Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Author Archive

Friday

31

January 2020

0

COMMENTS

Sundance Spotlight: Danny’s Girl

Written by , Posted in Blog

Recorded from the Sundance Film Festival! Join host Ian Thomas Malone as she interviews Emily Wilson and Danny Dikel, the director and star of the new short Danny’s Girl, an eclectic provoking commentary on internet. Emily & Danny share some insights from the film and explain the decisions behind the unique narrative that shies away from technology in this iPhone-obsessed era. A spoiler-free interview, this episode works great for fans of the film looking to learn more and those interested in checking it out (which you totally should).

 

To learn more about Danny’s Girl, check out the film’s website dannysgirl.com.

 

For more of Emily & Danny, check out their Instagram pages @emilyannewilson & @dannydikelart

Share Button

Friday

31

January 2020

0

COMMENTS

Sundance Review: Palm Springs

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

In the realm of time-looping comedies, Palm Springs finds itself in the company of one of the genre’s defining films. Groundhog Day is a classic, a philosophical narrative that delivers its laughs with a heavy dose of introspection. Backed by a terrific cast and produced by The Lonely Island, director Max Barbakow has crafted a film that blends science with nihilistic humor to create an unforgettable experience.

Nyles (Andy Samberg) is stuck in Palm Springs for a wedding that he doesn’t care about. His girlfriend, a bridesmaid in the wedding, cheats on him regularly, but he doesn’t care about that either. Nyles doesn’t care much about anything at it. Nyles is quite literally, a nihilist.

Sarah (Cristin Milioti) similarly finds herself trapped in the desert as the reluctant maid of honor. The black sheep of the family, she’s the kind of girl who would rather sulk in the corner than dance at a wedding. In Nyles she finds a confident, someone to share cold hard truths about the vapid nature of her surroudings.

Sarah quickly learns that Nyles is caught in a time-loop, finding herself trapped in the desert purgatory. Embracing the meaningless nature of infinite realities, the two embrace chaos, repeatedly ruining the wedding and living life in the process. Their biggest concern lies with Roy (J.K. Simmons), a guest hell-bent on killing Nyles.

Samberg, Milioti, and Simmons all give superb performances, looking like they’re having a lot of fun with the material. Samberg in particular looks absolutely giddy to be playing around with time, especially the weeds of quantum mechanics. The film makes a convincing case for its governing rules, poking fun at any potential holes the audience might find in its science.

The chemistry between Samberg and Milioti is palpable. Palm Springs subverts the romcom genre by lowering the stakes of the leads’ relationship. Nyles and Sarah need each other in a literal sense, to get out of the time-loop or stay sane in its web. They’re highly compatible as romantic partners, but Barbakow understands that this dynamic doesn’t need to be forced.

Nihilism isn’t often taking seriously in film, but Nyles is a fitting post-modern millennial. His outlook on the world is pretty dark, but that never stops him from having a good time. Samberg possesses a bleak brand of sarcastic optimism that gives Palm Springs plenty of laughs laced with a tinge of unease. It is the perfect vessel for his humor.

Barbakow has a remarkable knack for pacing. Palm Springs covers a lot of ground in ninety minutes, each scene finely tuned to accomplish a specific objective. The film flies by, the kind of story you wish could get stuck in a time loop to keep the fun going a little longer.

Palm Springs is a terrific commentary on finding companionship in a millennial era that’s given up the search for meaning. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel crafted by Groundhog Day, but manages to offer a fresh take on the concept. For a film with an excellent cast and plenty of laughs, Palm Springs doesn’t have to surpass an all-time great to make a worthwhile experience.

Share Button

Thursday

30

January 2020

0

COMMENTS

Sundance: The Last Shift

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

Millions of people work low-paying jobs across the country. The proletariat sees its labor exploited by the bourgeoisie, who offer peanuts for a lifetime of service. The Last Shift takes a look at a fast-food worker looking to retire after thirty-eight years working nights at a chicken & fish joint. Unfortunately, the film never really knows what to say about its lead.

