Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

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Tuesday

17

April 2018

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COMMENTS

Renly Baratheon: Queer Icon

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture

Power is a dangerous thing to assign motive toward. Its allure is so strong that it tends to skirt the good/bad spectrum in weird ways, as the seemingly noble can turn out to be completely full of it. People, just or evil, often find themselves drawn to power for the very same reasons.

As someone who’s championed the #StandWithStannis movement from the moment D&D committed character assassination against the One True King, I’m never been a huge fan of Renly Baratheon. He’s a terrible brother. He’s the kind of guy you might have fun with at a rave, but you probably wouldn’t count on him to show up to help you move apartments. Donal Noye’s observation that, “Renly, that one, he’s copper, bright and shiny, pretty to look at but not worth all that much at the end of the day” (ACOK: Jon 1) pretty much tells you all you need to know about the man.

Except one big detail. Renly is gay. I could say that fact doesn’t matter, or affect any of his decisions, but of course it does. LGBT people don’t live in a world where that fact doesn’t affect the macro order of things, especially one’s employment.

Renly challenged the status quo, not as the rightful claimant, but as the most desirable one. He was not the grumpy choice, the sadistic child option, or one that would split apart the Seven Kingdoms. He didn’t have a great claim, but he had a big army.  Under the old way of thinking, that wouldn’t have been enough, but gay people are used to encountering that kind of mindset that tries to keep a hold on the future. Renly wasn’t about to let the dated patriarchal structure dictate his ambitions.

Those who deny the existence of privilege often do so by pointing to a lack perceived “added bonus” for being white or male, ignoring the institutional benefits that stem from a system controlled in perpetuity by the patriarchy, a concept that occasionally manifests itself through the term, “boy’s club.” That concept has altered my approach to career opportunities since I came out, giving the stakes a heightened sense of importance each time one comes around. I am aware that there are plenty people out there who will never give me serious consideration strictly on the basis of my gender identity. Plenty of politicians want to make it so companies can legally discriminate against LGBT people. The playing field has never been fair.

The Westerosi power dynamic shares a similar fondness for nepotism. Kings are born, not chosen. Robert’s Rebellion changed that to some extent, but it wasn’t really until the legitimacy of his offspring came into question that the subject of the line of secession became a point that could be debated. Suddenly an opportunity presented itself.

Enter Renly.

Stannis & Joffrey claimed the Iron Throne by right of birth. Robb & Balon took a more isolationist, regional approach based off theory that King’s Landing was too much of a mess to properly govern over their regions. As for Renly, well, he just kind of wanted it. He said some stuff about how he’d be the best king and all, which probably wasn’t true, but that’s not really that important. What matters is that someone, namely House Tyrell, gave Renly a chance. LGBT people don’t get that many chances.

Can we fault Renly for seizing the greatest opportunity of his life? Some might point to the mess he made, costing Stannis the throne, or how he probably wouldn’t have made a very good king. The fact that Stannis was more qualified to rule Westeros is not that important when you consider that the throne is not decided on merit. The sole consistent qualifier is that the person should be the eldest male heir. Once that certainty was tossed out the window, there really weren’t any merits from which that question should be decided. That’s why war started.

People point to Renly as selfish, ignoring that being king is selfish. Selfish people rule Westeros just as they rule every institution of power. By comparison, queer people don’t rule over all that much. Renly tried to change to that.

There is a counterargument in the sense that as Lord of Storm’s End, Renly was already in a position of power, but this is not particularly relevant. Complacency is the enemy of activism. Few in the LGBT community are interested in settling for the victory of Obergefell v. Hodges when there’s so much progress left to be made. We don’t want to be told to be satisfied. Renly didn’t either.

Renly would not be my choice to rule Westeros, but I admire his drive. He saw something he wanted, went for it, and likely would have succeeded if he hadn’t been executed by a shadow baby. As a fellow member of the LGBT community, I admire his drive. It’s tough to throw yourself out there, knowing some people will laugh and think of you as a fool just because of who you are.

I don’t love Renly, but I’m glad Westeros’ most prominent gay character made a play for the Iron Throne. Life is about opportunities, including the ones you create on your own. Renly knew a thing or two about taking what he wanted, even he’d rather play at tournament than lead men into battle. At least that was his choice to make.

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Thursday

5

April 2018

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Best F(r)iends Solidifies Tommy Wiseau’s Status as an American Icon

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture

Tommy Wiseau does not get enough credit for his genius. The key fault of both The Disaster Artist and its subsequent film adaptation is that they foster the illusion that The Room was an accidental success. That notion makes a lot of sense when you consider how beloved the film is for its comedic value despite being conceived as a drama. Wiseau himself deserves credit not just for unintentionally creating a masterpiece, but for singlehandedly fostering the environment through which The Room was able to engrain itself into American culture. Through Wiseau’s constant marketing, and the mystique of his persona, the film broke through the barriers that separate cult from mainstream. Wiseau achieved his dream and became an American icon.

