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Star Trek Enterprise: Rise of the Federation: Uncertain Logic

Several years ago, author Christopher L. Bennett began a new series of Star Trek novels, subtitled Star Trek: Enterprise: Rise of the Federation.  Set a number of years after the events of the prequel show Star Trek: Enterprise, and immediately after the founding of the United Federation of Planets, this series set out to chronicle the early years of the Federation, showing us the step-by-step journey in which this new interstellar alliance became the peaceful, exploratory organization we would get to know in the classic Kirk/Spock/McCoy Star Trek series, set a decade later.

This is the prequel series that Enterprise should have been, asking the tough, interesting questions about how the benevolent Federation might have come to be, and what challenges this young alliance might have faced.  I loved Mr. Bennett’s first two Rise of the Federation novels, A Choice of Futures and Tower of Babel.  But then I got busy and fell behind.  The recent release of the fifth novel in the series prompted me to go back and start getting caught up.  After rereading the first two books, I dove right into the third novel, Uncertain Logic.

This novel explores the ramifications of the discovery of Surak’s original writings, called the Kir’Shara, and the reformation of Vulcan society chronicled in the fourth season Enterprise three-parter “The Forge,” “Awakening,” and “Kir’Shara.”  Those three episodes were terrific, and they did much to explain how the often-emotional Vulcans seen throughout the Enterprise series could someday become the more emotionless Vulcans we’d seen on previous Trek shows (set 100 and 200 years later).  (It’s possible the Enterprise showrunners always intended there to be an “arc” to their depictions of Vulcans, but I think the bizarre, emotional way that Vulcans were so-long portrayed on the show was one of Enterprise’s many weaknesses; a mark of poor writing and poor acting/directing choices.  I love that this three-parter late in the show’s run was able to finally address this apparent inconsistency.)  But, of course, it’s impossible for any society, even one as based in logic as the Vulcans, to go through a massive change without there being problems and resistance from some quarters.  Uncertain Logic (the book’s title cleverly borrows a line spoken by Spock’s father Sarek in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock) explores this, showing us the debates that still rage across Vulcan a decade after the Kir’Shara’s discovery as to the direction in which their society should go and, specifically, whether their new bent towards pacifism is truly logical.  When the Kir’Shara is apparently exposed as a fraud, and a villain thought long-dead returns, Vulcan society threatens to unravel, leaving Captain T’Pol and the crew of the U.S.S. Endeavour[continued]

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Josh Reviews It!

September 20th, 2017
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Stephen King’s lengthy novel It is a masterpiece, a rich, expansive saga that is horrifying and deeply moving in equal parts.  It is one of the finest novels I have ever read.  I was dubious that a film adaptation could satisfactorily distill this complex novel into a two-hour movie, but somehow Andy Muschietti’s film manages this near-insurmountable task with an impressive degree of skill and grace and class.

In the summer of 1987, a group of seven twelve-year-olds in the small town of Derry, Maine, discover a terrible evil within their town.  These seven kids each struggle with difficult home lives and vicious local bullies.  But those terrors pale before the monster that seems to be a part of their town, a creature that can take the form of their greatest fears and that often manifests itself in the form of a horrifying clown.

The fantasy and horror elements of the novel It are compelling, but what makes the novel such a riveting page-turner is the way Stephen King brings each and every one of the book’s large ensemble of characters to such rich, fully-realized life, most particularly the six boys and one girl in the “Loser’s Club” who find themselves the only ones capable to fighting this terrifying evil.

The film adaptation works because of how well it is able to do the same thing.  You need to love these kids, and I was impressed by how well the film accomplished that goal.  All seven young actors are phenomenal.  Absolutely phenomenal.

Jaeden Lieberher plays Bill” Denbrough, whose younger brother’s murder at the hands of It is the story’s inciting incident.  Mr. Lieberher was terrific last year as the super-powered boy in Midnight Special, but this is a far more involved role.  He’s perfect as the honest, sensitive but haunted Bill.  Jeremy Ray Taylor plays the heavy, lonely Ben Hanscom.  The idea of the sweet, fat outsider kid is somewhat cliche at this point, but Mr. Taylor brings such warmth and genuine open-heartedness to the role that he is perfection as Ben.  You cannot help but love this kid.  Sophia Lillis is amazing as Beverly Marsh, the one girl in the Losers’ Club.  It’s hard not to fall in love with Bev in the book, as Bill and Ben both do, and Ms. Lillis’ performance inspires the same feelings of affection, as I found myself rooting for Bev more than even any of the boys.  Bev in the book and the film is different from the boys not because of her gender, but because she is the one of the group who is first aware that she is beginning to leave her childhood behind.  This leaves her feeling even … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Better Things Season One!

