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Josh Reviews Never Surrender: A Galaxy Quest Documentary

November 30th, 2020

Never Surrender: A Galaxy Quest documentary is exactly what it sounds like — a feature-length look back at the making of 1999’s Galaxy Quest!  I makes me so happy that Galaxy Quest is now getting this type of love.  I love Galaxy Quest, and this documentary was a delight from start to finish.  It’s a joyous celebration of this terrific film.  Never Surrender is available to watch right now on Amazon Prime video!

I am not a late arrival to Galaxy Quest love.  Although the film didn’t make much of an impact at the box office when it was originally released, I saw it in theaters and immediately loved it.  I got it immediately, and long before others started describing it as the best Star Trek movie never made, I was saying that to anyone who would listen.  Galaxy Quest is a very funny comedy but it is also an exciting adventure films with real stakes, both physical and emotional.  It’s a spoof of Star Trek but it’s one done with love, not empty mockery, and in its second half the film transforms into a true, exciting Star Trek-style adventure!  These are very difficult balances to strike — that the film manages them so perfectly is the secret to its greatness.  Galaxy Quest is a film I have revisited regularly over the years, and I still find it as delightful now as I did back then.

It makes me so happy that director Jack Bennett and his team share this Galaxy Quest love!!  That love is on full display throughout every frame of this documentary.  Mr. Bennett was able to get the entire Galaxy Quest cast to participate: Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Justin Long, Sam Rockwell, Tony Shalhoub, Daryl Mitchell, Enrico Colantoni, Missi Pyle, Rainn Wilson, Patrick Breen, Jed Rees, and more.  I loved how extensively we got to hear from the dilm’s director, Dean Parisot, as well as writer Robert Gordon.  We also get to hear from many of the film’s other key behind-the-camera players, including producer Mark Johnson, executive producer Elizabeth Cantillon, set decorator Linda DeScenna, costume designer Albert Wolsky, visual effects artists Bill George, Shane Mahan, and Mark “Crash” McCreery, editor Don Zimmerman, composer David Newman (whose Galaxy Quest main theme is brilliant) and more.

It sure seems, from the film, that Galaxy Quest is held as dear by the film’s cast and crew as it is by the fans.  That is fun to see.

Speaking of the fans, the film shines a spotlight on several Galaxy Quest fans.  Many of them are famous names!  We get to hear from Star Trek stars Brent Spiner and Will Wheaton; writers/show-runners Damon Lindeloff (Lost, The [continued]

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Josh Reviews Todd McFarlane: Like Hell I Won’t

The documentary Todd McFarlane: Like Hell I Won’t shines a spotlight on the incredible career of superstar comic book artist Todd McFarlane.

Todd McFarlane shot to super-stardom in the late eighties when he took over as the artist of Marvel’s The Amazing Spider-Man comic book series.  His incredibly unique and dynamic illustrations won him legions of fans, as well as the ire of many editors and older comic-book pros who didn’t care for his break-all-the-rules approach to comic book illustration.  I remember clearly discovering Mr. McFarlane’s work on Amazing Spider-Man and being absolutely blown away.  I eagerly followed him when Marvel gave him his own brand-new Spider-Man book to write and draw (a book whose first issue smashed all previous sales records, selling 2.5 million copies).  In the nineties, Mr. McFarlane and a group of other superstar Marvel artists broke away to form their own company, Image.  This was an industry-shaking event at the time, and Image continues to thrive to this day.  At Image, Mr. McFarlane created his own new super-hero, Spawn.  That comic continues to be published today, recently publishing its three hundredth issue, a record-breaking number for an independently-published, creator-owned comic book.  (Dave Sim’s Cerebus was published for 300 issues.  No other series has even come close… though Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon, another Image book, is getting there…!)  I followed Mr. McFarlane to Spawn in 1992 when the series began, and I read the series for about 50 issues.  (Ultimately, I didn’t love Mr. McFarlane’s writing, and the series didn’t hold my interest after the excitement of the initial few years.)

