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The Trial of the Chicago 7, written & directed by Aaron Sorkin (mastermind behind Sports Night & The West Wing, writer of such terrific films as A Few Good Men, The Social Network, Steve Jobs, Moneyball, and Charlie Wilson’s War, and the writer/director of the underrated Molly’s Game) tells the story of the seven men (really eight, counting Bobby Seale, the co-founder of the Black Panthers) who were put on trial by the U.S. government following the violence between the Chicago Police and the anti-war and counter-culture protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.  The film is a story about members of our government using their political power to try to destroy their enemies.  It’s about how our criminal justice system can be twisted by bad-faith actors to be used as a weapon against against our citizenry.  And it’s about men and women protesting what they see as the wrongs of our society and being met by anger and violence from the police.  In short, this is not only a critical history lesson that’s important for every American — it’s also a film that is very much about what is happening in the United States of America today in 2020.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is phenomenal.  It’s riveting.  It’s funny and it’s horrifying.  It’s a film that will make you angry — it’s designed to do so — but it’s not a depressing slog.  Mr. Sorkin’s skill with dialogue ensures that almost every single scene is so brilliantly written that you’ll be dazzled by the word-play.  His skill with structure ensures that he is able to dramatize a trial that went on for month after long month is presented in such a way that, when watching the film unfold, you’re carried along with the drama of the story.  The film that is jam-packed with characters and plot points, but Aaron Sorkin’s stills as a writer and director ensures that none of this ever becomes overwhelming or confusing or, worst of all, boring.  (The film’s opening sequence, which introduces us to a wealth of characters and backstory in a mile-a-minute series of walk-and-talk scenes that somehow manage to be clear, concise, and fun, is magnificent, and gave me confidence that I was in good hands with this film.)

The cast is absolutely extraordinary.  One of the film’s greatest strengths is how well we’re allowed to get to know all eight defendants in the trial, how they’re each well-developed as distinct and interesting characters.  (OK, six of the eight.  We don’t spend too much time with Lee Weiner, played by Noah Robbins (Zach on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) or John Froines, played by Daniel … [continued]

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“Mind the Eggs” — Josh Reviews HBO’s Watchmen Series

Damon Lindelof’s magnificent nine-episode Watchmen series has exceeded even my highest expectations.  I was blown away by the series premiere, and the eight episodes that followed surpassed even that strong start.  I don’t know what exactly I expected, but Watchmen is far different and far better than I’d hoped.  It’s dazzlingly dark and dense and shocking and heartbreaking.  The series is consistently surprising and original, with each episode filled with memorable imagery and moments.  It is large in scale and contains many wonderful elements of the fantastic and super-heroic.  But this is an adult drama firmly rooted in compelling characters and their stories.  And, like the very best sci-fi/fantasy stories, the series is very much about today’s world, and it has a heck of a lot to say about who we are as a society here in the United States at the end of 2019.  I don’t know what’s next for this show (Mr. Lindelof has questioned, in interviews, whether there will be another season and, if there is, whether he’d be involved), but I will treasure these nine episodes, and I am sure I will rewatch them many more times in the years to come.

There are several key, brilliant decisions that lie at the core of the show’s greatness.  The first is the decision not to do a straight adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ seminal 1985-86 comic book series (the way Zack Snyder’s flawed but underrated film adaptation did).  Rather, the show is set in the world of Watchmen but takes place in 2019, decades after the events of that original story.  This allows the show to be new and original and inventive, rather than just a recreation that would surely suffer in comparison to the near-perfect original source material.  The second key decision, which followed from the first, was to populate the show with mostly new, original characters.  Because it’s set decades after the events of the comic, it makes sense that most of the characters on the show are new ones we’ve never met before.  Here too, this allows the show to be original and inventive.  And it means that when characters from the comic do appear, it’s a pleasurable surprise.  The third and final key creative decision was the choice to, like the original Watchmen, be strongly ABOUT something.  But rather than retreading the comic’s focus (on a deconstruction of super hero comic book tropes and on Cold War fears of mutually assured annihilation), this 2019 Watchmen focuses on racism and the dangers of white supremacy.

There is so much to unpack and discuss.  These nine episodes are rich in plot and character and meaning.  I’m sure I’ll be thinking and … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Season Five of Black Mirror

I think the first six episodes of Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker’s haunting anthology series that explores the many (mostly negative) ways in which technology has and will continue to affect our lives, are a triumph of television.  I love all six of those original UK-produced episodes.  I’m thrilled that the series has found a new life on Netflix, and I’ve quite enjoyed the new Netflix episodes as well, even though I’ve fallen a bit behind on the show.  (There is so much great TV being made these days, it’s hard to keep up!)  I thought that Bandersnatch, the 2018 Black Mirror special that utilized a choose-your-own-adventure type interface to create an interactive experience with the viewer at home, was spectacular.  I’ve recently caught up with the three new episodes released this past summer, and they’re all strong new installments of the series.

Striking Vipers Anthony Mackie (who plays the Falcon in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) stars as Danny, who has a comfortable suburban life with his wife Theo (Nicole Beharie) and their young son.  Danny is reunited at his birthday party with his old friend Karl (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who played Black Manta in Aquaman and is also part of the cast of HBO’s new Watchmen series), who gives him a new video game as a birthday present.  The game is Striking Vipers X, a new virtual reality version of the fighting game the two used to play when they were young.  Now the two can actually inhabit the characters they used to play on a screen: Danny as the buff Lance and Karl as the hyper-sexualized Roxette.  With the VR world, Danny and Karl start having sex in the form of their characters.  The intense sensation of sex within the game begins to make everything else in their real lives feel lesser, and Danny and Karl struggle differently with how to respond.

