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Catching up on 2017: Josh Reviews All The Money in the World

In 1973, teenager Paul Getty, grandson of the wealthy J. Paul Getty, was kidnapped in Italy.  Paul’s grandfather J. Paul Getty was considered to be not only the richest man on the planet but perhaps the richest man who had ever lived.  And so, the kidnappers thought they could get a small fortune in exchange for young Paul’s return.  Ridley Scott’s film All the Money in the World chronicles these dramatic events, including Paul’s ordeal and the plight of his mother, Gail Harris (Michelle Williams).  With J. Paul Getty unwilling to pay the ransom, Gail was caught between navigating the kidnappers’ demands and her obstinate father-in-law, hoping to find a way to bring her son back alive.

I quite enjoyed All the Money in the World.  I included it on my list of my favorite movies of 2017!  It is a riveting, well put-together drama.  I love watching Ridley Scott’s expansive fantasy or sci-fi films — Mr. Scott can create fully-realized fantasy films like no other — but a film like this reminds us that Mr. Scott is equally adept at crafting entertaining films set in our real world, without the exciting sci-fi trappings.

This film made big news in the weeks before its release because of Mr. Scott’s decision to completely remove Kevin Spacey from the film and reshoot all of his scenes with Christopher Plummer in the role.  This would have been an arduous process in any situation, but even more so because all of this went down just a month before the film’s release.  That Mr. Scott was able to so massively rework his film mere weeks before its worldwide release is an extraordinary accomplishment.  The reshoots and re-editing were done perfectly seamlessly.  You would never know that a huge chunk of this finished film was created in reshoots.

What is even more amazing is that Christopher Plummer is the best thing about this movie!  His performance is incredible; I am not exaggerating to say that the main reason to see this movie is to see Mr. Plummer’s fierce work in the role.  He commands the screen every second he appears.  Every character in the film lives and acts in Getty’s shadow.  Mr. Plummer’s performance makes this real.  He creates in the elderly J. Paul Getty a fearsome, tough-as-nails presence.  It’s extraordinarily compelling.

Michelle Williams is great as Gail Harris, the mother of the kidnapped boy.  Ms Williams shows us her core of toughness, as she finds herself caught between the kidnappers demanding money and J. Paul Getty, who refuses to pay the ransom.  It’s an impossible position, and the film has great empathy for this woman.  Ms Williams’ strong work allows us to feel this … [continued]

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Josh’s Favorite Movies of 2017 — Part Two!

Click here for part one of my list of my Favorite Movies of 2017!  Let’s continue…

15. Coco Once again, the mad geniuses at Pixar have crafted a film that is fun, visually stunning, and emotionally complex.  The “hook” of the film is young Miguel’s accidental journey into the Land of the Dead, and the film creates an entire universe and mythology out of the idea of death and the afterlife with as much care, creativity, and attention to detail that we saw in Inside Outs creation of the world inside a young girl’s head.  But why this film, like so many of Pixar’s films, is so impressive is how emotionally rich it is.  There were a number of moments in the third act that had me in tears.  I love that this is an original story, and I love the way that Lee Unkrich and his team were able to develop and explore all of these fascinating characters over the course of this relatively short film.  The film surprised me again and again.  This is yet another winner from Pixar.  (Click here for my full review.)

14. Dunkirk Like all of Christopher Nolan’s films, Dunkirk is crafted with the precision of a Swiss Watch.  I love the way that the film is divided into three different sections, depicting the conflict at Dunkirk from the perspective of characters on land, at sea, and in the air, and I am bowled over by how perfectly those three stories, which take place over differing amounts of time, slowly slide into chronological synch as the film builds to its conclusion.  It’s an extraordinary narrative feat.  I was impressed with how Mr. Nolan stripped away most of the dialogue in the film, resulting in a near-silent movie which relies mostly on its gorgeous and haunting visuals — along with a unique score — to tell the story.  Dunkirk is a cold film, with none of the sentimentality that one might expect in a war movie.  It’s a bold approach, one that makes Dunkirk an unusual and unexpected film.  I love those choices, and the result is a singularly impressive and moving piece of work.  (Click here for my full review.)

