\

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Reviews Spider-Man: Homecoming!

Sam Raimi’s first two Spider-Man movies are fantastic, and they deserve an enormous amount of credit for helping launch our current golden age of super-hero films.  So I knew a good Spider-Man movie could be made!!  But boy it had been a while.  Spider-Man 3 was a huge disappointment, and then Sami Raimi was never given a chance to redeem himself when the series was taken away from him and rebooted.  The two Amazing Spider-Man films were a mess, filled with shoddy characterizations and flagrant attempts to build a franchise that never materialized.  They are a case study in the perils of studios desperately wanting to create a “universe” without actually focusing on making good movies.  Then the miraculous happened: Sony (who controlled the rights to Spider-Man) and Marvel reached an unprecedented agreement to allow Marvel studios to incorporate Spider-Man into the Marvel cinematic universe!  It is easy to forget how incredible it is that this actually happened.  The new version of Spider-Man was introduced in Captain America: Civil War, and every moment with the character was pretty much perfect.  Would Marvel be able to carry this success forward into a Spider-Man solo film, the first Spidey film set within the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

In a word: YES.  Spider-Man: Homecoming is everything I’d hoped it would be.  It is a fantastic presentation of the Spider-Man character, incredibly faithful to the character while also presenting us with a lot of new scenarios and characters from within the Spider-Man mythos, rather than falling into the trap of just being a third movie version of the character’s familiar origin and other stuff we have seen plenty of times before.  The film also fully embraces its place in the Marvel Cinematic universe, giving us all sorts of fun connections and moments without overshadowing the film’s strong, clear-eyed focus on Spidey/Peter Parker himself.

The film takes place immediately after the events of Civil War.  (In a brilliant montage, we see a quick recap of those events, from Peter Parker’s perspective.)  Peter is already Spider-Man (as just noted above, the film wisely avoids retreading his origin), and he feels flush from his involvement in Civil War and the cool new Spidey-suit that Tony Stark gave him in that film.  He feels he is ready to be an Avenger, but Tony keeps him at arm’s length, urging him to leave the big superhero stuff to the big superheroes, and to instead just be a “friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man.”  (A brilliant reference to a classic Spider-Man phrase.)  That proves difficult for Peter, who feels full of desire to prove himself and to use his powers for good.  But this fifteen-year-old hero might be in over his head … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

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]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Marvel Triumphs Again with Captain America: Civil War!

Marvel Studios is on a winning streak the likes of which I am hard-pressed to recall (the last decade of Pixar movies is the only thing I can think of that comes close) and Captain America: Civil War is even better than I had dared hope, an extraordinarily HUGE movie with astounding action and powerful emotional beats that pay off story-lines that have been building through the twelve (count ’em, TWELVE) previous Marvel Studios movies ever since 2008’s Iron Man started this whole crazy adventure.  I am a huge fan of the under-appreciated Avengers: Age of Ultron (click here for my review), but a strong case can be made that Civil War is what The Avengers 2 should gave been, a film that embraces the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe, putting the characters through a wrenching emotional trial and eventually shattering the team that had come together in 2012’s The Avengers.

Captain-America.Civil-War.cropped

Following the events of Age of Ultron, Cap has been training and leading a team of Avengers consisting of himself, the Falcon, the Black Widow, the Scarlet Witch, and the Vision.  As Captain America: Civil War opens, we find that Avengers team hot on the trail of Crossbones (the mangled ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Brock Rumlow from Captain America: The Winter Soldier).  As the try to stop Crossbones from obtaining a deadly biological weapon, a fight breaks out in the crowded streets of Nigeria.  Though the Avengers successfully stop Crossbones and his mercenaries, a tragic accident leaves a dozen civilians dead.  This proves to be the last straw for a world that has suffered from a series of increasingly-escalating super-hero/super-villain battles (as seen in the previous twelve Marvel movies).  Over a hundred nations band together to create the Sokovia Accords (named after the nation destroyed by Ultron in the climactic fight of Age of Ultron), declaring that the Avengers will no longer be an autonomous entity but now one governed by a UN-appointed supervising panel.  Tony Stark, desperate to find some way to prevent future civilian deaths and ensure that the Avengers remain a force for good across the world, supports the accords.  Captain America, worried that the international politics at play might prevent him and other super-heroes from acting whenever they feel it is necessary in order to save lives, opposes them.  This philosophical debate becomes more urgent when Cap’s former partner and best friend Bucky Barnes, now the brainwashed hit-man code-named the Winter Soldier (as seen in Captain America: The Winter Soldier) resurfaces and is apparently responsible for the murder of hundreds at the signing of the Sokovia Accords.  Tony begs Cap to let the world’s governments handle the subsequent manhunt but Cap refuses to … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

