Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Monthly Archive: March 2021

Monday

29

March 2021

0

COMMENTS

Superman & Lois brings a breath of fresh air to the Arrowverse

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The future of the Arrowverse is a bit up in the air. Supergirl & Black Lightning are ending this year, and The Flash & Legends of Tomorrow are not far behind them. It’s fair to wonder if the unprecedented “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover was not just the high point for the small-screen shared universe, but also its final big moment of triumph. With Batwoman still figuring itself out after the departure of its anemic lead actress and Stargirl doing its own thing on Earth-2, Superman & Lois enters a broader franchise in need of a standard-bearer, lest viewers turn to HBO Max as the sole provider of DC-related television.

It is oddly fitting that the Arrowverse would turn to Clark Kent, DC’s favorite son, to inject a bit of life into The CW’s offerings. Smallville was a staple of The CW in its early days, one of the most popular holdovers from The WB. Small-screen superhero storytelling has changed quite a bit since Tom Welling’s “no flights/no tights” Kal-El blended comic book lore with WB-era soap opera antics.

While Tyler Hoechlin’s Clark certainly does don the cape, part of what makes Superman & Lois work so well is the show’s ability to ground itself in the lore of everything that’s come before. Set in Smallvillle, the series is just as concerned with the Kent family life as the broader world that Superman is supposed to protect. The narrative weaves both the traditional teenage angst that fueled so many WB/CW shows before it and the action pieces that have made the Arrowverse such a smashing success, coupled with a cinematic aspect ratio and production values uncommon for broadcast television.

Superman & Lois eschews the more formulaic tropes of its Arrowverse predecessors, giving each episode a more relaxed sense of urgency. For all its sillier arcs, Arrow consistently delivered top-notch stunt choreography in practically every episode. That kind of episodic pacing doesn’t really suit Clark Kent in quite the same way as Oliver Queen, hardly the proper superhero to go busting into warehouses late at night.

Nor is Clark Kent the primary focus. As good as a Superman as Tyler Hoechlin is, Elizabeth Tulloch often captivates the most attention. Leaving Metropolis for the sake of her family, Lois Lane gave up a career-defining position as the star reporter for a major newspaper, the kind of stature that would grant her instant celebrity status in the real world. Both Lois & Clark are personalities far bigger than Smallville, yet they feel at home in this environment as they teach their boys how to be men.

The constant juggle of responsibility between their own family and the world at large makes for quite compelling television. Through its early episodes, Superman & Lois has fared quite well at satisfying its audience’s natural urge for superhero action as well as the bread and butter CW family storytelling. This isn’t the kind of show that makes for a marquee offering for a streaming service, but it’s the kind of series one can look forward to each week, a sense of familiarity desperately needed in this pandemic landscape.

Such a balance works well with its broader storyline involving Morgan Edge (Adam Rayner), a clash of a capitalist mogul and small town values. A real estate developer is hardly on the same level as Damian Dahrk or Eobard Thawne. Superman & Lois so far has shown that it doesn’t necessarily need a menacing “big bad.”

The Arrowverse won’t be around forever. HBO Max’s own slate of DC content will naturally diminish the broader importance of The CW to deliver weekly superhero narratives for television audiences. Whatever the future holds for broadcast TV, Superman & Lois captures one’s attention with its great storytelling.

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Monday

29

March 2021

0

COMMENTS

Transgender Day of Visibility: A Dissent

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March 31st is International Transgender Day of Visibility. Ian would really like to see the day switched to Transgender Day of Action or Day of Hiring a Trans Person. Trans people are visible. Trans people don’t need additional visibility. Trans people need equity.

More than 80 anti-transgender bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the country in 2021 alone. Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi have passed bills targeting trans healthcare and participation in sports. Trans people deserve more than to be seen, we need a seat at the table. 

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Friday

26

March 2021

0

COMMENTS

TTTE & Chill: Percy’s Ghostly Trick

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We are back on the Island of Sodor for another edition of TTTE & Chill, the number one Thomas the Tank Engine recap show in the world. Percy’s Ghostly Trick is a sentimental favorite tape. Ian & Tara break down the intricacies of Percy’s prank, Douglas’ daring rescue of Oliver, the infamous “Thanksgiving” episode, and the handling of the regatta medical emergency in All at Sea.

