Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Monthly Archive: December 2018

Thursday

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December 2018

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Syfy’s Nightflyers Is a Pitiful Incoherent Injustice to George R.R. Martin’s Good Name

Written by , Posted in Blog, Reviews

For some reason, it feels weird when cable networks try to emulate their streaming counterparts and debut shows at a faster pace than the standard week-to-week model. The idea of broadcasting a new show on consecutive nights certainly can present the notion that such an occasion is “event viewing,” but the mind also wanders to the motive behind such a deviation from the typical rules that govern television. For SyFy, airing a show like Nightflyers four times a week over a two-week stretch could be advertised as a special holiday treat for those who detest Santa-themed offerings, but instead mostly comes across as an attempt to be done with this incoherent mess as quickly as possible.

Nightflyers is based off a novella by George R.R. Martin, written a little over ten years before the release of A Game of Thrones, the first volume of his magnum opus. With the wild success of his A Song of Ice and Fire series, it seems inevitable that more networks would want to jump in on adapting his extensive back catalog. The biggest problem for Nightflyers is that the show plays like somebody took that too literally, jumping into a series without taking the usual steps that go into crafting a narrative that anyone watching would actually care about.

The plot of the show is fairly simple. A group of scientists go looking for alien life and bad things happen. It’s the kind of show that spends such little time on character development that describing any of the people onboard the ship seems like I’m doing the show’s work for it. There’s an obligatory pain in the ass brought on the ship who no one likes and an engineer who seems to be doing an impression of an indifferent android. There’s romantic tension among the other characters. The show kind of throws this stuff out there without ever really conveying a sense that these are actually people anyone cares about. As a result, it’s hard to get invested in any of them.

That kind of hollow strategy might work over a ninety-minute horror movie, but falls flat over the course of a ten episode season. The early seasons of Game of Thrones each sought to adapt a thousand-page book. Nightflyers seems completely lost with one-tenth of the material. There’s a fair amount of filler, which is presented in a way that makes it hard to differentiate from the moments where it wants to advance the story. The show has random cutaways at times that feel like a student filmmaker fooling around in the editing room.

Nightflyers is the kind of show that feels like it exists solely because of the fame of the author of its source material, with little to no effort put in to actually create a worthwhile experience. The show has decent production values, even though much of it feels like it was created by a Kubrick fanatic assigned to knock off The Expanse. Nightflyers is a plodding derivative mess that never seems interested in giving its viewers anything to care about. SyFy appears to have dumped this one over a two week period in order to make sure everyone has forgotten about this turkey by the time the holidays are over.

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Wednesday

5

December 2018

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Titans Sets Itself Apart from Other DC Adaptations in a Strong Debut

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Titans debuts with an additional burden not attached to most new television shows. As the marquee offering of the new DC Universe streaming service, the show is inevitably judged not only by its own merits, but also those of the place it calls home. If that wasn’t enough, there’s also the additional weight of expectation brought upon it as the first live-action Teen Titans adaptation, a franchise that has exponentially grown in popularity this century due to the success of the animated Teen Titans and Teen Titans Go!

None of these burdens are particularly fair. As we saw with Star Trek: Discovery, which similarly serves as the flagship offering of CBS All-Access, television shows take a little bit of time to find their groove even if they’re supposed to carry the weight of an entire streaming service. What impressed me the most about Titans was how little it seemed bothered by the mandate attached to it. It needed no flashy pilot designed to justify its existence. Rather, the show takes a methodical approach to its early episodes, carefully introducing its four lead characters in a way that seems neither rushed nor deliberately slow-walked. By the time the Titans finally come together midway through the season, the viewer has a sense of the stakes at hand for each of the heroes.

Perhaps fitting given the emphasis on teenagers in its source material, the early breakout star of Titans is its youngest member Raven. Played by fourteen-year-old Teagan Croft, the powerful empath anchors the show’s emotional core, delivering a raw performance that conveys the character’s overwhelming sense of abandonment. Another early standout is Anna Diop, who brings a cool confidence to Starfire that exists in stark contrast to the character’s memory loss. Diop dominates nearly every scene she’s in while her character constantly keeps the viewer on their toes, never quite sure what’s coming next. The character’s bright aesthetics are a refreshing contrast to the typically grim color scheme deployed by the show.

