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Josh Reviews One Night in Miami

February 8th, 2021
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I only just recently finished listing my favorite movies of 2020, and already I’ve seen one of the first great movies of 2021: One Night in Miami.

The film is a fictionalized version of what might have happened on the night in February, 1965, when Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, Malcolm X, and Sam Cooke were together celebrating after Clay’s defeat of Sonny Liston, a moment captured in a famous photograph.  It’s a fascinating exploration of these four complex, charismatic men.  There’s a lot of joy and drama to be found in imagining what these four men might have had to say to one another, and how they might have bounced off of one another.

One Night in Miami was directed by Regina King.  Ms. King is a spectacular actress.  (Most recently I’ve been blown away by her work in Watchmen and the second season of The Leftovers.)  This film proves she’s a skilled director as well.  This is her feature film directorial debut, but you’d never know it.  There’s a confident simplicity to the way the film is staged.  Most of this movie is just a bunch of guys talking in a small hotel room, but Ms. King ensures the film always has a life to it, and a strong visual energy that gives her four incredible leading men plenty of room to shine.  The film was written by Kemp Powers, adapting his own play.  Mr. Powers has had a heck of a year; he also co-directed and co-wrote Pixar’s terrific film Soul.  

The film is a phenomenal showcase for the four extraordinary actors who Ms. King has assembled for the main roles.

Kingsley Ben-Adir is magnetic as Malcolm X.  Malcolm X has often been reduced by (white) historical retellings to a simplistic antithesis to Martin Luthor King, Jr.; I love how this film allows him to live and breathe as a real, multi-faceted human being.  I love how the film, and Mr. Ben-Adir’s performance, doesn’t shy away from mining humor from his straight-laced, even nerdy qualities (it’s pretty funny how he wants to celebrate Cassius Clay’s major victory with some ice cream in his tiny hotel room; and I loved how obsessed we see Malcolm be regarding his camera), while also giving him moments of compelling oratory in which his powerful charisma bursts forth.

Aldis Hodge (Hidden Figures, the wonderful “Calypso” Star Trek short film) is dynamite as football star Jim Brown, who is just around the point in which he’d transition into making movies.  (I just recently watched the 1968 film The Split, in which Jim Brown starred.  He was by far the best part of the film!!)  Mr. Hodge portrays … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Third and Final Season of The Leftovers

After several years during which several of my friends repeatedly beseeched me to watch The Leftovers, I finally gave it a chance.  I’m so glad I did.  The show is a masterpiece.  It’s a deep character study; a riveting meditation on grief and loss; and a thrillingly ambitious narrative in which I found myself repeatedly, joyously bowled over by how impossible to predict it was.  I enjoyed the first season and I thought the second season was even stronger.

The first season was set three years after the mysterious Sudden Departure, an event in which 2% of the world’s population vanished.  That season was set in the small town of Mapleton, NY, and as we followed many of the town’s denizens, the show explored the myriad ways in which this dramatic event damaged each of their lives, whether they’d lost a close family member to the Departure or not.  The second season expanded the show’s focus to a new location: Jarden, Texas, a town nicknamed “Miracle” because not a single member of the town Departed.  That terrific second season showed us a little more of the (extremely messed-up) state of the world, while at the same time drilling down even more intimately into the emotional lives of the show’s characters.  For this third and final season, the show expanded even further, while at the same time continuing to give us the riveting, tightly-focused P.O.V. episodes that had proven so critical to the show’s emotional power in the first two seasons.  Once again, I am impressed at the continued world-building of the universe in which The Leftovers takes place, and the power of the intimate explorations of these characters.

This third and final season was even shorter than the first two seasons (only eight episodes instead of the previous ten).  I wish there were far more.  But as with the previous seasons, these eight episodes were extremely well-structured to tell the story that the makers of this show (overseen by Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta) set out to tell.  There was nary a stinker in the bunch.  (Which, again, has been the case from the beginning.  I don’t think there was a single bad episode in the entire run of this show.  That’s an extraordinary achievement!)  And, once again, I was impressed by the boldness of the storytelling.  In a shorter-than-ever season, I’d never have predicted they’d devote an entire episode to a supporting character who, while important, had never before gotten a lot of screen time!  (That’d be Scott Glenn as Kevin Senior.  His third episode spotlight was a highlight of the season for me.)

As with my previous reviews, I want to dive into the details of this … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Leftovers Season Two

I thoroughly enjoyed season one of The Leftovers.  I thought season two was even better.  I know I’m several years late to the party here, but at this point I am all-in on this show!

I’d been warned that the first season of The Leftovers might be tough to get through, because of the incredibly heavy, sad subject matter, but that seasons two and three were terrific and paid off one’s investment on the show.  On the one hand, having seen the first two seasons at this point, so far I agree with that assessment.  On the other hand, what’s impressive is how creators Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta have managed to gently tweak the show without turning it into something else entirely.  This is still, unquestionably, the same show.  And I’m starting from a place in which I LOVED season one, even while I freely admit that it was hard to watch at times.  Season two isn’t suddenly all light and frothy!  There are still some tremendously wrenching, sad things that happen this season.  The show’s characters are, once again, put through an emotional wringer.  (As is the audience!)  And yet, the tone has been subtly adjusted, and I found more joy and humor in the show this season, to balance the grief and the horror.  I also found myself hooked even more deeply by the show’s twisty, absolutely impossible-to-predict-what’s-coming-next storytelling.  So that made this season even more riveting for me, as I felt compelled to zoom quickly onto the next episode after ending the previous one.

