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Josh Reviews Dispatches From Elsewhere

Jason Segel created and stars in Dispatches from Elsewhere, a bizarre, twisty tale of four oddballs who become friends and deeply affect one another while participating in an elaborate social experiment/game that may or may not actually involve the true-life disappearance of a young, innovative artist many years earlier.  This ten-episode series aired on AMC last spring, and it seems to have gone mostly under the radar.  I suspect some people might find its wry, off-kilter tone to be off-putting — but I found it to be a pleasing delight.  I’m glad I took the journey, and I think this series is worth your time if you missed it last year.

The series is engagingly playful with the normal structures of TV dramas.  There’s a meta, self-aware aspect of the series right from the very beginning, in which Richard E. Grant speaks directly into the camera and addresses the viewer.  (The series gets extra-super-duper meta in the final episode, which is the one aspect of the series that didn’t quite work for me.  More on that later.)  I loved Mr. Grant’s monologues, which opened most every episode.  They were just the right balance of intriguingly weird to hook my interest.  But it wasn’t just those opening monologues; throughout the series, I enjoyed when the show took the opportunity to play with the typical structure of a TV show, from the guy literally saying “work stuff, work stuff” to Jason Segel’s character at one point in the premiere (in a scene which called for work-related dialogue that wasn’t actually relevant), to the cartoon introduction to Janice’s background in episode three, and many more examples like that.

The series is packed with mysteries, and the ten episode season takes the viewer on a fun, twisty ride.  (There are definitely shades of Lost to be found in all the twisty-turny mysteries and the men-who-might-not-be-what-they-seem and their bizarre introductory videos…)  I enjoyed the mysteries, but the reason this show worked for me were the characters.  I loved the exploration of these four people — each very different, each damaged in their own way, and each played by a fantastic actor.

Jason Segel plays Peter, a shy, lonely person who feels trapped in his boring data-entry job and his isolated existence.  Mr. Segel is compelling as always, although he’s played this sort of sad-sack, lost soul before.  I always love seeing Mr. Segel on screen (I’ve been a huge fan ever since Freaks and Geeks), but I appreciated how he and the show allowed his co-stars room to shine.  Eve Lindley is a revelation as Simone, a trans woman whose jovial nature belies her deep insecurities.  I was delighted by this character and I loved … [continued]

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Catching Up on 2015: Josh Reviews The End of the Tour

I missed The End of the Tour when it was first released last summer, but it was a top priority for me to check out when it was released on DVD/blu-ray.  I usually watch a ton of films in December, trying to catch up on as many films from the previous year as I can, before I write my Best of the Year lists.  I’m glad I caught The End of the Tour in time for it to make my list (it clocked in at number nineteen), but I’ve been remiss in posting a full review.  Time to remedy that.


Based on the memoir Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself by David Lipsky, the film chronicles the days in 1996 that Mr. Lipsky, as a young reporter for Rolling Stone, spent in the company of David Foster Wallace following the release of Mr. Wallace’s enormous novel Infinite Jest.  Mr. Lipsky is envious of everything that Mr. Wallace has, while Mr. Wallace is deeply ambivalent about his burgeoning fame.  The entire film (with the exception of a brief framing device) takes place over the course of the handful of days that these two men spent together as Mr. Lipsky interviewed Mr. Wallace for his Rolling Stone piece.

The film is an engrossing character study of the two men, Wallace and Lipsky, and it is a magnificent showcase for actors Jesse Eisenberg (who plays David Lipsky) and Jason Segel (who plays David Foster Wallace).  Both actors are incredibly talented, and together they are phenomenal.