The Best Not Quite “To Be Continued” Endings of Franchise Films

One of my complaints about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was how much of the film was filled with shameless plugs for future DC Universe films.  I am all for connectivity between superhero films, thus establishing a shared universe of story-telling.  That is, in fact, one of the greatest triumphs of the Marvel cinematic universe!  The problem with Batman v Superman was how obvious and awkward and often confusing those connections-to-not-yet-made-future-films were.  The ending was a particular problem.  The film’s ending (which I won’t spoil) was clearly designed to be a cliffhanger that would make an audience excited for the next DCU adventure.  But I felt it landed with a thud.  Rather than being excited for the next film, I’m already dreading the time that will need to be wasted in Justice League to undo the events of the end of Batman v Superman.

This got me thinking about great endings to films in a series.  There’s something magical about a great ending to a film, particularly a film that is designed to be, not a stand-alone one-and-done entity, but rather an installment in a series.  There is a delicate art to being able to satisfactorily bring a film’s story to a close, while also teasing future adventures.  I adore that buzzy feeling of walking out of a movie absolutely desperate for the next installment, even if that next installment might be years away.

So what WERE some great endings to franchise films, endings that gave me that thrilled, excited feeling?  Well, I’m glad you asked, as I’ve decided to list some of my very favorites.

Now, before we begin, let me clarify that I’m not talking about a movie that ends on a out-and-out “to be continued” cliffhanger.  The best example of that would, of course, be:

Back to the Future Part II This film, gloriously, actually does end with the words “to be continued.”  (Well, actually the film ends with the words “to be concluded” which makes sense only when you know that the words “to be continued” were added on to the ending of the original Back to the Future for its home video release, so this ending of Part II now echoes/completes that ending of Part I.  Without that “to be continued” ending of Part I, you might expect the ending of Part II to read “to be continued” rather than “to be concluded.”  At least, I would!  Sadly, all DVD and blu-ray releases of the original Back to the Future restore the original ending and remove that “to be continued.”  But I dearly miss that “to be continued” ending, as that’s the ending I grew up with.  Why no branching option, Warner brothers, … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Reviews The Avengers: Age of Ultron!

Avengers.AgeofUltron.cropped

Marvel Studios is on a winning streak the likes of which I have rarely seen.  (The only recent comparison I can draw is Pixar’s incredible run from Ratatouille in 2007 through Toy Story 3 in 2010.)  Right before seeing The Avengers: Age of Ultron, one of my friends sent me a ranking of all of Marvel’s movies.  In response I created my own ranking (which I might publish on this site one of these days).  The bottom two films on my list were Iron Man 2 and The Incredible Hulk.  What’s astonishing is that each of the rest of the eight Marvel films on the list were all pretty great films that I loved a lot — and even those bottom two films were pretty enjoyable!  There really isn’t a true failure in the mix!  Over the past eight years, since 2008’s Iron Man, Marvel has done what had not only never been done before, but really never even conceived of before: they’ve created a vast cinematic universe of interlocking films, with characters and story-lines flowing from film to film in an epic continuing saga.  What’s even more incredible is that, at this point, they make the whole thing look so damn easy!  It’s astounding.  I know Marvel is going to stumble one of these days, but for now I am sitting back and loving every minute of this ride.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron is an amazing film.  I loved it.  Watching this film I had a huge grin on my face for the entire run time.  There are so many reasons this film could have been bad.  Sequels are hard and usually disappoint.  In addition to all of the main Avengers characters, this film introduced a number of new characters and we’ve all seen superhero films (particularly sequels — I’m looking at you, Spider-Man 3) collapse under the weight of too many characters.  Whereas The Avengers was the culmination of the first run of Marvel films, Age of Ultron needs to set up the next several years of story-lines, and that could easily have made the film feel unwieldy and unsatisfying (the fate that befell Iron Man 2).

