Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Monthly Archive: November 2019

Tuesday

5

November 2019

6

COMMENTS

The Morning Show Is an Elaborate Disaster

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

There is a sense of irony in the decision by Apple to include a program like The Morning Show as part of its marquee offerings for a new streaming service. The rise of entities like Apple + suggest that the future looks pretty bleak for broadcast television, many of which rely on their morning shows to buoy the costs of their news divisions. If Apple and its streaming competitors are successful, the industry that The Morning Show fictionalizes may not be around for all that much longer.

The Morning Show assembles an A-list cast for a narrative that dramatizes the backstage fallout that the #MeToo movement brought about. Morning show staples such as Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose found themselves transformed from beloved American fixtures to personae non gratae practically overnight. For many, #MeToo represented a long-overdue course correction for workplace sexual harassment.

Others feel that #MeToo went too far, casting men out from society without due process. Those men in particular would certainly like to return to their former glory. The Morning Show likes to entertain the grievances of these men, aired through Steve Carrell’s Mitch Kessler, co-anchor of the titular broadcast who found himself cast out for sexual misconduct that he somewhat vehemently denies.

Mitch Kessler serves as an immense drag on The Morning Show. He’s insufferable in practically every scene, which inevitably carry an aura of “bothsideism” by token of the large amount of screen time that the character eats up. He exists solely for the demographic who ask the question, “What about the men?”

The problem with keeping Mitch around is that it prevents The Morning Show from being able to move on from the incident that sets the show in motion. Remaining co-host Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) is presented as a woman understandably caught between two worlds. She doesn’t condone Mitch’s behavior, but she sympathizes with him in a way that makes it difficult to relate to her character, especially in the absence of other redeeming qualities.

The Morning Show never presents a reason why its audience should care about any of these people. Alex isn’t a very likable person. There’s a fair bit of sympathy that one could garner for the sexism of her situation, as studio executive Cory Ellison (Billy Crudup) treats her as damaged goods rather than a woman with a career independent of her disgraced co-host. The show does a remarkably poor job of presenting anyone to root for.

Reese Witherspoon’s Bradley Jackson is ostensibly meant to function as protagonist, but the show banks too heavily on the character’s “viral” moment in its first episode, where Bradley passionately fact-checks a protestor at a coal mine. Bradley is set up to be a rival for Alex, but it’s unclear why a general audience would be expected to relate to her brand of news. Bradley’s desire to highlight hard news is immediately contradicted by her heated political moment, while claiming to be sort of a conservative-libertarian centrist. It’s as if Bradley was crafted by a person who knows literally nothing about news.

Most tiresome are the long-winded monologues presented several times each episode, moments that reek of self-importance in the utter absence of substance. The acting is good, but there’s just nothing behind the curtain of The Morning Show. Its stellar production values can’t mask the fact that this show wants to be about the value of news and the #MeToo movement without taking a stand on either.

The Morning Show has entertainment value as a big budget soap-opera, but the act grows old fairly quickly. The A-list cast makes the whole thing a bit more watchable, but that’s hardly a novelty in the streaming era. Apple invested quite a lot in this show, but clearly not enough in its writing department.

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Tuesday

5

November 2019

0

COMMENTS

The All-Americans Gives an Intimate Look into an East LA Tradition

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The idea of sport existing as a unifier offers comfort in these seemingly divided times. Beginning in 1925, the “East LA Classic” homecoming football game between rivals James A. Garfield High School and Theodore Roosevelt High School has grown to become one of the most popular annual high school games played in the country. In The All-Americans, director Billy McMillin explores this historic rivalry against the backdrop of the challenges imposed upon each school’s predominantly Latino population.

As its title suggests, much of the narrative in The All-Americans centers around the very question of what it means to be an American. Using soundbites from far right commentators, McMillin juxtaposes the hate too often spewed in the media with the faces of those most affected by the fear-mongering. Football is often seen as “America’s Game,” while Latino immigrants are often told to go back to “their” country, even those who have lived here their entire lives.

Several scenes depict classroom discussions of America’s uneasy relationship with nativism and the idea of the country serving as a “melting pot.” The students bring fascinating perspectives to the table, gently pushing back on the very concept of the American Dream. The All-Americans features several people who are undocumented, perpetually living with the concern that they may one day face deportation. Though Trump’s name is never uttered, he remains a looming presence throughout much of the narrative.

The film does an excellent job of explaining the importance of the East LA Classic, as well as the role that football plays in shaping the players’ lives. For most, playing on the team doesn’t carry any significant collegiate opportunities. Roosevelt’s coach speaks of his team’s 100% graduation rate, ensuring that players will leave school with a degree and the opportunities that come with it.

A few students from each team are given an added focus. One of these players became a father himself, juggling school, football, and providing for his kid while trying to lead a relatively normal life. Several scenes depict the player’s extended families, giving a broader sense of perspective to their stories, as well as the importance of the Classic itself. Several players explicitly remark that they started playing football just to be a part of this specific game, carrying the lineage of the near century-old event.

