Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Monthly Archive: May 2019

Wednesday

15

May 2019

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Booksmart Is a Hilarious Coming of Age Comedy That Packs an Emotional Punch

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High school graduation presents the template for a rite of passage, the informal end of childhood. The uncertainty of college life without all of one’s childhood friends is scary, a disruption of the long-held status quo. The occasion is ripe for adaptation because it provides America’s youth with a unifying sense of journey, something most of us who grew up in this country have commonly experienced.

Booksmart is a film about accepting change. Amy and Molly are two childhood friends who have done just about everything together, putting their broader social lives aside to encourage each other to pursue academic excellence. Such persistence pays off on the college admissions front, but the high school experience cannot be measured in grades alone. The night before graduation the two set out to hit one last milestone, to attend a high school party.

The highlight of the film is without a doubt the natural chemistry between lead actresses Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein. The two are perfect together, presenting the kind of relationship right off that bat that most television shows would need a full season to establish. The ease with which their friendship permeates through the screen accentuates the narrative’s emotional resonance, making it easy for the audience to see themselves at the heart of the film’s conflict.

Olivia Wilde puts forth a strong showing behind the camera in her directorial debut, often framing her scenes in a way that brings out the subtleties in her actors’ performances. Like many adaptations of high school, Booksmart presents a fairly absurd depiction of adolescent life where students live out their wildest Snapchat fantasies, but Wilde keeps even her most outlandish scenes grounded in relatable drama. There are many laugh out loud moments, but the script ensures a certain emotional staying power beyond the humor.

The film takes a careful approach to LGBTQ issues. Amy is gay, a trait that isn’t treated as a point of debate or amusement by any of the other characters. Her storyline has its cringe-worthy moments, but those are crafted out of the awkward nature of adolescence rather than as a product of her sexuality. Amy is treated just like any other character, something that might seem weird to point out if it weren’t for the fact that so few similar depictions of LGBTQ youth exist in American cinema.

For a film that takes place over a twenty-four-hour window, Booksmart does an excellent job in presenting its characters as fully fleshed out individuals, even its rather extensive supporting cast. Billie Lourd and Skylar Gisondo, in particular, portray gag characters that still have depth beyond the humor they’re ostensibly around to provide. High school films can often get by on the sheer reliability of their narratives, but Booksmart stands out for its extensive investment in the journey of its subjects.

Booksmart manages to be the funniest high school comedy in years while never losing sight of its powerful emotional core. Olivia Wilde’s first feature film as a director is a powerful showcase of her talents. Few films are capable of making an audience cringe in one moment and cry in the next, but Booksmart possesses a firm grasp of the messy, often hilarious nature of growing up.

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Tuesday

14

May 2019

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What We Left Behind Is a Heartfelt Tribute to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

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The raw beauty of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine stems from the ways in which it changed the very definition of what it meant to be Star Trek. The primary form of exploration came not from visiting planets, but the characters who inhabited an isolated space station out in the Gamma Quadrant. The show pioneered serialized narratives well before the “golden age of television” ushered in the era of long-form storytelling. As with many trailblazers, the initial reaction proved divisive, but recent years have been kind to DS9, with the ease of streaming paving the way for future generations of fans to experience the show.

What We Left Behind is a documentary crafted to celebrate the legacy of Star Trek’s “middle child.” Co-directed by Ira Steven Behr, who served as the showrunner on DS9, the film takes a thorough approach to exploring all the various elements that went into making such a complex show. The extensive interviews, which feature the entire principal cast, practically every recurring actor, and plenty of members of the production crew and writing staff, highlight the profound impact that the show made on all of their lives.

It’s clear from the very first moments of the film that Deep Space Nine changed the lives of practically everyone involved. Behr does an excellent job not only capturing that energy, but also sustaining it throughout the course of the documentary. Building on that strong connection, Behr brought back a few of the writers to plot what season eight might have looked like. Complete with numerous animated graphics, the prospective episode is featured throughout the documentary, perhaps serving as the best example of the show’s staying power after all these years.