Bruce Wayne’s presence looms heavy over Titans despite the lack of an appearance from the caped crusader. Robin’s story is inescapably tangled in Batman’s world, which creates a tricky web to navigate for a show that exists adjacent to the dark knight, a beloved character that most fans would welcome on screen if it weren’t for the fact that this isn’t his show. Titans does a great job presenting Dick Grayson’s story in a way that isn’t purposefully distant from his past while at the same time not creating a situation where the viewer longs for Batman to show up at every corner.

The show was smart to make Robin out to be the parent figure of the team rather than its hotshot leader. Unlike the other three, Dick Grayson doesn’t have any actual superpowers, initially relying on a borderline excessive amount of violence to win his battles that’s toned down in later episodes. Brenton Thwaites brings a welcomed reservation to the role even though Dick Grayson possesses the obvious chip on his shoulder by token of his estranged relationship with his foster father.

Ryan Potter’s Beast Boy often feels like the odd man out in the show’s early episodes, as the character is featured far less than the other three. This issue is perhaps exacerbated by the second episode’s focus on Hawk and Dove, two other DC superheroes who are recurring characters on Titans. It’s not really until the introduction of the Doom Patrol, who are set to star in their own spinoff series, that Beast Boy’s place in the narrative starts to make sense.

Titans manages a much better balance in tone than its recent DC film counterparts. Visually, the bleak settings feel right out of a Zack Snyder movie, but the show possesses a keen ability to reign itself in at times, with well-placed humor to lighten the mood when needed. The production values are a big step up from the DC shows on The CW, justifying the “prestige drama” labels that follow many programs airing first-run on streaming services. The CGI for Beast Boy’s Tiger transformations is especially well-done, looking right out of something you’d find in a feature film.

With a third of its first season still remaining, Titans has gotten off to a great start. There’s a bit of a course correction in tone from the earliest episodes, but you get the sense that the show is quickly learning what works, abandoning the initial ultra-violent combat for more nuanced fight scenes. The cast functions well as a unit, giving the sense that the characters actually like each other as they find themselves in a makeshift family. Like Robin, Titans has a lot to live up to, but the show never allows itself to buckle under the weight of its enormous expectations. DC Universe’s first original show is a well-constructed take on a beloved franchise.

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December 2018

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Love Actually in the #MeToo Era

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture

It’s not hard to understand how Love Actually became a modern Christmas classic since its premiere in 2003. Backed by one of the most star-studded British casts outside of an entry in the Harry Potter franchise, the film’s tales of seasonally inspired romance hit just about all the right notes this time of year. Just about. The #MeToo era has brought about a much-needed re-evaluation as to the ways we as a society approach love in the workplace. As Love Actually celebrates the 15th anniversary of its release, it is worth exploring the various problematic ways in which some of its characters exploited their positions of power over their subordinates.

The characters David (played by Hugh Grant), Jamie (Colin Firth), and Harry (Alan Rickman) stand out in particular as having committed workplace abuses of power, the first two in pursuit of their own interests, with the latter meddling in the affairs of his employee, Sarah (Laura Linney). David and Jamie commit over-the-top displays of seemingly romantic affection, despite the absence of groundwork that would justify such carnal love. As viewers, there’s a fairytale aspect to both of their efforts, the kind of gestures that wind up as viral videos on social media. Neither situation holds up well to scrutiny when you look at the particulars.

As Prime Minister, David is the most powerful man in the country. By his own admission, politics gets in the way of his love-life, not only commandeering his schedule, but also creating a barrier of power between himself and practically anyone he comes into contact with. Not only does he wield authority over his subordinate Natalie (Martine McCutcheon), he exercises it, having her transferred after witnessing an inappropriate encounter with the U.S. President (Billy Bob Thorton). A holiday card from Natalie expressing affection brings the two back together, and with that the problematic dynamic.

