Ian Thomas Malone

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Thursday

1

September 2022

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COMMENTS

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power gives Prime Video its streamer standard-bearer

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

The modern streaming era churns out more content than any single person would be able to watch. Television has largely moved on from the idea of water cooler shows, collective pop culture consciousness fading away in favor of tribes divided by individual subscription services that families often begrudgingly add to their budgets. The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power represents Jeff Bezos’ best effort to reverse that trend, a billion-dollar gamble to produce a television show too massive to ignore.

Spectacle is The Rings of Power’s best asset. For all the money invested in a single television season, the show does succeed in its effort to be one of the most beautiful series ever made. With many of its rivals cutting corners on cheap green screens, The Rings of Power wields its on-location filmmaking and beautiful practical sets to invoke a natural sense of awe and wonder from its audience. Middle Earth feels like a living breathing entity.

Of course, prestige television cannot sustain itself on gorgeous cinematography alone. The original Lord of the Rings trilogy was powered by the true fellowship (pun intended) of its characters. The Rings of Power has a diverse cast that’s fairly spread out over Middle Earth, the show lacking a “Council of Elrond” moment where all the principals were together in the same spot. Elrond (Robert Aramayo) is himself a main character, a wide-eyed diplomat still trying to find his place in the world, but the main elf at the center of the action is the not-yet-Lady Galadriel (Morfydd Clark).

Galadriel, caught in a similar pull between Middle Earth and the comforts of dreamy Valinor as Arwen was in the original trilogy, supplies much of the interesting action in the show’s first two episodes. The Arwen/Aragorn dynamic is on full display with a relationship between Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi), a human apothecary, and Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova), an elvish archer stationed in the Southlands in a posting that’s much to the resentment of the humans in the region. The show’s frantic pacing doesn’t give much time to the colonialist sentiments introduced, but the material is presented in a far more digestible manner than Tolkien’s The Silmarillion or his similarly dense appendices.

The show is lacking a bit in levity, some supplied by the Harfoots (Hobbits in need of a better deep conditioner) and by King Durin IV (Owain Arthur), an eccentric dwarf and estranged friend of Elrond. The Harfoots are probably the most interesting to watch, young halflings Elanor Brandyfoot (Markella Kavenagh) and Poppy Proudfellow (Megan Richards) sparking the wide-eyed sense of curiosity that high fantasy tends to elicit when done properly. In keeping with the traditions of the genre, there’s far too much going on to keep up with, but it’s also fairly refreshing to see a massive show not intentionally weigh itself down with too much exposition.

The Rings of Power does suffer a bit from an unevenly defined sense of purpose. Sauron is hinted at as the show’s true big bad, but the show doesn’t have anything like the original material’s clearly stated mission to guide its narrative. The first two episodes don’t exactly do the best job of outlining what this show is about, a dynamic that would be a bigger problem if it wasn’t so beautiful to watch.

The lack of true narrative purpose stands in stark contrast to Bezos’ own mission for The Rings of Power, which carries the heavy mandate of needing to be Prime Video’s standard bearer in the streaming wars. Anything less than global popularity on the scale of Game of Thrones or Stranger Things would essentially represent a billion-dollar failure. Global phenomena can’t exactly be willed into existence, but capitalism is banking on a Lord of the Rings-style booster rocket to try and prove otherwise.

The Rings of Power needs more time to flesh itself out, but Bezos delivered on his mandate to produce the most beautiful show on television. TV is once again shooting for the stars instead of hiding behind hideous green screens to fuel the content mill. This show isn’t perfect, but you do get the sense that it is sincerely trying to be a spectacle. That sheer ambition alone is a sight to behold.

The first two episodes of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power were screened for review

Thursday

28

July 2022

0

COMMENTS

Classic Film: The Man I Love

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

There is a certain timelessness to the sensation of falling in love with a terrible man. Released in 1946, the film The Man I Love could have easily been released today as a commentary on the vapidity of modern romance, and the innate challenges of resisting the perfect charm even when every red flag is waving right in front of you. Sometimes the heart wants what it wants.

Petey Brown (Ida Lupino) works as a nightclub singer, with a vibrant personality and commanding charisma. Feeling a bit homesick in the big city, Petey returns home to Long Beach, California to visit her sisters, Sally (Andrea King) and Ginny (Martha Vickers). Sally works as a waitress in an Italian restaurant, perpetually harassed by Nicky Toresca (Robert Alda), whose uncle owns the establishment among other mob-connected enterprises.