While the Deep Space Nine’s streaming and DVD releases haven’t had the same complete HD makeover that its two predecessor series received, most of the footage from the show included in What We Left Behind has been beautifully modernized. The show looks absolutely spectacular in HD. The chance to see one of the series’ many space battles up on the big screen with that kind of careful restoration is well worth the price of admission itself.

Behr’s greatest strength as a director is his ability to maintain an introspective lens. Like any show, mistakes were made along the way. An interview with the former chairman of Paramount Television Group Kerry McCluggage in particular took a hard look at the decision to forbid Avery Brooks from shaving his head or wearing a goatee. For all of Deep Space Nine’s progressive values, the show fell short on the subject of LGBTQ inclusion, a misfire that Behr acknowledges head-on in a way that brought me to tears as a gay Star Trek fan. That kind of raw honesty is quite rare for a documentary crafted by people personally involved with their subject.

While the documentary goes to great lengths to avoid being just a “talking heads” retrospective, it is rather powerful when it examines pivotal moments in the show’s production history. There are times when the cast and crew get pretty emotional with each other, understandable given the immense stress of working on a television show that puts out twenty-six episodes a year. Though Behr acknowledges the narrative confines of a single documentary, his film provides an immensely satisfying look at all the elements that went into making the show.

What We Left Behind is a beautiful celebration of Deep Space Nine, crafted with love by the people who poured their hearts into the show. Fans of the series couldn’t hope for a better examination of the show that changed Star Trek. It’s the kind of documentary that makes you want to put on an episode right when you get home, a powerful tribute to a show that lives on in the hearts of so many.

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Monday

13

May 2019

2

COMMENTS

Game of Thrones Season 8 Recap: Episode 5

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There’s a scene in A Storm of Swords where Stannis remarks that “Ser Barristan once told me the rot in King Aerys court began with Varys. The eunuch should never have been pardoned.” Varys has served five kings, Aerys, Robert, Joffrey, Tommen, and Daenerys. Six if you count those letters he was sending around gossiping about Jon Snow. Has he served any of them well?

Varys has always been a character who claims to care about the greater good, but that kind of manipulative altruism relies heavily on his own desires. As an advisor to Daenerys, he had the ability to use his influence to guide his Queen toward the path he best saw fit, putting aside the problematic nature of that notion. He didn’t do that. Instead, he schemed.

Dany burned a lot of innocent people, looking a lot like her deranged father in the process. Dany has always had that anger inside of her, contrasted with the caring ruler she became in Meereen. In Westeros, she felt unloved, a product of the show’s narrow scope this season.

Assuming Gendry possessed some sort of loyalty to the person who named him Lord of Storm’s End, Dany would have, at least in theory, three major houses supporting her claim. The show doesn’t feature anyone from Houses Tyrell or Martell anymore, but we shouldn’t forget that Dorne and the Reach backed her, along with Yara who now controls the Iron Islands. That’s a big chunk of Westeros, full of people disinclined to back either Cersei or whoever ends up ruling in the North.

No one ever pointed this out to Dany. Not Tyrion, not Varys, not Jon. She feels unloved by Westeros because the show has framed it that way, spotlighting an understandably reluctant North as her primary contrast. From that perspective, a Dany/Jon feud seems inevitable, but from a larger geopolitical point of view, she had a lot more going for her. Until she burned a bunch of civilians.

Are we supposed to care? The character development isn’t great, but this is also a shorter season. The cinematography was spectacular. I loved every minute of the King’s Landing scenes. Sometimes, logic should be damned, especially when it comes to television. TV should be fun. This episode was a blast.

Tyrion looked kind of weird wandering around the battle by himself. He’s been pretty useless for a while now, offering bad advice and scheming to undermine Dany. Sure it was nice that he cared about the innocent people, but Dany just wanted to hear some bells before she went on a killing spree.