September 18th, 2017
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Why did I wait a year to watch this amazing show???  I loved Pamela Adlon’s appearances on Louie C.K.’s wonderful show Louie (in many of my reviews of Louie I have written about how I have wanted their two characters to get together on the show, because I loved their dynamic so much) and I knew from watching the credits that she was involved as a writer and a producer.  So when I read last year that she would be leading her own show, Better Things, which she co-created with Louis C.K., I was immediately interested!  But for some reason the ten episodes have sat unwatched in my DVR for the past year.  (Season two actually just began last week!!)  Finally, my wife and I decided to watch the first episode, and we immediately fell head over heels in love with this amazing show, and we devoured the ten first-season episodes in just a few days.

Pamela Adlon stars as Sam, a divorced mom working in Hollywood as an actress and raising her three kids: the sixteen-year-old Max, the twelve-year-old Frankie, and the eight (I think!)- year-old Duke.

Better Things is a phenomenal showcase for Ms. Adlon.  As I wrote above, she co-created the show with Louie C.K. and she plays the lead character.  Additionally, she wrote or co-wrote eight out of the ten episodes, and she directed two of them.  Wow!!

When I DVRed this show a year ago, my hope was that, due to Louie C.K.’s involvement, Better Things would sort of be like a sixth season of Louie.  And, indeed, Mr. C.K. was very deeply involved with the show.  He directed the pilot, and wrote or co-wrote nine of the ten episodes.  There are certainly surface similarities between Louie and Better Things.  Both shows are very funny and also unafraid to get very dramatic and very real.  Both shows strive for verisimilitude, in terms of presenting the realities of their lead characters’ everyday lives, without applying the usual TV sugar-coating.  And both shows demonstrate a similar playfulness with the narrative of their episodes, eschewing the usual half-hour TV episode structure for a shifting, often stream-of-consciousness feeling in which an episode might consist of multiple short vignettes rather than a single story that runs straight through the half-hour.

And yet, don’t be mistaken: Better Things is not just Louie by any other name.  This is an incredibly unique show that feels extraordinarily personal for Ms. Adlon, who plays a character whose life situation is very similar to Ms. Adlon’s own.  Both Sam on the show and Ms. Adlon are divorced mothers of three, who have had a long career in Hollywood filled with a lot of small parts … [continued]

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Star Trek Lives! Josh Reviews Star Trek Continues: What Ships Are For

September 15th, 2017
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The golden age of Star Trek fan films is over, crushed by Paramount/CBS’ ridiculous lawsuit against the planned Axanar fan-film project and the subsequent draconian fan film guidelines that led to the shutdown of many fan-made productions.  (Read more here.)  One of the last fan-film projects standing is Star Trek Continues, though they too will soon be closing their doors as a result of the new fan film guidelines, concluding their series with a two-part finale to be released later this fall.  This group of talented Trek fans, led by Vic Mignogna, have been, for the past five years, creating their own version of the never-made fourth season of classic Star Trek.  They have created full-length Trek episodes with an astonishing degree of professionalism.  At a glance you’d never know this wasn’t “real” Star Trek.  (I’ve reviewed every episode: click here for the full archive.)  A little more than four months after the release of their previous episode, “Still Treads the Shadow,” they have, incredibly, released another complete episode, and it is as good as this fan-made series has ever been.

In “What Ships are For,” the U.S.S. Enterprise responds to a request from help from the inhabitants of a large asteroid, whose population is being ravaged by a plague.  When Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down, they discover that the asteroid’s inhabitants are unable to see color, due to the effects of their sun’s radiation on the cones of their eyes.  Helping to undo the damage from the radiation will both cure the plague and allow these aliens to see the world in color.  But there is a complication: these aliens, the Hyalini, have long been at war with another race, the Ambicians.  The Hyalini fear the Ambicians as dangerous monsters.  But the Enterprise’s sensors discover that, in fact, there are many Ambicians who have lived on the asteroid among the Hyalini for generations, having fled their own radiation-ravaged world.  They are indistinguishable from the Hyalini except for the different color of their skin and hair.  If the Enterprise crew help cure the Hyalini, they fear the Hyalini’s discovery that the aliens they perceive as dangerous “others” are in fact living amongst them will cause their society to tear itself apart with racial strife.

