Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

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21

March 2021

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Zack Snyder’s Justice League delivers on its mission

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It’s easy to frame Zack Snyder’s Justice League as an attempt to correct an error, as the cinematic Justice League will likely go down as one of the worst superhero movies of all time, an abomination of blockbuster filmmaking. An unthinkable tragedy forced Snyder to step away from the destination his entire DCEU had been working toward, but that entire strategy had been under question since the muted reception to Snyder’s Man of Steel & Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, as well as the Snyder-produced Suicide Squad.

The world has changed quite a lot since 2017. An unprecedented fan campaign coupled with a streaming service in need of content amidst an industry, and a globe, ravaged by the pandemic affords a rare do-over for the line-up composed of DC Comics’ best assets. Relying almost entirely on footage shot before Snyder previously stepped away from the film, ZSJL is a film firmly rooted in the same problems that had the broader population clamoring for Snyder to be removed as the architect of the DCEU in the first place. The only thing that’s fundamentally different is a sense that this film is the proper concluding chapter to an uneven era in DC lore.

Time has been kind to Snyder’s bleak Earth. The runtime of just over four hours might be anxiety-inducing to a bladder seated in a crowded theatre, but ZSJL’s narrative fares much better from the comfort of one’s couch. The only pressing issue is the 4:3 aspect ratio, which feels more than a bit confining to footage that once might have played best on an IMAX screen. It’s not hard to imagine that the dedicated fans up for watching such an epic in that environment may one day get their wish.

The narrative plays well without Joss Whedon’s forced efforts at humor. It’s fair to say that the idea of a Justice League film may have been better served by giving its full roster their own solo films ahead of the team-up, as ZSJL spends much of its time properly introducing Aquaman, Cyborg, and The Flash. Snyder’s work is at least aware of this reality, forcing Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne to juggle to awkward comradery amidst these heroes united by a common existential cause.

As with his earlier DC Comics adaptations, Snyder is in no rush to get to the core of his narrative. The first ninety minutes contain far too many sequences that are fundamentally superfluous to his broader intentions. The gel doesn’t always settle perfectly, but where Snyder especially succeeds with his worldbuilding is his ability to make it feel lived-in. ZSJL doesn’t ignore its predecessor films like Whedon’s trainwreck. Batman v Superman remains a bloated mess, but Snyder keeps his eye on the ball, rewarding fans who have put in the effort to engage with his ideas over the years.

Steppenwolf is still an imperfect choice to be the Justice League’s first big villain, but the restoration of Darkseid to the film at least keeps some air in the room. Snyder clearly intended to save Darkseid for a sequel that will almost certainly never be made, a reservation that won’t see its payoff. It’s a messy dynamic, but certainly much more cohesive than its 2017 predecessor.

Perhaps the film’s best asset comes through the subtraction of the earlier film’s greatest crime. Henry Cavill’s CGI-erased mustache served as the biggest joke of the 2017 Justice League, a conduit to channel through everything else that was wrong with the movie. Here, Superman still isn’t in the film very much, but that’s a worthy trade-off to see Kal-El’s distracting upper lip removed from the equation.

Snyder hasn’t exactly pieced together a great movie, but his vision has a cohesive flow sorely missing from its predecessor. Longtime fans will find much to love in the culmination of his work. The hashtag #ReleaseTheSnyderCut has delivered what it set out to achieve. The film may bear the same issues that plagued much of Snyder’s time spearheading the DCEU, but there’s a poetic sense of justice in seeing the director given the chance to properly complete his work.

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Friday

19

March 2021

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SXSW Review: The Hunt for Planet B

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

The question of extraterrestrial life is hardly a matter of if, but where. The universe is a pretty massive place, far beyond human comprehension. NASA has barely scratched the surface of our own galaxy, let alone the far reaches of the cosmos.

The James Webb Space Telescope, set to launch into space on October 31st, represents a step forward in humanity’s understanding of the broader universe. Nathaniel Kahn’s new documentary The Hunt for Planet B aims to bring these broad existential questions back down to earth, focusing on the human equation in the exploration. The balance is a dynamic that Kahn continuously struggles with throughout the course of the narrative.

The Hunt for Planet B is light on science, a narrative without nearly enough substance to sustain a feature-length runtime. Kahn only seems interested in the telescope or NASA for brief moments, almost desperate to turn his attention anywhere else. No one sitting down to watch the film would actually expect Kahn to find planet B, but ninety minutes with this material hardly leaves one with much of a deeper understanding of any of the material.

At one point, the documentary turns its attentions to the music preferences of one of the scientists during a car ride. The subject notes an interest in 80s music. If you want to watch a documentary to learn about what kind of genres of music scientists working on the James Webb Space Telescope enjoy, Kahn certainly delivers on that front. The same can hardly be said for those looking for substantive discussions on complex science.

