Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Movie Reviews Archive

Thursday

12

November 2020

0

COMMENTS

76 Days provides a front row seat to the early days of the coronavirus

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The coronavirus has fundamentally changed life on earth for practically every country. The film 76 Days provides a front-row seat into the heart Wuhan hospitals from February to April, as the rest of the world began to grapple with what we were all about to face. The result is often jarring to watch, an important reminder of the stakes at hand across our planet.

Directors Hao Wu, Weixi Chen, and a third collaborator credited as anonymous to protect their identity, present a narrative at the heart of the action, shot mostly within the contamination zones at four separate hospitals. The doctors and nurses, all decked out in head-to-toe protective equipment, are clearly under siege, doing the best they can to handle these unknown and chaotic circumstances. The directors do a fabulous job framing each scene, camera angles that make you feel like you’re in the room with the patients and staff.

The fear and anxiety are palpable in the air with every moment. Many of the doctors do not exactly have the best bedside manner, perfectly understandable given the stakes at hand. We’ve known all along that the doctors and nurses are the heroes of this global pandemic, but 76 Days gives them a chance to be seen as people. Like the rest of us, many of them are scared, doing their best under enormous pressure. There is great power in their resilience.

While the filmmakers take a mostly hands-off approach to the narrative, there are a few strands that come together to form a cohesive story. An elderly patient receives a great deal of focus, growing restless under the strict demands of the hospital. A film like 76 Days hardly needs to spend much time presenting protagonists to root for, but the filmmaker’s approach gives an added sense of depth to the material. This isn’t just a living history, but a story of people caught in the whirlwind.

Perhaps most striking is the similarities between some of the patients and the broader American fatigue that many feel toward the virus. Everyone is tired of COVID, from mask-wearing to not being able to see your loved ones. 76 Days is a powerful wake up call to anyone not taking this pandemic seriously, a gut-wrenching display of the stakes at hand.

76 Days is often very difficult to watch. The pain and suffering rarely lets up, though it’s clear that the filmmakers are aware of this tonal dynamic. There are points for hope. The history of the coronavirus is not fully written yet, but 76 Days does a hell of a job presenting the early weeks of this global nightmare.

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Thursday

12

November 2020

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COMMENTS

Assassins is a riveting real-life thriller

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A failed attempt to visit Tokyo Disneyland changed the course of history on the Korean peninsula. A simple desire to spend some time at the happiest place on earth cost Kim Jong-nam the chance to lead North Korea as Supreme Leader, which instead was handed to his younger half-brother Kim Jong-un after the death of their father Kim Jong-il, and later his life. The documentary Assassins chronicles Kim’s highly publicized assassination at a Malaysian airport in broad daylight, and the tragic aftermath that ensnared the unwitting perpetrators.

Director Ryan White masterfully breaks down the complex mechanics of North Korean politics and the Malaysian justice system in a fascinating thriller. The North Korean government is widely believed to have been behind the assassination, manipulating two separate women into dousing Kim with the highly deadly chemical VX under the guise of being performers in a prank show. While the North Koreans who orchestrated the murder quickly escaped, Siti Aisyah and Doan Thi Huoung almost found themselves executed for their role in the international firestorm.

Much of Assassins centers around the legal defense of both women, Aisyah from Indonesia and Huoung from Vietnam. Neither girl knew each other, both seeking a chance at stardom not unlike many online influencers. With so many different countries involved in the saga, White does a great job making sure his audience doesn’t get lost in the chaos.

Though the subject matter is serious, the legal defense teams often keep things upbeat for the audience. The pacing feels more in line with a political thriller than a typical documentary, heightening the suspense for a subject whose outcome anyone could find out with a simple google search. White ensures the journey is just as interesting as the destinations.

Kim Jong-un’s “love affair” with Donald Trump has been the subject of wide mockery by many. Though many docs succumb to the temptations of dedicating too much time to Trump, White keeps mentions of our soon-to-be former president to a minimum. Having almost certainly ordered the hit on his brother, Chairman Kim is an important factor, but this isn’t fully his story. Assassins juggles its many pieces quite well.

North Korea is a tough nut to crack for anyone, even U.S. intelligence. Assassins is a welcoming doc for anyone, even if you know nothing about the hermit kingdom. Kim Jong-un lends himself well to mockery, but White never loses sight of the monster at hand. At times, the trial drags a bit, perhaps serving as too much of a play-by-play, but this doc is a must watch for anyone looking to learn more about this elusive part of the world.

