Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Monthly Archive: August 2019

Thursday

29

August 2019

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What to Make of Star Wars – Galaxy’s Edge

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The launch of Star Wars – Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyland has had its fair share of hiccups, from a poorly implemented reservation system to the delays involving the land’s marquee attraction, Rise of the Resistance. With a construction cost of over one billion dollars, Disneyland’s first new land since the early 90s features plenty of gorgeous scenery, fourteen acres of full immersion in Star Wars lore. It’s the kind of project perfectly built for first impressions.

For an area of the park built to last for decades, first impressions aren’t the sole barometer to gauge the impact that Galaxy’s Edge will have on the Happiest Place on Earth. Much of the reported low attendance throughout the summer of 2019 can be blamed on blackout dates imposed on the lower tier Annual Passports (APs), forcing plenty of people who have shelled out hundreds of dollars to Disney to wait an additional three months to visit the new land. While every day welcomes plenty of out-of-town newcomers to Disneyland and California Adventure, the park clearly relies on SoCal residents to fill out the lines, even during the busy summer months.

Galaxy’s Edge is absolutely beautiful, a dream come true for countless Star Wars superfans. The vast land is practically sensory overload, full of droids, rebel fighters, and the Millennium Falcon itself to explore. It all seems like a lot, at first. Second, third, or fourth time through, the whole thing starts to feel a little bit smaller.

To some extent, that’s natural. Wonder and awe works best the first time through. The problem with Galaxy’s Edge is that immersion and depth are fundamentally two different concepts. There isn’t really a heck of a lot to do, and most of the activities are rather expensive.

Some of this feeling can be blamed on the delays surrounding Rise of the Resistance. The idea of Cars Land opening without Radiator Springs, or rival Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter debuting without Forbidden Journey, seems completely preposterous. Smugglers Run is certainly more immersive than either of those parks B-rides, but it’s still a motion simulator. There’s the thrill of riding the Millennium Falcon contrasting with the reality of watching PlayStation 3-era graphics while being distracted by the need to push a few buttons.

Smugglers Run is hardly an E ticket attraction. From seemingly all reports, Rise of the Resistance will be, but even with its marquee attraction, Galaxy’s Edge will still be a fourteen-acre park with only two rides. A trip through Olga’s Cantina will undoubtedly be an experience to remember for many, but the $42 dollar cocktails aren’t the kind of fare that many will line up to consume more than once. The same holds true for the “hand-built” lightsabers or the Droid Depot — lots of fun, but not built for return visits.

Since its debut, Galaxy’s Edge has often been compared to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in terms of total immersion. Both lands place a high degree of emphasis on the full experience provided by the land, not just the thrills from their rides. Ostensibly, you’re supposed to enjoy walking around Hogsmeade as much as riding Forbidden Journey. Disney appears to be banking on Olga’s Cantina being as entertaining as Smugglers Run, a notion supported by their similar wait times throughout the early months of the land.

Beyond the obvious cash grab that stems from elevating shopping to the same tier of experience as rides, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter provides a certain function for Universal Studios Hollywood that isn’t particularly needed for Disneyland. Walking around Hogsmeade is certainly fun, but even a packed day at Universal leaves a fair amount of time to do just that. Universal has about a third of the rides as its SoCal neighbor even before you consider California Adventure, reflected in its shorter park hours on most days. Even after seeing a show or two, there’s plenty of time to walk around and take in the sights that Hogwarts has to offer.

Though Disneyland is often open for upwards of fourteen hours, it can be very hard to fit everything you want to do in on a single day. Several of the hotel package options only give you one park a day, making it easier to get the full Disneyland and California Adventure experiences, but there’s simply so much to do in both parks. For APs, you can arrive at opening, leave at closing, and still be able to count all the stuff you weren’t able to do on both hands, even with a MaxPass.