13. Alien: Covenant A vastly underrated film that, sadly, failed to find an audience.  I stand by my conviction that Alien: Covenant is the third-best film in the entire Alien franchise (bested only, of course, by the original two films: Alien and Aliens).  The film is a sequel to Prometheus, but it’s also far more directly linked to the original Alien (as Prometheus should have been) in a way that brings focus and … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Alien: Covenant

Ridley Scott’s Alien (released in 1979 — can you believe it?) is a masterpiece of science fiction/suspense/horror, a near-perfect film that has barely aged a day.  James Cameron’s Aliens (released in 1986) is one of the greatest sequels ever made, a spectacular action/adventure film that took the universe and concepts from Mr. Scott’s film, as well as the character of Ripley, in a thrilling different direction.  The subsequent thirty years have seen one failed attempt after another to create another successful film from this universe.  Even Ridley Scott himself, when he returned to the franchise in 2012 with Prometheus, flamed out spectacularlyPrometheus is a gorgeous-looking film, and there are some wonderful sequences in the film, but on the whole it is a muddled mess, with non-existent characters (with the exception of Michael Fassbender’s android David) and a plot that makes little sense.  (One can still see the skeleton of Jon Spaihts’ original script, which was intended to be a more direct prequel to Alien, which makes the confusing finished film all the more frustrating.)  Remarkably, Mr. Scott has returned to the Alien universe once again with a new film, Alien: Covenant, which is a terrific course-correction from Prometheus.  The film is a sequel to Prometheus, but it’s also far more directly linked to the original Alien (as Prometheus should have been) in a way that brings focus and cohesion to this wandering franchise.  More importantly, unlike Prometheus, Alien: Covenant tells a focused story with interesting characters that is exciting, scary, and terrifying.  The film has its flaws, but it is easily the best film in this eight-film franchise (if you count the two Alien vs. Predator films) since the original two.

A decade after the events of Prometheus, a solar flare damages the colony ship Covenant, and the crew are awakened from hypersleep to effect repairs.  The ship, bearing 2000 colonists, is still seven years away from its destination.  The pilot Tennessee (Danny McBride) detects a human signal from an unexplored planet, which appears well suited for human life, even better than the planet the ship was originally heading towards.  The acting captain, Oram (Billy Crudup), decides to investigate.  What they discover is a beautiful world that seems to be devoid of any sentient or animal life.  But several the unwitting Covenant crew-members are soon infected with the Engineers’ black accelerant (as seen in Prometheus) and become hosts to horrible monsters.  However, the most dangerous monster of all might be the planet’s other inhabitant: the android David.

I was incredibly impressed by the way in which Alien: Covenant manages to go a long way towards redeeming the uneven Prometheus, making that film’s wild missteps feel more of a … [continued]

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Tales From the Blu-Ray Shelf

Not long after checking out the extended cut of Batman v. Superman (click here for my review on this “Ultimate Edition”), I decided to watch the recently-released-to-disc extended cut of Ridley Scott’s The Martian.  I adored that film when it was released (and it was my second favorite film of 2015), and Ridley Scott has released some wonderful extended directors’ cuts of his films (most notably, as I mentioned in that Batman v. Superman review, Mr. Scott’s magnificent extended version of Kingdom of Heaven, which transformed a disastrous failure into a near-masterpiece), so I was curious to see this extended version of a film I already loved.

Whereas some extended editions transform a film, the extended version of The Martian is only very marginally different than the theatrical version.  It’s about ten minutes longer, but the vast majority of the additions are subtle extensions to previously-existing scenes; an extra line of dialogue here, an extra beat there.  The only completely-new sequence that I noticed was a brief bit (taken from the book) in which we see Mark Watney working to finish the science experiments that his crew-mates left behind when they aborted the mission.  These additions are nice and allow the story to breathe a bit, but they don’t substantially change the film.  I am not sure what my preferred version of The Martian will be going forward; I suspect it might be the slightly-more-concise theatrical cut.

The blu-ray of the extended cut also has a more substantial set of special features than the original blu-ray/DVD release.  Charles de Lauzirika has, for years, been creating extraordinarily in-depth “making-of” features for the DVD/blu-ray releases of Ridley Scott’s films.  This new blu-ray features the expected complete “making-of” documentary that I was surprised was missing from the original release; albeit one that is shorter than usual for Mr. Lauzirika’s usual work for Mr. Scott (running about an hour and ten minutes).  It’s a wonderful documentary, though one that doesn’t ever get quite as in-depth as those Mr. Lauzirika has created for some of Mr. Scott’s other films.

