Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Monday

20

January 2020

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Quezon’s Game Makes a Mess out of an Inspiring Story

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Manuel Quezon was the rare kind of politician, hellbent on pursuing what he believed was right against overwhelming opposition. As the second president of the Philippines, Quezon was tasked with leading a government in turmoil as World War II approached. Recognizing the threat that the Jewish people faced from Hitler, he attempted to relocate tens of thousands of refugees to the Philippines at a time when too many politicians did nothing.

The film Quezon’s Game centers around the president’s efforts to save as many Jewish refugees as possible. The true story beyond Quezon is a compelling one that deserves to be told. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t do it justice.

The lead acting is the film’s strongest asset. Raymond Bagatsing brings nuance to Quezon, a believable politician. As his wife Aurora, Rachel Alejandro represents the film’s emotional core, drawing out the best in her husband. The scenes between the two supply most of the film’s best moments.

Sadly, the same can’t be said for the film’s supporting cast. Lines are awkward delivered from actors who often look lost in the scenes. Often, the cast seem to deliver their expressions well after speaking, a disconnect that could be forgiven in a community theatre production, but hardly from a feature film.

The script is absolutely atrocious. Heaps of exposition are dumped on the audience all at once. For a film based on a true story, the characters often talk as if they possess a retrospective knowledge of the events they’re supposed to be portraying in real time. There’s very little flow to this film.

While it’s hard to put too much blame on the film’s understandably small budget, director Matthew Rosen has a way of exacerbating this situation. Many of the scenes are shot in buildings with impressive architecture, but the cameras remain zoomed in on the actors, preventing the audience from examining the interesting sets. This dynamic continues for practically the whole film. The lighting also carries the feel of a soap opera, dim and dreary.

With a runtime of over two hours, Quezon’s Game is simply too long for its own good. There’s a lot of scenes that don’t really add anything to the narrative, and there’s too many of people sitting around a table having the same conversations. This wouldn’t be a big deal if the film had a good script or decent actors, but Rosen has a knack for drawing attention to his film’s shortcomings.

Quezon’s Game is an inspiring story with strong lead performances undermined by a weak script, a mediocre supporting cast, and a bloated runtime. The film is a real shame considering its powerful narrative. Manuel Quezon is a very inspiring figure. His legacy deserves a much better film.

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Monday

20

January 2020

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The Peaches of Renly Baratheon

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Grab your peach and the crown off the head of your least favorite older sibling, it’s time for a trip back to Westeros. Join Ian & special guest Sam of the Rainbow Guard for an episode all about the baby sibling of House Baratheon. Dearest Renly wasn’t in our story for very long, but he sure made an impact. Westeros’ most prominent gay character provided some great representation for the LGBTQ community, an ambitious and impeccably dressed figure who knew how to consolidate power and throw a wild tourney.

 

For more of Sam, follow him on Twitter @therainbowguard

 

Be sure to check out Ian’s article on Renly’s status as a queer icon

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Friday

17

January 2020

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Crisis on Infinite Earths

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Get your Lazarus Pit ready for a trip to Earth-CW! The Arrowverse pulled off a crossover for the ages and Estradiol Illusions is here to talk about it. Join host Ian Thomas Malone and special guest Ed Carroll for an exciting discussion covering Crisis on Infinite Earths. Ian & Ed break down what worked, what didn’t, plus all those exciting cameos. We may not have seen Nicholas Cage finally don the Superman costume, but there were so many thrilling moments that made for one of the most ambitious events in television history.   

For more of Ed, follow him on Twitter @EdRevelator34

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Saturday

11

January 2020

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1917 Is a Masterpiece of Filmmaking

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The confines of runtimes restrict film in many ways, requiring a director to operate with laser focus into their character’s lives. Two hours depicting an event hardly seems like enough time to capture its essence in full, yet somehow plenty of movies manage to deliver in this regard. 1917 presents its narrative as one single continuous take, a bold approach for director Sam Mendes. The result is a breathtaking experience that captures the brutal emotions that war forces upon young people.

