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Star Trek: A Time to Kill and A Time to Heal

Last year, I decided to finally go back and read the nine-book “A Time To…” series, originally published in 2004.  This series came out after the final TNG movie, Nemesis, and was designed to help explain many of that film’s choices regarding the status of the main TNG characters.  (Click here for my review of books 1 and 2: A Time to be Born and A Time to Die, by John Vornholt; click here for my review of books 3 and 4: A Time to Sow and A Time to Harvest, by Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore; and click here for my review of books 5 and 6: A Time to Love and A Time to Hate, by Robert Greenberger.)

The penultimate duology, A Time to Kill and A Time to Heal, were written by David Mack.  These days, Mr. Mack has become one of the very best Star Trek novel writers; I was surprised to discover that this duology represented the first full Trek novels that he had written!  (He’d previously written a few Trek short stories and S.C.E. e-books.)  You’d never know it; these two books are completely polished and professionally-written.

Finally we’ve arrived at the events in this series that would have the most powerful repercussions in the Trek novels that would follow.  Although I’d never before read these books, I was familiar with the broad strokes of the events that took place therein, because these events would often be referred back to by other novels.  A planet on the Klingon border, Tezwa, has begun threatening the Klingons and threatening to annex a local system.  The Enterprise and a group of Klingon warships are sent to Tezwa to mediate the situation, and are promptly blown out of the sky by advanced planet-based defense weapons that the Tezwans shouldn’t have.  (The Klingon ships are destroyed and the Enterprise is badly damaged.)  It turns out that Federation President Min Zife and his chief of staff Koll Azernal secretly armed the Tezwans during the Dominion War, as a last-ditch defense against the Dominion.  If the Klingons discovered this betrayal by the Federation, it could start an interstellar war.  So Zife and Azernal have been endeavoring to keep the existence of the guns under wraps, but that plan went to hell when the crazed Tezwan Prime Minister, Kinchawn, used them to annihilate the Klingon starships.  Picard, not knowing any of this, attempts to keep the peace between the Tezwans and the Klingons, and also between the different Tezwan factions erupting into civil war following Kinchawn’s violent actions.  He must do this without Riker, who has been kidnapped by the Tezwans, who torture him in an attempt to extract information that … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The 40-Year-Old Version

February 24th, 2021

Radha Blank wrote, directed, produced, and stars in in The 40-Year-Old Version, a film that I loved and included on my list of my favorite movies of 2020.  This wonderfully off-beat and moving film centers on a fictionalized Radha Blank.  Despite her early success as a playwright, now that Radha is in her forties, she is feeling lost and unmoored.  Things start to change when she unexpectedly finds herself drawn into the word of hip-hop and rhyming, and she starts performing under the name RadhamMUSPrime (a name that made this long-time Transformers fan smile).

While the movie’s title is a play on Judd Apatow’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin, this film has nothing to do with Mr. Apatow’s film.  It tells a completely different, original story.  (Actually, the title is my least favorite aspect of the film.  This is such a deeply unique film, I think the derivative title does it a disservice.  I can understand why they might have thought the title would help get this movie noticed — and very likely it did!! — but I think it does a poor job of conveying what this wonderful film is all about.)

Ms. Blank is spectacular in the film.  She’s a tremendous comedic force, and she’s also a very strong dramatic actor.  The film allows both sides of her to shine.  There are some terrifically goofy, silly comedic moments in the story, particularly in the first half, and I was immediately taken by how wonderfully Ms. Blank played those moments.  She’s very funny!  And then I was impressed again when she was able to pivot into more soulful, contemplative moments.

Those tonal shifts can be challenging, and there were some moments in the first half hour in which I found myself wondering what kind of movie this was going to turn out to be.  But in the end, I wound up loving both aspects of the film.  I love how silly the film is at times, and yet how at the same time, as the film unfolds, it’s a delight to see how it develops into a very deep character study.  I love Ms. Blank’s boldness in creating a film that would be so audacious in pushing both areas, the silliness and the drama.  She clearly wasn’t afraid to shift between those very different tones.  The result is a film that is a remarkable showcase for her talents in both areas.

The film feels deeply personal.  The story is fictional,  but Ms. Radha was able to take many autobiographical aspects of her own life and spin them into this story.  When artists create and play characters who have the same name as they do in real life, it invites speculation … [continued]

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Josh Reviews How To with John Wilson

 

One of my very favorite TV shows of 2020 was How To with John Wilson.  This was one of my absolute favorite discoveries of 2020, and I cannot recommend it highly enough!

