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Josh Reviews Coco

December 6th, 2017

In Pixar’s latest masterpiece, Coco, we meet Miguel, a young boy growing up in a small Mexican town. His family are all shoemakers, and the expectation is that Miguel will follow in their footsteps (pun sort-of intended) and take up the family profession. But Miguel secretly longs to be a musician, like his idol Ernesto de la Cruz. This is Miguel’s big secret from his family, because many years ago Miguel’s great great grandmother was abandoned by her musician husband, and so ever since the family has refused to allow any music into their homes or their lives. When, on Día de Muertos (the Day of the Dead), Miguel sneaks out and steals a guitar in an attempt to enter a local music competition, he becomes cursed and trapped with his ancestors in the Land of the Dead.

That simplified plot description does not do justice to this subtle, sophisticated story.  Coco is a magnificent film, deeply moving and visually spectacular in the way that Pixar seems to make look so effortless. The film is filled with richly drawn characters who you will quickly grow to love and care deeply about. There were several moments in the film’s third act that had me in tears.  I am left to once again marvel at the rich world that the artists at Pixar are able to create with each of their films.

What at first seems like a fairly boiler-plate story about a child longing to spread his wings and escape the confines put upon him by his family quickly blossoms into a far more complex story.  Until we get to the end, the film avoids finding easy villains.  Both sides in Miguel’s argument with his family have merit.  His desire to express himself artistically is understandable, and as the film unfolds we also grow to sympathize with and understand both why his family has turned their backs on music, and also on the importance with which they hold honoring their elders and preserving their family traditions.

For an all-ages film, Coco does not shy away from addressing death, a topic one seldom sees incorporated into a movie like this!  And yet, death is a central through-line of the film.  Coco takes place on the Day of the Dead, and the deaths of several different characters in the film provide key plot points and emotional moments.  While the film does envision a life beyond death (more on that in a moment), the idea that all who live shall die is at the core of the film’s story.  This is a brave choice for a big-budget Disney/Pixar movie!  I am surprised and impressed.

Coco creates an entire universe and mythology out of the … [continued]

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The Top Twenty Movies of 2016 — Part Two!

On Wednesday I began my list of my Top Twenty Movies of 2016! Let’s continue:

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15. Weiner It’s remarkable that this film exists.  For some reason, disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner allowed a documentary crew full access to himself, his family, and his political team during his campaign for the Democratic nomination to be the Mayor of New York City in 2013.  Weiner’s attempt at political resuscitation came crashing down around his ears in spectacular fashion when, a few weeks into the campaign, new sexting scandals came to light.  The film is a you-can’t-look-away story of personal and professional catastrophe, and there’s something mesmerizing about it.  It’s a fascinating how-the-sausage-is-made look behind the scenes of a modern political campaign, and a devastating story of a very flawed man destroying himself.  It’s exhilarating and terrifying, funny and deeply sad.  Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg have crafted a remarkable film that has so much to say about the political and human realities of our current age.

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14. 10 Cloverfield Lane Somehow J.J. Abrams’ production company, Bad Robot, was able to create this film almost entirely in secret, only announcing it’s existence a few months before its release.  That’s an incredible magic trick all its own in today’s internet spoiler era, but even putting all of that aside and judging the film strictly on it’s own two feet, this is a great movie that really hit me in my movie-going sweet spot.  For much of the film’s run-time, it’s a gripping character piece and exercise in escalating tension.  Michelle, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs the World) wakes up after a car accident to find herself locked in an underground bunker with Howard (John Goodman) and a young man, Emmett (John Gallagher).  Howard is a survivalist who tells Michelle that a deadly virus or nerve agent has been released by a foreign attack and that, if she leaves the bunker, she will die.  Is he telling the truth or is he lying?  Is Howard Michelle’s savior or a terrible villain?  Dan Trachtenberg’s film (written by the great Drew Goddard) keeps turning the screws on Michelle and the audience, and it’s a magnificent thing to watch.  All three main actors are fantastic, 100% invested in this story and these roles.  Then there are the film’s final twenty minutes, which are absolutely bonkers and yet absolutely perfect.  I love the idea that Bad Robot will be periodically releasing Cloverfield films, creating a movie anthology series of weird and suspenseful tales.  I loved 2008’s Cloverfield, and this new film — which totally stands on its own and yet also feels 100% “of a piece” with the first Cloverfield[continued]

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News Around the Net

We’ve been getting some fun teases lately for Guardians of the Galaxy volume 2.  (Great title, by the way.)  This is a solid poster and the tag-line, “obviously”, is genius.  And then there is this tantalizing new trailer:

That hits all the right notes for me.  Love it.

