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This substantive look at the upcoming X-Files revival has me giddy with anticipation.  Please don’t let me down, Chris Carter.

I’ve learned over the years not to trust trailers, but holy cow this trailer for the new Coen Brothers film looks AMAZING.  Check it out:

I’m loving this new trailer for Season Two of Star Wars: Rebels.  Season One was OK, but the episode with Darth Vader that aired over the summer made me a true believer.  Can’t wait for what’s next.

This is fun: seven things that you (probably) didn’t know about Who Framed Roger Rabbit.  (I love that movie!!)

This is an amazing, in-depth interview with the great Richard Kind, digging deeply into many of the best roles he has played throughout his career, up-to and including Bing Bong in Inside Out.  Once you’re done reading that, then may I suggest you clear your schedule and enjoy this two-hour conversation with Mr. Kind from Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show:

You’re welcome.

Marvel just added another film to Phase III (am I correct that this means that Phase III will consist of TEN films?  That is incredible.) — Ant Man and the Wasp!  Love that Ant Man (click here for my review) is getting a sequel, and I love that title.  (Marvel also has announced three un-named films for release in 2020.  Presumably those three films will be the start of Phase Four?  I love that Marvel is planning so far ahead.)  (And what is to be made of the rumors that Marvel is going to drop The Inhumans from their Phase III slate, as a middle-finger towards the Marvel TV folks, now separated from the film division of Marvel Studios?  That is being denied by Marvel, but I wonder.  I wrote recently about my concerns that all the recent behind-the-scenes changes at Marvel Studios have not all been for the better.  It will probably be several years before we see how this all plays out and we’re able to get a true sense of the repercussions of these moves.  I still have faith in Marvel Studios.  I don’t want that to change!!)

Brad Bird’s The Incredibles 2 also now has an official release date!!  Fifteen years is a long time to wait for a sequel, but I have faith in Brad Bird (despite the stumble that was Tomorrowland) and can’t wait to see what he is cooking up.

This is an interesting short piece on the monologue that Jonathan Nolan wrote for Christian Bale to deliver for use in the first trailer for Batman Begins.

So the 70mm version of Quentin Tarantino’s new movie The Hateful Eight will [continued]

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Josh Reviews Kevin Pollak’s Misery Loves Comedy

As I have written about multiple times, I am a huge fan of Kevin Pollak’s amazing podcast Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show, in which Mr. Pollak sits down for extended (and I mean extended — most of the interviews are about two hours long) conversations with comedians and actors to talk about their lives, their careers, and their craft.  It’s a delicious inside baseball sort of conversation, a delight for a comedy nerd like me.  Mr. Pollak has proven to be a remarkably talented interviewer, able to be very funny while also asking very insightful, probing questions of his guests.

Over the years, as a regular viewer/listener of the show, it’s clear that there have been certain topics that Mr. Pollak has proven to be particularly interested in exploring with his guests, areas of conversation to which Mr. Pollak seems to return, again and again, with his various guests.  Two of these have become the basis for Mr. Pollak’s new documentary film: first, what is it that makes these comedians/performers first decide to spend their lives entertaining others (what Mr. Pollak amusingly calls “hey look at me disease”) and second, is it true that to be truly funny one needs to have a deep well or sadness and/or trauma in one’s life?

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Mr. Pollak’s new film, Misery Loves Comedy, is a big bold underline under these favorite themes of Mr. Pollack’s.  It feels like a summary of all of those interviews.

The film boasts a staggering array of talent.  Just look at some of these people who appear in the documentary: Jimmy Fallon, Tom Hanks, Kevin Smith, Judd Apatow, Janeane Garofalo, Whoopi Goldberg, Christopher Guest, Stephen Merchant, Larry David, Jason Alexander, Jim Gaffigan, Lewis Black, Penn Jillette, Richard Lewis, Maria Bamford, James L. Brooks, Andy Richter, Robert Smigel, Alan Zweibel, Jim Norton, Amy Schumer, Jon Favreau, Sam Rockwell, Bobby Cannavale, Matthew Perry… and that’s just scratching the surface.  Mr. Pollak’s connections in the comedy world serve this film well.  I was continually impressed by the A-level talent featured, and also by the inclusion of some great and fascinating lesser-known people.

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Larry David’s interview appears to be the one interview in the film that was taken directly from his appearance on Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show.  All the other interviews appear to have been newly-recorded for the film.

