show seems to idolize Sam a bit too much.  (“Your mother may be the greatest mother in the world,” Sam’s brother Marion (Kevin Pollak) tells her young daughter Duke at one point.)  But on the other hand, the show again and again shows Sam’s flaws and bad behavior.  So it works that the show is structured so as to put Sam’s hard work as a parent up on a bit of a pedestal.  Sam is a great mother not because she is perfect.  Far from it, she screws up and makes questionable decisions in nearly every episode.  But her effort day in and day out, and her unconditional love for her kids, and her stubborn refusal to stick to the path that most … [continued]

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News Around the Net — UPDATED with Bond 25 Title

UPDATE: The Title of Bond 25 has been revealed:

It’s an OK title.  A bit generic, but also sort of classic Bond sounding.  I just hope this movie is better than SPECTRE, which I found to be heartbreakingly disappointing.

Recently I shared the exciting news that Brandon Routh would be reprising his role as Superman from the underrated Superman Returns in the upcoming “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover that will be running through the DC “Arrowverse” TV shows in the fall.  Now there’s even more exciting news: Kevin Conway, who voiced Bruce Wayne/Batman on Batman: The Animated Series and who is, for me, the definitive actor to play Batman, will finally be playing the character in live action!  Mr. Conway will ALSO be appearing in this “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover, apparently playing the elderly Bruce Wayne from Batman Beyond!  I am so excited for this!!  I have never before watched any of these “Arrowverse” shows, but it sure looks like I’ll be needing to tune in for this one…

The Matrix is heading back to theaters 8/30-9/5 in celebration of its 20th anniversary!  Cool!  Speaking of The Matrix: Lana Wachowski, Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Ann Moss are all apparently involved in making a new fourth Matrix film??  Wow, I did not expect that!!

This is interesting: apparently Stephen King himself has written a new “coda” for the ending of The Stand miniseries adaptation!  I am very curious to see what Mr. King has added to the end of his famous story.  (I’m actually in the middle of reading the novel for the first time, right now!)

Speaking of Stephen King, this is a great look back at The Green Mile, Frank Darabont’s film adaptation of Stephen King’s serialized novel.  I love The Green Mile and think it’s a hugely underrated film.

This trailer for Martin Scorsese’s upcoming Netflix film The Irishman looks spectacular:

Oh, man, that looks like classic Scorsese.  Great cast.  Intriguing story.  I’m excited.

I didn’t know anything about Eddie Murphy’s new film Dolemite is My Name before watching this trailer, but now I can’t wait to see this:

That looks great!  It’s fantastic to see Eddie Murphy back on the big screen in an interesting-looking movie, and the ensemble cast of the film looks amazing.  (By the way, I highly recommend Eddie Murphy’s appearance on the newest batch of Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee Netflix show!)

This is great news: Atlanta has already been renewed for a fourth season, even though season three is still months away from release!  I loved season one and season two, and I can’t wait for more.

CBS and Paramount are merging, which … [continued]

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Josh Reviews True Detective Season Three

Like many, I loved the first season of True Detective.  The ending was a little disappointing (in that the many plot threads weren’t wrapped up as neatly as I’d hoped), but I thought it was a riveting, smart, adult drama.  The writing was sharp, the directing was memorable, and the acting was magnificent.  Season two was a bit of a letdown, but while most of the world seemed to hate that season, I enjoyed it a lot.  After that second season was so poorly received, it seemed that True Detective was dead.  And so I was delighted when, a few years later, word came that a third season was happening.  Lo and behold, I think season three might be the best season of the show!

Mahershala Ali stars in season three as Detective Wayne Hays.  As was the case in season one, the season-long investigation unfolds over three timelines, which we follow simultaneously throughout the season.  In 1980, Detective Hays and his partner Roland West (Stephen Dorff) investigate the disappearance of two children, Will and Julie Purcell.  In 1990, the unsolved case is reopened when video footage seems to show that Julie Purcell is still alive.  In 2015, an elderly Hays is interviewed about the case for a True Crime TV show.  (I love that the show found a way to incorporate the True Crime trend that has bloomed in popularity over the past several years.)

Whereas season one had two leads and season two had four, season three focuses on one single main character: Mahershala Ali’s Detective Hays.  This is a terrific choice.  I have enjoyed Mr. Ali’s work for years, ever since he was the best thing about the sci-fi show The 4400.  He’s become a successful movie star now, but I’m thrilled he continues to work in TV as well.  (He was one of the best aspects of Luke Cage season one.)  True Detective creator and writer Nic Pizzolatto has crafted a showcase role for Mr. Ali, who proceeded to knock it right out of the park.  Mr. Ali is absolutely riveting from start to finish.  I love how he is able to successfully craft different versions of Hays at these three different points in his life.  Mr. Ali’s magnetic intensity is perfect for bringing the audience along through this complicated story taking place across decades.

