Ian Thomas Malone

Wednesday

18

January 2023

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COMMENTS

Occasionally weighed down by its genre trappings, Corsage is buoyed by an exceptional lead performance

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The female body has been viewed throughout history as a finite commodity with an explicit expiration date. The aristocracy essentially provided its women with one clear mandate, an entire existence defined by one’s ability to pump out a few babies to carry the line to another generation. A lifetime in a gilded cage boiled down to a handful of nine-month stretches.

Empress Elisabeth of Austria (Vicky Krieps) nears her fortieth birthday in the middle of the nineteenth century. A curious mind with nothing to entertain itself beyond the tightening of her corset, Elisabeth spends her days idly while the rest of her world moves on. Her husband Emperor Franz Joseph I (Florian Teichtmeister) loses interest right around the moment her body no longer proved up to the task of producing further offspring. Her young daughter Sophie (Lilly Marie Tschörtner) is too caught up in her studies to care about the frivolities of youth, the same joys Elisabeth desperately tries to cling to in the absence of anything else to titillate her mind.

Director Marie Kreutzer leans heavily on her lead actress to carry her sleepy period piece. Krieps wields her greatest power through her mastery of subtle emotions, an empress longing to break free yet keenly aware of the ever-present, though slightly fading, gaze of the palace. Much as one might be loathed to pity a woman who reached the apex of the aristocracy, Krieps manages to elicit plenty of natural sympathy for Elisabeth, a once-powerful comet forced to watch the dimming of its own star power.

Though Kreutzer occasionally deploys modern music out of place with the historical setting, increasingly common with period pieces, Corsage utilizes great restraint with its approach to sound. There are many scenes where the silence is utterly deafening, heightening the sheer loneliness that some of the most powerful people in the world must have felt within the enviable walls of these great palaces. The 112-minute runtime is a slow burn that could have used some trimming around the edges, but you can also see where Kreutzer tried to wield the monotony to her narrative’s advantage.

Corsage wears some of its flaws on its sleeves. The desire for the film to be more than simply competent operates on the same wavelength as Elisabeth’s longing for a breath of life beyond the walls of her existence. You never really shake the idea that this immaculately crafted, well-acted film could have risen above its fairly predictable genre trappings. Krieps’ performance alone begs for nothing but the best, an area where the script certainly fell a bit short.

There is great value in Kreutzer’s subtle commentary on the female body after it has served its purpose in a man’s world. In an age where diet culture and the notion of the girlboss have received their necessary backlash, Corsage offers a damning indictment of the grind. Your body is not a temple for someone else’s legacy. The soul cannot sustain itself as a supporting character in your spouse’s story. A restless spirit cannot learn to love its cage. Only when we accept that truth can we ever hope to make the most of the time we have on this rock, time serving not as a benchmark, but as an unwieldy bastion of the patriarchy to flip one’s middle finger at.

Friday

16

December 2022

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COMMENTS

Avatar: The Way of Water eclipses its predecessor in its breathtaking splendor, albeit with a similarly lackluster narrative

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Somewhere along the way in the years since 2009 came along a theory that no one cared about Avatar, a thesis that any individual could prove for themselves through their own apathy. Putting aside the massively expensive Pandora-themed addition to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park, the idea of staying power for a film that sat atop the all-time box office leaderboard never made a ton of sense. Is Titanic similarly irrelevant because fewer people dress up as Jack and Rose at Halloween than the minions from Despicable Me?

Avatar’s perceived lack of cultural capital can be explained in a few ways. The film failed to immediately establish a connected universe at precisely the same moment that big franchises began to entirely consume the box office, an association that feels fairer to make given that James Cameron already pulled off that feat decades earlier with The Terminator. The 3-D technology that the film dazzled its audiences with failed to maintain a firm stronghold in theatres. Cameron’s technical wizardry could also only go so far as to cover up Avatar’s generic plot that played like a hybrid of FernGully: The Last Rainforest and Dances with Wolves.

What people may have underestimated with regard to the delay between Avatar: The Way of Water and its predecessor is the way that the box office landscape would move away from mandating the kind of technical prowess that made Avatar such a hit in the first place. CGI has undoubtedly become cheaper to produce, but that quality has not always translated onto the final product, with countless superhero narratives settling for bland, gray color palettes projected onto green screens in soundstages that are so tiny the actors can barely even walk around. Awe and wonder was always Avatar’s greatest asset. Modern blockbusters rarely aim for that high of a bar.

