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The great director Steven Soderbergh’s latest film, No Sudden Move, was recently released on HBO Max.  The film stars Don Cheadle as Curt Goynes, a man just released from prison.  Needing cash, he takes a job along with another criminal named Ronald Russo (Benicio del Toro).  They each take an immediate dislike to the other but are forced to rely on one another when the job goes wrong and they find themselves on the run from a mess of other criminals, both of the gangster type and the rich white collar type.

This film has a hell of a cast.  It’s great fun seeing Don Cheadle back in a leading role.  Mr. Cheadle (who previously appeared in Mr. Soderbergh’s Oceans 11 films, as well as Out of Sight and Traffic) is great as Curt.  He plays Curt as tough and brave but flawed; this is a classic noir protagonist for whom we’re not sure things are actually going to work out.  I love the oil and water pairing of Mr. Cheadle and Benicio del Toro, and some of the best parts of the film are when the two get to bounce off of one another.  Ronald Russo is another in Mr. del Toro’s collection of scummy but still lovable characters.  David Harbour (Stranger Things, Hellboy, Black Widow) is fantastic as Matt Wertz, the poor sap who has access to the documents that the criminals want/need.  I haven’t seen Brendan Fraser (The Mummy films, The Quiet American) on screen in years; it’s fun to see him here as Doug Jones, the criminal fixer who connects Curt and Ronald for the job.  Jon Hamm brings his perfect Jon Hamm square jaw and charisma to the part of Joe Finney, the detective assigned to investigate the events that go wrong at Matt Wertz’s house.  Ray Liotta and Bill Duke are both terrific as dueling crime bosses.  Matt Damon pops up late in the film for a critical scene as a wealthy businessman who is just as much a criminal as the street-level hoods we’ve been following for much of the film.  Amy Seimetz has a small but important role as Matt’s wife Mary Wertz.  Julia Fox (Uncut Gems) is great as Vanessa, the wife of Ray Liotta’s crime boss Frank Capelli.  Kieran Culkin is great as an unhinged criminal, Charley.  What a cast that is!!

I liked No Sudden Move, though I didn’t quite love the film the way I’d expected to based on Mr. Soderbergh’s being at the helm and the incredible cast he assembled.  Frankly, the film’s sort of generic title (which doesn’t really mean anything, nor does it seem to me to connect … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

April 26th, 2021
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The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is the second MCU TV show to be released on Disney+.  In this six-episode mini-series, Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan reprise their roles from the MCU as, respectively Sam Wilson (the Falcon) and Bucky Barnes (the Winter Soldier).  At the end of Avengers: Endgame, an elderly Steve Rogers gave his shield to Sam.  But as this show opens, we see that Sam doesn’t feel he’s worthy of stepping into Steve’s shoes as Captain America.  He thinks the shield should be put in the Smithsonian, but the government decides to give the shield to a new Captain America: a soldier named John Walker (Wyatt Russell).  Bucky, meanwhile, is still wrestling with guilt over the atrocities he committed as the Winter Soldier, and he’s hurt by what he sees as Sam’s shirking of the role Steve had given him.  Sam and Bucky are pulled together by the threat of a new terrorist organization, made up of people who feel disenfranchised and ignored following the return to existence of half of the world’s population (when the Avengers undid Thanos’ snap at the end of Endgame).

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is a solid, thoroughly enjoyable series.  With WandaVision and now this, Kevin Feige & co. have successfully done what Marvel’s initial ABC experiment (which began with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) and the Marvel Netflix shoes were unable to do: create Marvel TV shows that are both entertaining and satisfying on their own, and at the same time fit seamlessly within the continuity of the MCU films.  This is an impressive achievement.

This show isn’t as groundbreaking as WandaVision.  That series was delightfully bold in the way it played with the conventions of the medium (of TV shows).  The Falcon and the Winter Soldier isn’t nearly as adventurous.  This is a buddy-movie action-adventure.  It’s fun and enjoyable but not exactly groundbreaking in its storytelling.  (And its finale was wobblier than I’d hoped… more on that later…)

Just as WandaVision was able to give Wanda and Vision the type of focus and character development they hadn’t been able to get as peripheral characters in the movies, so too is it fantastic to see Sam and Bucky get to step front and center here in this show.  Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan really step up.  I love these characters, and both actors really shine in the show.

