Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Tuesday

20

April 2021

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COMMENTS

The Last Right is a touching meditation on grief with plenty of laughs

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Grief has an odd way of bringing people together, strangers who may not otherwise offer much more than a simple hello. The Last Right centers its narrative around this dynamic, starting off with two strangers seated next to each other on a plane to Ireland to bury separate loved ones. As the pandemic has halted the world around us, the idea of a chance conversation offering a glimmer of comfort almost feels like a luxury in today’s age.

The film follows Daniel (Michiel Huisman), an American lawyer on his way to Ireland to bury his mother and to take custody of his brother, Louis (Samuel Bottomley), with the intention of sending him to a boarding school for autistic students. A plane ride conversation with Padraig (Jim Norton), on his way to his estranged brother’s funeral, changes Daniel’s trip when Padraig suddenly dies himself, naming Daniel as his next-of-kin despite their brief affiliation.

Most of the narratives follows Daniel, Louis, and funeral home employee Mary (Niamh Algar), as they drive across Ireland to deliver Padraig’s body to Northern Ireland, where he can be buried next to his father. Director Aoife Crehan crafts a road movie that simultaneously serves as a mediation of grief mixed in with a comedy of errors.

Huisman, Bottomley, and Algar develop fast chemistry, an unlikely trio all united by a common understated sense of loneliness in the wake of circumstances beyond their control. Crehan’s script has a keen understanding of the innate human desire to heal. One cannot always control what happens in life, but nor should one resign themselves to a fate dictated by one’s past. The future always offers its alternatives.

The narrative is a bit formulaic at times. Crehan may not be too terribly interested in reinventing the wheel, instead putting together a touching film that hits all of its notes in a very satisfying manner. Supporting performances by Michael McElhatton, Colm Meaney, and Brian Cox bolster the primary trio on their adventure, at times doubling as a broader love letter to Ireland itself.

What’s most impressive about The Last Right is Crehan’s ability to maximize the scope of his story, set over the course of a single weekend. The 106-minute runtime gives the audience a firm grasp of the characters, without reaching too far toward an undeserved outcome. Periods of mourning are difficult times to get through. Crehan’s film is unafraid to be funny at times, understanding the immense power of human connection in times of mourning.

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Tuesday

20

April 2021

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COMMENTS

Michael McElhatton

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We are delighted to welcome Michael McElhatton to the show to talk about his new film The Last Right, a beautiful Irish road movie. April also marks the tenth anniversary of the premiere of Game of Thrones, where Michael played Roose Bolton, who’s either an arch-villain or a pretty decent guy depending on how you feel about a certain dinner party hosted by Walder Frey. Michael shares plenty of thoughts on Thrones, The Last Right, Zack Snyder’s Justice League, and so much more.

The Last Right is currently available in theatres and on VOD.

Ian’s review of the film: https://ianthomasmalone.com/2021/04/the-last-right-is-a-touching-meditation-on-grief-with-plenty-of-laughs/

 

 

Film poster courtesy of Level 33 Entertainment. Headshot courtesy of Michael McElhatton

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Tuesday

6

April 2021

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COMMENTS

Revisiting The Wire’s Finale “-30-“

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Season five of The Wire was always going to be a tall order under the best of circumstances. HBO’s finest series to date had its final season order slashed by three episodes, putting immense strain on its ever-expanding cast. The inclusion of the Baltimore Sun newsroom fit the series’ habit of shining a spotlight on new elements of the city’s culture each year, albeit with a cast of characters inevitably destined to pale in comparison to the schoolchildren who carried season four.

Television has no shortage of terrible series finales. Some play too hard for shock value, betraying their core ethos in the process. Others simply leave a bad taste in one’s mouth. Any finale that doesn’t make one recoil with disgust should be considered a win.

As far as finales go, “-30-” is hardly one for the ages, not exactly a sentiment one may want to be attached to one of TV’s crowning achievements. The final episode of The Wire deserves a lot of credit for being among the more effective finales in the television medium, providing closure for much of its massive cast while reminding viewers why they fell in love with the show in the first place.