Best F(r)iends is essentially a victory lap celebrating that feat. Part of why The Room continues to captivate the public’s interest fifteen years later is that there’s so much more to the story than just the film itself. Chris-R’s backstory isn’t just a mystery, Tommy’s is as well. The movie’s success on the midnight circuit, the adaptations of the story, and Tommy’s own often bizarre interviews fuel this ethos, giving fans something to chew on long after Denny’s tears over his deceased friend have dried up.

Wiseau’s acting has a remarkable sense of timing, possessing the uncanny ability to deliver both hilarious comedy and riveting drama within the same scene. His character Harvey is layered in mystery in a way that bears far more of a resemblance to the real-life Wiseau than The Room’s Johnny. He’s comfortable in the character, delivering lines with a kind of confidence that often eluded his earlier performance.

Best F(r)iends is a bizarre film. It has more of a streamlined plot than The Room, but there are plenty of non-sequiturs, including an impromptu wake honoring a deceased acquaintance through the consumption of Chinese food. The cast is far smaller than The Room, which makes sense when you consider what anchors the entire story of Tommy Wiseau: his genuine friendship with Greg Sestero.

The relationship between Wiseau and “Sestosterone” has served as a lasting point of intrigue since The Room’s initial release, which certainly makes sense given that it’s also the main plot driver for The Room, The Disaster Artist, and Best F(r)iends. Not since Martin Scorsese teamed up with Robert DeNiro has Hollywood encountered a more important partnership than Wiseau and Sestero. The film serves as a fitting tribute to the power of this friendship, bringing out the best in both of them while delivering plenty of unforgettable moments for the audience to enjoy.

Like its predecessor Best F(r)iends skirts the standard good/bad binary through which we usually judge art. This is not the kind of movie Stanley Kubrick would create, or likely anyone who studied film in a professional setting for longer than half an hour. It is the product of a force that understands a world outside expectation.

The Room is a singular force in American culture. There is a reason Tommy Wiseau possesses such a loyal following, who return to his work time and time again with a passion that most in filmmaking can only dream of. He gives his audience something they cannot find anywhere else: true escapism. When you go to a midnight showing of The Room, you experience a phenomenon you cannot find anywhere else. That sense of individuality is the essence of the American dream.

Best F(r)iends delivered on the only expectation fans could reasonably possess. It offers plenty of unforgettable moments between two actors with genuine affection for each other. As if that wasn’t enough, there’s a whole second volume coming in June. The story of The Room would have lived on in American culture if it had been limited to that one movie. I’m not sure that would have been enough to accurately portray the sheer force of nature that is Tommy Wiseau. Thankfully, both for contemporary society and future historians, there’s plenty of story left to tell.

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Thursday

22

March 2018

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COMMENTS

Through Twitter, J.K. Rowling Exposes Her True Feelings Toward the LGBT Community

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Over the course of its existence, Twitter has consistently given credence to the “you should never meet your heroes” concept. The ability to see what celebrities are up to in their daily lives, can be fascinating, but also frustrating when one sees glimpses of the person’s true character. Sadly, J.K. Rowling has repeatedly demonstrated that she is no friend to the LGBT community.

The latest example of intolerance from the author of the internationally beloved Harry Potter series came in the form of liking a transphobic tweet that referred to transgender women as “men in dresses.” The account in question, currently set to private after the backlash, posted additional transphobic tweets further claiming that transgender women are men. The controversy surrounds protests to LGBT-inclusive policies from the UK’s Labour Party, which has led to swift backlash from British media.

In response, a representative for Rowling told the British publication Metro, “I’m afraid J.K. Rowling had a clumsy and middle-aged moment and this is not the first time she has favourited by holding her phone incorrectly.” The representative is correct to note that this is not the first time Rowling has caused controversy by liking tweets, but what’s rather peculiar is that this isn’t even the first time she’s liked transphobic tweets. Last October, Rowling liked a tweet to an article by a self-proclaimed “vagina feminist” that was highly critical of transgender-inclusive policies in England.

You might be thinking about the old Twitter mantra, “RTs do not equal endorsements.” Likes certainly don’t imply a definitive synchronicity with the views that have been liked. Problem is, this is hardly the first time this year that J.K. Rowling has caused controversy in the LGBT community.