This bizarre, beautiful documentary series is hard to describe, and I think it’s best to go into it knowing as little as possible.  I can say that the series is six half-hour episodes.  Each episode purports to explore a different “how to” topic, such as “how to improve your memory” or “how to split the check”.  However, inevitably, the joy of each episode is in the unexpected (and often deep and moving) digressions from that initial topic.

The series is a beautiful, funny, sometimes melancholy exploration of our wonderfully weird fellow human beings.  The series is packed with unforgettable characters.  Some of them we only glimpse for a second, in a moment Mr. Wilson has captured from afar with his camera.  Others are those who Mr. Wilson (and, by extension, us) slowly get to know after a happenstance encounter.  There are plenty of moments in which you might find yourself rolling your eyes or laughing at some of these people; I know I did.  But there’s a gentleness to Mr. Wilson’s approach that continually reminds us of these people’s humanity, and of our own.

The series is a love-letter to New York City.  Mr. Wilson’s camera captures image after image, vignette after vignette, that cumulatively present an expansive, loving view of that weird, crazy, beautiful, ugly, complicated city.  Mr. Wilson’s eye for finding indelible moments or images is extraordinary.  There are so many tiny beats that I find myself continually thinking about, long after I finished watching the show.

Watching How To with John Wilson during the COVID pandemic gives this exploration of New York City an extra layer of emotion and melancholy.  There are a million moments in the series that now feel like a window into a long-forgotten time.  And when the series does catch up with the arrival of COVID in the final episode, I found it to be very moving.

Mr. Wilson himself (or, at least, a version of himself), is a participant in the show, though not in an intrusive way.  It’s a delicate balancing act that Mr. Wilson strikes perfectly.  I was immediately endeared by his somewhat stumbling, mumbling narration.  (The show’s narration includes small stumbles or mistakes that in any other show would have been edited out.  That’s clearly intentional, and I thought it worked very well.)  Mr. Wilson can come across as awkward, but I loved his curiosity and I was continually impressed by his talent for striking up conversations, and connections, with all sorts of different people.

John … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren & Stimpy Story

February 18th, 2021

I vividly remember discovering The Ren & Stimpy Show, back when it first started airing on Nickelodeon in 1991.  I was already a huge animation fan, but this hilarious, disgusting, absolutely bonkers cartoon blew my mind.  I loved it immediately.  I watched those initial six episodes over and over again.   Ron Cicero and Kimo Easterwood’s documentary Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren & Stimpy Story is an insightful look back at the creation of this innovative series.  It’s also an exploration of what went wrong, and why the series burned so brightly but for so short a time.  The documentary also addresses the predatory behavior of Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi, a topic about which I was shocked to learn.

Even as a kid, I wondered how the heck this insane cartoon ever got on the air.  I was thrilled that this documentary finally told that story!  Through a multitude of interviews with many of the people involved in the creation and production of The Ren & Stimpy Show, this documentary carefully tracks the show’s development.  I was endlessly fascinated by this section of the documentary!  I love that this story was told through the voices of the men and women who were there, rather than relying on a narrated voice-over.  The documentary contains extensive interview footage with the series’ creator John Kricfalusi, as well as so many others: Bob Camp (whose name I also knew as a kid from The Ren & Stimpy Show’s credits), Lynn Naylor, many of the other animators and production staff-members at Spumco Studios, voice actor Billy West (who voiced Stimpy), Nickelodeon executive Vanessa Coffey, and more.  It’s endlessly interesting to hear from all of these different people!  The documentary is fun and funny; it’s fascinating and jauntily paced and edited so things never get boring even as we get to dive into the details of the very difficult production of Ren & Stimpy.

Just as I immediately recognized the brilliance of The Ren & Stimpy Show as a kid, I also was very soon after aware that something clearly wasn’t quite right behind the scenes.  After those first six episodes aired — and made such a huge splash — it was very strange that no new episodes came for almost an entire year!  (Even those first six episodes didn’t air weekly.  If I’m remembering correctly, there was a wait of about a month between episodes four and five, and then another wait of several months between episodes five and six!)  In between, Nickelodeon just kept re-running the episodes, over and over again.  I was happy to re-watch them endlessly, but also frustrated and confused as to why there weren’t more.  Happy [continued]

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Josh Reviews Ted Lasso Season One!

