Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

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Wednesday

11

September 2019

9

COMMENTS

Bill Burr: Paper Tiger Struggles To Get Past Its Flimsy #MeToo Commentary

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Analysis of the #MeToo movement and subsequent “outrage culture” has become popular fodder for comedy specials. Bill Burr: Paper Tiger dedicates its first act to commentary on the nuances of feminism, intersectionality, and the nature of sexual harassment accusations. Burr clearly feels obliged to comment on this point in American culture, but he’s not very good at mining the humor out of this complicated minefield.

The presence of Dave Becky as an executive producer, who was caught up in Louis C.K.’s masturbation scandal, feels a bit out of place considering Becky’s conciliatory tone after the backlash. Burr suggests the importance of “due process” in a segment with little humor, his candor conveniently leaving out the situations where such efforts to combat sexual harassment were met with institutional pushback.

The theme of Paper Tiger is quite simple. Burr doesn’t want to hear about how life might be hard for anyone else. This dynamic is best illustrated through a bit where he talks about how a #MeToo accuser described a man “vigorously” masturbating. Burr describes this approach as the only way to achieve self-pleasure as far as he knows, comparing the alternative to something that Sting might practice. If he spent more time listening to women, he’d know that masturbation as an activity enjoyed by people of all genders can, in fact, have a rhythm described as something other than vigorous.

Sure that might sound like nitpicking, but the whole segment highlights a broader issue for the special. For all the talk of Burr wanting to “trigger” people, his most outrageous bits never feel edgy enough to pack the desired punch. He talks about wanting to drive by a woman’s rally yelling outrageous things in an effort to see people flail around in agony, struggling to contain his laughter at the imagery. Sure, “owning the libs” has become an internet meme, but the whole segment plays out like Burr actually believes he can inspire such terror with his words.

A telling moment in the special came when a heckler shouted about consent as Burr lamented the plight of women who enjoyed rough sex in the #MeToo era. Understandably, Burr was annoyed at having his rhythm disrupted, but he also reacted with indignation at the idea that people were questioning his very understanding of consent. His reaction exists in stark contrast to his opening segments, a man who doesn’t want you to think he’s a sexist pig while telling jokes that depict him as such.

He’s provocative for sure, taking aim at Stephen Hawking and Michelle Obama, occasionally earning a chuckle in the process. The jokes themselves don’t really dive deeper than surface-level humor about living with a debilitating disease like ALS or being a First Lady with ambitions beyond mere photo ops. The shock value is there for those who laugh at things they wouldn’t feel comfortable saying in public.

A good barometer for whether or not you find Paper Tiger funny is whether or not you laugh at the mere thought of a person taking offense to something you said. Such amusement can be had without a person actually running around screaming in terror at said words. An abstract “snowflake” can certainly substitute for the real thing.

Is Burr actually offensive? At times, sure, but more of in the eye-rolling “offensive uncle at Thanksgiving” vein than something people might actually be outraged by. Comedians often claim they’re on the verge of “cancellation,” as Burr himself suggests, a point instantly disproven by the very existence of the special. He says, “This is going to be my last show ever,” something that only feels edgy or amusing to people who preface every offensive thing they say with that ominous foreshadowing.

As someone who belongs to a group that Burr took aim at, there isn’t much to be offended by in the notion of being told transgender women “discard” their penises. It’s a joke that’s been told a million times that lacks any basis in the fundamental process of bottom surgery. Are we supposed to laugh at the idea of a gender-neutral bathroom on a plane when literally every bathroom aboard every plane is fitted that way?

Burr is much stronger when he turns his humor inward. He talks about his temper and his desire to deal with that anger for the sake of his child. Similarly, his bits about his wife are fairly funny, even though much of it is similarly laced in the denial of any semblance of advantage afforded to him as a straight white man.

At one point early on, Burr suggests that the #MeToo movement “had to happen.” He does seem like a fairly likable man throughout the special, an Archie Bunker-like figure trying to be a good father while struggling to process the ever-changing world around him. Undoubtedly, there are plenty of people out there in similar boats, resistant to change that might come at a cost to their own standing in the world.

Burr best illustrates the problem with Paper Tiger when he remarks that the #MeToo movement appears to be winding down, having seemingly handled the most egregious cases. If that’s the case, maybe so too should standup comedians find something else to talk about. Maybe soon, we’ll see a special dedicated to outrage for the people who are outraged about outrage culture. Hopefully it’ll be funnier than this lopsided routine.

