Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Blog Archive

Saturday

16

January 2021

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Disneyland AP Cancellation Analysis

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Disneyland has cancelled the Annual Passholder Program, leading to many disappointed superfans clinging to their AP popcorn buckets and Halloween AP magnets for relief. Ian is pretty sad. She also thinks that the media is being ridiculous in criticizing APs for being Karens, hogging the park, and being too obsessed among other things. Ian offers some analysis on the current situation and why she thinks the AP program will be back pretty soon after the pandemic.

 

For more Disneyland fun, check out our other episodes including the three park ranking of every ride in Disneyland and our Galaxy’s Edge analysis.

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Thursday

14

January 2021

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TTTE & Chill: Thomas and the Magic Railroad

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Grab your gold-dust and your conductor’s whistle, because we’re going to Shining Time Station to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Thomas and the Magic Railroad. The Shout! Factory blu-ray set contains a number of wonderful bonus features, including numerous deleted scenes from the storylines that didn’t make it into the film. Ian & Tara talk about the legacy of the film and its place within Thomas lore.

Film poster courtesy of Shout! Factory

 

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Thursday

7

January 2021

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Ham on Rye is an eccentric, contemplative high school narrative

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High school life is not at all like a John Hughes movie. The “a-ha” moment where everything comes into place just isn’t a good fit for the realities of that time in our lives. Reality is messy, ever-changing, and uncertain.

Tyler Taormina’s Ham on Rye takes an unconventional approach to the high school narrator. The film uses a cast of mostly non-professional actors and a nonlinear plot to capture the waning days of a group’s high school existence. Taormina constantly presents surreal sequences that project almost like an acid trip, as if someone set out to make a movie and forgot about it while leaving the camera rolling.

What works best about Ham on Rye is its keen understanding of cringe. High school is not romantic. High school is awkward. Kids dance in delis because they have nowhere else to go. Young people often want to set out and grab the world by its horns, but in high school there aren’t really a ton of horns to grab.

Too often film sets out to project a deeper meaning onto this communal periods of one’s life. Ham on Rye understands the messy nature of adolescence, capturing this awkward stage at face value with a wide smile on its face. People who peak in high school are thought to be losers. Nobody peaks in Ham on Rye.

There is a certain degree of inaccessibility to the film, perhaps limiting its appeal to diehard cinephiles. If Taormina has a deeper meaning to his film, he sure keeps his cards close. With a runtime of just under 90 minutes, the film hardly overstays its welcome even as the novelty starts to wear off.

Few films capture the essence of high school quite as effectively as Ham on Rye, which refuses to paint this era as anything but awkward and absurd. The cinematography is stunning, often contrasting with the mundane nature of its subjects. That’s okay. Sometimes a piece of garbage on the floor is in fact worth looking at.

Ham on Rye is hardly a film for the masses, but it’s a lovely ride. Plenty of people wish their teenage years were just like a John Hughes movie. Life doesn’t work that way. Basking in its weirdness, Ham on Rye hits the mark better than most.

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Tuesday

5

January 2021

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The Mandalorian Season 2 Review

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Season two of The Mandalorian began with a fairly daunting task. The show built an enormous amount of goodwill during its freshman effort for crafting a narrative that carried the aura of being far-removed from the rest of Star Wars lore, even if the constant, subtle Easter Eggs tended to suggest otherwise. As the sequel series faltered, The Mandalorian suggested that the future of the franchise rested in standalone storytelling.

All the recent announcements of close to a dozen new Star Wars series throw a wrench in this whole thesis, but it’s clear that The Mandalorian had been inching toward this destination for a long time. The chance to feature series favorites such as Bo-Katan, Boba Fett, and Ahsoka Tano transformed what was once predominantly an episodic meme-factory for the hijinks of an adorable puppet and his adopted father. Season two will be defined as the point where The Mandalorian stopped explicitly being “The Baby Yoda Show,” and not just strictly because the cute little fella finally got a proper name.

The perfectly executed season finale should rightfully spark melancholic feelings toward the change in status quo for The Mandalorian, which now finds itself firmly entrenched in Skywalker lore. Season two featured plenty of episodes defined by their self-contained adventures, from the slaying of a Krayt dragon to the head-scratching detour to ice-spider planet. Individual victories from episode to episode are bound to take a backseat to big mic-drop moments.