I was surprised and impressed by the degree to which this series explored the complexities of the idea of a black man becoming Captain America.  No previous MCU project has come anywhere close to digging into such real world issues.  But showrunner Malcolm Spellman and his team used the story of this … [continued]

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In yet the latest feat of I-can’t-believe-they-did-it, Kevin Feige and the team at Marvel have stuck the landing.  Avengers: Endgame is a deeply satisfying, profoundly moving, and incredibly fun culmination to a decade-plus of movie-making.  They have woven together threads and characters from across an astonishing twenty-one previous interconnected movies to create something which is oh-so-rare in entertainment: an ending.  Shall we dig in?  (My next several paragraphs will be free of any major spoilers, and I’ll indicate clearly when I start entering major spoiler territory.  But do yourself a favor: go see the film and then meet me back here, OK?)

I have always been impressed by the continuity between the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  It’s at the core of why I love these films so much; why, in place of the usual franchise fatigue that sets in after multiple sequels, I only love these Marvel films more with each additional film.  Not only am I bowled over by the boldness of this enterprise, not only am I tickled by the incredible way in which these films emulate the interconnected feel of the Marvel comics I grew up reading (in which you’d often see, say, the FF’s Baxter Building HQ — or its later replacement, “Four Freedoms Plaza,” which was actually their HQ in the eighties when I fell in love with comics in general and Marvel in specific — in the background of a panel in a Spider-Man comic in which Spidey was web-swinging around NYC), but, as I have written about before, the cumulative power of these narratives build and build with each new film.  Because we have been following these characters across so many films across so many years, we invest more deeply in them and their struggles.  And so when we see heroes suffer and fall (as we did in Avengers: Infinity War and as we do again in this film), the impact of those moments is magnified immensely.

But, wow, this film took that continuity even more seriously than I’d ever dared to hope or expect!  Endgame is a love letter to the entire MCU, and the film is remarkable in the way it establishes that EVERY previous film in the MCU is important.  (Endgame is like The Wire: “All the pieces matter.”)  Holy cow, this film retroactively makes Thor: The Dark World — one of the MCU’s lesser entries (though I’ve always thought it’s a more enjoyable film than its reputation would suggest) — retroactively very important to the saga!  (I’ve had many delightful conversations recently with new Marvel fans, brought in by Black Panther or Captain Marvel, who wanted advice on what Marvel films they should watch to … [continued]

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Days of De Palma (Part 15): Mission to Mars (2000)

My journey through all the films of Brian De Palma continues!  (Scroll down to the bottom to see links to all of my previous reviews.)  Following 1998’s Snake Eyes, a film with a poor critical reputation that I don’t think is at all deserved, we come to Mission to Mars, a film that also has a poor critical reputation.  But whereas I unabashedly love Snake Eyes, I can’t quite say the same for Mission to Mars.  It’s nowhere near as terrible as many people like to say it is, but nonetheless it doesn’t quite work.

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Gary Sinese (re-teaming with Brian De Palma following his role in Snake Eyes) plays Jim McConnell, an astronaut whose wife has recently been killed.  His friends head off on the first manned mission to Mars, but when tragedy strikes a rescue/recovery mission is organized with Jim’s involvement, along with his friend Commander Woody Blake (Tim Robins), Blake’s wife Terri Fisher (Connie Nielson), and Phil Ohlmeyer (Jerry O’Connell).

It’s interesting to see Mr. De Palma’s style applied to a sci-fi film.  Mr. De Palma’s eye and style give Mission to Mars a different feel than your average big-budget sci-fi flick.  There’s a lot to enjoy about the film.  While the story isn’t that sophisticated, the mystery of what happened to the original crew on Mars is enough to hold my interest throughout the film.  Similarly, none of the characters are that interesting or complex, but there’s enough movie-star charisma on display — between the afore-mentioned Gary Sinese, Tom Robbins, Connie Nielson, and Jerry O’Connell, plus also Don Cheadle, Armin Mueller-Stahl, and others — to keep the audience hooked in.  However, I dearly miss the sharp work that David Koepp did on the screenplays of Mr. De Palma’s last three films (Carlito’s Way, Mission: Impossible, and Snake Eyes).  (I groaned when, during the hull breach situation, Tim Robbins’ character says: “Come on, people, let’s work the problem,” a direct and obvious rip-off from Apollo 13.  Not the script’s finest moment.)

Both The Bonfire of the Vanities and Snake Eyes opened with a lengthy single-take tracking shot designed to introduce the characters and setting, and so too does this film, as we meet all of the main characters at a BBQ party before the original mission to Mars’ launch.  This device feels a little cliche for Brian De Palma at this point, so not nearly as effective as before (nor does it have the jaw-dropping audaciousness of Snake Eyes’ opening shot that somehow involved thousands of extras in the boxing arena), but it’s still fun to see and a neat method of introducing us to all the main characters.