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Thursday

5

November 2020

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COMMENTS

18 to Party never quite finds its voice

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There are countless think-pieces written each day about the effects of social media on our broader mental health, particularly our country’s children. Boredom as we once understood the concept is essentially a thing of the past, with seemingly limitless entertainment options at any given time. Set in the early 80s, 18 to Party centers its narrative around the mundane interactions between eighth graders as they wait for something to happen.

The film is almost entirely shot behind a fairly mundane looking small-town nightclub, with the kids understanding that their youth places them relatively low on the social totem pole. Most of the kids are just happy to be somewhere, even if the whole setting looks pretty bleak and depressing. Director/screenwriter Jeff Roda presents a minimalist narrative, an obvious homage to the youth-centered films of the 80s, through the filter of a Waiting for Godot-style plot.

Roda’s screenplay is the film’s biggest liability. It’s neither funny nor endearing. The kids have fairly mundane conversations that might be relatable to some extent on a surface level. One of the more developed plotlines centers around one of the kids struggling to decide whether he wants to do theatre, the activity potentially existing in conflict with his soccer schedule.

18 to Party features a very young cast, unlike many films in the 80s which relied on actors in their 20s to play teenagers. For the most part, the kids are pretty good, trying their best to inject emotion into Roda’s fairly lifeless screenplay.

As a director, Roda really doesn’t do his actors any favors. The film makes frequent use of long takes, leading to many scenarios where the actors look pretty confused with what they’re supposed to be doing. Roda doesn’t actually give them anything to do. Often, they look bored, a sentiment the audience could certainly share.

The inconsistent approach to pacing produces inconsistent results. The meandering narrative might have worked with a better script, but the whole dynamic falls apart in the third act when Roda decides to throw in some heavy stuff. Recent suicides in the town are mentioned throughout the film, but Roda ramps things up for one particular scene that falls pretty flat without any consistent attempt at a build-up.

Roda has a particular affection for the word “faggot,” inserted liberally into one of the film’s more dramatic scenes, wielding it as a crutch. To an extent, one can understand a writer’s desire to achieve “authenticity” by using a slur that kids used then and still use now. At the same time, you have to wonder if anyone would have noticed if he’d simply omitted it altogether.

Whatever case could be made for throwing around a word like that is practically beside the point. Roda doesn’t use it well, instead just hurling it at the audience over and over again in a scene that completely misses its mark. Much like the rest of 18 to Party, it’s lazy.

18 to Party is a thoroughly lackluster endeavor. Roda’s awful screenplay deflates any value from this derivative half-baked homage. Even at eighty minutes, the whole ordeal feels too long. Roda clearly loves 80s culture, but he brings nothing new to the table here.

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Tuesday

27

October 2020

1

COMMENTS

No Ordinary Man captures the complexities of transgender history

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There are a lot of public misconceptions about transgender history, even its very existence. The mainstream media often portrays the transgender identity as some kind of new concept, neglecting centuries of record evidence of gender variance among countless countries. This willful ignorance has come at a great cost to the trans community as a whole, breeding unnecessary isolation and unawareness of our broader surroundings.

The documentary No Ordinary Man centers its narrative on one of the most fascinating figures in trans history. Billy Tipton was a jazz musician and talent agent who had a successful career for decades in the South throughout the fifties and sixties. Billy was a transgender man, a fact unbeknownst to his world until his death, when a heart attack revealed his secret to paramedics and his adoptive son. A national media firestorm ensued, with tabloid coverage shining an ugly spotlight on Billy’s body and details of his life that most of us, cisgender or otherwise, would prefer to keep private.

Co-directors Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt do a fabulous job presenting the complexities of Tipton’s life on screen. Billy Tipton essentially exists as two separate entities, the real-life father, husband, and musician, but also as a figure of inspiration for the broader LGBTQ community. We know very little about the specifics of Billy’s gender identity, but Chin-Yee and Joynt understand the importance of showcasing the impact that his life has had on our community.

Interviews with Billy Tipton Jr. serve as a grounding force for the film, crafting a portrait of an icon’s quieter life before he was posthumously outed without his consent. For too long, LGBTQ people have often been forced to live two separate lives, one for their blood families and one for their found families. Advances in LGBTQ equality have helped create a world where that kind of double life isn’t necessary for many, but the film eloquently explains the world that Billy lived in.