Grey Worm killed Harry Strickland. We didn’t need Harry or the Golden Company, but some elephants would have been nice. Not much of a battle.

Euron died happy. Favorite character in season eight. Glad to see he went out with a bang, even if it didn’t make a ton of narrative sense.

Jaime’s scenes totally undercut his relationship with Brienne, but he’s not exactly the kind of character destined for a happy ending. I would have liked to have seen his arc drawn out a little more, but this season did a good job of tying up a few loose strands, particularly with Bran.

I never personally bought into the idea that Arya or Jaime would kill Cersei. She’s pregnant. Sure, the show has killed pregnant people before, namely Talisa Stark (Jeyne Westerling), but heroes tend not to do that kind of stuff. Nobody is going to be mad at a pile of rocks for killing a pregnant villain.

My favorite scenes in the episode involved the random soldiers that first tried to stop Arya and The Hound, as well as Tyrion a bit later on. As much as the show feels larger than life in so many ways, it also tends to only focus on a handful of people in this big world. It is quite easy to forget that there’s all these other people in the realm, just trying to get by.

Jon felt weirdly irrelevant this episode. No one cared to listen to him. That’s usually how I feel. Guessing he’ll be caught in the middle of next episode’s inevitable showdown between Dany and Sansa. I’m not really into his whole reluctant ruler act. Sansa should just be queen instead.

I’ve never been a fan of the idea of Cleganebowl. The Hound is more than just his lust for revenge. As his brother, Gregor Clegane died a long time ago. Definitely wish Sandor didn’t sacrifice himself to take down a walking corpse. Arya and he could have had a great spinoff.

Stay weird Qyburn.

Arya chooses life. Hopefully she goes to Storm’s End and lives happily ever after. I imagine she’ll factor into next episode, but it’s kind of unclear how unless she goes and assassinates Dany, which wouldn’t make a ton of sense considering how this episode played out at the end with Arya choosing life over death.

Plenty of people will dislike this episode, particularly Dany’s heel turn, for perfectly legitimate reasons. I really enjoyed it, mostly because it was good television. Tyrion and Jaime’s goodbye was compelling regardless of the circumstances. Davos is great as always.

I had fun watching it. Sometimes that’s enough. Having done these recaps for years, I know I’ve taken great pleasure in pointing out all the plot holes, shoddy characterizations, and ways the books have done things better. I do greatly enjoy the show though. This season has been far from perfect, but it’s been entertaining. I will certainly miss it when it’s over.

 

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Sunday

12

May 2019

0

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Pokemon: Detective Pikachu Lets a Convoluted Narrative Detract from an Entertaining Experience

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A live-action adaptation of the massively popular Pokémon franchise always carried a degree of inevitability, with the question of plot serving as perhaps the largest looming question. The main video game series and the anime based on it both carry the same general objectives in catching and battling Pokémon. Deploying a similar storyline for a live-action movie could have been tricky to pull off, as the sight of adorable monsters beating each other up certainly presents the possibility of being quite upsetting to watch, especially for young children.

The decision to center Pokémon: Detective Pikachu around a mystery sidesteps this issue, largely taking action out of the main narrative. Ryan Reynolds’ Pikachu is less an electrically-charged rodent than a wise-cracking one, better for laughs than battle. Reynolds is rather amusing in the title role, but such humor feels weirdly out of place in the world of Rime City, far better suited for his other massively popular role in Deadpool.

As a buddy cop movie, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu functions quite well. Justice Smith gives a compelling performance as Tim Goodman, a young man trying to find a place in a world that’s let him down far too often. The narrative doesn’t give Tim that many moments to shine, leaving his overall arc feeling a little clichéd, but the film has much bigger issues than that.

