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Josh Reviews The Old Guard

Netflix’s new film The Old Guard is an adaptation of the terrific comic book series of the same name by Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernández.  Charlize Theron stars as Andy (short for Andromache), a warrior who is thousands of years old.  She and a small group of fellow immortals have found one another and now work together as an elite combat unit who take on impossible missions when no one else can help.  But in the twenty-first century, it’s become increasingly difficult for these immortals to hide their existence from the world…

The Old Guard is a fun action-adventure film.  I love the concept, and the film has been very faithfully adapted from the first mini-series of the comic.  (This makes sense as The Old Guard’s creator and author Greg Rucka is also the sole credited screenwriter on the movie!)  The film was directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love & Basketball, The Secret Life of Bees).  It’s awesome to see a woman of color given the helm of a comic book adaptation.  I think Ms. Prince-Bythewood does a great job with the adaptation; the film has terrific action but is also nicely centered on the characters.

The cast is top-notch.  Charlize Theron is perfectly cast as the immortal warrior Andy.  I’ll probably never love Ms. Theron more in an action role than I did her spectacular work in Mad Max: Fury Road, but it’s not really her fault that every other action role she takes can’t quite live up to Furiosa.  Ms. Theron is great here!  She nails the physicality of the role — she’s fantastic in all the action sequences (And I’m so glad that they gave Andy her very-specific weapon from the comics) — and more importantly, she’s able to bring Andy’s crushing world-weariness to life.  She plays the “I’m gettin’ too old for this shit” attitude perfectly, giving weight to the burden Andy carries without becoming too dour (which would have sunk the film).

KiKi Layne (If Beale Street Could Talk) is fantastic as Nile, a U.S. marine in Afghanistan who — after getting killed on patrol and then coming back to life — is sucked into Andy & co.’s crazy world.  Nile is the audience surrogate character, as it’s through her that we discover this story.  This could have been a boring, flat character in less capable hands, but Ms. Layne makes Nile the beating heart of the story; even more than Charlize Theron’s Andy.  Ms. Layne is terrific in exploring the shock and horror that Nile feels at discovering that she has forever lost her old “normal” life.  If future sequels lean even more heavily on Nile, I’d be delighted.

Matthias Schoenaerts … [continued]

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Just Reviews Stumptown Season One

I enjoyed the first episode of Stumptown, and I’m pleased that I continued to enjoy the subsequent seventeen episodes of this first season.  Stumptown is based on the fantastic comic book series written by Greg Rucka and illustrated by first Matthew Southworth and then Justin Greenwood.  It centers on Dex Parios (played by Cobie Smulders), a private investigator in Portland, Oregon.

Stumptown is a fun adventure series.  It’s episodic by nature, but the formula works fairly well, and I enjoyed the show’s tongue-in-cheek, just slightly off-kilter sensibility.  The individual cases have danger and drama each week, but the show maintains an enjoyably comedic tone.  It’s a series that regularly returned to the status quo at the end of each episode, but it was able to zig where the standard sort of network procedural would have zagged enough to keep my interest.  I loved, for example, the show’s many unusual music choices used to score its action sequences.  I loved the use of a freeze-frame (that would then cut to an illustrated-looking version of the freeze-frame) that takes us into the opening titles each week.  (It was used to great comedic effect, and it looked cool!)  And while the show was generally episodic, they enjoyed throwing in a good cliffhanger on a regular basis, to help ensure viewers would return for the next episode.

It’s been a while since I’ve watched an episodic network show like this.  Even though I enjoyed the pilot episode, I was a little worried that the series would fall into a boring regular pattern.  But I enjoyed the outlandish cases in which Dex found herself involved week after week.  There were some fun and memorable installments in this first season!  If the show had a failing, it was its over-reliance on soap-opera-ish melodrama.  I found myself a little bored by the love triangle between Dex, Grey (Jake Johnson) and Hoffman (Michael Ealy) and the predictable sitcom-ish misunderstandings and bad-timing complications that arose between them.  Similarly, while I like that Grey had a tougher edge than the Grey in the comic series, I didn’t love the outlandish way the show wound up continually pushing him back into criminal-adjacent situations.

The show’s greatest strength is its cast.  Cobie Smulders is terrific in the lead role as screwed-up, P.T.S.D.-suffering P.I. Dex Parios.  She’s endearing and engaging and completely believable as this tough, don’t-mess-with-her young woman.  She can effortlessly play the drama while also demonstrating very solid comedic timing (clearly honed by her decade on How I Met Your Mother).  I’ve really enjoyed the dimension that Jake Johnson has brought to Grey.  Like Ms. Smulders, Mr. Johnson is very skilled at playing both the dramatic beats and the comedic … [continued]

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Josh Reviews the Premiere of Stumptown!

