Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Monthly Archive: April 2019

Monday

22

April 2019

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COMMENTS

Game of Thrones Season 8 Recap: Episode 2

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones, Pop Culture, Reviews

Ideally, final seasons of long-running series seek to achieve two objectives, to remind fans why they fell in love with the show in the first place and to provide a satisfactory conclusion for the narrative arcs of their characters. Game of Thrones has had its eye on fan service for a few seasons now, perhaps best illustrated through Gendry’s reintroduction last year, when Ser Davos acknowledged the long-running “still rowing” meme. Episode two, appropriately titled “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” was an episode chock full of fan service.

Death is coming to Winterfell. Characters we’ve spent the last eight years with are going to die. As much as the show has emphasized the role of death with its high body count, Game of Thrones has usually done a good job emphasizing the larger narrative arcs of its key players. Season six serves as perhaps the one exception, where numerous characters were unceremoniously killed off in what looked like an effort to clear pieces off the board.

Episode two featured a lot of hanging out, waiting for the world to end. Like the premiere, reunions were in abundance. Moments that fans have wished for over the past decades finally came to fruition.

Ser Brienne has a nice ring to it. After all she’s been through, it was great to see Brienne finally get the recognition she’s long deserved. Women catch a lot of crap in Westeros, but it was great to see her receive the title that best suits her abilities. Gwendoline Christie handled the scene masterfully, letting the typically stoic Brienne take in her moment with plenty of emotion.

Ever since the first episode, fans have wondered what would happen to Jaime if he ever saw that boy he pushed out the window again. Turns out, not much, as was to be expected. I don’t love the idea that he still didn’t tell anyone about what happened, but such a revelation would’ve called for actions that the episode clearly didn’t care about. Bran’s not angry, might as well let that be that.

Bran also isn’t a very helpful battle strategist. I get that the show doesn’t want to fully deploy Bran ex machina, but this whole “use Bran as bait to lure the Night King” seems kind of ridiculous. We’re still not 100% sure what Bran knows about everything, but the idea of having Theon protect you seems fairly half baked.

Arya and Gendry. What a pair. No more “will they, won’t they.” They did it. Is there anything more to say? Probably not. For a girl who’s been as consumed with death as Arya has, it was great to see her have a moment like that with someone she cared about. Hopefully Bran wasn’t watching.

Davos cooked soup! Is there anything this man can’t do? Expert battle survivalist, master chef, all-around great guy. Hoping for the best for new Shireen.

Daenerys and Sansa are seemingly destined for conflict. Why? Because there’s time to fill, of course! Not the greatest conflict, two people fighting over a monarchy when the army of the dead is right at their doorstep, but the show does need a few conflicts to carry it to the end once that’s all finished.

The Dany/Tyrion conflict also seems quite born out of an interest to have something to argue about after next episode. Yes, Cersei lied to them. No, that’s not surprising to anyone. Does that make Tyrion a bad Hand? Sort of, but there isn’t really anyone else up for the job, a job that hasn’t really seemed all that important at all. His judgment isn’t really at fault here, other than the fact that he didn’t stop that idiotic quest beyond the Wall last season.

Ser Jorah got a few great moments. He got told off by Lyanna, received a fancy new toy from Sam, and had Dany tell him that Tyrion took his job. Hopefully this means he’ll die next episode! What else is there for him to do?

Beric Dondarrion sure looks like a goner. Great voice. What a man. He’ll be with Thoros soon.

We got to see Ghost again too! Direwolves haven’t been a big part of the show in recent years, likely a casualty of the CGI budget, but it’s great to see him around for the big battle. Somebody should give him a dragon glass retainer to bite white walkers with.

One of either Grey Worm or Missandei appears quite destined for death next episode. My money’s on Missandei, since I think Theon and Varys are also unlikely to survive the battle. Can’t kill all the eunuchs is one fell swoop!

