Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Monthly Archive: March 2019



March 2019



Now Apocalypse Finds Amusement in Familiar Territory

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The idea of yet another half-hour comedy about millennials in Los Angeles deserves an eye-roll no matter the quality of the show itself. The trope of being affluent and sad has been more than thoroughly fleshed out over the past decade. While Starz’s new series Now Apocalypse hardly reinvents the wheel, the show’s colorful aesthetics and charming cast make for a worthwhile experience.

Crafted by filmmaker Greg Araki, whose films were at the forefront of the New Queer Cinema movement of the 1990s, Now Apocalypse follows a group of twenty-somethings in Los Angeles, searching for meaning while smoking tons of weed and having lots of sex in the process. Ulysses Zane (Avan Jorgia) can’t shake the idea that something spooky is going on in the world as he’s repeatedly ghosted by a prospective fling. His roommate Ford Halstead (Beau Mirchoff) is trying to find a connection with his sort-of girlfriend Severine (Roxanne Mesquida) as he tries to make it as a writer, constantly struggling to survive the confines of the hookup culture which hardly rewards any genuine expression of emotion. Rounding out the main cast is Carly (Kelli Berglund), an actress who moonlights as a cam girl to make ends meet.

The supernatural undercurrents in Now Apocalypse play a backseat to general millennial stereotypes in the first few episodes, much to the show’s detriment. The scripts are quite clichéd, without the expected satire the premise seems to be going for. Cell phone dating apps have been around for years, spearheading the modern day hookup culture, but television as a whole hasn’t figured out much to say about it other than that being ghosted understandably sucks.

And yet, there’s something oddly alluring about Now Apocalypse. The show handles its numerous sex scenes gracefully, including gay and polyamorous hookups, and not as exploitative in service to a larger plot point. The main cast is eminently likable despite the lack of originality in their characters. Jorgia and Berglund are quite relatable as dreamy young souls trying to find their place in an unforgiving city. Mirchoff, essentially riffing off his previous role as Matty McKibbin on MTV’s Awkward, manages to garner sympathy even as a privileged jock who finds good fortune at every turn.

Quite simply, Now Apocalypse is a lot of fun. Like the actors, the sets are gorgeous to look at. The episodes are well-paced and always seem to leave you excited about what’s going to happen next. The show slowly ups its ante on absurdity without bogging down the rest of its narrative. It’s rare for a show to introduce a concept like sex-crazed lizards and get away with not immediately addressing them in the following episode, but Now Apocalypse keeps flowing without any pressing urgency.

It’s hard to say what kind of show Now Apocalypse will be moving forward, assuming it builds on the paranormal introduced early on. For now, the show is quite a fun ride, well worth a binge on a lazy day. It doesn’t exactly break a ton of new ground, but the cast is enjoyable enough for that not to be much of a concern. Starz has carved out an impressive niche of offbeat half-hour programs, and Now Apocalypse is a fine addition to its lineup.

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March 2019



Captain Marvel Is An Unremarkable Origin Narrative That Never Lets Its Star Shine

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The early entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe excelled at establishing their characters, relatively independent of any obligations to a larger connected continuity. All of the previous origin narratives across the three phases of this massive saga have allowed their heroes the opportunity to make their own mark on an audience, knowing that the idea of bringing them all together for a big team-up constantly lingers in the background. Investment in these characters is the primary reason behemoth undertakings like Avengers: Infinity War work so well.

Captain Marvel feels oddly rushed for a first-time solo adventure. From the first moments on, the film rarely stops to catch a breath. Lost in the frantic pacing is the idea that Carol Danvers is a person whom the audience might enjoy getting to know along the course of the film’s brisk two-hour run time. Danvers spends much of the film trying to figure out her own past, but the narrative is too all over the place to give any sense of direction to her development as a character.

Brie Larson is totally underutilized in the title role, never really getting a chance to shine, despite her character’s immense powers. There are a few scenes where Larson gets to showcase Danvers’ personality, mostly opposite Samuel L. Jackson, who puts in a predictably solid effort as Nick Fury. The immaculate process of digitally de-aging Fury and longtime MCU stalwart Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) is more remarkable than most of the lines either character speak throughout the film.

As with many MCU films, there are far too many villains. Jude Law and Ben Mendelsohn each portray complex characters whose potential depth is lost in a narrative that simply doesn’t have time to fully flesh out the conflict between the Skrull and the Kree. The film does little to suggest that Lee Pace and Djimon Hounsou, both reprising their roles from The Guardians of the Galaxy, are there for any reason other than to simply serve as connections to the broader continuity. Lashana Lynch is also underutilized as Maria Rambeau, Danvers’ best friend and the link to her past on earth.

Nostalgia is a powerful force throughout the film, which goes to great lengths to recreate 90s America as well as the feel of the early days of the MCU. As fun as it is to see Danvers crashing into a Blockbuster Video or Coulson interacting with the juggernauts of the franchise after years on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the sense persists that the film is trying too hard to retcon Captain Marvel into its world, as opposed to weaving her in naturally through the force of her as a character. This narrative should be Captain Marvel’s first, and everything else second, but too often it spends its time functioning as a prequel to the Avengers Initiative. Fury’s presence is an asset, but the jumbled mess that is the Kree/Skrull storyline burdens a film that never seems sure of what it wants to be.