The film takes a remarkably convoluted approach to handling the matter of Pikachu’s ability to talk. As a general rule, Pokémon and humans can’t communicate with each other, but fans of the series will know that there are a few exceptions, most notably in the anime where Meowth talks practically every episode. An unexplained talking Pikachu would not have been much of a plot hole, but the film followed that notion down the rabbit hole to its own detriment.

The mystery at the core of Detective Pikachu is uncomfortable to say the least. Buddy cop movies are less about the destination than the camaraderie enjoyed along the journey, but that’s also assuming that the end goal doesn’t fundamentally change the way you perceive the adventure itself. For some, suspension of disbelief may be enough to sidestep the issues presented, but there still remains the sense that the film opted for a needlessly weird twist that was bound to be divisive.

As funny as Reynolds is throughout the film, after a while, it starts to feel like the film is using his humor as a crutch in the absence of a deeper narrative purpose. At times he feels completely irrelevant to the plot, sounding more like a commentary track than an integral part of the story, which is itself a product of the film opting for a far more complex plot that it needed. Reynolds’ Pikachu is too much of a good thing, never building on an amusing foundation until a clunky attempt to establish some sense of narrative payoff in the third act.

Pokémon: Detective Pikachu could have easily made for an entertaining experience without having much of a story. Adorable creatures and Ryan Reynolds are a match made in heaven, but the film unnecessarily burdened itself with a bizarre plot that totally undercuts the movie. Fans of Pokémon will undoubtedly find much to love in seeing all the beautiful CGI, but the experience as a whole leaves a lot to be desired.

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Tuesday

7

May 2019

0

COMMENTS

The Hot Zone Is a Brilliant Thriller That Kicks the Summer TV Season off with a Bang

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A series like The Hot Zone possesses a kind of natural antagonist that crawls under the skin of its audience through its simple realism. Based off Richard Preston’s 1994 bestseller of the same name, the series depicts the Ebola virus in two separate time periods, from its 1976 outbreak in the central African rainforest to its 1989 discovery in a primate quarantine facility in Reston, Virginia. National Geographic’s upcoming limited event supplies a sense of terror that few series can wield in such an effective manner.

At the heart of The Hot Zone is Dr. Nancy Jaax, an Army colonel working as a veterinary pathologist at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, dealing with some of the most dangerous viruses on the planet. Played by Juliana Margulies, Jaax leads the effort to diagnose and later contain the facility in Reston that potentially possesses an existential threat to America. While dealing with the occasional sexist remark, Marguiles plays Jaax as a force of nature on the base, a careful professional working diligently to get to the bottom of what they discovered on U.S. soil.

Aiding her efforts are Dr. Peter Jahrling (Topher Grace), a civilian working in the USAMRIID, who initially discovers that the virus plaguing the monkeys is more than a simple case of Simian hemorrhagic fever, and Wade Carter (Liam Cunningham), her mentor who was on the front lines of the Ebola outbreak in 1976. Carter is also the focus of the series’ numerous flashbacks as he tries to figure out how to deal with the virus tearing apart central Africa. Jaax’s husband Lt. Colonel Jerry Jaax (Noah Emmerich) works alongside her at the base, often acting as a go-between with the higher-ups, cautious to prevent the outbreak from becoming a nationwide panic.

The Hot Zone does an excellent job of breaking down the science behind the virus for a general audience. The show takes a thorough approach to the Reston disaster, exceptionally well-paced over the course of its six episodes. The Africa flashbacks provide an additional broader perspective on Ebola, showing the devastating effects of the virus that continue to this day.

Part of what makes The Hot Zone so compelling is its grasp on the nature of suspense. The series hones in on the basic fundamental fear that Ebola invokes, an incurable plague that one can become infected by with a simple breath of air, brutally tearing one’s insides apart as it wreaks its carnage. Several scenes look like they could have been part of an installment in the Resident Evil franchise, with disaster lurking at every corner. Like the characters in their hazmat suits, there’s a natural sense of claustrophobia that reverberates back to the audience.

