Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Monthly Archive: June 2019

Sunday

23

June 2019

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Legion Remains One of Television’s Greatest Visual Achievements

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

Like its titular character, Legion is a very difficult show to describe. It’s a superhero show without heroes. The morality of David Haller isn’t so much grey as it is rainbow, impossible to decipher yet present in an unmistakable fashion. Legion is quite possibly the most beautiful show on television, with stunning visuals giving the eyes plenty to digest while leaving the mind dazzled and bewildered.

Season three continues the battle for control of David’s mind. The powerful mutant, played by Dan Stevens, seeks the help of a time-traveling mutant named Switch (Lauren Tsai) to help fix his mind after decades of abuse from Amahl Farouk (Navid Negahban). David’s former friends have allied with Division 3 on board an airship, doing their best to manage a situation far beyond any of their control.

As always, Legion remains a difficult show to follow. David’s motives are as elusive as ever, a protagonist seemingly unconcerned with the notions of good and evil. The show offers a remarkable visual portrait of David’s mental health in a constant struggle to unpack the years of abuse from the Shadow King,

The visuals on Legion are out of this world, fitting for a show that often takes viewers outside reality. Stevens’ performance in the lead role often serves as a suitable counterbalance, bringing a sense of calm to all the chaos. For all the times the viewer is left staring at the screen wondering what just happened, David is there to crack a slight smile as he embraces the world around him.

Legion is much better at offering food for thought rather than any sense of concrete answers. The urge to simply sit back and enjoy the ride is contrasted with a narrative that gives you just enough to start to put the pieces together, even if you’re never really left with the idea that the show wants to let you in on its secrets. It’s a journey with an unclear destination, an indecipherable map, and a cast of characters who rarely seem to have any more of a clue than the audience. Simply put, it’s a singularly bizarre piece of television.

As the final chapter in David’s saga, season three does carry the sense that it is headed toward a conclusion. You never quite know what direction each episode will head in, or how many times it’ll alter course, but the power struggle between David and Farouk remains at the core of the series.

Legion is among the finest comic book adaptations in existence, portraying the wildly inaccessible David Haller as faithfully as could possibly be imagined. The show brings out emotions you wouldn’t expect after two years spent redefining all the norms of television. With Disney’s purchase of Fox set to usher in a new chapter of the X-Men, it’s perhaps fitting that the story belonging to one of the most eclectic characters in its universe would come to an end.

For a show that could, in theory, go on forever, having shattered all expectations of time and space, the narrative finds a way to leave its audience feeling satisfied with this three-season arc. David Haller’s world is one that seems impossible to grow tired of, though the confines of television often call for shows this wild to enjoy shorter runs. Legion is one the weirdest shows ever made. Season three concludes a beautifully strange journey that often exists outside the world of beginnings and ends. Few shows can pack in so many different emotions in a single hour.

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Friday

21

June 2019

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Toy Story 4 Is Another Heartfelt Pixar Gem

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Few moments in children’s cinema have been as soul-crushingly devastating as the ending of Toy Story 3, where a college-bound Andy passes on his beloved toys to Bonnie for a new generation of adventures. Whether or not that scene should have marked the end of the franchise contrasts with the notion that the series is unlikely to top that level of emotional resonance on the tearjerker scale. Of course, there’s no inherent reason for Woody, Buzz, and co. to be limited to just three movies, beyond the sense of sentimentality that’s been such a strong anchor for the franchise since its debut in 1995.

Toy Story 4 reigns in its pontification on the meaning of being a toy a bit. Philosophy is still a predominant force driving the narrative, as Bonnie’s new arts and crafts creation Forky straddles the line between child’s plaything and literal garbage. Forky’s diminished sense of self-worth presents a broader question as to the continued purpose for Woody, who tries his best to remain a pivotal piece of Bonnie’s life.

Complicating matters is the return of Bo Peep, Molly’s nightlight and Woody’s love interest for the first two films. Bo has been living life as an abandoned toy, fending for herself and her flock in the absence of a child to care for. The cruel world has been unforgiving to the porcelain Bo, but her continued resiliency sheds light on an unexplored reality for the Toy Story universe. Life goes on.