But thanks to the incredible skill and talent of writer-director Joss Whedon and his astounding team of collaborators (overseen by Marvel Studios mastermind Kevin Feige, the guiding force behind all of these Marvel movies), Age of Ultron soars.  It’s a long-movie but it never drags, it is hugely enjoyable from start to finish.  It’s got enormous, staggeringly gigantic action sequences that astound, but it’s also deeply routed in character with some wonderful moments for every one of the film’s sprawling cast.  It’s serious and tense but it also … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Reviews Chef

I’m a big fan of Jon Favreau the actor/performer, and I’ve also become a big fan of Jon Favreau the director.  It’s easy to forget, now that the Marvel movies have become such a successful juggernaut, just what a minor miracle the original Iron Man was.  That movie was far from a sure thing, and the reason it took off was mainly because of Mr. Favreau’s consummate skill at balancing the movie’s tone.  The story was exciting, with real dramatic and emotional stakes, while also being an unabashedly fun, funny romp that was a hugely enjoyable ride for the audience.  Few directors could have pulled that off, and I give all the credit in the word to Mr. Favreau for his accomplishment.  Every time you enjoy a new Marvel movie, you should thank Mr. Favreau for his work on the film that got the whole ball rolling.

But ever since 2008’s Iron Man, I can’t saw that I’ve been bowled over by Mr. Favreau’s work.  Iron Man 2 was underwhelming, and it has aged particularly poorly.  Cowboys & Aliens was a mess, an enormous waste of a great premise and a stellar cast.  But I’ve remained a fan of Mr. Favreau, interested in his work.  I want to enjoy his films.  And so I was intrigued when I heard about Chef, which Mr. Favreau wrote and directed, in addition to starring in.  This seemed like an appealing step back into the type of film Mr. Favreau used to be involved in, a film more like Swingers — a smaller-scale, more personal story with humor and with heart.

I am pleased to report that Chef is exactly that.  This isn’t a film that is going to set the world on fire, and it’s a film that, in some ways, feels just a little bit retro. But it’s endearing in the good-natured way the film wears its heart on its sleeve.  It’s got a great cast and a strong premise, and while there are no big surprises in the film, that’s fine by me as I quite enjoyed the small tale being told.

In the film, Mr. Favreau plays Carl Casper, a talented chef working at a successful California restaurant.  He’s a workaholic, and his family life has suffered.  He is also starting to feel stymied by the business-oriented owner of his restaurant, Riva (Dustin Hoffman).  Carl prepares an elaborate menu for the evening when a well-read food blogger (played by Oliver Platt) is visiting the restaurant, but Riva insists that he serve their regular menu of old favorites.  Not surprisingly, this earns Carl a lousy review.  Carl responds poorly, starting a twitter war with the blogger and eventually getting … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Reviews Iron Man 3!

Iron Man was a magical film, a movie that caught a very specific, crazy sort of lightning in a bottle.  I remember seeing it in a theater that very first time and realizing immediately that it was something special.  It was intense and bad-ass but also incredibly funny and light-hearted.  The special effects were terrific, the character arcs were compelling, the ending was magnificent and the post-credits epilogue blew my mind, promising a whole new universe of possibilities (one that I still find it hard to believe came to such spectacular fruition with The Avengers).  Yes, I remember seeing Iron Man for the first time (click here for my original review), and I also vividly remember seeing it for the second time, about 24 hours later, because it was a movie I just had to see again, immediately.

The filmmakers stumbled with Iron Man 2, a listless film that seemed to re-tread a lot of the same ground the first film had covered, while at the same time promising us hints at other story-lines and characters (S.H.I.E.L.D., the Black Widow, Howard Stark) that would only come to fruition in future films.  (Click here for my original review of Iron Man 2.)  But I am pleased to report that Iron Man 3 (or Iron Man Three, as written in the closing credits — and good god do I love that) is a triumphant return to form, a thrilling, action-packed romp that is a true sequel to the first film and a rollicking, riveting start to the Marvel movie universe’s Phase Two.  It’s not as perfect as Iron Man — there are a bunch of niggling plot holes that bug me, which I’ll discuss at the very end of this review — but it’s a pretty terrific super-hero adventure film, one that I hope to see again very soon.