R + L = J has been the definitive fan theory to rule all fan theories for the past twenty years. In the two episodes since its reveal in the season seven finale, we’ve seen it treated as essentially a footnote. Jon wasn’t in this episode much, but when he was, he sure wasn’t talking about his new parents. At least, not until he took Dany into the crypts of Winterfell.

Was the eve of a massive battle the right time to tell her? No. Obviously not.

The show has had close to a decade to figure out how to handle its biggest secret. The method it’s decided on appears to be to walk things as slowly as possible, something it’s done in tandem with all of Bran’s Three-eyed Raven powers. The result created this weird situation where Dany questions how Bran knows this stuff, putting aside the fact that no one appears to have told her what’s going on with the middle Stark child. The show just needs to pull the R + L = J band-aid off once and for all.

No scenes in King’s Landing this week, which I guess is fitting given that the next episode is going to be taken up mostly by the battle. Overall, this was a very enjoyable episode. We got to see many of our favorite characters interact for what could be the last time. Some of it was a little forced, but that’s okay. After all these years, a little fan service is not a bad way to spend an episode, especially since next week looks to be pretty brutal.

That’s it for this week. Tune in tomorrow to the Estradiol Illusions podcast to hear our roundtable analysis. See you next week!

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Monday

15

April 2019

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COMMENTS

Game of Thrones Season 8 Recap: Episode 1

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones, Pop Culture

It’s the beginning of the end! Table setting and reunions seemed to be the themes of the first episode of Game of Thrones’ eighth and final season. With only five episodes left, it made sense to take stock of where the major players found themselves heading into the final battles of the series. While the season might be shortened, six episodes still leaves a fair amount of time for things that don’t involve bloodshed and resolution.

The throwbacks to the first episode were apparent throughout the episode. The procession into Winterfell looked a lot like one that Robert made to visit Ned, and Jaime’s arrival harkened back to his first steps into the castle. It’s always fun when a show entering its final season takes everything back full circle.

The antagonistic relationship between Daenerys and Sansa makes plenty of sense for a lot of reasons, but few of them were on display in the episode itself. The Northerners have every right to be miffed at Jon for bending the knee not long after they gave him his crown, but politics contrasts with the dire nature of their situation. Questions of monarchy seem out of place in a region that’s currently being evacuated for the first time in either the books or the show. I get that the show needs additional conflict besides the Night King, but it still seems kind of weird that the Northerners are so hostile to a woman whose army is their best shot at survival.

Sansa’s scene with Tyrion was my favorite of the episode. Sansa has been underestimated by many in the show, as well as the fandom, but she’s been a survivalist all these years. As the natural choice to lead House Stark moving forward, Sansa did a great job throughout her scenes making sure that her family would remain power players even if Jon was willing to bend the knee.

The scenes with Jon and Dany also made a lot of narrative sense, as fans responded with lackluster enthusiasm to their pairing last season. Kit Harrington and Emilia Clarke don’t have a ton of natural chemistry, but it’s good to see the show try and put in the effort to make their relationship seem convincing. The CGI dragon ride was well put together and sort of made up for the lack of elephants brought to Westeros.

As much as the Cersei/Euron pairing looks born out of convenience, it’s a lot of fun to watch. Lena Headley is perhaps the best actress in the series and is always a delight to watch, even in filler scenes. Euron is similarly delectably evil, aided by a standout performance by Pilou Asbæk.

 

Bronn’s plotline is a total mess.  While Jerome Flynn and Lena Headley aren’t on speaking terms, which explains why they’ve never shared a scene together, it doesn’t make a ton of sense to have him carry out some farfetched revenge plot against Jaime and Tyrion that the viewers know isn’t going to go Cersei’s way. If this is all they have planned for Bronn, they should have sent him to the North with Jaime.

Arya had a few great scenes this episode, but the best was her reunions with Gendry and The Hound. Arya and Sandor have been through quite a lot since their days roaming the Riverlands, but clearly still maintain at least some degree of affection for each other. Gendry looks at home as a blacksmith, unlike his stint at a marathon sprinter beyond the Wall.