One of the best things about True Detective season three is that the central mystery wraps up in a more satisfying, comprehensible way than it did in either season one or two.  The show is still fiendishly difficulty to follow — which I believe is by design.  It’s unlikely a viewer will be able to get ahead of … [continued]

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Star Trek: Foul Deeds Will Rise

For a while now I have been catching up with a bunch of Star Trek novels that I had skipped reading when they were originally published.  With more books on my “to-read” shelf than I had time to read, I often found myself choosing to read the Star Trek novels that were set in the novel series’ wonderful interconnected continuity that moved the Star Trek story and characters beyond the series finales of the 24th century-set Trek shows (TNG, DS9, and Voyager).  This meant that often I wound up skipping the stand-along stories set in Captain Kirk’s era.  Over the past several months I have been finally catching up with those books, the first batch of which were all written by Greg Cox.  Mr. Cox is a terrific writer (his two Eugenics War novels are among my very favorite Trek novels!) and it has been a pleasure catching up with these great books that I had missed reading!

While the past several novels (including Assignment: Eternity, The Rings of Time, The Weight of Worlds, and No Time Like the Past) were all set during the Original Series era of Kirk’s first five-year mission on board the Enterprise, this latest novel, Foul Deeds Will Rise, is set during the movie era, between Star Trek V and Star Trek VI.  It’s an interesting change of pace, and Mr. Cox shows just as much skill at depicting the movie-era of Kirk and the Enterprise as he was at writing stories set during the five-year mission.

Foul Deeds Will Rise is a sequel to the Original Series episode, “The Conscience of the King.”  That episode ends with young Lenore Karidian exposed as a murderer and driven mad by the accidental death of her father at her own hands.  As she is taken away, McCoy assures Kirk that Lenore would get the best psychological care that the Federation could provide.  But what would become of Lenore?  Foul Deeds Will Rise picks up that fascinating question.

Twenty years after those events, the Enterprise-A is called in to help mediate a fierce dispute between planetary neighbors Oyolo and Pavak.  Kevin Reilly, now a Federation Ambassador, is back on board the Enterprise to help broker the peace talks.  While visiting Oyolo, Captain Kirk is shocked to encounter Lenore Karidian, now going under the name Lyla Kassidy.  After many years in a rehabilitation institute, Lenore/Lyla has been declared sane and released; she is now a part of a relief mission to Oyolo, where she attempts to give back to the Federation as a way of atoning for her crimes.  She agrees to join Captain Kirk on board the Enterprise for a reception, but … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Jon Favreau’s remake of The Lion King

It seems like it was just a few weeks ago that I was writing about the live-action remake of Aladdin, and stating that I don’t see any creatively interesting rationale behind Disney’s current predilection for remaking so many of their classic animated films in live-action. (There’s clearly a financial reason, as these films seem like a good way to make money off of pre-existing, beloved properties.)  The original animated films Aladdin and The Lion King are magnificent, among Disney’s very best.  So what is to be gained from remaking them in live action?

I don’t have an answer to that (again, other than money in Disney’s coffers), but while I don’t think either of these new remade films have much of a reason to exist, I enjoyed Join Favreau’s new version of The Lion King even more than I enjoyed Guy Ritchie’s remake of Aladdin!

Mr. Favreau first dipped his toes into these waters with his CGI-remake of The Jungle Book, which I thought was a visual marvel.  Mr. Favreau has gone even further with The Lion King, pushing the boundaries of technology and visual effects.

It’s a mistake to call this a live-action remake of The Lion King, because this new version doesn’t feature any human beings.  (The Jungle Book was mostly CGI, but the boy playing Mowgli was real.)  This new film has been created with astonishing, cutting-edge motion-capture and CGI work.  The result is incredible.  The film looks entirely photo-real, despite the fact that it features an ensemble cast of talking animals.  The world of The Lion King has been brought to astounding, beautiful life.  You easily believe that these talking animals are real.  It’s astonishing… and very cool to see the iconic animated locations of the original film (such as Pride Rock) brought to the screen in a way that makes it look like those places really exist.

The original Lion King features some iconic and memorable vocal performances.  Recasting this film could not have been easy… but Mr. Favreau and his team made all the right choices.  JD McCrary plays young Simba, while Donald Glover plays adult Simba… and Shahadi Wright Joseph plays young Nala, while Beyoncé Knowles-Carter plays adult Nala.  All four actors are perfect.  They give different interpretations of these characters than the original actors did, and yet at the same time they all sounded absolutely perfect for Simba and Nala to me.

