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Josh Reviews Baby Driver!

I have enormous love for all of writer/director Edgar Wright’s collaborations with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, from their fantastic TV show Spaced to their trilogy of films Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End.  Though actually, I have to admit that my absolute favorite Edgar Wright film is his criminally underrated 2010 film Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which I adore with all my heart.  That Edgar Wright has not directed a film since that 2010 release is a crime.  And so I was more than a little excited for his new film, Baby Driver.

The film does not disappoint.

The titular Baby Driver is played by Ansel Elgort (The Fault in Our Stars).  Baby is a young man who has found himself in the position of being a getaway driver for a cadre of criminals and reprobates.  He has tinnitus and is a great lover of music, so he is almost always listening to music on his ear buds as a way to drown out the ringing in his ears and, perhaps, to keep him safely isolated from the big bad world around him.  Baby’s float-through approach to his life is rattled when he meets and begins to fall in love with a young waitress named Debora (Lily James).  The two young lovebirds hatch a plan to leave town and the lives they hate, but Baby finds it harder than he expected to get out from under the thumb of the big bad men for whom he works.

Oh man did I love this movie!  Edgar Wright has concocted a fiercely entertaining rush of a film, with every instant of screen-time packed to the gills with great music, exciting action sequences, and witty dialogue.

Mr. Wright has assembled an incredible ensemble of actors for his film, and he rewards his cast by giving each one of them a ton of fun stuff to do, allowing them each to create extraordinarily memorable characters in whatever amount of time they have on-screen.

Kevin Spacey plays Doc, the man-with-the-plan who comes up with all the criminal schemes and assembles the team.  It’s a great role for Mr. Spacey, who is terrific at playing loquacious characters with an edge of danger.  Mr. Spacey also allows us a tiny glimpse at the beating heart beneath the polished facade, which only emphasizes Doc’s dangerousness.  Jon Hamm plays Buddy, the confident, smooth-with-the-ladies man of action.  It’s fun (and sort of endearing) to see Mr. Hamm try to play scruffy-looking.  Mr. Hamm’s performance is fun in the first half but really comes alive in the second half when his character is pushed into some tight corners.  Eiza González plays … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The World’s End

I feel like ever since the release of 2007’s Hot Fuzz, there have been rumors of a third cinematic collaboration between Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost, a third and final installment in their jokingly-named “Cornetto Trilogy.”  (Both Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz featured gags about that British ice cream treat, leading Mr. Wright to humorously coin that title for their collaborations.)  I was a little luke-warm on Hot Fuzz (click here for my review), but I love Shaun of the dead, and I think that Spaced (the British TV show the three men first collaborated on) is one of the greatest things ever.  (I watched the series when it was released on DVD in the States several years ago, and I loved it immediately — click here for my review of the series.)

And so I was excited by the news of a new movie directed by Edgar Wright and starring Nick Frost and Simon Pegg.  And I am pleased to report that The World’s End does not disappoint!

Simon Pegg plays Gary King, who decides to reunite his old friends from the sleepy British town where he grew up.  His goal is to retrace the path of an epic pub-crawl that they began but never finished years ago.  The once-close lads have grown distant over the years, but somehow Gary corrals his former mates into the scheme.  This time they will make it to the final pub: The World’s End.  However, only a few pubs into their journey, they begin to notice something different about the town they once knew.  Is it just that they have grown older, and you truly can’t go home again?  Or are the people in the town somehow not exactly what they seem…?

The World’s End is a very funny film, with wonderful characters and some big laugh moments.  Even more pleasingly, the film feels very much of a piece with Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead.  All three of these films are in some respect a parody of a specific genre of movie (first the zombie movie then the buddy cop movie, now the end-of-the-world sci-fi movie), but all three films also succeed at becoming an exciting version of the film they are having fun with.  Shaun of the Dead becomes a pretty awesome zombie film; Hot Fuzz becomes a pretty awesome buddy-cop movie, and finally The World’s End becomes a great end-of-the-world sci-fi movie!

This is one of the most interesting trilogies I can think of, in that it is thematic rather than plot-driven. The three films are each stand-alone stories, with different characters and situations, but there is a similarity in tone … [continued]

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Have you seen the fake Arrested Development shows that have been popping up around Netflix?  (Mock Trial with J. Reinhold, anyone?)  Brilliant!!

I have long ago lost all faith in M. Night Shyamalan, but my goodness this trailer for his new sci-fi film, After Earth, looks terrific:

“Fear is the mind-killer.”  Heh heh.

