Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

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Wednesday

17

July 2019

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Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted Showcases a Softer Side of the Fiery Chef

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The idea of Gordon Ramsay doing a travel show exploring the foods of different cultures around the world seems a bit ridiculous when you consider the personality attributes that made him popular in the first place. It’s one thing for Ramsay to unleash his signature temper on reality show contestants, but such behavior would hardly be fitting for guests eager to show him a bit of their local culture. Fortunately, Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted showcases another side of Ramsay than audiences might be used to.

Uncharted has a fairly simple premise across its first season. Ramsay travels to exotic locations to visit with chef friends and to explore their local foods while collecting ingredients for a feast that he prepares for his hosts. Destinations include the Sacred Valley of Peru, the Middle Atlas Mountains of Morocco, and the Hana Coast of Hawaii. Many of the ingredients he collects require a fair bit of physical activity, requiring Ramsay to swim, climb, and dive in order to acquire them.

The camera crews do an excellent job capturing the beautiful landscapes that Ramsay visits. The local experts are also great at giving the audience a crash course on their history, making it quite easy to follow along. Many of the foods depicted are exclusive to these specific locations, staples of the local diet that Ramsay himself is often trying for the first time.

Ramsay proves to be an excellent host, showcasing elements of his personality that general audiences might as unfamiliar with as the locations showcased. He engages with his local guests with such enthusiasm that you can’t help but smile as he bites into another exotic treat. There’s still a number of bleeped-out expletives, but it’s refreshing to see them directed at circumstances rather than people.

The highlight of each episode is almost always watching Ramsay prepare the food he’s collected, combining local methods with his own spin on each recipe. Ramsay does a great job explaining the new techniques to the audience, which often use the local landscape itself. After watching Ramsay slow cook food in a hole he’s recently dug, you might get the culinary urge to try to recreate some of the magic in your own backyard.

One area that Ramsay still needs to work on is his method of communicating the taste of the local foods to the audience. In almost every instance where he tries something he likes, Ramsay exclaims that the food is “delicious,” while often forgetting to expand on what exactly makes it good. He does occasionally provide a bit more insight into the flavor, but it can be hard to follow along. Ramsay meets with plenty of different people in each episode, perhaps explaining the repetition in his descriptors.

Uncharted showcases a lighter side of Ramsay’s personality, trading in his fiery temper for gleeful exuberance as he explores new cultures. It’s a delight to watch, the kind of show where you feel like you’re along on the adventure, learning alongside Ramsay. Culture and food often go hand in hand. Uncharted presents both with a ton of culinary insight, a perfect summer program to take you on vacation from your standard cooking practices.

 

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Monday

15

July 2019

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South Side Is the Funniest New Show of 2019

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Plenty of great sitcoms have made their settings feel like characters in their own narratives. It’s hard to think of Cheers or Seinfeld without the culture of Boston or New York coming to mind, putting aside the inconvenient fact that both shows were filmed in Los Angeles. With Comedy Central’s new show South Side, from Late Night with Jimmy Fallon alumni Bashir Salahuddin, Diallo Riddle and Michael Bliedenl, Chicago lies at the forefront of the narrative. Filmed entirely on location, using actors who grew up in the city, the show delivers laughs at a mile a minute against a backdrop that puts the audience at the heart of the narrative.

South Side features an ensemble cast of predominantly black actors, using the local appliance rental store Rent-T-Own as its primary setting. Salahuddin’s brother Sultan stars as Simon, a recent community college graduate looking for more upward mobility than life as a repo man. Kareme Young co-stars as Kareem, similarly looking for a better life, especially since his brother Quincy (played by Kareme’s real-life brother Quincy Young), serves as Rent-T-Own’s manager, constantly struggling to encourage a semblance of professionalism amongst his uninspired staff.

