Ian Thomas Malone

Monthly Archive: March 2023



March 2023



Shazam! Fury of the Gods tries to do too many things at once, an empty disaster

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

Superhero sequels often have an unhealthy need to pad out their rosters with far too many characters. The “connected universe” approach deployed by DC and Marvel can give these cinematic experiences the feel of open-ended television, or their own comic book source material. It bears noting that film does not possess the narrative space as TV or comics. The entirety of a superhero’s cinematic canon can possess a shorter runtime than a single television season, peanuts compared to the ninety years that someone like Billy Batson has spent in the pages of a comic book.

Shazam! Fury of the Gods squeezes six main superheroes and three villains into a runtime of barely over two hours. Further exacerbating the dynamic is that five of the six superheroes are played by two different people, their child and adult counterparts, with the eldest member of the “Shazamily,” Mary (Grace Caroline Currey) now played by the same actress in both forms. Billy Batson (Zachary Levi and Asher Angel) is no longer so much the star of his own movie than a traffic cop trying to keep his family, and the various pieces of his movie, together.

The plot is pretty straightforward, though delivered in an exceedingly incoherent fashion. Two daughters of the Titan (god) Atlas, Hespera (Helen Mirren), and Kalypso (Lucy Liu) want the staff from the first movie to take over the world. Why? The movie doesn’t really have time to explain the motives for either character, besides the general sense that they are not very nice.

The film barely has time to explore any members of the Shazamily either. Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer and Adam Brody) functions essentially as the lead kid, still being bullied in school in a sequence that feels quite wrong for the year 2023. He befriends a new girl, Anne (Rachel Zegler), a figure anyone in the audience would know to be important in a narrative that already has way too many characters. The rest of the family, Batson included, are mostly stuck in their plotlines from the first film. The one notable exception is a member of the family who is gay, seemingly just because it would likely be the only thing anyone would remember about this character.

Fury of the Gods feels oddly empty for a film with far too many characters, coasting solely off any remaining goodwill earned by its predecessor. This narrative tries to pretend it has a heart to cover up the overabundant sense of nothing at its core. There isn’t any time to do anything besides go through the motions, at times reminding the audience of the charm this story once had, when it space to actually explore its own characters.

The film does find time to poke fun at the peculiar nature of its heroes’ identities, repeatedly referring to Freddy as “Captain Everypower.” There’s a reason the Shazamily sounds so awkward to say. Billy, Mary, and Freddy all spent many decades wearing variations of the “Captain Marvel,” moniker, while the younger three are much newer characters. Shazam’s powers and his name were involved in two of the most famous lawsuits in comic book history, creating a sense of confusion for both casual fans and comic book diehards alike. The trouble is, DC itself hasn’t really understood what to do with the Marvel family either, decidedly B-tier heroes who lend themselves well to charm, but not necessarily convolution.

Mirren and Liu are completely wasted playing generic villains. The film’s humor doesn’t land well within a narrative that never seems to understand what’s going on, even with its paint-by-numbers delivery. Anyone can follow along with this generic mess. The broader question is, why would anyone want to?

It’s easy to see how this formula might have worked as a season of television, with plenty of time and space to explore all the themes director David F. Sandberg tossed out there. This narrative has no business being a movie. The lackluster special effects don’t exactly look all that cinematic either.

Shazam used to be a highlight of the DCEU’s splintered roster. Fury of the Gods squanders all that goodwill. The first Shazam! was a relatable treat, a self-contained story that could be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of whether you’ve ever picked up a comic book. Fury of the Gods tried to do so many things at one time that it actually achieved nothing at all.




March 2023



The Mandalorian Season 3 Review: Chapter 19

Written by , Posted in Blog, Star Wars, TV Reviews

As a show, The Mandalorian is going through a television equivalent of puberty these days. What started as an episodic space western with an adorable breakout character is starting to embrace the idea of having an actual supporting cast, no longer content to treat Din Djarin as a Man with No Name-type stand-in. Whether a pivot toward serialization is a good idea remains to be seen, but Chapter 19, “The Convert” didn’t exactly present the best case for less Grogu in a world where many are perfectly fine with “The Baby Yoda Show.”

