Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

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Friday

24

January 2020

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Sundance Review: Miss Americana

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The big challenge for films like Miss Americana is to present its stars in a way that doesn’t feel like one big infomercial. Taylor Swift is one of the most famous people in the world. She doesn’t need to give access to anyone. Director Lana Wilson covers a wide range of Taylor’s life while building a narrative that strikes at the nature of her relentless drive.

From a timeline perspective, Miss Americana includes practically the entirety of Swift’s life, aided by footage numerous home videos. The film spends the bulk of its time on the past few years, namely the production of Reputation and Lover. Swift allows cameras in the studio for the first time in her career, capturing intimate moments where her music comes alive.

Swift has kept up an impressive workload for an artist who has little left to prove. Unsurprisingly in that regard, she often conducts herself as a person still trying to climb the mountain well after she’s reached the top. Success at an early age appears to have instilled a deep longing for the public’s approval, often to her own detriment.

Wilson wields Swift’s own words to tell a story that hints at the artist’s shortcomings without ever feeling like it’s being outwardly critical. Miss Americana breaks new ground while thoroughly remaining on Taylor’s side. It’s a singular kind of music documentary, one with the artist’s full participation that manages to be thought-provoking, even if it’s clear that punches are being pulled. Wilson doesn’t need to be Mike Wallace to dive deeper into her subject.

Sometimes she earns an eye roll for complaining about things that can be safely filed into first world problems, but that also reflects a person who has barely had any privacy for over a decade. Strangers break into her house to sleep in her bed. That’s not normal by any definition of the word.

Miss Americana works best when it focuses on Taylor’s rise in the resistance after a decade of silence on the political front. For a performer with roots in the country music world, the Dixie Chicks serve as a cautionary tale for what happens when you bash a Republican president. Taylor’s embrace of feminism and LGBTQ rights created an untenable situation for staying on the sidelines.

To her credit, she admits mistakes on this front. She has one of the most powerful microphones in the world. Though her management, including her father, protests, she wades into the 2018 senatorial race in Tenessee, knowing full well that attacks from the Tweeter-in-chief are bound to follow. Plenty of people and big corporations talk a big game on inclusion, but Swift feels genuine in her desire to grow as an ally. The sexual assault case that she recently won had a profound impact on her approach to activism. That kind of sincerity is sadly too often missing from this political climate.

The film does leave a couple strands of her career undeveloped. Early on, the film walks up to the idea that Reputation had made some mistakes, but never really follows through on this idea. The Taylor Swift that once sang about how “the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now” is nowhere to be found. That Taylor appears to not only be dead, but forgotten also.

For a film with a ninety-minute runtime, it’s understandable how stuff like her feud with Katy Perry wouldn’t make the cut. Taylor Swift has had a very long and storied career, all before the age of thirty. Also absent is Scooter Braun, though the ongoing nature of that dispute makes it difficult to include in a narrative like Miss Americana.

It is somewhat disappointing to not see the thought process behind songs like “Bad Blood” or “Look What You Made Me Do” explained, or even examined. Miss Americana frequently highlights the fact that Swift writes all her own songs, making it all the more jarring that Reputation’s lead track borrowed the melody from Right Side Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy,” a truly horrendous one-hit wonder.

Miss Americana succeeds at its primary objective, to take a global superstar and present her in a relatable fashion. She’s one of the most successful musicians in history, but also a human being. Society may not want those two versions of Taylor to co-exist, but people need growth to sustain themselves. Taylor Swift may have it all, but the film proves just how hungry she is for more.

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Friday

24

January 2020

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Sundance Review: Cuties

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The desire to rebel is a natural instinct for many children. To be told what not to do tends to fuel an inherent urge to push back against authority. Set in France, Maïmouna Doucouré’s Cuties demonstrates the universality of these themes, transcending language and culture.

Amy (Fathia Youssouf) is a fairly rebellious eleven-year-old, discontent with the strict rules in her household. The circumstances make it hard to blame her. Her mother Miriam (Maïmouna Gueye) is a hard-working parent struggling to raise three children while her husband pursues a second marriage in Senegal. Miriam is a compassionate woman who played by the rules of tradition, with seemingly little to show for it.

A group of girls who dub themselves the “cuties” attract Amy’s interest with their elaborate dance routines. Eager to join their clique, Amy starts to deviate from the guidelines set before her. A stolen cellphone provides Amy with valuable cultural capital, as well as a glimpse of the broader world she’d been sheltered from.