The Wire is not an optimistic show, constantly shining a light on government incompetence and corruption. Good rarely triumphs over evil, not where apathy and bureaucracy can wear down even people with the best intentions. Lester Freamon and Bubbles spent much of season five on opposite ends of the spectrum with regard to this dynamic, one fed up with the nonsense getting in the way of his investigative prowess, while the other struggled to rise above a world that had kicked him while he was done so many times.

“-30-” understands its duty to wrap up a series, not necessarily the ideas it put forward. Baltimore may not change, but the characters who made the series so special carry with them concrete senses of growth. Perhaps none more than Cedric Daniels, constantly forced to balance his no-nonsense attitude toward police work with the politics associated with his ambition. Seeing Daniels survive all of McNulty’s crap to become police chief would’ve made for a happy ending. Perhaps too happy.

Instead, The Wire split the difference. Daniels leaves the department with his dignity intact, forgoing the top job in service to his own sanity. Returning to criminal litigation, Daniels emerges from the events of the series a better man, allowing swamp creature Stan Valchek to enjoy the perks of doing the mayor’s dirty work.

As a whole, season five buckled under the weight of the series’ ambitions, delivering the show’s silliest casework for what was left of the Major Crimes Unit. McNulty’s serial killer story was bound to end poorly, but the show struggled to paint this outcome as anything other than inevitable. For all his careful concern toward policework, Freamon never had a reasonable endgame.

­­­-30- puts this all in perspective, to an extent. Marlo Stanfield walked because the Baltimore Police Department wasn’t willing to put the basic resources together to catch him. Dozens of bodies left in his wake, the bureaucracy lets him walk free, instead merely nabbing his lieutenants. That’s not justice in any sense of the word, but The Wire wasn’t really about that.

Catching Marlo would leave the impression that detectives could actually succeed in pushing the never-ending boulder up the hill to bring about real change. There’s a reason arrests were few and far between after the triumphs of season one’s wiretap. Real change isn’t easily boxed into the sense of dramatic payoff that finales are expected to produce.

Characters like Stringer Bell, Prop Joe, and Bunny Colvin tried to change the rules of the game, but the game pushed back at every turn. Strong-willed people are no match for systemic rot. Those who try and cheat the system for noble purposes like McNulty fare no better. Only the shamelessly selfish like Tommy Carcetti, Clay Davis, and Maurice Levy get ahead. American capitalism at work. The game is the game.

-30- leaves us with little hope at the end, but David Simon deserves a lot of credit for his compassionate approach toward the audience. Hearts may break at the sight of Duquan shooting heroin, emulating an earlier Bubbles, or Michael morphing from quiet introvert to the heir to Omar’s throne, but the show let up a little bit, giving Namond a chance to shine in a late-season five cameo. Bubbles, the heart and soul of the show, ends the narrative with hope for perhaps the first time.

Simon also takes the chance to honor the characters who made the show so special. McNulty’s destructive behavior had gotten a little tiresome by season five, exacerbated by his sincere rehabilitation efforts the previous year. The “wake” held in his honor doubles as an opportunity to eulogize a show that was often the best thing on television.

The Wire wasn’t afraid to be gentle while laying out a bleaker truth for its viewers, delivering one of the more satisfying finales in television history. It shouldn’t be satisfying. The world that The Wire shined a light on is so infuriating and hopeless.

There are lingering thoughts brought about by the truncated final season, which followed two straight seasons of top-notch television. Some characters, like Kima Greggs, definitely get the short end of the stick as a result. -30­- isn’t a hopeless finale, instead putting the past five years in perspective in a way that manages to bookend a series that grew far bigger than itself. As far as TV endings go, it’s hard to think of a better note that The Wire could’ve realistically ended on.

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Friday

2

April 2021

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COMMENTS

Godzilla vs. Kong doesn’t have enough of a punch to make up for its awful human characters

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Fans have waited close to sixty years for a follow-up clash between titans Godzilla and King Kong. Godzilla vs. Kong is one of those titles that explains everything the film is supposed to be, a narrative that pretty much solely hinges on its ability to deliver plenty of fight scenes between the two famous kaiju. Unfortunately, there is the pesky matter of humans that the screenplay never quite figures out.

