Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

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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

COMMENTS

Call Me By Your Name is an Unapologetic Celebration of Emotion

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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

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COMMENTS

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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Thursday

21

December 2017

0

COMMENTS

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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Monday

18

December 2017

1

COMMENTS

The Last Jedi Offers Aimless Entertainment

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Note: This review does not contain spoilers 

There’s one line in the film, “Let the past die,” that defines The Last Jedi’s internal struggle. One could look at that as a fairly ironic utterance considering The Force Awakens was essentially a remake of A New Hope and that Disney’s Star Wars seems quite poised to never die, but there is a sense of truth in this character’s statement. As the franchise tries to figure out its identity in a post-George Lucas world, Star Wars may look to its roots for narrative inspiration, but it isn’t quite sure what course to plot for its characters.

The Last Jedi does not have much of a plot. Without diving into too much detail, the main conflict between The Resistance and The First Order bears more resemblance to O.J. Simpson’s slow-speed car chase than the asteroid field that Han & friends had to navigate through in Empire Strikes Back. Rey’s visit to Luke’s island Dagobah fairs much better, but there’s still lingering questions as to what exactly happened to the world post-Yub Nub that is never really answered.

I initially faced pushback for being critical of The Force Awakens’ lack of plot explanation from people who suggested that the film already bore the unenviable task of “resetting” the franchise after the prequels, and couldn’t be bogged down with too much exposition. Supreme Leader Snoke can be added to the list of things that are literally never explained. The audience is never once told who this man is or how he came into power, and yet the film goes on as if viewers should be expected to fear a villain who serves as little more than a cardboard cutout version of Emperor Palpatine.

Darth Vader is one of the most menacing villains in cinematic history. While Emperor Palpatine’s Machiavellian mechanics were largely saved for the prequels, Return of the Jedi Palpatine had the luxury of existing in a Star Wars world where the Empire was the only “big bad” in town. The Last Jedi is the eighth movie in the main series and yet it doesn’t really have a single compelling villain. Kylo Ren is neither scary nor convincingly evil, Captain Phasma is the most useless character in the new trilogy, and Snoke is barely anything at all.

Part of the problem is that The Last Jedi has a lot of characters, but it never really seems all that concerned about doing anything with any of them. Original trilogy characters are used as little more than window dressings, which I’d be more okay with if this new trilogy had big plans for its new leads. Director Rian Johnson has commented publicly on how this is Rey’s hero story, not Luke’s, but this trilogy has never really been able to answer the question of what this story is supposed to be. The basic questions that some people don’t think need to be answered in The Force Awakens carry a lot more weight if this next film is the conclusion of this newer story. It seems very possible that this new incarnation of Star Wars could end before the audience was ever given a reason to care. We live in a world where big franchises are always playing for the next movie. The Last Jedi forgets to live in the present.

Audience members may identify more with the suave Han Solo or the powerful Leia Organa more than the whiny kid from Tatooine, but the original Star Wars trilogy belongs to Luke Skywalker. This new trilogy does not make Rey the focal point in quite the same way, but its reluctance to commit to its new heroes forces one to question how old icons like Luke and Leia were deployed to serve the film’s purpose. Carrie Fisher delivers an emotionally satisfying send-off in her final role, but Luke’s place in all of this is still treated in a fashion that “it’s not his story” never really satisfies. Some people waited thirty years to see this character on a screen again. Rian Johnson tosses this notion aside without fully considering how fans might react in the absence of an alternative nucleus.

As someone who grew up a Star Wars fanatic, who bought a Sega 32X just to play Star Wars Arcade and wrote poetry about Chewbacca not getting a medal after the Battle of Yavin, I’m increasingly okay with the fact that this Disney version of Star Wars isn’t ever going to be the thing fans spent decades speculating about. Rogue One served as the benchmark for how to enjoy a movie in a franchise I used to obsess about. I won’t be buying the expanded universe novels, or eulogizing them should Disney ever decide to retcon them again. These are movies. Sometimes, that’s enough.

Despite this fairly harsh assessment, I did enjoy The Last Jedi. I had fun sitting in a movie theatre for two and a half hours while some explosions happened and some people did some things. When Solo: A Star Wars Movie comes out, I’ll go and see it. I’ll write my review, if only to reflect on the time in my life when this franchise meant something to me. I’m not the person who needed every single incarnation of Han Solo action figure and Star Wars isn’t the franchise that spurs debate over the ethics of blowing up the second Death Star. The person in me who still puts Boba Fett in my mother’s terrarium can still enjoy the franchise that still has a place for R2-D2. I like that there are new Star Wars movies being told, even if I’ll spend my review point out the very legitimate issues. As C-3PO might say, wonderful!