With time dedicated to the history of the classic, the actual game itself, both teams, their coaches, several players, and a broader discussion of the politics of immigration, The All-Americans aims to tackle quite a bit of material. Its runtime of just over ninety minutes doesn’t exactly lend itself well to all of these objectives, but McMillin has a strong grasp of pacing. The film never lingers too long in one area while giving the audience all it needs to follow along. One doesn’t even need to understand football to enjoy the film.

The All-Americans is a touching documentary, one that never tries to paint a false sense of finality by the end. Narrative resolution is a tough proposition when dealing with a bunch of high school students who will face plenty of greater hardships than what they’ve encountered on the field. Their lives are just beginning. The film does an excellent job of covering the role that the Classic played in their lives while never losing sight of the fact that in the end, it’s just a game.

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Monday

4

November 2019

0

COMMENTS

The Return of Linda Hamilton Makes Terminator: Dark Fate A Worthwhile Experience

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The box office disappointment of 2015’s Terminator: Genisys might have signaled the end of Hollywood’s preeminent Judgement Day narrative, but such a decision would have ignored the elements of the film that worked. For all its timeline shortcomings, Genisys served as a great outlet for Arnold Schwarzenegger to prove that his iconic role could improve with age. Schwarzenegger’s “Pops” T-101 was funny, caring, and perfectly capable of kicking ass.

With that in mind, Terminator: Dark Fate served as a natural vessel for the return of the franchise’s other true iconic star. While Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Genisys both have merits as action films, the absence of Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor has deprived the series of its original emotional core. For all the emphasis that’s been placed on John Connor, it is Sarah Connor who has been responsible for saving the savior.

Dark Fate as a film is completely aware of the puzzling contradictions that exist within “chosen one” narratives. To be told that you will someday be a figure of great importance seems to diminish the notion that there’s plenty of choices to made along the way. Terminator has always been a series about saving the future, but to do that, one must naturally also keep the present out of harm’s way.

Daniella Ramos (Natalia Reyes) wasn’t born to lead a resistance. Knowledge of future actions hardly alters this dynamic. Heroes are made, not willed into existence. For all the ways that Dark Fate feels rooted in the past, Reyes never feels lost in the shuffle, ensuring that Ramos remains a vital presence in the film as all the chaos unfolds around her.

While Terminator has always been a feminist franchise, Dark Fate lets its heroines lead the narrative. Mackenzie Davis plays Grace, an enhanced human capable of taking on a “Rev-9” Terminator (Gabriel Luna), the franchise’s most menacing villain since Robert Patrick’s iconic T-1000. For all the guardians who have been sent back in time to protect the savior of humanity, Grace manages to combine the strength of the T-101 with the compassion of Kyle Reese.

Dark Fate shines brightest when the focus is on Hamilton, who puts forth one of the best performances of her career. Sarah Connor isn’t the primary focus of the film, but an essential piece of its narrative. Connor hasn’t lost any of her edge from Judgment Day, but the characters wears the scars of the past while still being capable of eliciting more than a few laughs. Hamilton and Davis have a natural chemistry that brings plenty of levity to the film’s otherwise grim tone.

Fitting with the film’s feminist dynamic, Schwarzenegger takes a backseat role, similar to that of Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard in Blade Runner 2049. The T-101 is still a vital piece of the narrative, but the film looks more to Hamilton than Schwarzenegger to be its elder states-person. This works for a lot of reasons, chiefly among them being that Schwarzenegger has had his time to shine in earlier sequels. His Dark Fate T-101 is a different take than his Genisys counter-part, but the films complement each other well at least in part because Dark Fate recognizes where to trod in this well-worn pasture.

Dark Fate isn’t a perfect movie by any means, but quite a satisfying journey for fans of the franchise. The film doesn’t really build on the format of the first one, the same model that’s been replicated by every sequel besides Salvation. For many, this return to the franchise is an unnecessary proposition.

It’s not exactly high praise to refer to something as more of the same, but Dark Fate has a firm understanding of the franchise’s mythology. Not every movie needs to reinvent the wheel, as long as its adaptation of the wheel remains an entertaining experience. Dark Fate brings together everything that fans loved about the first two Terminator films. Whatever timeline reboots lay ahead in the future for this franchise, the chance to see Sarah Connor once again in peak form should not be missed on the big screen.

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Friday

1

November 2019

0

COMMENTS

Markie in Milwaukee Is a Powerful, Often Unsettling Transgender Narrative

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Transitioning is an incredibly difficult journey even under the best of circumstances. The highs of living out of the closet often contrast with the struggle for acceptance that far too many transgender people experience. Markie in Milwaukee documents ten years of turmoil that one transgender woman faced, coming to grips with her identity against a backdrop of an incredibly unsupportive community.

Markie Wenzel is a woman stuck between two worlds, facing a choice few ever have to consider. She’s an upbeat, soft-spoken person with a pleasant demeanor, if not a little socially awkward. Her height, close to seven feet, led to bullying at an early age, something that hardly let up as she began her transition in the mid 2000s.

