Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Pop Culture Archive

Tuesday

20

April 2021

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COMMENTS

The Last Right is a touching meditation on grief with plenty of laughs

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Grief has an odd way of bringing people together, strangers who may not otherwise offer much more than a simple hello. The Last Right centers its narrative around this dynamic, starting off with two strangers seated next to each other on a plane to Ireland to bury separate loved ones. As the pandemic has halted the world around us, the idea of a chance conversation offering a glimmer of comfort almost feels like a luxury in today’s age.

The film follows Daniel (Michiel Huisman), an American lawyer on his way to Ireland to bury his mother and to take custody of his brother, Louis (Samuel Bottomley), with the intention of sending him to a boarding school for autistic students. A plane ride conversation with Padraig (Jim Norton), on his way to his estranged brother’s funeral, changes Daniel’s trip when Padraig suddenly dies himself, naming Daniel as his next-of-kin despite their brief affiliation.

Most of the narratives follows Daniel, Louis, and funeral home employee Mary (Niamh Algar), as they drive across Ireland to deliver Padraig’s body to Northern Ireland, where he can be buried next to his father. Director Aoife Crehan crafts a road movie that simultaneously serves as a mediation of grief mixed in with a comedy of errors.

Huisman, Bottomley, and Algar develop fast chemistry, an unlikely trio all united by a common understated sense of loneliness in the wake of circumstances beyond their control. Crehan’s script has a keen understanding of the innate human desire to heal. One cannot always control what happens in life, but nor should one resign themselves to a fate dictated by one’s past. The future always offers its alternatives.

The narrative is a bit formulaic at times. Crehan may not be too terribly interested in reinventing the wheel, instead putting together a touching film that hits all of its notes in a very satisfying manner. Supporting performances by Michael McElhatton, Colm Meaney, and Brian Cox bolster the primary trio on their adventure, at times doubling as a broader love letter to Ireland itself.

What’s most impressive about The Last Right is Crehan’s ability to maximize the scope of his story, set over the course of a single weekend. The 106-minute runtime gives the audience a firm grasp of the characters, without reaching too far toward an undeserved outcome. Periods of mourning are difficult times to get through. Crehan’s film is unafraid to be funny at times, understanding the immense power of human connection in times of mourning.

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Friday

2

April 2021

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COMMENTS

Godzilla vs. Kong doesn’t have enough of a punch to make up for its awful human characters

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Fans have waited close to sixty years for a follow-up clash between titans Godzilla and King Kong. Godzilla vs. Kong is one of those titles that explains everything the film is supposed to be, a narrative that pretty much solely hinges on its ability to deliver plenty of fight scenes between the two famous kaiju. Unfortunately, there is the pesky matter of humans that the screenplay never quite figures out.

There have been a dozen King Kong films and three dozen entries to the Godzilla franchise. Godzilla vs. Kong is a direct sequel to 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters, itself a follow-up to 2014’s Godzilla, and 2017’s Kong: Skull Island. There was some solid worldbuilding in this “MonsterVerse” to get us to this point, establishing the hierarchy of the titans and why Godzilla and Kong are on a natural collision course as alpha predators.

Sadly this dynamic hardly applies to the human characters held over from King of the Monsters. Returning actors Millie Bobby Brown and Kyle Chandler add next to nothing to the narrative. Brown’s Addison Russell is at least involved in some hijinks to discover the motive of Godzilla’s attack on Pensacola, Florida, along with her friend Josh (Julian Dennison) and Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry), a conspiracy theorist/podcast host dedicated to bringing down Apex Cybernetics.

Brown, Dennison, and Henry have solid chemistry that would’ve worked a lot better if the screenplay cared at all about them as characters. Instead, we see them periodically throughout the narrative, with only the vague understanding that they’re there as filler for the film’s 113-minute runtime. Chandler’s presence is non-existent to the point where it essentially becomes a distraction. Ceding the role of male lead to Alexander Skarsgård, the audience is left wondering why Chandler bothered to show up for a sequel that clearly has no use for his character.

