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Late to the Party: Josh Reviews Veep Seasons 5 and 6!

Earlier this year, I had a great deal of fun catching up with Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ fantastic show, Veep!  (Click here for my review of seasons 1 & 2, and click here for my review of seasons 3 & 4.)  After the conclusion of season four, the show’s creator and show-runner Armando Iannucci took a step back from running the show.  Taking over as show-runner was David Mandel.  I was a big fan of Mr. Mandel’s work from the later seasons of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm.  (He also ran the brilliant but little-seen six-episode animated series based on Kevin Smith’s Clerks from 2000.  Only two episodes of the show ever aired, but all six were released to DVD and they’re great.  Also, Mr. Mandel’s commentary track for all six episodes, along with Kevin Smith, was just as much fun as the episodes themselves!)

David Mandel would go on to run the three final seasons of Veep.  He did a terrific job, maintaining consistency with what Mr. Iannucci had established as the tone of the show while also allowing his own specific comedic sensibilities to come into play.  The David Mandel seasons of Veep were, I think, even faster-paced that the previous seasons, and the characters all seemed to get even more hilariously awful (as hard as that might be to believe, based on their behavior in seasons one through four).

Under both the Iannucci and Mandel administrations, Veep was a fantastic show.  It’s a biting, devastating satire of the American political system.  It’s a workplace comedy.  It was a fast-paced joke machine, brought to life by an extraordinary comedic ensemble.  Julia Louis-Dreyfus has forever cemented her position as one of the finest comedic actresses of all time; her perfect, unbeatable comedic timing was on display in every second she was on-screen here.  But then look at this deep bench: Tony Hale as Gary; Anna Chlumsky as Amy; Reid Scott as Dan; Matt Walsh as Mike; Sufe Bradshaw as Sue; Timothy Simons as Jonah; Sam Richardson as Richard Splett; Gary Cole as Kent; Kevin Dunn as Ben; Sarah Sutherland as Catherine; Clea DuVall as Marjorie; and Hugh Laurie as Tom James.  Wowsers!!  I love each and every one of those characters, and I could not imagine any other actor bringing any of these roles to life.

OK, let’s dive into seasons five and six…!

At the end of season four, we left Selina Meyer in an electoral college tie for the Presidency.  At the time, that seemed like a stretch to me; a writerly device to keep Selina stuck in the weird middle ground of great-power/no-power that she’d inhabited since the show began.  I still think that way, but I … [continued]

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The Parker Films: Point Blank (1967)

August 26th, 2020
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Recently I read Darwyn Cooke’s four magnificent graphic novel adaptations of the Parker novels written by Donald E. Westlake under the pseudonym Richard Stark.  The late, great Darwyn Cooke was a master of the comics form (his New Frontier miniseries, which retold the story of the DC universe as a period piece beginning in the nineteen thirties, is a masterpiece), and his beautiful, faithful adaptation of four Parker novels (The Hunter, The Score, The Outfit, and Slayground) are not to be missed.  Donald Westlake wrote 24 novels featuring his Parker character, and over the decades quite a few of them have been adapted into films.  Over the years, I have read a lot about many of these films.  (Primarily in the wonderful back-pages of the crime comics written by Ed Brubaker and illustrated by Sean Phillips, such as Criminal.)  I decided it was time to take a look at some of those films, so I decided to start with the first (and, having now seen many of them, what I think is the greatest) of the Parker adaptions: 1967’s Point Blank.

Point Blank is a (pretty faithful) adaptation of the Parker novel The Hunter.  Lee Marvin stars as the Parker character (renamed Walker here because apparently Mr. Westlake refused permission for these film adaptations to use the Parker name).  When the film opens, Walker is being released from prison.  Years earlier, Walker and another criminal named Mal Reese had pulled off a heist for a lot of money, but Reese betrayed and shot Walker, leaving him for dead.  Now Walker is back and out for revenge, as well as his $93,000 cut of the money.  But Reese used that money to pay back the debt he owed to a crime organization referred to as the Syndicate.  Reese is now an official in that Syndicate, meaning that Walker has to go up against not only Reese, but this entire criminal organization.

