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Josh Reviews The Eternals

The latest MCU film, The Eternals, brings Jack Kirby’s cosmic creations to the big screen for the first time.  The film introduces audiences to the Eternals, a group of immortals who have been living on Earth for around seven thousand years.  They were planted on Earth by gigantic space gods known as the Celestials, in order to defend burgeoning humanity from the threat of the monstrous Deviants, who hunt down and destroy intelligent life across the universe.  While the Eternals thought they’d wiped out the last of the Deviants on Earth millennia ago, as the film begins they discover that the Deviants have returned, at the same time as a new menace emerges that threatens the entire planet.

The Eternals is a fun film, filled with all sorts of wild stuff from the comics that delighted me to see on screen.  At almost two hours and forty minutes, the film is longer than it needs to be.  (I wish the section in the middle of the film in which Ikaris, Sersi and Sprite set out to gather the rest of the scattered Eternals was shorter.  I understand why it’s not; all the individual scenes are great and it’s nice to allow each character in this large ensemble to get time in the spotlight, but taken as a whole it means we basically see characters receive the same information several times over.)

I like that the film’s tone is a little different from what has become the standard adventure/jokey tone of the MCU.  There are some funny moments in The Eternals, but as a whole this is a more somber, elegiac film that the average MCU movie.  I like that director Chloé Zhao and her team have brought a sense of epic scope and beauty to the film, as well as a focus on an exploration of the characters, as well as the broader cosmic universe of the MCU.  The film is beautiful, with a memorable “on location” feel in beautiful settings across the globe, a credit to the work of Ms. Zhao and her crew.

I love that Marvel’s Phase Four is focusing on introducing new characters and new concepts into the MCU.  Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings brought all sorts of new characters and ideas into the MCU, and The Eternals is an even bigger swing for the fences, as the movie involves the origin story of all life on planet Earth and introduces a variety of ancient cosmic characters.

The Eternals represents what is by far the most obscure characters to headline an MCU film by far (topping what I’d say is the previous champion, and also the last MCU film released: Shang-Chi and the [continued]

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Josh Reviews Godzilla vs. Kong

April 14th, 2021
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Well, I have to admit to at least being somewhat impressed that the folks at Legendary powered through and made their monster-movie crossover, despite the somewhat lackluster box office performance of the previous movies in the series.  For myself, I thought Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla was OK, and I really dug 2017’s Kong: Skull Island; but I thought 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters was terrible.  But here we are, at the big smack-down between Godzilla and Kong.  Godzilla vs. Kong is fun to watch, but wowsers, the movie is eye-rollingly dumb.

For a movie called Godzilla vs. Kong, there isn’t nearly as much Godzilla versus Kong fighting as I’d expected.  The film makes us wait quite a while for their first tussle (a fight in the middle of the ocean that ends in a weirdly inconclusive way).  However, I did quite enjoy their big third act smackdown in the middle of Hong Kong.

This is a big-budget visual effects spectacle, and the film looks great.  Both Kong and Godzilla look terrific on screen; the CGI is very realistic.  I had an easy time accepting that these two huge crazy monsters actually exist.  There’s quite a lot of CGI carnage when the monsters battle.  I was impressed with the scale of the film, and I had fun watching these two famous movie monsters go at it.  When the movie pushes the boring human characters to the rear and lets Kong and Godzilla tussle, it’s a lot of fun!

The realization of Kong is my favorite aspect of the film.  I really like the look of Kong here.  He looks a lot older and more grizzled than he did in Skull Island.  (This film is set half a century later, so that makes sense.). Kong is insanely ginormous, but I guess that was needed so that he could match up against Godzilla.  I can go with with it.  Most importantly, Kong feels like a real character in a way that none of the human beings in the film actually do!

The movie has a great cast, though sadly none of them are given anything to do.  This film isn’t quite as ridiculously dumb as Godzilla: King of the Monsters… but it’s nevertheless disappointingly populated with one-dimensional characters and nonsensical plot twists.