Character development can be a tricky subject for limited series, especially ones as plot heavy as The Hot Zone. The series takes the time to emotionally invest in its subjects, enhancing its narrative by giving the audience more to care about than just the virus. Jaax is more than a scientist fighting a deadly virus, she’s a mother, wife, and daughter who cares deeply about the people she works with and the nation she’s trying to protect. There’s real tangible growth in this journey for many of the characters, a rarity for a show that almost certainly won’t see another season.

Bolstered by a stellar cast, The Hot Zone is a brilliant thriller that kicks the summer TV season off with a bang. The three-night format is a great way to experience the show, giving the audience two episodes of this delectably bingeable suspense ride at a time. One of the best limited series of the year so far, National Geographic’s adaptation of Richard Preston’s bestseller is a joy to watch from start to finish.

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Monday

6

May 2019

0

COMMENTS

Game of Thrones Season 8 Recap: Episode 4

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Last season presented a simple reason for why Daenerys’ first act in Westeros didn’t involve taking King’s Landing and killing Cersei. If Dany invaded King’s Landing, burning tons of people in the process, everyone would hate her forever and she’d be a bad queen. Except, this isn’t really the reason. Dany didn’t invade the capital because the show needed to keep Cersei around for the final season.

As a result, Cersei got stronger and made allies who could shoot dragons out of the sky with giant sea scorpions. Who knew that the show’s most ruthless villain was also very smart? Tyrion knew all of that and yet he gave Dany a lot of bad advice anyway. Despite this, we don’t get a scene where they hash that out, because apparently, we needed a few focusing on mutiny. So here we are, in a position where Cersei has the upper hand largely because no one else bothered to stop her.

Winterfell was mostly fun, minus the virgin jokes and the Sansa/Hound conversation. Brienne’s sexual past was a weird thing for Tyrion to joke about, having been forcibly married to the woman she’s sworn to defend, while also sitting at a table with his brother who’s only ever had sex with their sister. Strange.

Sansa’s comments about her trauma were easily the low point of the episode. Yes, she’s survived a lot to get where she is. No, she probably wouldn’t still be a “little bird” if that hadn’t all happened. It’s great that she’s become a key player, but it would’ve been nice if the show hadn’t tried to sugar coat rape and abuse like that.

Huzzah for Lord Gendry Baratheon, who apparently isn’t interested in claiming the throne now that he’s a legitimate heir of Robert Baratheon. I liked how Arya turned him down. They had their moment, but she’s not destined for that kind of life. Arya and The Hound should get a spinoff.

Dany and Jon’s bedroom scene was very bad. Mentioning Ser Jorah in a sexual context was gross, but then Dany looked all desperate begging Jon to stay in the bastard closet. Weird that the person who came to save the North now looks weaker than basically everyone else.

We finally got an R + L = J moment that wasn’t right at the end of an episode. Of course, Sansa told Jon’s secret. Why shouldn’t she?

As much as I’ve criticized the Dany/Sansa feud for feeling forced this season, it was at least in service to sensible moments of conflict. The North is tired. Yes, they agreed to help Dany, but that doesn’t mean it has to be done immediately. It’s okay to have conflict about logistics, demonstrating Sansa’s leadership abilities in looking out for her people first.

Bronn is back. Does anyone care? Me neither. Should’ve been killed off last season.

The second half of the episode felt weirdly rushed for a show that took its sweet time taking in the post-apocalypse high. Putting aside how bizarre it was that no scout ship sailed ahead to take a look at Dragonstone, this episode really didn’t need to have a Dany/Tyrion/Cersei confrontation at the end, especially before Jon arrived with the rest of the troops. Why wouldn’t Cersei just order her archers to shoot them all and be done with it?

How did anyone know that Missandei was captured? She could’ve have drowned just as easily. Equally weird that this specific news made it to Winterfell. It’s a shame that she had to die for seemingly no reason. Poor Grey Worm.