The film is very, very funny, as you might expect from such a spectacular assemblage of funny people.  And it also succeeds in digging into some of the more serious questions that Mr. Pollak is clearly interested in exploring.  I was fascinated to hear Freddie Prinze Jr. talk about his father’s suicide, and Kevin Smith has a great story about how he feels comedy saved … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season One

Tina Fey and Robert Carlock have followed up the magnificent 30 Rock with another wonderfully unique, funny, sweet creation: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.  The show was developed for NBC who, for some unfathomable-to-me decision, passed on the show after the entire thirteen-episode first season had been completed.  Thankfully Netflix rode to the rescue to release the first season (and commissioned a second one!).

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Ellie Kemper (The Office, Bridesmaids) stars as the titular Kimmy Schmidt who, when the show begins, has just been rescued from 15 years of captivity underground, where she was held along with three other women by an apocalyptic cult leader.  Ready to start a new life, she moves to New York City where she finds an apartment to share with the jovial, wannabe-Hollywood star Titus Andromedon (Tituss Burgess) and a job as a nanny for the wealthy, neurotic Jacqueline Vorhees (30 Rock veteran Jane Krakowski).

What’s so remarkable about Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is its tone.  The show manages to pull off an unapologetically positive, upbeat vibe, something very rare in a post-Seinfeld era of snarky comedies.  Note: I am not criticizing all snarky comedies, and I think Seinfeld is one of the greatest TV shows ever made.  But what a refreshing delight it is to watch a comedy that manages to be very funny and also so life-affirming and upbeat.  As we get to know Kimmy over the course of these first thirteen episodes, we see that her positive outlook on life has made her spirit “unbreakable”, and the show shows us how her sunny disposition is able to positively affect those around her.  This is a very sweet idea for a show, and it’s impressive that Ms. Fey & Mr. Carlock and their team are able to pull this off so smoothly.  (I love that all of the show’s episode titles end with a jovial exclamation point!)

And make no mistake, the show is very funny.  Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt possesses the fast-paced loopiness and quotability that made 30 Rock so endearing, as well as that show’s ability to dive deeply into a gag.  As an example: Titus’ “Pinot Noir” music video from episode six, “Kimmy Goes to School!” is a triumph, and one of the best things I have seen on TV all year.

The show represents a star-making turn for Ellie Kemper.  Ms. Kemper has demonstrated her comedic chops on TV (The Office) and on film (Bridesmaids), but in Kimmy she has found her greatest role so far.  Ms. Kemper is tremendous in the role, able to sell both Kimmy’s toughness and her sweet innocence.  She’s able to play both the straight-woman (particularly in any scene with Tituss Burgess or Jane … [continued]

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Pixar Triumphs Again with Inside Out!

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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Catching Up On 2014: Josh Reviews Obvious Child

December 31st, 2014
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Sometimes an actor will have a role, small or large, in a TV show or movie that I love so much, that for me the glow of that work will follow them in my mind, making me always interested in their future work.  And so it is that Jenny Slate’s role as Mona-Lisa Saperstein on Parks and Recreation had me intrigued when I first read about Obvious Child, in which Ms. Slate plays the lead role.

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This is a difficult film to describe in some ways.  There is some romance and there is some comedy, but thank heaven I would not describe this as a romantic comedy.  There is some serious drama in the film, but that drama sits right next to the comedy.  This is a film not afraid to shift wildly in tone from scene to scene.  I can’t quite say that it all works for me, but there’s certainly a lot about this weird little film that I enjoyed.

Jenny Slate plays Donna Stern, a Jewish girl in her late twenties who works at a going-out-of-business independent bookstore and who also performs at night as a stand-up comic.  After discussing her boyfriend one night in her act, he dumps her in the comedy club bathroom.  This leads Donna to fall into something of a bad spiral, but after a particularly bad drunken performance, Jenny meets Max (Jake Lacy), a nice handsome guy.  The two have a fun, drunken one-night stand, after which Donna discovers that she is pregnant.  I’ve already told you more than I should — most descriptions of this film that I have read take you even further into the story and I’d rather leave it here.

Jenny Slate is terrific in the film, bringing an endearing, chatty energy to the role.  She has a strong naturalism to her performance, and she brings what feels to me like a unique voice to a film leading role.  She (and the film) do not shy away from a crude joke or a bad word, and that is putting it mildly.  It’s interesting, the film begins with one of Donna’s stand-up performances, and neither my wife nor I found it at all funny.  It was more awkwardly off-putting than funny.  I didn’t really care for any of Donna’s stand-up work in the film.  I don’t think that was necessarily what the filmmakers wanted an audience-member to feel, but it didn’t stop me from enjoying the character of Donna and Ms. Slate’s work in bringing her to life.  It’s fun seeing a vibrant young woman brought to life on screen in a way that doesn’t feel overly “safe” or sanitized for all audiences.  This is a character who could … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Argo!