Absent from Toy Story 4 is the sense of comradery that has defined the series. Hamm, Rex, Slinky, Jesse, Bullseye, and the Potato Heads have been largely relegated to cameo roles alongside Bonnie’s other toys. There’s plenty of humor to be found in the film, but the lack of one-liners from the original gang is certainly disappointing for lifelong fans of the franchise. Forky has a lot of funny lines, delivered by a perfectly cast Tony Hale, but he also sucks up a lot of the attention as the main force driving the narrative. For better or for worse, Buzz Lightyear spends most of the film playing second fiddle to a plastic fork.

Toy Story 4 functions as an enjoyable standalone adventure while serving as a worthwhile epilogue to the series. The series has always been Woody’s story first and foremost, but the seminal cowboy projects much of his anxiety in service to others. Here, Woody is allowed to be a bit more introspective as to the way he’s lived his life. Love is not a linear objective, but life has its trajectories that all of us must adapt to.

It’s a cold reality to admit that there’s a world out there beyond play time. It’s easy to relate to the toys in Toy Story because none of us want to envision a life spent sitting in a box in the attic. For many, we fear growing up because it means we have to say goodbye to the comforts and securities we’ve know. There’s always a tomorrow to be had, even in a dusty antique store.

Toy Story 4 isn’t as much of a tearjerker as its predecessors, but the franchise retains a powerful grasp on the emotions of its audience. Growing up is often sad, but that doesn’t need to be a bad thing. As someone who was about the same age as Bonnie when the original Toy Story came out, these movies will always possess the ability to turn me into a nostalgic weeping mess, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s good to feel, to know that even when life is sad, things will be okay.

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Monday

17

June 2019

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Jessica Jones’ Third Season Is a Boring End to the Netflix Marvel Experiment

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The television landscape has changed quite a bit since Daredevil and Jessica Jones premiered in 2015, promising an ambitious crossover between four separate Netflix series interconnected in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With seemingly every major company looking for a bigger slice of the streaming pie, the relationship between Disney and Netflix was bound to sour, though the idea of rival networks producing content for each other is far from uncommon. The Netflix MCU experiment is ending not by any narrative mandate, but because two companies didn’t have the will to coexist.

Season three doesn’t feel like a final season. With news of its cancellation announced back in February, there’s a bit of disconnect between expectations and reality. Episodes that weren’t necessarily filmed as the concluding arc are delivered to fans as such, unsurprisingly landing with a bit of a thud. This wasn’t supposed to be the end, but we all knew it was ahead of time.

With that in mind, it’s hard to accept the glacier-slow pacing of Jessica Jones’ character development. She’s still a moody detective who seems to care more about bourbon than being a superhero. Much of this is a product of Jones’ personality as a character, but so much has happened to her over the past two seasons with shockingly little growth to show for it on screen.

Krysten Ritter often looks quite bored delivering her lines this season, even after putting aside the deadpan nature of her character. Gone are the powerful zingers that endeared Jones to the audience in past seasons. She looks tired, disinterested, and ready for the end. Her lines are spoken frequently without a hint of enunciation, like she’s reading them off the page for the first time.

Exacerbating this dilemma is the strong character development from the supporting cast. Trish, Malcolm, and Hogarth are all in drastically different positions than season one. Their characters have clearly drawn out arcs that are easy to follow and even easier to get behind. Meanwhile, Jessica is still the same old Jessica. The contrast rarely works to her advantage.

It rarely helps matters that Jessica is often paired with the anemic Erik Gelden, played by newcomer Benjamin Walker. For all the intriguing characters Jessica has shared screentime with, Gelden is very bland and boring. Like the burger Gelden can’t stop ranting about, he’s never as interesting as the show wants him to be.

Like every single season of Netflix’s Marvel series, the pacing problems are a persistent issue. Jones feels a bit sidelined in the early episodes, an issue again exacerbated by the fast-paced plotlines from her supporting players. While serialized TV has become the norm, Jessica Jones is a series that would have benefited immensely from giving its title character a couple of self-contained detective stories each season.

