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News Around the Net!

I loved the first look at WandaVision that played during the Emmys.  I’m excited for the Marvel shows on Disney+ to start rolling out…!

Here’s a trailer for the sequel to Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express, called Death on the Nile:

I liked the first film.  I’m interested to see what they’ve done with the sequel.  Once again they’ve assembled a stellar ensemble cast of suspects.  But, holy cow, this is supposed to be released to theaters in October??  I had no idea it was supposed to come out so soon.  That release date is going to get pushed, right??  I guess we’ll see…  (UPDATE: They just pushed it back until December…)

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have a new TV show, coming to Amazon!  It’s called Truth Seekers and here’s a trailer:

This is cool: the 45 minute documentary Going Mad: The Battle of Fury Road is now available to watch on YouTube.  This is a documentary on the making of Mad Max: Fury Road.  I just watched this and it is phenomenal:

This is wild: they made a thirty-minute Father of the Bride Part 3 (ish), written and directed by Nancy Meyers, with the original cast reunited — Steve Martin, Diane Keaton, Kieran Culkin, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Martin Short and George Newbern — and joined by Ben Platt, Florence Pugh, Alexandra Shipp and Robert De Niro.  The project was made to raise money for World Central Kitchen.  You can watch it on YouTube right now (and if you do, please donate):

I was intrigued to read of the new book Made Men: The Story of Goodfellas by Glenn Kenny.  Click here to read several interesting anecdotes from the book!  And click here if you’re interested in purchasing the book.

This is sad news: Michael Hogan, who played Colonel Tigh on Battlestar Galactica, has suffered a traumatic head injury.  To raise money for his treatment, a GoFundMe page has been set up.  I just made a small donation, and I suspect other Battlestar fans reading this might want to do the same.

I also just made a small donation to this GoFundMe for Bob Wiacek.  Mr. Wiacek is a phenomenal comic book artist and inker.  I grew up reading comic books that he’d inked.  He worked with John Romita Jr. on The Uncanny X-Men, John Byrne on Sensational She-Hulk, Walter Simonson on X-Factor, and so much more.  He now has an eye condition that is preventing him from working.  If any readers out there enjoyed his work, as I did, then perhaps you’ll want to help.

In my last News Around the Net update, I posted the trailer for Aaron Sorkin’s … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Mulan

September 23rd, 2020

Because we don’t plan on going to a movie theatre any time in the near future, my family was delighted that Disney opted to release their live-action remake of Mulan on Disney+.  Yes, the additional $30 fee on top of the cost of our Disney+ subscription was steep.  But that was still far less of an expense than taking our family of four to see Mulan in a theater, and I understand the realties of Disney’s desire to make back as much money as they can on this film.  While we all agreed that the original, animated Mulan was superior to this new version in almost every way, every member of my family nevertheless quite enjoyed this new version.

As I have written before, I am not a fan of Disney’s proclivity of remaking their animated films into live-action versions.  There’s not much that excites me, creatively, about this idea, and even when I have enjoyed the remake, I can’t think of a single time when I thought the remake was better than the animated original.

Interestingly, while many of Disney’s previous remakes hewed very closely to the animated original, this new Mulan is quite different from the animated version.  The main beats of the story are the same, but so many other aspects of the film’s story and characters are different.  This is an interesting choice.  On the one hand, I like this idea in principle because trying something new seems to me to have the potential to bring some excitement and creative energy into a remake that would be missing in a more slavishly faithful version.  On the other hand, there’s so much of the wonderful original Mulan that wasn’t broken, and so watching the new film there were a number of times when I wondered why they strayed from what had previously worked so well.  That’s not to say the changes are bad.  Most of the different paths this film goes down work just fine.  The result is an enjoyable film and a different version of the Mulan story.