Stumptown is a magnificent comic book series written by Greg Rucka and illustrated by first Matthew Southworth and then Justin Greenwood.  It centers on Dex Parios, a private investigator in Portland, Oregon.  The series has been published periodically between 2009 and 2016 (though I continue to hope for new installments…).  I was excited when I heard that the series was being turned into a TV show for ABC starring How I Met Your Mother’s Cobie Smulders in the lead role!

I watched the first episode, and I was pleased!  It wasn’t flawless, but it was an entertaining hour of television and I think the series has a lot of potential.

This first episode is a loose adaptation of the comic book’s first story-line, “The Case of the Girl Who Took her Shampoo (But Left her Mini)”.  Dex is broke and owes the local casino, run by the Confederated Tribes of the Wind Coast, $11,000.  The head of the casino offers to wipe out Dex’s debt if Dex will help find her granddaughter, who has gone missing.  Dex agrees, and quickly finds herself in a world of trouble she didn’t expect.

The comic’s first issue opens with Dex getting shot, and then the story flashes back to retrace the steps of what happened.  This episode takes a similar approach, though it borrows a scene from a later Stumptown story, in which Dex gets thrown in the truck of a car by two coffee-loving goons.  This opening sequence of the show is terrific — probably the best part of the episode.  It’s very funny (the goons start singing along to the Neil Diamond song playing on Dex’s car’s broken tape-player) and then turns into a terrific action sequence, as Dex breaks out of the trunk and attempts to subdue the two guys, while the car careens out of control through traffic, leading to the car’s taking a huge jump off of a bridge (which is also a callback to a famous moment from the comic).  The show then flashes back, as the comic did, to show us how Dex got locked in that trunk in the first place.

What follows is a decently compelling mystery.  I love that Dex actually finds the missing girl, Nina, fairly quickly — but that turns out to be just part of the larger story.  That’s a clever twist.  This first episode has a lot of ground to cover, introducing the whole cast and Dex’s world, while also telling this mystery/investigation story.  It’s all done fairly well.

Cobie Smulders is well-cast as Dex.  I think she’s a strong choice to carry the show.  She’s beautiful and she can kick ass, and she has the acting chops … [continued]

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Let’s start with this amazing creation:

Topher Grace and Jeff Yorkes wove together footage from every single Star Wars film so far to create a gorgeous, emotional five-minute tribute to the Star Wars saga.  I have watched this thing a LOT of times so far.  What an incredible expression of love for Star Wars, and what an impressive achievement of editing.  I love the way they juxtaposed moments from the different films in order to connect events and characters.  And I love that they even included snippets of deleted scenes from Episode III, A New Hope, and Return of the Jedi.  Most impressive!

The second trailer for Dark Phoenix recently appeared:

I’m not sure what to think.  X-Men: The Last Stand broke my heart because it bungled the Dark Phoenix storyline.  I’ve long hoped for a reboot.  But so far what we’ve seen of Dark Phoenix doesn’t look any more faithful to the original comics (by Chris Claremont and John Byrne) than The Last Stand was.  For example, the trailer’s opening moment in which a tearful Jean asks “why did you make me do that?” implies that she’s not in control of her actions, which in my opinion is a complete misunderstanding of the Dark Phoenix story, which is about how ultimate power can corrupt even the most noble of souls.  (True, the later comic book stories that returned Jean to the Marvel Universe retconned the Dark Phoenix Saga to suggest that the Phoenix power wasn’t from within Jean, but was an alien entity that had bonded with her.  But even so, I still think it’s incorrect to depict Jean as being controlled by that entity.)  Also, from what we can see on this recently-released poster, Jean’s Dark Phoenix attire doesn’t look anything like her iconic look from the comics, but instead looks almost exactly like the sort of silly dark red jacked that Famke Janssen wore as Dark Phoenix in The Last Stand.  What a weird choice!  With the X-Men characters returning to MCU control following the Disney-Fox merger, Dark Phoenix feels like a “lame duck” movie, as I expect these characters and stories to soon be rebooted and incorporated into the MCU.  I still want Dark Phoenix to be amazing… but as of now I’m not expecting too much…

(And, actually, there is one other remaining Fox X-Men film — the much-delayed New Mutants.  Apparently the planned reshoots for that film still haven’t happened… will they ever…?)

We also recently got our second trailer for the rebooted Hellboy film:

As with Dark Phoenix, I’m not blown away by what we’ve seen of this film so far.  I desperately want this film to be great.  This second … [continued]

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The Top Fifteen Comic Book Series of 2015 — Part Two

And so we come to it at last, my final Best of 2015 list!

A few days ago I began listing my Fifteen Favorite Comic Book Series of 2015, listing numbers fifteen through six.