Chandra Russell is perhaps the show’s breakout star as Sergeant Turner, a police officer constantly unsure of whether to do good or take care of herself in the process. Alongside Bashir Salahuddin’s “Officer Goodnight” the two cops are absolutely hilarious to watch as they skirt ethical lines, taking sides on disputes over Xbox repossessions and Air Jordans that give plenty of food for thought well after you’re finished laughing.

The writing on South Side is absolutely superb. Salahuddin and Riddle have the rare ability to sneak nail-biting jokes into dialogue when you least expect it, the kind of comedic timing that’s intertwined into the plot rather than as a throwaway gag. They find humor in just about every subject, from child-support disputes to Coretta Scott King.

The narrative finds the sweet spot between episodic and serialized across its first season. You don’t necessarily need to watch every episode in order to follow along, but there’s plenty of references that reward those who do. Much of the plots are presented almost like vignettes, but there is a sense of character growth as the show progresses. These characters are here to make you laugh, but the actors engage with them in a way that brings out a level of authenticity you don’t necessarily expect from most sitcoms.

Perhaps the greatest triumph of South Side is the way it feels culturally relevant without being overly political. Police corruption, racial injustice, and income inequality are hardly conventional comedic topics, but the show presents them in a humorous fashion that never feels like it’s making light of the broader issues. National politics are left out entirely, instead focusing in on the struggles of Chicago that have existed for decades. This is a show about the South Side by people who grew up there, presented in a fashion that’s quite accessible for an audience that may not be very familiar with the local culture.

South Side is the funniest new show of 2019. Each episode has more laugh out loud moments than plenty of other comedies manage in an entire season. The writing and acting are spectacular. Salahuddin and Riddle’s love letter to their community is the must-watch show of the summer.

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Friday

12

July 2019

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Wonder Explores the Unique Challenges Presented to Gender Diverse Youth

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Being a gender diverse kid is often a lonely experience. One’s inner sense of self constantly clashes with an outside world that reinforces the idea that there’s something wrong with being different. The changing times can hopefully alleviate some of that rather needless turmoil that too many of us have lived through, but Javier Molina’s new short-film Wonder reminds us of the challenges that too many children still have to face.

Sammy (Benji Siegel) is a young boy growing up in the hood, surrounded by the rigid gender structure that has little place for anything other than strict adherence to traditional masculinity. Sammy wants to be Wonder Woman for Halloween, but his interactions with his peers demonstrate that such a path is perilous to walk.

His father Frank (Gabriel Furman) is a typical blue-collar “man’s man,” able to talk sports and the needs of boys entering puberty, but not necessarily the nuances of gender identity. Like Sammy, Frank lives in a world that doesn’t give that subject much thought beyond thinking that anyone who would buck gender norms must be sick in the head. It’s not so much prejudice as it is a more viscerally charged form of indifference.

In many ways, Wonder is a film crafted more for people like Frank than Sammy, parents who never in a million years expected to be presented with a gender diverse child. Parents don’t always get it right on the first try. Without dismissing the angst that rejection, even of the reflexive variety, can cause, life isn’t a one and done game. What matters is the long term sense of acceptance for a child who is just as scared as their parents.

The triumph of Wonder comes from the way it handles a complex subject with a sixteen-minute runtime. This isn’t a portrait of Sammy’s life, but a snapshot of a pivotal moment. It does so with immense grace, though its continued use of homophobic slurs perhaps steps on its broader message late in its narrative. Acceptance is hardly universal, but a parent’s love can make the cold world a little less daunting.

 

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Wednesday

10

July 2019

0

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Right Now Presents a Conflicting Message

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Countless think pieces were written in the wake of the babe.net piece alleging misconduct against Aziz Ansari suggesting that the #MeToo movement as a whole had gone too far. Such sentiments cast aside the ability to see nuance in these types of situations. One does not need to compare the behavior that Ansari was accused of to that of Harvey Weinstein to wonder if there was something inconsistent in this account of a man who had for years prior built a career off not being that kind of guy, even authoring a book titled Modern Romance. The article certainly did not depict the sort of feminist that Aziz has always claimed to be.

