Catastrophe (Seasons 1-2)

CatastropheWhile Netflix has proven itself worthy of quality television in its queue of original series, Amazon Prime still has something to prove. With Catastrophe, it gets a good start.

Catastrophe, a comedy written by Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney, stars the duo as a somewhat dysfunctional couple that gets together when Sharon (played by Sharon) finds out she is pregnant with Rob’s (played by Rob) baby after the two have a one-week stand. Catastrophe just wrapped up its second season and is getting ready for a third, so now is a great time to catch up.

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Film & TV News: May 19

News

  • Universal has announced a Robert Ludlum Cinematic Universe, an announcement which would only be more ridiculous if they retroactively incorporated The Osterman Weekend. Dwayne Johnson will star in the first film The Janson Directive, due out sometime in between Dwayne’s other fifteen in-production movies.
  • On the other end of the productivity spectrum is Terry Gilliam’s Don Quixote project, famously trapped in development hell and now (re-)reinvigorated with Adam Driver in a leading role. Stay tuned for another go at the film ten years from now.
  • Comic scribe Geoff Johns and WB Executive VP Jon Berg will be supervising DC’s Cinematic Universe post-Batman v. Superman (post-Justice League, really, as that’s already in production) and hopefully doing for DC what Kevin Feige did for Marvel. Or — here’s a thought — doing something different.
  • And in news unrelated to connected universes or massive franchises…just kidding. Sherlock Holmes 3 starts filming this Fall.

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The Firm (1993)

The Firm (1993)Just now I googled “Tom Cruise best roles”, “Tom Cruise worst roles”, “Tom Cruise best movies” and “Tom Cruise worst movies”, partially because I’m interested to see where his role as Mitch McDeere in The Firm lands and partially because my boredom has reached carrying capacity. I found, unsurprisingly, that the internet does that thing where it reaches consensus about certain things being “good” and certain things being “bad”, which in this case is sometimes inarguable (A Few Good Men = “good”, Far and Away = “bad”) but sometimes weirdly unearned, as with the endless praise heaped upon Edge of Tomorrow or Cruise’s role in Tropic Thunder. The former is a fairly fun movie and the latter is a fairly funny movie, but to say that these number among Cruise’s best seems a stretch. Again, the common consensus surrounding mediocrity doesn’t exactly come as a shock.

What was surprising, though, is that not a single article or top ten list included Mitch McDeere or mentioned The Firm at all. “Good” and “bad” are complicated, sure, and you might even suggest that the overarching opinions of the internet’s burgeoning culture commentary is at fault for this, too, as if to say “those other guys didn’t claim The Firm to be a great Cruise movie, so we won’t either.” But not a single one mentioned The Firm. No outliers buried in a list to satiate the unconfessed desire of a film blogger, no mention of Mitch McDeere even in reference to another role. It’s like The Firm never registered as a Cruise flick. Putting aside common consensus and inescapable truth (Far and Away = “bad”), that just seemed strange.

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The Gift (2015)

The Gift (2015)Oftentimes, we yearn for simplicity in movies. There should be good guys, bad guys, and a happy ending. Maybe it was all those fairy tales we heard growing up. Unfortunately, for those looking for the next great American fairy tale, Joel Edgerton’s The Gift is not it.

The first part of the movie plays out like any stalker-thriller movie does. Strange man comes along, takes an unusual interest in a woman or a couple, drops by often for unexpected visits, and is generally creepy (even when trying to help out). In this case, it is Gordo or “Gordo the Weirdo” (Joel Edgerton) an old classmate of Simon (Jason Bateman) who just can’t stay away from him and his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall) after they move back to California.

It all starts out harmless enough, despite Simon’s constant insisting that Gordo is, in fact, a “weirdo” and they should tell him off. When Simon finally does tell Gordo to leave him and Robyn alone, the situation, not surprisingly, turns from creepy to dangerous.

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The Jungle Book (2016)

The Jungle Book (2016)Today is May 11th, 2016, the 132nd day of the year. In those just-over-100 days a small little company called Disney — heard of it? — has made more money than any single company has any earthly right to make. Not since the Dutch East India Trading Company has a multinational firm held such widespread influence. Disney’s always been a successful company, sure, and even if they had fiscal years of lesser oomph they always had sheer name recognition to fall back on. In a bygone era every kid knew about Disney; today, though, we’re headed toward the era where every kid knows only Disney.

If that post-apocalyptic fever dream of a world seems far-fetched, consider how many of the blockbusters busting the block this year were preceded by that little star making an arc over the Magic Kingdom. Zootopia, for example, which is an animated film about talking animals, is currently hovering above the $930 million mark at the global box office. It is already the highest-grossing animated Disney film ever in China, surpassing even the likes of Frozen and The Lion King, and is in general doing work at the box office as few animated films have done before. Ever.

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Paper Towns (2015)

Paper Towns (2015)When the film adaption of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars went from thickly bound pages to the glowing awe of the big screen in 2014, teenage girls everywhere swooned and sighed as, “Okay,” took on a whole new meaning. Green’s other novel-adapted movie Paper Towns didn’t receive quite as much anticipatory swooning, but also doesn’t require quite as much emotional investment — and that’s okay.

