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Josh Reviews Catastrophe Season Three

July 19th, 2017
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I absolutely adored the first two seasons (or series, in the British parlance) of Catastrophe, which I tore through in short order last year.  (Click here for my review of season one, and click here for my review of season two.)  I have been waiting with great anticipation for more episodes, and the six-episode third season did not disappoint!

Catastrophe tells the story of Sharon (played by Sharon Horgan) and Rob (played by Rob Delaney), who hook up for a weekend of passionate sex when Rob is in England on business.  When they discover Sharon is pregnant, Rob decides to move to England and he and Sharon try to make a go of being a couple.  The first six-episode season chronicled the nine months of Sharon’s pregnancy, while the second season jumped ahead a few years to show Sharon and Rob as parents to two young kids.

This third season picks up right after the end of season two, in which Rob has discovered that Sharon secretly had a pregnancy test, afraid that a drunken hookup when she was pissed at Rob had resulted in her getting pregnant.  (It didn’t.)  The show makes quite a meal out of Rob and Sharon’s dancing around one another in the opening episode of this season, with each having knowledge the other doesn’t think they have.  It’s painful but very, very funny.

Which is a great description of the show as a whole!  All of the characters in Catastrophe are flawed, and the situations they encounter are painfully real and human.  At the same time, the genius of the show is the way it’s able to be howlingly funny at the same time!

If I have any quibble with season three, it’s that just as in season two, it is hard sometimes to watch these characters I have grown to love be so unhappy.  Back in season one, both Sharon and Rob were scared and sometimes lost, but they weren’t as put upon by life as we have seen them be in seasons two and three.  That gave season one a fun and a lightness that the subsequent seasons have somewhat lost.  But on the other hand, the show has gotten to a deeper place, which is impressive considering the short run-time of these seasons.  The subtlety with which season three explored the impact of Rob’s falling off the wagon was impressive.  There’s no simplistic, comedic drunkenness here.  Rob is, for the most part (things get worse as the season progresses), a functional alcoholic, and I don’t recall ever seeing that explored in as honest a way on TV as it is here.  I like that, early in the season, we … [continued]

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Josh Reviews War For the Planet of the Apes!

It is a major cinematic miracle that the rebooted Planet of the Apes series is as great as it is.  It would be oh so easy to get this series completely wrong.  (See: Tim Burton’s Ape Lincoln.)  I remain staggered that someone ever had the idea to basically use the fourth film in the original five-film Apes series from the seventies as the basis for a reboot, and flabbergasted that a major studio actually let that film get made.  And that it actually turned out to be good?  Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a great film, and the sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, was a masterpiece, one of the finest pieces of speculative fiction in recent memory.

Director Matt Reeves, returning from Dawn, brings the story to a conclusion with War For the Planet of the Apes.  Set some time after Dawn, we see the remnants of the American military, led by the enigmatic Colonel (Woody Harrelson), attempting to hunt down and destroy Caesar (Andy Serkis)’s colony of intelligent apes.  While the bulk of the colony attempts to flee beyond the Colonel’s reach, Caesar and his closest allies (the chimpanzee Rocket, the gorilla Luca, and the orangutan Maurice) set out to hunt down the Colonel in an attempt to end the ape-human conflict forever.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes remains the true magnum opus of this series.  That film’s richly emotional meditation on humanity, on peace and war, and on mercy and hate, is an extraordinary achievement that War is not ever able to top, in my opinion.  Nevertheless, I found War For the Planet of the Apes to be quite spectacular.  This is no dumb summer blockbuster.  War For the Planet of the Apes wrestles with complicated themes that most CGI-packed big-budget movies steer well clear of.  It is a deeply satisfying conclusion to this three-film saga, paying off characters who have become wonderfully developed over the course of the series.  (The film certainly leaves the door open to future installments, and I would be very happy to see this series continue well into the future.  But if the series ends here, it has come to a fine ending.)

