Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Monthly Archive: December 2019

Saturday

7

December 2019

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COMMENTS

The Mandalorian Season One Review: Chapter 5

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

Part of what made last week’s Chapter 4 such a great episode was the simple fact that the show had finally left its initial planet, which we now know is called Navarro. Plenty of recaps, including this one, wondered if that planet was Tatooine, owing to the desert climate and presence of Jawas. “Chapter 5” features the Mandalorian and Baby Yoda arriving on Star Wars’ most iconic planet, a moment that felt weirdly robbed of its potential impact.

There’s a running joke in the Star Trek fandom that revolves around how there’s seemingly endless planets in the universe, but they all look like the same pile of rocks. Obviously there’s a reason for this. Sets are expensive and deserts are easy to create. The Mandalorian is an expensive show, with episodes costing upwards of 15 million dollars apiece to make.

From an audience perspective, cost is a difficult thing to gauge. Shows like Game of Thrones and The Crown clearly look expensive due to their lavish sets and costumes, something that certainly holds true for The Mandalorian. With episode runtimes that barely go beyond a half hour and a palette of monotonous desert landscapes, it can be sometimes hard to be all that impressed with the scale of this show.

Chapter 5 – The Gunslinger further solidifies The Mandalorian as “The Baby Yoda Show.” Each episode feels fairly self-contained in nature, focusing on either protecting the adorable baby or fixing Mando’s ship. For now, that formula has generally produced satisfying television.

This episode felt fairly small in nature. Perhaps some of that has to do with the empty Mos Eisely Cantina, which now allows droids. We see a cute R5 unit inside, along with a bartender who looks like EV-9D9, who worked in Jabba’s palace overseeing the torture of other droids.

The pit droids that worked for Peli Motto were a nice throwback to The Phantom Menace, though it’s unclear why The Mandalorian wouldn’t let them work on his ship. Similarly implausible is the idea that he’d leave Baby Yoda on the ship alone.

There had to be some level of trust toward Amy Sedaris’ Peli Motto in order to leave him there in her general vicinity, but it doesn’t make a ton of sense. This situation does lead to Peli asking her droids to fetch Baby Yoda something to eat, an adorable sequence. A spinoff where Peli simply babysits Baby Yoda would totally work.

Toro Calican is a strong contender for worst character of the season. Jake Cannavale does a decent job with the arrogant wannabe bounty hunter, but he’s an annoying character. That might explain why Mando decided to toss over his binoculars to the Tusken Raiders instead of simply shooting them, an approach he took with the Jawas back in Chapter 2. Thankfully we won’t have to see any more of Toro moving forward.

Fennec Shand is a character who will likely be quite important to The Mandalorian moving forward. For now, this was a fairly weak introduction. Mando and she clearly have a lot of history, but Toro’s presence in the narrative hindered any exploration of this dynamic. Ming-Na Wen was fun to watch, but this episode didn’t really give her any time to shine.

Does anybody on Tatooine need water? It’s a desert planet with two suns, yet Mando and Toro were all too content to sit outside all day in the sun with no shade, and no Camelback. Maybe Mando’s helmet has air conditioning.

This episode had a lot of fan service. From the mention of Coreillian-quality ships to Mando’s “no good to us dead” line, a throwback to Boba Fett in Empire Strikes Back, some were quite easy to pick up on. Most impressive was when Toro remarked, “Who wouldn’t want to be a legend?” to Shand, quite likely a reference to Ming-Na Wen’s status as a Disney Legend.

Chapter 5 was easily the weakest of the show, an episode mostly salvaged by Amy Sedaris’ lively performance. Her relationship with Mando felt oddly organic for the small amount of time they’d spent together, and her affection for Baby Yoda was palpable. It’s too bad she couldn’t join Mando for the rest of the season.

The end of the episode hinted at what’s in store for the remaining three episodes, with an unknown figure approaching Shand out in the desert. It seems likely that this person is Giancarlo Esposito’s Moff Gideon, who was announced for the season but hasn’t appeared yet. After a collection of mostly self-contained episodes, hopefully we’ll see a villain who sticks around for a while. This show can’t rest on Baby Yoda’s laurels forever.