This episode was written by Kipleigh Brown, who has been a supporting character on Star Trek Continues for many episodes playing the ship’s navigator Lieutenant Smith.  She has done strong work here in writing this episode, creating a classic Star Trek moral dilemma for Kirk and co. to wrestle with.  Yes, the episode’s exploration of bigotry and racial divisions is a bit on the nose, but this is the type … [continued]

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Josh Enjoys Seeing Close Encounters of the Third Kind Back on the Big Screen!

September 13th, 2017
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About a week after seeing the new 3D release of James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day, I got to see one of the 40th anniversary screenings of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  I can’t believe this film is forty years old!!!  Close Encounters is one of my very favorite Steven Spielberg movies, and one of my favorite movies altogether. Getting to see it — for the very first time! — on the big screen, as it was meant to be seen, was a thrill!

I love that Close Encounters is NOT an action/adventure like most of Steven Spielberg’s movies are.  Close Encounters is a more cerebral drama, and a surprisingly dark one at that.  As an adult, the unpleasantness of Roy (Richard Dreyfuss) and Ronnie (Teri Garr)’s marriage is more painful than it is funny, and that the film ends with Roy’s having never reconciled with his wife and kids, and possibly never seeing them again, is almost shocking as the ending of a big-budget Steven Spielberg film.  I love Close Encounters for that.  I love it for its messiness, both literally in the way characters are constantly talking over from one another and for the surprisingly realistic mess of Roy and Ronnie’s house, and also for its messiness of storytelling in that not everything is explained or wrapped up in a bow at the end of the film.  But most of all I love the film for being an intelligent sci-fi drama, rather than a shoot-em-up.

While some of the forty-year-old visual effects in the film look a little dated, over-all I was very pleasantly surprised how well the effects held up on the big screen!  These old-style visuals were executed with tremendous care and artistry, and the vast majority of the film’s special effects looked dynamite.  What an achievement that these visual effects still look so great forty years later.  The mothership’s arrival at the end was suitably awe-inspiring, as it is supposed to be.  I’d only ever seen those moments before on TV.  Seeing the enormous mothership appear above Devil’s Tower on a huge screen was amazing.  (For more info on the effort that went into the film’s HD restoration, click here.)

There is a lot of memorable, haunting imagery in Close Encounters.  Seeing the film on the big screen emphasizes what an incredible job Steven Spielberg did directing this film.  The shot compositions are incredible.  I’ll never forget the images of Roy staring at the shaving cream in his hand; or the shot of Roy in front of the huge mountain he has created in his house, as Devil’s Tower appears on his small TV (see below); of the image of Barry’s mother Jillian … [continued]

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Josh Enjoys Seeing Terminator 2: Judgment Day Back on the Big Screen!

As I have written here before, I love the idea of revival showings of great classic movies.  It is a special treat to get to see a terrific older movie back on the big screen, where it belongs!  I wish this was done more often.  It’s a pleasure whenever a studio gets behind this sort of thing.  In the past two weeks I was delighted by the chance to see two wonderful movies back on the big screen: a new 3D version of James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and a 40th Anniversary showing of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  Both were fantastic!

Let’s start with T2, which I saw first.  I didn’t need a 3D conversion; I would have jumped at the chance to see this blockbuster back on the big screen in its original form.  But that being said, the 3D was fun.  The 3D conversion was done exceedingly well.  No surprise, since it was overseen by James Cameron, who launched the modern wave of 3D films (a wave that has already mostly died out) with Avatar in 2009.  The 3D is subtly done, adding depth to the image without ever being distracting.  The new 3D effects are most exciting in the brief “future war” sequence at the start of the film; it’s a ton of fun to see the Terminator robots and all the exploding ships and trucks in 3D.

I love T2, and it’s incredible how well this 1991 film holds up more than twenty-five years after its release.  It’s a great story, with vivid characters and spectacular action.  This could be Arnold Schwarzenegger’s greatest performance (though I am also partial to his work in True Lies, another great James Cameron film).  Some of the story beats are a little cliche twenty-five years later, but I still found this story of a killer robot learning to care for a human boy to be remarkably affecting.  Linda Hamilton is terrific as this hardened version of Sarah Connor (a far cry from the waitress damsel in distress she played in the first film).  I know some people don’t love Edward Furlong’s work as John Connor, but I think he does a great job at embodying this young nineteen-nineties kid.  And the action — wow.  There are few directors better at crafting extraordinary action sequences than James Cameron.

I was pleasantly surprised by how well this film’s groundbreaking-at-the-time CGI effects held up, projected on the big screen, twenty-five years later.  Often times I find that films that are the most cutting-edge can age poorly, as their pioneering effects are improved upon by other films and filmmakers who stand on their shoulders.  I was worried that, … [continued]

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News Around the Net!