In the Apple TV+ series Ted Lasso, Jason Sudeikis stars as the incredibly up-beat Ted Lasso, an American football coach who, improbably, winds up coaching an English Premiere League football (what Americans call soccer) team.  I remember seeing lots of ads for Ted Lasso when the series launched several months back.  From the ads, this looked to me like a dumb show about an idiot American, and I wasn’t interested.  Having seen it now, I can’t believe what a poor job those ads did of conveying what this excellent show is all about!!  Jason Sudeikis, working with Bill Lawrence (mastermind behind the wonderful comedy Scrubs), Joe Kelly, and Brendan Hunt, took Mr. Sudeikis’ silly commercial character and turned him into the basis for one of the best new TV comedies I’ve seen in years.  The show is absolutely hilarious; but what makes it great is how soulful it is too, and how joyful.  I absolutely loved this first season of Ted Lasso.  

The key to Ted Lasso is that the show is very funny and also joyously warm and upbeat.  Very few shows can strike that balance.  (I’m reminded of the great Parks and Rec and The Good Place.)  I love how life-affirming Ted Lasso is.  To be able to be so upbeat and positive, and also very funny at the same time, is extraordinarily difficult.

The show can also, at times, be sad!  That’s because the characters on the show aren’t one-dimensional cliches.  Over the course of these ten episodes, they succeeded in developing these characters into real, multi-layered people.  Again, talk about difficult!!  To create characters who can be super-funny AND also have true dramatic weight is a feat that few TV shows can pull off.

Mr. Sudeikis is absolutely perfect in the leading role.  In the hands of a lesser actor, the perpetually perky Ted Lasso could easily have been annoying.  But Mr. Sudeikis is able to add enough shadings to Ted to make him endearing.  The ads for this show made me think that the show would be making fun of Ted.  That he’d be the idiot, oblivious American in over his head.  (Indeed, having gone back now and watched those early commercials for NBC Sports, which is where Ted originated, that was the approach.)  But the series, wisely, took a different angle.  Ted isn’t a bumbling idiot.  As the episodes progress, we see that there is a method to his madness, and that his caring, positive approach to coaching — and to living his life — just might be brilliant.  It’s certainly aspirational, at least to me.  I loved that about the show, and about this character.

Ted Lasso is a show in … [continued]

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“To Be… Or Not… To Be” — Remembering Christopher Plummer and Other News Around the Net

Soon after I posted my previous “News Around the Net” round-up, the news broke that Christopher Plummer had passed away.  Mr. Plummer was a tremendous talent.  He’s appeared in so many films which I love, including (but by no means limited to) Murder by Decree, 12 Monkeys, Inside Man, Up, and Knives Out.  I loved him best from his portrayal of the villainous Klingon General Chang in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.  Mr. Plummer was magnificent as General Chang; he elevated the entire film with his magnetic and memorable performance.  (Ricardo Montalban’s Khan will always be Trek’s best villain, but Chang is easily the second best.  No one else comes close.)

Aaaargh — Brooklyn Nine-Nine has been cancelled.  (Again!)  I’m very disappointed by this news, as in the past few years the show has grown into one of my very favorite TV comedies.  I wonder how connected this cancellation is to the past year’s social justice movement and anti-police sentiment.  Following the death of George Floyd, I saw a lot of questioning online whether a comedy about police officers could continue to be made.  I’d hoped they would have found a way to continue the show.  I guess that’s not to be.  We will still be getting the planned eighth season, though it will only be 10 episodes long, which is another blow.  Wow, this bums me out.  Click here to read some comments by the show’s cast and crew.

I am absolutely loving WandaVision, and this new trailer for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has me super-pumped for that next Marvel Disney+ show!

After the longest break in years between new MCU stories, it’s exciting to see Marvel back in force with these great new TV series.

Netflix just announced a new animated TV show spin-off of Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim:

The idea of an animated Pacific Rim series excited me, but that trailer left me cold.  I’m not sure if I’ll be watching.  I thought the first Pacific Rim film was fun, but not as good as I’d hoped.  (Click here for my full review.)  The follow-up film was a big let-down.  I believe there is still great potential in this idea, but none of these projects so far have felt to me like they’ve captured that.

Looks like Gina Carano has talked her way out of involvement in future Star Wars shows, be they The Mandalorian or Rangers of the New Republic.  Wowsers.