Mr. McFarlane is one of the most famous and successful comic book artists of all times.  He’s notable not just for his incredible art skills, but for his role in creating Image, a place where comic-book artists could create and own their own projects (as opposed to doing work-for-hire jobs for Marvel or DC).  Mr. McFarlane has succeeded in expanding his character, Spawn, into a movie and a TV show, and he is the CEO of McFarlane Toys, a company that revolutionized the collectible toy market.  Mr. McFarlane has long has a reputation for his forward-thinking and his deep stubbornness, characteristics that have contributed to his successes and also gotten him into trouble over the years.

He’s a terrific subject for a documentary, and I was eager to learn more about his life and work in this film.

I enjoyed Todd McFarlane: Like Hell I Won’t.  I appreciated seeing the curtain pulled back (somewhat) on Mr. McFarlane’s life.  It was fun getting to see his offices; getting to see him work on illustrating comic book pages (I was interested to see that draws using both traditional … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Parker (2013)

I’ve had a fun time watching the many films based on Donald E. Westlake (written under the pseudonym Richard Stark)’s Parker Character.  I really enjoyed 1967’s Point Blank (click here for my review) and 1968’s The Split (click here for my review).  I thought 1973’s The Outfit was a step down, though I did still enjoy the film.  (Click here for my review.)  I thought 1983’s Slayground was a dud.  (Click here for my review.)  I enjoyed the 2006 Director’s Cut of Payback (which was released theatrically in 1999), though wow, was it dark!  (Click here for my review.)  And now we’ve arrived at 2013’s Parker, starring Jason Statham and Jennifer Lopez.

I remember seeing trailers for this film when it came out, but I ignored them because Parker looked like yet another generic Jason Statham action vehicle.  I actually quite like Mr. Statham as an actor!  I thought he was a hoot in Guy Ritchie’s early films like Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, and he is hilarious in Paul Feig’s 2015 film Spy.  But I haven’t been interested by the many bland-looking action films he’s been putting out for the past decade or so.  Similarly, I know Jennifer Lopez can be a terrific actor.  I think she’s spectacular in Out of Sight, for instance.  I just haven’t been interested in most of the films she’s been in lately.  So while I skipped Parker back in 2013, I was curious to give the film a chance now.  They actually let the filmmakers use the Parker name!  Did that give reason to hope the film had merit??

Parker is adapted from the novel Flashfire.  Jason Statham stars as Parker.  When the film opens, he’s working with a crew in a heist, robbing a state fair.  As usual in these Parker stories, he winds up double-crossed and left for dead.  But he survives, and sets to hunting down his former crew to get revenge.  He tracks them down to Palm Beach, Florida, where they’re working on their next big job.  While undercover, Parker’s path crosses with Leslie (Jennifer Lopez), a smart, capable real estate agent who is desperate to get out of her unfortunate situation.  (She’s heavily in-debt and stuck living with her mother.)  Leslie figures out that the under-cover Parker isn’t the wealthy Texan he claims to be, and the two work together to take down Parker’s former crew and get away with the loot.

Parker isn’t bad.  It’s better than I expected.  The cast is strong, and there are some well-executed sequences.  But it’s also not as good as it could have/should have been.  The … [continued]

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News Around the Net

Wow — Wonder Woman 1984 will be released on HBO Max on Christmas Day!  AND the film will also be showing in theaters.  This is a very interesting strategy.  I’m sure that most struggling theatre chains are happy to have this film showing theatrically — and I am overjoyed that I’ll be able to watch it, safe at home, on HBO Max.  This is far preferable to having to wait another year.

Interesting news that Warner Brothers (and J.K. Rowling) have dropped Johnny Depp from the in-production third Fantastic Beasts film.  I wasn’t happy when Mr. Depp appeared at the end of the first Fantastic Beasts film (as I noted in my original review).  My objection at the time had nothing to do with Mr. Depp’s personal life; it’s just that the days of his being an actor whose choices interested me seemed long past.  In my opinion, they should have replaced him before they made the second film.  (These allegations in the dueling lawsuits with his ex-wife Amber Heard are not new.)  It’s wild that they’re re-casting this major role right smack in the middle of the series.  (In the original Harry Potter film series, they had to recast Dumbledore mid-series due to the passing of Richard Harris, and that series went on just fine.)  I am extremely curious to see who steps into this major villain role as Grindelwald!  (UPDATE: It might be Mads Mikkelsen!!  What a perfect choice!!  Oh, now I am excited…)

I’ve enjoyed several of the documentary series on Disney+, such as The Imagineering Story, Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian, and Into the Unknown: The Making of Frozen II.  I’m excited for this new series, Inside Pixar:

This is amazing: a trailer for a (still in-process) documentary on the making of the legendary (and legendarily terrible) Star Wars Holiday Special:

That trailer is dynamite.  (I love all the clips from the pop culture references to the Holiday Special, especially that great Robot Chicken sketch.)  I can’t wait to see this, when it’s finished!