The film could be forgiven for all of this if it was laser-focused on its main objective, but the fights are too few and far between to justify the utter absence of anything resembling compelling drama from the human characters. Director Adam Wingard proves his talent in the action genre. The first battle, in particular, is a triumph of special effects, a dazzling spectacle in the middle of the ocean.

The two subsequent battles fail to adequately raise the bar. The action shots are too fast-paced, often laser-focused on the titans to the point where you can’t really see the carnage around them. The CGI is top-notch, but the experience feels weirdly small at times, with the cinematography limiting the audience’s ability to get a firm grasp of what’s going on at times. This isn’t always the case, but it happens enough to make one long for the days of watching two guys in rubber suits stomping on cardboard buildings while low-budget pyrotechnics go off in the background.

Herein lies the problem with Godzilla vs. Kong. The human scenes are such a dud that they drag everything else down, a woefully pathetic screenplay that practically insults its audience with its apathy. The fights range from excellent to solid, which is not enough to carry the deadweight from this otherwise awful experience.

There are some great sequences here. The Toho Godzilla films rarely produce drama that aspires to be on the level of Citizen Kane, but those narratives at least try to entertain their audiences when the monsters aren’t fighting. There is far too little effort in Godzilla vs. Kong, an easily avoidable misfire. These titans of the kaiju genre deserve so much better than this mess.

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Monday

29

March 2021

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COMMENTS

Superman & Lois brings a breath of fresh air to the Arrowverse

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The future of the Arrowverse is a bit up in the air. Supergirl & Black Lightning are ending this year, and The Flash & Legends of Tomorrow are not far behind them. It’s fair to wonder if the unprecedented “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover was not just the high point for the small-screen shared universe, but also its final big moment of triumph. With Batwoman still figuring itself out after the departure of its anemic lead actress and Stargirl doing its own thing on Earth-2, Superman & Lois enters a broader franchise in need of a standard-bearer, lest viewers turn to HBO Max as the sole provider of DC-related television.

It is oddly fitting that the Arrowverse would turn to Clark Kent, DC’s favorite son, to inject a bit of life into The CW’s offerings. Smallville was a staple of The CW in its early days, one of the most popular holdovers from The WB. Small-screen superhero storytelling has changed quite a bit since Tom Welling’s “no flights/no tights” Kal-El blended comic book lore with WB-era soap opera antics.

While Tyler Hoechlin’s Clark certainly does don the cape, part of what makes Superman & Lois work so well is the show’s ability to ground itself in the lore of everything that’s come before. Set in Smallvillle, the series is just as concerned with the Kent family life as the broader world that Superman is supposed to protect. The narrative weaves both the traditional teenage angst that fueled so many WB/CW shows before it and the action pieces that have made the Arrowverse such a smashing success, coupled with a cinematic aspect ratio and production values uncommon for broadcast television.

Superman & Lois eschews the more formulaic tropes of its Arrowverse predecessors, giving each episode a more relaxed sense of urgency. For all its sillier arcs, Arrow consistently delivered top-notch stunt choreography in practically every episode. That kind of episodic pacing doesn’t really suit Clark Kent in quite the same way as Oliver Queen, hardly the proper superhero to go busting into warehouses late at night.

Nor is Clark Kent the primary focus. As good as a Superman as Tyler Hoechlin is, Elizabeth Tulloch often captivates the most attention. Leaving Metropolis for the sake of her family, Lois Lane gave up a career-defining position as the star reporter for a major newspaper, the kind of stature that would grant her instant celebrity status in the real world. Both Lois & Clark are personalities far bigger than Smallville, yet they feel at home in this environment as they teach their boys how to be men.

The constant juggle of responsibility between their own family and the world at large makes for quite compelling television. Through its early episodes, Superman & Lois has fared quite well at satisfying its audience’s natural urge for superhero action as well as the bread and butter CW family storytelling. This isn’t the kind of show that makes for a marquee offering for a streaming service, but it’s the kind of series one can look forward to each week, a sense of familiarity desperately needed in this pandemic landscape.

Such a balance works well with its broader storyline involving Morgan Edge (Adam Rayner), a clash of a capitalist mogul and small town values. A real estate developer is hardly on the same level as Damian Dahrk or Eobard Thawne. Superman & Lois so far has shown that it doesn’t necessarily need a menacing “big bad.”