After the release of a series of photos, we also got our first real look at the upcoming Wolverine solo film, titled Logan, with this trailer:

While this trailer squashes any hope I might have had for a more faithful adaptation of Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s brilliant comic book story Old Man Logan (something I really never should have even dared hope for, since this X-Men series, even when it is great, has never shown any interest in faithful adaptations of classic X-Men stories), I am very happy by what I see here.  It looks like they’ve taken some of the general ideas of Old Man Logan to craft an entirely new story, and I am impressed that they’ve chosen to jump into the future and leave the rest of the X-Men franchise behind.  Hugh Jackman (sporting a crazy Mel Gibson-like beard) and Patrick Stewart both seem as awesome as usual.  I am excited for this.  (My one quibble — one of the coolest ideas of Old Man Logan was that Logan had vowed never to unsheathe his claws again, and so they make you wait a long, long, long time before you finally get a “snikt.”  From this trailer, in which we see plenty of Logan’s claws, I guess the film is taking a different approach…)

Holy cow, is there really a new Martin Scorsese movie coming out next month??  Here’s a look at Silence:

Whoo, that looks harrowing.  I am very intrigued by that trailer.

This new look at Kong: Skull Island is… well… take a look:

This trailer really shows us a lot of the shape of the movie.  Most significantly, we see the real monsters/villains of the film other than Kong.  I was surprisingly taken by the goofy tone of the trailer.  Is this movie going to balance a war-movie aesthetic with a lot of humor as well as this trailer does?  We’ll see…

Cars is my least favorite of all the Pixar movies.  As a result, Cars 2 is the only Pixar movie I’ve never seen!  So I’m not really interested in a Cars 3, though I admit that my eyebrows were raised by this weird, grim teaser:

I’m not sure I understand Disney studio’s desire to seemingly create a live-action remake of every single one of their animated films, but this trailer for Beauty and the Beast is impressive:

That’s a spectacular cast and the … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Finding Dory

July 4th, 2016
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Finding Nemo was a terrific movie, great fun and deeply emotional.  It came towards the beginning of an incredible run of original Pixar films that would go on to include The Incredibles, Ratatouille, WALL-E, and Up.  I adore the universe that was created in Finding Nemo, and it always felt to me to be perfectly complete in and of itself.  This was not a movie that ever felt to me that it was crying out for a sequel.

And so when I learned that, thirteen years after Nemo, Pixar would be releasing a sequel called Finding Dory, I was intrigued and also a little nervous.  The idea of seeing more of these characters and this world was tantalizing.  Dory, voiced so marvelously by Ellen DeGeneres, was a highlight of Nemo, and so a film focusing on her felt like a natural idea.  And yet, to come back and make a sequel so many years later — how often has that ever been successful?

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The very best sequels — and I would count Pixar’s earlier efforts Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3 among this number — wind up feeling inevitable.  It’s as if, once you see these additional chapters, they become integral parts of the story that was begun by the original film.

I can’t quite say that Finding Dory reaches that level.  Finding Nemo remains a beautifully perfect, complete creation all its own.  That being said, Finding Dory is a beautiful and very entertaining film, fun and funny and exciting and emotional, just as I would expect from the mad geniuses at Pixar.

The film delves deeply into the character of Dory, the forgetful blue tang introduced in Nemo.  How did she get to where she was when Marlin encountered her in Finding Nemo?  What was her childhood like, and what happened to her parents/family?

When Finding Dory works, it is a devastatingly powerful metaphor for raising a child with a disability.  The film spends a lot of time in flashback with a young Dory and her parents (voiced marvelously by Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton).  The animators at Pixar outdid themselves in creating an unbelievably cute design for the young, huge-eyed Dory, a move that only compounds the pain of the moment you know is coming when young Dory will get separated from her parents and, even worse, will forget them.  It’s heartbreaking, and as a dramatic core of the film I was impressed by well the Pixar team were able to come up with something that felt of equal weight to the massacre of Marlin and Nemo’s family that opened Finding Nemo, thus giving this sequel a strong reason for being.  One of the most profoundly sad … [continued]

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The Top Twenty Movies of 2015 — Part Four!

And so we arrive, at last, at my five favorite movies of 2015.  Click here for part one of my list, numbers twenty through sixteenClick here for part two of my list, numbers fifteen through elevenClick here for part three of my list, numbers ten through six.

