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Josh Reviews The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling

I’ve been a huge fan of Garry Shandling for as long as I can remember.  Mr. Shandling was a genius-level stand-up comedian, and he masterminded two of the greatest television shows ever made: It’s Garry Shandling’s Show and The Larry Sanders Show.  It was Larry Sanders that made me a forever fan of Mr. Shandling’s, and that drove me to go back and discover the rest of his amazing work.  I’ve spent uncounted hours watching old clips of Mr. Shandling on the stand-up circuit and on The Tonight Show, and I have watched and rewatched The Larry Sanders Show many times.  (“It was a back tooth, Hank,” might be one of the funniest lines ever spoken on a TV comedy.)  When Mr. Shandling passed away in 2016, it was a huge loss.

I have also been a huge fan of Judd Apatow’s for quite some time, ever since Freaks and Geeks (the amazing series created by Paul Feig and produced by Mr. Apatow back in 1999-2000).  I continue to adore Freaks and Geeks to this day, and I have rewatched those eighteen near-perfect episodes many times.  I also loved Mr. Apatow’s follow-up TV show, Undeclared (also killed before its time after one fantastic season), and I have followed his movie career avidly:  The 40 year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Funny People, This is 40, and Trainwreck.  Mr. Apatow has also shown his talents as a skilled and prolific producer, helping to shepherd projects such as Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Superbad, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Pineapple ExpressWalk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek, Bridesmaids, Wanderlust, The Five-Year Engagement, The Big Sick and many more!  That is quite a list of incredible comedic films with which Mr. Apatow has been involved, no?

Mr. Apatow wrote for The Larry Sanders Show and eventually served as a co-executive producer.  In many interviews over the years, it’s been clear how much of a mentor Garry Shandling was to him.  Mr. Apatow’s appearance on Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, filmed not long after Mr. Shandler’s death, is almost more about Garry Shandling than it is about Mr. Apatow himself!

And so I was not at all surprised when I read that Mr. Apatow was working on a documentary film about Garry Shandling.  As a huge fan of both comedic talents, I was excited to see what Mr. Apatow would create.

The result, The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling, is a behemoth: an almost five-hour film, shown in two parts on HBO.  But I’m here to tell you, I could have watched … [continued]

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Josh Suffers Through Netflix’s Love

Love is a ten-episode Netflix show created by Judd Apatow, Paul Rust & Lesley Arfin.  The show chronicles the slow steps along the way of two single people, Gus (Paul Rust) and Mickey (Gillian Jacobs), as the find their way into a relationship with one another.

Love.netflix.cropped

I was interested in watching Love because of the involvement of Judd Apatow.  I started watching Freaks and Geeks back when the pilot originally aired, and I was immediately hooked on Judd Apatow and Paul Feig’s gloriously unique, funny and heartbreaking creation.  I have been a huge fan ever since of pretty much every person who was in front of and behind the camera on Freaks and Geeks.  I eagerly followed Judd Apatow to his next TV show, the equally great (and, sadly, equally unsuccessful) show Undeclared.  When Mr. Apatow found big-screen success, I was thrilled, and I have enjoyed all of his films.  I adore The 40 Year Old Virgin, and even Mr. Apatow’s lesser big-screen works such as Funny People and This is Forty have given me a lot of enjoyment.  When I read that Mr. Apatow would be returning to TV a few years ago, producing HBO’s Girls, I was excited, though I quickly discovered that I did not really enjoy that particular show.  I stuck with Girls through its first three seasons before giving up.  I respect it as a well-made and unique piece of work, but I ultimately found all the characters to be so unlikable that I found watching the show to be a chore.

When I read that Mr. Apatow would also be producing a new Netflix show, Love, I was again excited.  Unfortunately, I feel about Love very similarly to the way I felt about Girls.  I hugely respect it as a well-made show, and it’s great to see such a specific, idiosyncratic voice brought to life on TV.  It’s clear that with both Girls and Love, Mr. Apatow is allowing his co-creators’ unique voices to shine through.  (With Girls, that would be Lena Dunham and Jennifer Konner, while here in Love it’s the married pair of Paul Rust — who also stars as Gus — and Lesley Arfin.)  It’s great to see these new, unique voices.  Sadly, it’s just that I don’t find myself enjoying either of these shows.

