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Josh Reviews Brooklyn Nine-Nine Season Seven!

After being cancelled two years ago by Fox, Brooklyn Nine-Nine roared back on NBC with possibly its strongest season ever.  The recently-concluded season seven can’t quite top that magnificent season six, but it’s still a terrific season of comedy that demonstrates that this veteran show continues to have a lot of gas in its tank.

The first few episodes of season seven were OK but not spectacular.  I was a little surprised that the show didn’t manage to milk more comedic energy out of the season six cliffhanger in which Captain Holt was demoted to walking a beat.  I’d thought the show would get a lot of mileage out of the idea of the Nine-Nine’s boss now being a subordinate to all of them, but that plotline didn’t seem to build to much.  I was thrilled to see Vanessa Bayer (SNL, Trainwreck, Office Christmas Party) join the ensemble as Holt’s new beat-partner, but while I loved her initial oil-and-water pairing with Holt, I didn’t like the u-turn to make her pretty much insane in episode five, “Debbie,” after which she was gone from the show.

I did love episode three, “Pimemento,” a brilliant title for a fantastic Memento parody that brought back Jason Mantzoukas as Adrian Pimento.  I love Mr. Mantzoukas’ crazy energy, and this loony story was a good match for his character.

I enjoyed the way several episodes last season played with the show’s usual format, and so I was pleased to see that kind of creativity again on display in episode six, “Trying,” which took place over six months.  Six months in twenty-two minutes is no easy feat!  The episode depicted Jake & Amy’s unsuccessful efforts towards Amy’s getting pregnant.  Brooklyn Nine-Nine has often experimented with weaving the occasional serious emotional story in with all the cartoon craziness.  Sometimes that merging of disparate tones can be awkward, but I was pleased at how funny and also heartfelt this episode was.  I particularly loved the bold choice to not end the episode with a happy ending; instead, we see Amy learning in the final seconds of the show that she has again failed to get pregnant.  (I only wish they didn’t jump into Amy’s actually getting pregnant at the end of the very next episode.  It would’ve been better to have let the ending of “Trying” linger for a few more episodes.)

The season’s five final episodes were all terrific, a fantastic run of hugely funny shows.  In episode nine, “Dillman,” the great J.K. Simmons turned in a phenomenal guest appearance as the super-skilled detective friend of Captain Holt.  In episode ten, “Admiral Peralta,” Bradley Whitford (The West Wing) returned as Jake’s not-so-great … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Better Call Saul Season Five

Better Call Saul season five was magnificent.  I have been saying for years now that I have enjoyed watching Better Call Saul even more than Breaking Bad, and this triumphant penultimate season has only further solidified my opinion.  (It’s also interesting to see a growing critical consensus seem to be coming around to that idea.)

There will be SPOILERS ahead, gang, so if you’re not yet caught up, please come back once you are.

Better Call Saul was set up to be, primarily, the story of how a nice but flawed guy named Jimmy McGill became the scheming, no-morals criminal lawyer Saul Goodman.  It’s an oft-repeated story that the show’s creators and writers had originally expected Jimmy to transform into Saul much earlier in the show’s run.  (You can see how the season one finale was designed to make that happen.)  But they so fell in love with Bob Odenkirk’s work as Jimmy, that they decided that didn’t want to see him disappear into Saul too quickly.  For me as an audience member, that was the central magic trick of the show’s early years.  I started watching excited to see more of the funny scumbag Saul, and at first I was impatient for Jimmy to become Saul.  But I too fell in love with Jimmy, and gradually the idea of Jimmy’s becoming Saul became even more of a tragedy than the moral disintegration of Walt in Breaking Bad.  Saul has gotten more emotionally rich with each season, because the looming tragedy of the birth of Saul Goodman has become more and more heartbreaking to me, as someone watching and rooting for Jimmy.  Bob Odenkirk’s work has just gotten better and better and better.  This talented comedian has so perfectly meshed with this role, and his work this season reached new heights of subtlety and humanity.