Poor Sam. It’s bad enough to have to share a scene with Ser Jorah, but the news of his family’s demise was pretty brutal. The one positive thing that came of it was that the senseless Tarly loyalty displayed to the Lannisters last season appears to have in service to this scene. At least Dickon died for Sam’s tears!

 

Bran is a weird dude. There’s not enough time for small talk, but plenty to sit around the Winterfell courtyard. We don’t really know how much he knows, but the show is doing a good job treading carefully with a character who can deus ex machina whenever he wants. I’m a little bummed that he didn’t get to have a chat with Jaime but I’m sure we’ll see the two of them together next week.

Who could blame Yara for wanting to go back home to her nice island that’s far away from the ice zombies? I hope Theon heading North means that he’ll die in the Battle of Winterfell. I used to think Jaime would be the first major character to go, but apparently, he’s needed for the ever-important Bronn subplot so maybe it’s time for Theon to stop beating himself up for all the bad things he’s done.

Did the Night King preserve the arms in a Tupperware container to prevent them from becoming zombified as he made his mural? Does the fact that he knew there would be people left in the deserted far North to see poor Lord Umber strung up there mean he’s omniscient? I don’t know, but that creepy scene provided much food for thought. Always fun to see Beric and Tormund, though we don’t much clarity as to how they’re still alive after the wall blew up.

Jon finally knows the truth. I liked that the reveal happened in the Crypts of Winterfell, the only logical setting. It was weird to see Sam rail on Dany before dropping the news, but it’s understandable given the whole burning of the family situation. Jon took the news better than I’d expected, but it looks like they’re setting up a power grab between Dany and him. As much sense as that makes, it seems weird for them to fight while the show is simultaneously investing in their relationship.

That’s it for this week. Very strong episode, despite the abundance of lazy eunuch jokes. Quick programming note, if my written recaps aren’t enough you can catch me right after the show on Facebook for my live recaps, or on my new podcast every Tuesday for in-depth analysis. Thank you for reading and see you next week!

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Monday

15

April 2019

0

COMMENTS

John Boyne’s Lazy “Support” For Transgender Rights

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture, Social Issues

The letters that make up the LGBTQ community suggest a sort of unity among the various gay & gender diverse subsections. This of course, puts aside the fact that a white cisgender gay man lives a fundamentally different experience than a transgender woman of color. Intersectionality is vital toward understanding that while we may all be part of the same umbrella term, each of us faces different levels of inequality.

Irish author John Boyne, a gay cisgender man, has recently written a novel titled My Brother’s Name is Jessica about a boy who discovers that his sibling has a gender identity different than the one assigned at birth. One could take umbrage with the title, which misgenders a transgender woman, or the idea that Boyne is writing about transgender issues despite not being transgender, but perhaps more concerning is an op-ed Boyne recently published. The piece which decries the use of the word “cis” in its title, defends tennis star Martina Navratilova for comments she herself has apologized for, and equivocates on the bigotry of TV writer turned obsessive anti-trans keyboard cowboy Graham Linehan among other things is far more concerning.

The word cisgender has been used by the scientific for decades despite Boyne’s claim that it’s “given by trans people to their nontransgender brethren.” In fact, “cis” draws its origins from Latin, meaning “on this side of,” to refer to people whose gender identity matches the sex they were designated at birth. “Cis” is to gender identity what “straight” is to sexuality. It’s kind of a clunky word, one that I criticize in The Transgender Manifesto, but thankfully for cisgender people, society at large doesn’t really expect them to use it very often, almost always in relation to transgender people.

