Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

film Archive

Tuesday

20

April 2021

1

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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Tuesday

21

January 2020

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Sundance Review: Jumbo

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For years, the discussion around gay marriage included plenty of preposterous claims such as allowing gay people to wed would lead to individuals wanting to marry their pets or their cars. Similar outlandishness follows the fight for transgender rights, as “jokes” about people wanting to identify as attack helicopters or penguins are made on a daily basis even to this day. In her debut feature Jumbo, Belgian director Zoé Wittock pursues a similar line of thinking in a surrealistic take on the meaning of love.

Jeanne (Noémie Merlant) is a creative young woman who’s happiest in her thoughts. She works the graveyard shift at a local amusement park and builds elaborate models in her free time. Her mother Margarette (Emmanuelle Bercot), a bartender, is troubled by Jeanne’s lack of drive, particularly with regard to her romantic life. Margarette herself enjoys a healthy sex life, especially with a new partner Hubert (Sam Louwyck).

A new attraction at the park catches Jeanne’s interest, much to the chagrin of her boss Marc (Bastien Bouillon), who pursues her romantically. Unfortunately for Marc, Jeanne’s heart belongs to a Tilt-A-Whirl ride, with its bright lights and mechanical spinning prowess. Dubbed “Jumbo” by Jeanne, she pays special attention to the ride during her shifts, making sure his lights are in tip-top shape.

Jumbo is the kind of film that works best when it skirts the lines of reality. Wittiock includes many beautiful sequences where Jeanne quite literally loses herself in the grandeur of Jumbo. The cinematography is spectacular, using light and color to convey meaning in the absence of words. Wittock appeals to all the senses in her efforts to convey a very peculiar kind of love.

Merlant is spectacular as Jeanne, capturing the essences of emotions foreign to many. She fully sells Jeanne’s emotion, as absolutely ridiculous as that sounds. Her performance sets the terms for the audience’s engagement with the narrative, presenting Jeanne not as someone who should be pitied, but rather appreciated for the way she holds her ground in the face of relentless opposition.

The supporting cast is also superb. Louwyck in particular stands out as Hubert, taking what could easily have been a throwaway role and transforming the character into someone with remarkable depth. As Margarette, Bercot puts forth an authentic portrayal of what any mother might struggle with in such a position, with happiness and reality existing in stark contrast to each other.

Perhaps the only point of critique for Jumbo is the absence of a broader sense of rationale behind Jeanne’s behavior. For a film with such an intimate scope, it’s understandable that there wasn’t much backstory, but there’s a lot of questions that the audience is left with by the end of the narrative. Film cannot present a complete portrait of a person’s life, but there’s so much to Jeanne lingering beneath the surface that supplies much food for thought afterward.

Jumbo takes an absurd premise and fully commits to presenting a heartfelt story. It’s easy to laugh at the idea of a person falling in love with a machine. Rather than make a mockery of the subject, Wittock finds beauty in the unexplainable.

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Wednesday

18

September 2019

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Powered By Strong Lead Performances, Hustlers Is a Delightful, Thought-Provoking Thriller

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The 2008 financial meltdown affected practically every industry in America. Millions of people saw their livelihoods affected with little recourse from the government, which reserved its bailouts for the same sectors that caused the mess in the first place. No one went to jail for all this carnage.

Hustlers is a film that depicts an industry that rarely saw any attention through this fiasco. Nightclubs rely on wealthy patrons to keep the drinks flowing, the DJs spinning, and the girls dancing. Without the stream of bills flowing from the businessmen to the dancers, a lot of women found themselves in desperate circumstances, forced to accept subprime working conditions just to squeak out a living.

Dorothy/Destiny (Constance Wu) is a girl with plenty of ambition. She wants a glamorous life, a sense of self-reliance, and the ability to provide for her elderly grandmother who raised her. She struggles to navigate the world of the strip club to find the ever-elusive high rollers, the kind of patrons with the ability to give the women plenty of financial security for themselves.

