Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Monthly Archive: November 2018

Thursday

29

November 2018

0

COMMENTS

Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer Is an Entertaining Mess That Successfully Carves Its Own Niche in Holiday Movie Lore

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews

The Christmas movie genre has hundreds of entries that play to similar themes, exploring the “true” meaning of the holiday or presenting new takes on Santa’s seminal sleigh ride. From its opening few minutes on, Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer makes clear that it doesn’t want to be governed by typical holiday film rules, casting out a wide net of issues to tackle in a ninety minute run time. Few seasonal movies care to take on broader geopolitical threats such as climate change and automation, but perhaps the North Pole shouldn’t be excluded from the crises that pose an existential threat to humanity.

The plot of Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer is best described as a blend between Olive, the Other Reindeer and the Triwizard Tournament section of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire with sprinkles of All the President’s Men on top. The main narrative driver appears to be the titular reindeer’s quest to replace the retiring Blitzen on Santa’s team, but the film has several subplots that take up much of the screen time. Samantha Bee steals the show with a performance as Elliot’s sidekick Hazel, a sardonic goat with a petulance for eating garbage who supplies most of the film’s best moments.

Most Christmas movies require a hefty helping of suspension of disbelief in order to digest the neatly tied up resolution at the end. Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer never seems satisfied with this device, instead choosing to explain just about every mystery of the North Pole. We learn how reindeers fly, why reindeers are specifically used to pull the sleigh, as well as the inner workings of human/animal communication. None of the exposition is particularly necessary, but there’s something oddly endearing in the film’s attempt to justify every piece of magic deployed.

The film operates with an acute awareness of the duel demographics of its audience. Films marketed to young children are inevitably also watched by their accompanying parents. From an early parody of Braveheart to a Gwyneth Paltrow divorce reference, the movie consistently offers up material that will sail right over the heads of its target base. Some might knock Elliot for shedding commentary on athletic doping kids won’t understand, but Christmas is a holiday that can’t be neatly packaged to age-specific groups. The genre as a whole is consumed in family settings. There’s something endearing in the lengths to which Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer goes to appease parents who are dragged along for the ride.

The scattershot approach creates an unwieldy narrative that will largely be lost on the young children to whom Elliot and Hazel are marketed toward, but the result is a movie that wins over its audience through its sheer force of will. The narrative parallels Elliot’s own perseverance in its effort to throw everything resembling a plot at the wall, hoping something might stick. The film is often a complete mess, but too few Christmas movies offer more than a few things to talk about after their conclusion. You could spend hours discussing the broad socioeconomic positions the Elliot takes over the course of its runtime, something that can hardly be said for most holiday movies. The film makes a sincere effort to ease the suffering that parents are expected to endure on behalf of their young children’s holiday cheer. If for any other reason, it’s worth a watch this Christmas season.

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Monday

26

November 2018

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Ralph Breaks the Internet Is an Immensely Satisfying Sequel That Never Bites Off More Than It Can Chew

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Some sequels are born out of necessity to tie up loose ends left over from their predecessor, but others exist for a far simpler reason. Movies that create worlds which excite the viewer become natural habitats for follow-up stories. 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph did not leave any unanswered secrets that had to be addressed, but its seemingly infinite world of interconnected gaming characters is a rich habitat for future adventures.

Ralph Breaks the Internet may not have been born out of necessity, but it didn’t fall into the trap that befalls many sequels in spending its time trying to justify its own existence. The film takes its world and expands it tenfold, sending Ralph and Vanellope into the world wide web to procure a new steering wheel for the Sugar Rush game before Mr. Litwak shuts it down. The plot largely takes a backseat to the simple thrill of the adventure, allowing Ralph and Vanellope to shine through their various adventures.

The internet is a difficult concept to parody, as its sense of culture never stays in one place and tends to differ widely from person to person. A YouTube! spoof from five years ago would look much different if it were made today. Ralph Breaks the Internet takes concepts like viral videos and offers commentary and jokes that seem to keep this in mind, never relying too heavily on humor that requires one to understand much about the references.