Naturally, “cis” has received backlash from many anti-transgender people, who created the #cisisaslur hashtag to protest the scientific term. Boyne seems totally on board with this mentality, writing, “I don’t consider myself a cis man; I consider myself a man.” On the surface level, one can kind of see his point, cis being an unnecessary term that doesn’t fundamentally change the way society views him. Trouble is, this mentality perpetuates the notion that cisgender is the “default setting.” It’s not fundamentally any different from a white man demanding that no one refer to him as white or a straight person insisting that people only refer to them as normal.

Similarly tone deaf is Boyne’s defense of Navratilova. Navratilova, seen for decades as a champion of gay rights, published an op-ed in The Times where she referred to transgender athletes as “cheats” and regarded the very notion of allowing them to compete as “insane.” Navratilova later apologized for her remarks after being dropped as an ambassador for Athlete Ally, an LGBTQ nonprofit.

Boyne presents Navratilova’s narrative as something completely unworthy of criticism, writing, “For anyone to suggest that a person of her courage is phobic about anything is to deliberately ignore her history.” Such a mindset presents a strange either/or scenario. Navratilova has quite obviously been a champion of gay rights, but that doesn’t change the prejudiced nature of her mentality toward transgender athletes who are frequently portrayed as imposters seeking to game the system. The recent media obsession with transgender athletes ignores the fact that not a single transgender athlete has competed in the Olympics since the IOC started permitting trans athletes back in 2003. While anti-transgender pundits frequently warn of a transgender take-over in sports, they seem decidedly unsure of when such an invasion is actually going to occur.

It’s one thing for Boyne to continue supporting Navratilova, an iconic tennis star and someone who has done a lot of legitimate good for gay athletes, but such praise does not need to diminish the hurtful words that she rightly issued an apology for. Boyne’s words talk over the transgender community who face plenty of discrimination in sport, and pointlessly attempt to frame transphobic comments as something other than bigoted. A person who cared about intersectionality might have left well enough alone, but Boyne felt the need to chime in on a matter than didn’t call for comment from a gay man completely unaffected by her words.

Boyne’s reaction to his op-ed has further perpetuated the idea that he doesn’t actually care about the transgender community he writes about. Boyne tweeted that he would engage with comments that weren’t “rude” or “aggressive” but most of his replies were aimed at people praising him, including a few anti-transgender accounts.

My own reply, which received over a hundred likes, went unanswered.

 

This wouldn’t be much of an issue if Boyne hadn’t found the time to apologize to noted obsessive transphobe Graham Linehan for including him in the op-ed. Linehan. Oddly enough, Boyne’s apology was later deleted, preserved by screenshot.

 

The idea that he made time for Linehan, who tried to strip funding for a transgender children’s charity and has been warned by the police for anti-transgender harassment among other things, suggests that Boyne doesn’t have much regard for the community he spends his time writing about. Anyone wondering where Linehan’s heart is located doesn’t need to look further than his Twitter feed.

I can get that Boyne is upset about the reaction to his op-ed. No one like to feel piled on, but instead of introspection, Boyne has instead dug into the notion that his critics are merely rude or aggressive. Such tone-policing ignores the broader issue, that Boyne’s words were misguided, hurtful, and ignorant of a community he’s currently attempting to represent in his own work.

Intersectionality reminds us of the importance of engaging with people whose perspective differ from one’s own. Boyne doesn’t seem to care to engage with the transgender community over his comments or his book. A man who displays more concern for the critics of transgender people than the community itself is probably not the best person to be dramatizing our lives in novels. His lazy concern for trans rights has no place in the public discourse, a pathetic attempt to monetize a group of people he otherwise demonstrates nothing but disdain toward.

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Wednesday

10

April 2019

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COMMENTS

A Dark Place Is a Well-Crafted Mystery

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

Dozens of TV procedurals air hundreds of episodes each week featuring murders that are discovered and solved in a forty-minute timespan. For film, the added runtime carries a greater sense of weight, knowing that the audience will likely never see these characters again. A Dark Place is the kind of film that manages to present an intriguing character while never losing sight of the objective at hand.

