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Josh Reviews Late Night

In Late Night, written by Mindy Kaling and directed by Nisha Ganatra, Ms. Kaling stars as Molly Patel, a young woman hired as the only woman on the all-white-male writing staff of a late-night talk.  That talk show is run by multi-decade late-night veteran Katherine Newbury, played by Emma Thompson.

Late Night is a terrific film.  Ms. Kaling’s script is very funny, while also containing well-developed characters who go through true dramatic arcs.  Ms. Kaling herself is a winning lead.  Molly is a heroic character, bravely pushing her way into the white-male-dominated comedy-writing world without losing her sense of self.  At the same time, Ms. Kaling allows Molly to look occasionally foolish and to be endearingly flawed and imperfect.

But it’s Emma Thompson on whose shoulders the film truly rests, and the great Ms. Thompson delivers a powerhouse performance as Katherine Newbury.  Katherine, like Molly, had to force her way into a white-male-dominated world.  She’s been at the top of the pack for decades, but now her show is losing viewers and she finds herself on the edges of relevance, as her new network head (Amy Ryan) moves to take her show away from her.  Katherine goes on a compelling journey in the film, as she is forced to take stock of her life and her career, the choices she’s made and their repercussions.  The film doesn’t pull its punches, and Ms. Thompson is able to completely inhabit this woman and take the audience along on this story.  Ms. Thompson’s charisma and energy also allows us to see exactly why Katherine has been a late-night star for decades.  This is a terrific performance.  Ms. Kaling and Ms. Thompson have sparkling chemistry; the best scenes in the film are the ones with just the two of them.

The rest of the ensemble is very strong.  The Wire’s Amy Ryan is perfect in her handful of scenes, and Ms. Ganatra and Ms. Kaling have populated Katherine Newbury’s writers’ room with a terrific ensemble of actors.  Veeps Reid Scott is terrific as Tom, the head monologue writer who is at first disdainful and threatened by Mindy’s presence in the writer’s room.  He’s very funny, while also allowing Tom to have a core of humanity.  Denis O’Hare is also note-perfect as Brad, Katherine’s right-hand man and show-runner, who is the one to hire Molly but more out of a desire to make Katherine’s show as great as it can be rather than out of any sort of idealistic stance.  Paul Walter Hauser (who was great in his appearances on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Max Cassella, John Early, and Hugh Dancy are all fun and funny.  I love how the film was … [continued]

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Josh Reviews the Live Action Beauty and the Beast

I am not sure what to make of Disney Studios’ apparent desire to remake every single one of their animated films into a live action version. I wasn’t interested in Cinderella, nor did I see 101 Dalmatians.  I did see Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book, as I was drawn by the CGI spectacle, and I quite enjoyed it.  When I heard that a live action Beauty and the Beast was in the works, I had some interest because I love the original animated film.  (I remember going to see it when it first came out, on a trip with a high school film class, and being blown away by the film.)  So I was intrigued by the idea of a new version, but also as perplexed as I am any time Hollywood decides to remake a great film.  I can understand remaking bad movies, in an attempt to spin a failed concept or execution into a more successful undertaking, but what is to be gained by remaking an already great movie?

This new version of Beauty and the Beast is an interesting exploration of that question.  On the one hand, I freely admit that this new version is terrific.  I have a lot of great things to say about it, all of which I will get into in just a moment.  But is it better than the original film?  Not in my opinion.  It’s just different.  It’s an extraordinarily well-crafted piece of work, and I had a heck of a lot of fun watching it on a humongous IMAX screen.  But after seeing it, I have been wondering, what was the point?  Why did so many people work so hard for so many years just to remake an already great film?

Perhaps I should say “recreate” rather than “remake,” as this new Beauty and the Beast hews extremely faithfully to the original film.  There are a few tweaks here and there.  They delved a little bit more into the Beast and Belle’s backstories; they changed the character of Belle’s father Maurice a bit; they tweaked Belle’s involvement with the other villagers; they gave the Beast a new song; etc.  But whereas The Jungle Book was a far more complete reinvention of the story, one that took full advantage of what modern CGI can do, this film uses modern CGI not to reinvent the original movie but rather to recreate it as faithfully as they could.  What changes have been made to the original film’s story are entirely superficial.  (I read a LOT in the press, in advance of this film’s release, about the changes made to Belle’s backstory, how she was now more of a fighter for the other … [continued]

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Catching Up on 2012: Josh Reviews Brave

Each year, in preparation for my end-of-the-year “Best Of” lists, I watch a lot of movies.  It’s become a bit of a tradition here on the site that, after posting my year-end lists, I write a series of “catching up on insert-the-previous-year-here” posts, reviewing some of the movies that I crammed in at the end of the year, that I hasn’t yet had time to write about individually.  This year was no different, except that I’m a bit delayed in writing about many of those 2012 films I saw at the very end of the year, including Safety Not Guaranteed and Jeff, Who Lives at Home (both of which made it onto my Best Movies of 2012 list), Chronicle, Take this Waltz, Killer Joe, Joe Dies at the End, Paul Williams Not Dead, 21 Jump Street, The Campaign, and more.  So look for reviews of those films in the coming weeks!  Today, I want to talk about Brave.