Rowling’s handling of Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore’s sexuality has been a point of scrutiny since she revealed he was gay in 2007, after the final book in the series has been published. A comment from Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindewald director David Yates that said that Dumbledore would “not explicitly” be gay in the upcoming film prompted widespread fan backlash. Kim Renfro of Insider published an excellent piece chronicling the entire scandal, in which yours truly noted that “He can be  gay in Rowling’s public appearances and tweets, but not on screen.”

Rowling could have apologized for the “not explicitly” gay Dumbledore affair, acknowledging that the difference in sexuality between canon Dumbledore and Twitter Dumbledore is a legitimate point of contention. Intentionally or not, it doesn’t look great when a character you never said was gay in the books suddenly isn’t gay again when the time comes to make another appearance in the franchise. One would think that one of the most successful authors on the planet could take a look at that situation and see why people might be unhappy.

Instead, she posted garbage like this

 

 

These two responses are absolutely awful for so many reasons. She may be correct to note that she’s not director of the movie and didn’t give the comment, but that abdicates responsibility in a realm where she wields tremendous power. Dumbledore is her character. If she wants him to be gay in the movies, she can change that with a single tweet. Not only did she not choose to do that, she suggested that fans were “foolish” for believing words that came straight from the actual director’s mouth. Calling that “clickbait” is an insult to actual fake news.

From the “not explicitly” gay Dumbledore debacle to liking transphobic tweets, J.K. Rowling has made one thing clear: she’s not sorry. The explanations for these scandals range from mistakes to naïve misinterpretation, but never from a position where she should express legitimate remorse. If you feel differently, based on a decade of her behavior, apparently that’s on you.

J.K. Rowling is a very active Twitter user. She has frequently made international headlines for comments made on the platform. She knows what she’s doing, which makes it hard to give her the benefit of the doubt when it comes to this nonsense. The words “I’m sorry” are as elusive from her lips as Dumbledore’s homosexuality is from the pages of her books.

One of the best things about Harry Potter is the escapism it offers. Rowling created a wildly vivid world where one can lose themselves in the magic of Hogwarts. Her books reward return trips because there’s so many details that one can uncover with every repeated journey. Unfortunately, there’s all these other details about Rowling’s views on LGBT people that are hard to put aside when one dives back into her work.

If Hogwarts isn’t a place where Dumbledore can express his sexuality, or wizard feminism isn’t intersectional, I don’t want any part in it. That’s the kind of school Voldemort, or Donald Trump, would run. J.K. Rowling has made her stance on LGBT people perfect clear. To borrow a word from one of her tweets, we would be “foolish” not to listen.

 

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Sunday

4

March 2018

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A Fantastic Woman Beautifully Illustrates the Struggle for Human Dignity

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture

As a transgender woman, one of the things about A Fantastic Woman that excited me the most was that it was made in Chile. One of the biggest problems with the state of the conversation surrounding transgender rights in America is that many on the right frame the discussion as if our population existed as a fad solely on college campuses or the West Coast. As I noted ad nauseam in The Transgender Manifesto, transgender people have existed in every culture for quite a long time. A Fantastic Woman illustrates what it is like to have to live in a world where people can not only freely question the very nature of your legitimacy, but also call you a pervert and a freak in the process.

Marina is a proud woman. She has a loving partner and a job, waitressing during the day to support her passion as a singer. There are countless people throughout the film who don’t shun her or shame her for who she is. These details of her life may seem superfluous, but there’s a certain power in their execution, in a world where so many people struggle to accept the existence of trans people, let alone the notion that we might find acceptance and live normal lives.

The film’s narrow scope, which focuses almost entirely on the fallout surrounding the death of her partner Orlando, turns out to be one of its best assets. Grief is a part of life, which is why people instinctively utter the phrase, “I’m sorry for your loss,” even though we know that the words will offer little practical comfort to the recipient. The pain fades with time, aided by a sense of closure that funerals and wakes can provide.

You are not supposed to be barred from saying goodbye to the person you love. The very notion is unfathomable in the abstract, because it’s inhumane on a level that few care to explore. Love may transcend traditional understandings of gender and sexuality, but hate only cares about that which it fears.

Orlando’s family hates Marina. They hate her because she is transgender. She loved him, and several of his relatives demonstrate acute awareness that this love was mutual. Hatred trumps reality. Transgender people know this sensation all too well, and Daniela Vega, in just her second on-screen role, displays all the emotions that follow with acute precision.

A Fantastic Woman is an honest portrayal of the spirit’s struggle to retain basic human dignity in the face of tragedy. It is hard to put into words how difficult it can be to react in real time to the kind of discrimination that transgender people encounter far too often in this world, to have to stare into the eyes of a person who has made it clear that they don’t even value you as a person. It is one of the rare instances where the reality is often worse than a scenario concocted in one’s own imagination.