The Arrowverse won’t be around forever. HBO Max’s own slate of DC content will naturally diminish the broader importance of The CW to deliver weekly superhero narratives for television audiences. Whatever the future holds for broadcast TV, Superman & Lois captures one’s attention with its great storytelling.

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Monday

22

March 2021

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COMMENTS

Shoplifters of the World is a messy slog that’s bound to depress longtime fans of The Smiths

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The Smiths are an easy band to fall in love with. Morrissey’s humorously melancholic lyrics work beautifully layered on top of Johnny Marr’s jangly riffs. Producing only 70 songs over the course of their five-year career, with only a few duds, it’s not very hard to memorize the lyrics to them all. There’s a certain poetic tragedy to be found in their short tenure as a group, undoubtedly enhancing their legacy.

The new film Shoplifters of the World centers its narrative in the immediate aftermath of the group’s breakup. Armed with a soundtrack full of Smiths tracks, director/writer Stephen Kijak presents a story that takes place over the course of a single day. The longer the film goes on, the more it looks like that was the same amount of time it took to craft his atrocious screenplay.

The slice of life method might have worked better if Kijak hadn’t written two absolute clunkers to serve as his leads. Cleo (Helena Howard) mostly wants to party to numb the pain of the group’s breakup, also possessing a strange kleptomaniac streak. Dean (Ellar Coltrane) takes a far more unhealthy approach, holding a local heavy metal DJ named “Full Metal Mickey” (Joe Manganiello) hostage at gunpoint and forcing him to disrupt his set to play entirely Smiths songs.

Kijak relies too heavily on Smiths songs to carry his otherwise empty narrative. Longtime fans may want to rethink their dedication after watching this disaster. Kijak’s screenplay includes line after line directly lifted from Smiths songs, often merely just the titles of Smiths songs, but he never seems interested in doing anything more than lazy wordplay. There are a few strands of plot to be had in dealing with homophobia and growing up, but the film is never particularly committed to any of its characters.

The biggest problem with the narrative is that it can’t survive at all without The Smiths. The film has absolutely nothing going for it besides its soundtrack. There are a few times where Kijak inserts archival footage of old Moz interviews into the film, trying to send home the message that these songs can save lives. Unfortunately, Morrissey can’t really save this awful film that’s far too desperate to lean on him without a crutch.

There some broader complaints that might feel like nitpicking more if the film didn’t solely cater to Smiths superfans. The timeline is an absolute mess. Taking place on the supposed day of their breakup, the film ignores the basic fact that Marr had left the group months before the release of their final album, Strangeways, Here We Come. Set in Denver, Colorado, Kijak completely overblows what their American popularity would have been in 1987, instead inserting their broader legacy into the picture as if it had been there all along.

Some of those historical liberties might be easier to forgive if the narrative was better or if The Smiths’ broader timeline wasn’t fairly simple to follow. The sole redeeming quality of the film lies in its soundtrack, but Smiths diehards would be better off simply putting on a record and listening to the music without this mess getting in the way. Kijak is obviously a fan by token of the film’s existence, but he does an absolutely terrible job communicating that affection to a broader audience.

Morrissey’s lyrics appeal on a deeply personal level, the kind of depth that keeps fans returning to his work after all these years. None of that is communicated well in Shoplifters of the World. It’s hard to think of a worse way to honor the legacy of The Smiths than by watching this film.

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Sunday

21

March 2021

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COMMENTS

Zack Snyder’s Justice League delivers on its mission

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It’s easy to frame Zack Snyder’s Justice League as an attempt to correct an error, as the cinematic Justice League will likely go down as one of the worst superhero movies of all time, an abomination of blockbuster filmmaking. An unthinkable tragedy forced Snyder to step away from the destination his entire DCEU had been working toward, but that entire strategy had been under question since the muted reception to Snyder’s Man of Steel & Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, as well as the Snyder-produced Suicide Squad.