Although the heroes won the day in The Avengers, Tony Stark is shaken by how close he came to death during the big battle in New York City.  Faced with the existence of aliens, not to mention super-soldiers, gamma-irradiated behemoths, and Asgardian deities, Tony has had to face the brutal truth that he’s just a mortal human being in a metal suit.  He’s tried to find solace and comfort by building new Iron Man suit after new suit, trying to prepare himself for any eventuality, to give himself some sort of guarantee that he’ll be able to protect himself and Pepper, the woman he loves.  When his buddy Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau, returning to the role of Happy even though he’s no longer behind the camera as the film’s director) is injured by a terrorist attack by the mysterious … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

“Hulk: Smash!” Josh Reviews The Avengers!

Well, here we are at last.  The brilliant post-credits scene of 2008’s Iron Man (click here for my original review) promised the beginning of a bold experiment by the fledgeling Marvel Studios — launching stand-alone films starring several of their major characters (Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America) which would then be followed by all of those characters teaming up in an Avengers movie.  It was a gloriously outrageous idea, one common to comic-books but never before seen in movies.  Marvel Studios was actually planning on making a super-hero crossover film, and one featuring all the same actors who starred in the individual films!  And not only that, but the individual films would actually connect, with story-points and characters overlapping to create a building momentum for the eventual climax in The Avengers.

It was a bold plan, and I am so happy and relieved to report that Marvel Studios has stuck the landing.  Not only does The Avengers work, it works crazily well, and I think it’s the strongest Marvel Studios film since 2008’s Iron Man (and I say that as a big fan of both Thorclick here for my review — and Captain America: The First Avengerclick here for my review).  It’s hard to believe that I live in a world in which a film version of The Avengers actually exists!!  And that it not only exists but that it kicks so much ass makes the whole thing the stuff of beautiful fantasy.

There is surely a huge list of people who must be given credit for the success of this enterprise, but at the top of the list is co-writer and director Joss Whedon.  I am a huge, huge, huge fan of his film Serenity (which he wrote and directed) and that film clearly showed that Mr. Whedon was the perfect man for the job of helming The Avengers. Serenity not only looks amazing, boasting some fantastic visual effects sequences and completely selling the reality of a futuristic, sci-fi world despite being made for a relatively small budget (FAR less than The Avengers).  But more importantly, in that film Mr. Whedon was able to balance nine main characters, giving depth and life to every one of them, presenting them as very different people with different goals and different attitudes and different ways of speaking, and also giving each one of them moments to shine in the course of the film, without one character overshadowing the others.

Mr. Whedon brings the same deft touch to The Avengers. The greatest pleasure of the film isn’t just that the characters are all appearing in the same film (though just the … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Reviews Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

I really loved Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes film from two years ago, and so I was thrilled that they went into production on a sequel so quickly. (That the first film ended with such a delicious promise of further adventures didn’t hurt, of course!)

But, unfortunately, the follow-up installment, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, left me rather cold.

To be honest, I’m having a bit of trouble putting my finger on what exactly went awry. I still love Robert Downey Jr.’s manic interpretation of Holmes, and I thought Mad Men’s Jared Harris was terrific as Professor Moriarty. There are some big laughs in the film, and also some terrific sequences of action/adventure. The chase through the frozen woods, in which Holmes & co. are barraged by artillery fire, is pretty thrilling (much more effective in its entirety than it was in the film’s trailer, in which I thought those slo-mo shots looked pretty silly). And Holmes and Moriarty’s final confrontation — a chess game that moves into an intense battle of wills, all inside their heads — is genius, and probably the reason-for-being for the entire film.

So why did the whole thing leave me feeling somewhat empty?

Well, let’s start with Professor Moriarty. We’re told, over and over again, that the genius professor is an evil mastermind, and a mental match for Holmes. But except for one moment in the middle of the film, in which Holmes admits that “I made a mistake” and finds himself unable to stop an assassination, we don’t really see Moriarty as a genius mastermind until that final confrontation at the very end of the movie. I wanted a sense of urgency throughout this film. I wanted to feel, over and over again, that Moriarty was two steps ahead of Holmes. But I never felt that way at all. In fact, Moriarty makes a big mistake early in the film in which Holmes is able to rescue Noomi Rapace’s gypsy character, Madam Simza, from death. So right away we see that Moriarty isn’t infallible and, of course, Simza ultimately proves key in helping Holmes unravel Moriarty’s plans.

