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Star Trek Coda: Book Three: Oblivion’s Gate

With David Mack’s Star Trek Coda: Book Three: Oblivion’s Gate, the two-decades-old Star Trek literary universe comes to an end.  This Coda series has gotten better and better as it’s gone on.  I enjoyed book one, Moments Asunder by Dayton Ward, and I thought book two, The Ashes of Tomorrow by James Swallow, was even better.  This final novel, Oblivion’s Gate, is easiest the best of the bunch.

David Mack is one of my very favorite Trek authors, and he’s crafted a great book here.  Oblivion’s Gate is a dense story, packed-full of characters and situations.  Mr. Mack has done his best to incorporate as many characters as possible from the Star Trek literary universe, including characters from all the 24th-century Star Trek series (including Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager) as well as many characters who have been created over the years in the novels.  Mr. Mack does a good job at giving so many of these characters who I know and love their small moments, without ever allowing the story to get too unwieldy or too confusing with too many characters.  Most importantly, this is a rollicking adventure story that moves along at an incredible pace.  Mr. Mack has always been great at writing page-turner novels with exciting sustained tension, and while I thought the first two Coda books were occasionally a little light on exciting suspense and tension, this book is a barn-burner in which the momentum just builds and builds and builds.  I was happy that, finally, our heroes aren’t just playing aimless defense, but actually have a plan and go on the offensive.  Mr. Mack always writes great action; and I loved the structure of the story here withe exciting parallel action unfolding with the Defiant on the Borg-assimilated Earth while Mirror Luc Picard and the  jaunt ship Enterprise in the “First Splinter” timeline are trying to evade Riker and the Titan who are on the hunt for them.

While I liked the idea in theory of bringing back the Devidians (the alien villains from the TNG “Time’s Arrow” two-parter) and expanding upon them, I felt they were underwhelming as the “final” villains of the Trek lit-verse.  These faceless aliens just didn’t have the personality to feel BIG enough to warrant being the unbeatable threat that brought down our heroes and this entire timeline.  They just didn’t feel interesting enough or dangerous enough.  I loved the idea in this novel that back in First Contact, the Borg on the assimilated Earth (glimpsed by Picard & co. briefly after the Queen goes back in time and changes history) would have detected the Enterprise and the time-warp and tried to stop them.  That’s a … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Hawkeye!

December 29th, 2021

These Marvel Disney+ shows seem to keep getting better and better!  I thought Loki was my favorite one yet, but then here comes Hawkeye which I might have liked even more!

Hawkeye was a terrific piece of entertainment.  The show delivered everything I wanted.  It was a great spotlight on Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye while also introducing a wonderful new character in Hailee Steinfeld’s Kate Bishop.  (Now, whenever I type “Kate Bishop,” I hear Yelena saying “Kate Bishop” in her sort-of Russian accent — I’m sure anyone who’s seen this show would agree!)  Hawkeye was a rollicking adventure story with emotional and physical stakes for the characters that was also a ton of fun.  The series did a great job at exploring its characters and allowing them time to develop and grow.  There was some great action and some exciting connections to the broader MCU (and beyond!).  I loved pretty much every minute of these six episodes.  I wish there were more!!

The show is directly based on the Hawkeye comic book series written by Matt Fraction and illustrated by David Aja from 2012-2015.  That is a brilliant comic book series — one of the best super-hero stories I’ve ever read.  (Seriously, it’s tremendous — if you haven’t ever read it, click here and enjoy.)  It’s a delight to see so many aspects of that series directly adapted to the screen and tweaked to fit into the MCU continuity — from the central Clint Barton-Kate Bishop relationship to the Tracksuit Mafia (all those guys who keep saying “bro”) to Hawkeye’s being partially deaf to the one-eyed Pizza Dog to so many other bits and pieces.  The MCU generally hasn’t directly adapted specific comic book story-lines (even the Thanos stuff is a pretty loose adaptation of The Infinity Gauntlet series by Jim Starlin), so it’s super-fun to see that comic book run so directly quoted here.  (Down to the look of the logo and closing credits!)  (Speaking of which: how great were those constantly changing credits??  I loved the extra effort to adjust the credits each week to what was happening in that episode.)

