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Josh Bids Farewell to Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Brooklyn Nine-Nine really grew on me.  I watched right from the start, and I always thought the series was a great deal of fun.  But slowly, the series developed from an enjoyable comedic trifle to a true comedy great.  In my mind, Brooklyn Nine-Nine stands tall among the greatest comedy TV series ever.  That’s a bold statement, but I stand by it!  The two-part “The Last Day” capped off the series’ shortened eighth and final season in grand fashion.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a show that I think is easy to underestimate or dismiss.  It might not have the dark edginess of, say, The Larry Sanders Show or Seinfeld or 30 Rock; it might not have the big ideas of, say, The Good Place; it might not have the boundary-breaking innovativeness of, say, Arrested Development or Newsradio.  But Brooklyn Nine-Nine slowly developed into a unique and wonderful show with a style and flavor all its own.

First of all, the show is tremendously funny.  It was funny right from the get-go, and as the writers and actors refined their craft and characters, the humor got better and better.  Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a gentle, upbeat show.  This might make it less “cool” than other shows, but I love TV shows that can be sweet at the same time as they’re funny.  (This is something that has been a hallmark of the work of both co-creators, Dan Goor and Mike Schur.)

For any TV show to be truly great — and this is especially critical for a comedy show — the ensemble cast must be great.  Here is where Brooklyn Nine-Nine truly shines.  The ensemble cast of this show was truly spectacular.  Andy Samberg was a big comedy star when the show was launched.  He’s been funny all the way through the series’ run as Jake Peralta, a great detective who is also a classic sort of TV man-child.  Mr. Samberg and the writing team were wise enough, though, to ensure that this show wasn’t just “The Andy Samberg Show.”  They surrounded Mr. Samberg with a team of comedy killers, each of whom could easily be a fan-favorite character.  Probably the biggest break-out surprise of the show was casting the phenomenally talented dramatic actor Andre Braugher (renowned for his run on Homicide: Life on the Street) in a comedic role as the ultra-serious police Captain Raymond Holt.  Mr. Braugher’s gravitas, and stentorian voice, because fierce comedic weapons on the show.  The series allowed Holt to get sillier as the years went on, but Mr. Braugher’s deadpan delivery could always be counted on to deliver a hilarious laugh-line.  (In fact, Mr. Braugher gets what I think is the show’s last huge laugh in the … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Palm Springs

In Palm Springs, written by Andy Siara and directed by Max Barbakov, Andy Samberg stars as Nyles, a man who, we quickly discover, has been trapped in a Groundhog Day style time loop.  Nyles has been living the same day over and over and over.  That day happens to be the wedding of Tala and Abe, and Nyles is there because his girlfriend Misty is a bridesmaid.  Nyles has already arrived at the point that we saw Bill Murray get to in the middle of Groundhog Day — he’s already lived this day uncounted times, and he’s become resigned to his fate that he will continue reliving that day forever.  But then something changes: Nyles hooks up with the bride’s sister Sarah (Cristin Miloti), and she winds up stuck in the time-loop with him!  Things get crazier from there.

Who knew how much I would love yet another riff on Groundhog Day?  Last year I fell in love with the Groundhog Day type story of Russian Doll.  When I first heard about Palm Springs, I am pretty sure I gave a mental eye-roll.  Yet another Groundhog Day riff??  I was already surprised that I’d enjoyed Russian Doll as much as I did.  There was no way I’d be into still another play on Groundhog Day, was there?

And yet, Palm Springs is an absolute delight!   I was completely surprised by how much I loved this film.  (I listed it as my #2 favorite film of 2020!!)

First off, the film is very, very funny.  As it did in Groundhog Day, this concept proves a fertile ground for comedy.  And yet, while the basic set-up is similar, I was pleased that Palm Springs takes this story in very different directions than Groundhog Day did.  The film is perfectly paced; the story unfolds in a delightfully pleasing manner.  The film has a number of fun twists and turns that kept me guessing throughout (and that I will not spoil here in this review).  This is a film best viewed without knowing much about its story beyond the basic premise.

I will say that I was pleased that Palm Springs proved to be as rich a character piece as Groundhog Day did.  This is not an empty farce.  Palm Springs is a very funny comedy, but it’s also a great character piece that explores these two damaged people, Nyles and Sarah.  The events in the film have real emotional stakes for them.  This is a quality in almost all of my favorite comedies.  I think having some dramatic weight to the story enhances the comedy.