The Way of Water does not have a particularly interesting story. Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) have their happy life among the Omaticaya disrupted when the RDA returns to Pandora ten years later. Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) has had his conscience cloned into an avatar, along with various other commandos who were in the first film. Jake self-exiles his family to the water-based Metkayina clan when Quaritch captures the human Spider (Jake Champion), his sort-of-son who was adopted by Jake and Neytiri after the events of Avatar. The forest-based Na’vi struggles to adapt to their new ocean surroundings, a sense of belonging remaining elusive until they can truly learn the ways of water.

Cameron often seems conflicted with the idea that his fun on Pandora might need to function as something resembling a narrative you would find in a movie, a notion that might be a problem if not for the film’s breathtaking beauty. The cinematography continuously feels like footage that would be happier in a Planet Earth-style documentary, where David Attenborough’s voice could quickly remove the need for any pesky characters and those things called storylines. Pandora is such an immersive experience itself that you

The Way of Water largely operates as an ensemble piece, with Saldaña and, to a much lesser extent, Worthington ceding most of the spotlight to the next generation. Their four children, Neteyam (Jamie Flatters), Lo’ak (Britain Dalton), Kiri (Sigourney Weaver, playing a much different role than Dr. Grace Augstine in the original film), and Tuk (Trinity Jo-Li Bliss) form the emotional core of the narrative in a quite satisfactory manner, even if few in the audience will remember any of their names. Cameron manages to carve out complete storylines for practically every character, though Saldaña feels like an odd afterthought. The Metkayina play second fiddle to Cameron’s preoccupation with worldbuilding.

The gargantuan 192-minute runtime largely flies by, Cameron rarely losing his pulse on the pacing until halfway through the third act. There is some unnecessary exposition here and there, the price of admission to see the work of a vision-obsessed man incapable of editing himself. The notorious control freak Cameron can’t be told what to do, but you almost can’t really blame him when he constantly delivers some of the best visuals ever to play in a movie theatre. Cameron’s intense devotion to Pandora seamlessly translates onto the screen, making it easy to forgive the superfluous nature of his storytelling. This man never stops trying to prove he’s the greatest technical filmmaker currently making movies, often making a quite compelling case.

The climax of The Way of Water often feels like a composite of Titanic, The Abyss, and The Terminator, carrying on a bit too long to merely coast on its gravitas. There is a natural sense of audience fatigue after three hours of continuously jaw-dropping visuals, only for a finale to drag its feet toward a predictable conclusion, the only element of the film that’s not a major improvement on its predecessor. Cameron does succeed in making his film truly embody the meaning of the word epic, a movie to be survived on top of being enjoyed.

Skeptics who deem Avatar irrelevant will find plenty to scoff at in The Way of Water. The thirteen-year wait produced one of the most beautiful movies of all time, a feat of tremendous ingenuity, especially regarding underwater motion capture technology. There is a genuine thrill to watching such spectacular imagery on the screen, dazzling cinematography that reminds us all of this medium’s tremendous power when operating on all cylinders. The underwhelming narrative can’t detract too much from the joy of watching Cameron play with his craft. If only more blockbusters could aim for the stars in such a determined fashion.

Thursday

15

December 2022

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COMMENTS

A Charlie Brown Christmas

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Our holiday coverage concludes with a merger of our pop culture and personal programming. A Charlie Brown Christmas is one of the most perfect holiday specials in existence, but it’ll also occupy an odd place in Ian’s life. Ian talks about how she watched this special mere minutes before a four-year relationship ended, days before Christmas. Ian really didn’t like the idea of such a good special being tied up in trauma, making a vow to reclaim the Peanuts and all their glory. Those efforts ultimately shaped her year of mischief and healing, the promise of Christmas manifested in the heart of a chaotic transsexual. 

Enjoy your holidays and have a very happy New Year.

Monday

12

December 2022

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Classic Film: Le Bonheur

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The unwritten rules of the social contract that governs humanity have long frowned upon the idea of polyamory, ignoring a key tenant that defines love in its infinite mystique. All the sonnets in the world that hoist up the potential of love to exist forever as undying, eternal flame forget that the beauty of love draws its power from the same impermanence that defines a flower or a poem. Marriage is a union entered into by two people, but it only takes one to alter the basic framework one might hope could govern their idea of a perfect life.