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Sunday

10

December 2017

3

COMMENTS

A Transgender Perspective on Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

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Rudolph with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?

The seminal question posed to popular culture’s most diverse reindeer by a revered holiday hero. The 1964 Christmas special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer offers a chilling account of the kind of bullying and harassment that was tolerated at the North Pole under the leadership of Mr. Claus and his wife, Mrs. Claus. This broadcast is replayed each year around Christmastime to remind children of the reindeer who was needed to guide a sleigh that could fly in the air, but apparently could not be fitted with high beams at the dealership.

I can’t feel excited when I see this special advertised, because we as a society should not be comfortable with the message Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer sends to children, that if you bully someone, they should still be counted on to save Christmas later. This special is a broadcast lacking in basic moral decency, which is hardly rectified by the regret expressed by Santa and various other citizens of the North Pole. Particularly troubling is the presence of Comet, the children’s coach and member of Santa’s sleigh crew, who bullied Rudolph from a position of power and refused to allow him to participate in any reindeer games at all. Given that Ruldoph’s own father Donner, another member of Santa’s team, rejected him as well, there is a very concerning culture of abuse that’s allowed to flourish at the North Pole.

It’s not as if Rudolph was the only person bullied. Hermey was ridiculed for resisting the pressure to put his true desires aside so that his labor value could be milked from his hands to prop up the capitalist regime of Santa workshop, where the proletariat elves serve merely as tools of the commercial industrial complex. There was a whole island dedicated to toys who were banished for the crime of not fitting into the cookie cutter version of idealistic materialism propagated by Santa Claus and his far-right lobbyists, who see children’s desires only in dollar figures. In Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the North Pole only serves to provide a Christmas of Ayn Rand’s wildest fantasy. There is no place for people like Rudolph and Hermey on that December 25th.

When the wheels of capitalism failed and Mother Nature struck back against Santa and his corporate cronies, why would Rudolph care to save an industry that offered no seat for him at its table? Why use his diversity to help those who rejected him for that which would give him his strength? Why save a Christmas that looked at him and offered nothing but coal? Bigots like Santa use children as a shield to justify their horrific behavior, putting Rudolph in the untenable position where he could choose between helping those who called him a freak and embodying the image of the monster they projected onto his identity. Instead, Mr. Claus should have seen the errors in his regime, and resigned from his position.

As a transgender woman, I know how it feels to have society view you as a pariah. Sometimes people who put you down want something later on in life. You know what I say to those people?

No.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a children’s special that fails to offer consequences for unacceptable behavior. Children are supposed to be taught that it is never okay to bully someone for being different. Rudolph demonstrated that it was okay for adults to discriminate when it comes to matters of reindeer games. That is never okay.

A proper ending would have been for Christmas to be cancelled and for a special counsel to appointed to investigate how the Island of Misfit Toys came to exist under Santa’s leadership. Instead, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer lets people in power off the hook with a few measly apologies. It is a morally bankrupt broadcast that places the value of presents above basic decency. The Year of the Groper has shined a light on unsavory aspects of our culture that have been allowed to prosper for far too long. This Christmas, it’s time to keep the sleigh grounded. Rudolph’s talents are best deployed elsewhere, for people who don’t need the fear of losing presents to see the humanity in diversity. No sleighs should be guided for people whose actions have certainly earned them a place on the naughty list.

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Monday

20

November 2017

0

COMMENTS

Good Riddance, Transparent

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Criticizing Transparent has always been weird for me as a transgender woman, knowing that the very existence of the show was a step in the right direction for a marginalized and underrepresented community. The show has served as a great source of employment for the transgender community. The recent sexual misconduct allegations made against Jeffrey Tambor by two of the show’s transgender staff, which lead to his departure from the series, is upsetting for many reasons. The fact that Transparent is likely finished as a series is not one of them.

Transparent is not a show about transgender people. There is a transgender character in the lead role, played by the decidedly non-transgender Tambor, but the show is mostly about Maura’s angst riddled family, the upperclass Pfeffermans from Los Angeles. Stylistically, the show has strong roots with the mumblecore genre, seen in Girls, Togetherness, and Looking,  complete with the presence of mumblecore legend Jay Duplass (also non-transgender) in the main cast. For those unfamiliar with the mumblecore movement, it is a genre defined by seemingly aimless narratives and characters who are often derided as “adult children,” usually quite accurately.

