Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Reviews Archive

Wednesday

10

July 2019

0

COMMENTS

Right Now Presents a Conflicting Message

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture, Reviews

Countless think pieces were written in the wake of the babe.net piece alleging misconduct against Aziz Ansari suggesting that the #MeToo movement as a whole had gone too far. Such sentiments cast aside the ability to see nuance in these types of situations. One does not need to compare the behavior that Ansari was accused of to that of Harvey Weinstein to wonder if there was something inconsistent in this account of a man who had for years prior built a career off not being that kind of guy, even authoring a book titled Modern Romance. The article certainly did not depict the sort of feminist that Aziz has always claimed to be.

Ansari begins his new Netflix special addressing the allegations head-on. He talks about the embarrassment he felt in the wake of the article as well as the ways it made him rethink all the dates he’d been on. Above all else, he states that he feels terrible that the woman in question felt that way. The opening tone is somber, an unusual way to start a comedy special, but one fitting for an unavoidable topic bound to be on everyone’s mind.

What follows is a strange collection of sentiments about this current era of “wokeness” in general, examining the rush that many feel to embrace the so-called “cancel culture.” Ansari is correct to note the inconsistent relationship that America, particularly white America, has had with caring about culturally insensitive depictions of minorities. It took thirty years for a serious conversation to be had about The Simpsons’ Apu. It wasn’t all that long ago that highly offensive homophobic slurs could be used in marketing for major films like The Hangover.

Ansari struggles to present a cohesive argument for why it’s a bad thing that people now care about that kind of stuff. The closest he gets to specificity on the dangers of “cancel culture” is a manufactured straw man of his own creation, making a benign observation that we do live in a world where people could be outraged about fake news. It’s unclear what the takeaway is supposed to be. Ansari points out that society probably does spend a bit too much time on social media counting up woke points, but such a sentiment is too general to carry much weight.

The year 2019 has brought yet another cultural reevaluation of Michael Jackson. It’s not particularly original to point out the conflict that many feel toward enjoying the music of an iconic performer while grappling with the numerous allegations of misconduct with children. Ansari isn’t the first to point out the hypocrisy that exists in the recent efforts among some to erase the legacies of musicians like Jackson or R. Kelly when people have known about their behavior for years. He doesn’t really have anything interesting to say about it either.

Worst of all, Right Now isn’t very funny. You get the sense that Ansari isn’t aiming to provide dozens of laughs of minute, but most of the humor is strained and tired, the kind of jokes people tell to alleviate a tense situation. His funniest take is an extended riff on Osama bin Laden, even while occasionally falling into his straw man trap of bending over backwards to hint at conclusions he never tries to utter outright.

Despite his efforts to put the allegations against him aside in the first few minutes, it’s clear throughout Right Now that the whole ordeal served as the inspiration for this act. With that in mind, it’s hard to separate Ansari’s commentary on the reactionary nature of social media from a wish that people had reacted differently to the accusations against him. Ansari states that he was terrified that his career might be over, even going as far as to compare that to death, but it’s unclear what we’re supposed to make of this when he was not in fact, canceled. His career isn’t over. The venue is packed and Spike Jonze is on hand to direct a special for Netflix.

The old Aziz might be gone, but Ansari doesn’t really show that he’s grappled with the idea that the allegations against him proved that this man may not have truly existed in the first place. Right Now presents a conflicting message, a man who says he’s grown after the incident while railing against the cultural environment that suggested society should care. No one was forced to take a side against him, and one look at the crowd gives an idea of how many didn’t. Ansari isn’t very happy with the state of wokeness, perhaps forgetting that it doesn’t necessarily need to affect him at all. People don’t have to care.

Share Button

Sunday

7

July 2019

0

COMMENTS

The Art of Self-Defense Is a Timely Commentary on Toxic Masculinity

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

The past few years have shined a light on the notion of toxic masculinity, which has played a role in the formation of humanity since before recorded time. Countless think pieces have been written on “incels” and members of the alt-right in an attempt to get to the bottom of what it is that many men seem to fear in this changing world. As a period piece set in the 90s, The Art of Self-Defense isn’t really about the Trump era, but the present looms heavily over the narrative.

