Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Wednesday

12

May 2021

0

COMMENTS

Jupiter’s Legacy w/ co-DP Nicole Hirsch Whitaker

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We are delighted to welcome Nicole Hirsch Whitaker to the show to talk about her work as co-director of photography for the new Netflix series Jupiter’s Legacy. Nicole shares plenty of insights from behind the scenes and the way she worked to shape the show’s unique aesthetic in the crowded superhero landscape. Ian & Nicole also talk about the challenges of framing a series with a giant spoiler that fans of the comic book will know all too well.

 

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Jupiter’s Legacy is currently streaming on Netflix.

 

Headshot courtesy of Nicole Hirsch Whitaker. Series poster courtesy of Netflix.

 

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Tuesday

11

May 2021

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COMMENTS

Classic Film: The Las Vegas Story

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

Many have seen Las Vegas as a place of opportunity, only to leave town feeling like a loser. Vegas isn’t for everyone. It takes a certain kind of person to thrive in such a high-stakes, cut-throat environment. 1952’s The Las Vegas Story explores the kinds of characters who would try their luck there and the unfortunate suckers who would be better off steering clear of Sin City.

Linda Rollins (Jane Russell) used to thrive as a singer in Vegas before leaving town, much to the chagrin of her old performing partner, Happy (Hoagy Carmichael), who plays piano at the Last Chance Casino. Linda returns to town at the behest of her husband, Lloyd (Vincent Price), desperate to make a quick buck. While in town, Linda reconnects with her old fling Dave Andrews (Victor Mature), a local police lieutenant, sparking memories of what might have been if she’d settled down with a better man.

Director Robert Stevenson sends his narrative in about a million different directions. The drama of Lloyd’s money troubles becomes exacerbated by a murder about halfway through the narrative, an audible that shifts the film’s focus from character drama to a rather conventional whodunit. The story’s bread and butter is the relationship between Linda and Dave, enhanced by the great chemistry between Russell and Mature.

The film’s unfocused narrative is buoyed by a deep bench of compelling characters, led by Russell’s commanding lead performance. Linda didn’t want to return to Vegas, but quickly rekindles the magic in the place where she used to thrive. The film often offers meditations on the passing of time, refreshingly upbeat despite its noir genre trappings.

While the pulpier murder mystery intrigue cuts some of the character drama short, the tonal shift gives way to one of the earliest helicopter/car chases in film, a highly impressive feat of cinematography. Russell is unmatched by her male counterparts, but Mature brings a great deal of depth to Dave, refusing to let the character be put into a box as a jealous ex-boyfriend.

Linda possesses a level of complexity rarely afforded to female characters in the time period. Her relationships with her husband and former lover aren’t pitted against each other in the way the audience might expect, instead reflecting the intricate complexity of human emotion that isn’t easily boxed into a love triangle. Russell is given so much space to explore Linda’s motivations, quite impressive given everything else going on in the film.

What works best about The Las Vegas Story is the way this world feels lived in. The characters carry their decades of baggage while striving toward a better future. Vegas’ unforgiving atmosphere isn’t for everyone, but few films so eloquently depict the appeal of the city for those tough enough to thrive there. If you can make it in Vegas, could you be happy anywhere else?

Stevenson’s final credited RKO picture may not exactly be a triumph of filmmaking beyond its groundbreaking helicopter chase, but The Las Vegas Story is the kind of narrative that sticks with you long after the credits have rolled. A mid-movie musical number from Carmichael’s Happy perhaps illustrates this dynamic best, an out-of-place sequence that hits home through its sheer delight. Like the jazz Carmichael so excelled at, the film knows how to sequence itself in a way that feels both spontaneous and carefully choreographed in its delivery.

The various pieces of the film don’t necessarily connect in a way that crafts the most cohesive experience, but there’s so much to enjoy along the way. Fine art is rarely produced by throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. The Las Vegas Story feels like Stevenson managed to stick most of what he’d thrown, a real treat of a B movie well worth the ninety-minute runtime.

