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Josh Reviews Robert Zemeckis’ Adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Witches

Robert Zemeckis’ new film adaptation of The Witches is now available on HBO Max.  The pedigree of this film had me immediately excited.  Robert Zemeckis is, of course, the director of some of my favorite films (the Back to the Future trilogy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and Contact).  I adore Roald Dahl’s original novel.  The film’s screenplay was written by Mr. Zemeckis, Kenya Barris (mastermind behind Black-ish), and Guillermo del Toro (a master of horror who is one of my favorite directors working today, responsible for such great films as Pan’s Labyrinth and The Shape of Water).  On the other hand, Mr. Zemeckis’ films haven’t connected with me in recent years; I haven’t really enjoyed his new movies since the one-two 2000 punch of What Lies Beneath and Cast Away.  What would I think of The Witches?

I liked it!  The film is a fun, all-ages tale.  It’s very competently made, with lovely visual effects and very likable characters to guide us through the tale.

Is The Witches a masterpiece?  No.  It doesn’t have the pop of startling originality that most of Guillermo del Toro’s films possess.  The adult aspects of most of Mr. del Toro’s work have been rounded off (the violence, the scares) — but how could they not have been?  This is an adaptation of a kids’ story!  So I’m not saying that’s the wrong choice.  But the film doesn’t grab me as viscerally as most of Mr. del Toro’s work does.  Nor is there anything in the film nearly as memorable as what can be found in Robert Zemeckis’ best films from the eighties and nineties (such as the movies I listed in the first paragraph, above).  So one should enter into The Witches with measured expectations.  That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed watching the film.  It’s easily Mr. Zemeckis’ best film in almost two decades.

The cast is terrific.  I love the choice to center the story on an African-American family.  Octavia Spencer (The Help, Hidden Figures, The Shape of Water) is spectacular as Grandma.  (Whereas in Roald Dahl’s novel Grandma was from Norway, here she is from Alabama.  The change works very well.)  Ms. Spencer’s charisma and her comedic chops make her the perfect fit for this tough, smart, maternal figure.  I loved watching her.  Young Jahzir Kadeem Bruno is great as Grandma’s grandson, the boy (whose name is never given in the book, nor the movie!) who finds himself on this adventure with the witches.  And I was delighted that Chris Rock voiced an older version of the boy!  I was not expecting Chris Rock’s voice to be the first voice I’d hear in this adaptation of … [continued]

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Let’s start with the most important agenda item: VOTE.  If you don’t want to listen to me, please listen to these naked celebrities:

I mentioned a few weeks ago that news leaked out that Sacha Baron Cohen had secretly filmed a Borat sequel.  Well, now there’s a trailer, a title, and it’ll be streaming on Amazon Prime Video in just a few weeks: on October 23rd!  Buckle up:

Here’s a trailer for Marvel 616, a documentary series coming soon to Disney+.  The series will explore the Marvel comics, its history, its obscure characters, creators, cosplayers, and more.  I love the very geeky title (a deep dive reference to what is sometimes used as the official designation of the Marvel universe, number 616 among the multiverse of different alternate universes found in the comics — the designation was first found in Captain Britain comics in the UK written by Dave Thorpe and subsequently Alan Moore, and I believe it was brought into the mainstream Marvel universe by long-time X-Men writer Chris Claremont) and I’m curious to see what they’ve put together:

Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Contact, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?)’s new film, an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Witches (with a screenplay co-written by Guillermo del Toro!!) has just been announced as coming to HBO Max, bypassing a theatrical release.  And it’s coming out Oct. 22nd!  Wow!  Here’s a trailer:

It’s been a while since I’ve truly loved a new film by Mr. Zemeckis, but back in the day he directed some of my favorite movies of all time.  I’m curious to see what he’s done with The Witches.  I’d love for this to be great!

Here’s a trailer for The Show, a film whose script was written by comic book genius Alan Moore (Watchmen, V For Vendetta, From Hell, and too many other masterpieces to mention).  Who knows if this film will actually be any good, but I’m certainly intrigued by this super-bizarre trailer:

Aaron Sorkin has a terrific idea for a sequel to The Social Network.  I doubt this will ever actually happen… but wow, I would LOVE to see that film!

