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Josh Reviews Captain Marvel

Hi friends!  Before we continue with my Captain Marvel review, a quick note.  Perhaps you’ve noticed the Amazon links in my posts for the past few weeks.  MotionPicturesComics.com is now an Amazon affiliate.  I ask your help to please support MotionPicturesComics.com by clicking through one of our Amazon links whenever you need to shop!  We’ll receive a small percentage from ANY product you purchase from Amazon within 24 hours after clicking through.  You DON’T have to purchase the product I’ve linked.  Just click through any link on this site over to Amazon and purchase whatever you normally would.  We’ll receive a small percentage, and that will help pay for keeping this website up and running.  Thank you for your help and support!

It’s been a long time coming, but here, at last, is the first Marvel Cinematic Universe film focusing on a solo female super-hero!  (Last year’s Ant Man and the Wasp featured Evangeline Lilly as the Wasp, though she shared title billing with Paul Rudd’s Ant Man.)  Brie Larson stars as Carol Danvers.  When the movie opens, Carol, known as Viers, is serving as a super-powered soldier for the Kree, an intergalactic race at war with the shape-shifting Skulls.  Carol/Viers has no memory of her past prior to six years ago, when she awoke after a crash and was rescued by the Kree soldier Yon-Vogg (Jude Law).  When their unit is ambushed by Skulls, Carol winds up trapped, alone, on Earth, where she discovers that she had a past here.  She meets up with Nick Fury, a young (two-eyed) agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., and the two team up to attempt to discover Carol’s past and the secret that so many seem to be after.

Captain Marvel is great fun.  It’s a delight to see this strong, powerful female super-hero brought to life on-screen, and Brie Larson is great in the role.  The secret ingredient to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s success has been the impeccable casting of its main characters, and the win streak continues here with Brie Larson.  Ms. Larson absolutely looks the part, but far more importantly is the way this Oscar-winning actress is able to handle the film’s emotional beats.  In fact, she’s at her best in the film’s quiet moments, interacting with characters like Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), or Maria’s young daughter Monica (Akira Akbar).

The film takes place in 1995, before all of the other Marvel Cinematic Universe films, and so in many respects it serves as an origin story of sorts for the MCU, and there are lots of fun connections to be found.  Samuel L. Jackson gets his largest role yet in the MCU as a younger version of … [continued]

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I loved M. Night Shyamalan’s film Unbreakable back when it was released in 2000.  I was excited for a superhero film that took superhero films seriously.  (Two decades ago, I could count all the decent superhero movies that had EVER BEEN MADE on one hand.)  I rewatched Unbreakable a few weeks ago, and even when viewed in the context of today’s golden age of superhero films, I think the film holds up well.  It’s got a compelling story, a terrific cast, it’s gorgeously shot (the way Mr. Shyamalan composes the images and stages his scenes is amazing), the dialogue is rich and multi-layered.  It’s great!  It’s still one of my very favorite superhero films.

In my opinion, its only weakness is that it feels like it’s missing its last 30 minutes.  The film is all set-up, but no payoff.  It feels like a perfect first two acts of a film… that is missing act three.  To this day I can’t believe the film ends when David Dunn (Bruce Willis), discovers the truth about what Elijah (Samuel L. Jackson) has been up to.  I was expecting an exciting confrontation between these two opposites to unfold… but instead, Elijah just gives himself up and the film ends!  And so, ever since 2000, I felt that Unbreakable was a film that was crying out for a sequel.  But as the years passed, I had long ago given up hope that one would ever arrive.

Then, out of nowhere, Mr. Shyamalan surprised the world by revealing in the closing scene of his 2016 film Split that it was, in fact, a stealth sequel to Unbreakable!  Since that film was a hit, it allowed Mr. Shyamalan to finally return fully to the world of Unbreakable with his latest film, Glass.

