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News Around the Net!

How great is this first trailer for Black Panther?

This looks like a fun new direction for a Marvel film to take.  I hope they really go crazy in exploring this new corner of the Marvel universe.  I loved Creed and I can’t wait to see what director Ryan Coogler has cooked up here.

Speaking of Black Panther, here is an interesting bit of speculation as to whether the same character will be appearing in Black Panther and the upcoming season 2 of Luke Cage, albeit played by different actresses.  I am sad that the Marvel films and TV shows are no longer coordinating the way they had planned to when Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was first launched.

I am hoping that by the time you read this, I’ll have seen Spider-Man: Homecoming.  In the meanwhile, this is a pretty great video analyzing the reasons Sam Raimi’s first two Spider-Man movies worked, while Marc Webb’s two Amazing Spider-Man movies didn’t:

I don’t agree with every single point in that video, and I think the “Spider-Man as Jesus” bit in Spider-Man 2 is one of the film’s few off-notes, but for the most part this video hits the nail right on the head.

Oh man, it looks like What We Left Behind, the Kickstarter-funded Deep Space Nine documentary, is really coming together.  I can’t wait to see the finished product!

Sic Transit Vir (B5 fans get the reference): Sad news of the passing of actor Stephen Furst, who played Vir on Babylon 5 and Flounder in Animal House.  This article is a wonderful salute to Mr. Furst’s great work on B5, and here is B5 creator J. Michael Staczynski’s lament for the far-too-long list of B5 cast members who have passed away, all of whom are missed.

This oral history of Austin Powers is a great read and a fun look back at a film that I used to truly love.  (I haven’t seen any of the Austin Powers films in YEARS, but this article makes me want to revisit at least the first one…)

Is Robotech the greatest love story of the 20th century?  As a kid who first saw Robotech at exactly the right age to fall in love with it, I can get behind this idea!

I loved the first season of Vice Principals, and so I cannot wait for the show’s second (and apparently final) season to air:

James Cameron’s Terminator 2 is being released back to theatres?  I am in!!  I don’t need the 3D conversion, but any excuse to see this great film back on the big screen is very exciting.  Can’t wait:

I lost a decent amount of time exploring … [continued]

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The Top 20 Movies of 2014 — Part Two!

We’re exploring my favorite films of 2014!  Click here for part one of my list of The Top 20 Movies of 2014!  And now, onward…


15.  Life Itself Steve James’ documentary about film critic Roger Ebert is a magnificent love-letter to Mr. Ebert himself, and to his passion: the movies.  The film is a fascinating exploration of Mr. Ebert’s life and career as a movie critic.  We dig into many of Mr. Ebert’s notable film reviews and opinions, and of course there is a lot of great behind-the-scenes details of his relationship with fellow At The Movies critic Gene Siskel.  It’s fascinating to explore Mr. Ebert’s approach to film criticism and to see how that appealed to and/or put off others.  But what makes this documentary extraordinary is that, at the same time as the film tells the story of Mr. Ebert’s life and career, it also follows him and his wife Chaz during the last year or two of Mr. Ebert’s life.  Mr. James and his cameras had impressive access, and we see the extraordinary challenges that Mr. Ebert faced in his last years, as cancer and surgery after surgery left him without the ability to speak, and missing most of the bottom part of his face and jaw.  I’d seen a few photos of Mr. Ebert from those years, but I never understood the depth of what this man went through.  This film presents a wonderfully compelling human story, one that is tragic but also joyful, and it’s all wrapped up in Mr. Ebert’s profound and infectious love for the movies.  (Click here for my original review.)


14.  Fading Gigolo John Turturro has created the best Woody Allen film in well over a decade!  This film, written and directed by Mr. Turturro, who also stars alongside Woody Allen, totally took me by surprise.  It’s rare to see Woody Allen appear in a film he didn’t write and direct, and it’s wonderful to see Woody give such a fantastic performance, full of life and joy and comedic zest.  Murray (Woody Allen) and Fioravante (John Turturro) are friends.  Murray’s used book store has closed, and he finds himself at something of loose ends.  When his dermatologist (Sharon Stone) mentions that she and her girlfriend (Sofia Vergara) might be looking for a man with whom they can have a ménage à trois, Murray offers to set them up with his friend Fioravante, for a modest finder’s fee, of course.  Fioravante requires some convincing, but eventually agrees to go along.  Thus begins an Murray’s unlikely career as a gigolo, and Fioravante’s as a male prostitute!  Everyone seems happy, but things get more serious when Murray encounters … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Blue Jasmine