The film also exercises surprising restraint toward the inclusion of its own assets. Appearances from Disney Princesses and Star Wars characters managed to integrate themselves into the narrative instead of looking like product placement. Clocking in at just under two hours, Ralph Breaks the Internet possesses a much longer runtime than most Disney movies, but it makes its moments count. Despite its loftier ambitions, the film consistently grounds itself in its best asset, the relationship between Ralph and Vanellope. Their relationship is given room to grow without feeling forced. Sequels often stumble when they arbitrarily mess with their character dynamics, but Ralph Breaks the Internet manages to make it feel like a natural progression.

The very appeal of a sequel is at least in part tied to a desire to spend more time with the characters who made the magic the first time around. Unlike television, movies can’t spend much time showing their characters simply hanging out or doing anything else that doesn’t directly service the narrative. Sequels falter when they create plots that simply exist as an excuse to showcase their characters, as few films can succeed with a gaping hole where their narrative should be.

Ralph Breaks the Internet juggles its pieces well, resulting in a smooth sequel experience that doesn’t force an unnecessary mandate on its characters. The film has plenty of humor that seems more tailored to adults, but has something for viewers of all ages. It’s the rare sequel that doesn’t try to beat its predecessor at its own game, following its own path while never succumbing to the low-hanging fruit of too many pop-culture references. More sequels should aspire to be like Ralph Breaks the Internet, allowing themselves to succeed on the strength of their characters without trying too hard to match an impossible standard.

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Saturday

17

November 2018

4

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The Kominsky Method Is an Embarrassing Waste of Time for Everyone Involved

Written by , Posted in Blog, tv reviews

The opening scene of The Kominsky Method throws a nod to non-binary people, an inclusive tone contradicted a few minutes later when Michael Douglas’ title character holds an embarrassing public inquisition to his acting class over feminine hygiene products clogging his studio’s bathroom. This contrast embodies the struggle at the heart of the show, acutely aware of the era it occupies while unable to resist the low-hanging fruit of sexist toilet humor. Quite unsurprisingly, The Kominsky Method is exactly what you’d expect if you asked someone to dream up what a Chuck Lorre take on Grace & Frankie might look like from a straight man’s perspective. The result is a pathetic attempt to sound intellectual while offering little other than the basic novelty of watching Michael Douglas interact with Alan Arkin in the comfort of your own home.

The Kominsky Method is ostensibly a show about aging. Douglas’ Sandy Kominsky is a moderately successful acting teacher who dates his students even though he’s demonstrably aware that such behavior is hardly acceptable in the #MeToo era. Arkin plays Norman Newlander, his agent who spends much of the season grieving his wife, who dies early on in the series. The show chooses a grand life question to ponder in each episode, picking at it like an unwanted salad that comes with your meal, something that doesn’t need to be seen to completion.

Occasionally, The Kominsky Method hints at modern culture, like political correctness, as if it wants to say something meaningful about the nature of humor in an era where marginalized people are allowed to publicly object. Problem is, the show really doesn’t have anything to say besides a snippet of commentary one might pull from a segment on Fox News. It never commits to any particular direction, particularly on display with the handling of Newlander’s wife, whose terminal illness is originally exploited to further Komsinsky’s romantic storyline before becoming the main plot driver for the next few episodes. The show is desperate to sound insightful, but it can’t seem to make anything out of the scenarios it forces its characters to play out.

The Kominsky Method isn’t so much bad as it is simply not good, relying extensively on the name recognition of its stars to substitute for an indecisive narrative. The entire show is constructed similarly to a scene that might be performed in an acting class, an incomplete scenario used to showcase the talent of the actors. Douglas and Arkin are talented, but this was a given already. The show is far too content to coast along on their abilities.