Stanley (Richard Jenkins) is a proud man and a hard worker. Looking for a life after the graveyard shift at Oscar’s Chicken & Fish, he hands in his notice with the intentions of moving to Florida to care for his elderly mother. His life in Michigan has been a sad one with only a few friends and no clear sense of direction.

Much of the narrative centers around Stanley training his successor Jevon (Shane Paul McGhie), a gifted writer struggling to get back on his feet after getting out of prison. Unlike Stanley, Jevon sees Oscar’s for what it is, a miserable place to work. He challenges Stanley to consider his legacy after thirty-eight years, an uncomfortable position for a man who doesn’t particularly enjoy challenging the status quo.

Jenkins and McGhie work well opposite each other, conveying a meaningful connection between their characters. Stanley and Jevon are polar opposites, but they develop an organic friendship as they battle the loneliness of the night shift. The Last Shift is more Stanley’s story than Jevon’s, but both see substantial character arcs.

Jevon offers a lot of social commentary that feels forced and superfluous to the film. The script also does a terrible job handling Jevon’s writing aspirations, giving him writer’s block that is tonally inconsistent with the rest of his story arc. For all that he’s got going on, choosing to have the character stricken with such an inconsequential dilemma feels absolutely bizarre.

The narrative is a muddled mess. The Last Shift never really establishes a cohesive story, riding a wave of various subplots for the course of its runtime. The film wades into race relations in a flippant manner, hinting at broader themes that it doesn’t care to pursue.

The third act feels completely arbitrary, like the film randomly decided which of its subplots to elevate as the concluding arc. Writer and director Andrew Cohn doesn’t force a neatly wrapped-up conclusion on the audience, but the end result is hardly satisfying. There are far too many unresolved strands by the end, quite ridiculous for a story that spends so much time meandering through its ninety-minute runtime.

Cohen lacks confidence as a director. The script is pretty terrible, full of clunky transitions and cliched twists. The strength of Jenkins and McGhie keeps the film from ever becoming unwatchable, but it’s a sad waste of talent.

The Last Shift takes an interesting premise and does everything it can to step on itself. Stanley and Jevon have a lot of depth as characters, two men with vastly different views on working minimum wage jobs. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t really care to explore this dynamic. It simply doesn’t make any sense why this film has so much filler. The pieces are all there, but Cohen doesn’t know how to put them together. 

Share Button

Thursday

30

January 2020

0

COMMENTS

Sundance Review: Nine Days

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

Art is the thing that sets humanity apart from all other forms of life. To feel is to be human, or so they say. There’s a reason most films avoid mundane boring stuff, like spending an hour at the grocery store or filing one’s taxes. Film exists to make us feel.

Nine Days is a film about life itself, set in a remote house in a plane of existence that’s not quite heaven but sure isn’t earth either. The setting is sort of like a purgatory for spirits who haven’t been born. Will (Winston Duke) sits in his house watching a collection of old TVs displaying various people living their lives. The aesthetics are firmly rooted in the 20th century, with VHS tapes being the most modern form of technology.

Will is tasked with interviewing several candidates for the position of being born. These entities are essential pre-humans, though it’s hard to call them souls as they don’t know what it’s like to be alive. Will was once alive, now tasked with judging who would be best suited to follow him over the course of nine days.

Director Edson Oda presents a quiet, contemplative narrative. There’s plenty of humor, mostly coming from Kyo (Benedict Wong), Will’s caretaker/spirit/friend. Kyo has never been born, but Wong plays him with such a compassionate sense of curiosity that he certainly feels like someone who could pass for human. As one of the candidates named Alexander, Tony Hale provides a lot of comic relief, often serving as a conduit for the audience in asking questions of Will’s methodology that are bound to be on everyone’s mind.

Duke is absolutely fabulous in the lead role. Will is a reserved man who’s clearly been through a lot that he doesn’t want to talk about. He’s well-suited for his job because he understands the brutal nature of life and what he takes to make it in the world. Duke plays Will with a quiet intensity, understanding the value of restraint with his character’s emotions.

Will’s relationship with Emma (Zazie Beetz) anchors the narrative. Emma isn’t like the other candidates. She’s free-willed, hungry for something more than just sitting around watching screens of other people’s lives. Beetz brings a childlike sense of wonder to the character, a maturity well-beyond the few days that Emma has been alive.