Freaks and Geeks was painful and awkward, but I adored each and every one of the characters, and so I could go along for the ride even when it was painful.  And the show was often able to be hugely, fall on the floor funny.  I can’t say that either of those things are true of Love.  There were a few big laughs, for sure, but … [continued]

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News Around the Net!

I’ll have a lot to say about the long-anticipated return of The X-Files very soon.  In the meanwhile, here is a fantastic 45 minute interview with X-Files creator Chris Carter and writers Glen and Darin Morgan, who were key writers on the show who returned to write episodes of the revived series.  Great stuff.

I love that J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot team stunned everyone last week with the release of a trailer for a movie no one knew anything about, 10 Cloverfield Lane, to be released in just two months, in March!  Check it out:

I well remember the fun when the original Cloverfield was announced and we all struggled to figure out what the heck the deal was with this movie no one seemed to know anything about.  I feel like the film is not well thought of these days, but I absolutely loved the experience of seeing Cloverfield in the theatre — I thought it was very intense and a lot of fun.  I’m excited that the Bad Robot team has once again produced a Cloverfield film under everyone’s noses.  It’s so hard to do anything in secret these days!  I think that J.J. Abrams’ well-known “mystery box” philosophy has often been misused (flat-out lying to everyone for months by saying that Khan would not be the villain of Star Trek Into Darkness comes to mind), but I do love the idea of being totally surprised by a film.  Will 10 Cloverfield Lane have any actual story connection to the first Cloverfield?  Or are they just using Cloverfield as a nickname for a film made in secret and designed to surprise audiences?  Frankly I’d be happy either way.  That first trailer looks great and I am jazzed to see this film.

Why do I love Judd Apatow?  Sit back and watch his hilarious and profane introduction of Amy Schumer at the Critics Choice Awards, in which he veers off-script to slam the Golden Globes for putting The Martian in the comedy category:

How funny is that??  Love that dude.

Here are some interesting teases at the planned fifth season of Arrested Development.

I’m digging Star Wars Rebels and this preview for the second half of season two is terrific.  I’m especially jazzed by the glimpses, in the final seconds of the trailer, of the much-looked-forward-to confrontation between Ahsoka and Darth Vader (her former master).  This has been a moment fans have anticipated ever since Ahsoka was first introduced as a young padawan of Anakin Skywalker in the very first episode of the Clone Wars cartoon, back in 2008.  I hope this does not disappoint!

This is cool: HBO On-Demand is now offering what they’re calling The Godfather Epic[continued]

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The Top Twenty Movies of 2015 — Part Two!

Yesterday I began my list of the Top Twenty Movies of 2015, listing numbers twenty through sixteen.  Now, on with my list!

Celebrity Sightings In New York City - July 16, 2014

15. Trainwreck A perfect vehicle for Amy Schumer (who wrote the film, in addition to starring in it) and a wonderful combination of her very specific comedic sensibilities with those of director Judd Apatow, it’s no surprise that Trainwreck was a breakout hit for Ms. Schumer.  That a raunchy comedy can have a woman as the lead shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is.  The film is hugely funny and elevated by a spectacular cast including Bill Hader, Colin Quinn, Brie Larson, Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, Vanessa Bayer, Randall Park, a who-knew-he-could-be-so-funnt LeBron James, and many more.  But the film is Ms. Schumer’s show and she crushes it from start to finish.  Trainwreck would be higher on my list if it didn’t fall into a few romantic-comedy cliches in the third act, but it’s hard to criticize a film that is so joyously funny and filthy.  (Click here for my original review.)

