Ian Thomas Malone

Monthly Archive: July 2023



July 2023



Futurama enters the streaming age without missing a beat

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

Futurama owed its original revival to two elements of the television landscape that are very much no longer in play. Riding the same wave of Adult Swim popularity and DVD sales that saw Family Guy returned to network television, Futurama was originally resurrected as a series of four direct-to-DVD movies that were restructured to comprise a fifth season on cable network Comedy Central, which later commissioned two additional seasons (the exact number of Futurama seasons is a bit tricky to pinpoint). The streaming era has largely replaced both the DVD market and original programming on basic cable, a new normal that the industry is still very much figuring out how to navigate.

While television has changed quite a bit since Futurama aired its most recent finale in 2013, the adult animated comedy scene has largely remained the same. There’s a certain irony in the old cliché about The Simpsons being past its prime when shows like South Park, Family Guy, Bob’s Burgers, and American Dad! have all blown past the range of the former’s consensus golden age. Futurama, along with the recently resurrected Aqua Teen Hunger Force and the upcoming revival of King of the Hill, aims to defy the recent string of unsuccessful nostalgia grabs that has plagued live-action continuations of former hits shows.

The first six episodes of Futurama’s upcoming eighth season that were provided to critics demonstrate a show unflustered by the passage of time. Our world has changed a lot since the show introduced us to the 31st century, but the Planet Express team largely carried on in the year 3023 with business as usual, with a few key exceptions. Futurama has always conducted itself with a greater degree of sincerity than most of its animated contemporaries. Season eight gives its characters space to grow without compromising the core foundation of the show.

The episodes are a great blend of character-centric storytelling and the zanier adventures that defined the early days of the show. Topical subjects like streaming TV, cryptocurrency, and monopolistic capitalism are covered with varying degrees of success, in some cases the humor barely scratching the surface of the available material. The voice cast hasn’t lost a beat. Their banter constantly makes you smile like you’re in the company of old friends.

Futurama’s narrative approach lends itself well to the passage of time, with much of the humor tied to the situational comedy of the story rather than straight one-liners or popular culture references. Fan favorites such as Bender and Dr. Zoidberg receive plenty of jokes, but the show gives the entire ensemble plenty of time to shine as well, including many favorites from the recurring bench. The show pokes plenty of fun at itself as well, a well-deserved victory lap of sorts for those of us who have rooted for Futurama’s success over the years.

Season eight is not likely to garner many new converts, but Futurama still has plenty of gas left in the tank. Longtime fans who weren’t too fond of the Comedy Central years are probably best sticking to the original run. The streaming era carries no real mandate comparable to the finite amount of timeslots available for a programming block like Fox’s old “Animation Domination.” Futurama certainly has far less mileage than any of its contemporaries. Season eight might not be genre-defining television, but it’s great to have these characters back for another round of adventures.



July 2023



Barbie is a delightful summer film with slightly awkward messaging

Written by , Posted in Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

Modern blockbuster filmmaking continuously grapples with two conflicting truths. Hollywood has long struggled with diversity, even as it doubles down on franchises and major brands with histories rooted in the same societal structures much of the country is trying to move beyond. A company like Mattel has to put forth an earnest effort to appeal to everyone, without daring to stray too far from the formulas that defined a product like Barbie, including all the ideas that are now semi-safe to call problematic in the mainstream discourse.

Director and co-writer Greta Gerwig, who cut her industry teeth both behind and in front of the camera as part of the mumblecore movement, is uniquely suited to helm a film like Barbie. Mumblecore presented itself as raw intellectual angst, a sense of aimlessness that was never confronted with any pressing need to say anything interesting. Mumblecore is the allure of tapas and its endless possibilities, alongside the reality that you’re not actually going to consume anything that will fill your stomach.

Barbie is a very beautiful movie. Gerwig does a masterful job giving definition to Barbieland while always coloring inside the lines of Mattel’s world. Barbieland genuinely feels like big-budget childhood playtime, a warm and fuzzy encapsulation of the magic of pretend. You never lose sight of the walls of the panopticon, but it’s a confident world with an easy, natural draw.

As “Stereotypical Barbie,” Margot Robbie impressively walks an awkward line between lead character and train conductor, the latter constantly trying to pretend like this film is an ensemble piece. Mattel, Gerwig, and Robbie are all extremely sensitive to the negative societal structures that Barbie upholds, including fascism, body shaming, and an overabundance of whiteness. The fact that an entertaining movie managed to surface through all their defensive posturing is a legitimately impressive feat for a big summer film.

The plot is largely perfunctory and predictable. Barbie is forced to travel to the real world when she starts showing signs of aging, resulting in a lot of humor one could see coming from a mile away. Gerwig and her husband/co-writer Noah Baumbach’s script constantly winks at the idea of patriarchy while never digging beneath the surface of why these systems are in place. One might not be surprised that a film like Barbie would choose not to tackle these sorts of themes, except in the sense that the narrative opens all of these doors itself.