After a horrific mugging leaves him hospital bound, Casey Davies takes up karate in an effort to better protect himself against a world that doesn’t seem to have much of a place for him. He finds community in his local dojo that was absent from his workplace, where he struggled to fit in as an accountant. The real world has its unwritten codes, but the dojo offers a firm sense of structure through its list of rules up on the wall, a code for a soul in need of order.

At first glance, it’s hard not to do an eye-roll at the notion of Jesse Eisenberg playing yet another nervously awkward character. On the surface level, Casey isn’t much different from many of the roles he’s played over the years, but he works exceptionally well for what the narrative calls for. There are plenty of men out there like Casey expecting to be something they’re not, alpha men.

The Art of Self-Defense has an uncanny grasp on comedic timing, a film that makes you laugh out loud when you least expect a joke to come. Eisenberg works exceptionally well opposite Alessandro Nivola, who plays his sensei. The film uses its period setting to craft a kind of parallel reality that’s about as believable as it needs to be.

The film is a timely commentary on masculinity while existing completely outside the present. Director/screenwriter Riley Stearns crafted a narrative that could’ve been written twenty years ago, presenting issues not necessarily in a quest for answers, but to shed light on the destructive habits that society imposes on people who aren’t quite cut out to be macho. Men have been grappling with this dilemma for longer than anyone cares to admit and will likely continue to for the foreseeable future.

While the film excels at its commentary on masculinity, it often seems lost with what to do with Imogen Poots’ Anna, the most skilled student at the dojo. Anna thrives in the male-dominated environment, but the narrative doesn’t have much of a place for her, often squandering a fairly compelling character. The relationship between Casey and sensei makes up the bulk of the film, but it might have benefited from a broader approach to its supporting characters.

The Art of Self-Defense is a wild ride that constantly challenges any expectation one might have going into the film. Stearns crafted a singular world that’s a lot of fun to inhabit, never afraid to inject humor into unsettling themes. The film presents a fresh take on the kind of toxic masculinity that’s been around since the dawn of man, a feat that makes for a delightful summer cinematic experience.

Share Button

Wednesday

3

July 2019

0

COMMENTS

Katherine Ryan’s Glitter Room Offers a Hilarious Perspective on Single Parenting

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture, Reviews

Part of the joy of watching Katherine Ryan perform is the way she tackles the current cultural climate surrounding men and comedy without sounding like she tailored her act to this particular era. Many of her observations about men in Glitter Room, her new Netflix special, could have been made twenty years ago. Ryan speaks not with vengeance about in the injustices brought to light in the #MeToo movement, but rather as a comedian staking her claim in the territory that men have felt comfortable in for decades.

The challenges of parenting as a single mother lie at the heart of Glitter Room. Ryan offers plenty of optimism for women in their thirties that their best days are still ahead. She takes on tropes like obnoxious school bake-sale organizers while staying above the fray of petty school politics herself. Her commentary feels more like an outside observer than an active participant.

The best jokes of the special tended to center around Ryan’s relationship with her daughter, particularly her position as a Canadian mother raising a child in London who is inevitably far more British than she could ever be herself. She’s an engaging storyteller who isn’t afraid to tell plenty of jokes that her daughter will potentially find cringe-worthy down the road. Glitter Room consistently presents as a portrait of her life at this moment, an intimate look at Ryan’s efforts to raise a child while still figuring things out for herself.

Ryan is quite an energetic performer with a keen ability to read a room. Glitter Room is one of the few stand-up specials to make audience interactions a highlight of the program instead of its weakest moments. Her engagements feel natural, enhancing her points while conveying the sense that she hasn’t just planned out each moment.