Donald Devlin is a peculiar man. He runs his sanitation route, takes care of his sick mother, and tries to be a decent father, but there’s something about him that’s fairly odd. He has an affection for keeping warm in already hot temperatures and displays a weird sense of concern for the death of a young boy in his neighborhood, presumed drowned under potentially dubious circumstances.

Despite the disinterest of the local sheriff in investigating the death as a homicide, Donald takes it upon himself to investigate. The result is what you might expect if your town oddball decided to suddenly start playing detective. People start asking questions as Donald searches for answers.

Like its protagonist, A Dark Place is a weird film. It’s beautifully shot, as director Simon Fellows frames many of his scenes in a way that subtlety brings out the nuances in his actors’ performances. Andrew Scott, known to the general audience as Moriarty on the BBC’s Sherlock, does an excellent job portraying Donald, always keeping things interesting if even through a quiet expression on his face. We don’t learn much about Donald, such as the specific disorder driving his obsessive behavior, but that’s not really a problem either. He’s a sympathetic protagonist who’s easy to root for even though there isn’t much of a broader character arc beyond the murder mystery itself.

The mystery is well-paced, if not a little predictable. There’s surprisingly little suspension of disbelief required to get behind Donald as an amateur sleuth, but some of the pieces of the puzzle are perhaps a little too neatly put together. The brisk speed of the narrative does allow the audience to forgive a few of the clichés, like sheriffs giving a warning about asking too many questions, the kind of stuff you’d find in just about any amateur story.

Clocking in at just under ninety minutes, the film is one that probably could have used with an extra ten minutes to fully flesh out Donald’s relationships, particularly with his daughter, played by Christa Beth Campbell. Campbell gives a strong performance for a young actress, especially opposite a veteran performer like Scott, helping to soften out Donald’s more tedious personality quirks. Bronagh Waugh also gives a lively performance as Donald’s coworker Donna.

A Dark Place could’ve benefitted from a little more character development, but the film is an engrossing mystery that’s well worth a watch. Andrew Scott always keeps things interesting, giving a solid performance that’s enough to buoy the film through some of its more predictable parts. It hardly reinvents the wheel, but Fellows put together an enjoyable film for fans of the genre.

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Sunday

7

April 2019

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Shazam! Breathes New Life into the DCEU

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For all the talk about the disastrous state the DCEU was in, the solutions always seemed pretty simple. Earlier entries piled on dour imagery and quite simply weren’t much fun to sit through. Thankfully, Shazam! got that message loud and clear.

It’s hard to believe that the first live-action adaptation of Shazam! premiered all the way back in 1941, back when the character was called Captain Marvel. Perhaps it’s fitting that a follow-up would debut the same year that Carol Danvers’ Captain Marvel finally made her first big screen appearance, with both superheroes expected to play major roles in their respective franchise’s futures. Despite the name change and all the copyright battles, Billy Batson is still the boy behind the red suit, able to wield the power of six different gods by speaking a single word.

Shazam! is the rare superhero film that feels more like a comedy than an action flick. Many of the scenes are laugh out loud hilarious, the kind of humor that presents itself naturally and not just as comic relief. Zachary Levi does a spectacular job inhabiting the mind of a fourteen-year-old child, exhibiting all the wonder and awe that many of us would feel if we suddenly possessed superpowers. Jack Dylan Glazer also provides much of the laughs as Billy’s foster brother Freddy, displaying an extraordinary amount of confidence and comfort in a lead role for an actor his age.

One of the downsides of these extended universes is that their narratives often feel overstuffed as they juggle their own story as well as obligations to the broader continuity. Shazam! thoroughly exists within the established DCEU, but the references all feel deliberate, in service to the film at hand. Shazam! possesses the best script and narrative pacing of any DCEU film released. It manages to be hilarious while also displaying a tremendous amount of heart. Billy’s adopted family all get their moments to shine, an impressive feat for an action film dealing with a big cast.

