Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

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Thursday

4

March 2021

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Allen v. Farrow captures society’s ugly tolerance for bad behavior from talented artists

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

Woody Allen is one of the greatest film directors of all time, a man without peers in terms of his creative output and artistic genius. Allen’s films provide unparalleled perspectives on his often-neurotic subjects and their cities, most frequently New York, a sensation unlike any other in the craft. One could rave and rave about his talent for hours, reverence that masks the more painful reality that he is also a credibly accused child molester.

For years and years, the entertainment industry cared little for his victim, his adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow. Instead, Allen’s lawyers and PR machines cast dispersion on the accusations, instead pointing the finger at Mia Farrow, a woman acting out revenge through her seven-year-old child. It worked, at least until the #MeToo movement weighed down Allen’s cultural capital.

The new documentary Allen v. Farrow reexamines the case, giving Dylan Farrow a chance to set the record straight. Directors Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering offer a damning portrait of the climate that cast the accusations aside to continue idolizing a powerful director. With extensive interviews from Dylan, Mia, several other members of the Farrow family, and prosecutors involved with the case, the series recreates the horrific incident and its ugly aftermath.

The four part series covers quite a bit of ground, from Allen’s broader career, the Farrow family’s home life, and the ways the media helped kicked dirt over the accusations to move on with the show. Dick and Ziering produce some previously unexplored material, but their greater strength as filmmakers comes from the ways they refute the tactics used in Allen’s defense, particularly the handling of Dylan’s examination by the Child Sexual Abuse Clinic at Yale-New Haven Hospital. The New York Department of Social Services also received a fair share of criticism for the ways they stifled their own investigation.

Staunch Allen defenders will find little to like here. There are no interviews with Allen-friendly subjects, though the interviewees acknowledge Allen’s creative genius and merits as a father. Accounts from the Farrow children come across as surprisingly cordial toward a man who married one sibling, Soon-Yi Previn, and stands accused of molesting another. Dick and Ziering hardly go out of their way to paint Allen as a monster.

Allen, Previn, and Moses Farrow, who has defended his father in the past, all declined to be an interview. Instead, Dick and Ziering present Allen’s side of the story through archival recorded phone calls between Mia Farrow and Allen, and audiobook excerpts from Allen’s 2020 Apropos of Nothing. Whereas Dylan is specific and thoughtful with regard to her account of what happened, Allen comes across as flippant and dismissive.

Dick and Ziering force their audience to confront the spin that’s been applied to this case over the decades, revealing a deep obfuscation of truth. Woody Allen is practically synonymous with the city of New York. Those who defend his actions throughout the case do so with a willingness to cast aside the many derelictions of duty. Whether you believe Dylan or not, it’s hard to deny the ways that those in power sought to defend Allen at every turn.

For her part, Allen v. Farrow frequently comes across as Dylan’s effort to turn the page. The series examines the sins of the past with a hopeful eye toward the future. There can’t really be justice in any meaningful sense for the decades of willful ignorance by many in the mainstream media, but Dylan reinforces the gains of the #MeToo movement through her willingness to grapple with the industry’s long-unanswered sin.

While Dylan expresses gratitude to the many actors who have expressed solidarity over the past few years, this area is perhaps one where Dick and Ziering may have benefited from a bit of distance between their work and their subject. Part of the series exposes the power of Hollywood publicists to frame narratives on behalf of their clients. Allen’s defense required a fair degree of media complicity over the years, namely in service to his ability to produce Oscar-caliber films.

Dick and Ziering largely decline to pursue the obvious opportunism to be found in the timing of Hollywood’s eventual reckoning with Woody Allen. While critical of Allen defenders over the years including Adrien Brody, Scarlett Johannsson, and Javier Bardem, the series gives a somewhat undeserved pass to the actors who recently expressed regret for working with the man. There’s little bravery to be found in the renunciation of Allen after it became blatantly clear that starring in his films would no longer automatically thrust one into award contention.

How one chooses to engage with the Allen accusations largely reflects one’s willingness to engage with basic reality. Dick and Ziering understand this basic truth quite well, acknowledging humanity’s difficulty with relinquishing trust when can one simply choose not to. People chose to ignore Dylan out of a weird reverence for Allen and his brilliance. The media made it very easy to cast the accusations aside so that the show could go on.

Allen v. Farrow is Dylan’s story, but it’s also an illuminating case study for how society deals with problematic artists. One can accept and acknowledge Allen’s sheer force of nature within the film industry without turning a blind eye to the ugliness of his character. One can enjoy his work while still acknowledging that he is at the very least, a pretty morally bankrupt individual.