Some of the jokes do fall a bit flat, particularly when Ryan ventures into popular culture. She doesn’t have particularly anything original to say about the Kardashians, including a swipe at Caitlyn Jenner that felt a bit out of place in the year 2019. She also goes on an extended bit on Hamilton, which superfans of the musical might appreciate but started to feel more like inside baseball as the joke stretched on.

Glitter Room is a very entertaining special that delivers plenty of delectable one-liners. Ryan is a delight to watch with a delivery that feels organic and refreshing. She offers plenty to think about without concerning herself too much with the notion of any broader answer behind the meaning of life. The special had a nice way of making the future feel less about losing one’s youth and more about appreciating the days yet to come.

Share Button

Sunday

23

June 2019

0

COMMENTS

Legion Remains One of Television’s Greatest Visual Achievements

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

Like its titular character, Legion is a very difficult show to describe. It’s a superhero show without heroes. The morality of David Haller isn’t so much grey as it is rainbow, impossible to decipher yet present in an unmistakable fashion. Legion is quite possibly the most beautiful show on television, with stunning visuals giving the eyes plenty to digest while leaving the mind dazzled and bewildered.

Season three continues the battle for control of David’s mind. The powerful mutant, played by Dan Stevens, seeks the help of a time-traveling mutant named Switch (Lauren Tsai) to help fix his mind after decades of abuse from Amahl Farouk (Navid Negahban). David’s former friends have allied with Division 3 on board an airship, doing their best to manage a situation far beyond any of their control.

As always, Legion remains a difficult show to follow. David’s motives are as elusive as ever, a protagonist seemingly unconcerned with the notions of good and evil. The show offers a remarkable visual portrait of David’s mental health in a constant struggle to unpack the years of abuse from the Shadow King,

The visuals on Legion are out of this world, fitting for a show that often takes viewers outside reality. Stevens’ performance in the lead role often serves as a suitable counterbalance, bringing a sense of calm to all the chaos. For all the times the viewer is left staring at the screen wondering what just happened, David is there to crack a slight smile as he embraces the world around him.

Legion is much better at offering food for thought rather than any sense of concrete answers. The urge to simply sit back and enjoy the ride is contrasted with a narrative that gives you just enough to start to put the pieces together, even if you’re never really left with the idea that the show wants to let you in on its secrets. It’s a journey with an unclear destination, an indecipherable map, and a cast of characters who rarely seem to have any more of a clue than the audience. Simply put, it’s a singularly bizarre piece of television.

As the final chapter in David’s saga, season three does carry the sense that it is headed toward a conclusion. You never quite know what direction each episode will head in, or how many times it’ll alter course, but the power struggle between David and Farouk remains at the core of the series.

Legion is among the finest comic book adaptations in existence, portraying the wildly inaccessible David Haller as faithfully as could possibly be imagined. The show brings out emotions you wouldn’t expect after two years spent redefining all the norms of television. With Disney’s purchase of Fox set to usher in a new chapter of the X-Men, it’s perhaps fitting that the story belonging to one of the most eclectic characters in its universe would come to an end.

For a show that could, in theory, go on forever, having shattered all expectations of time and space, the narrative finds a way to leave its audience feeling satisfied with this three-season arc. David Haller’s world is one that seems impossible to grow tired of, though the confines of television often call for shows this wild to enjoy shorter runs. Legion is one the weirdest shows ever made. Season three concludes a beautifully strange journey that often exists outside the world of beginnings and ends. Few shows can pack in so many different emotions in a single hour.

Share Button

Monday

17

June 2019

0

COMMENTS

Jessica Jones’ Third Season Is a Boring End to the Netflix Marvel Experiment

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture, Reviews

The television landscape has changed quite a bit since Daredevil and Jessica Jones premiered in 2015, promising an ambitious crossover between four separate Netflix series interconnected in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With seemingly every major company looking for a bigger slice of the streaming pie, the relationship between Disney and Netflix was bound to sour, though the idea of rival networks producing content for each other is far from uncommon. The Netflix MCU experiment is ending not by any narrative mandate, but because two companies didn’t have the will to coexist.