I’ve always enjoyed Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, though I’d also admit that he’s generally been one of the least fleshed out of the main Avengers characters.  He’s also the only one to never get his own solo film.  And so it’s a welcome delight to see Clint Barton finally get his own much-deserved spotlight.  One of the main benefits of this being a six-episode TV show, as opposed to a two-hour movie, is that the show allows us to spend far more time with Clint than we ever have before, and the show makes plenty of time to let … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Spider-Man: No Way Home

December 27th, 2021

Spider-Man: No Way Home picks up seconds after the end of Spider-Man: Far From Home, with J. Jonah Jameson and Mysterio’s having revealed to the world that Peter Parker is Spider-Man.  This brings Peter Parker’s life crashing down around him. Hounded everywhere he goes, and watching his friends Ned and MJ’s lives also being ruined by the spotlight now upon them all, Peter decides to ask Doctor Strange if there’s any way Strange can create a spell that will allow his life to go back to normal.  Over Wong’s objections, Strange agrees; but, of course, things go wrong and suddenly Peter Parker finds himself attacked by enemies that he’s never encountered before but with whom we, the audience, are very familiar…

Spider-Man: No Way Home is extraordinary.  Over and over and over again, I am so impressed by how Kevin Feige and his team behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe are able to continue to outdo themselves, crafting near-perfect super-hero movies.  No other studio or company can even come close.  They “get” these characters and this world so perfectly.  Even if there are some plot or story problems (and this movie, like almost any other, does have some plot holes you can pick at), it hardly matters to me because they get the characters so perfectly right, so that I as an audience member am completely captivated by these characters’ stories.  And the storytelling in No Way Home is so audacious — they take some HUGE narrative swings in this film — that I was bowled over and delighted by the ambition on display.

I’m impressed that the MCU team managed to keep most of this film’s big surprises a secret from general audiences.  While rumors had of course crept out over the course of the last year that could be found by fans who sought them out, no trailer spoiled what is, frankly, the true story of this movie and the main reason to go see it.  In an age in which many movie trailers tell you the entire story of the movie they’re advertising, I am incredibly impressed at Marvel’s restraint in keeping their cards so close to their vest.

And so, if you haven’t yet seen Spider-Man: No Way Home, please don’t read beyond this paragraph.  This movie is best enjoyed by going in cold, without spoilers, and enjoying the ride.  You’re going to love it.  I certainly did.

OK, for those of you who have seen the film, let’s dig in.


Again, if you haven’t seen this movie yet, STOP READING NOW and come back once you have.

Still here?

OK, here we go!

The trailers did show us Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Center Seat: 55 Years of Star Trek

December 24th, 2021

The Center Seat: 55 Years of Star Trek is a ten-episode documentary series exploring the vast history of Star Trek!  The series is overseen by Brian Volk-Weiss, the creator of the documentary series The Toys That Made Us and The Movies That Made Us

I’m a huge Trek fan, so of course I was intrigued by this series when I read about it.  I’m always up for a new documentary exploring the rich history of Star Trek, and I liked the idea that this would be a multi-episode series, providing the real time needed to delve into Trek’s lengthy 55 year history.  On the other hand, I didn’t love Mr. Volk-Weiss’ series The Movies That Made Us.  I felt that series had a super-goofy tone that I found annoying and disrespectful to the movies being chronicled.  I worried that The Center Seat would take that same approach.

I’m pleased to report that I quite enjoyed this ten-episode series!  There wasn’t too much new information for an uber-fan like me, but it was fun to go on the ride of this journey through the franchise’s long history.  Is was cool to see how in-depth this look back at the vast Trek franchise was.  I quite enjoyed seeing all of the new interview footage with so many major players from throughout Trek’s history and all the different movies and TV shows.  I particularly enjoyed hearing from David Gerrold and the late D.C. Fontana (two of the most important writers on the Original Series), Harold Livingston (the screenwriter of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, who hilariously recounts his famously vicious feud with Gene Roddenberry), Nicholas Meyer (writer/director of Star Trek II and IV and writer of Star Trek IV), Robert Salin (the producer of Star Trek II, who was a critical yet often unheralded player in that movie’s success), Rick Berman (who oversaw almost twenty years of modern Trek TV shows and movies, from The Next Generation through Enterprise), Ronald D. Moore (an important writer on TNG and DS9), Brannon Braga (an important writer on TNG who would go on to run Voyager), Jeri Taylor (the brilliant TNG writer who would go on to co-create Voyager and who is seldom interviewed), and so many more.  The series boasts decent participation from the main actors from across the Trek series.  Many of the biggest stars are missing (no William Shatner, to Patrick Stewart, no Avery Brooks, no Scott Bakula), but we still get to hear from a LOT of the main cast-members from all of the shows, including Leonard Nimoy, Walter Koenig, Jonathan Frakes, Will Wheaton, Denise Crosby, Nana Visitor, Cirroc Lofton, Kate Mulgrew, Jeri Ryan, Robert Beltran, Robert … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Judas and the Black Messiah