Transparent was always about that, the melancholy trials and tribulations of being wealthy and sad in 21st Century America. As a fan of mumblecore, I’ve always been apprehensive about disliking the show for being a part of that movement, but the experiences that mumblecore often depicts are far removed from the issues that affect transgender people in every day life. Transgender people face immense discrimination at work, which is fundamentally linked to our ability to afford medical treatments as simple as HRT, where the difference between $10 prescription and one costing $300 is mostly a matter of employment (due to our healthcare system), at a time when elected politicians fight to allow companies the ability to fire us at will. It would have been nice if Transparent could have focused more on those issues and less on all the orchestra of whining done by the adult Pfefferman children. The show hasn’t been cancelled yet, but it wouldn’t lose much of a beat if it kept going. The lack of a transgender lead hardly changes the show, which has been its problem all along.

The mumblecore comparisons do help in one key regard. Transparent represents the transgender community about as well as Girls accurately depicts Brooklyn millennials. To be fair, It is hard to say what kind of television show could ever represent such a diverse group as the transgender community, but a whiny affluent family from Los Angeles does not immediately come to mind as the model I would use. HBO’s Looking serves a great contrast as a mumblecore style show that depicted San Francisco’s gay community. It wasn’t necessarily a show strictly about being gay, but its use of a predominantly gay cast & crew gave the aura of authenticity that eluded Transparent. Being trans was never firmly rooted in Transparent’s zeitgeist. How could it have been?

In The Transgender Manifesto, I make the fairly simple observation that transgender people are fully capable of playing any character, cisgender or otherwise. Fictional narratives rarely dive into the subject of transgender identity, and the presence of a transgender character does not require one to do so. We are in fact, people. Representation in film and television is still to this day a huge issue for people who are not white and male. The idea of a black Othello was once seen as an outrage, despite the character’s own background. We’ve come a long way since then, but we couldn’t have a transgender lead in a show that traded off transgender people to diversify itself in a crowded field.

And yet, we had Transparent, the transgender show that wasn’t about transgender people. Yes, it increased our visibility (what that actually means, I’m not quite sure) and it certainly employed transgender people. I guess that counts for something. It is a poor depiction of transgender life. It didn’t need to be. The transgender community deserves better.

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Tuesday

14

November 2017

0

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Remembering Chuck Mosley

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The news that Chuck Mosley, the original singer of Faith No More, had passed away last week is sad on many levels. As an artist, Chuck changed the landscape of rock music with the albums We Care a Lot and Introduce Yourself, blending rap and hard rock, starting a movement that defined much of the 90s. But Chuck the legend wasn’t really the Chuck that I knew.

I was fortunate to have a chance to meet Chuck this past August, when his band came through Los Angeles, as his longtime percussionist/manager Doug Esper and I are both signed to the same publisher. It was through Doug’s frequent Facebook posts documenting their touring adventures that I got a sense of Chuck, the person. Knowing that the world lost that Chuck is what’s truly heartbreaking about this news.

Chuck treated me like an old friend from the moment I walked up to him outside the Viper Room, immediately including my friend and me in a conversation about some music he’d recorded earlier that day as if he’d known us for twenty years. He was extremely kind and gracious whenever fans came up for a picture or an autograph. After learning of his affection for silver sharpies from his band, I gave him the one I’d brought so he could sign my vinyl sleeve of We Care a Lot, prompting Chuck to insist I take the pen he’d been using in exchange. It seems like a silly story, but that kind of genuine warmth can be pretty hard to come by in this world.

When Chuck took the stage at The Viper Room, he proclaimed to the audience that he was so nervous he had to do a couple shots to calm his nerves. That kind of openness and vulnerability is rare, especially to see from someone in front of a crowd. With Chuck, what you saw was what you got. His nerves certainly didn’t stop him from putting on one hell of a show.

You could tell Chuck was one of the good ones by the way his band spoke of him, full of affection for his various quirks and warm personality. I’ve seen countless stories on social media over the past few days of people with similar stories of Chuck’s kindness and heart. He shared a friendship with Doug in particular that transcended bandmates or business partners. They cared about each other. Perhaps that notion was so apparent because we think of show business as such a cutthroat industry.

Chuck never tried to hide his struggles or the demons he battled throughout his life. The statement put out by his family, “After a long period of sobriety, Charles Henry Mosley III lost his life, on November 9th, 2017, due to the disease of addiction. We’re sharing the manner in which he passed, in the hopes that it might serve as a warning or wake-up call or beacon to anyone else struggling to fight for sobriety” further demonstrates his giving spirit, the kind of openness that is inspiring through its unrelenting grounding in reality.