Andy Samberg and Cristin Miloti are both terrific in the lead roles.  I’m sure it’s … [continued]

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Click here for part one of my list of my Favorite Movies of 2020, and click here for part two.  And now, let’s dive into my top Five Favorite Movies of 2020!

5. News of the World I wrestled with which 2020 Tom Hanks film I preferred: News of the World or Greyhound.  Ultimately I gave News of the World the higher ranking, but I wonder if I’ll feel differently a year from now.  They’re both great films!  In News of the World, Mr. Hanks plays Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a veteran of the Civil War who now eeks out a living by traveling from town to town to read from newspapers for the townspeople’s entertainment and edification.  Captain Kidd winds up entangled with a young girl named Johanna, who was kidnapped from her family years ago and raised among a tribe of Native Americans; now she is alone and Captain Kidd sets out to reunite her with her surviving family members.  The film is adapted from the novel by Paulette Jiles and directed by Paul Greengrass.  I thought the film was a delightful departure for Mr. Greengrass — it’s far more slowly paced and elegiac than the intense dramas and action films for which Mr. Greengrass is best known.  But his skill is on display in every frame of their beautiful, melancholy film.  Tom Hanks gives yet another spectacular performance.  (There’s a scene, late in the film, in which Captain Kidd finally faces the grief he’s buried, and it’s an extraordinary few moments of film.)  This is classical movie-making of the best kind.  (My full review is coming soon.)

4. On the Rocks Sophia Coppola’s latest film stars Rashida Jones as Laura, a woman who begins to suspect that her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) is cheating on her.  So Laura enlists the aid of her wealthy, lecherous, “man about town” father, Felix (Bill Murray, reuniting at last with Ms. Coppola for the first time since Lost in Translation), to track Dean and get to the bottom of what’s going on.  On the Rocks is very funny at times — the pairing of Mr. Murray and Ms. Jones yields as much comedic fruit as I’d hoped — while also being a moving, sometimes sad story of the complicated relationship between Laura and her father.  I love how nuanced this film’s storytelling is.  No one is reduced to a simple character, a hero or a villain.  Everyone in this film is imperfect, and Ms. Coppola demonstrates an endearing amount of affection for these broken, flawed people.  I love that about the film.  (My full review is coming soon.)

3. The Vast of Night First-time filmmaker … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Season Five of Brooklyn Nine-Nine!

In a tumultuous week right before its season five finale aired, Brooklyn Nine-Nine was unceremoniously cancelled by Fox… and then, a few days later, miraculously resurrected by NBC who announced that they’d be picking up the show for a thirteen-episode sixth season.  Huzzah!!

I was devastated when I thought the show was dead and gone.  Over the last five years, Brooklyn Nine-Nine has grown into one of my very favorite TV comedies.  It’s not edgy and it might not be groundbreaking “genius” comedy — but it has grown into the very best sort of TV comfort food: consistently hilarious and filled with characters with whom I absolutely adore spending time.

I realized, in those days in which I thought the show was cancelled, that I had been taking Brooklyn Nine-Nine for granted!  Though the show has popped up on my end-of-the-year lists of my favorite episodes of TV, I haven’t ever given it one of my regular season-ending reviews that I write about almost every other show I watch.  It’s time to stop ignoring this show!

Brooklyn Nine-Nine was created by Dan Goor and Michael Schur.  Mr. Goor worked on The Daily Show, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and Parks and Recreation.  Mr. Schur was a key creative player on the American version of The Office, he co-created Parks and Recreation with Greg Daniels (and served as the primary show-runner), and he also created The Good Place.  Looking back, I can see why Brooklyn Nine-Nine has slipped through the cracks for me, despite the fact that I’ve been enjoying it for so many years now.  The show doesn’t have the attention-grabbing hooks of The Good Place’s twists, or the way Parks and Rec’s gloriously large and unhinged ensemble served as a sort-of live-action version of The Simpsons.  Those two shows, along with The Office, all seemed like cutting-edge “cool” comedies that drew a lot more attention.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine never quite had that.  From the beginning, it felt a little squarer, a little more family-friendly, a little less boundary-pushing.  But the show has blossomed into a true comedic gem, with an ensemble as skilled as any on TV today and one that can go head-to-head with any of the other shows I just listed above (and many beyond those).

Andy Samberg is terrific in the lead role of Detective Jake Peralta.  Mr. Samberg demonstrated back in 2012 with Celeste and Jesse Forever that he had acting chops, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine perfectly utilizes his comedic talents and his man-child persona.  Mr. Sandberg effortlessly anchors the show, and remains one of the funniest elements of it.  The key casting coup of the show is Andre Braugher as … [continued]

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Josh’s Favorite Episodes of TV of 2017 — Part Two!

