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Josh Reviews the Animated Batman: Gotham by Gaslight

February 23rd, 2018
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Batman: Gotham by Gaslight is an adaptation of the wonderful Gotham by Gaslight graphic novel from 1989 (written by Brian Augustyn and illustrated by Mike Mignola and P. Craig Russell).  The story is set in a Victorian Era version of Gotham City, in which the vigilante Batman attempts to find and stop the serial killer Jack, who is murdering women across the city.

Batman versus Jack the Ripper is a fantastic idea, and both the original graphic novel and this new animated adaptation really sink their teeth into this deliciously juicy concept.  There’s a reason the original graphic novel is so beloved.  It was the first of what DC would later call “Elseworlds” stories, in which the familiar DC characters were transposed into alternate settings.  Brian Augustyn wrote a great story, and the artwork by comics luminaries Mike Mignola and P. Craig Russell is fantastic.

I quite enjoyed the animated adaptation!  This is one of the best DC animated films in years!  This film feels like a return to what this series of direct-to-DVD/blu-ray animated films was originally designed to be: stand-alone adaptations of famous stories from across the years of DC Comics.  Gotham by Gaslight was a great choice to be adapted — it’s a great story with a lot of potential to be expanded and brought to life via animation.

And expand it they have.  The original story is a fairly short tale, and I was pleased with how the concept was expanded upon in this film.  I enjoyed how the film allowed us to see Victorian versions of many more characters from the Batman supporting cast (hero and villain) than we saw in the original graphic novel.  I was especially pleased by the larger role given to Selina Kyle.  I was surprised, at first, that this animated adaptation changed the identity of the villain from who he was in the original story, but this new version worked great.  (And the film takes the time to successfully develop a number of red herrings, so that the final revelation was actually a surprise to me.)

The animation is solid if not spectacular, consistent with the past several years of these DC animated films.  Where the film shines is in the character designs, which are a lovely blend of the Mignola/Russell artwork from the original graphic novel and the style that Bruce Timm pioneered for the DC animated adventures back with Batman: The Animated Series.  For the past several years, many of these DC animated films have had terribly bulky, ugly and awkward character designs, but I loved the look of the designs in this film.  And the general animation was solid.  These designs animated well.  There were some CGI … [continued]

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Steven Spielberg Triumphs Again With The Post!

In 1971, the New York Times obtained a secret study prepared by the Department of Defense on the history of the United States’ involvement in Vietnam from 1945-1967.  These documents demonstrated that a succession of Presidential administrations had been lying to the U.S. public about the war.  The Times published three articles featuring excerpts from these documents, dubbed the Pentagon Papers, before the Nixon Administration obtained an injunction forcing the Times to cease publication of the Papers.  When the Washington Post obtained the documents, executive editor Ben Bradlee and Post publisher Katharine Graham chose to defy the Nixon Administration and publish the Pentagon Papers in their newspaper.  By taking that action, they threw the future of the Post into question and risked possible jail time in a confrontation with the White House over the principle of freedom of the press that would wind up being decided by the Supreme Court.

The Post would be a magnificent film had it been released at any previous point in Steven Spielberg’s career.  But coming now, at this point in time, it is not just a great film, it is an important one.  The film is set almost forty years ago, and yet it feels like it could be taking place today.  (Change some of the names and you realize that, in fact, it pretty much is.)  The Post depicts a Presidential administration that chooses to deflect criticism by attacking the media, by whipping up public sentiment against the press and taking actions to curtail the very existence of an independent press.  It is striking to see the many way in which the story of the Pentagon Papers and the Nixon White House’s battles against the Washington Post echo the news we are reading about in the newspaper right now.  These philosophical battles for the soul of our nation that are depicted in The Post are taking place, again, right now, whether most Americans realize it or not, and the results will determine the future of our democracy.

The Post mounts a powerful defense for the central importance of a free press.  Both Tom Hanks (as Ben Bradlee) and Meryl Streep (as Katharine Graham) have powerful, emotional moments in the film in which they deliver stirring monologues making this point.  This is a film that every American should see.

But putting all that aside, it’s also just a dang great film.  Mr. Spielberg has taken these historical events and brought them to riveting life, and he has done it without using any showy tricks or dramatic directorial flourishes.  Everything in the film feels quiet and restrained.  Even John Williams’ score — which is excellent, of course — dials down Mr. William’s usual bombast and … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story

February 10th, 2017

I’m late to the party on this one.  I vividly remember all the hoopla surrounding the OJ Simpson trial twenty years ago, and frankly I wasn’t in a rush to revisit that tragic circus.  And while I respect what Ryan Murphy has accomplished in television over the past decade, none of his shows have particularly interested me.  But for months now I’d been hearing about how spectacular The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story was, and so I finally decided to see what all the fuss was about.  Holy cow, why did I wait so long??