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Monday

9

September 2019

0

COMMENTS

The Riot Act Is a Gorgeous Film Plagued by a Plodding Script

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Period pieces have an inherent additional layer of complexity to their presentation that films with contemporary settings don’t need to worry about. Set in 1903, Devon Parks The Riot Act is a thriller that does an excellent job of making the audience feel as though they’re actually in Van Buren, Arkansas, back in a time when a traveling vaudeville act would be the pinnacle of one’s entertainment options. The film makes extensive use of Van Buren’s historic buildings, giving it a far more authentic feel than many period pieces, let alone those with indie budgets.

The beautiful locations give the eyes plenty to look at throughout each scene. Such scenery is often more entertaining to watch than the characters. Period pieces may have additional considerations to look out for, but films set in the past still need narratives that work for their audience living in the present.

The Riot Act’s script is a meandering slog, a product of the film’s unclear narrative focus. Dr. Willard Pearrow (Brett Cullen) takes umbrage with his daughter’s lover (Brace Harris), shooting him before he can run off and live happily ever after with Allye (Lauren Sweetster). Two years later, a traveling vaudeville act is booked in his opera house, haunted by a mysterious “ghost” seeking revenge on the powerful doctor.

While the mystery surrounding Dr. Pearrow’s relationship with Allye could’ve carried the narrative, the film burdened itself with a few unnecessary subplots. In keeping with its 1903 Arkansan setting, the townsfolk are hardly receptive to diversity, taking umbrage with the presence of African American member of the troupe. The film ostensibly tries to aim for historical accuracy in portraying this drama but lingers too long on a plot point that feels particularly stale to a present-day audience.

Making matters worse is the films 101-minute runtime, which stretches its various plot strands quite thin by the end. A more streamlined approach to the narrative would’ve done the film wonders, while allowing it to sidestep the social commentary that’s not very interesting to begin with. The Riot Act is too long for its own good, a script that rarely seems sure of what it’s supposed to be doing.

There is a lot to like in many of the scenes, often shot like a stage play. Parks maintains a minimalist focus, using sparse lighting and stage direction to give his actors a chance to shine. The play-like dynamic works well for the period setting, especially for an indie.

The performances are a bit of a mixed bag. Cullen and Sweetster are mostly good, but many of the scenes are brought down by actors speaking their lines too quickly or sounding muffled in the process. More than a few scenes look like they should have been reshot. There are obvious limitations put on indie films, but clumsy takes drag down the otherwise excellent production values.

The Riot Act has a lot to admire as an indie period piece, but the film plays out like a rough cut in desperate need of additional editing. The locations are beautiful and the acting is mostly good, but the script is too unsure of itself to make for a worthwhile experience. Parks’ debut shows plenty of promise, but the execution just isn’t quite there.

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Wednesday

4

September 2019

141

COMMENTS

Sticks & Stones Isn’t Very Funny

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Five Netflix specials into his career resurgence, Dave Chappelle has a lot of problems with the way his jokes are being received in the #MeToo era. In the old days, comedians could punch down and tell tired jokes about the LGBTQ community, “alphabet people,” and nobody cared. Similarly, if you were a successful older man, there was a time when you could get away with making a younger woman watch you pleasure yourself.

Hearing Chappelle lament the dawning of the #MeToo era, you might get the impression that life is pretty hard for him. Sticks & Stones is largely centered around the reasons why he feels this way. Trouble is, the whole foundation of his routine is centered around faulty logic.

Chappelle is upset that people can’t make gay jokes anymore, seeming to forget that he can in fact, make those jokes. Sticks & Stones is full of humor directed at the LGBTQ community. He’s afraid of being “cancelled” while ignoring the fact that he’s currently being paid tens of millions of dollars to perform for one of the biggest outlets in show business. Paranoia aside, Dave Chappelle is far from canceled.

There is a fair amount of revisionist history about gay jokes present in Chappelle’s routine. He’s still upset about a time when Comedy Central objected to the use of a well-known anti-gay slur, wondering why he as a straight man wasn’t allowed to use it on television. Chappelle goes on to suggest that you can’t offend the “alphabet people” at all, putting aside the decades where it was considered taboo on television to portray an LGBTQ individual in a positive light. It’s kind of odd to see a comedian who’s been around as long as Chappelle try and act like gay jokes weren’t mainstream for a very long time.

