Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

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2

June 2018

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Best F(r)iends: Volume Two Is an Esoteric Odyssey Through Perceptive Reality

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The only reasonable expectation one could have heading into Best F(r)iends Vol. Two was that it would be a very strange movie. A Twitter reply from the official movie account stating that this cut was an early preview version only added to the mystique of Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero’s latest team up, one where the significance of the parenthesized R in the title really comes to life. Volume One was about a friendship, but Volume Two sets its sights on the ways in which human connection often transform us into, well, fiends.

I found myself constantly thinking of the work of Terrence Malick as the movie rolled along. Like Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line, and The Tree of Life, the cinematography of Volume Two often takes a detour to focus on the macro questions that humanity has grappled with throughout time. One of the many benefits of repeat viewings of The Room is that one finds themselves pondering similar thoughts upon the seventh go-around through that narratives. Sometimes the here and now is less important than the why of it all. I don’t think there’s anyone in Hollywood who understands the importance of that question quite like Tommy Wiseau.

Volume Two has a lot less Tommy Wiseau than the first movie, but his presence never looms far from the narrative. Sestero’s Jon mostly interacts with girlfriend/accomplice Traci, played by Kristen StephensonPino, and her uncle Rick, played by BF newcomer Rick Stanton (though he’s credited on IMDB for the first volume). Rick delivers many of the movie’s most memorable lines not uttered by Wiseau, but the new dynamic somewhat under-delivers on the foundation built between Wiseau and Sestero by the first movie.

In my review of Volume One, I noted how the friendship between Wiseau and Sestero served as the driving force behind all their collaborations, as well as The Disaster Artist. Volume Two furthers this concept by separating the two real-life best friends for much of the movie, reminding us that we can never truly venture too far from that which forms the very ethos of its existence. Wiseau has compared Volume Two to Breaking Bad in interviews over the past few weeks, a comparison that makes sense not just from a narrative standpoint. If Walter White was Bryan Cranston’s career evolution from his time on Malcolm in the Middle, Best F(r)iends is an acknowledgment that Wiseau’s career is destined for another chapter beyond his iconic debut in The Room.

Like Malick, I’ll always be down for whatever’s next for Wiseau. In an era defined by big-budget franchise movies that ooze an aura of complacency and sameness, Tommy has consistently brought something new to the table. The Room is often unfairly pigeonholed into the “so bad it’s good trope,” which has never done justice to the real reason the movie lives on in the present tense in a way that no movie besides The Rocky Horror Picture show can claim. The Room gives its audience something all too foreign to cinema: something fresh.

There were only three people in the theatre for Volume Two, including my partner, far less than the crowd who showed up for the first go around of this two day event. We laughed the entire time. I felt euphoric upon leaving the theatre, experiencing a world where anything was possible. Movies used to make a lot of people feel that way.

Tommy Wiseau’s career has consistently embodied the American dream. He worked hard, refined his talent, and transformed a common abstract ambition into a global phenomenon. Best F(r)iends: Volume Two is both a worthy tribute to the sheer force of nature that willed this career into existence, and a satisfying addition to his legacy. Preview cut or not, I’m very happy to be along for the ride.

 

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Wednesday

2

May 2018

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Five Issues for The MCU Until Avengers 4

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Note: This article is riddled with spoilers. Do NOT read it if you haven’t seen the movie and care about that kind of stuff. I’ve written a spoiler-free review, which you can read here. Otherwise, you can read my books until the time comes when you should return to my website to read this article. It’s long and I worked hard on it.

There are a lot of things to love about Infinity War, but narrative resolution is definitely not one of them. The movie has less of an ending and more of a year-long intermission. Until then, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has two movies and a couple tv shows planned until Thanos returns.

A year is a long time to wait for that to happen, especially when some of the dust bunnies have their own solo movies in the not so distant future. This article addresses the issues that will linger during the gap between Avengers installments. Some could have long-term ramifications, others may end up not mattering at all. Let’s take a look at what will be affected by the uncertain fates of half the MCU.

 

The Shared Timeline Has a Dust Problem

 

There are two MCU movies set to premiere before Avengers 4. We know 2019’s Captain Marvel is set in the 1990s, but from what we know Ant-Man and the Wasp takes place between the events of Civil War and Infinity War. It’s hardly a bold prediction to suggest that at least some of the film, presumably toward the end, will deal with the fallout of the finger snap of dust and why Ant-Man (and maybe Hawkeye) wasn’t in Wakanda helping to save the world.