This ten-episode mini-series is a masterpiece.  It was created by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who are executive producers along with Brad Falchuk, Nina Jacobson, Ryan Murphy, and Brad Simpson.  The American Crime Story show is intended as an anthology series.  This first season, titled The People v. O.J. Simpson, is based on Jeffrey Toobin’s 1997 book The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson.

It’s staggering to me that the O.J. trial was twenty years ago.  I am confident I am not alone in feeling like those events happened only recently.  I remember so many different aspects of this saga, and the incredible media circus that surrounded it for so many months, so clearly, from watching the Bronco chase to Johnnie Cochran’s famous: “if the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”  Even more than specific events, I have distinct memories of so many of the cast of characters involved in the trial: Mr. Cochran and Robert Shapiro, Marcia Clarke and Chris Darden, Judge Lance Ito (particularly immortalized in my mind by Jay Leno’s “Dancing Itos”), Mark Fuhrman, Kato Kaelin, and so many others.

The People v. O.J. Simpson succeeds both at perfectly dramatizing the moments that are indelibly seared in my (and so many others’) memories (such as the Bronco chase and O.J. trying on the glove), while also shedding light on so many other aspects of the trial that I was never aware of, despite the near-constant media coverage at the time.

What’s even more remarkable is the way that The People v. O.J. Simpson manages to humanize almost all of the individuals involved in the trial, so many of whom were reduced to caricatures by the media coverage and the late-night mockery.  The show demonstrates an extraordinary tenderness in its approach to presenting these famous people as human beings trying to do their best.  This approach is used for both sides of the case.  Much has been written, and rightly so, of the show’s incredible job at resuscitating the reputation of Marcia Clark, so brilliantly played here by Sarah Paulson.  And, indeed, this is amazing work.  But I … [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: The Place Beyond the Pines

I didn’t see director Derek Cianfrance’s 2010 film, Blue Valentine, though I certainly read about it when it came out.  (The film got a lot of acclaim, and also a lot of ink due to its NC-17 rating.)  It’s a film I am interested in seeing one of these days, but for whatever reason it’s never been too high on my list, always bumped in favor of other films I choose to see instead.  However, Mr. Cianfrance’s follow-up film that was released earlier this year, The Place Beyond the Pines, immediately struck me as a film I wanted to make it my business to see.  Sometimes it’s obvious why I want to see a film or don’t want to see one, but with this, I’m not entirely sure what grabbed me about it.  Until I saw it a few weeks ago, I never really knew much of anything about what the film was about.  I was intrigued by the top-shelf cast, which includes Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Ray Liotta, Eva Mendes, Harris Yulin (such an indelible part of my childhood from his role in Ghostbusters II),  Mahershala Ali (who I loved in The 4400 and who was also great in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button),  Bruce Greenwood (JFK!  Captain Pike!), Rose Byrne, and Dane DeHaan (so memorable in Chronicle).  I also think I was intrigued by the tone of what looked like a tense little character study/ crime story… and for sure I was grabbed by the mysterious title.

I am glad to have seen The Place Beyond the Pines, because the film really blew me away.  It was not at all the movie I thought it would be.  Usually that spells disappointment, but in this case The Place Beyond the Pines wound up being a far more epic, far more thoughtful film than I’d thought it would be.  The film is dour, and wrenching to watch.  This isn’t a very crowd-pleasing film — I can see why it barely made a blip at the box office.  I loved it, and I am not sure it’s a film I ever necessarily want to see again!  But I am delighted to have seen it and extraordinarily impressed by the work of everyone involved.

The film begins by introducing us to Luke (Ryan Gosling).  The first several minutes of the film are a phenomenally well-crafted introduction to the character.  At first, all we see of him is a well-muscled, tattooed torso, flipping a knife open and shut at rapid speed.  Then we follow him from the back of his head as he walks out of his room (or trailer, hard to tell) and through a crowd … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Star Trek Into Darkness

I enjoyed J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek reboot (click here for my review), though not nearly as much as most of the rest of the world seemed to.  I loved seeing Star Trek brought to life, finally, under the big-budget it always deserved, and I was incredibly impressed by how successful they were at recasting the iconic roles, something which I had believed to be impossible.  But the script was a mess, full of plot holes you could fly a Constitution class starship through.

