Ian Thomas Malone

Tuesday

18

January 2022

0

COMMENTS

Classic Film: Pale Flower

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

Loyalty is a concept that’s fundamentally incompatible with the pillars of capitalism. A worker can spend decades serving the bottom line, devotion impossible to replicate in the opposite direction. Criminal organizations such as the Mafia or Yakuz lean on the history of loyalty to keep subordinates in line, expecting underlings to take the fall for mishaps with time from their lives for which they could never be adequately compensated.

Masahiro Shinoda’s 1964 noir classic Pale Flower centers its narrative on a life spent in service, for the sake of loyalty, with little to show. Muraki (Ryō Ikebe) is released from prison after a lengthy sentence for murder. Lacking a family or any semblance of a meaningful existence, Muraki lives in squalor by day, only coming alive in Tokyo’s nighttime gambling parlors. A fellow player Saeko (Mariko Kaga), catches his interest. One of the few female players of the “Flower Card” game, Saeko’s lack of skill does not hinder her appetite for higher stakes games, urging Muraki to connect her with clubs that can provide more enhanced thrills.

Much of Shinoda’s work focuses on the mundane interactions between Muraki and Saeko as they navigate Tokyo’s criminal underbelly. The bulk of the 96-minute runtime takes place at night, often indoors as rain pours in the background, a dreary, unforgiving world for Muraki to return to after his years in jail. Shinoda carefully deconstructs any notion of glamour to be had in organized crime, a world with little to offer anyone who’s not at the top.

Pale Flower’s lasting legacy comes largely from Shinoda’s carefully constructed aesthetic. The gorgeous cinematography brings the gambling parlors to life, capturing the anxiety on each of the players as they spend their meager savings on flighting thrills. Composer Toru Takemitsu delivers a jazz-infused score that perfectly illustrates the appeal of this lifestyle without ever attempting to offer up an endorsement.

Shinoda digs into the heart of a life in decay, years of unrewarded loyalty blunting the natural longing for a greater purpose. There’s an easy chemistry between Ikebe and Kaga that captures their draw to each other, two aimless souls looking for a friendly orbit, if only for a little while. The audience doesn’t learn much about Saeko, or practically any character for that matter, but the film has a way of speaking volumes without the use of words.

As a genre, noir often concerns itself with exploring the ugly nature of humanity, focusing on morally dark figures with their backs against the wall. You’re not supposed to necessarily identify with someone like Muraki, a cold-blooded killer, but there’s ample beauty to be found in the process of understanding the lives of people who have been cast out by society. Shinoda isn’t just concerned with the story of Muraki, but also the sound of Muraki as he sits alone with his thoughts, coming to terms with the wasted potential that is his very existence.

Pale Flower captures the raw power of noir to shine a spotlight on the corners of humanity most of us would prefer not to visit, at least not in the real world. Few entries explore their dark environments with such unrequited beauty. Less concerned with story than the sheer emotion it evokes, Shinoda’s work is a triumph of the human spirit.

Share Button

Tuesday

14

December 2021

0

COMMENTS

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus

Written by , Posted in Blog, Podcast

Our journey into the Rankin/Bass cinematic universe continues with the 1985 special The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus their final production to use traditional stop-motion animation. Based on L. Frank Baum’s 1902 novel of the same name, the film is a pretty bizarre Santa origin story that often feels more like a riff on The Lord of the Rings than holiday entertainment. Despite it’s weirdly complex narrative and confusing characters, the special is a ton of fun to watch, even if it delivers a much weirder brand of festive cheer.

This is almost certainly our final holiday episode of the season. Be sure to check out all of our Christmas coverage from 2020 & 2021. From all of us at Estradiol Illusions, we wish you a very pleasant holiday season and thank you for spending a bit of it with us. 

Share Button

Monday

13

December 2021

0

COMMENTS

Prince Philip: The Royal Family Remembers is a touching tribute to the Duke of Edinburgh

Written by , Posted in Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

Prince Philip passed away just a few months shy of what would have been his one-hundredth birthday, a historic milestone for a royal consort. To celebrate the occasion, members of the Royal Family, including all four of Philip’s children and most of his adult grandchildren, sat down for a series of televised interviews. The special Prince Philip: The Royal Family Remembers features footage filmed both before the Duke of Edinburgh’s death and after, an intimate portrait of a quite unusual life.