How much idle time spent wandering around Galaxy’s Edge does someone really want to do with all that other stuff to consider? That question is a bit tricky even if you try to separate APs from people who are only there for a day or two. For the latter category, time is limited, but for APs, there’s still a finite amount of activities for any single one person to be able to do. The scenery is a lot of fun to look at, but there reaches a point where continuing to look at an A-Wing fighter comes at the cost of riding some of the park’s other marquee attractions.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, along with Cars Land and Animal Kingdom’s Pandora – The World of Avatar, filled obvious voids in each park. These lands provided immersive places for people to check out after experiencing each park’s more limited opportunities. Disneyland has never had this problem. Well before Galaxy’s Edge broke ground, Walt Disney’s original theme park set the gold standard around the world.

The decision to base Galaxy’s Edge off a new planet, Batuu, rather than an existing world in Star Wars lore has proved a bit controversial. Enjoyment of the land requires a desire to immerse oneself in an entirely new chapter of the fandom, putting aside the presence of the Millennium Falcon and a few other familiar elements. The fact that Batuu feels a lot like Tatooine probably doesn’t help for those who would have rather seen Mos Eisley in the first place.

Cars Land is a beautiful recreation of Radiator Springs. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter brings J.K. Rowling’s beloved landmarks to life. Pandora reminds people of why Avatar made billions at the box office with its exquisite landscapes.

Batuu is something new, with hints of beloved lore. Segments of the Star Wars fandom have been at war with its governing body ever since George Lucas started tinkering with his movies. In the expansive community that loves this world, Galaxy’s Edge didn’t really stake out a base of support. It’s trying to build a new one, but that takes time. For Disneyland, that’s time that people need to want to take out of doing other things, including plenty of attractions designed around capitalizing on nostalgia rather than subverting it.

Much of this sentiment won’t fully apply to the version of Galaxy’s Edge opening at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida. Unlike its California counterpart, Galaxy’s Edge has much more room to be the main attraction in a park that hasn’t been open since 1955. By comparison, Hollywood Studios opened in 1989, only four years before Disneyland’s version of Mickey’s Toontown, the last new land to open before Galaxy’s Edge.

Disneyland earned the title of The Happiest Place on Earth decades before Galaxy’s Edge came around. A couple trips through the impressive new land give the impression that it won’t soon cause people to abandon the attractions that made the magic in the first place. Galaxy’s Edge may have cost a billion dollars to build, but the behemoth it spawned proves to capture surprisingly little of the mind’s attention compared to the other lands in the greatest theme park in the world.

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Monday

26

August 2019

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13 Reasons Why Returns to Form in a Messy, Entertaining Third Season

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For all the narrative issues surrounding 13 Reasons Why’s lackluster second season, two stood out as the most damaging. Without the tapes to anchor the narrative, the show turned to the Baker’s ill-advised trial against the school to serve as a plot device for each episode. The absence of Hannah’s voice as the narrator was filled with her presence as a ghost haunting Clay (Dylan Minnette). News of Katherine Langford’s departure from the cast allowed 13 Reasons Why to move on from the story it existed to serve, leaving behind a strong group of compelling characters to center the third season around.

A large amount of season three is dedicated to a new character serving as the show’s narrator, a person barely aware of Hannah Baker’s story. Amorowat “Ani” Anysia (Grace Saif), a transfer student to Liberty High finds community among Clay’s friends, who have rallied together in the wake of a narrowly avoided mass shooting. Ani’s home life is a little complicated to say the least, living in the same house as Bryce Walker (Justin Prentice) as her mother cares for his grandfather.

Ani’s presence at the heart of the narrative is way too convenient for the show’s own good. The main plot of season three is the murder mystery surrounding Bryce’s death, with Ani serving as the link between the disgraced rapist and his former life back at Liberty. The connection makes some sense for the sake of the story, but it’s a decision that’s hard to square with what is ostensibly the broader point of this show, to show how the characters are moving on after all they’ve been through. Instead, for whatever reason, much of the post-Hannah era is defined by a brand new character who seems to find herself in practically every scene. That’s bound to be polarizing, even under the best of circumstances.

