Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Movie Reviews Archive

Wednesday

25

March 2020

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Marcel Duchamp: The Art of the Possible Provides a Thorough Look at the Artist’s Career

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Part of the fun of learning about Marcel Duchamp is through all the ways he transgressed the artistic community, particularly those seeking to curate its collective tastes. The man who crafted the eminently beautiful Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 also willed Fountain into existence, a urinal signed under a pseudonym. The documentary Marcel Duchamp: The Art of the Possible aims to shed some light on his storied career.

The documentary covers an impressive amount of ground, from his early days as a working artist in Paris to his later success in America. The documentary wastes little time on his upbringing, instead dedicating the bulk of the runtime to his artistic portfolio. Duchamp lived a very fascinating life. The film does a good job pacing itself through a number of quite complex subjects.

Duchamp helped flip the script on the notion of the canon, submitting works like Fountain to contests that billed themselves as “juryless,” yet still rejected his piece seemingly on its merits, a puzzling contradiction. The film does a great job explaining how Duchamp valued the importance of an audience in receiving the work, themselves taking part in the artistic process. It’s a dynamic that plays very well on screen, as the audience watching at home must also play a role in receiving the material.

Practically the entire documentary is presented through a collection of talking heads interviews, with images of Duchamp and his work constantly shown on screen. There’s a certain practicality to this approach, needing to present and explain vast amounts of content in a limited amount of time. The consistency of this approach does get a little boring at times, maybe a bit too repetitive for its own good.

There is also a sense of irony in having esteemed members of the artistic community present their takes on Duchamp for the whole narrative, giving the canon the final word. Duchamp is hardly presented as a man who would be very fond of this approach. For a man who spent his life innovating his medium, The Art of the Possible feels a bit bland in presenting a narrative that essentially looks like an extended cut of the kind of preview film that would be shown at an actual museum.

The Art of the Possible thoroughly tackles Duchamp’s career, albeit through a traditional method at odds with its subject. It doesn’t seek to embody Duchamp’s methods, but it is a worthwhile watch for people interested in learning more about his work. A more creative narrative might have tried to flip the script, but Duchamp’s life is pretty wild as it is.

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Sunday

8

March 2020

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Onward Is a Perfectly Fine Film from a Studio Capable of Better

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It seems likely that the early 00s will represent the same kind of legacy for Pixar that Disney Animation enjoyed throughout the 90s. The Disney Renaissance restored the company’s reputation as a leader in the genre, while Pixar established its own rather quickly, producing hit after hit. Aside from Cars 2, it’s hard to argue that Pixar has done anything to damage its stellar image, except perhaps through its shifting emphasis toward franchises.

Conceptually, Onward occupies fairly safe territory for a company like Pixar, known for challenging audiences young and old alike. The idea of two young elves going on a quest to reconnect with their long-dead father might carry more weight if this wasn’t a path Disney had walked so many times before. The Pixar magic comes alive through the stellar animation, but from a plot perspective, the film looks like territory well-staked out by the company’s competitors.

For the Lightfoot brothers, Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt), adventure brings the possibility of long-awaited dreams fulfilled. Barley is an RPG-obsessed teen hoping to see his passions played out in real-time, while Ian hopes for a father figure to instill in him a sense of confidence. The contrast in the two brothers’ ambitions for the narrative is a little clunky, but for the most part the film manages to skirt by on sheer chemistry alone.

The voice cast is unsurprisingly top-notch. In addition to Holland and Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer, and Lena Waithe supply plenty of comedy in supporting roles. The script doesn’t exactly do a whole lot for any of them, disappointing given the talent involved, but the movie rarely drags either. Pratt and Holland bring a lot of natural humor to their roles that don’t really get to shine here.

Onward is a touching narrative, though a movie destined to depress Pixar fans with its lack of ambition. A studio capable of more must live with the expectations of greatness. Onward is not great. It stakes it claim in the hall of very good.

The themes are fairly complex, the kind of stuff better absorbed by parents than their children. When loved ones die, those left behind are often put in the unsavory position of having to pick up the slack, whether they’re ready to or not. The ones who need to be taken care of quickly find themselves as the ones who need to do the caring. Onward understands the fast-moving cruelties of life.

Pixar has hit a lot of home runs. As every great hitter knows, the perfect swing is not one that always has its sights set on the fences. Onward is more of a standing double, a base hit that was never in question, yet one that lacks the suspense of a moment that’s truly grappled with something larger than itself.

