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Josh’s Favorite Movies of 2018 — Part One!

I hope you enjoyed my list of my Favorite Episodes of TV of 2018!  (Click here for part one, click here for part two, and click here for part three.)

And now, let’s dive into my list of my Twenty Favorite Movies of 2018!

I did a lot better this year about seeing all the movies I’d wanted to see than I did in getting to all of the TV shows I wanted to watch.  Still, there were a lot of movies that looked great that I just didn’t get to, including: Operation Finale; The Other Side of the Wind; They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead; Love, Simon; Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot; The Sisters Brothers, The Front Runner, If Beale Street Could Talk, Ralph Breaks the Internet, and more.  So if you want to know why those films don’t appear on my list, now you do.

I also want to begin by mentioning Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which would surely have made my Best of 2017 list had I seen it it time, but I didn’t get to see it until well into 2018.  Click here for my full review.

OK, here we go:

Honorable Mention: Annihilation — Alex Garland’s follow-up to the brilliant Ex Machina is flawed, but I admire its huge ambition.  I love that this film is a cerebral sci-fi story, one that is filled with tension without ever devolving into a shoot-em-up.  This is speculative fiction at its best, one that sets up an intriguing sci-fi mystery and then allows its characters to explore and investigate that premise.  I love the cast of female leads, each of whom is terrific: Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, and Tuva Novotny.  (Oscar Isaac and Benedict Wong are also pretty great in the film’s two main supporting male roles.)  This is a film that is deeper than it might at first seem, as its story can be seen as an allegory for depression, self-destruction, and mental illness.  This film was mostly ignored this year (though it did make Barack Obama’s list of his favorite 2018 films!!), but it’s definitely worth a look.  (Click here for my full review.)

20. Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind Marina Zenovich’s documentary, Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind, is a fascinating and funny look back at the life and career of Robin Williams.  The film is somber at times, as we explore some of the troubles Mr. Williams faced over the course of his life.  His too-early death hangs over the whole film like a shadow.  But the film is also very very funny, giving lots of time for … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Creed II

December 20th, 2018
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I am not a huge Rocky fan.  I’d seen and enjoyed the original Rocky, but to this day I’ve never seen any of the sequels.  I wouldn’t have expected that I’d even have gone to see a Rocky spin-off, let alone that I’d have enjoyed it.  But I was blown away by Ryan Coogler’s Creed (written by Mr. Coogler and Aaron Covington), a film that I found to be thrilling and deeply moving.  It was one of my favorite films of 2015.  (Click here for my full review.)  And so I was excited to find myself seated in the theatre recently, ready to enjoy Creed II, my first-ever Rocky-movie sequel!  So, what did I think?  Does Creed II live up to the original?

Well, no.  But it’s still a well-made, solidly enjoyable film.

It’s a delight to get to spend two more hours with all of these characters, and to see how their lives have progressed following the events of the first film.  I love this extraordinary cast, and I love these characters.  There’s some solid emotional drama and some engaging boxing action.  The film looks great and is clearly made with great craft across all departments.  Creed II is a fine film.

But the first Creed was transcendent.  It was deeply moving, to the point that I cried several times while watching it for the first time.  It felt like a staggeringly original work, at the same time as it fit smoothly into the larger Rocky franchise.  (That’s an extraordinarily tricky bit of business.)  There’s nothing in Creed II that reached anywhere near the emotional high-points that I found in the first Creed.  There’s nothing that came close to moving me the way the first film did.

I want to emphasize: there is not a single thing in Creed II that is bad!  It’s a very well-made, enjoyable movie!  But it doesn’t transcend the franchise and the boxing-movie genre the way the first Creed did for me.

What a cast this film has.  The number one reason to see Creed II is to enjoy the work of this great ensemble.  Let’s begin with Michael B. Jordan, who is once again spectacular as the main character, Adonis Creed.  What a compelling performer this young man is; what a extraordinarily talented actor — clearly one of the finest actors of his generation.  One might have forgiven Mr. Jordan for “phoning it in” a bit in this sequel, now that he has shot to stardom over the past few years.  But Mr. Jordan is fully engaged, and delivers another riveting, emotional performance as Creed, a skilled boxer wrestling with his family’s history and struggling to find his identity … [continued]

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Josh Reviews the HBO Adaptation of Fahrenheit 451

Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is one of my very favorite books.  The novel, written in 1953, is every bit as relevant today as it was all those decades ago when it was first published.   When I first heard that HBO was working on a new adaptation, featuring Michael B. Jordan (Creed, Black Panther) and Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water, Midnight Special, The Night Before, Man of Steel), I was very excited to see it!

