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The Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2016 — Part Two!

On Monday I began my list of my Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2016!  And now, onward to my TOP FIVE!

5. Lazarus (by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark) — In the future, the planet has regressed into an almost feudal system, with several warring families controlling the planet.  The young woman named Forever is the “Lazarus” of the Carlye family, her family’s ultimate warrior/protector. Lazarus is an incredible example of world-building, as Mr. Rucka and Mr. Lark have put enormous effort into fleshing out every detail of this world they have created.  With each and every issue, more fascinating pieces of this world come to light, an enormously entertaining journey of discovery for the audience.  And yet Lazarus works as well as it does not just because of the depth of this world that has been created, but because of the array of wonderful characters who inhabit that world.  I love Lazarus for the politics and combat, but I also love it for the coming-of-age story of Forever herself, and for the exploration of the many flawed characters who also populate the book.  I read each issue of Lazarus with my stomach clenched, hoping for the best for the characters I have grown to love, but fearing the worst. As for Mr. Lark’s art, I don’t think I have enough compliments with which to praise his work.  He is as skilled at capturing individual characters and their subtle facial expressions as he seems to be at drawing any location, any vehicle, anything at all.  Amazing, inspiring work on every page.  This year the story grew even richer and more complex, as the cold-war between the families erupted into open combat, and Forever was challenged more than she had ever been.  I was also blown away by the twist that the audience had deeply misunderstood scenes from previous issues that we’d interpreted as flashbacks to Forever’s youth.  Wow.  I love this book.

4. Velvet (by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting) — What if Moneypenny was actually a former double-oh agent, now assigned to a desk at HQ but forced back into the field by a terrible betrayal?  That’s the brilliant hook of Mr. Brubaker and Mr. Epting’s phenomenal spy yarn Velvet.  The year is 1973, and Velvet Templeton has been, for eighteen years, the secretary and right-hand woman for the Director of Arc-7, a super-secret British organization of spies.  When their best agent (think James Bond) is murdered on assignment, Velvet finds herself framed for the deed and on the run from everyone she once trusted.  Velvet is a rich conspiracy thriller and a loving homage to the mystique of sixties-era James Bond adventures.  Mr. Brubaker’s twisty story … [continued]

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The Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2016 — Part One!

I’m excited to wrap up by Best of 2016 lists with my look back at my Fifteen Favorite Comic Book Series of 2016!

There were a TON of amazing comic books that I read in 2016 that didn’t make this list.  Powers by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming.  Huck by Mark Millar and Rafael Albuquerque, and Reborn by Mark Millar and Greg Capullo.  Guardians of the Galaxy by Brian Michael Bendis and Valerio Schiti.  All-Star Batman by Scott Snyder and John Romita Jr.  The Massive: Ninth Wave by Brian Wood and Garry Brown.  Karnak by Warren Ellis and Gerardo Zaffino & Roland Boschi.  The X-Files by Joe Harris and Matthew Dow Smith.  James Bond: Hammerhead by Andy Diggle and Luca Casalanguida.  Old Man Logan by Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino.  Wonder Woman by Greg Rucka and Liam Sharp & Nicola Scott.  Groo: Fray of the Gods by Mark Evanier and Sergio Aragones.  The Manhattan Projects: The Sun Beyond the Stars by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra.  And so many more.

Also, there are several series that I have fallen way behind on, and so I am waiting to find the time to go back and do a major re-read to catch up on these titles.  Most notably: Stray Bullets by David Lapham and Astro City by Kurt Busiek and Brent Eric Anderson and Jesus Merino and others.  Had I been up-to-date on these titles, I have no doubt that they would all be on this list, and probably very high on it.

OK, onward!

15.  Empress (by Mark Millar & Stuart Immonen) – The wife of a powerful, cruel alien dictator leaves him, with her children and a few close allies in tow.  Can they evade her vengeful ex-husband?  That sounds sort of heavy but Empress is a slam-bang fun sci-fi adventure, gorgeously illustrated by the incomparable Stuart Immonen.

14.  Black Magic (by Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott) — In a world where magic is real, Rowan Black is a homicide detective in Portsmouth.  So far she has been able to keep her abilities a secret from her fellow officers, but a new murder case threatens to blow her world wide open.  Greg Rucka has once again created an original story with a fascinating, rich female character in the lead, and Nicola Scott’s jaw-dropping gorgeous ink-wash illustrations are a revelation.  This is some of the most beautiful comic-book art I have ever seen.

13. Moonshine (by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso) — The 100 Bullets team reunites for this bizarre mystery set during Prohibition.  Lou Pirlo is a good-looking, smooth-talking, low-level gangster sent to the woods of West Virginia to negotiate a deal with a talented, secretive booze-maker.  … [continued]

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The Top Twenty Episodes of TV in 2016 — Part Four!