 

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Friday

6

December 2019

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Dollface Is a Charming Comedy Hindered by a Bland Premise

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

The premise for a show like Dollface is certainly one to earn a lot of eye-rolls. The world hardly needs another narrative of affluent millennials being sad in Los Angeles. This situation is perhaps slightly exacerbated by the presence of Esther Povitsky, whose own show about being affluent and sad in Los Angeles, the hilarious Alone Together, was tragically cancelled last year. Despite the familiar territory, Dollface works largely because Kat Dennings and the core cast are such a joy to watch.

Dennings portrays Jules, a woman dumped by her longtime boyfriend Jeremy (Connor Hines) for seemingly no reason. With Jeremy at the center of her social life, Jules gets back into contact with her old college friends Madison (Brenda Song) and Stella (Shay Mitchell) who begrudgingly take her back into their circle. Povitsky rounds out the main cast as Izzy, a socially awkward coworker of Jules who often provides most of the episode’s laughs.

Dollface includes many surrealist sequences, usually involving Jules talking with an anthropomorphic cat. The writing for the show is a bit of a mixed bag, superb when it comes to writing jokes but far less effective at plot progression. Most of the gems in the ten-episode season can be found in the middle, with fewer obligations to deal with Jules’ broader narrative.

At times, the narrative is pretty frustrating. There’s a few episodes that focus on plots that have been beaten to death by too many other shows this decade, providing superficial commentary on the nature of adult friendship. The show doesn’t quite realize that it doesn’t really have to return to the premise of its pilot.

To some extent, it’s natural that a show like Dollface would try and exist as something more than a comedy. Trouble is, the show is mostly just good for its jokes. Not every series needs to exist in the realm of “dramedy.” It’s okay to just to be funny.

For a show about adult friendships, the show misses a key aspect of these kinds of relationships. Sure, there’s support involved, but these group dynamics are inherently fleeting in nature. You’re not supposed to build your adult life around your friend group, because sooner or later, people start to move on. Life is fleeting. Enjoy the fun while it lasts.

Weekly sitcoms that produce upwards of twenty episodes a year tend to understand this dichotomy a lot better. These shows exist to supply moments of enjoyment for small portions of our overall lives. Like adult friendships, they’re not supposed to be the center of anyone’s universe, and it is pretty sad when they do.

Dollface is a show that launched 10 episodes on a single day out of the year. Much like old college friends you see once or twice a year, it’s not supposed be a big part of your life. Instead of trying to offer life lessons or superficial comedy, Dollface should stick to the laughs. Not everything needs to be more than a couple hours of lighthearted fun.

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Wednesday

4

December 2019

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Let It Snow Is a Fun Teen Christmas Movie

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

The challenge facing a Christmas film like Let It Snow with an ensemble cast stems from the need to endear a bunch of characters to an audience within a ninety-minute runtime. This dynamic differs from that of its source material, a novel with significantly more opportunities to flesh out the personalities the audience is supposed to care about. Fortunately, the film proves up to the task, delivering a satisfying holiday narrative.

Let It Snow follows a few high schoolers as they spend Christmas Eve doing just about anything other than spending time with their families. Julie (Isabela Moner) struggles with her acceptance into Colombia University, feeling a need to care for her sick mother. A chance encounter with a pop star Stuart (Shameik Moore) provides the kind of clichéd drama that tends to dominate Christmas narratives.

Tobin (Mitchell Hope) is roped in to helping his childhood best friend Angie (Kiernan Shipka), better known as the Duke, court a college boy JP (Matthew Noszka), despite his obvious feelings for her. A similar dynamic is on display at the local waffle diner, where Dorie (Liv Henson) tries to court a closeted cheerleader (Anna Akana), who won’t show her the time of day in public. Dorie’s life is made complicated by her best friend Addie (Odeya Rush), who harbors unhealthy feelings toward her boyfriend. Rounding out the primary cast is Keon (Jacob Batalon), just about the only person in the country who thinks it’s a good idea to throw a party on Christmas Eve.

