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Part 3 of Josh’s Review of Star Trek: Discovery Season Three!

Click here for my overview of Star Trek: Discovery season 3, and click here for the beginning of my episode-by-episode review.  And now, let’s dive back in and wrap up my analysis of the season!

Episode 7 — Unification III — Well, they had me with the cheeky title (which harks back to TNG’s “Unification” two-parter), and the rest of the episode was pretty solid as well!  I like the idea that Vulcan and Romulus did finally achieve Spock’s dream of unification, and that Vulcan is now known as Ni’Var.  It’s interesting to see this joined Vulcan/Romulan society is on the outs with the Federation (they left the Federation 100 years ago).  It makes sense that Spock’s sister might be a figure of some importance to them.  It’s interesting to see Ethan Peck as Spock again… and of course it was a delightful surprise to see a clip of Leonard Nimoy as Spock (from “Unification II”) — though, of course, that’s also a continuity problem because there’s no way there could have been a recording of Picard’s conversation with Spock on Romulus.  I like the idea that the Qowat Milat (the brutally honest Roman warrior-nuns from Picard) were essential for the Vulcan-Romulus reunification.

I liked seeing Burnham and Book together.  I liked their sweet post-coital conversation early in the episode.  It’s a fun surprise to see Burnham’s mom again, now somehow a Qowat Milat.  I don’t understand the time-travel plot mechanics of how this could be, nor the character reasons of why a time-travel scientist would become a monk on Vulcan, but it’s always great to see The Wire’s Sonja Sohn again.  I like the scenes between Burnham and her mom.

But I HATE when the show has Burnham’s mom wonder how much of who Spock became was because of who his sister was.  This is really insulting and undermining to the character of Spock, and represents an absurd attempt of elevating the importance of Michael Burnham.  I like Burnham!  She’s an interesting character all on her own!  The show doesn’t need to suggest that she’s also responsible for making Spock into the great character he was!  That’s so silly and unnecessary.  It has the reverse effect intended and, for me, totally undermines the Burnham character.  It frustrates me that in this episode, yet again, Michael and her feelings are at the center of an event of galactic import.

Also: why have all of the scientists on Vulcan, who HAD all of the info from the mysterious SB-19 data, thought for a CENTURY that the Burn started on Vulcan… while Burnham discovers in two seconds that that’s not what happened??  That’s so silly!  It makes the Vulcans look … [continued]

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Part 2 of Josh’s Review of Star Trek: Discovery Season Three!

Yesterday I posted my review of the third season of Star Trek: Discovery.  Today I’m back with a more detailed episode-by-episode analysis.  Let’s dive in!

Episode 1 — That Hope is You, part 1 — For the most part I quite enjoyed this season premiere.  I like the decision to focus solely on Michael Burnham, with no appearances from any other Discovery character.  That’s unusual for Trek, and I like the focus that gave to this episode.  I enjoyed our initial glimpses of this far future into which Michael (and the series) has jumped.  I liked the enigmatic “searching for signals” opening.  I liked the chase through the ruins of starships in orbit of the planet onto which Burnham crashes.  I loved the beautiful vistas of this alien world.  (The location shooting combined with high-quality CGI effects created a very memorable new alien planet.)  I really enjoyed meeting Book (though I hate that his name is a rip-off of a beloved character from Firefly) and his crashed ship was beautifully realized.  I’m glad Burnham sent the time-travel suit away, so she and the show can’t easily return to that magical get-out-of-plot-problems device again.  (Though I’m confused where/when Burnham sent the suit?)  The “Mercantile” trading post looked cool.  I liked seeing Andorians and Orions, and I liked hearing mention of the Gorn.  I loved seeing an alien of the same species as Morn from DS9!

What drags the episode down is the usual Discovery plot problems.  Why can’t the bad-guys track transporters through water??  Why does Book’s ship have enough power to cloak the entire huge vessel but not to beam over to Mercantile?  Also, why does the man seen in the opening have a box with the unqiue-to-Discovery emblem (the split arrowhead design that was never seen before this show) as opposed to the standard Starfleet symbol?  It doesn’t make any sense that this man (who we’ll learn is a Starfleet officer) would have that only-ever-seen-on-Discovery emblem (which, according to this very show, was declared a forever secret by Starfleet in the 23rd century).  It’s laziness by the props department… perhaps combined with an arrogance in declaring that this show’s visual choices should outweigh all previous Trek history.  It’s the same sort of arrogance I saw in Picard, in which we saw, for example, a future Starfleet that didn’t contain a single recognizable starship design — instead, every single ship was a generic Picard redesign.  It’s a missed opportunity.