Judas and the Black Messiah tells the story of the murder of Fred Hampton, the charismatic chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther party in 1969.  J. Edgar Hoover and others in the FBI feared Chairman Hampton and saw him as a radical who needed to be eliminated; as such, the FBI and Chicago Police Department conspired together to disrupt the Black Panther organization and eventually drug and murder Hampton in his bed at home.  The police raided his home and fired 91 shots, killing him and wounding several others who were in the house with him.  Fred Hampton was 21 years old.

Judas and the Black Messiah is absolutely riveting.  It’s a masterfully made film that brings this story — so little known in America today — to powerful life.

The film is anchored by two spectacular performances: Daniel Kaluuya (Black Panther) as Fred Hampton, and Lakeith Stanfield (Atlanta, The Harder They Fall, Knives Out) as Bill O’Neal, the Black Party member who was actually a mole for the FBI and whose actions helped lead to Hampton’s murder.

Daniel Kaluuya is magnetic as Fred Hampton.  This is an extraordinary leading-man performance.  Mr. Kaluuya brings such energy and charisma to the role.  We can see why Fred Hampton has been able to rise to the leadership of his movement at such a young age.  He’s absolutely captivating in the films’ scenes of Fred Hampton’s oratory.  And yet, throughout, Mr. Kaluuya’s performance feels nuanced and human.  He’s able to convey Fred Hampton the leader but also Fred Hampton the man.  It’s an extraordinary piece of work.  What’s particularly impressive to me is how different Mr. Kaluuya is in this role than he was in his iconic turn as W’Kabi in Black Panther.  There, Mr. Kaluuya had a sleepy-eyed laconic persona, but here he is all wide-eyed energy.  This is a momentous performance.

Equally spectacular is Lakeith Stanfield’s performance as Bill O’Neal.  I’m reminded of Casey Affleck’s work in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.  Bill O’Neal is the villain of the film.  His cowardice leads directly to the assassination of Fred Hampton.  And yet, Mr. Stanfield’s subtle and empathetic performance prevented me as an audience member from hating his character.  Mr. Stanfield shows us Bill’s bravado and brashness but he also always shows us the man’s human beating heart underneath, and his fear as an animal trapped with no way out of his maze.  This is incredibly nuanced work.  I’ve been a fan of Mr. Stanfield’s for years but this is a whole new level.  It’s magnificent to watch.

Dominique Fishback impressed me with her layered work as Darlene … [continued]

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Wes Anderson’s latest film, The French Dispatch, is a salute to a very specific (and mostly vanished) type of journalism: the heyday of The New Yorker magazine and its writers.  The film itself is an anthology of several vignettes, beautifully structured to resemble the different features in a New Yorker style magazine.  As the film unfolds, we’re introduced to several of the peculiar and eccentric writers for The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun — based in the fictional French city of Ennui-sur-Blasé — as well as their even more iconoclastic subjects.

I’ve been a fan of the films of Wes Anderson ever since The Royal Tenenbaums, and I found The French Dispatch to be a delight from start to finish.  As with so many of Mr. Anderson’s films, The French Dispatch strikes a particular balance between humor and a type of bittersweet nostaligia for an  time & place that has passed.  Magazines like The French Dispatch no longer really exist, and the film makes you feel the tragedy of the passing of this particular type of journalism.  As the film unfolded, I found myself quite taken by the film’s loving depiction of writers, these men and women who invest themselves fully in a story and do their best to capture the essence of who and what they witness using only the written word.  (Many of the characters in the film are loosely based on actual writers for The New Yorker; click here for reflections from a current writer for The New Yorker.) 

Just as the writers in the film attempt to do so, so too does the film itself manage to capture and express a very specific tone and sense of time (or timelessness) and place.  Neither the magazine The French Dispatch, nor the town of Ennui-sur-Blasé in which it is located, nor any of the characters or situations depicted in the film, actually exist.  And yet, they feel so tactile and real to me!  Mr. Anderson’s distinct visual style always has an artificiality to it; at the same time, I think his approach can be fantastically effective at conveying to the viewer the essence of the people and places being depicted on screen.  It seems counterintuitive, but I think it’s one of my favorite aspects of Mr. Anderson’s unique approach to cinema.