Chin-Yee, Joynt, and co-writer Amos Mac spend a great deal of focus on the media landscape that sensationalized Billy’s life after his death, identifying the broader systemic issues that plague our community to this day. The media often, if not usually, treats transgender issues as tantalizing, fantastical scenarios, ignoring the real-life trans people affecting by these methods of framing.

The biggest challenge for a film like No Ordinary Man is the elusive life of its subject. There’s no footage of Billy and only a few photographs, the kind of visual obscurity that hardly lends itself well to feature-length documentaries. To make up for Tipton’s visual absence, Chin-Yee and Joynt deploy an unusual strategy, holding auditions for a film about Tipton’s life. Using trans actors as stand-ins for Tipton works quite well, an effective indicator of the progress society has made since Billy’s time. The world is still a very imperfect place for trans people, but there still remains great power in the sheer nature of visibility.

No Ordinary Man is a beautiful tribute to an icon of trans lore and a damning indictment on the shameful media coverage after his death. Billy Tipton deserved better from this world, both in life and in memory. As transgender people reach new levels of visibility, it’s important not to forget the ways in which we’ve lacked agency over our own stories. History must be told for true change to take hold.

No Ordinary Man was recently featured at AFI Fest and will be part of DOC NYC’s lineup. DOC NYC will take place from November 11th-19th. Tickets can be purchased here.

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Thursday

24

September 2020

1

COMMENTS

Dead is a hilarious buddy cop comedy with a ton of heart

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The stoner comedy genre has taken a bit of a hit in the wake of marijuana’s broader mainstream acceptance. Gradually shedding its counter-cultural image, humor from such endeavors must rely less on shock value. The New Zealand-based comedy/horror film Dead puts forth a strong effort that subverts all genre expectations.

Dane “Marbles” Marbeck (Thomas Sainsbury) is a bit of a hapless stoner who concocts a potion made from pot and his late father’s neurological medication that allows him to see ghosts. One ghost, Tagg (Hayden J. Weal), a police officer who was recently murdered while pursuing a serial killer, presents Marbles with an opportunity to put his gifts to use. In exchange for helping him solve the case, Tagg offers Marbles his life insurance payout in order to buy his family farm from his mother (Jennifer Ward-Lealand).

Sainsbury and Weal, who also co-authored the screenplay, are quite compelling in the lead roles. There’s a depth to Marbles that elevates the character beyond the many stock personality types that can be found in the genre. He’s not just a sad dope, but a kind person with a sense of personal drive that’s easy to get behind. Also juggling director duties, Weal constantly challenges his audience with emotionally resonant material that’s quite funny without ever feeling like it’s playing for laughs.

A scene early on between Marbles and his father Ross (Michael Hurst) comes out of nowhere with its heartfelt sincerity, hardly the kind of approach common in a buddy cop stoner film. Weal packs quite a lot of character development in for Marbles and Tagg, giving their relationship a journey that feels unconstrained by the limits of a ninety-minute runtime. The pacing is superb.

Dead tackles LGBTQ issues quite well in an interesting dynamic. Sainsbury, openly gay, plays the straight Marbles while Weal, openly heterosexual, plays the openly gay Tagg. Tagg’s gayness is integral to the narrative, but the film takes an inclusive approach to its humor. It’s rather refreshing to watch a film where the LGBTQ community actually feels in on the jokes.

The New Zealand landscape is absolutely beautiful. Much of Dead is filmed outdoors, giving global audiences a chance to experience the country, particularly valuable in the midst of a pandemic. While clearly not a big budget endeavor, the strong production values and first-rate cast more than make the case for the film.

Dead is in Select Theaters and Virtual Cinemas on 9/25 and on Digital on 10/6

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Tuesday

15

September 2020

0

COMMENTS

Blackbird can’t overcome its sloppy filmmaking and lackluster screenplay

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The right to die is sadly still a controversial issue in much of the world. For many terminally ill people, the idea of going out on your own terms is far better than the alternative, a few extra weeks spent practically comatose hooked up to all sorts of machines. Agency is not a concept that should be removed from this equation.

Blackbird handles the subject of agency quite well. Lily (Susan Sarandon) chooses to end her life on a specific day, after a long battle with ALS. She and her husband Paul (Sam Neill), invite their family for one last weekend together before Paul delivers a concoction designed to bring her suffering to an end. With a stacked supporting cast that includes Kate Winslet, Mia Wasikowska, and Rainn Wilson, you’d expect the film to tackle the subject matter with the level of grace that it deserves.