Speaking of which, a few weeks ago I watched Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings for the first time (click here for my review).  While that film was a failure, the blu-ray release contained an extraordinary, two-and-a-half-hour “making-of” documentary by Mr. Lauzirika.  I am surprised that Exodus, which was a dud, has such an elaborate “making-of” documentary while The Martian, which was a far more successful film, has a less-substantial one.  It’s weird.  Regardless, watching the “making-of” documentary for Exodus is arguably more fun than watching the film itself.  It’s fascinating (and a little sad) to see the incredible effort that so many … [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: Josh Catches Up With Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings

I missed Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings when it was released back in December, 2014, and the film’s dismal reviews kept me from rushing to watch it on DVD or streaming.  But there was no way I could altogether skip a new film from Ridley Scott, one of the greatest directors working today.  After recently re-watching Mr. Scott’s brilliant adaptation of The Martian (actually, the new Extended Cut of that film, about which I might write more soon) I decided the time had come to give Exodus: Gods and Kings a try.

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The film is a sort of action-adventure version of the Exodus story from the Bible.  When the film opens, we meet Moses (Christian Bale) as a young adult, the happy adopted son on the Pharaoh of Egypt.  He and his brother Ramses (Joel Edgerton) are close and, in one of the film’s opening sequences, they ride off to war together on behalf of their father, the Pharaoh.  But a prophecy given by one of the Pharaoh’s priests threatens the bond between the half-brothers Moses and Ramses.  When Moses agrees to do a favor for his brother by taking on a thankless assignment to visit the city of Hebrew slaves, he begins to discover his true heritage.  You pretty much know how the story unfolds from there.

Exodus: Gods and Kings is an interesting movie.  It’s certainly not entirely successful, but neither is it the train-wreck catastrophe I had expected from all the original reviews.

What’s most curious about the film is the way that Mr. Scott (and the phalanx of screenwriters credited on the film) have taken the Biblical Moses story and reshaped it into, well, into Gladiator (Mr. Scott’s very successful 2000 film starring Russell Crowe).  The whole set-up is almost exactly the same.  Two almost-brothers have been raised by a powerful king.  The brothers begin the story close, but a wedge is driven between them when it turns out that the king favors his adopted almost-son over his flesh and blood heir.  Said adopted son is a cunning warrior and noble and honest to a fault.  After the death of the king, the actual son assumes power, and very soon after an attempt is made on the life of the noble almost-son, who survives when everyone believes him dead and is driven into exile.  Eventually, events conspire to bring the brothers back together in a confrontation that will result in the ultimate defeat of the now power-mad actual brother.

Am I exaggerating?  That description is almost exactly the story of both Gladiator and Exodus: Gods and Kings.

The funny thing is, while much of what we see in Exodus: Gods and Kings has been dramatically … [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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Josh Reviews The Martian

What a refreshing joy it is to get to see an intelligent, original science-fiction story that is also gorgeous to behold and ferociously entertaining. The Martian, directed by Ridley Scott and written by Drew Goddard, adapting the book by Andy Weir, is a triumph, a gripping story about all that smart human beings can do when they put their minds to it.

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Matt Damon plays Mark Watney, one of the crew-members of a mission to Mars sometime in the near future.  An unexpectedly fierce storm forces the crew to abort the mission and evacuate the planet.  An accident during the evacuation separates Watney from his crew-mates, who believe him to have been killed.  But he survives, and awakens soon after to find himself stranded, the only human being on the planet.  The soonest a manned mission could return to rescue him is years away (assuming he could even find a way to let NASA know he’s alive, a seeming impossibility with his transmitter destroyed by the storm), and though the astronauts’ habitat on the Martian surface remains intact, it was only equipped for a planned thirty-day stay on the planet.

It is an extraordinary delight to watch a movie that champions science and intelligence.  The Martian is a movie about everything that human beings are capable of accomplishing, and it is glorious to behold.  This is an important movie in a culture that too often seems to look down on people of intelligence and learning.  The Martian makes the case for the value of brain-power.  Of exploration.  Of the way that knowledge and intelligence can, to quote Star Trek (another sci-fi story that values intelligence, science, and optimism) “turn death into a fighting chance to live.”

Actually, watching The Martian, I was continually reminded of a wonderful quote by Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry.  Speaking of the ethos behind Trek, Roddenberry explained that “ancient astronauts didn’t build the pyramids.  Human beings built them!  Because they’re clever and they work hard!”  Star Trek was a show that championed those values, that argued that mankind would find a way to put aside our differences, to work together to solve our problems and create a utopian — not dystopian — future society. That’s what I love about Star Trek, and that’s what I love about The Martian, a film that embodies exactly the same philosophy.

It all starts with the script, which is extraordinary.  I haven’t yet read the book by Andy Weir, but it’s clear that I need to do so immediately.  Drew Goddard (who wrote Cloverfield, directed and co-wrote The Cabin in the Woods, and was a key creative player in the early days of Netflix’s Daredevil series) … [continued]

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“The date is set!” — The X-Files returns to TV on January 24, 2016!  Please don’t disappoint me, Chris Carter!!

