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Josh’s Favorite Comic Book Series of 2017 — Part Two!

Yesterday I posted the beginning of my list of my fifteen favorite comic book series of 2017!  Here now is my top five:

5. Kill or Be Killed (by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips) — Dylan is a normal young man who gets sick and sees the devil in his dreams; the devil tells him that he will die unless he kills one person every month.  Is this series a fantasy story, or is this a depiction of one person’s descent into dementia and murder?  I’m not sure!  The story works perfectly either way.  It’s an intimate character study and a stomach-clenching look at how one apparently regular person can become a murderer.  Mr. Brubaker and Mr. Phillips have become one of comic’s most unbeatable teams.  I’ve been following their incredible collaborations ever since Image Comics’ Sleeper.  Kill or Be Killed is another triumph, a dark, edge-of-your-seat page-turner.

4. Saga (by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples) — This wild and crazy, funny and deeply moving sci-fi fantasy adventure continues to surprise and delight me at every turn.  Mr. Vaughan is a Joss Whedon-level master at creating characters that we fall in love with, and then putting them (and therefore the audience!) through torturous hell.  There’s no other comic book out there that is anything like Saga, with its roller-coaster-ride style of storytelling, merging an overwhelming amount of stunningly original ideas and concepts with rich character arcs.  Saga is funny and weird and terrifying and heartbreaking.  Fiona Staple’s gorgeous artwork never disappoints, and is evidence, panel-after-panel and page-after-page, that she is one of the very best illustrators working in this business.  This Saga only gets richer and more emotionally wrenching with every issue.  I adore it.  (And the back-of-the-book letters page is the best in comics today.)

3. Lazarus (by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark and others) — 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 … [continued]

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Josh’s Favorite Comic Book Series of 2017!

It’s taken me longer than I’d hoped to get these all ready, but I’m excited to (finally!) wrap up my Best of 2017 lists with my look back at my Fifteen Favorite Comic Book Series of 2017!

15. The Black Monday Murders (by Jonathan Hickman and Tomm Coker) — Jonathan Hickman and Tomm Coker have crafted a fascinating alternate history in which a group of dark occultists have control of all of the world’s financial institutions.  I am blown away by the depth and complexity of this twisted world that has been created.  Mr. Hickman’s writing, and his usual assortment of info-graphics, are dense with information and back-story.  It’s great fun to try to puzzle everything out.  And Mr. Corker’s art — WOW.  This is extraordinary work, beautifully rich and detailed.  This story is a gripping mystery and a thrilling piece of speculative fiction.  I can’t wait to see where this all goes.  (This series would be a LOT higher on my list if it came out more frequently.)

14. Batman: Creature of the Night (by Kurt Busiek and John Paul Leon) — This bizarre tale is set in the “real world” in which a young comic-book fan named Bruce Wainwright suffers a terrible tragedy, and then apparently manifests a Batman-like creature to strike vengeance upon evil-doers.  I’m not sure where the story is going, but the first two issues of this mini-series (each of which have been 48 pages long, and square-bound) have been amazing.  As always, Kurt Busiek is able to create rich, fully-realized human characters about whom you grow to care deeply, and John Paul Leon’s art is absolutely extraordinary.  I adore both of these men’s work so much.

13. Marvel’s Star Wars Comics — It is extremely rare for a licensed comic book series to be good.  Dark Horse Comics published some great Alien comic books back in the day, and back when they held the Star Wars license they also published some great Star Wars comics…and also some bad ones.  There was a period in the eighties when DC Comics’ Star Trek comic book series, written by Peter David, was pretty terrific… and Warren Ellis’ run last year on Dynamite’s James Bond comic series was extraordinary.  But these examples are few and far between!!  Most comic-book versions of established movies or TV series wind up being lame shadows of the original works.  But somehow, shockingly, Marvel Comics’ Star Wars series have been pretty great!  That’s doubly impressive considering that Marvel has been publishing a TON of different Star Wars series, mini-series, and one-shots, set all across the Star Wars universe and timeline.  There have been a few weak links (I was excited for the Mace … [continued]

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Josh’s Favorite Movies of 2017 — Part Four!