We’re not supposed to live in a world where people can treat someone like filth because of who they are. Countries pass laws that are supposed to prevent this. A Fantastic Woman is a perfect reminder of how much more progress humanity has to make in the realm of basic decency.

Film has the power to show people experiences beyond what they might find in their own daily lives. One of the most common points I bring up in my own activism is that there are a lot of people who have genuinely never interacted with a transgender person, which can lead the mind to substitute its own interpretation when discussing LGBT rights in a broader sense. The national discussion often omits that we are in fact, real people. We laugh, we love, we grieve. We shouldn’t be forced to surrender the latter because society has a problem with the reality we exist in.

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Saturday

17

February 2018

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Metta World Peace’s Friendship with a Stuffed Owl on Celebrity Big Brother is Exactly What America Needs Right Now

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Celebrity Big Brother has mostly been in the news for the White House gossip shared by former Director of Communications for the Office of Public Liaison/Three-time Apprentice contestant Omarosa Manigault. While backstabbing and drama is certainly a big part of why people enjoy reality television, it hasn’t been the driving force behind the success of the celebrity edition of the long-running CBS series Big Brother. That honor belongs to a man who Entertainment Weekly suggests might be the worst player in the history of the game.

Big Brother has a brutal premise. Being trapped in a house 24/7 with cameras, zero privacy, and next to no contact with the outside is bound to be tough on anyone, but it has been especially hard on former NBA champion Metta World Peace, who hit the panic button early on because he missed his family. He even asked to be sent home first, which was denied even though the housemates agreed to honor Keisha Knight-Pullam’s similar request the following eviction cycle.

Fortunately, Metta found a friend.

As someone who loves stuffed animals, I was naturally endeared to the showmance between Metta and Orwell the Owl, who also serves as the mascot for PopTV, which airs Big Brother After Dark. Stuffed animals can be very comforting in times of need, as Metta has demonstrated time and time again. His candid commentary to the camera regarding his anxiety is an open discussion on mental health that’s often missing from the public conversation. He’s not afraid to express himself, or to admit that he owes a great debt to a stuffed owl.

Orwell quite literally turned his time in the house around, as Metta has vowed revenge on the people who denied him the opportunity to be reunited with his family. All of that will to win came from the bond between man and fluff, the kind of companion who won’t try and backdoor you after winning the Power of Veto. For all the tears and fighting this season, Metta and Orwell serve as a shining example of how true friendship can be born out of isolation and forced proximity.

The bond apparently even extends to bathroom visits, for some reason. I won’t judge. Metta isn’t part of any of the show’s big alliances, but his friendship with Orwell has remained rock solid. America needs this. In a world full of hate, it’s nice to experience some love on a medium such as reality TV, typically devoid of anything resembling genuine human interaction. Metta has given us all hope.

Orwell has become such a threat in the house that fellow contestants Ariadna Gutierrez and Brandi Glanville hid him from Metta to throw off his game. Fortunately for Metta, and for America, evicted housemate Shannon Elizabeth revealed his location under the couch before departing the house.

We can only hope with Orwell at his side, Metta will have all the strength he needs to win the entire competition. The Olympics might still have another week, but America has found its champions. Metta and Orwell may not receive gold medals, but they’ve certainly earned a place in our hearts.

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Sunday

21

January 2018

1

COMMENTS

Transgender Storytime: Electrolysis Woes

Written by , Posted in Blog, Social Issues

Transitioning changes your life in many ways, both on a grand scale as well as the smaller stuff. For transwomen, facial hair represents an obstacle that requires attention on a daily basis. I used to be a big fan of night showers, but the stubble presents a constant roadblock best dealt with in the morning hours. I’ve recently started electrolysis treatments to end this war between follicle and razor once and for all.

Electrolysis is the process of permanent hair removal by electrocuting the base of the hair follicle, destroying it at its root. Essentially tweezing using a cattle prod, or destroying a Death Star by firing a proton torpedo through an exhaust port. Not fun.

The hour-long zapping sessions aren’t really the worst part of the experience either. In order for the process to be successful, there needs to be enough hair growth for the cattle prod to be able to tweeze, a conduit that allows the mother lode to reach its target. Given that my hair growth has slowed due to HRT, I need to abstain from shaving for about four days prior to treatment.

In order to speed up the process since, I’ve been doing two sessions a week, usually on consecutive days. Each session only covers a small area of growth, and most follicles need more than one session before permanent removal is achieved. To sum up, this process is painful, expensive, lengthy, and requires me to be unshaven for most of the week. Oddly enough, that last one has been the worst part of the experience.

