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Josh Reviews Vice Principals: Season Two

I quite enjoyed the first season of Danny McBride & Jody Hill’s latest collaboration, Vice Principals.  (Mr. McBride starred in Mr. Hill’s first film, The Foot First Way, and the two co-created Eastbound and Down.)  That first season chronicled the messed-up partnership between the two vice principals of North Jackson High School, Neil Gamby (Danny McBride) and Lee Russell (Walton Goggins), working to take down the newly-appointed principal, Dr. Belinda Brown (Kimberly Hebert Gregory), since they both wanted her job.  At the end of the season, it looked like Gamby and Russell had finally defeated their nemesis and driven her away, but then, well, things went in some even crazier directions.

There’s a lot to enjoy in season two of Vice Principals, as long as you don’t mind a plentiful amount of both raunchiness as well as humor borne from extreme awkwardness and uncomfortable situations.  Personally, I preferred the first season, both because I found the balance between laughs and awkward cringes to be tilted a little more towards the laughs, and also because it felt a little more straightforward, narratively, to me.  The show was over-the-top right from the beginning — I believe that it was only in the second episode in which Gamby and Russell burned down Dr. Brown’s house! — but as crazy as it got, I liked the central concept of these two horrible people, Gamby and Russell, united together in pursuit of their shared, very selfish goal.  Without Dr. Brown as a central enemy for these two numb-skulls to work against, season two bounced all over the place.  The individual episodes were mostly strong, but the story as a whole didn’t grab my interest as much as the first season did.  It felt a little like they didn’t quite have enough story to stretch over two full seasons, which is something of a surprise seeing as the show was, from the beginning, designed to run for just these two seasons.  (What a rarity that is, to have a show created right from the beginning with a planned beginning, middle, and end!)

On the other hand, I love the way the show allowed you to sort-of root for these two a-holes in season one, and then turned the tables in season two as they, and the audience, were forced to reckon with what they had done.  That’s careful, crafty storytelling there.  I also want to emphasize that, despite my criticisms, the show in season two still had the ability to make me laugh out loud and gasp in horror at what was unfolding.  I couldn’t look away, even when the characters were at their most distasteful!

Danny McBride is, as always, fantastic as the dim bulb … [continued]

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Let’s continue my look back at The Top Twenty Episodes of TV in 2016!  Last week I presented part one of my list, with numbers twenty through sixteen.  Onward!

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15. Brooklyn 99: “9 Days” (season three, episode twelve, aired on 1/19/16) – Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) and Captain Holt (Andre Braugher) get the mumps and are quarantined together for nine days.  “9 Days” has one of the most ridiculous premises of any episode of Brooklyn 99, and yet, somehow, it also manages to be one of the funniest.  The Peralta-Holt pairing has always been comedy gold for the show, and this episode really lets Mr. Samberg and Mr. Braugher go at it, assisted by some comically over-the-top make-up effects to depict their mumps-swollen faces.  Gems in this episode include watching the two men discuss their testicular pain, hearing Holt yell “CASE” as Jake tumbles to the ground, and this exchange: Amy: “I’m immune to stuff you haven’t even heard of.”  Holt: “But not immune to braggadocio.”  I enjoyed seeing The Office’s Oscar Nuñez pop up as the doctor who gives Jake & Holt their diagnosis, and I loved Boyle’s description of Rosa as having a “motorcycle helmet for a heart,” as well as his advice on grief: “Real men don’t cry for more than three days.”  And let’s not forget Gina’s comment that: “C-minus is the perfect grade. You pass, but you’re still hot.”  Also: the name of Amy’s trivia team is “Trivia Newton-John”?!  Genius!

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14. Luke Cage: “DWYCK” (season one, episode nine, released on 9/30/16) – This episode, late in the run of the first season of Luke Cage, came at a time in which the Netflix show seemed to be spinning its wheels, stretching time to fill out the 13 episode run by having Luke (Mike Colter) and Claire (Rosario Dawson) inexplicably leave town while the bad guys wreak havoc in order to track down the doc who had a hand in Luke’s super-hero origin.  While I didn’t have much patience for that story development, it allowed room for this episode’s welcome and wonderful spotlight on Misty Knight (Simone Missick), the NYPD officer who has been Luke’s friend and also his most dogged enemy.  I have always loved the character of Misty from the comic books, and I never thought we’d ever get to see this wonderful character appear on-screen, let alone as perfectly realized as she was on this show.  Ms. Missick was a revelation, phenomenal at bringing this strong, honest African-American woman to life.  This episode begins with Misty on suspension, having lost her cool when Claire was in police custody.  Over the course of the episode, we follow Misty’s grilling by a … [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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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]