Michael B. Jordan plays the fireman Guy Montag, a man whose job it is to burn books.  In the world of Fahrenheit 451, firemen don’t put out fires, they start them.  (Even more frightening: in the sanitized history available to Guy and his fellow citizens, they don’t believe this has ever been different.)  Guy loves his job, and he’s good at it.  But as the story unfolds we discover that, perhaps, Guy harbors secret doubts about what he does.  Michael Shannon plays Captain Beatty, Montag’s fire chief and father figure.  Sofia Boutella plays Clarisse, a young woman who informs to Beatty on those hiding books, but there’s more to her than meets the eye.  After she and Guy cross paths, Guy is inspired to make some dangerous decisions, decisions that put him on a collision course with Captain Beatty and that will change his life forever.

I quite enjoyed this HBO adaptation!  It’s got a nice visual sense, and it’s a decently faithful adaptation of the novel.

The film is anchored by three terrific performances by its leads.  Michael B. Jordan is inspired casting as Guy.  Guy is a bit of an everyman cipher in the book (even his name is generic, I believe intentionally so on Mr. Bradbury’s part), but Mr. Jordan fills him with a rich inner life.  He is great at playing Guy as the fierce true believer in book-burning, and he’s also great at showing us the conflicted Guy.  We follow this story through Guy’s eyes, and for the adaptation to work we have to be right there with Guy as the illusions he has so carefully constructed for himself slowly collapse, one by one.  Mr. Jordan takes us carefully along every step of this journey.  It’s a fierce, compelling, emotional performance.

Speaking of fierce and compelling, I am also incredibly impressed by the brilliant idea of casting Michael Shannon as Captain Beatty.  Mr. Shannon’s intensity is perfectly served by this role.  Captain Beatty is the head Nazi in what we see of this world, and Mr. Shannon shows us his terrifying power.  But Mr. Shannon also keeps his performance very human and small-scale, and his work, and the smart script, allows us … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Black Panther

I know, intellectually, that Marvel Studios’ incredible streak of great movies is going to end sometime.  It has to.  No win streak can continue indefinitely.  But it didn’t end this past weekend, as Marvel Studios released Black Panther, a fantastic addition to their ever-expanding Cinematic Universe.  Black Panther is, incredibly, the eighteenth film in this interconnected movie universe.  It still boggles my mind that there exists an eighteen-movies-and-growing Marvel Cinematic Universe.  And what’s even more impressive is just how terrific all of these films have been.  There isn’t a true stinker in the bunch.  (The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2 are, I think, the two least successful films, and even both of those have a lot to enjoy in them.)  The last several films in particular have been fantastic, and Black Panther continues that streak of excellence.

Picking up after the death of his father King T’Chaka in Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther opens with T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returning home to Wakanda to claim his position as king.  Wakanda is a technological paradise, though they use their technology to hide that fact from the rest of the world.  When the vicious thief and weapons merchant Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), who killed the parents of T’Challa’s close friend W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya), resurfaces, T’Challa leads a team consisting of Okoye (Danai Gurira), the leader of the fierce female Wakandan fighting force the Dora Milaje, and Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), T’Challa’s former flame who believes that Wakanda must engage with the outside world, to capture Klaue.  That mission goes awry when they discover that Klaue is in league with a young man named Eric (Michael B. Jordan), a black-ops soldier who calls himself Killmonger, and who has a secret connection to the Wakandan royal family.  Killmonger challenges T’Challa for the throne of Wakanda, and the once-peaceful nation threatens to split into civil war.

Black Panther is fantastic.  It fits squarely into the Marvel Cinematic Universe while also standing completely on its own and having its own unique style.  The film references Captain America: Civil War, but you absolutely don’t have to have seen that film to enjoy this one.  And while many fans thought that the one not-yet-seen Infinity Stone (which will surely come into play in this summer’s Avengers: Infinity War) would appear in this film, I was happy that didn’t happen.  Black Panther didn’t need that additional baggage — it’s better for this film to be able to tell its own, complete story.  (If that final Infinity Stone is indeed hidden in Wakanda, as many fans guess, I am glad they held that reveal for Infinity War.)