We’re at the end of my look back at the best TV of 2016!  Click here for numbers twenty through sixteen, and click here for numbers fifteen through eleven, and click here for numbers ten through six.

And now, here are my Top Five Episodes of TV in 2016:

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5. Sherlock: “The Abominable Bride” (aired on 1/5/16) – I was tickled by the idea of taking Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman’s modern-day interpretations of Sherlock Holmes and setting them in the Victorian era from which the Holmes stories originated.  Had this been an entirely out-of-continuity caper — as I thought it would be, going into the episode — I’d have been happy.  But I was delighted to discover that, instead, this story connected directly to the cliffhanger ending of season three, and allowed us to explore the idea of Sherlock’s “mind palace” that was first raised back in the season two finale.  This episode was filled with many fun little moments, from Mrs. Hudson’s complaining that John never gives her any lines in his stories to the 19th century version of Holmes and Watson’s first meeting (as originally depicted in “A Study in Pink”).  And things got suitably mind-bending as the episode progressed and the story began jumping more frequently between the Victorian setting (happening inside Sherlock’s brain) and the modern-day events on board the plane, with Moriarty’s apparent return from the dead presenting a frightening new threat.  I adore this series and, if we couldn’t get a full three-episode new season of Sherlock in 2016, this one-off was a fine substitute.  (By the way, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the recently-aired season four of Sherlock soon!!)

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4. The X-Files: “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” (season ten, episode three, aired on 2/1/16) – I had hoped and dreamed for years that The X-Files, one of the great, unfinished stories of the modern pop-culture landscape, would one day be given the conclusion that once-great show so dearly deserved.  I rejoiced at the announcement of a new six-episode run (a superior format to a movie, in my mind, for the show’s return), though the relaunched show wound up mostly disappointing me.  With this one notable exception.  Darin Morgan wrote four episodes during the original X-Files run, and they were among the very best episodes the show ever did.  “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” is without question my favorite episode of the entire series.  And so I was ecstatic when I learned that Mr. Morgan would be writing one of these six new X-Files episodes.  He directed this episode, too, and boy did he not let me down.  This episode is so joyous, so funny and so … [continued]

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The Top Twenty Episodes of TV in 2016 — Part Three!

My list of my Twenty Favorite Episodes of TV in 2016 continues!  Click here for the beginning of my list, numbers twenty through sixteen, and click here for part two, numbers fifteen through ten.

Let’s continue as we enter my Top Ten!

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10. The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story: “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” (season one, episode six, aired on 3/8/16) – I vividly remember the events of the O.J. trial, and at first the idea of a TV dramatization of those events didn’t hold much appeal for me, but like everyone else I was blown away by the riveting ten-episode The People v. O.J. Simpson.  I was incredibly impressed with the way the show humanized so many of the men and women involved in the trial, even those who at the time I saw as villains or cartoons.  The show’s greatest triumph was its complete redemption of losing prosecutor Marcia Clarke, who was brutalized by the media and much of the public at the time.  This incredible episode of the show shines a spotlight on this particular issue, showing the many ways in which Ms. Clarke was run through the public ringer as she attempted to prosecute the case.  The show, and this episode, hold out Ms. Clarke as a hero, someone attempting to navigate the impossible collision of prosecuting a hugely public case while also attempting to maintain a private life and be a mom to her kids, all the while going through a nasty divorce (and the way that divorce was thrust into the public eye), as well as incredible sexism and judgments about her appearance (her outfits, her hairstyle) made by the general public and colleagues alike.  We see Ms. Clarke forced to grin and bear snide comments not only from Judge Lance Ito but even a nameless check-out clerk when she’s buying tampons.  It’s heartbreaking.  This performance was a triumph by Sarah Paulson, who was able to bring Ms. Clarke to life with enormous dignity and grace, and who with just a tiny movement or look could bring the audience right into Ms. Clarke’s heart and mind.

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9. Black Mirror: “San Junipero” (season three, episode four, released on 10/21/16) – I rejoiced that Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker’s marvelous British anthology series exploring the dangers of technology, was resurrected by Netflix for a third season.  This new season didn’t wind up matching the greatness of the first two seasons, but one standout was this episode, “San Junipero.”  In the 1980′s, we follow the gentle story of the flowering relationship between Yorkie (The Martians Mackenzie Davis), a tentative young woman first taking ownership of the idea that she is a lesbian, … [continued]

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The Top Twenty Episodes of TV in 2016 — Part Two!