Here’s a new trailer for Zack Snyder’s “Snyder Cut” of Justice League:

That’s basically just a colorized version of the first teaser, but it’s fun to see.  As I’ve stated before, I doubt this new version is going to suddenly erase all the flaws in the theatrical version, but I’m definitely interested in seeing what Mr. Snyder has cooked up. It’s cool to see Darkseid (though I’m not impressed by the CGI version of the character in that trailer).  I’m more intrigued by all the other new footage and glimpses of stories and characters excised from the theatrical version.  I can’t wait for this … [continued]

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How to Watch Star Wars: The Clone Wars!

In the tradition of my previous blog posts How to Start Watching (and Fall in Love with) Star Trek and How to Watch Battlestar Galactica, I am proud to present my guide to How to Watch Star Wars: The Clone Wars!

Is there a better time to dig into this Star Wars animated series than following last week’s spectacular episode of The Mandalorian??  Not only did we get to see Katee Sackhoff play Mandalorian Bo-Katan, a character who she voiced on the animated Clone Wars and Rebels series, in live-action for the first time (a brilliant and joyous development), but we also heard the name Ahsoka Tano — a central figure in the animated Clone Wars — spoken aloud!!  (There have been rumors for months that Ahsoka would make the leap into live-action in this season of The Mandalorian.)

It’s very cool to me that there is an entire universe of animated Star Wars stories that many fans of the live-action films have not experienced.  The brilliant final episodes of The Clone Wars series were some of the greatest Star Wars stories I have ever seen, and those final episodes cemented the series, in my mind, as an essential part of the overall Star Wars saga.

It’s incredibly exciting to me that The Mandalorian is bringing characters and story-lines from the animated shows into the live-action Star Wars universe!  This makes sense, because there is continuity behind the scenes.  Jon Favreau, who crated The Mandalorian, voiced a Mandalorian character, Pre Vizla, on Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  And Dave Filoni, who oversees The Mandalorian along with Mr. Favreau, was also in charge of both Star Wars: The Clone Wars and the subsequent animated series, Star Wars: Rebels!  

Star Wars: The Clone Wars is set between Episode II and Episode III.  It tells the full story of the Clone Wars.  The series began with a movie released to theaters in 2008, and then ran for five seasons on Cartoon Network from 2008-2012.  Although eight series were originally planned, the series was cancelled when Lucasfilm was sold to Disney.  Thirteen episodes that had already been completed for season six were released to Netflix in 2014.  Then, just last year, Mr. Filoni and his team reassembled to complete and release twelve additional episodes for Disney+, including the originally-planned four-part series finale.

I am a huge fan of this series!  I would argue that the Clone Wars cartoon (and the subsequent series, Rebels), contain some of the best characters and stories Star Wars has ever told!  Ahsoka Tano, Captain Rex, and Darth Maul are now among my very favorite all-time Star Wars characters.  Yes, you read that right.  The first … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Memory: The Origins of Alien

November 16th, 2020

Memory: The Origin of Alien is a feature-length film chronicling the making of Ridley Scott’s seminal 1979 film Alien, as well as a deep-dive exploration into its origins and its themes.  The film was directed by Alexandre O. Philippe, and features extensive interviews with many of the men and women involved with the production of Alien, as well as numerous scholars and authors who appear to have devoted quite a lot of thought to the film!