Season three doesn’t feel like a final season. With news of its cancellation announced back in February, there’s a bit of disconnect between expectations and reality. Episodes that weren’t necessarily filmed as the concluding arc are delivered to fans as such, unsurprisingly landing with a bit of a thud. This wasn’t supposed to be the end, but we all knew it was ahead of time.

With that in mind, it’s hard to accept the glacier-slow pacing of Jessica Jones’ character development. She’s still a moody detective who seems to care more about bourbon than being a superhero. Much of this is a product of Jones’ personality as a character, but so much has happened to her over the past two seasons with shockingly little growth to show for it on screen.

Krysten Ritter often looks quite bored delivering her lines this season, even after putting aside the deadpan nature of her character. Gone are the powerful zingers that endeared Jones to the audience in past seasons. She looks tired, disinterested, and ready for the end. Her lines are spoken frequently without a hint of enunciation, like she’s reading them off the page for the first time.

Exacerbating this dilemma is the strong character development from the supporting cast. Trish, Malcolm, and Hogarth are all in drastically different positions than season one. Their characters have clearly drawn out arcs that are easy to follow and even easier to get behind. Meanwhile, Jessica is still the same old Jessica. The contrast rarely works to her advantage.

It rarely helps matters that Jessica is often paired with the anemic Erik Gelden, played by newcomer Benjamin Walker. For all the intriguing characters Jessica has shared screentime with, Gelden is very bland and boring. Like the burger Gelden can’t stop ranting about, he’s never as interesting as the show wants him to be.

Like every single season of Netflix’s Marvel series, the pacing problems are a persistent issue. Jones feels a bit sidelined in the early episodes, an issue again exacerbated by the fast-paced plotlines from her supporting players. While serialized TV has become the norm, Jessica Jones is a series that would have benefited immensely from giving its title character a couple of self-contained detective stories each season.

Season three does win plenty of points on the inclusivity front. While the MCU movies have been painfully behind the times on LGBTQ representation, Jessica Jones brings a nuanced approach to queer themes. Hogarth’s sexuality is explored extensively throughout the season. Transgender actresss Aneesh Sheth plays Jessica’s assistant Gillian without any scenes that explore the nature of her gender identity, a radical sense of normalcy that’s often sorely missing from on screen representations of the trans community.

TV shows in the streaming era rarely run more than five or six seasons, with shorter runs increasingly becoming the norm. Three seasons in, the show never has any sense of urgency to make the most of its time. Even if this wasn’t the end, season three meanders far too often to leave any kind of lasting impression. Netflix’s Marvel experiment has had its fair share of misfires, but these characters deserved better than an unceremonious ending.

 

Share Button

Saturday

8

June 2019

0

COMMENTS

Pose’s Second Season Is a Triumph of Inclusivity

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture, Reviews

For all the accolades that Pose received for its groundbreaking first season, a Peabody Award and Golden Globe nomination for Best Drama among others, the series’ greatest triumph has been its portrayal of transgender life as more than the “trapped in the wrong body” trope. Too many other narratives surrounding our community, often spearheaded by cisgender men, struggle to wrap their figurative heads around the idea that many trans people have much bigger things to worry about on a daily basis than our individual histories with gender dysphoria. Our collective history possesses so many rich stories that still need to be told.

Season two takes a three-year time jump to the year 1990. The balls are still the centerpiece of the community and the characters are still struggling to stay afloat in a New York City that’s still very far away from even beginning to reckon with its various injustices. The AIDS epidemic continues to wreak havoc, making funeral parlor visits a necessary aspect of everyday life. The glamour of the balls stands in stark contrast to the ever-present sense of fear looming in the air.

Blanca remains the emotional core of the series, raising up the House of Evangelista with her tireless drive to better herself and her family. Mj Rodriguez gives an Emmy-worthy performance, exploring the nuances of Blanca’s vibrant contrarian personality while retaining a motherly sense of devotion toward her community. Refusing to succumb to her HIV, she serves as an example to all of us to never settle for a reality beneath one’s value as a human being.

