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Josh Reviews Interstellar

When it was first announced that Christopher Nolan would be making an original science-fiction film as his next project, featuring a top-shelf cast and utilizing a blockbuster-sized budget, I was quickly atwitter with visions of a masterpiece.  After much anticipation, Interstellar has arrived, and while it might not be quite a masterpiece, it is a delightfully ambitious, smart, and entertaining piece of filmmaking.

In the near future, a terrible blight has destroyed crops world-wide, shattering the status quo and pushing much of the world back to the levels of subsistence farming.  Coop (Matthew McConaughey) was once a test pilot, but now he’s a farmer and a single parent caring for his two kids, Murph and Fox, with the help of his father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow).  But when Coop and Murph stumble across a secret base in the desert that houses what remains of NASA, their lives change forever.  Coop’s former mentor Professor Brand (Michael Caine) is spearheading a project that could represent humanity’s last hope.  They’ve discovered a wormhole in orbit of Saturn, and have been secretly launching expeditions through that wormhole in search of habitable planets to which they could relocate what’s left of humanity.  They have one ship left, but no one to pilot it.  If Coop accepts, he might be able to save the lives of his children who would otherwise likely perish on the sickening Earth.  But if he goes on the mission, the effects of relativity will cause his children to be grown by the time he returns.

There is a lot to love about Interstellar.  First and foremost, I am always thrilled to see an original piece of science-fiction that isn’t connected to a franchise.  I’m even more excited when said science-fiction, rather than being an action-adventure shoot-em-up, tries to be a more serious-minded piece of speculative fiction.  Interstellar is 100% in that mold.  Christopher Nolan and his team have set out to create a smart piece of science fiction in the best tradition of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Smart is the key word here.  Not only is the film aimed at smart audience-members (this is not a dumbed-down fantasy), but even better, the film’s whole story is about the importance of science, and of smart people continuing to push the bounds of exploration and human knowledge.  I love that about the film.  Shockingly, in this day and age, so often it seems that intelligence and science are seen as things to be mocked or dismissed.  Interstellar will have none of that.  One of the most striking scenes in the film come fairly early on (long before we get to the incredible outer-space sequences in the film’s second half) in which Coop … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Dark Knight Rises

Although I really enjoyed Batman Begins, I wasn’t quite prepared for just how spectacular the follow-up, The Dark Knight, was going to be.  I didn’t expect it, and that film knocked me flat.  I’ve revisited The Dark Knight several times in the last few years (I just wrote about it last week!) and I continue to be dazzled by its grim majesty.

The Dark Knight is so good that it immediately puts its sequel in an unenviable position of having to equal or top a masterpiece.  The Dark Knight Rises is not at the level of The Dark Knight — it’s rather unrealistic to hope that it would be.  It is definitely more flawed than its predecessor.  But it is a ferociously entertaining film, smart and serious and with bold intentions, and it brings Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy to a sure-footed conclusion.

The Dark Knight Rises is a huge film — it’s scope is far larger than the previous two films, as are its ambitions.  The film is set over a period of many months (which I love, as it really gives the story and the characters room to breathe).  Crazy, crazy stuff happens in and to Gotham City in the second half of the film.  Sure, the Joker terrorized the city in The Dark Knight, but what happens to Gotham in the film’s second half takes the scope of this tale to a whole other level.

The main ensemble continues to shine.  All the main surviving characters from the previous two films return and each gets his time in the spotlight.  Michael Caine’s Alfred gets some big emotional scenes, and the great Mr. Caine is, as always, tremendously effective.  More than ever before, Alfred is the heart of this film, and the lone anchor keeping Bruce Wayne tethered to some sort of reality.  Morgan Freeman returns as Lucius Fox.  He gets a great “Q” scene early in the film, and I was pleased that Lucius stayed involved in the story as Bane’s grip on Gotham city tightens as the film progresses.