They’ve assembled a wonderful cast for this new Mulan.  Let’s begin with Yifei Liu, who plays Mulan herself.  She’s very enjoyable in the lead role, soulful and compelling.  Mulan can be a very internal character — even more so in this version, because she doesn’t have her sidekick Mushu to talk with throughout the film — but Ms. Liu is terrific at showing us Mulan’s emotional depths so that the audience can clearly follow where her thoughts and heart are, throughout her journey.  She’s also able to handle the action side of the role extremely convincingly.

Tzi Ma (24, Arrival) brings a wonderful soulfulness and wisdom … [continued]

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News Around the Net!

Let’s start with our first look at The Mandalorian season two!!

I am super-excited!!  We don’t have long to wait…

I am also over-the-moon excited by this magnificent first trailer for Denis Villeneuve’s Dune adaptation:

That is a gorgeous trailer.  The visuals are every bit as epic and weird as I’d have hoped.  The cast they’ve assembled is extraordinary.  The sandworm looks amazing.  I am pumped!!  I deeply love Dune, and I am incredibly excited for what I hope will be a faithful adaptation of Brian Herbert’s novel.  I love Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, so Mr. Villeneuve has my trust.  It’s only the “only in theaters” tag at the end that makes me sad.  It’s unimaginable to me that a Dune movie might exist and I wouldn’t go see it in the theaters; but if the world keeps going in the direction it’s in, that might very likely be the case…

Here’s another spectacular trailer, for Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7:

Wow.  Could this film be more relevant??  I can’t wait for this one and I’m delighted that it’ll be on Netflix (rather than only in theaters) next month.

I wish I was as excited for the trailer for Star Trek: Discovery season three:

That’s a solid trailer.  It looks gorgeous, and I like this cast.  But I am so down on modern Star Trek I can’t muster up too much excitement for this.  I’d love to be proven wrong.  We’ll see.

Sacha Baron Cohen was great in the above trailer for The Trial of the Chicago 7, and now in related news, word has leaked out that Mr. Cohen has apparently secretly shot a sequel to Borat!  I cannot wait to see what he’s cooked up.  (I wonder if this is connected to Mr. Cohen’s recent prank of Rudy Giuliani??)

E.W. has a fascinating look at the first, failed pilot that David Benioff and D.B. Weiss made for Game of Thrones.  This is an excerpt from the upcoming book Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon: Game of Thrones and the Untold Story of the Epic Series.  It’s an oral history of Game of Thrones by James Hibberd, and I bet it’ll be an interesting read.

WOW, this is a surprise — after previously renewing Stumptown for season two back in May, ABC has cancelled the show, citing concerns and delays related to COVID.  I enjoyed the first season of Stumptown and I was under the impression the show did well in the ratings, so this is a shock and a disappointment.

Click here to read an interesting interview with Noah Hawley, in which he shares fascinating tidbits on Fargo season 4, Lucy in [continued]

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Josh Reviews Arrested Development Season Five!

September 16th, 2020
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After watching the re-edited version of Arrested Development’s fourth season, which I found surprisingly good, I was excited to move on and watch the fifth season, which I’d never seen despite being a huge fan of the series.   Netflix released season five in two parts: the first eight episodes were released in May, 2018, while the final eight were released in March, 2019.  I’ve now seen them all.  I wish I had a better report to share.

I strongly believe the three original seasons of Arrested Development stand proudly among the pantheon of the greatest TV comedies ever crafted.  Those three seasons are near-perfect television, and they give me endless pleasure whenever I rewatch them (which is fairly often).  The series was resurrected by Netflix in 2013 for a fourth season that not many people liked.  I think I liked that season more than most (click here for my original review), but it was clear that it was an enormous step down from the brilliance of the original run.  An all-time great TV comedy had become merely good.