From the trailers and what we know of MCU solo movies, it seems fairly safe to assume that much of Ant-Man and the Wasp will have nothing to do with Infinity War. They’re going to do their own thing. The tone of the trailer is fairly light-hearted, completely disconnected from the doom and gloom that Thanos brought. That makes sense considering the nature of the character, as well as star Paul Rudd, but it’s puzzling considering what just happened to Earth.

The trailer also introduces the Quantum Realm, which could very well factor into Avengers 4’s resolution. There may be a very good reason for why this movie needs to be sandwiched in-between Avengers entries, especially given Ant-Man’s absence from Infinity War. That doesn’t really change the fact that the MCU sort of looks like it’s trying to have it both ways. By setting Ant-Man and the Wasp before Infinity War, the film gets to be a fun caper while ostensibly putting forth the in-universe reason for why its characters didn’t show up in a movie that was presumably being filmed at the same time.

MCU movies move the ball forward, not backwards. ­Ant-Man and the Wasp isn’t an origin story like Captain America: The First Avenger or Captain Marvel that has the luxury of being able to take a step back from the action to establish its hero. Imagine if Winter Soldier took place in-between the post-credit scene of First Avenger and the events of The Avengers. Inter-connectedness means that actions in one movie affect another. Getting around that by setting an installment in the very recent past feels like a bit of a cop-out.

 Marvel’s TV shows might exist as part of the overall continuity, but this really isn’t something that matters at all. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is really the only one out of the near dozen series that even tries to follow what the movies are doing. This is in spite of the fact that all five of the Netflix series take place in New York City, a location that features heavily into the films. The events of The Avengers are referenced several times, but the details of the attacks don’t ever factor into any of the series in any meaningful way.

I don’t mean to suggest this is a bad thing. Separation of Church and state is certainly warranted with the sheer amount of content. My only issue is that the events of Infinity War feel like the first really impossible thing to pretend doesn’t radically change everything. This isn’t a case of Spider-Man not showing up at a Daredevil fight that presumably takes place near his neighborhood, but one where the entire structure of the world is changed, at least temporarily.

Half the world is dust. How do Daredevil or Runaways not address this? I don’t think there’s an answer to that, but I also don’t think they actually will. What’s the point of a shared universe that doesn’t actually share the universe?

 

Hype for Future Movies

 

Marvel hasn’t said much about Phase Four. We know that there will be a Black Panther 2, a Spider-Man 2, and a Guardians of the Galaxy 3. It seems rather ridiculous to think that any of these movies will be made without their key players, including Gamora.

 We also know that there will be an Avengers 4 next year, which will presumably alter the events of Infinity War’s ending. Fans will head into that movie with a fair degree of certainty of this fact, which is an unusual position for an MCU movie to be in, as Marvel doesn’t tend to give much away in terms of plot. Trouble is, that’s a year away.

The Phase 4 movies will start production before that. We will know if T’Challa, Peter Parker, or Groot reappear in these movies. Marvel is good at keeping plenty of secrets, but those are pretty big ones to keep under wraps.

Is that good for enthusiasm? It might be impossible to say, as I imagine all three of those films will make a boatload of money, but there’s this thing hanging up in the air. I’m not sure why.

We don’t know who will die in Avengers 4, or who will stay dead, but we do know that Marvel is not going to make piles on money into dust by taking several of its hottest stars off the map. The fates of Iron Man and Captain America are up in the air largely because of the expected departures of Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans. We don’t have that kind of uncertainty with Black Panther, Spider-Man, or Star-Lord, but for the next year we’re expected to pretend to. Hard to say that makes much sense.

 

Hype for Current Movies

 

What’s the difference between hype for current and future movies? Black Panther is still in theatres in many places. It hasn’t even been three months, but now it exists in a world where the fate of its star is currently in limbo. Peter Parker is in a similar position less than a year after the release of Spider-Man: Homecoming.

I don’t expect that we’ll live in a world where either of these characters stay dead forever, but we’re going to spend the next year with that question lingering in everyone’s head. That’s a pretty unusual position for two characters widely expected to be two of the main centerpieces for the MCU going forward. Considering Black Panther’s historic performance, I also don’t think it’s a particularly welcome distraction either.