I really enjoyed this film!  Its reputation as a classic is well-earned.  This is a tightly-plotted, tense and taut noir story.  It’s very minimalist, with sparse dialogue and scenes that are short and to the point.  There’s no extraneous mucking about or time-wasting anywhere to be found.

Lee Marvin is great as Walker.  He plays this “tough silent-type” character so well.  His chiseled-from-granite face suits this character to a T.  It’s a very restrained, internal performance.  But, wow, Mr. Marvin is totally convincing and scary as this thief who should not be messed with.

The film sticks fairly closely to the structure of Mr. Westlake’s novel.  I love that they maintained the out of order chronology of the book.  It gives the film a very modern sensibility.  The two … [continued]

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News Around the Net!

August 24th, 2020

Lots of exciting news has come out of the recent DC/Warner Brothers FanDome event:

Let’s start with the trailer for Zack Snyder’s expanded four-hour (!) “Snyder Cut” of Justice League:

I am super-excited to see what Mr. Snyder has put together.  There’s lots of very intriguing new footage there (and I love that he scored the trailer to Hallelujah, which he also used in his Watchmen adaptation).  I don’t subscribe to the simplistic Joss Whedon=bad, Zack Snyder=good perspective that I see online.  But I’m excited to see this!

Next up: the first trailer for the new Batman solo film, The Batman:

That looks pretty great to me!  Reportedly, they only shot 25% of the film before having to shut down due to COVID, so who knows how this will ultimately all come together, but I like what I see here.  I like seeing what looks like a grounded story in which Batman gets to be a detective, rather than an action hero.  We haven’t really seen much of Batman as a detective in the Batman films.  I love seeing Jeffrey Wright as Commissioner Gordon.  I’m intrigued in what seems like a very scary take on the Riddler.  I like Zoë Kravitz but the look of her Catowman hasn’t quite sold me here… nor has the look of Robert Pattinson as Bruce Wayne/Batman.  I like the Batman costume — it’s in the scenes as Bruce Wayne that Mr. Pattinson looks off to me.  But I trust Matt Reeves (I consider his film Dawn of the Planet of the Apes to be a genre masterpiece).

Here’s a new trailer for Wonder Woman 1984:

That looks solid.  In a world without COVID, we’d have been able to see this film already.  I hope we’re able to see it some time in the not-too-distant future!

Lastly, here’s a fun look at the in-production Suicide Squad sequel, directed by James Gunn:

The first Suicide Squad film was a disaster, but I trust James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy).  I can’t wait to see what he’s putting together.

This is a fun read: the A.V. Club’s look back at the enduring greatness of Paul Feig and Judd Apatow’s Freaks and Geeks.  This is one of my very favorite TV series of all time.

Speaking of Paul Feig — he made a sci-fi comedy TV show in 2015 called Other Space???  How have I never heard of this???  (Because it was only shown on something called Yahoo! Screen, apparently.)  Anyways, apparently it’s now available to stream on (another) app I’ve never heard of called Dust.  I need to check this out.  More info is here.

I was sad to read of the [continued]

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Josh Reviews The King of Staten Island

In Judd Apatow’s new film, The King of Staten Island, SNL’s Pete Davidson stars as Scott, who lives at home with his widowed mother.  Scott’s father was a firefighter, who died on the job when Scott was young.  Scott is content to live his slacker-ish life, smoking and drinking with his friends and dreaming of someday opening a tattoo shop-slash-restaurant.  But when his far-more put-together sister, Claire (Maude Apatow), goes off to college, and Scott’s mother Margie (Marisa Tomei) starts seeing another firefighter, Ray (Bill Burr), Scott’s life goes into a tailspin.