Bad people can make great art. Our culture as a whole hardly benefits from ignoring such quandaries. We lose a bit of ourselves when we defend the indefensible.

The entire four-episode series was screened for review

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Thursday

4

March 2021

0

COMMENTS

Star Trek: The Next Generation – “Skin of Evil”

Written by , Posted in Blog, Podcast

Grab your phaser and your away team, because we’re heading to Vagra II. “Skin of Evil” lives on in Trek infamy for the senseless death of Tasha Var. Armus is one of science fiction’s earliest incels, taking the spotlight away from a female character in order to harass the rest of the crew with his endless whining. Natty Strange, co-author of the iconic web comic Pokey the Penguin, returns to the show to discuss this mess of an episode.

As Data put it, Armus has “no redeeming qualities.” That’s probably true, except with that annoying pile of goop, we probably wouldn’t be talking about this episode. Tasha deserved better. We all deserve better.

 

You can follow Nat on Twitter @nuns_on_film. Be sure to check out her new Star Trek blog, deepspacenat.com.

You can follow Pokey the Penguin’s latest adventures by checking out Pokey’s website https://www.yellow5.com/pokey/ & @pokeythepenguin

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Tuesday

2

March 2021

1

COMMENTS

Dreamcatcher subverts slasher norms in an intriguing horror narrative

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

Part of the charm of a film like Dreamcatcher comes through watching director Jacob Johnston wrestle with the conventions of the horror genre. Decades removed from the heyday of slasher flicks, Johnston remains hesitant to fully embrace that label, despite possessing a naturally memorable masked killer. While the film doesn’t hit every mark, there’s a certain joy to be had in watching the ways that the film tries to stand out in well-trodden territory.

The bulk of the narrative takes place at an EDM festival, centered around Pierce (Niki Koss), torn from her horror movie marathon with bestie, Jake (Zachary Gordon) at the behest of her semi-estranged sister, Ivy (Elizabeth Posey), who buys tickets to the show in an effort to make amends. The festival headliner Dylan (Travis Burns), aka DJ Dreamcatcher, a sort of Deadmau5 stand-in perpetually wrestling with the authority of his agent, Josephine (Adrienne Wilkinson).

Surprising to no one, an EDM festival is not exactly the greatest venue to explore interpersonal dynamics. With a masked killer on the loose and entertainment careers on the line, Dreamcatcher blends its horror intentions with a more intimate sense of drama, a hack-and-slash that sees its characters for more than their ability to deliver loud shrieks on the brink of death.

Johnston clearly wants his narrative to carry more weight than traditional genre entries. Much of the film’s focus lies with the hypocrisies of the entertainment industry and the challenges of fame. He plays with Faustian bargains, honing on in the ways in which people sacrifice themselves to get ahead in the world for fleeting moments of fame. He bites off a bit more than he can chew, with an 108-minute runtime that’s a solid twenty minutes too long.

While Dreamcatcher drags a bit in the second half, it’s interesting to watch a stylistically-talented director grapple with his film’s moral quandaries in real-time. The script suffers in the dialogue department, frequently relying on Koss, Burns, and Wilkinson to bail out scenes that would look far sillier on paper. As Josephine, Wilkinson brings plenty of delightfully over the top energy to the hungry agent, doing wonders to anchor the film’s more satirical intentions.

Johnston nails the slasher element, showing great promise as a horror director, a genre constantly in need of more innovation. He doesn’t always hit his mark and definitely needs help in the screenwriting department, but his feature debut shows a lot of promise. Horror doesn’t necessarily always need to rise above genre tendencies, but the worldbuilding here helps the film stand out from its countless competitors. DJ Dreamcatcher should certainly satisfy slasher fans looking for a breath of fresh air.

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Tuesday

2

March 2021

0

COMMENTS

Adrienne Wilkinson

Written by , Posted in Blog, Podcast

We delighted to welcome Adrienne Wilkinson to the show for a wide-ranging interview including her new film Dreamcatcher. Fans of Estradiol Illusions may know Adrienne best for her roles as Eve on Xena: Warrior Princess, Daughter in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Maris Brood in Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, and as Captain Lexxa Singh in Star Trek: Renegades. Adrienne shares many fascinating insights from her career throughout so many iconic franchises.

 

Dreamcatcher is available March 5th, on demand and digital, on Amazon, Apple, Redbox, and other major VOD services.

 

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Ian’s review of the film: https://ianthomasmalone.com/2021/03/dreamcatcher-subverts-slasher-norms-in-an-intriguing-horror-narrative/

 

Headshot courtesy of Adrienne Wilkinson. Photo by Damu Malik.

