\

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Reviews Pacific Rim: Uprising

March 29th, 2018
,

I wasn’t expecting that much from Pacific Rim: Uprising, and yet, the film still managed to underwhelm me.  The film isn’t bad; it’s perfectly unoffensive yet instantly forgettable.

I was super-excited for the first Pacific Rim, back in 2013.  Any new film from Guillermo del Toro is cause for excitement, and the film’s giant-robots-fighting-giant-monsters concept looked delicious.  And yet, I didn’t love that first film.  It was gorgeous-looking, beautifully designed and conceptualized; the action was tremendous; the cast was great. And yet I found the characters to be flat and the story-arcs superficial and predictable, so I didn’t invest in the story nearly as deeply as I felt I should have.

I was surprised when a sequel was announced, as the first film was not much of a hit.  (Apparently it made money overseas.)  But I was excited by the potential for a second film to take this great concept and take another swing at doing it justice.  When it was announced that Guillermo del Toro would not be directing, I was bummed, and as glimpses of the sequel started to be released (posters, trailers, etc.), I was not that taken by what I saw.  Still, I had hope.

The sequel, Pacific Rim: Uprising is set ten years after the first film and centers around Jake (John Boyega), the son of Idris Elba’s character from the first film.  Jake used to be a Jaeger (those are the giant monster-fighting robots) pilot, but he washed out.  Now he is drawn back into things and forced to mentor a group of younger cadets, including the young technical wizard Amara (Cailee Spaeny).  The world thought that the Kaiju (the giant monsters) threat was finished, but, wouldn’t you know it, that didn’t turn out to be the case.

There are a lot of characters in this film, but the film completely fails to allow the auidence to get to know or care about them, at all.  John Boyega is great, as always, and he does his best to elevate every scene he’s in.  He is loose and funny and a pleasure to watch.  But his character-arc is painfully thin.  It’s clear from the first second of the film that Jake has a heart of gold and that not only will he quickly be drawn back into the Jaeger program but that he will save the day in the end.  There is nothing remotely surprising or interesting to be found.  (Mr. Boyega’s charming turn as a leading man is failed by the film around him in almost exactly the same way that Charlie Hunnam’s performance was failed by the first Pacific Rim.  It’s weird!!)  But at least Mr. Boyega is fun to watch and … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Reviews Star Wars: The Last Jedi!

Star Wars: The Last Jedi, written and directed by Rian Johnson, is not at all the film that I expected it to be.  It is very different from The Force Awakens, but a satisfying continuation of the story that film began.  The film is exciting, suspenseful, and emotional.  It is funny and it is heartbreaking.  It is weird and not afraid to take narrative digressions or even just a split-second moment to explore around the edges of this vast, wonderful Star Wars universe.  It is visually gorgeous, brought to life by some of the very best special effects you can hope to see.  It digs deep into Star Wars lore and connects to some of the most beloved moments of this saga, while also being unafraid to chart new courses and introduce new characters, worlds, and situations.  It is also too long, with a middle section that sags dreadfully.  But its third act is magnificent in a way that allows almost all sins to be forgiven.  The Last Jedi is not better than Rogue One, which I consider to be the pinnacle of modern Star Wars films (any film made after the Original Trilogy).  The Last Jedi is confounding at times, but also staggeringly glorious at others.  Kathleen Kennedy is three for three with the new Star Wars films created under her tenure as head of Lucasfilm.  Considering how even George Lucas himself struggled so mightily with his prequel trilogy, this is something of a minor miracle.

Whereas all previous Star Wars sequels have picked up the story a significant amount of time after the events of the previous film, The Last Jedi begins immediately after the end of The Force Awakens.  The First Order has learned the location of the Resistance’s hidden base and dispatched Star Destroyers to annihilate it, sending Poe, Finn, Leia, and the rest of the Resistance on the run.  Meanwhile, Rey has found Luke Skywalker, but the grizzled old man Luke has become has shut himself off from the Force and refuses to train her.  Desperate to understand her place in the galaxy-shaking events unfolding around her, Rey finds an unexpected connection with… Kylo Ren, the man who was once Ben Solo.

The Last Jedi shares certain broad-strokes story beats with The Empire Strikes Back.  Both films begin with an Imperial assault on a hidden rebel base that sends our heroes on the run; both depict a young Jedi seeking out an old master to be trained in the ways of the Force; both feature our heroes scattered for most of the run-time; both end with the heroes battered and the villains still a threat.