The Mandalorian built an enormous amount of goodwill for moments crafted by its own characters. For a man who rarely shows his face, Pedro Pascal brought an impressive depth of emotional range to Din Djarin, subtly setting up the tear-jerking departure of the final episode, where he bucked his traditions and removed his helmet. Those are the kind of set-ups that The Mandalorian excels at, but it’s harder to recreate that dynamic when the complications of decades of fan-nostalgia begin to occupy the same space.

Season two benefited from an untapped reservoir of guest stars, rewarding longtime fans for their dedication in following the animated series, comics, and broader Expanded Universe. Soon there will be other places to find those highs, including The Book of Boba, which will air at the end of this year. The Mandalorian will hardly be the only game in town.

Show creator Jon Favreau improved upon season one in practically every way imaginable. The episodes felt more vital, even as they relied upon their own self-contained adventures. The show eased up on its love of rocky desert planets. Grogu didn’t lean too hard into his status as a walking meme, aside from perhaps the moment where he decided he’d practice the Force by swiping blue macarons. For all the moments in season one that felt like the show was dragging its feet, season two moved the ball forward in practically every episode.

Season two built on the strong foundation of the first while expanding the narrative to define The Mandalorian’s place in Star Wars lore. Favreau accomplished all of this while not losing sight of his two heroes that made all the magic in the first place. A cameo from Star Wars’ original hero may be the most noteworthy thing to come out of the show, but The Mandalorian ensured that the franchise won’t be defined by its first family.

It is weird think that The Mandalorian may have already established its legacy two seasons in. The streaming world it helped established will look very different when the show returns, presumably in 2022. It may be a bit overblown to say that The Mandalorian “saved” Star Wars, a billion dollar entity that can absorb some lackluster installments.

The urge to reach that conclusion comes from a fairly natural point. There may come a day when the show loses itself in endless callbacks, a fate suffered by the sequel trilogy. The Mandalorian is great TV. That’s pretty much the only thing that needs to matter.

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Tuesday

5

January 2021

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COMMENTS

The Mandalorian Season 2 Review

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Join host Ian Thomas Malone as she breaks down The Mandalorian’s excellent second season. The Baby Yoda Show covered a lot of ground this year, finally bestowing a proper moniker on the little fella. As Grogu heads for the Jedi Temple, Ian talks about what worked and what didn’t for season two.

Ian’s written review: https://ianthomasmalone.com/2021/01/the-mandalorian-season-2-review/

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Monday

28

December 2020

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Soul is a touching film that doesn’t tug too hard on the heartstrings

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Pixar has a knack for tackling the existential. Most of the themes present in Soul are bound to be foreign to the younger members of the audience who haven’t necessarily had to grapple with grown-ups struggles yet. Many have tried to figure out “the meaning of life,” with varying degrees of success toward a somewhat unanswerable question.

The film follows Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), a jazz musician who works as a middle school music teacher to support himself. Teaching full-time presents stability that musicians rarely enjoy, but Joe isn’t quite ready to give up on his true passion. Consumed with the prospects of playing a gig with the popular Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett), Joe accidentally falls down a manhole, sending him to the “great beyond.”

An effort to cheat death lands him in the realm of pre-existence, where spirits named Jerry mentor young souls before they head off to the world for their own adventures. One soul, 22 (Tina Fey), doesn’t see the point in the great adventure called life. An effort to get to the bottom of this great mystery creates a bit of a Freaky Friday moment, leading to a fun and thoughtful adventure for Joe and 22.

Foxx and Fey have quick chemistry, a rapport designed to carry just about any feature. Pixar’s always-spectacular animation eases the burden on the leads, crafting a delightful narrative that breezes through its 90-minute runtime. Soul has one of the most satisfying third acts of any Pixar feature.

There are morals in the film that have been pretty thoroughly explored by other Disney films. The overall messaging might be a little lost on younger kids, passion being a concept that takes maturity to appreciate. Soul manages to speak to its broad demographics simultaneously, never letting weighty themes drag down its engaging narrative.