If the film makes any mis-steps, it might just be that title.  Both Rise and Dawn ended with some terrific ape-versus-human carnage, and with a title like War For the Planet of the Apes, I expected this movie to escalate the action right from the get-go.  But War For the Planet of the Apes is not a bombastic action-adventure movie.  Instead, the film is a somber, elegiac tale of broken, near-desperate characters (ape and human) trying desperately to find … [continued]

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Catching Up on 2016: Josh Reviews The Lobster

In Yorgos Lanthimos’ film The Lobster, Colin Farrell stars as David.  Upon discovering that his wife has left him for another man, David checks into a hotel where single people have 45 days to find a life partner, or else they will be transformed into an animal of their own choosing.  David makes friends with two of the other single men there, Robert (John C. Reilly) and John (Ben Wishaw).  Eventually, Ben runs away from the hotel and begins living with the “loners” who live in the woods nearby.  Though the loners forbid any sort of romantic connection between two people, David finds he has feelings for a woman (Rachel Weisz) he meets there.

The Lobster.cropped

The Lobster is an incredibly bizarre film, one that creates a fascinating alternate reality to our own.  Though much of the world of The Lobster looks and sounds just like our own, we are presented with two fanatically extreme versions of society: one in which coupling is so important that failure to do so results in the end of one’s human life, and another in which coupling is absolutely forbidden.  The film is a compelling commentary on societal pressure to find romance and a life-partner.  How critically important to one’s life and happiness is finding a romantic partner?  Why do we, as a society, put so many rules on people’s love lives, on what is expected and what is permitted?  The Lobster is a rich satire that prompts deep questions.

Colin Farrell is terrific in the lead role, marvelously underplaying the character of David.  Mr. Farrell is beautifully naturalistic and honest in his performance.  While the world of The Lobster can feel outlandish at times, Mr. Farrell provides a critical anchoring to the proceedings with his emotional honesty, and his depiction of a man at a crossroads, struggling to figure out who he is and what he wants and whether he feels he has any self-worth.  The film works as well as it does 100% because of Mr. Farrell’s strong performance.  Mr. Farrell is a handsome man who usually exhibits a ferocious, kinetic energy in his performances.  But here, beneath a paunch and glasses and a ridiculous moustache, it’s as if he has drained every ounce of life and energy out of himself in order to bring the sad-sack David to life.  It’s quite spectacular.

John C. Reilly is always great, and he’s a ray of light in this mostly downbeat film.  His character, Robert, is lonely and unhappy, but Mr. Reilly brings a little spark to every one of his line readings that brings a sense of fun and play into what is, when you think about it, a very broken character.  Ben Wishaw (… [continued]

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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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Josh Reviews Silicon Valley Season Two!

I am way behind on Silicon Valley (which is currently airing its fourth season), but after watching season one last month, I quickly plowed ahead into season two.  I’m pleased at how smoothly the show entered its second season, maintaining an impressive consistency with the great season one.  This show is every bit as funny, fascinating, and filled with hilarious and painful frustrations for all of its characters as it was in its terrific initial season.

Season two picks up right after Pied Piper’s unexpected victory in “Tech Crunch” at the end of season one.  While that victory saved the company, that burst of success has quickly led to scores of new problems.  With Peter Gregory’s passing, Richard and his team have to look elsewhere for funding, which is how they find themselves in bed with the fast-talking, self-centered, expensive-car-driving Russ Hanneman.  Meanwhile, Hooli C.E.O. Gavin Belson sues Richard, claiming that Richard developed Pied Piper while still working for Hooli and that, as such, Hooli owns Richard’s compression algorithm.