There have been a dozen King Kong films and three dozen entries to the Godzilla franchise. Godzilla vs. Kong is a direct sequel to 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters, itself a follow-up to 2014’s Godzilla, and 2017’s Kong: Skull Island. There was some solid worldbuilding in this “MonsterVerse” to get us to this point, establishing the hierarchy of the titans and why Godzilla and Kong are on a natural collision course as alpha predators.

Sadly this dynamic hardly applies to the human characters held over from King of the Monsters. Returning actors Millie Bobby Brown and Kyle Chandler add next to nothing to the narrative. Brown’s Addison Russell is at least involved in some hijinks to discover the motive of Godzilla’s attack on Pensacola, Florida, along with her friend Josh (Julian Dennison) and Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry), a conspiracy theorist/podcast host dedicated to bringing down Apex Cybernetics.

Brown, Dennison, and Henry have solid chemistry that would’ve worked a lot better if the screenplay cared at all about them as characters. Instead, we see them periodically throughout the narrative, with only the vague understanding that they’re there as filler for the film’s 113-minute runtime. Chandler’s presence is non-existent to the point where it essentially becomes a distraction. Ceding the role of male lead to Alexander Skarsgård, the audience is left wondering why Chandler bothered to show up for a sequel that clearly has no use for his character.

The film could be forgiven for all of this if it was laser-focused on its main objective, but the fights are too few and far between to justify the utter absence of anything resembling compelling drama from the human characters. Director Adam Wingard proves his talent in the action genre. The first battle, in particular, is a triumph of special effects, a dazzling spectacle in the middle of the ocean.

The two subsequent battles fail to adequately raise the bar. The action shots are too fast-paced, often laser-focused on the titans to the point where you can’t really see the carnage around them. The CGI is top-notch, but the experience feels weirdly small at times, with the cinematography limiting the audience’s ability to get a firm grasp of what’s going on at times. This isn’t always the case, but it happens enough to make one long for the days of watching two guys in rubber suits stomping on cardboard buildings while low-budget pyrotechnics go off in the background.

Herein lies the problem with Godzilla vs. Kong. The human scenes are such a dud that they drag everything else down, a woefully pathetic screenplay that practically insults its audience with its apathy. The fights range from excellent to solid, which is not enough to carry the deadweight from this otherwise awful experience.

There are some great sequences here. The Toho Godzilla films rarely produce drama that aspires to be on the level of Citizen Kane, but those narratives at least try to entertain their audiences when the monsters aren’t fighting. There is far too little effort in Godzilla vs. Kong, an easily avoidable misfire. These titans of the kaiju genre deserve so much better than this mess.

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Monday

29

March 2021

0

COMMENTS

Superman & Lois brings a breath of fresh air to the Arrowverse

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The future of the Arrowverse is a bit up in the air. Supergirl & Black Lightning are ending this year, and The Flash & Legends of Tomorrow are not far behind them. It’s fair to wonder if the unprecedented “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover was not just the high point for the small-screen shared universe, but also its final big moment of triumph. With Batwoman still figuring itself out after the departure of its anemic lead actress and Stargirl doing its own thing on Earth-2, Superman & Lois enters a broader franchise in need of a standard-bearer, lest viewers turn to HBO Max as the sole provider of DC-related television.

It is oddly fitting that the Arrowverse would turn to Clark Kent, DC’s favorite son, to inject a bit of life into The CW’s offerings. Smallville was a staple of The CW in its early days, one of the most popular holdovers from The WB. Small-screen superhero storytelling has changed quite a bit since Tom Welling’s “no flights/no tights” Kal-El blended comic book lore with WB-era soap opera antics.

While Tyler Hoechlin’s Clark certainly does don the cape, part of what makes Superman & Lois work so well is the show’s ability to ground itself in the lore of everything that’s come before. Set in Smallvillle, the series is just as concerned with the Kent family life as the broader world that Superman is supposed to protect. The narrative weaves both the traditional teenage angst that fueled so many WB/CW shows before it and the action pieces that have made the Arrowverse such a smashing success, coupled with a cinematic aspect ratio and production values uncommon for broadcast television.