Jesse Eisenberg has made it his specialty playing characters who are fiercely intelligent and also sort of assholes, and I love how he is not afraid to make his characters seem unlikable to an audience with his choices.  In the film, it’s clear that Mr. Lipsky has enormous respect and admiration for David Foster Wallace, and at the same time also a deep envy for the success that Mr. Wallace has found with his writing (and that Mr. Lipsky, at the time, had not).  Mr. Eisenberg keeps both aspects of Lipsky’s complicated feelings in focus at all times.  As he baits and pushes Mr. Wallace over the course of their extended conversation, it seems as if Mr. Lipsky isn’t sure whether he wants Wallace’s answers to let him down (so that he can feel, in his mind, superior to his idol) or whether instead he wants David Foster Wallace to have the answers that he himself lacks.  Mr. Eisenberg plays this duality brilliantly.  It’s such a human portrayal.  There are times in the film in which Mr. Lipsky’s behavior made me shake my head in disappointment, and other times when I was struck … [continued]

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The Top Twenty Movies of 2015 — Part One!

Overall, I think that 2015 has been a pretty terrific year for movies. Perhaps not as spectacular as originally predicted, though.  In the months leading up to 2015, there were a flurry of articles about how 2015 was going to be insanely, unprecedentedly over-stuffed with exciting new movies.  That didn’t quite happen the way I’d expected.  Some films I’d been highly anticipating proved to be disappointments (SPECTRE, Tomorrowland, Fantastic Four, Jurassic World, Terminator: Genisys, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Kingsman: The Secret Service).  Also, so many interesting films were crammed into release at the very end of the year that several of my anticipated 2015 films won’t be open around where I live until some time in 2016 (films like The Revenant or Legend or Carol or Anomalisa or Listen to Me Marlon).  This glut of end-of-the-year films also meant that while I have been able to see a ton of new movies in the past few weeks, there were several that I didn’t get to (films like Joy, Brooklyn, Trumbo, The Danish Girl, and Sisters).  Still, as I assembled my Best Movies of 2015 list, I found that it was incredibly easy to do.  There were so many movies that I loved in 2015.  I’d expanded my list to twenty films last year, and I could have easily listed thirty films this year!  But twenty feels like plenty, I think.

These are twenty films that I loved deeply, films that spoke to me and that I look forward to revisiting in the years ahead.  There are many other films that I saw and enjoyed in 2015, films such as Tig, I Am Chris Farley, Misery Loves Comedy, Sicario, The Night Before, Spy, Slow West, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Man Up, and many others.  (As usual, I spent a lot of time in the final weeks of 2015 trying to catch up on as many 2015 films as I could that I’d wanted to see but missed.  In the coming weeks I’ll have a lot of “Catching up on 2015” reviews of those films.)  As many films as I saw in 2015, and I saw a lot, there was still, as always, a humongous list of films that I’d wanted to see but missed.  Films such as Beasts of No Nation, Call Me Lucky, Room, Love & Mercy, 99 Rooms, Irrational Man, She’s Funny That Way, True Story, 7 Days in Hell, Do I Sound Gay?, De Palma, Adult Beginners, Irrational Man, and more.  So if you’re wondering why any of those films aren’t on this list, well now you know.

OK, onward!

Honorable Mentions: Selma[continued]

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Catching Up on 2012: Jeff, Who Lives at Home

In Jeff, Who Lives at Home, Jason Segel plays Jeff, a young man searching for himself.  Jeff seems like an intelligent and affable fellow, but when we meet him we also see that he’s something of a lazy bum, and he still lives in his mother’s basement.  Ed Helms (The Daily Show, The Office) plays Jeff’s brother, Pat.  Pat is successful in all the ways Jeff is not (he has a job and a house and a wife and a car), though as it turns out, Pat’s life isn’t so swell after all (not the least of which because his wife, played by Arrested Development’s Judy Greer, might be cheating on him).  Susan Sarandon plays their mother, Sharon.  The film chronicles one eventful day in the life of this family.  In the morning, Jeff gets a phone call at home that turns out to be a wrong number.  But Jeff, a firm believer in destiny, becomes convinced that the call holds a clue to something he should be doing.  He holds fast to this conviction over the course of the crazy day that follows, in which his and Pat’s lives come crashing together.

