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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 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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Late to the Party: Josh Reviews Silicon Valley Season One!

Quite a few friends have recommended Silicon Valley to me, but for one reason or another it took me a while to find the time to start watching the show.  I am sorry I waited so long, because now I am hooked!

Silicon Valley.season 1.cropped

Created by Mike Judge (Office Space), John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky, the series follows the trials and tribulations of a group of Silicon Valley programmers involved in a small start-up company.  Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) is a small fry working for a huge Google-like company called Hooli.  Like many in Silicon Valley, in his side time Richard is working on an app, which he calls Pied Piper.  It’s intended as a music app, but in creating it Richard has also created a potentially revolutionary compression algorithm.  This attracts the interest of Hooli founder Gavin Belson (Matt Ross), who offers Richard ten million dollars for his app.  It also attracts the interest of venture capitalist Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch), who offers Richard a much-smaller $200,000 investment in exchange for a five-percent ownership in Pied Piper.  Richard passes on the easy money from Gavin and takes Peter Gregory’s offer, excited by the chance to build his own company.  As the series progresses, we see Richard discover that it’s a lot harder than he thinks.

I love shows and movies that explore a particular sub-culture, and Silicon Valley is a wonderful exploration of the intersection of technology and business in this particular corner of the U.S.  This is a show that I suspect people who really know this world will dig for its attention to detail, while also being completely accessible to anyone (like me) who doesn’t know much of anything about this sort of thing.

The show is fantastic, absolutely hilarious and filled with wonderful, compelling characters.  Every member of the ensemble could carry his/her own show.  As Pied Piper’s nervous, frazzled new C.E.O., Thomas Middleditch is fantastic.  I could see a less interesting version of this show in which Richard was the straight person, surrounded by all the weirdos he has to work and live with.  But Mr. Judge & co., along with Mr. Middleditch, have made Richard just as interestingly flawed and bizarre as all the other characters in the show!  But, importantly, they’ve also given him an honesty and a earnestness that makes you want to root for this character.

T. J. Miller (Cloverfield, Deadpool, Office Christmas Party) goes big, and then bigger, as Erlich, the blustery, full-of-himself owner of the incubator where Richard and his co-workers live and work.  Erlich got rich when his own app was sold for millions, and so now he fancies himself as a wise mentor … [continued]

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Catching Up on 2016: Deadpool

March 3rd, 2017
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I skipped Deadpool when it was released in theatres earlier this year.  I was impressed that Ryan Reynolds had gotten his passion project made, and super-impressed that Fox had the guts to release an R-rated superhero film (and, even more, one that was directly connected to their X-Men film franchise).  And yet, I’d never been much of a fan of the Deadpool character (I am an old enough comic book geek that I was reading and bought Deadpool’s first appearance in New Mutants #98 when it was first published back in 1991) and it didn’t look like the humor of the film was up my alley.  So I passed.  Still, I’d heard such good things about the film that, towards the end of 2016 as I tried to catch up with as many notable films of the year as possible, I decided to give it a try.

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I certainly enjoyed the film, and having watched it I am even more impressed that Ryan Reynolds and director Tim Miller were able to get this profane, violent super-hero film made.  But I also see that my earlier instincts were correct, and the violent and profane tone of the film wasn’t one that really spoke to me.  There were certainly plenty of jokes in the film that made me laugh — either because they were just plain funny, or because I was so shocked and impressed that such an envelope-pushing moment had made it into the film — but also just as many moments that fell flat for me.  All the violence and cursing and references to masturbation felt juvenile.  While I can see why so many people love this film, it’s not really for me.

There is no question that this is a near-perfect depiction of the comic book character.  Deadpool looks (the costume is spectacular) and sounds great (Ryan Reynolds truly was born to play this character).  His fourth-wall-busting address-the-audience nature has been preserved, thankfully, and the film is just as over-the-top violent and crazy as his best comic-book adventures.  There aren’t many second-chances in show business, so after the character was so spectacularly botched in the no good, horrible, very bad X-Men Origins: Wolverine, it’s pretty magical that, so many years later, Ryan Reynolds was given the opportunity to reprise the character and to do it right.