And so we reach the end of my look back at my favorite movies of 2017!  Click here for part one of my list, click here for part two, and click here for part three!  And now, here are my five favorite movies of 2017:

5. The Big Sick The Big Sick, written by Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon and directed by Michael Showalter, is based on the true story of Kumail and Emily’s relationship.  The first half of the film feels like a romantic comedy, and then things take a dramatic shift when Emily falls into a coma.  This film is deeply emotional and also very, very funny.  It feels like the heir to the great comedic-dramatic films of James L. Brooks (such as Broadcast News, one of my favorites).  Mr. Nanjiani and Ms. Gordon’s script is sharp and deep, able to bring the funny in a big way while also diving deeply into these characters and, particularly, Kumail’s struggles to balance the expectations of his Muslim family with his personal life choices.  It’s a delight to see Mr. Nanjiani step so effortlessly into this leading-man role, while Holly Hunter and Ray Romano are spectacular as Emily’s parents.  The film is as much about them as it is about Kumail and Emily, which is a bold choice and a key ingredient of this film’s greatness.  I love this film dearly.  (Click here for my full review.)

4. Star Wars: The Last Jedi It’s hard to imagine a Star Wars film being underrated, and yet, I have found the on-line anger directed towards Star Wars: The Last Jedi to be quite perplexing.  The film is not perfect.  The mid-movie digression to Canto Bight doesn’t work and feels like a colossal waste of time, and the slow starship chase that forms the spine of the film’s narrative is ridiculous (why the First Order ships couldn’t use light speed to zip in front of the fleeing rebel spaceship is a mystery to me), which weakens the entire film.  And yet, there is so much to love in this film.  First of all, I love the film for constantly defying expectations.  Every time I thought I knew where the film was going, it surprised me.  Sometimes those choices worked and sometimes they didn’t, but while many seem to be frustrated that this is not the Star Wars film they’d expected it to be, I love The Last Jedi for that.  (If you want to watch The Empire Strikes Back, they already made that movie!  So go and watch it!)  I love that The Last Jedi attempts to expand our understanding of the Force.  I love Mark Hamill’s work … [continued]

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Josh’s Favorite Movies of 2017 — Part Two!

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

15. Coco Once again, the mad geniuses at Pixar have crafted a film that is fun, visually stunning, and emotionally complex.  The “hook” of the film is young Miguel’s accidental journey into the Land of the Dead, and the film creates an entire universe and mythology out of the idea of death and the afterlife with as much care, creativity, and attention to detail that we saw in Inside Outs creation of the world inside a young girl’s head.  But why this film, like so many of Pixar’s films, is so impressive is how emotionally rich it is.  There were a number of moments in the third act that had me in tears.  I love that this is an original story, and I love the way that Lee Unkrich and his team were able to develop and explore all of these fascinating characters over the course of this relatively short film.  The film surprised me again and again.  This is yet another winner from Pixar.  (Click here for my full review.)

14. Dunkirk Like all of Christopher Nolan’s films, Dunkirk is crafted with the precision of a Swiss Watch.  I love the way that the film is divided into three different sections, depicting the conflict at Dunkirk from the perspective of characters on land, at sea, and in the air, and I am bowled over by how perfectly those three stories, which take place over differing amounts of time, slowly slide into chronological synch as the film builds to its conclusion.  It’s an extraordinary narrative feat.  I was impressed with how Mr. Nolan stripped away most of the dialogue in the film, resulting in a near-silent movie which relies mostly on its gorgeous and haunting visuals — along with a unique score — to tell the story.  Dunkirk is a cold film, with none of the sentimentality that one might expect in a war movie.  It’s a bold approach, one that makes Dunkirk an unusual and unexpected film.  I love those choices, and the result is a singularly impressive and moving piece of work.  (Click here for my full review.)

13. Alien: Covenant A vastly underrated film that, sadly, failed to find an audience.  I stand by my conviction that Alien: Covenant is the third-best film in the entire Alien franchise (bested only, of course, by the original two films: Alien and Aliens).  The film is a sequel to Prometheus, but it’s also far more directly linked to the original Alien (as Prometheus should have been) in a way that brings focus and … [continued]

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I hope you enjoyed my look back at my Favorite Episodes of TV of 2017!  And now, let’s turn to my Favorite Movies of 2017

As always, there were far more great movies released this year than I had time to see.  Movies that looked great but that I missed include: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Get Out, Phantom Thread, Darkest Hour, I Tonya, Wind River, Logan Lucky, Professor Marsten and the Wonder Women, The Lost City of Z, Downsizing, Atomic Blonde, and many more.  So if you’re wondering why any of those movies aren’t on my list, now you know.