This lovely little movie made it onto my Best Movies of 2012 list, and deservedly so.  I love it.  It’s a very funny film, though it’s not a laugh-a-second joke-fest.  The film is sweet and warm, a tough tone to pull off without being sappy, but writers/directors Jay & Mark Duplass give the film enough edge that the story maintains its bite throughout.  The Duplass brothers and their cast also carefully walk the tricky line of likability.  There’s a lot to dislike about all of the main characters — particularly Ed Helms’ Pat — but they are careful to bring enough humanity and, I’ll use this word again, warmth to all of the characters that I quickly found myself falling in love with the whole ensemble.

Everyone in the cast does superlative work, particularly Mr. Segel and Mr. Helms, who both mine their characters’ sorry lives for big laughs without ever turning themselves into simplistic cartoons.  I loved their chemistry together, and the way in which the slothful, jovial Jeff and the prickly, high-strung Pat bounced off of one another throughout the film was a lot of fun to watch. I also really enjoyed Susan Sarandon’s work in the film.  Her character, Sharon, starts off as just the one-note nagging mom to Jeff & Pat, but I was very pleasantly surprised to see that, by the end of the film, Sharon’s story had blossomed into a journey of self-discovery of her own.  Judy Greer and Rae Dawn Chong round out the ensemble cast, and … [continued]

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Back in 2010, I had a hard time coming up with ten movies I liked enough to put on my Top 10 Movies of the year list.  Last, year, in 2011, I thought there were so many great movies that I had a Top 15 list (and I even squeezed in a few extra movies by including several ties).  I thought 2012 was another fantastic year at the movies.  I could have easily had a Top 20 list this year, but I thought that might have been excessive.

There were a lot of great films I saw in 2012 which didn’t make this list, including: Silver Linings Playbook, Wanderlust, Skyfall, This is 40, Ted, Chronicle, Paul Williams Still Alive, and many more.

As always, I also like to make mention of the many films that interested me that I just didn’t get a chance to see in 2012.  These include: Killing them Softly, Flight, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Hyde Park Hudson, Butter, Hitchcock, Wreck-It Ralph, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Holy Motors, Smashed, Detention, and Savages.  So if you loved one or more of those films are are wondering why they’re not on my list, well, now you know.

Here now is my list of the Top 15 Movies of 2012:

15. The Five-Year Engagement This film has really grown on me since I first saw it, early this year.  I love how unusual its structure is — whereas most romantic comedies keep the two main characters apart until the very end, this movie starts with Tom (Jason Segel) proposing to Violet (Emily Blunt).  Things go downhill for there.  For a romantic comedy, this film goes into some grim territory — since much of the movie is about the happy couple slowly growing apart, there are certainly some parts of the film without a lot of yuks.  That threw me a bit the first time I saw the film, but I have come to really love and admire this film for its weird structure and premise.  And while there certainly are a few serious moments in the film, everything else is is pretty much jam-packed with big laughs and wonderful, very memorable characters.  Chris Pratt (Parks and Recreation) and Alison Brie (Mad Men, Community) steal the film as Tom’s best-friend and Violet’s sister, who meet at Tom and Violet’s engagement party and quickly fall in love, get married, and have kids before Tom and Violet even make it to the altar.  (Chris Pratt singing to Alison Brie at their characters’ wedding is one of my favorite moments I’ve seen onscreen all year.)  But wait, this film also has substantial, … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Five-Year Engagement

In the opening scenes of The Five-Year Engagement, Tom (Jason Segel) and Violet (Emily Blunt) get engaged after having been dating for exactly a year.  They seem perfect for one another, and the engagement is quickly followed by a movie-perfect sweet/off-color engagement party.  Bring on the wedding, right?  Well, as you can tell from the title, not quite.  Violet gets accepted into a post-doc at the University of Michigan, so the couple decide to put off the wedding-planning temporarily to move from sunny San Francisco to cold, wintry Michigan.  The movie isn’t called The Two-Year Engagement, so obviously further obstacles spring up in Tom and Violet’s path.