After an incredible run of absolutely spectacular, perfection-level films, from Finding Nemo to The Incredibles to Ratatouille to WALL-E to Up to Toy Story 3, I was stunned to realize the other day that I had missed the last two Pixar films: Cars 2 and Brave.  Cars was by far my least favorite Pixar film, so I wasn’t that interested in the sequel.  I’d like to watch it at some point, but I haven’t felt any rush.  Brave definitely interested me, but it got very mixed reviews and I was so busy over the summer that by the time I had a chance to try to see it, it was already gone from theatres.  But I was looking to watch it, as soon as the film was released on DVD.

I’m glad I did.  Brave isn’t at the level of those Pixar films I listed above, but it’s still a very clever, very entertaining film.

Why don’t I think it’s as great as those other amazing Pixar films?  Mainly because while those films were each so wonderfully unique, bringing to life a world and a set of characters so totally unlike anything we’d ever seen before, Brave’s set-up feels very familiar.  This is the story of a headstrong princess who doesn’t want to get married.  That’s story-ground that has been pretty well-mined by many previous Disney animated films.  It’s a little surprising to see a Pixar film start from such a familiar place.

But that being said, I love the world that is brought to life in Brave.  Though the basic story set-up is familiar, by setting the story in Scotland we get to explore the flavor of a world that has NOT been explored before in animation.  I found … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Men in Black 3

It’s been ten years since the last Men in Black film.  (Men in Black 2 came out in 2o02, and the first Men in Black came out back in 1997.)  That’s a long, long time for a movie series to lie fallow.  Is there an example of a sequel to a film franchise being released after such a long dry spell in which the new sequel was any good?  I’m hard-pressed to think of one, though I can think of many examples where the opposite was true, and the long-awaited sequel disappointed fans terribly.  The Godfather Part III.  Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.  Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen either of the first two Men in Black films.  I remember quite liking the first one, and being disappointed by the second.  I was excited by the prospect of a third film being made, because I definitely feel the concept still has plenty of juice, but I was dubious as to whether they could capture lighting in a bottle after so much time.  Well, to summarize, Men in Black 3 isn’t nearly as good as I had hoped, but it’s not as bad as I had feared (or as I’d heard it was).  It’s an entertaining film, though a frustrating one.  The concept of the film is solid, and with that story idea and these performers, there is a great film in there somewhere.  Men in Black 3 isn’t it, though.

As I just wrote, the central concept of the film is strong, and I can see why this story lured all the major players (stars Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones and director Barry Sonnenfeld) back to the table.  A vicious bad-guy who Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) had put away forty years previously breaks out of prison and uses a time machine to go back in time and kill K in the past.  Agent J (Will Smith) must travel back to 1969 to save the life of the young Agent K, played in the past by Josh Brolin.

The problem (well, there are many problems with the film, but let’s start with this one) is that the first section of the film, set in the present day, is absolutely terrible.

Let’s start with the prologue, in which Boris the Animal breaks out of the MIB’s prison on the moon, and begins his plan for vengeance against Agent K.  Director Barry Sonnenfeld doesn’t seem to have any idea how to stage this sequence.  It has a weird, goofy tone.  In my opinion, if the filmmakers wanted to set up Boris as a real threat to our … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II

I’ve made this comment in my last several Harry Potter film reviews, but it bears repeating one final time: what an astounding achievement it is, that this eight-film series has made it all the way to the end with the same ensemble of actors all the way through (save for the late Richard Harris).  And, even more than that, what an amazing stroke of luck it is that every single one of the young child-actors who appeared in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone has grown into such a marvelous actor in his or her own right.

Though perhaps it’s not luck at all.  Though Chris Columbus’ two installments (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) are by far my least favorite films of the series, the man clearly deserves ENORMOUS credit for his great skill at casting.  The strength of the ensemble he assembled for those first two films has enabled this series to blossom in ways I never could have predicted when walking out of the theatre after seeing that first movie.  It’s a pretty unprecedented achievement.

Somehow I have watched the entire story of Harry Potter on film without having read any of the books (save for the first one, which I read the day before seeing the first film).  Heresy, I know!  But nothing in the first three movies made me want to read the books, and when I really started digging the film series during movie four (which was the first Harry Potter film that I really liked) and movie five (which still stands as my very favorite of the films), I figured that, at that point, I preferred to continue discovering the story through the films.  (Now that I have made it through to the end, I’m sure I will some day soon read through all seven of the books.)  But, for now, as in the past, I will report my comments on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II as someone taking in the film, and the film alone (rather than drawing a comparison to the novel).

I have written before, on this blog, when contemplating the end of long-running television shows, just how difficult it is to craft a satisfactory ending to a long-form story.  From everyone I know who has read the books, it seems that J.K. Rowling accomplished this feat when writing the seventh and final book, and I am pleased to report that the makers of this eight and final film have done the same.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II is an exciting, emotional ride from start to finish, and I felt it provided a wonderful … [continued]