One of the most important aspects of the #MeToo movement is the way in which it’s caused the country to re-evaluate the nuances of consent. David and Natalie are adults. For many, the concept of consenting adults is all that is needed in order to bypass any additional concerns, namely the idea that David possesses the ability to take away Natalie’s job and ruin her life if he chooses. Natalie can’t. However cute their story is shouldn’t take away from the idea that their entire relationship is completely inappropriate.

In another of the film’s workplace romances, Jamie falls in “love” with housekeeper Aurélia despite not being able to speak her language. His effort to learn Portuguese is adorable and picturesque, but fundamentally in service to a misplaced notion of love that lacks foundation. He doesn’t actually know Aurélia. This notion doesn’t seem to factor in at all in his decision to propose to her in a crowded restaurant full of her family, coworkers, and general community. In choosing such a public setting, Jamie creates a dynamic where he alone is in control, either getting his wish or setting her up to be humiliated in a moment that would follow her for the rest of her life. He proceeds with this situation knowing full well that her answer could go either way. In doing so, he put his thumb on the scale, taking away any sense of power Aurélia could hold over her own life at that moment.

Jamie’s situation is paralleled by Sam (Thomas Sangster), who follows the encouragement of his step-father Daniel (Liam Neeson) in attempting to win the heart of his schoolmate Joanna (Olivia Olson). What might otherwise be written off as puppy-love becomes fairly creepy when Sam is encouraged to show up at the airport to profess his love to a girl he doesn’t think even knows his name, skirting security in the process. It’s the kind of act that’s easy to think of as either adorable or fairly creepy depending on how long you think about it.

As for Harry, his workplace misconduct toward Sarah seems to pale in comparison with his own adulterous desires. While it is true that the dynamic between Harry and Mia (Heike Makatsch) is both problematic and highly unrealistic, Mia’s hypersexual conduct is so over the top absurd that it seems like a waste of time to explore whether Harry abused his power by gifting her a necklace, though it is worth noting that unlike David, Harry never meddles with Mia’s employment. Instead, he chooses to meddle in the love life of Sarah, who not-so-subtlety desires fellow employee Karl. His conversation with Sarah is extremely inappropriate, suggesting that she possesses a blatantly obvious urge to be impregnated by Karl that the whole office is aware of.

We don’t really see enough of their office to know if Harry is telling the truth or not when he says that Sarah’s crush is a company-wide open secret, but that notion hardly matters. Such a conversation would be immediate grounds for a lawsuit in the real world, for good reason. That kind of prying behavior from a boss is extremely creepy and creates an untenable work environment for anyone who took umbrage with such nosiness. It’s the kind of invasive harassment that this era is trying to move beyond.

I’m sure there are many who think this analysis is a bunch of politically correct nonsense, stripping a fictional narrative of any sense of joy by overanalyzing it to death. I get that this sentiment exists when people re-evaluate art from the past, but Love Actually exists in a weird state of being both iconic and also not that old. Apart from the primitive cell phones and the notion that someone might give a CD as a Christmas gift, the film could’ve essentially been made today.

Suspension of disbelief is a concept often expected of audiences before sitting down to watch a film. It’s how people can enjoy Star Wars even though we all know that there’s no Millennium Falcon now and there certainly wasn’t one “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” There is an obvious suspension of disbelief required in Love Actually, such as Colin’s (Kris Marshall) success in Wisconsin, but then there’s additional disbelief subtlety expected of the audience. Many of the women in these situations act very promiscuously, almost as if it was a purposeful effort to deflect from these sorts of criticisms. That idea would be a lot more tolerable if the idea of the woman “asking for it” wasn’t such a relic of the past that #MeToo is trying to move beyond. Like it or not, most of the workplace scenes in the film reinforce toxic masculine behavior.

I enjoy Love Actually, despite these criticisms and the immensely immoral behavior of Mark (Andrew Lincoln) in lusting after his best friend’s wife. It is a fun movie with one of the best top-to-bottom casts of any film. It is not, however, immune to criticism. Its depiction of love is a deeply flawed one. No amount of Christmas cheer should negate the fact that almost none of the romances depicted are portraits of healthy consensual affection.

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