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Amazon’s series, Modern Love, is based on the New York Times column of the same name.  Each episode of this eight-episode anthology series adapts a specific Modern Love column.  Each episode tells the story of a romance; though the episodes feature different types of love stories featuring characters of different ages, genders, and situations.

I wouldn’t have expected this to be up my alley, but I found myself rather taken by this show.  This isn’t ground-breaking television by any means, but it’s endearingly warm-hearted.  Anthologies can be a tough sell, but I enjoyed the way each episode in this series was completely different.  It helps that the cast they assembled for these eight episodes was quite extraordinary (see more on this below).  At a brisk eight-episodes, the series didn’t overstay its welcome.

Here are my (mostly spoiler-free) thoughts on the series:

Episode 1: “When the Doorman Is Your Main Man” — Cristin Miloti (How I Met Your Mother, the “USS Callister” episode of Black Mirror) plays Maggie, a single young woman living in New York City who has a very close relationship with her building’s doorman, Guzmin (Laurentiu Possa).  This slight tale is a nice intro to the series, though ultimately I found it to be one of the weaker entries.  Both my wife and I thought the show was going to be about Maggie ultimately falling in love with her father-figure of a doorman, an idea that we both found very creepy.  Ultimately the episode went in a different direction (thankfully), but because that’s what we thought was happening for most of the episode’s run-time, it cast a shadow over our enjoyment of the story.

Episode 2: “When Cupid Is a Prying Journalist” — Catherine Keener (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Being John Malkovich) plays Julie, a reporter interviewing a young man, Joshua, played by Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire, The Newsroom), who has started a successful dating app.  Over the course of the interview, Joshua tells Julie tells the story of the woman he loved who he let get away, and Julie tells Joshua a similar story from her own past.  I really liked this episode, and I was particularly taken by Julie’s story of how she reconnected, late in life, with her old flame, played by Andy Garcia.  I liked Julie’s story even more than the “main” story of Joshua and Emma (Caitlin McGee)!  I thought Mr. Garcia and Ms. Keener had terrific chemistry, and I was moved by their melancholy story of missed opportunities.

Episode 3: “Take Me as I Am, Whoever I Am” — Anne Hathaway (Love & Other Drugs, Interstellar, The Dark Knight Rises) plays Lexi, a woman … [continued]

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Josh Reviews the HBO Adaptation of Fahrenheit 451

Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is one of my very favorite books.  The novel, written in 1953, is every bit as relevant today as it was all those decades ago when it was first published.   When I first heard that HBO was working on a new adaptation, featuring Michael B. Jordan (Creed, Black Panther) and Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water, Midnight Special, The Night Before, Man of Steel), I was very excited to see it!

Michael B. Jordan plays the fireman Guy Montag, a man whose job it is to burn books.  In the world of Fahrenheit 451, firemen don’t put out fires, they start them.  (Even more frightening: in the sanitized history available to Guy and his fellow citizens, they don’t believe this has ever been different.)  Guy loves his job, and he’s good at it.  But as the story unfolds we discover that, perhaps, Guy harbors secret doubts about what he does.  Michael Shannon plays Captain Beatty, Montag’s fire chief and father figure.  Sofia Boutella plays Clarisse, a young woman who informs to Beatty on those hiding books, but there’s more to her than meets the eye.  After she and Guy cross paths, Guy is inspired to make some dangerous decisions, decisions that put him on a collision course with Captain Beatty and that will change his life forever.

I quite enjoyed this HBO adaptation!  It’s got a nice visual sense, and it’s a decently faithful adaptation of the novel.

The film is anchored by three terrific performances by its leads.  Michael B. Jordan is inspired casting as Guy.  Guy is a bit of an everyman cipher in the book (even his name is generic, I believe intentionally so on Mr. Bradbury’s part), but Mr. Jordan fills him with a rich inner life.  He is great at playing Guy as the fierce true believer in book-burning, and he’s also great at showing us the conflicted Guy.  We follow this story through Guy’s eyes, and for the adaptation to work we have to be right there with Guy as the illusions he has so carefully constructed for himself slowly collapse, one by one.  Mr. Jordan takes us carefully along every step of this journey.  It’s a fierce, compelling, emotional performance.

Speaking of fierce and compelling, I am also incredibly impressed by the brilliant idea of casting Michael Shannon as Captain Beatty.  Mr. Shannon’s intensity is perfectly served by this role.  Captain Beatty is the head Nazi in what we see of this world, and Mr. Shannon shows us his terrifying power.  But Mr. Shannon also keeps his performance very human and small-scale, and his work, and the smart script, allows us … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Star Trek Beyond!