Superman & Lois eschews the more formulaic tropes of its Arrowverse predecessors, giving each episode a more relaxed sense of urgency. For all its sillier arcs, Arrow consistently delivered top-notch stunt choreography in practically every episode. That kind of episodic pacing doesn’t really suit Clark Kent in quite the same way as Oliver Queen, hardly the proper superhero to go busting into warehouses late at night.

Nor is Clark Kent the primary focus. As good as a Superman as Tyler Hoechlin is, Elizabeth Tulloch often captivates the most attention. Leaving Metropolis for the sake of her family, Lois Lane gave up a career-defining position as the star reporter for a major newspaper, the kind of stature that would grant her instant celebrity status in the real world. Both Lois & Clark are personalities far bigger than Smallville, yet they feel at home in this environment as they teach their boys how to be men.

The constant juggle of responsibility between their own family and the world at large makes for quite compelling television. Through its early episodes, Superman & Lois has fared quite well at satisfying its audience’s natural urge for superhero action as well as the bread and butter CW family storytelling. This isn’t the kind of show that makes for a marquee offering for a streaming service, but it’s the kind of series one can look forward to each week, a sense of familiarity desperately needed in this pandemic landscape.

Such a balance works well with its broader storyline involving Morgan Edge (Adam Rayner), a clash of a capitalist mogul and small town values. A real estate developer is hardly on the same level as Damian Dahrk or Eobard Thawne. Superman & Lois so far has shown that it doesn’t necessarily need a menacing “big bad.”

The Arrowverse won’t be around forever. HBO Max’s own slate of DC content will naturally diminish the broader importance of The CW to deliver weekly superhero narratives for television audiences. Whatever the future holds for broadcast TV, Superman & Lois captures one’s attention with its great storytelling.

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Monday

29

March 2021

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COMMENTS

Transgender Day of Visibility: A Dissent

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March 31st is International Transgender Day of Visibility. Ian would really like to see the day switched to Transgender Day of Action or Day of Hiring a Trans Person. Trans people are visible. Trans people don’t need additional visibility. Trans people need equity.

More than 80 anti-transgender bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the country in 2021 alone. Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi have passed bills targeting trans healthcare and participation in sports. Trans people deserve more than to be seen, we need a seat at the table. 

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Friday

26

March 2021

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COMMENTS

TTTE & Chill: Percy’s Ghostly Trick

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We are back on the Island of Sodor for another edition of TTTE & Chill, the number one Thomas the Tank Engine recap show in the world. Percy’s Ghostly Trick is a sentimental favorite tape. Ian & Tara break down the intricacies of Percy’s prank, Douglas’ daring rescue of Oliver, the infamous “Thanksgiving” episode, and the handling of the regatta medical emergency in All at Sea.

 

This tape covers the following episodes

  • Thomas’ Anthem (music video)
  • Percy’s Ghostly Trick
  • Woolly Bear
  • Thomas and Percy’s Mountain Adventure
  • Escape
  • Oliver Owns Up
  • All at Sea

Be sure to check out all of our other episodes of TTTE & Chill! 

Photo courtesy of the Britt Allcroft Company

 

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Monday

22

March 2021

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COMMENTS

Shoplifters of the World is a messy slog that’s bound to depress longtime fans of The Smiths

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The Smiths are an easy band to fall in love with. Morrissey’s humorously melancholic lyrics work beautifully layered on top of Johnny Marr’s jangly riffs. Producing only 70 songs over the course of their five-year career, with only a few duds, it’s not very hard to memorize the lyrics to them all. There’s a certain poetic tragedy to be found in their short tenure as a group, undoubtedly enhancing their legacy.

The new film Shoplifters of the World centers its narrative in the immediate aftermath of the group’s breakup. Armed with a soundtrack full of Smiths tracks, director/writer Stephen Kijak presents a story that takes place over the course of a single day. The longer the film goes on, the more it looks like that was the same amount of time it took to craft his atrocious screenplay.