The film follows two young lance corporals, Will Schofield (George MacKay) and Tom Blake (Dean Charles-Chapman) as they journey to deliver a message to a battalion planning to attack German forces in France who are believed to be in retreat. The limits in technology during World War One forced the intelligence to be delivered by hand, through unclear conditions, as aerial intelligence could only reveal so much. The fate of 1,600 British troops, including Blake’s brother, rests in the hands of two young men.

The cinematography works wonders on the narrative, revealing much about the two lead characters as they trudge through hazardous battlefields. Confronted by their own humanity, neither man seems like much of a hardened warrior, individuals merely responding to the circumstances put in front of them. Blake and Schofield repeatedly reveal themselves to be fundamentally decent human beings, doing a job that no one would ever want bestowed upon themselves.

Mendes uses the one-shot approach to fully display the horrors of war through the quiet moments. 1917 is a masterpiece of filmmaking. By presenting the narrative in real-time, Mendes allows the audience to experience the mission fully alongside the protagonists. From the trenches to the destroyed villages to the battlefields ripe with decaying soldiers, you follow them through the heart of war. It’s a deeply unnerving experience.

The pacing works extremely well. There’s plenty of quiet moments, but the suspense never lets up. Character development is a tricky proposition for a one-shot film, but Mendes ensures that there’s plenty of growth along the journey.

The film also utilizes some high-profile actors in a way that keeps the spotlight on the two leads. Colin Firth and Benedict Cumberbatch both play high ranked commanders, delivering strong supporting performances that work well within the confines of the one-shot approach. MacKay and Charles-Chapman are hardly A-list stars, but their low-key profiles serve as a good reminder that war might be waged by elites, but fought by common men.

1917 presents a singular take on World War One, the kind of film that manages to keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time. What’s perhaps most impressive about that notion is the fact that it’s not a particularly action-heavy film, especially for a war narrative. It’s a deeply moving piece of art best enjoyed on the big screen. Few films manage to convey such emotion with such ease. 1917 likely won’t spark an influx of one-shot narratives, but Mendes makes a strong case for the method.

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Tuesday

31

December 2019

1

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Kevin Hart: Don’t F**k This Up Is a Shallow Series That Fails to Shed Light on Its Star

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The Kevin Hart Oscars scandal was an unfortunate train wreck. It’s easy to understand Hart’s position of not wanting to apologize for statements he’d already addressed several times in his past. There’s also little humor to be found in so-called “jokes” about threatening a child with violence for playing with girl’s toys. Too many members of the LGBTQ community, myself included, have been threatened for simply being who we are.

With that in mind, it’s hard to muster up too much sympathy for Hart’s predicament. As the new Netflix series Kevin Hart: Don’t F**k This Up shows, Kevin Hart is living the dream. Hart is an immensely talented individual, parlaying his success as a comedian into a broader portfolio that includes a production company, HartBeat Productions.

Kevin Hart: Don’t F**k This Up starts off with the Oscars controversy, though much of the series was filmed in 2018, well before the scandal. This fundamental disconnect creates some narrative issues for the six-part series as a whole, which mostly divides its time between three broader storylines. The show mainly focuses on Hart’s family life, his brand, and the fallout from his scandals.

The narrative works best when it focuses on his family. Hart passionately describes the influence of his mother, who imposes a strict routine to keep him away from trouble. The series includes a few touching interactions with his father, whose history with drugs supplied material for some of Hart’s early routines. Hart’s wife Eniko Parrish is also a compelling figure in the show, serving as a steadying force in his life.

Prominently featured in the show are Hart’s “Plastic Cup Boyz,” his entourage of friends and fellow comedians. The series presents the Plastic Cup Boyz as committed to keeping Kevin out of harm’s way. In some ways, it’s endearing to see Hart’s obvious affection for his friends, as well as his desire to share his good fortune with those who have stood by him.

Trouble is, the emphasis on the Plastic Cup Boyz imposes a broader problem with Don’t F**k This Up as a narrative. The show, produced by Hart, essentially exists as an infomercial showcasing the greatness of Kevin Hart. The broader theme is clear throughout every episode: Kevin Hart works very hard.