The world has changed quite a lot since 2017. An unprecedented fan campaign coupled with a streaming service in need of content amidst an industry, and a globe, ravaged by the pandemic affords a rare do-over for the line-up composed of DC Comics’ best assets. Relying almost entirely on footage shot before Snyder previously stepped away from the film, ZSJL is a film firmly rooted in the same problems that had the broader population clamoring for Snyder to be removed as the architect of the DCEU in the first place. The only thing that’s fundamentally different is a sense that this film is the proper concluding chapter to an uneven era in DC lore.

Time has been kind to Snyder’s bleak Earth. The runtime of just over four hours might be anxiety-inducing to a bladder seated in a crowded theatre, but ZSJL’s narrative fares much better from the comfort of one’s couch. The only pressing issue is the 4:3 aspect ratio, which feels more than a bit confining to footage that once might have played best on an IMAX screen. It’s not hard to imagine that the dedicated fans up for watching such an epic in that environment may one day get their wish.

The narrative plays well without Joss Whedon’s forced efforts at humor. It’s fair to say that the idea of a Justice League film may have been better served by giving its full roster their own solo films ahead of the team-up, as ZSJL spends much of its time properly introducing Aquaman, Cyborg, and The Flash. Snyder’s work is at least aware of this reality, forcing Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne to juggle to awkward comradery amidst these heroes united by a common existential cause.

As with his earlier DC Comics adaptations, Snyder is in no rush to get to the core of his narrative. The first ninety minutes contain far too many sequences that are fundamentally superfluous to his broader intentions. The gel doesn’t always settle perfectly, but where Snyder especially succeeds with his worldbuilding is his ability to make it feel lived-in. ZSJL doesn’t ignore its predecessor films like Whedon’s trainwreck. Batman v Superman remains a bloated mess, but Snyder keeps his eye on the ball, rewarding fans who have put in the effort to engage with his ideas over the years.

Steppenwolf is still an imperfect choice to be the Justice League’s first big villain, but the restoration of Darkseid to the film at least keeps some air in the room. Snyder clearly intended to save Darkseid for a sequel that will almost certainly never be made, a reservation that won’t see its payoff. It’s a messy dynamic, but certainly much more cohesive than its 2017 predecessor.

Perhaps the film’s best asset comes through the subtraction of the earlier film’s greatest crime. Henry Cavill’s CGI-erased mustache served as the biggest joke of the 2017 Justice League, a conduit to channel through everything else that was wrong with the movie. Here, Superman still isn’t in the film very much, but that’s a worthy trade-off to see Kal-El’s distracting upper lip removed from the equation.

Snyder hasn’t exactly pieced together a great movie, but his vision has a cohesive flow sorely missing from its predecessor. Longtime fans will find much to love in the culmination of his work. The hashtag #ReleaseTheSnyderCut has delivered what it set out to achieve. The film may bear the same issues that plagued much of Snyder’s time spearheading the DCEU, but there’s a poetic sense of justice in seeing the director given the chance to properly complete his work.

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Friday

19

March 2021

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COMMENTS

SXSW Review: The Hunt for Planet B

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The question of extraterrestrial life is hardly a matter of if, but where. The universe is a pretty massive place, far beyond human comprehension. NASA has barely scratched the surface of our own galaxy, let alone the far reaches of the cosmos.

The James Webb Space Telescope, set to launch into space on October 31st, represents a step forward in humanity’s understanding of the broader universe. Nathaniel Kahn’s new documentary The Hunt for Planet B aims to bring these broad existential questions back down to earth, focusing on the human equation in the exploration. The balance is a dynamic that Kahn continuously struggles with throughout the course of the narrative.

The Hunt for Planet B is light on science, a narrative without nearly enough substance to sustain a feature-length runtime. Kahn only seems interested in the telescope or NASA for brief moments, almost desperate to turn his attention anywhere else. No one sitting down to watch the film would actually expect Kahn to find planet B, but ninety minutes with this material hardly leaves one with much of a deeper understanding of any of the material.

At one point, the documentary turns its attentions to the music preferences of one of the scientists during a car ride. The subject notes an interest in 80s music. If you want to watch a documentary to learn about what kind of genres of music scientists working on the James Webb Space Telescope enjoy, Kahn certainly delivers on that front. The same can hardly be said for those looking for substantive discussions on complex science.

