Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

movie Archive

Thursday

7

February 2019

0

COMMENTS

A Violent Man Doesn’t Have a Clear Sense of Purpose

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews

Sports movies are in many ways completely antithetical to their real-life counterparts. Legendary plays happen spontaneously, but movies have to manufacture these moments in an effort to convey that same sense of shock and wonder to an audience that expects something to happen. A Violent Man effectively substitutes any sense of suspense that might occur in its MMA octagon for a murder mystery, sprinkling the sports genre with a heavy dose of thriller.

Ty Matthews is an aging fighter looking at the end of his prime. An opportunity for a practice match against the well-known Marco Reign gives him a sense of optimism for his future not enjoyed by his girlfriend Whitney. An effort to defy an NDA imposed by Reign’s manager Ben is scuttled when the reporter he contacted ends up dead after a sexual encounter between the two, with the police looking at Ty for the murder.

The acting is A Violent Man’s strongest attribute. Thomas Q. Jones does an effective job in the lead role, drawing out empathy for Ty’s struggle without requiring the audience to agree with many of his decisions. Ben Davison puts forth a solid effort as Reign’s manager, carefully juggling charm with sleaziness in nearly all of his scenes. Issach De Bankolé gives a strong performance as trainer/mentor Pete, anchoring the emotional core of the film with his concern for Ty and the current trajectory of his life.

While the actors are shown to be capable of carrying the drama, the writing doesn’t give any of them much to work with. The vast majority of the scenes are riddled with clichés. Khalilah Joi can’t really do much as Ty’s girlfriend, Whitney when the script constantly calls for her to deliver the most predictable lines imaginable. Denise Richard’s brief appearance as reporter Victoria is entirely undercut by her character’s painfully unrealistic lust for Ty, casting aside any sense of obligation to portray a believable journalist.

A Violent Man struggles to be a sports film and a thriller, stripping either of any sense of dramatic urgency. Much of the second half of the film is dedicated to the fallout of Victoria’s murder, but the film pivots back to Ty’s feud with Marco in the third act, culminating in a weak title fight that feels less like a climax than an obligation to get it out of the way as quickly as possible. The conclusion is rushed and undercut by the narrow scope of the film that renders it practically inevitable.

For most of the film, director Matthew Berkowitz makes the most of a small budget, using minimalistic lighting and a strong score to hone in the intimacy of his sets. The title fight loses this touch, feeling oddly small and out of a place in a narrative that otherwise knew how to make the best of its locations. Perhaps some of this is the fault of the limited use of Chuck Liddell as Reign, who isn’t in the film for long enough to leave any kind of lasting impression.

MMA fans may find something to enjoy in A Violent Man, which offers some decent commentary on the struggles of making it in an unforgiving business. The lackluster script hinders both the performances and the narrative pacing. There’s a lot to like in the concept, but the film fell apart as it tried to tie its various strands together.

Share Button

Monday

31

December 2018

0

COMMENTS

Aquaman Squanders Jason Momoa by Overstuffing Itself at Every Turn

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

The stakes for Aquaman are far more arbitrary than they seem. We can say that some mandate existed to “save” the mess that is the DCEU, but this notion is completely undercut by the fact that the movie makes almost no mention of its connected universe. A viewer could sit down in their seat with no knowledge that this film is Jason Momoa’s third go-around as Arthur Curry and leave never wondering if there had been life before Atlantis. Aquaman didn’t need to save anything other than the sea.

With the stink of the moody incoherent Justice League washed away, Aquaman sets a far more jovial tone. Unlike Ben Affleck, Jason Momoa constantly looks like he’s enjoying himself in his role, playing the half-human/half-Atlantean with a kind of contagious glee. His charm is up and away the film’s strongest asset, allowing the film to play up its hero’s inevitable campy moments in a way that preserves some grace in self-parody. The film is desperate to be in on the joke rather than the butt of it, a fate that has befallen every other DCEU release save for Wonder Woman. There is plenty of laughter to be had in Aquaman, though some of it appears quite unintentional.