Hart’s hustle is obvious, but his efforts to showcase how hard he works exposes many flaws in this whole approach. For all his hard work, he’s still a grown man who requires a full entourage as a security blanket. He’s seemingly incapable of doing much of anything without three or four of his buddies to help. The show fails to paint Hart as particularly inspiring because it would be practically impossible for anyone to follow his lifestyle.

This dynamic is most apparent when Hart talks about his Las Vegas affair, a low point in his life. Hart takes full responsibility, but Don’t F**k This Up repeatedly implies that if more of the Plastic Cup Boyz had been around, they might have been able to prevent the affair from happening. Herein lies the problem with producing a docu-series about yourself. Hart lacks the perspective to see when he’s hurting his own case.

The episode that focuses on the Oscar fallout is a peculiar mixed bag. Don’t F**k This Up deserves credit for wholeheartedly portraying Hart’s reaction as wrong. Seemingly everyone in his orbit tells him he handled the situation poorly, jeopardizing dozens of livelihoods in the process. He owns up to his faults, namely his efforts to portrays himself as a victim instead of choosing to condone violence against the gay community.

As refreshingly honest as the episode is regarding the precise nature of how Hart screwed up, the whole presentation feels pretty hollow and manufactured. Hart says he’s sorry, but repeatedly refuses to go on an “apology tour” to express contrition. The docu-series says that Hart spoke with gay friends who told him where he went wrong, but we don’t see any of those interactions, only ones with his own employees.

One of his executives summarizes this situation best in the closing minutes of the series. Carli Haney, a gay woman, mentions how the production company will now include gay characters in series moving forward. The moral of the whole Oscars saga isn’t about how Kevin can make amends, but rather how he can profit off the scandal. Plenty may feel that additional apologies aren’t necessary, but the whole series feels shallow in the absence of demonstrable remorse.

Don’t F**k This Up is a self-indulgent vanity project designed to sell Kevin Hart as a brand, a superficial six-episode commercial with little depth. Fans of Hart may appreciate the backstage look at his life, but there’s little of substance here. An outside production company might have been able to shine a better light on this situation, but Hart is too close to the action to pull anything meaningful from his mistakes.

 

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Saturday

28

December 2019

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COMMENTS

The Mandalorian Season One Review: Chapter 8

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Chapter 8 came with plenty of high expectations, even if there probably isn’t a single soul out there who thought that Disney would kill off Baby Yoda after his capture at the end of last week’s episode. Director Taika Waititi, who also voices nurse droid IG-11, is one of the most imaginative filmmakers currently working, a perfect choice for the finale. Unsurprisingly, he delivered a spectacular episode of television.

The opening scene with the Scout Troopers was an emotional roller coaster. Jason Sudekis and Adam Pally were pretty funny, mocking their profession’s well-known reputation for being horrible marksman. They also repeatedly hit one of the cutest characters in television history. Hard to laugh when such an adorable baby is in pain.

For a show with relatively few characters, The Mandalorian managed to deliver satisfying arcs for practically everyone who appeared in more than one scene. IG-11 is not exactly a character who needed to return after chapter one, but the show gave the reformed assassin a redemptive narrative that ended up working quite well. The scene where he rode into town guns-blazing was an absolute treat.

Does Moff Gideon seem like the kind of guy to give people until nightfall, presumably several hours away, to turn themselves in? The whole sequence felt a little arbitrary, especially with the blaster-resistant sewer grate. The revelation of Mando’s name, Din Djarin, was almost as exciting as the sight of his face after all these episodes.

The flashback sequence was also well-executed, though hopefully we’ve seen the last of Mando’s droid bigotry. Baby Yoda’s use of the Force has been handled well, deployed sparingly in a believable manner. The way this episode handled IG-11’s death makes Kuiil’s quicker demise seem a little shortchanged by comparison.

The Armorer ended up being a more emotionally powerful character than I would have expected following her last appearance. Her support of Mando’s mission feels genuine, though the embrace of Baby Yoda by the Mandalorians in general makes you wonder why Mando didn’t just bring him to Mandalore in the first place. Her action sequence battling the Stormtroopers was well-handled. A death by those incompetent fools would have been a bummer.