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Friday

7

May 2021

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COMMENTS

Jupiter’s Legacy doesn’t know where to focus its narrative

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

We’re in a bit of a transitional era for television. Shows that used to aspire for a six or seven season run are now lucky to get three or four. The longer-running scripted series can be found almost exclusively on network television. None of this is necessarily a bad thing, giving creators a clearer picture of the trajectory of their material.

This shift does put a stricter burden on shows to get going right off the bat. In hindsight, spending a full season of Daredevil waiting for Matt Murdock to put on the costume or waiting until the first season finale to have the Runaways run away falls a bit flat, with both shows only running for three seasons. There’s setting up a story and then there’s dragging one’s feet. Unfortunately, Jupiter’s Legacy more often than not fits the latter bill.

Adapted from Mark Millar’s hit Image Comics series of the same name, the show follows an older guard of superheroes as they start to pass the torch to the younger generation. Sheldon Sampson, The Utopian (Josh Duhamel), has spent decades keeping the world safe, and his fellow heroes out of politics, but his team, The Union, faces an existential identity crisis for what its future might look like. Sheldon struggles to relinquish control, not trusting his son, Brandon (Andrew Horton), with the responsibility of protecting the planet, at times also at odds with his brother, Walter (Ben Daniels), and wife, Grace (Leslie Bibb).

Like its title character, Jupiter’s Legacy as a show struggles to let go of the past. At least half of the show’s first season is spent on flashbacks showing the original 1930s expedition that gave The Union their powers. This heavy screen time allotment marks a significant departure from the comics, which only tended to give a couple of pages an issue to the origin narrative.

A great strength of Millar’s source material was the way he communicated a sense of awe and wonder with regard to the island that Sheldon is drawn toward in his dreams. As a series, Jupiter’s Legacy dedicates far too much time to mundane flashbacks, drowning out the far more interesting present day narrative. The period sets are well-constructed, but the story is so lifeless that it makes you wonder why the resources weren’t dedicated elsewhere. The superhero sequences are few and far between.

The heavy emphasis on flashbacks also creates an awkward dynamic for the series’ leads to play characters at drastically different ages. The makeup used to make Daniels look like an old man is absolutely comical, stripping his character of any level of seriousness. Duhamel and Bibb don’t fare much better, hardly adequate for a series attempting to depict heroes looking to retire.

The series starts off on a great note. The first episode hones in on the aspect of the comics that’s aged best since its 2013 debut. The Union struggles internally with how involved they want to be in politics, noting the endless Washington gridlock that only gets worse with each passing year. There’s a great moral dilemma to explore with regard to the military-industrial complex, but the show seems weirdly averse to anything that might sound too political.

There’s also the issue of simply not having enough time to dedicate to its storylines set in the present. The first season is comprised of eight episodes, two of which barely run over half an hour. The broader supporting cast has to play second fiddle to storylines for the leads split across two separate timelines. The dynamic is confusing, thinly plotted, and simply not very good.

Fans of the comic are certainly aware of a certain massive spoiler heading into the series. The show barely touches the conflict that sets up this whole situation, clearly intending to save the bulk of that conflict for a future season. That’s not necessarily the worst strategy in the world, but the result creates a narrative vacuum that the show tries to fill with excessive time spent in the past.

An early triumph for the season is the way that Jupiter’s Legacy crafts an aesthetic that feels unique amidst the crowded superhero genre. That unfortunately doesn’t really extend to the worldbuilding, which never firmly establishes what exactly is going on in the present. There are too many characters, but not enough for them to do.

Too often, Jupiter’s Legacy feels like its top concern is to set up future seasons, while not giving its audience enough to care about. The current trajectory of television suggests this time allotment won’t be well-served, an uneven ratio of buildup to execution. A season spent in service to future seasons doesn’t work that well when the season itself doesn’t have much to enjoy.