A major problem with season four was its structure.  Creator and showrunner Mitch Hurwitz was brave in experimenting with the structure of the show, leaning into the possibilities to be found in the brand-new-at-the-time idea of a streaming service releasing a complete season of a show all at the same time.  He also had to deal with the logistical problem that the series’ stars were now all successful performers in their own right, busy with their own projects, and so not all available to be in the same place at the same time to film the new season.  And so the fourth season of Arrested Development was structured so that each episode focused on a single Bluth character, off on their own adventure.  This might have been an interesting idea on paper but I felt the execution suffered.  This structure robbed the series of one of its greatest joys: seeing this ensemble bounce off of one another.  (It also revealed a flaw that many of the Bluth characters couldn’t sustain their own episode.)

I was surprised and pleased to see that, around the time when the first half of season five was released, Mr. Hurwitz completely re-edited season four, turning fifteen often-lengthy solo-character episodes into twenty-two normal-length episodes each featuring many if not all of the Bluth family ensemble.  I have never heard of a full series of TV being so substantially reworked!!  I thought this was a great idea and I quite enjoyed watching this new version.  It was still a far cry from the greatness of the three original seasons, but it felt far more like … [continued]

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The Parker Films: The Outfit (1973)

September 14th, 2020
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I’m continuing continuing my look at the films based on Donald E. Westlake (written under the pseudonym Richard Stark)’s Parker character.  Click here for my review of 1967’s Point Blank, starring Lee Marvin, an adaptation of the Parker novel The Hunted.  Click here for my review of 1968’s The Split, starring Jim Brown.  Now we come to 1973’s The Outfit, starring Robert Duvall!

The Outfit is based on the Westlake novel of the same name.  Robert Duvall plays the Parker role, though once again they don’t call the character Parker — in this film, he’s Earl Macklin.  After getting released from prison, Macklin discovers his brother has been killed, and he only narrowly escapes the hitman hired to kill him.  It seems the bank that the brothers robbed was an operation run by the Outfit, the nickname given to a large criminal organization.  (Back in Point Blank, they called it the Syndicate.)  So Macklin recruits his old comrade in crime Cody (Joe Don Baker) and starts hitting one Outfit operation after another in a quest for retribution, as well as the quarter million he feels he’s owed for his trouble.

I enjoyed The Outfit, mostly for the fun of seeing the young, virile Robert Duvall and Joe Don Baker in their primes!  But the film is a step down in quality, in my opinion, from Point Blank and The Split.  It’s a little shaggier, a little less tense, a little less compelling.

The overwrought soundtrack hurts the film.  It’s too on the nose.  For example: right off the bat, the film opens with super-dramatic music playing over shots of a car driving.  The music makes it seem like a Big Dramatic Moment, but nothing is really happening.   It’s off-putting.  Only a few minutes later, we see Macklin getting out of prison and there’s extremely cliche harmonica music playing on the soundtrack, and I knew we were in trouble.

Robert Duvall is always great, and it’s fun to see him in a man-of-action leading roll.  I wish the script gave him more depth of character to play.  It worked for Lee Marvin (and also Jim Brown) to play mostly silent tough guys, but the Macklin character is less compelling.  Part of this is the fault of the weak script, but also I think Duvall is the wrong actor for this type of role.  I know he’s so good, that watching the film I kept wishing he had more meaty stuff to play.  But that being said, even in a mediocre film, Duvall elevates the material.  He’s magnetic on screen.

Also great: Joe Don Baker!  To be honest, I’ve often found his persona to be something of a joke to me in … [continued]

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Josh Reviews the Final Season of Orange is the New Black

When Netflix started getting into the business of making its own TV shows, I was most excited that they had agreed to revive Arrested Development.  But the show that really captured people’s attention back in 2013, including my own, was Jenji Kohan’s Orange is the New Black.  Based on the memoir by Piper Kerman, the series explored the lives of a variety of women serving time a minimum security women’s prison in Litchfield, NY.  The slightly fictionalized story of Piper Chapman, a privileged white woman who is sentenced to 15 months in prison from a drug-running offense she’d committed 10 years earlier, was a great hook for that first season, as we followed Piper’s culture shock at losing her comfortable life and having to adjust to the new reality of prison.  But the show really gained its legs by expanding its focus beyond Piper, to deeply develop its vast ensemble of women of many different backgrounds, ethnicities, sexualities, and more.  The show devoted its time and empathy to depicting so many types of women and their stories who had seldom if ever been previously depicted on TV.  I loved the show for that.  And even though I thought the series had long-since lost the spark it had for me when it first began, I never entirely lost interest, because the lives and struggles of the show’s vast ensemble of women continued to be compelling.