Indya Moore was perhaps the breakout star of season one. Angel’s arc this season benefits immensely from the absence of Evan Peters’ Stan, allowing her to pursue her dreams as a model without a loathsome empty suit toying with her emotions. With the world of 1990 setting its eyes on Madonna’s “Vogue,” which finds its origins in ball culture, Angel harnesses her talents to reclaim some of what had been appropriated from their community.

Pose has always been a show with a two-pronged track to its narrative. The personal lives of its characters intertwine with the broader historical context of the era. Sometimes this approach comes across a little clunky, as the scripts often dump large helpings of exposition all at once in a manner that wouldn’t score too many points at the ball. This method does enhance Pose’s ability to deliver teachable moments to an audience that may not be very familiar with the history of the LGBTQ community, but it would definitely benefit at times from a softer hand.

While many period dramas in this current age of TV can meander a bit through their seasons, Pose tends to make each episode count. Often times, the show casts a more natural plot progression aside for grandiose deliverables at the end of its episodes. With a large ensemble cast and a desire to capture cultural moments of the 90s, the show doesn’t have enough time in ten episodes to take things slow. Knowing that prestige dramas these days rarely last beyond four or five seasons, it’s understandable to see them cut a few corners in service to a larger cause, even if some scenes come across as unrealistic or rushed.

The balls remain as fabulous as ever, even if you’re left wondering at times if all the money spent on costumes and trophies might find a better use for an impoverished community. The score is absolutely spectacular this year, enhancing the emotional impact of many of the scenes. The show nails the 90s aesthetic quite well without ever letting it be a distraction.

Pose remains the strongest LGBTQ narrative on television with a second season that lets its heroes shine without ever dimming the lights on the bleak realities of the era. Each episode is filled with laughter, tears, and a whole lot of heart. The plot progression might not always be as graceful as its characters are on the runway, but the show knows better than most that time is limited. Pose makes each moment count.

Share Button

Monday

20

May 2019

2

COMMENTS

Game of Thrones Season 8 Recap: Episode 6

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones, Pop Culture, Reviews

The difficulty in pulling off a successful television finale largely boils down to the struggle to present a conclusion that fits in line with the show’s original ethos as well as its natural evolution along the way. Game of Thrones is in the extremely rare position of having been based off source material that itself hasn’t concluded yet, plotting its own course for the past few years. Somehow, a conclusion needed to honor George R.R. Martin’s original vision while still providing a sense of narrative closure for all the ways its deviated from the books. On both fronts, it sort of succeeds.

Bran is king. Does that make sense? Sort of, if you try not to think about it. Philosophers have long grappled with the idea of a philosopher king, a ruler who draws his/her effectiveness through a lack of desire to actually possess power. Trouble is, it’s exceedingly difficult to find one of those people. Bran himself hardly fits the bill.

I’ve tried long and hard throughout these recaps not to excessively pontificate on Bran’s powers. We know he knows a lot of things, but he’s been quite selective in what he chooses to reveal to the others. He helped planned the strategy against the Night King, but did absolutely nothing to warn anyone that Daenerys was planning to burn King’s Landing. Only one of those events posed a true existential threat to his power.

Now, maybe he didn’t bother to look at King’s Landing. We don’t know, but that’s because the show decided not to tell us. It’s fair to wonder what Bran’s motives are. For the entire season, it didn’t seem all that clear. Maybe he’s just as corrupt as the worst of them.

Daenerys’ death makes sense from the perspective of needing to wrap up the series. Trouble is, the show spent parts of the first four episodes building up a fight between Dany and Sansa that never really mattered. Jon killed her. Maybe Sansa’s feud with her played a part in that, but it definitely didn’t need to, what with the whole burning innocents situation and Jon’s chat with Tyrion.

The show treated Dany as a protagonist for all these years, only to pivot toward the idea that she was a narrative nuisance that needed to be dealt with before things could be wrapped up two episodes before the show ended. Two episodes are hardly enough time to present a compelling case that such a major part of the story was now suddenly a horrible monster that should be stabbed before she even got a chance to sit in that chair she’d coveted for most of her life.

