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Josh Reviews Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Walking out of J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2015, I was thrilled.  It felt like a joyous return to the fun spirit of the original Star Wars films, something the dour, talky Prequels felt like they’d forgotten.  But after a little time thinking about it, the film’s flaws (it’s derivative nature, and its myriad story and plot problems) started to become apparent.  I found watching Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker to be a remarkably similar experience.  The film is a fun thrill ride.  It kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time.  The tone is spot-on, and wow, the film is visually stunning.  The Rise of Skywalker was hugely enjoyable to watch on a big screen with a packed crowd.  But it lacks the depth and thematic weight of the best Star Wars.  In contrast to The Last Jedi (a film that, while flawed, is one that I’ll fiercely defend), this isn’t a film with much of anything to say.  And it contains many of the same third-act nonsensical plot problems that The Force Awakens has.

OK, let’s dig in!  Before we begin, though, two programming notes.  First, my Star Wars t-shirt design is available at Woot for only TWO MORE DAYS!  It’ll be up for sale through Tuesday night only.  Please support this site by clicking through and making a purchase!  It’s a great gift for any Star Wars super-fan in your life.  Second, the other way to support this site is to take advantage of my being an Amazon affiliate.  This means that if you click through to Amazon from any of the links on this site, I’ll get a tiny percentage of the price of any purchase you make on Amazon for the next 24 hours.  You can use the Amazon banner ad at the top of the home page, or any specific Amazon link within one of my blog.  You don’t have to purchase the specific item I linked to!  Just use one of my links to get to Amazon, and then purchase whatever you normally would.  If all the readers of this site would just click through to Amazon through one of my links, whenever you do your shopping, it’d be a huge help towards keeping the lights on here.

OK, back to The Rise of Skywalker!  There are spoilers ahead, so I recommend stopping here if you haven’t yet seen the film, and coming back to read this after you do.

The Rise of Skywalker exhibits the same tendency seen in The Force Awakens to give us the-same-but-bigger rather than anything new.  In The Force Awakens, we got another Death Star but now this one was … [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: Mission: Impossible III (2006)

I really enjoyed the Brad Bird-directed fourth installment in Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible series (click here for my review), and that made me want to go back and watch the third installment.  I’d really enjoyed Mission Impossible III back when it was released, and it was great fun to re-watch.

I have some issues with the first Mission: Impossible film, but overall I think it’s pretty successful.  I think the first 40-45 minutes of Mission: Impossible II are pretty great, but then the whole thing collapses into a big awful mess.  The third and fourth M:I films have been far more successful than the first two, in my opinion — J. J. Abrams and Brad Bird have crafted films that are much closer to what I’d like these Mission: Impossible films to be.

Mission: Impossible III represents J. J. Abrams’ theatrical directorial debut, but you’d never know it by watching the film.  The movie looks amazing, and is directed with incredible confidence and grace by Mr. Abrams.  His camera is constantly active — not to the degree that you’re distracted by it, but in a way that throws the audience right into the middle of the visceral action.

And boy is this film action-packed.  I had forgotten just how many spectacular action set-pieces there are in the film.  There’s that helicopter chase through a field of wind-powered turbines.  There’s the complex break-in and kidnapping staged in the middle of the Vatican.  There’s the brutal helicopter and drone attack on the IMF convoy traveling across a bridge.  There’s the death-defying break-in to the skyscraper in Shanghai.  I could go on!  Each of those sequences could be the centerpiece of another action movie, they’re that good.  Each sequence is a delight of twists and suspense, marvelously well-orchestrated by Mr. Abrams and his team.

Although there’s plenty of super-spy craziness in the film, all of the action in Mission: Impossible III feels far more gritty and grounded than that in the first two films.  J.nJ. and his team make clear, right from the start, that they have set out to create a different type of M:I film.  I love the very scary and very intense scene that opens the film (in which we see Ethan Hunt captured and tied to a chair, while Philip Seymour Hoffman counts down ten seconds before he says he will execute Ethan’s wife in front of him).  It’s a terrifying moment, and also a very simple one — just three people and a gun in a darkened room.  It’s not at all the way I’d expect this big-budget, fantasy super-spy movie to open.

The other strength of Mission: Impossible III is that, for the first time … [continued]

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The Top 15 Movies of 2011 — Part Two!

Yes, this year my Top 10 Movies of 2011 list is a Top 15 list!  Click here for part one of my list, numbers fifteen through eleven.  And now, onward!

10.  The Guard — I just saw this film last week.  It was the last addition to my list!   Brendan Gleeson is riveting as a small-time Irish policeman — brash, set-in-his-ways, and someone who delights in nothing more than taking the piss out of anyone he meets — who finds himself forced to work with an American FBI agent, played by Don Cheadle, investigating drug-runners. The film is laugh-out-loud hilarious, and also dramatic and intense. It looks like it was made on a tiny budget, but I was totally taken by this fiercely original piece of work, and Mr. Gleeson’s role is without question one of the best written and acted of the year.  I’ll have a full review coming soon.