Disney loves talking about death, scarring countless children by killing off its protagonists’ parents. For a film that partially takes place in the afterlife, Soul doesn’t really concern itself with death. Instead, the film offers a celebration of life that doesn’t tug too hard on the heartstrings. It’s weird to be moved by a Pixar film that doesn’t really try to make you cry.

Pixar has aimed for more ambitious goals than Soul, but the first-rate nature of its craftmanship ensures that this film belongs in its upper echelon. Soul is a thoroughly satisfying narrative. Sometimes the wheel doesn’t need to be reinvented to make for a worthwhile experience.

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Saturday

26

December 2020

1

COMMENTS

Wonder Woman 1984 is a complete mess

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Superhero franchises often peak with their sophomore installments. Spider-Man 2, X2: X-Men United, Batman Returns, The Dark Knight, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier succeeded at least in part through an understanding of the opportunity that sequels push harder into their respective ethos, without the weight of origin stories. The stage is already set up.

Wonder Woman 1984 never really understands what it wants to do with its title hero. Diana is adrift in the 1980s, still mourning Steve Trevor’s death, decades earlier. Grief is a natural human emotion. Superheroes are supposed to be relatable, but there’s something inherently jarring about the idea that an ageless warrior would spend close to seventy years upset about one man.

The film centers itself in Diana’s professional life, working as an anthropologist in Washington D.C. Diana still masquerades as Wonder Woman, mostly handling small-scale issues like mall crimes, taking great care to destroy any security camera footage that would give her maskless face away. Professionally, she seems to be doing okay, albeit dragging around the baggage of a normal human lifespan’s worth of grief.

Kristen Wiig largely carries the film as Diana’s coworker Barbara Minerva, Wonder Woman’s arch-nemesis Cheetah. Barbara is insecure, desperate to carry herself with half the poise of Diana, a dynamic that forces the viewer to see the sullen title hero as a figure worthy of envy. That lust serves as the catalyst for the whole film, manifested through a stone recovered from a foiled robbery.

The “dreamstone” is the object of intense desire for Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a made-for-TV businessman armed with a war-chest of Reaganomics cliches and thinly-veiled Donald Trump impressions. Pascal is fun, working great opposite Wiig. Director Patty Jenkins provides plenty of scenes to flesh out Lord beyond his Wall Street caricature.

At a certain point, the scenes fully fleshing out Minerva and Lord become a bit excessive, exacerbated by Jenkins’ uncertainty with regard to Diana. Wonder Woman 1984 belongs less to Wonder Woman as a character than it does to Wonder Woman, its predecessor. This is a 151-minute-long feature designed to help its lead get over the events of the past film, close to seventy years after the fact.

The 80s setting serves no function other than to evoke nostalgia for shopping malls and brightly colored leotards. There is no point where the film tries to justify its time period, increasingly awkward as the narrative lugs around the first film like an anchor weighing the whole experience down. There are too many scenes that don’t serve any broader purpose, which might have been okay if it wasn’t so boring most of the time.

Chris Pine makes for a very good Steve Trevor. This notion should in theory operate independent of the question of whether or not this long-dead love interest should play a major role in a sequel, where he is still very much deceased. Trevor isn’t just out of place here. His presence practically sinks the entire movie.

Worst of all, Jenkins could’ve essentially cut out all of Trevor’s scenes without fundamentally changing the narrative. Such a decision would’ve produced a much more palatable runtime, a sorry state of affairs for a film that pretty much solely relies on its two villains for entertaining moments. Gal Gadot is pretty adrift throughout the whole ordeal, shrugging her shoulders at the notion that this should be her movie.

Wonder Woman is the most iconic female superhero of all time. Jenkins kneecapped her feminist hero by forcing Diana to channel every emotion through the prism of a man. The movie never really decides on a path for Diana, despite a lengthy flashback opener ostensibly designed to set those intentions.

Wonder Woman 1984 is a meandering slog that evokes little other than pity for its title hero. Diana deserves better than this too-often joyless mess of a narrative. One of the most disappointing superhero movies of all time. There is nothing inspirational here.