It’s not until that final battle-of-wills-to-the-death between Holmes and Moriarty that we’re really given a sense of Moriarty’s genius. I understand that the filmmakers wanted to save that mental duel for the film’s climax, but the result is that everything that comes before feels somewhat underwheming to me. This is a story-telling problem that, in my opinion, the filmmakers weren’t able to solve.

The result, as I noted before, is a film that I found to be rather lacking in intensity. Take the opening scene. (SPOILERS ahead now, my friends, so beware.) I was … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

From the DVD Shelf: Josh Reviews Zodiac: The Director’s Cut (2007)

After having such a good time re-watching David Fincher’s films Se7en (click here for my review) and Fight Club (click here for my review), I decided to take another look at Zodiac.

It was Zodiac that cemented David Fincher in my mind as one of the most amazing directors working today.  I knew he was associated with Alien 3, but that he had that film taken away from him.  (I have a warm spot in my heart for the third Alien film, even though I still see it as a total betrayal of everything that made James Cameron’s Aliens so great.)  I knew he had directed Se7en and Fight Club, but while I immediately recognized that both of those films were clearly made by people with an enormous amount of skill, neither was a film I really loved.  (I have since come to really, really dig Fight Club, but that first time I saw it I think I was a bit overwhelmed by it.)

Something about Zodiac really intrigued me when it was released, but despite that I never got to see it in theatres.  It was only when the film was released on DVD that I tracked it down and watched it.  (I own the Director’s Cut DVD.  This is the version I’m reviewing now, and the only one I’ve ever seen, so I can’t compare it to the theatrical version.)

It blew me away, and I am still in love with it when re-watching it now.

Every frame of the film feels like the result of an incredible amount of focus and creative effort.  It’s clear that an extraordinary amount of detail was pored into the sets, the costumes, the cars, the props, everything, all guided by the skilled eye of a visionary director: David Fincher.  Set over several decades, Zodiac beautifully captures the feel of the different eras, both through subtly altering the look of key sets (like the San Francisco Chronicle office set) and through some stunning visual effects shots (such as a shot made to look like a time-lapse reconstruction of the building of the Transamerica Pyramid).

Speaking of the film’s visual effects, the DVD’s top-notch special features reveal that Zodiac is awash in incredibly subtle, absolutely photo-realistic visual effects that were used to recreate key real locations in the San Francisco area from the ’60s and ’70s.  Most notably, in my mind, is the corner of Washington and Cherry at which the Zodiac killer murdered an unfortunate cab-driver.  The scene when inspectors Toschi and Armstrong arrive at Washington and Cherry to investigate the murder is a tense scene, but when watching it I didn’t give one thought … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

The third film in my EZ Viewing movie marathon is Tropic Thunder! (Click here to read about film one: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), and here to read about film two: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.)

Tropic Thunder knocked my socks off when I first saw it!  (Click here for my original review.)  It’s so fearless and so, so funny, right from the first frame to the very last.

Ben Stiller (who also co-wrote and directed the film) stars as Tugg Speedman.  Though he was once a hugely successful action-movie star, Tugg’s recent effort at more serious fare (“Simple Jack”) was met with disdain, so he decides to appear in the war film Tropic Thunder.  The film (within the film) is an adaptation of the Vietnam experiences of the hook-handed veteran John “Four-Leaf” Tayback.  Along with Tugg, the film stars the method actor Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.), the comedian Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), and the rapper Alpha Chino (Brandon T. Jackson).  This pampered assemblage of prima-donnas has trouble getting anything done, so the frustrated director (Steve Coogan) decides to drop his actors in the middle of the jungle, in an attempt to capture some “real” drama.  Chaos ensues.

