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Josh Reviews Amazon’s Adaptation of Good Omens

This past summer, Amazon released a six-episode adaptation of Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, the wonderful novel by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.  I love the novel.  It’s a deliriously funny, clever romp that reminds me very much of the work of Douglas Adams.  The mini-series, like the novel, charts the unlikely friendship between an angel, Aziraphale, and a demon, Crowley.  When the Antichrist is born on Earth, and the sides of Heaven and Hell ready for war, Aziraphale and Crowley, having grown to quite like life on Earth, realize they have no choice but to work together to try to prevent the end of the world.

In the mini-series adaptation, Michael Sheen plays Aziraphale and David Tennant plays Crowley.  This is genius casting for both characters, and what I liked best about this mini-series was seeing these two characters brought to life so well, and watching them bounce off one another.  Both Mr. Sheen and Mr. Tennant are absolutely perfect, and they both have tremendous comedic timing which is put to good use here.  I loved their scenes together.  I was particularly taken by episode three, “Hard Times,” one of the few times in which the show diverged from the novel, showing us the history of Crowley & Aziraphale’s strange friendship over the centuries, from Noah’s ark through the time of Jesus to the modern day.

This mini-series is one of those curious projects which is incredibly faithful to the source material and yet still, somehow, winds up missing the certain spark that made the source material so special.  The mini-series lacks the comedic pulse of the novel, and its light tone.  Most importantly, the novel is so, so funny, and unfortunately the mini-series isn’t.  It’s a shame, because I was generally impressed with how carefully they adapted the story.  The six-episode length gave the show plenty of time to fit in almost all of the novel’s many twists and turns.  They even included the narration, using the great Frances McDormand to play the narrating voice of God.  This inclusion of the narration is a great example of where the mini-series wound up going just a tad bit astray.  Including the narration — unusual for a TV show to have — allows the mini-series to include many of the book’s best jokes.  But on the other hand, I found the narration slowed down the show and prevented me as an audience member for connecting as deeply with the characters as I might have expected.  The narration kept me at a distance.  And as such, I found the jokes in the narration didn’t land nearly as well as they did in the novel.

The … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Jessica Jones

I was excited when Netflix announced that Daredevil would be the first of their Marvel universe TV shows.  But I was even more excited when Netflix announced that Jessica Jones would be their second.  I was also somewhat concerned, since as an enormous fan of the character I was worried about whether she would be faithfully translated to the screen.  I adored Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos’ twenty-eight-issue series Alias (published from 2001 to 2004) in which Mr. Bendis & Mr. Gaydos introduced the character of Jessica, and I have thoroughly enjoyed Mr. Bendis’ depictions of the character ever since (in his follow-up series The Pulse as well as various issues of The Avengers).  Jessica Jones is one of most interesting and complex new characters introduced to the Marvel Universe in the past several decades.  The potential of seeing her brought to life on a new TV show was delicious, but I also would have hated to have seen the character not done justice.

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Thankfully, Marvel’s Netflix team is two for two as, just like they did with their tremendous first season of Daredevil (click here for my review), they have created in Jessica Jones a show that is thrilling, sophisticated, dark and very adult that is also a huge amount of fun and a delightfully riveting adventure.  I loved pretty much every minute of it.

(Please note that I will be discussing this show in some detail.  I will try to avoid major spoilers, but there’s no way to discuss the show without also talking about some of its plot twists.  If you haven’t yet watched this show I advise you to go watch it immediately — really, it’s excellent, you’ll thank me later! — and then come back to read this review.)

When we are introduced to her, Jessica Jones is private eye in the Marvel Universe.  Though not a very successful one.  She’s reduced to mostly taking photos of cheating husbands on behalf of their broken-hearted wives.  Jessica has super-powers: she’s very strong, able to run fast and jump high.  But Jessica is no super-hero.  She is gruff and grumpy, short-tempered and hard-drinking.  As she tells Like Cage early in the show: “I don’t get asked on a lot of second dates.”  But what we gradually learn as the show unfolds is that Jessica has become who she is because she has been deeply broken by a trauma in her past.  A trauma with a name: Killgrave, a super-powered individual whose voice gives him absolute command over anyone within earshot.  At some point before the show begins, Jessica fell under Killgrave’s control for many long months, and I probably don’t need to go into … [continued]

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Hamlet Double Feature Part II: The BBC’s Hamlet Starring Patrick Stewart & David Tennant!

After finally watching, for the first time, Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet (1996) (click here for my review), I thought it would be fun to crack open the other production of Hamlet I had sitting on my DVD shelf — the BBC’s 2009 version starring Patrick Stewart and David Tennant!

While I certainly enjoyed Mr. Branagh’s version, I was really much more engaged by the BBC’s effort (despite my assumption that it was made for a much smaller budget)!

Mr. Branagh’s version had a more modern look to it than one might be used to thinking of Hamlet — his film seemed to be set around the era of WWI, with trains, newspapers, etc.  The BBC’s Hamlet is even more modern than that — this Elsinore castle contains electronic surveillance cameras, a character wields a handgun, and many of the actors wear modern-looking collar-shirts and ties.  Some aspects of this modernity were a bit jarring — the device of our occasionally seeing scenes play out through the castle’s surveillance cameras continually felt distracting to me, and the choice of Hamlet’s outfit during the “to be or not to be” speech and the key scenes that followed (jeans and a muscle t-shirt) was weird — but for the most part, the film found a potent sweet spot between modernity and timelessness.

Then there were the scenes in which the film was decidedly NOT timeless, but in a purposeful way that really worked.  I laughed out loud, for instance, at the moment when Ophelia pulls a bunch of condoms out of her brother Laertes’ bag early in the film.  (It was a decidedly unexpected way to show her gently mocking her brother for the rather condescending speech of advice he had just given her.)  And speaking of Ophelia and unexpected, I was not expecting Ophelia to strip down to her bra while freaking out in front of the king and queen after her father’s death!  (Though I’m not complaining, mind you.)  Those are two extreme examples — I don’t want to suggest that the filmmakers were falling all over themselves in order to make Shakespeare “hip.”  This is a series, dramatic presentation of the play.  But it’s also one in which the creative team was unafraid to add in a surprising twist or reinterpretation of a famous moment here and there, in a way that keeps viewers powerfully engrossed.  (At least this viewer.)

I loved the look of the Elsinore castle sets, particularly the throne room in which much of the film takes place (a sign, to me, of a far less expansive budget than that of Mr. Branagh’s film, which was able to open up the story into many different sets … [continued]