A comedy like Shazam! probably didn’t need to hit a home run with its villain, but the film thoroughly fleshes out Dr. Thaddeus Sivana, providing enough backstory to understand the motivations behind the menace. He’s not particularly likable, unlike Black Panther’s Killmonger, but Mark Strong plays him in a way that makes the audience at least understand where the character is coming from. The film provides some thought-provoking commentary on the notion of “chosen ones,” and what happens to the people who didn’t necessarily get the chance they thought they deserved.

My only point of criticism is that the third act at times feels a bit overly drawn out. Part of this undoubtedly stems from the film’s reluctance to overstuff its plot, understandable for a film dealing with a child superhero first learning to control his powers. The ending leaves you with a rare feeling for a superhero film these days, hungry for a direct sequel and not just a large team-up with other members of the universe. A most impressive feat for a franchise that’s been too often defined by its misfires.

Shazam! is the best film of the DCEU thus far, an action-packed adventure full of humor and heart. Billy Batson has been through quite a lot over the past eighty years, changing names and publishers, but this film is proof that the character still has a lot to offer. While the DCEU once looked like a complete mess, things appear to be shaping up for the franchise. Shazam! is the perfect reminder of the power of not taking one’s self too seriously.

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Friday

5

April 2019

0

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Hurley Presents a Surface Level Narrative of a Fascinating Man

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While the past decade has made great progress in removing the stigmas around homosexuality, documentaries like Hurley serve as excellent reminders for how difficult it can still be for some people to embrace being gay publicly. Professional sports, in particular, remains a fairly hostile environment for LGBTQ people, with many preferring to stay in the closet during their careers. The life of motorcar legend Hurley Haywood could have shed some light on this dynamic, but too often the film that bears his name is too reluctant to dive beneath the surface.

Hurley focuses on two separate narratives for most of its runtime, Haywood’s homosexuality as well as his relationship with teammate Peter Gregg, who committed suicide in 1980. Actor and racer Patrick Dempsey, who serves an executive producer on the film, offers context for Hurley’s place in motorcar lore. People unfamiliar with endurance racing might be confused at first, as the film doesn’t do much to explain the specifics, but you do get a sense for what sets Haywood apart from his contemporaries.

The documentary struggles with the contrast between Hurley’s racing achievements and his life as a closeted homosexual. Haywood has no trouble explaining his achievements throughout the film, at times coming across as rather boisterous, but he’s quite uncomfortable talking about life as a gay man in professional sports. The contrast in confidence is palpable, but the documentary is reluctant to pursue what it means for Haywood to have spent close to seventy years of his life hiding who he really was.

As important as Peter Gregg was to Haywood’s career as a racer, his prominence in the documentary seems puzzling at times. There are several instances where multiple interviewees criticize aspects of Gregg’s personality in sequence, though it’s unclear what larger purpose these accounts serve. The film isn’t ostensibly about Gregg, and its participants start to look a bit petty as they continue to harp on the deceased racer, a situation exacerbated by several interviews with one of Gregg’s children.

The film presents conflicting explanations for why Haywood chose to come out as this particular point in his life. Haywood himself offers up a touching account of a conversation he had with a young closeted gay man, clearly inspired by the profound effect he had on the individual’s life. This perspective is contrasted by Haywood’s clear reluctance to embrace the “activist” label. At one point, one of the interviewees goes on a long-winded diatribe about how Haywood should not become a gay activist, doing so with a kind of subtle homophobia that America continues to struggle with. The “tolerance but not acceptance” approach is one that feels increasingly dated as society acknowledges the injustices of policies like Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Hurley regrettably chose to play a “both sides” approach by including interviews that offered up opinions for how Haywood should present his homosexuality to the world.

Haywood’s husband Steve Hill provides much of the background for their relationship over the years. His scenes are some of the most powerful in the film, emotionally recounting how difficult it was to watch the man he loved celebrate his success from a distance. Hill provides a valuable historical perspective on the closet, immeasurable challenges that America is thankfully moving away from.