The episode started off with a bit of an unfortunate whiff. Mando takes his bath, completing his redemption arc without getting eaten by the Mythosaur, a win for any of us who were worried that the show might spend its entire season centered around helmet drama. Rather than build on actual narrative stakes between Mando and his reunited son, or Bo-Katan, the show throws us into a very rushed space battle with terrible CGI, unfunny R5-D4 antics, and plenty of plot holes. One could accept that Katan’s ship’s radars might not pick up a bunch of Tie Interceptors, but fans have known since the very first Star Wars that Ties can’t fly far without a carrier. The idea that Katan’s home is being bombed by a squadron with seemingly no warning or explanation for how they got there is clownish behavior for a franchise that does little else besides lean on nostalgia, the kind of stuff that can’t be covered up by Grogu rapidly opening and closing his pram, which isn’t as cute as anyone making the show thinks it is.

One can kind of see the logic in exploring a character like Dr. Pershing, who helped set up Team Mando’s Grogu rescue in the season two finale. Dedicating the majority of the longest episode of the series thus far to a tertiary villain is a tall order before anyone considers the Andor-sized elephant in the room. Right in the middle of The Mandalorian’s broader narrative identity crisis, the show made the inexplicable decision to start riffing off the only Star Wars show that could legitimately call itself a serious drama.

Andor is the only live-action Star Wars show that doesn’t deploy StageCraft, technology that’s often ruined The Book of Boba Fett, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and too many recent Marvel movies. While The Mandalorian is often one of the only Disney products to properly wield StageCraft, Andor, with its lavish practical sets, is one of the most beautiful shows on television. There is no world in which The Mandalorian’s Coruscant looks better than Andor’s. It’s unclear why the former even tried. Putting aside the differences in practical effects vs. StageCraft, it makes no sense for a series fresh off a two-plus year hiatus would bench its leads only to deliver its audience a cheaper version of a show many of them had undoubtedly recently seen.

The Mandalorian and Andor serve two very different audiences. The latter carries substantive, serious stakes, obviously intended for adults. The former is the standard bearer for an entire streaming service, a glorified live action cartoon. That’s not a bad thing either. Diversity of content is supposed to be a good thing, even if this episode reminded us that apparently Coruscant has “one trillion” permanent residents, even if the same handful of people keep showing up across this galaxy that can’t help feeling small as a result. This plotline had no business being in The Mandalorian, except maybe because The Mandalorian doesn’t know how to be The Mandalorian right now.

Some of this awkward Coruscant dynamic might have been averted if Dr. Pershing’s adventures with Elia Kane, who fans might justifiably mistake for a new character given how long it’s been since season two, had been broken up with a scene or two with Mando and friends in the middle of the episode. The end revelation sort of justifies this, as it might looked awkward for Katan to have a dialogue-heavy scene without removing her helmet, but the show didn’t exactly look great spending all that time on two characters plenty would have forgotten about. The sympathy the show wants its audience to feel for Pershing is totally undercut by the ease with which he instantly slipped back into his old cloning ways, a former villain violating the terms of his amnesty for seemingly no reason other than he thinks he knows better than people who didn’t try and perform lab experiments on the cutest character in television.

The episode almost redeemed itself at the end when Mando and Bo arrived at the Mandalorian hideout. There is clearly a darksaber-sized conflict brewing between the two, Bo keeping the mythosaur sighting to herself. Putting aside the silliness of the living waters of Mandalore, Vizsla delivered a compelling sequence on the nature of identity when she accepted Katan into their tribe, despite the latter belonging to a completely different sect of Mandalorian lore. Katan, who once sought the darksaber to lead her people to salvation, suddenly falls backwards into the same kind of found family dynamic she’s clearly been longing for during all of her throne sulks. As confusing as the rival Mandalorian factions are, and as clunky as the show dumps its exposition, this episode concludes with real narrative stakes established between two of its best characters, though the show may not be well-served by keeping Katee Sackoff under her helmet for too long.