I thought the hardest voices to recast would be Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella as Timon and Pumbaa.  And yet Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen might be my favorite performers in the new film!  They make Timon and Pumbaa entirely their own, while still allowing the … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Seeing Pulp Fiction for the first time in the theater back in 1994 made me a Quentin Tarantino fan for life, and so I have been eagerly anticipating the release of his ninth film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.  A new Tarantino film as always a cause for excitement!  I was not disappointed.  I loved Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.  The film is longer than it needs to be, but I so enjoy Mr. Tarantino’s unique style of dialogue and direction that I would have happily spent many more hours living in the world he (re)created for the film.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is set in Hollywood in 1969, in the months and weeks before the murders of Sharon Tate and others by members of the Manson Family.  Sharon Tate, played by Margot Robbie, is a character in the film, but the film’s focus is on two fictional characters: aging cowboy actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his friend and stunt-man Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt).  Rick became a star as the lead of a Western TV series called Bounty Law, but in the years since the show has ended he’s fallen on hard times, finding it harder and harder to get work.  Cliff has had similar trouble finding work as a stuntman; now he mostly earns his living by driving Rick around and helping him with various errands and chores.

There’s not too much actual plot to the film.  I’m OK with that!  For me, the joy is in luxuriating in the world that Mr. Tarantino has created.  I love spending time with these characters.  Both Mr. DiCaprio and Mr. Pitt are fantastic.  Their movie-star wattage is a perfect match for the terrific roles that Mr. Tarantino has written for them.  Like many of Quentin Tarantino’s films, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is filled with digressions and asides, and I love all of those little rivulets of story so much.  (One of my favorite sequences in the film is a lengthy flashback, while Brad Pitt’s Cliff fixes Rick’s antennae on the roof of his house, about how he got fired from his last stuntman job.)  As I noted above, one could say that the film is longer than it needs to be.  For a movie that’s around two hours and 45 minutes, there’s not a heck of a lot of actual plot/story to be found.  But I don’t care a whit.

The film is very funny.  Mr. Tarantino’s dialogue is, as always, a joy to unravel… and Mr. Tarantino sure knows exactly how to get the timing perfect on a comedic scene.  But there’s also a looming sense of dread hovering over the film, as … [continued]

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News Around the Net

I really enjoyed this trailer for Picard, the new show in which Patrick Stewart will reprise his iconic role as Jean-Luc Picard:

That’s a great trailer.  Will the show be any good?  Who knows.  I’m dubious, mostly because I’m just not sure that Alex Kurtzman is the best shepherd for the Trek franchise.  (I haven’t loved any of the J. J. Abrams movies that Mr. Kurtzman was involved with, and I’ve found Discovery to be mostly disappointing.)  But I want to believe.  (Oops, wrong franchise.)  Patrick Stewart looks great in this trailer; just seeing him as Picard again is a joy.  There are some great visuals.  I loved the callback to “Captain Picard Day.”  I LOVED seeing Data again at the end.  (My thinking is that Picard is playing cards with a holographic Data, just as Data often played cards with holographic figures from the past, back on TNG.)  I loved the revelation late in the trailer that this story has something to do with the Borg.  While the Borg were given a terrific finale and resolution in the Star Trek novels (in David Mack’s wonderful Destiny trilogy), they never got a great finale on-screen, so I’d love to see them revisited here.  (I’m also intrigued to hear that Hugh from “I, Borg” will be back in some manner!)

I don’t love the implications that Picard left Starfleet because of something to do with the destruction of Romulus (a rather silly plot point from the first J. J. Abrams Star Trek film).  And while I have nothing against Jeri Ryan and am quite happy to see her character of Annika/Seven again, I think her appearance as the “wow” surprise towards the end of this trailer demonstrates Alex Kurtzman’s misunderstanding of what TNG fans are looking for.  I want to see Doctor Crusher in this show far more than I want to see Seven of Nine from Voyager!!  Well, we’ll soon see what they’ve cooked up.  I am truly hoping for the best.

Marvel had a lot of exciting announcements at San Diego Comic Con.  Click here for a summary.

* Black Widow: The Black Widow prequel film which we all knew was in-the-works was officially announced.  I’m excited for Scarlet Johansson to finally be the lead of a Marvel film, and I’m very curious to know where/how this will fit into the overall timeline.

* The Eternals: This is a very curious choice.  This is a very obscure title from the Marvel archive.  Over the years, I’ve read some interesting stories featuring Eternals characters in the Fantastic Four and Avengers comic book series, but this wouldn’t jump out at me as something I’d long to see in … [continued]