The 1965 French film Le Bonheur captures love on its idealistic precipice, a magnificent house of cards basking in its perfection right up to the moment when it all comes crashing down. François (Jean-Claude Drouot) enjoys a comfortable life working construction at his uncle’s company and a beautiful family. François loves his wife Thérèse (Claire Drouot) and their children dearly but starts to develop feelings for Émilie (Marie-France Boyer), an attractive young woman working at the local post office. François quickly begins a relationship with Émilie, never trying to hide the happiness he feels with his wife and family.

Director Agnès Varda takes great care with each frame of her lusciously shot film while presenting a nuanced perspective on polyamory that eschews the pearl-clutching ethics of non-monogamy that consumes far too many narratives on the subject. Varda isn’t particularly interested in explaining why François, with his wonderful life and wonderful wife, would pursue a course outside his marriage that could put of all that in jeopardy. Plenty of people struggle with the idea that some hearts long for more love than one partner could provide, but Le Bonheur accepts that basic reality while acknowledging that not everyone is built that way.

Working opposite his real-life wife, Jean-Claude Drouot portrays François in a relentlessly upbeat manner, practically challenging the audience to feel anything other than joy at his good fortune. Even as the film takes a more tragic turn, Varda insulates her protagonist from undue accusations of treachery. Le Bonheur never pits Thérèse or Émilie against each other, dispensing with the tired love-triangle trope in favor of a more potent reality. Every adult in the film possesses full agency over their own actions. There are no heroes and villains in the game of love. The Mozart-heavy score underlies this point quite well through its melodic depth that delivers emotions that are hard to put in a box.

Society has often scoffed at love that exists outside the normal parameters of convention, whether homosexual, interracial or ethically non-monogamous. It’s easy to judge people who make decisions outside of their own wants or desires. Varda is solely interested in crafting a narrative that dares its viewers not to shake their fists at her characters. One person’s utopia could be another person’s nightmare. Our hearts all have their own individual needs that others may not understand.

Varda throws shade at the idea of a perfect life. Love is not a programmable equation. The heart wants what it wants, even when that doesn’t make any sense to anyone around us. Le Bonheur dazzles with its gorgeous cinematography, but its narrative packs a quiet punch that doesn’t quite hit you until you start to try and unpack all the themes that Varda stuffed into her brisk 80-minute runtime. Sometimes people do bad things for reasons that are neither good nor bad. Life is messy.

Friday

9

December 2022

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COMMENTS

The First Christmas: The Story of the First Christmas Snow

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Continuing our Rankin/Bass holiday coverage with what might be their most normal special of them all. Despite its unwieldy title, The First Christmas actually tells a relatively cohesive story, albeit a fairly mundane narrative about a young shepherd who regains his sight through the magic of a Nativity play. Oddly secular given its church setting, The First Christmas is a good case study for how other Rankin/Bass specials might have turned out if they didn’t try to pad out their runtimes with bizarre filler.

Be sure to check out our other episodes covering the Rankin/Bass cinematic universe! 

Thursday

8

December 2022

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COMMENTS

Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey

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Have you ever watched Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and wondered if all the bullying might be better with a firmer helping of Jesus? That’s basically Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey, a shorter ripoff of Rudolph with a truncated plot and fewer compelling characters. One of the more forgettable entries into the Rankin/Bass canon, Ian struggles to understand the point of this mess.

Be sure to check out all of our other holiday episodes, including coverage of most of the Rankin/Bass stop motion specials. 

Wednesday

7

December 2022

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COMMENTS

Jack Frost

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We are back in the Rankin/Bass cinematic universe with a special that’s mostly Christmas adjacent. Jack Frost mostly identifies, for whatever reason, as a Groundhog Day special. Despite its incredibly annoying narrator, Jack Frost stands out as one of the most cohesive holiday specials in the Rankin/Bass canon, a tragic narrative that shines above its abundant filler. Maybe Ian just really likes Jack’s sparkly outfit.

 

Be sure to check out all of our other Rankin/Bass holiday episodes.