Click here to read a fascinating, and somewhat sad, article on Shelley Duvall.  Ms. Duvall was a phenomenally talented actress who appeared in films that include The Shining, Nashville, Annie Hall, [continued]

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Josh Reviews Tenet

I’ve been a huge Christopher Nolan film ever since watching Memento back in 2000.  I think that Tenet is the first Nolan film since 2002’s Insomnia that I didn’t see on the big screen.  I desperately wanted to, of course, but I didn’t think it wise to go to a theater during the COVID-19 pandemic.  I was sad to miss seeing Tenet in a theater, but I was excited to catch up to it when it was released on streaming.  Sadly, after so much anticipation, I was disappointed by Tenet.  The film is gorgeous to look at, but I found it almost incomprehensible and nearly-impossible to follow.

Mr. Nolan has always impressed me with his mastery of the craft of filmmaking.  He seems to know just how to create beautiful and memorable imagery on screen.  As his career has continued, he’s been working on films of a larger-and-larger scale, and it’s been exciting to see how Mr. Nolan has been able to bring his visions to life in increasingly epic ways.  At the same time, I’ve always loved how playful and creative Mr. Nolan’s stories were with the basic structure of film and its depiction of time.  This was central to the excitement of Memento (in which we followed Leonard Shelby’s story both backwards and forwards), and has woven through many of his subsequent films.

At first, Tenet seemed like a natural extension of these ideas with which Mr. Nolan has been playing for two decades.  In the film, we learn that technology exists to reverse the direction of entropy on an object, or even a human being.  This enables that object or person to move backwards through time.  That’s a cool idea, and once I knew that was the central concept of the film, I immediately assumed that Mr. Nolan would apply that idea to the overall structure of the film as well.  I was excited to see how that would play out.

Many of Mr. Nolan’s films have incorporated mysteries into their structure.  Many of his films hold back key information from the audience until late in the game.  (Again, looking back at Memento, we see that approach to storytelling, as the film withholds certain critical information about Leonard until the very end, which, when revealed, completely changes how we understand all of the events we’d witnessed to that point.)  But, for me, Tenet fails because it holds back so much information that I didn’t have anything to hold onto while watching the film.  Even though the viewer is missing critical information for much of Memento’s run-time, we know enough about what’s going on, and about Leonard himself, to be able to enjoy and follow the film.  … [continued]

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Josh Reviews One Night in Miami

February 8th, 2021
,

I only just recently finished listing my favorite movies of 2020, and already I’ve seen one of the first great movies of 2021: One Night in Miami.

The film is a fictionalized version of what might have happened on the night in February, 1965, when Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, Malcolm X, and Sam Cooke were together celebrating after Clay’s defeat of Sonny Liston, a moment captured in a famous photograph.  It’s a fascinating exploration of these four complex, charismatic men.  There’s a lot of joy and drama to be found in imagining what these four men might have had to say to one another, and how they might have bounced off of one another.

One Night in Miami was directed by Regina King.  Ms. King is a spectacular actress.  (Most recently I’ve been blown away by her work in Watchmen and the second season of The Leftovers.)  This film proves she’s a skilled director as well.  This is her feature film directorial debut, but you’d never know it.  There’s a confident simplicity to the way the film is staged.  Most of this movie is just a bunch of guys talking in a small hotel room, but Ms. King ensures the film always has a life to it, and a strong visual energy that gives her four incredible leading men plenty of room to shine.  The film was written by Kemp Powers, adapting his own play.  Mr. Powers has had a heck of a year; he also co-directed and co-wrote Pixar’s terrific film Soul.  

The film is a phenomenal showcase for the four extraordinary actors who Ms. King has assembled for the main roles.

Kingsley Ben-Adir is magnetic as Malcolm X.  Malcolm X has often been reduced by (white) historical retellings to a simplistic antithesis to Martin Luthor King, Jr.; I love how this film allows him to live and breathe as a real, multi-faceted human being.  I love how the film, and Mr. Ben-Adir’s performance, doesn’t shy away from mining humor from his straight-laced, even nerdy qualities (it’s pretty funny how he wants to celebrate Cassius Clay’s major victory with some ice cream in his tiny hotel room; and I loved how obsessed we see Malcolm be regarding his camera), while also giving him moments of compelling oratory in which his powerful charisma bursts forth.

Aldis Hodge (Hidden Figures, the wonderful “Calypso” Star Trek short film) is dynamite as football star Jim Brown, who is just around the point in which he’d transition into making movies.  (I just recently watched the 1968 film The Split, in which Jim Brown starred.  He was by far the best part of the film!!)  Mr. Hodge portrays … [continued]

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News Around the Net

February 5th, 2021

I’m excited that season two of Ron Moore’s Apple TV+ series, For All Mankind, is coming soon!  Here’s a trailer:

I quite enjoyed the first season, so I’m eager for more.