Let’s begin with this awesome new trailer for season 4 of Black Mirror:

I cannot wait!!  The original British episodes of this series are works of near-genius, and I thought the recent Netflix-produced season was pretty great.  I am so glad that this show lives on via Netflix!  I can’t wait for these next six episodes.

So, wow, Colin Trevorrow is out as the director of Star Wars: Episode IX I loved Mr. Trevorrow’s first film, Safety Not Guaranteed, but his next film, and his first foray into the world of big-budget filmmaking, was the terrible Jurassic World.  So I am sort of breathing a sigh of relief at this news, though I feel bad for Mr. Trevorrow.  What is up with Lucasfilm firing all of their directors??  Josh Trank was fired from one of the stand-alone films.  Gareth Edwards apparently had the final cut of Rogue One taken away from him, and was replaced for the film’s reshoots by Tony Gilroy.  And just recently, directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were fired from the solo Han Solo film in the middle of production, and replaced by Ron Howard.  I give Kathleen Kennedy and Lucasfilm some credit, because whatever behind-the-scenes machinations went on in the making of Rogue One, the final film was a masterpiece.  We’ll see how these other films turn out.  But for now, I am hoping this news will turn out to be good news for Episode IX.  We’ll see…

This new trailer for Star Wars: Rebels season 4 looks great:

X-wings!  Thrawn!  The first animated appearance of Thrawn’s manservant/assassin Rukh (from Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire)!  Mon Mothma!  Forest Whittaker returns as Saw Gerrera (from Rogue One)!  Yavin IV!  Tarkin!  Project Stardust!  I’ve grown to quite like this show, and I am excited for the fourth and final season.

I am super-excited that The Wire’s David Simon and George Pelecanos have a new show on HBO, The Deuce!  I can’t wait to see it.  Any new work from this team deserves immediate attention.  In the meanwhile, here is a fascinating interview that TV critic Alan Sepinwall conducted recently with Mr. Simon.  It’s a great read.

This is a great interview with Lake Bell, discussing her new film I do… Until I Don’t.  I loved her debut film, In a World…, which she wrote, directed, and starred in, and so I am very excited to see her second film.

In honor of the release of the film adaptation of It, which I am dying to see, here is a list of all forty Stephen King movie adaptations, ranked from worst to best.  I haven’t seen most of … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Silicon Valley Season Three

I really loved the first two seasons of Silicon Valley, a show chronicling the long road that a young engineer Richard Hendricks and his team of co-workers and friends face in trying to successfully navigate the business and technological challenges of creating and successfully releasing their new platform. (Click here for my review of season one, and here for my review of season two.)  Season three sees the show continuing to operate in peak form.  (Yes, I know I am still behind — season four aired this past spring — but I am working to get caught up!)  If anything, Silicon Valley has gotten even better as we have spent more time with Ricard and the Pied Piper team. The show remains extremely funny and clever, and with a short season of only ten half-hour episodes, it never overstays its welcome.

Once again this season puts Richard and his friends and co-workers through a roller-coaster ride of small successes and huge failures.  It’s always one step forward and two steps back with this crew and this show.  It can be a bit frustrating at times for the audience, since by this point we’ve grown to love these characters and want to see them succeed.  But the show is so consistently funny that it’s hard to complain.  Plus, watching these bumbling nerds on their Sisyphian journey is what this show is all about!

Stephen Tobolowsky’s “Action” Jack Barker was a phenomenal addition to the show’s cast this season.  Jack provided a great new foil for Richard.  I loved seeing how the show tweaked its own status quo by installing Jack as the new C.E.O. and nemesis for Richard; briefly moving the gang out of Ehrlich’s house and into spacious new offices; and setting up Jack’s “box” scheme as something for the Pied Piper folks to struggle against.  These were great story-lines that kept the Piep Piper team as underdogs while allowing the show to explore some different situations.

The show’s main ensemble was running on all cylinders at this point.  Thomas Middleditch, T.J. Miller, Martin Starr, Kumail Nanjiani and Zach Woods are a murderers row of incredible actors and comedians.  They own these characters at this point, and each had plenty of opportunities to shine in season three.  I was a little disappointed that season 2 seemed to sideline Amanda Crew’s character Monica, and so I was glad that she was a little more involved here in season three.  (Though I am intrigued as to why the show’s creators seem to have dropped any hint of a romantic attraction between Richard and Monica.  I thought that was a sweet aspect of season one, but it’s vanished from season … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Netflix’s The Defenders!