Season three remains enamored with controversy, presenting a three-dimensional portrait of Bryce Walker via the same types of flashbacks the show used for Hannah’s backstory. The decision to reveal Bryce’s death in the trailers gave the show some leeway to explore his story without appearing completely tasteless, but the narrative has an uncomfortable determination to humanize him. Morality isn’t black and white, but time spent exploring the grey of Bryce comes at the expense of other characters who haven’t spent the show committing brutal rape.

With Ani taking up a large chunk of the screentime, the show was wise to dispense with many of the tertiary tape characters who no longer had a place in the new dynamic, some of whom aren’t even mentioned at all. A big strength of season one was that it started as Clay & Hannah’s narrative, in keeping with the book, but grew to encompass all the characters who stood out over the course of the narrative, namely Jessica, Justin, Tony, Alex, Zach, and Tyler. Once upon a time, the supporting cast had a reason to play second fiddle to Clay’s journey.

The completion of Hannah’s arc left a void, not only at the top of the cast but also for Clay’s sense of plot progression. Ani was brought in to address the first issue, but the show took a puzzling direction for Clay. In the wake of whatever sense of closure he felt after Hannah’s funeral, Clay has developed quite the savior complex. Generally speaking, trained professionals are supposed to be the ones dealing with drug addicts, rape survivors, and potential mass shooters. In the world of 13 Reasons Why, Clay and his band of friends try to save everything, a group dynamic not all that dissimilar from that of Stranger Things.

Season three returns the show to top form, a narrative as delectable as it is irresponsible. Worldbuilding has always been 13 Reasons Why’s strongest asset, crafting a deep lore within its unique interpretation of high school life. These characters have grown to mean so much to each other over the past three seasons, a depth reflected in its immensely talented cast.

The murder mystery works well for the format, giving the show new life through fresh corpses. Regrettably, 13 Reasons Why hasn’t figured out yet that it doesn’t need plot devices for each episode, or thirteen episodes at all, but the investigation into Bryce’s death flows a lot better than last season’s trial. The writing is strong, constantly finding new elements of its characters’ personalities to explore.

There are plenty of frustrating moments to cringe at, especially for a show so painfully aware of the negative attention it has received. The victims heal, while still sharing screen time with their perpetrators in a dynamic that’s bound to make anyone uncomfortable. This season doesn’t do a lot to shed its controversial image besides shedding some of the more viscerally upsetting imagery.

13 Reasons Why isn’t for everyone, but even with its many hiccups, the show remains immensely well-crafted television. The acting is superb, compelling enough to carry the show through some of its weaker moments. The narrative has a habit of stumbling over itself, somehow managing to retain its power. Season three doesn’t correct every wrong of its lackluster sophomore effort, but the show remains one of the most intriguing programs in this crowded TV landscape.

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Thursday

22

August 2019

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The Harder They Come Is a Reggae-Infused Classic of Jamaican Cinema

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Films like The Harder They Come demonstrate the power of cinema to invite people into cultures they might otherwise remain unfamiliar with. One of the earliest movies from Jamaica to experience a worldwide release, the crime drama helped introduce reggae to a global audience. (looks at the first two sentences- they don’t seem to flow)Shout! Factory’s recent restoration presents the definitive version of the Jamaican classic, a remaster brimming with affection for this important film.

The Harder They Come follows Ivanhoe “Ivan” Martin (Jimmy Cliff), an impoverished young man looking to find his place in the world. Ivan has plenty of talent, but finds himself constantly in trouble for his rebellious tendencies, resisting those in power at every turn. Cliff is mesmerizing in the lead role, often using subtle expressions to convey his character’s frustrations with his situation without much dialogue.