For fans of Pixar, Onward might be a bit of a mixed bag. Children who are more unfamiliar with the company’s broader history may not care as much, fitting for the film’s target demographic. Onward is a safe film from a studio that frequently gnaws at its audience’s heartstrings. It’s okay to be a little upset that Pixar didn’t try to unleash the waterworks. Crying is good.

 

 

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Wednesday

19

February 2020

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Schwartz and Crystal Shine in Standing Up, Falling Down

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Show business is a terrible industry to try to make a living in. Many people fly to Los Angeles with dreams of grandeur, only to return home with empty bank accounts and a missing sense of purpose. Life rarely goes according to plan.

Standing Up, Falling Down is mostly a film about the period of time after the death of the dream. For Scott (Ben Schwartz), LA was supposed to be the beginning of something. Instead, he finds himself back in his childhood bedroom in Long Island, lost in the middle of his 30s. He finds companionship in his dermatologist Marty (Billy Crystal), an eccentric upbeat drunk who helps him find solace in his failures.

Schwartz puts forth the best performance of his career. Scott is a bit of a departure from the types of roles he’s known for on shows like Parks & Recreation or House of Lies, but the quieter tempo works well for him. It’s not a particularly challenging character to play, but Schwartz does a good job drawing sympathy for his fairly pathetic protagonist.

The film is carried off the strength of Schwartz and Crystal’s chemistry, two actors who are clearly having fun with the material. That kind of enthusiasm can be make or break for a film like Standing Up, Falling Down, which hardly reinvents the wheel. There are countless films about sad young people in America with failed careers in entertainment. The two strong performances from Crystal and Schwartz make it easy to forget that this is a story that’s been told many times before.

Standing Up, Falling Down also does a good job not biting at the low-hanging fruit that many indie films pursue. Scott has a pretty good family life and a sister Megan (Grace Gummer) who’s fairly supportive even though she’s also in a fairly dead-end job. Scott’s predicament is a life setback, not the end of the world. Director Matt Ratner is great at keeping the narrative grounded in its circumstances.

There are a few pacing issues in the third act that hinder the film a bit. The narrative is a fairly slow burn, until the time comes where it needs to start presenting something resembling a climax. The last half hour includes a couple plotlines that probably should’ve been introduced a bit earlier. For a film where the quiet moments speak the loudest volume, there comes a point where Ratner makes a bit more noise than he needs to.

Standing Up, Falling Down isn’t the most groundbreaking film in the world, but it’s a very enjoyable narrative. The ninety-minute runtime doesn’t waste a second, utilizing its best assets to sustain the film. Billy Crystal is almost always a treat to watch, evening if he’s doing something mundane like making pancakes. Ben Schwartz proves he’s capable of being more than an obnoxious loud mouth, a moving film that hits all the right notes, even if you can see them coming from a mile away. Sometimes for a movie, that’s more than enough.

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Saturday

15

February 2020

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Portrait of a Lady on Fire Is a Masterpiece

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LGBTQ people have been around since the beginning of time, natural subjects for period pieces. The biggest obstacle is the historical discrimination shown toward our community, limiting the types of narratives that can be told. “Happily ever after” isn’t a concept that gay people got to enjoy until fairly recently. The new French film, Portrait of a Lady on Fire takes on lesbian love at the end of the eighteenth century, a tall order that writer and director Céline Sciamma tackles with ease.

Marianne (Noémie Merlant) is a young painter commissioned to craft a portrait in secret on an island in Brittany. Her subject, Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), resists her mother’s efforts to get her to pose, as she does not want to be married off. Marianne is tasked with spending time with Héloïse to learn her features well enough to paint without her subject’s consent.

Sciamma’s greatest strength as a director is her ability to capture powerful quiet moments between her two stars. Appropriately, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a slow burn. The film has a very small cast and not a whole lot happens over the course of its two-hour runtime. The pacing works very well, as Sciamma crafts her scenes in a way that constantly leaves you wanting more.

Merlant and Haenal are spectacular. The narrative unfolds over about two week’s time, the kind of stretch ripe for the passion of summer flings. The two present a compelling romance that unfolds fairly naturally, pressed up against the confines of reality. Love thrives in the vacuum of brevity.