The whole “transition” element in this journey can be a bit of a misnomer in the sense that while many of the physical aspects of my body are changing from male attributes to female, it isn’t really this Pokemon-style evolution. I am female and go about day to day to life as such, with breasts that would be difficult to hide, if I ever wanted to. There is no “boy on some days, girl on others,” even when I’m wearing ratty old clothes I owned before this journey started. Since coming out and undergoing HRT, the feelings of gender dysphoria have almost entirely subsided. I can be myself.

Facial hair makes feeling like myself much more difficult. It’s why it gets shaved off in the morning, or zapped with a cattle prod so it can’t come back. Facial hair is not welcome in my life, yet it gets to cohabit my face with the few makeup products I can use that won’t irritate the areas that have already been treated.

To set the image, Ian in a dress with blush, mascara, shadow, eyeliner, and a load of stubble and patchy skin. Charming isn’t it? That’s the new normal for the foreseeable future. I’m only on session six, and we haven’t even gotten to the chin yet. Whole neck area to deal with, plus additional touchups for the areas with surviving follicles.

I’ve never been too concerned with the concept of “passing,” which is one of many reasons I kept my birth name. My life is spent in accordance with my own comfort, not with an arbitrary set of societal guidelines dictating the person I’m supposed to look like. I am an unapologetically proud transgender woman.

And yet, I feel bad being in public with stubble on my face. I hate it. My version of “passing,” or whatever you call it, does not involve facial hair. You get a certain look, however subtle, from Starbucks baristas when you say “Ian” for the order, or bartenders when you hand over your ID. I could change that, by changing my name, but I don’t because that doesn’t bother me. Facial hair does bother me. It has no part in the future I envision for myself, even if it currently plays a larger role in my present that I would like. There will come a day when it doesn’t, and I’m very fortunate to be in a position where I can undergo this expensive treatment.

I want to make the intentions for this article very clear, in case comments pop up accusing me of whining about my situation. This has nothing to do with wanting to vent or complain. I accept that, for the next few months or so, my face will not look the way I like it to look for most of the week.

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck. It does suck. The kind of suck that is in service to a greater good, but is still a kind of suck.

The feedback I tend to receive the most comes from allies who urge me to keep being vocal with these uniquely transgender experiences. There are plenty people out there who genuinely believe that transgender people are a bunch of phonies who live this way to fulfill a fetish or to become internet celebrities. I didn’t write this article for them.

Self-esteem is a lifelong process. Transgender people often face a steep learning curve in that realm, as feeling trapped in the wrong body tends to not be very helpful toward establishing one’s own sense of worth. Transitioning marked the beginning of a journey that sought to correct that error. The act alone cannot be the sole solution.

Temporary facial stubble does not make me depressed. Part of the benefits of undergoing HRT is that it puts your mind in the position of being able to differentiate the shitty parts of life from the catastrophically horrific. Not being able to shave falls under the former category and that’s okay. A girl with visible breasts is allowed to be annoyed that she has to walk around in public with prickly little hairs sticking out of her face. That sucks, and that’s okay.

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Wednesday

10

January 2018

1

COMMENTS

Luke Skywalker Never Changed

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Note: This article contains spoilers for The Last Jedi.

Luke Skywalker is not a great character. He whines all the time, whether it’s at his uncle for making him do chores, his teacher for making him do swamp cardio, or at his father for not being around when he was little. He is almost always the worst person on screen in Star Wars, constantly upstaged by Han, Leia, R2-D2, Vader, Yoda, Chewbacca, Bib Fortuna, and the Jawas. He is by far the lamest major character in the original trilogy, beating runner-up C-3PO by a wide margin.

People are mad about the characterization of Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi, suggesting that his behavior was inconsistent with the earlier films. I don’t think so. Luke was a whiny little boy who grew up to be a crabby old man. What’s inconsistent with that?

Luke is a coward. He waited until everyone else had died before attempting a trench run on the first Death Star. He escaped Hoth through the back door, avoiding all the Star Destroyers that everyone else had to face. He ran away to his daddy instead of attacking the shield generator with Han and the Ewoks. It is no surprise that he refused to leave his Porg island to face Kylo Ren and decided to die rather than help his sister rebuild the Resistance, which had dwindled to a size that could fit comfortably on the Millenium Falcon. When disaster strikes, Luke has never wanted to be around.

The distinctions between Luke’s exile and those of Yoda and Obi-Wan further reveal Master Skywalker’s cowardly nature. The latter two Jedi exited stage left after becoming hopelessly outmatched against Palpatine, serving only as liabilities to those who would offer them sanctuary. Luke got upset after getting caught being paranoid about Kylo Ren and left, though presumably, the New Republic had enough firepower to deal with the budding Snoke situation, especially considering how weak a villain the Supreme Leader turned out to be. Obi-Wan returned to the fight when Leia called for him. Luke shrugged and went looking for nipple milk.