Euron is smart enough to shoot a dragon out of the sky, but apparently doesn’t question how Tyrion knows that Cersei is pregnant despite being in the North all season, a clear indicator that the baby isn’t his. Maybe he doesn’t care? Or the show doesn’t care about either situation? I don’t really care either.

R.I.P. Rhaegal. Guess the show’s budget got tired of two dragons. Only one to go.

Could Bran have warned Dany about Euron’s trap? Probably. The fact that he didn’t isn’t necessarily surprising, but it’s weird how no one in the show has tried to fully tap into his superhero powers.

Oh Varys. I’m glad he’s still alive, but these mutinies are a little tiresome. He’s supposed to be a spymaster, not the monarchy’s ombudsman. He should either serve Dany or step aside. No more scheming to switch sides.

Brienne and Jaime happened. Wish they’d left it at that without the whole Jaime leaving bit. I get that it makes sense to send him to King’s Landing, but the Jaime/Cersei plotline is one long-running element of the show I didn’t need to see resolved in these last few episodes.

Tormund’s constant lusting over Brienne was beyond tiresome, but at least he gets to give Ghost a good home. Shame on Jon for not even giving him a pet on the way out. And they think this man should be king? Bah. A man who can’t even say goodbye to his direwolf is not fit to rule.

I hate how the show has portrayed Daenerys since she arrived in Westeros. Sure, something needed to happen to bring her massive army down a few pegs, but the writing for her character has been awful. She could be sitting on the Iron Throne right now if it wasn’t for bad tactical advice. Rather than explore that notion, instead the show’s been painting Jon as the reasonable alternative.

Between R + L = J and the lack of chemistry between Kit Harrington and Emilia Clarke, their romance has suffered a lot over the past few episodes. I just wish the show could figure out what to do with them rather than drag this monarchy quibble out for the whole season. It’s totally unnecessary and quite frankly, boring.

That’s it for this week. I actually mostly enjoyed the episode despite the numerous issues. There’s a lot of pacing questions that will certainly be answered in two weeks, but it’s hard to really get behind the way this episode decided to spend its time. See you next week!

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Thursday

2

May 2019

0

COMMENTS

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

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A documentary like Knock Down the House faces two narrative challenges that can be difficult to overcome in a ninety-minute runtime. Showcasing four separate women putting up primary campaigns against incumbent Democrats, the film has to not only tell multiple stories, but ones with widely known outcomes. It should hardly be a surprise to anyone that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez went on to beat incumbent Congressman Joe Crowley.

One of the appeals of political documentaries is the behind the scenes perspective they provide, a chance to know the candidates beyond their cable news appearances. The grassroots nature of the four campaigns highlighted in Knock Down the House gave the documentary a much more intimate feel than films focused on larger efforts by established candidates. Without massive staffs or even office buildings, the film spotlights each of the candidates’ best assets, namely being themselves.

Amy Viela, Cori Bush, and Paula Jean Swearengin came up short in their efforts to unseat their Democrat incumbents. Bush and Swearengin both managed to pull in over 30% of the primary vote, very impressive totals for unknown grassroots campaigns running against established politicians with all the benefits that entail. The documentary showcases their individual motivations for getting in the race, women with deep emotional stakes at play to change a system that isn’t working for too many Americans.

Knock Down the House does a great job explaining the many roadblocks put into place to impede primary challengers, a system that makes it about as a difficult as possible to even get on the ballot. There are a few scenes highlighting the work of groups like Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress, grassroots organizations seeking to recruit and support candidates for office. All the stereotypical notions of polished politicians are thrown out the window in favor of real people seeking to create real change.

Unsurprisingly, the documentary spends much of its time on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose successful campaign has captivated the nation for much of the past year. The footage from her campaign presents a stunning contrast between grassroots efforts and the establishment, frequently painting Crowley as out of touch, representing a district he no longer even called home. AOC fans might have enjoyed a documentary completely dedicated to her meteoric rise, but the film makes great use of all its subjects to present Washington as out of touch with the nation at large.