Chappelle does seem to understand that there’s a reason why the transgender community isn’t collectively a huge fan of his. He’s also right that there is a fair degree in humor in the basic plight of the transgender identity. As a transgender woman, I laugh about the various ironies of transition all the time.

There are plenty of funny jokes to be told about the transgender community. Dave Chappelle just isn’t very good at that kind of humor. It’s not particularly original to compare transgender people to figures like Rachel Dolezal. The joke is certainly not all that funny in the year 2019.

Chappelle is hardly alone as a cisgender man in not really understanding the transgender identity. He takes that a step further in deciding that things he can’t understand must not be real, or the same as a person wanting to go around shouting racist Asian stereotypes. The theme of Sticks & Stones seems to be that Dave Chappelle doesn’t care about things that don’t directly affect him.

Lacking empathy can certainly be amusing, but Sticks & Stones is a tired routine by a man who forgot to layer jokes into his act, too often sounding like a pundit on Fox News. Chappelle used to be a master at making people laugh at inherently uncomfortable topics. He’s still willing to wade into controversial territory like pedophilia, but his bits just aren’t that funny. Chappelle allows the very notion that he shouldn’t be saying things to serve as the humor instead of actual jokes.

There are bits and pieces that prove Chappelle is still capable of understanding nuance. He uses a fairly amusing allegory about LGBTQ people riding in a car to describe the differences among the various groups within our community. Listening to him describe the ways that gay white men live have better opportunities transgender people sends a very different message than the special’s broader out of touch opinions of this changing world.

Dave Chappelle hasn’t lost anything because women now feel more comfortable speaking out against sexual harassment. Gay jokes aren’t as mainstream as they used to be, but Chappelle isn’t going to have his career ruined because he still thinks certain slurs are funny to say out loud. Dave Chappelle is doing fine.

The only potential hindrance to Dave Chappelle’s career is the fact that his edgy humor isn’t as funny as it used to be. The jokes in Sticks & Stones lack the complexity of his earlier work, sounding less contrarian than simply out of touch. Dave Chappelle shouldn’t worry about being “cancelled.” The far bigger threat to his career is the fact that he’s becoming quite a bore.

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Monday

2

September 2019

0

COMMENTS

Blink of an Eye Is a Powerful Testament to Perseverance and Friendship

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The career of race car driver Michael Waltrip has been full of extreme highs and lows. A two-time winner of the NASCAR 500, Waltrip experienced success at the greatest level of American stock car racing. His peak achievements came after an astounding losing streak of 462 consecutive winless races in the Winstop Cup series. While Waltrip finally notched one in the win column at the 2001 Daytona 500, his victory was overshadowed by perhaps the darkest event in NASCAR history — the death of his friend, teammate, and mentor, Dale Earnhardt Sr.

The new documentary Blink of an Eye sets out to tell the story of Waltrip’s career, largely defined by his relationship with Earnhardt Sr. Waltrip himself, makes for a compelling subject, a man full of emotion who isn’t afraid to admit when expressing himself is hard. Director Paul Taublieb does a great job of getting his interview subjects to open up, often giving the documentary the feel of a couple of old friends reminiscing about their glory days.

Sports documentaries often try to explain the “how” behind their subject’s greatness. Blink of an Eye is a love letter from Michael Waltrip to the man who never gave up on him. Waltrip never forgot the people who took chances on him, showering praise on his early sponsors. He also expresses childlike glee at the participation of racing legend Richard Petty in the documentary, who himself is full of kind words for Waltrip. Even if you’re not a big fan of NASCAR, Waltrip offers plenty of reasons to care about him as a person.

There is a bit of a disconnect in the way that the film structures its narrative. Waltrip’s early days are painted in great detail, as is his friendship with Earnhardt Sr. His career at the top level of NASCAR racing doesn’t quite get as much attention. The 462-race losing streak receives a bit of the focus, albeit much less than his formative years.

The first half of Blink of an Eye sets itself up as a career retrospective, but the film wields a two-pronged approach to its storytelling. Waltrip is never far from the center of the narrative, but it’s a documentary about the crash about as much as it is about the person. It’s Michael Waltrip’s film without being completely about Michael Waltrip.