In terms of signature … [continued]

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Marvel Triumphs Again with Captain America: Civil War!

Marvel Studios is on a winning streak the likes of which I am hard-pressed to recall (the last decade of Pixar movies is the only thing I can think of that comes close) and Captain America: Civil War is even better than I had dared hope, an extraordinarily HUGE movie with astounding action and powerful emotional beats that pay off story-lines that have been building through the twelve (count ’em, TWELVE) previous Marvel Studios movies ever since 2008’s Iron Man started this whole crazy adventure.  I am a huge fan of the under-appreciated Avengers: Age of Ultron (click here for my review), but a strong case can be made that Civil War is what The Avengers 2 should gave been, a film that embraces the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe, putting the characters through a wrenching emotional trial and eventually shattering the team that had come together in 2012’s The Avengers.

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Following the events of Age of Ultron, Cap has been training and leading a team of Avengers consisting of himself, the Falcon, the Black Widow, the Scarlet Witch, and the Vision.  As Captain America: Civil War opens, we find that Avengers team hot on the trail of Crossbones (the mangled ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Brock Rumlow from Captain America: The Winter Soldier).  As the try to stop Crossbones from obtaining a deadly biological weapon, a fight breaks out in the crowded streets of Nigeria.  Though the Avengers successfully stop Crossbones and his mercenaries, a tragic accident leaves a dozen civilians dead.  This proves to be the last straw for a world that has suffered from a series of increasingly-escalating super-hero/super-villain battles (as seen in the previous twelve Marvel movies).  Over a hundred nations band together to create the Sokovia Accords (named after the nation destroyed by Ultron in the climactic fight of Age of Ultron), declaring that the Avengers will no longer be an autonomous entity but now one governed by a UN-appointed supervising panel.  Tony Stark, desperate to find some way to prevent future civilian deaths and ensure that the Avengers remain a force for good across the world, supports the accords.  Captain America, worried that the international politics at play might prevent him and other super-heroes from acting whenever they feel it is necessary in order to save lives, opposes them.  This philosophical debate becomes more urgent when Cap’s former partner and best friend Bucky Barnes, now the brainwashed hit-man code-named the Winter Soldier (as seen in Captain America: The Winter Soldier) resurfaces and is apparently responsible for the murder of hundreds at the signing of the Sokovia Accords.  Tony begs Cap to let the world’s governments handle the subsequent manhunt but Cap refuses to … [continued]

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Avengers.AgeofUltron.cropped

Marvel Studios is on a winning streak the likes of which I have rarely seen.  (The only recent comparison I can draw is Pixar’s incredible run from Ratatouille in 2007 through Toy Story 3 in 2010.)  Right before seeing The Avengers: Age of Ultron, one of my friends sent me a ranking of all of Marvel’s movies.  In response I created my own ranking (which I might publish on this site one of these days).  The bottom two films on my list were Iron Man 2 and The Incredible Hulk.  What’s astonishing is that each of the rest of the eight Marvel films on the list were all pretty great films that I loved a lot — and even those bottom two films were pretty enjoyable!  There really isn’t a true failure in the mix!  Over the past eight years, since 2008’s Iron Man, Marvel has done what had not only never been done before, but really never even conceived of before: they’ve created a vast cinematic universe of interlocking films, with characters and story-lines flowing from film to film in an epic continuing saga.  What’s even more incredible is that, at this point, they make the whole thing look so damn easy!  It’s astounding.  I know Marvel is going to stumble one of these days, but for now I am sitting back and loving every minute of this ride.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron is an amazing film.  I loved it.  Watching this film I had a huge grin on my face for the entire run time.  There are so many reasons this film could have been bad.  Sequels are hard and usually disappoint.  In addition to all of the main Avengers characters, this film introduced a number of new characters and we’ve all seen superhero films (particularly sequels — I’m looking at you, Spider-Man 3) collapse under the weight of too many characters.  Whereas The Avengers was the culmination of the first run of Marvel films, Age of Ultron needs to set up the next several years of story-lines, and that could easily have made the film feel unwieldy and unsatisfying (the fate that befell Iron Man 2).