Let’s continue my look back at The Top Twenty Episodes of TV in 2016!  Last week I presented part one of my list, with numbers twenty through sixteen.  Onward!

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15. Brooklyn 99: “9 Days” (season three, episode twelve, aired on 1/19/16) – Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) and Captain Holt (Andre Braugher) get the mumps and are quarantined together for nine days.  “9 Days” has one of the most ridiculous premises of any episode of Brooklyn 99, and yet, somehow, it also manages to be one of the funniest.  The Peralta-Holt pairing has always been comedy gold for the show, and this episode really lets Mr. Samberg and Mr. Braugher go at it, assisted by some comically over-the-top make-up effects to depict their mumps-swollen faces.  Gems in this episode include watching the two men discuss their testicular pain, hearing Holt yell “CASE” as Jake tumbles to the ground, and this exchange: Amy: “I’m immune to stuff you haven’t even heard of.”  Holt: “But not immune to braggadocio.”  I enjoyed seeing The Office’s Oscar Nuñez pop up as the doctor who gives Jake & Holt their diagnosis, and I loved Boyle’s description of Rosa as having a “motorcycle helmet for a heart,” as well as his advice on grief: “Real men don’t cry for more than three days.”  And let’s not forget Gina’s comment that: “C-minus is the perfect grade. You pass, but you’re still hot.”  Also: the name of Amy’s trivia team is “Trivia Newton-John”?!  Genius!

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14. Luke Cage: “DWYCK” (season one, episode nine, released on 9/30/16) – This episode, late in the run of the first season of Luke Cage, came at a time in which the Netflix show seemed to be spinning its wheels, stretching time to fill out the 13 episode run by having Luke (Mike Colter) and Claire (Rosario Dawson) inexplicably leave town while the bad guys wreak havoc in order to track down the doc who had a hand in Luke’s super-hero origin.  While I didn’t have much patience for that story development, it allowed room for this episode’s welcome and wonderful spotlight on Misty Knight (Simone Missick), the NYPD officer who has been Luke’s friend and also his most dogged enemy.  I have always loved the character of Misty from the comic books, and I never thought we’d ever get to see this wonderful character appear on-screen, let alone as perfectly realized as she was on this show.  Ms. Missick was a revelation, phenomenal at bringing this strong, honest African-American woman to life.  This episode begins with Misty on suspension, having lost her cool when Claire was in police custody.  Over the course of the episode, we follow Misty’s grilling by a … [continued]

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The Top Twenty Episodes of TV in 2016 — Part One!

I hope you all enjoyed my list of the Twenty Best Movies of 2016!  And now, onward to TV…

Just like I felt when considering all the movies I’d seen in 2016, on the one hand I feel like I watched a lot of amazing TV in 2016, and on the other hand, in this era of Peak TV I feel that what I saw was just a drop in the bucket compared to all the great TV that is out there.  I never found time to watch: Veep, Transparent, Silicon Valley season 3, Horace and Pete, Atlanta, Better Things, Roots, The Man in the High Castle, Preacher, Powers season 2, Documentary Now!, Halt and Catch Fire, Red Oaks, Lady Dynamite, Fleabag, Search Party, Rectify, The Good Place, and many other great shows.

But, on the other hand, I saw so much great TV that I felt the need to expand what had once been a Top Ten list and which was, in 2015, a Top Fifteen list, to a TOP TWENTY list this year.

And so, I am proud to present to you my list of the Top Twenty Episodes of TV in 2016:

20. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: “President-Elect Trump” (aired on 11/13/16) — Week in and week out in 2016, John Oliver solidified his claim as heir to the throne of Jon Stewart (whose tenure as host of The Daily Show was deeply, profoundly missed this tumultuous election year).  I was all set to write about Mr. Oliver’s searing indictment of Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump in his “Make America Drumpf Again” episode (watch it here), or his warnings about the dangers of Brexit (watch it here), and yet following the upheaval of November 8th I found I could only post Mr. Oliver’s final show of 2016, which aired just a few days after the election.  Mr. Oliver perfectly summed up the emotions felt by the almost 66 million Americans who cast ballots for Hillary Clinton.  You can watch the whole episode at the link above.  It’s been a rough past few weeks without Mr. Oliver’s presence and I can’t wait for his return in early 2017.

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19. Daredevil: “New York’s Finest” (season two, episode three, released on 3/18/16) — The second season of Netflix’s Daredevil wasn’t as consistently spectacular as season one, but other than the anticlimactic rooftop ending I still thought it was a great season of superhero TV.  This third episode was a standout, possibly the high point of the season-long story of Daredevil’s confrontation with violent vigilante Frank Castle (“the Punisher”).  This episode begins with DD defeated and chained up on a roof in … [continued]

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We’ve reached the end of my list of my Top Twenty Movies of 2016Click here for numbers twenty through sixteen, click here for numbers fifteen through eleven, and click here for numbers ten through six.