As with many blockbuster films based on franchises or well-known intellectual properties, Barbie struggles down the stretch of its third act. Robbie spends so much time playing second fiddle to other characters that her emotional payoff ends up leaning on audience nostalgia more than it has any right to. Her Barbie is everything, and nothing at all. There’s a vapid air to Barbie’s sense of inclusivity that the film and its 114-minute runtime simply can’t overcome.

None of this is necessarily an issue. Gerwig steers the ship toward heartfelt themes, even if the tides of Barbie’s corporate leviathan never allow for smooth sailing. Robbie is perfectly cast, with a delightful performance that leaves you wanting more. Ryan Gosling brings the ambiguous Rorschach test of a himbo known as Ken to life in a delectable fashion that comes close to stealing the show, though Gerwig is careful not to let a man upstage her quasi-feminist film.

Barbie is a delightful blockbuster movie, albeit one with a few predictable contradictions. The film is self-conscious that Robbie and Gosling, two beautiful white people, are its leads, but takes no meaningful action to alter that dynamic. Its themes of female empowerment contain as much depth as a slogan on a t-shirt from Urban Outfitters. Gerwig’s resume is used more as a shield to uphold the idea of Barbie’s feminist bonafides instead of meaningfully exploring them.

There is no denying that this is a fun movie with an exceptional cast that showed up to play ball. Some might be tempted to say that Mattel stepped on Gerwig’s feet, but her finished product lines up fairly well with her earlier mumblecore work that also struggled to present any genuine takeaways for its audience. The idea that a Hollywood film delivered a clunky take on intersectionality is hardly surprising, except for the fact that Barbie earnestly wants you to believe in its own ideas of empowerment. Maybe a good time at the theatre is more than enough.



July 2023



Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is popcorn entertainment from a franchise that’s starting to show its age

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

There is a certain irony in Tom Cruise’s mission to singularly save cinema, his marquee franchise itself owing its origins to television. Seven entrees in, Mission: Impossible bears little in common to either its 1960s small screen source material or its 1996 cinematic debit. The world itself has less space for the kind of spectacles Cruise likes to stage on the biggest screens possible, many preferring the cozy comforts that the original show provided fifty years ago to the kind of antics that require a trip to the box office. The last few Mission films have sought to up the ante, defying the passage of time itself not just through consumer trends, but the age of Cruise himself.

As its gravity-defying trailers suggest, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One brings all the action that have defined the series since at least its second installment, more carefully refined in the years since Ghost Protocol set the gold standard for blockbuster filmmaking. Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and friends, alongside new ally Grace (Haley Atwell), find themselves pitted against an experimental AI program called “The Entity,” capable of breaching all intelligence and defense networks in the world. Ethan and co battle numerous forces, including an enigmatic figure from his past Gabriel (Esai Morales) for control of a key that controls the computer aboard a sunken Russian submarine.

Director Christopher McQuarrie, in his third outing at the Mission helm, finds a weird balance between the previous two films. Dead Reckoning is tighter than the often-free wheeling Fallout, without the glamour and pizazz of Rogue Nation. The narrative isn’t exactly challenging to follow, but the script is so bogged down with exposition dumps that the audience is perpetually forced to confront its many holes. McQuarrie’s competent craftsmanship is perpetually at odds with the reality that this film isn’t as fun as it could have been, a frantic experience lacking the unadulterated joy of its predecessors.

Cruise’s supporting cast is largely comprised of returning players, including franchise mainstays Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) alongside newer additions Isla Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) and Alanna Mitsopolis (Vanessa Kirby). The weirdest throwback comes in the form of Eugene Kitteridge (Henry Czerny), last seen in the original film, stepping into the role of shady boss more recently occupied by Angela Bassett and Alec Baldwin, neither of whom returned. The bloated roster gives newcomers Morales, Atwell, and Pom Klementieff less time to shine, but the supporting cast does an excellent job working around Cruise, who continues to defy his age as a first-rate Hollywood action hero.

The film’s unwieldy 163-minute runtime is not exactly helped by the Part One in its title, a clunky overstuffed caper that does a lot less with its narrative than earlier entries managed. Dead Reckoning Part One exists in a peculiar space, a first-rate production that makes a strong case for the power of practical effects in the modern era, providing genuine spectacle in every sense of the word. Cruise’s broader mission to save cinema is on full display, a film that rarely pauses to take a breath.

Dead Reckoning Part One is excellent summer entertainment, one of the best cinematic experiences of the season. It is also the first Mission movie in over a decade with absolutely zero claim of superiority to the ones that came before it. To some extent, that might be expected. Cruise, Rhames, and Pegg are all showing their age in a way that hardly rang true the last time around, but the film often feels like it’s running on autopilot going through familiar motions. You can get the sense that the additions of Atwell and Klementieff were at least in part designed to inch the franchise toward a future without Ethan Hunt, despite Cruise’s intentions to continue with the character into his eighties.

The Mission: Impossible franchise has outlived plenty of industry fads over the decades. Part of the key to its success has been its ability to reinvent itself over the years. As its title suggests, there’s still a second half to the story of Dead Reckoning. Part One demonstrates that Mission still has gas left in the tank, but might be in need of a tune-up sooner rather than later.