Adding to the growing tragedy of the looming loss of Jimmy has been how deeply I, as an audience member, have grown to care about Kim Wexler.  Rhea Seehorn has grown into the show’s most indispensable actor.  Her fierce, deeply nuanced, emotionally rich work is absolutely astounding.  Was there a greater TV moment in the past year than when Kim Wexler tore Lalo a new one at the end of his terrifying visit to her and Jimmy’s apartment in episode nine?  As much as I have grown to care about Jimmy, I care about Kim even more.  For the past few seasons, I’ve been getting more and more worried about Kim’s ultimate fate.  I desperately wanted (and still want) her to have a happy ending at the end of the show.  I’ve been wondering whether we should be worried or relieved that we never heard … [continued]

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Checking out the Star Trek: Picard Backstory

I was very lukewarm on the first season of Star Trek: Picard.  It was amazing seeing Patrick Stewart back in this role, something I never ever expected to see.  The rest of the cast was strong, and the production values were great.  But I thought the story-telling was, mostly, a mess, and I was disheartened by both the overall lack of attention to continuity and also by many of the choices made by the show’s creators regarding what happened to these beloved characters, and the overall Star Trek universe, in the decades since the end of Next Gen.  When I read about the comic-book series Picard: Countdown, and the new novel Picard: The Last Best Hope, I was interested but dubious.

I have read and loved many Star Trek comics and novels over the years.  In the comics world, Peter David’s long run on DC Comics’ Star Trek series in the eighties and nineties is spectacular, and the amazing graphic novel Debt of Honor by Chris Claremont and Adam Hughes is one of my favorite non-canon Trek stories of all time.  In the novels world, readers of this blog likely know that I deeply love the interconnected series of Trek novels that Simon & Shuster has been publishing for the past decade-plus.  But one of the reasons those novels have been so great is that they were free from having to adhere to the status quo of in-production new Trek shows or movies.  I have usually found that books/comics/etc. based on shows that are currently running tend to be lame, for the most part, because they’re not free to risk contradicting anything the show might do in the future.  But I have enjoyed IDW’s previous Countdown mini-series (which connected Spock’s appearance in the 2009 Star Trek film with the post-Nemesis status quo), and I was excited that Picard: Countdown was co-written by Kirsten Beyer, a talented Trek novelist who is also one of the Picard series’ co-creators.  And Una McCormack, who wrote Picard: The Last Best Hope, is one of my favorite Trek novelists.  So I gave both a try.  I’m glad I did, because both are terrific reads, and both are far more successful at telling an original story that fits well into pre-existing Trek canon, in my opinion, than the Picard TV series was!

Let’s start with the three-issue comic-book series Picard: Countdown.  This mini-series, written by Kirsten Beyer & Mike Johnson, and illustrated by Angel Hernandez & Joana Lafuente, tells the story of how Jean-Luc Picard met the two Romulans, Laris & Zhaban.  This is a key piece of backstory that I was shocked the series never gave us, after introducing the intriguing notion of two … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Living with Yourself

In the Netflix mini-series Living with Yourself, Paul Rudd stars as Miles Elliot.  Miles has a lovely wife, a nice house, and a good job.  And yet, he is deeply unhappy.  When we meet Miles in the first episode, he seems to be locked in a cycle of misery and mediocrity.  Desperate for something to change, he takes a co-worker’s advice and visits a mysterious spa for a treatment.  During the treatment, Miles falls asleep; he awakens to find himself mostly buried, alone in the woods.  Distraught and confused, he eventually makes it back to his house, only to discover that he has been replaced by an identical clone of himself.  Except this clone is a far better version of himself than he ever was!

This is a nutty premise, but one of the best aspects of Living with Yourself is how wonderfully far the show runs with this set-up!  I love how deeply the show explores the reality of this crazy sci-fi notion.  I love how grounded every other aspect of the show is, with the exception of this crazy cloning premise!  (In that respect, the show reminds me, quite favorably, of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.) 

Paul Rudd is fantastic in the dual role of Miles and his clone.  Mr. Rudd is perfectly cast, and he’s every bit as great as I’d wanted him to be.  I love how perfectly Mr. Rudd is able to differentiate these two different versions of Miles.  There is never any question about who is who.  This is an acting triumph.  (The seamless special effects are spectacular and also really help sell the reality of the show.)