This is a great article listing 10 Making-Of Documentaries That Are Better Than The Actual Movie.  In many of these cases I don’t actually agree with the “Better Than The Actual Movie” part, but these are certainly ten of the very greatest documentaries about the making of specific movies.  These are all essential viewing for movie fans.  (The only one of the ten listed that I haven’t seen is Cleopatra: The Epic That Changed Hollywood.)  Hearts of Darkness is endlessly fascinating, one of the best movies about movies ever made, period.  I wrote about The Sweat Box, the documentary that Disney doesn’t want you to see about the making of what became The Emperor’s New Groove, here.  It’s fascinating and heartbreaking.  The documentaries on the Alien Quadrilogy are magnificent, particularly the staggeringly no-punches-pulled version on the Alien 3 blu-ray.  (The doc on the original DVD release was edited by the studio who felt that some of the behind-the-scenes material was too honest and raw.)  I have written endlessly about the amazing Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Appendices (elaborate, hours-long making-of documentaries) on the Extended Edition DVD/blu-ray sets.  (Click here for my thoughts on the behind-the-scenes material from An Unexpected Journey and here for my thoughts on The Desolation of Smaug.)  And I am glad this list also included two of the many magnificent making-of documentaries on the DVDs and blu-rays of Ridley Scott’s films, all of which was masterminded by Charles de Lauzirika.  Dangerous Days is an exhaustive look at the making of Blade Runner, and though Prometheus was a bomb, the four-hour long look at the making of that train wreck, titled Furious Gods, from the Prometheus blu-ray set, is amazing.  (By the way, Charles de Lauzirika also masterminded all of the Alien documentaries on the Quadrilogy set, making him the king of this list of making-of documentaries.)  I highly recommend all interested film fans track down these documentaries, they are wonderful.

I recently read Jerry Weintraub’s terrific memoir: When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead.  Mr. Weintraub was a music producer who worked with Elvis and Sinatra, and in his later years he became a movie producer as well, most notably working with Steven Soderbergh on Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen.  The book is terrific — Mr. Weintraub is a wonderful raconteur and, man, does he have some great stories to tell. I highly recommend it.  Here’s a link.  In a related story, birthmoviesdeath.com recently posted this loving look back at Soderbergh’s Ocean’s trilogy.  I never thought too highly … [continued]

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The great Dick Cavett has a phenomenal piece up at nytimes.com on all of the recent Tonight Show silliness.  This is definitely worth a read.

Also worth your time: the moving words of tribute posted at AICN in remembrance of the great Roger Ebert.

I LOVE LOVE LOVE these Arrested Development posters!!  May 26th just cannot come soon enough!

And speaking of things I love love love — this trailer for Man of Steel:

That is just spectacular, action-packed and emotionally rich.  Kevin Costner’s delivery of the line “you are my son” just kills me.  If the film delivers on half of the promise of this trailer, we are in for a hell of a ride this summer.

And here is the final full Star Trek Into Dark Knight (I mean, Into Darkness) trailer:

That’s a very solid trailer, showing us more than we saw before though still keeping most of the film’s major plot points under wraps.  We still don’t know if Bennedict Cumberbatch is playing Khan or not, which frustrates me but I guess we’ll all know for sure pretty soon!  I am also interested to see how they undo all the damage we see poor old Enterprise taking in this trailer.  Are we already going to see a refit-Enterprise in this rebooted film series?  (That actually gives me hope that the next Trek film will see fit to bring the design of the Enterprise back a little closer to the classic original or, even better, to the refit-Enterprise of the first six Trek movies, which to me still stands as one of the most gorgeous space-ship designs ever, far superior to the bulky monstrosity of the Enterprise in J.J. Abrams’ films.  We’ll see…!)

I always get excited when an original sci-fi film (not an adaptation, not a sequel or prequel or re-imagining) is released, and Neil Blomkamp’s Elysium — his follow-up to the phenomenal District 9 — looks absolutely dynamite.  Take a peek:

Here’s a terrific Q & A with Ronald D. Moore, a long-time Star Trek writer (he was a key creative force on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) and the creator/show-runner of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica.  (Part two of the Q & A is here.)  Mr. Moore has been absent from television for too long now, I hope the series he is working on for Sy-Fy comes together.

This is a great behind-the-scenes pic from Ridley Scott’s original Alien.  And these are also great, showing off the gorgeous model-work used to bring the refit U.S.S. Enterprise (still the greatest of all the Enterprise designs) to life in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.[continued]

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News Around the Net (and a rant about Prometheus!)