Sciamma is superb at crafting scenes that speak volumes without dialogue. There are plenty of dreamy sequences that play around with consciousness. The spooky setting of the island manor also lends itself well to this dynamic. It’s the perfect environment for a passionate fling that fills the mind with love and longing.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire perfectly demonstrates how to depict gay love in a period setting without caving to broader societal expectations. Heartbreak is natural in a world that denied the validity of LGBTQ romance for so long, but we also live in a modern environment that’s grown tired of narratives that bask in gay pain. Too many films have relished in the drama of inevitable breakups. The time is right for a different kind of story.

In many ways, LGBTQ narratives aren’t exactly made for members of our own community. Many are made from the perspective of heterosexual cisgender men, or designed to appeal to an audience who doesn’t know what it’s like to love someone you’re not supposed to be with. The realities of these situations are rarely as dramatic as cinema makes them out to be.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire understands the realities of forbidden love. Moments come, and then they leave. What’s left is the sense of fulfillment brought about by the experience of having felt that burning passion. Love is love, even when it’s not allowed to last forever. Few things ever do.

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Friday

14

February 2020

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Relish Is a Muddled, Derivative Take on Teen Angst That Lacks Focus

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The idea of doing a modern day take on The Breakfast Club is certainly tempting for many teen narratives. The genre owes much to John Hughes, who had a knack for understanding angst in a way that’s hard to replicate. With Relish, director Justin Ward takes a stab, putting forth a narrative that serves as less of an earnest homage than a pathetic rip-off.

The film follows five teenagers as they escape from the Deacon Treatment Facility. Kai (Tyler DiChiara) is a young transgender man struggling in a world that doesn’t accept his gender identity. Aspen (Hana Hayes) is a social media influencer with an unhealthy addiction to her phone. Levi (Mateus Ward) is addicted to opiods while Sawyer (Chelsea Zhang) battles OCD and a fear of being abducted by aliens. Rounding out the bunch is the manic depressive Theo (Rio Mangini), who’s quiet and reserved as he tries to keep his demons at bay.

Ward essentially frames the narrative as a road film, with the teens on their way to a music festival via stolen car. As with many stories, the journey is more important than the destination, except for the fact that the journey isn’t really all that important either. Relish mostly plays out like a series of vignettes with some half-baked philosophy thrown in to give the film some semblance of purpose.

The script is absolutely horrible. Ward muddles his film with terrible dialogue, ruining plenty of almost-sincere moments. He’s fairly competent at framing scenes, but the substance of the interactions falls flat. It’s a movie that’s clearly trying to come across as sincere, but lacks the words to adequately communicate its intentions.

The transgender representation is also an unfortunate mixed bag. DiChiara is a great actor, comfortable and confident in the lead role. Trouble is, the script gives him so little to work with that you end up feeling sorry for the actor rather than the character.

Ward’s lack of understanding of trans issues is apparent in the way he frames Kai’s story. The script offers him nothing but misgendering and repeated mentions of “the operation.” It’s superficial and tedious, an utter waste of a talented actor.

A similar dynamic is on full display with Aspen. Ward repeatedly swings and misses in trying to convey how a modern day social media influencer might behave. She’s not exactly a shallow character, but the way she talks about her online life sounds like it was written by someone with no understanding of how the internet works. As a result, Aspen’s scenes feel like they were crafted by a fourth grader, focusing solely on the most obvious traits of online life.

Relish has a talented young cast, but Ward doesn’t know how to use them. A laughably bad script tanks the entire experience. The film wanders around aimlessly for its runtime, trying to present snippets of meaning in scenes that fail to convey any understanding of modern day teen angst. Ward is no John Hughes, a fault that could be forgiven if he hadn’t tried to set up his film as a modern day take on The Breakfast Club. His film is pretty awful even before you hold it up to such a classic.

 

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Saturday

8

February 2020

1

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Birds of Prey is a Meandering, Self-Congratulatory Slog

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2016’s Suicide Squad is quite possibility the most disappointing superhero movie of all time. The film’s constant efforts to make it look like its characters were having fun fell especially flat considering the talent involved. Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn was so obviously destined for better things than that disaster, putting her in a great position for her own film. Unfortunately, Birds of Prey: The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn falls into too many of its predecessor’s tropes.

Birds of Prey tries to be a lot of things at once. The bulk of the narrative is spent on Harley’s efforts to capture, and then protect Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), who stole a diamond from Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), a crime lord with a grudge against Harley. Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Black Canary (Jurnee Smolllett-Bell) are also in the fix to anchor the Birds of Prey team that’s kind of based off the comic books, but their presence muddles a narrative that’s already pretty shoe-stringed as it is.