And now, my top five favorite movies of 2016!

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5. Hail, Caesar! I can’t believe how ignored this terrific Coen Brothers movie has been!  Set in Hollywood in the 1950′s, the film stars Josh Brolin as Eddie Mannix, a studio exec and “fixer” who is trying to locate his kidnapped star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), before news of the star’s disappearance can make it into the papers.  Baird’s kidnapping, by a group of disgruntled Communist screenwriters, is only one of the many fires that Mannix has to try to put out as he tries to keep his studio afloat and all of his in-production pictures running smoothly.  Hail, Caesar! is a very silly film, which is a difficult tone to hit, but the Coen Brothers make it look effortless.   The film mines a lot of humor gently skewering the art of making movies and the pomposity of Hollywood egos.  The fall-on-the-floor hysterical scene in which director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) — whose very name is a subtle gag running throughout the film — tries and fails to give a line reading to the dim-bulb cowboy actor Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) could be the funniest single scene in any movie this year.  Josh Brolin is terrific as the serious man (see what I did there?) trying his best to wrangle all the Hollywood crazies surrounding him.  Tilda Swinton, Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum, Alison Pill, Wayne Knight, Jonah Hill, David Krumholtz, Fisher Stevens, Fred Melamed, Patrick Fischler, Robert Picardo, and even Christopher Lambert (the original Highlander himself!) are all so great in their appearances in the film.  While Hail, Caesar! might not be one of the greatest Coen Brothers films ever (of a caliber with The Big Lebowski, Miller’s Crossing, Fargo, or A Serious Man), it is still easily one of the best movies of 2016.  (Click here for my full review.)

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4. Arrival —  When twelve extraterrestrial spaceships appear in different locations around the globe, linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is tasked with finding a way to communicate with the alien life-forms (huge creatures that the human scientists refer to as “heptapods”).  Arrival is a magnificent film, a gorgeous, original, cerebral sci-fi story.  The film has the visual splendor of a big-budget movie, but this is not an action-adventure film, rather this is an intelligent drama that is a fascinating exploration of language and communication.  I was enormously impressed by the way the film … [continued]

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The Top Twenty Movies of 2016 — Part Two!

On Wednesday I began my list of my Top Twenty Movies of 2016! Let’s continue:

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15. Weiner It’s remarkable that this film exists.  For some reason, disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner allowed a documentary crew full access to himself, his family, and his political team during his campaign for the Democratic nomination to be the Mayor of New York City in 2013.  Weiner’s attempt at political resuscitation came crashing down around his ears in spectacular fashion when, a few weeks into the campaign, new sexting scandals came to light.  The film is a you-can’t-look-away story of personal and professional catastrophe, and there’s something mesmerizing about it.  It’s a fascinating how-the-sausage-is-made look behind the scenes of a modern political campaign, and a devastating story of a very flawed man destroying himself.  It’s exhilarating and terrifying, funny and deeply sad.  Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg have crafted a remarkable film that has so much to say about the political and human realities of our current age.

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14. 10 Cloverfield Lane Somehow J.J. Abrams’ production company, Bad Robot, was able to create this film almost entirely in secret, only announcing it’s existence a few months before its release.  That’s an incredible magic trick all its own in today’s internet spoiler era, but even putting all of that aside and judging the film strictly on it’s own two feet, this is a great movie that really hit me in my movie-going sweet spot.  For much of the film’s run-time, it’s a gripping character piece and exercise in escalating tension.  Michelle, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs the World) wakes up after a car accident to find herself locked in an underground bunker with Howard (John Goodman) and a young man, Emmett (John Gallagher).  Howard is a survivalist who tells Michelle that a deadly virus or nerve agent has been released by a foreign attack and that, if she leaves the bunker, she will die.  Is he telling the truth or is he lying?  Is Howard Michelle’s savior or a terrible villain?  Dan Trachtenberg’s film (written by the great Drew Goddard) keeps turning the screws on Michelle and the audience, and it’s a magnificent thing to watch.  All three main actors are fantastic, 100% invested in this story and these roles.  Then there are the film’s final twenty minutes, which are absolutely bonkers and yet absolutely perfect.  I love the idea that Bad Robot will be periodically releasing Cloverfield films, creating a movie anthology series of weird and suspenseful tales.  I loved 2008’s Cloverfield, and this new film — which totally stands on its own and yet also feels 100% “of a piece” with the first Cloverfield[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]