Oda keeps his cards close to his hands with regard to the mechanics of this strange place. We learn very little about how Will’s world works, where Kyo came from, or the powers-that-be that created this place. It’s a mystery that’s always present, but not one that ever feels like it needs to be answered. The triumph of the film lies in the simplicity of Oda’s approach. The premise doesn’t need a whole lot of exposition to make sense.

The pacing works very well. It’s a quiet narrative with a single setting, but the two hour runtime flies by. There are a bunch of candidates, but Oda juggles the pieces in a way that makes picks favorites without making the rest feel like filler. The narrative tackles the preciousness of life with grace, with several tear-jerking moments that demonstrate beauty in relatively mundane events. For a film as quiet and relaxed as Nine Days, there’s never any point where the narrative drags.

Nine Days is one of the most moving films of the twenty-first century. Few narratives so confidently capture the feeling of being alive. It is very hard to believe that this is Oda’s first film.

Share Button

Thursday

30

January 2020

0

COMMENTS

Sundance Review: Omniboat

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

The difficulty of explaining what exactly Omniboat: A Fast Boat Fantasia is about makes perfect sense when you consider how many directors and screenwriters played a part in crafting the narrative. Fifteen filmmakers joined forces to make this strange commentary about Miami, which can sort of be described as a love letter to this city, albeit one filled with practically every emotion imaginable. The film’s desire to overload largely implodes over a bloated runtime.

The film functions mostly as an anthology, with two primary plotlines. Jim Cummings (Mel Rodriguez) is trying to attract investors for his phallic luxury apartment building. The end of the world proves to be a bit of an issue, but Cummings plows ahead, beaming with pride for his city.

The other major plotline follows the lives of a few sentient speedboats. Lay’N Pipe falls in love with a monster truck, leading to baby Lay’N Pipe 2. The film owns its absurdist premise, delivering a lot of laughs as the audience follows the courtship of tacky machines.

Omniboat tries to be everything, an exhausting narrative that’s really fun for about twenty minutes. The rest is borderline unwatchable. The novelty of the film’s unique approach to storytelling results in a few truly hilarious moments, but the high is unsustainable.

Fittingly, Omniboat as a narrative has two speeds, full throttle and completely asleep. The pacing is terrible, particularly in the second act. The energy can’t be sustained, leaving a feeling of sheer exhaustion in its wake.

The film wastes a pretty good ensemble, including comedic actors Adam Pally, Casey Wilson, and Adam Devine. The three are in the film so early that it’s easy to forget they were even there at all by the end, which itself possesses an exciting cameo.

The film is too long by at least forty minutes. Two hours is a ridiculous amount of time for a narrative thinner than a g-string bikini. Worst of all, the flow is so disjointed that you could simply just chop a huge chunk off and no one would notice. To say it meanders would almost be inaccurate because there’s no clear sense of direction established.

Omniboat is a singular kind of film, one without any obvious comparison. At times the energy is quite palpable, the obvious glee of the filmmakers radiating through the screen. Unfortunately it just doesn’t translate into anything an audience can enjoy.

Miami does come alive in the film, perhaps its crowning achievement. Locals may find something redeemable in the way the filmmakers frame the narrative, but even that is kind of a stretch. Omniboat plays like its courting the midnight movie circuit, but the middle is too sleep-inducing for any substantive cult following to develop.

Omniboat can’t buoy anything resembling a cohesive experience. There’s a sense of wonder in the idea that it even exists, but it’s a sad shipwreck of a film. To have started off so strong and sunk so quickly is a real shame. It’s hard to believe that so many talented people came together to deliver such an awful experience. 

Share Button

Wednesday

29

January 2020

0

COMMENTS

Slamdance Review: 1986

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

The tragedy of Chernobyl has been depicted many times in film. 1986 takes a bit of a different
approach, a modern day drama featuring characters with bigger problems than the aftermath
of the disaster. For them, what happened is just another fact of life, something of intrigue and
occasionally, opportunity.