Here’s our first look at The Nevers, which was supposed to be Joss Whedon’s return to TV before he walked away from the series a few months ago, and also the pandemic cut the planned 10-episode first season down to six.  So… I’m not sure how excited to be about this show:

That trailer looks solid if not overly original.  I’m not sure yet if I’ll be watching this, but I certainly haven’t ruled it out.

This is a beautiful, new trailer for Disney’s upcoming Raya and the Last Dragon (though beware, they do spell out a lot of the film’s story in this lengthy trailer):

That looks solid (and thankfully feels less like a rip-off of Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra than the first trailer did).

This is a fun new trailer for Godzilla vs. Kong:

That looks pretty epic!  Will the film be any good?  Hard to say.  I thought the 2014 Godzilla was OK, and I quite liked 2017’s Kong: Skull Island, though 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters was a huge mess.

I’m intrigued by this trailer for an upcoming indie film called Tango Shalom:

I’m a big fan of Roger Meyer Burnett, who was involved as an editor in that film.  (Mr. Burnett directed Free Enterprise, and he was a key player in the fantastic documentaries that accompanied the release of Star Trek: The Next Generation on blu-ray.)

This is pretty wild — a fan-made effort to replace all of the Data scenes from Star Trek: Picard with a “deep fake” recreation of Brent Spiner from the TNG era.  It’s remarkable how much better even this very rough fan-made effort looks than the de-aging visual effects used on the show, which never looked quite right to me:

Whaaat?  A sequel/continuation of Batman: The Animated Series might be in the works…???  That would be amazing!!  (But only if the key creative voices from the original show are still involved…)

This is exciting — Warner Brothers has released, for the first time, an HD version of Babylon 5!  The series has apparently been remastered and the original footage rescanned in 4k, while the special effects and all composite shots have been upscaled to HD from the original footage.  This is very exciting, because the show has, until now, only been available in SD, and the original DVDs are, sadly, a mess.  As of now the HD version of the series is only available … [continued]

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Josh’s Favorite Comic Book Series of 2020!

Thanks for reading my lists of my favorite movies of 2020 and my favorite TV series of 2020!

Here now are my favorite comic book series of 2020!

First let’s start with some terrific graphic novels:

Superman Smashes the Klan (by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru) — Based on the classic Superman radio serial from the forties, this fantastic all-ages retelling was a beautiful story about acceptance and inclusion.

Powers: The Best Ever (by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming) — The grand finale of this long-running indie comic book about the homicide cops in a super-hero and super-villain filled universe was everything I wanted.  (Click here for my full review.)

Reckless (by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips) — The first of two glorious new graphic novels by my favorite writer/artist team in comics today, Reckless appears to launch a series of hard-boiled noir stories, and I couldn’t be happier.

Pulp (by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips) — As much as I loved Reckless, it was Pulp that was Brubaker & Phillips’ true 2020 masterpiece.  Pulp depicts an aging cowboy who scrapes together a meager living writing pulp adventure stories based on his younger days.  When he encounters a Jewish Pinkerton agent with a connection to one of his adventures, his life takes a dramatic turn.  This book was genius, and if you read only one book from this list, make it this one.

And this notable one-shot:

Giant Size X-Men: Tribute to Len Wein and Dave Cockrum This beautiful salute to the original Giant Size X-Men #1, which introduced the “all new, all-different” X-Men (the team that contained Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, and others) way back in 1975, was amazing.  Each page was redrawn by a different artist. The result was a wonderful new work of art that was a fantastic love-letter to one of the most important comic books ever made.

And here, now are my favorite comic book series of 2020:

20. Dark Nights: Death Metal (and tie-ins) (by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo & many others) — I hardly understood any of this absolutely bonkers DC crossover storyline, but dang if it wasn’t a heck of a lot of fun anyway, as “heavy metal” versions of the DC characters battled their evil alternate universe counterparts as age DC multiverse faced destruction once again.  Extra points for how much fun all of the tie-in books were; usually, crossover tie-ins are a huge waste of time, but not so here.

19. Marvel’s Star Wars comics — It’s pretty impressive how consistently good-to-great Marvel Comics’ Star Wars series have been!  This year, their main series finally caught up to the events of The Empire [continued]

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Maclunkey T-shirt Now Available!

February 1st, 2021

I’m excited to announce that my “Maclunkey” Star Wars/Highlander mashup t-shirt is once again available at Woot!  Click here to order!

Thank you all for your support of my work!

[continued]