The series was created by Timothy Greenberg, who wrote all eight episodes.  All eight episodes were directed by the team of Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris, who directed Little Miss Sunshine and Battle of the Sexes.  These are names I’ll be paying close attention to, after having watched this series!

Living with Yourself is a very funny show, but this isn’t a silly spoof.  The show is based firmly in drama, and in exploring the emotional complexities of this situation and of the affected characters.  Mr. Rudd’s skills are perfectly suited to striking this delicate tone.  He is able to be absolutely hilarious one moment, without undercutting the drama and emotion of the next moment.

The eight episodes are beautifully structured.  I love how we’re continually shifting back-and-forth between the different perspectives of the two Miles (and then eventually, in one of my favorite episodes, into the perspective of Miles’ beleaguered wife Kate).  In less-capable hands, these perspective-shifts might have been confusing, but they’re beautifully well-executed on the show.  I was never confused about where … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Russian Doll

In Netflix’s eight-episode series Russian Doll, Natasha Lyonne stars as Nadia, a young woman who, on the night of her 36th birthday, dies over and over again, continually finding herself resurrected back to life at the same moment, in the bathroom at the start of the party thrown for her by one of her friends.  Yes, it’s Groundhog Day: the series, but don’t let that already-excellently-done idea cause you to underestimate this show.  Russian Doll is a terrific play on this concept, spinning a riveting yarn that is very funny and also psychologically rich.  I loved it.

Created by Ms. Lyonne, Leslye Headland, and Amy Poehler, Russian Doll is a fiendishly clever story.  I love how intricately structured the eight episodes are, and how beautifully everything fits together in the end.  This is a tough show to stop watching (by design, of course).  I was hooked immediately by Ms. Lyonne’s wonderful lead performance and by the mysteries of the show’s set-up, and each episode ended with a delicious cliffhanger that propelled me into the next episode.

Ms. Lyonne became a big star in the late nineties (especially with 1999’s American Pie), and she’s had something of a career resurgence recently with her terrific work in Orange is the New Black.  Despite my being familiar with her, I was blown away by how fantastic she is here in this series.  This feels like the part she was born to play.  Ms. Lyonne effortlessly carries the series on her shoulders.  She’s incredibly funny and at the same time heartbreaking in her depiction of this damaged young woman.  I love the way the show allows us to gradually peel back the onion of who Nadia is and, more importantly, why she is the way she is.  It’s beautiful work, and Ms. Lyonne sells every moment of it.

I don’t believe I’ve ever before seen the work of Charlie Barnett, but he’s terrific as Alan, a man who, we discover, has an unexpected connection to Nadia.  I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’m going to be vague here, but let me say that Mr. Barnett is a terrific yin to Ms. Lyonne’s yang.  I love how he portrays this unusual young man; allowing us to emphasize with him and quickly grow to love him despite his at-times off-putting behavior.  (That’s a great description of Ms. Lyonne’s work on the show, as well!)

The rest of the cast is great: Yul Vazquez (I am the Night) as Nadia’s older ex-boyfriend; Elizabeth Ashley as Nadia’s psychiatrist and mother-figure; Greta Lee & Rebecca Henderson as Nadia’s friends Max and Lizzy; Dascha Polanco (Orange is the New Black) as Alan’s girlfriend Beatrice; … [continued]

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News Around the Net

April 16th, 2020

Welcome back — thanks for reading!  Before we begin, kindly allow me to ask all of my readers to please support this website by taking advantage of my being an Amazon affiliate.  This means that if you click through to Amazon from any of the links on this site, I’ll get a tiny percentage of the price of ANY purchase you make on Amazon for the next 24 hours.  You can use the Amazon banner ad at the top of the home page, or any specific Amazon link within one of my blog.  You don’t have to purchase the specific item I linked to!  Just use one of my links to get to Amazon, and then purchase whatever you normally would.

While some are avoiding all on-line ordering these days, I know many others have turned to places like Amazon more than ever.  So please, allow me to ask: when you’re thinking about doing some online shopping, please click through to Amazon through one of my links.  It’d be a huge help to allowing this website to continue!

This is a spectacular trailer for the final four episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars!  I can’t wait!!