 

Poster and stills courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

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Tuesday

2

March 2021

0

COMMENTS

Boss Level is nonstop fun with a ton of heart

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture

The time loop genre may hit a bit too close to home for many in 2021, after a year defined by stagnancy and monotony. One no longer needs to wonder what life would be like if every day was exactly the same. The pandemic made sure that the entire country could be on the same page in that regard. Boss Level hardly reinvents the wheel when it comes to genre tropes, but offers a lively escape from monotony with its charming approach.

Roy Pulver (Frank Grillo) is a Delta Force veteran who spends his days boozing, struggling to remember the name of the woman he wakes up next to, a problem that wouldn’t seem like such a big issue if that day didn’t keep repeating itself over and over. A seemingly endless horde of soldiers descends on Roy repeatedly for months on end. While Roy starts to learn their patterns, he can’t seem to ever make it past 12:47 p.m.

The exact cause of this time loop is revealed to be the product of work done by Jemma (Naomi Watts), his ex-wife who works at a laboratory building a giant machine for her boss (Mel Gibson), who goes by “The Colonel.” Jemma has kept plenty of secrets, not telling their son Joe (Rio Grillo) who his father is, giving Roy a healthy dose of guilt to nurse alongside his hangover as he does his best not to get killed by all the commandos trying to wreck his breakfast. Roy makes the most of his endless time to try and get his life in order, all while attempting to figure out how to escape from all the mayhem.

Director Joe Carnahan does an excellent job pacing his lighthearted action thriller, never letting the mechanics of time loops get in the way of the story. Grillo approaches the lead role with such vibrant joy, a non-stop crowd-pleasing performance. Supporting performances by Ken Jeong, Michelle Yeoh, Annabelle Wallis, and Selina Lo enhance the narrative, but the film pretty much entirely hinges on Grillo’s ability to sell the absurd story.

Carnahan packs quite a lot of heart into the film, alongside some impressive action choreography. The emotional resonance is no doubt enhanced by the real-life father/son dynamic between the Grillos. With Roy alone in his time looping adventure, Frank adds a layer of depth via voice-over narration, a firm balance of humor and genuine sincerity. Boss Level understands how to be touching and hilarious at the same time, breezing through its ninety-four-minute runtime.

The sole out-of-place performance is a puzzling one. Boss Level’s zany energy supplies the seemingly perfect environment for Gibson, who has spent much of the past decade playing outlandishly maniacal villains. Here, Gibson looks weirdly restrained, almost bored. Grillo has great chemistry with practically everyone else in the film, but Gibson’s muted performance robs the film of a big bad worthy of its title.

There’s enough charm for Boss Level to thrive without a properly sinister antagonist. The film hardly reinvents the wheel of time loop narratives, but is a powerful testament to the ways in which competent filmmaking and passionate performances can carry an otherwise familiar premise. Carnahan and Grillo clearly had a lot of fun crafting this gem, a kind of contagious energy that can’t help but radiate through the screen.

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Monday

1

March 2021

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‘Ruth: Justice Ginsburg in Her Own Words’ is a well-constructed romp through familar territory

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

The life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the “notorious R.B.G.,” has been well-documented over the past few years. The documentary Ruth: Justice Ginsburg in Her Own Words plots its course through well-trodden terrain, exploring concepts that other films, as well as countless articles and cable news pieces have thoroughly presented. Director Freida Lee Mock crafts an aesthetically beautiful narrative that makes it easier to forgive the film’s familiar presentation.

In many ways, Mock’s film feels like more of a greatest hits piece than a documentary of serious inquisition. All the familiar notes are here, from the sexism that Justice Ginsburg faced in law school and in her early career, to her tireless efforts fighting for pay equality and women’s rights, to modern popularity as a feminist icon. Mock’s talents as a filmmaker are on full display, with beautifully animated sequences occasionally standing in for the rougher archival footage through the narrative.

It’s easy to see Ruth possessing the most impact with future generations of schoolchildren who may not be as familiar with RBG’s career as audiences in the present day. Mock includes a few sequences that highlight Justice Ginsburg’s passion for demystifying the Court, engaging with visiting students on fieldtrips in a personal manner. True to the film’s title, Justice Ginsburg is unsurprisingly the best advocate for her own legacy, bringing a thoughtful, personal approach to civics that’s sorely missing in today’s political climate.

Where Mock falters a bit is in her uncritical approach to some strands of RBG’s narrative often parroted in conversations centered on her legacy. Justice Ginsburg’s long friendship with her colleague Antonin Scalia is well-documented, perhaps the last major bipartisan friendship to thrive in the capital. On the surface, it might seem inspiring to see two ideological opposites find common ground in each other’s company, especially at the opera.