Unfortunately, Blackbird is a mess almost straight from the get-go. Director Roger Michell crafts the film like a stage play, using extensive wide shots in the majority of the film’s first half. The camera often remains fixed for full scenes, showcasing rooms of the house essentially from the perspective of a security camera. There’s some initial novelty in the idea of making the audience feel like a wallflower, but the whole approach is clunky and distracting.

Despite the talent involved, Michell essentially kneecaps his cast by restricting the audience’s access to them. You can hear the words coming out of the characters’ mouths, but often you can’t see their expressions. If he truly wanted to mirror the stage, he made the rather puzzling decision to place the audience in the back row.

Worst of all, Michell conveys the wrong message with his stagnant camera. There’s a scene between Wasikowska and Winslet early on where they’re preparing a guest room. The conversation is to some degree meant to take a back seat to their actions, possibly a commentary on mundane chores in the face of imminent tragedy. Instead, the whole sequence leaves you envious of the characters, lost in something other than this boring mess.

What makes this whole dynamic even more confusing is that Michell essentially abandons this approach halfway through. Ensemble scenes in the back half feature plenty of close-ups. It’s as if he realized that the early scenes weren’t working and decided to call an audible, without going back to fix his mistakes.

Blackbird does an absolutely terrible job of conveying the severity of Lily’s illness. There is talk of her not being able to move her right hand, though she’s shown several times to have mobility, occasionally when Sarandon’s left arm is the one left still. Anyone familiar with ALS might find that this portrayal leaves quite a lot to be desired. A scene meant to convey her illness features Lily dropping a wine glass, except the whole setup is pretty outlandish.

Lily is shown sitting in a chair eating a piece of cake off a plate on her lap, with no side table in sight. It would seem practically impossible for anyone, terminally ill or not, to eat the cake while holding a wine glass. The audience is supposed to take this moment as a sign that she should be put out of her misery, but it’s so lazy and careless that the whole sequence earns little more than an eye-roll.

The screenplay is very bad. Early on, some of the awkward small talk seems designed to capture the spirit of the moment. As the narrative meanders along, it’s clear that the mediocrity wasn’t intentional. The sloppiness grows tiresome after a while. There’s a sequence where Winslet’s Jennifer asks for gin, only to be immediately handed a glass of wine. Some of this stuff could be forgiven, errors are a part of film, but sloppiness seems to define Michell’s approach to Blackbird.

The bad writing and directing puts a burden on the actors that none of them seem particularly eager to carry. Neill and Wilson in particular look bored out of their minds, phoning in their performances. Sarandon, Wasikowska and Winslet fair a bit better, though the material doesn’t give them much to work with.

Overburdened by a terrible screenplay and sloppy filmmaking, Blackbird makes a mess out of its sensitive material. People deserve to die with dignity, a surprisingly controversial issue in this modern age. Unfortunately, this film is not a good messenger.

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Wednesday

9

September 2020

0

COMMENTS

Mulan is a step in the right direction for Disney’s live action remakes

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Disney has an identity problem when it comes to their live-action slate. Efforts like The Lion King and Aladdin are too tethered to their source material to craft their own voices. Others such as Dumbo fall apart in the absence of any clear sense of purpose. Mulan removes the talking animals and musical numbers from the equation, plotting its own course through the ancient Chinese folklore.

Armed with a $200 million budget, a record-setting sum for a female director, Niki Caro crafts a visually breathtaking experience. The New Zealand landscape is beautiful, if not a bit distracting for a film set in China. CGI can bring practically any concept to life, but other Disney efforts have suffered from an over-reliance on green screens.

Mulan is competently acted, though it’s hard to say that any particular talent steals the show. Yifei Liu brings grace and a sense of determination to the title role, but she’s a bit too reserved. The absence of a confidant figure such as Mushu who is in on the ruse puts some strain on Liu’s ability to express the struggle at the core of the narrative.

Unlike it’s animated predecessor, Mulan puts its supernatural elements at the heart of the conflict. Mulan is basically turned into a superhero, exhibiting “chosen one”-type powers that diminish the feminist message that the film is trying to convey. Here, women can do anything, if one has special powers to dodge arrows and transform into animals.

The screenplay is pretty lackluster. While following the same basic trajectory of the source material, swapping out the Huns for Rouran warriors, the film never quite finds its heart. Mulan never really clicks with her fellow warriors, a fairly forgettable bunch who never receive much attention.

Caro largely keeps romance out of the equation, a refreshing dynamic for a Disney film. Mulan’s journey is one of the self, determined by her own actions rather than gauged in relation to the feelings of a man. It might have been interesting to see how the film addressed plotlines from the original in a world with larger LGBTQ equality, but Disney has demonstrated no grace in this area anyway.