Season two is a blast, hugely funny and filled with lots of great moments.  It’s also heartbreaking, as we watch Richard and his well-meaning group of friends and co-workers at Pied Piper running up against hurdle after hurdle after hurdle.  Season two makes clear that one of the main themes of the show is about how almost-impossible it is to actually succeed at creating a new tech start-up.  Far from idealizing this process, the meat of the show’s story-telling comes from exploring the many agonies and humiliations that anyone pursuing this goal has to go through.  It’s tough to watch how Richard’s every little victory soon turns into an even larger problem, but this is a central aspect of the show’s story-telling.

The death of actor Christopher Evan Welch, who played Pied Piper’s financial backer Peter Gregory in season one, was a huge loss to the show, and in my review of season one I wondered at how the show would replace him.  At first, in season two, it seemed that they chose to replace him by creating a female version of him: Laurie Bream (Suzanne Cryer).  Ms. Bream seemed to be just as socially awkward and abrupt as Peter Gregory was.  It made for some very funny scenes, but I admit to being somewhat disappointed that the show would replace the great character of Peter Gregory with one so similar.  I wonder if the show-runners had the same realization, because while at first it seemed that Laurie Bream would step right into Peter Gregory’s role in the show, the third episode introduced Chris Diamantopoulos as Russ Hanneman, a very different type of boss for Richard and co.  While Russ at … [continued]

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Star Trek: Section 31: Control

Late in the run of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the show revealed the existence of a covert group that had been operating secretly with the Federation for over 200 years called Section 31.  This black ops agency was tasked with doing whatever was necessary to protect the Federation’s interest, but operated without oversight and without any restrictions.  The idea that the Federation, the utopian society created by Gene Roddenberry, might have been supported by such an immoral, whatever-it-takes organization was seen as controversial by some Star Trek fans.  Personally, I loved the idea.  It was just one way in which DS9, in my mind the greatest of the Trek series, confronted the realities of the civilization Gene Roddenberry had originated, and forced its characters to make tough moral choices in a difficult, grey universe.  “It’s easy to be a saint in Paradise,” DS9′s main character, Benjamin Sisko, stated at one point.  It is much harder to be a saint in the real world, and part of DS9′s greatness was that it repeatedly confronted its heroic characters with difficult moral dilemmas.

Section 31 became a major story-point in the series’ last year and a half.  After discovering the existence of the organization, Doctor Julian Bashir and Chief of Operations Miles O’Brien worked to defeat 31 and drag the organization into the light.  In the series’ antipenultimate episode, “Extreme Measures’” Bashir and O’Brien finally strike a major victory against 31 and find the secret to saving Odo from the morphogenic virus that 31 had created to destroy the Founders.  I think DS9′s final run of episodes is the best sustained run of Star Trek episodes ever, though actually I think “Extreme Measures” is something of a weak link.  Section 31 had been built up as such a powerful organization, with its tendrils throughout the Federation, that it felt too easy how Bashir and OBrien were able to outwit them.

And so I have been pleased that Pocket Books’ Star Trek novels have picked up the thread of Section 31, re-establishing them as a major adversary for our heroes.  These post-finale novels have suggested that Bashir and O’Brien’s actions in “Extreme Measures” did mot defeat 31, that it was just a minor setback for the still-powerful organization.  Over the course of the last decade-plus of Trek novels, we have followed Dr. Bashir’s continuing efforts to defeat the insidious Section 31.  Author David Mack seems to have taken chief charge of this story-line in his recent novels A Ceremony of Losses and Section 31: Disavowed.  Forced out of Starfleet following the events of The Fall crossover series, Dr. Bashir and Sarina Douglas have together attempted to infiltrate Section 31 … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four

Back in the early nineties, long before our modern age of high-quality, big-budget, prestigious superhero films, a German film producer named Bernd Eichinger acquired the rights to Marvel’s Fantastic Four. Despite the FF being one of the biggest names in the Marvel Comics sandbox, the rights were acquired for a piddly sum (reportedly around $250,000), and no major studio was interested in the project. So Mr. Eichinger’s company, Constantin, partnered with Roger Corman to produce the film. Mr. Corman was the master of schlocky, low-budget sci-fi and fantasy films, and together they agreed to a budget of one million dollars for the project (a large sum by Mr. Corman’s standards but tiny for major action-adventure films, even of the day). The film was written, filmed and edited. But it was never released.