I’ve been enjoying Jason Segel’s work ever since Freaks and Geeks. It’s hard to believe that the weird, gangly kid who the networks refused to cast as the lead in Judd Apatow’s follow-up series, Undeclared, despite Mr. Apatow’s championing of him (and who, as a result, Mr. Apatow snuck into episode after episode in the supporting role of Eric, Lizzie’s stalkerish ex-boyfriend) has over the last few years become a big-screen leading man.  I’ve never stopped being a big fan of his work.  In project after project, Mr. Segel can always be counted on to bring a certain oddball weirdness to all of his characters, but that weirdness is usually tempered by an inherent innocence and goodness.  He’s a fearless performer (yes, Mr. Segel is naked at times on-screen in this film, as he often is) and one not afraid to dive deeply into the well of psychosis.  My favorite section in the film is Tom’s descent into depression, as his two-years in Michigan slides into four and he becomes increasingly bitter about the chef-career he gave up for Violet.  Tom gets weird, and hairy (he sports a hysterical wild-man beard-thing), and obsessed with hunting, and the whole thing comes very, very close to being off-putting, but I thought it was an absolute riot.

The Five-Year Engagement is the third film directed by Nicholas Stoller.  His first film was the absolutely brilliant Forgetting Sarah Marshall (click here for my brief review), which he co-wrote with Jason Segel (who also appeared in the film, in his first major starring role).  Mr. Stoller also directed the sort-of sequel Get Him to the Greek (click here for my review), and he co-wrote The Muppets with Jason Segel (click here for my review).  So clearly Mr. Segel and Mr. Stoller are a well-oiled machine, and The Five-Year Engagement, while not quite as great as Forgetting Sarah Marshall, is a pretty terrific film that benefits greatly from their strong partnership.

It’s also a film that is unabashedly bizarre.  It’s a comedy, … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Muppets!

The beginning of The Muppets, the new film starring Jim Hensen’s creations, presents us with a world much like our own: one in which the Muppets have been pretty much forgotten, passed over in favor of more modern sources of entertainment.  Beseeched to get the gang back together and once again put on a Muppet Show, Kermit at first refuses, concerned that there’s no way for the Muppets to ever regain their former status, that the world has changed too much.

It’s a clever way to reintroduce us to these beloved characters as, indeed, it’s been a long long long time since these characters felt at all relevant.  Though I adored The Muppet Show as a kid (and I must have watched the first three films — The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper, and The Muppets Take Manhattan — dozens of times), I haven’t seen any of the kiddie Muppet films released over the past two decades.  Whatever you think works or doesn’t work in this new Muppets film, we can at least hopefully agree to thank Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller and director James Bobin for spearheading a project that takes the Muppets seriously, and that is intended to be enjoyed by kids AND adults, just as the classic Muppets shows and movies were.

There’s been some grumbling in the press by folks like Frank Oz (a tremendous talent who I revere greatly) and other Muppets performers that Jason Segel and the other young turks responsible for this film haven’t been respectful to the Muppets, but that claim couldn’t be further from the truth.  The Muppets is positively dripping with admiration and adoration for these characters, and I was pleasantly surprised by how many loving references to classic Muppets characters and bits were woven into the film.  Most of all, the film’s entire story is clearly designed to prove to the world that the Muppets ARE wonderful characters, and that they CAN still be just as funny, relevant, and entertaining today as they were in the ’70s and ’80s.

One might expect that folks like Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller would try to stuff the film full of crass jokes and dirty humor, but that doesn’t happen at all.  (If anything, the film is a bit TOO square for my tastes.  More on that in a moment.)  And the characters are NEVER played for laughs.  The Muppets generate jokes, but we’re never laughing AT them.  This is an important distinction.  Though most of the characters are voiced by new voice actors (Jim Henson has of course long-since passed away, and Frank Oz declined to participate in the film), the character of each Muppet has been wonderfully preserved, and … [continued]

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Josh Reviews I Love You, Man!