In a good news/bad news situation, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune has apparently been pushed back almost an entire year.  It was supposed to come out this December; now it’s reportedly being held until October 2022.  I hate having to wait another year for this film that I am desperate to see.  But I personally wasn’t planning to go see any movie in the theater this December, and I’d hate to see the film be released and tank at the box office because people aren’t ready to go back to the movies.  Oh … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Allied

For a long time, Robert Zemeckis was one of my very favorite filmmakers.  There was a phenomenal stretch during which I felt that he was making movies that were aimed directly at me, at the exact things that I most loved.  Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Contact these are spectacular films that I love dearly.  Every one of Mr. Zemeckis’ films from this period are fiercely entertaining; they all have a fantasy/sci-fi/geeky aspect to them (which I love!) but are nevertheless able to be extraordinarily crowd-pleasing.  They  are the work of a director at the top of his game, someone with a mastery of visual effects (the visual effects achievement of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? cannot be understated) who was able to use those skills to great effect.  But then something happened, and Mr. Zemeckis moved into directions that just didn’t interest me.  For quite a number of years, Mr. Zemeckis went down a rabbit hole of films utilizing CGI motion-capture that resulted in a bizarre not-quite-real look that didn’t speak to me.  (I love CGI animation, but the sort-of-real look CGI look that Mr. Zemeckis favored lacked the spark and energy of any of the films of Pixar.)  I did watch Beowulf, which I respected as a technical accomplishment, but isn’t a film I have ever felt the desire to revisit.  I skipped The Polar Express and A Christmas Carol altogether.  I was thrilled when Mr. Zemeckis returned to live-action films with Flight, but for some reason I never actually got around to seeing either Flight or his next film, The Walk.  Maybe someday I’ll catch up to them, but Flight’s mediocre reviews kept me away, compounding this guy who hates flying’s aversion to seeing a film about a terrifying airline experience.  As for The Walk, I love the documentary Man on Wire so much that seeing a fake recreation of those events didn’t feel like a must-watch for me.  Which brings me to Allied, which was, at last, a Robert Zemeckis-directed film that I was excited to see as soon as I first heard about it.  Mr. Zemeckis directing a lavish WWII spy film starring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard?  I’m in!

Sadly, the film is far from the triumphant return-to-form for Mr. Zemeckis that I had hoped for.


I will say that the film looks gorgeous.  Mr. Zemeckis’ skill as a master of the visual form is still intact.  There is some gorgeous imagery in the film, from the vistas of French Morocco to haunting imagery of London during the Blitz.  The very first shot of the film sticks out in my memory: a beautiful shot across the desert, which subtly shifts … [continued]

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News Around the Net

Quint over at AICN has posted an amazing, career-spanning interview with the extraordinarily talented Drew Struzan.  Mr. Struzan has illustrated many of the most iconic movie posters of the last several decades — posters I’m sure you’d recognize for all of the Indiana Jones films, the Star Wars films, the Back to the Future films, and so many more.  The man is an incredible talent.  I have already ordered my copy of The Art of Drew Struzan, and I can’t wait for it to arrive!

The AICN seaman has also been posting a really fun series called The Behind the Scenes Pic of the Day that is definitely worth checking out if you haven’t already been following it.  Maybe you’ll want to start with this one that has done far worse than kill you, he’s hurt you, and he wishes to go on hurting you.  Heh — fits right in with my current run of cartoons!!

A fun animation test for the abandoned Roger Rabbit 2 project, from 1998, has recently surfaced on-line.  Worth checking out.

This recent brief interview with Joss Whedon, discussing his work on the upcoming Avengers film, has been making the rounds of the net but it’s worth reading if you haven’t seen it yet.  I love Mr. Whedon’s comment that “I would like to put these actors in a room and just make Glengarry Glen Ross.”  Boy would I happily pay to see that!!

This is an interesting list of the 33 Greatest Movie Trilogies of all time, as voted for by readers of Empire magazine.  There are some weird choices (I think the terrible fourth entries in the Die Hard and Indiana Jones series would disqualify those as trilogies — and what the hell is the Star Wars prequel trilogy doing on that list???) but it’s a fun read.

So actor Robert Wuhl, who once played a sports agent on the TV show Arliss, is now hosting an actual sports radio show?  That’s pretty funny.

I love this:


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From the DVD Shelf: Josh Reviews Contact (1997)

I thoroughly enjoyed Robert Zemeskis’ Contact when it was first released in 1997.  For years now, it’s been a movie that I’ve been eager to add to my DVD collection, but I was holding off for a better special edition than the bare-bones DVD release from ’97.  It’s been a long wait, but when Contact was finally re-released on disc in a jazzed-up new edition — and on blu-ray, no less — I eagerly snatched it up.

Based on Carl Sagan’s novel, Contact tells the story of Ellie, a young girl whose interest in science and astronomy are fanned by her father.  Through much of the early parts of the film, we follow Ellie’s development as a scientist and her growing fascination with the search for signs of extra-terrestrial life.  It’s a search that increasingly comes to seem like a fool’s errand as, over the years, all of the sources of funding for that research dry up.  If that was the end of the story, of course, there wouldn’t be much of a movie.  Needless top say, Ellie and her team do eventually discover a signal that appears to be extra-terrestrial in origin, and their quest to unlock its meaning leads Ellie on an astounding journey and brings mankind to an incredible turning point.

I’ll stop my summary there, even though I have really only covered the first thirty-or-so minutes of the film.  For me, the most compelling aspect of Contact is watching the story unfold and gradually become bigger and bigger.  I still remember my pleasure in seeing the film for the first time and thinking to myself, with great delight, “just how far are they going to take this??”  Even having seen the film and knowing what’s coming coming, I still find the story to be terrifically engaging.