Kudos to Drogon for understanding all the symbolism in the Iron Throne enough to see the importance in burning it down.

Why did the other kingdoms accept Bran as ruler while the North kept its independence? Why did we need a king? Obviously wheels can’t be broken overnight, but the show never really sold its audience on the idea that the realm needed to stay together. Dorne, which treasured its independence perhaps more so than any other region, doesn’t have any reason to accept Bran.

Seeing Edmure Tully and Robin Arryn again was fun. I liked how the show attempted to portray the Seven Kingdoms again after years of only focusing on a few of the Great Houses, but their meeting felt a bit too condensed for the scope it was aiming for.

Sansa has probably never met Edmure. The scene where she told him to sit down was fun, but they definitely don’t have any sense of familial relationship. Oddly enough, she never even spoke to cousin Robin, who she spent a bit of time with back in season five.

Jon gets sent back to the Wall, a throwback to what almost happened to Jaime when he killed a Targaryen monarch in the throne room. A fitting end for a boring character, even if we have no idea who controls the Wall, or why they even need one in a post-White Walkers world. Glad he got to finally pet Ghost.

Brienne becoming Lord Commander was a pretty great moment, though I don’t envy a life spent listening to Bran’s nonsense. The scene where she writes Jaime’s name in the White Book, which records all members of the Kingsguard, was sort of touching, except for the fact that Jaime hasn’t been Lord Commander for a while. The show never really invested in him caring about the Kingsguard in the way that the books did, especially in A Feast for Crows.

Eye roll for Bronn as Master of Coin. Why would the Reach accept him as ruler of Highgarden?

Sam is a maester now I guess. Why does he get to leave the Night’s Watch? Does anyone care?

Sansa gets to be the ruler we all knew she was capable of becoming. I just wish she could have been ruler of Westeros, not just the North. Would have made a much better queen than her odious brother.

I hope Bran wrote a nice thank you note to Meera Reed for being by his side all those years, only to be cast aside right at the end of season seven. The way that all played out has me wondering if D&D knew what would happen to Bran. Between that and taking over Hodor’s body all those times, he really doesn’t look all sympathetic.

Arya’s journey would make for a great spinoff. I found her ending to be the most satisfying of all the characters, a great callback to the season four finale where she set sail for Essos. She didn’t get a ton to do this season, but the final moment between the Stark children and their Targaryen cousin Aegon was very touching.

Finales are tough. Few are great, many are terrible, plenty are polarizing, and more than a few fall flat. In terms of being divisive, the Game of Thrones finale seems to occupy the space between Lost and The Sopranos, not quite in the realm of outlandish but certainly not fully satisfying either. Definitely one of those finales that will take some time to sink in. I didn’t love it, but I’m open to the idea of that changing down the road.

That’s it for this week, but there’s still some Thrones content to come. I’ll have my full season review next week, along with the recap podcast tomorrow. To all of you who have read these recaps over the years, thank you. It’s been a pleasure.

Share Button

Tuesday

14

May 2019

0

COMMENTS

What We Left Behind Is a Heartfelt Tribute to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture, Reviews

The raw beauty of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine stems from the ways in which it changed the very definition of what it meant to be Star Trek. The primary form of exploration came not from visiting planets, but the characters who inhabited an isolated space station out in the Gamma Quadrant. The show pioneered serialized narratives well before the “golden age of television” ushered in the era of long-form storytelling. As with many trailblazers, the initial reaction proved divisive, but recent years have been kind to DS9, with the ease of streaming paving the way for future generations of fans to experience the show.

What We Left Behind is a documentary crafted to celebrate the legacy of Star Trek’s “middle child.” Co-directed by Ira Steven Behr, who served as the showrunner on DS9, the film takes a thorough approach to exploring all the various elements that went into making such a complex show. The extensive interviews, which feature the entire principal cast, practically every recurring actor, and plenty of members of the production crew and writing staff, highlight the profound impact that the show made on all of their lives.