I’m a huge Judd Apatow fan.  I’ve been a fan ever since watching Paul Feig’s and his brilliant but short-lived TV series Freaks and Geeks, and Mr. Apatow’s follow-up (and also short-lived) series Undeclared.  I loved his phenomenal directorial debut film, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and ever since then, a new Judd Apatow film has been a cause for excitement for me.  A hallmark of Mr. Apatow’s work has always been how he has balanced humor with real emotional pathos.  I think Mr. Apatow is one of the best comedic writers working today, and if he rested on that, I’m sure I’d still enjoy his work.  But Mr. Apatow has always used humor as a way of exploring his characters and searching for emotional truths.  This was evident (and important to the success of) the first two films Mr. Apatow wrote & directed, The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, two films with an extraordinary laugh-per-second ratio.  With Funny People, Mr. Apatow shifted his approach slightly — his films were still extremely funny, but he grew more willing to allow the humor to take a back-seat for longer stretches in his films, and to allow the explorations of character and dramatic situations to step more into the forefront.  While I admit to a slight preference for his “earlier, funnier” movies, I’ve nonetheless thoroughly enjoyed Funny People, This is 40, Trainwreck, and now The King of Staten Island.  I have commented before how Mr. Apatow has developed, to my mind at least, into this generation’s James L. Brooks.  That is no small praise.

Whereas Mr. Apatow’s earlier work — and Funny People in particular — seemed to draw more from the Mr. Apatow’s personal life experiences, and those of his close friends, it’s been interesting to see how in recent years Mr. Apatow has used his approach to comedy and drama as a way to allow other performers to explore their lives and step into the limelight.  This was the case with Lena Dunham in her HBO show Girls (which Mr. Apatow Executive Produced), with Amy Schumer in Trainwreck, and now with Pete Davidson in The King [continued]

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Josh Reviews Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

Despite my having a very negative opinion of most of the recent DC/Warner Brothers films, including the dreadful Suicide Squad (which is where Margot Robbie’s version of Harley Quinn first appeared), I was interested in seeing Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn.  I loved that audacious title, I was impressed by the strong mostly-female cast they’d assembled, and I thought the trailers looked promising.  But I didn’t manage to find time to get to a theater during the film’s first few weeks of theatrical release, and then the COVID pandemic rendered all thought of going to a movie theatre an impossibility for me.  I did, though, recently get a chance to watch Birds of Prey on blu-ray, and I was delighted!  I thought the film was terrific fun; a ripping adventure yarn with a pleasingly loose, tongue-in-cheek tone.  This film deserves to be seen by a wider audience!

Birds of Prey picks up Harley Quinn’s story a ways after Suicide Squad, after getting abandoned by the Joker.  At first depressed, Harley begins to see the upside of beginning a new life out from under the Joker’s thumb.  However, she quickly discovers that she also no longer has the protection that being the Joker’s girlfriend afforded her, thus now making her fair game for any criminal or lowlife she has ever pissed off.  Harley’s story soon intersects with that of several other powerful women: G.C.P.D. detective Renee Montoya; Dinah Lance, singer and driver for the crime lord Roman Sionis; young pickpocket Cassandra Cain; and Helena Bertinelli, the Huntress, who has made it her life’s mission to hunt down and kill every gangster who was involved with her family’s murder.

Writer Christina Hodson and director Cathy Yan have created a very entertaining and original film.  It’s fantastic to see two women at the helm of this female-focused film, and both Ms. Hodson and Ms. Yan demonstrate their tremendous skill in spades.  I hope they both have long careers ahead of them.  Birds of Prey has a sense of style and tone that is unique among the DC/Warner Brothers films of recent years.  It is the tone that is the most critical, as this is an intense and serious and very adult film that is also a lot of fun and playfully loose.  Many films try and fail to strike that balance, but Ms. Yan and Ms. Hodson make it look easy.

Birds of Prey demonstrates a wonderfully playful attitude throughout, beginning with the funny and irreverent animated opening sequence.  I knew I was in for a fun ride after seeing that opening!  Birds of Prey is structured to bring the audience into Harley Quinn’s loopy and off-kilter … [continued]

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Josh Reviews the Series Premiere of Star Trek: Lower Decks

Star Trek: Lower Decks is the new animated series on CBS all access.  It focuses on four low-ranked crew-people on a Federation Starship, the U.S.S. Ceritos, during the era of Star Trek: The Next Generation.  The series is a comedy, in the vein of Rick and Morty.  (The series’ creator, Mike McMahan, was a writer for Rick and Morty for several years, and was show runner of that show during its fourth season.  He’s also the person behind the hilarious TNG Season 8 twitter thread.)  Is this type of show what I wish new Star Trek would be like?  No.  But that being said, I’m open to a humorous take on Trek, and I thoroughly enjoyed this first episode!