Paper Towns stars Nat Wolff and Cara Delevingne as a boy in love, and the girl who steals his heart, respectively. However, this is not so much a love story as it is the story of being young, of being innocent, of making the most of the moments of youth you have left before you stumble your way into noncommittal adulthood. And it’s good, it really is.

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Frantic (1988)

Frantic (1988)Frantic is such the quintessential Roman Polanski movie that you’ll swear you’ve seen it before. As with Repulsion, Cul-De-Sac, Rosemary’s Baby, The Tenant and What? before it, Frantic subsists entirely on a sense of dread that grows steadily following an initial oddity. The tagline is “Danger. Desire. Desperation”, which could easily be the tagline for a sizable cross-section of Polanski’s filmography. That said, only one of those three words — “Desperation” — actually feels accurate within the context of the movie, and even the title Frantic is a bit misleading. This isn’t the only kind of film Polanski is capable of, but the series that do fit the mold are less frantic and more foreboding, less manic and more pulsating, less overtly dangerous and more subtly sinister.

And a lot of them concern an American Abroad, a topic which for some reason seems to lend itself particularly well to the horror genre. Films like Jeopardy, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, The Girl Who Knew Too Much and Hysteria derive a palpable sense of dread from the American Abroad in much the same way; the films based on Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley books and tense thrillers like Straw Dogs and Sorcerer benefit from the same fish-out-of-water vibe, too, while others like The Yakuza use the trope even more explicitly. Of course the whole American Abroad thing is also a hallmark of shitty potboilers like Deception or the slightly-better Lizzie McGuire Movie. Did you know there’s a movie called Shaft in Africa? There’s a movie called Shaft in Africa.

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Havana (1990)

Havana (1990)Any cook will admit that having delicious ingredients doesn’t necessarily make for a delicious meal, even if you are faithful to the recipe. The most masterful chef can combine a snazzy main course with cool, exotic sauces and side dishes, pepper in some flair, and tie it all together with pristine presentation — but if the temperature isn’t just right, or if just one of the ingredients has started to turn, or if the sous-chef finally makes his move by sabotaging his tyrannical chef’s best meal, well, at least those would be reasons. Sometimes it just doesn’t taste good. Questions arise: why didn’t the dish work? Didn’t we follow the recipe to the letter? Did you freeze that thing overnight like I told you to? When does one traditionally bring their extended metaphor to a close? Now?

Havana had all the ingredients. Sydney Pollack’s previous film Out of Africa walked home with Best Picture and a cartful of other Academy Awards; Robert Redford, longtime Pollack collaborator, was back for his seventh (!) go-round under Pollack’s guidance. Right there you’d think success would be imminent. Of all the famous Director-Actor partnerships, Pollack-Redford is perhaps the most dynamic, the most unexpected, the one that results in classics that span more than one genre. The pair met as actors on the low-budget 1960 film War Hunt, as recounted by Redford in his tribute to Pollack in Time following the latter’s passing, wherein Redford uses the term “kindred spirits”. The success of the adventurous Jeremiah Johnson, the thrilling Three Days of the Condor, the intimate Electric Horseman and the epic Out of Africa would all support that claim.

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Film & TV News: May 5

News

  • The Director’s Guild of America has named the 80 Best-Directed Films of All Time in honor of the Guild’s 80th Anniversary. In an era when any sap with a WordPress account (ahem) can make a Best of All Time list, the rationality of this one is actually impressive. And major respect for including Birdman.
  • In sad Director-Actor news, AvaDuVernay-Lupita Nyong’o won’t be happening on Intelligent Life due to the former dropping out; in happy Director-Actor news, Andrew Garfield has joined the new film by It Follows director David Robert Mitchell.
  • Kudos to anyone who followed up salutations of “May the Fourth be with you” not with today’s expected “Cinco de Mayo” but instead with “Revenge of the Fifth”. Solidarity, people. Solidarity.

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Disorder (2016)

It would have been a bummer if a woman with a large hat had been seated in front of me at the IFFBoston screening of Disorder. I regrettably do not speak French (working on it!) and so Disorder‘s English subtitles are pretty vital to the enjoyment of the film. If a lady with a large hat, perhaps inspired to wear such a thing by The Great Train Robbery or that episode of Sesame Street, were to get comfy in the seat in front of me, there’s a chance that those subtitles might have been obscured. I’ve yet to develop social courage or an extendable giraffelike neck (working on it!) and so, yeah, that would have been a bummer.

But, actually, no: Disorder would have been every bit as powerful without the words. Plot-wise there’s nothing too out-of-the-ordinary, and in fact the synopsis runs the risk of sounding heavily clichéd when it’s written down on paper. Vincent, a French soldier fresh back from Afghanistan, has taken a job at a private security company and been tasked with protecting the beautiful wife of the shady rich magnate. His PTSD interferes with this, but when the beautiful wife becomes a target it’s up to Vincent to save her. This admittedly sounds uninspired, but thankfully Disorder is crafted with care and creativity such that synopsis takes a backseat to style.

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