And now, my five favorite movies of 2015!

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5. Inside Out Another triumph from Pixar, this hugely original film explores the inner workings of the mind of an eleven-year-old girl.  I am blown away by how magnificently well thought-out the film is, how carefully considered every detail is.  The film is a complete fantasy, and yet it’s a remarkably sophisticated presentation of the way the emotions inside a young girl might actually work!  This is genius-level filmmaking here, with brilliant philosophical ideas wrapped in a deeply moving adventure tale.  The film is elevated into the stratosphere by its magnificent casting, with the absolute perfect actor chosen to represent each of Riley’s five main emotions: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), & Disgust (Mindy Kaling).  The film is very funny and also absolutely heart-breaking.  (Has the great Richard Kind ever been better than he is here is Bing-Bong?)  Inside Out is a master class in the how animation can be best utilized to tell a remarkable story, a story that couldn’t possibly be told any other way.  (Click here for my original review.)

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4. Avengers: Age of Ultron I can’t believe how under-rated and under-appreciated is Joss Whedon’s spectacular follow-up to the smash hit that was 2012’s The Avengers.  Yes, Age of Ultron doesn’t have the never-been-done-before thrill of that first huge super-hero crossover film, which was the culmination of Marvel Studios’ Phase One, bringing together all the characters from the proceeding individual films.  (This was something that had never, ever been done before, a fact easily forgotten now that Marvel’s model is being widely imitated by every studio in Hollywood.)  It’s incredible to me that now, only a few short years after The Avengers, the extraordinary achievement that is Age of Ultron is being dismissed as ho-hum.  Just look at pretty much any frame of this film and marvel (pun definitely intended) at how amazing is it how Joss Whedon and his team have brought all of these wonderful characters to life on film!  Who ever would have thought such a thing would happen?  Who ever would have thought we’d ever see the famous comic-book villain Ultron depicted on film (brought so brilliantly to life in the film by James Spader)?  Or The Vision???  (Paul Bettany’s performance combined with note-perfect make-up effects and CGI made it feel … [continued]

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Pixar Triumphs Again with Inside Out!

July 7th, 2015
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The mad geniuses at Pixar have outdone themselves once again with their latest film.  Inside Out is magical, hugely entertaining and absolutely heartbreaking.

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The film gives life to the emotions inside of eleven-year-old Riley.  Inside her head we see the manifestations of her emotions: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), & Disgust (Mindy Kaling).  The five emotions “run” Riley from a control room inside her head.  For the first eleven years of her life, Joy has been in charge.  But when Riley’s family moves suddenly from the Mid-West to San Francisco, her emotions are thrown into upheaval.

Pixar has always been great at world-building in their films, and Inside Out may be the finest example of this yet.  Everything about the film, and its exploration of the inner workings of the mind of an eleven-year-old girl, is so clever and well thought-out.  It’s obvious just what an incredible amount of time and attention have gone into creating the world of this film.  Every detail is so carefully considered, and the film constantly delights as we see its depiction of the different emotions and characteristics (“goof-ball island”) of a child, how memories are created and stored and referenced and eventually lost, and so much more.  I am stunned by how clever it all is.  This is all a total fantasy and yet, it all works perfectly!  Maybe this really IS how the insides of our minds actually work!!

Inside Out also, for me, represents something of an apotheosis in Pixar’s approach of making films that work for kids but are also aimed at adults.  Inside Out is absolutely a film for adults, so much so that I’m actually uncertain what kids will make of it.  This is not in any way a criticism, in fact, it makes me love Inside Out all the more.  This is unapologetically a film aimed at adults, and what a delight it is to see an American animated film (and one released by Disney, no less!) aimed so squarely at adults and not kids!  Pixar has danced in these waters before.  The opening few minutes of Up (which, like Inside Out, was directed by Pete Docter) are absolutely made for adults and not kids.  But then that film did shift into all-ages territory, a step that Inside Out never really makes.

The comparison with the opening minutes of Up is appropriate because, like those scenes, I found much of Inside Out to be absolutely heartbreaking.  Maybe I’m at just the right age, as a parent of young girls, to be hit by this film, but man did the second half of this film hit me like a sledgehammer.  I cried … [continued]

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The Force Awakens and News Around the Net!