Episode 2 — Far From Home — After an episode with Burnham, it was fun to step away from Burnham for an entire episode (the first time in the show’s history!) to catch up with the rest … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Star Trek: Discovery Season Three!

I am an enormous Star Trek fan.  Of all the many stories and franchises that I love (in movies, TV shows, novels, and comic books), I don’t think there is any that I love more than Star Trek.  And yet, as a Trek fan, I have been suffering for many years, waiting for good new Star Trek to arrive.  I love The Original Series, and I grew up on Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Starting with season three of TNG (which still stands as one of the greatest seasons of Trek ever made), I was spoiled by regular new Trek that just got better and better, through the seven seasons of TNG and then the seven seasons of Deep Space Nine (which still stands as my very favorite of all the Trek series.)  I expected Trek to continue to get greater, and yet, after the finale of DS9 in May 1999, I have repeatedly been disappointed.  The final two TNG movies (Insurrection and Nemesis) disappointed.  The next two spin-off shows, Voyager and Enterprise, both disappointed.  (Although Enterprise did finally find its legs in the middle of season three.  The end of season three, followed by season four, were terrific, the best Trek in years.  Sadly the show was cancelled at the end of season four.)  The true successor to DS9 was Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica, which built upon DS9 in almost every way.  The three J.J. Abrams Trek movies disappointed.  (The first one is enjoyable, but it gets a lot wrong and is full of lazy plot-holes and contrivances that drive me nuts.  Star Trek Into Darkness is an abomination before the Lord, and Star Trek Beyond is forgettable.)  I was excited for the potential of Trek’s long-awaited return to TV, but the first season of Discovery was terrible and the second season wasn’t much better.  Picard started strong but tumbled into ridiculousness.  The animated comedy Lower Decks has been a sole bright light (I found it mostly delightful), but that’s not really what I’m looking for in Trek.  I went into Discovery season three with very low expectations, but also, as always, hope in my heart that maybe the show had course-corrected.

Well, I’ll say this: I didn’t hate it!

That represents a huge improvement over Discovery seasons one and two… though this series is so far below the quality of almost any Trek series from the Original Series through to Enterprise that it’s sort of hard to believe… and in fact I really don’t consider this to be Star Trek at all.

What’s good in Discovery: season three?  Well, at the end of season two, the series jumped … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom was adapted from the play by August Wilson.  Set in 1927, it depicts a very contentious day in the life of African-American blues singer Ma Rainey and her band.  They’re recording Ma Rainey’s music in Chicago for a white record producer, as arranged by her white agent.  As the day winds on, the tensions rise between the members of Ma’s band and also between Ma and the two white men overseeing the session.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is beautiful and heartbreaking.  Director George C. Wolfe and screenwriter Ruben Santiago-Hudson have done a terrific job adapting August Wilson’s play for this film.  The film retains the feeling of a theatrical experience.  The theatrical rhythm of the dialogue has been thankfully preserved.  And the fact that the film basically takes place in only two rooms belies its theatrical origins.  But this film never felt like a dry, limited adaptation, a pale reflection of what might have been more lively on the stage (the way films adapted from plays can sometimes be).  Mr. Wolfe and his collaborators have beautifully brought this story and these characters to life on the screen in a way that works perfectly as a movie.

Viola Davis plays Ma Rainey, and it’s a powerhouse of a performance.  Ms. Davis’ fiery charisma commands the screen with her presence.  At first, I wasn’t sure what to make of Ma.  After just recently watching Mank, at first I wasn’t wild to be watching what seemed to be another story of a misbehaving, over-entitled, selfish “artist”.  But there’s a lot more to this character, and one of the best delights of this film is the way the story very slowly peels back the layers of Ma Rainey until we understand what’s really going on.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is sadly the final performance of the late, great Chadwick Boseman.  And what a performance it is.  Mr. Boseman is absolutely mesmerizing as Levee, the brash young trumpeter in Ma’s band.  Levee is a hot young turk with tremendous energy and enthusiasm, and he seems to have the musical skills to back up his ego.  But there’s anger underneath Levee’s beaming smile, and a hunger for more than he has.  Mr. Boseman gets to deliver two crucial monologues in the film, and they are both showstoppers.  I don’t believe Mr. Boseman was ever better, and that’s saying something.  His work here is a bravura performance that only twists the knife of anguish over this great artist who passed away at far too young an age.