9.  Rise of the Planet of the Apes I’m a hard-core Planet of the Apes fanatic, so I didn’t need any convincing to check out this newest attempt to reinvent the franchise. But I was stunned by how high-quality the finished film actually was. It was perfectly designed to appeal to the long-time Apes fans and the Apes newbies equally. Andy Serkis’ motion-capture performance as the young ape Caesar, the center of the story, is extraordinary, aided and abetted by some phenomenal, top-of-the-line CGI work. The action at the end of the movie is a whole heck of a lot of end-of-the-world fun, but I was long-before sold on the film by Mr. Serkis’ powerful work. Rise of the Planet of the Apes works perfectly as a stand-alone film, but I certainly hope that we’ll get to see further sequels set in this world.  (Click here for my full review.)

8.  Super 8 J. J. Abrams’ homage to classic Steven Spielberg films that he directed and produced for Amblin Entertainment, throughout the eighties, cut right to the core of my movie-loving heart. The film captures the coming-of-age, kids on an adventure feeling of E.T., The Goonies, and Stand By Me in a powerful way, creating a film that feels deeply nostalgic and also timeless. The ensemble of kids are phenomenal, well-directed by Mr. Abrams, and I loved the film’s gradual build-up of mystery and suspense.  And visually it is stunning, with top-notch visual effects work, costumes, sets, props, etc., that truly capture the period setting.  This would be in my top five this year if only the monster story-line part of the film made a bit more sense.  (For more details on what I mean by that last comment, click here for my full [continued]

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Josh Reviews Super 8

J.J. Abrams’ new film, Super 8, is an unabashed love-letter to the late ’70s and early ’80s films directed by Steven Spielberg and, as such, seems like it was designed from top-to-bottom to tickle every movie-loving funny-bone in my body.  I’m sure I’m not alone.  Super 8 has some narrative problems that prevents it from ever reaching the heights of the great Spielberg-directed films it was designed to emulate, but that doesn’t stop it from being a rousingly entertaining film of a type that we really don’t see too much of anymore.

It’s the summer of 1979, and Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) has just recently lost his mother to a terrible accident in the factory where she worked.  As the school-year ends, he finds solace in the project he’s working on with his friends: filming a make-shift zombie movie on a super 8 camera.  Somehow, Charles (Riley Griffiths), the boy directing and masterminding the film, has convinced a girl, Alice (Elle Fanning) to play a part in their movie.  Joe is immediately smitten, but his father (Kyle Chandler) forbids him from having anything to do with her, due to a bitter feud with her father.  One night, after having all snuck out to film a scene of their movie, the boys and Alice witness a terrible train derailment.  Soon after, all sorts of mysterious events begin happening in their small town, and the military arrives to supervise the investigation of the train-wreck.  As things escalate, the boys begin to suspect that something terrible was released when the train crashed, and the super 8 footage they shot that night might hold a vital clue.

It’s interesting that I began that description of Super 8 by writing about some of the character story-lines in the film, rather than the monster-on-the-loose sci-fi story.  That’s because where Super 8 succeeds — and succeeds brilliantly — is in creating several wonderfully layered character story-lines (several of which I have only hinted at in my above summation) that engage the audience and pull at one’s heart-strings.  It’s on the monster side of things where the film wobbles a bit, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

Many of Steven Spielberg’s early films were told from the point-of-view of a child or children (E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial is the best example), and like that film, Super 8 spends a lot of time fleshing out the characters and personalities of the different kids who form the main cast of characters.  I’ve read several reviews that commented on how Mr. Abrams and his team echoed the device used in E.T. of allowing the kids to be constantly talking over one another in the film, the way real … [continued]

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My friend Ethan e-mailed me this terrific article from Salon.com, entitled “Will Future Generations Understand The Simpsons?” It’s a great piece analyzing how pop-culture references might date once-great shows like The Simpsons, Seinfeld, etc., rendering them incomprehensible only a few years later.  I’m not sure I entirely agree, but it’s a really interesting read.

As regular readers of this site might recall, I read the first four books of Stephe King’s magnificent magnum opus the Dark Tower series earlier this year.  I’ve taken a little break to read some other things, but I’m eager to begin book five some-time soon.  I thought I only had three books left in the series but now, to my delight, it looks like I have four!  That’s because Stephen King has just announced that he’s written a new Dark Tower novel, to be published next year!  Very exciting news.

I have written before, many times, about Mike Mignola’s amazing comic book series Hellboy, and also about the phenomenal spin-off series B.P.R.D.  So I was shocked to learn that long-time B.P.R.D. artist Guy Davis is departing the series!!  Very sad news.  Mr. Davis is one of the greatest comic book artists working today, and his idiosyncratic style has defined the B.P.R.D. series for almost a decade.  To honor his departure, the fine folks at comicbookresources.com have assembled seven great moments from Mr. Davis’ B.P.R.D. run.  Take a look.