While this a problem that seems likely to pertain solely to this year, it remains a deeply puzzling decision. Franchises are obviously affected by each entry, but fans typically don’t go from film to film with uncertainty surrounding the fate of the main character, especially in the superhero genre. The fact that it should barely even constitute uncertainty doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a weird feint.

T’Challa & Peter Parker have more wind at their sails than anyone in the MCU. This doesn’t help that at all. I’m not sure we’ve ever been in a position where a superhero died in a film while his previous movie was still airing in theatres. Future installments are always affected by their preceding entries. We’ve never seen this kind of thunder-stealing toward a movie that literally just came out.

 

Star-Lord Needs to Rehab His Image

 

This issue sort of falls into the same category of the first two, except in one key way. The uncertainty surrounding many of the MCU characters creates some marketing issues that the franchise will have to work around, but there will almost certainly be a point when these people do return to their franchises. There are millions and millions of fans out there who want them to.

Star-Lord is in a bit of a different position from the others in that he’s not only a pile of dust, but he’s also the reason we have piles of dust. The ending of Infinity War is entirely and solely his fault. Peter Quill’s temper tantrum may have destroyed the world.

As a result of that, any attempts to fix this mess that lead to subsequent casualties will also be his fault. That’ll matter more if any of the departing cast are permanently killed off in the effort to bring back the dust bunnies. Tony Stark may have his happy ending with Pepper denied because Quill needed to sock Thanos right before they defeated him anyway.

The Guardians of the Galaxy movies are pretty upbeat and fun, even when Rocket and Quill are mad at each other. These characters have great chemistry which endeared them to the audience. As of now, Rocket is the only one left.

I don’t think that’s going to last, as the Guardians’ cast dynamic is too perfect to continue without Gamora, Quill, Drax, and Groot. Their collective inability to follow basic plans was a major plot point of Infinity War, but Quill’s actions quite literally almost ruined everything. His image is going to be in need of some serious rehabilitation. The fate of his franchise pretty much depends on it.

A similar issue popped up in Age of Ultron, where Tony Stark’s actions almost got everyone killed. People did die, including a bunch of nameless Sokovians and the less interesting cinematic Quicksilver that isn’t played by Evan Peters, but Iron Man’s tinkering didn’t kill any beloved major characters. He also didn’t build Ultron as the other Avengers shouted at him that doing so would ruin the universe and get them all killed. Tony carried his guilt with him, which set the plot of Civil War in motion.

I don’t necessarily want a guilt-ridden Star-Lord, but that’s where we’re at. He did something very dumb. He needs to address that. Whatever gets them out of that mess shouldn’t let him off the hook.

Much has been made of Doctor Strange’s timeline and how there was only one out of millions of outcomes that had them beating Thanos. This should not excuse Quill’s actions. Free-will is still a thing that people care about. He needs to own up for his behavior. Anything else runs the risk of cheapening Guardians 3. Laughs without substance can’t carry a film, and heart that doesn’t feel remorse doesn’t make for a compelling protagonist. My big hope for Avengers 4 is that it thoroughly addresses this issue. I don’t want to hate Peter Quill, but that’s pretty much where we’re at.

 

Time Stone Ex Machina

 

There are deaths and then there are comic book deaths. Infinity War has deaths and then it has dust deaths. Some of those will be reversed. The Time Stone will almost certainly play a role in that.

That’s a dangerous can of worms to open. Other characters like Loki have returned, something that Infinity War mentioned a few times. Trouble is, when you stage one mass resurrection, you create the possibility that any resurrection can happen. Comic book readers are used to that, but these are still murky waters for the MCU to wade into.

Many speculative articles have emerged since Infinity War wondering which deaths will stick. The clear distinction between deaths and dust deaths present in the movie is complicated when you consider that the four “real” deaths (Loki, Heimdall, Vision, Gamora) could all conceivably return. One has already escaped death once before, one is Asgardian, one is an android, and the one is a main character in one of the MCU’s most valuable franchises moving forward.