In I Love You, Man, Paul Rudd plays Peter Klaven, an LA real estate agent who discovers, after getting engaged to his girlfriend Zooey (Rashida Jones), that he doesn’t really have any male friends he could ask to be his groomsmen.  With some help from Zooey and his brother Robbie (SNL‘s Andy Samberg), Peter embarks on a series on “man-dates” to try to find some guy friends.  After a bizarre but amusing encounter at one of his open houses, Peter strikes up a friendship with Sydney Fife (Jason Segal).  Not suprisingly, this new friendship quickly throws much of the rest of Peter’s life into disarray.

The success (and high quality — the two don’t always go hand-in-hand, you know!) of Judd Apatow’s films (The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up) have really sparked a wave of truly excellent comedies in a similar style.  But while these could have all wound up being pale imitations of Apatow’s films, it has been quite remarkable to see actors from his ensembles continue to work together and collaborate with other talented actors, writers, and directors to produce additional high quality films. I Love You, Man is certainly a prime example of this.

Directed by John Hamburg (who directed several episodes of Apatow’s brilliant TV series Undeclared, as well as the film Along Came Polly, which I must admit to having had no interest in seeing) and written by Hamburg and Larry Levin (who wrote the classic Keith Hernandez episode of Seinfeld, “The Boyfriend”), I Love You, Man feels very similar in tone to me to Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which was released last year at almost exactly this time, and which also starred Paul Rudd and Jason Segal.  (Sarah Marshall was produced by Judd Apatow, although I Love You, Man was not.)  Both films have a real sweetness to them, while also being uproariously funny.  That blend of sweetness with fierce comedy is, to me, a big part of what I referred to a moment ago as the “Apatow style.”  Another mark of that style is a loose, almost improvisational feel to a lot of the comedy and the dialogue (Paul Rudd’s lengthy, intensely hilarious riff on the phrase “slapping the bass” in I Love You, Man is a prime example of what I’m talking about).

Of course, a big part of the “Apatow style” has also been the growing ensemble of brilliant actors who have filled out his films.  Rudd and Segal have both appeared in many previous Apatow works (Segal was in Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, Rudd was in The 40 Year Old Virgin, and both appeared in Knocked Up), … [continued]

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Seen any good movies lately?

I made a comment in my 1st blog entry for the site (on April 15th) about our being in the midst of a movie dead-zone currently. Has anyone else noticed this? There are a lot of exciting summer movies just over the horizon (things kick off with Iron Man in just two weeks)…but its pretty striking to me how few good new movies have been released by the major studios since January. I count only three that I’ve seen:

Cloverfield — It’s not great cinema, but boy did I love this movie. From the tantalizing Star Trek teaser that played in the opening moments right through to the end credits, I was completely hooked into this adrenaline-rush of a movie. Yes, it is even more implausible than a monster wrecking NYC that the kids were able to keep their digital camera rolling throughout the whole thing. But I guess that you either buy into that conceit (and it is a conceit that requires a leap of faith, I grant you), or you don’t. But I’ve got to say I loved every minute of this flick. I’m interested to see if it holds up to a repeat viewing (and to viewing on a small TV screen).

Be Kind Rewind — A sweet, silly little story that celebrates good old-fashioned love of movies and movie-making. There are a lot of us out there, I think, who’d love to be able to pick up a camera and make our own versions of our favorite movies, and this film really taps into that. (I wonder if the filmmakers were inspired by the real-life story of the three boys who created a shot-for-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark over the course of several summers? Google the article in Vanity Fair from a few years back if you don’t know what I’m talking about.)

Forgetting Sarah Marshall — Just saw this one two days ago. Its another home-run from the Apatow comedy troupe. I am something of an Apatow groupie — I was a fan of Freaks and Geeks (Judd Apatow’s failed TV show from 1999) from the first episode. (I don’t know what on earth prompted me to watch it, but I’m glad I did.) I loved Undeclared (Apatow’s follow-up to the cancelled Freaks and Geeks, which was itself cancelled after one fewer episode than Freaks & Geeks)…and, like most of the rest of the world, I thought The 40 Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up were both dynamite. Many of the familiar faces pop up in this latest film (Exec produced by Apatow, written by Jason Segel and directed by Nicholas Stoller), including Jason Segel (who gives a terrific performance in the starring … [continued]