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14. Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation I still can’t believe how much better this film wound up being that this year’s James Bond installment Spectre Both films are about our super-spy hero uncovering a super-secret criminal organization that, it turns out, is responsible for most of the acts of terror happening around the world.  Both are globe-hopping action-adventure stories, both feature our hero assisted by a small cadre of allies and meeting a woman who shares the adventure.  And yet Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation crushes Spectre in every way.  I just re-watched Rogue Nation last week, and I was again bowled over by what a fun, thrilling roller-coaster-ride it was.  Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie has a perfect command of tone, creating a film that is a ridiculously entertaining romp that also has serious physical and emotional stakes for our heroes.  The film is gorgeous to look at and extremely well-edited.  The action sequences are spectacular.  That Tom Cruise hanging-off-an-airplane stunt that opens the film got everyone’s attention, and rightly so.  The sequence is magnificent.  (And once again an example of this Mission: Impossible film out-Bonding Bond, as this opening action sequence — a Bond-movie trademark — is far more memorable than anything in Spectre.)  But there are so many other amazing action sequences in the film, from the extraordinary opera fight, to the underwater break-in, to that last big shoot-out-and-chase through the streets of London, and don’t forget my favorite: the escalatingly crazy car-and-motorcycle chase in-and-around Morocco.  Making great use of the ensemble from the last two M:I films (including Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, and Ving Rhames) … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Trainwreck

I’m a huge Judd Apatow fan.  Have been ever since I fell in love with Freaks and Geeks back in 1999.  I adore that show, and its equally criminally underrated follow-up Undeclared.  (Important note: Paul Feig was the co-creator of Freaks and Geeks.)  When Judd Apatow found big-screen success with the brilliant The 40 Year-Old Virgin, I was thrilled.  I love that movie and I watched it a lot in those first few years after it came out.  It seemed like a perfect distillation of everything I’d enjoyed about those two failed TV shows.  Knocked Up was just as much fun, but then came Funny People and This is 40.  There is a lot to enjoy about both of those films.  I think they’re far better than many reviewers gave them credit for being.  But even I must admit that both of those films are a little bit too long, and perhaps a little bit too indulgent.

And so I was excited when the news came that Mr. Apatow’s fifth film as a director would be the first one he wasn’t writing himself.  Trainwreck was written by and stars Amy Schumer.  I loved the idea of Mr. Apatow’s voiced being combined with that of another strong comedian.  That seemed like a good recipe for success and a nice change of pace for Mr. Apatow.

Trainwreck did not disappoint.  Amy Schumer hits a huge home-run with her work in the film, creating a wonderfully raunchy, extremely funny comedy.

Celebrity Sightings In New York City - July 16, 2014

Amy Schumer plays Amy, an attractive thirty-something woman who has a nice life working for a trashy mens magazine and partying in New York City.  She’s a serial dater who enjoys having a good time, and she looks down her nose a bit at her sister who is married with a stepson.  When Amy gets roped into doing an assignment for her magazine interviewing a sports doctor, Aaron (Bill Hader), she is shocked to find out she actually likes this relatively normal, together, professional guy.  Can she possibly hold down a stable, monogamous relationship?

The over-all story beats in Trainwreck are fairly predictable, with the film’s big idea being that it’s the woman who is the immature one who loves to go to parties and get drunk and/or stoned and date lots of different people.  This would have felt a tad more ground-breaking a few years ago before Bridesmaids, but I certainly don’t think that one female-centric film means that whole idea is over-done.  I hope we continue to see many great female-driven comedies in the future!!  So let’s be clear: while I like the idea of a raunchy Judd Apatow comedy focused on a female character, there’s far more to … [continued]