Here’s a trailer for the new end-of-the-world comedy, This is the End, featuring Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride, and a heck of a lot of other very funny people (Paul Rudd, Michael Cera, Jason Segel, Martin Starr, Mindy Kaling, and more), apparently all playing themselves:

In a similar end-of-the-world vein, here’s the first photo from Simon Pegg’s The World’s End, re-teaming him with Nick Frost and Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz).

Steve Carrell and Jim Carrey are dueling Las Vegas magicians?  And the film also stars Steve Buscemi and Alan Arkin?  OK, I’m in!  Here’s the trailer for The Incredible Burt Wonderstone:

Well, I wrote about the first one-minute “announcement” teaser for the new Star Trek film, Star Trek into Dark Knight (ahem, I mean, Into Darkness), and I wrote about the nine-minute IMAX preview that was shown before The Hobbit. But I didn’t write about the first full official teaser trailer that was released a week or so ago:

That’s because there’s not that much more to say.  There’s not much in here that’s too terribly different than what we saw in the announcement teaser.  It’ll be interesting to see the full context of Pike’s ominous declaration that “there’s not an ounce of humility” in Kirk.  Pike was Kirk’s biggest champion in the first film, and while I agree that the Kirk we saw in that film DIDN’T have an ounce of humility in him — he thought he was the smartest/toughest guy in the room at the beginning of the film and all the way through — it’ll be interesting to see how/why Pike changes his view.  I hope this results in some growth and mellowing for this version of Kirk.  The Captain Kirk I remember was definitely an alpha male, but that didn’t often tip over into outright arrogance.

Boy, for five seasons of Lost I thought Damon Lindeloff was the MAN.  Then came that last season of Lost. And Prometheus. And so I think it’s good news that he will not be returning to script the Prometheus sequel (if that ever actually gets made).

I’ve got lots and lots of new movie reviews coming soon, my friends!  See you back here soon!… [continued]

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Though I think the quality of his films has dipped considerably in the last decade or two, I remain an enormous Woody Allen fan.  So I tip my hat to Juliet Lapidos from Slate Magazine who just watched every single Woody Allen film and summarized what she’s learned.  It’s a wonderful piece — well-worth your time.  (I’m also pleased that to learn that, after her massive re-watching project, she concurs with my long-held opinion that 1997’s Deconstructing Harry was Mr. Allen’s last truly great film.)

Here’s also a fascinating ranking of Mr. Allen’s films into categories (from the “masterworks” to the “bad”).  There’s not too much I can disagree with about this listing!  It’s pretty spot-on, I think.  A few quibbles: I think Hannah and her Sisters and What’s Up Tiger Lily should be bumped up to “great,” as should Play it Again Sam, Deconstructing Harry, and Zelig. Bananas deserves a spot in the “Masterworks” category, and I’d bump The Purple Rose of Cairo down one notch to the merely “great.”  And Scoop definitely needs to be shifted down into the “bad” category.  OK, I guess I did have some objections!  But still, over-all, a terrific list.

Speaking of obsessive-compulsive types, check this out: a complete guide to every single sneaker Jerry Seinfeld ever wore on Seinfeld.  Very cool (and just slightly frightening).

So, Rise of the Apes (which was originally called Caesar) is now Rise of the Planet of the Apes? Wow, the title just became simultaneously way more awesome and also way, way stupider.  I can’t wait!  (By the way, did you watch the new trailer???)

I’m not sure what makes me happier: that we’re actually getting a new Planet of the Apes movie this summer, or that in New Zealand right now they’re actually, finally, for-real, filming Peter Jackson’s two-film adaptation of The Hobbit. Have you seen the first new production diary? I have tingles.  I’m not kidding!  Peter Jackson was a true innovator with the video diaries that he posted back in the day, chronicling the making of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and then King Kong, and I have fond memories of devouring those whenever they were released during the pre-production and production of those films.  It makes me so happy that they’re finally back, and that The Hobbit is at long last under-way.  CAN’T WAIT FOR MORE.

Are we really just a few weeks away from Thor? I really want that movie to be good, but I’m a bit nervous.  This very positive early review has me optimistic, though!

I’ll be posting a piece soon with my thoughts on the last few DC animated projects … [continued]

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The Top 10 DVDs/Blu-Rays of 2010 — Part One!