But beyond those surface similarities, The Last Jedi[continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Reviews Star Wars: The Force Awakens!

I don’t remember a time in my life in which I didn’t know about and love Star Wars.  I was a little kid when the original films came out, and by the time I really remember it, Star Wars was already a complete thing.  Three films: Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi.  I read lots of articles about Star Wars as a kid and I of course knew the story that George Lucas had at one time pictured a Star Wars saga consisting of nine films… and obviously I was aware that those three Star Wars films that had been made were numbered Episode IV, V, and VI, but it didn’t seem like there was any prospect of additional Star Wars on the horizon.  I just accepted that, and I was all right with that.  Those three films painted a complete story, and I was satisfied.

I still remember the excitement when word trickled out that George Lucas was actually going to go ahead and make his fabled prequel films.  Like, I think, almost every Star Wars fan on the planet, I was hugely excited to see the backstory fleshed out.  A chance to see the Jedi in their prime?  To learn about what the heck the Clone Wars were?  And to finally discover just how the Emperor and Darth Vader were able to destroy the Jedi?  It was tantalizing.  Well, we all know how that turned out.  Watching Episode I in theatres that opening night was the most crushingly disappointing cinematic experience of my life.  I’d never really considered the possibility that the movie wouldn’t be great.  Episode II felt like a step forward at the time but that film has aged terribly.  There’s a lot that I like about Episode III — it’s the only prequel film that I can say I enjoyed — but it was too little, too late.  To me, the prequels are best forgotten.

And so, again, in my mind that was it.  George Lucas didn’t seem interested in making any additional Star Wars films, and after the disappointment of the prequels I was totally fine with that.  The Star Wars story was finished.

And then Mr. Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney and immediately the announcement was made that Episode VII was in development.  I of course followed those developments with great interest.  While I can’t say I was surprised that the decision was made to make more Star Wars films, I truly never expected to see Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher ever again reprise their roles on-screen.  I was stunned when that was announced, and even now after seeing The Force Awakens I am still … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

From the DVD Shelf: Attack the Block

November 23rd, 2011
, ,

I’d been reading about Joe Cornish’s directorial debut, the British sci-fi/horror/comedy film Attack the Block, all year.  The low-budget film was a hit on the festival circuit, and was trumpeted by several of my favorite on-line film reviewers, notably Drew McWeeny at Hitfix.com and Devin Faraci at badassdigest.com.  It received a U.S. theatrical release, but sadly came and went from theatres pretty quickly.  When the film was released on blu-ray last month, I was excited to track it down.

The film is terrific, and I’d wager that if you enjoyed UK-based action/comedies such as Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels or Layer Cake, then you’ll really dig Attack the Block.

The titular “block” refers to a low-income housing unit in Kennington, England.  The film’s main characters are a small band of kids from the block who try to escape their lives of poverty and boredom at home by wreaking havoc on the streets.  When we first meet them, they’re egging on their leader, Moses (John Boyega in a star-making role), to beat an unidentifiable creature to death.  Then they mug Sam (Jodie Whittaker), a young single nurse who also lives in the block.  It’s the start of a fine evening for the boys, until an alien invasion spoils all their fun.  Yep, turns out the creature they beat to death was a little alien, who has a lot of angry friends.

The genius of Attack the Block is the way it marries sci-fi alien invasion movie conventions with the street-level young-tough humor of Guy Ritchie’s early films.  Generally these types of alien invasions strike New York City, not a run-down English inner city.  But, of course, watching these street hudlums face an alien apocalypse is the deliriously clever premise of the film, and the source of all the fun.

Not that Attack the Block is all fun and games.  In fact, the early-going isn’t that funny at all.  The gang’s mugging of Sam is an unsettling sequence, not the type of scene you’d expect to find in a film with comedy on its mind.  But writer/director Joe Cornish cleverly sets the stakes of the film to be very high right from the beginning.  This is a world in which bad things happen.  That mugging scene demonstrates that the characters in this film face real peril, thus escalating the dramatic tension.  It also gives a real character-arc to the boys in Moses’ gang.  I intensely disliked the boys at first, but absolutely grew to love them by the end.  It’s a pretty impressive achievement of story-telling, and is a critical reason that the films works as well as it does.

The other is in the way in which, while the … [continued]