These four are not necessarily in the same boat. Tom Hiddleston and Idris Elba have stated that they have other things they want to do, and given their characters’ early deaths it seems far more likely that their characters will remain dead, though the fact that a Thor 4 looks way more likely than another Iron Man or Captain America film complicates this idea. Infinity War spent a lot of time talking about how the Vision could survive without the Mind Stone, laying down the groundwork for his return. Fans have speculated that Gamora is “trapped” in the Soul Stone, potentially setting up her return in either the next film or Guardians 3 (setting up a potential Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest dynamic if the latter film becomes a quest to get her back). None of these need to be permanent.

Trouble is, some of the cast will be leaving the franchise. It seems highly likely that Avengers 4 will see more deaths where the characters stay dead. The gravity of that runs the risk of being cheapened when there’s always the revival option lingering there. Even if the Stones are destroyed, the idea that something else could do the trick still remains. Comic books always find a way.

I don’t expect every departing character to die. The end of Tony Stark & Steve Rogers can be the end, for now. Leading a major franchise tends to eat up a lot of one’s time. I wouldn’t blame any of the original cast members for wanting time off, just as I suspect some of them will miss the limelight a few years down the road. Death, or retirement, doesn’t need to be the end of anything.

Marvel has been pretty good at protecting its solo films from the aura of “why doesn’t so and so show up to help?” that don’t necessarily have great narrative explanations. Infinity War has created some new issues for the MCU that its follow up will need to address. Fortunately, the company has a pretty flawless track record for pulling this stuff off. Big team-ups have big consequences, especially when there are so many valuable franchises to protect. It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt, and then unhurt by the Time Stone.

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Tuesday

1

May 2018

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Avengers: Infinity War Sets the Stage for the Endgame

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Note: This review does not contain spoilers.

When I recently re-watched Avengers: Age of Ultron, I was surprised by the relative intimacy of its opening sequence. The amount of characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe had expanded rapidly in Phase Two, but the Avengers team that began that movie was exactly the same as the one that defended New York at the end of the first team-up. The larger cast didn’t seriously compete with the core group for screen time.

That changed in Phase Three. Captain America: Civil War often feels like an Avengers movie because it brought together the core group (minus Hulk & Thor), the Ultron additions (Scarlett Witch & Vision) the supporting casts of previous solo films (War Machine, Falcon, Bucky), along with Ant-Man, Spider-Man, and Black Panther, whose niches in the MCU are not as intrinsically linked to the Avengers as the first group, who were brought together by Nick Fury. Throw in Doctor Strange & The Guardians of the Galaxy and you wind up with the dynamic that Infinity War has to deal with.

It’s a balance that Ultron seemed pretty aware of, keeping War Machine and Falcon at an arm’s length until the end of the movie, even though both had skills that could’ve been valuable throughout the whole movie. Infinity War brings together basically every superhero from the MCU films, a juggling act that seems almost impossible to pull off within a single movie. Just as the Russo brothers pulled off Civil War’s large ambitions, Infinity War is a testament to their pacing prowess.

Infinity War is a very fun movie that rarely stops to take a breath. As the nineteenth installment of a franchise meant to be the culmination of every previous film, it manages to reward those who followed the Infinity Stones without ever punishing causal viewers for forgetting when they last saw an obscure character from an earlier entry. It gives the major players their fair share of screen time without wasting any scenes on superfluous interaction. The specific pair ups are clever, and the film has plenty of comedy to help offset the dire stakes at hand.

My only real point of contention with the movie lies with the handling of a certain character. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the issue brings to light the unique position that Infinity War finds itself in as a film meant to be the beginning of the end for many of the original Avengers. Characters make decisions ostensibly to keep the drama flowing to warrant another movie, but those actions have consequences that might not be limited to just the narrative. You’ve got to wonder how future movies will be impacted if the audience loses faith in one of the stars.

I would note that the movie does not spend much time wrapping up loose plot points from previous entries. It doesn’t have time to, but those viewers desperate for answers for lingering questions from entries like Civil War or Thor: Ragnarok are probably going to be disappointed. Essentially, if you’re one of those people who was bothered by Ragnarok’s unceremonious ending for the Warriors Three (not sure how many of these people there are out there, but I’ve seen a few on the internet), Infinity War will have more mundane things for you to be annoyed about. That’s not a terribly big concern, but not necessarily illegitimate from a narrative standpoint.

