Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Monthly Archive: November 2018

Sunday

4

November 2018

0

COMMENTS

Gearing up for Its Final Musical Number, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Remains One of TV’s Best Portrayals of Mental Health

Written by , Posted in Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

Like its protagonist Rebecca Bunch, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has always existed in open defiance to the rules that govern the world it exists in. Surviving multiple seasons as one of the lowest-rated shows on broadcast television, the musical comedy doubled down on its surreal fun-house version of reality while simultaneously offering one of the medium’s rawest takes on mental health, neither of which are particularly conducive to mainstream success. Rachel Bloom’s Bunch has never let imminent failure get in the way, which perhaps explains why the show enjoys such a rabid cult following better represented through Netflix streams and YouTube clicks than the increasingly archaic Nielsen model.

This current age of television has been benevolent toward beloved yet under watched shows, giving them final seasons to wrap up their stories rather than detestable cliff-hangers. With the finish line in sight, the early episodes of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s fourth season take stock of its hero’s journey while recognizing that there’s plenty of story left to tell. The days of stalking Josh Chan are long past, but the underlying motives that brought Rebecca out to West Covina remain. This dynamic is perhaps best reflected in the show’s new opening, which bears no mention of its title while still evoking the same sense of uncertainty toward Rebecca’s own identity. Josh was never really the end goal, but rather a placeholder for the void that Rebecca has been unable to fill in order to achieve contentment with her life.

Season four manages a strong balance between Rebecca’s arc and those of the rest of the show’s stellar cast. Daryl Whitefeather remains a singular force in TV’s portrayal of male bisexuality, a man unafraid to be tender and vulnerable as he takes stock of the things that matter in his life post-coming out. Josh and Nathaniel are similarly emotionally exposed, existing in open conflict with the “tough guy” image society often expects men to inhabit. Heather and Paula take backseat roles to the rest of the cast in the early episodes, but both exhibit a sense of belonging and purpose that was absent from their characters at the start of the show. These people have all come a long way, with plenty of road left to travel.

The extended eighteen-episode order gives Crazy Ex-Girlfriend plenty of time to explore its cast before it’s time to start wrapping up the narrative. Aided by a strong offering of musical numbers, Rebecca demonstrates growth while remaining unsure of little beyond perhaps an understanding that her elaborate schemes won’t make her happy. She’s always worn her flaws on her sleeve, endearing herself to the audience through her sheer humanity.

Life is hard. Singing about it won’t change the circumstances that make us sad, but music, comedy, and companionship can offer the kind of solace that gets you to the next day. With grim ratings, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend spent most of its run looking like a show that didn’t have much of a tomorrow to call its own. It defied the odds while staying true to what’s made it such a treat for its loyal audience. As Rebecca & co. dance and sign toward the finish line, I’m grateful that such a genuine portrayal of how hard it can be to live inside your own head managed to go out on its own terms.

 

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Saturday

3

November 2018

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COMMENTS

Mid90s is a Likable Coming of Age Story with an Unclear Sense of Purpose

Written by , Posted in Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

The era of Snapchat selfies and Instagram filters has made the 90s an especially fertile ground for exploring adolescence in a time right before children started to grow up with their lives broadcast on the internet. As someone who would have been just a few years younger than protagonist Stevie during the period of Mid90s, I remember just how much the concept of “cool” seemed to exist in relation to how older kids around the neighborhood spent their time. For his directorial debut, Jonah Hill chose to center his narrative around the significance of the childhood sense of meaning derived from riding around on a rolling piece of wood.

Stevie is a young thirteen-year-old kid who desperately wants to fit in with the older kids who hang around the local skate shop. With an angry overbearing older brother and an overwhelmed single mother, his home life leaves a lot to be desired. After bonding with the resident younger kid of the group, Stevie gradually finds acceptance among those who share a similar sense of uncertainty for what their futures might bring.

Hill demonstrates a keen ability to capture beauty in the subtle moments of dialogue between his characters. Little time is spent developing any of them beyond descriptors you might read in a dramatis personae, but the young actors possess enough confidence to project power in mundane conversations. Lead actor Sunny Suljic captivates every scene with an expressive performance that captures the essence of youthful angst.

Mid90s loses steam as it moves along, weighed down by the burden of excessive subplots that it never cares to explore beyond a few isolated moments. For much of the movie, the narrative moves at a leisurely pace without a clear end goal, enjoying the simple moments between the characters. To his film’s detriment, Hill seems unsatisfied with the open-endedness created by many youthful coming of age stories, injecting a forced sense of drama where none needed to exist.

Film rarely tries to capture the full essence of a character’s life, an impossible task for many reasons beyond the time restraints. Open-ended coming of age narratives often seek to focus in on a pivotal period in their lead’s life where at least some of the soul’s inner turmoil finds a sense of resolution. Perhaps the nostalgia of youth lends itself well toward comforting one facing life’s later struggles, which tend to carry a greater sense of importance than fitting in with the local skaters.

Mid90s isn’t quite sure what you should make of Stevie’s time skateboarding, which could explain some of the decisions made late in the narrative. Hill put forth an admirable effort in his directorial debut, demonstrating great talent in crafting memorable scenes. Unfortunately, the films fails to come together when it forces itself to find an arbitrary resolution. I have no doubt Hill will make many great movies in his career, but Mid90s fell apart when he started to try and reach a conclusion he didn’t necessarily need to present.

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Friday

2

November 2018

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Venom is an Entertaining Mess

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

Venom is an anomaly for modern superhero films, existing outside a broader connected universe. The irreverent alien symbiote made its film debut in 2007’s Spider-Man 3, the year before Iron Man kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe, forever changing the way studios approach comic book adaptations. Though a few dozen superhero movies have come and gone between the Topher Grace and Tom Hardy versions of the character, Venom as a film seems to want to pay homage to the idea that a movie can exist as a movie without any broader ramifications for future team-ups down the road.

Freed from shared universe obligations, Venom never seems sure what it wants to do with its time. The plot never really exists as more than an excuse to pair up Hardy’s Eddie Brock with the titular symbiote. Riz Ahmed plays a competent menacing villain in Carlton Drake, but the character lacks any compelling traits to set him apart from the “mad scientist” trope that defines his place in the narrative. Michelle Williams has a few standout scenes as Brock’s ex-fiancée Anne Weying, but largely feels wasted in a wooden supporting role created more out of obligation to give Brock more human characters to interact with than anything else.

Venom shines when it lets Hardy run wild with his alter-ego. Venom is a hilarious character who develops an oddly charming buddy-cop romance with Brock as the film settles into its second act. The relationship produces a number of laugh out loud moments that serve in stark contrast to the film’s otherwise grim tone. Such mood-swings seem to define the entire experience.

Like Brock’s relationship with Venom, the movie exists in constant turmoil between dueling desires to be simultaneously formulaic and spontaneous. The action scenes feel wooden, but there’s enough humor to make you wish you were enjoying yourself just a teensy bit more. Hardy makes the most of what he’s given as an actor, but the narrative is too all over the place to create a cohesive experience. Venom is a very fun mess to watch, but it would be a stretch to call it a good film.

Which isn’t to say that Venom doesn’t have a place in the crowded superhero genre. The narrative is far more chaotic than any MCU offering and never as grim as a DCEU installment. Venom gets its titular character right, but fails to supply a worthy vehicle for him to play in. The film is perhaps best enjoyed in snippets on premium cable, where one can focus on the humorous elements while forgetting that movie doesn’t really know how to tell a story.

 

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