Doucouré is quite skilled at conveying emotion, capturing the highs and lows of adolescence in a way that speaks to the universality of growing up. Cuties is often hilarious. The young talent are superb at drawing laughs from subtle moments that are easy to relate to.

Though many have not had to experience the idea of having a second wife move into one’s already-cramped apartment, Cuties touches on themes that are quite popular in American cinema. Amy’s father is not shown to be a great guy, and the adults in her life struggle to help Amy copes with this harsh reality. Earlier eras put up with that stuff in a way that simply isn’t appealing to a younger demographic that’s experienced a world outside the strict confines of religion.

Which isn’t to say that Amy is some misunderstood angel. Like many eleven-year-olds, she’s prone to behaving like a brat. Doucouré captures this trajectory in a powerful way largely through Amy’s relationship with her mother. American family sitcoms are filled with predictable teaching moments at the end of their episodes. Cuties follows similar arcs, but shakes things up in a refreshing manner, dealing with reality rather than a “mom knows best” outcome.

Cuties captures adolescence life in a deeply moving manner. The film is very well-crafted with a keen sense of pacing, packing quite a lot into a ninety-minute runtime. Doucouré fully understands what it’s like to be a kid and an adult, delivering a compassionate family narrative that respects both sides of the equation.

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Tuesday

24

December 2019

17

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The Witcher Is Thoroughly Mediocre

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As a genre, fantasy can be challenging to present to an audience on television. There’s a lot of world-building that needs to take place, on top of all the other obligations expected of new narratives. As with many fantasy shows, The Witcher is based off a popular long-running book series. Unfortunately, the execution of its source material largely falls flat.

The Witcher might have the least effective world-building of any fantasy show in history, a remarkably bland palette that kills any desire to pay attention. The world of “The Continent” isn’t particularly complicated to understand. There are monster hunters, sorcerers, elves, and plenty of standard fare that is easy for an audience to digest. The first few episodes throw so much at the wall that practically nothing sticks.

The season adapts the introductory stories to The Witcher by Andrzej Sapkowski, a series with a complicated chronology. The show dumps a lot of characters and plotlines all at once, an approach that’s quite difficult to follow along with unless you’ve read the source material. It’s not that what’s presented is particularly complex, but the delivery just lands with a thud. It is so boring that it becomes practically unwatchable.

As the titular Witcher, Henry Cavill does the show no favors. It would be a bit unfair to blame him for the show’s failures, but his lifeless performance doesn’t help. Geralt of Rivia has almost no personality and little is done to endear him to the audience. He feels more like a reactionary figure than a lead character, making it especially hard to care about his journey.

The special effects are pretty decent, though any goodwill on that front is squandered by the sets. The color palette is as bland as the writing, moody villages that reek of grey. It’s actually kind of depressing to watch, but not in a way that enhances the narrative.

The show does occasionally try for humor, mostly through the traveling bard Jaskier (Joey Batey). Jaskier crafts a song in the second episode that’s probably the most memorable aspect of the show. That sadly represents a rather poor investment in anyone’s time.

Things do pick up a bit after the first few episodes when the show starts to pump the brakes on the exposition a bit. There isn’t some drastic improvement, but likely enough to please longtime fans of either the source material or the genre itself. The cast do seem to grow more comfortable with their roles as time goes on, though it might be too little for a general audience.

The Witcher isn’t an offensively terrible show, just one that manages to do almost nothing right. Fans of fantasy may find something redeemable in a binge, especially this time of the year. Sapkowski’s excellent source material deserved much better than this underwhelming slog.

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Wednesday

4

December 2019

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Let It Snow Is a Fun Teen Christmas Movie

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The challenge facing a Christmas film like Let It Snow with an ensemble cast stems from the need to endear a bunch of characters to an audience within a ninety-minute runtime. This dynamic differs from that of its source material, a novel with significantly more opportunities to flesh out the personalities the audience is supposed to care about. Fortunately, the film proves up to the task, delivering a satisfying holiday narrative.

Let It Snow follows a few high schoolers as they spend Christmas Eve doing just about anything other than spending time with their families. Julie (Isabela Moner) struggles with her acceptance into Colombia University, feeling a need to care for her sick mother. A chance encounter with a pop star Stuart (Shameik Moore) provides the kind of clichéd drama that tends to dominate Christmas narratives.