The best character in the film is the deaf young girl Jia, played by Kaylee Hottle.  This young child actor is phenomenal; so emotive and naturalistic!  I was bowled over.  Rebecca Hall plays  Dr. Ilene Andrews, a Monarch scientist who’s been looking after Kong.  I love Ms. Hall, and she’s a charismatic on-screen presence, but we never really get to know her character at all.  Why is she … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Joker

October 23rd, 2019
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Joker, directed by Todd Phillips and written by Mr. Phillips and Scott Silver, tells the origin of the famous Batman villain, the Joker.  However, this take on the Joker is almost entirely divorced from the Batman comic mythos, and it is also completely separate from all of the recent DC Universe films from Warner Brothers.  This stand-alone tale tells the story of a loner named Arthur Fleck, played by Joaquin Phoenix, who longs to be a star on the late-night television show of Murray Franklin, played by Robert De Niro.  Arthur lives with his ailing mother and struggles to get work as a performing clown.  The film charts his descent into madness and violence, and the chaos stirred up in his wake.

Joker represents an interesting and somewhat unusual approach to take, and frankly I am of two minds about it.  I am all-in on a serious, adult take on superheroes.  I loved Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, which were dead-serious in their approach to Batman and his world.  Joker is an even deeper dive into the psychological underpinnings of a Batman character, the titular Joker.  I love that about the film, and I think it succeeds in presenting a very disturbing look at this character and how he might have emerged in a world that feels very much like our own.  On the other hand, just as I wasn’t interested in a movie about Spider-Man villain Venom in which Spider-Man didn’t appear (I skipped 2019’s Venom), while watching Joker I found myself often thinking that this felt like only half a film.  As much as I was enjoying the journey towards the creation of the Joker, I often felt like I was missing the Batman side of the story.

The strongest aspect of the film is Joaquin Phoenix’s tremendously compelling work as Arthur Fleck.  Mr. Phoenix paints a viscerally gripping picture of a slowly disintegrating man.  There is not a whiff of cartoonishness or over-the-top stylization in this performance.  Mr. Phoenix plays things totally, hauntingly real.  Even in an otherwise grounded superhero film, there’s usually the point in which the hero or villain makes the choice to put on a costume, and we’re in the land of fantasy.  But Joker never goes there.  Arthur Fleck never transforms into what you’d expect a super-villain to look like.  This is the film’s power.  As we see this man break, and slip into delusion and violence, it’s all the more painful because it all feels real.  Mr Phoenix’s performance is terrifying and unhinged.  I have often complimented Mr. Phoenix for the way he adjusts his physicality for his different roles; that skill is on impressive display here, as he has somehow contorted his … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Atlanta Season Two: Robbin’ Season

I was a few years late, but recently I finally caught up with the first season of Donald Glover’s show Atlanta.  It was every bit as fantastic as I’d heard!  (Click here for my full review.)  I didn’t waste any time before moving on to season two, which I enjoyed just as much as season one.

Atlanta Season Two is subtitled Robbin’ Season.  The first episode kicks off with a lengthy sequence of the robbery of a fast-food joint.  This vignette features characters we haven’t met before and won’t see again, but it sets the tone for this thematically rich and endlessly compelling and original season of television.  Darius explains to the audience soon after that robberies increase in the lead-up to the annual holiday season, because “everyone got to eat.”  As the season unfolds, we witness several more literal robberies (Al is ripped off by his long-time drug connect, and in a later episode is held up at gunpoint by three fans on the side of the road; Tracy brazenly steals a pair of shoes from a mall shoe-store; Al’s barber engages in a series of escalating grifts; the gang all get their gear destroyed, and Earn has his laptop stolen, after a college campus performance goes wary).  But more than that, we see many of the show’s characters, particularly Earn, pushed to the brink of desperation by their need to eat, to find a way to keep their heads above water as the world seems to conspire against them.  Atlanta can be a very funny show, but the reason it’s a great show is because of its complexity and depth.

The season started off in a fairly low-key manner, with a series of episodes that were fun and funny and caught us up with the gang in the time that had passed since the end of season one.

Creator and star Donald Glover’s Earn was clearly the main character of season one, but in season two Earn took a step back to let others into the spotlight.  (Earn hardly appeared at all in a three-episode stretch in the middle of the season.)  Al (Paper Boi), played by Brian Tyree Henry, really stepped into focus for me this season.  We got to get to know Al much deeper this year.  We saw his struggle to “keep it real” at the same time as his star is rising.  (We see this most powerfully in “Woods,” in which Al argues with the young woman he is hanging out with over her manipulation of social media to increase her fame; in that same episode, Al’s attempt to walk home like a normal person gets him stuck in an increasingly terrible … [continued]

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Late to the Party: Josh Reviews Atlanta Season One!