Momoa’s enthusiasm serves an excellent deflection from a subpar script that seems to take its cues from the 1970s Super Friends cartoon instead of Zack Snyder’s DCEU offerings. Sometimes the dialogue is naturally funny, but often the laughter comes from cringe-worthy camp moments that make you wonder how a major studio approved such lackluster writing. As a superhero, Aquaman has lived for decades with a reputation for being pretty lame, with Momoa’s natural sense of swagger serving as a great counterbalance that’s too often undercut by a script that rarely does him any favors.

The film’s larger plot barely earns a passing grade for coherence, but Aquaman is weighed down by a few too many subplots. The opening sets up Black Mantra, played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, as the villain only to discard that notion early on in favor of a multi-tiered approach. Patrick Wilson never seems fully confident in carrying the role of antagonist as Arthur’s brother Orm Marius, who’s desperate to unite the various ocean kingdoms to fight back against land dwellers and all their pollution. As if two villains weren’t enough, Dolph Lundgren also hangs around as Nereus, king of Xebel and father of Arthur’s primary love interest Meera, played by Amber Heard. None of the bad guys are particularly memorable, largely because there isn’t enough time to go around between all the various rabbit holes director James Wan wants to play around in.

The bloated runtime serves as the film’s fatal flaw. Aquaman is far too long, constantly undercutting its charm in service to derivative action sequences that lose all appeal by the third act. Some of the film’s fight scenes are truly impressive in nature, but others look lifted off a Power Rangers battle. Wan squanders any goodwill on that front by stuffing far too many battles into the film, turning any camp factor from humorous to tedious.

Aquaman is very entertaining at times. If its narrative hadn’t been so overstuffed with needless subplots and excessive action sequences, it very likely would have made for an excellent superhero film. Instead, it settles for being the second best DCEU release, an accolade it was practically predestined for by token of not being a depressing slog. It is still a chore to get through in one sitting. Thorough editing could have saved this film from a fate similar to the “so bad it’s moderately entertaining” legacy of Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin, which exiled the caped crusader from the big screen for almost a decade. Aquaman is a marginal improvement for the DCEU, but it should have been so much more.

Share Button

Monday

24

December 2018

0

COMMENTS

A Meandering Narrative Derails the Otherwise Well-Constructed Mary Queen of Scots

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews

Despite the literal definition of the genre, almost all biopics offer a false promise by token of their run times. Few two-hour movies can provide a complete portrait of a historical figure’s life. There just isn’t enough time. The best biopics narrow in on a specific period of a person’s story in order to illuminate a broader point about who they were.

Mary Queen of Scots appears aware of this predicament, with all of its trailers spotlighting the troubled relationship between two cousins seemingly destined for turmoil. Much has been said of the historical inaccuracy at the heart of the film’s narrative, the fact that history refutes the idea that Mary and Elizabeth ever met, but this revision is hardly a factor weighing down the film. Much more problematic is the idea that the narrative never seems fully committed to the course it laid out for itself early on.

Somewhere along the way the film decided that the relationship between Mary and Elizabeth wasn’t enough to sustain the entire narrative, but Mary Queen of Scots never really laid down the framework to dedicate much time to anything else. Some attention is given to Mary’s many troubles in Scotland, with seemingly everyone around her conspiring to end her reign, but these scenes can’t shake the aura of filler. There’s nothing really tying any of the political turmoil together besides the history itself, presenting sequences strung together without any hint of a story.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the casting is Mary Queen of Scots biggest strength. Saoirse Ronan plays a charming and relatable Mary. Margot Robbie makes the most of the limited scope Elizabeth is given in the narrative. The rest of the cast, including David Tennant, Guy Pearce, Joe Alwyn, and Gemma Chan all put forth compelling performances in supporting roles, but the acting isn’t the problem. The issue is that the film never gives any of its immense talent anything compelling to do.