The cast is stupendous.  The stand-out, of course, is Robert Downey Jr., portraying “a dude pretending to be a dude disguised as some other dude.”  He came in for some criticism when the film was released, not only for his performance as a white actor pretending to be a black man, but also for the “full retard” speech he gives to Ben Stiller’s character.  But I think that Downey Jr. is pure genius in the role – and that speech happens to be screamingly funny.  The point of his performance – and, indeed, the point of the entire film – is to skewer how seriously actors take themselves.  (It’s funny – not long after seeing this film for the first time, I found myself re-watching the amazing WWII mini-series Band of Brothers.  It’s an astonishing mini-series.  When I finished, I watched some of the special features – but after having seen Tropic Thunder, I could not take at all seriously any of the actors patting themselves on the back for how much the conditions of the shoot really rivaled the experience of really being in combat!!)

But the rest of the ensemble is also phenomenal.  Stiller is great in the lead role – he’s just likable enough that you sort of root for him, even though he’s a total loony-tune.  (LOVE that he likes to watch Classic Star Trek on his ipod, though!!)  Jack Black is perfectly cast as Portnoy, and … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

“I’ve Just Privatized World Peace” — Josh Reviews Iron Man 2!

I’m always chasing after that perfect cinematic experience — the rare movie where everything just seems to magically click, and I walk out of the theatre totally jazzed by what just unspooled before my eyes.  I felt that way when I saw the first Iron Man. I was really blown away by the confidence with which director Jon Favreau and his team (headlined, of course, by the amazing Robert Downey Jr.) pulled off their exciting, engaging, and all-around FUN first installment.

Best of all, while that first movie was certainly a complete story all its own, it ended on a terrific high-note that promised fertile stories ahead — Tony’s spur-of-the-moment “I am Iron Man” admission in the final scene of the film, and the end-of-the-credits button that introduced Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Nick Fury (played by Sam Jackson, who was the visual model for the character in Marvel’s “Ultimate” universe created about a decade ago) and made mention of the “Avengers Initiative.”  I walked out of that theatre unbelievably pumped for the stories to come, and when Marvel announced, about a week after Iron Man‘s opening, their plans for future films based on Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man 2, all of which would build to a movie-version of Marvel’s super-hero team The Avengers, it was clear that an extraordinary venture was underway.

But that venture was fraught with risk.  Both Thor and Captain America seem like characters who work great in comic books but would be fiendishly difficult to pull off believably in a movie version.  And while most of the key creative players behind Iron Man were returning for the sequel, well, I probably don’t need to list for you the many, many sequels that have been colossal disappointments, unable to capture the magic of the first installment.

Alright, already, so what did I think of Iron Man 2?

Mr. Favreau and his team have crafted another fun, engaging installment of the adventures of Tony Stark.  They haven’t reinvented the wheel.  They haven’t turned over the apple-cart in the way that makes some of the truly great movie sequels so notable (The Empire Strikes Back, The Wrath of Khan, The Dark Knight…).  I didn’t walk out of the theatre with that same tingle that I had after seeing the first Iron Man.  But that doesn’t mean that the film isn’t very good.

Robert Downey Jr. proves that his perfection as Tony Stark in the first installment wasn’t a fluke.  He’s once again phenomenal, totally magnetic whenever he’s on screen.  I was pleased that the filmmakers resisted the temptation to trim any of Stark’s rough edges — Tony is just as much a … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Reviews Sherlock Holmes!

Ever since Snatch back in 2000 I’ve been waiting for Guy Ritchie’s next great film.  Finally, just squeaking in before the close of the decade, it has arrived: Sherlock Holmes.

As you’re all probably very well aware, Sherlock Holmes stars Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes and Jude Law as Watson, and represents Mr. Ritchie’s reinvention of the Holmes mythos.  Though perhaps reinvention is entirely the wrong word, as in many respects Ritchie & his collaborators have stripped away a lot of the baggage that the character has accumulated over the years (and over many, many, many film and TV depictions) and brought Holmes & co. a lot closer to their original literary origins in the prose of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

I am most pleased to report that this new film is an absolute delight.

Let’s begin with the cast.  Robert Downey Jr. is perfectly cast as Holmes.  The intelligence, roguish arrogance, and manic energy that Mr. Downey Jr. has brought to his best roles is in full evidence here.  His Holmes is a man just-on-the-edge of psychosis.  He thinks so much faster than the ordinary man that, when his intellect is not engaged by a difficult case, he hits a wall of boredom that borders on desperation.  Downey’s depiction brings this almost dangerous aspect of Holmes’ personality to the forefront — one never knows quite what this man is going to do next.