I’ve read a lot about how great Donald Glover’s show Atlanta was, but I never found the time to check it out.  But it’s stayed on my to-watch list, and I am delighted to have finally gotten a chance to watch the first season.  It’s as fantastic as I’d heard!

The show was created by Donald Glover, who also stars in the lead role as Earn, and who also wrote or directed many of the first season’s ten episodes.  This is a fantastic tour de force, and although the shows are very different, it reminds me a lot of what Aziz Ansari achieved with Master of None.  Both shows represent a powerful creative vision, bringing a very new type of TV show to the screen.

Atlanta follows the struggles of Earn, a young, poor man who talks his way into becoming the manager for his cousin Alfred (Brian Tyree Henry), who has started to make a name for himself as the rapper Paper Boi.  Earn has fathered a child with Van (Zazie Beetz), who the two are raising together, but he and Van aren’t married and, at various points in the season, aren’t even together as a couple.  Finally, Lakeith Stanfield plays Darius, Paper Boi’s bizarre friend and right-hand-man.

The show is loosely about Earn’s struggles with poverty and his attempts to succeed, for the first time in his life, in his new role as Paper Boi’s manager.  We also follow Earn’s on-again, off-again relationship with Van, and also Alfred’s struggles with his first brush at fame, which proves to be not entirely what he’d expected it to be.

But the show is at once much larger and much smaller than those plot points.  I was impressed how carefully Atlanta was able to focus on these wonderful characters, giving them each a lot of love and attention and fleshing them all out to great depth over the course of just these ten short episodes.  I was particularly pleased by the attention the show gave to Van.  She could easily have fallen to the side in favor of a focus on the three guys, but I loved that the show often paused to give her spotlight and agency.  I think my favorite episode of the season was the Van-focused “Value,” in which we follow her along on an awkward evening with a sort-of-friend (their very different social strata presenting one of many obstacles between the two), and then Van’s creative but ultimately failed attempts to beat a drug-test at work the next day.

Atlanta is technically a comedy, and there are some very funny sequences in this first season.  (The sight of Van accidentally popping the urine-filled condom in her … [continued]

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Is it possible that I just saw the very best Spider-Man movie ever?  I think I did!  I have huge love for Sam Raimi’s first two Spider-Man films, and the recent Spider-Man: Homecoming was also terrific.  But, my friends, I think we may have a new champion!

The animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse tells the story of Miles Morales.  Miles is a young man from Brooklyn, son of an African American father and a Puerto Rican mother.  His life is turned upside down after witnessing the death of Spider-Man, revealed to the world as Peter Parker.  With Spider-Man out of the way, it seems there is no one who can stop the Kingpin’s evil schemes.  So Miles steps to the plate, assisted by an unlikely team of Spider-allies from across the multiverse…

I am blown away by how amazing Into the Spider-Verse is.  Don’t dismiss it because it’s animated!  This is an extraordinary piece of work.  It is hilarious and joyous, while also frequently attaining an emotional richness far beyond what is found in most blockbuster films.  The animation is gorgeous, approaching genius-level in creativity.  This film works in every possible way.  I truly couldn’t have asked for anything more.

Miles Morales, the African American/Puerto Rican Spider-Man, was created by Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli.  For a long while, this character appeared in Marvel’s “Ultimate” universe, an offshoot of the main Marvel universe that allowed creators to rethink many of Marvel’s most popular characters.  (However, following the events of 2015’s Secret Wars crossover, Miles was brought over to the main Marvel universe.)  I’ve been a huge fan of the Miles character ever since issue one.  (Which was, technically, Ultimate Fallout #4.  Don’t question my nerd credentials!)  I am beyond thrilled to finally see Miles brought to life on-screen!  I never quite thought I’d see this day.

Not only is Miles finally appearing in a movie, but his story has been adapted in such a faithful manner!  I am blown away!  The Miles in Into the Spider-Verse is 100% the comic-book version created by Mr. Bendis and Ms. Pichelli.  They got the character absolutely perfect here.  I can’t believe how many great Miles storylines from the comics, many of which unfolded over the course of years, were incorporated into the film!  For instance, I was delighted that Miles’ complicated relationships with his father and his uncle Aaron was such an important part of the film.  And they even found a way to use the story of Miles’ friendship with the Spider-Gwen character!  Wow!

I was so excited when this film was announced, but then, when I learned of the Spider-Verse title, I was worried that Miles would wind up getting … [continued]