So the new Star Wars film is going to be called The Force Awakens?  Sigh.  Someday I would love to be really EXCITED by the announcement of a new Star Wars title.  While The Force Awakens is certainly a better title than The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, it seems very nondescript and bland.  It also seems to imply that somehow the Force has been asleep or not present during the events of the previous six films, which puzzles me.  What’s most interesting is that this new film is no longer being referred to as Episode VII.  I am all for dropping the numbers — I prefer subtitles over numbered sequels, and at a certain point the high sequel numbers just get silly.  But it means the new “main” trilogy won’t be distinguished from the spin-off films that are also being worked on.  That is likely Disney’s intent, as they wouldn’t want those spin-off films to be seen as any less important than the “main” films.  (Though I suppose it’s also very possible that the film will still be identified as Episode VII in its opening crawl.  We should remember that, for the Original Trilogy, the episode numbers weren’t really used in the advertising of the films, including their logo designs and posters.  They were only identified as Episode IV, Episode V, and Episode VI in their opening crawls.  It was only with the prequels that the episode number became so prominently incorporated into the titles and logo designs of the films.  Hmmm.  It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out with Episode VII.  I do very much like the idea that J.J. Abrams and his team are returning to the approach used by the Original Trilogy when it comes to the episode numbers.)

Speaking of Star Wars, this is fun: five minor actors from the original Star Wars trilogy who you didn’t realize were in everything you liked.

Who doesn’t love spending a little time reading about The Shawshank Redemption?

I wasn’t at all interested in NBC’s live telecasts of Peter Pan or The Sound of Music.  But A Few Good Men?  I’m in!!  Boy I hope this happens, and with a great cast.  You want me on that wall.  You NEED me on that wall!!

This is cool: as an alternative to the hideously ugly U.S.S. Enterprise re-design from J.J. Abrams’ films, here is a very cool looking, fan-designed, souped-up version of the Big-E that hews very closely to the ship’s original design from the Original Series.  Matt Jefferies’ design from the sixties ain’t broken, friends.

This is a great, fun interview clip with Benedict Cumberbatch.  Behold his perfect Jar Jar … [continued]

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It’s interesting that the only two network half-hour comedies that I watch these days… happen to be run by the same individual, Mike Schur.  He made his bones on The Office (where he also played Mose), and he’s one of the show-runners of both Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine.  Here’s are two wonderfully detailed interviews with Mr. Schur, the first of which looks back at the first season of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and the second of which looks back at season seven of Parks and Rec, with a focus on the season finale.  These are great interviews and well-worth your time if you’re a fan of either show.

This is a terrific, in-depth interview with Mel Brooks, discussing Blazing Saddles.  Get comfy and enjoy.

R.I.P. H.R. Giger.

I was sad to read of the passing of Efrem Zimbalist Jr.  He had many great roles but for me he will always be the iconic voice of Alfred from Batman the Animated Series and many subsequent DC animated projects.  He was absolutely perfect as Alfred, and when I read the character’s dialogue in any comic book I always hear Mr. Zimbalist’s voice.  I am really heartbroken that we’ll never again get to hear him voice Alfred in any future DC animated film or show.

Speaking of Batman, I’ve gotta say, this first official glimpse of Ben Affleck as Batman (in Zack Snyder’s upcoming untitled Superman Vs. Batman film) is pretty great.  Love the costume.  Love the small bad ears.  Love Ben’s Batman chin.  Love that classic look of the Batmobile.

So, I bashed The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in my review.  I’ve been glad to see that I’m not alone in my disappointment with the film.  Click here to read Film Critic Hulk take the film apart.  Click here for io9’s very funny list of Amazing Spider-Man 2 FAQs.  (Their one-sentence answer to the question “What is The Amazing Spider-Man 2 about?” is hysterical and 100% spot-on.)  Finally, this article No One Cares About Peter Parker’s Parents is also 100% spot-on and echoes a point I made in my review.

This is cool: apparently back in the day, Criterion released the first three James Bond films on laserdisc, with commentary tracks featuring candid comments from many of the people involved in the making of the films.  When Bond producer Albert Broccoli objected, the discs were recalled from stores.  Here’s the full story.  Now the commentaries have re-surfaced and are available to download for free here!  I have downloaded them all and look forward to giving them a listen soon.  Should be fun!

This is a cute article, tracking the many appearances of … [continued]

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Want to loose an hour of your life?  Spend some time reading through the comments section of this article that poses the question: what is the single best episode of any genre TV show ever?  I don’t agree with all the responses, of course, but I agree with a LOT of ’em… and they all make me want to devote the next year of my life to go-ing back and re-watching all of my favorite sci-fi shows…!!