Before we begin, I should start by mentioning two incredible 2016 movies that I saw in January 2017, after I had already written my Best Movies of 2016 list:  Lion and Moonlight.  Moonlight, in particular, is a masterpiece that surely would have been in my TOP FIVE of 2016 had I seen it in time.

And now, without any further delay, let’s dive into my list of my Favorite Movies of 2017:

Honorable Mention: Logan Hugh Jackman’s swan song as Wolverine brought a satsifying close to his nearly two decades playing the character.  Throwing aside the usual look and feel of a superhero movie, director James Mangold chose instead to make a dark, grim R-rated drama that shocked me with its intensity and its violence.  I loved their choices in making a very different kind of X-Men film, one with no colorful costumes or grandiose musical themes.  This is a drama focused tightly on its characters, and both Hugh Jackman as Logan and Patrick Stewart as Professor X (in which will also likely be his final appearance in the role) give what is probably their very best performances as these characters.  Long-running series rarely get a definitive ending; when one comes, as it did here, it is very special.  (Click here for my full review.)

20. Battle of the Sexes This story of Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs’ 1973 tennis match is an enjoyable, beautifully-made recreation of the dramatic events surrounding this televised battle of the genders.  It is also a riveting, very much of this specific time and place film that has a lot to say about equality today.  I was pleasantly surprised that Battle of the Sexes was as much about the struggles of gays and lesbians to live open, free lives as it was about female liberation and the struggle for equality between the sexes.  Both Emma Stone and Steve Carrell are terrific, wonderfully portraying these famous people while also bringing true life to their performances, rather than just giving a robotic act of recreation.  I wasn’t expecting … [continued]

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

And so, we arrive, at last, at My Five Favorite Episodes of TV of 2017!  (Click here for part one of my list, click here for part two, click here for part three, and click here for part four.)

5. Brockmire: “Rally Cap” (season one, episode one, aired on 4/5/17) — We enter my TOP FIVE with what is probably my favorite new show of 2017, Brockmire.  Hank Azaria stars in the role he was born to play as Jim Brockmire, a disgraced, alcoholic former baseball announcer hired to do play-by-play for a tiny minor league baseball team in a small, middle-American town.  This is a brilliant comedic set-up, and Hank Azaria bites into the role of the brash, profane, and deeply broken Brockmire with aplomb.  Mr. Azaria can make anything sound funny with his “baseball announcer” voice, but the miracle of the show is how they are able to slowly craft Brockmire into a fully-realized character, not just a one-dimensional punchline.  Amanda Peet has perfect chemistry with Mr. Azaria as Jules, the baseball-loving team owner who hired Brockmire.  Every single one of their scenes together is dynamite.  I almost put episode six, “Road Trip,” on this list, for the insane and hysterical scene in which Brockmire accidentally snorts Jules’ abortion pill, but in the end I had to go with this first episode, which was a note-perfect introduction to these characters and this world.  It also contains the moment which made me laugh harder than almost anything else I saw on TV in 2017: a drunken Brockmire’s post-it-note suicide letter, which he asks Jules to give to his ex-wife who humiliated him (“She’ll know what it’s in regards to”).  It was very dark and jaw-droppingly hilarious.  I loved it.  (Click here for my full review of Brockmire season one.)

4. The Good Place: “Michael’s Gambit” (season one, episode thirteen, aired on 1/19/17) — Far too many TV shows these days are built around twists or “surprises” that the audience figures out way before the show wants us to, resulting in disappointing and anticlimactic story-telling.  So bravo to Parks and Recreation’s Michael Schur for crafting this incredible first season of The Good Place, which culminated in this staggeringly good twist that reshaped everything we thought we knew about the show.  The first season of The Good Place was fantastic even before the twist (which is where most shows built around twists fail), and it holds up marvelously well even when you know the twist, because of how perfectly everything fits together (which is where most OTHER shows built around twists fail!).  I loved this season from start to finish, but it was … [continued]

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Welcome back!  We’re about to enter the TOP TEN of my list of My Favorite Episodes of TV of 2017!  Click here for part one, click here for part two, and click here for part three.