Director Raoul Walsh’s feature is a train wreck of unnecessary subplots entirely redeemed by Lupino’s mesmerizing performance and the highly effective jazz score. The film has far too many characters for its 96-minute runtime, a narrative that has no idea whether it wants to be noir or a soap opera. The film sort of comes together in the second half, when Petey takes up work in one of Nicky’s nightclubs, striking up a romance with pianist San Thomas (Bruce Bennett) as she becomes embroiled in a murder.

Lupino practically makes it her singular mission to carry the narrative, pouring her heart and soul into Petey’s tortured psyche. Bennett is unremarkable as her primary love interest, though that’s also kind of the point of the film. Petey’s romance with a man who doesn’t deserve her reflects the way Lupino almost singlehandedly saved Walsh’s otherwise mediocre film. Women all too often know exactly what it’s like to have to exert additional labor value to carry the laziness of men, which is pretty much The Man I Love in a nutshell.

Walsh’s skills as a director occasionally surface throughout the film, though the frantic pacing and indecisive tone frequently hinder the experience. The Man I Love is often a tedious experience, but it’s hard to dismiss the work entirely. Walsh and Lupino work so well together that the atrocious screenplay feels almost easy to forgive.

There is a certain allure in falling for bad men, even if the act itself is not particularly defensible. Film often functions best when it depicts the innate contradictions that comprise humanity. The Man I Love is not a great movie. It is hard to even label Walsh’s narrative as a good film. Lupino deserves better, but that’s also not necessarily the primary concern. Life is not about what we deserve, but rather what we do with the cards that we were dealt. Working in a time when women received fairly mediocre roles, Lupino took that deflated ball and ran with it in a way that’s pretty inspiring all these years later.

Friday

8

July 2022

0

COMMENTS

Thor: Love and Thunder is a sloppy collection of gags thrown at a green screen

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

Thor is the closest thing the MCU has to a standard-bearer in the post-Endgame era. The death of Tony Stark left behind a void that shouldn’t necessarily be filled at all, with the gigantic, interconnected universe heading in about a million different directions. Thor: Ragnarok demonstrated how much fun the Son of Asgard could have unburdened from both the weight of the Avengers and the budding continuity established in his first two solo efforts. It’s hard to think of a character better poised than Thor to thrive in the Phase 4 climate, free of most obligations to set up future films.

As the first MCU hero to earn a fourth solo outing, director Taika Waititi could have taken Thor just about anywhere in the universe. There have been over seven hundred Thor comic books, a lifetime of material to draw on. Thor: Love and Thunder puts Mjolnir in the hands of Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), drawing on the 2014 “Original Sin” arc, a comic book storyline younger than Thor’s first two big-screen films. It is worth pointing out that no one working on the first Thor film in 2011 had any idea that they were setting up the Asgardian’s genius love interest as the heir apparent to his iconic hammer. Waititi doesn’t seem to know what to do with her either.

The entirety of Love and Thunder seems centered around the novelty of the idea that it might be fun to see Jane Foster as Thor. A character whose near-complete absence from the MCU since 2013, unceremoniously discarded from Ragnarok’s narrative, is now once again at the forefront, essentially as a gimmick. There is no imperative driving Love and Thunder beyond its obligations to the gods of content, an empty shell of a film covered up with endless jokes and attractive people standing in front of exceedingly bland green screens.

The plot is almost not worth mentioning. Gorr (Christian Bale) wants to kill all gods with a weapon called the Necrosword, kidnapping a bunch of kids from New Asgard to draw Thor into open battle. The fact that most of the kids were kidnapped while Thor was standing on the battlefield having idle chitchat with Jane is irrelevant to a film that treats its narrative like one big gag. Jane, dying of cancer, comes to New Asgard to seek Mjolnir, forging an unusual alliance between ex-girlfriend and ex-weapon.

Though the characters occasionally mention that kids are in danger and maybe the universe might end if Gorr succeeds in his mission, the film doesn’t really care much about any of that Each line is an opportunity for the script to ram a few more jokes in. Some of the humor is quite amusing, but after a while, it becomes clear that Waititi would rather make a romantic comedy than an action film. Bale does his best to make Gorr into a menacing villain, but there’s little he can do to change the fact that Love and Thunder doesn’t really want to have a bad guy.