The themes present in the film remain particularly relevant in today’s climate. The main conflict surrounds Ivan’s unhappiness with a record producer offering him only twenty dollars for the titular song, a deal that he quickly learns is the only way to get his music out there in an industry plagued by corruption. The plight of the working man to earn a living wage remains a constant struggle worldwide. The Harder They Come approaches this issue through an entertaining narrative that never loses sight of the serious issues presented.

Cliff’s energetic performance is backed by a memorable soundtrack filled with his own music. Director Perry Henzell possesses a firm grasp on the power of reggae to enhance the narrative, deploying the titular song and Cliff’s “You Can Get It If You Really Want” at key moments in a way that welcomes the audience in. The lyrics are so memorable that it’s easy to sing along as the film progresses. The music and narrative operate in complete harmony, a wildly entertaining experience.

Between the music, the relatable themes, and the action sequences, it’s easy to see how The Harder They Come became a hit on the midnight film circuit. It’s the kind of movie that sticks in your head days after watching it, humming the tunes or thinking about Ivan’s choices throughout the narrative. Great films have a way of leaving a lasting impression beyond the sheer joys provided before the credits started rolling.

Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray restoration gives one the sense of how the film looked when it was being shot in Jamaica, highlighting the beautiful scenery of each location. The film retains its gritty 70s feel while playing perfectly on an HDTV. For a movie that initially struggled to make its mark, the home release gives cinephiles a chance to view this cult classic from the comforts of their own couches.

The Harder They Come is a special film. The cultural significance of its reggae-powered narrative cannot be overstated, but there’s plenty to enjoy before you take into consideration how much the movie meant to its home country. Jimmy Cliff is a force of nature that should not be missed.

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Tuesday

20

August 2019

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The Boys Flips the Script on Superhero Ethics

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There are more superhero-themed movies and television shows being produced than most of us have time to watch, even diehard fans of the genre. The idea of a show where the costumed characters are actually bad guys isn’t particularly unique in a landscape rife with antiheroes. Despite the glut, The Boys stands out for its first-class production values and a stellar cast.

Plenty of comic books take a fairly black and white approach to the concept of good guys and bad guys. The Boys largely ignores this strategy, instead basing its world-building on America’s own approach to good vs. evil. The show features a superhero group called The Seven, controlled by the powerful Vought International, a corporation best described as a defense contractor similar to Blackwater or Raytheon. The military-industrial complex is the true villain of The Boys.

Which isn’t to say that the good guys are particularly all that decent themselves. Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) is a man powered by a hatred of people with superpowers. He blames Homelander (Anthony Starr), the leader of The Seven, for the death of his wife, joining forces with Hugh Campbell (Jack Quaid), who similarly lost his girlfriend due to an accidental collision with The Seven’s A-Train (Jessie T. Usher). Complicating the dynamic is Hugh’s relationship with Seven newcomer Starlight (Erin Moriarty), perhaps the only member of the team concerned with actually helping people.

Part of what makes The Boys such compelling television is that it manages to be subversive without being reactionary. Anyone watching could see parallels between Homelander and Superman, or the resemblance between Vought International and the kind of superhero oversight that powered the narratives of Watchmen or Captain America: Civil War. The show doesn’t quite turn these concepts upside down so much as it challenges its audience to rethink the way we engage with this material at all.

Practically every mainstream superhero has a backstory and a private life, things they do when they’re not saving the world. These plotlines help humanize these characters as people, making them relatable to a general audience. The Boys seeks a similar approach, but it differs in choosing to highlight plenty of the unsavory aspects of human behavior that we generally don’t like to admit.

The real villain of The Boys is capitalism, a particularly formidable foe. The greed of Vought International transforms the concept of altruism into a circus. This dynamic is a challenging one to counter, as Butcher, Hugh, and the Boys find themselves similarly living under the frameworks of society. Who is good? Who is bad? Does that answer exist for any one of us to say?