Part of what makes Douglas such a charm in recent movies such as Ant-Man and the Wasp is that he genuinely looks like he’s having fun. His own enjoyment is less convincing in The Kominsky Method, like a college freshman out of a place at a foreign film screening where they don’t understand the jokes. The Kominsky Method doesn’t really have jokes, but rather things to smile at occasionally if for no other reason than to simulate the concept of enjoyment.

The Kominsky Method is very watchable television, but it’s an empty experience once one moves past the novelty aspect. The beauty of television is that the viewer isn’t necessarily required to do that. A person can sit down and enjoy two actors working off each other in the latter stages of their careers, but the experience could have, and should have, been so much more. The Kominsky Method might be Netflix’s laziest offering that anyone would be expected to take seriously. The “peak TV” label is one handed out generously in this era, sometimes, sadly, to shows that expect it to be given as a birthright before laying down anything of substance to merit such praise.

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Wednesday

14

November 2018

0

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She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Brings a Feminist Icon into the Modern Era

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The controversy surrounding She-Ra’s updated wardrobe perhaps best illustrates the need for her return in the first place. Too often female representation has been centered on the needs of men, to have something pretty to fawn over. Saving the universe takes a back seat to the notion that one must look sexy while doing so. This modern era has called for something different. She-Ra and the Princesses of Power presents a number of well-developed female characters for young people to look up to and for older fans to appreciate.

The first season utilizes the Netflix model quite well, with many episodes flowing right into the next one without skipping a beat as if it was all one long flowing narrative. The plot moves at a brisk pace, wasting no time in establishing Princess Adora’s confliction between her alliance to Hordak and her newfound friends in the Princess Alliance. Most of the later first season episodes focus on introducing the show’s large cast, giving the viewer a full sense of the characters by the time the season wraps up.

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power displays a quiet radicalism in the diversity of its characters’ personalities. These aren’t people with characteristics designed to fit a certain trope or niche to the audience, which makes them all the more relatable to the audience. It’s difficult to describe any of them in a single sentence, which gives them seemingly boundless space to grow in future seasons.

Preview hype broke news that She-Ra would include at least two LGBT characters, a promise that the show has a mildly complicated relationship with. There are plenty of queer nods in the ways that certain female characters interact with each other and a relationship between Princesses Spinerella and Netossa is hinted at, but there aren’t any actual explicitly gay characters. This issue isn’t something that really takes away from the show, but it’s an unforced error of sorts as it has been celebrated for inclusion it doesn’t fully deliver on.

The plots, most of which are fairly predictable, are often the weak point of each episode. The show seems to have figured out its characters extremely well but struggles with what to do with them. The serialized nature of the show puts more of a strain on the plot considerations, amplified by the early episode’s considerable investment in the development of its characters. The first season hits enough strong notes to suggest that future seasons will rectify the story problems, having established the stakes of its universe.

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is an easy show to recommend to children, never taking their intelligence for granted while giving older viewers plenty to chew on. Noelle Stevenson did an excellent job in developing a classic for the modern era, an empowering take in a genre that’s still heavily dominated by men. The show doesn’t hit every note in its first season, but gives the viewer plenty to root for as it took the time to find its footing. I look forward to seeing what the future has in store for these characters.

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Tuesday

13

November 2018

0

COMMENTS

Transgender Storytime: The Rules of Attraction

Written by , Posted in Blog, Social Issues

Transgender people have their lives policed in countless ways, from agency over our own bodies to the perception that our presence in places of public accommodation puts an undue burden on others. We see this narrative played out time and time again, despite the utter lack of evidence to support the idea that transgender people, or the act of transitioning itself, present some existential threat to society at large. The idea of “lesbian erasure,” a term used by anti-trans extremists to justify their bigoted behavior, even in the absence of any coherent definition, stands out as particularly absurd.