The structure of the documentary makes sense for plenty of reasons. Earnhardt Sr. is quite possibly the most beloved driver in NASCAR history, a vital figure in Waltrip’s story. You couldn’t tell the story of Blink of an Eye without him, but the second half of the documentary doesn’t completely need the first half. There is the sense that more time could’ve been spent of the aftermath without all the focus on Waltrip’s biography.

Blink of an Eye is a touching film, even for viewers who aren’t big NASCAR fans. Michael Waltrip manages to be humble and relatable, not always a given for figures who have achieved his level of success. Part biography, part love-letter, the documentary is a testament of human perseverance and the power of individuals to shape the lives of those around them.

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Thursday

29

August 2019

0

COMMENTS

What to Make of Star Wars – Galaxy’s Edge

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The launch of Star Wars – Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyland has had its fair share of hiccups, from a poorly implemented reservation system to the delays involving the land’s marquee attraction, Rise of the Resistance. With a construction cost of over one billion dollars, Disneyland’s first new land since the early 90s features plenty of gorgeous scenery, fourteen acres of full immersion in Star Wars lore. It’s the kind of project perfectly built for first impressions.

For an area of the park built to last for decades, first impressions aren’t the sole barometer to gauge the impact that Galaxy’s Edge will have on the Happiest Place on Earth. Much of the reported low attendance throughout the summer of 2019 can be blamed on blackout dates imposed on the lower tier Annual Passports (APs), forcing plenty of people who have shelled out hundreds of dollars to Disney to wait an additional three months to visit the new land. While every day welcomes plenty of out-of-town newcomers to Disneyland and California Adventure, the park clearly relies on SoCal residents to fill out the lines, even during the busy summer months.

Galaxy’s Edge is absolutely beautiful, a dream come true for countless Star Wars superfans. The vast land is practically sensory overload, full of droids, rebel fighters, and the Millennium Falcon itself to explore. It all seems like a lot, at first. Second, third, or fourth time through, the whole thing starts to feel a little bit smaller.

To some extent, that’s natural. Wonder and awe works best the first time through. The problem with Galaxy’s Edge is that immersion and depth are fundamentally two different concepts. There isn’t really a heck of a lot to do, and most of the activities are rather expensive.

Some of this feeling can be blamed on the delays surrounding Rise of the Resistance. The idea of Cars Land opening without Radiator Springs, or rival Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter debuting without Forbidden Journey, seems completely preposterous. Smugglers Run is certainly more immersive than either of those parks B-rides, but it’s still a motion simulator. There’s the thrill of riding the Millennium Falcon contrasting with the reality of watching PlayStation 3-era graphics while being distracted by the need to push a few buttons.

Smugglers Run is hardly an E ticket attraction. From seemingly all reports, Rise of the Resistance will be, but even with its marquee attraction, Galaxy’s Edge will still be a fourteen-acre park with only two rides. A trip through Olga’s Cantina will undoubtedly be an experience to remember for many, but the $42 dollar cocktails aren’t the kind of fare that many will line up to consume more than once. The same holds true for the “hand-built” lightsabers or the Droid Depot — lots of fun, but not built for return visits.

Since its debut, Galaxy’s Edge has often been compared to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in terms of total immersion. Both lands place a high degree of emphasis on the full experience provided by the land, not just the thrills from their rides. Ostensibly, you’re supposed to enjoy walking around Hogsmeade as much as riding Forbidden Journey. Disney appears to be banking on Olga’s Cantina being as entertaining as Smugglers Run, a notion supported by their similar wait times throughout the early months of the land.

Beyond the obvious cash grab that stems from elevating shopping to the same tier of experience as rides, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter provides a certain function for Universal Studios Hollywood that isn’t particularly needed for Disneyland. Walking around Hogsmeade is certainly fun, but even a packed day at Universal leaves a fair amount of time to do just that. Universal has about a third of the rides as its SoCal neighbor even before you consider California Adventure, reflected in its shorter park hours on most days. Even after seeing a show or two, there’s plenty of time to walk around and take in the sights that Hogwarts has to offer.

Though Disneyland is often open for upwards of fourteen hours, it can be very hard to fit everything you want to do in on a single day. Several of the hotel package options only give you one park a day, making it easier to get the full Disneyland and California Adventure experiences, but there’s simply so much to do in both parks. For APs, you can arrive at opening, leave at closing, and still be able to count all the stuff you weren’t able to do on both hands, even with a MaxPass.