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Saturday

19

December 2020

1

COMMENTS

The Mandalorian Season 2 Review: Chapter 16

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As a franchise, there’s little Star Wars loves more than the past. Two of the three entries in the sequel series existed primarily as shrines to nostalgia, while its middle installment sparked endless controversy for daring to engage the idea that maybe we should, “let the past die.” The Mandalorian has mostly charted its own course, albeit carrying plenty of crowd-pleasing Easter eggs along the way.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with a current work possessing deep reverence for its broader lore, as the season two finale proved. Great storytelling can be powerfully enhanced by interweaving the present in with the characters fans have grown to love. Luke Skywalker never looked more powerful than when he was mowing down Terminator-esque Dark troopers one by one, delivering on a wish fans have clamored for since Return of the Jedi.

This episode combined all the best elements of the show, a near perfect finale. The show’s supporting bench was mostly all-hands on deck to rescue Grogu from Moff Gideon’s light cruiser. Dr. Pershing is a fairly compelling tertiary character, though his quick defection to Team Mando seemed a bit rushed.

The stand-off on the Imperial Shuttle was perhaps the episode’s lone clunky bit of fan service, a back-and-forth over the ethics of blowing up Death Stars ripped straight out of Clerks. A chief complaint of the Skywalker Saga as a whole has been how small the galaxy seems with everyone knowing every else. Between the shuttle and Bo-Katan’s instant familiarity with Boba Fett, it felt like this episode was crafting an intimate family drama rather than a giant space epic.

The action sequences were predictably phenomenal, giving the female members of the team plenty of chances to shine while only just barely dipping into the cringey “girl power” energy that Avengers: Endgame consumed to excess. The Dark troopers were appropriately menacing, even in scenarios where they didn’t really get a chance to wield their full power. Mando destroying one with his flamethrower might suggest that they’re easier to beat than the show lets on, but it’s understandable that none of Mando’s crew didn’t want to test this theory too much.

Moff Gideon has been a pretty menacing figure despite only making sporadic appearances. Giancarlo Esposito has a gift for playing characters who display a transactional sense of villainy. For a second, he really makes you believe that he’s simply okay letting Mando and Grogu walk away, before swinging the Darksaber right at Mando’s back.

The fight itself was pretty solid, though the sight of an old man parrying with an armored bounty hunter, albeit one who was recently bashed in the head, ran the risk of carrying on past the point of plausibility. Gideon seemed like a likely candidate to not make it past the episode, though Chapter 16 opted not to add to the show’s body count. All hands are still on deck for an eventual war on Mandalore, as the show is increasingly hinting will be its focus for next season.

Luke’s entire sequence was perfect, a moving tribute to the franchise’s most beloved hero. The use of body-double Max Lloyd-Jones mostly worked, though the dialogue portion was a bit clunky. The sight of R2-D2 brought tears to my eyes, a beloved character who was woefully neglected by the sequel trilogy.

Luke never got a chance to bask in the limelight after beating the Empire. Regardless of how you feel about his well-crafted arc in The Last Jedi, it is a shame that Star Wars turned the page on Jedi Master Skywalker without giving Hamill a chance to enjoy Luke in his prime. This episode was a great tribute for those of us who lament the end of the Expanded Universe.

The most impressive thing about the last ten minutes of the episode was the way it managed to give simultaneously both Mando and Luke their tearjerker moments. Mando taking his helmet off to say goodbye to his adopted son had been hinted at, but it played so powerfully here. Grogu not wanting to leave was perfectly complemented by R2’s exuberance at seeing the young child.

The whole scene worked on so many levels, combining Star Wars’ vast lore with the affection we’ve built for our current cast of characters. The franchise finally used nostalgia not as a crutch, but as a seasoning for its carefully curated buffet of emotion. It’s hard to think that The Mandalorian will sideline its breakout character for very long, but the show succeeded in presenting that as a possibility.

“The Rescue” represented the finest chapter in the Star Wars saga since The Empire Strikes Back. The episode utilized every single moment to its advantage, both in the present and with regard to planning for next season. Both Mando and Grogu will have their hands full with new adventures next year, giving comfort to those who might still be sobbing over the idea of their separation. It’s hard to think of a better way to end this era of The Mandalorian.