First off, it is a DELIGHT being back in the TNG era of Trek.  This was the era of Star Trek I watched and enjoyed for almost two decades, through the eighties and nineties.  This is the era of Star Trek: The Next Generation,  the four Next Gen movies, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager.  After suffering through the two other recent Trek shows, Discovery and Picard, both of which made a hash of established Star Trek continuity and seemed to demonstrate zero interest in making their shows visually — or in any other way — consistent with the previous decades’ worth of Star Trek history, it is an absolute pleasure to watch a show that seems so attentive to the details of the Star Trek universe.  There are a million visual details that are all PERFECT for this TNG era.  I love the look of the Ceritos’ primary hull.  I love the look of the corridors.  I love the look of the computer consoles.  I got an inordinate amount of delight from seeing the very-specific look (and sound!!) of the Holodeck doors.

In the places where the show chose to strike new ground with its designs, it did so in a manner that fit extremely well with established continuity.  It’s a new Trek show, so of course they wanted a new take on the uniforms, but unlike the ugly uniforms of Discovery or Picard, I love the Lower Decks uniforms!  I love how they took the diagonal opening flap from the Original Series movie-era uniforms and merged that with the general look and layout of the TNG uniforms!  So clever!  (In a similar vein: it’s a new Trek show, so of course they want a new take on the transporter effect: but here again, the new effect 1) looks good and 2) is completely plausible and feels correct for this era of Trek.)

The show is also JAMMED full with a million references to Trek continuity.  One could almost say … [continued]

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News Around the Net

I miss The Good Place!!  The recently-released season four blooper reel only makes me miss it more.  Enjoy.  Everything is fine.

This is fun!  A Good Omens short film, in honor of the book’s 30th anniversary, written by Neil Gaiman with Michael Sheen and David Tennant reprising their roles from the mini-series adaptation:

This is even cooler: a Scott Pilgrim vs. The World reunion, in which the cast does a table read of the entire film!!  This is amazing.  I am a huge fan of the film; ever since it was released I have been shouting to the rooftops that it’s a masterpiece.

In more Neil Gaiman news, the in-production audio-book adaptation of the graphic novel series sounds amazing.  The adaptation will star James McAvoy, and it’s produced by Dirk Maggs, who oversaw a series of incredible audio adaptations of the later books in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series.  It sounds incredibly cool.  You can listen to the opening chapters here!  (Note: this audible production is a separate project from the Sandman TV adaptation happening at Netflix!)

Ren and Stimpy blew my mind as a kid.  I’m eager to see this documentary on the show and its controversial creator:

Ryan Reynolds has created an, um, abbreviated new cut of Green Lantern.  It’s hilarious.  Take a look.

This is a nice look back on the making of “Yesterday’s Enterprise”, one of the best Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes that is great despite the very chaotic and last-minute way in which it came together.  The article quotes two of my favorite Trek writers, Ira Steven Behr (who went on to run Deep Space Nine for much of its run) and Ron Moore (who went on to be an important writer on DS9 and then created and ran the reimagined Battlestar Galactica).

I am now obsessed with this twitter thread: Turn your favorite movie into an #AmITheAsshole post.  There are so many brilliant entries to be found if you scroll through that thread.  Here’s my favorite: “I (M45) asked my estranged son (M22) (bad breakup with his mom, crazy inlaws kept him from me, long story) to join me in the family business.  Turns out he hates my work and only cares about his loser “friends”.  Things got pretty heated and I accidentally cut his hand off. AITA?”

(That would be The Empire Strikes Back, in case you’re wondering.)

