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Josh Reviews A Wrinkle in Time

I loved A Wrinkle in Time when I was a kid.  I remember I had a set of the three (at the time) books in the series by Madeleine L’Engle: A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet.  As I recall, I didn’t much care for A Swiftly Tilting Planet, but the mix of science and fantasy in those first two books thrilled me.  Just recently I read A Wrinkle in Time with my daughters, and they loved it.  It was fun to rediscover the book through their eyes.  They deeply invested in Meg and in her adventure.  For me, I was pleased that the book (which I hadn’t read in close to three decades) held up well.  There were some religious aspects in the novel that I hadn’t recalled and which I found superfluous, and I was a little frustrated by the novel’s abrupt ending, but I was glad to revisit this book and happy that my daughters enjoyed it just as I had.

The book felt ripe for a visual interpretation, and so I looked forward eagerly to Ava DuVernay (Selma)’s film adaptation.  Having now seen it, I can say that the film is… interesting.  There’s a lot to enjoy, but overall I found it to be a bit of a mixed bag.

First off, it’s not what I’d consider a direct adaptation of the book.  Yes, the movie follows the same basic story beats as the book, but whereas, say, the Harry Potter films attempted to bring the story of the novels to screen as faithfully as possible (understanding that, of course, changes have to be made when transforming a novel into a two-hour movie), there were many places in Ms. DuVernay’s adaptation of A  Wrinkle in Time in which it felt to me that Ms. DuVernay and her team used the novel as a jumping-off point for their own ideas.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with that approach.  But the result is a film that feels very distinctly like one filmmaker’s version of a story loosely based on A Wrinkle in Time rather than a faithful adaptation.  (I freely admit that, for most of cinema’s history, that’s what practically ALL movie adaptations of novels were!  But in a post-Harry Potter era, when we have seen how successful those films were, both creatively and financially, I find myself more drawn to projects that are faithful to the source material.)

As an example of what I am talking about, take the film’s depiction of Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which.  Ms. DuVernay has cast three wonderful actresses in the role (Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, and Oprah Winfrey), … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Cloverfield Paradox

February 16th, 2018
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I love both of the first two Cloverfield films.  I think they’re both terrific, and underrated.  (Click here for my review of Cloverfield, and here for my review of 10 Cloverfield Lane.)  I was super-excited when I heard that a third Cloverfield movie was in the works, and I love that J.J. Abrams and his team have figured out yet another stunt for surprising audiences with the release of the film — in this case, a Super Bowl trailer that announced that the full film was available for viewing immediately after the game on Netflix.  Well done.

As with the first two Cloverfield films, the secrecy surrounding The Cloverfield Paradox is a big part of the experience of watching it, so I won’t say too much.  I can tell you that the film is set in the near future, when the Earth is running out of energy.  The astronauts on board a space station are working on a project to construct an enormous particle accelerator to create energy in an effort to save human civilization.  Suffice to say, something goes terribly wrong.

I was really primed to enjoy this film, but sadly, I found The Cloverfield Paradox to be a dud.  It’s a shame, because all the ingredients are there for a terrific film.  I love the set-up.  I am always excited about an original sci-fi story, and I particularly like sci-fi films set in a realistic near-future like this one.  (There’s just something I dig about that sort of futuristic-but-plausible setting for a sci-fi adventure story.).  I love the look of the film — the design of the space-station, the look of the costumes and the props, all of that is great.  And the cast… wow.  The cast is phenomenal.  Just look at this ensemble: Gugu Mbatha-Raw (who starred in the best episode of Black Mirror’s first Netflix season), David Oyelowo (Selma, A United Kingdom, Rise of the Planet of the Apes), Daniel Brühl (Inglorious Basterds, Captain America: Civil War), John Ortiz (American Gangster, The Drop, Kong: Skull Island), Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids, This is 40, Molly’s Game), Zhang Ziyi (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Hero, House of Flying Daggers), Elizabeth Debicki (The Night Manager, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2), and Aksel Hennie (The Martian).  That is an incredible cast!!

For the first 45-ish minutes of The Cloverfield Paradox, I was enjoying the film.  It was exciting and suspenseful and weird.

But as the film progressed, it became clear that the story did not make any sense, and that the … [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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The Top Twenty Episodes of TV in 2016 — Part Three!