The eight-episode first season gives the show plenty of time to give its large cast time to shine while establishing the broader world that The Boys inhabits. Some of the subplots hint at real-world themes, from the #MeToo movement to America’s obsession with productivity. There’s very little filler in a narrative that clearly wishes to extend beyond its initial run.

The Boys is one of the most impressive new shows of 2019. Amazon clearly spent a lot of money ensuring that the show’s budget reflected its ambitions. It can be at times a bit uncomfortable to watch, but that’s kind of the point. Traditionally, superheroes are supposed to offer hope and optimism, but The Boys reminds us that humanity is far more complex than that.

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Tuesday

20

August 2019

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I Am Patrick Swayze Is a Touching Tribute to a Hollywood Icon

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With the muscles of an action star and the grace of a ballet dancer, it’s not too hard to understand the appeal behind Patrick Swayze. The man was one of those rare actors with seemingly universal appeal, capable of being both strong and tender. Part of what made his unfortunate death in 2009 so heartbreaking was the idea that Swayze was a soul of genuine warmth, much like the characters he played in hits like Dirty Dancing and Ghost. The new documentary I Am Patrick Swayze chronicles his life as remembered by the people who knew him best.

The narrative presents a broad overview of his upbringing and career, from the time he spent in his mother’s dance studio through his final on-screen role in The Beast. The film blends intimate interviews with Swayze’s wife, Lisa Niemi, and his brother, Don, with plenty of accounts from the actors he worked with, including Rob Lowe, Sam Elliot, and Demi Moore. Their collective recollections paint an intimate portrait of a man constantly striving for excellence in whatever field he pursued.

While Swayze has been regarded as a heartthrob for decades, the film does an excellent job of capturing why he was so loved by those who knew him. Charm is often a difficult concept to put into words. Alongside archival footage, Niemi and others explain Swayze’s appeal with relative ease.

Plenty of documentaries on Hollywood stars feature tributes from their peers. What sets I Am Patrick Swayze apart is the genuine sense of affection that practically every actor interviewed felt for the man. Lowe and Elliot, in particular, get quite emotional reflecting on their friend, reinforcing the idea that Swayze was just as warm in his private life as he appeared on stage.

Though I Am Patrick Swayze is largely a celebration of his life, the documentary doesn’t shy away from taking a critical lens at times. Niemi recounts the issues Swayze had with drinking, recounting the difficult days of their marriage in an intimate sequence. There is the sense that the film didn’t need to go there, but the narrative is so emotionally driven that the fuller picture hardly feels out of place.

With a focus on Swayze’s early life and death alongside his career, the documentary had to be selective with which films to focus on from his vast body of work. The Outsiders, Dirty Dancing, and Ghost receive the bulk of the attention, understandable given their respective legacies. As a huge fan of Point Break, I would have loved to see a bit more time spent revisiting the action classic, but I Am Patrick Swayze balances its time well.

I Am Patrick Swayze makes you fall in love with the man all over again, a beautiful tribute that eloquently explains his vast appeal. Talent like Swayze doesn’t appear very often. Ten years after his death, the documentary reminds us of all the reasons why he’s missed so much.

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Monday

19

August 2019

0

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Balancing a Large Roster of Villains, Batman: Hush Offers an Entertaining Mystery

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Like its source material, Batman: Hush has a lot of characters to juggle, featuring many of the Caped Crusader’s most well-known foes. Adapting the popular story arc presents many challenges for a film with a run time of just under ninety minutes, throwing everything and the kitchen sink at its audience. Juggling its many pieces quite well, Batman: Hush is another strong showing for the DC Animated Movie Universe.

The basic plot follows Bruce Wayne’s relationships with Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, and childhood friend Thomas Elliot as he attempts to take a night off from crime-fighting. A recent crime wave makes a vacation impossible, leading to a nasty fall for the Dark Knight. An effort to get to the bottom of the chaos leads Batman to a mysterious figure called Hush, who seems to know far too much about Bruce’s identity.