As usual, Mr. Anderson’s whimsical and moving stories are brought to life by an astonishing array of talented actors.  Bill Murray is a delight in every second he’s on screen as the deadpan, tough but supportive (and now deceased) editor of The French Dispatch, Arthur Howitzer Jr.  His paper’s production staff are brought to life by, among others, Elisabeth Moss, Jason Schwartzman, Fisher Stevens, … [continued]

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News Around the Net!

December 17th, 2021

I was happy to see this first trailer for Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore:

The two Fantastic Beasts films haven’t been perfect, but I think they’re underrated.  I’m eager to see where this story is going next.  That last film ended on quite a cliffhanger…!

I’m even MORE excited to see this first trailer for the sequel to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse:

Across the Spider-Verse is an excellent title for the sequel — and it’s a “Part One”???  Very cool!!

I’m intrigued by the idea of this show, Voir, on Netflix:

It’s apparently a series of video essays about film, put together by David Fincher.  One of the contributors is a terrific writer, Drew McWeeny, who I’ve been reading online for years.  I’m very curious to see what this is all about…!

The Godfather is coming back to cinemas in 2022?  Yes, please!

I am so, so, so excited that Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples’ comic book masterpiece, Saga, is returning after an agonizingly-long three year hiatus!  Click here for a great Entertainment Weekly interview with Mr. Vaughan and Ms. Staples.  For any of you reading this, I cannot recommend Saga highly enough!  It’s a dazzlingly original, funny and heartbreaking sci-fi family epic.  I one hundred percent promise you that you will love it.

This also makes me so happy: the 4K restoration of the “Director’s Edition” of Star Trek: The Motion Picture is officially under way!!  It’s about time!!!  This version is the only way to watch TMP and I’m so excited it’ll be rebased in high definition after a long two-decade wait.  Click here for some exciting new images from the 4k restoration!

There’s going to be a Goonies-related new TV show coming to Disney+??  Fantastic!!

Also fantastic?  The recent announcement that, after he completes work on Dune Part Two, Denis Villeneuve has signed on to create a film adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama!!  I can’t wait!!!  (Though I’d be happy to wait for that for a few more years, so that Mr. Villeneuve can complete the Dune film trilogy he’s discussed in interviews by also adapting the second Dune novel, Dune Messiah.)

I love Alex Ross (artist behind amazing comic book stories such as Marvels and Kingdom Come) and I love the Fantastic Four — so I cannot wait to read this recently-announced Fantastic Four graphic novel, written and illustrated by Mr. Ross!

I’m excited that production on Ted Lasso season three will be beginning soon.  I can’t wait!!!  Speaking of which — have you all seen this brand-new Ted Lasso stop-motion short????

I’m looking forward to watching the Harry Potter cast reunion on HBO Max.  … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Foundation Season One

December 15th, 2021
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Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series is one of my all-time favorite novel series.  I love those books with all my heart.  They’re masterful novels; incredibly original and filled to overflowing with innovative and compelling ideas.  I have been dreaming for years that they would some day be adapted into a TV show or movie series.  In a post-Game of Thrones world, the time seemed perfect for this vast, complicated series of books to be adapted as a prestige multi-season TV show, and I was thrilled when it was announced that Foundation was in the works as a TV series for Apple TV+.

Sadly, the result is quite a mixed bag for me.  I think that, if I’d never read Asimov’s novels, I’d really love this Foundation show!  The series has a lot going for it.  It is staggeringly impressive visually, with incredible designs and jaw-dropping visual effects.  The cast is fantastic, with several true stand-outs among the ensemble.  And the series is filled with all sorts of wild ideas and narrative boldness.

Unfortunately, the series has deviated much farther from Mr. Asimov’s novels than I’d hoped, and in many cases the show seems to be exactly the opposite of the characteristics that made the Foundation novels so unique and interesting!

It’s 2021, and after seeing so many faithful and incredible adaptations — from the Harry Potter films to Game of Thrones to the entire MCU film and TV franchise — I don’t think it’s too much to hope and expect that when a high-profile novel (or series of novels) is adapted for a TV show or movie, the makers of the adaptation will strive to be faithful to the source material.