Have you, like me, been reading about the phenomenal events every year at the Paley Center for Media, jealously wishing that you could be there?  (Want an example?  How about the recent Undeclared reunion panel, followed by a Freaks and Geeks reunion panel??)  Well, huzza!  The Center has FINALLY begun to make DVDs available of some of their panels!  There are many great panels that remain unavailable, but 44 popular panels are now available on DVD.  I will definitely be ordering some of these!

There’s a HUGE interview up with Kevin Smith at The Examiner that is a terrific read, if you have a chunk of time.

Have you seen the glorious new trailer for J.J. Abrams’ upcoming Spielberg-homage film, Super 8? Check it out here.  That’s a terrific trailer.  I am VERY intrigued and excited for this film.  How fun is it to finally see that Amblin logo again??

Have you seen Conan O’Brien’s idea for a replacement for the color-coded National Alert system?  It would be the Nic Cage Terror Alert System.… [continued]

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Death in the Shadow of New Life — Josh reviews J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek!

It’s been a long road.  After walking disgustedly out of the opening weekend screening of the catastrophically terrible Star Trek: Nemesis back in December, 2002, I knew that Trek was at a low point.  It seemed uncertain what, if any, future the franchise had after the release of that bomb and the subsequent cancellation of the last Trek TV show, Enterprise.  Then, about 3 years ago, word came that a new Trek film was in the works.  Gradually news began to leak out, some very exciting, some rather worrying, and I soaked up every tidbit with great anticipation, some nervousness, and extremely high hopes that one day Star Trek could be great again.  A few hours ago, I watched the result of J.J. Abrams and his team’s efforts: the simply-titled Star Trek.

Abrams and his brain-trust — consisting of Damon Lindeloff (one of the top minds behind Lost) and screen-writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman — dared to do what no man has done before: to re-cast the iconic roles of the Original Series characters.  As everyone knows by now, instead of creating new characters and situations and moving the Star Trek universe forward beyond the adventures of Picard-Sisko-Janeway-etc., they decided to go back and tell an Original Series story, with new actors playing younger versions of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and all the other familiar characters.  This was an incredibly risky move.  While similiar “how it all began” prequels such as Batman Begins and Casino Royale worked well, audiences had already become accustomed to seeing lots of different actors take on the roles of Batman and James Bond.  But could someone other than William Shatner play Kirk?  Could someone other than Leonard Nimoy play Spock?

Although sadly this film fails in some powerfully annoying ways (more on that in a few moments), I am happy to report that, in this respect — that is, in regards to the viability of rebooting and recasting Star Trek — the film succeeds magnificently.  Bravo to the choice of talented actors selected to be the new command team of the Enterprise — there is not a weak link in the bunch.  None of the actors resorts to mimicry, and yet they all, somehow, truly manage to embody their characters!

Let’s start with Chris Pine as James Tiberius Kirk.  He’s got the swagger, he’s got the arrogance, and yet he’s able to also convey a tremendous likability.  You can see that this is a man that others will follow.  The film doesn’t shy away from the “lady-killer” aspects of Kirk’s persona, but Pine never crosses the line into camp or, on the other hand, into boorishness.  Rather, there’s terrific fun to had … [continued]

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Beam Me Up!

October 16th, 2008
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Holy cow!  Paramount has FINALLY released some stills from J.J. Abrams’ upcoming Star Trek re-launch/re-boot/re-make whatever the heck it is!

Above is a shot of most of the crew.  From left to right, its Anton Yelchin as Chekov, Chris Pine as James T. Kirk, Simon Pegg as Montgomery Scott, Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy, John Cho as Mr. Sulu and Zoe Saldana as Lt. Uhura.  For a larger version, click here.  This is a really exciting shot, as the actors all look great.  I love those uniforms!  They really capture the “vibe” of the colorful uniforms from the Original Series, while not looking ridiculous.  

Click here to see a great shot of Spock getting all “Vulcan death grip” on someone (is that Kirk?).  Cue the Amok Time music!  (Let me say again that those uniforms look great.  You can really see the textures in this shot.)

Or click here to see a shot of Kirk and McCoy on the bridge of the Enterprise!  This is probably the most controversial shot, as while the bridge looks cool it doesn’t bear a lot of resemblance to the classic Enterprise bridge from the Original Series.  It is more similar to the sleeker, white and gray bridge of the Enterprise from the movies… although this version is a lot funkier.

OR click here to see the villainous Romulan, played by Eric Bana.  (Note that you can clearly see his pointed ears, which were absent from the first head-shot that was released last summer.)

Or click here to see… I don’t know what, exactly.  Looks like Kirk crash-landed on some sort of icy something.  (Is that some sort of escape-pod?  It is labeled NCC 1701…)

Or, finally, you can click here to see the U.S.S. Kelvin running into some trouble.  (Don’t know what this ship is or how it figures into the plot, and I’m happy not knowing for now.)  They are still not letting us see a full-on shot of what a Constitution class starship (like, of course, the U.S.S. Enterprise) is going to look like in this movie, but from this picture the exterior seems to be more similar to the Enterprise from the movies than that of the Original Series (because of the look of the hull plating, and the lettering).  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Great stuff!!  Now when will we get to see a full trailer???… [continued]