So, OK, bloody disgusting ran an article that Fox doesn’t know what to do with a proposed sequel to Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, and that the source of the problem is that when Lost’s Damon Lindelof re-wrote Jon Spaihts’ original Alien prequel script into what became Prometheus, he turned a one-shot film into the start of a trilogy, except now he isn’t returning for film two and so Ridley Scott and Fox are left holding the bag with no idea where to take the story next.  The article is pretty fierce in attacking Mr. Lindelof, and no surprise he has responded to defend himself, saying that Ridley Scott and everyone at Fox all wanted Prometheus to be the start of a trilogy and explaining why he isn’t returning for the sequel.  I have no reason not to take Mr. Lindelof at his word, but the real story to me, here, is how clear Mr. Lindelof’s comments illustrate the brain-dead decision-making that went into the making of Prometheus.  Mr. Lindelof comments that the whole idea was that, if/when they made a sequel to Prometheus, they didn’t want that sequel to be the already-made original Alien.  They wanted room to explore the story further, to tell what he describes as a “parallel” story to the events of Alien and its sequels.  That’s why instead of making the planet that they find in Prometheus LV-427, the planet where Ripley finds the crashed ship and the alien eggs in Alien, they decided to set Prometheus on a different planet (despite the fact that they kept in the film the Engineer’s ship that looks exactly like the one Ripley found, crashing at the end so it looks exactly like what we saw in Alien.  Guess those Engineers just crashed their ships on LOTS of barren planets, huh?  So stupid!!).  Am I the only one who sees how easily the filmmakers could have had their cake and eaten it too?  Had they stuck with Jon Spaihts’ original plan, the events of Prometheus would have beautifully lined up with what we saw in Alien, explaining who the Engineers were and how their ship carrying Alien eggs wound up crashed on that planet… and meanwhile, had the movie ended exactly the way it did, with Dr. Shaw and David’s head surviving the Engineer’s rampage and setting off in search of the Engineer’s home-world, they could have  had their “parallel” story-line right there, continuing to explore Shaw’s adventures in future films without connecting any further to Ripley.  Am I right or am I crazy??  Once again I am struck by what an enormous, jaw-dropping missed opportunity Prometheus was.  (Click here for my original review [continued]

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And so, at last, we arrive at my final Best of 2012 list!  I hope you enjoyed the rest of my lists.  You can follow these links to see my Top 15 Movies of 2012: click here for part one, here for part two, and here for part three.  Click here for part one of my Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2012, and here for part two.  And finally, you can click here for part one of my Top 10 Episodes of TV of 2012, and here for part two.

And now, my final list: the Top 10 DVDs/Blu-Rays of 2012!

10. Great documentaries for not-so-great films: Prometheus and The Dark Knight Rises Both of these films disappointed me when I saw them.  The Dark Knight is an extremely well-made film and a great super-hero epic, but it’s a big let-down after the magnificence that was The Dark Knight.  And Prometheus was just a catastrophe.  Nevertheless, the blu-rays of both films contained terrific feature-length documentaries.  Prometheus’ special features are particularly compelling — the 220-minute documentary “Furious Gods: The Making of Prometheus” (directed by Charles de Lauzirika) is extraordinary.  Is it crazy to be so interested in the behind-the-scenes stories of two films that ultimately disappointed me?  Maybe, but I loved these glimpses behind the curtains.

9. Jay and Silent Bob Get Old: Tea-Bagging in the UK Every few years, Kevin Smith releases a DVD collection of some of his Q&A  sessions, and I always gobble them up.  None have topped the original An Evening With Kevin Smith DVD from 2002, but Mr. Smith’s skill as a spinner-of-yarns is unparalleled, and I adore listening to his lengthy, raunchy, hilarious answers to the audience’s questions about his life, his film-making, and all sorts of other details of his personal life.  (I even saw Mr. Smith live, in Boston, a few years ago!)  This latest DVD is a recording of some of the “Smodcast” podcasts that Mr. Smith recorded with his “hetero life-mate” Jason Mewes, on tour in England.  These shows are nowhere near as great as some of the previous Q&A DVDs — I like Jason Mewes, but I think Mr. Smith is much funnier solo — but these shows are still a lot of fun, and I enjoyed the frank, friendly interplay between Mr. Smith and Mr. Mewes.

8. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 — This animated adaptation of Frank Miller’s seminal comic book from 1986 is one of the best of Bruce Timm’s recent direct-to-DVD animated films.  With solid (though not spectacular) animation and a phenomenal voice cast, I was very impressed … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Prometheus

Sigh. I guess I’m just never going to see another good Alien movie, am I?