Season three does win plenty of points on the inclusivity front. While the MCU movies have been painfully behind the times on LGBTQ representation, Jessica Jones brings a nuanced approach to queer themes. Hogarth’s sexuality is explored extensively throughout the season. Transgender actresss Aneesh Sheth plays Jessica’s assistant Gillian without any scenes that explore the nature of her gender identity, a radical sense of normalcy that’s often sorely missing from on screen representations of the trans community.

TV shows in the streaming era rarely run more than five or six seasons, with shorter runs increasingly becoming the norm. Three seasons in, the show never has any sense of urgency to make the most of its time. Even if this wasn’t the end, season three meanders far too often to leave any kind of lasting impression. Netflix’s Marvel experiment has had its fair share of misfires, but these characters deserved better than an unceremonious ending.

 

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Saturday

8

June 2019

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Pose’s Second Season Is a Triumph of Inclusivity

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For all the accolades that Pose received for its groundbreaking first season, a Peabody Award and Golden Globe nomination for Best Drama among others, the series’ greatest triumph has been its portrayal of transgender life as more than the “trapped in the wrong body” trope. Too many other narratives surrounding our community, often spearheaded by cisgender men, struggle to wrap their figurative heads around the idea that many trans people have much bigger things to worry about on a daily basis than our individual histories with gender dysphoria. Our collective history possesses so many rich stories that still need to be told.

Season two takes a three-year time jump to the year 1990. The balls are still the centerpiece of the community and the characters are still struggling to stay afloat in a New York City that’s still very far away from even beginning to reckon with its various injustices. The AIDS epidemic continues to wreak havoc, making funeral parlor visits a necessary aspect of everyday life. The glamour of the balls stands in stark contrast to the ever-present sense of fear looming in the air.

Blanca remains the emotional core of the series, raising up the House of Evangelista with her tireless drive to better herself and her family. Mj Rodriguez gives an Emmy-worthy performance, exploring the nuances of Blanca’s vibrant contrarian personality while retaining a motherly sense of devotion toward her community. Refusing to succumb to her HIV, she serves as an example to all of us to never settle for a reality beneath one’s value as a human being.

Indya Moore was perhaps the breakout star of season one. Angel’s arc this season benefits immensely from the absence of Evan Peters’ Stan, allowing her to pursue her dreams as a model without a loathsome empty suit toying with her emotions. With the world of 1990 setting its eyes on Madonna’s “Vogue,” which finds its origins in ball culture, Angel harnesses her talents to reclaim some of what had been appropriated from their community.

Pose has always been a show with a two-pronged track to its narrative. The personal lives of its characters intertwine with the broader historical context of the era. Sometimes this approach comes across a little clunky, as the scripts often dump large helpings of exposition all at once in a manner that wouldn’t score too many points at the ball. This method does enhance Pose’s ability to deliver teachable moments to an audience that may not be very familiar with the history of the LGBTQ community, but it would definitely benefit at times from a softer hand.

While many period dramas in this current age of TV can meander a bit through their seasons, Pose tends to make each episode count. Often times, the show casts a more natural plot progression aside for grandiose deliverables at the end of its episodes. With a large ensemble cast and a desire to capture cultural moments of the 90s, the show doesn’t have enough time in ten episodes to take things slow. Knowing that prestige dramas these days rarely last beyond four or five seasons, it’s understandable to see them cut a few corners in service to a larger cause, even if some scenes come across as unrealistic or rushed.

The balls remain as fabulous as ever, even if you’re left wondering at times if all the money spent on costumes and trophies might find a better use for an impoverished community. The score is absolutely spectacular this year, enhancing the emotional impact of many of the scenes. The show nails the 90s aesthetic quite well without ever letting it be a distraction.

Pose remains the strongest LGBTQ narrative on television with a second season that lets its heroes shine without ever dimming the lights on the bleak realities of the era. Each episode is filled with laughter, tears, and a whole lot of heart. The plot progression might not always be as graceful as its characters are on the runway, but the show knows better than most that time is limited. Pose makes each moment count.