Star Trek Into Darkness is more of the same.  The film is gorgeous to look at, epic in scale and realized with extraordinary skill and craftsmanship.  The cast is terrific, every single member of the ensemble is great, and getting to once again watch Spock and Bones bicker and a million other little moments of interaction between the members of the classic Enterprise crew is a delight.

Sadly though, this film’s story is even more nonsensical than the previous film’s was.  It’s catastrophically bad.  Star Trek Into Darkness is not only hugely inconsistent with Star Trek canon (even when you take into account the “alternate universe” setting of his rebooted film series), but it is also inconsistent with its own story-telling and narrative logic.  Even when you forget all previously established Star Trek lore, and only consider this film’s story on its own, it is wildly inconsistent and contradictory.

I am not going to reveal every beat of the movie in this review, but I will be heavy with SPOILERS as I dig deep into the film’s problems.  So if you’re going to see Star Trek Into Darkness, I suggest you hold off on reading this review until you’ve seen the film, then come back here and we can see where we agree or disagree.

The film’s opening sequence encapsulates much of what works and what fails in J.J. Abrams’ two Star Trek films.  The Enterprise crew is attempting to contain a volcano explosion that threatens to wipe out the pre-industrial inhabitants of an alien planet.  Things go wrong immediately, with Spock trapped inside the active volcano while Kirk and McCoy are being chased by the angry natives.  Things quickly build to a classic Prime Directive conundrum in which the only way to save Spock is to break the Prime Directive and reveal the existence of the Enterprise to the natives.  This is an extraordinary sequence, as beautifully realized a Star Trek action scene as I have ever seen.  It’s incredibly fast-paced, as we bounce between the Kirk/McCoy chase scene to action inside the volcano with Spock and Sulu/Uhura on an Enterprise shuttlecraft.  The visual effects are gorgeous, the action and suspense are compelling, … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Batman: Under the Red Hood, the Latest DCU Animated Film!

September 24th, 2010
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I’ll admit, I had been starting to lose hope about the continuing series of DC Animated films, but Superman/Batman: Public Enemies was a step in the right direction, and the latest installment, Batman: Under the Red Hood, is even better.

Under the Red Hood is based on the story-line that ran through the Batman comic books in 2005-2006 (and was eventually collected in a two-volume collection called Under the Hood), written by Judd Winick and illustrated by a variety of artists but primarily Doug Mahnke.  In the story, Batman must confront a new nemesis: The Red Hood.  The mysterious character at first appears to be a new crime-lord, vying with The Black Mask for control of Gotham City’s criminal element, but he turns out to be a vigilante aiming to destroy those criminals, albeit using much more violent (and deadly) methods than Batman ever employs.  That’s troubling enough on its own, but when evidence points to the Red Hood as being a mysteriously resurrected Jason Todd (once Batman’s second side-kick Robin, murdered by the Joker in the infamous A Death in the Family storyline from back in 1988), Batman finds himself painted into an impossible corner.

At the risk of repeating the point I have made in my last several reviews of these DCU animated films, I’m much happier seeing direct adaptations of famous comic book story-lines, rather than all-new stories (like the mediocre Wonder Woman and Green Lantern: First Flight films, or even the Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths film which I found more enjoyable).  So Under the Red Hood had that going for it, in my book, right off the bat.  The problem is that, with the exception of the graphic novel New Frontier (which is a phenomenal piece of work by Darwyn Cooke), I haven’t been too wild about the choice of comic story-lines these films have adapted.  Superman: Doomsday adapted the sprawling, months-long Death of Superman storyline, and while that story-line was a smash hit at the time it came out, it has aged very poorly.  I thought Jeph Loeb’s Superman/Batman storyline (adapted for Public Enemies) was over-rated at the time — all flash and dazzle without too much actual meat to the story.  And Judd Winick’s Under the Hood story-line was, in the comics, fairly mediocre in my opinion.  It had a killer hook, bringing back Jason Todd, but rather than building to a powerful climax I felt the story was abandoned.  There was no clear resolution as to what happened to Jason/Red Hood, and when we finally got the answers as to how he was resurrected (in Batman Annual #25) it seemed like a convoluted mess.  Also, read … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Dinner For Schmucks!

Hoo boy, this one was disappointing.