It’s clear from the very first moments of the film that Deep Space Nine changed the lives of practically everyone involved. Behr does an excellent job not only capturing that energy, but also sustaining it throughout the course of the documentary. Building on that strong connection, Behr brought back a few of the writers to plot what season eight might have looked like. Complete with numerous animated graphics, the prospective episode is featured throughout the documentary, perhaps serving as the best example of the show’s staying power after all these years.

While the Deep Space Nine’s streaming and DVD releases haven’t had the same complete HD makeover that its two predecessor series received, most of the footage from the show included in What We Left Behind has been beautifully modernized. The show looks absolutely spectacular in HD. The chance to see one of the series’ many space battles up on the big screen with that kind of careful restoration is well worth the price of admission itself.

Behr’s greatest strength as a director is his ability to maintain an introspective lens. Like any show, mistakes were made along the way. An interview with the former chairman of Paramount Television Group Kerry McCluggage in particular took a hard look at the decision to forbid Avery Brooks from shaving his head or wearing a goatee. For all of Deep Space Nine’s progressive values, the show fell short on the subject of LGBTQ inclusion, a misfire that Behr acknowledges head-on in a way that brought me to tears as a gay Star Trek fan. That kind of raw honesty is quite rare for a documentary crafted by people personally involved with their subject.

While the documentary goes to great lengths to avoid being just a “talking heads” retrospective, it is rather powerful when it examines pivotal moments in the show’s production history. There are times when the cast and crew get pretty emotional with each other, understandable given the immense stress of working on a television show that puts out twenty-six episodes a year. Though Behr acknowledges the narrative confines of a single documentary, his film provides an immensely satisfying look at all the elements that went into making the show.

What We Left Behind is a beautiful celebration of Deep Space Nine, crafted with love by the people who poured their hearts into the show. Fans of the series couldn’t hope for a better examination of the show that changed Star Trek. It’s the kind of documentary that makes you want to put on an episode right when you get home, a powerful tribute to a show that lives on in the hearts of so many.

Share Button

Tuesday

7

May 2019

0

COMMENTS

The Hot Zone Is a Brilliant Thriller That Kicks the Summer TV Season off with a Bang

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

A series like The Hot Zone possesses a kind of natural antagonist that crawls under the skin of its audience through its simple realism. Based off Richard Preston’s 1994 bestseller of the same name, the series depicts the Ebola virus in two separate time periods, from its 1976 outbreak in the central African rainforest to its 1989 discovery in a primate quarantine facility in Reston, Virginia. National Geographic’s upcoming limited event supplies a sense of terror that few series can wield in such an effective manner.

At the heart of The Hot Zone is Dr. Nancy Jaax, an Army colonel working as a veterinary pathologist at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, dealing with some of the most dangerous viruses on the planet. Played by Juliana Margulies, Jaax leads the effort to diagnose and later contain the facility in Reston that potentially possesses an existential threat to America. While dealing with the occasional sexist remark, Marguiles plays Jaax as a force of nature on the base, a careful professional working diligently to get to the bottom of what they discovered on U.S. soil.

Aiding her efforts are Dr. Peter Jahrling (Topher Grace), a civilian working in the USAMRIID, who initially discovers that the virus plaguing the monkeys is more than a simple case of Simian hemorrhagic fever, and Wade Carter (Liam Cunningham), her mentor who was on the front lines of the Ebola outbreak in 1976. Carter is also the focus of the series’ numerous flashbacks as he tries to figure out how to deal with the virus tearing apart central Africa. Jaax’s husband Lt. Colonel Jerry Jaax (Noah Emmerich) works alongside her at the base, often acting as a go-between with the higher-ups, cautious to prevent the outbreak from becoming a nationwide panic.

The Hot Zone does an excellent job of breaking down the science behind the virus for a general audience. The show takes a thorough approach to the Reston disaster, exceptionally well-paced over the course of its six episodes. The Africa flashbacks provide an additional broader perspective on Ebola, showing the devastating effects of the virus that continue to this day.