Hopefully next season will feature more of the backstory behind what happened on Navarro after chapter 3. The Mandalorians paid a heavy price for helping Baby Yoda, especially when you consider how that whole mission went against The Guild, hurting their credibility as bounty hunters. We know little of their broader belief system, but they do seem like genuinely good people.

Carl Weathers did a fabulous job as Greef throughout the season. This episode saw the character deliver his best line, “Come on baby, do the magic hand thing!” His case for the planet of Navarro also felt quite genuine for something that was clearly intended to be comedic relief.

Moff Gideon was well-deployed this episode. The Tie Fighter sequence was great, and the Darksaber revelation was absolutely wild for fans of the Expanded Universe. I’m glad that he survived the season, as Giancarlo Esposito is too good of a villainous actor to only use in two episodes.

I do wonder why it seems that only important characters seem capable of surviving ship crashes in this saga. Luke took several shots to his X-Wing in the Battle of Yavin while practically everyone else not named Wedge Antilles saw their ships destroyed with a single blast. Maybe Moff Gideon had a great airbag.

As much sense as it makes that the group would go their separate ways at the end of the episode, part of me wishes that Cara Dune had stuck with Mando. That whole dynamic would have clashed with the show’s gunslinger vibe, but the episodes where Mando has an ally have worked better than the ones where he’s alone in taking care of Baby Yoda. It’s hard to imagine she won’t be back next season though.

This episode was easily the best of the season, one of the most exciting chapters in the entire Star Wars saga. The storylines came full circle in a very satisfying manner, while leaving plenty to be excited about for next year. The bar was set pretty high for Taika Waititi, who made the perfect case for why he should be given his own trilogy.

Quick programming note: my full season review will be posted later this week. Thank you to everyone who’s followed along with our recaps this season. I hope you had as much fun as we did.

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Saturday

28

December 2019

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Greta Gerwig’s Little Women Is an Absolute Delight

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The idea of adapting a beloved classic like Little Women presents certain unique advantages and challenges. There’s a natural fanbase built in, but one of the most popular books in American history also has plenty of great cinematic adaptations already. Fortunately, director Greta Gerwig found plenty of ways to put her own unique spin on the Louisa May Alcott’s timeless novel.

Gerwig’s narrative plays with Alcott’s timeline quite a bit, largely splitting it into two distinct periods. Much of the story follows the first half of the book, set in 1861, jumping back and forth with the later events in 1868. This non-linear approach not only sets the adaptation apart from its predecessors, it also keeps the audience from explicitly knowing what’s going to come next.

There are plenty of deviations from the source material, but Gerwig keeps the core of Little Women intact. Several scenes feel more like a stageplay than a film, with the obvious glee of the actors aiding the sense that the book is being performed rather than embodied. The tone is often quite lighthearted, emphasizing fun over strict realism.

Unsurprisingly, the acting is top notch. The A-list cast delivers perfectly. As the titular “little women,” Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, and Eliza Scanlen have a natural chemistry, with a certain understated familial relationship. Barely any time is needed to endear them to the audience. The same holds true for Timothée Chalamet, who’s absolutely charming as Laurie.

The veteran performers in the cast, namely Meryl Streep, Laura Dern, and Chris Cooper, all put forth strong supporting efforts. Streep is one of those actresses who has a tendency to command any scene she’s in, but Gerwig deploys her Aunt March sparingly, heightening the dramatic impact Streep makes on the narrative.

The beauty of Gerwig’s interpretation stems from her strong grasp of emotion. Linear narratives often spend their runtimes building toward a payoff at the climax. Gerwig’s splintered timeline tosses plenty of powerful scenes at the audience throughout the film, opening the floodgates at moments where you least expect it.

Books have an easier time of delivering emotional payoffs, having far more time to endear the reader to the characters. Little Women has the luxury of having an audience that already loves the material, but Gerwig consistently finds new ways to use this relationship to her advantage. The film consistently celebrates the highs and lows of these sisters’ lives without feeling predictable or forced.