I am super-excited by this first-look at Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune!!  I love Dune so much.  I really like the Sci-Fi channel mini-series from 2000, and I also have a sweet spot in my heart for David Lynch’s bizarre/mostly terrible film adaptation from 1984.  But I would be so, so happy for Dune to finally get the epic film adaptation it deserves.  These first photos from Mr. Villeneuve’s film look terrific.  I love the look of the stillsuits!  The cast is epic and they all look great.  I love the choice of making Liet-Kynes a woman.  I love that shot of Zendaya as Chani!  So far, so good…!

This is a great interview of Larry David by Maureen Dowd, discussing how the master of social distancing is handling life in isolation.

I was sad to read of the passing of Honor Blackman, who so memorably played Pussy Galore in Goldfinger back in 1964.

This is hilarious: someone seamlessly edited outtakes into actual scenes from Star Trek: The Next Generation, thus presenting us with a bizarre alternate-universe version of Next Gen where the crew are a bunch of lunatics.  Here’s one:

Click here for more!

I’m intrigued to see a rtrailer for a feature-length documentary exploring the making of Tim Burton’s classic film, Beetlejuice!  The doc is called Documentary for the Recently Deceased (which is a great title, based on a joke from the film), and the film also has an awesome poster.  Here’s the trailer.  I … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Brittany Runs a Marathon

In Amazon Studios’ film Brittany Runs a Marathon, Jillian Bell (The Night Before, Office Christmas Party) stars as Brittany, a single young woman living in New York.  Brittany is happy with her party-going lifestyle, but when she sees a doctor (as part of a scheme to score a prescription to Adderall), she gets the surprising news that she is unhealthy and needs to lose weight.  Initially resistant to the idea, Brittany gradually begins to experiment by going for a run.  To her great surprise, she gets into it, and eventually meets two new friends: Seth (a new dad who is embarrassed about his lack of physical fitness) and Catherine (Brittany’s wealthy neighbor).  The three challenge each other to run the New York City Marathon.

Jillian Bell has always impressed me with her comedic timing, and it’s a delight to see her step into a leading role here in this film.  She is fantastic.  She’s effortless with her mastery of comedy, killing in both the film’s big comedic set-pieces and tiny small moments alike.  But she’s also completely convincing and painful in the film’s dramatic sequences.  I hope this film proves to be a strong boost for Ms. Bell’s continuing career.

The film is very funny, but it’s also grounded in the drama of Brittany’s often-painful, often-failed journey to grow up.  There are some tough-to-watch moments in the film, as we see Brittany make bad choices at times, often taking several steps back after she’s taken a step forward.  The film’s “hook” is about her quest to lose weight by running, but thankfully Brittany’s weight isn’t really what the film is about.  As the story unfolds, and we get to know Brittany as a person, we gradually discover — as she does — the damaged places within her, and the steps she needs to take in order to heal.  Brittany has an almost pathological inability to accept help from others; she interprets offers of friendship and support as pity, and so lashes out whenever someone in her life reaches out to her.  This is the true journey Brittany is on in the film.  Her weight loss is just a side-effect.  I’m pleased that the film has this depth to it.  Balancing comedy and drama is difficult, and many films fail in the attempt.  But I enjoyed both aspects of Brittany Runs a Marathon, the comedic moments and the dramatic character arcs.

Michaela Watkins (Wanderlust, In a World…, They Came Together) plays Brittany’s neighbor Catherine.  Ms. Watkins is a brilliant comedic performer; this is a mostly straight dramatic role, but she is fantastic nevertheless.  Brittany looks down her nose at Catherine, who she sees … [continued]

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Josh Reviews I Am the Night

In between making Wonder Woman and the upcoming sequel, Wonder Woman 1984, Patty Jenkins and Chris Pine continued their collaboration with the six-episode TNT mini-series, I Am the Night.  The series was created by Sam Sheridan, who wrote five of the six episodes.  Ms. Jenkins directed the first two episodes, while Victoria Mahoney directed episodes 3-4 and Carl Franklin directed episodes 5-6.  Set in the 1960s, the series follows the journey of young woman Pat Atman (India Eisley) to discover the truth about her family.  Pat, who was raised by a single African-American woman, appears to be white, but has grown up believing herself to be bi-racial.  However, when she finds a birth certificate with another name — Fauna Hodel — in her mother’s belongings, she realizes that she was adopted.  As she starts looking for her birth mother and family, she is swept up into a dangerous world of crime and privilege in Los Angeles.  Pat/Fauna’s unexpected ally in her search for the truth is a washed-up, drug-addicted reporter, Jay Singletary (Chris Pine).  Jay’s life was destroyed when he wrote a series of articles attempting to expose some of the secrets that Pat/Fauna’s birth family have been hiding.  Jay sees in her a chance to perhaps finally be able to prove the truth.