Captain Marvel feels less like an origin narrative and more like a placeholder for bigger, better things to come. The audience knows that Danvers is going to play a big factor in Avengers: Endgame, but the prospect of beating up Thanos two months from now doesn’t do much to sell the movie being presented to audiences right now. Future films will be able to focus more on the conflict between the Skrull and the Kree, but how much are we supposed to care? It’s hard to get excited about Captain Marvel leading the Avengers down the road when she’s not even fully trusted to carry her own movie.

The action scenes are mostly duds, poorly framed and constantly set against bland color palettes. There are bits of humor here and there, but there isn’t enough dramatic tension for the jokes to really land. Like Thor, Captain Marvel’s sheer strength makes it a bit harder to craft compelling fight sequences, but it doesn’t feel like any effort was made to put anything on screen that the audience might remember a week later.

The MCU has very few misfires, but this one simply didn’t come together despite following the same general formula the franchise has deployed for most of its other films. Thoroughly unremarkable, Captain Marvel wanders aimlessly through various half-baked plotlines without ever investing in its title character. For a film set in the past with its eyes on the future of the franchise, for some reason, it never seemed capable of living in its own present.

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March 2019



Leaving Neverland Lets Michael Jackson’s Accusers Speak Their Truth

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Leaving Neverland is the kind of film that forces the viewer to question the very mandate expected of documentaries to present the truth, or at least its very best interpretation of the facts. The narratives of Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who both accuse Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them as children, hardly produce much evidence to prove their cases other than the disturbing similarities in their accounts. For diehard fans of the legendary pop-star, the failure to offer up a definitive smoking gun proving their allegations might be enough to dismiss them entirely, to keep on believing in the man they adore.

Much of the coverage of the #MeToo movement has focused on the punishments doled out to the accused, fired from their cushy jobs or cast out from polite society. Such narrative framing is inherently transactional in nature, with the notion of justice guiding the reaction to each termination. Leaving Neverland lacks an outlet to pursue this objective, with Jackson’s death and the statute of limitations laws complicating any idea of closure.

Lost in the broader headlines of #MeToo is the more nuanced objective of many of the people who have spoken out over the course of the movement. For many, justice never enters the equation. For many, all that’s desired is simply to be heard.

Leaving Neverland is not a film about justice, but rather the long-term corrosive effect of years of abuse. Both Safechuck and Robson had complex relationships with Jackson that neither appears to have fully worked out just yet. There is no notion of righting these wrongs. The film paints a clear picture of the damage done to both of their families for the simple mistake of trusting the perceived generosity one of the most powerful celebrities in the world.

For a documentary with a runtime of nearly four hours, Leaving Neverland feels surprisingly intimate in its scope. Relying entirely on accounts from the accusers and their families, the film painstakingly explores their relationships with Michael Jackson. The documentary bounces between both families, chilling the audience with the consistency of each narrative. The broader context of Jackson’s sexual abuse trials and his death are held until the second part, though always framing the narrative through its impact on Robson and Safechuck. This isn’t Michael Jackson’s story, but theirs.

Leaving Neverland is a very hard film to watch. The documentary wields tremendous power in the simplicity of its narrative, almost like listening to the two families sit in therapy as they worked through the repressed horrors they endured. It’s clear that many members of each family loved Jackson and found it incredibly hard to cope with what he put the children through. This dynamic creates several moments of frustration toward the parents that failed to see the seemingly obvious, but the film rarely concerns itself with judgment. Reality is far more complex than any truths hindsight could have illustrated.

While the film will undoubtedly earn some criticism for its one-sided approach that never gave anyone from Jackson’s estate a chance to respond, Leaving Neverland never goes out of its way to vilify the pop star beyond laying out his alleged crimes. The film presents its case without any broader call to action. Michael Jackson’s legacy is a complicated one, but the documentary doesn’t concern itself with trying to deal with that. Its only focus is to finally allow the Robson and Safechuck families the chance to tell their side of the story.

Public opinion on Michael Jackson can be (broadly) divided into three categories. There are those who reject the claims of his accusers entirely, those who view him as a creep and want nothing to do with his body of work, and those who seek to separate the complicated man from his artistic genius. Leaving Neverland doesn’t try to move people from one of those camps into another, but it does force a light on the complicated mentality of the third group. People can enjoy his music while accepting the merits of his accusers, but much of the coverage of Jackson since his death has sought to sweep the unseemly portions of his legacy under the rug. This documentary reminds the public at large that there’s still a lot about the man that shouldn’t be forgotten when remembering him.

Leaving Neverland is a timely film for the #MeToo era, focusing less on the idea of justice than the simple power that comes from finally being heard. There’s nothing on earth that can fix the wrongs done to Wade Robson and James Safechuck. Their lives and those of their families were permanently damaged as a result of their relationship with Jackson. While justice won’t be served, the film draws its greatest strength through the closure that the process has hopefully offered these tragic victims.

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