Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Monthly Archive: August 2020

Friday

28

August 2020

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COMMENTS

#Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump is too unfocused, light on expert analysis

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The idea that Donald Trump has a mental disorder is nothing new. Five minutes spent watching him speak could give any reasonable person that impression. #Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump seeks to provide substance and depth to the claims about the state of our president’s fitness for office. For the first half hour or so, it succeeds on this front.

Director Dan Partland assembled an array of doctors and psychology experts who eloquently present the case for Trump’s malignant narcissism. Equally important, the doctors describe why these disorders pose a grave threat from the Oval Office. Politicians are often egomaniacs by nature, but the film effectively presents a case for why Trump is a unique threat to democracy.

There are many who disagree with the basic premise of the film, the idea that anyone could diagnose the president from his behavior on television. Such an endeavor falls into the very wheelhouse of armchair psychology. Partland examines the “Goldwater Rule,” that established the precedent against diagnosing public figures, while explaining how Trump exists apart from all of these norms. The deep dive is fascinating.

Trouble is, Partland does away with the psychology aspect of the narrative fairly early on, an odd dynamic considering the title of the film. Thirty minutes in, the film mostly trades its compelling psychology analysis in for a tired retread of the 2016 election featuring a collection of cable news pundits. Anthony Scaramucci, White House Communications Director for a mere eleven days and former Celebrity Big Brother contestant, pops in to share some perspectives as to why Trump won that bring nothing new to the table.

Similar interviews with MSNBC stalwarts such as Malcolm Nance, Richard Painter, and Bill Kristol repeat the same talking points they use on TV. Trump has upended every rule of Washington. We all know this. Painter and Kristol have nothing to offer as to the psychology of Donald Trump. So why are they here?

Many people have legitimate anxieties over Trump possessing the nuclear launch codes. It’s scary to think about. #Unfit spends a fair bit of time on this subject, without really presenting anything new. It is not particularly hard to explain why Trump shouldn’t be allowed to order nuclear strikes.

Partland is clearly positioning his film as a call to arms, encouraging people to vote Trump out of office with a film released in the home stretch of the 2020 election. #Unfit steps on its messaging by allowing people like Scaramucci time to defend Trump supporters from charges of racism, even as the film shows examples of broad racism at Trump rallies. None of this has anything to do with psychology.

#Unfit squanders its interesting premise by spending too much of its runtime on things that are totally unrelated to its thesis. As a persuasive piece, Partland robs his work of its impact by bloating its message. There could be some value in showing an undecided voter the first twenty minutes of this film. The subsequent hour undoes any of that good will.

 

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Thursday

27

August 2020

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COMMENTS

Lingua Franca leaves too much on the table

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Transgender undocumented immigrants face unfathomable levels of discrimination. It is hard to imagine the feelings of terror and isolation that such a vulnerable population endures each and every day. Isabel Sandoval’s Lingua Franca aims to provide a lens through which one can understand the unique plight that trans people experience within America’s broken immigration system.

Olivia (Sandoval) is a live-in caretaker for an elderly woman, Olga (Lynn Cohen) suffering from dementia. Olivia has a stable job and a supportive group of friends, who help her as she tries to find someone willing to marry her in order to obtain a green card. The arrival of Olga’s grandson Alex (Eamon Farren) presents a romantic opportunity for Olivia, though complicated by Alex’s alcohol abuse.

Juggling screenwriting, directing, and acting duties, Sandoval impresses with her versatility. She’s a skilled director, delivering plenty of ambitious shots that heighten the experience in an otherwise fairly mundane indie film. She has a gift for drawing power from quiet moments.

Sandoval is less effective with her screenplay, which is pretty lackluster. The dialogue is wooden, with clunky exposition dumps. The acting isn’t much better, often quite inconsistent from scene to scene. The natural feel of her direction is not at all replicated through the performances.

Further frustrating is the heavy-handed nature of her approach. Sandoval depicts ICE officers arresting a person, capturing Olivia’s anxieties in real time. For whatever reason, Sandoval decides to include audio footage of Donald Trump and Joe Rogan that come across as extremely clunky in the shadow of her more powerful demonstrations. Lingua Franca repeatedly struggles to balance the show vs. tell dynamic.

Transphobia is a terrible thing that practically every trans person, certainly myself included, have experienced. Often, transphobia exists for no broader purpose than the bigotry itself. “The cruelty is the point,” is a line often used to explain the Trump administration’s policies.