I Am the Night is an interesting bird.  It’s a competently made series.  The mystery is twisty and engaging.  The acting is top-notch.  (Chris Pine is particularly great.)  The direction is compelling and the production design is terrific; the series looks great, beautifully bringing to life a variety of different locations of the era.

The series’ main weakness is that its mix of true and fictionalized events felt somewhat uneven to me.  After watching the first episode, I wasn’t quite sure what exactly this series was about (though that did eventually become clearer), and I found myself wondering whether this was supposed to be a true crime series or a fictionalized story.  There wasn’t any text at the beginning saying that this series was based on actual events or anything like that… but then at the end of the episode (and every subsequent episode) we saw several of what looked like photos of the characters who were played by actors on the show.  The on-screen credits say that the series was “inspired by the life of Fauna Hodel.”  What exactly does that mean?  After watching the series I did some reading about it and was able to shed some light on this.  The series is based on Fauna Hodel’s memoir One Day She’ll Darken: The Mysterious Beginnings of Fauna Hodel.  Fauna really existed, and much of the story of her quest to uncover the truth about … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Curb Your Enthusiasm Season 10

We had to wait a long time between the eighth and ninth seasons of Curb Your Enthusiasm (over five years), and when that ninth season of Curb finally arrived, I felt the show had lost its way somewhat.  It was still extremely funny, and jam-packed with wonderful and crazy ideas.  But the longer-running episodes felt shaggier, and more hit-and-miss.  Plots didn’t fit together with the clockwork precision of earlier Curb (and, of course, Seinfeld).  It still made me happy, but I felt the show’s best days were behind it.  I’m thankful that we only had to wait two years between the ninth and tenth seasons of Curb.  This tenth season isn’t a reinvention of the show; it’s stronger than season nine, I think, but I doubt anyone would argue this is one of the best seasons of the show.  Still, not being as good as the best seasons of one of the best TV shows ever made is not a crime!!  I really enjoyed this season, and I think this show still has a lot of life left in it.  There was plenty that didn’t quite work here in season ten, but there was so much to enjoy it’s hard for me to really complain.  Let’s dig in…

The first three episodes of the season had me very concerned.  Those episodes focused primarily on Larry’s running afoul of the #metoo movement.  The idea that the ornery, prickly Larry of Curb — who also happens to be a wealthy, privileged, older white man — would find himself the subject of ire from the #metoo movement is an idea with a lot of merit.  However, I felt those first few episodes made the mistake of drifting into mockery of the #metoo movement.  There’s a subtle but critical difference between mining comedy from that movement (and Larry’s being made a target of it), versus belittling the movement and the women who accuse men of misdeeds, and I think the show was on the wrong side of that line.  The women who were accusing Larry of misconduct were depicted as buffoonish and ridiculous, which I think was a big mistake.  I don’t think this was a good look for the show.  Frankly, I didn’t find it funny; I found it almost unpleasant.

Thankfully, the show moved away from those stories, and the main season-long story-line wound up being the far more interesting (and far better basis for great comedy) story of Larry’s feud with coffee-store owner Mocha Joe (Saverio Guerra), leading to Larry’s opening up a “spite store” — his own coffee shop, Latte Larry’s, right next door to Mocha Joe’s.  The whole idea of a “spite store” is brilliant.  Who hasn’t ever … [continued]

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News Around the Net and Supporting MotionPicturesComics.com!

April 3rd, 2020

Hi out there!  I hope you’re all doing OK and staying healthy.  As always, I appreciate your taking the time to read my site!