Glass serves as a sequel to both Unbreakable and to Split.  Split’s villainous character, Kevin Wendell Crumb (nicknamed “the Horde”) is still on the loose, and he has kidnapped more young women.  We learn that, in the years since Unbreakable, David Dunn (now nicknamed “the Overseer”) has continued to seek out wrong-doers, assisted by his son Joseph.  David sets out to find and stop Kevin.  When the two meet, they battle to a standstill which is interrupted by the police, who take both men into custody.  They bring David and Kevin to a psychiatric facility, overseen by Dr. Ellie Staple.  Elijah is also being kept there.  Dr. Staple believes that all three men suffer from a mental illness, deluding themselves into thinking that they are super-powered.

I was extremely excited for Glass, but I was also dubious that Mr. Shyamalan would be able to craft a satisfactory sequel.  I loved Mr. Shyamalan’s first three … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Incredibles 2

Back in 2004, Brad Bird’s The Incredibles was a revelation — an extraordinary animated film that was gorgeous and funny and moving.  It was a major change of pace for Pixar (it was their first film with human beings as the main characters), and it was also, in the era before the Marvel Cinematic Universe, one of the best superhero movies I’d ever seen.  For those of us who knew and loved Brad Bird’s animated film The Iron Giant, it was no surprise that Mr. Bird could create an extraordinary animated film, but still, the delights of The Incredibles are hard to overstate.  Fourteen years later, The Incredibles still stands as one of my favorite Pixar films, AND one of my favorite superhero films.  I was, of course, excited when, after long years of wishes and speculation, it was announced that Mr. Bird and Pixar were finally in serious development on an Incredibles sequel.  But could a sequel made fourteen long years after the original recapture the magic of that first film?

For the most part, I am very happy to report that Incredibles 2 does!!  The first Incredibles still stands as the superior film, but this sequel is a beautiful companion piece, an exciting and very entertaining new chapter for these characters.  It’s a thrill to be able to return to this world.

Although this sequel has been released fourteen years after the original film, it’s set immediately following the climactic battle at the end of the first film, and we get to follow the repercussions of those events on the Incredibles family (the Parrs).  While the family was able to save the day and return to the public eye, the law that bans supers didn’t magically vanish overnight, meaning that the Parrs are continuing to break the law each time they don their costumes and fight crime.  After a battle in a city center with “the Underminer” causes major damage, the “Super relocation” program is permanently ended, meaning that Helen and Bob, along with their kids Violet, Dash, and baby Jack-Jack, are left on their own to figure out where to go and how to make a living.  Enter Winston Deaver, a wealthy super-hero fan who offers to use he and his sister Evelyn’s resources and PR know-how to get the public back on the side or the Supers.  Winston and Evelyn ask Helen to be the front-person for their campaign, leaving Bob to tend to the kids.

There is a lot to love about Incredibles 2.  Despite the long gap between films, I was pleased by how effortlessly the film is able to step back into this world and these characters, and the enjoyably fun and somewhat … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Avengers: Infinity War!

Once again, the wizards at Marvel Studios have pulled off the near-impossible: seamlessly weaving together characters and story-threads from the previous EIGHTEEN Marvel Studios movies into an epic, compelling super-hero extravaganza that is fun, funny and heartbreaking in equal measure.  The years-long win-streak that Marvel Studios has been on is so far beyond unprecented that I am running out of words with which to describe it.  Avengers: Infinity War is pretty much everything I wanted it to be.

Avengers: Infinity War, like all the previous Marvel Studios films, certainly can be viewed and judged on its own.  The makers of these Marvel films never forget to allow each movie to stand on its own two feet.  But its emotional heft, like that of so many of the recent Marvel films, most notably Captain America: Civil War, comes from the way the film moves forward and pays off story-lines and character-arcs that have be developing over the course of so many of these previous eighteen movies.

Primarily, of course, this film finally brings together the story of the Infinity Stones, so many of which have been popping up throughout this film series.  For instance, we have followed the Space Stone — also referred to as the Tesseract — from the Red Skull’s possession in Captain America: The First Avenger, to the hands of S.H.I.E.L.D. and then Loki and then the Asgardians in The Avengers, back to the hands of Loki at the end of Thor: Ragnarok… and now into the hands of Thanos in this film’s opening sequence, which follows immediately from the end credits sequence of Ragnarok in which the spaceship of surviving Asgardians was intercepted by Thanos.