And now, onward…!

10. Silicon Valley: “Terms of Service” (season four, episode two, aired on 4/30/17) — A comedic highlight of the fourth season of Silicon Valley, and the show as a whole, was this brief, beautiful moment in which Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) ascended to CEO of PiperChat … and then flamed out spectacularly.  Mr. Nanjiani has been a secret weapon on the show since the beginning, and he killed it in this spotlight episode.  I loved watching the arrogant, drunk-with-power Dinesh, but the brilliant comedic beauty of the moment in which Dinesh realized how badly he had bungled things and just how far over his head he was, was astonishing.  It was one of the funniest moments in any TV show all year long.  (The continual pinging sound effect throughout the scene, as more and more under-age users sign up for PiperChat and Dinesh finds himself in deeper and deeper trouble, took a great scene and made it amazing.  It’s a piece of comedic genius.)  The entire ensemble was on fire in this episode.  Throw in the welcome return of Matt McCoy’s sad-sack lawyer (“My shame will linger long after my voting rights are restored”) and a great final moment with series villain Gavin Belson as his triumph turns to ash (when he realizes the truth about PiperChat) and you have a winner of an episode.  (Click here for my full review of Silicon Valley season four.)

9. Sherlock: “The Final Problem” (season four, episode three, aired on 1/15/17) — What just might be the final episode of Sherlock that we ever see (though I hope that’s not the case!) was one of the series’ darkest and most nail-bitingly intense.  After a lot of teasing, this episode confirmed that the big bad villain of the season was the never-before-seen third Holmes sibling.  Sian Brooke was terrific as the dangerous and insane Eurus Holmes.  For the first time in the series, both Sherlock and Mycroft seemed truly outmatched.  This episode wrought tremendous tension out of Eurus’ torturing of her brothers and John Watson, as she presented them with a series of increasingly impossible challenges.  This was as grim as the show has ever gotten, as time and again our three heroes were powerless to stop innocent people from being murdered by Eurus all around them.  I could hardly believe what I was watching.  The show has never looked better — every aspect of the production seemed to be firing … [continued]

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I have been reviewing My Favorite Episodes of TV of 2017!  Click here for part one, and here for part two.  And now, onward to part three:

15. The Tick: “Party Crashers” (season one, episode four, released on 8/25/17) — Just as Arthur is getting drawn deeper in the world of super-heroes (embodied by the Tick and the vigilante Overkill) and super-villains (Miss Lint and the Terror), he has to attend his step-father’s birthday party in the suburbs.  Of course, both the Tick and Miss Lint crash the party, and the result is the comedic highlight of this very funny first batch of episodes.  Peter Serafinowicz is amazing as the Tick, and he’s particularly funny when placed into the very non-superhero-like setting of a birthday party in the suburbs.  This was also the episode in which I fell in love with the beleaguered former super-villain hench-woman Miss Lint.  (The scenes with her ex-husband Derek, with whom she is apparently still sharing an apartment, were so funny.)  Miss Lint is the best new character in this version of The Tick.  I was also so happy to see François Chau (Pierre Chang from Lost!) as Arthur’s stepfather Walter.  I have loved The Tick since its humble beginnings as an independently published black-and-white comic book in the eighties, through all three (!) of its TV incarnations.  This Netflix version might be the best one yet — if your’e not watching it (and most of you aren’t), you should remedy that immediately.  (Click here for my full review of The Tick: season one, part one.)

14. The Good Place: “Dance Dance Resolution” (season two, episode two, aired on 9/28/17) — The season finale of The Good Place’s first season (which, ahem, I will discuss in detail later on in this list) upended the show’s status quo in a magnificent and surprising way.  I thought that meant that the second season would tell a similar, season-long story in this new set-up, but this second episode of season two threw that all out the window in a spectacularly audacious manner.  I am reluctant to say too much, because if you haven’t yet seen this show I don’t want to spoil any of the fantastic surprises that await you.  Let me say that this wonderfully insane episode takes place over the course of hundreds of years and demonstrated that this is a show in which anything can happen, one in which the writers will fearlessly take the characters and the show in dramatically new directions when you least expect it.  Narratively bold and, as always, absolutely fall-on-the-floor funny (I laughed so hard at Michael’s description that the time when even Jason was … [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]