The best way for you to support this website is to take advantage of my being an Amazon affiliate.  This means that if you click through to Amazon from any of the links on this site, I’ll get a tiny percentage of the price of ANY purchase you make on Amazon for the next 24 hours.  You can use the Amazon banner ad at the top of the home page, or any specific Amazon link within one of my blog.  You don’t have to purchase the specific item I linked to!  Just use one of my links to get to Amazon, and then purchase whatever you normally would.

While some are avoiding all on-line ordering these days, I know many others have turned to places like Amazon more than ever.  So please, allow me to ask: when you’re thinking about doing some online shopping, please click through to Amazon through one of my links.  It’d be a huge help to allowing this website to continue!

OK, onwards.  There’s not a whole heck of a lot of news out there in movie and TV land these days.  Like the rest of the world, Hollywood is pretty much shut down.  However, there are a few fun tidbits that I can share today.

Let’s start with this: Nick Frost & Simon Pegg have given their classic “what’s the plan?” scene from Shaun of the Dead a Coronavirus update, and it’s hilarious.  Check out the new scene and the 2020 version here.

This is very cool: Rosario Dawson has apparently been cast as Ahsoka Tano for season two of The Mandalorian!  Ahsoka is a fantastic character from the animated Clone Wars series, as well as Star Wars: Rebels.  It’s super-exciting to think we might get to see the character in live-action for the first time!  Rosario Dawson is a terrific actress and a great choice to play her.  Though I do feel bit sad that Actress Ashley Eckstein, who has voiced Ahsoka for so many years, won’t get to play her in live-action.  (Click here for Ms. Eckstein’s comments on these latest developments for Ahsoka.)

Speaking of Ahsoka and Star Wars: Clone Wars, I’m super-excited that the show has returned from the dead for a new run of twelve final episodes.  Want to catch up on this great Star Wars animated series, but you don’t know where to begin?  Here’s a list of great episodes and story-arcs to help!

In other Star Wars news, the saga has been released on 4k, and Bill Hunt from The [continued]

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Josh Reviews Dolemite is My Name

April 1st, 2020
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Dolemite is My Name, directed by Craig Brewer and written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, stars Eddie Murphy as performer Rudy Ray Moore, who portrayed the character of Dolemite in his stand-up routine and several “blaxploitation” films.  The film charts Rudy’s joruney from struggling comic to his creation of his Dolemite character, and eventually his independent production of the first Dolemite film in 1975.

I loved this film! I’m a little surprised it hasn’t gotten more acclaim!

Eddie Murphy is electric in the title role as Rudy Ray Moore, the man who created the character of Dolemite for himself in his stand-up comedy act and, eventually, in a series of movies.  I thought it was fsacinating the way the film allowed us to follow Rudy as he struggles to find his voice, and a niche for himself in show-business.  It’s only when he develops the persona of the raunchy, brash Dolemite that his career takes off.  After a successful tour, Rudy gets the idea to create a film starring himself as Dolemite.  When the studios turn down his plans, Rudy decides to make the film on his own.

There have been some great films made previously about an amateurish movie production (most recently James Franco’s The Disaster Artist); I love those types of stories, of a creative person struggling to bring his vision into reality.  Dolemite is My Name truly ignites when it dives into that aspect of Rudy’s life.  I loved the film’s exploration of the many trials and tribulations of actually creating a low-budget film.  This was very cool to see!

But there was plenty beyond that in the film to enjoy; I found the entire run-time of Dolemite is My Name to be an absolute delight.

It’s rare when Eddie Murphy appears in a truly great role on-screen these days, but when he does — as he does here — he reminds us that his comedic timing and charismatic energy cannot be equalled.  Mr. Murphy is on-fire in this film.  That old Eddie Murphy charisma is on full display.  He’s electric whenever he’s on screen!  Mr. Murphy was so funny, but he also nailed all of the film’s dramatic scenes in a way that made it look very easy.  This is a fantastic performance.

Mr. Murphy surrounded himself with an insanely funny and talented cast.  To his credit, he clearly did not have any problem giving funny scenes to the other members of this ensemble!  For instance: I never suspected that Wesley Snipes could be this funny.  Mr. Snipes is a riot as the arrogant and affected D’Urville Martin, who Rudy finagles into directing the film.

Keegan-Michael Key plays the intellectual, academic author Jerry Jones, … [continued]