 

This tape covers the following episodes

  • Thomas’ Anthem (music video)
  • Percy’s Ghostly Trick
  • Woolly Bear
  • Thomas and Percy’s Mountain Adventure
  • Escape
  • Oliver Owns Up
  • All at Sea

Be sure to check out all of our other episodes of TTTE & Chill! 

Photo courtesy of the Britt Allcroft Company

 

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Monday

22

March 2021

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COMMENTS

Shoplifters of the World is a messy slog that’s bound to depress longtime fans of The Smiths

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The Smiths are an easy band to fall in love with. Morrissey’s humorously melancholic lyrics work beautifully layered on top of Johnny Marr’s jangly riffs. Producing only 70 songs over the course of their five-year career, with only a few duds, it’s not very hard to memorize the lyrics to them all. There’s a certain poetic tragedy to be found in their short tenure as a group, undoubtedly enhancing their legacy.

The new film Shoplifters of the World centers its narrative in the immediate aftermath of the group’s breakup. Armed with a soundtrack full of Smiths tracks, director/writer Stephen Kijak presents a story that takes place over the course of a single day. The longer the film goes on, the more it looks like that was the same amount of time it took to craft his atrocious screenplay.

The slice of life method might have worked better if Kijak hadn’t written two absolute clunkers to serve as his leads. Cleo (Helena Howard) mostly wants to party to numb the pain of the group’s breakup, also possessing a strange kleptomaniac streak. Dean (Ellar Coltrane) takes a far more unhealthy approach, holding a local heavy metal DJ named “Full Metal Mickey” (Joe Manganiello) hostage at gunpoint and forcing him to disrupt his set to play entirely Smiths songs.

Kijak relies too heavily on Smiths songs to carry his otherwise empty narrative. Longtime fans may want to rethink their dedication after watching this disaster. Kijak’s screenplay includes line after line directly lifted from Smiths songs, often merely just the titles of Smiths songs, but he never seems interested in doing anything more than lazy wordplay. There are a few strands of plot to be had in dealing with homophobia and growing up, but the film is never particularly committed to any of its characters.

The biggest problem with the narrative is that it can’t survive at all without The Smiths. The film has absolutely nothing going for it besides its soundtrack. There are a few times where Kijak inserts archival footage of old Moz interviews into the film, trying to send home the message that these songs can save lives. Unfortunately, Morrissey can’t really save this awful film that’s far too desperate to lean on him without a crutch.

There some broader complaints that might feel like nitpicking more if the film didn’t solely cater to Smiths superfans. The timeline is an absolute mess. Taking place on the supposed day of their breakup, the film ignores the basic fact that Marr had left the group months before the release of their final album, Strangeways, Here We Come. Set in Denver, Colorado, Kijak completely overblows what their American popularity would have been in 1987, instead inserting their broader legacy into the picture as if it had been there all along.

Some of those historical liberties might be easier to forgive if the narrative was better or if The Smiths’ broader timeline wasn’t fairly simple to follow. The sole redeeming quality of the film lies in its soundtrack, but Smiths diehards would be better off simply putting on a record and listening to the music without this mess getting in the way. Kijak is obviously a fan by token of the film’s existence, but he does an absolutely terrible job communicating that affection to a broader audience.

Morrissey’s lyrics appeal on a deeply personal level, the kind of depth that keeps fans returning to his work after all these years. None of that is communicated well in Shoplifters of the World. It’s hard to think of a worse way to honor the legacy of The Smiths than by watching this film.

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Sunday

21

March 2021

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COMMENTS

Zack Snyder’s Justice League delivers on its mission

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It’s easy to frame Zack Snyder’s Justice League as an attempt to correct an error, as the cinematic Justice League will likely go down as one of the worst superhero movies of all time, an abomination of blockbuster filmmaking. An unthinkable tragedy forced Snyder to step away from the destination his entire DCEU had been working toward, but that entire strategy had been under question since the muted reception to Snyder’s Man of Steel & Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, as well as the Snyder-produced Suicide Squad.

The world has changed quite a lot since 2017. An unprecedented fan campaign coupled with a streaming service in need of content amidst an industry, and a globe, ravaged by the pandemic affords a rare do-over for the line-up composed of DC Comics’ best assets. Relying almost entirely on footage shot before Snyder previously stepped away from the film, ZSJL is a film firmly rooted in the same problems that had the broader population clamoring for Snyder to be removed as the architect of the DCEU in the first place. The only thing that’s fundamentally different is a sense that this film is the proper concluding chapter to an uneven era in DC lore.