But thanks to the incredible skill and talent of writer-director Joss Whedon and his astounding team of collaborators (overseen by Marvel Studios mastermind Kevin Feige, the guiding force behind all of these Marvel movies), Age of Ultron soars.  It’s a long-movie but it never drags, it is hugely enjoyable from start to finish.  It’s got enormous, staggeringly gigantic action sequences that astound, but it’s also deeply routed in character with some wonderful moments for every one of the film’s sprawling cast.  It’s serious and tense but it also … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Iron Man 3!

Iron Man was a magical film, a movie that caught a very specific, crazy sort of lightning in a bottle.  I remember seeing it in a theater that very first time and realizing immediately that it was something special.  It was intense and bad-ass but also incredibly funny and light-hearted.  The special effects were terrific, the character arcs were compelling, the ending was magnificent and the post-credits epilogue blew my mind, promising a whole new universe of possibilities (one that I still find it hard to believe came to such spectacular fruition with The Avengers).  Yes, I remember seeing Iron Man for the first time (click here for my original review), and I also vividly remember seeing it for the second time, about 24 hours later, because it was a movie I just had to see again, immediately.

The filmmakers stumbled with Iron Man 2, a listless film that seemed to re-tread a lot of the same ground the first film had covered, while at the same time promising us hints at other story-lines and characters (S.H.I.E.L.D., the Black Widow, Howard Stark) that would only come to fruition in future films.  (Click here for my original review of Iron Man 2.)  But I am pleased to report that Iron Man 3 (or Iron Man Three, as written in the closing credits — and good god do I love that) is a triumphant return to form, a thrilling, action-packed romp that is a true sequel to the first film and a rollicking, riveting start to the Marvel movie universe’s Phase Two.  It’s not as perfect as Iron Man — there are a bunch of niggling plot holes that bug me, which I’ll discuss at the very end of this review — but it’s a pretty terrific super-hero adventure film, one that I hope to see again very soon.

Although the heroes won the day in The Avengers, Tony Stark is shaken by how close he came to death during the big battle in New York City.  Faced with the existence of aliens, not to mention super-soldiers, gamma-irradiated behemoths, and Asgardian deities, Tony has had to face the brutal truth that he’s just a mortal human being in a metal suit.  He’s tried to find solace and comfort by building new Iron Man suit after new suit, trying to prepare himself for any eventuality, to give himself some sort of guarantee that he’ll be able to protect himself and Pepper, the woman he loves.  When his buddy Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau, returning to the role of Happy even though he’s no longer behind the camera as the film’s director) is injured by a terrorist attack by the mysterious … [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: Out of Sight (1998)

Boy do I absolutely adore Out of Sight. It’s one of those films in whose world I wish I could go on living.  There’s just something so magical about the combination of the script, the direction, the acting, and the whole tone that is created in the film.  When watching Out of Sight, I never want the story to end.  I wish there were ten more films featuring these characters in further adventures.  It’s that good — just a (too short) little slice of perfection.

The film is directed by Steven Soderbergh (it’s by far my favorite Soderbergh film, so far above the dreadful Ocean’s 11 movies as to be laughable), and adapted (by Scott Frank, doing a bang-up job) from the novel by Elmore Leonard.  (Every time I watch this film I say to myself that I need to go read the original novel immediately.  I’m ashamed to say I haven’t yet, but I do look forward to getting to that some day.)

When the film begins, we meet Jack Foley (George Clooney), a man who seems to be at the end of his rope.  So, what is there to do but walk across the street and rob a bank.  He fails, of course, but that’s just the beginning of the story.  Out of Sight has a deliciously twisted narrative, jumping back and forth between different characters and different time periods.  (The joy of discovering, late in the film, just what happened to so royally piss off Jack at the start of the movie is immense.)

George Clooney is absolutely dynamite in the lead role.  It’s a true movie-star performance.  He gives Jack ENORMOUS charisma and likability, even though he’s a thief and a scoundrel.  Mr. Clooney brings a lot of layers to Jack, and I love the way the character is depicted as very smart and adaptable, though not super-humanly perfect.  Jack does screw up, and he makes bad decisions.  But we root for him to succeed every step of the way.

Jennifer Lopez plays U.S. Marshal Karen Sisco, and I would argue that she has never been better on-screen.  Ms. Lopez is sexy and smart, and her chemistry with Mr. Clooney is palpable.  Their first meeting — locked together in the trunk of a stolen car (you just have to watch the film to see how they got into that situation) — remains one of my favorite scenes from any film.  The dialogue bites, but the scene succeeds because Mr. Clooney and Ms. Lopez sell it perfectly.