I am an enormous sci-fi fan.  Sadly, the vast majority of sci-fi films seem to revolve around menacing aliens and action-adventure hi-jinks.  Now, I’m all for a good action movie, and there have certainly been plenty of action/adventure sci-fi films that I have thoroughly enjoyed.  But I love that Contact is a much more cerebral story, one in which the science of the tale is just as important as the narrative’s twists and turns.  It’s also a story that is centered by the character of Ellie’s emotional journey, and that is what gives the film its power.

Jodie Foster is quite compelling as Dr. Ellie Arroway.  She brings a fierce commitment and intensity to the role.  Foster is an actor who always seems to be thinking — you can see it in her eyes — and that is key for her performance as this brilliant and driven woman.  I love … [continued]

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Let the Best of 2009 lists continue!  I hope you all enjoyed my list of the Top 10 TV Episodes of 2009.

Now let’s dive into my list of the Top 10 DVDs (or Blu-Rays) released in 2009!

First, I’d like to give Honorable Mentions to the complete series sets of three amazing TV shows that I had just about given up all hope of ever seeing on DVD: It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, Andy Richter Controls the Universe, and Andy Barker, P.I. So why aren’t these shows on my list?  Because I can’t put anything on this list that I haven’t actually watched, and I’ve been way, way too busy to get through any of these sets.  Of the three, the only one I own is Andy Richter Controls the Universe.  (That one came out first, and I’m not going to purchase the other two sets until I actually have time to watch them.)  But I take great delight in knowing that these three DVD sets exist here on planet Earth, and I know that I’ll get to them all in good time.

10. Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut (Blu-ray) — I’ve seen Watchmen quite a few times since it was released early in 2009, and while the film certainly has some weaknesses, I remain overwhelmed by the enormity of its successes.  It’s hard to believe that Zach Snyder brought this seminal graphic novel by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons, which long had been considered unadaptable, to life.  It thrills me to see such a faithful take on the material and that the filmmakers had the confidence to craft a super-hero film that was aimed squarely at adults.  The Ultimate Cut of the film is Zach Snyder’s longest version, stitching together his Director’s Cut with the animated Tales of the Black Freighter sequences.  It’s pretty astounding.  This Blu-Ray set would be much higher on this list were it not for the paltry special features.  Not only are the special features lame (this is a movie that cries out for a full-fledged making-of documentary), but this set just reproduces the special features that were already released on the Director’s Cut set.  (I guess I’ve been spoiled by the amazing extended editions of the Lord of the Rings films, which came not just with phenomenal extended versions of the films but with extraordinarily elaborate making-of documentaries that didn’t duplicate the special features on the theatrical version DVDs.)  (Read my review of the theatrical version of Watchmen here, and of the Director’s Cut here.)

9. Contact (Blu-Ray) — A beautiful film that manages to combine a serious, cerebral sci-fi tale with an effecting story of the personal journey … [continued]

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Guest Blogger Ethan Linden Discusses Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Below is a contribution from guest blogger Ethan Linden to our continuing series in which I asked several of my close friends and colleagues to name their Favorite Movie of All Time.

This is the type of assignment I would normally reject. Not writing for Josh’s blog, which I am honored to do, despite his somewhat upsetting regard for the finale of Battlestar Galactica. As a matter of policy, I refuse to state my favorite movie. People in my life know I watch a lot of movies (or at least I did until I had, you know, children) and they consider me a bit of a movie buff, so often I am asked to give my top ten, or top five favorite movies. I always politely decline, because really, what the hell does that mean?

I can recite pretty much all of This is Spinal Tap (“like lukewarm water”) but, given the right company, it’s still hysterical. I laugh every time I see Airplane! (“what a pisser” is just funny) and no matter how often I see Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, I can’t help wishing I lived his life, even now. Are these my favorite movies? How about a movie like this summer’s sadly under-seen The Hurt Locker, which has stayed with me with incredible vividness? Or, in a similar vein, a film like The Deer Hunter which gets more painful, and more powerful, as I get older? And don’t even get me started on The Godfather and The Godfather Part II (or the The Godfather Part III for that matter, though the speech is decidedly different). The list goes on and on, and it shifts as I shift, which is, I suppose, part of the power of movies.

But I have come to see that my unwillingness to pick a favorite as a sort of moral cowardice; it is, at its base, a deep hesitation to be judged on the basis of my choice. If I am unwilling to declare myself for one movie over all others, than what am I? If I am not for my movie, who will be for me?

My favorite movie is Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. Partly, this is a choice defined by nostalgia. The movie came out in 1988; I was eleven years old, and it was right in my wheelhouse. It is the first movie I remember going to see multiple times in the movie theaters, using my own money, dragging friends and family members, or homeless people, anyone really, who would join me. I loved Roger Rabbit, I thought it was brilliant and funny and poignant (though I would not have used that word) and … [continued]