A lot of reviews have, I felt, needlessly spoiled the clever way in which Mr. Ritchie & his collaborators have brought to life Holmes’ faster-than-belief thought processes, so I won’t go into detail here.  I’ll just say that it’s an engaging device that serves as an excellent storytelling tool.  It also connects this version of Holmes to the world of the super-hero (I’m reminded of the visual method in which Sam Raimi illustrated Peter Parker’s faster-than-the-eye Spider-Sense in the first Spider-Man film) and this is not a complaint.  With his incredible intellect, Holmes is a super-hero in many ways, and the way in which Ritchie & co. don’t shy away from these pop connections is part of what makes the film so relentlessly entertaining.  But more on that in a minute.

Jude Law is also perfect as Watson.  I’ve always respected Jude Law as an actor, but frankly it’s been quite a while since I was really taken by one of his performances.  (I might have to go all the way to his standout role in the otherwise terrible A.I.: Artificial Intelligence.)  Law’s Watson is no goofball, no bumbling idiot as the character has often been played.  Rather, Law’s Watson is tough, intelligent, persistent, and incredibly loyal to his friend Holmes — a man … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Rain of Madness: The best part of Tropic Thunder on DVD!

March 16th, 2009
,

Tropic Thunder was one of my favorite films of last year.  It made my Top 10 Movies of 2008 list, and you can click here to read my original review.

The two-disc special edition DVD is pretty snazzy.  It contains a pretty thorough series of featurettes that cover many of the aspects of creating the film (shaping the script, casting, the visual effects, etc.).  There is also an extended, director’s cut version of the film with a lot of new material added in.  (This is neat, although in my opinion this longer, slower version is inferior to the original theatrical cut.  That the theatrical version is not included on this DVD is disappointing.)

But let’s not focus on the negatives.  The highlight of the DVD, and the thing that I want to bring to your attention, is a special feature called Rain of Madness.

Some background: As you all probably know, Tropic Thunder is a parody of a number of different war films, including Francis Ford Coppola’s sprawling Vietnam War epic Apocalypse Now.  Quite a lot of the imagery in Tropic Thunder is clearly inspired by that film, specifically the helicopter attack opening sequence.

Several years after Apocalypse Now was released, Coppola’s wife Eleanor was involved in the creation of a documentary about the making of that film called Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse.  It chronicled the numerous and mounting problems that beset Coppola during the production of Apocalypse Now — problems that lead to his, basically, falling apart.

Seeing as Tropic Thunder is a parody of Apocalypse Now, Ben Stiller and his company had the inspired idea to create a “behind the scenes” look at the making of Tropic Thunder (that is, the fictional Tropic Thunder film within the film) that is itself a parody of Hearts of Darkness. You with me?  The result is this brilliant little DVD special feature entitled Rain of Madness. It features a TON of new footage that focuses on director Damien Cockburn (played by Steve Coogan)’s descent into madness during the trying first few, um, day of filming Tropic Thunder.  There is a lot of hysterical new material included (scenes shot specifically for this fake documentary) including a series of Cockburn’s passive-aggressive battles with star Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), and Kirk Lazarus as Sgt. Osiris (Robert Downey Jr.) coming down with P.P.S.T. (Post Platoon Stress Disorder) and melting down completely during a visit with the real Osiris’ family.

But the parody goes even further.  The faux documentary is narrated by a fake pretentious German documentarian named Jan Jurgen, a biting satire of Warner Herzog.  Have any of you ever seen Grizzly Man?  It’s a documentary … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Thundering Pineapple Mummies

Well, the summer is winding down, but I’m taking advantage of the lull to catch up on some movies!  Here’s what I’ve seen lately:

Tropic Thunder — Just saw this tonight, and let me tell you it is phenomenal.  Ben Stiller stars in and directed this tale of a group of self-absorbed hollywood actors filming a big-budget Vietnam action-adventure movie called Tropic Thunder who, through a ludicrous series of circumstances, wind up in an actual Vietnam action-adventure.  (Hmmm, that description makes it sound sort of like Space Camp, but rest assured that it is not.)  The movie is hilarious, and I mean every scene is hilarious.  The cast is terrific.  Ben Stiller is Tugg Speedman, the action movie star looking for some respectability after the flop of his oscar-bait role as the mentally challenged Simple Jack…and Stiller plays forlorn self-absorbtion to a tee.  Jack Black plays drug-addled Jeff Portnoy, known for playing all the roles (in a variety of fat-suits) in the obese family movie series The Fatties.  As you’ve probably read by now, Robert Downey Jr. keeps his summer of success rolling (after Iron Man) with his portrayal of Kirk Lazarus, an actor so devoted to Method that he, well, transforms himself into a black man to play African-American Sgt. Osiris.  Those are the stars, but there are so many other juicy roles that are very winningly embodied by a variety of other talents.  Brandon T. Jackson plays rapper-turned-actor Alpha Chino (I laughed and laughed at that rapper name), and Jay Baruchel (so great as the lead in the great-but-cancelled Judd Apatow TV series Undeclared) is the requisite baby-faced soldier, Kevin Sandusky.  Danny McBride (who’s also having quite a summer, with the long-awaited release of his feature film The Foot Fist Way a few months ago, as well as his role in The Pineapple Express) is the somewhat psychotic pyrotechnics expert Cody.  Steve Coogan (Coffee and Cigarettes, Tristan Shandy, and the upcoming Hamlet 2) plays the desperate director Damien Cockburn trying to get his spoiled stars to behave.  Nick Nolte is genius playing… well pretty much himself, or at least the world’s perception of Nick Nolte, as the addled “Four Leaf,” the man who wrote the book Tropic Thunder being adapted by these Hollywood dim-wits.  And, of course, I cannot forget Tom Cruise, under a you-need-to-see-it-to-believe-it bald cap and hairy chubby suit, playing the gleefully profane studio mogul financing the production.  OK, do you want to see this movie yet??  Let me just add that this film is also enhanced by a trio of fake trailers even more enjoyable than the ones in Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse from last year.  (Speaking … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

I saw Iron Man tonight.

Wow.

What follows is as spoiler-free as I could make it.   But if you want to go into this flick totally devoid of any knowledge, why don’t you check back in after you see it and let’s see if we agree?

OK, now, let me get right to it: the film is tremendous.   Director Jon Favreau was able to create a very intense, serious film (one not aimed just at the little kiddies) that is also quite funny and endearing.   There’s a lot of humor, but its not the type of forced “stand back, here comes the wakka-wakka” type of humor that so often makes me cringe in comic book films.   Much of the credit for this must go to the man in the lead role.

I’ve already read a number of reviews that emphasize how perfect Robert Downey Jr. is as Tony Stark, and I most vigorously agree with the chorus. Not only is he a visual dead ringer for the character (the goatee is perfect), but he’s able to convey just the type of rich, spoiled, brilliant, cocky bastard that is Tony Stark.   As I alluded to above, there’s a tremendous amount of humor is this performance – I love his banter with his “lab assistants,” and with Jarvis – but also a lot of weight.   Like most superhero origin stories, this movie centers on “the turn” – when the hero character has to change from the person he was to the more righteous person he will become.   That can be a tough moment to play, and not every superhero movie – or ever actor assaying a superhero – can sell that.   But Downey Jr. just nails it.

The whole rest of the cast is dynamite as well.   The casting of Jarvis was dead-on.   Terrence Howard is terrific as Stark’s buddy Jim Rhodes.   I love how he’s able to nudge Stark on his behavior without being a total stick-in-the-mud himself.   (In the plane-ride scene early in the movie, you can really see why he and Stark are friends!)   Gwyneth Paltrow is also very strong as Pepper Potts, Stark’s assistant.   She maybe gets a teensy bit too damsel-in-distressy towards the end of the flick, but she is a lot of fun to watch throughout the film.   Just as Terrence Howard does in his role, her performance hints at a long shared history with Tony Stark – and that really helps to flesh out the “world” that these characters inhabit.

Jeff Bridges brings a lot of charisma and energy to his role of Obadiah Stane, Stark’s mentor.   I just love Jeff Bridges, and it looks like he was having a lot of fun in the … [continued]