The special effects are truly horrendous. Disney’s approach to green screen cinematography as of late has favored monotonic background palettes with stale lighting. One can’t help but look at its overbearing ugliness with a sense of profound sadness that filmmaking has stooped to these lows. Love and Thunder would have been better off using cardboard boxes decorated with crayons than the hideous CGI Disney tries to call state-of-the-art technology. At least there would be some artistic merit to the crayon drawings.

Waititi does do an okay job exploring the on-screen lore that Thor has built over the past decade. Brief cameos from Drs. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) and Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) remind viewers of how much the emotional core of this series has shifted since its early days. Trouble is, Thor himself has regressed as a character back to the aimlessness that defined his role in the first movie. He’s learned nothing from the events of Endgame, a film largely irrelevant to this narrative besides a pointless first-act cameo from the Guardians of the Galaxy, including a bafflingly-wooden Chris Pratt who looks like he’d rather be anywhere else. Waititi has absolutely nothing for Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) to do, a tragic waste of Ragnarok’s most interesting character.

What does Love and Thunder want to be? Nothing. This is content, mandated into existence by Disney. Waititi spruced things up with some jokes and a nod to a storyline younger than this film series, wish-fulfillment akin to Marvel’s long running “What-If” series. If this is the future of the MCU, maybe Thanos wasn’t so wrong to snap his fingers. A refined output might actually bring some thought back into this content farm masquerading as a blockbuster franchise.

Wednesday

6

July 2022

0

COMMENTS

Kevin Jacobs, Big Brother Canada 10

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On the eve of Big Brother 24, we are absolutely delighted to welcome Kevin Jacobs, winner of Big Brother Canada 10, to the show. Kevin played a subtlety dominant in the BBCAN house, shaping the trajectory of the game without ever besting a Head of Household competition, becoming the first winner to pull of that feat since the iconic Dr. Will Kirby back in BB2.

 

Kevin shares his extensive knowledge of game theory, navigating the murky waters of the early game to survive a week one eviction, steering clear of the carnage wrought by BBCAN10’s multiple seven-person alliances, and forging the Crash Test Dummies alliance that took center stage down the stretch. Ian throws in some Kant for good measure.

Past seasons of Big Brother Canada are available on Paramount+. Canadian viewers or viewers with one of those things called a VPN can get a taste of the delicious BBCAN10 action at https://www.bigbrothercanada.ca/

You can follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinTedJacobs or Instagram @kevintedjacobs

Production still courtesy of Big Brother Canada & Global Television Network

Monday

27

June 2022

0

COMMENTS

Classic Film: Double Indemnity

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

Society generally does a horrible job explaining the concept of crime to children. Separating the world into a false binary of good vs. evil barely even orbits the reality of injustice. A person hardly needs a rotten soul to find themselves wrapped up in a situation far beyond any lay person’s assessment of their moral fiber.

1944 launched the film noir genre with the iconic masterpiece Double Indemnity. Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) is a fairly hapless insurance salesman, overconfident in his own ability to sway any scenario to his own liking. Neff is quite the easy mark for Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck), a disgruntled housewife looking to murder her selfish husband. Neff puts up an obligatory meager resistance to the idea of committing a capital offense, before realizing that his knowledge of the insurance would prove invaluable to the success of the scheme.

Director/co-screenwriter Billy Wilder masterfully identifies the low-stakes pressure point in Neff’s character that defines his weakness as a person. Neff is not an evil man by nature. He is, however, very bored. Undervalued at work, Neff’s boss Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) pressures him into taking a desk job viewed by Neff as a demotion beneath his skills as a salesman out in the fields.

Stanwyck plays her feminist icon with an understated sense of poise that demonstrates that while she’s firmly in command of Neff’s psyche, she hardly needed it to exert much pressure to achieve her goals. Phyllis promises the thrill of a lifetime, one that his desk job could never care to deliver. The murder isn’t the result of a battle between good and evil, but rather a natural response to a system that had no place for either Phyllis or Neff, both pawns in someone else’s game. Capitalism is the true villain of Double Indemnity.

Wilder understood an innate truth of crime thrillers. Some find satisfaction at the end of a whodunit when the killer is brought to justice, but that’s not the sum total of the appeal of the genre. Plenty seek a deeper understanding of why someone might turn away from the path of justice, to commit atrocities that make us feel uneasy to even think about.