Click here for part one of my list of My Favorite Episodes of TV of 2017!  Let’s continue…

20. The Defenders: “Royal Dragon” (season one, episode four, released on 8/18/17) — Just as Marvel Studios’ Phase One of super-hero films culminated in the unprecedented crossover film The Avengers, Netflix’s Marvel shows (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist) were similarly structured to culminate in a crossover show featuring all four main characters, The Defenders.  Overall The Defenders was more mediocre than I’d hoped (mostly because of its bungling of the Hand and lack of a compelling villainous threat for our heroes to face), but the highlight was this episode, which finally brought its four main characters together.  Actually, the four had already come together for a fight sequence at the end of the previous episode, but this episode, set almost entirely inside a Chinese restaurant where our heroes stop to regroup and have a bite after the fight, allows the characters to truly interact with one another.  And it is a hoot.  I love that the show allowed for this “pause” episode, giving the characters and the audience a chance to catch their breath.  It’s a great idea that the heroes would want to stop and actually have something to eat, and it allows for a ton of fun character moments as we get to see these four very different characters size each other up and begin to work together.  I wish the rest of the show had been as much fun.  But for this episode, this was exactly the show I wanted it to be.  (Click here for my full review of The Defenders.)

19. The Americans: “The Midges” (season five, episode three, aired on 3/21/17) — This was another great taut episode of The Americans, an under-watched show about Russian spies in the U.S. in the eighties.  Philip and Elizabeth break into a facility that they believe is developing midges that will attack Soviet wheat, and an unfortunate worker in the wrong place at the wrong time is brutally dispatched (as the show again tests the audience’s bonds with its two central characters).  Meanwhile, we see that Oleg, who has grown into probably the show’s most sympathetic character, is in trouble because he had done the right thing and helped Stan Beeman.  But this episode made this list for the phenomenal, blink-and-you’ll-miss-her reappearance of Martha (seen shopping, alone, in a sad, barren Russian market that Oleg had just visited)!  Fans wondered whether we’d ever see Martha — formerly one of the main characters — when she boarded that plane for Russia back in season four, and so this moment … [continued]

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Catching Up on 2016: Josh Reviews Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

April 10th, 2017
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In Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, Andy Samberg stars as Conner Friel.  Conner used to be “Kid Conner” in a popular three-person group, the Style Boyz, along with Lawrence “Kid Brain” Dunn (Akiva Schaffer) and Owen “Kid Contact” Bouchard (Jorma Taccone).  But the group broke up, and while two of the boys faded into obscurity, Andy Samberg’s “Kid Conner” morphed himself into Conner4Real and became a global superstar.  But while Conner is on the top of the world at the start of the film, as you can imagine, things are about to come crashing down around the ears of the oblivious, self-absorbed and self-obsessed superstar.

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This film didn’t make much of an impact when it was released this year, but I thought it was terrific.  This is Spinal Tap is the first and last word on fake, funny music documentaries, but Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping finds a lot of places to mine for big laughs in this parody of modern pop silliness.

I’m not that familiar with the Lonely Island team, but all three members do great work here in this film.  Andy Samberg has demonstrated his movie-star chops in films like Celeste and Jesse Forever, and these days he is doing fantastic work every week on the terrific Brooklyn 99.  He’s effortless in bringing Conner to life.  Mr. Samberg is incredibly skilled at playing charming and self-absorbed, and his comedic timing is incredible.  I was less familiar with the other two members of the Lonely Island team, but both Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone do absolutely terrific work.  They’re both so funny and so invested in their characters.  All three men have an extraordinary chemistry together, and Popstar works as well as it does because of the wonderful rapport that the three leads have with one another.  It’s a pleasure to see them on screen together.

Beyond the three leads, there is a wealth of spectacular comedic actors who appear in supporting roles.  This film’s cast is a king’s ransom of riches.  Tim Meadows is slyly hysterical as Conner’s manager, while Sarah Silverman plays it very deadpan as Conner’s publicist.  Bill Hader gets big laughs in a few small scenes as a bumbling roadie.  The great Joan Cusack only has a few moments as Conner’s mom, but boy is it great to see her on-screen as always.  Imogen Poots is fun as Conner’s girlfriend Wednesday, and Justin Timberlake kills as Conner’s chef.  Will Arnett, Will Forte, Maya Rudolph, Kevin Nealon, Mike Birbiglia, Chelsea Peretti, and many other familiar faces pop up throughout the film.