The entire ensemble is terrific.  Glynn Turman (Baltimore mayor Royce on The Wire) is fiercely compelling as Toledo, the soft-spoken piano player who’s the old … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Mank

David Fincher’s latest film, Mank, tells the story of Herman Mankiewicz, the man who wrote the screenplay for Citizen Kane along with Orson Welles.  Mank depicts the weeks in 1940 during which the alcoholic Mank worked on the Kane screenplay, while being almost completely bed-ridden due to his recovery from a broken leg.  The film also flashes back throughout the thirties to show the arc of Mank’s relationships with the wealthy power-broker William Randolph Hearst and Hearst’s young movie-star wife, Marion Davies, both of whom were mercilessly lampooned in Kane.  

Mank is, in many ways, an incredible film.  It’s certainly been made with extraordinary craft and attention to detail.  There’s a lot to love and respect here.  And yet, I must confess that the film left me somewhat unsatisfied.  After a first viewing, I don’t feel that Mank holds up with the best of Mr. Fincher’s many great films (from Seven to Zodiac to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button to The Social Network and more).

Let’s start with what’s good.  The film looks amazing.  Mr. Fincher has an incredible eye, and the layers of period detail in Mank are extraordinary.  There is so much for the eye to drink in, in every single frame.  Mr. Fincher & Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt shot Mank in beautiful, lush black and white, just like Kane.  Their mastery of the mise-en-scène, and of light and shadow, equals Welles’.  This is a beautiful film.

I loved the way the film has been structured to resemble Citizen Kane.  Both the fractured narrative and the visual style are reminiscent of Kane.  The film’s credits have a 1940’s vibe to them.  The scene-setting chirons are written as if they’re establishing locations from a film script.  I love these levels of detail.

The script, written by Mr. Fincher’s father Jack Fincher, is sharp.  I like the flashback structure, and there is some incredibly snappy dialogue throughout.

Gary Oldman plays Mank, and as always, Mr. Oldman is absolutely magnificent.  He commands the screen; his charisma and force of personality break right through.  Mr. Oldman’s performance is my favorite thing about this film.

In fact, the entire cast is strong.  Amanda Seyfried is very impressive as Marion Davies.  I love how thoroughly Ms. Seyfried, and the film’s script, humanizes Ms. Davies.  I could imagine a version of this film in which Ms. Davies had been played as an oversized joke (sort of how she was depicted in Kane), but Ms. Seyfried plays Marion as a relatively likable, normal, centered young woman (despite the world of opulence she strides through).  I liked her Brooklyn twang.  I really enjoyed following the arc of Marion’s friendship with Mank over the course of the film.  … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Soul

January 6th, 2021
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Pixar’s latest masterpiece is Soul, which was released to Disney+ late last month.  In the film, Jamie Foxx plays Joe Gardner, a middle-aged African American man who teaches music to kids in New York City.  Joe lives and breathes music, and dreams of becoming a successful jazz musician himself.  On the day Joe finally achieves his long sought-after big break, he accidentally falls down a manhole.  And dies.  And an entirely new journey begins.

I adored Soul.  As is often the case with Pixar films, Soul deals with some very heavy subjects.  (The film’s extended opening sequence reminded me somewhat of the opening of Up.  It’s not as much of an immediate tear-jerker, but it reminded me of that bravura sequence in the way that the film is very up-front about the challenging, adult issues it will be tackling.)  And yet the magic of Soul — as seems to always the case for Pixar — is that the film is never for a second dour or dreary.  It’s moving and emotional and adult… but it’s also joyful and funny and clever.  I love how skillfully the film strikes that balance!  And so Soul can be enjoyed by kids while also being enjoyed at an entirely different levels by adults.

I’d mentioned Up, but if Soul reminds me of anything, it’s Inside Out.  No surprise, Pete Docter directed both films.  Like Inside Out, Soul is compelling in the way it’s created a fascinating, delightful, fully fleshed-out universe exploring an aspect of our unknowable universe.  In Inside Out, the movie created an entire universe and mythology around the inner workings of a person’s thoughts and feelings.  Here in Soul, Mr. Docter and his team have done the same thing around our souls, and what happens after one dies (and before one is born).  I love the thought that has been put into every aspect of this universe.  This is a film that will reward multiple viewings.  The world created in Soul is distinct and original while also feeling insightful and universal.

Soul is notable for being the first Pixar film to focus on an African-American character.  It’s a delight.  Jamie Foxx is marvelous as Joe.  All of Mr. Foxx’s many talents are utilized in the role — his charisma, his comedic chops, his dramatic skills, and his musical abilities.  The film was co-directed and co-written by Kemp Powers, and he and his collaborators have done a terrific job fleshing out Joe and his African-American character friends and family members.  (Many of the promotional materials for this film on Disney+, including an episode of the Inside Pixar series, explore Mr. Kemp’s contributions to the film.  They’re worth a look if you’re interested in … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Third and Final Season of The Leftovers

After several years during which several of my friends repeatedly beseeched me to watch The Leftovers, I finally gave it a chance.  I’m so glad I did.  The show is a masterpiece.  It’s a deep character study; a riveting meditation on grief and loss; and a thrillingly ambitious narrative in which I found myself repeatedly, joyously bowled over by how impossible to predict it was.  I enjoyed the first season and I thought the second season was even stronger.