Time has been kind to Snyder’s bleak Earth. The runtime of just over four hours might be anxiety-inducing to a bladder seated in a crowded theatre, but ZSJL’s narrative fares much better from the comfort of one’s couch. The only pressing issue is the 4:3 aspect ratio, which feels more than a bit confining to footage that once might have played best on an IMAX screen. It’s not hard to imagine that the dedicated fans up for watching such an epic in that environment may one day get their wish.

The narrative plays well without Joss Whedon’s forced efforts at humor. It’s fair to say that the idea of a Justice League film may have been better served by giving its full roster their own solo films ahead of the team-up, as ZSJL spends much of its time properly introducing Aquaman, Cyborg, and The Flash. Snyder’s work is at least aware of this reality, forcing Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne to juggle to awkward comradery amidst these heroes united by a common existential cause.

As with his earlier DC Comics adaptations, Snyder is in no rush to get to the core of his narrative. The first ninety minutes contain far too many sequences that are fundamentally superfluous to his broader intentions. The gel doesn’t always settle perfectly, but where Snyder especially succeeds with his worldbuilding is his ability to make it feel lived-in. ZSJL doesn’t ignore its predecessor films like Whedon’s trainwreck. Batman v Superman remains a bloated mess, but Snyder keeps his eye on the ball, rewarding fans who have put in the effort to engage with his ideas over the years.

Steppenwolf is still an imperfect choice to be the Justice League’s first big villain, but the restoration of Darkseid to the film at least keeps some air in the room. Snyder clearly intended to save Darkseid for a sequel that will almost certainly never be made, a reservation that won’t see its payoff. It’s a messy dynamic, but certainly much more cohesive than its 2017 predecessor.

Perhaps the film’s best asset comes through the subtraction of the earlier film’s greatest crime. Henry Cavill’s CGI-erased mustache served as the biggest joke of the 2017 Justice League, a conduit to channel through everything else that was wrong with the movie. Here, Superman still isn’t in the film very much, but that’s a worthy trade-off to see Kal-El’s distracting upper lip removed from the equation.

Snyder hasn’t exactly pieced together a great movie, but his vision has a cohesive flow sorely missing from its predecessor. Longtime fans will find much to love in the culmination of his work. The hashtag #ReleaseTheSnyderCut has delivered what it set out to achieve. The film may bear the same issues that plagued much of Snyder’s time spearheading the DCEU, but there’s a poetic sense of justice in seeing the director given the chance to properly complete his work.

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Friday

19

March 2021

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COMMENTS

SXSW Review: The Hunt for Planet B

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The question of extraterrestrial life is hardly a matter of if, but where. The universe is a pretty massive place, far beyond human comprehension. NASA has barely scratched the surface of our own galaxy, let alone the far reaches of the cosmos.

The James Webb Space Telescope, set to launch into space on October 31st, represents a step forward in humanity’s understanding of the broader universe. Nathaniel Kahn’s new documentary The Hunt for Planet B aims to bring these broad existential questions back down to earth, focusing on the human equation in the exploration. The balance is a dynamic that Kahn continuously struggles with throughout the course of the narrative.

The Hunt for Planet B is light on science, a narrative without nearly enough substance to sustain a feature-length runtime. Kahn only seems interested in the telescope or NASA for brief moments, almost desperate to turn his attention anywhere else. No one sitting down to watch the film would actually expect Kahn to find planet B, but ninety minutes with this material hardly leaves one with much of a deeper understanding of any of the material.

At one point, the documentary turns its attentions to the music preferences of one of the scientists during a car ride. The subject notes an interest in 80s music. If you want to watch a documentary to learn about what kind of genres of music scientists working on the James Webb Space Telescope enjoy, Kahn certainly delivers on that front. The same can hardly be said for those looking for substantive discussions on complex science.

Part of this problem is hardly Kahn’s fault. His subjects are able to succinctly explain all the things that we don’t know about the universe, but much less successful in giving a lay audience a better perspective of what we do know. That might not be as much of an issue if Kahn seemed actually interested in the telescope that’s supposed to be at the heart of the narrative.

There are other weird points of obvious filler beyond the 80s music chatter. There are a few scenes that feature C-Span footage of House committee oversight into NASA, showcasing how little elected officials understand about science. These sequences might be more compelling if Kahn managed to tie them back into his overall narrative, but there isn’t much of a cohesive storyline here.