Then there are also a million famous faces from the music world who all appear as themselves.  Snoop Dogg, Questlove, RZA, 50 Cent, … [continued]

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The Top Twenty Movies of 2016 — Part One!

I am very excited to present my list of my Twenty Favorite Movies from 2016!  While I don’t think 2016 was quite as strong a year for movies as 2015 was, there were still a heck of a lot of great movies released this year!  I debated cutting back and presenting a list of my fifteen favorites this year, but I found that I was easily able to fill a list of twenty, just as I did last year.

Though I have seen a ton of movies in 2016, as always there is still a boatload of movies that I wanted to see but didn’t get to.  These include Silence, Live By Night, Fences, Twentieth Century Women, Collateral Beauty, Moonlight, The Edge of Seventeen, Rules Don’t Apply, Hidden Figures, Everybody Wants Some!, Keanu, Denial, War Dogs, American Pastoral, Frank & Lola, Cafe Society, Whisky Tango Foxtrot, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, and more.  So if you’re wondering why any of those films aren’t on this list, well, now you know.  I am hopeful that I will be able to see many of those films I just listed in the coming weeks, but I couldn’t wait any longer before publishing this list.

Meanwhile, there were plenty of wonderful 2016 movies that I did see and enjoy and yet didn’t make this list.  Those include Jackie, Green Room, The Lobster, Midnight Special, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Office Christmas Party, For The Love of Spockand many others.  (In a few weeks, after I finish posting my Best of 2016 lists, I’ll be posting reviews of many of the films that I saw in my end-of-the-year rush to catch up with as many 2016 films as I could.)

Honorable Mention: Brooklyn This was a 2015 film that I didn’t get to see until well into 2016.  But if I had seen it earlier, it surely would have been one of the top films on my 2015 list.  This gentle story of a young Irish immigrant to the U.S. in the nineteen-fifties was gorgeous and very moving.  Saoirse Ronan makes an extraordinary impression in the lead role, elevating herself from great character actor to true movie star.  In a modern era in which so many American politicians like to demonize the “other,” fostering suspicion and mistrust of anyone not born in the United States, Brooklyn tells a story that brings the immigrant experience to life in a positive way.  This is an important film, and one that is truly alive with joy and pain and a wealth of human emotion.  I loved it.  Click here for my full review.

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20. The Jungle Book[continued]

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Back in 2010, I had a hard time coming up with ten movies I liked enough to put on my Top 10 Movies of the year list.  Last, year, in 2011, I thought there were so many great movies that I had a Top 15 list (and I even squeezed in a few extra movies by including several ties).  I thought 2012 was another fantastic year at the movies.  I could have easily had a Top 20 list this year, but I thought that might have been excessive.

There were a lot of great films I saw in 2012 which didn’t make this list, including: Silver Linings Playbook, Wanderlust, Skyfall, This is 40, Ted, Chronicle, Paul Williams Still Alive, and many more.

As always, I also like to make mention of the many films that interested me that I just didn’t get a chance to see in 2012.  These include: Killing them Softly, Flight, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Hyde Park Hudson, Butter, Hitchcock, Wreck-It Ralph, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Holy Motors, Smashed, Detention, and Savages.  So if you loved one or more of those films are are wondering why they’re not on my list, well, now you know.

Here now is my list of the Top 15 Movies of 2012:

15. The Five-Year Engagement This film has really grown on me since I first saw it, early this year.  I love how unusual its structure is — whereas most romantic comedies keep the two main characters apart until the very end, this movie starts with Tom (Jason Segel) proposing to Violet (Emily Blunt).  Things go downhill for there.  For a romantic comedy, this film goes into some grim territory — since much of the movie is about the happy couple slowly growing apart, there are certainly some parts of the film without a lot of yuks.  That threw me a bit the first time I saw the film, but I have come to really love and admire this film for its weird structure and premise.  And while there certainly are a few serious moments in the film, everything else is is pretty much jam-packed with big laughs and wonderful, very memorable characters.  Chris Pratt (Parks and Recreation) and Alison Brie (Mad Men, Community) steal the film as Tom’s best-friend and Violet’s sister, who meet at Tom and Violet’s engagement party and quickly fall in love, get married, and have kids before Tom and Violet even make it to the altar.  (Chris Pratt singing to Alison Brie at their characters’ wedding is one of my favorite moments I’ve seen onscreen all year.)  But wait, this film also has substantial, … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Celeste and Jesse Forever

September 24th, 2012
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What a fantastically enjoyable surprise this little movie was!  A romantic (but not really romantic) drama that is very funny (but which I wouldn’t really call a comedy), Celeste and Jesse Forever is a wonderful little film for adults.  It’s somewhat raunchy and juvenile but also remarkably sophisticated and unexpected, eschewing the usual romantic comedy formula for something a little messier, a little rougher-around-the-edges.  I loved it!