Can you believe The Simpsons is entering its 25th season???  That is just insane!  Here is a great interview with current Simpsons show-runner Al Jean.  I have about two years’ worth of Simpsons episodes sitting unwatched in my Tivo queue.  I still love The Simpsons but somewhere along the line I just lost my eagerness to see the new episodes as they aired each week… and now it’s been many, many months since I have watched one of the latest episodes.  It’s hard for me to believe this has happened!  Maybe this will get me excited for the show again: the news that Guillermo del Toro directed the opening couch gag segment of this year’s Treehouse of Horror episode, that aired last night.  Cool.  I haven’t watched the episode yet, but it just might be time to dip into my queue and check it out!  Click here to watch the entire opening segment, and to hear more from Guillermo del Toro about creating that elaborate sequence.

This is interesting: Pixar’s in-development film The Good Dinosaur has had its release date pushed back by A YEAR AND A HALF.  Wow.   That means that 2014 will be the first year without a new Pixar film since 2005.  On the one hand, I am pleased to see a major studio taking the time to get a movie done right, rather than rushing to meet a release date.  On the other hand, while I don’t know the full story, I feel badly for the original director, Bob Peterson, who was removed off the film he had helped to create and develop.

From J.W. Rinzler’s upcoming book The Making of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, io9 has collected a fascinating (oops, wrong Star franchise) list of 10 things you probably didn’t know about Return of the Jedi.  This is a must-read for all Star Wars fans.  Speaking of Star Wars and i09, I also love their list of the 9 least-competent Jedi.  I don’t know anything about the expanded universe characters, but they’re certainly right on the money about Qui-Gon Jin.  (And Ben Kenobi.  And Yoda.  And Luke.)

I’ve been very critical of Star Trek Into Darkness on this site.  … [continued]

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The Top 10 Movies of 2010 — Part Two!

Yesterday I began my list of my Top 10 Movies from 2010.  Here now are numbers 5-1!

5. Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work — This documentary totally took me by surprise and completely changed the way I look at Joan Rivers.  As the cameras follow Ms. Rivers for a year of her life, we see the struggles of this aging comedienne who wants, above all else, to keep working, working, working.  The film gives one ample opportunities to analyze just why Ms. Rivers is so intent on remaining in the public eye, whether that be by doing stand-up in clubs, hawking merchandise on the Home Shopping Network, or appearing on Celebrity Apprentice. But whatever one’s conclusions, positive or negative, I found it impossible not to be astounded by this woman’s endurance and stamina.  The film is well-crafted, and presents what I felt was an extraordinarily well-rounded picture of this iconic and polarizing figure.  (Click here for my full review.)

4. Toy Story 3 — One of these days the folks at Pixar are going to make a bad movie (I’m afraid it might be Cars 2, but we’ll see…) but for now I can only relish in their unparalleled recent win-streak of amazing films: Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Up, and now Toy Story 3. This movie is simply deliriously entertaining.  It’s incredibly funny and also extraordinarily poignant.  While the ending certainly isn’t tragic, I nevertheless found it to be devastatingly sad.  It’s a wonderfully emotional climax to the story of Woody, Buzz and the gang, and pretty much every note is exactly perfect.  The voice cast is stupendous, and the animation is absolutely beautiful (as are the 3-D effects).  Pixar, my hat is off to you.  (Click here for my full review.)

3. Black Swan — I’ve been an admirer of Darren Aronofsky’s work for a while now, but this film made me a fan for life.  I couldn’t believe I’d ever go see a film about wrestling, let alone love a film about wrestling as much as I did Mr. Aronofsky’s last film, The Wrestler (click here for my review). And I DOUBLY wouldn’t have believed I’d ever go see a film about ballet dancers, let alone have been as head-over-heels in love with one as I am with Black Swan. The film is magnificent.  Natalie Portman dazzles in the lead role of Nina Sayers, the young dancer cast in the lead role of Swan Lake, who just might be losing her mind as she struggles to take her dancing to the next level.  The film is viscerally intense, with an escalating what-is-going-to-happen-NEXT mania that builds to a … [continued]

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News Around the Net!

December 28th, 2010
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I’m a big, big fan of Adywan’s fan-edit of the original Star Wars, so much-so that I consider it to be the definitive version of that film.  I am chomping at the bit for the release of his upcoming edit of The Empire Strikes Back! Here’s a fascinating interview with this dedicated fan.