Chapter 19 was an unfortunate dud that ended on a compelling note. The show started to take baby steps toward the plotline that consumed much its first two seasons, the value of Grogu’s DNA, but perhaps at the wrong moment. We don’t need a Dr. Pershing-centered episode before The Mandalorian has actually taken a moment to evaluate the nature of the relationship between Mando and Grogu, the latter of which will undoubtedly stick out like a sore thumb the longer his dad hangs out with his helmet clan. We certainly don’t need bargain bin Andor with StageCraft effects. We’re almost halfway through the season and things only start to feel like they’re headed in a cohesive direction.



March 2023



The Mandalorian Season 3 Review: Chapter 18

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

The Mandalorian used to be a show about found family, the bonds of love stretching beyond matters of blood. The show is still sort of about that, but now it’s mainly about a grown man trying to redeem himself from the heinous crime of taking off his helmet, first to rescue his son and then to say goodbye, a farewell that was scrubbed away on a completely different television show. Fans are not necessarily wrong to wonder why any of us should care beyond the basic reality that Grogu is still very adorable.

After a solid premiere that efficiently, if not awkwardly, set the stage for the rest of the season, episode two doubled down on a couple of utterly tired Star Wars tropes. As a company, Disney has always had an unhealthy love affair with nostalgia, something that essentially ruined the sequel series. I doubt many members of the audience watching the original film in 1977 ever thought that R5-D4 would become an important character more than forty years down the road, providing unnecessary comic relief on a show that already has too many characters capable of fulfilling that role, but here we are.

The Mandalorian can’t let Tatooine go. Production clearly enjoys the ease of filming on desert sets, but the overuse of Peli both last season and in The Book of Boba Fett exposes this show’s broader issue of its weak bench. Mando used to meet new characters every week. Now he just seems to travel in a circle visiting the same handful of people. Amy Sedaris is certainly fun, but no amount of comic relief can cover up the awkward narrative mess that was Peli throwing her astromech droid on Mando for no real reason. Why does she want to get rid of R5-D4 so badly? Does anyone actually care? R5-D4’s cowardly antics were tiresome and not amusing in the slightest.

Star Wars also loves its MacGuffins. The Force Awakens used a “map to Skywalker” as a major plot point, presumably because J.J. Abrams needed a substitute for the Death Star plans in his near shot-for-shot remake of A New Hope. No one seemed to notice that the whole quest to obtain the map was rendered moot by Luke’s apathy in The Last Jedi, a breathtakingly bad display of narrative plotting for a multibillion-dollar franchise. The whole quest to take a bath in Mandalore is essentially just as stupid, something for Mando to do because the show needs something to focus its attention on when Grogu isn’t eating something or being cute.

What happened to Grogu being in danger if he wasn’t properly trained by a Jedi? He’s clearly not as much of a baby anymore, a decent pilot, though Anakin already displayed that N-1 starfighters could be expertly flown by complete amateurs in The Phantom Menace. The most realistic part of the whole episode was Bo-Katan snapping out of her throne sulking upon sight of Grogu’s adorable face.

The ruins of Mandalore featured dull, lifeless special effects accompanied by static cinematography. Disney’s StageCraft technology supposedly costs tens of millions of dollars each episode, yet the cheap ugly CGI can’t even pull off a single wide shot with a character in it. It’s utterly pathetic how far the standards in science fiction have fallen. The Mandalorian has often deployed StageCraft better than most other Disney properties, but this episode, unfortunately, laid all its worst inclinations to bare. The shots were dark, frantic, and worst of all, boring. Give me Ewoks and Jar Jar Binks any day over the hideous abomination in the eyes of man that is StageCraft practically every time it’s been deployed in recent memory.

“The Mines of Mandalore” tried to address the elephant in the room which is the nature of Mando’s quest when Bo-Katan called out his ridiculous escapade. Mando wasn’t necessarily wrong to point out that ceremonies and traditions are what define our cultures and communities. The trouble is, his place as a Mandalorian is ill-defined and out of place with the show’s style as a space Western. Just as Grogu doesn’t belong with the Jedi, Mando doesn’t really belong with his people either. Maybe the show will head in that direction, but for now, it’s a bit tedious to spend this time on this confusing mess of a plotline.

