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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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Steven Spielberg Triumphs Again With The Post!

In 1971, the New York Times obtained a secret study prepared by the Department of Defense on the history of the United States’ involvement in Vietnam from 1945-1967.  These documents demonstrated that a succession of Presidential administrations had been lying to the U.S. public about the war.  The Times published three articles featuring excerpts from these documents, dubbed the Pentagon Papers, before the Nixon Administration obtained an injunction forcing the Times to cease publication of the Papers.  When the Washington Post obtained the documents, executive editor Ben Bradlee and Post publisher Katharine Graham chose to defy the Nixon Administration and publish the Pentagon Papers in their newspaper.  By taking that action, they threw the future of the Post into question and risked possible jail time in a confrontation with the White House over the principle of freedom of the press that would wind up being decided by the Supreme Court.

The Post would be a magnificent film had it been released at any previous point in Steven Spielberg’s career.  But coming now, at this point in time, it is not just a great film, it is an important one.  The film is set almost forty years ago, and yet it feels like it could be taking place today.  (Change some of the names and you realize that, in fact, it pretty much is.)  The Post depicts a Presidential administration that chooses to deflect criticism by attacking the media, by whipping up public sentiment against the press and taking actions to curtail the very existence of an independent press.  It is striking to see the many way in which the story of the Pentagon Papers and the Nixon White House’s battles against the Washington Post echo the news we are reading about in the newspaper right now.  These philosophical battles for the soul of our nation that are depicted in The Post are taking place, again, right now, whether most Americans realize it or not, and the results will determine the future of our democracy.

The Post mounts a powerful defense for the central importance of a free press.  Both Tom Hanks (as Ben Bradlee) and Meryl Streep (as Katharine Graham) have powerful, emotional moments in the film in which they deliver stirring monologues making this point.  This is a film that every American should see.

But putting all that aside, it’s also just a dang great film.  Mr. Spielberg has taken these historical events and brought them to riveting life, and he has done it without using any showy tricks or dramatic directorial flourishes.  Everything in the film feels quiet and restrained.  Even John Williams’ score — which is excellent, of course — dials down Mr. William’s usual bombast and … [continued]

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Josh Reviews O.J.: Made in America

March 1st, 2017
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I was blown away by how much I enjoyed Ryan Murphy’s ten-episode The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.  I loved it so much that I was eager to stay in that world and learn still more about everything and everyone involved in the O.J. trial.  As much as I had been hearing, for months now, how great The People v. O.J. Simpson was, I’d also been hearing incredible things about Ezra Edelman’s documentary O.J.: Made in America.  So, after finishing The People v. O.J. Simpson, I did not delay in diving in to O.J.: Made in America.  I was astounded to confirm for myself that Made in America is at least as good as, if not better than, The People v. O.J. Simpson.  It is an extraordinary achievement in documentary filmmaking and a riveting, incredibly relevant piece of modern American history.

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O.J.: Made in America is a five-part documentary series, made by ESPN Films for their 30 for 30 series.  Produced and directed by Ezra Edelman, it runs a staggering eight hours in length.  That might make it seem like watching O.J.: Made in America is a daunting undertaking, but I found this documentary to be hugely gripping from start to finish.

Whereas The People v. O.J. Simpson told the story of the O.J. trial, Made in America tells O.J.’s complete life story.  We don’t even get to the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman until part three.  You might think the story of O.J.’s early life would be boring, and that as a viewer you’d be eager for the documentary to hurry up and get to all the juicy intrigue of the trial.  But I was instantly engrossed and fascinated by the story of O.J.’s rise to fame and stardom, on the football field and off of it.  It was interesting to explore O.J.’s step-by-step rise to his status as a well-known and beloved star.  It’s also incredibly sad.  Watching the early footage of a happy, smiling young O.J., you can’t help but wonder, just how did it all go so wrong?  That is one of the main stories of this documentary.

But what I hadn’t realized going in was that Mr. Edelman’s documentary wasn’t designed just to chart the rise and fall of one man, Orenthal James Simpson.  No, Made in America is also a fascinating and insightful history of race relations in Los Angeles.  The most revelatory section of the documentary, and the episode that made my Best Episodes of TV in 2016 list, was “Part Two,” which dug deep into the years of abuse (both real and perceived) of the African-American community by the L.A.P.D. (Los Angeles Police Department).  … [continued]

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Josh Reviews HBO’s Adaptation of Game Change

Back in 2008, Jay Roach directed the excellent HBO movie Recount, which covered the incredible-but-true contested 2000 Presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore.  (I wrote briefly about Recount here.)  Just a few weeks ago, HBO premiered another political film directed by Mr. Roach: Game Change, an adaptation of the book by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin about the 2008 Presidential election.

The film is excellent.  I’m a junkie for political films and documentaries, and I was absolutely gripped by Game Change. Mr. Roach and writer Danny Strong (who also wrote Recount) are able to bring the ins and outs of the political maneuverings of a campaign to life, mostly by focusing (as did Mr. Heilemann and Mr. Halperin) on the outsize characters involved.

The huge change that Mr. Roach and Mr. Strong made, in their adaptation, was to focus their film almost exclusively on the McCain/Palin side — specifically on the story of Sarah Palin.  Whereas the book Game Change also spent a huge amount of time detailing the Obama campaign and the fierce primary battle between Mr. Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, the film Game Change spends almost zero time with the Democrats.  Because the picture that the film paints of Sarah Palin is an extremely negative one, that unfortunately results in Game Change’s feeling totally lopsided to me.  I loved that Recount was balanced between the Democrat and Republican sides, constantly shifting viewpoints from one campaign team to the other.  Game Change misses that.  While I understand narratively the reason for focusing on Ms. Palin — she’s without question the most fascinating figure from the campaign, and there was clearly enough story about her alone to fill up a two-hour movie — I can see this film being off-putting to anyone with a Republican viewpoint.

It’s hard to separate politics from one’s thoughts about Game Change, because Ms. Palin is such a polarizing figure.  Those who love her will dismiss this film as character assassination.  Those who hate her will see this film as proof that they were right.  I don’t believe this film will change many minds.

Certainly, the notion that the Sarah Palin presented in this film might have been one heart-beat away from the Presidency is horrifying.  The main story-arc of the film is the way that the key members of John McCain’s campaign, particularly Mr. McCain’s chief campaign strategist Steve Schmidt and senior campaign advisor Nicolle Wallace, became convinced that Ms. Palin was shockingly ignorant and potentially dangerous.  For the most part, I was familiar with the events covered by the film so wasn’t terribly stunned by any of the plot developments.  But one thing that I’d never … [continued]