I’ll never forget Chuck, and not because of his unforgettable sound. He lived a hard life, but remained a genuinely good person right until the end. My heart goes out to his family and friends, who have lost such a kind soul. I’m grateful I had the chance to get to know him, if only for a single evening. Chuck touched a lot of people through his music, but also through his grace as a person. Thanks for caring Chuck. We care a lot too.

Donations for Chuck’s memorial service and funeral expenses can be made here.

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September 2017

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Often Casting Logic Aside, Season Seven of Game of Thrones Succeeds at Being Good Television

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones

I recycled the title for my season six review, only opting to change a single word, because of one thought that constantly entered my head throughout this season. This is a television show. It is a special kind of television show since it has the ability to captivate the internet even when it isn’t airing new episodes, but it is still a television show. It is an adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s masterpiece, not a word for word recreation of it.

There are limits to what plotlines the show can adapt from the books. Season seven showed us that there also limits to what plotlines the show can adapt from the show. My preview article spent a lot of time talking about pacing. Seven episodes is either a lot of time or barely any at all, depending on what the show wanted to do with it. Turns out, the show wanted to do quite a lot, toward the end.

It is tempting to think that the long awaited meeting of the three most important power players in Westeros (Daenerys, Cersei, and Jon) would inevitably fall flat. It might even be true that we waited too long for this stuff to happen to have any kind of truly satisfying payoff, but the payoff was never really the problem. Those scenes were fun to watch.

As entertaining television, season seven usually succeeded. The battles crammed in at the end of many of the episodes seemed a bit rushed, but they were entertaining to watch. The trouble is that the external logic just wasn’t there most of the time.

Game of Thrones loves its big moments. Last season’s final shot of Dany’s armada heading to Westeros and this season’s view of the Wall crumbling under the heat of an ice zombie dragon are very memorable images. They look great as parting reminders of what this show can craft as each season draws to a close.

The show isn’t as great with the moments leading up to those memorable scenes. For the Wall to crumble, something had to happen to bring down a millennia-old structure. For Dany and Jon to head down to the dragon’s den of King’s Landing, there had to be a reason that neither reeked of Red Wedding Part Deux, nor crippled Cersei as a major character before the final season. That’s a tough tightrope to walk.

There are consequences for big moments. Dany’s massive fleet looked great, but season seven then had to explain why she wasn’t using her army that completely dwarves the size of everyone else’s to take King’s Landing in about five seconds. That beautiful shot of the Wall crumbling required a very silly plan to give the Night King control of a dragon.

These problems are distinctly related to the limitations of TV as a medium. While we don’t know the trajectory of the final six episodes, it is very likely that the Wall did not necessarily have to come down in the season finale and that it should have come down later. We, as viewers, are conditioned to expect big moments during season finales. The show went for the moment that people will talk about for the next year or so until season eight. Time will tell if that was a smart move.

This season revolved around Jon & Dany more than past seasons, which makes sense given that they are the two most important characters in both the books and the show. The show was smart to cut its losses on boring subplots like Dorne, allowing more time for the main players. The trouble is that Emilia Clarke and Kit Harrington have really bad on screen chemistry, a problem once again magnified by the shorter season.

Some fans have literally waited twenty years to see Dany land in Westeros. Once she finally did land, she basically spent the season hanging around Dragonstone with a moody Jon, instead of doing all the fun things we’ve fantasized about her doing, like conquering Westeros and killing Cersei. While I didn’t expect Dany to sit on the Iron Throne by season’s end, I didn’t think she’d do nothing but sit around either, save for two quick battles on Drogon’s back.

This show occupies a strange place in the entertainment world. It is an adaptation of a series that surpassed its source material in the middle of its run. Imagine how Harry Potter fans would feel if the movies finished before the release of The Deathly Hallows. Game of Thrones is inevitably going to be different from the books, but we don’t know how much. This can make the questionable logic decisions that much more frustrating.

Jon’s story is almost beyond intelligent analysis at this point. No one outside of the Wall knows how he was allowed to leave the Night’s Watch, which no one had ever successfully done up to that point. No one seems to care. Dany is the only person who seems remotely interested in the fact that he once died. The Northern army is beyond spent and yet Cersei treats it on equal footing with her forces and Dany’s.