Ansari begins his new Netflix special addressing the allegations head-on. He talks about the embarrassment he felt in the wake of the article as well as the ways it made him rethink all the dates he’d been on. Above all else, he states that he feels terrible that the woman in question felt that way. The opening tone is somber, an unusual way to start a comedy special, but one fitting for an unavoidable topic bound to be on everyone’s mind.

What follows is a strange collection of sentiments about this current era of “wokeness” in general, examining the rush that many feel to embrace the so-called “cancel culture.” Ansari is correct to note the inconsistent relationship that America, particularly white America, has had with caring about culturally insensitive depictions of minorities. It took thirty years for a serious conversation to be had about The Simpsons’ Apu. It wasn’t all that long ago that highly offensive homophobic slurs could be used in marketing for major films like The Hangover.

Ansari struggles to present a cohesive argument for why it’s a bad thing that people now care about that kind of stuff. The closest he gets to specificity on the dangers of “cancel culture” is a manufactured straw man of his own creation, making a benign observation that we do live in a world where people could be outraged about fake news. It’s unclear what the takeaway is supposed to be. Ansari points out that society probably does spend a bit too much time on social media counting up woke points, but such a sentiment is too general to carry much weight.

The year 2019 has brought yet another cultural reevaluation of Michael Jackson. It’s not particularly original to point out the conflict that many feel toward enjoying the music of an iconic performer while grappling with the numerous allegations of misconduct with children. Ansari isn’t the first to point out the hypocrisy that exists in the recent efforts among some to erase the legacies of musicians like Jackson or R. Kelly when people have known about their behavior for years. He doesn’t really have anything interesting to say about it either.

Worst of all, Right Now isn’t very funny. You get the sense that Ansari isn’t aiming to provide dozens of laughs of minute, but most of the humor is strained and tired, the kind of jokes people tell to alleviate a tense situation. His funniest take is an extended riff on Osama bin Laden, even while occasionally falling into his straw man trap of bending over backwards to hint at conclusions he never tries to utter outright.

Despite his efforts to put the allegations against him aside in the first few minutes, it’s clear throughout Right Now that the whole ordeal served as the inspiration for this act. With that in mind, it’s hard to separate Ansari’s commentary on the reactionary nature of social media from a wish that people had reacted differently to the accusations against him. Ansari states that he was terrified that his career might be over, even going as far as to compare that to death, but it’s unclear what we’re supposed to make of this when he was not in fact, canceled. His career isn’t over. The venue is packed and Spike Jonze is on hand to direct a special for Netflix.

The old Aziz might be gone, but Ansari doesn’t really show that he’s grappled with the idea that the allegations against him proved that this man may not have truly existed in the first place. Right Now presents a conflicting message, a man who says he’s grown after the incident while railing against the cultural environment that suggested society should care. No one was forced to take a side against him, and one look at the crowd gives an idea of how many didn’t. Ansari isn’t very happy with the state of wokeness, perhaps forgetting that it doesn’t necessarily need to affect him at all. People don’t have to care.

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Tuesday

9

July 2019

0

COMMENTS

The Kids Might Be Growing Up, but Stranger Things 3 Appreciates the Present

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For a show with such an extensive ensemble cast as Stranger Things, time itself functions as a character in its own right. The 80s aesthetics play a crucial role in the narrative, with the series serving as a love letter to the decade, as does the youth of the core performers. A few years have passed since the series debuted in 2016. Most of the cast look older, presenting a challenge for a show that uses childhood nostalgia as its bread and butter.

Season three neither ignores the fact that its characters aren’t the same adorable bunch who saved the world riding around on their bikes, nor tries too hard to force aging into its narrative. The kids are older, yes, but the summer setting allows the series to skirt by without injecting too much reality into a story that already requires a fair amount of disbelief. Stranger Things recognizes that nostalgia allows one to put aside the present, quickly acknowledging its aging characters before doing its best to pretend nothing’s changed.