Robbie is a natural to play Harley Quinn, but Birds of Prey exposes some of the flaws in the way she approaches the character. Harley is a great gag character, but a bit one-dimensional for a leading hero. Director Cathy Yan is reluctant to give Quinn enough time to grow, constantly distracted by other shiny objects in the narrative. Harley feels restricted in her own film, an incoherent narrative without any real focus other than a feeble effort to laugh at its own jokes.  A strangely self-congratulatory effort.

Though he doesn’t make an appearance, the Joker’s presence looms heavily over the film. To some extent, this might be expected. Harley Quinn is practically synonymous with Batman’s signature villain, even though her comics do a pretty good job mitigating this dynamic. For a film series whose best Joker adaptation isn’t in the DC Extended Universe, you would think that Birds of Prey would want to do everything in its power to make you forget there’s another version of that laughing maniac.

Birds of Prey could have easily sidelined any thoughts of the Joker early on, but Yan is hell-bent on bringing him up repeatedly throughout the film. This kind of approach is fundamentally unsatisfactory regardless of how you feel about Jared Leto’s take on the character. He’s not in the movie. For those who are pleased with his absence, the constant reminders only serve to harken back to a not-so distant era where this Harley ran off with that odious creature. It doesn’t make any sense.

The film also repeats Suicide Squad’s bad habit of long-winded expository scenes that stifle the narrative. It’s hard to invest in the film when it’s constantly bending over backwards to take the audience out of the moment. It’s also spread too thin to do justice by any of the characters it awards these backstories to. Huntress is perhaps the biggest victim of this dynamic. Winstead is fun, but she’s a footnote in a movie that probably would have been better off omitting her entirely.

McGregor pours a lot of heart into the villainous Roman, but the film pigeonholes him into a largely perfunctory role. Yan could have cut him out entirely and not all that much would change. He is painfully obligatory, there because a film needs to have a bad guy. Birds of Prey would rather wink at the audience than try and give its narrative any real sense of purpose.

The fight scenes are very good. Though the titular Birds of Prey really aren’t that necessary to the film, there are snippets of good chemistry between the actresses. The film is just too unfocused to dive deeper into their relationships, too busy with the shiny object of the moment.

At times, Birds of Prey is capable of making the audience smile. It’s a film that clearly looks like it’s having a lot of fun, going out of its way to convey this sentiment time and time again, just as Suicide Squad included countless expressions of “we’re the bad guys.” We get it. Harley Quinn is a very fun character. She just keeps appearing in subpar movies that don’t do her any justice. Maybe someday she’ll be liberated with a film that doesn’t roll around in its own mediocrity.

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Saturday

1

February 2020

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Sundance Review: Once Upon a Time in Venezuela

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The human-rights crisis in Venezuela receives only occasional coverage in the United States, largely centering on the fight for control of its government. News reports mention shortages of food and other vital supplies, but the dangerous political climates make it hard to actually see what’s going on there. The documentary Once Upon a Time in Venezuela aims to shed light on the village of Congo Mirador, a once-prosperous community built on stilts above Lake Maracaibo.

Director Anabel Rodríguez Ríos keeps the narrative squarely focused on the people of Congo Mirador. Most of them are struggling fishermen, fighting a war with pollution that’s hurting their industry and destroying their homes. The sediment buildup in the region is out of control, but the government doesn’t seem to care. As a result, more and more people are forced to leave the village, taking their homes with them in the process.

There isn’t much of a narrative, but that’s not really an issue. Ríos lets the people speak for themselves, rarely injecting anything resembling her own opinion. The people there are trying to thrive, having to do more with less.

The school is run down and the fishing boats are in desperate need of repair, but the people are proud, hopeful that a day will come when these hardships are behind them. The realities of the situation paint a bleaker picture, something Ríos is keen to explore as time moves on. For a government dealing with nationwide turmoil, a small fishing village is hardly a concern.

The film doesn’t spend a lot of time on the politics of the situation, but the focus that Ríos does give is particularly telling. It’s hardly a surprise that there’s corruption in Venezuela, but Ríos captures it in real time. People demand bribes for their votes, money or other material goods. Guards at the polling stations prevent any semblance of democracy.