As effective as Ronan and Robbie are at garnering sympathy for their character’s positions, such efforts are squandered because the film never really builds toward anything. We know their eventual meeting is going to happen by token of the trailers, but everything else feels like they’re simply going through the motions until that moment comes. Despite being ostensibly the two most powerful people in their realms, both characters are never really shown to be anything more than helpless. You can feel for them, but that’s about all that’s ever asked of the audience. There’s nothing here for anyone to actually root for.

Mary Queen of Scots is a film comprised of beautiful pieces with absolutely zero substance at the center. The costumes are gorgeous and the performances are excellent, but these elements cannot indefinitely sustain the absence of narrative. There’s a lot to appreciate in the film’s diverse casting, with nods to acceptance of homosexuality and gender fluidity, which effectively dispels the notion that inclusion is a distraction in period dramas. Trouble is, the film seems entirely composed of diversion used to substitute for the notion that it actually has a story.

The past few years have offered plenty of reasons to dispel with the occasional public perception that period dramas are dry and boring. Mary Queen of Scots unfortunately plays this trope up quite well. The sum of its many admirable parts don’t add up to an interesting movie, only two hours of watching talented actors try to pull a narrative out of thin air.

Share Button

Saturday

3

November 2018

0

COMMENTS

Mid90s is a Likable Coming of Age Story with an Unclear Sense of Purpose

Written by , Posted in Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

The era of Snapchat selfies and Instagram filters has made the 90s an especially fertile ground for exploring adolescence in a time right before children started to grow up with their lives broadcast on the internet. As someone who would have been just a few years younger than protagonist Stevie during the period of Mid90s, I remember just how much the concept of “cool” seemed to exist in relation to how older kids around the neighborhood spent their time. For his directorial debut, Jonah Hill chose to center his narrative around the significance of the childhood sense of meaning derived from riding around on a rolling piece of wood.

Stevie is a young thirteen-year-old kid who desperately wants to fit in with the older kids who hang around the local skate shop. With an angry overbearing older brother and an overwhelmed single mother, his home life leaves a lot to be desired. After bonding with the resident younger kid of the group, Stevie gradually finds acceptance among those who share a similar sense of uncertainty for what their futures might bring.

Hill demonstrates a keen ability to capture beauty in the subtle moments of dialogue between his characters. Little time is spent developing any of them beyond descriptors you might read in a dramatis personae, but the young actors possess enough confidence to project power in mundane conversations. Lead actor Sunny Suljic captivates every scene with an expressive performance that captures the essence of youthful angst.

Mid90s loses steam as it moves along, weighed down by the burden of excessive subplots that it never cares to explore beyond a few isolated moments. For much of the movie, the narrative moves at a leisurely pace without a clear end goal, enjoying the simple moments between the characters. To his film’s detriment, Hill seems unsatisfied with the open-endedness created by many youthful coming of age stories, injecting a forced sense of drama where none needed to exist.

Film rarely tries to capture the full essence of a character’s life, an impossible task for many reasons beyond the time restraints. Open-ended coming of age narratives often seek to focus in on a pivotal period in their lead’s life where at least some of the soul’s inner turmoil finds a sense of resolution. Perhaps the nostalgia of youth lends itself well toward comforting one facing life’s later struggles, which tend to carry a greater sense of importance than fitting in with the local skaters.

Mid90s isn’t quite sure what you should make of Stevie’s time skateboarding, which could explain some of the decisions made late in the narrative. Hill put forth an admirable effort in his directorial debut, demonstrating great talent in crafting memorable scenes. Unfortunately, the films fails to come together when it forces itself to find an arbitrary resolution. I have no doubt Hill will make many great movies in his career, but Mid90s fell apart when he started to try and reach a conclusion he didn’t necessarily need to present.

Share Button