How much idle time spent wandering around Galaxy’s Edge does someone really want to do with all that other stuff to consider? That question is a bit tricky even if you try to separate APs from people who are only there for a day or two. For the latter category, time is limited, but for APs, there’s still a finite amount of activities for any single one person to be able to do. The scenery is a lot of fun to look at, but there reaches a point where continuing to look at an A-Wing fighter comes at the cost of riding some of the park’s other marquee attractions.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, along with Cars Land and Animal Kingdom’s Pandora – The World of Avatar, filled obvious voids in each park. These lands provided immersive places for people to check out after experiencing each park’s more limited opportunities. Disneyland has never had this problem. Well before Galaxy’s Edge broke ground, Walt Disney’s original theme park set the gold standard around the world.

The decision to base Galaxy’s Edge off a new planet, Batuu, rather than an existing world in Star Wars lore has proved a bit controversial. Enjoyment of the land requires a desire to immerse oneself in an entirely new chapter of the fandom, putting aside the presence of the Millennium Falcon and a few other familiar elements. The fact that Batuu feels a lot like Tatooine probably doesn’t help for those who would have rather seen Mos Eisley in the first place.

Cars Land is a beautiful recreation of Radiator Springs. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter brings J.K. Rowling’s beloved landmarks to life. Pandora reminds people of why Avatar made billions at the box office with its exquisite landscapes.

Batuu is something new, with hints of beloved lore. Segments of the Star Wars fandom have been at war with its governing body ever since George Lucas started tinkering with his movies. In the expansive community that loves this world, Galaxy’s Edge didn’t really stake out a base of support. It’s trying to build a new one, but that takes time. For Disneyland, that’s time that people need to want to take out of doing other things, including plenty of attractions designed around capitalizing on nostalgia rather than subverting it.

Much of this sentiment won’t fully apply to the version of Galaxy’s Edge opening at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida. Unlike its California counterpart, Galaxy’s Edge has much more room to be the main attraction in a park that hasn’t been open since 1955. By comparison, Hollywood Studios opened in 1989, only four years before Disneyland’s version of Mickey’s Toontown, the last new land to open before Galaxy’s Edge.

Disneyland earned the title of The Happiest Place on Earth decades before Galaxy’s Edge came around. A couple trips through the impressive new land give the impression that it won’t soon cause people to abandon the attractions that made the magic in the first place. Galaxy’s Edge may have cost a billion dollars to build, but the behemoth it spawned proves to capture surprisingly little of the mind’s attention compared to the other lands in the greatest theme park in the world.

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Monday

26

August 2019

0

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13 Reasons Why Returns to Form in a Messy, Entertaining Third Season

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For all the narrative issues surrounding 13 Reasons Why’s lackluster second season, two stood out as the most damaging. Without the tapes to anchor the narrative, the show turned to the Baker’s ill-advised trial against the school to serve as a plot device for each episode. The absence of Hannah’s voice as the narrator was filled with her presence as a ghost haunting Clay (Dylan Minnette). News of Katherine Langford’s departure from the cast allowed 13 Reasons Why to move on from the story it existed to serve, leaving behind a strong group of compelling characters to center the third season around.

A large amount of season three is dedicated to a new character serving as the show’s narrator, a person barely aware of Hannah Baker’s story. Amorowat “Ani” Anysia (Grace Saif), a transfer student to Liberty High finds community among Clay’s friends, who have rallied together in the wake of a narrowly avoided mass shooting. Ani’s home life is a little complicated to say the least, living in the same house as Bryce Walker (Justin Prentice) as her mother cares for his grandfather.

Ani’s presence at the heart of the narrative is way too convenient for the show’s own good. The main plot of season three is the murder mystery surrounding Bryce’s death, with Ani serving as the link between the disgraced rapist and his former life back at Liberty. The connection makes some sense for the sake of the story, but it’s a decision that’s hard to square with what is ostensibly the broader point of this show, to show how the characters are moving on after all they’ve been through. Instead, for whatever reason, much of the post-Hannah era is defined by a brand new character who seems to find herself in practically every scene. That’s bound to be polarizing, even under the best of circumstances.