Mulan is a flawed movie. The action sequences help buoy the film through its less compelling sequences. The brief attempts at humor do little than serve as reminders of how much heart Eddie Murphy brought to the original. With that in mind, it’s easier to forgive the lack of comedy. It seems absurd to think that a live-action effort could have ever surpassed its predecessor in this regard.

With Mulan, Disney shoots for more than a shot-for-shot remake of the past. The result is a little clunky at times, but compelling enough to justify its existence. Skeptics of Disney’s live-action genre may not be completely convinced, but Caro brings something fresh to the conversation. It is an entertaining film. That might not feel like high praise, but it’s a step in the right direction.

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Friday

28

August 2020

0

COMMENTS

#Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump is too unfocused, light on expert analysis

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The idea that Donald Trump has a mental disorder is nothing new. Five minutes spent watching him speak could give any reasonable person that impression. #Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump seeks to provide substance and depth to the claims about the state of our president’s fitness for office. For the first half hour or so, it succeeds on this front.

Director Dan Partland assembled an array of doctors and psychology experts who eloquently present the case for Trump’s malignant narcissism. Equally important, the doctors describe why these disorders pose a grave threat from the Oval Office. Politicians are often egomaniacs by nature, but the film effectively presents a case for why Trump is a unique threat to democracy.

There are many who disagree with the basic premise of the film, the idea that anyone could diagnose the president from his behavior on television. Such an endeavor falls into the very wheelhouse of armchair psychology. Partland examines the “Goldwater Rule,” that established the precedent against diagnosing public figures, while explaining how Trump exists apart from all of these norms. The deep dive is fascinating.

Trouble is, Partland does away with the psychology aspect of the narrative fairly early on, an odd dynamic considering the title of the film. Thirty minutes in, the film mostly trades its compelling psychology analysis in for a tired retread of the 2016 election featuring a collection of cable news pundits. Anthony Scaramucci, White House Communications Director for a mere eleven days and former Celebrity Big Brother contestant, pops in to share some perspectives as to why Trump won that bring nothing new to the table.

Similar interviews with MSNBC stalwarts such as Malcolm Nance, Richard Painter, and Bill Kristol repeat the same talking points they use on TV. Trump has upended every rule of Washington. We all know this. Painter and Kristol have nothing to offer as to the psychology of Donald Trump. So why are they here?

Many people have legitimate anxieties over Trump possessing the nuclear launch codes. It’s scary to think about. #Unfit spends a fair bit of time on this subject, without really presenting anything new. It is not particularly hard to explain why Trump shouldn’t be allowed to order nuclear strikes.

Partland is clearly positioning his film as a call to arms, encouraging people to vote Trump out of office with a film released in the home stretch of the 2020 election. #Unfit steps on its messaging by allowing people like Scaramucci time to defend Trump supporters from charges of racism, even as the film shows examples of broad racism at Trump rallies. None of this has anything to do with psychology.

#Unfit squanders its interesting premise by spending too much of its runtime on things that are totally unrelated to its thesis. As a persuasive piece, Partland robs his work of its impact by bloating its message. There could be some value in showing an undecided voter the first twenty minutes of this film. The subsequent hour undoes any of that good will.

 

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Thursday

27

August 2020

0

COMMENTS

Lingua Franca leaves too much on the table

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Transgender undocumented immigrants face unfathomable levels of discrimination. It is hard to imagine the feelings of terror and isolation that such a vulnerable population endures each and every day. Isabel Sandoval’s Lingua Franca aims to provide a lens through which one can understand the unique plight that trans people experience within America’s broken immigration system.

Olivia (Sandoval) is a live-in caretaker for an elderly woman, Olga (Lynn Cohen) suffering from dementia. Olivia has a stable job and a supportive group of friends, who help her as she tries to find someone willing to marry her in order to obtain a green card. The arrival of Olga’s grandson Alex (Eamon Farren) presents a romantic opportunity for Olivia, though complicated by Alex’s alcohol abuse.

Juggling screenwriting, directing, and acting duties, Sandoval impresses with her versatility. She’s a skilled director, delivering plenty of ambitious shots that heighten the experience in an otherwise fairly mundane indie film. She has a gift for drawing power from quiet moments.

Sandoval is less effective with her screenplay, which is pretty lackluster. The dialogue is wooden, with clunky exposition dumps. The acting isn’t much better, often quite inconsistent from scene to scene. The natural feel of her direction is not at all replicated through the performances.