Cars is my least-favorite Pixar film, so I don’t have an enormous amount of excitement for the upcoming Cars 2 (despite Pixar’s being on an incredible winning streak).  However, this recent announcement has raised my anticipation level significantly!

Speaking of Pixar, these posters promoting Toy Story 3 for consideration for a Best Picture Oscar are pretty freakin’ phenomenal.

This is a fascinating read: A Holiday Message from Ricky Gervais: Why I’m an Atheist.

It’s nice to see that Ira Steven Behr, one of the key creative masterminds between Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (my favorite of the Trek series) is still getting work as a show-runner (even if this new show Alphas doesn’t interest me that much).

New trailers!  Here’s a glimpse at Terrence Malick’s long-in-the-making new film, The Tree of Life. I don’t know quite WHAT to make of the film based on that trailer, but I am definitely intrigued.  Here’s a trailer for a new film called Hanna starring Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, and Saoirse Ronan.  I’d never hear of it before seeing this trailer posted on Hitfix, but it looks interesting.  Lastly, here’s a trailer for Kevin Smith’s new Horror film Red State.  That’s right, I said Kevin Smith’s new HORROR film.  I have NO IDEA whether this is going to be any good, but I’m certainly interested, and happy that Mr. Smith is moving beyond his familiar brand of talky raunchy comedies.  Not that I have any problem with his talky, raunchy comedies, mind you!!

I am really loving the new web-site Badassdigest, and articles like this piece by Devin Faraci called Can We Ever Love Jack Black Again? are one reason why.

Speaking of bad-ass, here’s a funny piece from JoBlo called 10 Bad Ass Villains Who really Weren’t.

OK, one last trailer for you: Simon Pegg & Nick Frost’s new film Paul.  Can’t wait.… [continued]

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Josh Reviews Toy Story 3!

July 1st, 2010
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It’s not that the folks at Pixar are incapable of making a bad movie.  (I, for one, never cared for Cars.)  It’s just that it’s so very very rare that they do.  But after watching the marvelous Toy Story 3, it’s easy to believe that Pixar can do no wrong.

It’s been eleven long years since Toy Story 2.  One can perhaps be forgiven for doubting that even the mad geniuses at Pixar could recapture the magic of Toy Story after such a long hiatus.  But I am pleased to report that Toy Story 3 continues Pixar’s powerful winning streak.  It might not be quite the masterpiece that Toy Story 2 is (that film still stands as one of my all-time favorite movies), but I found it to be relentlessly entertaining and deeply moving.

At the end of Toy Story 2, Woody and the gang gave up the possibility of a lifetime of preservation (behind glass in a toy museum in Japan) in favor of a few more years being played with by Andy.  Toy Story 3 follows that decision through to its painful, inevitable conclusion.  Yes, Woody, Buzz and friends got a few more years being loved by Andy — but at the beginning of this film, he is all grown up and heading to college.  This leaves the toys facing the prospect of either years of storage in an attic, or being taken out with the trash.  Both prospects are devastating to the toys, whose main desire is to be played with and loved by a child.

Pixar could have easily kept Andy — and the rest of the characters — forever frozen in an ageless state, like Peter Pan or Bart Simpson.  I could easily imagine Pixar making sequel after sequel featuring the gang’s adventures in Andy’s room, without feeling the need to allow real-world issues like the realities of time and aging to intrude on the fun.  God bless the folks at Pixar, then, for not taking that route, and instead grappling head-on with the tough questions raised by the end of Toy Story 2.  The result is a film that — while still absolutely hilarious in parts — I found to be surprisingly melancholy.  This is not a criticism, it is a powerful complement.  The artists at Pixar haven’t created another simplistic, cookie-cutter franchise-extender.  They’ve produced a poignant fable that wrestles with issues that have no easy solution.

That statement leads me to consider (as I have many times since walking out of the theatre), the film’s marvelous ending.  (I’m going to be vague here, to try to avoid major spoilers — but nevertheless, please beware.)  I gladly admit that … [continued]

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The Top 10 Movies of 2009 — Part Two!

Yesterday I began my list of my Top 10 Movies of 2009!  Let’s continue, shall we?