Season three remains enamored with controversy, presenting a three-dimensional portrait of Bryce Walker via the same types of flashbacks the show used for Hannah’s backstory. The decision to reveal Bryce’s death in the trailers gave the show some leeway to explore his story without appearing completely tasteless, but the narrative has an uncomfortable determination to humanize him. Morality isn’t black and white, but time spent exploring the grey of Bryce comes at the expense of other characters who haven’t spent the show committing brutal rape.

With Ani taking up a large chunk of the screentime, the show was wise to dispense with many of the tertiary tape characters who no longer had a place in the new dynamic, some of whom aren’t even mentioned at all. A big strength of season one was that it started as Clay & Hannah’s narrative, in keeping with the book, but grew to encompass all the characters who stood out over the course of the narrative, namely Jessica, Justin, Tony, Alex, Zach, and Tyler. Once upon a time, the supporting cast had a reason to play second fiddle to Clay’s journey.

The completion of Hannah’s arc left a void, not only at the top of the cast but also for Clay’s sense of plot progression. Ani was brought in to address the first issue, but the show took a puzzling direction for Clay. In the wake of whatever sense of closure he felt after Hannah’s funeral, Clay has developed quite the savior complex. Generally speaking, trained professionals are supposed to be the ones dealing with drug addicts, rape survivors, and potential mass shooters. In the world of 13 Reasons Why, Clay and his band of friends try to save everything, a group dynamic not all that dissimilar from that of Stranger Things.

Season three returns the show to top form, a narrative as delectable as it is irresponsible. Worldbuilding has always been 13 Reasons Why’s strongest asset, crafting a deep lore within its unique interpretation of high school life. These characters have grown to mean so much to each other over the past three seasons, a depth reflected in its immensely talented cast.

The murder mystery works well for the format, giving the show new life through fresh corpses. Regrettably, 13 Reasons Why hasn’t figured out yet that it doesn’t need plot devices for each episode, or thirteen episodes at all, but the investigation into Bryce’s death flows a lot better than last season’s trial. The writing is strong, constantly finding new elements of its characters’ personalities to explore.

There are plenty of frustrating moments to cringe at, especially for a show so painfully aware of the negative attention it has received. The victims heal, while still sharing screen time with their perpetrators in a dynamic that’s bound to make anyone uncomfortable. This season doesn’t do a lot to shed its controversial image besides shedding some of the more viscerally upsetting imagery.

13 Reasons Why isn’t for everyone, but even with its many hiccups, the show remains immensely well-crafted television. The acting is superb, compelling enough to carry the show through some of its weaker moments. The narrative has a habit of stumbling over itself, somehow managing to retain its power. Season three doesn’t correct every wrong of its lackluster sophomore effort, but the show remains one of the most intriguing programs in this crowded TV landscape.

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Thursday

22

August 2019

0

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The Harder They Come Is a Reggae-Infused Classic of Jamaican Cinema

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Films like The Harder They Come demonstrate the power of cinema to invite people into cultures they might otherwise remain unfamiliar with. One of the earliest movies from Jamaica to experience a worldwide release, the crime drama helped introduce reggae to a global audience. (looks at the first two sentences- they don’t seem to flow)Shout! Factory’s recent restoration presents the definitive version of the Jamaican classic, a remaster brimming with affection for this important film.

The Harder They Come follows Ivanhoe “Ivan” Martin (Jimmy Cliff), an impoverished young man looking to find his place in the world. Ivan has plenty of talent, but finds himself constantly in trouble for his rebellious tendencies, resisting those in power at every turn. Cliff is mesmerizing in the lead role, often using subtle expressions to convey his character’s frustrations with his situation without much dialogue.

The themes present in the film remain particularly relevant in today’s climate. The main conflict surrounds Ivan’s unhappiness with a record producer offering him only twenty dollars for the titular song, a deal that he quickly learns is the only way to get his music out there in an industry plagued by corruption. The plight of the working man to earn a living wage remains a constant struggle worldwide. The Harder They Come approaches this issue through an entertaining narrative that never loses sight of the serious issues presented.

Cliff’s energetic performance is backed by a memorable soundtrack filled with his own music. Director Perry Henzell possesses a firm grasp on the power of reggae to enhance the narrative, deploying the titular song and Cliff’s “You Can Get It If You Really Want” at key moments in a way that welcomes the audience in. The lyrics are so memorable that it’s easy to sing along as the film progresses. The music and narrative operate in complete harmony, a wildly entertaining experience.