The first season was set three years after the mysterious Sudden Departure, an event in which 2% of the world’s population vanished.  That season was set in the small town of Mapleton, NY, and as we followed many of the town’s denizens, the show explored the myriad ways in which this dramatic event damaged each of their lives, whether they’d lost a close family member to the Departure or not.  The second season expanded the show’s focus to a new location: Jarden, Texas, a town nicknamed “Miracle” because not a single member of the town Departed.  That terrific second season showed us a little more of the (extremely messed-up) state of the world, while at the same time drilling down even more intimately into the emotional lives of the show’s characters.  For this third and final season, the show expanded even further, while at the same time continuing to give us the riveting, tightly-focused P.O.V. episodes that had proven so critical to the show’s emotional power in the first two seasons.  Once again, I am impressed at the continued world-building of the universe in which The Leftovers takes place, and the power of the intimate explorations of these characters.

This third and final season was even shorter than the first two seasons (only eight episodes instead of the previous ten).  I wish there were far more.  But as with the previous seasons, these eight episodes were extremely well-structured to tell the story that the makers of this show (overseen by Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta) set out to tell.  There was nary a stinker in the bunch.  (Which, again, has been the case from the beginning.  I don’t think there was a single bad episode in the entire run of this show.  That’s an extraordinary achievement!)  And, once again, I was impressed by the boldness of the storytelling.  In a shorter-than-ever season, I’d never have predicted they’d devote an entire episode to a supporting character who, while important, had never before gotten a lot of screen time!  (That’d be Scott Glenn as Kevin Senior.  His third episode spotlight was a highlight of the season for me.)

As with my previous reviews, I want to dive into the details of this … [continued]

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Part Two of Josh’s Review of The Mandalorian Season Two

Click here for the first half of my review of The Mandalorian, season two!  And now, onwards:

Chapter Thirteen: “The Jedi” — As I wrote in part one of my review, getting to see Ahsoka Tano brought to life in live-action was extraordinary.  I never thought this would actually happen.  I couldn’t possibly have wished for a more faithful, more awesome depiction of Ahsoka than what we got here in this episode.  Rosario Dawson was brilliant, absolutely perfect.  She was amazing in the spectacular fight sequences and also in the quiet moments.  What’s amazing about this episode is that there was so much additional awesomeness beyond just the appearance of Ahsoka!!  Hearing Bo Katan say the name “Ahsoka Tano” in episode three was spine-tingling.  Almost as great — and shockingly unexpected!! — was hearing Ahsoka herself say the name “Grand Admiral Thrawn” here!!  I am overjoyed at the thought that Thrawn (first introduced in Timothy Zahn’s terrific Heir to the Empire trilogy of novels, and brought to animated life on Star Wars: Rebels) might be coming to live-action life in future seasons of The Mandalorian!!  (Or one of the multiple spin-off shows Disney has recently announced.)  Do the events of this episode occur before or after the final scenes of Star Wars: Rebels??  (I’d at first assumed after, meaning Ahsoka is still on the trail of Thrawn and Ezra… but comments from Dave Filoni have drawn that into question…)  I loved meeting the Magistrate (Morgan Elsbeth, played by Diana Lee Inosanto).  Her fight with Ahsoka (Beskar spear versus lightsabers) was amazing and intense.  I was so happy to see Michael Biehn (The Terminator, Aliens) as the Magistrate’s hired mercenary.  (I wish this was more than a one-off appearance!!)  It was fun to learn Baby Yoda’s true name (through Grogu is a little sillier a name than I’d hoped), and I enjoyed the scenes of Ahsoka’s helping Mando gauge Grogu’s burgeoning Force abilities.  I was surprised Ahsoka didn’t agree to help train Grogu herself.  It felt somewhat out of character for her to pass the buck like that.  The idea of just letting Grogu’s Force-wielding abilities dwindle seems sad and short-sighted.  (And also risky — what damage could he cause with his abilities, without proper training in how to use and control them??)  On the other hand, Ahsoka famously declared “I am no Jedi” (in the spectacular Rebels episode “Twilight of the Apprentice”), so I can understand why she wouldn’t want to be a part of training future Jedi.  Speaking of which, it’s an interesting piece of discontinuity that this episode about Ahsoka is titled “The Jedi”.  Has Ahsoka come to piece with the fact that she really is … [continued]

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