5.  Inglourious Basterds — Quentin Tarantino demonstrates, once again, that no one can wring more nail-biting tension out of simple conversation than he can.  What I thought would be  a simple men-on-a-mission story wound up being a much more complex, intriguing tale.  Filled with astounding, unforgettable performances (Brad Pitt as the tough-talking Aldo Raine, Melanie Laurent as the fiercely intelligent Shosanna Dreyfus, and of course Christopher Waltz as Col. Hans Landa, one of the most unforgettable film villains of the past decade) and some great Tarantino touches (yep, that is a Samuel L. Jackson voice-over at one point), the film is ridiculously compelling.  And that ending.  Ho boy.  Read my full review here.

4.  District 9 — With a budget reportedly in the ballpark of 30 million dollars (which, if my information is correct, is about a third of what was spent on the Alec Baldwin/Meryl Streep comedy It’s Complicated), first-time director Neill Blomkamp fashioned one of the most gripping sci-fi tales I have ever seen.  The film is set in Johannesburg, almost thirty years after an enormous alien spacecraft appeared over the city.  The aliens, nicknamed “prawns,” have been settled in slum-like conditions in a refugee camp called District 9.  When the corporation MNU bows to public pressure to remove the aliens from the vicinity of Johannesburg, the hapless Wikus Van De Merwe (who participates in the forced evictions) finds his life turned upside-down.  As a sci-fi fan I am always looking for smart, original new works of sci-fi, and this film has both qualities in spades.  With jaw-dropping special effects (I am amazed at how well the alien “prawns” are brought to life), a career making performance by Sharlto Copley (who plays Wikus), some terrific action, and edge-of-your seat intensity from start to finish, District 9 is a magnificent and haunting creation.  Read my full review here.

3.  Fantastic Mr. Fox — A deliriously fantastic combination of Roald Dahl’s story (about a family of foxes menaced by three vicious farmers) and director Wes Anderson’s unique sensibilities, Fantastic Mr. Fox feels to me like the film Mr. Anderson has always wanted to make.  He has filled the movie with his specific style — detail-filled sets and precise, stage-like staging — and the foxes are a classic addition to Mr. Anderson’s repertoire of wonderfully idiosyncratic, somewhat disfunctional families.  The script is complex and sophisticated (with characters who all possess strengths as well as character flaws, and no easy answers to their dilemmas in sight), and the voice-actors (including George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Michael Gambon, Willem Dafoe, … [continued]

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News Around the Net

OK, so this is about the craziest thing I’ve ever heard of — Star Wars fans worldwide are uniting on a project to re-make the original film (A New Hope), 15 seconds at a time.  Fans can claim individual 15 second moments of the film, recreate them in whatever for they desire (re-enactments, animation, etc.), and then the whole thing will ultimately be strung together.  Wild.  Click here for all the details on Star Wars Uncut, or just watch this bizarre trailer below!

Star Wars: Uncut Trailer from Casey Pugh on Vimeo.

After watching Julie & Julia with my wife Steph recently (you can read my review of the film here)  I was interested in learning more about Julie Powell, so I tracked down her Julie/Julia Project blog and her current blog (since she ended the Julie/Julia Project blog in 2003, with only one additional post in 2004 after Julia Childs’ death).  Both blogs were  fun to read through after having seen the film.

Not a week goes by, it seems, that I don’t read about Ridley Scott being attached to yet another movie-in-development.  I’m not the only one who’s noticed, it seems.  Check out this helpful guide: Know Your Ridley Scott Projects That Will Probably Never Happen.

I am an enormous Beatles fanatic.  Thus it is really painful for me that I have not yet had an opportunity to sample the newly remastered versions of all of the Beatles albums that were released last month.  Scorekeeper from AICN’s detailed run-down of each Beatles album, and how the new versions match up against the original CD releases from 1987, has only further whetted my appetite.

CHUD (Cinematic Happenings Under Development) has been running a ridiculously entertaining series of posts entitled “Bad For Us, Worse For Them.”  What is it about?  Let me quote from their intro: This is a list of forty deaths in cinema, twenty of which that have a profound affect on the viewer whether by the sheer tragedy of it, how emotionally impactful it is, or how it is a catalyst for a real descent in the progression of the story. The other twenty are deaths that go beyond the call of duty, not because they’re cool or really well executed FX, but because they are just knee-capping in their immediacy, brutality, or simple visceral impact. Kills that will probably leave a mark.  The whole list is fantastic, but I was particularly pleased to see that Spock’s death in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan merited inclusion.

Here’s a great piece from DVDActive.com (one of my favorite DVD/Blu-Ray web-sites) that calmly and methodically dissects everything wrong with … [continued]

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Josh Enjoys a Double-Feature of Toy Story & Toy Story 2 in Glorious 3-D!!