What’s sadly missing from Hurley is the idea of resolution for all those years Haywood and Hill spent hiding their relationship. Part of this likely stems from the fact that Haywood didn’t come out publicly all that long ago and still seems fairly uncomfortable talking about his sexuality. There isn’t really any takeaway beyond the sense that Haywood wants to occupy the space between being helpful and a full-on activist. Hurley misses an easy opportunity to shed light on the hardships forced upon LGBTQ athletes, never quite suggesting that something in that culture needs to change.

While it’s easy to understand that Haywood doesn’t want his sexuality to define his legacy, Hurley suffers from a surface level approach to its central narrative. The film would have been better off simply presenting more of a career retrospective, without putting too much weight on Haywood’s coming out to anchor such a large portion of its runtime. Hurley Haywood is an easy man to admire, an individual who achieved great success in a field that still remains hostile to a core part of his existence. The documentary about his life doesn’t really do justice to the man, a film that plays it too safe to present anything meaningful for LGBTQ athletes who might look to Haywood’s story for inspiration.

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Tuesday

2

April 2019

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COMMENTS

Dumbo Is an Overstuffed Mess

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For all the talk of Disney live-action remake fatigue, Dumbo made a lot of sense to get one of its own. Given that the original animated classic clocked in at just over an hour, there was plenty of space for an update to spread its own wings, or ears. Unfortunately, director Tim Burton never quite seemed sure which direction to take his adaptation in.

Burton’s Dumbo starts off on the right foot, evoking nostalgic memories of the original circus. The sight of the seminal Casey Jr. Circus Train is immediately contrasted with the dour state of the Medici Brothers’ Circus, facing financial problems in a post-World-War 1 America. Danny Devito was perfectly cast as owner/ringmaster Max Medici, in search of a marquee act to keep his troupe afloat. While this dilemma could have easily served as the main plot point for the film, Burton had loftier expectations, to the film’s detriment.

In the absence of talking animals, Colin Farrell is tasked with anchoring the moral heart of the film. Farrell’s Holt Farrier and his two children are perfectly serviceable voices for the titular elephant, but the emphasis on their family crisis simply isn’t as interesting as anything involving Dumbo. CGI Dumbo is adorable, but he’s weirdly often not the focus of his own movie.

To make matters worse, Michael Keaton and Eva Green are thrown into the film’s second half, forcing a conflict that feels increasingly forced as time goes on. Neither character is particularly fleshed out, a puzzling decision when you consider that the movie spends a good deal of its first half establishing various members of the Medici troupe. With a crowded human cast, the climax is robbed of much of its emotional impact, having not adequately invested in the characters we’re supposed to care about.

Dumbo’s needlessly over the top third act is one of the most chaotic disasters ever depicted in a Disney film. Too often, the plot feels reverse engineered in service to Burton’s grand vision of a finale and not a natural sequence of events. Characters behave in peculiar ways that receive little to no build up. Worst of all, Dumbo feels like a bit player in his own movie.

Much of Dumbo is competently crafted. The sets are beautiful, the CGI is well designed, and the performances are perfectly compelling. The script is another story, all over the place with little flow from scene to scene. Had the film simply centered itself on the key conflict of the original, a cute little elephant who misses his mother, it wouldn’t have been very difficult to produce an enjoyable cinematic experience. Instead, Burton flies all over the map with his plot, ensuring that none of its pieces connect by the end of the film.

Dumbo squanders its charming source material with an overstuffed narrative that moves too quickly to explore its characters. One of the chief complaints of the Disney live-action remakes is that they inevitably pale in comparison to the original. While that was probably bound to be the case for a movie based on one of the most iconic animated films of all time, a live-action Dumbo had plenty to offer. It just could have done with a fewer plotlines taking time away from that cute little flying elephant.

 

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