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Josh Reviews Solo!

Solo takes place in the years prior to the original Star Wars, when the galaxy is still under the thumb of the Empire.  Young Han and his friend Qi’ra (pronounced like Kira, which makes me think of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) have grown up in the slums of Corellia, scrounging a meager existence as thieves for an alien criminal called Lady Proxima.  When an escape attempt goes awry, Han manages to hitch a ride off-planet, but Qi’ra is left behind.  Han vows to return for her, but his plan to join the Imperial navy and become a pilot is thwarted when he’s kicked out of the flight academy for, as he puts it, having a mind of his own.  The result is that Han winds up as a Stormtrooper grunt, fighting the Empire’s wars in the dirt of a nameless world.  But when Han discovers a group of thieves, led by a man named Tobias Beckett, hidden among the Imperials, he sees at last his ticket to freedom.  And so the story of Solo begins.

Ever since plans were first announced, years ago, for a Young Han Solo movie, I thought it was a bad idea.  As a rule I am not a fan of prequels — I’d prefer the story go forward rather than backwards.  And while Rogue One, for instance, expanded upon a part of the Star Wars story about which I was eager to know more (just how DID the rebels get their hands on the Death Star plans in the first place?), I have never craved to know what Han Solo was like as a kid or young man.  The beauty of the character as introduced in the original Star Wars is that I feel we knew everything we needed to know about him.  What was interesting to me was not where he’d been, but how his crossing paths with Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Leia Organa would change his life, and vice versa.

Having seen Solo, I still feel that way.  This is not a movie that needs to exist.  I have never needed to know the origin of Han’s blaster, or those dice on the Millennium Falcon, or how Han got the last name “Solo,” or exactly how and why Han first met Chewie, or how Han acquired the Falcon from Lando, etc.

That being said, though, I was pleased by how much I enjoyed Solo.  It’s a fun, fast-paced movie with some great action, some nice character work, and lots fun connections to the broader Star Wars saga.  I still think the basic concept of the film is a bad idea, but if Lucasfilm was going to make a Young Han … [continued]

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The Top Twenty Movies of 2016 — Part One!

I am very excited to present my list of my Twenty Favorite Movies from 2016!  While I don’t think 2016 was quite as strong a year for movies as 2015 was, there were still a heck of a lot of great movies released this year!  I debated cutting back and presenting a list of my fifteen favorites this year, but I found that I was easily able to fill a list of twenty, just as I did last year.

Though I have seen a ton of movies in 2016, as always there is still a boatload of movies that I wanted to see but didn’t get to.  These include Silence, Live By Night, Fences, Twentieth Century Women, Collateral Beauty, Moonlight, The Edge of Seventeen, Rules Don’t Apply, Hidden Figures, Everybody Wants Some!, Keanu, Denial, War Dogs, American Pastoral, Frank & Lola, Cafe Society, Whisky Tango Foxtrot, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, and more.  So if you’re wondering why any of those films aren’t on this list, well, now you know.  I am hopeful that I will be able to see many of those films I just listed in the coming weeks, but I couldn’t wait any longer before publishing this list.

Meanwhile, there were plenty of wonderful 2016 movies that I did see and enjoy and yet didn’t make this list.  Those include Jackie, Green Room, The Lobster, Midnight Special, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Office Christmas Party, For The Love of Spockand many others.  (In a few weeks, after I finish posting my Best of 2016 lists, I’ll be posting reviews of many of the films that I saw in my end-of-the-year rush to catch up with as many 2016 films as I could.)

Honorable Mention: Brooklyn This was a 2015 film that I didn’t get to see until well into 2016.  But if I had seen it earlier, it surely would have been one of the top films on my 2015 list.  This gentle story of a young Irish immigrant to the U.S. in the nineteen-fifties was gorgeous and very moving.  Saoirse Ronan makes an extraordinary impression in the lead role, elevating herself from great character actor to true movie star.  In a modern era in which so many American politicians like to demonize the “other,” fostering suspicion and mistrust of anyone not born in the United States, Brooklyn tells a story that brings the immigrant experience to life in a positive way.  This is an important film, and one that is truly alive with joy and pain and a wealth of human emotion.  I loved it.  Click here for my full review.