It’s great fun to finally see all of the stories of these different Infinity Stones finally come together in this film as Thanos tracks them down, one by one, across the universe.  (Although the details have been changed, I was pleased that this movie’s structure borrows as much from Jim Starlin’s Thanos Quest story as it does from his more famous Infinity Gauntlet series.  The original Infinity Gauntlet story opens with Thanos already in full possession of all six Infinity Gems, as they were called in the comics.  It was the two-part Thanos Quest miniseries that told of how Thanos managed to acquire all the stones and, in a wise choice, it is that story which forms the basic structure of this film.)

But beyond that, this film is packed with moments that reward the attentive viewers of this series.  When a character mentions that Thanos devastated Xandar in order to get the Power Stone, that has meaning if you remember getting to know that world in the … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Kong: Skull Island

In 1973, as the United States forces leave Vietnam, a group of soldiers are assigned to what is supposed to be a geological expedition.  Unfortunately, it turns out their mission is at the behest of U.S. government agent Bill Randa (John Goodman), who is attempting to prove his theory that giant monsters exist.  Turns out he’s right, and he has led his unfortunate group to Skull Island, home of King Kong and lots of creatures that are even worse.

Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ film Kong: Skull Island is a fun, clever reinvention of the King Kong mythos.  The film is part Apocalypse Now, part monster movie, part multi-character ensemble drama.  It has some intense action beats and some moments of great comedy.  Skull Island is a robust mixture of a lot of different influences and elements, and somehow it all comes together to create an enjoyable, modern take on King Kong, a character originated in 1933.

I write “modern” take, though I was surprised that the film is actually a period piece.  The prologue is set in 1944, and the rest of the film takes place in 1973.  I love this choice.  The film has a slightly retro look that differentiates it from other recent monster movies, and the post-Vietnam setting winds up being a perfect opportunity for the film to explore some interesting character beats.  (This isn’t a film that dives too deeply into any characters, which is the film’s main weakness, but the post-Vietnam setting is effectively used as a shorthand to help create a bunch of interesting characters even though the film doesn’t really take the time to explore most of them.)

Mr. Vogt-Roberts’ film is gorgeous.  There are some extraordinary visual effects, no surprise.  Kong himself is magnificently realized.  From the trailers, I was uncertain by the decision to make Kong so enormous, but it works in the film.  This behemoth-sized Kong has quite a different feel from Peter Jackson’s 2005 film.  But in this film’s entirely different setting, it works.  Kong is referred to repeatedly as a god, and this mammoth Kong has that feeling.  The CGI effects that brought him to life are terrific, equally effective when we are looking into Kong’s eyes in extreme close-up or watching him throw down with enormous other hideous creatures.  Tremendous credit must go to Terry Notary, whose motion-capture work was the heart of Kong’s performance.  (Mr. Notary has been doing great work at creating characters in fantasy spectacles for many years now.  I first became familiar with his work from watching the behind-the-scenes documentaries on the DVDs of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films.)

The film includes a number of sequences of rip-roaring monster mayhem.  The intro to … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Hateful Eight in 70mm!

This past weekend I was delighted to have the opportunity to enjoy Quentin Tarantino’s new film, The Hateful Eight, in its 70mm “Roadshow” presentation.  More details on this limited special version of the film can be found here.

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Mr. Tarantino made the unusual decision to shoot The Hateful Eight in Ultra Panavision 70, a long-out-of-use format that uses 70mm film to capture an exceptionally wide image (in the very wide aspect ratio of 2.76:1).  This is a far wider image than the standard widescreen movie image.  While an adjusted, digital version of the film is being released to theatres in January, for a few weeks The Hateful Eight is being released in a special “Roadshow” format, in the intended aspect ratio, and on 70mm film.  This version of the film has been slightly extended by Mr. Tarantino, incorporating some longer takes of certain scenes.  (More details can be found here.)  It also includes an overture at the start of the film and an intermission in the middle.  Audience members also received a cool over-sized playbook for the film as a souvenir.

I loved this presentation of the film.  Everything about the “Roadshow” was designed to make the experience of going to the film feel special, like an event.  This was very cool.  And I was quite fascinated by watching a film in this super-wide format.  The format allowed Mr. Tanantino, working with cinematographer xx, to create some very gorgeous, very unusual compositions.