Part of this problem is hardly Kahn’s fault. His subjects are able to succinctly explain all the things that we don’t know about the universe, but much less successful in giving a lay audience a better perspective of what we do know. That might not be as much of an issue if Kahn seemed actually interested in the telescope that’s supposed to be at the heart of the narrative.

There are other weird points of obvious filler beyond the 80s music chatter. There are a few scenes that feature C-Span footage of House committee oversight into NASA, showcasing how little elected officials understand about science. These sequences might be more compelling if Kahn managed to tie them back into his overall narrative, but there isn’t much of a cohesive storyline here.

With the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope delayed due to the pandemic, it seems likely that Kahn’s documentary had to be curtailed as well. That might be easier to forgive if The Hunt for Planet B wasn’t such a dull experience, a film that has no business carrying a feature runtime. The whole thing could’ve been easily condensed into a format more suitable for a 60 Minutes segment without losing any substance.

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Friday

19

March 2021

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COMMENTS

SXSW Review: Potato Dreams of America

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The world has seen quite a few coming out narratives over the past few decades as LGBTQ culture has become more mainstream. The world that Potato Dreams of America debuts into is quite different than the one director/writer Wes Hurley grew up in. America has changed quite a bit since Hurley’s short film Little Potato premiered in 2017. Both films are based on Hurley’s experiences as a Russian immigrant to America, at a time when being gay was hardly accepted in either country.

With Potato Dreams of America, Hurley utilizes a surrealist landscape to tell his life’s story. The narrative covers a wide stretch, from his youth to early adulthood. As a director, he’s inventive with his storytelling, playing with his character’s accents to highlight his fish out of water status in both countries. Coupled with the luscious sets, Hurley crafts a compelling backdrop for the film.

Unfortunately, the script is pretty lackluster. Hurley throws cliché after cliché at the audience, tired humor centered around capitalism and the American dream. There’s really nothing in this narrative that hasn’t been explored before on screen, a situation exacerbated by the film’s stunning mediocrity.

The performances fare a bit better than the screenplay. As the “American Potato” (the unnamed protagonist that’s clearly a stand-in for Hurley) and Jesus Christ, Tyler Bocock and Jonathan Bennett supply a couple of entertaining scenes in the middle, albeit hindered by the otherwise lackluster presentation. Lea DeLaria does a great job as Potato’s mother Tamara, easily the best performance of the film.

Based on true events, it’s clear that Hurley prioritized autobiography at the expense of his film’s story. This is 90 minutes of Hurley’s life that obviously means a great deal to him as a filmmaker, having previously explored his childhood in the earlier short. He does a terrible job translating that passion to the audience.

Autobiography or not, Hurley doesn’t really have anything interesting to share about growing up as a gay immigrant. This story might have played better ten years ago, but here it comes across as dated and at times, regressive. At one point, Potato’s mother expresses indifference to her son’s coming out. Whether that’s true of Hurley’s life or not, it doesn’t make for compelling material to watch on screen.

Potato Dreams of America struggles to present itself as more than a vanity project with a terrible script. It is a positive sign of the times that Hurley’s sincere story of coming out lands with such a thud in 2021. Unfortunately, his film isn’t strong enough to sustain itself without any novelty in its premise.

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Friday

19

March 2021

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COMMENTS

SXSW Review: Our Father

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Grief has a way of bringing people together who wouldn’t otherwise spend more than a few moments in each other’s company. The loss of a loved one can put one’s own future in perspective, time itself an ever-fleeting concept. Director Bradley Grant Smith centers Our Father in the wake of a suicide, a father’s death reuniting two sisters on very different paths.

The narrative follows Beta (Baize Buzan) and Zelda (Allison Torem) as they search for their long-lost uncle Jerry (Austin Pendleton), estranged from their broader family for over thirty years. Beta is eager to leave town for grad school in Connecticut in an effort to hit the reset button on her otherwise mundane existence. She and Zelda are not close, using their quest to find Jerry as an effort to spend some time together before going their separate ways.