The film was written by Rashida Jones (who made her bones on The Office and is now a part of the spectacular ensemble on Parks and Recreation) and her friend Will McCormack (check out this article that explores the pair’s relationship, much of which served as an inspiration for the film’s story), and stars Ms. Jones as the titular Celeste and SNL’s Andy Samberg as Jesse.

Rashida Jones was instantly terrific on The Office, and she’s been pretty great in some supporting film roles recently (such as I Love You, Manclick here for my review, and My Idiot Brotherclick here for my review), so it’s great fun to see her take a leading role.  She’s spectacular, able to be extremely funny while also able to absolutely convincingly sell the film’s dramatic moments.  But she’s been great in everything I just mentioned, so this isn’t a huge surprise.  What is a surprise is how fantastic Andy Samberg is.  Of course it was clear he could be funny, but I think he gives a terrific performance creating a very fleshed-out character in Jesse.  He knows when to flash his huge grin, but he dials back his zaniness to just the right level, creating a character who is a lovable goofball but very much a human being.  When it comes to the dramatic moments, he’s every bit Ms. Jones’ equal.  I love their chemistry in the film — I could watch these two actors play off of one another all day long.  There are some early moments between the two that are so funny (their weird German-accented menu-reading, and of course their off-color lip-balm routine) that it’s pretty impossible not to buy into the idea that these two are soul-mates, made for one another.  Which of course is the point.  Which makes the fact that the film is all about their NOT being together all the more agonizing.  Which, again, is sort of the point.

Obviously I’m not going to spoil the ending (well, at least not before my big spoiler warning a few paragraphs from now), but I am not ruining anything to note that five minutes into the film we learn that Celeste and Jesse are very much not together as a couple.  What follows … [continued]

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Josh Reviews I Love You, Man!

In I Love You, Man, Paul Rudd plays Peter Klaven, an LA real estate agent who discovers, after getting engaged to his girlfriend Zooey (Rashida Jones), that he doesn’t really have any male friends he could ask to be his groomsmen.  With some help from Zooey and his brother Robbie (SNL‘s Andy Samberg), Peter embarks on a series on “man-dates” to try to find some guy friends.  After a bizarre but amusing encounter at one of his open houses, Peter strikes up a friendship with Sydney Fife (Jason Segal).  Not suprisingly, this new friendship quickly throws much of the rest of Peter’s life into disarray.

The success (and high quality — the two don’t always go hand-in-hand, you know!) of Judd Apatow’s films (The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up) have really sparked a wave of truly excellent comedies in a similar style.  But while these could have all wound up being pale imitations of Apatow’s films, it has been quite remarkable to see actors from his ensembles continue to work together and collaborate with other talented actors, writers, and directors to produce additional high quality films. I Love You, Man is certainly a prime example of this.

Directed by John Hamburg (who directed several episodes of Apatow’s brilliant TV series Undeclared, as well as the film Along Came Polly, which I must admit to having had no interest in seeing) and written by Hamburg and Larry Levin (who wrote the classic Keith Hernandez episode of Seinfeld, “The Boyfriend”), I Love You, Man feels very similar in tone to me to Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which was released last year at almost exactly this time, and which also starred Paul Rudd and Jason Segal.  (Sarah Marshall was produced by Judd Apatow, although I Love You, Man was not.)  Both films have a real sweetness to them, while also being uproariously funny.  That blend of sweetness with fierce comedy is, to me, a big part of what I referred to a moment ago as the “Apatow style.”  Another mark of that style is a loose, almost improvisational feel to a lot of the comedy and the dialogue (Paul Rudd’s lengthy, intensely hilarious riff on the phrase “slapping the bass” in I Love You, Man is a prime example of what I’m talking about).

Of course, a big part of the “Apatow style” has also been the growing ensemble of brilliant actors who have filled out his films.  Rudd and Segal have both appeared in many previous Apatow works (Segal was in Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, Rudd was in The 40 Year Old Virgin, and both appeared in Knocked Up), … [continued]