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Josh Reviews This is 40

I’m an enormous Judd Apatow fan.  I’m proud to say that I watched and loved Freaks and Geeks (the criminally cancelled-before-its time TV show created by Paul Feig and executive-produced by Mr. Apatow) back when it originally aired.  Same goes with Undeclared, Mr. Apatow’s equally-great-but-nevertheless-also-painfully-cancelled follow-up show.  I think The 40 Year-Old Virgin is one of the funniest comedies I have ever seen in my life, and Knocked Up is almost as great.  I have mixed feelings about Funny People. (Click here for my original review.)  I love the ambition behind the film, and I love how personal a film it feels like it was for Mr. Apatow, even though I acknowledge that there is a lot about the film that doesn’t completely work.  When I wrote about Funny People, I commented that it felt like Mr. Apatow was aspiring to create a James L. Brooks film, one that is funny but also personal and emotional.  I think he succeeded — Funny People feels very much to me like a James L. Brooks film, and that is a huge compliment.  In the film’s emotional honesty, in its ability to land a screamer of a punch-line, and also in the shaggy nature of its narrative, Funny People has a lot in common with Mr. Brooks’ work.

I feel the same way about This is 40. The film is very funny and is filled with a ton of throw-away hysterical lines laced throughout the dialogue as well as complete comedic sequences (Pete and Debbie’s drugged-out weekend away; Pete’s confrontation with an angry school-mom played by Melissa McCarthy), both of which are a mark of Mr. Apatow’s strongest work.  But it’s also a film with a strong emotional through-line, and a difficult one at that.  Pete and Debbie are married with two kids, but as much as they seem to love one another they also are at in a point in their lives together when they drive each another crazy.  They each have personal issues they are wrestling with, they have financial problems, and they struggle to raise their kids well while still having some semblance of a life of their own.  They are often quick to snipe at one another and to put one another down.  There are still sparks between them, and they have a long history together, and two kids they are trying to bring up, but can their marriage survive the pressures (both external and self-imposed) that they put on it?

These are weighty issues for a comedy film to grapple with, and for the most part the film avoids easy answers.  The film also wisely avoids the simplistic emotional arc of most romantic comedies, instead taking … [continued]

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Did you enjoy the new Hobbit trailer I posted last week?  If you haven’t seen them, here are all of the other alternate endings to that trailer.

Uh oh.  Looks like Rise of the Planet of the Apes director Rupert Wyatt has dropped out of work on the sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, apparently because Fox is rushing the film to meet the release date the studio had chosen.  This is not a good sign.

This past weekend, on the eve of Treme’s season 3 premiere came the good news/bad news that HBO had renewed the show for a fourth and final season (four seasons was apparently David Simon’s ideal length for the run of the show), albeit a shortened season.  The exact length of this shortened fourth season, what Mr. Simon refers to as “season 3.5,” is TBD.  I’m bummed the show couldn’t swing a full final season, but I’m thrilled that HBO is at least giving Mr. Simon and his team some episodes to bring their television masterpiece to a conclusion of their choosing.

Well,  now I know why Robot Chicken did a DC Comics special this year, rather than a fourth Star Wars one.  It’s because Seth Green and many of the rest of the Robot Chicken gang are working on a whole new Star Wars parody show, Star Wars Detours. This first trailer is funny, though I’m not sure why this is a whole new show and not just more Robot Chicken…

Speaking of Star Wars, it looks like Episode II and Episode III will be getting a 3-D theatrical re-release in 2013.  I sat out the Episode I re-release (I must admit I was a little tempted, but that film is just so bad I couldn’t see spending the money, even though I was curious about the look of the 3-D), and I’m not that much more interested in seeing Episode II. But seeing Episode III back on the big screen, and in 3-D?  That just might have my ticket.  But I am really waiting to see if they re-release the Original Trilogy.  Any excuse to see those films on the big screen again is exciting for me, no matter how much new digital fiddling Mr. Lucas and his minions have done…

This is an interesting list of the Top 5 Best-Acted Moments in a Steven Spielberg Film.  I definitely agree with numbers 5, 4, and 1, not so sure about 3 and 2…

I was already interested in Judd Apatow’s new film, This is 40, and this interview with Robert Smigel and Albert Brooks, both of whom are appearing in the film, has … [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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This Is Forty

May 1st, 2012
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I’m excited that we now have our first look at Judd Apatow’s fourth film, a sort-of follow-up to Knocked Up, focusing on Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann’s characters:

http://youtu.be/UGm08wcWsLM

I’m in!  Really looking forward to this one.… [continued]

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The Top 15 Movies of 2011 — Part Three!