Further frustrating is the heavy-handed nature of her approach. Sandoval depicts ICE officers arresting a person, capturing Olivia’s anxieties in real time. For whatever reason, Sandoval decides to include audio footage of Donald Trump and Joe Rogan that come across as extremely clunky in the shadow of her more powerful demonstrations. Lingua Franca repeatedly struggles to balance the show vs. tell dynamic.

Transphobia is a terrible thing that practically every trans person, certainly myself included, have experienced. Often, transphobia exists for no broader purpose than the bigotry itself. “The cruelty is the point,” is a line often used to explain the Trump administration’s policies.

Except in Lingua Franca, the transphobia serves a very specific purpose, integral to advancing the narrative. In one sequence, an addict friend of Alex’s rummages through Olivia’s drawers for valuables, in the process finding her passport with its unchanged gender marker. This action proves to be a vital catalyst for the plot, wielding transphobia as a weird plot device that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The narrative could have functioned exactly the same without it.

Lingua Franca isn’t a plot heavy film, but Sandoval uses practically every scene to drive the narrative instead of investing in her characters. Despite these efforts, she doesn’t really reveal a whole lot about either Olivia or Alex. We spend a fair bit of time with Alex, without gaining an understanding of whether he’s actually a good guy, robbing Olivia’s story of its full impact.The film loses all of its steam in the home stretch as a result of the haphazard investment in the leads.

Sandoval shines as a director, but Lingua Franca suffers from wooden performances and a screenplay that rarely knows where to concentrate its attention. There are pieces of a good story here, certainly a timely subject, but it never quite comes together. We can feel sympathy for Olivia, but as a fictional narrative it lacks the depth that a story like this one deserves.

 

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Thursday

20

August 2020

0

COMMENTS

The Blech Effect squanders its runtime with a one-note premise

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A film like The Blech Effect forces one to recognize the confines of the space that narratives occupy. Even documentaries that cover decades-long spans can only cover small snippets of a person’s life within a ninety-minute runtime. The impact of a documentary lies in its ability to capture the essence of its subject, not necessarily to paint a full portrait.

David Blech, once dubbed the “king of biotech,” could have been a billionaire, founding several companies within the field, including the makers of Cialis. Blech was involved with numerous controversies, eventually pleading guilty to two counts of criminal fraud, which earned him a lengthy prison sentence. Rather than be remembered as a man who helped cure cancer, Blech’s legacy is instead defined by his greed and criminal activity.

Director David Greenwald sets the film mostly in Blech’s large apartment in New York City, a luxurious space at odds with his dire financial situation. The narrative takes place before Blech served a thirty-month prison sentence. Understandably, Blech is very tense, worried about his family and the burden that his time in jail will have on his wife, left alone to care for their autistic son.

The film spends barely any time on Blech’s broader career. Greenwald is practically solely concerned with Blech being sad about having to go to jail. Blech’s gambling addiction receives a lot of attention, framing that helps paint him as fairly sympathetic. Trouble is, it’s not very interesting.

The Blech Effect spends its time throwing a lackluster pity party instead of offering any substantive insight into its subject’s career. There’s little time spent explaining biotech, leaving the impression that Blech is little more than a bad stock trader. Even the phrase “the Blech effect” isn’t really described all that well. Blech repeatedly talks about all the companies he started, never once stopping to consider how he might want to explain this shady-sounding business practice to a general audience. Anyone looking to learn more about David Blech as a person would be sorely disappointed.

What’s further puzzling is Greenwald’s efforts to garner sympathy for his subject. David is mildly likable, a father who clearly loves his son. So what? Greenwald lets Blech suggest that he’s only settling because he doesn’t have the resources to fight back without pushing back on this puzzling dynamic. The whole thing plays out like bad PR.

Greenwald essentially expects his audience to feel sympathy for a figure responsible for those annoying erectile dysfunction ads on cable television. Blech isn’t particularly remorseful, just sad. There is a fair degree of sympathy that one can extend to a figure who’s clearly an addict, but it’s hard to keep this up for an entire feature-length narrative.

To some extent, The Blech Effect might have value as a wake-up call for gambling addicts, but that idea is hampered by Blech’s singular status. David Blech has lost more money than most people will ever see in their lives. That premise could have made for an interesting documentary, but instead Greenwald spent his time panhandling for sympathy toward a disgraced, not all that remorseful, venture capitalist.

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