The special largely divides its footage into three categories. The interviews with the Royal Family carry an understandable degree of novelty. Alongside the interviews, archival footage of the Duke’s life presents a biography of his life that may be a bit familiar to many watching. The special also features a behind-the-scenes look at the Duke’s office and library, peeling back the curtain of his day-to-day activities.

No one tuning into The Royal Family Remembers should expect a hard-hitting look at the Duke’s life. The Royal Family, particularly its members who still reside in the U.K., are notoriously averse to airing conflict in the public sphere. The closest the special comes to controversial subjects is a brief explanation of the context surrounding Philip’s proclivity for off-color remarks that would get him in trouble with the media.

The nature of the special makes a pivot from celebration to memorial a fairly seamless one. Death hardly comes as much of a surprise to people approaching 100 years old. While the tone is a bit more somber than any of the Royal Family would have liked, the interviews keep an upbeat tone that makes for enjoyable viewing.

One interesting takeaway from the special is the Duke’s approach to humility. The role of royal consort is a supporting gig, a life in service to supporting one’s spouse. The special highlights how uncomfortable Philip could be when asked to boast about his achievements, instead shifting the spotlight to others. Modesty is a trait sorely absent from so many in power, speaking volumes about the man’s character.

There are no real surprises in The Royal Family Remembers, an engaging hour-long perspective of a fascinating figure. Those seeking a more balanced look at Prince Philip’s life certainly have plenty of other options to find such material. As far as puff pieces go, this one is pretty entertaining.

Share Button

Monday

13

December 2021

0

COMMENTS

A Miser Brothers‘ Christmas

Written by , Posted in Blog, Podcast

Our holiday coverage continues with A Mister Brothers’ Christmas, the 2008 follow-up to the 1974 gem The Year Without a Santa Claus. Featuring returning voices Mickey Rooney and George S. Irving as Santa Claus and Heat Miser, the film aims to recapture the magic of the Rankin/Bass stop-motion classics. Unfortunately, the film never quite comes together as anything more than a nostalgia production with some truly horrendous music. Ian does her best to unpack what went wrong and why she’s still happy that it exists.

Share Button

Monday

13

December 2021

0

COMMENTS

It‘s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie

Written by , Posted in Blog, Podcast

We’re back in the Muppets Extended Universe with the 2002 television film It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie. With a plot that’s strikingly similar to the 2011 cinematic film The Muppets, adult-themed humor, and some uneven celebrity cameos from NBC Universal properties, the film occupies a weird place in Muppets lore. A strong performance from Joan Cusack goes a long way toward buoying a production perhaps best known for suggesting that Kermit’s existence played a role in one of the defining tragedies of the 21st century.

Be sure to check out all of EI’s holiday coverage! 

Share Button

Friday

10

December 2021

0

COMMENTS

Pinocchio‘s Christmas

Written by , Posted in Blog, Podcast

Into the weeds of the Rankin/Bass holiday catalog! Pinocchio’s Christmas is a bizarre special, serving as both an adaption of the 1883 novel and a more traditional Santa-infused holiday narrative. There is a lot going on, with multiple villains and plotlines converging on the poor wooden boy. Ian does her best to unpack it all.

 

Be sure to check out all of our holiday-themed episodes!

Share Button

Friday

10

December 2021

0

COMMENTS

The Little Drummer Boy

Written by , Posted in Blog, Podcast

We are continuing our Bass/Rankin coverage with the 1968 classic The Little Drummer Boy. Aaron starts off our story as a misanthropic troubadour performing for an audience of none, only to be changed by the healing power of laughter after pounding his drum until a newborn baby saved his lamb. Ian isn’t sure what to make of her affection for Ben Haramad, the closest thing the special has to a villain who isn’t driving a chariot in the middle of the night.

 

Be sure to check out all of our holiday-themed episodes!

Share Button

Thursday

9

December 2021

0

COMMENTS

Rudolph‘s Shiny New Year

Written by , Posted in Blog, Podcast

Holiday coverage continues! Join Ian as she unpacks the trainwreck known as Rudolph’s Shiny New Year, where everyone’s favorite bullied reindeer is tasked with saving time itself. From the Archipelago of Last Years to Eon the Terrible, nothing here makes any sense. The people in power continue to pick on young children, presenting the sensible question of whether time should be saved.