Tobin (Mitchell Hope) is roped in to helping his childhood best friend Angie (Kiernan Shipka), better known as the Duke, court a college boy JP (Matthew Noszka), despite his obvious feelings for her. A similar dynamic is on display at the local waffle diner, where Dorie (Liv Henson) tries to court a closeted cheerleader (Anna Akana), who won’t show her the time of day in public. Dorie’s life is made complicated by her best friend Addie (Odeya Rush), who harbors unhealthy feelings toward her boyfriend. Rounding out the primary cast is Keon (Jacob Batalon), just about the only person in the country who thinks it’s a good idea to throw a party on Christmas Eve.

Let It Snow is a very silly movie with a lot of heart, nailing the holiday formula with strong production values and an impressive young cast. The characters have a lot of backstory that doesn’t always translate well to the film, but the young actors do a great job conveying their emotions. The film probably bites off more than it can chew from a plot perspective, but it juggles its many storylines well.

Perpetually present is the notion that this film represents a minute sliver of these characters’ potentials. You could almost see the plotlines of Let It Snow serving as a television series’ Christmas episode, a slice of life narrative that was undoubtedly better fleshed out in print. The themes will undoubtedly resonate with high school audiences, who aren’t always well-represented in Christmas narratives.

Plenty of holiday movies use ensemble approaches, a difficult dynamic to balance considering the audience will likely only spend 90 minutes with these characters. As with any film, there’s obviously more to these people’s stories, but most successful narratives manage to put that idea out of the audience’s minds. The characters in Let It Snow could probably make for a fun follow-up series, albeit one we’re unlikely to see.

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Thursday

21

November 2019

2

COMMENTS

Season Three of The Crown Lacks Purpose

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Cast changes are a predicament that practically every television show faces. The idea of The Crown switching up its entire principal cast every two seasons is pretty much without precedent, though the name recognition of the subject matter makes this proposition a bit less daunting. It’s not as if the Royal Family needs much of an introduction.

To its credit, the new cast barely need to be reintroduced either. Olivia Coleman, Tobias Menzies, and Helena Bonham Carter all pick up their roles seamlessly, playing the aged Royals with grace consistent with the characters’ trajectories thus far. Pictures of the first generation cast, as well as an early cameo from John Lithgow’s Winston Churchill, serve more as treats for the fans than needed continuity bridges.

While the actors pick up where their predecessor left off, season three often feels unsure of where it’s supposed to go as a story. The previous two seasons of The Crown managed to blend larger historical plots with an intimate family narrative quite effectively. That sense of cohesiveness is completely missing here, the show’s attention scattershot over a spread of plots that share little in common with each other.

Season three feels determined to shine the spotlight on anyone other than Elizabeth, squandering Olivia Colman by reducing her character to a reactionary role. It’s hard to parse what exactly her plotline is supposed to be, as she’s rarely the main focus of any episode. Colman is superb, but she’s simply given nothing to work with, no time to shine. Claire Foy’s Elizabeth received many storylines with which she could advance her character. By comparison, Colman gets almost nothing.

The Crown has always been an ensemble drama, but the Queen isn’t supposed to be reduced to mere supporting character. Philip and Margaret both enjoy several episodes worth of extended focus. The show has always found plenty of time for Margaret, but season three doesn’t really have anything new to say about her as a person. The themes present in her focus episodes retread familiar ground.

This situation is exacerbated by the fact that the show now also focuses on the younger generation of royals, particularly Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor) and Princess Anne (Erin Doherty). The whole point of switching up the cast was to move the ball forward and tell new stories about this family. Too often, the show seems perfectly content to roll around in well-trodden grass, which often comes at the expense of the Queen herself. By the time the show carved out time for the rest of the family, old characters and new, there’s little space left for Elizabeth to have a substantive arc for herself.

There are a few standout elements worth noting. The Queen’s relationship with Prime Minister Harold Wilson (Jason Watkins) receives a fair amount of attention, a peculiar friendship given Wilson’s Labour roots. Menzies’ Prince Philip is the real standout of the season, building off Matt Smith’s early interpretation while leaving his own mark on a man eager to find purpose as age changes his perspective on life.

The Crown is rarely bad television, but it is often quite boring. The events covered feel quaint compared to magnitude of earlier arcs. This show is designed to portray 60 individual chapters in the life of this family. Season three feels like a big waste of time when you consider how much history lies within the walls of this family’s time in Buckingham Palace.