I’ve been a fan of Ben Affleck’s ever since I first listened to his hilarious and endearing contribution to the raucous DVD commentary track for Kevin Smith’s Mallrats. (Seriously, track it down and give it a listen — it’s one of the best commentary tracks I’ve ever heard, second only to the track that same gang recorded for the original Criterion Collection DVD of Kevin Smith’s follow-up film, Chasing Amy.) I’ve always found Mr. Affleck to be an earnest, engaging performer, capable of nimbly balancing comedy and drama.  Yes, he appeared in quite a number of terrible, terrible films, but that’s more a critique of his choices rather than his skills.  But whereas Mr. Affleck has, in my opinion, always been a strong actor, he has proven to be a truly spectacular director.  His first film, Gone Baby Gone, is a phenomenal film, one of my favorites of the last decade.  I wasn’t quite as taken with The Town (click here for my review), but with the stunningly magnificent Argo, Mr. Affleck has solidified his reputation as one of the strongest directors working today.  I do not believe I am exaggerating.

Based on the true story, declassified by President Clinton in the late nineties, Argo is set during the Iranian hostage crisis.  Unbeknownst to the Iranians (but, to quote Spaceballs, knownst to us), six American embassy staff-members were able to escape and found refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador.  After months in hiding, the Iranians are beginning to close in on them.  C.I.A. “exfil” (exfiltration) specialist Tony Mendez is brought in to find a way to safely bring the six Americans out of Iran.  He concocts a loony-sounding scheme in which he will enter Iran and then help the six pose as a Canadian film crew scouting desert locations for a sci-fi film, Argo. Using their new covers, the plan is for Mendez and the six to walk, in broad daylight, right into the Iranian airport and fly out of the country to safety.  It’s an crazy, insane story, all the more crazy and insane because the whole thing is true.

The film is riveting, and Mr. Affleck’s direction (ably assisted by a tight screenplay by Chris Terrio, based on a 2007 Wired article by Joshuah Bearman) is fantastic.  It’s great to see Mr. Affleck moving out of the Boston location that was so central to his first two films, and I was extremely impressed with the way the he and his team were able to recreate 1970’s Iran, Washington, DC, and Hollywood.

The film’s opening immediately sets the stage for the story, and the intense tone for this true-life tale.  In the opening … [continued]

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Josh Reviews A Serious Man

This, my friends, is how you follow up a Best Picture Oscar win.

After No Country For Old Men, the Coen Brothers released the wonderfully bizarre Burn After Reading (read my review here). Less than a year later, they have bestowed upon us the even more wonderful (and even more bizarre) new film, A Serious Man.

Michael Stuhlbarg plays Larry Gopnik, a mild-mannered Jewish physics professor living in Minnesota. Despite (or perhaps because of?) his seemingly gentle, meek nature, trouble upon trouble piles atop poor Larry’s head, as if he were an American suburban reincarnation of the prophet Job. Larry’s son is constantly getting into trouble in Hebrew school, and seems less interested in preparing for his Bar Mitzvah than he is in watching TV and listening to records. His daughter rushes out of the house whenever she can. His wife has informed him that she is having an affair with Sy Abelman (Fred Melamed, creating one of the most stand-out characters I’ve seen on the big screen recently in just a few scenes). Larry’s brother, Arthur (Richard Kind, a familiar face from Spin City and Curb Your Enthusiasm), who might be a genius or who might be completely mad but who definitely has problems, has moved into the house with them. Meanwhile, Larry is up for consideration for tenure, but the head of the university board has informed him that someone has started writing them letters that are enormously critical of his teaching abilities. Also, a Korean student failing his class has attempted to bribe him for a passing grade and becomes belligerent when Larry tries to turn down the offer of money.

The Coens (ably assisted by terrific performances across the board from their cast) do a masterful job in creating a slow-burning feeling of powerful dread. It seems clear from the opening frames that things are not going to go well for this Jewish suburban family.  Although this is a very funny film, it is also one that does not shy away from examining the small miseries that can accumulate in a modern life. In addition to the Coens and their actors, credit must also go to the haunting score by Carter Burwell. (There’s a short theme of several notes on a piano that recurs throughout the film that I found to be at once poignant and also evocative of coming doom.)

The narrative is strengthened by the Coens’ care in ensuring that the troubles that beset Larry aren’t over-wrought typical “movie” problems, but more mundane (though no less crushing) sorts.  I particularly appreciated the fact that (small spoiler ahead) a scene that shows us that Larry has engaged in a fling with … [continued]