Earlier this week I posted my list of my Top 10 Movies of 2010!  (Click here for part one and here for part two.)  Here now is my list of my Top 10 DVDs/Blu-Rays of 2010:

First, the DVDs that might have made this list had I had the time to watch them.  My to-watch DVD shelf has been getting a bit backed-up lately.  As a result, there are several DVDs and DVD sets that I am really excited about, but that I haven’t had a chance to watch.  These include: The Red Riding Trilogy, the new edition of The Bridge on the River Kwai, the Criterion Collection edition of Guillermo del Toro’s film Cronos, the Criterion Collection edition of The Thin Red Line, and Parks and Recreation Season 2 (which I watched when it aired but I’m eager to revisit!).  OK, now on to my list:

10. Scott Pilgrim vs the World (Blu-Ray) — This was my favorite film of 2010, and the Blu-Ray release rocked pretty hard as well.  First of all, it’s an absolutely GORGEOUS presentation of the film.  Second, the DVD is totally awash in incredible special features.  I’m a nut for DVD special features, but this disc tested even my endurance (in the best possible way).  There’s a phenomenal, in-depth making-of documentary, but there are also a ton of deleted and extended scenes, bloopers, featurettes spotlighting the film’s music, visual effects, casting, fight-training, pre-production, and so-much more.  It’s a magnificent presentation of a magnificent film.  (Click here for my original review of the film.)

9. Clerks (Blu-Ray) — This is a great film and it looks great on Blu-Ray, but the reason it’s on this list is because this disc includes the 2004 documentary film Oh, What a Lovely Tea Party.  I’ve been reading about this documentary for years, but it’s never been released on any home-video format, until now.  It’s a funny and fascinating fly-on-the-wall look at the making of Kevin Smith’s film Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.  Now, you might be asking yourself, what is a documentary about Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back doing on the Blu-Ray of Clerks? Well, it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, which is why this disc is in the bottom half of my top ten list, rather than the top half.

8. The Pacific (Blu-Ray) — This was a gift from my brother and his wife, and what a gift!  I consider Band of Brothers to be one of the finest television series ever created, so obviously I was eagerly anticipating Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg’s take on the war in the Pacific.  In many ways, … [continued]

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The Top 10 Movies of 2010 — Part Two!

Yesterday I began my list of my Top 10 Movies from 2010.  Here now are numbers 5-1!

5. Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work — This documentary totally took me by surprise and completely changed the way I look at Joan Rivers.  As the cameras follow Ms. Rivers for a year of her life, we see the struggles of this aging comedienne who wants, above all else, to keep working, working, working.  The film gives one ample opportunities to analyze just why Ms. Rivers is so intent on remaining in the public eye, whether that be by doing stand-up in clubs, hawking merchandise on the Home Shopping Network, or appearing on Celebrity Apprentice. But whatever one’s conclusions, positive or negative, I found it impossible not to be astounded by this woman’s endurance and stamina.  The film is well-crafted, and presents what I felt was an extraordinarily well-rounded picture of this iconic and polarizing figure.  (Click here for my full review.)

4. Toy Story 3 — One of these days the folks at Pixar are going to make a bad movie (I’m afraid it might be Cars 2, but we’ll see…) but for now I can only relish in their unparalleled recent win-streak of amazing films: Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Up, and now Toy Story 3. This movie is simply deliriously entertaining.  It’s incredibly funny and also extraordinarily poignant.  While the ending certainly isn’t tragic, I nevertheless found it to be devastatingly sad.  It’s a wonderfully emotional climax to the story of Woody, Buzz and the gang, and pretty much every note is exactly perfect.  The voice cast is stupendous, and the animation is absolutely beautiful (as are the 3-D effects).  Pixar, my hat is off to you.  (Click here for my full review.)

3. Black Swan — I’ve been an admirer of Darren Aronofsky’s work for a while now, but this film made me a fan for life.  I couldn’t believe I’d ever go see a film about wrestling, let alone love a film about wrestling as much as I did Mr. Aronofsky’s last film, The Wrestler (click here for my review). And I DOUBLY wouldn’t have believed I’d ever go see a film about ballet dancers, let alone have been as head-over-heels in love with one as I am with Black Swan. The film is magnificent.  Natalie Portman dazzles in the lead role of Nina Sayers, the young dancer cast in the lead role of Swan Lake, who just might be losing her mind as she struggles to take her dancing to the next level.  The film is viscerally intense, with an escalating what-is-going-to-happen-NEXT mania that builds to a … [continued]

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News Around the Net!