Striking Vipers was wrenching to watch.  Despite the fantastical aspect of the VR video game, this is a pretty grounded story about a marriage in trouble and two men questioning their sexuality.  The actors are all very strong.  The lead trio of Anthony Mackie, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Nicole Beharie are all terrific, and bring so much humanity to this story.  It was painful watching them all suffer.  This was the hardest-to-watch episode of this trio of new episodes, because the drama felt so real to me.

The depiction of the video-game world come to life in the Striking Vipers game was amazing, a perfect extrapolation of what one of those classic street-fighting video games would look like in the virtual world.  The visuals were very cool.  Pom Klementieff (Mantis from Guardians of [continued]

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Josh Reviews the Premiere of Watchmen

Watchmen, the 1986-87 mini-series/graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, is probably the single greatest comic book story ever made.  The collected graphic novel was selected as one of Time Magazine’s 100 greatest English-language novels of the past century.  (I waxed poetic about the themes of Watchmen here.)  The long considered unadaptable story was adapted into a film by Zack Snyder in 2009.  I quite enjoyed that film and think it’s very underrated, even while I acknowledge that Mr. Snyder failed to incorporate much of the subtext and meaning that made the story so powerful.  (I think the film’s “Ultimate Cut” is a far superior version.  That much-longer version combines an Extended Cut of the film with the animated Tales of the Black Freighter sequences.  If you’re going to watch the Watchmen film, the “Ultimate Cut” is unquestionably the way to go.)

Now Damon Lindelof (Lost, The Leftovers) has brought Watchmen to TV, in a nine-episode new series for HBO.  Mr. Lindelof and his team have taken a fascinating and unexpected approach.  This Watchmen show is not an adaptation of the comic.  Rather, it is a new story set in the world of the Watchmen comic, taking place thirty-plus years after those events.  I have watched the series premiere, and I thought it was thrilling and shocking.  I was completely gripped; so right now I am all-in on this new version and very excited to see where this goes.

This first episode of Watchmen contains a number of small touches that tell us that we’re in the same universe as the original Watchmen comic-book, but this first episode presents us with an entirely new story and new characters.  The episode opens with a riveting sequence, set in Tulsa in 1921.  We’re thrust right in the middle of the Tulsa Race Massacre, a horrifying explosion of racial violence and one of the worst riots in U.S. history.  (I’m embarrassed to admit that I knew nothing about this horrible incident and I had to read up on it after the episode.  I feel a little bit better that creator Damon Lindelof admitted — in this wonderfully in-depth interview conducted by Alan Sepinwall — that he too knew little about this massacre when he first came across the story.)  This is not at all how I expected a Watchmen TV show to begin!  It’s only the first of many wonderfully surprising and unexpected choices made by Mr. Lindelof, and it’s a fantastic opening to the show.  (In a separate article by Mr. Sepinwall, who is one of my very favorite TV reviewers, Mr. Sepinwall makes the astute observation that this opening also presents us with … [continued]

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Josh Has Seen a SNEAK PEEK of AQUAMAN!

December 17th, 2018
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Over the weekend I had a chance to see a SNEAK PEEK of the latest big new DC Universe movie: Aquaman!

While rumor has it that Warner Brothers won’t be continuing with this current iteration of the interconnected DC movie universe following the less-than-stellar reception of Justice League, they did move forward on Aquaman, starring Jason Momoa, who played the character in Justice League.  I have not been impressed with the last few years worth of DC movies.  Other than Wonder Woman (which was terrific), these films since Man of Steel, which have attempted to copy Marvel Studio’s enormously successful model of an interconnected universe, have been mediocre at best and more-often-than-not atrocious (cough Suicide Squad cough).  But I’ve been impressed by the trailers for Aquaman — they looked fun and excitingly large in scale — and the early word was positive.  So what did I think?

I really really wanted to love this movie, I went in with an open heart and an open mind.  But OY!  Aquaman is another big swing and a miss for DC/Warner Brothers.

To continue with my baseball analogy, the film represents a big swing at the plate for DC/Warners.  The scale of this movie is ENORMOUS.  Aquaman is a character who has often been treated as a joke, but DC/Warners threw everything they had at this film.  I respect the film’s ambition.  This is a BIG BUDGET movie and they clearly spared no expense in bringing this project to life.

The best thing I can say is that the film looks gorgeous.  I love the design and look of the many, many underwater settings and species.  I loved the look of all the many different types of Atlantean armor, from the royal garb of King Orm to the mostly white armor of the Atlantean shock troops, to the red armor of the squad of commandos sent after Aquaman and Mera late in the film.  I loved all the underwater ships, from Mera’s sleek cruiser to King Orm’s enormous palace-ship.  I adored the look of the underwater kingdom of Atlantis itself, a futuristic city-scape that was a riot of color.  I loved all of the crazy sea-creatures, from the large sea-fish-like creatures we see soldiers riding into battle (and that Aquaman commandeers at one point, in a nice nod to his silly depiction on the Super Friends cartoon) to the humongous guardian of the Trident macguffin later on in the film.  I’m not sure I understand why the Atlanteans mutated into different species after Atlantis fell into the sea, but I liked the look of the different underwater tribes/creatures.  The film’s climax gives us some crazy-huge underwater battles between all … [continued]