Let It Snow is a very silly movie with a lot of heart, nailing the holiday formula with strong production values and an impressive young cast. The characters have a lot of backstory that doesn’t always translate well to the film, but the young actors do a great job conveying their emotions. The film probably bites off more than it can chew from a plot perspective, but it juggles its many storylines well.

Perpetually present is the notion that this film represents a minute sliver of these characters’ potentials. You could almost see the plotlines of Let It Snow serving as a television series’ Christmas episode, a slice of life narrative that was undoubtedly better fleshed out in print. The themes will undoubtedly resonate with high school audiences, who aren’t always well-represented in Christmas narratives.

Plenty of holiday movies use ensemble approaches, a difficult dynamic to balance considering the audience will likely only spend 90 minutes with these characters. As with any film, there’s obviously more to these people’s stories, but most successful narratives manage to put that idea out of the audience’s minds. The characters in Let It Snow could probably make for a fun follow-up series, albeit one we’re unlikely to see.

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Sunday

1

December 2019

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A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood Captures the Essence of Fred Rogers

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

t’s not very complicated to understand the continued appeal of Fred Rogers in the year 2019, close to two decades after his death. In an era defined by noise and distraction, the quiet nature of Mister Rogers’ show offers a calming presence to ease one’s anxiety. My partner and I have a Sunday morning tradition of watching an episode Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood each week, which are still offered on the show’s website, finding that the morals he preaches still resonate even in adulthood. His method of directly addressing the audience still carries the feel that he’s speaking to old friends, his millions of television neighbors.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood focuses more on the idea of Fred Rogers than the man himself. The narrative is centered around Esquire journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) in his efforts to profile Mister Rogers. Vogel, a new parent, harbors immense resentment for his own father (Chris Cooper). Vogel is fairly disliked at work, mainly by the subjects of his pieces, and his dedication to his career is putting a strain on his marriage.

Tom Hanks is a decent Fred Rogers, capturing the essence of the man’s message though falling a bit short on his intonations. He sounds less like Fred Rogers than Tom Hanks doing a Fred Rogers imitation. This dynamic is most apparent when the film tries to recreate the actual Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood show.

The Neighborhood sets are beautifully reconstructed, but A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a bit sloppy on the actors’ delivery. Hanks speaks far too fast for Fred Rogers, who used a softer, contemplative tone when addressing his television neighbors. There’s also a scene where Lady Aberlin moves right past the trolley in the Neighborhood of Make Believe without saying hello, something that never would have happened on the actual show. Of the three actors used in Neighborhood recreations, only Daniel Krell’s Mr. McFeely truly nails the character.

Granted, most of the adult audience watching the film will not sit down in the theatre with Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood fresh in the minds. Hanks is far more effective as Rogers when communicating with Vogel. His expressions and quiet responses to Vogel’s intrusive lines of questioning give the audience the Rogers they came for, a patient man ready to make the world a little less scary.

The choice of narrative may seem a bit puzzling for people who simply want a movie full of Fred Rogers, but the film demonstrates why Mister Rogers is hardly suited for the role of film protagonist. Main characters in movies have conflict. Fred Rogers enjoys one of the most spotless reputations of any American Icon, a living saint, as the movie itself admits. No one wants to see an angry Fred Rogers.

Matthew Rhys does a great job in the lead role, unsurprisingly shining most in scenes without Hanks. Susan Kelechi Watson works well opposite Rhys as Vogel’s wife Andrea, and Cooper plays a compelling yet mostly detestable father. The film presents enough conflict to carry the movie narrative while deploying Hanks in a manner bound to keep audiences satisfied.

There are moments where the narrative feels almost too neatly constructed. Though based on a true story, the very fact that original Esquire journalist Tom Junod’s name was changed suggests the film takes plenty of dramatic liberties. That’s mostly okay when you consider that the film doesn’t really exist to provide a new perspective about Fred Rogers, but rather to present a bunch of feel-good moments.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a movie that understands what it’s supposed to do. Hanks is warm and engaging in the title role. The film gives plenty of good feelings, true to Mister Rogers’ message. While many biopics dramatize the past, this film succeeds through its devotion to the essence of its subject.

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