Click here for part one of my Top 15 Movies of 2011 list, numbers fifteen through eleven, and here for part two, featuring numbers ten through six. Buckle up, now, as it’s time for the home stretch, the best of the best (at least in my humble opinion) of 2011!

5.  Young Adult Juno writer and director Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman re-team for a deliciously dark comedy about a twisted, pretty-much irredeemably terrible young woman named Mavis Gary (a magnificent Charlize Theron) who returns to the small hometown she left years before, in an attempt to win back her old jock boyfriend (Patrick Wilson). He’s married with a young baby, but so what?  During her week back in town, Mavis bumps into another high school classmate, the nerdy, disabled Matt (Patton Oswalt). The two strike up a weird sort-of friendship, and the way the arc of that pairing avoids any of the typical movie cliche ways that those sorts of relationships usually unfold on-screen is only one way in which this movie is unremittingly awesome.  The running gag about the way Mavis wakes up each morning, the terrific chemistry between Ms. Theron and Mr. Oswalt, and that pitch-perfect ending are just a few others.  A phenomenal film.  (Click here for my full review.)

4.   The Adventures of TintinShould anyone be surprised that the team-up of cinematic titans Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson produced gold?  This deliriously joyful, madcap adventure is non-stop pulpy fun from start-to-finish.  The film just zips on by, one incredible sequence after another, with Mr. Spielberg showing us once again how he is an absolute master at staging an action scene and assembling a crowd-pleasing adventure film.  The animation is gorgeous, the voice-work is impeccable (highlighted by another brilliant performance by the great Andy Serkis — I also praised his work in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, when I wrote about that film earlier on this list), and when the closing credits ran I couldn’t believe the film was over already.  This one is going to get a lot of play in my household in the coming years, of that I have no doubt.  I can’t wait for the sequel, in which Mr. Spielberg and Mr. Jackson will apparently switch roles (so that Mr. Spielberg will produce the film and Mr. Jackson will direct).  (Click here for my full review.)

3.  BridesmaidsKirsten Wiig and co-writer Annie Mumolo, working with brilliant comedy director Paul Feig (creator of Freaks of Geeks), producer Judd Apatow, and a tremendous cast of women, hit every note exactly perfectly in this comedic home-run.  The film is … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Bridesmaids!

When you combine the two main creative forces behind Freaks and Geeks (one of the greatest television shows ever made) with some of the funniest actresses working today, is it any result that the resulting film is an uproariously funny, ferociously entertaining comedy from start to finish?

Kristen Wiig stars in Bridesmaids as Annie, a young woman whose life is on a bit of a downturn.  Her boyfriend left her, which would be painful enough if the withdrawal of his financial backing didn’t also cause her bakery business to go under.  Annie is at first happy to hear that her life-long best friend, Lillian (Maya Rudolph), has gotten engaged, but soon that happy news turns bitter as Annie begins to feel that Lillian has found a new best friend in one of her bridesmaids, the wealthy, perky Helen (Rose Byrne).  As she feels Lillian slipping away from her, Annie tries ever-harder to plan perfect wedding-related events for her friend, but those efforts wind up exploding in increasingly spectacular fashion.

In addition to starring in the film, Kristen Wiig co-wrote Bridesmaids with Annie Mumolo.  No one could possibly survive and thrive on Saturday Night Live for as long as Ms. Wiig did without clearly having a strong comedic voice and some writing skills, but this film firmly establishes her as a powerhouse talent.  She and Ms. Mumolo have crafted a script that is screamingly funny but also endearingly human.  There is some exaggeration in the film, to be sure, and there are some characters who drift closer to comedic archetypes than they do to real people.  But the central story-line of the film is very real and very honest.  The description of the film’s plot in the above paragraph could just as easily be the plot for a somber, depressing drama.  Obviously, Bridesmaids is anything BUT a depressing drama!  But the idea of a life-change driving a wedge between long-time friends is a story that rings emotionally true, and that gives the film a weight that many other raunchy comedies don’t have.