As a minister in a fundamentalist Christian church, Markie encountered quite a lot of pushback from her community as she began to present as female. Her family all but abandoned her, refusing to accept a hiccup in an otherwise happy life.

The film offers a broad lens to examine Markie’s life at the various stages of transition, including the point where she decided to stop and return to life as Mark, a decision that was rewarded in the form of family visits, including a new granddaughter. Markie’s church took her back, basking in the glory of a sinner come to repent for the crime of being born different.

Markie in Milwaukee operates on an entirely different narrative wavelength than its subject, a moving narrative that highlights the many conflicts that transition brings out. Director Matt Kliegman largely lets Markie speak for herself, but the framing of the documentary often suggests that he’s at odds with the statements coming from Markie. The film carries the feel of belonging to Markie, but the audience is given plenty of leeway to suggest that there’s more beneath the surface that she’s not quite ready to tackle.

Kliegman puts the audience in a challenging position with regard to how to process Markie’s choices. Generally speaking, it’s considered inappropriate to second-guess the way a transgender person explains their identity. It is impossible to watch Markie in Milwaukee and not do just that.

This dynamic is most on display in scenes highlighting Markie’s church and her family. Despite a few efforts by Markie to suggest her detransition was not fueled by religious pressure, she contradicts herself on a few occasions. The footage from her church and children’s home demonstrates the intrinsic link between the two.

In all her years of transition, Markie found acceptance in the form of support groups and friendly strangers out in public. She didn’t appear to develop any meaningful connections beyond those surface level relationships. That kind of isolation is bound to be tough on anyone.

The saddest aspect of the film is the way in which Markie lives her life believing that she’s caused all this damage to her family. To say that that’s their problem, not hers, is an accurate reflection of the situation, yet Markie’s life is not improved by the notion that her identity shouldn’t be a burden on anyone else. For too many transgender people, the idea that our lives are an abomination is allowed to fester, tearing away at one’s psyche.

As a transition narrative, Markie in Milwaukee would have been improved by a stronger focus on the decision to embrace her old identity again. Kliegman touches on the subject a few times, most notably in a conversation between Markie and her therapist. One can certainly understand the sensitive nature of the subject matter, but the resolution to Markie’s story leaves more questions than it probably needed to.

Markie in Milwaukee is a flawed narrative, but a vitally important one in today’s climate. In many ways, Kliegman’s film is most valuable to the family members of transgender people, serving as a cautionary tale for the road that too many loved ones have to face alone. Markie Wenzel has been dealt a raw hand in life, but her story can help future generations to avoid the same hardships.

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Friday

1

November 2019

0

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Still Packing Plenty of Laughs, BoJack Horseman Sets Up the Endgame

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

It’s hard to believe how different the TV landscape looks since BoJack Horseman made its debut in 2014. As more and more streaming services pop up to do battle, placing a higher premium on each studio’s back catalog, Bojack found itself in an unique position. Comedy Central bought the syndication rights to the comedy-drama, the first streaming series to make such a reverse commute back to cable television. As the oldest of Netflix’s Originals still making new episodes, this two-part final season brings about a contemplative aura, fitting for a show known for its honest portrayals of mental health.

BoJack Horseman has always stood apart from other animated series for its willingness to let its characters grow. Much of comedy stems from the audience’s familiarity with the figures on screen, but as a lead, BoJack has spent most of the series trying (and failing) to change. The titular horse spends much of the first part of the season still in rehab, haunted by figures from his past, but the tone is quite different. In the past, there’s a natural sense that BoJack will relapse and return to his obnoxious ways.

It’s rather remarkable that an animated show can so perfectly express the palpable fatigue present on a cartoon anthropomorphic horse’s face. BoJack looks tired. He’s ready to not be the guy that audiences have known, loved, and often been frustrated with.

Season six feels like a show ready to go out on top, lining up all its principle players for meaningful conclusions to this delightfully surreal journey. There aren’t as many completely over the top storylines, such as Mr. Peanutbutter’s ill-advised run for governor or Todd’s stint at “WhatTimeIsItRightNow.com,” but the slightly quieter tone works well for the season. BoJack still has plenty of zany antics, but the story arcs feel deliberately aimed at the end game.

This season is a massive improvement over last on the joke front. Plenty of them will sail over the heads of people who don’t live in Los Angeles or work in digital media, but there’s quite a few laugh-out-loud moments in practically every episode. BoJack also experiments with its episode narratives, unafraid to give the spotlight to minor characters.

There are a few episodes where the show feels like it is spinning its wheels from a narrative standpoint, revisiting arcs that were better off left alone. The trouble with two-part final seasons is that you get more episodes than usual, but there’s also an increased focus on the final destination. Not every episode needs to be spent driving the characters toward that goal, and some of the plotlines seem stuck in the middle.

Season six is a delight that shows how much gas BoJack Horseman still has in the tank while also making a strong case for why it’s probably time to wrap things up. Plenty of animated shows carry on indefinitely, but BoJack’s never been quite like anything else on television. Few programs have had such a keen understanding of emotion, but BoJack has always excelled at defying expectations.

 

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