As with the previous two seasons, the character dynamic is a bit different this time around. While last season kept Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) away from the boys for the bulk of its run, Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) finds himself apart from the core group this year. The show uses Dustin’s natural chemistry with pretty boy Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) to its advantage, pairing them with newcomer Robin (Maya Hawke), Steve’s coworker at a mall ice cream shop, and Erica Sinclair (Priah Ferguson), in an elevated role. Erica is easily this season’s breakout character, providing a lot of much needed comedic relief.

Season three features the return of the Mind Flayer, wreaking havoc on Hawkins with its invasive body-snatching. The introduction of a Russian military base gives the season a bit of a Red Dawn feel, along with homages to The Terminator, The Thing, and Die Hard, among others. The nostalgia doesn’t weigh super heavily on the narrative, allowing those who don’t really understand the references to enjoy without missing much. Eggo waffles play a diminished role this year, but a couple of iconic 80s products get a bit of time in the spotlight.

There is a bit of disconnect between the various groups of characters this year, exacerbated by the series’ growing cast. The adults, particularly Hopper (David Harbour) and Joyce (Winona Ryder) feel a bit less essential, though they have plenty of memorable moments alongside Murray (Brett Gelman) and newcomer Alexei (Alec Utgoff), a Russian doctor with a love of Slurpee’s. The plot feels like it could have been streamlined with a smaller cast, but the characters have so much chemistry that it’s hard to complain.

Season three lives in the moment, a fun-filled summer adventure that does its best to ignore the passing of time. With season four expected to be the last, the characters won’t really have to worry about growing up too much longer, relieving any need for the show to be some treatise on aging. Stranger Things packs a lot of heart, a perfect getaway for this time of year.

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Monday

8

July 2019

0

COMMENTS

Euphoria’s High Lacks Substance

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America has changed quite a bit since John Hughes started crafting his iconic narratives about the struggles of teenage life. It’s hard to imagine a group like The Breakfast Club sitting around a circle talking with each other when the option to simply stare at one’s phone presents itself. Teenagers nowadays are exposed to a whole world beyond the classroom, not just the self-portraits of genitals that circulate over dating apps. The characters in HBO’s Euphoria would have little use for the now-legal pot with fentanyl offering a far more potent high.

From an aesthetic standpoint, Euphoria aims to provide a certain kind of visual high, with luscious color schemes that draw the audience into its elaborate sets. The desire to go beneath the surface, to understand the drive that makes these kids behave in such destructive ways, remains present through each episode. Trouble is, the show doesn’t really have anything to say.

Zendaya anchors the cast as Rue, a drug addict caught in the cycle of addiction. Rue also serves as the show’s narrator, often providing illuminating background on the show’s other characters. Zendaya’s performance suggests a level of depth to Rue that Euphoria seems all too content to leave unexplored. There remains the idea that there’s a hidden complexity lurking behind her detached demeanor, but much of that sentiment feels like undeserved mystique for a show that never bothered to fully flesh out its characters.

A similar kind of dynamic plays out with Hunter Schafer’s Jules, a trans girl with a warm heart and a penchant for picking unworthy men. Schafer is an excellent actress, bringing a sense of awe and wonder to a character desperate to belong in a world that had been previously closed off to her. Trouble is, she’s not really given much to work with.

Euphoria wastes much of Schafer’s talents with its lazy approach to transgender storytelling, far too preoccupied with surface level clichés to present anything original. Jules is less her own character than a vehicle for the trauma of others, a new chapter in the manic pixie dream girl trope. The show misses an easy opportunity to break new ground in the way transgender people are portrayed on screen, instead choosing to spend its time on what an attraction to Jules might mean for another character’s sexuality.