Having a potent, real emotional story at the core of the craziest of comedies has been one of the reasons why the films directed by and produced by Judd Apatow over the last several years have been so terrific.  Mr. Apatow produced Bridesmaids, and I can see immediately why he responded to the script by Ms. Wiig and Ms. Mumolo.  It’s also easy to see why this story appealed to Mr. Apatow’s former Freaks and Geeks collaborator, the amazing Paul Feig.  (Mr. Feig created Freaks and Geeks, while Mr. Apatow served as the executive producer.  Mr. Feig directed Bridesmaids, which was produced by Mr. Apatow.)  You might not … [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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News Around the Net

I am speeding ahead with Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, and loving every page.  (Click here if you missed yesterday’s review of Book II: The Drawing of the Three.)  Now comes word that Ron Howard and Brian Grazer have acquired the rights to the series, and are planning a trilogy of films AND A SIMULTANEOUS TV SERIES.  Here’s the juiciest quote from Deadline.com:

The plan is to start with the feature film, and then create a bridge to the second feature with a season of TV episodes. That means the feature cast—and the big star who’ll play Deschain—also has to appear in the TV series before returning to the second film. After that sequel is done, the TV series picks up again, this time focusing on Deschain as a young gunslinger. Those storylines will be informed by a prequel comic book series that King was heavily involved in plotting. The third film would pick up the mature Deshain as he completes his journey.

WOW.  That is an awesomely ambitious idea.  I hope this comes to pass, and that Ron Howard is up for tackling this dense, dark saga.

Here’s an intriguing rumor that Judd Apatow might be returning to television!  It’s hard to know, at this early stage, just how involved Mr. Apatow would be in this proposed show — surely nowhere near as centrally involved as he was in Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared.  But nevertheless, this is cool news.

Sooo… in celebration of the 75th anniversary of 20th Century Fox, the studio is sponsoring a series of one-night-only screenings, in different cities, of some of their most well-known films.  That’s neat.  Except take a look at which film is showing in Philadelphia.  What did those poor Philadelphians do to deserve that???  And what numbskull at Fox considers that one of the the studio’s best films??

OK, so I might need to make a trip to London.

Some cool pics have recently leaked from Captain America: The First Avenger.  I am really excited that Marvel has made the bold choice to set the film during WWII rather than the present day.  I hope we have some great Indiana Jones-style Nazi-stompin’ in our future.

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Summer Movie Catch-Up: Josh Reviews Funny People

I read somewhere a reviewer refer to Judd Apatow’s new film, Funny People, as his “James L. Brooks movie.”  Well, if James L. Brooks isn’t making James L. Brooks movies anymore (his last film was 2004’s Spanglish, which not coincidentally was also the last time, before Funny People, that I enjoyed a movie starring Adam Sandler), then I for one am more than happy to see Judd Apatow fill the void!

I’ve been hearing a lot of disappointment from people who have seen Funny People.  I suppose if one goes in expecting the laugh-a-minute experience of The 40 Year Old Virgin or Knocked Up, one would be disappointed.  There is a lot of very funny humor in Funny People, but also some lengthy stretches without any laughs at all.  This would be a big problem if what was happening in those laugh-free-zones wasn’t compelling — but I found everything to be VERY compelling.  Funny People is a much more adult, nuanced film than Mr. Apatow’s first two movies, and while I positively ADORED those first two films, I am also thrilled to see him exploring some deeper territory here.

Adam Sandler plays George Simmons, a wildly successful comedian and star of many hugely popular and sort-of-juvenile, well, Adam Sandler-type movies.  Despite his success, he is all alone in his huge mansion (except for his house-keeping staff, of course), and struggling to deal with the news that he has been diagnosed with a form of leukemia.  Seth Rogen plays Ira Wright, a young man trying to break into the brutally tough world of stand-up comedy.  Their paths cross one evening when George drops by a comedy club where Ira is waiting to perform, and Ira quickly gets sucked up into George’s orbit.  Ira is star-struck by getting to spend time with his idol, and desperate to taste some of the massive fame to which George has become inured, and George — though he’d never admit it — is lonely and looking for some sort of companionship, having driven away all of his former friends, girlfriends, and family.