It is hard to write a review for a movie that will be officially concluded in a year’s time. I suspect most people know that going in, so I don’t see the point in knocking some late-inning plot twists that are already controversial. Infinity War seems to be a movie that will be judged by its legacy less than its immediate reception.

But for now, I had a good time. This was a movie with seemingly impossible expectations that offered a thrilling experience. There are lingering questions, particularly around the ending, that next year’s untitled Avengers movie will have to address. Infinity War set the stage for the finale of this era of the MCU quite well without crippling under the weight of its large cast of characters.

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Thursday

26

April 2018

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Homeland and The Joys of Habitual Viewing

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A couple weeks ago my partner was deciding when to head back to her place on a Sunday evening. I said she was welcome to stay as long as she liked (naturally), but that Homeland was coming on and I needed to watch it because my grandfather and I usually discuss the episode the next day. This notion was particularly important because in previous seasons my grandfather would e-mail or text his thoughts before checking if I’d seen it, which had revealed some spoilers (this has not happened this year), which is a reflection of the fact that until relatively recently, that was what people did.

Nowadays, it’s far less certain when people will get to their shows. DVRs have tons of space, and every premium channel has a streaming app for those who don’t have cable. The necessity to physically be in front of the TV when a show comes on just isn’t there anymore. The shows that carry a high risk of social media spoilers, like Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and Westworld tend to fall into this new category of “event viewing” which has essentially replaced the concept of the water cooler show in the American lexicon. Gone are the days where a program like ER could capture the attention of an entire office for twenty-two weeks out of the year.

Homeland is not a worldwide phenomenon watched by over a hundred million people. It has respectable ratings for a show in its seventh season and remains a perennial awards show presence even though it’s been years since it won a major trophy. It is past its prime, but still entertaining to watch, beyond the joys I get from discussing it with my grandfather.

As someone who writes about TV, I watch a fair amount of shows on a week-to-week basis, but there are very few I feel compelled to consume the same night they air. I almost never watch shows that air during the 10:00 pm hour live, though that’s reflective of the fact that I now live on the West Coast, where the premium channels air their content at the same time as the East Coast. Being able to watch Game of Thrones at six in the evening is the kind of luxury that doesn’t make you want to stay up late to watch it live, especially when you have a TV in your bedroom (though that only a Roku).

The streaming era has dulled the sense of urgency to watch a show when it’s on, just as binge-watching has normalized the concept of a backlogged DVR full of stuff to pick from. The sheer number of quality shows out there is pretty intimidating even for a pop culture fanatic, but I can certainly remember growing up having to pick between a Boy Meets World rerun, a Hey Arnold rerun, or a Johnny Bravo rerun if I wanted to watch something. Having full autonomy over one’s remote does represent an underrated achievement of the modern era. We’ve cured boredom.

There’s still a part of me that takes a simple pleasure in sitting down to watch a show at a certain time, romanticizing the notion of curation. Tony Kornheiser used to close out Pardon the Interruption by asking Michael Wilbon variations of “give the people something to watch tonight.” I almost never listened to his suggestions, but I always liked hearing what he looked forward to watching.

Goodnight Canada

It’s a stupid thing to care about, but as a devoted fan of SiriusXM (particularly 1st Wave), I like the idea of a human being showing me things that I might be interested in, something to look forward to at the end of the day. You get to feel as if you’re part of something bigger, even it’s an hour of dragons or CIA agents foiling terrorist plots. In a world full of seemingly endless options, it’s nice to have a few picked out for you.

 

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Wednesday

25

April 2018

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Far Cry 5 Is (Unsurprisingly) Not a Political Game

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Politics is everywhere in American culture nowadays. It feels like forever since we lived in a time when major news organizations didn’t dedicate significant coverage to the social media habits of tweeter-in-chief. Far Cry 4 came out two years before Donald Trump’s inauguration, and only a few months before his final season hosting Celebrity Apprentice. It seems rather natural Far Cry 5, with its Montana setting and fanatical religious zealots, would draw comparisons to the Trump presidency, especially as it is the first game in the series to have a domestic setting. Numerous articles have popped up over the past few weeks noting this phenomenon, many suggesting a deliberate association between crazed cultists and the man who once implored his Twitter followers to check out a sex tape in the middle of the night.