Who’d have thought it would be so hard? Ridley Scott’s 1979 original seemed ripe for further exploration, not one of those movies that would be impossible to ever sequelize.  And let’s not forget, A GREAT ALIEN SEQUEL HAS ALREADY BEEN MADE!  I’m speaking, of course, of the very first sequel to Alien: James Cameron’s magnificent Aliens. That film happens to be one of the very best sequels ever made, and it’s so good that to this day people debate which is better: Alien or Aliens.

But since then, it’s been strike-out after strike-out. (One of the very first posts I wrote for this site contained my lamentations at the way the Alien franchise had gone off the rails.)  I had high hopes for Ridley Scott’s return to the Alien universe, Prometheus. (And make no mistake, despite all the perplexing statements in the press by Ridley Scott, writer Damon Lindeloff, and other members of their team in which they claim that Prometheus is NOT an Alien prequel, from the film’s very first trailer it was obvious that it was.)  I mean, surely Ridley Scott, one of the finest filmmakers of our time, and the man who directed the original Alien back in 1979, could finally craft another worthy follow-up to that film?

Sorry, my friends, such is not the case.

Prometheus is jaw droppingly gorgeous. The film is a real work of art, the stunning product of a brilliant director who has the visual effects tools to create anything he can imagine, and the complete mastery of how to use those tools to greatest effect. Plenty of other directors with budgets far larger than that of Prometheus have used CGI effects in garish and ugly ways, but Prometheus is staggeringly beautiful.  The other space effects, the look of the Prometheus itself, the realization of the Engineer’s lair that Dr. Shaw and her teammates discover, image after gorgeous image unfold, each more mysterious and beautiful than the next.

Too bad, then, that the story of the film is so maddeningly incomprehensible.

OK, SPOILERS AHEAD so please beware.

I repeat: SPOILERS.

The original Alien has a simplicity that is impressive.  In the first half of the film, the crew of the Nostromo answer a beacon and investigate the extra-terrestrial space-ship they discover.  In the second half, they are mercilessly hunted by the Alien creature they unwittingly unleash, and try to survive.  That’s it, that’s the film.  And for all that the Alien is, let’s face it, made-up sci-fi hogwash, there’s still a simplicity to the life-cycle of the creature that is elegant and easily understood … [continued]

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Prometheus has Landed

March 18th, 2012
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MUST.  SEE.  NOW.

If Hollywood must continue to insist on making prequels, this is the way to do it.

I absolutely LOVE the way that trailer mimics the trailer for the original Alien from 1979:

I have watched Alien countless times and still find myself dazzled and mystified by all of it’s weird and bizarre iconography.  Seeing that imagery brought to life in this trailer (The space jockey!  Hyper-sleep pods!  The derelict ship from LB-427! Alien eggs!) is making me more giddily happy than I can put into words.  It’s amazing to see Sir Ridley Scott returning, at long long last, to sci-fi.  That he’s ALSO returning to the Alien universe (despite all of the now-ridiculous denials of Prometheus’ being an Alien prequel) is just icing on the cake.

You all saw the xenomorph in there, right??

Oh my lord I cannot wait for June.… [continued]

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In Space, No One Can Hear Anyone Deny that Prometheus is an Alien Prequel

December 27th, 2011
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So just a day after I posted a whole bunch of movie trailers last week, Sir Ridley Scott unveiled our first official look at his upcoming film, Prometheus, and it is pretty friggin’ awesome:

That’s a pretty spectacular trailer, and in addition to guaranteeing that I will be seeing it opening weekend, the trailer also puts to rest all of the denials that the film is an Alien prequel. First of all, there is the really, really clever way in which the text of the title reveal mimics that of the main title of Alien. (Whoever came up with that idea deserves a BIG raise.)  And then, I mean, come one, there are eggs (albeit different-looking ones), there are face-huggers (albeit REALLY different-looking ones) and then there is my favorite shot of the trailer: when we glimpse the “space-jockey’s” control/piloting unit (or whatever the hell that is) that we saw in Alien come up out of the floor of the ship.  Pretty cool.  I wonder if the ship we see crash at the end is the same ship the Nostromo finds on LB427…

This isn’t a trailer.  Well, not exactly.  It’s a “sweded” version (come on, you’ve seen Be Kind Rewind, right?) of the trailer for The Dark Knight Rises, and it’s pretty phenomenal:

If that doesn’t make you smile, I don’t know what will!

OK, maybe this, a look at the best thing about Parks and Recreation, Bert Macklin — er, I mean, Andy Dwyer:

[continued]

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News Around the Net!