My list of my Twenty Favorite Episodes of TV in 2016 continues!  Click here for the beginning of my list, numbers twenty through sixteen, and click here for part two, numbers fifteen through ten.

Let’s continue as we enter my Top Ten!

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10. The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story: “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” (season one, episode six, aired on 3/8/16) – I vividly remember the events of the O.J. trial, and at first the idea of a TV dramatization of those events didn’t hold much appeal for me, but like everyone else I was blown away by the riveting ten-episode The People v. O.J. Simpson.  I was incredibly impressed with the way the show humanized so many of the men and women involved in the trial, even those who at the time I saw as villains or cartoons.  The show’s greatest triumph was its complete redemption of losing prosecutor Marcia Clarke, who was brutalized by the media and much of the public at the time.  This incredible episode of the show shines a spotlight on this particular issue, showing the many ways in which Ms. Clarke was run through the public ringer as she attempted to prosecute the case.  The show, and this episode, hold out Ms. Clarke as a hero, someone attempting to navigate the impossible collision of prosecuting a hugely public case while also attempting to maintain a private life and be a mom to her kids, all the while going through a nasty divorce (and the way that divorce was thrust into the public eye), as well as incredible sexism and judgments about her appearance (her outfits, her hairstyle) made by the general public and colleagues alike.  We see Ms. Clarke forced to grin and bear snide comments not only from Judge Lance Ito but even a nameless check-out clerk when she’s buying tampons.  It’s heartbreaking.  This performance was a triumph by Sarah Paulson, who was able to bring Ms. Clarke to life with enormous dignity and grace, and who with just a tiny movement or look could bring the audience right into Ms. Clarke’s heart and mind.

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9. Black Mirror: “San Junipero” (season three, episode four, released on 10/21/16) – I rejoiced that Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker’s marvelous British anthology series exploring the dangers of technology, was resurrected by Netflix for a third season.  This new season didn’t wind up matching the greatness of the first two seasons, but one standout was this episode, “San Junipero.”  In the 1980′s, we follow the gentle story of the flowering relationship between Yorkie (The Martians Mackenzie Davis), a tentative young woman first taking ownership of the idea that she is a lesbian, … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Netflix’s Season Three of Black Mirror!

I adored the original six episodes made of the British TV show Black Mirror.  Series creator Charlie Brooker had made a riveting modern/day Twilight Zone, with each episode a completely stand-alone installment presenting a look at the ways that technology has the potential to be terribly destructive to our lives. Those first six episodes, made between 2011-13, are brilliant, and if you haven’t yet seen them I implore you to drop everything and go check them out — they are available to stream on Netflix.

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I was very excited when I read that Netflix would be resurrecting the show, allowing Mr. Brooker to create six new episodes. I took my time watching the new episodes, both because I didn’t want them to be over too quickly and also because these episodes are very intense and I couldn’t handle too many too quickly! But now I have completed the new season and am eager to share my thoughts.

While there is nothing here in season three that equals the best of the original six episodes, I enjoyed most of these new episodes very much. Mr. Brooker has brought in some talented people to help create this new season, and it’s interesting to see the resulting slightly-different spins on the show.  (Though, rest assured, these new episodes all thoroughly feel like Black Mirror.) None of these new episodes reach the genius level that so many of the original six episodes did, and a few are weakened by some flaws I’d have preferred to have seen corrected along the way. But all six episodes are interesting and have a lot to enjoy. While this third season might just be “very good” rather than “genius,” that is still something for us to be thankful for. I am very glad that six more episodes of Black Mirror now exist! (With the possibility of more on the way!)

Here is my episode-by-episode rundown. I’ll avoid major SPOILERS but, still, I highly advise stopping here if you haven’t yet seen these episodes.

Nosedive — the new season gets off to a somewhat shaky start with this first installment.  “Nosedive” has a brilliant, terrifying-in-its-possibility premise, but it suffers somewhat in execution. In the not-too-distant future, everyone can use their cell-phones to rate their interactions with every person they meet, and those scores accumulate into a person’s average score that is constantly visible (because of special contact lenses that everyone wears) whenever you see anyone else.  Bryce Dallas Howard is spectacular as a young woman, Lacie, trying to nudge up her personal score. As the story unfolds it becomes clear that these scores classify each individual into a certain social class. (The story is instigated because Lacie wants … [continued]