Gary Oldman is spectacular, once again, as Commissioner Gordon.  I got a bit worried at first when Gordon gets sidelined to a hospital bed — in both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight I wished there was more of Gordon.  (The whole Gordon-pretending-to-be-dead bit in the middle of The Dark Knight is one of that film’s only mis-steps.)  But luckily the Commish gets a lot of meaty scenes in the film’s second half.  Gary Oldman just IS Commissioner Gordon at this point — he is absolute perfection in the role.  When the Batman film series is inevitably rebooted, I suspect this is going to prove to … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Love & Other Drugs

When we first meet Jake Gyllenhaal’s character Jamie Randall at the start of Edward Zwick’s new film Love & Other Drugs, we learn immediately that Jamie is a fast-talking salesman who seems to be able to convince anyone to buy anything, and also that he is quite a ladies man who is not above having sex with a woman he knows to be involved with someone else.  In this case, the “someone else” happens to be his boss, which results, no surprise, in Jamie’s quick exit from that job.  His brother, though, is able to help him land a job selling drugs for Pfizer.  Since this film is set in 1996, it’s not a tremendous surprise that this fast-talking salesman soon finds himself involved in selling a certain call-your-doctor-if-your-erection-lasts-more-than-four-hours love drug.  While all that is happening, Jamie gets involved with Maggie Murdock (Anne Hathaway), a vivacious, free-spirited young woman who, for reasons that become clear later in the film, is reluctant to let their sexual encounters deepen into anything more meaningful.

Quite a lot has been made of all of the nudity in this film, and with good reason.  We certainly get to see quite a lot of the skin of both of the two good-looking leads.  Ms. Hathaway, in particular, spends an enormous amount of screen-time in the nude.  Note to filmmakers: there’s no better way to get a guy interested in your romantic comedy than by including copious amounts of Anne Hathaway nudity.

And make no mistake, Love & Other Drugs is a romantic comedy.  I get the sense that the filmmakers had something a little more serious on their minds with this film, what with the third-act shift into dramatic territory as Maggie and Jamie struggle with the implications that her illness has on her future, and on the possibility of their building a life together.  But despite that, the film follows the standard romantic comedy tropes.  The couple meets cute, sparks fly, there’s an obstacle that causes them to separate, and then they’re reunited in the end, happily ever after.

There’s a lot that I enjoyed about Love & Other Drugs.  (BESIDES the Anne Hathaway nudity!!)  Both Mr. Gyllenhaal and Ms. Hathaway are dynamic, charismatic leads.  I think they have a strong chemisty on screen together, and I enjoyed watching them interact.  The first half of the film has a fun, jaunty tone with a lot of humor.  And I respect the filmmakers for trying to introduce some narrative ideas of more depth into the film’s second half.  But ultimately, I was disappointed to find that the film was unable to break out of the boringly familiar romantic comedy formula.

And, also, in the end … [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: Josh Reviews Alice in Wonderland (2010)

I once considered Tim Burton one of my very favorite directors, but recent years have changed that somewhat for me.  I still think he’s an extraordinary talent who has given us some incredible films, but since 1999’s Sleepy Hollow, in my opinion Mr. Burton has directed two mediocre films (Big Fish and Sweeney Todd) and two absolutely terrible films (Planet of the Apes and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).

When I first heard that Mr. Burton would be directing an adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, I thought at first that that was an inspired idea — that the weirdness of Alice in Wonderland would be a great match for Mr. Burton’s bizarre sensibilities.  But when I started seeing trailers for the film, I thought it looked terrible.  The glimpses I got of Johnny Depp’s totally wacky portrayal of the Mad Hatter didn’t interest me, the design of the film looked garish, and it seemed to me that the dark terror of Sleepy Hollow had been replaced by lowest-common-denominator all-ages pap.  For the first time that I could ever remember, here was a new Tim Burton film that I was not interested in seeing.  Once I started to read the poor reviews (and, in particular, the on-line eviscerations of the 3-D conversion), I decided to pass on seeing the film in theatres.

But, you know, it’s a new Tim Burton movie!  Even though it didn’t look like a film I would enjoy, I do admit to remaining sort of curious to see what Mr. Burton had come up with.  Was the film really as bad as it looked to me in the trailers, and as I’d read?  When I saw the film in the “new releases” section of my local video store, I decided to rent it so I could see for myself.

Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland is not a total catastrophe.  There are some bits and pieces of the film that I liked.  But as you could probably tell from my recent cartoons, I found the whole thing to be exceedingly mediocre, and quite a disappointment coming from the talented Tim Burton.

The film started off well.  I quite liked Mia Wasikowska’s performance as Alice.  She’s certainly quirky enough to feel right at home as the lead in a Tim Burton film, but her Alice also felt recognizably vulnerable and human.  Her trip down the rabbit-hole and entrance into Wonderland was sufficiently weird and spooky, and I quite liked the build-up of hints that this wasn’t Alice’s first trip to Wonderland.  That was a surprising choice on Mr. Burton’s part (and that of screenwriter Linda Woolverton), but I really dug it.  I liked … [continued]