Between the music, the relatable themes, and the action sequences, it’s easy to see how The Harder They Come became a hit on the midnight film circuit. It’s the kind of movie that sticks in your head days after watching it, humming the tunes or thinking about Ivan’s choices throughout the narrative. Great films have a way of leaving a lasting impression beyond the sheer joys provided before the credits started rolling.

Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray restoration gives one the sense of how the film looked when it was being shot in Jamaica, highlighting the beautiful scenery of each location. The film retains its gritty 70s feel while playing perfectly on an HDTV. For a movie that initially struggled to make its mark, the home release gives cinephiles a chance to view this cult classic from the comforts of their own couches.

The Harder They Come is a special film. The cultural significance of its reggae-powered narrative cannot be overstated, but there’s plenty to enjoy before you take into consideration how much the movie meant to its home country. Jimmy Cliff is a force of nature that should not be missed.

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Tuesday

20

August 2019

0

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The Boys Flips the Script on Superhero Ethics

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There are more superhero-themed movies and television shows being produced than most of us have time to watch, even diehard fans of the genre. The idea of a show where the costumed characters are actually bad guys isn’t particularly unique in a landscape rife with antiheroes. Despite the glut, The Boys stands out for its first-class production values and a stellar cast.

Plenty of comic books take a fairly black and white approach to the concept of good guys and bad guys. The Boys largely ignores this strategy, instead basing its world-building on America’s own approach to good vs. evil. The show features a superhero group called The Seven, controlled by the powerful Vought International, a corporation best described as a defense contractor similar to Blackwater or Raytheon. The military-industrial complex is the true villain of The Boys.

Which isn’t to say that the good guys are particularly all that decent themselves. Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) is a man powered by a hatred of people with superpowers. He blames Homelander (Anthony Starr), the leader of The Seven, for the death of his wife, joining forces with Hugh Campbell (Jack Quaid), who similarly lost his girlfriend due to an accidental collision with The Seven’s A-Train (Jessie T. Usher). Complicating the dynamic is Hugh’s relationship with Seven newcomer Starlight (Erin Moriarty), perhaps the only member of the team concerned with actually helping people.

Part of what makes The Boys such compelling television is that it manages to be subversive without being reactionary. Anyone watching could see parallels between Homelander and Superman, or the resemblance between Vought International and the kind of superhero oversight that powered the narratives of Watchmen or Captain America: Civil War. The show doesn’t quite turn these concepts upside down so much as it challenges its audience to rethink the way we engage with this material at all.

Practically every mainstream superhero has a backstory and a private life, things they do when they’re not saving the world. These plotlines help humanize these characters as people, making them relatable to a general audience. The Boys seeks a similar approach, but it differs in choosing to highlight plenty of the unsavory aspects of human behavior that we generally don’t like to admit.

The real villain of The Boys is capitalism, a particularly formidable foe. The greed of Vought International transforms the concept of altruism into a circus. This dynamic is a challenging one to counter, as Butcher, Hugh, and the Boys find themselves similarly living under the frameworks of society. Who is good? Who is bad? Does that answer exist for any one of us to say?

The eight-episode first season gives the show plenty of time to give its large cast time to shine while establishing the broader world that The Boys inhabits. Some of the subplots hint at real-world themes, from the #MeToo movement to America’s obsession with productivity. There’s very little filler in a narrative that clearly wishes to extend beyond its initial run.

The Boys is one of the most impressive new shows of 2019. Amazon clearly spent a lot of money ensuring that the show’s budget reflected its ambitions. It can be at times a bit uncomfortable to watch, but that’s kind of the point. Traditionally, superheroes are supposed to offer hope and optimism, but The Boys reminds us that humanity is far more complex than that.

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I Am Patrick Swayze Is a Touching Tribute to a Hollywood Icon

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews

With the muscles of an action star and the grace of a ballet dancer, it’s not too hard to understand the appeal behind Patrick Swayze. The man was one of those rare actors with seemingly universal appeal, capable of being both strong and tender. Part of what made his unfortunate death in 2009 so heartbreaking was the idea that Swayze was a soul of genuine warmth, much like the characters he played in hits like Dirty Dancing and Ghost. The new documentary I Am Patrick Swayze chronicles his life as remembered by the people who knew him best.

