\

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

Josh’s Favorite Movies of 2017 — Part Four!

And so we reach the end of my look back at my favorite movies of 2017!  Click here for part one of my list, click here for part two, and click here for part three!  And now, here are my five favorite movies of 2017:

5. The Big Sick The Big Sick, written by Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon and directed by Michael Showalter, is based on the true story of Kumail and Emily’s relationship.  The first half of the film feels like a romantic comedy, and then things take a dramatic shift when Emily falls into a coma.  This film is deeply emotional and also very, very funny.  It feels like the heir to the great comedic-dramatic films of James L. Brooks (such as Broadcast News, one of my favorites).  Mr. Nanjiani and Ms. Gordon’s script is sharp and deep, able to bring the funny in a big way while also diving deeply into these characters and, particularly, Kumail’s struggles to balance the expectations of his Muslim family with his personal life choices.  It’s a delight to see Mr. Nanjiani step so effortlessly into this leading-man role, while Holly Hunter and Ray Romano are spectacular as Emily’s parents.  The film is as much about them as it is about Kumail and Emily, which is a bold choice and a key ingredient of this film’s greatness.  I love this film dearly.  (Click here for my full review.)

4. Star Wars: The Last Jedi It’s hard to imagine a Star Wars film being underrated, and yet, I have found the on-line anger directed towards Star Wars: The Last Jedi to be quite perplexing.  The film is not perfect.  The mid-movie digression to Canto Bight doesn’t work and feels like a colossal waste of time, and the slow starship chase that forms the spine of the film’s narrative is ridiculous (why the First Order ships couldn’t use light speed to zip in front of the fleeing rebel spaceship is a mystery to me), which weakens the entire film.  And yet, there is so much to love in this film.  First of all, I love the film for constantly defying expectations.  Every time I thought I knew where the film was going, it surprised me.  Sometimes those choices worked and sometimes they didn’t, but while many seem to be frustrated that this is not the Star Wars film they’d expected it to be, I love The Last Jedi for that.  (If you want to watch The Empire Strikes Back, they already made that movie!  So go and watch it!)  I love that The Last Jedi attempts to expand our understanding of the Force.  I love Mark Hamill’s work … [continued]

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

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]

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

The Top Twenty Movies of 2015 — Part Three!

What fun this has been, revisiting a great year of movies,  Click here for the numbers twenty to sixteen, and click here for numbers fifteen to eleven.  And now, on to my top ten!

StarWars.ForceAwakens.vaderhelmet.cropped

10. Star Wars: The Force Awakens This was the hardest film to find the right place for on my list. I briefly had it in my top five, and then for a while had it all the way down at number twenty.  This is a film that has me very much of two minds.  There is so much about it that works spectacularly well.  The tone is perfect — this is a Star Wars film that is actually FUN (and funny!) again, a welcome relief after the stiff and dour prequels.  The film is wonderfully paced, carrying the audience along from one great action bit to the next.  The new cast is magnificent, with each actor perfectly chosen, creating a group of new young characters who I can’t wait to follow through additional adventures.  The film looks gorgeous, with beautiful special effects and top-notch work from every production department.  Harrison Ford returns as Han Solo and gives the best performance he’s delivered in two decades.  And yet… there are so many little things about the film that bug me, that don’t work as well as they should.  All of the coincidences and plot-holes.  The muddiness regarding what exactly the situation is with Resistance, the Republic, and the First Order.  The way Han Solo’s final scene works but not nearly as well as it should have worked (something I touched on in both of my articles about the film, and that I’ve been struggling to express to friends when talking about the film.  Thankfully, BirthMoviesDeath’s Devin Faraci absolutely nailed what was frustrating me in this terrific analysis.)  The fact that for the third time the Rebels have to blow up a Death Star-like thing.  This is a film with a lot of imperfections, and yet I do still sort of love it despite how rough around the edges it is.  J.J. Abrams and co-writers Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt have brought Star Wars back to life in a big, big way, and for that they have my thanks and appreciation.  (Click here for my original review, and here for my follow-up post.)

Bridge of Spies.sm

9. Bridge of Spies When Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks work together, you know you’re in for a treat, and Bridge of Spies does not disappoint.  This quiet, intelligent film tells the story of Jim Donovan, a lawyer tasked with defending a Russian spy caught in Brooklyn in 1957 (an act that then  leads to Mr. Donovan’s … [continued]

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

Josh Reviews Bridge of Spies

Bridge of Spies, the new film from Steven Spielberg, spans events in the Cold War from 1957-1962.  The film opens with the arrest of Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), a Soviet spy living in Brooklyn, NY.  Jim Donovan (Tom Hanks), a lawyer who primarily deals with insurance, agrees to serve as Abel’s legally required defense.  Despite the wishes of many around him, Donovan attempts to give Abel the best defense he is capable of, and the two men gradually bond.  In 1960, when a U.S. U-2 spy plane was shot down over Russia and its pilot, Francis Gary Powers, was captured, Donovan finds himself playing negotiator/mediator between the United States and U.S.S.R. governments, as he attempts to arrange a prisoner exchange of Abel for Powers.