Except in Lingua Franca, the transphobia serves a very specific purpose, integral to advancing the narrative. In one sequence, an addict friend of Alex’s rummages through Olivia’s drawers for valuables, in the process finding her passport with its unchanged gender marker. This action proves to be a vital catalyst for the plot, wielding transphobia as a weird plot device that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The narrative could have functioned exactly the same without it.

Lingua Franca isn’t a plot heavy film, but Sandoval uses practically every scene to drive the narrative instead of investing in her characters. Despite these efforts, she doesn’t really reveal a whole lot about either Olivia or Alex. We spend a fair bit of time with Alex, without gaining an understanding of whether he’s actually a good guy, robbing Olivia’s story of its full impact.The film loses all of its steam in the home stretch as a result of the haphazard investment in the leads.

Sandoval shines as a director, but Lingua Franca suffers from wooden performances and a screenplay that rarely knows where to concentrate its attention. There are pieces of a good story here, certainly a timely subject, but it never quite comes together. We can feel sympathy for Olivia, but as a fictional narrative it lacks the depth that a story like this one deserves.

 

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Thursday

20

August 2020

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COMMENTS

The Blech Effect squanders its runtime with a one-note premise

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A film like The Blech Effect forces one to recognize the confines of the space that narratives occupy. Even documentaries that cover decades-long spans can only cover small snippets of a person’s life within a ninety-minute runtime. The impact of a documentary lies in its ability to capture the essence of its subject, not necessarily to paint a full portrait.

David Blech, once dubbed the “king of biotech,” could have been a billionaire, founding several companies within the field, including the makers of Cialis. Blech was involved with numerous controversies, eventually pleading guilty to two counts of criminal fraud, which earned him a lengthy prison sentence. Rather than be remembered as a man who helped cure cancer, Blech’s legacy is instead defined by his greed and criminal activity.

Director David Greenwald sets the film mostly in Blech’s large apartment in New York City, a luxurious space at odds with his dire financial situation. The narrative takes place before Blech served a thirty-month prison sentence. Understandably, Blech is very tense, worried about his family and the burden that his time in jail will have on his wife, left alone to care for their autistic son.

The film spends barely any time on Blech’s broader career. Greenwald is practically solely concerned with Blech being sad about having to go to jail. Blech’s gambling addiction receives a lot of attention, framing that helps paint him as fairly sympathetic. Trouble is, it’s not very interesting.

The Blech Effect spends its time throwing a lackluster pity party instead of offering any substantive insight into its subject’s career. There’s little time spent explaining biotech, leaving the impression that Blech is little more than a bad stock trader. Even the phrase “the Blech effect” isn’t really described all that well. Blech repeatedly talks about all the companies he started, never once stopping to consider how he might want to explain this shady-sounding business practice to a general audience. Anyone looking to learn more about David Blech as a person would be sorely disappointed.

What’s further puzzling is Greenwald’s efforts to garner sympathy for his subject. David is mildly likable, a father who clearly loves his son. So what? Greenwald lets Blech suggest that he’s only settling because he doesn’t have the resources to fight back without pushing back on this puzzling dynamic. The whole thing plays out like bad PR.

Greenwald essentially expects his audience to feel sympathy for a figure responsible for those annoying erectile dysfunction ads on cable television. Blech isn’t particularly remorseful, just sad. There is a fair degree of sympathy that one can extend to a figure who’s clearly an addict, but it’s hard to keep this up for an entire feature-length narrative.

To some extent, The Blech Effect might have value as a wake-up call for gambling addicts, but that idea is hampered by Blech’s singular status. David Blech has lost more money than most people will ever see in their lives. That premise could have made for an interesting documentary, but instead Greenwald spent his time panhandling for sympathy toward a disgraced, not all that remorseful, venture capitalist.

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Thursday

20

August 2020

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COMMENTS

Jasper Mall

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We are delighted to welcome the Bradford Thomason and Brett Wittcomb, directors of the new documentary Jasper Mall, to the show. One of Ian’s favorites at the Slamdance Film Festival, Jasper Mall charts a year in the life of the eponymous shopping center, struggling to keep up with a changing American retail landscape. Bradford & Brett share many insights from making the film, and the state of brick-and-mortar commerce. Jasper Mall is a must-watch for anyone feeling nostalgic for a time when we weren’t all cooped up with nowhere to go.

The trailer for the film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-LWYYcg0nuA&t=9s

To learn more about the film and how to watch, please visit https://www.window-pictures.com/jasper-mall

Ian’s pre-Slamdance review of the film: https://ianthomasmalone.com/2020/01/slamdance-review-jasper-mall/

 

Film poster courtesy of Jasper Mall

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Monday

17

August 2020

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COMMENTS

Classic Film: The Widow Couderc

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The thought of stumbling upon another family’s internal drama is quite frightening, yet this dynamic supplies much of the fodder for reality television. To watch others hurl proverbial feces at each other can evoke a certain desire to turn inward, to take stock of one’s own life and character. Decades away from any installments of The Real Housewives, 1971’s The Widow Couderc (original French title La veuve Couderc) strikes at the messy nature of family relationships.