The entire plot of The Force Awakens is driven by a map to Skywalker, a man who doesn’t even want to help. What was the point of that movie? What does it really say about Luke’s character that he would allow people in the Resistance to die to protect a map all because he was too selfish to leave a forwarding address?

There is something to be said for the idea that Luke disconnected from the Force because he thought it had caused nothing but problems. He is essentially correct, though in this case abstinence would hardly be the best prevention as the Sith would still exist to reek havoc. Humanity has a lot of bad apples. We as a collective body keep going. The Force keeps going, even if Luke was too lazy to put in the effort to bring about real change. The Force cannot be bad simply because Luke does not care to be good.

The Last Jedi has its problems. The fuel shortage/slow speed chase plot is incredibly weak. Snoke is pathetic. The casino subplot was boring and unnecessary. None of these complaints have much to do with Luke Skywalker. His part was fine.

Luke had one job in The Last Jedi: to pass the baton. Luke is not the hero of Star Wars anymore. The idea of his character sticking around as a kind of mentor to Rey conflicts with his status in the franchise. As the “chosen one,” he can’t retire, not when Leia, Chewbacca, Nien Numb, and company are still in the fight. He shouldn’t be the center of attention, but it’s hard to successfully marginalize a character with abilities as strong as Luke’s in a narrative. He’d be a major whiny distraction in a franchise with no shortage of interesting new characters, even as the death of Carrie Fisher brings an unfortunate end to Leia’s arc.

Luke had a good send-off. He got to phone in a pretend battle and quietly fade away. Sure there are plenty of old fans who wished Luke could do backflips and hang upside down from ice shackles in a Wampa cave, but those days are over. There will be new adventures with new characters who don’t whine as much and certainly don’t need to go to Tosche Station to pick up power converters.

Star Wars is not about Luke Skywalker. It’s about the various predicaments that prevent C-3PO and R2-D2 from hanging out. Luke stayed consistent from his first appearance on Tatooine to his final pretend battle with Kylo Ren. His arc in The Last Jedi should be celebrated for bringing an end to a character whose immaturity has always been a detriment to the franchise. Yoda’s skepticism was well founded. Finally, we have cut our losses.

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Tuesday

9

January 2018

0

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Call Me By Your Name is an Unapologetic Celebration of Emotion

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture

Call Me By Your Name is a difficult movie to summarize. It’s a love story that is more about the idea of love than actual romance. It’s an LGBT movie set in the early 80s that eschews many of the hardships that gay people still face to this very day. Despite the age difference between the seventeen-year-old protagonist and the graduate student staying with his family at their cozy villa in Italy, the problematic power dynamic between the two never presents itself in a way that today’s current climate might otherwise call for.

In other words, Call Me By Your Name belongs entirely to itself.

Elio is a closed off teenager. He’s brilliant, but he’s a loner who doesn’t look entirely comfortable in that role. Books, piano, and a stable girlfriend are not enough. Something isn’t quite right.

Oliver is living the dream. A graduate student spending his summer holiday working with a professor in a quiet Italian town where everyone travels by bicycle and dances to the Psychedelic Furs at night, he’s got no complaints. Everything is quite right.

Summer love possesses a peculiar power to intensify emotions and make each day seem like an eternity on the brink of collapse. A time of the year where one can seize each moment because there is nothing standing in the way, except time. There’s a reason people hate September. It brings an end to the world where one can stay up all night and sleep all day, forcing one to reconcile with the loss of that magic, stripped with no regard for the relationships it brings crashing to a halt.

Call Me By Your Name takes all the emotions of summer love, and tosses in both first love and forbidden love, where its time period makes its biggest impact. The movie builds up this pressure cooker of emotions, giving its audience a first-hand glimpse as to what it really means to feel for the first time. The particulars are not as important as one might think. It doesn’t matter if summer love or first love may not be “real love” in the sense that love of that sort doesn’t come with a happily ever after ending, unless it’s guided into a fresh peach. Summer love is still a powerful emotion and deserves to be experienced as such.

There’s one scene in the film where the characters discuss the nature of being closeted that particularly resonated with me as a transgender woman. When you hide who you really are from the world, it takes a natural, if not always visible, toll on your relationships. You can’t fully love someone unless you love yourself. Call Me By Your Name fully stakes out this territory as its own. Love is messy. Best to enjoy it with a strong helping of Sufjan Stevens, whose music is absolutely perfect for the film.