Marty Langford’s documentary Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four tells the story of the film’s origin, its production and post-production, and the machinations that eventually resulted in its being buried, and the prints destroyed.

I love cinematic what-if stories (such as Jodorosky’s Dune or Lost in La Mancha, a look at Terry Gilliam’s many failed attempts to create a Don Quixote adaptation), and Mr. Langford’s documentary is a fascinating look back at a film that almost was. Whereas Alejandro Jodorosky’s adaptation of Dune was stopped mere weeks before production, and Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote was halted after a few days of production, Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four adaptation (directed by Oley Sassone), was fully shot and edited and ready to be released to theatres. And yet, it never was.

From what Mr. Langford is able to unravel, Avi Arad, who was involved in bringing the X-Men and Spider-Man to the big screen in 2000 and 2002, was working on a big-budget version of the Fantastic Four, and he worried that the release of a low-budget ruin would make the title into a joke for the public and ruin his chances at a successful big-budget release. So he apparently struck a deal with Constantin and Roger Corman to buy the film from them, and have all the prints destroyed.

Doomed! is a very enjoyable look and the life and death of this film. Mr. Langford has scored interviews with all of the film’s participants, from the director to the cast to many of the behind the scenes creatives and even Roger Corman himself. (The only major player not interviewed is Avi Arad, who was reportedly the main force behind the film’s eventual burial. I can fully understand why Mr. Arad might not want to participate in this film!) Through the documentary, we follow this Fantastic Four film’s inception and production. Mr. … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Master of None Season Two

The wonderful and dearly-missed Parks and Rec made me a big fan of Aziz Ansari, and so I eagerly followed him to Master of None, a show he created (along with Alan Yang) and ran (ditto) and also starred in.  I thought the first season was marvelous, funny and heartfelt.  It felt adventurous; the work of a small group of young, talented artists eager to stretch what a TV show could be.  Season two is even better and bolder, brimming with confidence, as if Mr. Aziz and his team were saying to us, “OK, now sit back and see what we can really do.”

Just as the first season had, as its narrative backbone, the relationship between Dev (Aziz Ansari) and Rachel (Noël Wells), season two follows the slow course of the friendship and maybe-romantic relationship between Dev and Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi), a beautiful young Italian woman who Dev meets in Modena.  As was the case in season one, the strong writing and terrific performances quickly hooked me into this story-line.  As an audience-member you quickly grow to care for both Dev and Francesca (as we had previously with Rachel), and root for their happiness.

While that story-line gives the season a structure, and a momentum from episode-to-episode, I love that Mr. Ansari and Mr. Yang have continued to resist the newly-popular, and somewhat problematic, format of having all the episodes of a streaming season run one into the next like one long movie chopped into little bits.  To my delight, this season strikes a perfect balance between telling a complete story from start to finish while also allowing each individual episode to be distinct on its own.

The story-telling and stylistic inventiveness that I enjoyed in season one has been taken to an even higher level here in season two.  Each individual episode of the season demonstrates a near-boundless freedom to explore different directions stylistically and in terms of content, topic, and structure.  It’s marvelous to behold.  Here are just a few examples: The first episode, “The Thief,” finds Dev in Italy learning to make pasta, and the entire episode is filmed in black and white in homage to the Italian films we learn Dev enjoys, particularly Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves.  What an adventurous, clever way to begin this new season!  In “First Date,” we follow Dev through a series of first dates with women he has met on a dating app, some more successful than others, which are all edited together, allowing us to bounce back and forth from date to date as if they were all happening on the same night.  It’s a master class in writing and editing and performance, and the result is … [continued]

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