I’m a huge fan of Alien, and I was immediately interested when I heard of this documentary film’s existence.  At the same time, the Alien Quadrilogy box-set of DVDs or blu-rays boast some of the very best making-of documentaries that I’ve ever seen.  The discs feature hours of special features, lovingly created by Charles de Lauzirika.  Those documentaries are amazing, filled with insight into almost every detail of the Alien’s production.  I love them so much.  (For a full review of the Alien Quadrilogy, and an in-depth look at the special features, check out this review by Bill Hunt at thedigitalbits.com.  It’s worth noting, for Alien fans, that the Alien 3 documentaries on the original Alien Quadrilogy DVD set were censored by Fox, with about 21 minutes cut out.  This was mostly footage dealing with director David Fincher’s frustrations.  On the blu-ray set, renamed the Alien Anthology, all of the footage has been restored.  FYI, that set is currently available for at a great price at Amazon.)

So while I was interested in this new documentary, I wondered how much there was left to learn about Alien!

In some ways, not very much.  But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy watching Memory!

Memory sets out to be something very different than Mr. Lauzirika’s documentaries, which were focused on exploring the details of the making of the film, from pre-production through production through post-production.  Don’t get me wrong, Memory does spend some time on the action production of Alien.  In particular, there’s a lengthy sequence exploring the iconic chest-burster sequence, with a ton of wonderful behind-the-scenes footage showing the effort that went into creating that scene.  I loved that.  But Memory is more interested in digging deep into the film’s influences, into all of the disparate elements that came together in Dan O’Bannon’s original script that was the foundation of the film.  And Memory is also interested in exploring the film’s themes and meaning, and so the documentary spends a lot of time allowing us to hear lovers of this film dig deeply into what it’s all about and why it struck such a chord in so many people.  And so the result is that Memory is pleasingly and … [continued]

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Josh Enjoys Song Exploder’s Spotlight on Lin-Manuel Miranda and “Wait for It”

Song Exploder, created by Hrishikesh Hirway, began as a podcast.  Each episode focuses on the development of a specific song/piece of music.  It’s now also become a half-hour TV show on Netflix.  The first batch of four episodes launched in September.  The next four arrive in December.  So far I’ve only seen one episode, an exploration of the Burr’s show-stopping song “Wait For It” from Hamilton.  But that one episode was so good I wanted to post about it!

The spine of the episode is a conversation between Mr. Hirway and Lin-Manuel Miranda and Alex Lacamoire (who was the Music Director, Orchestrator, and Conductor for Hamilton).  There’s also an extensive interview with Thomas Kail, who directed Hamilton.

As the episode unfolds, we hear the three men chart the development of that specific song.  They discuss the development of the lyrics and the music.  Mr. Hirway goes carefully through the song, selecting specific elements to discuss with Mr. Miranda & co., allowing them to share details on how the many pieces of the song came together.  The conversation feels intimate, and it’s packed full of all sorts of incredible details and asides.  There was a lot of musical jargon that went way over my head but that I suspect musicians will eat up.  (And none of that prevented me from enjoying the conversation.)

The show utilizes some simple but fun animation to accompany the audio recordings that are utilized throughout the episode.  It’s a clever way to bring some visual life to what could have been boring moments of people just listening to music.

My favorite moment in the episode comes after Mr. Miranda describes the subway ride to a friend’s party, on which he first came up with some key elements of the song.  Walking around on the street, he recorded a voice memo to himself with the music that had just come into his head.  The episode then allows us to actually hear that recording!  It’s wild.

For all the music lovers out there, I suspect there’s a lot in this series for you to enjoy!  Check it out.

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Josh Reviews Superman: Man of Tomorrow

November 11th, 2020

The new DC/Warner Brothers direct-to-DVD/blu-ray animated film, Superman: Man of Tomorrow, is a new beginning for this series.  Man of Tomorrow is a stand-alone tale, but I suspect it’s designed to be the start of a new series of animated films.  Man of Tomorrow is an entertaining (if not-exactly groundbreaking) new version of the origin of Superman and his first adventure in Metropolis.

For several years now, ever since The Flashpoint Paradox and Justice League: War, DC/Warner brothers have been producing a series of animated films set in a connected continuity.  As I have written about previously, while I love the idea of a connected series of films, I think these past few years’ worth of films have been mediocre at best.  I haven’t been wowed by the animation or the story-telling (which I found to be, far too often, juvenile and rather dumb).  But that series seems to have come to an end with the previous animated film, Justice League Dark: Apokolips War.  I enjoyed Apokolips War, but I’m very happy for that series to be over and for these animated films to find a new direction.