Ríos presents both sides of the political equation. There are people who still worship the ground that Chavez once walked on, and those fed up with the current state of the government. Footage from actual dealings with local politicians demonstrates their lack of concern, complacency delivered with a hug and a smile.

In some ways, Ríos takes too much of a hands off approach. The narrative is a bit difficult to penetrate for outside audiences, particularly considering the complex nature of the country’s politics. It’s a powerful human piece, albeit one that struggles to find its own voice in the midst of all the tragedy.

Once Upon a Time in Venezuela is a haunting look at a dying region and the people who left it behind. Ríos sugarcoats nothing, a raw testimonial of government corruption. It’s a difficult documentary to watch, but an important narrative of a community ravaged by senseless greed. Though there’s little hope for optimism, the value of the truth cannot be understated in a country that does everything it can to silence the opposition.

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Friday

31

January 2020

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Sundance Review: Influence

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The late Lord Timothy Bell changed politics in the 1980s with his scorched earth approach to public relations. There was seemingly no client too shady for his public relations firm, Bell Pottinger, which propped up many despotic regimes around the world. Featuring extensive interviews with Lord Bell himself, Influence takes a hard look at the legacy he left behind.

Directors Diane Neille and Richard Poplak cover practically the entirety of Bell’s career, from his early days in PR working with Saatchi & Saatchi to his departure from his namesake firm in 2016. A special emphasis is given to Bell’s work with Margaret Thatcher. The “Labour Isn’t Working” campaign was particularly devastating, helping the Conservative Party gain immense steam heading into the election that lead to Thatcher becoming prime minister.

Bell is a fascinating subject. Neille and Poplak strike at the core of his amorality, willing to do anything for anyone with a checkbook. Lord Bell is keen to play the villain, taking great delight in his life’s work. His only regrets seem to lie with the demise of Bell Pottinger after the scandal in South Africa.

The film struggles to grapple with an overstuffed narrative that loses steam as it tries to pack too much into its bloated runtime, sacrificing depth for breadth. Bell Pottinger’s reach stretched all across the globe, aiding many shady tyrants. Neille and Poplak struggle to explain the political climates of many of the situations in a way that a general audience could understand.

Influence dissects the relationship between Bell Pottinger and the Gupta family in South Africa, who hired the firm to help prop up the Zuma regime. Bell Pottinger stoked a lot of racial animosity in the country, which was exposed after whistleblowers came forward with a treasure trove of documents. The material is hard to follow, especially since it’s not really even the primary focus of the film.

Neille and Poplak can’t really decide if Lord Bell is their focus or Bell Pottinger as a whole, a dynamic that becomes quite unwieldy as the narrative rolls along. Though the runtime of 105 minutes allows for quite a bit of globetrotting, it’s much harder to piece the findings into something resembling a cohesive conclusion.

The film also falls a bit flat when it tries to tie Bell Pottinger to the current state of disinformation running rampant in politics across the globe. The 2016 Trump campaign and Cambridge Analytica are obvious successors to the antics that Lord Bell deployed, but Nellie and Poplak draw lines between them that don’t feel all that necessary or insightful. It’s hardly as if Lord Bell invented political theatre, even if he was a master at it.

Influence is a fascinating documentary in many ways. The film presents a damning portrait of a charming yet detestable man. As a narrative, it starts to fall flat after a while, sinking under the weight of the massive amount of information it tries to convey. The film tries to do too much in a short period of time, becoming way too hard to follow for a general audience. Fans of global politics may find much to enjoy, but the film is in desperate need of additional editing to bring clarity to its findings. 

 

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Friday

31

January 2020

0

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Sundance Review: Run Sweetheart Run

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To a large extent, it feels a bit reductive to talk about toxic masculinity in the horror genre. Slasher killers are typically men, monsters who brutalize their victims in unseemly matters. That’s not to say that there’s not plenty of sexism displayed in the manner with which women are victimized compared to men, but this territory is messy quite literally by design. Toxic is kind of the point.

Run Sweetheart Run centers its narrative of the agency of women in the horror genre. Shari (Ella Balinska) is a single mother who just wants to enjoy a night out on a blind date set up by her boss. Ethan (Pilou Asbæk) is a wealthy, mildly charming guy looking for a bit of fun. A supernatural figure, Ethan’s idea of a good time involves chasing woman through the night by tracking their scent.