With the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope delayed due to the pandemic, it seems likely that Kahn’s documentary had to be curtailed as well. That might be easier to forgive if The Hunt for Planet B wasn’t such a dull experience, a film that has no business carrying a feature runtime. The whole thing could’ve been easily condensed into a format more suitable for a 60 Minutes segment without losing any substance.

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Friday

19

March 2021

0

COMMENTS

SXSW Review: Potato Dreams of America

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The world has seen quite a few coming out narratives over the past few decades as LGBTQ culture has become more mainstream. The world that Potato Dreams of America debuts into is quite different than the one director/writer Wes Hurley grew up in. America has changed quite a bit since Hurley’s short film Little Potato premiered in 2017. Both films are based on Hurley’s experiences as a Russian immigrant to America, at a time when being gay was hardly accepted in either country.

With Potato Dreams of America, Hurley utilizes a surrealist landscape to tell his life’s story. The narrative covers a wide stretch, from his youth to early adulthood. As a director, he’s inventive with his storytelling, playing with his character’s accents to highlight his fish out of water status in both countries. Coupled with the luscious sets, Hurley crafts a compelling backdrop for the film.

Unfortunately, the script is pretty lackluster. Hurley throws cliché after cliché at the audience, tired humor centered around capitalism and the American dream. There’s really nothing in this narrative that hasn’t been explored before on screen, a situation exacerbated by the film’s stunning mediocrity.

The performances fare a bit better than the screenplay. As the “American Potato” (the unnamed protagonist that’s clearly a stand-in for Hurley) and Jesus Christ, Tyler Bocock and Jonathan Bennett supply a couple of entertaining scenes in the middle, albeit hindered by the otherwise lackluster presentation. Lea DeLaria does a great job as Potato’s mother Tamara, easily the best performance of the film.

Based on true events, it’s clear that Hurley prioritized autobiography at the expense of his film’s story. This is 90 minutes of Hurley’s life that obviously means a great deal to him as a filmmaker, having previously explored his childhood in the earlier short. He does a terrible job translating that passion to the audience.

Autobiography or not, Hurley doesn’t really have anything interesting to share about growing up as a gay immigrant. This story might have played better ten years ago, but here it comes across as dated and at times, regressive. At one point, Potato’s mother expresses indifference to her son’s coming out. Whether that’s true of Hurley’s life or not, it doesn’t make for compelling material to watch on screen.

Potato Dreams of America struggles to present itself as more than a vanity project with a terrible script. It is a positive sign of the times that Hurley’s sincere story of coming out lands with such a thud in 2021. Unfortunately, his film isn’t strong enough to sustain itself without any novelty in its premise.

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Friday

19

March 2021

0

COMMENTS

SXSW Review: Our Father

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Grief has a way of bringing people together who wouldn’t otherwise spend more than a few moments in each other’s company. The loss of a loved one can put one’s own future in perspective, time itself an ever-fleeting concept. Director Bradley Grant Smith centers Our Father in the wake of a suicide, a father’s death reuniting two sisters on very different paths.

The narrative follows Beta (Baize Buzan) and Zelda (Allison Torem) as they search for their long-lost uncle Jerry (Austin Pendleton), estranged from their broader family for over thirty years. Beta is eager to leave town for grad school in Connecticut in an effort to hit the reset button on her otherwise mundane existence. She and Zelda are not close, using their quest to find Jerry as an effort to spend some time together before going their separate ways.

Smith’s worldbuilding largely appears to be the product of trial and error, throwing bits of quirk at the wall to see what sticks. Little of it does. Scene after scene, Our Father tries to frame itself as an oddball comedy, but the writing falls spectacularly flat after the first few minutes.

This dynamic is exacerbated by the relationship between the film’s leading actresses. Smith deliberately positions Beta and Zelda as having no real relationship, kneecapping his intentions to position Our Father as a buddy comedy. The scattershot pacing never consistently makes rectifying this a priority, draining the narrative’s ability to hit home down the stretch.

Smith rarely seems to understand what he wants to do with his characters. Beta and Zelda frequently looked confused, even bored, on their quest, making it pretty hard to relate to any of them. Aside from Uncle Jerry, the male characters are pretty atrociously written, cringe-filled scenes that don’t really serve any broader purposes.