 

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Thursday

6

May 2021

1

COMMENTS

What Lies West is a charming, confident indie coming of story

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

The lines between child and adult have blurred quite a bit over the decades. “Growing up” possesses a fundamentally different meaning in a country where practically college students graduate into a job market that hardly offers salaries one can buy a house and raise a family on. A twenty-two year old is not exactly an adult anymore.

What Lies West follows a summer in the life of two young women searching for their place in the world. Nicolette (Nicolette Ellis) is a recent college graduate who takes a summer job looking after Chloe (Chloe Moore), a sixteen-year-old with an overbearing mother. Nicolette wants to be an actress, but doesn’t feel the pull to move to LA, instead finding comfort in her native Sonoma County. A tedious ex-boyfriend Alex (Jack Vicenty) dangles the prospects of a job in front of her, a familiar tune to anyone who’s tried to get a job after graduation.

The bulk of the narrative is fueled by Chloe’s desire to hike forty miles to the beach, an adventure certain to earn the wrath of her mother, endangering Nicolette’s employment in the process. Director/screenwriter Jessica Ellis frames the film like a meditation, more concerned with the nature of asking questions than any answers they might provide. Nicolette Ellis and Moore develop strong chemistry over the course of the film, a natural sense of pacing that lets them slowly lower their guards and trust each other.

Ellis’ greatest success with the film is her ability to challenge the conclusions of the coming of age genre. As a medium, film offers brief snapshots into a person’s life. 80 minutes with a character cannot possibly encapsulate their entire existence, lives that cannot be tied up with a bow in the form of a “happily ever after.”

There’s no great “aha” moment that a young millennial can take to coast through the rest of their life. The real world doesn’t have climaxes set to indie music where one can scream on a trash pile in the rain until everything makes sense. Nothing is ever going to make sense.

The film features plenty of beautiful shots of Sonoma County. A small-scale indie production, Ellis mostly relies on her script and her leads to make the magic happen, aided by the awe-inspiring scenery. The confidence that the film exudes allows its modest narrative ambitions to really nail their mark.

What Lies West carries the most appeal for those of us who remember how awful it felt to graduate without any clear sense of what the future might bring. That relatable plight can be harder for a film to nail, a medium that aims for resolutions that don’t always reflect the twists and turns of the real world. Ellis understands that today doesn’t have to be about tomorrow, taking comfort in the small steps that add up along the way.

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Thursday

6

May 2021

0

COMMENTS

Jessica Ellis

Written by , Posted in Blog, Podcast

We are delighted to welcome filmmaker Jessica Ellis for an in-depth conversation about her new film What Lies West, a delightful coming of age movie shot in Jessica’s hometown Sonoma County. Jessica shares many insights into indie filmmaking, along with some valuable perspectives on Disneyland and the LA sandwich scene.

 

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What Lies West comes out May 11th on VOD & DVD. You can learn more about the film at https://www.whatlieswest.com/

Ian’s review of the film: https://ianthomasmalone.com/2021/05/what-lies-west-is-a-charming-confident-indie-coming-of-story/

 

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Thursday

22

April 2021

0

COMMENTS

Downton Abbey Character Study: Thomas Barrow

Written by , Posted in Blog, Podcast

New feature at Estradiol Illusions! Take a trip with us back to Downton Abbey for an in-depth look at one of the show’s most fascinating characters. After being introduced as the show’s primary antagonist in season one, Thomas Barrow largely sheaths his villainous inclinations, growing to become a figure with great depth. Ian explores Barrow’s full series arc and the ways he gradually endeared himself to the audience. 

If you enjoyed this episode, be sure to check out Ian’s in-depth review of the Downton Abbey film: https://ianthomasmalone.podbean.com/e/downton-abbey-1569517256/

Please leave a review on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts if you feel so inclined. 

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Tuesday

20

April 2021

1

COMMENTS

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

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

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

0

COMMENTS

Michael McElhatton

Written by , Posted in Blog, Podcast

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

0

COMMENTS

Revisiting The Wire’s Finale “-30-“

Written by , Posted in Blog, TV Reviews

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

0

COMMENTS

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

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

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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