Part of this problem is hardly Kahn’s fault. His subjects are able to succinctly explain all the things that we don’t know about the universe, but much less successful in giving a lay audience a better perspective of what we do know. That might not be as much of an issue if Kahn seemed actually interested in the telescope that’s supposed to be at the heart of the narrative.

There are other weird points of obvious filler beyond the 80s music chatter. There are a few scenes that feature C-Span footage of House committee oversight into NASA, showcasing how little elected officials understand about science. These sequences might be more compelling if Kahn managed to tie them back into his overall narrative, but there isn’t much of a cohesive storyline here.

With the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope delayed due to the pandemic, it seems likely that Kahn’s documentary had to be curtailed as well. That might be easier to forgive if The Hunt for Planet B wasn’t such a dull experience, a film that has no business carrying a feature runtime. The whole thing could’ve been easily condensed into a format more suitable for a 60 Minutes segment without losing any substance.

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Friday

19

March 2021

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SXSW Review: Potato Dreams of America

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The world has seen quite a few coming out narratives over the past few decades as LGBTQ culture has become more mainstream. The world that Potato Dreams of America debuts into is quite different than the one director/writer Wes Hurley grew up in. America has changed quite a bit since Hurley’s short film Little Potato premiered in 2017. Both films are based on Hurley’s experiences as a Russian immigrant to America, at a time when being gay was hardly accepted in either country.

With Potato Dreams of America, Hurley utilizes a surrealist landscape to tell his life’s story. The narrative covers a wide stretch, from his youth to early adulthood. As a director, he’s inventive with his storytelling, playing with his character’s accents to highlight his fish out of water status in both countries. Coupled with the luscious sets, Hurley crafts a compelling backdrop for the film.

Unfortunately, the script is pretty lackluster. Hurley throws cliché after cliché at the audience, tired humor centered around capitalism and the American dream. There’s really nothing in this narrative that hasn’t been explored before on screen, a situation exacerbated by the film’s stunning mediocrity.

The performances fare a bit better than the screenplay. As the “American Potato” (the unnamed protagonist that’s clearly a stand-in for Hurley) and Jesus Christ, Tyler Bocock and Jonathan Bennett supply a couple of entertaining scenes in the middle, albeit hindered by the otherwise lackluster presentation. Lea DeLaria does a great job as Potato’s mother Tamara, easily the best performance of the film.

Based on true events, it’s clear that Hurley prioritized autobiography at the expense of his film’s story. This is 90 minutes of Hurley’s life that obviously means a great deal to him as a filmmaker, having previously explored his childhood in the earlier short. He does a terrible job translating that passion to the audience.

Autobiography or not, Hurley doesn’t really have anything interesting to share about growing up as a gay immigrant. This story might have played better ten years ago, but here it comes across as dated and at times, regressive. At one point, Potato’s mother expresses indifference to her son’s coming out. Whether that’s true of Hurley’s life or not, it doesn’t make for compelling material to watch on screen.

Potato Dreams of America struggles to present itself as more than a vanity project with a terrible script. It is a positive sign of the times that Hurley’s sincere story of coming out lands with such a thud in 2021. Unfortunately, his film isn’t strong enough to sustain itself without any novelty in its premise.

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Friday

19

March 2021

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SXSW Review: Our Father

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Grief has a way of bringing people together who wouldn’t otherwise spend more than a few moments in each other’s company. The loss of a loved one can put one’s own future in perspective, time itself an ever-fleeting concept. Director Bradley Grant Smith centers Our Father in the wake of a suicide, a father’s death reuniting two sisters on very different paths.

The narrative follows Beta (Baize Buzan) and Zelda (Allison Torem) as they search for their long-lost uncle Jerry (Austin Pendleton), estranged from their broader family for over thirty years. Beta is eager to leave town for grad school in Connecticut in an effort to hit the reset button on her otherwise mundane existence. She and Zelda are not close, using their quest to find Jerry as an effort to spend some time together before going their separate ways.

Smith’s worldbuilding largely appears to be the product of trial and error, throwing bits of quirk at the wall to see what sticks. Little of it does. Scene after scene, Our Father tries to frame itself as an oddball comedy, but the writing falls spectacularly flat after the first few minutes.

This dynamic is exacerbated by the relationship between the film’s leading actresses. Smith deliberately positions Beta and Zelda as having no real relationship, kneecapping his intentions to position Our Father as a buddy comedy. The scattershot pacing never consistently makes rectifying this a priority, draining the narrative’s ability to hit home down the stretch.

Smith rarely seems to understand what he wants to do with his characters. Beta and Zelda frequently looked confused, even bored, on their quest, making it pretty hard to relate to any of them. Aside from Uncle Jerry, the male characters are pretty atrociously written, cringe-filled scenes that don’t really serve any broader purposes.