The subject of attraction to transgender people remains a popular talking point, even in the relative mainstream. Victoria’s Secret Chief Marketing Officer Ed Razek has created quite a stink for a number of hateful comments about transgender and plus sized people, suggesting that his brand is “nobody’s third love, we’re their first love.” The implications that transgender people are only desirable in a secondary capacity to the rest of the eligible dating pool is persistent, dangerous, and quite untrue.

What are the laws that govern attraction? The question doesn’t lend itself to an easy answer, no matter how many think pieces are written about why human beings feel the way they feel. I can tell you that there’s certainly not some kind of caste system, where people are ranked by their relative attractiveness in order to match with similarly tiered companions. Life doesn’t work like that, even if some people think it should for transgender people.

No doubt, there are systematic prejudices in place that make it harder for transgender people to date. Many people subconsciously write off trans people as partners because of the discrimination we’ve faced throughout recorded history. Such thinking seems to be what people like Razek have in mind when they suggest that transgender people cannot be part of someone’s fantasy, putting aside the success of numerous transgender models and the immense popularity of transgender pornography. Obviously transgender people are part of many people’s fantasies. Not exactly a leap to suggest that transgender people would then be naturally part of some cisgender people’s dating considerations as well.

The origins of nonsense like “lesbian erasure” stems from this strange mentality that outside of dating fellow trans people, we can only find love by forcing ourselves onto cisgender people. That idea is stupid, and certainly not rooted in reality. You can scroll through hundreds of transgender social media accounts for evidence of perfectly happy relationships. I myself am in a wonderful committed relationship.

Do these relationships suggest that our partners tried options one and two before settling on a transgender alternative, as Razek suggests? That question might seem silly, trying to apply an exact science to a completely inexact process, but that’s the point. We don’t typically ask people if they came to love their partner only after seemingly superior options were pursued. Love is never supposed to seem transactional in nature.

Transgender people deserve a chance to love and be loved in an environment that isn’t constantly suggesting malfeasance when one of us actually finds happiness. Contrary to what many in the media think, a lot of us are doing perfectly fine in the dating department. Coming out is a process of accepting yourself on the inside before presenting that truth on the outside, to the world around you. It should come as no surprise that those who have embarked on that journey make viable partners, individuals who know how to love in part because they lived for so long without loving themselves. That kind of self-love comes organically, unlike say, the kind that stems from an article of clothing purchased from Victoria’s Secret. Maybe that’s why the company is so detached from reality.

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Monday

12

November 2018

0

COMMENTS

BritBox’s Dark Heart Shows Promise After An Uneven Debut

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Unlike their real-life counterparts, television cop shows have the luxury of avoiding handling controversial victims. Police investigate the murder of an un-convicted pedophile because the law has no place for vigilante justice, putting aside any broader moral questions an individual might care to raise. Whether those cases make for compelling television is a completely different matter, one that Dark Heart chooses to address in its opening episodes.

DI Will Wagstaffe is haunted by the unsolved murder of his parents that occurred when he was a teenager. He’s a moody detective who approaches his job with unrivaled concern for the victims, regardless of their life circumstances. Wagstaffe’s home life is complicated by the arrival of his sister Juliette, who shows up at their parents’ house with a black eye, creating an interesting dynamic between two siblings with issues neither wants the other to meddle in.

Dark Heart is largely carried on the strength of lead actor Tom Riley, who brings a sense of nuance into the well-trodden territory of TV procedurals. Wagstaffe is a rare character among the broader trope of tortured detectives. He shows a strong desire to move past the grief that haunts him. His grief isn’t some superpower to be wielded in the broader sense of justice, but an acknowledged problem that needs to be dealt with. The character’s sheer humanity is compelling because it’s relatable. Trauma isn’t something that can be wished away.