And how great is the rest of the supporting cast?  There’s Dennis Farina as Karen’s dad.  There’s Ving Rhames as Jack’s partner-in-crime Buddy.  There’s Steve Zahn as the hapless criminal … [continued]

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Catching Up on 2011: The Guard

I had pretty much finished putting together my Best Films of 2011 list when I saw The Guard, but the film was so good that I had to rework my list to add it in!  I noted in my list that The Guard was the last addition, and that I’d be writing more about the film soon.  That time has come!

This little Irish film was written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, and features Brendan Gleeson in the role of his career as the Irish Garda (policeman) Gerry Boyle.  Gerry has created a fine if unremarkable life for himself as the apparent master of a teensy little corner of Ireland.  He knows the people — both his fellow cops and the various criminals — and he knows the land.  But much larger problems land on his doorstep when a gang of drug-smugglers arrive, leading to murders and the involvement of the FBI, personified by the by-the-book agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle).  The two wildly different men are oil and water, but they must pool their efforts in order to stop the bad guys.

Yes, it’s a buddy-cop movie, but a deliriously unique, off-color one!

Mr. Gleeson commands the screen with his presence.  The gruff, profane, incredibly un-PC Doyle is an astounding creation, and without question one of the finest acting performances of the year.  (No surprise, Mr. Gleeson was entirely ignored by the Academy.)  But who cares about the Oscars — we have this film and what more do we need.  Mr. Gleeson is an absolute riot to watch — Doyle is blunt and to the point, always saying what he’s thinking no matter how many feathers he ruffles.  In fact, he positively delights in the ruffling of feathers — the more the merrier, particularly if he’s dealing with anyone who could be considered an authority figure.  He says some completely outrageous things in the film — particularly to the African-American Agent Everett.  But the twinkle in Mr. Gleeson’s eye makes clear that Doyle is only saying those things to get a reaction out of whoever he’s speaking to.  It’s his way of testing the measure of the people around him, be they cop or criminal.  He’s a small-town hick, but he’s more than happy to play up that cliche image of himself if it serves his purpose.  He is honest and noble, but willing to bend the rules of procedure without a second thought in order to do what he feels is right.  Doyle is a magnificent character, and Mr. Gleeson has never been better.

Don Cheadle has the far less showy job as the straight-man, but although his is a quieter, more subtle performance, it’s integral … [continued]

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“I’ve Just Privatized World Peace” — Josh Reviews Iron Man 2!

I’m always chasing after that perfect cinematic experience — the rare movie where everything just seems to magically click, and I walk out of the theatre totally jazzed by what just unspooled before my eyes.  I felt that way when I saw the first Iron Man. I was really blown away by the confidence with which director Jon Favreau and his team (headlined, of course, by the amazing Robert Downey Jr.) pulled off their exciting, engaging, and all-around FUN first installment.

Best of all, while that first movie was certainly a complete story all its own, it ended on a terrific high-note that promised fertile stories ahead — Tony’s spur-of-the-moment “I am Iron Man” admission in the final scene of the film, and the end-of-the-credits button that introduced Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Nick Fury (played by Sam Jackson, who was the visual model for the character in Marvel’s “Ultimate” universe created about a decade ago) and made mention of the “Avengers Initiative.”  I walked out of that theatre unbelievably pumped for the stories to come, and when Marvel announced, about a week after Iron Man‘s opening, their plans for future films based on Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man 2, all of which would build to a movie-version of Marvel’s super-hero team The Avengers, it was clear that an extraordinary venture was underway.

But that venture was fraught with risk.  Both Thor and Captain America seem like characters who work great in comic books but would be fiendishly difficult to pull off believably in a movie version.  And while most of the key creative players behind Iron Man were returning for the sequel, well, I probably don’t need to list for you the many, many sequels that have been colossal disappointments, unable to capture the magic of the first installment.

Alright, already, so what did I think of Iron Man 2?

Mr. Favreau and his team have crafted another fun, engaging installment of the adventures of Tony Stark.  They haven’t reinvented the wheel.  They haven’t turned over the apple-cart in the way that makes some of the truly great movie sequels so notable (The Empire Strikes Back, The Wrath of Khan, The Dark Knight…).  I didn’t walk out of the theatre with that same tingle that I had after seeing the first Iron Man.  But that doesn’t mean that the film isn’t very good.

Robert Downey Jr. proves that his perfection as Tony Stark in the first installment wasn’t a fluke.  He’s once again phenomenal, totally magnetic whenever he’s on screen.  I was pleased that the filmmakers resisted the temptation to trim any of Stark’s rough edges — Tony is just as much a … [continued]