Smith’s worldbuilding largely appears to be the product of trial and error, throwing bits of quirk at the wall to see what sticks. Little of it does. Scene after scene, Our Father tries to frame itself as an oddball comedy, but the writing falls spectacularly flat after the first few minutes.

This dynamic is exacerbated by the relationship between the film’s leading actresses. Smith deliberately positions Beta and Zelda as having no real relationship, kneecapping his intentions to position Our Father as a buddy comedy. The scattershot pacing never consistently makes rectifying this a priority, draining the narrative’s ability to hit home down the stretch.

Smith rarely seems to understand what he wants to do with his characters. Beta and Zelda frequently looked confused, even bored, on their quest, making it pretty hard to relate to any of them. Aside from Uncle Jerry, the male characters are pretty atrociously written, cringe-filled scenes that don’t really serve any broader purposes.

Pendleton is the sole performer who seems to have any idea what’s going on with the material, delivering a powerful scene in the third act that feels completely divorced from the rest of the narrative. That kind of momentum can’t be sustained for long, and the film doesn’t really have a strong enough foundation to produce any satisfying resolutions. The whole thing is a completely disjointed experience.

Our Father feels like the product of someone who knew how to make a movie but didn’t understand how to tell a story. The narrative alternates between being painfully boring or needlessly obtuse. An unfortunate mess.

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Thursday

18

March 2021

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SXSW Review: Swan Song

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Increased LGBTQ visibility has done wonders for our community as a whole. With the modern serving as the mere infancy for broader gay rights as a whole, there are plenty of older people who won’t live to see the sins of the past corrected. Swan Song centers its narrative in the final chapter of a colorful man taking one last trek through a very different world than the one he once thrived in.

Pat Pitsenbarger (Udo Kier) is a retired hairdresser who spends his days in a nursing home. He doesn’t have long to live, but receives a new lease on life when he learns that a former client wanted him to style her hair at her funeral. Setting off on a trip down memory lane through his town of Sandusky, Ohio, Pat takes the chance to revisit his old stomping grounds for what might be the last time.

Kier carries Swan Song, delivering one of the most moving performances of his illustrious career. Writer/director Todd Stephens wisely recognizes this dynamic, largely crafting the film to make full use of his star’s talents. Pat has lived a sad life, but Kier is so full of energy that you never really pity him as a character. What could have just been a sad narrative instead finds itself oddly uplifting.

Based on Stephens’ own experiences growing up as a gay kid in the 80s, Swan Song also serves as an homage to the old-school gay bars that are rapidly vanishing from the American landscape. While the narrative is a little too convenient at times, Stephens manages to pull off a touching tribute without falling into the trap of criticizing how mainstream acceptance is actually bad for LGBTQ culture. The world has changed. That’s mostly a good thing, except maybe for people like Pat who hardly recognize the society that they’re about to leave.

The film also manages to indulge Pat’s dated habits without forcing a mandate for him to get with the times. Pat spends much of the narrative in search of a shampoo that had been discontinued for years, taking long drags of a dated brand of cigarillo as he soaks in a present that doesn’t have a place for him. There may be an inclination to tell a man like Pat to get with the times, but why should he?

There’s a lot about Pat’s life that’s hinted at without being fully explored. The 105-minute runtime doesn’t aim to provide a complete picture of the man, instead finding acceptance in the idea that not every sin of the past needs to be corrected. It’s easy to root for Pat even after accepting the idea that he probably wasn’t the greatest man on the planet. While parts of Swan Song may feel familiar, Kier ensures that his infectious enthusiasm carries over to the audience.

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Thursday

4

March 2021

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Allen v. Farrow captures society’s ugly tolerance for bad behavior from talented artists

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Woody Allen is one of the greatest film directors of all time, a man without peers in terms of his creative output and artistic genius. Allen’s films provide unparalleled perspectives on his often-neurotic subjects and their cities, most frequently New York, a sensation unlike any other in the craft. One could rave and rave about his talent for hours, reverence that masks the more painful reality that he is also a credibly accused child molester.

For years and years, the entertainment industry cared little for his victim, his adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow. Instead, Allen’s lawyers and PR machines cast dispersion on the accusations, instead pointing the finger at Mia Farrow, a woman acting out revenge through her seven-year-old child. It worked, at least until the #MeToo movement weighed down Allen’s cultural capital.