Elena (Daria Mureeva) is a student living in Belarus, juggling a few unfortunate predicaments.
Her shady father is suddenly arrested, leaving her to carry out his illegal businesses that take
her through Chernobyl’s exclusion zone. To make matters worse, she’s in a complicated
relationship with her boyfriend Victor.

Director Lothar Herzog keeps most of the film’s focus on Elena. She is the film’s sole compelling
character, a young woman who has to put up with the disrespect of a male-dominated criminal
underground. She’s strong-willed and proud, intending to show her father’s associates that
she’s more than up to the task of carrying on his business.

Mureeva is a compelling lead, showcasing her range quite a bit through the film’s short
runtime. Elena is constantly thrown into vulnerable scenarios, full of conflicting emotions in the
realms of pride and passion. 1986 does a good job of keeping the audience guessing with how
Elena will react to each scenario.

Where the film is less effective is in presenting a complete story. Herzog throws the audience
right into the thick of things, a refreshing approach light on exposition. We don’t really need to
know the full backstory of her father to relate to Elena. The film runs into trouble with the
progression of its own story.

1986 is effective at presenting scenes in Elena’s life, but the film struggles to tie them together
as a complete narrative. The story feels rushed, hindered by a half-baked love story that
doesn’t do much for Elena as a character. It’s not a crime thriller or a romance narrative, but
the emphasis on those two strands comes at a cost to the development of Elena.

The film’s relationship to Chernobyl is also kind of puzzling. Herzog doesn’t use the tragedy as a
plot device, but Elena’s connection to the disaster-zone doesn’t feel entirely earned either. It’s
as if 1986 had nowhere else to turn but the serenity of a quiet forest, albeit one brimming with
radiation.

1986 is a complicated film to digest, one that stumbles a bit too much down the stretch. At only
seventy-six minutes, much of this can be blamed on the runtime. Herzog’s film has a lot going
for it, but it’s easier to admire its individual pieces than to love its collective whole.

Share Button

Wednesday

29

January 2020

0

COMMENTS

Sundance Review: The Nest

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

The tale of the capitalist Icarus, who pursued a wealthy status to the heart of the bankruptcy sun, has been told many times before. These men are often insufferable, but the audience is generally given some semblance of a reason to care. The Nest isn’t a big fan of excuses for its detestable leading man, himself full of nonsense. Unfortunately, the film has little interesting to say about him.

Rory (Jude Law) is a British brazen commodities broker perpetually in search of the next big deal. Smaller tasks, like actually doing his job, are of no concern. Rory doesn’t care about getting on base. He only wants to hit home runs.

This dynamic is exhausting for his wife Allison (Carrie Coon), a horse-loving American who’s reluctant to move their family across the pond to a place with bridges that Rory hasn’t burned yet. Times are tough, but it’s not because the economy isn’t good. The Reaganomics of the 80s worked wonders for the elites, but Rory has a habit of spending well beyond his means. He buys a big, rundown country estate for their family of four to live in, failing to understand the pitfalls of endless extravagance.

Writer and director Sean Durkin frames The Nest as an intimate family drama. There are sprinkles of finance jargon here and there in Rory’s office scenes, but the real action takes place at the mansion, where Allison struggles to keep things together as their bank accounts widdle down to nothing.

Jude Law is one of the most charming actors on the planet. To some extent, Rory is meant to be played as an over-the-hill salesman with a once-dynamic sense of charisma. Problem is, Rory is absolutely insufferable. The stink of his nonsense wafts through the screen to the audience, an obvious grifter. The characters understand this, but the film doesn’t really want to do anything interesting with its lead.

Coon is the film’s entire emotional core. Allison is the most aware of Rory’s negative traits, doing her best to reign him in. While Rory doesn’t change all that much, we see Allison slowly deteriorate, experiencing the inevitable that she saw coming a mile away and yet was powerless to stop. The Nest works best when it grapples with the idea of how much control one partner has when completely shut out from the other.

The film has a couple subplots that don’t really go anywhere. There’s a weird, gross fascination with horses that doesn’t really add anything to the narrative. The children’s plotlines are also half-baked, coming across as filler. As Samantha, Oona Roche shines in a subplot full of teen angst, but the film is never really all that interested in her as a character. Its attention seems more directed at her radio, constantly belting out 80s New Wave.