Jean (Alain Delon) is a simple man trying to escape from prison. A quiet village next to a canal in Burgundy offers a place to lie low from the police, where Jean finds work in the service of an older woman named Tati (Simone Signoret). Tati doesn’t have much to call her own besides the roof over her head, land coveted by her late husband’s family. For Jean, caught between Tati and her young niece Félicie (Ottavia Piccolo), the feud invites the kind of attention he’d be wise to avoid.

Much of the film is fueled by the sexual tension between Delon and Signoret, two immensely talented actors who bring out the best in each other. Both are on the run in a way, Jean more literally than Tati, two souls desperate for more than what life has to offer. Neither one of them are particularly good people, both using Félicie as a foil for their worst instincts, but the film presents a compelling perspective on logic clashing with desire.

The sleepy canal town, with a manually operated drawbridge, functions as a town in its own right. Hardly a place anyone would wish to visit, the quiet community only comes alive when something dares to disrupt its peaceful existence. Property is fought over not because it’s valuable, but seemingly because there’s nothing else for one to occupy their time with. The drama fills the void.

The Widow Couderc is a contemplative narrative, one more concerned with raising questions than presenting answers. The acting is top notch, with Delon and Signoret in peak form. We often don’t get to pick the circumstances in our lives, only the way we choose to react. Decisions don’t always need to make sense, reflective of the humanity that guides us for better or for worse.

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Monday

17

August 2020

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COMMENTS

Solid performances can’t buoy the muddled Tesla

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As a director, Michael Almereyda brings the right kind of energy to Tesla, recognizing the pitfalls of the biopic genre. Nikola Tesla is a figure whose contributions to electricity do not receive the widespread credit that others such as Thomas Edison enjoy. Almereyda subverts his subject, offering an irreverent depiction of Tesla that sadly is never quite as fun as it wants to be.

The film jumps around quite a bit through Tesla’s life, presented through the eyes of Anne Morgan (Eve Hewson), who functions both as an ahistorical omniscient narrator and as a figure within the story. Tesla (Ethan Hawke) spends much of the film feuding with Edison (Kyle MacLachlan), though plenty of the time is spent on absurdist antics that hype up its protagonist’s perceived genius.

The acting is quite competent. Hawke plays the mad genius trope well. MacLachlan is a great cold-hearted rival destined to steal Tesla’s thunder. Hewson is cool and collected functioning as the narrator, guiding her audience through the history. There aren’t really any complaints to make, except that none of them really take the ball and run with it. Absent are any truly standout performances that might make the whole experience more memorable.

Hawke’s Tesla is more of an object of the film than its subject. Almereyda is less concerned with exploring Tesla as a person than he is exploring the idea of Tesla. Tesla rolls around on rollerblades, often in sets that look pretty modern, and it’s kind of cute to watch. For a little while.

The idea loses steam as Tesla struggles to present anything except for the blatantly obvious as its findings. Anyone reading a brief description of the film could probably accurately assume that Almereyda wants to present Tesla as an under-appreciated genius. In that regard, Tesla feels very safe as a narrative, despite presenting itself as an outlandish dark comedy.

What’s further unclear is what exactly Almereyda expects his audience to feel about Tesla. History can be corrected in a sense, but the experience isn’t compelling enough to entertain the kind of critical thinking Tesla’s legacy deserves once the credits have rolled. The whole ordeal evokes a shrug, and not much more.

Almereyda’s pitfalls are best represented as the narrative rollerblades toward its climax, using a karaoke sequence of a song that’s been played many times in film, in nearly identical settings. Tesla might be appealing to anyone who’s never seen an artsy movie, but too often it plays notes that have already been deployed in more compelling efforts. Here, it just looks kind of weak.

Tesla fails both as a biopic and as a work of entertainment. The absurdist sequences feel quite bland in the absence of any substance regarding Tesla’s life. Tesla may be a misunderstood genius, but Tesla doesn’t do a good job making anyone care. The whole thing may have worked better as a series of vignettes, with a shorter runtime better masking the absence of substance.