As with many adaptations, there’s sections of the source material that don’t get the attention that some would like. The strength of Watson and Pugh’s acting may leave many wanting to see more from Beth and Amy, but this is mostly Jo’s story. Gerwig at times lets Jo exist as a stand-in for Alcott herself, supplying timely commentary on the agency of women in an era often lacking in opportunity.

It is easy to say that the world didn’t “need” another Little Women adaptation, even after putting aside how much of today’s cinema is taken up by remakes, sequels, and franchise. Gerwig makes a strong case for why her version should be the definitive take on Alcott’s work. The film works on just about every level, a narrative that makes the book’s magic come alive consistently throughout its runtime.

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Tuesday

24

December 2019

16

COMMENTS

The Witcher Is Thoroughly Mediocre

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As a genre, fantasy can be challenging to present to an audience on television. There’s a lot of world-building that needs to take place, on top of all the other obligations expected of new narratives. As with many fantasy shows, The Witcher is based off a popular long-running book series. Unfortunately, the execution of its source material largely falls flat.

The Witcher might have the least effective world-building of any fantasy show in history, a remarkably bland palette that kills any desire to pay attention. The world of “The Continent” isn’t particularly complicated to understand. There are monster hunters, sorcerers, elves, and plenty of standard fare that is easy for an audience to digest. The first few episodes throw so much at the wall that practically nothing sticks.

The season adapts the introductory stories to The Witcher by Andrzej Sapkowski, a series with a complicated chronology. The show dumps a lot of characters and plotlines all at once, an approach that’s quite difficult to follow along with unless you’ve read the source material. It’s not that what’s presented is particularly complex, but the delivery just lands with a thud. It is so boring that it becomes practically unwatchable.

As the titular Witcher, Henry Cavill does the show no favors. It would be a bit unfair to blame him for the show’s failures, but his lifeless performance doesn’t help. Geralt of Rivia has almost no personality and little is done to endear him to the audience. He feels more like a reactionary figure than a lead character, making it especially hard to care about his journey.

The special effects are pretty decent, though any goodwill on that front is squandered by the sets. The color palette is as bland as the writing, moody villages that reek of grey. It’s actually kind of depressing to watch, but not in a way that enhances the narrative.

The show does occasionally try for humor, mostly through the traveling bard Jaskier (Joey Batey). Jaskier crafts a song in the second episode that’s probably the most memorable aspect of the show. That sadly represents a rather poor investment in anyone’s time.

Things do pick up a bit after the first few episodes when the show starts to pump the brakes on the exposition a bit. There isn’t some drastic improvement, but likely enough to please longtime fans of either the source material or the genre itself. The cast do seem to grow more comfortable with their roles as time goes on, though it might be too little for a general audience.

The Witcher isn’t an offensively terrible show, just one that manages to do almost nothing right. Fans of fantasy may find something redeemable in a binge, especially this time of the year. Sapkowski’s excellent source material deserved much better than this underwhelming slog.

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Monday

23

December 2019

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A Hidden Life Is Peak Malick

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For a director who once took a twenty year hiatus in-between films, Terrence Malick has been quite productive throughout the 2010s. The Tree of Life remains a strong contender for best film of the new millennium, a powerful meditative commentary on the nature of humanity. His last three fictional narratives have fallen a bit flat in their unstructured delivery, though there’s plenty of novelty value in seeing A-list actors try and tackle Malick’s inscrutable form.

A Hidden Life represents a return to (relative) structure for Malick, utilizing an actual script for the first time in years. The film follows Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl), an Austrian farmer, as he grapples with his refusal to swear an oath to Hitler throughout World War II. The real-life Jägerstätter was beatified by the Catholic Church as a martyr, the kind of quiet hero perfect for Malick’s transcendental approach.

Franz makes for a unique protagonist in the crowded field World War II narratives. His actions did not directly save any lives, a conscientious-objector who simply refused to pledge loyalty to a cause he knew was wrong. The specific value of his heroism is a powerful point of discussion in the film, as many in his village urge him to consider what will happen to his family as a result of his actions. His wife Franziska (Valerie Pachner) is shunned by the village, though she herself wonders why her husband must carry this burden that so many others have relinquished.