If that wasn’t enough, we were treated to an excellent post-credits scene where Boba Fett and Fennec paid a visit to Fett’s old friend Bib Fortuna at Jabba’s Palace. Fett hasn’t had nearly enough chances to shine since his introduction, playing bit roles in the past two episodes. Looks like a spin-off is on the horizon, along with all the other Star Wars projects in development.

Quick programming note. We will return with a review of the season as a whole. Be sure to check out Estradiol Illusions’ weekly podcast recaps. Thank you so much for following along with us every week! Happy Life Day.

 

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Saturday

19

December 2020

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COMMENTS

The Mandalorian Season 2 Recap (Episode 8)

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What an episode! Join Ian for a recap of what she referred to as a the best chapter of Star Wars since The Empire Strikes Back. Such a beautiful tribute to everything fans love about this franchise. If only R5-D4 had come along for the adventure from Tatooine.

Ian’s written review: https://ianthomasmalone.com/2020/12/the-mandalorian-season-2-review-chapter-16/

Programming note: we will return after Christmas with a full review of season two. Happy Life Day everyone! 

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Thursday

17

December 2020

1

COMMENTS

Happiest Season is a regressive disaster of a holiday narrative

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Coming out is an almost universally brutal aspect of the LGBTQ experience. Even under the best of circumstances, the process is bound to be full of cringe and bent-up anxiety. A byproduct of the efforts at broader LGBTQ visibility has been the de-stigmatization of being gay as a whole, painting apocalyptic reactions toward coming out with a rightful shade of taboo.

Happiest Season presents its narrative in a world where being gay is still something to be embarrassed or ashamed about. Harper Caldwell (Mackenzie Davis) pushes her girlfriend Abby (Kristen Stewart) back into the closet for a visit to her family, after lying to Abby about having come out to them already. Not only are Harper’s parents very conservative, her father Ted (Victor Garber) is running for mayor.

This is the world that Happiest Season shapes for its spin on classic holiday tropes. Dick Cheney was elected vice president in the 2000 election on a Republican ticket while having a gay daughter. Twenty years later, the same dynamic apparently appears to be a subject of great scandal for a small-town mayoral contest. The film doesn’t really explicitly state its location, but it’s hard to imagine where, or frankly when, this mess is supposed to take place.

Harper’s parents’ issues aren’t simply limited to homophobia either. Her sister Jane (Mary Holland) is treated like a pariah, a subject of immense, open disdain and mockery from the rest of her family. Harper’s mother Tipper (Mary Steenburgen) is comically rude, abusing Abby for being an orphan right as they walk through the door. As if that wasn’t enough, Sloane (Allison Brie) makes her introduction late in the first act, a formerly successful lawyer in the middle of a crumbling marriage.

The Caldwell family are horrible people with seemingly no redeeming qualities. Director Clea DuVall, who also co-wrote the screenplay, throws them out there like we’re supposed to laugh along with these truly loathsome individuals. The dialogue is often pretty terrible. The cast, which also includes Dan Levy and Aubrey Plaza, is way overqualified for this disaster, unable to make much out of the sloppy writing.

The real rot at the core of Happiest Season lies with Harper. We’re never really given a solid reason for why she feels it’s okay to push the love of her life back into the closet, an immensely inappropriate proposition in the modern era. Not only does the film push an unhealthy dynamic on gay people, it never really tries to justify itself. Davis gives a pretty wooden performance, unable to elevate her character beyond the laughably stale tropes.

DuVall does try and grapple with this dynamic late in the third act, but by then it’s well past the point of redemption. There are too many feints toward subplots that don’t really go anywhere, squandering time that could have been spent salvaging the Caldwell family. Family is complicated, but this family is so deplorable beyond their homophobia that it’s hard to care much about resolution. These aren’t the kinds of issues that can be solved in a single holiday.

LGBTQ people don’t have a ton of holiday staples to call our own. In some ways, Happiest Season doesn’t really fit this category either. It features gay people in lead roles, but this film caters almost exclusively to the guilt that heterosexual families might feel for their past behavior toward gay children. Everyone can take solace in the fact that they aren’t as mean as the Caldwell’s, but that’s not a very good message to send regarding inclusivity.

Happiest Season is a sloppy, regressive mess full of one-note characters. This films sends all the wrong messages about tolerance in the year 2020. A lot of talent were involved in the making of this film. What a shame.

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