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Josh Reviews Raya and the Last Dragon

Menaced by the Druun (seemingly unstoppable evil entities that turn people to stone), the once-prosperous, peaceful nation of Kumandra has fractured into five bitterly divided, isolated tribes: Fang, Heart, Spine, Talon, and Tail.  What little hope still existed could be found in the orb containing the spirit of the last of a once mighty, magical race of dragons.  But when young Raya, the daughter of the chief of the Heart tribe, trusts the wrong person, catastrophe strikes and the orb is shattered.  Years later, Raya is desperately seeking to reassemble the pieces of the shattered orb, to find a way to restore harmony to her broken world.

I very much enjoyed Raya and the Last Dragon!  It’s a pleasure to see Disney Animation continuing to operate at the height of their powers.  (They’ve been on an excellent run of movies this past decade!)  The film is an exciting adventure story, with a pleasing balance of fun action and rich characters, set in a delightfully well fleshed-out original world.  The animation is gorgeous, and the voice-cast is top-notch.  It’s hard to ask for more!

It’s a pleasure to see a Disney film that so richly embraces Southeast Asian culture.  The world of Raya and the Last Dragon is an invented fantasy, but weaving through it on many levels are influences from our real-world Southeast Asia.  The film is led by Kelly Marie Tran as Raya, Disney’s first princess (and the story makes sure to clarify that Raya is a princess) of Southeast Asian descent.  Raya was written by Vietnamese-American screenwriter Qui Nguyen and Malaysian screenwriter Adele Lim.

Kelly Marie Tran (so great as Rose Tico in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and so unfairly cast to the side in The Rise of Skywalker) is tremendous in the lead role as Raya.  There’s so much energy and charisma in her vocal performance.  We see Raya’s toughness and her intelligence… and also her deep wells of caring and humanity, even though she has built walls around herself.  Raya is a wonderfully fun, interesting, complex Disney heroine.  For years now Disney has been doing a great job at giving toughness, intelligence, and agency to its female heroines (in Moana, in Frozen, in Wreck-It Ralph, etc.), and Raya is a terrific addition to that lineage.

Then there is Awkwafina, who blew me away as the voice of the Dragon Sisu.  For the first few minutes, this energetic, sassy, wise-talking dragon felt like Mushu (From Mulan) redux, but very quickly Awkwafina made Sisu entirely her own.  She’s very funny in the role, but what really impressed me was the tender soul she was able to give to this silly character.  The buddy-comedy interactions … [continued]

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News Around the Net!

I’m intrigued by this trailer for Oxygen, a new sci-fi film starring Melanie Laurent (who was so great in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds):

I’m a huge Asterix fan — I grew up reading those amazing French comics, written by René Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo — and so I’m excited that Netflix has announced a new Asterix animated series!  I can’t wait for this!  I hope it’s good.

This is exciting — HBO has given the go-ahead to a new limited series by The Wire mastermind David Simon and George Pelecanos (who most recently collaborated on the phenomenal, and criminally under-appreciated, series The Deuce).  It’s about Baltimore police corruption.  How perfect does that sound?  I am in!

I wouldn’t imagine I’d be at all interested in the prospect of a new Space Jam movie, but I have to admit the idea of Lebron James jumping into classic Warner Brothers movies has me intrigued.  Click here for lots more info on this long-in-the-works project.

With Zack Snyder’s 4-hour version of Justice League only days away, word has gotten out of his absolutely bonkers plans for a second and third Justice League film.  It’s quite a read.

Click here for a wonderful look back on Highlander, on the occasion of its 35th (wow!!!) anniversary.  I love that first Highlander film.  It’s one of the best bad movies ever made.

Good news, everybody!  The sixth and final season of Better Call Saul has finally begun production!  I am chomping at the bit to see this…

Rob Delaney (Catastrophe) is in Mission: Impossible 7??  Amazing!!  (Apparently so are Cary Elwes, Indira Varma, Chris Parnell, and Mark Gatiss…  Nice!)

Ryan Coogler recently shared some thoughts on the impossible task he’s facing: writing Black Panther 2 without Chadwick Boseman…

Click here for a gloriously nerdy, in-depth article exploring the tech challenges involved in bringing both versions of The Simpsons (the correct, original 4×3 framing as well as HD versions that are cropped) to Disney+.

For many years, John Byrne was my absolute favorite comic book artist and writer.  His long run illustrating X-Men, along with writer Chris Claremont, is one of the greatest comic-book runs ever, and a huge reason why the X-Men are still so popular today.  I discovered that, on his blog, Mr. Byrne has been writing and penciling new X-Men stories that pick up where his run on the book ended.  It’s a lot of fun to read!  It’s titled X-Men: Elsewhen and you can take a look here.

I’ve been enjoying the comic book continuation of Batman: The Animated Series.  It’s written by key members of the Batman: TAS creative team: Paul Dini … [continued]

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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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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]