It was over thirty years ago when Woody Allen himself made reference to fans who preferred his “earlier, funnier movies” (in 1980’s Stardust Memories, to be exact, and holy cow I can’t believe how long ago that movie came out).  There are a great many people out there, including myself, who remain fans of Woody Allen but who, decades later, continue to feel the same way.  Take the Money and Run, Play it Again Sam (which I should mention was not directed by Mr. Allen), Sleeper, and of course the peerless Bananas — these are spectacular films.  Bananas just gets funnier and funnier for me, every single time I watch it.  Part of me wishes Woody Allen would occasionally make another movie like those.  And yet, my very favorite Woody Allen films came after Mr. Allen began incorporating more dramatic elements into his films.  Annie Hall (1977) still stands for me as my very favorite Woody Allen film, and it is certainly one of my top ten favorite movies of all time.  But beyond just Annie Hall, so many of my favorite Woody Allen films came after he moved away from just making silly farces — Zelig (1983), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Hannah and her Sisters (1986), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), Everyone Says I Love You (1996), I could go on.

So it’s not quite as simple, for me, as saying that I simply prefer Woody Allen’s “earlier, funnier movies.”  And yet it’s clear to me that for the past two decades, I have not connected nearly as strongly to Mr. Allen’s new films as I used to.  Even the best-reviewed of Mr. Allen’s recent films — including, most notably, Match Point (2005) and Midnight in Paris (2011) — have left me cold.

So I am delighted to say that while I do still prefer his “earlier, funnier movies,” I found Blue Jasmine to be the best Woody Allen film in nearly twenty years.

Although there are a couple of funny moments, don’t go into Blue Jasmine expecting comedy.  This is a dramatic film, through and through.  But whereas I have found some of Mr. Allen’s previous straight-dramatic work to be dull and joyless (if I never have to watch Interiors again for the rest of my life, it will be too soon), I was thoroughly captivated by Blue Jasmine.

Cate Blanchett is mesmerizing as the titular Jasmine, a wealthy woman on the verge of a complete mental collapse.  Jasmine was a wealthy, high-society socialite, but she lost everything when her husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) was revealed as a Bernie Madoff-type crook and arrested.  Jasmine is now forced to move in with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), … [continued]

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The Top 10 Episodes of TV of 2011 — Part Two!

OK, we’ve arrived at the final installment of my look back at 2011!

Click here for my Top 15 Movies of 2011: part one, part two, and part three.  Click here for my Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2011: part one and part two.  Click here for my Top 10 DVDs/Blu-Rays of 2011.  And, finally, click here for part one of my Top 10 Episodes of TV of 2011.

Now, let’s wrap up my list!

5. Treme: “What is New Orleans?” (season 2, episode 9, aired on 6/19/11) — As the second season built to a climax, everything started to come together in this powerhouse of an episode that encapsulated everything I love about this amazing show.  So many of the story-lines that had run through the entire season come to a head in this episode: The talented young rapper in Davis’ new group begins to upstage him; Lt. Colson gets transferred (against his will) to Homicide; Janette really begins to flower under her new chef in New York City, and so much more goes down.  But the episode’s two highlights come from opposite extremes of the emotional spectrum.  There’s the hilarious sequence in which Antoine steals an audience from Kermit, luring them into the club where his new band is playing… at least until Kermit turns the tables on him.  Then there is the shocking, horribly tragic death of a main character in the final moments.  (I almost selected the Game of Thrones episode “Baelor” for this list — that’s the amazing episode that also climaxed in the death of a main character.  I absolutely adored that episode — it reminded me of the way I fell in love with 24 when they boldly killed off Jack’s wife in the season one finale, a shocking display of anything-can-happen — but ultimately I selected a different episode of Game of Thrones, “You Win or You Die,” for the number ten spot on my list.  “Baelor” was amazing, but it’s testament to the power of Treme that it’s this episode that left even more of a mark on me.)  I am dying for season three of this marvelous show to arrive.

4. Curb Your Enthusiasm: “Mister Softee” (season 8, episode 9, aired on 9/4/11) — Curb Your Enthusiasm is pretty much always great, but every now and then an installment comes along that shoots right up into the level of genius.  My friends, I would postulate that “Mister Softee” is just such an episode.  There’s so much greatness on display in this episode that I hardly know where to begin: With Larry’s condescending, loose-lipped psychiatrist (played by Sy Abelman himself — A [continued]

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Catching Up on 2011: Midnight in Paris

At this point in Woody Allen’s amazing career (and whether you love or loathe the filmmaker himself, you must acknowedge that the man’s writing and directing a film a year for the last forty-some odd years is an amazing achievement) I think that my level of enjoyment of his new films rests largely on which side of the familiar I feel his new films land.