This Oscar season has more than a few legitimate contenders for Best Picture. The Shape of Water, Ladybird, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri are all deserving films which will make it challenging for Call Me By Your Name to win the top prize. As someone who’s still annoyed that Brokeback Mountain was denied its rightful win over the far inferior Crash, I’d especially like to see a truly great LGBT romance recognized as the masterful piece of art that it is. Regardless, the movie is a triumph for being unafraid to feel. Emotion isn’t always great and it isn’t always rational, but it’s better to allow yourself to experience it rather than to fight a losing battle of repression. History is full of people who lived their full lives hiding from who they are. Call Me By Your Name often shows the messy side of authenticity, reminding us that there’s beauty in joy as well as tears. Love wins.

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Thursday

28

December 2017

0

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The Shape of Water is a Profoundly Human Masterpiece

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Guillermo del Toro is a singular filmmaker in the industry. His delicate approach transcends the conventional patterns for the science fiction/horror genres, giving movies like Hellboy & Pacific Rim a much stronger emotional resonance than an audience might expect from their blockbuster aspirations. Other films such as Pan’s Labyrinth & Crimson Peak offer narrative complexities with all of the visual wonders you might expect out of an installment of the Transformers. The Shape of Water is a carefully crafted spectacular that should finally deliver some long overdue awards show recognition for one of the most innovative directors currently making movies.

Set against the backdrop of the Cold War and all the anxiety it brought to the nation, The Shape of Water takes place in a Baltimore research facility in the 1960s. Sally Hawkins’ Elisa is a mute woman who works alongside Octavia Spencer’s Zelda as a night-shift janitor, whose fairly routine life is disrupted as she begins to form a bond with a humanoid fish creature, initially known as the “Asset,” who’s brought to the lab after being captured by a team led by Michael Shannon’s Colonel Strickland, a man who embodies the worst prejudices of his era.

The heightened anxieties of the era are largely absent from Elisa’s life. She has a close bond with Zelda, along with Richard Jenkins’ Giles, finding warmth in less than perfect circumstances. She takes pleasure in listening to music, dancing, or even simple conversation while many live in fear of nuclear annihilation. I’m not sure if del Toro meant that as a commentary on the present era, but there’s a certain sense of optimism conveyed in the way Elisa goes about her life, smiling when many might see nothing but dread.

Despite the presence of a magic humanoid fish creature at the heart of the narrative, The Shape of Water is a deeply human film. Hawkins, Shannon, and Richard Jenkins portray fundamentally broken characters searching for the missing pieces in their lives. Hawkins expertly conveys her character Elisa’s emotions through sign language, working off of Jenkins, Spencer, and the “Asset” in a way that never feels as though a barrier exists between the characters. It is through this simple act of conversation, even at times without words, that The Shape of Water truly stands out.

For all the visual wonder that we’ve grown to expect from del Toro’s work, the performances allow the film to exist on an intimate level with its audience. This may be both a period piece and a science fiction film, but it makes its strongest investment in its characters. Jenkins’ Giles is a lonely closeted artist struggling to have his work noticed. Shannon’s Strickland is a scorned officer, who blindly shields his vulnerability with anger and abuse. Doug Jones’ performance as the “Asset” makes him out to be both intelligent and at the same time, a wild beast. These are fully fleshed out characters. Films often struggle to juggle both their casts and their narratives, but The Shape of Water allows its immensely talented cast to shine at every moment, even when Spencer’s Zelda is simply rambling about her family while she and Elisa mop the floor.

At its core, The Shape of Water is a film about being seen as a person without any asterisks. Elisa is mute, Giles is gay, Zelda is a person of color, and the “Asset” is a magical fish creature. These are details about these people, not singular traits that define their entire existence. We live in a world that often forgets to see people as people, or simply chooses not to. The film triumphs most when it flips this scenario, presenting characters who live and love without considering all the factors that set them apart.

Guillermo del Toro has always been an expert at crafting the world he wants his audience to exist in for the duration of his films. He ups the ante with The Shape of Water, a film that not only wows the viewer, but forces one to think about the way we view each other in a nation where diversity is often weaponized as a political tool. It is certainly his best English language script and may very well be his finest film. As a director who’s primarily worked in the sci-fi/horror genres which are rarely acknowledged in the major awards categories, del Toro has hardly gotten his due as a master filmmaker. Hopefully, that changes this year, but regardless,  The Shape of Water is one of the year’s best and well worth the price of admission.

