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Josh Reviews Spider-Man: Far From Home

While Avengers: Endgame was an epic, enormous culmination to the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far, it was actually Spider-Man: Far From Home that was the official end to Marvel’s “Phase Three” of films.  (Kevin Feige just announced an exciting and weird array of films and TV shows that will make up “Phase Four” — I’ll have more to say, soon, about all of those announcements.)  Serving as something of an epilogue to Endgame and also an exciting tease of the shape of the MCU in the years ahead, Far From Home is a spectacular film.  It’s fun and funny and sweet and emotional and action-packed.  I loved pretty much every single moment of the film.  Marvel is sure making it look easy at this point; I strive to remind myself while watching every single one of these films just how difficult and unusual it is to make these sorts of super-hero films be great.  For Marvel to be succeeding film after film after film is simply extraordinary.

Spider-Man: Far From Home is set after the events of Endgame.  The film spends some time exploring the repercussions of the climactic events of Endgame (more on this below), but for the most part it puts the galaxy-shaking events of Endgame aside to focus on a much smaller-scale story.  Peter Parker and his classmates are going on a school trip to Europe.  Peter is eager to leave the responsibilities of being Spider-Man behind, and to just have fun with his friends.  But Nick Fury has other ideas: the spy-master wants Peter’s help combating a new menace from across the multiverse.  Along the way, Peter meets a new ally: Mysterio, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, who is stepping into the void left by the death of you-know-who at the end of Endgame, a responsibility that Peter is resisting taking on.

Far From Home is a fantastic film.  Director Jon Watts and screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers (all three of who returned to the Spidey franchise after Spider-Man: Homecoming) demonstrate a perfect mastery of tone from start to finish in the film.  Far From Home is a very, very funny film.  The script is great and the talented cast are extremely funny.  There are some huge laughs in the film.  And yet, critically, Far From Home is not just a farce.  There are real stakes in the film.  Not galaxy-shaking stakes like in Endgame.  But for Peter Parker and the other characters in the film, the emotional (and, eventually, physical as well) stakes are very high.  And so the audience is engaged with the film right from the beginning.  We care about these characters and are invested in what happens to them.  This … [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: Josh Reviews Zodiac: The Director’s Cut (2007)

After having such a good time re-watching David Fincher’s films Se7en (click here for my review) and Fight Club (click here for my review), I decided to take another look at Zodiac.

It was Zodiac that cemented David Fincher in my mind as one of the most amazing directors working today.  I knew he was associated with Alien 3, but that he had that film taken away from him.  (I have a warm spot in my heart for the third Alien film, even though I still see it as a total betrayal of everything that made James Cameron’s Aliens so great.)  I knew he had directed Se7en and Fight Club, but while I immediately recognized that both of those films were clearly made by people with an enormous amount of skill, neither was a film I really loved.  (I have since come to really, really dig Fight Club, but that first time I saw it I think I was a bit overwhelmed by it.)

Something about Zodiac really intrigued me when it was released, but despite that I never got to see it in theatres.  It was only when the film was released on DVD that I tracked it down and watched it.  (I own the Director’s Cut DVD.  This is the version I’m reviewing now, and the only one I’ve ever seen, so I can’t compare it to the theatrical version.)

It blew me away, and I am still in love with it when re-watching it now.

Every frame of the film feels like the result of an incredible amount of focus and creative effort.  It’s clear that an extraordinary amount of detail was pored into the sets, the costumes, the cars, the props, everything, all guided by the skilled eye of a visionary director: David Fincher.  Set over several decades, Zodiac beautifully captures the feel of the different eras, both through subtly altering the look of key sets (like the San Francisco Chronicle office set) and through some stunning visual effects shots (such as a shot made to look like a time-lapse reconstruction of the building of the Transamerica Pyramid).

Speaking of the film’s visual effects, the DVD’s top-notch special features reveal that Zodiac is awash in incredibly subtle, absolutely photo-realistic visual effects that were used to recreate key real locations in the San Francisco area from the ’60s and ’70s.  Most notably, in my mind, is the corner of Washington and Cherry at which the Zodiac killer murdered an unfortunate cab-driver.  The scene when inspectors Toschi and Armstrong arrive at Washington and Cherry to investigate the murder is a tense scene, but when watching it I didn’t give one thought … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Source Code

The phenomenally high-quality Moon (starring Sam Rockwell — read my review here) guaranteed that I’d buy a ticket for director Duncan Jones’ next film.  Well, that film has arrived, and although it took me several weeks to find the time to get catch it in a theatre, I’ve finally seen Source Code.

Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Captain Colter Stevens.  He wakes up on a train heading towards Chicago, but doesn’t have any idea how he got there.  His last memory is flying a mission in Afghanistan.  Across the seat from him is a woman, Christina (Michelle Monaghan), who seems to know him, but he has no idea who she is.  Also, she calls him Sean.  After a few frantic minutes trying to figure out what’s happening to him, the train explodes, killing Captain Stevens, Christina, and everyone on board.

But Captain Stevens doesn’t die.  He wakes up in some sort of pod.  A woman on-screen in a military uniform identifies herself as Goodwin and begins to lay out some of the details of Captain Stevens’ situation.  A terrorist detonated a bomb on that train and has threatened to decimate Chicago by detonating another bomb, this one with nuclear material.  A technology known as Source Code will allow Captain Stevens to relive the last eight minutes of life of one of the passengers on the doomed train.  He has that long to try to identify the bomber and prevent the threatened destruction of Chicago.  They’re going to continue sending him back into that eight minutes until he does.

Let me get this right off the bat: Source Code is no Moon. It’s an entertaining sci-fi thriller, and it certainly has some fun mind-bending concepts, but it’s nowhere near as memorable as the incredibly original, tightly-structured Moon.

Both Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Monaghan do fine work as the two leads.  They’re both talented and charismatic enough that they capture our interest even though we don’t really get to learn much about either character.  The focus of the film is far more on the intricate sci-fi plotting than it is on developing characters.  That’s not a criticism — I love twisty plot-driven films.  But when comparing this film to, say Speed (which is certainly not great cinema but is a rousing action adventure that also focuses on a man and a woman trapped in an enclosed moving vehicle in a tense situation), it’s clear that we certainly get to know Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock’s characters far better than we do those of Mr. Gyllenhaal and Ms. Monaghan.  I adored Ms. Monaghan’s work in the magnificent Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and the also-terrific Gone Baby Gone, and I’ve been waiting … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Love & Other Drugs

December 13th, 2010
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When we first meet Jake Gyllenhaal’s character Jamie Randall at the start of Edward Zwick’s new film Love & Other Drugs, we learn immediately that Jamie is a fast-talking salesman who seems to be able to convince anyone to buy anything, and also that he is quite a ladies man who is not above having sex with a woman he knows to be involved with someone else.  In this case, the “someone else” happens to be his boss, which results, no surprise, in Jamie’s quick exit from that job.  His brother, though, is able to help him land a job selling drugs for Pfizer.  Since this film is set in 1996, it’s not a tremendous surprise that this fast-talking salesman soon finds himself involved in selling a certain call-your-doctor-if-your-erection-lasts-more-than-four-hours love drug.  While all that is happening, Jamie gets involved with Maggie Murdock (Anne Hathaway), a vivacious, free-spirited young woman who, for reasons that become clear later in the film, is reluctant to let their sexual encounters deepen into anything more meaningful.

Quite a lot has been made of all of the nudity in this film, and with good reason.  We certainly get to see quite a lot of the skin of both of the two good-looking leads.  Ms. Hathaway, in particular, spends an enormous amount of screen-time in the nude.  Note to filmmakers: there’s no better way to get a guy interested in your romantic comedy than by including copious amounts of Anne Hathaway nudity.

And make no mistake, Love & Other Drugs is a romantic comedy.  I get the sense that the filmmakers had something a little more serious on their minds with this film, what with the third-act shift into dramatic territory as Maggie and Jamie struggle with the implications that her illness has on her future, and on the possibility of their building a life together.  But despite that, the film follows the standard romantic comedy tropes.  The couple meets cute, sparks fly, there’s an obstacle that causes them to separate, and then they’re reunited in the end, happily ever after.

There’s a lot that I enjoyed about Love & Other Drugs.  (BESIDES the Anne Hathaway nudity!!)  Both Mr. Gyllenhaal and Ms. Hathaway are dynamic, charismatic leads.  I think they have a strong chemisty on screen together, and I enjoyed watching them interact.  The first half of the film has a fun, jaunty tone with a lot of humor.  And I respect the filmmakers for trying to introduce some narrative ideas of more depth into the film’s second half.  But ultimately, I was disappointed to find that the film was unable to break out of the boringly familiar romantic comedy formula.

And, also, in the end … [continued]