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Friday

7

June 2019

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Dark Phoenix Is an Enjoyable, Flawed Sendoff for the X-Men

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For all the ways that 2011’s X-Men: First Class represented a fresh start for the superhero franchise that helped establish the genre as a cinematic powerhouse, the series never really let go of its roots. The majority of the principal cast of the original trilogy returned for 2014’s Days of Future Past, which also served as their do-over sendoff following the lackluster reception to 2006’s The Last Stand. Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine remained a major part of the franchise, starring in his own trilogy in addition to cameo appearances in both First Class and 2016’s Apocalypse. Deadpool, a character first played by Ryan Reynolds in 2009’s poorly received X-Men Origins: Wolverine, existed ostensibly in both worlds, while shattering the fourth wall in just about every way imaginable.

The X-Men franchise’s timeline is such a splintered mess that it’s hard to call the James McAvoy/Jennifer Lawrence/Michael Fassbender-lead team a reboot, a prequel, or even a second generation. Like Days of Future Past, Dark Phoenix set out to clean up the mess that was The Last Stand, while serving as a farewell to Fox era before Disney takes over the reins. Deadpool is likely going to be only remaining tie to the franchise that first began in 2000, assuming his R-rated humor has a place in Disney’s family-friendly world.

Dark Phoenix is not a film particularly concerned with serving as the finale for nearly twenty years of history. The film is the first with the name X-Men in the title not to feature an appearance from Wolverine. Only four actors from First Class remain, McAvoy, Lawrence, Fassbender, and Nicholas Hoult. Many of the X-Men in Dark Phoenix, including Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey, only made their debut in the previous film. The lackluster reception to Apocalypse further complicates the idea that this current iteration of the team is capable of meeting the broader expectations that the franchise’s extensive history has created.

The best it could hope to achieve is a satisfying send off to the four characters who have carried this chapter of the franchise. McAvoy, Lawrence, Fassbender, and Hoult all get their moments to reflect on their journey, even if Dark Phoenix’s broader narrative isn’t really about wrapping up the X-Men. It’s a film about Jean Grey that’s only sort of about Jean Grey. Part of this reflects the reality of Turner’s late entrance into the series, as The Last Stand’s attempt at the storyline featured Famke Janssen, whose earlier take on the character had played a pivotal role on the team up to that point.

The audience simply hasn’t had enough time with Turner’s Grey for the character to feel all that compelling. At times the film feels like it’s relying too hard on the audience’s familiarity with either the character or Turner as an actress, spending little time presenting a case for why we should care about this iteration of the powerful mutant. With obligations to wrap up the franchise, this approach is hardly a bad idea, but the film’s emotional core at times feels completely all over the place.

The narrative ends up working pretty well as a film. The action scenes are quite enjoyable, giving each mutant a chance to work their magic one last time. Jessica Chastain gives a compelling performance as Vuk, the leader of the alien race the D’Bari, who seek to harness the power of the Phoenix after the force destroyed their homeworld. At times, Vuk feels a bit too obligatory as an antagonist, but the film’s preoccupation with X-Men’s own sense of morality is a better use of its time.

At times, the film frames Charles Xavier as its true villain for using his school as a farm system for broader political motivations, a mildly awkward heel turn for McAvoy that doesn’t feel entirely earned given the arc of the character for the past few films. The humans vs. mutants dynamic remains present, but isn’t the true focus of the narrative. Casting Xavier as a manipulator is a means to an end, which is certainly fitting given that this is in fact, the end.

With a runtime of just under two hours, Dark Phoenix moves at a brisk pace considering all it needed to accomplish. The film presents a self-contained narrative while simultaneously wrapping up the franchise’s extensive history. It juggles all of that surprisingly well, with an excellent final act that brings everything all together.

The biggest letdown of the recent X-Men era has been the poor handling of Evan Peter’s Quicksilver, who looked poised to be the breakout star of the franchise after his excellent debut in Days of Future Past. Quicksilver never reached the high of that beautifully shot kitchen sequence set to the music of Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle,” and only plays a minimal role in Dark Phoenix. Under different circumstances, Peters might have had a solo outing in the role plus another installment in the main franchise, but Disney’s acquisition of Fox called for this to be the end of the line.