The narrative presents a broad overview of his upbringing and career, from the time he spent in his mother’s dance studio through his final on-screen role in The Beast. The film blends intimate interviews with Swayze’s wife, Lisa Niemi, and his brother, Don, with plenty of accounts from the actors he worked with, including Rob Lowe, Sam Elliot, and Demi Moore. Their collective recollections paint an intimate portrait of a man constantly striving for excellence in whatever field he pursued.

While Swayze has been regarded as a heartthrob for decades, the film does an excellent job of capturing why he was so loved by those who knew him. Charm is often a difficult concept to put into words. Alongside archival footage, Niemi and others explain Swayze’s appeal with relative ease.

Plenty of documentaries on Hollywood stars feature tributes from their peers. What sets I Am Patrick Swayze apart is the genuine sense of affection that practically every actor interviewed felt for the man. Lowe and Elliot, in particular, get quite emotional reflecting on their friend, reinforcing the idea that Swayze was just as warm in his private life as he appeared on stage.

Though I Am Patrick Swayze is largely a celebration of his life, the documentary doesn’t shy away from taking a critical lens at times. Niemi recounts the issues Swayze had with drinking, recounting the difficult days of their marriage in an intimate sequence. There is the sense that the film didn’t need to go there, but the narrative is so emotionally driven that the fuller picture hardly feels out of place.

With a focus on Swayze’s early life and death alongside his career, the documentary had to be selective with which films to focus on from his vast body of work. The Outsiders, Dirty Dancing, and Ghost receive the bulk of the attention, understandable given their respective legacies. As a huge fan of Point Break, I would have loved to see a bit more time spent revisiting the action classic, but I Am Patrick Swayze balances its time well.

I Am Patrick Swayze makes you fall in love with the man all over again, a beautiful tribute that eloquently explains his vast appeal. Talent like Swayze doesn’t appear very often. Ten years after his death, the documentary reminds us of all the reasons why he’s missed so much.

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Balancing a Large Roster of Villains, Batman: Hush Offers an Entertaining Mystery

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

Like its source material, Batman: Hush has a lot of characters to juggle, featuring many of the Caped Crusader’s most well-known foes. Adapting the popular story arc presents many challenges for a film with a run time of just under ninety minutes, throwing everything and the kitchen sink at its audience. Juggling its many pieces quite well, Batman: Hush is another strong showing for the DC Animated Movie Universe.

The basic plot follows Bruce Wayne’s relationships with Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, and childhood friend Thomas Elliot as he attempts to take a night off from crime-fighting. A recent crime wave makes a vacation impossible, leading to a nasty fall for the Dark Knight. An effort to get to the bottom of the chaos leads Batman to a mysterious figure called Hush, who seems to know far too much about Bruce’s identity.

True to its hero’s roots, Hush has the feel of a detective story, with mystery lurking at every turn. The pacing is top-notch, introducing plenty of villains quickly without making anything feel rushed. The quick runtime leads to some plot points being cut, but the film covers quite a bit of ground. Perhaps most impressive was the way it manages to include Superman without making the whole sequence feel like sensory overload.

Much of the film, particularly the relationship between Wayne and Kyle, serves as a broader commentary on prevalent themes throughout Batman’s long and storied history. There is a certain challenge presented in even attempting to explore the idea of Wayne settling down, as the audience knows this won’t happen, but the film manages to explore this dynamic with grace. It’s easy to get lost in lore that’s been around for decades, but Hush never bites off more than it can chew.

As expected, the voice cast is spectacular. Jason O’Mara plays a nuanced Batman, working well off Jennifer Morrison’s Catwoman. There are perhaps points where you wonder how Kyle doesn’t recognize Bruce’s voice in the suit, but the suspension of disbelief has often asked this of superhero films.

While the film juggles its many villains quite well, Batman’s sidekicks look a bit superfluous throughout Hush. Batgirl is largely reduced to a cameo, but the film never seems quite sure what to do with Nightwing, who’s consistently present without being particularly important. Seeing the two on the sidelines isn’t a particularly big deal, but their presence is a bit distracting relative to their roles in the narrative.

Batman: Hush is a very fun film that explores the franchise without ever feeling like a “greatest hits” piece. The large cast of villains serves their purpose, aiding to the well-crafted detective story. The film possesses an introspective lens without relying on nostalgia for emotional resonance. As summer winds down, Hush is the perfect comfort food for fans of the franchise, full of warm feelings that remind you why people still care about Bruce Wayne.

 

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