October 12th, 2009
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Last week I had the pleasure of taking in a double-feature of Toy Story and Toy Story 2, re-done in beautiful 3-D.  What a glorious time in a movie theatre!

It seems that 3-D is really starting to be embraced by the studios.  There have been a number of big 3-D releases in the past year, with a LOT more on the horizon.  (Personally I’m looking forward to James Cameron’s Avatar and, further in the future, Steven Spielberg & Peter Jackson’s collaboration on Tintin.)  I’ve skipped most of the recent 3-D films since they really didn’t interest me.  I did see Robert Zemeckis’s Beowulf (from 2007), and while the 3-D was cool, it still made my head hurt at times, and the film itself (minus the excitement of the 3-D effects) was entirely forgettable.  After that I stayed away from 3-D films until I saw Pixar’s Up this summer (read my review here), which was magnificent.  The film itself was wonderful, and the gorgeous visuals were only enhanced by the beautiful, immersive 3-D.

Pixar’s big release for summer 2010 will be the long-awaited Toy Story 3, which will be presented in 3-D.  To build some anticipation for the film, Disney and Pixar have re-done the first two Toy Story films in 3-D, and released them to theatres for a limited 2-week engagement this month.

Even without the 3-D, it was an enormous pleasure to re-watch those two films.  I really liked the first Toy Story, and I was bowled over by Toy Story 2 when it came out — I thought it was endlessly clever, quite effectively emotional, and also totally hysterical.  The Toy Story “Toy Box set” (containing both films plus a third disc filled with special features) was one of the very first DVDs I ever bought, and I watched Toy Story 2 several times those first few years.

So while I know Toy Story 2 really well, it had been quite a while since I had last seen the first Toy Story.  I was really pleasantly surprised by how well it holds up.  There are moments when it is clear how far Pixar’s animation has progressed (the fur on Sid’s dog, for instance, is pretty much just a solid shape, as opposed to the dynamic fur effects we’d see later on with Sulley and the Abominable Snowman a few years later in Monsters, Inc.), but over-all the animation holds up wonderfully.  The characters move naturally and — more importantly — really feel ALIVE as opposed to being just nicely-rendered CGI constructs.  This is helped by the genius voice-casting.  Tom Hanks and Tim Allen are absolutely perfect in the roles, and their … [continued]

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Summer Movie Catch-Up: Josh Reviews Up

August 12th, 2009
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I’ve written about a few of the films that I’ve seen this summer (click here for my review of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, here for my review of Year One,  and here for my review of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen) but there are a lot more that I’ve seen but haven’t had time to write about.  Hence, this first installment of my Summer Movie Catch-Up!

Let’s start with Pixar’s latest opus, Up.

Carl (voiced by the great Ed Asner) is an elderly widower, living alone in his small house.  When we meet him, it seems that all of the happiness has been drained from his life, and the only thing that gives him any energy at all is his cranky refusal to sell his home to the real-estate developers who want to purchase his land.

When things take a turn for the worse, and it looks like Carl is going to lose his home after all, he comes up with a cartoon movie plan to escape — and also to fulfill one of the life-long dreams that he and his wife shared.

The trailers for this film were remarkably successful in refusing to spoil any of the wonderful weirdness that happens next, and I won’t either.  Suffice it to say, after a fairly serious beginning, to my delight and surprise the movie takes several sharp left turns into loony mayhem.  It winds up channeling almost as much adventure-serial energy as did The Incredibles — something I was not expecting but really enjoyed.

Much has been written about the beautiful, haunting prologue to the film in which we learn everything we need to know about Carl’s life and his relationship with his wife.  Those scenes are Pixar at its very best — dazzlingly economical storytelling that is tender and poignant, and not at all the way one might expect an “all-ages” film to begin.  It’s every bit the work of genius that you might have heard, and luckily the rest of the film is able to live up to the incredibly high bar set by that prologue.

I had the pleasure of seeing Up in 3-D, and it was magnificent.  Before the movie started, the theatre played several trailers for upcoming 3-D movies, and those were filled to the brim with all sorts of annoying in-your-face 3-D gimmicry.  But I am pleased to report that there is very little of that in Up.  Rather, the artists at Pixar have used the 3-D in an entirely different way: to subtly enlarge the visual palette of the film, adding enormous depth to the visual wonders on display.  As Carl and his house, born aloft by … [continued]