Refreshingly absent from the bulk of the narrative is the man in the White House. For all the media attention that Trump gets, much of America simply doesn’t care about his Twitter feed. Even in deep red West Virginia, Swearengin’s campaign focuses on the bread and butter issues affecting her state and not as a referendum on his every move. AOC also goes out of her way to criticize Crowley’s Trump-heavy campaign literature, reframing the “us vs. them” debate in a context better suited to her community.

Knock Down the House is an uplifting documentary that highlights the power of democracy in action. Only one of the film’s four subjects managed to win her race, but their efforts offer more than just inspiration to future candidates. Democracy isn’t always fair, but it’s always worth fighting for.

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Thursday

2

May 2019

0

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Bonding Is a Succinct New Comedy With a Ton of Heart

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One of the beautiful things about the streaming era is that no show has to look like any other, at least in theory. Without weekly timeslot obligations, programs can air for as long or as little as they want. Many streaming comedies take the former approach, with episode runtimes that occasionally double their commercial TV counterparts.

Netflix’s new comedy Bonding is a fascinating case study in “less is more.” With episode runtimes that never go past seventeen minutes, the show is a complete anomaly on the major streaming networks, one of the few series that doesn’t seek to pad out its inaugural season. The seven-episode first season does fly by, but it carries itself with such purpose that you can’t help but feel good about wanting more.

Bonding has a fairly simple premise. Tiffany is a grad student who works as a dominatrix under the alias of Mistress May to pay the bills. Pete, her gay best friend, serves as her initially reluctant assistant. Most of the episodes center around their work in Tiffany’s dungeon, though we do learn a lot about their personal lives over the course of the season.

The show is largely carried on the chemistry of leads Zoe Levin and Brendan Scannell. The angsty millennial trope is well played out in comedy, but Levin and Scannell are charming enough in their interactions to put aside the clichés. The show has a heavy helping of absurdist humor, often leaving the audience cringing as the credits start to roll.

Fifteen-minute episodes don’t leave a lot of time for character growth, but Bonding does a fairly good job of giving its leads something to build toward over the course of the season. The individual episode plots are generally pretty entertaining, a strong blend of absurdist and cringe comedy. The narrative occasionally stumbles over its own ambition, but it doesn’t really have any filler either.

Those looking for an accurate portrayal of BDSM should definitely look elsewhere, a point perhaps best illustrated through Mistress May’s ill-fitting corset. Mistress May’s own understanding of BDSM doesn’t come across as particularly professional either, something that will undoubtedly turn off a lot of viewers. The show does often look like it would benefit immensely from additional perspectives from those in the sex worker community to give it a sense of realism.

Powered by two strong lead performances from Zoe Levin and Brendan Scannell, Bonding is a succinct new comedy with a ton of heart. Each episode could be double its runtime and the seven-episode season might still not feel like enough. The whole flies by in the blink of an eye, a refreshing change from the sheer amount of shows that drag their feet with needless exposition. It’s better to leave viewers wanting more than to drain away any desire to continue by the time the final episode credits start rolling. Bonding has a few kinks of its own to work out in subsequent seasons, but its freshman effort was a very enjoyable one.

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Wednesday

1

May 2019

0

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Avengers: Endgame’s Gay Moment Is an Insult to the Notion of Progress

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Note: This article contains minor spoilers for Avengers: Endgame

Like many, I enjoyed Avengers: Endgame. The movie was a well-executed send-off to the first era of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Unfortunately, directors Joe & Anthony Russo decided to include a moment of seeming LGBTQ inclusion that highlighted the broader diversity issue that has hovered over the MCU for much of its existence.

If you missed Endgame’s gay character, it’s probably because he wasn’t on the screen for very long. The character, nameless in the film, appears in the grief counseling session with Captain America, where he mourns the loss of his lover. This character just happens to also be played by Joe Russo himself, an openly gay man. The MCU’s first cinematic gay character (there have been a few on TV) appeared via blink-and-you-miss-it cameo.