Dave Filoni’s outsized influence continues to be felt with the Mandalore exposition, completely missing why a general audience enjoys watching the show. The beauty of a western is that anyone can follow. It’s unclear how many casual fans could follow along with the last five or so minutes of this episode, dumping tons of dialogue that are bound to confuse anyone who hasn’t seen The Clone Wars or Rebels, two animated series that originally aired on Cartoon Network and Disney XD respectively, channels almost entirely aimed at children. Star Wars is certainly family-friendly entertainment, a reality that riles plenty of adult viewers, but it’s a bit of a stretch to expect that a general audience made the time to watch the animated spinoffs explicitly written for kids.

Episode two was ugly, convoluted, and worst of all, boring. This show makes no emotional investments in its characters, coasting entirely on cute antics and nostalgia. The episodic format does give the show plenty of space to turn things around, but this season’s broader arc is an absolute dud. The sooner the show can find a new narrative to focus on than redemption for Mando’s helmet, the better.




March 2023



Big Brother Canada must restore the live feeds

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

Big Brother can be a difficult passion to explain. The idea of watching over a dozen strangers locked in a house full of cameras tracking their every move for close to three months can sound monotonous, creepy, and even by design, a tad Orwellian. Big Brother is the ultimate endurance test in reality television, a marathon of lies, deception, and treachery that packs a hefty cash prize for the houseguest who manages to conquer the pit of vipers.

Big Brother Canada recently announced the discontinuation of its live feeds ahead of its eleventh season, in favor of curated “Digital Dallies” featuring highlights of the day’s events inside the house. Though there have been more than sixty iterations of Big Brother across the world over hundreds of seasons, BBCAN is the only one to follow the American style format, where houseguests are allowed to openly scheme against each other, a stark departure from the original rules of the Dutch-originated series. Whereas most international Big Brother series play out like American Idol, the public voting on each eviction, Big Brother US and Big Brother Canada take their cues more from Survivor, backstabbings and all.

The live feeds are where Big Brother makes its magic. Smart players recognize the slow-moving nature of the game, subtly planting the seeds of chaos in each week’s Head of Household. There are often more alliances formed in the early weeks of the show than one could count on both hands, certainly more than could be depicted on the show’s three weekly primetime episodes, commonly referred to as the “edit,” by superfans. Dozens of social media accounts dedicate practically every waking hour to covering the events of the house, ensuring that more casual fans never miss a beat.

Big Brother Canada is one of the best-produced reality shows on television. Its two most recent seasons featured some of the best dynamic gameplay and most memorable casts in the history of Big Brother North America, both immensely fluid seasons that weren’t governed by a majority alliance. Big Brother Canada contestants enter that house ready to make big moves, flip the votes, and play the game at a caliber comparable to the format’s golden era. People can say that with confidence in large part due to the transparency provided by the live feeds. We all know that BBCAN is in fact, that good.

Some fans will undoubtedly lose interest in the show as a result of this baffling decision, but the fact still remains that BBCAN is the only other Big Brother in the world that plays by the rules that have helped ensure the longevity of the game more than twenty years after its debut. Plenty of other countries have given up on Big Brother, including its native Netherlands. Big Brother Canada itself saw its future up in the air after its fifth season, with massive fan support saving the show from cancellation.

The decision to cancel the feeds will certainly push the show back in that unfortunate direction, which is a real shame. Big Brother Canada has a gorgeous house with ample space for the secret missions it lovingly deploys much more frequently than its American counterpart, a throwback to the original format of the show. Arisa Cox is a fantastic, engaging host with a genuine passion for the game that exudes from every one of the show’s eviction episodes. Fans taking to Twitter with vows to abandon BBCAN should consider all we stand to lose if our friends in the north close up shop.

The live feeds are often mundane, especially in the back half of the season when there are fewer houseguests, who are all naturally feeling the effects of the experience. Like baseball, Big Brother is a game not defined by constant excitement, but those little moments where a spark ignites, and you remember why you fell in love with this thing that so many fail to understand. Anyone who’s ever watched a flip come together in real-time knows the sheer power of the live feeds to set this game apart from anything else out there.