The script is okay. The dialogue is pretty good, but Durkin has no sense of pacing. The film meanders for about 100 minutes before deciding it needed to arrive at something resembling a conclusion. It just doesn’t work very well.

The Nest is a pretty watchable family drama. It’s a major letdown considering the talent involved. Rory may have thought he was able to charm his way out of any scenario, but the film has an unfortunate way of mirroring his failures. There’s no charm here, only a self-important narrative that doesn’t feel the need to grow.

Share Button

Wednesday

29

January 2020

0

COMMENTS

Sundance Review: Spaceship Earth

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

The relative value of the individual versus the collective is a well-explored school of philosophy. Hegel and Marx built their careers emphasizing the potential unleashed when the proletariat synchronizes with the nation-state. John Allen understood the power of organized labor, harnessing a group of hippies in a series of jaw-dropping creations.

Spaceship Earth documents the transformation of Allen’s commune from its humble origins farming, all the way to biosphere engineers on their self-appointed task to save humanity. What the group lacks in academic credibility, it makes up for in interpretative theatre.

About half of the film focuses on the group’s most impressive project. Biosphere 2 was a unique product of the 90s, with space-age optimism rampant in the air. By locking up eight people in an enclosed biosphere for two years, an environment meant to emulate the various regions of the Earth, Allen and his buddies aimed to provide a road map for humanity after Earth.

Spaceship Earth demonstrates the power of a group of hippies working collectively with the help of a wealthy billionaire friend. A preposterous yet very entertaining story. Allen’s boat-building, world traveling antics are very amusing, but less impressive once the film exposes Ed Bass as the bank behind the curtains. 

The film doesn’t really go out of its way to attack the credibility of Biosphere 2, but some key trends emerge that expose the project as a farce. Constantly billed as a “research” experiment, none of the members of John Allen’s merry band have anything to say about revelatory findings from the project. Their lack of controls for Biosphere 2 ruined any value for academic purposes, but the group doesn’t really contest this.

Biosphere 2 was the professional wrestling version of science, a tantalizing farce for the media to gobble up. The self-described biospherians seems to look back fondly on their time locked up in a CO2-riddled terrarium. The documentary itself is a blast, including cameo footage from Rue McClanahan and a young Steve Bankom.

As a film, it doesn’t really try to dig all that deep into the biosphere’s artificial terrain. Allen himself explains this quite well. Life is theatre. The documentary concerns itself with the theatrics of the group’s schemes. Maybe there doesn’t need to be anything else.

The only area of struggle for director Matt Wolf lies in the narrative within the biosphere. Spaceship Earth takes a broader approach to the history of Allen’s group, squeezing all of that plus Biosphere 2 in a two-hour runtime. This dynamic forces two different climaxes for the narrative, one for the biosphere and another for the documentary itself. Wolf bites off a little more than he can chew in the third act, causing a bit of indigestion with his abrupt landing.

Spaceship Earth is absolutely fascinating. There’s little to learn from the antics of a wealthy commune, but they’re so much fun to watch. What’s missing in substance is certainly made up by theatre. For Allen, life is too short to worry about things like facts or research. Perhaps there are worse legacies to leave.

Share Button

Wednesday

29

January 2020

0

COMMENTS

Sundance Review: High Tide

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

Personal space is a vital component to a happy life. Having work done on one’s home naturally leads to an Encroachment on that sense of privacy. High Tide is a film that explores the struggles of agency when people feel they can take advantage of you.

Laura (Gloria Carrá) is having an outdoor BBQ built at her home, a beautiful secluded modern house that’s also close to the beach. She sleeps with the lead contractor Weisman (Jorge Sesán), a man she feels some attraction toward despite the sense of superiority she admits in their power balance. Weisman isn’t much of a catch, but Laura likes to be in charge of her own decisions.

The situation is exacerbated once Weisman disappears, leaving his employees to finish the job. His subordinates have little respect for Laura, using her home at will and making a mess of the grounds. Her efforts to control the dynamic fall on deaf, drunken ears.