Rogen and Sandler are both at the top of their games, creating fully believable, lived-in characters that feel completely real.  I have often said that I really like Adam Sandler’s comedy, but that I can’t stand his movies.  This remains true for me.  But I have really enjoyed the few films in which Sandler has actually tried to ACT — films like Spanglish, and Punch-Drunk Love.  In those movies, I was quite impressed that Sandler could actually create a real, sympathetic character, and he does similarly high-quality work here.  Rogen too turns in probably his most … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Year One

I love Harold Ramis.  For his performance as Egon Spengler in Ghostbusters (and Ghostbusters 2) alone, the man deserves to be recognized as a comic genius.  When you also consider his involvement in films such as Animal House, Caddyshack, Stripes, Groundhog Day, Anaylze This, and so many more, then you have to realize what an impact he has had on film comedies over the past 30 years.

And yet, it seems like Mr. Ramis has fallen out of the spotlight in the aughts.  He’s had some great (albeit small) acting roles (in Orange County, Knocked Up, and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story), but none of the films he has directed recently have made much of an impact: Bedazzled (in 2000), Anaylze That (the misbegotten sequel to Analyze This from 2002), and The Ice Harvest (in 2005) all came and went without much fanfare.

So I was very excited when I read, last year, that Mr. Ramis was hooking up with Jack Black and quite a few members of the Judd Apatow comedy troupe (Michael Cera, Paul Rudd, Christopher Mintz-Plasse) as well as a number of other very funny people (Oliver Platt, David Cross, Hank Azaria) for the Biblical-comedy Year One.

For a movie crafted by so many talented folks, though, the result is surprisingly mediocre.  Oh, it’s funny, don’t get me wrong.  There are plenty of big laughs.  But there are also plenty of scenes that are very flat, with few if any laughs at all.  And, even of the jokes that work, a lot of the humor of the film feels rather tame, rather familiar.  Stacked up against the great comedies of the past few years (mostly from the Apatow brand) like The 40 Year Old Virgin, Superbad, Knocked Up, etc. etc., — comedies that took your breath away they were so funny, and, even more than that, felt like original, unique works, very different from any movie comedies that you’d ever seen before — Year One pales in comparison.

My biggest joy in watching the film came from sitting back and watching the great cast at play.  Oliver Platt, in particular, is just marvelously loony as Sodom’s High Priest.  I was also pleasantly surprised by the amount of screen-time that the great David Cross (who plays Cain) got.  I didn’t expect him to reappear after the early scene with his brother Abel (Paul Rudd), so I was pleased by his large role in the second half of the film.  I should also mention Xander Berkeley (George Mason from the early days of 24) who is just terrific as the King, and Vinnie Jones (a familiar face from Guy Ritchie’s films) as the menacing … [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: Walk Hard

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story is one of the few films from the past several years that Judd Apatow has had a hand in (he co-wrote the film and was one of its producers), that, despite his involvement, did not receive a lot of love from audiences upon its release.  My own recollection of seeing it in theatres was that it was sort of funny but not fantastic.  However, upon a second viewing on DVD last month, I must say that I have fallen head-over-heels in love with this film!

Walk Hard is, first and foremost, an evisceration of a very specific type of film: the Oscar-bait musical bio-pic (like Ray, Walk the Line, etc.).  In scene after scene after scene, the film mercilessly sends-up every single ridiculous cliche of those types of movies.