One of my favorite web-sites these days is Badassdigest.com — you should definitely check it out if you’ve never seen it.  They’ve had some great pieces up recently, such as Devin Faraci’s simple, rational piece about why you should avoid purchasing the just-announced Star Wars saga on blu-ray, and this article decrying the ridiculous people who are putting together a version of Huckleberry Finn with then “offensive” language removed, and this scary story of a Lost fan who won the lotto using the cursed numbers (“the numbers are bad!!”).  They also linked to this illustrated history of the Batmobile, which is really fantastic (and extraordinarily thorough!!)  Seriously, the site is great.  Check it out.

Drew over at Hitfix has also had some killer articles up recently that are well worth your time, such as this epic interview with Edgar Wright (seriously, anyone out there reading this who hasn’t seen Scott Pilgrim vs. the World needs to remedy that RIGHT NOW) and this in-depth conversation with The Social Network director David Fincher.

Speaking of in-depth conversations, those fine folks at the Onion AV Club have posted a wonderful career-retrospective interview with the great Jon Lovitz.  This is a great read.  (Thanks to my buddy Ethan for sending this my way!)

Sir Ian McKellan starts filming next month on The Hobbit, reprising his role as Gandalf the Grey.  Say Hallaluyah!!

So, they’re actually making a fifth Jack Ryan movie, with Chris Pine cast as the lead?  I’m not sure how I feel about that.  I guess I hope that they can pull it off.  I have a lot of faith in director Jack Bender (a prominent director from Lost) and I do think the series still has legs.  I absolutely adore The Hunt for Red October, and while I like all three follow-ups I don’t think any of them quite succeeded on all cylinders.  I’d love to see another great Jack Ryan film.  Will this be it?  One can hope…

I’ve got LOTS more reviews of 2010 movies (and some TV shows) coming up in the coming days, and I’m hard at work on my Best of 2010 lists (which I expect to post at the end of the month), so keep checking back to MotionPicturesComics.com!… [continued]

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Josh Reviews Scott Pilgrim vs. the World!

September 17th, 2010
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Let me say right up front that I found Scott Pilgrim vs. the World to be an enormously fun, engaging, original movie, and I am really bummed that the film has been so poorly received at the American box office.  After a summer filled with so many lazy, lowest-common-demoninator money-grab movies, here at last is a movie stuffed to overflowing with wit and creativity and heart.  Too bad so few people have seen it!!

Based on the series of graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley (which I’ll admit that, despite my love of comics, I have never read), Scott Pilgrim vs. the World tells of story of Scott, a young, lonely twenty-something kid looking for someone to love (who will hopefully love him back).  The film is bold in making Scott to be rather unlikable when we first meet him.  We quickly learn that he’s been in a number of failed relationships, and that he doesn’t seem to have been too gentle to the girls he broke up with once he decided that they weren’t his one true love.  There’s been some back-lash against Michael Cera in recent days, and several of his films have crashed-and-burned (Year One was a mess, and did anyone see Youth in Revolt?), but he’s very well cast in the lead role of Scott Pilgrim.  He has the acerbic edge that allows us to see how he could easily be a jerk to the girls he’s dated, but he also has enough warmth and humor and gentleness that we still wish him well and want to follow him on his adventures in the film.

And Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is certainly more of an adventure than the Juno/Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist type opening might have you believe.  When Scott meets Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), he immediately finds himself deeply infatuated with her, and the two begin to date.  This is when Scott learns that, to date Ramona, he must battle and defeat her Seven Evil Exes.

If that synopsis is starting to sound like the premise of a video-game more than a movie, then you’re right!  Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is positively drowning in a clear love for video-games.  The film does contain the increasingly elaborate and energetically staged superhero vs. supervillain fights (mirroring the increasingly challenging levels of a video game) that the premise seems to promise, but there’s much more to it then that.  Starting with the ingeniously revamped opening title-cards (in which the studio logos are presented in a pixellated version that looks like what you’d see after dropping a few quarters into an arcade game), practically every frame of the film is filled with creative … [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: Hot Fuzz (2007)

I consider Shaun of the Dead to be a near-flawless work of comedic genius.  I’m not a fan of Zombie movies, but that didn’t stop me from falling head-over-heels in love with the bizarre, comedic creation of Simon Pegg & Edgar Wright.  Shaun of the Dead lead me to seek out Pegg & Wright’s first collaboration: the 14-episode British TV series Spaced.  (Read my review here.)  Somehow, though, I had completely missed Pegg & Wright’s 2007 release: the feature film Hot Fuzz.  Oh, I knew of Hot Fuzz, and I had wanted to see it for some time.  I just hadn’t gotten around to it until now.