And so how was the film itself?

It was excellent.

Now, this isn’t one of Mr. Tarantino’s greatest works.  In many respects, it is a far simpler film than most of Mr. Tarantino’s other movies.  There is little of the complicated, jumbled chronology of many of Mr. Tarantino’s earlier films, nor is this film as jam-packed full of plot and incident as many of this other films.  The Hateful Eight unfolds at a far more leisurely pace than most of Mr. Tarantino’s films.  The story is, in many respects, far simpler.  And it basically only takes place in two locations — inside a horse-drawn coach and then, for the rest of the film, inside “Minnie’s Haberdashery” in the middle of a blizzard.

But I sort of loved the simplicity of the film, the way Mr. Tarantino allowed the story to slowly unfold, and the characters to slowly unwrap themselves, over the course of the film’s almost three-hour run-time.  No one, and I mean no one, can wring suspense out of dialogue the way Mr. Tarantino can.  I love the way he slowly tightens the screws on the characters and the audience, and as the film progresses the tension builds and builds and builds.  When the … [continued]

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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]

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Josh Reviews Kingsman: The Secret Service

I was thrilled when I head that Matthew Vaughn would be directing an adaptation of Mark Millar & Dave Gibbons’ wonderful comic book series, The Secret Service.  I adored the original comic, and I had loved Matthew Vaughn’s previous adaptation of a Mark Millar-written comic-book: Kick-Ass.  (Click here for my original review.)  That Matthew Vaughan would be adapting another Mark Millar comic book was very exciting to me.  As the release of the film adaptation grew closer, my excitement only grew.  I felt that I was privy to a secret that few knew.  I couldn’t wait to see movie-goers, who were unaware of the comic, have their heads spun by this deliriously profane, violent twist on the James Bond mythos.

But while I have read a lot of glowing reviews of Kingsman: The Secret Service, I found myself disappointed.  It felt like all the elements of a great film were there.  I love the central hook of the story.  (Both the idea of playing with the cliches of the James Bond films as well as the notion of a guy-centric, violent take on My Fair Lady.)  The casting of the film was spectacular, most notably the genius idea of casting Colin Firth in the role of the fearsome British super-spy.  The film looks great, and there are some terrific moments in the movie.

But I never felt the film quite lived up to the potential of its premise.  It didn’t capture the fun of the jaw-dropping twists and turns of the original comic, nor did it live up to it’s central idea as a spin on the concept of the James Bond-like super-spy.

I think my biggest over-all complaint is that the film is overly convoluted.  It felt like the filmmakers took the fairly simple, straightforward premise of the original comic and complicated-it-up with a lot of unnecessary meandering.  Here are two examples.  First, it’s a predictable idea that, in this sort of film, the mentor is eventually going to get pushed aside by the story so that the young protege can save the day.  In the film, that happens TWICE.  Colin Firth is introduced as the super-spy agent Galahad, mentor to the young Eggsy (Taron Egerton).  But then he falls into a coma, and Eggsy is left on his own in a dangerous world.  But then Galahad gets better, and so he and Eggsy can partner up again.  But then Galahad is again knocked out of play so that Eggsy can be the lone hero for the climax.  Why give us this same plot twist twice?? Consider also the film’s introduction.  In the comic book, the series opens with a James Bond-type agent attempting to rescue celebrity … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Captain America: The Winter Soldier

As Marvel Studios impresses yet again with another high quality super-hero film, one that honors and respects the source material while also being accessible to newbies and entertaining as a film in its own right, it’s easy to forget what a miracle this is.  There are so many ways that a character like Captain America could have been done so wrong.  Really, it’s so simple to imagine a million different terrible, pain-inducing versions of a Captain America movie.  So once again, bravo to Marvel mastermind Kevine Feige and his huge team of collaborators for giving life to another dynamite film.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is not perfect, but it’s a rollickingly entertaining film that I think would be fun for kids and adults alike.  After The Avengers (click here for my review), I wondered if I could ever again be satisfied by these heroes’ solo films, but with the one-two-three punch of Iron Man Three (click here for my review), Thor: The Dark World (click here for my review), and now Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I must say with no small degree of admiration that so far Marvel’s Phase Two (the films taking place after The Avengers and leading up to the next Avengers film, The Avengers: Age of Ultron) has been far more consistent than the much-admired Phase One.