MacMurray’s status as the “leading man” is almost an oxymoron. Stanwyck is the real driving force, but Wilder positions the two in a clever way that heightens Neff’s lingering emasculation at the hands of his boss. Neff can’t stand the uncomfortable claustrophobia of life square in the palm of capitalism’s mighty hand. The murder is not the work of an evil man, but the temper tantrum of a grown adult tired of living his life like a child, without a whiff of agency.

Noir delivers these uncomfortable truths, the layers of ugliness that often define the human experience. Crime thrillers teach us to rejoice when the bad guys are brought to justice. Noir isn’t interested in demonizing those who walk off the straight and narrow path, instead determined to present their full humanity, the kind of reality that can’t be boxed into the good vs. evil binary. Neff and Phyllis are criminals, but Wilder’s triumph lies in the way he successfully brought out the best in his characters.

Thursday

9

June 2022

0

COMMENTS

Friday

3

June 2022

0

COMMENTS

Jay Northcott, Big Brother Canada 10

Written by , Posted in Blog, Podcast

We are delighted to welcome Jay Northcott to discuss their time in the Big Brother Canada house. Jay is a nonbinary theatre director and drag performer based in Toronto, who made quite the impression ahead of their week two eviction, setting the stage for the epic week three house flip that shook up the entire game.

Jay shares so many fascinating insights into the gameplay, as well as the unique challenges presented to LGBTQ houseguests. Ian & Jay talk quite a bit about the season as a whole, one of the all-time greats for BB North America.

 

You can follow Jay on Instagram @jaythemcott and on Twitter @jaythemcott

Be sure to check out our prior BB CAN 10 coverage, including an interview with Kyle Moore.

Headshot courtesy of Jay Northcott. Production still courtesy of Big Brother Canada & Global Television Network


 

Wednesday

1

June 2022

0

COMMENTS

A Requiem for ”How Are You?

Written by , Posted in Blog, Podcast

ITM loves Tinder, a dream come true for a liberated transsexual as the dawn of hot girl summer lies ahead. Tinder is full of beautiful people of many genders, but it’s also a place where boring fuckboys come for their pound of flesh.

Ian unpacks the most tedious opening of them all, the “how are you” maneuver farted into the void to deflect the burden of courtship. Casual relationships need not be meaningless interactions, an important reminder to view yourself as the catch that you are.

If you enjoy Estradiol Illusions, please consider leaving a review wherever you get your podcasts. 

Wednesday

25

May 2022

0

COMMENTS

Top Gun: Maverick demonstrates the vitality of the big screen through its devotion to practical effects

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

The original Top Gun helped solidify Tom Cruise’s status as a leading actor. More than thirty years later, Hollywood tends to rely on franchises rather than its A-listers to bring fans to the theaters. Top Gun: Maverick is a marriage of two different eras of cinema, a nostalgia-laden action romp structured fueled by Cruise’s pursuit of high-octane stunts and his effortless charm.

Maverick hasn’t changed all that much since 1986. The same reputation that earned him legendary status as a pilot kept him from climbing the career ladder, stalling at the rank of captain. After a botched stunt threatened to end his career, Maverick is sent back to Top Gun to train a team for a high-stakes mission to take out a facility manufacturing enriched uranium. The complex mission parameters leave little room for error, placing a heavy burden on Maverick to select his team from the Navy’s best, among them Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of his best friend Goose.

Top Gun: Maverick is an expertly paced testament to the power of practical effects. Cruise’s tireless devotion to blockbuster filmmaking bleeds through the screen in every scene, a modern cinematic marvel. The script is not exactly Dryden’s Aeneid, full of clunky jokes, but you can’t help but smile at the way Cruise pours his heart and soul into the whole production.

While Cruise is the focus of practically every scene, the supporting cast find their magic as well. Teller carries the emotional weight of Goose’s absence in every expression. Rooster’s beef with Maverick is a bit predictable, but the film finds time to give him a mini-rivalry with fellow trainee Jake “Hangman” Seresin (Glen Powell), reminiscent of the original Maverick/Iceman feud/angsty bromance. The rest of the trainees, including Monica Barbaro, Lewis Pullman, Jay Ellis, and Danny Ramirez, are clearly having the time of their lives, the group possessing impeccable chemistry that makes up for their limited screen time.