July 25th, 2016
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For the 25th anniversary of Star Trek back in 1991, we were blessed with the minor miracle that was Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.  That film remains one of my very favorite Trek anythings, from all the many TV shows and movies.  It’s a gorgeous film, surprising dark yet rich with character, and one that does what Star Trek does so well: telling an exciting sci-fi story that has profound relevance to the modern day.  As befits a film released during the franchise’s 25th anniversary year, the film pays homage to the entire history of Star Trek to that point, deftly connecting the dots between the classic Trek crew and that of The Next Generation, set more than seventy years later.  Most impressively of all, as I have written about before, Star Trek VI is that rarest of things in pop culture: a satisfying, definitive conclusion to a long-running, popular series.

STAR TREK BEYOND

Star Trek Beyond, released twenty-five years later during the franchise’s (hard-to-be-believed) fiftieth anniversary, is not Star Trek VI.  It lacks that film’s sophistication and intelligence, nor does it feel like any sort of encompassing statement about the franchise as a whole.

But that being said, Star Trek Beyond is a heck of a lot of fun, and a worthy sequel to J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek reboot.  Thankfully, Beyond allows one to entirely forget about the horrendous, indefensible Star Trek Into Darkness.  Just imagine that the Enterprise started its 5 year mission at the end of 2009’s Star Trek, and you can skip Into Darkness and cut right to Beyond’s opening, set more than two years into the deep-space mission.

As the film begins, we see that Captain Kirk is beset by ennui as the monotony of the ship’s years-long mission into unexplored space has begun to set in.  Just as Kirk is beginning to doubt himself and his chosen path of captaining a starship, the Enterprise runs afoul of a vicious swarm of alien ships that decimates the ship and leaves her crew scattered on a hostile alien planet.  The separated Enterprise crewmembers must find a way to survive and reunite, while attempting to stop the devious plans of the alien leader, Krall (Idris Elba).

There is a lot to like about Star Trek Beyond.  The film looks absolutely gorgeous, and as I have written in my reviews of both of the two previous nuTrek films, it is an absolute joy to see a Star Trek adventure realized on such a big, blockbuster-sized budget.  This film is filled with one incredible sequence after another.  The enormous starbase Yorktown is extraordinary.  The extended sequence in which the Enterprise is taken out by Krall’s bee-like ships … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Kingsman: The Secret Service

I was thrilled when I head that Matthew Vaughn would be directing an adaptation of Mark Millar & Dave Gibbons’ wonderful comic book series, The Secret Service.  I adored the original comic, and I had loved Matthew Vaughn’s previous adaptation of a Mark Millar-written comic-book: Kick-Ass.  (Click here for my original review.)  That Matthew Vaughan would be adapting another Mark Millar comic book was very exciting to me.  As the release of the film adaptation grew closer, my excitement only grew.  I felt that I was privy to a secret that few knew.  I couldn’t wait to see movie-goers, who were unaware of the comic, have their heads spun by this deliriously profane, violent twist on the James Bond mythos.

But while I have read a lot of glowing reviews of Kingsman: The Secret Service, I found myself disappointed.  It felt like all the elements of a great film were there.  I love the central hook of the story.  (Both the idea of playing with the cliches of the James Bond films as well as the notion of a guy-centric, violent take on My Fair Lady.)  The casting of the film was spectacular, most notably the genius idea of casting Colin Firth in the role of the fearsome British super-spy.  The film looks great, and there are some terrific moments in the movie.

But I never felt the film quite lived up to the potential of its premise.  It didn’t capture the fun of the jaw-dropping twists and turns of the original comic, nor did it live up to it’s central idea as a spin on the concept of the James Bond-like super-spy.

I think my biggest over-all complaint is that the film is overly convoluted.  It felt like the filmmakers took the fairly simple, straightforward premise of the original comic and complicated-it-up with a lot of unnecessary meandering.  Here are two examples.  First, it’s a predictable idea that, in this sort of film, the mentor is eventually going to get pushed aside by the story so that the young protege can save the day.  In the film, that happens TWICE.  Colin Firth is introduced as the super-spy agent Galahad, mentor to the young Eggsy (Taron Egerton).  But then he falls into a coma, and Eggsy is left on his own in a dangerous world.  But then Galahad gets better, and so he and Eggsy can partner up again.  But then Galahad is again knocked out of play so that Eggsy can be the lone hero for the climax.  Why give us this same plot twist twice?? Consider also the film’s introduction.  In the comic book, the series opens with a James Bond-type agent attempting to rescue celebrity … [continued]