Having been awoken in the twenty-first century, Captain America has continued to fight the good fight as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., but the array of cloak-and-dagger missions has left Steve Rogers feeling somewhat dissatisfied.  When he learns of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s new plan to use advanced technology and weaponry to take their strategy of eliminating threats before they happen to a whole new level, his dissatisfaction turns to distrust.  Soon Captain America finds himself on-the-run, a fugitive from S.H.I.E.L.D., and facing a powerful new enemy in the form of the Winter Soldier, a cybernetically-enhanced mercenary with a shocking tie to Cap’s past.

In a dramatic and savvy tonal shift from Captain America: The First Avenger’s nostalgic, pulp adventure tone, this sequel is a super-hero movie meets political thriller.  This is a really smart way to thrown Cap into a whole new kind of adventure in which the character’s inherent honesty and nobility is forced to confront the sticky complexity of twenty-first century threats to our freedom.  I loved this aspect of the film, and only wish the script had dug a little deeper into those shades of grey before spelling out for us exactly who the bad guys are.

Chris Evans is again fantastic as Steve Rogers/Captain America.  Probably the most important key to the success of all these Marvel movies has been … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Django Unchained

Watching Django Unchained, the new film from writer/director Quentin Tarantino, I kept thinking to myself that I can only imagine this must have been what watching Blazing Saddles was like, back in 1974 when it was originally released.  Both films deal with slavery and America’s ugly racial history head-on, but filtered through an unexpected genre.  In Mel Brooks’ case, the story was told via a raunchy comedy.  In Quentin Tarantino’s film, the story is told via an exploitation action/adventure.  Using their unique prisms, both films tackle the issue of slavery, and all of the horrendous dehumanization that entailed, far more directly than any straight “dramatic” film I can think of.

Mr. Tarantino has raised some eyebrows recently by claiming that he feels his film is more authentic even than the seminal TV adaptation of Alex Haley’s Roots.  I don’t want to wade into that drama at this time, but I bring up Mr. Tarantino’s comments in order to illustrate what seems clear to me was the film’s goal: to use the visual language and style of the spaghetti western to make a powerful statement about America’s original sin.

In this, I would argue that Mr. Tarantino succeeded dramatically.  The genius of Django Unchained is that it is on the one hand a potent statement about race relations (both in America’s past and today) and about slavery, while on the other hand being a fantastically fun, entertaining revenge flick/cowboy movie.  This is a fiendishly difficult tone to strike, but Mr. Tarantino makes it looks easy.

There are some jarring transitions.  I found the scene of “mandingo fighting” (that comes soon after we meet Calvin Candie) to be extremely difficult to watch, and it took me a while to shake that and allow myself to get back into the fun.  But it seems to me that this is by design.  Mr. Tarantino wants us to have a good time watching his film, but he also doesn’t want to take the easy way out in his depiction of slavery.  He wants to make us look right at these terrible crimes that man committed unto his fellow man.

But make no mistake, Django Unchained is a phenomenally entertaining time at the movies.  Mr. Tarantino’s two primary skills are on constant display as the film progresses.  One: the beauty of his dialogue, and his ability to wring enormous tension out of mere conversation.  There are some extremely memorable monologues and exchanges in Django that rank with the very best of Mr. Tarantino’s work.  Two: his fearless use of extraordinary violence, and his ability to turn that gruesome violence into a sort of poetry.  A lot of blood is spilled over the long run-time of … [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: True Romance (1993)

The recent passing of Tony Scott prompted me to pick up two films, both directed by Mr. Scott, that had been sitting for quite a whole on my “to-watch” shelf: True Romance and Crimson Tide. I hadn’t seen True Romance since college, and Crimson Tide since it was originally released back when I was in high school, and I’d long been thinking about re-watching both of them.  As my own personal little memorial to Mr. Scott, I sat down for a fun double-feature last week.