Part of what makes The Hot Zone so compelling is its grasp on the nature of suspense. The series hones in on the basic fundamental fear that Ebola invokes, an incurable plague that one can become infected by with a simple breath of air, brutally tearing one’s insides apart as it wreaks its carnage. Several scenes look like they could have been part of an installment in the Resident Evil franchise, with disaster lurking at every corner. Like the characters in their hazmat suits, there’s a natural sense of claustrophobia that reverberates back to the audience.

Character development can be a tricky subject for limited series, especially ones as plot heavy as The Hot Zone. The series takes the time to emotionally invest in its subjects, enhancing its narrative by giving the audience more to care about than just the virus. Jaax is more than a scientist fighting a deadly virus, she’s a mother, wife, and daughter who cares deeply about the people she works with and the nation she’s trying to protect. There’s real tangible growth in this journey for many of the characters, a rarity for a show that almost certainly won’t see another season.

Bolstered by a stellar cast, The Hot Zone is a brilliant thriller that kicks the summer TV season off with a bang. The three-night format is a great way to experience the show, giving the audience two episodes of this delectably bingeable suspense ride at a time. One of the best limited series of the year so far, National Geographic’s adaptation of Richard Preston’s bestseller is a joy to watch from start to finish.

Share Button

Thursday

2

May 2019

0

COMMENTS

Knock Down the House Is a Powerful Showcase of Democracy in Action

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

A documentary like Knock Down the House faces two narrative challenges that can be difficult to overcome in a ninety-minute runtime. Showcasing four separate women putting up primary campaigns against incumbent Democrats, the film has to not only tell multiple stories, but ones with widely known outcomes. It should hardly be a surprise to anyone that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez went on to beat incumbent Congressman Joe Crowley.

One of the appeals of political documentaries is the behind the scenes perspective they provide, a chance to know the candidates beyond their cable news appearances. The grassroots nature of the four campaigns highlighted in Knock Down the House gave the documentary a much more intimate feel than films focused on larger efforts by established candidates. Without massive staffs or even office buildings, the film spotlights each of the candidates’ best assets, namely being themselves.

Amy Viela, Cori Bush, and Paula Jean Swearengin came up short in their efforts to unseat their Democrat incumbents. Bush and Swearengin both managed to pull in over 30% of the primary vote, very impressive totals for unknown grassroots campaigns running against established politicians with all the benefits that entail. The documentary showcases their individual motivations for getting in the race, women with deep emotional stakes at play to change a system that isn’t working for too many Americans.

Knock Down the House does a great job explaining the many roadblocks put into place to impede primary challengers, a system that makes it about as a difficult as possible to even get on the ballot. There are a few scenes highlighting the work of groups like Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress, grassroots organizations seeking to recruit and support candidates for office. All the stereotypical notions of polished politicians are thrown out the window in favor of real people seeking to create real change.

Unsurprisingly, the documentary spends much of its time on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose successful campaign has captivated the nation for much of the past year. The footage from her campaign presents a stunning contrast between grassroots efforts and the establishment, frequently painting Crowley as out of touch, representing a district he no longer even called home. AOC fans might have enjoyed a documentary completely dedicated to her meteoric rise, but the film makes great use of all its subjects to present Washington as out of touch with the nation at large.

Refreshingly absent from the bulk of the narrative is the man in the White House. For all the media attention that Trump gets, much of America simply doesn’t care about his Twitter feed. Even in deep red West Virginia, Swearengin’s campaign focuses on the bread and butter issues affecting her state and not as a referendum on his every move. AOC also goes out of her way to criticize Crowley’s Trump-heavy campaign literature, reframing the “us vs. them” debate in a context better suited to her community.

Knock Down the House is an uplifting documentary that highlights the power of democracy in action. Only one of the film’s four subjects managed to win her race, but their efforts offer more than just inspiration to future candidates. Democracy isn’t always fair, but it’s always worth fighting for.

Share Button