We know why. Jon is a very, very important character. It makes sense that the show wants him on equal footing with the top players. What does not make sense is how the show decided to put him there. It is unbelievably stupid. I’d say I’m not 100% committed to covering any plot related to him next season if this nonsense continues, but I love Davos too much to do that.

Winterfell made for a needlessly complicated subplot. We don’t really know why Arya and Sansa had to fight, or what Littlefinger was doing all season. Now he’s dead and they’re not fighting. Oh well. Guess they had to do something.

I imagine that the showrunners aren’t huge fans of Bran as a character. He’s a dangerous character to have in a narrative given that he could solve a lot of problems with a few simple words. He doesn’t, and the show doesn’t really explain why because I don’t think it has a reason. Bran ex machina is the show’s biggest issue, which also explains why it shelved him for all of season five. The show can fill in the blanks for the book’s unfinished plotlines in most instances, but it struggles with Bran, a creation that reflects a lot of GRRM’s earlier work.

King’s Landing gets mostly passing marks despite the lack of interesting plotlines. Cersei really couldn’t do all that much that wouldn’t involve her losing to Dany. Lena Headley is always compelling to watch on screen and she made the most of her material. Cersei’s relationship to Jaime is in many ways the most interesting on the show. I can’t imagine what she’ll be like next season without him.

Season seven had a couple unexpected breakout characters, even if Dickon Tarly failed to become the next Lyanna Mormont. Beric Dondarrion worked extremely well as a foil for both Jon and The Hound, offering a much more compelling arc for the character than his book counterpart. Gendry’s return was a treat, even if the audience had to stomach the idea that he could become an Olympic runner through the North despite having never seen snow before. Euron may not have had many scenes, but he captivated every single one, offering the show an additional compelling villain besides Cersei and the Night King. Theon/Reek may have outlasted his usefulness as a character, but his uncle is certainly fun to watch.

Penultimate seasons carry heavy burdens to set the stage for the final chapter. Despite its flaws, season seven accomplished this objective quite well. It made for compelling television each and every week. We scrutinize shows like Game of Thrones because we love them. Some of us just wish we could love them without having to wonder how Sam cured a seemingly incurable disease with a knife and some Lubriderm. Oh well. Can’t have everything.

Season Grade: B+

Character Grades:

Daenerys: B

Tyrion: B-

Cersei: B+

Jaime: A-

Euron: A

Qyburn: A

Jon: D

Ghost: F

Davos: A

Melisandre: D

Littlefinger: B-

Sansa: A-

Arya: C

Bran: F

Meera Reed: B-

Winterfell Maester: D

Winterfell Guards: F

Lyanna Mormont: A

Jorah Mormont: F

Sweetrobin: A

Knights of the Vale: A

Night King: A-

The Wall: D-

Coldhands/Benjen: F

Sam: F

Gilly: A

Tormund: A

Brienne: A

The Hound: A

Ice Zombie Hit By The Hound’s Rock: F

Gendry: A-

Raven that flew to Dragonstone: A+

Drogon: A

Rhaegal: A-

Viserion: B-

Beric Dondarrion: A

Thoros of Myr: A

Dickon Tarly: C-

Grey Worm: D

Missandei: D

Reek: F

Yara: F

Everyone from Dorne: F

Olenna Tyrell: C+

Stannis Baratheon: A

Bronn: A

Daario Naharis: F

Varys: C-

 

 

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August 2017

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Game of Thrones Season 7 Recap: Episode 7

Written by , Posted in Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, Pop Culture

Of the Seven Kingdoms in Westeros, four have unclear leadership. We don’t really know who controls The Stormlands, the Reach, Dorne, and the Riverlands. We’re not even really sure who controls the Westerlands, given that the Unsullied took Casterly Rock and it isn’t quite clear whether Jaime or Cersei sit at the head of House Lannister (Cersei as Queen technically would not, if you go by how the Baratheons handled Storm’s End, but Jaime riding off on his own suggests he’s not really head either). While Littlefinger and knights of the Vale were prominent figures this season, we haven’t seen Lord Sweetrobin on screen since season five.

I mention this because Cersei’s sole condition for agreeing to the truce was that Jon needed to stay neutral in her fight against Dany once the ice zombies are all dead. This, coupled with the hiring of the Golden Company and their 20,000 men (plus elephants), signals that Cersei is pretty worried about the size of her army. The problem is that the North has been in continuous conflict since season one. Their army is spent. Cersei should not be worried about Jon. He really isn’t that important in any context other than the one where he’s a main character. A much better strategy would be to try and placate the Vale, something that Cersei already once did successfully during the War of the Five Kings and then to try and recruit former Tyrell/Martell/Tully/Baratheon bannermen in the regions. If there’s a million people in King’s Landing alone, there must be more troops. We’ve neither seen nor heard any conflicting evidence that would suggest these armies are gone.