Here now are my Top Five:

5. Velvet (by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting) — What if Moneypenny was actually a former double-oh agent, now assigned to a desk at HQ but forced back into the field by a terrible betrayal?  That’s the brilliant hook of Mr. Brubaker and Mr. Epting’s phenomenal spy yarn Velvet.  The year is 1973, and Velvet Templeton has been, for eighteen years, the secretary and right-hand woman for the Director of Arc-7, a super-secret British organization of spies.  When their best agent (think James Bond) is murdered on assignment, Velvet finds herself framed for the deed and on the run from everyone she once trusted.  Velvet is a rich conspiracy thriller and a loving homage to the mystique of sixties-era James Bond adventures  Mr. Brubaker’s twisty story constantly has me guessing, trying to put the pieces together (just like Velvet herself is doing).  Mr. Epting’s art, meanwhile, is jaw-droppingly astounding, filled with incredible period detail.  I don’t know how he does it.  I love this book and, as I wrote last year, I desperately need it to come out more frequently.

4. James Bond (by Warren Ellis and Jason Masters) — One of the few 2015 comic book series that was better than Brubaker & Epting’s Bond-inspired saga is Warren Ellis and Jason Masters’ take on the actual double-oh-seven himself!  I’d never have expected to see the phenomenally talented Warren Ellis writing a licensed comic book series, but it’s a match made in heaven.  This James Bond series doesn’t feel like any other licensed comic book series that I have ever read.  This comic is brutal, take-no-prisoners story-telling.  I love Mr. Ellis’ depiction of Bond as a merciless “blunt instrument” of Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  And Jason Masters’ art is extraordinary, with clean crisp lines that nevertheless manage to incorporate a staggering amount of detail into every panel.  It’s perfect for this series.  I love this team continues chronicling the adventures of James Bond 007 for many more years to come.

3. The Fade Out (by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips) — The latest collaboration between Mr. Brubaker and Mr. Phillips, the best team in comics, is a riveting whodunnit set in Hollywood of the nineteen-forties.  Hollywood screenwriter and drunk Charlie Parrish wakes up one morning to find himself in a room with the dead body of  young starlet Valeria Sommers.  As the story unfolds, Charlie finds himself in the middle of an ugly story whose tendrils stretch … [continued]

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The Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2013 — Part One!

My Best of 2013 lists roll on!  I hope you enjoyed my list of the Top 15 Movies of 2013 (click here for part one, here for part two, and here for part three) and my list of the Top 10 Episodes of TV of 2013 (click here for part one and here for part two).

Today we begin my third Best of 2013 list — The Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2013!  Onward:

Honorable Mentions: Series I loved but that didn’t make this list include: Secret, The Manhattan Projects, The Massive, Peter David’s X-Factor, Guardians of the Galaxy, Batman Beyond Unlimited, Mark Millar & Frank Quitely’s Jupiter’s Legacy, IDW’s X-Files re-launch, Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo’s Batman, Jason Aaron & Nick Bradshaw’s Wolverine & The X-Men, and Brian & Olivia Bendis’ Takio.  I also thoroughly enjoyed Grant Morrison’s DC work, including his run on Action Comics which wrapped up earlier this year (click here for my detailed thoughts on Mr. Morrison’s Superman saga) and his work on Batman Incorporated, which concluded Mr. Morrison’s years-long run on Batman (click here for my in-depth comments on Mr. Morrison’s Batman saga).

Here now is my main list:

15. America’s Got Powers I loved this seven-issue mini-series (the final three issues of which were published in 2013) by superstar artist Bryan Hitch and writer Jonathan Ross, about a brutal reality TV show in which super-powered kids are forced to compete.  The concept is a delicious melding of super-hero action and social commentary, but what most surprised me about the series was by how hooked in I was by the series’ main character, Tommy Watts, and his struggle to somehow find his way through and survive the competing interests operating all around him.  I was sorry when this mini-series ended.  I hope that someday Mr. Ross and Mr. Hitch return to this world.

14. Wonder Woman Writer Brian Azzarello and artist Cliff Chiang (along with Goran Sudzuka and Tony Akins)’s reinvention of Wonder Woman continues, and it has been just as thrilling in its second year as it was in its first.  I can’t believe I am actually purchasing a Wonder Woman comic book every month, let alone enjoying it so much.  Mr. Azzarello has, on the one hand, connected the Wonder Woman mythos far more strongly to Greek mythology than has ever been done before (with the series’ main cast now consisting of various Greek mythological figures, each brought to unique life by Mr. Azzarello’s writing), while also (in an even more surprising move) beginning to tie the series into Jack Kirby’s New Gods concepts (with Orion becoming a major player … [continued]