(I’m going to dive into this season now, so please beware SPOILERS beyond this point.  If you’ve never seen the show before, all you need to know now is that I am a convert and I highly recommend this series to you… and I think it’s best that you stop reading here to avoid having any of the show’s wonderful storytelling surprises ruined for you.)

I commented in my review of season one that I loved how unpredictable the show’s storytelling was.  That was exponentially even more the case here in season two, and the opening episode is one of the best examples of that.  There was so much craziness in the season one finale, and I couldn’t wait to see what was next for all of the show’s characters.  I’m not sure how I expected the second season to begin, but an extended flashback to caveman (and cavewoman) times was definitely NOT it!  And yet, I was absolutely delighted by that completely out-of-left-field opening.  I love how bizarre and confusing it was, while at the same time how beautifully it summed up so many of the show’s themes and explorations … [continued]

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“Mind the Eggs” — Josh Reviews HBO’s Watchmen Series

Damon Lindelof’s magnificent nine-episode Watchmen series has exceeded even my highest expectations.  I was blown away by the series premiere, and the eight episodes that followed surpassed even that strong start.  I don’t know what exactly I expected, but Watchmen is far different and far better than I’d hoped.  It’s dazzlingly dark and dense and shocking and heartbreaking.  The series is consistently surprising and original, with each episode filled with memorable imagery and moments.  It is large in scale and contains many wonderful elements of the fantastic and super-heroic.  But this is an adult drama firmly rooted in compelling characters and their stories.  And, like the very best sci-fi/fantasy stories, the series is very much about today’s world, and it has a heck of a lot to say about who we are as a society here in the United States at the end of 2019.  I don’t know what’s next for this show (Mr. Lindelof has questioned, in interviews, whether there will be another season and, if there is, whether he’d be involved), but I will treasure these nine episodes, and I am sure I will rewatch them many more times in the years to come.

There are several key, brilliant decisions that lie at the core of the show’s greatness.  The first is the decision not to do a straight adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ seminal 1985-86 comic book series (the way Zack Snyder’s flawed but underrated film adaptation did).  Rather, the show is set in the world of Watchmen but takes place in 2019, decades after the events of that original story.  This allows the show to be new and original and inventive, rather than just a recreation that would surely suffer in comparison to the near-perfect original source material.  The second key decision, which followed from the first, was to populate the show with mostly new, original characters.  Because it’s set decades after the events of the comic, it makes sense that most of the characters on the show are new ones we’ve never met before.  Here too, this allows the show to be original and inventive.  And it means that when characters from the comic do appear, it’s a pleasurable surprise.  The third and final key creative decision was the choice to, like the original Watchmen, be strongly ABOUT something.  But rather than retreading the comic’s focus (on a deconstruction of super hero comic book tropes and on Cold War fears of mutually assured annihilation), this 2019 Watchmen focuses on racism and the dangers of white supremacy.

There is so much to unpack and discuss.  These nine episodes are rich in plot and character and meaning.  I’m sure I’ll be thinking and … [continued]

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Josh Reviews the Premiere of Watchmen

Watchmen, the 1986-87 mini-series/graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, is probably the single greatest comic book story ever made.  The collected graphic novel was selected as one of Time Magazine’s 100 greatest English-language novels of the past century.  (I waxed poetic about the themes of Watchmen here.)  The long considered unadaptable story was adapted into a film by Zack Snyder in 2009.  I quite enjoyed that film and think it’s very underrated, even while I acknowledge that Mr. Snyder failed to incorporate much of the subtext and meaning that made the story so powerful.  (I think the film’s “Ultimate Cut” is a far superior version.  That much-longer version combines an Extended Cut of the film with the animated Tales of the Black Freighter sequences.  If you’re going to watch the Watchmen film, the “Ultimate Cut” is unquestionably the way to go.)

Now Damon Lindelof (Lost, The Leftovers) has brought Watchmen to TV, in a nine-episode new series for HBO.  Mr. Lindelof and his team have taken a fascinating and unexpected approach.  This Watchmen show is not an adaptation of the comic.  Rather, it is a new story set in the world of the Watchmen comic, taking place thirty-plus years after those events.  I have watched the series premiere, and I thought it was thrilling and shocking.  I was completely gripped; so right now I am all-in on this new version and very excited to see where this goes.

This first episode of Watchmen contains a number of small touches that tell us that we’re in the same universe as the original Watchmen comic-book, but this first episode presents us with an entirely new story and new characters.  The episode opens with a riveting sequence, set in Tulsa in 1921.  We’re thrust right in the middle of the Tulsa Race Massacre, a horrifying explosion of racial violence and one of the worst riots in U.S. history.  (I’m embarrassed to admit that I knew nothing about this horrible incident and I had to read up on it after the episode.  I feel a little bit better that creator Damon Lindelof admitted — in this wonderfully in-depth interview conducted by Alan Sepinwall — that he too knew little about this massacre when he first came across the story.)  This is not at all how I expected a Watchmen TV show to begin!  It’s only the first of many wonderfully surprising and unexpected choices made by Mr. Lindelof, and it’s a fantastic opening to the show.  (In a separate article by Mr. Sepinwall, who is one of my very favorite TV reviewers, Mr. Sepinwall makes the astute observation that this opening also presents us with … [continued]