The slice of life method might have worked better if Kijak hadn’t written two absolute clunkers to serve as his leads. Cleo (Helena Howard) mostly wants to party to numb the pain of the group’s breakup, also possessing a strange kleptomaniac streak. Dean (Ellar Coltrane) takes a far more unhealthy approach, holding a local heavy metal DJ named “Full Metal Mickey” (Joe Manganiello) hostage at gunpoint and forcing him to disrupt his set to play entirely Smiths songs.

Kijak relies too heavily on Smiths songs to carry his otherwise empty narrative. Longtime fans may want to rethink their dedication after watching this disaster. Kijak’s screenplay includes line after line directly lifted from Smiths songs, often merely just the titles of Smiths songs, but he never seems interested in doing anything more than lazy wordplay. There are a few strands of plot to be had in dealing with homophobia and growing up, but the film is never particularly committed to any of its characters.

The biggest problem with the narrative is that it can’t survive at all without The Smiths. The film has absolutely nothing going for it besides its soundtrack. There are a few times where Kijak inserts archival footage of old Moz interviews into the film, trying to send home the message that these songs can save lives. Unfortunately, Morrissey can’t really save this awful film that’s far too desperate to lean on him without a crutch.

There some broader complaints that might feel like nitpicking more if the film didn’t solely cater to Smiths superfans. The timeline is an absolute mess. Taking place on the supposed day of their breakup, the film ignores the basic fact that Marr had left the group months before the release of their final album, Strangeways, Here We Come. Set in Denver, Colorado, Kijak completely overblows what their American popularity would have been in 1987, instead inserting their broader legacy into the picture as if it had been there all along.

Some of those historical liberties might be easier to forgive if the narrative was better or if The Smiths’ broader timeline wasn’t fairly simple to follow. The sole redeeming quality of the film lies in its soundtrack, but Smiths diehards would be better off simply putting on a record and listening to the music without this mess getting in the way. Kijak is obviously a fan by token of the film’s existence, but he does an absolutely terrible job communicating that affection to a broader audience.

Morrissey’s lyrics appeal on a deeply personal level, the kind of depth that keeps fans returning to his work after all these years. None of that is communicated well in Shoplifters of the World. It’s hard to think of a worse way to honor the legacy of The Smiths than by watching this film.

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Sunday

21

March 2021

0

COMMENTS

Zack Snyder’s Justice League delivers on its mission

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It’s easy to frame Zack Snyder’s Justice League as an attempt to correct an error, as the cinematic Justice League will likely go down as one of the worst superhero movies of all time, an abomination of blockbuster filmmaking. An unthinkable tragedy forced Snyder to step away from the destination his entire DCEU had been working toward, but that entire strategy had been under question since the muted reception to Snyder’s Man of Steel & Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, as well as the Snyder-produced Suicide Squad.

The world has changed quite a lot since 2017. An unprecedented fan campaign coupled with a streaming service in need of content amidst an industry, and a globe, ravaged by the pandemic affords a rare do-over for the line-up composed of DC Comics’ best assets. Relying almost entirely on footage shot before Snyder previously stepped away from the film, ZSJL is a film firmly rooted in the same problems that had the broader population clamoring for Snyder to be removed as the architect of the DCEU in the first place. The only thing that’s fundamentally different is a sense that this film is the proper concluding chapter to an uneven era in DC lore.

Time has been kind to Snyder’s bleak Earth. The runtime of just over four hours might be anxiety-inducing to a bladder seated in a crowded theatre, but ZSJL’s narrative fares much better from the comfort of one’s couch. The only pressing issue is the 4:3 aspect ratio, which feels more than a bit confining to footage that once might have played best on an IMAX screen. It’s not hard to imagine that the dedicated fans up for watching such an epic in that environment may one day get their wish.

The narrative plays well without Joss Whedon’s forced efforts at humor. It’s fair to say that the idea of a Justice League film may have been better served by giving its full roster their own solo films ahead of the team-up, as ZSJL spends much of its time properly introducing Aquaman, Cyborg, and The Flash. Snyder’s work is at least aware of this reality, forcing Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne to juggle to awkward comradery amidst these heroes united by a common existential cause.