Bridge of Spies.sm

Bridge of Spies is not only a fascinating and compelling film, but, like The Martian (which I reviewed last week), it’s also an important one.  The Martian is set in the future in outer space, and Bridge of Spies is set decades ago during the Cold War, but both are films with important things to say about our world and our culture today.  While The Martian champions the value of science and intelligence, Bridge of Spies champions the importance of the rule of law and the rights that all men and women deserve.  In two critical scenes in the film, Tom Hanks gets to deliver powerfully written and marvelously performed speeches that spell out this message succinctly and effectively.  In the first, after being stopped in the rain by a C.I.A. agent who asserts that there is “no rule-book” in these dangerous times, Donovan counters that the Constitution and the rule of law is their rule-book, and that it is their adherence to the values and rights set out in the Constitution that unites him, a man of Irish descent, with agent Hoffman, a man of German descent, as Americans.  In the second, we hear Donovan argue Abel’s case before the U.S. Supreme Court, declaring that though Abel might be their foe, that what sets America apart is our values and our adherence to those values and the rule of law, even when in conflict with an enemy.  Both scenes are powerful declarations of the principles behind which the film stands, and both, I think, are important messages for Americans to hear today.  The issues we face today are no less difficult that those faced in the fifties and sixties; our enemies around the globe no less fierce and intractable; but that is no excuse to abandon our values and our principles out of expediency or because we believe we have no other choice.

Once again, Spielberg and Hanks prove to be a winning combination.  Hank’s … [continued]

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

Peril at Sea Double Feature Part II: Captain Phillips

November 22nd, 2013
, ,

Last week I decided one intense man-faces-death-at-sea movie just wasn’t enough for me.  After watching Robert Redford’s harrowing performance in All is Lost (click here for my review), I went and saw Paul Greengrass’ Captain Phillips.

Tom Hanks plays the titular captain in this based-on-a-true-story of the shipping boat that was hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009, eventually resulting in the ship’s captain being held hostage by the pirates in their lifeboat before ultimately being rescued by navy SEALS.

I’ve read a little bit of questioning as to how true-to-the-facts this heroic portrayal of Captain Phillips is.  Perhaps wisely, Mr. Greengrass avoided opening this film with the standard “based-on-a-true-story” text caption or something similar.  That, and the tremendous skill with which this nail-biter of a thriller has been crafted, allowed me to sit back and enjoy the film without spending the whole run-time questioning it’s veracity.  (It should also be noted that Mr. Greengrass has strongly defended the accuracy of his film.)

Paul Greengrass has become extraordinarily skilled at creating intensely suspenseful, almost documentary-feeling thrillers (that are either based on real events, or that feel like they COULD have been).  He’s so good at this, in fact, that the are quite a few of his films that I have chosen not to see, because they just seemed too tough to watch.  (For example, though I am sure it was made with tremendous craft, I can’t imagine a scenario in which I would ever consider watching United 93.  It just seems too painful.)

But I love Tom Hanks, and his involvement made me push aside any worries that this movie would be too stomach-churning for me to see.  I’m glad I did, because Captain Phillips is a very skillfully-made film.  It’s every bit as edge-of-your-seat intense as I had expected, and contains some wonderful performances.

In particular, I was quite taken by the work of the men playing the four main Somali pirates.  All four are extraordinary.  These non-actors perform better than most highly-paid Hollywood superstars.  Their work is extraordinary, so real and so immediate.  In addition to their strong work, I credit perfect casting and great direction by Mr. Greengrass to help fine and hone such wonderful performances.

Then there is Tom Hanks, so is so good so consistently that he makes it look easy.  For much of the film Mr. Hanks keeps his performance very reined in.  his Captain Phillips is a strong, confident man, but also internal, not prone to demonstrative speeches or big emotional explosions.  (The sharp scrip by Billy Ray, based on the book by Captain Phillips himself and Stephan Talty, is a significant factor.)  Probably my favorite piece of performance from Mr. … [continued]

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

From the DVD Shelf: From the Earth to the Moon

In 1998, HBO aired From the Earth to the Moon, a twelve-part mini-series produced by Tom Hanks, Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, and Michael Bostick.  The series chronicled the Apollo program, the massive American space-flight initiative that ran from 1961-1975 and which resulted in the first human being landing on the moon.

I am a nut for all things related to space-travel, so I eagerly devoured From the Earth to the Moon when it originally aired.  I have re-watched the series all the way through several times in the intervening years, and most recently re-watched it with my wife last month (who had never seen it before).  Although the series has nowhere near the intensity of Tom Hanks’ later HBO historical mini-series Band of Brothers and The Pacific, it still holds up as a phenomenal work of television, electrifying and informative.

What’s fun about the mini-series is that each episode has it’s own style and rhythms.  Obviously there is continuity from one episode to the next, as the stories have to fit together chronologically to tell the story of the developing Apollo program.  But each episode was written and directed by different individuals, and the creative team clearly took great pains to give each hour its own specific feel.  The first episode, for instance, titled “Can We Do This?” (which has to cover a lot of ground in setting up the story and summarizing the entire Mercury program — which was the focus of the superlative film The Right Stuff) is separated into a series of individually titled chapters — basically little vignettes that together paint a larger picture.  The third episode, “We Have Cleared the Tower,” is presented as the work of a documentary crew which was filming the preparations for the Apollo 7 mission.  Episode 5, “Spider,” (one of my favorite episodes of the mini-series) shifts the focus to the incredible amount of work done by all of the designers and engineers who constructed the lunar module.  Episode 10, “Galileo was Right,” focuses on all of the archaeological work that the astronauts had to accomplish (and the extraordinary amount of prep work that they needed to put in in order to do so).  These are just a few examples.  It’s a very clever strategy, as it keeps each episode fresh and new for the viewer.

There are a lot of visual effects throughout the series, and for the most part the quality is high.  There are several sequences of space-flight and Earth orbit that are very beautiful.  But this area is where the seams of this 1998 production show a bit.  I’m sure that today’s technology would have allowed for the creation of far more elaborate special effects.  … [continued]