The film does have a bit of a clunky romance. Jennifer Connelly plays Penelope Benjamin, a local bar owner with a long history with Maverick. Connelly and Cruise are fun to watch together, but the script does a poor job selling the idea that this plotline exists for any other reason than to give Cruise something to do when there are no planes in the air.

The beauty of director Joseph Kosinski’s feature is that everyone understands the real reason fans are in the seats. The plane sequences are unbelievably spectacular, a true sight to behold on the big screen. Much of the 131-minute runtime is spent in the air. Rarely more than two scenes go by without a plane sequence, a non-stop adrenaline rush. The crew’s dedication to top-notch action choreography is about as strong a selling point for movie theatres as can be made.

Top Gun: Maverick blows the first film out of the water. The script could have used another draft’s worth of revisions, but it’s hard to care much with the cast’s abundant heart. The film pays great homage to its predecessor without using anything for cheap nostalgia, particularly a touching scene with Val Kilmer. There are some moments played for obvious fan service, but Cruise sells them with his signature smile.

There may come a day when Cruise isn’t able to up the ante on his age-defying stunts that push filmmaking to its limits. Some actors make new films to relive their glory days. Cruise is firmly committed to the present, bringing the advances of modern technology to enhance the traditional craft. If only more actors would use their star power to push back on Hollywood’s over-reliance on CGI.

Tuesday

24

May 2022

18

COMMENTS

Ricky Gervais recycles tired grievance nonsense in the odious bore SuperNature

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews

There is a belief that free speech is under attack in comedy. Subjects such as transgender rights are apparently so taboo to talk about that many of the world’s highest-paid comedians spend most of their new specials saying things they’re forbidden to talk about. Ricky Gervais wants you to believe he’s been canceled for SuperNature, his new show that Netflix paid him millions of dollars to perform.

What did Netflix receive for their money and inevitable PR headache? Early in the special, Gervais returns to the subject of transgender women being rapists in public bathrooms, a topic that had started to lose its edge in 2016. For a man who talks about how comedy evolves, Gervais seems oddly stuck in the past regarding a cultural subject that even the Republican Party has lost interest in fighting, instead turning its attention to targeting mainstream medical care for trans children.

Gervais jokes that the 1%, namely his millionaire buddies are the new Rosa Parks. A thin layer of sarcasm can’t really hide the idea that he fundamentally believes this notion, that comedians are the real marginalized group. He dedicates extended riffs to the “cancellation” of renowned masturbator Louis C.K., who is so canceled that he recently won the Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album earlier this year, and Kevin Hart, the A-list martyr who stepped aside from hosting the Oscars in 2018 after refusing to reiterate regret for old homophobic Tweets.

It’s not particularly complicated to see why Gervais is so fascinated by trans people and social media criticism directed at anti-LGBTQ comedians. He doesn’t really have anything else to talk about. SuperNature touches on the differences between cats and dogs, AIDS, abortion, and religion, delivering observations that aren’t particularly original even by 1990s standards. Gervais’ brand of grievance politics exists as a shallow cover-up for the staleness of his material, a Trump rally masquerading as a comedy special.

Gervais loves to frame intersectionality as an “us vs. them” equation, suggesting that LGBTQ people want to ban anti-transgender jokes as a way to drag people like him down to build themselves up. He’s right on the objective, but intellectually dishonest with regard to the motives, denying the real-world harm of a society where it’s socially acceptable to write off an entire group of people as rapists, in the complete absence of any evidence to the contrary. Gervais’ logic only works if your brain is warped enough to believe that stereotypes have never actually affected anyone.

The bitterness of Gervais’ shrill delivery obfuscates a broader truth. Gervais has no moral obligation to be a nice guy. He’s built most of his career off of being the exact opposite. Comedy can be mean-spirited. No one is asking him to stand up on stage and be anything less than the person we expect from Ricky Gervais.

There’s something fundamentally sad about a man with nothing to strive for beyond a cheap cash grab. Far from the first mainstream comedian to dedicate chunks of his act to defending C.K. or Hart, Gervais’ dull blade simply lacks the edge he thinks it wields as he stands up on stage laughing at his own jokes. For a staunch atheist, he’s pretty solely tapping into the spiritual nature of right-wing grievance with his riffs on trans people that don’t bring anything new to the table. He’s not so much trying to entertain his audience as to get them to see him as a general on the front lines, an hour-long gratification of replacement theory nonsense. With millions in the bank, Gervais might get the last laugh, but the whole ordeal is a sad sight to behold.