September 4th, 2017

Way back in October, 2013, Marvel and Netflix announced that they would be collaborating on four TV shows — Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist — whose characters would then cross over into a combined series The Defenders.  This would be a TV version of the approach Marvel had taken so successfully with their cinematic universe, releasing individual films that then crossed over in The Avengers.   I was excited by that idea, and bowled over by the excellent, adult-in-tone, dark and gripping first seasons of Daredevil and Jessica Jones For those two seasons alone I am glad this Netflix Marvel venture exists.  I also quite liked Daredevil season two, though I felt its ending was somewhat anticlimactic.  Luke Cage had moments of greatness but was mostly disappointing, with a particularly dull second half of the season.  Iron Fist was by far the weakest of the series, with little characterization to speak of and a terribly miscast lead role.  And so it was with excitement but also trepidation that I approached the long-anticipated crossover series, The Defenders, here at last.

The Defenders is an enjoyable romp, and at only eight episodes in length it never over-stays its welcome, nor suffers from the way nearly all of the other 13-episode-long Marvel Netflix shows felt like they didn’t have quite enough plot to actually fill their 13-episode length.

The biggest pleasure of the show comes from seeing these characters on screen together.   Charlie Cox as Daredevil, Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones, and Mike Colter as Luke Cage are all terrific.  I love those actors and I love those characters, and it is a hoot to get to see them bounce off of one another.  The best episode of the show is the fourth, “Royal Dragon,” the one that spends most of its time with the four main characters hanging out in a Chinese restaurant together.  I still think that Finn Jones is woefully miscast as Iron Fist, but he’s a little more tolerable here than he was in his own show.  It helps that all the other characters on the show (except for Colleen) seem to find Danny as annoying as I do!

Anyways, as I was saying, it’s a huge amount of fun to get to watch these actors and these characters play together.  The show wisely takes pains to explore their different perspectives and background, which result in their usually being at odds with one another.  This could feel fake, false drama or manufactured disagreements just to prevent the heroes from working together and thus defeating the villains too quickly or easily.  But as executed on the show, for the most part I felt … [continued]

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Star Trek: Enigma Tales

Una McCormack’s Enigma Tales is the latest Star Trek novel continuing the interconnected series of books exploring the universe and characters of the 24th Century-set Star Trek shows beyond the events of their series finales.  Ms. McCormack has developed into the writer most often turned to when these books feature Cardassia and DS9′s beloved “plain, simple tailor” Garak, and Enigma Tales is another excellent Cardassian-focused novel.  The novel also continues Ms. McCormack’s exploration of the character Peter Alden, a former Starfleet spy (who she created for her novel Brinkmanship) and his unlikely friendship with Dr. Katherine Pulaski (who replaced Dr. Crusher as the C.M.O. on board the USS Enterprise for the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and who Ms. McCormack paired up with Peter Alden in her previous novel, The Missing).

Here in Enigma Tales, Dr. Pulaski, along with Alden, arrive at Cardassia so that Dr. Pulaski can receive a prestigious award.  The blunt Dr. Pulaski almost immediately makes a small mess of Cardassian politics, putting her at odds with Garak, who has (somewhat improbably) ascended to the position of Castellan, leader of the Cardassian Union.  The issue at hand is the debate on Cardassia as to whether any military leaders should be subject to investigation and potential prosecution for war crimes committed during the Cardassian occupation of Bajor.  For Garak, a man with a significant amount of blood on his hands, this debate represents something of a collision between his pragmatism and his morals.  Meanwhile, a minor local issue, the decision as to who will become the new head of a prominent Cardassian university, threatens to explode into a broader scandal when the leading candidate, Natima Lang (the strong-willed Cardassian former dissident, seen in the DS9 episode “Profit and Loss”), is accused of having committed atrocities herself during the occupation.

Enigma Tales is a wonderful next step in the fascinating way in which this continuing series of Star Trek novels has explored the world of Cardassia and the ramifications of where Deep Space Nine left that world and that people following the events of the series finale.  The Cardassians had long been presented as an enemy of the Federation, but the final run of DS9 episodes allowed us to follow the resistance movement on Cardassia, and the men and women there who struggled to throw off the yoke of oppression and be free.  Much of those hopes turned to ash when the Dominion did its best to destroy Cardassia Prime in “What You Leave Behind,” the series finale.  What would become of Cardassia, following those dramatic events?  The post-finale Trek novels have taken great care to explore the subsequent decade, showing us how … [continued]