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Monday

17

August 2020

0

COMMENTS

Amanda Jetté Knox

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We are delighted to welcome author & LGBTQ activist Amanda Jetté Knox to the show for a wide ranging discussion. Amanda shares her thoughts on absurd gender critical talking points such as “lesbian erasure” and “transing children,” while providing plenty of insight into the care and concerns that go into raising trans youth alongside a trans partner. Fully embodying the mantra put forth in her appropriately titled book Love Lives Live, Amanda’s family is a shining example of how trans people can thrive in loving environments.

You can purchase Love Lives Here (highly recommended) wherever books are sold.

Be sure to follow Amanda on Facebook and Twitter, https://www.facebook.com/mavenofmayhem/ & @Mavenofmayhem

Photo courtesy of Amanda Jetté Knox

 

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Friday

14

August 2020

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COMMENTS

TTTE & Chill: James Goes Buzz Buzz

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Ya boo snubs! Join Ian & Tarabelle for another edition of everyone’s favorite Thomas the Tank Engine VHS recap show. James Goes Buzz Buzz introduces the first hand-drawn animation into the show, perhaps opening the doors for its later reliance on CGI. BoCo features prominently, coparenting Bill & Ben with his husband Edward. Gordon spends the night at the harbor, potentially stranding all the passengers from the main line with him. Did the Lady with the Green hat get home safe? Tune in to find out.

This collection includes the following episodes:

  1. James Goes Buzz Buzz
  2. One Good Turn
  3. Bertie’s Chase
  4. Heroes
  5. Bulgy
  6. Wrong Road
  7. Percy, James and the Fruitful Day

VHS cover photo courtesy of the Britt Allcroft Company

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Thursday

13

August 2020

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COMMENTS

The August Virgin captures the essence of the dog days of summer

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August is the perfect month for sappy sentimental feelings. With the last days of summer slipping away and the new beginnings that September brings just around the horizon, it seems like the perfect time for self-evaluation. No matter how stuck in a rut you might feel, August beckons for one to savor the last moments before you’re actually able to do anything about it.

Jonás Trueba’s The August Virgin sets out to capture the spirit of the month, when you’re worried about the future that’s thankfully not quite here yet. Eva (Itsaso Arana) rents out a room in Madrid, melancholic about her early thirties. The city is fairly quiet, perfect for the kinds of random encounters between strangers that you don’t see quite as often at other parts of the year, when people are consumed with their own individual distractions.

Eva doesn’t have a ton of time on her hands to find a new place of residence before September, but August isn’t really about solutions. Instead, Eva wanders, making new friends and enjoying good wine. The future can wait.

Much of the film depicts simple conversations between Eva and the various acquaintances she meets along the way. Arana is a captivating lead, giving an expressive performance that allows the audience to feel Eva’s sense of optimism in real time. She serves as a perfect reminder for the power of stepping outside one’s shell.

Though the film takes place over the course of only a few days, Trueba captures the nature of time as a transient force that alters relationships that we once held dear. Eva reconnects with her sister Olka (Isabelle Stoffel), who’s raising a small child. The bonds of siblings change over time, as hearts expand to make room for the new loved ones in our lives.

The film is perfect for this time of year, a relaxing romp through Madrid that should satisfy those of us who wish we could be similarly traveling. The film doesn’t try to reinvent Eva in a few days, but rather let her out of her shell for a bit. Most of us could use with some more opportunities to step outside our comfort zones.

The film does sputter a bit in its third act, as the narrative heads toward its conclusion. As a month, August represents the end of summer, but the calendar doesn’t necessarily produce the answers that people are looking for. As a film, The August Virgin has a somewhat higher mandate to produce something more tangible for its audience to digest, but it comes across as a little forced.

The August Virgin is a real treat. The runtime is a bit long considering the dialogue heavy narrative, but it’s a great way to spend an afternoon or an evening. This may have been a summer unlike any others, but film still provides the kinds of comforting retreat that’s timely for this part of the year.

 

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Wednesday

12

August 2020

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COMMENTS

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

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Grab your Switch and your Nook Miles Tickets because we are going island hopping! Join ITM & special guest Nat Sowinski, comedian, organizer and coauthor of Pokey the Penguin, for a wide-ranging discussion on life in everyone’s favorite quasi-capitalistic utopia.

Ian & Nat tackle the broader philosophical questions that ACNH. Are Tom Nook & Redd former lovers? Is Isabelle a neoliberal? Why doesn’t Dodo Airlines chart mystery islands for return visits? What is Gulliver(varrr)’s deal? All of that and more! 

You can follow Nat on Twitter @nuns_on_film

Be sure to check out Pokey the Penguin’s latest adventures by checking out Pokey’s website https://www.yellow5.com/pokey/ & @pokeythepenguin

 

Cover image courtesy of Nintendo

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