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Wednesday

11

September 2019

24

COMMENTS

Bill Burr: Paper Tiger Struggles To Get Past Its Flimsy #MeToo Commentary

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Analysis of the #MeToo movement and subsequent “outrage culture” has become popular fodder for comedy specials. Bill Burr: Paper Tiger dedicates its first act to commentary on the nuances of feminism, intersectionality, and the nature of sexual harassment accusations. Burr clearly feels obliged to comment on this point in American culture, but he’s not very good at mining the humor out of this complicated minefield.

The presence of Dave Becky as an executive producer, who was caught up in Louis C.K.’s masturbation scandal, feels a bit out of place considering Becky’s conciliatory tone after the backlash. Burr suggests the importance of “due process” in a segment with little humor, his candor conveniently leaving out the situations where such efforts to combat sexual harassment were met with institutional pushback.

The theme of Paper Tiger is quite simple. Burr doesn’t want to hear about how life might be hard for anyone else. This dynamic is best illustrated through a bit where he talks about how a #MeToo accuser described a man “vigorously” masturbating. Burr describes this approach as the only way to achieve self-pleasure as far as he knows, comparing the alternative to something that Sting might practice. If he spent more time listening to women, he’d know that masturbation as an activity enjoyed by people of all genders can, in fact, have a rhythm described as something other than vigorous.

Sure that might sound like nitpicking, but the whole segment highlights a broader issue for the special. For all the talk of Burr wanting to “trigger” people, his most outrageous bits never feel edgy enough to pack the desired punch. He talks about wanting to drive by a woman’s rally yelling outrageous things in an effort to see people flail around in agony, struggling to contain his laughter at the imagery. Sure, “owning the libs” has become an internet meme, but the whole segment plays out like Burr actually believes he can inspire such terror with his words.

A telling moment in the special came when a heckler shouted about consent as Burr lamented the plight of women who enjoyed rough sex in the #MeToo era. Understandably, Burr was annoyed at having his rhythm disrupted, but he also reacted with indignation at the idea that people were questioning his very understanding of consent. His reaction exists in stark contrast to his opening segments, a man who doesn’t want you to think he’s a sexist pig while telling jokes that depict him as such.

He’s provocative for sure, taking aim at Stephen Hawking and Michelle Obama, occasionally earning a chuckle in the process. The jokes themselves don’t really dive deeper than surface-level humor about living with a debilitating disease like ALS or being a First Lady with ambitions beyond mere photo ops. The shock value is there for those who laugh at things they wouldn’t feel comfortable saying in public.

A good barometer for whether or not you find Paper Tiger funny is whether or not you laugh at the mere thought of a person taking offense to something you said. Such amusement can be had without a person actually running around screaming in terror at said words. An abstract “snowflake” can certainly substitute for the real thing.

Is Burr actually offensive? At times, sure, but more of in the eye-rolling “offensive uncle at Thanksgiving” vein than something people might actually be outraged by. Comedians often claim they’re on the verge of “cancellation,” as Burr himself suggests, a point instantly disproven by the very existence of the special. He says, “This is going to be my last show ever,” something that only feels edgy or amusing to people who preface every offensive thing they say with that ominous foreshadowing.

As someone who belongs to a group that Burr took aim at, there isn’t much to be offended by in the notion of being told transgender women “discard” their penises. It’s a joke that’s been told a million times that lacks any basis in the fundamental process of bottom surgery. Are we supposed to laugh at the idea of a gender-neutral bathroom on a plane when literally every bathroom aboard every plane is fitted that way?

Burr is much stronger when he turns his humor inward. He talks about his temper and his desire to deal with that anger for the sake of his child. Similarly, his bits about his wife are fairly funny, even though much of it is similarly laced in the denial of any semblance of advantage afforded to him as a straight white man.

At one point early on, Burr suggests that the #MeToo movement “had to happen.” He does seem like a fairly likable man throughout the special, an Archie Bunker-like figure trying to be a good father while struggling to process the ever-changing world around him. Undoubtedly, there are plenty of people out there in similar boats, resistant to change that might come at a cost to their own standing in the world.

Burr best illustrates the problem with Paper Tiger when he remarks that the #MeToo movement appears to be winding down, having seemingly handled the most egregious cases. If that’s the case, maybe so too should standup comedians find something else to talk about. Maybe soon, we’ll see a special dedicated to outrage for the people who are outraged about outrage culture. Hopefully it’ll be funnier than this lopsided routine.

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Wednesday

10

July 2019

0

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Right Now Presents a Conflicting Message

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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.

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Wednesday

3

July 2019

0

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

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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.

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Monday

17

June 2019

0

COMMENTS

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

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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.

 

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Thursday

2

May 2019

0

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

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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.

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