The cast is perhaps too big for its own good. None of the male characters are particularly interesting, to some extent an inevitable byproduct of its splintered focus. Barbie Ferreira gives the strongest performance of the bunch as Kat, a teen eager to explore her sexuality in a world primarily interested in objectifying her. The show would be vastly better off centering its attention around Rue, Jules, and Kat, allowing it to go a little deeper than the tropes it consistently centers itself around.

Euphoria relies too often on shock value as a substitute for substance. There are plenty of things to like about the show, from its strong cast to its stellar production value. The narrative struggles to stand out in a world where plenty of people can look elsewhere besides premium TV to see the kinds of visual once deemed edgy. Very few television shows put full frontal male nudity up on the screen, but like the dick pics it often features, there’s just something oddly uninteresting about that kind of imagery in the year 2019.

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Sunday

7

July 2019

0

COMMENTS

The Art of Self-Defense Is a Timely Commentary on Toxic Masculinity

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The past few years have shined a light on the notion of toxic masculinity, which has played a role in the formation of humanity since before recorded time. Countless think pieces have been written on “incels” and members of the alt-right in an attempt to get to the bottom of what it is that many men seem to fear in this changing world. As a period piece set in the 90s, The Art of Self-Defense isn’t really about the Trump era, but the present looms heavily over the narrative.

After a horrific mugging leaves him hospital bound, Casey Davies takes up karate in an effort to better protect himself against a world that doesn’t seem to have much of a place for him. He finds community in his local dojo that was absent from his workplace, where he struggled to fit in as an accountant. The real world has its unwritten codes, but the dojo offers a firm sense of structure through its list of rules up on the wall, a code for a soul in need of order.

At first glance, it’s hard not to do an eye-roll at the notion of Jesse Eisenberg playing yet another nervously awkward character. On the surface level, Casey isn’t much different from many of the roles he’s played over the years, but he works exceptionally well for what the narrative calls for. There are plenty of men out there like Casey expecting to be something they’re not, alpha men.

The Art of Self-Defense has an uncanny grasp on comedic timing, a film that makes you laugh out loud when you least expect a joke to come. Eisenberg works exceptionally well opposite Alessandro Nivola, who plays his sensei. The film uses its period setting to craft a kind of parallel reality that’s about as believable as it needs to be.

The film is a timely commentary on masculinity while existing completely outside the present. Director/screenwriter Riley Stearns crafted a narrative that could’ve been written twenty years ago, presenting issues not necessarily in a quest for answers, but to shed light on the destructive habits that society imposes on people who aren’t quite cut out to be macho. Men have been grappling with this dilemma for longer than anyone cares to admit and will likely continue to for the foreseeable future.

While the film excels at its commentary on masculinity, it often seems lost with what to do with Imogen Poots’ Anna, the most skilled student at the dojo. Anna thrives in the male-dominated environment, but the narrative doesn’t have much of a place for her, often squandering a fairly compelling character. The relationship between Casey and sensei makes up the bulk of the film, but it might have benefited from a broader approach to its supporting characters.

The Art of Self-Defense is a wild ride that constantly challenges any expectation one might have going into the film. Stearns crafted a singular world that’s a lot of fun to inhabit, never afraid to inject humor into unsettling themes. The film presents a fresh take on the kind of toxic masculinity that’s been around since the dawn of man, a feat that makes for a delightful summer cinematic experience.

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Saturday

6

July 2019

0

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Stunning Visuals and a Quiet Sense of Pacing Give Ari Aster Another Horror Gem in Midsommar

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Tragedy can often shine an unsavory light on a person’s true colors, a stress test for relationships that not everyone will rise to the occasion for. The process of picking up the pieces forces one to re-evaluate the remaining strands of a life through a whole new lens. Such is the backdrop for Midsommar, the second film from Ari Aster, who dazzled audiences last year with Hereditary.