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20. The Jungle Book[continued]

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Catching up on 2015: In the Heart of the Sea

The director of Apollo 13 has a fan in me for life, and so a new Ron Howard film is always going to attract my attention.  The idea of Mr. Howard directing a film telling the “true” story behind the book Moby Dick is an interesting hook.  There are moments of greatness in In The Heart of the Sea but, unfortunately, the film never really came together for me.

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In the Heart of the Sea begins with a framing sequence set in 1850, in which young writer Herman Melville (Ben Wishaw) visits Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), the elderly survivor of the whaling ship Essex.  Mr. Melville wants to learn the truth of the terrible fate that befell the Essex and her crew, so that he can use the story as the basis for a new novel he is working on.  Thomas grudgingly begins to tell his story, and we flash back to 1820.  Chris Hemsworth plays Owen Chase, the dashing whaler who has been promised a captaincy on his next voyage.  Unfortunately, the money-men for whom he works have instead appointed Owen to serve as first mate for Captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker), a man with little whaling experience but who comes from an influential family.  The two men clash immediately, a situation exacerbated as months pass at sea with little sign of whales.  The Essex eventually travels far out to sea, following rumors of whale-sightings.  Far away from any assistance, they encounter an enormous white whale that quickly proves to be more than a match for the crew of the Essex.

Right away, In The Heart of the Sea has a major structural problem.  The framing device sets up the film as the story of Thomas Nickerson, a young boy on board the Essex.  But as soon as the main body of the film begins, telling us the story of the Essex in 1820, the main character is clearly Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth’s character).  He’s one hundred percent the hero of the story and the focus of the film.  Young Thomas Nickerson is just a minor supporting character.  Now, perhaps this story could have worked as Thomas’ recollections of the powerful, charismatic men who led the Essex.  But that’s not how the story is structured at all.  These events aren’t told from Thomas’ perspective.  Right from the beginning, we get to see scenes that Thomas wasn’t in any way involved or present for, such as Owen’s last hours with his wife, or Owen’s behind-closed-doors meetings with the bankers who financed the Essex’s expedition.

So the whole structure of the film doesn’t really work at all!  I found that hugely distracting as I was watching the film.  I truly … [continued]

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News Around the Net

I am speeding ahead with Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, and loving every page.  (Click here if you missed yesterday’s review of Book II: The Drawing of the Three.)  Now comes word that Ron Howard and Brian Grazer have acquired the rights to the series, and are planning a trilogy of films AND A SIMULTANEOUS TV SERIES.  Here’s the juiciest quote from Deadline.com:

The plan is to start with the feature film, and then create a bridge to the second feature with a season of TV episodes. That means the feature cast—and the big star who’ll play Deschain—also has to appear in the TV series before returning to the second film. After that sequel is done, the TV series picks up again, this time focusing on Deschain as a young gunslinger. Those storylines will be informed by a prequel comic book series that King was heavily involved in plotting. The third film would pick up the mature Deshain as he completes his journey.

WOW.  That is an awesomely ambitious idea.  I hope this comes to pass, and that Ron Howard is up for tackling this dense, dark saga.

Here’s an intriguing rumor that Judd Apatow might be returning to television!  It’s hard to know, at this early stage, just how involved Mr. Apatow would be in this proposed show — surely nowhere near as centrally involved as he was in Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared.  But nevertheless, this is cool news.

Sooo… in celebration of the 75th anniversary of 20th Century Fox, the studio is sponsoring a series of one-night-only screenings, in different cities, of some of their most well-known films.  That’s neat.  Except take a look at which film is showing in Philadelphia.  What did those poor Philadelphians do to deserve that???  And what numbskull at Fox considers that one of the the studio’s best films??

OK, so I might need to make a trip to London.

Some cool pics have recently leaked from Captain America: The First Avenger.  I am really excited that Marvel has made the bold choice to set the film during WWII rather than the present day.  I hope we have some great Indiana Jones-style Nazi-stompin’ in our future.