Now, at the same time, I understand and embrace that adaptations have to be allowed to adjust the source material to fit the new medium.  (An exact word-for-word adaptation rarely works.  Zack Snyder’s Watchmen film and Robert Rodriguez’s two Sin City movies are great examples of hyper-faithful adaptations that would up feeling a little off because they weren’t sufficiently massaged to better fit the beats and tones of a movie, as opposed to a comic book page.)

Additionally, Foundation is a difficult series of novels to adapt.  The books were heavy on plot but very light on character development; so I can understand that an adaptation would need to flesh out the characters, adding backstory and layers to the characters that were absent in the original books.  There are places where the TV show does this very well.  I loved the development of Gaal Dornick’s backstory and the world and culture/religion she came from.  I loved the real estate in the show devoted to exploring the story of … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Woman in Motion

December 13th, 2021

Woman in Motion shines a spotlight on Nichelle Nichols, who, of course, played Lt. Nyota Uhura on Star Trek.  The documentary film specifically explores Ms. Nichols’ remarkable work, beginning in 1977, to recruit men and women of color to be astronauts, scientists and engineers for NASA’s space shuttle program.  (Click here to watch the documentary now!)

Woman in Motion is a wonderful documentary, shining a well-deserved spotlight on Nichelle Nichols.  She’s an extraordinary woman who has lived an extraordinary life.

It’s incredible to get to hear Ms. Nichols tell her life story in her own words.  The spine of the film is a collection of interviews from different points in Ms. Nichols’ life, woven together to allow her to walk us through her life.  One of the interviews looks relatively recent; I assume it was done specifically for this film.  (In this lengthy interview which we cut back to throughout the film, Ms. Nichols’ still seems to be in complete possession of her voice and faculties.  I assume this was filmed before the sad conservatorship battle happening now…)

I was fascinated to hear Ms. Nichols speak of her dreams of becoming a ballet dancer, and to hear her reminisce about dancing and singing with Duke Ellington.  I didn’t know any of that about her early life in career.  Nor did I know that, later in life (post-Star Trek), she’d become the first woman to run her own STEM education company.  But what’s of central importance here is that I had no idea that, in 1977, Ms. Nichols was hired by NASA to help them recruit astronauts who wouldn’t just be more white men.  This began a decades-long association between Ms. Nichols and NASA, which this film explores.

One of the best moments in the film is a simple montage of Ms. Nichols laughing!  What a woman.  I also loved getting to hearing her sing “Fly Me to the Moon” over the closing credits.

The film is also a love letter to NASA.  I was fascinated to learn about the challenges NASA faced shifting from the Apollo missions of the sixties and seventies into the era of the space shuttle.  I must admit, I got a little misty-eyed when we get to the announcement that the first space shuttle would be named Enterprise.  (I’m still struck by what an incredible moment that was; what an extraordinary acknowledgement of the impact of Star Trek.)  I loved the amazing sequence in the film in which we get to listen to an astronaut describe the first few minutes of a shuttle launch.

Watching the film, I wondered if they’d address the loss of the Challenger.  They did, of course.  It … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Injustice

December 10th, 2021
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Injustice is the latest DC animated movie, based on the videos game Injustice: Gods Among Us, as well as the variety of comic book series that expanded upon those games.  (The film’s credits specifically site the comic book series Injustice: Gods Among Us: Year One by Tom Taylor.)  In the story, the Joker finally goes too far and a vengeful Superman murders him.  This leads to a schism between the DC superheroes, with Superman, Wonder Woman and a variety of other characters declaring that enough is enough and it’s time for them to stop playing defense and finally take control and make the world a better place.  Batman, meanwhile, gathers a group of other characters to defend freedom and oppose those heroes who have followed Superman and set out to take over the world.

I came into this series knowing nothing about the Injustice video games or comics.  But I was interested in the premise.  I’m always up for an alternate universe story taking famous comic book characters into new directions, and the idea of a Batman versus Superman story always has juicy potential.

Sadly, I was underwhelmed by this animated film.  There were certainly some fun bits, but it didn’t wow me the way I’d hoped.  The animation is solid but I really disliked the character designs.  The scowling, huge-chested Batman is particularly hideous.  I found the look to be very blocky and inartful.  I didn’t care for that at all.