As with his earlier DC Comics adaptations, Snyder is in no rush to get to the core of his narrative. The first ninety minutes contain far too many sequences that are fundamentally superfluous to his broader intentions. The gel doesn’t always settle perfectly, but where Snyder especially succeeds with his worldbuilding is his ability to make it feel lived-in. ZSJL doesn’t ignore its predecessor films like Whedon’s trainwreck. Batman v Superman remains a bloated mess, but Snyder keeps his eye on the ball, rewarding fans who have put in the effort to engage with his ideas over the years.

Steppenwolf is still an imperfect choice to be the Justice League’s first big villain, but the restoration of Darkseid to the film at least keeps some air in the room. Snyder clearly intended to save Darkseid for a sequel that will almost certainly never be made, a reservation that won’t see its payoff. It’s a messy dynamic, but certainly much more cohesive than its 2017 predecessor.

Perhaps the film’s best asset comes through the subtraction of the earlier film’s greatest crime. Henry Cavill’s CGI-erased mustache served as the biggest joke of the 2017 Justice League, a conduit to channel through everything else that was wrong with the movie. Here, Superman still isn’t in the film very much, but that’s a worthy trade-off to see Kal-El’s distracting upper lip removed from the equation.

Snyder hasn’t exactly pieced together a great movie, but his vision has a cohesive flow sorely missing from its predecessor. Longtime fans will find much to love in the culmination of his work. The hashtag #ReleaseTheSnyderCut has delivered what it set out to achieve. The film may bear the same issues that plagued much of Snyder’s time spearheading the DCEU, but there’s a poetic sense of justice in seeing the director given the chance to properly complete his work.

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Friday

19

March 2021

0

COMMENTS

SXSW Review: The Hunt for Planet B

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The question of extraterrestrial life is hardly a matter of if, but where. The universe is a pretty massive place, far beyond human comprehension. NASA has barely scratched the surface of our own galaxy, let alone the far reaches of the cosmos.

The James Webb Space Telescope, set to launch into space on October 31st, represents a step forward in humanity’s understanding of the broader universe. Nathaniel Kahn’s new documentary The Hunt for Planet B aims to bring these broad existential questions back down to earth, focusing on the human equation in the exploration. The balance is a dynamic that Kahn continuously struggles with throughout the course of the narrative.

The Hunt for Planet B is light on science, a narrative without nearly enough substance to sustain a feature-length runtime. Kahn only seems interested in the telescope or NASA for brief moments, almost desperate to turn his attention anywhere else. No one sitting down to watch the film would actually expect Kahn to find planet B, but ninety minutes with this material hardly leaves one with much of a deeper understanding of any of the material.

At one point, the documentary turns its attentions to the music preferences of one of the scientists during a car ride. The subject notes an interest in 80s music. If you want to watch a documentary to learn about what kind of genres of music scientists working on the James Webb Space Telescope enjoy, Kahn certainly delivers on that front. The same can hardly be said for those looking for substantive discussions on complex science.

Part of this problem is hardly Kahn’s fault. His subjects are able to succinctly explain all the things that we don’t know about the universe, but much less successful in giving a lay audience a better perspective of what we do know. That might not be as much of an issue if Kahn seemed actually interested in the telescope that’s supposed to be at the heart of the narrative.

There are other weird points of obvious filler beyond the 80s music chatter. There are a few scenes that feature C-Span footage of House committee oversight into NASA, showcasing how little elected officials understand about science. These sequences might be more compelling if Kahn managed to tie them back into his overall narrative, but there isn’t much of a cohesive storyline here.

With the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope delayed due to the pandemic, it seems likely that Kahn’s documentary had to be curtailed as well. That might be easier to forgive if The Hunt for Planet B wasn’t such a dull experience, a film that has no business carrying a feature runtime. The whole thing could’ve been easily condensed into a format more suitable for a 60 Minutes segment without losing any substance.

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