High Tide is an intimate kind of film. Director Verónica Chen shows off her skills as a filmmaker by the way she constantly reinvents Laura’s relationship to her surroundings, namely the house where the vast majority of the narrative takes place. Very little changes in the setting, but Chen makes sure it never feels stale.

Carrá has a way of communicating Laura’s angst with subtle gestures. She doesn’t have a ton of dialogue, instead conveying the plot progression largely through emotion. She’s incredibly relatable as a lead, capturing the essence of one’s loss of privacy. Anyone who has ever had their space invaded can naturally identify with the dilemma Laura faces for most of the film.

As a setting, Laura’s house proves a strong place to situate the narrative, but the film struggles a bit in the few scenes set elsewhere. So much of the story is tied up with Laura’s sense of authority that less-focused efforts to develop her as a character fall a bit flat. You get the sense that the film did need to stretch its legs a bit from a single location, but it doesn’t really know what to do with that time.

The film also sputters a little bit down the stretch, leaving an ending that’s quite thought-provoking, but a little out of left field. Chen is great at crafting scenes that a general audience would find relatable, building a foundation that keeps you thinking long after the credits roll. Laura isn’t an easy character to dissect, which makes her all the more compelling as a protagonist.

At times, High Tide is a frustrating film, but it’s a finely crafted narrative well-worth a watch. Laura is an inspiring character in a weird sort of way. Women are often pushed around by men without a care in the world. Chen’s triumph is through her ability to unpack everyday sexism and the lasting ramifications that occur when our personal space gets violated.

Share Button

Wednesday

29

January 2020

0

COMMENTS

Sundance Review: Feels Good Man

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

The tragedy of Pepe the Frog is one of the saddest stories to come out of meme culture. Cartoonist Matt Furie created the laid-back amphibian as part of his Boy’s Club comic back in 2005. The character’s signature phrase, “feels good man” caught on in the early days of social media, with many quoting Pepe on the Myspace or Tumblr pages.

On the road to Internet stardom, Pepe found himself particularly popular on the imageboard site 4chan. The anonymous nature of 4chan has made the site popular among the alt-right, neo-nazis, and other group who would otherwise be reticent to share their identities. Pepe gradually become their standard bearer, a symbol of hate stripped from his fun-loving creator. The documentary Feels Good Man captures the strange tale of Pepe’s crazy life.

Internet culture is hard to understand and even more difficult to explain. Director Arthur Jones meticulously breaks down how 4chan works and how Pepe found himself riding the first wave of memes. He’s a cute, sad figure with a weird universal appeal. He’s like a cartoon Rorschach test, able to be whatever the individual needs him to be. Sadly, that made poor Pepe an easy target to be co-opted.

Matt Furie is a very likable person. He’s soft-spoken and laid back, the kind of college stoner who never totally grew up. The film includes a number of scenes in Furie’s home with his partner and daughter, painting a stark contrast between Pepe’s gentle creator and the hateful groups that have hijacked his image.

The film includes a fair number of superb animated sequences that transition the film between its subjects. Furie appears sporadically throughout the narrative, reflecting the bizarre cultural divorce between the creator and his work. Jones depicts Furie’s legal battles with far-right figures. After a while you just want to give him a hug, a man full of obvious despair.

Jones interviews a few 4chan users to explain how the site managed to turn Pepe into a hate symbol. The scenes are often hard to watch, but it’s an important lens to shine on a toxic subculture. Thankfully, Jones does so responsibly.

Feels Good Man also takes a look at the statistical impact of memes across the world. Studies place Pepe among the most recognizable of memes in the world, a commodity so valuable that “rare Pepes” sell for thousands of dollars at auctions. It needs to be seen to be believed. Jones captures the phenomenon quite well.

There’s a strange line drawn between Pepe and the election of Donald Trump, the frog used as a rallying cry for incels. Feels Good Man uses a lot of levity in its approach to this dark, twisted reality we’re supposedly living in. Pepe became an Internet martyr, but the film goes out of its way to assure its audience that there’s hope for a better tomorrow.

Feels Good Man is a touching documentary about a tragic American icon and his grieving creator. Pepe deserved better from this world, but in Jones, he finds a valuable orator. The film is a shining example of how to cover the Internet age in all its peculiarities. 

Share Button