There’s a great article about Mel Brooks up at Boston.com, because his musical Young Frankenstein is coming to Boston for a two-week run.  I was disappointed by Young Frankenstein when I saw it on broadway, but this brief piece about one of our comedic legends is worth a read.

Here’s a fascinating article about the many different versions of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.  I’m a big fan of this groundbreaking film, and I’d love to see the newly-restored 147-minute version.

One of my very favorite web-sites, thedigitalbits.com, has posted a very informative interview with DVD Producer Michael Pellerin.  Mr. Pellerin has been involved with the DVD releases of The Lord of the Rings since the very beginning, and he has some fascinating comments on the recent blu-ray release of the trilogy as well as the material that Peter Jackson has been saving for the eventual ultimate blu-ray super-duper box set.  (Can’t wait for that!)

Speaking of Peter Jackson and The Lord of the RingsDecember 2012 needs to hurry up and get here already!!!

Artist Ron Miller has created a series of breathtaking images entitled the Eight Wonders of the Solar System.  Gorgeous.

I am starting to believe that Ridley Scott is actually going to make the Alien prequel that has been rumored for years.  Mr. Scott spills a lot of beans in this interview with MTV, although it was the folks at HitFix that revealed that he’s actually planning to create TWO prequels.  OK, color me cautiously intrigued.  I’m excited to see Ridley Scott return to the Alien universe for the first time since 1979, though as a rule I think prequels are stupid.

Here’s a great profile of comic book genius Jeff Smith.  Bone is one of the masterpieces of the medium (if you haven’t read it — you really must), and I’m really digging his new series Rasl.

Star Trek geeks: check out this incredible opening movie from the 2009 FedCon Science Fiction Convention.  This gorgeous 4-minute short film, created by Tobias Richter, features an action-packed sequence featuring the U.S.S. Kelvin & redesigned U.S.S. Enterprise from J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek film.  Pretty awesome stuff.  (Though I still hate the redesigned Enterprise…)

Speaking of Star Trek, I am giddy with excitement over the next batch of episodes in the phenomenal fan-film series Star Trek: Phase II.  (I’ve written before about Phase II here, and here is my review of one of their recent episodes, “Blood and Fire.”)  There’s a great series of teases for these upcoming episodes up at Trekmovie.com, including the revelation that these mad geniuses are planning on including Arex (the … [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: Josh Reviews the Director’s Cut of American Gangster

Sometimes I get DVDs and I watch them immediately, devouring the movie and the special features within 24 hours.  Sometimes I’ll get a DVD and, for one reason or another, it will sit on my shelf for months and months.  Such was the case with the Director’s Cut of Ridley Scott’s 2007 film, American Gangster.

I enjoyed American Gangster when I first saw it in theatres.  I didn’t love it the way I love some of Scott’s other films (Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, and the vastly underrated Kingdom of Heaven), but I quite liked it, and when I saw that an extended version of the film was available on DVD in early 2008, I snapped it up.  I’ve really enjoyed the extended versions of several others of Ridley Scott’s films, most particularly the extended version of the afore-mentioned Kingdom of Heaven, which is a revelation in contrast to the theatrical release, so I was excited to see this new version of American Gangster.  But, for whatever reason, I just never got around to watching the DVD until recently.

American Gangster tells two parallel stories.  One half of the film is about Frank Lucas, played by Denzel Washington.  The movie opens with the death of Frank’s mentor, the powerful Harlem drug-dealer Bumpy Johnson.  Frank marshals his keen intellect and all that he learned from Bumpy in order to take control of the Harlem drug scene.  His boldest move was to travel to Southeast Asia in order to purchase heroin straight from the source, enabling him to bypass all the other crime-figure “middle managers” and sell a more powerful product at cheaper prices than his competition.  That coup, combined with his patience and his near-fanatical focus on avoiding the spotlight, enabled him to amass an extraordinary amount of power and money all while operating under the noses of what local law enforcement officials weren’t on the take.

Russell Crowe plays Richie Roberts, a New Jersey cop with a fierce sense of honesty.  In an infamous story depicted early in the film, he finds a million dollars in cash but turns it over to his superiors in the department rather than keeping it for himself.  In contrast to those qualities, his personal life is a disaster, and when the film opens his wife (the wonderful Carla Gugino) has decided to divorce him.  Richie eventually gets himself involved with (and becomes a key figure in leading) the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, where his investigative skills and a decent amount of luck puts him on the trail of Frank Lucas.

American Gangster is a film dancing on the edge of greatness.  Washington and Crowe both turn in powerhouse performances, and … [continued]

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News Around the Net!