Worse, the story was superficial and fairly obvious.  As soon as a pregnant Lois Lane appeared in the early scenes, I knew, ugh, I bet she’s going to be killed.  And sure enough, that’s what happened.  In 2021 I think using the death of a female character as motivation for a male character is not a good look.  The film makes a number of poor choices like that.  One that particularly jumped out at me is that Superman’s first action when he decides to end crime is — rather than doing anything within the United States — he goes to a foreign country run by brown people and takes control.  I really rolled my eyes at that behind-the-times simplistic notion of depicting evil-doers by showing us foreign dark-skinned people.

It’s interesting to see superhero characters pushed into difficult places.  A question that many writers/artists have asked of superhero characters is why they don’t do more to use their powers to make the world a better place.  There’s an inherent tension between these characters fighting evil while also being the keepers of the status quo that can be the basis for interesting stories.  There are kernels of those interesting elements in this film, but the story moves too fast … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Harder They Fall

The Harder They Fall is a new Western film, released on Netflix, directed by Jeymes Samuel and written by Mr. Samuel & Boaz Yakin (Now You See Me).  As the film opens, a young boy watches his parents murdered at their dinner table by an outlaw with beautiful golden pistols.  Years later, that boy — Nat Love — has grown up into the charismatic leader of a gang, and he’s made it his mission to hunt down anyone connected to that outlaw, Rufus Buck.  Just as Nat thinks he’s found the last of that group, he learns that Buck has been pardoned and released from prison.  While Buck regathers his gang and looks to regroup in the city, Redwood, that he oversees with an iron thumb, Nat Love regathers his own ally and prepares to finally confront Buck and avenge his parents.

The Harder They Fall is making a lot of news because it’s a Western with an African-American cast.  The film’s opening text — as well as the bulk of Mr. Samuel’s publicity in support of his film — emphasize that, while this particular story is fiction, the idea that there were people of color involved in these sorts of stories in the Old West was definitely true.  In a recent interview with Vanity Fair, Mr. Samuel said: “If you take away the narrow, white-male-centric stories we were given, then that means you have a whole universe of stories with women of actual dominance, with people of color, all races. You have a whole genre. Basically, you have a genre where 90% of it is unexplored.”  I’ve seen this film described as a “reimagining” of a Western, but Mr. Samuels argues that “I reimagined nothing. Hollywood reimagined the Old West. I’m just giving them a broader viewpoint of what life was like.”  In other worlds, it is Hollywood’s version of the Old West — in which the stories are centered on white men; in which women barely feature unless they’re prostitutes, and people of color are nowhere to be found — that is false, and what Mr. Samuel is attempting to do in this film is bring back the reality that women and people of color did exist in this world and had stories of their own to tell.

The cast that Mr. Samuels has assembled is phenomenal.  I loved Jonathan Majors’ eccentric, bizarre performance as “The One Who Survived” in the finale of Loki, and he is absolutely dynamite here in the leading role of Nat Love.  Mr. Majors is spectacular — this is a true movie-star performance.  Nat is smooth and charismatic and we can see why he’s been able to gather a group … [continued]

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José and the Pirate Captain Toledano!

I am pleased to announce that my upcoming graphic novel, José and the Pirate Captain Toledano, is now available for pre-order!

And look!  Here’s an awesome short trailer for the book!!

Set in the shadows of the Spanish Inquisition, this is the coming-of-age story of José Alfaro, a young refugee who forms a powerful bond with the mysterious Pirate Captain Toledano. It’s also a dynamic pirate adventure on the high seas, with hand-to-hand combat and ship-to-ship action, and the powerful story of a dark time in history when people took different paths to survive.

But there’s even more to the book that just that!  To quote my collaborator, author and filmmaker Arnon Shorr: “The book isn’t just a swashbuckling adventure (though there’s plenty of that!) it’s also a book about overcoming hatred, celebrating difference and fighting for what’s right. I think the world could use a good story like this.”

You can pre-order the book here!

José and the Pirate Captain Toledano will be published by Kar-Ben Publishing.

Take a gander at the cover:

Thank you to all my readers for your encouragement and support!