The new documentary Allen v. Farrow reexamines the case, giving Dylan Farrow a chance to set the record straight. Directors Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering offer a damning portrait of the climate that cast the accusations aside to continue idolizing a powerful director. With extensive interviews from Dylan, Mia, several other members of the Farrow family, and prosecutors involved with the case, the series recreates the horrific incident and its ugly aftermath.

The four part series covers quite a bit of ground, from Allen’s broader career, the Farrow family’s home life, and the ways the media helped kicked dirt over the accusations to move on with the show. Dick and Ziering produce some previously unexplored material, but their greater strength as filmmakers comes from the ways they refute the tactics used in Allen’s defense, particularly the handling of Dylan’s examination by the Child Sexual Abuse Clinic at Yale-New Haven Hospital. The New York Department of Social Services also received a fair share of criticism for the ways they stifled their own investigation.

Staunch Allen defenders will find little to like here. There are no interviews with Allen-friendly subjects, though the interviewees acknowledge Allen’s creative genius and merits as a father. Accounts from the Farrow children come across as surprisingly cordial toward a man who married one sibling, Soon-Yi Previn, and stands accused of molesting another. Dick and Ziering hardly go out of their way to paint Allen as a monster.

Allen, Previn, and Moses Farrow, who has defended his father in the past, all declined to be an interview. Instead, Dick and Ziering present Allen’s side of the story through archival recorded phone calls between Mia Farrow and Allen, and audiobook excerpts from Allen’s 2020 Apropos of Nothing. Whereas Dylan is specific and thoughtful with regard to her account of what happened, Allen comes across as flippant and dismissive.

Dick and Ziering force their audience to confront the spin that’s been applied to this case over the decades, revealing a deep obfuscation of truth. Woody Allen is practically synonymous with the city of New York. Those who defend his actions throughout the case do so with a willingness to cast aside the many derelictions of duty. Whether you believe Dylan or not, it’s hard to deny the ways that those in power sought to defend Allen at every turn.

For her part, Allen v. Farrow frequently comes across as Dylan’s effort to turn the page. The series examines the sins of the past with a hopeful eye toward the future. There can’t really be justice in any meaningful sense for the decades of willful ignorance by many in the mainstream media, but Dylan reinforces the gains of the #MeToo movement through her willingness to grapple with the industry’s long-unanswered sin.

While Dylan expresses gratitude to the many actors who have expressed solidarity over the past few years, this area is perhaps one where Dick and Ziering may have benefited from a bit of distance between their work and their subject. Part of the series exposes the power of Hollywood publicists to frame narratives on behalf of their clients. Allen’s defense required a fair degree of media complicity over the years, namely in service to his ability to produce Oscar-caliber films.

Dick and Ziering largely decline to pursue the obvious opportunism to be found in the timing of Hollywood’s eventual reckoning with Woody Allen. While critical of Allen defenders over the years including Adrien Brody, Scarlett Johannsson, and Javier Bardem, the series gives a somewhat undeserved pass to the actors who recently expressed regret for working with the man. There’s little bravery to be found in the renunciation of Allen after it became blatantly clear that starring in his films would no longer automatically thrust one into award contention.

How one chooses to engage with the Allen accusations largely reflects one’s willingness to engage with basic reality. Dick and Ziering understand this basic truth quite well, acknowledging humanity’s difficulty with relinquishing trust when can one simply choose not to. People chose to ignore Dylan out of a weird reverence for Allen and his brilliance. The media made it very easy to cast the accusations aside so that the show could go on.

Allen v. Farrow is Dylan’s story, but it’s also an illuminating case study for how society deals with problematic artists. One can accept and acknowledge Allen’s sheer force of nature within the film industry without turning a blind eye to the ugliness of his character. One can enjoy his work while still acknowledging that he is at the very least, a pretty morally bankrupt individual.

Bad people can make great art. Our culture as a whole hardly benefits from ignoring such quandaries. We lose a bit of ourselves when we defend the indefensible.

The entire four-episode series was screened for review

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