I can’t decide if True Romance’s title is meant to be ironic or genuine.  It’s a jump ball to me.  But the story works either way you look at it.  The movie is a fairy tale, albeit a blood-soaked, crazy, fever-dream of a fairy tale.  It’s totally implausible from the very beginning to the very end, but it’s so endearingly insistent in maintaining a tone of over-the-top madness that it’s hard not to get swept away by the story.  It helps that the two leads, Christian Slater as Clarence and Patricia Arquette as Alabama, are so likable.  You can’t help but root for this crazy couple to survive all the drug-dealers and double-crosses to find themselves a happy ending.  Watching this film, I can understand why Christian Slater was once a big star.  He’s electric in the role, manic and dangerous but with a hundred-watt smile and such a huge amount of cheerful affability that he’s incredibly lovable, even when the movie dares you to turn your back on him.  (We’re not too far into the film before he decides to hunt down and kill a dangerous pimp, spurred on to do so by a vision of Elvis.  You read that right.)  And I’ve never enjoyed Patricia Arquette quite as much as I do in this film.  Yes, she’s written as a comic book nerd’s idea of a perfect woman (sexy and tough and into kung fu triple features), so that of course makes her hard to resist, but she brings so much life to the role.  She’s street-wise but also innocent, naive without being a dim bulb.  Her chemistry with Mr. Slater is magnetic.

True Romance was written by Quentin Tarantino (it was released the year after his directorial debut, Reservoir Dogs), and the film is dripping with Mr. Tarantino’s particular wit and influences.  Like most of Mr. Tarantino’s work, the film is intense and very violent, but also incredibly funny and filled with characters discussing their love of film and music and other geeky things.  Clarence and Alabama meet in the middle of a Sonny Chiba triple feature, what more do I need to tell you?  It’s interesting to see Mr. Tarantino’s … [continued]

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“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]

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From the DVD Shelf: Jurassic Park (1993)

1993 was a banner year for Steven Spielberg.  That year saw the release of two films that he directed: Schindler’s List and Jurassic Park.  Both were phenomenally good, though two more different films I can scarcely imagine.  To my younger self, those dual accomplishments in 1993 embedded Steven Spielberg in my mind as a director at the top of his game who could pretty much do no wrong.  If he could succeed at making both a potent, emotional historical drama, as well as a nail-biting sci-fi action spectacle, then the man could do anything.

I remember very clearly when I first saw Jurassic Park on the big screen.  It scared the hell out of me!  That seems sort of silly now, but I wasn’t prepared at the time for how intense a film it was.  Seeing it projected on the big screen, I was totally blown away by the visual effects, and also by the incredible sound.  Jurassic Park is one of the first films that really made me think about the sound design.  I think it was the incredible sound-scape that contributed to the intensity of the film as much as the amazing imagery.

Watching Jurassic Park, today, on DVD, the film doesn’t have anywhere near that intensity.  It does, however, hold up rather well.  The CGI effects that were so ground-breaking at the time still look great.  That’s a pretty amazing achievement — I’m sure you don’t have to think too hard to come up with a lengthy list of films whose visual effects were groundbreaking at the time but are pretty laughable today — and it’s a testament to the quality work done by all the artists involved with the film.  It’s pretty amazing to me how well-made the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park are.  There wasn’t a single shot that jumped out at me as being silly or fake-looking.  This is important in allowing the film to retain its effectiveness, even almost twenty years later.  It’s critical that the dinosaurs work as believable creatures — otherwise I think you’d be plucked right out of the story.

But the reason why Jurassic Park still works today isn’t just about the dinosaurs — it’s also about how carefully and successfully Mr. Spielberg (and screenwriters David Koepp and Michael Crichton, adapting Mr. Crichton’s novel) establish a believable, interesting ensemble of characters to hang the story around.  It takes almost a full hour of the film before the dino-mayhem really begins.  That time is well-used, as we get to know and care about the folks who are about to be terrorized.

Sam Neillhas never been better than as Dr. Alan Grant, the paleontologist hero of the film.  He’s ornery … [continued]