True to its hero’s roots, Hush has the feel of a detective story, with mystery lurking at every turn. The pacing is top-notch, introducing plenty of villains quickly without making anything feel rushed. The quick runtime leads to some plot points being cut, but the film covers quite a bit of ground. Perhaps most impressive was the way it manages to include Superman without making the whole sequence feel like sensory overload.

Much of the film, particularly the relationship between Wayne and Kyle, serves as a broader commentary on prevalent themes throughout Batman’s long and storied history. There is a certain challenge presented in even attempting to explore the idea of Wayne settling down, as the audience knows this won’t happen, but the film manages to explore this dynamic with grace. It’s easy to get lost in lore that’s been around for decades, but Hush never bites off more than it can chew.

As expected, the voice cast is spectacular. Jason O’Mara plays a nuanced Batman, working well off Jennifer Morrison’s Catwoman. There are perhaps points where you wonder how Kyle doesn’t recognize Bruce’s voice in the suit, but the suspension of disbelief has often asked this of superhero films.

While the film juggles its many villains quite well, Batman’s sidekicks look a bit superfluous throughout Hush. Batgirl is largely reduced to a cameo, but the film never seems quite sure what to do with Nightwing, who’s consistently present without being particularly important. Seeing the two on the sidelines isn’t a particularly big deal, but their presence is a bit distracting relative to their roles in the narrative.

Batman: Hush is a very fun film that explores the franchise without ever feeling like a “greatest hits” piece. The large cast of villains serves their purpose, aiding to the well-crafted detective story. The film possesses an introspective lens without relying on nostalgia for emotional resonance. As summer winds down, Hush is the perfect comfort food for fans of the franchise, full of warm feelings that remind you why people still care about Bruce Wayne.

 

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Monday

19

August 2019

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Good Boys Captures The Essence of Youth Alongside Plenty of Laughs

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Middle school is a challenging time for many in the United States. Puberty and all its associated hormonal changes bring out a lot of conflicting emotions. Childhood friends naturally grow apart as each pursues their own individual interests. The urge to grow up constantly conflicts with the desire for things to stay the same, an often contradictory and certainly confusing era.

Good Boys is more of a film about friendship than aging, understanding the intertwined relationship between the two. Max (Jacob Tremblay), Thor (Brady Noon), and Lucas (Keith L. Williams) have been friends for their entire lives, referring to their small clique as “The Bean Bag Boys.” The beginning of middle school threatens the status quo, as each of the boys possess different interests that could potentially tear their trio apart.

A drone borrowed from Max’s father (Will Forte) sends the boys on a quest to avoid punishment after disobeying orders not to play with the expensive toy. The subsequent adventure stays within the confines of the ages of the leads, often diving into the realm of absurd without being unrealistic. The digital age has opened up plenty of less than age-appropriate doors for pre-teens.

The film is wildly profane for a narrative anchored by children. The kids frequently swear and find themselves in plenty of sexually-explicitly scenarios, willfully ignorant of their surroundings. Shock value makes up a lot of the humor, but the writing and acting are quite strong, allowing for plenty of laugh-out-loud moments that don’t rely strictly on cringe comedy.

For some, the crude humor coming out of the mouths of children might be too much. The child actors have an uncanny sense of comedic timing for jokes meant to sail right over their characters’ heads. Some of the laughs come from their obliviousness to the situations, but they’re not there to be the butt of the gags. There’s a level of deadpan comedy present that becomes oddly endearing after a while.

Plenty of its moments are absurdist in nature, but the narrative never loses sight of reality. Kids these days are exposed to quite of a lot of horrifying imagery that makes plenty of us happy to have grown up in an era before the Internet. There are plenty of hilarious moments born out of watching the children react to situations that maybe shouldn’t feel as normal to us as adults as they often do.