Malick is in peak form, using the beautiful mountain landscapes as backdrops for his meditations. For all the chaos of war, A Hidden Life stakes out a quiet plain to contemplate the nature of morality. Malick occasionally uses archival footage of Hitler to underscore the unspoken terror of his fascism and the many people who followed in his wake.

Diehl and Pachner both put forth powerful performances in the lead roles. Given Malick’s love of voiceovers, the actors are often left to communicate their scenes with sheer expression. Diehl manages to portray’s Franz’ martyrdom in real-time, a man at peace with the inevitable outcome of his actions. Pachner allows Franziska to air her frustration without turning her husband into the villain some may believe him to be.

The precise question of why Franz decided to resist is a subject that A Hidden Life largely keeps at arm’s length. The audience spends three hours listening to Franz’s thoughts, but he only dances around the nature of answers. For some, this approach represent a poor return on one’s investment, but the execution gives plenty of food for thought long after the credits stop rolling.

A Hidden Life is the perfect vessel for Malick to explore the nature of morality with a keen sense of focus absent from his past few films. Longtime fans will appreciate the narrative’s stronger continuity while retaining the many serene contemplative moments that define his work. The film is probably a solid hour longer than it needed to be, but few other than Malick can get away with that. The film is a masterpiece well-suited for the quiet resistance of its subject.

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Monday

23

December 2019

1

COMMENTS

Mystify: Michael Hutchence Gives INXS Fans a Front Row Seat to a Tragic Story

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Michael Hutchence had a certain kind of energy that made him an exceptional performer. INXS is a band full of talented musicians, but one’s eyes can’t help but return to Hutchence’s dynamic presence whenever a clip of the group plays. His life tragically ended in 1997 when he committed suicide at the age of 37.

Mystify: Michael Hutchence aims to shed light on the singer’s troubled life. By only using archival footage throughout the narrative, director Richard Lowenstein keeps the focus on Michael while voice-overs from friends and family serve as the guiding force for the film. The end-result is quite satisfying, allowing for Hutchence to represent himself in a way that would otherwise be impossible.

The archival footage is spectacular, showcasing Michael at very intimate moments in his life. Fans looking to learn more about what he was really like are treated to numerous scenes of him on vacation or merely at home enjoying himself among friends. The scope of the footage fits well with the narrative, covering his happy days and well as the darker moments where it becomes clear that his health was deteriorating.

The film largely splits its attention between Michael’s time in INXS and his romantic relationships, an approach that may prove divisive for longtime fans. His bandmates only appear sporadically at the beginning and the end. There’s a bit of obvious tension between Andrew Farriss and Michael that isn’t really fully explored, particularly centered around the song “Disappear.”

To some extent, it makes sense that Michael’s time in the band doesn’t take up the bulk of the narrative. Mystify presents itself as a film about him, not them as a collective. The participation of several of Michael’s former lovers provides an intimate perspective that few documentaries can capture, but there’s a peculiar dynamic in place through the narrative. The film presents a deeply intimate perspective while also feeling that it’s holding back.

The film finds its footing toward the end as it explores the nature of a traumatic brain injury that robbed Hutchence of his ability to smell and taste. The footage of him after the injury exists in stark contrast to earlier, happier days. For anyone seeking a deeper understanding of precisely what happened to make him take his own life, Mystify peels back the unsettling curtain.

Mystify is a puzzling film, one that is quite powerful at times and rather boring at others. The decision to solely use archival footage perhaps set fairly rigid terms for the narrative, dictating the confines of where it could go. After awhile, the many accounts from his lovers start to get a bit tedious, especially in the absence of his bandmates.

As a documentary, Mystify is one intended for hardcore fans of INXS. It’s not a particularly accessible narrative for casual listeners. There remains the sense that the film didn’t live up to its full potential, dragging its feet at times with a runtime that was probably twenty minutes too long.

Despite its flaws, the documentary is a must-watch for anyone looking to learn more about Michael Hutchence. His story is heartbreaking. Mystify works best when it uses his own words to capture a life that sadly ended too soon.

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