Many critics object to the been-there, done-that feel that they get from Woody’s films these days. And I certainly feel that way myself, sometimes. But, on the other hand, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a great artist continuing to explore certain themes or ideas throughout his work. Painters do that, as do musicians, so why not filmmakers?

Woody Allen’s latest film, Midnight in Paris, opens to a gorgeous montage of images of Paris, set to a piece of jazz music. This is a device that Mr. Allen has used before in his films, most notably in the opening to Manhattan (click here for my review of that seminal film), in which we’re presented with a montage of images of New York City, set to a wonderful piece of music by George Gershwin. Watching the opening of Midnight in Paris, one might sigh and say, “been-there, done-that, this is just the same as the opening of Manhattan.” But, despite the similarity, I still loved this device as a way to open the film. It felt like a stylistic echo of Mr. Allen’s previous work in a way that was like spoons fitting comfortably together in a drawer, rather than repetition done by an artist out of ideas. (It helps that the images of Paris in the opening to Midnight in Paris are so beautiful, and the jazz music so wonderful.)

On the other hand, when we’re presented with scenes, in the early part of the film, in which we meet Gil (Owen Wilson)’s shrewish wife Inez (Rachel McAdams) who is hassling him about his pursuit of “artistic integrity” and who thinks he should just relax and take the easy pay-check (that his Hollywood screenwriting job affords), or when the two argue about Paul (Michael Sheen), with whom Inez is enchanted but who Paul dismisses as an airhead intellectual, I felt that we were on the BAD side of the familiar.

I’ve seen those character types, and those arguments, time and time again in Woody Allen’s films, and I was disappointed to see those same “talking points” returned to here. These character dynamics were interesting to me in Woody’s films from thirty years ago, but now, to me, they feel played out. I would have rather seen Mr. Allen push himself a little … [continued]

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Though I think the quality of his films has dipped considerably in the last decade or two, I remain an enormous Woody Allen fan.  So I tip my hat to Juliet Lapidos from Slate Magazine who just watched every single Woody Allen film and summarized what she’s learned.  It’s a wonderful piece — well-worth your time.  (I’m also pleased that to learn that, after her massive re-watching project, she concurs with my long-held opinion that 1997’s Deconstructing Harry was Mr. Allen’s last truly great film.)

Here’s also a fascinating ranking of Mr. Allen’s films into categories (from the “masterworks” to the “bad”).  There’s not too much I can disagree with about this listing!  It’s pretty spot-on, I think.  A few quibbles: I think Hannah and her Sisters and What’s Up Tiger Lily should be bumped up to “great,” as should Play it Again Sam, Deconstructing Harry, and Zelig. Bananas deserves a spot in the “Masterworks” category, and I’d bump The Purple Rose of Cairo down one notch to the merely “great.”  And Scoop definitely needs to be shifted down into the “bad” category.  OK, I guess I did have some objections!  But still, over-all, a terrific list.

Speaking of obsessive-compulsive types, check this out: a complete guide to every single sneaker Jerry Seinfeld ever wore on Seinfeld.  Very cool (and just slightly frightening).

So, Rise of the Apes (which was originally called Caesar) is now Rise of the Planet of the Apes? Wow, the title just became simultaneously way more awesome and also way, way stupider.  I can’t wait!  (By the way, did you watch the new trailer???)

I’m not sure what makes me happier: that we’re actually getting a new Planet of the Apes movie this summer, or that in New Zealand right now they’re actually, finally, for-real, filming Peter Jackson’s two-film adaptation of The Hobbit. Have you seen the first new production diary? I have tingles.  I’m not kidding!  Peter Jackson was a true innovator with the video diaries that he posted back in the day, chronicling the making of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and then King Kong, and I have fond memories of devouring those whenever they were released during the pre-production and production of those films.  It makes me so happy that they’re finally back, and that The Hobbit is at long last under-way.  CAN’T WAIT FOR MORE.

Are we really just a few weeks away from Thor? I really want that movie to be good, but I’m a bit nervous.  This very positive early review has me optimistic, though!

I’ll be posting a piece soon with my thoughts on the last few DC animated projects … [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: Josh Reviews Whatever Works (2009)

I read all the bad reviews when Woody Allen’s latest film was released this past summer.  But I was dubious.  Larry David starring in a Woody Allen film seemed like a genius idea, to me.  How could a combination of those two neurotic, grumpy Jewish comedians not yield something at least remotely interesting?