Dark Phoenix was not particularly well-equipped to be the finale for close to two decades of franchise lore, but it makes the most of its truncated circumstances. We barely know these iterations of Jean, Cyclops, Nightcrawler, and Storm. It’s hardly this film’s fault that the franchise is headed into hibernation before an eventual reboot into the MCU. It’s an awkward goodbye, but an enjoyable movie. McAvoy, Lawrence, Fassbender, and Hoult all deserve better, but they made the most of an imperfect situation.

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Monday

3

June 2019

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Godzilla: King of the Monsters Has Too Much Going On

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

Decades before massively interconnected universes took hold in American cinema, Godzilla roamed the earth fighting whatever titan parent company Toho could throw at him. Since 1954, the King of the Monsters has battled King Kong, Frankenstein, Mothra and a whole litany of creatures who have spawned plenty of spin-off films of their home. The idea of Legendary Pictures doing a MonsterVerse that includes Godzilla makes plenty of sense, a natural trajectory for the character.

The execution of this broader universe created some unfortunate trouble for Godzilla: King of the Monsters, a direct sequel to 2014’s Godzilla. Five years is a long time to wait between installments, especially when so few of the human characters returned. As a character, Godzilla needs no introduction, but King of the Monsters largely relies on the fallout of the last movie.

Newcomers Drs. Mark and Emma Russell, played by Kyle Chandler and Vera Farmiga, are essentially retconned into the latter portion of the first film, having lost their son in the 2014 attack. The real-world fallout from Godzilla’s last romp through civilization weighs heavily on King of the Monsters, as the characters ponder the morality of what to do with such magnificent yet destructive creatures. Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, and David Strathairn reprise their earlier roles, fighting to understand humanity’s role in circumstances beyond our control.

The trouble with having the earlier film play such a prominent role in the narrative is that the film never really seems clear on what it wants to be, too overstuffed with strands of plot to form anything cohesive. Millie Bobby Brown, who plays the Russell’s only surviving child Madison, gives an energetic performance that often feels out of place given everything else going on. Charles Dance’s villainous Alan Jonah finds himself in a similar role, an awkward antagonist that the film doesn’t seem to have much time for.

The ties to the earlier film do serve some useful narrative purposes, allowing the film to get going without much need for world building. Watanabe’s Dr. Ishirō Serizawa is given a few moments to shine, delivering some emotionally resonant scenes that are undoubtedly enhanced by his prior appearance. Between Serizawa and his team of researchers and military personnel, it’s hard to see why the Russell family was needed for the narrative. As a result, the film feels overstuffed with human characters, quite problematic for a film featuring multiple monsters.

Godzilla feels surprisingly diminished in his own movie. Much of the focus is given to Ghidorah, understandable given the monster’s role as the villain, but the title character barely gets a moment to shine. There’s simply too much going on for anybody in the film to stand out.

The action scenes are well-crafted, but there’s too few of them for a film with a runtime of over two hours. The script has a few timely bits of humor, but the dialogue is pretty clichéd and boring. The film didn’t need to do much to create an entertaining experience, but muddled the waters with an overstuffed narrative that failed to leave any kind of lasting impression.

The film spends a bit too much time setting up next year’s Godzilla vs. Kong. While every entry in an interconnected universe naturally needs to set up the next installment, the best teasers tend to be either subtle or at the end of the narrative. King of the Monsters includes numerous mentions of Skull Island throughout the film, a puzzling decision considering the amount of creatures already present in the narrative. Instead of making the audience excited for the next film, the end result makes one feel a bit disappointed that King Kong didn’t make his entrance in this one.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters clutters its narrative with too many loose strands of plot while failing to let its title character shine. None of these iconic monsters needed grand introductions to a public who’s known about them for decades. An enjoyable experience would’ve sufficed. Unfortunately, this film tried to do too much, crumbling under its own excess.

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