Pendleton is the sole performer who seems to have any idea what’s going on with the material, delivering a powerful scene in the third act that feels completely divorced from the rest of the narrative. That kind of momentum can’t be sustained for long, and the film doesn’t really have a strong enough foundation to produce any satisfying resolutions. The whole thing is a completely disjointed experience.

Our Father feels like the product of someone who knew how to make a movie but didn’t understand how to tell a story. The narrative alternates between being painfully boring or needlessly obtuse. An unfortunate mess.

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Thursday

18

March 2021

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SXSW Review: Swan Song

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

Increased LGBTQ visibility has done wonders for our community as a whole. With the modern serving as the mere infancy for broader gay rights as a whole, there are plenty of older people who won’t live to see the sins of the past corrected. Swan Song centers its narrative in the final chapter of a colorful man taking one last trek through a very different world than the one he once thrived in.

Pat Pitsenbarger (Udo Kier) is a retired hairdresser who spends his days in a nursing home. He doesn’t have long to live, but receives a new lease on life when he learns that a former client wanted him to style her hair at her funeral. Setting off on a trip down memory lane through his town of Sandusky, Ohio, Pat takes the chance to revisit his old stomping grounds for what might be the last time.

Kier carries Swan Song, delivering one of the most moving performances of his illustrious career. Writer/director Todd Stephens wisely recognizes this dynamic, largely crafting the film to make full use of his star’s talents. Pat has lived a sad life, but Kier is so full of energy that you never really pity him as a character. What could have just been a sad narrative instead finds itself oddly uplifting.

Based on Stephens’ own experiences growing up as a gay kid in the 80s, Swan Song also serves as an homage to the old-school gay bars that are rapidly vanishing from the American landscape. While the narrative is a little too convenient at times, Stephens manages to pull off a touching tribute without falling into the trap of criticizing how mainstream acceptance is actually bad for LGBTQ culture. The world has changed. That’s mostly a good thing, except maybe for people like Pat who hardly recognize the society that they’re about to leave.

The film also manages to indulge Pat’s dated habits without forcing a mandate for him to get with the times. Pat spends much of the narrative in search of a shampoo that had been discontinued for years, taking long drags of a dated brand of cigarillo as he soaks in a present that doesn’t have a place for him. There may be an inclination to tell a man like Pat to get with the times, but why should he?

There’s a lot about Pat’s life that’s hinted at without being fully explored. The 105-minute runtime doesn’t aim to provide a complete picture of the man, instead finding acceptance in the idea that not every sin of the past needs to be corrected. It’s easy to root for Pat even after accepting the idea that he probably wasn’t the greatest man on the planet. While parts of Swan Song may feel familiar, Kier ensures that his infectious enthusiasm carries over to the audience.

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Thursday

18

March 2021

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Lord Varys: A Transgender Perspective

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones, Podcast

Grab your lavender and your little birds, we’re going to Westeros. Join Ian for a solo episode all about Lord Varys. As someone who knows what it’s like to lose their balls, Ian feels a kindred connection to the Spider. For his talent, George R.R. Martin often portrays Varys in an exceedingly cartoonish fashion that plays into homophobic stereotypes. Join for a close reading of many of Varys’ key passages.

 

This episode will cover the following chapters:

 

A Game of Thrones

  • Catelyn IV
  • Eddard IV
  • Eddard V
  • Eddard VII
  • Eddard VIII
  • Eddard XI
  • Eddard XII
  • Eddard XIV
  • Sansa IV
  • Eddard XV
  • Tyrion IX

 

A Clash of Kings

  • Tyrion I
  • Tyrion II
  • Tyrion III
  • Tyrion IV
  • Tyrion VI
  • Tyrion VIII
  • Tyrion IX
  • Tyrion X
  • Tyrion XII
  • Sansa VIII

 

A Storm of Swords

  • Sansa I
  • Tyrion II
  • Tyrion III
  • Davos IV
  • Tyrion IX
  • Tyrion X
  • Tyrion XI

 

A Feast for Crows

  • Cersei I
  • Jaime I
  • Cersei IV
  • Jaime III

A Dance with Dragons

  • Tyrion I
  • Tyrion II
  • Tyrion IV
  • The Lost Lord
  • Epilogue

For a complete list of our ASOIAF episodes, check out our neatly organized episode page. https://ianthomasmalone.podbean.com/p/episode-categories/

Image courtesy of HBO

 

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Tuesday

9

March 2021

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Wandavision

Written by , Posted in Blog, Podcast

Come take a ride with us to Westview! Alexandra August returns to the show for a delightful discussion all about Wandavision, which kicked off Phase 4 of the MCU. We talk about what worked, what didn’t work, how amazing Kathryn Hahn is, and all the fan theories that didn’t quite pan out. Maybe Mephisto didn’t want to step inside New Jersey? Who could blame him! 

 

You can follow Alexandra at @alxaugust

Series poster courtesy of Disney.

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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

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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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