Midsommar takes place in Sweden during a summer festival that only takes place every ninety years. For a group of grad students, the chance to tag along with a friend to witness his intimate commune celebrating a tradition little known to the rest of the world is an opportunity of a lifetime. For the outsiders, the secretive cult’s practices are a little more than they bargained for.

Aster’s vision for world building is utterly spectacular. The community he crafted in Midsommar possesses the kind of intricate detail that stays in the mind long after the credits roll. The sets are gorgeous, presented slowly throughout the film in a way that lets you take everything in. The color scheme is also quite beautiful, possessing a calming effect that contrasts well with the sense of horror that slowly unfolds.

The film possesses a strong grasp on the power of dialogue. The second half in particular has many long sequences where the characters don’t say anything at all, allowing the images to speak for themselves. Midsommar often feels like a mixture of a slasher and an art house film, with conventional subplots intertwined with a broader sense of purpose.

Florence Pugh gives a strong lead performance as Dani, a grief riddled young girl trying to figure out the next step in her life. From the start of the film, it’s clear she’s not meant to be with her boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor), who takes an interest in studying the culture of the commune, putting him at odds with his classmate Josh (William Jackson Harper). Dani is a bit of a distant protagonist, fitting for a film with a setting that functions as its own character.

With a runtime well over two hours, Midsommar is quite long for a horror movie. There is a purpose behind the slow burn, as Aster moves with a deliberate pace throughout the festival, meant to take place over a nine-day period. The audience is essentially on the same page as the outside students, watching the rituals unfold in a way that feels like real time.

It is perhaps a little too long for its own good, exacerbated by a few subplots that don’t seem to go anywhere and supporting characters who aren’t on screen long enough to make any kind of impact. Dani’s relationship with Christian is a little scattershot, never presented as particularly compelling. The pacing usually works to the film’s advantage, but it could definitely have benefited from a little tightening.

Midsommar is a mesmerizing experience, solidifying Aster as one of the most compelling directors currently making films. It’s the kind of film that’s completely welcoming to its scenery, only to exploit that sense of comfort at every turn. It is simultaneously beautiful and horrifying, one of the most delightful films of the summer.

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Wednesday

3

July 2019

0

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Katherine Ryan’s Glitter Room Offers a Hilarious Perspective on Single Parenting

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Part of the joy of watching Katherine Ryan perform is the way she tackles the current cultural climate surrounding men and comedy without sounding like she tailored her act to this particular era. Many of her observations about men in Glitter Room, her new Netflix special, could have been made twenty years ago. Ryan speaks not with vengeance about in the injustices brought to light in the #MeToo movement, but rather as a comedian staking her claim in the territory that men have felt comfortable in for decades.

The challenges of parenting as a single mother lie at the heart of Glitter Room. Ryan offers plenty of optimism for women in their thirties that their best days are still ahead. She takes on tropes like obnoxious school bake-sale organizers while staying above the fray of petty school politics herself. Her commentary feels more like an outside observer than an active participant.

The best jokes of the special tended to center around Ryan’s relationship with her daughter, particularly her position as a Canadian mother raising a child in London who is inevitably far more British than she could ever be herself. She’s an engaging storyteller who isn’t afraid to tell plenty of jokes that her daughter will potentially find cringe-worthy down the road. Glitter Room consistently presents as a portrait of her life at this moment, an intimate look at Ryan’s efforts to raise a child while still figuring things out for herself.

Ryan is quite an energetic performer with a keen ability to read a room. Glitter Room is one of the few stand-up specials to make audience interactions a highlight of the program instead of its weakest moments. Her engagements feel natural, enhancing her points while conveying the sense that she hasn’t just planned out each moment.

Some of the jokes do fall a bit flat, particularly when Ryan ventures into popular culture. She doesn’t have particularly anything original to say about the Kardashians, including a swipe at Caitlyn Jenner that felt a bit out of place in the year 2019. She also goes on an extended bit on Hamilton, which superfans of the musical might appreciate but started to feel more like inside baseball as the joke stretched on.