Dorothy finds a mentor in Romona (Jessica Lopez), a talented dancer with a deep Rolodex. The two form a kind of mother/daughter relationship, with a genuine bond that proves vital when their world comes crashing down in the wake of the 2008 crisis. Dancing ceased to become all about the fantasy, with customers demanding sexual lines be crossed.

With the rules of engagement redefined, Romona and Dorothy take their destinies into their own hands, establishing a routine to drug wealthy men and con thousands of dollars from them under the guise of a wild night out. The world of strip clubs provides a bit of cover, with many of their marks too embarrassed to go to the police about what had happened. The lines of right and wrong are blurred in a world where the victims aren’t particularly sympathetic, the same kinds of selfish executives who brought down the financial sector in the first place.

Though Hustlers possesses a strong ensemble cast, Jessica Lopez completely captivates as Romona. She’s a three-dimensional character with complex flaws, which Lopez thoroughly explores over the course of the film’s two-hour runtime. Lopez has a keen ability to draw the spotlight, but also to direct it toward her co-stars, most of whom get their own chance to shine.

Wu’s Dorothy is a similarly complex character, whose emotions about their con are shown in a different fashion than Romona. Hustlers frequently bounces around in time, dedicating a portion of the narrative to an interview of Dorothy by a journalist named Elizabeth (Julia Stiles), who is writing about the story after the key players had all been busted. Dorothy and Romona share familial bonds, but the film allows the two actresses the latitude to color outside the lines of what the audience might expect from their dynamic. Strands of The Great Gatsby and Goodfellas are present in their relationship, but Hustlers is committed to plotting its own course.

The greatest strength of Hustlers is the film’s ability to analyze morality without drawing conclusions. What Romona and Dorothy did was bad. Their motives cannot be adequately attributed to notions of survival or providing for their families. The sheer selfishness on display is never mitigated by any other factor.

Film is full of anti-heroes whose actions are remembered alongside the feelings their deeds evoked. Hustlers never excuses the actions of its characters, while giving the audience the freedom to choose where to lend their sympathies. Director and writer Lorene Scafaria has crafted an excellent film bound to inspire discussions of morality for years to come.

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Wednesday

27

March 2019

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Us Is a Terrifying Yet Thought-Provoking Horror Film

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Part of what made Jordan Peele’s directorial debut Get Out such a treat was the way it defied typical genre expectations, throwing practically everything and the kitchen sink at its audience. As a more traditional horror film, Us feels practically tame by comparison, offering scares that wouldn’t seem out of place in an entry into the Halloween or Nightmare on Elm Street franchises. For a director as innovative as Peele, the confines of staying within horror’s established norms might feel constraining, but the talented director has a way of captivating with whatever material he chooses to work with.

Peele takes something as benign as a carnival funhouse mirror and turns it into an object of apprehension. Adelaide is a girl haunted by her experience of walking into one late one night, discovering something that felt like more than a reflection. Years later, with a loving family, she finds herself continually reminded of the night, fearful of repeating the terrifying events.

Us is the kind of film that demands a lot from its actors, with each tasked with playing the doppelganger version of their characters. Lead actress Lupita Nyong’o handled this job exceptionally, carving out distinct identities that played well against each other. Nyong’o is a very expressive actress, often using gestures and expressions to convey emotion rather than simple words. The film’s child cast, including Madison Curry, Ashley McKoy, Shahadi Wright Joseph, and Evan Alex give strong performances that demonstrate a refreshing sense of comfort for young talent in a horror film.

While Peele is an Oscar-winning screenwriter, he uses dialogue sparingly throughout much of the film. The subtle score and expressive actors often carry the suspense, without a ton of screaming or verbal panic to convey the fear. The sets are crafted in a way that creates natural claustrophobia as the characters try to navigate the evil plaguing their home. It’s the kind of horror that creeps under your skin by disrupting one’s own notion of comfort.