Lurking beneath all the inappropriate jokes is a layer of warmth to the narrative. For all the situations that the boys don’t understand, the three do possess a level of recognition for the transient nature of this stage in their lives. They’re best friends, for now, completely unsure of what the future will hold.

Good Boys couples its mature humor with themes that resonate for audiences of all ages, even those that need adult supervision to see the film. Growing up is scary. The film tackles the sensation of aging in a mature manner while maintaining a sense of optimism.

Few films manage to be simultaneously hilarious and heartfelt. Powered by an excellent script and some top-notch performances from its young leads, Good Boys is a late summer hit. Children might be a little horrified by some of the scenarios, but the life lessons presented are well worth a few unsavory conversations after the credits roll.

 

 

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Sunday

18

August 2019

2

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BH90210 Is a Bland Lifeless Reboot

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The question of whether there are too many reboots can be a bit misleading in the streaming era. The notion that there are more television revivals than any one of us could possibly care about certainly exists, but the same holds true for the broader landscape as a whole. Considering the lack of restraints that traditional broadcast primetime once presented, as was the case when Beverly Hills, 90210 first debuted, the only pressing question for reboots is whether or not they have anything interesting to say.

BH90210 aims to be a different kind of reboot, a scripted series that focuses not on the characters, but the actors who played them. Instead of checking in on Brenda Walsh and Kelly Taylor, we see what’s up with Shannen Doherty and Jennie Garth. Such an approach carries some novelty appeal, but the concept finds itself in a tricky position, needing the execution to be more interesting than a conventional reboot. Unfortunately, it isn’t.

The show utilizes a “reboot within a reboot” approach, using Garth and Tori Spelling to reunite the cast for a 90210 revival. The writing isn’t very good, but the bigger issue is the fact that the audience is expected to believe there is a world where these actors would have expressed even an iota of reluctance to come back. Time hasn’t been too horrible to Jason Priestly, Ian Ziering, or any of the others, but it’s not as if any of them went on to any fame greater than what they enjoyed during the show’s original run.

Even assuming that there’s an audience that would rather see the actors playing themselves instead of their characters, BH90210 is too short on substance. The show wastes an easy opportunity to provide some semblance of commentary on reboot culture, or why audiences long to return to the past. It’s predictable at every turn, full of clichés and jokes that fall flat.

The actors themselves often look shielded, unable to allow themselves enough vulnerability to create compelling storylines. There are strands of plot here and there, including financial difficulties, infidelity, and queer experimentation, but it’s all layered underneath a bland surface of success. The show rarely allows its stars to be viewed as the has-beens they appear to be, protecting their sense of fame at the cost of the narrative.

The acting itself is decent enough. There’s some entertainment value in watching the cast enjoy each other’s company. Trouble is, it’s hard not to view the whole exercise as a wasted opportunity, a product of security rather than necessity.

Beverly Hills, 90210 was a genre-defining hit. Every teen soap that follows owes it a debt of gratitude. With ten seasons and several spin-offs in the books, BH90210 struggles to justify itself as a worthy alternative to those seeking to relive the past. The actors themselves constantly feel too rooted in nostalgia to bring anything new to the table. For an audience craving more of the old gang, simply watching the old episodes remains a more satisfying experience.

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Sunday

11

August 2019

0

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Mike Wallace Is Here Presents a Compelling Portrait of a Legendary Figure in Television News

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Television transformed the role of the free press in countless ways. Newsmagazine programs blended the idea of information with entertainment, with forceful presenters such as Mike Wallace developing a keen sense of interview style that provided much enjoyment for an audience, if not the subject. Mike Wallace Is Here chronicles the life and legacy of one of America’s most consequential journalists.

The film covers a wide scope of Wallace’s long career, from his early days in showbusiness through the end of his time on 60 Minutes. Wallace wore many hats in his career, acting as a radio presenter and on-camera pitchman among others, providing some fascinating insight into how television developed in its infancy. Wallace’s Night Beat set the tempo for his adversarial interviewing style, asking tough questions that translated well to an audience watching at home.