News broke yesterday that Sam Raimi’s planned Spider-Man 4 has been scrapped, and the studio is going ahead with a total reboot of the series.  DeadlineHollywoodDaily broke the story.  Personally, I’m bummed by this news.  Though Raimi & co. broke my heart with the atrocious Spider-Man 3, the first two Spidey flicks were so great that I really wanted to see him come back and try to return to the greatness of those first two films.  I hate that his run on the character is ending on such a low note, and the idea of rebooting a series that is only eight years old and wildly successful just seems insane to me.  But hey, I’m the guy who also wants to see Bryan Singer make another Superman film.

I have not read any of the Twilight books, nor seen the movies, nor do I have any intention of doing so.  But this piece over at CHUD about why Breaking Bad (the fourth and final Twilight book) MUST be made into a movie is absolutely hysterical.

Behold the weirdest wedding video I have ever seen.  This dude had his friends in the wedding party act out scenes from Superman II.  I am at once awestruck and disturbed.

Speaking of slightly-insane Superman fans, a few weeks ago I stumbled upon photos of this guy who decorated his office cubicle as the Fortress of Solitude.  Check it out:

fortressofsolitudecubicle

You can find the full story behind his crazy construction project here.

Then there’s this incredibly bizarre stop-motion animated interview with Fantastic Mr. Fox director Wes Anderson.  Except Wes Anderson is played by Jason Schwartzman.  You read that right.  Check it out.

In case you haven’t seen it yet, a super-cool new trailer for Iron Man 2 came out last month.  Take a look.  I was an enormous fan of Iron Man (read my review here), and have high hopes for the sequel.  Don’t break my heart, Mr. Favreau!  (By the way, in re-reading my review of Iron Man, I can see that I was sure that the Mandarin would be a key villain in the sequel.  It’s not looking that way… so I’m wondering whether that character factors into the story at all.  I certainly hope he does!)

Speaking of trailers, let me lay a few more on you.  Here’s a sort of weird new trailer for Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe’s latest collaboration: Robin Hood.  Take a look.  This seems like familiar ground for Scott and Crowe, and I can’t say that I have been lying awake at nights waiting for a new version of the Robin Hood story.  That being said, … [continued]

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OK, here we are with my final “Best-of” list, the Top 10 DVDs of 2008!  To be included on this list, the DVD in question had to contain a high-quality TV show, movie, or special and also a great presentation on DVD, with lots of cool special features.  Behold my list:

10.  Mystery Science Theatre 3000:  20th Anniversary Edition — I adore this show, and this 20th anniversary celebration of its existence just rocked.  On this set, the gang haves fun with four great/terrible films: First Spaceship on Venus (1960), Laserblast (1978), Werewolf (1996) and Future War (1997).  Even better is the inclusion of an in-depth 3-part documentary on the making of the show, from its creation through to its end.  The icing on the cake was the neat tin case that included fun stuff like a little model of Crowe T. Robot, which now sits proudly on my desk.

9.  John, Paul, Tom & Ringo: The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder — This DVD contains three lengthy, rare interviews that Tom Synder conducted with Paul McCartney (in 1979), Ringo Starr (in 1981), and John Lennon (in 1975).  The Lennon interview is the last televised interview that John gave before his death.  Snyder is an engaging interviewer, and these lengthy conversations with 3 of the 4 Beatles are a real find.

8.  The Office: The Complete Fourth Season and 30 Rock: The Complete Second Season — Complete season sets of these two NBC shows at the top of their game were released in ’08, I can’t tell you how many hours of enjoyment I got out of these DVDs.  In the fourth season of The Office, Ryan the temp is promoted, moves to New York City, and falls to pieces; Andy begins dating Angela; Stanley finally loses it with Michael (“did I stutter?”), Michael is deposed in Jan’s case against Dunder Mifflin; the gang creates an ad to run on local television and participates in Michael’s “fun run” towards a cure for rabies; Toby finally leaves for Costa Rica; and of course Michael and Jan invite Jim and Pam over for a dinner party.  Over on 30 Rock, Jack launches a new reality series called  MILF Island; Tracy and Jenna feud over Liz’s attentions; Liz adopts a hippie writer (played by Carrie Fisher) as her mentor; Devon Banks (Arrested Development‘s Will Arnett) feuds with Jack over the top spot at GE; Jerry Seinfeld discovers Jack’s plan to digitally insert him into all of NBC’s new fall shows; Jack falls in love with a Democratic Congresswoman from Vermont (Edie Falco); and while Liz Lemon faces a pregnancy scare, Jack takes a job working in the Bush Administration along … [continued]