Much of the film plays out like a standard survive-the-night horror thriller. Writer and director Shana Feste plays with power dynamics quite a bit, particularly with Ethan’s ability to control the police, but the narrative is pretty straight-forward. While the dramatic turns feel a bit predictable, the film does a good job staking out its own territory in a well-trodden genre.

Feste flips the script on femininity in horror, unabashedly wielding the female body to her protagonist’s advantage. By Ethan’s design, Shari is bleeding from her wounds but she’s also on her period. Women have been too often guided to feel shame for exposing such realities publicly. Feste sets out to change that conversation.

Balinska does a great job with the material. The genre has a natural trajectory for Shari to follow, but Balinska makes it her own. She doesn’t just want to survive, but to thrive in a world that has tried to force its terms for far too long.

Asbæk has a certain charm that works well as a villain. Ethan is cute, with a weirdly innocent quality about him that’s so obviously fake and yet still alluring. His place in the narrative could be largely perfunctory, but Asbæk makes sure the audience never forgets his smiling face.

 Run Sweetheart Run is a little clunky with its transitions. Some of that lies with the predictable nature of suspense building within the genre. Villain and hero must cross paths a few times to keep the tension alive, but Feste struggles with the obligatory nature of this dynamic. She skirts the line of one-trick pony a bit too much, though the trick doesn’t really hinder the narrative. 

Backed by an excellent cast and a strong sense of pacing, Run Sweetheart Run is a fresh take on a genre that’s seen it all. Feste offers a lot of commentary on the present age without letting weighty issues bring down the narrative. Shari isn’t the first strong woman we’ve seen in horror, but she’s refreshing in her unabashed celebration of her femininity, blood and all.

 

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Friday

31

January 2020

0

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Sundance Review: Miss Juneteenth

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Part of growing up is to understand the relationship between parental expectations and the reality of needing to live one’s own life. Miss Juneteenth understands the need for nuance in portraying this challenging dynamic. Not everyone was born to be a pageant queen, but those truths don’t necessarily need to be accepted by parents who want their children to follow in their footsteps.

Turquoise Jones (Nicole Beharie) is a hard-working single mom. She picks up extra shifts at Wayman’s BBQ & Lounge to help pay the bills, singularly focused on providing a better life for her daughter Kai (Alexis Chikaeze). A former winner of the Miss Juneteenth pageant, which honors the day that Texas slaves learned of their emancipation, Turquoise hopes that the scholarship money awarded to the winner can give Kai an opportunity that she wasn’t able to have for herself.

For Kai, the etiquette training and fancy dresses associated with Miss Juneteenth represent a world she wants nothing to do with. Kai wants to dance. But dance team doesn’t offer the same chances at a scholarship, putting her in a difficult position of trying to appease her mother at the cost of her own passions.

 In her feature debut, writer and director Channing Godfrey Peoples presents an intimate family narrative. Miss Juneteenth is a heartwarming film about the nuances of mother/daughter relationships. Kai and Turquoise don’t always see eye to eye, but Peoples constantly keeps the audience guessing with the way she lets the story unfold.

Beharie and Chikaeze are a great mother/daughter pair. The two possess an organic relationship that responds to the needs of the plot without existing in a reactionary capacity. There’s no unnecessary conflict packed in. Peoples uses great restraint in her approach to conflict with excellent sense of pacing.

The script is a little underdeveloped, with numerous subplots that barely get any attention after they’re introduced. There’s a lot of backstory to Turquoise that we don’t get answers to, a puzzling dynamic for the film’s lead character. Peoples keeps the romance to a minimum, which is refreshing, but the events of Turquoise’s own Miss Juneteenth remain unresolved. Peoples does include a fair number of satisfying story arcs. Turquoise’s mother, a God-fearing alcoholic, receives an arc that brings depth to her daughter’s own trajectory.

Peoples keeps expectations for the story fairly measured. Miss Juneteenth isn’t full of surprises, but Peoples is well-versed in the nuances of interpersonal conflict. A beauty pageant shouldn’t be the defining moment in anyone’s life. Of course it is for some, but Peoples ensures that her narrative doesn’t hinge on an arbitrary outcome.

Miss Juneteenth finds meaning in the simple interactions of its characters. Their lives are full of hardships and struggles that would exist no matter what happened in a pageant. A yellow dress may not change the world, but Peoples presents a meaningful slice of life. An excellent debut. 

 

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