Glitter Room is a very entertaining special that delivers plenty of delectable one-liners. Ryan is a delight to watch with a delivery that feels organic and refreshing. She offers plenty to think about without concerning herself too much with the notion of any broader answer behind the meaning of life. The special had a nice way of making the future feel less about losing one’s youth and more about appreciating the days yet to come.

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Wednesday

3

July 2019

0

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Spider-Man: Far From Home Is the Perfect End to Phase Three of the MCU

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One of the most impressive feats that the Marvel Cinematic Universe achieved in its third phase was the way it made the relationship between Tony Stark and Peter Parker feel so organic despite their relatively short amount of time on screen together. The mentor/protégé dynamic on display throughout Avengers: Infinity War and the closing moments of Endgame came about as a result of about twenty minutes of footage in Captain America: Civil War and fifteen in Spider-man: Homecoming. Iron Man’s own trilogy had wrapped up within the MCU before Andrew Garfield finished his run as the friendly neighborhood web-slinger.

As part of a giant interconnected universe, Far From Home certainly had obligations to explain the ramifications of Endgame’s earth-changing “blip,” as the film calls it. It can be easy to forget that this film is also the first solo effort in the franchise to have the bulk of its narrative set after the events of Infinity War, as both Ant-Man & the Wasp and Captain Marvel primarily took place chronologically before the massive team-up. The world is a different place since Thanos came to town.

To its credit, Far From Home handles the “blip” thoroughly without letting it become the major driving force of the narrative. Peter, Ned, and MJ, among others, are still in high school, but many of their once-younger peers aged in the five-year gap, creating some awkward classroom dynamics. Set during a European class trip after the school year, the film was able to recapture much of the high school energy that propelled Homecoming while not being bogged down in any of the inevitable post-Endgame weeds spread across New York.

Tony Stark’s presence looms heavily over the narrative. Not only does Peter miss his mentor, but his absence creates a void within the superhero hierarchy that needs to be filled. Nick Fury wants Parker to step up, alongside Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio, an enigmatic sorcerer who flies around with a cloudy dome on his head.

As always, Samuel L. Jackson steals the show in all of his scenes, dropping plenty of memorable one-liners as the battle-hardened elder statesman of the MCU. Far From Home allows itself to have a little fun at Fury’s expense, pitting him against the wise-cracking Parker for a dynamic we haven’t seen throughout his extensive appearances. Tom Holland’s chemistry with Gyllenhaal is another highlight of the film. Parker’s youth compared to all the other superheroes has left him without peers among the other Avengers, but Mysterio’s similar sense of otherness provides a suitable counterpart who can relate to his sense of feeling lost after the events of Endgame.

The action sequences are all well-crafted, though Far From Home excels when Parker isn’t wearing a mask. Peter is a grieving teenager lost in a world that’s demanded quite a lot from him in a short period of time. His efforts to reclaim his youth are easily relatable, with a quieter set of stakes that serve as a perfect counterbalance to the time traveling heist of Endgame. Saving the world is fun and all, but sometimes you just want to be allowed to have a moment with the person you love.

The film does a great job handling the elephant in the room, namely the absence of the other Avengers. While some are understandably unavailable, gallivanting off on other planets, Far From Home manages to address any lingering questions the audience might have for what everyone else is up to while the Elementals wreak havoc on Europe. Perhaps the one exception is Don Cheadle’s James Rhodes, who would have been an interesting addition given his close ties to Stark.

Far From Home closes out Phase Three of the MCU with a delightful story that embraces the human toll that saving the world has taken on the friendly neighborhood web-slinger. It’s perhaps a bit overstuffed at times, juggling Peter’s high school adventures with his obligations to Fury, but it’s a fast-paced narrative that delivers plenty of laughs. For those wondering what the future will hold for a world without Tony Stark or Steve Rogers, the film gives you plenty of reason to think this massive universe is going to be just fine.

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