Right from the very silly opening credits (and bravo on the reference to Deadpool creator Rob Liefeld right there at the top), the filmmakers set the tone that this was going to be a very silly, borderline disrespectful take on a superhero film.  What’s impressive about Tim Miller’s achievement is that he is able to marry that tone with a film that … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Office Christmas Party

December 14th, 2016
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Josh (Jason Bateman) helps run the Chicago-based branch of a tech company, Zenotech, overseen by his friend Clay (T.J. Miller).  The branch is doing OK, but Clay’s rivalry with his sister Carol (Jennifer Aniston), just appointed as the company’s C.E.O., leads her to threaten to close down Clay’s branch if they are not able to land a big new client.  When Josh and Clay and their head of tech Tracey (Olivia Mann)’s pitch to a large financial firm fails, they come up with a last-ditch scheme: they invite the financial firm’s representative Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance) to come to their office Christmas party so that he can bond with them and see how Zenotech is filled with good people with whom he’d want to work.  So, although Carol had announced that the Christmas party was cancelled, seeing it as a waste of money, Clay decides to pull out all the stops and throw the biggest party his company has ever seen.  Of course, lots of things go wrong and the Zenotech office Christmas party quickly grows into a wild bacchanal and ever-escalating chaos.

OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY

There is no ground-breaking comedy in Office Christmas Party, and you can probably spot where all the character-arcs are heading about ten minutes into the film.  But that being said, I nevertheless thoroughly enjoyed the film.  It’s very, very funny, and I was taken by the film’s joyful, everything-will-work-out and everyone-will-come-together-as-a-family spirit.

The film works because of its terrific cast, every single member of which shines.  I had no idea that half of the familiar faces who pop up were in this movie, and I was delighted by every single one of them.

Jason Bateman could play a role like this in his sleep: the nice, decent guy surrounded by a bunch of loony-tunes.  The role might be familiar, but Mr. Bateman is so good at this character-type that it’s hard to complain.  Watching him in this role is like watching an old master at work.  Mr. Bateman is one of the finest comedic straight-men to ever grace the screen.  T.J. Miller’s star has been rising for the past several years (He was solid in 2008’s Cloverfield, his first film, and he’s great on Silicon Valley, which I just started watching), and it’s nice to see him in this big-time leading role.  He’s fantastic as Clay, showing us Clay’s goofball man-boy energy but also his earnest desire to be a good boss who can live up to the idealized image he has of his father, who used to run the company.  I love Mr. Miller’s relationship with Mr. Bateman; you really buy these two as friends.  I also loved Mr. Miller’s relationship with Jennifer Aniston … [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: Cloverfield

In one of my very first posts for this site, I mentioned that I’d really enjoyed Cloverfield when I saw it on the big screen, but I wondered how it would hold up to a second viewing (especially on a TV screen as opposed to on an enormous movie theatre screen).

I was eager to find out, so I scooped up Cloverfield on DVD when it came out, about a year ago.  But, for some reason, that DVD sat on my shelf, unwatched.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe other films just caught my attention.  Maybe I didn’t want to discover that the film didn’t work on a second viewing.

But a few weeks ago I finally decided to pop in that DVD.  And you know what?  I am pleased to report that I enjoyed the film just as much as I did the first time I saw it!

The first 10-15 minutes of the film could be the start of any type of urban dramedy.  A group of friends gather in an NYC loft to throw a good-bye party for one of their friends, Rob (Michael Stahl-David), who is leaving town for a new job in Japan.  Through some fun banter we begin to get a sense of the dynamic between the group of friends, and learn hints at a romance that went wrong between Rob and Beth (Odette Yustman).  Then the power cuts out, they see a huge explosion across the city skyline, and the party-goers rush out of the building in a panic only to see the severed head of the Statue of Liberty smash into the street.

Then, you know, things get worse from there.

The conceit of the film is that one of the friends, Hud (T.J. Miller), who was filming the good-bye party as a favor, winds up capturing on his digital video camera the entire nightmarish scenario that follows.  The entire movie is seen from the point of view of his camera.  This is an enormous conceit, to be sure, and certainly there are a few times in the film where you might find yourself wondering, “I can’t believe he still has the camera on!”  But I think the filmmakers do a pretty credible job at maintaining credibility to this idea throughout the film.  (And, interestingly enough, while on my first viewing I did find myself evaluating, from scene to scene, whether I could really believe that Hud would have been able to capture what I was seeing, on this second viewing I didn’t think about that at all.  I totally accepted the scenario.)

I have to praise the filmmakers, camera-men, editors, etc., for the skill with which the shots were created and … [continued]