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Josh Reviews Vivo

In Vivo, the new Netflix animated film, Lin-Manuel Miranda voices the titular Vivo, a singing kinkajou who lives in Havana, Cuba, and performs on the street with his friend, the musician Andrés Hernández.  One day,Andrés receives a letter from Marta, the love of his life who went on to be a big star.  Marta asks Andrés to come to Miami and perform with her at her farewell concert.  Andrés is excited for the opportunity to finally tell Marta how he feels about her, and to play for her the last song he ever wrote, decades ago, about his love for her.  When tragedy strikes, Vivo sets out to Miami to somehow deliver this song to Marta.  He’s forced to rely for help on Andrés’ young grand-niece Gabi, a girl with an iconoclastic style all her own who, at first, rubs Vivo entirely the wrong way…

The main selling point for this film is the involvement of Hamilton collaborators Lin-Manuel Miranda and Alex Lacamoire.  Mr. Miranda stars as Vivo and wrote the songs, while Mr. Lacamoire (the music director, orchestrator, and conductor for Hamilton) composed the score and produced the film’s music.  Mr. Miranda is a delight as the energetic, music-loving Vivo, and there are some great songs in the film.  My favorite, quite to my surprise, was the infectious ear-worm of an anthem that Gabi sings called “My Own Drum”.  That song is incredible; very original and very memorable.  Beyond that, I was a little surprised there weren’t more songs that stuck in my head after the film.  (By contrast, I still remember many of the songs from the animated Moana from several years back, a film for which Mr. Miranda worked on quite a number of memorable songs.)

The film centers on Vivo and Gabi (voiced by Ynairaly Simo).  I really loved both characters and their relationship.  Vivo is a great vehicle for Mr. Miranda’s propulsive energy and charm.  Gabi is a wonderful creation, a weird and unique little girl who proudly goes her own way and creates her own style in everything she does.  Ms. Simo does beautiful work bringing her to life.  The movie is called Vivo, but to me Gabi was the heart of the story.

There’s an ensemble of talented performers voicing the other characters in the film.  Juan de Marcos González (a Cuban musician) plays Andrés.  Zoe Saldana (Avatar, Uhura in the J.J. Abrams Star Trek films) plays Rosa, Gabi’s mother.  Michael Rooker (Yondu in Guardians of the Galaxy) plays Lutador, a menacing Python.  Brian Tyree Henry (Atlanta, Joker, Eternals) and Nicole Byer (Trudy Judy on Brooklyn Nine-Nine) play Dancarino and Valentina, a pair of falling-in-love roseate … [continued]

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The great director Steven Soderbergh’s latest film, No Sudden Move, was recently released on HBO Max.  The film stars Don Cheadle as Curt Goynes, a man just released from prison.  Needing cash, he takes a job along with another criminal named Ronald Russo (Benicio del Toro).  They each take an immediate dislike to the other but are forced to rely on one another when the job goes wrong and they find themselves on the run from a mess of other criminals, both of the gangster type and the rich white collar type.

This film has a hell of a cast.  It’s great fun seeing Don Cheadle back in a leading role.  Mr. Cheadle (who previously appeared in Mr. Soderbergh’s Oceans 11 films, as well as Out of Sight and Traffic) is great as Curt.  He plays Curt as tough and brave but flawed; this is a classic noir protagonist for whom we’re not sure things are actually going to work out.  I love the oil and water pairing of Mr. Cheadle and Benicio del Toro, and some of the best parts of the film are when the two get to bounce off of one another.  Ronald Russo is another in Mr. del Toro’s collection of scummy but still lovable characters.  David Harbour (Stranger Things, Hellboy, Black Widow) is fantastic as Matt Wertz, the poor sap who has access to the documents that the criminals want/need.  I haven’t seen Brendan Fraser (The Mummy films, The Quiet American) on screen in years; it’s fun to see him here as Doug Jones, the criminal fixer who connects Curt and Ronald for the job.  Jon Hamm brings his perfect Jon Hamm square jaw and charisma to the part of Joe Finney, the detective assigned to investigate the events that go wrong at Matt Wertz’s house.  Ray Liotta and Bill Duke are both terrific as dueling crime bosses.  Matt Damon pops up late in the film for a critical scene as a wealthy businessman who is just as much a criminal as the street-level hoods we’ve been following for much of the film.  Amy Seimetz has a small but important role as Matt’s wife Mary Wertz.  Julia Fox (Uncut Gems) is great as Vanessa, the wife of Ray Liotta’s crime boss Frank Capelli.  Kieran Culkin is great as an unhinged criminal, Charley.  What a cast that is!!

I liked No Sudden Move, though I didn’t quite love the film the way I’d expected to based on Mr. Soderbergh’s being at the helm and the incredible cast he assembled.  Frankly, the film’s sort of generic title (which doesn’t really mean anything, nor does it seem to me to connect … [continued]