The series has had a turbulent production schedule, previously premiering on ITV back in 2016. As a result, much of the cast of the first two episodes were unable to return for the rest of the show’s six-episode first season. The need for a soft reboot creates a bit of a bumpy experience, as the show has to introduce new characters in episode three alongside ones who were barely developed themselves. Wagstaffe’s partner Josie Chancellor, played by Anjli Mohindra, stands out in particular as an interesting character who doesn’t get much time to shine.

The move from ITV to BritBox Original might suggest an effort to salvage a show that wouldn’t otherwise be worth airing on a major network, but Dark Heart’s narrative certainly seems better suited for a niche audience that wouldn’t be put off by the grim stories it wants to tell. It’s rough around the edges, but Riley delivers a strong enough performance to keep the viewer interested in seeing what happens to his character. The series isn’t likely to make enough waves to draw new subscribers to BritBox, but fans of the service will find Dark Heart worth checking out. Hopefully it won’t need another two years to find its rhythm.

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Sunday

11

November 2018

0

COMMENTS

Omnipresent Is a Timely Commentary on the Temptations of Technology

Written by , Posted in Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

For all the ways in which technology has improved the world, such as making thousands of miles seem much smaller through the lens of a Skype call, the idea of abuse of this incredible power never ventures far from the broader discussion. Surveillance is an especially hot-button topic, as the ease with which one can record an entire room can create the ever-looming sense that one is being watched. Omnipresent (originally titled Vezdesushtiyat) is a Bulgarian film about what happens when a man decides to make that fear a reality.

Emil lives a comfortable life. He has a nice family, a beautiful home, and a great job running an advertising agency to supplement his respected but stagnant career as a novelist. His situation would be the envy of many creative types, except something isn’t quite right with Emil’s paradise. He wants something more.

A ploy to catch a thief plundering his bedridden father’s antique treasures leads Emil to discover his passion for surveillance. He sets up cameras in his office, his home, his wife’s office, even his bathroom. He sits and watches for hours, sometimes using the footage to his advantage, but sometimes just out of a sick sense of pleasure. His motives are never really made all that apparent to the viewer because Emil himself doesn’t really seem to know why he enjoys invading other people’s privacy.

Omnipresent juggles a delicate balance between its plot and its protagonist, knowing that the further Emil dives into his spying, the more alienated he’ll become from the viewer. Emil isn’t particularly likable, Velislav Pavlov delivers a captivating performance that circumvents any need to identify with his character’s abhorrent behavior. The film allows Emil to be a flawed man without offering excuses, providing important commentary on the dangers of surveillance. People can venture down dark roads without even stopping to consider the risks at hand. There doesn’t always have to be an easy answer for why people do bad things.

The film juggles an impressive number of subplots for a two-hour movie. Teodora Duhovnikova stands out as Emil’s unhappy wife Anna, whose performance stretches across the ground the film would otherwise be too constrained to cover, wearing years of turmoil in every expression. Mihail Mutafov also delivers a compelling performance as Emil’s father Kirill, a man resilient against the many hardships aging brought to his doorstep. The strong acting drives home the stakes at hand, showcasing the many people on the receiving end of Emil’s selfish treachery.

Director Ilian Djevelekov did a superb job in managing the various threads of his work, fully fleshing out his storylines while never losing sight of the major force driving the narrative. Omnipresent could have gotten by playing to the viewer’s own fears of being watched, but the intimacy it gives to its characters makes the narrative all the more powerful when it stops to consider the ramifications of Emil’s behavior.

Technology is a powerful tool that’s all too easy to abuse. Omnipresent conveys the wreckage that can be created in the wake of a decision made without considering the God-like power at one’s fingertips. Bulgaria’s selection for Best Foreign Language Film at the upcoming Oscars tells a tale that transcends language, a powerful story for today’s environment.