Be sure to check out our episode from last year covering the original Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer special: https://ianthomasmalone.podbean.com/e/rudolph-a-transgender-perspective/

Share Button

Monday

6

December 2021

0

COMMENTS

Succession is a one-trick pony with diminishing returns

Written by , Posted in Blog

Succession is, in theory at least, a fairly easy show to describe. The Roys, namely Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Shiv (Sarah Snook), and Roman (Kieran Culkin), vie for their father’s attention, hoping to inherit an unwieldy corporation leviathan that’s ill-served by a steady injection of nepotism. Armed with a steady stream of one-liners, what can sound like corporate Game of Thrones often feels more like an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, loosely connected vignettes in purpose to a broader arc.

Season three positioned itself to tackle the ramifications of Kendall going rogue, prompting Justice Department investigations too broad for Logan (Brian Cox) to squash. Tom (Matthew McFayden) spent several episodes accepting his inevitable indictment, reading about prisons like he was planning a family vacation. Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun) found himself in the middle of a game of tug-of-war between Kendall and the broader Roy family, becoming disinherited in the process.

Succession understands the power of dramatic tension, often deploying orchestral scorings of its theme song to heighten its more powerful moments. Scenes like when the FBI raided Waystar Royco made for great TV, not only in their initial execution but through the anticipation of what might happen next week. In a world where many TV shows see their entire seasons released in one day, Succession seemed to understand the value of the slow burn.

Season three cares only for its mic drop moments. Succession has no grasp of narrative pacing, a show that gives its audience little to invest in beyond amusing one-liners with diminishing returns. A sad waste of talent. The build-up doesn’t have any follow-through.

The first few episodes expose a few of the cracks. Confined almost exclusively to indoor closed sets, a likely product of the pandemic, the Roy family was left to bicker amongst themselves without the beauty that comes from their perpetual globetrotting. Instead, the audience is left with some atrocious writing that gave corporate power struggles the feel of a high school drama.

To some extent, the pettiness is part of the show’s charm. There’s a certain degree of satisfaction to be had in watching Shiv flounder in her executive position, all the empty calories of girlboss feminism. Succession doesn’t really need likable characters, but season three hasn’t given the cast enough to work with to fill the void.

There’s a bizarre amount of disconnect between each episode, introducing and abandoning new storylines, seemingly at whim. Of course, the only narrative that really matters, in the end, lies with Logan and his children. Succession knows its best magic comes from Logan sparring with his kids, revealing what an unbelievably bad father he was at every turn. You don’t need to feel an ounce of sympathy for the Roy kids to see the beauty in these heartbreaking scenes, puppies chasing a car they’ll never catch.

Succession is capable of crafting individual compelling episodes of television, but season three exposed some of the series’ broader structural flaws. There is little more to the whole production than a bunch of unsympathetic blowhards perpetually trying to stab each other in the back. The vignette approach to episodic storytelling occasionally works, but it’s hard to feel impressed by a show that spent its first episodes hyping up an existential threat that it instead decided to abandon with the flick of a finger.

Succession has no stakes. It’s hard to build tension when you know the show will do everything in its power to preserve the status quo. The audience may understand why it can’t deliver on “succession” until closer to a finale, but the show doesn’t seem to care much about progression either.

The result is a glorified sitcom. Succession gives the audience plenty to smile or cringe at, whether it’s through Greg’s antics or the sad existence that is Connor Roy (Alan Ruck). It’s all too lazy to be great TV. Such a cutting examination of corporate power should be able to conduct its narrative like it wasn’t just throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. It’s hard to get behind a show that’s so content in its mediocrity.

Share Button

Monday

6

December 2021

0

COMMENTS

A Muppet Christmas: Letters to Santa

Written by , Posted in Podcast

Our holiday coverage continues! Ian & Tara talk about the 2008 TV special, A Muppet Christmas: Letters to Santa, currently available on Disney+. With strong writing, music from The Muppet Christmas Carol lyricist Paul Williams, and fun celebrity cameos from Uma Thurman, Jesse L. Martin, Whoopi Goldberg, and Nathan Lane, Letters to Santa is a very entertaining way to get into the Christmas spirit. 

Be sure to check out all of our holiday-themed episodes! If you’ve enjoyed EI this year, please consider leaving us a review.

Share Button