Well, go rent Whatever Works and find out.

Or better yet, trust me, DON’T.

Whatever Works is a catastrophe of epic proportions and one of the worst films I have seen in a long, long time.  After 30-40 minutes of the film had elapsed, I was already supremely bored, and only sheer force of will (and the hope — ultimately dashed — that maybe something funny was just around the corner) allowed me to finish the film.  It is certainly one of the worst Woody Allen films I have ever seen.  (Celebrity has always been, in my mind, Woody’s worst film — though now it has strong competition.)

Larry David plays Boris Yelnikoff (as Woody Allen a character name as you’ll ever find), a man described as a genius physicist but who we mainly see as an irritated complainer hanging out in his bathrobe in and around Grennich Village.  Unhappy in life and love and convinced (as so many Woody Allen protagonists are) that life is meaningless and that he is surrounded by an unending parade of idiots and incompetents, Boris spends much of the film vacillating between miserable and merely unhappy.

One night a beautiful homeless Southern girl, Melody (played by Evan Rachel Wood), follows Boris home.  Despite her stunning beauty, Boris is entirely uninterested in her (and indeed spends much of his time berating her for her stupidity).  He does, though, take some pity on her and allows her to stay with him in his apartment.  Then, in one of the most staggering and unconvincing plot twists I have ever seen in a movie (and I have seen a lot of movies with space aliens and time travel), Melody falls in love with Boris and the two get married.

The above paragraph summarizes the entire first half of the film, all of which seems to be nothing more then a lengthy set-up for what was, I supposed, intended to be a hilarious comedy of culture-shock when Melody’s mother (Patricia Clarkson) and, later, her father (Ed Begley Jr.) show up in New York looking for her.  While the movie does, briefly come to something-approaching-life for a few minutes following Ed Begley Jr.’s introduction into the film (at about the one hour mark), it’s far-too-little and far-too-late.

Woody Allen’s movies have often been characterized by some condescension to non-Manhattenites, but Whatever Works is overflowing with it, … [continued]

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From Barcelona to Megiddo: Vicky Christina Barcelona, Towelhead, and Religulous reviewed!

Vicky Christina Barcelona — Yes, like most of you I prefer Woody Allen’s “earlier, funnier” works.  But this is, I think, one of the strongest movies that Woody has written & directed in the last decade and a half.  Vicky Christina Barcelona follows two girls, Vicky (Rebecca Hall, who must have felt bad at being left off all the posters) and Christina (Scarlett Johansson) on a summer holiday in Spain.  The girls are close friends but are very different in nature: Vicky is practical and responsible, while Christina is more spontaneous and emotional.  Their lives quickly become entwined with that of strapping Spanish artist Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) and his ex-wife Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz).

While Johansson has appeared in several recent Woody Allen films, Hall, Bardem and Cruz are all welcome additions to Woody’s repertoire of actors.  Bardem and Cruz, in particular, bring an energy that’s been missing from many of Mr. Allen’s recent works.  Indeed, they both play characters (and sympathetic characters, at that) that are quite different from the more intellectual romantic leads that characterize Woody Allen movies.  There isn’t really an Alvy Singer to be found here.  (The closest approximation would be Vicky’s fiancee Doug, who is depicted not as a hero but as someone rather boring and close-minded.)  While we’re blessed to have a new Woody Allen film almost once a year, sometimes his films can seem to blend together.  (For instance, while many loved Match Point, I couldn’t stop comparing it to what I saw as the similar but superior earlier film, Crimes and Misdemeanors.)  But Vicky Christina Barcelona is quite a unique creation, unlike any previous Woody Allen film, and I really enjoy it for that.

It’s not perfect.  I didn’t care too much for the use of narration throughout the film, which seemed in many cases to spell out for the audience events and motivations that could more easily and elegantly been shown to us through the action.  And as with most stories of love triangles (or, in this case, a love rectangle), I found the set-up to be of more interest than the resolution.  But still, this is a strong new work from Woody Allen that I recommend.

Towelhead — I adore American Beauty, so when I heard that Alan Ball (the author of that film), had a new movie that he was writing and, for the first time, directing, I was immediately interested.  Towelhead tells the story of Jasira (Summer Bishil), a 13 year-old Arab-American girl.  At the start of the film, Jasira’s mother (Maria Bello) sends her to Houston, Texas, to live with her father Rifat (Peter Marcdissi), a strict man of Lebanese descent.  With the … [continued]