Tuesday

6

December 2022

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COMMENTS

Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town

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We are back in the Rankin/Bass cinematic universe for another December full of overanalyzing bizarre children’s television. Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town is a fairly straightforward (at least by Rankin/Bass standards) origin story, albeit one that spends a bit too much time explaining every single facet of Claus lore. Ian looks at the special’s legacy against some of its popular contemporaries and its peculiar underwhelming third act.

Be sure to check out all of our past holiday coverage, including episodes on most of the Rankin/Bass stop-motion specials. 

Friday

2

December 2022

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COMMENTS

Ghosting

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We’re back with an episode on a controversial relationship practice that ITM happens to love. The Irish Goodbye of dating gets a bad rap, but life is not a journey that always requires closure. People come and go in each other’s lives all the time, not necessarily for reasons that take things like fault or rejection into the equation. As shitty as ghosting can feel, the alternatives are often far more unpleasant for both the recipient and the executioner. 

Christmas coverage will begin in the next few days! Please leave a rating or review for EI on Apple if you enjoy our show. 

Monday

28

November 2022

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COMMENTS

Hadestown celebrates the impermanence of joy against the tides of capitalism

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There is a certain false comfort that modern storytelling aims to provide its audiences. We embrace happy endings not necessarily because we believe that love conquers all or that individual people can beat back the tides of fate or capitalism’s all-encompassing clutches, but because it’s nice to dream that we could. The somber parting emotions that tragedies leave us with at their conclusions can often supersede the joys of the journey that the narrative exists to illustrate.

The musical Hadestown captures the essence of this dynamic perfectly in one of its first act numbers. In the middle of the song “Livin’ it up on the top,” Orpheus raises a toast, “To the world we dream about, and the one we live in now.” The play intertwines the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice with the romance between Hades and Persephone, dueling storylines that compete for attention in a manner that leaves the former pairing little time for an organic courtship, but that’s also part of the beauty of their story. Too many people struggle with the distance between their grandiose dreams and the reality that consumes their present.

Hadestown’s Orpheus is not an epic hero. He is a charming starving artist, the kind of pretty face who can win you over with his smile and his song, without any existing infrastructure to sustain a life beyond pheromones alone. Eurydice quickly learns that the beauty of spring is not built to survive the brutality of winter. Hades, king of the underworld, functions in the role of antagonist with an easily presentable defense against his own villainy. Eurydice consents to an eternity of indentured servitude not through Hades’ lies or deception, but largely because she is hungry and Orpheus cannot provide sustenance for the body as well as he can illuminate the soul with his song.

Capitalism is the true villain of Hadestown. Hades is not a soulless monster, himself open to the charms of Persephone to remind him of the man he used to be before time stripped him of everything besides the carnal urge to propel the means of production through his factory. America’s entire financial structure is built on an identical premise to Hades’ trial presented to Orpheus, the illusion of choice that covers up the near-impossibility of success.

Each and every day, banks hand out predatory loans to children not even old enough to buy a beer, promising tomorrows no one will ever see under the weight of the student debt they’ll spend a lifetime drowning in. The fantasy that capitalism tries to sell is the idea of agency, a dream of tomorrow hidden beyond the perpetually moving goalposts. Orpheus and Eurydice operated on two different wavelengths, reality and the dream forced to confront their own incompatibility.

Love does not conquer all. Love is not permanent, but a covenant forced to battle the demons of capitalism each and every day. The marching tides of capitalism wait for no one, not Orpheus, not you. Countless souls who dream of a better tomorrow lose that fight as their bodies and souls are depleted in service to the means of production. The legend of Orpheus and Eurydice remains as timely as ever, love taking its best shot against the machine and coming up just short. You can muster up all the wind at your back, the magic and beauty lining up perfectly in your favor, but sometimes that’s just not enough.

The kind of joy that tragedy offers often requires a harder road to travel. One could writhe in frustration at how close Orpheus and Eurydice came to eternal happiness, in doing so overlooking the simpler beauty in the time that did belong to them. Art does not derive its use value by capitalism’s criteria, but through the beauty in its crafting and its execution. Hadestown presents Orpheus and Eurydice’s love in a timespan more comparable to a one night stand than eternity, but there’s great magic to be found in the embrace of the present, even when facing the reality that nothing lasts forever.