We meet young Dewey growing up in a ramshackle farm down South, enjoying an idyllic life.  But a day of fun with his brother (“ain’t nothing horrible gonna happen today!” the doomed tyke promises) ends in tragedy after a machete-fighting accident.  Out of that grief, Dewey discovers his musical ability, playing the blues (“I got the blues… cut my brother in half…”).  A few years later, a nervous Dewey performs at a High School concert.  (Starting here, Dewey is played by John C. Reilly, despite the fact that the character is only 14 in this scene.  As Apatow and Director/co-writer Jake Kasdan note in their DVD commentary, they were interested in poking fun at  “just how young the lead actor THINKS he can play” in these sorts of movies.)   Despite the innocuousness of the pop ballad Dewey performs (entitled “Take My Hand”), the concert erupts into a frenzy of sexualized dancing (as, you know, Rock and Roll is wont to cause).  After being condemned by the local priest (“You think we don’t know what you’re talking about when you say take my hand?!”) and his father (“The wrong kid died!”), Dewey decides to leave home and set out on a musical career.

What follows reads like a crazy check-list of the types of scenes one could expect in these sorts of films, charting our hero’s rise and fall and eventual redemption.  Dewey gets an opportunity to perform his music for a disinterested record company executive (played brilliantly by John Michael Higgins, who proclaims: “You have failed conclusively!  There is nothing that you can do, here in this room, to turn that around!”) but, of course, once Dewey plays one of his own songs (the titular “Walk Hard”), the executive is blown away, as are his Hassidic Jewish backers (Harold Ramis — yes, Harold Ramis — Phil Rosenthal, and Martin Starr in delightfully over-the-top Hassidic get-up … [continued]

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Thundering Pineapple Mummies

Well, the summer is winding down, but I’m taking advantage of the lull to catch up on some movies!  Here’s what I’ve seen lately:

Tropic Thunder — Just saw this tonight, and let me tell you it is phenomenal.  Ben Stiller stars in and directed this tale of a group of self-absorbed hollywood actors filming a big-budget Vietnam action-adventure movie called Tropic Thunder who, through a ludicrous series of circumstances, wind up in an actual Vietnam action-adventure.  (Hmmm, that description makes it sound sort of like Space Camp, but rest assured that it is not.)  The movie is hilarious, and I mean every scene is hilarious.  The cast is terrific.  Ben Stiller is Tugg Speedman, the action movie star looking for some respectability after the flop of his oscar-bait role as the mentally challenged Simple Jack…and Stiller plays forlorn self-absorbtion to a tee.  Jack Black plays drug-addled Jeff Portnoy, known for playing all the roles (in a variety of fat-suits) in the obese family movie series The Fatties.  As you’ve probably read by now, Robert Downey Jr. keeps his summer of success rolling (after Iron Man) with his portrayal of Kirk Lazarus, an actor so devoted to Method that he, well, transforms himself into a black man to play African-American Sgt. Osiris.  Those are the stars, but there are so many other juicy roles that are very winningly embodied by a variety of other talents.  Brandon T. Jackson plays rapper-turned-actor Alpha Chino (I laughed and laughed at that rapper name), and Jay Baruchel (so great as the lead in the great-but-cancelled Judd Apatow TV series Undeclared) is the requisite baby-faced soldier, Kevin Sandusky.  Danny McBride (who’s also having quite a summer, with the long-awaited release of his feature film The Foot Fist Way a few months ago, as well as his role in The Pineapple Express) is the somewhat psychotic pyrotechnics expert Cody.  Steve Coogan (Coffee and Cigarettes, Tristan Shandy, and the upcoming Hamlet 2) plays the desperate director Damien Cockburn trying to get his spoiled stars to behave.  Nick Nolte is genius playing… well pretty much himself, or at least the world’s perception of Nick Nolte, as the addled “Four Leaf,” the man who wrote the book Tropic Thunder being adapted by these Hollywood dim-wits.  And, of course, I cannot forget Tom Cruise, under a you-need-to-see-it-to-believe-it bald cap and hairy chubby suit, playing the gleefully profane studio mogul financing the production.  OK, do you want to see this movie yet??  Let me just add that this film is also enhanced by a trio of fake trailers even more enjoyable than the ones in Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse from last year.  (Speaking … [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]