The series drew to a close with this seventh and final season (which was released last year on Netflix, but I only recently caught up to it).  This is one of the strongest seasons the show has had in years.  It’s a pleasure to see the show go out on such a strong foot.

The caveat is that this was probably the hardest season of the show for me to watch.  I remember the days in which this series used to win awards in the “comedy” categories of certain awards show.  That was always ludicrous, but this bleak season moved far away from any notion that the show could possibly be considered a comedy.  There were still occasional bursts of light and humor, but overall this was a tough year for most of the characters on the show.  I respect Ms. Kohan and co. for staying true to the reality of these characters and the storylines they’d created.  Real life unfortunately wouldn’t give most of these characters a happy ending.  It was tough watching a lot of what befell the series’ characters this year.  This isn’t a criticism of the show, it’s a compliment.  The drama was tough and compelling.  But it was tough to watch.

Danielle Brooks’ character of Tasha (Taystee) Jefferson has long been … [continued]

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It’s been a week but I still am having difficulty accepting that Chadwick Boseman is no longer on this earth.  There have, of course, been a wealth of tributes to him online.  Not to be missed is this beautiful remembrance penned by Black Panther director and co-writer Ryan Coogler.

King T’Challa has rejoined his ancestors, the great kings of old.  I hope he finds peace there.

Before I continue, please: allow me to ask all of you wonderful readers out there to help 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 blogs (such as the links you’ll find at the bottom of this post).  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.  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!  Thank you!

Moving on… here’s the new trailer for No Time to Die:

That’s a very exciting trailer.  The film looks great.  My concerns?  Well, Spectre burned me so badly, I get nervous seeing the returning characters played by Christoph Weitz and Léa Seydoux.  Part of me wants to forget that terrible Spectre film ever existed.  On the other hand, I’d love for this new film to redeem Spectre by actually making Blofeld into the great scary villain he should be, and doing something interesting with Madeleine.  We’ll see.  (I also have to admit that closing card reading “IN THEATRES NOVEMBER” makes me wince.  Even if the film actually does get released to theaters, I find it hard to believe I will think it’s safe enough to go out and see it.  This just makes me sad.)

I’m intrigued by this trailer for the upcoming HBO Max sci-fi show Raised by Wolves, overseen by Ridley Scott.  (I only watched the first minute of this externes trailer, because I didn’t want to have too much spoiled.)

Color me intrigued; what I watched of that trailer certainly looked visually stunning.  Ridley Scott is the Executive Producer and he directed the first two episodes (of the 10-episode series).

This is pretty wild: Between 1985-1987 George Takei was involved in filming … [continued]

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Star Trek: The Latter Fire

As James Swallow’s Original Series Star Trek novel opens, Captain Kirk and the crew of the USS Enterprise are en route to the planet Syhaar Prime to begin the process of welcoming them into membership of the United Federation of Planets.  A year previously, the Enterprise crew had made first contact with the Syhaari, when they came across one of their damaged ships and assisted with repairs.  But now, as the Enterprise reaches their world, they discover that the Syhaari have made astounding advances in warp technology, far beyond what would naturally be expected.  The Federation’s ranking diplomatic officer suspects that Kirk or a member of his crew violated the Prime Directive by giving the Syhaari advanced technology when they assisted them in their repairs, but Kirk & company soon discover that something else is at work…

The Latter Fire is a great novel.  It’s a fun, fast-paced read.  Mr. Swallow has developed some intriguing new alien races and characters, and presented Kirk & co with some exciting new challenges that elevated this book.