Pendleton is the sole performer who seems to have any idea what’s going on with the material, delivering a powerful scene in the third act that feels completely divorced from the rest of the narrative. That kind of momentum can’t be sustained for long, and the film doesn’t really have a strong enough foundation to produce any satisfying resolutions. The whole thing is a completely disjointed experience.

Our Father feels like the product of someone who knew how to make a movie but didn’t understand how to tell a story. The narrative alternates between being painfully boring or needlessly obtuse. An unfortunate mess.

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Thursday

18

March 2021

0

COMMENTS

SXSW Review: Swan Song

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Increased LGBTQ visibility has done wonders for our community as a whole. With the modern serving as the mere infancy for broader gay rights as a whole, there are plenty of older people who won’t live to see the sins of the past corrected. Swan Song centers its narrative in the final chapter of a colorful man taking one last trek through a very different world than the one he once thrived in.

Pat Pitsenbarger (Udo Kier) is a retired hairdresser who spends his days in a nursing home. He doesn’t have long to live, but receives a new lease on life when he learns that a former client wanted him to style her hair at her funeral. Setting off on a trip down memory lane through his town of Sandusky, Ohio, Pat takes the chance to revisit his old stomping grounds for what might be the last time.

Kier carries Swan Song, delivering one of the most moving performances of his illustrious career. Writer/director Todd Stephens wisely recognizes this dynamic, largely crafting the film to make full use of his star’s talents. Pat has lived a sad life, but Kier is so full of energy that you never really pity him as a character. What could have just been a sad narrative instead finds itself oddly uplifting.

Based on Stephens’ own experiences growing up as a gay kid in the 80s, Swan Song also serves as an homage to the old-school gay bars that are rapidly vanishing from the American landscape. While the narrative is a little too convenient at times, Stephens manages to pull off a touching tribute without falling into the trap of criticizing how mainstream acceptance is actually bad for LGBTQ culture. The world has changed. That’s mostly a good thing, except maybe for people like Pat who hardly recognize the society that they’re about to leave.

The film also manages to indulge Pat’s dated habits without forcing a mandate for him to get with the times. Pat spends much of the narrative in search of a shampoo that had been discontinued for years, taking long drags of a dated brand of cigarillo as he soaks in a present that doesn’t have a place for him. There may be an inclination to tell a man like Pat to get with the times, but why should he?

There’s a lot about Pat’s life that’s hinted at without being fully explored. The 105-minute runtime doesn’t aim to provide a complete picture of the man, instead finding acceptance in the idea that not every sin of the past needs to be corrected. It’s easy to root for Pat even after accepting the idea that he probably wasn’t the greatest man on the planet. While parts of Swan Song may feel familiar, Kier ensures that his infectious enthusiasm carries over to the audience.

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Thursday

18

March 2021

0

COMMENTS

Lord Varys: A Transgender Perspective

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones, Podcast

Grab your lavender and your little birds, we’re going to Westeros. Join Ian for a solo episode all about Lord Varys. As someone who knows what it’s like to lose their balls, Ian feels a kindred connection to the Spider. For his talent, George R.R. Martin often portrays Varys in an exceedingly cartoonish fashion that plays into homophobic stereotypes. Join for a close reading of many of Varys’ key passages.

 

This episode will cover the following chapters:

 

A Game of Thrones

  • Catelyn IV
  • Eddard IV
  • Eddard V
  • Eddard VII
  • Eddard VIII
  • Eddard XI
  • Eddard XII
  • Eddard XIV
  • Sansa IV
  • Eddard XV
  • Tyrion IX

 

A Clash of Kings

  • Tyrion I
  • Tyrion II
  • Tyrion III
  • Tyrion IV
  • Tyrion VI
  • Tyrion VIII
  • Tyrion IX
  • Tyrion X
  • Tyrion XII
  • Sansa VIII

 

A Storm of Swords

  • Sansa I
  • Tyrion II
  • Tyrion III
  • Davos IV
  • Tyrion IX
  • Tyrion X
  • Tyrion XI

 

A Feast for Crows

  • Cersei I
  • Jaime I
  • Cersei IV
  • Jaime III

A Dance with Dragons

  • Tyrion I
  • Tyrion II
  • Tyrion IV
  • The Lost Lord
  • Epilogue

For a complete list of our ASOIAF episodes, check out our neatly organized episode page. https://ianthomasmalone.podbean.com/p/episode-categories/

Image courtesy of HBO

 

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