The sun is setting on traditional network television. The streaming era offers seemingly endless entertainment possibilities, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the power of communal experiences. Much as the world has changed over the past twenty years, Big Brother has always been there to give us all a distraction from the outside world, a sport fit for the underdogs with a hunger to compete in a game that calls for broader talent than sheer athleticism.

Big Brother is a beautiful game. Big Brother Canada has often represented the apex of the format’s sheer power to excite and delight. The absence of the live feeds threatens to render the game indistinguishable from all the other reality shows out there. I’ll still watch Big Brother Canada 11 because I feel the producers have earned my respect as a viewer after a decade of delivering some of the best reality television in the world. For the future of the game we all love, I hope they reconsider this decision that poses a very real existential threat to its survival. Big Brother without the live feeds is not Big Brother.



March 2023



The Mandalorian Season 3 Review: Chapter 17

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

There is no precedent in television history for The Book of Boba Fett’s decision to hand over two of its seven episodes almost completely to The Mandalorian, let alone in a way that completely undid the latter’s superb second season finale. There are undoubtedly millions of Mandalorian fans who did not make it to the fifth episode of Fett’s unremarkable season and have no idea how or why Mando and Grogu were reunited. Season three’s opener “The Apostate” at times didn’t seem particularly concerned with that reality, exacerbated by the more than two-year wait since we’ve had an actual episode of The Mandalorian.

The show has hardly missed a beat after moving on from its initial two-year arc, quickly establishing the stakes for Mando’s re-entry into his people’s good graces. The sequence featuring the giant crocodile was among the best uses of StageCraft after a stretch of extremely lackluster special effects in The Book of Boba Fett, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Thor: Love and Thunder, and Ant-Man and the Wasp Quantumania among others. The Mandalorian continued its streak of superb effects alongside some beautiful practical sets, including a gorgeously revamped Nevarro that looks a teensy bit like Batuu from Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

The scene with Greef Karga was a little clunky, offering a bit of necessary exposition while Grogu engaged in some of his most memorable antics, using the force to spin Greef’s chair and eat his desk candy. Mando is right to note that the situation with Grogu is complicated, but the episode passed on an opportunity to explore this dynamic between the two, even with Greef serving as the closest thing Mando might have to a confidant on the show.

The decision to rebuild IG-11 makes some narrative sense, Mando wanting a capable droid to explore the perils of Mandalore. The comic relief centered around IG-11 going rogue fell a little flat, indicative of the show’s broader relationship with its extended cast. The season two finale featured a full room of allies on Mando’s side when Luke Skywalker appeared. Now, Mando seems weirdly short on allies, though Cara Dune’s absence was deftly explained after the actress self-canceled off the show with her Majorie Taylor Greene-type antics. Nevarro feels weirdly small, Greef looking like he runs the show alone in a town with the resources to make an IG-11 statue in the square but no suitable alternative droids to help Mando’s mission besides a broken potentially homicidal bounty hunter turned nurse.

Letting Shard live was inexplicably reckless, a move that bit Mando in the ass almost immediately, albeit in service to a stellar space sequence. It’s clear Shard, and maybe Moff Gideon, will be thorns in Mando’s side down the road. Mando’s refurbished N-1 starfighter is one of the best throwbacks to the prequel trilogy that new Star Wars has given us, a beautiful substitute for the Razor Crest.

The show found itself a bit caught in the weeds with the return of Bo-Katan, who has fallen from grace among her people after failing to acquire the Darksaber in Mando’s possession. The show handled the exposition with some grace, but this episode was the first time that The Clone Wars and Rebels felt truly important to the plot rather than merely enhancing the experience. The overarching plot is understandably becoming more complex that the self-explanatory arc of the first two seasons. It’ll be interesting to see how much season three relies on established Star Wars lore moving forward.

“The Apostate” was solid television that never felt like it needed to make a big splash to compensate for the long hiatus. As a show, The Mandalorian has often produced its best work with fairly self-contained storytelling, but the demands of Mando’s mission will undoubtedly introduce a greater sense of serialization into the mix. The episode didn’t do a great job bridging the gap from Fett’s “Mando 2.5” dynamic, but it certainly served as a strong premiere in setting up the rest of the season.