OK, this one is also pretty great: “I [37] don’t meet with my students, ditch classes to break into graves to get some antiquities that I sell to museums to fund my pursuit of a daughter of one of my colleagues. AITA?”… [continued]

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Josh Review the DC Animated Film: Apokolips War

August 6th, 2020
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Justice League Dark: Apokolips War seems to be the finale of the “New 52” style continuity of animated films that began with 2014’s Justice League: War Here in Apokolips War, the story circles back around to Darkseid (who was the main villain in Justice League: War — his attack on Earth is what led to the formation of the Justice League in that story).  Superman has decided to finally take the battle to Darkseid, and leads the Justice League in an attack on Darkseid’s home planet of Apokolips.  The attack fails, and in response, Darkseid attacks Earth again and slaughters most of the DC universe heroes.  A crippled Superman teams up with John Constantine and a motley crew of other unlikely heroes in a desperate attempt to retake the Earth and defeat Darkseid once and for all.

I quite enjoyed Apokolips War — far more than I’d been expecting to!

While in general I love the idea of a continuity between these DC animated films — I am a huge fan of long-form story-telling in any media, from novels to comic books to TV shows to movies — I have not been a huge fan of this series.  There have been some fun stories here and there, and I have loved seeing the connections between the films.  But overall, I think the tone of these films has been off — they’ve tried to be “mature” and “adult” (and many have been rated PG-13, even R), but I’ve found the sex and cursing in the films to be pretty juvenile.  True adult storytelling would be complex themes and characters, but there hasn’t been nearly enough of that to suit me.  The animation has been OK but not great, and I have not been a fan of the character-designs (which, in my opinion, have given us some very weird-looking characters).

So I haven’t loved this series nearly as much as I’d hoped I would when it started… but if Apokolips War is indeed the grand finale, it is a very satisfying conclusion.  Even when judged purely as a stand-alone adventure, there’s a lot here to enjoy.

It was fun to see so many different characters incorporated into this adventure.  In addition to the entire Justice League, we also get to see all of the members of the Teen Titans as well as the Justice League “Dark”, the loose band of supernatural heroes including John Constantine. Zatanna, and others.  (This movie was given the Justice League Dark heading in its title, which is a curious choice.  John Constantine is the central character, but if this is indeed the finale of this animated movie series, I was surprised they didn’t use the more … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Shazam!

I missed Shazam! when it was released to theatres last year.  I’d been burned out on one bad DC/Warner Brothers live-action movie after another, and while this one looked interesting, I didn’t rush out to see it.  I recently watched the film on blu-ray, and I enjoyed it!

Shazam! tells the story of young Billy Batson, an orphan who has gotten himself booted from one foster family after another.  As a sort of last chance, he is adopted into a group home run by Victor and Rosa Vasquez, with five other orphans.  Billy doesn’t expect to find this new home any more satisfactory than any of his previous ones, but his life takes an unexpected path when he finds himself gifted with incredible powers — and an adult, super-powered new body — by the wizard Shazam.

The idea of a super-hero version of Big is a delicious concept, and this film mines a lot of joy and comedy out of that premise.  My favorite scenes of the film are the ones in which Billy, now in the role of the grown-up super-hero Shazam, and his new step-brother Freddy goof around exploring all the crazy new things this new body can do.  Zachary Levi plays the adult/super-hero version of Billy, and he is spectacular in the way he channels the excitement and enthusiasm of a 14-year-old boy in these incredible circumstances.  I’ve always enjoyed Mr. Levy’s work.  (He was great in season two of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.)  But he has perhaps never been more perfectly suited for a role than this one.  Mr. Levi (ably assisted by an awesome-looking super-suit) certainly has the physicality for the role… and his comedic timing is impeccable.  He is so funny and joyous in this role!  His enthusiasm carries the film.

There are two main weaknesses of the film for me.  The main one is that I don’t understand why this movie, telling the story of a kid-turned-superhero, is rated PG-13.  My 10-year-old children were excited to see this movie, and I was excited to watch it with them.  But I found myself wincing at the film’s language and adult-oriented content.  Shazam/Captain Marvel has had a reputation, over the years, as being silly/cheesy/kiddie, so I suppose the filmmakers were concerned about their movie coming off of as being just for kids.  They clearly wanted to make certain people knew this was a “cool” movie aimed at adults.  I can understand that, but I think they overshot the mark somewhat.  I am all for not dumbing-down one’s super-hero movie.  But I think it’s a shame that there’s a lot that’s inappropriate (in my opinion) for younger viewers in the film.  I wish they’d made … [continued]