The modern American political discourse has exposed some of the root causes for why there aren’t as many love affairs across the aisle these days. Mock acknowledges that over their decades of friendship, RBG never substantively moved Scalia on any particular issue. For all her power as a force of nature, RBG failed to convince Scalia to side with her on several issues many believe that the court decided wrongly, particularly Citizens United v. FEC, a landmark ruling that receives some attention in the film.

The faint aura of aspirational optimism to be gleaned from seeing RBG and Scalia ring a bit hollow when you consider the morally bankrupt Republican Party, eager to toss any notion of ideology aside for its Trump sycophancy, playing footsie with white supremacy and countless conspiracy theories. We the audience are casually expected to ignore the fruits of Scalia’s labors on the court, all for the idea that it was nice to see him and RBG enjoying each other’s company.

Though Ruth first premiered back in 2019, well before Ginsburg’s death in September, 2020, it’s hard to shake the notion that Mock rather carelessly passed on any obligation to examine the America that Ruther Bader Ginsburg left behind. RBG was a trailblazer. Her broader legacy is complicated by the conservative nature of the court she served on, an ideological makeup that prevented her from authoring many powerful opinions, instead gaining notoriety for her scathing dissents.

RBG thrived in a world that offered few opportunities for Jewish women to succeed. There is a lot of power to be gleaned from hearing the story of an American icon. As much as things have changed over the past few decades, much remains the same. Glossing over that sad reality makes for a rosier picture, but does run the risk of creating a false sense of the world she left behind.

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Saturday

27

February 2021

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COMMENTS

Potato Head Discourse

Written by , Posted in Blog, Podcast

American civilization collapses as cancel culture claims its next victim, the valiant Mr. Potato Head. Except he isn’t going anywhere. Hasbro dropped the “Mr.” from its broader Potato Head branding. Mrs. Potato Head can serve at the altar of capitalism without the oppressive patriarchy creeping over her shoulder.

Ian breaks down all the Potato Head nonsense and what this whole saga is really about. LGBTQ families deserve to see themselves reflected in the corporate consumerist culture that rules over our society.

Potato head logo courtesy of Hasbro. 

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Thursday

25

February 2021

1

COMMENTS

Devil May Care finds humor and heart in the depths of hell

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

The past year has had a tendency to make one rethink the literal visualization of hell of earth. If hell was meant to evoke fear, the idea of a warm place larger than one’s living space might instead bring about some envy from a reasonably-minded individual. The hell crafted in SyFy’s new animated series Devil May Care looks like a pretty cool place to be.

The series follows Beans (Asif Ali), a millennial facing eternal damnation in a rosy-colored interpretation of hell. Beans finds work as the social media manager for Devil (Alan Tudyk), ever concerned with the public relations branch of his fire and brimstone empire. Beans’ coworkers in Devil’s office include Head Demon Gloria (Stephanie Beatriz) and President McKinley (Fred Tatasciore), who acts much like Devil’s personal valet.

Created by Robot Chicken head writer Douglas Goldstein, Devil May Care essentially functions as part workplace comedy, part social satire on modern America. There’s a lot of humor centered around social media’s effects on our psyche and Devil’s efforts to make his kingdom more hospitable for his constituents. Ali and Tudyk have great chemistry, elevating Beans beyond the function of the straight man at the heart of the narrative.

Goldstein pulls off an impressive feat for comedies with eleven-minute runtimes, a format that generally puts a fair bit of strain on the balance between jokes and character developments. The world-building is welcoming, a space where you want to spend time with the characters rather than merely laugh nonstop until the credits roll. There’s a relatable sense of found family to be had in this merry bunch of misfits.

Much of that dynamic is thanks to Devil, a heartfelt character with a lot of depth, perpetually enhanced by Tudyk’s range as a performer, delivering each line with a sinister sense of delight. The hell of Devil May Care isn’t for the evil, but rather the flawed and imperfect. The sinners aren’t just more fun than the saints, they’re the people you’d rather spend your time with.

Which isn’t to say that Devil May Care spends its time grappling with morality or life’s heavy questions. It is first and foremost a late-night comedy that exists to make you laugh. On that front, it succeeds quite well.

Laughter isn’t the only escape hatch that entertainment can seek to provide. There’s a sense of community sorely missing for too many this past year. It is easy to feel like we are living in hell, albeit a landscape that looks quite different than the palette put forth by Devil May Care. Created before the pandemic, the show rises up to a challenge that it wasn’t expected to face in providing a sense of relief to people who have had to lean on comedy quite a bit lately to give comfort where it cannot be found anywhere else.