Having played Far Cry 5, I can’t really say there’s much more evidence to further the theory that the game is meant to be a commentary on Trump. I don’t think the game has much to say about cults either, except for the fact that they are bad. The game has a hallucinogenic drug called Bliss, clearly inspired by the opioid crisis, but the big takeaway from its inclusion is also fairly rudimentary. Drugs are bad.

Far Cry 5 is not a complex game. You liberate a county in Montana from a cult leader by going around and shooting things. You can customize your character with various perks, but those processes are far less complex than something out of Fallout 4 or Skyrim. Essentially, the game is a cross between Grand Theft Auto V and Assassin’s Creed: Origins. There is no real point where the character stops to examine the morality of their situations or the broader ramifications for a country that allows religious zealots complete autonomy over full counties.  For many, that’s not surprising.

What might be surprising to people is that Far Cry 5 was made in Canada, a joint venture between Ubisoft’s studios in Toronto and Montreal. Ubisoft itself is a French company. While these facts certainly don’t disqualify them from being able, or wanting to create a narrative that offers complex commentary on the current state of American politics, it is not insignificant to note that the people developing this game do not necessarily live in an environment where everything revolves around Trump. It is possible that they just wanted to make a video game.

A not surprising notion is that a major company would not want to potentially alienate, or anger, much of America by turning a video game into a political referendum. That dilemma cuts both ways, potentially pissing off the Trumpkins as well as those who would rather just blow things up than consider what the narrative says about society as a whole. Politics often bleeds into entertainment, but video games tend to skirt the association. Far Cry 5’s $310 million dollar opening week probably best explains why.

Far Cry 5 clearly did not want to explore the nuances of the deplorables. Its main villain Joseph often sounds like a cross between Matthew McConaughey and Albert Wesker in the final battle of Resident Evil 5, offering extremely lame lines that rarely evoke feelings that hardly suggest there’s something philosophical underneath the layers of generic evil. I could see him as a radical televangelist appearing on a Hannity segment, but not as anything resembling an intellectual.

Ironically, Far Cry 5 has received criticism for being too apolitical, or bland, which is where I see the danger in associating everything with Trump. The game drew fire in 2017 for its perceived attacks on Christians, and then got slammed for avoiding that subject. Neither of these positions reflect the actual substance of the game, which does carry a certain sense of blandness in its repetitive gameplay and uninspired villain.

The reviews for Far Cry 5 have mostly skewed positive in spite of those criticisms, earning a B- score if you average the Metacritic scores across PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. From my own experience, that’s a fair rating. It’s a fun game, but a flawed one.

I can’t shake the idea that the whole Trump controversy made it so that the B- ratings essentially represented the ceiling for the game. The gameplay might be a bit bland, but the story was essentially destined for that label by token of not containing the politics that people assumed would be there a year before the game came out. Far Cry 5 can’t be evaluated solely on its own merits because of a media “controversy” that it never really deserved.

You could apply the same standard to any game. I could write an article on how the Nintendo 64 game Yoshi’s Story, which was released in North America in 1998, was meant to be a commentary on the rising obesity epidemic using the game’s Fruit Frame plot device as the basis for the argument that the game is subtly trying to get kids to eat healthier. That theory might sound ridiculous, but if something had raised that point before the game came out, some of the reviews would naturally address whether or not the cute dinosaur had ulterior motives for his adventures.

Is there an ulterior motive for all these healthy foods?

Is that fair? No, but that doesn’t mean a compelling case couldn’t be made, especially before the game’s release. Just like that, the story structure of an entire team of developers that took years to create could be undermined by a think piece that draws lines between things that don’t necessarily need to be related.

Far Cry 5 was probably inevitably going to draw comparisons to Trump, which is unfortunate. It shouldn’t have to be viewed through the lens of a political scope just because someone can do that. Anyone can do that for any game. The fact that this one had a Montana setting and bunch of religious loons might make it easier for someone to write an article connecting the two together, but that doesn’t mean it was deserved. The kind of logic is lazy, and gave a bland game a predetermined aura of blandness that seems like the only possible outcome.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of Far Cry 5 for my review. I’ve had Yoshi’s Story since I was seven and still play it often.

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Tuesday

17

April 2018

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Renly Baratheon: Queer Icon

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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

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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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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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4

March 2018

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A Fantastic Woman Beautifully Illustrates the Struggle for Human Dignity

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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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