What are we supposed to celebrate about that? Joe Russo gave a lengthy explanation to Deadline, saying, “It was important to us as we did four of these films, we wanted a gay character somewhere in them.” Apparently, the “somewhere” in this broad multi-film landscape is more in the vein of Where’s Waldo than as a matter of genuine, thoughtful inclusivity.

Russo also added that, “It is a perfect time, because one of the things that is compelling about the Marvel Universe moving forward is its focus on diversity,” perhaps highlighting the core issue with this creative decision. He’s correct to note that Marvel has made significant improvements on the diversity front. It was only last year that we got Black Panther, the MCU’s first film with a predominantly black cast. It’s only been a few months since Captain Marvel became the first in the MCU to have a female lead.

While it’s clear that Marvel is becoming more inclusive, how much praise Disney deserves for that is an entirely different question. Black Panther and Captain Marvel are the eighteenth and twenty-first entries in the series respectively. It’s hard to call Marvel trail-blazing when it took that long to cast someone other than a white man in the lead role. Now isn’t really “a perfect time,” as Russo notes, considering the rather needlessly long route Disney took taking diversity seriously.

Russo’s sense of self-gratification for his cameo appearance as a nameless sad gay man comes across strikingly tone-deaf for a franchise that hasn’t found space for a single other LGBTQ character in its near-two dozen films. It is, quite literally, the least he could do while still being able to say he did anything at all. The idea that this moment should receive praise is utterly laughable.

It would be unfair to suggest that Joe Russo alone could force Disney to add an inclusive superhero against their will. The Russo brothers may be responsible for directing a few of the most profitable films in history, but that doesn’t mean they have complete autonomy over their work. Joe Russo’s personal success is a great story for the LGBTQ community at large and it’s a good thing that people like him occupy positions of power in a place like Disney.

Simultaneously true is the notion that Joe Russo has not brought meaningful LGBTQ inclusivity to the MCU, at least not yet. The best he could do from his great position of power is to include himself in a throwaway cameo appearance. We can understand why these circumstances exist, but we shouldn’t celebrate these pathetic attempts at forward motion either.

Massive corporations like Disney forces LGBTQ fans to embrace a culture that fundamentally rejects the normalcy of our existence. I’ve visited Disneyland over a dozen times this year, treated with respect by their staff on almost every single occasion in that timespan. It is one of my favorite places on the planet earth, and yet that’s also a place where I can’t find a single character who looks like me, a transgender woman in a homosexual relationship.

Of course, I don’t have to support a corporation that does stuff like this. I could divorce myself from a mass culture that projects inclusion through events like “Magical Pride,” but keeps LGBTQ characters locked away, the storytelling equivalent of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” I hardly belong to the only marginalized group that’s been shunned by Disney over the years.

I could let my inner Disney princess go and move on with my life, but I also genuinely believe that popular culture matters. These stories make profound impacts on people’s lives, from children to adults. Look at the reactions to Endgame. People weep in theatres over the loss of fictional characters. There is, in fact, magic in the air.

Movies like last year’s Love, Simon, distributed by a studio recently bought and shuttered by Disney, are important because they help show a generation of LGBTQ youth that there’s nothing wrong with who they are. Gay kids deserve stories that empower them, not ones that try and ignore their very existence. Cameos like Russo’s only seek to shed light on Disney’s failure in this regard.

There will come a day, likely in the next few years, when the MCU finally features a gay superhero. Such a moment will undoubtedly be cheered as progress, just as Joe Russo wishes to celebrate Avengers: Endgame’s gay moment. Disney didn’t introduce a single noteworthy gay character in the first twenty-two movies of the MCU. Anything above that is a step forward, but that doesn’t change the embarrassing legacy of Marvel’s pathetic effort at LGBTQ inclusion. Table scraps aren’t a cause for celebration.

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