Hilarious and thought-provoking, Devil May Care packs quite a punch with each episode. Night and day from Goldstein’s work on Robot Chicken, the show doesn’t necessarily swing for the fences with each line like the iconic Adult Swim staple, but each episode constantly challenges the confines of storytelling within the short-form medium. It might be a better binge than a week-to-week series, but animated comedy fans will find plenty to enjoy in this warm series.

Devil May Care airs 12:00 am Saturday nights/Sunday mornings as part of SYFY’s TZGZ block. 

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Thursday

25

February 2021

0

COMMENTS

Douglas Goldstein, creator of Devil May Care

Written by , Posted in Blog, Podcast

We are delighted to welcome Douglas Goldstein, creator of Devil May Care and head writer of Robot Chicken. Devil May Care is a new animated series starring Alan Tudyk & Asif Ali that offers a fresh perspective on hell. Douglas talks about his experiences crafting both shows, their differing styles of humor, and the challenges of packing humor and narrative into an eleven-minute runtime.

Devil May Care airs at 12:00 am Saturday night as part of SYFY’s TZGZ block. You can watch the first three episodes on NBC.com here: https://www.nbc.com/devil-may-care

Ian’s review of the series: https://ianthomasmalone.com/2021/02/devil-may-care-finds-humor-and-heart-in-the-depths-of-hell/

 

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All photos courtesy of SYFY 

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Tuesday

23

February 2021

0

COMMENTS

Man of Steel struggles to assemble its various pieces into a good movie

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

The film that kicked off the DCEU remains its most perplexing entry. Following the massive success of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, 2013’s Man of Steel essentially promised a grittier version of Kal-El than the ones seen either on television or through Christopher Reeves or Brandon Routh’s interpretations of the character. With Zack Snyder’s Justice League right around the corner, potentially bringing Henry Cavill’s time donning the red cape to close, a look at Man of Steel brings to light the highs and the lows of this complicated chapter in superhero filmmaking.

Zack Snyder’s biggest strength as a storyteller in Man of Steel lies in his ability to weave through the murky waters of the origin narrative. The world knows who Clark Kent is. Snyder’s Krypton is more about Jor-El and General Zod than the planet’s sole infant survivor. The adults fail to make sense of the complex politics, leaving the children to pick up the pieces.

With Snyder more interested in Kal-El’s past than his present, the director puts his star in a fairly untenable position. Henry Cavill may be the ostensible lead, but Man of Steel is not fully Superman’s movie. The film’s attentions are too preoccupied with everything happening around Clark that Cavill never really gets his moment to shine, the camera really only providing extended focus during the film’s many action sequences.

The acting is predictably top-notch given the A-list talent involved. Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, and Kevin Costner make the most of every scene they’re in, giving the film a great sense of depth out of place with its aimless script. While Cavill never really gets a chance to make the film his own, the quality of the performances are enough to salvage the film’s many shortcomings.

This dynamic is best on display through the underbaked relationship between Clark and Lois Lane. Cavill and Adams have great chemistry, leading one to wish that they’d been given a moment to breathe amidst all the chaos. There’s such a natural sense to their romance, carrying the inevitability that shapes their characters through decades of comic book stories, but Snyder steps on his messaging at practically every term.

Snyder remains perpetually at odds with the seminal motto, “The S stands for hope,” that defines Superman as a character. Snyder’s grim template doesn’t leave much room for hope. The bland color palette in the cinematography robs Superman of one of his best assets from the comics, bright blues and reds set against a bright and sunny Metropolis. Superman exudes optimism, a sentiment Snyder has little use for.

This conflict rears its head in two pivotal moments. The death of Jonathan Kent is beyond foolish, an unnecessary sequence that plays too hard for an unearned emotional response. The other more spoiler-heavy death remains deeply at odds with Superman’s core ethos. Snyder’s deviation carried little justification, an empty gesture that almost looks designed to troll longtime fans of the comics.

As much as he steps on himself at times, Snyder did manage to craft a pretty decent film. The action pieces are overwrought, but well-choreographed. As a director, he’s constantly bailed out by his actors. While later installments in the DCEU bury themselves in needlessly grim aesthetics, Man of Steel remains relatively lighthearted by comparison.

Almost a decade later, Snyder’s sixth directorial feature remains his most frustrating. Man of Steel could have been a great movie if it had picked a clear direction. It is a good movie, albeit a conclusion that requires one to add up all the various pieces to arrive at that destination. The experience should have been better, if Snyder merely got out of his own way.

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