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From the DVD Shelf: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, and Valkyrie

I know some people who can’t stand to see a movie a second time — they think “been there, done that, I’d rather see something new.”  I certainly don’t have anything against seeing something new, but I’m also someone who loves seeing movies for a second time — and, if it’s a good movie, seeing it many more times after that!  (I’m the same way with books, comic books, etc. — I love re-reading stories that I enjoyed multiple times.)

I find that my feelings upon watching a film for a second time often vary wildly from the experience of seeing it originally.  I can absorb the film without all the baggage of hype, my anticipation, etc.  I can also more accurately judge the movie for what it is, rather than what I had hoped it would be or was expecting it would be.

During September I had a chance to take a second look at three films that I really enjoyed during last year’s Oscar rush of films (in late December 2008).  Did my feelings about them change, for better or for worse, upon a second viewing?  Read on!

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button — read my original review here.  Benjamin Button was one of my very favorite movies from last year (it ranked as no. 6 on my list of my favorite films from 2008) and, if anything, I was even more in awe of it the second time around.  The film is magnificent.  It is one of those special collaborations where every single element works just perfectly, from the gorgeous sets and costumes, to the jaw-dropping visual effects (that create fully-realized environments from France to Russia to a tug-boat in the middle of the Pacific, not to mention the completely convincing creation and de-aging of Benjamin Button himself that is as wonderful a combination of makeup, prosthetics, and incredible CGI as I have ever seen), to the wonderful performances by Brad Pitt (who proves in every film he’s in why he is so deserving of his movie-star fame), Cate Blanchett, and a wonderful array of other talented actors.  Director David Fincher (Fight Club, Zodiac) knows how to incorporate cutting-edge visual effects into a film without ever letting those effects overpower the film, and he knows how to tell a deeply emotional tale without ever veering into schmaltz.  As I said: magnificent.  (I also had the fun of watching this film on Blu-Ray, and let me say that my jaw was on the floor at the clarity of the images, the colors, everything.  As the enclosed booklet notes, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was created in the digital realm without ever … [continued]

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Howard/Nixon

December 17th, 2008
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I love movies, and I am fascinated by politics, so it’s no surprise that I am always up for a good political movie.  And make no mistake, Ron Howard’s latest film, Frost/Nixon, is a very good political movie.

Adapted by Peter Morgan from his own play (which attracted notice in London in 2006 and on Broadway in 2007) and directed by Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon details the May, 1977 interviews of former president Richard M. Nixon by British TV personality David Frost.  

Right away the movie gains points in my book by allowing the two leads from the play to reprise their roles.  Michael Sheen, who came to many movie-goers’ attention (including my own) portraying Tony Blair in The Queen (also written by Peter Morgan), creates a compelling portrait of David Frost.  Sheen’s Frost is an intensely likable, charismatic man who has achieved great success but who we can see hungers for something more.  At first that is just his quest to nab the next Big Fish for an interview subject, but over the course of his efforts to make the Nixon interviews happen, we see that morph into a search for something a little more serious.  Then there is Frank Langella as Mr. Nixon.  Believe it or not, I first encountered Langella in a terrific three-episode guest-starring role in the second season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.  His intense gaze and deep voice were gripping, and I was quite intrigued, subsequently searching out many of his other performances.  His films don’t always interest me but as an actor he seldom disappoints, embodying roles as disparate as Perry White in Superman Returns or William Paley in Good Night, and Good Luck.  Langella’s Nixon is the polar opposite of Sheen’s Frost in terms of appearance and temperament, but he is a powerhouse.  The moments when the full force of his personality break loose are an incredible thing to watch.

I was surprised and intrigued by  the way the film was structured as a faux documentary, continually cutting back to the actors, in their roles, being interviewed as we would expect to see in a real documentary.  I have not seen the original play, so I can’t speak to what changes or adjustments were made in crafting the film.  But as a film, it is compelling.  Frost/Nixon is a very talky movie, but that is not a weakness.  I am always enraptured by films that are able to create dramatic tension from simple conversations.  The pay-off in this film is not an action sequence or a stand-off with guns — it is when these two men finally sit down and talk.  

I should also mention the rest of the impeccably … [continued]