We saw a similar lapse in judgment on Dany/Jon’s side of the equation. We had no reason to believe that they thought Euron didn’t actually abandon Cersei. That wouldn’t even really be that important, as long as his fleet wasn’t actually in King’s Landing. Jon and Dany sat around the dragon pit worrying about their failed plan without really ever considering attacking their very vulnerable opponent.

This episode’s meeting wasn’t about logic. It was the single largest gathering of major players since Robert Baratheon and his attaché marched north to recruit Ned to become Hand in the first episode of the series. The show knew the gravity of this moment, giving it half the episode.

The idea of expectations for such a meeting is fundamentally problematic. We weren’t going to get some Red Wedding style twist, not with six episodes left in the series. Instead, we got a bunch of reunions. Tyrion/Cersei, Tyrion/Bronn/Podrick, Brienne/Jaime, Hound/Brienne, Hound/Mountain, Euron/Reek, and Varys/all the people he screwed. That was essentially the only way that scene could deliver. There was no realistic way to live up to all the years of hype.

It hit its mark. It was fun television. The unveiling of the wight was a little over the top theatrical, with the Hound carrying it in on his back and Jon/Davos performing some kind of fire trick like magicians at a children’s birthday party. The plan worked and that felt kind of odd because the plan was stupid, but that was never the point.

This season’s biggest fault is that it has focuses way too much on where it wants to go and not enough time on how to get there. The Night King needed a dragon to melt the wall. The showrunners needed to get all the major players to King’s Landing for a meeting. So that moronic plan was hatched. And yet I can’t deny I was enjoying myself, sitting there watching a television show. We don’t want that to be enough since this is the kind of show where people log onto the internet after each episode to share their thoughts. Sometimes, it is enough.

The resolution of the Littlefinger plotline functioned in very much the same way. The master planner is dead because of a half baked scheme to plot sister against sister mostly hinging on an old letter that Sansa clearly wrote under duress. This doesn’t make much sense, but Littlefinger had outstayed his welcome on the show. So he died. For some reason.

Bran ex machine is tricky. The show could have done a better job of explaining how Bran knows absolutely everything, selectively. Sam bringing up the annulment right there during the R + L = J reveal was way too convenient. Bran is a problematic character in general, but the show isn’t even trying to explain how he chooses to dump his omniscient thoughts onto the characters. It forces the viewer to do the show’s work for it, taking joy in Littlefinger’s death without wondering how exactly that “trial” came to be set up.

This episode loved keeping its characters in the dark in favor of a dramatic reveal for the audience. It was fun to watch Jon tell Cersei he had pledged to Dany much to the surprise of his advisors. Euron’s dramatic exit was great, even though Cersei didn’t tell Jaime or seemingly any other advisor that he hadn’t actually abandoned them. Bran telling Ser Piggy about Jon was fun even though it makes no sense that he hasn’t told his sisters, or Jon himself. These are fun moments, if you don’t stop to think about them.

Reek continues to be the worst part of this show. He didn’t mention freeing Yara to anyone in King’s Landing, waiting until they were back on Dragonstone before whining to Jon. There’s been a Reek redemption cycle for a few seasons now. The whole forgiveness thing for his Stark betrayal was supposed to be settled when he resucued Sansa. Apparently not. It’s boring. He’s horrible. Please kill him.

I feel obliged to mention the Jon/Dany romance. I actually kind of forgot about it. It’s pretty forgettable. Putting the incest aside, the two have horrible chemistry. I’m sure this is partially due to the fact that Khal Drogo/Ygritte/Daario all played the pursuing role in their courtship of these two, but it also just seems rushed and inevitable.

Where is Gendry? Did he collapse from his marathon sprint back to the Wall? Or did the others make him row back from Eastwatch?

The Wall crumbles. I guess that capturing that wight was worth it… I hope Beric and Tormund survived. I imagine they did. Looks like show is going to deal with the ice zombies before the game of thrones is fully settled. Or maybe they’ll wrap up at same time.

Overall this was a good episode despite its shortcomings. It had to set the table for season seven. It accomplished that goal.

That’s it for this week, but we’re not quite done with the season just yet. I’ll post the season in review with the return of character letter grades sometime next week. Thanks for reading.

 

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