Presented entirely through archival footage, without any narration or contemporary interviews, the film largely lets its subject, who died in 2012, speak for himself. The use of footage of Wallace being interviewed, particularly by fellow 60 Minutes pioneer Morley Safer, allows director Avi Belkin to dive into territory he would otherwise be unable to explore. Wallace feels alive and well throughout the documentary, aided by Belkin’s soft-handed approach.

The use of archival footage also allows the film to thoroughly assess Wallace’s legacy without any of the over the top platitudes that are often showered upon the deceased. Wallace was an immensely important figure in television journalism, whose impact is still being felt to this day. The film explores the ways he shaped his field without drawing unnecessary lines to the present. It’s easy to see Wallace’s approach alive and well in the way that President Trump paints the media as his enemy, but this film isn’t about the present.

Belkin doesn’t shy away from the critical lens. Wallace was a flawed man who often went too hard on his interviewees and was often an absentee father. Oftentimes, he struggled when asked the kinds of questions he favored in practically every interview. The film handles his struggles with depression with grace. Belkin presents his subject as thoroughly human, while never losing sight of the immense legacy he left behind.

Mike Wallace Is Here is a timely film, exploring the past to offer plenty of commentary on the present. Wallace changed the way people engage with the news. The film manages to be a touching tribute that honors both Wallace and his signature adversarial approach.

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Tuesday

6

August 2019

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Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw Is Entertaining Summer Fun

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If you removed the “Fast & Furious Presents” label from Hobbs & Shaw before showing the film to a person who had only seen 2001’s The Fast and the Furious, there’s a good chance they would never suspect the two were connected. The original entry in the long-running franchise focused primarily on car racing, with actual crime serving as more of a vehicle to drive the plot than anything else. Nowadays it would seem odd if the narrative didn’t include saving the world.

As its title suggests, Hobbs & Shaw focuses on Luke Hobbs & Deckard Shaw, who originally entered the series as the villains for the fifth and seventh entries, respectively. After both enjoyed turns on the good side, the two find themselves working together to stop a super virus from wiping out humanity. Neither character particularly likes the other, creating an interesting buddy cop-esque dynamic throughout the film.

Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham are two of the most well-known action stars currently performing. The two have a natural chemistry that works well for the humor-laced narrative. Vanessa Kirby balances out the dynamic as Deckard’s sister Hattie, an MI6 agent infected with the virus. The plot follows the three of them for most of the film, as they try to figure out how to get the virus out of Hattie before it falls into the hands of Brixton Lore (Idris Elba), a cyber-enhanced super soldier hell-bent on destroying the world.

The film continues the celebration of excess that has defined the Fast & Furious franchise since its fifth entry. There are countless explosions and reality-defying stunts. Elba essentially plays a riff on The Terminator, a notion not lost on the film. The plot calls for a heavy helping of suspension of disbelief, the kind of narrative where it’s best not to overthink anything, or everything.

Hobbs & Shaw never loses sight of the escapism it exists to provide. The characters have fun the whole time, keeping with the series’ emphasis on family. Deckard and Luke aren’t really there to be friends, but they manage to work together without anything feeling artificial.

The film’s biggest detriment is its runtime. Clocking in at a little over two hours, the narrative is stretched about as far as it could go. Part of this issue stems from the fact that the narrative blatantly goes out of its way to give The Rock and Statham equal time for just about every scene where they don’t appear together. Such a balance was probably not necessary for a franchise that usually needs to juggle several other leads, as a result feeling a bit more relaxed from the get-go.

Few films have felt more at home in the month of August, where the dog days of summer welcome the kind of excess Hobbs & Shaw offers in abundance. This franchise has come a long way from its street racing roots. One does naturally wonder how many more times this team can save the world. For a series that’s owned excess with such grace, that question sure doesn’t provide itself with an easy answer.

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