I’m a big fan of both Steve Carell and Paul Rudd, and I thought Dinner For Schmucks had a premise that was so weird it seemed to promise good comedy.  Rudd plays Tim, who is trying desperately to climb the ladder at the private equity firm at which he works.  When one of his ideas sparks the attention of his boss (the always-great Bruce Greenwood), Tim gets an invite to his boss’ annual dinner.  But this isn’t just any dinner: each guest must bring, as their guest, the biggest idiot they can possibly find.  The purpose, simply, is for the rich hosts to mock the unfortunate souls gathered for the meal.  When Tim accidentally hits the socially awkward, dead-mice-collecting taxidermist Barry (Steve Carell) with his car, he seems to have found the perfect guest to bring along.

I’ve got to hand it to the filmmakers for having the guts to go with Dinner For Schmucks as their title.  (I’m not quite sure how that one got approved by the MPAA while Kevin Smith’s buddy cop film A Pair of Dicks had to be re-titled Cop Out — do the suits not know what the word schmuck means?)  But that title is about the only edgy element to be found in this broad, obvious comedy.

There aren’t any real, human characters to be found in this film.  Despite being one of the two male leads, I didn’t feel like we really got to know Rudd’s character Tim at all.  He likes his girlfriend and wants to get ahead in business.  What else did we learn over the course of the film?  Tim is painfully middle-of-the-road — not nice enough of a person to be someone we really sympathize with while watching the film, nor enough of a jerk to have any sort of character arc in the movie.  Then there is Carell’s Barry, who’s a big giant goofy cartoon, full of all sorts of bizarre manners and idiosyncracies.  I guess it’s all supposed to be funny, but it didn’t really tickle my funny-bone.

Director Jay Roach has been involved in some very funny movies (such as Austin Powers films), but it seems that lately he’s tended to make overly simplistic, broad comedies (such as the Meet the Parents films), and Dinner For Schmucks exacerbates that trend.  The set-ups for the gags are tired and obvious.  Hey, two characters have the same phone, I wonder if they’re going to get mixed up?  Hey, Tim has an important lunch, I wonder if Barry is going to screw that up?  Hey, now would be the worst moment for Tim’s girlfriend Julie (the beautiful Stephanie Szostak) to show up, … [continued]

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Death in the Shadow of New Life — Josh reviews J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek!

It’s been a long road.  After walking disgustedly out of the opening weekend screening of the catastrophically terrible Star Trek: Nemesis back in December, 2002, I knew that Trek was at a low point.  It seemed uncertain what, if any, future the franchise had after the release of that bomb and the subsequent cancellation of the last Trek TV show, Enterprise.  Then, about 3 years ago, word came that a new Trek film was in the works.  Gradually news began to leak out, some very exciting, some rather worrying, and I soaked up every tidbit with great anticipation, some nervousness, and extremely high hopes that one day Star Trek could be great again.  A few hours ago, I watched the result of J.J. Abrams and his team’s efforts: the simply-titled Star Trek.

Abrams and his brain-trust — consisting of Damon Lindeloff (one of the top minds behind Lost) and screen-writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman — dared to do what no man has done before: to re-cast the iconic roles of the Original Series characters.  As everyone knows by now, instead of creating new characters and situations and moving the Star Trek universe forward beyond the adventures of Picard-Sisko-Janeway-etc., they decided to go back and tell an Original Series story, with new actors playing younger versions of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and all the other familiar characters.  This was an incredibly risky move.  While similiar “how it all began” prequels such as Batman Begins and Casino Royale worked well, audiences had already become accustomed to seeing lots of different actors take on the roles of Batman and James Bond.  But could someone other than William Shatner play Kirk?  Could someone other than Leonard Nimoy play Spock?

Although sadly this film fails in some powerfully annoying ways (more on that in a few moments), I am happy to report that, in this respect — that is, in regards to the viability of rebooting and recasting Star Trek — the film succeeds magnificently.  Bravo to the choice of talented actors selected to be the new command team of the Enterprise — there is not a weak link in the bunch.  None of the actors resorts to mimicry, and yet they all, somehow, truly manage to embody their characters!

Let’s start with Chris Pine as James Tiberius Kirk.  He’s got the swagger, he’s got the arrogance, and yet he’s able to also convey a tremendous likability.  You can see that this is a man that others will follow.  The film doesn’t shy away from the “lady-killer” aspects of Kirk’s persona, but Pine never crosses the line into camp or, on the other hand, into boorishness.  Rather, there’s terrific fun to had … [continued]