In Hot Fuzz, Simon Pegg plays the tough, no-nonsense London cop Nicholas Angel.  He takes his job extraordinarily seriously, and he’s extraordinarily good at what he does.  So good, in fact, that the rest of the London police department hates him, and so they arrange to have him transferred out of London and to the sleepy little British town of Sanford.  Poor Angel doesn’t know quite what to do with himself in his bucolic, crime-free new home.

As was the case in Shaun of the Dead and Spaced, Pegg’s character is paired up with Nick Frost.  Mr. Frost plays Danny Butterman, the bumbling but well-meaning police officer with whom Angel is partnered in Sanford.  But while Pegg & Frost’s characters were, in their two prior collaborations, presented as life-long best-mates, here in Hot Fuzz the two take an immediate dislike to one another.  Well, Angel takes an immediate dislike to Butterman.  Butterman, though, idolizes Angel, who he looks up to as a “big city” tough-guy cop like he knows from the movies.  It’s a great pleasure to watch Pegg and Frost paired up yet again.  The two have a terrific chemistry, and they just dominate any scenes that they’re in together.  It’s fun to see them play characters who have, at first, a more antagonistic relationship towards one another.

Hot Fuzz is a very funny film.  Pegg and Frost are extraordinary natural comedians, and the film is filled with a number of other top-notch comedic actors.  There’s a great bit of business early on in the film in which we meet Angel’s supervisors in the London police department, played by Martin Freeman, Bill Nighy, and Steve Coogan.  Jim Broadbent is a lot of fun as the jolly inspector Frank Butterman, Danny’s father and the head of the police department in Sanford.  But my favorite performance belongs to former James Bond Timothy Dalton, who is absolutely hilarious as the dashingly good-looking, possibly sinister Sanford super-market owner.  What perfect casting, and Dalton absolutely knocks the role right out … [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: Josh Reviews Spaced (The Complete Series)

A little over a year ago, I wrote that I was excited to have begun watching the newly-released (and long-anticipated) DVDs of Spaced: The Complete Series.  Well, I can’t believe how long it took me to finally finish the set (despite there only being two seasons of seven episodes each, Steph and I decided to draw out our viewing to savor the enjoyment — we didn’t want the series to end!), but I’ve finally done so.

I am happy to report that the series is every bit as wonderful and weird as I’d been hearing for all these years!!

Spaced was a short-lived British TV show that had two seasons (or “series,” as they like to call them across the pond) of seven episodes each (with the first batch coming out in 1999 and the second in 2001).  It was written by and starred Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and now Scotty in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek) and Jessica Hynes, and was directed by Edgar Wright.

Simon and Jessica played Tim and Daisy, two mismatched North Londoners who pretend to be married in order to qualify for renting an affordable flat that they both had their eye on.  The series follows the misadventures of Tim and Daisy and their small and bizarre group of friends: the military-loving Mike, the delightfully daft Twist, the depressed conceptual artist Brian, and Tim and Daisy’s droll, alcoholic landlady Marsha.

What’s so wonderful about the series is the way that it doesn’t idealize the lives of these sort-of-lost (mostly) young people.  This isn’t Friends, where everyone is perky and lives in extraordinarily large and beautiful apartments.  Tim and Daisy are both unendingly lazy and unambitious, and their flat is endearingly small and believably cluttered.

But the series isn’t depressing — rather, it is a ridiculous amount of fun.  Though each character is filled with quirks, they all quickly become surprisingly lovable, and it is great fun watching them go through their little day-to-day adventures.  Also, the series is practically built around an ever-increasing number of rapid-fire references to (and parodies of) a wide variety of movies, TV shows, and all sorts of other aspects of sci-fi, comic books, and lots more geeky stuff.  The closest thing I could compare all of this silliness to is the fantasy sequences found in Scrubs — though the fantasies here are much more elegantly done and more intricately woven into the narrative.  It is great fun spotting all of the little winks and nods included in each episode.  (There’s even an homage-o-meter included as a special feature on the DVDs.)  Some of the references are a little dated (there are … [continued]