I was particularly taken with the concept of the planet-sized life-form.  This reminds me of some silly sci-fi concepts, such as Ego The Living Planet from Marvel Comics (though Ego was brought to on-screen life remarkably well in Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2) and Unicron from Transformers: The Movie.  But the life-form presented in this book is entirely different from those sort-of silly antecedents, and I was impressed by how carefully Mr. Swallow presented and developed this sci-fi concept.  There is some precedence in Star Trek for this type of giant, space-faring life-form, from the giant amoeba from the Original Series Episode “The Immunity Syndrome” (which is referenced in this book) to the cosmozoan creature from the Next Gen episode “Tin Man”.  But Mr. Swallow has managed to acknowedge and build upon those previous stories to create something unique and interesting.

The novel is set after the third season of the Original Series, and the very first chapter is a fantastic scene with Chekov, showing us the moment that he departed the Enterprise in order to begin an advanced security training course.  Chekov’s absence from the Enterprise at some point between the end of the Original Series and start of Star Trek: The Motion Picture has been much speculated upon in various Trek books, comics, fan-films, etc. over the years, because the navigator Chekov suddenly was a security officer in TMP (and because Chekov was sadly excluded from Star Trek: The Animated Series, which most fans identify as taking place during year four of the Five Year Mission).  We’ve seen many versions of Chekov’s journey/promotion/departure before (for example, the fan-film series Star Trek: New [continued]

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The Parker Films: The Split (1968)

September 2nd, 2020
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I’m continuing my look at the films based on Donald E. Westlake (written under the pseudonym Richard Stark)’s Parker character.  Click here for my review of 1967’s Point Blank, starring Lee Marvin, an adaptation of the Parker novel The Hunted.  One year later, Jim Brown starred in The Split, adapted from the seventh Parker novel, called The Seventh.

At its core, the skeleton of The Split isn’t so different from Point Blank.  The Parker character (here called, somewhat inexplicably, McClain) plans and executes a clever score, only to get betrayed and forced to work hard to 1) survive 2) get revenge and 3) get back his cut of the money.  But despite those superficial similarities, I was pleased that The Split is actually quite different from Point Blank in tone and structure.  For example, in place of Point Blank’s flashback chronology, The Split unfolds in a very straightforward manner.  And the betrayal and its fallout don’t go down until the final 25-ish minutes of the film, thus representing a third-act twist rather than the inciting incident of the film.

Like Point Blank, The Split is a tight, taut thriller.  It’s lean and mean.  As I commented in my review of Point Blank, they don’t really make movies like this anymore: mean movies about mean people who are criminal professionals.  Unlike Point Blank, though, which is a revenge story right from the beginning, The Split unfolds more like a cool adventure.  There’s more of a sense of fun to the film.  We go on quite a ride as we follow McClaine & co. on their robbery of a football game, and it’s all enhanced by Quincy Jone’s hip music and Jim Brown’s calm, cool charm.

I love Jim Brown in the title role!  Mr. Brown was a football player who then became an actor.  The film is carefully structured in a way that doesn’t force him to stretch too much.  Casting him in the terse, mostly silent Parker role was a good choice.  But that’s not to take away from his strong performance!  Mr. Brown has a powerful natural charisma that shines through.  I thought he was an effective leading man, and I had no trouble rooting for him as the film unfolded.

They wisely surrounded Mr. Brown with a terrific ensemble.  I love the time the film spends developing the crew that Mclain pulls the heist with.  They’re each interesting, memorable characters.  Jack Klugman (The Odd Couple) plays the driver, Kifka.  ErnestBorgnine (From Here to Eternity, The Wild Bunch, McHale’s Navy) plays the tough-guy fighter, Clinger.  Donald Sutherland (The Dirty Dozen, Animal House, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, A Time to Kill, the Hunger Games films) … [continued]