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Saturday

10

November 2018

1

COMMENTS

Nesting Comfortably in Braveheart’s Shadow, Outlaw King Is an Action-Packed Delight

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As unfair as it seems to compare Outlaw King to an unrelated film made nearly twenty-five years earlier, Braveheart’s presence looms heavily over the narrative. The story, mostly set in the immediate aftermath of William Wallace’s death, functions essentially as a sequel, continuing the First War of Scottish Independence. Rather than partition his film off from a previous Best Picture Winner, director David Mackenzie utilizes his viewer’s likely familiarity with the history to his advantage, crafting a narrative unburdened by needless exposition.

At its core, Braveheart was a story of hope in the face of brutal opposition, fighting for that freedom that should be bestowed on every human as a birthright. Outlaw King is far more grounded in the brutal reality of Robert the Bruce’s uphill battle. War is ugly. Guerilla warfare against a well-organized foe leads to a lot of casualties and heartbreak. There’s little romance to be found in constantly being on the run, hoping your enemy spares those who harbored your resistance for a night or two.

Chris Pine’s Robert the Bruce is not a particularly inspiring figure. He’s totally beleaguered under the weight of his sense of duty. His face is perpetually sullen, the grey in his beard conveying the losses he’s endured in the name of a fight few think he can win. His best moments are brought out in scenes with Florence Pugh, who anchors the film’s emotional core as Bruce’s wife/queen consort Elizabeth de Burgh, delivering a compelling performance that greatly raises the stakes of the personal conflict at hand.

Outlaw King spends very little time on the macro-politics of the era. The viewer is never really given a firm grasp of the underlying cause of the animosity between Robert the Bruce and King Edward I. Much of this seems to be the result of about twenty minutes of footage, which dove more into the history of the story, being cut from the film between earlier screenings and the version released on Netflix. The film assumes the viewer knows enough about war and oppression to follow along, resulting in a narrative that rarely stops to take a breath.

The two-hour runtime passes by in the blink of an eye. Mackenzie has a firm sense of pacing, injecting just enough plot development to buoy the film between action scenes, all of which are incredibly well-crafted. The supporting cast is largely under-developed, perhaps the product of the film’s shorter runtime, but Robert the Bruce’s companions make up for the charisma lacking in their leader. Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Tony Curran particularly stand out as Scottish commanders James Douglas and Angus MacDonald, making the most of the few scenes their characters are given to stretch their legs.

I came away from Outlaw King incredibly impressed with Mackenzie’s directing. The film is meticulously well-crafted, always aware of when a scene has outstayed its welcome, while never allowing itself to be bogged down by a desire to explain the mechanics of war. It isn’t as good as Braveheart, but it knows its hero doesn’t possess the same heroic larger than life sense of grandeur as William Wallace. The film is an excellent companion to its cultural predecessor, giving Robert the Bruce’s story a worthy adaptation of its own.

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Tuesday

6

November 2018

0

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Outlander Brings Its Scottish Charm to the New World

Written by , Posted in Pop Culture

Season four marks a new beginning of sorts for Outlander. With the end of the Jacobite risings, the deaths of Black Jack/Frank Randall, and the reunification of Claire and Jamie Fraser, the show finds itself heading into colonial America having resolved most of its longstanding conflicts. One does not need to spend much time wondering what the show could possibly do next, as Diana Gabaldon’s bestselling book series ensures that the series will have at least six more seasons worth of material, putting aside the numerous spinoff works.

For all of the geography that its story covers, Outlander remains remarkably grounded in its best asset. The show constantly presents new beautiful landscapes for its characters to explore, but it never forgets that romance lies at the very heart of its appeal. The palace of Versailles can captivate the eyes, but Claire and Jamie’s love penetrates deeper into the soul, deserving precedence over whatever new destination comes into play.

Twenty years have passed since the stones of Craigh na Dun first brought Claire to eighteenth-century Scotland. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising for a show about time travel, but Outlander handles the literal passage of time quite well. Four seasons in, Claire and Jamie genuinely act like an old married couple. Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan have had to adapt to a lot of different circumstances over the years, including the ways their characters are supposed to be perceived. The raw passion of the early years has evolved into a refined maturity, an impressive feat for a show that owes much of its early success to carnal indulgences. Their love feels genuine.