Not only does Man of Tomorrow appear to start the story over from zero, with a new version of Superman’s arrival in Metropolis, but it is stylistically very different.  The animation style and character designs are completely new.  This is a great choice, and I’m quite taken with this new animation style!  In my mind, the be-all-and-end-all of DC animation is the Bruce Timm style that originated with Batman: The Animated Series.  That’s the one to beat, and, let’s be honest, Man of Tomorrow doesn’t.  But it does represent, in my opinion, an enormous leap forward from the style of animation these DC animated films had been using for the past several years.  The character designs and poses felt much more pleasingly naturalistic to my eyes.  The designs are simple enough that they animate very smoothly.  The thick black outlines around the characters took me a little getting used to, but I think it all worked very well.  I’m impressed!

The story of Superman’s initial arrival to Metropolis has been told many ways and many times, in the comics, in movies, and in various TV shows.  There’s nothing in Man of Tomorrow that feels wildly groundbreaking.  Some of the choices feel sort of random, such as the inclusion of Lobo as a main character.  That felt to me like the producers just wanted to include a popular character who hadn’t been featured in any of the recent animated films, rather than his being there because he makes sense in the story of Superman’s first big adventure.

That being said, … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Robert Zemeckis’ Adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Witches

Robert Zemeckis’ new film adaptation of The Witches is now available on HBO Max.  The pedigree of this film had me immediately excited.  Robert Zemeckis is, of course, the director of some of my favorite films (the Back to the Future trilogy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and Contact).  I adore Roald Dahl’s original novel.  The film’s screenplay was written by Mr. Zemeckis, Kenya Barris (mastermind behind Black-ish), and Guillermo del Toro (a master of horror who is one of my favorite directors working today, responsible for such great films as Pan’s Labyrinth and The Shape of Water).  On the other hand, Mr. Zemeckis’ films haven’t connected with me in recent years; I haven’t really enjoyed his new movies since the one-two 2000 punch of What Lies Beneath and Cast Away.  What would I think of The Witches?

I liked it!  The film is a fun, all-ages tale.  It’s very competently made, with lovely visual effects and very likable characters to guide us through the tale.

Is The Witches a masterpiece?  No.  It doesn’t have the pop of startling originality that most of Guillermo del Toro’s films possess.  The adult aspects of most of Mr. del Toro’s work have been rounded off (the violence, the scares) — but how could they not have been?  This is an adaptation of a kids’ story!  So I’m not saying that’s the wrong choice.  But the film doesn’t grab me as viscerally as most of Mr. del Toro’s work does.  Nor is there anything in the film nearly as memorable as what can be found in Robert Zemeckis’ best films from the eighties and nineties (such as the movies I listed in the first paragraph, above).  So one should enter into The Witches with measured expectations.  That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed watching the film.  It’s easily Mr. Zemeckis’ best film in almost two decades.

The cast is terrific.  I love the choice to center the story on an African-American family.  Octavia Spencer (The Help, Hidden Figures, The Shape of Water) is spectacular as Grandma.  (Whereas in Roald Dahl’s novel Grandma was from Norway, here she is from Alabama.  The change works very well.)  Ms. Spencer’s charisma and her comedic chops make her the perfect fit for this tough, smart, maternal figure.  I loved watching her.  Young Jahzir Kadeem Bruno is great as Grandma’s grandson, the boy (whose name is never given in the book, nor the movie!) who finds himself on this adventure with the witches.  And I was delighted that Chris Rock voiced an older version of the boy!  I was not expecting Chris Rock’s voice to be the first voice I’d hear in this adaptation of … [continued]

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The Parker Films: Payback Director’s Cut (1999/2006)

November 4th, 2020
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We’re in the home-stretch of my journey to watch the films based on Donald E. Westlake (written under the pseudonym Richard Stark)’s Parker Character.  I really enjoyed 1967’s Point Blank (click here for my review) and 1968’s The Split (click here for my review).  I thought 1973’s The Outfit was a step down, though I did still enjoy the film.  (Click here for my review.)  Sadly I thought 1983’s Slayground was a dud.  (Click here for my review.)  Now we’ve arrived at Payback, which was released theatrically in 1999.