As a genre, horror often has a tricky relationship with the concept of exposition. The mystery of the terror is often a big part of the scare appeal, especially since the audience can substitute their own worst fears in the void of the unknown. Efforts to explain figures like Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees often fall flat as the characters are terrifying enough with only minimal backstory. Us manages to dive into the why without losing any thrills, highlighting Peele’s talent as a storyteller. He lets the audience behind the curtain long enough to get a feel for what’s happening, while preserving plenty of the intrigue.

Us is a terrifying sophomore effort from director Jordan Peele, offering a thought-provoking perspective on the horror genre. Slasher movies don’t necessarily need to provide much fodder for the mind, but Peele reminds us of the power that film possesses to re-evaluate the way we think about the world. Us is the kind of movie that will thoroughly frighten you while leaving plenty of substance to chew on when the thrills have worn off.

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Wednesday

26

December 2018

0

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The Favourite Is a Timely Feminist Treatise on Power

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Feminism is an especially rich subject to explore in period dramas for many reasons. The blatant injustices of earlier eras shed light on our current climate, where inequality continues to thrive. The crimes of the aristocracy extend far beyond sexism, as the near complete absence of any sense of upward mobility dictated that one’s life circumstances were almost always determined by external factors other than free will. If we take feminism at its root definition, to strive for equality of sexes, empowering women in period dramas means freedom to be as ruthless and manipulative as their male counterparts.

The Favourite is a film about power. Olivia Colman’s Queen Anne is a monarch whose ability to wield all that ruling entails is largely dictated by the political machinations of those around her. Hindered by a variety of ailments, Queen Anne’s lover Sarah Churchill, played by Rachel Weisz, tries to govern in her steed. Standing in the way of her proxy rule is Robert Harley, played by Nicholas Hoult, who objects to war with France and all the taxes it entails.

Emma Stone gives perhaps the finest performance of her career as Abigail Hill, who comes to court in squalor after her father squandered her family’s standing and security. Finding work as a scullery maid, Abigail quickly demonstrates that she’s not looking for handouts, but rather opportunities to reclaim that which she lost through no fault of her own. She bonds with Sarah, wrestles with Robert, and plays the games she needs to play in order to survive in a world that offers few second chances.

The film plays out largely like a stage play with a fairly minimalist approach to set locations and relying on the inter-character drama rather than the history to propel the native. The cast is spectacular, vibrantly playing off each other with such delight that you completely forget what terrible people the characters are. The Favourite lacks a true protagonist, but you can’t help but root for Abigail as she plots her way back into society.

Director Yorgos Lanthimos consistently makes his presence known throughout the film, utilizing unconventional angles and cutaways that complement the sharp dialogue in practically every scene. The Favourite never forgets that it’s a period drama, but it uses the genre as a playground of sorts, constantly bending the rigid confines of what we expect from characters in corsets. Like many of his other films, Lanthimos uses humor not as satire, but as a way to butter up his audience before delivering the cold truth about the nature of humanity.

Colman solidifies her status as one of England’s finest working actors, playing the sickly Queen Anne in a way that garners sympathy without making her out to be a victim. Vulnerability and power often seem incompatible, as if the presence of one can cancel out the other. Queen Anne is used by all the other principle characters, but Colman displays a subtle sense of strength to perpetuate the idea that she’s never incapable of reclaiming her sense of authority.

The Favourite is an uncomfortably empowering feminist film, allowing its female characters to strive for an equal sense of malice and cruelty. These characters are oddly endearing in their awfulness, unafraid to be unabashedly evil in the absence of any standard of morality. Power exists out the binary of right and wrong despite what we’re taught as children. We’re not supposed to take pleasure in being evil, but film presents a reality adjacent to our own, one where such problematic charms from a talented cast can be embraced as good theatre without any broader ramifications. The Favourite makes its period setting feel completely contemporary, unabashedly stripping power down to its raw carnal form.

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