Season four takes its time before settling into another history shaping conflict. The stakes hardly feel lowered, as America is hardly kind to Claire and Jamie for long, but the show benefits from giving their romance a break from the heartache of prolonged separation. After all the time spent apart in season three, it’s nice to have a few scenes where the two simply stop to take in the journey they’ve been through just to be together.

The strength of Balfe and Heughan’s acting allows the show to get away with some of its persistent problems. There’s rarely an episode of Outlander that couldn’t be one or two scenes shorter, a weird dynamic considering the amount of source material each season has to adapt. The show gives inconsistent time to its supporting cast, making it harder for the viewer to bond with any of them in the same way as fan favorite Murtagh, who was absent from most of season three, though the show broke from the source material which killed him off in the Battle of Culloden. Outlander has never been a perfect show, but it knows how to utilize its best assets, letting Claire and Jamie dominate the narrative set against the backdrop of beautiful scenery and impressive set designs.

TV shows often head into their fourth seasons with an eye on the eventual endgame. The sheer number of books left to be adapted takes Outlander past the natural lifespan of many cable offerings, making it hard to tell where this story will end up. Like the romance at the heart of its narrative, Outlander looks ready to withstand the passage of time.

 

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Monday

5

November 2018

0

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The Nutcracker and the Four Realms Is an Utterly Forgettable Visual Splendor

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews

As a ballet, The Nutcracker has a fairly straightforward premise. You don’t need to know much more than the basic toy soldiers battling rats plot to sit and enjoy the timeless Christmas story. When it came to expanding that narrative into a feature-length film, The Nutcracker and The Four Realms falters whenever it tries to explain its beautiful fantasy.

Clara, played by Mackenzie Foy, is a young girl grieving the loss of her mother. A posthumous Christmas Eve gift reveals a locked egg without a key. A quest to find the key takes her to the Christmas Tree Forest, where she discovers the Four Realms, a land created by her mother. Strife between the Fourth Realm, lead by Helen Mirren’s Mother Ginger, and the rest of the kingdom, ruled by Keira Knightley’s Sugar Plum Fairy in a sort of regent dynamic, sets off the main conflict of the narrative.

There are a lot of questions regarding the world that The Nutcracker and the Four Realms inhabits, but every scene that tries to offer some sense of exposition falls flat, creating additional confusion. The film has loose explanations for the passage of time and how the toy soldiers came to life, but it consistently bites off more than it can chew, especially with the geopolitics of the realm. It hints that there’s more to the Mother Ginger/Sugar Plum feud than lets on, but doesn’t dedicate enough time to providing a cohesive explanation for what happened between in the time between Clara’s arrival and her mother’s creation of the world.

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms would have been much better off explaining as little as possible about its world, instead focusing on the stunning visuals and competent performances from its star-studded cast. Foy’s Clara is charming and likable, even if her character’s personality is rather out of sync with the film’s broader message about self-confidence. Jayden Fowara-Knight similarly makes the most of a thinly written character as Clara’s companion Captain Phillip Hoffman. As usual, Knightley & Mirren give spectacular performances, even though they’re rarely given anything interesting to work with.

Nothing particularly memorable happens in The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. The film’s few dancing scenes leave you wondering why the film didn’t work harder to incorporate them into the broader narrative. The action sequences are well-crafted but consistently feel like the characters are simply going through the motions. Such sentiment defines the entire experience.

There are far worse ways to spend an hour and a half than The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, but that’s just about the highest bar the film tries to meet. Beautiful scenery can captivate the mind for a few moments, but art succeeds when it leaves its audience with a sense of emotion that lingers beyond the initial delivery. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms’ biggest crime is that it is utterly forgettable in nearly every sense of the word.

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