Director Ryan Coogler (Creed) has crafted a magnificent film, … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Creed

I don’t have any attachment to the Rocky series.  In fact, the only Rocky film I have ever seen is the very first one, the 1976 original.  I loved it, but I never had any burning desire to continue on to watch all the sequels.  When I first read about Creed, I wasn’t interested.  But I’ve really enjoyed the work of Michael B. Jordan (cast here in the lead role as Adonis Johnson Creed), and over the past month I have seen review after review heaping incredible amounts of praise on the film.  And I must admit that the film’s trailers made it look great, something of interest to a non-Rocky-fan like me.  I finally decided that I had to see for myself what all the fuss was about.  I was not disappointed, and that’s putting it mildly.  Creed is phenomenal, a rich and resonant film that actually got me quite choked up in a few places.  Holy shit, I can’t believe the seventh film in this boxing franchise made me cry!!

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Michael B. Jordan, as I’ve already noted, plays Adonis.  When we meet him, Adonis is using the last name of Johnson, but we quickly learn that he’s the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed (played by Carl Weathers in the first several Rocky films).  Adonis has a good life.  He has a loving mother, a nice house and a good job.  But in his heart he wants to be a boxer like his father, even though in most other ways he tries to deny everything about his father, most particularly his famous last name.  Adonis moves to Philadelphia to track down his father’s rival and friend, Rocky, begging Rocky to coach him.  Rocky has tried to put his life in boxing behind him, living a quiet life running a small restaurant (named after Adrian).  Rocky initially refuses, but Adonis persists, and eventually Rocky begins to warm up to him, agreeing to help.

The over-all plot of this film is familiar, but it works because that familiar structure is used to tell a surprisingly emotional story about the relationship forged between these two men, Adonis and Rocky, and the powerful demons they each still carry with them.

Sylvester Stallone is magnificent in the film.  I can’t believe how good he is.  Writer/director Ryan Coogler (the script was co-written by Aaron Covington) has crafted a perfect role for Mr. Stallone, putting Rocky into the Mickey role as Creed’s wizened, elder-statesman trainer.  It’s a brilliant idea, and Mr. Stallone absolutely kills it.  He plays Rocky with such sadness and loneliness that he makes it impossible for the audience not to root for the big galoot.

After seeing Star Wars: The [continued]

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Josh Reviews Fantastic Four

I’ve been a fan of the Fantastic Four ever since I first started reading comic books as a kid.  The FF was the first super-hero comic book I ever followed monthly, and I’ve been reading it on and off ever since.  I long to someday see a faithful adaptation of the FF on-screen.  Sadly, Fox’s latest attempt is, for the most part, another mis-fire.

FantasticFour.2015.cropped

It’s a shame, because there are many good elements to Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four (though maybe I shouldn’t call the film “Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four,” seeing as how the director publicly disassociated himself with the film just days prior to its release).  Reacting against Tim Story’s two light and silly (and very unfaithful to the comics) films from a decade ago, this latest version of the FF is a far more serious film.  I like that approach.  But even what works in the film is hindered for me by its being so far removed from the source material of the comics.  There is almost nothing of the familiar Fantastic Four characters in this film.  Where Mr. Trank and his team drew from the comics, they drew not from the classic characters but from the “ultimate universe” reboot of the FF from about a decade ago.  That’s not actually a bad move, since that rejiggered version of the FF’s origin (written by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar) has a lot of good qualities that make more sense when setting the FF’s origin in the modern era rather than the nineteen sixties.  But then the film goes in directions all its own, and although the characters have the names of the familiar FF heroes, the characterizations and look of the characters are way off from what is familiar to readers of the comics.  Had we not gotten the last decade of Marvel Studios movies, in which we have seen that these Marvel superheroes can be adapted incredibly faithfully, while still working as films, I might like this version of the FF a lot more.  This approach feels more in line with the way Bryan Singer tackled the X-Men back in 2000.  (And I’ll note that even that film felt, to me, far more faithful to the comics, even though the costumes were all different.)  But now it’s 2015, and we’ve seen that even incredibly “comic-booky” characters and concepts (like Captain America, Thor, and the Guardians of the Galaxy) can be brought to life so faithfully on screen.  I dearly wish to someday see the classic FF characters realized in a movie.  I want to see those classic FF uniforms, not the ugly “containment suits” of this film.  That’s just one example, but it’s a damning … [continued]