The film has an interesting history.  It was written and directed by Brian Helgeland, who wrote the (fantastic) script for L.A. Confidential (which was directed by Curtis Hanson).  But the film released to theaters in 1999 was not really Mr. Helgeland’s film.  After the studio objected to his cut, Payback was significantly re-written (by Terry Hayes) and re-shot (by John Myhre).  I remember, vaguely, seeing the film in theaters.  I recall thinking it was mediocre.  Years later, in 2006, Mr. Helgeland was given the opportunity to restore his original vision, and his Director’s Cut was released to DVD in 2006.  I’ve heard for years that this Director’s Cut was a far superior version of the film, and I was excited for the opportunity to arrive at this stop in my journey through the Parker films.

To my surprise, it brought me full circle because Payback, like 1967’s Point Blank, is an adaptation of the first Parker novel, The Hunter.  It’s fascinating to see that story depicted through Mr. Helgeland’s unique eye.  The Payback Director’s Cut bears a number of similarities to Point Blank, but it’s also a very different film, which I was pleased to see.

The basic plot is similar: after a successful heist, the Parker character (once again given a different name: this time it’s Porter) is betrayed by the woman he loves (Lynn) and his partner (Val).  They leave him for dead, but he survives and eventually returns to town, looking for payback and the money he’s owed.  But Val has used that money to repay a debt to the Outfit, the criminal enterprise in the city.  So Porter soon finds himself up not just against Val but the forces of the Outfit.

I quite enjoyed the Director’s Cut of Payback.  However, whoof, I can understand why the studios was reluctant to release this version of the film.  This is a DARK, tough, ugly film.  I was surprised by how violent and unlikable the early Parker films allowed the Parker character to be, but wowsers, this one has them all beat.  When Porter gets back into town and finds his … [continued]

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Josh Reviews An American Pickle

November 2nd, 2020

In HBO Max’s An American Pickle, Seth Rogen plays dual roles as Herschel Greenbaum and his great-grandson Ben Greenbaum.  In 1919, Herschel and his wife Sarah leave the shtetl of Schlupsk (fleeing Russian Cossacks) and emigrate to the United States.  Herschel gets a menial job at a pickling factory, but unfortunately falls into a vat of pickles and winds up preserved until present day, when he awakens and meets his great-grandson Ben, a freelance app developer.  The film was written by Simon Rich, based on his 2013 short story “Sell Out”, and directed by Brandon Trost.

Seth Rogen is a delight playing Herschel and Ben.  Mr. Rogen is a talented comedic performer, but he’s also demonstrated that he can be a solid dramatic actor, and he does a terrific job here at creating these two very distinct characters.  Baked into the film’s premise is the fun inherent in seeing Mr. Rogen play against himself, and the simple sight gag of seeing Seth as 1919 Herschel sharing the screen with 2020 Ben is very funny.  Thankfully Mr. Rogen and the film dig a little deeper than that, and they allow us to get to know both men in a pleasingly substantial way.

I was at first concerned that Herschel would be treated as little more than a joke; a feature-length version of the great sight gag in Annie Hall when Alvy Singer, played by the very-secular Woody Allen, imagined himself as a bearded Orthodox Jew when surrounded by Annie Hall’s extremely NOT Jewish family.  Seeing Seth Rogen, a performer who has a similar reputation as a very secular Jew, decked out as the bearded Herschel, is indeed very funny.  But the film works because they made the important and critical choice not to treat Herschel as a joke.  (For the most part — I’ll get back to this in a moment.)  Yes, Herschel is wowed by modern life and technology in 2020, and yes, the film mines a lot of comedy out of, say, Herschel’s amazement at the existence of a seltzer-maker.  But we see that he adapts quickly, and that his 1900’s-era approach to life actually serves him quite well.  His determination and creativity enable him to able to find success in 2020 in a way that Ben is not!  That’s a smart way to go with the story — not to mock the out-of-time Herschel, but rather to use him to illuminate the ways in which Ben, a man of 2020, has gotten stuck.

I thought the first half of the film was terrific.  It was very funny and with a strong dramatic underpinning that drove me to invest in Herschel and Ben’s stories.  I thought the film lost … [continued]