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A Look at the State of the DCEU

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The DC Extended Universe is a mess. Four of the five films released have been critical bombs, and the relatively disappointing box office gross for the Justice League suggests that fans are beginning to sour on the idea of paying exorbitant ticket prices for a subpar product. While the dark and gloomy tones of the Snyder directed efforts seem to match the general mood toward this disaster of a franchise, there is plenty of reason for optimism. Believe it or not, things are not as dour as the tone of these movies might suggest.

This franchise can be fixed with two simple changes. Warner Bros. needs to send Ben Affleck away and cease all future collaborations with Zack Snyder. This should have been done last year after the utter disaster that was Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, yet for some reason, both appear to still be involved with the franchise. Affleck is set to reprise his role as the Caped Crusader in the upcoming Flash movie, possibly for the final time, even though he’s given up directing the solo Batman film and likely won’t even appear in it.

Ben Affleck has the rare superhuman ability to communicate his unhappiness for playing Batman wherever he goes. Rumors surrounding his departure from the role have generated substantially more publicity for the franchise than any positive feedback for his performance, though to be fair, there’s been very little praise for the somber crusader. Sadness is not a trait we tend to expect from actors playing superheroes. Playing Batman makes him sad. It appears to make the audience sad too. Life is too short to be sad during a Batman movie.

Recasting Batman mid-franchise is not as daunting as it seems. It has been done before. Batman Forever and Batman & Robin may have been terrible, but as good as Michael Keaton was in the Tim Burton films, Val Kilmer & George Clooney are hardly to blame for the failure of their movies. Mark Ruffalo replaced Edward Norton in the MCU without ruining The Avengers. Prior to Pierce Brosnan’s casting as James Bond, each changing of the guard occurred two years after the previous movie’s release. The notion of recasting roles like Wolverine and Iron Man is complicated by the fact that both characters rose in popularity in tandem with the actors who played them.

The solution is simple. Insert a new Batman before the new Flash movie, preferably without a mustache that needs to be removed via CGI, and carry on with the movie. It isn’t inconsistent to have a new Batman. It would be better because presumably, this Batman would enjoy playing Batman. The DCEU would be wise to rip the gross moldy band-aid that is Ben Affleck off its franchise as soon as possible. No one will miss him.

Zack Snyder constructed the DCEU as a solemn place without joy. Superhero movies don’t need to all be as funny as Guardians of the Galaxy or Thor: Ragnarok, but Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman were dark for the sake of being dark, unlike the Burton incarnations which offered a picturesque world where the aesthetics fit in line with the template offered by Batman writers such as Alan Moore and Frank Miller. I say that as someone who loved Snyder’s take on Moore’s Watchmen, though more for the stellar casting that the adaptations’ faithfulness to its source material, which was likely too tall an order for a single movie. I don’t wish to rag on Snyder, whose family has endured an unimaginable tragedy, but his style of filmmaking was not particularly conducive to world building for a major franchise.

We live in a world where superhero movies no longer solely serve their own interests. There’s always the next movie to start building toward, leaving the conclusion incomplete often at the expense of the narrative that the audience paid to watch. Wonder Woman’s largely self-contained story demonstrated the power that these films can have if they focus their attention on being movies. Being entertaining is often the best way to build excitement for future incarnations. Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad spent far too much time spinning their wheels in the introductory phase that they forgot to deliver actual entertainment.

Despite its incoherence, Justice League had a few things going for it. Gal Gadot continued being the best thing that ever happened to the DCEU and Ezra Miller, Jason Mamoa, and Ray Fisher were all delightful to watch, even if the latter’s backstory was rather half-baked. The idea that Batman and Superman are the two weakest links on the team is actually good news. They can be fixed without missing a beat, as the audience is already familiar with them. Fortunately, the man of steel’s problems are much more narrowly confined to matters of digitally removed facial hair. Henry Cavill is actually a pretty decent Superman. If he’s a little stiff, well, that’s kind of the problem with a character that powerful.

The DCEU is off to a rough start, but the franchise has enough things going for it to right the ship. It does have more than a few compelling characters. A massive connected universe can be a fun asset, but the MCU never succeeds based on the ability of one of its films to relate to another. People don’t sit and watch Captain America: Winter Soldier wondering how the film set up Marvel’s Runaways. The Arrowverse has managed to navigate this web quite well, offering team-ups and crossovers that don’t require a person to sit and watch all four series each week. For some reason, the DCEU looked at that template, and decided to plot an alternative course. 

One of the best things that the Arrowverse has going for it is that its cast genuinely seems to like being there. Talent like Stephen Amell, Grant Gustin, and Melissa Benoist speak with enthusiasm about their work in a way that never forces one to question how much they enjoy this line of work. Sad Ben Affleck could use some pointers on that front, though after failing to play compelling superheroes twice now, maybe he should just hang up the tights. No part of this massively connected franchise will miss him.

 

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